IT

I saw the remake of IT. And something interesting happened afterward. I wasn't traumatized. Let me explain. I'm not a fan of horror. But I've watched a lot of it. Curiosity killed the cat. Nightmare on Elm Street freaked me out because Freddy attacked during our most vulnerable moment, in our sleep. Poltergeist, the original, scared the crap out of me because of the imagery and because the logic seemed right on. Build over a burial ground, piss off the the buried. Duh! One of my favorite movies, Alien, messed me up. I saw this when I was in grade school. Every lump I felt in my chest, every stomach ache I had meant that I was impregnated. Luckily for me I never gave birth to a chestburster. That would not feel good.

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Then the horror movie that fucked me up the most was Seven. After watching the film, I dreaded the coming night for three weeks. The dark made me relive my fear I felt in the theater. The funny thing was that the imagery of the murders weren't godawful disturbing, especially compared to what we see today. What was disturbing were the images created in my mind. All of the murders except for the last one happened off screen. All we saw were the results, the dead bodies and the mechanisms of death involved. Our minds couldn't help but fill in what had taken place, what had transpired into the resulting crime scene. I still shiver thinking about it.

During those weeks of fear I couldn't close my eyes when I washed my face in the shower. If Kevin Spacey was gonna get me, he'd have to get me with me looking. Ok. That's weird.

However, after watching IT, I was able to take a shower and wash my face with my eyes closed. Yay, me. I realized that I wasn't horrified. Or traumatized. I slept like a baby. Probably because my maturity level isn't too far above a child's.

Being a storyteller, I naturally wondered what was wrong with me. Why was I not scared?

I feel the film tried too hard when it came to the scary images. The clown was weird, the scariest thing in the movie. What worked was the contrast of IT's smile to IT's eyes that were highly focused, as if hunting IT's prey, as IT's lips dripped with drool. But when the other characters saw IT, their version of their fear manifested in different ways. And here is where the filmmaker seemed to have tried too hard to make what we saw scary.

One of the kids avoided looking at a painting of a misshapen women in his father's office. And when that woman came to life, as expected, the real life version looked like the painting. Maybe more menacing, but not scarier. In a way the monster was revealed before revealing the monster. What was scary was the anticipation of when these horrific things would appear. But once on screen, any fear that I had vanished. However, the audience I attended the movie consisted of mainly teenagers, and they gasped and screamed with pleasure. Maybe I am growing up.

A friend of mine had read a novel. I don't know the name, and I wish I did. But there was a scene where the serial killer had offed the whole family. Only the daughter was still hiding under her(?) bed. The serial killer slowly entered the room. He circled the bed and stopped at the foot of it. His shoes stood inches from her face. Blood from his knife dripped, tapping the carpet. We're left wondering if the killer knew she was under the bed. She must have been going mad. Who's blood was that? Her mom's? We knew the girl had no option except to force herself to keep calm and quiet and hope that he leaves. The blood stain grew with each drip. She heard the rustling of his clothes. He was kneeling. And he gazed under the bed and dragged her out by her hair. Her fate was sealed.

The horror in that scene starts from the beginning and goes well beyond the end. We don't need to see the girl getting sliced up. Our minds does the heavy lifting. The author has to show the dead body, of course, so there's no ambiguity. But that's an intense scene because we're imagining ourselves going through that. For me I'd shit my pants. So wearing clean underwear wouldn't be beneficial.

The point is to create the horror within the mind through storytelling, not rely solely on the images. Doing so removes the work our minds are keen on doing anyway.

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There's a saying: We fear the unknown.

That's why the dark can be menacing. Things can be hidden beyond our sight. Things that can follow us. Haunt us. Devour us.

That was one of the most intriguing things about Alien. When the astronauts entered the ship, they found an alien pilot that seemed to be fused to the pilot's chair. An odd sight. A small hole on the alien's abdomen looked like something exploded from the inside, a frightening clue. But to what? Then one of the astronauts, Kane, goes down a level and was surrounded by a field of massive egg-shaped things. Shining a light on one awakened it. The lips opened to reveal what looked like chicken breast. Again, the audience did not know what it was nor were there any trailers to spoil that fateful moment. Kane leaned over the opening, and a spider-like creature leaped out...the facehugger.

