Director’s Commentaries

Whenever I get a DVD and I like the movie, I check out the bonus features to see if there’s a director’s commentary. I always find it interesting to listen to the director’s thoughts as he/she takes you through the movie. You learn about the choices they made concerning the story, why they shot the scene the way they did, the ideas they discarded, what came from the script and what came from the actors. I learn a lot listening to how other creative minds approach their work. I recently listened to Joss Whedon’s commentary for the Avengers. He wrote and directed the movie. (Let me just say up front that Joss Whedon is god when it comes to story and dialogue.) He said that Marvel had told him up front they wanted Ironman and Thor to conflict. Whedon said his job wasn’t to create the fight (the storyboards guys did that) but to justify it. There were a lot of suggestions about having one of them under a misapprehension or a spell, but he discarded those. He said those kind of reasons were deadly. If you have guys pounding on each other over a misunderstanding then you are just waiting for them to start talking to one another. “You’re just checking a box. Ironman fights Thor. Done. And you don’t want that.” What you want are two guys with conflicting agendas. What he came up with is something that’s done in a lot of cop movies—you can’t bust the bad guy becomes he’s part of a bigger operation. That gives you an excuse to set them against one another....

Episodic Writing

I remember getting a comment back from an editor on one of my early stories that said my writing was episodic. I didn’t know exactly what was meant by that, but I knew it wasn’t good. It took me awhile, but I finally figured out what episodic meant. It meant there wasn’t enough character arc or story arc, and that the chapters were too neat, self-contained—like an episode. So I tried to correct that. I was more conscious of having arcs, of crafting scenes that built upon one another and of creating characters that pulled you through the story, which is good for a novel. I’ve recently read a novel, though, that is unapologetically episodic. In fact it doesn’t have chapters. It has episodes. The Human Division  was first released as three ebooks, and then several months later the hardback and audiobook were released. At the same time a new ebook came out with the complete book plus a couple of extra codas that the hardback and audiobook book had as extra features. I think the book needed to be episodic because of the way it was first released, which was similar to the way the stories were serialized in the paper. Think of the Sherlock Holmes stories. When I heard about this book I was curious to read it. I’m also a big John Scalzi fan. His book Redshirts is one of my all time favorites. I have to say I think it was very effective. It’s different from his other novels. It’s very much like a TV show, similar to Babylon 5 in structure. And while there aren’t...

Bathroom Book

I just finished my current bathroom book Libromancer, which was fabulous. Nowadays I seem to do most of my reading that way. I picked up the next book from the library stack I usually have available. I ordered Year Zero based on a review I had read. I’m a sucker for humorous science fiction and as there isn’t much out there, I was looking forward to seeing if this lived up to the review. The first line is “Aliens suck at music.” If you can make me laugh with the first line, you’ve got me hooked. I have a feeling I’m going to be spending a fair amount of time in the bathroom. I may even have a bout of diarrhea coming...