Archive for June, 2017

© 2017 G.N. Jacobs

You’d think I’d quit while I was ahead with the story dice, but I pick up all kinds of things that allegedly will help me write or get ideas to write tomorrow. Ladies and germs, I present The Amazing Story Generator by Jason Sacher. A three-element flipbook widely available on Amazon. 

At this point, I just want to see how the fun the prompts are; what should be the only criteria for a review like this. Look, if you tear open the Amazon envelope and don’t see torn card stubs like with a checkbook or the similarly designed spiral notebooks preserving your choices, then you’ll find it simple technology to grasp…a flipbook. The top row of flip cards represents some sort of prepositional setup followed by a comma. The middle row is for the subject (a.k.a. the Protagonist) and the bottom row presents the verb that launches the story.

First up for your bloodthirsty pleasure – Upon winning a Nobel Prize, a computer hacker steals a baby. I think I just wandered into a remake of the Coen Brothers’ Raising Arizona. Replace Edwina the barren cop with Sansa (Waiting out Game of Thrones like the rest of us) the equally barren White Hat data cop/hacker hooked up with Darth Zero (real name Chris Myers) a dim witted Black Hat who “borrow” a child to fill a void.

Nah. I don’t have either Coen brother’s comedic timing, except by accident. Let’s leave that sleeping dog lie. And when Blake Snyder references “give me more of the same, but different” as a common Hollywood suit mentality, I suspect the deceased writing guru would hope I’d put a little more effort into disguising my plagiarism.

Besides, that cookie cutter Raising Arizona riff didn’t actually address the odd juxtaposition between Nobel Prze and hacker. The closest category at the Big Show in Oslo a hacker might fit into is either Math (not actually a Nobel category) or Physics (presumably his/her groundbreaking work on multidimensional storage matrices paid off huge).

But, in the spirit of not letting odd get in the way of writing, let’s write and think at the same time…and we get a comic book origin. Doctor Peter Imbarus, fresh off a Nobel Prize winning paper exploring the interface of theoretically derived hyperspace and a serious of curious Internet outages, detects a small ship heading to Earth and races to Kansas to snatch the alien infant inside to provide a good upbringing away from those soulless intelligence operatives. Superman meets Twins salted liberally with Starman.

Or how about this – On the run from Federal Agents, a night watchman receives a message from God. Flipping to Message from God as the last element almost ruined for me a good Tournament of Death movie until I remembered how many deaths that people freaking out over religious disagreement can cause. But, this is what you get flipping from the back of the book trusting your finger to stop in the right place. Nothing stops you from starting from the front. Back to this pitch, I don’t want the dream that helps put this story together.

Thirdly – One week before retirement, one half of a husband and wife crime fighting duo is trapped in an abandoned gold mine. Crimefighting duo says spandex to me and I’m pretty sure I can do better than abandoned gold mine as the jeopardy. Even so, I would be more interested in the four-color family dynamics of the team.

Will Hank Pym redeem his somewhat dark family by saving Janet van Dyne from the gold mine? Will Invisible Woman get much needed attention from Mr. Fantastic pretending to be trapped in the mine? And while we’re rehashing already published Fantastic Four tropes, does Namor swoop in first beating Reed Richards to the save? There’s a spandex-clad soap opera to be sure.

Fourth – After a failed bank job, a North Korean scientist is transported to another galaxy. Ooooooh! Put this one in the Holy Fuck category. Could anyone actually resist the temptation to switch out the unnamed scientist for Kim Jong-Un?

Here’s how that might work. We give Kimmy Boy a pretense a high-energy physics to go with his known pretensions at basketball (the pitch element said scientist). I might switch out bank heist for just received a phone call concerning an arrest in the United States of several minions for passing counterfeit $100 bills (morally equivalent and actual reported behavior). And then the Lizard Men of Andromeda Galaxy put the snatch on that loathsome bridge troll.

Yeah…no. I haven’t paid for a firewall tough enough to take on state sponsored cyberterrorism (not without making some kind of deal with the NSA). Besides, whether it’s Kim Jong-Un or the original unnamed North Korean letting this imaginary joker have all the many pages makes him the protagonist which means I have to find something to like about the assclown. North Korea has done a brilliant job making me angry at the whole untitled monarchy. I won’t spend four to five months with this hypothetical protagonist. RIP Otto Warmbier.

Lastly – During a Leap Year, a mustachioed private detective dons a cape and mask to fight crime. That’s five random pitches conducted while writing this post of which three either directly reference spandex or allow me to shade things that way. Does the universe know my proclivities and guide my finger accordingly? Wow! Paging Carl Jung…or not.

Nevertheless, I’m tempted to take a black pen to the mustachioed part on this card. I have listened to too many discussions about how effective the glasses are at keeping Clark Kent from having blowback from Superman’s problems. The mustache is visible under the cowl always and only Alfred on the Adam West Batman show ever pulled off that bit of silliness (aided by overdubbing Adam West’s voice) when he didn’t shave his white mustache.

At least the Leap Year bit has some play to it. As in I have zero shame looting from Gilbert & Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance. Not only is it Leap Year; it is March 29th and it’s Unnamed Cape Man’s birthday. Public Domain, Ducky…PHHHHHT!

Now for how the flipbook works. You see in the picture there are three categories that I think have at least fifty choices each (I demonstrated mild difficultly at counting by fives starting around forty). I make the assumption that each category has the same number of cards to even out how the book lies or sits on a shelf. From top to bottom we have a section for prepositions and dependent clauses that set the scene or backstory. Then we have the middle row for subjects/protagonists followed by the bottom row for the inciting verb.

