Architect or Gardener: Approaches to Writing

Architect or gardener. Which approach works for which story?

If you’ve ever taken a creative writing class,  talked with friends who also had aspirations to become a writer, or read an interview with some famous writer in the Stephen King/George RR Martin mold, you inevitably come to one point:

Architect (Martin) or Gardener (King)?

This has, unfortunately, nothing to do with exterior decorating of suburban houses to make your daily two hour commute less of a macabre preamble to your inevitable stay in hell for all eternity, but one of approaches to writing a story.

I talked before about my disdain for creative writing classes in colleges and universities, and a lot of that has to with with having to put grades on your work, which leads to many professors and teachers encouraging the creation of outlines.

Writing with an outline is not necessarily a bad thing. It essentially gives you plan, more or less detailed, from which to draw in the creative process. This can be anything from a simple list of characters to full character bios, from short diagrams outlying the relative distance between places to full topographical maps of the region.

When done well, it it s a great crutch in longer projects to keep the draft you’re working on on point. It can most definitely cut down on the time you have to spend working on reworking the story once you are done with the initial draft.

When done poorly, it can lead you down a rabbit hole of world-building from which there is no escape. Guess which experience made me swear of this approach? Continue reading “Architect or Gardener: Approaches to Writing”

Historical Accuracy and Authenticity & When They Apply

A look at the interplay of historical accuracy and authenticity with the realities of today.

I’m in one of those moods ever since I saw Wonder Woman last week and did two posts on it, so we might as well talk about historicity in films again while I’m on a role.

When it comes to film making (and art in general), historical accuracy is often fighting an uphill battle against the workings of the narrative. I’m actually quite glad that I have degrees in both History and English as historical films often fight an inner battle over my enjoyment of the craft and the implications of sacrificing truth on the alter of the three-act structure.

I admit that I have muddled the terms in the past, especially when talking to people without getting my thoughts sorted at first, but historical accuracy and historical authenticity are really two different things that apply in different situations. Getting them right might help both critics looking at these films and general audiences in what to look for in a film. Pretentious to think this will have any influence on anything, sure, but self-deprecation aside:

Historical accuracy is a term that I prefer to use, when I remember to order my thoughts first of course, on films that are directly based on a true story or depict historical events. In a film that generally means that the story is presented as it happened, that the people behave correctly, and so on. Something that is very much fact based and can be proven by historical records. If your movie (or any form of media in that regard) gets this wrong, you immediately fail because you are perpetuating lies or spreading them. Portraying “the truth” is a tricky business as well, as there really is no such thing as a singular truth, only different narratives of which a majority of people agree in their interpretation and framing of. In regards to how far you can bend the truth to service the bigger picture and narrative cohesion in service of, I’m more forgiving of this than others, I often find (shocking, I know) because I believe this applies to the big picture much more than the small one. Tora! Tora! Tora! is a good example of a film so accurate to history that it becomes a slog to sit through for a casual audience. It’s a great piece of art, but I can see where it may overreach for a general audience. Of course, in the case of the small picture this can often lead to a snowballing effect where the historicity suffers a death of a thousand cuts. Best is to let reality speak for itself and make minimal changes.   Depending on the story you wish to tell, I will often prefer to fictionalize the story as is. This perfectly leads into:

Historical authenticity is something that will go hand-in-hand with historical accuracy when you are portraying the actual history on film and are trying to be as faithful to the truth as you can. When working with a fictionalized story, it is of the utmost importance to at least get the framing right. This is something that makes, for instance, The Last Samurai very interesting to look at. Based on real events, it does fail to portray the actual history, but at the same time manages to immerse you in the world and the end of an era that the samurai represent when the last of them die out. This is not accurate to actual history, but will at least convey the feelings and values of the era. Had the film fictionalized more events and tightened its focus a bit more, I believe there would be less to criticize. Authenticity can range from portraying the values of the era, to general politics and events happening in the background which inform the actual events. It’s what differentiates history from historical fiction.  Continue reading “Historical Accuracy and Authenticity & When They Apply”

How To Fix The Wonder Woman Script

A script rewrite for the new Woman Woman movie adding historical credibility and grey morality.

Spent a good long afternoon this week critiquing Wonder Woman and pointing out historical inaccuracies. Now it’s time to fix the movie without becoming “too dark” for all the precious comic fans and general audiences who can’t stand a war movie about trenches and poison gas to be too dark. With that said, let’s begin.

In this version we will keep the main story as is, because it actually works. We will, however, change some of the elements: Wonder Woman goes to Europe to fight Ares. Let’s go from there.

