Jupiter Ascending did NOT fail because…

Jupiter Ascending Movie Cover

…of bad casting. Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis, and Sean Bean did a pretty great job considering some of the lines they had to say.

…of poor world building. The different worlds and species were not that bad. The idea of harvesting humans so that a select few could live forever was pretty interesting, if not entirely original. Most of the technology allowed you to suspend your disbelief.

…of the setting. The worlds were visually stunning. The spaceships were unique and interesting.

…it starred a female character. This is so important. Fantasy and Sci-fi shows featuring female leads CAN and WILL be successful, just as soon as the producers can get all the REAL issues taken care of.

And what were the real issues of the movie? Poor storytelling and characterization (I won’t even get into the HORRIBLE romance).

One of the biggest issues with the storytelling and characterization (and one that I see frequently when reading manuscripts) is a lack of proactivity from the main character. Main characters are supposed to DO things, not have things done to them. It’s okay to have an inciting incident that gets the character in the position she needs to be to start being proactive, but for this type of story, the main character needs to be proactive during the majority of the story.

Allow me to give an example of this. Let’s look at Katniss, a female lead who stars in an excellent book and excellent movie. Katniss has a very simple life. She lives under horrible circumstances in district 12, but does she sit around crying “Poor me”? No, she breaks the rules by going through the fence and hunting to provide food for her family. That, my friends, is proactivity. When it’s time for the reaping and Katniss’s sister is chosen to participate in the hunger games, does Katniss cry and bid her sister farewell? No, she freaking volunteers to take her place. Proactivity. In the games, does she just sit around and wait to die? No, she takes care of Peeta and thinks of a way to beat the system. Would you consider Katniss a victim of her circumstances? No, she’s a fighter and a survivor. She is a wonderful proactive character, and that is why she and her story are so fascinating.

So I’ll say it again, characters cannot sit around and simply have things done to them. They have to fight back. They have go out and do things. This makes them interesting.

Now, Jupiter Jones is not proactive. She has things done to her. She’s kidnapped…how many times during the movie? Four? She does what people tell her to do. Caine says stay. Caine says follow me. She has to go with the bad guys. She agrees to marry one of the bad guys, even though she’s sort of his reincarnated mother. Eew. Weird. Who thought that was a good plot element? Was anyone else reminded of the movie Thumbelina? Sure, I’ll marry the toad. Sure, I’ll marry the mole. What the heck?

The only times I can think of when Jupiter actually did something were when she agreed to go with the bad guys to save her family and then when she refused to sign over the rights to the earth to save her family. But that’s it. Two decisions. That’s what Jupiter’s character comes down to.

And THAT’S why Jupiter Ascending failed.

Free Online Writing Resources

Every couple of days or so on tumblr, a post will show up on my dashboard that ends up being an invaluable writing resource, so I’m going to share a couple of my favorite FREE online writing resources with you all here.

Diversity Cross Check

I hope all you writers out there have written at least one character who’s not like you in some way, shape, or form—be it age or gender or race or religion. When the venn diagram of you and your character is essentially a circle, writing outside yourself doesn’t require too much thought or effort. For example, if I, as an upper-middle class white woman, wrote about an upper-middle class white man, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch. I wouldn’t have to do much research beyond looking at the men I’ve known in my life and I wouldn’t be likely to get much wrong. But maybe you want your fictional worlds to reflect the actual world (not just the small pocket of it which you happen to inhabit) and you want to write about a character who’s completely unlike you—a character that has some sort of disability, or is a different race, or a different religion, or a different sexual orientation or gender identity—and because you’re not an awful person, you want to do this thoughtfully and respectfully. Which means doing research and talking to people who have lived these experiences…only you live in a tiny pocket of the world where you don’t have a lot of access to these people.

Which is where Diversity Cross Check comes in. Diversity Cross Check is a tumblr that seeks to connect writers with the marginalized people they wish to feature in their books. People from minority groups post profiles on the tumblr and writers can scroll through the tag directory to find the profiles of various minority and marginalized group. From there, you can contact the person in the profile to ask questions or solicit feedback on whatever project you’re working on. This isn’t a cure-all to problems with diverse representation, but it’s certainly a good place to start.

Pacemaker

I only discovered pacemaker in the last month, but I have fallen in love with it. Pacemaker is a way to set writing goals. You in put the sort of project you’re working on (fiction, thesis, screenplay, etc), the time frame you have to work on that project, and your goal word count and the website generates daily word count goals for you. What I love most about Pacemaker is that it’s soooo customizable. You get to choose how you want to approach your writing—whether it’s by writing the same amount every day or starting out with small word count goals and working your way to bigger ones or having randomized word count goals (which is the option that works best for me). You can choose the intensity of your goals and you can choose whether or not you want to write on weekends—you can even set it so you don’t have a word count goal on a certain day if you know you’re going to be super busy that day anyway. I’d been having trouble writing every day, which is my personal writing goal, but once I started setting goals with Pacemaker, it’s been infinitely easier! I know I sound like a cheesy informercial testimonial, but I seriously love this program.

