#writinglessons: Nightflyers on SYFY

Okay, this write-up is going to be brutally honest. The reason? I’m watching scripted programming in an effort to become a better storyteller.

As I’m currently working on a YA space opera, I’ve been binging on science fiction programming and books. As for programming, I’ve enjoyed Origin from Youtube Originals and you can read my thoughts here. Then there was Altered Carbon from Netflix. For books, I’ve read Empress of Thousand Skies, The Belles, and also Across The Universe.

As I’ve been watching Nightflyers (and believe me, I’ve watched and rewatched episodes) I’ve stumbled upon some lessons that I plan to keep in mind as I create stories for consumers. And to me, there is one main issue that I have with the series.

It seems to me that the writers/producers crafted a tale to hit certain metrics/expectations but never bothered to delve into the heart and soul of their story. Let me explain further, the story has these ‘moments’ that are supposed to either grab attention but they don’t truly add to the story. For instance, the show starts off with a lesbian plot line which seemed more for shock value than anything deep and worthwhile. Then, there’s the creepy domineering mother who created a dysfunctional relationship with her son. That trope is done twice in the series. First with (SPOILER ALERT) Cynthia and Roy Eris then with Thale (the psychic L1) and his therapist who by the way he dreams/has a vision of having sex with her. (Now this part was really unsettling for no good reason).

Remember I mentioned the Youtube show, Origin? Well that was some top-notch science fiction. It was a creeptastic scifi origin/alien introduction show. And it told a solid story while incorporating a wide cast of characters who were introduced to us so we had a good sense of who they were and what made them tick (all but one character, however).

Not so in Nightflyers which was a cheap attempt to scare viewers and it failed over after over again. The sets and wardrobe also looked cheap! Also, there were times when I was forced to rewind and replay dialogue in order to understand what was going on. I assure you that I am a mature enough consumer of programming whereby I should be able to make certain mental leaps in a story even where there are plot holes. Unfortunately I was mostly left lost by the episodes and rewatched them in a twisted effort to respect the legendary George R. R. Martin. I also wanted to support scifi programming which is all too rare nowadays.

I will say I liked the theme song and opening sequence. I have a thing for opening sequences. And by episode 8, there were a few plot twists that looked promising! Nevertheless, there was an overall lack of fluidity to the storytelling that was oftentimes jarring and served as a drawback.

And I was left with so many questions. Who is the Bee Lady? Where did she come from? What is her backstory?

I could go on and on with my list of complaints but I will mention that for whatever this show may have lacked, I tuned in to watch the next episode with dedication. I’m not sure if I’m just a sucker for scifi. And in conclusion, I’ll summarize that Nightflyers started off as a haunted ship scifi thriller that lost sight of what it was. It was chock-full of flawed characters – none I could root for. As I’ve written books that suffered from such malaise the one thing I would suggest as a possible cure for Nightflyers is that the writers/producers should have kept the main premise of this story at the heart of the series, returning to it often instead of seeking cheap thrills to hold the viewers attention.

That’s a lesson I plan to never forget and a mistake I hope to not repeat.

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#writinglessons Origin

Look, I’m a bonafide geek. I’ll admit it. Specifically, I’m a sci fi geek. I just can’t help it. Give me a show with some solid science fiction themes and I’ll change my entire schedule to indulge.

With that in mind, I ended up binge watching on Origin from Youtube Premium all day on Saturday. And it was sooooooo good!

I’m not going to bother to share the premise but I am definitely going to share the story telling techniques I picked up from the series. Continue reading “#writinglessons Origin”

Preparing for 2019

I never used to create new year resolutions for myself.  Somehow, it always seemed nonsensical. However as I get older, juggle my life as a mom, a wife and a small business owner (oh yes! Creating fantastical characters and incredible words for readers is a serious business. Just ask J. K. Rowling. It made her the richest woman in the UK in 2017!), I realize it’s essential to come up with a plan.

Continue reading “Preparing for 2019”

#writinglessons Using parallels in storytelling

I’m sure a more sophisticated writer has a fancy definition for what I’m about to expound upon, but I enjoy a good box of wine so … yeah.

Parallels are where a particular story theme is repeated in more than one character’s story arc. In my book, The Paladin (book 2 of The Nome Chronicles series), my two main characters experienced a sense of betrayal from the ‘fathers’ in their life. In the case of Neith, she learned her father took a gamble that put her life at risk. Invier was equally betrayed by Karax, who revealed he was using Invier for his devious designs.

