Imitation is Suicide

Stolen from the Dark, But Shining blog:

ONE (1) earliest film-related memory:
Hard to say. We were a big Disney family and any time a Disney cartoon was re-released in the theaters (back when that was the only way to see additional showings of old movies), we’d go. But probably my earliest memory of a specific movie was begging, with tears, my parents to take me to see the first release of Disney’s version of Robin Hood.

TWO (2) favourite lines from movies:
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
“She’s alive! Alive!”

THREE (3) jobs you’d do if you could not work in the “biz”:
This meme was started in a screenwriters’ group, so I’ll broaden “biz” to mean writing in general. So, what would I like to do if that wasn’t a possibility? Musician, actor, or visual artist.

FOUR (4) jobs you actually have held outside of the industry:
I’ll broaden this question too and say: grocery store bag boy, video rental dude, sound guy for theatrical productions, and lumberyard flunkie.

THREE (3) book authors you like:
Arturo Pérez-Reverte
S.J. Rozan
F. Paul Wilson

TWO (2) movies you’d like to remake or properties you’d like to adapt:
Creature from the Black Lagoon
Night of the Demon

ONE (1) screenwriter you think is underrated:
Steve Martin

Bride of Art Envy

Really, it’s not my intention to turn this into Drawn! (not that I could), but sometimes I run into art that just really really inspires me to write.

Tony Semedo posted about his art blog in the Comic World News forum and I’m in love. Too bad his blog’s in French, but fortunately I don’t have to read to enjoy it. Maybe I should learn French though. I’m starting to discover some of the awesomely wonderful comics they have coming out of France, but they’re not being translated into English fast enough for me.

Have a Jelly Baby!

Doctor Who is finally returning to the States! In March, the SciFi Channel will begin airing the thirteen recent episodes of the show that feature Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor. The episodes will be running in Battlestar Galactica‘s timeslot, meaning — I assume — that Season Two of Galactica will be all done by then. That’ll be a very nice antidote to the post-Galactica depression.

If I understand the press release right, SciFi’s also bought the option to the David Tennant episodes that follow Eccleston’s. Presumably, if the Eccleston episodes do well, we’ll also get to see the Tennant ones.

I can’t tell you how stoked I am about this. Like a lot of nerds my age, I discovered the Tom Baker version of Doctor Who in high school when they used to run those episodes on PBS. The cheesy special effects and British production values were easily overlooked in light of the charmingly quirky personality of the Doctor and his ability to change from being scatterbrained to deadly efficient as the situation dictated. Once Baker’s run was over, it took me a while to warm up to Peter Davison as his successor, but I did and faithfully continued to follow the show until PBS stopped running it. I lost track of the show during the Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy years, but you better believe I caught the unfortunately disappointing TV movie (ten years ago!) with Paul McGann.

I’ve been frustrated for a long time at the BBC’s reluctance to release a comprehensive, season-by-season collection of the entire series. They do it in bits and pieces: a Tom Baker story here, a Patrick Troughton story there. I’m hoping that a resurgence in the Doctor’s popularity makes them rethink that strategy. Fortunately, this gives me hope.

She’s Alive! Alive!

My favorite part of role-playing games is character creation. Yeah, the storytelling and the hacking-and-slashing is fun too, but there’s something about creating a person out of nothing. “Today, I think I’ll create a cowboy.” “Now, I’m going to make a mermaid.” It’s Godlike, isn’t it?

In role-playing games, depending on the particular game, character creation can be as simple as rolling some dice to randomly figure out how strong, smart, and skilled your character is. Or it can be as detailed as figuring out exactly what he’s been doing every year of his life up to the point that the game begins. Where all new role-playing characters are alike is that they’re all just numbers and notes on a piece of paper until the game — the story — begins. But that’s what I love about them. They’re so full of potential, of the promise of adventures and stories to come.

It’s the same with writing. I usually start with a character. Sometimes I start with a plot element or a concept, but even then I can’t get excited about it until I start to figure out who’s going to be affected by those things. The characters are the fascinating part and creating them is one of my favorite things to do.

