Bird Box – The people or the monster?

Since our family is stuck inside right now we got a subscription to Netflix. That means Bjorn and I have been going through all the old movies that we’ve heard about, but didn’t have access to. Today we watched Bird Box.

The basic premise of Bird Box is a woman trying to survive a calamity that has effected the worlds population. Some sort of creature has arrived on earth and if you see it you will commit suicide in the most expedient way possible. Five years after the initial outbreak happened Malorie has lost everyone, is running out of food, and options. She has to get her two children to a safe haven miles away down a river without seeing anything.

But the movie isn’t about the creatures, or the world falling apart. It’s about Malorie and her personal journey to connect with other people amidst all this craziness. She had a terrible father, their mother left them, her boyfriend disappeared after she got pregnant, and her sister committed suicide the first day of the outbreak. She has kept everyone as far away as possible since then to protect herself. Even her children.

This is much like “A Quite Place” in that the story centers around the people, not the outside influences. I guess that is why I love movies like this. I tend to write stories with things in the background that may be dangerous or scary, but the true story focuses on the person. Footprints is about a man dealing with his fathers death, but there’s a monster in the woods. The Scarab Necklace is about a woman trying to find some confidence, and there’s a cursed necklace. Even my series, The Witch’s Trilogy, is about a girl trying to discover what and who she is, and there are acolytes trying to sacrifice her to a big sea monster.

In this sort of story telling there is definitely a monster, but it could often be exchanged for something else. In The Quiet Place and Bird Box it could have been a pandemic, or an alien, or a monster from the deep. The only thing that really mattered was the story of the family trying to find their way in a messed up world. The mechanism of the monster did make things a bit unique, one depending on sound the other on sight, but ultimately they were not the main feature.

The movie, itself, was well done. There wasn’t a lot of dialog, most of the story heavily relying on motion and action to tell the tale. What dialog there was made a point. Malorie’s inability to connect was shown right down to how she talked to her children, giving them short, easy to follow instructions, never showing them much love, and just making sure they survived. But as Tom says surviving isn’t living. You have to have something to hope for or what’s the point.

I think right now this story hit home with me. Like the people here we are cooped up in our homes, fearing an invisible creature outside. We are unable to be close to others, and things have gone a little crazy. But like Malorie we need a little hope, something to live for. There’s a point to all this madness, we just have to look for it.

Star Trek Picard – Four Episodes in and what is this?

I just watched episode four of Star Trek Picard and…If it wasn’t for the fact that my boyfriend and our room mate were watching this I probably wouldn’t watch another episode.

To be fair, I don’t think it’s awful, just not interesting enough to keep watching. There have been a number of scenes that make me uncomfortable (like the brother and sister that get way too physical) or annoyed (why is she calling him JP?), or just plain angry (ya, let’s reinvent the timeline again.) But while those scenes detracted from my enjoyment they were just a few scenes of the whole. The vast majority of it has been…. meh.

I’ve been watching Star Trek since I was little, right there with Captain Kirk flying off to various planets and defeating the problem of the week. There are so many of them that I love, from Spoke and the flowers that made him feel, to the disease that attacks anyone hitting puberty. Then there was The Next Generation, Voyager, Deep Space 9,  Enterprise, and every single movie (even the new ones). I’ve watched them all. I enjoyed them all. From the convoluted plots of the Cardassians, to the tribbles, and the invisible monsters only Data could see.

(I do admit I skipped Discovery, I didn’t want to pay extra to watch it on yet another streaming service. I’m only watching Picard because I’m not paying for it, or room mate is.)

So when I come to Picard I am there as a fan of the franchise. Sure, there have been episodes of the old series that I didn’t like, or I felt could be better, but on the whole I loved them and I kept coming back for more.

I think the biggest problem I have with Picard isn’t even the story, or the pieces in the plot that take me out of the world. It’s the way they are choosing to film it.

Every season before (minus Discovery, since I didn’t watch it and I don’t know) was in an episodic mode. That is: each episode was a self contained story. There was a beginning, a middle and an end revolving around a specific monster or problem. Sometimes the episode would be cut into two or three pieces, and often there was a larger story that connected all of the episodes together, but on the whole when you got to the end of an episode you felt like it had a satisfying conclusion.

Now Picard is here, and it does not have a structure to it. The first episode may be the only one that had a whole story, but even that felt incomplete and unfinished. It was the opening dragging you into the series, but it wasn’t satisfying. There was no conclusions, just questions.

Then the second episode happened, and there were even more questions, and only a few small answers. It gave them a direction to head in, but again it wasn’t a self contained episode, just a piece of the whole.

