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.

Messy People

I finished watching Seven Seconds on Netflix. I Netflixed and chilled by myself, which is pretty sad. And messy. That's one of the things I loved about Seven Seconds. It's very messy. Napkin please. For my tears.

Veena Sud is the series creator and is known from her series The Killing. The Killing was amazing because of the mood it creates. It doesn't resort to bloody grotesque images to shock the viewers because that isn't the goal. The surprising realization for me was that most of the show followed the two lead detectives who were tasked to solve Rosie's murder. Well...duh. Stay with me.

The reason I was surprised was that I felt this sense of dread and darkness throughout the whole series. This came when the rest of the onscreen time was spent focused on the mother and father's reaction to this unimaginable hole that murder leaves. Powerful storytelling. But what punched me in the gut emotionally was how messy their relationship was with their daughter and with each other before Rosie was murdered. This creates complexities because the parents can't resolve old wounds with their dead daughter. So the question becomes can they heal from their albatrosses? Can they heal their relationship with each other?

So why not aim the cameras solely on the victim's friends and family? Wouldn't that make it more powerful? More engaging? Short answer, no.

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Too much darkness and dread can be too intense. Most viewers would be put off by this. Pretty quickly too. Which is why the show centers around the detectives. And the fact that the show asked "Who killed Rosie Larsen?" gave the audience a mystery to solve, something for their minds to chew on.

Whew! All this is to say that more often than not we see characters, especially supporting ones, that have no backstory. Even if they do, they're bland. Disney stories are like this. Most of the character building is focused on the main players. And that's understandable. Time constraints may limit that. But good characters had lives before showing up to the reader or viewer.

However, with a ten-episode series, a writer can delve into the messy lives and bask in the dreaded details. We resonate with that because all of our lives are messy. This is where Sud shines. She creates characters that have had lives before we see them. They're revealed in a way that helps create plot and arcs to be traversed.

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In Seven Seconds Clare-Hope Ashitey dives into the role of KJ Harper, the lawyer responsible for the case that encompasses the series. It's not enough to have her be an alcoholic. That's cliche. What isn't is how it affects KJ's choices socially and professionally. There's a couple of suggestions that she sleeps with whoever is available. A guy at a karaoke bar. Her detective counterpart. There are many times alcohol threatens her case. She either misses her court appointments, or delves into the deepest darkest part of her so she gives up on the case (and herself, essentially).

The detective, her partner in crime, not only has to deal with her messiness, but he has a messy past of his own, which resulted in a resentful daughter, revealing his emotional character arc. And this is something that isn't made very clear in a lot of the writing classes that I've taken. Creating messiness for a character is easy. But having it linked so his character arc must resolve it to me is pretty basic. But to know how to do this the writer must know the character traits. How it was taught to me is that a character trait shapes how she sees the world. For example if she's a workaholic, then her whole world revolves around that life. When a guy asks her out on a date, she'll likely deny him in some way, despite the fact that she may be hard up.

So working backward in creating scenes for your character is one way to approach this messiness. Having a character trait, workaholic, that allows you to move her toward the person she should be, appreciating the moment (smellin' da roses), will make it easier on the writer to create scenes. Because the scenes have to push the question: What's more important? Work life? Or life with people, nature, real experiences that changes her soul? I can tell you, living in the San Francisco Bay Area that real experiences are a luxury. In my opinion, that's unfortunate.

Dude...

When I first started to develop the characters of my book, Nightfall, I knew one of the subjects I was going to be exploring was ego, and how ego weaves its ugly opinions into their lives and shape their world. And the startling thing I've found was that part of the development wrote itself. It's character arc, how a person moves from who they are today to who they should be tomorrow. 

The story of Scrooge is a great example. When the story begins, Scrooge is greedy, hoarding his riches. Through spiritual enlightenment, namely the three ghosts, Scrooge evolves into a person who is giving and caring.

I was like that. Being Asian, I was raised to save, save, save. Before I was born, my family of six lived in a bedroom-sized apartment. My mother is a huge saver. So I grew up to be very cheap. I had an argument with an ex one time because she asked me to buy her a three-dollar bottle of water at a movie theater. I bought it, but then we fought about it because I was upset at having to spend that much money for water. Safeway sells it for less than a buck. Common!

