First Writing Job

This week has been an exciting week in the way of writing and this little blog. Not only are we in our most successful month ever, having broken our record for monthly views and our record for daily likes (twice in two weeks), I’ve also been bequeathed my first writing job ever. We’ve all heard the stories of this happening suddenly, and this was no exception.

After I wrote this article, I was contacted by someone who worked for another site saying they enjoyed it and asked would I consider providing some editorials for them dealing with writing, books, film and other forms of entertainment. We had a brief talk via email and I set up an account.

I ported over one of my pieces from here, and from what I understand the reception was pretty warm. Two more pieces have since been ported over and a 4th one is currently being outlined.

It’s not a paying job mind you, but it does provide some small visibility for our little corner of misfits hoping to make it big, and me just writing editorials to pass the time and self teach. Who knows? Maybe someone will notice an article on that site and that will lead to something more, and someone will see an article on that site, and so on and so on and so on.

As this little story so eloquently illustrates, you just never know.

Advertisements

A Story’s Purpose

In fiction, sometimes a creative premise isn’t enough. By sometimes I mean almost never. Any story should have a purpose to its existence other than showing an audience something that’s never been done before. Let’s face it. Anyone can do something like that.

Here. Watch. A intergalactic space traveler shaped like a giant strawberry frosted cupcake teams up with a dinosaur-kitten hybrid in order to fight a chain of video game critics exposed to a disease that turns them into flesh eating gerbils. There. Done.

But in that mad stew of, well, madness, where is the purpose? What is the story hidden beneath the insane plot?

In an earlier post, I commented on how plot is the sequence of events while a story is what those events mean. At its core, the original Star Wars trilogy is about a father and son in conflict over old vs. new ideals before the father embraces his son’s outlook on life and dies to protect it. John Carpenter’s The Thing is about how mistrust between colleagues sends humanity towards destruction when the man can’t band together to defeat a hostile alien organism. To Kill a Mockingbird is about that painful moment in childhood when we learn that evil is real and how that’s an important lesson in growing up. These aren’t just stories about lightsaber fights, shapeshifting monsters or lawyers protecting human rights. They have a lot more meat to chew on.

Don’t be fooled by genre, because sometimes it can cleverly. 1954’s Them still has a point apart from seeing giant radioactive ants chew people to death. Beneath the veil of a classic monster movie, Them is largely about the looming dangers of the atomic age (The ants were created by bomb tests) and how it has the potential to destroy us all. The story treats us to much more than just a bodycount and animatronics.

Sometimes the purpose of a story can be hard to spot, but even a simple message is still a message. Army of Darkness, the third in the Evil Dead series follows Ash Williams into medieval times to fight demons. He has nothing but apathy for the terrorized peasants and kings that fight the horrors he’s been facing for so long. Soon though, he changes his tune and teaches them how to fight back, ending the Deadite threat once and for all. Well, until Ash vs. Evil Dead came out. It’s a simple story of always looking out for others. It may not be much, but even something as simple as that is enough to keep a story standing.

A simple way to look at a story’s purpose is that’s what a story is trying to say. A premise and plot is just how the story says it. You can do a straight tale of international politics to talk about the dangers of nuclear proliferation, or you can have giant radioactive killer ants. There’s no shame in either one as long as you land the point well.

Of course your purpose should be delivered with tact and skill. Pokemon The First Movie clumsily tried to make itself about how fighting was bad. It did this with several massive scenes of just the characters talking about how much the act of fighting sucks. Not only is this ironic in a series based on a combat centered RPG, but just telling someone the purpose of a story doesn’t make it so. You have to weave it into the narrative.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind shall be our last example of solid delivery on a message. At it’s core, the film is about retaining the wonder of childhood all the way through your adult years. Roy Neary is a child, showing his kids how to do math by crashing toy trains and getting excited at the prospect of seeing Pinocchio on the big screen. Upon contact with an alien civilization, Neary finds a sense of belonging outside his mundane adult life and leaves this planet to find his place, flawed though his methods may be. Through the movie, talk of what it means to be a child and an adult is never uttered. Rather, Neary’s nature is shown and his character developed, giving the story a purpose.