So being totally unsure if three sections of fifty choices each is a mathematical combination, permutation or just a good time to do fifty by a power of three, I picked the latter. Fifty cubed ends up as 125,000 choices. By comparison, let’s compare this to the reported output of awesome writer and infamous curmudgeon Harlan Ellison who may have written in fifty years or so at least 1,000 short stories and TV episodes.

One hundred Harlan Ellisons doesn’t even come close and he might want to pass some of the load to Steven King and the late Ray Bradbury. This is what most people would see as a lifetime of ideas. But, only if you can tolerate North Korean Scientist coming up periodically.

The comparisons to the story dice break down like this twelve dice with six choices each comes up, when I do the same dimly remembered pseudo-math, as 2,985,984 discreet twelve-element story pitches. Or less, if you consider that I allow myself to drop the three lamest dice results…just because.

It seems to me that the really stuck writer wants to use both the dice and this flipbook. The dice gives much of the elements that happen in the middle of the story or the act turns, midpoint and so forth. The flipbook gives a sentence that hints at backstory, identifies a protagonist and launches the story with a verb committed by that protagonist.

I have a mild preference for the dice (assuming possession of all dice sets) because you can game the system by choosing ahead of the roll which dice you want. You’ve been watching the good version of Clash of the Titans (1981) and you start wanting to mess around with Greek Mythology. So you reach for the die with the picture of Zeus throwing his thunder. However, I paid for having more choices with a plastic dice bag that doesn’t travel in my bag except on special days.

In contrast, the flipbook gives fewer choices but it comes in a package that fits easier in travel bags and such. And the flipbook cards are printed with thick glossy cardstock that has already survived a small coffee spill where I wiped it off and kept going. The hypothetical black Sharpie taken to the North Korean scientist card might not even take. And the printing is large enough not to need reading glasses. And I’ve already chased a die dropped on tile floor behind a bookcase.

So which tool a writer uses to throw hard elbows at the blank page is neither here nor there, this isn’t comic book publishing where choosing between Marvel and DC is expected to be a thing. However you start writing is what you should do.

And just for more giggles, I will close with two more pitches. Suddenly able to hear others’ thoughts, a jealous bridesmaid inadvertently starts WW3. After misreading an email, the heir to an oil fortune wakes up in a strange house. Choices. Choices. And now like Ferris Bueller I get to say “What? You’re still here? Go home the article’s over.” Start writing.

The Livescribe 3 next to a trusty ballpoint pen…

© 2017 G.N. Jacobs

After many months of finding excuses to do other things interspersed with brief moments of high usage, I’m ready to call it about my experiment with note capture pens. Even at their best, a good idea for someone not named me. Since I didn’t cut my professional teeth selling used cars, I think I’m stuck with a novelty that I’ll bring out every so often because I feel guilty when I don’t use the crap that I buy. 

When buying Livescribe 3 ink cartridges make sure that you don’t buy shorter one to fit earlier pens…

Sometime last year, I wandered into a Barnes & Noble and see a Moleskine branded box offering a pen and notebook kit. Reading the box I get excited because of my regular attacks of Luddism where I bust out a notebook and pen. For these times, knowing that handwritten pages still have to migrate into digital files eventually, I want anything that cuts the interim step of typing from your notebook out of the process. I buy the first of two pens that promises I can write normally on special paper, save this as a PDF and/or run it through a text transcriber so I can save the one thing everyone wants more of…time.

First up, the Moleskine pen. It turned out a crap buy because the pen wrote, the paper took the ink well, but the capture software just didn’t work. Words on the page didn’t always show up on the capture screen, especially if I picked up the pen. I took it back. The manager tried to resist citing that I had written in the book, but I doubled down explaining about the flawed software and that you can’t discover this without writing. I got my refund.

I wait about six weeks and get the Livescribe 3 off of Amazon. This capture pen has nearly the same design as the Moleskine pen with the curiously offset ink cartridge. I download the app to both of my mobile devices. I shop online for more ink cartridges. I buy the wrong ones mislabeled from earlier versions of the Livescribe pen that are exactly an eighth of an inch too short. I remember that I had previously purchased lots of red and black ink refills for a Cross Tech 3 pen. They fit and nothing about being labeled Cross instead of Livescribe interferes with anything. I pat myself on the back and get busy.
In comparison to the otherwise indistinguishable Moleskine branded pen (really? I’m thinking industrial espionage), the Livescribe pen works exactly as advertised as a capture pen. Pair up a notebook, pen and app and your words appear on the screen unlike the Moleskine pen, which had many words that dropped out off the screen and thus never stayed with the document until the end.

My initial concerns involved that the offset placement of the ink nib to make room for the accelerometers in the pen’s barrel might make for an uncomfortable writing experience. I had read a few comments to that effect probably on Amazon. When I use a pen too much, I feel it in my elbow. Using the Livescribe was no different, my elbow wanted to kill me the first few days.

When I switched back to my good pens I found the feeling about the same as a full day with just a good pen (also by Cross). I repeated the experiment and found that my elbow protested almost the same way each time, though getting less with each usage. So the question of – does a Livescribe write worse than a regular well-designed pen? – pretty much punts to “I don’t know, didn’t seem that noticeable. Ask a professional at ergonomics.”

For most of my time in possession of the pen, it sits near my sound system or chess set (same side table). Dust collects. I wipe it down. I type on other devices. I use the to see if it still works. I send the file to myself both as a PDF and as a TXT file. I put the pen sized roughly like a Churchill cigar down and go back to those other devices. Rinse and repeat.

