Sunday, April 26, 2015

Tracking My Writing, Year 2

            Two years ago I decided that I would keep a journal of all the stuff I wrote in order to reach 1,000,000 words.  I do not end up posting everything I write and frequently I end up with word documents with titles like “5 movies on Topic” and then just listing five movies, with the intention of coming back to write a lot more.  Other times I will go on 1,000 word diatribes about some topic that is ultimately… not enough to hold my interest for the 4,000 words it would take to explain everything.  Or things I wrote a year ago turn out to be really wrong, or totally right, or I have changed my mind completely, regardless the value of a blog titled, “My predictions for ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’” which I never finished is quite nil.
            That being said I still wrote a lot of this with the intention of putting out to be read… Well, not the ones that were just lists of titles that I might write something for.  Regardless, I put some effort into these and they just went nowhere.  So I went thru and counted up all the words from the hanging documents I had… and then deleted the documents.  7,149 words that I added to the count that had previously been left out in the dark, and a fresh start on a lot of topics that I had previously only had a vague thing started.
            Overall I think my writing has improved some.  A lot of it has been oriented toward technical documents for my current graduate work, not a lot of short stories or speeches, and it takes a lot of effort to be creative, I hit a lot of walls regardless of how much I want to tell a story, or how well I see particular scenes in my mind.  Maybe one day I will actually get something published, but until then I will just keep hammering out material in hopes of pushing out the edges of my skills.

726,409 words to go.  Average of 374.78 words each day (A little short of the 500 each day I originally shot for).


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Saturday, April 18, 2015

"Goosebumps" and Accelerated Reader

I was a massive fan of the Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine growing up.  At one time I owned the entire original series, all the choose your own adventures, the short stories, posters, calendars, and pogs (yes, the pogs, Alf was not on them, Monster Blood was).  I also watched the show, taping and re-watching them and lending them to my friend and his family to watch.

I donated nearly all my YS paperbacks to the local library when I finally out grew them along with my "Ghosts of Fear Street" (also Stine), “Animorphs” (K.A. Applegate) and "Spooksville" (Christopher Pike, now being turned into a TV series of all things, I will watch it if they ever put it on Netflix).

Goosebumps was a huge part of my childhood and I consider it a breaking point in my education.  I have or had a mild reading disorder (I imagine it is why I still mispronounce and misspell words well into my 20’s) and I remember my Mom taking me to the mall bookstore and telling me that I could get any book I wanted to try and find something that interested me enough that I would push thru the difficulties I was having.

            I picked up “You Can’t Scare Me!” primarily because the cover was so evocative, and over the course of a few days I blitzed thru it.  The chapters were short, punchy, and all of them ended on a cliffhanger, leaving me wanting to read more.  I learned about what interested me and for all my love of “Ghostbusters” and superheroes this fit into my world view, of there being fantastic things that were creeping in around the edges.
I cannot find the picture I had of my collection splayed out on my living room floor with me next to it, taken back when I was twelve, but this image does a lot to illustrate the effect.
            I moved on to other fantasy and horror stories and became such a constant and voracious reader that all thru middle school I was gulping down novels 100+ pages each day.  My father made a deal with me that I think he mildly regrets considering the ultimate expense, “If you read it, I will buy it for you.”  This is when the schools AR program came in.

            AR, or Accelerated Reader allowed for you to read from a group of several hundred books and take tests on them.  Based on how difficult the books were in reading level and size you got more points, and those points could be spent on prizes at a store in the middle school library.  My mom operated the store and I helped her pick out the toys and games that could be offered there.  Since I had at this point started reading Piers Anthony’s Xanth series (all 18 of the novels that existed at the time in my 8th grade year (each worth 14-18 points) I ended up ranked 6th for AR points in the entire middle school of about 900 kids.  I did so well that they just stopped bothering to list me as having a reading/writing disability.

About 5 years ago I managed to buy a copy of my favorite Goosebumps’ book "Night of the Living Dummy" and made my way with my father to a book expo in Sarasota Florida where Stine was signing books.  (Ironically Stephen King was not present even though he lives in Sarasota and my father has seen the old guy riding around on his bike while talking on his cell phone, you would figure after King nearly died in a car accident he would be more careful about that kind of thing).

