Kill All Cliches! – Teen Edition

In an effort to get this blog a little more active again, I’m going to ramble on a bit about some cliches in writing that I think need to be eradicated.

One thing I realized about cliches is that they can be surprisingly insidious. Sure, we all know the horror movie cliche of the fake-out scare — victim thinks something is lurking behind a curtain, in a closet, etc., jumps forward to confront what turns out to be a non-existent threat, breathes a sigh of relief, turns around — BOO! But there are cliches that are less obvious but just as commonplace, what you could alternately call “writer’s shorthand” or, less charitably, lazy writing.

Some of these came to mind while I was working on Action Figures, which is set amidst the world of teenagers, a setting that most adult writers have reduced to a list of tired cliches because A) they’re lazy and/or B) they’ve completely forgotten what high school was like.

In one scene the main character, Carrie, encounters in the lunch room a table full of jocks and cheerleaders — a bit of a cliche in and of itself, but one more based in reality than other tropes; people tend to sit with their friends, and in high school friendships often arise from shared interests, so it’s not unreasonable to have the sports-oriented kids sitting together.

The cliche kicks in with the portrayal of said table. In TV or movies, 99 times out of 100 all the guys at the table will be wearing their varsity jackets and all the girls will be in their cheerleader regalia. From a practical standpoint, this is the quickest and easiest way to tell the audience This person is a jock/cheerleader. It takes no dialog from any of the characters to get the point across. And yet, I HATE this trick because it is something I personally never witnessed as a high school student or in my years covering a local high school for my hometown newspaper, so I approached the scene with this bit of first-person perspective narrative:

I’m guessing that it’s a jock/cheerleader table based on the fact a couple of the guys are built like refrigerators. You see, unlike high schools as portrayed on TV, jocks and cheerleaders do not constantly wear their uniforms during the school day. I mean, come on.

Writers use similar shorthand for other stereotypes: the brainiacs wear glasses and carry lots of books, the geeks/nerds have zits and wear T-shirts emblazoned with super-hero logos, stoners have long hair and short attention spans, the outcasts wear black and have lots of piercings, etc, and yes, it gets the point across quickly, but it’s lazy writing nevertheless.

Another favorite of mine is the after-school job scene, which often involves: a McJob at a very gimmicky fast food restaurant; which requires the employees to wear embarrassing hats; and to greet invariably surly customers with forced cheer and a cheesy slogan; all the while suffering under the thumb of a tyrannical boss who views his job as far more important than it really is; who at one point will make the employee perform some nauseatingly humiliating task.

See, people? The job sucks! It’s sooooooooooooo terrible!

I think the American public knows that working at a fast-food joint blows, even if they themselves have never worked at one. Put a person behind the counter at McDonald’s or Burger King and that’s all you need to elicit sympathy or pity. The audience doesn’t need to be beaten over the head with it.

Spoiler Theater: The Walking Dead – Judge, Jury, Executioner

Fans of AMC‘s The Walking Dead know that the show has in season two been dealing with a couple of losses: executive producer Frank Darabont and money from the show’s budget (Darabont left in protest over AMC slashing the show’s budget).

Both factors have played into this season being anchored at Hershel’s (Scott Wilson) farm. The producers have only one major set to deal with, which cut costs, and the production and writing team, lacking Darabont’s vision and focus, have largely failed to make the very best of the situation. There have been some solid character moments and great payoffs (the barn massacre and the zombie-filled blowout between Rick and Shane (Andrew Lincoln and Jon Bernthal) but the pacing has been glacial and some of the drama has felt forced and artificial (the zombie in the well and Lori’s (Sarah Wayne Callies) ill-advised foray into town).

The show may have made its most tragic misstep this week in killing off Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn), the group’s rock-steady moral center.

