Posts Tagged ‘Harry Potter’

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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So back in the beginning of the year, I took a number of steps to improve visibility on my blog, maybe grow my audience, and  become a better writer in general (jury’s still out on whether or not that’s working). One of those was to get a special email account through WordPress, one exclusively for this site and for use as an author. Studies show that professional looking email addresses are taken much more seriously than ones that look like awesomesoccerdude83 [at] website [dot] com. And while I love my personal email account, it’s not exactly the kind of email address that’s conducive for looking professional. And if I’m going to try and get an agent or publisher, might as well look a bit more professional. Even if my idea of high fashion involves a Sailor Moon-themed sweatshirt (don’t ask for photos. I just got that sweatshirt, and I’m waiting for the right weather to wear it).

For some reason though, I have to log out of my Google Mail account (which I only use to make sure I have access to a YouTube account. Priorities!) and then log into the other account. I can’t access both at the same time. And sometime after I got the account, I forgot the password. And then I didn’t pursue getting a new password for a while. Mainly because to get it back, Google wanted the last password I could remember. Which I couldn’t remember.

There’s a GIF for this situation. Which should I use?

That’s it. Thank you Hermione. I should’ve written the password down in the first place. You’re always and forever awesome.

But two months ago, I tried to get a new password. And that started the email equivalent of broken telephone. One person would answer my email to the WordPress help team asking for an explanation. I’d explain and send the email back. A second person would answer back and ask more questions. I’d answer those questions. A third person answered and gave me the exact wrong thing for my problem. Yeah, after a while of this, I just gave up and stopped.

And then two weeks ago, I decided to give it another try. No reason, I just thought if I got the email account, I might as well use it. I sent WordPress another message, this time wording it so that even a chipmunk would understand what I wanted. A week later, I got the link to change my password. And I wrote down the password, hiding the note in a secret location.

So finally, I have my author email account back! And I’ve set a reminder on my phone so I can check the account at least once a week. And I plan to be using it as much as possible for all author-y things. For submitting stories, querying agents and publishers, and even communicating with fans (I’m sure some of you exist) and friends.

So what’s this mysterious email address? Glad you asked. Here it is:

ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com

Simple and easy to remember, right? I’ll be posting it on my About Me page, so if you can’t find this particular post or your memory is as bad as mine, you’ll still be able to contact me.

So if you’re a friend or Follower of Fear, I look forward to emailing you from this new address.

If you’re an agent or publisher, I’m always willing to talk to you about business propositions.

If you’re a stalker and imagine showing up at my home, possibly with a knife, please seek professional help for that. You can live a happy life without being in close proximity to me and/or my corpse 24/7!

If you’re planning on sending me nude photos, please don’t. Those can ruin lives when uploaded to the Internet. And depending on your age, sending and/or receiving them can send us both to prison.

If you’re a troll or con artist looking to use me for your own sick purposes, please refrain from doing so. And if you still insist on sending me emails meant to make me angry or take my money, then…YOUR MOTHER IS A ***** ***** ****ING **** **** LORUM IPSUM ****** AGMINTUM VEVEUM ****** **** ***** ***** TRUGULA ***** **** ***** *** HIPPOPOTAMUS ***** ***** REPUBLICAN ***** ***** **** ***** AND DANIEL RADCLIFFE *** **** **** ***** WITH A BUCKET OF ***** **** **** **** AND A CASTLE FAR AWAY WHERE NO ONE CAN HEAR YOU *** **** **** **** SOUP ***** **** **** WITH A BUCKET OF **** *** ***** MICKEY MOUSE **** *** AND A STICK OF DYNAMITE *** ***** *** MAGICAL *** **** ***** *** ***** ALAKAZAM!!!!

Points to whoever can correctly guess what the hell I’m referencing with that long profanity.

Well, that’s all, my Followers of Fear. I’ll check the email account next week, and maybe even see an email from you guys. Until then or the next blog post, pleasant nightmares!

 

Authors, who are usually as human as the rest of us, are as prone to mistakes and insecurity as the rest of us. That said, sometimes authors worry about creative decisions when it comes to their stories. We’ll look at a scene, or a character, or even a whole plot, and think to ourselves, “Is that the right thing to do here? Should maybe we change it?”

We end up second-guessing ourselves.

Actually, some pretty famous names have second-guessed their creative decisions in the past. JK Rowling went back on her decision to have Hermione end up with Ron in Harry Potter, and that Harry might’ve been a better match for her, which still has the fandom in a tizzy (personally, I still ship Harry and Cho and wonder what could’ve happened if they’d actually gone to the Yule Ball together). Stephen King has expressed regret of ever writing the novel Rage, which has been connected with several incidents of gun violence (I’d still like to read it someday). And Anne Rice has actually said she’s not proud of the crossover novels she’s written with her vampires and witches.