But I realized that I wasn't poor anymore. I was earning more than enough money to live on, my savings was healthy, and I wasn't living from paycheck to paycheck. But I was still in the mental space of being poor. Luckily for the woman in my life today, I'm not in that head space anymore.

Recently, I asked a friend if I can get a ride to a dinner event. I would take Bart, a public transit system, and get off at the 16th Street station that was literally a five minute drive to the restaurant. He wanted me to get off several stations passed that because it was closer to where he lived. So I reiterated that the restaurant was only a five minute drive from the 16th station.

He then went off and said, "You're the one who needs a ride, dude. Not me, dude. Just meet us at Balboa. I don't mean to be rude, dude!"

Hmm. OK. I can understand if I was asking for rides all the time, but we hadn't hung out for a couple months, so I wasn't sure what his problem was.

Dude. Deeeoooood. Dewd. Dood. Diud. Dhude (the H is silent).

Then I remembered an incident. He had liked this girl for a while and was stalking her online. He asked her a question about a conversation she and I had had. We were talking about FOBs (fresh off the boat) and traded our experiences with them. He then asked her if he was an FOB and she said yes. He took offense to that and might have blamed me for that classification. It wasn't I who had turned him down for a date. But I think he started using the word 'dude' a lot to further himself from being a FOBby dude.

A friend and I met up with a girl one Friday evening to watch a group of bands play. I'm not a huge fan of live music, but I went because I'm always trying to break old habits and thinking. The girl was late, Asian time, and the first thing she said was, "San Francisco is so pretentious."

"Why?" I asked.

"Because the restaurants and bars are very douchery." Translation: they charged a lot. "I've been to a lot of them and they're all like that."

"How many restaurants have you been to?" I asked.

"Thirty."

There are over 4,000 restaurants in San Francisco. It's a foodie town that houses everything from food trucks to Michelin rated establishments (Translation: hella good grub). So for her to make a determination that the city is douchery from a sample size of thirty restaurants is kinda small, especially when the variability seemed to be non-existent because she's choosing expensive places, obviously.

Thinking that you deserve to eat well versus just eating good food is egotistical. Personally, I love hole-in-the-walls (not glory holes) just as much as Michelin rated restaurants.

I've always hated the corporate world. I work in it because it's just a paycheck to me. And that's what is so soul-sucking, that the work has no meaning to me. Think of a woman having sex for money, so she can eat, shade herself from the rain, feed her children. Sex should be pleasurable, be an intimate communication of the bodies, and/or maybe, depending on who came first, to procreate.

I look at everyone who seems to love the corporate world and ask myself, "Don't you all want more out of life?" I hear from old corporate execs that they should have spent more time with friends and family. And if I were to get laid off, I don't think I'd mind it so much. I would be shocked at first, but then I'd be free of my voluntary jail sentence to my 6X6 cubicle. 

All of this thinking, of course, is egotistical, like I'm too good for the corporate world. And me spending all this time writing isn't taking away from friends and family, that my writing is more important than the job that affords me to write. Well, yes, to me. But it's still ego. Knowing this truth doesn't change how I feel, but it helps take me off of my high horse. And get on a smaller one. What? It's not a bad joke!

Open vs. Closed

No. This post is not about Apple's closed vs. Android's open system. Anyone still talking about that doesn't understand their business models.

Do I Look Bored?
Do I Look Bored?

One of the theories of good storytelling suggests tying different characters' arcs into a common theme. In Don Jon, the main character, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is addicted to porn because he savors that perfect girl doing perfect things like giving the perfect blowjob. His new girlfriend, played by Scarlett Johansson, is addicted to romance movies where the perfect guy meets the perfect girl and they're perfect for each other. Both adult and romantic films are forms of porn because they depict a sort of perfection, or perversion, that doesn't wholly exist in the real world.

This past weekend's social events seemed to depict one common theme. Saturday, I had dinner with a group of people and was talking to an acquaintance. Mr. SUV jabbered about his girlfriend, so I asked him why she wasn't here. She's complex, Mr. SUV responded. My interest piqued because I love observing and talking about relationships, what makes them work, what doesn't. I asked what made her so complex?

