Working Title #010: Writing 101 — Contradicting Your Characters

Working Title #010: Writing 101 — Contradicting Your Characters

The most oft repeated dictum about writing that I’ve heard is: Write What You Know. The question is – what do you know? To take a literal meaning to the question suggests that you can only write within your own experiences which is awfully limiting. I’m a white middle class male and yet I created Amanda Waller who is black, female, and from the projects. What did I know that allowed me to do that? And yet, Amanda is one of the best, most realized, characters I’ve ever created.

My view of Write What You Know is – what do you KNOW as opposed to what you were TAUGHT. What has your own experience taught you to be true? An unquestioned belief, in my opinion, is not worth having. Only by testing that belief – by doubting, questioning – does a belief become your own even if you come to the same belief that you started with. Now it’s your own.

What do you know of life? Not what you were told or taught but what have you experienced? What do you know that is true? That should be in your writing.  Continue reading “Working Title #010: Writing 101 — Contradicting Your Characters”

Working Title #009: Dear Mr. Maher

Working Title #009: Dear Mr. Maher

Dear Bill Maher

Well, you’ve done it again. You’ve gotten a certain percentage of the population mad at you – which I suspect is exactly what you want. You’ve gotten people talking about you and your show, Real Time, and by your lights this is a good thing. That’s what you do; by inclination and occupation you’re a provocateur  — which is fine. Gadflys are useful if annoying.

However, your targets were things on which, by your own account, you know little or nothing. You took the occasion of Stan Lee’s death to belittle comics and comic readers. On your blog you wrote: “I have nothing against comic books – I read them now and then when I was a kid and I was all out of Hardy Boys. But the assumption everyone had back then, both the adults and the kids, was that comics were for kids, and when you grew up you moved on to big-boy books without the pictures. “

You were born in 1953 so in 1963 you’d be about 10. Prime age to start reading comics. Your assessment of the medium might have been correct if you’re just talking about DC (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, et al) of that era but Marvel, under the guidance of Stan Lee, began what we now know as the Marvel superhero. In 1961 Stan debuted The Fantastic Four followed by Spider-Man in 1962. By design, these books were meant for an older reader. In 1965, both Spider-man and the Hulk were listed by Esquire as among 28 heroes on college campuses along with JFK and Bob Dylan. So the concept that comics were for the young uns only was not the assumption of every kid and adult; it was and is your assumption.

You later said, “. . .a culture that thinks that comic books and comic book movies are profound meditations on the human condition is a dumb (explicit) culture.” Really? The graphic novel Maus, by Art Spiegelman, won a Pulitizer in 1992 and a National Book Critics Circle Award. I think we can say it won because it is a profound meditation on the human condition.

You said that you weren’t saying the comics readers were stupid per se but, “The problem is, we’re using our smarts on stupid stuff. I don’t think it’s a huge stretch to suggest that Donald Trump could only get elected in a country that thinks comic books are important.“

Yes, it is a huge stretch of the imagination and you should know that. The polls have suggested that the typical Trump voter is an older white male without a college education. That’s not the typical comic book reader that I’ve met.

I’ve heard you fulminate about comics before. Your war with religion seems to color some of your perceptions. You complained that comics teaches people to wait for a hero to come down from on high and solve our problems for us instead of taking charge and doing it ourselves.

That’s not what comics are about. Superman is not from on high; Superman is within. Every time Clark Kent opens his shirt to reveal the big red S on his chest, he’s telling the reader or the viewer that they have Superman within them. They represent ideals to which we can aspire. Not of godhood but of being a hero. Of trying to be something greater than ourselves. Of doing and being our best.

Your problem is that you’re wrong and you will never admit it. In that, you’re very much like Donald Trump. You know nothing about the subject (comics) but that doesn’t stop you from putting forth your opinion about it. What, then, is that opinion worth?

Which raises a question – a problem – in my mind. If you’re this wrong on a subject about which I know a lot, how often are you equally wrong on subjects of which I know less?

It won’t matter to you, I think, but I’ve watched you for the last time.

Good-bye.

John Ostrander

Working Title #008: The Man

Working Title #008: The Man

So there I was, working on finishing up this week’s column, when I heard the news. Stan Lee had died.

I can’t say it was unexpected. The Man was 95, his health wasn’t great, but still – Stan the Man.

I never actually met him to say hello or shake his hand. The closest I came was at a convention; Kim and I were having dinner in the hotel restaurant and it turned out Stan was having dinner at a table near us. I could’ve said hello but he was eating and talking with someone. I got the shys and didn’t feel I could break in on his dinner.