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But when we see Kane again, we're left wondering why his helmet was filled with a substance that resembled poached egg? Even when the crew cut the helmet off, all they revealed was the facehugger in full view. The only reasonable question was what the fuck was that thing doing? Every step of the way, a question was answered only to reveal another and more sinister question.

But with Alien Covenant, the unknown was known. What we wanted to explore was why the engineers created the xenomorphs, and why they wanted to kill the humans on Earth. Those were the questions asked at the end of the film Promethius, the precursor to Covenant. There was mystery there. Everyone in the blogosphere was talking about it. But with one fell swoop, Ridley Scott avoided delving into that mystery with a one-minute flashback. Then he ruins the xenomorph further by revealing who created them, which throws logic out of the window by ignoring the mythology already created by the prior Alien films.

Okay. I sorta went off track.

Point is, we fear the unknown. By going overboard on the CGI, the filmmaker missed the mark, not by a horrific amount. And when a horror flick resorts to sudden blasts of sound and music to shock the audience, then I'm pretty much taken out of the story. Again, we fear the unknown.

Cliche

Cliches. Adverbs. Telling. Flash backs. Talking heads. Exposition. Predictability. Inconsistent point of views.

These are some of the no-no's of writing fiction. There's a ton more. So it's no wonder that writing something original can be difficult. They say there's nothing new under the sun. I don't know who they be, but I never seen them.

It's been six months since the start of the writing group, and so far we've all been pretty consistent. One of the writers remarked that one of my characters seemed to be God-like. Not that the character had magical powers, but the way I characterized him made him seem that way. He's sorta the Yoda of this book, where around he goes and wisdom he dispels.

In one scene right before the first major battle, he flies along side the main character and has a short but deep conversation. One of the critiquers said that a God-like character should have a God-like entrance: the clouds parting and the sun shooting rays. This writer meant well and often has great input. But I can't think of anything more cliche than having such an entrance, except having birds chirp, cherubs circling the character, playing violins and trumpets, throwing flower petals, while angels sing angelically.

Now, doing the opposite is becoming all too common. The anti-hero is one example.

I love Breaking Bad. You have this character, Walter White, a father of a son with cerebral palsy, married to a devoted woman who's pregnant with their second child, working a thankless job teaching high school chemistry, making barely enough money to support his family. Then he gets diagnosed with terminal cancer. The procedures to fight the cancer alone would destroy his family financially. What is a man to do? Partner with a small time drug dealer and make meth.

Unlike other attempts at anti-heroes, Suicide Squad...cough...ahem, excuse me, Walter starts out as a redeeming character in that we can relate to his troubles. We understand not making enough money. We understand working thankless jobs. Corporate world anyone? We understand sickness. In the face of it all, he tries something unconventional to earn that paper. Money for any of you ghetto-challenged.

I think that being unconventional is the key to skirting the trite. But what do I mean by unconventional?

Thinking from a normal person's perspective, Walter could have gotten another job. Or a higher paying job. Or begin a startup. Or given up and die.

However, going the deep end, like whoring out his wife would make Walter unlikeable. At least in the beginning. He does a lot of despicable stuff in the nine seasons that the show had ran. But hooking the viewers first is important. And it's a good hook.

Obviously from a storytelling point of view, he can't sell meth forever, so upping the ante by having Walter commit increasing heinous crimes pushes the envelope. But he's doing them to protect his own interests, his family being one. And that helps keep the audience sympathetic.

In the aforementioned Suicide Squad, no one has any redeeming qualities. The closest that I can think of is Will Smith's character, Deadshot. He has a daughter that he loves, but that's it. To say that a father loves his child isn't enough to hook us to a character. There's no conflict. The film also doesn't do a convincing job showing his daughter being disappointed at knowing her father is a killer. And Deadshot doesn't show that he regrets letting her down. There are scenes that depict these things. But Deadshot doesn't do anything to try and stop. The tone of the the character is that he's an assassin. It is what it is. There's no real guilt, hence, not redeeming.

