(Fear The) Fear The Walking Dead

Hello world.

No preamble today, as time is of the essence.

I don’t like Zombies. I don’t like Zombie movies. I don’t like Zombie books. That’s me. But there are a couple of exceptions. Among the very few is the series “The walking dead“. Continue reading

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About Those Resolutions

Hello 2016, Goodbye 2015, Happy New Year everyone!

I’m here to confess another little tidbit. I’m an amateur guitar player. I’m very serious about being an amateur, I’ve been doing this for close to 30 years now. Never had the time, nor the inclination to become professional about this either. It’s too much practice if we want to get down to it, and quite frankly, I am not one to play for a crowd of any kind, so why bother? So yeah, I can pull off some pretty nice tunes (rhythm guitar, forget solos), but that’s just for me, myself and I.

It’s a real kick for me to succeed in playing a riff I like. If I can pull it off, it doesn’t really matter if it’s just part of a song with 10 more riffs. It’s about the chord progression. If I can make it from chord 1 to chord 3, or 8 or whatever without messing it up, I’m satisfied. Those in my immediate proximity might be very irritated until that happens, but what can you do…

Great chord progressions start somewhere, go through some turmoil and can only end with a resolution. You might not understand what I’m saying, but trust me, every riff you like is resolved one way or the other. It’s that chord, or note that let’s you release that breath you were holding. That final note that, only once played, a new progression starts. It’s the progression of different notes that takes you on an emotional ride and the resolution is the satisfying end. It could very well be a surprise, but it is absolutely satisfying.

Stories are like chord progressions. They too, have a beginning, middle and end. They too, take you on an emotional ride, and… yes, they too, should be resolved in a satisfying way.

What does it mean to resolve a story?

Well, stories (good ones) are based – in a nut shell – on the gap between what a character wants, and the hand that life deals her. That creates problems. These problems need to be resolved by the time we put the book down.

Otherwise, we remain frustrated.

Note, that I keep using the terms “resolve” and “satisfy“. These absolutely do not mean that every problem is resolved to our hero’s best interests. It does not mean a “happy end” and it does not even mean our hero stays alive…

It only means that every question raised during this emotional ride gets answered in a logical (logical within the story) and believable way. No loose ends. No little sub plot left hanging. No “leave it to the readers” as in – let them write the end of the story. Yeah, an end might leave things for the reader to ponder, but it’s up to the writer to answer the main questions, to show how each story line ends – even if the end is not absolute (say, a couple gets married – we don’t necessarily have to know if they stay together or have kids [Only if it’s directly tied to an open story question]).

Think about the best books you’ve read. They may differ in many ways, from style to subject matter. One thing I absolutely guarantee they have in common – being great – is that they are all resolved with a satisfying ending.

I sincerely hope that 2015 is ending in a very satisfying way for all of you – and this time I do mean a happy ending. Let’s all ride into the sunset with the loot and the girl, and live happily ever after.

Happy 2016 everyone,

 

Two Faces Of The Same Coin

Welcome back folks,

Hope you’re well on your way to get all your holiday shopping done (cause God knows it ain’t about the holiday anymore…). If you got a minute, I’d like to let you in on a little (not very secretive) secret.

I like the bad guys in books and movies.

I have nothing against a good hero (as have been documented on this blog, more than once… Or twice…), but as likable, capable or strong as the on-screen good guys are, the protagonist is only as good as the antagonist makes him. Want to test this theory? Let’s look at some of the best protagonists:

  • Clarice Starling / Hannibal Lecter – How good is Jodie Foster’s character in this story? You got it. As good as Anthony Hopkins’.
  • We sure loved Jack Nicholson’s McMurphy as opposed by Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher).
  • Dr. Richard Kimble was framed and threatened by some devious men, making his flight and fight far more interesting.

We could run down the imdb database for hours here, but instead I wanted to talk about one “bad guy” in particular. Well, “bad guy” is not really doing him justice. He’d prefer “Outlaw“, or if you insist, a man living truly by his own set of rules.

Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins)

crowder1

(Image credit: http://www.breitbart.com)

I love Raylan Givens’s character. I love Timothy Oliphant’s job as the Marshal. But try to imagine this with a lesser rival than Boyd. Not only is this a match made in TV heaven, a phenomenal casting job. It is first, and foremost a well crafted character.

A villain can be extremely malicious, cruel, even psychotic. He can be a megalomaniac, demonic and a generally nefarious prick. But every once in a while, you find a villain who is not as extreme. In fact, sometimes, the better villain is someone who is just bad enough to oppose our hero but not very far at all.

The reason I love Boyd Crowder as an antagonist (again, with all credit to Walton Goggins) is that when things are said and done, he is Raylan’s childhood friend. He is a lot like Raylan in many ways (least of which is his attitude towards “norms”). He is nothing if not your normal small town Joe. Sure, he’ll go outside of the law to achieve his goals, and do some really bad things in the process. But not only does he truly believe what he does is right (my favorite kind of villain – a villain who thinks he’s not one), he always play right around the line between right and wrong. Is he hurting people? Yes. Is he looking to hurt people? No. Stay out of his way and you’ll be fine.

Put a Hero who’s all of the above, just inside the confines of law, and you have conflict, but with so much room for story development. These guys can interact in ways that others can’t (not believably anyway). You have freedom to explore developments which may put these rivals on the same side of a fight, while putting their own rivalry “on-hold”.

The amount of banter gold (see a few samples below) couldn’t have possibly be written in, unless there was a significant familiarity and shared experience (and shared partners).

Justified – one of my all time favorite TV shows – ended aptly, with these two friends doing what friends do. Sit down for a chat. There was no real need for these two to go out guns a blazing. It was never their weapon of choice anyway. Raylan might be the fastest gunslinger east of the Mississippi and Boyd was an explosive expert, but what they got, they normally did by using their deep well of words.

And on that note, allow me to end this post by sharing some of these words (credit: imdb.com):

Raylan Givens: I’m Raylan Givens!
Boyd Crowder: No, I’m Raylan Givens!
Raylan Givens: Are you trying to be funny?
Boyd Crowder: A little.

Another one:

Raylan Givens: You didn’t happen to bring your rocket launcher, did you?
Boyd Crowder: I didn’t think to pack one.

Another:

Boyd Crowder: Truth always sounds like lies to a sinner.

And another:

Boyd Crowder: Well if my survival is a happy bi-product of my selfless act, so be it.

One last time…

Raylan Givens: Well, I suppose if I allow myself to be sentimental, despite all that has occurred, there is one thing I wander back to.
Boyd Crowder: We dug coal together.
Raylan Givens: That’s right.

Boyd Crowder: We dug coal together.

If you haven’t watched Justified, too bad. Go watch it. Now.

Until next time,


Hero under fire

Hello everyone, yes yes, I was away for a moment. Yes, I was busy with my “day job” as well as with work on what is now the fourth draft of my book.

During this time, I allowed myself the occasional stroll down Facebook lane and the corner of Twitter ave, just to check that the universe hasn’t in fact blown away in my absence. Good news everyone! The world is still there. At least to the best of my judgment.

Now, during one of these strolls I stumbled upon a post that was shared in a writers group in Facebook. The title itself caused the predicted knee jerk reaction. You know the one where you just HAVE to comment on the post. But since I have matured somewhat in recent years and learned to count to ten, I bravely fought that instinct and held my tongue until I had the time to… you know… actually read the post.

By the way, the post in question was titled – Eight Reasons Why The Hero’s Journey Sucks (Link at the bottom of the post – please visit and read).

Hence the title.

Since I’m not one to just bash anyone’s opinion I decided to take the time and respond to that post right here, with some depth, rather than whatever thought I could’ve half-assedly compiled in a distracted Facebook comment.

Ok, let’s dive in to a journey, eight points long to see if we can help our hero (Not that our hero is really being attacked, mind you – nor does our hero need my defense):

*Disclaimer: I will do my absolute best to speak to the topic, not at the author (though will make reference to quotes from the author for… well… reference). None of that is meant personally obviously. The writer wanted to spark debate and I’m only too happy to jump in.

