Monthly Archives: January 2013

Broken Pieces

I saw Silver Linings Playbook the other day and loved it (it is currently my favorite of this year’s Oscar nominations). For many reasons, really. Like the brilliantly intelligent script that doesn’t talk down to its audience, some great cinematography, stellar acting and so on. But what really got me was how the protagonists were just so broken. No, not their lives; they were broken. There’s a difference.

Let’s take Uncharted. Nathan Drake is not a broken person. Sure, he’s got crappy luck but he’s a whole person and never finds himself completely lost and gone.

Cloud Strife of Final Fantasy VII, on the other hand, is broken. Events prior to the game traumatized him into adopting the identity of someone else. When this illusion comes crashing down he is left a quivering, paralyzed husk. Cloud is compelling due to his need to put himself together to beat the villain. This is accentuated all the more by the help his friends provide. That’s what a broken character is.

Another example? Malcolm Reynolds in Firefly is in pieces. He saw everything he believed in abandon him in the Unification War and now he’s stuck living in the ruins. His demons haunt him and shadow everything he does. Mal doesn’t want to get too attached to his crew for fear that he might leave them, but he does anyway and hates to mention it. He never came back from the war and he can’t; the man just wants to find some semblance of Home. His brokenness isn’t just a motivation: it’s his very being. When Mal makes a sarcastic biting remark he’s not trying to be funny, it’s him masking his pain.

 See, what makes broken characters broken is their traits, complications if you will. They have their goals but their personal complications get in the way. It’s an incredible sort of internal conflict. A guy has to defeat himself to defeat the villain.

Iron Man 2 features a broken Tony Stark. Sure, his brokenness not as developed as the characters in Silver Linings Playbook (more on that in a bit), but he still works as an example. What’s wrong with Tony? He’s realized he’s dying, the hero schtick isn’t working out and he’s lost. So he does stupid things and alienates everyone near him. In order for Tony to beat Vanko he first has to deal with his own issues. Only when he gets past his brokenness can the plot continue.

But that’s when there’s a villain. Silver Linings Playbook has no classical villain. See, Pat has issues. A lot of them. As does Tiffany, the female protagonist. They’re cruel and sarcastic to try and compensate for their hurt. What we get from the movie isn’t some story where the protagonists have to overcome some obstacle so they can fall in love, they have to get past themselves.

It’s unusual for a cinematic romance; two characters having to become someone worth loving in order to be loved. It’s painful as we find out why these characters are who they are and it’s crushing to watch them fail and hurt each other. But more than that it’s honest; an honest look at brokenness and damaged people.

It’s different and it makes for a compelling story. So yeah, Silver Linings Playbook is my pick for Best Picture, ‘cuz it’s a love story about broken people. Go watch it.

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In Defense of Fan Fiction

I’ve written my share of fan fiction. Be it about Star Wars, Bionicle adventures, or Mega Man stories; trust me: I’ve written my fanfics. Thing is, that was years ago. I’ve hardly done anything remotely fan fictiony (be it an animation or a piece of writing) in years.

I guess I grew out of it; I wanted to make my own worlds and not lean on someone else’s work as a basis. I wanted my stories to be mine and independent. Of course, I still read the Star Wars Expanded Universe, where science fiction writers have their go at continuing or adding stories to the Star Wars ‘verse. Sure, it’s official fan fiction but it’s cool stories, yeah?

Arguably the best writer for the Expanded Universe is Timothy Zahn. His Heir To The Empire Trilogy is not only a fantastic piece of fiction, but it legitimately feels like a Star Wars story. It doesn’t seem like a random piece of science fiction with Star Wars elements but rather like another movie. It has the same feeling of adventure and space opera, and, best of all, the characters actually sound like the characters. They act like them and speak like them; Zahn wonderfully captures the essence of the main characters. He also introduces new characters as well as a new villain; his trilogy is a whole new story while staying true to the originals.

