R.S. Hunter

Science Fiction & Fantasy Author

Category: Musings (page 1 of 2)

Let’s Talk About: Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig

I have some thoughts about Aftermath by Chuck Wendig and the state of the Star Wars Expanded Universe in general. On the one hand, it’s kind of exciting to start with a fresh slate; the byzantine EU of decades of comics, books, RPG tie-ins, video games, and more is gone. So the post-Return of the Jedi universe is brand new for everybody. But on the other hand, I have some questions and thoughts about what Disney’s doing. And finally, I have some specific thoughts about Wendig’s book–the first official canon, post-RotJ story that’s going to help set the stage for The Force Awakens.

The New Expanded Universe

I wish I could be a fly on the wall inside Disney. I want to listen in on their Star Wars-related conversations and meetings. And I wish I could get a behind-the-scenes look at the communication between Wendig and Disney. Because the entire old Expanded Universe is now marked as “Legends” then it stands to reason that pretty much everything was thrown out.

But at the same time, in order to keep a sense of continuity between this new canon and the old canon, some stuff’s been retained. For example, Aftermath makes a reference to a Carrack-class cruiser. If I remember correctly, that ship was first introduced as part of an RPG sourcebook. Wouldn’t that be part of the old, discarded EU canon?

What gets to be included in the new canon and what is truly gone? Or are things like ship classes not really gone, just on a back shelf until an author, comic book creator, video game company gets permission from Disney to resurrect them? The nerd in me wants to know!

databank_superstardestroyer_01_169_d5757b90

This is especially poignant when you consider the epilogue to Aftermath. I won’t give it away because spoilers, but if it turns out the way I’m hoping… then it would be really cool and another instance of something from the huge Ex-Expanded Universe finding its way to the new canon.

Sidebar: It was hilarious and a bit of a trip to open Aftermath and go to the page where it said “The DelRey Star Wars Timeline” and there were only like 10 things. It listed the 7 movies, Rebels, and a couple of other official books. For somebody’s who’s used to the two-page spread that goes from 10,000 BBY to over 100 years AE seeing such a short timeline was weird.

Aftermath: The Book

So that was Aftermath as a cultural artifact, but what about Aftermath the book? It was okay. I appreciate what Wendig is trying to do with the use of present tense, but it’s not really my bag. It’s definitely a “Wendig book” through and through, but with the inventive curses from the Miriam Black series replaced with Star Wars sanitized versions.

Sidebar: He really likes the phrase “pistons a fist” to refer to somebody punching somebody else. “Character Y pistons a fist into Character X’s side…” It was really prevalent in the last few chapters. 

My biggest complaint about the book is that it felt long. And for being a Star Wars novel, the first new one post RotJ, the action felt confined–makes sense as the book was set mostly on one Outer Rim planet, Akiva.

Rae_Sloane_Orientation

Wendig attempts to give a more galactic perspective with numerous interludes, but to me they just slowed things down. Hopping from world to world–many of them not featured in previous books/comics/etc. (at least as far as I know) and spending a brief few pages with random characters… It was hard to care.

The more successful interludes were ones that focused on Mon Mothma and Admiral Ackbar.

Another thing that bothered me–and will probably be addressed in future books–was how vague everything was. With only interludes giving glimpses of the galaxy at large, I was left wondering:

  • How long ago was Endor?
  • Have the Rebels taken Coruscant?
  • How long does it take to get from planet to planet?

The last one is more important than you might think. It’s an important plot point where Imperial Admiral Rae Sloane is figuring out whether to withdraw. She says that the New Republic could have a fleet to Akiva in a few hours, a fleet large enough to take on her three Star Destroyers. And it just made me think? Where would they be staging from? I was under the impression that it sometimes took days in hyperspace to get from place to place. It was just a potentially incongruous bit to the novel.

As for the other two points: the interludes try to give you a bigger picture, but most of the time the only other hints you get are exposition from characters. Over and over characters mention Imperial governors have been defecting to the New Republic. It’s also mentioned that somebody within the Empire has been feeding intelligence to the New Republic to facilitate their string of victories, but what string? How many? Where? When?