Soundrown

Some people need to write in absolute silence…but I am not one of them. At the same time, when I’m listening to music with catchy lyrics while I’m writing, I usually get distracted by singing along with said catchy songs. A tumblr-associate of mine was the one who introduced Soundrown to me, and it’s a delight for people who want nice ambient writing noise without the distraction of catchy song lyrics. With Soundrown, you can pick ambient noises—coffee shops, rain, beach, birds, etc—to play in the background while you do your thing. You can even have two or more different ambient soundtracks playing at the same time. Want to go for an ultra nature soundtrack? Play rain and birds. Want something more cozy and urban? Fire and coffee shops. It’s not a perfect program—sometimes the tracks don’t autorepeat and I have to interrupt my writing to go refresh the page, but other time it autoplays for hours—but I find it invaluable when I really need to buckle down.

Writing Excuses

If you’re a genre writer and you haven’t tuned into writing excuses yet, well, you’ve probably hiding under a rock for the last several years. Writing Excuses is a professional podcast produced and hosted by big shot writers (Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Dan Wells). Each episode, posted weekly, is between fifteen and twenty minutes long, so it’s something short and simple to help motivate you to write each week. They’ve been at this for years, so they’ve got a massive back list of episodes and chances are, if you’re stuck on a particular aspect of your current writing project, they’ve got an episode to help you deal with it. The current season of episodes is being treated as a master class on writing, so the hosts are delving in depth to every stage of the writing process. While their focus is on genre fiction—particularly sci fi and fantasy—most of their advice is applicable to any writing project.

WriteWorld

WriteWorld is another tumblr account (can you tell I spend too much time on tumblr instead of writing?) and they are an endless pit of resources for writers. On top of reblogging prompt-like posts (pictures, music, bits of dialogue, etc), they also archive posts on various useful writing information. Just yesterday, they had a super interesting post about the sort of combat training noble heirs would have received prior to the 18th century—including the age combat training would begin to what sort of weapons they’d likely be using. Their archive is well organized so you can find posts on whatever you need help on and they also answer questions posed to them. They are an endless wealth of knowledge.

So there you have it, folks. My top five FREE online writing resources—may they help you as often as they’ve helped me!

The Latest Drama

Twitter has been a non-stop drama lately.

drama llama

Drama Llama, anyone?

Calling it drama llama  makes it sound like it’s not a serious subject, and frankly I find that to be a silencing tactic for issues that are important and serious. However, I really like llamas, and so do Sarah and Tricia.

What drama am I talking about? Sexism. (Anyone familiar with the latest drama in the YA community is cringing right now, I bet. Just hold on).

I’m late to the game on this, and I doubt anybody needs yet another opinion, but the Andrew Smith sexism “debate” struck a chord with me. I’m not going to rehash the particulars. A simple google search could do that for you. Or read this link and this one.

The thing about it that really gets my dander up is that it’s so hard for women to talk about sexism, and yes, point out specific examples in our communities and by our peers, without being called mobs or bullies or harpies. More problematic than Smith’s original comment and the reaction to the comment is the outraged backlash to the outrage that essentially created a rubbernecking situation. People, like me, who aren’t even players in the publishing community (yet) are weighing in and arguing and magnifying a situation that got heated too fast and needlessly so. It’s my opinion that the women who reacted (some calmly, some not calmly, as is their right) did not create the so-called mobs, but rather the reaction to the reactions did.

Because, you see, women don’t want or need men to flagellate themselves when accused of sexism. We just want men to realize the unintentional negative effect of their words. Like so:

How many times do we need to reiterate that criticizing someone’s words is not criticizing their character or worth?

There’s also the refrain that a true discussion means allowing for differing opinions on whether or not Smith’s statement was sexist.

I also struggle with how I feel about this idea. I don’t personally feel that the statement in question could be construed as not sexist, meaning it seems pretty clearly sexist to me. But when I say sexist, I understand that sexism plays out on a spectrum. Some examples of sexist behavior are appalling, some egregious, some tiny little papercuts.

But you know what they say about papercuts:

http://www.slideshare.net/jonathandavis1466/a-thousand-paper-cuts-presentation

And that’s the real issue. Smith’s statement is just too similar to so many other lazy and/or sexist justifications for failing to include more female representation in media. It’s not like this statement is only one papercut. It’s one of a thousand. Same goes, perhaps more so, for other diverse representations.

There were also criticisms leveled at the way the women were sharing their criticisms. Also known as tone policing.  Too strident, too mean, too over the top, as if tone could negate the content of the criticism. There’s also the companion complaint that our tone pushes allies away.  Well, that’s hogwash. It’s never a woman’s job to make a man feel better about sexism.

buffy

Once more with feeling: It’s never a woman’s job to make a man feel better about sexism.

Also the insinuation that this was somehow fun for the women involved when we all know what women on the internet face for opening their mouths:

Jay asher

IDK, maybe I misunderstood what Asher was implying.

