Someone asked me how they might improve their prose. This was my answer.
How to improve your prose. Good question, let’s see.
1: Write as often as possible. It’s a muscle, you need to build it up.
2: Write as little as possible. If you can say it with fewer words, do.
3: Cut all the stuff people are going to skip. You know what I mean, all the descriptive text you skip when you read The Lord of the Rings.
4: Read what you wrote. Did the jokes make you laugh? Did the drama make you tense? If not, then it probably won’t work on anyone else. Cut all the stuff that didn’t work and try again.
Watch and read and listen critically. What excited you about the last movie you saw? The last book you read? Steal that. Build a toolbox of cool moments and then write them your way and make them yours.
You will suck for a long time until you don’t. No one gets it right the first time. But eventually you’ll stop sucking and then a few years after that, you’ll be able to just sit down and start writing and cool shit will come out because you’ve done it so often you don’t need to think about it anymore and that’s when the real inspired stuff can shine through.
If you’re in the mood for a melancholy, vaguely country-western song, go listen to this. It’s one of my favorite Queen songs. Beautiful, yearning.
This song is what Interstellar is about. Except this song is three minutes and thirty-eight seconds long, full of emotion and longing and I love it, while Interstellar is almost three hours long and so brutally insulting I wanted to punch Chris Nolan after only about ten minutes.
I feel bad. I mean, I feel guilty for not liking this movie. I wanted to like it. I expected I would like it. I signed up to see it twice before I’d even seen it once, because I assumed I would like it. Wow, was I wrong. Wow.
And having not liked it I have to walk around the office trying to explain what I thought without ruining my friends’ experience. There’s a big outing to see this movie, the company I work for bought out the theater. Big Chris Nolan Sci-Fi extravaganza, surely if anything’s a safe bet, it’s this?
So I say, ‘I didn’t like it, I thought it was insulting,’ but I don’t go into detail because even at that point I feel like I’ve poisoned the well. People will be upset with me, because I’m ruining something they were looking forward to. But it’s not my fault this movie is awful!
Like ’39, Interstellar is a movie about the relativistic effects of travel close to the speed of light. It spends a lot of time explaining the science of the film, but weirdly it spends that time explaining how one might travel through a wormhole. It doesn’t explain why living near the event horizon of a black hole would cause your kids back home to age faster than you.
That part, relativistic travel, travel very close to the speed of light, is something they just say, and move on. “We’ll be traveling close to the speed of light. When I get back,” Matthew McConaughey says to his daughter, “we may be the same age!”
How does that work? Movie doesn’t say. The script just states it, and moves on. “If we go down to that planet, one hour for us will be seven years for” David Gyasi’s character in orbit.
How does that work? Movie doesn’t say. The characters just say it, and move on. Well, good. Because relativity is fucking weird and complex. But so are wormholes! But we get a WHOLE LOT of explanation about how wormholes work. God. Just say it and move on! I know you can do it, you did it every time the time dilation thing came up!
You know, Disney tried this is 1979 and came up empty. “Hey black holes are cool!” Yes they are. “What’s at the center of one?” Good question. And the answer is; a mathematical structure that defies normal physics and cannot be understood or explained. “Well, that’s not a dramatic answer,” Disney said, accurately, “How about heaven and hell!”
Ok well, that’s stupid. But I get it. Chris Nolan saw The Black Hole and thought he had a better answer.
He did not. His answer is stupid, too. Wow. His answer is just as stupid as the one at the end of The Black Hole.
There is an emotional core to this movie, and that part works. Matthew McConaughey is on a mission to, literally, save humanity but he also wants to see his daughter again.
His daughter is very angry that he left when she was 10. And I would be mad too, because the whole thing is completely stupid.
The movie sort of assumes everyone in the movie saw Contact and so when ALIENS contact Earth with a plan (sort of) to save humanity if only they’ll jump through this wormhole they planted, our hero just fucking goes along with it.
He goes along with it because he was created by the script. He was engineered, by the writers, to be someone who just happened to live 10 minutes away from an ultra-secret project that just happened to need an ace pilot of which he is literally the only one left, which is lucky, because he also happened to be the best there ever was. Chris Nolan, fuck you.
Hang on, let me calm down a little. That’s not the most insulting part of the film.
The most insulting part of the film is its attitude toward you. It thinks you are an awful person, because you have an iPhone and drive a car and because of you billions of people are going to die when all the OXYGEN on Earth is eaten up. I am not making this up.
I believe you can make an entertaining movie set after a global catastrophe in which our hubris doomed the world. I believe you can make that movie, because I’ve seen it. The Road Warrior is set in a world where we burned through all the oil and now there’s no more civilization. Why oil? Because it was the 1970s and that’s what everyone was talking about then.
