“Looper” and the Antagonist

This weekend–like a lot of people–I went and saw “Looper” by Rian JohnsonInstead of doing a movie review, I want to talk about an aspect of the movie that I was blown away by. Something that many films–sci-fi, fantasy, or what-have-you–fail at many times over.

No, not time-travel.

Creating a sympathetic Antagonist.

<!– Spoilers Ahead and if you haven’t seen the movie, this post won’t make much sense –>

The movie begins setting up Jeff Daneils’ character and the organization he works for as the Antagonists. Which was fine. We learn that the “Rainmaker” from the future is starting to close Loops at an alarming rate. This gets Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis (from here out known as Young Joe and Old Joe respectively) into a lot of trouble.

For me, Rian sets up Old Joe as our intrepid hero. All he wants to do is remove the threat to himself and his wife. With the added benefit of saving the future from the Rainmaker. If only Young Joe would step aside and let him do his job.

But Y-Joe is too focused on himself to see the big picture. He’s hot headed and too quick to act. If only he would think things through.

At least that’s how O-Joe feels. As a friend of mine pointed out, O-Joe is just as self-centered and hot headed. Looks like not much changes as we grow older.

And with that, we get to watch as these two characters switch sides. Or perhaps it is revealed to us the true side they’ve always been on. Either way, I was taken in at how I sympathized with O-Joe. I was with him and the struggles he went through having to (in his mind) kill the kids that could possibly be the Rainmaker. It was destroying him on the inside, but for him the ends justified the means.

Very powerful to me. I was with my Protagonist all the way. I was pulling for him to succeed!

So when we get to the final scene–where Y-Joe is faced with trying to stop his older self–that Protag/Antag makes a sudden shift. Y-Joe sees what O-Joe’s actions really bring and that the future he’s trying to prevent will still happen. That the loop will continue. And there is only one way to stop it. To close his own loop.

When Y-Joe kills himself, I was thrown. And I loved it. I felt remorse for both characters. I made a connection with both despite their adversarial relationship. That’s tricky and fantastic writing right there.

I wish more writers took that kind of time, and care, to make me understand the motivations of the Antagonist. And not just understand them, but care for their goal. Sure, it wouldn’t work for all movies/stories. Sometimes you just need a rotten villain. But at the very least, make sure his goal is something we can connect with.

I’ve rambled enough about “Looper.” Needless to say I think it was strong. The Time-Travel aspect is a bit wonky. But–like the movie says–don’t think about it to hard. It’ll scramble your brain.

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Movie Review: Snow White and the Huntsman

Yes. I’m late to the party. But this movie screamed at me to make a review. Not so much on the cinematography, or the acting, or set design, or CGI–all of those things had their varying degrees of quality. What I want to really focus on was the script.

Which makes sense, as this is my blog about writing.

So let’s break it up into digestible chunks. Oh and SPOILERS AHEAD for those like me that waited a while to see it.

Pacing

This is a tricky one. As some of this can be put on the director’s shoulders. But there were several key things in the script that I felt could have been cut for time and pacing–as they didn’t add anything to the plot.

The River people. Why on earth were they a part of this film? They added nothing to the plot. Initially the idea sounds great. A village of women who have lost their husbands to the war and now live a secluded live along the river. Unfortunately their function was only to let the Huntsman know who Show White was. That could have been handled easily by the dwarves. Who are arguably the most interesting characters in the film and don’t show up until close to the mid point.

Internal Logic

The script likes to take leave of its internal logic on several occasions. On on others, just isn’t logical at all. For instance, the Queen commands her brother to find someone to go into the Dark Forest(TM) to find Snow White. Cut to The Huntsman getting the crap kicked out of him in a bar brawl.

So, am I going to pick the guy who’s winning the fight? Or the loser? Obviously the loser! He must be a downtrodden warrior ready to make his comeback.

I’ll concede that they later explain he’s survived the forest before. But his introduction wouldn’t inspire me to hire him at all.

But here is where even that idea breaks down. After they lose him, they hire more thugs to go. Now we have an entire D&D party worth of soldiers who’ve gone into the forest and all appear much more capable. So why would I have bothered with the Huntsman to begin with? The script completely undercuts the importance of his ability to traverse the Dark Forest(TM).

But the biggest slap in the face comes when Bob Hoskins’ character says that Snow White is the “essence of Life.” OK, she’s the antithesis of the Queen who is death incarnate. Got it.

Then not ten minutes later when the bad guys attack them, a dwarf throws himself in front of Snow White to save her from an arrow coming her way. The little dwarf lay dying in her arms, arrow sticking up through his chest. But that’s OK, Snow White is the essence of life. She’ll bring him back and demonstrate her power, right?

Wrong.

She lets him die.

Looks like she’s the essence of “Meh.”

