The Need For Pain: Why Happy Characters Are Boring

The Need For Pain: Why Happy Characters Are Boring

Greetings all,

First a few notes:  For starters, I have the files for the Sojourn in Captivity audio book. I’m reviewing them now. The (very early) results seem wonderful.

Next: My wife an I are officially trying to have a child. This required a surgery to reconnect her tubes (which had been done during her previous marriage). The surgery went well, and I’d just like to take a moment and thank God for that. She and I both truly wanted to have more children, and we’re grateful the door is open. Her recovery has us both growing (code word for frustrated, which is actually why I’m doing this topic today). She’s stir crazy, and my routine is shot. Her number one comfort is being outgoing and doing things, which she can’t. My number one comfort is routine and consistency, which is nonexistent when I’m working and running a house.

But I truly mean it when I say this helps us grow.  You see, I aspire to have a boring life. I love the idea that tomorrow will be just like today. (Not at all my wife’s idea of a good day, but in this case opposites attract).  It’s all fine and good for a person to like what he likes, but if we don’t experience pain, we don’t grow. No one wants to read about the guy who encountered no stress and overcame nothing.

When we encounter struggles, it changes us. Pain  helps us grow. No, I don’t look forward to it, but I’m better when it’s over. Our characters are the same way.

Rand
Image taken from A Wheel of Time Wiki for character study purposes under Fair Use Doctrine.

A lot of my favorite characters are characters who suffered plenty: Rand from Wheel of Time suffered a ton (as did my favorite character in that series, Perrin). I’d say these characters are the extremes in terms of my top three series ever. Still, all my favorite books (personally) feature characters who truly struggled.

Here’s the next part to why this is so important. The readers or viewers must believe the characters might fail. I often have playful (yet also serious) arguments with a friend of mine (Hi Terry!) regarding why I honestly don’t care for DC. The characters are too powerful.  They have near Olympian power. Sure, Marvel has some OP characters, but most DC characters are of a ridiculous power level. I’m not afraid for them. I’m not in the least bit worried they won’t win the fight or meet their goal. This makes the story boring. If you want readers interested in your story, you need to convince the reader that character might fail.  This is all the more difficult to do because most readers expect a happy ending. They anticipate that, so it’s such an art to instill an honest sense of fear of failure for the character.

The wife and I don’t hate Jodie Whittaker or her Doctor, but we really couldn’t get into her first season. Now, other than Matt Smith (who remains the greatest Doctor ever), I hated every first season of every doctor. I think the writers take time to figure out the new Doctor just like the new Doctor (in the story) takes a minute to figure him or herself out. But we couldn’t get into it. Then something occurred to me: She never lost. Yes, the grandma died (was it the first episode?), but there wasn’t a connection. In fact, I’m of the opinion that character was pretty expendable. Why? Guess:

She was happy.

Doctor
Image taken from BBC.com for character study purposes under Fair Use Doctrine.

The only good thing a happy character can do in a story is die. They have no struggle, and therefore they have no interest. The most interesting thing that could happen is to see this wonderful, happy character die, thus causing all the other characters to become even more interesting as they try to adjust to life after happy character.

Most of my readers who I talk to during conventions often ask me about the characters who die. We talk about this a little. The one character I get the most (playful) anger with killing (no spoilers) was the character who was happy. But that character’s death shook the readers and gave them an emotional jolt. This loss affected not only the readers, but the characters around the the dearly departed.

So I had some interest, but then life got consistent for the Doctor. Then things got easy. I can think of a few instances when there was great opportunity for this Doctor to face true loss on a couple different stages, and the writers didn’t take the plunge. But you can only put Lois Lane on the train tracks so many times before the readers don’t even care anymore.  Sooner or later, that engine needs to plow over Lois, or the “act” gets boring. That’s what I feel happened with this latest season of Doctor Who.

So I wanted to throw out those ideas when I had a moment. Hopefully things calm down for me. (I really do appreciate growth, but I miss my routine something fierce right now, and my wife is going to go out of her mind if I can’t take her out next week.)

What do you all think? Do you have a story you realize you didn’t like so much for this reason? Do you disagree?

Let me know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

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The Curse of Greatness

The Curse of Greatness

Greetings all,

I thought I might take a moment to discuss a topic near and dear to me. I love stories. They’re just so amazing, and each one is special for it’s own reason. But what happens when someone truly creates something exceptional? A trend I’m noticing these days is that the greater a creation someone has, the more demand that artist is to create something greater, but that’s not a consistent measurement for any number of reasons. Lately, I’ve seen a number of people talk about how awful something is. I’d be in the middle of asking why they didn’t like it, and, inevitably, the other person would say something like, “His first book was so much better!”

