Archive for March, 2007

Skills can make the character

30 March, 2007

One of the things that makes a character in a story likeable is being good at something important to him or her.  Or maybe not just good: exceptional in in an unique area of expertise.  A likeable character is one that, at least in some way, the reader or audience can respect.  It also helps if the character knows what they’re good at and uses that knowledge well.

One good example is Han Solo — who transcends just being a witty bad boy by actually being an exceptional pilot.  Similarly, Marshall from Alias is the most sympathetic character partly because he (unlike the others) is great at his job and doesn’t make mistakes.  The audience of Buffy the Vampire Slayer can like Giles because he is, in fact, a great researcher.

With a real hero character, the special skill that makes them great may not be immediately obvious.  The thing that really allows Mr. Incredible to be an effective super hero isn’t his strength or indestructibility — it’s the fact that he has a perfect understanding of physics.  He can calculate in a split second exactly how to jump or how to throw something in order to do what he wants.  Captain Jack Sparrow’s capability as a pirate comes not only from his charm, but from the fact that he as really good balance.  In Pirates, Jack is able to perform most of his amazing feats thanks to the fact that he can stay upright and functioning against the odds.  The audience may not consciously realize it, but part of Jack’s appeal comes from his understanding and inventive use of his great balance.



29 March, 2007

            Was there to be true love & sunshine for the princess?


            The ampersand didn’t particularly like the sentence.  But who was she to complain?  It was good, honest work, and they couldn’t all be Shakespeare.  The ampersand would be a little sad to see it go.  Nowadays, her main employment was on standardized, sanitized marquees or hand-written signs.

            As she headed home, the ampersand wondered if she had always been this lonely.  She had usually been a few words apart from the other written symbols – except for the few times when she got within waving distance of a period.  The signage work only made it worse, as there was almost never anyone else around (except perhaps a flighty apostrophe, with its head in the clouds).

            The ampersand could even remember some times when she had been happy for her separation from the others.  The steadfast and diligent period had revealed in his gravelly voice that he hated the times when necessity required that intimate work with quotations.  The single quotation, while a little smarter than his double-quotation brother, was equally as stuck-up.  The period had then expressed his opinion that he would trade any of his easy work with quotations for a hard run in sentence with a semicolon.  Not that the period was impartial – the stop and pause punctuation usually stuck together.

            Putting the keys on the hallway table, the ampersand turned on a light in her apartment.  Dusk was just beginning to settle when she decided that this would not be just another night of staying in with the cats.  Less than half an hour later, the ampersand had changed into a dress that took advantage of her curves in a way that her work clothes did not.  She was picking up her keys again, ready to meet someone new.


            She hadn’t ever seen him before.  He looked young and lost in the bar – clearly working up the nerve to talk to her.  She wanted to talk to him too, but wasn’t sure if her being forward would scare him off.  What the heck, she thought, may as well try.

            As she sidled up next to him in the corner, a look of fear and relief flashed across his face.  They shouted smalltalk over the music and burble of other patrons’ conversations.  Eventually he suggested getting some coffee, and the ampersand beamed acceptance.


            “Do you go out often?” she asked over a slowly cooling third cup of blackish ooze.

            He had explained his job as the interrobang was to be a sentence-ending punctuation combining the functions of an exclamation point and a question mark.  ‘What’ was the signature phrase of his job.

            “Go out?  Not much,” the interrobang smiled slightly to show that he was both joking and earnest.  “I’m not terribly busy with work, but I don’t always feel entirely comfortable around other, more established punctuation or other symbols.”

            She liked him.  She liked the precision of his use, the concision in his form.  He may have been different, but he was more than that: he was special.

            The interrobang looked at the ampersand.  “I would like to go out with you again.”

            Her eyes focused on the rim of her coffee cup.  “I think ….”

Greeting Cards as Comics or Jokes

17 March, 2007

There’s a certain type of greeting card designed to be humorous.  Some setup on the front of the card, then turn to the inside and there’s a punchline.  This is similar to a newspaper-style comic strip in its graphic layout.  Though I would claim that the constrained setup-then-punchline structure  of a greeting card may be more similar to a spoken joke than a comic strip.  Greeting cards can have a long or short setup, but require a short punchline.  Comic strips can have multiple sub-jokes within them.

Newspaper-style comic strips also have a fundamentally different timing than a joke greeting card.  Comic strips tend to be either one panel (in which case the entire thing is designed to be a humorous snapshot) or three to four panels (which can give a sense of time passing and can include a blank panel for a pause or beat).  Again, a funny greeting card seems more like a spoken joke in format, even if the medium is more like a comic strip.

The innovation I think greeting cards can give to newspaper comics is the page turning.   Readersof newspaper-style strips may read ahead, effectively diminishing the joke.  If one has to open the card, it’s hard to accidentally read ahead.  So, what I would like to see is a three or four page card that has one panel of a comic strip on each page.  I don’t think it’s terribly practical on a large scale, but it seems like a nifty little project.


13 March, 2007

I seem to take more baths in the winter.  I think it has to do with the fact that, even indoors, and even with the heat on, I am often chilly during the day.  Baths are a good way to surround oneself in heat and warm up for a while.

Turns out, I also take more baths when I’m unemployed.  Since I have long blocks of free time (or, at least, unscheduled time) of a kind normally only available on weekends, I can choose to take a bath whenever I want.   A bath provides a good way to kill some time — doing something without actually doing anything.

On Godzilla

8 March, 2007

American televised wrestling is a spectacle, with the aspects that are gaudy and sorta fake actually embraced by the fans.  So, here’s what I’m wondering: do Japanese people feel a similar connection to the plethora of Godzilla movies?  Does the cheesiness have some inherent charm — one that different cultures need to express and experience?  And does it always express itself as outlandish fight moves? 

A Modern Blessing

5 March, 2007

May you have food to satisfy your hunger
May you have drink to quench your thirst

May you have heat to keep you warm
And shelter enough to keep you dry

May you have enough water to stay clean
May you have medicine enough to keep your health

May you have love to know some joy
May you have the internets to keep you entertained