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I have not been writing in my journal much lately. Between my day job being writing and trying to finish the first draft of Mrs. Hawking part 4, I've been doing so much writing I haven't had the wherewithal to journal as well. But I hate not keeping up with it, because I like having a record of my life and thoughts to look back on.

Not that I have too much to say right now. My life has been mostly taken up with working on those projects and I don't know that I have much to report on those fronts right now. But this journal is important to me, and I want to keep it up. Maybe I just need to write just something tiny, anything at all, rather than nothing. I like being able to look back on what I was thinking or doing at any given time, and I can't do that if I don't keep the record.
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Since it's almost halfway through the summer, I thought I'd give a report while I actually have a moment.

I've been at my new job with Evil Overlord Games for almost a month now, and I think it's going well! I am definitely enjoying it, and I'm working very hard to do well. I've produced an enormous amount of writing, though I'm still getting used to the situation of doing it for a set time for an entire workday. Creativity on a regular schedule takes some adapting! But I'm enjoying the challenge, and I am very determined to deliver good work. This past week I was working as fast as I could in an effort to meet a deadline, so it will likely call for a lot of editing, but getting it down on the page is always the biggest challenge for me.

I've also been working on drafting Mrs. Hawking part 4, tentatively titled Gilded Cages. (I'm not crazy about that title, but I'm not sure what else to call it.) What I've got so far is very rough, but I've made a good start-- as I've mentioned, I've got to just get some garbage on the page in order to have some material to work with and improve. It's been a bit harder and weirder, given that I've got so much other writing to do lately, but having my day job provide way more writing responsibilities is actually a pretty good problem to have.

I'm also in tech week for Murders and Scandals, the PMRP double feature of Murders in the Rue Morgue and A Scandal in Bohemia. I must say, it has been quite some time before I've had a tech week that was this low-intensity, given I've been doing the piece-heavy Mrs. Hawking shows. We open this coming weekend at Responsible Grace in Somerville, so check out our schedule of performances to see which show you can make!
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New post on Mrshawking.com!

"Completed outline for Mrs. Hawking part 4!"

I have hit my first milestone in my process of putting together the fourth Mrs. Hawking story!



For the month of June, Bernie and I worked on creating a complete outline with all the story events with the proper structure. Our goal was to have it done by the end of the month, and we completed it with one day to spare. That means I can successfully move on to drafting it, which is in some ways more fun than planning, but in other ways more challenging— because I have to move on from theory to actual execution.

Read the rest on Mrshawking.com!
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I haven't been cooking much lately. Too busy, too tired, or not home at convenient hours for it. But I love it. It has great meaning for me, beyond just a fun hobby. Food is holy; cooking is art and love at once. There's no other art or craft quite like it, in that everybody eats, everybody must eat, and so everybody can get something out of food. I know food's not a big deal for everybody, but nobody can go without it. Food is basic survival, so you can use it to be good to anybody, and then make it so much more.

I cooked tonight. Nothing fancy, just some panko breaded chicken and roasted vegetables. But it was delicious, and I felt so much better and stronger after eating it. I remembered that I made it, that I have the power and knowledge and ability to create something like this, to deliver this feeling when I want to. It's so powerful. I think of how my mom and dad showed love with beautiful meals. I think of how prone I am to bad attitudes about food because of my overwhelming desire to be thin, and how much my love of food helps me avoid those dangers. I think of all the wonderful occasions I've centered around dishes I've lovingly prepared.

I've got a scene in my head that I've wanted to include in a piece of writing for a long time now. I've just never had the right project for it. I imagine a novice chef laboring over a dish taught to them by a mentor. They put everything they have into it. They approach the table with the dish, to lay it in front of their mentor who sits at the head. The novice looks on in trepidation as the master takes a bite. All is still for a moment, then the master lays down the spoon and covers their eyes with their hand. The novice panics a moment, thinking they've failed. But the master stands and embraces them, weeping, because it was just so exquisite.

It reminds me of my mom, teaching me to make her lobster bisque, the most important recipe in our family. I don't have a place for it yet. But I've written other stories involving other passions-- sewing, ballet --so maybe someday I'll write a piece about cooking.



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So I had a really cool development happen recently! I was recently offered the opportunity to join the team at Evil Overlord Games to help out as they work to meet the release deadline for their first game!

Evil Overlord is a game startup company working on an urban fantasy interactive fiction browser game called Susurrus. The head writer, Tory Root, is someone who I have known and larped with for years now, so the high quality of her game writing has long been known to me. First she offered me the chance to do some freelance writing for the project, but then I accepted a part-time position to come onboard to help her, both with content generation as well as with wrangling the other freelancers, gathering their work and making sure they meet ther deadlines.