So yes, I’m using Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars novels as the epitome of fan fiction. Granted, they get approved and vetted by the bigwigs at LucasFilm, but at they’re heart they’re pretty much fan fiction. And dang good ones.

See, it’s easy to get fan fiction wrong. You could write a story that sounds like just another story with characters from some franchise tacked on. Taking nuanced characters and stereotyping them isn’t good writing. Changing the way the world works for the sake of your story, well, can be done right, but often winds up feeling unnecessary. Look, worlds need rules, so if you’re playing in someone else’s world, play by their rules lest you wind up making your own world. If your fan fiction hardly seems like it’s a part of the world, might as well make your own, yeah?

One of the main reasons I stopped writing fan fiction was ‘cuz, well, it wasn’t my own world. Anything I wrote would only be well received by people of the fandom. It wasn’t accesible and all that. More so, it felt lazy. I wasn’t making my own characters, I wasn’t doing my own world building. So I stopped.

Thing is, fan fiction (if done right) can be a challenge. You’re playing in someone else’s world; with someone else’s characters. Are you up to being able to capture both the world and the characters? TV writers do the same thing: they didn’t come up with the world but it’s their job to write the episodes. It’s a challenge, no doubt to fit your writing style and dialogue to another. For all the flak fan fiction gets, it can be a remarkable writing exercise. It’s also useful if you want to just get started writing something and don’t want to have to do all the research and all normally required. So yeah, if you’re lazy and just want to write, fan fiction is a valid outlet.

Why am I writing a post about fan fiction? Simple, I’m starting work on an Uncharted one. Yeah, I know; I’m a nerd who needs justification. I want to write an adventure story, so why not use one of my favorite video games? I’m doing historical research and really want the challenge of trying to capture the spirit of the story and characters.

So yeah. Fan fiction.

Writer’s Note: Apologies again for another shorter/lackluster post; I’m now in Morocco on a school trip. Yes. That is my excuse. Again. Now let me go get shawarma.

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Old Made New

So y’know how Les Misérables came out over Christmas? Of course you do: your neighbor’s been singing it incessantly since (which song? All of them, duh). While musicals are nothing new, Les Misérables was special because they recorded the actors singing live on set and added the orchestration in post-production. Usually, the songs are recorded beforehand and lip-synched to during filming. The route Les Mis took allowed them to try the songs several different ways on set. The result is a fantastic musical and a radical breakthrough in the production process.

Only, well, it’s been done before. Several times, in fact. A quick wikipedia check reveals that some early talkies as well as a couple movies I’ve never seen used it. So why the hullabaloo?

Well, when was the last time a massive musical people were this excited about came out? It seems almost as if musicals fell out of fashion a while back and suddenly we have this daringly massive new one (based on a stage production based on a book) coming out. People are excited. And rightfully so, it’s a great movie, one that might remind us that musicals are viable films. Even though Les Mis really didn’t revolutionize anything, the film has an impact and will now be the one people think of with regards to recording the songs live.

Quick! Think of a comicbook/superhero movie before X-Men came out in 2000! Besides Tim Burton’s Batman and Superman and the sequels. Unless you cheated and used wikipedia, none should really come to mind. Sure, there were quite a handful of rather crappy b-movies that came out, but no one really cared about them. Then along came X-Men and Spider-Man and suddenly superhero movies mattered. Well, not immediately, but look at the movies coming out now.

Within the span of a little over a decade superhero movies went from being absolute rubbish (Batman & Robin) to a viable economic investment (Spider-Man 2) to a legitimate dramatic form of storytelling (The Dark Knight) to an incredibly enjoyable piece of cinema (The Avengers). Was superhero movies a new idea? Nope: the first Captain America serial came out in 1944. But it took proof that it was worth it to give us this new slew of movies. Which I’m certainly not complaining about.

