P. 41: Star Trek Discovered, for now.


What a good stand-off in Star Trek looks like.

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I decided to give the CBS All Access trial a whirl and watch the first couple Discovery episodes.

Things I like:

  • The hero ship’s look and feel. It was vastly improved from the earlier shots. Glad the team behind it went back and got that right. Internally, we don’t see much of it, but what we do is even better.
  • Michelle Yeoh. She’s wonderful in everything, and was extra extra wonderful in this.
  • I liked the rest of the crew — what little we’ve scene from them — as well. But didn’t quite love them, not yet.

Things I didn’t like:

  • The early focus on just a few characters. This is going to make caring about other characters in later episodes a lot harder.
  • Absolutely no humor. These characters are in space (!!!) and not having any fun.
  • Almost everything about the Klingons.
    • Mopey Klingons huddling around a room doing nothing but complaining about a peaceful Federation is boring.
    • Klingon, as a language, sounds cool when it’s just a couple phrases here or there. Qapla’! Long monologue after monologue? Not so much.
    • The Klingon villain ship looks like gigantic coagulating vomit. (Another Klingon thingy we see, which I won’t mention because spoilers, actually looked pretty cool, though. It’s a shame we didn’t get more of that.)
    • While I think Klingons looked great between the original cast’s movies and the TNG/DS9/Voyager/Enterprise era, I’m fine with there being changes — in an ‘okay, whatever’ fashion. But if CBS suddenly decides Klingons need to look radically different, can they at least look different in a way that allows the make-up and cosmetics team to still let the actors portray their characters with emotions?
  • The writing.
    • Character conflict is great, but if there’s going to be character conflict, can they be over things that make sense? With rational characters acting in ways that feel natural to their character — and not just pigeonholed in there to move the plot along? And can the conflicts derive from issues viewers feel invested in?
    • Speaking of which, it would have been nice to have spent more time with the primary cast of characters before the story really started. This was a huge writing failure. Being thrust right into the central story almost right off the bat — before people had the chance to really meet the characters, and get some understanding of what this new Trek was going to be all about — did not help this series at all. This is one thing the Bad Robot movies mostly nailed, and why many people love the 2009 film as much as they do (despite its many warts), so it’s a disappointment CBS didn’t figure this all out.
  • Meanwhile, it feels like CBS learned all the wrong lessons from the JJ films.
    • Obligatory space suit launch scene, because that’s what everyone is waiting for when watching Star Trek.
    • Obligatory “call a Vulcan we know from a previous series who’s very far away from the plot while actual exciting shit is happening” scenes. Yes, more than one.
    • Villains we’re given no reason to care about.
    • Was there lens flare? There was probably lens flare.
  • Sarek, Sarek, Sarek. I actually like the actor who plays Sarek, and I think his portrayal was fine, but this series did not need Sarek, especially so soon, and especially how he’s tied up into the plot. Complete with magic! Subtraction would have been addition here.
  • In the middle of a big giant stalemate, I was bored.
  • If there’s going to be PEW PEW PEW, it be nice for the phase cannons to stand out in contrast with the blackness of space.

So, will I watch more? If CBS decides to air it on TV at some point, I’ll give it a whirl — because I’ve always watched Star Trek everything. But unless I’m reading about a dramatic turnaround by the end of the season, it’s not something I’m going to sign up to CBS All Access to watch.

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P.40: On Journaling

19430170_10101274964647836_1054977293858506989_n (1)                                                                                        I started keeping a journal at about this time last summer — and I’ve found it helpful, to say the least. This journal here is my fourth volume since starting.

Most of my entries are brief — about a couple short pages — and are just a quick run down of what I did that day, or since my last entry. Conversations, random things I’m struck by, tasks of the day, how I’m feeling, and so on and so forth.

A collection of patterns and oddities and everything in between.

But it’s also a great way to keep track of goals, and make a record of what I’ve read, watched, listened to and what I took away from it all — so it’s not all lost in the æther. I also often include a short poem, to get my creative juices going, or to explore a thought or idea.

Over time, as I’ve written more, it’s made me think back to an episode of NPR’s Indivisibilia —  exploring if humans can change. The show’s guests went on to point out that not only can we, but that we are constantly changing (even at a cellular level), and can in many ways be viewed as entirely different people whether viewed over long stretches of time, or from one moment to the next. In that vein, keeping a journal is the great link — a record of ourselves, in all our different versions.

Do you keep a journal? Have you ever tried?

P.39: My Dream Plot for the Han Solo Anthology Film

Now that principal shooting has begun, news and photos from out of the Han Solo anthology film is really starting to trickle out — and I’ve found myself surprisingly excited for it.

And, loving the characters of Han, Lando and Chewie  so much, I couldn’t help but think about how I’d want this movie to play out, were it up to me.

So, here’s my dream plot/treatment that I know will never happen, but I think would totally rock and a guy can dream:

Han Saves Chewie

We start the movie with Han in a tough spot, trying to find a gig, in some seedy city.

