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Sunday, 24 November 2019

NaNoWriMo Thoughts - I'm The Bad Guy, Duh


Now I bet we have some villain fans in here, right? I know we do. The kind of people that want a plush Scar, or who argue that the Empire did nothing wrong (which I used to do a lot), or who just really, really like Loki.

Now I have talked about villains before, in this blog post over here. In which I talk about my seven favourite villains, actually. Today though, I'm going to talk about the kind that actually features in my NaNoWriMo novel - and some other kinds.

We all want to make the villain memorable, right?

Like who could forget this guy? Who... is ultimately only in this movie like THIS for five minutes and then becomes a big glowing orange eye on top of a tower?

The thing is - you take one look at this dude and you know what he's about. He's just evil. He's a big old nasty bastard and he likes to stab people and hurt people and his goal is to rule everything and so on and so on. And in the books, that gets achieved by a lot of exposition, but you get the impression that he's just absolutely malevolent.

And wants to control everything, because, you know. That's the story Tolkien is telling you. When Aragorn is made king again (spoilers) that's fine, because he kind of didn't want to for most of the story, but now he is king, and everyone is just cool with him being king because he probably won't chop down millions of trees and hyper-industrialise his medieval fantasy realm.

He's fallible, too. Sauron screws up on many occasions. Like he literally gets his ass merked because he didn't think a couple steps ahead and was, basically, arrogant. Of course nothing can escape his sight - his direct-line sight - across a broken and buckled volcanic landscape filled with faults and rocks and basically god's gift to stealth-game mechanics.

Arrogance is key.

You know who else is arrogant as all hell?

That's right, King Grape over here.

He was an asshole but I loved seeing him on screen. Walking around and doing shit and just being fucking evil. I loved watching him fight. I liked hearing him talk. Because he was unequivocally wrong but wouldn't back down on that fact in any way. Even when he gets himself killed - both times - neither time is he sat there going, oh shit, I did the wrong thing. Nah. He just knows his work is over, and he hates it.

He has that fantastic monologue at the beginning of the movie where he talks about failure - where he talks about the moment wherein you know you aren't going to succeed - and then never addresses the possibility ever again. Because he can't conceive of failure. Which in the end proves to be his undoing, because he bum-rushes into a situation that he thinks he can totally dominate and at no point considers retreat, even while doubling down on his absolutely lunatic plan of blapping half the universe (by threatening to blap the entire universe).

Memorable, right? You know what he wants. He establishes himself early. He's relevant to now because there's actual people espousing genocidal views gently while saying that it is logically speaking the best thing to do. Just like how in Tolkien's day there were plenty of men swaggering about demanding total control over everything, regardless of who it might benefit.

Who is this?

You would be forgiven for not knowing. She is from Bright. Her name is Leilah. She wants... uh...

...yeah I can't remember. I think she does magic or something. But if you didn't know I could make up any number of stories about how she's from the Blade TV series, or that she's a character from True Blood, or something.

The thing is, she's also a part of the story that Bright was trying to tell. I hated it, but it had a story, and it kinda told it. And she was part of it - and she was (as I recall) part of the Elves Are Actually Evil sub-genre, which is one of my favourites.

My NaNo story, the one I am writing, is about three things primarily.

  1. Working out who you really are is important, and sometimes requires changes in your life.
  2. Sometimes people will try and control you. Don't let them.
  3. Capitalism ruins everything cool and empowers monsters.

That requires another, quite specific kind of villain.


Or at least... he is similar to my antagonist in several ways. Specifically, with the arrogance - knowing full well that he won't get caught, even up to the point that he does get caught. Even when he has a gun stuck in his face, and is being told that he's going to be executed, he's unapologetic - he's just spinning words to get people to not shoot him. Because he can still get away with this. He can still have traded all 157 of those colonists away for a huge, huge profit, and handing the biggest bioweapon ever over to Weyland-Yutani.

Because in a system wherein acquisition of power is directly connected to acquisition of wealth, and in a culture wherein possession of power is as much a part of ensuring that others don't have power over you as it is about having power over others - shit is encouraged.

If Burke had more influence, more power, then he would probably have gotten away with it. He'd have had more resources brought to bear, could move more subtly. Would have more pawns to sacrifice.

He's established from the very beginning, is present throughout. That's important, too. He becomes a presence. Even if he's only in the background, he's there, and he is inherently connected to events.

The antagonist in my book is a lot like Burke, in a few ways; but there's some ways in which he differs. The primary one is power. Another - Burke can come across as kind of likeable if you've never seen the movie before, but there's no way you like my antagonist. There's just... not much you can do about it, because he doesn't have to justify his actions to anyone. He just does what he wants and nobody can really tell him no.

