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.
This week, I’m continuing Points of Light with a look at a source that was so essential to the book, I would never have been able to write it without it. When I started writing, one thing I very much wanted to avoid was creating a sword and shield style fantasy book. Even though I love stories like Lord of the Rings, I felt there wasn’t anything new I could add to this genre, and that having those elements in modern times was far more interesting. However, one such fantasy book series provided such tremendous insight on concept and character that I found myself compelled to use it. That series was the Dragonlance Chronicles, by Track Hickman and Margaret Weis.
Hey everyone, decided to try the Write on Edge challenge today. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Write on Edge posts weekly writing prompts that anyone can participate in – you simply link up your post on the website. This week we were prompted to compose up to 500 words on the following Dr. Seuss quote and image:
“I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees for the trees have no tongues.” – Dr. Seuss, from The Lorax
One question every author gets asked is: what advice can you give to young writers? I say there are only two things that young authors can do. One of them is simply to write. Writing is a skill like any other, and no one develops a skill or talent without extensive practice and fine tuning. But there is another practice, that I must put before all others: READ! Because as much as writing is a skill, it’s also something that requires an understanding before you can start. Just like you wouldn’t start constructing a building without learning how, you can’t start writing a story about vampires without first reading vampire stories and understanding the rules and just how the genre works (unless your name is Stephanie Meyers).
But while you should always read if you plan to write, there are many ways to see a story progress and learn from it. Lightrider was born out of books, TV, film, and even video games, so you should be no means limit yourself to one medium or genre. As such, I’ve decided to start a series on this blog about some of the influences that went into the making of Lightrider and how they left their mark on the book (I may also start a series on the reverse). But also, I want to hopefully show how to pick up on themes and concepts from bodies of work in order to really get something that you can use out of it. And with that said, I’d like to begin with a TV series that taught me not only about the mechanics of Lightrider, but also a tremendous amount on character and morality, Avatar: The Last Airbender.
In some ways, writing a book is like constructing a building: it requires planning, time, and a vision of a grand final product. Yet while a building is far more rigid in its production, often requiring several sets of blueprints and designs that must be followed in a set time frame, books are different. Books are freer.
How to Develop a Writing Process
Everyone writes differently (an obvious statement, I know). Thoreau wrote in a cabin in the woods, Stephen King writes for six hours a day and countless others wrote in other ways. Each author has their own anecdotes, rituals, rules or escapes. Yet beyond the method, the biggest question about writing relates to the sort of blueprint a writer follows, rather, the outline they use.
As with everything else, this is different for every writer. Many writers devise extensive outlines, going every detail of the story before they even start putting their pens to paper (or words to a computer screen). Others simply get inspiration and start writing with no real plan. Both ways can work. Stephen King wrote the 1,000 page epic IT after seeing an old, dark storm drain in the woods one day. J.R.R Tolkien spent many years going through several drafts of the Lord of the Rings before finally completing the work, twelve years after its inception! To be successful, every author needs to find out the method that works for them.
Personally, I used a mix of practices for Lightrider. I came up with the main points of the stories (Joe’s human life, the selection some kind of training, and the eventual battle with the Chaos Demons) first. From there, I had no idea how they would all be connected, or how I would move from one thing to another. Rather than sit down and make a more detailed outline, I simply started to write. As I came out with the first scenes, I started to see things: I saw how the Architects would be watching Joe and commenting on his actions; I saw how Joe’s training would impact his actions towards the final battle; I realized how much drama I would get from bringing Joe back to his home during an attack; finally, I saw how Joe and Nightstalker’s relationship would grow enough that the bat would bring Joe back to the fold.
This process didn’t just dictate the major moves of the story, but also minor things; subplots grew out of needing to bridge gaps. For instance, Sandshifter’s character arc, and her relationship with Forester, came into play to fill a hole. As did the antagonism between Wavecrasher and Firesprite – something that can be built in future stories. Even the lightness of Windrider’s comic book know-how was crucial and developed from this technique. By having a moderate outline, I was able to come up with many of character plots and threads that made the story strong.
While I had success with this method, it might not be right for you. So if you like what I’ve described here, then by all means, give it a try! It frees your mind from having to create the whole story at once and allows you to have some fun while being creative as your write. If it feels too loose, then maybe you need an outline with more detail. Or maybe you need a house in the woods. As long as what you’re doing works for you, then it’s the right way to go.
Finally I wanted to share a special treat with you this week. It’s a special donation from my friend Craig – a Lightrider action figure! How cool, right? I’m just blown away by this:
While everyone remembers the escapades of Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future, there’s one scene that’s valuable to anyone that wants to write. It’s the scene in which Fox comes across the high school version of his father, a man furiously writing down his science fiction stories, but too afraid to ever risk showing them to anyone; to quote the man, “What if people don’t like them?”
For writers, that is a constant fear. But just to be able to write period, we can’t be George McFly. A writer can’t improve, can’t learn, if he doesn’t have feedback from people around him. What people don’t like may point the way towards improvement and better technique. But at the same time, a writer can’t allow everyone else to change the story, or it loses any touch the writer might put into it. As I’ve continued to write and show my work to others hoping for even the barest criticism, I’ve learned three very real ways to determine whether or not you should take the advice of others on your work.
Even if you never picked up a comic book in your life, there’s been some time where you wished you had some sort of special power. It could be something simple, like warming yourself when it’s cold, always knowing where your keys are, or even just being to vanish to another place whenever you like. But if you’re like me, with a love of comic books and understanding of powers like molecular reconfiguration and astral projection, then you have plenty of ideas as to what you would do in your wildest dreams- and what you could write about in a superhero-esque fantasy novel. But then the question becomes how you make them work, and what the rules are for them.
Face it, the plot of any story is secondary to the characters involved. If you or your readers don’t care about the characters involved in your story, then it doesn’t matter how many plot twists, crazy action scenes, or other little tricks you throw in (watch a Micheal Bay film; you’ll see it). It might entertain people for a while, but all the stunts in the world wear out if they’re done by faceless nobodies.
So what does make a good character? When I started the Lightrider Journals, I worked hard at not only having the Knights as a diverse group of beings that would be unique in a group format, but also have real motivations and drives that people could relate to. And while everyone was unique, there were a few characters that really challenged me to make them excellent.
When you start a book, the most important step is to accept the idea that the finished product will likely look different then what you initially envision. Not that you should second guess yourself, and question every plot or character choice, but there are always some ideas that just won’t look as good when you first write them down (or even after you think about them more then once).
I’ve made more changes to the Lightrider Journals then I can remember. The very first draft of this story was only nine pages, and it was all written in first person point of view. I knew two things right away- that it needed to be longer, and that first person was not going to work. So I started brainstorming, and came up with the idea of the Knights being sent off to fight their enemies, the Chaos Demons, and their all powerful leader, in some dark corner of Africa. It got me up a few more pages, but again, I just couldn’t get behind it. So instead, I reworked that little escapade into a training exercise the Knights would undergo in a parallel universe. Which made a lot more sense then sending a group of newly empowered heroes right out to face the Lord of all Evil. There was also a scene where the Demons attack Cleveland and destroy the Indians’ stadium. One week after writing it, I realized this was WAY too big to pull off in the first story