Archive for the ‘Prose’ Category

It seems everywhere you look, there’s a new token creeping into Hollywood and television. There will be a cast of lithe actors and actresses, and on the fringe of the group is the portly pal.

Yes, diversity in casting is sometimes a good thing. However, the real issue here is that there is only the one “fat friend.” Her weight, by the way, is a defining characteristic, much like I’ve written about with homosexuals

https://whatilearnedbywriting.wordpress.com/2011/04/23/homosexuality-as-a-character-trait/

Where is it true that a group of friends has just one heavy-set person? Why aren’t there average sized people?

I had often noticed that when you see a street scene in a movie, there is a remarkable number of thin people walking around in the background. They’re all actors – of course they’re thin. Ignore the fact that obesity is on the rise. But I really started thinking about this after seeing trailers for “Bridesmaids” with Melissa McCarthy (who’s excellent in Mike and Molly).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrRd2QSsGc4

I also read an interview with Blubberella actress Lindsay Hollister who was told once that she’s “too fat to play the fat friend.”

What I Learned: When writing a story with a large cast, make sure there are a healthy amount of people with average or larger builds. And don’t make their weight their defining characteristic.

Disclaimer/background: I’m a traditionalist. I don’t think people should break rules of storytelling unless there’s a good reason. I write comic books, short fiction and children’s books. Just to put my comments in perspective, these are my interests and favorites: My favorite superhero is Spider-Man, and I also like Justice League and Batman. My favorite comic writers lately have been Kurt Busiek, Peter David, and Geoff Johns. I am a huge Transformers fan. In children’s books, I go either simple or meta: either really simple stories or books about stories. In movies and books, I am more impressed with something small that makes me feel something rather than something I’m told is a “must-read” or a must-see.”

I make silly videos and post them here:

http://www.youtube.com/user/verylittleknowledge

Advertisements

There was a group of people with obsessive compulsive disorder on the show “Truth Be Told: I Have OCD” on the Oprah Winfrey Network. My wife and I were watching as one woman explained her OCD stemmed from a religious fervor – all her habits were as an aversion to sin. Another woman pulled her hair out, starting at around the time of her parents’ divorce. A third started after his sixth concussion while playing high school football.

These are origin stories. Very rarely do we hear them. Usually we just see the end result, but have no idea why we are who we are. But these people spoke very clearly of the causes to their disorders.

It was such a straight road from adversity to disorder that if it had happened in fiction I wouldn’t have believed it.

Yes, truth is stranger. But with this illustration, it’s even more clear.

What I Learned: If I’m writing about a disorder, OCD or otherwise, I won’t (not shouldn’t…this is more of a personal decision than a ground rule) come up with a cause. They just are.

Even if there’s a statistic somewhere that says most OCD comes from a cause, I don’t believe the cause.

The story’s interior reality is more important than reality.

A similar post about psychosis having a clear cause: https://whatilearnedbywriting.wordpress.com/2010/05/16/origins-for-psychopaths/

Disclaimer/background: I’m a traditionalist. I don’t think people should break rules of storytelling unless there’s a good reason. I write comic books, short fiction and children’s books. Just to put my comments in perspective, these are my interests and favorites: My favorite superhero is Spider-Man, and I also like Justice League and Batman. My favorite comic writers lately have been Kurt Busiek, Peter David, and Geoff Johns. I am a huge Transformers fan. In children’s books, I go either simple or meta: either really simple stories or books about stories. In movies and books, I am more impressed with something small that makes me feel something rather than something I’m told is a “must-read” or a must-see.”

I make silly videos and post them here:

http://www.youtube.com/user/verylittleknowledge

I also have OCD!

In response to:

http://www.slate.com/id/2293056/

Should we start placing commas outside quotation marks? Published in Slate 5/12/11

I feel ambivalent about this.

Yes, it makes sense to keep an entire unit together, meaning that everything within a quote should not be separated. Indeed, the point of punctuation is to keep thoughts separate when necessary.

It would also make it a lot easier to quote someone quoting someone else:

Current way: “I was talking to the mayor, and he said ‘Do it,’ ” the policeman said.

