Thursday, February 24, 2005

Constantine - Villainous Heroism in Action!

(Disclaimer - Before anyone has a freaking heart attack, this is a not a movie review per se... This is MY (a writer's) opinion on what worked for me and my theories about why it worked - or didn't.)

An Essay on Character and Motive

CONSTANTINE - WOW! This movie Kicked Ass! I totally LOVED this movie! Wow…oh wow.

The story is that heaven and hell made a bet on who could get Earth – the only rule is, no direct influence. Half-breeds, half-demons and half-angels can walk on earth but no full demons or angels.

In this movie, John Constantine’s personal mission is saving lives by taking out the half-breed demons that interfere with people – for a completely selfish reason.

The movie CONSTANTINE is a Vertigo Comics rip-off of 'HELLBLAZER - Dangerous Habits'. The comic book character’s personal talent of shaping synchronicity – coincidence – to suit him, is utterly missing, and so is the fact that the guy is supposed to be blond and British…

But I don’t care. I LIKE this story. In fact, I like This story Better than the comic's story.

In this version, Constantine is so very Not all that special. He’s pretty much a normal guy with a few fancy toys, a smoking habit that’s literally killing him, a few interesting friends, and a few very interesting enemies. His talent is seeing demons, angels, and the dead – but anyone can see them things if they have died.

“You see them. They see you.”

-- which of course, is what causes all the trouble.

Constantine is presented as a very interesting, and very complex character… Until you discover his motive, and then he’s not quite so complex -- only very, very human.

In this story, it’s not “magic powers” that wins the day, or even faith – but brains and heart.

The climactic ending -- John verses Satan -- is actually quite subtle. It’s not a battle of wills with fighting and such, but a battle of wits. If you don’t pay attention to John’s real motive – which is presented over and over, but never said out loud – you won’t get what actually happened.

I got it.

I sat back in my chair and went: “Damn…! That was better than the book!” Because it was. The movie’s ending was MUCH better because it was deeper. The ending in the movie actually meant more than the same (kind-of) ending presented in the book. For once, Hollywood actually out-did a book! Damn…

There are of course many, many "Hellblazer" purists who will bitch and moan about the book being so much better because the movie had NOTHING what so ever, to do with the book.

Well, they're RIGHT. Other than the characters' names, the movie wasn't anything at all like the book -- not plot, not character, not even location.

That doesn't change the fact that I liked THIS story Better than the one in the book. So, argue away purists. I have a delete key on my email. I'm good.

Character verses - Themselves
CONSTANTINE is very much a “character-driven” movie where a character’s personality (and personal neuroses,) ruled the results of any given crisis.
  • Those that changed and adapted – lived.
  • Those that couldn’t – died.
AND ~ Every character had a Static Trait, a Habit that outlined their individual neuroses.
  • Constantine's static trait was chain-smoking.
  • Angelica used a gun to fix all her problems.
  • Balthazar a half-demon, flipped a coin between his fingers.
  • Gabrial, an angel half-breed, liked to pontificate on how very noble human-kind could be -- if their natural selfishness didn't get in the way.
  • Beeman John's buddy that supplied interesting toys, and hard to find artifacts -- collected bugs.
  • Chas a young cabby, and John's other buddy, wanted to be an exorcist like John, so he was forever trying to follow John into dangerous situations.
  • Father Hennessy, another of John's buddies, was an actual exorcist with a talent for sensing evil - though he couldn't actually see them the way John could -- was an alchoholic.
If they got over their neuroses, their Static Trait changed. It was so cool – a visible sign of a change that had happened within the character.

Of course, only a few people in the whole movie fixed their issues and changed their static trait -- the rest died, regardless of whether they were demonic, angelic, or human.

Heroic Evil and Evil Heroism
In addition to a pet neurosis, just about every character (good and evil) was in role reversal in one way or another – it was So COOL!

  • John Constantine played true middle of the road, but rather than dead neutral – (neither good nor evil) he did Good for evil reasons and Evil for good reasons.
(When John pulled that fast one on both God and the Devil – my jaw dropped. Too bad only about a third of the audience caught what he actually did.)
  • Angelica killed people - to save lives. She was a cop.
  • Chas was a highly educated, complete innocent.
  • Doctor Midnight was a voudun priest who ran a bar that allowed the angelic and the demonic to drink side by side. He was firmly dead neutral and offered his services, and a safe haven - to both a point.
  • Father Hennessy was an exorcist TERRIFIED of demons.
  • And then there was the angel Gabriel -- but that would be telling.
This movie gave me a deeper understanding of how a character's Motive drives their actions. What may LOOK Heroic may not actually BE Heroic, and what may SEEM Villainous, may not BE Villainous.

