Monthly Archives: April 2013
Last week, I discussed a comic book movie adaption with The Crow. Comic books have always been a great passion of mine, particularly the work of DC Comics. The company responsible for heroes like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman (collectively referred to the Trinity, due to their status as the first regularly published comic heroes), DC is the oldest comic book publisher in America, and has some of the most iconic heroes and villains in comics today. And while their comic adaptions have ebbed and flowed in acclaim, one particular adaption has been a critical and commercial favorite with fans- Justice League, and its sequel Justice League Unlimited.
Based on the long running book, and helmed by Batman: The Animated Series creator Bruce Timm, Justice League is a gathering of the greatest DC heroes (the Trinity, The Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, and Hawkgirl), into a single team working to overcome threats too great for any of the heroes alone. Watching the Earth from the orbiting satellite the Watchtower, the League dealt with threats such as The Injustice League, Mongul, Darkseid, Brainiac, and other classic DC villains, while dealing with betrayal, loss, the stress of working together, and eventually opening the League to a wide range of heroes in Unlimited.
What I Learned: Group Dynamics, Individuality, Depth
Perhaps the greatest strength of Justice League, both in the comics and the show, is its wide array of characters. Even though the heroes had banded together, this was still a group of characters that had very different personalities, and very different approaches to handling situations. While there were the obvious differences in Superman and Batman (one was the public hero who started the League, the other an urban legend who worked the League part-time), there were plenty of friction in the other heroes. Green Lantern was a former Marine, while the Flash was an impulsive jokester. Wonder Woman was a regal and somewhat naïve Amazon, while Hawkgirl was a gritty, hardened alien police officer. All of these issues were addressed at some point during the show’s run, even used at one point to disband the League in a plot by Gorilla Grodd. However, it made the League a stronger team because they not only overcame their differences and learned to work together, they also managed to remain a group of individuals, each with their own views and theories on how to do their job. And as a result, they gained a strong respect for each other, which is shown in one of my favorite scenes from the episode “Hereafter” where Superman is supposedly killed, a fact all but Batman accept.
And there is no stronger team-builder then the scene below, where the Flash is nearly killed.
All of this showed me how to really build the Knights up as a team, but keep them as individuals. They needed to be different, they needed to argue, maybe they even needed to hate each other a little. But because they were all needed, because they couldn’t do the job without each other, they had to learn teamwork, and how to respect what each of them brought to the table.
Beyond character however, Justice League brought something that most don’t associate with comics or animated TV shows- depth. Bruce Timm has said in the past that he thinks of his work as adult shows that children happen to like, and it truly shows. These were characters that could fly, punch though walls, had magic space rings, and millions of dollars in crime-fighting equipment. At first glance this seems primed for kids, but this was nowhere near earlier attempts like Superfriends (made quite clear when a statue of the Wonder Twins was destroyed in one episode). These were characters that despite all their superpowers, still felt like real people with serious problems to deal with. The episode with the dream controlling Dr. Destiny was a great show of this, as several members faced their fears (Superman fearing that he will grow too powerful to interact with humanity, Green Lantern’s fear that he is simply an extension of his ring, or Flash’s fear that his speed will literally push him past people). But the show also dealt with how far someone might go to get back what they lost ( “A Knight of Shadows”), how far the League should go in protecting humanity (“A Better World”), the League’s lives and connections outside of their work (“Comfort and Joy”), gaining and losing everything you’ve ever wanted (“For the Man Who Has Everything”), and one scene of sacrifice from Aquaman that still amazes me that it ever made air.
What Writers Can Learn
Justice League might be a cartoon about a comic book, but any writer looking to work on group dynamics would do well to watch this show, or pick up a few books. It also stands as proof that even an idea that seems silly or childish can be portrayed as serious with the proper care and effort. As with my authors spotlights, the best thing I can recommend is to watch the episodes I’ve listed, or almost any episode of the series, to really see these traits in actions. As for the comics themselves, many are adapted from the comic stories (“Hereafter” is based on “The Death Of Superman”, “The Man Who Has Everything” is a classic Alan Moore story), but for comics that were not adapted, I can personally recommend “Tower of Babel,” “Divided We Fall”, “The Tornado’s Path,” and “Pain of the Gods,” all from my favorite run of the series. So head to your local comic store or wherever you get TV from, and check it out. It will help you learn about the most important parts of team building, and at the very least, might push us closer to that Justice League movie.