I guess when the guys that name products came up with note capture pen they meant it. The good version (Livescribe) of that technology captures the written page very well thank you very much. And sending the indicated pages from the control app proves to be a breeze, the PDF reads like any other file of that ilk. My mostly neat printing (I don’t moan the loss of cursive as part of a proper education the way others do) carries through to wherever the PDF needs to go.

The system pairs up the pen with a notebook with embedded markers that tell the electronics where it is and from whence it came. The pen talks to the app over Bluetooth recreating the written page almost exactly. The paper is proportionally more expensive than the spirals available at the grocery store or Office Depot.

During this time, I put in a red cartridge from Cross. The screen still gives me black text. I test out the shorter ink nibs and found that the eighth of an inch makes it impossible to a get a writing point to seat far enough above the slot when open to make writing comfortable. So I twist open the pen and yank out the short nibs with my pliers, for the longer nibs for the newer pen switching out ink can be done with fingertips (an eighth of an inch matters) and put the original cartridge back in.

The pen promises several other neat features like the ability to record audio through the nearest paired device’s microphone. Uh, no, I just need to cut down on the labor intensive part of typing from my notebook. But, the important feature says that I can choose to send transcribed text files that I can then cut and paste into a digital text file, an email, text or, in my case, a paragraph. And now we get to the part where the makers of the pen might not have thought about my whiny selfish needs to cut down the middle step of typing from the notebook.

When I write with a pen, I naturally indent and move to the next line trying to make my text look readable, at least. But, the transcription software makes the text come out as seen in the accompanying photos looking more like my poetry stanzas. I can’t be sure if the result in the TXT file is unintentionally in iambic pentameter or not (I don’t really do IP, ten syllables per line while trying to tell a story might just kill me).

Some of the other paragraphs come out as thick Justified ugly blocks of text where if I hadn’t written it and can refer to the paper version, I might not ever find a paragraph or sentence break ever. I’ll admit to the transient symbols and hash caused by cross outs being a fact of life when writing with a pen, but after a while I still really can’t read this text and have it make sense.

Once you have text a writer can Cut and Paste into a document, but the text doesn’t like dropping into a template. Nothing wants to appear in the font built into the format. The handy first line indent goes by the wayside until fixed much later on a desktop version of Word. And I still have to rediscover the paragraph breaks in the original text.

The point of going to from pen to text with no typing in between is to go straight to the second draft to work on creating better words the second time. I found myself feeling like I spent more time on fixing margins, fonts, spacing, sentence and paragraph breaks than on reading my almost there first draft text. My low tolerance for wasted steps would typically get me typing from the notebook anyway.

So no time saved where I need it most. Sounds like I rooked myself out of $200 and a few notebooks for no appreciable gains in productivity. And my pattern of use for a day and a half, put it away for four weeks essentially means I missed Amazon’s return/refund window. Well, I don’t have to buy a second one…

In the spirit of find something nice to say about all reviewed products (a basic trick to review writing drilled into me in my Extension-based J-school), I will say that the note capture part of what the Livescribe does is as cool as advertised. My printing comes out as clear as wrote it and moves around just like any other email attachment. If I were the sort of writer willing to hire administrative help, the extra pair of human eyes would figure things out way better than a computer trying to guess where to find the readable language, I could see using this cigar. Or I think a college student paid to take notes in class for other people might love a Livescribe; I’m thirty years removed from class.

But, if I become such that I won’t or (as I age) can’t type for myself requiring paid assistance there are cheaper ways to go from notebook to book. Printers with scanners. Photocopiers and envelopes. Siri and other dictation apps. A pen that tries to but doesn’t quite shorten the typing needed for the first official digital draft seems like it should be a distant last in my purchase priorities.

So I own a metal tube that may or may not cause a mild uptick in my repetitive elbow strain. It doesn’t quite transcribe well enough for a famously impatient writer. I still have to type, but it captures very well. And it’s more expensive than other methods to get to the same place. Sibling, can I interest you in this handy pen similar to a case of Military Aid rifles…practically never fired and only dropped once?

One of many choices for Diana…

© 2017 G.N. Jacobs

Write long enough and we will all come up against a minor problem for what to do with your characters: the Triangle/Power Couple. You see it on a lot of shows where things have gone on a while and they need to shake things up. On Dharma & Greg, four or five seasons in towards the end (I’d stopped watching by then completely burned out on the sitcom format) the writers tossed in Kevin Sorbo to tempt Dharma. On King of Queens the show ends in divorce (I only caught a few minutes towards the end). On the flip side, many shows have a couple that sticks it out for the entirety of the show and the viewers root for them in all their twists and turns with other possibilities (Luke and Laura on General Hospital, perhaps?). 

The other obvious choice…

Comic books are no stranger to these related phenomena. My favorite case study in comic books: Wonder Woman/Batman/Superman. People coming late to the movies might be shocked, shocked that Wonder Woman hooks up with either one of the DC’s alpha male spandex-heroes. Depending on when you jumped out of reading comics and back into watching the movies you might ask –

Well, isn’t she, like, hooked up with Steve Trevor?

Isn’t she, like, a lump of magically animated clay raised in the Amazon way that eschews men?

Isn’t Batman, like, a total horn dog playboy as part of his distraction campaign to deflect ugly ‘aren’t you Batman’ questions?

Isn’t Superman hooked up with either Lois Lane or Lana Lang?

Isn’t Wonder Woman basically a thinly disguised lesbian icon?

