Posts Tagged ‘Doctor Who’

Last week I read an article where Adam Winguard, the director of the disaster that is Netflix’s adaptation of the Death Note franchise, had to quit Twitter because he was receiving so much hate mail and even death threats over his adaptation. And yesterday, the admins of a YouTube channel dedicated to reviewing and discussing anime and manga received death threats for posting a positive review of the movie.

Let that sink in for a moment. A whole bunch of people are sending people hate mail and threatening to kill them over the Internet for either making or liking what many consider a bad movie. And I’d bet one of my anime figurines the majority of these angry people are fans of the Death Note anime and manga who are incensed that the director cast white actors in the movie and the numerous changes from the source material, as well as just making a really bad film, or that anyone would like the film.

Now, all three complaints are legitimate: the casting of white actors as what were originally non-white characters is a serious problem that Hollywood and the public are continuing to grapple with even now. The many changes from the source material were not only unnecessary, but actually made the film more of a mess than a wonder. And it was a really bad film (check my review here for my own thoughts on the subject).

But there is absolutely no excuse or reason–ABSOLUTELY NO EXCUSE OR REASON–to send hate mail or threaten someone’s life. Especially not for their creative work, no matter what decisions they make or the quality of it. And those who think nothing of doing it have some serious issues that need addressing.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time fans of a franchise or a character or something along those lines have gone a little bonkers. I was ranting about this issue of fans going crazy back in 2013, when people were leaving intentionally bad reviews of Charlaine Harris’s last Sookie Stackhouse book because it was the last book, and threatening harm to themselves and others if their favorite couples didn’t end up together (and possibly followed through after a copy leaked in Germany). Later that year, people were sending tons of mail to Warner Bros. and trying to get the White House to intervene in the casting of the Fifty Shades of Grey movie (not sure what they expected to happen with that one).

Seriously, was this worth the hate campaign? I actually enjoyed the movie.

Since then we’ve seen negative reactions to the idea of the Ghostbusters reboot, and then the female-led cast, which was so hateful everyone involved in the movie felt the need to comment and even make a joke about it in the movie. We’ve also seen people react negatively to Captain America becoming an agent of Hydra in the comics, with some people threatening the writers behind this move. One man claiming to be a Marine even said that he would abandon his moral code and become a stone-cold killer because of the change (seriously, did any of these nincompoops think that maybe this was a mind-controlled Cap, or one from another dimension, which apparently is the case?). We’ve probably all seen articles about angry males attacking women online for attempting to be part of the video gaming community and industry. And there are more of these than I’m probably aware of, with this Death Note thing just being the latest.

What’s causing people to become so angry and violent over fictional characters and worlds? Well, it might actually be nothing new. As long as there have been creative works and their creators, there have been people who have gotten passionate about them, sometimes a little too passionate (*cough* John Hinckley Jr. and Ricardo Lopez *cough*). And sometimes people even feel that their love of a property gives them some sort of ownership over said property, and therefore they have a legitimate voice in any decisions over said work. And with the Internet as both means to reach like-minded individuals and platform to voice their vitriol without worry of censure, some of these overly-passionate fans can gather en masse and make their anger heard, warranted or not. Sometimes, a few of them even feel emboldened to make threats of violence.

And I get it. I hated the Death Note movie too. I can think of several ways the Star Wars prequels or some episodes of Doctor Who could’ve been better (I actually nearly threw a shoe at the TV once because I really disliked an episode). And God, was I upset when shows I really liked, such as Dracula or Sleepy Hollow, got canceled. I would have loved to find the people responsible for all these mistakes and given them a piece of my mind.

But therein lies the problem: none of these fans have any actual ownership or say in the decisions revolving around these stories, and at the end of the day, it’s the creators themselves who get to make those decisions. And we should let them. After all, they are spending valuable time and energy to bring us these stories we love so much. It’s essentially a gift from them to us, the readers and viewers. And while not all these creative variations are welcome (*cough* first three DCEU movies *cough*), some of these creative risks have led to some the greatest pieces of storytelling ever made. Remember there was a time when the Winter Soldier wasn’t a thing, let alone a former friend of Captain America gone evil. When Heath Ledger was cast as the Joker, people swore it was the worst casting decision that could be made, and yet Ledger’s Joker is arguably one of the best Jokers ever brought to life. And let’s be real, William Shakespeare ripped off and made changes to most of the stories he’s famous for! And look at him!

