101 Things I’ve Learned: The Villian is Always Lying

Rose being threatened by Daleks

“We have your associate. You will cooperate or she will die.”

Whenever a villain tells you this, you need to remember one rule. Even if you do cooperate, she’ll die. This is because the villain is always lying. No matter what the bad guy promises you; gold, riches, freedom, the life and security of friends, family, or loved ones, just don’t listen to him. Because giving in, cooperating, actually believing him, will always result in this:

“You said…”
“I lied.”

Derek and Odette

Of course he lied! He’s the villain for crying out loud! He didn’t get his horrible reputation for keeping his word! Never, ever exchange your freedom to a villain, or commit some act of treachery based on only his word alone. It takes more courage to stand up to this kind of lying then it does to give in. If you give in you aren’t saving anyone.

“I’ve fought the forbidden arts before, and I’ll fight them again, but I am not loosing her.”

101 Things I’ve Learned: Small Shiny Round Objects

You are running for your life. In a field, in a corridor, through a forest, underground, wherever you are, there is something behind you that wants you dead. Suddenly a small round ball comes rolling around the corner and stops at your feet. You stare at it perplexed… and it explodes in your face.

A friend posted the following video on his tumblr blog. He said it was awesome, and awesome it is, but I one thing stuck out to me in spite of all previous awesomeness, and all awesomeness yet to come. It was a round shiny thing.

A round shiny thing that rolled out in front of the bad guys. These are tough guys, sent to capture one of the most dangerous public enemies on the loose. They can handle anything, even if it does take a dozen of them to corner one man. Then this little ball rolls out, and they freeze. Does it exercise some kind of mind control before detonating?

If it’s small, if it’s round, if it emits a sort of whining noise, if it came out of nowhere, if you don’t know where it came from, if someone threw it at you, I have just one piece of advice.


Review: Doctor Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog

This will be my first review, as per the request of a friend of mine who keeps hearing about it. The first time I mentioned Dr. Horrible was in my post Tragedy, Comedy, Dramedy, where I compared Doctor Horrible and Doctor who while analyzing the potential for tragedy in fiction. Comparing is one thing, actually reviewing is something else.

My first encounter with Doctor Horrible was another friends status message: “Doctor Horrible is taking over the internet!” I watched the video she linked to (go on, watch it) and instantly had to know more.

What I found was a musical, science fiction-steampunk short, made for Internet on a shoe-string budget during a writer’s strike. If that isn’t awesome enough, the movie was also brilliant.

Plot: During the first five minutes of the film we learn several important things. Dr. Horrible is a villain. He’s also very bad at being villainous. He has a serious crush on a girl named Penny who he sees every week at the laundromat, and his nemesis is a hero called Captain Hammer. Dr. Horrible’s goal is to get admitted to the Evil League of Evil but his admission heist is thwarted by Captain Hammer, inadvertently causing him to meet Penny.

Theme: What differentiates a hero and a villain? Doctor Horrible is a villain by one set of standards. He’s a mad inventor who plans to take over the world, has an almost Scrooge like view of the human race, and has the thoroughbred of Sin as his role model. Captain Hammer is always saving the world whenever Doctor Horrible makes an attempt against it, and that automatically puts him in the class of hero. But apart from that Horrible has all the traits we admire in a protagonist. When he’s not a villain he’s an ordinary guy with friends. He’s in love with Penny, but he’s very respectful of her. He wants to give her the world and let her rule beside him. He abhores killing, and talks about solving humanities problems by taking out the government rather then simply dealing with symptoms. By contrast Captain Hammer has no morals, is a lustful, wanton man who isn’t against hurting other people just to get back at Horrible. While there will always be some who think he’s “cool” for that type of behavior the majority hate him for it, siding with the so-called villain.

Music: The music is absolutely incredible. The songs are pretty short, but then so is the entire film. (Only 45 minutes.) Doctor Horrible sings of death and despair in duet with Penny who’s life and songs are filled with hope and compassion. Captain Hammer is self-serving and arrogant. The counterpoint is perfectly arranged, and the music and lyrics match moods in a way few musicals acheive. The music is absolutely one of my favorite parts about this film.

Will I let my little brother watch it? A lot of reviewers don’t rate content issues, and I know of a few who seem to only rate content. There’s nothing that makes me more annoyed then to sit down to watch a movie with my siblings and discover that I should have watched it by myself first. I wouldn’t let my siblings watch this one for the simple reason that Captain Hammer, the so-called hero, repeatedly makes vulgar jokes about Penny to enrage Horrible. They’re very effective at making us hate the character, but not exactly the kind of vocabulary you want young kids picking up. It’s surprisingly clean otherwise; no violence, and not a lot of swearing that I can even remember.