This is super exciting for me. It means WRITING PROFESSIONALLY, which is a total dream. It has to be part time because of the teaching commitments I made to Lesley, but I am so happy to have this chance. Plus it's a validation of all the time and effort I've put into game writing over the years, that it honed my craft to the point where someone had faith in my abilities to hire me for it.

I've only just begun, but I am determined to do a good job. Wish me luck!
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New post on Mrshawking.com!

"The plan for scripting Mrs. Hawking part 4"

So now is the time that my collaborator Bernie and I are seriously buckling down on the script for the fourth and next installment of Mrs. Hawking. We’ve been at work on it for a while now, but the demands of production pushed it to the back burner. But now that it will be time to debut part 4 for the next Arisia in 2018, we have made a plan to get it completely scripted.



Read the rest of the entry on Mrshawking.com!
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I got good feedback from my entry of my TV pilot Hood into this year's BlueCat Screenwriting Competition! It was the best kind, because the good stuff was very complimentary, and the critiques were both minor and actually insightful and useful, worth incorporating into an edit of the piece.

My report from my reader:

"What did you like about this script?

This was an extremely original take on the familiar Robin Hood tale. Updating it and setting it up as a corporate thriller made it different and exciting. There was almost non-stop action, though not only of the explosive kind. I particularly liked the elevator scene.

We saw a lot of backstory and character development in just this one episode. Plus, a lot of things were set in motion. Who is attacking Locksley Materials? Why don’t John and his mother want authorities snooping around? How will Robin get his reputation back and avoid the authorities? The pilot has a lot of momentum.

I also loved the characters and thought it was wise to update them as well… like turning Will Scarlet into female hacker Scarlet or making “Maid” Marian Latina. They were very believable and consistent.

You also did a good job of revealing things in a timely manner, letting the mystery unfold organically. Your dialogue was generally great and you wove your exposition into the story well, like when Marian expresses doubts about Robin by telling a story from their college days together on page 35.

I would love to see more of this show, since there are many tantalizing plot threads left up in the air.

What do you think needs work?

There were a few minor things that could be clarified to make this script even better. For example, I know Robin was desperate but he really thought that going off a bridge would be preferable to getting arrested? Maybe he’s not in the best state of mind, but I was surprised he chose to do that. Now, if someone drove him off the road, I could believe it a bit more.

Also, while Scarlet and Marian were wonderful characters, it might help to emphasize why they want to help Robin find the truth. It’s mentioned a few times that Robin helped Scarlet get to where she is, but it’s still a huge leap for her to risk her livelihood for him. Their banter does show that they’re friends, but are they so close she’d take a chance getting fired or arrested? Likewise, Marian seems to have doubts about Robin but is also suspicious that something else is going on. Her thirst for the truth needs to be so powerful that it overcomes her doubts about Robin and her worries for her job. I know her mom seemed to be affected so maybe playing that up a little would further show the audience why she’s willing to risk the career she worked so hard for."

It would really make me happy if I placed in this. Adonis made it into the top ten percent of BlueCat back in 2015, and it's a reputable contest. It's a nice thing to be able to attach to a project when you're pitching it, so it would be great if Hood could progress.
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Here continues my musing on some tropes that frequently recur in my writing! Specifically, analyzing my tendency to use what I refer to as "Soft Masc" protagonists-- "a male character with a presentation that is fairly normatively masculine, but with a preponderance of personal qualities that were traditionally coded as feminine" --and how that manifests.

Continues from part 1 and part 2.

Romantic relationships:

Nathaniel is married to Clara, to whom he is utterly devoted. They are functional friends, lovers, and partners, with perhaps a more equitable relationship than other couples of his time. He actually is inclined to let her run the show, as the more strident personality, though her power is unofficial and based off of his feelings for her. Notably, she is three years older than him.

Aidan loves Diana, despite their meeting under the problematic mistress-slave dynamic. She is very much the dominant partner with all the power in the relationship, an issue they have to navigate. In fact, their relationship is specifically a flipping of the expected gender roles of the hetero dynamic, where he takes on the traditionally feminine role and she the masculine one. She is ten years older than him.

Tom falls for Alice, a girl he meets in the course of unraveling a mystery they’re both connected to. He is off a lower social class than she is, which makes forming a relationship difficult, and he feels he has no right to presume to her affections. He is a few years older than her.

Robin I plan to eventually get together with Marian, the canonical love interest for the legendary character. In his past, he dates and sleeps around a great deal, often choosing so-called “high value” partners such as models and famous people, as an outward symbol of status. He’s hooked up with other men, though probably never dated one more than extremely casually. Before finally connecting him with Marian, I would have him get together with other characters in his typical way before settling the two of them together. The idea of him committing to, and growing in order to deserve, a serious romantic relationship would be part of his character journey.

