The Devil is in the Details (and other problems)

By Friday, September 7, 2018 0 Permalink 0

Getting back to story writing is uncovering far more rust than I would like, but it is in a good cause.

One thing that years of game running and critique has instilled in me is an unfortunate habit of excess world building. I *like* the details, relish them even. I also like how the understanding of those details filters up into the creation of character motivation and conflict. People do specific things because their specific lives make those choices available, and more importantly make those choices relevant.

That said, it is far too easy for me to get lost in the background details and not get to the actual goddamn story. “Researching isn’t writing,” as my wise sister says.

I am glad my mom and I have done the research, gotten the social classes right, looked at how people dressed and named themselves in 15th century Florence. But that doesn’t move the story along. I have the set up and I have the culprit, but in noir especially, the journey through the mystery is more important than the mystery itself and I need to start shuffling through the labyrinth.

Wonderful chap. All of them.

By Saturday, March 26, 2016 0 No tags Permalink 0

We live in the days of Franchise. The pop culture machine has (for a while now) gone whole hog on reboots, sequels, shared universes, and other elements that involve a mix of safe nostalgia and a built in fan-base.  I’m less angered by this than most, there is something to be said for the concept that revisting, appropriating, juxtaposing, adapting, and transforming material is how culture always evolves anyway.

But when you are faced with the specific challenge of taking a known work, with an invested fan base, and moving it forward, it does pose specific challenges and opportunities. This has been the dilemma facing comic book writers in particular for generations now, but also crops up in other media.

I’m a firm believer that we never have the “Perfect” version of a character.  We have better and worse ones, more and less interesting ones, but they all circle around some essential constellation of elements that no one version can ever fully contain.  In a way, this is the process of myth making, and one of the reasons I roll my eyes at people who say “the real myths” are any one interpretation.*

So it has been a particularly interesting few weeks as I happen to have stumbled across some creative types talking about exactly how they handle it.

This mutual interview on grappling with rebooting and continuing Xena: Warrior Princess  is a great read, as Genevieve Valentine and Javier Grillo-Marxuach discuss how they are approaching the challenge of bringing forth a comic book sequel and a new live-action reboot, respectively.   Hearing them bash around ideas of what parts are iconic, what aren’t, what each media type gives you as pros and cons, is  fascinating. Each re-invention, retelling of any story involves struggling with what is essential to that character. Over time, some things coalesce to become sacrosanct, others become important but open to riffing on a basic idea, and some things fall away.

Grillo-Marxuach puts his cards on the table on how he wants to remix the canon given the new more focused dramatic format, but he too has elements that are core to how he views the character, “There are a few things that are sacrosanct: the Chakram and the quarterstaff, of course, Gabrielle’s ambition to become a bard, and—most importantly—that Xena and Gabrielle be soul mates. Like I said, I’m not monster.”

The recent fiery reaction to Batman vs Superman has provoked unfriending and banishment on the social media of some people I know, because to believe these are legitimate interpretations of Batman or Superman is tantamount to treason. This is ridiculous, as Andrew Collas points out in his contrarianly positive review of BvS, pointing out a woman who liked the film’s Luthor, even if it wasn’t “her” Luthor (although she went so far as to deny him being really Luthor at all). And there may be some versions so out of sync that they disqualify themselves as options, although I think that incredibly rare. People who have adapted Wonder Woman have tried hard to refute that statement, though. (I like to think I did better when I took a shot at it a while ago, although if I’ve learned anything since then it is that I probably need to be reading Legend of Wonder Woman.)

I grew up on Doctor Who, which is a show that chose to embrace a mercurial truth about its core character. As the title quote shows, they are all the Doctor, and all unique even unto themselves. I was shown Rashomon when I was young. The stories will contradict, and that’s ok. They fold back on themselves and build on themselves, and your job as a creator is to take the strands you want to look at at weave them anew. This is fine. This is good. This is as it should be. What comes out of it will never be the Definitive Version. And if someone else did it, it won’t be Your Version.  It may not even be a Favourite Version.