I was reminded of the importance of parallels as a storytelling technique when I watched Season 3 of the Showtime series, Billions.

Billions TV show on Showtime: season 3 ratings (cancel renew season 4?)

This show is a favorite of mine. Its an interesting look into the minds of the super rich and their quest to maintain their dominion over others.

One recurring theme in Season 3 was the conflict between father and son. A main character, Chuck, is at odds with his father for most of the season. He even goes as far as to take a stance simply to change the power dynamic in their relationship. Similarly, Axe and Taylor constantly butt heads in an effort to steer the firm.

From left: Condola Rashad as Kate Sacker, Toby Leonard Moore as Bryan Connerty and Paul Giamatti as Chuck Rhoades in season one of the TV series "Billions." The television show premieres Sunday, Jan. 17, at 10 p.m. EST.  Jeff Neumann/Showtime via AP

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Another theme is ‘parricide’, that is the act of a child murdering his/her parent. In Billions, Chuck gets hammered by not one but two of his proverbial children. That plot point is mirrored in Axe’s story-line when Taylor makes a significant move against him.

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Now, why is any of this important?

Parallel stories allow for a richer reveal of a character’s flaws and needs. It’s a way of making a story more complex and thereby interesting. By examining the parallels in two character’s lives, the author also highlights the similarities between two distinct individuals. It can give your reader an aha moment of sorts when they recognize a particular failing or issue in the life of a character as one in their own life. Or that of someone they know.

That’s what author’s do – shine a light on the human condition by using their characters to  to tell readers a great story. Using parallel narratives is a great way to do that and it’s something I hope to use to good effect.

Got an example of parallel storytelling in a book of yours or someone else’s? Feel free to share in the comments. I’d like to know.

 

Till next time includes LM

#writinglessons Game of Thrones Season 7

I’m re-watching season 7 of Game of thrones and it’s been interesting to analyze the story as a writer instead of as the average consumer enjoying some great content.

Warning, if you are yet right watch this particular season, please don’t let me spoil it for you. Come back and read this once you’ve indulged. Continue reading “#writinglessons Game of Thrones Season 7”

#writinglessons What To Do When You Don’t Know How Your Story Ends

I’m working on two books at the moment but one of them has been giving me a hard time. ISSUE: I have no clue how the book will end! Continue reading “#writinglessons What To Do When You Don’t Know How Your Story Ends”

#writinglessons: Hotel Artemis

(Caution: Long post ahead!)

Image result for hotel artemis

I just watched Hotel Artemis and was loving the movie right until the ending. Have you ever seen a movie where it’s obvious the producers/directors just wanted to round up the story arcs as quickly and neatly as possible? Well that’s what this ending felt like and it left me…slightly disappointed.

Anyway, let me get back to that ending I mentioned by discussing the rest of the story.

Ready? Please look away if you don’t want spoilers. You can skip to the end to read how I would have ended the movie. I’ll put a big sign for you so you won’t miss it, okay?

Continue reading “#writinglessons: Hotel Artemis”

#writinglessons Serve the Tea

I watch a good amount of reality television when I have the time and I’m a big fan of some of the fabricated drama. Yes, I know it’s all created for the show and it isn’t as ‘real’ as the producers want me to believe. And yet, I curl up on my couch ready to be sucked into it all each season.

Why?

It’s all about the ‘tea’, if you ask me!

Continue reading “#writinglessons Serve the Tea”

#writinglessons Um, Transformers The Last Knight

The weeks before Avengers Infinity War came out, my sons and I watched most of the movies in the Marvel Universe. Thor, Spiderman, Iron Man, Captain America, Black Panther. We were ready when we finally got to the Avengers flick.

After all that ‘studying’, I wanted some more action. Some more…franchise. And so, I opted for a goody I was familiar with–Transformers. Right now, I’m humming the theme song to the cartoon from the 80s, loll!

From the very start, it was clear the movie had an insane budget, I mean the opening sequence was nothing but a huge fighting scene from Arthurian times. Then, we were introduced to Merlin and things went left. Why? Merlin was trying to be funny. He really wasn’t funny and from that point, the more it went downhill.

As a writer, I’m always trying to learn from more experienced content creators out there. Hollywood movies are a goldmine to tap from and so despite my reservations, I chose to continue watching. I quickly realized that the movie had way too many ‘comedians’. There were all the transformer bots with their ‘witty ‘ commentary. Then there was the MC played by Mark Wahlberg, who always had something snappy to say. The little girl, who he called mini J-Lo, she’s apparently Latina and so must be saucy and comparable to Jennifer Lopez, I guess (my point being nothing other than the comment wasn’t funny). Oh, I better not forget the black guy who wasn’t funny either or the apparently Native American ‘Chief’ who came out of nowhere but played no role and didn’t need to be there.

