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.

Postal Orcas

Japanese School Girls?
Japanese School Girls?

The media portrays Asian men as sexually repressed, have no balls, and relatively unable to express emotional depth. Many times Japanese men are shown as incredible businessmen, highly skilled swordsmen, and having deviant sexual tendencies. Think geishas, think girls in plaid skirts, think hentai. As a storyteller, I’m told to avoid clichés as much as possible. But clichés often have a kernel of truth and can be used to establish a level of comfort when grounding a story, such as a family man that has a loving wife with a son sitting at the breakfast table, while his little sister taunts him about a girl that he likes. Where do we go from there is where the story can exit the norm and become unique.

But let’s get back to us repressed and also sexually deviant Asian men. This sorta kinda sounds like a paradox like jumbo shrimp or military intelligence. I think deviant behavior comes from being shackled, whether it is physical or implied.

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One day at work, I was telling the story of my second laser tattoo removal session. The basic procedure is this: I sit in a room, the nurse applies numbing cream, which doesn’t numb crap, wait for twenty minutes, and the doc comes in and blasts me with his laser. And, yes, it freakin’ hurts. As I was waiting for the numbing cream to not work, I relayed to my coworkers that I had seen my first breast implant, three in fact. In front of me was a tray with three different implants: one clear, one not so clear, and one smoky—foggy—cloudy? Looking around, I saw no cameras, so I reached out and cupped them. They all had different consistencies, different buoyancies, but felt familiar, real. One of my coworkers said that was a little inappropriate. Here we are, the corporate world. It’s the one thing I hate about that world, we’re all supposed to be vanilla—white washed of any personality or individualism. We’re restricted of any human connection, or allowed any human connection that doesn’t offend anybody. But anyone who gets offended by me is not my fault.

And people wonder why some go postal.

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent—Eleanor Roosevelt

Rorschach Test
Rorschach Test

Blackfish, or as my mom would say, brackfeesh-eh. Blackfish is a documentary about orcas and what happens when they are kept in captivity for the sole purpose of our entertainment. For the thirty to forty years that humans have kept orcas in slavery, there have been incidences of them attacking and killing their trainers. And in that range of time, marine biologists have found that orcas are extremely smart, have strong emotional and familial ties, live within their families their entire lives with lifespans that compete with human beings.

The film centers around one particular “killer whale”, Tilikum. He’s killed three trainers with the parks denying any type of responsibility. The interesting part of the story is that there are no records of any wild orcas ever attacking a human being and have been classified as highly aware and gentle animals. It’s only when they are captured as calves, torn away from their families, and kept in captivity do they ever exhibit any kind of deviant behavior. Many experts on the film express amazement that so few incidences have occurred, especially since these orcas are locked up at night with little room to move. Imagine having the whole ocean as your backyard, then being locked up in a container is limiting to say the least.

And people wonder why they go postal.

Cliche

No skid marks, right?

No skid marks, right?

I think the most common advice given to writers is not to be cliché. One teacher suggested writing opposite of your cliché tendencies. Dexter is a great example. He’s a serial killer. But his father raised him to kill with purpose, so he kills other serial killers. BREAKING BAD is another great example. Movies and TV have always pitted the drug dealer against the hero. How about the hero being a drug dealer, the antihero? SONS OF ANARCHY anyone?

There are two things I wanted to discuss today. First, is structure cliché?

My best friend is obsessive when it comes to knowing everything before attempting anything. Writing was no different. He read every single book on the market, went to seminars, visited websites, and hired writing coaches. Incredibly, obsessive—I mean—studious. To be honest, he’s opened my mind, and I’ve learned a lot from him.

He emphasized the importance of structure and how structure helps form our stories. So I asked whether being too structural can be cliché? Every story has a beginning, middle and end. That’s not cliché. Every good story should have at least one character experience change, becoming the person they’re meant to be. Fine. Then he advised that after a certain number of pages, this should happen, then another number of pages, this should occur, and so on and so forth. That’s cliché/formulaic. But then he started to nit pick and state that the first sentence of consecutive paragraphs should alternate between action and emotion, something he picked up from a writer we both admired. I said, “That sounds incredibly limiting.” Apparently, this is something Jim Butcher does. I have yet to confirm.

