Friday, January 31, 2014

Much Ado about Nothing’s Other Relationship

When most people think about Much Ado about Nothing, they think about Beatrice and Benedict, the two sparring couples because that is the more fun plot. Sure, there’s Claudio and Hero in there somewhere, but the reason it is so beloved is because of the sparring lovers and because of the efforts of the other characters to get them together.  But Claudio and Hero, while being much more traditional lovers, have much more impact on the plot and on the other characters.

When Claudio and Hero first meet, in Act 1, Claudio whispers to Benedict, “Didst thou note the daughter of Signor Leonato?”  Claudio is instantly smitten.  He immediately tries to win her heart. He and Don Pedro, Claudio’s superior, have a conversation about Hero; where upon Don Pedro decides to woo Hero on Claudio’s behalf.  Then Don Jon enters the picture.  The clear villain of the piece, as soon as he hears of Don Pedro’s plan to woo Hero for Claudio, he says, “[I]f I can cross him [Claudio] in any way, I bless myself every day.” 

Later at the masquerade ball, while Don Pedro is wooing Hero like he told Claudio he would do, Don Jon goes to Claudio and plants seeds of doubt in his mind.  Note how this foreshadows the major reveal later in the play: Claudio doubts Hero’s love.  After Don Jon plants seeds of mistrust, Claudio nearly challenges Don Pedro, but before he can do it, Don Pedro announces to him that he successfully won her hand for him, Claudio.  The couple happily plan for their wedding.

Don Jon, still steaming that his former plan was ruined, then plans an even more elaborate scheme to undo the couple: Borachio, a friend of his will make love to Margaret while shouting Hero’s name.  Then he comes to the group of men and tells them that Hero has been unfaithful.  Claudio doesn't believe it at first, but is persuaded to investigate.

The next day, an obviously bitter Claudio shows up at the wedding and accuses Hero of cheating on her the night before the wedding.  Hero tearfully denies it but Claudio is insistent, refuses to go through with the wedding and storms out, making Don Pedro shocked and displeased at the woman who supposedly dishonored Claudio.  Her father Leonato also furious, says, “let her die.”  But Friar Francis stops Hero’s father and tells them that he believes she is innocent, and quizzes Hero to show that she was wronged.  Then they hatch a plan: they will all say Hero is dead, will make Claudio remorseful and bring out the truth. 

Meanwhile, the local watch overhears Borachio and his friend Conrade discussing the evil plan, and is brought before a judge, where he confesses their part in the plan.  Claudio, who by now believes that Hero is dead, agrees with Leonato to marry another of his daughters who is “almost the exact copy of my child that’s dead.”  Claudio, by now remorseful, agrees.   At the wedding, the woman is masked and Claudio asks to see her face.  She is revealed to be Hero and after Claudio gets over the initial shock of seeing her alive, agrees to wed her and they live happily with the other couple, Beatrice and Benedict.

What’s interesting about Hero and Claudio’s relationship is how the seeds of mistrust that Don Jon plants near the beginning of the play foreshadow how Claudio is ultimately undone.  Claudio sees what he thinks is Hero in the arms of another man and is heartbroken and angry, twice.  The second time is right before their wedding day.  Shakespeare weaved the hint about what’s to come subtly enough by distracting the audience with the sparring of Beatrice and Benedict.  When the reveal of Hero’s supposed treachery comes out, it seems to come out of nowhere, out of left field.  But the master playwright he is, he weaves the Don Jon plot so that anyone following the play in earnest can spot the writing on the wall. 

Shakespeare’s more traditional couple in the play may not get as much love, but their influence on the plot could be arguably stronger than Beatrice and Benedict’s plot.  Claudio’s infatuation with Hero starts the play off, and the ruined wedding is the major event of Act 4.  Everything anyone does after following the wedding was influenced by Claudio’s angry rejection of Hero, even Beatrice and Benedict.  People may think Beatrice and Benedict are the focal point, the people who drive the plot are Claudio and Hero.  

