Friday, November 14, 2008

Setting Up An Organization I: Pragmatic or Moralistic?

So, let's look at organizations in-depth for a moment; specifically, what kind of organizations are there? More to the point, how useful are they from a writer's perspective?

When it comes down to it, there are four ways to grade a potential organization: Pragmatism/Moralism, Sinister/Friendly, Secret/Transparent, and Supportive/Hostile.

Pragmatism/Moralism: This refers more the organization's moral standing relative to the general populace, and to what degree those morals are implemented. A pragmatic organization will tend towards dealing with any situation as expeditious as possible, and cares more about the results than the context. They have no problems using assassination, blackmail, and discrediting a target in order to accomplish their goals. It should be noted that such an organization can have moral reasons for this stance; MI6 is willing to do almost anything in defense of England, for example. New agents' conflicts are usually those involving their conscience (“Would you kill a four-year-old girl in order to save lives?”), whereas older agents are more worried if they still have a conscience; agents of such an organization are going to be world-weary and have some sort of vice that they engage in in order to feel alive. Sort of explains why James Bond has that issue with beautiful women...

A moralistic organization, however, is more interested in maintaining the high ground. The agents are going to tend to be more intelligent than more pragmatic agents, but they are also going to have more hurdles to deal with; after all, they'll need to allow for the various rights of the target, and will generally be seen as softer than more pragmatic agents. This means that they need to more circumspect than pragmatic agents, and will actually use the threat of using a more pragmatic organization to stop bad guys (“Deal with us and you might actually live!”). Also, they are more likely to use devices that have stunning options to slow down targets, and will gather more detailed evidence; the more pragmatic agent would just figure out a reason to shoot. Besides dealing with targets that want to kill them, all agents will have conflicts based on their conscience; besides having to deal with innocent victims, they will have to deal with possibly letting a dangerous criminal go. Suffice to say, some have the same addiction problems as pragmatic agents, just due to stress.

Although the stereotype is to use pragmatic organizations in dark stories and moralistic ones in comedies, they can easily be switched. The major concern you should have is what kind of point you are trying to make. A pragmatic organization is great if you are trying to make a point about people doing whatever they need to do, but can also make the point that sometimes you need to do hinky things in order to preserve things. It can also be used to show what happens when an organization takes itself too seriously.

A moralistic organization can be used to show that everyone has rights, and those rights take precedence over the group. It can also be used to point out that a rights-based enforcement system is ludicrous. Of course, if you just want a really friendly police system, this works as well. However, don't make the mistake that this can be a shallow system; sometimes there are good reasons for why it's been set up, and those reasons are very good.

Of course, you can always go with a middle ground (which is where most organizations seem to be), in which case your organization is basically one that allows rights whenever possible, but isn't afraid to shoot. You can also mix and match, where each agent makes their own decision on how pragmatic they are, or have an organization that has a specific unit that's very pragmatic, but the rest of the organization tends towards moralistic ends.

Next Up: Is your organization user-friendly?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Some Do's and Dont's!

Here's a quick list so you know I'm thinking of you!

Do's:

1)Have a good reason for any exception. I'm placing this hear as a first rule because each and every suggestion has this as an exception; you can do anything you want, as long as you have a good reason for it. Keep this in mind as you read each suggestion, and you should hear in your head a lot of times!

2) Diversity is key. I don't mean this in a strictly racial sense; you need a variety of powers and weaknesses. Each character needs to have their niche and speciality; a character that can be outdone by another character is going to be useless. By the same token, a common weakness is going to take your entire team out of action, and that's annoying to readers (not only is it basic manipulation, but it's going to ask the question of why aren't they taken out more often).

3)Avoid cliches, but don't run from them. This is the hardest thing to deal with; you're going to want to create something that's unique, but you can't avoid the basic cliches because they work . The obvious one is Spandex; from a practical perspective, they are help you market the characters, and, well, let's get real: If you had super-powers, and had to use them in combat situations, you'd either go armor (which also helps market the character), or in something that covered you while being comfortable. Spandex does that really well. And, better yet, your super-genius can make it into something that either mimics powers or is otherwise unaffected by them (useful for that character who is covered with acidic slime!).

4)Have fun! I can't stress this enough. Too many writers forget this, and so get burned out quickly. If you aren't enjoying it, then no one else is either. At the same time, don't do something you don't want to do simply to make your comic something more popular or profitable; ironically, that will almost always make your it less popular and harder to profit from. Follow your heart, and hope others will follow.

