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I'm proud to be a Newgrounder. ever since I joined I made a promise: To not to be one of those "That shit sucks out loud" types...I keep to it. I intend to make myself known as a fair and competent reviewer. Look out world!
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This is something different than what I usually talk about. And it is related solely to one thing and one thing alone...writing. There isn't any easy way to begin this. So I'm just going to dive right in...there are issues in writing, issues pertaining to the real world, that are of immense import on varying levels. Some of them are important because they affect us every day. Some of them are important because whilst they rarely happen or never HAVE happened yet, they CAN happen and should be addressed and discussed. I deal in a myriad of writing from fiction to nonfiction, but through it all I try to do two things.
1. Tell a good story.
2. Actually try to take a look at an issue or subject, present it in a way that fits the story, and make my case for a side and/or make multiple cases for multiple sides and let the reader make their decision.
Usually I just focus on number one. Not this time. This time I want to talk about the issues. This time I want to talk about the things that I feel should be seriously examined and discussed. I know one argument you might be about to put forth. That I shouldn't be so quick to judge and that everyone has their own tastes and beliefs. But sincerity of belief isn't equivalent to truthfulness of belief.
I'll say what I told someone moderating a site. If I typed this: "." and you said it was anything other than a period, I would have to ask "Uh, are you sure you're looking at what I just typed?" There are SOME absolutes, SOME standards and rules and guidelines we all follow, not merely in society but in doing things like writing, and I keep seeing these failures on the writing front with stories that haven't got any likable or relatable protagonists, who have non-existent plots with little to no logic, which AREN'T funny or entertaining, and which think that as long as it provides stuff to jack off by, it's okay. I don't believe in settling for less, not when the authors of that work can do SO much better and seem to be able to WRITE so much better! Why DON'T they? Why hold back? Why settle for less? This is where the big boys write. You wanna write a story, fine! But PLEASE, I am BEGGING you, try and put real effort into it. Don't write a bad story with no plot and piss-poor characters, stick it up on Aryion and say "Well, it's only porn"! No. We want GOOD stories, GOOD porn, we want stuff that doesn't SUCK! And I don't think what I ask for in terms of the criterion is so much! Is it really so much to ask that a story makes some degree of sense? Or that the characters within are somewhat likable or admirable or relatable? Or that there's detail and real effort put into the setting, the plot or the characterization?
I'm gonna begin with something a little lower on the scale, then work my way up. Make your own judgments from that. But hopefully what I'm saying makes SOME sense.
You all know these guys. They're the "main characters". They're the heroes, the guys who move the story along, correct? And the issue that I have with current popular culture and with this site is...
And I know that some of you are gonna think this is stupid, I freely ADMIT this...
...there's no good guys.
Already I can tell some of you started laughing UPROARIOUSLY at this. I'm talking "BAH-HAH-HAH-HAH-He-he can't be SERIOUS, that's the stupidest-HAHAHAHAH!" type of laughter, you're wheezing in your chair, hell, maybe your knees are buckling from the chortling you're doing. You're laughing, I know. You're going "Of COURSE we're not good guys in the stories we write! We're enormous giants, or furry predators or cannibals! We're eating people! We're BAD GUYS!"
I almost NEVER write for or play a bad guy. In anything. I think a story should be about protagonists. Heroes, good guys, people the audience can either admire or relate to. And more often than not, many of the so-called protagonists in so, SO many stories I've read here on this site or on others, be it Furaffinity or the Disturbedthings forum...that's not the case. The protagonist is not just evil as all hell, they're two or one-dimensional. They essentially just care about sex or food. In short...they're animals. They have no depth, no characterization, no COMPLEXITY to them. And I don't think that's the way a story, no matter what the subject matter, should be about.
Everybody is utterly, buttf--k, EVIL. And I don't think that's the way it's meant to be. This kind of work should really be more about your humanity, your morality, your compassion, your ethicality and moral code. It should be about you struggling to maintain yourself, to balance the darker urges you have with the goodness within you. I can NEVER stand reading characters that are all "I wanna be all emo, dude, this beast that crawls in the dark and brooooods!" Or "I kill not because I must but because I can". That is SO one-note, so paper-thin, so...forgive the terminology but...freakin' LAME. BORING. There's nothing TO these guys. And I don't mind reading or watching characters with a specific kind of "one-dimensionalness" to them if they're entertaining.
