I know this is an issue that has been addressed elsewhere. In the majority of modern first-person shooters, even ones touted for their realism, all you have to do in order to survive a firefight in which you’ve been wounded is crouch behind a chest-high wall. Your health regenerates by itself. I’m not entirely sure when this trend began, but it’s removed an element of risk from those games and made them easier than they necessarily need to be.
A similar problem crops up in storytelling from time to time. Rather than carefully constructing the narrative with disparate and possibly contradictory plot threads in the beginning to be woven together at the end, some stories have no qualms about stating everything for the audience as plainly as possible. And some of these tales become embarassingly popular, as the bland plotlines and flat characters spoon-feed ‘entertainment’ to the waiting masses. Go back and watch how many times Anakin & Padme say they’re in love in comparison to the times when they actually show it. Watch Shia LeBouf project danger and tension by yelling a lot instead of wearing an expression other than dull surprise. Listen to the delivery of lines in a Gears of War, God of War or Call of Duty sequel and see if you can discern emotions other than those related to macho swagger.
Now, I’m not saying every game has to be a Killer7 or a BioShock. Not every film will be able to match The Usual Suspects or Inception. Few novels will measure up to A Game Of Thrones or Oryx and Crake. Consider me to be of the opinion that writers who make an attempt to show what’s going on instead of just telling, who opt to challenge their audience rather than making things easier on them, are going to be met with more success and repeat business. Let doubts linger in the shadows of the narrative and characters keep their agendas hidden until the last possible moment. This will engage the audience and make them invested in seeing the story through until the end.
Going back to the bit about regenerating health, the point I’m trying to make is that the player should be empowered to determine how much they risk and how often. If I’m playing Half-Life 2, I might pass up a health station because I know there’s a hard firefight right around the corner. In Dragon Age I churn out health poultices and study Spirit Healer spells to keep my party alive during combat. Some forethought has to be invested, but the end result is a more rewarding experience that I’m interested in repeating.
There’s been a debate going on amongst some of my fellow writers, and it’s past time I put in my two cents on the subject. Before I get to my thoughts on the matter, though, I highly recommend you do two things.
First, go on over to Terribleminds’ “The Care And Feeding Of Your Favorite Authors” and follow the instructions encased therein. Don’t worry, it just involves reading a few posts, nothing involving shotguns or whiskey or hobos or 4 D-cell powered vibrators.
Lots of good stuff, there. I especially like Cat’s point that folks willing to spend $5.99 on a latte should be okay spending it on a book (just in case you missed it in Chuck’s post). And an anthology of short fiction shouldn’t differ in price too much from a novel; it can be just as tough to write one coherent 80,000 word narrative as it can be to write 8 10,000 shorts. Still, I have to admit I’m in agreement with most of my peers: $0.99 is too little for full-length fiction.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand the economical reasoning for wanting to spend less for more. Me and my ilk are not called starving artists because we’re flush with disposable income. So any opportunity we have to keep from going under while drawing in entertainment to help maintain our sanity is a good one. That doesn’t necessarily mean that dollar book on the e-store is a decent read, however.
The few e-books I’ve picked up for that low a price have been promotional or sale items from known quantities. Chuck and Seth Godin have established reputations, at least in the circles I travel through. It’s the unknown that makes me leery, the as-yet-unpublished authors tossing full-length novels on the Kindle store for less than a dollar with one five-star review from their mothers. I know this might seem like a nasty, negative attitude to have towards my fellow burgeoning bards, but the fact of the matter is my time is as precious as my money, and there’s only slightly more time than money for me to spread around. I’d like to avoid wasting it, if I can, which means being discerning about what and when I read.
It’s one thing to undercut the competition, like the big-name publishing houses asking $13 for the e-book version of a $12.99 hardcover when the $6,99 paperback is about to be released. It’s another to do it to the degree of seeming desperate. You have to sell your work, sure, but you don’t want to sell yourself short.
