Meta-Nostalgia

So I, like every other human being on Earth, love Stranger Things on Netflix. While I haven’t finished it, everything about it is so pitch perfect for a show that is a homage to the 1980’s and horror movies.

Wait, what? No, it’s a good freaking show. It doesn’t really… need… to…

What is it with the goddamn 80’s? I was born in the middle of the decade, as opposed to living through it, but I lived through the 90’s. While the 90’s had some high points- lots of good music- it also featured shoulder-pad heavy fashion, so, I dunno. I don’t need to go back.

stranger-things-80.jpg

where have I seen this poster before

If Stranger Things was alone in the constant 80’s fawning, OK, whatever, but man, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting 80’s nostalgia (I do not understand this expression, but I love it. WHY ARE WE SWINGING DEAD CATS?). Lord knows nostalgia is a funny thing, and makes us love things that aren’t really as great as we remember them, but when there is a show as good as Stanger Things, why is the comment over and over boy they sure nailed the look of the 80’s, along with supercuts that pair every shot they ‘paid homage’ to from the original movies.

 

More than just nostalgia, media is more frequently going for these meta references and jokes. I saw Poltergeist, too, gang. I don’t need another kid slowly touching a TV. Because what’s the point of that? I enjoyed the meta-criticism of Deadpool, sending up superhero movies. But in a dramatic presentation like Stranger Things, what purpose does it serve? Because at that point, it’s just using the emotional currency of the viewer’s nostalgia to make them buy in, based on that emotion, rather than the substance of the show.

It’s better, for my money, to produce something original that reminds the audience of something they love, rather than simply clone it and shove it in front of them. A reader told them 3024 reminded them of Twilight Zone, even though there is very little crossover, and it was one of the biggest compliments I received. I don’t say that to brag (much), but in the context of this discussion, I would rather evoke nostalgia via someone being reminded of the thing they love by an original concept, instead of recycling another one.

Stranger Things is more than strong enough to stand on its own two feet, and it does, which is why it’s so widely loved. But the amount of attention that gets paid to every reference, easter egg and haircut honestly takes away from what makes that show work on a basic storytelling level.

DESR

On Resolution

I turn 31 shortly. If you follow me on Twitter, you know that the month leading up that has been… not good. I’m generally a private person about a lot of things, but the basics are that I was in a serious relationship with a person I love more than I even thought possible, and then it ended- and it was all my goddamn fault.

magpieLet’s talk about faults for a second. We all have them, and some of us more than others. I’m not writing this as some sort of weird confession (maybe a little), but I have been thinking a lot lately about my owns faults – there’s not much other choice on sleepless nights, left alone with the prison cell of my own mind. Staring down the barrel of truly being north of 30, and being forced to take a long, hard look at the person I am, and not liking a lot of what I see, is… I don’t know honestly. Something, I want to say not good, but it is both.

Because losing the person I loved, the person I really wanted to spend my life with, who brought out feelings of commitment and devotion I never had before, is crushing. But I never felt that way before, and this cavalier fucking attitude had developed in me, heretofore being something that made me charming and roguish, at least in my own mind, was the downfall of the best thing that ever happened to me.

That’s not hyperbole, by the way. Because for all the faults that I am being forced to see, there’s a lot of me that I am happy with. I’m a pretty smart dude, with a not-shitty career, and I like to think I am pretty good writer. But all the success I have, or will have, rings hollow without her to share it with.

But those successes are there. I wrote 3024AD between 11pm and 2am every night while working 70+hours a week at a day job that stressed me out of my mind. And it’s those successes I am reflecting on, because more will come. Because I can resolve to do something, in spite of other things being shitty. More books, more stories, will come. And if I can be resolved to do that, I can be resolved to fix the faults in myself, for myself, and hopefully, for her.

DESR

The Dirtiest Pokemon Names

Is this blatant Pokémon clickbait? MAYBE. Is it funny as hell? I sure think so. Am I a curmudgeon who doesn’t see the appeal of Pokémon at all? Most assuredly.

Jigglypuff. Never let your friends find out you like Jigglypuffs.

Koffing. You’ll try it once because it sounds fun, but then it’s just too complicated and not really worth it.

