Thursday, April 29, 2010

Mad Men

Not a reference to the show, I assure you.

So, I ranted about this a while back, but a few recent things made me want to revisit it...

If I may, I’d like to go classical for a moment and talk about Jane Eyre. Yes, the 1847 book by Charlotte Bronte a.k.a. Currer Bell, sister of Emily and Anne. Now, Jane Eyre was one of Bronte’s earlier books, so we can excuse some of the clumsiness in it (her Villette isn’t as well known, but it’s a much smoother, subtler book). There’s one thing in it we can’t forgive though, and that’s Charlotte falling back on a cop-out character to drive several huge events in her story.

I’m speaking about Bertha Rochester, the crazy wife in the attic. She gets loose every now and then from her attic prison and glares at Jane. She’ll just stand in Jane’s bedroom and stare at her while she’s sleeping. Sometimes she does it from windows when Jane is outside. It gets so disturbing it drives a wedge between Jane and her beloved Edward “Mr.” Rochester (Bertha’s husband) and sends her fleeing. We eventually discover that Bertha sets fire to Rochester Hall (off-camera, so to speak) and throws herself from the roof during the blaze, thus clearing the way for Jane and Edward to be married at the end of the novel.

Now, it’s never made clear what drove Bertha insane. We also don’t learn exactly why she feels the need to glare at sleeping Jane from high windows and the end of her bed. Never discover why she sets fire to her home or decides to kill herself. Bertha just does all this because, well... she’s insane.

Shenanigans, my friends. I call shenanigans.

If you skim through that list of keywords on the side, you’ll see several rants about characters and a few on motivation. They’re related, after all. Believable characters are what make a story come to life, and good motivations are part of what make characters come to life.

One thing many people have trouble with are the bad guys in their stories. We all tend to use little bits of ourselves in our characters, but of course few of us have lots of criminal experience and none of us (hopefully) have homicidal impulses. It can be tough to get inside an antagonist’s head and come up with a rationale for whatever they’re doing.

Not only that, but sometimes certain events or moments just have to happen in a story. It’s been all plotted out and we need a reason for the characters to do this so that and that can happen a bit later. The writer also knows they need an in-story motivation for these events, no matter how bizarre or unlikely they are.

Faced with these challenges, a lot of people fall back on the quickest, easiest solution they can. They say the character is insane.

Now they don’t need a motivation, right? He or she is just doing this stuff because, well... they’re insane.

This is pretty much hands-down the laziest writing someone can ever do. All characters need a solid motivation, and when a writer decides to use insanity as carte blanche for any actions or behaviors of a character, it just shows that he or she was too lazy to work out a real motivation. The plot needs to be driven forward, and there’s no logical reason for this to happen, so we’ll just say someone’s insane and relieve ourselves of the need to be logical. It’s a cheap way to hide the writer’s button-pushing.

Another common occurrence is for the insanity to be a twist, something that comes out of nowhere and takes the reader’s breath away. The flaw that usually goes alongside this is that once Wakko’s insanity is revealed, his behavior does a complete 180 and he begins to act like a lunatic. Yes, Wakko’s been calm and rational for the entire story, but now that we know the truth he’s started foaming at the mouth and grabbing for kitchen knives. You can’t have a rational villain and fall back on “he’s insane.” This is a major cop-out. Dan Brown took a perfectly passable techno- thriller, Digital Fortress, and killed it in the last fifty pages when one of his leads turned out to be insane. Had nothing to do with the main story, this guy just happened to be nuts and started twitching as soon as we found out.

Just to be clear, insanity in and of itself is not a bad thing (speaking from a character point of view, of course). Hannibal Lecter. Renfield. The Joker. Davros. All of these characters are unquestionably out of their skull and are pretty much across the board magnificent either in print or on the screen. The thing is, the writers behind these characters all realized the key point I’d like to make here.

Y’see, Timmy, insanity is not a motivation. It’s the lens the characters are seeing their motivation through.

There’s an old joke you’ve probably heard that one definition of insanity is repeating the same action and expecting different results. But let’s really consider that for a moment. The implication is that Wakko, our insaniac, is choosing to repeat a given action--say, dropping anvils from a great height--because it’s his belief that the logical outcome of this action will be a certain, predictable result (just not the one he’s getting). He isn’t just dropping anvils for the heck of it. He has a motive fueled by what he sees as logical expectations.

