Tweet of the Day: How to Create an Enduring Book Brand
As a plot device, time travel can be…tricky. It opens up a whole universe of ideas and also opens up a bin full of plot derailments. It is no surprise then that many a time travel plot includes the following caveat, “Don’t touch anything or you will doom us all!” also known as, the Butterfly of Doom. Simply put, step on the wrong crack while in the past and your particular timeline will die. Of course, like many plot tropes, this one also serves a plot cloth for you to spin a few tales from, specially if your tapestry is made off of “what if?” style alternate history ideas. Said butterfly turns into the fulcrum of that change into the new timeline where dinosaurs take on Martians and Hitler dances in springtime.
I for one prefer the latter to the former. I am always weary of fix it tropes, the ones invoked when the author punted their plot into the stratosphere and is now trying desperately to wrangle it back into shape.
Tweet of the Day: Bustin’ Makes Boys Feel Sad- Why Ghostbusters is So Hated
As I delved deep insight a dwemer (dwarves in The Elder Scrolls games) ruin in Skyrim, I remember how much I loved exploring the halls full of steam pipes, robots and weird techo-magical devices. Which is weird because the game I finished before that one, Dragon Age: Inquisition (the fourth installment in the Dragon Age series of video games) gave me a completely different vibe when I visited Val Royeaux and everything there clashed with my middle ages vision of the world of Thedas, from the dresses right out of an Elizabethan theater (Elizabeth I that is), to some contraptions that would not look out of place in the Victorian era. Why am I comfortable with the former but find the latter hard to accept?
It is because genre in media is a double edge sword.
For the consumer and the critic, genres help classify, clarify and catalog the media they consume. It is much easier to search for new things to consume based on our previous likes. Just ask Nextflix, or Amazon, or Google, or any other search algorithm/engine. It also tempers our expectations about the media we consume. Science fiction means things like lasers, space travel, psychic powers. Romance means chance encounters in parties, long glances across short distances and characters that simply can’t spit it out (when it comes to feelings, everything else depends on the “heat” level of the story).
But for authors genre can be a straight jacket, inhibiting their imaginations, constricting the possibilities of the plot and shrinking their settings. nf if you stick to genre conventions you risk being seen as someone who merely paints by numbers. So how do you breakout of genre conventions? It is all about foundations. Going back to the example above, I first met the steampunk loving dwarves in Morrowind, they were part of a very weird setting, with dark elves that rode giant floating bugs/crustaceans, lived in homes inspired by sea conchs and whose wizard grew giant hollowed mushrooms which they navigated through levitation spells. The universe of the Elder Scrolls was nothing like what I experience in other fantasy themed stories and therefore my suspension of disbelief did not suffer in the slightest when I plunged into those abandoned ruins. My introduction to Thedas (the setting for Dragon Age) was quite different. While it skewed some genre conventions established by Tolkien, it still showed Bioware’s deep roots in Dungeon & Dragons. It looked, sounded and felt like D&D with as many references to 12th-14th century England as they creators could cram into a single disk. When confronted with their version of fantasy France that looked like something out of the 17th century I half expected the Musketeers to ride past chased by troops loyal to the Cardinal. This did not make Inquisition a bad game, but the clash was there none the less.
Audiences will break out of the genre shoebox if given a fair chance. It is all about the setup.
Tweet of the Day: Reconsider the Party?
There is one question that always comes to my mind when I’m reading sci-fi set on distant worlds and centuries in the future? Where on Earth is, well, Earth? Why? Because Earth, our beautiful blue/green jewel in the eternal night of space is our home and where all of us live today. It makes for a handy reference point for the setting. The answer comes in three broad categories:
- It is the Homeworld: Earth is the center of the universe, at least as far as humanity is concerned, and since most readers/writers are human, it will tend to be the center of the universe for everyone else.
- You maniacs, you blew it up! Or it goes missing. Humanity forgets that it exists or loses contact with Earth, so stop asking.
The third is Earth That Used to Be Better. The once proud (and only) home to humanity has seen better days. It is still very much there, just not that important, like the empty corner bed in a retirement home. A sad little reminder of where humanity came from but far from being a representation of where humanity in the current time of the story. It answers the question without putting to fine a point on it. It also explains the importance of where ever the story tends to take place, Maybe it is humanity’s new home, or the source of a particular MaGuffin, or what have you. The point is, it is not Earth, so stop asking.
