To Fan Fiction or Not to Fan Fiction

To FanFiction or Not ot Fanfiction copy

Have you ever watched your favorite show or movie, read your favorite book or comic book or even played your favorite video game and thought “Man, I would love to write a story with these characters!” Well there is a whole genre of fiction writing dedicated to just that. It’s called Fan Fiction.

If you just google the word “Fan Fiction” you will find a vast array if tales from licensed universes anywhere from Doctor Who to My Little Pony. Yes, I said My Little Pony and I’m sure you will find far weirder if you dig far enough. Careful though, some things you can’t unread.

How do these work, you ask? Well it’s quite simple. You write a story set in one established universe of your choosing, this can be a story set between two seasons of a TV show, two episodes of the show, in between movies or a retelling of said shows, movies, games, books, or comics. It’s really whatever you want it to be. You can even go all “Rule 63” and swap genders of the main characters if you so desire.

One of the best/ worst things about Fan Fiction is that it’s completely free. It costs nothing to write stories, nada to post them and your readers’ zilch to read them. (Had enough zero synonyms yet?)

Why is free a bad thing? Well since your readers get to read your work for free, you don’t make any money off of it. And you can’t charge for it either. The websites that house communities of Fan Fiction won’t allow you to charge for your work and there’s a bigger reason why. You don’t own it. Yep you just spent days, months, and even years slaving over a stories you made up, but because it is set in a universe that someone else created with characters they created, it’s not yours. The Hulk is owned by Marvel, Doctor Who by BBC, and Harry Potter by JK Rowling and Warner Bros and so on. If you charge for your Fan Fiction work, you could be sued, heavily!

The other reason free can be bad is that anyone with a keyboard and internet connection can do it. Again that sounds like a wonderful thing, doesn’t it? Realistically a good chunk of people will write something in the span of a few minutes or hours and post it without revision. The work looks sloppy and misguided, like Gollum.

Man, I’m really bringing the mood down here aren’t I? Okay well there are some really positive things for the average Novel Noob to get out of Fan Fiction. One of those things you can “get” is noticed. As much as it pains me to say it, one famous example is “50 Shades of Grey” author E.L. James.

Before she became a millionaire making readable porn for dummies, EL James wrote Fan Fiction for Stephanie Meyer’s “Twilight” series.  When she started work on 50 Shades, she had enough recognition around the Twilight communities that she was able to get published. This is obviously just one really extreme example, but there is no reason to think that you couldn’t gain a decent readership from your Fan Fiction work to help launch your own personal stories. All you have to do is make sure your stuff is polished, professional and most of all entertaining!

Something else you can gain from fan fiction is practice. If your Novel in Progress has you stumped beyond recognition to the point where you stare at the blinking word processor icon for hours on end and never throw words behind it. Jumping into a universe of already established setting and characters might be just the jolt you need to keep your mind racing and ideas regenerating. By the time you finish your Fan Fiction work you might have ideas to bring back to your Novel in Progress. Not to mention techniques you may have stumbled across while writing the Fan Fic.

In the end, the choice is yours. If you choose to write Fan Fiction, you have to be okay with the face that you will never earn money from it directly. However, it could be rewarding to you in other ways. That is, unless you write My Little Pony Fan Fiction. I don’t see how that could be rewarding, ever!

Andy Weir’s “The Martian” Review

the martian

Sometimes you see a book and you put it on your mental “To-Read” list. It sits comfortably behind tens or hundreds of other books you still have to read and patiently waits it’s turn. Such was the case for Andy Weir’s “The Martian” for me. I saw it while browsing the shelves at Barnes & Noble a year or so ago. What a gathered from the book jacket was that it would be a sort of Hi tech MacGyver meets cast away. It struck me as an interesting sounding read and something I might enjoy.

