Last night I bought the second (or third) Blake Snyder book on plot and genre, Save The Cat Strikes Back, and in chapter one, while he’s describing his “one line” plot descriptions, we come across this gem:

On the verge of returning to Earth after another routine mission, a rules-obsessed warrant officer lets an unknown alien species onto the ship; but when the creature kills one member of the crew and begins to grow in power, she must do what is right rather than what she’s been told or else all on board will meet the same deadly fate. (Alien)

I read that and was flabbergasted: Dude, did you even watch the movie?

It isn’t Ripley who lets the alien into the ship. Ash lets the alien into the ship. The whole idea of the “rules-obsessed officer” breaking quarantine is anathema to an essential tension within the plot. The entire point of the film is that Ripley was right to begin with. Ripley foreshadows the doom that comes to the Nostromo. Her words have weight. That’s why she survives. That was a standard trope at the time, the girl who adheres to the rules is the survivor, and Ripley always followed the rules, down to her last log entry.

The best thing James Cameron ever did with Ripley’s character in the sequel is make her a risk-taking rule-breaker. Because the moral values conflict between “saving Kane when you have everything to lose” and “saving Newt when you have nothing else to lose” is incredibly powerful and valuable and instructive, and this facile plot description completely takes away that sharpness of that contrast.

Here’s a provocative thought.  Joseph Campbell defines The Hero’s Journey this way:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

In my last post of black writers and Paranormal Romance, I wrote that black writers “already live in a world of immanent, anarchic threat from vast and powerful forces,” namely white America.  I added that when white characters deal with paranormal forces those threats are beaten back, often comprehensively, but for black writers, the idea that the evil in which they live might be vanquished is childish Disney fairytale stuff.

The coming of the new Star Wars movie with a black Jedi character is intriguing as hell.  The setting is one that allows anyone to go through the Hero’s journey, and the Star Wars universe carries enough cultural cachet that we will allow anyone in it to go through that journey, so long as the story is told well and with sufficient polychrome.

Star Wars is a special case.  When The Hunger Games came out, Twitter erupted in protest that Rue was cast with a black actress, despite the character in the book clearly being black and being from a primarily black district.  The idea that a black character can enter a topsy-turvy world and learn to harness its forces (what screenwriters call the fun-n-games part of the plot), then return to bestow boons on his fellows is deeply threatening to the fundamental American psyche, or at least that portion that indulges in convenient racismthe ones who say “I’m not racist but…”

Which, unfortunately, is a lot of people.

They’re not racist but America was better before women, gays, and minorities started to agitate for equal rights.  They’re not racist but they prefer it when they don’t have to think too hard about whom to trust, skin color is a sufficient proxy.  They’re not racist but the convenience of having a community that can be exploited and abused with impunity was really, really nice.

A black person completing the hero’s journey is oxymoronic to these people.

It didn’t used to be this way.  Eddie Murphy was a brilliant example of this: Trading Places and Beverly Hills Cop are both classic hero’s journeys, and the former ends with Billy Ray Valentine not only holding onto his fabulous powers, but successfully sharing them with his fellow man.  (A caveat, though, is that Murphy’s character never shares his earned power and authority with other black people.  In a lot of cases, other black people barely exist.  Even Trading Places makes much more noise about Valentine being poor, rather than black.)

As black equality demands center stage, as a black president enjoys his “lame duck” status while getting a lot of stuff done, the white audience for the idea that black people deserve even the opportunity to go on a hero’s journey has shrunk appreciably.

I wrote this scene a while ago as an explanation for (a) why magic works in the Yowler universe, and (b) how this answer solves the Drake Equation:

“The what?”

“The Drake equation,” Nick said. “It’s a famous formula. It says that if we look at all the stars in the universe, and calculate the odds of there being one that supports life, and run the numbers, there ought to be a certain number of radio-capable civilizations we can hear right this moment.”

“And what does this Drake equation say?” Tatia purred. Damn, she could get to him that way, couldn’t she?

