Thursday, November 28, 2013

17216--Two Shades of Black

The City of Magick, oddly enough, is governed by the god of Bright Chaos, Coyote.  Since the entire plane of Magick is subject to the Trickster's will, allowing the focus of its darkest elements on what had become the least dangerous area to humans almost makes it seem as though he takes a special interest in tormenting those who dwell there.  Of course, some will say the humans have brought the darkness upon themselves.  Anything's possible.

The presence of humans and darkness in The City invites the focus on two types of stories that are very similar, but have very specific differences.  Those are hardboiled and noir genres.  The close relatives are made distinct by the nature of their protagonists.  A hardboiled protagonist meets the challenges of a corrupt and violent world with anti-hero cynicism.  His attitude probably comes from having experienced so much from the darker side of life that he not only considers it normal, but is happy to fight fire with fire.  That protagonist is a crime-solver, whether a detective, a maverick cop or gun-toting amateur.

The protagonist in noir fiction isn't a crime-solver and might actually be either a perpetrator or a victim.  This character is less a hard rock in a river of corruption and more one of the many fish navigating the murky waters.  Noir's protagonist may be a victim, but his character is likely to respond by victimizing others and perpetuating the darkness.  With players who may be as self-destructive as self-preserving, saying whether they come out as winners or losers may depend on which way the light hits the scene.

All that, of course, means that the most insidious dangers in the dark corners of The City may not come from magic.  That sexy stranger warming up to the struggling protagonist may seem like a bright oasis in the night, but a lot of steamy intimacy could still end with a knife between either's ribs.  The best advice for characters in either noir or hardboiled genres might be to drop the word "trust" from their vocabularies, especially when some shouldn't even trust themselves.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

17201--Getting Things Straight

"I'm here to fight for truth, justice, and the American way." ~ Superman

Takes you right back to December of 1978, doesn't it?  Well, alright, I'll concede that not everyone drawn to reading this was necessarily around for the theatrical release of Superman: The Movie.  Certainly, though, you've seen it by now.  The film was well made, making it remain fun to watch.  At the same time, though, there were real world issues that spilled over into shaping the finished product.

The producers and the director didn't get along.  Some of the details strayed from comic book continuity, even though some of the film's elements have since been adapted into the comics.  One of the problems that came up, though, is one that continues to rear its ugly head and I'd like to help bridge the communication gap that apparently exists.

Back then, it was a time that the comic book world has come to refer to as Pre-Crisis.  One of the notable hallmarks of that era was the Man of Steel's incalculable Kryptonian power.  With virtually unlimited power available to him, Superman would usually find a way to achieve any task he felt he needed to accomplish.  As a product of his incredible power level, he had figured out how to penetrate the time barrier so that he could move backward and forward through the time stream freely.  Now, two of the requirements of this continuum-rending feat were 1) that he fly faster than light speed (he could do that back then) and 2) he had to incorporate a specifically calculated turn into his flight path (easily determined with his super-intellect) that basically resulted in his flying in circles.  Now, one of the dynamics that even Superman needed to respect was aerodynamics.  For the sake of the environment and those dependent upon it, he took his hyper-speed, time barrier breaking flights out of the atmosphere.

So, where does that leave us?  Near the re-write that became part of the film's climax and had Superman fly back in time about fifteen minutes to save Lois Lane from being crushed to death.  Ignoring the time travel rules that would've prevented this sort of convenient story-tampering in the comics of the day (the film did, so...), let's just focus on what we're here for: perception.  What the film creators did in the confines of their work was basically fine.  What seems to have been received by large numbers of viewers is the idea that Superman "turned the Earth backward" to save the day.  Granted, Pre-Crisis Superman had been known to push planets around when the need arose, but the physical realities of such a feat would be far more catastrophic than the quake Lex Luthor triggered.  Superman came to help us.  He would not and did not turn the Earth backward.

What so many people seem almost unwilling to wrap their minds around is that Superman was flying through time, first back and then forward as he was targeting a specific moment.  To him and the audience, the world appeared to spin backward and the damage seemed to reverse itself.  When he dropped back into normal time, everything would've resumed happening as it had on first viewing.  I can understand the convenience for Supes, flying around the world so he could watch to see the event he was looking for, but it was apparently confusing for those unfamiliar with such things.  Clarification is long overdue.  You can thank me later.

That this major point of the film has been so misunderstood by so many makes me feel that the creators didn't run it past test viewers to make sure they were getting across what they intended.  It seems that a little extra writing to help everyone understand what was going on would've helped.  An alternative might've been to use the path that would later be traveled in the Smallville TV series and have our favorite caped farm boy coerce a chronal second chance out of Jor-El's Fortress of Solitude techno-presence.  Finding themselves rushed by the clash of the executives and uncertain as to how well the movie would even be received, I don't suppose I can fault them for not making that leap.

If you're a writer, though, heed this.  Take the time to come out of your Batcave or your Fortress of Solitude or wherever it is you write and let some other eyes see your work.  Let some other minds form opinions about what you've crafted.  That's how you can be sure of the reception of what was born in and has only had to exist in the labyrinthine twists of your own coffee-fueled, gin-soaked brain and whatever world it has cobbled together.  You wrote the thing.  Of course you get it.  Your job, that of any writer, is to make your conceptions understandable to others.  With developed skill, you'll grow past being ham-fisted about it and learn to make your audience "get it" in whatever way you want.

