On Plot Holes & Talking about Writing

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Judging by the sales numbers, I think it’s safe to assume that a good number of you watched Disney’s new version of Beauty & the Beast. I personally was not a fan, but that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about something that has bothered me for a while and I’ve been seeing more and more recently.

People seem to be really gung-ho about finding and rationalizing “plot holes” in movies nowadays. I’m sure that’s always been the case, but now with the Internet, it’s become much easier to find theories and make them go viral. I actually like overanalysis and crazy fan theories, whether it’s about movies, video games, or any kind of media. I think it’s a fun way to engage with a work that leaves you noticing things you otherwise might not have. At best, it can give you a new insight and deepen your appreciation for your favorite story, even if you don’t think the theory is true. At worst, it’s a fun diversion and ultimately harmless.

So, it’s important to preface that I don’t mind looking for and trying to explain plot holes in a movie. The problem is this discussion has seemed to overtake all discussion over a film’s writing, especially in regards to Beauty & the Beast.

For clarity’s sake, a plot hole is an inconsistency in the story’s logic, where something happens that doesn’t quite make sense. In the original Beauty & the Beast, the main plot hole concerns the Beast’s transformation: namely how old he was at the time of the curse and how long he’s been cursed. Given the information from the film’s prologue and Lumiere’s lines in “Be Our Guest,” we would assume that the Beast was cursed at 11 years old.

This revelation does call into question some of the logistics of the world and the motives of the Enchantress, which could hurt some viewers’ immersion right at the start of the film. And, to be fair, the new film does address this and fix them in fairly unobtrusive ways. However, this fact seems to be the focus of discussion of the film’s writing. A quick Google search for articles about the movie turns up no shortage of clickbait articles about how the remake “fixes” all the plot holes of the original. Meanwhile, actual reviews of the film that don’t mention these “fixes” give a passing mention to the script, mostly in how it added a few scenes and backstory. Rarely do they actually dig into the writing, which, as a writer myself, particularly irks me.

There are some big issues I have with the film’s writing that I haven’t seen addressed, and they don’t involve a leap in logic. The characterization of a lot of the characters is completely off. The Beast feels stiff and standoffish, unlike in the original where he falls head-over-heels in love with Belle in an adorable way. Gaston becomes a boorish idiot, losing some of the menace and charm that made him a memorable villain. For all the hype around making LeFou gay, the script gives him the lowest possible arc for a gay character, complete with a five-second pay off at the end. And the unnecessary backstory adds length to the movie, not really any depth to the characters.

These are problems with the script that directly affect one’s enjoyment of the movie much more than its internal logic. And yet I haven’t seen these discussed at all. I think this speaks to how we talk about movies, focusing on visual elements over the narrative itself, which is a shame, to say the least. If film is one of the great forms of storytelling, we should start really looking at the stories they tell, not just how they tell it.

On Moonlight and Representation

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So, the Oscars were on Sunday.  I actually thought this year was pretty good, without any major snubs or undeserving winners.  In particular, I am very happy that Moonlight won the coveted Best Picture award, and I’ll try to explain why in this post.  If you’re not ready to move on from awards season just yet, keep reading.

Moonlight is notable for many reasons: it was the first film with an all-black cast to win Best Picture, Joi McMillon, the editor, became the first black woman to be nominated for Best Editing, and Mahershala Ali became the first Muslim to win any acting Oscar.  And it may be a watershed for LGBT representation in film.

Moonlight is the first movie to win Best Picture with queer characters who survive the film.  It is also one of the few Oscar-nominated films with queer characters that don’t involve death in some way.  That fact is more notable when you learn just how many queer characters have been nominated for Oscars, and how many of those characters have not survived.

The earliest example of a queer character being recognized by the Academy is Rebecca, 1940’s winner for Best Picture.  Judith Anderson nabbed a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her portrayal of the villainous housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, as close to an out lesbian as one could find in the era of the restrictive Hays Code.  With her death by ceiling at the end of the film, Hollywood’s pattern with queer characters was established.  The monstrous coded gay killer would be seen and thwarted again and again in movies like Rope (1948) and Strangers on a Train (1951).

It wouldn’t be until 1968, after the end of the Hays Code, that a positive portrayal of coded queer characters was recognized by the Academy.  Daniel Massey’s only nomination was for his portrayal of Noël Coward in Star!.  Coward was private about his sexuality throughout his life and was not out when Star! was made, but was romantically involved with other men and exhibited some flamboyant characteristics associated with gay men.

