Posts Tagged ‘writing’

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The Strong Female Character

July 21, 2014

There’s an excellent post tearing up Tumblr at the moment:

I don’t think writers realize that ‘strong female character’ means ‘well written female character’ and not ‘female character who punches stuff and shoots stuff.  ~ace-enjolras

the-strong-female-characterInitially I reblogged with a simple “Yes, Yes, Yes, for the love of God, Yes!” but it occurred to me that a significant number of the 32,000 (and counting) who are enthusiastically liking and reblogging this bit of wisdom are doing it merely to say “I don’t like River Song.”

And that’s fine, Tumblr isn’t meant to be the Algonquin Roundtable, but if we’re going to get on our high horse about one-note oversimplification about something as complicated and nuanced as a human being, then we shouldn’t resort to kneejerks and generalizations.  And so, the unabridged version:

“I don’t think writers realize that ‘strong female character’ means ‘well written female character’ and not ‘female character who punches stuff and shoots stuff'”

Yes. Yes. YES, YES, YES, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, YES!  By Victoria’s Secret candyfloss shopping bags and La Perla embroidered tulle, by Eleanor of Aquitaine and C.J. Cregg, by Ambassador Delenn’s monologues in Babylon 5 and Kate Beckett’s in Castle, by Beatrice and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Rose Tyler and the Marquise de Merteuil.  A “strong female character” means first and foremost a well-written human person with all the dimensions, senses, affections and passions that implies. She may have large breasts, she may wear high heels, she may love a man and opt for the Happily Ever After.  She may sacrifice for a worthy cause–or a stupid one.  She may win; she may lose.  She may smoke pot.  She may be smart or she may be dumb. She may be a bad role model. She may not subvert a single trope. She will most certainly surprise those who thought they had her figured out on page 5; she might even surprise herself. She might be a victim, she might be a virgin, she might be a screeching bitch. She might be a slut. Most of all, she will be an honest product of a writer – male or female – who understands their own life and their own feelings and their own soul, and has the unbelievable balls to put a piece of that out there before the world. She cannot exist without that.

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Only in Gotham: I’ll have Batman Straight Up, and Put Him in a Dirty Glass

May 9, 2014

A quick follow up on that Gotham blog a few months back.

I’ve said for a long time – since the Fashion Week Riot of 2012, I believe – that if you’re writing stories of Gotham City and you never get Batman out of those grimy alleys, you’re not doing it right.  New York is a tapestry of the unimaginably funky, a kaleidoscope of the creatively unbelievable, and a ragout of the eclectically weird.  It’s fine to have the perv in the subway, the banger urinating in the alley and the homeless guy on 14th Street, but if that’s all you’ve got, damnit man, you’ve got no business calling yourself a writer, because you’re walking past THE BEST PARTS to show us crap we’ve seen a thousand times before.

If you’re not in the city,  don’t despair.   Open a new tab on your browser and Like a l’il ol Facebook page called Humans of New York.  You’ll find it a revelation.

If you are in the city, get your coat.  This watering hole in the NoMad Hotel in Chelsea is having more fun with Batman than you are, and we need to fix that.

Only in Gotham: Ordering Cocktails via Batman Tarot Cards

Only in Gotham: Ordering Cocktails via Batman Tarot Cards

Ordering via pop icon tarot card.  Our favorite vigilante represents Dark, that makes sense.  I have no idea what Pammy’s supposed to represent.  Natural?  (There aren’t a lot of unnatural alcohols, are there?) Grassy?  Green?  Flowery?  The only thing that makes any sense for a cocktail is fruity, and you wouldn’t use her for that.  I say we go find out.  Who’s with me?

Only in Gotham: Pac Man Dumplings at Red Farm

Only in Gotham: Pac Man Dumplings at Red Farm

Only in Gotham: Taxis on 5th

Only in Gotham: Dior Renovating

Only in Gotham: Dior Renovating

 

 

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Gotham “To me, it’s like a great woman”

March 25, 2014

I was talking to someone the other day who really loved Mahmoud, the cab driver introduced in the later chapters of Inside an Enigma.  He wanted to talk about Gotham in Cat-Tales, how the city rises to become a character in some stories and, in others, its ordinary citizens like Mahmoud or Clair Sabana in NMK Inc can upstage the established Rogues they interact with.  As one who aspired to write Batman, he wanted some tips on crafting a Gotham that had those qualities, that was a character in itself and would generate those unique individuals an audience could connect with as something more than crime fodder.