A decision that turned out to be right after all.

And this is not just for variations in already established characters and stories. Creators should be able to experiment with stories and characters. Otherwise, would we have Doctor Who? Harry Potter? Death Note the manga? Stephen King’s IT?

So what should you do if a story you like or an adaptation of a story goes in a direction you dislike? Well, there are two possible decisions that you could go that won’t make you look like a tool (trust me, as both fanboy and creator, they work). One is to do what I did with Death Note: calmly point out what was wrong with it or what you disliked. You don’t have to be angry to get your point across. I’ve found calmly discussing what you disliked about something does more than shouting. And besides, being rude or angry or telling someone to die never convinced anyone to your point of view or made them change their ways.

The other is to just not take part at all. After Jodie Whitaker was announced as the 13th Doctor, many fans reacted by simply deciding not to watch the show anymore. I even have a friend who decided to do that, and while I disagree with their view, I respect how adult their reactions were. (Thought to be fair, after all those years of Moffat tropes, it might’ve been easier to leave than to work up anger over a casting decision). So if you don’t like what the creators are doing, just leave. Don’t ruin the experience for everyone else who may want to try out the new direction.

And if you’re a parent with kids who may get overly passionate about fictional works, maybe have a conversation with them about how to respond to this sort of thing. It might save someone a lot of headaches later on.

While I doubt this problem will go away anytime soon–if anything, it might get worse over time–we can at least approach it in a healthy manner, rather than with further fear and anger, as well as to find healthy alternatives to anger and/or death threats. Either that, or we never get any sort of new stories ever. And I really don’t want to see that.

 

That’s all the ranting for now. The next week and a half will be crazy for me, so I have no idea how much, if at all, I’ll be able to post until October 1st. I’ll try and get something out next week, though if I don’t, please don’t hold it against me or send death threats.

Until next time, Followers of Fear. Pleasant nightmares!

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Today I wanted to talk about something that is becoming much more common in fiction these days, and that’s the twist villain. If you’re unfamiliar, a twist villain is when one character in a story seems to be the villain, but later on it’s revealed that another character, usually a character we thought was a good guy, is actually the villain. This twist villain is supposed to be a surprise, something you didn’t see coming while reading the story. Hence the name “twist villain.” The problem is, the twist villain is becoming such a common trope these days. In the past couple years, we’ve seen it in Disney films like Zootopia and Frozen; popular novels like Gone Girl and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban; a couple of recent superhero films; and more than I can possibly name in this blog post. And when so many works of fiction are using the twist villain, we become used to not only seeing the trope but also the signs that a twist villain is going to be used (and trust me, there are signs), and then when we see the twist villain, we’re not very surprised. Heck, sometimes we even predict who the villain is well before it’s revealed.

Why is this trope becoming so popular? Simple: people want a good story. Good stories produce good memories and good profits. As standard stories of good vs. evil have been done to death, creators need to think of new stories and story elements to keep consumers interested in their work. One way to do that is a third-act twist, which when done right can really enhance a story. And a twist villain can be a very good third-act twist, if you’re careful with it.

Sadly, I find that a lot of creators aren’t careful with their twist villains, making the twist ineffective when it happens. Which is sad, because I love the idea of a twist villain. Heck, it’s one I might use in the future, if I haven’t used it already. A good twist villain can make your mind reel, make you look back trough a story to see if there were any clues and make you marvel at the genius of the creators for setting up that twist so well.

A bad twist villain, on the other hand, just leaves you feeling neutral at best (my reaction during Zootopia) and disappointed at worst (my reaction looking back on Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed). Which is why I’ve come up with a few tips for writing an effective twist villain. With any luck, these tips will help other authors (and myself) avoid making a bad twist villain.

1. Does your story really need a twist villain? Any time you want to include something in a story, ask yourself if it’s really needed. I swear, so many stories just add in elements that aren’t needed (*cough* lots of stuff from BvS *cough*). Ask yourself if your story can stand on its own without any of the extra elements. If it doesn’t, DON’T FORCE IT IN! Especially with twist villains.

