Wednesday, October 5, 2011

52 to the Future

So, as anyone who has any kind of interest in comics knows by now, the entire month of September was given over to DC’s New 52, a relaunch of the company’s full lineup of comics. Making New 52 even more of an event was the fact DC decided to release the digital version of issues day and date, meaning you could (legally) download them the same day the floppies came out. What happened as a result?

Initial results are promising. Despite concern over what day and date digital release might do to floppy sales and comics retailers, not only have digital sales for DC gone up, but sales of floppies have increased, as well. It’s too soon to know whether this trend will hold and validate DC’s strategy to expand its customer base, but the one certainty here appears to be that digital sales will play an increasingly important role in the future of comics. And that means (since we all know the medium shapes the message) that comics will change.

Can we forecast any of those changes from here? Maybe. Here are a few thoughts and predictions:

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Adventures In Exposition

Exposition is the bane of every writer, no matter what form of storytelling you’re engaged in.  That’s because exposition – factual information your reader or viewer needs in order to comprehend a story development, yet in and of itself is devoid of emotional content – can be pretty boring.  Think of the technobabble in Star Trek.  Or any time a character in a story starts a statement with the words, “As you know, Skippy….”  Handled improperly, exposition can come off like a dry and unengaging lesson in a textbook, and cause your reader to put down your work for something more interesting.

Now, I personally don’t think all exposition is necessarily toxic.  Sometimes learning factual information can be interesting – we wouldn’t have the genre of science fiction at all if this weren’t true.  But in general when dealing with exposition, it’s best to be aware that you’re getting into treacherous territory.
So how to deal with this thorny problem?  Let’s look at a few different ways to tackle it:

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Mindless Tasks

I used to loathe mindless tasks.  Mindless tasks used to drive me insane and were a waste of what priceless little free time I had.  I would do whatever I could to make those tasks vanish so I could get to the really important things.  Mainly I wanted to spend my time playing the latest version of Resident Evil, or watching cartoons, or drinking beer with friends.  But then came the love of writing. 

I’ve already detailed how I rearranged my life to accommodate writing (here), but I found that I wanted to spend that time actually writing and not sitting staring at a blank screen.  To do this, I need ideas.  I need something, anything, to begin constructing the bridges between characters and story, but a glaring white screen is disheartening and gets me nowhere.  Here I’ve gone to the trouble of upending my life to create this priceless daily pocket of an hour or two to work on what matters most, and I am stuck trying to unearth why a character is standing in a shipping yard.  Then life rolls in, and the window of time ends with little progress on any front.

Monday, May 2, 2011

You Had To Be There.

I recently stumbled upon a writing exercise that I really feel works for me. I'm going to share it with you but first, a very short story to get us started.
Your own bathroom is the greatest bathroom there is and I just wasn’t going to make it to mine. A fast food restaurant down the street offered a solution to my predicament but when I got there I ran into a problem: The bathroom door was locked; some jerk was already in there!

There is a dance, more of a jig really, that everyone knows despite having never received instruction: The Pee-Pee Dance. I mastered this dance that day before that locked door and to the amusement of anyone who cared to look up from their shame-based value meals. I could only imagine how silly I looked but could only care about the quick exit of the person occupying that bathroom.

As the pressure turned to pain, anxiety turned to panic. Was this about to become the last time I could show my face in this establishment? The toilet flushes and suddenly the world is a brighter place. I listen with anticipation as my antagonist washes his hands. Almost there!

The water stops and is followed by the raspy hum of the hair dryer. Why couldn’t he just dry his hands on his shirt or jeans like a proper slacker? The hand dryer stops and in my head a chorus of hallelujah! The hand dryer starts its cycle again. Are you kidding me?

I’m on the verge of tears. It powers down and with good measure as enough is enough. The hand dryer starts again for the third time. Three times. THREE! Why? Who needs their hands that dry? On the verge of tears and a ruined pair of jeans the dryer powers down and I hear the lock on the door unlatch. I’m about to face someone I have never seen but currently hate with every fiber of my being.

As the door opens I am stricken with the sort of laughter that could only come from a combination of madness and defeat. Exiting the bathroom is a child between the ages of eight and ten with thick glasses and long hair which he has used the hand dryer to style standing straight up. I’ll spare you the details of what happened next though I will say it was the ending I was hoping for.
This story used to conclude with that time honored phrase that is usually uttered insecurely and in self defeat: I guess you had to be there. I have recently come to the realization that I absolutely love you-had-to-be-there stories simply for their sincerity. The storyteller genuinely wants to share this story and is driven to do so without any idea that the listener lacks components necessary to the enjoyment of it. The story is told regardless and regardless it fails in its intended manner.