101 Things: Introductions

This is the beginning of a new series I’m writing called 101 Things I’ve Learned from Movies, Books, and Television (in no particular order), also known as Common Mistakes Made by Villains, Monsters, and Main Characters.

I’ve put off making this list for a very long time because I wanted to number all these things in some kind of logical form of importance. But to do that I must make the list first, and I really want to just start listing them, so I’ll start wherever I feel like and continue in a random fashion and number them in no particular order.

So why 101 things? Because it’s a catchy number, and when I’ve finally come up with that many I can just start over with 101 More Things I’ve Learned, at which point I can take the first 101 things and publish a book. When I’ve filled up that quota I can publish another book and start over again, and so on and so forth.

Thus begins my endeavor to list all the things I will never do because I’ve seen too many fictional characters do them.

Introduction to Reviews

It was recently suggested to me that I should post reviews on this blog. My first thought was “Why on earth would I do that?” but almost immediately afterwards I thought, “Well why not?”

I never read reviews. Well, I almost never read reviews. Well, I never read reviews for things I haven’t seen. Or I try not to. Sometimes I don’t succeed. The reason why is thusly: I see a new movie coming out. I don’t care. I won’t even remember the title, unless it gets mentioned to me multiple times. But if I let myself read a review… or two… or listen to friends talking about it, or get sucked into a discussion, I get curious. “Is it really as good as they say? Could it possibly be that lame? And what’s it really about?” Before I know it… I’m watching a movie I never had any, any interest in the world in seeing!

But, that’s the point of reviews, isn’t it? So the question I have to ask is: do reviews meet the vision and purpose of the Idea Factory? The answer is yes. Many Ideas come from movies and films, both good and bad ones. Not everyone can watch everything, so there needs to be some guide of what to watch. Reviews help provide this, and spread awareness about worthwhile ones. On top of that it gives me a chance to carry on about what I love and hate in what I read and write, and everyone always wants to do that.

And that is why I’m going to start writing Reviews. (With a capital R. Because everything important is capitalized in the world of Ideas.)

Music Typing (Part Two)

One can only think about letters on a piano so long without eventually reversing the process and wondering about notes on a keyboard. After all, what did I establish first on a piano keyboard? There weren’t enough keys to do an efficient layout of all the special symbols. There are 88 keys on an ordinary piano. There are 26 letters on a keyboard plus 30 symbols and numbers. That’s 56 keys not counting the special ones. Digital pianos are made with as few as 61.

It’s also possible one could be much, much faster on a keyboard than on a piano, since your hands don’t have to move up and down the scale. The biggest difference between the two is that a keyboard only gets one letter typed a a time, and on a piano you can play as many as ten notes simultaneously! In other words, playing music on a keyboard has the opposite problem of typing on a piano.

The possibilities are endless, but the implementation eludes me. The number pad and special keys would make a good bass section. You could hold them down while playing the letters at a breakneck speed, but that would require three hands. However, the benefit of a keyboard layout is the speed at which you can type. So what if you simply composed special music that was meant to be played on such a keyboard? Notes that come so fast you don’t notice the fact they only come one at a time. What if you could play music as fast as this?

Or not, that’s a little too fast for all those notes and they just kind of start to blur into a loud noise, but if there were less notes? Brilliant!

The easiest way to come up with a simple tonal keyboard layout would be to reverse the process of putting letters on a piano. I’d do something like this:

This gives us a total of four and a half octaves, without using the numbers or F1-12. To get half steps one would use the shift key, just like to get capitals. So if a is middle C then A is C#, and so on up the scale. It would make playing in different keys a pain, but who needs to? Just set your music making program to automatically update the tones. Of course, the music making program is the big missing factor in all of this…

But no matter! I’m sure someone will figure it out. And when you do, let me know, so I can hear the wonderful sound of music following my fingers rapid typing. Imagine how cool that would be, if you used the keyboard to type with but wrote music as you went along. Mixing up keyboards may not be practical, but it sure is fun!

Tragedy, Comedy, Dramedy

If dreaming is an awesome way to gather ideas, then sleeping is the perfect way to loose them. How many times have you woken up from a dream, or been unable to sleep, or woke up for no reason, and had an Awesome Idea, and if you didn’t write it down immediately, you forgot it by morning?

Last night I stayed up far too late watching TV shows. I had enough time before bed to watch three 45 min. episodes, but both turned out to be two parts, resulting in watching 4, successfully keeping me up an hour late. Finally making my way into my warm, cozy bed I proceeded to stare at the ceiling, realizing I was suddenly alert. I couldn’t sleep. And when I can’t sleep, I start thinking. So I thought, and I thought about the show I’d just seen, and I made connections and drew lines and speculated, and I finally ended up connecting two of my favorite doctors in all of film and television: Doctor Who and Doctor Horrible.

