Saturday, December 31, 2005

Inspiration-Movie Spoilers!

You know what I like about blogs? You don't need to be linear!

I watched a silly movie on Sci-Fi called "Decoys". It was okay, but it had some really cool stuff going on at the end. Since you will probably never watch it, I'm giving away some of the stuff towards the end.

One of the alien girls falls in love with a guy named Roger hoping she'll take his virginity. She does the full-on expository thing, telling him why they're here, and that they're having a problem mating with humans (the poor guys end up as corpsicles). He actally then seduces her! (He ends up dying later, but still...!)

Later, same alien has been injured enough to show her native form, the hero nails her and yells, "For Roger!" She pauses meaningfully, and then just lays into the guy (remember she loved the guy that he's avenging, which was Roger's own fault). She dies, but it was a nice touch; you have a three-dimensional bad guy, who has to choose between survival (she could have easily ran away), or just getting ticked.

And this was a Sci-Fi channel B-Movie...

Something to remember when you are looking for inspiration is that sometimes the best inspiration can be found in the worst places. It seems that B-movies and bad comic books know that no one will watch them, so they try some of the most interesting stuff just because they can. Sometimes a movie really is interesting enough to watch it for two minutes of sheer coolness.

But...the point here is that don't assume that when you're told to read/watch stuff, to limit yourself to just the good stuff! Sometimes the really, really bad stuff will be inspirational, or at least show you what NOT to do, which can be just as important...

Friday, December 30, 2005

Backing Up: Themes

Heh. Just realized that I forgot to mention themes.

Oops. So...backing up a step...

The theme is the arguably the most important part of the comic. You'll find that a theme does one thing really, really well for you, and that one thing is extremely important: It ups the importance of your comic. By making it a lesson, you make it important for other people to listen to you, because YOU HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY!

Think about that for a moment. By deciding the core of your comic, by deciding on what you want to say, you add something to you comic.

Better yet, it allows you to remain focused, and centers your imagination. As you are trying to figure out what needs to be done, you have something that helps you to concentrate the wildest parts of your imagination on telling a story with a moral, and that keeps you on track.

So, what is a theme? It's your message. It's what you are trying to say, and what someone should go away from your comic with. The "Lord of the Rings" was that anyone can help, and that size is not important. Mine, Sex Percussions, is about that love comes in many forms, but it's important to love something. Dominic Deegan's is that things are rarely as they seem.

You can even change the theme for each story arc; Tales of the Questor seems to change each storyline. It started with "You can achieve anything" to "Anything can be overcome" to "Everyone has a message" to "Mothers are important", and the last arc was "Never leave friends behind." It looks like the next will involve paying for mistakes...

Just decide what it is that you would like to say, and go for it! State the theme as succinctly as you can, and constantly refer to it constantly. But...decide on what you think needs to be said, and let it guide you.

Oh, and just as important: Don't feel that it's necessary to have a theme! Some comics, especially comedy comics, don't have a theme. That's fine, too; just be entertaining!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Other Issues To Keep In Mind

Good vs. Evil: This represents a three-fold issue; be very wary of it.

First is that there may be the cliche turnaround; who you introduce as the bad guy and good guy actually are the good guy and bad guy respectively. This is just annoying because there's just no way to handle it right. It's either obvious from the get-go, or it feel like a betrayal. I appreciate the temptation; it's either a way to keep things fresh, or to show that good vs. evil depends on perspective, but it always comes off cheap.

The second is that you may feel like making the good guys corrupt and the bad guys downright nice in order to show that there are many shades of gray. That's the time-proven wrong reason to do it. Now, if you wanted to show that what's important is the decisions people make and why they make them, that works. I'm not trying that I don't disagree with that style of writing; the flawed hero and honorable bad guy are definitely important archetypes. However, the important issue is that they are still good guys and bad guys; a long as their reasons for doing what they do is valid, such as cops taking bribes because it at least slows the bad guys down a bit is okay, but the cops taking bribes because they like it is a problem.