Today’s Blog tour stop is Girl Hearts Books.com. CHeck it out!
Two stops today, one at Bex ‘n’ Books, the other at PamelaForeman.com. Come and take a look.
Last week, I said that Points of Light needed to focus on two dark films that inspired me in the creation of my two main characters. I began with Sam Rami’s Darkman, which provided the torment and loss for Joe, as well as some dark humor and the asthetic of the Knights’ costumes. Today, I will examine the other dark film and graphic novel, which was a major turning point for the creation of Nightstalker- James O’Barr’s The Crow.
The Crow, one of the most famous independent comics of all time, is the story of Eric Draven, a musician killed alongside his girlfriend by a gang of violent street punks. One year later, Draven is resurrected by a mysterious crow (which according to the film, guides souls to the land of the dead, and occasionally brings them back), dons a black costume and frightening white makeup, and goes out onto the streets to take his revenge on the criminals that destroyed his life. The film and comic take different approaches- the comic deals far more with the emotional turmoil Draven goes through as he comes to terms with death, while the film focuses more on the acts of revenge he takes against the gang. Both end with Draven taking the criminal out and returning to the earth to see his girlfriend again, finally accepting his death and the circumstances around it.
What I Learned: Duality, Dark Humor, Inner Turmoil
The Crow is laced with tragedy, and with good reason. O’Barr wrote the story after his girlfriend was killed in a drunk driving accident coming to pick him up. O’Barr poured all of his anger and guilt into the pages of the novel, and that all comes across in the movie, which sadly has its own tragedy (actor Brandon Lee was killed during filming due to an accident with an improperly loaded gun). Regardless, Lee put on a tremendous show of Draven’s inner anger and rage as he took revenge. What I found amazing however, was that despite his inner anger and turmoil, he still showed traces of humanity and tenderness, especially with his friend from his old life, Sarah.
Even when he finds that Sarah’s mother is with one of the thugs, Draven still takes time to both heal and lecture her on the importance of her child.
This, in a moment, crystalized Nightstalker for me. While he was someone that was dark and scary and violent, he could still be human, and care about others, even regret the course of action he had to take, despite it’s varying levels of justification. But when he was violent and scary, he would still bring everything he had to it. Still, I always appreciate some humor in my heroes, and Draven could pull that off even in his most frightening scenes.
But more then anything, I saw Draven’s inner turmoil and how it was driving him. He was driven by a desire for revenge, without question, but also so many other things. He was wracked with guilt that he couldn’t save his girlfriend. He was tormented by the pain he endured. And the memories of his past humanity, which he knew he could never have again. But he never showed any of that to the people he battled against. All his pain was reserved for moments of solitude, or moments with the few allies he gathered in the time he returned. It was a unique dynamic to me- someone that buried the pain, but dug it up when he was alone. It made him human despite all his brutality and anger, and I knew how much Nightstalker would need that.
What Writers Can Learn
Like Darkman, The Crow is an amped up revenge story, but with a different focus. Reading the comic or seeing the film is a way to see a character shaped by grief and loss; knowing the backstory shows how far a person might want to go to see justice done. There’s also the moral of accepting death and our own limitations in the sight of it. Even if the supernatural/superhero elements don’t reflect your own ideas, they are concepts that resonate in some of the greatest works in literature. If you want to tell a story that deals with death and what it can cause a person to do, there’s no greater and truer fiction then The Crow.
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Today the Vlog comes to Curling Up With a Good Book, and along with the chance to enter for a signed copy, there’s an interview with me about Lightrider, it’s inspirations, and some of the material I like to read.
Today, the Lightrider Blog Tour comes to Booky Ramblings. Come take a look to enter for a signed copy, and to see my further thoughts on the writing process.
Today marks the start of Lightrider’s first vlog tour, where the book will be highlighted on various book sites and blogs across the ‘net. The tour will include contests for signed copies, guest posts by me, and other special posts and offers. Each site will be posted here as they come up, so keep up to date and see how you might win a signed copy.
In starting Portals of Darkness last week, I realized that there were two major influences for Points of Light I neglected to include thus far. So the next two weeks will focus on shining a light on two very dark pieces of cinema that allowed to bring my two central characters to life. And as such, we will start with a film that gave me the traits needed to bring Joseph Hashimoto, the Lightrider, into being- Sam Rami’s Darkman.