Here’s a thing I had 0 problems with and want to point out with a big ol’ fuck yeah: Three of the main characters are women. Admiral Sloane is a woman of color. Multiple characters are gay. Yes. The Star Wars galaxy is a big fuckin’ place; it’s characters should reflect how wide and diverse it should be.

A lot of my issues with Aftermath’s pacing come from the fact that it’s the first book in a new trilogy, and the first new canonical book in the timeframe leading up to Episode VII. So it’s gotta spend some time setting things up; I just feel like it took a bit too long to get there. I mean the Inglourious Basterds vibe I got at the end where a second book might go was super cool. Admiral Sloane is super cool too. Give me some space battles! Give me the Empire turning into an insurgency. Cool stuff. Personally, I’d love to see his new characters interact with the OT heroes a bit more. The glimpses we got of them in the interludes weren’t enough!  (But please never refer to Coruscant’s city as Coco-Town ever again. Please.)

All things considered, I can’t wait to see where Wendig goes next. It’s a big ‘ol galaxy of narrative potential out there waiting to be explored.

 

“Male Performance”

I listen to sports radio on my way to work, and if you listen enough you start memorizing all the commercials. One in particular stuck with me, and I want to take a few minutes to tease out my thoughts.

The commercial starts with a man’s voice, comfortingly, saying, “Men as we get older we all have problems with our ‘male performance’.” Now there’s a cocked and loaded euphemism. (Pun intended)

Obviously, this commercial for the Universal Men’s Clinic is for treating sexual dysfunction in men. But of course they can’t/won’t say “sexual performance” on the radio. And in doing so the commercial’s creators add a whole unintended layer of meaning to their ad.

“Male performance” as a euphemism for erections, ejaculation, typical “standard” sexual performance for me. But it can also be taken to mean as the performance of masculinity via “performing” in the bedroom. Masculinity in this sense is constructed by our patriarchal culture and it is a “performance.”

Because, really? What is masculinity? Fuck if I know. (Pun intended) This ad ties it to sex, bodies, and physicality. If you can’t perform in the bedroom then obviously somehow you’re maleness is coming into question. But don’t worry! The Universal Men’s Clinic welcomes “men of all ages” and is discrete and has drugs that work “faster and better than Viagra!”

Where does that leave non-gender binary people? Trans* people? Certain individuals may have a penis, testes, and “male” anatomy but aren’t men. Would they be welcome at this clinic? I don’t have any personal experience in the matter, but I imagine if one has a penis, erectile dysfunction is a possibility.

I’d like to think that this clinic turns nobody away who needs help. But considering the ads that also run on these sports radio stations, I have my doubts. Men’s clinic commercials. Truck commercials because trucks are manly. Golf. Always golf. New clubs, new balls (pun intended), hit longer and harder. Go fix your embarrassing deficiencies at performing maleness by buying these things. Have sex with your wife (and in these kinds of things being a man is always a straight thing). Put on a performance. Be a man.

Do Rejections Have Something to Teach Us About Our Writing?

Rejection is fact of life when it comes to being a writer. It’s going to happen no matter how famous/wonderful/handsome/talented you are. The sooner you learn that, the sooner you can get past rejection’s harsh sting.

The other day I read a post by Maurice Broaddus about learning from rejection letters. He shows a few of his personal stats when it comes to rejection. Rejections: 460. Acceptances: 56. While acknowledges that his stats have changed over time as a result of becoming more of a known entity (receiving invitations to participate in anthologies, etc.), he states that “there can be a difficult learning curve to rejections. […] Different kinds of rejections tell you different things. A lot of quick arriving form rejections may be telling you that the story’s not ready.”

So let’s look at what rejection letters can tell you. Obviously, when it comes to personalized rejection letters, they can give you invaluable feedback on your story. However, checking my Duotrope stats–practicing what Kelly Lagor calls “rejectomancy“–most of my rejections have all been form rejections. Does that mean that all of those stories weren’t ready? Not necessarily.

Sometimes rejection feels like this...

As Lagor states in her blog post about being a slush reader for Apex, “The timing of a rejection means nothing.” Many publishing houses and magazines get so many submissions that it would be impossible to provide detailed feedback about why they’re rejecting your story. There’s just too many submissions.