  • It’s a formula – Well, no argument here. Since Campbell looked for similarities, it makes perfect sense that at the end somewhat of a formula would evolve. Now it’s easy to take George Lucas as the example and dub the use of this formula “lazy”, though I’d argue with anyone that Star Wars holds some aspects that are nothing short of genius, with depth that rivals any masterpiece both ancient as well as contemporary. Why not take other writers’ adherence to this formula as an example? whether by choice or by default? The simple truth it, it works. It works very well. And really, I can put many things into formulas, including love life, painting, mix martial arts. Which leads me to…
  • It discourages originality – I beg to differ. I don’t call Star Wars mythic because it’s about a hero who’s singled out – as the original post accuses – again, not every story written based on Campbell’s hero’s journey is Star Wars. Some are quite different. Some are considered – with pretty good reason – classics. Some (Lord of the Rings for example) are super original. Moreover, in quite a few of them our hero is definitely NOT singled out. He or she (we’ll get back to that one shortly) might be accidental heroes. Now, we can definitely champion great stories, based on the journey or not (and I have). That in itself does not make the journey suck.
  • Why is one hero so special anyway? – I apologize, but this point I don’t really understand. I read a couple of books in my life and on so many more than one, our hero does not come pre-installed with every skill and good quality known to man… In fact, I like it far better when our hero is just a simple person (just a slob like one of us…). Nowhere in the journey does it prohibit such a hero. So not sure what the complaint is about… Next, the author of the original post asks the following questions – What about a hero who’s the greatest because she decides not to put up with the shit that everybody else is putting up with? Like 1984’s Winston Smith or Fahrenheit 451’s Montag? Yep, they’re way up there on my favorite protagonists list. What about a group of people who decide to work together to change the crappy status quo? Excellent, now I hear that one quite a lot. Here’s what I have to say about a “group”. A group has no personality, nor characteristics. A group is not an organic being. A group is made of more than one individual. So my suggestion is – If you’d like to make a group your hero, in my mind you have two options: Either you focus on the most interesting character who’s part of that group, giving her the fair treatment of a character the reader can get behind, Or – write as many books as there are people in that group, dedicating each book to a member of that group. Here’s my question – who was the hero? Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? or “the movement”? I’m by no means saying that the millions of people who rightfully supported Dr. King are any less important. I’m saying, that people rally behind an individual who represents these values we hold dear.
  • The “hero” is always a d00d – Really? Really? That’s because of Campbell’s Hero’s Journey too?… Silly me. Here I thought it’s because society is still mostly chauvinistic. These are concepts. Yes, the goddess can be a dood… It’s up to the writer.
  • It’s cheesy as hell – Well I can’t help you there. What you find cheesy, I may not. Tomay-toes / Tomah-toes and all that. However, new-agey or not, there’s nothing wrong with looking into the soul of our characters (Hold that thought as we will get back to this in the last bullet point).
  • He shoehorned a lot of myths into his theory – Again, I do not see this as a contributing factor for the suckiness of the journey. The fact that Campbell might have not chewed our food for us does not make it suck. As the author says, he consciously looked for similarities only. Which alone can say that there is a lot of room for differences, which in turn might say that the formula is not the limiting cookie cutter the author makes it out to be.
  • It confuses personal growth with solving problems – It does not confuse. It claims that in order for the story to be more than a sequence of “things” happening, and in order for our hero to be more significant and identifiable (i.e. more like a real person) to the reader, the hero should learn something, some things. Does it not make sense that the story would be far more compelling if the person we cheer for is a little more than a device? Even when the solution to a problem is – as the author says – “fighting like hell and doing what has to be done, and there’s no time to meet the goddess or touch your magic wand or any of that stuff“, wouldn’t the hero need to know when to fight? Wouldn’t the hero need an ally? or allies? Wouldn’t the hero (since we don’t want an Ender Wiggin type chosen one hero) need to learn anything before going into a fight? and would it make any sense at all to the reader if that hero wins the fight (which should be a significant one) with zero development? and most importantly, if we don’t look at that new-agy, physiological “stuff” and reveal to the reader some things about the make up of our hero, background, past experiences, state of mind etc. would the reader care to follow her into battle? I think not.

