Thursday, January 30, 2014

No Moaning

     Re-watching the TV series Quantum Leap recently made me realize how few straight up heroes there are in TV shows anymore.  Modern TV protagonists tend to straddle the line between hero and and villain, if they're not flat out on the far side of it.  Scott Bakula's character Sam Beckett, a scientist caught in a time travel experiment gone wrong and now leaping through time and "striving to put right what once went wrong," tread no such line.  He didn't lack complexity, it's just that his complexity didn't come from his doubts about himself, his mission or the world.  Despite what you hear about how so many writers and actors much prefer to take on villains because they're so much more interesting, heroes don't have to lack complexity. 
     In the February 2014 issue of Empire, the actor Chris Evans comments on playing the role of Captain America, a straight up hero if ever there was one.  When discussing the idea that Captain America doesn't seem to have a standard character arc (he starts out one kind of person and he basically stays that same person), he says, in part "to be a good man is difficult.  To be the best man you can be is even harder.  Even though he doesn't choose to wear his baggage on his sleeve, I think that's his skill set.  He doesn't moan.  There is a depth to him."  Mixed metaphors notwithstanding, Mr. Evans reiterates the point that it's the struggle and how he or she deals with it that can give a character both heroism and an interesting and engaging depth.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Oregon Book Awards

     The finalists for the Oregon Book Awards were recently announced.  Your truly served as judge for the Graphic Literature category.  All submissions were produced by local Oregonians and this was by no means left a shortage of fine material to choose from, as the state (and Portland in particular) has become a veritable center for alternative comic book creation.  Have a look at the finalists here.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Fight Scene

      Fight scenes in movies can be exciting for a few reasons, though primarily for the physical aesthetic.  Exciting fight choreography can engage an audience just like, say, exciting dance choreography can.  In books, it's a bit different.  While an author can get a reader to picture a specific fight choreography, the more specific the description gets, the more tedious the written fight can be.  Nevertheless, a fight scene in a book can heighten the drama, particularly if the reader is already invested in the stakes.  Most importantly though, a fight scene can be a way to highlight aspects of the characters in unusual, or unusually intense, ways. 
     The fight scenes in  Those That Wake and What We Become were intended to do this, delineating traits of Mal (perseverance in the first, the fact that his intelligence and wiliness come alive when he's in conflict in the second) and, to a lesser degree, Remak (precision).  A fight scene can also help intensify the tone and create a sense of just how desperate things are getting, especially when the protagonist seems terribly outmatched or, effectively, cannot hope to win (as in Mal's fight with the Old Man in What We Become).
     A book with sharp, exciting fights scenes that illuminates character illumination is William Goldman's Marathon Man, when the secret agent Scylla fights the assassin Chen.  The way the fight ends, particularly, reveals an essential trait of Scylla's character.  Goldman, incidentally, writes great fights scenes in general, including in the novels Brothers, Control and The Princess Bride.  

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Secrets in the Chapter Titles

      A little while ago, a reader told me he noticed that the chapter titles in Those That Wake and What We Become aren't numbered.  In the interest of full disclosure, this reader seemed a little annoyed by the fact, but the uneasiness it produced in him was not completely unintentional.  I left the titles unnumbered because, like the characters within, I wanted the readers to always be a bit uncertain of where, exactly, they were in the story.
     Something else I did with the chapter titles, actually, almost no one seems to have caught onto (or at least almost no one's bothered to mention to me).  The titles of each chapter have a number of words in them that correspond to the part of the book they're in, so all the chapters in Part I are a single word, the titles in Part II have two words, and so on.  This was an attempt to carry forward the theme, central to the story,  that there are secret connections between things all around us of which we are not aware.
      The ideas of the stories don't have to end with the narrative itself, but can take a hold in the physical object that comprises them.  Now, at the risk of pushing a little too far into postmodernism, I'll point out that ideas taking over physical forms is something else crucial to the stories, as well.