Now, if a villain protagonist or the like is entertaining, a lot can be forgiven in a bad story. Let's take, for example, "It", the mini-series that appeared on TV. Curry's character is a RIOT. He's IMMENSELY entertaining. Oh yeah, he's all about how you're gonna FLOOOOAAAAAT, but dammit, he's fun to watch! A character that's fun to read about can turn a normally "flat" character into something you WANT to keep reading about. Or take the Warden from the "Story of Ricky". He too is immensely entertaining. Yeah, he's very two-dimensional, he's essentially just a "twirling mustache, mwa-ha-ha" type of evil prison warden, but he's so over the top and commands such attention from the audience you wanna keep seeing him. To me, THOSE are the kinds of "villain protagonists" that are the most well done. They should be entertaining if they're gonna be "flat".
Moving on. Let's go up the ladder in terms of "depths of seriousness".
There's SEVERAL problems I have with using kids as subjects of death of grievous harm in a story just like there's problems I have with using beaten-up wives or husbands. And they're similar not only to each other, but to OTHER issues I'd like to talk about. So I'm going to break them down.
In the hands of a lesser writer, as I have spoken to others about, domestic or child abuse is "something that happens to women and children". In the real world, domestic abuse can and does happen to men. And child abuse isn't just limited to little eight-year-olds. And it isn't just a matter of physical violence either. It can, and is, more than that. Psychological abuse. Negligence bordering on abuse. But again, as I said before, to a lesser writer, these subjects, much like rape, are just something that happens to a very specific gender and age group.
A lot of stories that include these happy subjects don't actually have a story or point of view they want to talk about. "Identity Crisis", the comic series for DC that showed the rape of Sue Dibny, was ultimately a red herring for the real plot. The story threw in an adult element. But it didn't focus on it the way a good story should. We never find out how Sue got over the rape or really reacted to it. There was little build-up and the rape itself ultimately doesn't have the gravitas it deserves. It just, like domestic abuse or child abuse, comes off as a "shock moment". Women and children are, to the average person, people that need to be protected and seeing them get hurt makes us instinctively gasp and go "Oh God no" and be horrified. That is just wrong.
You can't just toss a rape or domestic abuse or instance of child abuse into a story and not focus on it, not build up or foreshadow it, not show the consequences or fallout from it. That is insulting to the characters you're writing about, it is insulting to the readers, and it shows a lack of artistic and moral AND intellectual integrity.
Let me bring up a different kind of example. Stephen King. His book, "It", features a bully that�okay, I'm just gonna say it. The guy kills a baby to get an erection.
...you don't do that, King. You just don't. There are better ways to show somebody's screwed up. And of course, there's no consequences for such a thing. Oh yeah, he dies later, but not because of that.
But hey, if you think I'm being too cruel to an otherwise good writer, let's try a different tack and go for something "funny", "Family Guy". There was an entire show on how Peter was being sexually harassed by his boss, who's a woman. She wants to have sex with him. She pretty much refuses to take no for an answer. And what is the response the show has? That a guy can't be sexually harassed. Because...
Uh, look! Cutaway gag!
Do you see what I mean? It's attempting to address an adult subject. But it does it poorly. And I know what you're thinking. This is a comedy show. It's not meant to be taken seriously. It is trying to make fun of a subject through satire and irony. Except it doesn't come off as funny. It comes off as insulting towards a subject that deserves a lot more seriousness than it is getting. And we NEVER see the consequences for what happens at the end of the show.
Again, I repeat, you can't just toss something into a story to make it "dark" and not focus on the thing you just used. Let me bring up something else to make a further point. Remember when I said that a lesser writer will just use something like domestic abuse or rape or hurting kids as a way to make a cheap shock moment? There's something else that's done frequently. And it is the "Post-Apocalyptic scenario".
