Being the Bad Guy

Did I turn off the stove?

Did I turn off the stove?

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

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

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

Oops I missed

Oops I missed

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

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

Ah-choo

Ah-choo

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

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

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

My Brother and the Destruction of the Death Star

I was listening to a life coach talk about innate wisdom vs the subconscious. He stated that he doesn't trust the subconscious because there were too many weird things in there, where ever "in" is. The kernel of The 7th Province books emerged through a drawing a friend of mine did in high school. Imagine a man with bat wings. The head, though, was of a tiger, so I had to change it to a vampire like one, not bloodsuckers mind you. However, that drawing wouldn't let me go. Plot elements emerged like wildfire. I couldn't help but fantasize about these people. It would be close to two decades before I even came up with a name, but then that's the process.

My dream

My dream

I've always wondered where these ideas came from.  Sure, many of these plot elements were inspired by things outside of me, things like other stories, history, things that affected me in my own life. But they lent themselves with no effort to the story that I wrote. Immediately, I knew these ideas came from some innate wisdom. And from researching other authors that I admired, they were hooked into this wisdom, though they may not have named it. Then pulling my own view off myself and into the universe, I knew all of us have access to this. It's just that most of the time we get in our own way, which is a great plot developing element for my character, something he has to overcome.

I tried to convey this to a woman yesterday when she asked me where I got my idea for my story from. I told her that in a lot of cases writers (and probably all artists) are chosen to do the work. That this story chose me to write it (relay, really). Why? I don't know, nor do I waste time trying to figure it out. She looked at me as if I was smoking some hybrid ganja. Truth be told, I wish I were.

But when the coach said there were weird things in the subconscious, I was a bit resistant because I always assumed that innate wisdom resided in that area. Maybe it does, since there's really no way anyone can prove otherwise. However, I had a dream that might sway the argument the subconscious is weird. Or maybe I'm just weird:

OMG.  A light saber!

OMG.  A light saber!

I wake with a view of a grated ramp with rows of candy bar sized holes running up the metal floor. This leads to a large window where a grand view of darkness speckled with stars opens in front of me, and I realize that I’m a princess of what’s left of the rebel force. Walking around the room, I can’t recall what I’m searching for, but I slam my foot down in various places, looking for wear and tear of some sort. Finding cracks reminds me how old my ship is, how old the tech is, how over-matched we are.

They be tiny

They be tiny

I do wonder why I’m a princess since I’m a man, a boy really, but worry of the impending doom takes me away from that thought. I round toward the rear of my starship, a massive one at that, and gleam at the last remnants of an aging X-Wing fleet. Though, I don’t recognize them as the standard, they do have additional equipment, compartments with additional armaments maybe. A hibernating crew of pilots awaits my order to attack. And, yes, we are going to attack the legendary Death Star.

I continue my walk, seeing familiar faces and quietly saying good-bye. I do not, nor do my crew, expect to come out of this alive. This is ultimately the defining moment of being a rebel. In our deaths I suppose, I’m hoping that something grander happens, but I’m not quite sure what.

Who's the dude down the street?

Who's the dude down the street?

In less than a blink of an eye, I find myself sitting on a parking bump at the San Francisco piers, and given how sunny it is, I take off my shorts, leaving only my boxer briefs on. Getting a tan is a pass time that I enjoy for having no purpose in it except to relax. The Pacific Ocean is at my back, a large warehouse to my front, and the Death Star to the north in the deep blue sky. A crowd gathers looking up at the monolithic battle station, and there’s a growing fear of what’s going to happen. Despite what’s going on, I continue snacking. Then the crowd goes wild and I look up.

Dayem...that's not good--

Dayem...that's not good--

The Death Star plunges toward Earth and explodes upon impact in the far distance. A large fiery wall rushes toward the crowd, and, to my terror, me. Part of that terror comes from being aware that my brother is next to me and the knowing that the wall of death will reach us with ease.

I urge my brother to run into the warehouse hoping that it would give us some shelter. While running, I glimpse down a street as buildings are consumed by the explosion and another knowing overwhelms me: the warehouse is not enough. As we cross the threshold into the warehouse, my last view is a flash of bright light crashing through the building’s rear. Again I find myself a boy, jump into my brother’s arms and tell him repeatedly that I love him. Yellow light engulfs us and the expected pain that comes with being burned alive doesn’t come. My hope was that death is so quick we feel nothing, and my wish comes true. Weightlessness surrounds my embrace and a moment floats by with no end in sight, no resolution of any kind, no purpose, just pure light.

