Monday, February 24, 2014

Trouble with the Curve

I've been contemplating character a lot lately. I've noticed in movies and books the way characters affect me and how that transforms my opinion of the story being told. I'd like to compare House of Cards with Toy Story. Seems like apples and oranges I know, but bear with me.

Woody starts out as a character we can like, he's a leader, shows a level of compassion and intelligence that immediately draws us in. However, it does not take long before he starts acting like a jerk. When he does this, we cringe but we sympathise with his plight. The poor guy lost his standing. This push pull on our emotions works to solidify our need to cheer for the guy in spite of ourselves and it makes for interesting story. I think underneath it all, we're hoping that he will stop being a jerk and things will work out. Which is exactly what happens and thus we have character curve - the path a character takes to become a different person, or toy in this instance. We are rewarded for our emotional investment.

In House of Cards we meet Francis Underwood and right away we get the feeling he's not such a great guy. We are nevertheless, drawn into his character because he's smart, calculating and we think there's so much more going on with this guy. Plus, he talks directly to us, making us his accomplices, which makes us feel 'in the know'. As the story progresses, we find ourselves hoping he will have a curve toward being a better person. We think he could be doing all this chess playing for something better, to become better. I have not finished watching the series because his character plummets so far into darkness I just couldn't like him or hope for him anymore, especially since that darkness seems to be where he intended to go in the first place. In other words, he doesn't seem to have a curve, he started evil, he remains evil. I'm not saying I want Pollyana characters. However, if the characters I care about either die too early or become unbearably evil, I lose interest. My emotional investment didn't pay off and it drains me of my will to watch.

In these two examples, the path of the characters appear to be paths thought out from the beginning. What I find worse than drawing me into a character that I'm going to hate, is drawing me into a character, making me love that character and then without warning changing who that character is, making him unwatchable. Cue West Wing. I started watching West Wing. I love this show - for the first three seasons. These were smart, savvy characters with a desire to do good things. They faltered at times, they fought difficult odds, but they always rallied around each other and sought what means they could to do the right thing. Then season four comes along and suddenly, there are no good resolutions. Every fight ends in disaster or a turning away from doing what's right. By season five, they begin turning against each other. Now my emotional investment doesn't just become a loss, it has turned on me. I am now practically feeling complicit in the demise of these characters and disgusted with the show. But I kept watching thinking this will turn around. By the end of season five, I gave up. These were not characters I could get behind or hope for and without that, screw it.

There are characters we love to hate. Take Q from Star Trek: The Next Generation. He's despicable and always wreaking the worst kind of havoc, and yet we love his misbehaving because there's something about it that is so compelling, as though he were doing all the wrong things for a good reason even if we can't decipher it right away. This is great writing when you can do that and hold me in that state. However, it is rare. I watch entertainment for fun. If I wanted to be down or mad or frustrated I'd watch the news. If I wanted to see politicians being ruthless and political without regard for decency or trying to make this place a better world, I'd only have to turn to real politicians. So, if you want my investment in something that is difficult to root for, you'd have to convince me by some factor, characters I can love, a story so important or riveting I feel compelled to stay. But you set me up to love a character and then make that character a despicable person without any redemption or any draw to see what he'll do, I'm going to leave.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Gamers Gateway

For years I've been a bystander when it came to video games. For years I shied away from board games. All of that has changed.

Board games were a frightening place of competitiveness and self-doubt which laid a landscape of rising tempers and misguided beliefs about fairness. I spent years refusing to play because when I did play, I quickly devolved into 'you no play fair' cavewoman. I have this habit in life which seems to bubble forth like a geyser when I play board games. It is this way of dealing with people. I treat them the way I want to be treated and in doing so, fall into the naive idea that I will get that type of treatment back. It rarely happens that way though. I'm not talking about the people I love, I'm talking about strangers. Having expectations of a stranger noticing that you've been exceptionally nice to them and then returning the favor is like smiling at the sun and expecting it to appreciate you and shine for you. It's silly. In any case, when playing board games I would often defer my own chances to win because I hadn't the heart to beat down another player. This is hardly constructive when playing a game, as you can imagine. When the other players subsequently beat me down, I would get my feelings hurt, then I would get mad and then I would decide I'll never play board games again. Add to that the fact that my idea of board games consisted mainly of Monopoly and Pictionary. I had no idea that there were so many fascinating games out there to play. Several years ago I read an article about playing to win and having fun while doing it. I thought I'd try it and see. It started with Settlers of Catan. I was hooked. Suddenly playing was fun, competitive and even cut throat, and best of all I could handle it.