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Romance is for Other People Tidbit #4

Hello Everyone!   Here is tidbit #4 for Romance is for Other People:

4. The first main character is Chris, male, 14 years old.

Next week: Chris' best friend! Here are the last 3 tidbits:
1. I am releasing a novel in 2014
2. The title is Romance is for Other People
3. There are four main characters

Friday, January 24, 2014

4 Great Comic Strip Anniversary Books (with Commentary by the Creators)

Comic Strip compilations are extremely popular, so what’s great about many anniversary editions is that the creator of the comic strip will give little notes about individual comic strips about the inspiration or the reaction to the strip.  Here in no particular order are four of the best:

1. Calvin and Hobbes 10th Anniversary Edition by Bill Watterson: A fantastic book for Calvin and Hobbes fans, this book features a long introduction by the creator about comics in general and his story into the comic world and battles with the syndicate over licensing.  Then he has introductions for all the main characters along with accompanying strip.  Then we get into the strip itself, which touches on all the favorite strip elements, including Spaceman Spiff, Susie Derkins interactions, the cardboard box inventions, horrible camping trips, Stupendous Man, Tracer Bullitt, a trip to Mars, in addition to individual strips that Watterson found meaningful or that people found offensive.  It’s a fantastic book to get in the mind of a very reclusive man.

2. The PreHistory of the Far Side: A Tenth Anniversary Exhibit by Gary Larson.  Now, like Calvin and Hobbes, there is a complete The Far Side collection.  What it may not have however, are many drawings along with notes from Gary Larson, including childhood drawings.  It gives you a fascinating look into the man who created a truly bizarre comic strip.  But that’s not the only unique thing about this book: because his strip is a one panel comic with the words on the bottom of the panel, sometimes a newspaper would accidentally switch the words with other panel strips, like Dennis the Menace.  Larson thought that it made both all the more hilarious, and included it in the book.  Overall, a fun and entertaining read.  [Note: this book is no longer in publication, so you either have to buy it used or find it from the library.]

3. Seven Years of Highly Defective People: Scott Adams’ Guided Tour of the Evolution of Dilbert.  Adams take you from the very beginning of the comic strip and then separates the books by sections devoted to each individual character, like Dilbert, Dogbert, Ratbert, Alice, Wally, Asok, The Boss (who is known as Pointed-Haired Boss to many fans), Bob the Dinosaur, and so forth, along with individual subsections about the characters of Dilbert and Dogbert.  The notes that Scott Adams gives offer a lot of insight into the comics themselves.  Plus, it’s interesting to see his struggle people who had a problem with stereotypical characters and the syndicate over content issues.  There’s also the sequel book, covering years 7 through 14, called It’s Not Funny If I Have to Explain It.

4. Baby Blues: Ten Years and Still in Diapers: by Jerry Scott and Rick Kirkman.  This one doesn’t waste any time with pages introducing the characters, it goes right into the strip with notes.  But what makes this book work so well is that so much of the book is based on the guys’ dealings with kids in their own life.  For example, one of the authors told a story which happened to him almost panel for panel in real life: Zoe, the oldest brought the Dad’s underwear to him and called it panties and of course the Dad tried to correct her to no avail.  Others topics include never-ending messes, seemingly perfect parent friends, sibling fights, the adorable way little kids see the world and differences between men and women in regards to parenting.  Knowing that, as well as those strips which caused a lot of mail to pour in, makes this another great book to get inside the minds of the comic strip authors.

There are plenty more out there, but these are the ones to get you started.  What are your favorite anniversary comic book collections? Thanks for reading?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Romance is for Other People Tidbit #3

Hello everyone!
      Here is the third tidbit for Romance is for Other People:

3. There are four main characters

Next week: the name, gender and age of the first character!  Last two tidbits:
1. I am releasing a novel in 2014
2. The title is Romance is for Other People

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Slow Fall of Pixar

In 2006, Pixar released Cars.  After an impressive run of 6 movies with near perfect critic’s reviews and box office receipts, Cars had mixed to positive reviews [1].  While still a worthy addition, was this the end of the incredible run of Pixar hits?  Then another bombshell: the director of the upcoming Ratatouille, Jan Pinkava, was replaced by Brad Bird [2].  Anticipation was met with relief when Ratatouille was another critical success and had an incredible box office run worldwide [2].  Then Pixar enjoyed another run of hits: Wall-E, Up, Toy Story 3.  

