February 24, 2010
One of the most eargratingly bad cliches I’ve heard has gotta be “It’s a long story.” Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t name every example ever, because there are just too many; it’s one of the most ubiquitous phrases out there. It serves two primary purposes: the first purpose is to keep the audience from having to sit through a recap of what they just read/saw/heard, which is fair enough, but there are other ways to deal with it, and I’ll get to them shortly. The second purpose is to keep the audience from seeing a crucial plot point too early, which is just lazy writing.
Alright, so, you’ve just walked barefoot over some glass, jumped on a dragon, and battled the evil guy at the end, ultimately defeating him at the expense of your dragon. Now you’ve arrived at home in a beat-up old Ford Pinto, and you look like hell. “What happened?” a friend asks, and you tell them, “It’s a long sto–” Oh wait. I have a better idea. Why not tell them what I just said? I mean, it was like a sentence long. It’s not really a long story at all, so don’t treat it like it is. Hell, 99% of the time, people can sum up everything they did in like two sentences, which is one sentence longer than “it’s a long story.” If it really is a long and confusing story and you’ve got to save the damsel before she is eaten by grues, then just say something like “I’ll tell you later, there’s no time right now!”
Usually, when someone says “it’s a long story,” they say it like it’s some big joke. Unfortunately, it’s rarely funny at all. It’s intended to be understatement, and the line “you don’t know the half of it” might be used as a follow-up to cement this fact into our brains. Most of the time, however, the events that just took place can be summed up very simply, so it isn’t really an understatement, and even if it was, understatement isn’t the funniest of things. Seeing people all suddenly laughing when the guy goes “it’s a long story” (which happens, but not as commonly as the line itself) like it’s the most hilarious thing they’ve ever heard just doesn’t work.
The second problem, the idea of keeping the audience in the dark, is worse, but I really can’t think of that much to say about it. It’s lazy writing. We’ve seen countless instances where someone COULD have asked “where were you?” and gotten the “it’s a long story” reply back, but instead, they come up with a plausible reason for not explaining themselves. At the very least, “not now,” or “I’ll tell you later,” would be a better response, but even then, the audience knows something is up and they’re going to wonder what it is. “It’s a long story” prevents any curve balls from happening, unless the writing is sufficiently good enough to make the reader forget what just happened. It’s especially devastating in heist stories, which are at their best the more curves the writer gives. It’s like a big, blaring klaxxon screaming “ALERT ALERT SOMETHING HAPPENED HERE!” Drawing attention to the fact in the least subtle way possible is not good writing.
I guess my biggest problem with “it’s a long story” is that the story is almost never very long at all and could be summed up quite simply, or that it makes everyone aware that something is going on. Often, it leads to needless drama that makes no sense within the story.
January 27, 2010
Like the other two posts today, this will be really short.
To be honest, I don’t hate the Lone Wolf, I just hate it when he’s forced to team up with people, and then the writer/creator/whoever decides that the reason the Lone Wolf acts the way he does is because he’s a broody fellow. Whether it’s Angel from the titular TV Series Angel, or Koji Minamoto from Digimon Frontier (he actually transforms into a wolf-like Digimon, much like his predecessor Matt Ishida had his own wolf-type), the Lone Wolf isn’t seen as a guy who just doesn’t talk much and prefers to be alone, he’s seen as someone who isn’t normal, like it’s some character defect. Then some tragic backstory gets shoveled in there that implies he’s some sort of misanthropic bastard who was abused as a child by his father or suffered some other unspeakable tragedy. And I get that a character who suffered some tragedy in their past can be compelling, but what I don’t like is seeing the Wolf get stuck with a crew of people who feel the need to fix him. It’s like these creators are so unoriginal that the only way they can conceive that a person wouldn’t like to hang around other people is if something is wrong with them.
Why should a Lone Wolf be stuck with a group of people? Why would he want to stick around them? If his very nature compels him not to hang around people, then there’s no good reason to have a Lone Wolf character in a group. I never liked Matt or Koji when watching Digimon, because they always seemed to work against the teams they were in; plenty of people I know liked them, because the loners always seem to be badass types… but in a team dynamic, they don’t fit. Joss Whedon’s Firefly is a great example of how to put characters together; the man is a master at creating family units, even if he does sometimes plot stories like a sixteen year-old fangirl. Jayne Cobb is gruff and badass, but there’s nothing wrong with him; he just isn’t the most sociable guy. He recognizes his place on the team and works towards that goal; in fact, his betrayal of the team is one of the only bad moments in the entire series, because it just doesn’t fit.
