Friday, October 29, 2004

Antaria: Lies

Dusk descended upon Lorendheim, the last vestiges of sunlight falling upon the city. The Fist and Blade tavern sat between the marketplaces and the slums, patiently awaiting patrons both respectable and not-so-respectable.

The man lowered his hood slightly, obscuring his face to the point where his eyes could not be seen, yet not to a level where the Galenic patrols would become immediately suspicious of him. Calmly he stepped past the waning crowds and into the tavern.

The Fist and Blade was unusually sedate at this time. A number of early regulars sat at their tables discussing the day's events. Tough-looking mercenaries lounged in the farthest tables, perhaps negotiating for work or taking leave off their most recent jobs. In a corner of the room, the tavern owner and two of his massive hires were in the process of 'convincing' a young man about paying his overdue tab.

The hooded man walked towards a table near the center of the room, where a short, reed-thin man sat waiting for him.

"Lord Berris," the thin-looking man said.

The hooded man nodded. "You are Tydings, then, I presume."

"Yes," Tydings said. "Please, sit."

The hooded man pulled up an ancient chair. "You must forgive me if I do not remove my cloak, Tydings. This is hardly an appropriate place."

"Certainly not," Tydings answered, "for a noble such as you are."

There was a moment of silence between the two men.

"I'm very disappointed in you, Tydings," Berris finally said.

"Not as much as I am in you, Lord Berris. Let's cut the formalities, shall we? How much is my silence worth to you?"

"You know perfectly well that I would not partake of such... beastly acts."

"Oh, I know more than you think, Lord Berris," Tydings said with a nervous smile.

Berris straightened, although he still refused to lift the hood. "Your allegations are not true," he said.

"If they were not true," Tydings said, "then why would you have agreed to our little meeting in the first place? Surely a noble would not worry himself over mere rumors of his... extreme liking for little boys."

Berris clenched his fists.

"And even if you manage to hold the trust of the other nobles," Tydings said, "the rumor will still be there, twisting its way into the hearts of all who know you. I am certain that you know that words are infinitely powerful in this way, Lord Berris."

"This is extortion, Tydings."

"I am just a simple man making a simple profit, Lord Berris. The question would be whether or not you would be willing to pay."

Lord Berris glowered from underneath his hood. Then, grudgingly, he pulled a small bag from his belt and tossed it on the table.

Tydings opened the bag slightly and glanced at the contents in the fading light. "Diamonds," he said in a satisfied tone. "I was expecting gold crowns, but I must say that you are an interesting person to deal with, Lord Berris."

Berris merely scowled at him. "I've paid you, you blasted thief. Now never darken my sight again."

Tydings slowly stood up. "It's been a pleasure doing business with you, Lord Berris." The reed-thin man glanced around to make sure that no one was watching, then casually sauntered out the door.

Berris continued to sit at the table, tapping his fingers in a steady rhythm. He turned his head slowly, glancing at the tavern owner. The barman caught the noble's eye, gesturing slightly towards the back of the tavern.

Berris got up, nudging past the other patrons and walking in the direction that the barman indicated. There was a small door at the back of the tavern - a door that Berris opened into a private room with a large table. The Fist and Blade catered to many different clients, after all.

A stately-looking man sat at the table, his robes cut and trimmed with the expensive linings that only the rich could afford. "How did it go?" he asked.

"Quite well, Lord Berris," the first Berris said, pulling the hood back and removing his cloak.

The second Berris paused, staring into a face so well-defined that it could have been his identical twin. "Aran's light," he whistled, "you Masquers are as skilled as they say you are."

The first Berris laughed, and it was a strange-sounding laugh that had no trace of Berris's voice at all. On the contrary, anyone hearing the laugh would have sworn that it belonged to a woman.

As the true Berris watched from his seat, the features of the first Berris shifted and melted, until only the form of a slightly shorter, more handsome woman were revealed.

Berris shuddered. "That is truly a discomforting sight, Lady Lorelei," he said.

"That's what most people say," Lorelei answered, shaking her head to free her long, wavy hair.

"You met the blackmailer, then?"

"Tydings? Of course, Lord Berris," Lorelei said.


