hradzka: Cassidy, from Garth Ennis's PREACHER. (Default)
Earlier, I talked about the Bullshit Reversal (better known as Refusing the Call). This occurs when the hero is presented with the opportunity to do what we know he's going to do because we bought our ticket to see him do it, except the hero initially says no and a variable amount of additional dialogue is required to talk him into it.

I hate the Bullshit Reversal for two reasons: first, it's a waste of time. Of course the hero is going to do the thing he initially refuses to do: the audience wants the hero to do it, and has tuned in based on the ads trumpeting the hero's doing of that very thing. The second, deeper, reason is that characters are defined by their choices. Thus, as a general principle, it is more interesting to see people doing things that they choose to do, things they *want* to do. You learn a lot more about the character that way. The Bullshit Reversal is bullshit because it is a falsification of two choices. For a Bullshit Reversal to be not bullshit, the hero has to have a good reason to initially refuse. A good, strong reason, not just "I don't wanna." The hero then has to have an even *better* reason to reverse this decision. The best Bullshit Reversal I have ever seen, one of the few that actually works, is in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. This is it: )
hradzka: Cassidy, from Garth Ennis's PREACHER. (Default)
I am an extraordinarily negative person, and I have a huge list of things I hate, both in fan and in professional fiction. Interestingly, there's not a lot of overlap in terms of things I hate between the two. Fan and pro fiction have different crutches, and thus when they irritate me they do so for very different reasons. I gripe a lot about fanfic, so today I am going to bitch about something I hate more than almost anything in professional writing: the Bullshit Reversal.

Read more... )
hradzka: Cassidy, from Garth Ennis's PREACHER. (Default)
When I'm reading, I often play a game called, "Who the fuck are these people, and why the fuck do I care?"

The term "game" is something of a misnomer, because it's not conscious, or hasn't been until I noticed my brain was doing something and tried to figure out just what that something was. It actually happens pretty deeply, on an instinctual level. "Who the fuck are these people, and why the fuck do I care?" is the best name I've come up with to describe what's happening, and the reason I came up with it is that a while back I realized that I've been playing this game when I find that a story has made me confused, or angry, or really fucking bored. Recently, I mentioned the concept when giving concrit to a friend on a novel, and doing so made me realize it would be worth elaborating on and discussing with a larger audience.

a) WHO THE FUCK ARE THESE PEOPLE?

The reader should be able to figure out who the fuck the people in a scene are, how they relate to each other, and how they feel about each other, and should be able to remember these things for when the characters show up again.

Here are some sample questions for the writer to consider, in helping the reader to do these things: Who is the viewpoint character? How does the viewpoint character relate to the supporting characters? Are they on the same team? Who is in charge? Who wants to be in charge? Who *should* be in charge? If they're on different teams, how many and how are they aligned with respect to each other? What do they want? What will they do to get it?

b) WHY THE FUCK DO I CARE?

Why does the reader want to read about this character/these characters? What is the point of identification? Why do we find them interesting enough to put up with? What makes us want to find out more?

Maybe the characters have an interesting problem, or an interesting conflict. Maybe they do something cool. Maybe they show some unique skill. Maybe there's a mystery to solve, a question to answer. Maybe the reader is already invested in them from a previous chapter or book; "why the fuck do I care?" mainly comes up when dealing with new characters. What is the character's importance to the story, and why are we spending time with them?

Let's take a look at examples of bits that work and that don't. Spoilers for the first and fourth books in George R.R. Martin's A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE series -- ie, A GAME OF THRONES and A FEAST FOR CROWS. )
hradzka: (unfair to batgirl)
For a while now, I've been doing some thinking about the Bechdel Test, mostly as a background process. For those who haven't heard of it, the Bechdel Test was created by Liz Wallace and immortalized (with credit and by permission) by Wallace's friend, cartoonist Alison Bechdel. Wallace's rule is to not watch a movie unless it contains 1) two women 2) who have a conversation 3) that's not about a man. It's a simple test, and movies and TV fail it often.

