Friday, December 16, 2005

Since I've been gone

Apologies for the lack of posts this week. I just don't seem to have had much to say. But I just started reading the whole Seven Soldiers thing, so expect a comment or two on that soon.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Violence and the single girl

The Fan Fatale forum over at Big Monkey Comics brings up the subject of violence in comics, and how it differs where women are concerned to when it's just guys. This got me thinking, but it's a big subject and there is no way I can address it properly with one post, so I've decided to make it an occasional series that I'll add to whenever I can think of something to say on the subject.

The forum asks if violence towards or by women is portrayed differently than when it only involves men. I think another related question to consider might be will violence by or toward women be perceived differently by the reader?

I'm going to leave you to think about that for a while and take a look at a scene from Supergirl #3.*

Lex Luthor, who has been obsessing over Supergirl for some time, spying on her and pasting up candid photos over her all over his walls finally confronts her and beats her up. Now disregarding the whole creepy stalker aspect of the situation, what we have here is the classic hero/villain confrontation which can be found in virtually every comic ever published by Marvel and DC. So why does Lex feel the need to justify himself?

There is something distasteful about the whole scene. Is it because it's an adult male beating down a 15 year old girl? There have been teenage girl superheroes for a long time. Supergirl herself has been around since 1957. In the silver age a girl hero would be generally pitted against a girl villain, but Supergirl has fought plenty of adult male villains, and even faced off against Luthor on plenty of occasions. So what is different about this scene?

Is it that attitudes have changed over the years and such a scene carries connotations it would not have had before? Is it that Luthor, known for psychologically torturing women for fun, suddenly feels the need to justify attacking his enemy? Or that the explanation he gives is so thin and pathetic? "You wear the big S and that makes it okay for me to beat the crap out of you" doesn't begin to cover all the creepy stalker stuff that's led to this confrontation.

I think a lot of it is that the fight is so totally one-sided and so brutally depicted. Okay, at the end Supergirl appears to have hardly a scratch on her, but that's just a problem with the artist who has just shown her being repeatedly hit so hard that she's spurting blood but is incapable of actually making her look as if she's been bruised. Personally I think if you are going to show violence then do it properly and show the effects of that violence. I'd really rather do without the brutal beatings at all, but if you have to show one, then don't lie to us and pretend that 5 minutes later the character is all better with barely a hair out of place.

*Disclaimer: I picked this comic because it contains the scene I wish to address and I would have done so regardless of who wrote it. Those people who make a fuss every time I discuss a comic written by Jeph Loeb are free to suggest an alternative comic which contains an equivilent scene that I could address. Otherwise please feel free to get over yourselves.

Glad to be gay

Yesterday Robbie Williams won a libel case over a newspaper claiming that he was gay. The basic report is here but that doesn't give the real significance of the story. According to BBC radio 4's news program PM the dispute was not over whether he was gay, but by claiming that he was gay the newspaper was saying that he was a liar when he said he was entirely hetrosexual.

Why not just do them for calling him gay? Because now in the UK to call someone gay is not in itself libelous. As character defamation it has all the power of calling someone "bignose".

I can't but help see this as a mark of greater tolerance toward alternative lifestyles. It almost makes me feel patriotic.

Ever and anon

I blame Stan Lee.

He was the one who had the odd idea that Scandiwegion gods should speak in elizabethan english which, when you think about it makes as much sense as giving Kali and Ganesha japanese accents. But it kind of works to a degree, and does give the Aesir a sense of difference from ordinary mortals. Well, other than ordinary mortals that use thee and thou a lot, anyhow. The big problem with this is that a lot of the writers on Thor, being American, haven't got much idea how elizabethan english works, so they get it wrong a lot.

Okay, I have an advantage here. I'm british. I may not be able to tell you which way up our national flag is supposed to go, but I was taught Shakespeare well enough to get the jokes in Macbeth. It also means that the occasional Shakespearian word makes it into everyday speech here and there.

Most of the time you ignore the stupid mistakes. Either that or you don't read the comic. But now and again you get something that is so stupid it's funny. Case in point:

Now Dan Jurgens is apparently under the impression that "anon" means "immediately". It doesn't. It means "at another time" or "later". So here we have Hercules saying with great anger "Apologise to my father, Thor. In the fullness of time."