Wonder Woman was hooked up with Steve Trevor in the Golden Age saving him from his crash within swimming reach of Themyscira. They fought Nazis together. They platonically never fully consummated this relationship due to the eventual advent of the Comics Code and the same innate ‘keep them apart as long as possible’ vibe that drives shows like Moonlighting or Bones.

But, once you move Wonder Woman out of the World War Two era trying to balance the march of time with a woman that always looks her best as a twenty-five-year-old brunette, old boyfriends like Steve Trevor fall away and die. Unless a writer decides to use one of the many ways in DC comic book magical physics to bring Steve Trevor back, the dude usually stays out of the picture.

Diana of Themyscira did at one time hail from a clay statue made by her mother Hippolyta after moving to the island. But, comic book publishers run through cycles of we have so much clutter in our literary universe let’s start over with world altering events that allows us to make subtle changes for clarity. Since Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1986, Wonder Woman has the simpler backstory of Zeus seduced Hippolyta and made Diana an immortal demigod, much like Hercules, explaining her powers and perpetual youth.

I suspect, but can’t necessarily prove with textual references, that removing the clay statue origin might have been part of a way to have Wonder Woman participate in adult relationships without worrying about the Comics Code (largely a legacy appellation by the mid-1980s kept around for form, until finally killed off in the 1990s). A clay statue animated by magic origin would be presumed more resistant to the needs of flesh and she wouldn’t necessarily need sex the way the rest of us do.

But, being the daughter of Zeus replacing clay, Wonder Woman needs lovin’ a little bit more. Actually, if philandering is genetic and not just a function of alpha male godhood as depicted in the surviving Greco-Roman legends, Diana needs a lot more sex. Like Daddy, like Daughter.

Raised among women warriors, many readers have assumed that Diana would present as a lesbian. But, she leaves the island for long periods of time to help the men of Man’s World, The Patriarchy or the Modern World take our collective heads out of our asses. There is an undeniable literary pressure to have her periodically hook up with men to help feed the fantasies of boys for the Nordic shield-maiden, Eowyn of Rohan, or even the three or four female Pharaohs that ruled in their own right, long before Cleopatra.

Wonder Woman’s sexuality, a sticky wicket that so far hasn’t kicked off the usual angry cries rooted in identity politics. Lesbians want the Amazon for themselves, but the publisher needs her to be feminine enough to tease boys into reading the book. So far, modern Wonder Woman writing asserts that she’s very bisexual, thank you very much. Greg Rucka gets most of the credit for this on Wikipedia.

Seems to me that bisexual Wonder Woman tries to dodge a few of these bullets inherent in the common discussion of LGBTQ. If sexuality is something we’re born with (a view I’ve come to accept unless future science screws us), then it follows that we have to parse out the difference between people who must be gay because their genes, or gene triggers (the related science of epigenetics) deem it so, and many people who are opportunistically gay, whether a single-gender prison, or island of Amazons.

Now the predominantly male writers and artists of DC’s third tier of the Big Three might have gone full bore mansplaining asshole by making her a straight woman trapped by growing up around other Amazons into being a lesbian. If we take the statistics of homosexuality at face value, she would supposedly have between a 90 and 95-percent chance of coming to Man’s World the first time and going native, winding up as a dutiful farm wife in Wisconsin. Cue feminist outrage (considering that I like Wonder Woman as a hero, not a housewife, I might help…just this once).

This aggressive male appropriation of Wonder Woman that is likely only to show up in the darkest fan fiction corners of Wattpad has some basis in the original mythology of Amazons. The Amazons were just normal women who simply banded together to resist men at their worst. But, they had the same procreation needs as other tribes, so they raided nearby villages for men sending them home when they were done. Male children went home to their fathers. Girls stayed with Mommy.

Modern writers have played with this motif a bit. The Legendary Journeys of Hercules threw Hercules and Iolus into a curious situation where a neighboring male village is continuously raided by Amazons. It had become such a regular thing that the same Amazon would pick out her man from the village and repeatedly hook up with him. Effectively creating a marriage with the gender separation rules of, say, an Orthodox Jewish marriage. Hercules had to solve the issue by reminding both sides of the modern opinion that neither should dominate, but work together.

It is this tradition that William Moulton Marsden used creating Wonder Woman and this is what people think about the comic book Amazons. Leading to the assumption that Diana could and would hook up with men. But, Greg Rucka clearly establishing bisexual on his run dodges the extremes of both camps by expertly making Wonder Woman a character everybody can borrow for a little while depending on the story that needs telling.

So that covers the could Wonder Woman hook up with the two spandex-dudes that make up DC’s First Trio of heroes question. Could doesn’t necessarily mean should. Anyone with a library card must be shouting at the screen dude, Batman and Superman will kill each other over the girl! The comic book continuity explored this possibility already in an alternate DC universe, originally Earth-3, but later called Earth-2 by Grant Morrison when he went back to use these versions of the characters after Crisis. The gimmick, the heroes in this universe are all evil.

Superwoman (Evil Wonder Woman) is hooked up with Ultraman (Evil Superman) in an official context because Ultraman has so much personal power he can take what he wants. Superwoman sneaks out to be with Owlman (Evil Batman) on a regular basis. Ultraman regularly catches them and breaks up the moment, but usually finds a reason to keep his rival alive.

In the main continuity, Wonder Woman has been with both Batman and Superman depending on which hookup Editorial thought would sell more books. Most recently, Superman and Wonder Woman were a thing that just broke up this month in the middle of the Rebirth event. Both the beginning of this relationship and its end required much of the confusing reality altering jiggery-pokery that are one of the expectations of comic book narrative. Reality changed and Superman chased Wonder Woman getting her to agree to be part of that power couple. Reality changed back as it always does and suddenly Lois Lane may or may not be back in the picture.