I LOVE stories like that.

Premise - Good verses Evil?
Not many movies have a strong Premise - a meaning inherent in the story. Constantine did - more so than the comic-book story they took it from.

This was not a story of Heaven and Hell, or even Good and Evil. This was a story that revolved around the human heart and the motive that drives them to act. The movie was constantly weighing a character's Actions against their Intent. (What they DID verses WHY they did it.)

The final answer seemed to be that Good or Evil depended on both the Action and the Intent behind it. Some Actions were unforgivable, no matter the Intent – and some Intents outweigh their Actions!

In Conclusion...
If you want to write about Reversed characters and character Motives, what drives the human heart to act, CONSTANTINE is a MUST SEE. Seriously.

Oh, and there were really cool special effects too. But as far as I’m concerned, those were entirely beside the point.

Morgan Hawke

Sunday, February 20, 2005

MARKET NEWS – Vampires have flooded the market.

Too many Vampires - Not enough GOTHIC!
I just spoke with my agent this afternoon, and Roberta reports that she counted no less than 22 vampire titles (by different authors) on the bookshelves. WAY too many Mainstream vampires!
The word from the publishing houses my agent works with, is that NY is easing off on their vampires – unless you write EROTIC ADVENTURE. Apparently there are more than enough mainstream romantic Vamps out there, but a serious shortage of them in Erotica.

Modern EROTIC Gothics are HOT!
MARKET NEWS –If you want to write Gothic Erotica, now is the time to do it! According to Roberta, NY is actively looking for Modern Adventure Gothics and well-written, tightly-plotted Gothic Erotica.

Penguin Putnum
, Berkley, Kennsington, and St. Martins Press are all jumping on the eBook bandwagon and actively looking for novel-length (80-100k) Gothic Erotic Romance, preferably contemporary though exotic settings with the characters that lean toward the darker emotions - without quite falling over.

Not just Vampires! ~ They are actively on the look-out for the full spectrum of traditional Gothic Adventure with a modern twist - magic, curses, wizards, witches, ghosts, werewolves, demons, urban faery...and HOT ADVENTURE.

Dark Characters
Ladies, they are asking for Dark Heroes with pain in their hearts and fire in their eyes. They are looking for Villainous Outcasts that overcome their darker natures to become Heroes.

No TSTL (Too-Stupid-to-Live) Heroines! It takes a Kick-Ass and savvy Heroine with a dash of sarcastic and biting humor to stand toe to toe with her dark and brooding hero. This girl means business! She knows what she wants, and she knows how to get it.

Their foe? The Undercover Villain in a three-piece suit that walks among the boardrooms of power. A truly heroic personage - gone very, very bad. Take every text-book hero you can think of and twist those heroic characteristics into blood-thirsty dementia. The new villain is the Perfectly Reasonable Madman.

Dark Plots...

They Don’t want to be able to tell how the story will end in the third chapter. They want a twist, a Reversal right in the middle of the story. They want the plot to suddenly kick into high gear in Act Two, and whisk the H/H into extreme danger that takes the two of them working together to climb back out of. They want real Adventures!

Exotic Lands...

They want, Old Europe and mysterious islands. Enough with the stories that happen in one ordinary American city. They are asking for European palazzos, glittering courts, car chases through the Autobahn, mountains, forests, castles, villas, cities that reek of age yet glitter with modern glass.

Role Reversal!

Take your favorite Gothic Villain and make them the Hero. Take your favorite swash-buckling Hero and make them the Heroine, then add Corporate Villainy of a Sorcerous nature.

They are asking for Lara Croft to come banging on Count Dracula’s castle door demanding that he use his expertise to assist her with a small innocuous problem. A problem that lands them both in very hot water and takes the two of them working together to get out of.

They want a Lady Indiana Jones barging into Dr. Frankenstein’s offices to help her deal with the Umbrella Corporation’s (Resident Evil) latest drug threat.

They want a Lady James Bond blackmailing sorcerer Aleister Crowley into helping her deal with someone raising ghosts to assassinate political figures.

Hot Sex...
No closing the doors this time ladies, they want to see it all in graphic and loving detail! Be as adventurous in your sex as you are in the plot. There are more positions than missionary and more places to have erotic encounters than among bedsheets.