The purpose need not be anything profound. It can be as simple or complicated as you so desire. Purpose though is an important part of a story, as it is the very foundation upon which the story and character’s are built. It’s something i think about a lot when writing. Interesting premises are seldom an issue with me. Still, there’s always that underlying question whenever an idea comes.

“What makes it all go?”

The story’s purpose is the answer.

Now I need to decode what that space cupcake fighting evil gerbils is really about. That’s hitting the presses.

Sequel Titles

When you have a successful film or book and a story with more to be told, sequels are almost a given. Once considered a great risk in storytelling on both page and screen, the idea of sequels has become a more widely accepted and practiced part of creative fiction. These days, books and films are often written with sequels in mind in the hopes the universe and characters can be expanded on be it for creative ventures or seeking more dollars. When it comes to sequels, one of the most difficult things to consider is the title.

Since I’m writing a series of books at the moment, this has been the cause of some trouble with me. Just what route do I take with these books when there are so many ways to name your sequels? All methods have their advantages and disadvantages, all equally alluring and off putting.

The most simple method is the numerical method. You just name the sequels 2, 3, 4 and so forth. This is a tried and true method of connecting a series together, and has been used in series like Rocky, Jaws, Friday the 13th, and more. Not only are you immediately aware what you’re looking at is a sequel, you also know where it goes in the series, so you don’t find yourself getting lost when jumping from one installment to another.

The numbers method works well, but it does have one drawback. With titles like 2, 3 and so on, you get the feeling that you’re watching a tower getting built higher and higher, and eventually the numbers become a punchline. Imagine of the James Bond films did this. The latest movie would have the title James Bond Part 24. Doesn’t exactly sound appealing. Even the Friday the 13th series got rid of the numerical method after the series started sounding silly with Friday the 13th Part 8.

But the numbers method isn’t the only one available for storytellers to use.

The second is non numerical connective method. This was the case with the Indiana Jones Series. The first film was titled Raiders of the Lost Ark, but all subsequent entries used the Indiana Jones character as the heading, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and lets forget the fourth one because it doesn’t exist.

What’s great about this method of sequel titling is it has a connective tissue that doesn’t seem quite as tedious as the numbers method. Raiders 2: Temple of Doom doesn’t sound as good as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, but the latter title still immediately makes you aware of the series it belongs to. This method was also used with the Harry Potter series to great effect. The only drawback is for series newcomers, it may be difficult to figure out which entry in the series comes first. For those familiar with it, everything it fine. For newcomers, you may have some homework to do.

The third and final method of sequel titling is the most risky of all, but also offers the most creativity. It is the non connective method. This is where you have no connective tissue in the titles whatsoever. This has been done in many series like James Bond, Jack Ryan, and Dirty Harry. This is in large part due to the stories being, for the most part, self contained. You don’t have to have read Hunt For Red October to understand the story on Patriot Games, and you can’t very well call it Hunt For Red October 2 because the titular submarine has no bearing on the sequel’s story. Though Patriot Games is a sequel to Hunt For Red October, to call it Hunt For Red October 2 would be false advertising.

The biggest advantage of this type of sequel titling is it advertises the stories as self contained narratives. You can pick up the 8th James Bond book and be no more lost than if you pick up the 1st. The disadvantage however is pretty obvious. Its status as a sequel isn’t advertised. When I first saw Sudden Impact, I had no idea that it was part of the Dirty Harry series. If you want to tell a story spanning multiple films or books, this may not be the best way to get people coming in.

This however can be turned into an advantage. In the case of Mad Max, the original film didn’t do very well in the United States. When Mad Max 2 was slated for release, the distributor retitled the film The Road Warrior in order to make it stand on its own. The tactic worked, and Mad Max 2 did very well on the United States market. In this case, differentiating itself from its predecessor saved the film, but this is just one example.