Act 1:
Pretty much as is in the movie. With the character being as unknown in much of the world in terms of actual characterization rather than brand recognition we need to set up the Amazons.

Once Trevor moves into the story, things change. Since the German Navy, as portrayed in the movie, cannot be the ones that hunted Trevor across the Mediterranean and Atlantic (the fleet was boxed in after Jutland in its native harbors and the foreign squadrons were destroyed) we will have to change the location of Themiskyra into the Mediterranean and change the ships used to either Ottoman or Austro-Hungarian. Same difference since both were part of the Middle/Central Powers. This immediately broadens the conflict and makes the villains of the piece much more diverse than simply being the Germans.

The main villain of the piece is also changed from Erich Ludendorff to Hans von Hammer, aka Enemy Ace. An anti-hero in the comics, he serves an army colonel in this version responsible for weapons development. If you need Ludendorff in this have him be von Hammer’s superior/benefactor. He can still work with Doctor Poison, but it places some distance between real historical characters and superhero antics.

Wonder Woman and Trevor still make their way to London and the story continues as is, but in London we meet more members of the Entente, with possible cameos by Lord Kitchener, Prime Minister Lloyd George, and maybe General Blackjack Pershing as Trevor’s superiors.
Trevor delivers the plans, but many see no reason to continue the mission. The war is almost won after all, there is a rebellion in Germany. Social-democrats and sailors are mutinying. There are talks of abdication of the Kaiser and the proclamation of a German republic as per the insistance of President Woodrow Wilson that the Entente would only open peace talks with a German democracy. (In real life all of these actions took days so there is some wiggle room to fit in the story of the film as it takes place over the course of half a week tops). Queue talks about hypocracy for democracy being a necessity when half the Entente are empires and kingdoms.

While in London we see the effects war has had on the public and the returning veterans. The movie as is was a bit too studio-backlot-y in its depiction. Too few amputees and maimed victims running around. Wonder Woman and Trevor still put together their team and move on.

Act 2:
Enemy Ace and Doctor Poison get the stand-down order from General Ludendorff who has recommended an armistice to the government and currently he and Field Marshall von Hindenburg are waiting for the response from Wilhelm II in regards to abdication and the future of the country. They are pretty much resigned and as much as they want to win, it is pretty much impossible now. No supplies, no men, no time, a rebellion behind the lines, the end of the empire has come. Enemy Ace and Doctor Poison, fervent imperialists and patriots in this version, believe otherwise and manage to create the new version of the gas, going “rogue”. The quotation marks are necessary in this case because even while the armistice is hammered out, the fighting does continue. Both sides want to be in an advantageous bargaining position. Ludendorff and von Hindenburg don’t encourage their actions but also don’t condone them. After all, all they need is a demonstration to dangle over the enemy.

Wonder Woman and team continue their mission through France on their way to the border and after von Hammer and Doctor Poison. They see the horrors of the war as in the movie, but we also see the conditions of the troops in the trenches much more detailed, rather than a simple line of “been here for a year”. We see Brits, ANZAC, French, American, and especially colonial troops from Africa, India and around the globe. They are all fighting over centimeters on the ground.
It would, of course, be more poignant to show longer periods in the war, but for the sake of that precious PG-13 and the general audience we must remain with the Disneyland version. Still, we make it as graphic and as hopeless as we can get away with. The rest of the act continues unchanged even until we come to the castle.

In the castle, the changes made include the interaction Wonder Woman has with Ludendorff, in this version Enemy Ace. Hans von Hammer is less of a jerk than Danny Huston’s caricature of Ludendorff, an aristocrat who sees his country disappearing in-front of him. A former fighter ace, he saw dozens of comrades shot down, the glory disappear from the battlefield. For good measure he talks about the glory of the war of old and laments that he was too young to witness it himself. Wonder Woman now has little doubts that he is Ares, the God of War.

The gas rounds are fired into the freed village as Entente troops are moving on, obviously wanting to move onto the nearby castle where von Hammer, Doctor Poison, and a bunch of German VIPs are still hanging out. So the order is giving to shell the area. A few civilian casualties don’t really matter after all. The reaction from Wonder Woman is still the same after, in this version, she managed to actually save a few dozen people, though hardly all or even a majority between the town’s population and an entire battalion of troops. She is pissed that Trevor stopped her from killing von Hammer and Doctor Poison. In this version though, Trevor is actually able to somewhat seduce Doctor Poison, getting his hands on the new gas formula. He doesn’t like the idea of this new gas or other super weapon Poison has been dreaming up, but better both sides have it than simply one. Wonder Woman is disgusted from finding this out and after seeing the hundreds of dead in the village. even though she managed to save a few dozen, going after von Hammer and Doctor Poison.

