2019/01/16

Movie Ranks: Men vs Women

Seen on Twitter:


Cursory analysis: Women like newer children's movies. Men like mature films--with a marked preference for war movies, westerns, and sci-fi--that span all eras of film.

Additional observation: Number of entries on each list that also appear on AFI's list of the 100 Greatest Movies of All Time

  • Women: 1
  • Men: 7

Also, I haven't dug deeply into this, but the women's list contains a glut of movies based on books, whereas the men's list appears to feature a preponderance of original screenplays.

What's the takeaway? Honestly, I'm not sure. I do have a sneaking suspicion that women give pride of place to stories as stories while men take a keener interest in film as a medium. Perhaps the disparity has something to do with men being more visual. This phenomenon warrants further study.

2019/01/15

Book vs Movie

Book vs movie

In my work as a freelance editor, I've noticed a common tendency among the current crop of science fiction authors to write books as if they're writing movies. That practice is understandable since most science fiction and fantasy novels published after 1980 suck, and therefore today's authors are disproportionately influenced by film.

However, writing a novel by playing a little movie in your head and transcribing what you see in your mind's eye hobbles the final product. Because this generation of authors don't read as much as their forebears did, few of them realize the storytelling advantages that books have over movies.

The film advantage

First, let's examine the storytelling tools in a film maker's repertoire that simply aren't available to novelists.

  • Film is a visual medium. Movies don't have to spend time describing characters, action, and settings. They can just show those elements.
  • Movies are easier to consume. As passive entertainment, they require less time investment and skill on the part of the audience. Bibliophiles often take the ability to read for granted, but nearly half of all American adults now have significant difficulty reading or are functionally illiterate.
  • In addition to their main visual aspect, movies are also enhanced by audio. Music and sound effects add extra layers and depth to the moviegoing experience.
Book advantages


Film makers certainly have storytelling tools at their disposal that novelists don't. On the other hand, authors can pull off feats of story craft that make movie directors jealous.

  1. Authors can directly convey their characters' emotions. Storytelling works by evoking an emotional response in the audience. When it comes to making audiences empathize with characters, novelists who understand their medium have all other artists beat. Authors have a thousand ways to relate characters' emotional states to readers, from subtle word choices that filter descriptions through a POV character's mood, to outright saying how a character feels.Movies have to rely on actors' performances and musical cues to get the same info across. Unless the director decides to include a voiceover, which is hard to do without getting heavy handed.
  2. Novel characters can be themselves. Related to the point above, the simple and necessary act of casting an actor to portray a character imposes hard limits on that character and the audience. Star Wars fans who read the 1976 novelization before the 1977 movie came out were free to imagine what Han Solo looked and sounded like within the broad descriptions supplied by Alan Dean Foster. Then the movie came out and effectively vetoed their imaginations. Now Han Solo is and forever will be Harrison Ford, Just like Aragorn is Viggo Mortensen and Daniel Radcliffe is Harry Potter. Books give readers more creative freedom.
  3. Books let readers make more choices. Every author has a personal vision for his work. Each reader has his own interpretation of a book's events, characters, and setting that will always differ from the author's to varying degrees. I've talked to readers who picture some of my most prominent characters with wildly different hair colors than are clearly defined in the book, for instance. That's an extreme example, but smart authors take advantage of readers' desire to stake ownership over the story by opening aspects up to interpretation. Use your books' higher necessary audience investment to foster audience participation.
  4. An unlimited special effects budget. The author is so called because he wields effectively unlimited authority over his secondary world. And compared to a film director, exercising that authority is practically effortless. As a novelist, you can conjure monsters as big as any realized on film--or bigger, stage battles between millions of swarming starships, and create worlds yet undreamed of. For free. Bonus: You can go the Lovecraft route and totally own film makers by writing of creatures so otherworldly as to defy mortal comprehension.

2019/01/14

Who's Frank Pentangeli?

