Thoughts on Fiction

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Textual descriptions are absolutely central to my production process. Written language is the most efficient way to give myself clarity and to stay focused. The efficiency of language make it useful as a production tool. I also enjoy using language to deconstruct and evaluate a project after the fact- as you can see by my postings here.

Peter Chung, Thursday, 10 August 2017 06:44 (three years ago) link

Thanatophobia Script

As you can see from this script, I go into great detail describing scenes that will ultimately play non verbally on screen.

Peter Chung, Thursday, 10 August 2017 06:50 (three years ago) link

three months pass...

In the interests of being complete, here is the other famous M. John Harrison weigh-in on this subject:

TS Hugo Largo,
Belated thanks for the link to M. John Harrison. I read it at the time you posted it, but just looked at it again, and I completely agree with his stance.
It seems impossible that any writer working in genre fiction would not, if they are honest, reach the same conclusion.
I haven't read his books, but I shall seek them out.

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 28 November 2017 21:10 (three years ago) link

Personally, I think the book is it's own medium. It's an object. You engage with a book in the manner that one does -- opening it, etc. There are many, many great "experimental" writers that engage with the medium in a way that is specific to the medium and no other, and that continue to make advancements in said engagements.

The divisions in publishing between what is a novel or poetry or anything else are most often grafted onto it for the purposes of marketing. If someone asks me what I do, I usually just say that I" work with text". And much of what I read or have published with my collective is similarly meant to reflect this. (

Unfortunately, a lot of what winds up being published these days is written with an eye toward transposition into other mediums -- films, shows, podcasts -- and this isn't literature.

Here's a really great interview with a publisher/architect that I think reflects some of the more forward-thinking movements in literature and publishing in general:

Derdekeas, Monday, 4 December 2017 02:38 (three years ago) link

*its own medium

Derdekeas, Monday, 4 December 2017 02:39 (three years ago) link

four weeks pass...

I often listen to podcasts or lectures while drawing. This discussion at one point becomes a debate on (as usual with Harris) how to determine an adequate basis for morality.
It's an aggravating exchange when Shapiro persists in trying to bolster his theistic world view that morality can only be acquired through religion. Harris, who himself holds onto a contorted claim for absolute morality, tries to argue on the same shaky ground that "morality" is a thing. Morality is a convenient word for a class of judgments.

The argument here is backwards. Why presume that this thing "morality" exists from the outset? The idea of morality arises out of the fact that human actions must follow only one actual course out of a multitude of potential paths. When making a choice to do one thing versus another, one judges the course that will lead to the desired outcome. Depending on whether one chooses the path leading to benefit or to suffering, that choice is later labeled with the words "moral" or "not moral". Over time, humans become more confident in predicting which choices will be more beneficial than harmful, and they are able to judge an action as moral based on such projections- before observing the actual outcome. The ability to make this judgment is a useful social tool, and we call this tool "morality". But that is what morality is, a tool. Imperfect, but convenient. It is not some cosmic force of nature.

(You could call it a "fiction", so I'm posting these thoughts here.)

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 2 January 2018 13:30 (three years ago) link

The argument against subjective morality (a redundancy) is that it reduces moral standards to opinions, or mere personal preference. This is a game. The truth is that, even those who ground their moral standards on some objective foundation (reason, in the case of Sam Harris) are actually just dressing up their personal preference in a more elaborate guise.

Peter Chung, Friday, 5 January 2018 21:20 (three years ago) link

Do you consider language itself a fiction, and thus incapable of describing or alluding to an objective foundation?

Philip Nunez, Friday, 5 January 2018 22:07 (three years ago) link

Good question. Yes, language is a fiction. But no, unlike morality, language IS capable of describing an objective foundation.

There is an important difference between language and morality Morals describe values, not facts. They measure a subjective quantity-- the assessment of what promotes human well-being (I will use Harris' wording), which by its nature cannot exist apart from living consciousness. Values, unlike things, do not exist "out there" in the external world.

There is a difference between objective morality and absolute morality, but both are ideals that cannot exist.
Absolute morality is self contradicting. Even theologians will concede this.
Theists will fall back on the notion of "objective morality". I sympathize totally with the impulse being expressed in the debate by Ben Shapiro. One wants to believe that certain actions are good or evil without regard to how anyone thinks about them. I used to espouse that belief myself. But I cannot see how it doesn't just boil down to someone expressing his personal preference. while pretending it is otherwise.

