So, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m currently working my way through the Masterclass courses on writing. I’ve gone through most of the writers of both books and film they have available, and so far have found two clear must-listen winners – R.L. Stine and David Mamet, both of whom are both informative and entertaining in equal measure. But, even with these two masters of their craft, the courses are more a collection of vague writing theories and tips than actual classes taught by people who are good at teaching their craft.
However, there is a Masterclass available for free to you right now that is as solid a writing course as you’ll find, and taught by someone who is as good at teaching their craft as they are entertaining.
Science Fiction and Fantasy writer Brandon Sanderson has for several years been teaching courses at Brigham-Young University on writing in his field, and his entire 2020 creative writing course taught earlier this year is available on YouTube for you to enjoy.
I have to confess, I’ve tried to read two of Sanderson’s novels and couldn’t finish them because they’re really not to my taste (I’m just not an Epic Fantasy guy), but as a writer and educator I respect the hell out of him and his teaching. This is a collection of solid theory and practice combined by a man who has written a small library by himself and has been refining and testing his craft and theory for years.
I went in with the intention of watching his lecture on plot (a favorite subject, as anyone who has read this blog knows) and ended up watching all 13 lectures because there isn’t a single one without a pile of great information and ideas packed into it.
Do yourself a favor and give them a watch, even if you’re not a science fiction or fantasy writer. They’re free, and probably the best master class on writing you’re going to find.
In this episode, Don and Rob are joined by their friend Chad to talk about the movies that they know are awful, but can’t help but have soft spots in their hearts for. This journey takes the trio from classic 50’s monster movies, to the heights of 80s cheese and the depths of Asia’s cinematic vaults. Thrill to Chad’s love of Ed Wood! Stare in shock at Don’s encyclopedic knowledge of 80’s horror! Wonder at Rob’s passion for backwoods monsters! All this, and Don’s dramatic twist surprise that Rob and Chad didn’t see coming, are waiting for you in this episode of the Department of Nerdly Affairs.
It’s very easy to forget that about a third of the planet reads only in Chinese, and that doesn’t mean they’re reading translated works from English sources. (As might be egocentrically assumed by a Western audience!) In China, (and Asia in general) Web Novels (serialized web fiction) are extremely popular, and their authors can not only have tens of millions of readers, but also become extremely rich due to profit-sharing with the web-novel hosting sites. (Something that Wattpad has yet to do in English, but probably should.)
So, whose works are these Chinese readers reading? Well, a list was recently published on the Chinese webportal Baidu.com and you can find the translated version here. According to the article:
The rankings were chosen through 15 days, 200 top internet authors, 19 media and novel sites, and 33 editors with a long history of experience. The “King of Web Novels” is a ranking produced by China Mobile Reading, with the help of Zhejiang Writer Association, Youth Times, Dragon-sky and many other media websites.
It should be noted that this is a list of writers who are writing primarily in the Xianxia genres, which are high fantasy novels that combine pseudo-old-China Wuxia settings with high magic and MMORPG elements. (I plan to write a post about them sometime in the future, but if you’re curious you can find English translated examples of them on Wuxiaworld.com, including works mentioned in the article linked above.) I can’t imagine that Romance, Mystery and other standard genres aren’t also selling like hotcakes, so I’ll assume this list is only of the top “action/fantasy” writers, although I have no way to confirm this with my limited Chinese.
In any case, check the list out, as a number of the author’s works have free English (semi-official fan) translations online and while I’ve just stared to dip my toe into this new realm, it’s turned out to be a fascinating subject to explore.
The work of amateur filmmaker Mael Sevestre is amazing. I just stumbled across him tonight on Vimeo, and now I am totally in love with his style. You only need to watch the short 3-minute film below to understand why. It packs more power than most things far longer. (It’s in French, but there’s very little dialog, so it’s not an issue.)
I’m a HUGE Diskworld and Night Watch fan, so this is great news for me! Supposedly it will air in 2014. A long wait, but likely worth it! 🙂
It’s been known that a Discworld television show based in the fictional city of Ankh-Morpork and the cast of characters it is associated with has been in various stages of preproduction discussion for more than a year now. In fact, there’s even video evidence of Sir Terry Pratchett talking with writers about coppers starting up an inter-species band, the trickiness of humane prisoner treatment, and what it might be like to have the undead coming in to file reports on their own murders.
Tonight, I watched the final episode of Season 2 of Game of Thrones, and with it, I have reached the conclusion that I need to stop reading the books.
(Spoilers for Season 2 of the TV show and book!)
In an earlier post, I stated that I found the first episode of this new season rushed, and wondered sincerely if it was going to be intimidating for new viewers. Well, now that I’ve seen the season, and Game of Thrones has become the most downloaded TV show of the year online, I think I can safely say that viewers have flocked to the show in droves. If anything, it’s more popular this season than it was last season.
Not that I think this season was without flaw- the whole season felt to me like the producers were tripping over themselves to tell the story as quickly as they could, and to cram a much larger story into a very limited time. There was almost no time for anyone to even breathe this season, as events just piled on other events, and the whole thing rushed towards its fateful conclusion.