Justin is a ladies’ man in a similar vein to Robin. A confirmed bachelor, he is committed to having fun above all else and will likely never settle down. He presents himself honestly and is happy to make casual connections but is not out to deceive, hurt, or use anyone. He also has a handful of experiences with men in his past, mostly from his days at Harrow and a few after.

Nathaniel is the most normatively masculine, followed by Tom. Aidan is certainly the least.

Relationship with female superiors:

Being able to defer to women is a major feature I include in portrayals of this kind of man.

Both Tom and Nathaniel have female mentor figures. Tom learned his craft from his mother, and her part in the mystery he stumbles upon drives him to investigate it. Nathaniel started out modeling himself on the Colonel, a very traditionally masculine man, but as the Hawking stories go on, he comes to focus more on learning from, and winning the approval of, his aunt instead. He listens to her expertise, follows her orders, and respects her authority.

Though not a mentor per se, Aidan follows and defers on most matters to his sister Morna. He acknowledges she is the superior intellect and is inclined to trust her judgment above his own. He treats her as if she had some sort of seniority, even though he is in fact four years older than her. Also in living as a slave in a matriarchy, he is accustomed to most women having some real power over him.

Robin has no “senior” woman in his life whom he is emulating or deferring to. He is again the most normatively masculine of my male protagonists.

The only way this is relevant for Justin is that he will confess to being intimidated by Mrs. Hawking. If nothing else, he respects her enough to fear her.

Relationships with female peers:

Strongly valuing female friendship and connection and respecting the strength and expertise of women is another intrinsic quality of this kind of male character.

Nathaniel’s friendship with Mary is one of the most important connections of his life. He does due to socialization sometimes slip back into patriarchal assumptions, but he is working to unlearn this. He does seriously respect her abilities and is interested in her as a person.

Similarly, Aidan’s closest relationship, perhaps even more so than the one with Diana, is with his sister Morna. Their shared experience of conquest and slavery has unbreakably bonded them, and he believes in her brilliance and capability above all else.

Tom has spent his life working in a female-dominated industry and it taught him enormous respect for women. One of his special skills is his ability to listen to and understand the world of women in a way other men of his time and place do not, making him trustworthy to them.

Robin, for all the effort he puts into chasing them down as sexual partners, also has real female friendships. His best friend is Scarlet, whom he respects enormously as an intellect, enough that he has given her enormous professional opportunities. He does, however, impose on her to keep his grandiose promises and get him out of trouble, but I tend to this is more about his own self-centeredness than because she is a woman.
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Here continues my musing on some tropes that frequently recur in my writing! Specifically, analyzing my tendency to use what I refer to as "Soft Masc" protagonists-- "a male character with a presentation that is fairly normatively masculine, but with a preponderance of personal qualities that were traditionally coded as feminine" --and how that manifests.

Continues from part 1.

Skills and Abilities:

The key factor of how I couch the skills of these characters is that they possess a certain charisma— the ability to make people like, respond to, and sympathize with them is extremely important to how they pursue their goals. Of course this is not necessarily a gendered thing, but because it lends them to having the managing of relationships at their forefront, they often take the feminine caretaker, peacemaker, or emotional support roles.

Nathaniel’s skills are primarily interpersonal— talking, convincing, wheedling, distracting, ingratiating, lying, peacemaking. He serves as both the face and the glue of his superhero team, a role which is usually filled by a female character. He is specifically not very good at martial stuff, in defiance of masculine expectation. His charisma is from sparkling wit, friendly bearing, and a puppy-like effort to please.

Aidan’s skills are presented dichotomously. On one hand, he is honed into a seriously dangerous warrior and becomes quite good at it, which is very masculine coded. On the other hand, he serves as the inspirational figurehead of the rebellion due to his ability to court people projecting their dreams onto him, which is more feminine. His charisma lies in his unique dichotomies of strength and fragileness, power and softness, that make people fall in love with him.

Tom Barrows is also a strongly interpersonal operator, using his ability to read others and connect with them in order to make his way. Again there is some personal charisma at play, but it is lower key than Nathaniel’s Life of the Party type or Aidan’s Wounded Beauty. Not to mention the fact that he is an extremely skilled dressmaker.

Robin somewhat relies on interpersonal skills to maneuver, but more because HE IS A CHARISMA MACHINE LIKE A ROCK STAR. He is presented as fit and dexterous, with martial hobbies, and an aptitude for physicality. He is almost as physical a character as Aidan is, though not as great a warrior. Simultaneously, his privilege has insulated him from having to learn many hard skills, and attention is drawn to just how useless he is in many ways.

Justin is somewhere between Nathaniel and Robin. He has his brother’s Life of the Party presence with Robin’s showier, more arrogant edge. His skill set is similar to Nathaniel’s—and though he is not quite as empathetic, he still has something of his brother’s ability to pick up on the state of those around him.

