Thursday, April 14, 2016

Five Writing Lessons From Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice

Batman! Superman! Wonder Woman who gets the shit-tier billing even though she steals the big fight of the movie!

I went, I saw, I took some lessons from it. Thoroughly entertaining, but note none of these lessons qualify as "positives". Spoilers lie ahead, all ye of faint heart.

1. Show, Don't Tell

Batman vs Superman starts 18 months after Man of Steel, and early on in the movie there's a lot of beats that feel like a laundry list of Zack Snyder addressing complaints about the first movie. Superman and Clark Kent are established in Metropolis, Superman is a beloved hero, he and Lois Lane are in a solid relationship.

And that's all great, but we never got to see any of it happen. It's easy to overlook that with the Lois/Clark relationship - that trend was established in the first movie - but we've never actually seen Superman do anything heroic at this point! The stuff he did in Man of Steel is explicitly treated as reasons not to trust Superman, and all we ever get is a montage of "saves" where Superman looks miserable as he rescues people we have no investment in.

The first Superman scene in the movie would have been a great place for Superman to actually save people we care about. I was completely expecting it, but it didn't happen because, for plot reasons, everyone there had to die to frame Superman for murder. (With guns.) It wouldn't have been hard to fix this scene to let Superman save everyone, and then have the evil mercenaries come in and wipe the camp out after he was gone. That way we could see Superman being super and gotten on board with him a whole lot faster. Alas.

Point being: don't just tell your reader things about a character and expect them to care. They need to see it!

2. Suggest, Don't Show

Two examples of this, the first being Wonder Woman. Gal Gadot does an excellent job and Wonder Woman is a highlight of the movie, for the record. But part of her arc is that she's trying to get back a blackmail photo Lex Luthor has on her. Batman ends up finding a photo of her standing next to Chris Pine's cheekbones in 1918, looking just as young as she is in 2016 (or whenever).

All that's fine. The problem is that Diana is in full Wonder Woman garb in the photo, and it completely ruins her big entrance in the final fight scene! It would have been fantastic if that had been the first time we saw her in costume. And that would have been so easy, because there's no reason for her to be in costume in the photo - the scene works just fine if it's just Diana in a period dress, or a uniform.

You don't have to spell everything out for the audience immediately. Let them put some thought into things. They'll feel smart and the story will be better for it.

(Oh, right, second example. *ahem* MARRR-THAAAAAAA)

3. OOC Needs To Be OOC

I'm referencing a trope known as Out of Context (OOC) is Serious Business, which means a character starts acting... differently when things get serious. The pacifist starts kicking ass, the jokester gets deadly serious, the klutz becomes scary competent. It's a fine trope, I recommend it.

In Batman vs Superman, there's a flash-forward/dream sequence/vision of Batman in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, apparently ruled by a crazy evil Superman. (Actually ruled by another guy who's blindingly obvious if you read DC comics. Foreshadowing!) In this sequence Batman, who famously abhors guns, pulls a machine gun and just shoots the hell out of enemy soldiers.

The point, I think, is to demonstrate how bad things are by showing Batman shooting people. But he's also shooting people in the present! Hell, he runs over people, stabs people, he burns a guy alive in front of a middle-aged kidnapping victim... Who cares if he's shooting people in the Bad Future if he's already shooting people?

If you want to shock people by having a character go off his usual script, he actually has to be acting out of character. If there isn't a significant change in behavior, it won't work.

4. Talking Is A Valid Action

Now, there are some circumstances where two people will get into a fight immediately without trying to talk things out first. Maybe it's a protagonist and a gang of disposable mooks. Maybe it's two soldiers on opposite sides of a battlefield. Maybe one guy is drunk. Stuff happens.

But, if you have two protagonists getting into a fight. And both are known for having codes against killing. And one of them is being blackmailed by the villain under threat of his mother being killed within thirty minutes. And the other one just had a good friend murdered by the same villain, and has spent years saving innocent people's lives. In that circumstance, you need to have a really good reason for the two protagonists not to at least try to talk things over for a minute before they try to murder each other.

There's a tradition in comic books for heroes to fight at the drop of a hat, but make sure they've got a good reason, and try to make sure that reason can't be resolved by four words, i.e. "Luthor has my mother".

5. Make Your Villain's Schemes Internally Consistent

Crazy villains are great. Joker? A blast. Green Goblin? Superb. But even the most lunatic villains tend to at least make sense to themselves.

In Batman vs Superman, Lex Luthor hates Superman because he's a superpowered alien threat to the planet. And for the most part his solution (Batman + kryptonite) is appropriate to his mindset. But then for some reason, he decides he needs a backup plan and creates Doomsday: a superpowered alien  threat to the planet.

