Scripts Are Easier

On Tuesday evenings I go over to Len Wien and Christina Valada’s house for dinner, and then Len and T and I watch three TV shows back to back — The Flash, Agents of SHIELD and Person of Interest.  Len has dubbed it Action Tuesday which is a great name for it.  Person of Interest continues to be the best show on television (more on that later), but it was a moment in AOS that caught my attention and made me think again how much easier it is to write a script where shorthand and outright hand waving, or no explanation at all is perfectly acceptable.

SPOILERS if you haven’t been watching the show or following the movies ——

SHIELD is not in very good odor around the world.  It’s been branded a terrorist organization, and law enforcement is hunting down SHIELD agents and agent… correction, Director Coulson.  So Coulson needs to go talk to a U.S. Senator, and we simply cut into the scene where the Senator enters his office and finds Coulson waiting for him.  They have a fraught conversation and make a deal.  Okay, pretty standard stuff, but what struck me is that in film the writers feel it’s perfectly acceptable for Coulson to be waiting in the office without any explanation or even a scene showing how this wanted “criminal” managed to enter the Senate Office Building undetected.

In a book we could never get away with that.  We would have to show either the planning or the execution and make it believable or we would be faced with a reader’s inevitable  ah come on moment.  But not in film.  It bumped me briefly, but I just went with it, and filed away this little nugget to write about here on the blog.  Is it because when we’re watching rather than reading we’re willing to accept more shortcuts to keep the action moving?  God knows planning scenes/committee meetings are death in a book, and triple death on screen, but a hint at how this was accomplished would have helped me over that one rough place.  And maybe nobody else noticed it and was bothered, and this is the price I pay for knowing how the sausage gets made.  I would love to hear from people if they are more tolerant of logic lapses in film than they are in books.

Then there was Person of Interest.  (I don’t shorthand that title because it’s disrespectful to a great show.  :) )  Anyway the week before the episode had been dark and hell and very depressing.  This week was almost comedic, and then came the kicker at the very end like the lash of a scorpion’s tail.  I just can’t say enough in praise of the writer/producers on this show.  I bought the first three seasons of the show and I’m looking forward to starting the series all over again, and sharing it with Carl when we’re home at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Setting the Record Straight

So the gamergate spat has finally gone mainstream, and a good thing too since there are now two women in the gaming industry who have been driven from their homes over virulent on-line threats, and the posting of their personal information including their addresses.  And Anita Sarkeesian had to cancel her talk in Utah.

What is infuriating me is how gamers keep making excuses for this inexcusable behavior, and how many of those excuses are just flat out lies.  Let’s start with Zoe Quinn who got slut shamed by her ex-boyfriend who claimed she was giving sexual favors in exchange for positive reviews at Kotaku for her game.  This was supposedly the reason this on-line outrage began — to protect journalistic integrity.   Now it turns out that Kotaku never even reviewed the game.  Here is the statement from Kotaku — (Kotaku & Zoe Quinn).  Did Ms Quinn cheat on her boyfriend?  I have no idea, and whether she did or not has nothing to do with her right to work in the gaming industry or her right not to be forced from her home by death threats.

Next up is Anita Sarkeesian.  Her sin is apparently starting a kick-starter that ended up over funded.  Lots of kick starters get over funded, and she has provided content.  That’s all she promised.  Basic contract law.  She made an offer — fund me and I’ll make some videos about the role of women characters in gaming.  People funded her.  She made some videos.  Contract met.  Screaming that she didn’t make enough videos is irrelevant.  I think her real sin was pointing out some depressingly sexist tendencies in video games.  She hasn’t had to flee her home yet, but threats of a massacre at Utah State University.  She has been accused of “making it up”, and that this is all just a “false flag”.  One big problem, apologists — the threats were sent to the University not to Ms. Sarkeesian.  She learned about them when she got off the plane in Utah, and then discovered that because of Utah’s “open carry” policy guns could be brought into the auditorium.  In an abundance of caution and because the emails had threatened a massacre — meaning others were also at risk — Sarkeesian chose to cancel her talk.  Here is a link to the Washington Post article. Utah & Sarkeesian.

Next up is Brianna Wu who had the temerity to mock gamergate, and for this she has been threatened with rape and murder and has fled her home.  Like Anita Sarkeesian Wu has been accused of “making it up.”  As she pointed out in an interview with CNN —

“At this point the FBI is involved. My local police department is involved, the Massachusetts cybercrime division is involved. If I made this up, I’ll be going to jail. I can think of no quicker way to destroy my career than doing something stupid like that.

