Brainwashing Media

Make no mistake: we are being brainwashed by the media that we consume.

(This post isn’t on faith, but it seems appropriate to acknowledge the Bible warns of such: ‘The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!’ (Matthew 6:22-23)).

In the not too-distant past I watched an action movie on Netflix called Wolf Warrior II. It’s an action movie set in Africa. The core difference however is that it is a Chinese action movie. All of the heroes in the story are Chinese. The Chinese are building the infrastructure of Africa; they are boosting the economy and being friendly to the locals. When the bad guys (Westerners, mostly American) show up it’s the Chinese embassy that protects the African civilians.

Of course the Chinese are known for their philanthropic benevolence with minority groups. Well, I guess technically a million Uyghurs aren’t a small minority, so the fact they’re in prison re-education camps doesn’t matter. Nor am I referring to torture or prisoner organ harvesting. Heck, they do look after their own people well… if by ‘look after’ we really mean scrutinise dictatorially.

Wolf Warrior II was a clear and blatant propaganda piece, I suspect directed at helping with the China Belt-and-Road initiative in Africa. Swallow one tablet per day and if the delusions fade, take two.

More recently I was watching Designated Survivor. The first time I watched this show, I stopped early in the first season due to the obvious left-leaning nature of the show. When season 3 was released I thought I’d give it another go – there was an interesting subplot I was curious about. I watched the first two seasons, managing to overlook the political agenda.

Until I hit Season 3. Or should I say, season 3 hit me as subtly-as-a-brick-to-the-face.

On the third episode we find out the President’s deceased wife has a transgender sibling, Sasha (male to female, transition unspecified). I’m all for nuanced social debate and this can occur through TV shows (though I would argue not all shows are appropriate, nor is sport). But nuanced is the important keyword here. Don’t show only one side of an issue. Show all sides fairly and respectfully and let the audience make up their mind. It’s a hard balance to achieve, I admit that, but at least try for balance. Don’t preach at us Hollywood; you are not our moral betters. (Quite the opposite, often).

From a writing perspective the way in which they did it was deeply flawed to. First, the minor issue: Implausibly Sasha had been kept out of the spotlight until now due to privacy. Really? A President’s transgender in-law had been either hidden or all of the press gallery had shown unusual restraint? And Kirkman and his wife have never discussed her brother/sister even when alone? It’s a failure of good screen play writing.

If they wanted a transgender character they could have introduced Sasha in a far better way. If a family member, have Kirkman “discover” a previously unknown family member. Make it a step-family, a niece or nephew or a non-biological ‘extended family’ member. The point is, make them so distant as to not be newsworthy, while still close enough to still warrant an emotional connection. Better yet, in my opinion, have them be non-family, and introduce them in an event which creates an emotional bond. Kirkman’s wife has recently died. Have the transgender character be a teacher who was especially supportive to the daughter. There were so many better ways than a previously unknown close-family member suddenly appearing. Introduce them a few times early season 3 with a few in-scene shots and then late in the season they can plausibly take a larger role in an episode.

The worst part is the context they brought this character into. It is honestly so bad it’s cringe-worthy. It is self-defeating, an own-goal, and I’d argue demonstrates the stupidity of the politically-correct viewpoint of equality and relativism. It almost sends out invitations to be mocked.

The context: Penny Kirkman, the President’s young daughter experiences her first period. Having lost his wife recently to a drunk driver, the President doesn’t know quite how to broach the subject. Kirkman mentions Penny’s period to Sasha and this is how the conversation unfolds:

Sasha: “I’d be happy to speak with her if you like?”
Kirkman: “I don’t know…, I can-”
Sasha: “That’s OK. You’re correct. I didn’t actually go through it myself. It only felt like I did… but that’s the whole point. But don’t you think that she’d be more comfortable discussing it with someone who… looks like me rather than like you.”
Kirkman: “Yeah you’re right. Thank you.”

Okaaaay. So the President doesn’t know how to address the topic with his daughter. He doesn’t turn to her grandmother. He doesn’t turn to his long-term and highly-trusted female former chief-of-Staff. Or any of the other females in his personal or professional life. He thinks it’s a good idea to turn to someone who admits they haven’t experienced it, but feels as though they have.

And feeling like experiencing it ‘is the whole point’? Um, no. If I’m finding something embarrassing or confronting I’d like to talk to someone who has experienced it. I want to hear about their experiences, and the strategies and tips that might help me dealing with it in the future. I might have questions and I want them to be able to answer them from a position of wisdom and experience. Not feeling.

And if that was the most convincing rationale the writer’s could come up with, they really should have let the idea percolate longer.

So Designated Survivor this is where I find something better to watch. You won’t be missed.

