I Needed This

Below is a YouTube embed of a recent find from Open Culture on Twitter.  It is David Gilmour of Pink Floyd singing a musical arrangement of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18.  It’s been a rough week.  This is something that just makes you feel good if you’re having one of those days.  Enjoy.

 

Don’t Be Your Hero

 

In “Steal Like an Artist” author Austin Kleon points to the stories of artists who failed to live up to the ideals of their heroes and so became the distinct people they are today.  I’ve seen that pattern in myself in hindsight.

I think back on some of the student films I made and see echoes of Mel Brooks, Aaron Williams, Rod Serling, Roger Corman, John Carpenter, Tim Burton…  I was aping a hundred different dudes in those 4 years and change.  Looking back it was pretty awkwardly jammed together.

In fact, between now and high school, I was on one long bender of trying to be The Next Whoever.  In the process I kept butting heads with the reality that I’m not any of those people.  Frustrating at first but in hindsight I’ve mapped out many of my limitations and now have a clearer picture of who I can be.

I’ll be producing more mentalism videos in the near future so keep an eye out.  I have a few experiments I want to try.

Ignorance and Elitism

If you’re not checking out Open Culture a couple times a week, you’re missing out.  Easily one of the most fascinating sites online right now and one you’ll be seeing pop up again in this blog in the near future.  This time around I wanted to share something I picked up from them today: a short essay by Isaac Aasimov about the undercurrent of anti-intellectualism that informs various facets of American culture.

I don’t want to make this a long political thing.  In part because the last few months have been so full of news, revelations, surprises and scandals that it’s getting to be exhausting.  Rather, I wanted to offer up the link for you to make of it what you will and share that I really do agree with Aasimov that we all have the potential to become brilliant, creative, educated and witty.  Like anything else, these are skills to be practiced and trained.

Reading books for pleasure doesn’t make one an elitist.  It makes you a reader.  Many people talk about relying on their gut feelings and instincts, but those are all the product of training your skills to the point where you don’t need to consciously think of them anymore to be good at them.  I love learning new things because there’s a world of stuff out there that I don’t even know I’m in to yet.  It’s out there for you too.  So even if you disagree with Isaac, try giving Open Culture a shot.  Browse it a couple times a week and look for something that catches your interest.  You may find something that makes your life better, something that improves your existing knowledge and skills.  Maybe you’ll be inspired to take up a new hobby.  Or at the very least, you can learn something new and cool.

Coming soon…

Recently I’ve been working on something with a friend of mine.  We’ll be launching a new site for it in the coming weeks, so until then here’s a hint of what’s to come:

 

PANEL 1: The party move further back into the room to see a stairway spiraling down against the walls of a deep pit.

 

PANEL 2: Theo takes point and they begin to descend.

 

PANEL 3: As soon as all of them are on the steps, Elathil’s eyes bug out.

 

ELATHIL

Don’t-!

 

PANEL 4: A switch clicks with a step Soren takes.

Little Moments: Tropico 4

We’ve all had those little moments when a piece of art or entertainment strikes a peculiar chord with us.  That one guitar solo that almost makes you cry, that sing-along chorus that you always crank on the speakers, that one scene in the movie where everything pays off just so perfectly, a particular character just speaks to us.  From time to time, I want to share a few of those moments.  If you have one to share, put it up in the comment section.

All that said, there was a moment that always stayed with me when I was playing Tropico 4 once.  For those who aren’t familiar, the Tropico franchise is a series of sim/management games set in a fictional Caribbean nation.  You play the president of this small republic and can adopt policies both domestic and foreign from there.  In this particular game, it was a sandbox island that I was running as a tourist resort.  A lot of people didn’t like tourism in T4, but I personally found it a fun challenge and perfectly viable as a strategy.

Anyway, at some point I activated the Chinese Development Act, an edict from the Modern Times expansion pack that gave me 100 immigrants from China.  The economy was stalling, but we had plenty of housing, so I needed workers.  Among the immigrants, I soon noticed one of them enrolled at the island’s high school.  His name was Bik Kwok.  It was fun to say, so I followed him for a while and saw him graduate to become a customs officer.

Story starts rather mundane, but stay with me and it will get more interesting soon.  Fast forward to the last ten years of my mandate.  My finance minister passed away and I needed to find someone new.  I looked at my list of possible candidates, and one particular young customs officer was by far the most qualified candidate.  I looked at his name: Rafael Kwok,  I blinked a couple times.