The market is increasingly filled with properties shooting to be the next big franchise, and many of us creators want to ride the crest on that wave. The title is an important part of any narrative, much more than most give it credit for. You see, a title is the most important part of advertising there is. If the title doesn’t grab a reader or a viewer, they may not check it out no matter how good the synopsis or the trailer looks. Even if it’s attached to an already successful property as a sequel, that fact still remains. We all need to ask how we want to sell what we create.

Remember, nobody wants to see something named James Bond 24.

Tonal Shifts in Stories

A tonal shift is one of the most dangerous, but also most essential things to do in any narrative. A tonal shift is just that, a shift in a story’s overall feeling from where it started. Like any narrative tool, it’s important to know when to use it, and how to do it right.Today we’re going to take a look at some examples, good and bad, of how a tonal shift can be done.

The Harry Potter series is a prime example of a tonal shift done right, primarily because the shift is done slowly. The first book is, for the most part, a pretty light hearted Nancy Drew style mystery with an extra emphasis on world building, with the darker moments taken in moderation. The series slowly changes its face however, dealing with giant child murdering snakes, soul sucking demons, and torture by magic.

By the end of the series, Harry Potter has become downright apocalyptic, with characters being killed left and right, some of the most beloved icons laid to rest, and downright Lovecraftian imagery bound up in Rowling’s words. The key here is it’s done slow. So slow that the reader has very little idea it’s happening. Rowling in her genius introduces us to the whimsy of her world first, before slowly peeling it back to reveal it’s not such a friendly place. A gradual change from one tone to another is a tried and true method of holding your audience. Doing an abrupt change however is far more risky.

One of the primary complaints I hear about Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is its tonal shift, which is both sudden and devastating. The film starts much like Raiders, with an exciting action sequence, a lot of humor, and great character interaction. Once the hero reaches India, something sinister is shown to be afoot. The closing of the second act treats the audience to scenes of child torture, the hero being forced to drink blood, and a prolonged and intense scene of the leading lady threatened with death by hot lava.

It is an unpleasant ordeal, but the film does reward those who stick around with an exciting twenty minute series of action scenes. Temple of Doom does shift its tone, but also returns to where it started and keeps its promise to deliver what the title entails. Since the movie goes back to what it was while still settling the story, this tonal shift is one that many more forgive than condemn, and is another example of the tactic done successfully. Still, there are times when a tonal shift is uncalled for.

The Last House on the Left is the first film of director Wes Craven. It’s a grueling tale of two girls who are raped and murdered, their deaths later avenged by grieving parents. This is a story that should have stayed dark and intense, but Craven, in a very ill advised move, actually put comic relief in the movie.

It comes from a pair of bumbling cops who race to the scene of the crime in an effort to stop it. Instead of being a tool to build suspense, the officers are portrayed as buffoons, hitching rides on chicken trucks and getting flipped off by hippies. In a film that deals with the brutal deaths of two innocent teens, this shift in tone was not wanted, and was nothing but detrimental for the film’s more sobering moments.

The most risky type of tonal shift is one that is not only sudden, but prolonged. You do this, you have one flowing narrative going through two different genres. It can be very confusing for an audience, no matter how well intentioned it is.

Last Action Hero is a pretty underrated film, but its shift in tone can alienate many viewers. It’s about a young boy who magically enters a Schwarzenegger film, and takes his favorite character out of the movie to fight a villain in the real world. The first half mercilessly lampoons the career of its star and the action stereotypes he perpetuated. It features explosions, a high bodycount, and even an animated cat detective.

The latter half of Last Action Hero is much darker affair that leaves the hero severely depressed upon realizing he is but a fictional character who must face the risk of losing. It deals with the unrealistic expectations put forward by action films, and how they don’t apply in the very real battle of good against evil. Though audiences are split, this film took a big risk with that shift, and for that it deserves admiration.