Self-publication on the electronic market seems more and more like the business model of freelancing in general. You won’t be charging as much as the big guys, but you need to be realistic in just how little you can charge. In order to earn, you need to set both your price points and end-user expectations appropriately. You want people to feel like they’ve made a worthy investment, that the services or entertainment they’ve paid for was worth the money. At the same time, we want to be paid what we’re worth and keep ourselves fed to do more work and, you know, keep on living.
It really boils down to a matter beyond market research and profit analysis, to one of personal confidence: How much to you stand behind your work? How much would you expect to pay for something similar? How willing are you to market it, to get out there and sell it? What are you offering that nobody else on the Kindle store can, and how much do people need it even if they don’t know they do until they see your listing?
I don’t think e-books are going to replace the real thing any time soon, and I’m going to continue to pursue many ways of getting my words in front of fresh new eyeballs. This might be another way of doing it, but I’d like to try and do it right, without selling myself short in the process.
Sooner or later, the work you do is going to come under fire. Mistakes are going to be made. Guess what? You’re a human being. Mistakes are inevitable. How those mistakes are handled, corrected and prevented from repeating themselves matter more than the mistakes themselves, with the experience informing the better construction of future works. Hence, “constructive criticism.”
It tends to work best, however, if the criticism begins with you. And as a critic, you suck.
At least when it comes to your own work, that is. Your opinions, your creations, your procedures have all be formed by you (or, in the case of opinions, possibly snatched from more prominent critics for rapid regurgitation – we’ll get to that) and you’re going to be as defensive of them as any creator is of their created. I’m as guilty of this as anyone, and I know how that sort of behavior can circle right around and kick you square in the ass just when you don’t need it to.
It’s like bruises in martial arts, loose teeth in hockey, a face covered in egg on a televised debate. It’s going to happen. Beyond a couple of opinions of yourself and your creations that I can tell you are patently untrue, how to get back up when one of these events flattens you is a matter for the moment and circumstance. Communicate, discern, be patient and communicate more. Nobody will get anywhere while blood is up and words are lost in the volume, so step back, breathe, look at the situation and act in the interest of everybody involved, not just you.
Okay, enough hand-holding and team-building, here are two big fat lies we tell ourselves when it comes to stuff we do.
This Is The Best Thing In The History Of Ever!
No. No, it isn’t.
The following might feel something like the above.
The things we consider great only got that way through long, grueling processes, the input of several people and the viability of whatever environment into which they were released. There’s a factor of luck involved as well, but that’s not something we can control, so we’ll leave it out of this deconstruction.
Basically, to keep ourselves going, we may at times tell ourselves that what we’re doing is good. That’s fine, and it probably either is good or will become good. What it isn’t is the best thing ever. Not on its own, and especially not in its first iteration. No author I know of hit the bestseller list with their first draft or even their first book. No director makes an Oscar-winner the first time they point a camera at something, unless they got their hands on the super-secret list of critera the folks in the Academy check off when they watch movies that might be worthy of the golden statues they give to rich people. Then again I’ve grown somewhat jaded with the whole Oscar thing and it’s colored my opinion somewhat.
That’s another thing. Opinions. Now I’m as guilty of the following as another special snowflake individual on the planet, and it bears saying & repeating to myself as much as anybody else. I’m fully aware of the glass house in which I live, but dammit, sometimes you just gotta toss a rock.
Your opinion is unlikely to be entirely your own. It might be right or wrong, but to defend it like it’s gospel is not going to win you any friends no matter from where or whom it originally derived. Our tastes, viewpoints and leanings are a combination of our life experiences, the things others say and do around us and the environment in which we live. Other people have had similar experiences, heard or seen the same things we have and/or live in similar environments. That means your opinion is highly likely to be not entirely your own and should be taken with a grain of salt, even if you’re telling it to yourself.
Back to your work. I’m sure it began with a good idea. Ideas can persist through edits, revisions and future iterations. The idea might still be good even if the implementation sucks ass. That doesn’t mean the overall product is good. A good idea badly implemented makes for a bad product. Look at what happened to Star Wars. What’s important to keep in mind is that you might not be able to find all of the flaws in your own work, and in order to make it the best it can be before it ships, you might need to take some knocks to the ego. If you can remember that your idea and work are not the Best Things Ever, if you can maintain the ability to take your own creations with a grain of salt from an objective viewpoint, the overall product will be much shinier for it.
