Thursday, December 23, 2010

End of the Semester

The semester has ended (so I’m late commenting on this) and the grades are slowly coming in. Very slowly.

Before this semester started, I was iffy about some of the classes I took and stoked about others. I knew I had to take Time, Motion and Communication; it’s required for my concentration and it’s something I should take either way. I was worried that, it being an animation class, I was going to hit the grounds in flames. I’m not very good with the abstract. When I look at something, I tend to see it for what it is, not what it might be. If I create a video about two people playing video games, I’m not making it with the intent of something else. The basic idea is “Eric and Glenn play Final Fantasy VII”. If you find that the video might represent brotherly love or childhood nostalgia, great, but those thoughts aren’t with me when filming.

This is the big reason I was and tend to be worried. I’m definitely in a major where it helps to be abstract and think in hard to compress thoughts. What happened though is that I actually learned. The Eric that went into TMC was not the same Eric that came out of TMC. If you look at my first work with typography to my last, or compare my first animated short to my second, the jump is ridiculous. I’m still not where I wish I was, and it’s a pain in the butt to be in a class with so many talented people, because I’ll always be behind just scratching to get to the middle class, but it was great to see real progress in my own ability. It was even good to be surrounded by talented people, to have to push myself and learn from their success. It’s a really cool thing to write a script that reads “General Zaroff is on his giant riding mole” and know that I’ll see it.

Which is another thing I learned about myself; even with animation, I’m a storyteller. My work is abstract or symbolic because my work isn't very much a story-centered one. Yes, my stories tend to be sad excuses for the medium, but they’re still a beginning, middle, and an end type of project. When I animated “A Most Dangerous Game”, I went in on how to tell the story best; camera shots, dialog, scenes, end joke. All I had at my hands for animation was just a tool to tell a story I normally couldn’t tell. That was the great realization about animation, and about my own style. I’m not so ashamed by skills with After Effects or Illustrator anymore because illustration isn’t my focus. The story is.

I was going to talk about my other classes, but that might run this a bit long. I’ll finish them up for the next blog.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Influences We Don't Admit

After writing my thoughts on influences and having been influenced in my writing, I realized I’ve limited myself. Obviously, what I’ve read is going to impact my writing a lot. But, in a big way, what I’ve been influenced in the most, is in my storytelling. Craft is important, but the stories I want to tell are always going to be the core. Instead of writing another essay on the authors who have influenced my storytelling, I’m just going to say that all the ones I previously mentioned count for this. Crichton, London, Applegate, Rothfuss, Adams, Lewis and others have all written great works that make me want to tell similar stories.

But let us not pretend that I’m not a child of my culture. I wish I could brag that it’s only been literary works that have influenced me, but that’s not the case. Movies, television, music, video games, and comic books have been working through my system for as long as I can remember. I really wanted to stop and look at some of the biggest examples in my life, which have really played a role in shaping my storytelling. So, knowing full many will read and scoff, here I go.

Final Fantasy VI is the first RPG I ever played, having bought it for the Super Nintendo very late in the game. I had no idea what I was I getting myself into. I could go on and on about the game play, style of graphics, music, and more, but that’s not what this essay is about. I’m here to talk about the story.

Final Fantasy VI has fourteen characters throughout the game and (with the exception of two) they all get character development and a story arch. Each character has a back story that is, especially for me, intriguing and elemental in their growth. You’re never confused by whose story we’re watching, because each is so different. Cyan having to lose his king and family (twice) and Terra’s birth the Esper World are among the most compelling, but they all get a great tale. I didn’t even remember Setzer having one until replaying it recently, and his short tale of losing the love of his life is quick, effective, and sorrowful.

From this video game, I learned that every character should be treated as importantly as the next. The biggest influence this gave me is that my characters must have a back story now; one that is as compelling and full as the main story. Now, I’m not entirely sure this is the best tactic, because it might come into info-dumping or bring to question why we don’t just tell that story instead. But I believe a great back story makes for a great character and creates a richer story overall.

X-Men will always be my favorite comic book series. I’m not going to get into an argument over it, my opinion is set. X-Men does so much, so well. It tells us a story that is bigger than itself, gives us characters richer than what we deserve, and stays cool while doing it all.

X-Men came about in my life almost the same time as Final Fantasy VI and I can say it had almost the same influence on me as that game (as well as Digimon). But X-Men did something else. It showed me the power of character interaction and hinting dialog.

Throughout the series, we have some amazingly interesting characters and they are always interacting with each other. Throughout my reading, I saw the power of these interactions; what they can tell us about the characters, what we can learn from throwaway lines. No character should interact with another character the same way as another. If two characters are talking, we should be able to know who they are, if only by the way the characters are talking to each other.

This interaction has also come into play with my writing. I make sure I know how each character sees the other one, even if it’s as simple as saying “Jace doesn’t like Doran”. This helps me understand how to write the dialog much better than I normally would. I’ve also gained the habit of making back stories interact, almost to the point of a hindrance, which I’m trying to reign back.

The Lord of the Rings, in which I’m talking about the movie trilogy, (sorry, book fans) was an epic eye-opener for me. I had never seen anything like it. I can think of no other term for it as these movies being the Star Wars of my time. I got pulled into this world with no resistance on my part and saturated my life in it. For three years, as these movies came out, my world revolved around the story of the One Ring.