And they’re just a few among many.

I’ve been having this problem at a lot of points in Rose, including last night. I’d just finished editing the latest chapter (only nine more to go!), adding over a thousand words of material while I’m at it, and I find myself thinking, “Wow, there’s a lot of just high-tension moments here. Very little time where the readers and the protagonist can just take a moment and breathe. This whole chapter, it’s just boom! Boom! Boom! One thing after another. I wonder if that’s maybe too much excitement in the story. Maybe I should add some more quiet moments, where we can explore the characters?” And then I find myself arguing back that plenty of great horror movies and novels, such as Annabelle: Creation and Gerald’s Game, that are like this, where there’s very little breathing room and just one thing after another of scares and high-tension scenes. And there are scenes that are “quieter:” they are usually exploring the protagonist’s past, which is a mystery to even her. They’re not moments like in It, where the main characters are just building a dam or something, but they’re slightly calmer and do develop the characters a bit more when they happen.

This argument went back and forth in my head even after I went to sleep, making for some interesting dreams.

But it’s not just this whole “are things too exciting?” issue that’s got me second-guessing. I think I’ve mentioned before that there are scenes in Rose that I would like to expand. Most of these are in the final third of the book, and one particular scene, a flashback scene, has me wondering if I’m making the right decision in what I want to do with it. On the one hand, there are about a hundred ways I can push the envelope with it, and I’ve already set up in previous chapters clues that point to the importance of this scene. But at the same time, if I were to push the envelope on this scene in some ways, it might be indulging in certain cliches I prefer to use sparingly at best. Also, I worry that if I were to go in those directions, it might actually take away from the main reason for this scene rather than reinforce it for the audience. It’s something I’ve been worrying about since well before I started this draft of the novel.

So yeah, authors do a lot of second-guessing. And it can cause a lot of headaches, anxiety, confusion, and the occasional burst of anger. Is there any solution for when this happens?

Not really. Yeah, I usually have solutions for stuff like this, but I think it varies on situations and stories and authors. I think every author will second-guess themselves at several points in their careers, sometimes during the writing, sometimes before, a few times after. And sometimes solutions will present themselves. While writing this post, I’ve figured out one of the problems I’ve been second-guessing in this post, which I honestly didn’t expect.

Honestly, I guess the best advice I can give is to try one way. If you don’t like it, try another if the opportunity is available. If you’re still unsure, let beta readers give you some much needed feedback. That’s what they’re there for.

Honestly, I’m probably going to encounter this issue throughout my writing career. I’m second-guessing some possible routes for a novel I haven’t even written yet, if you can believe it. And if you’re a writer, you’ll probably going to deal with it too throughout your career. All I can say is, you may argue with yourself plenty. You may have to try more than one way to write the same story so as to see what works. But eventually, hopefully, you’ll work through it, and come up with something great.

And if not, there’s always a chance that people will still like who the characters end up with (I hear Harry and Ginny are great spouses and parents. Especially if you don’t read/see the play. Also, Ron and Hermione’s storyline actually mirrors a lot of anime couples, so I guess if it works in those shows, why not?).

What are your experiences with second guessing? Any tips for fixing this problem?

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?

I swear, this is the last time I’m posting about my Boston trip. Unless I actually did capture ghost voices (or EVPs, as believers prefer), in which case there will be another post. Don’t worry though, that’ll take a while to accomplish, so don’t go to the unsubscribe button just yet. Also, this post will be a quick one…I think. I’m saying that while still writing it, so who knows?

Anyway, as you can tell from the title, this is about the souvenirs from my Boston trip. On Instagram I broke these down by type of souvenir (book, toy, etc), but here I think I’ll separate it by day or location. Why? Just makes more sense that way, it seems.

Independence Day souvenirs.

As I said in my last post, I went into a Harry Potter shop and a comic book shop on that day. I’m a Slytherin (mostly because I’m pure evil), so I bought some Slytherin gear from the Harry Potter shop. Specifically, a sticker and a tie.

The ancient and noble House.

I’m wearing this the next time I wear a tie.

From the comic book store I went a little crazy. In addition to some more stickers, I bought a couple of those Funko Pop dolls. Those who know me won’t be surprised which franchises I bought dolls from.

You know it’s true.

Looks great on my laptop.

My first, and probably my favorite Doctor.