Every time I would see a positive review about the book I would say to myself “Yeah I have to read that.” And it would still sit in my mental list…waiting. I saw news that they would be making it into a movie and still thought the same thing. “I have to read that.” But still it sat in my head waiting. I wasn’t until I saw the preview for the movie it gave me real sense of urgency. I had to make sure I had the book completed before the movie came out so I could pick apart the movie like any decent bookworm would do. Then they announced that “The Martian” the movie would release a month earlier than expected due to excitement over the film. “Okay,” I thought. “I really have to read it NOW!”

I lassoed “The Martian” and yanked it to the front of the line. I’m glad I did. The book was enjoyable and fun. It makes for a perfect summer read. Mark Watney is a great leading man and not a bad guy to get “stranded” with for an entire book. His small quips in his mission logs which basically serve as his inner monologue are enough to get more than a snicker out of you a few times in the book. The Mission Logs are the only way Watney communicates to you and the primary way the book does. Weir summons full use of this POV for both drama and comedy. Watney will be about to complete a very dangerous task and you will be have to wait until his next mission log to find out how it went. Sometimes Weir takes that opportunity to cut to “Houston” (NASA) to hold tension or instantly back to Watney to relieve it.

One of my favorite scenes in the book happens right after one of the NASA execs finds out Watney is still alive on Mars. He looks out a window up to the night sky and wonders what being left behind on a planet all by yourself must do to your psyche. The next scene is a mission log where Watney is wondering how Aquaman can communicate with whales since they’re mammals.

That being said, I feel like sometimes Weir pushed Watney too far to make him seem funny or independent. Once he gets communication with NASA, he tends to mouth off an awful lot to ground control. I personally find it hard to believe that a trained NASA astronaut would respond this way to ground control no matter what situation they were in. In these instances, Watney became less like a character and more like Weir pushing the idea that “Hey this guy is smart and snarky just like Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark” that a lot of writers are trying to do now. It’s one thing to have the character goof around with a mission log where he is essentially talking to himself and that someone my never read. It’s a totally different thing to goof off to NASA execs who you are directly talking to and are working around the clock to save your life.

That however is just a small hiccup in what was a really fun book. I highly enjoyed it and can’t wait to see (and pick apart) the movie.

Walking For a Clause

Walking for a clause copy

In a past post we talked about the benefits that music can have on your writing. Today we’re going to talk about something else that can benefit our writing because we can piggy back off of ourselves. We have that rare and strange ability!

So what else could possibly help our writing besides music? Exercise, that’s what. This doesn’t require a gym membership and you probably won’t get ripped in 30 days. If you do, please tell me exactly what you did because I will need to know!

The kind of exercise I’m talking about is walking. Simple, every day, walking. When was the last time you went for a walk? If you can’t remember, then you may benefit from this the most.

Walking can do multiple things for the common Novel Noob. If you’ve spent the past four hours staring at your computer screen get up and go outside. Walk around the block or park if you happen to live close to one.

The walk can rejuvenate you. Your sore rump will have a chance to breath. (Please wear pants. It doesn’t need to breath that much.) Your tired eyes will have a chance to focus on other things then the black and white text they have been glaring at for the past few hours. Your blood will flow more rapidly through your body and, most importantly, your mind will have a chance to wander.

Sometimes you may want to force yourself to focus on a certain issue you may be having with your work in progress, but try not to. Instead focus on what’s around you. If it’s fall, admire the colors of the leaves. If it’s spring, listen to the birds chirping in the trees. If you pass someone, take in what they are wearing. (But no more than a three second glance. Don’t be creepy about it.)  Where do you think they are going? What do you think they do for a living? To use the old adage “Stop and smell the roses.”

If the sounds of nature are a bit too boring for you, feel free to double dip from our past post and listen to music. Use headphones though, no boom boxes. Come on man the 90’s are over. You got to let the old thing go.

I think you’re noticing a trend here. One that has been in this post, “The Music of the Write” post, and even one from almost a year ago (“Fermenting Your Manuscript”). That trend is letting your mind turn off. Letting it wander around on its own for a bit. That’s when the mind does its best at solving our creative problems.

So if you feel like you’ve been staring at the same lines for a while and getting nowhere, save your work, get up and take a walk. Your body, your mind, and your writing will thank you in kind.

