Archive for August, 2012

Time travel in storytelling is almost as old as it is confusing, early writings pop up in Hindu mythology with the story of king Kakudmi who travels through time after moving to another plane of existence and back.  The king finds he’s traveled ages into the future and all of his friends and family dead, this is just one of many old stories that show up with men traveling to the future in various ways.

Time Travel to the past is more recent idea that only started to show up in early 1800’s With first story being told by a Russian author Alexander Veltman who wrote about going back in time to meet Aristotle and Alexander the Great.

But enough about History let’s get into the good stuff. What makes time travel interesting is hard to pin down when you take into consideration how it’s used. Is time travel your heroes superpower? Is it a one time thing? Can you control it with a time machine or is a random thing?


Does it require you to get to 88mph

Time Travel primarily functions in one of two ways in fiction, one is as a setting where the lead character and company travel to different periods of time to go about there story. The second and more confusing way is as a plot device which can and usually does include time travel as a setting but also as device to give the story more depth and complexity.

Time Travel as a Setting

Time travel as a setting is best favored by fiction that follows an episodic narrative. This format for time travel is widely used cartoons, Live action shows, comics and any other media where the setting can be changed from episode to episode and the time travel itself is just a means of changing that setting. This may not be the first thing that come to your mind when you think of time travel but it is the most common as it’s often feature in children’s cartoons like Phineas and Ferb where inventing a time machine was really just another way to have an adventure, while most cartoons only used this form of time travel as one shot gimmick for that weeks episode, some cartoons built this version of time travel as their shows engine for moving the story.

Flint the Time Detective - Can't We All Get Along? (DVD) Cover Art
If you don’t remember this then your not old enough to use the internet

Flint The Time detective was a show that followed the evolving monster models that Pokemon had already established, Flint was a boy who traveled far and wide to catch monsters. Sound familiar, what set flint apart from it’s contemporaries was it’s driving gimmick, time travel. Flint was a cavema… caveboy and each episode had him travel through time trying to hunt down different cute and quirky monsters. Without time travel as a setting Flint would have never gotten off the ground. It also needs to be pointed out that this format hasn’t been restricted to kid’s cartoons, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles featured a video game based around time travel as a setting called Turtles in Time where each level was placed in a different era in time. Maybe more famously the 2005 re-boot of Doctor Who heavily featured this in it’s first season and still does now, thought it grew more complex as the show went on.

When done well this form of time travel can be used to produce interesting characters and settings to help enrich your story, however some authors tend to rely on the gimmick as a way of making there story interesting instead of using it to help create interesting characters and places. Once again I’m going to turn back to Doctor Who  primarily the first season of the reboot where the Time Travel was used mostly as means of putting the Doctor and his companion into different settings like a space station orbiting a dying earth or elizabethan England. The early episodes featured fantastical places but had poorly developed characters. While the Doctor was plenty interesting, Rose Tyler suffered early on in the series, and her mother and ex-boyfriend never became more then buzzing noise in the audience’s ears as they tried to watch the show. Russel T. Davies, the shows main writer at the time, leaned heavily on his settings and forgot to  make interesting characters and regardless of where in time your fiction is taking place, if the people in it or boring the rest of the story will be as well.


But all will be forgiven if they bring back Jack

Time Travel as a Plot Device

Time travel as a plot device is often more confusing and far more prone to abuse.  In it’s plot device form is easily applicable to all forms of fiction and media, and while it can used different ways by different writers the main similarity is that it is a constant and controllable device that is used for more then just shuttling characters from place to place.

But what separates the good from the bad? The mark of an author using time travel well is that it allows them to both create and solve problems in a unique fashion. It important to note that Time travel can be used to create trouble for the lead, if it’s only a positive force with no limitation it begins to create problems for the writer as they struggle with ways to challenge the stories lead. Limiting the leads ability to travel through time and having those same abilities used against him forces the writer to come up with creative ways solve problems and serves as an excellent way to build tension and gives the audience something worth viewing.

No one seems to do this better then the current lead writer for Doctor Who, Steven Moffat and nobodies done it better then what is possibly the most famous episode of the rebooted DW series, Blink. Spoilers ahead fellows so If you haven’t watched This particular episode of DW leave now, I mean it. Go google the episode, watch and then come back here and finish this article.Are they gone? good, okay, let’s get back to the article.


