— Xtreme trash, (@hippieswordfish) August 23, 2017
3. A domino run in kaleidoscope: Beautiful. Video.
— INSIDER (@thisisinsider) September 6, 2017
— Xtreme trash, (@hippieswordfish) August 23, 2017
3. A domino run in kaleidoscope: Beautiful. Video.
— INSIDER (@thisisinsider) September 6, 2017
Joshua Palmatier has put together a collection of essays on each subject. Remember link farms? Well, we have them again.
Here’s the one on writing a synopsis.
Here’s the one on putting together a short pitch.
Here’s the one on writing a successful query letter.
If you find those links helpful, please feel free to share.
[Added later: This post has been included on Joshua Palmatier’s blog round up of posts about creating pitches. If you want to read more (after you finish mine, ‘natch) check it out.]
The elevator is a terrible place for an elevator pitch.
The idea behind an elevator pitch was that maybe someday Earnest Hopeful, young production assistant at Big Wig studios, might unexpectedly find himself alone in an elevator with Mr. Big Wig himself! How could he best describe his movie idea so that Mr. Big Wig falls in love with it, gives it the green light, and casts William Powell and Veronica Lake to star. Earnest has to be prepared! His pitch has to be shorter than the elevator ride but compelling enough that Mr. Big Wig invites young Earnest to get off at his floor.
But that’s not why we need an elevator pitch. In my entire life, I’ve never had reason to talk to a stranger on an elevator unless I couldn’t reach the button for the floor I wanted.
No, elevator pitches are supposed to be for the writer, and for social media.
For a long time, elevator pitches were mixed up with the idea of the “log line”. Log lines were the short descriptions of TV shows or movies that appeared beneath the listings in the TV Guide. But, if you went online during the late nineties hoping to find advice that would make you a pro, creating a log line for your story was commonplace advice. In that context, the log line was:
[Protagonist] struggles to [goal] in order to [what’s at stake] to prevent [terrible price of failure].
Or something like that. It was always a little different each time, but the basic Mad Libs of the thing are in that line above.
The point of a log line was to show beginning writers where their story could be found. It was about [Protagonist], not a million side characters. [Protagonist] was in pursuit of [goal] because [what’s at stake] was so important. They didn’t laze around mom’s basement, feeling sorry for themselves. And so on. It’s a fine way to highlight the important parts of a certain kind of story (essentially: stories that are like movies or tv shows, which is where these ideas come from) but it didn’t apply to every sort of fiction.
Eventually, this Mad Libs-ed log line idea merged with the elevator pitch to become the most basic way a writer could describe a story. It told you where to go with the story. It told you what mattered. It was extremely limited and limiting.
But it’s a tool, and all tools are limited. When we teach writing, it’s much easier to gas on about basic story construction than what most new writers really need: the skills and judgement needed to organize sentences and paragraphs in an enjoyable way. That’s what I really needed to study but that shit is hard to teach in a 300-word blog post or message board thread, so instead the internet filled up with “How to make your protagonist compelling” and Freytag’s Pyramid.
So, has an elevator pitch/log line ever been useful to me before I wrote a first draft? Yeah, actually, in short fiction. The format has helped me keep the story from spinning out into an unpublishable length.
For novels, which are a complex, sometimes digressive form, no. Not ever.
After the book is started, I’ve found some use for these pitches/log lines. Has the plot started to wander? Have the characters motivations become jumbled? Does this one particular scene seem to be going nowhere? That’s a good time to remind myself what, specifically, each character wants and what’s in their way. When I’m blocked in something as small as a few lines of dialog, filling in those blanks can help point the way forward.
But really, the elevator pitch is the social media pitch. It’s the short description that fits inside a tweet (oh for the luxury of a five-story elevator ride) that piques readers’ interest. It may not sell the book, but it might get readers to download the sample. I didn’t have one for the Twenty Palaces books, but I did for The Great Way: “An epic fantasy trilogy about a sentient curse that destroys an empire.”
At one point a reader asked me if I hadn’t gotten that wrong: shouldn’t elevator pitches focus on the character? Who’s the story about? What are they trying to do? This reader was focussing on all the log line essentials: Shouldn’t I fill out that Mad Lib? I responded by saying that a pitch should highlight what’s most unique and compelling about a book. If that’s the lead character and their goal, awesome. Going that route is easy enough, and it can be effective. If, instead, what’s unique and compelling is an apocalyptic tone and a weird antagonist, then some other format has to be created. The Mad Lib of a log line is a fine tool to start with when organizing a pitch, but it’s a poor fit for a lot of books. Sometimes the work has to be done without that tool.
