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Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

I don’t talk much about comedy writing, which is funny (no pun intended) because much of my work has actually been comedy writing. I’ve been doing my comic for over ten years at this point, and I spent a good number of years writing scripts for a television sitcom (which never got picked up). In addition to that, much of my childhood and teen years was spent reading humorous offerings – Douglas Adams novels, Calvin and Hobbes collections, Dave Barry columns, etc.

I think it’s safe to say that over the numerous years I’ve picked up some tips here and there. And when I see something that could use a little work to make it funnier, it just gnaws at me. So I thought this would be a good forum for that.

I follow a blog called Texts From Superheroes. It’s fictitious text conversations between comic book characters, and it’s a lot of fun. There are a handful that have had me actually laughing out loud at my computer screen. The following example came close, but for one small misstep. Let’s see if you can find it…

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Now, before I start, let me give you the disclaimer that humor is certainly in the eye of the beholder. I’m in no way an expert on it, but there are certain things that just feel right to me. And this offering from Texts From Superheroes was off. Why? Because they went one step too far with the punchline.

Read the conversation again, but stop at Hawkeye’s last message and ignore Deadpool’s last one. Doesn’t that feel like a much stronger ending? I get that Deadpool finds himself in wacky situations – it’s what makes him an entertaining character. But to have him actually explain the ludicrous situation takes a little bit of the humor out of the exchange. By leaving it at “WHO DID YOU PISS OFF!?”, it leaves the reader wondering and perhaps concocting in their own mind who the offended party is. The last bit from Deadpool is basically like explaining the punchline to a joke (and, to be brutally honest, “Ninja Whalers” didn’t exactly tickle my funny bone).

Really, all it boils down to is an age-old axiom: Less is more. Don’t assume your readers are dumb and explain everything. Sure, some of them might be, but don’t let your writing suffer for fear of losing the attention of that percentage of people.

What? Oh, no, I wasn’t talking about you. You’re not only smart, but you’re attractive and you smell nice.

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I didn’t really get to watch the show Scrubs when it aired on television. It began while I was in college, and my schedules were always so all over the place that I couldn’t really watch shows with any kind regularity. Plus, I had access to Cartoon Network and I’m a big cartoon nerd. In any case, following college I moved out to California, and we never paid for cable or bothered to purchase rabbit ears (when you could still do that). It was the beginning of our TV being used solely for DVDs and video games (and now Netflix).

But I digress. Scrubs. I had always heard that it was funny, but I didn’t have a chance to dive into it until several years ago when I started watching it on Netflix. And I really enjoyed it, so much so that I just finished my third run-through of it.  It has that wonderful mix of zany and heart-tugging that I like.

It has its problems, of course, like many shows do. But there was one that I definitely picked up on this time around, one that had bothered me subtly before this and made itself known in my third run-through. In at least three episodes there is a moment where a female character is called out for an odd or unexpected reaction, and her response is more or less this: “I’m a woman.” (There is one episode where this bothered me so much that I refused to watch it this time around.) And these are the blatant moments; I’m sure there may have been other similar but subtler ones and I just didn’t notice (I tend to watch sitcoms while I’m doing dishes or other work).

Now, I get that there are differences between men and women, and whether those differences are genetic or developed based on the way society presses women to act, I’m not smart enough to say. I just know that they are there.  Regardless, to boil down a character’s reaction as “I’m a woman” is rather insulting to women. Not only that, but it’s also lazy writing.

Don’t make your characters do something because they’re a guy or a girl. Put some reasoning behind the action. Give the character some dimension. Have it make sense to the viewer (or reader). But don’t cop out with a simple “I’m a woman”.

But then again, I could be wrong. I am, after all, a man.

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As a writer and an artist, I sometimes feel that I’m failure in that I’m not completely depressed and/or write depressing things. It’s a stupid thing to think about, but when many great artists and writers line up with that, it’s hard to believe that someone as generally happy and content as I am could ever be a good artist or writer, or even a great one.