Unfortunately, it’s easy to get sloppy with this part of storytelling, even if you like doing it. Like in the more simple role-playing games, it’s tempting to just throw some information together and think you have a character. Unless you spend some real time on it though, most of the time all you’ve got is a cliché: a Conan rip-off or (if you’re writing comics) the umpteenth version of Wolverine. I fall into this trap all the time. It’s easy to just imagine “brooding loner” and because you’ve seen that character done so many times, think you’ve got a character. You don’t realize that just because this brooding loner was written by you, it doesn’t make him better than the countless brooding loners who’ve come before. No one’s going to care about this guy unless you do something different with him. And that takes work.

Angela Booth has an interesting process for creating characters that I’d like to try. She looks over magazine ads and starts imagining what the people in them are like. She suggests doing the same thing with paintings, and it occurs to me that paintings (especially landscapes) are also good tools for developing settings.

She also links to a helpful tool for digging deeper into who your character is. Yeah, you know your brooding loner has long, black hair and a perpetual scowl, but do you know what kind of music he likes or what his most treasured memory is? ‘Cause you kinda should.

The Lost Colony

There’s a new graphic novel series coming out that looks like one part Lost, one part The Village, and one part The Iron Giant. All set in the 1800s.

It’s called The Lost Colony. I can’t tell from the website when it’s coming out, but it has mystery and steampunk aspects as well as some great, whimsical art, so it’s something I’m going to keep an eye out for.

“A MYSTERIOUS ISLAND unknown to the rest of the world, in nineteenth century America.

ITS CITIZENS: a colorful and outrageous band of capitalists, inventors, hucksters and freemen, who jealously guard the island’s fantastic wealth from the prying fingers of the outside world, even as they attempt to conceal its captivating secrets from one another.”

Art Envy

Sometimes, I wish that I could chuck all this writing nonsense and draw instead. I used to be an okay visual artist in high school, but I didn’t keep up with it. I’d love to be able to perfectly show what’s in my head on paper. Writing is cool because the reader’s such an active part in the visualization process, but it would be wonderful to just show what I want instead of having to describe it.

These thoughts come to you courtesy of the new love of my life: the art of Clio Chiang. (They’re made even worse by the art of the rest of the Flight crew.)

If I Only Had a Brain (I’d Eat It)

I’m not a big Wizard of Oz fan. We never had the books growing up, so my only exposure to it in those years was the movie, and as cool and scary as the flying monkeys are, I was never really captivated by it. I mean, I liked it then, but it didn’t stick. I get bored watching it now.

One of the things I’m really looking forward to with my son David is when he’ll be old enough to enjoy children’s fantasy stories like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Wizard of Oz. He’s already showing an appreciation for Little Nemo in Slumberland, but that’s another post. I can’t wait to be able to read these classic series and enjoy them as they’re meant to be enjoyed: through the imagination of a child. Reading them with David will help me do that.

In the meantime though, Earthling Publications has come out with a version of Wizard of Oz that I can enjoy now. Bloodstained Oz is a novella by James A. Moore and comics writer/horror novelist Christopher Golden with illustrations by Glenn Chadbourne. I’ve read Golden’s original Hellboy novel The Lost Army and found it good, so I have hopes that this could be good as well. Earthling’s description of it is promising:

“Dying faith will be tested, because that isn’t rain wetting the crops; it’s blood. Those aren’t trinkets and toys that are lying hidden in the fields; they’re nightmares wrapped in false promises. And while the darkest storms bring the brightest rainbows, that isn’t a pot of gold waiting at the far end; it’s an emerald that gleams and flickers with its own infernal light.”

Curse of the Outline

I usually write with a detailed outline. I’m anal and I like to know what’s going to happen next when I sit to write. The most fun of the writing process to me is coming up with that initial idea, that first hook, and then developing a plot and characters around it. Unfortunately though, once I have the outline, the fun is over and the work begins. I have to sit down and flesh out the one or two sentence — if that — description I’ve written into a bona fide scene. Sometimes it’s fun, like when my outline just says, “Life in Bristol” and I figure out how to describe the setting of eighteenth century Bristol while also advancing the plot. Sometimes it’s tedious, like when I wrote, “The pirates attack” and now I have to choreograph a battle.