An old friend from Corellia, played by Emilia Clark (who’s been cast in the film), worked herself into leading her own team of muscle — real enforcers — for a major crime boss, and while Han never wanted to be working in the crime business, he was a skilled (if not yet famously so) pilot, and his friend could get him in.

We have a flashback of the friend, as Han nears the crime boss’s location. But just then we see a fight break loose — some Wookiee is being cornered by a dozen different men, who are trying to take  him alive. It’s impressive, and draws Han in — until he unexpectedly finds himself forced into action, saving the Wookiee, Chewbacca.

This earns Han a lifelong friend (complete with a life debt)…. and some seriously bad enemies.

Continue reading

p.38: On Unlikeable Protaganists

How likable should protagonists be? Do unlikable protagonists need some qualities about them that readers can identify with, some aspect of the character they can feel invested in?

It’s a debate I’ve had with a number of other writers. While I think there are no right or wrong answers — there’s a reader for every kind of writer — I lean down on the side that even unlikable protagonists should have something about them that helps readers root for them in some way. Even if the protags are horrible human beings.

In that vein, I stumbled on this excellent video blog from the Lessons on the Screenplay channel on Youtube that examines the protagonist in Nightcrawler, a tremendously underrated movie. Jake Gyllenhaal plays a true sociopath in it, someone who I highly doubt most any viewer could actually like, who is yet an incredibly compelling character. The performance is a tour de force, but it’s all there in the screenplay, too.

The video really sums up my thoughts on the subject better than anything I could write, and uses great examples from the screenplay for evidence. I hope others will find it as useful as I did.

P.37: My Submissions, a Year in Review

Time for my yearly retrospective.

This past year, I sent out 33 submissions, 7 of which were new stories, with another extensive rewrite. I have another 3 finished drafts that aren’t quite ready, and about 3-4 stories at various different stages of I’m Working On That.

And that’s in addition to the 50,000+ words I wrote for my NaNo space opera mosaic novel, and some work on my first novel.

Assuming all my current submissions from 2016 are declined, I made it 33% of the way toward some of the best writing advice I’ve read during the whole year: aiming for 100 rejections. Honestly, I’ll take that.

I didn’t sell any stories, but I got 2 rewrite offers,  2 honorable mentions for Writers of the Future, 7 personal rejections and published one of my shorts (which I think came out fantastic) with my writer’s group. I’m getting close to that first elusive story winning the Submission Hunger Games.

All that said, I’ve been feeling like this was a bit of a step back from last year — and in many ways, the numbers bear that out. I wrote 12 more stories last year, and sent out 17 more submissions. That was a very productive year. Even more disappointing to me, personally, is the fact that I almost never missed deadlines on submissions I targeted last year, and this year I missed 3…. in December alone.

That said, the quality of my stories have definitely improved: both in my new stories and in improving some of my stories from last year.

In 2015, I had 3 personal rejections in 50 submissions and no honorable mentions at Writers of the Future. In 2016, I more than doubled my personal rejections and have two HMs in my past 3 tries at WotF (and feel really good about my current submission).

I’m big on the school of glass half full. I didn’t write (or edit) as much as I’d have liked in 2016, but I still wrote quite a bit. Writing is tough and life gets in the way, but I’m getting better — and, most importantly of all, not giving up.

P.36: My, Um, NaNo Victory — a Space Opera

 

nano2016-victory

Somehow, I went the entire month of NaNo without blogging about it once.

But this, my second year, was another success.

Last year, I had mapped my entire novel out — a middle grade fantasy — and finished the entire thing. (Note to self: It’s time to get back on that project.)

This year, I decided to pants it, and after reading about mosaic novels shortly before November started, I thought it would be the perfect fit. And it was.

Mosaic novels are loose, and don’t necessarily follow a single character or plot line. Chapters can vary greatly, with different viewpoints or even different styles of writing (for example, I have a chapter made up of letters) and chapters can almost act as short stories that stand alone.

nano2016-cover

I knew I wanted to write my spin on a space opera, and this was actually a great fit for it. My story tells a tale between two powers — humans and an alien civilization — as they butt heads. The humans had won a major war between the two powers just a couple decades previously, but at a very steep cost — with millions lost.

My story takes place through the perspective of people around the universe as they witness, react or participate in major events or happenings, but it’s rarely a direct look at the action. It’s not Captain Picard on the bridge, it’s B’Elana Torres getting the engines back on board. It’s not Luke Skywalker going off to become a hero, it’s Aunt Beru worrying about the creeping Empire and if they’ll find her adoptive son. I’m aiming to give readers the full story, but by the people who are often most impacted by it, and those who fight desperately but may only be able to tangently help, or help in small ways.

I got my 50,000 words, but am not nearly done with the story. This one’s going to be at least 100,000, and probably a good deal bigger.