Similarly here we have Balder sent on a desperately urgent mission to Svartelfheim, and he says:

Translation: "If your life matters to you, you must free me at some point in the not too distant future!"

It gives the action a much more relaxed feel to it, don't you think?

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Harley and Ivy

Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy: are they totally hot for each other or what?

Well yes, of course they are. But although giving comic characters a homosexual subtext is somehow a whole lot less controversial when they are female rather than if they are male, it's still problematic to openly admit it, especially when the relationship comes out of a cartoon aimed at a 'family' audience, ie. one where the older members of the family don't want to have to explain any of the more complicated aspects of life to the younger ones because the show they are watching was realistic enough to contain any. So although Harley and Ivy are often seen living together, in situations and states of undress that a pair of male characters could never get away with, no details are ever given about their relationship.

Except for one time, in the Batgirl Adventures special, Paul Dini (responsible for the whole situation in the first place) manages to slip in a couple of references that really leave no doubt as to what's going on. The most significant piece of dialogue comes when Harley and Batgirl find Ivy tied up, and at the mercy of the evil Kit Nozawa and her all girl gang and Batgirl says "Why you care about that walking waste dump is beyond me. You'd be safer around a spitting cobra."

And if that wasn't enough, there's also the panel where Ivy describes Harley as "More important to me than you'll ever know." And then when Harley and Ivy are finally reunited...

Aw, it's so sweet.

It's kinda funny that all this paranoid editorial self censorship has actually resulted in a relatively subtle depiction of a lesbian relationship. If they have to pretend it's not there it can never become an issue in the way overt depictions of homosexuality are usually handled.

Go Paul Dini!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

We are all NPC's in someone's game

I was playing City of Villains this morning and some guy calls me out of the blue and asks if he can join my group. I point out that he is much lower level than the rest of the group I'm in, so he says that since his character is more of a support type, his total inneffectiveness against the enemies we would face was not important (which was true to a degree) and he'd get lots of experience points (gaining experience points, for those who don't play these kind of games, is how you progress and get better toys). This is also true, but I didn't feel that inclined to take on a group member whose main skill appeared to be freeloading. I explained this, he called me bad words, and I added him to my ignore list, which blocks me from ever hearing anything he says. But it got me thinking.

Had it been a friend who asked I would have invited them in without hesitation, and expected similar response from them if I was the lower level. We do it all the time among the people I hang out with. But allowing a complete stranger to join my team purely to gain from our efforts while offering minimal contribution themselves? That's going to take a little more persuasion than that they would greatly benefit from it, and I was a little perplexed that anyone should even offer this as a reason.

The only conclusion I could come to was that this guy didn't really understand the difference between a regular solo game and an online game. In an ordinary game there is you, and every other character you meet is generated by the computer and run by the game programming to respond to you in specific ways; these are called Non-player characters, or NPC's for short. In a MMOG (Massively Multiplayer Online Game) you have plenty of NPC's, of course, but you also have a lot of characters that are the avatars of other players who, like you, are sitting at home playing the game on their computer. It's really not hard to tell them apart.

I sometimes think there are some people who never quite get that the other characters they team up with are real people. Their attitude is completely selfish and self-centred. They will leave the game in the middle of a big fight without warning, because they have decided to do something else, thereby getting everyone else killed who was relying on them. They will go take a break leaving their character parked in a position where they will continue to receive their share of the experience points being won by the rest of the team even though they have gone off to make coffee or are chatting with friends on IM. And they will consider it a reasonable argument that they should be put in a position where they gain maximum reward for minimum contribution, and are upset when this fails to persuade complete strangers.

You know, I think there are people like that in real life, too.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Epilogue: now what?

Several people have asked me what I'm going to do with my story now its finished, and when they'd get to see it.

The simple answer is not anytime soon. While there are parts I am very pleased with, there are others that I dread to reread now, not to mention all the bits where I decided that something which happened two chapters ago had now happened differently or not at all.