Over the course of season two, the group has crumbled. The loss of Sophia (Madison Lintz) sent the group’s shared desire for safety into overdrive and caused several characters to compromise (if not wholly abandon) their principles and make choices that they normally would not have made — and some, most notably Shane and Andrea (Laurie Holden), don’t care. A little dirt on their souls is a small price to pay to keep themselves alive. Even nice guy Glenn (Steven Yeun) was in favor of executing a living, breathing person to eliminate a theoretical threat.

Throughout it all, Dale stayed true to his humanity. He challenged every ethically dicey decision and fought to hold onto his humanity — and did his damnedest to make sure his friends held on to theirs too.

In Judge, Jury, Executioner, Dale scored a small but important victory: he convinced Andrea to oppose the execution, in doing so keeping her from crossing the line Shane crossed ages ago.

Everyone else? Well, Dale’s arguments fell on deaf ears. The only thing that brought Rick back to his senses was the realization that his young son Carl (Chandler Riggs) was losing his humanity.

And then the show swerved in a very unexpected direction by having a rogue zombie literally gut Dale, forcing the group to kill him to put him out of his misery.

(While Dale’s death smacked of random shock value, it did provide a nice bit of ironic turnabout; the group was ready to kill a complete stranger out of fear but spared his life, and then had to kill their friend in an act of mercy.)

The story now stands at a precarious tipping point, and how the writers handle the aftermath of Dale’s death could spark a major recovery for a show that has lost a lot of what made it so incredible in its first season, or become its Jump-the-Shark moment.

The characters have this season been on a downward progression, careening toward hitting rock-bottom, which is a standard dramatic scenario; you throw ten tons of shit at a character, break him down to his lowest point, and build him back up. What we’ve seen so far in season two has been the downward progression, and the teaser for next week’s episode hints that the group could be ready to pull its collective head out of its collective ass.

That would be one of the smartest things the writers could do at this point: use Dale’s death to get the characters back on-track, because the show needs that as much as it needs Darabont back in the driver’s seat and a generous budget increase.

It’s not uncommon for a character on a downward spiral to become unsympathetic to some degree, but if the character loses all likeability, then the audience won’t care whether he pulls himself back together — and right now The Walking Dead‘s cast of characters is almost entirely unlikable. This needs to be corrected fast, and definitely before the season finale, and Dale’s death can accomplish this if it’s treated as an inspiring, galvanizing moment rather than Sophia’s Death Version Two, or else there are going to be a lot fewer viewers coming along for the ride in season three.

C’mon, AMC, fix the show. Your current slogan is “Story Matters Here,” so it’s time to prove it.

Keeping Pace

Let me get this out of the way first: screw the Super Bowl. Couldn’t care less.

Instead of non-stop football bullshit, I’m puttering around the house today, doing some light cleaning while my usual background noise of bad horror movies drones on. My current viewing is Deadfall Trail, a tale of three men who go on your standard trip into the woods that goes awry, and it took maybe 15 minutes to make a common but crucial mistake of jumping the gun on the pacing of the story.

(Warning: spoilers ahead!)

Particularly with horror films and thrillers, the strongest stories build over time, starting off slow and quiet and ratcheting up the conflict and tension in increments. It would be easy to cite The Exorcist as a great example of this, but as I’m in a low-budget frame of mind, I’ll instead mention Grave Encounters, a “found footage” deal in which a team of ghost hunters enter an abandoned mental hospital and, well, bad stuff happens…but not for a good long while, and the worst of it doesn’t happen within the first act.

In Deadfall Trail, however, the characters are resorting to drinking their own urine to stave off death by thirst halfway through act one, declaring with teeth-gritting determination that they’re doing what they need to to survive. Drinking your own piss, fresh from the tap, is third-act desperation. Nothing feels quite as drastic after that. In harrowing tales of survival, the drama derives from watching the characters struggle on in the face of ever-worsening conditions, hitting a breakdown point, and then rebuilding themselves and fighting for their lives with renewed ferocity. When the characters break down after the first 15 minutes, you’d better have some industrial-strength shitstorm on the horizon or you’re just wasting the rest of the movie.