But I’m really happy with it so far, and am going to continue adding chapters throughout 2017.

P.35: Deathly Hallows Part 1, a Retrospective

Spoilers, of course.

It’s weird. Right from when I heard that Warner Bros. was rereleasing the Harry Potter movies — all on IMAX — the movie I was most excited about seeing again was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1.  I may be in the minority, but it’s by far my favorite in the film series.

For starters, the movie is fantastic. The acting, the direction, the cinematography, the score — everything delivers.

A lot of people at the time scoffed at the idea of separating the last book of a popular franchise into two different movies (me included!) — and it certainly set a bad industry standard — but unlike so many of the others that have followed, the two Deathly Hallows films are really well thought out.

Each part is almost the diametric opposite of the other, and yet they fit together so well. It makes the two films resonant — if Part 2 has all the action, Part 1 has all the feeling. And feeling wins for me.

But, of course, Part 2 doesn’t really have all the action. Part 1 has action in spades, maybe even more action sequences than any other Harry Potter film other than the Deathly Hallows Part 2. We get everything from a broomstick getaway to a diner shootout. There are two major heists, a blown-up house, a wedding raid, a battle with a Big-Bad-Wolf-esque snake in human clothing. There’s a magic-dueling chase, a prison break and a homicidal necklace drowning scene.

And all of them effect our heroes, and often the world around them, in very personal ways — for good or bad. A character doesn’t just die, but is cried over and buried. A wand isn’t just broken, but is used as a symbol of the need to not dwell on the bad in times of crisis. Our heroes don’t just save random strangers, but get to know them just well enough to make viewers care that they were saved at all.

Almost nothing is glossed over — even outright victory has consequences, as when Hermione had to compromise her morals and erase the memories of Voldemort’s snatchers, to keep the trio safe. Winning the fight, for Hermione, was the easy part. The results aren’t always predictable, and the film usually takes the time to let the impacts sink in.

Further, this film oozes character and relationship growth, hitting so many different emotional notes. By taking viewers out of Hogwarts completely, it gives us the chance to see Hermione, Harry and Ron stand on their own — and Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint deliver.

Another point in its favor? This is a Big Blockbuster that’s not afraid of taking chances. For example, it has all these beautiful settings and lingers on them, chewing on the scenery and moment, not afraid to stop and breathe. It creates this beautiful message — that even in the worst of times, the world is a beautiful place and there can be moments of peace.

It also puts the geeky Wizarding World lore at the focus. To beat the bad guy, the characters have to — for the first time — understand the world. They need to know how wands really work, something even Voldemort didn’t quite get. And for a franchise that never really tried to establish a detailed or rigid magic system before, wand lore adds surprising depth — depth the film wasn’t afraid to dig into.

Further, while the Harry Potter movies have always given us a great world, the Deathly Hallows gives us great stories. And those stories are important to the film itself. The Tale of the Three Brothers hits so many notes for me, from the film’s ridiculously gorgeous animated sequence (which was a huge risk!) to the way the story itself serves as a perfect pastiche of all the old European folktales.

But the really important thing is what the Three Brothers represents. If the Harry Potter universe were a mystery cult, it’s basically the outer and inner mysteries of the entire Wizarding World. In Harry’s world, there’s those who (like him, in Philosopher’s Stone) know nothing and are completely new to or unaware of the Wizarding World. They’ve never even heard of the Three Brothers, much less read it. Then there are those initiated into the outer ring — those who are well versed in wizarding culture, who understands the world in the same way most anyone would understands the one we live in. These are the people who’ve read the Three Brothers, or at least know the story.

But then there’s the people fully initiated — who not only understand the world, but how it came to be. They know what’s really going on. For Harry, Ron and Hermione, they’re just entering the “real” Wizarding World here, as they’ve come to know about (and believe in) the Deathly Hallows. It brings a greater depth to the story, and sets our characters in an almost Arthurian quest narrative, where they (like many others before them) have quested to find the elusive Grail Elder Wand, and its Deathly Hallow companions.

Of course, the book did many of these things, too, and it did them all first. We shouldn’t forget that, or how much JK Rowling rocks. But think of how easy it would have been for these scenes to have been written out or truncated in the translation to film. Or how easily Warner Bros could have forced David Yates to manufacture a bunch of different, plot-centric scenes to dumb this thing down and strip away all the character beats.

Did anyone read the first half of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and expect all those scenes of Hermione, Harry and Ron wandering the English countryside to somehow all make it in the final movies? I sure didn’t, and yet they all made this movie so good.

So, wow, was seeing this film again a real treat. It’s one of the rare times I’ve gone to see something on the big big screen and thought, “I wouldn’t want to see that any other way.” In fact, I often don’t like IMAX for the simple reason that it can be too much. But not this one. That’s for sure. It really made this great, unique and emotive movie a perfect movie-going experience — sort of the fine wine of the Harry Potter movie franchise — and I didn’t even have any popcorn.