Chansey. We all knew a Chansey, didn’t we? Yeah, we did.

250px-007Squirtle

sure it hasn’t

Swinub. Just… don’t ask. It’s better if you don’t know.

 

Togekiss. Kids these days, always Togekissing.

Probopass. Hurts at first; totally worth it.

Rotom. Hurts at first; not worth it.

Snivy. Probably what Chansey has.

Tepig. You tell people you Tepiged, but you never actually did.

Slurpuff. Don’t do drugs.

Licklilly. I mean… come on.

Squirtle. “I’m so sorry; that has never happened before.”

Ten Thousand Forks

Perhaps no word in the English language is so abused as poor irony (‘like’ is up there). It’s the rallying cry of hipsters who drink PBR and wear T-shirts ‘ironically’. And little needs to be said about that song, which contains nothing which is actually ironic, which, if intended, makes it actually ironic. So it is either brilliant or dumb. In any case, irony has suffered much.

And not only has its true meaning been diluted, its actual use has. We take irony- even as defined – to be brief, pithy and generally humorous in some way. But, my dear readers, but, irony is so, so much more than that. It is a great tool in writing, and is not particularly complicated to wield. All you have to do is understand what irony is, and what its intent is. To the first, we turn to the dictionary:

the expression of one’s meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect.

Italics mine in there. Note that is not just for humor. And we thus establish it is using the opposite to get your point across- which is where intent comes in. But that is the 1 definition. Mark this:

a literary technique, originally used in Greek tragedy, by which the full significance of a character’s words or actions are clear to the audience or reader although unknown to the character.

So it is not even novel to use irony in writing- in fact, it is ancient. So how do we use it in our story? There are, of course, myriad examples in literature, but perhaps none better – or, at least, more apparent – than in The Cask of Amontillado, by Edgar Allen Poe. If you haven’t read it, do so now. It’s available for free in a few places, and is a quick read. I’ll wait.

Read it yet? Good. Let’s continue. The best place to start is with the very obvious ironies: Fortunato is easily apparent- he is far from fortunate, at least within the bounds of our story, but in other areas of life is successful. His demise- unsuspected, and likely unwarranted (more on that in a second), is as unfortunate as can be.

cask.jpgHe wears a hat with bells – in Victorian times, bells were put on bodies being buried (or even atop their graves) to prevent burial of people who weren’t actually dead and were just in a coma. Fortunato’s hat, however, provides him no such favors, jingling away, the only one to hear being his murdered.

So there are myriad obvious (Fortunato is implored to turn back; his health is showed concern for; the Mason joke)- yet effective ironies in the story. This is, of course, the easiest use of it – and there is nothing wrong with doing so. It fulfills the definitions above, telling your reader something  by using opposites to make the point.

But the story, in its entirety, is one of irony. We begin with

The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but
when he ventured upon insult..

Yet we never know what the insult is- or if there even was one. Based on my experience, anyone who is willing to plot a years-long revenge is also the type of person who will take insult at almost anything (but I know very few murderers; I may be mistaken). And even if Fortunato did insult the narrator, does it justify his end? There is no way it could. So while the narrator is often called unreliable in this story, I don’t know that that is the best way of putting it. No, he is the opposite of moral sense- any of us (GG’ers will disagree) deem murder wrong and criminal. But to the narrator, it is his duty and morally right and justified. There is an overarching irony to the fact that the tale is from his point of view, and one that is unblinking in his assertion that he did the right thing.

This does something interesting to us – think of a book or movie that follows the ‘good guys’ through a murder investigation. The one that leaps to my mind is Se7en (UGH that name), which is a fantastic film. But throughout it, we are repulsed by the nature and crimes of John Doe. And even though we recognize that he firmly believes he is right, we never sympathize with him.

The narrator in this story, though- we never sympathize with him either, but we are more and more repulsed by him because it is told to us in a sympathetic tone. It is the irony of the story that drives home our feelings about his actions. Imagine it as a conventional crime story- the body is discovered, there is an investigation, it is revealed at the end that he was tricked and lead to his death. Bad enough, right? But by spending the whole time in the mind of the killer, and him proclaiming not his innocence, but that he is in fact just, there is a different feeling. It’s not a shock, not a jump scare or dramatic reveal, but a growing sense, knowing what is coming and being forced to watch it. It is the irony that draws you in and forces you to be a voyeur to an act you despise – and thus the reader shares in the irony.

DESR

In Praise of Subtlety

Do any of you have that word that you use all the damn time, but can still never spell correctly? And you usually go so far astray that autocorrect looks at it, looks at you, back at the word, and kind of walks away with a defeated shrug, muttering to itself?

‘Subtlety’ is that way for me. And I use that word a lot because it is a word, like irony (more on that later), which is having its meaning eroded. Not in the same way, of course- people use irony to mean all manner of things which are not, in fact, ironic. No, subtlety is simply being lost.

rain

Pretty, POTC, but not very subtle

 

 

“Show, don’t tell” is an all-to-frequently repeated adage of writing, usually accompanied by some quasi-poetic, insufferably pretentious statement like “don’t tell me it’s raining; make me feel the raindrops (this post might be insufferably pretentious, I realize). It’s not wrong, but it is over-repeated, to be sure. While there are a whole bunch of authors who go out of their way to make sure you feel raindrops, it gets shoved in our faces a lot that it is f**king raining – rain which does not connect to any greater purpose.

 

How so? I talked about it earlier – the gut-punch moments of trauma, for example. It propels the plot, sure, it makes the reader feel something, but is it in service of anything greater?

Personally, I deplore writing a word that only means one thing. And so much of literature these days is just that- one thing, a story, it goes from point A to point B, and along the way some shit happened. I loved, I laughed, I cried, I forgot about the story two weeks later.

Perhaps the preeminent example of this is The Raven, by Edgar Allen Poe. In it, Poe doesn’t really try terribly hard to make you care about Lenore, but by the time the door is open – a mere four verses in – we feel apprehension as well:

here I opened wide the door;—

            Darkness there and nothing more.

We, of course, know what is coming, but subtly apprehension is built. What’s more, we know what’s coming- in fact, if there is one thing every person knows about Poe, it is that the word nevermore appears in this poem. But let’s talk about that word; or, rather, half of it- more.

raven

By Adam Flynn

 

The word more closes every verse in the poem, which may not seem terrible subtle, but note that the simple repetition takes the narrator through the gamut of emotion. At first, it cheers our narrator, but drives him madder and madder at the repeated answer. But to us, the repetition is not maddening – it serves another purpose. It keeps a steady beat throughout the story, so that we anticipate that word coming, building to it.

 

But not the subtle shift in tone – the second verse closes with evermore – he is haunted by her. Then five verses of merely this and nothing more – the interruption, at those points, is inconsequential, and those words convey that nothing changes, for us or the narrator. But then the rest of the verses close with nevermore, with no variation. I think of this poem like the drumbeat that builds tension- slow at first, beating faster and faster and setting out hearts pounding and adrenal glands into a frenzy. Movies use it all the time – Poe writes it. So that beat starts neutral, and beats faster and faster as we anticipate it more, until the crescendo:

And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
            Shall be lifted—nevermore!

 

Because this time- it’s not the Raven speaking, it’s the narrator. Every subtle layering throughout has led to this – the ultimate resignation of the narrator, and thus, ourselves.

Each use of more serves something larger- not just to convey the feelings, to make us feel, to tell us it is raining, but to set up, build to, a conclusion.

One of my favorite insults of all time is an old British one, that, presumably, has fallen out of use, but goes “what are you for?” which is to say, “what is your purpose?” Ask that of your words- what are they for, what is their purpose? How does it serve, not just the scene, not just the plot, but the entirety of the story and its ultimate payoff?

DESR

Over the Edge

Edginess is all the rage these days. Has been, for a long time, really. Push the envelope. Do something shocking and different. And that’s is all true and good – to an extent.

Once upon a time, a little film you may have heard of called Gone With the Wind made waves by using the word ‘damn’. Scandalous. And for the time, it was. And I am pretty sure we can all agree that standards when it came to books and movies in the era were pretty far out of whack.

Nowadays, not so much. It is, to borrow from V for Vendetta, the land of do as you please. This has some really good instances- think of Ned Stark or the Red Wedding from Game of Thrones. Shocking, edgy and unexpected.

On the flipside, you have to work really hard to be shocking and edgy, and a lot of authors jump from that side of the line to outright brutality. I’m not going to debate the artistic merits, or lack thereof, of brutality- if that’s your thing, Marquis de Sade is out there for you to read. But think of the sheer number of books and movies that feature an inciting incident that involves a wife/girlfriend and/or child being some combination of raped/tortured/murdered. Shocking, right?

got.gifSorry, no. A couple things: First, no. It’s lazy. Sure, a significant other or child being brutalized would set me on a path to revenge, but it’s still distasteful. Does that mean it should never be done? Of course not- there are plenty of examples of good literature that include those elements. But it is lazy writing. Because of the emotional punch that the reader receives by empathizing with the protagonist, it elicits a reaction.

But it is overdone, and usually poorly done, and usually the focus is on the wrong thing. Don’t believe me? As any editor how many submissions they receive which feature – and glorify – such brutality. I’ll wait. Back? Told you so. So in addition to being a cheap inciting incident, it’s overdone, and any true edge is lost.

So what would be the non-lazy way of going about it? Think of The Count of Monte Christo- who suffers? Someone innocent? No – our protagonist. We still empathize with him, and with his suffering – in fact, to a depth that we would not achieve were Mercedes raped and/or murdered – which is the road many authors these days would go.

In fact, the tale of revenge is so deep that when he begins to terrorize other’s families, we excuse it! We are so deep in his head, his feelings so much our own, that it traces through the rest of the book. It is not something spurred by a hero kneeling in the rain, holding a body, shouting Noooooooo before going on a rampage. It is a human, who is wronged deeply, and not only goes on a journey of revenge, but by the end, is forced to judge himself for his actions.

Edginess is a useful tool. But it is not the only tool, and if you lean to hard on it, you’ll find yourself with a shallow work, lacking subtlety and substance.

DESR

 

How to Make a Good Video Game Movie

Video game movies have the same kind of reputation right now that comic book movies did. There is no way to make a good one! Lo and behold, you sure can make a good- even great- comic book movie! This summer, there was a lot of optimism surrounding the Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed movies.

The jury is still out on Assassin’s Creed, but the early reports on Warcraft is… not good. And I am not even a little optimistic about Assassin’s Creed, but more on that in a second.

So what does it take to make a good video game movie?

mass effect

      Please let me write this movie

 

Make it a good movie. Video games can tell very cool interactive, immersive stories. BioShock, Fallout, and so many others take you and immerse you in your story, via first-person narrative. It’s a great way to tell a story. Movies are also a great way to tell a story, but different. Embrace those differences rather than just trying to follow a story from the video games. That’s what playing the game is for. If you just try to give viewers the same experience as playing the game, it’s doomed from the start. While there are things you can do with a video game that you can’t with a movie, there are things you can do with a movie that you can’t in a game. Do those things.

Do something different. Not just with the way the story is presented, but different than the game itself. Like a lot of early comic book movies, video game movies try to stuff it full of characters and locations from the games. Hey, you loved [character X], right? Here they are on the big screen! Whoop-dee-do. Add some originality! Keep the flavor, but give people an experience that playing the game for two hours won’t.

Don’t take it too seriously. Even if it is a serious story, have fun with it. Do you see how much fun Marvel has in the movies? It’s what makes them great. Think about Hawkeye’s crack in Age of Ultron about having a bow and arrow. It has fun, even in the climax of the film. And it elevates it, since pretty much everyone was underwhelmed with it. So don’t make another dour CGI spectacle. Relax, tell a good story and have fun.

bioshock

I will do this one for free

 

Focus on What Works: Going back to the comic book movie thing, what made them work? There were adaptions (see: Snyder, Zach) that are very, super true to the source material, but suck. Why? Total lack of depth and subtext. Sure, they are shot-for-panel recreations of a comic book, but a good movie that does not make. Video games like BioShock and Mass Effect (two of the best games out there) are deep and say a lot more than what is right in front of you. Borderlands is goofy insanity. Capture the essence of what makes a game good, as Marvel has done with the MCU, instead of just cloning the game.

 

And if you need any help with this, Hollywood, my fees are very modest.

DESR