"He knows nothing," Lorelei said. "He has the faintest of suspicions, but in reality has nothing to work with. He made everything up."

"Yes," Berris said, "but an accusation such as his would stain the honor of any noble."

Lorelei nodded. "I gave him the diamonds, and the fool was as smitten with them as I expected."

"They're... not real, I expect?"

"Naturally, Lord Berris. I wouldn't give the man a copper coin. The bag, however, is enchanted. Your should be able to track him down at your leisure."

"Excellent, Lady Lorelei. Your skill is as paramount as your beauty."

"Thank you, Lord Berris," Lorelei said, hiding her smile with one hand.

Berris slid a small bag across the table. "A gratuity," he said, "for services rendered."

"You have my thanks, Lord Berris, but I could not accept your... charity."

A confused look appeared on Berris's face. "Surely there is something I can offer you as thanks..."

Lorelei smiled. "Of course there is, Lord Berris."

"Then name your price," Berris said, "and I shall gladly pay."

"Well," Lorelei said in a slow, seductive voice, "there's the matter of your... activities."

Berris stared at her. "What... activites?"

"I can read your mind, Lord Berris," Lorelei said, staring intently at him. "You do like children a lot, don't you?"

Berris's face blanched. "I... don't know what you're talking about."

"Especially little boys?"

"That's not true," Berris said nervously. "You found that out yourself."

"I found out that Tydings didn't have a shred of evidence to work with," Lorelei said, "but judging from the thoughts going through your mind at the moment, he must have had many, many occasions to observe you."

Berris said nothing, although his forehead was wet with the coldness of sweat.

Lorelei laughed. "Be still, Lord Berris. Your secret is safe with me."

Berris did not relax. His fingers dug into the crevices of the wooden table.

"As long as you are amenable to future favors, of course," Lorelei said, "then I guarantee you, Lord Berris, that your secret will remain safe with me."

Thursday, October 28, 2004

How Long Does It Take to Write a Short Story?

It depends.

I'm not one of those writers skilled enough to pound out bestselling novels at whim, so I most certainly can't say that it's easy.

The short answer is, "one or two hours". I sit down, I write, I edit, and I leave. This assumes that I've gathered enough material for the story before I even turn on the computer, as well as a number of other things (e.g. my train of thought doesn't get interrupted, my Windows XP cooperates, and certain combinations of stars and planets align.)

Yes, I write my short stories on a computer. Notebooks tend to take up a good amount of storage space after a time, after all.

The idea takes up most of my attention, though.

I get ideas all the time, and I can't put them all down on paper (or on Microsoft Word, as the case may be). So I hold them in my head and let them ferment. Sometimes I fill out holes in the plot. Sometimes I marry other wandering concepts to the main idea. Sometimes I pluck out one of these abstract thoughts and just let it die.

Sometimes I just forget. When this happens, it's as though the ideas never were. All I'm left with is a fleeting thought of "I thought of something interesting a couple of minutes ago, but it's gone now."

Retrieving lost ideas seems like such a futile effort to me, so I usually don't bother. If an idea is forgotten, then I invariably feel that it probably wasn't worth remembering in the first place. When I try to ferment them, they laugh and escape into the confines of the outer world. That's gratitude for you.

On average, an idea stays in my head for about three or four weeks, after which it gets written into a story and I decide whether or not it was really worth my time. I've only "force-developed" a story - added plot and setting elements to it in a wholly conscious manner - once, and that was because I was running late on a deadline. The story turned out well, but the experience was one that I would rather not repeat.

I don't use outlines. Once the story's on paper, it's on paper. I'm no longer its writer - I'm just another reader. I can't afford to waste a perfectly good short story on a mere summary of plot points and end twists - if I'm supposed to write a story, I'm supposed to write a story.

The drafts usually take a short time. Usually I get it on the first try.

If the draft doesn't take, I usually start over. Another one or two hours of writing time, but only if I either want to make the story work, or if I have a sadistic editor on my back.

So... how long does it take to write a short story?


Tuesday, October 26, 2004

The Writing Process 6: Regeneration

Dark Fate (Rich-text format)

And there's the final version, as submitted for the Ficathon. By starting at a point when the story was reaching its climax, I ended up avoiding my previous problems regarding the long exposition time.

