Greetings once again. Today, I’d like to discuss a concept that has been defined by television, but applies to any creative writing outlet. That is the infamous term ‘jumping the shark,’ a phrase that TV watchers and critics know mean a show is doomed. But what is this concept, and how does it apply to writers?
To start, jumping the shark began with the classic sitcom Happy Days, taken from a Hawaiian vacation episode in which lead character Fonzie literally jumps over a shark while on water skis. Prior to this, the show had focused on relatable stories of young men and women growing up in the 1950’s. However, this episode was seen as pushing the show into ridiculous territory, damaging Fonzie’s character (as he had previously been injured in a motorcycle stunt and had learned from the experience), and showing the writers as desperate. The show did continue, but the focus shifted to Fonzie’s near superhuman charisma, as previous story concepts were shelved. As a result, the show’s appeal dropped over the reminder of its run, and ‘jumping the shark’ became the go-to term for a story that had lost focus, or showed desperation to keep viewers interested.
However, despite the term becoming popular, many other examples of shark-jumping have been documented over the years. While there are far too many to list, these are a few examples.
- ER’s Helicopter- Dr. Robert Romano loses his arm to a helicopter blade, and is then killed when a burning chopper falls out of the sky, in this doctor-based drama.
- Brady Bunch’s Cousin Oliver- a young cousin is introduced to bring a fresh perspective but fails to mesh with the cast (and creates ‘Cousin Oliver Syndrome’ for TV viewers everywhere)
- Roseanne- The show’s final season depicted the blue collar family winning the lottery, only to reveal at the end that the entire story was a fantasy concocted by Roseanne to cope with the loss of her (TV) husband.
- Heroes, Season 2- a superhero show with a clear leader starts its second season with said leader depowered and amnesiac, while the others scramble to find a purpose.
- ‘Nuking the Fridge’- a new variant on the shark jump, taken from the final Indiana Jones film (in which the protagonist survives a nuclear blast by hiding inside a lead lined refrigerator), this term refers to the point when a franchise has been creatively exhausted by sequels.
But why does TV and movie mistakes mean anything to writers? Because all storytelling comes from writers, and we can be just as prone to lose focus as anyone else. So to avoid making these same, desperate mistakes, writers need to keep a few things in mind.
- If you add a new character, do it because the story needs it, not because it will seem fresh.
- Always keep your character’s journeys in your mind. What they do in the future is shaped by what they do in the past.
- Keep your tone consistent- if something seems out of place or even foolish, you’re likely close to a shark jump.
- And most important of all- know when it’s over. Almost all ‘shark-jumping’ can be attributed to a story that went on beyond the writers’ ability to keep it fresh and vibrant. If you have nothing left to say, it may very well be because you’ve said all there is to say. And ending your story on a satisfying note is far better then sending your serial killer lead to Oregon to start life as a lumberjack.
Greetings once again. Today I return to the blog to re-examine a topic I have touched on before- writing a good female character. Previously, I’ve stated how I learned to write a female character by focusing on them as characters, and not placing much emphasis on them being female. What brings me back to the topic is some recent criticism published about the current Wonder Woman comic. These critics accused the writers of making the Amazons into xenophobic killers, incapable of leading themselves, and how Wonder Woman has been changed into a character hating her current roles as a hero, the Amazon Queen, and the new God of War. The reviewer, Grant Raycroft, goes even further, saying that DC has mishandled Wonder Woman in the last four years, and calls the current book “one the comic book reader doesn’t deserve.”
These are harsh criticisms, but they do highlight something I noticed in reviews of another series I’ve discussed here, Legend of Korra. While I still have mixed feelings on the series itself, one aspect that I did applaud it for was centering it around a young female hero in Korra. However, I found Korra’s flaws outweighed her positive traits- she was headstrong, resolved too many problems with her fists, looked to others for approval, and just seemed ill-suited to the responsibilities of being her world’s hero. Now, while I found many fans online that agreed with me, the critical reviews largely praised Korra, and did not mention the flaws I saw. Obviously, difference of opinion is always a factor. But I found it strange at the time and more so now, as many reviewers have shared Raycroft’s feelings concerning the current Wonder Woman creative team and their direction.
