Resist!

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Resist! Ban! Boycott! This is crap! These were some of the words screamed from nerds far and wide when they saw The Last Jedi. I was definitely one of those nerds, prompting me to explore one of the reasons the film sucked. What I didn't think would happen were the fans' boycott of Solo: A Star Wars Story. Occasionally, I'll see YouTube recommendations on the subject of the fan backlash and news that Disney is pulling out before committing themselves to another evil stepchild of a Star Wars movie.

One vlog asked the question whether Rei is a Mary Sue, a character that can do no wrong and is good at everything. The vlogger did a much better job than I, proving why she is. And it's not about gender. For me, it's about the character set up.

This particular vlog had mentioned that Disney execs stated that the ensuing films would clear up why Rei is the way she is. This is bad storytelling.

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In fiction, be it book, film or TV, the suspension of disbelief is a willingness to suspend one's critical faculties and believe something surreal. The reader/viewer goes into fiction with this already built in. Meaning, when an audience goes to see a film, they know that everything on the screen is fake, but they've put that knowledge aside. They want to be taken on a rollercoaster ride. They want to feel the ups and downs of the characters without risking anything themselves. So it falls to the storyteller to maintain that suspension of disbelief. Otherwise, the audience will be taken out of the experience because they'll inherently question the logic of the story.

Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't. —Mark Twain

In The Force Awakens (TWA), Rei as a character wasn't set up well. She's never been off planet, she's not part of any military, and her parents are unknown to her, and as a result, to the audience. She's great at taking things apart, but that doesn't make her a great pilot. So when she's able to fly the Millennium Falcon like a seasoned veteran, the audience will naturally wonder how and why.

Getting back to the Disney execs. The idea that the following film(s) will show why Rei is good at everything is bad storytelling. At this point, it's too late. This has to be done first in TWA in order to support the logic for the following events. Try going to a bank and have them give you a loan before you can prove that you can pay it back. Common. I dare ya.

Well, Jimmy, have you heard of subprime loans that caused the 2008 financial crisis?

Yeah, but we've learned our lesson and banks ain't gonna do that again.

Uh...not so fast my slanty-eyed friend. Subprimes are back!

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Still, the fan backlash is real. The low box office numbers for the following film, The Last Jedi, supports it. And, of course, Solo couldn't escape the bad storytelling decisions Disney had made. Solo flopped in the box office, despite it being a better film.

For me, each novel or film has to be contained in and of itself. They can have cliff hangers. But the arc of the character/story should be complete. And they can lead to another arc or be a part of a greater arc. I've been very conscious of that when writing my novels. This is the keystone to why I love story. And of course to get chics. That has not worked out well. They don't seem to care that I'm an artiste.

Mary Sue: Storytelling Gone Wild

I wrote a post about Star Wars The Last Jedi. It was an exploration into Why Sequels SuckThen I followed up with another post on how sequels don't have to suck.

Then I saw a Forbes' post that talked about why The Last Jedi had so much controversyHe had two points that might have contributed to the hate toward the movie: the main character, Rey is a Mary Sue, and she's a girl. Being a storyteller, I’d like to talk about Mary Sue first.

Who is this mysterious woman? Is she on Tinder? Coffee Meets Bagel? Grinder?

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That's for dudes, dude. Ooh. My bad. To put it lightly, Mary Sue is a female character that can do anything and do no wrong.

The male version is called a Marty Stu. The author pointed at James Bond and Indiana Jones as well known examples because "...both are superhuman soldiers, seducers, and puzzle-solvers, flawless individuals who are the subject of intense admiration from everyone they meet...". He shouldn't have chosen them because these two have well defined setups.

James Bond is an intelligence officer in MI6, who served in the Royal Navy. So before any James Bond book/movie begins, this history exists. Meaning, he's had training and experience.

Indy is a tenured professor of archeology in Princeton. Because of his father Indy has had extensive experience in adventuring and treasure hunting. Just like Bond, Indy has a history—the setup—that allows the audience to suspend their disbeliefs. When these two characters accomplish amazing things, we believe it because people with their kind of experience are more capable than people who have no training whatsoever.

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Rey. What's her setup? Per Wikipedia, she's stubborn, headstrong, brave, optimistic, and loyal. Oh, and she's highly sensitive to the Force. That's cool. But so was Luke Skywalker. Back to him later. In The Force Awakens, I can't recall if she had made any big mistakes or did anything wrong. In fact, she was able to use the Force against Kylo Ren, who was well versed enough to stop a laser projectile in mid-air. Kinda like catching a bullet with your teeth, I’m imagining. Also, Rey didn't know she was powerful with the Force because she was surprised when she found out. In other words, she had no history with it. Kylo had training. So either she's so talented that training is not necessary, or the training Kylo had received sucked. If that was the case, he should get his money back.

