Magic and monsters

28 11 2010

Continuing with the theme of entertainment-based flashbacks, which coming home always seems to trigger: Youthful lit is all the rage these days. The last two movies I saw were “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” (version 7.1) and “Tangled,” a charming 3-D animated romp through ye olde “Rapunzel” story.  Both of the films were very entertaining, and most critics seem to agree with me. During the latter, I witnessed a promo for the remake of “The Chronicles of Narnia” that is coming out at some point.

Got me thinking about some of the things I read as a kid. Of particular note to me were the John Bellairs series of gothic mysteries. The stories themselves weren’t particularly childish, but as the story goes, Bellairs was advised to rework an early piece for young adults because they seemed to be the best audience. (Think: “Goosebumps” et al) They were so chilling and mysterious and atmospheric … I just loved them. Another one of Bellairs’ books, “The Face in the Frost,” is supposed to be really good, but I’ve never read it. That’s apparently the work he’s famous for, a dark fantasy that pokes fun at the genre even as it moves through a fast-paced classic storyline. Or so they say.

Before there was Harry Potter, there was Anthony Monday and Lewis whats-his-name and of course Johnny Dixon, whose father was away at war. The idea of a kid being away from his parents and forced to deal with a supernatural element is nothing new. Don’t we all face that same exact challenge — finding your way alone, as an independent individual? You have a choice to embrace it, avoid it, or resign yourself to a life of miserably accepting the futility of your meaningless existence. The Rapunzel story is pretty much the same. A girl escapes from her isolation in a tower and does what every girl learns to do: leave home, face the big, bad world and find an animated love interest voiced by Zachary Levi. And what a voice it is.

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The Elevator Play

21 11 2010

The other day, I’m not sure which other day, I was reading about formulaic story plots. One of the most commonly used is the Elevator Play, especially in theater. This isn’t like the Elevator Pitch, which is given in an actual elevator in order to elevate one’s status, but rather a theoretical construct in which the characters are confined together in a limited space (like an elevator). “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (sp) is a classic example of this. The action takes place in basically one spot the whole time. You can see how a playwright would love a limited space like this. Screw the setting changes, focus just on the characters.

According to the formula, you put a bunch of characters in the space together and then at least one of them goes berserk, or otherwise instigates the rest of the group. The physical limitations imposed by the setting then force the characters to confront some kind of personal demons.

It’s interesting how that theory applies to many stories. Think about “LOST,” which I’m just about done watching. Maybe down to the last three or four episodes or so (whew!) and I’ve already seen the finale. So a bunch of people are on an airplane (another classic Elevator Play scenario) and then they crash onto an island (there’s the confinement again) and, guess what, they’re not only being chased down by smoke monsters and giant polar bears, but they’re being forced to confront their own personal demons. Be they misgivings about one’s father, as in pretty much all the cases, or something else. Who knows what. And, guess what, some of those people are unstable and they create trouble, but everyone’s trapped there and they can’t leave. And so it goes, until it all gets boring, and then they get to leave the island … all the events from the second half of the show were created to cope with the limitations of the island setting. It gets to the point where the island scenes are less interesting than everything else.

I think an interesting writing exercise is to think about your “elevator” and what kind of people you would want to put in it. If I had to pick one, it would be a subway car late at night, or a family hiding out in a bomb shelter underground, or maybe some kids who eat lunch together in their school’s band room. It could even be a shady motel room on Route 66, or a Seattle office during the dot-com boom. Maybe even the Donner Party in a snowstorm. There’d be some archetypes: the wide-eyed innocent, the sage, the stoic, the trickster, the thief, the cannibal. Naturally, some wouldn’t get along, and some would get hungry.

The theory behind the Elevator Play probably explains what makes reality shows so remarkably compelling. There’s usually a set location or premise that permits a group of attractive young people to stop being polite and start getting real. That is, they get into a fancy house and then start getting naked, showering together, fighting about petty things, doing mandatory volunteer work, confessing to the camera and having pixellated sex on camera. Which is about as real as it gets.

I’m now several years older than most of the cast members, but let me tell you, the Real World kids have nothing on me; they’d better get those elevator pitches ready.





Progressive word-age

24 08 2009

I decided to try an exercise inspired by a Wired article on super-short stories. Here, I increase the length of a story by one word, step by step. Let it be known that in this exercise, I use different stories each time. I could make this difficulter (heh) by trying to bulk up the same story over and over again.

ONE WORD

Reborn.

TWO WORDS

Bigfoot exists.

THREE WORDS

My exoskeleton broke.

FOUR WORDS

We both changed genders.

FIVE WORDS

A boy becomes a butterfly.
Teen Werewolf struggles with puberty.

SIX WORDS

The tornado foiled the bank heist.

SEVEN WORDS

A time-traveling Weinermobile visits the 1920s.

EIGHT WORDS

I was forced to relive my prostitution years.

NINE WORDS

He refused to date her because she used a PC.

TEN WORDS

The heat wave thawed cryogenically frozen bodies, unleashing cranky zombies.

ELEVEN WORDS

Robots take over the world and make us into their sex slaves.