Act 3:
The scene on the airfield. Wonder Woman is thoroughly pissed and curb-stomps von Hammer in his signature plane and also kills Doctor Poison for good measure. They are mass murderers, they don’t deserve better. If you really want, you can give them a motif rant, but at this point it’s pretty clear where they stand. They consider themselves soldiers in a war to defend their fatherland. And yet, the empire they tried to save is gone because it didn’t deserve to live at all after all the killing and maiming that’s been going on. Wonder Woman is shocked that the fighting in the distance continues as the two main villains lay dying. Not Ares after all.
Trevor still sacrifices himself to stop the bomber in this version, he needs to redeem himself. For good measure he takes the formula he stole from Doctor Poison with him. It’s a bittersweet situation. (Making it von Hammer also allows for some parallels in this act with him and Trevor as opposites: flying aces and patriots with questionable morals stuck in a bad situation). In the last moment Wonder Woman can save him though.

We cut to Versailles a bit of a year later. Germany, defeated, signs the treaty ending the war with the Entente. Wonder Woman sees it a bit clearer now for all the talk of Ares. She looks around and sees the faces of the people on both sides. No one is really happy with it. Some say its too lenient, like Ferdinand Foch. Some say its too hard, like John Maynard Keynes. This is no peace. This is an armistice for twenty years.
In the end, her mother had been right. Ares was dead. And yet he lived on in the hearts of everyone. If anything, the bloodshed of the 20th century that had happened and was still to come might as well lead to a new god of war coming along from all the sacrifices made in his name.
Wonder Woman retires from the world, but there are changes for the good. Civilians have lived, Trevor lives and is a better man for it, as is the team. A superhero cannot change a world that hasn’t learned its lesson yet. But a few good men and women remain. Sometimes that’s all that’s needed.

Why I’m Happier Since I Stopped Binge Watching Netflix

Discussions, if they are meaningful, will be there ready to be had once you are done.

This is going to be a short one, so call me a fraud for this not being a diatribe.

It’s been a few weeks now, probably longer, that I started mentioning to people the kinds of shows I watch at the moment. Shows like Taboo, Girlboss, and a handful of other shows that air weekly like Designated Survivor and American Gods.

Ever since Netflix came into existence with the idea of binging, only enhanced by their original programming, we have had a cultural love-hate relationship with the concept of binge watching a television show. I often thought it would be a good thing, watching a show in a day or two, then being completely caught up and able to converse about it.

As I get older and have more things to do in my life, I started realizing that I didn’t watch the shows for the sake of experiencing a good show or being entertained, I simply did it to get it over with. I didn’t enjoy the stories anymore.

I think the love-hate relationship part comes in when you realize that there are many shows that are designed to be watched as a big serial, usually miniseries, shorter seasons, usually cable shows, and shows that are not designed to be watched like this. The latter are purely episodic shows and those with a myth arc packaged in self-contained stories. A show like Deadwood, The Wire, or Breaking Bad is designed to be binged. They feature shorter seasonal lengths and are often designed as the chapters of a book. A recent show I have been watching that is like this are Taboo and American Gods, two great shows, but I haven’t binged on them yet either. It’s an experiment.

The other concept is that of a more traditional television show with a season arc, something that weaves and weans throughout the season without ever having precedent. Recent shows I’ve been talking about on here that are like it include Girlboss, and Arrow, the notorious Friday night hate and shame hook-up of my existence. While they tell a full story over the course of 13 or 23 episodes, they do also tell stand-alone stories or at least ones that can be watched independently. Continue reading “Why I’m Happier Since I Stopped Binge Watching Netflix”

Arrow Series Retrospective: After 5 Years In Hell

Comic book sacred cows: 1.) that you do not change anything about the source material, except when it’s okay, and 2.) you do not have non-lethal characters suddenly kill people, except when it’s okay.

As of yesterday, the CW series Arrow, based on DC’s Green Arrow line of comics, has finished its fifth season. It marks the end of the show’s five year story line. Maybe now, more than ever, is it time to look back at what the series did right and where it, eventually, started to faulter.

The series started when I was at an interesting point in the autumn of 2012, just as the superhero bubble had reached its peak with the back to back hits of The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers, giving us two very different interpretations of the superhero formula. A lot of people in comic fandom back then, myself included, were riding high on the ultra shiny Avengers bandwagon, grim and gritty was out, we said. It would still be a while until I soured on the whole genre myself, and eventually came to peace with simply liking a good story, regardless of whether or not it was dark or light-hearted.

