Ethereality News & Weblog

March 21, 2012

Becoming A Better Artist workshop (April, 2012) 11th run now open for enrollment!

Filed under: Art & CG,News — Rob Chang @ 9:53 pm

NEWS:
The 11th run of Becoming A Better Artist workshop is now open for enrollment: http://workshops.cgsociety.org/courseinfo.php?id=250

The workshop will be from April 30th to June 25th.

The previous run of the workshop was sold out, so act quick if you want to join us for the next run of the workshop.

Writing relatable Mary Sues with depth

Filed under: Film/TV/Animation,Food,My Life/Musings,Video Games,Writing — Rob Chang @ 9:48 pm

WEBLOG:

While researching for the book I’m currently writing, I came across the Kids React videos on Youtube. I really enjoyed all the videos, although I don’t think I gained any new insights into the minds of today’s children. There will always be children who are quite “normal,” and there will always be those who are precociously mature and impressively articulate for their age. The latter are the ones I tend to write about, because they inspire both adults and other children, and I was a precocious kid myself, so that’s what I relate to. Someone like Severn Suzuki would be a prime example of the kind of children I prefer to write about. I like the idea that that children can be so intelligent, noble, wise, and courageous that they make many adults feel ashamed of themselves for not trying harder.

The downside to writing about impressive children is the whole “Mary Sue” problem (or “Gary Stu,” for male characters), so as a writer, I have to be careful and portray realistic people who despite how impressive they might be, are still human beings we can relate to. Personally, I don’t have a problem with the fact that Mary Sue characters tend to be very talented and capable, since I’ve met plenty of people like that. What raises eyebrows when it comes to Mary Sue characters for me, is the fact that they are often portrayed as perfect on the inside too.

So what happens if you have to write someone who is genuinely well-loved, noble, and with so few flaws that we almost can’t relate to how perfect they are? Today’s readers and writers are so savvy and picky that if they catch even a faint whiff of Mary Sue-like characteristics, they’ll jump on the author and proclaim him incompetent. So the question is, how do you write a lovable character who is inspirational and impressive in general, but not a Mary Sue?

I think in most cases, the so-called “perfect” people do most of their struggling on the inside. They have might have selfish and evil thoughts like the rest of us, but they have immense self-control, and they can overcome those dark thoughts and do the right thing. I’m not saying they don’t necessarily have more compassion and nobility than the rest of us, because often they do. What I’m saying is that they tend to have the self-control and tenacity to stick to being kind and compassionate towards others, even when they really don’t feel like it. I do know people in my life who always try to put on a smile, show kindness, and go out of their way to help others, even when they feel exactly the opposite–it’s as if they feel it’s their duty to make this world a better place. For the rest of us, all we see is a lovable, selfless, intelligent, and charismatic person, but we’ll never see the struggle that goes on inside of them–how they triumph over their inner demons.

As a writer, I think the way to make Mary Sues interesting is to write about that inner conflict. Novels have the freedom to explore the inner world of characters in ways that would be very hard or awkward to do in other storytelling mediums, so I feel as novelists, we should take advantage of that freedom. It doesn’t matter if your character acts like a Mary Sue–as long as she doesn’t also think like one, you should be able to write a relatable Mary Sue-like character with depth and complexity.

Living in a city like Fuzhou, it’s extremely hard to find decent cheese anywhere. (People in China generally dislike cheese–many find it disgusting and foul tasting, except maybe on a pizza. Hong Kong and Taiwan are far more accepting, since they are a lot more westernized.) Even the import supermarket we go to have dubious selection that’s inconsistent at best. Recently, We tried ordering imported cheese from taobao.com (the largest online shopping portal in China), and because the weather was still cold enough, the cheese products arrived in good shape.

We got some gouda and gruyere that are excellent, and we also got white truffle salsa, truffle oil, and Foie Gra that were very good:

truffle_and_foie_gras.jpg

To be able to enjoy food like this in our own home, while living in a relatively backwards city like Fuzhou, is really something, but they are so expensive since they are imported. I was excited like a little boy as we sampled each purchase. I guess it’s a good thing luxury food like these are so hard to find in Fuzhou, otherwise I’d stuff myself with them and eat a big chunk out of our savings.

