Review: Daredevil Season Two

Posted on by

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, internet. I’d apologize, but I’ve been busy! I’ve taken on a lot of recurring work over the past year, and it’s edged out most of my available free and/or work time. The good news is that I’m able to financially support myself again; the bad news is that it doesn’t leave me with an awful lot of time to write. That said, I’m doing what I can, and over the next couple of months, I fully intend to sink into a comfortable rhythm from which I can start producing some decent fiction.

Until then, I want to talk about Daredevil Season Two.

I’ve told pretty much everyone who will listen what an amazing time it is to be a nerd. For decades, nerd culture was shunted to the side, scoffed at, or was otherwise ignored and labelled “kid stuff.” The Spider-Man trilogy started to change that, but even their box office returns weren’t quite enough to begin calling that kind of thing mainstream. Batman Begins helped a lot, but even that felt more like a niche audience; the Dark Knight trilogy didn’t really catch on until… well, The Dark Knight, and that was entirely based on the performance of Heath Ledger as Joker.

No, the rise of nerd culture in the mainstream is, in my opinion, pretty much the result of Robert Downey Jr.’s insanely charming performance of Tony Stark and Jon Favreau’s guiding ideology for Iron Man. Eight years ago (yes, Iron Man came out in 2008), Hollywood proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that comic book movies could be made for adults, that they could be accessible by kids, that they could be financially successful, and that they could be done right.

You know the rest; Marvel began churning out new IPs until they couldn’t find any more; we’re getting Doctor Strange later this year, along with Black Panther (which sounds way more racist than it actually is) in 2018. I fully expect them to continue scraping the bottom of the barrel until they start using Namor, the Marvel ripoff of Aquaman, but I’m going to go ahead and see every single thing they put out, because I’m a slave to this kind of stuff. They also kind of have the highest batting average of any studio I’ve ever even heard of; they haven’t made a bad movie since the Hulk franchise was killed.

Anyway, Marvel proved that they could do camp and brightly energetic stuff early on, but there were a few people who liked the darker style that the Dark Knight trilogy is known for— the realism, the washed-out lighting, the brooding, and the edginess that makes you feel like every scene could play out at your local Hot Topic. Because their cinematic universe was built around colorful and exciting movies, they couldn’t exactly execute a tonal shift well enough to produce a hardcore series of films that fits the mood of Daredevil and still have it feel like a Marvel movie.

So instead they went to Netflix, where they were given thirteen hours to tell something dark, edgy, and interesting, without the insanely high stakes that the Avengers franchise needs in order to function as a vehicle.

Season One was pants-crappingly awesome. I loved every second of it, despite its flaws— and there were some. The narrative did drag in the middle of the season, they tried really, really hard to find something for Deborah Ann Woll’s Karen Paige to do that was also plot relevant, and…

That costume. Oh, that terrible costume.

But I was able to overlook what was wrong with Season One mainly because of Vincent D’Onofrio’s portrayal of Wilson Fisk. Every scene that guy was in was my favorite scene of the episode; he really was that good.

I was ecstatic to hear that it was cleared for a second season (pretty much moments after it aired), but I was left with a nagging doubt: could the series continue to be as good without the Kingpin to caulk up the cracks in the narrative? Continue reading

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Rules to Break: Show, Don’t Tell

Posted on by

There is a rule that is often taught to creative writing students that might do irreparable harm to their prose: “Show, Don’t Tell.” I was told frequently that summarization and describing moods is terrible writing. Professors insisted that I canonize one of my least favorite writers of all time, Ernest Hemingway, for his minimalistic style that refused to resort to the petty internal monologues that other, lesser authors leaned on as a crutch.

I hate Hemingway. “The Old Man and the Sea” remains my least favorite book of all time, for its heavy-handed Christ allegories, its dour tone, and the lack of any sort of interesting story. The fact that it’s required reading for high school English students while books that will actually engage teenagers and children like “Harry Potter” are not remains one of the biggest reasons I did not become a teacher. God forbid we should teach recent and influential books to students– no, we should instead teach a sixty year old text about a senior citizen who goes fishing. Never mind that current students can’t engage with the text or identify with the era in which it was written. Let’s bore them, that’s a good idea.