In my college novel, The Trinity, the villain is completely insane. Homicidal, in fact. He believes that God only wants blood sacrifice, preferably human. That’s why, in the Bible, he rewards Abel for sacrificing a sheep but turns his nose up at Cain’s much larger sacrifice of harvested fruits and grains. When Cain does spill blood later (Abel’s), God rewards him with a mark that says no man will ever be able to lay hands on him. Thus, my modern-day villain has determined God wants us all to kill as many people as possible. A very twisted interpretation, granted, but I did tell you this guy’s insane, right? He’s not killing people because he’s insane, mind you, he’s killing them because, through his insanity, he believes this is how he should follow God’s will. We can point at it and say he’s doing Y because he believes X and expects Z as a result.

The Joker believes he can prove that everyone, at heart, is ruthless and psychotic, just like him. Renfield believes eating insects and spiders means he’s eating their life-essence and extending his own. Hannibal Lecter isn’t bound by the standards and taboos of the human race, giving him a cold ruthlessness that makes the Joker almost look rational. The writers behind these characters didn’t just fall back on “they’re insane.” They all have actual motivations for their specific actions.

Now, just to be clear, there are times where mindless insanity is just fine. Want someone gibbering in the corner reciting the same numbers again and again? You need somebody chopping up nubile teens out at Camp Crystal Lake? The purposeless madman was made for these tasks.

It needs to be said, though, this only works on a certain level of storytelling, and it isn’t a very high level. The stories of Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers are, at their core, campfire stories. It’s that same story of the escaped madman with the hook except here he’s got a machete. And that story’s great around a bonfire (or with popcorn), but you can’t really bring any clever twists or subtle nuances into it. Which means you shouldn’t expect a larger audience to be interested in it.

That’s why Friday the 13th just gets a decent opening weekend and Silence of the Lambs gets twelve weeks in the top five and a pile of Oscars the following spring.

Next week, six years is almost up, so we need to get in one last discussion about that mysterious island.

Until then, go write.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

...But Three Rights Do Make A Left

Punchline. You get it or you don’t. And if you get it, you’re already ahead for this week’s rant.

A common pearl of wisdom from gurus is “write what you know.” At its simplest, this little nugget means you should write about things you have experience with, and hopefully some love for. For example, I know comic books. I know Los Angeles. I also know horror. So, believe it or not, I wrote a book about superheroes staving off a zombie apocalypse here in L.A. and a bunch of people liked it. One of them even thought it was worth publishing, and now a lot of people like it.

The flipside of this is don’t force yourself to write things you know nothing about and can’t relate to. When you force writing like this, or falsify experience, a reader can spot it right away. How often have you seen someone try to write mobster discussions, scientific jargon, or period dialogue that just sounds like nonsense?

Most of us are average folks. We each have our little specialty, though, and that’s another place “write what you know” can come in handy. As I’ve mentioned once or thrice, I was trying to write stories before some of you reading this were even born. I have screwed up more stories, in more ways, than most of you ever have a hope of matching. You’ll give up on this writing thing long before you hit the levels of incompetence I managed at one point or another. However, it’s that same long experience and learning process that lets me speak with something vaguely resembling authority now. Not a lot of people can do that.

Likewise, not a lot of people have studied medicine, which gave Michael Crichton’s medical/ scientific thrillers such a great edge. Stephen King knows small-town life in Maine far better than most of us. Kevin Smith knows what it’s like to be lower-middle-class in New Jersey. Each of these people knew what they knew and wrote to their strengths.

Now, here’s the catch. Yeah, there’s always a catch.

A common complaint is "they didn't get the facts right." Check out Amazon or IMDb and whatever book or film you choose, there’ll almost always be some idiot pointing out the gross mistakes in it. I’m not talking about the occasional typo or misplaced comma. I mean that guy who feels compelled to point out that a passenger jet takes six and a half hours to travel cross-country from San Diego to Boston, not five. Or that the gasoline in a Geo Metro gas tank would evaporate after seven years so there couldn’t be any in the tank ten years after the apocalypse. Or that a katana would actually shatter if it hit a steel beam, not take a chip out of it. Plus everyone knows they didn’t actually make true katanas until well into the Muromachi period so there’s no way an 11th century Japanese warrior would have one.

Yeah, we all know that guy.