Of course, returning the old homestead to its former glory might make for a handy plot point as well.
Tweet of the Day: Emotional Wound Thesaurus: Being Held Captive
Trilogy Creep is what happens when you have an unexpected runaway success. A good thing for working actors, publishers, studios and writers, but not so much for the story itself. The writers didn’t plan on creating longrunners, but they end up being creating them anyway, with all the attendant problems that come with them. Continuity goes to hell, internal consistency is thrown out the window, you know, the usual things that derail any story.
On the flip side, authors are notorious for writing more than they should and cramming all of it into one volume can turn a doorstopper into a door breaker. But without a firm plan to deal with the bulging story line, well disaster is sure to follow.
Tweet of the Day: Emotional Wound Entry
You heard about the Officer and a Gentleman, the type of military officer that if not exactly coming from the upper classes, has at least a degree of university education which tends to put him or her at least a cut above the rest. But not this doesn’t apply to the officer that got their commission after coming Up Through the Ranks. This trope is a good way of introducing a down to Earth character that serves as a reasonable authority figure. This is an officer that knows what the ranks (enlisted soldiers) go through, they know where they come from and how they view the military. They can also clue in their fellow junior officers on how to deal difficult situations since they have the experience that the newly minted officer does not.
It is also a way of keeping an existing character around. Making a senior NCO (Non-Commission Officer) a full fledged officer gives them a lease on life.
Tweet of the Day: When It’s Persona. When It’s Political
How do you make oppressive governments attractive to the people other than by the use of terror by the powers that be? You show them that their government is Repressive but Efficient. The streets are clean, the children well behaved, the trains arrive on time and your nation’s enemies cower before you. I mean it makes sense once you get rid of all the messiness of elections, the corruption of party politics and the loopholes in the legal system that what is left has to be the very model of efficiency.
WARNING: Rhetorical questions are rhetorical.
There are four reasons for this:
- If all you have is a hammer…Repressive regimes offer simplistic answers to difficult problems. Having a problem with violent crime or poverty? Scapegoat an entire ethnic, racial or religious group for your troubles. Mind you the process of suppressing, incarcerating, deporting or waging war on said group(s) or nation(s) is going to be expensive and often tends to backfire, but hey they are not hating on the Generalissimo. Which brings me to….
- The amount of resources dedicated to maintaining the regime tends to eclipse that allotted to other areas such as transportation or education. And even then, don’t expect the police, the army or in some cases the military police to be all that efficient. Fighting an insurgency (often prompted by the brutal oppression of a minority or subculture) is not the same thing as facing a professional army pressing on your borders. Nor can you equip or train ever larger forces to the best of your ability. The best rifle in the market may cost $100,000 per unit but when you have to equip over a million men, well, the $1,000 dollar version will have to do. Not to mention the propaganda machine to complement the rifles never comes cheap.
- Over-centralization is another reasons for inefficiency. A political leadership already known for its concentration of power will invariably create a bureaucracy that puts an emphasis on loyalty to the state rather than efficient service to the masses.
- And finally, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Even the lowliest police officer or bureaucrat will get drunk on power pretty quickly. And that is a sure fire way to piss away resources (and people).
Yet people (including many authors) tend to confuse short gap measures during times of emergency with long term solutions to complex problems. That is why this trope survives to this day in spite of all the evidence to the contrary.
Tweet of the Day: Fantasy as Protest
Trailers are meant to hook you in, but often they little or no correlation to the product sold because:
- The product is crap and if they show you that you won’t buy or watch
- The producers don’t want to spoil major plot points
- The trailer is made by another company that neither knows nor understand the product
Ergo it is a good idea to Never Trust a Trailer. The fact of the matter is that trailer maker walk a fine line between teasing a production and spoiling it. Show too little and nobody has a clue of what it is your selling them. Show too much and they feel like they already experience the thing. Even the editing is a factor. The pace, the music and the order in which scenes are shown can radically change the way people think of the product. It can lead people to believe that a psychological thriller is a fast action summer blockbuster or a horror movie is really a fluffy children’s flick.