Weekly Words 23-29/12/2019

Well, one more for the road.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do with Weekly Words going forward, so I’ll just say that this is going to be the last one I’m committing to writing. I’ll do the Yearly Words thing because, I mean, I want to know more than anyone how much writing I’ve done this year – but after that, I’ve gotta take the time to do some prioritising.

I didn’t do much writing this week; I actually don’t think I did any writing this week. Besides this blog post. But I’ve done some thinking, some reading, and have made an important decision.

In 2020, I have to tell a good story.

The Rise of Skywalker

This film is not good.

And what I mean by that is that this film is what happens when you try to make a film trilogy where continuity matters and don’t actually plan out the story beforehand. Also when you cave to racist fanboy gatekeepers on Twitter. Those are not the kind of fans you should want to win back, Disney. Go fuck yourselves.

But besides all the political and technical issues, the fact that Carrie Fisher died and they had to scramble to compensate somehow, the fact that clearly J.J. Abrams had a different vision of the trilogy to Rian Johnson (and there was either no communication or it was really bad communication) and took the “opportunity” to just cram in every idea that he had for the entire trilogy into this one film, in the process soft-retconing everything set up in The Last Jedi because it didn’t fit into that vision …

It’s just a bad story.

All of these bad, indeed wrong decisions, culminate in a pathetic, incompetent, and ultimately just careless storytelling experience. No time is afforded to setting up any of the ideas presented or plot-points covered, and as a result everything that happens feels neither consequential nor earned. It just happens. With dialogue that is, at a guess, 90% telling over showing. There are good ideas in this film, just as there have been across the entire trilogy. But they’re not given space to breathe, develop, or take root and grow into something truly meaningful. The Knights of Ren? Stormtroopers defecting from the totally-not-the-Empire? Rey being trained by Leia? She and Kylo Ren being a “dyad in the force”? All good ideas. None treated with respect.

And the characters … I shared a rant with my co-writing buddy’s sister about this the other day, during our mid-session break from our D&D game, and as she was telling me about various works of fanfiction that, so it sounds, do a much better job at actually exploring the concepts presented in these films, I realised that this is a bad story because it’s so fucking lazy. One fanfiction she was telling me about takes the idea that Poe and Ben grew up together, and while Ben felt alienated and unable to relate or connect to his parents, Poe was there to basically be the son that Leia wished she could have had. Maybe I misheard – but seriously, just think about that. Think about that being a factor when, in the first film, Kylo Ren is hunting down Poe and BB-8; think about that being a factor when, in The Last Jedi, Kylo Ren almost kills Leia, and Poe is forced to sit on his hands for reasons he doesn’t understand while Admiral Holdo puts her plan into action.

Think about any of these characters having any sort of connection to each other whatsoever.

Because, like, they don’t. They just fucking don’t. Even in the original trilogy, Han and Leia have their own interactions with Darth Vader independent of Luke; in the prequels, which are incompetent for pretty much the opposite reasons of this “sequel trilogy”, there’s all sorts of conflict between Padme, Anakin and Obi-Wan, all sorts of different … points of view … so even though Star Wars has a reputation for being slavishly devoted to Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, to the point of being transparently rote in places, the filmmakers still took the time to establish relationships between the characters.

They’re also really indistinct. Everything, everything that I’ve come to recognise as a defining character trait in any of the characters in these sequel films has come to me as a result of passionate and critical fans extrapolating on the breadcrumbs that the filmmakers deigned to toss at their feet for us to scramble for. We get hints and moments and every other generous euphemism for “not the fuck enough development” to suggest who these people are, what matter to them, and why. But we deserve more than that. And the most frustrating thing of all is how not just easy it would have been to include these things, but how including them is actually, when you think about it in comparison to other films, books, etc., a basic element of storytelling. These films don’t just not push the envelope; they’re made by filmmakers so self-absorbed that they haven’t even checked the mailbox. At the very least Rian Johnson sought to shake things up – they were just not always the right things. But J.J. Abrams … I don’t even fucking know. I don’t know why either of them were hired, even considered, as directors for Star Wars films. J.J. Abrams at least has the 2008 Star Trek under his belt, but Star Trek was a better Star Wars film than either of the actual fucking Star Wars films that he made. It was coherent, self-contained, and tied up all of its loose ends, while still managing to leave the door open for sequel possibilities and big questions to be asked and answered going forward. It was a simple action-adventure story, and that’s what Star Wars is supposed to be.

TL;DR: a baboon infected with the strain of cordyceps featured in The Last of Us could have done a better job overseeing this trilogy, and so could I, but since I’ll never get that opportunity I’m just going to tell a good story of my own.