The first movie to win Best Picture with confirmed queer characters is Midnight Cowboys (1969), the only X-rated movie to win Best Picture.  This movie was rated X for its depiction of gay men.  Queer stories, especially gay stories would only increase through the 70s and 80s, but queer characters were still relegated to being villains or sidekicks.  Al Pacino was nominated for playing attempted bank robber Sonny Wortzik in 1975’s Dog Day Afternoon, while Cher was nominated for playing the lesbian roommate of the title character in 1983’s Silkwood.  The HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 80s and 90s led to more tragic characters, such as Longtime Companion (1989) and Philadelphia (1993), the latter earning Tom Hanks his first Oscar for Best Actor.

And still, queer characters are stereotyped, now as sidekicks or tragic, doomed figures.  The next film centered on a queer character who survives the film and isn’t an immoral villain was Transamerica (2005).  Felicity Huffman received a nomination for Best Actress for her portrayal of a trans woman looking for her long-lost son.  This peak of queer representation was somewhat overshadowed by Brokeback Mountain (2005), the tragic love story between two men that was nominated for 8 Oscars that same night, including a Best Picture nod.

Even with increasing visibility and gains for the LGBT rights movement in recent years, these same stereotypes exist.  The Imitation Game (2014), a film about the life of Alan Turing, pioneering computer scientist and informal namesake of the UK law posthumously pardoning men convicted of homosexuality, was nominated for 8 awards and criticism for its portrayal of Turing’s romantic relationship with fellow female scientist Joan Clake.  At least Imitation Game won an award for its queer content in Best Adapted Screenplay.  The next year, Alicia Vikander received the only award of the night for The Danish Girl (2015) for her portrayal of the cisgender wife of trans woman Lili Elbe, who dies at the movie’s end.  Meanwhile, Carol (2015), a quiet period piece about the love between two women, was snubbed in all 6 of its nominations, not even receiving a Best Picture nod.

This finally brings me to why Moonlight is so important and why I hope it brings more movies like it to mainstream attention.  Moonlight is a movie about the life of a queer man and, at the end of the film, that life is not over.  He’s not gunned down as retribution for his villainy.  Nor does he go quietly into that good night, poignantly wasting away from AIDS or complications and giving straight audiences a tearjerker ending to a sad life.  Even further, Moonlight characterizes him as a real person.  Chiron isn’t some squealing stereotype to be shunted into the background.  He seems like someone you could know in your life or, at the very least, meet somewhere and talk to.

I want to clarify myself to prepare for the inevitable straw men.  No, I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with queer villains, although we tend to see those characters’ sexuality played up as either a cause of their evil or an outward manifestation of it, i.e. they are evil so they act either sleep with the same sex or behave stereotypically queer.  And no, I don’t think that writing a queer character’s death is inherently bad either.  Death is an important part of storytelling for many reasons, and it would be wrong to exclude queer characters from having that kind of weight in the story.  But, it is something of a problem when the majority of queer characters who are critically acclaimed wind up dead by the end of that story.

And this gets into the fundamental conundrum with representation.  Why does it matter how LGBT characters are portrayed in film?  Well, especially in the current political climate, real-life LGBT people are in a considerable amount of danger.  There is no legal protection in the US for LGBT people against discrimination in the workplace (17 states), housing discrimination (28 states), and hate crimes (19 states).  LGBT people are especially vulnerable to hate crimes and mental health problems like depression and addiction.  And now, these individuals, especially trans individuals, are worried about basic civil rights protections being taken away from them, rendering them less free than their straight counterparts.

This is why Moonlight is so important and why we need more movies like it.  It allows people to see what queer individuals are really like.  They aren’t repressed and deranged killers, they aren’t one-note stereotypes, and they aren’t doomed, tragic figures.  They are real people with real lives.  And it’s time to show the world why these lives are worth protecting.

Anyone interested in further reading on queer representation at the Oscars should look at these pages.  They really inspired this piece.

http://www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/news-bfi/features/history-lgbt-gay-lesbian-trans-films-oscars

http://www.advocate.com/film/2016/2/19/50-straight-people-who-nabbed-oscar-noms-lgbt-roles

“New Year’s” Update

Hello everyone and welcome to 2017!

Yes, I am super late on this, but this past month has been kinda hectic for me with class and stuff.  This year, I’m going to post more often, both worldbuilding updates as well as some more general thoughts.  I hope you find them enjoyable to read.

Not much left to say, just hope you all have a good year!