5)Always have someone with glasses. A personal preference, but I find that groups that have at least on character with glasses and/or goggles is much more interesting than one without that accessory. But that's just me...

Don'ts:

1)Say that there is something you won't do. This limits your characters and your plot, usually artificially, and that's not a good thing. A lot of fantasy stories don't have elves; by advertising that, they may be favorites of elf-haters, but they usually replace elves with something similar or that takes their niche. Obvious stupid question: Did they actually eliminate elves? In the super-hero genre, you find comics that don't have costumes, secret identities, or world-shaking abilities; what fun is that? It also prevents you from have to be an apologist later on if you decide to introduce the banned subject. Don't do it in the beginning, and you won't have a problem later on.

2)Think that you require a pantheon. It may help to build your universe, but it's not necessary. You can have a character that is the only super-powered being, or at least the most advanced or experienced. For that matter, he could hunt down other powered characters. But don't think that you need a team that handles all of the heavy lifting; that can be just as limiting and harder to write.

3)All characters need powers. Consider Iron Man; he has no powers, and yet is able to keep up with the other Avengers. Batman? He's won every fight against Supes. Don't feel that you need to have every character having powers in order to have a great comic. Even Naruto has Rock Lee...

4)Avoid common origins. Although it irritates a lot of people, having a common origin liberates you in a lot of ways. You don't need to keep everyone's origin straight, you don't need to allow for different mechanisms, and you can leap straight into the story. And it gives you an excuse to have everyone join up and fight someone if the secret is to be revealed or if that common origin is threatened. This isn't to say that you need a common origin, just that you shouldn't avoid one because you were told that it sucks.

5)Obey the rules. It's your story! Not anyone else's; they aren't responsible for writing or illustrating it, and they don't know where you're going with it (if they do, there's problems!). Just remember that if you're going to break or bend them, understand why the rules exist in the first place.

Have fun!

Friday, November 07, 2008

Being Part of Something

[NaNo is kicking my butt. I've got 10,109 words done so far, and I'm barely caught up. It's been sort of weird, especially as I'm writing scenes that I've only hinted at in some of my other writing. Here's hoping that I can keep it up!]

Reading my last entry, I obviously wrote it in a rush. I need to expand on relationships a bit. After all, keeping it real isn't just about adding real relationships; it's understanding how those relationships work. There's a reason anti-heroes are popular; they don't have any real relationships to slow things down and so they are easier to write about. However, by throwing some real relationships at a character, you add not only depth but can create hooks for when you are running out of steam later on.

Consider James Bond. Not only does he gain a lot of power from MI6, but the organization itself keeps things going. He not only gets some real cool toys, an expense account, and easy transport to any location in the world, he also has set goals to accomplish; all of that is custom-made for writing. You can create foreshadowing with the items (exactly how does a watch that creates an EMP going to be useful in the field?). That expense account can be good thing when he needs a boost or specific funding, but it can be taken away as the situation warrants, either by the organization, by theft (especially if it's represented by credit cards), or by situation (he's far away from civilization). The transportation puts him wherever he needs to be.

Best yet, though, are those goals. They provide the initial hook, the push that gets things going. Bond gets an initial list of things to do, and reason that the bad guy needs to be defeated. The important thing to keep in mind is that these goals are not iron-clad; if the mission goes bust obviously those goals will change, or at least be modified a bit. But, they provide an original reason to get Bond into the field, and that's good enough.

And don't think that the organization is nothing but help. After all, Bond needs to follow certain regulations before he can kill someone, and there are certain protocols that need to be followed for him to do his job effectively. He also has to worry about jurisdiction (there are certain areas where he can't go and he can't kill people for everyday crimes). He's even been hindered or helped depending on MI6's reputation (and not only the bad guys have disliked MI6). And that's ignoring the various office politics and interdepartmental conflicts that have popped up from time to time, or when he's seriously screwed up and so MI6 has restricted what he can do, has forced him to do menial tasks, or assigns him to duties a rookie can do.

And this applies even to gangs. The equipment, amount of money, and transportation available may change, but there may be other perks available (reinforcements, living arrangements, even internet access). An organization can be a source of strength as well as (and this is important!) conflict.

And even gods aren't immune to this. Consider Thor; his friends (the elves and gods) and enemies (giants and evil gods) are defined by the group he belongs to, as are his duties (defend the gods and humanity). He gets access to some pretty weird stuff (a cart pulled by goats, a really special hammer), transportation (a rainbow bridge to anywhere), and some pretty interesting resources (an entire army of dead warriors) if he needs it. Not to mention sibling rivalries that are even weirder (his brother Loki can be good or evil, depending on the writer, and either way he gets Thor into trouble).