2. If you’re going to leave clues behind, don’t make them obvious. You can have a twist villain without leaving a trail (Hans from Frozen, for example), but with twist villains, creators often like to leave little hints of who the real villain is. I think this is narcissism on our part; we like to show how clever we are. But that leads to us leaving some rather obvious clues, which our readers/viewers will pick up on and deduce the twist long before the twist occurs. Take Scooby-Doo 2: it was so obvious that the reporter was the villain! Why else would they include a reporter with poor ethical practices unless she was at least in league with the villains?

3. Have a good herring villain. A herring villain is just that: a herring to keep us off the real villain. In Frozen, the herring villain was the Duke of Weselton. He had obvious malicious goals, is willing to kill Elsa, and he was over-the-top, which felt right for a villain in this movie. Imagine our surprise when we find out he’s not the true villain, but Hans, who had no trail leading to him and was such a nice guy up till that reveal! A good herring villain will often lead to a great twist villain reveal.

Compare that to Zootopia or Wonder Woman: the former doesn’t give us a herring villain, which causes us to consider each character and eventually land on Ms. Bellwether, who has said some interesting things and has actually benefited from these events. The latter gives us a herring villain, but it’s a comic book movie, and the General doesn’t do a thing to make us think he’s a famous DC villain we’re very sure will make an appearance.

In short, have a herring villain, and make sure they’re set up in a way where people will actually consider them as the main villain, so the twist will actually be effective. To do that, be aware of what sort of story you’re writing. Often the story will have certain requirements for villains (motive, opportunity, etc), so make it seem like the herring villain has those. You’ll find your herring villain much more effective.

4. Do the reveal earlier than the third act. A lot of twist villains reveal themselves in the third act. Nothing wrong with this, but it’d also work if the reveal was done earlier. For example, Hydra was revealed as the villain in Captain America: Winter Soldier in the second act, and that was a really interesting twist, as we hadn’t expected it. If they’d done it later in the story, we might have actually figured it out by then, or there wouldn’t be enough time for exposition mixed with a great climax. So consider doing the reveal elsewhere.

5. Try a variation on the trope. The twist villain, like most tropes, has a standard formula: something happens, one character seems like the villain, but another character is revealed at the third act to be the villain and why. Oh, and it’s usually not the protagonist.

Variations on common tropes have proven to be very effective in storytelling, so try something a little different with the twist villain, like these examples below:

  • It’s a villain, but which one? In Doctor Who series 8, we’re introduced to a character named Missy, who seems likely to be a villain, but we’re not sure what her deal is if she is. In the second-to-last episode, she explains that Missy is short for Mistress, making her a female regeneration of the Master, a well-known DW villain. A lot of minds were blown that day, believe me. The idea is you can introduce a seemingly new character into a long-running story, and then link them back to a previously-established character. Trust me, it works.
  • Everyone’s the villain! Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express ends with every suspect actually having some sort of hand in the murder. It made the novel a sensation back in the day, because it was a seemingly impossible idea, but it worked. So try something impossible and make it possible: everyone’s a villain, no ones’ the villain, or even two very good suspects with alibis both committed the murder. It could work.
  • The hero? American Horror Story: Hotel is my favorite season of the series, and this twist is one reason why. The protagonist, a police detective, is on the hunt for a serial killer, only to find out in the second half of the season that he’s the killer! Trust me, I did not see that coming until the reveal episode, and only by a few minutes! So making a hero or a character who nobody thinks of as a possible villain the villain can work very well.

And these are just some examples of variations that have worked in the past.

Twist villains are a trope that won’t go away anytime soon, but as long as we have them, we should write them as well as we write any other type of character or trope. Because if we’re not going to give people our best, then what are we actually giving them?

What are your thoughts on twist villains? What are some good tips for writing them well?

Oh come on, did you think I wasn’t going to do this? It’s a tradition, and whether you like it or not, I’m doing it! So strap in, and let the villainous torture begin!

So if you don’t know, every June or so I like to rank the top ten villains in fiction that have really impressed/scared me. Villains are always a central part of horror stories, so it’s important to see what makes a villain memorable, or strong, or terrifying. What makes a good villain, in essence. Some years are easier than others to rank, but with each entry, there’s always something to notice with a villain.

Before we begin, let me remind all who read this that no villain from my own work, or any real life person, will make it on this list (otherwise this would just be political views and shout outs to my own characters). Also, SPOILERS!