Other way: “I was talking to the mayor, and he said ‘Do it’,” the policeman said.

However, I think there are serious problems with arguments put forth by the author, Ben Yagoda.

As evidence, he uses the magazine he’s being published in, Slate, which is kind of self-serving and honestly, some (far from all) of the articles I’ve read in that magazine aren’t of the same caliber as The New York Post or Washington Times.

Also, a Conan O’Brien post, articles on Metafilter, and bulletin boards as proof of a shift in trends. OK. But people get things wrong all the time. These are probably the same people who get there, their and they’re wrong.

It also implies that people are writing that way intentionally. He said they’re writing the British way. I don’t think they know they’re wrong. I don’t think they know it’s the British way.

Yes, language and writing changes over centuries. And yes, most people probably won’t even realize there is a difference. But I’ll keep writing that way for now, until it’s officially wrong.

Just watched part of “Praying For Bobby.” I say “part of” because it didn’t hold my interest long enough. That’s not a damning criticism; I have the attention span of a gnat.

But more to the point, I found the characters difficult to believe (which is funny since it’s based on a true story), let alone care about.

The first and most glaring problem was Bobby.

I remember reading an article about gay celebrities. The advice given to them was “If you don’t want people to talk about you being gay, make yourself more interesting than your sexuality. Give them something else to talk about.”

And that was the problem with Bobby. He had one character trait: He was gay.

Granted, the whole point of the story is a gay young person (failing to) come to terms with his sexuality conflicted with his religion.

OK. He had two character traits. He was gay, and he was also very Catholic.

Now, that kind of dichotomy raises an interesting internal conflict, but one we just didn’t see enough of in the movie. Maybe a novel could reach those depths, but not a 90 minute movie. Or maybe not this 90 minute movie.

His opposite number was an overbearing mother, one that you’re only slightly more likely to encounter than the mother from “Carrie.” The mother was arguably the main character.

And when they argued, they spouted out lines that seemed like they were talking points of either camp: Her quoting well-worn scripture versus, and him shouting “I can’t choose who I am!”

But anyway, I didn’t care about the characters because there weren’t any characters there, just talking heads.

What I Learned: It’s difficult to have an extreme (the mother) be the main character. Some of the Sherlock Holmes stories were told from Watson’s point of view, after all. Sometimes it’s more interesting to have a middle of the road character react to them.

I was much more interested in Bobby’s distant father, or his protective big brother. These people weren’t as extreme, and so I was always interested in what they were going to say. I wasn’t surprised by anything the mom did. She was too extreme. She did exactly what I expected.

The father and brother were very religious, but not all fire and brimstone, and so I always wondered what they were going to say.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. If you’re writing about a minority portion of the population (like people with autism https://whatilearnedbywriting.wordpress.com/2011/03/04/autismaspergers-isnt-a-character/), you don’t do them any justice by making them token minorities. A character has to be more than just gay to be a three-dimensional character.

What I Learned: Be sure to make your character more than just gay. Let’s say you have five characters: Mark, Tony, Bruce, George, and Tyrone. If you think of Tony, and the first and only thing that pops into your head is “Tony’s the gay one,” then you’re doing it wrong. Give that character a third dimension.

The technology of something doesn’t matter to me.

We were watching “Untraceable” last night. There was a scene in which Diane Lane explains how this website owner was keeping his site from being shut down. It was very elaborate. The person she was explaining this to said “I don’t understand a single word you said.”

Was it all gobbledygook? Or was there a science behind it? Probably somewhere in between. The writer knew enough about computers to propose something that made sense, but that a hacker would get annoyed by.

So is that the level of science we need to be writing at? Either you’re an expert or just don’t bother?

We should know enough about the subject that we’re not totally wrong, and that the majority of the audience wouldn’t know any better. There’s no way to do any better, unless we’re an expert at that particular realm of science. And we’re not scientists; we’re writers. At best, we should contact experts to get their takes on what we write.

I’m sure a NASA worker grew up watching movies about space, and now looks at some of his favorite movies as maybe a little trite. He probably can’t get excited about any new space movies coming out and hates it when he’s at a party and someone wants to talk to him about a new space movie.