Episode three happened and I hated the new character introduced the first time she called the admiral “JP”. Who does that? Even in the flash back while he is still an admiral she is calling him JP instead of Admiral, or Jean-Luc. It felt entirely disrespectful. And again…. no satisfying conclusion, just more questions (like how did the scientist get the disrupter from the trained secret assassins? Is she a double agent, or is it just bad writing? And how did an old man and two older Romulans take out a group of highly trained assassins? But lets just wave the wand and forget about that.)

Episode four attempted to have a base plot. They went to a planet to get help from an assassin nun, and go on their way. But again it wasn’t very satisfying. It didn’t feel fleshed out, and every persons motive on that planet just feels…off. Picard is a shadow of the man he used to be, unable to command a room. Unable to use words to fight for him like he once did. Instead he stumbles over himself, and his past, and ignores the pain that he caused others. A man who used to be good at reading a room, and figuring out what to say, who respected the customs of other species, now walks right over theirs. It isn’t until someone else takes charge and kills the “bad guy” that Picard finally admits he screwed up…sort of. It was such a half assed apology.

Next episode looks like a casino planet episode. All I can think of is the casino planet from Last Jedi, and how absolute trash that section was. I hope it isn’t as bad. Mostly I hope there is a satisfying episode with a beginning, middle and end. I don’t have hope.

I expect all episodes to be pieces of a the whole instead of self contained episodes. That makes me wonder why they bothered to release it as a weekly episodic series instead of just releasing it all at once. If they did release it all at once then at least we could watch it all and evaluate it as a whole. Instead we are getting episodes that feel disjointed and separated, that don’t really feel satisfying. (The answer is money, they wanted subscribers, and that’s why they released it this way, but I digress.)

If I were the only one watching this I would just wait until the full thing was out and watch it then if I got really bored and couldn’t find anything else to watch. Because I live with two guys who want to watch it… I’ll watch it with them. Also of note is they didn’t grow up on Star Trek like I did. I know our room mate saw Discovery (and liked it) but he hasn’t watched all of the other series. My boyfriend has only watched part of TNG. Neither of them knew who Seven of Nine was, and most of the lore is going right over their head. I find it interesting that they are enjoying it more than I am, but not surprised really.

It doesn’t feel like Star Trek. It almost feels more like Roswell, actually. Teen drama that just happens to happen in a star ship. But….we’ll see how next week goes.

The Strong Female Character

I will admit I do love a good novel with a female lead that kicks some serious ass. I read the entire Hallow Series by Kim Harrison, Mercy Thomson series by Patricia Briggs, The Baine Chronicles by Jasmine Walt, The Little Flame by Melissa Lummis, and almost every single book by Anne McCaffery, who really preferred strong women as her leads. I even wrote my own series with strong female lead characters, Witch’s Trilogy because I love it so much.

The characters in all of these books have something in common. Things happen, sometimes horrible things, sometimes world destroying things, and sometimes more personal. The main characters don’t sit and wallow because they can’t do anything about it, they get up and they find a way to deal with it. But they have one other thing that is vital to their journey. They fail. They fail a lot. Then they get up and try again.

Failure is a big part of a good story. Within the hero’s journey it is actually a phase that english teachers teach you. Luke Skywalker looses all his friends. Frodo Baggins has to leave the Fellowship of the ring. Neo is ambushed in the matrix. They all fail, they have to get back on the horse and try again. This shows dedication, resolve, persistence…things every person could use. It also shows that even a hero, like a fire fighter, police officer, or teacher, can make a mistake sometimes. We can all fail, and we can all try and get back up and do it again.

In the Hallow Series the main character gets near death in many of her books. Mercy Thomson is kidnapped, abused, hurt, and lost. In the Baine Chronicles the main character is lost in time as well as space. Each of them have their own flaws to overcome. Each of them have weaknesses that can be exploited by others that they have to learn to overcome. And each of them aren’t afraid to ask for help from friends and loved ones.

This is just good storytelling. When you put a “strong female character” into a story that has no flaws, no weaknesses, no room to grow, then your story ends up feeling flat. The only time it does work is when there is no overall story, say like in John Wick where the whole point is mayhem, or Commando from early Schwarzenegger, or any other high action movie with little plot and all action. If you put a woman in the same sort of no plot high action movie I am sure people would enjoy that too. The trouble comes when you put a wooden character into a plot, give them nothing to add to the plot, and no personality to really endear you to them.