Ready? Okay, here we go! #10-6!

#10: Tom Martin/Alex Whitman (Scream TV series)

Scream is a twisty slice of TV-horror awesomeness, and while not everyone loved its Halloween special, I certainly found it a fun break from the show’s normal format. One thing I really liked about the Halloween special was Alex Whitman, a rich young man whose parents died tragically when he was young and who strikes up a sweet romance with protagonist Emma Duvall. Or at least, that’s what we think at first. After a huge twist in which the suspect we thought is the new Brandon James Killer ends up dead, it’s revealed Alex Whitman is actually Tom Martin, a disturbed young man who witnessed his parents’ gruesome death as a child and was warped by all the attention relating to his survival. He sees Emma as a kindred soul, and tries to get close to her by any means, including murder.

What makes Tom a great villain is that he’s so sympathetic! Even after he’s revealed to be dangerous and out of his mind, we feel sorry for him, because his backstory is truly heartbreaking, and there was real chemistry between him and Emma. It’s very hard to make a despicable killer into a sympathetic character (believe me, I’ve experienced that struggle firsthand), and Scream did it really well. It’s a good character for the series to go out on.*

#9: Garrett Douglas (Teen Wolf season 6)

Teen Wolf has had many villains show up on this list, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that they got one on this year’s list too. Garrett Douglas is a former captain in the SS–yes, the SS, as in the Nazis–who tried to control the ghostly Wild Hunt, supernatural beings who kidnap people and erase them from existence to replenish their numbers. His attempts to do that led to him being held captive for nearly seventy years by the Dread Doctors from season 5, but he escaped after the latter fell, and set out once again to put the Wild Hunt under his thumb. This time he very nearly succeeded, nearly turning the town of Beacon Hills into a ghost town in the process.

While the Wild Hunt were the main villains of the story arc, they were just an elemental force trying to replenish its numbers for survival. They looked scary and had terrifying powers, but they weren’t menacing or evil. Douglas, on the other hand, was a sadistic power-hungry madman, and he was willing to sacrifice whoever he needed to in order to accomplish his goals. That’s a villain right there. However, compared to other villains on this list and on the show, he’s not as intimidating, and he doesn’t rely on his own power, so he ranks rather low. Better luck next time, Teen Wolf. I have confidence in you.

#8: Amunet (The Mummy 2017 film)

I gave this movie a harsh rating in my review (read that HERE), but honestly Amunet was one of its saving graces. Played with convincing power by Sofia Boutella, Amunet is a powerful undead sorceress who made a deal with the god Set for power. Resurrected in the 21st century, she’s willing to sacrifice anyone in order to bring about an apocalypse and become Queen of the Damned (see what I did there?).

What makes her a great villain is that she’s so convincing! You really feel her rage, her lust, her desire for power. And then you see her power at work: she’s influencing Tom Cruise, using animals as weapons, turning people into obedient slaves with kisses or even just with an animal bite. She’s a force to be reckoned with, and proves that even if you have a bad movie, you can have a great villain.

#7: Kevin Wendell Crumb (Split)

I’m not sure if this is one villain or 23 villains or what, but either way, they’re all here. A man with disassociative identity disorder, some of Kevin’s personalities go rogue and take over his psyche in order to bring out a new personality known as the Beast, who causes pain and suffering in the belief that such horrors purify. Kevin and each personality is played with amazing skill by James McAvoy, making each feels real and fully formed. But it’s his darker personalities, the ones that set out to cause destruction by kidnapping three teenage girls from a mall parking lot, that really scare you. You can feel their belief in their godlike Beast, and then when you inevitably see the Beast, he’s a powerful force that makes your heart beat from start to finish. Kevin and his personalities’ place on this list is well-deserved. Cannot wait to see him again in two years in Glass.

#6: The Shadow Kin (Class TV series)

Give it to the Whoniverse to come up with memorable villains. In Doctor Who‘s new spin-off Class, the Shadow Kin are beings made of fire and brimstone, who believe their existence in the universe is a cosmic mistake, as they cannot stand bright light and must travel as gas and shadows. In revenge, their goal is to eliminate all life from the universe by infecting the shadows of their enemies and then killing them. These villains appear throughout the show’s first season, at first only to kill off the refugees of one of their battles, but when their king becomes biologically linked to one of the show’s protagonist, it sets off a literal shadow war as the Shadow Kin battle for control of their king’s power and the planet Earth. Definitely a dangerous villain who kept us on the edge of our seats, wondering what would happen and where the Shadow Kin would appear next.