(Just ask the producers of 24, who in season six set off a nuke in the fourth episode and had nowhere to go for the next 20.)

Hillside Cannibals, The Asylum‘s knock-off of The Hills Have Eyes remake, makes the same mistake. A half-dozen victim characters head into the desert and are attacked by a clan of inbred cannibals — and 15 minutes after the opening credits four of them are dead, one is captured, and the other is on the run. The rest of the movie is pure tedium as the two survivors are tortured and pursued, and occasionally a random group of new victims wanders in to be unceremoniously slaughtered minutes after they show up.

In news writing, the standard model is the “inverted pyramid,” where you start with the most important stuff first and work your way down to the trivial details. I’d say that in fiction storytelling the pyramid should* be inverted to its normal pyramidal** position so you start small and work your way up to the good stuff, building conflict and tension — therefore, the readers’/viewers’ anticipation — over time. The payoff is the reward for making it to the end, not the reward for starting the story in the first place.

* There are always exceptions to any rule, but if you don’t fully understand the rule, you shouldn’t be breaking it.

** The spellchecker isn’t registering “pyramidal” as a non-word. And here I am, thinking I’m making a contribution to the English vocabulary.

Whine And Women

While I was submitting Action Figures to publishers the other week, I noticed an interesting theme running through their submissions guidelines pages. When it came to young adult fiction submissions, two phrases came up time and again, the first of which was “no vampires.”

The second — and I am presenting something of a composite phrasing here — was: “We are interested in stories with strong, proactive heroines; no whiny, angst-ridden female leads, please.”

I don’t think it’s a stretch to trace both of these to the Twilight novels, which have spawned a legion of copycats and, judging by the moratorium on Bella Swan-like characters, wannabes, complete with wussy, shallow female protagonists who spend their time wallowing in anxiety and being led around by the nose by their male love interests.

(I say all this freely admitting I have never read any of the books or seen any of the movies. My knowledge of the Bella Swan character comes mostly from critical reviews and from friends who have read the books and told me, quite emphatically, how much they hated Bella because she was nothing but a self-obsessed lovelorn wimp.)

On one level, I am not a fan of female leads who are so, for want of a better term, damsel-in-distressy. It’s tough to root for a character whose primary, if not sole motivation is to win the man of her dreams, a goal she achieves by simply being there for said dreamboat to rescue from whatever threat presents itself. They’re not much fun to read and they’re no fun to write.

Conversely, I’m also displeased with how often stories sometimes go out of their way to empower their female leads, particularly in period pieces. I readily acknowledge that history had its fair share of real-life Xenas, from Boudicca to Joan of Arc, but what made these figures so extraordinary is that they were very much the exception to the rule. Most women of ancient history were not bad-asses; they were more likely to be in the role of damsel in distress.

Creating a weak female character is a tricky task, if for no other reason than the reception she’s likely to receive from the audience. There’s little tolerance for portrayals of the woman as a victim, a doormat, a prize — even a sexpot or a femme fatale can be subject to scathing criticism for embracing their beauty and sexuality over their more profound qualities.

The question for the writer is: what serves the story better? If the story calls for a strong, smart, independent woman to make things happen, great. I’m happy to write a character like that (and I do in Action Figures. The main character is one of my favorite creations).

But sometimes, a different approach is necessary. In Bostonia, I have two female leads who are definitely not cast from the strong protagonist mold. I could describe both of them as broken people, individuals who have been crushed by their life experiences and have adapted in their own ways to deal with it, neither of these ways all that great. One is reactive, passive, afraid of herself; the other is more proactive and takes shit from no one, but she is also selfish, self-destructive, filled with self-loathing. Neither of them are heroes in a true sense, but they are what that story needed, and I can’t bring myself to offer even a false apology for that.

However, I will reiterate that writing more positive female characters is much more gratifying and fun. I’ll close on an up note and present some of my all-time favorite female characters.