Tonal shifts are an essential part of storytelling as they keep the audience on their toes, but they are a source of bitter divide amongst fans of literature and film. This is in part due to subverting expectations, the audience expecting one thing and getting another. But tonal shifts are important because no great story remains the same from beginning to end. All stories change along with their characters, so for there not to be a tonal shift is a betrayal of the very purpose of storytelling. I suppose the best way to do a tonal shift is to not just give the audience what they expect, but also something more. The key is making sure that extra is a pleasant surprise.

Extreme Fandom Hurts Art

Various types of art, usually books, films and video games, are heavily influential in the lives of those they touch. They can inspire hope and change, offer new outlooks on the journey of life, and offer comfort or contemplation whenever called upon. That being said, nobody likes an extreme fan, save those in the same clan. Having a conversation with an overly devoted fan is an exercise in monotony, for a very ironic reason. Taking a fandom too far doesn’t elevate the object of their love, but sows the seeds of its destruction.

One of the earliest examples I can think of is the Star Wars vs. Star Trek Argument, one of the longest running, most hotly debated topic in Geekdom. As a modest fan of both franchises, it’s difficult for me to understand just why as the two couldn’t be more different.

Star Trek is an optimistic view of humanity’s future, discussing issues of race, economic inequality, technological responsibility, even the very definition of what life is. Star Wars is about a conflict between tradition and taking risks, focusing less on more personal stories of family, spirituality, and finding one’s purpose.

Apart from both having two word titles starting with Star, taking place in space, boasting a wide variety of cultures and creatures, and having ships that possess warp capabilities, there is not enough to justify a comparison between the two. So why is there this conflict? The only reason I can think of is both have had a large impact on culture, and each side insists they take the throne. This has had the unfortunate effect of turning many on the opposite spectrum off to the other.

In the most extreme cases of Trekkies and Warsies, many refuse to give the other property a chance on the simple basis of its title. This is done for no other reason than to spite the opposite fanbase. Not only is this childish, but its in effect robbing themselves of an opportunity to expand their own horizons. Extreme fandom in this and many other cases, has driven away some of its audience, killing whatever discussion and fellowship may have been.

This is just one way extreme fandom can hurt art. The worst comes when it actively influences it.

 

Predator is one of my favorite movies, because it’s a lot smarter than many give it credit for. Predator showcases 7 hyper macho movie stars, and destroys the 80s action hero myth by showing just how vulnerable they would be against a physically stronger and intellectually superior enemy. His weapons and physical prowess useless, the hero must rely on his wits and cunning to defeat the monster, only destroying the creature when he’s at his most vulnerable. Predator shows just how little the genre tropes really mattered, and using arguably the most recognizable action star of all time to do that was a stroke of creative genius.

This was unfortunately misunderstood by many fans, a few of whom took the Predator and destroyed it.

The Alien vs. Predator crossover franchise was for a time a pillar of science fiction, in part because it treated both its title characters with love. A screen adaptation of the property was one of the most anticipated films of its day. When it finally came, it they made the crossover series into a punchline. Amongst its crimes was the treatment of the Predator, heavily favorited by the filmmakers. Favored far too much.

In both cases, the Predator seldom faces a genuine threat, even from the Aliens it plays opposite. This is a massive contradiction as the Predator’s culture is shown to be one of challenges, and anything that doesn’t run a risk of death is not worth pursuing. It’s this risk that compels them to hunt humans and Aliens both, and it is their respect and understanding of their enemy that grants them victory. Underestimating its enemy, as in the case of Predator, is what eventually gets it killed.

But that’s not the creature we see in the AvP films. The Predator shows little caution or tact, shows no respect for its enemies, runs into situations with minimal forethought or planning, but still comes out of every tumble with only the most trivial of wounds. Sound familiar? The Predator has been changed into one of the very invincible, hyper macho action heroes it was made to critique in the first place. It is as much a contradiction as To Kill a Mockingbird endorsing racism.

In the case of Predator, it was the fault of fans who got behind the camera. Fans who were too enamored with how cool their favorite monster was to understand what made the original film, and even its underrated sequel, so special. This lack of understanding took what could have been two great movies and turned them both into nothing more than shameless fan service, and it has honestly affected my enjoyment of it. When I was younger, I couldn’t decide which species I wanted to win in a fight due to my unending affection for both. Now, I always find myself rooting for the Alien, if only to see the Predator broken down back to what it was always meant to be.