So when you get a form letter it might not mean anything more than a scenario like this: “Duotrope says a bunch of form rejections went out in three days last week and yours has been out for seven? Maybe I really liked it and I’m chewing it over for a few days. Maybe I sent it up to the editor. Or maybe I was in Texas all week for a work meeting.”

The rest of her post talks about some of the reasons why she rejects stories: boring the slush reader, problems with the ending, cliches, and simple matters of taste. This is all useful information to keep in mind, but without personalized feedback, you might never know for sure exactly why your story wasn’t accepted.

So, can rejections teach us things about our writing? Yes and no. It’s not always a cut and dry answer. If you get a personal rejection letter like I got from Angry Robot Books, then it told me a lot about my story, its personality, and the type of sensibilities Angry Robot was looking for. However, sometimes form letters are just that: “Sorry, this just didn’t grab me.” It’s up to you to interpret what that could mean. The timing of the rejection probably means nothing.

But can rejections teach us things about ourselves? Absolutely. One hundred percent yes. They can teach us not to get discouraged, that nothing in the writing world comes without some blood, sweat, and tears. Broaddus hits the nail on the head here: “sometimes the biggest lesson is getting up, dusting yourself off, and sending your story out again.”

A New Way of Looking at Elves in Fantasy Literature & Games

I’ve been reading a lot of fantasy and playing games like The Witcher 2 and Dragon Age: Origins lately, and I find myself focusing on elves. It’s fascinating to see how much Tolkien influenced the depiction of elves in popular culture. Even within this all-encompassing version of elf-ness, there are many different angles that could be explored to create something new within the fantasy literature sphere.

Common depictions of elves

So these games and books got me thinking: elves are always kind of depicted the same way, but even in these similar forms, there are issues that nobody really explores. For example, elves are usually “similar to humans but fairer and wiser, with greater spiritual powers, keener senses, and a closer empathy with nature.” While games like Dragon Age portray them as persecuted, second-class citizens, that wiser/fairer bit is generally accurate. In addition elves are usually immortal or extremely long-lived. This fact is what inspired this post.

If elves live longer than humans, then why is it a common theme in fantasy literature and games for elves to have a smaller population than humans? You commonly see elven characters saying things like, “Humans multiply like insects” or “humans are short-lived people with no connection to nature.” Why is this?

It seems to me that an author could create something really interesting if they explored the underside of “elven culture.” While they are normally serene and harmonious, sometimes authors portray elven society as rigid and socially stratified. There’s so much potential there: a society where you live a long time, but are kept limited in the role you’re able to play.

Elven societies in fantasy literature

Also if men multiply quickly, then why don’t elves? Apparently Tolkien wrote about elven reproduction and sexual norms in “Laws and Customs among the Eldar” in The History of Middle-earth, but I haven’t read it so I can’t elaborate. But still, you’d think because they live for such a long time that elves would be having children like crazy. Do they only have one set of children or something? Why do you rarely see works that focus on elven overpopulation? Think of the social implications of that.

Or if elves don’t have lots of children, is that because they have an extremely low birth-rate where their pregnancies, eggs, larvae–I don’t really know how these made up beings breed–rarely carry to the full term? If that was the case, that low birth-rate would influence almost every level of society.

Imagine if a writer explored these things in a fantasy setting. A stratified society dominated by reproductive issues like a low-birth rate or a high infant mortality rate would at the very least be different from the standard “elves as wise, harmonious nature-lovers” you see so often.

Other fantasy tropes and races

What other fantasy races would you like to see explored from a different angle? Sick of technologically-inclined dwarves that mine for treasure all day? What about blood-thirsty orcs or hungry halflings? Let me know in the comments.

Repost: When Mass Effect 3 and Doctor Who Collide

This is reposted with some minor adjustments from my gaming-related blog over at Destructoid, but I thought it was worth sharing here.

The original article talks about how the interactivity offered by videogames made me feel in ways that books, TV, or movies couldn’t. There’s definitely something powerful at hand when you can take ideas from one type of media and apply them in another. Mass Effect 3 wouldn’t have affected me emotionally if they hadn’t used good characterization and storytelling techniques perfected in places like books.

