Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The power is the least of your problems…

If you’re creating a new superhero, one of the first things you might be thinking about is the type of power that they’re is going to have. It’s a fair question. Even fun to talk about. But if you’re trying to come up with something unique in the super-powers department, forget it.

Many creators feel under pressure to try to come up with something completely unique to differentiate their superhero from all the others. So what usually happens is they dismiss all the amazing super-powers writers have already come up with, and the only things that are left over are powers like the ability to turn into a cactus and shoot prickly prickles at the enemy.

Please… Don’t invent Cactus-Man!

Superheroes have powers for one reason… To make them stronger than everyone else around them. It doesn’t matter what the power is, the basic concept behind the superhero is that they have a physical advantage. Beyond that, no matter what the character’s power may be, their special ability will play a role in everything they do. Did you ever notice that superhero stories compliment a character’s power? For example, Flash is fast… And for some reason everything that happens in Flash’s world involves (forgive me for saying this) the need for speed.

So, don’t stress about what your character’s power is going to be. And certainly don’t stress if your character’s power isn’t original. All the good super-powers have already been done. Coming up with a unique power isn’t going to differentiate your character from all the others. It’s how you write your character and how you craft your character’s personality that is going to make him or her different.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Good Sci-Fi Writing

Some of the worst sounding ideas I’ve come up with are pure gold. I mean, right now… off the top of my head, I’m thinking-up a story about Tessa Faux going under cover, deep inside an adult entertainment company. Her mission is to unmask a super-villain movie director who plans to put subluminal messages into his sex-flicks and turn average (albeit voyeuristic) citizens into killing machines.

Yes, I’ll be the first to say it. It’s a wildly stupid idea. Completely unbelievable… but if the characters are written well, it can be an absolutely amazing story. Are you seriously going to say that you wouldn’t want to read about re-programmed citizenry, subluminal adult movies, and a hot mixture of action and sex?

Poor character development is why other comic and film companies who make superhero themed entertainment are sucking so bad right now. They come up with a boring villain for the hero to fight, there are pages of action where characters punch each other, then when it’s all over, the good guy wins. No surprises or excitement. What are these bland, prosaic writers thinking?

Now is the time for the next generation of writers to start working! The comic and sci-fi genre needs innovative writers to come up with something better than slug-fests between heroes and villains. The same old thing is not going to excite new readers, nor is it about changing the essential elements of a character instead of creating an interesting tale. Sci-fi writing is about big, larger-than-life stories, written in such a way that the characters themselves behave in a realistic manner.

Most writers who want to write comic and sci-fi entertainment intend for their writing to be fantastical, but emotionally real. And with big storytelling possibilities, it’s easy to turn good ideas into campy stories. So, how do you keep the writing realistic in such an unrealistic genre? The simple answer is that it all comes down to the characterization.

Lets go back to my Tessa Faux story, where she infiltrates an adult film company run by an evil movie director, who wants to purify the world by re-programming smut-watchers into killing machines. If Tessa is written as a real person, rather than as a cartoon, her actions will be consistent with her established character traits, and plausible within the reality that I’ve created. You’ll be engaged in the personal drama she is working through as the Tessa Faux character.

In the two versions of my Tessa Faux script that follow, Tessa’s defined personality as a sex-crazed vigilante, only rings true in the second script.

***

The Adventures of Tessa Faux 

In 
The Big Ride 
(the version with unrealistic character development) 

The Reveal

Tessa and the Evil Director, in his office.

Tessa: I’ve won, lover! Your master plan is doomed!

Evil Director: You can’t stop me, Tessa! Not now! It’s far too late.

Tessa: Oh, but I did! All your videos were re-edited before being shipped out. The final cut of your film is no longer dangerous, just dirty. And that’s bad enough! People shouldn’t be exposed to your kind of filthy thoughts. Even though I live a little bit naughty, I’m still a good person! And I know smut when I see it!

