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W: When Characters Attack!

W: When Characters Attack!

What happens when a writer grows weary of his characters?

What happens when they fight back?

One is reminded of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle attempting to rid himself of Sherlock Holmes at Reichenbach Falls, or the author in Stranger Than Fiction whose protagonists never make it out alive.

Or perhaps the writer realizes she’s dug herself into a literary hole and doesn’t know when or how to end the story. (Lost, I’m lookin’ at you. And you, too, Once Upon a Time, which should have lasted only a season or two, before you misused your great cast and intriguing premise to go screaming off the rails into soap opera badlands.)

W is a 2016 South Korean television drama in the vein of Stranger Than Fiction, Secret Window, The Truman Show, The God Hater, and other stories where the characters confront or interact with their authors, their audiences, or their creators. In this series, comicbook characters become aware of their fictionhood and enter the real world to confront their creator.

First, the protagonist learns why a shadowy figure is trying to kill him and turns the tables on his creator. then the villain also realizes he can enter the other dimension, and demands of the creator a face and an identity.

How the story begins:

Kang Cheol has a few loyal associates upon whom he relies, but when a mysterious woman saves his life more than once, he’s intrigued. Although the police are seeking her as a material witness and a suspect in the multiple attempts on his life, Kang Cheol hides her in order to protect her not only from the police but also from his murderous stalker.

Meantime, his television station, W—which stands for Who and Why—broadcasts and solves cold cases that the police have abandoned. He has earned a golden reputation in society for his ingenuity, wealth, generosity, and dogged pursuit of justice.

Oh Yeon Joo is alerted by her father’s fellow artists that he is missing. He went into his office one day, and although he was never seen leaving, he cannot be found. As she’s standing in his office, searching for clues, a bloody hand reaches through his art tablet and pulls her into the world of W. Without valid ID, money, or other resources, she attempts to navigate the comicbook world and find a way back to her own.

Oh Seung Moo has made his fortune and his reputation with W, finally rising from obscurity to fame with the bestselling series. Why, then has he written an abrupt ending for the protagonist—a bloody death without the satisfaction of a solved crime? After all, fans have been awaiting the revelation of the villain who killed Kang Cheol’s family.

But Kang Cheol will not die, and he begins to affect the story from the other side of the tablet. Seung Moo is no longer in control of his creation.

Has Seung Moo run away, unable to cope with success? Or is he suffering a common literary malady—an inability to properly resolve the story?

And why does Kang Cheol believe Yeon Joo is “the key to my life”?

The answer to that, my friends, is a plot twist.

At only 16 episodes long, W is fast-paced. However, it does slow down a little on occasion, allowing the viewer to catch his or her breath and often poking gentle fun at kdrama tropes.

The cinematography is excellent, and the special effects—as characters pass from one world to the next, or as pieces of the comic are drawn and then appear in the webtoon world—are top-notch and deceptively simple. Some effects are in-camera rather than digital, lending a level of reality to the cartoon world.

W would fit nicely into any of these genres: horror, fantasy, thriller, mystery, suspense, romance, action, and more. It is twisty, unpredictable, and references many kdrama tropes then refreshes the cliches to turn the story in unexpected directions.

The reason for so many genres intermingling is due to the story being hijacked by the characters, who don’t know the cartoonist’s plans but simply want to live. And to live on their own terms.

Story themes include existence, humanity, determining one’s own life/destiny/future, and the roles and relationships among god/creator, devil/antagonist, and allies and enemies. Choices have consequences—and the choices and consequences become manifold as fictional characters no longer follow the plot but assert their wills on the story. Viewers of varying philosophies or worldviews will find this an intriguing tale.

Currently, W is available on Viki, which allows viewers to comment during the show. However, during your first viewing of the show, I suggest turning off the scrolling comments at the top of the video window, as they can be distracting, annoying, downright funny. Best to watch without them, until you view the show a second time.

 

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Character Shapes Story

Recently finished viewing an Asian 21-ep revenge series, hoping for something more like The Count of Monte Cristo or City Hunter, but ending up with Shakespearean soap-opera. I nearly didn’t finish it. However, I wanted to see if the story would remain true to itself, and it mostly did. The fatal flaws necessary for a tragedy were present in most of the characters, and justice — of a kind — was meted out.