The stories are often not really about how the setting got to be the way it is except in maybe a bit of exposition. And the story doesn't focus on how the scenario affected the everyday man, doesn't show the struggles of the people on the street the way they should. Scenarios like that exist for one reason and one reason alone, to invoke an emotional reaction to US, the viewer or reader, because we're seeing our beloved Earth ruined. An entire planet gets nuked or wrecked JUST to make a place look "cooler".
Why? What's the point, to establish your hero as somebody fighting against someone with a large mass of resources? Why did it have to be post-apocalyptic to do it? Are you trying to show your hero in a hostile setting overcoming hard or impossible odds? Again. Why did it have to be post-apocalyptic to do it? Are you trying to show a fight for survival or put forward an anti-hero or villain protagonist? AGAIN, why did it have to be post-apocalyptic to do it? It doesn't. But I keep seeing it mostly because people think it is a "cool setting" and they're trying to go for something they think is "edgy" and "more adult".
I will say now what I have said repeatedly. Just because something is "darker" and "Edgier" does NOT make it more adult, does NOT make it more mature, a story isn't good just because you put it in a post-apocalyptic setting, or because you added death or rape! A GOOD story focuses on all that in a meaningful way.
Allow me to compare and contrast two stories from the Invader Zim fandom, a fandom I actually really enjoy, all flaws considered. One is "Masked Contrivance" His story is by no means a lighthearted romp. There is great suffering and death shown, but there's build-up to it and foreshadowing, and consequences that are shown through the story, fallout that we actually get to see in the context of the tale. A version of Earth gets totally burnt like a marshmallow in a fire, but there was a lead-up to it, and the destruction of the planet and all on it is a defining part not merely of the one who did it, but of one of the "survivors", you could say, the best friend to the one that committed the act. Furthermore, we later find out it wasn't really that guy's fault. Both were being manipulated. THIS is what makes a good story. The suffering of others and how that suffering affected others is given proper examination and isn't just casually tossed in to make the story "darker" and thus somehow "better".
In contrast, the tale "Aloft in the Airway" does not do that. It features Dib and Gaz selling out humanity to save their own skin. Oh, and then they ruin any efforts that humanity could have had to gain their planet back. Oh, but if you thought THAT was tasteless, out of character and insulting enough, it gets worse. Zim asks Dib to slip Gaz a date rape drug so he can knock her up and make her bear his kids.
Dib agrees. He does it. Oh. And no, we don't really get that much focus on what happens after either. That story was one of THE worst stories I've ever read. It casually tossed in slavery, killing and rape and doesn't give them the proper treatment such subject matters deserve. That is just plain wrong. But to be fair, the author admitted that the story was an experiment, that it was sort of a "test run".
...I still feel disgusted I read it. The same way I feel disgusted seeing people casually tossing in dark subject matter without giving it the respect it deserves, or just using it to advance a plot despite the tastelessness of the subject. Having people getting killed off in mass quantities just to advance a plot when something else could have worked just as well, or to create an environment that is "strange or new" is pretty much inexcusable in my opinion if you are not willing to give it the gravitas and dignity the subject matter deserves.
I'm going to quote somebody a whole lot smarter than I am.
"Sexual assault is almost impossible to express well or respectfully when the characters concerned are themselves simplified to the point of stereotypes. It's an intensely personal act and experience whose nature and repercussions are heavily colored by both cultural nuances and the individuals involved. Unfortunately, it's also become a popular shortcut for "developing" female characters. In this capacity, it tends to fall into one of three plot roles: an attempt to give the character a "dark" history, usually as a context or explanation for neuroses; a female hero's primary motivation for heroism or her catalyst for becoming a hero; or a means of diminishing a strong female character by emphasizing her vulnerability."
And I'm now going to agree with her on several parts of the "should someone write about rape in a story" issue. You probably shouldn't.
Sexual assault, ESPECIALLY sexual assault as retcon -(coughcoughIdentityCrisisisapieceofcrapcouchcou gh) is overused. DISGUSTINGLY so. Hell, the most sensitive and respectful depictions (and unfortunately these are so rare I honestly can't think of any good examples) are met with groans of "Oh, no, not again."