What other activities (that don’t involve tissues) do you do to take a break from writing? Leave them in the comments below.

Video Games as Storytellers

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Imagine an event where every publishing company and author got together and told you what they have been working on in the last year or what they will be working on the coming year. Sounds pretty awesome, right? Well Video gamers get such an event. It’s called The Electronic Entertainment Expo or E3 for short.

E3 will start tonight with Bethesda’s conference and run for the entire week. Most of the updates will be within the first few days and the playable demo’s toward the end of the week. Many gamers refer to E3 as a “Gamer’s Christmas.” It’s easy to see why.  In the spirit of E3 I’d like to talk about how Video Games can be great storytellers.

When we think of great stories we usually try to remember those particular books or movies that really moved us. However video games can have not only the same but sometimes even greater effect.

Long gone are the days where every video game pitted you with the single mission of shooting every enemy within range and stay alive long enough to get a new high score. There are some games still like this but certainly far from all.

Instead, many games today have acclaimed script writers who craft interactive stories with multiple consequences. While other forms of media may have a protagonist have to make a hard choice. Video games could leave that choice up to you. Each choice could alter other storylines and options in the game to the point where the player could replay the game making the opposite decisions and have a completely different experience.

The closest comparison I can think of are those “choose your adventure” novels and the experience isn’t quite the same.

I remember the first time I played a video game where I was able to dictate what happened in the story via conversation options. It was Knights of the Old Republic for the original Xbox. Knights of the Old Republic was Star Wars video game based thousands of years before the movies. A few minutes in, I quickly realized that I could make conversation choices and that some of them were pretty diabolic.

Your character in the game has no recollection of his/her(depending what gender you pick to play as) past but you are force sensitive so in time you do manage to get yourself a lightsaber or two.

On one of the menu screens was a scale. One side was bright blue the other deep red.

As you journey through the story, you meet with a vast amount of other StarWars beings with different individual conundrums. How/ if you choose to help them would tip the scale one way or the other symbolizing whether you were on the dark of light side.

Since then Bioware, the company who made Knights of the Old Republic, has improved upon this formula, making choices harder and changing the light verses dark formula to include more shades of grey. (But not 50, Thank God!)

The company TellTale Games does a great job of giving the player plenty of options and tough choices as well. Instead of a good or evil choice, they give you difficult ones. One example could put you in an instance where you have two characters who are about to meet their maker and only enough time to save one. Not only do you have to pick between two different characters but you don’t have much time to do it. Depending who you chose, the other characters in the game will react differently toward you for the rest of your journey.

These choices give weight the player’s journey and make it feel that much more personal. However, this “Choice Factor” is just a smaller part of why video games can be great storytellers.

The main reason Video Games can tell great stories is at the very heart of what they are meant to do. Video games are Interactive Media. You can’t passively participate. You have to move the protagonist through space.

Imagine a crime drama where you have to follow clues and determine the killer yourself instead of watching a character do it.

No offence to all of the great horror writers out there but the best medium for the horror experience in my opinion is video games.

Imagine a horror movie where you are controlling the dumb teenagers. Instead of yelling at them for walking into the meat locker, you could be controlling them and realize that there really is no place else you can go to advance the story but in the meat locker. What sounds scarier to you? This will only be enhanced with virtual reality which we will hopefully learn more about this week at E3.

All of that being said, there still needs to be a good solid story behind all of the mechanics to make the entire piece work and current generation video games are up to the task. Many have engaged fans for hundreds of hours by immersing them into their worlds leaving the player changed after the experience.

This renaissance of story in video games has even led The Writers Guild to have an entire award category dedicated to video game scripts.

So next time you are looking for a good story that you can get lost in for hours on end, check the video game isle.

Are there any video game stories that moved you? Leave them in the comments below.

The Case for “The Village”

the Village

WARNING this post contains a lot of spoilers from M. Night Shyamalan “The Village.” You should definitely go watch it if you somehow managed to avoid it for the past ten years.

