Archive for the ‘Storytelling Elements’ Category

I finished watching the first season of The Punisher early last week and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m glad to see marvel back in form after the disappointing Defenders and the irresponsible Iron fist. The Punisher in fact  surprised me quite a bit with it’s story. It digs into a lot of uncomfortable places in regards to combat veterans returning from war, dealing with lost limbs, friends, PTSD and what it looks like to return to a peace time society and how in many ways society has forgotten about them. But I don’t want to talk about any of that right now, I want to talk about guns.

Punisher-guns.png

So many guns

   I don’t know if I’d call myself a gun enthusiast, It’s a hobby that only comes in second to Warhammer 40k in terms of financial investment. But I do work with guns, I’ve carried a gun openly or concealed for years now both professionally and  privately.  I am absolutely not Frank Castle, which only highlights the frustration when I can see bullets become magic, competent men become idiots and writers breaking the rules of their fiction.

 

Bleeding is deadly, so are bullets.

I find it interesting that most time when I watch a movie or read a book. You see somebody get shot and it immediately incapacitates them, which unless you shot somebody in a particularly vital spot, is horse shit. There is at least one case out there of a mugger shooting his victim, and then get’s beaten to death by the victim. A single or even multiple gun shot wounds require minutes to cause people to bleed out.

But that’s not something that you really have to worry about in The Punisher, bullet tend to kill people when they should with the exception of Frank Castle and his major Antagonist. Specifically there’s a scene where Frank is fighting a group of Para military baddies, before the fight scene opens up Frank takes a arrow to his shoulder, near the middle of it he has bullet graze his torso. Later frank wins the fights, stumbles out of the forest, passes out and is later found and stitched back together. Happy Ending.

castle hurt

Sort of

      Except that the beginning of the fight scene is shown to take place relatively early in the afternoon, and when Frank is found it’s the dead of night, when they pull back Franks clothes to show the wound to his torso, he has huge gash from the shot he took. The man was fighting like this and carrying an also wounded friend around the forest for hours. Without any kind of dressing for your wound you’ll bleed out in minutes, five, ten, fifteen or thirty minutes top.

Later in another fire fight, Frank shoots a baddy in face, through the cheek and the asshole spits the bullet back out complete undeformed. No broken bones, all of his teeth intact and a big middle finger to physics. For a show that’s aimed for and in many cases succeeded at gritty realism that the series is known for, I’m really disappointed that they managed to miss the mark on this. Especially when they could have easily rectified this by changing little things. In the forest have frank carry a little first aid pack so he can slap on a bandage shortly after he got shot. The bad guy should have been shot through and through, it still likely would have broken his jaw from the impact and it would have tested my sense of disbelief for the guy not to loose any teeth. But it would have been so much better them him spitting the bullet back out.

another thing worth pointing out, It’s kind of hard to explain how loud guns really are to people who’ve never been near one when it’s fired. The noise is quite serious to the point that even in an open and outdoors environment with a suppressor you still need earplugs or some other sort of ear protection to protect yourself from hearing damage. Which means Frank Castle’s tinnitus is worse the Sterling Archer’s.

archer.png

Wait… I had something for this.

   Seriously, at the end of the season Frank has shoot out in a tiny concrete bunker and as soon as the bullets are done fly he picks up phone and talks into it like nothing has happened, as if several seconds of unprotected ears hearing automatic several automatic weapons and explosions are capable of handling communication without the intervention of an Otorhinolaryngologist and time to recover.

 

Guns don’t make you stupid.

I guess this one isn’t exactly about guns per say, but I think it’s worth noting. Frank Castle is highly trained combat veteran who is routinely shown to out gun, out smart and out shoot special forces level soldiers and para military mercenaries.  So why is it that occasionally when frank is in a tight spot, these elite enemies go full storm trooper.

stormtrooper

Never go full storm trooper

   Firearms are interesting weapons in that they are incredibly simple use and if you put one in the hands of an average adult and point them at a man sized piece of paper, they’ll hit it. He may not be laying down head shots, he may not be hitting in the ten ring, but with a seventeen round magazine for a full sized pistol at twenty feet away, he’ll hit the damn piece of paper at least once or twice.