Evil Director: I was so close! World domination was within my reach. And now… You! You’ve taken it all away. For this, I will exact revenge. Count on it!

Tessa: Oh, I don’t think so! I’m not a criminal like you. And good always wins. That’s why you’re going to jail, where you’ll spend a very long time learning right from wrong.

Evil Director: No!

In a fit of rage, the Evil Director reaches for a gun behind his desk. Tessa is too fast. She removes a sidearm from behind her cape and fires one straight into the director’s head.

Tessa: Sorry, lover. I didn’t have a choice.

The Adventures of Tessa Faux 

In 
The Big Ride 
(the version with realistic character development) 

The Reveal

Tessa and the Evil Movie Director, in his office.

Tessa: You did a good job covering your tracks, lover. Unfortunately, I was on to you from the start.

Evil Director: You can’t stop me, Tessa. Not now.

Tessa: I already did. Your video was re-edited before it shipped out. The final cut of “Beaver Beach Rescue” is no longer dangerous… just dirty. I have to say, re-editing the footage got me hot in all the right ways. You’re a talented filmmaker. It’s too bad you won’t get the chance to make anymore movies.

Evil Director: How could you… of all people… not understand what I was trying to do? You think I didn’t know who you were when you started working for me?

Tessa: Targeting the perverted to do your bidding? I’m not going to defend your fan-base. They’re not exactly engaging in high brow entertainment. And personally, I’ve always preferred to play, rather than watch… But that doesn’t give you the right to subliminally reprogram people.

Evil Director: You play judge, jury, and executioner every single day. How am I any different from you for targeting scum who live below my ethical standards?

Tessa removes a sidearm from behind her cape and fires one straight into the director’s head.

Tessa: You’re not…

***

Good writing in Sci-fi is about a larger than life plot, filled with realistic characters. Bad writing is about a larger than life plot, filled with unrealistic characters. It’s really that simple! You’ll never fall into the trap of writing campy fiction if your characters remain real in the fiction you create. After that, the more outlandish the plot you come up with is, the better your story will be.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The James Bond Movies: From Best To Worst

A lot of people compare my vigilante socialite character Tessa Faux to Batman, and there are some similarities. They both come from aristocratic families and they both fight crime, but the real influence for Tessa Faux wasn't the Caped Crusader. It was James Bond.

I think James Bond is really a superhero in a tux. He's a one-man-army with high-tech gadgets instead of superpowers. He's come a long way from the original books that launched the Bond adventures, taking him from spy to super-spy, but he was never realistic. We know this because the day-to-day lives of real spies don't involve much travel to exotic locations, dozens of sleek expendable automobiles, and erotic dalliances with beautiful women.

I recently saw the new trailers for the upcoming Bond movie, Skyfall, so I thought it would be fun to rank the previous Bond movies from best to worst. Now keep in mind, this is my opinion. You may (and probably) have different opinions. You should also know that I'm a fan of all the Bond movies. This is more of a comparison of best to worst in a category where I like them all.

But first things first, I should probably start with my favorite to least favorite Bond actors. Only because it plays a factor in my choices.

From best to worst:

Roger Moore
Sean Connery
Pierce Brosnan
Timothy Dalton
George Lazenby
And... Daniel Craig

Now that we got that out of the way, let's take a look at the movies!

1. The Spy Who Loved Me

The best of the Roger Moore Films, and the best of the Bond films. It has it all. Fantastic locations, a big story, and the best henchman in the history of the franchise... Jaws! Yes, this one is as good as it gets!

2. On Her Majesties Secret Service
Seriously underrated. The only failing is George Lazenby. Otherwise, it's an amazing Bond film, an impressive story that delivers one of Bond's most emotional adventures. It also places the previous films in a loose history, which is nice. The leading man puts this one on the bottom of the list for most people, but if you look past the actor, it's a really great film.

