Category Archives: Writing

The Work Continues

I ran a little bit of a race yesterday. (Yes, it’s another one) It went reasonably well – I was quicker than I was a month ago – although there’s still also room for improvement. Not a dream race, one that could have been better in a few ways, but not so bad, and worth having done.

I’m feeling that way about a lot of my writing these days (see the ‘Hatewords’ entry from last week) – I don’t feel like I’ve really hit a good stride with the project I’m trying to work on, and I’m not entirely happy with what’s getting produced, but it isn’t (I think) irredeemable either and it’s better than not writing anything.

Sort of goes back to something I have written here (and continually remind myself) a few times recently: it really doesn’t have to be perfect, as long as you’re still working on it. I’m still training for my running every week, and I’m gonna keep plugging away at this WIP, and (I trust) both will gradually get better.

This actually meshes somewhat with yesterday also having been Canada Day, and my feelings about the country where I live of late. I think I’m very fortunate to live here, and there are a lot of things about this country that we can all be justifiably very proud of. There’s also a lot of things that need serious work and attention.

We need to do much much better by First Nations people, who still have uranium in their water and systemic racism in their path. We need to do right by LGTBQ people. We need to stop dickering over what it might cost and shift ourselves to really do something about climate change, if it isn’t too late. We need to root out and destroy the rising forces of white nationalism, that would have been unthinkable to see when I was young. And on and on.

Real, serious things to work on. It doesn’t mean that everything about this country is awful and that there’s nothing to be pleased about. It just means there’s more work to do. For all of us, as a society, and for each of us as individuals.

Running.

Writing.

Being decent people.

Thanks for reading.

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Hatewords

Yesterday I wrote about 1,300 words and hated all of them.

Well, most of them, anyway. I was working on the WIP, and generally felt like everything I was writing was pretty crude and clumsy. I’ve written a lot here about how sometimes it’s ok to just decide the day is not going to be a good one for creating, and sort of pull the ripcord on it. I still think that’s an important thing to give yourself permission to do, sometimes.

This wasn’t *quite* one of those days, though – I was banging the scene I was working on into some kind of shape, kind of roughing it out, and even though I’m pretty sure when I go back and give it an editing pass that a lot is going to change, it wasn’t quite ‘throw in trash’ bad. I am not proud of what I wrote, and it’s certainly not something I would share with anyone else, but it was a step towards something that I’d give to a reader.

Obviously it’s a fine line. I wasn’t feeling great in terms of what I was producing, but I was *producing*, and in the end much as I felt pretty hostile to what I created (thus the ‘hatewords’ label a friend of mine assigned to them on Twitter), I know it was a step forward that I wouldn’t have taken if I stopped entirely.

Remembering to give myself permission to also produce stuff that isn’t immediately perfect is also important, because it’s obviously easier to fix something that is written but has issues than start from nothing. All stuff I feel like I should know, but obviously need to keep relearning.

Thanks for reading.

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Push

Consider yourself adequately forewarned: this is another running analogy.

Late last week, I had – in terms of time – probably my best run of the summer. (I was also largely fuelled by a payload of fury, but that’s probably not highly relevant. Case in point #9283 that ‘keep your emotions in check’ is a heap of bullshit) I do think it helped that I was Very Angry, and it probably also helped that it started raining a bit partway through (motivation!) but what both of those things really did was get me in a mindset where I was willing and able to push myself.

Yeah, I was getting a bit tired, and yeah, legs a little sore, but that doesn’t necessarily mean slow down. Maintaining max performance necessarily means that it’s going to feel like you’re doing as much as you possibly can. Especially for something that I essentially do for enjoyment, that’s not always the easiest thing to do. Slowing down is both the response my body appears to be angling for, and the one that comes more easily. Which is basically fine – except that it won’t lead to my best running – because running is a hobby. I don’t, however, want my writing to be just a hobby.

I mean, this is far from an earth-shattering observation, but it’s one I do need (apparently) to remind myself of periodically. We can do hard things, but they are still hard. That means both that yeah, it’s ok to find them difficult to do, but also that they’re going to require some perhaps uncomfortable effort to get done.

