The Crocodile Princess is coming to the big screen!

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Now that the ink is drying on the contracts, I have an announcement to make. My novel, The Crocodile Princess, has been licensed by Keller Entertainment to become both a graphic novel and a feature film in conjunction with a Major Chinese studio. (Not sure I’m allowed to say who yet, so we’ll leave it at that.)
I’ve been sitting on this news for two months now, since the fine folks at Keller Entertainment first approached me, but wanted to wait until the contract was officially signed before I made the announcement. I’ve worked with the Kellers to get the story down to a more manageable form (it’s a bit long for a film) and I’ll be scripting the graphic novel myself. (But not the film, although I will be working with the scriptwriter.) This is why I stopped writing stories for a while, as I’ve been too busy with the development process.

Now, there is something I should mention that isn’t going to make everyone happy, but I want to be upfront about it. The Chinese studio wants to make an adventure  film set in China, but which will also appeal to an international audience. What that means is that they asked that at least three of the main characters become foreigners so they could put famous Hollywood actors in the roles for some star power outside of China. This is part of the current Chinese strategy to reach a global market, and upcoming films like The Great Wall with Matt Damon are examples of this approach. Long story short- Little Gou has been replaced by a Scottish sailor who’s been living in China, and Sister Cat by a similar character (still Chinese) who is a little more petite than the mighty warrior nun of the Gou adventures. This comprise allowed me to keep Gou and Cat separate from the film rights, while finding the balance the producers wanted. I know there will be claims of whitewashing, but it was the only way the project would move forward. Think of it as an alternate reality version of my original novel’s story. 🙂

Speaking of stories, I have to say the revised version of the story is awesome, and much better than my original in some ways. Getting to work with entertainment professionals has really helped to up my writing game, and the story has only benefited from it. For example, the character replacing Sister Cat is no longer a sidekick character, but an equal partner to the roguish gambler, and helps to drive the story in a way Cat never did. I’m really excited to see this character and her story evolve, and this new pair are quite the swashbuckling duo! You’ll get to see them in action on the page, and hopefully on the big screen not too long afterwards.

The truth is, I can hardly believe it myself and it still seems unreal to me, but every word I’ve just written is true. One of my stories is jumping to not one, but two other media, and it’s going to be incredible to watch it all unfold.

I’ll update you all from time to time, and if there are any questions just ask! And, if you want to read the book that inspired all this, why not click this link and pick up a copy?

Rob

DNA Podcast 032 – Voice Acting with Kimlinh Tran

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In this episode, Rob and Don explore the possibilities of sound by talking with voice actress Kimlinh Tran about her experiences and perspectives gained voice acting in anime and video games. They talk about her efforts to improve her craft, why being near entertainment production centers is a must, and why recording walla is so much fun. All this, and why having a voice acting safe word is a must, are waiting for you in this episode of the Department of Nerdly Affairs.

DNA Podcast 031 – Comics Creator Ben Dunn and Antarctic Press

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In this episode, Rob and Don are joined by comic book creator and founder of Antarctic Press, Ben Dunn. The three of them sit and chat about Ben’s long career in comics, how Antarctic Press came to be, and the ups and downs of running a comic book company. Along the way, Ben gives great advice about succeeding as an artist both in and outside the comics field and discusses the secrets to AP’s longevity and success. All this and a heaping helping of Ninja High School can be found in this, the 31st episode of The Department of Nerdly Affairs.

DNA Podcast 030 – Interview with Dr. R.N. Shukul

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In this episode Rob and Don sit down with Journalist and TV Producer Dr. Rashid Narain (R.N.) Shukul to discuss Television and Media in India. Along the way, they touch on RN’s career as a cameraman and war correspondent, his time as TV game show producer in India, his time producing documentaries for Fremantle Media, and some of the political figures he’s encountered. Are Indians into Scifi? What is their preferred style of heroic fiction? And what’s up with all the singing and dancing? All of these questions and more will be answered in this episode of the Department of Nerdly Affairs.

We’re stuck in a long distance relationship with copyright.