Bring me my brown pants

Blink is one of the better if not the best known DW episodes for a host of reasons, what aspiring writers want to focus on is how Moffat used time travel against the characters in the show to drive up tension and emotions. He used time travel from the beginning to ramp up tensions, first with messages from the past, then with mysterious notes and disappearing friends and then with a dying love interest. All of which happen because they were transported back in time and the same things that got them are after the shows lead sally sparrow. Moffat also used this as chance to show off the Doctor’s brilliance, instead having him sonic his way out of the situation as many a writer have done, Moffat instead chose to have the Doctor work out his problems without the use of his TARDIS and mostly off screen. By sending messages through time the slow way, by writing recording and waiting, the Doctor was able to communicate with sally sparrow so she could retrieve the TARDIS and save the day.

Another interesting thing to note about this episode is that Moffat kept the setting relativity current, with only a few scenes from the past and having most of the episode take place in the present, time travel was used strictly as a device for the characters to use to move the story forward.

While Moffat used time travel brilliantly, the most common problem with using time travel is that it get’s awfully complicated awfully quick, Moffat makes a nod toward this in Blink by the doctor try to explain time as “a big ball of wibbly wobbly… time-y wimey… stuff.” Because of this time travel has been abused and misused on numerous occasions either leading to fridge logic, like why on earth didn’t Harry Potter just a time turner to solve everything ever or how many episodes of DW are laced with paradoxes that aren’t even attempted to be given a nod, both examples leave their viewers saying WTF?.


But.. how.. when… A Fez? This doesn’t even make sense

The problem comes from a writer looking for either a quick way out of problem they’ve landed their character in or that they were looking for a way to give their story more depth and complexity and instead just made it muddled and confusing. Your audience will like having their minds blown, they won’t like being left confused and frustrated.

Time Travel and You

As you can see time travel can get complicated, but don’t let it scare you away from writing with it. While you’ll probably blunder through it for a while you can take solace in the fact that people Like Moffat and Davies screw up even at the professional level. And don’t be afraid to let your creativity flourish, the rule of cool applies to most time travel stories and if it’s interesting enough most viewers will let it pass even if it get’s hard to understand and if they start asking to many questions just tell them “It’s complicated” and hope they don’t respond “I’m clever.”

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For those who are following along at home, Starbucks or wherever you get your wifi, Phyllis Moore of Myth Rider has nominated The Archetype for the Liebster award. Phyllis became a friend of The Archetype due to similar interest and excelent writing and if you have the time you should take the opportunity to visit her.

This thing

Now for the important bits, The Liebster Awards is given to small bloggers with less then 200 followers and excellent style format and content. It is passed by a nominated individual nominating 11 other blogs they believe meet the standards for the awards. Thos nominated are asked 11 questions by the nominee who came before them and the create eleven questions for those who follow. so with out further adieu here are the 11 question presented by Phyllis Moore.

1. What is you favorite breakfast?

French Toast

2. Who is you favorite author?

Harper Lee

3. If you could go any where in the world, where would you go?

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, USA

4. Who would you go with?

My wonderful girl friend Ashely Johnson

5. How would you get there?

Cruise ship

6. Where are you willing to walk barefoot?

Just about anywhere, except Oklahoma.

7. What is your most memorable birthday? Why?

21 was pretty memorable, I did absolutely nothing

8. Sunset or sunrise? Why?

Yes

9. Would you jump out of a plane? Why or why not?

Yes, have you ever tried to watch and in flight movie?

10. Ice cream, cake or pie?

Pumpkin Pie Ice cream cake

11. Would you rather play an instrument, dance, go to a concert, or listen to music in the quiet of you home?

Concert hands down, me playing an just gives me and everyone within earshot a headache.