We like to clamber over movies as being new and revolutionary for pioneering old techniques. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s not a big deal, and I’m not saying it isn’t revolutionary. Just because something’s been done to death and cast off as being a waste of time (see: Batman & Robin) doesn’t mean it can’t be done differently (Batman Begins). Good reboots are this: old things made new, done right. We can complain all we want about a lack of originality, but Star Trek and Captain America: The First Avenger are the movies we want to see.

So go see Les Misérables, go enjoy a superhero movie. Never mind it’s not entirely new or revolutionary; they’re trying on old hats, enjoying something new.

And who knows; maybe Les Mis will spark a new offering of cinematic musicals.

Writer’s Note: Apologies for the shorter/lackluster post; I’m in Spain on a school trip. Yes. That is my excuse. Now let me go get tapas.

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2012 in Review

It’s 2013. Dang.

So instead of a usual post I’m going to look through some of the posts from the prior year! I’m also supposed to be packing and more or less forgot about this week’s post and don’t have time to write one due to errands and packing. Oops.

But hey!

Five Most Popular/Viewed Posts

#5: The Artificial Family

This was a fun one; it’s about how family isn’t just by blood and all. It’s a topic I like to explore in my fiction and hey, I wrote a post about it. I really like seeing it show up in fiction too, and I suppose I’m not the only one.

#4: The Avengers > The Dark Knight Rises

Guess people were looking for argumentative proof/reasons to get mad. I still stand by this position, for the record. The Avengers isn’t a technically perfect movie, but it winds up being a better movie than The Dark Knight Rises because, well, of the reasons I list.

#3: Cortana, Chloe, and Changing Trends

This being so high on the list surprises me considering I just posted it, well, last Saturday. I’m fairly content with it (and it’s also a subject that I take issue with, so there’s that). Guess it also gets more popularity due to tis topical nature and all. I’m perfectly okay with that.

#2: Christian Movies Don’t Have To Suck

Second post ever, yay! This is another one of those issues that bothers me. I also think this post happens to be particularly well written, so cheers. Oh, and did wind up seeing Blue Like Jazz and loved it (and all its imperfections).

#1: Doth Mother Know You Weareth Her Drapes?

This phrase also happens to be the search term that gets me the most traffic. Sorry people looking for Avengers quotes, you wound up on my blog instead!

Fun Fact: I spent more time than I should have making sure I had the right quote. Checked several different websites and saw the movie (again[again{again}]) after posting it to make sure. And to go see The Avengers again. It’s not knoweth.

So those are your five favorite posts. Since, well, y’know, you’re the ones who read this blog and accumulate the views I use to tally the list. You must be so proud.

But what about my favorites? Truth be told, I love all my posts equally but some more than others. These three are some of those (and I’m intentionally not repeating any from above).

Josh’s Pick of Three

#3: Throwing Burritos

Right, so this one isn’t my best post. Not my strongest point nor my best piece of writing, but man, it was fun. It also wound up being one of my more bloggish posts in that I brought in usual life into it.

#2: One Kind of Folks in the ‘Verse: Folks

Dude. I got to compare Firefly and To Kill a Mockingbird. It was a pleasure to write and I like to think I have a valid point. Sadly, it also happens to have one of the lowest page views of all of mine. But hey. I love this post and the two works in question.

#1: Storytelling Lessons from Jesus

I wrote an essay (not a rant) about Jesus and ended it with a quote from Phineas and Ferb after drawing references from Firefly, Thor, and Avatar. This was one of the too few posts I finished a few days ahead and was also so much fun to write. I think I cut out some bits in the long run, actually. Another reason for it being my favorite is that it’s the sort of storytelling I wanna do. And ya gotta admit, it’s a cool post.

And there you have it folks. The top posts form 2012 here at Essays, Not Rants!. I’ll be back in a week with a new post wherein I compare something outlandish or some other thing like that. Thanks to all of you who read this blog, and especially you who comment. I love the feedback.

Here’s to 2013.

Oh, and if you will, buy my book.

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