Here’s a pair of sentences from Hemingway that should sum up his writing style if you’ve never read him before: “He went to the river. The river was there.” Pulled from a short story titled “Big Two-Hearted River,” this sentence duo is hailed as excellent prose. And it is, if you’re writing for English Literature professors and nobody else.

The reason I speak of Hemingway and my distaste for his writing is that he was a big supporter of “Show, Don’t Tell.” The rule, as you might guess, states that, rather than tell the reader what happened, what is happening, or what characters are thinking, you demonstrate it by action. Instead of writing “Mark was terrified,” you should write “Mark gasped in alarm and fright.”

The idea of the rule is to engage with the reader’s senses– taste, touch, sight, smell and hearing– and allow them to infer the implications. In a previous post, I explain some of the dangers of going overboard with descriptive writing.

In brief, overly descriptive prose takes up so much space and time that it might just annoy the reader. People don’t need details on every single piece of furniture in a room, the individual wrinkles on a character’s face, or the exact textual depiction of every leaf on every tree.

In fact, I prefer to do almost the opposite, especially when it comes to describing how characters look physically. In Catalya, for example, I describe the titular character as beautiful, with green eyes, and a musical laugh. That’s it. For Chuck, the perspective character, I only say that he wears glasses. His dad is described as a big man, as is his friend Alex. Andrew has a beard. And Catalya’s mom looks like her daughter. The closest I get to any sort of definitive description is Derek, who is detailed as tall, of indeterminate age, and with a long scar across his face.

I don’t give too many details for two reasons. The first is that, by excluding them, I allow the reader to fill in those details on their own. Catalya looks like whoever you want her to, and the same goes for the other characters.

The second is that Catalya clocks in at 121,000 words, already pushing the generally accepted limit of commercial fiction (though I think that’s a bunch of crap). If my style required excessive details, that word count would likely be upwards of 160,000– there are a lot of scenes and locations.

“Show, Don’t Tell,” on the other hand, demands those descriptions. Adjectives are a way of life for the style’s adherents, but they are never applied to mood or inner monologue.

This style focuses on prose rather than plot. Word choice and sentence construction are paramount. 

As I have said many times before, I firmly believe that good plots make good books. I think that before you ever put words on a page, you should come up with the best plot possible.

There are some benefits of the rule, however. Some scenes absolutely should be sensory and descriptive.

These are the types of scenes that add drama to the story. Details of a wedding scene should be plentiful. A first date might include descriptions of outfits and demeanor. The scenes done this way will depend entirely upon the story, its narrative arcs, and the writer’s discretion, of course.

The problem with relying too heavily upon it, however, is that it can drag the pace of a story right down to zero. I read a story once that had a thrilling chase scene; a dude was running from vampires through an office building. In the middle of the action, the narrative stopped for three paragraphs to describe the layout of a room the protagonist just entered. It then picked right back up, beginning with the protagonist leaving the newly-described room.

 

This is a rule that should be broken, and as frequently as you wish. This is especially true depending upon the point of view of your story.

Let me explain.

When you write in first-person, unless your perspective character is a mind reader, every other character’s actions are a case of “Show, Don’t Tell.” There is no vehicle to describe inner monologues, hidden emotions, or ulterior motives, except inferences made by the perspective character– inferences that can be wrong. Because every detail is viewed through the lens of another character, obviously the individual actions are open to interpretation.

That doesn’t mean that the same can or should be true of the perspective character. There is absolutely nothing wrong with narrating.

“I was scared. Scared that I would lose her.”

Works just as well as

“Monica, you aren’t thinking of leaving me, are you?”

Imagine, for a moment, a first-person POV book written entirely in “Show, Don’t Tell” style. No narration is given; all of the details are plentiful, and their implications are entirely inferred by the reader. Does the perspective character’s shuffling feet indicate nervousness or eagerness? That’s up to you, dear reader, because I can’t be bothered to tell you. What book on this planet would you want to read like that?

Well, you would be reading Fight Club. Chuck Palahniuk is a big proponent of “Show, Don’t Tell.” While I like his plots, I find his prose to be borderline unreadable. It reads like slam poetry. And while poetry is fine in and of itself, I believe that it has a place, and novels are not it.