“Right now, there ought to be between 200 and 400 radio-capable civilizations in the Milky Way But there aren’t. We haven’t heard from anybody. And now the Natural Philosophy people have an idea why.” Tatia stared at him, waiting. She wasn’t going to give him the pleasure of asking, which she knew was what he wanted. “Some four billion years ago, a star in our neighborhood of the galaxy went supernova and blew out a huge section of space around us. It may have contributed to the mass that makes up the Earth and stuff, since heavy metals are made by supernovas, but the big deal was that it swept space clear of something. We don’t know what.” Nick’s speech was speeding up. He was getting excited. “But the NP people think that whatever the star did, it suppressed a feature of the universe: the feature that will automagically becomes realization.”


“We know magic worked, right? Well, what if it works absolutely everywhere, naturally, except around our Solar System?”

“But it has worked,” Tatia pointed out.

“A few times. And very weakly. What if that were just mere shreds, dust, vapor of what the Universe is really like? What if all that observer stuff we see at the quantum level isn’t just weird, it’s just weakly weird compared to what the universe is really like? In most of the universe, the moment you will something it become reality. It’s just on Earth, which is privileged in this special way, where that doesn’t happen.” Nick was full in the grip of didactism.

“How is that priveleged?” Tatia said. “Don’t you want magic to work?”

“Hell no!” Nick said. “Just think about it. The second you evolve something with the intelligence of a lemur, the entire world is doomed. The mere thought ‘I want him dead’ or ‘I wish he would disappear’ becomes mutually assured destruction. That’s how it solves the Drake equation: we’re alone in the universe because we don’t have magic. Our ancestors didn’t blow this planet to rubble before we reached this level of consciousness.”

Which I think wraps everything up quite nicely.

So, there’s this scene in Jupiter Ascending where Jupiter and Caine are talking, and Caine reveals that he has more in common with a dog than with exalted bioroyalty like Jupiter, and Jupiter responds with “I’ve always loved dogs.”  Caine, distraught by her willingness to engage in what he perceives as bestial, leaves, and Jupiter stands there, clenching her fists and groans, “I’ve always loved dogs.”

Foz Meadows, in an otherwise stellar essay on how Jupiter Ascending is The Matrix Regendered, points to that scene, as many have, as one of the silliest scenes in a movie full of silly scenes, but Foz also points out that, really, The Matrix has just as many silly scenes.

But I want to rise to the defense of the “I’ve always love dogs” scene.  When it closes, Jupiter knows it was an off-the-cuff remark that was stupid.  She’s cursing herself for saying the first thing that came to mind, despite the way it clearly drove off the object of her affection.  This kind of scene is rare in movies, and it’s rare in most books.  But it is common in fanfiction.

This scene is an adulting scene.  Most fanfic writers are young.  They’re figuring out the world.  They’re explaining it to each other.  This scene is a classic attempt by a writer to do two things at once: show Jupiter’s growing attraction to Caine, and explain to the audience how that attraction can make you say something that, in retrospect, is really freakin’ stupid.  That scene is 100% Lana reaching into her dual persona as an adult and as a young woman and trying to help her fans understand their world, especially the romantic parts.

It does very well at that.  But you only have access to understanding why that scene works so well if you know the fanfic trope that it’s working with.

Thirty-five weeks. Nine months of weekly fiddling and fixing. Almost two years of work. All for one silly Frozen fanfic. And it was silly. And fun. And, knowing me, deliberately sexy. I enjoyed every minute of trying to write a three-act story with rising tension, lots (and lots and lots) of Chekhov’s Pistols, varying levels of angst.

It was okay as a novel. At 98,675 words it more than qualifies. (The “unused” directory contains an additional 52,758 words– that’s what got thrown away!). The big villains of Acts I and Acts II are much more serious than the villain of Act III, but this is a romance so of course the main thing going on in Act III is whether or not the two characters will finally get their stuff together and tie the knot.

It was okay as a fanfic. It did not have the classic angst and anguish that seems to be endemic to all Elsanna stories; in classic fanfic “bang” fashion I did things to the characters that pushed them a bit outside canon; I tried to have much more plot, with strong points to the source material that were not just duplicating it, but actually going off and being its own thing, than what I usually find in fanfic.

It was fun as an exercise. Callbacks to eariel in the work, pulling the shades off and showing the readers what I’d built– the kind of stuff Lois McMaster Bujold does so effortlessly– was absolutely thrilling, and my fans really seemed to enjoy it.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do next. I may put a hold on writing for a few months while I catch my breath and work on some software-related stuff; my github is languishing.

But goodness, it was fun.

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