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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Cliche Clinic: The Stressful Situation

All this talk of Heroes and Clich Bingo brings up something I've had bubbling in the back of my head for a while. In general, I'd like to be more positive and proactive, critiquing constructively instead of just hurking up gripes and snark. If what we're seeing is crusty overused clich, what could storytellers substitute to make it more fresh and interesting?

So, Cliché Clinic! I'd like to tackle the "my superpowers in action" scene. You know the one - the stressful situation where Our Heroes put things on the line and save others (or even themselves), maybe by using their powers for the first clumsy time, or maybe by admitting Spider-Man 2-style that they can't deny their own heroism. It often ends up something like this:

When I wrote this list off the top of my head, I didn't intend for most of it to mirror how Heroes has been unfolding, but it turned out that way. If you count their online comics, they've even done "save people from a fire" twice. That's a clichbag and a half.

So what are some alternatives? What different stressful situations could be applied and not feel overused? Help me build this toolbox! Please add your own ideas in the comments section below if you'd like to join in.

Possible non-clich situations :

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Thoughts on Heroes, episode 5

Another Monday night, another Heroes Harrassment Hour! Honestly, I can't believe I'm still watching this show. I'm an utter victim of Intermittent Variable Reinforcement - I yell at the screen for most of the show ("Shut your babbling! Don't go in there, fool! What the hell is this nonsense!") but then get drawn back in by the occasional really interesting scene ("Oh hey now, that was a neat way of stopping time"). And anyway, it makes a decent backdrop for folding laundry.

Spoiler-addled reactions

Emo Nurse Man needs some new dialogue besides "blah destiny blah connected blah must save the whatever blah". Seriously, it's like he's got his own chatterbot thing going on. "Peter, what happened on the subway?" "WE NEED TO SAVE THE CHEERLEADER." "Peter, where'd I leave my scarf?" "WE ARE ALL CONNECTED SOMEHOW."

I like how "painting" is a superpower. I should've used that illustration class to learn to fight crime! And am I going to Geek Hell because my first reaction to Peter's blue-tinted futurevision eyes was to yell "He is the Kwisatz Haderach"? I'll save you all a seat when I get there.

Let me get this straight - not only is Claire sexually assaulted, she doesn't even get to be the final tool of her own orchestrated revenge; her evil father gets that honor instead? Okay! I think some writers need to read Ragnell's thoughts on women and power for a little refresher on why this is really irritating. Man, the chicks on this show, I swear - they just get manipulated left and right while the guys are all off proactively chasing destinies. That is, when the women aren't just being some guy's love interest or the Girl Friday research assistant.

I'm really tempted to draw up a Clich Bingo sheet for this show. Someone with superpowers foiling a convenience store robbery? Oh my, whatever will they think of next. I think of this show as "superhero comics for people who have never read comic books or watched any superhero movie or television series."

If they just changed the show to "NBC's hour of Adrian Pasdar flying around with no shirt on and hanging out with the Japanese guy," I would be a much happier kitty.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

seriously, forsooth!

The Forgotten English page-a-day calendar sitting on my desk at work is great fun for learning amusing little obsolete terms like "whiddiful" and "welkin", but every now and then it coughs up something that makes me hide the calendar in my desk drawer for the day.



cook, slut, & butler





nothing like leather


Quit trying to get me fired, Forgotten English calendar!

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Project Runway and critiques

I've watched just about all of this season of Project Runway, which has its season finale this evening. It totally sucked me in with two of my favorite hooks: drama and makin' stuff.

Something else that interests me, though, is the end-of-episode critiques of the designers' work. They flash me back to the critiques from the graphic design program I finished a couple of years back, and they bring up advice that PR designers could stand to hear (and not just them - any creative professional and anyone presenting their work before others).

Avoid the words "I tried" and "I wanted"

When I hear the words "I tried", I expect "but ..." to follow. People who have achieved their goals sound more confident about their work. They use words that give the impression of "I did it" rather than "I gave it a shot." When it comes to final products, people want results, not good intentions.

The same applies to "I wanted to ...". My first reaction is "If you'd actually achieved your goal, you'd just say what you did, not what you were intending to do." Instead of saying "I wanted this dress to look elegant", just state it! "This dress looks elegant," period. This is especially helpful if your final product doesn't exactly reflect your first ideas. Don't set your listeners up for disappointment by pointing out how far you drifted from your goals.

That said, it's fine to say what your goals were and how you achieved them. You just want to avoid sounding wishy-washy. Be strong! Bring attention to what you've done, not what you haven't done.

Remember, in the words of the master, "Do or do not. There is no try."

Avoid using the rules as an excuse

Let's not hear any of this "My design has so much fabric in it because you told us we had to use it all up" or "My dress looks like this because you gave us only two days." That comes off as "I can't work within project limitations." Be honest if your final product has problems or if you haven't met your objectives, but don't try to fob them off as the client's fault for coming up with those requirements.