Gosh, I started off talking about having too many comedians and have delved into having too many characters it seems. And in this case, both issues are connected in the movie. There were more characters talking and playing semi-important roles than necessary and I took that as a lesson to not repeat in my future books. Limit your story to essential characters. Remove those who add nothing to the plot.

As for the comedians, the lesson there was clear–unless your story is a comedy, rely on fewer funny characters. And actually make them funny. Too many cooks in the kitchen and all that. I don’t hold the Fast and the Furious franchise as an example of movie distinction but there’s a reason why the last movie did so well. (I watched that one again as well). The Tyrese character added a little bit of humor by being silly as did the character played by Ludacris. That was it. Light banter and chemistry, no full on jokes. Their story was cohesive and not disjointed with a bunch of irrelevant characters trying to outspoken each other.

Oh well, maybe I just miss the Transformer cartoons of my youth. They were straightforward — bad bots got crushed. That’s why I invested in the movie franchise, frankly. The Witwickis need to come back in the next installment. Now that was a funny family. That and Megan Fox.  Her replacement in the last movie was just fine but it would be nice to see the old gang back.

Gosh, I got distracted again.

I’ll end by saying my boys (both on 15) enjoyed all the explosions. Sadly, the story seemed disjointed and disconnected to me. I know the creative process is far from easy (boy, do I ever), and one additional lesson I’ve learned from this flick is you can’t distract consumers from the flaws in a story with…well, explosions.

#Writinglessons: Tomb Raider & the ‘status quo’

For writers, the first part of their book typically shows the main character’s ‘Status Quo’. By that, I mean a snapshot of what their life is like at the beginning of the story. From there, things typically go to hell or at least that’s what I aspire to do in my books.

I was recently watching the latest installment of Lara Croft–Tomb Raider starring Alicia Vikander–and the opening scene (which I’d equate to the opening scene and ‘Status Quo’ segment of a book) was an eye opening experience for me. No, not because the movie was an exquisite example of film making or storytelling, but simply because the filmmakers did something that I found instructive.


Now, if you are yet to watch the movie and don’t want it spoiled for you, I suggest you walk away right now and come back when you’ve watched the flick. If, however, you simply want to learn a storytelling technique, then forge ahead!

Back to what I learned. In the beginning of the movie, Lara Croft is in a boxing match. She faces a stronger, more skilled opponent and yet in the face of certain defeat, she doesn’t give in. She rather lose than capitulate.

The filmmakers used the status Quo segment of the story to highlight a major characteristic trait of hers. This stubbornness, or as her father later said to her in a video, “I know you don’t like being told what to do”-plays a major role in the decisions she makes later in the film. (Sort of).

For me, the lesson is to use the status Quo section to not only show the character’s life but to show who the character is. What makes them who they are. Plant the seed of an important part of their story that influences the plot later on. That should arguably help for the creation of a satisfying read for the reader.

As to whether I learned anything else from the movie, the answer is yeah. However, in my opinion, I learned what not to do. For instance, when a character does something that doesn’t make sense, expect a readers suspension of disbelief to abate. (I feel like I notice this more than anything in books and film because it is a problem that terrifies me as a writer.)

Specifically, Lara Croft boxes and when she gets to Hong Kong  (spoiler!) She is able to chase down a petty criminal and retrieve her stolen bag. Then the thief pulls out a switch knife and all of a sudden this boxing, bike racing (yeah, she lives for a thrill) chick is running away from some punks? She didn’t even try to put up a fight.

It didn’t jive well with me though I assume the filmmakers wanted to show an uncertain Lara Croft before she became the adventurer and kick ass Lara Croft fans expect. Maybe I’m just having a hard time adjusting to a Lara Croft that isn’t baddie Angelina Jolie.

Nah, the filmmakers didn’t realize that making Lara Croft scared one minute then able to swing herself off a crashing boat in the middle of a storm the next, would throw a viewer (me) out of the story.

Anyway, now I’m yearning to watch Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Lara Croft: The Cradle of Life. Maybe after I’ve re-watched John Wick and John Wick Chapter 2. I’ve got a beef shawarma and a bottle of Riesling. Yup, that’s what I’m about to do tonight!