With Mr. White, we see him taking the time to calculate the cost of his procedures, calculate his family's financial needs after he's gone, assuming the procedures didn't work, and made the total amount as his goal. Noble.

People understand doing bad stuff. But doing bad stuff for the purpose of doing bad stuff has no emotion behind it. For most people who aren't psychotic, they can't understand that and will not feel sympathy for the character.

My Childhood Destroyed

It was 1984. Indy was exploring temples of doom, Beverly Hills cops received lessons in diversification, Nightmares on Elm Street were prevalent, Arnold, one of Fonz's friends, taught a kid Karate, feets were loose, a Schwarzenegger-looking robot went on a Sarah-killing spree, and a neverending story was told.

On my 13" television I saw a fuzzy commercial about a ghost movie. All I saw was electricity that transformed a woman into a satanic looking dog. "Nope. Ain't seeing that," I said to myself. Ghost movies weren't my thing because I scare easily. Even Gremlins freaked me out, despite Gizmo's cuteness.

"Hey, for my birthday," my best friend said, "we're gonna see Ghostbusters."

My mind flickered to the satanic dog. "Isn't that scary?"

My friend shrugged his shoulders. "Probably."

Being the good friend that I had been, I went with him and a slew of other brave kids and sat in the movie theater that seemed darker than usual.

The silver screen lit up, showing the main branch of the New York public library. A lone librarian strolled down a narrow hall of shelves, putting books away. As the old lady passed the card catalog, one by one, they slowly slid open. The cards flew upward like a geyser, chasing the frightened woman away. Then we see her scream from flashes of bright light. And I forgot how dark the theater was.

I saw Ghostbusters five times in the theater. Of course in the theater. There was no other way of watching movies until it came out on VHS. And no, I'm not talking about VHS the movie.

Ghostbusters became one of those 80's movies that helped define my childhood. I ran around with my friend, wearing an empty backpack, holding a small branch, chasing ghosts in a field where I used to live.

Over thirty years later, the remake has made it to the theaters. When I first heard that the four main characters would be all women, I was perturbed because the whole thing felt very heavy-handed, but I didn't put much thought into it.  Apparently there was a massive movement against the all female cast. There were rumors that Sony deleted mysogynistic comments about the new movie from their site. And a Roger Ebert reviewer said that Sony could have put more effort in making a better movie than removing those comments.

And I have to agree.

As a storyteller, I'm always itching to find out why certain stories work and why others don't. It was difficult for me not to compare the remake to the original. But in this case we should from a comedic perspective.

In the original, the comedy emanates from the situation the characters are in.

In the remake it feels like the cast is playing to the audience. When that happens, we're taken out of the story because we're forced to watch them 'talk' to us rather than enjoy what's going on in the scene.

An example from the original:

We're introduced to the first Ghostbuster, Dr. Peter Venkman, played by Bill Murray. He sits behind a desk in front of a contraption with a few flip switches. Facing him are two students, a female and a male, who have volunteered to test their psychic ability. Venkman holds up a card without revealing the face, a star.

The male student puts his fingers on his temple and thinks. Nodding, he says, "Square."

Venkman flips the card over, revealing the star, and says, "Good guess, but wrong." He flips a switch and shocks the student with a blip of electricity.

The good doctor looks at the female student, a slight smile crosses his lips, and pulls another card. "Tell me what you think it is."

She thinks for a moment. "Is it a star?"

The male student snickers. I would too. We just saw a star!

"It is a star," Venkman says, putting down the card without revealing what it truly was.

The male student looks at the card, looks at the girl, and can't believe what just happened.

The rest of the scene is more of that, and it's funny because the intention of Peter is completely understood without telling us. Not only that, he's destroying the results of his own study for the purpose of getting some ass. And the male student finally blowing up at the doctor at the end of the scene is its climax (good structure), giving the comedy punch. None of this is played for the audience. There are several layers at work that it messes with our minds, making us laugh.