So again, I quote from girl-wonder's blog. "Take a good look at your story. Why do you think a rape is what you need for it to progress? Is there something else that could fill the same function? Unless you have a damn good reason to include rape in a story, you probably shouldn't. Using sexual assault as a motivation-in-a-box or an equivalent trope will do nothing but steal credibility and respect from a really serious, really important subject. Plus, you'll look like a twit."
I'm not talking about semi-consensual stuff or stories about "Stockholm Syndrome" stuf. Should you decide you ARE going to involve rape in a story to make it edgy or more adult, then you had, much like the issue of child abuse or the mass death of others or enslavement of others, YOU BETTER FOCUS ON IT. YOU HAD BETTER EXPLAIN HOW IT HAPPENED, GO INTO DETAIL IN REGARDS TO BUILD-UP AND SETTING UP THE CIRCUMSTANCES THAT LED TO IT, AND YOU HAD BETTER SHOW WHAT HAPPENED AFTER TO THE CHARACTERS THAT ENGAGED IN THE RAPE AND WHO WERE RAPED.
Allow me to give an example from a movie. Wedding Crashers. Vince Vaughn's character gets tied to a bed and raped. To be fair the movie, it is a comedy so there are some things that we permit due to "rule of funny", and we saw hints and foreshadowings that the girl who does it to him is�well, screwed up. In fact, the whole damn family has issues. We figure that out pretty quickly. So I can KINDA forgive what happens. Also, Vince actually goes to confront his rapist and they talk it out. In fact, much to his surprise, he actually starts falling in love with her twisted self and the two freakin' MARRY.
I can't believe it either. A comedy that actually focuses on a type of rape not often seen and which handles it with more seriousness and in a far more comprehensive and respectful way than most films do? WOW. Usually rape in movies is one-sided in every way, shape and form, the only type of consequences involve the rapist getting killed and us seeing the victim crying moments after, etc, etc. This is a good change of pace. This is something that should be more of a standard.
Now for a BAD example of rape that DOESN'T come from Identity Crisis. Mark Miller's "Nemesis #3". From the man who brought us "Civil War" and that piece of garbage that is "Wanted" comes a booby...trapped...vagina. The man whom the entire book is about, Nemesis, kidnaps a police chief's two kids and then impregnates the daughter with the son. And then, against all odds, he figures out how to make it worse. He booby-traps her uterus so they can't abort the incest baby. That was as stupid as it was offensive. This is a new level of sick. Mark Millar, man of class, ladies and gentlemen.
Or another example. This time from a video game. Phantasmagoria, the first one. Adrienne's husband has been slowly, over the course of the game, becoming more and more violent. Pushy. Mean. Cruel. And then...he forces himself on her. I am dead serious. We see this happen. Oh, and in case you're wondering, no. IT IS NEVER BROUGHT UP AGAIN. It had build-up and sinister foreshadowing...but there's NO focus on it after that scene. That. Is. Wrong.
Now I myself have used rape in a story before.I made some mistakes in the handling of the subject matter, that I freely admit, but I TRIED to make up for it in-story. And you should too if you use rape in a tale.
These sorts of issues deserve better treatment than so many stories I've read on the internet or seen in the movies or in television shows today give them. If you're going to put any of the aforementioned subjects in your stories, I implore you, I plead with you, I am begging on my bended knee, please, PLEASE treat them with the utmost seriousness and don't take them lightly. Really THINK about how you're going to go about using them, please. When you write about something such as this, you not only reflect upon yourself, but upon all of us writers as a whole. Is a poorly-built-up-to "rape as drama" story really something you want to be a measure of your work?
Now it's time to bring up ANOTHER issue in writing. This time it's something more...forgivable. And yet no less annoying.
What is it?
I'm going to once again pull out a random story from the "IZ" fanfiction archive and show you how to NOT write a chapter.