A few weeks ago a post for “The top 10 worst plot twists in movie history” found its way to me via a friend on Facebook. Like a goober with a couple of minutes to kill, I clicked on it. To no surprise of my own, M. Night Shyamalan had managed to carve out a good handful of those ten spots all for himself. What did surprise me was that “The Village” occupied one of those spots.

I had watched The Village back in early 2005 when it was released on DVD. Like everyone else, I expected it to be a horror movie where this small community of villagers are killed off one by one by the monsters in the woods that surround them. When I discovered the plot twist, I was surprised and intrigued. I remember talking about it at work the next day and convincing another coworker, who was hoping for another slasher flick when she had originally seen it in theaters, that what it turned out to be was actually a lot better. In the end she did agree with me. Today I hope to do the same with you.

Last Saturday night, when scrolling through my Netflix account, I saw The Village. I thought back to the Facebook article and decided to watch it again. I wanted to know if my feelings for it would be any different after I had known the ending and the movie had ten years to age.

My feelings were different. I liked it even more. The movie had aged beautifully. When the credits rolled, I was left with a sense of intrigue for what might happen to the members of the Village from that point on. Before we get there though, let’s talk about some other little things I noticed on my second viewing of The Village that I didn’t catch the first time.

-Hold my hand

Bryce Dallas Howard’s Character, Ivy Walker is, of course, blind. (I noticed this the first time, smart ass.) She does an extremely good job navigating the tiny village on her own with only the use of a walking stick. However, when she gets scared(which she does despite her tough exterior.), Ivy holds her hand out directly in front of her body until one particular person grabs it. That person is Lucius Hunt, Joaquin Phoenix’s character. They do this from the beginning of the movie, before they ever confess their feelings for each other.

When the young man on the guard post sees one of the “One’s they don’t speak of” and rings the town bell to warn the village, everyone flees to their basements. Lucius stays outside just a moment too long driven by the need to help others get inside, but even more by his curiosity about the “One’s they don’t speak of.” Meanwhile, Ivy stands in the open doorway to her home. Her sister is calling her to close the front door and come hide in basement with her. She refuses. She says she knows that Lucius is still outside because he hadn’t checked in them yet. She steps further out into the darkness and sticks her hand out. We get a shot from the side of her hand. We can see one of the creatures in the distance coming closer to her. We can hear it growling. She can no doubt hear it just as well, but she keeps her hand out in the darkness. Her sister is begging her to close the door and the creature is now running toward her. Just when we think it is going to grab her, a hand clasps hers. It is Lucius’s. He guides her inside, closes the door, and leads her into the basement in what seems like one swift, fluid motion.

This happens again at the scene of Ivy’s sister’s wedding. While dancing and celebrating, Ivy stops because she hears screaming coming from outside. Ivy, who is more reliant on her hearing, seems to hear it first. A moment later the others stop and listen. Chaos breaks out as everyone flees the reception. Ivy reaches her hand out searching for that one person to grab hold of it and sure enough he does.

After both characters confess their feelings for each other, rumors start to spread around the village. Noah Percy, played by Adrian Brody, visits Lucius’s small hut. Noah, who you’ll remember was mentally disabled, had a special relationship with Ivy too. She had played games with him and he no doubt had grown quite fond of her. Lucius, who can see the distress on Noah’s face from the news, tries to explain that there “are different kinds of love.” Instead when he turns to face Noah, he finds that Noah has plunged a knife into his stomach. Lucius falls to the ground.

Moments later, one of the villagers tells both Ivy and her sister that they have found Noah with blood on his hands, but it was not his. Ivy processes everything in an instant and walks as fast as she can toward Lucius’s hut. Her hand held out searching the air frantically her entire way over. When she makes it all the way to his doorstep with her palm still open, you can see the mix of devastation and betrayal in her body language. (Props to Bryce Dallas Howard’s beautiful performance here.) She walks inside to find Lucius still on the floor and lifeless.