Peter Chung, Saturday, 6 January 2018 08:18 (three years ago) link

To go back to what prompted the post above, while listening to the debate, I realized that I disagreed with both sides (Harris and Shapiro).
But in considering both flawed arguments, a new insight occurred to me, which is that the origin of morality in human affairs must have been prompted by the fact that the course of one's life "collapses" into a singular path at some point. One option is taken and others fall away. Moral standards may have arisen as a tool for aiding in deciding which path to pursue. Whereas the conventional view is that its main importance is in the administration of justice.

Peter Chung, Saturday, 6 January 2018 08:30 (three years ago) link

I wrote " Harris, who himself holds onto a contorted claim for absolute morality,". To be accurate, I should have said "objective", not "absolute".
The difference was less clear to me when I wrote that.
This debate has been distracting me from my work, but I realize that my thinking on this subject has become clearer just in the last few days.

Peter Chung, Saturday, 6 January 2018 08:59 (three years ago) link

"One wants to believe that certain actions are good or evil without regard to how anyone thinks about them."

Isn't the main angst of the modern world the opposite, that there are increasingly mathematical applications of moral calculus (like self-driving trucks that deliberately kill some pedestrians to save others) that go against our pre-modern intuitions?

Philip Nunez, Saturday, 6 January 2018 19:08 (three years ago) link

You may be right, with regard to a younger generation.
The post modern world is moving towards disallowing universal cultural standards, including universal standards of morality.
While I think that objective morality is not possible, that doesn't mean we must do away with all notions of objective truth.
One is values, the other is facts.

Peter Chung, Sunday, 7 January 2018 05:43 (three years ago) link

Sam Harris sees himself as a guardian of Enlightenment-age values; individualism, rationalism, positivism. My suspicion is that inviting guests who espouse a pre-modern worldview to debate him gives him a framework he's more comfortable with than that of his postmodern critics, whose arguments I don't think he understands very well. Whereas he has a ready-made vocabulary for debating someone like Ben Shapiro.

I'm not convinced that a younger generation is less universal in their morality; if anything, there seems to be a shift towards more universalism. For me, my biggest problem with Harris isn't his insistence on universal cultural standards but the double standards he carries. He's a humanist, but some humans are more human than others, e.g., the contempt he has for Arabs and Muslims. He fails to live up to his own espoused ideals. With regard to certain groups of people, he'd rather fill the room with non-members so he can debate their humanity at a comfortable distance.

Blair Gilbreath, Sunday, 7 January 2018 22:20 (three years ago) link

At the same time, one of the criticisms I have of Harris' writing -- and it reflects a trend within the atheist movement -- is the romanticized gloss he puts on cultural Buddhism and the practice of meditation. Suddenly, New Atheists are not skeptics when it comes to the supposed benefits of meditation, and I suspect that ties into their political bias towards (in reality, often repressive) Buddhist countries.

Buddhist Meditation, Pseudoscience, and Sam Harris

Blair Gilbreath, Sunday, 7 January 2018 22:23 (three years ago) link

I'm hardly a Harris admirer, but he is gracious and articulate enough to be a good host to the many interesting guests on his podcast. He is smart, but mostly wrong - his cleverness leads his thinking down paths that are more sophistry and rhetoric than truth. His least useful discussions are the debates, and this one is a good example of that. Jordan Peterson is another.

Back to the original thread topic-
I just rewatched Blade Runner 2049, and it seems a perfect example of a film that delivered a rich experience rather than a tight fictional story. And that is what makes it good. The parts that don't make logical sense are precisely what gives it a dream-like tone, which is what I want from a movie.

Peter Chung, Monday, 8 January 2018 21:46 (three years ago) link

three weeks pass...

The last novel I tried to read is Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age, about two years ago. I had to give up at about page 72. After that passage, I pretty much swore off reading fiction for good.
Here is the part that did it:

Hackworth in the hong of Dr. X.
The scalpel’s edge was exactly one atom wide; it delaminated the skin of Hackworth’s palm like an airfoil gliding through smoke. He peeled off a strip the size of a nailhead and proffered it to Dr. X, who snatched it with ivory chopsticks, dredged it through an exquisite cloisonné bowl filled with chemical dessicant, and arranged it on a small windowpane of solid diamond.

