Essential Writing Tools — The Hatchet

There’s a saying in writing that you have to be able to “kill your babies”.  Which means that sometimes there is a scene or a character that you just love, but it has to go.  It can’t stay in the narrative.  I’ve faced two of those in the past week.  Both times, on the Wild Cards story and on the novel, I wrote a scene or in one case a set up, and in the back of my head a tiny little voice went “Ah, come on!”

It behooves writers to listen to that tiny voice because when your reader or viewer hits that moment it’s not going to be a tiny voice it’s going to be a bull horn going “AH COME ON!!!”  When that happens you’ve lost the audience’s trust and that’s death for a book or a movie.  There is a compact or a contract or a promise that flows between writer and reader/viewer/player and it all rests in trust.  I believe you are going to take me on an adventure and not disappoint me.

The audience gives us money and in return we promise that we’ll play fair.  We won’t tell you the book is one thing and then not deliver.  Now that doesn’t mean we can’t surprise readers, but we can’t violate the promise we make in the beginning and if we are good at our craft we keep reinforcing that promise all the way through the book until we deliver a satisfying conclusion.  We have to be authentic.  A reader can spot inauthenticity from a hundred miles away.  If a writer is just doing romances because they sell and doesn’t actually love that genre 99% of the time that will show.  That’s also a form of cheating your readers

But back to making cuts — this inability on the part of some writers to lose things they love is why Hollywood is so wary of allowing the author of a book to do the screenplay adaptation.  You’ve got to be brutal when adapting.  Keep the theme, the feel, the basic narrative but the exact moves that told the story in prose form may not work in this different medium.  Scenes are cut.  Other scenes are added.  Multiple characters get merged into one or cut out all together.

My advice to anybody starting out in this business is “if it doesn’t feel right it probably isn’t.”  I don’t sit down to write without a detailed outline, but this is one place where I do listen to my hind-brain.

It’s About The Theme, Stupid

Over the past two weeks I’ve seen two movies.  STAR TREK: BEYOND and last night SUICIDE SQUAD.  I only went to see the Trek film because I had been asked to do an interview about it.  I had been actively looking forward to Suicide Squad.  My reactions to both were polar opposites of what I expected.

NOW THERE ARE GOING TO BE SPOILERS!!!!!!!  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED

I ended up enjoying Beyond far more than I expected, (I kept murmuring to myself, “why oh why couldn’t we have had some humor and charm in Next Generation?” while I was watching, but I digress.  It wasn’t until I sat down for the interview that I realized why it worked.  And it all comes back to something that I write about with great regularity — Simon Pegg who penned the script, had an actual theme. 

Kirk in the opening is a man who is finding his role as captain of the Enterprise confining.  It’s routine missions, patrols.  Nothing very exciting is occurring.  He chafes in the harness.

Krall is a former Star Fleet officer who had led men into battle against alien threats.  When the Federation was formed and forged peace with many of these former adversaries Krall was furious and disgusted.  He viewed the peace as a betrayal of the men and women who had fought.  Then his ship gets stranded, Star Fleet doesn’t send help and his bitterness becomes rage.

Of course in his own mind he is the hero of the piece.  Krall is a man trying to make it clear that human kind can only advance through conflict, war, loss, and ultimately military victory.  He leads the assault on the space station partly for vengeance, and mostly to shock the humans out of their complacency.  He does not believe that through unity there is strength.

Krall is the cautionary tale for James T. Kirk.  During the course of the film Kirk realizes that his chafing at the confines of the Federation could lead him to the same place as Krall.  He accepts that his duty is to his crew.  It is in this movie that his full maturation occurs.  He was a callow, cocky man in the first film.  The second film — well, lets just pretend that one didn’t happen.  In Beyond Kirk becomes a man and a leader.

There is a wonderful visual moment at the end of Beyond when Krall sees his reflection in a shard of glass and realizes he has become a monster.  Which led to one of the major missteps for me in the film.  If this had been classic Trek Krall would have recovered his identity as Captain Edison and helped Kirk save the station.  Instead he continued to fight.  I actually viewed the final fight through that lens and assumed he had helped Kirk, but apparently that was me reading into the moment.