Queue in video games. Where competitiveness is not an issue in video games, frustration is. Anytime I played video games I hated the construct of playing a character who has to perform certain actions in a particular sequence, just right, to achieve a goal. It requires the player, especially those of us who are not avidly honing skills in this, to play a scenario over and over and over. That gets monotonous and frustrating. So I gave up on video games because it seemed pointless. I certainly wasn't enjoying it. I did however enjoy watching other people play, especially if the game had exceptional graphics. Then my children started playing Minecraft. They begged my husband and I to try it. We dragged our feet for many months because it seemed like a 'kids' game. Boy were we wrong. As soon as we entered the world of Minecraft we had a dickens of a time finding our way out. And then my friend, Elyse introduced me to World of Warcraft. I fell down that rabbit hole and still haven't come out and don't plan on re-emerging anytime. It's just too much fun.

Why? Why are these video games more fun than any I previously played? I think they draw me in and hold me because they are free-will games. Minecraft is a giant sandbox in which you can build pretty much anything you want. Dream it, build it. I love that. I love gathering the supplies to build, laying out a design to build, building and then tweaking the details and building more and when a project is done, you can just find a new spot and build something else. World of Warcraft has a bit more direction to it, sending you on quests. However, no quest requires you to approach it by learning a complicated series of movements which need to be repeated multiple times before you can perfect it. You go, you often have to figure out the puzzle of the quest, as in where you need to go, who you are looking for. Sometimes it's hardly worth calling it a puzzle and other times it can take some deduction work. Then you execute the quest and here, you can decide how you want to do it with the exception of a few mechanics in the game. Add into that mix that World of Warcraft actually doesn't require you to do quests at all.  You could wander around in the world fishing and cooking if you want. You could plant yourself in a city and stay there forever. You could do things just about any way you want. You might die if you get yourself in an area where the game characters (NPC's) are too strong for you, but other than that, you get to be the arbiter of your adventure. That's why I love World of Warcraft.
That's me!

The take away from all of this in the end is: Settlers of Catan is the gateway drug to World of Warcraft.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Taco Cat

Hi. I'm Lynnea Taylor and I'm a taco fiend. The way I know I'm a fiend as opposed to a fan, a lover of tacos or merely a taco 'gourmet', is because I'm not just willing to eat them for breakfast, I love them for breakfast. And when I say breakfast, I'm not talking about those detestable things called 'breakfast tacos' which contain eggs and who knows what other horrifying ingredients in them. NO.

As a service to you and the community at large I will now expound the rules of tacos. (Disclaimer: I am no Mexican cuisine expert and would venture to say that these are not anywhere near anything authentic to real Mexican food.) I may also include some interesting facts that will come in handy for intellectual foodie conversations.

1. Tacos should always be eaten with soft shells. Hard shells crumble and break, losing the majority of your ingredients. This is an egregious act perpetrated by some unknown criminal with dastardly designs.

2. On shells: corn are preferable. If you live in a place where corn shells are not available, first start campaigning letters to your local lawmaker and take petitions now to correct this issue. Then, because it is impossible to go without tacos, believe me it's simply not healthy, you will need to settle for flour. Make sure they are soft, see #1.

3. People have different ideas about the proper order of ingredients in the taco for various reasons. I will not argue against these except to say that cheese always always always comes after meat. The heat from the meat will melt the cheese properly, otherwise you will be eating an abomination of nature.

4. Basic ingredients for proper tacos include seasoned ground beef. Here I would say that for those that do not eat meat, you are missing out, however refried beans (pinto or black) are acceptable substitutes. Cheese, cheddar or marbled are best. Lettuce, iceberg preferable. Tomatoes and onions. Avocados may be used one of two ways, either chopped up, or smashed into guacamole. Sour cream. Salsa, green or red. There are those that like black olives on their tacos. Here I draw the line. The olives have far too much flavor that will overshadow the gentle deliciousness of all the other essential ingredients.

5. Taco Cat is a palindrome.

6. Taco is the perfect writing food. Except for Crazy Core Skittles, which have been discontinued, thus forever damaging the world of literature.

7. "A life lived without tacos, is no life at all" - Leonardo da Vinci, or maybe it was Leonardo DiCaprio who said it. I'm pretty sure it was a Leonardo though.

And finally, this:

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Announcing the Winner

And we have a winner!

Ruby Ruby Ruby Ruby.

Thank you all who voted. Now wasn't that fun?

So I'm trying a little something new. I'm writing the settings of the book before writing the book. I've started with the immediate world around Ruby, where she lives, her grandmother's little house behind Ruby's family home and Ruby's room. I will expand outward to where she goes to school, the small town she lives in and then the places she will discover throughout the story. It is possible that none of this will actually be in the book. I'm writing it to get to know my characters and to have a world to set them free in. Normally I build images of this in my head and then write the story giving detail where it seems natural to. But I wanted to try this as a way of setting up the story and characters in my thoughts. To solidify them. So far, I'm loving what it is creating. Just as a character can reveal herself to the author, the setting seems to be revealing a great deal about my characters to me. I am seeing them more clearly and I'm enthralled with the idea that now, when I write the story, every detail of their world is truly flushed out and I can clearly see my characters interacting with their world.