That’s true for getting the best time out of a run that I can, and also true as I try to get back in the writing groove now that I’m done teaching for the summer. I would really like to get a complete first draft of the WIP knocked out by fall, which is going to require a significant amount of work to achieve. It’s not going to happen if I take it easy and write when I feel like it. I’m going to need to push.

I’ve written before that I also think the ‘write every day’ rule is goofy and that there are times to admit that writing is not going to be a thing that happens on a particular occasion and let yourself off the hook about it. As with most things, there’s a balance to be struck here, between pushing yourself to get the work done and also recognizing limits.

I thought Rich Larson put it well when we had him on Broadcasts from the Wasteland (what is that, you ask? Well, go here) – basically you have to show up for work as a writer, i.e., sit down at <whatever writing technology> and try to get the words going. Some days the answer will be ‘no’ and that’s ok. Most days, you’ll get at least something done. Some days will be outstanding.

The thing is that just like I need to push a bit on the runs, I also can’t just wait around for the days when I feel absolutely overflowing with inspiration to write. Not if I want to be my most productive and have writing perhaps be more than a hobby. (I should say that some of this absolutely depends on my writing friends who are good enough to tolerate writing in the same space as me. 🙂 )

So: pushing myself, to write, and to run.

Thanks for reading.

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Kerr Avon

Yesterday, we got the sad news that the actor Paul Darrow passed away. I never met him, nor did I see very much of him out of character any place, so I can’t say I knew him. And yet, the news was very saddening to get, because Paul Darrow played Kerr Avon on the show Blake’s 7, and my, did I love that character.

I wrote a bit about Avon and Blake’s 7 once already, but I’m going to dig a bit more into it today, because Avon is truly one of my very favourite TV characters ever. (Only a very little bit because young, not-experienced-with-accents me really thought they were saying ‘Evan’ for the first couple episodes) It’s a bit odd, in a way, that I have so much affection for Avon, because in some ways he seems to be the kind of character I don’t have a lot of patience with, these days.

To explain – the basic premise of Blake’s 7 is a bunch of escaped criminals in a battle against a totalitarian Federation that rules the galaxy with an iron fist; basically Robin Hood in space, or a cynical flip of Star Trek. Most of the titular Seven are more or less as you’d expect: idealistic to differing degrees, fond of each other, and definitely dedicated to the idea of the Federation’s overthrow.

Not so Kerr Avon, computer crook and embezzler, who is clear enough that his goals are survival, and getting rich. He’s derisive with gusts to contemptuous towards the others, especially as regards any lofty goals. Avon is a cynical pragmatist with, it seems, no time for anything other than what’s best for his own self. Not, in general, the kind of character I dig very much.

The first reason I do enjoy this one is that whatever else is true about him, Avon is fun to watch. The writers gave him a lot of great lines. (Watch this compilation and see if you don’t have at least a little affection) I think this is where people sometimes go wrong with anti-heroes or bleak characters: we’ve gotta at least want to follow them around on some level, and Avon was always worth watching for the next line he might drop on some unsuspecting twit.

The other reason I think the character works is that there’s just enough hints dropped that it’s possible that some or all of the above is an act, or partly an act. Avon talks a good game about ditching the others, but never does it. In fact, he’s always there when needed. He definitely thinks he’s the smartest one in the room, but in terms of actions, he’s always there for the group when it comes down to it. Again, I think there’s a lesson for dark characters, here: there needs to be something that makes us want to be on their side, at least a little.

With Avon, it was relatively easy to do because he was on the team, in the end. Exactly how much, well, that was harder to say. That brings me to one of the things I love about the whole Blake’s 7 series. Wonky as the sets often were, the writing was very well done, and they had the confidence in their audience to deal with some ambiguity. Exactly how much of a selfish jerk was Avon, and how much of it was an act? Hard to say. The final episode, with its gloriously grim ending, with Avon’s ‘Have you betrayed me?‘ (this to Blake, who for much of the last act has seemed to be working for the Federation) can be read in different ways: is this Avon’s arrogance, unable to believe that he’s been outwitted? Is he shocked at the idea of it being Blake who’s the turncoat, rather than the other way around? Or, is he horrified at the idea of betrayal of a friend (a friendship Avon would never have admitted existed)?