So why does this matter? To begin with, Wonder Woman is an icon, one that has largely been used as symbol for women’s rights. Her portrayal is taken more seriously and has more impact as a whole. Therefore, when she is not portrayed well, the response is voiced quickly and loudly. Wonder Woman is a landmark in an often male-dominated medium, and despite bumps along the way, has kept that status. But what is it that lets Korra escape many of these criticisms, despite having many flaws of her own?
Simply put, because the world of entertainment tends to be male-dominated. Just looking at the superhero genre, there have been few superhero films that feature women. Even after making it to the screen, Black Widow has been a supporting character in both of her film appearances. And many times, female-led comics are done in such a way to simply attract the male readers through sex appeal, or make them seem less then some male counterpart. Obviously, there are exceptions, such as the new Ms. Marvel, but it tends to make the idea of a positive female lead seem somewhat revolutionary. So when a show like Korra comes along, many want to support it, and show they do want to see a female lead.
But that is the problem as well. Because of that lack of publicity, it can be hard to say you dislike these new female leads. Others can easily accuse a critic of hating women, or refusing to change with the times. So there is something of a need to publicly support these female leads, even when they don’t live up to the ideals they champion. But that makes these women seem inferior, like they can’t be judged to the same basic character standards we apply to male leads. So what do we do about it?
For writers, I will reiterate my stance on women as characters rather then gender examples. And I will add that if you think writing a female lead is all you need to grab attention, you’re wrong. A female lead needs all the good character traits we expect- imperfections, goals, and far more depth then ‘toughness’ or ‘evil’. If you want to show them as equal to men, then write the story that way. Balance strength with sensitivity in everyone. Let the men save the women AND the women save the men. And for critics, when writers fail to do these things, don’t be afraid to tell them. Women can take anything men can.
Greetings once again. This week, I found a surprise announcement- that Disney is planning a relaunch of a beloved program of my childhood, Ducktales. While I was glad to hear that a new generation could enjoy a favorite of my childhood, I also found myself thinking about why Ducktales, along with so many other of my childhood favorites, found the strength to return in recent years. So today, I want to explore an aspect of writing that is both simple and impossible to achieve- timelessness.
To start, no writer can ever say if their work will be considered timeless. A large part of what makes a story timeless is the strength of the tale, and therefore the ability of the writer. The tales of Charles Dickens and other Victorian writers endures because the stories themselves are strong, with characters and themes that have survived the ages, despite the fact they are set in an era some two hundred years removed from modern times. A more recent example is the film They Live, which John Carpenter made in response to the greed and corruption of the 1980s. But obviously, greed and corruption are notions that live on, which is a large part of why the film still resonates with people today. The satire and message of the film, (in which an alien invasion is sublimely wiping out mankind), still works, especially in today’s post-Recession world.
So having a universal theme that people of any time can relate to, is a strong part of timelessness. But time itself can also be a role. Getting back to Ducktales, I originally watched the show as a part of the Disney Afternoon, a syndicated block of television owned by Disney. For many of my generation, the block is a hallmark, with it’s programs remembered fondly as intelligent, well-written, and genuinely well done children’s programming. In large part, this was because these shows each existed in their own worlds, and made no attempt to alter them to fit the era. Even the shows that existed in ‘modern times’ made their setting general, so that viewers would focus on the story. In fact, the Nostalgia Critic pointed out in his review of the block, that things began to go downhill when Disney attempted to make Disney Afternoon more ‘current’ and to fit the interests of children in that era. Some copied animation style (Schnookums and Meat), while other followed popular trends and movies (Goof Troop, Mighty Ducks, Aladdin). This resulted in a lessening of quality and shows that either pandered or imitated, until the Disney Afternoon finally ended.
But the original shows, as well as some highlights of the later years, are still spoken of high regard, simply because their concepts were not tied to the early 90’s, but could be retold again and again for any generation. Even many of today’s ‘reboots’ such as Transformers or Ninja Turtles have succeeded by taking a solid core concept and applying it without pandering to the current audience (though some healthy nods are given to older fans). So for any author looking for a timeless story, work hard but remember, have a strong core concept, and keep the focus off events of today, so that readers can enjoy them tomorrow.