I’m not too worried about that next season, however, as the producers have decided to break Book Three into two seasons, and give themselves and the story room to maneuver- a very smart decision.
Regardless, as Book Two closes, I have reached two conclusions:
1) The television version of Game of Thrones is actually superior to the prose version.
2) I’m going to stop reading Book Three, which I’m about a third of the way through at the moment.
As a writer, it pains me to say that the written version is inferior to an adaption, but in this case I truly believe that to be true. This show has taken Martin’s original story and gotten rid of almost all the fat (of which there was apparently quite a bit), and tightened it up in ways that make it truly superior.
Take Arya’s storyline, for example. In the book, there must be at least a hundred pages spend on Arya running around, getting captured, becoming a servant, and her eventual escape. But, in the book this was very much a solo story, and it only served to further Arya’s character. In the TV version, the pre-capture version of the story is cut down to a minimum, and when she does become a servant in Harenhall she’s the servant of Tywin Lannister.
Now, suddenly, we have her story intersecting with a largely neglected character from the books, and we get two stories out of Arya instead of one. Not only that, but her exchanges with Tywin are some of the best bits of the season, and we grow to respect and fear him in a way we never really feel about the mysterious senior Lannister in the books. (At least not by the beginning of Book Three.)
And it doesn’t end with her, boobies aside, some of the best material of the season was material written for the show that bares only a slight resemblance to the original books. John Snow’s storyline with Iirgit now makes much more sense, and plays out in a more natural and interesting way than the original book’s endless natural trail adventures.
Even Dany’s tale is more interesting, developed, and just plain deep than the plodding, wandering story that it’s based on. And this is saying quite a bit, as I dislike Dany and consider her and her storyline a waste of screentime!
So, based on this, and a desire to actually experience the show as something other than a reflection of the novels, I’ve decided to put my copy of Book Three on my shelf and let it sit there unfinished. I might finish it someday, but it won’t be until long after the seasons based on it have aired and I’ve gotten to enjoy the show as a fresh experience like those who haven’t read it have. Perhaps I will never touch it again, and that’s okay too. I don’t seem to be missing much, and if anything, I might be gaining by not reading the books.
There is another reason, of course. I also know that Book Four and Book Five are, to put it mildly- a mess. I’ve heard Book Four is basically what all the boring characters spend that period of time doing, and Book Five tells what the people we actually care about did during that same overlapping period of time. Rather than have to plod through that, and not knowing when Book Six may come out (if ever), I think it’s better to let the TV show producers sort it all out and serve it to me on a golden platter.
Sure, the show may get cancelled before then. But, if that happens, I’ll just read the books.
So this week I finally took the chance to catch up on the serial The Last Airbender: The Legend of Korra, which is the sequel series to Avatar: The Last Airbender and airs on Nickelodeon on Saturday mornings. Originally intended as a mini-series, even before it aired the channel upgraded its status based on just what they’d seen of it, and there’s no question why- it’s probably one of the best animated shows North Americans have ever produced.
The original Avatar: The Last Airbender, was an impressive show, but took a little while to find its footing and was perhaps a little too young-oriented for its own good at first. It wanted to be a show for all ages, but because of the channel I personally found the early episodes hard to watch and a bit too kiddy-oriented for my tastes. I strongly suspect this was the result of Nickelodeon suits screaming “make it funnier” behind the scenes, while the production team was just trying to make a balanced adventure series. My evidence of that is that as soon as the show got popular (and the producers had more power), it slowed down on the humor and became more steady and balanced as it went.(Which made it even more popular.)
The Legend of Korra is a completely different beast (if you’ll pardon the pun), if for no reason than because the producers were more experienced the second time around and they also had more say in things. As a result, they have produced something that is both unique and fascinating on so many levels that I almost don’t know where to begin to describe it. So first, for those who many not know what I’m talking about, let’s take a look at the preview trailer:
Want to know something scary? That trailer doesn’t even do justice to how visually beautiful and well animated the show is. It’s like watching a weekly movie, and one done by experienced hands at an A-List studio who know exactly what they’re doing and what they want to achieve. The life this brings to the characters and the setting is amazing, and when the action kicks it, it becomes pure poetry.
And action there is! But before I go on, I should probably explain the plot.
The story is fairly simple- Korra lives in a fantasy world where people called Benders have the ability to control and shape elements telekinetically. If you’re a Bender and you’re attuned to Water, you can make water fly around and do tricks, the same with Earth, Air and Fire. They can’t create the element, but they can shape what’s there, and there are sub-specialties under the main categories, like Metal-Bending and Blood-Bending.
Each generation, there is a single Bender born called the Avatar, who can control all the different elements, not just a single one like most Benders. The original series was about an Avatar named Ang, who was the last of the Airbenders (duh!) and who helped bring peace to the setting and ended a hundred-year long war.
At the start of this series, Ang has already passed away, and a new Avatar has been born to the Water Tribe named Korra. She’s good with water, but her command of the other elements is spotty at best, and her particular weakness is Airbending, so as a teen she goes to live with Tenzin, Ang’s son, in Republic City. (A city founded by Ang, which is now a roaring metropolis.) Shortly after her arrival, she hooks up with a team of sport-benders called the Fire Ferrets, and ends up joining their team. She also runs afoul of the Equalists, and their leader Amon, who claim to be working to promote rights for non-Benders (most of the population) who live under Bender rule.