Fans tend to get nasty in their mental preservation of the legacy characters that have always been the way they are, but for a few minor digressions designed to hook new readers. Captain America is NOT A FREAKIN’ NAZI! Nor is Superman going to permanently leave Lois Lane. We argue that Superman is too much of a good guy to permanently dump Lois for anyone. We also argue that Supes might be so normal and therefore boring in a relationship that Wonder Woman would leave of her own accord.

The arguments in favor of Batman as the boyfriend in this DC power couple narrative goes like this – She understands warriors coming from a warrior culture. Batman is by definition a borderline psychotic with unrequited orphan pain driven to dress up like Dracula and beat Gotham’s criminals within an inch of their lives. He becomes Gotham’s fierce protector and Diana has a point of contact that allows her to converse with him at a meaningful level.

Some have also suggested that Batman’s underlying pain sparks a presumed feminine need to fix the broken in Diana. This is a loaded assumption sure to spark a wide range of opinion from all kinds of women and other Wonder Woman fans. Women come with a wide range of thought and characters like Wonder Woman are designed to reflect all of that experience depending on who writes and draws her at any given time.

Certainly the flip side of the she wants to fix Batman argument contains the seeds of why she leaves him when Editorial deems it so. A man frozen in his pain by his editors or all consuming rage in the real world might not change fast enough for the good woman in his life and, thus, she files for divorce and takes the cat.

The argument for Team Superman. Diana is very nearly the single most powerful woman in DC’s version of our universe, the cool one where men can fly and women rope evildoers with the Lasso of Truth. She might worry that hooking up with an ordinary man with a big brain and utility belt might get him hurt. Superman as depicted in Smallville had his own version of this problem, humorously waiting until Lana Lang became a kryptonite fueled spandex-heroine for a full day of earthquake sex.

I’m sure someone would also make the argument that a Superman/Wonder Woman relationship represents a classic immigrant story where one type of immigrant, a Kryptonian-American, hooks up with another type of immigrant, an Amazonian-American, cast adrift on the far shore of America. Their shared outsider status gives the happy couple things to talk about as they discover what America means to them.

When it comes right down to it, I don’t really have a strong preference for any of the three general classes of relationship options for Wonder Woman. I usually assert Team Batman because of the understanding warriors attitude. It is a shared experience. And the she attempts to fix assumption can be entertaining to watch the way all fool’s errands and train wrecks are. But, as I write this I realize that I have a deeper reason for mildly asserting Team Batman.

Most of the Wonder Woman stories that appeal to me are the Young Diana/Fresh off the Boat stories where she serves as the average writer’s vehicle for the confusion about everything we see in our world. A confusion that exists for all of us, even when we’ve been around a while and are much more used to the Way Things Have Always Been. We can use Diana to explore just how far women should go as a feminine standard bearer in modern life. We can use Diana to raise an eyebrow at a presumed hair trigger male attitude on a subject for a sense of balance, if not actually going for hearts and minds leading to change.

I refer to these stories as Young Diana because while she is immortal like Superman, in most versions, is assumed to be, she spent most of that long life on Themyscira training like King Arthur in Avalon, or dead Vikings in Valhalla waiting for when she would be needed most. She doesn’t spend very much time in Man’s World and thus has an amusing naïveté about how things work. The trailer for the upcoming Wonder Woman movie has that cute moment where a fully armed Diana gets trapped in a revolving door with her shield and sword, so I’m not the only potential writer milking Fresh off the Boat for its narrative value.

It seems to me that Batman is the better partner for Young Diana, the stories I seem to understand better. Batman can act as social guide as she figures out her shit and learns to be comfortable in her skin. And depending on whether Batman Editorial wants to hook new readers by reverting the Dark Knight to his solitary hunter’s ways that includes affairs, both frivolous and meaningful, with everyone from Vicki Vale to Catwoman, the fact that Batman doesn’t ever really change can be used for Diana to have a reason to leave also works.

One of the problems with writing for Team Batman or Team Superman, for that matter, is that DC Editorial doesn’t want to give more than two years in print to either camp. The recent Rebirth moment where changed reality wiped out a Superman/Wonder Woman relationship that only went about two years this time. Most previous versions of the Batman/Wonder Woman relationship have also only lasted about that long or even less time than that.

To really develop a Batman/Wonder Woman relationship, DC Editorial might have to commit to about five years of books allowing for quite a few permutations of Get Together, Try to Make it Work and then She Walks Out the Door Crying. We’ll see this probably at the same time that pigs fly without rocket packs, because DC Editorial wants our reading dollars now and knows that their characters need to revert to time established norms.

However, this hypothetical extended relationship would have one interesting effect on Batman himself. The Dark Knight has existed on a pendulum of dark and gritty at one end and semi-campy fun at the other end since the creation of the character. I grew up with Adam West Batman (1966), who never whined about his orphan pain though everyone reading along in the books already knew these things. Modern Batman since Batman (1989) has gotten progressively more dark and brooding referencing the death of his parents nearly constantly.

Given that I keep hearing my comic book friends complain that Batsie should just lighten up, I’m reasonably sure that no one knows where to draw the line in the middle seeking balance between motivation and that fact that the worst things in our lives form scabs, if we live. But, one way to seek that mythical balance in the middle would be this untapped longer term relationship with Wonder Woman. She learns Man’s World and he chills out about his parents being dead and allows the scabs to form.

