How to Fix: Guardians of the Galaxy II

Damn, what a missed opportunity.

I enjoyed the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie, and hoped the second would be more snarky fun.

Instead, it’s a stiff, nonsensical mess.

What Went Well

The fight scenes and set pieces are absolutely stunning. I mean just gorgeously filmed, with excellent special effects, and clever shots.

The soundtrack was similarly inspired. Any Cat Stevens fan is a friend of mine.

Zoe Saldana continues to do great work with slight scripts. And Kurt Russell was a great choice for Ego.

What Went Wrong

Ye gods, so much.

Almost everything feels stiff and forced. The weird sniping between Rocket and Peter is overwrought and comes out of nowhere. The opening credits sequence with Groot is cute but completely drains the background fight of any tension. The feud between Gamora and Nebula feels rushed and shot through with bad timing, from the “not ripe” yaro root joke that falls flat to Nebula’s kamikaze run entrance that has absolutely no effect on anything else that’s happening.

So many things seemed designed to drain the events of any meaning. Yondu loses his control-hawk, but it doesn’t matter because he gets it back within a day of getting captured. The Sovereign tracks them across the galaxy, but it doesn’t matter because their pilots are so bad they can be held off by one ship while Peter flies around asking for tape. It doesn’t even matter that they “kill” so many Sovereign pilots, since their ships are all remote-controlled drones. Nebula takes out Yondu for a bit, but it doesn’t matter (in the sense of her becoming the new captain) because the writers want to make jokes about Taserface.

Then there’s the big, gaping, passive hole at the center of the story.

Peter’s relationship with his dad is supposedly at the heart of the plot, but there’s no tension there, either. Peter is never forced to choose anything, he just gets carried along with events. He meets his dad, and just goes along home with him. He finds out his dad is evil, and then immediately is forced to go along with his plans (until rescued by his friends).

There’s no drama, no moment of choice anywhere. It’s just one set piece after another, all of which we know the Guardians will come out on top for, until credits roll.

How to Fix It

We start with the spine of the story: Peter and his encounter with Ego. We strip out the parts that add fake tension: he killed Peter’s mom, he smashed his walkman, etc. We take out the forced usage of Peter as a battery.

Instead, we push Peter into a terrible choice: his father or his friends.

Maybe Ego is dying, and only Peter can save him by staying on the planet and serving as a second battery. Or maybe Ego promises Peter he can bring his mother back, if only he helps him “recharge” by overtaking those planets he’s placed seeds on.

Either way, we need the climax of the story being Peter making a choice. He needs to be forced to choose either the father he never knew, or the ragtag family he’s assembled on his own. We need to see both choices as something Peter could do. Whatever he chooses, he’s going to lose something.

And then we can echo that conflict out to the other plotlines. Nebula can still take out Yondu, but then have her take over the control of the Ravager ship. She jettisons Yondu and Rocket out of an escape pod; they’ll have to fend for themselves. Meanwhile, she’s decided to take the ship and track down Gamora, for her revenge.

When she arrives, it’s in the middle of the battle between Ego, Peter, the other Guardians, and the Sovereign. And Nebula will have a choice: to protect her sister, or to stand by and watch her fall.

Meanwhile, Yondu and Rocket are facing a choice of their own. Having hobbled over to a nearby star system to lick their wounds, they have to decide what to do next. Yondu tries to induce Rocket to join him as a Ravager, saying something to the effect of “this is where you belong.” They can steal a ship, and then keep stealing, for as long as they want. No Peter to keep them from grabbing a few batteries when they want.

But then they see news of the Sovereign fleet heading to Ego’s planet, and they realize their choice could mean all of their friends will die.

Finally, we need to fix the character of Mantis. Currently, she’s Ego’s plaything. Her role in the story is to be a love interest for Drax. She doesn’t affect the story in any way, or have any choice she has to make.

So let’s give her one. Make her one of The Sovereign, a mutant named Bug that the gold people think of as a mistake. She stows away on the Guardian’s ship to get away from the home where everyone hates her. Drax discovers her during the initial fight with the Sovereign, and decides to take her under his wing.