And, it’s these last two points that make this show both unique and surprisingly deep at times for what is technically a “kids show”.
Half of the show is a “sports drama”, as Korra becomes involved with the Pro-Bending League and bonds with her teammates Mokko and Bolin. The sport itself is surprisingly well thought-out and presented in a way which is both dramatic and easy to follow for the audience. The rules to the sport are almost intuitive, so even those who missed the episode where it’s explained can understand it. Also, watching the teenaged Korra learn and develop through sport is fun and a real inspiration for getting youth involved in sports and physical activity. I wish we had more sports shows for kids like this.
It’s caught on to the point where people are actually trying to create real-life versions as well:
The other half of the show, the Equalists, shines just as brightly. They could have been simple bad-guys, but instead they’re presented as real people who live under the yoke of Bender oppression and believe in their fight for freedom. This is surprisingly heavy for a youth-oriented show, and the producers don’t shy away for what this means and the implications involved. Is Korra really working for the good of all people? Or is she the “savior” of an overclass who dominate those who can’t bend?
Fan Made Equalist Video:
The other nice thing is that their leader, the masked and mysterious Amon, is also portrayed as both extremely smart and capable. His plans almost always work, and all the positive thinking and determination of Korra and her allies mean almost nothing against his intelligence and foresight. She’s not even in his league, and the show makes that clear from the start. There will be a long journey before Korra could even hope to face Amon, and Republic City likely doesn’t have that much time left.
Which brings me to the other shining jewel of the show- the setting!
Where the original show existed in a sort of low-tech steampunk Victorian setting, Korra’s setting is an evolved version of that which bears a striking resemblance to the Roaring Twenties. The city is alive with culture and style to the point where you almost believe its a real place, and they draw heavily on that period to give it authenticity. In fact, I would argue that Republic City is basically an idealized Shanghai of the 20’s and early 30’s during its glory period, with Bending thrown into the mix.
Even the “previously on” segment that catches the audience up at the start of each episode is presented as an old black and white newsreel, with an old-style announcer’s rapid play-by-play patter of the events.
The characters themselves are all well thought-out, nuanced, and generally quite likable. Korra herself is a seat-of-the pants headstrong country girl in the big city, and unique in American TV in many ways, for example, from her “date” with Bolin:
How many other shows would let their heroine do that?
The drama in the show isn’t especially deep, but it’s not meant to be, the show is a coming of age show mixed with an action show, and it plays both of those cards quite well. The mix of humor and drama is almost pitch-perfect, and it really lets all the characters have their moments and show their humanity, so that you really feel for them when the bad stuff goes down.
Overall, I give The Legend of Korra an A+, and highly recommend watching it if you get the chance. It really is a premium show, and deserves the accolades it gets.
This week I started listening to The Roundtable Podcast after hearing about it on the Dead Robots’ Society writer’s podcast. The premise is simple enough: each the two hosts and one successful writer help an aspiriing guest writer brainstorm their current project to improve it as best they can.
I’ve listened to the first two roundtables (J. Daniel Sawyer and Nathan Lowell), and I have to say that I haven’t gotten much from the actual roundtables themselves- in both cases the guest aspiring writer really hadn’t thought through their story enough before coming on the show, so things lacked focus. They ended up spending most of the time trying to find a story and not much on getting into the actual creative side of things.
On the other hand, the “Twenty Minutes With…” sessions they do with the published writers are author gold! The two hosts spend twenty minutes grilling the writers on their approaches to writing, and it’s fascinating to hear them talk about what works for them and how they go about crafting their novels. We learn what works for them, and what doesn’t work, and why they write the way they do. I would definitely recommend any aspiring writer to give these a listen.
I plan to continue to listen to both parts, and hopefully they’ll get a couple of writers on with more solid ideas in the next couple shows.
While I think my best so far has been around 4,000 (on really really good day) she claimed in a recent interview on the Dead Robots Society podcast that she’s managed as much as 14,000 in a single day. (She says she finished a 75,000 word novel in 12 days as part of a personal challenge, and this was one of the better days.)
How did she do it? Well, as she explains well in the above interview (worth a listen), which was based on this blogpost, it basically comes down to outlining, knowing your personal rhythms, and keeping yourself excited about what you’re writing. It is a bit more detailed than that, so check out the post and see if it can help you.
I know for myself, I do write faster and better with a fairly good outline than I do when I’m just winging it. I discovered the importance of outlines during my audio drama scriptwriting, and it’s transferred over to my prose writing now. I’m not sure how I feel about the idea of even detailing who says what before I write, but I’m willing to give it a go! I have so many stories I want to write, and need to get them out as fast as I can!
Rachel is a thoughtful and systematic writer, and I heartily recommend also checking out her posts on How I Plot a Novel in 5 Steps and The Two Bird Minimum. I think I’m going to have to read some of her stuff as well, since it sounds interesting, and I’m curious to see what her techniques have been producing.