So why the shit can’t any of these highly trained combat veterans hit god damned frank castle from ten feet away. I’ve come to the conclusion that the answer is one of two simple things: A, the writers got lazy, wrote frank into a difficult situation and couldn’t think of smart way to get him out of it or B, they simply haven’t had any experience with firearms and wrote them like they were magic, making them do whatever the situation required of them(I’m leaning towards the latter).

There’s another clear sign of this in a scene where frank is attempting to assassinate a man in his home. He lines up his shot and pulls the trigger once the man is standing in front of his window only for the round to be stopped by bullet resistant glass. The show doubles down on the dumb, one the target just stands in front of the glass after it’s been shot and two frank doesn’t dump three more rounds into the glass for good measure.

I called it bullet resistant glass because no glass is bullet proof, some are are just better then others. The glass is rated for a particular degree of protection, some of it stops handgun rounds other stop high powered rifles, but all of it is rated for a certain number strikes. The glass shown in the show is relatively thin, so if it was truly resistant in the first place, it was likely only rated for hand gun rounds, which Frank’s rifle would have bored through easily, if it was heavier stuff, the logical thing for frank to do is to shoot the glass until it fails. but instead he and his target stare at each other for a bit and then the scene cuts away.

The scene it’self is a problem it’s not the real problem. The real issue is that this could all easily be avoided by doing five minutes of research. Then consulting with actual experts and maybe sending the writing team and the director to a range and just let them shoot a few guns for the day.

 

The take away.

What can we take away from this as writers? Pay attention to your to the details in your story, they do matter. I’m not saying you need to become a scholar on the history of whatever technology your story, but getting the details right even if it’s only behind the scenes helps keep people from being jarred out of the narrative when shit hit’s the fan. If nothing else, it would be nice for me not to have shout angrily at my TV in the middle of night when my wife is trying to sleep.

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So I originally planned to do a craft focused post on some of the things I learned about novel writing after finishing the second draft on my current project. Then I found a baby sitter, so me and my wife went out to dinner and saw Thor: Ragnarok instead. Seeing as Thors and Ragnaroks are all the rage today I figured I’d do a quick review instead and save/procrastinate the more complicated post for later.

hulk     Also hulks, People like Hulks.

Synopsis

   Thor: Ragnarok is the third movie in the Thor Marvel movies and like it’s name implies, focuses mainly on Ragnarok, the destruction of Asgard, Thor’s home. It also features the return of Hella, the main antagonist, goddess of death and being of nearly unlimited power who casts Thor and Loki out of Asgard.

Thor is flung to a far off alien planet where he is forced to fight as a gladiator for his freedom, build a team return to Asgard and help defeat his sister . A Valkyrie shows up, hulk pitches a fit and Loki is hanging around too.

Thor review

Space Gladiator Vikings! the musical.

Style

I’ve always found the Thor movies to be particularly pretty movies in the MCU, and I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this movie might actually be the prettiest movie in the MCU. Just about everything about this movie is beautiful, the fight scenes are fantastically choreographed and do a fantastic job giving the audience a good idea of exactly how powerful Thor is. Thor get’s a short haired, trimmed down and colored up redesign. The Music is cranked up to eleven and then the knob is broken off.

The planet in which Thor finds himself stranded on is in the literal ass end of the universe, complete with devils anus. It’s brightly colored and feels like something pulled out of Guardians of the Galaxy, even if it feels like something of standard trash planet that we’ve seen in several Sci-Fi books and movies in the past.

I think there are some really interesting evolution between the trilogy of Thor’s movies, well two movies, I found Thor dark world so boring that I hardly remember what happened, something about elves or what ever. But what I wanted to point out is the different directors, Thor (2011) was directed by Kenneth Branagh, who among other things has a claim to fame for bringing Shakespeare to the silver screen. Where Thor Ragnarok is directed by Taika Waititi, a man who is famous for a bunch of things I’ve never heard of, that are mostly comedies.

Thor (2011) is beautifully designed, gives an epic scope and takes itself seriously while being punctuated with jokes, but moves at a slower pace. where as Thor Ragnarok is action packed, rushing through it scenes and whimsically bouncing between perspectives. the movie only slows down to make it’s jokes. Speaking of jokes…

rock guyLearn to love this asshole, because he’s going be hanging around. 

Tone

What the shit movie, seriously. Every review I read about this movie just gushes praise, that this is the movie that saved the Thor series and reinvigorated the MCU, What The Shit Reviewers.