The History of Deralan

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This is the history of the Ulushosu (ulu’ʃosu) Peninsula, a 9 million square mile piece of land jutting out into the Western Ocean.  It is a rich, fertile land, filled with peoples of many different cultures and languages.  It is on this land that the events of Birth by Flame take place.  In this post, we will briefly explore the history of this stunning peninsula.

deralan-4000

We begin in the year 4000 B.E. (Before Empire)*, when the first Ulushosu kingdoms developed.  These grew as small individual cities grew in power and their kings wanted to expand their influence over the surrounding areas.  While some of these expansions grew violent, especially when one city tried to exert its authority over another, records suggest that many people willingly accepted being ruled by these kings, as they offered protection from other, more aggressive settlements.

The cities and kingdoms shown on the above map are not the only, or even the majority of the kingdoms that existed at this time.  Most leaders of these new cities styled themselves as some form of king, and some expanded their reign over the surrounding area.  The kingdoms on the map are simply the largest and most important to Ulushosu history.

deralan-2000

By the year 2000 B.E., the individual city-states in the western end of the peninsula have grown into a few larger kingdoms.  At this point in history, the vast size of these kingdoms led to the creation of bureaucracies and more formalized government structures.  The leaders of these kingdoms gained power mostly through their combat skills and wealth.

In the eastern parts of the peninsula, expansion was slower and more sporadic than in the west.  Later scholars would attribute this to a supposed inferiority of the eastern peoples, that they were too weak or simple to unite into single entities.  In reality, much of the difficulties in expansion came from the physical terrain.  Most of the peninsula is flat grassland, but the land on the west side of the East River is more fertile than that on the east side.  As a result, the kingdoms in the east grew slowly along rivers and coastlines, and the interior grasslands were left to wandering nomadic tribes, a group that would later be known as the rulozhani (ɾulo’ʒani).

deralan-1000

Most of these trends continued into the year 1000 B.E.  However, kingdoms in the east began to experience some troubles from those aforementioned rulozhani.  These nomadic warriors attacked and raided cities and towns, usually in search of treasure or land for their livestock.  Clans in the north were especially brutal in their raids.  These attacks led to the collapse of the kingdom of Chelusuan (tʃe’lusəan) and the near collapse of Kuhepa (ku’heɪpa) after the sack of Heyapa (heɪ’yapa) around the year 1300 B.E.

deralan-0

The trends of Ulushosu history seemed to reverse by the year 1 A.E. (After Empire).  The rulozhani raids in the north had ceased, though their retreat into the eastern plains had only hastened the fall of those kingdoms.  Chelusuan and Kuhepa had united with their neighbors for protection, and now grew prosperous under single rule.  In the southeast, kingdoms began to expand again, especially the newly-united delta kingdom of Zuehesuan (zəeɪ’hesəan).

Meanwhile, the situation in the west was more chaotic.  The meritocratic rule of earlier generations had given way to a hereditary system, where power was handed down kept within the family.  These same powerful families began to chafe under rule by leaders who were often hundreds of miles away.  They began to revolt and break away, forming their own kingdoms, which then warred with their former rulers for land and independence.  The age of great western empires was over.

Something else was on the horizon as well.

deralan-750

In the years around 500 A.E., the Udezhuan (u’deʒuan) Empire waged a devastating conquest of the Ulushosu Peninsula.  The above map shows the state of the peninsula in the year 750 A.E.  The borders represent its division into multiple provinces suitable for imperial governance.

It was at this time that the Ulushosu Peninsula acquired its current moniker.  The whole region was at the western edge of the Udezhuan Empire, and as such, it was called “The Western Lands” in imperial documents.  This name eventually became used to commonly refer to the region, using ulushosu, the native Deru word for west.

The Ulushosu War for Independence ended in 1076 A.E.  After the end of imperial rule, the newly freed people debated over how to divide their land.  Some argued that they should unite as one nation, while others advocated for a revival of the pre-conquest kingdoms.

deralan-1250

In the end, it was decided that the peninsula would be divided into three kingdoms: Deralan to the west, Lisholesuan (li’ʃolesəan) to the north, and Zokosuan (zo’kosəan) to the south.  While each of these nations came forth from different revolutions that united into one war effort against imperial rule, each also largely encompasses a major ethnic group; the Kuhederu in Deralan, the Koluderu in Lisholesuan, and the Utederu in Zokosuan.  The Uluderu, a large ethnic group in western Deralan that have often been discriminated against by the Kuhederu, have been clamoring for a nation of their own for much of Deralan’s existence.

*Throughout much of Uhezuote, time is measured in years before and after the founding of the Udezhuan Empire.  This empire conquered much of the known world at the time and extended influence over many diverse peoples and cultures.  This dating system is just one of the many lingering effects of imperial rule.

Updates & NaNoWriMo

Hello everyone!

