Posts for November 2012


On Not Blaming The Sandbox Dept.

SF is hard to write. If it wasn't, it wouldn't be so rewarding to write well.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/11/29 16:00

There is a story related in Skywalking, Dale Pollock's book about George Lucas's life and career (up until about the mid-'80s, anyway), where Lucas was attempting to write an early version of the outline for Star Wars and just auguring head-first into the same walls over and over again. "Why can't I make this work?" he lamented. The fact that he was not gifted with a writer's voice only made things worse; everything he put on paper only seemed to thicken the murk, not lift it.

There have been many parts of working on Flight of the Vajra that were like that for me, and which remain like that even now that I'm halfway through the second draft edit process.

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Tags: Flight of the Vajra science fiction writing


I Will Fear No Criticism Dept.

An iconoclastic critical take on Heinlein has some truth to it, but only some.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/11/27 13:04

Me not being a Heinlein fan, I found this essay provocative, but ultimately I couldn't swallow it:

Locus Online Perspectives » The Joke Is on Us: The Two Careers of Robert A. Heinlein

... it is not only in the juveniles that one can observe Heinlein’s efforts in the late 1950s to revisit old haunts in a humorous fashion; for 1959 also brought the publication of the story “`All You Zombies –,’” wherein Heinlein returns to the theme of multiple versions of oneself interacting by means of time travel, first effected in “By His Bootstraps,” but adds a sex-change operation to further complicate matters and transforms a thought-provoking exploration of the implications of being a “self-made man” into a fun-filled sexual romp.

I don't know about you, but "fun-filled sexual romp" is the last set of adjectives I would use to describe a story that comes closer to the existential horror of Philip K. Dick than almost anything else Heinlein wrote. You might as well call Hellraiser a comedy of manners.

See, I like the idea that Heinlein was testing his audience and seeing how far he could get away with "being Heinlein", as it were. (The essayist is spot-on in that the number one character in any of his works is the author himself.) But even that doesn't go halfway towards explaining nonsense like The Number of the Beast.

I also agree that a lot of the military-libertarian SF that sprung up in Heinlein's wake can't be pinned exclusively on him. Why do that when you can just blame the very living authors responsible for such dreck?

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Tags: Robert A. Heinlein criticism science fiction


Non SF&F Writing For SF&F Authors

SF&F authors shouldn't read just SF&F. Here's some other things to broaden your mind.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/11/26 10:00
This article has moved. Future edits to it will be added here.

Last updated: 2013/05/06.

I'm surprised by the number of would-be writers I meet who never read outside their comfort zones. If they write SF, they tend to read a lot of it -- which isn't bad by itself, just self-limiting. It's never a bad thing to know the parameters of the very field you want to write for, but to be habitually locked inside of it is a formula for self-starvation.

In no way should this list be considered canonical or otherwise absolute. It's simply a series of suggestions from a tour guide, someone who has been over this territory and come away with a few words about the sights. It's a way to know what else is out there, and to have it suggested to you in a way that ought to be appealing. Expect additions to the list over time as well.

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Tags: Science Fiction Repair Shop books science fiction writers writing


Ordinary - Feh! Dept.

Is my love of a particular kind of (non-gimmicky) storytelling better than someone else's love of a particular kind of (gimmicky) storytelling?

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/11/25 10:00

Me and my leaky memory. I need to write more things down.

I remember -- where, is another story -- reading an essay from someone defending the right to create literary experiments, on the grounds that reading "around-the-house-and-in-the-yard" stories bored him. That admission pointed towards a few possibilities:

  1. He finds other people less interesting than he does ideas, which to me puts him in roughly the same boat (whether or not he knows it) as many readers of hard SF, for whom character and personality are tertiary concerns.
  2. He has not encountered literature that is more than just "around-the-house-and-in-the-yard" storytelling.
  3. He has encountered literature that is more than just "around-the-house-and-in-the-yard" storytelling -- say, SF at its best -- but he doesn't take it seriously, in the way authors like Jonathan Franzen always seem to find such things vaguely childish or silly (which says far more about them than the merits of the material being debated).