Written by Rami after his failed attempts to direct Batman and The Shadow, Darkman is the story of Peyton Westlake, a scientist working to develop a synthetic skin to aid burn victims; the skin is successful, but loses stability after 99 minutes in the light. At the same time, Westlake’s attorney girlfriend Julie Hastings uncovers a document tying developer Louis Stack to bribery of the city council. Stack sends his enforcers, led by Robert Durant, to intimidate Westlake for the document; in the process, they severely damage Westlake’s hands and face, before blowing up the lab with him inside. Westlake survives, but is burned over 70% of his body; to allow him to ignore the constant pain, doctors sever his nerve endings, eliminating his sense of touch. Westlake escapes and works to perfect his skin, rebuild his relationship with Julie, and get revenge on the enforcers, by using his skin to impersonate them and set them against each other. However, the loss of touch has caused Westlake’s brain to amplify his emotions to compensate; therefore he becomes increasingly unstable as Stack and Durant work to destroy him and Julie.
What I Learned: Costume Aesthetic, Dark Humor, Sense of Loss, Alienation, , Character Depth
As a fan of dark heroes, Darkman truly appealed to me and I was not disappointed by what I was shown. First and foremost, the film helped me in developing the look of the Knights, specifically their costumes. I was always entranced by the look of the Shadow- fedora, mask, long black coat, but it was also too clean for my tastes. Darkman emulated that look but it made feel dark and gritty and REAL. While I mixed that look with some medieveal themes, it was a major point in the look of the Knights- something unusual but with a degree of practicality (especially the mask). Darkman also exemplifies another quality I admired- a great sense of dark humor. While I’ve always loved this kind of hero, I especially enjoy a character that can crack a joke without losing his menace, and Darkman does that perfectly, especially in this scene here. It’s both menacing and humorous, something I took to effect with characters like Nightstalker and Sandshifter.
But above all, Darkman showed me to how create my main character. In writing Joe, I needed to be able to truly the pain he was under by losing his life and family, as well as how he was changing under the stress of his new life. Darkman was the best example I could find for such characteristics. Actor Liam Neeson perfectly moved through the changes of a good man trying to help the world, to a man losing everything and picking up the pieces, to finally accepting that everything he once had is gone and he must move on. Everything he goes through is meant to add weight to his character, from the damage done to him in his lab,
to his subsequent breakdowns while trying to remain true to himself
and the eventual decision to remain in the shadows.
Everything Darkman underwent was shown explicitly and made you feel everything he went through. It amplified every time we have felt alone and lost from our true selves in life, and it was why we felt for him. It showed what I needed to do have Joe go on his journey, experience joy and suffering, and eventually become a different, if not better man without losing the memory of who he was. And without that, I had no book.
What Writers Can Learn
While Darkman is certainly an exaggerated example, it stands as an excellent demonstration of a character caught between two sides, and experiencing emotional pain and stress as they navigate their way. Such characters are universal in fiction and writers can use Darkman to plot their own character’s course (choosing their own level of intensity of course). The dark humor is a selective touch, but well done for those who choose to use it. But all in all, the best thing Darkman offers is a solid, relatable character progression, and no matter what field you write in, that progression has to be brought out of the dark for your work to see the light.
For the last few weeks, I’ve discussed the major influences that led to the conception and development of The Lightrider Journals. But like any learning process, it’s very easy to make mistakes along the way, especially in literature. While my biggest challenge is in grammar and punctuation, as well as reining back on the number of characters, I have learned of other mistakes authors can easily make. This mistakes have ruined countless stories and characters, and if I can do one thing for new writers, I want to make them aware of these mistakes so they can avoid them in their work. So as Points of Light takes a breather, I ‘d like to begin my new series- Portals of Darkness, and at the first mistake that can swallow writers- the Mary-Sues.
What it Means
Mary Sues were first named by parody author Paula Smith in her story “A Trekkie’s Tale,” as a satire of Star Trek fan fiction. That story focused on Lieutenant Mary Sue, the youngest Star Fleet Lieutenant history at only fifteen years old (knocking the abundance of such ‘gifted’ women in ST Fan-fiction). Since then, the term has gone to mean a character that represents an idealized version of the author, and is used primarily for said author to experience wish fulfillment. MS’s are most commonly found in fan-fiction, allowing the others to make themselves the heroes of established works, or as catalysts to change the established story to the author’s wishes. Since it’s inception, many characters outside of fan-fiction are sometimes considered as Mary-Sues (or the male equivalent, Gary-Stu’s).