In science fiction, there’s a distinct audience for “hard science fiction” or “sociological/soft science fiction.” One concerns itself on the science, the other more on the fiction.

Maybe some people who really like hard science just can’t suspend disbelief long enough.

Ray Bradbury wasn’t a rocket scientist, but he sent people to Mars. Isaac Asimov wasn’t a robotics expert.

I remember reading Michael Crichton’s “Timeline,” and there was a very detailed explanation of the quantum physics behind time travel. It seemed believable when I read it. This means that I was able to suspend disbelief. Immediately after the book was finished, I forgot everything because I just don’t have a technical mind.

I don’t care how they go back in time, I just want to know what happens when they get there. I don’t care how they get to Mars, clone a human, give someone superpowers, jump dimensions, hack a website…just tell me a good story after it happens.

I just need a short explanation of the “why.” In a way, it might as well be magic.

Disclaimer/background: I’m a traditionalist. I don’t think people should break rules of storytelling unless there’s a good reason. I write comic books, short fiction and children’s books. Just to put my comments in perspective, these are my interests and favorites: My favorite superhero is Spider-Man, and I also like Justice League and Batman. My favorite comic writers lately have been Kurt Busiek, Peter David, and Geoff Johns. I am a huge Transformers fan. In children’s books, I go either simple or meta: either really simple stories or books about stories. In movies and books, I am more impressed with something small that makes me feel something rather than something I’m told is a “must-read” or a must-see.”

I make silly videos and post them here:

http://www.youtube.com/user/verylittleknowledge

The Goldfish Principle.

A goldfish will grow larger in a bigger tank. If you have a small tank, or a crowded tank, the goldfish somehow regulates its size. In a larger tank, it grows enough to spread out. It’s an obscure piece of trivia.

Actually, I’m not even sure it’s true, but it’s a good metaphor for time management. A project will take as much time as you let it.

Let’s say you give yourself a month to write a Green Lantern fanfic comic book, it will take you that entire month. Because in the back of your head, you keep thinking “I’ve got ’til the end of the month.”

But if you give yourself a week. And really stick to that deadline, then you WILL get that project done in a week.

The best thing about that: You have three more weeks that month to write something else. If you gave yourself an entire month, than you’d only have one finished project to show for at the end.

Obviously, your goal has to be realistic. You’re not going to be writing an entire screenplay in a month. (Not if you have real job, anyway.)

And before you worry about quality and doing a rush job, what I mean by this is to write the first draft of something. You can always go back. Or, if it’s a considerably long project, you can cut it up into smaller pieces and decide that completion of one of those pieces, say, the first chapter of a novel, counts as one. I got a bunch of comic books written by writing one scene a day. (The blog on this is here: https://whatilearnedbywriting.wordpress.com/2010/05/)

I’ve worked as a reporter for years. We have firm deadlines. Maybe that’s what helps.

Last year, I put myself on a budget of doing something every week. This meant I would do one of the following: Send work out to a publisher, upload a video to my YouTube channel (http://www.youtube.com/user/verylittleknowledge?feature=mhum), or do a considerable amount of work on a project. Considerable = finishing a story, comic book, or a large chapter of a book. I made a calendar and wrote down every finished project. I turned out to be something like 21 over by the end of the year. So not only did I reach my goal, but I got extra stuff done as well.

Therefore, I keep my goldfish small and manageable.

Here’s a link to a very funny YouTuber, Shyaporn Theerakulstit, of 500 Impressions (In 2 Minutes) fame. In it, he challenges people to work on something every week. I probably got the idea from him.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ViNF6_3fHfU&feature=channel

A lot of movies and shows seem to have a character with autism, or more specifically with Asperger syndrome, and the characters are all more or less the same.

In “Mary and Max,” Max turns out to have Asperger syndrome. All the charm, for me, slipped away from the character. He stopped being a quirky recluse with no social skills and instead became a textbook.

At the point it is mentioned that he had Asperger’s, it was no longer a story about Max. It was a story about Asperger’s syndrome. The condition became the character.