 

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Here’s a thought:

Copyright Laws are putting us in a long-distance relationship situation with media, and hindering creativity.

In a long-distance relationship, what happens is the couple communicate in a superficial way most of the time, and only see each other occasionally as their life/work situations allow. This creates an odd situation where the relationship is stuck in a kind of dating limbo- where the couple don’t see each other enough for the relationship to progress to the get-together stage or the breakup stage. As a result, the relationship lingers on and on, because they never get sick of each other, but aren’t satisfied with the relationship either. It creates a situation where they are constantly hoping that the next meeting will be awesome, remembering the meetups that were awesome, and forgetting all the meetups that sucked. Preventing them from moving on and finding new and possibly better relationships.

Ever-extending copyright laws are doing the same thing to our relationship with media. Instead of letting us fall in and out of love with a media property (like Star Wars), the long-term copyright laws keep us exposed to only a drip-feed of that media property and keep us from getting sick of it. We remember the good times, but not the bad, and keep coming back to it. As a result, a few mega-properties (Star Wars, Star Trek, Harry Potter, Marvel/DC Superheroes, etc) are able to suck up all the media attention (and money) and hindering the growth of new media sources because they never quite go away.

If we had shorter copyrights, then after a certain point properties would enter the public domain and everyone could make their versions of those media properties, which would have two effects- 1) it would “burn them out” of the collective consciousness through over-saturation and overexposure (everyone would get sick of them and move on), and 2) it would create opportunities for new material to move in and grow, resulting in newer media that suits the current generation and offers new ways of thinking instead of the old stuff being recycled endlessly. (Or, to continue our relationship metaphor- it would force people to break up and find new partners.)

My friend Don often comments that “nothing goes away anymore”, and I think this is a piece of that. Nothing is going away because corporations are extending out franchises and copyright keeps the public from running wild with them and burning them out. You might say that’s just fine, since it keeps the companies in business, but it also prevents them from innovating, since all their energies are focused on the old and not the new. Just like it keeps the public’s attention on the old instead of the new, preventing the innovation which happens every day from rising up into the public’s awareness and changing things for the better (or worse).

Just an idea, anyway.

Rob

 

DNA Podcast – 029 – Our One Year Anniversary Show!

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Rob and Don have been at this for a year, and take a show to look back on 28 episodes of the Department of Nerdly Affairs and how far they’ve come. They discuss the origins of the show, some behind the scenes thoughts about the different episodes and their guests, and finish with a special announcement. (No, the show isn’t ending.) So, come on in and join us to celebrate one year of the Department of Nerdly Affairs!

Magic Leap Concept Explained

YouTuber Vance Vids has begun doing a series of video explaining what is probably the most exciting Augmented Reality technology on the horizon- Magic Leap and what we know about the Florida-based company that Chinese and American corporations like Google and Baidu are dumping hundreds of millions of dollars into. Everyone who’s seen it says this technology is the future, so how does it work? Vance Vids explores what we know so far:

 

Thoughts on Different Story Structures

My recent article where I was trying to unravel the mysteries of writing what I call Procedural Fiction and a conversation I had with my friend Don have left me thinking about the different ways writers use to structure stories. For most people, the Hero’s Journey is the one true method by which stories are written (an innocent enters a new world, is transformed by it, and returns a more mature and seasoned adult) and this is the basic structure which Hollywood follows today almost religiously. In fact, most of the Story Formulas you’ll find if you click that link up top are variants of the Hero’s Journey in one form or another.

However, that isn’t how all stories are structured. In fact, there are a lot of other ways to structure and tell a story that aren’t heroic journeys at all, or where the heroic journey element is merely a background to the real story.

So what different ways can we structure a story?