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Plotting by Pen

I’m a fairly hi-tech writer. Generally speaking I like to use my computer heavily for all-things writing. It’s a by-product of being a nerd; I use normal software (Scrivener, Word, OneNote) and my own programs and beefy spreadsheets to keep track of everything.

However there are also times when I break out ye old pen and paper and work through problems by sketching, writing, arrows and scribbles. I’m not sure why moving away from the keyboard helps my thoughts flow more freely but it is sometimes helpful.

As an example, I’m going to share a section of my novel Vengeance Will Come (available on Amazon). This post contains slight spoilers. Regent Danyel Abudra while frantically searching for his missing wife has a confrontation with a criminal kingpin named Zekkari.

If you can read my writing…

Originally my plan was to have Danyel kill Zekkari during an interrogation. This would begin a moral slide for Danyel who had always been a man of integrity. You can rescue your wife, but it’s going to cost you style plot device. This eventuality raised several questions of world-building and plausibility.

Would Danyel, as Regent of Tador, be held accountable for killing Zekkari? What are the laws surrounding the treatment of criminals who are yet to be found guilty? How much immunity from prosecution does a ruler have? What is the relationship and interaction between Tador’s laws and the planetary Regional Assembly judiciary?

More importantly, is it plausible, even under the significant duress of his wife being abducted that Danyel would kill Zekkari? The more I considered it the more I realised he couldn’t. Granted, if I saw someone harming my wife they’d find themselves in not-insignificant danger — but that is different to “I suspect you know something about my wife’s disappearance and you’d better tell me.” I just couldn’t see a cultured, intelligent person resorting to murder on such circumspect evidence. Perhaps of equal importance it didn’t fit who I wanted Danyel to be.

So initially, as the result of my pen etchings I decided that Danyel would accidentally kill Zekkari. An accident is far more plausible than intentional murder.

While my example in this picture is fairly clean it is not uncommon for me to have a half-dozen possible solutions and write the pros and cons of each approach down.

As it happens, that’s not exactly how the story plays out — but I did promise no spoilers…

When you don’t like your main character

She’s so perfect I just puked a little. I apologise for the grotesque (and cliché) expression.

But the cliché fits and it’s how I feel about Sue-Le, my main character in The Rebel Queen. And I don’t mean perfect in a good way. She’s idealistic and only wants the best for her people. And unlike modern politicians, she actually means it. Her only flaw is she’s  innocent to the point of naivety.

This doesn’t make her endearing to the reader, it makes her annoying. In summary: she’s trite, sickly sweet and ultimately annoying. (Is now a good time to ask for beta readers???)

But all is not lost. I’ll put her through the same tumble dry as I have my other characters. I started off with a cast of bland and cliché characters and have redesigned them into interesting, multi-dimensional characters. Sue-Le is going to take a tumble or two more.

I’ve twisted the characters a fair bit to make them interesting. Instead of having a paragraph or two of “who they are”, I now have a page or two. They are richer and deeper. This also makes them more challenging to write. It’s easy to say “write this from the perspective of an older woman”… it’s harder for me to do that as a young-ish male 🙂

After spending most of 2017 revising Vengeance Will Come I must admit I’d rather be writing a new story than revising still… There is also a temptation to say The Rebel Queen is written, and only doing a skin-deep revision. But I wrote earlier that I’m wanting to do a thorough revision, to improve the story as much as possible.

That means I’m re-writing entire scenes and I’m treating the plot as ‘branch A’ instead of a ‘blueprint’ of what must be.

On to writing… have a great day/evening.

Thick Plots and Progress

I’m spine-tingly close to finishing reading The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. To be honest, I’d rather leave this blog and go read – but it can wait until the bus trip tomorrow. Or perhaps before bed tonight.

This morning I was thinking about the thick plotting in The Name of the Wind. Not thick as in dense or stupid, but thick as in many-layered. In my first novel, Vengeance Will Come, I have quite a few points of view, but there is really only two major plot lines – two main goals, with a few minor goals running in parallel.

In contrast The Name of the Wind has only one point of view, most of the story is told in past tense, but it is jam-packed with a plethora of goals, intrigue, wonder and danger.

Spoiler alert: I’m about to share some I can come up with in the next 5 minutes.