So, you see, this isn’t about Andrew Smith. It’s about sexism.

donna meagle

I don’t know how he’s handling it or how he’ll choose to respond if at all. For me, it’s about the fact that so many professed allies have shown that they don’t really understand how to be an ally. And I hope for better for all of us.

I think the monster I just wrote can be best summed up with these tweets:

*smallish disclaimer that these opinions are my own and not necessarily shared by the other Plotless bloggers.

The Bigger Bad Guy

You guys have already heard me talk about how much I love the TV show The Vampire Diaries. Aside from having wonderful and consistent romantic tension, splendid characters, and fantastic plots—all things that are very essential to the makings of a good show—I’ve been able to pinpoint more specifically what makes this show so good.

I’m calling this idea “the bigger bad guy.”

It’s a fantastic device that works well to create well rounded characters, show excellent character development, and help the story get better and better as it continues. (How many times have we been disappointed by a second or third season of a show—or a sequel to a book series—because it wasn’t as good as the first one?) The Vampire Diaries only gets better with each succeeding season—something I can’t really say for any other show.

I’m now going to talk about “the bigger bad guy” and how TVD uses it. *Spoilers may be below up to the third season.

First, take a look at this guy.

Damon

goodwp

This is Damon Salvatore, our antagonist for season one of TVD—well part of season one. His brother, Stefan Salvatore, has just moved to Mystic Falls, your average small town. Except, of course, for the fact that there are vampires and other mystical creatures—a very creative town name on the creators’ part, I know. Damon has promised his brother an eternity of misery, so he follows Stefan around to try and make his life hell. At the moment, that mostly includes ruining Stefan’s budding relationship with Elena Gilbert. Oh, and Damon also has a secret agenda to reunite with his one true love, Katherine (Elena’s doppelganger), whom he believes has been stuck in a tomb for 100 years, give or take.

Now check out this chick.

Katherine

wikia

This is Katherine. Turns out, she wasn’t stuck in a tomb. She’s actually been just fine out and about living her life. Damon’s crushed at first, but once he falls in love with Elena (whoops), he moves on. This is when Katherine makes her appearance and starts making it her agenda to make both brothers’ lives miserable. So now Damon is a good guy (most of the time.) He helps Stefan and Elena out as they try to get rid of Katherine.

Now at this point, things are a little harder to follow, so I’ll summarize even more.

Elena gets kidnapped by Rose.

Rose

wikia

Rose assumes that Elena is Katherine (another whoops), which is why she kidnapped her in the first place. Katherine sort of helps to get her back. But before that happens, Rose takes her to this guy.

Elijah

fanpop

Elijah needs Katherine as a bargaining chip. You see, his brother Klaus has been holding his brothers and sister as undead hostages in coffins. Rose eventually tries to help the rest of the gang fend off Elijah and provides information on these scary brothers. Turns out that Klaus is even scarier than Elijah.

Klaus

movie pilot

And eventually Elijah joins the team to try and stop Klaus, who is basically unkillable. Our ultimate bad guy.

Note that there are many other bad guys throughout the TV series. I’m just trying to give you guys a taste of what I’m talking about.

But now on to the main points I’m trying to make. There’s always a bigger bad guy. This enables each episode to be better than the last. Because the stakes are higher (vampire pun intended), and the conflicts are more intense as the bad guys get badder and more powerful.

It’s also fascinating to see characters undergo such change. The bad guys become good guys as their goals align with the good guys’. They don’t always become perfectly good—they still have their fun flaws, but they do change in remarkable ways that are exciting to see.

Now, TVD isn’t the only show out there that’s doing this. Look at Loki’s character in the second Thor movie. Look how he aligns with Thor to face a bigger bad guy. Look at Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. These changeable bad guys are everywhere. And look at how much we love them! These are the characters that have the most fan girls—just saying.

Sometimes looking at where characters are going can help you solidify who they need to be at the beginning of your story. This can help with rounding out characters and their development. And it also makes for some interesting plot turns.

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

START HERE:

http://www.xojane.com/entertainment/reading-challenge-stop-reading-white-straight-cis-male-authors-for-one-year

I hope you read that article. I’ve been thinking about committing to something along the lines of Bradford’s proposal, and I think she articulates exactly why it’s a good idea.

The reason why I’d been thinking about reading more diversely, long before I’d read the linked article above, was because of this tweet:

Apparently, there’s this old dinosaur of an adage in publishing that diverse books don’t sell. Look, don’t get me wrong, campaigns like #weneeddiversebooks are important, but we’re dealing with publishers, who are businesses. Along with hashtags campaigns, sales will prompt change. It’s the idea of “put your money where your mouth is.” I read almost exclusively female authors, but I was rather dismayed when I looked over my Goodreads books to see that the vast majority of the books I read are written by white authors. That’s not just on the publishers, that’s also on me. No judgments, but maybe we all need more self-awareness when it comes to our diverse reading habits?

If you need ideas on where to start reading outside of white, cis, straight, male, here are a few of my personal favorites:

courtney milan

gentleman

radio silence