For example, the pitch for A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark was: “It’s a pacifist urban fantasy with a hero who’s a cross between Auntie Mame and Gandalf.” Nowhere does that define her goal (which is to solve a murder) or what awful thing will happen if she fails (because she doesn’t know at first and it’s supposed to be a fun surprise) but it does highlight what I think is unique and compelling about that book.
Currently, my agent is shopping One Man, a fantasy/crime thriller, and I’ll have to create a social media pitch for it. That means I take a sheet of scrap paper and list elements that I think are fun/unusual/exciting. Not all of them will make the cut, but lists gives me something concrete to work with. Should I focus on the protagonist, a former golden boy responsible for the deaths of those nearest to him, who now bears unknown magic? The setting, a city built within the skeletons of two “dead” gods (both killed while fucking)? The plot’s macguffin, a piece of forbidden healing magic that might lead to civil war?
Nah. For me, the most unusual and interesting aspect is the stakes. The protagonist isn’t trying to destroy a magic ring, or defeat an evil army, or slay a sorcerer-king. He wants to rescue an orphaned little girl that no one else in the whole world cares about. They’re small, personal stakes for a book filled with fighting, magic, and impending war, but that’s what makes it interesting to me. Will readers feel that same way? It’s impossible to know. Fantasy readers like their stakes to be big. Epic, even. Will pitching the stakes in One Man push people away from a book they might love if they read it?
I haven’t worked that out. But then, if it were easy, everyone would do it.
That’s my take on so-called elevator pitches. Once in a long while, they’re useful during the writing process, but they’ve become necessary after the books comes out to help attract readers. Start with a log line, if you want, and make a list of unique and compelling elements that you believe will intrigue readers. And good luck. None of this is easy.
But please don’t talk on elevators.
First, the show has flaws.
Second, I enjoyed it a lot. A whole lot. Spoilers upcoming.
Third, kicking the Netflix version of Iron Fist has become something of a competitive sport, but I think The Defenders is an explicit effort to rehab the character after what Scott Buck did to it in Season one of Iron Fist. And it was successful. In The Defenders, they took the foundation laid in Iron Fist and had some fun, making Danny Rand a likable character.
Not that people want to admit as much.
Fourth, there were some odd choices with the other three main characters.
For instance, everyone is in a holding pattern when the story starts, no matter how long it’s been since their last season ended. Danny is hunting The Hand but not having much luck. Jessica is… what? She’s not taking cases. She’s not helping people. She’s drinking and hiding out. Even in the MCU version of New York, which has been wrecked by aliens and overrun by ninjas, I can’t see how she’s covering the rent in her trashed apartment.
Matt is doing pro-bono work. Does he really win an 11 million dollar settlement for that family and get nothing for himself? Plus, he’s not putting on the Daredevil suit anymore.
(That bit of dialog in the subject header is my favorite in the show, and obviously the “it” is that red and black suit.)
Okay. They’re the good guys, and each has to be established with their own quirks. But only Luke Cage has a real excuse for being stalled: he ended his series by going to prison.
One thing I liked about the show was the way it gave an episode for the four heroes to establish themselves and reintroduce themselves to the audience. I liked that the second episode paired them off. Then the end of the third brought them together.
Fifth, the fight scenes mostly worked, thank god. Even when they were jumbled and mediocre, like at the beginning of episode 4, they still mostly worked.
That fight at the end of episode 3, though, was hot.
The worst choice came in the final episode, where the inexplicably dropped a Wu Tang Clan song into a fight scene, to show the heroes turning the tide of the fight. Honestly, it’s as if someone pointed out they had the rights to the song, and they had a fight scene, so they should be combined! Because that always works!
Except it doesn’t. The way it’s shot, the setting, everything, works against it.
Sixth, I thought the villains were great, except Bakuto. The mild-mannered bad guy thing is played out. Yet another Scott Buck mistake.
Seventh, Jessica Jones really needs to learn karate.
Eighth, you should watch it.
5) Man kayaks through grounded cargo ship off the coast of Romania. Video. This would be a terrifying horror film set.
6) “What did you think of my screenplay?” a Clickhole quiz
I spent a fair portion of yesterday watching online amateur investigators look into an unexpected appearance on the NYTimes bestseller lists. Short version: a nerd-oriented site published it’s first YA fantasy, then identified bookstores that report sales to the New York Times and bulk ordered their own book.
