Category Archives: Sean Golden

Don’t Split the Party!

Yes, the title of this post is one of the most revered and honored tropes of role-playing games. I can’t even begin to count the number of stories I could tell about the consequences of an adventuring party going their separate ways and being systematically wiped out by frustrated Dungeon Masters whose carefully constructed campaign is being turned into a shambles by players who think it’s a grand idea to have everyone wander off on their own.

But this post isn’t about gaming. It’s about writing. Of course, like all “rules”, this one is frequently violated to great effect in numerous stories from “Lord of the Rings” to “The Avengers.” So as Barbossa would say, this isn’t a “rule” so much as a “guideline.”

But it’s a solid guideline if you want to create a story where readers can experience the rich interplay of characters that is really only possible when the reader has become not only acquainted with individual characters, but has also developed an understanding of the complex dynamics of interpersonal relationships between groups of people.

It is rare for any story to rely on a total focus on one main character. It is incredibly difficult for a writer to keep readers interested in a story like that anyway. So the vast majority of the world’s favorite stories usually have one main focus, but that main focus is surrounded by other characters whose stories weave their own threads around and through the main character’s thread.

In that group of orbiting characters, at least one should be a friend of the main character, not just a flunky, or a tool the main character uses to advance their agenda. Friendships allow the reader to see the main character as a living, breathing person. The more a writer can create a sense of true mutual love and respect between the main character and another character, the more likely readers will be to empathize and sympathize with the protagonist. In most cases we want to root for characters we like, and observing how the protagonist interacts with close friends is the best way for a reader to learn the normally hidden vulnerabilities that make them human and relatable. Sometimes these “friends” are also siblings, but usually not.

Creating close friendships does more than make a protagonist more human. It also gives the author opportunities to use that relationship to bring elements of the story to more compelling climaxes, and to explore emotions to sublime depths. What would the story of Frodo be without Sam? Would we really care as much about Lizzy and Mr. Darcy without Charlotte and Bingley? And Harry Potter would have been far less interesting without Ron and Hermione.

Building relationships like that takes time. It can’t be “told” it has to be “shown” in dozens of little details sprinkled through scene after scene. And that’s not easy to do if you can’t keep the party together long enough to build them.

An End to New Beginnings…

I’ve really enjoyed this month’s Fictorians’ posts on new beginnings. As I am typing this, I am sitting in my newly finished basement, in the new house we built in 2016, and am about to head to the Superstars Writing Seminars. I’m also starting a new novel and looking forward to a new year.

Some of the posts I found the most interesting and helpful were those where the author embarked on a new direction after deciding a previous effort was not working out. Taking motivation from rejection, using a new start to rekindle a love of writing, taking a leap into a new genre… All of them were helpful and entertaining.

I hope our readers found them helpful. It was my deliberate desire to provide new writers, or writers who were dealing with difficulties and lack of motivation some encouragement and ideas.

I’d like to thank all of the Fictorians who posted, and would like to especially thank this month’s guest posters. As far as I’m concerned, you all hit it out of the park.

Now, on to Superstars!

Do Sci-Fi Movie Directors Dream of Electric Scripts?

This month’s Fictorians’ theme is “movie adaptations.”

I got lucky and snagged “Blade Runner.”

blade_runner_poster

When Blade Runner came out, I wasn’t paying attention enough to remember the obscure novella I had read at about the age of twelve. I was well into the movie before I put two and two together and realized I had read the source material. I remember thinking at the time, “When is he going to find that toad?”

That’s pretty close to a spoiler, I suppose. There is no toad in the movie. I don’t remember origami in the novella. Maybe there was some. Honestly, I didn’t remember that much about the novella. I had read it during a period of my life that I was reading three or four sci-fi novels a week. Plus classics like “Gone With the Wind” or “Moby Dick.” The novella simply hadn’t made that much of an impression on me. I had to go back and review “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” to realize just how far the movie had strayed from the original story. How far was that? Well, maybe not as far as the shoulder of Orion, but certainly well past the Tannhauser Gate.

So, since the movie is such a radical departure from the novella, you might think that would count against it as a “movie adaptation.” But I can’t say that, because “Blade Runner” the movie, is better than the novella. By a large margin, in my opinion. Ridley Scott took the basic story of a bounty hunter wrestling with the morality and mortality of “retiring” androids, and created a revolutionary multi-media experience, spawning an entire sci-fi sub-genre in the process.

There is power in the imagery of the film. The fusion of film noir and dystopian post-apocalyptic pathos simply oozes gritty, bloody, sweaty authenticity. By abandoning the original sub-plots involving Deckard’s wife (yes, wife) and their search for an animal of their very own, Scott was able to focus his grimy camera lens directly on the question of what makes us human. That gritty, shadowy vision paradoxically grants the movie near-perfect clarity.

That clarity reaches its climax with Roy Batty’s iconic farewell, sometimes known as the “Tears in Rain Monologue.”

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.

Time to die.

Like all great works of art, the movie has an ambiguous ending, allowing the viewer to decide for themselves what Deckard’s and Rachael’s future will be. The viewer isn’t even certain if Deckard himself is a human or a replicant. And that is the movie’s ultimate message. In the end, it doesn’t really matter. As Roy tells us, the value of life is not measured in the number of years we are given, it is measured in what we do with the years we have.

Pulp Fiction

This month’s theme is “It was a dark and pulpy night” and is intended to be an homage to the pulp stories that filled cheap periodicals at the turn of the last century. (I have to say, it’s still a bit of a shock to me to call 1900 “the turn of the last century,” but I digress.)

The problem is, I never read much pulp sci-fi. Not that I recall, anyway. When I was a kid, in those halcyon days of the sixties and seventies (of the last century) I was reading novels almost exclusively. I did read some anthologies of short stories, but they were mostly by authors I already knew, or the “Year’s Best Anthology of Science Fiction.” Mostly I read those authors that are now recognized as the giants of the genre, such as Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, Pohl, Kornbluth, etc. I suppose the closest I came to “pulp” fiction was probably the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs or perhaps Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, even though that was the pulp fiction of a yet earlier century.

Anyway, the upshot is that I don’t have much to offer except some genuine curiosity. Were those pulp stories awful? Or were they so awful they were good? Or were there gems buried in the literary rubble? I suppose I’ll have to go find out. In many ways, I suppose I am the modern equivalent of the pulp fiction writer of a century ago. I self-publish my stories in electronic format, which is similar, I think, to the cultural environment those pulp authors inhabited then. And I think my stories are pretty good. So theirs probably were too. Anyway, I have to give props to anyone who has the courage to put themselves out there and deal with the reality of putting any work of art out into public view.

From what I’ve seen in the other articles on this subject and some lazy googling, it appears that the hallmark of those stories was probably a wild and vivid imagination, exercised without restraint in a world that was just coming over the threshold of a scientific and industrial revolution. There seems also to be a thread of horror or even something like paranormal influence in many of the stories.

If anyone wants to give me some recommendations of authors to start with, feel free to comment on this post and promote your favorite pulp fiction authors. I’ll check them out, and then report back here what I think of them.