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Where’s My Momentum?

Courtesy Matt Groening

As much as old habits die hard, when you’re out of practice it can be very difficult to find your groove again. I just finished my first workout in I-don’t-know-how-long, and all of my joints popped over the course of it. Like, all of them. I even had to stop squatting since my right knee popped in a way that was worrisome and uncomfortable. And that’s to say nothing on my writing.

I’m having difficulty getting out of bed in the morning. Perhaps a sign of depression, or a side-effect of the changing nature of my employment status, it’s difficult to say which. But rather than stay in bed doing nothing, I am frustrated to the point of wanting to take action.

Suffice it to say that the blog hasn’t picked right back up where I left off. It’s taking a bit longer to get going than I would have liked. But it is going, at the very least. I’m here. You’re here. That’s what matters.

I continue to contend that tomorrow will be better than yesterday, which means that soon today will be entirely surpassed. All I have to do is keep pushing forward.

Concerning Clearly Communicating Characters

With the exception of nature documentaries, or very oddly esoteric works, narrative entertainment is driven by characters. Characters, more often than not, communicate with one another through dialog. Time and time again, especially in films, we see this dialog become murky, bogged down, or unnecessarily obtuse. Unless it is completely essential to your plot, or the character themselves, your characters should communicate clearly with one another.

Sometimes characters will have difficulty communicating as part of their nature. Their world-view may be skewed or a mental condition may color how they see and relate to others. These characters can make for important, powerful stories about human nature. But the bulk of the problematic characters that come to mind when I talk about expository dialog and the like are not saddled with psychological or personality disorders that affect their speech or outlook. Most of them are just badly written. Dialog drives so much – why waste it on exposition or clarification unless it is absolutely necessary?

One particularly egregious violation of good taste in dialog is “the pronoun game”. One character makes a comment about what’s happening but, instead of naming names, they use an ambiguous pronouns. The other character has to ask for clarification, which is then easily or dramatically given. It’s a waste of the audience’s time, especially if we have already met the party to whom the first character is referring.

There is one sort-of exception to this rule that I can think of – a heist tale. If you’re spinning a yarn where you want your protagonists to be particularly clever, it can be useful to provide the setup for the caper, cut to the action, and have them recount elements of it afterward, so that what seems to be very fortuitous timing is seen instead as excellent forethought and careful planning. From highly stylized films like Ocean’s Eleven to works of written fiction such as Jim Butcher’s Skin Game, this method is proven to work in this case. But I really can’t think of any others.

It is just as true for this storytelling challenge as most others: the best way to tell your story is through action, not exposition. Let characters show, rather than tell, what is happening in their minds and all around them. History and motivation should become evident in when and how they act, rather than providing a dry, plodding dossier through expositional dialog. Your characters drive your story – don’t let their dialog drive it into the ground.

Movie Review: Good Morning, Vietnam

“GOOOOOOOOOOOOD MORNING VIETNAM! It’s Oh-Six-Hundred, what does the Oh stand for? OH MY GOD IT’S EARLY!”

I don’t think the 1987 Barry Levinson film Good Morning, Vietnam needs any introduction beyond that.

Courtesy Touchtone Video

Airman Adrian Cronauer, United States Air Force, was the main radio personality stationed in Crete in the 1960s. During the Vietnam War, he was transferred to run a morning program for Armed Forces Radio out of Saigon. He brought his own style, his comedic style, and a taste for modern rock-and-roll music. Unfortunately, his personality and energy run counter to those of his superiors. He does his best to maintain his independence and commitment to the truth, and starts befriending locals. Things begin to get complicated when he runs afoul of both a vindictive base commander and the mascinations of the Viet Cong. The troops love him, though – if there’s ever a time to be reminded of the importance of laughter, it’s wartime.

Before we delve into the people responsible for bringing Cronauer’s true story to life, we should take a step back and consider that this film, broadly considered a landmark comedy, also took it upon itself to depict the conflict in Vietnam in very human terms. When Cronauer isn’t cracking jokes over the radio and flipping off authority, he’s teaching people English slang and trying to get to know a local girl and her brother. None of these secondary characters are treated as parodies or charicatures. In a time when the United States was still wrestling with its conflict against Soviet powers, this film eschewed jingoistic viewpoints and presented both the Americans and the Vietnamese as what they are – human beings.

Courtesy Touchtone Video
Every character in this film feels very real.

Barry Levinson, Good Morning, Vietnam‘s director, was already a veteran film-maker in 1987. He worked with Mel Brooks, and had major success with The Natural. He clearly demonstrates that he has an excellent sense of balance and timing in his direction. The comedy that practically runs rampant through a great deal of the film is balanced out perfectly with character development and the aforementioned pathos. All of the shots are clear, and everything is clearly defined. But I feel I’m stalling a bit, so let’s get to the heart of the matter.

It is a great tragedy that we recently lost Robin Williams. This film is one of his best performances. Much like the direction, his work is very well balanced. When he’s on the radio or mouthing off, his comedy is fantastic and side-splitting. When he’s teaching people or trying to relate to his ladyfriend or her brother, he’s likeable and charming. And when he’s faced with adversity, we believe his agony and frustration. On top of his comedy skills and improvisation, he was a fantastic actor. We miss him already.

Courtesy Touchtone Video
His performances are, thankfully, immortalized.

Good Morning, Vietnam is a bonafide classic. It is a slice from the past that tells its story with authenticity and earnestness. Despite the fact that it’s told from an American perspective, it shows the conflict in a very human light and keeps us engaged from beginning to end. And the comedy is on-point and fantastic. It’s available on Netflix, and if you haven’t seen it, even if it’s been a while, you should call it up. It’s a fantastic watch.

And We’re Back!

Courtesy Creattica.com

Wow. Feels like it’s been forever.

But here I am! I made it. I’m safe and sound, whole and unharmed. I made it across the country, some mishaps and hiccups aside, and I’ve survived the first couple weeks, with a few fresh scars to remind me that change is never easy, and people are who they are.

New beginnings are hard. It’s easier when you have momentum behind you to keep moving forward. But when you stop everything to make a major change, getting back into the swing of things is significantly more difficult.

I’m looking to get back onto a regular schedule, and step things up in other ways besides. This site, this brand of mine, needs to be expanded and promoted. My work is worth reading, worth seeing – I need to remind myself of that, and get other people to believe it, too.

So stay tuned! It’s going to get interesting around these parts.

(Image courtesy Creattica.com)

The H Word

In about a week, I will be breaking down the desk at which I’m currently sitting so I can load it on a truck. In the intervening time, I have to package and send things to various places, sort out what stays and what goes, make all sorts of arrangements, and generally try to keep my head screwed on tight. The only way to describe the status of my life at the current moment is “in upheaval”, perhaps in way unrivaled since the dark days of December 10 years ago.

The need to write nags me. It’s been difficult to carve out the time to work on the necessary steps to finally finish Cold Streets, or even get a blog post like this up in what I feel is a timely fashion. But now is not the time for such additional stress. I don’t want to burn out right before one of the most significant changes of my entire life.

So with that in mind, I am putting the blog on hiatus for a couple of weeks.

Look for new posts here starting September 3rd, and keep an eye on my Twitter and Tumblr in the meantime. Just because I’m focusing on getting my stuff sorted out doesn’t mean I won’t have something to say. I almost always do.

It might not always be relevant, but I almost always have something to say.

Thank you for reading my words, for being patient with me, and encouraging me to continue doing better. I will certainly redouble my efforts to do that as this new chapter of my life gets started.

Excelsior!