There were silly little things in the movie that bugged me.  How is it that Krall and his remaining crew forgot where they parked their ship?  Why didn’t anybody stop by now and then and check on the old bucket?  How did they learn that the missing part of the alien bio-weapon was aboard the Enterprise?  And who flies around with a motorcycle parked on the bridge?  But again, those are nits.  What worked was there was a narrative that had subtext, dealt with larger issues and didn’t beat me over the head with The Message.  (I couldn’t help but feel the script was a direct rebuke of Trumpism, but of course that is serendipity.)

And then there is Suicide Squad.  *sigh* I have no idea what this movie was trying to say.  That the only way you accomplish anything is to be a stone cold killer?  Even our supposed good guy Amanda Waller portrayed by Viola Davis (who made a heroic effort to salvage this film) is a murderous psycho.

Will Smith also gave it his best to inject some humor and honest emotion into the movie, but it fell flat.

When a movie has to spend the first, at least, thirty minutes doing a “let’s look at the files and give you the backstory” to introduce the characters you’re in trouble.  Truthfully it felt like an hour had passed while Waller briefed government guys.  When Rick Flag was introduced I thought he was going to be the tough but compassionate commander who brings them all together.  At last, I thought, this will become the Dirty Dozen.  Instead he had all the personality of a wet dish rag.  I can’t fault the actor.  He literally had nothing to work with. 

The story was an incoherent mess.  Was the Joker the villain?  The Enchantress?  Granted she was building a big unexplained argle, bargle, gazpacho (hat tip to Jim Wright Stonekettle Station for this wonderful turn of phrase) machine to destroy all the humans.  Because they no longer worshiped her and her brother?  Hey, honey, if you kill all the humans then there’s no one at all left to worship you.  Tiny flaw in your plan.

If I’m incredibly generous I could say the theme of the film was people acting out of love.  Deadshot out of love for his daughter.  Flag for the archeologist.  Joker for Harley Quinn, El Diablo trying to expiate his sin for not loving his family enough or the right way.  But man am I being generous.

An Armed Society is….Terrifying

I can’t believe I’m writing about this again, but as I type three more police officers have been killed today. Three others are in the hospital.  As the shooting was occurring the Baton Rouge police were putting out warnings about men armed with long guns — _In a state with open carry_.  I know this is going to earn me howls and objections, but can we stipulate that in a civil society open carry is crazy? 
At this point police forces around the country are worried if not down right terrified.  If you are wandering down to the Starbucks or Target to do a little shopping and you are packing you are adding to the tensions rising in the country.  You are making the work of the police so much more difficult.  Apparently this tragedy today was the work of a single gunman, but for a long time they thought there were three shooters.  How can the police tell if the armed man they see on the street is just a guy “exercising his second amendment rights” or one of the shooters?  In this climate can we reasonably expect them to wait to find out?
This is not to diminish the problems of overly aggressive policing in minority communities.  Too many people on all sides of this discussion are ending up dead.  We’re the United States of America not downtown  Mogadishu.  I shouldn’t be afraid that if I go out to Starbucks or shopping at Target that some citizen is going to decide to stop a shoplifter by pulling their gun and shooting up a parking lot.  Bystander Firing at Fleeing Shoplifter.  Or a man looking at an air rifle in Walmart ends up killed by the police.  Man with Air Rifle Fatally Shot.  I shouldn’t be afraid of dying in a movie theater because some mentally ill man can buy an arsenal.  And god help me if some bystander decides to whip out their gun and start shooting in a dark theater filled with terrified people in an effort to stop the shooter.  I have no confidence in the NRA’s vaunted “good guy with a gun”.  I’m pretty confident they’d just add to the death toll.  Apparently neither does the police chief of Dallas.  Armed Civilians in Texas ‘increasingly. challenging’.
We have got to have a serious conversation about race, about guns, about how we face the future.  We have a President who has asked for careful and judicious words, to bring down the rhetoric.  In response we have the presumptive Republican nominee who has used racial anxiety to win the nomination Tweeting — “Our country is a divided crime scene, and it will only get worse!”
I am a liberal and a gun owner.  But this is madness.  The rule of law does not mean that we take the law into our own hands.  That we answer grievances with a bullet.  Let’s try words.  They can be very powerful.