If the test itself has a failure, it's that whether something passes or fails it is as far as the discussion usually goes. On those occasions that a conversation does turn to why a work fails the Bechdel Test, there are basically two ways that conversation can go. It can turn into an activist discussion of sexism and society, or it can turn into a discussion of the mechanics of writing. There have been a lot of the former, but there haven't been all that many of the latter. And while I don't want to interrupt any of the former, I think the latter conversation is worth having, too.

Read more... )
hradzka: Cassidy, from Garth Ennis's PREACHER. (Default)
No, this isn't a DOCTOR WHO post; I was just offering some concrit to a writer friend and found myself laying out some general principles of writing as I understand it. Or, more accurately, as I viscerally believe them to be true and correct. This isn't exactly my writer's id, but it's damned close to it. Eleven Rules! I may have more, but here are eleven for now.

  1. Other people are inconvenient.

  2. Different people want different things and will do the same thing for different reasons.

  3. It is hard for the hero to get things that will solve his problems.

  4. It is easy for the hero to get things that give him new problems.

  5. It is double-plus-hard for the hero to get important things he really needs, unless he doesn't know he needs them. (The "Dorothy's Ruby Slippers" Rule.)

  6. Symmetry is your friend.

  7. Repetition is your enemy.

  8. Set things up. Pay them off.

  9. A sidekick or a love interest is not made by giving them the general description and having them stand in rough proximity to the hero.

  10. Avoid making sympathetic characters the enemy of the audience.

  11. The enemy of the audience is anything that gets in the way of the audience being entertained.


Discuss, or post your own. If your writing id had rules, what would they look like?
hradzka: (commies)
David Mamet created the TV show "The Unit." He wrote notes to his writers. In all capital letters. As you would expect, these are gold.

You've heard of the Bechdel Test ("I only go to a movie if it satisfies three basic requirements. One, it has to have at least two women in it who, two, talk to each other about three, something besides a man"). Now there's the Mamet Corollary, which is:

ANY TIME TWO CHARACTERS ARE TALKING ABOUT A THIRD, THE SCENE IS A CROCK OF SHIT.


Other wise Mamet insights:

ANY TIME ANY CHARACTER IS SAYING TO ANOTHER “AS YOU KNOW”, THAT IS, TELLING ANOTHER CHARACTER WHAT YOU, THE WRITER, NEED THE AUDIENCE TO KNOW, THE SCENE IS A CROCK OF SHIT.

DO *NOT* WRITE A CROCK OF SHIT. WRITE A RIPPING THREE, FOUR, SEVEN MINUTE SCENE WHICH MOVES THE STORY ALONG, AND YOU CAN, VERY SOON, BUY A HOUSE IN BEL AIR *AND* HIRE SOMEONE TO LIVE THERE FOR YOU.


Originally posted here, picked up here, and transcribed fully and legibly (IMPORTANT) here.
hradzka: Cassidy, from Garth Ennis's PREACHER. (Default)
Out of nowhere today, I was bit by a Greek myth AU idea: Perseus, instead of cutting Medusa's head off so he can use her power to fight the Kraken, just asks for her help. And she does. And then Medusa's a hero of the city and Andromeda asks Medusa to stay, and they fight crime there is intrigue, because in ancient warfare Medusa is basically the equivalent of a tactical nuclear weapon, and rival cities fearful of her power will try to suborn her, neutralize her -- or cut her head off so they can have her power for their own. I think I will work on this as a comic book story.

Sample dialogue:

PERSEUS. "So, um, your sisters -- their hair looks --"
MEDUSA. "Beautiful?"
PERSEUS. "I was going to say 'normal.'"
MEDUSA. "Ah."
PERSEUS. "So, what's the --"
MEDUSA. "Ever make love in a temple of Athena?"
PERSEUS. *puzzled* "...no..."
MEDUSA. "Don't."
hradzka: Cassidy, from Garth Ennis's PREACHER. (Default)
via Terry Teachout, an audio recording of Ian Fleming and Raymond Chandler, talking about writing thrillers.

The creators of James Bond and Philip Marlowe, folks. According to Teachout, it's the only known recording of Chandler's voice. (Teachout is disappointed that Chandler doesn't sound more like he'd imagined Marlowe's voice.)
hradzka: (303 british)
The latest meme, from [livejournal.com profile] miss_porcupine this time:

Name any story I've written, and any character in it, canon or OC. I'll tell you three things about that character that I didn't put in the story. One request per person.
hradzka: (pointy teeth)
Question for folks: what’s your plotting process like?