Frank Pentangeli

Perusing this humanist blogger's semi-apt comparisons of various dissident Right figures to characters from the Godfather saga, one comes across this howler:
Also, because of excessive pride, Fuentes is too often and too easily dismissive of views and ideas that doesn’t jibe with his paradigm, and this is especially true when it comes to Catholic vs Pagan debate. His sadistic side just can’t resist putting on the robe of the grand inquisitor and insulting neo-pagans on the right and stretching them on the rack.
There's a reason why secular humanists white knight for neo-pagans. The latter are simply atheists who crave the ritual and fellowship of real religion without the morality or discipline. Similarly, atheists on the Right all too often turn out to be indistinguishable from Leftists who hate Christians and Jews instead of just hating Christians.
...Perhaps, Fuentes is drawn to Catholicism because he senses that his immense ego, if un-anchored to faith in God, can easily fly off the handle like that of fellow Latin Mussolini. It’s like a willful dog needs an especially powerful leash to prevent it from running wild and crazy. But for Fuentes, his Catholic leash has become more than a check on his emotions. It has become a check on his intellect and imagination, even to the point of dismissing evolution and entertaining the notion of geocentrism. 
Lens Flare Fedora Shrek
It has also become an easy whip of moral indignation. In this, Fuentes has something in common with the young Pat Buchanan who, as a young conservative, was an odd-man-out in Columbia Journalism school filled with Liberals(as recounted in his delightful autobiography RIGHT FROM THE BEGINNING). Buchanan always had brains and passion, but his overt Catholicism limited his imagination and scope as a thinker, culture critic, and politician. It’s interesting that Fuentes is most like Buchanan but really admires Donald Trump who, being free of religious dogma, has been able to forge a new kind of politics.
If Catholicism is a limiting principle on political thought and imagination, then Matteo Salvini, Jair Bolsonaro, and Andrzej Duda, to name a few, seem oddly unaffected.

Exhibit A: Contra the OP's association of Trumpism with "being free of religious dogma", Trump had more support from Catholics, Protestants, and Jews than from atheists.

Vote by Religion

Exhibit B: a telling exchange between the Audacious Epigone and the decidedly less-antichrist Dissident Right atheist the Z Man:

A Conquered People

Heritage Americans are devoid of purpose because, like the American Indians, our culture and religion have been stolen from us. Christianity is the rock on which Western civilization was founded. It cannot be replaced with appeals to materialism or racial idolatry. It most certainly cannot be replaced with false graven images.

Self-styled Right wing commenters like Andrea have drunk deep of the Boomer Kool-Aid. They've been conditioned by enemy propaganda to abandon the religion of their fathers, never noticing that the enemy hates and fears the Christ more than any political movement. Perhaps the anti-Christian atheists and pagans on the Right don't serve the enemy's designs knowingly, but they serve them all the same.

Decision time is rapidly approaching. The Left will not allow anyone to pursue the drug high, sexual thrill, or consumerist indulgence of their preference while maintaining neutrality on Christ. Atheists on the Right have four choices:
  1. Join the Left--most will.
  2. Repent and convert to Christ.
  3. Failing 2, LARP in their church of choice for an hour on Sundays.
  4. Shut up.

2019/01/11

Combat Frame Data: XCD-001-2


XCD-001-2 Kreuzgun
  
XCD-001-2 Kreuzgun

Technical Data

Model number: XCD-001-2
Code name: XSeed
Nickname: Kreuzgun
Classification: energy weapon optimized Sentinel use combat frame
Manufacturer: Seed Corporation
Operator: [REDACTED]
First deployment: CY 1
Crew: 1 pilot in cockpit in chest
Height: 19 meters
Weight: dry weight 65 metric tons, full weight 78.4 metric tons
Armor type: "1D" carbyne laminar armor
Powerplant: cold fusion reactor, max output 2795 KW
Propulsion: rocket thrusters: 4x 41,790 kg, 4x 20,910 kg, 2x 12,000kg; top speed 3564 kph; maneuvering thrusters: 20, 180° turn time 0.80 seconds; legs: top ground speed 196 kph
Sensors: radar, thermal, optical array; main binocular cameras mounted in head
Fixed armaments: quad plasma rifle, power rated at 3.75 MW, magazine-fed, 10 shots per mag, can recharge from internal capacitor; 2x plasma sword, power rated at 0.50 MW, stored in recharge rack on back, hand-carried in use

General Notes

The second XSeed prototype and sister CF to the XCD-001-1 Prometheus, the Kreuzgun matched its elder sibling's performance in every respect. With the notable exception of firepower, where  the XCD-001-2 actually surpassed its potent predecessor.