Back to the remake. It seemed that a lot of the comedy is forced. I think part of it is because they tried to redo some of the original stuff. When the first three lady Ghostbusters encounter their first ghost, Kristen Wiig's character, Erin Gilbert, goes to talk to it like Venkman did with the original casts' first ghost. The class 4 entity throws up on her, covering her in more slime than Venkman ever had to suffer. It's not funny because it's not a new take on the paranormal. And much of the remake is filled with playing to the audience rather than creating situations that are funny.

The only character that seemed to be in the moment is Kate McKinnon's character, Holtzmann. Her wacky spectacles helped, but often she just sat there in her scenes and let them be funny rather than working so hard for the comedy.

I think a lot of remakes don't work because they're trying to reproduce what has worked before, rather than creating something new, a different perspective or take.

If you look at Chris Nolan's Batman, Bruce Wayne is shown as a human being with all of the vulnerabilities of a real person. There was a story arch that stretched over the trilogy, which meant Nolan wrote an origin story, progressing to Batman becoming a symbol, moving to an arthritic hero where its purpose has been fulfilled.

There are layers of storytelling because Nolan uses Batman to tell us something deeper than what we see as the Dark Knight. And that's genius.

You Mad?

Working with a writing coach has been interesting because The Grinder, as I call her, has torn my manuscript to pieces. In other words, it sucked ass. I think the story is good but that remains to be seen. The execution of it was really bad. And I knew something was wrong, but I didn't know what nor how to fix it. So I called The Grinder.

She has given me line by line critiques, and I had to decide whether to use them or not. When the critique was technical, like grammar or structure, there would be no question. I'd either make the edit or rewrite that part. However, when it came to suggestions such as logical progression of the story, or to reveal certain story elements earlier, then I'd have to take the time to think if this would work for the overall book. I'd either do the edits/rewrites, or decide that her suggestion won't work and move on.

Having done an overhaul on my book over the past two years, I needed people to read it to see their reactions, do some fine tuning. So I'm fortunate to be a part of a writing group filled with writers that are also working on their own books. We trade pages each week and critique each other's work. And it's going really well. For me, reading other peoples' works allows me to apply what The Grinder has taught me.

Yesterday was an interesting session because one of the authors challenged my critiques.

He tries to be really efficient with his writing. He doesn't use dialogue tags, which makes it difficult to know who's speaking, especially at the start of the scene. Many times I have to re-read lines to figure out who's speaking. I think making the reader work hard when they're already piecing together the images he's trying to paint isn't a good idea.

The other issue I have is he's telling instead of showing. A simple example, he often writes something like 'She lets out a sigh' instead of 'She sighs'. If he wants his writing to be efficient, then 'She sighs' is it, and the wording is stronger. Look at it this way:

She gives her man a beating

She beats her man

They're both still telling, not showing, but by linking the noun directly with the verb, the wording is much stronger. To make it vivid:

She punched her man in the face

This is a much stronger image that plays against the expectation of her kicking him in the balls, leaving us wondering why she punched him instead.

Here's another example:

She gave him a pointed look

I suggested that he show this. He then gave me a pointed look and asked what I thought that meant.

It doesn't matter what I thought because he wasn't showing, at least not clearly enough for me. She could be pointing with her forehead, chin, index finger, nostril, tongue, or tits. Or was he describing a look that was pointed, whatever that means.

Now the critiquer in me wouldn't mind this as much, but he was telling way more than showing, and I thought he needed to help the reader out a bit.

The thing is that he challenged my suggestions on his work that are just that: suggestions. It's his book. He can ignore everything I say. I have no power when it comes to his writing. Literally.

In one of my suggestions, I told him I didn't have a problem with one of his sentences, but remembered something similar that my writing coach had pointed out. He said, "She's not my writing coach." And I said, "OK," and moved on. I'm not about to argue with someone who isn't willing to listen, and again, it's not my book. I'm just trying to help.

The lesson here is that my opinion, or anyone else's, has no real power over you. And if you think there is, then you're the one giving those words power.

Sticks and stones. 

The Writing Dead Strikes Again

Tease. Don't you hate it when you make out with a woman, and your hand glides close to her chest, feeling the tightening of her shirt as she breaths, then she says, "I have to go," and leaves.

Crow.

Or have you seen friends fall to drink collectors at bars? For those not in the know, they're girls who have guys buy them drinks, then walk off with those said drinks.