Too Many Characters, Not Enough Time

This ties back into pacing. The script writers crammed far too many characters into the film. Characters that all serve a similar function and so they can be combined. Snow White has a child hood friend named William that grows up to come save her. But he is essentially filling the same role as The Huntsman. These two could have been the same character.

You could even attach the Huntsman to the group of thugs and they all go out together. Where he has a change of heart, saves her, and whisks her away from the pursuers. Simple and effective way to tighten up the script.

As for the River People, they could be combined with the dwarves. River Dwarves? Hrm, I may have to hold onto that one. Anyway, for the purposes of this movie, cut the River People and move the dwarves up.  The dwarves could push the plot along more effectively than a village of people that have maybe five minutes of screen time.

My Take

I’ll take you through my thoughts on how this story could be done in a cleaner method.

The beginning is roughly the same. Evil Witch tricks King into marrying her (now Evil Queen), and opens gates for her army to roll in. She imprisons Snow White (even though the Evil Overlord Handbook says kill her then and there). Ten years later Snow escapes into the Dark Forest(TM) with the help of her animal friends.

Diverge Here

Evil Queen sets a bounty. “Need Trackers to retrieve prisoner. Pays Well. Dark Forest experience a plus.” The Huntsman–along with his fellow thugs–sign up as they don’t have much to lose. They don’t ask who they’re tracking because frankly, they want the money. However, when they find Snow White he reneges on the contract. Not willing to turn over a “harmless girl.”

The other thugs don’t care and a fight erupts. We get to see his ability to fight and the two get away.

They are able to get out of the Dark Forest unharmed. But then, ack!, dwarven bandits attack while crossing a bridge. The Huntsman is outnumbered and Snow White is trussed up. Unfortunately for everyone, a Troll lives by that bridge and goes after everyone. We get to see how the dwarves work together and within the fight must work with the Huntsman.

Snow White, right before the Huntsman is smashed to bits, screams out for the Troll to stop. He obeys and everyone is stunned. Her powers of life and ability to commune with nature sends the Troll away. The dwarves are floored and their leader realizes who she is.

They take everyone to Sanctuary where it is explained to the Huntsman who she is. We get our meeting with the White Stag and explanation that she’s the essence of Life. Then, when the Thugs attack, everything goes like the movie accept she brings life back to the dead dwarf.

We now have to get her to the Duke and raise an army. On our travels there we get the bit where she eats the poisoned apple. Sad day, take her to the Duke anyway. Huntsman kisses her and she comes “back to life.” Everyone is emboldened by her and off to war!

Big change here. She’s isn’t dressed in mail and wielding a sword. Instead we set her up as something of a wizard. Using her abilities to perhaps, calm people. Or heal those in battle. Perhaps even able to repel arrows with discs of light. We’ve already had Trolls and Fairies. Why not good magic?

This makes the final confrontation with the Evil Queen an epic wizard’s duel. Time for everyone to sling spells instead of her instantly knowing martial skills.

The end would play out much the same.

At least, that’s how I would have done it. Maybe next time they’ll ask me to write the script.

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The Finish Line

I don’t often talk about my personal projects. Not unless I’m trying to promote them. But if they’re a work in progress I just focus on the work and get it done.

Well my first novel is coming up to the finish line, and I’m taking a moment to reflect the past eight months.

When I had started the book back around Christmas, 2011 I had planned on 50 thousand words and 20 chapters. Which if you brake it down comes to about 2k words a chapter. It was good goal and my opinion is that you should set one like it for yourself. At least for a first novel. It gives you something to strive for.

Now that I’m nearing the completion of the novel, I’m going into chapter 28 and have around 66k words to show for it. With probably another five chapters to go. And I’m very excited.

My writing group has been very positive about this alpha read and they’ve been giving me the support that I’ll need to take with me into the edits. And from what I’ve heard, and go already tell, will be where most of the work is actually done. I can already see where things will need to be beefed up, cut out, and moved around. There are themes that I need to really make sure are stressed.

So I have a new goal going into the rewrite. I’d like to have it done in four months. This will have put me at a year for my first book. Which from what I’ve gathered is pretty normal. Though, Martin has taken six years to write “A Dance With Dragons,” so really I’m doing really well.

Once the rewrite is done, I’ll hand it off to some trusted people that I’ve chosen to be my Beta readers. I’ll want them to focus on content and give me their initial feel for the book. Once I get those back–and depending on their reaction–I’ll either do another draft or send it off for copy-editing.

It’s been a fun ride to see this story come together. I can’t wait to see what the Betas will think of it.

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Getting Reviews

A writing friend of mine–Matthew Quinn–has recently thrown himself into the Kindle Pool of self-publishing. His work is called, “Melon Heads,” and if you’re into slasher, b-movie style horror stories it may be up your alley.