Values:

Nathaniel’s value shift is a major part of his journey as a character. He begins with very expected masculine values for a Victorian man— being the head of a family, martial strength, responsibility for the lives of others, admiring soldiers and the empire, the established social order. But while he maintains some of those, much of his story is about coming to deconstruct the problems of patriarchy and shift his values so that he stops being complicit.

Aidan is quiet and wounded, with a longing for a peace he’s never known. He is in something of a Maslow’s crisis for most of the story, where the needs to survive, heal, and protect others consume him to the point where there is no time for him to really discover who he is in the absence of struggle and trauma. He dislikes the attention and spotlight his position as figurehead of a rebellion has brought him, not to mention the necessity to make himself into a warrior and inflict violence. But likely he would prefer some quiet, creative pursuit, like baking or poetry, far out of the public eye, had the circumstances of his life been kinder.

The chief fascination and calling of Tom’s life is the making of beautiful clothes, dresses in particular. His experience with and connection to feminine circles where there are not often a lot of other men have given him a particular appreciation for the wisdom of women. Otherwise his values are fairly normatively masculine, particularly courage, hard work, and cleverness.

Robin is afflicted with some level of toxic masculinity. He cares about showing off, asserting his dominance and superiority over other guys, getting laid, and indulging in his entitlements. Getting over it is his major character journey.

Justin’s a bit of a wildcard. I actually conceive of him as having a slightly more enlightened attitude toward Victorian social mores than some men of his time. For all that he’s a ladies’ man, he never deceives, manipulates, coerces, or uses, nor does he really look down on any women who are interested in a fling. But he does have a pretty hefty dose of Victorian patriarchy, and assumes he knows better than most other people, partially because of his status in the world.

Sexuality:

Nathaniel, Aidan, and Tom are all straight. Robin and Justin aren’t quite.

Aidan’s sexuality is complicated by years of rape and abuse by women. He experiences the trepidation around sex and intimacy which we most often see in women who are survivors. He is sexually drawn to women, but has to first disentangle the trauma from his sense of his own sexuality. Because of the matriarchal culture of his world, his socially expected role is that of the receptive rather than the aggressive partner, which in the real world is often assigned to women.

Nathaniel’s romantic and sexual history is fairly standard for a man of his time, place, and station. He is straight, fell in love with a woman he was attracted to, has been happily married to her for several years, and has two children with her. He might very well have been a virgin when he got married due to his particular value set, and he is to this day a little bit of a prude for similar reasons. Other than having perhaps an unusually equal partnership for their setting, his romantic life and history are totally normal and socially sanctioned for a man like him.

Tom Barrows is also pretty standard and straightforward. He is not terribly romantically experienced but it is attributed to his workaholic tendencies leaving no time for relationships. The way he falls for Alice is a bit naïve and boyish due to this inexperience.

Robin I picture as a Kinsey 1 or 2— mostly attracted to women, but drawn to the occasional man as well, with sexual experience of both in his background. Again this is something he shares with my conception of Justin Hawking. These are the two of my characters for whom “playboy” is the most intrinsic part of their identities, so I find it interesting that I found myself disinclined to make either of them as straight as might be expected. I think of hypersexuality as a highly masculine-coded trait, so this mitigates it a bit. And I think it adds an unexpected kind of sexiness on top of the other qualities that make them attractive. This may simply be my own taste.

For once, Robin is the least normatively masculine. I would say Nathaniel here is probably the most.

I notice that I tend to use sexuality as almost a “balancing” factor. If my hero has many non-traditionally masculine qualities, I use straightness as a way to bring some presence of traditional masculinity in the character. If the character is more normatively masculine overall, I often push them towards the other end of the Kinsey scale in order to keep them from being too traditional.

Also, if I’m honest, “hot butch guy who’s like 85% straight” is a type of mine.

To be concluded in part 3!
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Here begins my musing on some tropes that frequently recur in my writing!

The trope that has become increasingly important to my work in recent times is what I’ll call the Soft Masc— a male character with a presentation that is fairly normatively masculine, but with a preponderance of personal qualities that were traditionally coded as feminine. Most of the important men I write these days are some variation on this, as I find myself particularly interested in that particular personality type.

The two foremost examples I’ve got are my two most prominent male leads, Nathaniel from Mrs. Hawking and Aidan from Adonis. Nathaniel is from a Victorian superhero story, while Aidan is from an alternate history matriarchal Ancient Roman epic. Tom, the lead of my 1930s mystery The Tailor at Loring’s End, also fits that to some extent. In contrast, another prominent male character I’ve made recently is Robin from my modern-day techno-thriller interpretation of Robin Hood. I’ve also written Justin Hawking recently, Nathaniel’s brother, though he’s not a protagonist.

Here is an analysis of how these characters either fit or subvert this model of Soft Masc character.

Personality:

A key component of when I write this sort of character is that they are almost always sensitive and in touch with their feelings.