And as a last reminder, this upcoming Saturday, March 7th, I will be appearing at the Big Apple Comic Con in New York’s Penn Pavilion. It’s a short walk from Penn Station so if you can make, be there!
Welcome back to the blog. This week, I’d like to reach out to follow authors working to put their books out into the world. As I’m currently preparing for my first major convention appearance, I thought about all the preparations that go into getting ready for any kind of appearance for an author. So today, I’d like to present a check-list for any author making their first major appearance, from a local signing to a full con appearance.
- Books- let’s start with the most obvious part of a con- the actual product. You need to make sure you’ve got a good amount of books. The worst feeling of an appearance is to run short early and miss potential opportunity. However, you also don’t want to over-order, and be left with a huge number of books. The best thing to do is to plan for your appearance and decide how much to bring based on just where you’re going and how many people will likely be there.
- Money-Box- besides books, the most important thing you need at an appearance is money. You need to have loose cash to give change to people that pay in cash. You may also want to invest in a credit card reader, which are often small enough to work with a smart phone and will make it easier for people to pay. Regardless, you must always have a cash-box, a small, lockable container that holds your change and your profit. This is one of the two most important things to bring to any appearance.
- Props- another important part of any event. You always want to appear professional and to attract attention. Some simple props can easily accomplish this; a poster of your book or even of yourself can help steer people in your direction and get the first initial interest. As with the book number, this should be adjusted for your appearance. You don’t want to overcrowd a library or undersell a crowded convention.
- The Right Attitude- no one wants to go to a signing for a grumpy author. Be prepared for the event you’re going to- if it requires you to speak, be polite, informative, and most of all, approachable about your work and as a person. If you’re going to be in a group, be inviting, but without seeming like a carnival pitchman for your book. Above all, be prepared to be in one location for a long time, friendly to the people that approach, and above all, grateful for people that purchase your book.
- Preparations- this seems obvious, but it’s worth mentioning. Whatever event you are going to, know the details. Know when you need to get there, make sure your give yourself time to set up, know the setup, and make sure all your materials are ready.
- Help- something many authors don’t think of. Appearances are built around the author, but they can require more then one person. Don’t be unafraid to ask for help in setting up appearances, especially at cons. The larger the event, the more pressure is on to get customers, so don’t be afraid to have someone else there to help you out.
- Research- we end with the most important step of appearances, finding one. While your publisher may aid you in finding events, you will likely need to do some work on your own. Some events are easier to schedule- local signings, events at libraries, are usually happy to host you. Events like cons however, will take more work and require your efforts to find them. So get on your computer and find them, it’s the only way to be able to get your book out there.
Hopefully, this checklist will make it easier for new authors to navigate the difficult waters of their first major event. And don’t forget about my appearance at the Big Apple Con in a few weeks, on Mar. 7th, at NYC’s Penn Pavilion from 10-6 pm.
Greetings once again. Today is the first step of the promotion for Equites, as I announce my first Goodreads giveaway! It’s simple- all you have to do is enter at the link below, and you’ll be entered to win one of ten copies of Equites. The only thing better then an epic fantasy is a FREE epic fantasy, so don’t delay. The giveaway is open until March 2nd, so hurry over and enter!
Greetings once again. While I’m currently enjoying the newness of my new book, a part of my mind also knows how much closer I am to completing my trilogy. At the same time, Marvel Comics made a big announcement that it will bringing the current Marvel Universe to an ‘end’ (but given comics, this could mean many other things). Regardless, these events both led to write today’s blog on one of the hardest things for any writer to create- the end. The ending has been described as the best and the worst part of a story for any writer, since it means both the end of a project and the start of a new one. But before anything can be started, an ending has to be done with proper skill.