We never know, for sure. We never know exactly how much ‘anti’ there was in Avon’s anti-hero, and I love that ambiguity. You genuinely never know exactly what to make of him, and puzzles are always enticing. In sum, although Kerr Avon was undoubtedly a darker type of character than I usually enjoy, there was a lot done right in his creation and performance, and so I liked this particular one a great deal.

Anyway, although I didn’t know Paul Darrow, I am still deeply sad to hear that an actor who gave me a character I loved has gone. I shall enjoy Kerr Avon forever, and think about him – and, of course, Darrow’s performances – whenever I need one of those tricky ‘antihero’ types. Perhaps there was a little Avon in my prickly druid Gwriad, from my D&D game. The good thing about fictional characters is that they do stay with us forever, and so in at least a little way, so do the people who created them and brought them to life.

Thank you, Mr. Darrow.

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Garden Time

I got my garden ready yesterday.

And by ‘garden’, I mean ‘some plants in containers’, because my available space is the deck at the back of my apartment. I’m very lucky to have my little step outdoors, but also what I have out there isn’t a ‘garden’ by most people’s definitions. But I get a lot of joy out of it.

I love trying out different plants and seeing how they do, and bringing back ones that I particularly enjoyed from previous summers to be my companions again for a few months. I suppose it’s taking things a touch far to think of plants as companions, but having that little collection of life around me when I sit down with my coffee to write a little really does feel as though I’m quietly hanging out with some other beings.

I like that the garden becomes, in some small way, part of the local environment. Just now I saw a bumblebee has found some of my flowers; the mornings where the garden is alive with bees are especially lovely. At least once a summer, I’ll water the plants on a hot day, and then look outside to see a little bird taking a bath in the water left on the leaves. Overall my garden provides many little moments of joy and peace which I think make me more productive in my writing and certainly enhance my life while it’s there.

Often my cat will come out to join me; he’s an indoors cat most of the time, but he likes to sleep in the sun and imagine murdering some of the local birds. I used to play music when I went out to write, but now I just work with birdsong as my background noise. They’re not overly concerned about the cat.

Setting up the garden feels like switching modes over to my summer, where I can take things a bit easier and spend some more time with my writing. Putting it all to rest for the winter, of course, is another change of modes in the autumn, and although I wouldn’t say I exactly look forward to that one (not nearly as fun as choosing the plants for the year), I appreciate the turn of the seasons. I know I’m fortunate to get my garden time every year, and I hope to have something significant to show by the end of it.

I’ll be out there as many days as I can. Me, my imaginary people, and our companions.

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Endings

I finally saw Avengers: Endgame! (And look, by my standards this is well ahead of schedule)

Endings are hard.

I thought it wrapped up the rather massive tale of superheroes about as well as one could reasonably expect, tugged on the heartstrings the way you knew it would and sowed the seeds for the next crop of brightly-coloured demigods. Of course it wasn’t perfect – there are some characters I would have liked to see more of, some moments that I would have liked to explore further, and some I would have done a little less of – but there must be immense pressure in trying to write a thing like Endgame, with its huge cast of characters, all of whom are somebody’s favourite, but not all of which can be the star, or even get the happy ending. Choosing where to leave each character, many of the them probably forever, is a weighty decision, and I know the writers will have wanted to get it right just as much as the audience wants it right, even as they won’t agree on what ‘right’ is.

I haven’t really had to do this yet, although I can imagine the task. Both my novels (I didn’t really know the second would be published when I wrote the first) have an ending, of course, but in my mind neither was ever the end of the story for Adam Godwinson and his friends. I have mentally plotted that ending, but that’s not the same as writing it. Perhaps I will one day. Similarly, the book I’m looking for a home for now, Heretic Blood, does of course end, but I hope it will be the beginning of Easter Pinkerton’s story, not the finish.

Again, though, I’ve thought about where I probably would leave Pinkerton, when and if the time comes, and I can imagine the weight of that particular ‘The End’. How much heavier if you have a massive audience. Regular readers of the blog will likely know that I haven’t watched Game of Thrones (there are reasons) but you could scarcely spend a split second on the internet the last while without becoming aware that a) the series ended and b) not everyone is happy with how it finished.