Now, there's a fine tradition of villains hypocritically creating bigger threats in order to deal with the hero's perceived threat. J. Jonah Jameson sponsored the Scorpion to get rid of Spider-man, Movie General Ross helped create the Abomination to take out the Hulk.  But in most of these cases, the bigger threat was intended to be something controllable that ends up getting completely out of hand and requires the hero to stop. In Batman vs Superman, Lex just flat out creates Doomsday without any restraints or controls, apparently believing a sample of his blood would be enough for him to control the creature. Nope! And even when Superman has to save him from getting splattered into meaty chunks, we never get a reaction from Lex to show that he realizes he screwed up. Yes he's crazy, but he's not stupid.

Make sure your villain has a reason for everything he does, even if that reason is only sane to him.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Damn You Santino Fontana

And damn you, too, Rachel Bloom, by extension. Because some day soon my son is going to ask me to play the Frozen soundtrack in the car again, and I'm going to slip this in and tell him it's the missing Anna and Hans song. And then my wife is going to slap me until we run off the road and go up in a giant ball of flame, all because of a cheerful song about urinary tract infections.

Think of the children, you two, for shit's sake.

Street Fighter V Hurts My Hands

I picked up Street Fighter V on a whim. Everything I'd heard about it said "Dave, don't pick up this game, it's not for filthy casuals". But it was in a Redbox and I thought, why not? So I grabbed the game and played it for a bit over three nights. Then I returned the Redbox and bought the digital copy. With the season pass.

Part of it is the fault of the Super Best Friends. They got me hyped for fighting games. It's like MMORPGs where you have to learn a different language to understand them. Footsies! Frame data! It's all beyond me but it's interesting.

The game itself is, charitably, a train wreck. The art style is okay, sometimes good, sometimes not good at all. The menu is shit. The story mode (prequel mode?) is shit, and the real story mode won't be out until June? July? Maybe August at this rate. Survival is a special hell for obsessives. I'd have returned the game on the first day if the actual fights weren't so good.

The fights are not just good. The fights are fantastic. It's Street Fighter! The fights have always been fantastic. It is the fighting game that all other fighters bow to, now and forever. I wish it didn't take five minutes to find each new fight. I guess it's to save gamers from getting arthritis in the first month of the game's release.

Oh God, the loading times. The network search times. It's still better than Mortal Kombat, where fights just lost connection or lagged for no damn reason. But them I stomp Ryu underneath Laura's electrified heel and all is good again.

But Survival. Survival is breaking me. Survival will give me the arthritis.

30 rounds, 50 rounds, 100 rounds, all in a row but the only ones that matter are the last three fights, the toughest fights. Lose here and you lose everything. No experience, no fight money, no matter how many rounds (25 rounds, 27 rounds, 29 rounds) you cleared, even if you just flat out dropped your network connection and the game shit out all your progress for no fucking reason.

But I have to remind myself what this game is. Because I have never seen a game so dedicated to the idea that people will be playing it for years. The trophies are all geared to that timetable, to months of play. The DLC (for the first year!) is spread out over six months. Everything points to a Killer Instinct style experience of frequent updates on and on, forever and ever, amen.

I'll be dropping Street Fighter V tomorrow for Dark Souls III. And then I'll pick it back up. And then I'll drop it for Persona 5. And I'll pick it back up after that, over and over, until my PlayStation finally dies.

Or my hands do. Cripes. Where's the ice?

Monday, January 11, 2016

Dictation Attempt 3: Dragon Dictation

The following is the raw result of trying to use the Dragon Dictation iPhone app to write while taking my son for a walk/nap in his stroller. The only edits made were a couple (not all) of the carriage returns. For a look at my previous attempts at using dictation, go here (voice recording then transcription) and here (Google speech-to-text).

Hello there. I'm outside right now walking my son in the stroller. He needs to go take a nap.

I'm writing this blog post with Dragon dictation. It is recording software for the iPhone.

I'm doing this to see just how accurate the software is. So far it is not been very accurate. But I'm going to try to write something anyway.

If you notice a lack of commas, it's because I keep forgetting to say the word,, and now I probably got double commas in there, well that's a problem,. Oh shoot I screwed that up,. Now I can't stop singing,.

For the record I don't know how to do carriage return. I'm just using the keyboard to type the return. That's all. Everything else is the soothing sound of my voice.

Anyway here we go. Period.

No one knew why the dead begun to walk. Some thought the gods were angry at us. Some thought the dead were angry at us. Mostly though, but that just walk around wandering through the trees and not bothering anybody particularly.

Those were the wild dead. There were others though. The dead who worked for the burning ember. They came with the dead callers, took people from their homes, and drag them away to the mines beneath the white towers. Those were the dead you had to fear.

Why the emperor had any interest in the white tower no one can say. Those who served him said that he wished to challenge the gods on their home turf. Others thought he was simply mad and sought to destroy the world. They were the ones were dragged away the most often.