Most people will keep these filed away as you-had-to-be-there stories; a sort of social faux pas that results in brief and friendly ridicule that happens from time to time. I see potential though...

These stories come from the heart so why not use that? The next time you find yourself telling one of these stories write it down. Later, when you get the chance, go through the steps of the story. It failed when you told it the first time around because it was missing pieces. Make a list of those pieces.

My initial story went like this: Dude, this one time I really had to go to the bathroom but someone was in there and when they came out, it was this kid with crazy hair…um…I guess you had to be there. By going back and chronicling the steps that lead to the story I was so excited to tell, I was able to bring you along with me. You got to glimpse inside my head and witness my dire sense of immediacy and when I get to the part about the kid you better understand why I felt the story was worth sharing.

Now my story of the junior bathroom stylist may not be earning me praise anytime soon but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that I not only wrote something but wrote something that was exciting and fun for me to write. If I keep this exercise up then two things are going to happen: A) I’m going to start associating writing with that fun and excitement; and B) My readers will pick up on that fun and excitement which they will hopefully share.

The next time you find yourself telling a "you-had-to-be-there" story, try the exercise of writing it down, and see if you can bring them there.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

It's Not Fantasy, It's HBO

By now many of you have (hopefully) tuned in to watch HBO’s new fantasy series, “Game Of Thrones.” And by now you may even know about the fan outcry against some of the unkinder reviews, particularly the one in the New York Times by Ginia Bellafante, in which she asks the question, “What is ‘Game of Thrones’ doing on HBO?”

A lot of the ire directed at Bellafante comes from her claims that women really won’t (or ought not to) be interested in the series. But what infuriates and baffles me just as much about her review is that she professes to enjoy a lot of the same series I do. “Rome,” “Deadwood,” “The Sopranos”… I love these series for how they explore situation and character, in a way that’s dramatic, intelligent, and insightful. That’s also precisely why I love “Game of Thrones” the book series, and was so excited to see it come to HBO: I thought this would be the opportunity, at long last, to topple the lingering snobbery toward genre material as inconsequential fluff.  “Game of Thrones,” as its many readers can attest to, is the kind of work that has the depth of character and unerring sense of drama that HBO’s best series are known for.

And yet here we are, right back at square one.  Despite great acting, great production values, and a great story, “Game of Thrones” is being dismissed out of hand, really for no other reason than it’s imaginative. It’s fake

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Defeating the Inner Naysayer

I can't recall how many times I have walked by my computer, frowned, and asked myself what the hell am I doing?  Why am I even bothering to write?  I mean, everything worth saying has already been said and it has been said much better than I could ever convey.  So what's the point?  I would then find things to fill the time that I should have spent writing.  DVDs needed to be organized, that new spin-off of a show I never really liked was starting in a few minutes, or that new first person shooter game was released today and I needed to pick it up.

It wasn't that there were things that needed to be done, there are always things that need to be done, I was scared, terrified of letting others see the faults in my writing which translated to faults with me.  If I write anything, except in the most private journal complete with heart-shaped lock and bejeweled key to keep out all prying eyes, then I was writing not just for myself, but ultimately for viewing by others.  The moment before pressing the "Send" button or hitting "Publish Post" my heart would race and I would consider pulling back to hole up into the infinite loop of revision where nothing ever gets done.  (See my earlier post here on writing a first novel or Paul's excellent piece on first drafts here).

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Making Fight Scenes Matter

Last night, I yelled at my tv screen. At a fight. That I'd seen before.

I was on the edge of my seat.

Granted, I didn't remember how the fight ended; my memory is terrible for such things. But, still, my significant other commented on it. She knows I'm pretty jaded when it comes to fight scenes. Over the last couple years, my eyes have started to glaze over during most movie action sequences. And my days of feeling excited about two superhero teams meeting and having a fight due to a misunderstanding are behind me. But there I was, watching a tv show and yelling, like I was cage-side at a UFC championship match.

The episode in question was Deadwood, Season 3, "The Two-Headed Beast," written by David Milch. [Warning: SPOILERS ahead!]