The next worldbuilding update is taking a bit longer to put together than expected.  In addition, school work has gotten a lot more intense.  As such, I appreciate your patience as I work on what I think is a really interesting piece.

In other news, it is now November, which means once again it is NaNoWriMo!  For those not in the know, National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, is an annual contest where aspiring novelists try to write 50,000 words of fiction in the month of November.

Now, with my schedule, I cannot do the full NaNo this year.  Instead, I’m just going to try to find time every day to write a little bit more on the rewrite of Birth by Flame.  That seems like a much easier goal to accomplish.

I hope everyone had a fun and safe Halloween and are getting ready for a joyous holiday season!  Next time, we will journey further into Uhezuote and learn about the kingdom of Deralan.  See you then!

Worldbuilding: The Great Land

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Uhezuote is a planet not unlike Earth.  It is only slightly smaller than Earth, and its climate, atmosphere, and ecology of Uhezuote are also similar to Earth.

The dominant species on Uhezuote, and the only intelligent species, are the humanoid izhuani (iʒu’ani).  The izhuani are a versatile species, living in nearly every biome on the planet.  Though they appear and act human, there are a number of differences, which will be discussed in a future installment.

The key difference between our Earth and Uhezuote is the presence of magic.  Magic exists as an invisible presence just “beyond the veil” from the physical world.  All people can sense magic to some extent, but mages are those people who are able to draw magical energy from the other side and manifest it as an elemental force.  The power to wield magic can be passed down through families, resulting in whole lines of mages.

Above is a map of Uhezuote in the Winkel-Tripel projection, the same map projection used by National Geographic.  In the next installment, we will go more in depth into the history of this world and introduce you to Deralan, the setting of Birth by Flame.

Worldbuilding: Space and the Sky

No one knows how this world came to be.  Every culture has a different account of its creation, from a great cosmic dance to a single sculptor.  However, I will endeavor to keep matters simple, and only discuss the world that all can agree was created.

In the Deru* language, it is called Uhezuote (/uhɛzə’otɛ/)**, a name which means “the great sky and land.”  In this first post, we will discuss what exists in that “great sky.”  If you stood anywhere on this planet and looked up, what would you see?

If you looked up during the day, you might not even realize you weren’t still on Earth.  The sky would be just as blue as any Terran sky, the clouds just as fluffy and white.  The sun would be just as yellow, though that big yellow ball in the sky would be called Zuepa (/zə’ɛpa/) instead.

If you looked up at the sky during the night, you would notice some differences.  The first and most obvious would be the addition of a second moon.  The larger of the two moons, Uzuope (/uzə’opɛ/), is roughly the size of Earth’s moon.  The smaller moon, Izuope (/izə’opɛ/), is much smaller, only about ⅙ the mass of its twin.  Many cultures use Uzuope to keep track of time.  It orbits once around the planet every 27.3 days, meaning it makes 13.5 rotations each 370-day year.  Izuope is less useful for time because its orbit is almost twice as long as Uzuope’s. However, the nights when it lines up with its larger cousin are venerated in some cultures.

Looking past the twin moons, you may be able to catch a glimpse of the planets, called zuipeni dahopemosi (/zəi’peɪni dahopɛ’mosi/) or “walking stars” by the Deru.  There are only three that can be easily seen with the naked eye.  The brightest is Zuigadhon (/zə’igaðon/), “the morning star”.  The other visible planets are Tezuepatho (/tɛzəeɪ’paθo/), “the light-giving one,” and Zuishuuto (/zəiʃə’uto/), “the green star.”  Together with the two moons and one sun, these six celestial objects are a sign of the harmony of the cosmos to the Deru, whose religion places heavy symbolic value on that number.

But what if you weren’t on land and looking up at the sky?  What if you were somewhere out at sea and trying to navigate your way to shore?  Well, you would look past the moons and planets and set your gaze toward the stars.  Following the “unchanging star,” Zuidedesuo (/zəidɛdeɪ’suo/), will help orient yourself, as this star always points toward the north.

The brightest stars in the night sky (in the northern hemisphere) are:

  • Suderenu (/sədɛ’ɾɛnu/) in the constellation “The Songbird”
  • Izuegonuo (/izəɛgo’nuo/) in the constellation “The Warrior”
  • Irufemu (/iɾu’fɛmu/) in the constellation “The Dancer”
  • Dikabedu (/dika’beɪdu/) in the constellation “The Wolf”
  • Lizhuerenu (/liʒueɪ’ɾenu/) in the constellation “The Whale”

The brightest of these stars, Suderenu, is 2 orders of magnitude (6.3 times) brighter than Sirius, the brightest star in the Terran sky.  This makes it about as bright as Jupiter or Mars at their brightest.  Irufemu is the closest star to Zuope.