When Guns Replace Words

Over on Facebook I’ve been nattering on about horses and the World Science Fiction Convention  because I truly cannot make sense of Dallas.  Or perhaps it’s all painfully obvious and understandable, and I’m trying to avoid facing it.
We have a divided society with economic and social inequality. We have a fraught history as regards race in this country which we have never honestly faced. We have an increasingly militarized police force and minority populations who feel separated and disenfranchised from their country, government, society.   Who feel that their lives don’t matter as they are denied decent housing, education, and protection.
 
And we have guns.
 
So many, many guns and people who have come to think that guns are how you solve disagreements. Or get yours. Or make a statement.  Or prove you still have power.
 
We desperately need to learn to put away the guns. Pick up words again. Learn to talk. Learn to listen. Learn to hear.  Learn to look past superficial differences and see the common humanity braided in our very DNA.  

Enchanting New Mexico

I am so glad to be home. No moon, so the sky is like black crystal. The Milky Way looks like a gossamer shawl thrown over Heaven’s shoulders. The longer I look the more stars seem to appear. There are the big, bold ones trying to see who can throw the most light, and then the small, shy ones peeping out from behind them like elf children.  There is a soft breeze carrying the scent of piñon and juniper, and making the trees sigh and dip. My wind chimes are singing to each other.   Together they create an A sharp major chord.

And the quiet.  Oh god, how I’ve missed the quiet.

X-Men Apocalypse

**************************************************************HERE BE SPOILERS!!!!!!!!!*****************************************************************************************

Saturday night I took myself off to the Cinepolis to see the new X-Men film rejoicing in the rather ominous title X-Men: Apocalypse.  I’ve greatly enjoyed X-Men First Class and Days of Future Past.  I’ve been a big James McAvoy fan and Fassbender is perfect as young Magneto so this wasn’t going to be a hardship. However, I was dubious about this new film because it looked like character proliferation which usually leads to a frenetic mess as they try to service all the characters.  I’m also getting really tired of apocalypses.  I’m reaching the point with these superhero movies where I’m like — “Okay, just destroy the world already!”

I came away from the movie feeling like it was two films that had melted together, and I liked one of the films much better than the other.  The small, personal stories were lovely.  Scott’s brother, Alex, getting him to Xavier’s school.  Mystique/Raven being a hero to mutants around the world. Magneto having made a life for himself.  Quicksilver in search of family and father. Charles as gentle mentor and wise teacher.

I liked the dark underbelly where mutants are used and abused in fight clubs.  (We went there in the last Wild Cards novel Lowball, and it makes sense), but I didn’t buy that there was all this mutant hate and distrust after the events in Days of Future Past.  Also the time line between the final scene in Future Past with Wolverine back at the school and everything fine and dandy, and this new timeline where entire cities had been destroyed and millions killed had my head spinning.  How exactly did that happen?

But I get ahead of myself.  So our big villain, Apocalypse, arrives and once again we had a megalomaniac determined to destroy the world because…. why?  Exactly?  And after the destruction of major cities and the deaths of millions we’re going to all end up back at the mansion with the school just humming along…..?

Character motivation was another problem for me.  I didn’t get why the three kids joined up with Apocalypse so willingly?  I could buy it with Magneto.  He had lost everything so Let It Burn seemed like a place he would go, but Storm and Angel and Psylocke ?  Wouldn’t they want to get an eight track, and some tapes and go on a date?  I guess there was some hint they were mind controlled but it felt very forced to me.  Rather like the engineered conflict between Batman and Superman in what had be this year’s absolutely, positively worst superhero movie.  It’s like nerd wet dreams — Wouldn’t it be cool if Batman and Superman fight.  Even cooler if various X-Men fight just ‘cause.

There were points where I thought I was going to end up liking Apocalypse better than Civil War, but ultimately X-Men lost me when it went to a very comic book place in the final scenes.

Putting aside for the moment  the fact that Cairo was completely destroyed and millions of innocent people were killed not to mention other cities with massive destruction, we have Eric murdering six or seven cops because a terrible accident occurred.  The cops had come to confront Magneto because of the events from 10 years before.  He was, in fact, a wanted criminal.  It wasn’t just mutant hate.  Then things go pear shaped his daughter dies, and he kills them.  Next up the whole world destroying thing, and then the school gets rebuilt and Charles wistfully suggests that he wishes Eric would stay.  We once again have the “farewell, old friend” moment.  Your old friend just murdered a gaggle of cops and then wiped Cairo off the map!