That's where the arrogance comes from.

Nobody's ever told him he is wrong. What he says, goes - and he has a literal fortune and an entire market to back him up on it. So of course, his opinions are cast iron facts, and not opinions. Which can be kind of dangerous, when those opinions are things like:

"People don't change. They think they do. They want to believe they do. They do not. They remain who they are, be that for good or ill. That is who they are. That is who all of us are…"

And especially when your fortune comes from a company whose job it is to prevent poor people from living in a post-scarcity society.


(Also if this guy had an actor I think it would be a great role for Jeff Bridges.)

If you'd care to share my blog with your friends, I'd appreciate that! If you'd like to thank me in a fiscal form for entertaining you a little bit, I do have a Patreon right here, but please - no pressure. Thank you for reading, and check my social media to the right to keep in touch.

Sunday, 17 November 2019

NaNoWriMo Thoughts - Defined

A surprisingly layered question:

Who Am I?

What's meant by this isn't the amnesiac question - no, we don't assume that the person we are asking this of has forgotten their actual identity. Not like John Murdoch here, from Dark City - a vastly underrated movie, and one that provides a surprisingly textured answer to that specific question.

Nor are we - necessarily - asking this in the rhetorical sense to imply that someone has done something that is usually quite out of character for them. Something Sam might ask Frodo when he clearly starts going off the rails in the Two Towers, trusting "definitely not gonna choke you in your sleep" Gollum rather than "actually the hero of this book" Sam.

For the context of this - how I am using it in my NaNo this year - this is all about the main character looking into himself to find out what makes him who he is. To try and work out what traits in there are his own, what has been put in by someone else - to ascertain his own character, after having been given enough breathing room to do so.

The difficulty he finds is that it is hard to just stand there, or sit, or whatever, and look at yourself, and go: huh, this is me. Yeah, okay. Cool.

You only tend to find that sort of thing out through exposure to stimulus, through being tested - stress tested perhaps. You don't know the strength of the steel until you find out how much force bends it, so on, so forth. All those old adages that bolt onto the notion of suffering building character.

It's a good way to show your readers what kind of a person the character is, though. I mean...

None of us can claim to not know who Steve Rogers is at heart. After all - he can do this all day.

People want to be able to define themselves. They want to be able to gesture at a part of their lives and say, unequivocally and without reservation: this is who I am. They want the security of that, to know that whatever else they can't control, this is an aspect of them that is true.

(I know, talking about insecurity again, one might think I have a complex.)

A trap that a lot of stories can fall into is that the Who is shown, not by what the character does, but by what is done TO the character. A lack of agency. Being swept along by whatever is actually happening, until arriving at a point dictated by the narrative. Young Adult fiction has a mostly undeserved reputation for doing this - quite a vilified bracket of books there, given that I've seen more literary worth in those pages than I have in any book by Ian McEwan I've ever read.

So the individual - the character - feeling that they lack something... feeling that they have for too long been in an environment where they can't be themselves, but not necessarily knowing who they themselves ARE because of that... should probably try and find that aspect of themselves. And perhaps they will stumble upon it by accident - and sometimes they will think they know, and be proven wrong.

But for all those people who can't just... act, can't just define who they are by their actions... surely our characters can. Surely they can take that step, out of the shadow they were living under, and into a better world in which they are solidly defined.

That can look different for different people, obviously.

My main character is starting to recognise just how cloying and smothering his past life was - living in the shadow of an egocentric narcissist of a father - and is currently struggling to work out the kind of person he is. He'll find out though. Sooner rather than later.

(If you want an insight into the world I am writing in, my friends are playing part of an RPG campaign that I am running. I'm typing up each session for the enjoyment of the outside world. You can find it here. Eclipse Phase - Before The Devil Knows You're Dead.)

If you'd care to share my blog with your friends, I'd appreciate that! If you'd like to thank me in a fiscal form for entertaining you a little bit, I do have a Patreon right here, but please - no pressure. Thank you for reading, and check my social media to the right to keep in touch.

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Never Did Me Any Harm

Hands up if you know someone that doesn't believe in climate change.

There's permutations, obviously. There's plenty of people who believe it exists but aren't sure if it is as bad as everyone says it is. There's plenty of people who don't know specifically what they can do about it. There's plenty of people who will somewhat happily dismiss it as being a bit much for them to understand.

But there's people who genuinely believe that it isn't happening, that it is some kind of conspiracy to... achieve... something that is hard to actually define, and that images like this:

...are faked by whatever agency is pushing this agenda.