So if by my work it out as I go along reasoning that Batman is Diana’s better fella when she is new to America, then I also just backhandedly argued that Superman might be the better Experienced Wonder Woman partner. Both are immortal and thus will outlive everybody else in their lives. Batman will get old and pass the mantle to other characters (something briefly explored in a few animated series and Frank Miller’s Return of the Dark Knight). Lois Lane will also pass.

This leaves Clark and Diana to fall into each other’s arms on a who’s left basis, which has the value of solving the Lois problem where an Amazon wouldn’t want to hurt another woman by taking her man. But, this type of story doesn’t appeal to me probably because I see my spandex-heroes as a way of cheating that we all die and want to hold onto my mental youth until my last coma. So mildly Team Batman…but only when I don’t want to have fun tossing Diana in with an interesting woman in DC continuity, just because it would be something of a challenge.

At the end of the day, I see myself as a presently unpaid professional. If DC Editorial ever tosses me a few issues set during the next Superman/Wonder Woman era (it will happen again, it’s comics) with no instruction to shake things up, I’ll work it out and get paid. This truth is why my Team Batman affiliation is only mild.

I used these permutations of the Batman/Wonder Woman/Superman triangle as an easy way to highlight that a writer has to answer these questions even about our own characters. Do they work together and why? Once you answer the question between your ears, put it down on paper.

© 2017 G.N. Jacobs

Writers hear there are no bad ideas, just bad writers quite frequently. Generally, I would agree, until… 

I came up with a small few ideas that I know won’t work coming from my smoking word processor. This is me saying “wow, I can’t make it work.” Not some angry external voice.

One of my first ideas ever popped more than twenty-five years ago spent close to thirty years in the various versions of my idea file. I only deleted it six weeks ago, I think. What was it? I titled it Flatliner Express, William Gibson inspired Cyberpunk.

In college, I ended up being the mediocre student that learned more than my transcripts indicate, someone who becomes a writer because no other profession requiring college learning would have me. One of many things I read during that time outside of class, were it wouldn’t do me any good, was Gibson’s Neuromancer. A justifiably classic tale of Case the best hacker around protected by Molly the Razor Girl as he fights through cyberspace ultimately freeing a sentient AI onto the Internet.

So what would Flatliner have been about since young writers always want to copy great writers? A hacker, net-runner or console cowboy (the in-book slang for these things is endless) braves great hazards roughly equivalent to the dark forest in a fairytale to wipe out the digital files that describes his own citizenship. Think about it, a code warrior with a conscience hacks the near-future versions of his Social Security file, his drivers license file, his criminal records (if any), school records, online commercial records and with the latest variation, his social media presence.

The hero would brave the lethal Black ICE (slang for lethal software protecting information) endemic to the near-future Cyperpunk version of the Internet. He would right a few wrongs from his keyboard. He would make friends with certain AI’s assigned to protect citizenship files. Toss in a romance with a local version of Molly. Drop a lot of bodies on the deck (almost as many as Luc Besson did for Lucy, a treatise on Evolution with machine guns). We’re good, you might think.

I never did more than two chapters that have either not survived the move between various homes or were buried so deep in my writer’s box (where old work goes to die until resurrected by collegiate scholars when my trust dumps my papers on them) that I will burn the house down to avoid looking that mess. I tried it as a script doing five pages, later deleted in disgust. And it continued to languish…

And what in this case is the problem? Why did this one idea never go away and linger? I realized that my subconscious simply called bullshit on the whole thing. Neither the Internet of today nor the directly experienced Cyberspace of tomorrow would actually allow for people to Blank Off The Grid and stay in the game.

You don’t destroy the digital version of your past and keep fighting. You make this hack of a lifetime and retire to that island in the South Pacific where too few people live to provide phone and Internet service. So bring a fishing pole and a few tools to make Swiss Family Robinson tree houses. Moving into a ramshackle tenement with good WiFi to keep fighting for the Little Guy, or leverage against the Mega-Corporations just can’t happen.

I realized late in the game that the code warrior who wanted Blank as a way to fight like an anonymous sniper would have to re-hack his file every year and a half. Cyberpunk societies and the modern developed world have a way of recording traces of everything we do. Go out for ice cream get photographed by the three security video cameras near the store. Said hero would either pay with cash (unless outlawed) or have to figure out a succession of false or anonymous payment accounts that link back to banking havens, a digital hermit crab.

Eventually, the AIs and bots that prowl the Web would notice a pattern and begin to alert their human masters. Facial recognition would cross reference things exactly and return a result of NO FILE FOUND. Do that often enough and the humans patroling the Web start doing classic detective work beginning with a geographic analysis – “Our guy lives in Brooklyn where we’ve noticed quite a lot of activity. And then there was this thing six months ago…”

The Blank Hero would need to clean up his file regularly because the Dark Forces of They Are Out To Get Me might not have the name used in grammar school that provides a history that explains everything, but having the last year’s heavy activity would be enough to do harm. Since hacking one’s own citizen file should as a matter of interesting drama be the greatest task of the Blank Hero’s life, somehow the thought that he or she has to update the Blanking like vaccine boosters every so often takes away from adventure of doing it the first time.

 And each subsequent hack would be three times harder each time, because both in fiction and IRL the Internet takes on characteristics of a living entity that learns and grows from the assaults upon it. And if, as you may guess from my tone, I hated the idea of having the hero quit and fish in Tahiti, in part because that’s more or less how Neuromancer ended. I ended up sitting on an idea for nearly thirty years because it’s hard to give up concepts that sound good on paper, but really don’t pass the internal smell test that all writers should apply to their work – Does this make sense to me?