I’ve been thinking about putting together a post about plotting for a while. This is partly because I want to encourage folks who haven't yet given it a shot to try it, and partly because I’m curious if other people who write plotty stories, or who write character arcs within ficlets or porn, do it the same way I do.

This got quite long. I use my story 'When Harley Met Kory' as an example. )
hradzka: Cassidy, from Garth Ennis's PREACHER. (Default)
A sad moment in fanboyhood: I thought I was being clever in my last story by calling the law firm "Peabody, Dicker, and Pending," as I recalled that to be the name of Ambush Bug's lawyers. Then I reread the Ambush Bug miniseries and discovered to my chagrin that no, Peabody (*cough cough cough* "So.") and partners were the Bug's marketing firm. Fellow fans will perhaps understand that realizing you have misremembered a minor running gag from a twenty-year-old comic book can ruin your whole day. I feel like I blew my geek roll.

The law firm is now "Grabemann and Ross." Which is arguably even more obscure, but at least they're a law firm in the DCU!
hradzka: (roy harper)
Gun-geekery and SUPERNATURAL collide, as one of my favorite gun-nut sites, The Box o’ Truth, takes a look at rock salt loads. Sam and Dean use them against demons a lot, and on one memorable occasion, Dean shoots Sam in the chest with a load of rock salt at very close range (with a line to the effect that it won’t kill him, but it’ll hurt like hell).

I’ve always been curious about rock salt loads. They’re a staple of movies and TV, with cantankerous old folks peppering rowdy teenagers and the like. Children of the eighties will recall Tanya Roberts, in A View to a Kill, providing Roger Moore’s James Bond with a shotgun that he uses to shoot a bad guy to no effect. (MOORE. “What’s this loaded with?” ROBERTS. “Rock salt.” MOORE. “Now you tell me!”) But when it comes to guns, I am, like Robert Ruark’s Old Man, a damned old maid, and the idea of home-brewed “less than lethal” ammo makes me a little queasy. It seems to me to make the idea of pointing a gun at somebody else into a casual affair, which it isn’t and shouldn’t ever be. Plus, accidents happen, and shells can get mixed up, and… yeah. But it’s a great idea for ghost-fighting.

You can always count on TBOT’s Old_Painless for an interesting range report, and I recommend his post to fanfic writers looking for a little color to throw into SPN stories. He explains how to make rock salt loads, what effect they have, and how to clean the gun after use. (Salt can corrode the weapon. You don’t want that.)

You’ll note that Old_Painless says that after the shooting was done, he and his friend Tman “broke out the Tampax.” Tampax? Yes. As Old_Painless reminds us, feminine products are terrific for cleaning 12-gauge shotguns.

(That’d be a cute bit to throw into an SPN fic, actually. You could go a couple of ways with it: Dean buying tampons in bulk, and Sam squirming with embarrassment at the counter as the cute shopgirl rings Dean up, or looks at him in extreme punishment. Or the guys have an enforced stay at the Roadhouse, and Dean is made extremely uncomfortable by feminine products, until Ellen shows him how useful they are for cleaning shotguns.)
hradzka: (jim with pipe)
Goddamn it, [livejournal.com profile] __marcelo! It's your fault.

So I’m reading Sherlock Holmes again. It’s been a good few years since I read the Holmes stories, and I know a lot more about storytelling now, and about fandom, than I did back then. As a kid, I loved Holmes; as an adult, who occasionally scribbles stuff, I’m even more impressed.

Some comments on “A Study in Scarlet” in a minute, but first: Livia’s comments about what a weird, cracktastic Peter Wimsey LJ fandom would be like got me thinking about what LJ fandom would have been like for a whole bunch of properties that never got to experience it. (I wound up writing a post on that, then thinking better of it, because one of those properties was something we all should be really, really grateful never got a cracktastic LJ fandom, and mentioning it in public would a) offend a lot of people and b) put me on the path straight to hell.) Holmes got me thinking about it over again.