Now it’s my turn to nominate a few bloggers, but I into a bit a problem, I only have three blogs that I know of that fit Lieber’s standards, so here they are

1. Nightmare of a writer

2.Sandscriber

3.Mind your Gamers

and here is my eleven questions for them.
1. Batman Vs Iron Man?
2.Is there a difference between anime and cartoons?
3. Eddart Stark Vs. Tywin Lanister?
4. What is you favorite genre of literature/film?
5. What do you want to do with your life?
6. Why should viewers read your blog?
7. Are you a jerk?
8. Do you spend to much time on TV tropes?
9. have you completed the first draft of your current Novel/screenplay/short story/ research paper
10. Daleks or Cyber men?
11. What is the first question, the oldest question in the universe, hidden in plain sight?

One of the things I’ve struggled with as novice writer is defining what makes my characters awesome, what makes them interesting what makes the reader say “I could read 1000 pages about this guy and his group of rebels.” When I started out I wrote high pace action scenes and fights scenes one after another thinking these were the things that made my lead interesting. It wasn’t until I let a friend of mine read over my manuscript and tell me my fight scenes sucked. More importantly  in my review I found they weren’t interesting, they didn’t add anything to the protagonist’s character outside of the fact that he could hit people, really, really hard.

The Hulk has more character depth

What I learned from the experience was that what I was writing not what made the character and the story interesting.  However my friend was able to help me point out what was interesting, a scene prior to a fight with the protagonist analyzing the area before the battle. Afterwords I went back through my manuscript cutting most  of the major fight scenes that had dotted the book and shuffled others off screen. It helped clean up the pacing, but more importantly it gave my lead some much needed characterization and gave me a chance write more interesting scenes.

Mat Nix covered much of the same sentiment in a interview for his hit TV show Burn Notice, whose lead character Micheal Weston stars as a “Burned”(read fired) spy trying to figure out why he was burned and get his job back. The show features high speed chases, fight scenes, explosions, gun battles and romance but what really makes the show interesting is Weston’s unique approach to creative problem solving. Over the course of several episodes Weston mails a pipe bomb to his old boss, uses power tools and turpentine to disable a car full of gangsters, and convinces several really nasty people to shoot several other really nasty people. Nix picked up on this and was able to write his characters in situations that allowed their creative problem solving to flourish.

so you’re telling me this is all because they stole your yogurt.

If your still trying to figure out where this means for you, It means that if you want your characters to be interesting, then you have to give them the opportunity to do interesting things and then write them doing them. For my lead it was planning out every move in a fight the night before the fight happened, for Weston it was cutting a hole in the ceiling of a office building to steal data from there computers. But these examples don’t just apply to novel and script witting. Games and movies require this kind of writing to keep the audience sticking around, to better show you what I mean I’ve added a couple of examples from different mediums in fiction.

Gaming

let’s start with gaming, with it’s unique experience that other forms of media can’t deliver on. Gaming has evolved from the simple days of pong and text based adventure games into a variety of massive interactive experiences with as many genres and styles as any other form of art. But gaming stands on the same rule as any other form of fiction, it has to be interesting, games like the Elder Scrolls series draw people into a massive worlds full of history and details that can keep their audience entertained for days. When the games are good their quest lines immerse you in the story by giving you the hands on opportunity to be the hero that you normally only get to read in books and watch in movies. When the quests are done bad they have you trek half way across their massive world to pick up a sword only to bring it back to where you started. In gaming the audience plays the lead and it’s up to the game designer to give the players something interesting to do that compliments the leads skill set and character. If you’re planning on creating a game that offers the player the ability to spit fire and eat lighting don’t waste his time by making him bake a pie.

Even if that pie is made with Mammoth meat

Movies

Script writing for movies follows a lot of the same rules that you’d find for scripts in television, the notable difference is time constraint and cash concerns, however one thing that is often overlooked is the fact the a Movie get’s one shot at getting it right. One bad episode isn’t likely to sink a popular TV series, but movies only get one shot and a box office flop often kills plans for future installments. That’s why we see most major budget movies playing it safe sticking to the same story arcs and formulas that produce movies that people will go and see instead of searching for new and interesting scripts. So if you plan on having your script actually being shown on the big screen it can’t afford to waste time on things that aren’t what make it great.