If you get too close to something, you’ll drive it mad and strip away the very things that captured your imagination in the first place. You can drive other people away from it so it can’t be shared or worse still, bury it. My advice to all of you fans out there is don’t get too close. As Predator shows, the damage can be most severe.

Mythos Tweaking: Do’s and Don’t’s

Tweaking an established mythos is something of an inevitability when it comes to writing fiction, in particular works of fantasy and horror. As time wears on, so do sentiments and prejudices change, often manifesting themselves in fiction. But there are a few things we should be cautious of lest we go so far off the beaten path that the thing we write about is barely recognizable.

Vampires are one of literature’s most endearing legends, and they’ve gone through many iterations. A favorite of mine is the 1987 film Near Dark, about a clan of bloodsuckers in the modern day west. The word ‘vampire’ is interestingly never uttered once in the film, they don’t sprout fangs, change into bats, or carry themselves in the typical victorian era style. They simply drink blood, die by sunlight, and don’t age. The creators of Near Dark took an interesting approach and stripped away at the mythos, filling in their own ideas and making something uniquely there’s.

This approach has worked many times. In An American Werewolf In London, the vulnerability to silver bullets is discarded and even joked about by the characters. In Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the villains don’t arrive by spaceships, instead drifting across the universe on their own. Sometimes less is more, and shaving away at a mythos can help you make it yours required you still keep its core elements.

In case you haven’t figured out by now, I’m not the biggest fan of the Twilight series, and it’s not because of friendly vampires and werewolves. As we become a more global civilization, we see that reflected in art where things we once feared, like vampires and werewolves, are seen as unique characters to be embraced rather than rebuked. If anything, this is one of the series’ more favorable traits.

Among my many issues with Twilight is its lack of focus when it came to portraying vampirism. By the final entry, the vampires are shown to have ‘special gifts’ ranging from telling the future, creating force fields, even controlling elements such as water and earth, things the series never elaborates in in enough detail to make it credible, in my view at least. It seems like Meyer caught an episode of Avatar The Last Airbender midway through the series and just decided to put it in.

By this point, the characters are barely recognizable as vampires, their most noteworthy attributes long since forgotten. Whereas Near Dark stripped the mythos down, Twilight built it too high until it collapsed under its own weight. In my view, Meyer went too far off the beaten path. Though her success should be celebrated, Meyer’s writing is not high on my favorites list.

Dragonheart-1997-poster

Sometimes changing a mythos can be as simple as changing a personality. The story that turned me onto the fantasy genre was DragonHeart, the tale of a dragonslayer partnering up with the very creature he’s hunting in hopes of overthrowing an evil king. I was fascinated at how dragons were portrayed in the film, not as greedy beasts collecting gold and feasting on young women, but as wise misunderstood recluses seeking their place in the world like so many of us do. They still fly, they still breath fire, and still fight knights with tooth and claw. Beneath it all however, they’re shown to be not unlike us.

Changing personality can do a lot. You can have stories of frightened werewolves on the run from poachers, evil oppressive elves and discriminated against orcs, alien explorers hiding on an unfriendly alien planet called Earth, but everything else abut them can remain the same. This type of mythos tweaking begins with recognition, and then allows you to know your myth on a more personal level.

Oh Johnny Depp, what happened to you since Nightmare on Elm Street? Adapting an existing source material from page to screen inevitably causes certain parts of its plot to be altered, but generally as long as the world remains consistent, IE in the Harry Potter films, the audience will accept the changes. If you change the mythos too much, you will leave your audience lost, much like the 2010 adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. Its box office success notwithstanding, this film gets almost everything wrong. Alice isn’t a little girl but a grown woman, this is not her first time in Wonderland, and the world isn’t even called Wonderland, but Underland.