This wooden character with no flaws that always wins no matter what….It’s called the Mary Sue who masquerades as an infallible character. Highly prevalent in fan fiction, the Mary Sue has made it’s way to main stream writing, and even tv and movies. They are stoic, unchanging, they don’t need anyone, and they never really fail. Granted, some people really enjoy this type of strong female character since it keeps cropping up in main stream media. Many don’t. It’s all down to taste.

I would say it’s not conducive to good story telling. There isn’t a lot of difference between John Wick and Alice from Resident Evil. Both movies were well received, both movies centered on the main character fighting their way through a bunch of bodies. Not a lot of plot, mostly action. That’s all the needed.

But when it is bad for the story is where there is clearly a plot and the plot suffers because the main character does not change, has no flaw, and never fails. In fact John and Alice both have a moment where they fail. They loose their weapons, seem outnumbered, and have to fight back. They just don’t have an emotional story line to go with it for the most part, which is fine, it isn’t that kind of movie. On the other hand…. and here is where I don’t want to say the name because I don’t want people to get pissed at me, but I need an example….Rey, from Star Wars, is inside a rich universe, with lots of emotional things going on around her, but she remains very much the same from start to finish. She’s good at everything, she never really fails, and she has no flaws.

The difference between Resident Evil and Star Wars is everything going on outside the action. Resident Evil is mostly action from start to finish. Star Wars has political posturing, heart felt moments, love stories, and a whole lot of history behind it. Resident Evil has zombies.

Because Rey is set against this backdrop of a rich world with all this characterization, successes and failures, she ends up coming off as more wooden. She doesn’t really need anyone, not even Luke in the long run. In the original series Luke was a bad ass, but he needed his friends, and was stronger for them. Rey ditches everyone, goes and does her own thing, and is fine. When Luke went off on his own he regretted it and realized he needed his friends.

This Mary Sue story telling, especially in a world that already has a huge fan base, leads to a divide in the fan base. Some like it, some don’t, and the fans decide….I’m going to go watch something else.

For a better story telling experience add a flaw. Add a moment when the character looses everything, and has to fight their way back up from the brink of destruction. Have them evolve and change over time. Have them overcome an inner conflict of some kind. Give me, the reader, something to root for them about. I want to love your character! I want to go along with them on this journey, and care about them. I want to laugh at funny things they do, or cry when they are hurt, or cheer when they finally overcome their trouble. I want to FEEL. Do that and I’ll keep coming back for more.

Review:Cloverfield

I am going to admit that I love the Cloverfield series right here. I like how they blend different genres and styles. The first one had a found footage feel with a Godzilla origin. The second had a thriller/horror vibe with an alien invasion, and the third has a science fiction action adventure and lost in space feel. And yet all work together in the same universe. As a story creator myself, I LOVE THIS!

Now, I admit there are a lot of plot holes, and some big science aspects that really miss the mark, especially in the third one. Still, I enjoyed the actual story. I liked what they did with the main character. I like the mystery of what’s happening. And I think it fits in this…universe…?

For a non spoiler review: Don’t go into this expecting the best picture you ever saw. That’s not what this is. Don’t go into it expecting Godzilla monsters. That isn’t what this is. Don’t go into it expecting hard sci-fi with absolutely flawless science to back up what’s happening on screen. That is DEFINITELY not what this is.

What you should expect is a survival adventure on a space station slowly falling apart. And it does an okay job of being that, as well as expanding upon the universe of Cloverfield a bit. There are some good special effects, some interesting character moments, and as a survival space movie it is good.

If you’re trying to bridge the gap between Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane then you might get annoyed. Don’t watch it for that.

Now, for the spoilery stuff. You’ve been warned:

Continue reading

Values

I wrote a post on Quora today that iIthought would be fitting here. 

Question: How do I write a character to contradict their values. 

My answer: What is the value? What value do they hold higher than that? They will make a choice.

Example, they value life and think guns are bad. But they value their life and their child’s life more. So when a masked guy breaks into their home and somehow the main character gets a gun in their hand they have a choice…. Die and hold the value that guns are evil, or use it against the bad guy.

We make choices like this all the time. Sometimes it’s as simple as “don’t hurt bugs” until the creepy spider shows up in your bathtub. Sometimes it’s something bigger. There is always the question of what is more important to them.

Of Gods and Goddesses

I once wrote an article about the origins of fantasy, namely mythology. It was many years ago, under a different name, still existing in cyber space somewhere, and it makes me cringe a little if I think about it. Not because my ideas were wrong, but because I, as a writer, have increased my skills so much in the last ten years or so that the old article just looks bad.

It’s a good reminder of where I was, and were I am, and hopefully a prelude of where I am going.