The Good Ending
Ideally, an ending will accomplish certain goals. It will bring the story to an end in a satisfying way, so that readers feel a sense of completion. It also has to feel like the end of a journey. Characters that began an arc must complete it, to mark the end of the journey they have over come. They can do this by gaining confidence, overcoming an enemy, or accomplishing a goal despite hardships and setback. Oftentimes, this progression is the end by itself. However, goals can also be outside the character- saving the world, destroying evil, etc. Regardless of the method, the end must always come in a way that feels true. An ending such as a dues ex machina (or the ‘magic ending’ where everything is solved by luck or a sudden plot device) fails in this because it negates any progress the characters have made, or any real depth the story’s progress has made.
The Bad Ending
A good ending may seem like a basic, easy thing for a writer to want to accomplish, but it is not always so. Many obstacles can block the way, such as the dues ex machina. However, writers can also be challenged by other factors. One of the most common is simply not knowing when to end. Many of us can think of a series that started well, but suffered because it went on long after its premise was exhausted. In fact, one of the most famous TV ‘rules’ is the Fawlty Towers rule, named after the classic British series, which only lasted twelve episodes to avoid creative burnout. Other series, like Discworld, avoid this problem by focusing on a universe rather then characters, which allows for much more varied stories.
Getting back to comics, there is also the fear of ending prematurely, or a reboot. DC Comics’s New 52 relaunch, in which a new continuity was established, angered many fans who didn’t want to see an end to the current incarnations of their favorite stories and characters. Worse still, the new continuity altered many classic characters and origins while exemplifying the worst kind of reboot- one done without complete planning behind it, which eventually cost DC the sales it gained over Marvel. And finally, there is one last type of bad ending to mention- the fanservice ending, which is designed largely to please a division of the fanbase over telling a complete ending. For this, I point to the recent Legend of Korra finale, which ended in an ambiguous suggestion of two characters having a homosexual relationship (a popular fan belief) instead of having an ending with greater meaning to the show’s overall message. This also can be constructed as the writers trying to add last minute depth to underdeveloped character relationships and hoping for a controversial ending to make the show seem more important then it was.
In simplicity, a good ending has to satisfy, bring characters and goals to an end, and feel final. Writers of all types need to recognize the need to bring their stories to a satisfying conclusion, and when it needs to happen. For one final example, J.R.R. Tolkien did actually consider a sequel to Lord of the Rings. However, after writing only one chapter, Tolkien stopped, realizing that there was simply nothing left to say. That, is an impulse that all writers need to recognize, because even the deepest well can run dry.
Greetings to all. Today, I have great news, as my second novel, Equites, has been sent to the printers, and is finally live and available for purchase! Currently, it can be purchased on the iUniverse website (link below) in hardcover, paperback, and e-book, and will soon be available on mainstream book sites such as Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com.
This marks the beginning of a busy year, as I will be doing even more promotion for the Lightrider series. This will include giveaways, a national Book Exhibit, and my first venture into conventions, at the Big Apple Con on Mar 7th in NYC, and the Garden State Comic Fest in Morristown NJ over the summer. More details will be released as time goes on, so please, keep checking back for info and my usual writing entires. Here’s to a successful New Year.
Welcome back to the blog. In order to combat the post-Christmas blues, I’ve saved my final holiday entry for today. And I’ve saved the best for last. So prepare to take closer look at a Frank Capra bomb that became a holiday classic- It’s a Wonderful Life.
Prayers on Earth cause God and Joseph to summon Clarence, an angel in training, to venture down and help George Bailey, a man considering suicide. Through flashbacks, Clarence sees George grow from child to man, a life in which George often gave up his dreams of travel and architecture to help others in his hometown. Despite giving people a way to build and own homes rather then beg from the wealthy Mr. Potter, George is regretful of his missed chances, which overtake him when money from his business is misplaced and he faces jail. Despondent, George attempts to kill himself for insurance money, only to be stopped by Clarence. Acting on George’s statements, Clarence then reshapes the world so that George was never born, resulting in a world where the town is ruled by Potter and George’s friends and family are bitter, unhappy, or ever even came into existence. Horrified, George begs for his life back, which Clarence gives him. George returns to accept the consequences, but the townspeople he has helped over the years come to give him the needed money, repaying him for all his years of kindness.