It’s a time-honored tradition to try to scam your way onto the Times’s list, and for all the cultural cachet (not to mention the sales boost) that comes from putting “NY Times Bestselling Author” on the covers of your books, the process has plenty of flaws.
The Times itself curates it’s lists, leaving off the romance genre, for instance, because they would dominate any list that was truly fair. It’s a prestige thing, I guess. When the movie Julie and Julia hit the theaters, it bumped Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking back onto the lists several decades after it came out. When the Lord of the Rings movies came out, the Times decided they weren’t going to list the books, no matter how well they sold.
The list is fudged in other ways, too: it’s compiled from the sales figures of a number of bookstores around the country, a list that’s supposed to be secret. It can’t accurately chart actual sales, because only the publishers have those figures, and they aren’t sharing.
Plus, book-buying is stronger at some times of the year than at others. You can make the list with lower sales in February than you’d need in July or December.
But still, it’s not a big deal to say that bestseller lists are imperfect. Everything created by human hands is imperfect, and imperfect systems can be exploited.
See also this article by an author who hired a company to buy enough copies of his business book to put it on the NYTimes list. The news articles about it have been vanished or are behind paywalls, but the author spoke candidly about what he did and why he did it.
One thing you notice is that the author wasn’t simply trying to sell more business books. For him, writing books was a stepping stone that would lead him to 5-digit speaking fees. Buying three thousand copies of his own book would be cheap compared to what he stood to make.
And reading through the detective work from yesterday, it concludes by saying that the author was expecting to turn the book into a film, and that she would be cast in the leading role. Once again, it’s not success in the book world these people are seeking. For them, books are a stepping stone.
So, sure, the lists are imperfect, but they still matter quite a bit. Not only are they worth a lot of publicity, they give negotiating power to authors when they negotiate with their publishers. But if you’re going to scam your way onto the list, be more careful than these people.
[Added later:] the author speaks to Huffpo, insisting that she didn’t game the system and that she worked to build buzz at Wizard World Comic Con events. She also claims there’s a bias against “new voices” even though her book bumped a debut novel by a black author that has been getting widespread buzz for months. So, yeah.
Sometimes, common sense sneaks up on me and shakes me out of a stupor. When it does, I tell people.
I’ve just changed the price of The Way into Fate from a set dollar amount to a Pay What You Want system.
What is The Way into Fate? It’s a 50K word-long game supplement that adapts both The Great Way trilogy and A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark into campaign settings for the Fate Core rpg. It includes world building documents, custom rules for adapting non-human species (to make them intelligent and inhuman at the same time) plus scenario ideas and “Invasion at Shadow Hall”, a full-length fantasy adventure set in Kal-Maddum.
If you’re a Fate Core player or GM, the supplement has never been more affordable. If you enjoyed the books and are curious about the nuts and bolts behind them: see previous sentence.
And if you’re gamers who haven’t read the books, maybe the supplements will make them look intriguing.
So, The Way into Fate is Pay What You Want for a not-limited time. Check it out.
The Defenders came out last Friday on Netflix and a lot of people continue to kick Finn Jones for his portrayal of Danny Rand. While I understand audiences hated him in the first season of Iron Fist, I want to argue that Jones was not at fault, and that his performance in The Defenders proves it.
First of all, if you hate the idea of Danny Rand as a “mighty whitey” racist stereotype (and who could blame you, he is), The Defenders isn’t going to change that. He’s still the rich white kid who returned from a magical ancient Chinese city with a superpower that proves he’s the best.
But just as Dr. Strange tried to blunt the racist aspects of that character’s origin by turning The Ancient One’s monastery into a home for people from many continents, The Defenders tries to do the same for K’un Lun. The five immortal bigwigs in The Hand aren’t just enemies of K’un Lun, they were cast out centuries ago, and they’ve been trying to get back home ever since. What’s more, they’re a multi-racial group, including actors Babs Olusanmokun, Ramon Rodriguez, and of course Sigourney Weaver.
Is The Defenders trying to recast K’un Lun, which looked like a vaguely Asian never-never land in S1 of Iron Fist, into something less offensive? It seems so, and that’s a choice that should have been made from the very start.
Should the show have cast an Asian-American as magical martial arts hero Danny Rand? Sure, but considering how things turned out, I’m glad they didn’t.
