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Visual Metaphors, Flat Characters, And Unfinished Thoughts

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It’s been a slow week. Mostly spent watching movies and pacing back and forth while music plays in the background, attempting to dream up story ideas.

I finally got around to watching American Beauty, and loved it. I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed well done visual metaphors; especially when the movie isn’t ALL visual metaphors. I am referring of course to the red rose petals that appear in the fantasy sequences during the film, which (I can only assume) symbolized sexual desire. And let us not forget the quirky characters; there is no substitute for a expertly written one. I really am a sucker for characters like that, which might also explain my love of Breaking Bad, Sleepy Hollow, and House (sure, Sleepy Hollow’s characters may not be “quirky” in the traditional sense, but they DO have a certain flair to them that I love).

I also ended up watching Zero Dark Thirty. I’ll say this for it; at least it didn’t portray every soldier as Captain America. You know, the sort of upstanding, patriotic hero that many people would have you believe soldiers are. That first scene had some good weight to it, and assuming you view the Americans as “the good guys” and everyone else as “the bad guys”, it gives a refreshing release from stereotypes. Hey, it’s not just the bad guys that do terrible things like torture.

Aside from that, however, Zero Dark Thirty sort of fell flat on its face for me. The main character felt like a cartoon, especially when she gets incredibly “hero on a quest” about one-third through the movie, making passionate speeches about how they need to be going after Bin Laden when everyone else has given up. I got this vibe that she was some hero from a small village who had risen up to battle the giant evil dark lord in his castle of doom, and it was hard to take the movie seriously after that. And honestly, whoever this person ACTUALLY was, I’m sure she had a bit more on her mind than Bin Laden 24/7. That was the entirety of her character. There’s a scene where she goes out to a restaurant with a co-worker (who felt like a stereotypical “girl” character, which was a bit annoying) who tells her to relax a bit and asks “do you have any friends at all?” And what does she do? She stares downward and doesn’t answer till the phone rings. If she was an introverted loner, that would be one thing, but this character didn’t seem that way at all. She was just far too single-minded.

In short, she felt more like a plot device than an actual character.

But enough of that. As far as dreaming up story ideas goes, I have accomplished a bit this week. Nothing too extravagant. I’ve been working on plotting a novel I’m writing, and have been occasionally writing bits of short fiction which were discarded very quickly after their creation. I’m horrible at sticking to stuff like that.

To give a few examples, let me show you a piece.

This is something I wrote late one night, not entirely sure what on Earth I was trying to achieve:

Is everyone like me?
Sam’s thoughts were often plagued with such frivolities. For it was frivolous to reflect on such things. It was the sort of statement pretentious morons thought up when they were being “deep”.
Deep into shit, maybe.
But he always did end up reflecting on that ever-persistent question, standing idly in his uniform with that one inconveniently placed mustard stain on his groin, the headset that didn’t work very well affixed to his head, the plastic so warm from the insufferable sun shining in through the drive-thru window that it stuck to his cheek, the microphone always seeming to tilt upward in just the right way so as to obscure his vision. Not to mention the way the headset seemed to turn people’s voices into unintelligible crackles.
Sam took another look around the restaurant, wondering if these people did the same things he did. Spend their whole day with this indifferent, superfluous attitude, then going home to turn on music really loud, dancing around their living rooms pretending they were the star of their own music video, imagining for a moment that they could actually sing, and didn’t look just a little too fat for television. Dreaming of a life where you were always happy and everyone respected you just for the sole reason that you were something good to look at. You’d stand out. You wouldn’t be a drone.
Sam hated being associated with these people. The ordinary, everyday street people. He’d had this moment, all the way back in elementary school, where he realized he was special. A cut above the rest. They were all going to be accountants and engineers and doctors. He, on the other hand, was going to be famous. He was going to make it big. He would prove all the others wrong when they doubted him. Even when they encouraged him, but sarcastically. Everyone was so very sarcastic. Sam could see right through them. They didn’t think he was hard-working enough to make it big in Hollywood, or publish some overnight success novel. He’d make it to stardom, and they’d all look at him and say “well, I have to admit it Sam, you were right all along!”

Sometimes I’ll start with a single line I want to include, or a feeling, a mood, even a title, but often I won’t know where I want to end up, and I’ll leave it partway through. Most of that last piece was taken from my previous experiences with working in fast-food, my high-school-era attitude toward life, and that feeling I actually had when I was younger, the idea that “I’m special, and destined for great things”.