A blinding glare blares through my eyelids, and I turn my head away. The sun through my metal blinds wakes me and the images of my dream are clear as day, emotions resonating to the point where I have to document them on my site. As I sit here typing away, I’m not sure what any of that stuff means, why Star Wars was the main theme in images, and even humor that Disney’s assimilation of Star Wars—resistance is futile—may in some way destroy the iconic trilogy. Not that George hasn’t ruined them already with the release of first three episodes and the many re-releases of the last three, according to many hardcore fans. Coincidentally, or maybe not, George is also my brother’s name.

Side note: Twice now that I can recall, I’ve died in my dreams. In another, I actually hit the ground falling off a building. So puts to rest the myth that if you die in your dreams, you die in real life.

Peel the Onion

Onions.  They give you bad breath but adds flavor to the food we eat.  Have you ever peeled one?  Peel the rough skin and reveal a fresh moist layer.  Peel that and there’s another silky layer.  On and on. In writing my book, I purposefully laid in layers to give it a sense of depth.  On the surface, it’s a fast-paced, action packed, page turner (damn, I’m conceited).  There’s sex.  There’s mayhem.  Want betrayal?  You got it.  Want love?  You got it.

Slice under that superficial layer and you’ll find a deeper understanding of the story.  Billowing clouds may reflect a character’s painful conflict within.  Heat from a fire reflecting off someone’s clothes may echo the character’s anger.  Wind may symbolize a character’s dominance over their lands.

In 1954 a renowned filmmaker released what’s considered one of the best films ever made:  Seven Samurai.  It's about a Japanese farming village, constantly beseiged and pillaged by an army of bandits, recruits seven independent samurai to defend it.

Akira Kurosawa’s films have influenced great directors such as Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.  In fact, Star Wars was heavily influenced by The Hidden Fortress, a Kurosawa film.

I have to admit, when I watched Seven Samurai, I was like, “What da hell?”

I was caught off guard by the soundtrack, pacing and language (despite my slanty eyes, I don’t speak Japanese).  I did drag myself through the length of the film, all three hours and forty-five minutes.

Luckily, I had bought The Criterion Collection of the film.  There are tons of lectures on the DVD discs, and I listened to all of them, wanting to learn everything I could.  What I learned had a profound effect on me and my writing.  Or is it my writing and I?

Consolidating Kurosawa’s genius would be difficult and insulting.  But here I go.  He controlled everything because everything in his films had a purpose, a reason.  Every word, action, shadow, even the swipe or fading to the next scene meant something.  If someone broke wind, there was a purpose.  Unless it was silent but deadly.

The most interesting character is Kikuchiyo, played by Toshiro Mifune.  He doesn’t exactly look like a samurai, nor does he walk like one.  So is he a samurai?  He lugs his extra long sword on his shoulder instead of holstering it around his waist like the other six.  What does this say about Kikuchiyo?  Is he compensating for something?  Or is there a deeper story within the character?

In his dramatic scene, Kikuchiyo admits he was once a villager and somehow found his way to samuraism. (Is that even a word?)  This didn’t happen in those days of Japan.  It was difficult enough to move up the ranks of the samurai.  And admitting you were once a villager was like admitting you’re a woman, when you’re really a man, but without the operation.

The lectures in the special features stated Kikuchiyo symbolized the filmmaker, Kurosawa.  His views were somehow reminiscent of Kikuchiyo and his rise in society and that Japan had moved into the modern era.  This is further symbolized when each samurai is killed by a modern weapon:  the gun.  Once the villagers were saved, they continued their lives giving any thought to their saviors.  We see the surviving samurai walk from the cemetery where their comrades were buried and out to the horizon, never to return.

I rewatched the film many times, and I grew to love it. The story density is amazing.

It’s interesting to see how we clamor to the magazine stands to find out the latest on celebrities.  What atrocities have they committed?  But if we were truly curious about who they were, all we'd have to do is turn to their art.

For art is the language of the soul.

Avatar

Dead eye.  One of the biggest things I notice about all CGI movies are theeyes. They're dead. dead eye

James Cameron has solved that by using motion capture to specifically record the actors' emotions from the eyes.

Neytiri eyes

But I'm not here to talk about how he made it.  Mostly because it's beyond me.  I only understand the reasoning behind it like solving dead eye.  Sounds like a disease.

So here's a list of what I truly loved about the movie as a whole:

  • No over usage of CGI as a replacement for story.
  • No over usage of 3-D.  In acting there's a fourth wall, the wall removed so the audience can watch.  Rule is to never break the fourth wall.  But many 3-D movies do because it's 3-D.
  • All of the actors did an incredible job.
  • It didn't feel very heavily directed.
  • Clear plot, clear themes, clear characters types.
  • And most important of all, there was a good story.

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I don't know if it's because I've been so obsessed with story and writing for the past few years, but there were some parts that were predictable, only because the story required it.  Certain key supporting characters died, certain story elements had to happen to drive the plot, the theme and climax. The ending was definitely predictable, and I mean the ending after the climax.  But what was strange was I wanted that ending.  I desired it myself.  And I know why.  Cameron made it important, subtly.

Spoiler alert:

Jake Sully is a paralyzed war veteran.  Without saying it or making such a big deal about it, he wants his legs back.  When he takes over his avatar, he runs out into the open with pure joy.  He's laughing, yelling, and sprinting, then he takes a moment and digs his toes into the dirt.  That tiny scene was aforever moment.

At that point I was certain Sully was going to be permanently place in his avatar body.  I knew it before I watched the movie.  When it happened it was wholly satisfying like eating a warm chocolate cookie.  There were little things like the digging toes in that emphasized the need for that ending. It really speaks to how Cameron doesn't over do things like using the technology both given to him, and invented by him.  He's a storyteller at heart, knowing how to use little things to make certain story elements big.

I've experimented with that in writing myepisodes.

ENT HOLIDAY FILMS

Trying to make something big by making it a big deal is a big big mistake.  In one of the writing seminars the teacher made fun of beginner writers when they write about the first serendipitous moment between two lovers.  Paraphrasing here:

"The world stopped as I gazed into her eyes. The ticking of my watch slowed and the flakes of the first snowfall hung in the air.  The hustle of the streets silenced and I felt my heartbeat yearn to feel hers."

I must admit, when I first heard that I wanted to rush to my manuscript and make sure I didn't do something similar.

The whole point here is that James Cameron played it well when he told his story.  I didn't feel overwhelmed by the technology.  I didn't feel overwhelmed by the directing.  Another words, I didn't feel his hands in the movie (an example would be the first three episodes of Star Wars).  The actors were awesome. For example, Sigourney Weaver's character as the dedicated scientist didn't play up to stereotype.  Sam Worthington's performance as Jake Sully felt relaxed, which contrasted well to his avatar character (nicely done, communicating a message).  There was a scene where he watched his brother's cremation, which felt false.  But at least it wasn't forced like having flashbacks.  And it was OK being false, since it was a small scene, despite requiring to be emotionally heavy.

Avatar is what storytelling should be like, whether computer imaging is involved or not.  I left the theater totally uplifted and inspired and still feel the same as I type these words.  I can't wait for the sequels.

Nothing New Under the Sun

"What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun." Ever heard this?

As a storyteller, this can be a very limiting view.  Or is it?

Romeo_and_JulietWilliam Shakespeare's version of Twilight

A prominent screenwriter in Hollywood, David Freeman, gave a seminar.  There are hundreds of seminars I could have attended, but why did I go to his?  If you go to his site, he talks about techniques in writing.  No theories.  In fact, he gave so many techniques, it was like getting a trunk full of tools.  And in any one job, it’s highly unlikely you’ll use all of them, but you’ll definitely use enough to make your story emotional, something he emphasizes a lot.

He agreed with the quote above, but in a very un-limiting way.

I love going to movies, and one of the pleasures is seeing the previews.  I hate missing the previews like I hate missing the beginning of any movie.  One movie I’m anticipating is Avatar.

When I first saw it, I thought, James Cameron stole my idea!  WTF Cameron?  How’d you hack into my PC?

As I watched the preview, his premise was different.  Similar but different.

Then an image sparked in my mind.  American Indians gazing out into the sea as English ships sailed toward them.

The story of the Native American Indians against pioneering pilgrims is a familiar one.  It’s empire building.  The conflict?  The natives don't want to leave.

Look at Braveheart.  I love that movie.  It’s the same thing.

Look at the battle of Thermopile, 300.

Look at the Mongols invading China.

Look at China’s history of the seven independent states warring against each other for power.

Look at Star Wars.

Look at King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

We have tons of stories based on the idea of oppression.  Sometimes the story ends with unification, like China and the seven states.  Sometimes we have stories of independence, like William Wallace’s fight for Scotland’s freedom.  But they all stem from a single idea.

Avatar is no different.  A powerful force, in this case us in the far future, wants something, a valuable mineral.  To mine it, we have to “politically” move a native race.  Easy enough.  But wait!  The native people don’t wanna move.

And the story begins.

Freeman said there were an unlimited amount of stories that could be told using the story computer.  Look at any story that you love or connect to.  Find a variation.