TL,DR: Don’t act like your shit don’t stink.
This Absolutely Sucks & Will Never Amount To Anything, I Should Quit Now
Cheer up, emo donkey.
Ah, the other extreme. I hate this one just as much.
Let me pause a moment before I rant in the other direction from where I just came from. If you truly feel your time will be better spent doing somthing other than the thing that you’re considering the absolute worst that humanity has to offer, I can understand that. Go and do the other thing you want to do. I and others might still consider what you’ve done worthwhile or even worth sharing, but you are the best arbiter of how to spend your time and energy. Just remember others are entitled to their opinions as much as you are.
Remember how I said that the things we consider great didn’t start that way? That means they started in a state of not being great. In fact some of the first attempts probably sucked out loud. I’d love to see a first draft of The Stand or an early shooting script of RDM’s from Battlestar Galactica or Michaelangelo’s first painting. These creative minds only became great after the grueling process of editing, revising, being told they suck, editing and revising again, and managing to find the right time, people and environment for introducing their work.
Since soothsaying isn’t exactly a reliable basis for planning, the only way to find the right time is to keep trying. Finding the right people means going out and meeting some. And locating the right environment can be a matter of research. Don’t try to put a work with a narrow genre focus into purveyors with general, broad interests; try instead to locate an venue catering to similar tastes and passions to whom you can relate and communicate, and let them see what you can do. The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is a monumental achievement, but it wouldn’t have gotten painted if Michaelangelo had been approached by the manager of a Starbucks instead of His Holiness.
Notice that this is all stuff you can control. Your work is no different. If you really think your work isn’t good, and you want it to be, you can improve it. Work at it. Practice. Don’t let the nay-sayers and the lowest common denominator and the mediocrity get you down. Nothing excellent ever comes to be out of nowhere and without some work and sacrifice. Give up some time, expend some energy, burn a little midnight oil, and make that thing as powerful and awesome as you can. And believe me, most of us are capable of being pretty damn awesome if we’re willing to pay that price.
TL,DR: Don’t act like your shit is a world-scale biohazard.
I think I’ve said about all I can on this subject. No human being is the be-all end-all of all great things; neither are any of us completely and utterly irredeemable. I think we could all stand to take things said to us, about us and by us with a few more grains of salt.
My wife’s corner of the living room is dominated by an anachronism. An aged, clunky CRT monitor squats on top of the bookshelf behind her desk. On that desk, now, is a shiny new Acer laptop with a wider display than that old beast, not to mention much faster & cleaner peformance to the oversized paperweight of a PC to which the old monitor’s connected. I keep meaning to move things around so she has a little more room, but I can’t help but look at that corner and think of Bob’sBig Picture feature on the death of the PC.
I’ve been building my own PCs for years. Ever since I got one sore knuckle and torn finger too many from the confines of a Packard Bell case, I’ve wanted to make the experience of working with computers easier and better. For years it’s also been the case that upgrading a system through the purchase of a pile of parts has been more cost-effective than buying something from a store shelf, to say nothing of the flexibility and lack of bloatware inherent with taking the construction & installation onto oneself.
But technology is moving on. My wife’s laptop cost as much as the upgrade I just put into my desktop case, and while the bleeding edge Sandy Bridge processor will satisfy computing needs for (I hope) quite a few years, her laptop is just as good. If the ancient external drive to which I’d saved our Dragon Age games hadn’t ground that data into powder, it’d have been a completely painless upgrade. That won’t happen again, of course, because not only are the hard drives we have today lightyears ahead of that dinosaur, we can always upload our save data to a cloud.
And it’s not like I need my desktop to write. I do most of these updates in a text editor (gedit, if you’re curious) before taking the content and putting it into the blog, enhanced with pictures dropped into Photobucket and the occasional bit of rambling audio. I can do that with pretty much any device. Within the next year, fingers crossed & the creek don’t rise, I’ll be retiring this old workhorse of mine with some iteration of the Asus Transformer – hell, I’d write blog updates on my Kindle if it had a decent text editor.