I'm going to get a bit of distance from it and write something else before I come back and do a second draft. The month may be over but I find I really enjoy this stuff. I always wanted to write since I was a little kid, but I never really had that much confidence in my own fiction writing ability. Now I do, so I'd like to do some more.

After that I may either try to sell it to a publisher or self-publish through or something. I'd rather make it available as an actual physical book than just post it online.

It may be a while but it's likely that this story will be available in some form eventually. I don't intend to just metaphorically stuff it in a drawer and not let anyone ever see it. That's not really my style. :>

Day twenty eight: final entry

I did it!

I can hardly believe it myself, but it's finished. The longest single thing I have ever written. I am in awe of myself. Well, I might be if I didn't have some idea just how much work will be required for the rewrite. Still feeling very smug, though.

I have this thing about life where I'm thinking if somebody came up to me and asked me what i had to show for the last six months, what would I say? Right now I could say "I wrote a novel".

Anyhow, it seems unfair to end this without a quote from the story, so here's a bit from the epilogue.

Greta’s dad led them out to the car park and stopped at a nice looking car, a deep green in colour. Candy had no clue about cars beyond them all having a wheel at each corner, but this was an impressive vehicle. It was the kind of car driven by people who could afford Rolls Royces but didn’t want to appear flashy.

The man opened the boot and he and Greta’s dad started to pile their cases into it. Oh, thought Candy, he’s the chauffer. Which was nice.

“So what’s my little girl been doing at school this term?” Asked Greta’s dad, smiling that big smile. Now there’s a loaded question, thought Candy.

Final word count for first draft: 50,249

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Day twenty seven

One of the problems you often find at the end of a novel is where the reader finally finds out what is going on. At the worst this can involve the heroes taking a chapter at the end of the story to explain the plot to each other after it's all over even though they all know it already, or there's the old cliche of the villain going

"And now before I kill you I shall explain the details of my dastardly scheme."

But how do you get around this kind of infodump cliche? I find as I reach the climax of my story I have to do some of this, partly because I only just worked out a lot of it myself. I started writing it during the final big confrontation, but that just seemed stupid.

Why on Earth would the villain be explaining the plot in the middle of a fight? I read way too many comic books.

So I went back a bit and had various characters who hadn't met before locked up in a cellar so they could compare notes, but it's still kinda clunky. At least it gives me the opportunity to set up one of the final twists a bit better.

Most unexpected plot twist of the day, possibly the whole novel, occured when I realised that the bit of the epilogue I wrote on Friday isn't the epilogue at all. The actual epilogue occurs a little earlier. What I started writing on Friday was the first chapter of the sequel.

Oh dear.

Word count now: 48,133 and on schedule to pass the finish line late tomorrow!! OMG OMG!!!

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Day twenty six

Okay, I'm now getting that whooshing sound as I fly down the hill at ever increasing speed and I'm wondering if I've got any control of this sled or where it's going and am I going to hit a tree.

I had been intending to let the climax of the story build a little more slowly while I figured out what was going on, but given the amount I'm writing right now each day I realised that if I used the last day to tie up loose ends and finish the epilogue, spent the previous day on the climactic confrontation, that only left today to set up the climax.

So about 500 words in to today's episode everything shifts up a gear and the characters who were sitting around being witty and attempting to puzzle out what was going on now have to go deal with a situation RIGHT NOW.

I'm going to have to smooth that out a bit in the rewrite and build up the tension a bit more, but I don't have time to worry about that now.

This is one of the bits I find most difficult to write, when I know I have to get characters from A to C via B and have D, E and F occur along the way. I find it very mechanical, as opposed to when I can just point my characters in the general direction I want them to go and let them get there in their own sweet time, being witty and clever along the way. My main characters are such fun to write that it's like I'm not writing them at all, just running along behind them and taking notes.

One of the most memorable things I read about creating characters was by Dave Sim, back in the sane days. I forget the exact quote (yes, it was that memorable), though I'm sure someone can remind me, but the basic idea was that he reckoned that the mark of good characterisation was that you could lock your characters together in a closet for an issue and you'd still get an entertaining story. He eventually did something very like this in Cerebus #51 or #52 and proved his point. Now I know if I locked my two main characters in a closet they'd just start making out, but maybe if I tied them up...