Nathaniel is considered to be highly emotional for a man of his time and place. Though not free of socialization to stay controlled and to not discuss uncomfortable things, he has strong feelings that he talks about more often than is typical. He is deeply sensitive to the moods of the people around him, even if he can’t fathom the cause. He suffers greatly when the people he cares about are in conflict, particularly when they’re angry at him, and feels strong compulsion to manage their feelings. Above all else, he seeks approval, particularly from those he worries he hasn’t gotten it from. He is known to cry under great emotional duress. His interpersonal abilities are paramount, and he places a lot of stock in his relationships.

One of Aidan’s key traits is his emotional vulnerability. He is in a great deal of emotional pain due to years of assault, and is written to be cast not just in the manner of a traditionally feminine emotional landscape, but as a long term sexual assault survivor who is trying to work through his trauma. He also is full of feelings and sensitive, but often lacks the language, or opportunity, to talk about what he’s going through. He is used to repressing reactions of out necessity for safety and coping, but has no personal reservations about showing his vulnerability.

Tom’s sensitivity is treated as his superpower. His ability to read people and detect what is going on with them below the surface is his chief skill in navigating interpersonal relationships, making friendships, allies, and trust bonds, and in gathering the information he needs to solve the mystery in front of him. Like Nathaniel, he has strong interpersonal skills.

By contrast, Robin is Tony Stark, basically. Talented, exceptional, self-absorbed, arrogant, provocative, attention-seeking, addiction-prone. Only difference is he lacked any of Tony’s inner self-loathing until life gave him a good smack down. He is not good at noticing or paying attention to the feelings of others and has to challenge himself to develop in that way.

Justin is along a similar vein to Robin, except lower key and less toxic about it, without the addictive personality.

Appearance:

Nathaniel is considered attractive and good-looking, in a normatively masculine way. He is somewhat personally vain and has a strong interest in fashion, a feminine-coded quality, but to the effect of a very attractive and normatively masculine presentation.

Aidan is in fact a PARAGON of masculine beauty. (I like my pretty boys, and that’s the kind of pretty I like.) He is treated as an object of value in the manner exceptionally beautiful women are in the real world. But for all that Aidan’s beauty is extreme and in high focus, as is more typical of feminine beauty, it is not something that’s important to him personally, and he does nothing to cause or maintain it, as is often typical of men.

Tom Barrows from The Tailor at Loring’s End is nice-looking if nothing particularly out of the ordinary, but knows how to dress to absolute best advantage— indeed, his profession and the great interest of his life is the making of beautiful clothes, for men and for women.

Robin Locksley from Hood is hot, fashionable, and extremely vain— but again, his appearance is fairly normatively masculine. Justin Hawking is the same.

They all have traditionally masculine gender presentations, as that is my personal aesthetic preference, though body types vary. In my imagination, Nathaniel is tall and lean. Aidan looks just like Captain America. Tom is fit and cute but unimposing. Robin is a hot douchebag who works on his body. Justin is a stockier version of Nathaniel.

To be continued!
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I remember back when, as a child, I had strong impulses to write but not as much practical knowledge or exercise of the craft, I first noted that some people seemed to often come back to the same ideas or even tropes in their stories again and again, particularly as their bodies of work got larger. At the time I was somewhat judgmental of it; why would you repeat yourself like that? Didn't those writers have any new ideas? I felt like I had literally dozens and dozens of story ideas that all felt meaningfully different, so it seemed uncreative to return to concepts you'd explored before in a new piece.

As I became more knowledgeable and experienced, I think I've found the truth, as it often is, to be somewhere in the middle. Yes, often very prolific writers do end up reproducing work they've basically done before and quit creating new characters, new scenarios, or new takes on the ideas they're dealing with, and that can represent a kind of creative death. But that isn't necessarily happening just because you find yourself dealing with the same concepts or themes in more than one piece. You can explore those ideas from different viewpoints, examine them in different ways. By placing similar notions in different contexts, you can see how the different circumstances change things. If done thoughtfully, and if truly taken from different angles, it can make lead to greater depth and complexity in the ideas' expression in your work.

When I came to realize this, and as I started writing more and more, I found myself examining how I dealt with this in my own work. I often invoke this under the conception of the Creator Thumbprint, the TV Tropes notion marking how writers tend to work with the concepts that interest them over and over again in a way that is unique to them. Partially because I'm amused by it, partially because I believe I improve my work by being self-aware and analytical concerning my own habits, and partially because I want to avoid the trap of actually repeating myself. I want to keep track of this so that I ensure actually do have different perspective on the things I examine repeatedly, so each new take actually adds new dimension.