Dr. X’s real name was a sequence of shushing noises, disembodied metallic buzzes, unearthly quasi-Germanic vowels, and half-swallowed R’s, invariably mangled by Westerners. Possibly for political reasons, he preferred not to pick a fake Western name like many Asians, instead suggesting, in a vaguely patronizing way, that they should just be satisfied with calling him Dr. X—that letter being the first in the Pinyin spelling of his name.

Dr. X placed the diamond slide into a stainless-steel cylinder. At one end was a teflon-gasketed flange riddled with bolt-holes. Dr. X handed it to one of his assistants, who carried it with both hands, as if it were a golden egg on a silken pillow, and mated it with another flange on a network of massive stainless-steel plumbing that covered most of two tabletops. The assistant’s assistant got the job of inserting all the shiny bolts and torque-wrenching them down. Then the assistant flicked a switch, and an old-fashioned vacuum pump whacked into life, making conversation impossible for a minute or two. During this time Hackworth looked around Dr. X’s laboratory, trying to peg the century and in some cases even the dynasty of each item. A row of mason jars stood on a high shelf, filled with what looked like giblets floating in urine. Hackworth supposed that they were the gall bladders of now-extinct species, no doubt accruing value by the moment, better than any mutual fund. A locked gun cabinet and a prim~val Macintosh desktop-publishing system, green with age, attested to the owner’s previous forays into officially discouraged realms of behavior. A window had been cut into one wall, betraying an airshaft no larger than a grave, from the bottom of which grew a gnarled maple. Other than that, the room was packed with so many small, numerous, brown, wrinkled, and organic-looking objects that Hackworth’s eyes lost the ability to distinguish one from the next. There were also some samples of calligraphy dangling here and there, probably snatches of poetry. Hackworth had made efforts to learn a few Chinese characters and to acquaint himself with some basics of their intellectual system, but in general, he liked his transcendence out in plain sight where he could keep an eye on it—say, in a nice stained-glass window—not woven through the fabric of life like gold threads through a brocade.

Everyone in the room could tell by its sound when the mechanical pump was finished with its leg of the relay. The vapor pressure of its own oil had been reached. The assistant closed a valve that isolated it from the rest of the system, and then they switched over to the nanopumps, which made no noise at all. They were turbines, just like the ones in jet engines but very small and lots of them. Casting a critical eye over Dr. X’s vacuum plumbing, Hackworth could see that they also had a scavenger, which was a cylinder about the size of a child’s head, wrinkled up on the inside into a preposterous surface area coated with nanodevices good at latching onto stray molecules. Between the nanopumps and the scavenger, the vacuum rapidly dropped to what you might expect to see halfway between the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies. Then Dr. X himself quivered up out of his chair and began shuffling around the room, powering up a gallimaufry of contraband technology.

This equipment came from diverse technological epochs and had been smuggled into this, the Outer Kingdom, from a variety of sources, but all of it contributed to the same purpose: It sun’eyed the microscopic world through X-ray diffraction, electron microscopy, and direct nanoscale probing, and synthesized all of the resulting information into a single three-dimensional view. (End excerpt)

I found myself going over this passage several times, and many others like it throughout the book, conjuring the image of what he was trying with so much verbal dexterity to describe. This exercise, I realized, was more frustrating than pleasurable, and not ultimately very meaningful other than in appreciating this writer's special skill in using words. Which I had no reason to care about. Meanwhile, whatever narrative momentum had been building had come to a complete stop and I had to struggle to remember what I was doing in this place and what it was that I was expecting to happen next.

When I say that world-building works better on film, this is what I'm talking about.
Here is a frame from Blade Runner:

Peter Chung, Friday, 2 February 2018 12:43 (three years ago) link

what do you think of blade runner's textual elements (prologue, expository dialogue, in-universe ad copy, etc...)?

Philip Nunez, Friday, 2 February 2018 18:32 (three years ago) link

The voice-over in the original studio version was terrible and ruined my first viewing of the film.
Otherwise, I find the dialogue and invented vocabulary evocative, tasteful and well chosen. I'm especially in awe of the brilliant choice to use the title Blade Runner.
One of the all time great movie titles.

I'm grateful for Blade Runner 2049. Villeneuve deftly steers away from literal-mindedness, as Scott did with the original.

Peter Chung, Monday, 5 February 2018 22:13 (three years ago) link

Since posting it, I've looked at the Stephenson passage more closely, and I'm now convinced it is truly, deeply, awful.
My initial response to his writing was amused and respectful, though a bit uncertain about whether it was really good or really bad.
It's really bad.