The bottom line is that everybody belongs to an organization. And, for better or worse, there strengths and weaknesses belonging to one. As a writer, you need to learn how to mine those in order to maximize the conflict in your stories and to have a lot of fun with the characters. And then there are relationships....

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Some Real Touches To Remember

It's interesting that those most obsessed with realism tend to forget what realism is. It's not crack whores, kids molested by authority figures, and people more interested in money than love. It can be, but usually not in the same group. The problem is that too many people think that noir is reality, and forget that there is something to actual real life.

When you write, you need to keep in mind that there is something to basic reality. It's interesting how many characters have tattoos, prison sentences of which they are completely innocent, and have been corrupted by their hard lives. After a while, it gets pretty boring when Rocky Road becomes vanilla.

The super-agents of the past are ironically more believable than today's rock-hard anti-heroes. The super-agents had more grounding, recognized the sacrifices that they were making, and were actually more rounded. They had friends that they could count on, acquaintances that they weren't sure of, and enemies that could ally with them if the situation warranted it. In a weird way, Doctor Doom is a far scarier villain simply because he can be more interested in pursuing his goals than the Fantastic Four; sometimes what the Fantastic Four does doesn't really matter in hi s plans, and they've been really miffed about that for some reason.

Today's anti-heroes can't trust the ground that they walk on; anyone can betray them and usually do. It's fine to shake things up every so often, but when you do it every other strip it loses its impact. You need some cement in your strip, something that can be counted on; the protagonist needs something that he can count on, something that won't change. If the only thing that can be counted on is that people can be bought or be petty, then there is no reason for him to act heroically; why should he risk life and limb for a few thousand dollars when what he does won't matter in the long run? Salvation sounds great as a motivation, but it's hard to believe in Heaven when you've only known Hell.

I hate using my own comic as an example, but the strips I'm most proud of are the ones where Detective Tate is with family, when he gives Simon a hard time about being his wife, or where people are just enjoying each other. I'm not afraid of the combats, but the familial scenes are important as well. It's not that those scenes are padding, my any means; those scenes are necessary to show that there is a reason why they fight so hard against what they fight.

The ties that bind can liberate you in the right circumstances...

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Should You Take An Art History Class?

When it comes to college majors, it's interesting to me that all art majors need to take Art History. This amuses me; after all, it's more often than not looking at the history of painting alone, as if painting encapsulated the whole of art. There are classes that delve into the history of other fields, don't get me wrong, but art majors aren't required to take those classes, and they're not even mandated for their respective majors.

Read: As a writing major, I'm not required to any writing history classes, but I am required to study paintings. And that just feels weird.

However, I am a big fan of taking advantage of bad situations, and finding ways to turn them around. So...what is the advantage of a writer taking a class that's delving into the visual arts?

Obviously, even for potential comic scripters, there really isn't a major advantage at looking at paintings; most paintings don't really tell a story so much as they are pre-camera photographs. The vast majority of paintings were created as markers and wall decorations, The vast majority of painters, then as now, are mostly self-taught, and tend to take classes not to learn the basics but to refine their abilities.

So what is the value for writers?

Writing is about details. On writer's forums, it not hard to find people asking the most interesting questions, from a turn of phrase in Ancient Latin to how to kill someone and get away with it. Writers want those details both because it helps them get characterization right but it also makes them look like experts. Consider how much fun armchair historians had with the Titanic movie, or any biopic, and you should be able to quickly surmise that being considered being an expert should be something worth being. And the more of an expert that you are considered being, the more respect people will have for you, and the more likely that they are to want to read what you have to say.

And that's a good thing. Honest!

An art history class gives you an interesting way to learn a lot of weird stuff, and quickly. It shows you social mores, fashions, weapon details, and basically what people considered important enough to jot down for several millennia. By exploring art history, you can explore the mind of man since he first painted aurachs on a cave wall, and explore how we have changed since that point in our deepest memory. Especially when you realize that they are more accurate than writing, and were vital for non-literate societies.

You learn to appreciate just how much any person is a product of their era, and what that person had to deal with. You get a better appreciation for what created that person, and what it took for a person to survive on a daily basis in that era. More to the point, it's fun when you realize that people that we know so well could not have been created in any era but the one in which they lived. Einstein, for example, is a Jew; not trying to be anti-semitic, just making the point that due to the way Jews were treated throughout history, Einstein would faced an uphill struggle in order to just be taken serious, much less have risen to the top of the heap and have been able to affect national policy.

