Are All Stories Created Equal?

My best friend used to badger me about the premise to my story. What is your premise? What are you trying to say with your writing? What's your character arc? Story arc? Where's Noah's Arc?

But my friend had a great point. Some of the best stories have something to say that usually involves the main character's arc: becoming the person she should be, like moving from self-hatred to having high self-worth. Or how Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet shows pure innocent love will die in the adult world, a very harsh statement, the real tragedy.

From my own experience, when I started to write Nightfall, I couldn't see what my character or story arc was. I'm not sure why, but it might have been because I was steeped in developing the plot, building the world, the characters and their traits.

One of the many great things about Harry Potter is Harry himself. His character traits seem normal: thin and not physically strong, wears glasses, has a scar, loyal to a fault and honest, isn't the greatest student. But he's special, surviving an attack from the baddest dark wizard, known as the boy who lived, a powerful wizard. In a sense, Rowling might have been saying that we are all somehow special.

My main character is the exact opposite when it comes to character traits, with a purpose, and I didn't realize this until several months ago after working with the character for eight years. Talon is tall, handsome, has luscious long locks—blonde hair—and is the commander of the most powerful military force in the provinces. Men fear him because he's never been bested in a fight. Women love him because they feel so at ease when they're in his presence. In a way, he's perfect. As the story begins, we immediately see that he has holes—faults, fears, and the same controlling issues that all parents have when it comes to his own children. As the story moves along, we see how gaping these holes are. Despite his perfectness, he, and in a sense all of us, are human.

It's a commentary that we are all equals with our own strengths and weaknesses. So it doesn't matter how special people seem to be, we have faults as well. And that perfectness that we seem to strive for, or look for in others, can vary a great deal. Kinda like saying a perfect rose has twelve petals and not thirteen because thirteen is an unlucky number, which is ridiculous. Are there certain traits that we gravitate to? Sure. When people ask me what I look for in a woman, I jokingly respond, "Four B's. Busty, blonde, big butt." It's ridiculous.

Look at this big yellow shaft I'm holding

Whenever a homeless person asks me for money, I always respond in kind, whether I give them money or not. When a waitperson serves me, I always thank them. Even if I meet a CEO of a company, I'll joke with him as if he's my friend, which happened when I met the CEO of the company I work for.

He flew to various locations around the US to greet his worker bees as the newly crowned CEO. When he had arrived to our office, he was making the rounds, shaking everyone's hands in their cubicles. Then he and his entourage approached me, I introduced myself as Jimmy. Confused, he saw the placard displaying the name 'Lauren', who was absent that day. I was sitting at her desk because I don't have a desk at that particular building.

"But now I'm Lauren," I quipped, "after my sex change operation."

He and his entourage laughed and said, "You look pretty buffed for girl."

"Thanks to our health benefits, I've been taking steroids."

And no, I did not get fired.

But I do my best to live my life with that view of equality. Does that mean someone who is taller than me is better than me? Maybe in basketball (I'm not very good, so that's not saying much). Or are there people smarter than I am? Sure. But intelligence is very specific. I don't need to know how to build a computer if I'm a writer. I need to know how to structure a story, how to evoke emotions from words, what a character trait really is, etc.

As human beings, we are all the same. We love. We eat. We drink. We get hurt. We sleep. We love to laugh. We shit. It is the nature of being human.

Coming back to storytelling, I don't think you need to know everything about the story or characters from the beginning because it may be too much. We need to trust that the story will naturally come out and the technical (i.e. structure and grammar) and finer details (i.e. story and character arc) will be ironed out during the rewriting/editing process.

And yes, I'm biased as to what a good story is. Arcs anyone? But that doesn't mean that books like Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey don't have their place. The market loves them. But will they stand the test of time? I'm not sure. There's a reason why the Bible and Shakespeare's works have lasted and still make their marks. There's meaning in them. And what is meaning? It means something. Duh. Meaning, especially in story, helps change our view of life. It's why we love going to movies. We want to be moved, to see another viewpoint of the human condition, ultimately to help understand ourselves. Do Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey do that? I can't say. I've yet to read them. Even if they don't, is that important? Time will tell.

