Thursday, July 9, 2015

Exploring Ideas Through Fiction

A good book is one that makes us think--about ourselves, and about our world. Even in genre works, like sci fi, fantasy, and horror, the author still explores ideas about what it means to be human: love, hatred, trust, belief, war, disease--plus uncountable others. Even if an author doesn't intend to send a message in their work, the way that they present their characters and their setting will include certain assumptions and judgments about life.

There is no way to escape these themes, any more than writers can escape characters, plots, or words, so it is important for us to consider how we want to use them--and how they are used by authors we read. There are a number of ways to present and explore these themes in books, some more effective than others. So, in order from least to best, here are the different methods authors use to present ideas in their works:

I. Exploitation

Pam Grier in 'The Arena'
Exploitative works present ideas in a way that thrills and titillates the audience, but which never asks difficult questions and does little or nothing to challenge societal prejudices. Such works use sex, violence, racism, religion, politics, and other hot-button issues to draw in their audience, exploiting the fact that, when we see such taboos being played out, it provokes strong emotional reactions from us.

The average Women in Prison Movie, for example, uses its setting to depict violence, nudity, lesbianism, and dominance, but it doesn't actually explore these ideas. It doesn't try to define what 'justice' actually means, or look at the nature of personal freedom versus social safety. These are themes that are going to be present in any movie about incarceration, but in a low-quality exploitation film, such themes will never be presented with any complexity. Of course, this doesn't mean that all movies labeled with the 'exploitation' genre must be this thoughtless--some use these techniques to get butts in seats, and can be remarkably subversive once the audience is hooked. Many exploitative works, like Dracula, accidentally reveal a great deal about their time period and culture, not because the author deliberately chose to explore them, but because they have thoughtlessly included their own hangups and assumptions, which can be quite telling to an astute reader.

II. Reproduction

These works present interesting themes to us in a realistic way, but never actually force us to confront them or think about them deeply. This was the criticism Roger Ebert laid against Fight Club: that it opens up a number of interesting questions, but by the end fails to sink its teeth into them, instead letting them drop away into the background. Many exploitative authors try to use this as a defense of their works--that they're only presenting the world 'as it really is'.

For example, recent authors of 'gritty' epic fantasy tend to present rape as a constant threat to women, often to the point that no female character in any of their books will fail to be threatened seriously with rape, at one point or another. They claim they are only representing 'the dark nature of war', but they never present a single male character being threatened with rape by his enemies, despite the fact that male rape is much more common in real world militaries. As such, we can see that they are only presenting one side of rape--not coincidentally, the side which our current culture finds titillating and exciting, meaning that they are writing pure exploitation, not realism. That's why simple reproduction fails to be responsible criticism.

Part of the problem with this strategy is that it acts as if the author and the book are somehow separate, allowing the author to deny responsibility for what they have written. All works are artificial, because everything in a story is there only because the author chose to put it there deliberately, or included it unconsciously. Sitting back and saying 'no, my story is realistic, it represents the real world' is a cop-out. The book represents the author's views and mind, whether they intend it to or not, so why not deliberately take advantage of this artificiality by being aware of it, rather than pretending that it doesn't exist? Why choose to write a story about a prison if the theme of freedom doesn't interest you?

III. Promotion or Condemnation

This is the most simplistic way for an author to try to deal with themes in their work: to present the theme and then use various methods to try to convince the audience either that it is good, or that it is bad. Often, this means putting the idea into a certain character's mouth, such as having the hero give a long speech about the roles men and women should have in relationships. Since the hero is presented as good, and sympathetic, and competent, we are supposed to trust this speech and take the lesson to heart. Conversely, you can have the villain talk all about why Communism is the best, and since he happens to kill babies, we're supposed to conclude that Communism is evil. Sometimes, it's set up as a conversation, where the character the author wants to be right has all the proper answers, and the wrong character gets completely torn down.

