Friday Finds

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For years, the indiscretions of powerful men, especially when it comes to the exploitation of women’s bodies, have been facilitated by the silence and spin of those who work beside and below them. Whether implicitly endorsed, tactfully ignored, or otherwise blunted by members of the press hungry for access, their power has gone largely unchecked. There is no accounting for the tens of thousands of women who have been shamed, forgotten, elided, or left behind; until the ’90s, there wasn’t even language to describe unwanted but nonviolent sex.

Anne Helen Petersen’s article on Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation, the rape allegations against him and Hollywood’s history of covering up heinous acts is heartbreaking and so, so necessary. You can read it here.

This article on the perilous lure of the underground railroad is fascinating / as is this article on female friendship in literature / the bodily terror of women’s gymnasticsZoom looks totally insane and pretty damn awesome / this video on awkward violence in Shane Black movies is pretty interesting / and finally, the rise (and fall) of Hollywood.

We Already Love You: what you can learn about story from Steven Universe

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It’s almost impossible for me to talk about Steven Universe without gushing. The show is, to put it as simply as I can, one of the best things I’ve watched in  years, if not ever. Creator, Rebecca Sugar, has built such a compelling, layered program with dense, lyrical worldbuilding and characters you love to death, even when they fuck up.

If you’re not familiar with the show, it’s about three aliens called the Crystal Gems, a trio of old, tired revolutionaries who are raising their leader’s son, Steven, after she fell in love with a human, Greg, and gave up her physical form to give  her and Greg a son (a clear metaphor for dying in childbirth). And so Steven lives in an old, alien temple with his three surrogate mothers and tries  to master the powers his mother left with him.

It’s the best, and hey! You know what that means! Here are a few things you can learn about story from Steven Universe.

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Your story world is your story.
A lot of the best worldbuilders are often great storytellers, but that doesn’t necessarily always translate to the writing itself. I’m particularly thinking of writers like George Lucas and George R.R. Martin who write stories I love, but who’s stories can get murky or even outright bad when it comes to characterisation, dialogue or plot progression. This is really, really not a problem Steven Universe has.

The writers on this show understand that a story is, more than anything, a gift, and every layer you unwrap reveals something pretty damn magic. The story world of Steven Universe is integral to the way this plot progresses, to who the characters are, to the conflict of the narrative, to the way these characters exist together. The story world of Steven Universe informs the story at every turn.

 

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The way your world is revealed should be organic.
And that story world unfolds organically always. The first few episodes of Steven Universe are fun, loud things with awesome visual design but a really young story. There’s almost no exposition at all, and, instead, you learn about the world of Beach City and the Crystal Gems entirely organically – through offhand remarks, through songs, through things that go bump in the night. It makes for a thrilling and compelling story experience that you’re engaged with at every turn too.

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There’s no such thing as a good war, kiddo.
The world of Steven Universe may take place thousands of years after an intergalactic war, but the repercussions of that war are still felt through our central cast of characters. The effect of that is both heartbreaking and joyous. Our guys won, after all, but that win came at a cost. There are so few of them left, and many of the good guys still did terrible things to secure that win. This show is constantly toeing the line of good and evil, light and shade, and no character in it is infinitely good, just like no character is infinitely evil.

Your war might not be quite as literal as the one in Steven Universe, but your conflict needs to be complicated and it needs to have depth that both hooks the reader and has a pay off that satisfies, even if it’s in an unhappy way.

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There’s more to relationships than romance.
It’s almost impossible to sum up the relationships between the character’s of Steven Universe in a small way. The thing is, they’re long and complicated things, even the ones that seem generous and gentle, or new. All of them are typically informed by the long history of the Gem World and the intricate relationships of others.

Take Pearl and Greg for instance, who’s relationship is essential as they take on the roles of parenting Steven – Greg as Steven’s actual father, and Pearl as the most nurturing and obsessive member of the gems, as Steven’s surrogate mother. There’s a tension between them that exists from the start, and as the story progresses you find out that Pearl was a servant gem, who was rescued by Steven’s mother, Rose, and given purpose. She fought alongside Rose in the gem war and fell in love with her, and when Greg came around and Rose fell for him, Pearl felt like she was losing in a lot of ways, and then, when Rose died to create Steven, she lost all over again. That tension goes beyond a cliche romance, and feeds the narrative in a compulsively compelling  way that enriches every scene they’re in.

I’ve read a lot of stories recently which tend to either focus solely on romance, or by cutting out relationships all together, when relationships between characters can be so, so interesting and utilised in ways that go beyond the typical.

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In an era of antiheroes, a true hero can still feel original.
So many stories these days in books, TV and film love a hero who embodies most of the characteristics of a villain. What’s been refreshing about Steven Universe is that the show wears it’s colours proudly. Steven is good. Sure, he messes up sometimes, but his intentions are always good, and his kindness is never mocked or never even really taken advantage of. It’s his kindness that fuels the narrative, it’s what saves the day, it’s what makes the Gems, despite they’re own occasional ruthlessness, good too.

