The Dreaded Synopsis

Most writers break out into a nervous sweat regarding synopses. But what separates the aspiring writer from the professional is the ability to, in the words of Zombieland’s Tallahasse, ‘nut up or shut up’. A synopsis is merely a professional document where many of the same rules of creative writing can apply. You still have to make it succinct, to say more in less. You still have to write to a word count. You still have to show that the story is emotional, affecting, and character-driven. You have to have conflict, and you have to have an antagonist (not necessarily a villain; an antagonist can be a natural disaster or some force of nature or the like, not a person; antagonist is literally what opposes the protagonists). Conflict. Drama. Characters you can care about, or if they’re unsympathetic or unlikable, ones that are fascinating. All the rules of writing a great book, distilled into 2 pages or less. (fewer?)

Okay, that makes a lot of writers nervous. But it’s a professional document, and if you’re serious about being a writer, you have to do it. So nut up or shut up.

One caveat here: if you’re a self-published writer, I don’t *think* you’re strictly required to have done one, as anyone can upload a word doc to Amazon and viola. I can’t think of any case where an author going purely self-published is strictly required to have one… but it’s good to have one anyway, because if you haven’t outlined, like some kind of artsy creative whinger who complains that it ruins the artistic vision, then you probably haven’t got a clear story. Some authors weave wonderful stories on the fly, and hey, if that works for them, okay. But the whinging I’ve heard about outlines is just juvenile. If you have a finished story but not an outline, go back and write one. You’ll discover ways you can fix problems with a story, cut or fix the bad parts, and maybe even come up with new solutions. It will give you the basis of a synopsis, so that’s two birds with one stone. And traditional publishers, if you attract one, will ask for a synopsis anyway, so if you don’t have one when this happens, you’re up shit creek and you need to do it anyway. Sucks to be you.

Me, I prefer outlining before hand. I get the basics down, and when I get to the scene, I have a skeleton I can grow muscle, tissue, skin, veins, blood on. I can then flesh it out more in the moment, and sometimes I deviate from the outline. Sometimes that works out well, other times it’s gone tits-up. I generally stick to the outline, as I feel I’ve uncovered a great story when I build it from the ground up with a plan in mind. I am built to need a plan. It’s how I operate best, though a good author is flexible in the execution. Creative minds are great at coming up with unexpected solutions. Definitely go with a better idea if it presents itself, but make sure it works. Don’t go with a panic response like I did the first time. Get confident in your writing, whichever way works for you.

And write the damn synopsis. You’ll thank yourself later.

A Trio of Supers

I’ve just come up with, what I think are, some cool supers. I did this because I’m thinking of bringing zombies into COF’s setting in a big way. Where I’m up to now, it’s been six months since they returned to Brisbane from the events of Crystal City, and things have changed. The company they work for has expanded and taken in new talent, beefed up its defences, and made inroads into the growing zombie situation. That’s where I’m thinking it goes from here, and sometimes, change is good. Especially when it brings in new characters.

Firefly is a god-like super with the power of the sun. He’s been completely turned into a solar power. He emits heat, light and irradiation. He floats, he burns everything he touches, and he can focus that destructive power into basically solar flares. The catch? He can’t turn it off. He can maybe dim his power output for a short while, an hour or two, for meetings. That means he turns an inferno down to a mere furnace. The room becomes hot and everyone sweats profusely, but they’re not injured by him. Although he’ll probably still emit radiation, so they might get skin cancer. And he can never again have a lover, because he’ll burn them to a crisp. He can probably generate light in a focused way, to emit stronger from his eyes, his heart, or for modesty, his groin area. He generally wears special flame-retardant shorts, but even they will eventually burn off. I don’t know what rate he’d burn through them, but the military or the science division or whoever would sure go through a few sets of million-dollar undies.

I haven’t worked out his personality yet, but he’d definitely have adapted to being alone. Maybe he was a loner to begin with, but I think it would make for better drama if he was into social interaction.