"I was sitting on the couch waiting fro Zim to arrive with Landia. She was so beautifu l and I couldn't wait to see her. They arrived after a few hours and me and Red rashed to the voot runner bay to mmet them. When they got out of the voot Red took Landia's hand and spun her around. I grabbed her arm and pulled her in towards my body.
"Come to the brige with me an Red we'll give you the grand tour." I said taking her han d and leading her to the brige. After showing her arounf we were sitting on the couch we had put in a few weeks ago and eating some snacks.
"So how did you get too Earth?" Red asked opening another bag of chips.
"Well, I hated my life here on Irk so I ran away but after a few months on Eartth I realized my mistake and wanted to come back but I had already self-destructed my voot so I was stuck there. After a while the atmosfere of Earth got to me and I started looking more like an Earth lady." She said twirling a stand of her hair. I smiled and an Idea popped in my head. I told one of the servants to show Landia to a room where she could sleep.
"Red, what if we made her into a Tallest to?" I said bouncing up and down a little.
"Yeah. That'd be so much fun! All three of us ruleing over the Irken Epire together!" He laughed a little and we called Irks top scientist Gre and told him about our plan. He thout it was a great idea too and said he could be there in a hour to make Landia taller. I couldn't wait for her too be a Tallest because then I could kill red and take other the entire Empire! Once Gre showed up we all went into a science lab and Gre injected Landia with a swrum that would make her taller. In a few hours she was just as tall as me and Red. I was happy and I couldn't wait until it was just me and Landia as the Tallests. Then she'd be all mine.
Only GOOD reveiws are allowed!"
...where do I begin?
"I was sitting on the couch waiting fro Zim to arrive with Landia. She was so beautifu l and I couldn't wait to see her."
"So beautiful". THAT is what you meant to say. And you meant "FOR Zim to arrive", not "fro".
""So how did you get too Earth?" Red asked opening another bag of chips."
This is the RIGHT way to say it: "So, how did you get to Earth?" Red asked, opening up another bag of chips." See what she did wrong?
In a day when even our internet services have spell-checking technology...this, in a way, seems ridiculously easy to fix. We should NOT be seeing this sort of thing CONSTANTLY in a story. Once or twice is fine, people slip up, but when you keep seeing page after page of words not properly capitalized and see sentence fragments running amok alongside badly-spelled words...I mean...I just can't believe this keeps happening.
And now...for something completely different.
...You know, I think I've given off the impression that I really hate a lot of authors or artists on this site with the work I do. But that's not true. I follow a little Christian model called "love the sinner, hate the sin". I don't hate people. I hate what they DO, or what they WRITE, or what they DRAW. And the reasons why vary.
But there's one thing that I think I should address. One thing that I haven't touched on as much as I should and perhaps some of you might know more of. It's a little thing called...
More often than not on this site, I've seen it happen again and again. The bad guys, the antagonists, the characters that drive a story but side with the dark side have an unfortunate tendency to be, well, flat. They're undynamic, uninteresting, unmotivated except by one thing: they're evil and hungry. That's it. Or just plain hungry, meaning they're on the level of animals.
I enjoy making fun of characters like that. They're weak, weak, weak. People who just do things because they're evil or hungry aren't interesting UNLESS you find some clever new take on it, which can be very rare. Without any motivation, credible backstories, or emotional connection that makes us, the audience, sympathize or empathize with them, they just become some asshole that wants to kill people just because they're the designated villain. I'm surprised I don't see more villain protagonists with top hats and moustaches to twirl whilst they say "Where is the reeeent? Where is the reeeeent! MWAHAHAHAHA!"
So is a flat character ALWAYS going to be bad?
Well...I'm gonna have to admit no. There ARE some characters I've seen in fiction which are INCREDIBLY FLAT and yet...I really like them! Why?
BECAUSE THEY'RE FREAKIN' HILARIOUS!!!
Let's take a look at Tim Curry's clown, Pennywise, in Stephen King's movie "It". Watch it. It's all on Youtube. And you'll realize something very, very quickly.
He's a RIOT! I'm serious. He's got weak motivation and he looks ridiculous even at times when he's trying to be serious, but he's so damn funny and over the top you can't help but laugh.