Moonies forever!

Including all the anime figurines I’ve been collecting, I’m building quite the doll collection. And I’m not ashamed to say that.

Salem souvenirs.

It won’t surprise you that most of the souvenirs here are witch-related. They’re also all books. Well, there is a print of the House of the Seven Gables under a creepy moon, but it’s copyrighted, and the last thing I want is a copyright lawsuit on my hands, so forgive me if I don’t post a photo of that here.

Looks cool.

I’ve always been curious.

You knew this was going to be coming home with me.

This will make a great reference material.

I swear, it’s another reference book. I’m not going to do anything evil…probably.

At least you can’t say I won’t get bored or go without reading material for a while.

Lizzie Borden souvenirs.

Luckily, I went easy on the souvenirs here. And of course, they are so totally me.

Because I’m on a true crime kick lately.

 

Not going to lie, this doll creeps even me.

So that’s all my souvenirs. Pretty cool, huh?

That’s all for now…on Boston, anyway. I probably won’t post anything new until the weekend so you don’t get sick of me, but if something big comes up, I’ll probably have to talk about it. In the meantime, I’m going to work on Rose for a little while. Wish me luck, and good night, my Followers of Fear. Pleasant nightmares!

I wanted to get at least one more blog post out before I go off to Boston (spoiler alert: the trip is imminent), and because I didn’t have time to watch and review a movie I’ve been wanting to see for a while, I thought I’d do another post about romance in fiction. Why? Because my last post on the subject did very well, well enough that a writing blog associated with Columbia College in Chicago listed that post in a Valentine’s Day-themed article last year (that’s staying power!), and because I’ve had some thoughts since then about the subject. And those thoughts revolve around this simple idea: for a romance story to be truly successful and compelling, there has to be a conflict of some sort. Let me explain:

A couple of months back, I tried watching this anime I discovered on Hulu. The idea for the series sounded interesting, it was a fantasy series with a big romance element, and it was loosely based on a popular fairy tale. I decided to try it (I’d found anime and manga I loved on less than that), and settled down to watch a few episodes. It had a good first episode…but then the problems set in. One of the major ones was that after the first episode, when it’s pretty obvious that the two leads are attracted to each other, there’s nothing really to make the romance aspect exciting. They just settle into this rhythm that says, “Oh yeah, eventually they’ll get together.” Nothing that came up really served as a threat to their relationship, and because the story’s main focus was the romance aspect, I kind of lost interest.

Thus this post. Every good fiction story has some sort of conflict, something for the protagonist(s) to overcome and aid them while they grow as people. These conflicts can be outer and/or inner conflicts. In Harry Potter, it’s Harry’s battle to stop Lord Voldemort and protect his friends. In Stephen King’s It, there’s a shapeshifting evil clown and the desire to hang onto childhood wonder while also accepting the inevitability of growing up. In When Marnie was There, it’s Anna accepting that she’s the one isolating herself, and that if she only comes out to people, they will accept her. In romance, it’s often the main couple realizing and struggling with their feelings for one another while something tries to keep them apart.

Every good story has a good central conflict.

I’ve read a few romance-heavy novels (not many, but some), as well as watched a few TV shows and taken in several anime and manga with strong romance storylines. What always makes them good or memorable to me is the journey for these characters to fall in love with each other and get together, and all that can potentially tear them apart. Without them, like in the anime mentioned above, the story quickly becomes boring. In The Mammoth Hunters by Jean Auel, the two main characters start out in a relationship, but they nearly lose it when a new suitor tries to sweep the female of the pair off her feet (the outer conflict), as well as the couple’s vastly different cultures/childhoods and their communication issues (the inner conflict). Part of what made that novel so exciting was watching those issues affect their relationship, feeling the mistrust, heartbreak, and anger this couple went through. It was thrilling, because you really felt for these characters and wanted to see them together in the end. And getting to that end and overcoming their issues in the process was what made the novel as a whole good.

Arata the Legend: great example of how a story can have a compelling romance without that being the main subject of the story.

But this post so far focuses on stories that are mainly romantic. What about stories where romance is secondary? Same concept applies. You see this a lot in manga and anime. Take Arata the Legend by Yuu Watase (highly recommend, by the way), for example. The story revolves around a teenager named Arata who ends up in an alternate universe, where he becomes a messiah figure in the process. Arata ends up traveling around the universe with a band of magical warriors to gather magic items and save both worlds, while also dealing with his own fears and insecurities. These are the main outer and inner conflicts of the story. However, a sub-conflict in the story revolves around a love triangle between Arata and two girls who travel with him, a warrior girl and a healer. Both are attracted to Arata, Arata’s attracted to one of them, and because of various misunderstandings and past experiences, they’re unable to be honest with one another with their feelings, genuinely thinking that one might be better with the other or that one doesn’t like the other. This subplot is a major ongoing part of the story, and one of the reasons I always look forward to new volumes coming out (waiting on #25 since August last year).