Y’see, Timmy, what this ignores is that sometimes there's a reason the facts are wrong. As I’ve mentioned many times before, reality is not a story point. I’m generally talking about screenplays when I say it, but it’s true for any type of storytelling. You need to get the facts right as often as you can, but you also can’t sacrifice your chosen tale on the altar of truth. As it’s been said, never let the facts stand in the way of a good story.

You want a good example of deliberately getting the facts wrong? Watch any medical or forensics show on television. House is a good one. A standard device on this show is to simplify procedures. Tests get run in minutes instead of hours. Test results take hours instead of days. No, this isn’t realistic, but it allows each episode to maintain a level of suspense and keep a ticking clock atmosphere. If House has to wait two or three days for each test result, that’s a lot of time to kill... and a lot of dead patients the way things work on that show. It’s just not as exciting to hear the team has two months to figure out what’s killing someone, so the writers bend the facts and condense the time. It also helps that 99.9% of us don’t know how long a chromahaemotomagraph test takes. Or exactly what it’s supposed to do. Or how to spell it.

Okay, I made it up.

Now, here’s an example from the other side of the coin. I was reading for a contest a few months back and got a story that revolved around planes. Maybe revolved is too strong a word. There were a lot of planes in it, and they were important to the plot. Sort of. I think they were.

Needless to say, the screenplay had other problems besides the one I’m about to bring up.

At one point the script spent almost three pages on a test pilot going through his pre-flight checklist. It was amazingly detailed, explaining what each system was, what it did, and examples of what could happen if said system failed. No question in my mind, this writer was an experienced pilot who knew his or her stuff. Some of this explanation was in dialogue, some of it was in action blocks, and some of it was kind of an inner-monologue thing. Like I said, there were other issues.

Three pages of that.

Now, being able to rattle off the entire pre-flight checklist for a fighter jet is damned impressive, more so if it's 100% accurate. But that doesn't mean it's good storytelling. To be honest, it brought the story to a crashing halt. It is information we don’t know, but is it really information we need to understand the story? If I didn’t know for a fact the pilot had checked the wing flaps, would some crucial part of the plot collapse later?

This is one of the most common mistakes people make when they write what they know. They feel the need to get the facts right because this is their particular specialty, but they get them right at the cost of the story they’re trying to tell.

One place I see this a lot is weapons. A lot of folks who know their weapons feel the need to list off a lot of information about them. So you get bombarded with makes and years and model numbers and ammunition and magazine sizes and... man, it gets boring just writing about it in general terms. Much like the pre-flight checklist, knowledge of firearms or fencing or martial arts is fantastic, but more often than not it just clutters the page and makes the story drag rather than impress people. Plus, since these almost always relate to action scenes, it’s the last place you want your manuscript to drag.

As a note to screenwriters, it’s especially lethal to load up a screenplay with these sort of details. Unless it’s life-or-death necessary to know the villain is using an Argentinean Bersa Model Thunder 380 Super rechambered for .45 caliber ammo--and the second act will disintegrate without this fact--he or she should just have a pistol. Once your screenplay’s getting made there will be an entire prop department that probably has a much better knowledge of firearms than you, plus a stunt coordinator with years more fight experience. We don’t like it when people tell us how to write--don’t try to tell them how to do their jobs, either. Use that space for your story.

Even if they’re all correct, we don’t need to know all the facts. Sometimes, in fact, it’s better to ignore a fact or three if you can do it without drawing attention to yourself. The most important thing when you’re writing a story is the story, not “getting it right.”

Now, I’d love to be able to say there’s some easy ratio of fact vs. fiction you need to keep track of when writing. It’d be great to just say “keep it at seven parts to three,” but saying that would be a complete fiction in itself. There’s nothing that easy about it. Alas, it’s one of those things a writer just need to get a feel for, usually after making several attempts, failing at most of them, and getting feedback that confirms this failure. And it’s conditional, too--you need a different ratio in a sci-fi story than you do in a comedy.

When all else fails, remember Samuel Clemens. “Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.”

Next time I think I’m going to rant about something that’s been driving me nuts.

Until then, go write.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

How To Get Away With It

Not really pop culture, but it seemed relevant considering the day. My other option was “This Serves No Purpose!!!” from Galaxy Quest. That’s pop culture and it’s a perfect example of what I wanted to prattle on about.

Alas, taxes are a certainty...