A variant of the Lone Wolf & Company is the Sniper Wolf, the sniper on a team who usually says very little, often letting his actions speak for him. Saito from Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex leaps to mind, as does Emile from the new Halo: Reach game. I get that snipers often fight alone, or in pairs, but it’s somewhat frustrating to know that nearly every fictionalized sniper character I can think of tends to be the Sniper Wolf type. You know what kind of sniper I’d write? A perky action-girl character; she’d be very gregarious and usually gets very close to the people she befriends. It makes more sense to me for a sniper to be someone who really enjoys intimacy as opposed to someone who remains detached because they grew up never knowing their daddy’s approval.
Speaking as a loner myself, I’d like to say that there is nothing wrong with me because I have no desire to hang out with you. I prefer solitude to people most of the time; ask me if I want to go out to eat or head to a library, and I’ll pick the library every time I’m not feeling hungry. That said, I can easily adapt to functioning on a team, especially when I serve the Devil’s Advocate/Second in Command capacity (in our business class at school, we took a test which gave our different personality types; I was the Devil’s Advocate, the member of the group who offers differing opinions/makes sure everyone else realizes the different viewpoints on a subject to ensure that the team is not a bunch of yes-men who will agree to anything); but given the choice, I’d usually work alone or with fewer than three partners.
Internet behavior is a whole ‘nother ballpark. I love collaborating with people online, partly because the internet puts such a big distance between us.
The idea that a loner is a misanthropic bastard who has something wrong with him that needs to be fixed is stupid. It’s for this reason that I really enjoy the character of Dutch from Black Lagoon; he manages to be a loner without being a lone wolf; he functions within the team, doesn’t work against them, but is generally less social than Rock, Benny, or Revy.
January 7, 2010
You know that cliche, the one where a character, usually the weak or whiny side character (the young kid, the girl, the bad guy who is redeeming himself) discovers the Big Bad’s plans, and just as they turn to leave, getting ready to tell the hero, they get caught and imprisoned and the hero has to save them?
I hate that.
It works well when it’s a bad guy being bad hearing the plan, because no one wants to see the Big Bad succeed, but when it’s a friend, all the writer is really doing is telling us the Big Bad’s plan. I mean, seriously, events like that shouldn’t happen in practically every story ever, not when they’re there for emotional impact. Putting a friend in jeopardy is all well and good and definitely makes for an exciting plot, but there’s a host of other ways to do it. When a story becomes predictable (Friend hears plan -> friend gets caught -> friend gets tortured -> friend escapes or is rescued), it loses something.
Avatar was good, had some great character interaction and such, but the very predictable plot (as in, I knew what was going to happen without needing to think about it) really hurt it. North by Northwest, on the other hand, had a very tightly controlled script that put you in a lot of tense situations without ever being that predictable. The auction scene is possibly one of the greatest confrontations in all of film. Casablanca’s ending was also unexpected, but everything in the film had been assembled so well that when we reached the climax, we were glad to see the characters act as they did.
I could rant here about unpredictability, and how there’s a difference between not being cliche and coming completely out of left field and being unrealistic, but I’ll save that for later. Back to the topic at hand.
Letting someone (the audience also) hear the plan is lazy. It’s like “yeah, well, instead of showing you the plan, I decided that I’d lay it out so it wouldn’t be a surprise, so the real plot would be about how the hero rescues his friend.” First off, one of the most important writing rules EVER is “show, don’t tell,” and this cliche breaks that rule. Secondly, and more importantly, by telling us the plan and then shifting the focus of the story to the rescue of the friend, we don’t get the cat and mouse game, or the hero gradually discovering what the villain is up to, or anything of that sort. All we get is someone saying “oh, the hero is doing X and you need to do Y to stop him.” In most television shows, the climax takes like… five minutes, max. Usually, we get this pattern (I mentioned the cliche pattern earlier, and this is the fallout pattern):
- Friend is captured
- Villain interrogates
- Hero bursts in, fights, rescues friend
- Friend hurriedly tells hero about the plan
- Hero blows something up or whatever to stop the plan.
- The end.
The danger of the big dangerous bad guy plot, gets subverted, and not subverted in a clever way. By telling us the plot, the big dangerous thing loses all mystery. It’s not dangerous, anymore, because now that at least one good guy knows, we know the hero’s going to find out sooner or later. Sure, occasionally the hero will find out another way and rescue their friend and be like “I know what’s going on,” and that might just be worse, because it means that the friend’s capture was all for nothing.
In summary, problems with the cliche are that it:
- Ignores the “Show, don’t tell” rule
- Removes the mystery of the plot, transforming the story into an action story rescue/demolish plot
- Is a cheap way to create a tense situation that has a predictable outcome
It just pads the plot, and sometimes isn’t even necessary. It’s cheap and easy to fall back on, like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on white bread. Fuck that shit.
Examples: Nearly every story with any sort of good guy/bad guy altercation, as long as there’s a weak/annoying character to be captured.
BONUS HATE: I hate this cliche partly because USUALLY I’m sitting there screaming “no, don’t do X alone!” and X is always the thing that leads to them hearing the plot and getting caught. X is usually something no reasonable person would do because X is a very stupid action.
September 12, 2009
(An article I wrote for the ICS, back in the day)
So, you’ve finally done it. After hours, days, or maybe even a couple weeks, you’ve managed to create the masterpiece that will supplant Dragon Ball as the world’s greatest manga! The premise is ingenious, you know. After all, your intelligent, manga-loving friends would tell you if something was wrong, right? Of course they would! They’re experts!
The main character, Sasuke Ryu (let’s face it, putting last names first is stupid), is a ninja with a dragon inside of him, trying to unlock its power so that he can do… well, you’ll think of something. His girlfriend, the attractive, shy, but somehow stubbornly controlling type has a strong interest in Sasuke that she tries to hide. Couple that with an enigmatic, silent stranger, and you’ll have written a manga so popular that God himself commits suicide because he knows he’ll never be as great as you. Of course, your art might not be the best, but that’s okay, because your friends (especially those great artists on DeviantArt) tell you that you’ve got the talent to succeed!
You know what might help you get past the final push and succeed? One tidbit of advice, that’s what! It’s very important that you pay attention to every word. Ready? Here it is:
No matter what you try, you can never be a dragon.
Think that doesn’t have anything to do with you being more awesome than God? It does, and I’ll get to that in a bit, but let me take a slightly different tone, for a moment. Some people, you included, have no business attempting to write a manga. I’m not talking about writing to get famous or plagiarizing from other works–both very common mistakes of new writers–I’m talking about not understanding who you’re writing to.
I’m talking about how your not-being-Japanese precludes you from writing a successful manga. “Wait,” you might say, “Americans have written successful manga! Just look at Usagi Yojimbo and Dirty Pair!” Aside from the fact that both series were created by Japanese people and that the former is actually considered an American comic book, neither of these books are particularly successful, especially in terms of name recognition. You see, even people who don’t know much about comics, Japanese or otherwise, are more likely to recognize Dragon Ball or Naruto than they are Dirty Pair. That’s the kind of success we’re talking about.
Of course, it’s far easier to define that kind of triumph as “something you’ll never have.”
You aren’t Japanese. If I was delivering this article at a Convention, there would be a shocked hush right about now. After all, if you dress like you’re Japanese, spout “genuine” phrases like “Watashi wa Desu,” eat pocky, and can understand Japanese (because the only real way to watch anime is unsubbed!), you pretty much are Japanese, right? I mean, aside from the physical features and where you were born, in your heart and soul, you know you understand so much about being Japanese that you actually are, right?
Wrong! You’re a moron.
See, this is where we get back to the dragon point: no amount of surgery or psychological adjustment will transform you into a dragon. You were born human, so even if you act like a dragon, you’re going to act like how you perceive a dragon would act, not how a dragon actually acts. Likewise, no matter how much you might know about being Japanese, the fact is that you aren’t. You’ve been raised elsewhere, most likely in the West, and now you’re hardwired to operate with a western mentality. I don’t care that you take your shoes off when you enter homes or that you don’t touch people because Japanese culture apparently doesn’t like touching or anything like that. No matter how much you want to be Japanese, you aren’t, and nothing you do can change that.