I’m all for redemption and salvation, but there are some crimes that are beyond forgiveness.  Magneto’s actions fall into that category for me.  But again, no consequences, no revulsion from Charles or Quicksilver, or Jean, or the pious (and darling) Nightcrawler. 

I understand these movies are fantasies, but at least nod toward the bigger issues.  And that’s where ultimately Civil War ends up being the better film.  I still felt like the fight between Ironman and the Cap was forced, but at least they were discussing big issues about a world in which there are superpowers.  Ultimately in Apocalypse the blood of innocents cried out from the sand and rubble, and no one answered.

Stasi Anyone?

If only it were a delicious frothy drink.  Or a fun game to be played at picnics.  But it’s not.  The Stasi (Ministerium für Staatssicherheit) was the secret police of East Germany.  The organization that had neighbors spying on neighbors and citizens reporting each other.  It’s a common creation of authoritarian states.  Stalin had the NKVD.  Nazi Germany had the Gestapo.  I wonder what President Trump will call his secret police?

Here are a couple of quotes from the presumptive Republican nominee for president made on Monday June 13th, 2016 —

“If it can be proven that somebody had information about any attack, and did not give this information to authorities, they must serve prison time.” 

“We need to make sure every single person involved in this plan, including anyone who knew something, but didn’t tell us, is brought to justice.  These people need to have consequences, big consequences.” 

An entire class of American citizens has been deemed guilty and worthy of suspicion solely on the basis of their religion.  That is the very definition of unAmerican.  It is contrary to our founding documents, our ideals, our sense of ourselves.

If it doesn’t send a shiver down the spine of any thinking citizen then the grand experiment that was American representative democracy is truly ending.

And The Dreams Die

I’m still trying to process yesterday’s horror. What I can’t understand is the retreat to the political corners and simplistic binary choice — it’s either guns or it’s terrorism.  As the President pointed out this morning in his statement from the Oval Office — it can be both.  It is both.  In fact it’s a three dimensional mess because it’s also blatant homophobia. Yes, this gunman had been self-radicalized. Yes it was ridiculously easy for him to purchase an assault rifle. But he picked Pulse for a reason. Because that nightclub was a place where LGBTQ people found friendship, and community and a place to dance and have fun.  In short safety in a world that still doesn’t accept them as equal citizens, and where major religions still demonize and attack them and some more outrageous voices call for their deaths and deliver those deaths.
 
Why are these people who commit these ghastly acts so afraid?  Why do they hate so much?  At the most basic genetic level we are identical whether we’re black, white, asian, gay, Muslim, Christian, male or female.  Each time this happens — a Planned Parenthood clinic, an elementary school, an African-American church, a movie theater, a Christmas party, a college campus…… (There’s too many to list) my hope that a united humanity will reach the stars dies a little more.
Apparently we are going to choke on our own bile on a world we are systematically poisoning.

Fast Forward

When I was five or six grownups asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I said a jockey.  They laughed at me and told me “girls can’t be jockeys”.

When I was ten grownups asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I said an astronaut.  They laughed and me and said, “girls can’t be astronauts”.

When I was thirteen or fourteen grownups asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I said President of the United States.  They laughed at me and said, “Girls can’t be President.”

Tonight I’m watching history being made.  And perhaps more history will be made in November.  The world has certainly changed since I was a little girl and a teenager.

Captain America: Civil War

Saturday was my day to finally see the latest Captain America movie though it really wasn’t a Cap movie.  It more of an Avengers movie.  I liked it — with reservations — and feel like I need to see it again.  One thing it did very nicely was start a passionate discussion among the folks with whom I’d seen the movie.  What did I like — the new Spiderman was adorable.  He really was a teenager.  It was fun to see Antman return.  The Black Panther — OMG what a gorgeous, interesting man.  My heart has belonged to the Captain ever since the first film, and I could look at Sebastian Stan all day.  One of my friends rather ironically said it was the best superhero/kung fu movies and he’s not wrong.  The fight sequences were gorgeous.  Here’s where I stand.  I think I need to watch this movie again, but here are my initial thoughts.