Why It’s Wrong
To allow readers to truly embrace a protagonist, that character must have some quality that the audience can relate to, usually through some flaw, or central trait that readers will see in their own lives. It can be broad, such as a character that is bullied, or looked down upon, or more specific, such as a half-demon character pulled between two worlds. Regardless of the manner, this ability to relate to the characters is what makes them interesting and memorable to the reader. A Mary-Sue does not allow for that. Because they are idealized, they are generally written with almost no flaws- they make the right decisions, are smarter then everyone around them, physically attractive, and in some cases, heroic martyrs that are mourned by all following their death. These characters are failures because they are not relatable. No reader is at that level of perfection, nor are they likely to be enthralled by a character that never has anything go wrong for them. Therefore, the protagonist becomes boring and the reader loses interest, while the author is left with a piece of writing that only serves as a vanity mirror.
While more an example of self-insertion, Dante’s work is an excellent example of an early Gary-Stu. In The Divine Comedy, Dante is taken through the realms of the afterlife during a period of self-doubt. In the first section, The Inferno, it is explained this is brought about by Beatrice, the beautiful love of Dante’s life. He is guided through Hell by the spirit of his favorite poet, Virgil, and meets several men that wronged him in life suffering eternally. These men are not only cursed by Dante, but readily accept his damnation and that he was right on cursing them for all their sins. It is a good example of some of the traits that can be seen in Mary-Sues.
Wesley Crusher- Star Trek: The Next Generation
An example from the series that coined the term, Wesley Crusher is seen by many as a Gary-Stu for series creator Gene Wesley Roddenberry (even by Wil Wheaton, the actor who played Wesley). The character, who travels on Starfleet’s flagship, which is crewed by it’s finest members, was often credited with saving the ship singlehandedly, despite having trouble being accepted by Starfleet Academy. While this portrayal may have been influenced by writer’s strikes (during which several prototype scripts of Wesley saving the day had to be used) having such a young character constantly being portrayed as more competent then his experienced superiors are well-established traits of a Gary-Stu.
Milo Thatch- Atlantis: The Lost Empire
A lesser-known Disney film, Milo Thatch is a young archeologist that wants to find the lost city of Atlantis. Over the course of the film, the materials, ship, crew, and money to do so are literally handed to him by a wealthy man that knew his grandfather. Milo then manages to save the ship, despite his more experienced crew, decipher the long dead language and centuries old secrets of Atlantis, successfully battle the evil and greedy captain, and then remain in Atlantis as King, with a beautiful Queen by his side. A near perfect example of a Gary-Stu.
Bella Swan- The Twilight Saga
Perhaps the most current example of the Mary-Sue in popular fiction. Most of Bella’s MS traits are established in the first book of the series. Bella moves to a new to make life easier for her mother, is instantly given a new car by her father, is found fascinating by the student body, complains about how her classes are beneath her, and instantly grabs the attraction of a vampire and werewolf who then fight over her. The reminder of the books show her starting a vampire war but constantly being protected by her handsome lovers, having no harder choice to make then which of them to choose, and eventually being granted power and immortality by said vampire lover.
Bella has been criticized for many problems, but for writers, her MS qualities (some which are seen in the picture above) are the worst. Her actions towards her mother are saintly and unlikely for any teenager and the rewards and adulations by her father and schoolmates are complete fantasy. Her intelligence is spoken off but not displayed, as are any reasons for her supernatural relationships beyond physical attraction. The following books never show any growth beyond her finally decide ding between two suitors and then eventually being made into a perfect being despite causing tremendous unrest and war between everyone involved. Her personality is also barely existent, which allows readers as well as the author to project themselves onto her character, making Bella a wish-device instead of a character.
How to Avoid
While some have rightly criticized the Mary-Sue term for causing a lack of strong female characters in writing, (as such characters are often wrong saddled with the term) the negative qualities these characters represent should be avoided for characters of any gender. For writers, this means taking a few basic precautions.
- Remembering Perfection Does Not Exist- perfection is an ideal, but not a realistic one. If you write a character that is perfect, you have written a character that is dull and boring and does not exist in any reality. Read the rest of this entry