In the course of the same visit, I was flicking the dials and came across Anthony Bourdain eating dim sum in Brooklyn.  It was great:  Brooklyn, not Chinatown, and as Bourdain was contrasting the well-behaved crowd with the atmosphere of a dim sum seating in Hong Kong, an older woman tired of waiting got up to take the prized dumplings she wanted off a cart.  After that, Tony’s tour of the outer boroughs took him to an African restaurant in the Bronx and the proprietor talked about how difficult it was to bring over the people who knew how to do the kind of cooking he required and how expensive it was to get them the education they needed.  By this point, my friend was leaning forward towards the TV, elbows on his knees, absorbing every word.  And I thought “Okay, he can do this.”  Because that’s the part of being a writer that comes before stringing words together.  It’s being drawn to people and their stories.

Okay, so, my personal tips for writing Gotham and Gothamites:

A Gotham View of the World

A Gothamite’s View of the World

* THE MOST IMPORTANT STARTING PLACE:  Discard any idea from DC Comics that Gotham and New York are separate places or that Metropolis is an East Coast city that’s nearby.  What makes New York the uber-city it is is that it is the center of the universe for so many different fields and that makes it a nexus of an incredible cross-section of humanity in all its diversity.  There cannot be another Wall Street right across the river, another center of publishing, of advertising, of fashion, of theatre, of art, of news and broadcasting, another cluster of embassies around the U.N., etc etc.   Try to make New York, Gotham and Metropolis sister cities and you diminish all three.  Decide right now: Gotham is New York, Metropolis is a time zone away in what we call Chicago, and NEVER LOOK BACK.

* If you have no personal experience with New York, or perhaps a just few days as a tourist, do not despair.  You can pick up a fair amount of texture from movies and television, but you have to be smart in what you choose to mine for details.

NO: Friends or Seinfeld.  That is not New York.  That is LA-New York, and it burns.  Sitcoms in general: Mad About You, Will and Grace, How I Met Your Mother, should probably be viewed as an alternate universe.  Things may have the same name and general shape, but before you approach the guy in the red cape, you should figure out if it’s Superman or Bizarro.

PROCEED WITH CAUTION: these works hit a single non-representative note.  They can only be used in moderation with many other sources to round things out:

  • Seven – This is pretty much Frank Miller’s New York and Hell would be an improvement. If this is your notion of NY, I know what your Batman story is going to be – “Gotham as Mordor”  – and I’m not going near it.  For balance and penance I recommend…
  • Sex and the City – To call this a rarified view of the city is like calling a Christie’s auction of a Mickey Mantle rookie card a rarified view of baseball.  Yes, there’s stuff like the Paris Theatre on 48th Street, but you can get that from Annie Hall.  If you must mine this silly show, I recommend sticking with the first season or two before it became a vehicle for Sarah Jessica Parker’s ego, and fast forward anything referencing $400 shoes.  Even so, Gossip Girl is probably a better choice. (And honestly, if you want an insight into new restaurants, shopping, clubs and events to dress up for, I’d forget fiction altogether and go with Zagat, Yelp and Gotham Magazine.)
  • Cruel Intentions, Tootsie, When Harry Met Sally, Serendipity, Crocodile Dundee, Big, Ghost Busters, Fame, Kramer versus Kramer, The Devil’s Advocate, Wall Street/Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps, One Fine Day  – all display a different New York, a movie New York that is a very small slice  of the real thing.  The more of those slices you consider, the more well-rounded your Gotham will be.
    Everyone has their own cutoff for how old a movie can be to serve the purpose.  I think we can all agree Breakfast at Tiffany doesn’t make the cut, but some people my age can stretch to Midnight Cowboy and Dog Day Afternoon.  I’m not one of them.
  • Real Housewives of New York City – there’s actually nothing to be gained here.  I just put it on the list as additional punishment for the Miller crowd.
  • For Reality TV options that do have something to offer (albeit in that one-note capacity that should be taken with many, many others) I would look to the specific episodes or specific segments of Travel Chanel’s programs that feature NY locations.  From Rachel Ray’s $40-a-Day to the myriad of “Paradise” show that cover its pizza, steak houses and chips shops, these can be seriously out of date for real life vacation planning, but they’re handy for a writer wanting some local flavor.