“I think it shows a really disturbing mindset from people on the other side of this. They want to attack the person that’s the victim of a crime. It’s a terrible, destructive impulse.”

I love video games.  I think it’s a fantastic new form of entertainment, very creative, and a new art form, but this shit gotta stop.  To all the little boys out there who are threatening women in this industry — you profess to love games and want to protect the integrity of the industry.  Here’s a tip — then don’t make violent threats against women in gaming with whom you disagree.

I’m going to go ahead and post this.  So cue the threats.

Or maybe people are starting to wake up, and realize that if we don’t police ourselves we’re going to prove to the world that we are loser nerds who can’t get dates on Saturday night.

What Constitutes a “Spoiler”?

As I’ve mentioned here and on Facebook — I don’t mind spoilers.  In fact they add to my enjoyment of a movie or book because it enables to examine the structure and pacing as the writer moves toward the climax.  In fact there was a study that indicated spoilers actually added to people’s enjoyment.  You can read about the research here in an article in Wired magazine — Spoilers Don’t Spoil Anything.

I also think there is a point where accusing a person of spoilers is absurd and unfair.  The Harry Potter books have been out for years and there have been movies.  If someone doesn’t know that Dumbledore dies they have been living in a closet or under a rock.  In the case of GONE GIRL the novel was published in the summer of 2012.  It was a New York Times best seller.  The details of the book have been available for two years  and millions of people have read the book.

The situation is obviously different if the book has just been published or a movie that has an original screenplay has just been released.  In those cases you stay silent for some period of time so that others can get caught up.  The question is what is an appropriate time period that has to pass before you can discuss a book or a film?  A month?  Six months?  I think by the time a year has elapsed it’s open season on discussing a literary or cinematic work.

It’s also very difficult in this age of instant communication to avoid hearing about a piece of popular culture, and the more popular the event the more conversation it will generate.  Bottom line, I think everybody ought to take a deep breath, read the article and stop Spoiler Shaming their friends and relatives.

The Problem With Contentment

I ran up against an interesting problem today while I was working on the space opera.  Given the trouble we ran into on Star Trek: The Next Generation I should have seen it coming, but it really hit home today.  Contented characters aren’t very interesting and the problems that afflict them are usually of the emotional variety and that’s hard to dramatize.

I’ve got two view point characters in this book (I touched on the problems that may cause in my last post) but today a new issue raised its ugly head.  My hero is lower class, put down.  He has “the-I-wants” really badly.  She’s The Infanta of the Solar League.  Yes, she has the pressure placed on her by her father and the looming knowledge she’s going to have to rule this messy empire, but that’s a problem for the future.  She’s not poor, she’s not disparaged she doesn’t have anything obvious against which to strive.

On Trek this manifested one day during a story meeting where we were trying to “break” a story that revolved around Troi.  Our boss, Ira, was fulminating, cheerleading, trying to get the rest of us engaged, and he tapped a colored pen against the white board and asked, “So, what does Troi want?”  We stared at him, and he suddenly got this funny expression, threw the pen across the room, and declared.  “Fuck, I don’t know what she wants.  She doesn’t want anything because she doesn’t need anything.”

And that’s my current dilemma.  So I’ve got to find something that can test my heroine and place pressure on her that isn’t just an arbitrary problem that I’ve throw in to address this problem.  What ever I come up with needs to be integral to the plot.  It has to have real meat, and real stakes associated with it, and as I sit at my computer at 10:30 at night I have no fucking clue what that’s going to be.


Points Of View

You may not know it but a lot of writers like to set challenges for themselves.  Can I write a novel or short story strictly following the fairy tale format?  Let me see if I can write an unreliable narrator.  I’m going to tackle first person (much harder then you think).  So the writing challenge I set for myself with the space opera was having only two view point characters — my hero and heroine, and alternating scenes between them.

So I’m closing in on 60,000 words and it’s been working.  Where I’m seeing the problem coming is in the later books where they are going to be separated by vast distances.  I’m beginning to think that at that point I will need two more view point characters to interact with hero and heroine in their disparate locations.

I’ve also found that I know a lot more about my male character and what motivates him then I do about the woman.  As I write her and dig deeper into her really screwed up family situation she’s coming more and more into focus, but it’s sometimes harder to write about a person who has great privilege.  They have challenges to overcome, but they are less obvious than the poor kid from the wrong side of the tracks.  Basically they are “first world problems”, and those are harder to make dramatic and interesting.