I made some reference to the previous drafts when writing this, most notably stealing a few lines from the third draft. Good writing should never go to waste, I suppose.

Nishi disappeared from this draft, but halfway through the beginning I realized that I needed a third supporting name, and thus came up with Tetsu on the fly. I'd call him a new supporting character, only he starts out dead already, so I guess he doesn't really count. A similar fate happened to Seiki, although at least she gets quite a few references here.

The bandit's (technically Goro's) death could have been written a little better. I mean, all that happens is that Kazuo runs him through with a sword within the space of a couple of paragraphs. On the other hand, I didn't want to write an extended fight scene because I was afraid that it would have shifted the atmosphere around too much.

The same doesn't hold true about the oni, though. I figure that it would have been best to let a reader imagine what the demon was and what it looked like, rather than strain the atmosphere by adding a few more descriptions. I also wanted the story to end there, emphasizing the fact that Kazuo had effectively failed, and coinciding the end of the story with what looked to be the end of his life.

Learned quite a few things from this one, and I'll be sure to put them into effect the next time a Ficathon rolls around. Maybe by then I'll be able to analyze exactly what makes L5R fiction, L5R fiction.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

The Writing Process 5: Paradigm Shift

Ficathon, fourth draft (Rich-text file)
Ficathon, fifth draft (Rich-text file)

The more astute observers will note that my fourth draft looks almost exactly the same as my second draft. At that point, I believed that it was still possible to salvage the earlier versions by making alterations to the general atmosphere.

The fourth draft went as far as to directly record Kazuo's perceptions of the box, giving the reader an idea that whatever was in the box would eventually be important to the story. The added atmosphere didn't seem to change the story's quality, though, and I found myself still stuck at exactly the same point I encountered in the earlier drafts.

So when the time for the fifth draft rolled around, I figured that, if I was going to go for a change in atmosphere, I was going to try taking it to the extreme. I shifted gears and set the story in a more modern-world L5R setting as opposed to a medieval-Japanese-like universe.

It seemed to work for a while - what interested me was the fact that Kazuo's personally seemed to come out in the course of the draft. The fact that the package had now been replaced by a sixteen-wheeler cargo truck being driven by a non-union driver was icing on the cake. There's just something that feels good about converting aspects of fantsy literature into other worlds in this way.

Nishi (a bit player in the original drafts) became an interesting character to write, mostly because his mannerisms came out very well. He didn't make it past this draft, unfortunately, but I'll probably see if I can write him into some other story in the future. A samurai trucker is too weird a concept to waste. :)

Around the time I hit page three of the fifth draft, I realized that I hadn't even gotten to the main story yet. I went back, read through the long expository introduction, and decided to speed things up a little. So at that precise moment in the middle of the story, Kazuo, Seiki and Nishi run into the abandoned car that's blocking the road.

The doubts were creeping into my mind already, though. If I wanted to write a short story, why would I bother spending three pages on exposition, only to dive into the climactic ending all too suddenly? The quickest solution to this, of course, was to cut some of the opening story, but I respected the character conversations too much to touch it.

The final straw came when I did a wordcount. Of the recommended 500- to 2000-word limit, the exposition alone took up over a thousand words. Too much for my taste, and it was obvious that I was spending waaaaay too much time on the story setup.

For the next draft, then, the goals were pretty clear. I wanted to shorten the exposition to such a point where the climax would take up most of the reader's attention, and yet not cut it so hard that one wouldn't flow smoothly into the other.

As with a number of measures I take with rewrites, I took it to the extreme:

What if the story started near the ending?

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

The Writing Process 4: Flipping the Coin

Ficathon, third draft (Rich-text file)

The notion of making the story more interesting for the reader started with another what-if question - "What if I told the story from the bandits' point of view?"

It felt like an odd idea, since most L5R fiction is centered heavily on the actual samurai class. On the other hand, I believed that telling an L5R story from a non-samurai point of view would stand a good chance of getting people's attention because of this, so I ran with the idea.