What Writers Can Learn: Lengthy Narrative, Consequence
While it took many years of holiday TV airings to become a holiday staple, it is not hard to see the Christmas nature of this film, which promotes selflessness and the kindness of friends and family. But other then its morality, this film gives writers examples of excellent tools. First, the piece is perfect as a long narrative of George Bailey’s life. We are shown George from the time he is twelve, and then almost all of his early adult life. Even without his teenage years, we are given a clear of the man’s life, and the core of his character. Even as a child, he displays a strong selflessness, losing part of his hearing to save his brother, and taking over his family business to save it from Potter. With each age, we see George become a better man and we became more and more enamored with him and hope for his success.
However, the narrative also reveals the consequences of George’s actions. Each of his good deeds is marred by sacrifice. We see him give up college education, his dream of architecture, then his chances to see the world, his honeymoon, all to keep his family business going, and protect the townspeople. And while his nobility is admirable, he displays all too human regret and frustration at the loss of those dreams. We see touches of it throughout it the film, but it is nowhere more apparent then the difficult scene where George returns home after the money is lost. He is clearly angry and saddened, snapping at his family, complaining about his life, and then finally destroying his models of things he would never build. We see just how human George really is and despite all the good he has done, he has sacrificed a great deal. Some have even brought this into the final scenes, where the townsfolk are brining George the needed money. While it can be seen as the repayment of kindness and how good deeds are rewarded, it can also been seen as another blow to George, since he now has more then enough funds to keep working in a job he never truly wanted. But regardless of how it seen, this is a perfect view of the consequences of one’s actions and how they affect his life.
While not a holiday film, Jimmy Stewart (George) had a similar role in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, where he plays a junior senator attempting to stand up to the inhuman bureaucracy of government (a film of great use in these difficult political times). And with that, our holiday journey is finished for another year. I look forward to seeing you all in the New Year, as I put forth the second volume of Lightrider. Happy Season to you all.
Greetings once again, as we continue our look at great holiday writing. Today we examine a genuine holiday classic, drawn from the mind and hand of one of America’s comic strip legends. Let’s turn the spotlight on A Charlie Brown Christmas.
It’s the holiday season, and as usual, Charlie Brown is feeling depressed. He feels that Christmas has become over-commercialized, (thanks to Snoopy’s excessive doghouse decorations and his sister Sally asking Santa for money), and that he cannot grasp the true meaning of the holiday. Taking advice from Lucy, he agrees to direct the school Christmas play, but is unable to control the unruly and sometimes selfish children. Charlie Brown decides to get a Christmas tree to better set the mood, but selects a small, barren tree (the only actual tree in the lot) which is ridiculed by the children.
Charlie then beseeches someone to tell him the meaning of Christmas, which prompts Linus to recite the Nativity story from the Bible. Feeling inspired, Charlie Brown takes the tree home to decorate, but it cannot even support a single ornament. C.B. leaves in disgust, but Linus and the other children arrive, and are able to properly decorate the tree as C.B. returns, as the group begins to sing.
What Writers Can Learn: Simplicity, Subtlety
Charlie Brown Christmas has aired for fifty consecutive Christmases, and it’s not hard to see why. Aside from bringing Charles Schulz’s Peanuts cast to television, it is a landmark in the art of simplicity. Everything about the story feels genuine and endearing, from the basic story (completed within ten days) to the performances (done by young children with little previous acting experience). As a result, the story isn’t weighed down by excessive details or long winded story telling. The characters are direct, which makes them seem more like children, and the lessons are quickly stated and shown, which makes it easy to get across, especially in Schulz’s simple and often heartwarming style.
The other great aspect is the subtlety. As mentioned, the story itself is largely simple, but as such, its points can be easy to grasp. Charlie Brown is similar to the Grinch at the start, disillusioned with the commercialism of Christmas, and this point is clearly stated without lingering too long. The other children also display their negative traits quickly. But of all these moments, the most important is Linus’s reading of the Bible, one of the key moments of the Christmas season.
A scene that Schulz fought to be included, it is easy to say that bringing up religion is a difficult topic, and it is. But the presentation is what makes this the keystone of the special. The earnestness of Linus’s delivery is a major part, to be certain. And while the religious aspect is undeniable, it is also true that Christmas is a religious holiday, and for those that celebrate that aspect, this is what the holiday truly means. But most importantly, following Linus’s speech, there is silence. No urging is given to the viewer, no demands are made. We are simply left to our own devices, to take the words and apply them as we see fit. In that, we have the greatest example of subtle writing- assuming the audience is smart enough to grasp the meaning in their own way.