I think I’m one of those people that needs to know the ending before I can begin to create the beginning and middle. I need a direction to head.

For now, I want to continue work on my novel, as I would love to have a completed manuscript on my hands instead of half-fleshed out scraps.

Less-than-eloquently yours,
Brendon “occasional cinephile” Regier

The Importance Of Evil

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I’ve noticed something recently.

I was thinking about a lot of ideas I’ve had over the past few years, and about a lot of media that has come out in that time.

Now, this is nothing new, but most stories recently have been skewing towards a very dark, edgy tone.

I’ve certainly been guilty of this in the past as well. It’s something writers do to lend a feeling of depth to a project. It’s a complete hoax in many cases, but it’s still used a lot.

I’m not sure where this stereotype came from, but it is generally accepted that lighthearted, colorful stories are for children, and darker, gritty stories are for adults.

It’s not that this isn’t true. It is. It just isn’t true in all cases.

The problem is when stories go for a really edgy feel to them for the sole purpose of appealing to an older audience, or making the story seem more “adult”.

That, however, is not in fact the thing I noticed recently; I just thought some context was in order.

What I noticed was how important evil is in a narrative.

You see, I love discussing things I watch and read with my friends; it makes for very interesting conversation a lot of the time. What my friends would often do (and would sometimes spark debate on my part) is dance around a particular point that’s basically always the same: “I didn’t watch X show because it has Y in it.” Fill that in with what you will; didn’t watch Breaking Bad because it had drugs in it; didn’t watch The Wire because it was full of racism and violence; I’m sure you get the picture.

I was reminded of a time back in 2001 when a much younger Brendon was at his piano teacher’s house for a weekly lesson. We were talking about how our respective weeks had been, and I mentioned how I had loved seeing the first Lord of the Rings movie, which had just come out.

“Oh,” said my piano teacher. “I walked out of it with my family when the wizard’s duel happened. Too much magic and witchcraft in that movie.”

I was taken aback. She had missed everything past that point? The journey past Rivendell and that incredible ending sequence with Boromir, and all the wonderful, touching, and tense moments in between? I could certainly understand someone being unsettled by or objecting to witchcraft as a concept; but as a plot device to push forward an incredible story with an amazing message that has lasted and enthralled people for decades, finally realized on screen?

No matter my level of understanding on why she did what she did, I couldn’t help but feel a little annoyed at it.

And that sentiment has not changed over the years.

It is my firm belief that objectionable content, when used correctly, only adds to a movie. This clearly varies from film to film, and depends entirely on what the film is trying to achieve or the message it is trying to send. The themes that permeate it.

To have a truly moving ending, the character must pass through trials. The severity of those trials will determine how grand the climax and payoff is.

The easiest example I can give is The Pilgrim’s Progress, a story of a journey from The City of Destruction to The Celestial City. All thinly-veiled allegorical meanings aside, if this was simply a guy walking from one city to another, it would be both boring and lacking in anything that brings fulfillment to the journey. But luckily, it isn’t just walking. He has to pass through places such as the Slough of Despond, the Valley of the Shadow of Death, the city of Vanity, and The River of Death; all of which obviously sound like places you wouldn’t even want to go near (though it would be sort of badass to be able to say, “yeah, I live next to the RIVER OF DEATH”). The point being, he went through many trials, faced many dangers, and lost friends along the way. And the ending is more meaningful because of it.

I think it would be best to let Samwise Gamgee sum all this up:

“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened?
But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow; even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something.”

So I urge you today, if you are someone who has shied away from something simply because it contained an element you didn’t like, please reconsider.

Going back to the two examples I gave earlier, if I hadn’t given The Wire a shot because of all the objectionable material it contained (which is a lot), I wouldn’t have gotten to experience a very real, down-to-earth show that moved me and gave me new perspectives. It really has some incredible and touching moments.

And for everyone who hasn’t seen Breaking Bad simply because “it’s about drugs”… well, I just have to get this off my chest: you are flat-out incorrect. That show is about the characters that inhabit it. And those people are some of the best written characters I have ever seen grace the screen. Ever.

The darker the tunnel, the brighter the light at the end will seem.

Less-than-eloquently yours,
Brendon “fully realizes the title of this post was totally incendiary” Regier