Less skilled authors don't even bother to put the idea into the mouths of their characters, they just state it outright in the narration--either going off on some long tangent about their personal opinions, or perhaps slipping them in, here and there. Take for example a racist author who always uses unflattering, animalistic physical descriptions for non-White characters, or a sexist author who describe all the good women as beautiful, and all the bad ones as ugly and deformed.

Though it's good that at least these authors are trying to explore ideas in their works, in the end this method is no more than propaganda, an attempt by the author to tell you what you should or shouldn't believe. It's what I've come to call 'literature of answers'--the author has some particular opinion they present as gospel truth--and any time someone tells you they have all the answers, they're trying to sell you something.

IV. Negative Capability

This is the highest form of thematic exploration to which an author can aspire. Instead of simply telling the reader what to think, or presenting their own opinions in a good light (and the opposite side in a bad light), the author attempts to look at an idea from several different sides, bringing up questions about how we think of that idea, of the assumptions and prejudices that go along with it, and ultimately, forcing the reader to reconsider their own position on the matter. It makes us look at the world in a new way, so that we have to confront what we thought we knew and admit that (as ever) we still have more work to do. So, if the author were exploring the theme of incarceration and justice, they would have to show us not just the prisoner's side of the argument, but also the jailor's, and the judge's, and the average citizen's.

Better yet, they can show us how various individual prisoners and officers see it--that some prisoners are going to disagree with others about what it means, and some prisoners and officers are going to be on the same page. What's important is that each individual view that we see comes off as valid and believable for that character, that we aren't getting weak straw men on one side and the real arguments on the other. The term 'Negative Capability' was originally defined by Keats, referring to how great writers like Shakespeare wrote about ideas--that all the characters on both sides of the argument seem to be strong and well-written, and as such, that it's difficult (or impossible) to know for certain which side the author personally prefers.

Indeed, a thoughtful and honest author will often admit that they don't have the answers, and that the best we can do is to present various sides of the issue, as we understand them, and to let our readers make up their own minds. This is what I've come to call 'literature of questions', where instead of giving us simple answers, the author forces the reader to consider difficult and complex questions about the nature of life and being.

What's curious is that often, when an author's message aligns with modern assumptions and prejudices,  it becomes less clear whether they're writing propagandist, one-sided views. For instance, these days racists tend to be presented as evil villain characters, and you rarely get a racist character whose beliefs are presented as valid from their own point-of-view--indeed, writers who present a sympathetic racist are likely to be accused of defending racism instead of presenting various sides of the issue. Of course, the problem with this is that it supports the notion that racism is a simplistic, either/or proposition, to the point that many people think being nice means you can't be a racist--when of course, prejudice is much more subtle and insidious than that, and deserves more thorough and thoughtful treatment.

There are also some cases where an author might be providing a response to a common cultural theme that is widely taken for granted, and since it is already so familiar to readers, they feel that they don't have to present both sides--that they only need to present the revolutionary, contradictory side.

Final Thoughts

Kyosai - Hell Courtesan
As authors, it's important for us to consider what themes we want to explore in our books--we don't have the space to explore all of them at once, so as with everything else in writing, it becomes a case of choosing what to leave in, and what to deliberately keep out. Certainly, it's not a problem to touch upon certain ideas, here and there, or to look at one more deeply in a certain chapter and not return to it. As readers, we must likewise try to ferret out what each author thought was important, and then try to decide what we think of the ideas they presented, and how they presented them. Were they effective? Did they bring up ideas only to exploit them, did they present them realistically? Do they work to explore these themes, or merely depict them? Did they fill their works with a lot of drawn-out explanations and exposition, or did their themes emerge naturally from their characters and stories?

One of the most important things that you can do as an author is to choose characters, scenes, and settings that match the ideas you prefer to explore. If you want to explore the idea of justice, then pick characters and situations which will highlight various aspects of that idea. Give yourself every opportunity to present your themes in different ways, and from different points of view, so you can provide your reader with a more complete presentation. For every author, there will be certain ideas that appeal to them, and to which they will return again and again over decades in various stories and books. There may also be ideas that interest you only for a while.