Damn. Those cars are speeding

Damn. Those cars are speeding

But to limit yourself in that way, to be formulaic and even too technical can leave your story dry, soulless. I read in a writing magazine that the worst thing for an editor is to have nothing constructive to suggest when an author’s work is technically spot on. Buildings are basically boxes stacked on top of each other. Architects, please don't beat me up. But the underlying foundation, the steel structure, the physics and obeying of gravity are constant in all architecture. But when looking at a skyline, it's rare to find any two buildings identical because it's also a piece of art.

I've always melded technique with instinct, my inner picture. Structure is always needed to serve the story. The story does not serve the structure.

In life we need to play against the norms, being cliché.

A friend, Dennis, set up a date for his pal, Fred. Fred asked for some advice on what to do on a first date.  Dennis suggested dinner and a movie.  Dinner. And a movie.

Wha—?

In a prior article, I wrote about my limited experience in the PUA world. Excuse me.  And the one commonality from all the wild and crazy advice was connect with women on an emotional level.  Another words, listen and talk to them like real people (wink wink).

Is there something in my teef?

Is there something in my teef?

Don’t know about you, but it’s really hard talking to a woman with food in my mouth. Cuz once I’m done with that bite, another goes in. And how attractive can I be talking to a woman as bits of food shoot from my mouth onto her plate? That ain’t gonna get me nowhere (double negative, I know).

Don't touch me there

Don't touch me there

Then we’re gonna go and sit in a dark room full of other people? Can you say intimacy? Or lack there of. Not to mention that that is cliché, as first dates go, very dry and unimaginative.

I wanted to suggest doing something different like window shopping, trying to find the most expensive thing. That way you can see what her tastes are, what she likes, leaves a lot of openings for spontaneous conversation. Or sit somewhere and people watch, create stories about them, a great way to see what your date self-projects. Fred is also a writer, so imagination isn’t lacking. But I held back because Dennis would address me as master, making fun of my mightier than thou attitude when my real intention was to help.

I left my martial arts school because of the massive heads I dealt with. So I'm very conscious of my own ego. It does get in my way, and I know to wait and let it stroll by.

Two Ways to Kick Ass

Oops. Did I do that?

Oops. Did I do that?

There's only two ways to Kick Ass, the movie.  The high road.  Or the low road.

Let's take the high road since that's gonna be short and not so sweet.  Having an 11 year-old girl kill endless mob men like a red-hot knife through butter is horrific, gruesome, grotesque, highly unnecessary, and just freakin' stupid.  Something like this would never happen in real life.  Her acrobatics makes Jackie Chan look like a first grader.

Well...that wasn't all that fun.

When I see a movie with the word "Kick Ass" as its title, I have a slight feeling, an inkling that this movie isn't going to delve into the meaning of life.  That's what my woman's intuition is telling me.  This movie is about escaping the real world, whatever that may be for you, and having fun.  It's pure fun.  It's entertaining.  And the writing is pretty damn good.

Jane Goldman is one of the screenwriters, and she took the screenwriting class David Freeman teaches. And one of the main things he emphasizes is surprises, to not write cliches.  So I expected Kick-Ass, played by Aaron Johnson, to literally kick ass.  Any real person who has no fighting skill, no athletic ability of any kind will get their ass kicked when they try and fight bad guys.  And that surprised me.  No super powers here.

I also didn't expect an 11 year-old girl, aptly named Hit Girl, to literally kick ass.  And it was nice to see that she wasn't written to have any kind of remorse.  Nor did the movie explain why.  It didn't need to.  It would have taken away from the comedic carnage that she commits.  She's a highly trained killer who could probably take on many Jackie Chans.  Chloe Moretz's presence dripped off the screen.  I think she made the part and even stole the show.

Nicholas Cage played the role of Big Daddy.  His whole thing is vengeance.  But he teaches his daughter how to kill through love and adoration as if he was teaching her how to paint a Monet.  He doesn't teach her with anger, to punish those who took away his love.  And that's different.

I had seen several critics take the high road.  And I'm thinking, "Are you serious?"  Apparently, yes.

When the main character is named Kick-Ass, aided by Hit Girl and Big Daddy, and the kid who made McLovin from Hawaii famous (SUPERBAD) play one of the bad guys called Red Mist, you can't take this movie too serious.  Or else you won't have fun.