Shown but never stated: All the evil could have been avoided if the abusive father/husband had been in better control of his words and actions and had loved his wife.

Even though he was falsely accused of murdering an employee, the abusive character set in motion events that would boomerang thirty years later.

Below are the order of events (although not the order of revelation in the story):

1) although innocent of the alleged crimes, the husband was abusive and distrusting;
2) while she was kicked out of the house, the wife sought solace elsewhere and had a secret son she never acknowledged, but who grew up to take his revenge on her;
3) she tries to cover the truth by harming an employee, and he and his wife die;
4) the dead employee’s eldest daughter grows up in hardship and seeks revenge;
5) as adults, the secret son and the vengeful daughter meet and plot against the abusive man’s family;
6) amid their plotting, they become lovers, and yet the secret son allows the vengeful daughter to marry his innocent, unwitting half-brother — and that’s not yet the full measure of twistedness, because there’s more conning and thieving and murderousness to come.

Viewers had to suspend a great deal of reality, too, because the half-brother — thought to be killed in a fire (started by his wife) — comes back after extensive plastic surgery and sets himself up as a prosperous Korean-American businessman so he can revenge himself on her and take back the businesses and the properties she has finagled away from his family. (Oh, the soap opera!)

But what sorta saved this story is the ending: Although there was much back-and-forth one-upmanship regarding secrets and evidence of crimes, eventually the characters came to see the full measure of what their revenge and lies had wrought.

Had the father not been abusive, had the mother simply told the truth, had the young victims gone to the police rather than trying to solve it themselves…

In the end, watching from a distance as his half-brother (now accepted into the family) places flowers on the grave of the vengeful daughter, her husband — no longer unwitting or innocent — muses on what would have happened if everyone had stopped striving, had stopped hitting back, and had let God handle the matter of justice.

If they had been wiser, more patient, more forgiving, kinder, stronger, there would have been no story.

At least not that story.

Instead, it might have been about how a woman and her son survive and thrive away from the abuser. It might have been how a husband and wife come to terms with their wrongdoings and make amends or learn how to live with a new normal. It could have been about a son who grows up so fearful of becoming like his father that he never stands up for himself lest be become an abuser, and must learn there is a proper time to fight back. It could have been the redemptive story of a man who hits rock-bottom, losing everyone and everything he loved because he wouldn’t control his words or his fists, but then realizing he was the maker of his own darkness and climbing back toward the light.

It could have been any kind of story but revenge.

But character shapes story.

What kind of life are you writing? What choices are you making? What motivates you? What — and whom — do you love, fear, hate? Where, ultimately, will your story end?


The television series referenced above, in case you would like to watch it despite the spoilers:

Temptation of an Angel (2009 series)

Temptation of an Angel (2009)

 

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Granite

Granite

Ideas from unexpected places? Happens all the time.

This week, while writing story notes in a spiral-bound notebook, I was listening to episodes of “Ancient Impossible” on the History Channel.* When I’d hear a historical detail I wanted to remember, I’d jot it on a separate page from the story notes.

In Dragon’s Rook, I wrote about a mountain city carved from granite.** However, I didn’t reveal how it was carved. Granite is serious stone. It doesn’t like to be cut.

However, there are examples of granite cut in ancient times, and they were the subject of a couple segments on “Ancient Impossible”: How did the ancients cut a large core of granite — a cylinder with evenly-spaced narrow grooves spiraling down its length — and how did they cut a slab that is marked as if by a circular saw, a piece of technology that no one expected to have existed then?

And that reminded me of something that should be incorporated into the next book, Dragon’s Bane: How was the city of Elycia carved into a mountainside composed mainly of granite?

Not gonna tell you. Yet. 😉

But it makes sense inside the story, and it explains one detail mentioned in Dragon’s Rook — the grooves left in the stone cliffs.

I want to go write that material right now, but I’m still finishing Thieves’ Honor, a space opera novel, which I hope to have complete by the end of the month. And then it’s back to Dragon’s Bane. And, after that, The Unmakers, a novel of paranormal suspense.

Anyone else listen to TV rather than watch it? Must come from all my years of having a radio but no television — listening is now a habit.