*********************************************************************AND NOW THERE ARE SPOILERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!!!!**********************************************************************************************

 

 

Where I ran into problems was with motivations and set ups.  What threw me was how Captain America, a man who reached adulthood during the Depression and WWII would suddenly turn into McArthur.  The one thing I thought would always be front and center for Steve Rogers is the idea that the military needs civilian oversight.  It’s been one of the founding principles of our country since the Constitution was drafted.  So now he thinks the heroes (who are like armies in terms of their powers) should make all the calls about when to fight and when to refrain?  Is it because it’s the UN and he’s an America First kind of guy?  It just seemed odd.

Then there was the cryptic exchange with Tony near the end of the film about how Bucky/Winter Soldier had killed Tony’s parents.  Tony asks Steve “Did you know?”, and the Captain says “Yes.”  Okay did I blink and miss something during the movie?  How did Steve know?  He was in the ice when Howard and Mrs. Stark were killed.  Did Bucky tell him?  Did he see the video?  And who shot that?  And why was Stark driving around with what appeared to be super soldier serum in the trunk of his car?  This guy knew the threats that existed but he just heads off to the airport with a powerful weapon in the trunk of the Impala?

Which brings me to Tony’s OTT reaction when he realizes Bucky was the killer and now Tony goes absolutely Biblical on the Cap’s ass.  Tony is smarter than this.  By this point in the film he knows he’s been manipulated, they have all been manipulated to fight each other.  So now he suddenly sees this footage and he doesn’t go — “Oh, okay, somebody is fucking with me.  Well, I’m not playing.”  It felt almost as contrived as the incredibly stupid throw down between Batman and Superman in Batman versus Superman (which was a terrible movie.  Don’t go see it.  See Civil War instead.)

Okay, I’m back.  Where was I?

My other question was “who is this movie about?”  Ostensibly Captain America, but you could argue it’s Tony’s movie, and then you’ve got Black Panther who ends up being the most mature of the supers along with Vision.  It sees like those guys should be put in charge with the authority to send people to their rooms and ground them from superhero play time for at least three weeks.

Ironically by the end of the movie I realized that in many ways this movie was about Zemo, and he was frankly more interesting then a lot of the bickering heroes.  He was clearly smarter then they were, but I kept wondering how did he find all these secret documents?  I wanted to know more about his journey, his search for the tools to exact vengeance on the people who had destroyed his life.

I think the film does raise really interesting issues and questions.  I think some of my disquiet is due to the fact it is just so busy.  I’ve found that for me I like these movies more when the are more focused, more about a single individual in emotional pain and conflict.  The first Iron Man movie, the first Captain America movie, the second Toby McGuire Spiderman movie, X-Men First Class and X-Men Days of Future Past.  I was also watching the movie with friends who aren’t as immersed in the Marvel cinematic universe as I am, and they were utterly baffled.    We face this problem with Wild Cards.  When have we become too self-referential?  When is backstory too much backstory?  It’s probably why people keep falling back on origin stories even though I am so sick of them.  You aren’t carrying around all this history.

Bottom line — I’m going to see it again, and see if it works better for me.  I didn’t dislike the movie.  I just found it not as strong as I’d hoped.

 

The Confluence of Hollywood & Prose

I started my new novel (book 3 in the Imperials Saga) a few days ago.  Starting a book is always the hardest part of writing for me.  I circle the computer warily.  I sit down, stare at the screen, remember I should really do some laundry, or wash my hair or go to the market.  It’s not that I don’t know where I’m going — the elaborate outline is off to my left, scrawled across my white board, the colored pens showing the arc of the three POV characters I have in this book.

No, the reason I’m always hesitant is I’m certain that this will be the book/script/short story that will pull back the curtain and reveal that I’m really a giant fraud and I can’t actually write.  Ultimately the fact I have a contract and my sense of responsibility kick in and I force myself to put down that opening sentence.