Instead of the sniper style Prometheus plasma rifle, the Project S team equipped the Kreuzgun with a squad scale nonintegrated plasma cannon 3x as powerful as the plasma rifle carried by the CF-014 Ein Dolph. The Kreuzgun's weapon featured four barrels arranged in a cross pattern when seen head-on, hence the name. This sight was usually the last an intended target saw.

Combined with the same energy-absorbing 1D armor that made the Prometheus nigh indestructible, the Kreuzgun represented a major leap forward in Megami's quest for the ultimate terror weapon.

Line art: quad plasma rifle


Kreuzgun rifle

2019/01/10

Writing Tips: Conflict, Tension, and Action

Fury Road

Many writers labor under a common misconception about what makes a book feel fast-paced. Slamming chapters together with no space in-between doesn't necessarily give readers a sense of speed. In fact, it can do the opposite by bringing on action fatigue. Pacing has less to do with keeping lots of balls in the air than with with motivation.

Consider Mad Max: Fury Road. It's been described as a nonstop car chase, and George Miller is said to have storyboarded it that way, but look closely and you'll find several points where the action slows down or outright pauses so the characters can take stock of the situation, lick their wounds, and plan their next move. It just feels like the action never stops from the audience's point of view because the characters are so well-established and their motives are crystal clear.

Always remember:

  1. Storytelling is about manipulating the reader's perceptions. It's primarily emotional. Intellect is secondary.
  2. The physical nuts and bolts of a story rarely if ever have a direct 1:1 effect on readers' perceptions. In fact, the effect is often the opposite of what you'd expect. The relationship is almost like dream logic.

So counter-intuitively, a story that actually is nonstop action feels like a slog, whereas a story with one explosion every 5000 words can feel like a runaway roller coaster ride if you've got your characters and their motives clear in the reader's head.

To put it in wordsmithing terms, the element that fuels the plot and keeps the reader on the edge of his seat furiously turning pages to find out what happens next is dramatic tension. Conflict builds tension. Note that conflict and action are not the same thing. Conflict arises when a character in pursuit of a goal encounters an obstacle to getting what he wants. Action often releases tension by providing a measure of conflict resolution.

What this means is that the tension isn't necessarily where you think it is. Here's a simplified example.

  1. Max and his allies are trying to get their truck out of the mud.
  2. A wave of goons shows up to kill them. This is when the tension spikes.
  3. Max slaughters the goons. The tension is relieved.

The longer a fight scene, the more tension is reduced, Think of action as a tension release valve.

That doesn't mean you should pull an Indiana-Jones-shooting-the-swordsman routine every time. Balancing dramatic tension with satisfying conflict resolution is a delicate high wire act. Having the hero just blow through every challenge quickly desensitizes the reader until the appearance of new obstacles stops raising the tension entirely.

The trick is to have an overarching goal for the protagonist, regularly introduce new obstacles--and new kinds of obstacles--that ratchet up the tension, and have the hero believably overcome the obstacle without releasing all of the additional tension. Following every action scene, the dramatic tension should be at least a little higher than it was before the scene began. Think a series of peak and valleys where each peak and valley is higher than the last.

Dramatic tension should reach a crescendo in the third act climax. At that point, the story should downshift from rising action to falling action as loose ends are tied up and the last conflicts are resolved.

Since action scenes tend to actually relieve dramatic tension, there's no reason breaks in the action can't maintain or even heighten tension. These scenes are where characters can discuss the story's stakes, which is a great way to heighten tension. Think of any scene in an Ocean's movie where the characters are planning a heist. Showing you all the complex security measures they must defeat to succeed turns up the tension, even though the only action is a conversation between characters,

For the ultimate example of non-action tension building, look to The Empire Strikes Back. Many viewers erroneously think Luke's lightsaber duel with Vader is the movie's climax. It's not. Their discussion afterward is. It doesn't get any more dramatic than Vader's pivotal revelation. The resolution comes when Luke makes his choice and jumps.

Where to place the breaks? A piece of advice Jagi gave me that I try to use in every novel is to give the characters a chance to rest and reflect on their situation at least once per act. This serves as a recap of the story thus far for the reader's benefit and can build/maintain tension as explained above.

For some added action genre structural help, check out Lester Dent's Master Pulp Formula. It was devised for short stories, but it scales up to novels easily. Just divide your total word count by four, and replace the 1500 value with that number. It maps to three act structure pretty well, too.