However, while the chastity belt is definitely coming off, Kink is not yet completely accepted. Silk scarves and a few pats on the bottom, even handcuffs, are perfectly acceptable, as long as it's tastefully done and all parties are having a good time.

~ CONSENT is Mandatory!
~ Willing participants only! Seduction is okay, but Consent must be granted before full intimacy can happen.

~ Exclusive couples!
~ Once the H/H get intimate, they remain EXCLUSIVE!

Happily Ever After?
Damn Straight! You get them into a mess - you get them out of that mess and make them happy to be together!

In Short: Swash-buckling Heroines and Gothic Heroes dealing with Modern yet Magical Threats. Ladies, they have made it very plain that they are actively looking for Gothic Erotic High Adventures – and they want them ASAP!

Looks like I have some serious blocking to do!

Morgan Hawke

The Subtle (and Annoying) Static Trait

Secret Weapon of the Clever Writer
The Static Trait is the small personal HABIT an individual character displays which reveals their personal Neurosis; their driving NEED, especially in stressful situations. 

This habitual or even ritual behavior acts as both their greatest source of trouble and the linchpin to their success

This Static Trait is the individual character's
Accident Waiting to Happen”.

The most obvious place to find visible Static Traits is in both Comedies and Tragedies. These stories (and movies) RELY on their characters' Static Traits to linchpin the plot.

Laurel & Hardy
What made Laurel and Hardy so funny, were the little neurotic habits -- the static traits -- that would appear under stressful situations.

Abbot & Costello
Abbot and Costello built whole routines on Bud Abbot’s little twitchy responses. The climactic scene in every one of their movies involved Abbot in a panic attack. You spent half the movie going “Oh no! Don’t! Don’t! Don’t!...AH! He did.”

I don’t watch tragedies as a rule, but just about every Greek play I’ve read involves the Protagonist acting on their Neurosis, the emotional need they can't -- or won't -- control which brings them crashing down.
  • Pandora acting on her uncontrollable Curiosity – opened that box of ills.
  • Paris acting on his uncontrollable need for Love – picked Venus as the loveliest goddess in a contest with Hera and Athena, to gain the most beautiful woman in the world who was already married to a powerful warlord.
  • Oedipus acting on his uncontrollable need for Recognition – killed the king and married the queen, who turned out to be his biological parents.
  • Ariadne acting on her uncontrollable Pride - bragged that her ability to weave was greater than a goddess's and was turned into a spider.
  • Prometheus acting on uncontrollable his need for Revenge - gave fire to mankind and was thus chained to a rock to be eaten alive by buzzards for the rest of eternity.
In stories that are Not tragedies, this neurosis-based habit DOES cause their downfall, but also comes to their rescue at the Climax then CHANGES by the end of the story, quite literally Showing that the character has conquered their neurosis. 

The movie The Mummy
was loaded with static traits.

Just about every single character in the movie had a static trait based on their personal neurosis – and either lived or died, because of it.

Evelyn (Evie) 
  • Her personal neurosis was her obsession with being an Egyptologist
  • Her static trait was her obsession with books.
If it was a book, she had to touch it. Evie’s opening scene defined her character – she was filing books and knocked over an entire set of bookcases (rather like dominoes) because she simply HAD to put that book where it needed to be. The entire catastrophic release of the Mummy happened because she simply HAD to have (as well as open and read) the Book of the Dead.

Her Trait came to her rescue because her Habit allowed her to be able to Read ancient Egyptian, allowing her to be able to not only find the correct book to dispel the Mummy, but know which spell was the right one to use. She conquered her neurosis when she allowed the book to be destroyed.

  • Evie's brother’s personal neurosis was monetary greed
  • His static trait was kleptomania.
If it was small and shiny, he had to have it. His opening scene involved showing off to his sister his latest theft. Because of his habit for picking up shiny things, he never quite lost the object he stole – the key to the Book of the Dead.

His trait came to his rescue when he pick-pocketed the needed 'key' from the bad guys. However, he didn't conquer his neurosis. He walked out of that temple with a huge stash of gold.

Rick' O'Connell
  • His personal neurosis was anger
  • His static trait was biting sarcasm.
His solution to everything was “fight it” with his wits or his fists. He was constantly leaping into one fight after another. Evie met him while he was in jail for being in a brawl. "He had a very good time." In every scene involving an attack of some sort, he was the first one to dive into the fight.

His trait came to his rescue when he needed to go on a one-on-one battle with a supernatural creature without immediately dying. He conquered his neurosis when he allowed Evie to destroy the monster with a spell rather than trying to do it himself.