The Movie that stands most recently for having interesting character doing interesting things is Marvel Studious Avengers, Marvel knew going into that movie that each character had been developed in there previous movies, they had all gone through their major character arcs and came out as better people. All they had to do in finale of their nearly decade long project was to shove everybody together and give them a chance do the things we loved watching them do again, Hulk smashed, Tony shot his mouth off, Capt threw his shield, Thor shot lighting, Natasha reverse interrogated a god  and Hawkey… what exactly was Hawk-eye doing again?

Staring at Scarlet Johansson apparently

The Avenger’s while not having had a complicated or stellar narrative, with only Banner having a decent character arc and Loki making for a modest villain compared to his role in Thor, was a resounding success that relied almost entirely on their interesting scenes. The most prominent ideas being “let’s have Hulk punch something big” and “let’s have hulk punch a god, no wait two gods.”

Comics

Comics have a weird combination of episodic structure and narrative perspective, all while being set in a kid’s picture book style. What that means is that comics can get that tightly contained narrative that short stories and TV shows thrive on. While producing the epic imagery that movies tend to require with the dialogue and perspective that good novels live or die by. Comics tend to be the jack of all trades and masters of none in the world of fiction, and the authors usually play this up, offering an inside view of characters’ thoughts and illustrating interesting scenes to draw the reader in. One of the best comics to display comics’ unique perspective on fiction is Alan Moore’s Watchmen, Moore was able to make the characters in his stories interesting by combining narrative perspective with impressive visuals to produce memorable scenes. Scenes like Rorschach fighting off cops with matches and hairspray or the antagonist’s scheme which I will not spoil for those who have yet to read the comic.

This is laid in contrast with the new Before Watchmen limited series which is set as a prequel to Moore’s series. While not all of the comics are wholly bad, none of them stand up to Moore’s writing. One notable comic however is bad enough to get mentioned as the example of how you can go wrong, the issue introduces the new Silk Specter who is being trained to replace her mother as  the current Specter. What could have been a classic comic that could have shown the difficulties of trying to balance the life of a superhero with the life of a teenage girl who’s trying to find her own way in the world. The writers however forgo this and instead decides to follow how the new Specter as she is picked on by the popular girls at her school and how she falls in love with the school’s top jock. With only a few interesting visual scenes drawn and even less interesting perspectives used the comic really just ends up being a more of a teenage soap opera as opposed to superhero origin story.

You can read this or you can read about a sixteen year old girl who complains about her mom.

Regardless of what medium you use for your fiction, whether it’s games or comics, fantasy or sci-fi, romance or thriller, you need to let your characters shine, cut back on the unnecessary and pile on the interesting. Whether that means your audience is going to be reading about how a master assassin hunts down and murders all of his girlfriend’s prior love interests or if they get to watch your costumed superhero  punch reality, find out what makes your characters shine and then polish them till they’re gold.  Just don’t make us read about how Batman and Robin comically try to cook scrambled eggs without Alfred’s help when we could be reading about how Batman foiled the Jokers latest scheme to turn the moon into cheese.

Thanks to a trip to Georgia I’ve been away from my computer since Friday and unable to post my newest article on time, but I’m going to try and right my wrong by giving you fine folks a late night short story(two technically) and resume regular posting on the 24th.

I chose to feature this story for it’s interesting characters and use of perspective to create a coherent, mysterious and strange narrative. Last week I mentioned in my article that characters need to be more then funny and skilled, they have to be interesting, both the Book Eater and Miss Dust delve into what it means to make a character interesting.

 

The Book Eater and Miss Dust

by ~hummingbear

They say a mouse can fit through a crack the size of a flat dime. Well, that’s me. I’d love to be introduced to somebody else who can fit through a storm window. I was lucky tonight. It’s the time of year when it’s too cool at night for air conditioning, yet the heat from the day leaves everything stale. I don’t mind.

After I get inside the library, I crack open more of the windows, relishing the sound of the breeze ruffling the pages of the periodicals. I like the smell of this place – mildew, cantaloupe, and something else, something that smells like a person I used to be. Agh, fuck that.

I creep around the edges of the space, mindful of the red blinking light behind the desk that means a front-facing camera. It’s become a particular science of mine to make these spots livable, to give some random kids an unexpected day off. On the news, they call me the “Book Rat,” and to be sure, the title tickles me. Still, the picture they always show gives me some relief; I look nothing like that now. 