Getting to know what these ideas are, and why they are important to you is a vital part of finding your own authorial voice. That doesn't mean you have to be certain about them--quite the opposite: they should be ideas which continually puzzle you, which fill you with wonder, so that you will never tire of picking them up and looking at them again, trying to find a new angle or view that you can represent in your writing.


  1. I think this blog post just change my perspective on how I view fiction.

    At first I thought "Must all fiction explore themes and ideas?". I answered "No" in my head, but then it got me thinking on what have I read, watched, and played in the past years. Those fictions that I remembered most and have fond memory of it are fictions that indeed exploring themes and ideas either in subtlety or put it forward, or between the main driving force of the narrative or just happened below within the layer. Fiction that tell only story without exploring anything even in the slightest, at best feels only like a past-timer.

    1. Well, I don't really think it's possible for a work to avoid exploring ideas and themes--even the most schlocky trash genre stuff is still touching on ideas of class, race, love, belief, &c. Like I said, you can't tell a story about prison without introducing the themes of justice, freedom, and individuality. I think it makes more sense for an author to recognize this and to work on exploring these ideas deliberately, rather than take it for granted and exploring them just tangentially and accidentally.

      So the question for me isn't 'must all fiction explore ideas?', because all fiction does, by nature--instead, I feel we have to ask 'does this piece of fiction explore its ideas well, or not?'

  2. What about aesthetics?

    What if I want to write an exciting story, cloak it in some cool themes but not dig too deep in them. I know it sounds like exploitation, but the purpose is not just to tiltilate but give a memorable presentation.

    Asimov's Foundation are pulp novels that use Civilization and History for thei aesthetic value, to make it more exciting while saying a few cool things about it. Medabots uses 'weapons' as an aesthetic - look how cool this stuff is! - while also being aware that these weapons are dangerous and can be harmful.

    Maybe I didn't explain it right. I'm not versed enough in criticsm just yet but I'm trying.

    1. Well, I guess I'd say that it's possible for a book to use various different levels at the same time--to exploit some themes because they are exciting or visually interesting, but then to turn around and actually make some interesting points about them, or ask some questions. As long as that exploration is happening in the book, at some point, I don't think it's a problem to also present the themes as being exciting or beautiful or dangerous.

  3. That comment about the sympathetic racist really struck a chord. All too often, people think that just holding a certain side of an issue makes them not racist. At my high school, we were told on an almost daily basis to be respectful of other people's cultures, we watched people on TV who used the n-word, etc. Yet no one ever bothered pointing out that 99% of the staff and students were white. The only non-whites tended to be the foreign language teachers, or the odd minority or two that my school accepted to make an effort at diversity. The whole atmosphere tended to be more self-congratulatory than one that tried to question the actual issue.

    I think the reason why is because we associate racism with being a bad person and non-racism with being a good person. Most people just happen to care a little more about assuring themselves that they're morally good people than about the negative consequences of not thinking through their preconceptions. When in fact, how justified you feel about your beliefs usually has little to do with the validity of those beliefs. Part of it I think is just fear. We're afraid to be bad people, and we're afraid to be seen as bad people (for most, those two are practically the same thing). So that insecurity is self-perpetuating, and since literature is part of our constant discourse on our opinions, naturally that toxic culture will bleed into it, and you get all these one-sided narratives which are very comforting but ultimately say nothing important. Same goes for sexism, homophobia, and so on. It's hard to overcome those fears, but it's a huge relief when you do.

    That's why negative capability is so important I think. Every time we change our ideas about how to approach something, like racism which did not carry as much social stigma in the past, we sort of settle into a new mode where we pat ourselves on the back for taking the right side. But the truly valuable part of the process is not just the new perspective you gain, but the flexibility and open-mindedness it takes to get there.