When I write I film the movie in my head.  I hear the dialog, I move my actors around the set.  I had written a fairly long scene, but it still felt wrong to me.  Too linear, too familiar.  I realized that what I had filmed in my head had a different structure.  One that we use a lot in movies and TV.  I wanted the moment where we see our protagonist in a point of crises or emotional turmoil and then we do the 36 hours ago.  Or my favorite opening of a Firefly episode that starts with Mal sitting naked on a rock in the middle of a desert and he says, “Well that went well.”  And we roll back to show how he ended up on that rock naked in the desert.  While we use flashbacks in prose they aren’t usually this really fast scenes and that’s what I wanted to try.

I’ve said before that writing for Hollywood made me a better prose writer so I decided to try it.  I added a new scene in front of what had been the opening scene using a dialog bridge that in a film would have been a voice over the black screen break.  The dialog in the opening scene — “We were going to be rich.” segues into the next scene with the same character saying, “We’re going to be rich.”

I figured if it didn’t work I had only written a few pages, and I could revise them and move them back into the more linear flow of the story.   So I tried it.  And I think it worked great.  Of course I’ll have to wait and see if my crit group and beta readers agree, but for right now I’m happy which meant I’m now past chapter one and happily typing away with all fear removed.

Well, a little bit remains, but that’s just normal.  Writers are such neurotic little flowers.

Gender Differences in Casting Choices

I can’t watch every show that out there.  Not with some 144 scripted dramas currently showing on various platforms, however, in the shows I do watch I’m noticing a trend that is bothering me.  Extremely interesting and charismatic male leads, and woman characters that aren’t as strong or interesting.  It really hit me last night as I was watching the latest episode of Lucifer.  A very problematic show that I keep watching because of the amazing job being done by Tom Ellis in the lead role as Lucifer.  The show has improved once they got away from the “case of the week” set ups and are dealing more with supernatural issues.  It also drives me crazy that women are all ready to drop their panties for him, but not men.  They tried to take some of the curse off that by showing him in bed with both men and women, but it hasn’t taken away the bad taste.  But I digress.

Here’s the problem when it comes to gender issues and I’m going to stay on Lucifer since it’s the one that made my head explode — Chloe has to be the worst cop ever to wear the badge.  The violations of basic evidentiary rules make me nuts, but putting all that aside.  She’s not a strong character.  The actress just can’t hold her own against Ellis or D.B. Woodside who is compelling as Amenadiel.  They are finally giving the demon Mazikeen something to do, and that’s helping, but it seemed to take a long time for them to realize she might be interesting, and instead we were treated to the psychiatrist and the police captain, and every random woman going cross eyed for Lucifer and Chloe being maudlin and incompetent.

Then there’s Arrow and the problematic Laurel.  Up against the sister Sara played with great verve by Caity Lotz poor Laurel is very weak tea.  Felicity was great but the ditzy but brilliant thing was starting to wear a bit thin for me, and her reaction to Oliver’s decision to keep his son secret weakened her in my eyes.  I liked Thea a great deal, but the character seems to be less and less present in the cast.  Which leaves us once again with powerful male figures in Oliver, Diggle and Malcolm Merlyn.

Castle — I gave up on the show because the only thing propping up Beckett was Nathan Fillion in the lead role and the two cops in her unit who where terrific.

Gotham — the only stand out female character is Cat Woman.

The Magicians — Poor Alice is no match for Elliot and Penny or even Quentin.  Julia — everything she tries seems to end in disaster.

The Flash — the woman portraying Iris is improving, Caitlin gets to mope a lot, and they are playing against Barry, Joe, and the terrific Tom Cavanagh as Harrison Wells.

Last night I found myself longing for Buffy.

Some of this is the fault of the writers for not giving these women something meaty and powerful to do, but some of it is due to casting choices picking actresses who aren’t able to show strength and I’m not just talking about the ability to kick ass.  It’s their ability to be as compelling, charming, threatening, witty, in short as interesting as the men with whom they are matched.

And it’s not impossible.  I’ve already mentioned Buffy where we had not only Buffy but Willow and Arya and Dawn.  On Agents of SHIELD we have Skye/Daisy, and May.  Person of Interest — dear god, what incredible characters starting with Detective Carter, Root, Shaw, Zoe.   Orphan Black — many of the various clones are fascinating and of course you have Tatiana Maslany in the role and she’s stunning.