Peter Chung, Monday, 5 February 2018 22:20 (three years ago) link

There are some glitches in the quoted text (OCR artifacts), so to be fair to NS-

"prim~val Macintosh" is "primæval Macintosh"
"It sun’eyed the microscopic world" is "It surveyed..."

Peter Chung, Monday, 5 February 2018 22:28 (three years ago) link

Could you explain a bit more about what you mean by literal-mindedness? 2049 in particular seemed concerned about spelling out a lot of plot background in the mini-episodes that Villeneuve handed out to other directors. Ridley Scott also went to the trouble to clarify the number of escaped replicants in one of his latest revisions, something that would only be of interest to pedants. To me, these seem like the priorities of literal-minded, mechanical world-building, rather than the impressionistic, evocative approach (as in Rutger Hauer's ad-libbed "I've seen things" scene, which I would ascribe to Rutger Hauer rather than Ridley Scott).

Philip Nunez, Wednesday, 7 February 2018 00:22 (three years ago) link

Spielberg's movie of PK Dick's Minority Report is an example of literal-minded storytelling. The conclusion is focused on uncovering the identity of the villain, bringing him to justice. The plot is resolved, Tom Cruise is absolved and the audience can feel comforted knowing that order has been restored. The directing focuses the audience's interest on the story's fictional arbitrary details, which is not the point of creating and consuming fiction.

In fact, Tom Cruise is still actually guilty of many things at the end, such as arresting people who have not committed crimes, of killing a man out of rage without due process, of endangering many civilians in the act of resisting arrest. The philosophical and thematic implications of the premise are not addressed in favor of providing a story that gets resolved on a plot level.

Not to mention that the safety of the precog is not what the audience should care about. As Skye pointed out a long time ago on this board, the precogs are a plot device to allow the speculative premise to operate. They aren't real people.
"Gotta save the poor precog!" Wrong.

Blade Runner and BR2049 are not detective stories concerned about catching villains and achieving justice. I've heard some people complain about Deckard not being a good detective. That is not the point. Deckard, it turns out, is not even the hero we think (and he thinks) he is at the beginning. He is a tool of the slave trade. Batty is the true hero, and Deckard's mind in the end has been shifted to accept it.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 7 February 2018 01:03 (three years ago) link

Scott and Villeneuve are interested in the bigger questions driving the premises of their stories, not the fictions.
In Blade Runner's case, what does it mean to be human?
In BR2049, it is how does one live an authentic life?
Life is finite and its meaning is defined by the individual who lives it- in spite of the fact that for the replicants, a creator-given purpose exists.
Similar to the theme of Prometheus, it is a thought experiment that considers the proposal of life having been created with a purpose.
The religious paradigm of submission to the creator's will is portrayed as slavery.
The exercise of free will is our only recourse to authentic meaning.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 7 February 2018 01:41 (three years ago) link

Yes, that Stephenson passage is awful. My response to that post was going to be that you're comparing one of the very best films ever made with what is (apparently) a bad novel. For what it's worth, as a teenager I loved the world Do Androids Dream created in my head and was never crazy about the film until recently.

I did not like 2049 and do not think I like Villeneuve in general (if Arrival is any indication). However I'll likely give 2049 another shot in a theater in a few weeks. The original took me over 20 years to catch on, so.

Weekend at Bernie's is my choice for greatest title.

J.P. McDevitt, Wednesday, 7 February 2018 08:21 (three years ago) link

Neal Stephenson is not a bad writer. The opening chapters of Reamde are terrific.

"you're comparing one of the very best films ever made with what is (apparently) a bad novel. "
The Diamond Age won the Hugo award for best novel in 1996. The story it tells is fascinating, I just wish the way it was told wasn't by an attention deficit disorder- addled and ostentatious narrator.
The book was an immediate success and widely praised, whereas Blade Runner was almost universally scorned upon release. To this day, there is a huge number of viewers who consider Blade Runner a boring mess.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 7 February 2018 16:48 (three years ago) link

I agree that Arrival is not a good film. It only makes sense if the extraterrestrial visitors are a product of Amy Adams' imagination. She is trying to cope with the loss of her daughter, and in order to feel that her life has importance, she dreams that she alone can fulfill a role critical to the survival of humanity.