But once I got done picking all that apart, I had to confront something: How is my love of a particular kind of (non-gimmicky) storytelling better than his love of a particular kind of (gimmicky) storytelling? Doesn't this come down to nothing more than taste, so let's just leave it at that? To me this would be the most ameliorative answer: you have your House of Leaves and I have my House of Sand and Fog, and we'll both go away happy.

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Tags: experimentation literature writers writing


Off the Page Dept.

On filming the "unfilmable", or when writing becomes a multi-media enterprise.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/11/24 10:00

Most of the reading I've been doing this year has been to rediscover a number of classics that are now back in print via new translations that are far better than the fusty ones I read in college. Much of Dostoevsky, for instance; Anna Karenina, Doctor Zhivago, The Three Musketeers, many others.

One thing that stood out time and again as I read -- although the new translations had little to do directly with this -- was something I've mentioned before, but which was brought home far more completely this time: There was a time when a book was not written to be anything but a book -- or, at the very least, the idea that it could be something other than a book was a tertiary concern.

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Tags: adaptation books movies writing


Avatar

A look at making Cameron's blockbuster a little more thoughtful (and a little less annoying and predictable).

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/11/21 10:00

Surprise, surprise -- I come not to bury Avatar, but to reprise it, to look at it with what I hope to be new eyes. It's been praised and damned in about equal measure, with most of the damnation being one variety or another of the line, "They ripped off [insert name of film/book here]." Under that heading I would place my vote not with Dances with Wolves, but rather Ursula K. LeGuin's "The World for World is Forest". (If she had something to say about Avatar, it hasn't crossed my desk yet -- although I imagine if she had, it would have been mighty hard to miss.)

My greatest annoyances with Avatar fall into two categories: plot and sociology. The latter is major and lamentable; I thought the whole Crusading White Guy trope (and the Noble Savage) had been exposed for the fraud it was a long time ago. But perhaps there's a way to address that and the first category in one swoop.

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Tags: James Cameron Science Fiction Repair Shop movies science fiction storytelling


For The Girls (And The Boys, Too) Dept.

Let's see some live-action anime projects in the West that are shojo stories.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/11/16 12:45

The other night a bunch of us from the Fan to Pro circuit were chatting about what it would take to get a game maker to create something aimed at the female-gamer market -- the U.S. / English equivalent of an otome game, for lack of a better label. That in turn inspired me to go back to my previous post about live-action anime adaptations and ask myself: Where in this list are the live-action shojo anime projects for Western audiences?

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Tags: Japan adaptation anime live-action anime live-action manga manga movies shojo


Four-Quadrant Moneyball Dept.

Why the commercial engineering of formula storytelling is killing storytelling.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/11/15 13:50

By now most any reasonably well-read person has seen articles talking about Nate Silver's statistical analysis of the election, or Billy Beane's "moneyball" approach to outfitting the Oakland A's with competitive players via number-crunching. The Quants, we are being told, are winning. A good rundown of all this, including how it relates to medicine as well, can be found at Respectful Insolence.

So what's wrong with taking the same approach to determine the commercial viability of creative work? If I'm willing to admit the future belongs to The Quants, what's so distasteful about, say, focus groups? For lack of any better way to put it, it's the idea that creativity comes from a formula or a checklist -- that if you build something which theoretically appeals to this crowd, then that many people from that crowd will like it.

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Tags: movies storytelling


Big Eyes Small Market Dept.

Five issues facing live-action adaptations of anime, dissected.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/11/10 20:04

My colleague Steven Savage weighed in on the anime-to-live-action adaptation problem, which he sees as being dominated by five issues.

  1. It [the property in question] has enough name recognition for good marketing, or something marketing can use as an edge.
  2. It can be relatable/similar to existing properties. Game of Thrones wouldn’t have gotten made without LOTR. Adapted anime properties need to be “marketable” as they’re reminiscent of previous successful works.
  3. It can fit into an existing release structure, like the usual movie trilogy, standard TV show season (probably a cable season).
  4. It has long-term potential for development (look at the way Twilight is getting milked).
  5. It can be done without massive localization issues.

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Tags: Hollywood adaptation anime movies


Daddy, Tell Me A Story For The 17-24 Demographic Dept.

Why is robust storytelling in movies now being conflated with risk-taking storytelling?