** The Mount Rushmore carvings are granite.

 
 

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How Real Life Can Color a Story’s Reception

Romances are not my usual viewing fare because they tend to be ridiculous, shallow, or boring — yes, my opinion is showing 🙂 — but since this series is only sixteen episodes long and stars some of my favorite Korean actors, I thought I’d give it a try.

4703_TheTimeThatILovedYou7000Days_Nowplay_Small

Nope. Nope, nope, nope.

Summary on the website:

Jang Ha Na (Ha Ji Won) and Choi Won (Lee Jin Wook) are incredibly close platonic friends: throughout 20 years, they’ve braved it all through thick and thin. As Ha Na’s 30th birthday approaches, Won extols the virtues of aging as a man—like a wine—while explaining that women are like grapes that shrivel into raisins. Determined to prove him wrong, Ha Na strikes a bet on which of the two will marry before turning 35. Based on Taiwan’s hit In Time With You, can these two friends make the ultimate leap?

Characters in their thirties allow fear and misunderstandings and all sorts of other obstacles keep them from telling the truth to themselves and to each other. There’s a hint of My Best Friend’s Wedding, but without the mania.

It took me a few weeks to watch the first seven episodes, but that was sheer stubbornness rather than actual interest.

It’s not that the writing is terrible or the acting is stiff or that I didn’t like the characters. Perhaps I expected — I don’t know — more spine or mental strength or maturity from the characters. Perhaps I expected me.

When I was thirty-something, I was interested in more than friendship from a close friend. I know the fear and uncertainty of declaring myself. And, when I did, the worst happened: the friendship fell apart. However, I mentally prepared myself for that rejection. It still stung, I still felt as if my lungs had been crushed, but I gave that person room to be true to self. Granted, I was not prepared for the anger that accompanied the rejection — “You’ve ruined a good friendship!” — but the uncertainty was suffocating and I needed to move forward. If that person chose to come with me, wonderful. If not, I had to straighten my shoulders and walk on.

That was years ago, and sometimes the sadness springs out from the shadows, but I wouldn’t trade the freedom and all the good things that have happened since.

So watching fictional characters drag their feet for more exaggerated, soap opera reasons than those I experienced in real life is torture, not entertainment.

The ratings (overall 4 out of 5 stars) give evidence that viewers without my jaded, curmudgeonly perspective consider “The Time That I Loved You” must-see TV. Good. Whatever kinds of writers we are — screenwriters, TV show developers, novelists, playwrights — there’s the story we tell and the story the audience views or reads. Our experiences inform what we write, and theirs color what they see/read. Stories interact with the audience in ways even the creators may not expect.

 

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Romeo, Romeo

RomeoJulietLooking for contemporary interpretations of Shakespeare’s work?

You just may find your fix in the 2014 version of Romeo and Juliet starring Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad. It’s muscular and creative, and it plays up the humor.

The balcony scene could easily have been set in two separate bedrooms and featured the characters looking at each other through their windows while speaking on the telephone and waiting for the other person to hang up first.

Christian Camargo gives one of the best portrayals of Mercutio I’ve seen, delivering the Queen Mab speech in a comprehensible, conversational fashion.

However, the play can be antic at times, speeding through the scenes as if afraid to sit still, and the actors often deliver their lines by rapid-fire sing-song rote that often steals the power, playfulness, or pathos of the words.

When the play slows to allow the moments to play out more naturally, less frantically, that’s when it shines.

Still, though I like many of the lines and scenes, this remains one of my least favorite Shakespeare works.

 

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If Not Peace, Goodwill

If Not Peace, Goodwill

Today and tomorrow mark the 100th anniversary of “The Christmas Truce” (herehere, and here), which sometimes gets a dismissive response, because, after all, the war continued after Christmas, when the same guys who sang carols and exchanged gifts returned to their guns. And yet I am still awed that such a thing happened at all. Fear and enmity were set aside for one night, for one day, and people were simply people, longing for home and hearth and for peace on earth.

c. KB, February 2013

c. KB, February 2013

Our world is being torn apart by people who, by way of violence and fear, try to make everyone bow to their version of a god, to their version of how the rest of us should live or think or believe.

We demand a certain vocabulary, a certain perspective, and call it tolerance. We slap labels on those who do not conform. We shame, we shout, we misconstrue. We judge and assume and abrogate. We elevate externals and miss the heart.

