“Just write”

I saw The Last Jedi yesterday, and here are my thoughts:

  • Plenty of interesting stuff, lots of surprising moments
  • I still prefer the swashbuckling pulpy adventure of the first movie to the overstated drama of the newer films
  • As much as it was a good movie, I would still rather see a totally new story.

I have three young boys who love Star Wars (thanks to me), and I am getting a little tired of it. “Star Wars” movie is now a phrase that gets used all the time, and it emphasizes the feeling I had while watching The Last Jedi that these films are more like TV shows in the way they tell a never-ending story. Each time the characters face basically the same obstacles and spend their time solving a fairly explicit puzzle. This was understated in the first trilogy, but now it’s almost like watching Law and Order.

Beyond the TV-show-ish nature of how it feels like it will never end, I felt the same as I did about Wonder Woman: cool movie, but not that new or interesting. I don’t think the never-endingness is a bad thing in itself, but I think it stretches the story-telling, and it definitely feels like something other than a movie.

Aristotle’s BICHOK

Over the past few weeks I’ve recanted almost completely my thoughts on structuring a novel, and tried to “just write” as much as possible. It’s not so much the “just write” as “tell a story.” I started writing because I was thinking of stories, and telling stories to my kids, and I have always been a storyteller, but in my frenzy to perfect my novel-writing process, I completely forgot that.

I realized that I have a pretty good instinct for what constitutes a good story, that I know how to just tell people a story with a beginning, middle, and end that is comprehensible, way before I read Aristotle’s Poetics. All that structuring and breaking up the scenes and ensuring a rising action is better left for revisions (and even when I “just write” I come up with a story structure that is mostly fine).

The overall point is that taking positions and thinking I have it figured out is a mistake in itself. I’m not going to go on a rant about the merits of pantsing now because that would be a mistake too. Both overt structuring and “just writing” have their place. It is definitely better to have something to revise than to have nothing at all. With an eye for structure, and for when the reader might need a surprise, it is just fine to “just write.” Spending time explicitly structuring and planning gives the writer a better idea of how to do this, so everything has its value.

I went to a writing workshop yesterday of mostly narrative nonfiction and historical fiction writers and it is a very interesting experience. I know that I write adventure stories, and I like doing that, but one of my goals as a writer is to write a story that doesn’t require everything to blow up at the end. Seeing what other people in other genres write about is really helpful in that respect. A pretty funny moment came when I said my goal for my current book was to write 100,000 words or less, and they all said “Whoa, that’s a really long novel.”  I am about three-quarters of the way through the first draft of The Last Omen, still hoping to finish it in a few weeks. Thank you to all of you who’ve said “I would totally read the **** out of your new work-in-progress.” It’s very encouraging.

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Thor: Ragnarok is a Kung-Fu Movie

In which I alienate Marvel fans, all of China and Stephen Universe fans!

thorI took my boys to see Thor: Ragnarok yesterday since they had the day off from school.  I recently sat through Iron Man and totally enjoyed Wonder Woman, but I am not a big fan of comic book movies.  Tim Burton’s Batman was cool, but in the past ten years things have really gotten out of control with comic book movies.  Wonder Woman was an exception, but when I watch these movies usually I feel like I’m not really seeing a story acted out, but loosely strung-together action sequences.  Everyone’s flying through the air and kicking the crap out of each other and completely destroying entire cities.  The action just goes on and on, and lately they seem to take themselves way too seriously with the whole moral ambiguity thing (forgetting that moral clarity is what makes superheroes).  As I said about Rogue One, I would much rather see an action/adventure/fantasy story about some new material instead of a comic hero or Star Wars. Continue reading “Thor: Ragnarok is a Kung-Fu Movie”

Phasma (Star Wars)Phasma by Delilah S. Dawson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this book with my kids, who are Star Wars fans. I loved The Force Awakens, but just to add my own perspective, I think the proliferation of Star Wars material is a bit overwhelming and unnecessary to enjoying the movies. In addition, most Star Wars bonus material I have read is not that well done. I wanted to read this book mainly for my kids’ enjoyment, but I was excited to hear that Delilah S. Dawson was doing an entire novel. Delilah is inspiring as a writer and blogger, and gives wonderful advice on how to build a strong career. So I picked up Phasma and was blown away by the amazing prose in the opening pages. The author takes an entirely boring scenario and makes it crackle with tension. I had to read the rest.

If you like anything Star Wars, you’ll love this book. If you like science fiction and fantasy, and good writing, the best parts of this book will be the current-time conflict between Cardinal and Phasma, two rival stormtroopers in the First Order. Phasma’s backstory is an interesting quest with a very well-developed culture, and a mystery that will be satisfying for fantasy readers. I think the best writing and the biggest tension happens toward the end of the book, and it’s well worth getting through some slow “endless desert” passages. The last hundred pages of this book are filled with suspense, and I really had a good time reading it.

Phasma is already a bestseller, so if this is the first book you’ve read by the author, I highly urge you to pick up her original material, which is much much better. For example she has a Weird Western series under her pen name Lila Bowen that I highly recommend, the latest chapter of which is Malice of Crows.