The first novel is one of those tween vampire romances, and I rip off the cover with relish. I stuff the blank front page in one cheek and shred the rest into a yellowing Wal-Mart bag. This shit is better than Winterfresh. So much hope! So much anticipation! I can taste it in their invisible fingerprints. The next is an anthology of folk tales. These pages go into one of the black bags I pilfered from the janitor’s closet. 

Then, Mein KampfHounds of the Baskervilles, and Frankenstein. I chuck everything about Francis Bacon in the trash bin and rub the scented sections from “Cosmopolitan” all over my neck and armpits. Bits of notebook paper are skewered on my beard. I sample a bit of dictionary but spit it out immediately. The atlas tastes the same. 

It depends on the library, but I always end up eating a different number of books. This one is small, so I leave the field guide section alone. Though, I make sure not one Harlequin romance remains. My lips are stained blue-black and my hands shake. A doctor would probably call the yellowing of my eyes jaundiced, but I feel wise, like I have old pages instead of frosted windows. 

I have four trash bags full when I am finished, and I line them up in the reference section. I nap on top of them for a while, long enough for the sky outside to start turning gray. I trot out the front door, giggling madly as the alarms blare. I leave a fox trail of tattered Bible verses.

My friends saw him coming from a mile away. I notice, I notice when some kid is gonna sneak in and pilfer the place; they leave the windows unlatched. But this guy, this guy did it right – he reached in from the outside. But still, I saw that flicker of light, saw the disturbed motes fluttering in the late afternoon rays. That scabby hand, purple at the fingertips – it sure did catch my attention.

When it’s a little brat smudging up the aisles, I lock the window. I press my face to the glass to scare them away. If they break it, I make jerky. Well, this guy, this guy I let into the library, because I could tell he was an artist like me. He uses his nose like I use my breath, and my friends like him.

My friends, my friends. They rise at each of his shuffling footsteps. They whorl under his twitching nose. I am the dust woman, and that man is the tree king, the pulp lord, the prince of paper. It’s been a long while since I’ve seen a real man. He slipped through the window like water and danced along the edges like I do when I come out from the ducts. 

For a second, he met my eyes. But he skittered to a dark corner when he caught the red, flashing light. I don’t know why they changed from blue; something in the night, in the pink dust from the insulation took them captive and made me able to see the tiniest disturbances in the air. I can hardly open them in the light of day.

I cringed at the first page he tore, but it was a tightening of muscles set to release, because the next leaf wound me tighter. I resented the shuffle of plastic, but the long wet drips of his saliva from cover to cover held more of my attention. He was an artist, a true consumer, a pure aesthete that appreciated art in the physical. He could feel the words like I can feel my dust.

I tried to work up the courage to speak to him or at least to throw my favorite volumes from the high corners, but I couldn’t bring myself to disturb. When he fell asleep on his bags, I crept from a top shelf and ran his dark bristles beneath my fingertips. His eyelids were almost see-through. His hands were hard. Before he could wake and the light would hurt my eyes, I pulled a piece of notebook paper from his beard and slipped it on the tip of my tongue like a communion wafer. It tasted… dusty. And I loved him all the more.

 

If you enjoyed this article feel free to check out the rest Humming Bears work on her deviant art page here.

Ever wake up in the morning and think, “Man I hate people.”  If so you’re well on your way to being a Jerk, if you’ve actually worked up the vitriol to actually tell people you hate then; and I hate to be the one to tell you this, but you are a jerk. Other symptoms to watch for include but are not limited to:

Anger
Snark
Greed
Arrogance
Lack of patience
Aggressive or passive aggressive behavior
And a general disregard for the safety and feelings of others(not to be confused with apathy towards others though it may apply as well)

What’s that? My foot up your ass you say, well okay.

The Jerk is an interesting and old character easily older then Shakespeare whom has several prominent Jerks in his works . The Jerk has survived through the generations as other characters and tropes faded into the ages, the question is, Why? Why do we love these people in media when every time you meet one in real life you have to  hold your self back from pushing them into oncoming traffic. Though truth be told there are plenty of discussions and pseudo philosophical debates as to why people like watching these characters, so instead let’s look at how to make our fictional Jerks awesome.