Endings are hard.

I sympathise with the GoT fans, even if I didn’t watch the show, because I remember spite-watching the closing act of Lost and being, at best, very annoyed about the whole thing. I had invested in the story, invested time of course, but thought and energy and part of my dreams, and I suppose I felt that I wasn’t getting a proper return. Ultimately, I didn’t want to walk away from those characters feeling, at best, annoyed about it all.

Thinking about it now – as a bit more of a writer and with a few (?) more years on board – it seems to me that no, we’re not entitled as readers or viewers to the ending we want. The artist creates their art, and we either like it or not, but we’re not owed anything in particular. The writer is free to tell the story they want to tell. We’re free to like it, or not. Of course, that doesn’t make it feel any better when we don’t like it, and this is the end. A story that takes a turn we don’t like is one thing, because perhaps the next bend will please us. But if this is the finish, and it’s not a place we want to stay, well, that’s much harder to stomach.

For both readers and writers, we might cram in one more pop culture reference and crib from a movie trailer that ran before Avengers for comfort: ‘No one’s ever really gone’. The great part about the stories we love is that we can always go back and experience them again. I am a great re-reader of stories, and going back to let the moments I loved live again is a big part of why. No, it’s not quite the same as a new unexplored tale, but it’s clearly not the same as ‘gone forever’, either. Writers have even more freedom to bring back a character we thought we were done with, or add more branches to a story we thought was finished.

Of course, there’s a hazard to that – sometimes if we unpick something that had been neatly tied off, it turns out that we can’t find a new ending that’s quite as good. Conan Doyle wrote a lot of good Holmes stories after resurrecting his detective, but none of the places he tried to leave off again were ever as satisfying as “there, deep down in that dreadful caldron of swirling water and seething foam, will lie for all time the most dangerous criminal and the foremost champion of the law of their generation.”

Endings are hard.

On some level I think we tend to want to resist them, in stories or in life (wherever you want to draw that line) and think that there is always just a little more, perhaps. At the same time, we know that everything does end, eventually, and I think we want to find meaning or at least a nice feeling when they do. There’s a reason why ‘in the end, none of it meant anything’ is a sentiment that tends to be an unsettling one.

I try not to fret about it too too much. Everything does end. An ending isn’t necessarily bad, or at least it doesn’t erase everything that came before it. For a time there was a story, and it was one we wanted to read. The experience, the reading of it, that time we shared with the writer (and whatever other artists were involved), that never goes away. I try to be kind to endings, because they are hard, and especially when we didn’t want something to be over. Every ending, though, is an opportunity to pick up a new story.

I suppose I’ve been thinking rather a lot about this, the last few days, with the end of another semester (and thus, the end of a number of stories), and then in my D&D game, my character’s story required that he walk away from the party, thus leaving the game, at least for now. It was surprisingly hard to do, in the game, and I was surprised as well at how much of a reaction it got from the friends I play with. Ending are hard, and all around us, but then again so are beginnings. I’m really looking forward to seeing what everyone thinks of my new character.

Thanks for reading this, and enjoy what you read next.

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Back at it

Sunday, I sat down and wrote a little over a thousand words. It was the first work I had done on the current WIP since January, which neither sounds or looks great when I put it like that. In some ways, there’s a similar intimidation factor to getting back out on the road and running, now that the thaw has finally settled in. (Oh no, they said. Another running analogy.)

However, the comparison doesn’t really work because I wrote that 1,000 words in a little more than an hour, which is how it generally goes when things are flowing well. Not to say, at all, that everything was pure gold, but in terms of something-out-of-nothing, when things are going really well, I will be creating about as fast as I can type. Cardio and my running legs take, uh, a good bit longer than that to recover if I’ve been lazy for a while.

So, that was encouraging, although the next challenge is to get into a rhythm with it again, so that I’m writing consistently, instead of just as the mood strikes me on a holiday weekend. If I can do that relatively soon (and my schedule is such that I think I may be able to), then I figure I might be able to get a complete draft of this thing by the end of the summer, just in time for my schedule to get complicated by the day job again.