OHHHHhhhhh! You’re not evaluating this story on it’s own merit, you’re comparing it to something else. Is it a completely unreasonable thing? Maybe not. I mean, every author and artist I know truly wants the next project to be better than the last. But I don’t know that I’d want to be judged on my last work, especially if I were ever lucky enough to create something amazing.

So what I’m going to do is look at a few projects to hopefully show what I mean.

downloadThe Star Wars saga: This might honestly be the most beloved story of all time. Even people who hate Star Wars (like, from 1980-something and beyond) still know it. They still get the jokes and memes. The original trilogy was lightning in a bottle. It does so many things well, and it hit people and culture at a perfect point in history. Here’s my statement though, no follow up, ever, could hope to hold up against it. First, we’ve had some 30 years to romanticize that story. We grew up, loving it, watching it, and reaffirming our love for it.

I don’t have statistics to measure this, but I’d be willing to bet money a guy is more likely to meet and marry a second wife before he’d be willing to let anyone touch is beloved Star Wars. Bold statement right? Is it? God forbid, if I lost Julie, I’d be devastated. I love her. I truly believe God made her just for me in the same way he made Eve for Adam.  Still, I’ve already asked her to try and find someone new if I die, and, after time, I might find someone new for myself. But whoever I meet, I’d meet and get to know on an individual level. How fair would this hypothetical situation be if I compared my second wife to Julie? Even more, people don’t really even consider it. Sure, they may recognize things or appreciate things that remind them of their original spouse, but they don’t hold the previous spouse against  the current one.

But make a prequel movie that doesn’t meet the twenty years of expectations I’ve placed on it, and we’ll riot. Make a sequel that doesn’t line up with my fan theory, and I’ll start a petition demanding Disney retcon the movie, and then I’ll lose my stuff because the director lacked the courage to stand behind his conviction of starting an original story line. This isn’t opinion, search #StarWars on social media and look at the hate. My sons actually said, “The sequels ruined Star Wars.”

Star_Wars_The_Last_Jedi.jpgThat gave me pause. “Did you even watch it?”

“Yes.”

“Did you like it?”

“Yeah.”

“Then how did it ruin it?”

“My teacher said so.”

First off, my kids are supposed to be learning skills, not being force fed your own personal opinion on art and cultural issues, teachers. No my sons are TAUGHT to hate a thing just because they want to fit in. (Tangent over.)

Here’s my point. You can say you like Star Wars, or you can hate it. But I wonder, if we had someone watch Episode 8, and make sure that person never saw the originals. What would that person think?  What would happen if we watched that movie just for that movie? Is it a part of a whole, sure, but fans today are measuring against decades of romanticized expectations and anticipation. Disney doesn’t stand a chance. I’m not saying 8 was the greatest ever, but it’s nowhere near the worst, and no amount of Jar Jar Binx can honestly ruin A New Hope.

So why talk about this? Am I trying to justify 8 vs the other episodes? No, like Disney, I don’t stand a chance. Neither does 9. Fans have chosen to love or hate that movie already, and they’ll love it or hate it regardless of the content because they’ve chosen to love it or hate it. It’s like politics. I could say the most hateful things, do the most horrible stuff in accordance to anyone’s opinions, but if I label myself a republican, republicans everywhere love me. Do the SAME stuff, and label myself a democrat and democrats everywhere will embrace me. It’s honestly the same with these transcendent works.

Harry_Potter_Cursed_Child_PlayThe Cursed Child: People everywhere are pretty polarized about this story as well.  I loved it. Now, fans didn’t have the same amount of time to romanticize this story, and I’ve noticed the dissatisfaction is way down. Do a survey, and I’d bet money those who hate it are those who grew up with Harry. I mean that literally. If they started it at 12 and finished it at 20-something, they probably hate Child.  Find those older readers who were more discerning and less impressionable, and at the very least I bet money that group will have a much more standard Bell curve.  Why do they like Beasts? They went away from all those main characters.  Why don’t they like Grimwald? They made editorial decisions on Dumbledore.  The only real way to stay in a universe and not get flack would be to  create a new story with new characters who don’t alter or affect the ones people fell in love with. Solo might be the most hated Star Wars movie (maybe).  But Solo doesn’t stand a chance. We love Han, and if the Han we see doesn’t fit into our romanticized view, we hate him. Frankly, no one can meet your romanticized view of a character.