The rest of her storyline can play out normally from there, with one twist: during the final battle, she gets contacted by the Sovereign command with an offer: betray the Guardians, and earn a hero’s welcome back home.

More than polishing up the dialog, or making the actors do more takes until it feels natural, or dropping the weird cameos from Howard the Duck and the Watchers, it’s these changes that will push the movie into a meaningful, purposeful shape.

Writer’s Coffeehouse Notes, Sep 2017

Went to the Writer’s Coffeehouse at Mysterious Galaxy again yesterday. This time it was hosted by author Henry Herz, so we got to dig into the details of writing and submitting children’s books. I might try to polish up and submit that picture book draft I have, after all 😉

Many thanks to Mysterious Galaxy for hosting, and to Henry for running the show!

My notes:

Possible to have agent and still indy publish; Indy Quillen does it, because her agent sent book to publishers first, she indy pubbed only after publishers all passed on it

Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators: has local chapter, can join and get critiques

San Diego Writer’s Ink: has critique groups

Can take classes at local colleges to meet other writers and get feedback

Indy: recommends using real name (or pen name) for twitter handle, makes it easier to find you

Posting comments on blogs of authors you like in your genre can help drive traffic to your own website

Picture books: birth to 6-7, then easy readers, then chapter books, then middle grade

400-500 words, perfect for 6-7 yr old protagonist

Don’t do art notes! Leave that for the illustrator, they’ll come up with better art than you can

Leave out all your normal descriptive text

Run your manuscript through an online tool to check the vocab level, needs to be appropriate for your age group

Usually don’t send artwork with the book, publisher picks them

Educational tie-in great for selling picture books to editors, something for teachers to hook into

La Jolla Writer’s Conference: small, but pulls big names; November

Southern California Writer’s Conference: September in Irvine, good for people that haven’t been to a conference before, low key, Indy got her agent there

Tuesday, Sep 12th: look for #mswl on twitter (manuscript wish list)

Recommended reading: Donald Maas’ Writing the Breakout Novel; Invisible Ink

Brief Comics Reviews: Sep 2017

Wicked and Divine, Vol 4: Holy shit. Holy shit. Holy shit. It’s back. Swallowed this one whole in about an hour. Need more.

The Vision, Vol 1: Art is…fuzzy? Seems like the lines are never sharp. Which is maybe deliberate, since it’s a fuzzy-line world they’re creating. But it’s hard on the eyes.

Constantly narrated via voice-over, instead of using dialog or pictures to show what’s happening. It’s a fine technique, and a known one, but it’s a bit tedious when it’s all the comic is written in.

Deadly Class, Vol 3: When did everyone become pretentious and annoying?

Saga, Vol 5: Artwork still fantastic, writing keeps me reading, but…did anything really happen? Threads wound up rather easily, it seems, and Fiona was ripped away again kind of arbitrarily. Also: too much time spent with the bounty hunters I don’t care about.

Year Zero by Ian Buruma

Illuminating. Filled a gap in my understanding of the war, of the year between the Allied victory and the rebuilding that followed.

Thankfully, Buruma doesn’t just cover what happened in Europe. He looks everywhere, from the Netherlands to Indonesia to Japan and China. A true history of the fallout from the last world war.

Three things I learned:

  • The Soviets stripped their territories, both European and Asian, of industry. Whole factories were broken down and shipped into the Soviet Union, from Poland to Japanese-occupied Manchuria.
  • Jews in Poland were not safe after the war. Those who managed to find a home to come back to still faced discrimination and pogroms. Over a thousand Jews were murdered in Poland in the year after liberation.
  • British military was complicit in the deaths of thousands, as it sent captured anti-communists back to the Soviet Union to be slaughtered (men, women, and children).

Ghost Road Blues by Jonathan Maberry

Simply put, a fantastic ghost story. Like a horror film from the 80s updated and put in novel form.

Three things I learned about writing:

  • 3rd person omniscient works only if you stay out of characters’ individual perspectives. Say what happens, and report what they think, but as an outsider
  • Tragedy for a minor character has more impact if we spend some time with them first, however little, to see how they act normally
  • Remember that characters only know what they see, and that can mislead them sometimes. That’s okay. Let them be wrong when they should be wrong, so that when they’re right it’ll feel like triumph.