Here’s why: S1 of Iron Fist had massive problems. It was shoddy and trite. The dialog was a godawful wreck, and no one seemed to understand what they needed to do to make Danny likable. But all of that could have been shrugged off if they’d paid real attention to the fight scenes. Instead, the martial arts was rushed and sloppy, then edited until it was impossible to enjoy. The whole thing was a mess.
And Finn Jones took the heat for it. Audiences didn’t care that he wasn’t the one choreographing the fights, they just blamed him for what they could see. And they didn’t care that he was put into trite situations and given on-the-nose dialog, they were annoyed by the character and blamed the actor.
Casting an Asian-American actor wouldn’t have changed the limited time allotted to rehearsing fight choreography, and it wouldn’t have made Danny’s conflicts with the Meachums any more subtle. Fans blame the lead, no matter who he was, and that would have gotten ugly. An AA actor would have taken all the heat that Jones got, plus he would have had jerks accusing him of being an affirmative action hire.
That feels like a dodged bullet.
Which brings me to The Defenders, and Finn Jone’s role in it. It seems to me that the showrunners have made a concerted effort to make Danny someone the audience can like, and they don’t do it by remaking him into a generic hero guy. They do it by taking the character from S1 of Iron Fist and letting him grow.
They also let him be badass in his fight scenes.
To address the latter first, Danny gets a fight in each of the first three episodes, and to be honest, the very first one in the prolog of the pilot, isn’t a winner. It’s dark, has lots of edits and frankly made me worry about the show.
In the second, he fights Luke Cage, and it’s the first genuinely fun fight scene. It’s played for humor, but there are real stakes, too, and even though Luke shrugs off all of Danny’s attacks (except the last) it’s shot and choreographed in a way that makes Danny look quick, graceful, and dangerous.
At the end of the third episode, the show brings all four heroes together for their big (obligatory) Netflix hallway fight. It’s no surprise that it starts with Danny fighting by himself, and that it’s a terrific scene. After all the shitty fight scenes in Iron Fist, it was great to see the character cut loose.
Later, when Matt Murdock enters the fight, he’s just as cool but with an entirely different fighting style. Where Daredevil has a boxing/MMA sort of thing going, Iron Fist has old school wu-shu body turns, sweeping kicks, and roundhouse punches. It makes a nice contrast between them.
Unfortunately, once you get to the fight scene that opens episode five, the shots are cramped, the action confused, and Danny’s choreography not nearly so distinctive. It’s even more evidence that much of what we like about the characters comes down to the writers and directors.
As for Danny personally, at the start of the season, he’s the same guy at the end of Iron Fist: still fighting The Hand because it’s his sworn duty/destiny, even though he doesn’t really understand why. Still tormented by the fact that he left K’un Lun unguarded, and that The Hand attacked while he was away. Still telling everyone he meets that he’s “The Immortal Iron Fist, sworn defender of K’un Lun.”
He still hasn’t accepted that the life he’s led, with its mystical cities and dragons, is so far outside the experience of most people that they just can’t accept it.
But the events of the season, especially his interactions with the other heroes, change him. He’s often played for laughs, still telling everyone his origin story (which the other characters don’t want to do), and still young and impetuous.
He’s learning, though. His story arc for the whole season has him stepping away from a personal vendetta and moving toward the sort of heroism that Luke and Matt embody. He’s also given a bunch of fun, light-hearted moments where he either bonds with the other characters or they deflate his portentousness a little. He’s not a perfect guy, but he’s not the annoying twerp from his own show.
I get that people hold an animosity to the character based on both the character’s racist underpinnings and the awful first season of his own show, but judging by my Twitter timeline, slamming Danny Rand has turned into a competitive sport.
All I say is: if you’re going to watch The Defenders (and if you like superhero stories, you should) do it with an open mind, even if you feel burned by season one of Iron Fist. With new showrunners, new writers, and new choices, it’s worth seeing this new take on Danny Rand, especially since he gets a lecture from Luke Cage on his own privilege, and he takes it to heart.
I want to write a review of the show, but I never seem to make time for reviews anymore. I always have too much to say and not enough free time to type it all out. Maybe soon.
[First, because just this morning I met someone who didn’t know: “Robert Galbraith” is the pen name JK Rowling uses for her private investigator novels.]
Hey, check out this tweet from more than a month ago, which is part of a longer thread that’s worth looking at. And by “longer” I mean it’s a handful of tweets that you can read in under a minute.
as the series grew more darker and had more cynical backstories, it overloaded the whimsical foundation that had been laid at the beginning
— Bob Dotcom (@robertjbennett) June 27, 2017
The real issue here is: “Backstories: are they interesting or fun?”