The Forbes' post goes on to say that Luke and Rey have very similar setups. Both orphans, did manual labor, left their desert homes in the Millennium Falcon, and are strong with the Force. So why all the hate toward Rey? She's female. That's why. The post then says, "The most substantial difference is that Rey hasn’t experienced the emotional torture Luke has, seeing as Luke’s foster parents were murdered and his father turned out to be space-Hitler."

Well...there's this little film called Empire Strikes Back. Many critics consider this to be the best film within the original trilogy. I agree. Within the first fifteen minutes, we find Luke on the precipice of death on the ice planet Hoth. Obi-Wan Kenobi appears right in front of Luke from the netherworld (how often does this happen?) and tells him, "You's gots ta go ta Dagobah and train with my bruh, Jedi Grand Master Y. Woot woo!" I know. I'm paraphrasing here. And half the movie is dedicated to Yoda training Luke. I mean, they spend a lot of time together. Alone time.

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At the end of the movie Luke duels his father, Darth Vader, and Luke loses his masturbatory hand, effectively losing the fight. As he should. Cause that Vader is a bad mofo.

To be fair, in The Last Jedi, Rey does find Luke. But there's very little training going on. Luke says he'll give her three lessons, but my memory barely recalls two. If there was a third lesson, then I missed it. Part of storytelling is showing the important stuff. Especially where logic is concerned. Otherwise people will be pulled out of the story, wondering how such and such happened. As a storyteller, I don't want that to happen.

Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn't. -Mark Twain

Could some of the hate come from the fact that Rey is a female character. Sure. But that's not the reason why Star Wars fans hate Rey. It's bad storytelling. Throughout the Star Wars’ cinematic universe, the idea of training someone in the ways of the Force has been hammered into the audience. Rey has received none to little of it. However, if fans did hate Rey for being female, then they would have hated Jyn. Dude. No one hates a fine glass of gin.

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Serious? Come on! I'm talking about Jyn Erso, the lead character from the film, Rogue One. She's female. She's a rogue. She's tough. She takes no shit from no one, sistah. And that works well here. Not only did she witness her mother's murder, but she's had to hide from the Empire and survive life under that regime. By the time we see her as a young adult, she has chutzpah.

I know she has been received well because the actress, Felicity Jones, hasn't had to deactivate her Instagram account like Daisy Ridley, who plays Rey, had done.

All of this is to say that storytelling done right, done well will be received in that same light. So, Jimmy, how do you explain Fitty Shades?

That ain't a real book. But...the world is big enough to have Michelin-starred restaurants and fast food establishments.

Why Sequels Suck

In storytelling character traits are very important in giving dimension to characters. The rule of thumb is that a character should have three to five traits. Having too few will leave it feeling one dimensional. Having too many can convolute the character, making it a nightmare to write.

One of the character traits is usually bad, dysfunctional. Greed, unfaithfulness and hate are a few examples. Moving this bad trait to a good one is called an arc. Scrooge is a textbook example of character arch. He only thought of himself and was selfish and ungiving. These are not three traits because on paper they look very similar to each other when shown. By the end of the story, Scrooge learned that the world was bigger than him, that love was important, and giving to others in need filled the soul. He has become the person he should be.

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To write the sequel to Scrooge would be difficult. The writer would have to come up with another bad trait for Scrooge to have and then show how that happened. This would allow him to traverse another arc, allowing him to become the person he should be. Again.

In movie sequels this is often done. That's why they often feel false and forced. That's why a lot of sequels suck ass. This brings us to The Last Jedi.

In my humble opinion, Rian Johnson, the writer and director, had gone straight down the garbage compactor. He had taken an iconic and loved character, Luke, and destroyed all of the work the initial Star Wars trilogy had accomplished.

The first two movies taught us that Vader is the baddest fucking dude in the galaxy. He kills and tortures people like a psychopath, destroys his daughter's home planet, and doesn't shy away from freezing people in carbonite. His own son picks a fight with him. But instead of giving him a slap on the hand, Vader chops it off. The masturbatory one!

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Despite all of that, Luke wonders whether he can rescue his father from the dark side. He converses with his old quirky teacher, Yoda, who states, "Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny." In other words: Yo pops...he gone, bruh.

That was Yoda. Grand Master Jay. Short for Jedi grandmaster. And still, Luke be like, "Yo. He mah pops, sucka. I see da good in him, bruh. I'm out. Peace."