  • Personal Transformations (hero’s journeys- see Dan Harmon’s Story Wheel)
  • Situation Driven Stories (where the hero is a pawn of the plot/circumstances which surround them and pull them into the story – see the Lester Dent formula)
  • Standard Procedurals (where the hero is following a series of preset steps to accomplish a goal – see the 12 Chapter Murder Mystery formula)
  • Setting Driven Stories (where the story is really about the setting and the character’s place in it)
  • Creativity Driven Stories (where the character is trying to create something, and the building of that thing forms the basis of the story- see my Procedurals article)
  • Education Driven Stories (where the character is trying to learn something, and learning how to do that thing (for the character and audience) is the real focus of the story)
  • Explorational Stories (where the hero is going out into a new world and the exploration of this new setting and its wonders is the focus of the story- see Procedurals article)
  • Collection Based Stories (where the hero is trying to gather something or find something, and the act of collecting that thing and how it affects those who follow this path is the focus of the story- Gotta catch ’em all!)

I’m sure there are more, but I’m missing them, feel free to make suggestions in the comments. 🙂

Most of these will have a Heroic Journey/Personal Transformation story happening within them on the part of the character, but not always. It’s perfectly normal in a situation-driven story for the main character to change little or not at all by the end of the story, which is why it’s not a heroic journey.

The key is how the setting/world around the character is being used. If the setting is only there to further the growth of the character in a certain direction, then the story is a personal transformation story. However, if the setting or situation and how exploring it affects the character is the real focus, then it isn’t a personal transformation story but a story about the nature of that setting or situation.

Example- Bob the Cricketeer.

  • In a Personal Transformation story, the game of Cricket is a vehicle to transform Bob into the person he needs to be to fulfill his deep inner needs.
  • In an Education Driven Story, Bob’s entry into the world of Cricket is a vehicle to explore Cricket, anything Bob goes through is a natural side effect of exploring the game of cricket and is there to show how CRICKET affects its players, not how Bob grows as a person.

Both stories might end at the same point (or not) with Bob being a newly confident master of playing cricket, but they got there through different paths and the stories will be shaped and structured differently. The Education Driven Story could, however, end with Bob having learned nothing but skills and having made a few friends, and be exactly the same person at the story’s end, and it would still work as a story as long as the audience learned all there is to know about Cricket. However, if the point was Bob’s Personal Transformation and he didn’t transform, then that story would have failed.

I think it’s important to be aware of these differences because they give the writer more control over the story and how they can shape the story. If I try writing a Murder Mystery as a Hero’s Journey, for example, the audience will likely get confused and annoyed because they’re expecting a Procedural structure and I’m trying to give them something else. Likewise, it shows that not every story needs to be a hero’s journey, although many stories do make a nod toward that structure in one form or another. (Or at least go through the motions of a Heroic Journey without actually having any real change.)

What do people think? Am I on the right track here? Am I missing something? Feedback is welcome because I think there is more to it, but I’m still puzzling it out.

Rob

Writing Creative Procedural Fiction

Heroic Journeys are pretty much the gold standard for modern fiction writing. The vast majority of stories written in any genre are heroic journeys wherein a weak/flawed character grows, develops, and eventually becomes a hero. The standard hero’s journey formula runs like this:

  1. Introduction of the flawed character and their world as it is.
  2. Character is forced out of that world by some event.
  3. Character embraces new situation and tries to overcome it.
  4. Character faces first big challenge and overcomes it.
  5. Character faces first major setback.
  6. Character recovers from major setback.
  7. Character faces antagonist/final challenge.
  8. Character wins and enters new world with their flaw overcome.

For those keeping track, the above would be the generic Heroic Journey plot of a 4-act story (each two parts being 1 “act”) and while there’s some variation, most stories run like this. An introduction, the character entering the new situation, the character learning on a “try/fail” cycle until they get strong enough to face their true enemy and walking out a newly minted hero at the other end.

That’s great for a standard heroic journey story, but does it work for a story where the main character is trying to build/create something? I refer to that kind of story as a type of “Procedural Fiction” because we’re watching the main character follow a procedure- a set of steps that need to followed in order to accomplish a goal.

I would say there are three kinds of procedural fiction:

  1. Standard Procedurals
  2. Creative Procedurals
  3. Exploratory Procedurals.

In a Standard Procedural, the character is following a set of steps which are already proscribed by someone else to accomplish a goal. The most common example of this is Police Procedurals (think CIS or NCIS, or The Mentalist, or whatever is popular this season) where the story is the characters following standard police procedure (or their variant thereof) as they try to investigate the murder of the week. The procedural structure of the steps they must follow give the story its form, and there really isn’t any heroic journey happening here, just witty main characters interviewing people and trying to sort through clues to reach a conclusion.

The key to a Standard Procedural is that they’re following a set of steps already created by someone else, whereas in a Creative Procedural this isn’t entirely true. In a Creative Procedural, a character is trying to build something or accomplish a goal which has a set of steps to complete it, but those steps may be somewhat general or vague. Unlike a Standard Procedural (first examine the body, then interview the witnesses, then look for motive, etc) a Creative Procedural is about a person trying to do a task which is as much an art as it is a science.

For example, let’s say a main character is trying to open a business, which is a common enough Creative Procedural in Japanese Dramas. (The Japanese adore Creative Procedurals with a passion, and produce a lot of them.) While there are known steps to starting a business like “write up a business plan”, “find a location”, “create a sign”, and others, there are also a lot of really vague elements like “find something you’re passionate about” or “master the skill that you’ll be selling to your clients” or “find a mentor” that there’s a lot of different directions and ways to go about it. Whether they’re trying to learn to play the piano at a master level, become a golf pro, become a manga writer/artist, master Poker, or whatever the main character’s goal is, a Creative Procedural is about them navigating the world of possibilities involved with following their chosen pursuit.

[Examples- Breaking Bad (TV), Game of Thrones (TV), Bakuman (manga), Team Medical Dragon (J-Drama), One Piece (TV Anime), most Xianxia fiction.]

Finally, there are Exploratory Procedurals. Simply put, an Exploratory Procedural is one where the main character is making up the procedure as they’re going along. They’re following vague logical steps to do what they’re doing, but they’re also breaking new ground or trying to do something that has never been done before in quite this way. A great example of an Exploratory Procedural is The Martian (movie, book, doesn’t matter) where we have a guy left behind on Mars after a failed attempt to set up a base who must figure out how to survive until someone can come help him. He has lots of knowledge, knows the scientific method, and has some clear goals he wants to reach, but there isn’t a set procedure he can follow to reach those goals- so he makes them up as he goes along in a series of trial and error attempts.

[Examples- The Walking Dead (TV), Overlord (TV Anime), Robinson Crusoe (book), The Monkey King (Chinese Classic), We Are Legion (We are Bob) (book), GATE (TV anime), The Cosmic Computer (book), Battlestar Galactica (TV)]

 

So, to summarize:

A Standard Procedural is about following a well paved road between cities.

A Creative Procedural is about following a series of paths and side trails through the forest to reach a destination.

An Exploratory Procedural is about making a path through the forest using a compass and a machete.

 

However, it’s about the try/fail cycle and how it’s implemented where the heroic journey and the procedural have a parting of the ways.

A Heroic Journey is built on setbacks (the try/fail cycle mentioned above) where the main character fails most of the time but succeeds just enough to keep them going until they reach their goal- each “failure” making them stronger through adversity. The drama in a heroic journey is about the character constantly struggling uphill, and even when they win they often lose in some way, unless it’s the big win at the end that makes the audience feel satisfied.

Procedurals, at least Creative Procedurals and Exploratory Procedurals, don’t work on a try/fail cycle. In fact, if anything, they work on a try/fail/succeed cycle, with the “succeed” part being a key difference between them and the Heroic Journey. In The Martian, for example, if the main character had failed at the end of each of his attempts to grow potatoes or jury rig the heating system, he would have died. Each of those were challenges he had to meet and succeed at to keep the story going. Just the same as a young Manga Artist needs to get a few hits under his belt or else he can’t get anyone to publish his work because he’s in an industry where you can only build on your successes.

So, if that’s the case, what would a structure for an Exploratory or Creative Procedural story look like?

  1. A character has a goal. (Usually created by some inner Need, but not always.)
  2. The character begins working toward achieving that goal and tries to solve the first roadblock they encounter, succeeds.
  3. The character is faced with a new more difficult problem, works to solve it (often building on what they learned the last time and acquiring new skills/knowledge/resources) and succeeds.
  4. The character is faced with a new even more difficult problem, works to solve it (often building on what they learned the last time and acquiring new skills/knowledge/resources) and succeeds.
  5. Repeat as needed.
  6. The character faces the penultimate problem that requires they use the knowledge, resources and skill they gained from solving all the previous problems to overcome. They do it, and succeed.
  7. The character has now gone from victim of the situation to master of the situation.

And each of the “try/fail/succeed” cycles above (2-5) would usually involve the following steps:

  1. Figure out what the problem is.
  2. Try to solve it using current skill/knowledge/resources.
  3. Fail to solve it.
  4. Figure out what changes will be needed to solve it. (Skill/Knowledge/Resources)
  5. Acquire what’s needed to solve it.
  6. Solve it.

Of course, this would get dull if it’s the same thing over and over, so a writer will need to vary this up a little by skipping steps, rearranging steps, adding steps. A common trick is to vary the thing which the character needs to solve the problem (skills/knowledge/resource) so that it keeps the pattern fresh and has the character going in different directions and experiencing new things. This is also why the Japanese tend to love this type of story so much, because they use it to work in actual skills and knowledge the writer has and is teaching the audience through the story.

Also, the writer must always be planting the seeds of the next level of the challenge in the audience’s minds. Sometimes this is self-evident (“I have to become a Sushi Chef, so first I must master making rice, and then cutting fish, and then…”) and sometimes this needs to be set up at the start (“If we don’t succeed in just one year, Mother Earth will disappear!”) and sometimes it’s all about throwing new challenges at the heroes every time they think they’ve won.

And this is one of the Creative/Exploratory Procedural’s other great strengths. It can be as long or short as the writer wishes it to be, and can fit nicely into segmented boxes, which makes it great for serial forms of storytelling. Each Episode/Chapter/Arc is a try/fail/succeed cycle covering a different aspect of the character’s progression, and there can be as many of them as the writer needs to fill up whatever space needs to be filled. (If a task normally has 5 steps to mastering it, then there are 5 story arcs about the character mastering that task. If there are 150 Pokemon to catch, then you can have 150 episodes of catching Pokemon…. Unless you keep adding more… and more… and more…)

Which leads me to a word of caution- Procedurals live or die on novelty and creativity. As soon as they become old-hat and the audience knows all the variations of the formula, the audience will get bored really quickly and stop caring. So while the strength of a procedural is that it can be as long or short as the writer wishes, a good procedural writer knows when the say enough is enough and end it. Sometimes this too is self-evident (the character has reached a level where they can’t go any higher or expand any further) and sometimes the writer just needs to follow their guts and quit while they’re ahead. (Leave while they still want more, and they’ll be back for your next story.)

One last important thing to note about Creative and Exploratory Procedurals is that they’re… well… creative! By their very nature, these two types of Procedurals are about a character (or characters) making and accomplishing something. While a heroic journey is about the transformation of the character(s), the heart of a Creative Procedural is about transforming the world around the character. At the end of a Creative Procedural, the world the character lives in is a different place in some way (big or small), while the main character themselves may or may not have really changed that much at all. (This doesn’t mean that the Main Character in a Creative Procedural can’t completely transform, just that they don’t HAVE to transform like they do through a Heroic Journey.)

I think this is why I find them so attractive. They’re positive stories, about characters using their intelligence to accomplish goals and shape the worlds they live in. They’re about building up and making new things like businesses, communities, organizations, or societies. As opposed to heroic journeys, which are all too often about kicking the designated bad guy’s butt in ways which are all too often more destructive than creative.

And a little creative positivity can go a long way in a hard world.

Rob

DNA Podcast 028 – The Nature of Nerdliness

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In this episode, Rob and Don sit down with guest Jack Ward to discuss what it means to be a nerd. The trio discuss exactly what nerds are, where they came from, and whether nerds as a concept is even still relevant in modern culture.  All this, and why The Nutty Professor was the great nerd hero of the 20th century are waiting for you in this episode of the Department of Nerdly Affairs.