Point is, don’t feel like you need to write an antihero to be interesting. Your hero needs to be flawed, of course they need to be flawed, because they need to be rich and compelling to hold attention, but that doesn’t mean you need to dirty them up. Their flaws can come from places of youth or of hot-headedness or even out of an unwillingness to see things for what they are, but if the character of your story is a hero, let them be.

 

Sunday Circle: what I’m working on this week

For background on the Sunday Circle, see this post.

What am I working on this week
I’m taking a bit of a break from the BDLN at the moment to revisit my sci-fi screenplay. I’ve had a bit of success, and a bit more interest in it again, plus I managed to work through a plot issue I’d been having in it during my prime story-thinking time AKA when I’m showering. All in all, it’s making me pretty excited to be sitting down with it again and getting back into the characters and world of it all.

What’s inspiring me this week?
I’ve been watching a ton of 1940s noir of late for The Oscars Project, and have watched a few I’ve particularly loved – Double Indemnity, Ride the Pink Horse and Kiss of Death. It really makes me want to sit down and start writing some sultry, noirish detective stories.

What part of my project an I avoiding?
Man, all that transitional stuff is where I’m really dragging my feet. The problem with the screenplay at the moment is that I still have parts which are this scene + this scene + ??? = the last act. I’ve been avoiding the ??? bit for too long and need to work it out.

Anyway, what are you working on? Leave your answers in the comments below or link me to your blog!

Friday Finds

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Kim called 911. The police couldn’t enter the house without a warrant, but didn’t stop David from climbing through a window. Inside, he saw nothing amiss. All the lights had been turned off, and the air-conditioning was on high. There were no signs of a robbery, or any struggle. All of Gypsy’s wheelchairs were still in the house. It was frightening to think about how helpless she might be without them.

The police began taking statements while they waited for a search warrant. Kim relayed information back to Facebook. Yes, they’d been to the house; yes, the police had been called. Dee Dee’s online friends and acquaintances began bombarding Kim with questions. She answered as best she could, but the status was beginning to get shared around Missouri. “Here’s the thing guys…I know everyone is very concerned,” Kim wrote on Facebook. “We need to realize that whoever posted this can read all of this.”

It’s not exactly a secret that I love a bit of true crime, and this story about a girl who murders her mother is fascinating and horrifying or, as my housemate put it when she linked it to me, a wild ride from start to finish.

This article on the history of women in the Olympics is fascinating / these vintage photos of ladies loving ladies are a beautiful time capsule / also beautiful are these photos from the Laika exhibit currently on in Los Angeles / ten books that all writers should read / this piece on the monstrous of childbirth is interesting, heartbreaking and important / the horror of female adolescence in literature / And lastly this week, a little more true crime for you – I really, really want to see The Case of JonBenet Ramsay.

Movie Poster Design 1929-1945

One of the stranger side effects of doing The Oscars Project has been that it’s really re-ignited my love of good poster art. It helps that a lot of movie posters from the first half of the 1900s were, to put it lightly, awesome.

Nowadays, posters are pretty formulaic, and posters back in the 1920s through 40s were too, but they had a different look to them, one that evolved as the years went on, and yet always managed to tell you exactly what movie you were buying a ticket for too.

I’ve compiled a few of my favourites below, and they’re all in chronological order, so you can see the start of that evolution of design, but I gotta say that I particularly love One Night of Love, Jezebel and Spellbound.

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De-Cluttering

My dad’s a bit of a hoarder, and it’s something that, as a result, I’ve been pretty conscious of. I regularly do spring cleans, donating things I don’t use anymore to charity or those in need, and try to keep my life relatively together. The only things I really seem to hold onto are books and stories.

Last week, I went through my writing folder and reorganised it, sorting through a lot of stories that hadn’t been opened in a long time. It made for a pretty weird and hilarious experience – especially given a few of the stories were ones I’d written in highschool. It also made me realise how far I’ve come as a writer, and how much my work has improved. In that way, it was both rewarding and gave me a confidence boost that I didn’t realise I needed.

It was, all in all, a pretty great thing to do.

Queensland Poetry Festival

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I try to make a few events at Queensland Poetry Festival every year. It often has a terrific program, with a range of artists I haven’t really been exposed to before, with the added benefit of being almost entirely free which makes it easy to pop in and out of sessions at your own fancy.

Typically when I do a pre-festival post like this, I’ll usually link directly to the things that I’d be heading to, but QPF is a bit of a different beast, so I’d suggest just jumping onto their website and checking it out for yourself! That said, I will recommend a couple of things, particularly the Prince tribute night, and the panels on trigger warnings and provocative poetry, the in-conversation with Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Tracey K. Smith, The Body Country discussion on movement and poetry, the Thomas Shapcott Prize winner launch and Archie Roach in Concert.

Check out the full program here.