Speaking of taxing something, a while back I mentioned the problem of false drama. It’s when random stuff happens between your characters for no reason. Dot suddenly hates Wakko. Out of nowhere, Yakko is smitten with Phoebe. For motives we can’t understand, Wakko has decided to start arguing with the ninjas. Likewise, I’ve rambled on about motivated action and motivations in general. Stuff don’t “just happen” in a story because there’s a guiding force behind it all--the writer. Even acts of God in a story need to have a purpose.

Things also can’t happen just to fuel the story. That’s the difference between a character’s motivation and the writer’s. Anything in a story that isn’t natural or organic breaks the flow, and one of the worst things a writer can do is give the reader time to sit and think about how ridiculous something in a story is. It taxes their patience and strains suspension of disbelief.

With that being said, sometimes we just need a coincidence or an irrational act. It’s the curse of being a writer. Wakko needs to argue with those ninjas.

Now, I recently got to talk to some of the writers from LOST and an interesting term came up. Every now and then, by nature of their show, the story requires them to put in an odd coincidence or have a character make a very unusual choice. One way they solve this, according to Eddy Kitsis, is by “hanging a lantern on it.”

As the name implies, hanging a lantern on something means drawing attention to it. Not as the writer, but within the story. It’s when something odd or unlikey happens and the characters themselves comment on the oddness or unlikelihood of this.

On LOST, when Sun needs a pregnancy test, she and Kate find one in Sawyer’s stash of scavenged medication and toiletries. And while they’re waiting for the result, they both wonder what kind of person would bring a pregnancy test on an airplane. Really, isn’t that just a bit ridiculous?

In my book, Ex-Heroes, we’re told early on that the Mighty Dragon’s real name is George Bailey. Yes, George Bailey just like in It’s A Wonderful Life. He tells us this himself in a first-person chapter. And then he immediately points out how cruel his parents were and also that he owns the movie and has watched it several times.

So, why does this little trick work?

When the characters themselves immediately acknowledge a choice or action is unusual or ridiculous, it takes the edge off that element for the audience. We can’t forgive the million-to-one coincidence that everyone takes in stride, but we can if the people involve recognize those odds and comment on the unlikeliness of it.

What we wouldn’t forgive is the bizarre coincidence of someone flying with a one-use, specific item like a pregnancy test and everyone ignoring that coincidence. Good characters mirror their audience to some degree, so if the reader thinks this is a bit ridiculous, the characters probably should, too.

Look at Casablanca. It’s got a classic lantern moment. When the film begins, Rick has tried to vanish. He’s gone to another city, in another country, on another continent to escape his previous life, and a few years later the woman who tore out his heart comes walking through the door of his new place. Think about it--the odds of this are astronomical. But we never even consider the odds because Rick himself broods over them in a drunken stupor. “Of all the gin joints in all the world... why did she have to walk into mine?” We accept it because he’s sitting here acknowledging his miserable luck.

Now, does hanging a lantern make a story’s lucky coincidence totally acceptable? Well, not always. What it will do, though, is push back the suspension of disbelief a few notches. By acknowledging this convenient bit of plot or character within the story, the writer’s showing that their characters aren’t stupid, which taxes the reader’s patience. It’s also acknowledging that the reader isn’t stupid, because they just get angry when a writer does that.

So if the coincidence is a small one (say, two guys with the same name also have girlfriends with the same name) and you make a point of commenting on the oddness of it, we as the readers will probably accept it without question. If it’s one of those “you’ve got to be &*%#!ng kidding me!!” type of coincidences... well, you might be able to get it down to a raised eyebrow and a slight eye roll.

It’s also worth keeping in mind, this doesn’t mean you can include dozens and dozens of bizarre coincidences in your screenplay or manuscript and get away with pointing out each one. Like most magic tricks, it’s something you can only do once or thrice before people start to catch on to what you’re really doing. And once they see what you’re doing the illusion’s shattered on a bunch of levels.

Next time around, I’d like to prattle on about that old chestnut, writing what you know, and why fighter pilots don’t always make good writers.

Until then, go write.

Friday, April 9, 2010

RIF

Running a little late this week. I blame it on my landlord, who insists I have rent money every month. He’s very capitalist that way.

Anyway, pop culture reference in the title, but only the old people will get it..

Speaking of getting it, want to hear the absolute silliest thing I ever read online? It's not a dirty joke or anything like that. This was in a defiant post someone made on a movie-predictions board I used to visit on a regular basis. Essentially, this one misogynist gent-- who took great pains to tell everyone (frequently) that he was a writer-- was explaining why he'd never read one of several classic books that were getting the adaptation treatment that season. I think one of them may have been the second Narnia book. There was another one, too, but I can't remember what it was.