To the extent that I have a long term plan, it is to continue to produce some stories that are distinct from one another, rather than following my natural inclination, which is currently to write the sequel to Heretic Blood. But, there is basically no point to writing a sequel to a story I haven’t sold yet, so I’m going to (kind of) buy another lottery ticket by working on another story I can (potentially) shop around. I have no idea if this is the right approach, but it is what makes sense to me right now.

I’m also kicking around trying some short fiction for the first time in a long long while, but I’m reluctant to do that if it means putting a bigger delay on getting back to work on the WIP.

All of this is makes for a very thinking out loud, progress report-y blog this week, but there you have it. I will say that it felt awfully good to hammer out a good chunk of creative writing for the first time in a while, just like it has felt great to get back outside and run.

Hopefully more of both over the next little while.

Thanks for reading.

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Ordinary Expanse

This week I discovered that the SF series The Expanse is available on Amazon Prime video. (Yes yes I am sure this was not difficult information to come by for people who pay proper attention to the world around them. It was new intelligence to me.) Thus, conforming quite well to my usual schedule, I have started watching it roughly 5 years behind the rest of the world.

I’m not super far into it yet (a pile of grading helps with resisting the urge to binge) so I don’t have a lot to say about the story yet (aside from general ‘I enjoy this’ level stuff) but I do already have Thoughts about the setting in general. I love that a lot of the future world imagined by The Expanse is dingy, dinged-up, worn-down and knocked around. A lot of the very obviously future tech is still just as obviously tools that people have done a lot of work with, objects that have been a part of people’s lives and taken the lumps that all of our objects do. (Not uniformly so, which makes a striking and effective contrast when we step into Rich People Land and everything is pristine. I think I like this show’s politics, but that’s a ‘later’ topic.)

I’ve talked about appreciating this aesthetic before, in Star Wars, and a lot of the future world of The Expanse reminds me of that, and Blade Runner. It isn’t a vision of the future we see enough, in my opinion. Many of our futures are gleaming in their perfection (Star Trek being perhaps the exemplar of that, in my mind) in which everything looks brand new and perfectly cared for. We also commonly see dystopia, where everything has collapsed and people inhabit the ruins of the civilization that has gone.

Both of those can be effective (although I think we tend to wait for the other shoe to drop on those gleaming futures, these days), but to me the middle ground of settings like The Expanse are perhaps the most plausible. The future will be like the present, and the past: inhabited primarily by ordinary people who have work to do, lives to get about the business of, and the environments they move through will primarily reflect that.

When I did history, I was a social historian, primarily interested in the lives of ordinary people, so it’s perhaps not a surprise that I tend to enjoy this in my fiction as well. The world of supermen and chosen ones can be a fun ride, of course, but what I actually expect we would find if we could look ahead to a future civilization is one kind of like The Expanse showed us: one that looks and feels like a place where everyday people live their every days.

So, lots of ground to cover yet on this unspooling tale, but I’m very much enjoying the early steps.

Thanks for reading.


 

Shoot I should also have added that the podcast I co-host, Broadcasts from the Wasteland, officially launched yesterday!  You can find us on iTunes or Spotify or visit us at our website and download from there.  I would be delighted if you checked us out.

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St. Gertrude’s Story

So St. Patrick’s Day, I did the same silly tweet I did every year about St. Gertrude – March 17th is also the feast day of St. Gertrude of Nivelles, today seen as a patron of gardeners, sufferers of mental illness and cats. I am generally not a St. Patrick’s enthusiast, I find the curious world of lesser known saints interesting, and pointing out that you could celebrate St. Gertrude instead is at least arguably a joke.

This year the tweet kind of blew up for whatever reason, getting seen by (checks stats) 87,000 people. This provided me with the answer to a question I couldn’t help but have: ‘what happens when you have a tweet go (semi?) viral?’. The answer is ‘not much’, but it was fun to watch happen.

I honestly forget where I first read about St. Gertrude, but she’s an interesting figure. She was born in the early 7th century, refused marriage (shaving her head to try to put off potential suitors), eventually entered a convent (well, double monastery) and is supposed to have saved the faithful from both a storm and a sea monster. Regarded as a saint (although not recognized as such until the 17th century), she was invoked for help by people keeping gardens, travellers, and people suffering from fever.