1493 by Charles C. Mann

Revelatory. Mann’s 1491 opened my eyes to the many civilizations that existed in the Americas before Columbus landed. 1493 has shown me just how much of our current world was created in the aftermath of his voyages.

Three of the many, many things I learned:

  • The lynchpin of the global trade of American silver for Chinese porcelain and silks was the Philippines. That’s where Spanish traders first ran into Chinese junks, in the early sixteenth century.
  • One theory for the causes of the Little Ice Age: the sudden reforestation of the Americas from the millions of native inhabitants that died out from European diseases.
  • China is the world’s largest producer of sweet potatoes, and the second-largest producer of maize. Both crops are native to the Americas.

Patience

Sent the novel out to my first pick agent this weekend. I know it’ll most likely be rejected — it’s my first real stab at a query letter — but I’ve got to start somewhere.

Also got back another rejection of one of the stories I’ve been circulating. I didn’t waste any time worrying about it, though. I picked another market, and sent it right back out.

While waiting for rejections, I’m rewriting one of the stories I wrote last month. The feedback I got on it was positive, but in fixing the problems the reviewers pointed out, I discovered a different story sitting under the one I was writing.

Same characters, same themes, but a different plot.

I have a feeling this version will turn out much better than the first two, but the only way to find out is to write it 🙂

On the Google Anti-Diversity Memo

It’s horseshit.

From its title (“Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber”) to its claims that its author is the only human capable of rational thought without bias, to its assertion that modern feminist critique only exists because Communism failed, it’s filled with faulty logic and flawed arguments that wouldn’t have held water in any of the philosophy classes I took as a freshman.

It’s clearly a document meant to inflame, to incite, and most definitely not to encourage the kind of discussion the author claims over and over again to want to facilitate.

Let me be clear:

  • The gender pay gap is real. Its size varies across countries and industries, but it exists.
  • Studies of group decision-making show that those with a variation in viewpoints — particularly along gender lines — do better than those that lack such diversity.
  • Bias against women is long-standing in the technological fields, and should be combatted by any means necessary.
  • Feminism goes back a hell of a lot further than communism.
  • Claims of universal values for Left and Right ignore the historical context in which those labels arose, and how fluid the beliefs of the groups assigned those labels have been over time.
  • Affirmative-action programs are not “illegal discrimination”
  • Political correctness is the name commentators on the Right have given to an age-old phenomenon: politeness. Certain beliefs or expressions are always considered beyond the pale. Those expressions change over time. The recent trend in Western society has been to push insults of race or gender beyond the pale. This is not a new thing, it is not a new form of authoritarianism, it is not a symptom of a Fascist Left. It’s civilization. Rude people have always faced censure, and rightly so.
  • Finally, insisting that others are biased, while you are “biased” towards intellect and reason, is absurd. It’s a classic male power move. It denies your opponents any semblance of reason or thought. It’s dehumanizing. And it’s horseshit.

Writer’s Coffeehouse Notes, Aug 2017

Attended the Writer’s Coffeehouse at Mysterious Galaxy yesterday. As always, I came away with lots of great advice 🙂

Many thanks to Jonathan Maberry for running these, and to Mysterious Galaxy for hosting!

My Notes from the Coffeehouse

Dangerous to be a one-trick pony; if you put something out that doesn’t succeed, don’t take it personally, instead ask what you can do that will sell

Sometimes you have to pick one idea over another because it’ll be easier to sell

Negativity never helps. Da Vinci Code got slammed by so many people, and yet it was responsible for thrillers becoming the dominant genre on the bestseller lists (which they still are)

Lot of business discussions happen at comic-con, behind the scenes; he had meetings with agents, game devs, editors, etc.

