X-Men: Days of Future Past (spoiler-lite)

I just saw X-men: Days of Future Past, and I have to say it’s probably the best X-men film by a large margin. It’s not a superhero film, and deviates wildly from the original comic storyline, but I’d argue those are it’s strengths, not its weaknesses.

Overall, it’s a character-driven science fiction film that involves superpowers, as opposed to a superpowered science fiction film. The powers serve the story and provide nice visuals, but everything important comes from the very human characters making decisions based on their own goals and flaws, which is how it should be. The climax is one of character more than action, and surprised me with how it came together- always a plus.

The deviations from the original comic also work very well for the story it is. This isn’t a team-based superhero wrestling match, so using Wolverine as the focus works better than Kitty and keeps things at a more human level. None of the “good guys” are really high powered, and it keeps them at a disadvantage throughout the film, again, keeping powers from dominating the plot.

And the ending ties everything to date up in a nice bow, while leaving the future open for a new continuity. Good work all around!

4/5 stars.

Rob

Korean Drama- Three Days (Spoiler Free Review)

I just finished watching the Korean action-thriller drama Three Days, which I have to say I enjoyed quite a bit. It’s a Korean series in the vein of the American drama 24, about the Personal Security Service (PSS) of the Korean President, and how they’re caught in a struggle between the President of Korea and a shadowy cabal of powerful men who are trying to kill him. The PSS are charged with protecting the President, but is the man they’re giving their lives for really worth that protection?

If I have to describe the series, I’d describe it like driving down a twisty mountain road at night at high speed with only a flashlight to guide your way. It’s incredibly twisty, with danger flying at the main characters at every turn, the odds stacked against them, and everything that can go wrong pretty much does. A true thriller, and while it does have its weaker points, it pretty much manages to keep you guessing right up until near the end.

It’s by the same team that did the drama SIGN and the more recently drama Ghost, so if you’ve seen either of those, you know what to expect. I’d actually say Ghost was the better series, as it had a much better villain, but Three Days does deliver the action and the production values are more like a 16 hour long movie!

One minor quibble is that the title is Three Days, but actually the story takes place over nine days. It’s broken down into three arcs, with each of the arcs being three days long, but the title of the show is a real misnomer. I guess “Nine Days” didn’t sound as cool or dramatic.

Rob

Why Feminists Need to Stop Using “Misogyny”

Words have power. Power given to them by their social and cultural context.

Different words have different strengths and will produce different reactions from people; for example, if I call someone a “dummy” they generally won’t get too upset, but if I call them a “f*cking idiot” there’s going to be a strong reaction from most people. The reason these two words produce different results is because of how often they’re used and when they’re used. The receiver understands the weight these words carry, and reacts according to that weight.

But, what if I call my friend a “f*cking idiot” all the time? Eventually, that term will lose its strong meaning and come to have a weaker meaning similar to “dummy”. This is just human nature- we get used to hearing something and slowly it becomes part of the normal background noise of life. It loses power, and even its meaning.

This is bad because it means when I need to use the stronger term to emphasize that something important is happening or to really make myself understood it isn’t there anymore. I’ve used it. Just like The Boy Who Cried Wolf- when he sounded the alarm too many times, people stopped coming or caring, and when he really needed it, it was too late.

And this is what’s happened to the word “misogyny”.

Misogyny, which literally means “hatred of women”, used to be a very powerful word in the feminist arsenal. And rightly so- it was used to describe cases of extreme sexism where the hatred of women was so strong it was violent or abusive. To call someone a misogynist was equal to calling them a Nazi, and saying they were the lowest type of human being, bordering on evil. If a woman cried “misogyny!” and pointed at something, other women listened, and it was like a battle cry for the feminist cause.

It was a rare word, a powerful word, and one which drew attention to great injustice.

Sadly, that is no longer the case.

Today on my social media pages, it’s almost a strange day when I don’t see the word “misogyny” somewhere in my feed. My more feminist friends are constantly linking to articles with that word liberally used within them, and the internet is filled with articles using it. (1.3 million hits on Google, and counting!) As a result, the word is very rapidly going from “hatred of women” to mean “stuff some women don’t like” in the popular internet consciousness.