Being the Bad Guy

Did I turn off the stove?

Did I turn off the stove?

Have you ever met the antichrist? A real asshole? Someone that you wanted to punch because that would feel so good?

One of the tenets of having a great protagonist, a fantastic hero, the chosen one must also have a great antagonist, an antichrist, a real bad boy, or girl.

I get newsletters from different writing sites, and one of them caught my attention. They wrote about the movie Captain Phillips, starring Tom Hanks. I hadn’t seen the movie, but the letter stated the bad guys made some stupid mistakes that allowed them to be easily defeated, which minimized the accomplishments of the hero. Despite the movie being based on real life events, the letter had a good point.

Oops I missed

Oops I missed

One of the greatest things about Star Wars is Darth Vader. As a kid, that guy was scary. He had ultimate control over the Force, could choke someone out without even touching him, and was a skilled swordsman with a lightsaber, the coolest sword in the universe. And he killed Luke’s teacher, a war hero in his own right. What? Luke was an underdog when it came to Vader. But we knew Vader had to go, and we knew Luke was the one to do it, but we didn’t know how that was gonna happen since Obi-Wan was dead. And the intrigue into Luke’s heroic path was something I loved.

So when I read the letter, I immediately remembered the post I wrote about the martial arts school I used to attend.

Ah-choo

Ah-choo

When I wrote that post, I had an inkling that it would find its way back to them, not through any active part by me. And I didn’t write it because I wanted to thwart their business, I wrote it because it was something that spoke to me, one of the main reasons why I left that school. It took them about four months to discover it, and I heard the owner of the school, who doesn’t teach there much anymore, made a special trip to talk about little ol’me.

Now, if I wrote a story and the owner of the school was the bad guy, and the hero, some awesome writer, wanted to draw him out, and all he did was write a post on a small site, and the bad guy took the bait, I’d say the antagonist was really stupid, and that I did a bad job in creating the bad guy.

As the writer, I have to make sure the antihero is formidable. Otherwise, anything the hero does to overcome the odds looks weak. And that’s what I hope I did in my book, Nightfall. The bad guy kicks some serious ass, and my hero is rubbin’ his bum, but that’s part of the fun in stories. The underdog is the underdog for good reason. He’s gotta pull himself up and take it to the baddie. Otherwise, the reader, audience will be bored.

Straight Bashing

Ever have dinner with a bunch of assholes? Couple weeks ago, I went to dinner with some acquaintances. I didn't know the woman, a financial planner, who had been on a hike I'd gone on would be there, otherwise I would have bailed like hay. Unfortunately, she was not the worst of the six peeps around the table in the grimy hot pot restaurant.

One of the main themes I explore in my book, Nightfall, is ego. I had gotten a real lesson of what ego really was during my stint teaching at the martial arts school that I used to attend. Of course, they taught not to have one, but they were of the school 'Do as I say, not as I do', which was one of the main reasons I left.

In Nightfall, I don't preach about not having ego, nor do I preach about having one. Certain characters will fall due to their ego, and certain characters prevail because of it. And as a writing guideline, I don't lecture about it, but show how ego can affect each characters' actions and the consequences that befall them.

Knocked Tha Eff Out

Knocked Tha Eff Out

In real life, ego plays out in different ways. I'm a huge UFC fan. By his legacy, Anderson Silva is considered the greatest of all time MMA fighter. He holds the longest winning streak in the UFC, is one of the most feared fighters, and seems to have skills beyond the normal human being. According to him, his showboating in the cage is just who he is. I think it's part of his mental game, taunting his opponents' mind to make a mistake. I always attributed that to his ego, and he's been successful at it. That was until he fought Chris Weidman, who knocked Silva out while he showboated. Now, Weidman had admitted that Silva's showboating pissed him off and caused him to throw caution to the wind and sling punches, something that Silva wanted. But this time, Silva got caught. So is ego bad?

Ergo
Ergo

At dinner, the guy who chose the restaurant was a total dickwad, DW. He asked a new transplant to the City how long he'd been here. A couple months, but he'd been to San Francisco six previous times to interview for jobs. DW asked if they flew him here, and the new guy acknowledged. Laughing, DW stated that if he'd been the interviewee, they would have flown him out dozens of times, touting his intelligence. I knew that DW thought he was smarter because he stated so and even called the guy stupid. If this was DW's sarcastic attempt at joking, he fucking sucked at it.