Then in 2011, the unthinkable happened: Cars 2 was released, and only 39% of critics gave a positive review [3].  For the first time, Pixar had created a “bad” movie.  Not that it mattered in terms of box office.  By the time the sequel to Cars was released, the franchise of Cars had been firmly established and a huge success for Disney.  Despite its weak critic’s label, it was another box office success.  The next two movies, Brave and Monsters University, both had about the same critic appreciation as the original Cars, that is, about 78% [4], [5].  While every film was a box office success, Despicable Me 2 (the same year as Monsters University) made more money and was more popular than Pixar’s prequel, showing that other studios like Dreamworks were finally turning the tide toward equilibrium [6].  No longer was Pixar the single critic’s darling coupled with box office success, other studios could make just as popular animated movies too.  But the most troubling of all, the new movie The Good Dinosaur’s director Bob Peterson was removed from the film and then the whole film was pushed back to 2015, leaving no Pixar film for the year for the first time since 2005 [7].  What happened? 

Well, several factors are in play, and I might be missing some, but these are my observations.  First of all, not one but three directors have been removed on the most recent Pixar movies: Jan Panikava with Ratatouille, Brenda Chapman with Brave (replaced with Mark Andrews) [8] and finally Bob Peterson with The Good Dinosaur.  Why were all these directors, when initially given the chance to director their own Pixar project removed from the movies they helped start.  Ed Catmull, President of Pixar, offered this explanation: "All directors get really deep in their films," Catmull said this week. "Sometimes you just need a different perspective to get the idea out. Sometimes directors ... are so deeply embedded in their ideas it actually takes someone else to finish it up.” [7]. Maybe the leaders of Pixar were right.  Perhaps, but the idea that three promising directors were not given the chance work out their story’s problems is troubling.  The fact that new directors were not trusted with the story they were initially placed in charge of does not bode well for future projects…as we have seen already with The Good Dinosaur. 

We have also seen the many of the original members of the core creative team of Pixar move away to other projects.  John Lasseter famously became the Chief Creative Officer in 2006 of the Walt Disney Company after Disney bought Pixar [9].  Andrew Stanton, director of Finding Nemo and WALL-E, moved on to direct John Carter of Mars, a live-action film [10].  Even Brad Bird, who was John Lasseter brought in to “shake things up” at Pixar, moved on to direct Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol [11].  These amazing minds, which any of them could easily be making the best Pixar movies, are not focusing on the company they had a major part in, and it shows.  John Lasseter directed Cars 2 (2011) while also juggling his new CCO responsibilities, and it shows.  The story isn’t as sharp as his first movies Toy Story 1 & 2 and A Bug’s Life, or even Cars for that matter.  Andrew Stanton, without the collaboration of the Pixar team, stumbled with John Carter of Mars, which was a box office bomb [12]. That’s not to say that new directors and the new core creative team can’t do the job (I think they can), but I wonder if the glory days of Pixar are over.  If Pixar doesn’t have faith it can produce great stories anymore, it can’t buckle down and work through the problems to create a magnificent work of art.  I hope it can, but I still worry about Pixar’s future. 

That’s it for now.  Check back Friday for another blog, and Wednesday for another tidbit about Romance is for Other People!


Further Reading:

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

My Huge Announcement! (Romance Is For Other People Tidbit #1 and #2)

It is my pleasure to announce that I am going to release my first novel in 2014!  Here is the title:

Romance is for Other People

That’s it for right now.  Ruminate on the title and its meaning.  What story might it tell?  What significance the title on the plot?

So this is the plan: every week, I am going to give you ONE new tidbit about the book.  Right now you know TWO: (1) I am releasing a novel in 2014, (2) the title is Romance is for Other People. One little piece of information about the characters, plot, setting, genre (though with a title like that, you might be able to guess it…), format of book, etc, will be revealed every week in the countdown to the book release.  Whenever it’s finally ready, I will also reveal the book cover and specific release date.    

Also, I will be posting once a week a blog (usually on Fridays) about stories and the making of stories on various topics, including TV, movies, books, and other media.

Tune in next week for the next tidbit about Romance is for Other People!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Disappointing Series Finales vs. Our Need for Resolution in Stories [SPOILERS]

Warning: this post deals with endings, so there are MAJOR SPOILERS throughout.  You have been warned!