Hearalde and his family knew very little of this. They lived in a simple fishing village. On the island of Wallstent. In the far north. Very few people ever came there. And very rarely for the dead scene in the village. They were far from the woods Mccoach for the dead did not like to go. One day Hearalde asked his brother Magness quotation mark why are we never allowed to leave the island? Quotation mark

Magnus smiled and said that it was against the Emperor's will for the smile seems fake to Hearalde.

Who are you? Why have you come here? Do you seek death? Knowledge? Both you will find here, perhaps one will find you.

Here's an idea dictation app it already automatically adds a, quotation marks Tenneyson sedans with set. That automatically at the, whenever you pause for more than five seconds. Three seconds. An app that lets you customize your own voice dictionary.

Okay I'm done with this. This is what dictation writing is like pouring. Maybe I'll get better at it. Maybe I won't. But here we are.

And I'm still forgetting the comments.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A Thousand Voices, A Thousand Faces

I recently reread The Hobbit, because the world is dark and full of terrors and I needed some good escapism. Of course, once you reread The Hobbit you almost have to go right into The Lord of the Rings, and I'm sure I'll be skimming The Silmarillion again before too long.

What was odd was, I noticed that Barliman Butterbur had started sounding like Rubeus Hagrid in my head.

Yeah, that guy.Which was odd because I'm fairly certain, back when I was a kid, that he didn't sound like Hagrid. But I'm also fairly certain he sounded close. And now I'm reading his lines again, and he doesn't sound like Hagrid. He's a bit higher pitched, and definitely a bit sharper when he speaks. And his cadence is faster, which is fitting for a guy who's run off his feet most of the time.

By the way, Butterbur doesn't sound like this guy:

Or look much like him neither, tell the truth. My Butterbur is a bit younger, a bit redder in the face, more lively overall. He doesn't have the muttonchops, but he does have a mustache I think, with less of a droop. And of course he's wearing a white apron.

Then there's Thorin Oakenshield.

Yeah, not him. My Thorin wears the blue cloak and a tasseled hat, with big gloves and bigger boots. Why gloves and boots? I don't know. His beard and hair are black, but his beard comes to a point and his mustache is slicked with a slight upward curve at the tips. He's about as broad as he is tall, like all the Tolkien dwarfs in my head, except Bombur who starts at broad-and-a-half. And he sounds pretty damn pompous when he speaks, and often ill-tempered - closer to Uther Lightbringer than Richard Armitage's leonine growl.

Movie Thorin is pretty great, and Armitage and the costumer deserve a lot of credit for bringing the character to life. But he's not the guy I see when I'm reading. And I don't see Martin Freeman or Elijah Wood or Sean Astin when I read Lord of the Rings.

Viggo Mortensen has crept into my Aragorn, but the one in my head is clean-shaven and looks younger. You can blame the book cover over on the left for that, it's the one that my local library stocked when I was a kid and reading the books for the first time. My Aragorn has longer hair, though, and a leaner face; but he has a deeper voice than Mortensen, too.

The Legolas on The Two Towers cover remains more my Legolas than Orlando Bloom, and he doesn't have a British accent. John Rhys-Davies has almost entirely replaced the vaguely-formed Gimli I kept in my head, though; mine's certainly not the one on that cover. As for Gollum, for years he was that black nightmarish thing on the old cover of The Hobbit. Now he's largely Movie Gollum, but he goes back to the nightmare whenever his eyes start to glow in the text. His voice is irrevocably Andy Serkis's now, though.

Is Ian McKellan Gandalf? He's crept in, to be sure, but my Gandalf wears big boots and a pointy hat at all times, with bushy intimidating eyebrows and a disapproving face that is not to be trifled with. In all honesty he's probably Sir Astral from Shining Force II - except even that's not right, because my Gandalf's eyebrows are black, and so are his eyes.

My Saruman's the big weirdo of the bunch, though, as he looks nothing like the one in the movie or the one described in the book. Mine has long hair, silver-blonde, and no beard. He's younger where Gandalf is older, smiling where Gandalf is frowning, and the robe of many colors works for him. His voice is soft, melodious, but ugly and hissing when he's unmasked. (My Google-fu is failing me here, but I suppose he's close to Primarch Fulgrim in the face and hair.)

Image via Noldofinve on DeviantArt
All of which is a really roundabout way of pointing out that when you're a writer, everyone is going to view your characters through a lens built out of their own experiences and predispositions. Sometimes that's going to be out of your control: the cover artist might spin a character a certain way, or the reader might skim a descriptive passage too fast and fill in something you didn't intend.

But! If you're consistent with your character's voice and her mannerisms, you can bring the reader closer to your intention. My Butterbur doesn't sound like anyone else's Butterbur, but he's closer than a stranger to the one in the movie. And I suspect everyone's Gandalf sounds at least a bit like Ian McKellan these days.

Are they any characters you hear or see in a non-traditional way?