Arrow’s first season is pretty much all we need to discuss in regards to whether or not people like this series, because much of the backlash against the series hasn’t really changed since. There have been ups and down in storytelling throughout the first five years, with seasons 1 and 2 still marking a personal highlight in superhero television for me, unrivaled by anything on network television and only surpassed by the excellent web material put out by Netflix in sheer size and quality. Season 1, from the very first frames, divided the audience up in people who liked and disliked the series, so much was clear from the internet groups and back chatter I participated back then. It’s easy to see why, the series very much changes up the entire Green Arrow mythology to fit it into a TV series format, cherry picking from a lot of older material from the 80s, inventing new characters, changing motivations, often combined with a main cast that was probably chosen because they fit the CW mold of being young and hot. And let’s get down to where a lot of people immediately called it quit: Green Arrow wasn’t called that and he killed people. Brutally so.

Regardless of whether or not you know comic book fandom, there are some pretty sacred cows, two of which are that you do not change anything about the source material, except when it’s okay, and you do not have non-lethal characters suddenly kill people, except when it’s okay. Another rule of thumb: no comic book character has ever had more old-school die-hard fans until the day his live action series/movie is announced. Far be it from me to say who counts and doesn’t count as a fan, but I needed to get this off my chest, because these little points have been the main points of contention for the first three or so years of the show’s existence before people started to ignore the series. In many ways it follows Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, and DC’s own Gotham in that regard. Maybe it wouldn’t annoy me so much if people didn’t actually ‘get’ what the show was about and how it, slowly, went off the deep end.  Continue reading “Arrow Series Retrospective: After 5 Years In Hell”

Star Trek: Discovery Trailer And Thoughts On The Franchise

Somewhat optimistic thoughts on Discovery but mostly hating on the classic show again.

Last week a trailer was released for Star Trek: Discovery that actually showed us some footage that wasn’t spaceship porn. Weird, right?

Much has since been written about the new Star Trek series. If it will take off, if it will be a good TOS prequel, what kind of stories they can actually tell, and whether or not it will actually be good. Neither of these questions can be answered by a simple trailer. All we know about is that our new main character is called Number One, who will be the first officer of the Discovery, which wasn’t shown in this trailer but instead we got Michelle Yeoh and her ship, which totally doesn’t mean that she will bite the dust two episodes in so we can transfer all the characters over to the Discovery, no sir, totally not going to happen.

And aside from the trailer showing glimpses into Number One’s past where Sarek tells her that as a human she will never fit into Vulcan society, and some Klingon stuff, because isn’t there always, that is pretty much it. I’m actually okay with that. I don’t need to know that much about the project going in, I just need to know what it will be about in order to be a valid piece of advertisement. This is a compelling trailer in that regard, it shows us that we will get some classic Star Trek adventures on a ship on the edge of space with some Klingon shenanigans. That’s the classic formula that pretty much every series has conformed to, even DS9. Many other elements, however, are different: the POV being on a first officer instead of a captain, who is also a human expat living on Vulcan from what I can tell, multiple ships being the focus of the series with a much bigger cast, a grander scope that will probably include arcs, it gives the show a feeling that you don’t often get from Star Trek: the fact that they might know what they are doing.  Continue reading “Star Trek: Discovery Trailer And Thoughts On The Franchise”

A Look At Star Trek’s Kira Nerys – Or: How A Terrorist Could Be Sympathetic in the 1990s

Desperate for clicks. Might as well talk Star Trek again… but not the new trailer that hit. I’ll write about that sometime next week when I had time to think about it more.

Star Trek has been many things over the years, but ever since the 1960s it has never been anything other than safe and samey and conforming to social norms at the time. Heck, the 60s included in that when we look at all the sexism on display…

That is except for one character: Kira Nerys, the female lead of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. A former freedom fighter, terrorist, and now somewhat-supportive member of the provisional government of her homeworld of Bajor.

I don’t think I ever really appreciated the character that much when I first viewed the series, but when I did my English degree in university and combined it with a history topic on the use of terrorism in the media, I was quite startled to realize that Kira is, for lack of a better word, still unique in current day media. Finishing its run in the late 90s, DS9 still feels like the most modern installment of the franchise. Later movies and shows had better cinematography and effects, but being a pre-9/11 show, DS9 was almost prophetic in the way it handled subject matters of terrorism and terrorism. While it handled many other topics with much more maturity than the last 16 years of pop culture entertainment, its most revolutionary storytelling remains the character of Kira.  Continue reading “A Look At Star Trek’s Kira Nerys – Or: How A Terrorist Could Be Sympathetic in the 1990s”