Would John Wayne Approve?

Guys are funny, right? And immature. Definitely immature.

You’d think this if you see nearly any movie with a male protagonist. He’s an overgrown man-child, always there with a quip or an obnoxiously immature pastime that holds him back, while the kick-ass riot grrl rolls her eyes and does all the real work, maybe letting the dude accidentally do something right or lift something heavy.

Maybe it’s be a male character full of power and competence who still has to be funny. Because serious people–adult males, especially–are boring!

Or so hundreds of Hollywood screenwriters would have us believe. Not just screenwriters, but novelists, TV writers, and those in the comic book business.

Jamaul over at Jamual Writes discusses this in a great post called “Always Be Funny.” The new God of War video game, and its strong, silent, and brutal male protagonist got him thinking about the phenomenon:

So, I was just on Twitter talking about the new God of War video game, which I’m watching via YouTube.

I love this damn game. It’s amazing.

But I did notice something about the main character – Kratos.

Dude is uber serious. Never crack jokes. Never smiles.

Even Wired wrote a piece on Kratos – and his appetite for violence, claiming that’s he’s toxic.

I disagree. I think Kratos is just a personality type. Strong, but silent type. A warrior. And that’s the thing with the personality type – they don’t think, they just do. Tough, stoic.

Much like the John Waynes, Clint Eastwoods of the old Westerns, which I love.

These characters don’t talk much, quick to anger, disagreeable, grumpy, strong, leaders, and blaze their own lane.

They’re my favorite type of characters. Which seems to be a relic, nowadays.

The pathetic state of video game journalism aside, imagine a world where a quietly bad-ass character is considered “toxic.” Throw out all your old John Ford westerns and Mickey Spillaine noir thrillers, I guess! Nope, men have to be seen as non-threatening, cute, cuddly teddybears.

I think what Jamual is noticing is that male characters used to have some kind of danger to them, an edge, an element of unpredictability that could erupt at any moment–and here’s the important part–against the bad guys.

Charles Bronson wasn’t mowing down the innocent in Death Wish. Clint Eastwood wasn’t abusing women and children in Dirty Harry. Richard Roundtree wasn’t beating down the righteous in Shaft.

These guys were just bad mofos doing what had to be done. Even Han Solo, grumpy and quippy himself, was competent, and his humor fit the character and his swashbuckling way of life. Which is masculine. Which is why, I think, our cultural elitists in charge of making this stuff need to neuter the men. As Jack Donovan is so fond of saying, strong men acting together are the biggest threat to the nanny state. So the “gang,” if you will, must be broken. Continue reading “Would John Wayne Approve?”

If You Really Want to Change the World, Go Into Entertainment

People like stories. People like movies. People like songs that are catchy and stick in their brain.

What sticks in their brain is the important thing.

This is where I have changed my opinion on what some call “message fiction”: fiction (or any medium traditionally called escapist) that sets out to make a sociopolitical point as opposed to being pure entertainment.

You know what? Being against “message fiction” is why those of us who have messages counter to the post-modern rot infecting every artform don’t get anywhere.

The question about message fiction isn’t whether or not to produce it. It is instead whose message is being pushed?

If you want to change minds, you have to engage with the arts. This is where those who in any way run counter to post-modernism, radical leftism, and identity politics always fail.

As time passes, I realize my thinking is more in line with my friend, author Rawle Nyanzi: it is a question of temperament:

Art is not immediately useful; it neither grows your food nor supplies your energy. Except for a handful of megastars, art is low-paid. Most artists rely on either a job or on other people to support them in their endeavors; “don’t quit your day job” is a cliche for a reason, as is “starving artist.” It requires the mind to break with conventional modes of thinking and spend much time speculating on bizarre possibilities. Art requires one to focus on emotion.

This is as far from the conservative mindset as one can get.

If you are actually good at creating music, or fiction, or movies, or art, you’re probably not a run-of-the-mill “conservative.”

I’m pretty traditional and well-ordered in my personal life, but I’m also pretty artsy-fartsy, I would encounter so much knee-jerk push-back from my conservative friends and family a lot of things: the clothes I’d wear, the music I’d listen to and produce, the people I’d hang out with, the movies I’d like, even the way I’d do my hair.

“You listen to that band?! They’re blah blah blah.”

“You liked that movie?! The director is blah blah blah.”

“You liked that book?! It’s so weird and the author is blah blah blah.”

“You’re friends with that guy? Yeah, he’s a good guitar player, but he’s so weird!

And so on. To paraphrase Brian Niemeier, this is why we lose.

One thing conservatives are good at is preserving tradition. This is important–I’m an Orthodox Christian, for crying out loud.

But one things conservatives–or maybe just a certain type–are bad at is appreciating or creating anything new or different or innovative.

I think that this is just how some people’s mind works. It’s a double-edged sword. “New” or “different” = bad and dangerous to many. Maybe it boils down to the idea that society has been burned by new ideas before that have turned out to be disastrous.

