It's All About the Story

>> Wednesday, August 22, 2012

I've talked before about the importance of story, of everything bowing down to the importance of the story. Admittedly, I've given far more time and effort to characterization than storytelling, but that's because it's my favorite aspect, not that it's more important. For me, it's a crucial element to telling a story, because a story, without someone at the center, someone having events happen to them and reacting to them isn't a story. I say this because I was reminded yesterday, of what makes a great story.

I have read lots of things over the years, and learned from almost all of it, every genre, forms of prose and poetry. Movies, shows, drivel, classics, I devoured them all, leaching out experience, what I wanted to emulate, what I wanted to avoid and, once in a while, becoming inspired.

I can remember when I first really became interested in writing short stories, earnestly and fantasy in particular, reading a singular compelling story called "Spoils of War" by Jennifer Roberson in Sword and Sorceress V (edited by Marion Zimmer Bradley). The prose read almost like poetry with cadence and power, each word exactly right, almost like a musical composition, building to a crescendo and a surprise denouement. Great stuff.

And it doesn't matter the genre, a great story is a great story. It doesn't have to have action or magic or even humor. It's story is a recitation of some experience that changes one or more lives (real or fictional), which can include reactions from the characters or just how they change and grow as a result. And, growth, boys and girls, means the character(s) learn something.

But sometimes I get so caught up in doing something clever or complex or imaginative, make it entertaining but meaningful and original that I forget that there are lots of things that make a story great. And sometimes, what it is is simplicity, with no more words than required to tell the reader everything they need to get the maximum impact from the story.

It's no secret that, at least recently, I've really found myself fascinated, even obsessed, with manga and anime. It's not just "foreign" comics; it's storytelling and I think part of me is fascinated because so much of the story is pictured not said. And some of its very powerful.

Yesterday, I stumbled across this story, one of four from Garden Dreams by Yoshinaga Fumi and the only one of the chapters I found on-line. (Note, not yaoi or with any gay overtones, no overt sex or violence). Yet, it was perfectly complete standing on its own. Again, I was caught up in the cadence, the pacing, revealing and hiding things in perfect time like an excellent musical composition. For me, it was a masterpiece in storytelling, not only in the tiny pittance of words used and the expressive and powerful artwork, but in the wealth of concepts, emotions and power that were never expressed and yet clearly communicated.


I'd forgotten how very powerful simplicity could be.

No bells whistles. No action. No fighting. No clever schemes. No sex. No world to save. No thigh-slapping humor. Just a man shaped by and shaping his fate. Set in a time theoretically like the Crusades, but easily identifiable here and now. At least for me.

And having found it, I'm pointing it out to others who might appreciate it (note that I bought the book quite inexpensively on 'cause that's how I roll.).

Note: For those of you who feel like complaining because I mentioned a manga here and I have a blog just for that. I do have a blog for that and I intend to write at considerable length about the mangaka, Yoshinaga Fumi there. But this was about storytelling and very appropriate, in my opinion, right here.

And it's my blog so I get to decide.

Update: I did write about Yoshinaga Fumi on my otaku blog here  and here.


I Don't Get the Big Deal About "The Hunger Games"

>> Saturday, August 18, 2012

I don't do reviews, as a general rule (manga/anime is an exception but that's on a different blog). Several reasons for this, not the least of which is that my tastes are eclectic (VERY eclectic) and I'm generally focused on one aspect of the story to the exclusion (and forgiveness) of all others. And, let's not forget, I'm weird.

But, I do bring things up if they make me pause, especially if they have the potential to entice me to write again. There are two things that do that - a story/character I adore that makes me want to do something better with my writing or inspires me on a hitherto unforeseen writing path...and a story that is quite successful commercially that makes me roll my eyes and wonder what the heck is going on. 

My daughter is a fan of The Hunger Games, and she's one of many many others. People love the book (disclaimer, I haven't read it) and gush about the movie, too. My daughter loved them both when she was quite critical of the movie Twilight despite her delight in the books (which she no longer has). I liked the Twilight books myself (and the movies, I might add) though not in the everyone-should-love-this sort of way but more in the this-is-an-intriguing-character sort of way. And, for those of you who know me, one character I really enjoy is all I need to forgive plenty of other things (including some "science" that still makes me cringe if I think about it).

She's got a decent batting average, actually, on introducing me to stuff I really like and hit a homerun with the anime Bleach I've spent the summer addicted to. Loved a number of characters, the premise, etc. But other stuff she wants me to try, well, it's hit or miss.

Now, if you love the books and haven't seen the movie or haven't delved into either but want to and don't want spoilers STOP READING NOW. 'Cause I can't tell you what bothered me without telling you about the story, so there are spoilers galore out there. And I'm not saying you can't like it for whatever reason you liked it. I, however, did not.

First off, it's depressing. I know that's in with YA literature right now, but I don't like being depressed unless there's a good reason for it, so you get a pass from me with an oppressive air talking about the holocaust (which was depressing and gruesome but a good lesson to remember) and not one on a notional fictional future that, as far as I could see, made no damn sense at all. Not that there isn't plenty of SF that doesn't make sense, but often the characters made sense or there was a point, or, at least, it was funny (think Demolition Man).

We start off with our oppressed people, tormented for 74 years due to uprising against what was, apparently, Big Brother, direct from 1984 (I guess he showed up late). The punishment for this effrontery was to take people at random from the areas that rebelled and make 'em fight it out to the death, Gladiator meets Survivor style and the winner gets glory and riches and stuff. Now, first off, that's a stupid punishment. What government's gonna care, even a local one? The whole dingy shanty-town area (replete with coal miners in the enlightened future) is surrounded by lush landscape which no one is farming or making of use of in any way, while the shanty-town inhabitants stave off starvation by working for Big Brother and killing small game.

Old concept, which, as a die-hard historian and SF reader, I've read versions of at least a dozen times. A handful of cliches, obvious (and, truth told, effective) emotional manipulations (like kill the twelve year old friend so, when we take out the "bad guys" at the end because we had no choice (kill or be killed), the reader/viewer will nod their head and say, "Serves 'em right." Same tactic has been used in at least half the James Bond movies). In the end, they "outsmart" Big Brother and she doesn't have to kill everyone, but even that doesn't make sense. (It's all about giving hope while reminded the people who's in charge WHILE still getting great ratings. Letting the two commit suicide fits way better (and is far more eye-catching) than letting potentially dangerous renegades get off scott free.)

But I'd likely forgive all this if I just liked somebody. I like strong female protagonists, so you'd think I'd like this one, but she's not particularly savvy, she's willing to use people and, in fact, has only the fact she's willing to go in her sister's place to recommend her. Nice gesture but not enough to make her a likeable character.

Or, if there was a point. I know, lessons are not supposed to be in stuff today, but I gotta say, when I spend a couple hours watching something, I either want to be entertained or intrigued. I need a point or an interesting character to be intrigued, or at least something original. I seriously didn't see the point. I'm glad it was just a couple of hours wasted rather than taking the time to read it.

Or maybe I just missed it. In any case, whatever makes this the delight of thousands if not millions, I don't get it.

Note - I might be oversensitive. I have a survival type story, in fact, two novels. No cameras but survival is still the name of the game with some internal hostility. Ah, but in mine, people have to work together. Maybe that's what I'm doing wrong. 



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