This Shit Needs to Stop

So a third prominent woman in the gaming industry has been threatened with rape and death.  Now Brianna Wu has been forced to flee her home.  You can find one of the many articles here Polygon.

This is starting to send me into a headache inducing rage.  Yeah, boys, we are entitled in to come into the treehouse.  I love video games, but this is starting to make me embarrassed to admit the passion.

And what really amazes me is the inability of these boys (I won’t dignify them by calling them men) to grasp that threatening a woman like this is morally, legally and ethically indefensible.  So I’m going to put it in the most basic and selfish form I can think of.  Maybe that will penetrate to these mouth breathers.

You profess to love gaming so much, and then you do this.  You are giving your beloved gaming a really, really bad name.  Will that work?  Can you get that?

Cultural Relativism

I’ve been watching the fight that has erupted between Sam Harris and Bill Maher and various pundits who consider their remarks on Islam to be bigotry.  I can see points on both sides.  To arbitrarily damn all members of a faith for what is written in their particular holy book is unfair.  On the other hand there is an awful lot of very ugly stuff that’s written in virtually every holy book whether it be The Bible or The Koran.  The question is whether the people who subscribe to a particular faith follow all of these vicious recommendations laid down by our ancient ancestors or whether they wink and ignore the problematic verses.

The problem in this spat is that it has devolved down to just religion.  As if it is religion alone that is causing these horrific behaviors.  But there are culture pressures at work as well.  As a liberal I have this knee jerk reaction to not judge other cultures because we’re all supposed to display cultural sensitivity.  We’re never supposed to say one culture is superior to another, and I agree with that in the broad outline, but I do think it’s important for us to comment and criticize individual practices whether those practices are dictated by religion or not.

I remember one night a number of years ago listening to a couple of friends of mine engage in an argument over female circumcision.  Ironically the man was saying it was a hideous and barbaric practice and the woman (who had been a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa) state that his position was cultural imperialism, and an implicit argument that Western attitudes toward the practice were being posited as superior to the culture and customs of societies that engaged in genital mutilation.  I found myself in the camp saying, “Yeah, a culture that doesn’t mutilate young girls is superior — at least in this one area.  There are other practices that should also be condemned.  Honor killing, not allowing girls to attend school, child brides (I’m seeing a rather sad pattern here that so many of these practices are visited on women and girls).  Not that men don’t come in for brutal treatment as well.

Let’s consider the actions of General Sir Charles James Napier, the Commander-in-Chief in India (1859-1861).  In 1829 the British Raj banned the practice of suttee in India which was certainly interfering with a cultural practice.  When he was petitioned to allow suttee to begin anew he responded  “Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation also has a custom. When men burn women alive, we hang them and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs.”

The statement is undoubtably condescending, and made by a person who had unmatched power over this particular nation by virtue of conquest, but isn’t it a good thing that widows are no longer burned?  The problem is how these judgments are delivered.  As our experiences over the past twelve years has indicated the power provided by the barrel of a gun probably isn’t the best approach.  Education, conversation, and economic pressures may offer a solution though these methods aren’t quick.   As I indicated in an another post it took the west 800 years to develop representative democracy.  Let us hope on this day when a very brave young woman, Malala Yousafzai, just won the Nobel Peace Prize that it doesn’t take centuries before girls can attend school without being shot in the head, or have acid thrown in their faces.

Bottom line, I think the point Maher was trying in-artfully to make was that if we support liberal values we have to be willing to speak out against illiberal practices and not give such practices as pass in an effort to show sensitivity. The trick is doing that in a way that doesn’t tar an entire people, culture, religion, etc., and always to be careful to be aware of the mote in our own eye, and be willing to remove said mote.

So Many Shows — So Little Time

My friend Len Wein has started a new Tuesday night tradition.  After I finish at the barn I drive over to his and Christine’s house, I have a long soak in one of their amazing big, deep bathtubs.  I read and relax.  Then we fix dinner and after dinner it’s time for Agents of Shield and Person of Interest and now we have added The Flash to that line up.  Basically we watch shows from 8:00 p.m. until 11:00 p.m.

First, it’s a lot more fun to watch television with other people.  It’s the same reason I still like to go out to the movies.  Hearing another person’s reactions to what is happening on the screen increases my enjoyment.

Person of Interest just continues to delight (but folks who follow me know I love that show).  AOS had a very rocky first season and I only hung in there because I love Coulson and because I found Ward intriguing.  I just kept thinking there was more to him that mere “pretty boy”.