But you’re allowed to like that version anyway, if you want.

 

*I’ve always found it amusing that Hesiod’s Theogony is often cited as the “real relationships of the Gods” when he admits up front poets lie, he is claiming authority, and some might disagree.

 

 

Wither Wonder Woman?

As part 2 of my sister’s Wonder Woman story comes out, and in light of the earlier post, what would *I* do with Wonder Woman if I had free reign

The Powers: Like many of the oldest DC characters, Wonder Woman’s powers have varied wildly over time. I’d actually want to move away from the “magic from the gods” origin, and return a bit to Marston’s early conception that her powers are part of Amazonian training. Basically, the mental and physical training of the Amazonians lets them channel mental energy and perform miraculous feats. I’d make her the best at this, and probably at top focus and form let her still be able to keep up with the powerhouses, but I would probably overall shave the power level down a bit.

  • Super strength and toughness would still be there.
  • I’d bring back the limited telepathy and empathic connection to the world.
  • Multi-lingual, to the point of learning at an unearthly rate.
  • I’m torn on flight, I’d probably get rid of it.
  • The lasso would still be able to elicit truth, but would also enable control. I’m good with it being magic.
  • The bracelets would be the ultimate defense.

Paradise Island. I’d draw from the idea of the Amazons originally being Scythian-Smartian or otherwise Indo-European north of Greece.  They would be a mix of groups who lived this alternative, Amazonian lifestyle. I’d keep the basics of the story where they seclude themselves off from. the world by way of magic of the gods. I’d go with a classical approach to their gods, using a hodge-podge mix of Indo-European forms, where they accept anyone’s gods, honoring some as most important to their civic life, but basically accepting them all as having a place, and combining some who they feel are different aspects of the same core truth.Effectively this lets me put together a unique pantheon, vaguely recreating a proto-Indo-European mythology but drawing on the later traditions, and even going beyond just that root stock.

A key part of the Paradise Island mythos is that it is magically cut off the world, and was a haven only accessible to the oppressed. That means it isn’t exactly limited to women born of women. Also, now, thousands of years later, it isn’t going to be just the original ethnic stock. People will have been finding their way to Paradise Island over the years, only ever a few at a time. Some people just fall out of the world. They bring news of the World of Men, they bring new gods and new ways. Some stay. Some go back. (Yes, this makes Paradise Island a bit like Shangri-La.)

Unless I set the stories back in WWII, I can’t use the Steve Trevor story as written, but “someone washes up with a story that makes the Amazons decide they need to send a champion and ambassador” is still the way I would send Wonder Woman to the world.

Feminism.  Which feminism? I’d shy away from a specific modern political form of feminism, as I actually think her role as outsider critiquing the world is more important than pushing a specific agenda. It’s sort of a banality devoid of political teeth, but for story purposes the whole “Feminism is the radical notion women are people,” works as a guide. I wouldn’t go with the female superiority angle Marston originally wrote, but I would (if allowed to start from the beginning) have her simply work from the quiet assumption that women are competent and probably in charge. Basically flip the marked and unmarked class; Wonder Woman simply defaults to women as baseline human in everything.  I’d also build from this out as a basic sense of being anti-oppression in her focus. I don’t want her defending the law and the status quo nearly so much as defending people from injustice. She needs to want the system to change. (Knowing she isn’t going to wage a war to overthrow the system, but is rather going to serve as example and ambassador.)

The Enemies: Wonder Woman has never had a great rogue’s gallery. Probably the closest to an iconic foe is Cheetah, although you can make a case for Doctor Psycho and Circe. None has had the kind of punch of Joker or Luthor, however.  I suspect I would overhaul a number of the villains she had, although I would move away from the “directly fighting with the gods” side of things, as I would be moving away from Greek mythology God power as her core origin. I would seriously consider bringing back The Duke of Deception as a new character to take over some of the role Ares has played in the past, as sower of war and discord.