I finished Dead Space 2, and I think in general, I liked it almost as much as the first game (which is one of my all-time favorite games). Some of the freshness and surprise isn’t there anymore, because I’m already familiar with the premise, the gameplay, the general mood, and narrative style, but the new location does provide some interesting levels and enemies, such as the babies and children, the childcare center, the shopping district, the residential areas, and so on. It’s hard to screw up a sequel when the first one already laid down the most important foundation to build upon though.

I’m totally looking forward to the next sequel, and I hope it will have a long life as a franchise like the Resident Evil series.

I finally found the time to play some Skyrim, and it’s been pretty okay so far. There’s no dramatic intensity to speak of, since unlike most RPG’s, the sandbox approach allows you just roam around, and random encounters have no carefully crafted dramatic structure that creates strong emotional resonance. Sandbox games all have this problem, and no matter how the developers try to put a main plot in the game, it doesn’t fix the problem because the game doesn’t force the player to follow the main plot, and when you can’t control the story progression as a writer, is when you lose the ability to craft a dramatic structure/pacing that only a good writer could.

I also started playing Mass Effect 3, and so far the premise feels a a bit like Bioware had jumped the shark regarding the whole Reapers and earth situation. I’m sure I’ll really enjoy the game anyway though–it’s Bioware, after all.

Other than the unlikely premise, I was really put off by this James character, who has no background and apparently is pals with Shepard. Bioware did nothing to tell the player who this James is–I had to find out by searching the internet. Apparently, he appeared in one of the other products related to the Mass Effect franchise. It’s unforgivable that Bioware expects the player to just know who this James is, as if they expect people to buy and experience all of their other Mass Effect related products.

Then there’s that Diana Allers reporter character, played by Jessica Chobot. Seriously, how the hell did that happen? It feels tacked on, like some kind of fan-service for the horny nerds. Chobot is nowhere near the caliber of a good voice actress–the whole thing was a marketing gimmick.

I can’t help but think all of the recent negatives I’ve experienced with Bioware games (including Dragon Age II) is directly related to the fact they are now owned by EA. Before EA, Bioware had a far better track record. Although in interviews, the Bioware guys deny that EA has any influence, but nobody believes it, by the simple fact that Dragon Age II was so rushed and many levels were obviously recycled. The Bioware before EA would never have done such a thing.

Quickie TV and movie reviews:

Girls’ Generation and the Dangerous Boys – This was probably one of the more interesting SNSD reality shows, having the girls mentor five troubled teenage delinquent boys. Since Korean teenagers are in general much more polite and better behaved than western ones, the boys might seem perfectly normal by western standards.

Reality shows are by nature manipulative, and this is no exception. There were some genuine moments of emotions and conflicts, but so much it just felt too contrived (in this regard, Asian countries are far worse than western ones). I would say the show had a positive impact on the boys though, because at the very least, it showed them what it takes to work hard towards a goal, what kind of behavior is favored by society at large, and the dynamic between those behind the camera, in front of the camera, and the audience. If nothing else, it taught them to never trust the media ever again.

The Limey – It’s a little dated looking, and it doesn’t necessarily feel like a Soderbergh film, but it’s a decent thriller.

The Ides of March – An entertaining political thriller, although I think Ryan Gosling is too young for the role. I don’t know if the character was meant to be that young in the original screenplay, or they wrote/rewrote it for Gosling.

Friends with Benefits – Fairly standard Hollywood romantic comedy. If you like the main leads, then watch it I guess.

The Flowers of War (金陵十三釵) – A bit melodramatic, but a film with its heart in the right place. If the writing was more objective and less sensational, then it would’ve been a lot stronger.

Hugo – I was bored by the first half of the movie–it felt like a meandering movie for children without any interesting conflicts, and I didn’t like Chloe Moretz in this film. I have enjoyed seeing her in past movies, but she just seemed like the wrong actress for the role. Also, as she gets older, she enters the awkward phase, where her precious child charm no longer works–in fact, feels contrived–and she’s not quite developed the depth an adult actress needs. The second half of the movie dealing with the real story, is much more interesting, but by then, it was too late. I think it was a bad idea for Scorsese to tread into Spielberg territory, because his sensibility just isn’t built for it, IMO.

Fast Five – Crazy stunts. Attractive people. Fast cars. Pounding music. A bit smarter than typical action movies.

Brothers – Probably the best acting I’ve seen from Toby Maguire to date. The rest of the cast are all very high caliber actors, so in a way, Maguire really had to bring it in order to not look like the odd man out. The ending wasn’t very satisfying, but the dramatic tension up to the ending was quite good.

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