Doctor Horrible is the title character of a 45 minute web musical Doctor Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog. From the minute I heard the first notes of the first song I knew I had found something remarkable and unique. Wikipedia classifies it as “a musical tragicomedy miniseries in three acts, produced exclusively for Internet distribution.” The word that jumps out at me most is the term “Tragicomedy.” I’d never heard of such a thing before, but it seems to oddly fit the structure and style of the musical.

Doctor Horrible is an anti-villain, a villainous protagonist, a heroic antagonist. He’s a walking contradiction. The only thing more backwards from your typical hero setup is the arrogant, licentious, and selfish hero; Captain Hammer. Everything Doctor Horrible does is funny, from his inability to make his super-weapons work to the fact that he keep a vlog, and sings on it. We laugh when he gets threatened by Captain Hammer; we laugh when he disguises himself as a bush to spy on the girl he loves.

A good book will have the power to make it’s readers both cry and laugh. To acheive both those goals within the covers of a novel is a must. To do it within a single chapter is remarkable. But how do you get your audience to cry and laugh, both at once? Within the same song? TV Tropes defines the first law of Tragicomedies as “In any work that has both drama and comedy, the drama will rise proportionally with the level of tension in the story. The comedy will do the reverse.” This means that it will start out comedy, and end up drama or tragedy, gradually morphing as the story progresses. Perhaps this is why I didn’t recognize the cross-genre, for Doctor Horrible does not follow this rule.

Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor.

The Doctor of Doctor Who is nine hundred years old. He’s a hero who saves the world, many world in fact, on a regular basis. This sounds like fun, lots of characters do this. But think about saving the world. In order for the world to be saved, it has to be lost first. Saving the human race is a noble and awesome thing, but what seems to set the Doctor so much apart is that even in his moment of triumph he doesn’t forget what was lost in the regaining. You don’t live for nine centuries and not learn something of pain and loss. He suffers, and we all know that suffering characters are the most endearing. But at the same time the series is horribly funny. Between a time machine disguised as a phone box, a sonic screwdriver, and the endless jokes about his name it’s one of the funniest shows I’ve seen. Most episodes seem to be divided into funny and dramatic, but a few are on the level of Doctor Horrible, thrusting the two back to back, and alternating so fast you can barely keep up.

Doctor Horrible doesn’t loose it’s comedic feel when the action climaxes and the drama is overwhelming. The second to last musical number is eery, sarcastic, and hopeless, as Doctor Horrible prepares to finish off his nemesis. We get a real explanation of his world view, and why he became a super-villain, and it’s more bitter because it tastes of the truth. It’s a poignant moment and in the middle of it he stops to correct the spelling of his name for a journalist, and we laugh again, not quite able to break the tension of that moment.Pain is more real because of the laughter, and laughter has more meaning in context of the drama.

Doctor Who, Season One, Episode 10 – The Doctor Dances. This is one of the funniest episodes I’ve seen. Highly quotable, with lots of jokes about sonic screwdrivers and dancing. It’s also one of the most dramatic. It’s a classic comedy while we’re running for our lives while arguing about inconsequential things, but there’s nothing inconsequential about the ending, when the Doctor realizes it can all be fixed, it can all be fixed: “Just this once, just one day like this… everybody lives, Rose! Just this once, Everybody lives!”

Everyone gets to live! How many heroes get that opportunity? How many times can the world be saved from certain disaster with no casualties? And how many stereo-typed characters would care, would be so elated over every single life? Just the fact that he recognizes that makes us want to weep for all the times when it wasn’t possible. It’s horribly, tragically, wonderful. It’s brilliant. It’s the kind of characters you don’t find every day, and that I can only hope I’ll someday know how to write. It’s the kind of stories that I want to watch over and over again, that I want to quote, that I wish I could act it.

Tragicomedy is an underutilized genre. Those few things that fall into it’s category are often lame, and do not live up to the promise it presents. Life is a tragicomedy; laughing through our tears, and weeping for joy. It is the genre I wish to write, and the genre I’d love to read.

Musical Typing (Part One)

“The more I think about it, the more I realize that the layout of a typical keyboard may be completely off. I think a keyboard like a piano might be much more efficient.”

I sat munching idly on the last of my salad as my dad continued to talk about his new typing technique. Once incorrectly diagnosed with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome we’d since come to realize he actually had something known as Repetitive Stress Injury. It causes incessant typing to be difficult, and repetitive clicking of a mouse almost impossible. He uses an automatic mouse clicking software, but there’s not much solution to typing for a programmer. Lack of a proven solution doesn’t keep us from discussing, or designing, new, outlandish, and even absurd ideas.

