Category: writing

Goodbye Nonexistant World

Goodbye Nonexistant World

I recently made a marathon watching of the anime series Steins;Gate.  It had been in my backlog of the (few) anime series in my too-watch list for quite a while now.  It’s a time travel series, after all, and there’s nothing that will pique my interest more than time travel (although even the allure of that wasn’t enough to get to me to watch Project Almanac, which by most accounts was a brain dead attempt at such heady material.)  I learned that I apparently have considerably less tolerance for the more anime-aspects of most anime.  For instance I was pretty convinced that the “loveable” character was, in fact, mentally handicapped.  However her more idiotic aspects were probably just endearing to the average Japanese audience member.  Similarly, I found the characters to not be believable for their ages.  At 19, one of them had gone to college (or failed out?) and another was some neuroscience (and also physics?) genius delivering lectures at 19 (maybe even 18.)  I don’t know, I would have been able to buy into these characters were they a little older. Although if they were older, some of their eccentricities would be even less tolerable.

Also, the idea of every girl in the lineup of characters (and the majority of the characters are girls) jonesing for the protagonist was also painfully anime.  It all made sense when I learned the series was based on a visual novel focused on romancing the girls.

I just came for the time travel!  Also the blending of the fictional scenario with the “reality” of the John Titor urban legend, which I thought was a very cool idea. Although this leads to the show’s more jarring aspects, shifting from cartoon zaniness to grimdark end of the world horror without a moment’s notice.

However, it reminded me of a trope that I’ve really grown to find deeply Romantic in time travel fiction: the last members of a lost timeline.

Throughout the series, the main character of Okabe keeps altering the past (sometimes recent, sometimes not) and occasionally gets caught in loops of a day or so.  During these, he gets to know his friends in different ways.  However each time he’s forced to reset things, only he can remember the bonds he’s formed.  He really mourns the loss of some of the timelines he’s forced to abandon and it’s his burden to be the only one who will remember they existed.

In Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card there’s a great moment where the trio of characters who have gone back in time to alter the interactions between Columbus and the natives of the New World meet with each other briefly.  They drink a toast the doomed world they came from and which they’re trying to prevent by altering history.

Finally, in Replay by Ken Grimwood a man and woman are reliving their lives (multiple times, always ending with a horrific heart attack at certain age.)  After a couple of replays they meet and enjoy a lifetime together.  However they learn that each time they relive their lives, it’s for fewer years each time. As they approach the end of their times together, the woman lives the rest of a lifetime as an artist. One of her pieces is an installation consisting of video footage of places she and the man had been to in previous lives.  To anyone else in the that timeline, they were just random images, but to him it was a montage of their times together that never existed.

It’s a unique storytelling trick that can really only occur in time travel stories, one that’s beautifully poignant.  Although I supposed episodes of Star Trek such as The Next Generation’s The Inner Light or Deep Space Nine’s Hard Time are similar concepts, where the characters are deeply affected by implanted (false) memories. The distinction exists of theirs being personal realities verses the objectively real ones in the fictional time travel stories.

Love & Physics

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Christopher Nolan‘s space magnum opus Interstellar came out this weekend.  Although it had a successful weekend and has garnered mostly positive reviews, it’s proven to have some fairly divisive elements, namely its finale.

SPOILER WARNING

The brunt of criticism is on the film’s hokey thesis that there are two forces capable of transcending time and space: gravity and love.  Nobody’s arguing with the gravity side, because it’s scientific sounding and in line with the generally realistic look and feel of the film (although that’s a dodgy prospect as well.)  It’s the insistence that love acts as a binding force of the universe, allowing the character of Cooper, played by Matthew McConaughey, to indirectly interact with his daughter and different points in her life. Audiences can’t be blamed for accepting this as the film’s premise, because they are flat out told by characters that it’s the case.  To begin, the character of Brand, played by Anne Hathaway, insists that she feels compelled to go to her lost lover on one of the alien worlds because love may allow her to know he’s waiting for her, in defiance of time and space.  Later, echoing that speech, Cooper says that “they,” beings who built a wormhole and a black hole that are giving humanity the chance to travel away from Earth, needed him to help them because his love for his daughter was the real power that allowed for communication to the past, and not the manipulation of gravity.

Allow me to discredit the characters first, and then offer a more mundane explanation.

When Brand attempts to persuade her team to expend their fuel to go her lover on another world, she’s just experienced a rather traumatic sequence of events: she’s witnessed the death of one of her co-pilots on this venture and learned that significantly more time has passed on Earth than she anticipated.  Her speech is very impassioned, prompting even Cooper–who is also an emotional wreck because of his attachment to his family on Earth–to dismiss her justification for her hopes by reminding her that she’s a scientist.

It’s not meant to be a scientific explanation.  It’s a person desperately trying to justify something with more than just “it’s my intuition” or even worse “because it’s what I want.”

