Category Archives: Wednesday

Spinoffs And Gaidens

Creating good follow ups to a franchise can be an incredible challenge. As I covered before, the very act of making prequels and sequels is filled with pitfalls around the very idea of resolutions. A bad prequel or sequel can either prove to have no resolution or will derail the resolution of an entry that came before. But some prequels and sequels, often the most successful, are those which can stand solely on their own and find resolution from within. In fact, some of these prequels and sequels could be seen as spin-offs due to their detached nature. But, in actuality, these stories that exist between a prequel/sequel and a side-story tend to fall into something a little different than simply a spin-off, entering the domain of something the Japanese would refer to as a “gaiden”.

A word simply meaning “side story” or “tale” in Japanese, the gaiden is a supplementary anecdote or event to another work. Technically, by definition, all spin-offs are gaidens and all gaidens are spin-offs, but the differences lie mostly in the approach. In fact, the gaiden is so prevalent in Japanese culture that it’s responsible for bolstering several branches of their entertainment industry from “light novels” to “radio dramas” (which they amazingly still have over there). And, though you’ve likely never heard the term before, you’ll recognize most of the earmarks. In fact, when you become familiar with the approach to a “gaiden”, you start to realize something:

Most of the best spin-offs are gaidens… Continue reading Spinoffs And Gaidens

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What Most Rejections Really Mean

Rejection, it sucks. If you’re here, you’ve probably followed this link from somewhere on twitter or facebook where writers share tips, advice or pep-talks and, unfortunately, that probably means you know the fear of the rejection letter.

Though, hey, at least you’re not Jim Lee

It’s easy for us to think, because we got that letter, that it says something about the actual quality of our story. Even if it’s just the opinion of one person, that opinion is devastating because it holds the weight of someone who, at the very least, has control over your career for however long it may be in front of them. And, with an opinion of that weight, it’s hard not to take it personally. But there’s something that people need to understand about rejections, something that’s hard to grasp:

If you’re ready, they rarely have anything to do with you. Continue reading What Most Rejections Really Mean

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Prequels, Sequels, And Resolutions

We live in a world today where having a “franchise” is incredibly important for writers of every kind. Films are the most visible of this, especially in a post-Avengers world, but it’s also long been true of other forms as well. Writing a film that removes all possibility of a sequel or spin-off of some sort is generally a good way to get executives meddling in your work. Having a television series that couldn’t somehow generate a spin-off or be part of a “universe” is gradually becoming taboo. Comic books and video games are expected to be part of a long running series, sometimes to the detriment of both. And, even as an author of novels, someone who manages to land a book deal is signed for more than one book of the same series. In fact, one could argue that even if you only make stand alone projects, if they keep getting money – you are the franchise.

But that leads to the inevitable problem of prequels and sequels struggling to succeed. It’s well known that making a good sequel can be pretty difficult and making a good prequel is thought at times to be nearly impossible. More than once I’ve heard other writers and critics talk about how a good prequel is something that just can’t be done. And sequels, though recognized to be capable of being good, are generally approached with great caution. Yet, it’s impossible to ignore that some series of books and similar projects wouldn’t have been quite as good as a single stand-alone entry. Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and many others just wouldn’t have been the same without multiple entries building their lore. Though, a word to some, this doesn’t mean you divide a stand alone book into multiple films.

Still, despite these successes, you would be much harder pressed to find a prequel that everyone can agree is somewhat good. In fact, I’ve had prolonged conversations with people who insisted that prequels not only fail but tend to ruin or cheapen the thing they were a prequel to. Frankly, with Star Wars showing us how much prequels can be utterly loathed, you couldn’t blame someone for that idea. And yet, many who hated the Star Wars prequels have had to admit that they were pretty fond of… a Star Wars prequel.

So the question comes, just what exactly divides good prequels and sequels from the bad? When the topic comes up people tend to have a laundry list of things that a prequel or sequel needs to be “good”. However, the items on those lists are usually things you need for any story to be good anyway. So why would it be that it’s easier to write a stand alone than it is to write good sequels and prequels, and just how did the ones that pulled it off manage to do so?

In my opinion, it boils down to one thing: resolutions. Continue reading Prequels, Sequels, And Resolutions

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Peculiar Inspiration: Writers And Acting

As I’ve often said before, I tend to approach the world as a bit of a classroom. Everything you read, watch, take part in, or experience is something that can inspire your writing and make you a stronger storyteller. Your life experiences are easy enough to explain, they form the well you draw from to inform your characters and stories. What you read or watch is just as easy, giving you a look into the viewpoints of others and seeing what the rest of your genre might be like. But for some things it can be hard to quantify the benefits to writers. These I’ve come to call “peculiar inspirations”. “Peculiar inspirations” are things that seemed like common sense to me, only to later find out that they weren’t much common sense at all.

Years ago, while a friend was in school for screenwriting, I mentioned to her how I thought it would be a good idea if writing programs would have their students take an acting class as well. I’d taken two years of speech and drama myself in high school and another friend had a mandatory class as part of her animation program. And, while I can’t say how well it helps animators, I can say for a fact that my writing after that class made great advancements. In fact, while it may not make sense to everyone, that drama class actually worked as a turning point in my life. Though I’ve learned a lot since that day, that class turned out to be the time my writing started to resemble something “professional”. Of course I would suggest someone else do the same thing.

My friend’s reaction made it seem like I told her every writer should learn how to fly a plane.

Her argument, and arguments I’ve heard from others, is that writers and actors fill different roles and need to know different things. The two people fill very different roles within the industry and have to have very different skill-sets in order to be considered good at what they do. And this is entirely true, the skill-sets required to be a good actor are not exactly the same as the skill-sets required to be a good writer. But I never actually suggested that writers needed to be good actors, nor that an actor would be a good writer. Rather, what I suggested, and took a while to explain, is that in the process of trying to act, even for a bit, you learn something that is difficult for humans to grasp on a fundamental level: putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes. Continue reading Peculiar Inspiration: Writers And Acting

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World Building: Fictional Faiths

Building a world is more than just the broad strokes. Every bit of finer detail gives a new layer of depth to your work that makes it feel more like a real, breathing world for your audience. It’s not that you want to bog people down in these details, but it’s good to have them available for when you can pepper them in without getting in the way of your story.  And this is particularly true when you’re creating a world with more than just your run of the mill humans. If you’re including sentient creatures that don’t exist in our world, they need to feel like a real race.

A key aspect of making them feel real  is establishing a culture for these creatures. Maybe they have their own kinds of music, their own foods, their traditions and rituals. Each of these is the sort of thing you’d expect to learn about another group of people in passing and learning it in passing about fictional characters can totally make them feel less fictional.

But this leads into some weird questions when you come to matters like faith. Religion, while not absolutely necessary, is part of the human condition. Even when you don’t actually believe in it, you’re still in part defined by the fact that you don’t believe in the same things other people do. It’s almost impossible to get through life without it coming up at some point, so it would be just as impossible for your characters to go on forever without it coming up in their lives. Perhaps it’s not something addressed in a specific story, but it still shapes a world view.

And this is the sort of thing you see handled quite well in some of the better speculative fiction. Alien races inevitably have an alien religion and those beliefs end up influencing their actions even when it’s not at the forefront. Even in a retcon it comes to make sense of things that previously would have seemed one dimensional. Why do the Klingons have such a war-like nature? Because they believe that where you end up in the afterlife depends on how much you lived like their warrior prophet Kahless who is essentially the violent Klingon version of King Arthur elevated to a messiah figure.

He even left a shiny sword

However, when the creatures in question are a little closer to home, like in a fantasy setting, the idea of these religions often becomes something of an afterthought. Because they’re from Earth it’s assumed they believe in one of the common Earth-born religions even if that doesn’t entirely make sense. As a result we often have three approaches taken towards these creatures. The first is to simply assign them whatever is the most popular religion of their time and location, regardless of levels of interaction with humans. The second is to give them the faith prevalent in the mythology of their origin. And the third, when people want to buck this trend, is to apply what I prefer to call the “triangle philosophy” based on the adage, “if triangles had a god, he would have three sides”.

In the end, following these approaches without careful consideration can be half-assed because if you’ve followed this blog you’ll know sometimes those triangles might really be squares… Continue reading World Building: Fictional Faiths

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Copyright Confusion: Cease & Desist – Everyone’s Friend?

(To ensure there’s no confusion here: I am not a lawyer, I am a writer who has an interest in this subject because I would like to not be sued or ripped off. Noble motivations, I assure you.)

As I’ve been saying for a while, intellectual property laws aren’t exactly as clear as everyone thinks. They’re surprisingly subjective at times, even going so far as to make it possible for straight up piracy to sometimes be considered more legal than some non-profit fan productions. The parts of the legislation meant to protect those fans are also pretty subjective and provide no real protection until entering prohibitively expensive court proceedings. There are some corporations who have, either intentionally or unintentionally, abused this system as a result – some even lobbying for it. And, unfortunately, the whole thing gets murkier over time as it gets constantly reshaped by lawsuits – sometimes permanently and in unexpected fashion.

So it was with a great sigh of relief that the lawsuit between CBS Paramount and Axanar Productions ended up settling out of court. Regardless of what side of the issue you fell on, the lawsuit was actually pretty important. The core of the issue wasn’t so much the legality of Axanar itself but what the ruling would do to copyright laws. Even those opposed to Axanar were dreading the potential ruling as it would have left a mark on fan productions and intellectual property rights for years to come. If the court ruled in favor of CBS Paramount, fan-productions as a whole would have been irrevocably damaged and a legal framework would have existed to apply that to anyone’s properties. Meanwhile, should Axanar have come out on top, it would have been yet another in a long line of loopholes letting certain individuals do whatever they wanted so long as they could afford the lawsuit. Either way, whoever won, every other creator out there would have lost in some fashion.

It was because of this that people like myself were confounded by the lack of a Cease & Desist prior to the lawsuit actually being placed. Though incredibly unpopular, the Cease & Desist letter is generally the go-to route for situations like this and the lack of one is generally a strange anomaly that raises questions. Some were under the impression that it was because CBS Paramount was obligated to sue, but that is actually not quite true and is based on assumptions from other IP laws. Instead, it was just something they decided to forego. Supporters of CBS’ actions pointed out that the C&D isn’t a legally binding act.

But, of course, that’s exactly why the C&D is usually the first move… Continue reading Copyright Confusion: Cease & Desist – Everyone’s Friend?

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Professional BS Artists

For years I’ve had a bit of a running joke that I tell even if people aren’t in on it. It’s often rumored that talking about your goals will actually give you an inflated sense of accomplishment. So, as a writer who hasn’t really had a huge amount of success (yet), I tend to rely on self-deprecation to avoid actually stating my goals out loud. Don’t get me wrong, I remind myself every day that I’m a writer and that’s what I want to be, but when I talk to other people I try to make sure I don’t get a big ego about it. We’ve all met that guy who says he’s writing a screenplay or novel and thinks that means the world should kiss his ass. I never want to be that guy, so I make sure to label myself appropriately.

I’m a professional bullshit artist.

Because that’s what you have to be if you’re going to be working in fiction. You have to be able to craft the most unbelievable bullshit into something people become invested in. You have to sell people on notions that you just pulled from the aether (or straight from your ass), and make them want to pay you money for it. It’s a skill that’s easy to learn but hard to master – a field where everyone feels they should be able to do it but only so many can actually pull it off. And that perceived ease of entry is part of the problem for guys like me.

See, writers, by and large, have to sell themselves as much as possible to get people to look their way. But, since there are so many of us out there, it’s hard to make that happen in short order. Most famous authors and screenwriters didn’t really have a major break until their 30s when many of those started trying earnestly somewhere around high school. There are always a few modest writing gigs here or there, you’ll make some headway as an intern if you have the right connections, but for the most part you’re just hoping you manage to out-shine someone else’s bullshit. Unfortunately, recent events with some politicians derailed my efforts for a bit and I was a little upset.

But, sometimes, you just have to tip your hat to a true bullshit master… Continue reading Professional BS Artists

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Which Darlings Do You Kill?

You’ve completed your work. It’s not perfect and you can recall many nights where it seemed to be more of a hassle than you expected, but you’re certain it really was worth it in the end. The little bumps and rough spots throughout can be patched over in no time and you’re already thinking about how much people will love it. But one thing is truly standing in your way before you can get it to those people: you still have to edit the damn thing.

Those rough patches, a mark of late nights and caffeine fueled fever dreams, are more than just a little inconvenient. To you they’re excusable because you know the story behind each and every one. But to the audience, those are strange artifacts with no real reason to be there and only make you look like an unprofessional hack. Typos alone probably account for half of your work past sunset (or, if you’re really out there, past sunrise). And there are just some scenes that are needing some trimming or outright removal. The famous old adage rings through your head, “kill your darlings first”. You take a swig from your poison of choice – whether it be from Juan Valdez or Jack Daniels – and get ready to set about your grim work.

Just one question: how the hell do you know which darlings to kill? Continue reading Which Darlings Do You Kill?

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Each Day A New Step

Every day someone has to get up and push themselves to get to work. Some days, that’s a little harder than others. And, I’m willing to venture a guess quite a few people aren’t feeling too great right now. I can understand why those people are a little stressed out. The environment is in shambles, it feels like a lot of progress we’ve made has been backsliding,  and the economy tends to be unkind to people in the wrong tax brackets. These are all struggles we share, and everyone has others struggles almost entirely unique to them. If we’re lucky, some of those struggles get easier over time. If we’re unlucky, a few new ones will come along to make the next day harder than the last. But if we’re really unlucky, something goes off the deep end and we find ourselves appointing a crazy hair madman as our leader.

immortanjoe

Understandably, some people have a hard time getting up after that. There’s plenty of time to try to figure out what caused it, or what it means, and we’ve got some time to figure out how this is all going to play out. But for today, we have to remember that each new day is another day we have to make count. Even if you’re driving through wastelands, running for your life, you still have to get up in the morning and make your way forward. After all, the alternative is to give up and giving up opens up a fresh new form of hell.

grab-em

So, if you’re still alive when the world’s gone mad, you have to find a way to live in it… Continue reading Each Day A New Step

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Cosmic Disasters

Every year, as this time comes around, I sit back and think a lot about what exactly scares people. So many things that we deal with in our everyday lives can be so unassuming to most but absolutely terrifying to a few. But as I once pointed out, I’m not particularly afraid of things that require a lot of abstract thinking. Stick me in a situation where my entire biology is telling me to get out and I will be fairly afraid, but if I have to imagine something hurting me, I generally also imagine being able to fight back. Masked men with a machete? I wonder why no one’s grabbed the farm tools they just ran by. Animatronics in a pizza shop? I’m familiar with how fragile animatronics actually are. And, as much as people are caught up in some sort of clown hysteria right now, there’s really only ever been one clown outside of fiction that anyone had any real reason to be worried about.

john-wayne-gacy-clown-pic

Well, maybe two if you count the threat of obesity.

ronald-mcdonald

This doesn’t just hold for the small personal horrors either. As I pointed out once about the apocalypse, a lot of the allure for these scenarios is the feeling that we could somehow plan or prepare to handle them. Every apocalyptic story involves the survivor who finds their way out of it and deals with the horrors in front of them despite the odds. Aliens have invaded? You’ll join the resistance. Zombie hordes marching across the landscape attacking everyone they come across? There are entire websites devoted to planning your survival strategy. And nuclear winter? I know it sounds absolutely terrifying but we’ve actually survived something like that once before. So, despite how horrible they may seem to a lot of people, they’re never something I really sit back and worry about. As I once told my friend, the things that actually have kept me up at night are the things you could never prepare for.

Because where can you hide from something that makes the planet uninhabitable…? Continue reading Cosmic Disasters

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