By the end of the third film, Luke rescues his father's soul, drags his body into his ship as the new Death Star falls apart all around them, and gives him a proper burial. Respect. Luke is a dude that sees past the worst of you and says, "Ya aite."

Down the garbage compacter we go.

In The Last Jedi, Luke had taken his nephew, Ben, under his wings and taught him the ways of the force. To Luke's dismay, the dark side was strong with Ben. So what does an uncle do? Kill him. Ben finds out about Luke's plan, which sends him farther down the dark path.

For Luke to look at his nephew and have no hope betrays one of his core character traits. It would be one thing if Luke found out that Vader had no good within him. Then, attributing that to Ben would make complete sense. But when Anakin shares a father/son moment right before the Death Star blew up, and said, "Tell your sister that you kissed in the mouth in Empire Strikes Back that you were right. You were right."

Johnson's version of Luke was so off putting that even actor Mark Hamill, who plays Luke, couldn't help himself but have a dead stare.

I'm not sure if Johnson wanted to give Luke an arch to travel, so he had to force a bad trait on the character. But Johnson didn't have to because there are other characters. Not everyone has to have an arch. Maybe Johnson didn't know that. Given how he torpedoed The Last Jedi, I wouldn't be surprised of his ignorance.

Low Expectations

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In my previous post, I had stated that expectations can be the bane of relationships, using Valentine's Day as an example. If the woman had been expecting a grand gesture of gift and fine dining, and she received a card and dinner at Chili's, then resentment might grow. If the man had expected a superbly satisfying blow on his one-eyed python, but instead caught the stink eye from his lady, then resentment might root itself within him. Resentment can grow and explode into a full-blown argument. And those are exhausting.

The post came about when a woman had asked me how to have a long happy relationship. My answer was to have no expectations.

You know when you go to a Star Wars movie, like the one released at the end of 2017, and there were a jack load of people that were disappointed with the film? Everyone entered the theater with pretty high expectations. Me included. I remember thinking halfway through the movie: This smells like stinky butt. I had some hope that the end of The Last Jedi would sorta bring everything together, much like how Pulp Fiction had done, and I would feel like an asshole for thinking such blasphemy. Yeah...no.

Had I lowered my expectations to where Hell exists, then I wouldn't have felt so bad paying seventeen bucks. With no expectations, I would have enjoyed the film for what it is. Entertaining crap.

Now, I'm not saying you should lower your expectations so your relationship can be long and happy. Doing so would end the relationship in a dull silence of an atomic explosion.

If a husband does nothing to help his wife when she's sick, then she has two basic choices. Accept his behavior. Or not. I don't expect many women would let their husbands' callousness to go unpunished. A discussion needs to take place at this point.

Going back to the Valentine's Day example, the couple should set expectations. Do they want something grand and memorable? Or do they want something low key? Neither is wrong in my eye. Well none of those things can fit in my eye. But expectations should be set.

That's why communication is so important in a relationship. Each side should state what they want, and then compromise from there. It's a goddamn relationship, dammit! So go. And relate.

Why Read?

Writing groups. What is it about writers? As God is their witness, they declare they are writers. Some want to write. Some write. Some don't but say they're writers. And if you join a writing group, shouldn't you give your best feedback? In the end, it may not be useful, but at least try your best. Right?

I've written my experiences with writing groups. They weren't good. But sometimes things that do not work out has its reasons. Here, it had led me to work with a writing coach who opened my eyes to just how crappy my writing was.

Now that my work with her is almost over, I needed a way to see if all of my edits and revisions worked. And a friend contacted me about joining a private writing group where we could workshop our pieces. What timing.

There are four of us, so two writers submit pages to be read each week by the rest of us. And then the next week the other two writers would submit pages. One of the guys couldn't make the first day, which was fine. Life either gets in the way or shits on us sometimes. I'll call him Walt.

We're three weeks into it, and Walt and I had submitted pages. I spent a lot of time going though his work, giving him mechanical corrections and suggestions, writing detailed notes of what I thought needed to be worked on. And I made sure my handwriting was legible. I'm sorta like a doctor where my writing can be illegible. Even to me.

I wrote my first drafts in longhand. There had been many times where I turned my notebook upside down, inside out, used a magnifying glass, trying to decipher just what the fuck I had written. My thoughts moved so fast that my writing tried to keep up, and in doing so my words looked like old leftover spaghetti.

