Question of the Week: Character Deaths

Fans fear Joss Whedon and George R.R. Martin not because they invented the idea of killing beloved characters but because they make it so painful. Some viewers and readers love the added suspense of never knowing who is “safe,” while a few can’t bear the tension and turn away. I suspect this division is similar to the one between people who love roller coasters and those who’d never get near one.

In superhero comics, of course, death is seldom permanent. Nobody believes it when you kill Spider-Man or Captain America or Superman. Certainly not since Phoenix. The exceptions (like Mar-Vell) stand out because they are so rare.

I am one of those who enjoys the danger that a favorite character might die, not because I want the death because I thrive on suspense. My wife, while she loves Game of Thrones, can hardly bear to watch after an event like Season One’s famous execution and, of course, the infamous Red Wedding. We joke that the perfect movies for her are those in which everyone’s a good person and nobody gets hurt. That’s not actually true (she loves The Godfather, where everyone’s a bad person and everyone gets hurt), but it makes us laugh at the same time that it points out we enjoy different things from fiction.

How do you react to the death of beloved characters? Do you prefer the sense that anyone could die? Or do you want some assurance that by the end the “good guys” will prevail and get medals?

Question of the Week: Endings

Even the first time I saw The Return of the King, the interminable series of conclusions made me laugh. Most of them were good scenes, but they went on and on until I was thinking, “All right, already!”

On the other end of the spectrum, the wonderful Chinese action-fantasy Mister Vampire stops in freeze-frame at the instant the heroes defeat the monster—and it’s far from the only film to do so.

Somewhere between these two extremes are the Marvel movies, with their one (and now usually two) mid- or post-credits scenes. Do you find the placement of those annoying or fun?

Twice I’ve ended a book with a very short conclusion, once because of a short deadline and another time intentionally. Both times I received a few comments from readers wishing there’d been a longer denouement. So far, I haven’t gone the Return of the King route, but I’m wondering where the sweet spot is, or if there even is a sweet spot for how long a story’s ending should be.

What are some of your favorite conclusions from movies or books? Can you think of one that you loved because it was very long or very short? How about one that you hated because of its length?


Question of the Week: Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Better minds have come up with cleverer answers to the most common question posed to writers, but I’m one of those who replies in all honesty, “everything.”

Of course, no one likes that answer, so often I’ll point out the conscious influences on a particular novel: for instance, horror films for Prince of Wolves, kung fu movies for Master of Devils, and so on. What’s more fun is later discovering unconscious influences when a reader makes a connection to some source I then I realize must have been in the back of my mind while writing.

For me, the conscious influences range from movies to news articles to behaviors or events I’ve witnessed in person. I haven’t yet based a whole character on someone I know in real life, but I’ve lifted plenty of mannerisms, patterns of speech, and other traits from different sources. In that sense, every character is a bit of a Frankenstein monster.

Many of you are also writers. What are your conscious influences? And are there any unconscious influences you became aware of only long after you’d written a story?

Question of the Week: Your First Fandom

SF, horror, fantasy, or just "monster movie"?

SF, horror, fantasy, or just “monster movie”?

Before fantasy (Roger Zelazny and R.E. Howard) I discovered science fiction (Andrew Norton and Ray Bradbury), and before SF there were monster movies (mostly Universal Pictures) and ghost stories (any “50 Great ____ Stories” I found in the Weekly Reader). Since then I’ve become a fan of all sorts of genres, from film noir to kung fu to costume dramas to psychological thrillers to murder mysteries to you name it. It would be easier to list the genres I don’t care for, and when pressed for a favorite genre of movie I often  reply, “foreign films.”

But some genres seem naturally close to each other. Readers of comics and SF cross over by a fair margin, for example. Looking back at my shifting youthful tastes, I can see lots of SF elements in my favorite monster movies—especially in the 50s—and of course even before Star Wars, some SF movies were indistinguishable from fantasies.

What were some of your earliest fandoms, and what books, movies, comics, or other stories lured you into another genre? Did you obsess over fantasy for a few years before turning to cyberpunk? Or have you always slipped easily from one genre to another?

Question of the Week: What’s So Funny?

“Humor is subjective.”

You’ve probably heard or said that when a joke falls flat, but it’s still true. Movies that send my wife into convulsions of laughter sometimes leave me cold, and vice versa. Fortunately, we have a lot of middle ground, like Community.

Community is a great example of a brilliant, hilarious show that doesn’t work for everyone. Some consider it too weird, and I think the jokes come too fast for some viewers. Also, it’s so full of references to popular culture that you might not get a joke because you don’t know the reference.

Community’s alternate-universe twin is The Big Bang Theory, fantastically more popular but deeply hated by a vocal segment of the geek tribe. Some resent the way it caricatures geeks, while others despise laugh tracks. Why is it that this show gets all the ratings, while Community enjoys the critical acclaim?

Puns make some groan, but others love them. Irony is a spectrum, and not everyone appreciates the nastiest sarcasm (the root words of which mean “to tear the flesh”). High snark can be a thing of beauty, but too often it falls into stupid “mean girl” territory. And maybe the quickest way to divide the average audience comes in two words: fart joke.

Whether it’s on TV, in movies, or in books, what kind of humor do you love? And what kind of humor turns you off? Have you encountered an instance in which a joke you’d usually hate turned out to be funny because of the way it was told? Do you prefer gags, character humor, pratfalls, “joke grenades”?

In short, what makes you laugh?

Come back on Wednesday for an interview with one of the funniest guys I know, Jeff Grubb. Wednesday is also the last day to enter the Crossing the Streams multi-author book giveaway.

Question of the Week: Book vs. Movie

This week’s question isn’t whether books or movies are better, or whether a particular book is better than its movie adaptation, but this: In what way are they better?

silence_of_the_lambs_ver2For me, the performances of Jodi Foster and Anthony Hopkins (and an excellent but often overlooked supporting cast) are the biggest reasons The Silence of the Lambs seems, to me, far superior to the book. Also, the visual and aural depictions of Agent Starling’s vulnerability both in the interviews and in that terrifying climactic scene make all the difference.

I saw The English Patient before I read the novel, and it’s hard to choose one over the other because Michael Ondaatje’s prose is so beautiful. For the purpose of illustration, though, I’ll say one thing the film does better is establish a mystery with its opening scene, creating an entirely different story experience from that of reading the book.

Lord of the Rings is another difficult call. Undoubtedly I’ll irritate a legion of purists or movie fans with either call, and the truth is that I like the books and the films in different ways. But in the end I admire the screenwriters’ slight increase of a female presence in the story, and virtually all of the performances breathe more life into the characters than ever existed on the page. Besides, film just wins with its ability to visualize horrors like the Nazgûl and the huge battle spectacles of the Siege of Minas Tirith and the Battle of Pelennor Fields.

This question has been on my mind since reading Gone Girl and learning that the filmmakers have Gillian Flynn rewriting the ending. Some fans of the book are up in arms over the change, but it makes perfect sense to me, because the real climax of the book is all internal, virtually impossible to represent visually. The fact that the novelist is the one creating a new, cinematic climax should reassure fans.

What are some of your best examples of not whether a book or film is better, but how it’s better than the story in the other medium? Bonus points for showing how the book is better in some ways and the movie in others.