Anyway--the reason he'd never read any of them?

"REAL writers don't have time to read."

No, seriously. That's what he said. With the capitals and the italics. I can’t really blame it on him, though. I keep seeing or hearing variations on this once a month or so. Just heard it recently at a housewarming party.

Now, I write full time. Eight hours a day or more, five or six days a week. It is how I make my living. So far this year I’ve already done a dozen articles for the magazine and another half dozen or so for the weekly newsletter. Plus I’m poking at a short story for an anthology, a sequel for Ex-Heroes (shameless plug--order your copy over there on the right), and scribbling notes for another book idea that’s been poking at me. Jabbing, really.

Keeping all that in mind... I’ve already read well over a dozen books this year.

We’re barely into April and I've already read sixteen books--more than one a week. I’ve read classic novels like Dracula and shiny-new ones like Under The Dome. I read The Terror by Dan Simmons and then followed it up with an actual history of the Franklin expedition. I’ve read books on ancient Egyptian history and early 20th century spiritualism. I’ve read an end-of-the-world story by Dave Dunwoody that was really fun and another one by Dean Koontz that really wasn’t.

Plus I have to read a lot for work. Screenplays for Alice in Wonderland, Nightmare on Elm Street, Season of the Witch, and several other films. Heck, I read a couple scripts for films I’m not even covering.

I love reading. There’s nothing like getting caught up in a great storytelling experience. It’s like eating a good meal. It relaxes me and gets my mind spinning.

Y’see, Timmy, you can’t make something out of nothing. A physicist needs to study what’s been done in order to develop new theories. A film director has to study the work of previous directors. Writers need to read.

Look at it this way. Bodybuilders need to take in protein to create new muscle. If they continue to do all those strenuous exercises without taking anything in, it actually becomes more detrimental than beneficial. They burn up calories, their muscles wither, and very quickly it starts to affect their performance. Suddenly they can’t lift as much or go for as long. In the end, not taking in material will ruin their chances of being a successful bodybuilder.

In a like manner, a smart bodybuilder knows what to take in. They know eating nothing but steak is just as bad as eating nothing but Twinkies. There are times to eat steamed broccoli and lean turkey breast, but there are also times you need a cheeseburger. No, seriously. I used to train with a professional weightlifter and bodybuilder who made a point of eating a huge, fast-food cheeseburger loaded after every competition. In the days before he’d work his body fat down to dangerous levels, but once the competition was over it was important to replenish those levels as quickly as possible to stay healthy. He knew there was a time he had to eat fatty junk food in order to be a success.

So when you read, read everything you can. Don’t just limit yourself to your chosen genre or format. Break up all that horror with some satire or sci-fi. If you’re writing romantic comedy scripts, pause to check out a drama or two, and vice-versa. And don’t forget to mix a little bit of not-so-fantastic stuff in there, too.

It’s also worth mentioning that while the classics are great, make sure you’re staying current. Dickens is fantastic, but make sure you’ve got a vague idea what Dan Brown and Stephen King are doing. Casablanca and Chinatown are fantastic scripts, but the first draft of Wanted was a heckuva lot better than the movie and that’s what sold it. No one’s saying the classics aren’t good, but if you’re reading the ranty blog I’m guessing you want to sell something in the near future, not a few decades in the past.

Next week, how a lantern can let you get away with almost anything. Honest. You’re going to love it. Plus I’m going to get to name-drop a lot, and that’s always fun.

Until then go write. And read a bit, too.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Baby Steps

So, as some of you may have picked up along the way, I used to work full-time as a crewperson on various films and television shows. On one level, this sounds very exciting and cool. People like hearing stories about blowing stuff up, getting to film in cool locations, and that Reiko Aylesworth is about fifty times more stunning in person than will ever, ever come across on film. I mean, she is just gorgeous. And funny. And a pool shark. Yes, to some extent, working in the film industry really is that cool.

On one out of twenty days. Maybe one out of fifteen, depending on the project.

The rest of the time, it's dull as hell. Honest. No one's that interested in the long days, the idiots in charge, or the screw up from another department that delayed everything for an hour. In this respect, the film industry isn't that different from most other jobs, which is why a lot of people's eyes glaze over when you try to tell them about it.