    Anyway, sort of rambling comment, but your posts are always hard to disagree with, Keely.

    1. All this racism talk makes me remember Expeditions: Conquistador. In this RPG, you have many "nice" character that come along with racist trait. But if you try to exclude them, you might ended up with worse person.

    2. Yeah, and the real danger of racism is all the nice, happy people who contribute to it. I mean, it's pretty easy to avoid the racist who is totally honest and up-front about it, what's much more difficult is trying to deal with people who are more subtly racist, and who don't even realize that they are. I mean, the average HR person at a company is fairly nice, easy to get along with, and doesn't think of themselves as racist, but then when they're looking at a resume with an 'unusual' name, it just doesn't click for them, and they select a familiar candidate instead. That's the kind of low-level, pervasive racism that is really difficult to deal with, or to change in society.

      The real lesson, to me, is that racism is always there, no matter how nice or understanding you may be, and so you constantly have to be on watch for it, and working against that urge, because it's like advertising: it's there in our culture, and it can be a very powerful and influential force if we let it affect us without being aware of it.

  4. I love the latest Mad Max, which masks as exploitation but is actually all about negative capability.

    It'll be forgotten in a week.

    1. Do not become addicted to negative capability! You will resent its absence!

    2. Yeah, I actually just saw the new Mad Max, some interesting stuff going on in there. What really struck me was just how much it embraced spectacle. It reminded me of responses people had to Avatar and Prometheus, where they tried to excuse the lackluster characters and plots by saying 'well, it's not about that, it's about the bigger experience, the visuals, the aesthetics, the thrill'--and yet, those movies just spent so much time harping on those personal relationships and plot points that were supposedly not important. I loved that in Fury Road, they really just let all of that take a back seat to 'the ride', and made it truly about the visceral experience of the film.

    3. There is actually zero negative capabilityin Mad Max. I've written a long post about it, but in short:
      We're not invited to understand Immortal Joe or even enjoy his 'coolness'. His cruel to his women, treats them like an object and that's it. The previous Mad Max villains were quirky and odd. Immortal Joe is there for us to hate.

      The women don't have much of a personality. Furiosa is a good action heroine, but beyond charisma she's a typical action hero with the sex switched. There's something there about redemption, but it felt tacked on.

      If you try to look at how the sexes are represented, you get a world of angels & demons. We've seen this woman-as-savior role before - it's called Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

      Max is the closest thing to a character - a person who trusts no one and just tries to make do. The actor did a lot to breathe life into him.

      You're right though, that the film is a pure visual experience. I love action films, but keep seeings directors who don't understand an action scene is an art form, a sort of dance. The car chases in Fury Road is probably the best I've seen and you can other directors who used action not to cover up a lack of plot, but to create a beautiful visual experience.

    4. "There's something there about redemption, but it felt tacked on."

      Agreed. Having the characters pause in the middle of the action to explain their motivations to one another didn't really work. It would take some pretty sharp dialogue to really merit inclusion there, something that offered a real insight into the character, rather than some vague mention of 'redemption'.

      I've written before about how there are some universal human motivations (chiefly survival) that a lot of crap authors use in lieu of having actual personalities and internal motivations--but that doesn't mean that it isn't possible to create an effective story using these base human urges--it just means a story that's more mythic rather than personal, or more cartoon-ish. Especially when you have a lot of other stuff going on for the audience to focus on, streamlining certain aspects of your story can be a good choice, which Fury Road did well.

      Talking about Immortan Joe, he's a very mythic, cartoonish character, more like a dragon or a demon than a human being, in a lot of ways, and as such, you wouldn't really expect him to have complex internal motivations unless the story is a deliberate deconstruction of myth. But even as a human being, I think he falls into the category of a figure whose motivations are obvious without need of a great deal of insight into his head. He fought to attain a position of power, by force of arms and will, and like any other tyrant, he cultivates both a cult of personality and a personal harem. When he is robbed, he seeks to get back what he considers his. It's a basic and obvious need, like Max's need to survive. We do get a little twist on it, as well, when one of the other warlords refers to it as a 'family squabble'.