Meanwhile, back at the novel I did finally work out who the villain was, and it wasn't who I had been setting up at all. And yet somehow it all makes sense and gives the thing a neat twist.

Word count now 45,675.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Day twenty five

Things are starting to get exciting now.

There was something about hitting 40,000 that felt like reaching the top of the hill. It had been a big struggle at times, and a lot of fun at others, but when you have reached that point then all you have left to do is something that you've already done four times over. I was still a little vague on a few minor plot points, like who the villain was and what they were up to, but these were just details.

The biggest worry left was really whether I was going to go over or under fifty thou. It felt like the amount of story left was pretty much on target, but it might take a sudden twist and all tie up a little early, in which case I knew there were plenty of places I had only roughly sketched in where I could go back and add description and detail, but I didn't really want to be doing that if I could help it.

Now I have just over five thousand words left and I don't see any danger of under-running. It was a bit of a slow start this morning and I did a bit of the epilogue, since that was more interesting than the next sequential scene, but I can now see I'll be hard pushed to get from here to there in five thou.

I think I might just pull this one off.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Day 22

Just zoomed past the 40,000 word mark. I'm still on schedule to finish November 29th.


Monday, November 21, 2005

Playing with dolls

I have this theory that all these cool grown up computer games we play are really just a kind of virtual substitute for the toys we played with as kids. I mean obviously all these simulation games are thinly disguised train sets, but MMOG's are really just playing with dolls.

Ok, I'll call them action figures if you perfer, but we all know deep down that action figures are just the name some clever marketing guy came up with so that he could sell dolls to boys without the social stigma that would normally be associated with boys playing with dolls.

Hmm. Maybe we can hire the same guy to re-brand comics so it's acceptable for adults to be seen reading them.

Look at the evidence; the classic MMOG is a heroic fantasy with dragons and wizards and heroes with swords and all that. It's fantasy action figures on a stick.

But the real revelation comes with City of Heroes/Villains. You know what the most successful part of this game is? The bit that everyone comments on and which wins it awards? It's the character creator where you get to design your character and then play dress up with them, choosing your costume from hundreds of different styles and colours. As you progress through the game, there are milestone points where your level of success allows you to add another costume or a cape, or special effects. The whole reward system of the game is geared toward playing dress up with your virtual doll.

But that's probably why I like it so much.

The important things in life

You know when you watch some biographical movie or read a story of someone's life, do you ever wonder how much of the detail is made up? Like if they made a movie of your life, would they get your favourite mug right?

I wonder about stuff like that. When they get to make a movie of my life I think it's essential that when they deal with the period of writing my first great novel (look, this is a daydream, ok?) they should know that the timer on my computer that I use to set up 30 minute writing sessions has an alarm that I replaced the easy to miss and rather dull beep with the theme song to Pinky & the Brain. It's important that I have a little clock that sits on top of my monitor that is set to EST so that when I play online games I don't have to work out whether to add or subtract five hours whenever a time is mentioned. It's maybe less important that sitting on the corner of my monitor is a goth doll with one black plait and one red one, but she means a lot to me.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Things I don't understand

Write a diary of your attempt to scale the mountain of a 50,000 word novel in a month, and nobody comments, not to offer wishes of support or cheer you on your way, not even to say "this is boring, tell us more about Wonder Woman". Stop writing it and you get more comments than you've seen in the best part of a month put together saying no don't go.

Don't misunderstand, I like a bit of feedback at any time. Anyone who does a blog I read knows I read it because I regularly leave a comment, even if it doesn't really contribute anything. Except for Dave's Long Box, which doesn't need my patronage, since it gets more comments during the week when Dave is on vacation and not posting than I get in a month of daily wit and crit. Everyone needs a little support, and unless you are paying to read a blog that you enjoy then it seems only polite to say so now and again.

It's great to find that something I've written has been used in a classroom. But why wait till now to tell me? When I last posted I was going through a very difficult time with the novel and I was getting very depressed about it. The apparent indifference of anyone who read the blog just made me wonder why I was bothering.