This movie is no Road Warrior. That movie was entertaining and watchable, this movie is an insult.
There is a point very early in the movie where Matthew McConaughey goes to have a parent-teacher conference because his daughter brought in a banned book and got in a fight over it. What was the banned book? It was an old science textbook that taught man landed on the moon.
That’s considered propaganda in this future. Classes in the future teach that the moon landing was a hoax.
That’s not writing. That’s just being upset because you think Americans in 2014 are stupid, so you put your disgust with us in your script. Science fiction is great for getting us to look at ourselves through a different lense. Shit, I think that’s what science fiction is FOR. But this is not it!
In Alfonso Cuarón’s brilliant Children of Men he posits a future (taken from the book by P.D. James) where there are no more children. Human beings become infertile and no one knows why. The movie is about the last generation of humans.
That movie’s subversive brilliance came, not from the question “how would we behave, if we were the last generation on Earth,” but from the answer it gave us. “We already act that way!”
Wow, that was an effective use of science fiction to get us to think about how we live our lives now. About how lifeless our lives can be. But it never said that we, now, live our lives like there’s no tomorrow. Because that would be bad storytelling. It would be banal, and condescending, and heavy-handed, and didactic.
It would be Interstellar.
Cuarón made another great sci-fi masterpiece just last year! Gravity! Great movie! Interstellar’s visuals are better than the already-astonishing Gravity’s, the difference is, Gravity is one hell of a story. Interstellar is just some great special effects stuffed into a deeply offensive film.
There’s humanity in Interstellar but you have to dig to find it. Matthew McConaughey is aware that time spent on his mission is time during which his daughter is aging, and that part of Interstellar, the emotional core of the movie, works. It is effective.
But no more effective that Queen’s song about the same thing.
I believed Matthew McConaughey’s turmoil as he watched his kids age in transmissions he couldn’t respond to. I felt it when he realized the three hours he just lost cost his daughter twenty years.
I liked the use of the message-in-a-bottle cliche–where the people back on earth send messages to the people in deep space, which they will only be able to view years later–because it showed how, for the people back home, recording messages to your astronaut father for twenty years is not unlike having an internal dialog with a dead parent.
Except he’s not dead. He didn’t do them the courtesy of dying. He may still be alive. That limbo is interesting, it’s emotionally resonant.
It’s about 20 minutes of this movie.
I was interested when the movie finally got to the point, and started looking for other worlds for Man to inhabit. There’s some interesting, pulpy, 1960’s Sci-fi in there. What happened to the people they send ahead? Three people, all transmitting “things look good, we can settle here!” but three different answers.
Each answer is interesting. The first answer, the world orbiting a black hole, a water world with tidal forces so great there’s just a massive series of mega-tsunamis scouring the planet clean every ten minutes, leaving a foot-deep ocean behind them, is interesting.
The world where our Guest Star (what) is waiting to be rescued. . .is less cool. The surprise of an actor we didn’t know was in the movie is somewhat muted by how obvious his plot is. “Hey super-suspicious dude who just said he would have done anything to see another human face, I’m sure you didn’t do anything suspicious to trick us down here so you could see another face!”
Fuck you Chris Nolan.
I’m not saying the movie doesn’t have good bits. The thrill rides on the ship are amazing. The AI robots are super cool, why couldn’t we have a movie about them? Matthew McConaughey’s turmoil as the clock kills his daughter in hours while he desperately tries to get home worked on me.
The rest of the movie, the other 2 hours of it, the ending. . .?
Man, fuck Chris Nolan.
If you love movies, and you love writing, eventually you start writing about movies and if you get paid to do it, they call you a critic. But really all you are is someone who loves movies, and loves writing.
If they publish your reviews in the paper, people who don’t love movies start to read them and they get a weird, twisted sense of what you’re trying to do. They’re not writers, they’re not crazy in love with film. They’re just looking for a way to spend a pleasant afternoon So they think, when they read your stuff, that you are telling them what to think. That you think your opinion and experience is objective truth, which is ridiculous.
But you probably don’t give a shit what they think. You audience is other movie nuts like you. Your writing is part of a dialog all those people are having with each other all the time. You don’t care if those people agree with you, you’re interested in the back-and-forth, you love reading new perspectives on films you love. You love going back to movies you overlooked and seeing them from a new point of view. (more…)
Why would a team of hand-picked scientists act so wrecklessly? They don’t even really act like a team. Why rush in headlong into a certainly unknown, possibly dangerous, alien planet? Why open everything, touch everything? Why does your robot refuse to listen when you tell him to stop, don’t touch?