Ellen RipleyAliens

Sigourney Weaver’s iconic sci-fi heroine ends up on just about every list of great movie characters, female or otherwise, and there’s a damn good reason for that: she belongs there.

Ripley is the godmother of the modern action heroine, not because of her capacity to kick ass, but for why she does so: the thing that galvanizes Ripley, that allows her to break free of her crippling fear of the titular xenomorphs and crushing survivor’s guilt is the overpowering need to protect her child — or surrogate, in this case, the young survivor Newt.

Before Newt enters the picture (so to speak), Ripley is literally along for the ride, but then this little girl falls into her lap, and from that point on, everything she does is for the sake of getting her de facto daughter out of hell alive.

(If you’ve never seen the director’s cut of Aliens, rectify that as soon as possible. There is a crucial deleted scene that fleshes out the Ripley/Newt relationship to a much more profound degree than is presented in the already excellent theatrical cut.)

Hermione Grangerthe Harry Potter series

Harry might have been the star of J. K. Rowling’s mega-best-selling series, but Harry wouldn’t have survived the first book without Hermione. She was more than Harry’s co-sidekick (along with Ron Weasley); she was the brains of the operation, the voice of reason, and that against which even Harry occasionally checked his moral compass.

Hermione had her girly moments throughout the series, but she wasn’t simply “the girl,” and never let anyone force her into that role. She embraced her intelligence, never backed down from a direct challenge, and never apologized for sometimes being a right royal pain in the ass — and more often than not, she was proven right in the end.

When great modern literary heroines are mentioned, Hermione is often listed in the same breath as Bella Swan, but they do not belong on the same list. Bella is what young girls should avoid becoming. Hermione is everything young girls should aspire to be.

Briar Wilkes and Mercy Lynchthe Clockwork Century series

Cherie Priest has become a favorite author of mine, and I can always count on her for brisk, exciting stories filled with colorful characters, and Briar Wilkes of Boneshaker and Mercy Lynch of Dreadnought perfectly exemplify the tough-as-nails protagonists common in her novels.

The characters are similar in that they are both haunted by their fathers (albeit in different ways), are trying to live up to their late husbands, and are driven by their familial ties — Briar by her son, who gets trapped in the deadly ruins of Seattle, Mercy by her dying father, who summons her from the front lines of the Civil War for what could be their final visit.

Despite their respective tragic backgrounds, these women never let the past crush their spirits. Instead, they are driven by their prospective futures, futures that could turn out as badly as their pasts — if they allow it. Their status as action heroines is incidental; they don’t go out looking for a fight, but they won’t back down from one if it stands between them and their goals.

Kara “Starbuck” ThraceBattlestar Galactica

The re-imagined Starbuck (as brilliantly portrayed by (Katee Sackhoff) was one of the standout characters in the new BSG, which is saying something considering what a uniformly superb cast that show had.

It’s kind of a cop-out to simply call Starbuck “tough but vulnerable.” Was she tough? Hell yes. Put her in a combat situation and she was fearless and unstoppable, but take her off the battlefield and she was a mess. Killing she could do, dying she could handle, but living scared the shit out of her.

Almost purely id-driven, Starbuck could be an incredibly frustrating character. She could be a hardcore bitch, often to people who did not deserve it. She constantly sabotaged her own happiness. The people who cared about her the most were the ones who got hurt the worst by her selfishness. It was honestly hard to like her sometimes, but she was always compelling.

Sue SylvesterGlee

I wanted to end with a great female villain, but I had a devil of a time thinking of one that truly spoke to me. There are a lot of she-devils in film, TV, and literature but few rose to iconic villain status in my mind…and then I remembered Jane Lynch’s delightfully vile cheerleading coach and kicked myself for not thinking of her sooner.

Sylvester fits a number of villainous categories: the villain you love to hate, the villain who believes she’s the hero, and the villain with a hidden softer side — and it is that last category that makes Sue a fully realized character and not just a walking one-liner delivery system.