But when it comes to art, this can hamper the creative process, as creativity is often making connections between things that other people don’t see.

The leftist’s problem is that his initial reaction is to automatically embrace the new and different and not only replace the traditional, but outright destroy it.

That is insanity.

Personally, and this is how my mind works, I crave novelty, but I like trying to fuse it with tradition. This is why I can’t see “message fiction” as a dirty word anymore. Politics is downstream from culture, after all. Why would anyone opposed to what they see in the arts unilaterally disarm themselves by being outrightly dismissive of the arts?

Yet that is exactly what the self-professed “Defenders of Civilization” have done for decades.

“We’re too busy working real jobs,” they snark smartly. Oh, go to hell.

What these clowns don’t realize is that the message doesn’t even have to be political. It can be something as elemental as “good exists and should be protected.” Hell, intellectual consistency and equality under the law are messages that could be woven into a story in such a way that the reader won’t even realize that they’re imbibing a message. But the message will stick with them, because that’s what art does. Continue reading “If You Really Want to Change the World, Go Into Entertainment”

Actions “Versus” Introspection: A Defense of Literary Fiction

Action! Adventure! Romance! Inner turmoil!

Wait, what?

Yeah, you heard me. These are things I personally like in stories. And I don’t think I’m alone. Otherwise, explain why one of the biggest tenets in prose fiction screenwriting is create conflict!

This seems self-evident. After all, what good is a story where everyone gets along and everything is perfectly fine? That’s the realm of children’s books, which serve their purpose.

And let me say, as the parent of a young child, the above description actually fits baby books more. You’d be amazed at how soon some form of conflict enters into kids books. Look at Dr. Seuss books, for example. The Sneetches were basically at war! The bitter butter battle was a battle! That dastardly Grinch was out to ruin Christmas!

Even kids need to see conflict be overcome.

Which brings me to an interesting conversation held with several writing friends on Twitter. It started out with Gitabishi’s excellent post about “hard” versus “soft” sci-fi and veered into both the introspective and the ridiculous before Jill Domschot said something that struck me:

I’m inclined to agree with her, hence the use of quotation marks around the word “versus” in the title of this post.

The upshot of the conversation was that everything is a writer’s tool, and the writer uses the appropriate tool for the task at hand. But that’s a bit wishy washy, so I’m going to do something a little against the grain when it comes to action-packed fiction writing, and stick up for a much maligned genre of novel: literary fiction.

Yup. I’m a fan. Take a guy like John Irving, for example. Sure, he has a creepy fixation with characters engaging incest, as well as characters losing limbs (including a certain male member), but it’s not just his prose I enjoy. His situations are crafted to come to a head at the critical point, and his set-ups are expertly foreshadowed and deftly executed in ways that only seem obvious in retrospect–including the unfortunate inadvertent amputation of a man’s body part (I’m looking at you, The World According to Garp).

Or a writer like Michael Chabon. There’s a bit too much affectation in his characters–Telegraph Avenue was particularly painful at times–but their inner dramas are exquisite, and I like how he makes them intersect with the plot’s external conflicts, in explosive and often hilarious ways. .

My goal when I write is to take this approach, and just have more sword fights and explosions. Continue reading “Actions “Versus” Introspection: A Defense of Literary Fiction”

Casablanca: What a Damn Near Perfect Movie Can Teach About Writing

My wife and I watched the 1942 classic Casablancaa few nights ago. It had been over a dozen years since I had seen it, and it was the first time for my wife. All I have to say is that the movie is classic for a reason, and that it gets better with each viewing.

And what struck me were the lessons this movie provides about novel writing. Sure, it’s a different art than screenwriting, but several techniques translate very well across the mediums. Here are the ones that struck me.

I won’t give away the plot here, since this isn’t a movie review per se, and because I want you to watch it in a pristine, unspoiled state. But there may be mild spoilers, so don’t get mad at me if you keep reading! Continue reading Casablanca: What a Damn Near Perfect Movie Can Teach About Writing”

Tough Choices (In Writing and In Life)

Do you ever read a book or see a movie and think to yourself, “Where’s the tension?

When it seems like a given that nothing bad will ever happen to your characters (ahem, Disney Star Wars), things get boring.

It’s analogous to music: we need tension and release, delayed gratification, point and counterpoint.

No matter the kind of story, we usually want to see our characters face difficulties and then overcome them. Along with this, we want the outcome to be uncertain even as we hope for the best.

I remember reading comic books as a kid. There was a brief period in the 80 and into the early 90s where, when something bad happened, like a character dying, it had consequences.

Related to this is the joy, albeit a perverse one, audiences take in seeing protagonists make tough choices: Does our hero save the child from a burning building, or capture our villain, who we know will kill more later one? Does our hero steal the life-saving medication for his friend or spouse or child at the expense of someone else dying, or leave it and look for another solution?