      As for Furiosa, we can assume that she has some sense of justice, she doesn't like to see people mistreated, but that she's also done what's necessary in order to survive for long enough to make her move. The fact that she, as a woman, decides to act out when she sees other women being oppressed in ways that are personally threatening to her also stands to reason. Again, this seemed clear enough without any need for explanation, and in a film focused on aesthetic and action, you really don't need any more motivation than that.

      It's like ScriptShadow's observation that Aliens didn't need a romance in order to be a good story, and that really, there wasn't enough room to squeeze one in. That being the case, Cameron just hints at it a bit and lets the rest play out, in a similar way to how Miller hints at relationships and motivations and then gets on with the business at hand.

      "We've seen this woman-as-savior role before - it's called Manic Pixie Dream Girl."

      Hmm, I wouldn't quite equate MPDG with the savior role, not in the sense that she has a sense of justice and is trying to do the right thing. Sure, she 'saves' the lunk-headed hero from his boring life through her wackiness, but I'm not sure that's quite the same thing.

    5. Furiosa is moral and Immortan Joe is evil so there will be action scenes. There isn't even a little charisma to them. Furiosa's best aspect is that she's not sexualized like, say, Black Widow. She feels like a genuine action heroine - a person who packs guns and fights for justice and that's it.

      What most disappointed me about Joe is how hard Miller tried to make me hate him. The previous Mad Max villains were amusing cartoons. Joe is just cruel. It comes off like Miller is trying really hard to say, isn't the patriarchy pretty awful?

      I'm not one of those MRA's who are on a crusade against feminism. I find Anita's critique of video games one of the best things that happened to the medium.

      Your post about strong females really helped me work out my thoughts. Something always felt wrong to me whenevert there was a female character whose role is to the woman (see also: Black Widow).

      I brought up MPDG because just like it invents another role for women, so does Fury Road. Women there aren't human beings with wants and needs but angels with perfect morality. Even if the role is better than a sex object, you're still putting women in roles.

      If you're looking for something like Fury Road that uses the action format for a unique visual experience, check the Crank films. The second one is better. It's another film with characters with half-motivations, where the focus is unique set pieces. If only more directors were this bold.

    6. "The previous Mad Max villains were amusing cartoons."

      Certainly true for The Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome, though I don't see Toecutter from Mad Max as being a cartoon--if anything, he's more brutal than Immortan Joe.

      "I find Anita's critique of video games one of the best things that happened to the medium."

      I actually find them to be very disappointing. The cliches she brings up are good, but the examples she uses are often out of context and she rarely goes into meaningful depth in presenting how these cliches play out. It feels to me as if she's just not familiar enough with the videogames she references to support her conclusions.

      It's very frustrating to me, because it's definitely something that the industry needs to be taken to task for, but Anita has just not shown herself to be a good figurehead, which makes her a much easier target for MRA crazies--plus her bad reputation for stealing others' work and not giving credit.

      check the Crank films

      Huh, based on what vague things I'd heard about them, I'd always thought they were Uwe Boll movies--apparently not.

    7. "I find Anita's critique of video games one of the best things that happened to the medium."

      No, it was not the best thing that happened to the video games as a medium (while it was not the worst either). But if by best you mean the plethora of excellent refutation against her poorly thought, ridden with confirmation bias argument, then by all mean it is the best thing to happen.

      Videogames indeed need both social and artistic critiques for the medium to grow. But Anita does very poor job as the former with all of her confirmation bias and intellectual dishonesty. There are many more level headed videogame feminist critique out there, and they are one who need the attention. Sadly, it always those who most controversial that gather all the attention, not the one with best expertise on the subject.

      "I actually find them to be very disappointing. The cliches she brings up are good, but the examples she uses are often out of context and she rarely goes into meaningful depth in presenting how these cliches play out. It feels to me as if she's just not familiar enough with the videogames she references to support her conclusions."