This is what The Walking Dead writers have done to their viewers. If you haven't heard by now, a baddie named Negan from the comic book series of the same name has finally made his appearance on the television show. The writers have teased his appearance for most of the sixth season, especially through AMC's show, The Talking Dead. Fans knew that Negan's appearance would result in the death of a character, as dictated by Negan himself. And as he promised, he took his love, Lucille, a bat, and whacked somebody's head. Again and again and again.

But the episode ended without showing which character got the axe. Sorry. The bat.

As a writer, a storyteller, I would not do this. It's plain manipulative. Meaning it's done on purpose to fuck you over.

Scott Gimple came on The Talking Dead and explained that the end of the story is what we got. And the beginning of the next story is dealing with that character's death.

No.

First of all, the surviving characters can deal with the death in season seven even if who ever died was shown on the finale. Second, the writers did the same thing with Glenn in this season. In other words, don't be boring.

Imagine you've captured the attention of a drink collector and make it to the point of sex. You do this by describing a night that includes a scrumptious seafood dinner, followed by a tour of your mansion where you show her a serene lavender-scented bedroom, in which your strong manly hands give her a massage that will bring her to the brink of orgasm, and then continue the evening on your silk-covered bed with the solemn promise of multiple orgasms that will be more of a spiritual moment than having a conversation with God.

But...what she actually gets is a quick wet kiss, fast honking of the tits, a few pumps of the pelvis, and then you roll over and sleep. Worse of all, she wasn't even wet.

When Gimple was asked about people being upset at the cliffhanger, he said:

I would say, when they opened up the hatch [on Lost], we had to wait and see who was in the hatch. I liked thinking about that. I liked talking about it...blah, blah, blah...

He didn't answer the question. And is he that dumb to think that people wouldn't have talked and thought about it, despite revealing who was killed? Or is he that insecure about holding the fans' interest? Or worse yet, is he that arrogant to purposefully fuck with the fans' emotions through manipulation? Well, his non-answer to the question in regards to people being upset really says that they should like whatever he puts out.

And, yes, I know this is only a television show. Many fans have stated this as a way to dispel the huge disappointment in the ending. But if you asked the producers of The Walking Dead if they rather have us watch their show or skip it and watch something else, they'd want you to watch their show. And they want us to be invested. That's why they do this, but it's so unsatisfying. And if you search Twitter for #TWDfinale, you'd see the huge dissatisfaction from the fans. And that's just one tag. Reading comments from articles and YouTube videos discussing the ending show the same disappointment.

I'm not saying you have to give in to the fans, but pissing people off by doing a stupid stunt like this can reduce viewership. But then again there's no such thing as bad press.

Character Trait

I think writing fantasy is difficult. When creating a new world with new rules (i.e. magic, physics, politics), authors have to remain consistent. The magic in Harry Potter is a great example. J.K. Rowling establishes different economic classes in the wizardry populace. For example, the Weasley family is considered poor. But the Malfoys are rich. Very rich.

We see this when Harry goes to the bank and sees his vault open to a pile of gold coins. We see this again in Harry and Ron's first train ride to Hogwarts when the candy cart comes. Weasley frowns and holds up his lunch(?) wrapped in Saran Wrap. But Harry makes it rain with gold coins and buys 'the whole lot'.

Then we see something curious. In the Great Hall after the new students have been sorted into their houses, plates of food miraculously appear out of thin air onto the tables. Ron dives in and gorges himself. This suggests that food, or anything else, can be created out of nothing, which contradicts the idea of economic class. Why does money exist if a basic need like food can be conjured from nothing?

Rowling even acknowledged that she had run into a storytelling problem, and covered herself by showing that house elves prepare the food, and magic is used to teleport the plates of sustenance to the tables. To be honest, I didn't even see the problem until I started to learn the rules of world building.

Now, reading other writers' works, I've had to take notice if/when they're breaking their own rules. But writing about human insecurities is a little difficult. One of the authors in my writing group has a story about a guy who is self-conscious about feeling old. But there are moments where that character feels youthful and moments when he feels old. We've all harped on this fact, that his character seems to flip flop on his own perception of age. That the character needs to be consistent, otherwise the author may lose the readers' trust. The author states that his character's feelings on age depends on the situation.