So it may be annoying to deal with the obligatory art history, but try to see it as a way to explore the past through the cheap time machine of visual images, and enjoy the trip!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Rape, Swears, and Violence: Are they really necessary?

While I'm on a tear about reality, I figure I may as well as slam what some people figure are mandatory when it comes to "real" writing.

Swearing
For some reason, too many writers think that the more swearing is in their writing, the more "real" it is. However, even sailors and urban toughs don't swear as much as you see in realistic fiction, which would make it seem as if everyone used their favorite swear like a comma. The reality is that, even though there is swearing in real life, no one swears as much as they do in some movies or fiction.

The point is that swearing should be used when you need to make a point of some sort. It shouldn't be used for just creating an environment, but for actual shock value. If your characters use a constant stream of blue language, then it loses its value. It becomes just white noise, and is useless for any actual use. As such, you should limit its use as much as you can.

Violence
Far too many works use violence just for the sake of being violent. There is a lot of blood, a lot of broken bones, and far too many deaths. Now, I'm not saying I don't like to see violence (I like good horror movies, even lousy horror movies, too much). I would point out there is a reason that they are reported in incidents per THOUSAND. If they happened as often as they did in bad fiction, then we would dispense with police and just bring in the National Guard. Like swearing, violence is best used to effect, and not every two seconds. Limit it, and you may just see the quality of your writing improve.

Rape
If there is one reason I hate feminist fantasy and bad boy-love fiction, it's rape. It seems that far too many would-be heroines need to suffer being raped at some point, and some male writers have some seriously warped rape fantasies. And we're not even going to get into the sheer number of prison stories that involve dropping the soap as unintended invitation.

The problem is that the writer wants to either demonstrate how powerless the character is, either due to actuality or something in society. Although this can be fine if used once in a while, some writers tend to over-use it, or make it a point that they use it to show how realistic their writing is. You shouldn't use rape more than a handful of times in your career, and maybe once per character. Otherwise, you're using it far too much. If you honestly think that every sexual encounter is akin to rape, then use your writing to show a different way of how men and women should create kids without sex, or at least express affection in a different manner. Imagination is power; there is no reason that it should not be empowering as well.

Bottom Line
It should be noted that I'm coming down on the occasional use, or even when you want to make some sort of point. I even encourage beginning writers to do it and get it out of their system. Keep in mind that I am also a major horror fan (80's horror, not torture porn), so I'm not interested in seeing all violence disappearing, and definitely the same with nudity. All I'm saying is that moderation in all things should be key, and that definitely applies here.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

What Reality Should Be

After ripping what some think reality is, I guess I should set some guidelines for what I would like to see in a reality-based script.

Relationships: I want to see relationships where neither partner is wrong all the time, and shouting isn't the only mode of communication. You need quiet moments as well as loud ones, and you need people caring for each other; if the only thing that they do together is yell, then why are they together? Note that I'm not saying that a group should be nice to each other all of the time; however, they shouldn't be in what amounts to a negative relationship just because it fits the plot. The relationship needs to be balanced to at least some degree or else your story itself will suffer later on at some point.

Crime and Violence: Obviously I'm not going to advocate against them; they are too important to good plots. Rather, unless there is a good reason for it, don't have more than you need. If you're going to use violence, use it only when you need to make a point; too much and it loses its impact. Crime is just a form of polite violence; it's a violation of the person's rights. Again, use it just when you need to make an impact, or it's going to lose its ability to make an one.

Victimization: If using violence too much will make it lose its impact, making all of your characters victims will create an even more ineffective character. Women as victims of rape is a cliche, and rightly so; not every female needs to be that violated. The same obviously applies to young male characters as well. The point here is that there needs to be a limit to how much victimization occurs; not everyone needs to be damaged goods, as that can get boring quickly. You should have no more than one or two severely damaged characters; any more than that and your story is going to be more likely to be filled with cliches, and that will generally bring down the entire story.

People in Black: Too many characters wearing black is boring. Boring! Don't do it. Period.

If you are trying to create more realistic setting, then please stay away from one with gothic or street sensibilities; it may seem more realistic, but you're more likely to hit cliches....and there are only so many stories that you can write about wannabe rappers or people standing around talking about how things are so angsty. Yes, I'm over-simplifying, but even Neil Gaiman has been known to write happy stories once in a while. You should try it as well....