At a writers Q&A panel that I participated in recently, I was surprised to hear devastating stories from the other three authors that I was with, and how those events shaped their creative lives. I sat off to the side thinking that I had never had to deal with anything like that, and I questioned if I was even a legitimate creative because of it. Should I have been damaged in some way in order to draw inspiration from and to give inspiration to others?

The answer is a resounding no. It’s always a momentary thing when I start walking that line of thought, but I always come back to the fact that it’s not a requirement to have to deal with an extreme tragedy in order to be creative. It’s a requirement to deal with life, the good and bad, to be able to draw on both when the creative product needs it.

It’s a similar debate that I have with myself when I’m writing and I feel that I’m not using enough conflict in the story. But I absolutely hate when I’m reading or watching something wherein terrible things frequently happen to a character or characters. Yes, I get that sometimes it’s a cliffhanger, and yes, I get that it’s supposed to keep readers/viewers engaged. But I do like to see good things happen to people more than just once amidst a sea of awful events. Experiencing too much negativity through a story as a reader or viewer just exhausts me emotionally, and it ends up costing me enjoyment of the creative product.

But this is all personal opinion. I know there are people out there that like to read the dark, depressing things, and there are people out there that want to read the fluffy, happy things. I like a good mixture. And that’s why there NEEDS to be creatives who have all experienced different things, good and bad, joyful and ugly. That way there’s a book or a TV show for each person who needs it.

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Lately I’ve been watching a bunch of videos on YouTube dealing with video games, whether it be top ten lists, historical looks at the industry, or rare collections. In the midst of watching many of the videos, I find myself sort of wishing that I was more of a gamer. I’m a retro gamer; I love my old Nintendo consoles and the older games will always be more of a draw for me. But some of the more modern games look amazing to me, not as necessarily just as a gamer, but as a writer.

There was a time when video games were simple, yet still had crazy stories attached to them. I mean, Yars Revenge for Atari – which is one of my favorite Atari games – is repetitive and really doesn’t make any sense, but it actually has a story! Obviously, as technology advanced and allowed games more room to grow, the stories actually fit in with what was happening on the screen. Then, at some point, the majority of games became the story.

ff6For me, my all time favorite video game story is Final Fantasy VI (which was released as Final Fantasy III on the SNES when I was younger and first played it). This was my first real interaction with a game that was mostly story, and a great one at that. It had a fantastic setting that meshed magic and technology (a premise that I stole for my first serious story), it had characters that were fleshed out and believable, and it grew in scale as the story progressed and became absolutely epic. Yet, at the same time, it was still fun and lighthearted in many aspects, echoing some of my favorite fantasy authors like David Eddings.  I may be biased and it may be because I’m so far removed from the game at this point (haven’t played it in way too long), but I don’t recall having any problems with the writing in that game. The same could not be said for the next few installments in the franchise, however.

Nowadays, the stories combined with the exceptional graphics capabilities available make games more or less interactive movies. I know I’m behind the times in writing about this now, but my life and circumstances haven’t allowed me to shell out for new consoles or powerful gaming PCs in order to play the newest of the new games.  I typically don’t get to play games until long after they’ve been released.  In any case, it does amaze me to think that at some point, jumping into the video game industry as a writer would have been a very lucrative career move as well as a satisfying creative life.

Perhaps someday when I have a little more time to do so, I can actually start playing some of these games and immerse myself into the stories. By then, though, who knows how far video games will have advanced? Perhaps we’ll have reached the peak of the visual works and then people will be forced to up the ante on the writing, making even more amazing video games to play.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to kill a half-hour here and there by playing The Simpsons: Hit & Run.

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It’s been a while since I talked about the writing of a television show, and since I just finished up the two seasons of BoJack Horseman available on Netflix, I figured now was as good a time as any.