So I fear ever writing that transcendent story. Because people forget what it means to truly create something transcendent. It’s notable specifically because it’s unique and original. I think a lot of directors, writers, and creators are unfairly held to a transcendent standard, and it takes away one’s ability to simply enjoy a story on it’s own merit.

books-1245690_960_720I very carefully didn’t give too many opinions on what I thought of these things because that’s my point. There is not fair comparison. There is no fair opinion. The very nature of an opinion is based on emotion and thought more than any measurable standard. I challenge readers and viewers to think about this the next time you watch or read something. I’ve seen things I didn’t enjoy as much. My wife asked if I’d watch a remake of Krull or a sequel.  I’d probably see the sequel, but I’d have to work very hard not to be unreasonable. I’ve had decades to imagine how I thought the story would go. My life as a writer even began with my work to pen a sequel to the story. So anyone else’s vision would just be insulting to me on a personal level because of my own filter and not because of the actual work, which really isn’t fair.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree? Do you disagree? I’d really like to have a civil discussion on this.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

What Anime gets right: Characters

What Anime gets right: Characters

Note: (Featured image from Anime Planet.)

Greetings all,

I Heart Anime
Image from RPGWatch.

It’s been a few weeks since I had a good ‘ol fashioned writing-based post, and since I’m in the middle of a few projects, and I don’t have any official news yet, I have the chance to take a look at what I feel is the most important part of any story …

Character.

If anyone interested in writing wants my humble advice, watch anime. It’s awesome for one. The other reason is that they always deliver a multitude of characters viewers love. Now I could go in a lot of directions, and I might actually do more than one post on this robust topic, but for now, I’m just going to focus on the general idea of what anime does with characters.

  1. Deep, complex backgrounds: When I watch anime, I genuinely feel like the creators sat down for every character and wrote a story just for them. Any one of them could be the main character if they just got a bit more screen time. As if that’s not enough, the episodes use those complicated backgrounds to advance their MCs. This allows fans to grow closer to an
    Naruto_vs._Neji
    Image taken from Fear-World.

    other cast member while still being connected to the hero. It’s honestly brilliant. Naruto does this best. Some may argue they go to this well too many times, and I’d have to agree, but inevitably, as Naruto interacts with characters, we learn more about both of them. This happens both in fights (Naruto VS Neji Hyuga and with team-ups (Sai’s arc). As they fight or work together, we learn more about the side characters, and as Naruto works with them he learns more, and we grow closer to him.

  2. Clear motivations: Every character in anime has motivations and obstructions to those motivations. Good or evil, those characters strive for something. Sometimes they build conflict and suspense. Sometimes the motivations build sympathy. Both are essential.  Let’s take a look at Mikasa Ackerman. She’s a fascinating character. She could want any number of things, but all she truly cares about is protecting Eren. This motivation is clear. So when Eren is in danger or pain, we know this causes Mikasa stress (sympathy). When people seek to harm or even just belittle Eren, we know this will create conflict.
  3. Ryuk
    Image taken from Star City Tees.

    Sympathy: One of my favorite things to do when talking anime with anyone is to talk about their favorite characters. My favorite books have that same feeling, but I can’t always do that with books. I can always do it with anime. The main reason for this is how sympathetic anime characters are. Anime does a fantastic job of making viewers feel for them. They do it through humor. (Ryuk. Sure, he’s evil, but people like him because he amuses them. Why else do people always think of him and apples?) They do it through conflict (Ichigo). They do it through relationships (Ed Elric). The writers use a variety of situationally dramatic settings to allow the viewer to grow sympathetic toward the characters.

So I’ve only scratched the surface on this topic, and I’m probably going to harp on a lot of this when I don’t have any news about my writing to offer. However, this is a good place to start.

When developing your characters, look for opportunities to consider these topics and how anime uses them to get those fans cosplaying. If you do, you might just see a few cosplay people pick one of your characters? (I’d love to see a Grimm or a Caden cosplay!)

Thanks for reading,

Matt

My Top 3 Reads of 2018

My Top 3 Reads of 2018

It’s a new year, which means it’s time to share my top three reads of 2018 with you all.  Goodreads says I’ve read 37 books in 2018. It wasn’t quite as much as last year, but it’s a solid amount, especially considering how much happened. This list was made without regard to publisher, format, or author.