It's not even that Lazenby was bad. He had his moments. It was just that he was only in this one, and nobody ever got to know him. If Sean Connery was in this one, the movie wouldn't have been as good. He wouldn't have been able to deliver the emotion, or the sensitivity. But if Roger Moore was in this one, it would have been his best.

3. Goldeneye

Yep, Goldeneye! Both a great movie and a great game. This is the first of Pierce Brosnan's Bond films, and it's also his best. It's a really great start for Bond in the 90's. Little did we know how lackluster Brosnan's movies would be after this one. But don't blame the actor. Blame the scripts.

Despite Goldeneye being one of the best, it's also the beginning of Judi Dench's run as M, which changes the tone of the entire franchise. And, not in a good way. As the series progresses, you'll find more and more Judi Dench taking up time on screen. And now, the franchise seems to be all about M front and center... But, more on that later.

4. Diamonds are Forever

So, You're probably wondering why I’m rating this one near the top, because most people hate it. Really, I don't have a good answer. I just know that I like it.

Okay, on to the next.

5. Moonraker

At this point you must think I've lost it. My top five includes Moonraker? Well, my favorite Bond movies are different from most people's favorites. Even if you think this one is horrible, you have to admit that the opening sequence is arguably the best in the entire franchise. Who doesn't like that parachute stunt?

The space scenes aren't that great, but they’re not the whole movie. And I think the positives outweigh the negatives. Awesome opening, Jaws returns, and great locations throughout.

6. The Man With The Golden Gun

Yep, another not so popular entry with most fans, but one of my favorites. The concept of a marksman seeking out human targets is rather scary, and I like how Bond deals with it when he is sent a bullet with his number. The movie also features one of the best stunts with a car and some wonderful locations.

I admit that bond girl, Ms. Goodnight is rather annoying, but isn't Sheriff J.W. Pepper at least a little amusing the second time around?

7. Goldfinger

Okay, everyone loves this one. I like it too. No need to go on and on about it since it's so highly praised. My favorite part is the golf match. Watching Bond work Goldfinger is hysterical.

8. Octopussy

Roger Moore is showing his age, but I do like the movie. It's a little long at times, and the ending is kind of weak, but you know what, it's still a good time, and beyond that, I don't have anything else to say about it.

9. The Living Daylights

This one has such an 80's vibe. To me, Dalton is the Bond of that decade, despite the fact that Roger Moore's last three films were all set in the 80's. Once again, a new actor changes the tone.

And it's a rather exciting Bond adventure. I have to say that I don't re-watch this one as much as I re-watch others, and that includes others that I've ranked below this one. But it's a solid Bond picture, and by far the better of the two Timothy Dalton movies.

10. Dr. No

This is the one that started it all! Definitely not the best movie, but it does have the best (and first) Bond girl. Although Anya Amasova from The Spy Who Loved Me is a close second. Maybe they're even tied. And who doesn't feel nostalgic for a simpler decade when they hear "Underneath The Mango Tree" being sung?

11. From Russia With Love

The first sequel. Not a bad Bond movie, but they would get much better. I think this one was still working out all the kinks. Goldfinger was next, and by then they had it all figured out.

12. A View to a Kill

Roger Moore looks like a mummy in this one. And even though it's a blatant rip-off of Goldfinger, it's not half bad if you give it a chance. Christopher Walken is certainly entertaining, and Bond driving the "half car" is fantastic.

13. Thunderball

The underwater stunts are good, but I find this one sometimes boring. Not sure why. It just feels slow. But it does have a great ending with a sky hook. That kind of makes up for everything else.

14. Live and Let Die

This one was a little stupid, and featured too many US locations. Definitely not exotic. It also has a supernatural vibe that I just don't think worked. While I like J.W. Pepper in The Man With The Golden Gun, I find him annoying in this one.

Still, it's a Roger Moore Bond film and it had its moments.

15. For Your Eyes Only

Speaking of Roger Moore, this was my least favorite of his movies. People like this one because they find it more realistic, but I find it more boring.