GOOD

Woody Allen's Manhattan, 1979

“I love the city in an emotional, irrational way, like loving your mother or your father even though they’re a drunk or a thief. I’ve loved the city my whole life — to me, it’s like a great woman.” ~Woody Allen

  • Woody Allen movies – the gold standard for New York movie making.  Manhattan Murder Mystery might be a little dated, but it’s not like the 21 Club has changed much.  Crimes and Misdemeanors, Hannah and Her Sisters, Husbands and Wives and even the universally loathed Anything Else have something to offer for the New York watcher.  (You watch enough Woody Allen movies, you start to notice weird things.  For some reason, Central Park almost always means exposition.)  New York Stories, though Woody only did one part of the trilogy, obviously tops the list.
  • As Good As It Gets – If this flick had nothing to offer but the contrast between Melvin’s Manhattan and Carol’s Brooklyn, it would be on the list.  It has much more.
  • Castle Seasons 1 & 2 – Even though this series is filmed in LA like my first category of no-nos, the early seasons went out of their way to bring an authentic New York flavor.  Unlike most shows set in the Big Apple, it touched a lot of different subcultures rather than just icons and geography.  The later seasons are still very enjoyable, but as the show’s focus changed over time, it lost its edge making the most of the NYC setting, IMO.
  • Law and Order, Law and Order Criminal Intent – Both series get around the city and get into its subcultures and niches.  Because it’s actually filmed there, it also gets into its neighborhoods better than LA-based competitors like Castle.  The main drawback is simply that it’s been around so long.  On any given weekend, 3 channels have marathons running and no formula can stand up to such saturation. Remember why you’re watching.
  • Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations – Tony keeps it real.  Whether it’s the aforementioned Outer Boroughs episode, the segment on Street Food, secret chef enclaves, or the New York segment of a report on Mexican immigrants in the food service industry, I’ve rarely seen Bourdain touch on a New York story that he didn’t nail.

What are your favorite TV and movie New Yorks?  Comment here or tweet me.

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Q&A: Rewrites, Flashbacks and Firsts

February 12, 2013

I opened up my Tumblr to take some questions about Life, the Universe and Everything, and the first round gave me a chance to talk about some of the pivotal moments in Cat-Tales, from the decision to tell Selina’s origin story Cattitude to the famous “Clips episode” Do No Harm – to stories like Red Cape, Big City and Deja Vu All Over Again that weren’t flashback-intensive but revealed some of the most important moments from the past slowly and incrementally.  And oh yes, if I could do it all over again, what would I change?

ask-chris-dee-anything-on-tumblr


If you could rewrite Cat-Tales in its entirety, are there any story lines or characters which you would handle differently now?


Are you planning on writing another flashback story like “Do No Harm” or just planting little bits here and there?

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Guest Blog: Bad Yeti

April 17, 2012

Catwoman on a Vespa in the Cat-Tales Gallery

When my good friend “The Enigmatic Mr. Wu” started to blog about writing, I knew I wanted to feature him here as a guest blogger.  Why?  Because Mr. Wu is also Thundering Monkey, a name some of you may recognize as a Poser artist featured in the Cat-Tales Gallery, and frankly, several of his pictures display a better understanding of storytelling than we see in the output of certain professional writers.  There is real artistry in finding the psychological moment in a scene and in knowing how to convey it. 

Or, as a friend of mine put it recently, “If a picture is worth a thousand words, you better choose those words carefully.”

So I give you a blogger of fewer words than most of us, which belies a marvelous clarity of ideas.   

(Mind you, when I asked him to do a guest spot, I didn’t realize he’d be bringing a yeti.)

Don’t Let Bad Yeti Happen to You

A few days ago, I was watching The Mummy 3.  Don’t ask me why, some things cannot be explained.  I was watching the Mummy and I came upon this scene:

………… I know, right?  What was that?

You have to ask yourself, how something like that made it into a 145 million dollar movie?

What really bothers me about this scene, other than the way it damages the movie, is that it’s painfully, obviously bad, and someone made a large amount of money for writing it , while some of the best storytellers I’ve ever read, will never be paid for the work they do.  I’m not sure what is more terrifying; the idea that a Yeti Field Goal was in the original script and no one cut it, or that it wasn’t in the script, but someone said “the third act needs punching up, you know what this movie needs ? A sweet Yeti field goal!! Hell Yeah!  Or the fact that in the months that it took to model, texture, animate, render and composite this sequence into the movie, the idea that it was stupid, and hurt the movie never gained traction. What The Mummy 3 really needed was for someone to say no.