Skills

In most fiction you’ll find the Jerk with a group of friends/peers/cohorts, and the first question that come to mind is why do they put up with the abuse that’s leveled at them from the Jerk. One  reason why people continue to stick around the Jerk is that he’s good at what he does, so good in fact that people are willing to or have to put up with the jerk to get things done. The most recent case of this is that come to mind House from the show… well you know. House is a jerk to everyone withing ten feet of him but the patients put up with because he can save their lives, his peers put up with him because he can see things that they miss and his boss puts up with him because of the unparalleled level of success he has. People deal with House because he’s skilled if not the most skilled at what he does, and readers and watchers can admire a jerk for his prowess even if they wouldn’t want to stand next to him on any given day of the week.

It’s never lupus

Humor

Humor is one of the best ways to endear a Jerk to his audience, shows like Big Bang Theory rely on the comedic affect of their Jerk to make him interesting. Sheldon Cooper may be just as brilliant as House but his brilliance has no ties to his group of friends outside of how much it annoys them, in fact most of the time the group tries to stay as far away from Sheldon as possible. No Sheldon’s a great character and great Jerk because of his lack of understanding or concern for human emotions. These lead to situations that while you wouldn’t personally want to be apart of, you can still take a moment to laugh at them. Just remember to have reason to keep your jerk in contact with the rest of the characters in your fiction, you don’t want your audience asking themselves why this guy is hanging around, or why the rest of the guys are hanging around him. Big Bang Theory tethers Sheldon and Leonard together by making them roommates, while Leonard could leave Sheldon he’d have to give up his home to do so, similar plot devices can be used to make your fiction more reasonable. The end goal here is to make your Jerk entertaining, whether that means wacky hi-jinks ensue or that he seems to be the only sane man left in the group, either you make the audience laugh with him or laugh at him.

morals

Most people like Jerks that turn out to be decent human beings, at least for a moment or so. The major point of making your Jerk secretly nice or at least not as jerkish, is that it adds character depth, it shows us and possibly the other characters in your fiction that there’s more here then what meets the eye. Brandon Sanderson does this particularly well with two notable major characters in his Mist Born series, the first is a thief that has the magic ability to manipulate peoples emotions, the Jerk uses his magic not only to steal things but also to manipulate his friends, colleges, servants and passersby to do as he wishes or collect things he’s to lazy to get himself. Being a manipulative Jerk is a core part of his personality, but it’s reveal in later parts of the series that he doesn’t just manipulate people to get what he wants, he manipulates people to calm them down in a tense situation, or to relax away a friends fear before they get on stage to talk, Sanderson shows his Jerk going out of his way to discretely make peoples live better. And while you don’t get to hear his thoughts on why he does this, you get to hear the thoughts of the other lead characters which act a surrogate for the audience allowing them to feel similar emotions towards the Jerk, Making an annoying individual into a much more likable character.

Interests

The most important thing about you Jerk is that he has to be interesting, much like any character in any piece of fiction, one of the worst sin your jerk can commit is being boring. A Jerk has an interesting position because he already sits outside of how people act in there day to day lives, he says and does things with no fear of social backlash.Not only that the Jerk can say and do the things that the rest of your characters can’t or won’t, he can point out the holes in your heroes plans and call your damsel in distress out on her love triangle non-sense and generally lampshape much of the drama that’s going on. Particularly savvy Jerks can see the what looks like a standard plot point and act to avoid it, or manipulate it for his own benefit, though if he’s not skilled he’s the one who can say “I told you so.” Your Jerk is most likely going to be an amalgam of the things stated much like any character worth his font, and it goes without saying that all the things you do make interesting, unique and believable character also applies to your Jerk, your jerk doesn’t have to be skilled jerk, he doesn’t have to be a funny jerk, he doesn’t have to be a jerk with a heart of gold, but he can’t just be a jerk jerk. Because at that point the character isn’t only boring, he’s also annoying and most folks already have enough annoying people they want to punch in the face in their day to day, don’t add your jerk to that list.

imageI’ve had enough of your disingenuiness assertions