My point is that as much as I love my PC, as nostalgic as I’ll wax about StarCraft II marathons and isometric views in games like Dragon Age: Origins and LAN parties and simulators like Wing Commander, there’s no reason not to celebrate the growth of the technologies we as gamers use to enjoy our hobby. The tech emerging on a steady basis is lightyears ahead of what many of us grew up using. From number crunching to heat management, the computing devices we use today are so superior to those old devices it staggers the imagination. If I went back even ten years and told myself that within a decade people would be using tablets in lieu of laptops and there would be laptops that turn into tablets on the horizon, I’d congradulate myself on being such an imaginative science-fiction writer. In my humble opinion, technology changing and evolving is a good thing, and there are a lot more benefits than drawbacks when it comes to embracing that change.
The thing is, as Captain Kirk pointed out once, “people can be very frightened of change.”
“They made the game easier to play and dumbed down the mechanics! TO ARMS!”
“This has nothing to do with the previous parts of the narrative because it’s using new characters we don’t know! A PLAGUE ON EVERYONE’S HOUSES!”
“WHAT? Visual changes that make things unfamiliar/derivative/different from before? KILL IT WITH FIRE!”
“PCs are no longer inherently superior to consoles? LIES AND SLANDER, I SAY!”
Start a bandwagon and you’ll be sure to find people happy to jump aboard it without forming opinions of their own.
In fact the lemonade (haterade?) being served on TGO’s bandwagon is rather refreshing, now that you mention it.
There exists a type of stage play that’s so absurdly over the top as to defy belief. I’m speaking of the pantomime. Burlesque is another one that comes to mind. The subject matter of these productions could be anything, from teenage romantic angst to the Holocaust, and goes so completely across the line of good taste that they circumnavigate our imaginations and strive come out the other side where things are so ridiculous they’re awesome again. It can be a very tricky thing to do, and it doesn’t always work.
In a similar vein, we have an unspoken sub-genre of films called ‘camp’. The degree to which a film tends to be considered camp is directly proportional to the degree to which it takes itself seriously. If it tries one time too many to make a legitimate point or be more than camp, it’s going to fail and the campier bits will just seem silly. Let it take the piss, however, and the overall effect is one of a fun if meaningless romp.
MovieBob mentioned camp in his review of Red Riding Hood, and cited two examples that I feel serve as great ‘bookends’ for camp. On the one hand, we have Batman & Robin. Now more than once, this little flick tries to harken back to the campy days of the Adam West television series, but more than one serious story point, complete with straight-faced sincerity and somewhat bland delivery, is tied to the absurdity the way a concrete block is tied to the ankle of someone who disappointed the boss. I’m not saying Batman & Robin would have been saved if you’d taken out the subplots involving Alfred & Mister Freeze’s wife, but it’s definitely one of the movie’s many problems.
On the other end of the scale is Flash Gordon. It in no way takes itself seriously. Horny evil overlords, impromptu football games and breathing in space are all handwaved in the name of having a good time. The color palette is vibrant, the actors larger than life (especially in the case of BRIAN BLESSED) and the whole thing is powered by the music of Queen. I can’t think of a campier movie that still manages to be enough fun to not overstay its welcome and make the audience feel like they spent their time well.
There are a plethora of films in between these two. Some will try to tap the same vein and not quite get it right, like Masters of the Universe. Others will keep the special effects, music and sensibilities modern while keeping the level of seriousness quite low, like Stephen Sommers’ The Mummy. From Independence Day to Moulin Rouge, there’s plenty of camp out there, and it isn’t all bad.
Sometimes you want to crack open that doorstopper and take in some serious long-form fiction, and sometimes you reach for a comic book. Camp is that comic book, and there’s nothing wrong with it. It has its place in our libraries, a space where it belongs, where our need for escapism exceeds our desire to remain in the real world. And it can work very well, unless you try to take it too seriously or otherwise muck it up.