If you like private eye novels (and like Rowling, I do) the answer is obviously yes. They’re full of secrets and tragic pasts, and the denouement is dependent on uncovering every relevant truth. It’s a narrative about discovering a hidden narrative.
I mentioned before that I binged all the Harry Potter movies for my birthday; yesterday, I finished the last book.
Fantasy novels have long delved into the past to address the narrative present. How often do the characters in Lord of the Rings talk about Isildur, who died approximately 3,000 years before the events of the novels? (That’s a rhetorical question, by the way) The Others are returning to Westeros after eight thousand years, blah blah blah. Both books touch on recent history, but it’s political history, not the stories of ordinary folks.
But the Harry Potter novels, like great detective novels, are about personal history, which is why so many of the characters are given space to explicate their past. Harry even takes time in the lull of a battle to delve into Snape’s memories. He hated Snape through seven books, but when the time came he had to stop and uncover the man’s secrets, he did. And of course, in the scene in King’s Cross, Dumbledore spills his own family tragedy for Harry’s edification.
I can understand why readers wouldn’t like it. Years ago, when Veronica Mars was getting all the buzz, a science fiction writer of some prestige decided to give it a try. She was horrified by the way Veronica dug into everyone’s lives. We even got to read a “Don’t kids these days…” rant about privacy.
But that misses the point. Rowling clearly has a love for personal history and personal tragedy. Yeah, the books changed as the series progressed, becoming more mature along with the readers, but the latter books’ digressions into characters’ secrets was already there in the stories of James, Sirius, Remus, and Peter in book three and the flashbacks to Hagrid’s expulsion and Myrtle’s death in book two.
Which is a rather long-winded way of saying that some of us out here love it and wish we could see more.
As a further note, having finished the books, I have to say that it’s ridiculous to think that Harry should have fallen in love with Hermione over Ginny. People, please.
A couple of years back, I told myself I wouldn’t watch trailers for movies I definitely planned to see. It made sense from a spoiler standpoint, but it couldn’t last.
Now that SDCC is passing, YouTube is awash with new film trailers, and they’re hard to resist. Let’s look at a few:
I’m not sure how I feel about this new Star Trek. I like the cast. A lot. But Trek still feels played out and CBS is using this to push their All Access online service. I’m not signing on for that, but I hope this is a solid show and I can catch up to it on library dvds.
The day that Marvel Studios realized that Chris Hemsworth could do comedy was the day that Marvel really started to pull away from the competition. His comic timing was the best thing about Age of Ultron, and I’m looking forward to this film more than most of the other in this post. Also: a good reminder to watch What We Do in the Shadows.
Not a movie, obviously, but I’ll be watching this when it premieres for three reasons: more Jessica Jones, please god do a better job with Danny Rand than in his own series, and the Foggy/Karen/Colleen/Misty/etc show. Unfortunately, it’s by Scott Buck, the guy who screwed the pooch with Iron Fist. We’ll see. (And IF has been renewed for a second season with a new showrunner, the guy from Sleepy Hollow. With luck, he’ll make a martial arts show.)
A new Fox show about mutants? I know very little about this, except that it looks like the budget was spent on cgi rather than interesting locations. But it has Amy Acker, so I’ll check it out.
Season 2 of Stranger Things? You don’t even have to show me a trailer, because I’m happy to show up for this. Still, the trailer makes it look fantastic.
I was wondering how Marvel would make The Inhumans work, and judging by this trailer, they haven’t.
A DC movie… with a sense of humor? The trailer makes this look like a solid superhero movie, but I’m still feeling stung by Suicide Squad. We’ll see.
Arrival was amazing, so I have high hopes for this. Too bad no one thought to cast a few people of color, but maybe it’ll do okay at the box office anyway.
My son really went for this book, but I haven’t read it. Spielberg is usually good even when the material is iffy, but I don’t really get a sense of what this film’s about, and I’m not excited by it.
An earlier trailer for Bright made it seem like they were going to address police brutality against marginalized people by making the marginalized people into orcs. That’s a deeply stupid idea. Despite the fact that the film looks terrible, I’m sure there will come a day when I’ve had a few bourbons and start watching it. Sad, I know.
This isn’t a new trailer from SDCC, but hey, Black Lightning! There’s no way I’ll be missing this one, for the first few episodes, at least.
There were more, obviously, but they were for shows I don’t watch or have never been tempted to watch. I’ll take a hard pass on Death Note, for example.