Friday, February 24, 2012

Five Sentence Fiction: Yearning

You're walking through an outdoor mall; one of those so charmingly designed monstrosities that all have a Sephora and an Anthropologie and a train on a circular route to transport you from Starbucks to Coffee Bean, but it does create the illusion of a community where teenagers have lover's quarrels in front of a fountain, and families go at Christmas to watch a tree lighting or sit on the perfect squares of lawn to eat from gourmet food trucks and watch 80's flicks on movie nights.
It's almost a place.
You're walking down one of those faux cobblestone streets outside the multiplex when you see a woman wearing a certain kind of quilted jacket -the sort of thing hand sewn by an artsy type who grew up in the 60's and makes jewelry out of polymer clay- and maybe she has long salt and pepper grey hair so you slow your pace and squint a little.
She might be too tall or too thin, but for a dizzying moment you come close to shouting for your mom as you imagine this woman turning her head to grin with a big overbite, eyebrows raised in amused expectation.
It's almost real.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Five Sentence Fiction: Exquisite


It's the Homecoming Dance 1996 and Davey Alvarado is miserable in the biggest tuxedo his mother could force him to rent -which is still too tight and making him sweat harder than when Coach Kring kept barking at him to run the mile and he thought for one moment that he was truly on the verge of a heart attack but kept running anyway- and he's sipping punch, standing in the darkest corner of the gym with Billy Fincher, who is about a quarter his size.
 That god-awful song, “Mr.Personality", starts playing and the flashing multi-colored lights pulse and sweep patterns of blue and white stars over kids who have actually summoned the gumption to start dancing, but all Davey can think about is how that song makes him feel like an even bigger loser, and that's saying something.
 Finally 20 Fingers stops shrieking and “Tonight Tonight” plays as Davey takes off his jacket because it's about ninety degrees in the room and that's when Sheila Sutter walks in the door; red lipstick and strawberry blonde curls (with some of that weird extra hair that girls like to slap on the back of their head for some reason), and a pink corset with a big ballgown skirt that reminds Davey of the princesses he likes in fantasy novels who, at some point, usually hike up their dress and grab a sword, and the image of Sheila doing just that pops into Davey's head so viscerally that it makes him smile for the first time in exactly a week.
 Davey Alvarado stands silently sweltering for the next hour watching Sheila Sutter, who is always really nice to him when they're paired together in English -going so far as to pretend she doesn't wish she was partnered with someone else- as she gets mercilessly groped by semi-handsome but fully-douchey Kevin Banks on the dance floor and he fantasizes that things will change and he'll really talk to her; the wretched boundaries of high school crossed, the beauty deigning to couple with the beast -until the songs end, the lights come up, and the dreams become as absurd as the dragons he draws in his notebook at lunch.
Almost twelve years to the date of the Saint Augustine-Adams Homecoming Dance of 1996, Davey Alvarado -having lost weight and gained perspective as well as a pretty hip beard- runs into one Sheila Sutter (who has since learned that sex doesn't equal security and assholes aren't interesting) at a trendy new gastropub in East Hollywood where she flirts with him because he happened to be ordering a very specific microbrew recommended to him by an actor friend of his, and it takes an hour of buzzed conversation before they realize that they seem familiar to each other because they have shared this thing that has crystallized into the exquisite sadness of past lives.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Find Your Characters on the D&D Character Alignment

Full disclosure, I've never played Dungeons & Dragons.  I have, however, seen that awesome episode of Freaks and Geeks and that awesome episode of Community (if you don't know what I'm talking about, go watch both those shows front to back right exactly now; this post isn't that important).  But I do know about the Dungeons & Dragons character alignment, mostly due to Chris Hardwick talking about it on The Nerdist podcast.  Hardwick kept talking about his favorite alignment, which was "chaotic good."  So I googled away, to see what this meant.  Basically, it's a way of creating characters for Dungeons & Dragons and other role-playing games.  Soon enough I became obsessed with plotting the characters in my novel on the alignment grid.
Let me be clear, I just used this as a basic tool to get a better sense of my characters' traits and personalities.  Ideally, the characters you create are deep and complex and might do things outside of their alignment because people do weird thing sometimes. 

Sooo, let's take a look at the grid.

Yes, I know it is the most boring JPG in the history of JPGs.

Let's break it down.

Lawful Good: A lawful good character is all about honor and following a code of justice that works to the benefit of the people.  A noble knight would be lawful good.  When the law conflicts with the lawful good guy's sense of rightness,  angst shall ensue.

Examples: Sir Lancelot, Apollo Adama from Battlestar Galactica, almost every character from The West Wing, Riley from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (before he went rogue).

Neutral Good: I think sometimes it's tricky to the tell the difference between a lawful good character and a neutral good.  Neutral good characters just want to do the right thing all around.  They'll follow the law,  but they don't have too much trouble side-stepping it when it goes against their sense of morality.

Examples: Buffy Summers, Luke Skywalker, Spider Man, Captain Kirk

Chaotic Good: Ah, the fun heroes!  These are the do-gooding rebels.  They do what they think is right with no regard for what the law might be.  Screw the law.  Reckless but gold-hearted.  All about personal freedom.  The lovable rogue!

Examples: Captain Mal from Firefly, Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica, Harry Potter*, the Weasley twins, Ferris Beuller, The Doctor from Doctor Who (a madman in a box)

*I would say Harry Potter is chaotic good more than neutral good because the kid really has no regard for rules at all.  Who's got time for school rules when you're trying to save the world?

Lawful Neutral: Characters who follow the law without regard for the question of good vs. evil as a means of keeping society organized and peaceful.  My chaotic good heart has trouble differentiating lawful neutral from lawful evil.

Examples: Captain Picard, most lawyers on lawyer shows,  Cornelius Fudge

True Neutral: Characters motivated completely by self-interest rather than any regard for good or evil.  Or characters following a belief in a 'balance' between good and evil and therefore not committed to either.  Kind of a weird and interesting alignment.

Examples: Han Solo (in the beginning),  Gaius Baltar from Battlestar Galactica, the Observers from Fringe 

Chaotic Neutral: Anarchic characters who might do any crazy thing at any time.  They might be with the bad guys or they might be with the good guys depending on their whims at any given moment.

Example: Captain Jack Sparrow, Spike* from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Bugs Bunny, Q from Star Trek: The Next Generation
*Definitely chaotic and often evil, but he works with Buffy to save the world from Angelus because he happens to like dog racing, Machester United, and Happy Meals with legs.

Lawful Evil: Order at all costs!  Characters who rule through fear.  And isn't it easier if you just oppress everybody?  Or types who enjoy following orders to do terrible things a little too much.   Tyrants and minions.  Obey or die!

Example: Darth Vader (obvi), Dolores Umbridge, Big Brother, Admiral Cain from Battlestar Galactica, and, well, Nazis.

Neutral Evil: Not madly evil for evil's sake but not into any oppressive codes.  Evil for their own ends.  They'll do anything to achieve their purpose.

Example: Lord Voldemort, Glory from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, George Costanza (yep)

Chaotic Evil: Evil madmen!  Violence and destruction for no reason at all.  They might destroy themselves if it looks like fun.

Examples: The Joker (especially in The Dark Knight), Angelus from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Alex from A Clockwork Orange, and possibly Nicholas Cage if we don't keep an eye on him.

So obviously this is the sort of thing that geek types could argue about all the livelong day (and the types who would are probably lawful neutral).  Is Spike chaotic neutral or chaotic evil?  Is Lord Sauron lawful evil or neutral evil?  I don't know!  It's just a tool, people!  But it's a fun way to play with character dynamics.

Take every cop movie ever.  There's often a chaotic good type of cop (Riggs) partnered up with a lawful good cop (Murtaugh).  Can these two opposites find a way to work together? Spoilers: Yes.

I'm no expert.  I'm finishing the first draft of a first novel, but I had a lot of fun deciding whereabouts my characters fell on the alignment.  My main character is very chaotic good, but her love interest is somewhere between lawful good and neutral good, and he's forced to work with a guy who's lawful evil.

And it doesn't just have to apply to epic fantasy/sci-fi.  You can find these dynamics anywhere, especially if there's a system or social structure the characters are working under; a courtroom, a high school, or any workplace at all.  Dwight Schrute?  Lawful evil! 

For a seemingly endless and in-depth analysis of the character alignment go to this TV Tropes page.

If ever anyone wants to debate the alignment of Buffy characters, tweet me @spoonflipper.  It would be a joy.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Dancing with Fairies: The Fairy Ring Writing Contest!

Born This Way
“I'm a goblin.”
I frowned. “Don't say that. I think you're good looking.”
Benny was average at best. But I liked his shaggy hair and too-big mouth.
He glanced around the cafeteria and leaned in close, making my heart go hummingbird fast. “I'm serious. I'm a goblin. You know I'm not lying.”
Thing was, I did know and it wasn't so shocking. Just this year, three fairies and an ogre had come out. Minnie Patterson and Delia Troy went so far as to go to school in fae form, even when the jocks threw sodas at their wings. I blinked stupidly. What was I supposed to say? Was he sad? It's not like I cared if he was a goblin.
“Come on.”
Bennie led me out of the cafeteria and into the janitor's closet. It was dark and I thought he was going to kiss me, when he turned the light on.
I shrieked.
He was two feet tall, his nose like a clown horn, his mouth much bigger. And his hair was everywhere.
“You hate me.” He had Bennie's voice.
He had Bennie's eyes too. They were bigger, but I could see his soul; sweet and funny.
I said, “Did you hang the principal's car on the flagpole?”
“It's my goblinness! I must make mischief!”
I crouched down next to him. “Is this why you didn't ask me to the dance?”
I kissed him. My heart fluttered. Yeah, it was Bennie. When I opened my eyes, he was human.
He grinned. “I should tell you,” he said, “I was raised by an evil sorcerer who kind of wants to take over the school and turn the freshmen into trolls.”
“It's okay. I hate my parents too.”


Friday, February 3, 2012

Five Sentence Fiction

5 Sentence Fiction, yo!  The word is: Shiver.

So I have no idea how these 5 Sentence Fiction stories keep ending up all spazzy manic but so it goes.  I don't like this one as much as the last one but eh, it was fun to write.  Obscenities below!  The title's probably too cutesy for a short fluffy piece, it came to me just now while watching Archer.  What do you want? Sorry for the comma madness.  I'm going to go out on a limb and say that sentence #5 miiiiight not be kosher.  What do you want.

Walk Down This Street and Smile That to My Face

There's no money it and other than maybe a long comment thread on Flickr, there's no fame either (unless you're that Banksy guy or the Obama poster guy and then freakin' everybody knows who you are, even old people), but Sacco does it anyway pretty much every night he can manage it and swear to freakin' CHRIST, there is nothing better than finishing off a particularly cool piece on top of a building,  getting away clean, and shivering in the cold night air under the streetlights; you feel like you own Los Angeles!

The only thing that's almost better is hearing back from people about it like “Yo Sacco, is that you on Third Street?” and then, oh holy shit, is that ever sweet.

He lets slip to his ceramics teacher, Miss Marlow, that he's into art and Obey Giant so that she gets this crazy excited look in her eyes and brings him a book of this old white-haired dude's pictures that -once he's done looking down her shirt- he gets really interested in and now he's completely obsessed.

What Miss Marlow probably doesn't figure is that Sacco decides the old white-haired dude was really on to something and it would be cool to do stencils of some big celebrity and then put them everywhere like everywhere, so instead of everybody watching the celebrity, the celebrity's watching everybody else. 

Sacco picks Tom Cruise (since everybody knows who he is and the dude is crazy after all) and once he learns stencils, he puts Tom Cruise all over the city and people are starting to notice, but it's not enough: he recruits two guys, then five guys, then a dozen guys from school, and teaches them stencils, and soon every other street's got a Tom Cruise peaking at you over his shades; pharmacies, banks (oh, especially banks), bus stops, schools, freeways, empty bookstores, take-out joints, liquor stores, sidewalks, broken down shacks and then the big cojone; red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple Tom Cruises all along the subway walls at the Vermont/Sunset stop, but Christ, it's so beautiful that when they finally drag him off in handcuffs (under the watchful eye of his buddy's camera phone) he screams to the palm trees and Sunset Boulevard and the cayenne peppered fruit carts and Mr.Brainwash, “I FUCKING LOVE THIS TOWN!”