Dec 17 2013

WIP Update – 16 Dec 13

Well, I brought my little Dragon Force experiment to a conclusion and though there is a lot of narrative to fill in, I think I’ll move it to the back burner while I switch back to TTWC1. I may be hard-pressed to get Daphne’s Chapter 4 out this week, but I’m going to see what I can do. Stay tuned.

Dec 16 2013

WIP Update – 13-15 Dec 13

I was hesitant to post on this, but seeing as how I’ve already written over 12K words on this thing, I figure it deserves a mention. Yes, I should be getting the chapter of TTWC1 ready to post in a couple days, but my whole “turn a DF campaign into a story” idea has really wrapped up my attention. Honestly, I’m really starting to get invested in the characters, story and setting. With a few rounds of revisions, this really could develop into a worthwhile entry into my canon and not just a thinly veiled DF novelization.

It really is interesting how this approach disrupts my usual process. Normally, I have everything planned out to the tiniest detail and my revisions are all about refining and, where appropriate, expanding the first draft. Here many of the twists and turns are more of a surprise (though serendipity does still work her magic in my conventional process as well) and my revisions would be more centered on distancing the text from the original source material to better individualize it.

If I’m not mistaken, Record of Lodoss War was born of D&D sessions, so my approach here isn’t that far-fetched. Yes, I open myself to the charge of being derivative, but everything is derivative to one degree or another. What we consider “originality” is really just an approach that feels fresh.

I’ll continue to play with this story a while and see what comes of it. The campaign has almost reached its conclusion, so I should be back on TTWC1 soon. Stay tuned.

Dec 16 2013

On Adapting the Written Word

Although I’m content to let things drop with regards to The Desolation of Smaug, there’s a wider issue not really covered in my critique of the film that would likely be used against me if anyone cared to rebut my post. That issue is adaptational fidelity.

Let’s start by setting up where I began on the issue. I was once the most die-hard of purists. In another life, I would compose these massive posts comparing the Inuyasha anime to the original manga with copious scans and such minute detail that even a single word changed in the script didn’t go unnoted. I was often decried by the more loosey-goosey members of the fandom as a “manga thumper”. (Yes, that was really a thing, and, yes, we were all incredible nerds.)

I say this is where I began because my views have matured over the years. No small contributor was a course on adapting the written word I took in grad school. I came to fully acknowledge the differences among media and appreciate pragmatic adaptation. The spirit of the word is more important than the letter of the word when it comes to true fidelity. Herein lies the problem.

You see, it’s not uncommon for an adaptation to fundamentally misunderstand the source material. For instance, when watching the special features for Return of the King, I was appalled to hear that they were wanting to have a fight scene between Aragorn and a physical manifestation of Sauron. The whole point of LOTR is that it isn’t Aragorn who’s the real hero of the story, even though he almost perfectly fits conventional expectations. It’s Frodo and Sam who are the real heroes. Upending those conventional expectations of the heroic epic was at the very heart of the story. The fact that they almost went that far off the rails makes the disappointing developments of TDoS not all that surprising.

I don’t claim that any of this is easy. The transition between a project that is largely contained and directed by a single person to a massive undertaking involving dozens of people is no easy task. There are a host of considerations at work and competing visions shaping the final product. I can appreciate a measure of pragmatism as necessary and even a good thing, but when the adapters miss the mark, it can be really disheartening. It’s the risk you run when you adapt a work from one medium to another. I recall one writer who commented that if you want a movie deal, you just sign away the rights, cash the check and let the chips fall where they may. I doubt I’ll ever be presented with that opportunity, but I’d be reluctant to just let go like that. I’m too much of a control freak for that and would just as soon forego any adaptations rather than risk my vision being warped. Maybe any interested parties can wait until after I’m dead. ^_^;

Dec 14 2013

The Desolation of a Franchise

Okay, I’ve slept on it and I’ve come to a conclusion: I hate The Desolation of Smaug. Let’s turn back the clock a bit. When I heard The Hobbit was being made into two movies, I was a little concerned. When those two movies became three, I grew even more concerned. This is Peter Jackson, after all, which meant three-hour movies. A 300-page book spread out over nine hours? Yeah, we’re going to have a pointless scene with Smaug and Naomi Watts playing in the snow. However, when I saw An Unexpected Journey, I was pleased with the integration of materials from The Unfinished Tales and the stronger buildup to the LotR trilogy. The movie was still a little longer than it needed to be, but I was satisfied with it.

However, even with material from the periphery to expand the narrative, what happens when all that runs short? How do you fill the gaps? Well, The Desolation of Smaug answers that question. With bad fanfic.

Much of what is terrible about TDoS centers around the character of Tauriel. When I heard there was brewing controversy around this OC female Elven warrior, I didn’t pay it much heed. Now, before I go into this rant, let’s set something straight for any cuckleheads out there. I’m not opposed to strong female characters. I love strong female characters. I love ’em in the fiction I consume and the fiction I create. What I don’t like is poorly executed “strong” female charas. For instance, one of the more loathsome things about Van Helsing is faux action girl Anna (a rant for another day). In Tauriel’s case, being a canon foreigner stacks the deck against her right out of the gate, but that isn’t her mortal sin. Her mortal sin is being the Suest of Mary Sues this side of Bella friggin’ Swan. Let’s lay it all out. We won’t count her beauty on the Sue card because all Elves are supposed to be beautiful. So we’ve got a cool female warrior who’s not just a low-ranker struggling to prove herself in a male-dominated society. No, she’s the Captain of Guard. But, hey, she’s lowborn, so she’s just like us. Also, she’s not like all those other racist, isolationist Elves. She cares about the outside world and is tolerant of other races. She’ll stand up mean ol’ Thranduil and rebel against him to do what’s right, doggonit. Oh, and let’s not forget about the romance. Even if there’s the class difference, she’s got that dreamboat Legolas to pine and be pined for (though, admittedly, any romantic subtext between those two was about as clear as mud). And because we can’t have an Edward without a Jacob, she’s also got the dreamiest of the Dwarves fall for her. Yeah, he’s a stubby ol’ Dwarf, but he’s just a little taller and instead of one of those nappy beards, he’s got that smexy bad-boy permastubble. Oh, and it’s a deep emotional connection, too. Starlight and stuff. Also, in addition to her near flawless warrior skills, she’s also a talented healer, too. What a perfect pretty progressive princess.

Merciful Heaven, where do I begin? I don’t even know. I’m not the certain of person to delve into fanfiction, but if Tauriel doesn’t feel like a self-insert OC, I don’t know what does. She was made for the express purpose of shoehorning in a female character into the story. They showed signs of trying to do this with Arwen in Fellowship, but that idea was mercifully killed in the cradle. Using her in place of Glorfindel was a pragmatic adaptation and I let it slide. A lot of people go on about the dearth of strong female charas in the Tolkien mythos. Well, guess what? An author in the 40’s writing in the model of 8th Century epics. Who’s surprised? Not me. Trying force modern sensibilities on such material is just asinine.

While we’re on the topic of feminism, let’s talk some feminism. Tauriel is clearly meant as progressive pandering, but guess what? Her character is entirely wrapped up in her love interests, Legolas and Kili. I’d say that fails the Bechdel Test, but I suppose it requires two females. I’d like to believe that the true goal of feminism is to give females their fair shot based on their ability and talents. In other words, the end game should be that so long as the ability is there, it shouldn’t matter if a male or a female is in the slot. However, Tauriel has been so deliberately engineered that it’s downright offensive. And you want to know the real kicker? I probably wouldn’t mind the character half as much in any generic fantasy story. It’s her imposition that is such a large part of the problem.

I’m going to make a rather bold statement here. Tauriel is worse than Jar-Jar Binks. Yeah, I went there. They’ve got more in common than you might think. Both are intrusions in an established canon that the director thought was a terribly good idea. However, at least with Jar-Jar, everyone in universe recognized he was a fool and we could sympathize with Qui-Gon’s annoyance. There was some self-awareness and terrible comic relief is practically expected because comic relief character tend to miss more often than they hit. With Tauriel, we’re supposed to take her seriously and that’s what makes her worse. This original character gets grafted in and we’re all supposed to love her for what a special super snowflake she is. Well, I’m not buying what you’re selling.

Moving on to the romantic plot tumor, I mentioned in an earlier parenthetical that the romantic relationship between Tauriel and Legolas was largely informed. Yes, we hear a lot about how Legolas cares for her, but all I really saw was aloof contempt. (Legolas was rather unlikable in the film. Shoehorning him in wasn’t a great idea either.) The main event was the Tauriel/Kili ship, which was terrible. I’ve heard about being strangled by the red string, but this is the first time I’ve physically felt my own neck go taut just observing a crappy romantic subplot play out. Ugh…

Let’s go back to where I was talking about Jar-Jar. I’m a Star Wars fan. I actually enjoyed the prequels more than I didn’t, though I don’t rewatch them regularly like I do the Original Trilogy (theatrical cut, of course, because screw all the extra crap from ’97 on). Episode I was the worst of the three, of course, primarily on account of Jar-Jar, but Jake Lloyd’s Anakin wasn’t much better (I actually kinda feel sorry for him now that I know what the role did to him and his career). Anyway, the point is that I kept watching and though I completely ignored the theatrical Clone Wars film, I’ll be there in the theaters 2015 to give Episode VII its fair shake. You know where I won’t be in 2014? In the theaters to see There and Back Again. TDoS killed it for me. I actually wanted to leave the theater but decided I was going to get my $10 worth for better or worse. I’ve seen some bad movies before, but I never wanted to get up and leave the theater. Even friggin’ Transformers 2 I sat through, dagnabbit. My grandmother and I have a tradition of watching the LotR movies in the theater going back to The Two Towers (I was stationed in Italy when Fellowship came out, you see), but this year I’m going to break that tradition. I don’t want to see TDoS again. I’m not going to see it again and I’m not going to see Numero Tres either.

Now, I could end on that, but let’s talk a little about the positive. Martin Freeman’s performance? Outstanding. Same goes for Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaug. If you just skip to the climb up the Lonely Mountain, you might have a good time. Naturally, WETA’s work is top-notch, though they go a little too over-the-top and so it looks a bit fakier than in previous films.

Bottom line: Stretching The Hobbit out to three movies was a mistake. Tauriel is a terrible character. I want Peter Jackson to pay me $5. (The aforementioned performances of Freeman and Cumberbatch are at least worth half the ticket price.) And I’m done, on so many levels.

Dec 13 2013

WIP Update – 12 Dec 13

I made a little more progress on Daphne’s Chapter 4, though not as much as I should have done. I actually spent quite a bit of time researching ballistae. Yes, it’s actually relevant to the chapter. More to follow.

Dec 12 2013

WIP Update – 11 Dec 13

I made a little progress on Daphne’s Chapter 4. The main thing is that I envisioned the end game for the chapter, so I just need to focus and push through.

I also continued to build up the cast list for Candidate 03 and continued on my little mental exercise of spinning a story out of a Dragon Force campaign. It really does add to the addictive quality of the early stages of the game.

Dec 11 2013

WIP Update – 10 Dec 13

I’ve been doing more preproduction work on those stories I mentioned last time, especially Candidate 03.

I’ve also embarked on a fun little exercise. You see, playing Dragon Force, I’ve found that I’ve been inventing narratives to fill in the substantial gaps in the game’s rather sparse story and characterization. Well, I decided to take it a step further. Starting up a new campaign, I’ve been writing my own little story as I go. Yes, it’s basically just Dragon Force with the serial numbers filed off, so I don’t plan on ever publishing it to the site, but the main thing for me is the element of unpredictability. I’m very much a control freak as a writer, as evidenced by my abundant peripheral materials. I do try to leave the door open to serendipity, but that only goes so far.

I saw a documentary about Philip K Dick and how he would create branching options for his stories and let the luck of the draw (as it were) decide. Closer to what I’m doing here, I think of the narrative LP for X-COM by GuavaMoment and how the highly unpredictable battle scenes would have a major influence on the story. Like I said, this is just a way to play with my means of storycrafting. If I like it, I may try similar techniques in the future.

Dec 10 2013

WIP Update – 09 Dec 13

A burst of inspiration prompted me to take a couple ideas from the back burner and move them into preproduction. It’s still rather early, but I might be posting teasers on the site in the near future.

I’m thinking about starting up a whole new cycle of the Cross Arc for them. Whereas the Pre-Apoc and Post-Apoc Cycles deal with the lead-up and aftermath of Tara Ma’s Reunion, this new cycle would deal with the advances of a resurgent New Earth Empire.

The two stories split the difference between my two primary modes of inspiration: dreams and what-ifs. I’m going to talk a bit about the latter. The story tentatively titled Candidate 03 is based on my misunderstanding of what Evangelion was all about. It would’ve been 2000 when I first saw the series, but before that, I had no idea what it was about. All I had to go on were the video covers that I saw at Suncoast and a few out-of-context statements picked up on the Net. In particular, I remember one off-hand comment by someone talking about Rei getting turned into dogmeat. I don’t remember how, but I knew about Shinji being the Third Child and Rei being the First Child respectively. My leap of logic (or flight of fancy, if you will) led me to believe that one Child was a successor to the next and that Rei was already dead before Shinji began piloting the Eva. As a result, I figured one of the primary conflicts would be Shinji struggling to uncover the truth about the previous Children while trying to avoid sharing their fate. This was, of course, quite off base, but I’m of the philosophy that you should never let an interesting idea go to waste. While it was in my head all that time, it wasn’t until a few years back that I sketched out the basic premise for future reference. It wasn’t until yesterday’s little burst of inspiration that I decided to take the concept farther. (Usually it’s only a matter of time before those ideas on the back burner move to preproduction.) Anyway, this story will be a good test of my capacity to write thrillers. Stay tuned for more.

Dec 09 2013

WIP Update – 08 Dec 13

I made a little more progress on Daphne’s Chapter 4 and Kazuya has some rough renders from the animation project that I plan on posting to Youtube tomorrow. We’re going to take the opportunity to take stock in where we’re at and where we want to go from here. Unsurprisingly, a mostly one-man animation project is rather daunting. There’s a lot to learn and what I’m going to show may ultimately prove to be a stepping stone toward the final form the project takes. We’ll see.

Dec 09 2013

WIP Update – 07 Dec 13

I reoriented myself to focus on Daphne’s Chapter 4 like I should be doing. I still have a ways to go before it’s done, though, so I really need to buckle down. I’m going to have to start thinking about moving Tico3 along, too. It’s been a while since I last worked on it.