I recommend you give Sicario a shot. The directing is masterful.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 7 February 2018 17:00 (three years ago) link

The terrible thing about the passage from The Diamond Age is that it brought to light for me the inherent problem of literary description in a way that has tainted my ability to enjoy reading books that I used to enjoy reading.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 7 February 2018 18:47 (three years ago) link

Nabokov's Pale Fire gets a special moment in Blade Runner 2049. I've no idea what could be behind it, maybe Hampton Fancher taking a dig at highbrow literature? Or suggesting that the girlfriend simulation's AI isn't designed to grasp irony?
It made me laugh.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 7 February 2018 19:01 (three years ago) link

the original short story arrival was derived from was much more interior and about resolving philosophical paradoxes of free will/pre-destination; stephenson as an author (as well as william gibson) are primarily known and praised for delineating influential ideas rather than constructing taut plots or characterization -- aren't these the larger ideas trumping literalism that you're looking for? if anything, doesn't the visual (and capital-intensive) nature of cinema prioritize the kind of literal, surface-level construction of narratives?

Philip Nunez, Wednesday, 7 February 2018 19:51 (three years ago) link

"doesn't the visual (and capital-intensive) nature of cinema prioritize the kind of literal, surface-level construction of narratives?"

It does in practice. That is why most films opt for the literal-minded treatment of story.
But it isn't an inherent property of the medium, just in the way it is used.
Minority Report was a commercial success while Blade Runner 2049 was not- so it's easy to see why.

My own view is that because written narrative is a more direct way to delineate ideas than cinematic narrative, it is less challenging, less surprising, less reflective of human experience- especially for the artist.
I suppose that once I've written a story, I could release it as text and be done with it. I find that I have very little interest in doing so. I need to give it the form of an experience of the senses because that is the way life is lived and how I find meaning- it is through experience, not words.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 7 February 2018 20:55 (three years ago) link

I first became exposed to the writing of Neal Stephenson when Amazon Studios asked me to adapt a project he was developing - a medieval sword fighting game - into a potential animated series.
I was working from a treatment written by Stephenson himself, along with other writers and enthusiasts of historically accurate sword techniques.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 7 February 2018 21:12 (three years ago) link

if they're mostly concerned with the formal representation of swordsmanship over narratives, it seems like there would be a lot of creative room left over to maneuver in -- is that usually the case in these kinds of projects?

Philip Nunez, Wednesday, 7 February 2018 21:24 (three years ago) link

two weeks pass...

Playtime (Peter's favorite or close to it?) plays on the big screen in SF on March 15th; I'll be there.

J.P. McDevitt, Sunday, 25 February 2018 21:17 (three years ago) link

That is the only way to really see Playtime- on the big screen with an audience. My first viewing, on a pan and scan vhs tape, baffled and confused me.
I consider it essential viewing for filmmakers, especially for animators, and I show clips to my students, not all of whom get it at first.
Please post your thoughts after the screening.
An interesting discussion on the shifts of moral stances in narrative traditions.
The claim is that defining the hero of a story by the morality of his actions is a relatively recent practice.
We may, in fact, be reading old stories that way by habit (identifying the hero by his goodness).
Whereas the authors had no such need nor intention. Instead, heroes are defined mainly by their tribal identification, regardless of how moral their actions might be.

Present day critiques of Biblical myths assert that the actions of God and God's agents in the Old Testament are useless and untrue because they are plainly immoral.
(Not consistent with universally recognized standards of goodness.) Such arguments are beside the point for the biblical, and other mythological, writers.

Peter Chung, Monday, 26 February 2018 05:47 (three years ago) link

My argument against submitting to the Judeo Christian God because I detect God's moral failings is,in this way, a non sequitur.
In other words, the 10 commandments and other biblical laws were never meant to provide moral guidance. They are not claiming to help make men good.
They are meant to make men conform to a common, tribal identity. What is "good" has no meaning outside of that.

Peter Chung, Monday, 26 February 2018 06:00 (three years ago) link

two weeks pass...

In teaching my class, I struggle to convince some students on why they should not rely on exposition to engage the viewer's interest and emotions.
The argument is that if exposition works, then what is wrong with using it? Exposition is the simplest and clearest way to convey the characters' motivations and the dramatic stakes of a narrative turn.
The problem is that by explaining why an action is needed, its urgency- you destroy any sense genuine of urgency.