In the days to come I'm going to write entries examining my preferred tropes, the ones that emerge most frequently in my work and the ones I'm currently feeling most interested in. I want to think about how I use them, and what various approaches I've used in order to explore them. And yes, there's more of them than just the Complicated Feelings About Babies One.
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More drafting for my planned deep-dive exegesis on one of my all-time favorite films, Who Framed Roger Rabbit. This is rough, disorganized, and unedited, and I will polish it up once I have a fuller draft, but here's some of the work I did on one of my favorite parts of the analysis-- the surprisingly sophisticated workings of Roger Rabbit as a character. Previous scribbing on how the noir genre factors in can be found here.



Now I want to talk about Roger Rabbit, who is in my opinion the most remarkable character in the film. Roger is my favorite, and honestly has been since I saw the movie as a tiny child. But now, as a critic with a slightly more mature perspective, I’m fascinated by him because there is much more complexity to his character than his surface affect suggests, and by how much dramatic weight his narrative actually carries.

Despite being the title character, Roger is not straightforwardly a protagonist in the strict sense. Much as I love and am fascinated by the workings of the character, I will admit that his arc, such as it is, is… minimal. The fact that he is fundamentally the same throughout the entirety of the story, with minimal personal growth from the experience, automatically subordinates his narrative to Eddie’s, who is in fact the true protagonist of all. But his story function is not simply to act as a foil and motivator to Eddie Valiant. Though secondary, Roger has the very important protagonistic quality of wanting something and taking actions to get it. And in fact, his Want and his Actions toward that Want drive the entire film— A Want, by the way, that is shockingly mature and sophisticated. You see, EVERY EVENT IN THIS FILM stems from and is driven by Roger’s constant assertion that his marriage is real. And this is important, not to mention necessary, because none of the people around him seem to believe it.

Our very first awareness of Roger is his act in the Baby Herman short that opens the film. It is done in classic cartoon style, characterized by invented exaggerated reality and broad ridiculous humor. It is quite funny— Roger Ebert said he seldom laughed harder at anything that he did the first time he saw this cartoon —but it’s also narratively important. By seeing Roger “at work,” we see him as most people in this world see him— as the silly cartoon character, not just ridiculous, but the fall guy, the butt of the joke. The guy who is, despite his best intentions and efforts, continually whacked around by the circumstances of life, not somebody who has any real perspective or outlook to take seriously.

With Roger so established in our eyes, we see where R.K. Maroon is coming from in talking about Roger as if he’s blind to the truth of his own life. Maroon seems smarter and more on the ball than Roger, so when he gives his assessment that Roger’s wife is obviously a tramp and the rabbit just can’t see it, we’re inclined to accept it. We are induced to dismiss Roger just as the characters do.

But beyond that, it allows a means for the inciting event to occur. The director calls cut at the end of the cartoon because instead of seeing stars after a wallop, Roger produces tweeting birds— cleverly classified under “blowing his lines” the same way saying the wrong word would be for a human actor. It’s evidence of a problem Roger’s been having lately, that his ability to focus on his work is suffering due to distress over a rumor that his wife Jessica is being unfaithful to him. The story kicks off when Maroon calls in Valiant, who is engaged to take pictures of Jessica in the act of cheating to prove to Roger that she’s a tramp and not worth wasting any more time over.

Take a look at that. The issue Maroon feels needs solving is Roger’s disbelief, his refusal to accept that his wife’s having an affair. Maroon’s action is in direct reaction to Roger’s assertion. What is that assertion, that reason that he refuses to believe it? “My marriage is real.”

So the entire story kicks off because of that. But even after that, all of Roger’s actions (or at least all his character-driven ones) stem from this steadfast belief. When he is shown the pictures that Valiant took, he gives some small indication that he can no longer deny that an affair took place, but he violently insists that whatever’s happened, he and Jessica are going to get past it. What enables him to insist on this? His belief that his marriage is real.

The next scene offers up a beautiful, sad little moment where he’s alone, crying over the photos of the two of them in his wallet— on vacation, cuddling up in a booth at a restaurant, and on their wedding day. This is lovely and important character moment. There’s no anger there, only sadness— a hint to the audience that his mindset upon leaving was not vengeful enough to have run out and commit a murder right after. And there’s something beautifully mundane about those photos. While perhaps a bit on the glamorous side— they are Hollywood performers, after all —they are such shockingly normal moments in the life of a couple. These show what’s important to Roger, and how he views his relationship.

And there’s an interesting juxtaposition of the photography in this scene versus the previous one. As we just saw, photographs are evidence, and these are evidence of the reality of their marriage. But we see Roger’s struggle to reconcile the way these supposed records of truth conflict with one another.

The next time is onscreen Roger, it's when he turns up in Eddie's office to ask for his help in clearing his name. And what justification does he offer for his claim that he couldn't possibly have killed Marvin Acme? He has nothing to take revenge for because he doesn't believe Jessica actually cheated. He tells Valiant that he reflected on the whole issue and came to the inescapable conclusion that, those pictures aside, the Jessica he knows could not have done wrong by him— that she’s “an innocent victim of circumstance.” Why doesn't he believe she cheated? Because he knows their marriage is real.