When Mass Effect 3 and Doctor Who Collide

Originally posted on Destructoid 3/19/2012

I want to talk about Mass Effect 3, but don’t worry, I’m not here to talk about the ending; I haven’t gotten that far yet. Instead I want to talk about how it made me experience one of the most awesome moments in gaming ever. Better yet, it combined my love of the Mass Effect series with my love for Doctor Who. There will be spoilers for those playing through Mass Effect 3.

Mass Effect is one of my favorite series of all time. I played the original back in 2011, years after it was released. I’d heard the name of the game before that, but nothing about more about it. I picked up a deeply discounted used copy and decided to give it a go. I’m so glad I did. Despite certain flaws, the game grabbed hold of me. I loved the space opera story, the meticulousness of the in-game universe and backstory, and the music. (The soundtrack deserves an article all its own).

As soon as I finished the game, I bought a copy of Mass Effect 2 and proceeded to play it through twice back to back. I enjoyed its many improvements and loved its character-oriented story. My companions became my friends, especially ones carried over from the first game: Tali and Wrex.

At first I felt like the character interactions in Mass Effect 3 were lacking compared to Mass Effect 2, and I missed seeing my old squadmates. Then I got to the Tuchanka mission and everything changed.

You go to Tuchanka to earn the krogan’s support by curing the genophage (basically a sterility plague) that’s affected their species for years now. But there’s a twist. Another species–the salarians–implores you to sabotage the genophage cure because they’re afraid that once the Reapers are defeated, the krogan will go on another bloody rampage across the galaxy like they’ve done in the past.

Since I’m playing as a Renegade, I decided to do the “evil” thing and agree to sabotage the cure. Several times during the mission I had to lie to my companions, including Wrex, about my intentions. I know it’s just a game, but it was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do.

In order to rationalize my decision, I ended up turning to Doctor Who. In that show, one of the running themes is that everything has its time; everything dies at some point. That’s what I told myself as I progressed through the mission, inching closer to the point when I’d stab Wrex and his entire species in the back.

I thought: The krogan had their time before. They devastated their world with nuclear war. They got a second chance when the salarians uplifted them. Then they blew it again with the Krogan Rebellions. It’s just their time to go now. Everything has a time.

I told myself that over and over until I reached the mission’s climax. I was in a crumbling facility with the salarian Mordin (also one of my favorite characters) seconds away from deploying the genophage cure. Mordin decided he had to make sure it deployed properly. The game presented me with a terrible choice: let Mordin go cure the genophage and potentially unleash the krogan on the galaxy again or murder him and basically doom the krogan to a slow extinction.

My resolve crumbled. Then in my mind’s eye I saw Matt Smith (the current Doctor) standing there in his coat and suspenders. His head is lowered and he’s saying, “Everything has to end sometime…” Dramatic pause. You think he’s going to go through with it, condemning an entire species to death. Then this song kicks in. The Doctor looks up with a maniac’s grin on his face, he points right at the camera and shouts, “…but not today!” Then he saves the day.

As soon as I saw that in my head, I leapt to my feet, pointed at the TV and shouted, “But not today!” My girlfriend in the next room probably thought I was crazy. It didn’t matter that I was ruining my pledge to play as a Renegade; I couldn’t bring myself to betray a friend, murder another one, and condemn a species to death on a mere possibility of a future disaster. I let Mordin go cure the genophage. And then the game ripped him away from me.

That mission affected me deeply on multiple levels. I felt so much for these fictional characters that I couldn’t betray one of them. Then I was devastated when another one was taken from me. But multiple types of media are able to make you care for fictional characters, so it couldn’t just be the fact that I cared.

No, Mass Effect 3 really brought home how the interactive nature of videogames allows the player to experience feelings that TV, movies, or books can only show them. I’ve watched all six seasons of the current Doctor Who, but I’ve never had a moment where I felt like I was in the Doctor’s shoes. This Tuchanka mission did that to me. I felt like I had the weight of galaxies and entire species on my shoulders.

I feel like that kind of experience has to be unique to videogames. Movies and books have played with my emotions before, but nothing quite on this level. Rather than absorbing things passively, I had agency (within the confines of the game’s mechanics and narrative of course) and the ability to change things on a galactic scale. Mass Effect 3 was the perfect game to make me experience something like this because of how well the characters were written and presented since the first game. I doubt I would’ve felt the same way if this type of decision had been presented to me in a different game.