The Flash had a great pilot and part of that was due to the expert direction by David Nutter.  Wish I could have a show directed by David.  He’s terrific.

I had a couple of “ah come on” moments with Agents however.

———————————————————————HERE BE SPOILERS!!!!!!!—————————————————————————–

Jemma has gone undercover at a Hydra lab which is fun and cool, but as we know from Winter Soldier Hydra has been exposed and forced to flee back into the deep shadows.  But here they are with a giant facility with Hydra logos stenciled on practically every wall.  And nobody has noticed?  Really?  There there was the very nice scene where Coulson shows up at Jemma’s apartment with groceries and fixes dinner for her and gets a briefing.  Okay, I’m Hydra.  I’ve been revealed.  Authorities around the world are searching for my followers.  I have taken on staff a scientist who used to work for Shield and I don’t have her under surveillance?  That seems a trifle silly, no make that stupid.

I was glad to see a confrontation between Fitz and Ward, but it was a bit too truncated for my taste.

Despite these quibbles I still really like the show.  Probably because Marvel has got me totally invested in their universe because of the movies so I’m very tolerant of Agents for that reason.

Magical Mommies

I want to love Dr. Who again.  I really do.  But it’s getting hard right now.  I admit Matt Smith just never quite worked for me.  The manic delivery, and the very strong sense that the solutions to the various problems were less solutions then just frantic hand waving didn’t help.  He did get better toward the end, but when Amy and Rory left the show my interest began to flag. 

Carpaldi is a terrific actor, but right now his arrogance is playing more like a petulant twelve year old which isn’t all that appealing.  The conceit of his rivalry with Robin Hood was just painful.

Then we come to Clara.  The Impossible Girl who is seemingly unmoored in time.  The mystery just seems to go on and on which means she has no agency or personality beyond being a mystery.  And now she’s turning into the female equivalent of the Magical Negro so beloved in Hollywood movies.  Only she’s the Magic Mommy Figure dispensing comfort to frightened little boys everywhere.

It was this week’s episode LISTEN that set me off on this train of thought.

———————SPOILERS!!!!!———————SPOILERS!!!!! —————-SPOILERS!!!!!——-

So it turns out that the thing that has frightened and obsessed the Doctor is an incident from his childhood when he was crying in his bed as a child, but the thing under the bed that frightened him was Clara except then she tells him to “listen” and she tells him not to be afraid and that he’s going to be a big hero someday, and then she leaves him this toy soldier except the toy soldier had been given to the guy she was trying to date — by Clara — when he was a scared kid, and when last we saw the toy it was in the hands of a descendant of the Date Guy…..

Okay, by now my head hurts.  A lot. 

And what does this bad date have to do with anything?   Is Daniel/Orson the new Rory?   I guess so and that does help a bit with Clara not having a story apart from being a mystery.  We’ll see how that develops.

Back back to what turned out to be the heart of the episode.  I always loved the old Tom Baker episodes that were set on Gallifrey.  I find the Time Lords fascinating and now we find out in this episode that there was/is the equivalent of Hogwarts for Time Lords called the Academy.  I would love to know more about The Doctor’s early life.  His parents, his time at this school, etc.  But I need those stories to be focused on him.  Not on the impossible Clara.

I’ve always felt like a movie, show book can only support so many “weirds”.  The Doctor is Doctor Who’s big weird.  To make Clara the focus of mystery is for me a mistake.  She’s not as interesting as a Time Lord, right now she’s just a conceit.  Not a real woman at all.  The strength of the companions (after they stopped being a gimmick so the Doctor could explain things) was to ground him.  Remind him that living in the moment is wise.  That kindness always has a place even when measured against all of time and space.

Clara is just another mystery for him to solve.  And at least for me it’s not working all that well.

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

A couple of weeks ago my dear friend George R.R. Martin underwent the Ice Bucket Challenge to combat ALS also know as Lou Gerig’s Disease.  I lost my half brother John to this horrible disease when he was only 60.  It attached his throat first so he was soon unable to eat, but he refused all extreme measures and faced death with a dignity that I hope I can emulate when my time comes.  One of the hallmarks of the Ice Bucket Challenge is that you challenge others to take the cold dunk themselves.  George challenged me, and I was happy to accept.  So on Saturday while we’re having a barbecue at my house in New Mexico George will wield the bucket, and I will get drenched.

I have made my donation in memory of my half-brother.  If any one else interested you can donate here.  ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.


I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it. — Albert Einstein


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