I don’t know what to call the next guy, but he’s a magician. He goes around doing the general smoke-and-mirrors kind of tricks popular among most people, and especially drunks. Rings that join together, rabbits out of hats, handkerchiefs that turn into doves. You know, magician stuff. I don’t know what his name is, but I imagine a lot of people might call him David Bowie, and mean it as a compliment and a tribute. Just an idea.

Unknown to anyone, he can actually do real magic. If he speaks the right creepy Latin, intones it just right, does the right gestures, and maybe has a little herbal “inspiration”, he can perform what most people would call actual magic. It would be actual supernatural power, and those who can sense it will feel a chill through their body (it’d be more profound to someone with super powers, as in my setting, the powers are more or less magic in origin, instead of scientific. It’s supernatural at least. Most affected have elemental powers, they’re supernatural, but they’re generally simple uses of raw unexplained power).

I don’t know what he looks like. He’s either incredibly handsome, in a Fabio kind of way, or the way some professional magicians look like, with supernatural beauty… or he’s a geek. White skin, palid, acne, crooked features, glasses, frail, probably asthmatic. Maybe he could switch between various images, from both examples, to anything between, maybe even change genders. He’s got a tie-in to real magic, after all. And it’s all tricks, smoke and mirrors kind of stuff.

The third is a guy I like to call Ghost. Basically, he’s invisible. People don’t notice him. Bosses don’t notice him. Technology often doesn’t react to him. It’s like he’s invisible, or even like he’s not even there.

The truth is, he’s cursed. He’s half spirit, and that spirit is one of invisibility. The spirit causes people and machines to not notice he’s there. Great for hiding, not so great when he wants to be noticed. Say, by peers, bosses, or potential love interests. He can get up to all kinds of mischief when he knows for certain that nobody notices him. It’s not that they don’t see him, it’s just that they don’t care, they don’t really register his presence. He hast to speak up, and he has a tendency to mumble. He doesn’t have much confidence. He’s there but he’s not there. Nobody invites him to anything. Nobody checks up on him. Nobody hangs out with him, except other loners. Which are usually the obnoxious annoying types, which he hates. They always seem to single him out; he wishes attractive ladies would do that instead, but they don’t. (those who can cast magic can see him though, and that includes people with super powers, which are basically the same thing as magic anyway).

So that’s where I am right now. I’m pretty happy with these supers, though I will need to flesh them out.

Final Fantasy 15

I’m hoping Final Fantasy 15 is many things, but primarily, I’m hoping it’s a return to form for the Square part of Square Enix. Remember in the 90s when Final Fantasy was the best game series out there? When the music rocked, the characters were memorable, the plot was grand and the scope was epic? Final Fantasy 13, players said “it gets good 20 hours in”. Yahtzee said that’s not really something in its favour. I agree wholeheartedly.

Square Enix have been shitting out endless, pointless sequels and spinoffs. They’ve been doing that for a decade, and their profit margin has plummeted as a result. Gamers are angry, and tired of the once-great company’s shit. Merging with Enix has so far proven to be terrible for them, and I understand Enix used to make great RPGs too. Now they’re stuck in an endless cycle of stupid, and gamers hate that. They’ve had enough of these dirty old men’s creepy obsession with dress-up barbie. The only people who like that sort of thing are weird, creepy, perverted 13 year old boys. And girls under 10 I guess. I don’t know, what do kids these days like? Do they still like yoyo’s and hoola hoops? Do they still play Pacman and listen to techno?

12 was the last okay game. It was just okay. I haven’t finished it despite several attempts. It just wasn’t compelling enough, and the story was all over the place. 13 has been pumping out sequels for 6 or 7 years. Everything has a tagline, but it all melds together to form a drunken blur, and it’s not the fun kind of drunk. Final Fantasy has become like what I imagine drunken pity sex is like. That shit ain’t good.