TWELVE WORDS

“Is that your car?”
“Yes, it is.”
“There’s a dead body inside.”

THIRTEEN WORDS

I really couldn’t have been happier about Ms. Thompson’s newborn half-swine son.

FOURTEEN WORDS

True, it’s hard to say goodbye, but it’s even harder to say hello again.

FIFTEEN WORDS

No surprise: The record shop owner was, in fact, a vampire in his spare time.

SEVENTEEN WORDS

Jake knew the palm reader was a hack when he saw her peeking at Chinese fortune cookies.

EIGHTEEN WORDS

We stopped at a creepy-looking house and took the people inside back to our even creepier abode.

NINETEEN WORDS

Piles of sticky zombies. That’s what you get for trying to use Coke’s secret ingredient to resurrect the dead.

TWENTY WORDS

The jukebox in the diner is special. It takes you back to the era mentioned in the song you choose.

TWENTY ONE WORDS

An asteroid is coming. Society is saying its own last rites and wondering why celebrity babies are such a big deal.

TWENTY TWO WORDS

You’re stuck in a black room with no doors, only walls. Someone knocks, but there’s no door there for you to answer.

TWENTY THREE WORDS

Our love story was rather ordinary. My girlfriend was very tolerant of the fact that exposure to radiation left me with extra genitals.

TWENTY FOUR WORDS

Secret Agent 008 told me the thugs were taking over. I quickly opened up a connection with Dimension X.

TWENTY FIVE WORDS

I just got back from a lengthy time travel trip, and you’d never believe what I saw. It’s true; man really did walk with dinosaurs.

TWENTY SIX WORDS

I fell in love with a handsome street vendor. He always gave me lots of freshly cooked meats, but all he wanted was a hamburger from Burger King.

TWENTY SEVEN WORDS

P.T. Barnum had nothing on this used-car salesman. He could have sold a hearse with fresh body parts inside. And that’s exactly what he did.

TWENTY EIGHT WORDS

The pot luck wasn’t lucky at all. The food was all bad and nobody wanted any of it. One thing led to another and soon a food fight erupted.

TWENTY NINE WORDS

The year is 2078. Robots have become technologically advanced enough to help in the galaxy-wide fight against invading aliens. We’re gearing up now because the invaders are coming.

THIRTY WORDS

He spoke softly and swung his hips like they were a pendulum. He had the charm of Elvis and the style of a ’57 Chevy. Too bad I killed him.

THIRTY ONE WORDS

The couple didn’t want a normal wedding. They wanted a tacky Vegas version, complete with flying Elvi and a sketchy drive-through chapel under the neon lights. Laura’s mom went ballistic.

THIRTY TWO WORDS

Christmas was pretty ordinary. Chestnuts, open fire, you know. All of a sudden Uncle Jack tells the kids Santa isn’t real and they freak out. But Santa comes and beats his arse.





Writing challenges and musical insecurity

6 10 2007

As you may or may not know, I want to write and I have ideas in my head, but I’m not sure how to get them on paper/computer, and I don’t know what’s the best way to proceed. As I see it, there are a number of questions you have to ask yourself when constructing a piece, and here is the list of things I’m asking myself:

  • Fact or fiction? In some ways, nonfiction is way more artistic because you can talk about something that really happened and find research sources. You spend more time crafting and perfecting your art. And fiction is way more limited, because in order to add reality to an invented scenario, you have to decide upon a “realistic enough” sort of scenario.
  • “Novel” ideas, anyone? With books having to compete with far more interactive kinds of media, is there a way for the ol’ tome to get in on the business? It’s my feeling that old-fashioned book reading could benefit from a little modernity, just enough to get people in on the game. Perhaps authors can start blogs and discussions and encourage people to share their perspectives and fan art. The fan art and fanfiction (and yes, slash) are seemingly a biproduct of this sort of need we have now to be participants in the media we consume.
  • Why create a standard text story in the first place? Maybe interactive storytelling is the way to go. Stories constructed from the start in an inherently interactive manner. Don’t ask me how that would get done, but I’ve done a little research into interactive narratives and perhaps that’s a good starting point. On the other hand, reading purists know (and I feel) that text has its own value; an intimate connection with the author as the words stream through your head in a sort of musical rhythm designed to dance through the verbal centers in your brain. The resulting imagery is often more powerful than any movie, and most people can attest to disappointment at the seeing a movie after reading an associated book. The trick is you, the reader, have to be of the right mindset to receive text. More and more, it’s getting hard for me to focus on something so old-fashioned as a book.
  • So you’ve decided you want to write a fiction book. How fictional should it be? Should it be set in a real place or a fictional location? How much should this place resemble real life?
  • Do you want to play it deadpan and straight, or do you want to have an element of humor mixed in?
  • How to narrate the story? Third-person narration feels safer because the narrator doesn’t have to have a stake in the story, but first-person narration can have its benefits. It depends on how involved the narrator should be. You can even have an omniscient narrator speaking in the first person about events happening to others. In any case, how reliable is this narrator going to be? The default typically is a “journalist narrator” who uses colorful commentary to describe the situation, but ultimately steps back and lets things unfold. Still, things could be done differently. A more unreliable narrator might choose to withhold information or give their opinions. In any case, it’s something to think about when constructing a story.
  • What’s the point of writing this? To have fun, make social commentary, address inner fears of the psyche or maybe do all of these and more? Maybe there’s something out there I can’t think of. In any case, it’s important to figure this stuff out.
  • Is there a workable storyline going on here? Is this a sustainable plot? Where is this going?
  • Has this same exact story been done BETTER by someone else?