It would have been a weird LJ fandom. )
hradzka: Cassidy, from Garth Ennis's PREACHER. (Default)
A couple of notes on "Fathers and Daughters:" there is not nearly enough Jim Gordon fanfic out there. I've posted my thoughts before on why that is; but I don't think the restrictions that Jim's lack of membership in the inner circle of the Family make him less interesting, or any less a good focus for a story. One of the ways I come up with fanfic stories is to look at various characters and ask myself what they have in common, or what they'd like to, or what they'd hate to. Figure out how to use those issues in a dramatic situation, and you've got a story. In this case, it's Batgirls' paternal relationships; the Jim-Babs bond is one of the great strengths of the Batbooks, while the relationship of David and Cassandra Cain is abusive, horrifying, and quite rightly beyond repair. Even though Cain really appears to love his daughter, in a very, very twisted way, and some very few of her memories of him are good -- as Babs correctly notes, there's a point at which none of that matters any more, and Cain passed that point long before he used Cass to commit a murder. But those feelings can still inform the characters' emotions.

I used one of Cass's canonical good memories (from Batgirl #22) in the story.

Here it is. )
hradzka: Cassidy, from Garth Ennis's PREACHER. (Default)
OK. So now you're writing Cass, which means either you're working for DC Comics or you're a fanfic writer. Good luck. You'll need it, because Cass is hard to portray convincingly.

Which brings us to the $64,000 Question: how do you do it?

Here's my take... )
hradzka: (pointy teeth)
By now, it's clear that Batgirl has not been an easy character to write. She's been a happy mute, a frustrated chatterbox, and one heck of a problem for her writers. But as of Batgirl #13, Chuck Dixon and Kelley Puckett have sussed things out. Dixon found Cass's voice, and Puckett showed how striking and effective that voice could be in dialogue. So it has to be smooth sailing from here, right?

Well, not exactly.

Here's what happened... )
hradzka: (pointy teeth)
In case you haven't figured it out yet, I like Cassandra Cain. The second Batgirl (third if you don't count Huntress's brief attempt; I don't) is a tremendously interesting character, one of my favorites in the DCU. She's a great action heroine, she's got a fascinating personal history, and has one of the best buddy relationships going with original Batgirl Barbara Gordon. (Her friendship with Spoiler is also terrific fun.)

She's also the hardest character in the Batfamily to write.

What is it, girl? Old Man Pennyworth fell down the well? )
hradzka: Cassidy, from Garth Ennis's PREACHER. (cat and bat)
A lot of people have had quite a lot of fun with the random pairing generator and the plot bunny generator. Both are quite fun, and have decidedly evil streaks. (The plot bunny generator just gave me "Bruce Wayne / ...prepares a meal" -- something that, if you're at all in Batfandom, you know is an extraordinarily bad idea.) Many stories have resulted, most of them being ficlets. (In part because of the five-minute game, which was an invention I can only describe as crackheaded and evil. Also fun.)

I suck at the five-minute game, and have been trying to figure out why. I come up with story ideas for a given pairing pretty quickly, but can't hold to the time limit at all. I can do stupid-funny pretty easily, but have only been able to produce one five-minute ficlet that's any good.

I think it's because of what and how I write. I'm a story freak. I love characterization, and banter, and I'm a sucker for good romance, but for me writing is all about *people doing something.* Making decisions, solving mysteries, facing challenges -- whatever. But I'm very much a beginning-middle-end-in-an-Aristotle's-Poetics-kind-of-way guy. And I can't do that in five minutes. Or at least, I haven't been able to yet.

It's not that I don't like ficlets. They're fun. But they're not really stories. They're more like the kind of thing one SF writer (Ray Bradbury, I think) called, "Here's an interesting idea; the end." My Two-Face story definitely falls into that category: it's a portrait, not a story. And I keep trying to write stories with a beginning, middle, and end. So I keep busting the time limit and writing longer ficlets, to the point that they're not really ficlets at all. I think my Lucius/Lois still falls into the "portrait" category, but my Jason Todd/Maggie Sawyer and my Scarecrow/Harley don't. And I prefer the story to the portrait. My reaction to a lot of ficlets is to say, "Neat -- so now what?" The best example is [livejournal.com profile] marag's "Fathers and Children" -- I'm annoyed that it ended, because I want to know what happens next. (She has another example of the contrast I'm talking about here: the first is a portrait, the second a story.)