Now that you are well acquainted with the sky above the planet, it is time to turn our gaze downward.  What kind of world is Uhezuote?  In the next installment, we will learn more about the geography of this world and what you can expect to find on your journeys.

*The term Deru (/’dɛɾu/) refers to the people, culture, and language of Deralan (/’dɛɾalan/), the nation which is the focus of Birth by Flame.  Any proper names or general terms will be discussed using the Deru terminology.  Other languages will be used where appropriate, (i.e. when discussing a specific culture other than Deru.)
**All terms will be followed by its pronunciation as described using the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA).  This is intended to help those not well-versed in the languages of Uhezuote to better pronounce them.

Return of the Blog

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Hello everyone.

It has been some time since I last posted on here.  Like, eight months ago.

These past eight months have been really crazy.  In that time, I have:

  • Graduated from high school
  • Moved down to college and started taking classes
  • Gone through the whole process of performing an awesome production of Les Mis
  • Dealt with a lot of academic stress (AP tests and finals are not fun, y’all)

Throughout that time, I’ve tried to keep active with my writing.  I’ve developed some ideas, started writing some, abandoned others, and tried to keep to a good habit of writing.

That didn’t really work, unfortunately, mainly because I didn’t have a really strong idea to latch onto.  To top that off, Birth by Flame has sort of fallen off the radar in terms of sales.  I’ll admit some of the blame, it’s hard to market a book yourself when you’re focusing on schoolwork.

But, as I was reflecting on what to do about that book this summer, it occurred to me that I had a lot of problems with it, ranging from small details in phrasing to larger story and character problems.

I think a lot of that has to do with who I am as a person.  I pushed to get my novel published before college applications, so I was “done” with it before my senior year really started.  The problem with that is I matured a lot more during my senior year than I had throughout any previous year.  I am a much different person than I was in September when I published.

So, this July, during Camp NaNoWriMo, I decided to take a crack at rewriting Birth by Flame.  My main idea was, in a sense, “zooming in” on the world I’d created.  This meant keeping the scope of the adventure smaller, but making the world and characters more detailed.

I like where this draft is going.  It already feels a lot stronger than the published draft, and I want to run with it and see where it goes.  But, that leaves the question: what do I do with the published version?

Here’s what I plan to do.  The version of the novel on Smashwords will be not be unpublished.  It will still be available for purchase, but I recommend you don’t go out and buy it just yet.  Maybe just download the sample if you really want to.  The old posts about Birth by Flame on this blog will remain, but they’ll be clearly tagged as “Old.”

In addition to this, and partially because this new version is nowhere near being complete, I’m also going to start posting content on this blog about the world of Birth by Flame, similar to the character portraits I posted last summer.  Hopefully, you guys will find these interesting, and they’ll allow me to share more of this amazing world that I’ve created.  Expect the first of these in the coming weeks!

It feels good to be back.  I hope you guys enjoy what’s to come.  Until then!

Writing Update

As part of my writing goal for this year, I will also be trying to write more for the blog.  I could just focus on writing updates (and as you might guess, this post will also be an update), but I also want to branch out.  If you guys have any suggestions as to what you want to see, let me know in the comments.

I’ve been going along steadily with my daily writing goals.  One of the nice things about the 100 word goal is that it’s very easy to reach.  It’s just long enough to get me into the swing of writing while still being short enough to be done quickly.

As for what I’ve been doing, I’ve been toying with a lot of different ideas and starting to flesh some out.  A lot of them involve superheroes, which may be a sign I need to watch more Marvel movies.

Well, there’s a quick update for you.  Hope you all are doing well with your resolutions!

Happy New Year!

To everyone who reads this blog, happy new year!  2015 is now entirely in the past and we are now moving into the brand-new 2016, filled with all the promise of the future.

This means it’s the time for New Year’s resolutions; those wonderful plans we make to better ourselves that, with strong will and determination, can help make this year our best.  The majority are abandoned before February, but that’s beside the point.

Well, one of my 2016 resolutions is to get into a daily writing routine.  Write at least 100 words every day, and stuff I have to for school doesn’t count.  I’m hoping that this will help increase my productivity and also help develop some discipline.  I’m posting this here because  I know that a great way to get motivated is to let other people know what you’re doing.

For all of you lovely people who read this blog, I just want to say thank you and you can expect a larger amount of content here over the coming year.  2016 is going to be a very exciting one for me, and I hope it’s great for you all as well.