Detail after detail assails you, with no break in the narrative, no exposition, just data, raw data, pummeling your brain until you see the scene. I don’t think that there is a wrong way to write stories, but I’ll be damned if this doesn’t seem like one. I felt the same way about Jonny Truant sections of House of Leaves, which was written in a similar style. That, at least, had the saving grace of being a fascinating labyrinth of a book. Fight Club was just the most nineties book ever written (your job is lame and boring, there are no real men any more, and if you have a steady income and use that income to purchase things you think would look good in your house, you’re a sellout).

There’s nothing wrong with providing details. They’re good! Details can help you provide your reader with an escape, or give an insight into a character’s traits. But there absolutely must be a balance.

I work as a freelance editor, and I’ve worked on several client’s novels. (By the way, twenty thousand words is not a novel– hate to break it to you). Far too often, these first-time authors appear to have fallen into this trap of overly descriptive writing, and have, rather than providing a finished product that is well-written, have handed me a document that is chock full of purple prose. Every single line in one of them contained some kind of sensory description of the scenery or the characters present.

Like, I get it. The chair is brown, sagging closer to the floor after multiple generations of alcoholic Archie Bunker-wannabes have sat in it. We don’t need forty words dedicated to a freaking chair. It’s not even an important chair– it’s just there while two people are talking. Neither of them are even sitting in it! And it’s never mentioned again.

I’m not exaggerating, here. I deleted the chair paragraph (along with a lot of other things), and was given a lecture in return about how I don’t understand the symbolism of the chair. I got an email from this client telling me about how this freaking chair represented the patriarchy.

Look, I understand where a lot of you guys are coming from. I’ve got degrees in English Literature. I’ve read the stuff, written the papers, had the debates, and heard the lectures. It’s very easy to fall into this trap, to begin to believe that the average reader enjoys dissecting books until every last allegory is exposed, that they love to discover all of the hidden symbolism in each text, and that their open interpretation of what you meant when you described the home as Blue (with a capital “B”) is what drives you as a creator.

But you know what? It’s not true. It really, really isn’t.

The only way you can get away with stuff like that is if it isn’t heavy-handed. You know who wrote really tediously? J.R.R. Tolkien. That’s right, I said itThe Lord of the Rings changed my life, and set me on a course from second grade to who I became today, but I’ll be damned if he doesn’t spend twenty damn pages describing the road upon which the Fellowship travels. I love that story, but won’t read it again until it’s time for me to read it to my kid.

Summarization and narration are important tools in a writer’s arsenal. There is absolutely nothing wrong with telling your reader what your character is thinking or what they’re feeling. Not every single scene needs to be a sensory experience. I hear from a lot of people that it isn’t about the destination, it’s about the journey. And I get what they mean, but, like, shouldn’t you make sure that you’re not detouring in Moscow to get to London?

The fact of the matter is that you have to strike an appropriate balance in your prose. You absolutely cannot focus on prose and sacrifice the plot. The truth is that we remember The Lord of the Rings because of the epic story, not the clean, crisp narrative.

And please, for the love of God, remember that description is not all it takes to write well.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

TV Show Review: Netflix’s Daredevil

Posted on by

I am always consuming stories. To me, I don’t care if it’s from a TV show, a movie, a book, or a well-written video game; stories are stories to me, and the medium really doesn’t matter to me.

I also suffer from chronic insomnia, a condition I would not wish upon my worst enemy (except, perhaps, Kurt Russell, who knows what he did). I take medication for it, and it works pretty well, but it also takes about four hours before it starts to affect me (my tolerance is ludicrously high to sleeping pills, as I started taking them when I was around twelve).

Basically, since I also currently only work as a freelancer from home and sell my books (NOW AVAILABLE IN TRADE PAPERBACK! CHECK IT OUT!), I have an additional five to six hours each day that most people don’t. Most insomniacs still have to go to work in the morning; I’m already here.  Continue reading

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Tabletop Review: DBA 3.0

Posted on by 0 comment

I’m taking a minute today to break from my normal posting topics (literature and all things writing) to discuss my other hobby: tabletop war games.