Today, folks, we're visiting an old friend. I've blogged about insecurity several times before now, and about how it can pertain to some of the views I'm going to talk about right here. I continue to believe that it is responsible for a significant proportion of the thought processes that cause humanity the most problems.

More and more, in this day and age, we find evidence that we live in a post-fact, post-truth society.

I mean. Yeah. People have often flat-out ignored actual evidence and done whatever they wanted or thought whatever they wanted anyway. That's not new. It is just very, very obvious now - especially in an age wherein learning the facts on a topic can be done on the move and in mere moments, should the whim take you.

This is where the insecurity comes in.

Beating your kids is a bad idea.

No, really. There's been countless scientific studies on the topic. Here's a Psychology Today article on the topic from last year. Here's another one from six years ago. Here's a New York Times article on it. They all agree. Smacking your kids won't actually help them behaviourally.

For purpose of research I googled the opposite - pro-spanking studies - and found a lot of opinions, and the odd link to those same articles featuring studies stating it is a bad idea.

However, I guarantee you that you can hear it now - you can hear people saying how it's ridiculous, about how children these days are too privileged because they haven't been spanked, how THEY were spanked and how it never did THEM any harm.

Well yeah. You can have that opinion. Science indicates you are wrong. Maybe the harm done was the willingness to believe that hurting a kid deliberately will have no long-term ill effects. That's called conditioning. You may believe it brings you closer to your child, too. That's called trauma bonding. The SS used it to train their soldiers to work as a unit.

But we hate... HATE... to think we are wrong.

Nobody likes being corrected. I say this with a degree of personal honesty. I hate being wrong. I beat myself up over it. I try and work out why I was wrong, try and justify my wrongness, but in the end - unless I want to live in a fantasy land, I have to admit I was wrong, and grow as a person.

Things I have been wrong about in my life include sexism - for a long time I simply refused to believe it existed, and if it did, then surely it made men's lives worse than women's. It took work for me to pull my head out of my ass. It was uncomfortable to admit that I was wrong - but once you get over that hurdle, once you address your insecurity and fix it, you can be proud. You learned. You are literally a better person for it.

One of the things that I think a lot of people are insecure about - and thus refuse to actually examine in themselves - is the narrative of suffering. Or, specifically:

I suffered. Why shouldn't they?

I hope Bill Watterson would forgive me for the usage of this Calvin & Hobbes strip, but it's relevant.

Suffering Builds Character. We've all heard it.

Whenever it comes around to minimum wage jobs, or provision of social services. Whenever it comes around to people that some other people don't believe should be entitled to the same help or assistance as everyone else. Prisoners and pensioners.

Well. Yeah. It might "build character". It builds the character that makes people want to hurt other people. It makes us form shaky relationships with others. It lets us believe that suffering is inherent to the human condition. It builds into us the notion that nobody is entitled to anything better than what we have. It blinds us to realities such as the, you know, actual harmful effects of the things that we're doing, as scientifically proven time and again.

Because we don't want to be proven wrong. Because we're insecure about being wrong. Because that would mean admitting that it did us harm in the first place.

But that leads us into a society built on ignoring facts that don't gel with our worldview. It means that, rather than try and face something down that would prove us wrong, rather than confront it and then adjust our behaviour and outlook to fit the reality of the situation - we double down. We throw our hands up, declare that we don't care what so-called experts say.

Then we make decisions on what confirms our own internal monologue, what conforms to our worldview, rather than letting our worldview be shaped by facts.

That's why there's so many people that believe that vaccinations are bad. Disregarding any and all advice by experts, they seek out the thing that empowers their own opinion, because they're too insecure to do otherwise. It doesn't matter that the one study that proved them right was rubbished by its own creator. It's easier to ignore the facts that challenge you - until one of your kids gets something awful because you didn't vaccinate them, but there's a whole subgenre of tragedy there.

That's why there's so many people that believe the earth is flat. Because if one relinquishes the notion that people can be scientifically right about a thing, if one dismisses the people that actually speak with a degree of knowledge and authority because they don't say the words you agree with, then you're left with a world looking however you want it to.

That's why there's so many people that don't believe in climate change. They don't want to stop using CFCs. They don't want to stop throwing their rubbish in whatever bin they like. They don't want to have to think about the environment, and about how their actions may have made it worse, even if objectively far more damage has been done to the environment by like four dozen corporate entities than the rest of the human race combined. So they dismiss it, and dismiss experts, and dismiss everyone that agrees with experts.

