Thursday, July 30, 2009

Process Is Not Content

I'm the sort of person who plans out my errands based on distance from home. I go to the farthest point and work my way back. One of my prouder moments of efficiency comes from a Christmas shopping expedition where I went to two malls and two big box stores a week before Christmas, got everything I wanted on a long list of gifts, and did it in under 3 hours including parking. Each gift had a note about which stores to search and where those stores were located. Then I arranged the list by....

Don't look at me like that. There are some of you going "Yeah, that's how I shop!"

I also like it when I can perform a specific process that will give me a predictable result. Flip a switch and fill a room with light. Predictability is comforting in a world gone postal. The downside is it's boring as hell creatively and not conducive to writing.

I spent a lot of money on books about writing in search of this all-encompassing process. I was sure every writer who ever got published knew how to 'do it'. I was a mullet-less Robert Langdon*, hunting for the secret knowledge that would provide illumination.

I mistook the process for the content.

It took me a while to figure out there was no 'correct' way of writing a novel. Writing a novel is messy, unique, heartrending and exhilarating. There are some universal constants that every writer worth their salt follows:

  • Write every day
  • Practice by writing every day so you can get better at your craft
  • Use proper grammar and punctuation
  • Read the submission guidelines and follow them

This won't automatically get you published but it will put you a leg up on a lot of folks. The realization that the rest of the process was a matter of what worked best for the individual was at once frightening and freeing for me.

Some people outline their stories. Some people dive in the deep end and swim around with no idea where they're going. Some people have a beginning and know where they want to wind up but don't need to know more than that to get started. Some people have an idea and have to do the research before they feel like they can start. Some people say screw the research, they'll deal with it once the story is drafted.

I once heard an author on a panel call their first draft their 'vomit draft' because no matter what they came up with it all went on the page. No idea was too stupid, there weren't too many adjectives. I liked that. The beauty of the first draft is there's a second, and a third, etc.

The more I write the more I learn about what works for me. The result is wildly unpredictable (and not always in a good way), but knowing what works best for me frees up my mind to get creative and weird, to throw stuff at a page and see what sticks. The process provides comfort and the comfort provides the freedom to imagine. I finally figured out that it's the imagination that makes the content interesting to read, not how I get there in the first place.

*I've never read the books. I am embarrassed to admit I've seen both movies, at the behest of others I hasten to add. First and second time in my life I've napped in a movie theater.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Star Trek: Now With More Tired Gender Roles

Open Letter to Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman

A word of warning, there are spoilers in this post. At this point, though, it probably doesn't matter.

Dear Messrs. Orci and Kurtzman,

I remember when I got to watch my first Star Trek episode. It was the summer of 1970 and it was already in lucrative reruns, broadcast at a time when I was awake. I was fascinated by the idea of flying around in space and seeing new places. I thought the planet sets looked totally fake and sometimes the stories were silly but I was in love with the series. I'd act out some of the parts while watching; shooting the bad guys with my pewpew phaser and saving the Enterprise. To this day I still love the original show.

By now Paramount has made back the money they spent on Star Trek 11 plus an ass ton more. I'm sure you're bathing in the praise of the successful 'reboot' of the franchise. You're chortling about the bad reviews of your Transformers: Rolling on the Floor (as a friend calls it) movie because it has also made stupid amounts of money. You gentlemen have even confirmed that you're already working on ST 12, tentatively titled: 'OMFG They totally bought 'Red Matter'!

As for myself, it was a mildly enjoyable actioner with a large helping of handwavium. Not worth a full price ticket. Pro Tip here: Talk to real scientists when you write about Science! They're trained professionals. You're not. Even the original series made some effort to be scientifically sound.

On to the point of my post. Last time I checked the calendar this is 2009. Forty-four odd years after ST: TOS first aired. The original was a product of its culture and times. The men ran around buckling swash and, apparently, there were only three women in Star Fleet. We had Nurse Chapel, swooning over Mr. Spock; Yeoman Rand, whose job is never explained but the context is obvious; and the strongest of the group, the under-utilized Lt. Uhura.

So why did you see fit to have only five women with speaking roles in ST 11; one a doctor (presuming here), a mother who gives birth to the main character then disappears, a mother who dies as a plot device, and two booty calls?

This was your chance to give women a more prominent place in Star Fleet and a more prominent role in the retconned universe. Instead you stuffed them into the most antiquated gender roles available: Mother, Caregiver and Sex Object. Booty Call #1 is a green-skinned girl from Orion (ha ha, the whole Orion slave girl joke never gets old). The first time we see her, she's in chonies and bra about to knock boots with Kirk. If we see her again at the end of the movie, I don't recall. Booty Call #2 is Nyota Uhura. You give her even less to do than Nichelle Nichols had in ST:TOS. We get to see Nyota in her undies in the same scene as the green chick. Can we say pandering Messrs. Orci and Kurtzman? I knew we could.

You sink even lower when you set Uhura up as a potential point of jealous rivalry between Kirk and Spock. What. The. Fuck? I get the whole joke about how Kirk was a tomcat in the original show but in this movie he basically can't score. Who cares?

Weren't there other things women could do in the 23rd and a half century? Couldn't they be instructors at the Academy? Couldn't they captain starships (Hello? Captain Janeway?) What if Kirk's mother was the Kirk who died crashing the Kelvin into the Romulan vessel while his father was evac'd with the recently born baby James? Couldn't Uhura have done more in the movie than be a nag and sex object? Couldn't Uhura have been the one to clean James' clock in the bar for being boorish? I'd pay full price for that.

Another Pro Tip: Showing versus telling is important in novels. It's even more important in movies, a visual medium. There's a point where Uhurah explains something she heard when monitoring subspace signals (even the Wikipedia entry for the movie mentions nothing about the character in the plot summary) that relates to the Romulan vessel. It's apparently important to finding the vessel, but not really because you tell it rather than show it. Showing us her skill as a linguist and comm officer would have helped the audience relate to her as a person rather than a scold or a 'hawt chick'. Oh, that's right. According to Hollywood, men can't relate to women as people, only as a role.

You have an opportunity to give strong women more to do in ST 12. Let them buckle some swash, show them as strong, competent professionals. Let them punch stuff 'til it blows up! Otherwise this is one woman who won't be paying to see the next movie.