One of the character’s defining moments came in the first season, when she allowed Becky (Lauren Potter), a student with Down’s syndrome, to join the Cheerios. The audience spent the rest of the episode wondering what her angle was, how she would use and ultimately destroy this poor girl, only to learn that Sue’s decision was utterly sincere — and that she had an older sister, Jean (Robin Trocki), who also had Down’s syndrome.

Sue’s fierce devotion to and adoration of her disabled sister stands in stark contrast to the monster that roams the halls of William KcKinley High School, and while it humanizes Sue to a great degree, it does not diminish her boundless capacity for cruelty. Indeed, it makes her moments of genuine anger all the more terrifying, because the audience knows what sort of heart beats beneath that track suit: one that, when given just cause, can fuel an engine of absolute terror.

Reasons To Love ‘The Big Bang Theory’

This morning I came across an article on UGO.com entitled 11 Reasons Geeks Hate The Big Bang Theory, and I felt compelled to respond to a few of the accusations.

I came into the show late — as in, within the past few months, after it entered syndication — and I watch it religiously. It never fails to entertain me, in part because of its geekcentric world view. Being a geek, I can relate to the characters and I get all the jokes (that don’t have to do with advanced physics theory).

To be fair, UGO made some good points, but missed the mark on others. I’ll hit them in the order listed in the original article (be warned, some of these have nothing to do with the writing-related aspects of the show).

11 ) The Laugh Track

That’s a laugh track? Really? It’s a damn good one, because it sounds like an actual audience to me.

10 ) Losing Leslie and 3 ) Girls Are Weird

UGO laments the show’s poor treatment of the female characters; the site says the show regards them as sex objects, with the notable exception of Leslie Winkle (Sara Gilbert), a fellow scientist who was dropped from the cast after a few episodes because the writers “didn’t know how to write for her.”

My knee-jerk reaction is the show should have gotten better writers, but that’s unfair. The fact of the matter is, characters sometimes simply never click. They sound good in concept, but once the character starts talking on the page (so to speak), you realize that he or she just isn’t working like you thought he/she would.

That does not mean the character is bad. Sometimes it takes another writer to show everyone a character’s potential. An example in my own career is when I co-wrote the script for Pastimes‘ 2004 King Arthur Festival with my friend Amy (of Asperger Ninja). One of the characters in that show’s particular continuity was King Uriens, Morgan LeFey’s consort, and in previous shows, he was a very bland, flat, second-string villain. Paul, one of the producers, remarked to me how much he hated the character because he was so dull.

He was dull because he was never anything more than Morgan’s yes-man. The character agreed with Morgan constantly, spouted evil dialogue, got into fights with the heroes, and that’s it. Amy and I were able to make him interesting by writing him not as your basic Evil Goon but as Morgan’s husband and as the co-ruler of a kingdom. In this particular storyline, we added emotional conflict by creating friction between Uriens and Mordred, Morgan’s son with King Arthur — the son Uriens believed should have been his.

Most of the Big Bang Theory eps are written or co-written by show creators Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady, and in the case of Leslie Winkle, they could have farmed her writing out to someone else who could have found the character’s center and given other writers material to work with.

All that said, UGO totally overlooked Mayim Bialik as Amy Farrah Fowler, Sheldon’s (Jim Parsons) girlfriend, who is very much not an object of lust for the male cast members. Amy started off as She-Sheldon but has since evolved into a very well-realized and layered character — perhaps the best in the cast.

9 ) Endless References and 8 ) Messed-up References

UGO compares the show to Family Guy in terms of its ham-fisted use of pop-culture references, and yeah, the refs can fly fast and furious on Big Bang, but they feel less disruptive than the Family Guy references, which are clumsy, abrupt non sequiturs that have nothing to do with the story. Big Bang is not as slick, subtle, and sly as, say, Futurama (which UGO rightly credits as the best when it comes to pop-culture references), but the show uses them to better effect than Family Guy.