 

And that’s all for now, Followers of Fear. I’ll have #5-1 out soon. Until then, what did you think of the Top 10 so far? Do you have any favorite villains from this past year. Let’s discuss in the comments below.

*I’m not counting the upcoming third season, because they’re basically rebooting the story with new characters and setting. Um, WTF? You didn’t even wrap up the original story! You had loose threads leading up to the third season! And we know the third season is going to be the last season, so why change things up like that? Why not just wrap things up and let it be like that? TV execs! They’re sometimes the worst people to direct the courses of their own properties.

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, if you know me in real life, or you read the things I post on my personal Facebook page, you know that I can be a funny guy. I love a good pun, a funny story, or a well-done prank. Or all three, if it can be done. And I try to insert humor into many facets of my life, much to the enjoyment of some and the exasperation of most others. Where do I get this reverence for humor? I’ll tell you: when a mommy and a daddy really like each other, they–

I’m sorry, but my lawyers tell me I’m not supposed to go into that. Let’s just say it might be a family trait, and leave it at that.

But guess what aspect of my life doesn’t see that many laughs? Surprisingly, not my writing. I actually don’t tell a lot of jokes in my stories. Yeah, imagine that! I don’t put jokes in my horror stories. In fact, my funniest story so far may be Video Rage: it’s got protagonist Zahara making a jab at male lead Rip’s manhood, and at a later point, main cast member Kevlar makes some bondage jokes when speaking to a Native American healer. That’s it.

Okay, now some of you non-horror fans may be reading this and be like, “Isn’t that par for the course? It’s horror.” But that’s the thing: just like how not all horror authors are dark, pessimistic creeps, neither are all horror stories devoid of humor. Stephen King, one of my biggest influences, often finds way to insert humor into his work. Ever read his novel Needful Things? That book is chock-full of comedy! There’s even a plot thread where two housewives buy objects from the antagonist that they believe are connected to Elvis Presley, and they start having hallucinations that the objects let them have a sexual/romantic relationship with Elvis! It’s freaking hilarious! And that’s just one example out of many.

But not just King: a lot of other horror stories make use of humor. One of my favorite Dean Koontz novels makes use of witty observations and funny turns of dialogue to great effect, adding a bit of levity to a very dark thriller. Buffy the Vampire Slayer often has tons of jokes and funny lines. Many slasher films from the 80’s and 90’s have funny moments (hell, Nightmare on Elm Street is often as funny as it is dark). And there are so many more examples of horror stories which sprinkle comedy in to alleviate tension and fear for a few seconds before starting it up again.

So why doesn’t my work have more laughs? Well, there may be a couple of reasons for that. One, in almost Freudian fashion, may stem from a childhood incident. And by childhood, I mean high school, but at this point in my life, the only difference to me is height and hormones. Back before Twilight poisoned the vampire genre, I tried my hands at several vampire stories. One of them was an epic, multidimensional vampire story, which for a while I was getting help with from an English grad at OSU my dad put me in contact with. During one email session, he noted that the story had a lot of humor in it. Every other line was a joke, and he said as a wishful horror writer, it should be more serious. I took that to mean no jokes, and cut the humor from that story in a snap. You may be thinking, “That doesn’t sound like that big a deal!” But to me, it may have been a huge deal. In fact, that memory is what I keep coming to when I think of where humor stopped showing up so much in my writing. You could say it forever scarred me (cue dramatic music!).

Another reason why I might not write that much humor into my stories is because of the type of humor I excel at. You see, my humor tends to be at its best when it’s situational. It’s like I’m living in a sitcom, and every word spoken has the opportunity for a funny line if I know where to look. That’s my mindset. My favorite jokes to pull on people usually reflect that. You’d be surprised how many times people have asked me how I’m doing, and I tell them, “I’m pregnant.” The reactions! They look something like this:

“YOU’RE PREGNANT?!!”