So there you have it, a writer admitting that sometimes the mind goes places where the wordsmith skills can’t or won’t follow. It might be an idea for which we won’t enjoy the research. It could be something like Flatliner Express where if the writer can’t manage his or her own suspension of disbelief we shouldn’t expect you to either. We all get them, luckily, most good writers are as hard on their ideas as the Detroit Lions were to George Plimpton.

© 2017 G.N. Jacobs

“Do you have any tips about how to format my work?” 

Depending on the asker’s intended medium, trust me, I’m rolling my eyes at you…on the inside. On the outside, I’m smiling and trying to help, to the extent I can, to the limit of my Brussels Sprouts Diplomacy Face. And maybe I send you my Word templates. I seem to have a little sideline in working up templates.

To date, I’ve worked up five comic book script templates, two audio/radio script templates, a film script template, a prose chapter template and an article/post/short fiction template. The point of each is ease of use since I do 90-percent of my writing on a mobile thing-bob, while still looking good on regular computers and coming out of my printer. Hopefully, I’m done with new templates, but we’ll see.

Prose. This part is easy. Pick a 12-point font (Times New Roman, dating me as older in my writing than the changeover to Calibri as the absolute default font). Single space (when writing electronically Double Space doesn’t need to be a thing until just before you send off the manuscript). Default margins. Standard .5-inch tabs. Automatic first sentence indent equal to one tab. A 14-point chapter header. Cut and paste subsequent chapters into a larger document with headers and page numbers. Do any special margin trickery on Big HAL later. The chapter template differs from the short template switching out the chapter header for a title header with a copyright statement (assert it or lose it), but otherwise it’s the same thing.

Obviously, it isn’t novelists who’ve worn out their welcome with the format question. I’m pretty sure the average novelist could figure out his or her version of the above given how much it relies on defaults and presets. Thus, they rarely ask and I thank you for that.

Film and TV. Yeah, here is where I need a slice of that Temperpedic memory foam mattress material placed between my iPad and the edge of the table where I type. I’m thinking a square slice 18 inches on a side and a mandatory 10-14 inches deep. I will bang my head many times as an experiment in materials science to see how long the foam lasts before they send me to the hospital for treatment for concussion. I want those 324 square inches as a large target because I have a feeling I might miss a smaller mat on the tenth head-bang.

My frustration with the format question on the part of fresh off the bus screenwriters stems from the frequency of the ask, but also because the answers are simpler than they think. “Buy or use any of the following five screenwriting programs and trust the software for the basics. Play with the secondary tricks in the software according to your personal taste. Your agent will tell you how to clean up your script before sending it around.”

The five major screenwriting programs/apps that I’m aware of include Final Draft, Movie Magic, Adobe Story, Writer Duet and CELTX, most of which I’ve reviewed buried deep on my mirrored site for archived posts that I started long before the Scribbler’s Saga column. For the basics, these tools functionally do exactly the same things and are, thus, completely indistinguishable.

There are four basic forms in screenwriting: SCENE HEADER (aka Slugline), ACTION, CHARACTER HEADER and DIALOGUE. There are a few secondary tricks included with all of the tools I’ve listed above including PARENTHETICAL, TRANSITIONS, DUAL DIALOGUE and a few others. My experience says that the basic four forms are as required as everyone has ever heard doing their due diligence reading a variety of books by screenwriters who made a living. Luckily, investing in your choice of screenwriting software handles all that for us at the level of Push Button, Keep Writing.

But, it is in the secondary and tertiary tricks where we find the disagreement among screenwriters, the worst of us become that most dreaded animal in writing group, the Format Nazi (a distant third on the odious scale behind Soup Nazis and Real Nazis). The person across the table who gives you shit because your pages don’t have Continued slugs in the top right corner (an option left over from the bad old days when crew had to deal with a shooting script). The person jumping on you with both feet because you didn’t start with Fade In.

Basically, the Format Nazi has recently read a book that might be up to ten years out of date and is therefore certain of everything despite being a member of a critique group tailored for dirt farmers like everybody else. If you’re here you’re not getting paid, therefore your opinion has no more Holy Writ to it than if I told you to write in your most svelte purple underwear while hanging upside down in gravity boots (a recipe for a spiritual awakening, an aneurism or both).

Depending on the writer bringing pages, the debate can be about using too many transitions (Cut To, Dissolve To, Wipe To…). I happen to know that several successful screenwriters have idiosyncratic quirks concerning transitions. I’ll have to look it up to see if I remember if it was William Goldman asserting a liberal usage of Cut Tos in the Transition slot as an intentional way to bump up the pacing of key scenes. So the dirt farmer (proud of the appellation, grease me with beer to hear that story) who has bought Mr. Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade might go into the reading group certain of “William Goldman says so.” Only to be slapped down with “don’t try to direct the script on the page for the director.”

In case you care, my screenwriting quirks run to no Fade In – “why does a movie script always start with Fade In? How about Smash Cut In?” A friend asked that question and I sort of stole the thought. Thus, the top of Page One begins with a slug line.

Similarly, I go light on Transitions. I have been repeatedly instructed that the editorial department treats blank as a cut. So Cut To seems redundant (unless you like Mr. Goldman’s presumed style). I make exceptions for things like “my mental image really says Match Dissolve here.” I also make exceptions for when I conform the writing to a known visual style. For example when fighting through the Arrogant Do It My Way version of Return of the Jedi, I’ll use more Wipe Tos than I will in any ten of my other scripts combined. It’s a Star Wars film grammar rule.