As for the gripe that the show gets its geek references wrong, well, UGO’s example — that a player cannot in fact loot allies’ bodies in World of Warcraft, despite the show’s assertion — only bothers the hardcore players who know better. It bothers them in the same way it bothers neurologists when a character gets knocked out cold for several hours and wakes up with nothing worse than a headache, or the way it bothers cops when an action movie police officer — well, does just about anything.

There are countless instances when a movie or TV show gets wrong some technical detail, but the flub goes unnoticed by all except those in the know. Any good writer should know enough to do their research so they don’t get the facts wrong, but sometimes writers don’t exercise due diligence, and other times they ignore reality to move the story forward, hoping the general public won’t know any better. The Big Bang Theory is not committing a crime that Hollywood hasn’t committed before and won’t commit again.

PS: reductio ad absurdum is indeed, despite UGO’s claim to the contrary, a logical fallacy; it’s just not the one Sheldon describes. I’d call that irony, but UGO might point out that I’d be using “irony” incorrectly.

7 ) Other Geek Shows Are Better

Yes, and others are worse. That’s just a lame argument. Moving on…

6 ) Evil Wil Wheaton

UGO remarks that Wesley Crusher was the worst part of Star Trek: The Next Generation. You know why fans hated Wesley? Because he was getting to do what all the fanboys wanted to do: be on the Enterprise having adventures. The character had problems, but it was mostly jealousy on the fans’ part that led to Wesley’s low standing in the Star Trek universe.

But that’s beside the more important point UGO makes, that the “evil Wil Wheaton” character has shown up too often and is losing his punch with each appearance. Wait, what? Wil’s made three appearances on the show, that’s three appearances in five seasons and 100 episodes. That’s hardly a glut of Wheaton.

5 ) Sheldonmania

UGO writes:

There’s a common tendency in many sitcoms to abandon their original premise when one character becomes more popular than the others. Probably the best example is Family Matters, which eventually just became a showcase for the antics of Steve Urkel. In the case of The Big Bang Theory, that character is Sheldon Cooper, the Aspergers-esque theoretical physicist.

I’m not sure what they mean by the show’s original premise being abandoned. The show is about the lives of four geeky friends. Yes, the Leonard-Penny dynamic was a major point in the show’s early seasons and remains a recurring theme, but to act like that was always meant to be the main point is not accurate. Leonard and Sheldon are the anchor characters, and always have been.

Besides, there’s a difference between a wholesale character takeover, like the Urkel-ization of Family Matters, and writers finding their footing writing for characters. Sheldon’s quirks were definitely less pronounced in the very early episodes, but the character as we know it was there.

4 ) Bazinga

Character catch-phrases are always going to be hokey and contrived, but Bazinga abuse is far less egregious than, say, anything ever uttered by any given character in any given sitcom during the 1970s or 1980s. It’s hardly in the same class as “Whatchoo talkin’ ’bout, Willis?”

2 ) It’s Not Us

UGO writes:

At the end of the day, the biggest geek gripe against The Big Bang Theory is that we know plenty of geeks who would be better protagonists for a TV show. Most scientists we know are the absolute opposite of the stereotype on the show — when you’re super-smart, you spend your time working on world-changing projects, not visiting the comic book store every Wednesday. The real geek is too busy subtitling anime or modding Skyrim to keep a job like that. If they wanted to show the actual world of geekdom, they need to lose the high-paying science jobs and focus on dudes writing articles for Internet magazines.

So, the problem with the characters is that they have real and respectable jobs and DON’T spend obscene amounts of time on their geeky hobbies? Seriously, guys?

One of the things I love about the show is that the characters are, undeniably, geeks, but they are not the typical Hollywood interpretation of geeks as lonely, zit-faced, Coke-bottle-glasses-wearing sexless losers who live in their parents’ basement and spend all the money they earn from their McJob on action figures and comic books. Except for Howard (Simon Helberg), the guys all live on their own — real apartments and everything. They have and have had relationships, real and purely sexual.