When BoJack Horseman first came out, I kept seeing people posting about it on Facebook, always in a positive light. But I didn’t get around to watching it until recently, long after the posts had stopped. I needed something to watch while doing other things (I often throw a show on while I’m doing dishes, because it typically takes me the 20-30 minutes of a short episode), and I figured it was time.

BoJack_HorsemanIf you’re unfamiliar with BoJack Horseman, it’s an animated series that takes place in a world where humans and anthropomorphic animals live side-by-side like it ain’t no thang. The show centers around BoJack, a washed-up sitcom star, as he navigates life post-career and deals with a massive amount of baggage from his childhood. The people he surrounds himself with – either willingly or otherwise – include Diane, a young woman who is ghost writing his autobiography; Mr. Peanutbutter, an overeager and sometimes oblivious golden lab who had a sitcom that rode the fame of BoJack’s; Todd, BoJack’s roommate who often finds himself in the middle of or the cause of wild tomfoolery (or as he likes to say, “Toddfoolery”); and Princess Caroline, a pink cat and BoJack’s agent (also occasional girlfriend/booty call).

While the show was amusing and interesting enough to keep my attention through both seasons, I felt like it had so much more potential than it actually reached in twenty-four episodes. The animal/human society paved the way for a handful of pretty funny jokes and gags (penguins running Penguin Publishing, BoJack’s sitcom being called “Horsin’ Around”, etc.), but they all but disappeared in the wake of drama. Drama-laden drama heaped on top of more drama. Oh my God, so much drama.

Now, I’m not adverse to drama or any kind of seriousness in an animated series. My favorite animated series of all time is Mission Hill, which perfectly mixed serious and funny. But BoJack just got too darn serious at times, and it was cliche sitcom tropes. There was the “he-loves-her-but-she-loves-the-other-guy” thing in the first season, followed by the “does-she-really-love-the-other-guy?” thing, followed by the “the-first-guy-kissed-her-and-made-things-weird” thing. Oh, and I should mention that the whole “he-loves-her” thing was telegraphed loudly from the very beginning. Opposite sex character who is frustrated by the other character? Yup, there’s gonna be romantic tension there… sigh.

And the second season was just… well, it felt like it was all over the place. There were several through-lines of story in the season, but none of them were particularly interesting. Even the “resurrection” of J.D. Salinger as a show runner for a ridiculous game show only gave a short moment’s worth of amusement before disappearing in the wake of – surprise – more drama.  Drama is only interesting when a character learns from the trials and tribulations he goes through.  If BoJack learned anything in two seasons, it doesn’t feel that way.

The show definitely has its strong moments, though. When the writers hit a good joke, they really hit a good joke. Case in point, when Mr. Peanutbutter is explaining how in love he is with Diane, he makes a comment about how he spends his day – curled up on the couch, often after digging a little nest for himself, and then getting excited when he hears the car. Get it? He’s a dog. It was really clever and didn’t call attention to itself blatantly. That’s the kind of writing I would love to see in all of the show.

I think the best episode was the fifth episode of the second season. This was one of those episodes where the B story out-shined the A story, and then both came together in the end. The A story was a rather uninteresting one of BoJack trying to bond with the director of the movie he’s working on, and the B story is Todd trying to rescue an escaped anthropomorphic chicken, who he starts to bond with, from having to go back to the chicken farm where she’ll be slaughtered and eaten. It’s just the right amount of ridiculousness with a bit of emotion thrown in, and it had me laughing and hooked through the whole thing. I can’t say that about most episodes.

However, despite all my negativity about the more serious aspects of the show, there is enough good writing to keep me invested in the characters. Even though the drama and bad decisions that BoJack make get tired and annoying after a while, you still want to root for him to get his shit together. Even though the relationship between Mr. Peanutbutter and Diane seems rocky in an overdone way, you still want them to be happy. And Princess Caroline has the right amount of life problems, mostly stemming from her internal struggle over having a stable life or pushing her career ever forward, and the right amount of humor and sass to balance each other out and make her probably one of the most complex and interesting characters on the show.