The story was written according to the bare bones of the original plot I sketched out, but I produced no preparation for the names and personalities involved. In a sense, it was a play-it-by-ear story where I just got the characters together and watched them act naturally.

The result was a fairly long draft that had some nice story development and even better lines of conversation. There's just this satisfying feeling about writing dialogue between two people from totally different backgrounds.

While it was fun writing the loudmouthed bandit lord Goro and the surly ronin shugenja Wataru, I noticed early on that the story was running a tad longer than I would have liked. Most of the story is focused on character development for Goro and Wataru, with the unopened box in the background - and it was taking me too long to get to the box.

Granted, it sounds okay at first - choosing not to focus on the box beforehand makes it all the more a surprise once the oni comes out in the end. The problem is that such a story places a lot of emphasis on timing. Cutting to the big climax too suddenly makes the ending abrupt, perhaps even deus ex machina-type.

For the uninitiated, a deus ex machina setup is the equivalent of a literary cop-out. The phrase describes a scenario where a story raises multiple plot points and loose ends, and then resolves everything using a single development that is totally unrelated to everything so far. Any story with a lot of exciting events that resolves them by saying "...and it was all a dream", for example, is a deus ex machina setup.

See? Reading this blog is educational.

Aside from the timing issue, my other big problem with the draft was that I didn't know what should have happened once the captive samurai escaped and Goro and Wataru went along with opening the box. Telling the story at that point felt as though it were highly unplausible, especially considering that the samurai had to be both badly wounded and fighting sheer numbers of bandits at the same time.

That, and the fact that, by telling the story from Goro's point of view, I feared that it may have compromised the original story seed. I anticipated the audience reading about a samurai who runs across an unexpected form of danger, and I didn't think they deserved to get a naive, sadistic bandit who gets into something that he shouldn't have gotten into in the first place.

The story had some nice lines, though, and I could salvage a few. Regretfully, I had to set the rest of the draft aside and go back down to earth.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

The Writing Process 3: Weather Conditions

Ficathon, first draft (Rich-text file)
Ficathon, second draft (Rich-text file)

The first two works mirror each other because the second one is merely a simple rewrite. Sometimes, when I feel that a story just isn't going as well as I like, I just save the file, put it aside, and reach for a brand new document.

With short stories, I usually don't get too attached to the characters. That, in addition to the fact that I was probably going to kill off most of them anyway, didn't get me thinking seriously about the names. I just plucked some stuff from an online book of Japanese names, and I tweaked from there.

I was basing this off L5R traditions, though, so all the samurai had to be of the Shiba family, and all the shugenja (magic-users) had to be of the Isawa and Asako families. (L5R players, do note - they're the only noble families who would probably pull off something as foolhardy as trapping and transporting an oni.)

Kazuo's name was constant throughout the process, but his female companion went through a bit of development. At first she was a fellow samurai named Shina, the name quickly discarded once I realized that "Shiba Shina" sounded pretty stupid. She then became Natsumi (also discarded because it kept reminding me of the "You're Under Arrest" anime), and finally Seiki.

Right away the italics appeared to play a distinct role in the story. In these drafts, I needed them to represent the oni's whispers to Kazuo and his companions. In a sense, all of them are tired, haggard and sleepless because they have to be constantly on their guard from the voices in their heads.

For the first draft, the voice-in-the-head angle was pretty vague - it's easy to read it and assume that maybe Kazuo's just the sort who talks to himself. In a sense, I was planning an ending where Kazuo wakes up from the bandit attack and realizes - to his horror - that the voice that's been whispering to him is gone.

When the first draft didn't gel, however, I assumed that it was because the pace was slow and boring. In order to pick it up a bit, I made the voice a lot more obvious in its intentions, altering the atmosphere but keeping the possibility of the ending I originally planned. In the second draft, the reader should most likely pick up on the fact that something's amiss early on.

The trouble was that the second draft ran into the same problem as the first - I didn't feel that it held my interest well enough to get me moving past the first few paragraphs. Having a clear setting is nice and all, but the key to establishing good setting is that you shouldn't bore people by doing so.

Knowing that, I walked into the third draft with an express purpose in mind - to make the general setting and story significantly more interesting.