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The Hunt for Story Ideas

The_Hunt_for_Red_October_movie_posterLast week my novel manuscript was rejected by my agent, so I’m spending this week coming up with new novel ideas. Coming up with novels from scratch is somewhat new, somewhat not new since I had to go through the process of actually creating good stories with my first three books. The difference was that I “pantsed” them and so by the time I went to outlining I already had characters, a setting (which in fantasy means a whole world or at least part of one), a main problem for those characters, and a premise (in the sense of Lajos Egri) on which to build a story (I didn’t have good stories, let that be a lesson to you). I also had what I call an “archetypal clarity” or “cosmic principle.” This is the additional element of fantasy that the universe is organized around. The One Power, for instance is the cosmic principle behind The Wheel of Time. Continue reading “The Hunt for Story Ideas”

Serious kids’ movies

In which I alienate fans of Labyrinth by arguing that an excellent codpiece by itself doesn’t create the reverence and dread of a real drama.

First the news: I had another hen eaten by a fox on Saturday, so I replaced her with four new birds that I know are female (backstory: a year-and-a-half ago when I got chicks, we accidentally got a Wyandotte rooster, who the kids named R.L. Stine). I have a sequel to Firesage outlined, tentatively called Watermark, and a rough idea for a third book in a trilogy. After some thorough beta reading I have almost got Firesage ready to send to my agent, and I think this one will sell. Despite his wariness that epic fantasy is a “cold genre” I think editors will relate to the primary question of what the main character will do to make a good life for her unborn child. I went to the bookstore the other day to look for comps (and I found some good books), but I always walk away with the feeling that my books are so unique people won’t know what to do with them. I don’t think I have ever read or even heard of a fantasy book that deals with the unique anxieties faced by pregnant women, so I’m hoping that will do it for me (if you have heard of one, please let me know in the comments, or on Twitter).

Continue reading “Serious kids’ movies”

What makes a good film adaptation? The Dark Tower

In which I alienate fellow Stephen King fans.

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Roland Deschain (Idris Elba) faces The Man in Black (Matthew McConnaughey), not the only evil face in the movie

The other day I went to see the film adaptation of The Dark Tower. It was 11:55 AM on a Wednesday and I was the only person in the theater, but I suspected that even if I went at 7:30 PM on Friday, I would be in a small crowd. The movie has gotten plenty of bad reviews, including my favorite kind (sarcasm), the ones who tell you that the movie is already terrible and disappointing, and it shouldn’t have been made in the first place. These were followed by at least one “so what” review, which I read, but I didn’t really care to believe either. The Dark Tower is a majestic, beautiful, grand story, written by one of my favorite authors, and so I wasn’t going to take the word of a few people who might not even care for Stephen King’s writing.

Continue reading “What makes a good film adaptation? The Dark Tower”

Screenwriting advice (for novelists?)

In which I alienate still more people who liked Arrival

fadeinThe main thing I’ve been doing other than working toward the climax in the rewrite of Firesage is studying screenwriting. Since The Queen’s Night is on submission and people seem to like the characters (despite my efforts to make them horrible people bent on nothing but pleasure, power, and geometry) I have thought it would make a good movie. A lot of readers and writers think about their favorite books in a sort of filmic way, and when readers get their favorite books adapted, it’s a sort of validation. A lot of the heroic and dramatic can be succinctly expressed in film, and so a lot of us get our sense of the dramatic from the movie screen, and seeing our favorite story on that screen gives it a larger existence. So naturally I thought of adapting the movie myself, and learning about screenwriting in the process.

For a couple reasons, I don’t think I will even try. Continue reading “Screenwriting advice (for novelists?)”

Content and Style: The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu

In which I alienate the people most likely to buy my book.

Margaret_Atwood_2015
Atwood at the 2015 Texas Book Festival; photo by Larry D. Moore

Margaret Atwood is one of my favorite authors, and The Handmaid’s Tale is one of my favorite books, so I was pretty excited when I heard Hulu was adapting it into a series. Of course, I also had my trepidation. I don’t care much whether an adaptation fails or succeeds, but my expectations for adaptations these days are pretty low. Nevertheless it’s nice to see such an excellent book advertised and interpreted.  I watched the first episode last night and found myself thinking I would rather be re-reading the book.  If you were confused or disappointed by the episodes you’ve seen, read the book.

Continue reading “Content and Style: The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu”

The Nifty, Geeky Story

In which I alienate the entire sci-fi short story readership, fellowship, and mothership.

Arrival_Movie_PosterI just got back from Paris. Yes, I’m fancy. It was great, thanks for asking. I wrote a short story while I was there (which, given what I’m about to tell you, probably will never get published). On the way back I got to watch two recent sci-fi movies and I found them interesting to compare, particularly given my previous arrogance about “entertainment” (he said disdainfully), I was surprised which one I enjoyed more. Continue reading “The Nifty, Geeky Story”

Let’s Get Serious!

In which I alienate Phish fans

What is it that makes readers connect? Sincerity and honesty. The kind of sincerity I’m talking about might be called being “serious” but as Alan Watts pointed out, the word “serious” has a sort of dry unfunniness about it, and that isn’t what I’m getting at. Fantasy literature in particular has this problem, much less than it used to, that it’s hard to take seriously a book about wizards and dragons. Ursula LeGuin seems to have eventually convinced everyone to take such books seriously, but not without plenty of books getting written to convince people otherwise. Wizards and dragons sound like childish topics, until you read Gene Wolfe, Stephen R. Donaldson, or dare I say Robert Jordan?

Continue reading “Let’s Get Serious!”