Everyone understands that you must never explain a joke, because to do so defeats the purpose. Any comic who has to explain his jokes to his audience hasn't learned the skills needed to be a comedian and does not deserve to be on stage.

My hard claim is that this principle does not apply only to humor. All emotions- sadness, anger, love, horror, suspense must arise naturally from an internal realization in order to be genuinely felt.

I use several examples from films where some character explains what has to be done before the hero decides to go and do it. This is extremely common and has the effect of rendering the mission irrelevant to the interests of the viewer.
If a director can't convey the motivation without explaining it, he has no business directing. It should be self-evident from the context the director creates.

Peter Chung, Sunday, 18 March 2018 07:02 (three years ago) link

To be more precise, exposition is fine to provide the set-up, as in a joke.
The gut punch of emotion, the punchline, however must always be inferred.

A director does run the risk of losing viewers this way.
There have been many cases where viewers have watched things I've done and said "I don't get it".
Just as there are many directors I admire who are rejected by audiences for the same reason.

Peter Chung, Sunday, 18 March 2018 07:23 (three years ago) link

Is a character explaining what has to be done beforehand the same as a character explaining what's going on as the punchline is happening? Can you give examples of the "explaining beforehand" and the explaining of the punchline?

I loved Playtime and found it refreshingly different from anything I can consciously recall seeing. It seems the 70mm prints are all damaged, but if one were to surface I'd strongly consider traveling to go see it if necessary.

Battery is about to die so I'll write more another time.

J.P. McDevitt, Sunday, 18 March 2018 11:05 (three years ago) link

Directing a narrative film is a complex task, so it's not so cut and dry.
There are many cases, pretty much all films, where a turning point occurs that sets a major character on a new course of action.
Where the character makes a choice triggered by some turn of events.
The trigger should be both an emotional punchline and a set up (motivating event) for further action.

The motivation needs to be felt by the viewer at the same moment as the character. In bad films, this does not happen. The goal is simply stated as exposition.
Viewers may not notice it consciously, but that is a major factor resulting in you coming out at the end and saying "that movie was boring".

Peter Chung, Monday, 19 March 2018 05:43 (three years ago) link

Negative examples I've shown in class are from Paprika and Wreck-It Ralph. I would also cite (as I have here) Harry Potter movies, Hunger Games sequels, Christopher Nolan's films, most scripted TV dramas. I suspect that TV in general has had a bad influence on how feature directors rely increasingly on exposition. It goes along with my complaint about literal mindedness.

It seems that in older films, the directors just had a deeper appreciation of subtext.
I use clips from Marnie, Leave Her To Heaven and The Sound of Music to show how to do it the right way.
There's a good scene from Pulp Fiction that I like to use, where Bruce Willis escapes, then turns around and decides he should rescue his enemy, played by Ving Rhames. It's wordless, but the viewer understands exactly what is going on in Bruce's mind. His motivation is explained later, but just as a way to confirm what the viewer already understood.
I also show clips from Aeon Flux and Firebreather. I use these clips because I can reveal in detail the process by which directorial decisions are made.

Peter Chung, Monday, 19 March 2018 06:07 (three years ago) link

I suspect that viewers are so accustomed to having the meanings of events explained to them that they feel lost when the explanation does not come.
They are not, in fact, "not getting it". They DID get it, they just can't feel sure, so they can't say so with confidence, and they blame the filmmaker for not providing assurance.

Peter Chung, Monday, 19 March 2018 06:23 (three years ago) link

I came across this recently on io9. Emotions are stated directly. No need for anything to be inferred.
I do not feel the emotion internally. There is no art and no skill.
(Never use the line "I love you" in a script. Unless it's meant as a cover.)

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 20 March 2018 14:35 (three years ago) link

There is a lot of expository sequences in the Matrix series that fans have constructed elaborate theories to explain away as cover for some deeper conspiratorial meaning (e.g. the explanation for the machine's need for humans as a power source is a deception), but to me it's very unclear whether such things are intentional. In evaluating student work, how would you distinguish between something deep vs something muddled?

Philip Nunez, Tuesday, 20 March 2018 17:02 (three years ago) link

I always have at least one student who attempts to convey an idea way more ambitious and complex than what he/she is equipped to communicate.
It is like attempting to write War and Peace before mastering basic grammar and spelling.