Now, for those of you who are really really interested in this, follow along.  The time travel fix used in the film wouldn't have worked with the Pre-Crisis time travel rules because they were designed to prevent just that sort of thing.  Just as Quantum Leap would later reverse, tethering the traveler to effectiveness within his lifespan, DC's rules dictated that the traveler was completely unable to affect things at any point in the time stream in which he already existed.  Following those rules, movie Superman could've gone back in time, but only to watch as helplessly as Ebeneezer Scrooge being dragged around the continuum by tormenting spirits.  So, while he was saving California, he's also come back in time and become a spectral observer so...he can watch Lois die.  Psychological trauma and the humility of humanizing limitations conveniently wrapped into a single package that happens to look like a blood-soaked crushed car.

What was completely ignored was what they did give us: fifteen minutes of two supermen.  While time traveling Superman stood around chatting with Jimmy and a time paradox Lois quake, original Superman was flying around doing all the hero work ignorant to the fact that he was minutes away from jaunting back through time for the conversation his time paradox self was simultaneously having with a time paradox Lois... She still has to die, you see, to spur him to go back in time...Great Gallifrey!  They've shoved Lois into a blue police box and turned her into Schroedinger's Cat! 

Yeah, the Smallville solution definitely would've been the way to go.

Monday, November 11, 2013

17199--Can You Handle the Truth?

It's a simple enough question and the answer can be character-revealing.  Better still, it can also be character-developing.

A useful aspect of writing is editorial feedback.  To most people, this is also known as constructive criticism.  Some of it can be more constructive than others.  The importance of it, though, is that it can tell a writer how his work is being perceived by readers.  The writer may, or at least should, know what he intended to convey.  The best feedback will let him know how near he came to the intended target and provide a guide for closing the gap to it.  Critiques and reviews aren't just about blowing sunshine up a writer's ass, delightful as that may be.  They've become public signposts telling other readers whether or not to read a work based on what someone else got from it or failed to get from it.

Whatever you take from someone else's review, you're a third party in a two-party conversation that should be happening with the goal of helping a creator hone his skills.

I've had teachers who were very dedicated to this process, one who was bad at it and another who I'm pretty sure was ready to retire and seemed to have given up on it altogether.  That last one was back in an English class.  She had taken to insisting that we read books of our choosing, writing reports on them, then turning them in only to never see them again.  When we asked about getting the reports back, she would say something to stall and go on with class.  One of my classmates decided to join her in her game.  He told me that he was certain she wasn't doing anything with the papers we turned in and was merely making up grades.  What we wanted and needed, though, was honest feedback.

To test the point, when next she asked for him to turn in his reports, he claimed he already had.  She debated his claim because she had no mark in her grade book to record that he'd turned in his reports.  He countered by insisting that he had placed the reports on her desk.  Her desk was very messy.

She looked upon it with an expression of hopelessness.  It was very, very messy.

"Well, alright," she said, making a mark in her ledger.

Class moved onward and he never heard any more from her about it.  None of us did.  We received no feedback on our work and our potential opportunity for growth was thus squandered.  I can't prove any connection and I suppose it'd be a statistical anomaly were there a connection to be made, but the guy I didn't name above went on to shoot his immediate family a few years later, murdering his mother in the process.  Sure, odds are it's unrelated, but why take the chance?  If you have the opportunity to help someone grow and improve, make that difference.

The truth may sting, but it can also help.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

17194--A Must Have

As a citizen of modern society, there are certain skills you should possess as a part of your repertoire.  If you're a writer, there are some specific overlaps that should be included.  My focus is on just one, but that one is so important that I'm using it even now.  That's right, touch typing.

For most, the ubiquitous presence of computers that has developed over the last few decades should be motivation enough to learn it if you haven't already.  Even if you're transitioning to finger swiping or electronic pens or optical control, learn it.  You may be anticipating the advent of effective neural feedback or thought control, but learn it anyway.  One of the great things touch typing teaches you is how to read and type simultaneously.  The aid this brings to your ability to split focus effectively is invaluable.  Even though I learned to type many years ago, to this day, I'm usually aware enough of what my fingers are doing that even if I make a typo, I'm aware of it when it's happening and can catch it immediately.

If you're not everybody else and happen to be a writer, the ability to touch type will be a boost to your speed and efficiency that you should not disregard.  Not only will it help you with the aforementioned splitting of focus, but allow you shift focus more smoothly.  All this will help you with not only writing, but rewriting.  Yay!  Not to brag, but spelling errors are rare finds in my edits and I never use spell check.  Typing proficiency lets you think about what those fingers are doing without having to watch them every second.

As a child, typing was one of the skills my mom always reminded me to learn.  She made a lot of money in college typing people's papers for them, so she figured I could at least benefit by not paying someone else to type for me.  Even if I wrote everything out with a pen, I wouldn't want to have someone else type for me (which admittedly means I'm stuck with doing my own typing no matter how successful I become at selling novels) because there are a lot of great things that come to me in the process of typing.  It's part of my creative process, apparently, that my imagination keeps on developing while I'm writing.  That may have been inevitable or it may have been because I used to write science fiction chapters on the fly in typing class, then turn them in as English homework in the following period.  Bonus: rapid critique feedback.

For those among you who also find yourself developing ideas while typing, there are probably also many of you who end up with the tone of your output changing from your original intent.  Again, this is just another reason you should be typing.  If you haven't already, make it a part of your creative process.  I won't deny that there's one particular brand of pen I enjoy the feel of writing with (so I buy many of them), but learn to type.  It's not a party trick.  We've taken ourselves to a point where it's practically ridiculous not to have it as a basic computer skill.

Get to it.