      That isn't very surprising really. As many of her video footage seemingly taken from various Lets Play videos, I'm not surprised if she never play any video games that she covered on her video. Maybe she just she a few footage, seeking related article of the game on some websites, check the wikis, and called it a day. Of course this become problematic as her own type of criticism requires the critique to be very familiar with material or otherwise the wrong conclusion might be drawn and it could be very nasty.

    8. Keely:
      "which makes her a much easier target for MRA crazies..."

      I think that in order for her to be an 'easy target', people would point genuine holes. Almost every critique of Anita I've seen is filled with anger, 'she said she wasn't a gamer' and more anger. They weren't very different than those people at your GOT review

      I hope someday I'll see someone put a serious critique of her that talks in literary terms, instead of 'I just want to shoot stuff, stop talking".

      "Huh, based on what vague things I'd heard about them, I'd always thought they were Uwe Boll movies--apparently not."

      The Crank films are a pure visual experience. They way they're shot, the angles, the set pieces, the soundtrack - it's all meant to simulate the adrenaline shots the main character gets. Yes, it's very, very vulgar. But it doesn't seek to be vulgar but also outlandish. In the second film (which was tagged 'Surrealism' in one site for a reason) an action scene is presented as a Godzilla fight scene.


      "But if by best you mean the plethora of excellent refutation against her poorly thought, ridden with confirmation bias argument, then by all mean it is the best thing to happen."

      I'd love to see those. Please don't bring up ThunderF00t though.

      Anita's biggest contribution is that she made this 'literary criticism' of video games visible and worked a lot on it. The 'Ms. Male Character' is especially useful for any fiction writer. Video games are proving themselves to be able to tell stories - BioShock, Five Nights at Freddy's, Planescape, Falout 1/3, Borderlands 2 (can't confirm. I haven't finished) - so it's time to examine them.

    9. She able to made her "literary criticism" visible only due to Streisand Effect. And thanks to her horrible handling on such sensitive subjects, too many people become an armchair "literary critics" themselves in a way that similar to her (not paying attention to the context of the narrative or cultural origin of the game, or/and easily label something as misogynistic).

      If you asking for critiques of FemFreq, then by all mean:
      Yes, the list contain Thunderfoot, but it just one one among many and he isn't even considered as required reading by the list maker.

    10. There's a wealth of material there for future blog posts. Thanks, but so far I'm disappointed:

      "The work of Feminist Frequency is one of the reasons for the stifled creativity we start to observe in game writing and design"

      I smell a 'they're out to get us, the Jooz'. Video games lacked creativity for a long while. id Software went AWOL and the scene is dominated by grim'n'dark video games that forget this whole violence thing is supposed to be fun. Even Bethesda - the creators of Morrowind - traded in weirdness for grimness and grey colors in Skyrim.

      He also didn't understand the subject/object thing. The playercharacter is an extension of the player himself. The NPC's are not.

      :Thunderf00t’s videos are entertaining, informative and thought-inspiring, "

      Thunderf00t's method of dealing with FemFreq is sneering. He knows how to point out holes in his creationism, but his emotions and desire to ridicule overpower him. He's like Eminem, with less swearing, less wit and no good beats.

      "We fought, and we fought hard, and we have shown how bad, dishonest, and insidious the work of Feminist Frequency is."

      Isn't it funny how the outcasts now react to other outcasts like they're the popular kids? These battle cries sound good in a Marilyn Manson album, but work differently in reality.

      Still, I should go over these videos and write responses for them. I barely get chances to write about video games anyway.

    11. As long as Anita being intellectually dishonest with her opponent by ignoring and blocking them instead of refuting, I'll never what she done to the video game industry at large do more harm than good. As a writer and creator, I found her lack of empathy and inability to understand how our minds works to be profoundly disturbing and problematic. She blaming on the tropes, the tool, shows how her lack of understanding on how creative process works.