And that's why you can have TV personalities worth literally millions who make their money from confirming your internal biases, speaking to the truths that all the experts decry, telling you that you're right to think it never did you any harm, telling you that it's all the people who claim otherwise who are the problem, claiming that they aren't like those snowflakes who find everything offensive - who will have a screaming fit over a vegan sausage roll.

Society could be so much better. Our world could be so much better. Only it isn't going to be, because we'd far rather tell ourselves that we haven't been harmed, than actually treat the wounds. We'd far rather let awful things happen and ignore them, because those awful things happening either fit in with our view of how the world works, or they're happening to someone else.

It's the same drive to just shrug and carry on, to take the lashings of the men with the whips, without ever wondering why you don't take the whip and break it. Because it's more comfortable to not wonder. Because it's easier, and doesn't challenge our worldview. Because we're here, and because the people holding the whips have told us this is where we should be.

We're frogs in pots, and we're comfortable in the water. You're just imagining it - it's definitely not getting any hotter.

If you'd care to share my blog with your friends, I'd appreciate that! If you'd like to thank me in a fiscal form for entertaining you a little bit, I do have a Patreon right here, but please - no pressure. Thank you for reading, and check my social media to the right to keep in touch.

Sunday, 3 November 2019

NaNoWriMo Thoughts - Held Hands, Dense Forests

I was watching The Girl With All The Gifts on Halloween with my gaming group, in the mid-section of an all-day RPG session I was running.

I hadn't seen it before, which is kind of criminal, because I knew it was a great movie; just because of the kind of people I knew who had said so, the critical reception it got. the general buzz surrounding it. I knew a little of the plot, but not very much, so went into it pretty blind.

It got me into thinking, a thought that has persisted as I have laid out the first 10% of this year's National Novel Writing Month project.

I like movies and stories that don't need to hold your hand.

It has to be a careful balance, though. You have to give the viewer or the reader just enough information to keep them invested, just a little more than that so they aren't totally confused, but not so much that you are explaining the entire plot wholesale.

This is just one axis, though. The other is the story's complexity - the more complex, the more hand-holding is needed to keep the viewer on track, or you run the risk of the viewer just being hopelessly lost.

I mean, you know what I am talking about if you've seen Mulholland Drive.

This can cause problems in adaptations, certainly. You are trying to convey a lot more information in a lot shorter time than a book can, and sometimes that book was a little light on necessary hand-holding in the first place. If it's the kind of tome that just lobs you into a complex fantasy world with its own glossary of terms and never works to lighten the load of trying to work out what they all mean while still keeping up with the narrative, then the film-maker is going to want to try and soften that blow.

Hands up if you have read the first Dune book and seen the original Dune movie?

Yeah, those bits of voice-over that basically explain half the plot? They weren't going to be in it originally, but had to be added afterwards because focus audiences that hadn't read the book had no clue what was happening.

I mean, even if you have read the book, you will be forgiven for being a little clueless. It's not a forgiving or easily-accessible story by many measures.

In order to highlight the difference between the two approaches, think back - when you first watched Blade Runner, did it have the Harrison Ford voice-over explaining the plot every ten minutes, or was it without?

First time for me had the voice-over. Which as I was a kid was kind of useful, but by the time I'd reached any kind of adulthood, was basically unnecessary. A significant part of the plot is you doing the legwork inside your head, and also the moralistic legwork. You shouldn't need to be told what to feel or what to think.

Something about show, don't tell?

I try and apply that to my writing - and then it becomes clear just how hard it can be to walk that line.

When I write science fiction I like dropping in terms that aren't overtly explained, and trying to convey what they mean by narrative context. The problem is that I know what they mean already. I know the context. It can be difficult to actually step outside of that knowledge and impartially look at the words you have put down, and ascertain what they are actually saying rather than what you think they are saying.

This is a greater problem, of course - it isn't limited to science fiction or fantasy writing, nor is it limited to writing at all. People do this a lot; they say words, construct a sentence and think that it has conveyed what they assumed it would convey in their heads. Then they end up all sorts of confused when the person they are talking to has apparently not quite got the message.

It's why I am often keen to have people read the work. Someone not in my brain can more easily tell me if I've gone down an assumption-hole.

I don't want to have to release a director's cut later that fixes the narrative issues.

5,807 words so far. Got the rest of today, and if I''m not past 7k by this evening, I'm gonna be upset at myself. Let's get this bread.

If you'd care to share my blog with your friends, I'd appreciate that! If you'd like to thank me in a fiscal form for entertaining you a little bit, I do have a Patreon right here, but please - no pressure. Thank you for reading, and check my social media to the right to keep in touch.