So I hope to hell that 15 is great. It would mean a return to form, it would mean that Square Enix believe in RPGs again (Square hasn’t since FF9) and that they realise that instead of sabotaging one another, their collaboration can mean truly great things. I hope it means they’ve learned their lesson. If it doesn’t, then they’ll probably go bankrupt. If 15 tanks, it will probably be the end of the company that made our childhoods awesome. I’m cautiously optimistic. Please don’t suck.

Terry Pratchett: In his own words – a slip of the keyboard

I’ve been on a hunt for memoirs by authors other than Stephen King. For years, all I could find was On Writing, which frankly isn’t all that great. But it was the ONLY one you could get, since forever. Then a few others came out of the woodwork, and I want to read them all.

Today I picked up this gem, and just an hour ago, I finished it. I haven’t done that since I was 10 and obsessed with Animorphs. The last book to take me as little as two days was the two so far by Shane Khun, Kill Your Boss and Shoot The Messenger, about an assassin’s rulebook; and of course The Name of the Wind, which I’ve said enough about, but at the same time, I could still say plenty more. I spent ALL of today just reading Terry Pratchett’s memoir. It was moving, it was hilarious, it was witty, it was intelligent, it was gentle yet full of rage, it was a fitting memoir/capstone of the illustrious career of fantasy fiction’s greatest author (probably). Though he doesn’t understand why people think that. He’s also humble in that regard.

I figured this would be a great read. I was blown away and this is easily my favourite piece of non-fiction, save maybe the Zombie Survival Guide.

And I got a cool metal plate thing with the final Discworld book’s name and date on it.

Vale, Terry Pratchett. You’re not dead – you just returned to your home planet.

Cartoons – not just for kids

Some of the best shows I’ve ever seen are cartoons, be they Anime or western animation. They can do a lot more than live-action shows can, generally by stretching the bounds of imagination. SOME cartoons are stupid fodder to entertain 3-year-olds and only 3-year-olds. Like Minions. I haven’t seen that, but I have read review by Cinemartyr on the Escapist, and let me tell you, he savaged it. The guy is nowhere near as hate-filled as MovieBob, but his review of Minions was Not Kind. Some kids shows are to distract infants so their poor mums can get a second to just breathe.

Herein are six cartoons that are so much more. These are my six favourites of all time, but I’m sure you can add more.

#6: Batman: The Animated Series.

This was the Batman I grew up on. It aired when I was in my early teens, and I could tell even then that it was so much better than many other cartoons. It’s been remembered fondly by older people, but seeing as I was always mature for my age (at least as a teen) I identified a lot with this Batman. Tee 80’s had the Tim Burton Batman, and those were great movies (people actually stole the posters from bus stops and demanded the ad play in cinemas, where they’d even go so far as to go to the movies just for that ad, then leave. It was generally for terrible movies anyway). But I’m talking animation here.

I haven’t seen this show since it was on afternoon TV, but it, along with the Spiderman series on Cheeze TV, were some of my favourite cartoons growing up, and they introduced me to interesting superhero characters. And their villains. Spiderman’s series around that time introduced me to Venom, my favourite badguy ever. So special mention goes to the Spiderman series of that time. When I have money, I’ll be buying both, if I can find them. Ebay should have them.

#5: Gargoyles.

Gargoyles was dark and brooding, but maybe not as brooding as the Batman cartoons of the 90s. Still, it had gothic designs, especially for the characters and their tower. I remember the first episode, or the five-parter it was part of. I remember the female gargoyle (Delilah?) betraying the good gargoyles. The main one said that killing humans in the heat of battle was one thing, but in cold blood was too far for him. This has stuck to me today as the most humane thing in any war scenario.

I liked how the medieval gargoyle tower was airlifted on top of Xanatos’ modern scyscraper. I didn’t get to see all three seasons of Gargoyles though – Australian TV in those days had a tendency to never finish what they started. So DVDs it is. You have something called a Xanatos Gambit, too. I need to see Gargoyles again.

#4: Dragonball Z.