How I did it:  I kept track of books I liked and mentally compared one to the other. Without further delay, here’s my list.
51C+CI-HrZL#3 Colony Lost by Chris Philbrook: You can find my review for that book here.  This book was my at one point my favorite that I read this year. It had a slow start, but man are those characters awesome, and I just love the action in the story. Of the three, I’d want this made into a movie most. I think this is the first in a series, and if it is, I’ll be picking up the other books once the series is over.

 

 

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So that’s my top three. What are yours? Why? Do you have a review you can link it to? I’d love to reblog it for you.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

The Art of a Heist: A Few Tricks For Outlining

The Art of a Heist: A Few Tricks For Outlining

Greetings all,

Power of Words Cover_FRONT_EBOOKSince The Power of Words is up and running, I thought I’d take a moment to talk about a method of plotting.

Plotting is a tool I and other authors use to plan out how the story unfolds, and a heist story, is a specific type of plot.

When I started writing my contribution to The Power of Words, I saw in my imagination a mother who had to pay insane amounts of money just to be able to say, “I love you” to her daughter. That gave birth to the idea of this mother hatching a scheme to shut down the system that regulates the Communication Act of 3748.

I did some research (some would call it binge watching Leverage, but I call it research). This led me to believe there are key plot points in any good heist story.

now-you-see-me-01
Screen image of Now You See Me for study purposes under Fair Use Doctrine. 

One: Introduce the team.  Different stories do this in different ways, but nothing really starts until the readers meet the team.  Ocean’s 11 spends the first quarter of the movie on this while Now you See Me spends about five minutes. But this is the first real part in any heist story.

Two: The plan.  Now this is a debatable part of the plot as sometimes the ultimate plan is hidden.  For instance, in Now You See Me, no one really knew what they were ultimately up to, but I argue the viewers still clearly knew that team was after a Robin Hood angle. Sure, the ultimate plan was hidden, but there’s usually some identification of what the team is after.  In Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn: The Final Empire, he just came right out and said it. Again, there was a mystery here in that the readers didn’t know the real plan (more on that later), but there was a clear objective stated. Ocean’s 11 did this as well.

5b1af9135e48ec46008b46a4-750-375
Screen shot of Ocean’s 11 for study purposes under Fair Use Doctrine.

Three: The confrontation of the antagonist.  Most stories do this in a blunt way. The brains of the outfit and the cop or mark face of in a direct manner. There’s even usually a dare of some sort.  Ocean’s 11 shows this when Danny Ocean faces Terry Benedict.

Four: The weak link. Most heist stories identify some sort of flaw or hole in the plan. It’s usually a person, but can sometimes be a fulcrum on which the plan hinges. Yen get’s injured in Ocean’s 11. Jack Wilder dies. The other way this happens is when there is a character who seems like a bad fit for the team.  Ocean’s 11 actually does this too in that Linus seems at times antagonistic.

Five: The collapse. There might be some who want to insert “the rehearsal” before this, and I wouldn’t immediately argue.  I’d like to state, however, that while a number of heist stories have a rehearsal (Gone in 60 Seconds, Inception), this is more something many heist stories do, but it’s not what I would call a requirement. However, if you’re writing a heist story, you need everything to fall apart. The trick is, it has to sell.  You need the viewer/reader to be ultimately convinced that the plan failed and the movie/book is about to end on a downer.  This usually happens with the team caught or taken down (Ocean’s 11). It sometimes happens when the object in question seems gone or missing (Inception). Either way, everything has to fall apart spectacularly.

Six: (The Most Important) The twist. And this is what makes or breaks a heist story. You need that plot point that has the reader saying, “I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN!” It can’t be forced. It has to be unpredictable without being unbelievable. It has to be something that the reader can connect either just before or right as the twist happens.  In The Final Empire, we learn that the plan wasn’t really the plan we thought it was. In Ocean’s 11 (and honestly most other heist stories) we realize that getting caught was actually a part of the plan. Some do both. If this is satisfying, then you’ll have readers singing your praises. If it doesn’t work, well, there’s always the next story. Right?

101
Screen image from Leverage for study purposes under Fair Use Doctrine.

Seven: The victory lap. Once the loot is distributed or just as the opponent realizes he’s lost, the crew has to have their moment in the sun. Leverage actually has the team inevitably find some way to obscurely smirk at the mark as he’s taken away in cuffs. The Now You See Me crew get’s a literal final sendoff. Sometimes it’s more subtle. The victory lap in The Final Empire is actually a letter. Here the author is letting the brains of the outfit or the outfit as a whole gloat for a moment.

So there you have it.  I’d challenge anyone to watch any great heist movie and identify these seven plot points or (a thing I truly challenge you won’t be able to do) show any heist story in which one of these moments is missing.