Anyway, this past Saturday we met in this cool cafe on Market Street close to Union Square in San Francisco. And the group chose my piece to talk about first. Two of the writers gave me really good feedback. They told me where they got confused, where they saw some inconsistencies, told me what they liked and didn't like, specific things that I could use. Walt, on the other hand, said, "I normally don't read this stuff (fantasy)."

"You wouldn't be writing to me," Walt said.

Ah. Awesome. Good to know.

Walt continued, "For me, I need to know why I should read this. Instead of creating this whole new world, this story could have been told with regular people."

Not showing up the first day and reading my first three chapters doesn't help your understanding of my story either...

Walt yammered on about my piece, then gave me some generalities, none of which I could use, and then said it was well written.

In other words, he didn't read it. Or at most, skimmed through it.

So the question was, why read any kind of science fiction or fantasy? When real world fiction, taking place in the real world, is plentiful in real bookstores around this great nation of ours that's real.

I was listening to a personal growth lecture a long time ago, and the speaker brought up Lord of the Rings. Why would a speaker of enlightenment do this? He said that there's no guarantee when it comes to our goals and dreams, so all we can do is move toward them one step at a time. But what we can have is hope. Because it's in our despair that our dreams can fade and disappear. Lord of the Rings is really a story about hope. Hobbits, the smallest creatures in Middle-Earth, do the seemingly impossible. Frodo Baggins is tasked with holding the most powerful ring and resisting its evil influence, while trekking across Middle-Earth, avoid getting killed by the Orc armies, and destroy the One Ring in Mount Doom. Frodo doesn't know how he'll accomplish this, only that he needs to, so he sets out on foot with hope in his heart.

Another example is Star Wars. Luke flies into the trench of the Death Star, and he hears the voice of Obi Wan Kenobi say, "Use the Force, Luke. Let go, Luke." Luke turns off his targeting computer. We, the audience, already witnessed another pilot miss using his, and we intuit that Luke needs to trust himself. That somehow his own wisdom will guide him. In a way, the Force symbolizes that wisdom and that we should trust our own.

What Walt may not understand is that all stories are quests. Whether the quest is for love, revenge, balance, or world domination doesn't matter. It's in that quest that teaches us something about ourselves. It's in the ups and downs of trying to destroy an evil ring that can show hope. It's in our trust of the magical Force that we see that wisdom resides inside all of us.

And science fiction and fantasy allows the storyteller to remove the boundaries of the real world, and let's us use fantastical things to showcase truths of the human condition.

Praise tha Lawd

Thank tha Lawd tha rain has come!

California has gone through one of the worst droughts in 2014/2015 and the much needed rain has drenched the state with more to come. Thanks El Niño. Or should I thank Gawd? Did She give birth to The Kid? If so, then Gawd is a woman? I mean, if God made man in his/her image, and God created everything, essentially giving birth to it all, then God is a woman. Right?

According to a friend of mine, no.

So my girlfriend and I and another couple had decided to make the trek to the Sierra Mountains. We spend the long New Year's weekend skiing and snowboarding down the groomed mountainsides on pristine white snow. What we see is beautiful: Thick white snow carpeting the never ending mountains.

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On the way back, my friend was schooling his girlfriend about how evolution was really a big conspiracy and that the Earth was young (6000-10,000 years old). I tried not to pay attention because when it came to religion and evolution, I'm pretty ignorant. I know the basics, like there's Gawd and Heysoos, and we was once be a single-celled thang called a single-celled thingybob and den we turned into peeps...baby chicks.

Plus, I'm not a fan of people who argue that science is failing us.

What peaked my interest was that my friend mentioned a tyrannosaurus rex bone had been found with soft tissue still intact within the fossil. "How could that be?" he lamented. "Soft tissue can't survive 65 million years. The Earth is not as old as scientists have said."

I was stumped.

"How can a cat turn into a bird?" he retorted. "How can an alligator evolve into a human? Evolution is a conspiracy. Show me a picture of a bone where a cat turns into a bird? There isn't."

"That's not what evolution says," I chimed in. I tried to tell him that evolution has branches. So the branch of animals that evolved to cats is not likely to evolve to birds. And alligators are not going to evolve into humans.

We continued this stupid debate and then he put the onus on me to provide him with evidence to support the theory of evolution. "Not a picture," he demanded. Actual evidence.

Well...it's not like I carry around a catbird bone. My girlfriend would probably think I'm weird. She already thinks that, so I guess if I had a catbird bone, it wouldn't hurt to carry the catbird bone around. Maybe wear the birdcat bone around my neck. Or was it my neck bone connected to my head bone?