  1. The story opens with Kvothe (aka Kote) “hiding” in a backwater pub. Is he hiding from danger, fame or infamy?
  2. What does he know about the “demons” on the country roads?
  3. There’s something different about Kvothe, the young boy, who is exceptional in learning. What is it and why?
  4. What is the name of the wind, and will Kvothe ever learn it?
  5. Will he get to go to the university?
  6. His family, his entire troupe, is killed. Why, exactly? What part of his father’s song was so dangerous to the Chadrian?
  7. We see Kvothe struggle to survive on his own – first in the wilderness, and then in the city. He must avoid his also-homeless arch-enemy and the cruelty of the constables. He battles against hunger, sickness, isolation and trauma. Will he ever reclaim who he was before tragedy struck?
  8. He gets admitted to the university, but how will he pay his tuition and have enough to live on? Will his pride be his undoing?
  9. He makes enemies among the Masters (teachers).
  10. He is banned from the Arcanum for recklessness after being tricked by a privileged peer. Unwilling to be beaten, the two of them will be continually at each other’s throats.
  11. His tuition fees keep increasing because he antagonises some of the Masters. How will he pay back the dangerous money lender? Will he finally go too far and be expelled?
  12. He has a love interest, but there are also other suitors for both of them. Will they find true love with one another? What secrets does his beloved have?
  13. The demons are back…why?

As you can see his battling to have his desires met (attend the university, music, get revenge on the Chadrian); battling his own stubborn character and those around him; wrestling with people he doesn’t get on well, and love interests. There’s just so much going on!

I wish that the book had been less engaging – so I could have studied it more. It would make a great study in wish fulfilment, and balancing success with failure.

And about Vengeance Will Come…

I’ve got 34 things on my TODO list (most relate to checking the timing of scenes) and I am working my way through merging chapters together to make them longer.

 

 

A Reformation is Needed

One of my earliest posts on this blog was about creating a Story Bible – an in-world encyclopaedia to go with my novel.

It’s somewhat depressing to read in that post:

I am getting closer to finishing my first novel…

and be still talking about the same novel, two and a bit years later. Well, I guess technically any progress is moving closer… and (in some respects) I have finished it; now I’m just polishing.

I’m currently revising Vengeance Will Come, hopefully for the last time (pre-publication or pre-free-release), and I’ve noticed that only best intentions weren’t enough to keep my story bible well organised or up-to-date. If only I’d used best intentions and discipline it’d be in a better state.

The question is do I use valuable editing time to tidy up the story bible, ensuring it’s true to the current version of the story? The answer is yes. Vengeance Will Come is book 1 of a series, and so I need my source material to be easily accessible (and accurate) for when writing other books in the series.

I’ll however keep editing for a while longer while my brain is sharp. As the Writing Excuses podcast would say, “‘Smart Ben’ can edit. When ‘Dumb Ben’ subs-in later, he can work on the story bible.”

And then the other shoe drops…

Ever changed the plot and had it have unforeseen consequences later in the story? Well, now I have…

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Source: CoolClips.com

And as yet I don’t know how I’m going to solve the problem of my own making.

On another note I came across a story yesterday about Japan’s evaporating people. Reading stories like these help to broaden my mind beyond my own culture, which is never a bad thing when you’re trying to create your own cultures.

Weak Plot Avoidance Syndrome

Eradicating Jaja should have been easy; change the dialogue slightly and move on. If only…

While looking at Jaja I thought I’d step back one scene to “read myself in”. That’s when I discovered the scene before was also flawed. For someone who is revising a 100,000 word novel is kind of like hearing the watchman yell “iceberg ahead”.

As the editor/author you want to ignore that watchman. Sure, he’s just doing his job, but it’s probably only a small iceberg. It’d be so nice to carry on your merry way steaming ahead, but to do so leaves you vulnerable. It’s a moment like this when I remember a saying I read recently (paraphrased), “I like discovering my past mistakes; it means I am wiser now to be able to recognise them.”

Please, learn from my mistakes. Before drafting a scene ask yourself the question: Do my character’s actions and words fit their role and the context? There’s a reason we have the saying “that’s out of character”. A character’s actions and words should suit them. For example: we a shouldn’t expect a school dropout to cure cancer unless they are either brilliant, lucky or they have recently visited a lab and have sticky fingers. A priest isn’t going to commit cold-blooded murder unless they are really desperate or a closet-psychopath. We can be surprised by hidden motives but we shouldn’t encounter illogical reactions. Illogical reactions are like the mighty clash of a cymbal that rips your readers from the world with confusion or scorn.

My character wasn’t consistent. I had a high level thug who was overly helpful – even compassionate – toward the authorities. Career criminals are rarely so easily or conveniently reached, even if the response was helpful to the plot. That means the plot could use some strengthening.

The fix took me about a week to get through Weak Plot Avoidance syndrome:

  1. One+ days to admit the problem. (“But I’ve already edited that bit, I don’t want to change it. Are you sure it’s a problem? I could fix it, but it’s going to be hard…I could just look at my emails instead…”)
  2. Two days to work out how I was going to solve the problem, and flow-on effects.
  3. Two more for writing and re-writing the scene into a consumable quality. (“Yeah I’ve got the words on the page but they don’t flow well together”).

If only I’d identified this issue earlier there would have been less angst and no flow-on effects. And my poor, unpaid alpha readers might not have had to witness it…