However, in a way I did know him in a manner that all of us could and still can. Through his work.

It was in high school, my sophomore or junior year, when I first met him. I was idly looking at a comic book spinner rack in a train station. (Note to younger readers: there was no comic book stores in those days. It was spinner racks or nothing and you couldn’t always be sure that the next issue was going to show up or when.)  I was already a comic book fan. I came across a comic I had never seen before from a company I didn’t know. It was Spiderman 49; on the cover, Spiderman was being towed through the air, arms bound and mask ripped off by his enemy, a grotesque character I would come to know as the Green Goblin.

This was serious. I could tell. Nothing like that ever happened to Batman or any of the other DC stalwarts. The image grabbed me and I grabbed the comic. I knew nothing about Spiderman and yet I had no trouble keying into the story and the breathless climax where the real identity of the Green Goblin was revealed. That didn’t really mean much to me although I would later learn it had been a secret for years. Still I was hooked and haunted that spinner rack until Spiderman 50 came out.

Marvel comics used to have “house ads” on the interior of the books, pointing the reader to other characters and other books that the company sold. I sought them out on spinner racks and newsstands. Almost all of them were written by Stan (the Man) Lee. Look, I know that Stan would give a few sentences of plot to the artist assigned to the book who then worked it out and drew it. Stan would then dialogue it. How else was he going to write all those books in the time he had? It still makes my head spin.

I learned things from Stan. One issue started with Spidey in the middle of a pitched battle with a brand new character called the Rhino. In a caption, Stan told the reader not to worry, effendi, and that he would catch us up as the fight went on. He did, too. That taught me you could do exposition without boring the crap out of everyone.

In the same issue, Rhino tries to stomp Spiderman who is on the ground, rolling out of the way. As Spidey went, he admonished Rhino, “Uh uh! Kickies no fair!” I laughed out loud. You know how everyone loves how Deadshot motormouths his way through battles? Started here, folks.

In an issue of Fantastic Four, the team was trapped in the Negative Zone, heading to the exploding center of that dimension. Three of them got out safe but their leader, Reed Richards, was sacrificing himself so the other three could make it. They can’t reach him and that issue ended with Reed heading towards certain death with no way the others can save him.

I wanted that next issue RIGHT THEN and it taught me how you want the reader to feel when you did a cliffhanger.

His characters were more complex than DC’s, having real life problems and neuroses. There were themes and a greater depth to the stories. And, of course, there’s that single sentence that has transcended comics and has become pop culture wisdom: “With great power comes great responsibility.” It has been quoted and used by many folks outside of our comic book realm.

That’s how I know Stan Lee and that is why I think of him as still living. His work, the characters that he created, still speaks to people. There are living people in your everyday life who don’t do that. So long as his words are read and his characters survive, Stan lives on.

Excelsior.

I had to do that.

Working Title #005: My Own Private Film Fest

Working Title #005: My Own Private Film Fest

It’s starting to get chilly outside which makes it a good time to stay indoors, get cozy, and watch movies. Sometimes – usually by accident – I find I’ve created my own personal mini movie festival around a theme or a certain actor or genre. I have a Christmas mini festival and Mary is putting together a Halloween one.

I did it recently around a specific time and place; Britain just before or early in the Second World War. All the films were, in one way or another, historical movies. Some characters are repeated in more than one film although in different interpretations and, of course, the events overlap but without being repetitive. I wanted all four films to be of recent manufacture; time lends some perspective. However, we also have to remember that we as viewers know how the overall story turns out. When you’re a participant in the middle of it, you don’t, and that causes some anxiety. For example, we — at this time — don’t know how the story of the American adventure with the Trump Presidency is going to turn out and that is causing some anxiety.  Continue reading “Working Title #005: My Own Private Film Fest”

Working Title #004: The Doctor and the Judge

Working Title #004: The Doctor and the Judge

Two big events occurred last weekend: Judge Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed as a Supreme Court judge and the first woman to play Doctor Who (Jodie Whitaker) debuted. One event delighted me and the other appalled me. Can you guess which was which?

There is something that connects the two. Bear with me.

I’m a LONG time fan of the British SF show and this weekend the new season debuted on BBC America (and, indeed, around the globe). Lots of new things – new companions, new composer, new showrunner and chief writer (Chris Chibnall) and, most importantly, a new Doctor. Now, for those of you benighted souls who may not be aware, the show has had a very long run because of a very clever concept. The main character, the Doctor, is an alien, and every so often the Doctor’s body regenerates into a wholly new one with a completely different persona and this has kept the show fresh. This time, the Doctor also changed sex and became a woman, played delightfully by Jodie Whittaker.