"Well...I call her my girlfriend, but...she doesn't really want to see me. We don't see each other much."

I pursed my lips. "So, you're taking a break?"

"No...we still talk...she doesn't want to spend time with me. It's frustrating."

Uh...what? Trying to get more information resulted with more confusion on my part, but the thought that came to mind was:

Moments later, he was talking up his SUV, how good it was, the value, its horsepower. He would drive a hybrid but it wouldn't impress the ladies. What? Quality women don't care about the car you drive, they care about being with a confident man, I barged in. The ladies at the table nodded.

"You haven't seen the kind of women I meet," Mr. SUV said.

"What women? You have a girlfriend."

He chuckled. I was a little frustrated with him, I don't know why.

The next day, I went with a hiking group to Yosemite on a day trip. It was incredibly beautiful, air smelled clean. I'd made my way around and talked to everyone, sharing my humorous side throughout the day. Afterward, about ten of us went to dinner and the strangeness from the night before continued, despite being a completely different group of people.

A Harvard grad kept pestering me about the racial mixture of Venezuelans. I told him several times I didn't know because I left my country at a very young age. Mr. Harvard wasn't listening because he was crushing on Prada Girl, whom he carpooled with.

Prada Girl was flicking through Facebook, paying little attention to the conversation until the topic strolled to shopping. She liked having brand name purses such as Prada and showed off hers. Before going back to her phone, she mentioned that her older brother had paid for a lot of that stuff. I asked why.

Then Middle Woman said that's what brothers are for. I asked her if she was the youngest. No, she had two siblings, an older brother and a younger sister. Curiosity tickled my mind, and I asked if Middle Woman felt left out because she was the center child. She shook her head.

The conversation moved to our jobs, and Miss Moneypants was asked if she liked what she did. Miss Moneypants worked for a company that built components for satellites. "I'd be happier if I made more money."

"Would you be happy if you were paid 500,000 dollars as a prostitute?" I quipped.

"Why would you ask that?" Miss Moneypants said, shaking her head.

"You seem to put a lot of happiness on money," I said. 

Another woman was brave enough to turn that question on me, which I appreciated. Before I could answer, Miss Moneypants stated angrily, "I know YOU would."

ooh...I need to get a hair cut
ooh...I need to get a hair cut

Several people said I was asking personal questions. I guess that depends on who you are. It's not like I had a gun and threatened them to answer. They could just have ignore me.

"Answer me, or I'll—uh—ask you another question!"

There's a bigger issue here, and I'm not sure if it's because these people were Asians. Everyone seemed very closed, unable to have an open conversation. In a way, I think, they don't want to confront themselves and see that they might be living a lie.

In the instance of Mr. SUV, he places his own value on what people think of him, so he has this girlfriend who doesn't want to spend time with him. Miss Moneypants places her happiness on money, the one thing that can be easily taken away. Prada Girl hides behind her brand name clothes and accessories, while Mr. Harvard can't seem to get it up and flirt with Prada Girl, so he pretends to be intellectual about something he has no involvement in.

Much like the characters in Don Jon, both are trying to recreate the life they see on the screen, not knowing that life isn't perfect. Part of their growth is that happiness shouldn't be linked to anything that life has to offer but is innate within them, and, as such, they should let go of all pretense.

Compare and Contrast

A hallmark of a good story, outside of the story arc, is the character arc. We wanna see our character transform to the person they should be. Despite our dislike for change, Newton’s law I suppose, we want to improve, grow, get better, become greater than what we think we can be. Even people who aren’t storytellers know something is missing if nothing changes in a story, whether it be the overall or character arc, because we’re asking ourselves, What’s the point?

ChoppedLiver

ChoppedLiver

Over the weekend, I was hanging out with a few friends and a bunch of new ones. We were enjoying the rare warm sun of San Francisco with everyone teeming the streets with their dogs, boards, and wheels in the midst of the many picnics and people soaking in the rays. During the hustle and bustle, two acquaintances scurried up to my friend who said, “I’ll forward his info to you.” One of the girls thanked her and gave her a grateful hug. I’m standing there thinking, What am I, chop livah?