Another problem with the detailed outline is that it’s a very constricting way to work. More than once have I found myself getting behind in my outline because I have more to say about a scene than I’d planned for. When that happens, I usually end up adding a chapter, and it’s kind of scary to leave the outline and then figure out how to get back to it again. It’s also kind of exhilarating though.

Which makes me wonder if I shouldn’t just try flying without an outline. Since I set aside the Pirate Novel last fall to concentrate on comics stuff, I’ve come up with a very cool idea for a modern-setting horror novel. I don’t think I’m going to outline it. I know basically what I want it to be and I’m thinking it’ll be more fun and liberating to just start writing it without having the plot specifics down; to just develop some characters and start writing about them without knowing exactly what happens next.

I’m going to have to try it if only to see if I like it.

Star Trek’s Geek Attraction

I’ve been rewatching the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation this month. It’s been years since I’ve seen the show (or any Star Trek property, for that matter) and I figured that I’d gotten enough distance from it to be able to enjoy it again. I remembered loving it, but the rip-offs Voyager and Enterprise and the last couple of movies soured me on the whole franchise.

I’m happy to say that with the exception of a few early episodes, my fond recollections of it are being reinforced and I’m looking forward to watching the later seasons (a lot of which I’ll be seeing for the first time). But as I’m watching, older and wiser than the first time around, I’m also realizing something about myself and why Star Trek conventions are full of the most socially awkward people imaginable.

I’ve only been to one Star Trek convention and that was because Michael Dorn, who played Worf, was there. I’m a huge Worf fan. You don’t see it so much in Season One, but he became the coolest, most butt-kicking character on the show. The Klingon sense of honor also endeared him to me and made me — and lots of other fans — into big fans of Klingons in general. I’ve got a book somewhere called The Klingon Way: A Warrior’s Guide that arranges quotes from Klingons throughout the various Star Trek shows into a geeky version of Life’s Little Instruction Book. How weird do you have to be to buy a book that tells you how to live like a Klingon?

Thankfully, I never tried to put the guide to practical use, but as I’ve been watching Season One again, I’ve been thinking about my fascination with Worf and wondering why I identified with him so strongly. It wasn’t until later seasons that I began to do that and there’s where my answer lies. Worf, in Season One, is a geek. Yeah, he boasts about his warrior spirit and his rough style of lovemaking, but he’s a big nerd. He’s completely out of his element on the Enterprise and doesn’t know how to interact normally with his human crewmates. He’s socially inept.

So is Data, obviously. So is Riker, a little less obviously, but look at him: he’s so obsessed with becoming the captain of a starship that he falls in love with a hologram-woman because he doesn’t know how to balance his obsession and a real relationship. It’s not just Next Generation characters either. There’s Spock, Quark, Seven of Nine, T’Pol.

And here’s why Star Trek has such a large nerd demographic. The shows depict an environment in which social losers are accepted and even loved without condition. Remember that these characters were created to provide an outsider’s perspective of humanity. They were the ones through whose eyes we were to see ourselves: the Kirks, McCoys, and Picards. How ironic that instead of seeing ourselves in the human characters, so many fans began identifying with the outsiders — vicariously feeling the acceptance and love of normal people. I mean, if Worf can find love with a babe like Jadzia Dax, there’s hope for anyone, right?

I’ve got a great wife and a great kid and a loving extended family and lots of friends, but I work at those relationships. I’ve learned the social rules and figured out how to make my behavior something that other people are comfortable with. Sometimes though, I think it’d be nice to just be as grumpy as Worf and have no one give it a second thought. It wouldn’t be nice for the people who have to live with me, but that’s what makes it a fantasy. I don’t identify with Worf because I am him; I do it because sometimes I’d love to be him. Nothing wrong with that.

Where it becomes creepy and weird is when people who haven’t learned the social rules use Star Trek as a way of feeling some kind of pseudo-acceptance without having to go to the trouble of changing their behavior.