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/11/10 12:45

A shame I can't remember where I read this -- it wasn't even all that long ago -- but there was some interview with a Hollywood exec who quoted the whole line about story being paramount in filmmaking, and then followed that up sarcastically with something like "Not after $200 million, it isn't."

He might well have been paraphrasing what had been said about Avatar, possibly even by James Cameron himself: when you have that big a budget, you can't gamble with storytelling experiments. You have to go with what you know works to get asses in seats, and that means time-tested formulas.

There's a lot of truth to this, but there's also just as much blinkered behavior.

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Tags: marketing movies


The Empty Ballot Box Blues Dept.

Why some people don't vote has always baffled me. Here are a few of my educated guesses.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/11/09 10:52

I normally don't post about politics (so skip this if you want), but the election brought back to mind something I really can't keep my mouth shut about: the amazing arguments people use not to vote.

(Note: this is not a completist list -- this is just a rundown of some of the arguments that baffle or irk me more than most.)

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Tags: politics


Civic Duty Dept.

Vote. Updated: Thank you. Even if things had turned out differently, I would have said that....

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/11/06 11:10

Vote.

Updated: Thank you. Even if things had turned out differently, I would have said that.

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Tags: enough said


Cowboys & Aliens

How I would have fixed Jon Favreau's cross-genre dud.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/11/03 11:00

Over at Fan to Pro, where I blog regularly, I recently wrote a piece about the X Meets Y formula for stories. Somewhere in the piece I made indirect mention of "Wild West plus aliens", which as any sentient being would know is an indirect dig at Cowboys & Aliens.

That was no random choice. I'd seen the film earlier, and was so disheartened by it at the time that I couldn't summon the energy to lambast it. But now it seems appropriate, and I might as well inaugurate my long-ruminated Science Fiction Repair Shop this way.

Warning: spoilers.

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Tags: Hollywood Science Fiction Repair Shop movies science fiction screenwriting storytelling


Flowers of Evil, Vol. 3 (Shuzo Oshimi)

A further tightening of the screws, and maybe the first step in the next direction for this story.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/11/03 10:00

Third installment in this symphony of adolescent emotional brutality pits hapless would-be seeker of transgression Kasuga against his (female) mentor in perversity Nakamura, with his would-be sweetheart Nanako caught between them. After Kasuga and Nakamura enjoy -- not sure that's really the word, actually -- an orgy of destruction in their school homeroom, Nanako's forced to see what Nakamura wants her to think the "pervert" Kasuga is really made of ... except that Nanako is even more pure-hearted than anyone banked on her being. Where the story goes from here ought to be a real challenge; let's see if they branch out even further and more daringly, or simply repeat the same beats as per a goofy sitcom where nobody ever learns. My money's on the former.

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Tags: Japan Vertical Inc. books manga review


Highly Illogical Dept.

Why we worry about the wrong kinds of plot holes in storytelling, and to the wrong ends.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/11/02 10:00

Grit your teeth and give this article, about plot holes and film logic, by Film Crit Hulk at BadAssDigest, a read. The ALL-CAPS FORMAT gets wearying after a few grafs, but I'm an old hand at this sort of thing (it comes with cutting your teeth on a 2400-baud connection, I guess), and the points made in the article are worth a post here, because they hit me straight in the fountain pen.

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Tags: movies storytelling


Uncovered Dept.

A peek into the future: the first version of the cover for my novel "Flight of the Vajra".

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/11/01 09:48

What with everyone else around me, save me, diving headfirst into NaNo, I feel a little foolish for not doing it this year, especially with at least one idea that would more than do the job. Trouble is, I didn't have enough headspace for it -- all my attention has been on Flight of the Vajra, full-stop, and I decided to let that momentum carry me straight into the rewrite process.

To tide people over, I've decided to post a prototype version of the cover art:


Flight of the Vajra, cover draft 1.

Tweaks and refinements are inevitable, of course -- the size of the logo, spacing of the texts, the room I've left for blurbs (mostly the space between the title and author blocks), etc. But this should give you a good idea of what's going on.

I'll also be posting my first stab at back cover copy and a synopsis shortly.

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Tags: Flight of the Vajra artwork


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