Movie Trends

The results are in, and Sci Fi is taking the world’s favorite entertainment medium by storm. Take a look at these results:

Screen shot 2014-01-28 at 8.23.10 PM (courtesy boxofficemojo.com: http://boxofficemojo.com/yearly/chart/?view=releasedate&view2=domestic&yr=2013&sort=gross&order=DESC&p=.htm)

11 of 15 (maybe more, I didn’t see all of them) have some sort of sci fi or fantasy lean. If you go on through the top 100 there are even more on the list. I like this trend, and hope to see it expand in the future.

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Ender’s Game

http://collider.com/wp-content/uploads/enders-game-promo-poster.jpg

 

I saw “Ender’s Game” this weekend. I was both thrilled and disappointed. As I watched the movie, I had several thoughts on story and medium.

 

SPOILERS BELOW!!!!!

 

Subplots can be make or break

If you have read the novel Ender’s Game, you know that the story is pretty complicated. In fact, one subplot is so vital to the story that it effects the end of the novel and its sequels. Ender’s siblings engage in political espionage and fearmongering, eventually leading to a global unification and takeover. This in turn allows Ender to take a team of explorers and find a new planet to colonize, leading to him finding an egg containing a “queen” alien. This gives Ender a chance at redemption for the genocide he committed.

The movie is devoid of this plot. In fact they take all of the things it leads to and kind of rolls them into one sorry excuse for an end of a movie. It ceased to be a well thought out plot and became a rushed, “let’s make this movie less than 2 hours” piece of garbage. The falling action of the movie is quite literally about ten minutes long. the falling action of the novel is at least 50 pages.

 

Medium

All of this being said, I understand that it is nearly impossible to get everything in a novel on film. Every movie would probably be 4 hours long, minimum, which is not conducive to an ADD audience. However that shouldn’t be an excuse to ruin or almost ruin a story. Film is a wonderful medium, in fact it’s probably my favorite medium. I love visuals, seeing the action as opposed to imagining it. But the written word allows a complete description and longer story. The reader is saddened when the story ends, whereas a movie ending is just another part of the experience. Seldom have I heard a general public outcry of “I didn’t want the movie to end” (crappy Hallmark movies and grandmothers aside.)

What does this mean for writers? We have the opportunity to complete a story without making compromises. A story can be as long (or short) as it needs to be, without the restraint of running time. Let’s use this to our advantage, and write better stories. If I ever sell a story property for film, I hope everyone says that it was as good as the book, but I would definitely take “The book was better.”

 

Aside from it’s differences in subplots, “Ender’s Game” was visually stunning, and it did get some of the story aspects right. The battle room, in my opinion, was spot on (even though the story was shortened). Go see the movie, and for your own opinions. If you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend it. Remember that it was written in the 1980’s, predicting things that are commonplace in our lives such as the internet and very immersive video games. All in all, I give the movie a solid B.

Top 5 Anime of all time

This post will most likely cause arguments rather than settle them. I’ve been watching anime for as long as I can remember, so it has definitely played a role in shaping my views of science fiction and writing. I will list MY top 5 anime series or movies, and what I love about them. Which will in turn reveal what I draw from them for writing. If I leave out something that is definitely influential, it’s probably because there wasn’t room in this top 5. It doesn’t mean I don’t like it, it just means there’s no room on this list. I would love to do a top 50 or top 100 influences one day if anyone has suggestions…

Without further adieu, here’s the list…

5. Howl’s Moving Castle

The Top 5 Reasons Steampunk is Awesome

A fairy tale with steampunk elements, ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ is a wonderful movie. From the mysterious Howl to the naive Sophie, and even the wacky Calficer, it’s full of memorab;e characters who all play a vital role in the story. The real world is left behind, and you find yourself right in the middle of the action.

4. Inuyasha

Inuyasha is more fantasy than sci fi (a magical well is really just a stable interdimensional time portal…) but it has strong story elements. It boils down to a love story that spans the eons, intertwining two souls forever. There is swordplay and magic and stuff blowing up and all kinds of weird bad guys. Definitely worth checking out.

3. Outlaw Star

I know that Outlaw Star isn’t the BEST space anime, but it’s good and short and full of action. It has existensial crises and the search for treasure, as well as many other reasons to like it. There is FTL space travel as well as integrated biomechanical beings used to pilot ships. Go check it out.

2. Dragon Ball Z

The Dragonball universe is full of family, friends, and moral conundrums. The sanctity of life is threatened by villains, and the heroes are forced to weigh the worth of the villains’ lives. They usually end up killling the threat rather than deal with it later down the road, but not always. And the themes of redemption and transcendentalism are rampant throughout all three of the dragonball series. Plus they beat the living tar out of each other all the time.