That being said, being a situational humor guy doesn’t always translate well to my fiction. I’m a plotter, which means I plan out the entire story from beginning to end. Keeping such dark stories in mind, from beginning to end, you don’t have much room to think of funny moments to add. You’re more likely thinking of the sad past of the protagonist and the arc they’re going through with this horrifying story.

Or it could just be the old adage, “Tragedy is easy, comedy is hard,” and all the stuff in the last couple paragraphs is a bunch of bullshit. That’s always possible.

Whatever the reason, it’s not that big a deal. Every author is comfortable with different amounts of humor in their work, and I’m comfortable with minimal amounts in mine (though if I ever write for Doctor Who, that might change). Besides, there’s a good chance if I tried to force more humor into my work, it would suck. In fact, I’m sure it would suck. Last night, I tried writing a horror-comedy short story about a tour of hell. The first paragraph was kind of funny, and then everything after that…not so much. Hence why I’m writing this post.

In any case, I think I’ll stick to what I’m good at. That’s what people like, and that’s what I like, so no problem. I’m sure I can fulfill all my writing dreams by not forcing jokes into my serial killer stories.

Or I could just stay at my job for the rest of my life and never make a thousand bucks off my work, but I don’t like to think like that.

If you write, how much humor do you put in your stories? What do you even think of humor in non-comedy fiction, anyway?

As you guys know by now, I’m a pretty dedicated horror fan. I read a lot of horror novels and watch a lot of horror movies, I decorate my apartment with horror knick-knacks (just the other day, a Jason Voorhees mask and Funko doll arrived for me from Amazon), and of course, I write a ton of horror. Only thing is, lately I’ve been writing a lot of science fiction, and that’s getting a little old.

The hockey mask looks good on us.

I’ve been working on Full Circle, the final book in the Reborn City series I’ve been working on since high school, since November. And as of the completion of the latest chapter this morning (finished it in just a little over an hour. Do you know how rarely that happens?), I’m just under halfway through the first draft. And while I’m still dedicated to finishing the first draft and the series itself, I’m getting a little tired of the constant sci-fi. Don’t get me wrong, I love science fiction. Doctor Who is one of my favorite shows, after all, and I get as geeky as anyone else when I think about The Last Jedi coming out this winter.

But check the About page of this blog. I’m a horror writer, and all this sci-fi gets a little wearisome. I want to dip back into the world of ghosts, ghouls, serial killers, and all other manner of monsters that go bump in the night.

Plus, I’ve mentioned before that I’m trying to publish more horror short stories, as I’m trying the traditional route again and publishing short stories is a good way to do that. Can’t publish horror short stories if I’m constantly working on sci-fi.

So with that in mind, I’m taking a break from Full Circle to do a little short story writing. I’m going to first write a short story that I had the idea for a couple months back, and then I’m going to edit The Playroom, a short story I wrote back in late 2015 and have not touched since. I think it’s about time I took a look at that one again, and then see if I can get it in a magazine or an anthology. After those are both done, I should be good to get back to work on Full Circle (though if I need to, I’ll write another short story). I have a feeling that starting with the next chapter, it’s going to be hard to stop writing this one anyway, so this is a good time to take a break and slake my thirst for horror.

Until next time, Followers of Fear. And may the terror be with you…always.

It’s Friday again, so you know what that means. It’s #FirstLineFriday!

Now if you don’t know what #FirstLineFriday is, let me explain the rules. On Fridays, you:

  1. Create a post on your blog entitled #FirstLineFriday, hashtag and all.
  2. Explain the rules like I’m doing now.
  3. Post the first one or two lines of a potential story, a story-in-progress, or a completed or published work.
  4. Ask your readers for feedback, and encourage them to try #FirstLineFriday on their own blogs (tagging is encouraged but not necessary).

As I said in my last post, I’ve been having a lot of great ideas for stories. And on Monday, I had this rather strange and unique idea for a novel, inspired by Japanese mythology and culture (one of my best sources of ideas, by the way), and has an interesting structure to it that would be unusual and fun to write. Obviously, I can’t go into more details without giving away the plot (and I hate to give that sort of thing away). But I can hopefully give you a very good opening for this story, while maybe adding a hint in that opening.

Anyway, enjoy:

Almost everybody has a bucket list, along with something on that list that they want to accomplish before they graduate or leave town or die: to learn how to code (the dream of my somewhat nerdy brother Eric, as well as my somewhat cool boyfriend Luca), to go to a heavy metal festival and see their favorite bands perform (my friend Rudy, who plans to do just that after graduation), or to confess their feelings to the rebellious, cool-as-hell River Fuhrmann (my friend Lavender Murphy, who has no idea that the rebellious, cool-as-hell River also has a thing for Lavender, but is too proud to admit it). I have my own bucket list, but mine is rather unusual, as at the top of my list was ghost stories.

Thoughts? Overly long? Any errors? What’s on your bucket list*? Let’s discuss in the comments below.

And while you’re at it, why not try #FirstLineFriday yourself? It’s easy, it’s fun, and it’s great practice for authors of all stripes. Sadly, I’m taking a small break from tagging, so you’re safe from my torture for now. But if you want me to tag you, consider yourself tagged. Or better yet, let me know. I’ll catch you next week.

Anyway, that’s all for now. I’m hoping to see a movie this weekend and maybe write a review of it. If not, you can expect a blog post this Sunday.

Until the next time, my Followers of Fear!

*Mine involves meeting and/or having my books read by Stephen King and/or Anne Rice, going ghost-hunting with the Ghost Adventures Crew, having a custom car made from a hearse, and writing for Doctor Who. Does that surprise any of you?

I’ve been watching a lot of Supernatural on Netflix lately, and something in the most recent episode I watched got me thinking. It was stated at the beginning of the season that the main villain of the season, the demon Lilith, is breaking magical seals to raise the demon Lucifer out of Hell, and she needs to destroy sixty-six seals to do so. Based on that, I thought there were sixty-six seals in total, which seemed reasonable. According to the episode I watched yesterday though, there are over six-hundred possible seals, and Lilith needs to only destroy sixty-six to get Lucifer out of Hell.

Now I’ll admit that I’m still working my way through the season, so there may be more to these seals than what I know right now, but based on just the description I have above, that’s a pretty poor security system. You’re keeping the ultimate evil bound by six-hundred seals, but only sixty-six need to be destroyed to let him out? That’s like only needing an eleven percent passing score on a lie detector test to get access to Top Secret national security files. You’re just acting for trouble.

With that in mind, as well as my thoughts on the movie The Boy that I reviewed earlier this week,* I got to thinking. Sometimes creators do things in fiction that make absolutely no sense when the fans get to them. Obviously, there are things in fiction that are most likely impossible–the magic of Harry Potter, actual giant lizards like Godzilla, TARDISes and Time Lords (sadly)–but we forget that so we can enjoy the story. This is called suspension of belief, and it’s how we can enjoy these stories. However sometimes a creator–whether it’s a book, a movie, a comic, or a TV show–is just too hard for us to believe. When that happens, the story, and our enjoyment of the story, suffers horribly.

With that in mind, here are some things every storyteller can do to make it easier to tell a story without dong something that will make a reader/viewer say, “What the hell? That’s so stupid!”