Similarly, when Coop repeats her ideas he’s in an emotionally distraught place: he’d already committed himself to dying in a back hole and then found himself inside a construct, offering him a glimpse at undoing the choices he’d made that lead him there but being denied.  As he drifted through a tesseract which allowed glimpses into his daughter’s room at every moment of her life, he said something that made me think of an alternate to the “power of love” meme attached to this movie.  Now, excuse me, I need to paraphrase because I don’t recall the dialogue verbatim:

They need love, my love of my daughter, to help them navigate this construct.  They can reach her at any time, but because they’re five-dimensional beings not bound by time, they can’t quite comprehend how to deal with us and our limited perspective.

It’s not “love.” It’s research. The “they” who created the black hole/tesseract are referred to as five-dimensional beings (which Coop surmises are in fact highly evolved humans) who can freely manipulate time and gravity.  They need Coop to deliver a message to his daughter, the final part of an equation that would set humanity down the path of manipulating time and gravity. They, far in the future, know she’s the one who came up with the formula and they are able to establish a means of communicating with her, however they are too advanced to communicate with her directly (I mean, have you tried to comprehend Middle English?) but, as Coop said, because they’d have trouble comprehending her existence (how can one know the right time to deliver a message when time is a fluid concept for them?).  Coop wasn’t providing the final ingredient of “love” to make their time machine work; he was acting as a subject matter expert.  He was able to navigate the endless doorways into her life and recognize when the appropriate time and way to deliver a message was, not because of love per se, but because he knew her specifically and what it was to be human at that time.

Unfortunately, “subject matter expert” doesn’t play so well on the big screen.  So instead we get the much more emotional “love” as short hand.  Sadly, that brings with it all sorts of nonsense connotations of hokum like the Law of Attraction.  This is what’s made audiences balk at the movie. Sadly, reducing the connection between a father and daughter to “I know her well” might have been even more disappointing.

The Horror …

Doctor Who vs the Morlocks
One of the people in the group was wearing a shirt with this image. When I commented to him about the Morlocks (from the 1960 film adaptation of H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine) he said: “What? No. These are just zombies.”

NaNoWriMo approaches, and I will not be participating.  That is because the draconian overlords of this event insist that you must begin a new project when participating; continuing to work on something is strictly forbidden.  Those who do so are apostates, deemed “Nano Rebels” and forced to interact with others of their kind in their own little pogrom.  I choose not to associate with the NaNoNazis and work in private, more or less, flouting their burdensome rules.

But, as I said, “more or less.”  This morning I decided to sit in on my local official NaNoWriMo group’s preparatory meeting, even though–as I was keen to point out–I was not participating this year.

The experience proved a harrowing one.  Apparently, I am just someone with views of writing that are so drastically different from others’ that I may not be able to mix with them.  Among the nuggets from this morning:

I’m a very visionary writer. I think a lot of people wouldn’t get my writing. For instance I sometimes have two main characters. Both are main characters.

Apparently this person has not heard of a little-known series of books titled A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin.  If you want to go back a little, there’s James Joyce’s Ulysses, sometimes called the greatest novel of the 20th century.

I don’t have a lot of control over what I write. I put down whatever my muses dictate. I’m really looking foreword to discovering what they have in mind for NaNoWriMo this year.

Now, considering the person who said this was talking about her hobbies of hunting ghosts and recording EVP (electronic voice phenomena, which surprisingly she insisted are much easier to record with cheaper equipment) I’m not sure how literally she meant this. Scary, no?  This also continued the disturbing trend I’ve noticed of people insisting that planning stories is so passé.

I had someone critique my work, but they had too many notes. They clearly didn’t get what I was doing. Now I only like to share my work with fellow writers.

If your work is so dependent on being read by someone with a particular mindset, there might be something wrong with the work itself.

I like reading fiction but I just CAN’T. I don’t want other peoples’ ideas to influence my own.

I’ve heard of this sort of thing before.  The great writers of the past were voracious readers (and it’s not uncommon that contemporaries basically formed little clubs) and he idea of one’s ideas being somehow poisoned by the works of others is as ridiculous as a martial artist developing a fighting style without ever interacting with other fighters (they might pull it off, but it would be a lousy one.)

It’s not to say that everything I overheard was nonsense.  There was some insightful discussion about how overall writing styles are affected by the times (such as being able to pick out something written during the Victorian era vs the 1920’s other than references to technology and other aspects of the time.)  This echoes my own views that current writing mantras such as “show, don’t tell” are more an enforcement of current trends rather than good writing.

Regardless, I probably won’t be going back.  I also might be a judgmental prick.

A Slave to Format (Part 2)

Cartoon_All-StarsAs I was saying, I’m currently writing a story that takes a lot of cues from the Saturday morning and syndicated cartoons of my youth, if only because it was inspired by a collection of action figures, just like those old shows.  This compelled me to keep to stick to certain tropes in terms of the story I was telling.  Oddly, I do this with no concern for what necessitated such standards to be developed in the first place by way of focus testing or research.  I merely mimic, trusting that these choices were made previously for good reasons.