And if you did meet or surpass the requirements, especially in an innovative way, crow it up! Talk about them like challenges you enjoyed rather than obstacles you reluctantly faced. As a client, which would you rather hear: "I had to build the house like this because of the environmental laws you said we had to obey", or "Here's the house! I was attentive to the environmental laws and addressed them in the following ways: X, Y, and Z"?

Be cheerful and professional no matter how you feel about your work

We're not mindreaders. When we present our work, we have no idea what the judges or clients are thinking. Maybe we're thinking, Oh God, my work is freeze-dried poo topped with a poo garnish, but the judges might not be thinking the same thing. They might not even notice the flaws. You're trying to sell your work to them (literally or figuratively), so why poison your chances by talking it down? Also, when you get deeply involved in a project, it can be hard to appreciate its good aspects. You tend to zone in on the problem areas. Other people can have different perspectives and see merits that you may have missed. Give them a chance to enjoy it.

Talking positively about your work is also just flat-out professional. You wouldn't go through the trouble of making a gourmet meal and delivering it on exquisite china only to comment, "Yeah, I hope you like it 'cause I think it kinda sucks, especially the asparagus." That casts a shadow over this meal and any future meals. Who wants to come back and do business again with the gloomy chef?

Be mindful of presentation

Presentation is an important aspect of showing your work. You wouldn't serve that gourmet meal on paper plates. You wouldn't show up for a job interview in sneakers and sweatpants. Keep in mind all the aspects of how others will be viewing your work. On Project Runway, presentation includes accessories, hair, and makeup. In the rest of the world, presentation might be bringing color copies of your design to the meeting instead of boring black-and-white, or neatly wrapping a birthday gift instead of handing it over in the plastic bag from the store.

The very experience of enjoying your work can push people just over that edge and onto your side. Think of the small negative aspects that stick in your head, and think of how you can work to prevent them in your own projects. "I loved the book but damn, that was the nastiest cover art," or "The apartment was beautiful but the realtor looked like she just crawled through a hedge."

And to all you haters out there replying "I have better things to do than worry about how the clients think I'm dressed" or "My l33t programming skills should speak for themselves" - it's a valid feeling, but why would you voluntarily undercut yourselves like that? The world is a competitive place. Why not take advantage of every little thing that could give you an edge and memorability over your rivals? Why not give the impression that you pay attention to every little detail possible?

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Monday, October 9, 2006

thoughts on Heroes, episodes 1-3

It's three episodes in, and as much as I would really like to enjoy the new superpower-focused series Heroes, there are just too many little nagging details that all add up to me feeling unsatisfied.

Things I enjoy about Heroes

Hiro the Japanese teleporter. He takes joy in his new powers and does things proactively. Go Hiro! I cheer whenever he's on-screen - he's a fun guy to spend time with. Plus I like the typographic layout of the subtitles.

The cop who can read minds has had only a small amount of screentime, but he's got potential.

Things I don't enjoy about Heroes

Most of the action centers around New York City, yet again, like so many other urban shows out there. Are writers really that strapped for cities?

Most of the main characters are white, practically all are thin, none appear to have any kind of non-power-related disabilities (except the baddie, who wears glasses), and all but two are American. I'm not looking for token wheelchairs or Chris Claremont-style internationalism, but it would be nice to see a little more diversity in character types and backgrounds. Maybe more characters along these lines will be introduced down the road, but the first few episodes are the memorable ones that set the tone of the show and establish the primary cast.

Elements that seem way too familiar. Genetic evolution as a theme (X-Men), a superstrong cheerleader (Buffy), an apocalyptic destiny that needs averting (The Dead Zone series off the top of my head, but I know I've seen it elsewhere), predictable powers (flight, invulnerability, and mindreading - No, seriously? Wow, I never would have guessed those), predictable tension elements (a serial killer, a wall of crazy, indecipherable computer files), and predictable character types (the stripper with a heart of gold [OK, when she's not getting all Mr. Hyde], the drugged-up creative artist, the politician who'll do anything for poll points).

It's been only three episodes and already the two lead powered female characters have been sexually assaulted or coerced. Where's my Bingo card?

Too much gore for my taste.

What I would much rather see watching Heroes

This is just my personal interests talking, and I'm sure people out there would find this dull, but I'd like to see Six Feet Under-style storytelling but with superpowers. Forcing some heroic destiny on characters is so Dungeons and Dragons. Recent cable series show that you can tell interesting stories just following people's crazy lives. Why do we need to fall back on the predictable setup of "I have powers, now I must fight crime/save old ladies/stop the supervillains"? Instead of Heroes, I'd rather see Slightly Extraordinary People. Forget fighting the apocalypse - I want to see how they handle their powers in day-to-day life. That's a show I'd watch, though I suspect I might be the only one watching it.

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