UGO’s insistence that a “real geek” is too busy indulging in their hobbies to hold down a day job — at least, one that is not an extension of their leisure-time activities — is not just untrue, it’s insulting. You know that episode in which Leonard and Sheldon have a heated debate over exactly how Superman’s powers work? Yeah, I’ve had that conversation. You know what I do for a living? I’m a reporter, and my work and my social life are two totally different worlds.

I do have friends who apparently eat, sleep, and breathe their geeky fun. I call them “the minority.” Most of my friends are teachers, scientists, lawyers, artists, techies of every variety, writers, medical professionals — jobs that utilize their intellects but are utterly unrelated to their funtime, like performing at renaissance faires, getting together for weekly Dungeons & Dragons games, hitting the comic shop en masse on Free Comic Book Day, holding Lord of the Rings movie marathons…right now I know of several people playing Skyrim and Skyward Sword until their eyeballs dry out.

To act like they’re the exception is to perpetuate a stereotype — which, I guess, is only worth complaining about when the show is stereotyping women. Sorry, UGO, but you’re WAY off-base on this one; the Big Bang gang are closer to “real geeks” than you think.

1 ) The Theme Song

That’s UGO’s number one gripe? For Christ’s sake…

Everything Old is New Again; or, Remember to Recycle!

I wasn’t planning to start a major new project, but somehow I’ve cranked out 12 pages of a YA novel. I’m still not sure if it will sustain momentum once I get deeper in, but I’m off to a very promising start.

The project in question is not brand-new, more of a fresh approach to an old, old idea. Years ago, as a joke, my friend Tricia (creator of the webcomic Swiftriver) and I re-imagined ourselves and our friends as super-heroes (y’know, like you do…when you’ve had a little too much to drink). These were not at all serious alter-egos (again: drinking), but some of the characters got stuck in my brain.

From time to time I’d mentally revisit the characters and see if I could find a purpose for them, and a few years back I tried them out in a TV series setting, and hey, it worked. Before long I had done something unusual for me: I had crafted remarkably detailed storylines for this imaginary series, including an overall series arc. I wrote up a script in the appropriate format for a one-hour television show — my first time doing so, and getting the pacing down to account for commercial breaks was TOUGH. Maybe that’s why the idea died on the vine and the project, which I’d dubbed Action Figures, went back to purely a thought experiment.

Every so often, I take an old writing project and try to resurrect it, and one of the things I like to try is to re-write an old story in a new format. I have a couple of stories that exist as both prose novel and screenplay, and in those cases I found the new format felt like a better fit for the story in question than the old one.

Since I wrapped work (temporarily) on Bostonia, I’d been wondering what my next project might be, and no ideas were presenting themselves. Then I began reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I was immediately struck by the first-person present tense perspective, and it sparked something. So I decided to bring back Action Figures — conceived as a very adult TV series — as a YA novel, told from the perspective of one of the characters.

So far the novel has come together quickly — 10 pages in one day! — but I foresee a few problems ahead. When you’re dealing with the fixed perspective of single character, the conceit is the reader sees everything he (or she, in this case) sees and nothing more. Other characters either have to have their moments in front of the protagonist/narrator or have them reveal those moments to the P/N later.

It’s entirely possible to simply have the P/N narrate these off-page moments as well and trust that the reader will follow, but for some people that can be jarring; in their minds, they’re wondering how the main character can know about developments he/she wasn’t there to witness first-hand (even though the idea that the character is speaking to them directly is accepted readily and without challenge).

Then there is the method I’ve seen Brad Meltzer use in his novels to split the difference, with the main character providing first-person perspective narration in some chapters and an omniscient third-person perspective narrator assuming control in others. Again, readers can be thrown off by this dual narration technique, but it never bothered me personally.

For me, I think finding the right approach is going to involve a bit of trial and error. I don’t mind the trial part, but I’m hoping to keep the error to a minimum.

http://www.bradmeltzer.com/