And that makes perfect sense.

Character traits are defined as something that changes their view of the world. Put it simply, if the character is a man, his view is going to be vastly different than a woman's. A man isn't going to fear rape every time he goes on a first date. But a woman may because she's the physically weaker sex.

Or if a character is narcissistic, then she will see the world as beneath her, or her above it, as seen in the character Cat Grant in Supergirl.

So what we, as fellow writers, are harping on is the consistency of the character trait. But what we did not see is that declaring yourself old or young is not the trait the author intended. The trait is the insecurity of being old. And the character's flip flopping supports that trait. Because if the trait was that he feels old, isn't worth anything because he's old, then flip flopping wouldn't make sense. And it wouldn't make for an interesting story.

Life Is Fair

I remember as a kid my niece scooped more ice cream than I had and I told my brother, "That's not fair."

"Who said life is fair?" he retorted.

I always hated that question. Who said life is fair? Well who the fuck said life is unfair?

Dude. A lot of people.

I just came out of a writing group that is surprisingly going well, and one of the critiquers said my main character has faced a lot of opposition and is going through a lot of opposition. In a way life has been unfair to him. Obviously, I've set up this character and his life in this manner to make him a more compelling and interesting read.

But when we look at real life from the perspective of labels, situations and material wealth life can be unfair. There will be people that are richer than you. There will be others that are poorer. Certain people will have talents that you will not have. And you will have talents they won't even want. A coworker may get promoted faster than you. Some people work hard and withstand stupid people (retail workers) for little money. And hard work doesn't guarantee success.

So, yes, from the perspective of the have and have-nots life is unfair.

Going back to my main character, he is now at the top of world. He's married to a beautiful woman who was highly sought after in her day. His two adult children are well adjusted. He's the general of the most powerful military force in the seven provinces. He's also the most talented and best swordsman this world has seen. Yet, he's unhappy.

Jimmy, this is crap. No one on Earth, the real world, who is this successful can be unhappy. Not true.

Now, I'm not saying that if you're rich, you're unhappy. But people who do not consider themselves rich may think that having more will increase their happiness. And we can see that's not true. And I don't need to provide proof that unhappiness exists in people that are considered poor.

And this is where life is fair. Happiness can be had by all. Because for anyone to say they are unhappy, they at some point in their lives were happy.

The question becomes how can people herd more happiness into their lives?

For my main character, one of the things he can do is let go. As one of my critiquers have said, he's faced a lot of opposition in his life. One is portrayed here. Enduring this kind of tragedy obviously takes a mourning period. But the mourning period can extend as long as he holds onto this memory. I'm not saying he'll forget it. What I'm saying is how often does he remind himself of this tragic event can extend the mourning period.

I think losing a child is too extreme of an example. So let's take my friend Mr. Vagina. Well, don't actually take him.

My friend had fallen for a girl, hard. And he's had the damnedest time trying to heal from it. And that's the crux of his problem. He's trying to heal. You get a cut on your hand. Your body naturally begins the healing process. You don't need to pray, talk to someone, pay anyone money, or look in the mirror deep into your soul every morning and night and affirm that your body will heal itself. It'll fuckin' heal itself.

Mr. Vagina's mind is the same. It will naturally heal and move on from his perceived emotional torment. But every time we've met up for dinner, he would sink into his victim hood.

World’s smallest violin

World’s smallest violin

He would give me a history lesson of how all this pain started, how he's a good guy, how she's at fault, and then asks me for confirmation of all those things. I don't give it to him, but that's not the point here. He's taking the cut on his hand and slicing it again and again everyday. He's the proverbial self-cutter. Not only that but he either refuses or is unable to see that this is all self-inflicting, despite me showing him. He's been unhappy for a very long time because he's a true master at holding on to grudges.

Once he lets go, happiness, like a healthy body, will naturally show itself.

For my main character, losing a child is a very deep cut. And with that, it may naturally take more time to heal. And like some severe injuries, the human body has limits. Does the mind?