The short summary is that BoJack Horseman needs to stop taking itself so seriously. The writing needs to scale back on the drama and integrate a lot more of the wacky humor that keeps me interested in the show. And it needs to lose the common sitcom tropes! It’s kind of sad when a show with a neat premise like animals and humans living together ends up not doing anything original with that premise (what I call Third Rock From the Sun syndrome).

I do look forward to season three just to see if the writers learned anything from the first two seasons. If not… well, Netflix has a lot of other things to watch.

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This post will not be an overly positive one, but that’s the point of it – life is not always positive. So, if you don’t want to look down the barrel of a negative, albeit realistic, post, you might want to wait until I do my next album review post later in the week.

I grew up hearing the age old axioms “If you try enough at something, you’ll succeed” and “If you want it bad enough, you’ll get it.” And I fell into the trap of believing that for a long time. But when you boil it down to its essence, it’s just words.

Now, I’m not saying don’t try. I’m not saying you shouldn’t want something with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. I’m not saying that you’ll never achieve your goal or succeed at something important to you. I’m telling you that much of what gets tossed around as inspiration pep-talking is not infallible doctrine, so don’t build up yourself on that foundation.

I’m only thirty-four. I understand that I have many years to try to become to a successful writer. But it’s hard to maintain that positive outlook when I’ve been writing non-stop since I was fifteen or sixteen, working my butt off at publishing my own stuff, and sacrificing so many things to do both, and I still feel like I’m treading water. And guess what? There’s the distinct possibility that I might never reach that success point that I’m aiming for.

My realizing that doesn’t make it a forgone conclusion. My realizing that doesn’t mean I’ve given up. What it means is that I’m not blindly running forward going, “I’m going to win, I’m going to win, I’m going to win…” I might never reach that finish line. Then again, I might. But I can’t be sure.

I know people who believe in the power of positive thinking. And I do try to stay positive. But as a writer, I’m aware of reality and what life really is, and what it can do to someone. I can’t turn a blind eye to that; I have to accept it, but at the same time I have to keep up the fight. Why? Because the possibility is still there.

In short, don’t be a fool and leap blindly, trusting for the best. Check to make sure your parachute is fully functioning and jump with knowledge that you might hit the ground hard.

I warned you this wasn’t a lighthearted post.

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Being an independent creative is tough in a lot of ways. I think one of the toughest for me is when to stop being nice.

I know, that sounds weird, right? But it’s the truth. As an indie creator with a lot of friends who are also in the game, and as a nice guy, I try to help out where I can. This means I’ll try to buy something when I can (which is not as often as I’d like), spread the word on my social networks, share advice, etc. And if I don’t, I feel guilty about it, like I’ve let my friends down.

The thing that I have to remind myself of, however, is that it’s okay if I can’t help out. I juggle so many projects that I’m constantly pushing my own things, getting word out about my writing and art, and that leaves me with little time to do so for other people. Not to mention that I don’t want to bombard my followers with my own projects and someone else’s. And there is a bit of selfishness in that; I want people following me to see my stuff.  There’s nothing wrong with that because that’s why they’re following me in the first place. In short, I sometimes have to block out everything else and focus on myself.

That’s not a bad thing; that’s the nature of being an entrepreneur. And it’s not to say that there won’t be times that there are lulls in your work where you can promote someone else’s work, especially if you admire it. Paying it forward is a wonderful thing to do.

On the flip side of the coin, it’s important to remember that nobody is obligated to help you out, either. It doesn’t matter if it’s friends, family, readers, or strangers – nobody owes you anything, and you can’t hold that against them. If they do help you out, that’s fantastic and you should thank them up and down, and return the favor if and when you can. But if they don’t, keep in mind that they have their own projects and their own lives. Or maybe they just don’t have a connection to your work. Not everyone is required to like what you do, even if they’re related to you or go out drinking with you once a week.

In short, be good to people and help them out, but be good to yourself, too. We creatives often forget to do the latter.

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