Bottom line: Yep. If one thinks about the hero’s journey as a manual, takes every word literally, ignores the importance of building a character who evolves during the story, focuses on the less stellar examples of the use of the hero’s journey and forgets that at the end of the day it’s up to the writer to write the story then yeah, the hero’s journey sucks. Only it doesn’t.

HERE is the LINK for the original post.

Comments, like, shares, they’re all welcome of course.

And until next time,

Book Report – December 11th 2014

Hello everyone and welcome back.

It slowed down here a notch this week, but that doesn’t mean I was idle. In fact, I was everything but idle.

While I enjoy writing these blog posts, I do have my main project in the works and have been for a while now. To recap, after writing a second draft for my first novel, I decided to use that experience and write the story that begged to be written. I’ve placed Novel #1 on figurative ice and started Novel #2 from scratch.

What that means is of course, coming up with a new idea, concept and create a plot, A to Z. It means a heck of a lot more, of course, but with your permission, I’d skip the lecture and summarize this by “writing a lot of words that move the story forward, from the introduction of my hero through to tying all loose ends.”

So words I’ve written this week. Plenty of those things. 14,068 words this week, but who’s counting? In terms of progress, I obviously feel great. I’m at the part of the story where writing becomes as fast as – hopefully – it would be reading. Think last quarter of the book when the heat is on.

You might be wondering what type of book I’m writing, to which the answer is – A politically charged thriller.

So there you have it. That’s what yours truly has been up to these past few days. I tried to keep this place interesting with a fantastic blog post by Jake Threadgood about his experience in Iran. Until I complete my first draft (Judging by current rate, we’re talking end of 2014), you may notice slower updates on this here blog, but stay tuned. I promise some shenanigans.

For now, I write, cause writers write, they just do, that’s how we roll!

madafaka1

About the size… Does it matter?

Hello everyone, and thank you new followers. I shouldn’t take that for granted of course, so if I haven’t told you lately that I love you, there you go 🙂

As you may have noticed, we’ve been talking about matters of life or death here lately.

So if I may (and let’s face it, I may. My blog my rules!), Allow me to indulge in a question that’s on many people’s mind which is not a life/death scenario, yet intrigues men and women alike. The question of… sizedoes it matter?

See, from my experience, these things come in all sizes and colors. There are big, thick ones. There are big but thin ones. Small and thick, small and thin. Personally I don’t care, as long as they give me enough pleasure. Of course, there are times when I look at one and say “How the hell am I going to take all this in???”

I’ve heard people say “but it’s too short.” or “It’s too thin”. I’ve heard people complain that it should be bigger. Hell, I even heard people say it should be shorter. Much shorter. But really, what counts? The quality or quantity?

Let me ask you people this then – What do you intend to do with this thing? Well, can you do it regardless of size?

Oh, excuse me just a second.

Just so we’re all on the same page here (pun intended) – we are talking about books here. You knew that, right?

What else did you think I was going on about? Oh, do you kiss your mama with that mouth!?

But I digress.

So. Sizes.

As I said, I don’t really mind how thick a book is. I’ve read a series of 4 books, with north of 800 pages each by Tad Williams and enjoyed them just as I enjoyed a 180 pages book by Ursula Le Guin.

The answer to this question, at least in my book (notice the crafty word-play…) is shorter than a novel.
Your book should be as long as it takes to give the reader your story from start to end, but no longer than that. Now, putting aside style, editing, and other aspects of writing without which there shouldn’t even be a book to begin with…

Consider these:

  • Your plot is complete, from the introduction and through to a satisfactory conclusion.
  • Your sub-plot/s have been resolved.
  • Your characters, mainly the protagonist and the few other significant ones have gotten the chance to come to life.
  • Your story delivered on its premise.
  • Your book includes only what is necessary to move your story forward

Well, in that case, does it matter if it took a 100 pages or 1000? Well, putting aside questions like “Who would buy a book with 1000 pages?”
Of course, different genres have some “standards” and you might want to think about these points above if you’re way off.

In other words – “Too short” likely means you didn’t tell your story (not all of it), and “Too long” might mean you either should have stopped writing sooner, or you may want to check for “filler” (Those pages where there are a lot of words but little story).