The highest-selling, most popular manga out there are always written by Japanese people, writing for a Japanese audience. The cultural divide that separates the Japanese from the non-Japanese is vast and uncrossable. In writing, there are three important rules that must be followed: be concise, be intelligible, and know your audience, and rule number three is the reason you’ll never write a succesful manga. Deep down inside, you don’t truly know your audience. Ultimately, any attempt to hybridize Western and Japanese culture is going to fail miserably, especially when compared to your goal of reaching those fourteen or fifteen million volumes of Dragon Ball.
So please, give up while you’re ahead. You’ll never write the next “Bleach.” Maybe I’m just a softie who hates seeing people fall flat on their faces, or maybe I just want to rid the world of socially awkward otakus with delusions of grandeur, I dunno. What I do know is that you’ll never get anywhere if you try to write a successful manga, because the only successes in the manga industry are one thing you aren’t: Japanese. No amount of motivation, talent, and skill is going to overcome that, although psychic powers that give you an innate understanding of culture might. You’re better off learning to write an American or European comic book, and even then, don’t try to be successful; try to be good.
September 9, 2009
I killed a spider today.
It was a big, wicked thing, unnatural and sinister in its movements. There is nothing that terrifies me; sure, some things make me queasy, and I can’t stand the sight or sound of vomiting, because then my obsessive-compulsiveness kicks in and I have to join the fun, but there is nothing on the face of God’s green Earth that terrifies me. Spiders, however, take me beyond terror. They awaken a primal, xenophobic instinct that screams “THIS SHOULD NOT BE!!!!” and forces me into fight or flight mode. My heart races, my pupils dilate, and when all is said and done, either the spider or myself is dead. Or, I’ve run away screaming like a pussy. So far, my track record is impressive, and I remain alive.
This spider was no different than any other spider I had seen, except for its size. Other than that, it was just as much a blight upon human existence as any other spider. It was huge; somewhere between the size of my palm and a CD (in other words, between 4 and 6 inches). I had just opened the door to the church–the big emergency exit at the back of the building–when this thing came skittering in, within inches of my bare feet, and into the darkened library where I usually sleep at nights. My first instinct was to run, but I knew that, eventually, I’d have to return to the room later.
Where the spider would get me.
So, with great reluctance, I scampered tip-toe over to the hallway light (and past the suddenly ominous library doorway), flicked on the light, and with great trepidation, stared into the darkness of the library. I was on tip-toe, with my legs spread far apart as to present two small targets rather than one big set of legs. I leaned forward, peering cautiously inward. The hallway now a afforded me a slightly better look into the room. I poked my head in, checking first the light switch and then the ceiling. I didn’t reach my hand in because, had I done so, the spider (which might have been sitting on the light switch, waiting for the kill) could have been there and bitten me. I also checked the ceiling, to make sure it couldn’t ambush me from there.
Flourescent lights flickered on. The spider froze. Next to my shoe. My SHOE. For a moment, both of us stood at the ready, tensely staring at each other, I with my two natural god-given human eyes, and it with its demonic hundreds. Visions of my father telling stories of his childhood neighbor, a widow who had been murdered by a far lesser creature/abomination/spider than this laying in wait in her shoe. I moved. It tried to flee, but the panicked human moved far faster, haven been granted superhuman strength by his panic. I snatched at the shoe it had so treachorously tried to invade, and bashed it on the head, screaming “DIE, YOU FUZZY ABOMINATION!” in my mind. I lifted the shoe cautiously, and like some slasher-film monster, it rose from the carpet. I hit it again. It wouldn’t die. It couldn’t die!
Then I panicked to a level I hadn’t panicked to before, and began smashing the thing repeatedly, raining a hell of size-thirteen death on the beast. It tried to flee, trailing yellow-red spider blood, but finally, I prevailed, and the spider was no more. Then, I picked it up in a dustpan, and threw it in the trash.
Long story short, my shoe is covered in this pus-like spider blood, and I’ll be inspecting them for the next few weeks to insure that no spiders have plotted revenge. I’ll likely be avoiding the emergency door for some time, if not permanently.
Fuck you Dad. If you’d never told us that story, I never would have been so afraid of spiders.