On…Characterization; A Recommendation

Normally on Wednesdays I have been posting some random musing or thought about the act or process of creation, but this time is a little bit different.  Today, I want to recommend a video game for anyone who wants a crash course on characterization and for anyone who just likes fun, engaging, and intriguing electronic entertainment.

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The game I am referring to is Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. It’s an independent, story driven downloadable game available through every major online store except for the Wii network. I highly recommend giving this one a try because of its well told narrative through simple mechanics in a rather short time span. The whole game should take no longer than three hours to get through, so you are not looking at a significant time commitment.

While I could praise this title on its art and world creation, the real impressive feat is how much the central characters (the titular brothers) are developed without the use of any real dialogue or words to describe them. Even so, the player perfectly understands the role and distinct personality of each brother. More importantly, just with the simplest of interactions between the brothers and townspeople, the player empathizes and relates to these characters without hesitation.

There is an adage when it comes to writing “show, don’t tell.” In video games, it goes one step further with “do, don’t show.” Essentially, this means that you should never tell your audience how they should feel about a scene, event, or character and instead demonstrate through actions what kind of individual or event is transpiring as they read. It is because of this that developing and writing complex, believable characters is rather difficult.

However, Brothers demonstrates how to perfectly achieve this lofty goals and shows that the best way to do so is to focus on the small details and let the audience fill in the rest. It’s a tricky balancing act, but the payout is worth the effort.

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Connecting with Creators

Have you ever seen the animated show Metalocalypse? Short synopsis; it’s an animated show about the biggest metal band ever, Dethklok, and the fictional world in which they are essentially a world power unto themselves. I used to watch it and believe I have seen the first two seasons in their entirety, but did not view it beyond that. There is really no specific reason why I stopped watching this show, as I remember it to be rather humorous, other than I simply stopped. Honestly, I had not even thought about this program for years until I heard an interview with the original creator of the show.

I was listening to the Nerdist podcast (it’s very entertaining and free) with Brendon Small, the mind who came up with Metalocalypse and many other oddball projects. As I previously mentioned, the cartoon had not been in my thoughts for years, but listening to Brendon discuss his work and the process it took to make his project into a reality was, for lack of better terms, breath taking and inspiring. Frankly, it was so interesting that it made me want to go and find the series to view it completely, currently on season one and considering buying the full show.

Admittedly, the program is interesting and does a pretty good job of holding up even after a few years, but none of that really mattered since I had stopped watching the show anyhow. What brought me back was the connection I felt with Small as he spoke about his creation. It shouldn’t be so surprising, after all, this was the original intent of interviews that used to be done by magazines, television, radio, and most forms of media. The major difference between then and now is the lack of an established system and paradigm.

What I mean is that before there would be publicists, agents, publishers, and studio representatives that would set up an agenda and regulations for how the interviews should go and what could be discussed for how long and in what manner; one of the many reasons why production costs and salaries were so immensely large. These systems made for basically adoration but not much more. However, now there is more ability for creators and artists to interact with people and make some sort of connection and community.

Now, I am not saying that this type of arrangement is always great or even useful, but it is the odd circumstances we have created. Artists now can speak directly to their public without the use of a system in place. It gives a chance for them to reach people that would have been considered outside the right “demographic” by some studio exec. More importantly, it makes the audience actually connect and care about the artist and the work.

I knew this in theory as an abstract in my head, but it did not really materialize until this week, partially because of the Brendon Small podcast and because of another artist interaction. Lynette Noni is a YA author who recently obtained a publishing deal for her first book. Before last week, I had never heard of her or her work and the only reason I learned anything about either is through stumbling upon a post on another blog about her. To make a long story short, I had some questions about her work and process and she responded almost immediately. That kind of concern, response, and interaction makes me have a bit more investment and interest than I previously held and makes me want to buy and read her work.

So, I suppose this long winded almost rant (sometimes I get wordy) is really discussing this new avenue that artists have for engagement. Artists, professional and aspiring of all mediums, now can take more control of their fan base and audience interaction, if they want to. Will this system be abused? Of course, what isn’t. However, I, in my foolish optimism that creeps up every once in awhile, like to think that genuine communities can and will rise to the top and create better art and opportunity. Who knows? It could all still be meaningless (there is my stark pessimism/realism coming back. How I’ve missed/tolerated you).

One last note: apologies for the various links, but I like to promote good stuff so they are there to be clicked, if you so desire.

When did YA Fiction Get so Good?

Seriously? Did I miss a memo or something?

I finished the final books of the Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins and the Divergent Trilogy by Veronica Roth over the weekend. The ending of Mockingjay had mostly been revealed to me by others, but it was still intriguing to see how Collins lead both the characters and audience toward the conclusion. Allegiant‘s finale was surprising but not completely out of left field and, more importantly, fully satisfying. My enjoyment of these two series lead me to a simple quandary: when did Young Adult fiction get so damn good?

Both these series, and many others that fall under the wide umbrella of YA fiction, are just well written and compelling stories. They tell the narratives of characters and worlds that could, and really should, be read by anyone regardless of age. For the most part, these texts carry the label of YA simply because of the age and description of the primary characters and not the significance and value of the content. However, the story is the real star of these books. In reality, the protagonist could be any age, gender, or ethnicity and it would still work as an incredible tale worthy of interest.

Of course, there have always been great writing and writers, so I don’t know if merely I am now paying more attention to this particular genre or there actually has been a significant rise in quality. Either way, I look forward to seeing what comes from the YA section and these two authors.

As an aside, correlation does not equal causation but it is interesting to note that both the authors are women and have a female lead. Obviously, good storytelling happens regardless of gender and age, but I wonder why it seems that female authors seem to have a slight leg up when it comes to YA fiction that deals with sci fi and supernatural elements. Who knows? Maybe I am just mistaking windmills for giants. Thoughts?

Hearing Echoes…

I find short stories to be impossible. Don’t get me wrong I love short tales and am in awe of those writers who can manage to fully express their narratives within the parameters of the genre. How any writer can navigate such a low word and page limit is beyond my current comprehension. I suppose that is why Neil Gaiman and Stephen King rank among my favorite authors. They have the skill and precision to execute a story both in long narrative and short form with an envious finesse. (Now, there are probably many more authors who have this ability and if you have any recommendations please leave them in the comments because I am always looking for a good book to read). I have yet to manage to write a short story. My way with words tends to still run a bit on the long side, as those who read this blog can attest to. However, I definitely appreciate the form and its possibilities.

Today, while fulfilling the mundane task of purchasing new tires, I read a collection of short stories called Echoes of Old Souls by Nika Harper. The stories contained within the pages run the gamut of emotions. Some are funny. Others are very melancholy and some really are just entertaining. Yet, they all somehow work alongside one another. All are woven through the idea of memories and moments evoked by a familiar melody. The characters are developed and intriguing and the narrative pack a surprising emotional weight. Let’s just say that unrequited love was never so well expressed nor the anguish of being unable to fulfill a promise. I highly recommend picking this book up. It is a great read from a new author who seems to only be getting better. Really, she is constantly writing and helping others to do the same.

Reading this book and Gaiman’s Calendar of Tales makes me want to try my hand at the short story form. I don’t know if I’ll ever be good at it, but damn if it doesn’t feel like a worthwhile endeavor. Who knows? Maybe writing a short will help me in my longer creative efforts.