So I took a break and didn't even look at the blog for a few days, and I come back and find a bunch of nice comments, so thanks for that.

Meanwhile, somehow the novel just about manages to keep on schedule. Day twenty, the word count is now at 34,374 and I'm in the middle of writing the big lesbian sex scene. Does it count as erotica if they fall out of bed?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Day fifteen


Decided to stop publishing my novel diary since no one is interested in it. I may or may not return to regular blogging once the novel is done.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Day thirteen

Twenty two thousand words in and I still don't know where the plot is going. Okay, I have a pretty good handle on the romantic plot, but the fighting-the-evil-scary-things plot just arrives in little scenes that will at some point blossom into a climax if I'm really lucky. Right now I have no idea who is doing what or why.

The funny thing is that the story does trundle along, occasionally giving me scenes that develop this mythical plot. In fact I've been really enjoying the whole story even though it now bears little resemblence to the one I started writing thirteen days ago.

Until this morning.

I knew I had to start moving the plot along at this point so I started writing without much of an idea where it was going. It wasn't really flowing, but I had a notion and pushed in that direction. But after a while I realised that I for the first time I was not comfortable with the direction the story was going. I don't know where it was taking me but I didn't want to go there. So even though I'd only written about 400 words I stopped. I was tempted to delete what I'd written and start over, but I didn't. Nano is all about the word count, and I could always delete it on the rewrite.

What the heck, if necessary I could take the day off and make it up later (I have faith in my ability to achieve wonders in a last minute panic). I was not going to write something I was not enjoying. So I went for a walk, did some shopping, visited the library, and generally tried not to think about my story.

By the time I got home I had found that the scene I'd written was not going in the direction I thought it was after all, and in fact led in an entirely different direction which didn't give me a bad feeling, so I wrote another 500 words. It wasn't a great 500 words but it moved the plot along a pace or two, and I didn't hate it.

Here's a little snippet from what I wrote yesterday:

“I think we should investigate.” Greta said. “See if we can find this secret passage.”

“Uh huh” Said Candy. “If I come, do I get a Scooby snack?” Funny how almost anything could be a double entendre when your head was in the right place. Greta flashed her a smile that said “Have I got a Scooby snack for you.” in letters of pink neon eight foot high.

It wasn’t until some time later when they had a few minutes alone that Greta explained her thinking.

“You see the thing about secret passages is that they are secret.”

“Also passages.” Said Candy with heavy sarcasm. Greta just smiled and waited for her to get it.

“What’s so… Oh. You mean secret as in nobody ever goes there, so two young ladies might get a little private time together, don’t you, my cunning little kitten?”

Current word count: 22,307

Friday, November 11, 2005

Day eleven

Yesterday I only managed a measly twelve hundred words which I had written in the morning. It was a most excellent twelve hundred words, but my daily minimum target is sixteen hundred and sixty six. Later in the day I sat down to write some more to bring up the total but my mind was blank. My Muse had switched the lights out, left the office, and wasn't taking my calls.

All I needed was a pathetic five hundred words. I could fill that much touching up some of the descriptive passages I had only roughly sketched in. And yet I ended up just staring blankly at the keyboard for about ten minutes, desultoraly playing City of Villains for half an hour, and then getting an early night.

So this morning I woke up with a tinge of panic, wondering what was going to happen next. Two thousand words later I've written some of the best stuff so far and blown straight through one of the most emotional scenes in the story. And yes, sorry, it's a kissing scene. It didn't start out that way but it has turned into what the kid in The Princess Bride would call a kissing book.

Having transcended its origins as a bit of Harry Potter snarkery, I find the fantastic elements of the story almost superfluous. I would have hated this story as a kid. It even has sports in it. I hate sports. One of the reasons I took to cable TV is because they stick the sports onto a whole separate channel where I can safely not watch it instead of having it unexpectedly pre-empt Star Trek with the same boring sports event that is showing on three other channels already.

Okay, so it is Kendo, which I'd be quite interested in trying myself. It's not like my protagonist has suddenly developed a love of football. I am not completely insane.

I also found time for some comics yesterday.

Infinite Crisis continues to fail to impress me. It feels like a trailer for six other comics. And Power Girl looks deformed, and no, not in a good way.