  • Avoid the unnecessary or stupid twists. Back to The Boy again, which, if you haven’t read my review, singled out the twist that the boy Brahms was alive and a full adult as the movie’s biggest fault. I get that they were trying to distinguish the movie from others like it with a unique twist, but besides feeling kind of lame, the twist made the whole concept of the movie nonsensical (see my review for full details on that). If you plan to include a twist in your work, ask yourself a few questions before you use one, such as: is this twist necessary to make a good story? Is it predictable? Does it make the story seem silly or even make the events of the story make no sense? I’m convinced if the filmmakers of The Boy had asked these questions, they might have had a better movie on their hands.
  • What brought people to your work in the first place? I love bashing 2009’s Friday the 13th remake, because it is such a terrible film. In fact, the filmmakers even seemed to think that the movie was crap, or that they were unable to really make a great Friday the 13th film, so they packed in as much swearing, sex and nudity, drugs, alcohol, and raunchy or childish humor as possible. The result was a film that felt like it was trying to be one of those dirty teen camping trip comedies that had to remind itself every few minutes it was about a serial killer living on a lake.
    If you’re going to tell a certain type of story, keep in mind at every step what sort of story it is and don’t focus unnecessarily on elements that are only a small part of the story or even unnecessary. In the case of Friday the 13th, people watch those movies to see Jason go on a rampage. The sex and drugs and all that other stuff are just added bonuses as well as what causes Jason to target his victims, not why we pay nine dollars at the box office. And the fact that the filmmakers felt those elements were more important is why I’ll always enjoy bashing this piece of crap out of Michael Bay’s bum.
  • Could this happen in the real world? I have a lot of problems with the Hunger Games books.** One of my biggest problems is how the series ends: Katniss finds out President Coin ordered the bombing that killed her sister, so she kills Coin in revenge as Coin takes control of the nation. The new government of Panem hushes up Coin’s treachery to preserve the new order, so for all intents and purposes Katniss just assassinated the new President unprovoked. And Katniss…is portrayed as a girl gone mad with grief over the loss of her sister, she gets exiled to District 12 with weekly phone conferences with a shrink, and lives happily ever after?
    I don’t care if you’re the face of a movement, if a similar revolution occurred in America, and the face of that revolution killed the new leader, you bet that person would at least get locked up in a prison or psych ward so they couldn’t tell anyone what they’d done. Exile and getting to raise a family? Nothing bad happens to her? I don’t care if she has nightmares a lot and never tells us her kids’ names because she’s afraid of losing them, that still would never happen in real life!
    So when you’re telling your own story, ask yourself if a situation is so unbelievable, even in the wackiest of fiction, that people can’t suspend their disbelief anymore. If it is, you might want to consider tweaking it so that guys like me don’t go on a rant about it on the Internet.
  • If it needs a lengthy explanation for why it happens, you might want to rethink the why. This one comes from personal experience. When I was writing Reborn City, I had this really complicated reason as to why my protagonist Zahara Bakur had to join the Hydras. That, and another situation later in the book had really complicated reasons why those things had to happen. It wasn’t until later drafts that I realized how overly complicated those situations were and found simpler explanations for why Zahara had to join the Hydras or the other thing had to happen, explanations that were so simple but worked so perfectly I wondered why I tried to use the run-around logic that a smart reader could easily poke a hole in.
    So if you want a specific event in your story to happen for the sake of the story but the way you get it to happen is really overly-complicated, requires a lot of explanation, and from certain angles makes no sense, perhaps you should reconsider either the event or why it happens. It beats having two unnecessary pages of dialogue explaining why something needs to happen when a much simpler explanation is at hand, at any rate.
  • And finally, don’t forget what is obvious or necessary. This kind of fits into my third point, but I’m making it separate because I feel that’s the best way to present it. Anyway, in one of my fiction workshops in college, a classmate turned in a story that took place in a post-apocalyptic setting. It was a good first draft, but a major problem I had was that the protagonist apparently forgot his bow and arrow at home. I said to her, “This is a world where people dumb enough to leave their weapons at home while on a trip are likely to get killed a hundred different ways. No seasoned hunter like this guy forgets his source of food and protection.” In the same way, make sure that you avoid moves like that, where a character does something that makes no sense for someone in their position or the setting has some part of it that also makes little sense when you think about it. Trust me, it will improve the story if you avoid those problems.

In the end, the thing you want to tell is a good story. Avoiding anything that strains the credulity of your audience can be very difficult, but with trial and effort, you can get very good at it. This is also why I recommend having your stories looked at by editors or beta readers who won’t spare good advice because they’re afraid of hurting your feelings or risking your friendship. They can help you avoid these traps and improve the overall product of the story.

What tricks do you have for avoiding situations that strain the credulity of your audience?

What are some stories where they did something that really took you out of the story?

*By the way, it’s been nearly a week since I published that post, but an average of 36 people a day have been checking that post out since. I guess I’m not the only one who found that twist completely stupid.

**Especially the trilogy’s very backstory. A nation in the far-flung future had a massive civil war, and the Capitol decided that to stop future rebellions, the entire country should revolve politically, economically, and socially around an annual death game involving youth from the Districts? If Panem can genetically engineer scary monsters, they can synthesize a drug that takes out aggression and dump it into the Districts’ water supply. Problem solved, and all those seventeen-hundred and twenty people who died for the Capitol’s perverse pleasure instead grow up to be contributors to society. Yes, that is diabolical and I know I’d make a great dictator. My mother informed me of this fact when I pointed out this problem with the books.