1. Gundam Wing

You knew it was gonna be something with robots…

I like Gundam Wing because of its political turmoil, revolution, and action. Most Gundam series contain these themes, but Wing takes it to a whole new level. Not to mention it has some of the coolest Gundams ever thought up. It’s long enough to develop the themes and allow for a couple of complicated love stories, but it’s short enough to watch in about a week (maybe two) if you watch a few episodes a day. The ending movie “Endless Waltz” is also recommended.

There’s my top 5 anime list. I hope these will help you expand into other series and movies. As I said in the beginning, I hope this list causes arguments rather than settles them. Go watch these wonderful stories, and use them to write your own.

A Silly Robot’s Guide to Writing Sci Fi: Part 2 – Planning

I’ll admit it:

I am most definitely a ‘pantster’.

However, that doesn’t always work to my advantage. More often than not, I find myself stuck at some critical juncture in the story. That’s the point where I think, “…hmm…should have planned a little more…”

When I do plan, even just a little, I find that my story moves along smoothly; not to mention ‘stuck’ becomes ‘mildly inconvenienced’. It’s not my favorite thing to do, but planning can seriously up your game on a project. Especially if you’re a Science Fiction writer.

1. Do Your Research

I covered this in a previous post. Researching takes a long time, but in the end it’s worth it. You learn a lot, and it helps you grow as a writer and expert. Remember that there are several aspects of research, and skimping on any of them will hurt your plan.

Particularly in Sci Fi, research will deal with complex scientific systems and budding scientific discoveries. If you plan out how you reveal certain aspects of what you have researched, moving the story along becomes easy. The science can be a major part of the plot, or just a device to make it work.

Whatever you use it for, do the research.

And while you research, keep a log of story ideas. Whether it’s written or on your phone or computer. If you don’t keep track of your ideas, they will leave you and return to the ether.

Research must be recorded.

2. Plan the Ending First

If you have ever written anything, you know that ending a story is the hardest part. I recommend planning how you are going to end a story before you ever begin it.

But Will, that’s crazy!

Is it?

The stories that I have the most trouble with are the ones that I don’t know how to end.

If you’re like most of us who write, you will inevitably be sitting somewhere. Let’s say Whataburger. Or for those of you who aren’t fortunate enough to live in a state with Whataburger, let’s say…ugh…McDonald’s.

And while you’re sitting there enjoying your juicy…

Ok, you know what? I can’t do it. You’re at Whataburger. You’re vacationing in Texas.

And while you’re sitting there enjoying your juicy Patty Melt and gimongous drink (cause you can and it’s always 100 degrees down here. Dec. 18th when I’m writing this and the high temp was 86 today) you get a killer idea for a story.

Your main man is going to do that super awesome thing that puts him in all of these larger than life situations, and at the end of it all…

At the end of it all…

CRAP what happens at the end of the story?

So you jot down your idea (in your handy dandy notebook or iphone or whatever) and when you sit down to write, think about how you want it to end. Happy ending? Sad ending? Open ending? Knowing how the story ends is just as important as the story itself.

But Will, it’s the journey not the destination that really matters!

Well, you can spout Eastern philosophy all you want, but that doesn’t change the fact that all of your reviews are going to say,

“The ending was kind of disappointing. That’s why I only gave it 2 stars.”

3. Character Development

This is going to sound like redundant rhetoric, but character development can make or break your story. I write mostly short fiction, and character development is much more important than story development. The story sort of develops on its own with my characters. (I said sort of. No angry comments.)

This doesn’t mean you have to spend three pages describing Clark Kent’s background, but it does mean you have to reveal his character.

So put him in a situation that does just that.

Character development does not have to be boring. If done well, it can be the driving force in a story. So before you start writing the story, write your character. This deosn’t have to be extensive, but you should have some sort of grasp on your character’s personality. Hero or anti-hero? Shy or charismatic? Strong or weak?

I like to use the analogy of Kirk and Picard.

Yes, I’m that big of a nerd.

Kirk flies by the seat of his pants, and is a metaphor for Humanism and Hedonism. He wants to shoot first and ask questions later. He only plays by the rules when he has to, and all other times he throws the book out the window. Or the airlock rather. You can’t throw stuff out of windows on the Enterprise.

Picard is more reserved; he weighs every option and holds regular meetings for input. He is calm and calculated, without being as stoic as Mr. Spock. He rarely acts without hours of reflection and considerations, all while sipping his Earl Grey and eating scones.

But we don’t have to read that in a paragraph. Here’s what to do:

Have three Romulan Warbirds decloak in front of the Enterprise and let’s see who does what!

4. Outline

Which brings us to our final point.

Having an outline of your story will help keep everything in order, plus it will allow you room to move. What I mean by that is you don’t have to stick to the outline strictly. There will be plenty of room to veer in and out of the defined lines. I.e. the Enterprise is confronted by three decloaked Warbirds and the resolution is a tachyon burst to disrupt their warp engines. However, I did not say how the tachyon burst would be initiated. Perhaps Mr. Data initiates it from the tractor beam dish, or maybe Geordi creates it from the Enterprise’s own warp field.