Thor Ragnarok’s tone is just so completely different from the previous movies in the series and it was very hit and miss with me, leaning closer to missing more often then not. I mentioned earlier that the movie is fast paced and that it’s not bad thing. But the problem is that the movie is damn near incapable of slowing down for anything other then a joke.

There are so many examples of this happening in the movie that I’d spoil entirely to much of it to include them into review, but a glaring example is in the opening of the movie where Thor is having a bit of dialogue with a major villain while hanging bound from a chain. Thor spins around three times, stopping the conversation every time he spins away from the villain and the apologizing when he’s finally back in view.

Peter Griphin.jpg

This god damned Joke, in a Marvel Movie.

   After this joke out plays out Thor tries to end the conversation with a badass one liner and the that moment is stolen by another joke. This happens again and again at every significant emotional moment of the movie. Thor Ragnarok, despite what it’s labeled as or what anybody tells you, is a comedy punctuated by action. The movie feels like it was aiming to be in same vein as guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel’s other space action comedy.

There is no rest, no time for serious reflection on what brought the characters involved into their situations and how they should change to get out of it, none of the pacing that helped make GotG a sucess. Instead there are jokes that hand wave character development, Jokes that rush through emotional trauma, jokes that belittle the central themes of the series. Which is massively problematic for a movie that’s supposed to be a capstone to the trilogy that the series have been building up to from all of the movies Thor has been involved in.

Bottom Line?

   I like this movie, I know it doesn’t sound like it, but I do. Pound for pound it is some of the best Thor we’ve ever gotten, just not the most well executed. But still, go see, decide for yourself, I highly recommend it. Besides what else are you going to see?

justice league

Heh, now there’s a joke. 

So I’ve recently been digging into Fox’s “Gotham” TV series,  It’s what I’d call a mixed bag with some really good performances from some of it’s actors, even though it requires me to mentally prepare myself that this show has very few shits to give about it’s continuity with the rest of DC’s Batman comics. It’s a dark and gritty Noir detective story featuring James Gordon early in his Career at the GCPD as he hunts down the progressively stranger criminals of Gotham. And they don’t come any weirder then Jerome Valeska.

Jerome_valeska

Look at that smile, doesn’t it just scream well adjusted adult.

   Also and Just in case.

Spoilers Ahead

 

 

Presentation: Steal the Show

Gotham is packed full of crazy super villains, Poison Ivy, Mr. Fries, Firefly. It’s underworld is often ruled by intelligent and charismatic mobsters. The criminal element makes some beautiful scenery in Gotham giving you a simultaneous feeling of being in a comic book and in the godfather, it’s packed with larger the life characters.

Jerome is what happens when you take charismatic and crazy and turn it up to eleven. Whether it’s his initial reveal after discovering he murdered his mother, that time he sat a school bus on fire or that night he was wandering around without his face. Whenever Jerome is on stage all eyes are on him, which is an impressive talent when half the criminal underworld has superpowers and the only thing you’ve accomplished in life so far is to murder your mother.

stewie

Sixteen seasons in and I’m starting to think this asshole forgot about it. 

   Whether it’s spelling out you names with bodies dropped from a tall building, setting a bus full of cheerleaders on fire or just running around town without your face, when your villain makes his way onto your pages he should demand to be the star of the show. And who would tell him otherwise?

 

 

Plot: Taking refuge in absurdity

Part of Gotham’s Charm is that it takes all of it’s weirdest elements and plays them straight. It’s cops to doing cop stuff in a city that just happens to have people who can control others with there mind, or have blood that turns anybody it touches into a psychopath. It’s always played straight and it’s always taken seriously.

An in-spite of this it’s an anything but ordinary psychopath who pushes plausibility to it’s limits. Jerome killed his mother for being a nag, fought with a man with a katana using a chainsaw, then played Russian roulette for the the sword, pulling the trigger on himself three times in a row in revolver that only held five rounds.

The most beautiful thing Jerome has blessed the show with his appearance is a spark of insanity that says “While I’m on screen anything goes.”

russian-roulette-2.png

Who’s the boss

 

Legacy: Achieving your promises

I think ultimately what makes Jerome an intensely fun to watch is his laughter, from the first moment he laughs in his debut episode the show makes a promise to it’s viewers. This character is a legend, one of the most Iconic villains if not the most Iconic villain of our modern era, and here’s how he got his start. When your working with a character that has almost 80 years of story behind him when you start to write, it puts a burden on the character and in this case the actor who portrays him.

Jerome is mostly wonderful mix of Mark Hamill’s and Heath Ledger’s interpretations of the character. He has all the manic energy and stage presence of the joker from the animated series and all the calculating malice that Ledger brought to the silver screen in “The Dark Knight.”  The writers and the actor portraying Jerome have a fine tuned understanding of the character they wanted to put on TV and they followed through with it.

What does that mean for all of us not working on characters who have been in print longer then many of us have been alive. It’s simple, when you set up a character, the moment that you bring him on to the page or put him on a screen, you’re making a promise to your audience. You promise to make this character the best version of who ever he or she is and when you come through on these promises your audience will love you for it.

So go out there and make Monsters.

So at around three in the morning I went on a YouTube and clicked on Tropes Vs. Women because it was three in the morning and that’s the best time to make bad decisions. Reflecting back on my bad decision I figured that the only way wash the stain from my soul was to write a blog post ranting about how bad this series is and how I can’t believe how much money it generated through Kick Starter.


Something like eleventy billion dollars.

For those who are unaware Tropes Vs. Women is a YouTube series recorded by Anita Sarkeesian that aims to declare and decry the use of misogynistic tropes by the film and game industry.

In Sarkeesian’s defense, sometimes… how do I put this kindly, loses it’s shit, and on occasion, just maybe once or twice it has done something racist, or sexist or something that might not be considered entirely ok. However my objection to Mrs Sarkeesian’s argument premise is that Tropes are tools. They can used poorly, offensively, brilliantly or offensively brilliant, but they aren’t inherently bad. So when Sarkeesian states that writers shouldn’t write a character who say, fits the tropes of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl (MPDG)because it’s offensive, I hit the breaks. For the Short of it a MPDG when played straight is used as a plot device to create exotic change in what is most often a boring male lead character’s life. Sarkeesian’s claim is that the female MPDG character is being objectified so that she becomes just a means to fix the protagonist life instead of having a life for herself.

The small problem that Sarkeesian is going to run into is that a trope is kind of like a stereotype, actually in reference to characters it is more commonly an archetype just like the Squishy Wizard and The Big Guy, and we know that archetypes are base templates. From these templates we build deeper and better characters to create a more interesting and engaging story-line.

Let’s take a look at what makes the MPDG what she is,  The base of this trope is that character is a  female who plays support role and is unusually strange/weird/bubbly/ect…  , but say we take this trope and flip that simple trait and make the character a male.

With one simple gender change I have created Robin williams

Then take the character out of the supporting role that the MPDG usually inhabits and throw them into the lead role.

And with one simple role change I have created a wom… wait a min… this is getting confusing

That’s the basic premise behind Robin William’s character in Mrs. Doubt fire. In fact the entire plot premise is is based around the MPDG trope, with William’s Ex-Wife as the excessively dull individual who needs to be shown that there’s more to life then just work.

How about another well beloved movie were a MPDG is used to purposeful and powerful effect in twisting our emotions in a film. That would be none other then Ellie, from Pixar’s UP. Where in the first fifteen minutes of a movie I felt more concerned about the well being of two characters and was hurt more by a death, then I felt throughout the entirety of the of the… I was going to say twilight but honestly that’s a beaten to death horse. What’s the cool dead horse of today… Oh! That Dawn of Justice movie.

If only we cared about Batman’s mom half as much as Carl cared about Ellie.

The Point I’m trying to hammer in is that there are both Male and Female variants of this Trope that are rich, vibrant and beautiful characters that make everything around them shine a bit brighter, that’s there Job, that’s there purpose narratively, and that’s not a bad thing.

So if this is the case then why does Sarkeesian and her channel have a problem with this traditionally female trope, well it’s quite simple if you watch her video. For all the bluster she’s not actually upset with the trope, she might not even realize she’s not upset with the trope. She’s upset with boring, flat, only there for either the plot or contrite romance characters who are more often then not women whose ambitions in life don’t extend beyond the male lead.


And sometimes Thor

That’s something I can get behind, our female characters need to be real characters with more motivation then “That guys sure looks cute,” and should actually be doing things as opposed to getting stuck in towers just so they can be saved by the cute guy. To be honest this goes both ways, you can’t just flip the formula to escape the poor writing just because you’ve locked a man in a tower this time.

In other articles I’ve written about the things that make characters interesting, competence, charisma, originality and agency not to mention a host of other things that can’t be talked about in a single article. If your Manic Pixy Dream Girl/Boy can’t or won’t hit those notes it’s not because your using a bad trope, it’s because you’ve written a garbage character. The same applies to your Femme Fatale, Action Girl, or Baroness, Big Bad, Big God, and every other character trope you can think of. The Next time you write a character females one in particular, ask yourself if this person has a life that extends beyond the plot of this work, does he/she have goals and ambition and meaning beyond the lead character.

And here you thought you were getting a late night drunken rant on feminism and SJWs and all the other bullshit Internet drama. Well guess what I’m not even drunk, this degree of poor decision making just comes naturally. Instead you get a nice bit a on storytelling elements and craft, and I didn’t even kick start 150,000 dollars.

One of the more interesting phenomenon of late that’s made it’s way to the internet is the fascination that some 14-25 year old men seem to have with a show that is meant for small children of the female variety that was produced to sell a line of toys. That’s right friends, this article is all about the magic of friendship so saddle up everypony.

For those of you whom may not have yet heard or are just possily new to the whole internet thing, My Little Pony: Friendship is magic is a cartoon show based of the old line of my little pony toys that have been around since 1982 but have only recently ben pulled into media spotlight via their new cartoon. Also let’s clear something up for those of you who want to rage quit from wordpress because this article is pony related, this is still a storytelling blog and this is still a storytelling article, we’er not going to dive into who is best pony or any other non-sense.


Okay maybe a little non-sense

I’m more interested in what has come together to make ponies so popular among the demographic that normally won’t touch something if it isn’t a dark and gritty rebut of their childhood. In fact I was so interested that in one of my more sleep deprived moments I watched a solid twenty episodes of the show and you know what, it’s not that bad, in fact as far as children’s shows go it was pretty good. In fact I think that there is a lot we can learn from MLP.

Animation

A shows animation is the first thing that a viewer see’s, and much like a person looking at the clothing you wear the viewers start making assumptions about the show from that first glance. For a lot of shows that can be a make or break moment for them, shows like adventure time a regular show have a very particular type of animation and you can tell just from looking at them what the show is going to be like. The same thing also applies to shows who seek a more adult audience who give there shows a much conservative appearance while shows like South Park went for childish look for a show that has a very immature nature.


alright a lot of non-sense

What does this say about MLP, well first off the animation is top notch, it’s bright, it’scartoony, it’scute, but what hooked me mostly is that it’s clean. It was obvious that the shows artist put real work and effort into creating the shows animation instead of treating it as just a 30 min commercial for little girls toys. What can you take away from this as an artist or a writer, MLP uses it’s animation to set the tone for the show, just looking at it is going to make you puke rainbows and leave you wanting more, as an artist you want your art to set the mood of the show or comic well before the characters utter their first words and writers need to be able to set the tone of their books in early descriptions and snippets of their world and make sure that this tone is conveyed in such a professional way.

Format

I think this might be the most interesting part of MLP, or at least the most nostalgic. MLP episodes are all self contained, there is no overarching narrative, there is no broad story line, there just a bunch of anthropomorphic ponies having a different moral adventure each week, and then reminding you exactly what that moral is at the end of each episode. It reminds me of all the old Nickelodeon cartoons like Rugrats, Hey Arnold!, Ah! Real Monsters and every other single piece of nostalgia I can bring to you from your childhood. On a more recent note, the Disney show Phineas and Ferb also follows this format as well as do most TV sitcoms, whether it’s big bang theory or King of Queens. This format isn’t something that went away and is now coming back, we just haven’t seen it with this kind of face for a very long time.

So what makes this format valuable? It’s simple really, or should I say it’s really simple, MLP doesn’t require complex character arcs or a drawn out narrative, Just fit your moral/joke/theme of the day into the episode and move on. It works well for folks who have lot’s of cool ideas and want to get as many of them in as possible , it also fits well with those of you who like to write by the seat of your pants each episode is it’s own little thought with little or no heed to what comes before or what comes next.


This sums up the show pretty well

What can we writers take away from this, well mostly that a series doesn’t need a long complex narrative, sometimes it can just be the six different books about how a boy and his dog find different treasures every week, or about the different planets a group of space marines visit. The point is that people can enjoy simple shorts as well as writers can enjoy writing them.