Capsule review: I was very pleased. The show had mystery, suspense, humor, darkness, death and a sense of freshness. Mr. Chibnall’s script had a different feel than former showrunner Stephen Moffat that was very welcome and Ms. Whitaker makes a wonderful Doctor.

Not everyone will agree. How do I know? Because some fans were opposed from the moment she was announced, some going so far as to say they will never watch it. This is not altogether unusual; every time someone new steps into the TARDIS, a certain percentage of the fans voice their displeasure and/or anger and vow never to watch it again (their loss).

There was an undercurrent, however, to Ms. Whitaker’s selection and sometimes that current was not so under. It came down to her gender. A certain percentage of that certain percentage of fans said that the Doctor couldn’t be a GIRL. Eeeeuuuhhh!  Continue reading “Working Title #004: The Doctor and the Judge”

Working Title #003:  The Mandela Universes

Working Title #003: The Mandela Universes

Reality is a pretty strange place.

We like to think of it as solid, dependable, unchanging. . . “real”. It’s funkier than that. An electron evidently can be in two places at the same time. They are both particles and waves. (Flip floppers! Pick one or the other and be it, sez I!) Let’s not get started with string theory.

And then you have the Mandela Effect.

There is a phenomenon where some people collectively misremember certain things. Its name comes from Nelson Mandela. Some people absolutely remember that he died in prison in South Africa in the Eighties. The more sane among us remember that he died in 2013.

There are other examples – is it “Sex in the City” or “Sex and the City”? Is your bologna’s name Oscar Meyer” or “Oscar Mayer”? When you were a kid did you read “The Berenstain Bears” or “The Berenstein Bears”? True or false – in the movie Casablanca Rick says, “Play it again, Sam.” Does Kit Kat have a dash? Is the dash in Coca Cola a hyphen or a tilde?

Maybe they’re all electrons.

There are all kinds of explanations people have formulated to explain this. Some follow along the concept of The Matrix and we’re all in a computer that occasionally has a hiccup (maybe an electron being in two places at the same time).

One theory uses the concept of alternate universes and that we “slide” between the two (or more). The universes are enough alike so that we don’t really notice it except for these minor changes. It sounds weird EXCEPT that the UK’s Royal Astronomical Society MAY have some evidence. There’s a “cold spot” in the universe where the radiation spewed by the formation of the Universe occurred back in the Big Bang. No, I don’t understand it but that’s what they say BUT they can‘t really explain it. It shouldn’t be there and nothing drives scientists more wiggy than having something that shouldn‘t exist actually exist and they can’t rationalize it. One possible explanation (not the official one just yet) is that another “bubble universe” bounced off ours (or we bounced off them – whatever). If that were so, it would prove the existence of alternate universes of which there is an infinite number.

Of course, those of us who are geeks already know all this. Star Trek, for example, long ago discovered the Mirror Universe. And alternate universes are a stock in trade in the comics. If you lived on Earth One in the DC Universe, your reality will have changed a gazillion times. The folks at Marvel claim they have never done a real re-boot of their universe (at least they used to) but I remember issues of the Fantastic Four where they met JFK and later President Johnson. Marvel just doesn’t refer to those anymore; they aren’t part of the official canon. Mandela Effect.

Me – I’d be happy to be in one of those alt universes. If I can pick, I’d like the one where Al Gore won the presidency. The events of 9/11 might still have occurred but I don’t believe Gore would have gotten us into the Iraq War. And I think he would have taken steps to solve climate change while there was still time to do it. And, needless to say, no President Cheeto. He would never have won the Electron. . .sorry, Electoral. . . College.

Sigh.

DC and Marvel are inherently Mandela Universes. If you lived in either of them you would, on a regular basis

Working Title #002: Art vs the Artist

Working Title #002: Art vs the Artist

Last column I talked about James Gunn and how he was fired by Disney from the third Guardians installment for some really stupid tweets he published about a decade ago. They were appalling, no questions about it, but I wondered if Disney really needed to fire him for it. Gunn himself has renounced them and apologized. I was further aggravated by the fact that it was a right wing troll who engineered the whole reveal basically to punish Gunn for being anti-Trump.

However, lurking beneath that question is a bigger problem – can you separate the art from the artist? SHOULD you?  Continue reading “Working Title #002: Art vs the Artist”