Now notice that Valiant still thinks Roger's nuts to believe in Jessica. Even after he accepts the case, he remains convinced she's a tramp, and that Roger is too ridiculous a person to see the truth. I would argue that perception persists most of the way through the movie. He definitely still believes she stepped out when he confronts R.K. Maroon, as he describes the events as "a story of greed, sex, and murder." What else could "sex" be referring to, other than he still thinks Jessica put out for Marvin Acme? But this, that even Roger’s ally and advocate can’t possibly believe in them, it makes it all the more powerful and that Roger is holding fast: his marriage, God damn it, is real.

More to come later.

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This is excerpted from my upcoming article in Game Wrap Magazine, volume 2-- "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy" about the tension between narrative design and player autonomy. I pulled this part out because it's applies strucutre in all storytelling forms, not just larps.

One of the tools storytellers use to shape narrative is structure. Structure in this case refers to the design of the order, manner, and pacing of events making up the story and the relationships of those events to each other. Narrative is at its fundamental level about change— starting with a thesis, confronting it with its antithesis, and seeing the new synthesis that results. Structure is an important tool for storytellers to choose and arrange events in order to create, control, and facilitate that change.

In much of literature, structure falls into a traditional form. The circumstances are established in a setup, after which a triggering change, the inciting event, propels the protagonist into challenging new situations. As the protagonist struggles to achieve their goals in the face of unexpected obstacles, the tension of the situation is increased by the rising action and its addition of complications. Ultimately, the action builds to the highest point of confrontation, the climax, where the hero faces their greatest challenge, and the changes they have undergone are tested to see if they are sufficient to overcome. This point is usually the most intense action of the story. After this, the tension ratchets down as the consequences of the climax are unpacked, at least to some degree, in the falling action. Finally, we are left with the resolution, which tells us the new status quo, to contrast with the way things were in the beginning.

This pattern of structure is so prevalent in storytelling because of how well it presents conflict and response to conflict in order to prompt development, growth, and change. It offers a steady buildup of the level of challenge in a manner that increases tension and our investment in the stakes of the conflict — the more struggle a goal entails, the more important achieving it becomes — while eventually providing satisfaction by offering a resolution.

Beyond this simple ordering of events, it offers the storyteller the tools to figure out how and at what speed the events should occur in relation to each other to achieve the best effect. By using this framework as a guide, the storyteller can determine at what point of the emotional journey they would like their audience to have reached at any given moment. The teller can then decide how to shape each event in relation to the other events to achieve the desired effect. If the tension needs to go up, intense actions can occur all in quick succession. If the intensity is increasing too fast, the plot-driving moments can occur on a smaller scale, or be spaced farther apart. So the curation of the occurrence of events in the story allows for the best release of information, timing of events, and measured building of tension.

But the key part of that is that curation. To utilize structure to best effect, it requires design— intentional choices made in what events occur when, with specific desired effects in mind. For events to have the greatest impact on the course of the story and, the development of the characters, they can’t just happen in any order or in any relation to each other; story events don't build properly upon one another or deliver their full effect when they occur in a completely uncontrolled way. For example, iIf you are unraveling a mystery, part of the appeal is acquiring each clue and encountering each complication in turn, with the opportunity to piece everything together and examine the picture step by step as it develops. If all the clues and secrets come together too immediately, the solution feels anticlimactic. If you are on a quest, the challenge of testing your mettle against obstacle and rising to the occasion to achieve your end is a huge part of the fun. If the ultimate prize is simply handed to you, the experience is short-circuited. Even if a character grows too much too easily, without any personal effort or cost, it feels cheap and unrealistic. Indeed, since goals become more important the harder you have to work for them, and easy achievements feel smaller than difficult ones, any resolution that comes too easily or too soon is going to feel less satisfying.

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Just doing some early drafting of my essay analyzing Who Framed Roger Rabbit. This is all rough and somewhat cursory-- I may want to reorder some of this later. But I'm working out some of the stuff I want to talk about now, specifically how it relates to the conventions of film noir.



The debt Roger Rabbit owes to the film noir conceit is clear. It has a setup straight out of a classic-- a disgraced private eye haunted by the demons of his past must take on a case for a person who challenges his dim outlook on life and the world. Said private eye, Bob Hoskins's Eddie Valiant, immediately calls to mind his detective predecessors of Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, and even Jake Gittes, with his once-honorable career, his traumatic backstory, and his current bitter outlook leading him to become a disgraced alcoholic shadow of his former self.