The association with cats appears a very late addition, usually slotted into the 1980s. St. Gertrude was invoked against rodents earlier than that, at least in the 15th century against the Black Plague (spread, in part, by rats), and concern with rodents does make sense for a gardener. In addition, several depictions of St. Gertrude show her surrounded by mice or rats. There isn’t another patron saint of cats, a lot of people like them, and it’s not such a leap from invoking a saint against rodents to invoking her in favour of their classic nemesis (and our companion).

(I did find one article that said (correctly) that most monasteries and abbeys would have kept some cats to deal with the mice, and that Gertrude was known to be especially kind to the ones in her abbey. They didn’t cite a source, though, aside from mentioning the vita of her life in general, and I haven’t ever read it myself. So I’m not 100% confident on that one)

There’s another explanation out there for the mice – St. Gertrude apparently had special concern for souls in Purgatory. (imagine a sort of afterlife penalty box where you serve out the balance of your sins on earth) These souls were often represented in medieval art by mice or rats – so the depictions of St. Gertrude and the mice may have had nothing to do with actual animals at all, originally: they were about her interest in relieving souls from Purgatory, reinterpreted to be literal mice by the later Middle Ages and then to interest in cats even later.

We should note that she’s still not officially the patron of cats – the Vatican has never recognized the connection. But all of this demonstrates a lot of things about medieval religion that I find somewhat charming and endlessly fascinating, because a great many saints ended up getting their patronages due to popular connections first, and then later recognition by the institution. Popular practice was the driver a lot of the time, and people brought their own meanings to their devotions and found ways to get their needs served.

It is also interesting to me that St. Gertrude clearly has a great many authors to her story, and it has been continually rewritten, or at least reinterpreted, over the centuries. Unpicking what is the truth of her life is a puzzle for historians, but it probably didn’t matter to someone in 15th century Holland, looking desperately for help against a deadly disease. Their version was that St. Gertrude would help. It probably doesn’t really matter to the cat lovers who liked my tweet Sunday whether or not Gertrude of Nivelles really liked the abbey cats or not; their version is that she loved cats like we love cats.

Different people with different needs and priorities wrote the versions of St. Gertrude that they liked. I think it’s very cool that we’re still, on some level or another, working on the story of this woman from the 7th century today. It also demonstrates (I think) something else that fits more clearly into a writing blog.

Chuck Wendig wrote a blog entry last week about how, in his opinion, the people who run the Star Wars franchise should split off the movies into a separate continuity (or ‘canon’) from the books and comics, in sort of the same way that the Marvel superhero universe is similarly divided. His argument was (basically) that then writers would have more freedom to do what they wanted without worrying about whether they were fitting in with a lot of previously established (or still to come) canon. They could just write their stories, and not worry about it.

I think when you look at writing in the past, our obsession with ‘canon’ is a relatively recent development. If you look at the stories of King Arthur and his knights, it’s clear that there were a great many different writers across a great many years writing the stories they thought would be cool about these characters, and many of them do not even slightly make sense together. Even when someone tried to create a canon, like Thomas Malory, it doesn’t really work: Malory’s compilation still has two Excaliburs kicking around, and the Lady of the Lake is deeply confusing.

People at the time would have been perfectly aware of this, of course they would. This was their popular culture! But they also don’t seem to have been particular bothered about it, loved the stories anyway, and writers just wrote their tales, and didn’t worry about it.

Obviously this was a very different time, before ‘intellectual property’ was exactly a thing. And I could do a pretty deep dive into why we, as a society, might tend to gravitate towards the concept that there is a single right answer to any question (whether that be ‘what is at the centre of the Solar System’ or ‘did Han shoot first’) and are often uncomfortable with the idea that different interpretations may be equally valid for different people. Even without doing that, I think it is reasonably obvious why we tend to want at least some consistency within our stories, and to want satisfying answers to our questions about them.

However, I do think this gets carried rather too far, with expectations that each and every story set in the same universe has to fit together seamlessly and unproblematically. Heck, the stories we have about our own universe don’t even do that, so why expect it of our fictional ones? I think there’s a lot to be said for writers being able to ignore or at least greatly loosen ‘canon’ in all kinds of popular settings, write their stories, and not worry about it.