Dadudadudaaduuuu...Hawaii Five O

Dadudadudaaduuuu...Hawaii Five O

The guy they were referring to was tall, athletic, good looking, had a great career and a great personality to boot. So I get my imaginary list: I’m short, excuse me, height challenged; no one can tell whether I’m Filipino or Vietnamese even though I’m neither of those, but who can tell in the first place; still working on my five pack, I’m missing one, genetics I guess; I have a day job with no want for advancement; I tend to rely on humor too much and wonder if it’s a defense mechanism. So I understand the excitement over the new guy, who I’ve gotten to know, and is a cool dude.

Stress and self-loathing bubbles in my chest, a victim mentality wells in my mind, and I feel like nothing. At this point, my confidence is dead and dying. Uh. Right.

They all look like me

They all look like me

When I taught kids, one of the main things I imparted was not to compare oneself with any other. We are all perfect in our own way because there doesn’t exist one ideal perfection. In regards to nature, and the arts, if there was one ideal, then we’d die out pretty quickly because we wouldn’t be able to adapt. Art would all look the same. It’d be a horrible, horrible thing. Sorta like Hollywood movies. Oooh. No I didn't! Comparing ourselves to something else is pointless; we don’t wanna be like someone else, we inherently wanna be us, but accepted as well.

So what do I do about the above situation? Nothing. There is nothing to do because I know myself, I know what I offer, and like all other humans, I have many facets that lend well to whatever it is I want to do or be. It doesn’t make for good storytelling, we wanna see the trials and tribulations of self discovery, but I’m not the story here. My characters are, though, I have gone through the trials and tribulations, as it lends well to writing. At least that’s what I tell myself.

Fame!

A lot is going on here!  What do I look at?

A lot is going on here!  What do I look at?

I just saw Fame, the 2009 version.  I never saw Fame, the 1980 version.  I should since it won two Oscars.  And I'm not one of those people who watches only Oscar winners, but the 2009 version got bad reviews.  And I know why.

Get outta my way

Get outta my way

In the 2009 version, we have a cross section of characters that are admitted to Performance Arts High School.  Clever name.  In this cross section, we have freshmen who deal with issues with shyness, self worth, preconceived ideas from parental figures, grades that lead to being expelled, and people in the industry who've scammed money.

This seems like a lot but a lot of stories have this many sub plots that help drive the main story line.  Problem here is I'm not sure what the main story line is, and these play like sub plots with no main plot.  You could also say they are all main plots but that would be too many.

The second problem is we move from admission to graduation in a period of 107 minutes.  I'm not saying this can't be done, but when you have many sub plots with no main plot, or a whole bouquet of main plots, it's going to be difficult to develop these characters.  Hell!  It'd be difficult with just a single character.  Again, it can be done, but you better be one helluva screenwriter.  The issue here is no character development.  Here's an example:

Whoo!

Whoo!

There's a character named Malik who runs into the problem of parental limitation.  His mom says he ain't all that.  Not in those exact words, but it's a good problem.  We've all at some level--friends or family--have been told we ain't all dat.  Is any of it true?  Of course not.  But the movie doesn't show Malik overcoming that issue, finding that he's special, then realizing he is truly talented.

What if he wasn't?  The movie doesn't show that either.

So is the message of the movie saying that none of us are special (not in the yellow bus way)?  No because the movie is called Fame.

So what's the message?  Not quite sure.

Throughout the whole movie we get performances that are well choreographed.  There must have been a dozen.  To take up 107 minutes with that many performances ruins the pacing and doesn't spend enough moments on what is truly important, the story.  It's like having a ton of special effects with no substance.

We go from admission to graduation, and, in doing so, the characters who are faced with character arc problems either don't solve them, or we don't see them solved, or are not solved.  One ballet dancer is told he won't make it by his teacher, told that he might be a decent teacher.  He believes her, submitting to becoming a ballet teacher.  So does the teacher see herself as a failure?  Then why is she teaching?  As the term character arc states, there's an arc.  We basically go from beginning, miss the keystone moment and BAM!  We've arrive at the end.  And we're not sure why.