Every time I watch the episode “War Stories” from Firefly and hear the part about the apple grenades, I think of The Christmas Truce. (Weird, yeah, but that’s the truth.) I recall friends whose smiles hid betrayal, and wish it were not so.

Familiar sayings — blowing out someone else’s candle doesn’t make yours burn brighter; crushing someone else does not make you stand taller; shouting down your opponent does not make your message heard — can become meaningless slogans, but I have always admired folks who stood for what they believed and did not back down. I’m not talking about belligerence or violence or arrogance, but a true, firm belief that right was right and that someone must stand for it, even if standing alone.

This is, perhaps, a disjointed post, but it reflects my thoughts after reading this morning’s round of news stories: more death, more mayhem, more confusion and lies. For one day, may we have peace on earth. Or, if not peace, at least goodwill.

* —– * —– * * —– * —– * * —– * —– * * —– * —– ** —– * —– *

For the next twenty-four to thirty-six hours, I’m out. Time for a mind cleanse and a fast from internet news and social media. I can’t bring peace to everyone, but I can bring perspective and a bit of calm to my own corner of the world.

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2014 in Journeys, Life, Stories

 

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A Miscellany

Below are a few articles or topics that have crossed my computer today. They were interesting or horrifying or irritating or maybe they were good advice. Some relate to writing, some do not. Whatever they are, I thought they were worth sharing.

1) Revelations about Marion Zimmer Bradley.

These are ugly, sickening, and — for her fans — devastating. I won’t recount them here, but there are various posts at Deirdre Saoirse Moen’s blog: begin with “Marion Simmer Bradley Gave Us New Perspectives, All Right“, its title mirroring that of an article at Tor.com, “Marion Zimmer Bradley Gave us New Perspectives“.

I was never a fan, despite folks telling me years ago that a “real fan” of fantasy and science fiction has to read Marion Zimmer Bradley, Frank Herbert, and others whose work I attempted to read — often more than once — but never could. For a long while, I felt a bit like Pinocchio: all pretend but not a real boy. Or, in my case, not a true genre fan. I read stuff then that doesn’t interest me now, writers whose stories fired my imagination, but whose writing was pedestrian at best. I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to like them.

Even now, readers and movie viewers are being told which writers they’re supposed to like and which they should hate — Orson Scott Card, for instance, whom I have yet to hate, despite the outcry.

‘Cause, see, here’s the thing: I think for myself.

2) Breakthrough by Dutch scientists working on human teleportation.

How awesome is that?! But scary, too. Who wants to be the first test dummy — uh, victim — I mean, subject?

Read about it here.

3) The de-conversion of an atheist.

My Failed Atheism: The Desire For Something Beyond a Contemptuous Nihilism” by Mark Bauerlein is a well-written article describing his sudden conversion to atheism and later the gradual journey back from the emptiness of his belief in unbelief.

At the end, he writes,

“If I haven’t apprehended him directly and overwhelmingly…, that’s the fault of my limited powers of perception, not because there is nothing there to perceive.”

4) Another attempt to make the Washington Redskins change their name.

The Federalist Papers article is here.

5) An article about writing “strong female characters”, and how simply writing about people will do the job.

As Doug Barry paraphrases in his article at Jezebel, “if you want to write strong female characters, maybe it’d be good to hang out with some women.”

6) A darkly humorous open letter from George R. R. Martin.

Since that day I have died nine more times, and every time they have brought me back. I’ve had heart attacks, strokes, and embolisms. I’ve cut my throat with my shaving razor, hung myself with my trademark suspenders, even tried to choke on my jaunty captain’s cap. They just wheel me into a cleanroom, boot me right back up, and hand me a laptop. “Keep writing.” I’m not allowed to shave anymore, and the hat and suspenders have been grafted onto my body. My trademark image is my prison.

Read the entire letter here, including the truth at the end.

Confession: Mr. Martins’s books are among those I mentioned above, books I was told I was supposed to read. I tried, many times, and even ventured beyond a chapter or two, but — for whatever reason — they never captured me as they have many in my acquaintance. That is neither good nor bad, but merely a difference in preference.

And so with that, my friends, I take my leave.

 

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