This is why you need a good Beta reader.  A Beta reader serves many useful functions. They give you valuable feedback on your story. They might spot opportunities that you missed or have an alternate way of saying something that makes your scene funnier, or sadder, or scarier, but perhaps the most important service they provide is to give you one more chance to stop something bad from getting into the world.  When all people remember of your story is the stupid scene with the Yeti field goal, your reputation as a storyteller has been harmed. They may be unwilling to give you another chance.

The best thing your Beta reader can do for you is to be ruthlessly honest with you about what they feel works and what doesn’t. Their reactions will probably mirror your readers. The best thing you can do for them is not take criticism of your story personally. When they tell you something doesn’t work, it’s not a slam on you. It’s not calling you stupid or saying you’re a bad writer.  It’s not about you, it’s about the scene, and if it’s not working, it’s better for you to know now than when the Ebola monkey of a scene has escaped into the wild. Also, it wouldn’t hurt to thank them in the author notes. They spent their valuable time to make your story better, so mentioning their input is just the classy thing to do, and as Rob Burgundy says, you should always stay classy.

motivation-poster-yeti-field-goal


Originally published as Don’t Let Bad Yeti Happen to You at enigmaticmrwu.blogspot.com.

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How to Succeed in Comics Without Really Trying

January 3, 2011

Had a few comics-related conversations over the holidays, and particularly their similarity to theatre. Comic books, like stage productions, cannot show elaborate cinematic scenes. They suggest, and the audience (or reader) fills in the rest from their imagination. Panel 1: close up on a Bat-glove, fist cocked. Panel 2: DEMON minion lying on the floor. You don’t SEE Batman attack (reminder if you haven’t seen the Arkham City trailer, you haven’t seen CGI Keysi Shakespeare the way it’s meant to be played), you create it in your own mind, and that folks, is why fanboys are more INVESTED in these characters and these stories. We are more possessive because they truly are OURS more than something we only see in a movie or on television.

Because of that similarity, and because theatre has had to reinvent itself for thousands of years to keep entertaining in a changing world, the modern comics professional can learn a lot from the theatre world. The big one to consider today is literally the difference between a theatre that failed in the last 10 years, and one in the same city that kept its lights on and is still performing shows. The philosophy is simplicity itself:

Look on every single performance of every single show as your one and only chance to win over someone in that audience and make them a lifelong theatre goer. Someone out there has never come to the theatre before, and what they see and hear and experience tonight could be so overwhelmingly magical for them that they are hooked for life.

Look on every single performance of every single show as potentially the last straw for someone who has seen one bad show too many.

Remember The Dark Knight? That movie brought people into comic shops for the first time. They were looking for Batman. If what was in the comics DELIVERED what they wanted, some of them would have come back. (And maybe some comic shops that have closed in the last 2 years would have weathered the storm, but that’s a question for another day.)

But it doesn’t take a movie. It doesn’t even take a cartoon. SOMEONE is be walking into a shop for the first time EVERY DAMN DAY. Every issue of every comic is a chance to win them.

Every issue of every comic is also a chance to LOSE them. There is a misconception out there that because fanboys howl and complain, because they have always howled and complained, that it’s fine and even desirable, to anger, disappoint and insult them. And it isn’t necessary to master or even understand the basic tenets of storytelling because a bad story will pass the time for the next 6 months as well as, or better than, a good one. There is a reason it is writers with roots in or ties to other media who are having exponentially more success than the hacks: because they understand real readers and audiences. They know that those hundred guys on forums are not representative of anything. The vast majority of readers you never hear from either way. They like it and they buy again, or they hate it and they don’t.

Things can be bad enough for long enough that the most vocal and committed fans decide enough is enough. We’re seeing that happen in increasing numbers, but those are the extreme cases. Every issue of every comic IS a chance to lose one of those diehards, but it is also infinitely more probable it will lose a hundred casual readers. Particularly when the actual goal is to cause maximum offense. It’s not okay to know something is wrong but wait until next year to fix it. Every single issue of every single comic is an opportunity to win or lose. And like life, you simply don’t know how many chances you have left. The Reaper is out there, folks, and there are major titles whistling in the graveyard, acting like it doesn’t matter, they’ll fix it next year. It really doesn’t seem to occur to them that there may not be a next year.