The third is the worst of all: That anything is good given the right context. The problem is two-fold: First, you need to keep in mind that, as a race advances certain things are left behind; murder and rape are arguably the two best examples of that. Aa a corollary, you can't judge a race's morals by what it becomes; in other words, there has to be a point where a reasonably peaceful race can no longer be judged by the crimes it committed centuries before.

Consider slavery: Originally, it was agreed that it had definite advantages. Eventually, it was decided to be an evil and abolished. Should the American south be forever hated because it once participated in the practice, or should that sin be fogiven?

The other aspect to this is to not judge a culture by modern rules. The issue here is that our rules may not apply to cultures past, and that it is far too wasteful an exercise to blame a past culture for its rules when they are different from ours, especially if you assume that the same issues that beset the current culture effected the past one as well.

Consider that a women's place is not in combat; in the medieval era this made perfect sense as women were far more valuable giving birth; it may sound sexist now, and it should. However, when half the children were dying before they were five, and wars and disease got the rest, there needed to be as many children born as possible. Now, a woman need only birth a single child, maybe two, in her lifetime and her responsibility to the race is done. Now, if she wanted to go into combat, there should be no stopping her; the original reason just doesn't exist anymore.

As noted, people change and are respected for it. Shouldn't that apply to cultures as well?

Magic: This needs to be defined rather tightly as quickly as possible. Stories in which magic is defined or limited tend to be better than those where magic can do anything. You just can't provide any actual sense of suspense when it's entirely possible for someone to use some magic to get out of any situation. It also means that the characters will have to think their way through. At the same time, avoid elemental magic; cliche issues.

Chaos: True chaos is neither evil nor silly. This isn't to say that it's always a good thing; it just is. Chaos should foment change, growth, and allow for some reflection. At the same time, it can damage organization, cause too much growth, and get caught up in the moment. Balance in all things!

Sorry; I'm a big Monkey fan. I see far too much of the latter three, and not nearly enough of the former three. I really wish people would remember that sometimes you need a bit of randomness; too many heroes get too angsty because they forget that there is more to life than just the usual scheduled battle; the little random bits, such as a beautiful smile after a hard battle, a child needing protection from the normal monster under the bed, and gentle rain after a heat wave, color life and make stories so enjoyable. More people should read Tales of the Questor; it does a beautiful job of combining magical spells and magic moments. Okay. so I like racoons, too;-)...

I think that that's enough for tonight...

Monday, December 26, 2005

Themes To Avoid: Anti-Military or Anti-Religious

Something to really watch out for is taking on an anti-religious/anti-military theme. This isn't because of some need to avoid controversy or to avoid fanatics of either flavor. It's because you can't always pull this one off.

The inherent attraction with both themes are that they are large organizations with an inherent organization, and with a history of doing bad things. This is definitely antithetical to the artist, who must rebel against authority and seeks to do good.

It must be realized that they are organizations, not individuals. Both organizations have done a lot of good, especially for the arts. The various armed forces have defended the same freedoms that they stand accused of destroying. They have helped those in emergencies, given people a way to change their lives, and given confidence to those that didn't have it.

Unfortunately, too many people see the violence and that the military needs to have a different set of rules in order to function. They also see a lot of crimes that tend to not happen, or at least not as bad as the conspiracy theorists would have you believe. This isn't to say that the military doesn't commit crimes. It does. But you need to realize that there is a huge difference between a soldier raping someone and that being sanctioned (it never is).

Dealing with an alien species is always difficult, especially if you don't like that species. Artists have always likened the military to ants; following orders no matter what, even if it means its doom. How can humans follow orders that could mean their deaths? It's difficult to understand, but that loyalty, with the understanding that your life may be save hundreds of others, makes the action have sense.

If you could save thousands of people, would you? Are you willing to draw a line in the sand, and then back it up? If someone was going to do their level best to destroy your country, including destroying all that you holdd dear, would you fight for it or run? Either choice is legitimate; running and setting up elsewhere is an acceptable decision. However, it needs to be realized that taking a stand is just as legitimate a decision. Pacificism is more extreme than violence is; one willing to defend is willing to defend all, but a pacificist will attack those defending him...

