Related: I keep this on a sign hanging above my desk, because while most truths are indeed self-evident, most of us need frequent reminders about obvious things; this is just such a thing. Consider this a #PRO-TIP.
from In Pieces (sculptor Nathan Sawaya, photographer Dean West)
If an atheist wanted to understand what my religion means to me, I’d suggest playing this game.
But, straight talk: I love basically all the games Avery Alder cooks up. My son and I spent a summer playing The Quiet Year, and my wife (not an RPG person) and I spent the early part of this summer playing Abnormal. Highly recommended, all.
You don’t have to love—or like, or even give shit one—about skating to enjoy watching Richie Jackson skate. You don’t need to know a lexicon of jargon to appreciate it, because most of what he does has no formal name, since it’s arisen from the immediate conditions and his feelings about them.
I guess I maybe dig Richie Jackson so much because he’s kept skateboarding—a thing that, since I was a kid, has been transformed into a sport and a career—as an expressive art form.
“I for sure had a vision, but how close to it I’ve gotten, I don’t know [because] I’ve dissolved it by making it a reality, and it’s different. [laughs] The original vision has ceased to be. I’ve replaced it with a bunch of pixels.”
Amen, brother. Amen.
If anyone’s got any ideas for additional challenges, let me know.
— Ben Brainerd (@ben_brainerd) May 24, 2018
Hey Ben (and the rest of the world),
Sorry this took so long to put together. Life happened. Here goes:
At its core, this writer advice is a variation of the One True and Eternal Law:
Always take the path that leads to writing and editing more
This should be painfully obvious—wanna swim faster? swim more! wanna play piano better? play piano more! wanna draw better? draw more!
In truth, the secret isn’t the strategy (“write more!”); that’s self-evident. The tricks are the tactics that folks who excel use to make it a tad easier to get their shoulders to the wheel. Wanna write more? Here’s a tactic…
It is very common for artists to spend a lot of time annoyed: You love a thing so much that you want to create more of that thing, and thus invest a lot of energy in honing skills at creating that thing. Meanwhile, since you love the thing, you keep seeking the thing out. As your skills improve—and noting the immutability of Sturgeon’s Law—you’re bound to come across plenty of examples of imperfect executions of that thing you live. Profound, near-constant annoyance is the natural consequence of this.
You can do two things with that annoyance:
PRO-TIP: Almost every working artist I’ve asked about this has landed squarely in Group #2.
Consider this SNL skit—which comes very, very close to being The Best Twilight Zone Episode Never Written:
This piece could be great, but it falls flat and is unsatisfying. Why? What went wrong?
The problem is in the Resolution (that’s the final 10% of the piece — for an overview of my 45/45/10 Formula for narrative, check out this blog post or this one). In any piece the Setup creates series of “open loops“ that need to be closed in the Resolution in order for the piece to feel satisfied. The open loops here include social isolation (which is introduced by Danny almost from go, and keyed to his goofy dream of singing his “I wish” songs with friends), a Twilight Zone leitmotif (evoked by the musical cues, camera work, and acting style, especially with He-Man and Lion-o), and also elements of sexual frustration. This last item is lightly implied by mother’s nap, but really explicitly introduced by He-Man—and this is crucial—at around the 2min10sec mark, when he punches through a wall out of sexual frustration. The 2:10 mark puts this bit of stage business at about 45% of the way through the piece, where it naturally transitions from the Setup to the Tangle (no clue what these terms mean? Check the bulleted 45/45/10 Formula overview here). Given both the timing in the narrative and the drama of having a character punch through wall out of sexual frustration, you’re making this issue seem really, really important.
And then you introduced She-Ra—already a sorta-kinda sexually charged nostalgia callback—being played by Arianna Grande.
So, to recap, here are the unresolved open loops:
And we’ve just brought Arianna Grande onstage: a very gregarious and sexually attractive young woman with a stunning singing voice. The audience is gonna have certain sorta obvious expectations of the basic outline of how these loops should be Resolved.
So let’s look at the Resolution: Sexual frustration is sorta addressed (but not for the primary character, just for side-characters mom, Lion-o, and He-Man). But, social isolation and the Twilight Zone aesthetic go entirely unaddressed. Watch that final scene again: It seems almost like the actor is expressing his frustration at the skit more than Danny is expressing his frustration at the fictional situation.
As an audience member, I’m kinda let down. As a writer, I’m almost fatally annoyed because they were so close to knocking this out of the damned park!
How would I fix it? It’s so simple: First, keep the Setup unchanged (that’s the first two minutes or so). It’s a fine Setup, really. In the Tangle (that’s the next two-ish minutes), I would keep almost everything the same as well, but would strike the birthday hug gag between Danny and She-ra. (Don’t worry; we are still going to use this gag, just later, to close the skit.)
Let’s run through what we’ve got now: Same Setup (with Twilight Zone look-n-feel and Danny’s social isolation). We introduce sexual frustration. He-Man busts through the wall after Sister. He brings back She-ra. The three toys-come-alive all start trashing the joint. Mom comes in, chemistry sparks with her and the hunks. Those three leave for the hot tub. Now Danny asks She-ra for his birthday hug. We keep She-ra’s reply as written—she doesn’t like hugs; she likes to smash!—and Danny announces: “Well, I like singing songs with my friends—even if that means singing by myself!” Unashamed, he begins belting out his “I wish” song. She-ra (who, you’ll recall, is being played by a goddamned operatic pop star) is taken by Danny’s heartfelt song; she’s a warrior princess, and has never before heard the beauty of song. She begins to sing along with him—and then returns to smashing, never flagging in her song. Danny, thrilled to have a friend, keeps singing and he starts smashing the joint up, too.
The camera pulls back, swivels, and reveals a black-&-white Rod Serling impersonator (everything else is still in color). Cue Twilight Zone bongos. Rod Serling looks dead into the camera, puffs cigarette, and delivers a Twilight Zone-style summary outro:
“A lonely young boy. A savage warrior princess. An unlikely birthday wish—and an unlikely duet that could only happen … in mom’s hot tub”—Serling stomps out his cigarette and races out the door to join the hot tub orgy.
Boom. That’s the skit this skit clearly wants to be.
In almost all regards—from title through execution, in the fears it tries (and fails) to exorcise, right down to its final graff—this is the 100% perfect short story for me. (And it’s likely no coincidence that it’s just about a perfect fit for my favored story formula, the 45/45/10 Three-Act.)
PseudoPod 592: “Free Balloons for All Good Children“
An excellent little horror story; starts ~4min 30secs into this episode of Tales to Terrify: Tales to Terrify 306 Liam Hogan Franz Kafka. This podcast is usually pretty solid, if you like straight-up traditional audiobook-style readings of short horror fiction. Puts me in the mind of Kathe Koja’s The Cipher—but more for art reasons than horror reasons.
…when I go to sum up the story in a Big Picture way, I end up saying the same thing that I said about that election:
I totally hear where folks—angry, aggrieved, not-gonna-take-it-anymore folks—are coming from, because I totally agree with them: They are getting screwed. We just totally disagree on who is screwing them, or what is a sensible way to address that.
This story is about that, in a fundamental way.
I also tell an anecdote about seeing a homeless guy get ejected from a Coney in the mid-1990s, and make mention of Michigan trespassing laws, the sovereign citizen movement, my neighbors from Chennai, and Dave-o’s patented “magpie and junk drawer” speculative-fiction drafting strategy.
The Nov/Dec issue of F&SF is still on newsstands—but only for a few more days. Nab your copy soon!