Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Odd and maybe useful research resources for writers (and for people who have free time to kill and like to read stuff).

There is not much more to explain for this one, given that the name of the page is Autopsy-A Screenwriter's Guide. Note for the squeamish: It's okay, there are no photos.

Some other interesting links are:

How Much is Inside? which answers all those questions you never had.
The Internet resource on sacred texts, which is self-explanatory.
Gangland News is a site devoted to the mob (primarily the New York mafia).
The Elephant Problem is a page about math and Darwin's theories, actually.
The Sword Forum, if you need to brush up on gurkhas and claymores.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Why I no longer like to read fiction

It's sad, actually. I started this passionate affair with literature at a very young age, and a short time later with the science fiction and fantasy genres. All my life novels have been (depending on mood and situation) havens, outlets, teachers, and of course entertainers.

But I can't do it any more. Now, when I pick up a book, I get about one paragraph in and then start asking questions. "Why did the author start the scene like this? Why was this character presented this way? Why did she choose this word when that one would have been better? Why did he wait so long to develop the conflict?" I used to pick up a book and get carried away by the content; now I pick up a book and start to critique the structure.

But it gets worse.

I find, all too often, that authors have been a bit sloppy on their research. I start snorting and pawing the upholstery when I see obvious failures of fact that the author just doesn't seem to care about. Sure, fiction is supposed to transport you. Of course, when you pick up a book, you don't expect to get the same lessons as if you picked up the Columbia Encyclopedia. But it still makes me want to throw it across the room.

It could happen anywhere. Characters cook wrong, boat wrong, detect wrong, and pass off falsehoods as facts. Strangely enough, science fiction and fantasy seem to be less prone to this than mainstream fiction. The problem for SF&F is that the whole thing is a lie anyway. If you want to get people to believe in the lie, you damn well better have your facts straight. Otherwise the suspension of disbelief, that ephemeral golden gift that the reader gives to you, the writer, in return for a good tale, goes like old banana down the kitchen sink garbage disposal.

And nothing is as awful as a movie. Why is it that we, as reasoning animals, accept hilariously incongruous idiocies in a video format when we would never waste five seconds on them in a printed format?

Example: Imagine, if you will, a piece of entertainment in which (Act 1 Scene 2) a group of friends out hiking hear some monstrous growling coming from a cave.

Cave Beast, the movie: Ed goes in to investigate and is horribly slaughtered by the demon within. Jane and Fred, sneaking off for some quick nookie, rapidly become the Soup and Fish courses as the demon goes on a rampage. Ralph, Amanda, Dawn, and Scott run back towards the cars; Dawn's ankle gets stuck under a root and Scott stops to help her (Meat and Cheese courses, respectively). Back at the cars Ralph spends several minutes trying to 1) unlock the car door, 2) get the key in the ignition, 3) get the engine in gear as the demon's claws gouge trendy new racing stripes down the side of the car. Fortunately D.X. Machina, the local farmer with an odd penchant for silver-plated portable artillery, shows up to turn the demon into pasta sauce just after it manages to rip Amanda's blouse open.

Cave Beast, the novel: First off, when some pinhead goes alone into a cave to investigate you put the book down and go play darts, because you have no interest in spending a few hours of your life reading about a bunch of f**king idiots who, in a life and death situation, make decisions that any house-trained puppy would avoid. In the novel the group stays together, because the external stress of the demon's presence coupled with the internal stress of romances and friendships under pressure make for a lot of nice juicy conflict and character development. If there are sex scenes they can only happen because the characters would do it, not because the audience wants it. The characters may either escape from/destroy or succumb to/nourish the demon, but in doing so they are doing the best they can at all times and any failure on their part cannot be attributed to a lack of blood circulation above the neck.

I do not write screenplays.

So it always gets me from one side or another when I pick up a work of fiction. Either I get carried away analyzing the craft, and ignore the story, or I get frustrated by the inaccuracies, and ignore the writer.

I wonder if it's the same for musicians listening to music, and artists walking through a museum? If so, the greatest curse for me would be deveoping into a true Renaissance man--I couldn't enjoy anything anymore.

Fortunately, that's a low risk. But I'm not about to start taking art or music classes, and I read a lot of non-fiction these days.