I’m going to stop this post right here, as to not make it too long. If you think it’s too short, and that I missed something, why don’t you tell me about it right here?

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, Thank you all for stopping by. I appreciate it year-round.

15 Reasons Not To Write

Welcome back everyone to this corner of the web.

As I was getting ready to leave work today, a colleague stopped by to say “I didn’t know you wrote. When do you write?” In my line of work it’s a very legitimate question, as the hours are crazy. So I answered that I write after work and pretty much whenever I can.

Later on this evening, I thought about this more and I have to admit that writing is hard. Well, let’s say it’s not easy. It’s not easy for a person who has a lot of spare time, but it’s even more challenging for someone with a full-time job.

So, here are 15 reasons not to get yourself into this adventure, in no particular order:

  • You need to come up with an original idea – You’re not going to write ‘1984’. Orwell already wrote it. It needs to be unique. Granted, it could be unique in any number of ways, so it’s more than possible. But it still requires some looking into…

  • The idea is supposed to be interesting (to more people than your mom) – I hope you don’t intend on keeping your story all for yourself now, are you? Make sure that the idea is of interest to a relatively large number of people. Up to you and your goals really.

  • Having an idea is not enough. You need a concept – an idea is nice. I have ideas all the time. But a story cannot be written based on an idea, as it is disconnected from characters, settings, and other critical elements of story telling. In the end of the day, an idea can spark a story, but that is all it does.

  • You need to create some characters – Some things will need to happen to someone right? You need to come up with this someone. You need to ensure that he/she meets some resistance (more characters), get some help (more characters) and so on and so forth.

  • The characters need to be, and appear different on the paper – John Doe from Tennessee, who was born with a limp couldn’t possibly be identical to Lenny Berkowitz who just celebrated his Bar mitzvah… It’s up to you, master of puppets, to make sure they don’t come out as one and the same…

  • Well, it takes time… – Trust me on this one.

  • You need to write a lot of words – Again, trust me.

  • You need to make sure your story makes sense within the context of your concept, settings, etc. – No matter what genre your story is, it has to make sense in that the reader doesn’t scratch his head in frustration after every paragraph. Things happen for a reason, they occur in a time and a place with some rules (even if the only rule is that there are no rules).

  • Your main character has to develop as the story goes forward – A main character simply can’t make it from page 1 to the last and stay the same. Not if you want the reader to care and root for him.

  • You need to hook the reader and keep him flipping pages – Pretty self-explanatory. Not trivial though. How many books did you put down before the end?

  • You need to resolve all loose ends before you’re done – The story needs to end, so every question that was asked needs to be answered. Or, even if you like to “leave things open”, it has to be acknowledged and handled appropriately. You don’t want the reader to ask “Hey! How about that Joe Schmoe guy? what happened to him?”

  • You need to give a satisfactory end (more on this on a future post) – Satisfactory doesn’t necessarily mean happy (although I’m a sucker for a happy ending). But it has to mean something. It has to live up to the promise you give the reader at the beginning.

  • You question yourself at every turn. When is the question in place and when is it simply paranoia? – Well… I’ll tell you about it when I figure it out (Don’t hold your breath).

  • You need to finish what you started… – Sounds easier than it is, believe you me.

  • Once you’re done… prepare for re-writes – What? re-write? I refer you to exhibit A. You’re not done after you ceremoniously type ‘The End’. You’re just done with the first draft. This will need some work (trust me on that one too) and even when you do all you can, it still needs to be edited and so forth.

Well, those were just the first 15 that came to my head as I was thinking it up. Believe me, I could go on for at least 15 more. But you get the idea. It’s not a simple task by any stretch of the word.

So why!?

Why in god’s green earth am I doing this? That may be a topic for a whole separate post. For now, please accept my simple answer – because I need to do this.

See, there are millions stories already written. But there are stories yet to be told. There are more such stories than there are people to write them. So sure, it ain’t easy. But don’t we tell our kids that life never is?

  •  Do you have a story?

  • Did you write it?

  • How hard was it?

Let me know.

until next time

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