Polly and the Pirates continues to succeed in impressing me. I am still undecided whether the whole story is a dream sequence that started when she went to sleep near the end of issue #1. This issue contains hints that could take it either way. But I did notice an odd graphical quirk in Ted Naifeh's art - in a similar vein to Courtney Crumrin's lack of nose as a purely stylistic device, in Polly we find that none of the little girls have feet. This does not impinge on the story in any way, but were I to ever be in the position of speaking to him, my first question would be

"Courtney's nose. Polly's feet. What's that about, then?"

Word count so far: 19,653

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Day Nine: I know you're out there because I can hear you breathing

I'm glad now that I chickened out of blogging the whole novel as I went along. The fact is that a lot of it is very rough, and I'm scattering mental post-it notes freely as I go along with instructions to polish up or rewrite all the crap bits to make them more interesting, more accurately detailed, and more fun.

Plus there's the whole business of suddenly requiring a character for the plot who needed to be introduced two chapters previously that is part of the whole novel writing process, but which would be a mite confusing to anyone reading the work in progress. At this stage also almost everyone has the same bland voice until suddenly you find that one of them is speaking with an irish lilt and another talks in a very precise, careful way and never uses contractions (always handy when you have a constant eye on the word counter).

And anyway, since nobody has commented in over a week I guess you don't really care about my novelling adventures, so I'm glad I saved myself the additional stress of placing my work in front of an audience that wasn't interested in supporting it.

I'll talk about Kate Bush instead.

I find with Kate's later albums that they take a while to grow on me. Hounds of Love is my favourite and the only one that doesn't seem flawed in some way, containing at least one song that comes across as amateurish on some level - usually because it has an interesting and unusual subject which she has written from the heart, based on some half-remembered experience and then not bothered to research in order to get the facts straight. See my piece on Babooshka for further information.

With that said, my first impression of the new double album Ariel is not great. There's one song whose chorus seems to consist of numbers rather than words, which is interesting and unusual. Do the numbers mean anything? I don't know. There's also what I think may be the first song I've ever heard about washing machines. A quite reasonable and underused metaphor in song, but once you are past the initial oddity, it seems to be just another love song with a peculiar central image.

Don't consider this a review, though. I haven't even listened to the second disk yet. Maybe it will grow on me.

Word count so far: 15,981

Monday, November 07, 2005

Day seven

Ran into a small problem yesterday when I realised that the calculation I'd used to set my minimum daily target was slightly out and that if I stuck to it I'd finish around December 4th. I was already panicking slightly as the story was slowly grinding to a halt for lack of plot.

And yet somehow it continues, and even starts to rise above its origins as an excuse to get snarky about the plot holes in Harry Potter. Although I am quite entertained to find that the character who was originally intended to be the class bully, the Draco Malfoy equivilent, is becoming a running gag so that whenever he catches our heroine alone, before he can do any bullying something dreadful happens to him. The first time they meet Candy punches him in the face and the second time she throws up on him. I'm so bad.

One of the laws of NaNoWriMo is that the first week goes great but by the second week the novelty has worn thin and it's tough to keep the momentum going. For me the opposite seems to be occuring. The first week was a drag, setting out the furniture and introducing the characters without much real inspiration bar the odd Potter dig, but as I hit Day Seven I am all excited about the first big fight scene which I should be tackling today, and which, if all goes well, should shoot my word count well ahead for the first time. We shall see.

In the meantime, here's a snippet from the unfolding adventure:

Candy’s face burned as she spluttered. “Is this really the time and place to enquire about my sex life?” Then she thought for a moment and did a quick sum in her head that went unicorns plus virgins equals...

“Um, okay, I can see it probably is in fact. So, um, no I haven’t actually…” TMI, she thought. To Much Information. No need to give it the Director's commentary. “Uh, yes I’m a virgin.” The word “technically” she left unspoken and decided that this was not the time to debate the specific shading of the term, and hoped that the unicorns weren’t too fussy.

Update: Completely stunned myself by writing three thousand words today, which puts me up to 12,501, and ahead of the minimum daily target for the first time so far. Go me!