I was the last person in line, in my mid 20's, and just sputtered out how important the series was to me growing up and how it was the first books that got me into reading.  Stine had been hearing that sort of thing all day and I was sort of star struck so I am unsure as to how he responded, mostly about how much he liked writing the character of Slappy (the flagship Dummy character that is one of the mascots of the whole series).  I still have the signed book and continue to try and write my own stuff even now.  Using many of the tricks I held as so captivating when I was a kid flipping pages under the illumination of my purple and yellow “Goosebumps” book light.  Keep it short and punchy, keep them wanting more.

            (I am also deeply looking forward to the movie.)

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Fix the Scene, "Frozen"

Frozen” is an okay movie and illustrates perfectly why so many films shoot for braod mass appeal: IT MAKES A SHIT TON OF MONEY.  I find more and more issues with it as I look back thru my mind’s eye (that the background animation is a little wanting, houses look a bit fake, that sort of thing).  My biggest issue has to do with the movies two villains, Hanz seducing his way to a crown when he could have just won it thru administrative merit (Kind of like Loki) and losing it because he was an idiot; and the Skinny Duke, whose name is inconsequential, just that is a silly character explicitly out for money who gets shat on at the end of the movie.

I just found Hanz being the villain to be unnecessary. Her out of control powers were the real villain, and if you wanted to add peril for the heroes that is easy too.

-Hanz (Kisses Anna and it has no effect): That can't be right.
-Anna (her hair still turning white): Try again.
-Hanz (kisses her again to no effect): I guess a true loves kiss isn't enough.
-Anna: It has to be.
-Hanz (steel determination on his face): Anna I can't lose you. I have to do something more.
-Anna: Hanz just stay with me, I will get better.
-Hanz: No, I know what I have to do. I have to stop Elsa.
-Anna: No.
-Hanz: She destroyed the kingdom. And now you’re dying. There is no other way.
-Anna: No!
-Hanz: I can't lose you. If there is a choice of who to save, I am saving you!

There is really no reason for him to not kiss her.
The movie then proceeds as it did before, but now Hanz is trying to save the kingdom and his (not) true love because he is misguided, rather than because he is a bastard.  You could have him do many traditionally heroic things, like have him slay another giant snow monster that is protecting Elsa, but ultimately have Anna stop him (just like in the movie) from killing Elsa.
The end of “Frozen” would be him leaving, disgraced but apologetic, that he should have listened to Anna and found another way, perhaps saying that as the youngest brother he was always jumping too fast to being a hero rather than being cautious. Anna forgives him but explains that they are not in love, and that this is a rift that will never close between them.
Not every movie needs a transparent villain. Because in real life few bad guys are pure bad.  The villains in this movie sucked. It should have just been Elsa's lack of self-control was the villain.
And furthermore the skinny old Duke shouldn’t get punished either because he did not do anything wrong.  But the movie says the Duke did basically nothing but try to kill someone with out of control dangerous super powers. Oh, and he wanted to make profitable business arrangements. What an asshole, with his drive and ambition. Clearly deserves to be embargoed.  Here is how it should have been.  His forgiveness scene

-Skinny Duke: I am sorry for my conduct, I reacted out of fear and personal weakness and drove you to self-imposed exile, and I ask for your mercy my queen.
-Elsa: I too was driven by fear and caused great harm.  (Pause looking at all the goods being unloaded from the Duke’s ship) but I too seek the forgiveness of my people just as you seek my forgiveness. I offer you a pardon, but in the future you should seek to make reparations with my kingdom.
-Skinny Duke: Most assuredly my grace. I came here to seek profits, made a fool of myself, and then became a danger, the least I can do is try to make reparations thru trade and charity.
-Elsa: Just as I must make reparations to my people thru good judgement and just rule.
-Skinny Duke: It is good that we can grow and become greater people thru adversity.
-Elsa: Indeed.
I am sorry, and I know when to admit I was wrong about someone.  I feel more sorry for all the ice witches we burned to death in my homeland.

            There are numerous other issues.  Not the least of which being how awful Elsa’s parents were in handling the situation (I can see how this movie gets a lot of “gay metaphor” press for telling the little girl to “conceal, don’t feel” as if the Kingdom were one giant pray-away camp).  But those issues were covered by the internet series “How it Should have Ended”.

(I previously complained about a particular scene in "Man of Steel" if you would like to read more of my stuff trying to fix scenes, and if you would like to suggest other scenes I should fix please comment).
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