Which isn't that surprising, if you think about it. It's a job. It's real life. And real life, for the most part, is pretty boring. Even in the movie industry.

Real life meanders. Sometimes it wanders aimlessly. It involves people learning the same lessons everyone else had to learn--or sometimes not learning them and screwing up more. The dialogue in real life sucks. Have you ever read an actual transcription? I do it all the time. Most people sound like idiots, trust me, and I include myself in there. We stutter, we second guess and repeat ourselves.

As such, it's always baffling when people think they've done something amazing by writing a story about real life. With real characters. And real dialogue. In a sense, it's like bragging about the peanut butter and jelly sandwich you made for lunch. The only thing more embarrassing is when you try to convince people the PB&J is something bold, daring, and new. Check it out. Bread on both sides. You'll see I spread the peanut butter across the entire surface of the bread rather than leave it as a large glob in the middle. Also notice, please, that the jelly is between the slices of bread-- I came up with that bit myself.

(If it helps, picture Chef Gordon Ramsey staring at me with that stunned look he seems to do so often... and then his next five or six words getting bleeped out.)

Let's stop and consider for a moment. This is an accomplishment? It's like congratulating someone for getting pregnant at the prom--so many people do it that it's almost not worth talking about.

Now, one of the earmarks of this type of writing is when a character has an epiphany. A supposedly real world-altering revelation about their life. I say supposedly because most of them are the sort of simple life lessons most people have figured out by age twenty or so. You know, that it's better to be loved than to be cool. That drugs are bad. That their destructive behavior is hurting the people around them. Those sort of things. While it'd be tough to prove, I can't help but think a lot of these moments get put in because it's something the writer experienced and they don't grasp that everybody has these moments.

My friend Ace has a neat term for this, developed after years and years of reading for different screenplay contests. To quote: "It's the moment when a baby discovers their own feet. It may be the coolest thing ever in the life of the baby, but for the rest of us it's pretty dull and mundane."

When a real character figures out it's better to enjoy life than spend time at work, they're discovering their own feet. When someone realizes they should cherish and spend time with the people that matter to them, it's their own toes they're staring at. If someone comes to the jaw-dropping conclusion that they've messed up a life that was clearly messed up on page one--OH MY GOD! The toes wiggle when I think about wiggling them!!!!

Part of why this rubs people the wrong way is that it's plain condescending. As I mentioned before, a lot of these lessons are things we figured out in high school, even if maybe we didn't take them to heart at the time.

Y'see, Timmy, when people talk about something great and say "It's so real," they're making an implied statement. And that statement is (in full) "It's so real, but I know it actually isn't. But, wow, if it was real I bet it would be just like this."

No one likes real life. If they did, there wouldn't be any market for even the thinnest veneer of escapism. No one would read books or go to the movies. Reality rarely makes good stories, and the few times it does it's often too outlandish to be believable. Anyone remember me talking about Vesna?

We want quasi-life. We want life +1. We want the good guy to win. We want the villain to get his or her comeuppance. We want the cute couple to overcome obstacles both physical and emotional so they can be together. We want cyborg ninjas from the future programmed by elder gods from the past and million to one odds that pay off and nymphomaniac heiresses who look just like Reiko Aylesworth.

Okay, maybe that last part's just me...

Of course, that's also key. We want all that, but we want it to be believable, too. I mean, if the hero beats the cyborg ninjas and beats the odds three times in a row and finds nympho-Reiko... well, that's just silly.

So, we want life +1--maybe as much as life+3-- but it has to be realistic. At least enough that we can believe in it.

Sound tough? It is, believe me. That's why most people can't cut it as writers. They don't have the ability to pull it off or the patience to figure out how to do it.

A lot of them, instead, write these real stories. Gritty, depressing stories. Stories with broken, unlikable character who fail at everything and lead miserable, pathetic lives. That's art, my friends. The sure sign it's art--no one wants to pay to see it because they don't understand it. No, seriously. That's the definition of art. Just ask any failed artist and odd are they'll tell you the problem is everyone else, not them.

At the end of the day, if you've decided to tell a real story, you've just made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. You've done something that's common, available everywhere, and didn't take much effort. It may be the greatest PB&J ever, but it's still nothing compared to a fairly nice filet mignon. Or even a just-adequate slice of cheesecake. Heck a McDonalds 79-cent hamburger beats a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Next week, I've got something I'd like you to read.

Until then, go write.