This is not a movie about a plucky young scientist and her husband going off on a great adventure. The plucky young scientist thinks that’s what the movie is about, and says so. She explicitly tells the security team that this is a scientific mission and weapons are not needed.
Astonishingly, the audience appears to believe her. (more…)
The first Promethean we see in the film looks like this.
He’s naked, healthy, exposed skin everywhere. Tall, pale.
What does he do? He sacrifices himself to create life.
The Promethean we see on the alien ship look like this.
Take a good look. That’s not a suit that dude put on. That Gigergoop is part of his body. (more…)
“The king has a reign, and then he dies.”
At the beginning of Prometheus, we see an important image. A Promethean, killing himself to create life.
All the Prometheans we see are male. Or masculine. We see two of them in the flesh, and dozens off them via holographic CCTV, we see a Giant Head and a decapitated head, all appear male.
The Prometheans don’t appear sexless, or androgynous, they appear male. Their species is male. Creating life is something they can only do through sacrifice. It’s an act of will, of volition, and in the process, they die. For them, creating life requires death.
Furthermore, they need the Black Goop to do it. A Promethean drinks the black goop, dies, but seeds a new world with life. We don’t know where the Prometheans come from, we don’t know if they’re natural. Maybe someone else created them. Maybe they’ve evolved beyond sexes and mating. But they do not appear able to reproduce on their own. Maybe they can’t reproduce at all. Maybe each Promethean is the seed of life for an entire world. Maybe that’s their purpose.
Humans, on the other hand, can create life at will. Without dying in the process. How would the Prometheans view this? Would they think it natural, or dangerous? (more…)
David Padron is a cinematics producer, I am a writer/designer, both of us in video games. We talk a lot about movies and culture and games before jumping into a game of League of Legends or Starcraft 2 or Diablo 3 or whatever.
This week, we talk a lot about Ridley Scott’s most science-fictional movie, Prometheus. Come by Facebook, let us know what you think.
This post is part of a series. For which also see:
- Prometheus. A review.
- Prometheus Explained. In which I take a stab at interpreting the themes evident in the film.
- Two Kinds of Prometheans. Is the last Promethean we see a unique Hybrid between organic and biomechanical organism?
- Peter Weyland, and Film as a Consumer Product. We know it’s Peter Weyland’s mission. Why do we believe Shaw when she says otherwise?
- The 2001 Podcast, spiritually related to this movie and these posts.
David–by far the most interesting character in Prometheus, insightfully realized by Michael Fassbender–dyes his hair.
To me, this was one of the most striking and memorable shots in the movie. The one I’m still thinking about the next day. That’s not a knock on the rest of the movie, it’s amazing. But it’s Fassbender’s David that’s the crowning achievement of the film. His performance, and the filmmakers decision to make a movie about the android, to me, justify all the shortcuts the movie takes elsewhere. His performance is daring and exploring and challenging. It’s a testament to Ridley Scott the storyteller that in and amongst all this high concept science-fiction and amazing design that I’m thinking about a robot who dyes his hair even when there’s no one to see it. (more…)
This post original appeared on my old site. It’s not the usual gaming/culture stuff, but variety is the spice of thing.
My doctorb (“The extra ‘b’ is for ‘bargain!’) is awesome. I love Dr. Brunner and I always look forward to seeing him.
I say this because, as a guy, going to the doctor is notable. There’s a difference between men and women. At least one difference. Possibly more, but for the purposes of this post let’s stick with this one difference: guys don’t see doctors. Not as a rule.
Women see doctors. That’s the difference. A friend of mine said “I don’t understand why none of you guys ever go to the doctor!” I esplained.
“Larra,” I said, for such was her name, “you have to imagine what it’s like being a guy and 18,” which is when most of us learn this.
“First, there’s nothing wrong with you at 18. You feel great. You can do pretty much anything, for pretty much as long as you want, and then eat whatever you want or, alternatively, nothing for days and you don’t notice either way. Why on Earth would you go to a doctor? (more…)
This movie came out in 1979. I saw it in the theaters but like a lot of stuff from the 1970s I was too young to wot of it. I grew up with my memory of this movie being deeply cheesy and mostly awful, but watching it again on a whim, I feel as though perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate it.
Let me make my point clear from the beginning; this is not a good movie. I am not a Black Hole apologist, because such a thing is medically impossible. Nor is it one of my guilty pleasures, like Krull. It’s OK if you like it uncritically, none of us are obligated to be critical all the time. But it’s certainly flawed and arguably a failure, if we had to grade movies on a pass/fail scale against the success of their storytelling.
Happily, we don’t have to do that! We’re free to notice all sorts of really interesting ideas in this movie, and perhaps detect a diamond in the rough, waiting to be polished in the 21st century. (more…)