In the case of this film, the mythos has been changed so much that the source material is all but lost. Though Kubrick’s The Shining deviated heavily from the book, the Overlook Hotel was still called the Overlook Hotel. Draco from DragonHeart may be a wise arbiter instead of a fire breathing villain, but he’s still a dragon. The world in Alice in Wonderland is not Wonderland, by spirit or name. In spite of Alice in Wonderland’s box office intake, it is not a very well loved film, partially due to it deviating too far from the mythos its title promises.

Tweaking a mythos to make it your own is a thin tight rope to walk. The thing about an established mythos is they belong to all of us, so if you take it all away, there’s always going to be a sense of loss. The key is figuring out just how much to change for yourself, and how much you need to keep sharing. There’s never an answer that will satisfy everyone, but satisfying as many people as possible, the artist included, is the goal of us all.

Someone Told Me to Give Up

Trying to get work in a creative field may well be the hardest career choice there is. Not the most traumatic by any stretch of the imagination. That title would go to soldiers and doctors. Not the most important, which would be scientists and politicians. But creative work, books, movies, video games, it may be the hardest career ever to pursue.

It’s something you need a lot of encouragement to get through, encouragement you don’t always get.

This has been an interesting week for me, thankfully in an interesting way as opposed to a cruddy way. My hunt for the next story related position has yielded a few promising leads, plenty of dead ends, and a sea of frustrations.

I decided to take the advice of a friend of mine who works at one of the major film studios, Paramount to be exact. He told me how he got his job, that he hit up connections who worked there on a job networking site and eventually that lead to a position. Since I was part of the same site, I did the same.

It was a day of sore thumbs. I must have sent out some 500 messages over the course of a few hours, all from major film studios. As of now, 30 have responded, and I’ve had one phone call. But that’s not the one we’re here to talk about. One messenger lamented on how things had been difficult for them, and left me with these parting words.

“I’m working very long hours and don’t have time to chat and my advice is go to law school. I’m sure that’s not what you want to hear but those are my thoughts.”

 

Ouch.

This was going to happen sooner or later. It does to every aspiring artist. It either comes from someone who has made it and doesn’t think anyone else has a shot, or from someone who tried and never got their break.

As you all know, I’ve been suffering from a pretty nasty depression, and have been trying to keep it from getting as intense as before. Because of that, I dreaded this message. I honestly thought when it came, it would leave me in tears.

None were shed.

“Did they really just say that?” was more the reaction I got. It was more of a quiet shock than devastating blow.

Funny thing, getting this message was a lot like getting a shot. We all remember those times as kids when we get vaccinated or have our blood drawn. We always worry abut getting the shot because of how much it will hurt, but then it comes and its absolutely nothing. Just a little pin prick. This was like that.

Just a pin prick.

Honestly, it was even a little funny in retrospect. Me going to law school isn’t a very good idea. I’d probably be as good at that as Groucho Marx was running Freedonia.

Keys to a Successful Action Finale

The climax of any story is one of the most difficult elements to conceive, let alone execute successfully. It takes up the bulk of the third act, contains emotional highs and lows akin to a Cedar Point trip, and through it all needs to hold the audience’s interest. If you fail in this goal as a writer, you lose your audience at the point where it’s all supposed to come together.

For the purposes of this article, we’re going to focus on more action oriented finales. The conclusions of stories like tragedies, romances or any number of comedies typically have free reign to do whatever, but action requires a little something else. As the conclusion of a comedy should be funny, action or adventure stories should be, well, exciting.

There are many examples of climaxes that fail. I for one am not a terribly big fan of the Bay TransFormers films in part due to their climaxes.

The endings of any TransFormers movie suffer from common issues. There’s a lack of variety in their set pieces, and the stakes aren’t high enough. Yes, the heroes, metal and cardboard as they are, are trying to prevent the destruction of the world. This is the plot device sometimes referred to as the Countdown.

