Randomness for 8/20

1) Interview of a One-Year-Old Child. Video. Way funnier than it sounds.

2) Moebius did concept art for the movie WILLOW. Check out the art design that could have been.

3) Astonishing bike stunts in abandoned industrial facility. Video. Music’s nice, too.

4) Better Book Titles.

5) Everything you need to know about the video game industry in one graphic.

6) The 10 Most Brutal Moments in ‘The Savage Sword of Conan’!

7) A steampunk apartment.

Story doesn’t matter.

Some filmmaker friends are tearing into the quotes from a Disney exec in this article. Essentially, he’s saying that Disney is going to pull back and focus on big, expensive tent-pole movies. It’s the only kind of film that makes sense with the marketing budget they need to bring in really huge numbers of people. (Added later: this particular exec doesn’t actually greenlight films, so here’s a grain of salt.)

He’s also saying that, for this kind of movie, audiences don’t care that much about the story. They like the big budget spectacle, and if the story doesn’t hold together, well, that’s a secondary consideration.

Frankly, I find it hard to refute him. He points to ALICE IN WONDERLAND (which made a billion dollars?? Really?) and I point to TRANSFORMERS. The writer of the article brings up TRON: LEGACY, which had lots of spectacle, a crappy story, and which failed at the box office, but honestly, we can all point to the reasons any individual movies drew (or failed to draw) a big audience after the fact. Everyone thinks they can Monday morning quarterback surprise hits and flops, but no one can predict it reliably.

Personally, I’d love to know what’s driving the success of those movies, but I haven’t seen them. I watch some of them on DVD when they hit the library, but in the theater? Not so much.

However! There is an ongoing TV series that a lot of people really enjoy with plenty of spectacle (on a TV budget), a large and enthusiastic fanbase, and really awful stories. I mean, dumb stories that don’t make any sense at all, or that seem spackled together with bullshit and “Hurry past, don’t pay attention here”. And that’s DOCTOR WHO.

I quit the show when I realized that too often the “stories” were an arrangement of emotion-tugging moments with only the most spurious connection to each other. A really good story will evoke powerful emotions, but if that can’t be managed, the moments themselves can be strung together (“My friend is in danger!” “This is worse that I thought!” “You don’t scare me, Villain Of This Episode!” “Thank goodness you have been safely rescued, Friend!” “Oh, I stare stonily at the terrible cost of battling evil!”). Even without the context of a sensible, well-crafted story, those moments can force emotional responses from our well-trained brains.

Isn’t that what these big “tentpole” movies are doing? They mix spectacle with specific emotion-tugging moments (cue long-withheld hug from father), and if the story makes sense, well, that’s just a little extra gravy.

That’s how it seems to me, and as a person who creates (and tries to sell) stories, this is something I need to figure out.

20 Jul 2011, 10:23am
making books The outside world:

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Something funny about that teaser trailer

You know the old truism that, in film, a writer’s work always gets changed? Well, it’s true. Even in the teaser trailer I just released yesterday, the fact is that what ended up on the screen was not at all like what was on the page.

First, for those who missed it yesterday, the teaser trailer: It’s now on Youtube in High Def and in not High Def. (what’s the term for “not High Def”? Regular?)

Okay? Did you watch it (either yesterday or today)?

Right then, here’s how it breaks down: there was one shot in the script saying Ray cut through a padlock with the ghost knife, but for the rest of it, this is what the script said:


A MAN kneels on the floor, weeping.

Oh God, I’m so sorry!

Ray knocks him down, yanks his jacket over his head and puts the barrel of a gun against his skull.

That’s it. That’s all it said. From those words, the guys at Wyrd created that trailer.

Maybe some other writer would be upset about that, esp if they were writing the check[1], as it were. Not me; I knew the guys would have to change and adapt things to make this work, and I made sure they knew I was cool with that when we started. What I didn’t expect was that they’d take the ball and run with it as far as they have.

Tomorrow I want to clarify a bit why I did this. (It’s not for promotional purposes. Really.) Today I have to take my son to the gym and teach him swimming.

[1] In this context, “writing the check” is a laughable claim to authority, since the guys at Wyrd are putting in way WAY more work than I could have ever paid them for.

Birthers, Daddy Issues, and THOR

Last week I took my son to see THOR. He loved it, while I only liked it, but the most annoying thing about it was the way it reminded me that every big-time Hollywood movie nowadays has to feature a protagonist who’s all twisted up with Daddy Issues.

I’ll admit that I don’t see as many films as I used to, but I’m already sick and tired of watching movie stars struggle to win their Daddy’s approval. It was in SOURCE CODE, IRON MAN 2, STAR TREK, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, THE HULK (John Woo version) and so on and so on.

What the hell, Hollywood? When did someone decide that this was a solid story beat that had to go into every movie? Can’t we stick with a romantic subplot and GTFOI?

Which started me wondering how much of this was cultural. more »

Loving Superman and *Loving* Superman

A discussion popped up recently over this video:

For those who don’t want to click, (and you probably don’t because that video is equal parts hilarious and creepy) it’s a clip from the series finale of Smallville, in which Clark Kent finally gets his Superman suit, flies, saves Lois, and saves the world. And while that plays, the guy watching offers his quite vocal… “enthusiasm” for the show.

Actually, it sounds like he’s masturbating, shouting “YES! YES! YES!” several times, and “Do it right! Do it right!” and “AMERICA!” and generally having a really, really intense sexual experience. I suspect that, if the camera had been pointed the other way, he would have had to post the video on YouP*rn instead of YouTube.

I linked to it in a “Boy, people sure can be creepy!” sort of way, but several people responded by saying stuff like “What’s wrong with a little extra happiness in the world?” and “I think it’s great that he’s enjoying the show, and what’s wrong with that?” I haven’t quite figured out if it doesn’t register as a stroke video to them, or if they think audible orgasms to shitty TV shows are part of the wonder and joy of the human existence, or what.

Still, I think it’s creepy and a little funny. I hope the actors never see it. I do wonder if the guy taped this with his pants pulled up and zipped tight, not realizing how it would sound. His bio says he’s a devout Christian, so maybe he…

Ah, who knows. Anyway, I think it’s pathetic and funny and extremely creepy to post “fan love” audio online.

Randomness for 5/6

1) The world’s first zombie-proof house.

2) It’s the newest fad! White guys across the globe are going to be sporting this baby soon. Real soon.

3) Amazing WWII monuments in Yugoslavia.

4) “Who is Osama bin Laden? Is he famous?”

5) If Superman was an alien in other movies.

6) “Imagine a man who buys a chicken from the grocery store, manages to bring himself to orgasm by penetrating it, then cooks and eats the chicken.” The ten oddest sentences from conservative editorialist David Brooks’s new book.

7) Tomorrow is Free Comic Book Day: Which offerings are good and which are not? And if you drop by a comic shop, be sure to buy something, too.

Repeat after me: Don’t make your points by telling people to “repeat after me.”

I’m sure Deborah J. Ross is a good person who’s kind to children and small animals, but she’s completely wrong-headed here. First of all, don’t make your points by telling me to repeat them, as though I’m a child. Because, really.

Second, it’s terribly easy and terribly unconvincing to try to disprove an assertion by trotting out The Bad Version. You know what I mean. Someone makes an assertion (playing tabletop RPGs can be helpful for writers!) and the counter-argument is always Something Awful That Might Come Of It: you learn to railroad a story like a railroading GM, you write a bunch of fights and encounters with no emotional content, you let the characters carry around Too Much Magic (srsly, check the comments), you get the pacing wrong.

But this is like saying opera isn’t beneficial to prose fiction writing because you might make all your characters sing their dialog. Yeah, gamers sometimes write bad stories that are too much like games. Guess what movie- and TV-watchers sometimes do?

Of course there are aspects of games that don’t translate to fiction. Do I want to buy a novel that recounts someone’s D&D adventure? Probably not.

But there are things to learn, too. I’m not going to make an exhaustive list: I’m only going to mention one: PCs are annoying. No matter what a GM thinks will be the proper course for the characters, the players will come up with something else, something fiendish and clever that slants things to their side.

That’s what they do: they scramble and plan for every edge they can get. Bad guys holed up in a house, waiting for you to break down the door? Hey, is that a wooden house? Well, let’s get some gasoline from the car, put it in this old beer bottle–who has a lighter? We’ll shoot them as they come out.

Long corridor with doors on either side? Treasure we want probably down the hall? Let’s not fight our way through. Just jam those doors shut and we’ll bypass the enemies there. Anyone have spell for that?

A new super-hero in town with water-based powers? And the new D.A. is named Sam Lake? We break into his house and search the place until we find his costume.

Players will teach you to be sneaky, to cheat, to take unfair advantage (but always within the games rules). They’ll teach you to look carefully at the plot, and to make it better.

So says I.


Over on Suvudu, Kevin Hearne has posted a couple of Nerdscape photos: tableaus of action figure, book, and junk food. I thought it would be fun to play along (and it’s an excellent way to get my son off the computer now that his time is up) but I’m not much for junk food. Therefore, I have substituted pain-relieving ointment, which serves as my go-to comfort item.


Action figure Nancy Pearl shushing (and slugging) Giant Batman! An oppressed rock monster from a Power Miners set casts aside the numbing tools of its oppressors! A useless Jenga ripoff from the creators of Uno! A novel from the Song of Ice And Fire series, because of its hugeness (and also because I couldn’t find my copy of Inda–If you’re looking for more tough-minded epic fantasy in a series that actually completed, check Inda and its sequels out.)

This is my life.

17 Apr 2011, 3:31pm
The outside world:

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Hey, is HBO premiering a new show tonight?

I think I might have heard something about it.

The Steampunk(ed) Nerf gun

For some reason known only to the elves that live inside his brain, my son recently decided that he wanted to paint one of his Nerf guns to be “Steampunk”. Where that came from, I don’t know. He’s never read a steampunk novel as far as I can tell, and… Well, let’s just leave that at “mysterious.”

And being our son, we said “Annoying project? Sure!”

We forgot to take a picture of the Nerf Maverick in its unmodified form, but here it is, courtesy of the cool website Think Geek–behind the cut: more »

Randomness for 4/10

1) Slow motion photography. Exploding cakes. Techno. I promise you that you will love this: Video. And it even comes with little stories! via @ChuckWendig

2) “I like big butts and I cannot lie, but is there some evolutionary reason as to why?” Sir Mix-A-Lot mashed with the modern just-so stories of sexual selection pressures. The comments are stone hilarious.

3) The sounds of Minecraft, as music. Video.

4) New Zealand brewer markets a “breakfast beer.” I’m not opposed to the idea of a (small) beer at breakfast, but this sounds god-awful.

5) “How I got a blank book onto the Amazon.com bestseller list.” via @victoriastrauss

6) Some posts on the resurgence of “epic” fantasy: One. Two.

7) Alternate Star Wars. What if George Lucas had been inspired by a Kurosawa film other than HIDDEN FORTRESS?

Randomness for 3/30

1) Canadian politics made fun by nitpicking about monsters. Via James Nicoll.

2) Shit my students write.

3) Jon Stewart on class warfare, without ever mentioning class. Video.

4) This is genuinely awesome. It’s better than GARFIELD MINUS GARFIELD.

5) This writer’s evening is nothing at all like mine. How to be a social writer. via James Enge

6) Are these the best D&D adventures ever?

7) Sixty completely unusable stock photos. This is hilarious wtf-ery, but it will take a while to load. Open it up in a tab and do something else for a while, then come back to it. Seriously, people, I can’t pick the worst one (okay, I can: it’s the blackface one).

16 Mar 2011, 2:35pm

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Question for the hive mind

What’s the modern version of The ClueFinders?

Randomness for 3/9

1) Cognitive Scientist records 90K hours of his own child’s language development, then graphs it. Soon to come to a TED Talk near you.

2) Andrew Wheeler’s syllabus for his non-existent sf course. I think it would be better served to address some of what happened in the 19th century, even if it was just an overview in the first week.

3) The Muppet Alignment Chart.

4) I wish every review of a reality TV show was this good.

5) Organizing a bookshelf: Video. There are so many simple ideas that work magic as stop-motion. Thank you, computer revolution.

6) A nearly-incomprehensible map of science fiction.

7) The internet is full of wonderful things: Carl Sagan’s Old Spice commercial as an animated gif.

Bonus 8th thing! Soylent Green isn’t the only thing made of people! Now “castles” are, too! Video.

“He couldn’t take the PRESSURE!”

So! Chad Underkoffler read my books, liked them and contacted me through Twitter to ask if I wanted a free copy of an rpg he designed: Truth & Justice.

Now, while I am usually too uncomfortable to accept free things from people, this is a superhero game we were talking about, so I bucked up, said “Yes,” and dl’ed my copy.

I should mention that I used to game all the time. Back in Philly and when I lived in L.A., I gamed pretty much once a week, like any self-respecting gamer. Personally, I like horror and superhero games, but maybe you already guessed that about me.

In Seattle, not so much. My wife is not interested in gaming at all and I just didn’t have the time to find/make friends to create a new group. (I still don’t, really). But that’s why we have kids.

My son, looking over my shoulder as I downloaded the files, started to become a tad excited. We had tried gaming once before: When he was about…6? 7? and really into Scooby Doo, I designed a kid-friendly Chill adventure for him. It was basically a haunted house without a lot of actual danger.

He loved it. His favorite part was at the end, where I showed him the drawn-out house with the key numbers written inside, and the second page with the description of each room. He looked up at me with eyes as big as golf balls, and he said the 11 words I’d been dreading: “Dad, now I’m going to make up an adventure for YOU!”

What followed was two and a half hours of the most random, incomprehensible adventure I’ve ever played. more »

Randomness for 2/4

1) Detroit, a city in decay. Apparently, the crapsack future will be unevenly distributed. Great source material for art directors planning the next post-apocalyptic novel.

2) Planetary bodies, if they orbited the Earth at the distance of the moon. Video.

3) With these skills, this actor is sure to be a star.

4) Are you ready for marriage? Advice for young women, circa 1971, in comic form.

5) Predator’s teenage son. Video.

6) This is more like Call of Duty than Call of Duty is! Video. This made me laugh and feel pathetic at the same time.

7) Better Book Titles. via James Macdonald on Absolute Write

The TV remake game

I’m copying this game from lwe’s newsgroup.

Let us suppose a network decided that you, yes YOU, are a marketing
genius, and they hired you, at extravagant rates, to create three
series for them.

The first is to be a continuation of an existing series that was
cancelled too soon — tell them which series should have been kept
alive, and what direction it would take to prevent a second

The second is to be a remake/re-imagining of a canceled series, and
you have all of TV’s history to play with, from the 1940s to last

And finally, give them a spin-off — doesn’t matter whether the
original series is still thriving or long dead.

Here are mine.

Revival: “Thundarr the Barbarian” (I’d change it to have one or two long-term enemies for him to face over a season)

Remake: “CBS Mystery Movies” (Lifetime tried to revive this idea–a weekly two-hour tv movie mystery with a rotating cast of regulars–but they weren’t fun and didn’t have the budget.

Spin-off: “Mace!” Pre-trade rebellion exploits of Jedi Knight Mace Windu as he patrols the mean streets of Coruscant, the city planet.

It was pretty damn tempting to call for The Dresden Files to be revived or remade, but in the end I went with these instead. And yeah, that’s two cartoons. I used to watch a lot of cartoons.

What about you?

  • The prequel to Child of Fire: see here for more details

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