If you have a published work in a genre, post on fb page and ask around about getting on a panel at one of these cons

Science people can be a big draw at these events

Got to get involved in these things, put yourself out there, to have these opportunities happen

Henry: started out with small cons, like ComicFest and ConDor, volunteered to put together panels, those smaller cons always need help, another author gave contact info for comiccon organizers, he did the same thing there, volunteered to put together panels, etc

One thing about moderating: try to come up with questions they haven’t had asked before, avoid the “where do you get your ideas?”, try to ask things that get into the personality of the panelists

Other writer noticed Henry asks questions that gets debate flowing among the panelists; respectful, but not all agreeing with each other

Henry: can write in a closet, but might not ever become popular, takes energy and work to get the connections and opportunities for a career in publishing

Suggestion: if you’re in a writing group, hold fake panels; have one person moderate, two or more be fake panelists, others watch and rotate; it’s great practice for later

Some writers will ask questions of the audience to get comfortable at signings

Handle interviews by focusing on what’s fun about it for you; the fun will show and the audience will love it

More practice: get group together, have one person go up and answer the same question over and over again in different ways

If you get on a panel, bring something to share out at the end

La jolla writer’s conference coming up
Southern california writer’s conference coming up

Good advice: a pitch is telling someone how to sell your book

Maberry: writer’s conferences made him fall in live with writing again, would not be a fiction writer without them

Queries: never make absurd claims (this will be as big as harry potter!), or slam other books (this is so much better than harry potter!)

Don’t take pot shots at other books or series

Round the word count to the nearest 5,000. No need to give the exact word count

Most novels, they don’t want more than 100,000 words, because of the extra printing costs for a book of that size

Important to know the right length for your genre; epic fantasy tilts long (150K), westerns tilt short (65K)

DON’T QUERY UNTIL THE NOVEL IS COMPLETE AND POLISHED

Henry: timing of query and font doesn’t matter so much

Maberry: disagree; when you’re querying, getting this stuff right separates you out from amateurs

Maberry: prefers verbal queries; lots of writers’ conferences, find which ones your target agents are going to

Don’t listen to the myth that agents who have sold X numbers of Y genre are no longer looking for more; it’s bunk; you want the agents that are known for selling your genre

Intern here from march fourth publishing house, she confirms everything (and suggests checking them out!)

Pitching in person: the agents there might not be right for you, but it’s good practice, hones your skills, and the agents that are there often come prepared with other agents they can recommend; if nothing else you can get feedback on the pitch

Keep in mind: the agents are just as nervous about this as you are

Jim Butcher: queried jennifer jackson and rejected by her, then met her at a conference, and she agreed to pick him up

Verbal pitches: don’t necessarily have to be pitching a finished book

#mswishlist twitter tag where editors and agents tweet about what they’re looking for

ALWAYS HAVE BUSINESS CARDS WITH YOU AND PUT YOUR FACE ON IT SO THEY CAN REMEMBER YOU

When doing verbal pitch, do not read your pitch, or stick to a script; pitch to the agent, change how you talk about it based on how they react to what you say

Elements of a good pitch: hook them, give them a sense of characters and the stakes, link it to other books and explain why people will want to read it (best to connect it to what you like as a reader, and show how other readers also like that thing)

Another good exercise: take a book you know, and pitch it to your writing group, see if you can get to the essential points

Don’t land too hard on the market piece, becomes too much of a sales pitch; connect it to readers who are real people, and yourself as a writer and someone you want them to want to work with for years

Pitch practice: genre, subgenre, demographic, main character’s name, and a crisis

Don’t think in terms of good or bad for your own writing. Think of “publishable” and “not yet publishable.” Take the latter parts and change what needs to be changed in order to make it publishable.

 

First Novel Done!

It’s done!

Finished the final editing pass for the last few chapters of my first novel early this week.

So now it’s time to build a list of agents to look at, and start querying.

I’ve been going to Publisher’s Marketplace every morning, researching another agent to add to the list. This weekend I’ll pick one, get my query letter in order for them, and send it off.

It’ll feel good to get the book out there. Even if every agent rejects it. True, the rejections will hurt…but there’s no way to get published without getting some.

And, now that the first book’s done, I can turn my attention to the second novel I wrote, and start putting together an editing plan for it. There’s also the short stories I wrote over the last month to edit (one may need a complete rewrite).

So much to do, and thank goodness!