Or Kirk just fires three photon torpedoes and the phaser array, all while Scotty boosts the warp engines and they outrun the danger.

Either way works. But they all fit the outline.

All in all, planning can make a mediocre Sci Fi story into something that grabs the reader’s attention and doesn’t let go. And who knows? Maybe it will lead to a cherished cult classic in the vein of Asimov and Dick? Use these ideas, mix and match, or ignore them altogether.

But keep writing!

A Few Updates

Hello everyone!

I have a few updates to pass along and thy all revolve around one event:

Pregnancy

If you read the blog regularly, you know that my wife is pregnant. Well it’ coming up on her due date so I’m officially on baby watch. That means I have to be ready to go at the drop of a hat. Which means a couple of things.

1. No blogs for awhile

I might post something new if I’m up late and get the chance, but as of right now I’m going to go on hiatus for a few weeks. I’ll still put up older posts so you won’t forget about me, and if you want to guest post, by all means email me and we’ll talk about getting you set up.

2. My writing is sort of on hold

I have some stories out to editors and I’ve had some beta readers helping me through another one, so I’m taking a little break. I know that goes against a whole lot of rules I have, but this is a very busy time in my life.

3. You shouldn’t stop writing

Unless you have some sort of valid excuse, like mine, don’t stop writing! We need every ounce of Science Fiction that can be brought into this world. It moves stuff forward.

It’s also a very special time here at Silly Robots:

One Year Anniversary!

That’s right, it’s been a whole year of writing Sci Fi the fun way. I hope to have many more years of this, and that all of you will stay with me for it.

Thanks for reading!

How weird can it get? Pretty weird

I just finished reading Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s Sci Fi epic The Mote in God’s Eye.

I don’t necessarily agree, but Robert Heinlein said:

“Possibly the finest science fiction novel I have ever read”.

It was alright.

Actually, the story had a bit of a cycle. It was three pages of absolute garbage, and then a page or two of sheer genius. I seriously had to fight to get through the beginning. There’s a lot of background information to get through, and it takes forever to get through it.

The end result is actually pretty good though, as I said before, so I wanted to cover some things that make this novel a worthy read and some things we can pull from it as Science Fiction writers.

WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW

 

Absolute Weirdness

If nothing else, the ideas in this book are absolute gold. In most ‘first contact’ type books, the aliens come to Earth and are warlike or way more advanced than humans. Not really so in this one. For one thing, the humans go out to find the aliens in this one because the aliens went crazy and tried to go find the humans…you have to read it to get that.

Aside from the unusual meeting, the aliens are SUPER weird! I was honestly blown away by how original the aliens were. They are asymmetrical, breeding dependent, and live in a ridiculous caste system that they genetically engineered. Yeah, go check this junk out. On top of that, there are leftovers from all of their genetic experiments, which reveal the true nature of their species to the humans.

Plot. When it finally got there…

For all of its shortcomings in execution, the plot was actually pretty good. The Moties (the aliens) are actually aware of the humans existence, but have no way to leave their system. They actually try to hide their breeding problems from the humans in order to leave their planet! The humans discover all of the deception however and set up a military blockade. The unfolding of the plot is somewhat slow and labored (at one point, you the reader get told all of the Motie secrets but have to wait for the rest of the characters to catch up) but it really is very clever.

Accessible Hard Sci Fi

This book is definitely nestled in the hard sci fi genre. They accelerate in gravities, the military is very prominent in space, and explanations are given for everything from Motie physiology to how the airlocks work on multiple ships. And yet there’s enough action off of the ships to give it a little lighter feel. One of the things that gets buried under the Moties’ weirdness is the humans own societal systems at work. There is a somewhat complicated love story and all kinds of resentment on both sides.

The characters get a little hard to sort at times, mainly because there are so many of them, but they are generally accessible. I felt sympathy and empathy with a lot of them, along with anger and astonishment at some of their decisions. All in all it was way more enjoyable than this garbage I tried to read.

Interesting Futurism

If you don’t know, I’m a Christian. More specifically I’m a pastor. So the thing that stood out to me the most in this book was the religion. There was talk of the Motie religions, and a few offshoots within human religions, but there are definite human traditions at work. The Christian Church is still going strong and one of the characters is a sort of Muslim. I say sort of because he fights his upbringing in his head the whole time. I simply found it interesting that the authors projected these two religions forward. Most authors don’t bother with that. Something to think about.

 

If you haven’t read the book, don’t worry I didn’t spoil too much. In fact, the first half will make you forget everything I’ve told you, so go pick up a copy! It’s definitely an interesting read.

It’s summer time, and I have two things going: reading list and baby watch. My wife is due in July, so I will be reading a lot of books while I wait for the baby. On top of several non fiction books I have lined up, i will be reading Ender’s Game and Rama II this summer. Join me? Or send some suggestions? Whatever you do, keep writing!