Then he turned his attention to me. Ooh, a challenge. Somehow we got on the subject of same sex marriage, and I told everyone at the table that I supported it. DW asked me why. What business do I have telling someone what they can or cannot do, especially when it doesn't affect me. He scoffed and stated that a lot of things people do don't affect me. Whoa, he is smart.

"What if someone shoots and murders another person," DW asked.

I wanted to tell him that it still didn't affect me, because I assumed the threat wasn't immediate to me. But I didn't think he would have understood that, so I stated that's an extreme situation, and the threat is real if that murderer turned their attention to me. Even then, he didn't quite accept my argument, but agreed it was extreme, and was upset that it didn't support his stance.

The financial planner then argued, "Well, they're stealing money from me?"

Crazy Ass Byotches
Crazy Ass Byotches

Since Thelma and Louise, I'm pretty ignorant when it comes to gay couple criminals, and asked what she meant. I know. They weren't lesbians.

DW applauded her and threw her argument in my face. She explained that married couples have tax benefits, and therefore, are stealing money from her by not paying more taxes. Geezus Kryst.

"Couldn't you say the same thing about heterosexual marriages?" I threw back.

"No, because men and women have been getting married for thousands of years," she assured. What do you call a female dickwad? Dickwaddess?

DW aplauded again, then asked me if I was gay. Before I could answer, he accused me of being gay. Before having the opportunity to react, DW then asked if I like butts. What ignorance. I couldnt believe he was gay bashing me. But I admitted I was a butt man, as that is my favorite part of a woman's body.

fuck u jerry
fuck u jerry

"You better stay away from me, man. I don't want a reputation," DW said, showing me the hand.

At this point, about a thousand thoughts barged into my mind. One being that I could kick this guy's ass, and I don't say that unless I feel that's a real possibility. I know, I'm a pussy. More importantly, I chose not to defend myself, and the reason was simple:

To do so would mean that I at some level affirm that homosexuality is deviant, and that I would have to lower myself to DW's level and swim in the garbage that is his mind. Homosexuals may not be socially acceptable in some circles, which is complete shit, but that doesn't fucking mean it's wrong. Again, the thought of punching this guy in the face blared in my mind. I just don't think the public defender would do a good job on my behalf.

My ego was bruised, not because someone accused me of being gay, I mean, I am what I eat, pussy, but that this guy was so full of himself, I wanted to be Weidman and knock this asshole out. The financial planner too, but she's naturally a bitch and couldn't help her own stupidity. And both these assholes live in the City, the capital of Gay Pride. What a couple of putz. Putzes? Putzi?

The Curse and the Cure

Shake my hand, dammit

Shake my hand, dammit

From my experience, having an antagonist that seems or is very distant can present the small issue of conflict and tension; the chosen one may not always have direct contact with their antichrist. So having someone that is a little closer, aside from circumstantial disasters, to provide some conflict with the main character is important.

One good example is Draco Malfoy. In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, For He Who Shall Not Be Named is somewhere off in the Forbidden Forest, which is forbidden, and doesn't provide direct conflict until the end. Given Malfoy's name and Harry’s alliance with Ron, Draco is in direct conflict with Potter. We as the readers realize this immediately.

In Nightfall, my hero has to fight a war with his former teacher. Problem with that, geographically, they're a continent apart. Though, the antagonist does affect my hero even through the distance, I like to have other characters that constantly give the hero issues. That along with circumstantial disasters allows me, the author, to put my hero in constant conflict by different means. I’m hoping that keeps my readers’ interest throughout the trilogy. Aside from the fact that Draco was the constant heel of Harry, my hero will have some that are constant, some that will turn on him for a good length of time, while others will represent red herrings, like Professor Snape.

I did this because the story required it, that somehow it needed it, and it wasn't a conscious requirement on my part. What got me thinking about it was a hike that I’d done with a group in Point Reyes, located in Northern California next to the coast. It’s an incredible area, known for secluded beaches, immense hikes—ours was 15 miles—and shaded trails that bode well even in the summer (see gallery below).

Fuck with me not

Fuck with me not

Around twenty of us went, most were very friendly, and I’d known a few of them from prior hikes. There was one woman who seemed to be my heel for the day. Why? I don't know exactly, but maybe because after I introduced myself I had left without continuing our conversation. I felt no connection to her whatsoever, I usually don’t know why when that happens, but most of the time my intuition is right so felt no reason to talk to her further.

Half-hour into the hike, a group of us were talking about something, and she made a point. I disagreed with it, and she kicked dirt at me. So being immature, I kicked dirt back. I know, childish. Then, like a thundercat, she reached for the ground and grabbed a fistful of dirt, twigs and leaves, ready to throw it at my face. She demanded why I kicked dirt at her, and I’m like…what? Like a third grader on the playground, I said, “You kicked dirt at me first!”

“Oh, we’re even then,” she agreed. 

Don't mess wit me sucka

Don't mess wit me sucka

At this point, I began to see my intuition was correct.

Throughout the hike, she kept taking jabs at me. Somehow, we stumbled onto the conversation on height, and I jokingly stated she was short. She pointed her finger at me and said, “Hey! You’re short. I’m average.” She’s 5’2” and I’m 5’6”. Sorry little girl, but we’re both short. I said nothing, thinking my immature behavior earlier might have prompted the wrath from this woman before realizing maybe it was me leaving abruptly when we met.

Everything makes sense now

Everything makes sense now

Toward the end of the hike, I was flirting with a girl, and I had said something she didn’t understand. So when I tried to explain, she had laughed and told me don’t even try. So I said,” You’re gonna play me like dat?” Sometimes I get ghetto without knowing it. The woman with the wrath turned around—she wasn’t even part of the conversation—and said, “She knows you’re full of it,” and high-fived the girl. Since the short comment, I decided not to joke with this woman because she definitely can’t take it. She had found great comfort and camaraderie with people who seemed to agree with her philosophies of life, nothing wrong with that. But I knew she was a person who was very closed. Her ego dictated her every emotion and action. Not saying mine doesn’t have some effect on me—kicking-dirt incident—but when it happens I’m aware of it, which was why I didn’t react to the many jabs she’d taken.

All of this is to say one thing: trust your intuition. Well, how do you do this? Simple. Whenever you have confirmation that your intuition is true, you thank it.

I began to realize this when I kept cursing myself whenever I forgot my keys, or my bag, etc. I forgot more and more and more. So I tried something new. Whenever I remembered something, I thanked whatever part of my mind that remembered. And I forgot less and less. Do I still forget things? Sure. But not to the degree when I punished myself for it.

Don’t be so hard on yourself. Let go. Things will get better.

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Wake Up

Jean Shelton

Jean Shelton

I was talking to a friend of mine today. We met during my acting days when we both attended The Shelton Theater school for actors in San Francisco. Man, I miss those days. Jean Shelton had been around since The Group Theater in New York, and for those of you who know that lineage, they produced some of the best actors the world had literally seen. I’m talking about Marlon Brando, Lee Strasberg, Harold Clurman, famed director Elia Kazan, list goes on and on. She’d also met the greats like Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller. Her history is simply amazing.

Is my teef big enouf?
Is my teef big enouf?

My friend and I were discussing his history with women and how he only felt comfortable dating Asians. I asked him why, and he stated that he didn’t venture outside of our own slanty-eyed folk because he didn’t want to get rejected due to his ethnicity. During his formidable years in high school, he was bullied due to being one of the few ethnic kids in a town that was predominantly white. Of course, after many, many years his past still haunts him. And really, it’s not his past, but his constant thinking of it, blaming it that limits him.

This brought to mind almost all of my characters in my fantasy, Nightfall. Every one of them has a past that has directly affected their actions and decisions in the present. And almost all the time, those decisions have helped moved the story along because the choices they made were based on limited thinking and fear, resulting in disasters.

And disasters are great for storytelling. “We need to get this amulet to save the world. After acquiring it, the enemy stole it and will use it to conquer the world over. What do we do?”

My main character, for example, lost a toddler through a horrible, tragic accident that was outside of his control. (Read the prologue) Guilt and hate and fear swirl around him and his wife, weaving through out the story, churning their decisions into bad ones. And they can’t seem to get themselves out of their past.

Now, I’m not saying it’s easy. But then, I’m not saying it needs to be difficult. For me, it took time to get over my relationships that ended, for example. And it did n’t take much for some of my exes. Not sure if that’s saying something about me. Nah.

Eventually, I did let go of the trauma, which you need to understand was self-inflicted. I know this because sometimes I kept those memories alive. And in those rare moments where I was steeped in something else, the pain disappeared. And I guess that’s why rebounds are so common. The new relationship takes your mind off of the old one.

Going back to my friend, he hasn’t let go of the fact that his ethnicity is not to be blamed for what he perceives to be a limitation. It’s his continued belief in that idea. I told him my nephew has a black girlfriend, and they absolutely love each other.

I was like what...cuz he was like this much

I was like what...cuz he was like this much

Once you go black, you don't go back. That apparently doesn’t apply to Asians. One of my first exes had dated two black guys before me. I guess you can go back.

I personally understand the stigma of being Asian. I was bullied during school in a different way. Many of the jocks sat close to me during tests because they wanted to copy my answers. I shrugged because I wasn’t the best student in school. But they assumed that I studied hard when I hardly studied. Those same jocks were shocked when I could keep up with them in P.E. class. What they didn’t realize is being chased throughout the school helped me run faster. The threat of wedgies scared the shit out of me, so we nerds had no choice but to book it. Most of us never got caught, but that’s because we were forced to be fast.

Wayne Dyer, a well known self help author and speaker, said that the wake is the trail that’s left behind…the wake can’t drive the boat. So it is with our own pasts.

Leggo My Ego

I’ve been waiting for this night for seven years! I write about ego in NIGHTFALL, talk about it, how it can affect choices. I don’t actually lecture about it, making the narrative a freaking lecture, which was how I felt Dan Brown was doing in THE SYMBOL. I just weaved the affects of ego through the narrative, hoping that I’ve communicated my views through subtext.

Broke Back

Broke Back

Tonight was a historic night.

One of the most talked about UFC fights was UFC 162, Anderson Silva vs. Chris Weidman (pictured left). Silva (pictured right) has been the reigning middle weight (185 lb) champion for the past seven years. In mixed martial arts (MMA), that is unheard of because no one has accomplished that, save Silva.

I’ve always felt that Silva had an ego, though you'd never know with the words he uses. Like a shark that can sense blood from a thousand miles away, I can sense a person's ego. We see evidence of Silva's arrogance in his previous fights when he taunts his opponents, giving little respect, despite the fact that he says he respects every single opponent.

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Actions speaks louder than words. Women know this. I know this. Does this make me a woman?

Silva’s fights always starts with some form of reading his opponent, where they’ll attempt some form of attack, but Silva always evades, doing calculations like a supercomputer, reading their reach, timing, rhythm, skill, mind set, etc. And once he’s done with his calculations, he pounces and often finishes his opponents in the second round.

When the main event of UFC 162 started, I saw Silva come out, completely relaxed. Weidman charges to the middle of the octagon, also relaxed. In spite of Weidman, who is a very accomplished wrestler, taking Silva to the mat, the champion easily evaded all submissions attempts and got back to his feet. A few moments later, Silva’s supercomputer was on its way to finishing the calculations. I know this because when the champion starts taunting the challenger, he'd figured out Weidman. My body reacted from watching all of Silva's other fights, expecting a huge knock out finish of the challenger. From my point of view, Weidman seemed lost, but he also looked relaxed, a good thing. End first round.

Here’s the important part. When the second round began, Silva came out and taunted Weidman again. When Weidman tried to strike, Silva would dodge and move as if the challenger had nothing on him. The champion even pretended he was hurt when a punch grazed by his cheeks, an expert at going with the flow of punches, making him very difficult to knock out. More taunting, show boating ensued, something the fans of the UFC, and me, were used to.

Then it came. Weidman threw a combination, which was a little messy but worked because a half-hearted back fist had forced Silva’s head to flow left, and he blinked. Weidman quickly followed it with a punch to the chin, knocking down (out even as Silva’s eyes rolled up) the former champion. Weidman then followed Silva with punches to the ground to make sure he was done.

Knocked Tha Ef Out

Knocked Tha Ef Out

So this is a long diatribe about how ego can be anyone’s downfall. I’m not saying I don’t have one, but I’m aware of it enough to not let it step in front of me and control my actions. Most of the time.

Ego has brought down civilizations, religions war over which god is better killing millions upon millions, corporations have withered away when the focus is on material wealth rather than serving the people. Sometimes it takes time. I mean, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it took a damn long time before it fell. Israel is still a subject of huge contention. Blackberry and Microsoft were caught with their pants down when Apple released the iPhone.

I’ve written how I’ve left my martial arts school because I didn’t believe in them anymore, their form of teaching, and the egos displayed in every inch of that school. They commented on my website, trying to dissuade me from my opinion, and as I’ve written here, I don’t read reviews unless I’ve solicited for it. My former school, on the other hand, have changed part of their system to accommodate for my criticism, and failed because they simply didn’t understand my article and the simple truth about how humans learn physical movement. The crazy part is that article listed simple things they could do to improve their student’s abilities. Dorks.

Yes, I do have a spy there. And they will never figure out whom. If they did, oops. Sorry, dude. Or dudet.

Paradise Found

Welt on da Earf

Welt on da Earf

My first trip to Hawaii, I went with my dream girl. Whoo! Beautiful. Gorgeous. Incredible ass. Nice breasts, handfuls. Loved sex. Oh, man. We did it like rabbits. My libido was running on rocket fuel. And she was passionate about life, lived it full of wonderment. TMI? When we landed, I stepped off the plane and into Honolulu airport. A feeling of being home engulfed my heart, my mind, and my soul (maybe).

Predictably, my dream became to live in Hawaii. I mean, Terry Brooks lives there part of the year, so why can't I?

Fire...hehehehehe...fire

Fire...hehehehehe...fire

As things go when fire is introduce to oil—me and my girlfriend—an explosion of emotions tore us apart. And I was left singed and what seemed like a never-ending ocean of pain. Whoo. Coincidentally, all of that completely and happily helped me discover my main man, Talon, family of Warfire, the protag of my book, NIGHTFALL. I think without going through all that pain, Talon would be a bland character, given the things he goes through. And what he goes through I would never wish on my worst enemy. Well, unless that person really pissed me off.

Did you catch the little grammar faux paus I left in the beginning of the last paragraph? Just making sure you're awake.

Years marched by, my dream of being a published author is alive and well, and along trudged my dream of living in Hawaii. I worked hard to earn the trust of my boss so I could work at home full time. I went to the islands twice to go house hunting, put in an offer, accepted. Dream reached. Then I realized that I had been living my dream, my purpose, all this time.

Yup...my computer is old

Yup...my computer is old

The prospect of leaving my ailing mother on the main land blared loudly on my mind. So when I had gone back to Hawaii, the feeling of being home never returned as strongly, but I sorta lied to myself that it was there, like being sorta pregnant. Paradise lost. Don't get me wrong. I love HI, love being there and this March will be there for a whole month. But my home is not there. Nor is it here where I currently reside. I realized I've been living in heaven all this time, sitting in various cafes, putting my main man through hell.

Paradise found.

But this realization came at a price. I struggled with the decision to stay or move. It was heart wrenching. I won't go into the pros and cons of it all. But living close to the beach with a forever stretch of blue gem water where the sun was always out trumped all of the pros of staying.

I recently met up with a friend from my acting days. He lent me a book called DO IT! Let's Get Off Our Buts, written by Peter McWilliams and John Roger. They wrote that a goal is tangible, like an achievement, or a milestone. Think NaNoWriMo for you fellow writers. A purpose, however, is a direction like perfection. My dream of living in Hawaii was a goal, a choice. Being a great storyteller is my purpose, my direction.

To stay is the right decision. To go is correct as well. To not have a purpose, however, is to deny who we are as human beings.