We’ve all seen or read those parts of two characters fighting while a clock ticks lower in the background. The characters need to prevent something from happening, but are inhibited from doing so in order to create suspense. We watch the fight go on while being constantly reminded that this bad thing that shouldn’t happen is edging ever closer. This works when we believe when that clock runs out, our worst fears may be realized. That’s why it doesn’t work in TransFormers.

In a series like TransFormers, does anyone really think the creators are going to let Megatron push the button and kill everyone? Of course not. That would pretty much drive away its audience of young boys looking for jaws getting smashed. In stories, the world is not enough. So what you have to do is hold another threat over them, the threat of losing something or someone that may actually be sacrificed.

To continue my endless love for the Alien series, Aliens has one of the most successful final acts of any story ever. It knows how to threaten its audience. The character of Newt is taken by the creatures to be implanted with one of their ilk. In an R rated horror film dealing with interspecies rape, we have no guarantee that won’t happen. It’s already been established that the monsters kill indiscriminately, so the audience is unsure if Newt will be saved, or if this will very quickly become about avenging her death.

Long story short, when you make a threat, make sure your audience believes you may go through with it. Since they don’t know what will happen, that will keep them coming back.

While we’re on that topic, lets discuss variety.

If you don’t love Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, you’re wrong. You’re just wrong. Hate to break it to ya, but this movie rules. It knows how to keep the audience invested in what amounts to 20 minutes of none stop action in its hair raising third act. It does this by giving its climactic escape so much variety, it almost has three acts in and of itself.

It begins with the rescue of Willie from the lava pit, then goes into a conveyer belt fist fight, then moves on to the movie’s trademark mine cart chase, and finishes up in a great action scene on a rope bridge. It goes on and on, but no sequence outstays its welcome. Your battles can be as spectacular as anything that has ever been put on screen, but without variety, it won’t take very long to get dry.

Another key to delivering a successful conclusion to stories like this is the structure that goes into it. This is what the entire thing has been built up to, so it better deliver. What I’ve seen in some of my favorite climaxes is, as mentioned above, they’re divided into an entire three act stories themselves. It contains all the emotional highs and lows of any given narrative, though a little more condensed.

Three Act Structure Graph

As this structure works for an entire story, it can also be applied to your final act, with all the built in peaks and valleys to keep your audience strangling the armrests on their chairs. You have your set up, build the action, things go well at first, then go wrong, a low point comes up, and when it looks like your audience won’t take a breath until you finish things, you grant them relief or despair. Think of it as a short story or film that goes into the whole. It should have a solid enough framework to stand on its own.

In my opinion, those are the big three elements that go into a successful action climax. Your threat should seem credible, the action should have variety, and the entire movement should be well structured. Because without a credible threat, there is no suspense, without variety, it gets dull, and with no structure, all you’re left with is a loud noisy mess. It may seem simple just to keep someone excited, but action and adventure are as difficult as any genre. It’s one thing to get an audience excited. It’s a whole other story to keep them there.

Balance of Naiveté and Cynicism in Fiction

Winston Smith sits in room 101, a cage wrapped around his head that will soon release his greatest fear, rats, to feast on his flesh. Determined to escape, he only has one way out, the ultimate betrayal. He must betray his love Julia to the oppressive party that currently tortures him, and he does.

“Do it to Julia! Not me!” he begs, desperate to spare himself the pain, no matter what happens the woman he loves.

This chilling scene was played out in the pages of George Orwell’s classic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, a dystopian classic which told about the country of Oceania’s oppressive government and its quest to destroy free will. It’s a masterpiece, and surely one of the greatest books ever written. I did however have a small problem with it.

Before we continue, let me say that the ending of Orwell’s classic novel was appropriate given its subject matter. It would have been inappropriate and a cop-out had it ended happily with Winston and Julia going off into the sunset and Big Brother’s reign being torn down. Also, Orwell is a much better writer than me, so I may be eating my own stinky feet with this article.

Nineteen Eighty-Four does encapsulate one of fiction’s two extreme views on the balance of good and evil.