I’m sure people will be able to come up with shows that have powerful female leads of which I’m unaware — The Good Wife, How to Get Away with Murder, Scandal?  But for a lot of the genre shows that I have been watching the presence of powerful, interesting women are pretty slim.  I find this depressing and I’m not sure how this can be countered.  But I’m going to try when I have the opportunity.

More Magicians

I guess my blog is viewed by more people then I realize because my lyrical post about The Magicians landed me an interview/discussion about the show for Wired.  Here’s the link where you can listen in while David Barr Kirtley interviews Andrew Liptak and me about the show.

Wired Geeks Guide The Magicians

A Heartfelt Plea

I generally don’t get political here.  I talk about movies and games and books, writing, riding, etc.  But as this long (too long) campaign season winds toward its conclusion I have to speak up, and plead with Democrats and Independents and progressives to think very hard about wounded feelings.

I have repeated stated that I am team blue.  I will vote for which ever candidate wins the nomination.  For the record I will vote for Secretary Clinton in the New Mexico primary, but if Senator Sanders takes the nomination I will happily vote for him for president.

There have, however, been many calls — from both sides, though my personal experience has been more calls from Senator Sander’s side — that if their preferred candidate doesn’t take the nomination they are going to take their marbles and go home ie not vote, or vote third party, or vote for Trump or Senator Cruz because that will show them!

First, it’s a great tragedy to not exercise that right.  Countless numbers of Americans fought and died so we would have that right and even now we are seeing that precious right being rolled back by Republican state legislatures and we have a Congress that won’t re-authorize the voting rights act.  So please vote, but think about the power of that vote and use it wisely.

Which brings me to the plea.  Please, please do not allow your personal feelings to have potentially dire consequences for real living, breathing Americans.  If we don’t unify and come out in strong numbers to vote in November we make it far more likely that a conservative will win the White House, and in the worst case scenario have control of both the House and the Senate.  Please consider what that would mean for —

The poor woman in south Texas who can not afford to make the drive to San Antonio and wait days to have an abortion.  There are already woman who have endangered their health by trying to self abort.  Consider this exchange —

Amy Hagstrom Miller, owner of Whole Woman’s Health… tells the story of a woman who called her clinic in McAllen to schedule an abortion. It was the day after HB2 had taken effect, and the clinic was unable to provide abortions under the new law.

A clinic worker told the woman that she would need to travel 250 miles to a clinic in San Antonio, get initial counseling, and wait 24 hours for the procedure.

Ms. Miller said the woman responded: “I’m a working mother, I have a job, I have two children at home, and I absolutely can’t travel to San Antonio.” The woman added, “But I need this abortion, I can’t afford to have another child.”

Miller recalled the woman’s next words. “She said, ‘If I tell you what is in my medicine cabinet and what is under my sink, can you tell me how to do my own abortion?’ ”  Effect of Texas Abortion Rules

Think about that for a minute.  This is a real person.  Maybe a neighbor who is willing to risk her health and possibly her life.  How much worse will it get if a Republican fills that vacant seat on the Supreme Court?  I’m old enough to remember when women went into back alleys for illegal abortions and they died.

Or the minimum wage.  There are millions of Americans working two and three jobs to try and support their families and keep a roof over their heads.  Do you think they’re going to get that minimum wage increase if we stay home and don’t vote?

There are children whose only meal is the lunch the receive at school.  The Congress would like to cut funding for those programs.

There are elderly people who are no longer allowed to vote because they can’t gather the proper documents or can’t afford them even if they can locate them.  Students whose college Id’s aren’t considered valid identification, but by god you can vote if you have a concealed carry gun permit.  (Perhaps we ought to start a fund so every minority voter, elderly voter, or college kid can apply for the concealed carry.)  Consider this situation in North Carolina — North Carolina’s Voter ID Law.

And how about health care?  The Republicans have sworn to repeal the Affordable Care Act.  If they do that and roll back the medicaid expansions millions of people are going to lose access to doctors and hospitals and many of them will die.

Immigrant families that are going to be torn apart, separated by borders, and if Trump has his way, walls.  Or our Muslim citizens who are going to becomes The Other in their own country and subjected to more and more suspicion and harassment.