My favorite part is the opening, with Bond at Tracey's grave, and the final appearance of Blofeld. After that, it goes downhill.

16. You Only Live Twice

Yeah, this was my least favorite Connery Bond film. The locations were exotic, but it wasn't one of the best stories. I rarely re-watch this one. It doesn't excite me like the other films.

17. Tomorrow Never Dies

Kind of a dull follow-up to Goldeneye. Not terrible, but really not all that great. Despite the low rank, I do tend to re-watch this one more than some of the others that I ranked higher. Judi Dench was becoming more of a prominent figure by this point. A very bad thing for the franchise.

It's disappointing, because I really do like Pierce Brosnan as James Bond.

18. The World Is Not Enough

No, really, I like Pierce Brosnan. I just don't think the scripts for his movies were all that good. This is another one I'll re-watch more often, even though it isn't one of my favorites. Don't ask me why.

It wasn't exactly a bad Bond movie, either. It just wasn't all that exciting compared to so many of the other ones that came before. I think the worst thing about the Brosnan Bond movies is that there weren't any overly exciting villains. This one especially suffered from the lack of a good bad guy.

And way too much Judi Dench. Way too much! But that's nothing compared to what happens when Craig takes over... On a sad note, this is the last movie to feature Desmond Llewelyn as Q. The movies were never the same without him.

19. Die Another Day

Ugh... And yes, I'll say it again. It's not Brosnan's fault! It was a terrible script. Everyone hates the invisible car, and with good reason. It was so incredibly stupid. Even for James Bond it was unbelievable. Too much CGI ruined this movie.

To me, this is really the last of the classic Bond movies. After this, the series was rebooted. So, on that level, it's also sad. My favorite part of this one is Bond examining all the classic gadgets from previous movies with Q, who is played (for the first and only time) by John Cleese. And no, if you're going to say he was in The World Is Not Enough, remember that he was playing R.

20. License To Kill

A tedious movie, and definitely not any fun. I rarely re-watch this entry and I don't want to talk about it anymore.

Post Reboot Bond 

I make a distinction between all Bond movies before Casino Royale. Despite the decades between Dr. No and Die Another Day, they were part of the same continuity. We just ignored the changing times and actors.

When Casino Royale came along, it was very much the re-launch of the franchise. For that reason, they must be ranked separately. Also, for the record, I like pre-reboot James Bond far better than post-reboot James Bond.

1. Casino Royale

Okay, this is hard because as a movie, it was good. But as a Bond movie... It's very different.

The whole vibe is off. There is no Q, no Moneypenny, and very few gadgets. The stunts are less extreme, and Craig plays Bond far more serious than anyone who came before him. He makes Sean Connery look like Roger Moore, and that's saying something.

Judi Dench returns as M despite the fact we've gone ahead with a full reboot, and her presences is overpowering. It's like the Adventures of James Bond and his stern boss M who constantly berates him. And did you notice that there weren't any beautiful shadow girls in the opening credits? What is up with that?

The classic gun barrel opening is also modified, and it's the first in the entire "official" series to break standard opening formula. I didn't like that, but I gave it a pass because it was a reboot. I was optimistic that it would return in the next movie... But we'll get to that next.

2. Quantum of Solace

Bad on so many levels. This could be the only official Bond movie that I don't like. Terrible camera work that looks more like Bourne than Bond. Horrible plot, and no fun. A direct sequel to Casino Royale, and an utter train wreck. Still no Q and still no Moneypenny, but a giant heap of boring old Judi Dench as stern, un-fun M giving it to Bond. I can't say enough bad things about this film.

But the biggest offence and worst thing about this movie? No traditional Bond opening with the gun barrel. I let it slide in Casino Royale, but this is unacceptable! It's like they were doing their best not to make Bond movie. And no, putting the gun graphics at the end doesn't make up for not having it at the beginning.

The Unofficial Bonds 

I don't count the original 1967 Casino Royale or Never Say Never Again as real Bond films. Some people do, but I'm not one of them.