One such view is of course the peaches and cream everything is good, all have pure hearts underneath and everything works out in the end dreck that is so sweat that it gives you a sugar induced headache. Then you have the other end of that spectrum that preaches of humanity being but a creature of darkness and evil with all good and love being a mere delusion to keep ourselves from going mad.

It is my opinion that both are wrong, and most readers know that. That is why most works of fiction do not fall on these two extremes, but rather in the abundance of space between them.

Nineteen Eighty-Four is a book that only sees the bad, and whatever good is within it is quickly snuffed out by the overwhelming evil bearing down on the heroes, but that’s not the way the world is. The world isn’t that way any more than it’s like My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

The key to good, honest fiction is finding the balance between the two. In the case of Winston Smith, I do believe the book was honest with him betraying his lover. However, not everyone would. There are far too many people in the world, it would be impossible not to eventually find someone who would be able to face their own worst fear and sacrifice themselves to save another. Winston just wasn’t one of those guys.

But, not everyone has kindness or mercy. Would it really be honest to portray a monster like Ted Bundy turning over a new leaf after someone explains to him how he’s so hurt his victims? If anything, a person like Bundy would use that expectation to lull someone into a false sense of security. Maybe someone would, as some people who have done monstrous things have indeed found themselves filled with regret. Ted Bundy just wasn’t one of those guys.

Showing all the bad and showing all the good are equally flawed.

Though both approaches may be honest for certain individuals, they are not honest when it comes to everyone. That’s one of the reasons I always preferred stories with larger casts. You get a much wider spectrum of archetypes that can react to any given situation any number of ways. With that, you get a better idea of how everyone will react to something, not just one person. When you do that, you do get the whole story.

Character studies, like that of Winston Smith, are intimate and important, because that story is about the destruction of one man. Nineteen Eighty-Four is a perfect book, even if its philosophy is a little off for me. Most people would crack under that kind of torture. Just not everybody.

 

A Night in the 80s

I’m a child of the 80s. Though I was born at the tail end of the decade, 80s culture has been a big part of my childhood. I didn’t bother much with the current fads and trends, instead relishing in the sumptuous mana of yesteryear. This began when I was especially young, spending more time watching old movies on VHS tapes than going to the theater to catch the latest Disney.

Forget that. I was watching Indiana Jones.

My love of 80s was solidified at the age of 12 when I begged the matriarch to let me delve into the Alien and Predator films, and I saw my first R Rated film. Aliens quickly shoved Star Wars aside to become my favorite science fiction series ever, and it retains that title to this day.

So when the opportunity came to see the film on the big screen, I coughed up the money and frolicked to the theater.

The event was for the Burbank International Film Festival for their film history series, which included Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Top Gun, and Aliens.

I arrived three hours early, and found to my joy that the ticket included all events in the festival, not just the main screening of Aliens. So I kicked back and caught Top Gun, relishing in the love triangle between Tom Cruise, his plane and his off centered two front teeth.

Then came the main movie. Seeing it 30 feet high in front of me was something of a dream come true. They say watching a movie in the big screen is the only real way to do it, and I would say that’s a pretty accurate statement. The big screen completely envelopes you in the movie’s world, and it becomes everything.

After the screening was done came a special treat, a visit by none other than Michael Biehn and Jenette Goldstein, who portrayed Hicks and Vasquez in the movie. They joined their fans for a brief Q&A that was filled with much laughter, jokes and nostalgia.

This was my second time seeing these two in person, the first being four years ago at a Horror Hound Convention where they autographed my poster for the movie. Pity we didn’t get to talk in person again, but perhaps that will be something for the future.

After a brief visit to the afterparty, I headed to work and prepared for my early morning shift at 6 am. I expected to feel groggy and grouchy both, but in spite of the very few and frequently interrupted hours of sleep I got that night, the morning came with a warm sun’s glow and a returned smile from me. The night before was just too much damn fun to sully it with a bad morning.

And that’s the story of my trip back to the 80s. It was a night of acid drenched goodness that featured a live performance by two of my favorite actors. It was a night where the work ended and I could just live a little. Should probably start doing that a little more.