Monday, October 18, 2004

The Writing Process 2: Skeletons (Closet and Otherwise)

Out of the two seeds given, only the first one fired up my imagination to some extent.

"While guarding a caravan for his lord, a samurai is faced with an unexpected form of danger."

Danger? What kind of danger are we talking about here?

If you're a samurai guarding a caravan, you have a number of obvious threats to deal with. Bandits would probably be number one on the list. If you're slogging through foreign territory, you'd probably be watching for enemy patrols. And in the twisted world of L5R, there's always the chance that you'll run into a monstrous oni (big, nasty demon) or somesuch.

All of them are hardly "unexpected" forms of danger. So the first major question I ended up asking myself was, if you're a samurai guarding a caravan, where would you least expect the threat to come from?

And the first answer that came to mind was, "the package". But how in the world could the contents of your caravan be a threat? And to that, my sadistic mind answered, "Because it carries something dangerous inside it. Something that the box is supposed to contain. Something with huge, ravening teeth."

So the samurai in the story is guarding a caravan tasked to deliver a box... a box that contains a captured oni. There's the threat right there.

How to make it unexpected, then? Maybe the box looks like an ordinary box. That should be safe enough to assume, because if you've captured an oni, then you don't want to panic the entire countryside or draw attention to yourselves in the process. Of course, any samurai tasked with such a duty would be required to know what the box contains, only the sheer beauty of the idea was that the reader didn't have to know what was inside until the closing moments of the story. Unexpected, indeed.

So you have a samurai guarding a caravan, and he's doing his job with a particular degree of vigilance. Bandits suddenly attack the caravan, slaughtering the samurai's party but leaving him alive for some reason. The bandit leader laughs at the samurai's desperate attempts to convince him not to open the box. And when the package is finally opened despite all the samurai's efforts, it is revealed to contain a powerful oni, much to the horror and final understanding of the reader.

Little details now. The samurai has doubts about his current position (he's transporting an oni, after all), but his loyalty to his lord suppresses any instinct he has to fear the creature inside. The party is composed of both samurai and shugenja (magic-users), because only shugenja can make sure that the oni is contained. The box is enchanted with a set of magical wards for added security. The oni may be stuck in the box, but his whispers for freedom are still heard by the samurai and his friends, and they must constantly watch each other for signs that any of them may be corrupted by the oni's wishes.

Good skeleton there. The next step was to actually start writing the story.

The Writing Process 1: Slave to the Draft

I've just come off of a small ficathon, and to be honest, it wasn't one of my better experiences.

For anyone who's not familiar with the concept of a ficathon, here's a brief summary of mine:

To start with, a bunch of writers first get together and sign up for the pseudo-contest, with each writer submitting two separate story seeds. The story seeds are then shuffled up, with each participant getting back two seeds that he or she did not originally provide.

Each writer is then given one month to write a short piece of fiction - say, five hundred to two thousand words - centering around one of the two story seeds. If the writer can combine both seeds into one story, then so much the better - in fact, it testifies to the writer's skill and ability.

As the ficathon was based off an fan fiction list for the Legend of the Five Rings game, all submissions had to be based on the Legend of the Five Rings universe.

Over the course of a month, I plowed through no less than six separate drafts for a story before finally completing the last one and sending it in. I figure that, by discussing these drafts, I should be able to gain some form of insight to the writing process that I follow - perhaps find some avenue of improvement for future writings.

In the meantime, though, I'll leave you with the story seeds I received:

1. While guarding a caravan for his lord, a samurai is faced with an unexpected form of danger.
2. Stung by a lover's betrayal, a samurai plans an appropriate revenge.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

The Plot Machine

I'm starting to think that I don't work well with external plots. I don't seem to work very well whenever a source outside my own mind prompts me to write.

Writing a story has always been sort of a "what-if" to me. I like exploring scenarios that people don't normally explore. I like fleshing out characters that people normally don't give a second glance. I like engaging in plot twists so hard that they make you scream in both pain and pleasure.

What I don't understand is why external plots don't seem to fire my imagination as much. I mean, no matter how mundane an idea is, you're supposed to be able to salvage something from it. What more when it comes to ideas that were made for writing in the first place?