It’s a new year, and I wanted this entry to be an optimistic one. I want to offer more encouragement to those pros out there who honestly do seem to be trying to fix this. I know things that have been breaking for 20-plus years can’t be fixed in a day, but unfortunately, that’s what’s required here.

There’s another theatre principle: the miracle. It’s 30 minutes to curtain, the paint is still wet, they’re finishing off the second act costumes with a glue gun, the props table fell over, breaking the decanter we need for the first scene, the leads are having a shouting match in their dressing rooms, the fire marshall is seizing all the pyro earmarked for the end of the first act, and the ASM is locked in the costume loft. But the show goes on because even though it is f-ing IMPOSSIBLE to overcome all that in less than half an hour, we dig in and do it, because we gotta. Because we give a damn.

So maybe, just maybe, this can be an optimistic entry after all. All you guys need to do is dig in and give us a miracle. If it sounds like a lot to ask, look at your cousins in theatre who’ve been doing it for just over 5,000 years.

Chris Dee
www.catwoman-cattales.com
cattales.wikispaces.com

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Please Drink Responsibly

November 29, 2010

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

There is something profoundly wrong with people who don’t like Dickens, but even they allow that A Tale of Two Cities has one of the greatest openings in the English language. The Great Gatsby opens well too, and is also one of the rarest of rarities: a spot on perfect movie. AMC has a collection of films called “Essentials,” films from Casablanca to Close Encounters of the Third Kind that everyone should know. They are part of the collective vocabulary. They are required for cultural literacy. In literature there’s the Five Foot Shelf. In music, it’s Synchronicity and The White Album, South Pacific and Into the Woods. If you seek out what’s good in many fields, you feed your imagination and will be a better artist for it.

That’s the positive side. The flip side is also true. Imagine a professional athlete that ate nothing but Big Macs and smoked two packs of cigarettes a day. Would any of us be surprised if this guy failed to win the New York marathon? For that matter, would any of us be surprised if he failed to finish and fell down dead at Mile 18? No, of course not. Because this guy who uses his body to do what he does has been pouring poison into it.

If you’re a writer, an artist, a musician, a composer, a creative in any field, then your imagination is the bread and butter machine. Since you’re also a human being, it is the most magical and sacred part of you. That alone is a good enough reason not to flood it with poisons, but I’m talking about something beyond just being human. I am talking about being a creative. The imagination is what stretches beyond the literal and mundane and the goings on in your digestive tract. It is what connects with something higher and better, and channels a little piece of the infinite when you make something that wasn’t there before. If you pollute it with garbage, the result will be the artistic version of that wheezing pathetic “athlete” gasping his way through the race.

No, I do not read comics anymore. It’s more than not giving DC even $2.95 worth of encouragement for something that is truly bad, it is declining to live on a toxic waste dump. It is refusing to take poison into my imagination. Not only is it bad for me, it’s going to be bad for anything I write.

You are what you eat. And drink. We’ve all seen the creative output of the drunk drivers out there, professional and amateur. It’s time for those of us who are not three sheets to the wind to start staging some interventions.

But let’s return to the Best of Times, because there is a new artist to welcome to the Fan Art Gallery, and she’s certainly kept her imagination fueled with the best of raw materials. Check out the beautiful work of Anya Uribe, an absolute master of feminine curves, color and form.

The Virtual Visitor Center is decked out for the holidays. In Second Life, as in Cattitude, as in Real Life, Cartier wraps itself up in a bow for Christmas. More information on the Cat-Tales website, or residents may teleport directly to the Visitor Center.

Random Equinox even has an update for his spinoff fic: Don’t Fear the Z.  And as if that wasn’t enough, we had two lovely developments over the Thanksgiving break: The Macy’s parade was good enough to open with Aviator Snoopy, providing yet another opportunity for the slow-witted to realize that the inspiration for the Catwoman abomination–the virtual SIGNATURE of the new direction that failed to grasp anything that defined Catwoman and got absolutely everything wrong–was, in fact, based on a cartoon dog. How symbolic do you want it? They didn’t understand anything at all about Selina, right down to the CAT in Catwoman. A symmetry such as makes the angels weep, if it wasn’t so effing sad. And, finally, the forum’s running gag of Batman’s Black Friday Protocol finally has some artwork:

Chris Dee
www.catwoman-cattales.com
cattales.wikispaces.com

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