Do I think Stealing Freedom, my contribution to The Power of Words, holds up? Honestly, yeah! I’m darn proud of this story. I won’t be so egotistical as to say it’s as good as any of these, but I think the twist (hehe, singular? No, my friend, I mean to say, twists) are immensely satisfying. You could of course buy the anthology, read the story, and judge for yourself.

Thank you for reading,

Matt

 

Why Clara Oswald Fell Apart as a Character

Why Clara Oswald Fell Apart as a Character

I’m a huge Doctor Who fan. When Clara was first introduced, and when her arc with Matt Smith ended I considered her one of the better characters.

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Image taken from Pinterest for character study purposes.

However, from the moment Capaldi’s arc started, I’m of the opinion that the writers weren’t ready to let Smith go so Capaldi could shine, and no character suffered more for that than Clara.

During Capaldi’s entire arc, Clara’s character degraded to such a degree that I’m of the opinion there are some who think of her as one of the worst companions of the modern era. But why?

 

Here are my reasons:

  1. Continuity Conflict: We established that Clara’s arc at the end of Smith’s tenure was wonderful. The problem is, when Smith left and Capaldi came in Clara was resentful of the “older” Capaldi. She had an entire episode where she “came to grips” with the Doctor being a different person.  The problem is, if anyone were able to roll with the regeneration mojo, it would be the companion who has helped every doctor to have been or to come. In fact, she should have recognized that doctor.
    1. Very_Ancient_Eleven
      Image taken from the TARDIS Data Core website.

      Some might argue, “But her memory reset!”  Really, then explain the scene when Clara speaks with the aged Smith in “Time of the Doctor.” She told him, “You’ll just pop up with a new face.” This is when the show went on to account for the cannon’s established number of regenerations (12).  She knew that Smith would go, and another new face would appear.

    2. Only she didn’t. She acted with shock and even asked if there was a way to change him back. This rather bigoted point of view from a character who should know the Doctor better than most just felt half-hearted. Especially in the “argument” she posed on why she wasn’t bigoted (but then continued to doubt the Doctor.
  2. gallery_uktv-doctor-who-s08-e04-2A Love Story with No Love: The show went on to push the love story between her and Danny Pink. The problem, they never developed that love story. Compare the love story between Rory and Amy, a story that was so compelling, Amy’s choice to stay go be with Rory (while the reason I hate her (she was the only character the Doctor begged to stay with him)) made sense because they established several times through  multiple season just how much they mean to one another.  Meanwhile, Pink went on one awful date and had one speech (in which she lied to this man she was supposed to love so much she betrayed the doctor). So when that episode happened, her heartbreak over Pink’s death just didn’t mean anything. For crying out loud, she professed her love over the phone. (eye roll)
    1. This love story didn’t have any development or growth, so her reaction to his death just felt like an excuse.
  3. A Fall From Grace with No Consequence: I think this is the most tragic reason this character just fell apart. The following season, we saw Clara begin to get pretty dark. (The justification did feel off from the beginning since we’re still just finding it hard to believe she cared so much for a man she willfully lied to.) Anyway, justification aside, this arc was fascinating…
    1. face-the-raven-16x9
      Image taken from The Ultimate Guide to the Fashion of Doctor Who website.

      … until she never had to face the consequences for her fall.  This season was one of the most frustrating for me because we’d see an episode that was just fantastic (Face the Raven or Heaven Sent) are undercut by episodes that render the tragic cost of those episodes moot. Clara makes a huge mistake and heroically accepts her fate (until the Doctor brings her back). I even disliked the return of the Doctor’s memories.

    2. When character makes poor decision after poor decision but doesn’t face consequences, it annoys the audience. They start to doubt the story will unfold with any real suspension of disbelief.  Comic books kill characters and bring them back all the time; however, those characters are at least dead for more than two episodes.

All of these reasons have nothing to do with Jenna Coleman or her acting ability to act (which I feel is outstanding). The problem is, in my opinion, with the writing. The plotting for Clara’s arc lacked respect for her previously established cannon and enough foreshadowing to make her plot twists convincing.

I think this is all unfortunate as she was such a great companion through Smith’s tenure.  Whatever happens with this new Doctor, I’m glad this new Doctor is getting a new companion. This will let us judge the pair together and individually.

What do you think? Do you still like Clara? Do you have more reasons her arc didn’t work? (Please don’t just bash characters or actors. I always seek to analyze based on definable characteristics not just raw emotion.)

Thanks for reading,

Matt