I think that’s enough for now, but I’m working on some ideas. We’ll see.

Oh, and WordPress has added a tags feature (or else I’m blind to the fact that it was there before) so I can now add tags instead of relying only on categories. Now I’m wondering how exactly I’m going to use these in concert now, seeing as I’ve been applying a tag approach to my use of categories. Ah well.

Oh, and whilst at Borders today, I purchased four CDs. One of them was a Richard Marx CD (my first) and the others were from shall I say “cooler” artists. (Remember that “one of these things is not like the other” sketch from Sesame Street?) I was a little awkward about the Richard Marx disc and I put it near the bottom of the stack. I mean, I’m not such a wuss as to not buy the actual CD, but I’m still insecure enough to try to sandwich it between more socially acceptable items and pray to the deity of your choice that nobody says anything about it. So the Kevin Bacon-esque clerk chuckles a little and asks me straight out, “You a big fan of Richard Marx?” and I flatly denied it in the same way that I might flatly deny that I have some horrible disease, which was silly, but I did it. It turns out that *he* actually enjoyed it and I squashed him without really intending to, and I felt a little bad about it.

I’m going into this awful amount of detail about this extremely mundane event because music is such a personal and telling thing, but at the same time it means nothing at all. It’s a singular reflection of one aspect of our inner emotional state, and in some cases represents our fleeting emotional and social desires. Exposing your musical interests via playlist is a bit like opening up your soul to show who you are and maybe even who you wish you were. So, then, it’s not really in vogue to be emotionally vulnerable in this day and age. Sarcasm, stoicism and a stiff upper lip are common sights. For that reason, you (me, whatever) cringe at the thought of enjoying really emotional or cheesy things, until you reach a certain point that it’s so ridiculous that you can only celebrate it. I think that’s where I’m at now. And don’t get me wrong; maudlin, over-emotional and perhaps clingy people drive me up the wall. But sometimes it’s nice to indulge, and yet I feel very defensive at the store counter. So, everyone, the moral of this story is it’s time we embraced the Softer Side of Sears. And Richard Marx.





Bleed American

7 09 2007

So where have I been all my life? Or at least this past week or so. That’s a good question. The answer is I’m currently ready to start sleeping off a long week. See, it’s Labor Day week and that means … you know what that means. So recent highlights include:

  • Working some heavy hours due to reduced holiday staffing and a desire to keep things at a reasonably productive level
  • Celebrating the contributions of the Working Man to the United States of America over Labor Day weekend by
    • A. Working (To be honest, everything is either closed or crowded, so I don’t mind working on this kind of holiday.)
    • B. Checking out the Dragon*Con (sci-fi/fantasy/anime/Star Trek/everything convention).
  • Riding the train home from work on Sunday and meeting a guy covered in fake blood holding a sign that says “free hugs”
  • Watching that guy and another guy not only engage in physical contact of the friendly-male sort, but also eat some of the bloodstuff
  • Finding out that the blood has a strawberry-mint essence
  • Getting “evil energy” drinks for free
  • Waiting in line
  • Fighting my way through crowds
  • Eating tasty Willy’s Mexican Grille chow in an eating area full of Storm Troopers
  • Watching a storm trooper trying to buy sundries in the souvenir shop without removing their costume.
  • Watching a storm trooper rip his helmet off in disgust and say to the security guard telling him to go to the other door: “Awwww, man!”
  • Not being able to tell friend from foe from security guard because everybody looks evil and weapons-equipped
  • That guy dressed as a robot with a cardboard codpiece made out of an Apple Macintosh box.

I like codpieces. They’re the best part of Ren Faires, which are otherwise typically hot, dusty, expensive and generally difficult, with often nightmarish traffic.

There’s a certain society in these Cons (at least this one) and it can be a little odd for people like me who feel sort of like outsiders. On the other hand, I saw a good deal of people doing Cosplay that wasn’t really true sci-fi or fantasy. There were Spartan cheerleaders, and I couldn’t count the number of “Clerks 2” work uniforms and Silent Bob wannabes. (Granted, there is a tiny bit of geekery present in these fandoms)

I think a funny storyline for a movie (of the cheesy romantic comedy sort) would be a person who tries to geek themself out to attract someone. I mean think about the humorous possibilities of Joe Cool…

[Pause to kill speedy roach intruder. Seriously.]

…trying to learn about D&D and putting on a fur suit at a convention. I think it would be totally sweet. Hell, I’m going to write it up.

It’s about time I got back to work on the Great American Novel. Until later, I bid you adieu. Anyway why am I dinking around on teh Internets at 3 a.m.? Shame on me.