The various organized religions may have committed crimes throughout the ages, but they have also done a lot of good. The same church that burned witches also found a way for girls made pregnant to escape their families. They also ofered what succor they could during disease, famine, and war. In times of war, they were the ones to barter for peace; boxing was the creation of a priest wanting to find a way to stop nobles from fighting to the death. Religious men have led the fight for civil rights, or was it forgotten that Ghandi and MLK, Jr., were a priest and a reverend respectively?

The various religions may have flaws, but they weren't without their share of merits as well.

And both have done their fair share for art, as well. Religion has inspired and commissioned some of the greatest masterpieces in the world, and that military's need for records has also shown to be a springboard for art, especially in those who job it was to go along with the soldiers. Just something to consider when you are about to do yet another "it sucks to be in the military" and "the church should go away" story...Does the benefits of the organization outweigh the issues, or do the issues outweigh the benefits?

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Plotting II

Before plotting, you need to decide on act structure. Before you can do this, decide on how you want it to end: On a good note, or a bad one.

If you want the standard feel-good ending, then the last act needs to be a rising action; basically, it needs to have been bad, had something good happen, and rise from there. If you want the bad guys to win, then it needs to have been going good, then something bad happen, and it goes down from there.

Those points are called "climaxes". It's when you have risen or fallen as far as you can, and have started going in the opposite direction. Assuming a standard three-act play, the action will rise, hit a climactic point, and then start falling. It will hit a second climax, and the action starts rising again.

It'll sorta look like this (if you plotted it in terms of positive actions (things go good for the hero) and negative actions (things go bad for the hero)):

--+------- -+-+------ +---+---+ -----+-+- ------+---

A bad (ie, not non-good, but more "bad guys win" ending needs the opposite: A falling action, then rising action, and back to the falling action:

-------+-- ------+-+- +---+---+ -+-+----- --+-------

Note that I'm assuming a standard three-act play; most movies are based on them. The beginning is short (about 10-15 scenes, or 20-30 minutes), the middle is twice as long (about 2-30 scenes, or 40-60 minutes), and the end is as long as the beginning (about 10-15 scenes, or 20-30 minutes).

For a comic, the same basically applies; think about it: First act is when the heroes find out about the problem, and by the end of the act are either forced to deal with it, or have decided to deal with it. However, then various plot complications come to play (why they can't succeed, or why they shouldn't, better known as "The Quest"); this is the second act. When they can finally start being able to deal with the issue, that's the third act.

This is not to say you can't add on new acts; just keep in mind that they should keep up the pattern (otherwise it's just a continuation of the current act!).

This isn't to say you need to keep up the pace; it's good to vary the pace. I'm not talking battle-chase-cliffhanger; that's keeping the pace on high. I'm talking, battle-catch breath-chase-regroup-cliff-hanger. Ever been on a roller-coaster that never lets you catch your breath? Bored at the end? The same applies to stories; you need the audience to catch their breath or your breakneck pace story ends up being boring.

Throw in the subplots, the running gag, and don't be afraid of exposition! People don't like exposition because they see it as "the boring parts"; when it's done badly (just talking, or a Q&A session), then it does nothing, and it is boring. But, with as a flashback, or with the proper graphical back-up, or even when it's virtually asked for, it can be great.

Oh, yeah: Plot vs. Character. This is sort of a weird one; there's a debate going because there are two groups out there that believe one or the other is better. The "Plot is better" group think that the plot should go not change no matter what after you have written it. The "Character Rules" group believes that plot should change as you find out more about the characters.

Personally, I'm a fan of not forcing a character to do anything that feels unnatural unless you can justify it. Plot First types generally don't allow for characterization beyond needed for the plot; should something come up, the plot comes first and won't be changd. Character Rules groupies have no problem changing the plot to facilitate characters, but that gets annoying after a bit to readers. Thus, I go with the compromise to not change what I'm doing unless it feels right for both plot and character, with an edge for characters.

So...get plotting!