The LGBT community that will find their right to marry rolled back and disallowed.  Or find themselves unable to adopt.  I can’t imagine how that must feel for a family.  And then there are the so called religious liberty laws that are merely an excuse to discriminate.

What I’m saying is taking a “principled” stand and staying home because your guy or gal didn’t get the nod from the voters and the delegates might make us feel good or happily bitter (I’ll show them), or noble, but it might very well have dire consequences for our fellow citizens.  Real world consequence as in hunger or death.

I also don’t buy the argument that by allowing a man like Donald Trump into the White House will “bring the revolution sooner.”  First it’s not going to happen and second revolutions usually don’t turn out well.  We have a constitutional system in place that has allowed us to work toward a more perfect union.  Do we wish certain things could have happened more quickly?  Of course.  Were there missteps?  Naturally.  But overall it’s a system that has allowed for progressive change without violent upheaval.

So please, let’s all of us swallow our resentments and set aside our personal feelings and think about people outside our own circles who are hoping we’ll all remember them and their needs.   I think the motto of our nation sums it up pretty well.

E pluribus unum — Out of many, one.

Breaking a Story

There have been questions about how I plot and outline.  I learned this technique when I was working on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and it’s used on every television show.  I use it for the movies I write as well.  And then it occurred to me — this could work for novels too.  Not in as much detail, not every scene, but the big scenes, the “tent pole” moments could be laid out.

I’m going to actually put up a photo of the next Imperials novel, but please don’t study it too closely.  I’d hate to spoil the plot for people.  Just get the overall sense of how this works.  Because my cork board is in Los Angeles and I’m in New Mexico I used a white board for this plot break.

What you need:  A white board and colored dry erase or wet erase pens.  That’s how we did it on Trek and it’s a pain because you have to try to carefully erase a scene if you decide it’s in the wrong place.  On Profiler we used a cork board, pins, cards and colored pens.   If you use cards you just pull off the card and replace it.

Next step.  I write headings — Teaser, Act One, Act Two, Act Three.  If it’s a really big book you will need five acts.  The example I’m going to show you went to four acts which suggests this next book in the Imperials saga will be bigger than the one I just delivered.

I then assign a different colored pen to each view point character.  This is challenging if you are doing a huge fantasy with seven or eight view point characters.  Since I have never gone past four it hasn’t been an issue for me yet.  I sometimes will pick a new color to indicate a crowd scene where all of my characters will be present and no one person is dominate in that moment.

I then go to the end of the final act, and I write down the final scene of the book with the appropriate color depending on whose view point will carry the climax.

I then go set up the teaser.  Something interesting and exciting that will convince that person who is casually flipping through the book that they ought to buy this book.

Next I try to fill in the act outs for each of the other acts.  Once those finales are all in place it becomes relatively easy to figure out the scenes you will need to get to those various act outs and the final climax.  Sometimes you do go down dead ends and something that sounded good doesn’t look good when it’s laid out.  This saves me writing fifty or a hundred pages and then deciding that was the wrong direction.

The reason for the different colors is so I can see if I’m losing track of a particular character and need to up their profile.  Or conversely it might suggest that I don’t need that character and they need to be dropped as a POV character.

The other thing I’m studying as I lay out these scenes is how they flow.  I think of structure like relay race.  A character has to smoothly hand off the baton to the next character who is going to continue to carry the plot forward.

This makes each day’s work very easy.  I get up in the morning, eat breakfast, gather up a cup of tea or coffee, glance over at the board and know what is the task for that particular day.  I understand this doesn’t work for everybody, but in the high pressure of a TV show or when you have a lot of contracts with hard deadlines it’s invaluable.

And now here is the photo of what will be TIME AND CHANCE.

 

A final note.  You don’t have to do this alone.  Bringing in two or three other people who you trust and respect to brainstorm with you can also be very helpful.  That’s how it works in Hollywood.  The staff works together to lay out the season arc and then plot the individual episodes.

(And yes, I know I have terrible printing.)  😜

Appearances

  • Boskone, February 19th - 21st. Boston MA.
  • MidAmericacon August 17th - 21st, Kansas City MO
  • Bubonicon August 26th -28th, Albuquerque, NM

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