Obligatory “It’s been too long” Post

Obvious title is obvious. Well now that’s out of the way, let’s get to the actual blogging.

I just finished The Briar King by Greg Keyes last night, and I haven’t been this disappointed or bored with a book in a long time. But there’s something to be said for sticking with less-than-stellar books, especially if you’re a writer. Sometimes I think it’s just as valuable to learn what not to do.

(Before I begin, I want to say that Keyes is probably a fine writer. I haven’t read any of his other books, but considering his bibliography I’m betting he has skills. The Briar King just wasn’t too my liking. But this isn’t a knee-jerk reaction and I’ll explain why)

First of all Keyes does a great job of worldbuilding in this novel. The depth he put into developing the different countries, peoples, dialects (especially dialects) is pretty remarkable. There were two problems that ended up squandering all of this worldbuilding potential though. One: the map included in my mass market paperback was so damn tiny I couldn’t read any of the words, so I had no idea where any of the places were in relation to each other. Two: nothing really interesting happens to capitalize on all this awesome development.

I get that The Briar King is part of a series so not everything is going to be resolved at the end, but there’s a limit to how much slack I’m willing to cut it. Almost nothing gets explained and the characters barely grow (and that is definitely me being generous). The chivalrous knight continues to be a noble knight. The monk trying to unravel an ancient conspiracy is still in the dark. The grumpy old guy is slightly less grumpy, but still about the same. Every character feels like they were taken from a barrel of stock epic fantasy characters. And the love interest for the grumpy old guy–she kind of just gets thrown in there and next thing I know they’re confessing their love to each other with barely any set up or even mention of her.

It’s strange, the book is filled with action and bloody, gruesome fights, but I can’t remember a time where so much action left me so bored. I couldn’t care about the characters, their motivations were shallow and one dimensional, and the world-ending threat was still as vague as ever by the end. I was happy to put the book down and move on.

For me The Briar King is a great reminder that even if you’re writing a series, you still have to give your readers something. Star Wars: A New Hope was written more as a stand-alone so things wrap up nicely, but even Empire Strikes Back, which was clearly designed with a sequel in mind, resolves enough plot lines to give the audience some sense of resolution despite creating even bigger questions: will Luke take Vader up on his offer later on? Will Han get unfrozen and rescued from Jabba the Hutt? What will happen to the Rebels after they got their asses handed to them down on Hoth?

The Briar King ends with all questions, and one particularly damning one: why should I care? As a writer you have to constantly ask yourself: what are the stakes here for each character? Why should the reader care if the princess gets rescued or not? Why is it so necessary to stop the bad guy from taking over the kingdom? If the writer has done their job properly the reader will know why the bad buy needs to be stopped from taking over the kingdom–because he’ll outlaw dancing in the kingdom and the people need dancing to appease the rain gods, of course.

So sadly I’ll end The Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone with this question and answer: do I care enough to keep reading? No, I don’t.

Humanity, Empire, and the Ood – Reactions to Doctor Who S04E03 “Planet of the Ood”

I just finished watching Doctor Who season four episode three–“Planet of the Ood.” I felt moved to write something. It’s not a review and definitely not a formal essay. That’s why I’m calling this a reactions piece–a rambling, hopefully coherent piece that will share my thoughts about the episode.

For those of you who don’t know, Doctor Who is an extremely long running British television series. And also for those of you who also don’t know, I’m from the US, and I just started watching the show this year. The biggest thing I’ve noticed is that the series has a fundamental British-ness about it–whatever that means. I believe that “Planet of the Ood” exemplifies the series’ British-ness, especially surrounding concepts like empire and the Other.

The episode opens with the Doctor taking Donna to the Ood-Sphere, an ice planet and home of the Ood, in the year 4126. During the course of the episode, he remarks that they are in the middle of the Second Great and Bountiful Human Empire. Little warning bells went off in my mind as soon as he said that. And I think this is where the series’ inherent British-ness is really apparent. This is a sweeping generalization, but I feel like because empire played such a huge role throughout the course of British history that the fabric of empire has been imprinted on the modern British psyche–for better and worse.