Watch the movie again and I guarantee that you will not find one other character that grabs Ivy’s hand. Even when Noah and her own father guide her around, they do so by her arm. This is a subtle beautiful relationship between two characters that gives real heart to the film.

-Nothing is left to Chance

One of the worst sins a writer can commit is to have a character get out of a tough situation by sheer luck. Your audience will feel cheated and it may be enough for them to stop viewing your work altogether. If there is ever luck, it should be bad luck.

Night Shyamalan did not let his characters get any strokes of good luck in “The Village” and I applaud him for it.

When Ivy is wandering the woods in search of the medicine to cure Lucius, she slips into large pit in the ground. She is able to react quickly enough to grab the edge of the pit to keep herself from falling all the way to the bottom. She gathers her strength and pulls herself up. When she reaches the surface she finds that she is covered in mud and that the “safe colored” tunic she was wearing is probably useless against the monsters of the wood. (Bad luck) Just before she continues on, she finds a tree that had toppled over. Its pointed roots were sticking out parallel to the ground.

A few moments later, Ivy hears movement coming from somewhere in the woods around her. As it comes closer, she realizes it is one of the creatures. She tries her best to avoid it until she makes it back to the toppled tree. She stands in front of the pit with arms wide open. The beast charges for her. At the last moment she jumps out of the way and the monster falls into the pit.

Since we saw this pit earlier, we can not only accept this scene but appreciate the cleverness of the character to use something that was a setback for her to be the final demise of her attacker.

-Ivy knows more than you think

Once Ivy decides she has to leave the Village, her father takes her aside and explains that he and the other elders had been dressing up as the monsters all this time. Ivy is shocked, of course, and starts to ask her father questions about the recent events with the “One’s they don’t speak of.” Most of which, he deftly explains.

Once Ivy reaches the end of the woods and climbs the wall to the outside world, she is confronted by a young modern day park ranger. He is of course astonished by her dress, and way of speaking. During an awkward conversation between the two there is one key moment when the young ranger says “You live in there?” pointing to the concrete wall enclosed “Animal Reserve.” Ivy takes a moment to process what he said. She, of course, can’t see him or the “Walker Company Patrol” patch on his jacket. However there is a comprehension on her face (more props for Dallas Howard.) and disappointment when she simply says “yes.”

She heard the siren of the rangers SUV when she first climbed the wall. She heard the ranger’s radio when someone responded to the call he made when he initially found her and she climbed the metal ladder to get back into the woods after the ranger retrieved the medicine. She may not fully understand what is going on but she knows that she and the other villagers are being tricked about more than just the creatures in the wood.

On the very last scene of the movie, the elders are gathered around Lucius’s bed. They are talking about how they will continue their way of life. One of the village boys announces that Ivy has returned with medicine and had killed one of the ones they do not speak of on her way to retrieve it. Noah’s mother starts to burst out in tears. It turned out that the monster that Ivy had killed was Noah who had stolen one of the elder’s costumes he found under the floorboards of their home. The elders were trying to weave his death into a way they could continue their tradition. They would tell everyone that he was killed by one of the monsters. They believed that Ivy wouldn’t know the difference and now she would believe the monsters to be real. They decided to hold a quick vote if they would like to continue the tradition of the village and one by one they all stand to agree.

Moments later, Ivy finally enters the room and reaches a hand out. One of the elders grabs it to guide her in, but she squirms out of his grip, she finds her way to Lucius’s bedside and grabs hold of his hand. When she says “I’m back” to him you can hear his erratic breathing. He was probably couscous during the whole scene.

Yes, the Village was far different from your typical horror flick and I’m not totally sure you can really label it as horror. What it is, is a really well told story that holds you until the end. It can give you secrets upon multiple viewings as I’ve proven here. That’s why I think it’s not only unfair to label this movie as “One of the worst plot twists in Hollywood history” but it should be regarded as one of M. Night Shyamalan’s best films.

Do you think The Village is underrated? Are there any films or books you think are highly underrated? If so leave them in the comments below.