While it is exciting to put your work up on Amazon and see what will happen, one of the biggest frustrations is seeing your downloads and sales numbers go up without getting a single review. Which as much as we–meaning authors–loves sales, getting reviews can be just as important. Having enough reviews can mean driving sales.

So it can be disheartening to see that section of the page stagnate.

Now your question is, “Jeffrey, how do we get reviews?” That’s a great question. Let me know when you find the answer. Because I haven’t found a sure fire way of getting them.

I do know of two, sure fire ways of not getting them–or at least not getting real ones. If you have to ask for it, you won’t get it. Hitting up Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and other social media and asking for people to come review your work will send people running. I’m not exactly sure why this is. I imagine it is because we come off as insecure as an author. Or perhaps people don’t like being told what to do.

The best you can hope for is to put the work out there and let it stand on its own. Of course, if anyone has been able to generate a sizable amount of honest reviews through asking, let me know. I’d love to hear how you did it.

The second way of not getting reviews is by offering it for free. You may get a few, but expect for every 100 downloads a single review. If that. There is another strange psychological effect going on here. The best I have figured–and read from others who believe the same–that if there is no value attached to the work, then people don’t care about it. Should they spend money on something, then they become more vocal.

I do have speculations however on how to generate some honest, unsolicited reviews. These are based purely on loose observation.

A starter–and the most important, I think–is having volume. The same principle behind growing sales with more volume can be applied to getting more reviews. The more a reader can get from you, the more likely they are going to spend their time reviewing the work. They’re invested–they may even enjoy your work–so they will want others to enjoy it too. It’s all about word of mouth, and the more work you have the more you can be spread around.

Next, advertise. Get the information that it is out there. This can be a tricky thing. It’s not like asking for reviews. You’re simply letting people know that the work exists. This is a hard road. You’ll spend a lot of time finding markets to let people know that it’s there. You also need to be sure not to over-saturate any of your social media. That can also turn people off. I’ve dropped a few people from my twitter feed who would tweet the same thing within minutes of each other.

When it comes to reviews, we have to be patient. Put the work out there, advertise, and then move on to the next story. There isn’t a quick track to reviews for a fairly new author. Just keep writing and eventually the audience will find you.

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On Vacation

Hey everyone. Currently on vacation with my family. I’m getting a lot of writing done and some good exercise. With luck, I’ll finish my first draft of my first book this weekend.

Here’s to being diligent!

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TED Talk: Rodney Mullen

One of my heroes growing up was the grand-daddy of skateboarding, Rodney Mullen. This is the guy that invented the ollie. The most basic move needed to launch every other move you can imagine.

Just last night I stumbled upon a TED talk he gave. I was taken aback by his eloquence and ability to speak in public. Mainly because if you look at him, he doesn’t seem to have that kind of ability. He’s a 46 year old that still skateboards. But man does he have a lot to say about innovation.

So I’ll pass this along. Enjoy.

http://www.ted.com/talks/rodney_mullen_pop_an_ollie_and_innovate.html

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Observation

There is one concept–across all art forms–that stays true. The power of Observation. When I was at the Art Institute, one of my very influential teachers was very adamant that we remain constantly observant. Of people, animals, and the general world around us.

His point–concerning drawing and animation–was to learn how people moved, how they stood, how they sat, and their general appearance. We were supposed to be mentally cataloging these people so that whenever we needed to draw something, we could call on these memories and bring believe ability to our work.

And this thought process works precisely the same way for writing. As you go through life you should be constantly watching the world around you. Studying how other humans interact with one another. For instance, a creepy thing I do but love is watching people have hushed arguments in public.

There is something very intense about the situation. Here you have two people trying their best to remain calm, to not make a spectacle, but they want to scream and shout and get red in the face. Watching that pent up anger is very fascinating to me.

Weird, I know, but go to a mall sometime and sit in the food court. People watching will be one of the best exercises you can do as a writer. Find someone of interest and start making a back story for them. Why are they wearing the clothes they are wearing? Are they in a hurry? Why? Before you know it, you’ll have a character sitting in your mind bank ready to go.

One day my brother and I were at lunch. We sat down at a Bar-B-Que restaurant and looked over the standard meals. Sliced Pork Platter. Pulled Pork Platter. BBQ Chicken and slaw. When our waiter came up to get our drink orders.

And he was Indian.

It was incredible. Here we have two worlds crashing together. Two cultures that are incredibly different from one another. So then the big question comes, what brings that guy to work there? Is it a second job? Maybe he just really likes BBQ. Or he’s a recent immigrant that’s actually a doctor, lawyer, or programmer, waiting to get whatever certification he needs to get back to his true love in life.

Observation can be that step that hurtles you to the next level. Working on it. Start opening your eyes and watching everyone and everything around you. So that next time you’re stumped for a name, face, or place, you’ll have a flash back to that afternoon eating BBQ with your Indian waiter.

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Challenge For You All

No insights for today. I didn’t really have any yesterday either. That’s why I’m a day late with my post. I like to have something to talk about if I’m going to make a post. But unfortunately I’ve got nothing.

This generally leads to a post about what I’m working on. Though I hate to do those. How many times can you resort to that kind of post before people grow board of your blog? That leads me to the question, perhaps I update too much? I shoot for a Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule. So I can see how that would make me run out of material quickly.

Yeesh, this post is turning into a Sienfeld episode. It’s a post about nothing.

It may be time to do a challenge I attempted last year. It’s pretty simple if you’re interested in trying it too. Originally the concept was to write a new, 1000 word short story every day for thirty days. This got to be a really hard thing to do. For several reasons. Making time for it was something of a stretch. At the time I wasn’t writing anything, either. So this go around I could run into problems.

Another problem was just having something to write about. But that actually ends up being a good thing. Because you are forced to think quickly and generate ideas. How do you do that? By being more observant of the world around you.

Now that I think about it, that’s a blog post I’ll write more about. Observation and You: A true artist’s story.

For this go around, I may stick to my standard update schedule. But drop in a small “flash fiction” piece. They are fun and you’d be surprised at what you may develop.

Hey, it’s how I came up with the idea for my novel.

So, get on it!

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Discipline

Yesterday I stepped through the doors of a Shaolin Kung Fu school. My wife has been on me to start being more physical. And she’s right, I need to be more active as I spend more time sitting behind a computer than any human should. I’ve tried doing the videos at home or just doing personal workouts, but nothing has stuck.

It was time to get serious. The last time I had stepped into any dojo or martial art school of any kind was some fifteen years ago.  But I really love martial art training. I did some online research and that’s where I found the Shaolin Institute.

You see, I love martial arts because of the discipline. Of which I lack a lot of. It is very easy for me to shrug off my responsibilities in favor of something easier or more fun. Which I think a lot of us are like that. Our natural state is to find the easiest path to whatever we’re doing. If it becomes too hard, we will find something else to do.

So we fight that urge with discipline.

How do we do that? Change of habits, constant dedication, and repetition.

This works for all aspects of life, especially when becoming an author. For those of us starting out, we have to really fight against ourselves. We find it easy to come up with excuses. I’m too tired. I don’t have any ideas. Maybe I’ll just watch some T.V. first.

These excuses are you sitting on the couch in our martial arts scenario. So it’s time to make a drastic change. Get up and join the school.

In my case, that was blocking a site called Reddit from my home machine. Using a Chrome extension, I obliterated that time waster. Now, when my fingers reflexively–out of so much habit–type in the address, a screen pops up that says, “Shouldn’t you be working?”

Yes, yes I should be working.

And I tell you, it’s been great. I’ve been sticking to my discipline.

Right now, a fellow writer that goes by beatbox32 has been chronicling his own struggles and victories with the discipline of writing on a daily basis. It’s been a great read, check it out if you have the chance.

Plus, it will show you that we all struggle with it. Even a lot of published authors still struggle with it. GRRM is notorious for getting sidetracked talking about football, rather than writing the next book in A Song of Ice and Fire.

A quick aside–screw what Neil Gaiman says about readers feeling entitled. I want my next book before the decade is out!

I want to encourage all my fellow writers, whether you’re just starting or have been published many times over. If the discipline that works for you. Do whatever it takes to get yourself writing. Make the sacrifices, whatever they may be.

Believe me, it’s worth it.

 

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New Website

It’s been a long time coming, but I finally did it. I’ve switched my animation website over to a writing website. To some degree it’s sad to see the passing of that phase in my life. I had spent many years cultivating my skill in animation and trying to forge connections in that industry. But it wasn’t happening for me.

I see now that–as cliche as this sounds–I didn’t it bad enough. Which is a statement I used to balk at. Now I finally see what that really means. At this time I’ve put more time and energy into my writing than I have ever done with animation or even acting (despite having an agent at one point).

But that part of my life has moved away and I’m going full boar into writing. And it was time my official website reflected that. There are still major sections of it that I need to work out. Mostly the Author section (an about me) and filling out the section of what I’ve worked on.

One aspect of the website is now I have included a progress bar for many of the projects I’m working on. I’ve seen other authors with them and it’s something I enjoy to see. So I thought I’d steal appropriate the idea from them. If you’re interested in checking that out, you can head over and see what’s up.

Sorry for no insights into writing or the writing process today. However, I’m nearing the end of the first draft of my first novel. It’s definitely an exciting place to be and I can’t wait to talk about my experience with that.

Because then I get to write about the revision process.

/shudder

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