A commercial I saw advertised an episode of “Parenthood” with the boy asking about Asperger’s, because he was apparently just diagnosed. It felt like “A very special episode of…”

I never thought I’d blog about “Dear John” twice (Here’s the other one: https://whatilearnedbywriting.wordpress.com/2010/02/15/%E2%80%9Cdear-john%E2%80%9D-and-how-weakness-defines-character/), but at one point, John’s father is determined to have Asperger’s syndrome. My wife, a special ed teacher, had it nailed already, of course. Especially because they had already introduced a boy with autism earlier.

“Dear John” wasn’t about Asperger’s. That was just a subplot. “Rain Man” was definitely about autism. But “Rain Man” was based on a real person.

I think writers try so hard to paint these characters in a positive light, and be accurate, that they stop making them characters and just make them cut-outs. They have their little obsessions, which are interchangeable from character to character. And they have their odd way of looking at the world. In sad movies, they are constantly at odds with the way the world works. In reassuring movies, they look at the world through the eyes of a wise and noble child.

Writers have two audiences in mind. The first is someone who knows someone with autism. These people they are trying not to offend. The other are people who don’t know anyone with autism. I think the writers are trying to educate these people.

These are all good goals, but they don’t really make for good storytelling.

Here’s a thought I’ve had before and I’ve got to say it again: The only way to make movies inclusive of people who are different is to make the movie not about the difference. If the whole movie is about a character with autism, you’re not building bridges. They are still the “other.” Studied. Under glass. If you want to show autism as a part of life, show an autistic family member in the movie, but don’t have the whole movie be about that.

I have a comic book super hero whose brother is autistic. Will that fact be the center of stories at some point? Undoubtedly. However, until then, he’s just Jake’s older brother Ronnie, who likes to play video games with him and keeps his mom on her toes.

Inexperienced writers are blamed with having all the worst parts of their craft. But professional writers-the most famous are sometimes the worst-need to be reined in from time to time.

I don’t want to name names. It’s unprofessional. And what I think of as terrible might be wonderful to someone else.

But there have been novels I’ve read that have gone on for page about unnecessary details. It’s all very wonderful that you have the history of this town worked out. In it’s own way, it’s interesting. But in the context of the story, it’s just taking away from the plot.

All literary fiction is mystery

Have you tried to read modern “literary” fiction? It’s a mess.

Maybe it’s because I come from years of journalism where the most important parts of a story are up front, and then the least important pieces can be cut from the end. Reverse pyramid.

But I’ve also read in how-to-write books that you should lead off with something attention grabbing.

Yet most of the short fiction I read that’s being produced today is unintelligible in the beginning, and sometimes, unintelligible all the way to the end.

They are mini-mysteries. But you’re not trying to figure out whodunit, you’re trying to figure out what the fuck is going on. The writers are cheating you into reading more just to make sense of it. Teasing you with half answers decorated with careful, self-aware prose.

And when you finally do find out the secret, you feel a little swell of pride. You navigated the obscure references and half truths. Translated real information out of the metaphors. Tied together the web of fiction-writing rules that were broken just to be artsy.

That pride isn’t in the heart, it’s in the head. “Oh, I’m so clever.” You can pat your college education on the back. The writer, too, feels a surge to his ego that he was able to craft a riddle that only the most educated, patient and persevering could solve. If he had a point in writing it, it was hidden in a swamp of art.

Meanwhile, the average reader isn’t buying literature because it’s not written for the average person.

Just tell me a good story. Make me feel something. Make me learn something. Don’t waste my time.

Stories about finding love aren’t as interesting as keeping love.

This is a conversation my wife and I have had several times, touched off by watching relationship movies like “The Kids Are All Right.”

There are infinite stories about finding love. But maybe it’s because I’m married that stories about keeping love are more interesting.

What happens after the ever after?

I think part of this is that the audience craves conflict and drama. And sometimes the challenge of staying together isn’t so dramatic. It’s the little things. Your life is made up of finding something to do for dinner, finding time, finding new things to do together. This is not as dramatic or as visual as say, an affair. So maybe that’s why there aren’t as many stories about it.

I suspect that given interesting enough characters, this could be a good story. A challenge, if you will…