Saturday, November 19, 2016

New Video on Exposition!

Hey guys, it seems impossible to go on, but we must go on. Let’s all pretend that my silly little story advice has any meaning in post-apocalyptic America! That said, here’s a new video on exposition: This one is the shortest yet, barely squeaking in over three minutes. Is it too short? Let me know!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Thursday, November 10, 2016

It All Seems Pointless Now

I was going to post more about Star Trek Beyond, and I was supposed to edit the new podcast that James and I recorded on Monday night to post next Sunday, but it all seems kind of pointless now, after the election.  I’m sure the despair will lighten in the coming days, just because everything that goes down must come up, but it’s hard to see that right now.  I’ll be back. 

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Rulebook Casefile: The Lack of a False “I Understand You” Moment in Star Trek Beyond

I just watched Star Trek Beyond and boy is it limp. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not an utter horrorshow like the last one— If I had to pick one word to describe it, I would just choose “lazy.”

We start off with an unexciting cold open, played for laughs, in which Kirk, standing still, gets attacked by little creatures. This ends quickly without any real jeopardy, then we have a dreadful 15 minutes of “character scenes” in which Kirk wallows in vague ennui. Then an alien woman shows up asking that the Enterprise save her planet (or something, it’s not clear.) As soon as the Enterprise shows up at her planet, it gets attacked and destroyed by some bad guys. Escaping to the planet below, Kirk realizes that the woman who asked them to come there did so knowing that they were being lured into a trap to be destroyed. At first she claims she had to do so to save her crew, and then she seems to be working with the bad guys maybe, and then she’s killed off unceremoniously.

The movie’s biggest problem is that this alien woman makes no impression on us before she betrays our heroes. Helping her is the entire motivation for the movie! In the whole epic scene in which the Enterprise gets destroyed, they’re sacrificing everything to save her, but she’s barely had any lines!

This movie needs what Frozen had: a fake “I understand you” moment. Kirk should be hesitant to help her until she reaches out to him with an impassioned cry of the heart that makes him care so much that he’s even willing to sacrifice his ship to help her in her cause (whatever that cause was. Again, it was unclear). They should bond deeply, and we in the audience should feel moved by her story.

Of course, it’s tricky, you don’t just want an unfair fake-out. As with Hans in Frozen, you want to be able to rewatch the movie and realize “Oh, I can see how she’s faking him out, and how what she’s saying can actually be taken either way.” But even the unfair version would be better than what they have. You can’t just assume that the audience will sympathize with a victim because we’re told (falsely) that she’s a victim. You have to make us feel that, or we won’t care (with good reason, in this case.)

(Another problem here is that the movie decides that, after 50 successful years of Star Trek, they’re suddenly going to worry about the language translation problem, so they have the woman speaking in her alien language, with a little automatic translator on her lapel repeating the words in English. Before this, for all intents and purposes, everybody in the Trek universe just spoke English, and that worked just fine. Why mess with success? The way they do it makes it even more impossible to empathize with her.)

Sunday, November 06, 2016

New Video: Moments of Humanity

My last video got me lots of hits and followers, and they’ve all been waiting patiently for video #3, so here it is: Moments of Humanity! I hope you enjoy it! As usual, please let me know what you think! This one is a little different, in that the advice is not as counterintuitive, so it seems less “cool” to me, but hopefully it’ll be useful to see all these examples thrown together. Let me know!

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Yay, the Podcast is Finally Up on iTunes!

Subscribe here and download onto your device of choice!  New episode next week!

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Straying from the Party Line: Moral Hypocrisy in Stranger Things

You guys know I hate moral hypocrisy in stories. You should not, for instance, hold your heroes to a different standard than your villains. The one aspect of “Stranger Things” that I really didn’t like was the fact that Eleven kept casually killing people throughout the series. I didn’t like it for several reasons:
  • The series didn’t seem to have the time or the inclination to deal with the weight or ramifications of these killings, either for Eleven or the for the victims. The two agents she seemingly kills in the pilot (in the kitchen of the diner) disappear off screen so quickly, you hardly notice them.
  • Instead, the killings are presented in a stereotypically “badass” way. I especially hated it when she cocks her chin to snap two guards’ necks in a flashback in a later episode.
  • Worst of all, the story doesn’t need all this killing. She could just as easily have incapacitated these people by putting nightmares in their heads that make them collapse in horror, or made them writhe in pain with nosebleeds, or simply knocked them out psychically. Those all could have looked just as badass.
This is a series that’s all about the pain caused by the disappearance of a 12 year-old boy, but isn’t the death of each of these random government employees (who may not completely realize they’re working for a bad guy) just as sad? These guys aren’t exactly wearing Nazi armbands.