    12. allcoloursdotorg said "I think that in order for her to be an 'easy target', people would point genuine holes."

      Oh no, not at all. The problem is, that in a lot of instances, she isn't presenting a full case, nor is she effectively supporting her arguments, and as such, it makes her easier to disregard than a critic who was presenting full, complete, airtight arguments.

      It's like how 24-hour news makes for easy targets, because the pundits on both sides are presenting knee-jerk, fallacious arguments full of scare tactics and emotional appeals. So, it's easy to look at them and think 'well, my side must be right, because the other side is just spewing nonsense'. I mean, I'd much rather have the incoherent idiots on the other side than on my side, because whichever side they are on, they just make it look worse.

      Since Anita is the 'face' of this movement, and her presentation is incomplete, grasping at straws and taking things out of context, it makes it easy for her opponents to think that everyone who agrees with her conclusions must have similarly incomplete arguments, and are resorting to the same flawed techniques to support them.

      Shengar said: "If you asking for critiques of FemFreq, then by all mean:"

      That article represents one of the main reasons I've never personally come out and written an article against Anita, to quote the author:

      "simply untrue stuff like "sexual violence against women is an epidemic issue in Western society""

      It seems to be impossible to oppose Anita's methods without also allying yourselves with MRA crazies like this, who are apparently unaware that women have to deal with a disproportionate rate of harassment, abuse, rape, and violence throughout their lives. I agree with Anita's conclusions, I just don't think she puts arguments together that effectively support them, and as such, I feel that she makes me, and all the other people on this side of the issue look less informed, because it's not putting our best face forward.

      "She blaming on the tropes"

      Eh, I blame tropes pretty often in my posts. I mean, there are old, worn-out tropes like the 'Noble Savage' or the 'Damsel in Distress' that are just backward, racist and sexist, built to support old, bigoted social norms that don't really apply any more--except in the fantasy worlds of a lot of naive authors.

    13. allcoloursdotorg:
      "He's like Eminem, with less swearing, less wit and no good beats."
      Best analogy I've heard to describe Thunderf00t.

      I never expected such a lively discussion about video game writing and criticism on this blog, let alone one branching off from a discussion about George Miller's gorgeous movie.

  5. Something about the encouragement and fervor in the tone of this post makes it a real winner for me.

    1. Well, if you don't care, then why write about it?

    2. Well, some people unfortunately wrote something that they care with overt cynicism, making their otherwise excellent point unreadable due to the amount passive-aggressiveness in the text.

    3. Yeah, that is true. It's something I've come to feel about Richard Dawkins, that his crusade has made him kind of bitter and ineffective--which seems like the natural result of spending the majority of your time and energy trying to rationally debate a huge mass of people who do not understand either rationality or debate. It makes you feel like you must be right, because all the people arrayed against you are just such complete idiots--but of course, just because they're wrong, it doesn't make you right.

    4. Watch his debate with (disingenuous charlatan and sophist) Deepak Chopra to see where the bitterness began to set in. Here are some (low-) highlights:

      I'd be willing to bet Dawkins went home and got blackout drunk immediately afterward.

  6. You know, it's funny how the topic of film has crept into this, because while reading your blog thus far I've been thinking "But storytelling doesn't apply just to literature!" So I'm glad to see how the conversation has veered towards movies.

    As far as Negative Capability goes, a good example would be the movies of Christopher Nolan. Movies like The Prestige and his Batman trilogy really emphasize on the polarity of the characters, and show things from every angle. I mean, every great director does this, but he's just a good modern example (along with David Fincher, his films use Negative Capability ALOT).

    1. Also, I agree with all you guys have said regarding Mad Max. To me, that whole series was just made to be visceral and intense. Whether they're subversive or not doesn't necessarily matter, because their primary motive is to entertain. Same goes for movies like Texas Chainsaw Massacre (the original of course) and District 9 (which yes, did have a bit of social commentary). But those movies just draw you in, keep you watching. I mean, when you can balance good action and visuals with some thought provoking questions, you'be got yourself a good movie.