I started playing when I was about ten years old, when my dad and I would make up nonsense rules for army men in the sandbox in my backyard. It wasn’t until I was about twelve, when my uncle David came down from New Hampshire for a visit, that I was exposed to organized rules for the first time. That was my earliest exposure to DBA. Continue reading

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Rules for Paper Writing: Best Practices

Posted on by

I spent a couple of posts telling you guys what you shouldn’t do when writing papers. Today, however, I’m going to take some time to outline some things that you should do if you want to get a decent grade.

I put together some videos detailing the Fried Chicken Method, which was taught to me several years ago by my favorite professor, Dr. Ricciardi. It’s a pretty straightforward method that deals mainly with paragraph construction. It’s designed to be a system that can allow anyone of any skill level to write a solid paper. I’m going to take it for granted that you watched the videos, because I don’t like retreading the same ground twice, and it really is a lot of information to type out here. Just… just watch the videos, okay? I put a lot of work into them. They’re free.

Whether you decide to use the Fried Chicken Method or not, there are some things that everyone should do in their papers. Continue reading

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Writer’s Block: The Brutal Truth

Posted on by

Every single writer who has been working for longer than a year or two has hit a wall. It’ll often happen at the absolute worst time, too. And there is absolutely nothing I or anyone else can say that will save you from it.

Sure, there are articles scattered across the Tubes of the Internet Machine, books filling half of the self-help section of Barnes and Noble, and everyone from psychics to motivational speakers all insisting that there is a silver bullet for Writer’s Block. The only trouble is that they’re full of crap. Continue reading

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Op-Ed: Common Core

Posted on by

I’m taking a break from my normal format here to talk about some things that haven’t been sitting right with me for a while. As the title suggests, it has to do with the oft-reviled Common Core.

I have degrees in English Literature, History and Adolescent Education. One of the reasons I don’t hold a New York State certification for teaching is that I abandoned the career path after I completed my mandatory hundred hours of observation. Originally, I was poised to be placed in an English department classroom as a student teacher, and I would eventually become certified to teach History or English– and English teachers who are dudes are a rare commodity in New York State.

But I was turned off the job by a host of reasons (and the fact that I don’t have the right temperament to teach high school– I would’ve been fired for flying off the handle within a year). The most egregious thing was the curriculum, which I loathed. Continue reading

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Category: Essays | Tags: , , ,

Common Paper Writing Mistakes Continued: Five More Basic Errors

Posted on by

In a previous post, I outlined simple mistakes that are made with startling frequency in college papers. Well, that didn’t cover nearly all of the basic flubs I’ve seen over the years.

For some, this will come as new information; for others, this will be an example of a crotchety old man yelling at the ocean. Considering that I’ve often said that I’m basically a twenty-something octogenarian, I’m okay with the characterization.

Here’s the rundown of an extra five errors. Continue reading

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Things Happening, Continued

Posted on by

You might have noticed some disruption over the past couple of weeks to the post schedule, and for that I apologize. The truth is that I’ve been working on the next book rather frequently, and writing posts takes an awfully long time out of my day. For perspective, a typical fiction writing post is about 2,500 words, which takes me anywhere from two to five hours, depending on the amount of research I have to do.

I promised myself that I would never sacrifice quality for quantity, so rather than rush to push out something that was sub-par for the website, I’ve been taking the time normally spent writing one or two posts to work on the next book.

The book is titled Thoughtstuff, Volume One: Things in the Dark, Things in the Light. It is more than halfway done. I should have the rough draft completed by the middle of next week, and subsequent formatting and editing done by the fifteenth (give or take a few days). It will likely be available for purchase sometime shortly after that. Continue reading

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Category: News

Story Length: Why You Shouldn’t Worry

Posted on by

Throughout a longish college career, I spoke to a couple dozen other writers, young and old, new and experienced. We talked about habits and methods, shared anecdotes on the Dreaded Writer’s Block and how to overcome it, and generally kibitzed with each other. We’d discuss the things we were working on at the time, and humbly brag about how amazing we all were.

One of the most jarringly divisive topics turned out to be the length of stories, especially novels. I was kind of shocked to see how strongly some of these writers felt about the subject. Continue reading

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail