Sometimes the hardest part of writing a story is where and how to end it. Unless you’re doing something really risky and experimental, most readers want an ending that is satisfying, something that ties up the loose ends and fits both the tone and the theme of the story. If most of the book has been light and happy, then ending with something grim or terrible will feel jarring and out of place. On the contrary, if you’ve been writing something that is heavy and realistic, then ending with a fairy-tale-like happily-ever-after will likewise feel out of place and perhaps even cheapen the sacrifices and suffering of the characters.
Which brings me to Animorphs.
Back in July 2020, I wrote an entry on the Animorphs book series by K.A. Applegate for my Obscure Books From Childhood blog series on Second Unit Reviews. This prompted me to reread the entire series, which consists of 62 volumes (54 regular books, four Megamorphs books, the Andalite, Hork-Bajir, and Ellimist Chronicles, and Visser, plus two “choose your own adventure” books called Altermorphs, but I don’t count those because they don’t contribute to the main story). I just finished the final book very early this morning and… I have some feelings.
Self-contained, episodic storytelling has fallen by the wayside in a lot of cinematic media, particularly for live-action television shows. Now the emphasis is on long-form story-telling suitable for the new era of binge-watching. The technology allowing one to stream episodes on demand rather than planning out your week by the TV guide and waiting for reruns if, heaven forbid, you missed an episode, has changed the nature of the storytelling format. I don’t think that is a bad thing, especially since I love “novels for television.” I do love long-running arcs that explore repercussions of the choices that characters make, sometimes only showing the full effect seasons later.
But I think that sometimes the power of self-contained episodes gets ignored or brushed off as a relic solely related to the technology that distributed it. Just because a show is comprised of self-contained episodes does not necessarily compromise its impact. A collection of short stories linked by the same characters can be just as powerful as a single giant novel. In some cases, it can be even more effective, depending on the kind of stories you want to tell. This is something I’ve really come to understand and appreciate as my friend Fox and I spend our evenings watching Star Trek: The Next Generation through Netflix Parties.
Feminism is not a dirty word. (I actually read a book recently with that statement in the title, and I stand by it.) A lot of people shy away from the term “feminist” because they think it means “insane man-hating career/sex obsessed woman (who may or may not be a lesbian.)” Even I’m careful hen using this term, lest my meaning be misconstrued. While such people do exist, they are the extreme end of the spectrum and have no bearing on what I consider feminism. That is, that women should be treated politically, socially, and economically as equals to men.
Fantasy and science fiction are wonderful because you can break so many stereotypes. With a lot of realistic fiction, especially in historical fiction, there are certain limitations, certain expectations and roles that people play that can be difficult to change without losing a sense of authenticity. But science fiction is usually set far into the future, often on other planets. Fantasy deals in alternate realities and fairy tales. The potential to explore and turn traditional gender/racial/economic/sexual roles upside down is all around! And I’m sorry to say that a lot of writers who deal in science fiction and fantasy don’t take advantage of that potential.
Since a lot of fantasy is set in medieval look-alike worlds, we tend to get medieval values. Women are passive objects to be won while men do all the fighting, rescuing, political maneuvering, and pretty much anything else interesting. Science fiction often has male military leaders, male soldiers, male explorers… Women are very often not present at all, or, if they are, they get regulated to sexual roles or are presented in a very wooden or unrealistic manner.
Obviously this isn’t the case for every fantasy or science fiction story. And I should point out that while there is nothing inherently wrong with having characters fill traditional gender roles, that shouldn’t be the only role that they can play. (And that goes for men as well as women.) Older science fiction and fantasy often get a pass from me because the social mores of the time necessarily colors the way the plot and characters are presented. But even in modern stories, I rarely see the envelop pushed.
It’s been a while since I was this obsessed about a show. More than a show; an entire universe spread across many different kinds of media. One of the most appealing aspects of Doctor Who is that it exists in so many forms, allowing for a wide array of stories and expression. And one of the most challenging aspects of Doctor Who is that it exists in so many forms, making it very difficult to track them all down.
I’ll say right up front that I haven’t watched any classic Doctor Who. I really hate watching a series out of order, but since there are 100 episodes missing from classic Who, I was reluctant to dive into the franchise at all. However, my friend Storm Elf assured me that I could start with the 2005 series that introduced the 9th Doctor and I would be fine, since there’s a 16-year gap between classic Who and its reincarnation. We watched the first episode together at Katsucon and later she hosted a Doctor Who viewing for the next few episodes. After that, I went through a lull where I didn’t watch any Doctor Who. But in late September 2013, after listening to several Sapphire and Steel radio plays, I felt in the mood for some more weird time-related stories and decided it was the right time to start up Doctor Who again.
But all my life I’ve wanted to be the kid who gets to cross over into the magical kingdom … Because even when I was a child I knew it wasn’t simply escape that lay on the far side of the borders of fairyland. Instinctively I knew crossing over would mean more than fleeing the constant terror and shame . . . There was a knowledge that ran deeper – an understanding hidden in the marrow of my bones that only I can access – telling me that by crossing over, I’d be coming home.
That’s the reason I’ve yearned so desperately to experience the wonder, the mystery, the beauty of that world beyond the World As It Is. It’s because I know that somewhere across the border there’s a place for me. A place of safety and strength and learning, where I can become who I’m supposed to be. I’ve tried forever to be that person here, but whatever I manage to accomplish in the World As It Is only seems to be an echo of what I could be in that other place that lies hidden somewhere beyond the borders.
Okay, time for another rant about movies. I know, this is a writing blog and I keep talking about films. But really, if you want to learn how to write tight, self-contained, highly visual stories, then study screen writing. Good screen writing, that is. And there seems to be less and less of that out there these days, at least in the realm of Hollywood.
CAUTION! THIS ENTRY MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED! PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK!
I recently had the dubious pleasure of viewing John Carter and Green Lantern. Aside from having a pulp fiction background and a male protagonist sent into space, these two movies might appear to have little in common. But actually, they have a lot in common. They suck. They don’t suck so bad that they are unwatchable, but with such rich source material it’s almost a crime how not-good they turned out. The visuals are excellent (as always, with the benefits of CGI) and the acting wasn’t horrible (although Carter and Dejah Thoris had no chemistry whatsoever, which made their romantic scenes laughable), but the screen plays were unfocused and muddled, like no one could decide exactly what movie they wanted to make. There were actually several similarities between John Carter and Green Lantern that probably contributed to their dramatic failure:
I say “show” as in a TV show, but really, it can be a single book or a trilogy or an entire series, a movie, a comic, anything that tells a story. Everyone has a story that is very precious to them, characters that are near and dear to their heart, a tale that takes their breath away. Over the years, I’ve had several stories that affected me deeply, stories that I come back to every year that remain fresh and new and alive, no matter how many times I’ve read or watched them.