    2. "storytelling doesn't apply just to literature"

      I actually use a lot of films on this blog as examples--in my 'writing women' series I talk about Alien, Terminator, Nolan, Whedon, Brave, and Hunger Games, while in this post I bring up women's prison exploitation films, Fight Club, Skyfall, and American History X.

      "their primary motive is to entertain ... like Texas Chainsaw Massacre"

      Actually, the original was written as a satire of meat and hunting culture--that if you take the things we regularly and thoughtlessly do to animals and instead do them to humans, it becomes horror. The house is decorated with their remains, they're worn as clothes, they're hunted down, slaughtered, and eaten--I mean, there's a reason Leatherface wears a bloodstained butcher's apron.

    3. I've been reading your blog pretty sporadically, so I'm sure there's a few I've missed, such as the writing women series you did.

      And maybe I should have rephrased that...What I meant was that they're not advertised as "thinking movies" but instead as action movies that are just plain entertaining. And when you watch them, they fill that role of entertaining popcorn movie nicely, but they also have a message underneath that's not the explicit crux of the film. It might be when you think about it afterwards, but while you're watching it you're involved. I probably should have said it like that, my bad on the lack of clarity. That's why I drew the comparison between Texas Chainsaw Massacre and District 9, they're both movies that involve you in the action. They put you in the character's shoes, and when you realize what the director is really doing, you get it immediately.

  7. Hello. I recently finished the writing part of my fist complete story, and once I get done transcribing and editing it I was wondering if you would be able to give it any quick criticism? I know it's a lot to ask but I've been a fan of your reviews and blog post for a while now and anything you had to say about it would mean a lot to me. Everything should be finished in a few days (I've got a deadline).

    1. Sorry not to get back to you earlier, I've been away for a bit.

      If you have read my reviews, then I'll ask you this: do you really want all of that turned on your story? I'm good at picking things apart--you've seen that--so if you need your work picked apart and torn down, then I'm the guy for you, but not a lot of authors want that.

      Writing is hard--it's hard to motivate yourself to do it, and it's hard to put your work out there for someone else's perusal. It takes a lot of courage (or foolhardiness) to do that. It can also be very easy to become discouraged, especially in the face of criticism.

      I know that it's hard for me to write with my own critical voice in my head--I tear myself down just as much as I do any other author, and I'm always comparing myself to the best that I've read, and seeing all the ways that I come up short. It's not often fun, and it can be very trying. However, if that's what you're looking for, then perhaps we can figure something out.

    2. That is precisely what I want out of criticism. At this point in my development as a writer I'm looking to improve, not to be congratulated and satisfied when I can clearly see all the things my stories lack. If you can spare the time and Tylenol then here's my email : You could email me there letting me know it's you then I'll send you the file. Or I could just post the file in this comment section, any way is fine. Thanks for replying!

    3. I've actually just written a shorter story that shouldn't take as long to read, if you felt up to it

  8. Hey keely whats you opinion on gamergate?

    1. Well, for the most part I see it as the last gasp of the 'old guard' of videogamers as their favorite hobby grows up and they begin to feel left behind--really, the same thing happening with the Hugo awards. For a long time, it's been an immature boys club based on titillation, on sex and violence enacted through cliche plots and characters.

      However, there have always been people pushing the boundaries of the genre, creating innovative games and showing that it's possible to achieve a great deal of depth and subtlety in games. More and more, these people are coming to the forefront, because the games they make appeal to more than just the Michael Bay crowd.

      As the genre broadens and changes, the guns and explosions fans start to feel left behind--they feel possessive of videogames, that this is 'their thing', and yet a lot of new games aren't appealing to that crowd, and so they feel threatened, like games are being 'taken away' from them--and so they lash out. It's ugly and stupid, but such are the growing pains of any art or medium as it grows and establishes itself.