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Realism....Why?

One of the most amusing things I see critics saying about various stories is that they are more "realistic". Worse, they say that is a good thing.

I disagree.

What they are referring to is that the comic is grittier than the average, with more sex, drama, and uglier characters. The world isn't all that pleasant, as violence is more common, women are raped, and young men are forced to humiliate themselves to get ahead, and racism and homophobia are part of everyone's make-up. The people aren't centerfolds, tend to ignore basic manners, and generally have some sort of sex or drug vice, usually both. The society isn't much better, as it tears down the heroic, elevates the evil, and tromps on the morally neutral.

It's not a great place to raise kids, and few do; the kids are usually orphans, latch-key, or selling themselves on the street, either as whores, hustlers, or drug-runners. And when they grow up, they usually find themselves in a private hell of dead-end job, loveless marriages, and barely keeping their heads above water. Eventually, they are either forced to become virtually homeless, retired without respect, or killed for no real reason.

I just don't find such a world all that realistic. Don't get me wrong; I don't think that the world is full of rainbows and lollipops; I don't think that good things happens to good people and bad ones are punished. I know that bad things happen randomly, and that even the safest places have their dark places. There is no question that real life has its warts and police records.

However...Even though anyone who has seen my yaoi scripts, or even looked at the Hinami Neon script knows that I can do dark as well as the next, that doesn't mean I don't get bored of it. "Dark and gritty" isn't necessary realistic; not everyone gets laid every Friday night, and there's a limit to even Murphy's Law. I want a world in which even the quarterback fumbles at love, the cheerleader has to cry on the nerd's shoulder without laying the kid, and a group of boys can sing along with disco with none of them being gay.

In short, a world of Norman Rockwell paintings would be boring, but so is a world where no one can succeed without that success being marred. When you write, it's easy to explore the shadows and go away from the light, but every so often you need to explore the place between the two...it can probably be the scariest place for a writer to go.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

My Sincerest Apologies

I have not been posting for a while. I know it's a duhsich, but there have been a number of reasons I stopped posting. Of course, when I stopped, it was hard to get back into it. Suffice to say, I think I'm back. It may take me a few weeks to get back into it, but when I do, you should hopefully see three articles a week, two on writing and one on marketing. Here's hoping!

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Adaptations: Fat and Skeletons

The issue with most adaptations is to what you can adapt from the original source, and how to make it work. The obvious solution is to look at what you need, rather than what you want.

The first step is to look at the plot, and see what works as a book and what works as a comic. Although a comic is a literary work, it faces a lot of the same limits as film when it comes to literary adaptations. With film the source needs to edited severely, as only so much can be filmed, even with a full-adaptation. Look at it this way: A two-hour movie converts to about 300 pages of comic script. This means that a 200-page book of average complexity (think your average young adult book) should convert nicely to 300 pages. Obviously, you need to see if something can be dropped.

Start by shrinking the plot to a skeleton. Once you've done that, start stripping out threads that don't belong or don't really add anything to the plot. Try to limit yourself to four or five act breaks (events that signal that an act is ending and another is starting); this will not only help you eliminate huge swaths of the story, but will also help you focus the script a bit. Then start highlighting scenes that are important; you shouldn't need each and every scene in a book, so this should be easy. It may sound hard, but a lot of scenes in your average book are more flavor than substance; they are there just to develop characters or act as red herrings. If the scene doesn't work in one of your act breaks, then that's a good sign to get rid of it. If all it does is give history on a background character, get rid of it. If it just describes a character, get rid of it. Get rid of as much fat as you can.

At the same time, keep some of it in. If the scene is a fan favorite or allows the character a trademark moment, keep it in (not all of them, obviously; even though Tom Sawyer is known for its swimming scenes, you usually only see one or two in any movie). Just a like a good steak, some fat helps flavor it; just decide which fat is important for the right taste.

You should also cull characters. Don't touch the majority of the main characters; they are usually too important to the theme and hard to combine because of their importance to the story feeling right. By the same token, see what minor characters can be dropped or combined; as not all of them are important, but they do sometimes serve important purposes. It's important to see know which characters can be combined, and which are just chaff.

Once you have all of the events and all of the characters, you need to recreate the plot skeleton, but with only your chosen events listed. You also need to create a relationship chart between your chosen characters. Once you have those, you can then write your own script based on the original source.

Writing an adaptation is a lot more effort than it looks. But, if you truly love the source, then it can be a work of love. If you don't, then I hope you're getting paid well for it...