I loved mythology as a child. I couldn’t get enough of Greek and Roman gods causing wars, cheating, turning people to stone, and wrecking the world around them, or saving it at a whim.

There was the bittersweet love story of Psych and Eros. A woman who’s curiosity, and distrust, deprived her of the wonderful love given to her by a god.

There was the Trojan horse, and a war fought all in the name of love (or ownership) of the beautiful Helen of Troy.

There were the heroes, like Hercules, and Perseus, who braved mythical beasts and crossed entire continents to fulfill their quests.

In each of these stories we see the first structures of modern day tales. Romance, quests, revenge, war, suffering. Each an intrinsic part of the human narrative. Each a part of what has made our history.

When I wrote Forgotten Ones I attempted to pull on subtle hints of these gods, to capture their struggle with each other, and with the humanity which myth said they created.

That battle, in many ways, is real. Created from primordial pools of DNA, evolving into thinking, feeling, creative individuals, we still struggle against the world, the universe, that created us, and against one another. Massive natural disasters. Fires. Floods. Wars. Famines. The list goes on…

Struggle is what makes a book interesting. Overcoming adversity, and beating the odds. Whether it is a god, a goddess, or a human being.

And why shouldn’t the ancient myths reflect a very real struggle between man and the environment? Ancient men labored closer to, and had greater fear of, the wild places then we do in this day. They did not have guns to protect them, or metal sky scrapers to take them up above the wilds. They didn’t have planes, and satellites to tell them when the waters would rise, or crops fail.

But it’s a new age. The weather seems to be changing drastically with every turn of the clock. Tsunamis, fires, sinkholes, and even meteors pose real threats to people. So now we’re creating our own mythology in movies like “Dante’s Peak” and “Armageddon”. And it makes sense. Our myths are based on science, instead of gods, even if the science is faulty.

I think one of the reasons the old myths are so interesting is the human quality of a god or goddess. Maybe they are more powerful, invincible, and immortal, but they still love, and hate, and fight. They still have emotions. Something an equation, or a volcano can not do. You can reason with a god, or trick them. A volcano will blow no matter what you do, or what you promise.

So, yes, fantasy and story telling started with those great myths from the past. They started with fears, hopes, and dreams of men who came long before us. But we are continuing on in their fashion, fighting against the shadows in the night with words, and hope in the form of new stories, and new myths.

The Story Writes Itself- NaNoWriMo Day 8

I’ve done a few interviews this month, and a common question is: “Are you a pantser or a plotter?”

It’s a good question. A lot of new writers struggle over this one, trying to figure out what works best for them. And in the end, that’s the real key; finding what works for you.

I am both. I write out some plots, and I know that the more detailed the plot the better writing the actual story is going to be. But while I am writing that plot out I am also writing some of the scenes, dialog especially, that will appear in the final version.

In fact a lot of my stories start with a conversation with two people concerning a person, place or thing.

But once you have your plot, and it’s marked out in detail, don’t be afraid to deviate from it. Let the story go where it wants to go. Sometimes it will just loop right back to the end. Sometimes you’ll find something was missing from the original plot. Every now and then you’ll discover an entire person missing from the plot.

This NaNoWriMo I started with a basic plot that outlined all the chapters. The first two chapters dealt with Marizza, a witch, and how she fell in love with a merman, and conceived Okira, the cursed mermaid. The novel was suppose to be about Okira, and her struggles.

As I wrote it I realized I was struggling because Marizza’s back story, and the world building, were just a little thin. So I set about exploring it one day thinking I would just add little bits to it later, but it would be just for my information.

The story didn’t want to go that way, Marizza was more important then I realized, and her story wanted to be told too. So “Mermaid’s Curse” is going to be in two parts, in one book.

At first I rebelled against this notion. It’s suppose to be a paranormal romance, and romances do not come in two parts, and they usually do not follow the lives of a mother, then a daughter. But I realized I had to let the story write itself. If I forced it to be something it wasn’t then it wouldn’t be as good a story.

The wonderful thing about being an indie author is I don’t have to conform to conventions. I don’t have an editor or publisher to answer to. I can just write the story and let it be what it wants to be.

So maybe the story is more epic fantasy then romance at times, and other times it’s more romance. The main plot of the first half is the romance developing between Marizza and a merman, and how the curse came about. The second half is about the romance between Okira and Brother Hawk, and how they defeat the kraken. In both cases there is a lot dealing with their love lives, so I’m still going with “paranormal romance” for now.

But if the story wants to be epic fantasy… well I guess that’s what it gets to be.