Hoo boy. Do I even need to describe Dragonball Z? The internet has made it immortal. That should be enough.

Dragonball Z aired when I was 15, and thus in my prime to enjoy its battles, battles, and more battles.

It started off with battles that you could follow, but eventually it all became a blur. Say what you will about it, and how it mirrors a life of violent crime, to some degree.

Aliens capable of casually blowing up planets with energy blasts from a finger. Monkey-men who could turn their hair golden as they became all-powerful super-beings of righteous fury. Dragonball Z might have had its flaws (such as ChiChi being turned into a shrieking Banshee, and all the female characters being bitches or ditzes) but come on, this was a story about Men being Men.

Goku was the simple hero with a great destiny. This goes back to ancient tales. “Vegeta! That’s not very Paragon!”

Krillin was the mightiest human warrior (sorry Yamcha) and he always did his best and fought to the bitter end defending humanity. For a non-saiyan, he kicked a lot of ass. Yamcha did too, but he got killed more times.

Vegeta, theĀ  prince of all Saiyans, who believed that he would become the legendary Super Saiyan. Poor, short, balding bastard. He did kick a lot of ass though, even if he was always the warm-up for Goku. Partnered with the baldest saiyan in the galaxy, old “Goddamn it Nappa!” Those two made a memorable duo. And then he did the unthinkable… he sacrificed himself. I think I shed a tear when I saw that.

Picollo, the green alien who kicked more ass than anyone, period. Who wore weighed clothing to train, and who killed the main character in episode 4 in a desperate battle to save Earth… against the weakest of the 3 Saiyans in the galaxy. (And who never used that move again). His no-nonsense training of Goku’s son Gohan was hilariously cruel, but it was done for a nobler purpose.

Frieza, the gayest supervillain ever. Until Cell, anyway.

Yamcha, the internet’s favourite joke character.

And Trunks. He had a sword and a jacket.

Dragonball Z was full of fighting, blood, guts, and more fighting. It was badass, though it suffered from some narrative gaffes. Still, it was awesome when I was 15, and it’s still awesome now.

#3: Neon Genesis: Evangelion.

Evangelion was probably one of the most influential animes of all time. I don’t say that lightly. It turned mecha anime into a serious character study. It had overly flawed characters, perhaps unrealistically so, but you could really get into them. If it had one problem, it was too depressing. The characters were too flawed.

I have Asperger’s Syndrome. Shinji Ikari has severe Autism. I identified with him, though he drove a lot of people up the wall (including his English voice actor). Rei was a robot. Asuka was a shrieking banshee. Gendo was all business. The scientist being the Magi and the Evas was such a detached bitch. And Mistao was scarred by her experience during Second Impact.

But the characters were also somewhat realistic (if entirely negative). This was a show that was deep, even when it had giant purple robots tearing giant black orbs into bloody pieces. It was pyschotic, and it lingered too much on detractive personalities, but it was also intelligent, if psycho-analytically. It might be true what they say: that it’s symbolism meant nothing. Take the show as you will, but there was a reason I watched it easily 10 times, probably a lot more.

That said, I really like the remake. It has all the blood and guts, but the characters are less fucked up. Some people prefer them to their 90s roots. I’m unsure, but they certainly are more bearable. And the direction that the third movie went it, well that just rocked. So annoying that they STILL haven’t released it on DVD after more than 2 years (maybe closer to 3) but I hear they’re going for February.

#2: Venture Brothers.

I first discovered this hilarious gem when I bought a USB stick in UNI from the Guild confectionary shop, and got a free DVD with it. It was an Adult Swim sampler, and it had mostly forgettable content. Of the two memorable ones, Venture Brothers has become one of my favourite cartoons ever. The series follows Hank and Dean Venture, two teen nerds who follow their washed-out loser dad on adventures. He used to be famous, part of a hit TV show similar to Johny Quest and other older cartoons. Then he got old.