Those standards necessitated that the story focus on a team of heroes as opposed to a solitary one or that the central protagonist be male, young, and caught up in the adventure rather than choosing to engage in it.   The makeup of the team of heroes required the presence of certain archetypes.

However I also started to think about matters of structure.  How does one write something “like a cartoon” but in a novel format?  Should the whole thing be done as a script?  That seemed unpleasantly dry to me.  Especially considering that, being an adventure series, it would be very dependent on action sequences … and those don’t translate well to such a format.  However I did hit on the fact a general rule for script writing is that a page should equal a minute of screen time, so the average script for a half-minute program should be about 22 pages long (once you factor in commercial breaks and an opening/closing sequence.)  This lead me to wonder how fast the average person reads.  The answer turned out to be about 300 words per minute. So if I wanted someone to be able to “read” this story in line with a cartoon, that would come out to about 6,500 words per … chapter?  Keeping things analogous, each “chapter” should be an “episode”: having a relatively self-contained story or being a clear multi-parter.  Even looking at cartoons I’m given an upper-limit on the number of episodes: 65.

Maybe better people could say “I want to write something that takes its cues from the action cartoons of the 80’s” and be able to operate in relative freedom.  But here I am, a slave to the format.

A Slave to Format

817313-lion_o_vs_he_manWhile my efforts to find a job in Denver have mostly gone unsuccessful, I’ve at least been able to keep busy far less valuable endeavors.  Like writing.

The current project I’m working on is one I began about ten years ago, as a fan fiction.  (Hangs head in shame.)  You see there was this really great action figure line out at the time called Xevoz, which was a product of Hasbro.  It was fully expected that the toy line would get the full multimedia push, there was a web-based game upon its release, in order to maximize potential sales.  So of course the fans engaged in conjecture about what the storyline for the anticipated animated television series would be.  I was among them.  I went into a bit more detail than most, though, and ended up outlining a three season story arc on whatever defunct forum we gathered on.

Alas, the toy line was not terribly successful and the show never materialized.  Still, I had grown very attached to the story I’d come up with and never stopped developing it.  The first issue was to “divorce” it from its source material; not a terribly difficult task since I had neglected to include the most iconic aspect of the toy line, dubbed “xevolving,” which allowed toys’ parts to be swapped out (via Stikfas‘s ball-and-socket joint system, which they’d licensed to Hasbro for the toy line) into my story.  Once that was discarded you basically had just a bog standard fantasy adventure series populated by colorful characters.

So I’ve been writing a bog standard adventure series populated by colorful characters.

However I felt the need to really borrow from the iconic programs in this genre that I’d grown up with.  Even though my story is not a fan fiction anymore, it still took inspiration from a toy line the same way that programs like He Man and the Masters of the Universe or Thundercats did.  It was actually interesting how, once I realized I was working from them as a template, I started trying to make things fit it properly.

Such as …

1. A Team of Heroes: It’s not just He-Man, but also and the Masters of the Universe.  There wasn’t only Lion-O, so it’s the Thundercats.  Really, I would struggle to think of any of the 80’s & 90’s kids’ adventure shows that weren’t about teams of heroes.  From The Real Ghostbusters to Sonic the Hedgehog there was always a strong emphasis on a team.  Sure, in the 90’s we also had Batman and Superman cartoons, those heroes usually work alone (Batman has his cast of allies, but they’re more guest appearances than intrinsic parts of the show), but they also predate the 80’s and 90’s by a wide margin and so already had their format set.  Heck, Sonic had a gang of side-characters made up specifically for his Saturday Morning show, since the video games were largely solitary affairs.

2. But Still a Main Character, Who is a Reluctant Hero: This one has a lot of exceptions to it.  Still, it’s present in the most well-known examples of this era. Prince Adam/He-Man didn’t set out to be a hero.  He was just some prince (with a fabulous pageboy haircut) who had the power to transform into He-Man bestowed on him by the Sorceress of Castle Grayskull, who did this because of prophecies or something.  It’s never really established whether this was a life he wanted, but he certainly took to it.  Then there’s Lion-O from Thundercats, who fans might recall ended up the buff leader of his ragtag band of survivors by accident.  A glitch in his hibernation chamber made him age to an adult form prematurely, but fortunately that was just what was needed to combat the evil of Mumm-Ra.  The heroes in Dungeons & Dragons were waylaid into the fantasy world, and their only desire is to find their way home.  These aren’t the typical RPG band of adventurers who set out in the name of wealth and glory.  In Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors, the hero is just some kid who is given half a magic root and needs to use it to stop evil.

As I said, though, there are many exceptions to this.  The Real Ghostbusters is a group of grown men going into a business (although since this is based on a previous movie, and not a toyline, this may not count.)  BraveStarr is a marshall, who presumably picked the career of lawman on his own.  The Silverhawks apparently chose to be “part metal” and “part real” for the sake of fighting (interstellar) crime.   The G.I. Joe soldiers weren’t conscripted, they volunteered.

This post is too long.