Theme

The main thing that separates MLP from other form of television that most 14-25 year olds watch is it’s constant theme of light hearted comedy and cute aesthetic design, which stands in opposition to every notion of dark and gritty that has been installed in us since Batman became a thing.

um, yes all day, yes all night, for the rest of my life.<br /><br />
{picture of batman riding through the sky on the back of a purple my little pony with a bat symbol on the rump and it’s amazing.}
Batman riding a pony, deal with it.

Simply put shows like MLP offer us a refuge from a reality where stories are getting darker and edgier everyday without any sign of stopping, between writers like Christopher Nolan, Steven Moffat and movies like Toy Story 3 and Up even kids shows and movies are pressing toward the gritty realism of everyday life. And maybe, just maybe there’s a part of you that doesn’t want to give up on a world where kids can build roller coasters in there back yard or one were the worst thing that can happen when two groups of people disagree is a really bug food fight. At the end of the day we all want to go back to those days where you knew that every episode Duke would win out over Cobra Commander and the worst thing we had to worry about was Tommy losing his screwdriver, really we all want to believe again in a world where friendship is magic.

Feature Story: Baby Batman

Posted: September 5, 2012 in Storytelling Elements

This weeks feature comes from Smudgedredd and his webcomic Baby Batman, it was chosen because of it’s art style and humor. Showing that one simple change can turn a character from serious to silly when applied appropriately.

Piggybacking

If you found this little comic humorous why don’t you go check out the rest of Baby Batman here

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.”

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.

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

“My Cabbages!”

“There you are Perry.”

“Aw here it goes!”

“Note this before my notes;
There’s not a note of mine that’s worth the noting.”

“You should come in the box”

“You tell those spiders Ron.”

“A baby’s gota do what a baby’s gota do”

Any Chance you’ve figured out what our little topic for today discussion is? I’m sure you’ve heard at least one of those before. That’s right were talking about running gags. The Inside joke of the media world though it’s been around a lot longer then what we consider media. can you place all the jokes? Answers at the bottom of the article.

A running gag when, done well, can do a couple of things like :

Help bind the plot together to give a sense of progression, the animated series “Avatar: the last Air bender” did a good job of this, The same jokes showed up in different places at different times contrasting just how far the group had come from the begging of the series, in fact a couple of their jokes have ran right into their new series for a couple of laughs.

If your like Phinease and Ferb however, the Jokes aren’t just a means of moving your story along, they are your story, This great little children’s show (Don’t Judge me) runs on a series self contained mini adventures as opposed to a long narrative arc, and it’s running jokes make the whole most of the episode and help develop characters, I mean half the show runs on the gag of a platypus constantly being secretly and oddly to spy style base of operation to fight a self proclaimed mad scientist. But it also uses it’s gags to tie it’self together reminding the watchers that thing last week happened and it’s still funny.

That’s not to say that some gags have been thrust into a show repeatedly even though they weren’t funny or well after they lost their hilarity. I’m sure you’ve seen a few of these, thinking yes Seth I like to see Peter fight a giant chicken and nearly die, I do not however want another scene of peter skinning his knee an sitting on the side walk for a minute and a half. I bad running joke is one that was funny but only becomes and nuisance or one that was never funny at all. they often lead to the feeling of wanting the show, or book or comic to move on already.

But let’s not leave on what makes a bad gag let’s leave on a good one, the thing about a good gag is that it builds on it’self, what was only mildly funny becomes increasingly entertaining. But more then anything else, the gag can’t feel obtrusive, shoe horning a gag into a plot just feels out of place and leave the audience feeling pulled out of the story. A good gag needs to use the attention it gather to drive the plot further and get a good laugh.

“My Cabbages!” Cabbage vender in Avatar: TLAB

“There you are Perry.” Phinease from phineas and ferb

“Aw here it goes!” Kel from keenan and Kel

“Note this before my notes;
There’s not a note of mine that’s worth the noting.” Balthazar in Much ado about nothing(in Elizabethan English nothing would sound close to noting as well, the joke was in the name)

“You should come in the box” Naked Snake metal gear solid 3(a running gag through out all the major games)

“You tell those spiders Ron.” Harry speaking about Ron’s fear of spiders, which is the real gag

“A baby’s gota do what a baby’s gota do” Tommy from rugrats