One of the most divisive series endings was the ending of LOST.  The series had split into two timelines by this point: the first one, which continued the plot of the survivors of the airplane crash on a mysterious island along with the “Others,” the sort-of natives who want the island to themselves.  The second timeline imagined that the airplane crash on the island never happened.  Most of the original cast dies in the original timeline to “save” the island, while in the second timeline, it is revealed at the end to be a “purgatory” for the characters after they die.  This purgatory ending was disliked by many fans because the creators insisted early on that the characters on the island were not in purgatory, so it felt like the creators were cheating. 
And yet, many people eagerly anticipated the ending of LOST.  With a tight cult fan-base and a completely serialized story-line, the show seemed ready for a huge satisfying pay off for the main characters.  But the majority of critics and many fans were disappointed. 

Fast forward three years: Dexter, a series about a “moral” serial killer who targets other killers who target children and other innocents is about to end.  The series ends with Dexter the moral serial killer living out his days alone in a cabin far from everyone else.  Everyone thought that the ending was extremely disappointing.  And yet again, the ending was eagerly anticipated by the fans. 
Why do we desire satisfying (but not necessarily happy) endings for our characters?  With ongoing story-lines, television tells us that it must be all leading to some sort of ending.  But life is not like that.  People die while others live on.  Births happen and new stories begin.  But since the dawn of time, we crave an ending.  Even the Bible has Revelation, which tells us how the world ends.  We want a resolution of all things, a payoff to the setup of the story.  We want our characters to have a satisfying ending, which corresponds to the world in which they live. 

This desire for resolution is partly fueled by the desire for resolution in our own lives.  When we have an ongoing disagreement with someone, regardless of whether we can bring ourselves to put our pride aside or not, we desire for that disagreement to be resolved, for there to be no more of a split between the two.  Seeing a satisfying ending fulfills a desire in all of us for some sort of resolution in life.  It may not be real or even realistic, but if it feels satisfying, then we praise the ending and the story for doing it.  If it doesn't feel satisfying, obviously we raise our voices about it.
What it is, regardless of happy or sad, is resolution.  The reason we are so unsatisfied with endings like LOST and Dexter is perhaps a combination of two things: one is the writers’ fault.  They set up the world of the series and then failed to find a satisfying resolution within that world.  They broke or ignored the “rules” that had been set up in the world, and paid the price for those decisions.  But the other reason is within ourselves: we have already built up in our heads what a supposed satisfying ending should be and are looking for the show to bring it, or maybe bring it in a new and interesting way.  We've built it up so well in our minds that we may not have given the writers’ planned endings enough of a chance. 

But either way, we desire an ending: plot lines to resolved, characters to receive their just rewards for their actions.  If a character is good and has been trying to meet with the man of her dreams, we desire for the man of her dreams to recognize the main character and fall in love with her.  If a character is bad and killing innocents, we desire for that character to be thrown in jail or killed by the hero.  Now, if the character is morally grey, the question of what we want for the character does become more muddled.  Perhaps to redeem himself, the anti-hero makes the ultimate sacrifice and dies protecting innocents for the first time his life.  It may not be a happy ending per se, but it feels right with the story. 

Make no mistake: we nevertheless desire a satisfying ending, one which follows the rules of the world.  That is the nature of our desire for resolution: good or bad, it ends what it set out to begin and leaves us ruminating on the story we just experienced.  

What do you think about series finales?  What do you desire out of them?  Did your favorite series finale conform to your personal idea of resolution?  

Friday, January 3, 2014

My Schedule

Starting next week, I will be making my first regular blog, posted on Fridays as of right now.  I'm creating a backlog of blogs right now so that I don't have to panic when coming up for a topic/blog for Fridays.

Also, on the other days (and maybe some Fridays too), I'll be making announcements about something else...something big...I'm not going to say what it is yet...but I will be making the announcement soon!   I'll keep you posted.  Bye for now.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Welcome to my blog!

Hello everyone! I am starting a new blog this year.  My topics will be on anything related to stories and the making of stories, whether it be from TV, books, movies, comics, web series, audio dramas, or songs.  I wanted to leave it as broad as possible so that I have as many options as I want about what to write.  There will be occasional reviews in here, but there will also be ruminations stories in a larger context (like, say, our need for there to be a satisfying ending in whatever story we experience), as well as posts on movie and TV production and similar topics.  

The other things that this blog will be used for are big announcement(s) about what I'm doing.  What big announcement, you might ask?  I’m not going to tell you what it is yet, but stay tuned!  It will be revealed soon.

So welcome again to my blog, and I hope you will go on this journey with me!