I still love presenting certain sound effects presented in ALL CAPS, even though I do hear things from other writers that their agents keep telling them not to do this. Personally, I’m a forty-nine years young dude still chasing the perfect Speed Racer episode, or a good Batman movie that doesn’t rely on “F-it, it’s Batman, one five automatic opening day draws in our cultural database. Build it, they will come.” Sound effects, especially fight sound effects, in All Caps represent my feeling that fights are much like a pub brawl or a Popeye-Bluto dustup: loud, confusing and dangerous. This quirk stays in the script until my presently fictitious agent tells me to stop; listen to the guy/lady taking 10-percent to sell our work. I love it so much I ported this personal style element into my prose, just saying.

I’ve left at least one screenwriting group meeting in Venice to avoid a specific Format Nazi. When the you shoulds get to be too much, an average of three weeks these days, I’m gone. Push Leave Group and figure out how to fill up the freed up evening time slot. It isn’t hard…you were perhaps paying attention to my coffee post?

One of my screenwriting friends (my primary source for the SFX All Caps debate at the moment) runs one of these groups, a group I would join except for trying to find parking near the Farmers’ Market on Thursday night. Every month at our shared coffee meeting, she relates her frustrations having to repeat “no one here is any kind of expert on screenplay format” before every meeting. I smile, say “I hear you” and wait until the conversation shifts to her travels, her political advocacy or whatever.

I write this section knowing full well, I’m about to try out a group on Sunday night that made a specific point of insisting “thou shalt read the latest edition of Dave Trottier’s Screenwriting Bible.” A homework assignment (review to follow, whenever), that I will gladly undertake if only to see how quickly three years (Sixth Edition pub. 2014) can make any “practical guide to screenwriting” obsolete. I’m hoping for more out of the non-format chapters.

But, getting back to my list of Word templates, the one for Film was titled Emergency for when I just had to write a script. Because Mobile Word decided a long time ago to strip out the macros that most desktop users could do after maybe a week of hard use, there was no point in trying to figure out the weird nearly centered indents for Character and Dialogue. I just left them up against against the left margin assuming I would Cut and Paste the work into Final Draft using Big HAL working from my grooved couch cushions at home. And then Final Draft put out the mobile version, so a template I never used, except to further the rude adventures of Bozo T. Clown (I’ll have to do a little bit of file archeology to remember when Batman became my default template character).

Comic books. I’ve put in more thought work trying to figure out just the right way to put my comic book specific thoughts on paper than anything else. These scripts have had a surprisingly long learning curve for me. Yes, the first thing out of an experienced comic book creator’s mouth is “there is no set template, make it up for yourself.” And then the second thing is “your first artist, if that isn’t you, will tell you what they liked.”

My comic book templates so far represent a progression from a highly detailed form (see pictures) trying things out in both Final Draft and Word to simpler (see pictures). Yes, these early templates represent a bit of nauseating control over the whole look of the comic book where I stated the placement, width and shape of the panel. Similar to screenwriters being told to avoid directing on the page, a non-artist writer has to learn to step back and play nice with an artist. A head out of ass surgery performed by the newly created medical specialty of cranio-proctologist.

Included in this progression is a drive to write shorter so the artist has more latitude for the story. The progression from “bloviate about scene in nauseating detail” to “Batman kicks in a solid door expressing a violently satisfied smirk” follows yet another of many fronts in the eight-decade ongoing trash talk between DC and Marvel. Marvel House Style (give the artist an outline with dialogue) resulted from Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s oddly symbiotic relationship.

Stan was the editor managing fifty titles or more. He had to keep it simple to avoid wasting time. Jack knew how to speak to Stan. Magic results. The most famous version of this process came from – “Jack, have the Fantastic Four meet God and get into a knees and elbows rumble with him (quote paraphrased).” So, Jack comes back with pages for what became the first introduction of Galactus and Stan added the dialogue.

By contrast, DC had their own giants, but none every had such a close working relationship. The writers gave the artists scripts of varying complexity and life went on. Presumably, as the comic book business expanded from two major companies that writers have learned to strike a balance, hopefully also represented in my last comic book template (see picture).

Similar to how rookie screenwriters are likely to copy the advice from the latest how to book they read, I freely admit that all of the highly detailed comic book templates early on were a result of Monkey See, Monkey Do. I think some of the scripts printed in books like The DC Guide to Comic Book Writing showed up in how I did things. That and reading a few scripts published from modern giants like Brian Michael Bendis.

Despite pointed comments that I don’t need a cast list from some more experienced writer/artists because only the artist will see the script and character design will already be locked down verbally in conversation, the quirky element survives. Why? The cast list helps me keep panel descriptions to “Batman pulls up short seeing Joker sharing an intimate moment with Harley Quinn.” Otherwise, the first introductory panel would bloviate about what my characters look like. More importantly, as comic books continue becoming more of a huge thing, I want to keep my options open for the script book…always keep options open to make money.

Audio/radio. Similar to my comic book templates, the two audio/radio drama templates I’ve created (see pictures) have a lot of copycat to them. The complex one originally on Final Draft (a laborious process) resembles the preferred format posited by a company trying to make money with audio dramas. Monkey See, Monkey Do. The newer form on Word is a direct copy of Googling audio scripts and seeing a highly simplified format for a Philip Marlowe drama from 1951. Monkey See, Monkey Doo…and don’t shop at just one store.

Now that we’ve some to the end of my thoughts, such as they are, about the many ways I’ve come to be privately annoyed with the format question. More often than not, the answer is some variation of “work it out for yourself.” No, I won’t bite off your head, because I still sort of remember my own copy someone big methodology, but please after a while it is a silly question.