I have to make sure to note again that I’m talking about the movies. I tried to read the books, made it all the way to the last one and hope to try again. But, the movies did something else for me. The epicness that Tolkien was trying to convey and failed to do for me was shown in fullness on screen. There are so many awe moments for me during these movies; Rivendell, the Mines of Moria, The Gates of Argonath, and these are only from Fellowship of the Ring.

Even with all these epic moments, though, the story never loses focus of the small moments and characters. When a character dies, we take the time to notice. When two character talk about their plans, we pay attention.

When writing my stories, I’m trying to write big, epic stories, because that’s what I love to read about. But if I lose focus of my characters, I get bored fast. Like Lord of the Rings, I’m trying to show how the smaller stories are interacting into a bigger story. Unfortunately, I’m not so good at this, but at least I have a goal so worthy of being followed.

There’s more of course; the cinametic nature of the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s By the Way album, the episodic yet compelling style of the first two seasons of Battlestar Galactica (take that, spell check), the amazing characters of Firefly, the world of Hyrule in The Legend of Zelda or all that is Star Wars. All of these have effected how I tell my stories and what stories I’m trying to write.

Hey, look! Rowling didn’t have a thing to do with it…

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Return to Haverhil

I'm often hard on Haverhill. I grew up here, lived most of my life in the city, and didn't get out until I was 21 (and it was God's work, not mine that got me out in the first place). There isn't much to say about the city, it's not a booming town of industry, commercialism, or one of blissful residential life.
There is a comic book store, though, a great one that met my needs for as long as I started there. It's a beautiful place, boxes of comics on the floor, shelves of trades, pricier issues on the walls...a real place to love comics and get lost in their worlds.

Pilgrim Lanes is a decent bowling alley and I would be sorry not to mention it's where I discovered Dance Dance Revolution for the first time. My friends and I played that game for four hours straight upon discovering it, and I've never looked back.

Haverhill doesn't have a a real, gourmet restaurant, but if you're looking for pizza or Chinese food, go no further. If there's one business that's booming in this town, it's the small shops. Arie's, Athens, Giovanni's, that place in Bradford I never learn the name of but has great Chinese. Or roast beef? Welcome to Chicks.
I never knew we had laser tag while living here. How strange.
You can drive to the beach, ride the train to Boston, and shop in New Hampshire without going a few minutes down the highway.

...

That's about it.

Though, most importantly, my family lives here. As much as I could live without ever returning to this town, I will make the drive every time to come home and see them. I've learned this more and more having been gone, that when I'm home, I don't really leave the house. The town has nothing to offer me. It's my mother and siblings, my grandmother and uncles, aunts and cousins that cause me to come back. And I will keep coming back.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Influenced

Now that I’ve gone and insulted all those who write with Harry, Frodo, and Aslan in mind (Edwards need not apply), I figure it’s probably not a bad idea to think about the books that have affected my writing. It’s strange, but I never really think too hard about this. Maybe I’m not destined to be a creative writer like I dreamed, because my mind is so unwilling to work with others. But, I’m not self-centered as to think I’m beyond the arm of influences, especially with newer books. So, let’s take a look and mock at what I consider viable reading and influential to writing.

Michael Crichton would be the top choice, what with him being my favorite author and all. I have never read a Crichton book I didn’t like, nor have I read an ending of his that I loved. I’ve often found his books slow to start, but once they get going, there’s no stopping. I can read his stuff in hundred-page sittings, unable to put them down. One thing he does amazingly well is tell us about characters and situations, in basically exposition, and make it thrilling stuff. I wouldn’t think learning about a character’s college course selection could be interesting, but Crichton does it. If I could make my info-dumping half as interesting as he did, I’d be sitting on gold.
Top recommended reading: Jurassic Park, Timeline, Next

Jack London
is next. I should state I don’t write about wolves (though, what more noble aspiration is there?) but London proved something else. One of the great things he is able to do is tell a story with little to no dialog. Yes, his books have dialog, but the story is carried by description and interaction. London proves you don’t need witty dialog and clever back and forth to make for a compelling story. As much as I love writing dialog, London reminds me you don’t need to drown your story in it. You just need a good story.
Top recommended reading: Call of the Wild, White Fang

K. A. Applegate is probably going to get me laughed at, but take your mockery and go eat it with you egg and Potter muffin. You don’t read more than fifty-four books over five years and not be influenced by them. No matter what your views of Animorphs are, these will probably be some of the most important books in regards to my writing. What Applegate did so well was create a world that was interesting beyond its characters, because of its characters. I wanted to know the whole story of the alien races because of the characters I knew from them. What she also did so well was write each book in a different characters view point, making it so you felt what you felt about the characters strongly. I can remember my excitement for picking up a book told from Marco’s view, and my disappointment for finding the next one in Rachel’s view. Because of Applegate, I’m always drawn to serial writing and multi-character storytelling. I can’t imagine telling a story without at least five main characters, making each as different as I can.
Top recommended reading: Animorphs, Everworld

There’s so much more than that. The exploration of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the powerful use of letters in The Screwtape Letters and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the pure and unrelenting use of humor in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Recently, I’ve discovered the great writing in The Name of the Wind and Starship Troopers. As I read more and more of these great books, hopefully more of my writing will improve. Unfortunately, none of these books or the others have a magical wizard going through puberty, so I’m sure they’ll be seen as lesser forms of inspiration.