How very odd. I suppose that this is probably why I wouldn't make for a good journalist or features writer.

A better question would be whether I'm really not suited to external plots, or if I'm just not used to writing stories from them. The problem, of course, would be that I wouldn't know if I would be merely wasting my time with future exercises or not.

On the other hand, it's not as though I can think up the "what-if" plots at a regular rate.

Ooog. I have definitely got to get my act together sometime.

Been a While

Writing something for the Rice Paper Society's annual ficathon, so I've been busy.

To be honest, I'm not even finished yet. I've gone through three drafts of exactly the same story, and I can't seem to get it right. None of them satisfy me.

I suppose that, once all this is finished, I can put up my drafts online so that I can demonstrate the thought process that I follow whenever I write. Maybe somebody can refine the technique (if one even exists, that is - sometimes I get the feeling that I'm playing all this by ear).

That reminds me... I owe the Masquers a story for the Antaria line. They'll have to be a little more patient, but they'll get their time in the spotlight eventually.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Antaria: History and Remembrance

Almost nothing is known of Antarian history before the fall of the Obsidian Empire. Prior to its collapse, it is said that the Empire dominated the entire continent from sea to sea, stopping only at the borders of the Tajik Wastes to the southwest. Nothing else is known about the Empire, however, although its destruction was apparently so cataclysmic that it left the majority of the lands in ruins. Speculation has it that an arcane disaster of epic proportions was the primary cause, but there is simply no evidence to support such wild theories.

In any event, the fall of the Obsidian Empire changed Antaria significantly. The survivors of the cataclysm were forced to band together to survive the harsh seasons that followed, and it is from these survivors that the nations of Antaria were formed.

Most survivors gathered around the ruins of the Obsidian Empire's capital city, eventually building a multifaceted culture around the area. This massive settlement eventually grew into the kingdom of Lorendheim, the oldest of the nations of Antaria, and a meeting point for many of the continent's personages.

Southeast of Lorendheim, the matriarchical kingdom of Allandria was founded by a group of former refugees. Exactly why the Allandrians were formed as a matriarchy is unknown, but scholars have suspected that it was due to a distinct loss of male leadership in the events prior to the fall of the Obsidian Empire.

The former slaves of the Empire, freed from their bonds of servitude by the Cataclysm, travelled due east to the edge of the continent. Their experience with work and toil were well suited to the harsh environments there, and the nation of Vanarum was established as a result.

Within the next four hundred years, two more nations were established. Two hundred years after the Empire's fall, a major noble seceded from the houses of Lorendheim, claiming a sizable patch of land bordering the northern sea. By the time Lorendheim was able to react to the secession, the noble was able to call in a long list of political favors from the other houses and nations across the continent, effectively preventing a massive conflict. The new nation was named Hadrian, and its subjects became learned in the ways of diplomacy and negotiation.

Finally, roughly eighty years before present time, a bloody war between Allandria and Vanarum resulted in the creation of a small buffer state between the two nations. Both nations populated the state with retired veterans of the war, who initiated the creation of monasteries across the area. The many sites for contemplation were highly ideal for religious travels, and thus the state of Kun was born.

For the most part, the Tajik tribes continued to settle along the Tajik Wastes in the southwest, and maintain their lives there still.

Finally, with the continent reclaimed, all dutiful explorers have since turned their eyes towards the north, where the sea frothes and churns. The wide open sea here is a malevolent force that takes ships in and never gives them back - it has come to be known as "The Maw" by many sailors. Even the Lesser Maw - the stretch of sea that runs along the Antaria coastline - is an unruly sort, and many Antarians find it difficult enough to master that which is closer to home.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Phone Booth

You know the movie. It's the one with Colin Farrell, Forrest Whittaker, and Keifer Sutherland's voice.

Saw it last weekend on Star Movies, and most definitely did not like it.

I suppose I have to give it props for the plot and atmosphere. Those are top-notch, and would make for an excellent short story. It's just too bad that "Phone Booth" is a movie.

I wrestled with the opinion for about a half-hour after the film ended. Part of me was screaming that the movie was most certainly not a good movie, while the other part was asking me that, well, if you don't think it was a good movie, why did you bother watching it all the way up to the end?

I could answer the simplest part of that question, at least: I watched it till the end because I wanted to see what happened next. I watched it till the end because I wanted to see how the situation was going to be resolved. I watched it till the end because I wanted to take a look at a fantastic situation that could easily become reality under the most unexpected of circumstances.

Heck, I watched it because it had a good story. By definition, any plot idea that leaves the listener asking "so what happened next?" is bound to be a good plot idea.

I can imagine the pitch:

"Imagine that you're standing in the middle of New York on a normal day. The cars are passing by. The people are walking past you without a hint of attention. The hookers are languidly yawning against the entrance to their nearby strip joint.

"There's a public phone next to you. It rings.

"You're the person nearest to the phone. No one approaches it to answer. The phone keeps ringing.

"Finally curiosity gets the better of you, and you answer the phone.

"There's someone on the other line. He has a deep, raspy voice, almost seductive in quality. He says he knows you. He tells you a few things, not the least of which are fairly uncomfortable to hear.

"You tell him that you think it's all just some sick joke. Maybe somebody decided to play a trick on you. Maybe the guy just mistook you for someone else. Maybe there's a hidden camera somewhere.

"The man tells you your full name. And your wife's name. Your job. The address of your office. Your age, birthdate, height, weight and social security number. The name of the girl you're banging on the side, and the last time you snuck into a motel with her.

"He tells you that he has a gun, and that all he wants is for you to keep him company on the phone.

"And when you say that you don't believe him, you hear the casing of a telescopic rifle and the sound of a single gunshot."


Sounds good, right? It's clearly a "so what happens next?" plot.

Unfortunately, that's all there is to it.

Movies are, on average, one-and-a-half hours long. That's quite a bit of attention span that each movie has to coax out of its viewers, and that's why story is important. It keeps the viewers in their seats.

Story, unfortunately, has little bearing on whether or not the experience is enjoyable. That's what things like comedy routines, heavy drama, action sequences, and special effects are for. A good story will grab the ball and bring it downcourt for the beautiful assist, but it's ultimately the level of audience empathy that tries to make the winning shot.

Did I empathize with the movie? No.

The movie doesn't really go to great pains in order to flesh out its characters and settings. We don't see what kind of a person Colin Farrell's character normally is; We only see him as he plays out the events of the story. We don't know what kind of life he's leading, or why he's able to have an affair while claiming that he still loves his wife. We don't see why the voice at the other end of the phone is doing all this to torture him.

It feels as though the movie is supposed to scare its viewers - I mean, we could just as easily answer a mysterious phone call in the middle of the street to find a deep, raspy, almost seductive voice on the other end. And yet I never felt a twinge of fear from considering the possibility afterwards.

A movie with no allowance for empathy is much like a press conference without an open forum or audience participation - you certainly want to know what's going on, but you don't want to simply swallow what they tell you and leave it at that.

That's "Phone Booth" for me. It's got a nice plot and atmosphere, yes, but it turned out to be unsatisfying. I think that, like all movies, it was supposed to give a "that-was-a-cool-movie" reaction; It instead gave me a "that-was-ninety-minutes-of-my-life-wasted-watching-this-movie reaction".

Interestingly enough, I think it would make for a good short story. Short stories place much less emphasis on empathy, particularly because they're too short for the reader to form much of an emotional attachment with the characters. A story with a good plotline but little in the way of effects could still work, and in some cases might even work spectacularly.

But, alas, it isn't a short story. Too bad, everyone. It might have been real good.

Amazing how fate plays these things out.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Disclaimer: October 2004

Time to renew the disclaimer a bit. I doubt that anyone's going to check the archives for previous versions of this.

(Ahem.) Everything here is the property of Sean Uy, writings, ideas and whatnot. You will not steal anything from this weblog. You will not claim that anything from this weblog is your personal property. Everything discussed within this weblog is either an express idea from the twisted mind of Sean, or a topic from somewhere out in the wilds of the human information network. You view this weblog with respect and acknowledgement for the legal rights of Sean, just as Sean reserves the right to control the contents of his own weblog.

Eat your veggies, everyone.