I paused the game to do some investigating.  I looked up Rafael’s citizen info and he was indeed Bik Kwok’s son.  He had graduated college a couple years back and gone to work at the same customs office his father had.  Bik himself was now retired and living with his wife in a modern apartment complex with air conditioning overlooking the sprawling city park.

It was a strangely touching moment.  An immigrant who made a solid life for himself and whose son went on to hold a prominent seat in government after starting out in the same job as his father.

The English language really needs a word for things like this.  Again, please share your experiences like this in the comments.

“Just because you are a character doesn’t mean you have character.”

Of late, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about character.  I’m going to be launching a comic soon and debuting new shows and videos.  I’ve had plenty of time to think about it.  And there are a couple of things I’ve learned that a lot of other people miss when they think of good writing and characterization.

Example.  We’ve all met at least one person who insists that some cypher of a character is really well-written and fleshed out and deep.  And when pressed to tell you what their character is they often end up telling you the character’s backstory.  Exposition is not characterization.  To really understand someone, you have to know how they think and more importantly how they feel.

Character is defined by the choices they make and those choices are informed by their feelings about everything else that has happened to them.  If you spend time on the internet, sooner or later you’re going to run into one or more loudmouths who insist on repeating their banal platitude, “Reals before feels.”  There’s another blog post in there, but that’s for another day.  The phrase itself indicates a strange sort of contempt for the human emotional spectrum in spite of the fact that it provides us with the lenses we need to interpret the world around us and our reactions to it.

Take for example Captain America.  Steve Rogers is the world’s youngest 90-year-old because he was frozen in a coma since the 1940’s.  That isn’t characterization, that’s backstory.  The fact that he misses the people he left behind, feels afraid that there’s no home to come back to, that no matter well he adapts to life in the modern world it may not be where he belongs?  That is character.

Judy Hopps being a rabbit isn’t character, but how she feels about the way her society perceives and judges her for the way she was born is.  Dr. Manhattan being the closest analog anyone has to a god in his reality isn’t character, but his feelings of loneliness and isolation as a result are.  Aragorn being a royal scion isn’t character, but his reluctance to take the throne for fear of the corrupting influence of power is.

Not only is backstory not character, but neither is physical appearance or interpersonal relationships.  If you want these details to tell us something, then we have to know how the character feels about him.  Plenty of comedies have a fat best friend, but if we have no idea how he feels about his weight, then it serves no purpose other than to make him look different from the other characters.  Worse yet, many people still mistake superficial details like fat, redhead or gender for character.  If you’ve ever read any gaming webcomics, think of how many of them feature a lazy, slapdash female character whose entire gimmick is that she is a girl who plays games.

All of this is important because it determines how the story unfolds.  Do you think Travis Bickle would have worked well as a protagonist for The Shawshank Redemption?  How about Charles Foster Cain as a major player in His Girl Friday?  Would the Gormenghast novels be better if the villainous Steerpike was replaced with Patrick Bateman?  Don’t underestimate just how important it is to properly match character to plot.

All of this of course begs the question, “If that’s how not to write, then how do I write a good character?”  That’s a good question, hypothetical reader I just made up.  One that I hope to answer in a later blog post.

S1E09 – The Pirate Bay

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The party are out on the seas tracking down the legendary pirate ship, The Tyrant’s Hand, said to be crewed by undead.  They discover after their initial encounter that there is another force pulling the pirate’s strings toward some nefarious purpose.

S1E09 The Pirate Bay

S1E08 – Schism

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The party hear of political rumblings as factions draw lines and start more arguments than normal.  It doesn’t seem like much and things take a turn for the darker when a racially motivated murder shocks the city of Erinol.  Another murder, and Horg is accused of being the killer.  Ciaran enlists Elathil’s help in trying to clear his friend and find the true culprit.

S1E08 Schism

S1E7 – The Delicate Art of Shameless Self-Promotion

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Soren and company visit the neighboring nation of Serain when they’re hired to help a senate candidate with his campaign.  They discover before long that their employer has an ulterior and very sinister agenda.

S1E07 The Delicate Art of Shameless Self Promotion

S1E6 – Arcanapalooza

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The biggest tournament of spellcasting mastery begins and Soren is competing!  Unfortunately, so is Axeron.  As Soren fights his way through the games to be the best, he has to confront the fact that he still hasn’t let go of his resentment for his Academy rival or the fact that Axeron may actually be the better mage.

S1E06 Arcanapalooza