There have been numerous Peanuts specials over the years, dealing with other holidays and various events, but few, if any, have reached the heights of the first. But those of you looking for one last gift, come back next week when we unwrap what may very well be the greatest Christmas tale of all.
Welcome once again, as we continue our month long look into Christmas storytelling. Last week, we visited a modern version of the North Pole, but today, we’re entering a different realm. A realm between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This week, we venture into the American TV classic known as The Twilight Zone, and its Christmas offering, “Night of the Meek.”
Henry Corwin, a drunken department store Santa, arrives late and is fired from his position after a parent complains. Corwin then pours his heart out to the crowd, explaining that he drinks in large part because of the squalor and poor condition of his neighborhood and the children in it, and that he cannot truly be Santa for them. Decrying that Christmas is a far purer and better thing then department stores and presents, Corwin wishes that for one night, the meek could inherit the Earth. After being refused entrance to a local bar, Corwin comes across a large sack, which produces any gift asked of it. He then fulfills his wish, giving gifts to the children of his neighborhood and to the men of a homeless shelter. However, a nun calls the police, who then contact Corwin’s former employer, who believes he has stolen the gifts from the store. However, the store manage can only remove garbage out of the bag, and the policeman tells him to leave it alone. Later, Corwin has emptied the bag, and wishes only that he could do this every year. As he returns to the alleyway where he finds the bag, he now discovers a sleigh with two reindeer and an elf, waiting to take him to the North Pole.
What Writers Can Learn- Redemptive, Unique Character Writing, Morals
While The Twilight Zone is largely thought of for supernatural tales, it could often tell more heartfelt stories, and this is no exception. A great part of the genius of the episode can be placed at the feet of Corwin. The idea of a drunken, layabout department store Santa is nothing new, and is often written for comic effect, or to showcase a superior Santa figure. But here, we are made to feel for Corbin, who is aware of his flaws, and drinks out of regret not for himself, but for the poor people he lives with. We see that there is a good man behind the alcohol soaked veneer, who takes his position so seriously, that he weeps when poor children ask for gifts and “a job for my daddy” that he is powerless to give (A great note of consideration must also be given to Art Carney, famous as Ed Norton on The Honeymooners, who carried the episode with his heartbreaking performance as Corwin).
But this episode is also excellent in its redemption and moral offerings. Despite his noble intentions, Corwin is at best, a sad figure with little to give the world, and he knows it. Upon finding the magic bag, we see Corwin’s utter joy at being able to make his dream a reality. Even under the face of scrutiny, he stays true to his goal, gifting his accusing manager, an act that convinces the policeman that Corwin should be left alone to accomplish his goal. In that, we see that even the most unlikely of us can do great good, if we are only given the chance.
And now, we come to the morals, the part that makes this required Christmas viewing for everyone. As mentioned, Corwin is a department store Santa. He constantly sees the hustle and bustle of people endlessly shopping and buying and spending each day, then goes home to a world where Christmas is just another day of the year. He sees children that will get everything they want, and children that don’t even get coal in their stockings. Even his firing comes at the hands of a woman who is trying to force the commercial of Christmas onto her son, and it is that very scene that makes Corwin deliver a speech on the truth of Christmas that ranks up with Linus telling the Nativity to Charlie Brown. Because Corwin doesn’t just remind us of Christmas’s true meaning, he stands in the hall of commercialism and reminds all the people, including the children, of those who have nothing. It is a speech that I have placed below, and I dare you watch it, and not weep.
The Twilight Zone had no other Christmas episodes, but those looking for strong moral tales would do well to examine its episodes for them (“The Last Night of a Jockey” is a fine example). “The Night of the Meek” was remade for the 1980’s Zone revival series, but nothing tops the original. And of course, there is another classic tale of the true meaning of Christmas, which we’ll get into next week. But if you want a hint, check the funny pages.