  • His personal neurosis was cowardice
  • His static trait was freezing in place then bolting.
He ended up working for Imhotep, because he simply did not have the guts to run away.

His trait NEVER came to his rescue, and in fact destroyed him.

  • The ancient Egyptian Mummy's personal neurosis was obsessive Love.
  • His static trait was Scarabs; the symbol of his personal destruction. He was riddled with the beetles and they showed up in hoards whenever he was nearby.
Imhotep got into trouble and became the Mummy because he was in love with the pharaoh’s concubine. Everything he did was to get his one true love back from the dead at any cost.

Because Evie resembled his beloved, his neurosis made him grab for Evie -- which was his biggest mistake. If he had grabbed any other female, he would have gotten away with the resurrection of his beloved.

How to use this in your Fiction…

Start with your character’s personal neurosis and pick a small habit that shows their personal neurosis in action
This Habit should get them In to as much trouble as it gets them Out of trouble, and it should be the lynch-pin that either sets off or defuses the climactic scene.

Having a hard time finding
your character’s Personal Neurosis?

Try looking at your character’s core Motivation.
What obsessive habit would define this?

In Walt Disney’s Beauty & the Beast
Gaston’s motivation was his Selfishness. “I deserve the best!” This was reflected in his static trait of always looking in the mirror. Even when hunting the Beast, he stopped to look at his own reflection.

Beast, in complete reverse of Gaston, utterly Refused to look into mirrors because his Original personal neurosis was exactly THE SAME as Gaston’s: Selfishness.

They were BOTH obsessed with their APPEARANCE. But then, the movie’s Premise was all about “Looking Beneath the Surface”.

In Erotic Fiction...
The Static Trait should be Sexual in nature.
  • A woman who wears skimpy clothes.
  • A guy who wears tight jeans and/or leaves his shirt open to the navel.
  • Long Hair on either gender. This IS a sexual trait!
  • Fur, Leather, or shiny Plastic clothing on either gender.
  • An oral habit such as licking the lips, biting the bottom lip, chewing on pens, sucking on lollipops, or even smoking.
  • Physically Touching anyone they speak to.
  • Posing provocatively instead of merely sitting or standing.
For another example...

One of my personal Static Traits is redefining difficult concepts into simple terms. This comes from my obsession to write as clearly and concisely as I can, and is motivated by my personal neurosis of Avoiding Reality – by creating fantasy worlds real enough to hide in. (grin)

Morgan Hawke

Saturday, February 19, 2005

The Mysterious and Maddening PREMISE

What the heck is a Premise FOR, anyway?

PREMISE was one of THE toughest concepts for me to wrap my brain around. I just couldn’t get what it was, and what it meant to a story, or how to use it.

Then there were all those people using the word PREMISE as a synonym for CONCEPT. Just for the Record – The story’s PREMISE is NOT the story’s CONCEPT.

The Premise is what the story is Trying to SAY.
The Concept is what the story is ABOUT.

In the movie “The Matrix”, the Message the story was trying to get across was: “Question REALITY”. That was the Premise.

How they Explained that Message: "What if we were all living in computer generated reality?" was the Concept of “The Matrix”. (Get it?)

We've got ISSUES...

In my opinion, Good fiction, no matter the genre, presents us with characters dealing with a basic human issue. This 'Issue' is the story's heart - the Premise.
Once upon a time, in ancient Greece, theater --story telling-- was used as Therapy. The stories were all lessons dealing with the basic drives of human nature - love, hate, jealousy, greed, abandonment... (Ahem - ISSUES.)

The old Greek plays were gut-wrenching for a reason, they were trying to make the viewer FEEL what was happening enough to laugh out loud, scream with rage, or burst into tears, experiencing a thereputic cathartic release. This is where the word 'Catharsis' comes from: Greek Theater.

In modern fiction, when a story's core issue is addressed we feel a release; laughter, anger, or tears. If the story does not wrap up the core 'issue', negatively or positively, we feel instinctively cheated - because that sense of relief or release is Missing.

THE MATRIX - Premise in Action!

THE MATRIX was one of the most Premise-heavy movies to date – and a box-office smash. (Hint-hint!)

The Issue in “The Matrix” was 

Everything in the movie, up to and including the individual characters, addressed this core issue over, and over, and over...

Each main character was defined --tied to the premise-- in their behavior and in their actions, as a type of KNOWLEDGE and their behaviors illustrated how that form of Knowledge dealt with IGNORANCE - “not knowing what was really going on”.