We have a whole generation of young women growing up thinking the words Sexism (favouritism or preference towards one sex) and Misogyny are the same words, when they’re not at all. The majority of the discrimination women face is Sexist, not Misogynist, because it’s not coming from a place of hatred so much as a place of unfair attitudes towards gender roles in society. A toy maker or TV show producer who chooses only to target a male audience is being sexist, they’re giving preference to one sex, they’re not being misogynist. (Unless you can show they have made clear statements that they in some way actively hate or dislike women or girls.) And, calling them Misogynist does more harm than good because it dilutes the meaning of the word even further.

But, who cares, right? They’re being unfair, and it doesn’t matter what word we use to target them!

The problem is, it does matter.

The more you use it, the more it fades into the background, and the easier it becomes for people to just ignore. It takes on a cultural meaning of “noisy feminist stuff” and no longer gains the attention it deserves when it’s used in a proper context. And this is a shame, because it’s a strong word and a good word to have when fighting for social justice, but only if it’s properly used.

After all, when it loses all meaning, who will come when the cry is made?

Wolf!

Nero Wolfe

Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe

Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe

It’s so easy in life to stop exploring, especially as you get older. You think “if it’s really good, I would have checked it out by now” and just stick with the things you know instead of poking around looking at new things.

This is one of the reasons I try to constantly challenge myself with new projects that will force me to develop new skills and learn about stuff that I hadn’t really looked into before. For example, right now I am engrossed in working on a murder mystery novel, so I’ve been spending the last few months immersing myself in the detective genre. I’ve been reading, watching and listening to detective stories of all kinds as a way to give myself a crash-course in the field. While my mother and wife both adore mystery stories, they’ve always been something I could take or leave, so I never studied them too closely or made a real survey of the genre before now.

One name that I’ve heard for most of my life was Nero Wolfe, but since the crime novel wasn’t my thing, I pretty much ignored this name that kept popped up over and over again. Again, I figured if he was really that big a deal or that good, I’ve have come nose to nose with him at some point before now.

Boy, was I wrong.

Created by author Rex Stout in 1934 for a series of novels, Nero Wolfe is likely the fattest, laziest and most unlikable detective you’ll find. The trick is, he’s also utterly brilliant, and when circumstances force him to use that brilliance to solve cases, there are few who can escape his grasp. His adventures are actually told by his personal secretary, Archie Goodwin, who does all the actual legwork in Nero’s cases (Nero’s too lazy to leave his home) and feeds all the information back to his boss to use  to solve the cases. Archie is everything Nero is not- athletic, charming, and with a strong sense of justice, which he uses to drag his boss into cases.

The real charm of these stories is the interaction between these two men, whose relationship is almost adversarial, but who at heart have a great deal of respect and admiration for each other. It’s this interaction which made me fall in love with Nero and Archie, especially when acted out by Sydney Greenstreet and Harry Bartell in the radio drama series called The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe from 1950-1951.

Two stories I highly recommend giving a listen to are Room 304, which has amazing dialogue, and Calculated Risk, which is a nice little thriller. They’re about 28 minutes each, and I promise you they’re 28 minutes you won’t regret! Give them a listen, and perhaps you’ll become a fan too!

Rob

Marvel’s (White) Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

So, ABC finally made the obvious official- there is a new TV series set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe called Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. For which you can watch the first trailer below…

Looks amazing, doesn’t it? Gonna be a heck of a show, and I’m seriously looking forward to it. But, there is something that bothered me about it, and I think I can demonstrate with the official cast picture…

marvels-agents-of-shield-cast

Look, I’m not someone who thinks every cast needs to be equally male and female, nor am I someone who believes that every cast should look like it was designed to appeal to every cultural/ethnic group. I always believe what’s more important is the characters, and they should be whatever the creators want them to be, political correctness be damned.

That said, that cast couldn’t be a bunch of whiter people if we sent them to Harvard and dipped them in yogurt! Even the token Asian chick (who is supposed to be the team’s “tough guy”, good luck with that) is one of the whitest and most caucasian looking Asians they could possibly find. (And if you’ve seen other pictures of Ming Na Wen, they’re working hard on the make-up end to made her as un-ethnic as possible.) This cast looks like it was for the SHIELD TV series of 1963, not 2013! Did the execs at ABC not get the memo? Or, did they borrow the casting director from the CW?

Also, is there a factory churning out clones of Nicolas Brendon (Xander from Buffy:TVS)? Because the lead male there could show up at his house for dinner and Brendon’s family wouldn’t even notice! (They’d probably just assume it’s his identical twin brother dropping by to say hello.)

Now, I’m not sure who’s responsible for this, whether it’s the Whedons (the show is done by Josh, his brother and his sister-in-law (who’s Asian)), or whether it’s the execs at ABC. I lean towards the execs at ABC- it is the middle-America Disney channel now, so they are targeting that demographic. But really, a whole show about white people running around and the only major black character in the pilot is a street thug with superpowers? Well, I guess that does fit in with the ABC mindset nicely.

I really would have liked to see a person of color as Coulson’s second in command (or anywhere else on the team!), especially since the Marvel movies are about a group of superpowered white people saving the world again and again. This show could really have been a chance to balance that off a little, and show that the Marvel Cinematic Universe isn’t just inhabited by white people saving the day.

But apparently, it is.

Rob

A Way to Build more Action into your Writing

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Cartman walked into a room, and then shot Stan, and then walked out.

This is an “event”, it’s stuff happening without any dramatic element to keep the audience interested in what’s going on. Too many stories written by beginners are like this, and they lack both conflict and a dramatic core that will keep the audience interested.

In short bursts this can be fine (like a single scene), but if you want to keep your audience engaged it can be murder to your story.

Three words.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone (creators of South Park, and Team America) offer a simple solution to this problem- you should view a story as a series of cause and effect events, and reflect that in your plotting.

Replace “and then” with one of these three:

  • But
  • And So (or Therefore)
  • Meanwhile

See the Difference?

Old Cartman walked into a room, and then shot Stan, and then walked out.

New Cartman walked into a room to shoot Stan, but Stan was waiting for him, and so the two had a firefight and Stan was shot, but now the police were on their way, and so Cartman needed to escape, but the police arrived before Cartman could reach his car, therefore Cartman had to find a place to hide and ran into Rachel’s office, but…

We could go on from here as long as needed in a chain of cause and effect.

Inaction Scene

This works within a scene, but it’s also a great way to structure stories between scenes.

  • Cartman finds he has no milk and then Cartman leaves his house.
  • (and then) Cartman goes to the store.
  • (and then) Cartman buys milk.
  • (and then) Cartman pays for it and chats with the clerk.
  • (and then) Cartman drives home.
  • (and then) Cartman eats breakfast.

These are all “and then” scenes, strung together like a series of events.

(And then, the audience got bored and left…)

Action Scene

Let’s try using “but” and “and so/therefore” to connect them.

  • Cartman finds he’s out of milk, and so he goes to the store.
  • But at the first store they’re out of milk.
  • Therefore, Cartman goes to another store.
  • But, on the way he sees a car accident.
  • And so he stops to help and gets involved in the rescue operation.
  • But fuel is leaking from the car, which is on fire, and so he needs to get the passengers out quickly, but they’re trapped…

Using “But” and “And So” almost forces you as a writer to build conflict into the story.

Meanwhile

Of course, most stories don’t just follow one character or line of plot, they often also follow other lines.

This is where Meanwhile comes in…

  • Cartman discovers he’s out of milk, and so he goes to the store.
  • Meanwhile, Stan and Kyle get ready to rob a grocery store.
  • And so when Cartman gets to the store, Stan and Kyle are in the middle of robbing it.
  • But Cartman is an off-duty police officer, and so he takes out his gun and tries to stop the robbery.
  • But Stan spots Cartman, and Cartman is shot in the shoulder and so Stan leaves him to die on the deli floor.
  • Meanwhile, the police respond to the alarm, and so….

The chain of cause an effect continues, and Meanwhile allows you to have multiple chains of Cause and Effect going on at the same time.

And So…

When you’re planning a story, trying writing each whole scene out as a single sentence. (Or, writing out the events of each scene as a series of sentences.) See if there are “and then” or “but/and so” connections between them.

If you find many “and then” connections, it likely means you’re just telling a series of events and not a story. Try to find a way to make most of them “but” or “and so” connections.

Whenever possible, the “buts” should come from within characters who are making choices, not just events being forced upon them.

But…

If all the “buts” are because of outside events being done to the characters, the story will feel like God picking on them, not an interesting story about a person navigating through life.

You should try to mix it up so that the “buts” are coming from a mix of physical, mental/emotional and social reasons based around the character.

  • Physical- Cartman can’t eat pizza because he’s allergic to tomatoes.
  • Mental- Cartman can’t eat pizza because he’s on a diet.
  • Social- Cartman can’t eat pizza because he forgot to bring his wallet, and he’s too embarrassed to tell his friends he can’t pay for it.

Meanwhile…

Be aware that it is still possible to write a really boring story using this method, and you still need a character making choices at the center of it, not just events.

Things happening to a well defined character and watching them deal with it are what makes stories interesting.

Also remember that “and so” includes characters changing as a result of “buts”, and those are often the most interesting stories of all!

Young Justice- Complications

With this most recent episode (216- Complications) and only 4 episodes left before the series is over, Young Justice has shown that it is easily the equal of shows like Naruto (1st series, which I’ve felt was a big influence on YJ) and maybe superior in some ways. They managed to take the existing DC Universe and not just re-define it but enhance it and put solid twists on the various characters to make the old new, and boring into interesting.

Today’s episode was as close to perfect as they’ve gotten, and it truly is a shame we won’t get to continue this take on the DC universe. Still, it’s been a good ride, and I totally give them credit for re-igniting my interest in superheros- something that had died out a long time ago.

Cheers guys!
Rob

The Fox’s Tale- #Free On #Kindle (for this week only!)

I’ve put my newest collection of flash fiction stories The Fox’s Tale up for free on Kindle as part of my five days of Kindle Select free pricing I get every three months. So if you want to check it out and you own a kindle or use a kindle reader- check it out!

Rob

My Second Novel- Little Gou and the Crocodile Princess, is done!

In Summer, 2008 I started what was to be my first novel- Little Gou and the Crocodile Princess. A thrilling WuXia adventure story centered around everyone’s favorite gambler in his first long-form adventure. I wrote the first 40,000 words of the story at a rapid pace, with everything coming together like a finely crafted puzzle. It was great, it was fun, it was going to rock!

Then I hit writer’s block with the story so hard that I think it gave my grandchildren a bloody nose.

Try as I might, I couldn’t get the story moving again. All my attempts failed, and the tricks I used to plot it out produced nothing but boring crap.

So, I set it aside and moved on to other projects. I was in full audio-drama production mode, so it wasn’t hard to just let that fill my creative needs and figure that I’d return to Crocodile Princess when the time was right.

Well, after 4 years of aborted attempts, and one novel (Twin Stars, Book One) completed, I sat down at the end of July and told myself I was going to finish this thing. I’d just gotten done listening to Stephen King’s book “On Writing”, which I adored, and decided that instead of plotting it out and trying to force things, I’d follow his approach and just sit down each morning and let it flow. I started using my old laptop, which can’t connect to the net, stuck it in the basement and used that as a writing area. I decided that I wouldn’t force it, just try to feel my way through the story inch by inch as naturally as I could.

Then I wrote. Every day.

I also decided to take some writing advice I’d heard once from Podcaster Mur Lafferty- “It’s okay to suck.” (Which I took to mean your first draft will often suck, but just write it anyways and then fix it during revision.)

Well, this morning, on the last day of Summer (as we teachers reckon it) I wrote the work FIN at end of page 511 and saved it. (Then saved it again on a memory stick, and stuck it up on Carbonite to make sure it doesn’t get lost- ever!) At 96,449 words, I wrote roughly 54,000 of them in just the last month, which means I both won by NaNoWriMo standards, and have now written my longest 100% original work ever. (Twin Stars being an adaption of the first season of the audio dramas.)

Now, I will set it aside and let it sit for a few months while I focus on work, editing Twin Stars and getting it out for sale, and possibly writing my third novel. (Which will likely either be a Young Adult fantasy novel, a detective novel set in Taiwan, or a techno-thriller set in the near future.) Editing Crocodile Princess will also be an interesting challenge, because my writing style has changed a lot in the past four years, and I will have to make the two halves blend with each other. Either way, I’ve finished a novel, and now know I can do it if I try.

For now, the important thing is letting my brain rest and catching up on all the movies and other media I’ve ignoring over the past month while I focussed on writing.

And get lunch. Lunch is good.

Rob