Brock Samson is their bodyguard, though at the start their only threat is The Monarch, a classic villain who models himself after a butterfly. He’s just as depressing as Dr Venture. Both have had their time, and now they’re both trying to make it big.

Venture Brothers is possibly more badass than Dragonball Z. Brock certainly is – he once emerged bloody, naked and covered in someone else’s blood from a bathroom. He’s the kind of bodyguard who drove a muscle car for the vehicle portion, killed EVERYONE in the gun portion, and drew the angel-guy from Led Zepellin for the written part.

Venture Brothers if FULL of awesome, and referential comedy. And it’s getting a 6th season early 2016, which I am eternally happy for (though I suspect this will be its last).

#1: Adventure Time.

There’s a reason adults love Adventure Time as well as kids. It CONNECTS with people. The MC, Finn the human, is both bold and relatably awkward, especially around girls. He’s the 13 year old we all identify with. And he goes on awesome adventures, accompanied by a stretchy dog named Jake. And he wields lots of swords.

Adventure Time is hilarious, charming, deep, meaningful, painfully awkward, and endearing. You will just have to trust me on that, or better yet, watch it yourself. You will not be disappointed, I promise you.

Reapers

In the last couple of weeks, I’v gone from one sleeping medication to another. Now that it’s settled down a bit, I don’t think I’ll be having too many dreams (I might still have some). But in the first week or two, wow, did I have so many dreams! And I wrote them all down. Maybe they’ll find light with my writer’s group. One of them definitely will, and that is Reapers (name pending).

Reapers is about teenage soldiers and mech pilots chosen to defend Earth against Vespers, or kaiju (Pacific Rim did NOT invert the word!). It’s set in Australia. It follows six teens as they train to pilot the mecha known as Reapers. But there’s a dark secret involved in the Reaper’s development cycle, and that secret is revealed in the final episode of season 1.

I’m writing 8 400o-word short stories and organizing them like a TV show, as a series and in seasons with episodes.

One of the dreams I mentioned was so powerful I had to write it down, and now I’m fleshing out the series and coming up with other episodes. I haven’t been inspired to write more, not through dreams, but I am writing like crazy, which is good for any writer to be doing, generally.

The episode I dreamed was, originally, part of Ultima Warrior: Supertron, which at age 15 I thought was the coolest thing ever. It was derivative of literally everything, because I had no originality at that age. (You could argue I still don’t.) It had mecha, super saiyans, Final Fantasy-style magic, swords that leveled up and evolved, you name it. There were some good or decent ideas, which I’ll harvest from the fossils of that series. Mostly this writing effort is whole-cloth though.

I’ve written one episode where two mech pilots, and sworn enemies, are drugged, kidnapped, and dropped on an island by Cambodian terrorists. The only saving grace is that they have the Reaper mecha, and they’re trying to uncover the secrets so as to build their own. The two main characters have to team up and infiltrate the enemy base and get their Reapers back, or the whole world is fucked. This is a season 2 episode, and as I dreamed it, it was “A Supertron dream”. I have since adapted it with new characters, different names, various things changed, and have since worked backwards to create a setting and all that that entails.

In the last two days I’ve been writing how they recruit the geek’s talent – which they do by putting a problem into a computer game and visiting him when he solves it. That’s how they got Eli in Stargate Universe, but I since read that it was a popular conspiracy theory that the CIA or whoever were doing that. So I don’t think it’d be copyright infringement.

I’ve also been focused on creating a high-level human bard for D&D, fifth edition rules (I like 5E) who turned out to be a bit of a magnificent bastard. I realised I’m essentially writing Kvothe from The Name of the Wind, but seeing as I likely won’t publish any stories with this character, that shouldn’t be a problem. Even then, he’s not a direct copy. He’s older, and maybe a bit wiser, than Kvothe. He’s still a brat though. I don’t know how closely he’ll cleave to that inspiration, but if it’s just for private gaming, I should be fine. I hope my players like him; he was a blast to write.