I think our stories changing depending who tells them, and who is listening, is a wonderful tradition and a great way to keep them alive. There’s centuries worth of evidence that even if there isn’t an air-tight ‘canon’, people will love them anyway.

Thanks for reading.

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I hate Chekov’s Gun

I recently finished watching the most recent season of True Detective, and I’ve seen some people annoyed about it, and I have some thoughts. They are thoughts full of spoilers, so if you haven’t watched to the end of Season 3, think you might, and care about spoilers, probably just give this entry a miss for now.

Ok, for those of you still here (skipping the question of why? for a moment) – first of all, I thought the acting this season was great and I enjoyed the Ozarks setting way more than Season 2’s LA. I thought the main character’s unreliable and fragmentary memory was an impactful and clever new wrinkle to throw into the show’s established ‘multiple time frames’ format.

Now, where I saw some people getting annoyed was with how the resolution came together, and in particular that the ending violated Chekov’s Gun. I think I hate Chekov’s Gun.

To explain: we did get plenty of hints at something occult going on in the early going, with a Lovecraft reference in the first ep, creepy Blair Witch-y dolls, and a body posed on a stone slab in a cave. That, coupled with how Season One had gone (with some strongly implied Weird stuff going on) seems to have led many people to expect that dark magic was going to be part of the resolution here. And it wasn’t. We also had reason to expect some alarming child trafficking ring, and didn’t really get that either. And at least some of the audience didn’t like it.

First of all, I think some of that reaction comes from people being proud or fond of their solution to the puzzle we were presented with, and not being happy to learn that their speculation was wrong. That’s perfectly understandable, really – no-one likes to be wrong, and most people like to feel clever. However, I’ve seen a decent number of people frame their complaints through Chekov’s Gun thing: basically, that you shouldn’t introduce hints at occult magical things and then not follow through.

I am sure that the original advice behind what became the ‘Chekov’s Gun’ rule was well meant, and it probably applies decently well as a general principle (maybe especially well to a stage production? I’m not certain), but like almost every writing rule I have seen, it shouldn’t be applied as broadly as it is. Especially if you’re presenting a story about solving a problem (which a criminal investigation essentially is) – well, almost every one of those is a story of various false starts, dead ends, and things that looked important and then weren’t. Yes, in the first couple episodes of the season, the evidence for Occult Stuff looked strong. Turned out mostly to be smoke. I don’t think you want to go to the ‘fakeout’ well too often as a writer (or your audience won’t ever believe anything you present), but some misdirection is fine, and presenting the reality of any kind of investigation as a story of all the things we got wrong before we started getting things right is perfectly solid.

There were similar Chekov’s Gun complaints with the last season of The Americans (yeah, spoilers ahead) in which Elizabeth is given a suicide pill, speculation abounds about who will end up taking it or having it used on them, and then … no-one does. It gets buried in the woods as the Jennings flee the country. Again, I thought it worked great. It served to create some tension when it was introduced, and then having it come to nothing was part and parcel of how the whole world of our favorite spies was falling away. Sometimes it really is fine to introduce something intended to fizzle out, or show a road that no-one ends up taking.

Some people also objected that the non-occult resolution wasn’t as interesting. Look, I’m a huge fan of having fantastic elements in stories generally (not a shock, I am sure), but I thought what True Detective gave us this season worked pretty nicely. We saw several grandiose explanations for the murder of one child and abduction of another, but in the end it was a story about a series of reasonably humble human frailties and failings that led to it all. To me, the mundane roots of evil are at least as interesting to me as another abyss of the human soul (such as we saw in Season One) would have been.

Now, I would agree that the two massive dumps of exposition in the final episode came across as pretty clumsy, but it’s hard to see how they could have been replaced without at least another episode’s worth of action. None of this is to say that I thought Season Three of True Detective was perfect, but I think it was pretty darn good, and some of the criticisms I’ve seen of it seem to be treating yet another general principle of writing as an absolute, must never be broken, rule.

Increasingly, I think those don’t exist.

Thanks for reading.

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