I don’t think it’s any secret that we’re supposed to draw parallels between this Second Great and Bountiful Human Empire and the British Empire. What’s interesting is how many critics praised the episode for its commentary on slavery, but I don’t see it. Not the commentary itself–I saw that–but why the episode is deserving of so much praise (on those ideological grounds).

The Ood are a perfect Other. They’re humanoid, but distinctly not-human. With squid-like tentacles where a human’s mouth would be and a strange appendage attached to their heads, the Ood are both fascinating and terrifying because of how similar and how strange they are. The fact that the Doctor and Donna fight for the Ood against oppression is supposed to be seen as a major victory.

In the episode we learn that the Ood are being sold in three human-dominated galaxies as the perfect servants. In fact, they’ve been bred and surgically manipulated to be that way. Obviously there are parallels with slavery on Earth, and when the Ood finally free themselves the Doctor and Donna pat themselves on the back for a job well done. The Ood are free because they deserve to be free because slavery’s bad. We get it. It’s very surface level.

The problem comes down to the inherent British-ness of the series. The way I see it, Doctor Who sees slavery as bad (because it is) but doesn’t seem to recognize that empire is just as bad and leads to things like oppression and slavery. The concept of empire, with its unequal power structures, creates Others its less fortunate subjects–some of them slaves. If the Doctor was really trying to stop slavery, he wouldn’t just fly away in the TARDIS after helping the Ood. Instead he’d go help dismantle this Second (Supposedly) Great and Bountiful Human Empire.

I realize that this is just a TV and that the United States also has a tumultuous history with empire, but I can’t help but feel like the episode missed the point a little bit. And now my train of thought is starting to come apart. I know there’s a lot more that could be said about empire, the Doctor, the Ood, and the Other, but my brain’s tired and I need to go to bed. I’m going to keep watching the series because for the most part it has an element of absurdity to it that’s pretty awesome. I just hope the next episode they try to do some serious commentary it’s a little more successful.

Novel Revisions & Life Updates

Wow I haven’t written anything here in a while. A lot has happened since…damn May 4th was my last entry. Anyway here’s what’s been going on.

A couple weeks ago I got to spend an hour with a professional editor from a publishing company and have her critique the first chapter of The Exile’s Violin. Man that was an incredible privilege. I’ve been on the editing side of things before. She reached out to me after she had rejected my manuscript. That kind of thing almost never happens. The hour we spent going over the opening chapter was extremely productive. We identified some problems and worked out ways to fix them. After that hour I had a mission: to completely revise my manuscript and make it even leaner, tighter, and hopefully better.

So that’s what I did. Starting that afternoon and going up to about two days ago, I spent almost every free minute going over that manuscript. I cut over 6,000 words and rewrote a couple of chapters. I sent the polished manuscript out to a couple of beta readers yesterday. Hopefully I’ll get some good feedback. I’m feeling real good about the whole thing.

I haven’t worked on The Price of Loyalty in a while because the editing/revising took up all my time. Plus… I have a full time job now. So yeah working 40 hours a week also cuts into my writing time, but I’m not complaining! At this new job I’m learning all sorts of crazy cool stuff about SEO and internet marketing. But most importantly…it’s a job…that pays money. That’s really all I could ask for.

Oh I also had a birthday over the weekend. Yay me!

I’m feeling good. The last few months were tough with the whole unemployment thing, but it looks like things are starting to turn around. I got that great opportunity to have my manuscript looked at, I got a job, and I had a birthday all within a couple of weeks of each other. I’m going places baby!

Anyway tonight I’m getting back into the writing game. I’m not going to dive back into Price of Loyalty just yet. I kind of want a little bit of a break from the novel stuff. Instead I got a brand new short story outlined and plotted. Tonight I’m starting the heavy lifting. Wish me luck!

Oh and IN SITU has a release date: July 8, 2011. Mark your calendars. I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

The Teller of Stories

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of posts by other authors where they talk about how they first started writing. Many of them say things that make us plebes feel left out like, “I started writing at age 2. I actually started writing before I learned how to talk. I got my first story published when I won a national contest at age 6 with my heartbreaking tale of a stuffed bear dueling a miniature unicorn. It was actually a commentary about the fall of the Soviet Union.”

Sidebar: I’d actually read that story about a Soviet flavored teddy bear & unicorn fight. That sounds rad.