The problem always amounts to someone expecting their viewer to make unwarranted assumptions about what they are seeing. As your example from the Matrix illustrates, viewers cannot help but find unintended meanings in works of fiction. A good director must have enough command over the medium to set boundaries on the viewer's impressions. I don't endorse the idea of artworks that can mean anything to anyone. That is no different from incoherence.

To answer your question, it comes down to a matter of good technique. Craftsmanship matters. If an artist intends to draw a character in peril, but instead draws him looking relaxed, then that is muddled due to a deficit of skill (or carefulness).

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 21 March 2018 08:54 (three years ago) link

Here's a challenge I handed out to my class earlier this year:
A guy in your story loves another character (male or female). Tell me how you would get the audience to know this without dialogue (let alone his saying "I love you").

Peter Chung, Thursday, 22 March 2018 06:14 (three years ago) link

one month passes...

I had given up on Westworld at episode 6 of the first season. There's been a lot of talk about season two, but I couldn't make it past 15 minutes.
The series posits mysteries which the viewer then forms theories about, trying to solve the question of what is happening under all the layers of clues, misdirection and conspiracy. What is happening?
It is both tedious and meaningless to spur discussion over which fictional plot is the correct one. Any one you choose is equally arbitrary, fictional and disposable.
Viewers are just arguing over which potential plotline the writers ended up choosing. Do the writers think this is interesting?
If the experience of watching the show was pleasant, then maybe the mysteries are an added reward for the audience's attention.
But the act of watching, to me, is an extremely miserable one. It's clear that the viewer's experience is secondary to its function as a delivery mechanism for plot information.

Peter Chung, Monday, 14 May 2018 18:00 (two years ago) link

People often say that what matters the most in any movie is the story. That the story is first and foremost the reason they watch film and T.V.
Even filmmakers often will say that "story is everything". Viewers think they care about story above all else, but in fact this is not the case.
What viewers want from a movie is an experience of the senses, a stirring of the emotions and mind.
Story is the effective means of delivering that experience, but story is not the goal or purpose for making and viewing films.

How can I be so certain? Two recent practices I've encountered make it very clear.

1. These days, it's possible to acquire copies of movies and T.V. shows and watch them whenever and wherever one desires.
I have, on a few occasions for T.V. shows, gotten impatient and ran the player at 1.5 times or twice normal speed with the captions on. It can tell me whether or not I want to continue watching. But I quickly feel that if the show isn't worth watching at normal speed, then it isn't worth watching at all. If all I cared about was the story, then this should not matter. If I can get the content of the story more quickly and painlessly, then what is the harm? But if the story holds my interest at a fast speed, then I will slow it back down to get the experience of sensory engagement. That takes precedence over merely learning what the story is. Here is where quality of directing is crucial.

Viewers exist who do watch shows sped up, and they are the ones who care about the story at the exclusion of everything else. But they are a minority.

2. You can find blogs for just about every series where someone recaps in writing the events of an episode that they've watched. Who reads this stuff? Surely not someone who regularly watches the show, since the recap is just repeating what they would have seen. And if someone is interested enough in the recap to read it, then why do that instead of just watching it? There exist people who read such summaries, and again, they are the ones who care about the story and not the viewing experience. And again, they are a minority. Most fans of a series actually watch them.

Peter Chung, Saturday, 19 May 2018 06:13 (two years ago) link

one month passes...

A very common fiction writer's pitfall:

How to construct made up problems that will need to be solved by your characters.
I am noticing more and more that it is this point that causes me to lose interest in a fictional story.

Especially in science fiction or fantasy, the author will invent some made up obstacle or challenge that the hero must overcome.
It's crucial that the author use good judgment when choosing that problem to be solved.

In physical terms, the problem can take any form at all, no matter how fantastical, as long as it reflects some actual source of conflict faced by actual humans.
Unfortunately, the author often chooses a problem that is just fantastical and arbitrary, and therefore comes across as just some useless rule that was made up for the sake of breaking it.

Peter Chung, Saturday, 30 June 2018 14:40 (two years ago) link

Peter, thanks for your comments in this thread. I've been studying creative writing recently, reading and writing short stories intensely for the past year or so, and participating in a number of classes and workshops. This discussion has been some great food for thought. I may post more specific responses as I'm able.

Looking back, I think engaging with you, and with Aeon Flux, since I was 16 or so ended up laying the groundwork for how I approach storytelling (and art in general) -- thank you for that.

Matt Rebholz, Sunday, 1 July 2018 15:20 (two years ago) link

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