So I turned it around and asked him for evidence that God was real. He mentioned the Bible. Didn't humans write that, I countered. It was inspired by God. How do you know that? There are statues with the name David with writing on it. So a statue is your evidence that God inspired humans to write the Bible down on paper? There are statues all over the world that contain the same writing, my friend offered.

In summary, I had to produce real world evidence to support the theory of evolution, the catbird bone, and all he had to do was point to these statues. In other words, he could have second or third or fifty-second hand resources, but I couldn't point to the work scientists have done on the subject.

Taking a break from our useless conversation, we veered off the highway and stopped off at a diner. My friend's girlfriend had complained to me about how much he had talked endlessly on his religious and conspiracy tirades. And if it hadn't been for those, their relationship would be perfect.

After ordering our food, he started to question my girlfriend about her religious beliefs. I could tell he he wanted to poke holes in her religion because he believes his should be the only one.

I jumped in and said, "We can't change our past. We're not even guaranteed tomorrow. Nor do we really know what happens when we die. What's important is this present moment. Do we live in happiness and peace now, or do we worry about what will happen after we die?"

My friend wasn't ready to admit what I had said had some merit. And that's fine. But unless you're 007 or you can actually do something about conspiracies, why spend what little time you have on this little blue marble called Earth worrying about it?

In the vain of the success of Star Wars, hate does lead to the darkside. What really depresses most people is a disconnection of some sort. It's the reason we all seek connection through relationships, friends and family (I could have just as well gone to the Sierras by myself, but it's more enjoyable with friends), New Year's gatherings in crowded cities, drunken bars during the holidays. We crave connection. We get it through people, through prayer, through doing things like painting, writing, singing, petting cats.

So I assume that my friend needs to go on these religious and conspiracy tirades in the hopes of convincing people he's right, so he feels connected and supported. But that's the thing about religious faith. He shouldn't need others to believe in order for him to believe. And that's what I find so weird about religious fanatics. Why do they need others to believe? Is it because they truly care about their fellow woman, or is it out of insecurity?

About that dinosaur bone with soft tissue still inside. I decided to look it up to see if this was some kind of hoax. And it wasn't.

Are You Lovin' Your Passion Piece?

I meet a lot of people through meetup.com. Meetup allows people to create groups that others can join. Groups cater everything from writing to adventurous travelers to dog lovers to swingers (Uh...my friend told me about the swingers). So I decided to go to several self proclaimed geek groups to try and see why they love the things they love, the geek culture. I wasn't sure what I'd be looking for, since I wasn't going to change my books to their likings or preferences. But I did find something interesting.

Geeks are people too. Well, that wasn't the interesting part. But geeks are very passionate. I've yet to meet a non-passionate geek, or else they'd be the run-of-the-mill person. And what they're passionate about varies quite a bit.

We were all talking about what our favorite SciFi/Fantasy series were, why we loved it, and which one was better such as the classic Star Wars vs Star Trek heated debate. Most were able to pick sides. Some had to recuse themselves from choosing. Again, that's not interesting. What was insightful were the reasons behind their favorite SciFi/Fantasy stories.

Because geeks are people too, they love having their imaginations sparked and having deep conversations about what these stories mean, especially to them. For example, I personally love the original Star Wars series because of the philosophical aspects; my favorite being when Luke turned off his targeting computer and trusted the force, in essence trusting his own intuition and wisdom. Others stated they loved the social commentaries certain stories talked about like Starship Troopers, written by Robert A. Heinlin. Or the huge imaginative elements fantasies like Harry Potter portray that always delve deeper than what you see on the surface.

Whatever the reason, I realized one basic thing. Because geeks are very passionate, the storytellers must also be passionate about what they create, maybe be a little bit insane. And I think the more passionate we are about our stories, the more the audience will love them. Part of that love, for me anyways, is always the depth of the story, or simply put, what do I hope my readers will get (a deeper understanding of life?) aside from escaping their own world?

That's why I tend to be biased toward stories that have character or story arcs. There's always some sort of message that enlightens us to be a better person or make the world a better place.

One of my first writing conventions that I attended had a key speaker who was a best selling author. His poignant advise was to write what we're passionate about, what we think about everyday, what pulls us to write or tell stories. And he was right on. When actors make movies for money, we can see it. Their performances are flat. Stories are empty. We come out unchanged or unmoved. When actors are passionate about their roles, we can tell. Our heart sings when their characters succeed, cries in their pain, or rejoices in their growth. It's the actor's passion pieces.

So meeting fellow geeks only reaffirms what I had first thought when I researched what made certain authors successful. Write your passion pieces. Work on them. Love them. Stroke them. OK. I may have gone too far.