Let me make it clear; dinner table conversations are a great breeding ground for Ideas. Wherever you are, and whoever it is who’s sitting at the head of the table, if you sit back and listen with your mind wide open Ideas will crawl in and wake you up with their potential. My dad’s speculation on the proper layout of keyboards had brought images and theories into my head that I could not get out. I was impatient for dinner to be done, so that I could sit at the piano with a roll of masking tape and a sharpie marker and work out what a keyboard would look like in such a format.

It was more difficult than I first supposed. The first problem that presented itself was the lack of special keys like space, enter, shift, alternate, etc. I immediately decided that the keypad on the right of an ordinary keyboard, the number pad, arrow keys, etc, would have to remain identical. However, a piano has something keyboards don’t; pedals. The three pedals on a standard piano became space, shift, and enter. This only left the numbers and their corresponding symbols, ctrl, alt. caps lock, tab, esc, and F1-12 to be accounted for, beside the letters.One way to take care of them would be to use a pedal board, such as are seen on an organ.

My first layout was very basic. The home row of both hands went at the end of the keyboard, the bottom row on the inside of that, and the top row on the black keys. The black keys are poorly situated, and I left several blank as a result. Ideally one would have to make a special keyboard that alternate white and black keys. This resulted in have several “positions” such as on a violin. If one were to construct such a keyboard I think a split down the middle to clearly separate the right and left hands would be beneficial.

One of the big differences between piano playing and typing is that on piano you are accustomed to using both hands at once. Attempting to actually type on my makeshift piano keyboard confused me badly, as I kept forgetting where the letters were. One would become more efficient with practice, of course, but if the letters were written out as notes I’d have no difficulty, as I sight-read and touch-type with equal ease. This leads us into an entirely new line of inquiry…

What If we used music notation as a writing system?

What If… Hell and Purgatory

There’s one Idea I’ve had frequently that won’t leave me alone. I’ve wanted to write a short story around it, but could never get it to work really. It’s almost too good of an idea to consign to a short story alone. Somehow it seems like that would make it less of an Idea.

Earth is a testing ground, a place of training and trials. When our school days are over and our destiny is manifest we go to our appropriate reward, be that Eternal Bliss or Eternal Suffering. But What If the testing doesn’t end there? What If…

A young hero dies a tragic and brilliantly sacrificial death, and is taken into the bosom of Abraham to be comforted like Lazarus of old. He is happy, incredibly happy. Paradise is beautiful, intoxicating, all he’d ever dreamed it would be. Across a wide and indivisible gulf, however, he can see the boiling lake of fire, and he can hear the screams of people he once knew, people he once loved. In the garden, of course, it is easy to forget them, but if we walks a little farther, to the very edge of the brink there is no escape from their piteous cries. There is still suffering in paradise.

Well, of course our hero (being a hero) can’t leave well enough alone. He can’t understand why he is allowed such happiness while others suffer. (Probably most theological views will start to recognize something as wrong here.) Here’s where the Idea gets sketchy. Perhaps the Hero discovers that he can save those unfortunates from Hell, but that he must take their place. I think in my story he couldn’t live with the injustice of it, and throws himself in. Either way, the Hero chooses Hell over Heaven. And what do you think happens?

Purgatory is the idea that we all must pay for our past sins, and suffer a time of sorrow and tribulation to be made worthy for heaven. It is the concept that we must somehow prove ourselves worthy of the ultimate reward. It is not a test, because the outcome is known already; every soul will eventually get to Heaven.

Would you have the courage to give up heaven to save the damned? Could you do what Christ did and lay down your life in exchange? If you had the opportunity to exchange your soul for another, would you do it? What If there was one last test?

DISCLAIMER: I am not proposing the theological possibility of such a thing, only speculating on the drama and soul searching it sets up if you consider it hypothetically.

Welcome to the (Original!) Idea Factory

Welcome to the Idea Factory!
My brain is a deep and mysterious place, filled with an astonishing conjunction of things. The weather is often stormy; energy impulses flash and battle with each other, and the view is obscured. But these storms are followed by peaceful serenity, when the newly seeded plants can germinate and grow in rich soil, with plenty of sun and water. Given enough time they will grow up and blossom into brilliant ideas.

Some of the ideas are large, beautiful, and tall of stature. They are majestic, sensible, and logical.
Some ideas are quirky and mischievous. They bend in directions they shouldn’t go, and wink at you in ways that aren’t possible.
Some ideas are puzzles; mysterious and enigmatic, waiting for someone to divine their purpose.
Some ideas are hybrids, borrowing off of and even stealing from other ideas.

My mind is like a great idea factory, and I’m never sure what will sprout up next, or what I will do with it when it grows to maturity. This is a place for my ideas to lurk once they’re grown, socializing and ideaing with their own. There are no rules to what might sprout up here, and no guarantee that everything makes sense. if you’re not afraid of the insanely brilliant than grab your idea harvester and come along, but make sure you watch out for those brainstorms!