For me, those kind of accounts (while probably rare in real life) make me feel like I’m missing out somehow. I didn’t start writing stories until I was in college. I’ve always been an avid reader, but I didn’t start creating and putting pen to paper–well, fingers to keyboard–until fairly recently. Then I realized something today. Just because I haven’t been writing very long doesn’t mean that I haven’t been a storyteller for years.

Back when I was growing up my brothers and I loved to play with Legos. Our favorite thing to do wasn’t following the instructions and building the sets properly. Instead we’d build our own spaceships–things inspired by Star Wars and videogames. Not only would we build them, but then we’d battle them. Mostly this consisted of us putting them on the floor, moving them around, and making “pew pew” laser noises and explosions. Somehow our Lego games evolved. I started developing a story for our battles. I came up with reasons why my forces were battling my brothers’. I drew maps and created coalitions, confederations, empires, and republics. An entire universe with characters evolved around our Lego battles. I was creating story.

I guess I forgot that being writer doesn’t just mean generating pages. A writer’s job is to tell stories, and I’ve been doing that for years; it’s just now that I’m actually sharing them with others. What about you all? Despite my good natured teasing up above, I’m really interested to know how other writers got their starts. Please sound off in the comments.

Me? I’m going to go start an outline for that teddy bear vs unicorn story.

The PC loop

Last night I watched a promising new comedy on ABC called Happy Endings. Here’s the quick premise: Alex and Dave were all set to get married when she leaves him at the altar. Now their group of friends–Max, Brad, Jane, and Penny–worry whether or not this break up will pull their group of friends apart. There’s a little more to it than that, but that’s basically the show.

Since it was a mid-season replacement with virtually no-name actors (or at least no-name to me) I didn’t have high hopes. I was pleasantly surprised after the pilot and the bonus episode that followed it. Max’s character is hilarious. He’s an openly gay guy, but he’s not openly gay like Jack from Will and Grace. One of his lines in the pilot was something along the lines of “something something…and I had sex with a dude last night.” It was such a change from the “Sex & the City type gay character” that I commented about it. Then in the second episode, the characters commented about it too. There was some great meta humor about how Max isn’t gay enough because he’s not a gay stereotype.

I enjoyed his character, but during one scene I paused the show, turned to my girlfriend, and said, “I bet no matter what happens in the rest of the episode, there will be people who get upset and complain.” All the friends are at Penny’s birthday dinner–just after Dave and Alex’s disastrous non-wedding–and Max is convinced that Penny’s date is gay. He makes little comments to the guy and comes across pretty strong with the whole hitting on the guy vibe. The date gets freaked out and leaves after other events have further ruined the evening.

Here’s where the PC loop comes in. And by PC I mean political correctness. Facetiously, I said how some people would get upset by how low key Max’s gayness was. He acts pretty much like any other sitcom secondary character–a little like Barney from How I Met Your Mother but with guys instead of women. So one side was going to get upset because he wasn’t “gay enough” whatever that means. Then the other side was going to complain because of how strongly he hit on that one guy. Anti-gays could use that to justify their ridiculous fears that that’s what all gay men are like–they’re just waiting for the chance to hit on you, maybe rape you, and force you to join their gay club or something. So even pro-gay people would get upset because Max’s character continued the stereotype of the “aggressive gay man.”

So in order to avoid upsetting people of various camps, PC steps in. Oh yes, political correctness. I was exaggerating, but really I’m sure there was some person (maybe just one) out there who watched Happy Endings that was upset by Max’s character. How do you avoid upsetting people? PC is supposed to solve that, but at the same time like I demonstrated in the previous paragraph you can get stuck in an endless PC loop. You try to appease somebody, but somebody else takes offense at your appeasement. It’s all highly ridiculous.

Max was a funny character. Happy Endings was a funny show. I liked how he openly admitted to being gay within the first few minutes of the show. Now I will get upset if his character doesn’t grow at all–not as a gay or straight or whatever man, but as a person. It’s hinted that he has some insecurities about his weight and parental issues. Those things need to be explored because that’s what will flesh him out as a character. Those kinds of things are what make characters grow. As long as Max doesn’t stay one note I’ll consider myself appeased…until I find something else to get offended by. That’s how modern culture works, right?

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