Such killings also constitute a big plot hole. As we see, family members tend to demand the truth when people disappear, and presumably Dr. Brenner would have his hands full at this point dealing with aggrieved relatives. (And that’s not even counting all the people killed by the monster or disappeared into the Upside-Down!)

Like a lot of stories that were actually made in the 80s, this series tries to walk a tricky line: a horror story about kids that will hopefully be equally appealing to teens and grown-ups: A celebration of innocence and experience at the same time, juxtaposing and combining the sensibilities of Mike and Hopper. For the most part, the series succeeds wonderfully, but I think it would have been even better if she was just knocking all those people out (in a horrific and badass way, if you prefer).

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Rulebook Casefile: The 13 Member Ensemble in “Stranger Things”

The “Stranger Things” pilot has a lot of work to do. First and foremost, it has to introduce 13 main characters (really 14, because we assume the cook will be a character as well) and get us to like/love most of them. Let’s look at them and why we like them:
  • Mike Wheeler, amusingly serious about his dorkiness
  • Lucas Sinclair, shares out exasperation with the other nerds
  • Dustin Henderson, sweet-natured
  • Will Byers, touchingly innocent
  • Eleven, bad-ass, stuck in a harrowing situation
  • Jonathan Byers doesn’t really make an impression yet.
  • Nancy Wheeler is less sympathetic, but we empathize with the thrill/confusion/fear of a new relationship.
  • Steve Harrington, a witty cad.
  • Barb Holland, touchingly dorky.
  • Sheriff Jim Hopper, amusingly boorish.
  • Joyce Byers, we empathize with her horrible situation and economic struggles.
  • Karen Wheeler doesn’t register, she’s just a hectoring mom.
  • Dr. Martin Brenner, an intriguing psychopath
To make things harder, the pilot eschews the easiest and most traditional way to introduce a large ensemble: We could meet Mike first and then meet the other twelve from Mike’s point of view, sharing his limited perspective on their lives, but instead we get several separate introductions:
  • First Mike, Lucan, Dustin, Will and Karen get their shared intro scene.
  • Then we discover Nancy from Dustin’s POV, but only a glimpse, so the scene with Nancy and Barb (and then Steve) essentially serves as its own independent introduction scene.
  • We meet Joyce and Jonathan in the context of Will, but they essentially get their own independent scene.
  • Hopper, Eleven, and Dr. Brenner each definitely get their own very individualized into scenes.
So how does the show cram all this into 45 minutes and still have time for a plot? It relies a lot on well-worn tropes. This isn’t just a show set in 1983, it’s a loving pastiche of books, movies and TV from that era, so it introduces most of the characters using the types of scenes we know well.

The Nancy/Barb/Steve storyline is a total cliché, but it gets away with it because we get the sense that it’s all kind of a joke that it’s so familiar. We’re half-identifying with the characters, and half outside of the show, thinking, “They really nailed the pop culture of that era.” This gives the show access to shorthand characterization that allows it to quickly set up its world.

This show is a testament to the fact that audiences love familiar tropes as long as they’re re-contextualized in an interesting way. Every storyline is derivative here, but they’re derived from an interesting mix of sources (“Akira” meets Pretty in Pink meets Stand By Me meets Alien meets...) and recreated so lovingly that we’re delighted, not offended.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

A Cover Gallery For the Official Release Day!

Hi guys, today is the official release date of my book. That’s a little meaningless now, because they went ahead and sent it out two weeks early to everyone who ordered it. (Check out this amazing first review on Amazon! “Erik Hazzard” totally sounds like a name I made up to review my own book, but I promise that he’s real and I don’t know him) and my release party isn’t until Friday, but it’s still a special day, so I thought I would mark the occasion by putting up all the covers I mocked up for the book over the years. Some of these I put on the blog back in the day, and others will be new to all of you!

I started with the idea that this was a populist manifesto (That’s Joel McCrea from Sullivan’s Travels):

I still love this title and cover:

This title/cover was a shameless rip-off of Blake Snyder:

The one should look familiar to longtime fans of the blog:

My agent wondered if we could sell this as a marketing book, which seemed like a longshot, but I did a cover mark-up to see what that would look like:

I decided that the last essay in the book called Scheherazade to mind, so I played with two covers featuring her:

I went back and forth as to whether or not this should be a book specifically for rewriting:
In the end, I’m glad we went with the branding and cover we have!  Leave these things up to the professionals, folks!  Now go out and buy the book, if you please.  I hear that it’ll be face-out at Barnes and Noble for a month!