Interestingly enough, the Names of each of the characters actually defined what part of the Premise they illustrated.

Neo (meaning New)
He was the Viewpoint Character. He represented John Q Public; the uninformed average person. Every crisis he faced was a CHOICE of “To Know – or Not to Know”. His crisis choices all focused on: “Do I really want to know?”
Morpheus (meaning Sleep or Dream
He was the guiding father figure. His character was guided by a Dream – a dream of “The One” who would save them. Rather than basing his decisions on hard facts –-actual Knowledge-- he relied on FAITH in his Dream of 'The One'.

Trinity (refers to the Great Triple Goddess–Maiden, Mother & Crone
She was the feminine-creative aspect. To Neo, she was the Maiden, someone to Love, to Morpheus, she was Second in Command, representing the crew’s Mom, and to her enemies, she was the death-dealing crone. She made all her choices guided by her Feminine INTUITION.

Cypher (meaning Message or Mystery
This was the betrayer of Morpheus’s little group, was the information leak. Knowledge bleeding into the wrong hands - a message to the bad-guys. He rebelled against the knowledge he was given. He preferred the 'comfort' of living in ignorance.

Agent Smith and Agent Brown
(guns: Smith & Wesson, and Browning
They represented the Institutionalized Establishment – enforced ignorance. “You Don’t want to Know”.

The Oracle (meaning To Tell
She knew exactly what was actually going on, but she never gave straight answers. The raw truth; Reality isn't Real, was too much for anyone unprepared to deal with it. The average person faced with something that does not conform to their version of reality automatically rebels. "There is no spoon."

The reason that the following two Matrix movies were dismal failures, was because lots of stuff happened, but there was No Reason for the stuff to be happening beyond the obvious. There was no core issue, no MEANING behind the events. The characters were just people, they didn’t represent anything.

Both sequels were Missing a PREMISE
- and I, as a viewer among many, felt CHEATED.

How do I Apply the Premise to my Fiction?

  • I use the Premise to define my story’s Issue
  • The Premise Statement is how I intend to deal with my chosen issue.
  • Each main character is a Representative of the Premise Issue (Negative or Positive) and illustrates a different way of Dealing with it, (Negative or Positive.) 
  • The villain represents the story's 'issue' in the negative - what happens if that issue goes too far.
  • Every crisis point: the Inciting Incident, the Reversal, the Ordeal, the Climax - all involve a Premise Choice
  • What the characters choose to do when cornered by their crisis is defined by their personal take on the Premise. 
  • Whether the characters succeed or fail is an example of whether or not their view of the Premise is CORRECT.

The Premise gives a story meaning beyond:
“stuff happened”. 
The Premise is the story’s soul – it’s reason for Being.

Morgan Hawke

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Haunted ~ The Writer's Vision

~ Haunted ~ ~~~~~~~~~~~
Ba da pa pa ~ ba da pa pa...

Come here?
Pretty please?
Can you tell me where I am? You...won't you say something? I need to get my bearings... I'm lost...
...And the shadows keep on changing

And I'm haunted...
By the lives that I have loved, and actions I have hated. I'm the lives that wove the web...
...inside my haunted head.

Ba da pa pa ~ ba da pa pa...

Don't cry.
There's always a way. Here in November in this house of leaves, we'll pray. Please, I know it's hard to believe, to see a perfect forest through so many splintered trees... You and me...
...And these shadows keep on changing

And I'm haunted...
By the lives that I have loved and actions I have hated.

I'm haunted...
By the promises I've made and others I have broken.

I'm haunted...

By the lives that wove the web...
...Inside my haunted head.



I'll always want you.
I'll always need you.
I'll always love you.
~ And I will always miss you...

Ba da pa pa ~ ba da pa pa...

Come here.
No, I won't say please. One more look at the ghost before I'm gonna make it leave.

Come here.
I've got the pieces here. Time to gather up the splinters, build a casket for my tears.

~ I'm haunted ~
by the lives that I have loved...

~I'm haunted ~
by the promises I've made...

~ I'm haunted ~
By the hallways in this tiny room, the echoes there, of me and you, the voices that are carrying this tune...

Ba da pa pa ~ ba da pa pa...
Ba da pa pa ~ ba da pa pa...
Lyrics by Poe
Where do we creative types get all those ideas?
From the lives, voices and visions within our haunted heads.
We always want them. We always need them. We always love them.
And we always miss them...
...once the the story is finally written and done.

Morgan Hawke