"Excuse me miss, is your refrigerator running? It is? Well you've better catch it before it runs away! Ah-HA! Ah-HA! Ah-HA!"
And then there's the Warden from "The Story of Ricky", which you can ALSO see in its entirety on Youtube. The Warden of the prison that the main character, Ricky, is in, actually DOES come with a black top hat and an evil cane. No moustache, but he IS really over-the-top evil and hilarious in how MELODRAMATIC he is.
Example? Well, his son trips on a carpet that was rolled up and a prisoner is brought before the warden.
"Why didn't you check the carpet before we arrived here? Have you got EYES?!"
The prisoner points to one of his, evidently not realizing that rhetorical questions aren't meant to be answered. So the warden JABS HIS CANE INTO THE MAN'S EYE and says "If your eyes can't see clearly, one will be enough" in a smarmy, "mwa-ha-haing" voice as he tosses his cane to the assistant warden, who looks at the eyeball on the cane, gasps, and genuflects on the spot. The Warden's evil acts, like all of the ultraviolence in the movie, can't be taken seriously because they reach levels that are so RIDICULOUS you have to take it as a farce, and the minute you do, you're laughing uproariously.
If a villain's really, really over-the-top with what they do and reach that level of hilarity, or if they've got intelligent motivations or can make us, the audience, identify or sympathize with them, the story can have a LOT going for it. But in truth, there's one more thing I want to address, and its this: there shouldn't be such a thing as absolute evil in fiction. There just shouldn't.
NOBODY considers themselves a villain in the real world. Nobody wakes up in the morning saying to themselves "Imma gonna be burnin' down a hospital cuz I'm EVIL". If they ARE evil, it is because circumstances have forced them to be, they steal because they need to feed their kids, or they kill somebody whom they think slighted them or who hurt their loved ones, or they lie to protect the feelings of others. OR they are evil because they believe that something is directly owed to them and they WANT it, or they think they're uniquely qualified to get something. Let's take Doctor Doom. He believes he should rule the world because he sees his country of Latveria as a haven. Nobody goes to bed hungry, the economy is booming, and there's no crime. One problem: no civil rights. At all. But he views that as an acceptable trade for a utopian society and wants to make ALL the world like that because he thinks the world sucks SO much and if only HE could be in charge, things would be so much better!
"Everyone is the hero of their own story". The concept of absolute evil is ridiculous in any story that's trying to be REMOTELY realistic. If you're trying to go for something in a more fantastical setting, then fine, but otherwise, I feel you need to take the lack of absolute evil in the real world into consideration and carefully consider your villain's motivations.
I know what you're thinking. "What's wrong with hedonism being a motivation"?
Pauly Shore and Stephen Baldwin's characters in "Bio-Dome" were hedonistic. And. They. SUCKED.
Hedonism is really just...well...there's not much to say about a character who is only motivated by the base interests of food and sex and drugs. They're barely above animals. And don't you tell me "Everyone is motivated by food, sex, and drugs ". People are motivated by things like POLITICS, or by LOVE, or a sense of ADVENTURE or a desire to see or do great things. I myself am actually quite the prude when it comes to things like drugs, alcohol and sex. Doing stuff like this is a way of trying to both balance my tastes whilst keeping myself "honest", by making sure I never get IN to sadistic levels of fetishism.
And as for the comparing to Hollywood...let's take a more Historical example. The Goths, the Gauls, the Barbarians of ancient times were hedonistic, as was, in most respects, the Roman and Greek cultures. The only difference is the Greeks and Romans attempted to balance their rampant hedonism and pedophilia with philosophy, discourse and intellectual debate. This attempt at balance is what makes me SLIGHTLY forgive their rampant excesses. It makes their culture less one-note than the Barbarians.
That's all I had to say. All I wanted to say. These issues are important to me, REALLY important, and I wanted to write about them, I wanted to talk about something I feel is really important in this day and age, and get my opinions across, and hopefully get people's reactions and honest responses. Please, feel free to leave whatever comment or critique you'd like.
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