This isn’t to say that ambiguity is the magic formula for a compelling story. It means that the instances when there are no “good” choices make for interesting stories. Continue reading “Tough Choices (In Writing and In Life)”

Reset: Chapter 35: Sunday, September 9, 2001 (4)

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Joe stood in front of Zack’s door knocking loudly, a plastic bag full of NHU shirts and a jacket clutched in his other hand. He’d give it a five count, and if Zack didn’t answer–

Two seconds later, the door widened a crack and out popped Zack’s head. Anger flashed on his face, his mouth open with a rude word chambered and ready to fire, until he saw the source of the interruption. “What’s wrong?!” he said, his eyes wide.

“Hi Zack. Got a minute?” Through the crack in the door he could see a very attractive, very naked co-ed covering herself with a sheet.

“Uh, that’s, uh . . .” Zack flushed. He lowered his voice and spoke close to Joe’s ear. “I didn’t, um, we . . . you know, I didn’t–”

Joe held up a hand. “I’m not your father, Zack. I just wanted to say thanks for everything.”

“What’re you thanking me for?”

“What’s the problem?” called the girl.

Zack turned. Joe noticed he had no shirt on. “One second.”

“I can get going . . . .”

“No!” Zack stepped out, wearing nothing but his boxers. Joe admired his hard, muscular body, eighteen and already built like an action figure. “I don’t know what you got going on, man, but I’m going with you.”

“Not so loud,” said Joe, flapping a hand like the words were real and he could bat them away. “And no you’re not.”

“Come on, we’re in this together. Let me just get dressed and we’ll talk, get our plan straight–”

“No talking, Zack. That’s the point. I didn’t come here to talk.” He put a hand on Zack’s upper arm, resisting the urge to squeeze just to see how hard the muscle was. “I’ve messed things up enough without dragging anybody else further into it.”

“Come on, that’s not fair.”

“No!” He said it dad-stern, one of the few advantages of being a thirty-something trapped in the body of a teen–it lent him a certain gravitas unattainable for most college-aged boys.

Zack clammed up with an audible snap. Joe went on: “I came here just to say thanks, and to see you before . . . in case . . . you know. I figured I owe you that much.”

“The only thing you owe me is letting me help you.”

The door crept slightly open. “What’s going on?” said the girl, peeking into the hallway.

“Hi,” said Joe. “He’ll be with you in a second.” He caught a glimpse of the girl’s lovely mocha body and quickly turned away, feeling like a dirty old man.

“Shut the door,” said Zack. “Please.” The girl did as asked.

“You’ve got more than enough on your plate, Zack,” said Joe.

Zack waved a hand over his shoulder. “I don’t care about any of this, man. I care about saving those people. I couldn’t forgive myself if I just let it happen and did nothing.”

“You won’t have to. This isn’t your fight. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you, blank pages waiting to be filled. Play football–”

“I don’t care about that.”

“Play football,” said Joe, “get your degree, do all the things you never got a chance to do before you . . .

“Died,” said Zack softly. “You can say it: before I died.” Continue reading Reset: Chapter 35: Sunday, September 9, 2001 (4)”

Book Review: The Monster of Mordwin: A Tale of the School of Spells and War, Book 5 by Morgon Newquist

Alis and Cahan are back with another adventure through Thillon with The Monster of Mordwin, the fifth tale in Morgon Newquist’s series of short stories, The School of Spells and War. Here, the wizard Alis and the warrior Cahan are sent to Mordwin College to investigate the appearance of a strange, moaning, and rather muddy golem that’s been menacing the lands near the school.

The format of the series has settled into a pattern–the odd-numbered books are adventures, and the even-numbered books are more interstitial character studies set at the titular school (the Scholae, as the characters call it). At least, this has been the pattern so far.

And it works, since Alis and Cahan are both employed by the school as investigators who help those facing some sort of unsolvable crisis, magical or otherwise.

It’s a fun series, especially if you’re into no-frills, fast-paced fantasy with a gentle sense of humor and a dash of “will-they-or-won’t-they?” romance. Mrs. Newquist is a lean writer, and you won’t find many wasted words here. Even better, her characters are likable and heroic.

Without revealing the plot, I will say that I like how the villains in these books are rarely cartoonishly evil: They are often sympathetic and have reasons for doing what they do, though these reasons don’t excuse what they’ve done. And there is an overarching threat, first encountered in book one, that looms over the entire narrative, the strange beings of darkness called the Formless.

That said, I do wish there was a little more sword-fighting and magic-slinging. I’d love to see Cahan finally get a chance to let ‘er rip and slay some baddies. He seems kind of sidelined by the magical nature of the problems he and Alis have checked out thus far.

I also want to see more of the Formless, but this is a minor quibble. I’m sure they’ll be popping up again sooner or later.

The Monster of Mordwin is another fun entry into the School of Spells and War series. Do yourself a favor and check them out if you’re into traditional fantasy told well.

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