Re-Re-Reading

That story, right now, is going to be Bad Guys. After a much-needed and appreciated pep talk from my co-writing friend, I am feeling much more optimistic and seeing more opportunities with my own work – adding to my realisation last week that what I’ve got is actually totally fine on its own terms without having to be the groundwork for something “better”, I now realise that what I’ve got has so much potential for what it is. And much as Bad Guys was supposed to be pulpy disposable trash, it can still be a good story.

So, I’m going to do my darndest to make that happen.

Right now I’m reading over it again and just seeing what’s fine in the manuscript. Not good, just fine. Things that I don’t need to change. I’m looking to change as little as possible, and make a revision plan based on that. I’m not saying that this is going to be the revision plan that I go for, but it’s the revision plan that, right now, I need to do. And so far, two chapters in, most of it is fine. It’s amazing what a slight shift in perspective can do for a project.

That said, I’m thinking ahead and am quite sure that, one way or another, shit’s gonna have to change eventually. But by the same token, it’s probably less than what I’ve been anticipating up to this point. And it’s proving very helpful for the purposes of widening my perspective to be embarking on this re-read with this mindset, highlighting both the possibilities I haven’t yet considered, and how much about this zero draft actually works pretty well, by which I mean it needs either no or very minimal tweaking to be in a state that I’d consider “ready”. Of course, I’m not an editor, publisher or agent, but I am a reader, and I’ve read worse than what I’ve written here – in parts. It’s the whole package that needs work, but in individual bits and pieces, I must say that I’m quite pleased with what I’ve managed to accomplish here. Nice work, me.

One thing is still missing though, and ranting about everything wrong with The Rise of Skywalker yesterday helped me to put my finger on it …

Strength of Character(s)

Because while I was coming to the realisation that the characters in the “sequel trilogy” are too indistinct from one another or the plot-points they exist to act out to form any meaningful emotional attachment to, I also came to the realisation that I, too, often fail to do the “basic” character-development work that I am now accusing The Rise of Skywalker – and the entire trilogy – of failing to do. I think in terms of structure and events and, yes, big emotional moments that destroy people’s souls when they read them. I can give my characters stuff to do; but that’s not the same as fleshing out who they are. A lot of it is because I’m a fucking snob, and turn my nose up at what I consider “predictable” or “generic” character arcs and relationship dynamics purely because I’ve seen it before and not found it particularly compelling. And hey, if I don’t find it compelling, why would I put it in a story of mine?

But maybe it’s because I’m older now than when a lot of these hard-line opinions of mine were formed, maybe because I’ve seen better examples of these archetypes as time has gone on and storytelling conventions have evolved and progressed, maybe just because I understand those archetypes a little better and why they’re good and are used over and over again – whatever the reason, I want that kind of attention to character not just in my stories, but in my brain. It’s not an area of expertise that I’ve spent much time developing to date, and while I think that, intuitively, I include some dynamism and contrast and texture to my characters’ interpersonal relationships, a lot of my ideas, and my idea-generating process, suffers from that process not being more robuts, more conscious on my behalf.

And I think that in order to tell my “good story” next year, that needs to change.

Thankfully, a humbling and surprising development has taken place. In looking up [TRIGGER WARNING FOR: discussion of child abuse, statutory rape, transphobia, racism] some of the current issues in the writing world (which I now feel compelled to keep up to date with), I discovered the delightful Heaving Bosoms podcast, where hosts Erin and Melody read and talk about romance novels. It turns out that romance novels (at least some of them) have exactly the kind of dynamic character-work that I feel like I’m missing – which makes sense, for the biggest-selling book genre in the world. Sure, it’s not all particularly original, but it works. It’s simple, it’s tried and true, and it brings a story together.

In short, it’s everything about Star Wars that I love that wasn’t in the sequel trilogy.

And on top of making me realise that one of the books I’ve been trying to get off the ground for over a decade now is, in fact, a romance story at its core, it’s also giving me the opportunity to confront my hang-ups about using – and ignoring – certain character archetypes, why I’ve chosen one or the other, and what I stand to gain by exploring the possibilities that using some storytelling tools that I’ve written off as “basic” for so long might bring.

I guess what I’m saying is that, while I started 2019 in a rut and have been feeling very frustrated, tense and aimless over the past few months, this year is ending on a very high, very exciting note.

I think I’m all right with that.

I have spent most of this year wanting to do more writing. I now see that, actually, I already do, and will always do, a fair bit of writing. It’s all the other stuff that I want to start giving my attention to going forward, the rest of the process – and the parts of my life that lie beyond it. I feel quite … refreshed. Reinvigorated. I have work to do, and I’m looking forward to doing it.

Also I did a workout for the first time in like six months and I feel amazing it’s kind of ridiculous …

Writing: 2074

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