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Archive for the ‘Television’ Category

Ask a general question. Each response, or lack there of, will affect the next line of text. Don’t really think too long about what to say, let the responses be spontaneous. Typically this kind of free writing exercise is used to get you to write your own thoughts on the page without relying on things like story outlines or character summaries, but more on the immediate thought process. Mine usually end up in a long character monologue or an overly contemplative passage on life, but at least it gets me writing, and sometimes really interesting thoughts occur naturally.

It’s funny; I had envisioned the characters from a particular television series while writing this. I left out their names or any description of tonality, movement, or appearance to see if the inflections were inherent enough to paint a picture in the reader’s mind. It would be a peculiar conversation for them to have though…

Who do you think they are? Feel free to leave your answers/guesses in the comments!

***

What are you doing?

Reorganizing my books.

Why?

Not sure. Something different I suppose.

So what? Now it’s going alphabetically, or by how many syllables are in the title or something?

No. Just whatever size provides a suitable structure for stacking.

Oh, so you’re just doing this for no apparent reason then?

Well, as I stare at these quite often while I’m thinking, sometimes it’s nice to see something different, but, at the same time, the same.

Ah. And why do you stare at them?

I stare at them because it’s like having a window to the people who created them. You recall what you felt while reading them, or remember interesting facets of their stories. All of this you glean in an instant. It’s like looking at a reflection of yourself. You see, behind every faded book, the threads of your life. How this book came to you, how it changed you. You think of how each one just simply couldn’t be replaced. There’s always a reason why people keep a certain book, and suddenly, you can see who they really are.

So all this? All this is who you are?

Only to those who can see it.

Chaos

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A Glimpse of Reality

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As previously mentioned, I have a love for good Story, and I actively seek it out in every medium I can find it. As a child, I spend the better part of my time behind a good book or in front of our television set. Whether I’m watching a movie, reading a novel or playing a video game, I love immersing myself in worlds unknown. I always found the gaming approach to story to be particularly intriguing, as it demands a higher level of active participation from the player. Each experience is unique, not one play through will be exactly the same. I’ve thus saved a place in my blog to discuss games that I find interesting in their use of Story.

I recently finished Alan Wake, a third-person shooter developed by Remedy Entertainment for the Xbox 360 (later released with enhanced graphics for PC). This game’s a psychological horror that follows Alan Wake, a big-city writer who’s struggling to continue his career after a two-year hiatus. In an attempt to rekindle his creative flame, Alan and his wife Alice travel to the small town of Bright Falls, where Alan becomes ensnared in his own nightmarish fantasy story come to life… one he has no recollection of ever writing. When Alice disappears from their lakeside cabin, Alan must follow the clues left in the pages of his own manuscript, becoming the protagonist of a novel rapidly deteriorating into a paranormal horror story.  Alan must fight the shadows of his own imagination, dark things made real as the town’s people become taken over by the Dark Presence residing at the bottom of Cauldron Lake.

The game is heavily atmospheric, seemingly straight out of a Stephen King novel, and Bright Falls recalls the eerie small town ambiance of Lynch’s Twin Peaks. As with all good horror fiction, the world of the game is its greatest strength. The Dark Presence that envelops the town infuses the setting with its own character, as Alan must traverse the town and its surrounding woods in unnatural obscurity. Using whatever he can find to dispel the darkness (flashlights, flares, flash bang grenades), Alan tries to circumvent the events of a story that has already been written, often finding manuscript pages detailing horrific occurrences moments before they happen. The pages also provide back story and insight into other characters and events that are transpiring elsewhere in the town.

The game’s hauntingly beautiful landscapes and chilling settings only serve to enhance an already captivating story.  Alan’s troubled introspective narration coupled with the mystifying manuscript pages keeps the player questioning Alan’s sanity and unsure how the story will progress. Throughout the entire game the player is restless and uneasy, mirroring Alan’s confused feelings of doubt. In keeping with the horror genre, the game features some unsettling plot twists and suspenseful scenes that chill the blood without necessarily resorting to gruesome deaths and gore. This leads to a particularity story-driven game that still maintains great game play. Combat is dynamic and impulsive, and sets up interesting ways to defeat enemies.

Aside from some minor faults, Alan Wake is a great example of how video game mechanics can be used to enhance the story experience. This game comes highly recommended to anyone who loves a good fright, and to writers who like experiencing different modes of storytelling. As a writer, it’s important to keep in mind the tools you have at your disposal to tell a story. A good story is worthless if you don’t master the means to tell it.

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Recently, and by recently I mean my entire life, I’ve been having trouble sitting down and writing something that I consider to be truly meaningful. As a sarcastic misanthrope who prides herself on being able to observe the idiosyncrasies, shortcomings and hypocrisies of modern society, or a ‘writer’ in laymen’s terms, I was frustrated and traumatized by the reality that I could produce anything that sounded vapid, uninspired and worthless.  And yet here I am, now convinced that I’m a part of the same social mechanism I’ve spent the better part of my life attempting to mock with subtle wit. I idolize and pertain to understand great writers such as Gaiman, Vonnegut, Orwell, Salinger and Atwood, but sometimes I feel like I’m all show and no tell, like a fraud in my own skin, like I really don’t know anything at all. And maybe I don’t.

So it turns out that my life up till now has been a sham, I can’t write, I can’t produce a simply story. – Daria

Then, while watching an episode of one of my favorite shows Daria that happened to be airing on TV, I came across the root of my problem. It was the final episode of the second season entitled ‘Write Where it Hurts’ in which Daria is given an extra credit assignment that requires her to write a story with moral dimensions. Though an intelligent and witty character, Daria is unable to write something that she claims is ‘up to her standards’. During a conversation with her friend Jane, the existential problem of all writers emerged.

Daria: I can come up with all sorts of ideas, but none of them feels true.
Jane: Well, what’s your definition of true?
Daria: Something that says something.
Jane: What, anything?
Daria: No, something… about something

Jane: Let me get this straight: you're telling me you want to write something, not just anything, that says something about something.
Daria: Right.
Jane: Gee. Who'd ever believe you're having trouble communicating.

This is a spiky pit in which many writers find themselves at one point or another, impaled by their own self-inflated moral agenda. When we say that we want to write something meaningful, what do we even mean? How can we write without knowing what we want to write about, or better yet, without knowing why we even want or need to write it? All we know is that we want to say something… about something, but not just anything. Do we want to write something that will change the way people think or something that will turn society on its head as we pat our own backs in triumph exclaiming, “See! See what I did there! I’m better than the lot of you put together!”

My story sucks. Everything I do has already been done. I wanted to write something meaningful, I can’t write anything at all.

I feel that this is a problem that all writers, myself included, have faced or will face when trying to create meaningful works. We sit down with the idea in our head that whatever ends up on that page will be the greatest comment on modern society that has ever been, when really that just means that we are out to prove how much smarter we are compared to the rest of humanity. More often than not, we end up writing nothing at all, either because our attempts at meaning turn into self-opinionated bullshit or our fear of facing possible mediocre writing has left us frozen at the starting line. I’ve often felt discouraged at my own pending ineptitude.

Later in that same episode, Daria has another heart to heart with her mother, after a failed attempt by Helen to get closer to her daughter earlier that day. Once she actually understood Daria’s dilemma, she came up trumps with some extremely good advice.

Helen: Maybe you’re trying too hard, maybe you don’t have to write something meaningful, just something honest.
The easiest thing in the world for you is being honest about what you observe. What’s hard for you is being honest about your wishes, about the way you think things should be, not about the way they are.

We always tend to be critical and cynical about the world around us, but noticing that there are problems with the world isn’t something to feel smug about; everybody knows that humanity isn’t perfect. What’s hard is refraining from smoothing it over with derisive sarcasm, and genuinely saying what you truly feel about it, what you think will make the world a better place. We mustn’t forget that our desire to create meaningful literature stems from an honest aspiration to live in a better world, not a desire to be the best at pointing out the problems with it.  We point and laugh and criticize others, then, without doing anything at all to change things, we close our books, put down our pens and with a satisfying nod say: “All in a days work.”

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that satire, sarcasm and cynical wit can’t be good tools to use, nor am I saying that making people aware that there are problems or issues isn’t half the battle. I’m saying that writing for the sake of writing something meaningful is honest but ultimately worthless, writing something for the sake of being honest is what makes it meaningful.

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It has been a few days since my last post as I’ve spent the majority of my free time watching the latest episodes of HBO’s Game of Thrones. George RR. Martin is one of the great fantasy writers of our time, but I was skeptical when I first heard that his acclaimed series was going to put on HBO. But after watching the first episode last year, I was hooked by the story all over again. Outstanding in nearly every respect, I can say little to disparage this captivatingly dark fantasy.

When I find a story as enthralling as this, I like to try and pick apart the pattern and find the threads that really tug at me. Most often, I discover that characters are at the other end. Characters such as Daenerys, Tyrion, Arya and Robb are, for me, the most relatable in the show up to date, and retain the perfect balance of internal growth and external action, which only makes their performances that much more remarkably evocative.

However, I’ve noticed that I learn nearly as much when studying characters that I utterly despise, which brings me to Joffrey Baratheon. Jack Gleeson was a perfect cast for this smarmy self-important twat who seems to do nothing but make me loath every single fiber of his being. He actually reminds me of Commodus from Gladiator, which remains one of my favorite films due largely in part to Joaquin Phoenix’ marvelously odious portrayal of the character. Though Commodus is considerably more calculating and intelligent than Joffrey, they both are infuriating, cowardly and bitterly sadistic. I did find Commodus to be a more of a well-rounded character as his greed, cruelty and hatred are balanced by desperation, anxiety and loneliness. He feels abandoned by both his father and his sister, who have chosen to deliver unto Maximus what Commodus believed to be his right, whether it be the Empire of Rome or simply their love and respect.

And just like Commodus, Joffrey is a pitiful character. We almost come to enjoy hating him. His mannerisms, his speech, his smug little smile, all seem to make you want to throttle him.  I believe that any character that can rouse such sentiments in a viewer or reader is a successful one, even if he is a sniveling spoiled brat like Joffrey. These types of characters push you to root for the protagonist, to invest in the crisis of the story, and to revel in their inevitable downfall.  But they also exist to show the viewer a side of human nature that is forcibly repressed.  The fact of the matter is that Joffrey is a product of his parents twisted sense of self-importance. We hate him because we hate the idea that such appalling qualities could reside within us all. As a writer, we must be able to create characters so abhorrently vile that we cringe every time we write them onto the page. A nameless evil that threatens the realm is all well and good, but a revoltingly pompous little shit is so much more satisfying to squash.

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