Turn the hero into a heroin.

Change the race.

Change the time.

Change the setting.

Change anything.

Look at Romeo and Juliet.  Change the time to the present.  Make the male a brooding, James Dean-looking vampire.  Now you have Twilight.

The Princess and the Frog is a great example.  What do we expect to happen when the princess kisses the frog?  The frog should turn to her prince.  But Disney was like, “Hell no. Dat’s been dun.  Da princess should turn to a frog, sucka!”

OK.  I doubt Disney execs would talk like that.  But they used the story computer to churn out what seems like a great story.

The Seven Provinces is a familiar story.  It's about empire building.  It's an underdog story.  It's about a man trying to protect his family in a time of war.  It's about oppression, betrayal, tragedy.  And much more.

There may be nothing new under the sun.  But that doesn’t mean new stories can’t be told using familiar themes.

Lovely Bones - Child's Play?

There's a certain satisfaction when I see Hollywood going to books for inspiration for studio production.  Lord of the Rings brings a certain beauty and grit to the silver screen.  The same director, Peter Jackson, did a remake of King Kong, a movie I have on DVD.  I don't buy DVD's on the fly, only the ones that I connect to. untitled

His next movie to be released is Lovely Bones, based on the book of the same name by Alice Sebold.

I have the book.  After reading several chapters, I had to stop.  Not because it wasn't good because it was.  As I read I could tell I was nearing the infamous part where the girl meets her violent death.  It's something very difficult for me to read through.  So I stopped.

OnYahoo.comthere was a post that talked about Jackson's production and how the reviews were not good.  The main complaint it seems was the emotion and the cruel reality of the murder was missing:

"Gone is the dismembered body part that alerts the family to Susie's fate. Gone is her anguished mother's adulterous affair with the detective who leads the case. Gone is all mention of what really transpired in that lonely 1970s cornfield."

According to the article, Jackson was tyring to get a PG-13 rating.  If this is true, why?

I'm not saying kids shouldn't see this.  They should, if they want.  But this subject matter deserves an R rating.  Again, not from a prohibition standpoint.  But from a subject matter standpoint.  I know the movie industry is a business.  It's also an artistic medium.

Look at the Matrix movies.  All of them carries an R rating.  From a subject point of view, it's a war.  And yes, I know Star Wars has a PG rating, but clearly that was child's play.  Matrix and Lovely Bones are not.  There's a certain level of grit that exists in the way those stories are told that Star Wars is missing.  A good indication are the stormtroopers in the white clad armor.

There's little that I would prohibit a child to see or learn.  That is not my standpoint here.  But Lovely Bones the movie deserves an R rating out of respect for its art and subject.

Instant Message, Ugh

One of my favorite things to do is read people.  I used to think that I had to be present, to be there next to the person, to feel their eyes.  And I don't mean getting my grubby hands on people's corneas.  To be there  wasn't necessary.  But as instant messaging becomes a tool in corporations, it becomes a tool for me, and anyones else, to learn to read people through their IM. People IM they way they talk.  Which is fine!  But it's funny when people type "Uh..."  And they do type the ... after the Uh.  Like they want you to know they're thinking.  I've also seen my questions answered first with "er".

Er?

Or what about the "Let me think about that."  Why not just think about it, then respond once you've pondered, surmised, and worked through?

I also love the "Hmmm."  I love it cause I do that when I don't know how to respond.  Gives me time to think without typing let me think.

So what's the point?

One thing that is true in our world, in our universe, is we're all connected.  It's the reason I can read people when they're in my presence or not (something anyone can do).  There is an energy like the force in Star Wars that connects us all, connects us to the environment we live in.  We think of ourselves as separate beings, when we are really a single entity.  It's the reason why when a person hurts someone, they in turn hurt themselves.  When people come back from war they're forever changed and suffer from post traumatic stress disorder.  The death they see, the death they cause rips their souls.

Remember Harry Potter?  How Voldemort wanted to rip his soul into pieces by killing others?  There is truth in that.

I've had to think this about a lot.  The main character deals with this not only within himself, but with the families that are opposed to the erupting war.  A war that he's partly responsible.

And of course this idea doesn't just apply to death.  This applies to hurting someone emotionally.  I can't tell you how many times I've argued with my mom and felt guilty about it afterward.  Or the number of times I've fallen into severe arguments with my ex-girlfriends and felt horrible.  In the end, no one wins a fight.  Both sides are hurt, exhausted, and don't want to connect with each other.

Is it better to be right, or to be happy?  Because isn't the  meaning of life happiness?