As you can see, a story with a romance but no challenge to that romance is more often than not less exciting than a romance with challenges to it. The exceptions, in my experience at least, would be stories where the romance is a minor element in comparison to other issues in the story (the anime Code Geass definitely comes to mind in that aspect. Also highly recommend that one), but if that’s the case, then the romance probably isn’t a big part of why you’re into this story, right?

But when a story’s romance is a major aspect of why people would want to check the story out, having a conflict would definitely make it a more interesting aspect of the story. Otherwise, all you’ve got is an anime where you’re just watching and waiting for these two obviously-attracted-to-each-other people to take that first step and kiss each other and that’s about it.

I recently came across a very fun article from the AV Club, which talked about how any opening in a story could be improved by replacing the second (or in some cases, the third) line with the phrase “And then the murders began.” This idea was formulated by author Marc Laidlaw, which has since become known as Laidlaw’s Rule, and is based on some of the advice of author Elmore Leonard, who said you should start your stories with more action-based openings rather than more quiet stuff like describing the weather or doing some sort of backstory.

As you can imagine, Laidlaw’s Rule can make for a rather fun parlor game. I shared the AV Club article in one of my writing groups on Facebook, and we had a ball with this. Here’s my contribution to the game:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. And then the murders began.

Charles Dickens has never been less boring.

And you find that this works with almost any story. Harry Potter, for example:

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of Number 4, Privet Drive, were proud to say they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. And then the murders began.

Just as JK Rowling intended it, I’m sure. How about Alice in Wonderland?

Alice was beginning to get tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do. And then the murders began.

Well, in this LSD-inspired story, anything’s possible. What about Stephen King?

The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years–if it ever did end–began, so far as I can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain. And then the murders began.

That’s Stephen King’s IT in a nutshell. New movie out September 8th! Check out the trailer that’ll be coming out some time tomorrow. Let’s see, what else? Oh, I know! How about Wuthering Heights?

1801 – I have just returned from a visit to my landlord – the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with. And then the murders began.

It’s already improved greatly. And even works on non-fiction works and speeches. For example, the Gettysburg Address:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. And then the murders began.

America in a nutshell, everybody! Our nation is dangerous to your health.

How about my work? Let’s try Reborn City:

Zahara and her family had decided to eat out at a restaurant in North Reborn that served kosher meat, the closest they could get to halāl. And then the murders began.

Well, there are a few murders in this book (spoilers!). What about Video Rage?

The sunbaked concrete and metal in the hundred-plus degree heat, the many cars and trucks reflected light off their chrome bodies like blinding beasts zooming down the highway. And then the murders began.

Ooh, chilling! How about Snake?

Paul Sanonia had been touched by a nightmare, an unbelievable disaster that had manifested in reality where it shouldn’t belong. And then the murders began.

This novel in a nutshell (more spoilers!).

And the best part is, Laidlaw’s Rule works with pretty much any story. Usually it works best with third-person omniscient narrators, though other narrating styles can work. Take a look at To Kill a Mockingbird:

When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow. And then the murders began.

Jeez, Atticus Finch’s job just got a lot tougher. I think he’s going to have to play detective as well as defense lawyer and dad.

Marc Laidlaw, the formulator of the Laidlaw Rule.

Yeah, Laidlaw’s Rule is a lot of fun. But it also could make for a fun writing exercise. How many stories have actually begun with “And then the murders began” as the second sentence? As a lot of these kinds of stories like a bit of mystery before you discover a body or two, I’d say not many. So it would be fun to start a story this way. Just come up with a random set up for the first sentence, do “And then the murders began” for the second, and see where it goes from there. We could call it the Laidlaw Exercise (coming to a high school or university writing class near you!). And if I wasn’t neck-deep in finishing a sci-fi trilogy, I might try this! God knows I could tell more than a few stories starting out this way.

Maybe I will when I have a bit of free time. Who knows? I might end up writing something totally awesome.

But what do you think of the Laidlaw Rule? And do you have any contributions you’d like to add? Author friends, I want to hear what your books sounds like when given the Laidlaw treatment! Let’s discuss in the comments below.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll have another post out later this week, so keep an eye out for it. Until next time!

…And then the murders began.