So: ficlets are fun, but ultimately a distraction from storytelling. Which is where my interest lies.
hradzka: (jason)
Actually, I've just realized there's at least one case of Leslie being questioned -- Huntress actually calls her on her B.S. in "No Man's Land," when her clinic harbors Szasz, and when the inevitable violence breaks out Leslie finds herself hoping for someone to do Szasz harm, even kill him. But she won't lift a finger to save herself. (Though it ends with a truce between her and Batman, again, with him trying to save Gotham and Leslie trying to save his soul; which is to say, blech.)
hradzka: (jason)
Leslie Thompkins first appeared in 1975, making her the last of the current Batfamily regulars to be introduced in the comic pages -- of the adults, anyway; Tim Drake came along in 1989, and Stephanie Brown and Cassandra Cain are more recent introductions. Dick Grayson, Alfred Pennyworth, and Barbara Gordon all preceded her (not to mention Jim Gordon, but I don't really consider him "family"), and Leslie's canonical relationship to Bruce has changed more than that of any of them.

Women of Gotham has a short but good history of the character that shows some of her incarnations over the years. Briefly, she was introduced in Detective #457, Denny O'Neil's great "There Is No Hope in Crime Alley!" In that story, she's a part of Batman's annual pilgrimage to Crime Alley; she's the woman who comforted young Bruce after his parents' murder. She doesn't know Batman's true identity, had never met him or his folks before the murder, and has no personal connection with Bruce Wayne today.

What a difference twenty-nine years makes, huh?

Today Leslie serves a number of functions in the Batbooks: she's a confidant and an ear on the street; she's a medical resource, when Alfred's skills aren't enough; she's the humanitarian wing of the Batclan -- and those are just her story uses. On a personal level, she's Alfred's confidante and (discreet) love interest. And she's really, really good at taking the piss out of Batman. Leslie has no tolerance for bullshit, even (maybe especially) when Batman is doling it out, because she's known Bruce since he was a frightened little boy and she is never, ever scared of him. She can criticize him, carp at him, and call him on the carpet. And that's gold. It makes her very fun to write.

Leslie is also a pacifist. This is one of the great aspects of her modern characterization: she cares for Batman, she helps him, but she is innately *completely opposed* to his methods. Which makes for conflict on a character level, and it's expressed in any number of different ways, to really great effect. I love Leslie's pacifism.

What I don't love is that the other characters never say that she's wrong. Because at least some of them should.

Take Batman. He should not (as he has recently) admire her pacifism. He should see it as a flaw he tolerates, or a weakness he has to protect from being exploited. Something to wish he could be? No.

Or Alfred. He loves Leslie. The two of them were Bruce's surrogate parents after Thomas and Martha died. He has his issues with Bruce's Mission. But he's a veteran, a combat medic, with experience in intelligence work. He knows that violence can solve problems, if applied correctly. Which, if you think about it, puts him between Bruce and Leslie. (Ghod, what a horrible place to be in. Poor Alfred.)

There's absolutely no reason everybody should put Leslie on a pedestal the way they do, especially when a large part of the reason her clinic can remain open in a rough neighborhood is that the Batfolks and Selina Kyle are on the street busting heads. I can see them wishing that they lived in a world where pacifism was possible, but believing it? Admiring her for setting a moral standard they wish they could live up to, but can't because of some failing on their part? No. Because if Leslie's right, they're not only failing to do any good, they're actively contributing to the problem. Which they're not. So as things stand, Leslie gets to sit in a position of unquestioned moral authority, where she delivers her opinion as if from the mountaintop and nobody ever calls her on it. Which is a shame, because it means there's a lot of potential for drama and character conflict going unrealized.

I played with this a little in "Jason and Me." My Steph is harsh on Leslie there, more than Leslie deserves, especially in that situation -- but she does have a point. Somebody should bring stuff like that up. Maybe not Bruce or Alfred (they probably love Leslie too much to tell her off, but they certainly shouldn't serve as her "virtues of pacifism" amen corner). But somebody.

Because I love Leslie Thompkins.

But she isn't always right.

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hradzka: Cassidy, from Garth Ennis's PREACHER. (Default)
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