It may seem all this care to evoke the tropes and traditions of film noir are just in the service of setting up the parody. And it is an excellent parody, given the skillful way it spins up many of the expected elements of noir. Roger is an extreme exaggeration of the holy fool the noir protagonist is often called upon to protect. Jessica is a deconstruction of the classic femme fatale. The primary thing Eddie is unable to believe in his the power of humor and laughter. But it doesn't stop there-- Roger Rabbit pulls off the remarkable feat of not only being a spot-on parody of a certain genre, it's actually a really strong entry in the genre itself.

Film noir is a bit tricky to define. Part of that difficulty comes from the fact that it refers to a weird blend of both a narrative genre AND a filmic visual style, and even then the constituent traits of these are not rigidly agreed upon. French critics Raymond Borde and Étienne Chaumeton, whose 1955 book Panorama du film noir américain (A Panorama of American Film Noir) is considered the seminal work on the subject, cluster some descriptors around it, such as "oneiric, strange, erotic, ambivalent, and cruel," but acknowledge this is an oversimplification.

However, an observation of the classics of the genre trend toward the inclusion of a handful of characteristics. The films tend to be shot from a flat, stark perspective, making using of off-kilter compositions and low-key, high-contrast lighting to a chiaroscuro effect. The stories tend to be less about their subject matter-- though there are a number of associated subjects, such as detective stories --and more about the mood of the world, the pervasive cynicism, and themes of guilt, regret, disappointment, tragedy, loss, and sometimes even the flickering flame of humanity to be found within people consumed by those things.

As mentioned, the film slots in unexpected and on their surface ridiculous elements into the typical roles characterizing film noir. But for all those roles are carried out by odd actors, they all perfectly fulfil the story mechanism that role is supposed to. Yes, Roger is an absurd cartoon rabbit person, but he still does exactly what the client character in the film noir detective story is supposed to do. His need for help calls upon the protagonist's better nature to take action even in a world he sees as hopeless and uncaring, and his personal qualities inspire that protagonist to reevaluate his own failings he'd previously allowed to go unexamined. And even though the vibrant animated characters and set pieces bring a visual exuberance to the screen, they serve to underscore the flatness, heavy shadows, and even bleakness of the way the surrounding world is shot.

More to come later.

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In the last several years of my becoming more of a serious writing, I've developed a particular system to think about it. I've found that whenever approaching a craft, it helps my brain a lot to think of it in terms of a series of concepts with specific definitions associated with certain purposes. I believe that crucial to understanding how something is done well is simply to be able to identify all the inherent parts and what they're doing in whatever piece you're examining. And knowing how to put those concepts into practice effectively enables a person to perform the art well.

For instance, I've always believed the reason why the French approach to cooking became so pervasive is because they did so much to define the concepts in an identifiable way and systematized their functions. This enabled a commonly understood language, which allowed for discussion between practitioners to relate to each other, instructors to communicate ideas to students, and culinarians to analyze what they observed in practice. I find this defining of the various concepts and giving them corresponding names to be really useful in identifying and quantifying the practice of an art, so this is the approach I take in my work with writing-- in analyzing it, in making it, and in teaching it.

Others may disagree, but I think when developing a piece of narrative art, the first thing to do is build the substance of it. This may be the result of my particular biases-- I freely admit this is influenced by my personal conviction that storytelling is a highly-considered design process, and coming from a drama background the necessity of STRUCTURING a story always seems paramount --but I tend to believe you need to know what your story is going to be about and what's going to happen in it before you should be worrying about how you're going to depict it. In other words, I usually suggest with any writing, figure out the substance of WHAT you want to say before you figure out HOW you want to say it.

So to do this, I like to think of the elements of storytelling as a toolbox full of tools that have closely defined functions that can perform particular jobs. In understanding what those tools are, you can understand what you can use them for, and therefore have the best possible control over the resulting effect their utilization has on your story. Knowing what the province of that tool is allows you to ask the right questions that will lead you to the appropriate design choice.

Let's take point of view as an example. Point of view can be divided, of course, into first person, second person, and third person point of view; we're all familiar with those. "I am experiencing story," versus "You are experiencing this story" versus "They are experiencing this story." But how do we describe all the things point of view encompasses? To get really precise, I like to break it down into Perspective, Bias, and Filter, each with a definition that enables you to focus on a small aspects of the storytelling that POV can affect.

Perspective deals with the nature of the narrator's identity, and all attendant features of what information they are physically able to take in. What is possible for them to know? What is possible for them to experience? The guy in the mailroom can't know what happened in the company's executive boardroom. The girl who doesn't speak Spanish can't tell you what the Spanish-speaking people around her are saying. A human being can't know everything that ever happened in the whole world. So these people can't tell us even if they wanted to. But the CEO, a native Spaniard, and an omnisicient narrator could. So the point of observation of that storyteller matters in what information is even possible for the reader to get.

Bias is what I use to describe how the narrator naturally interprets the information they take in. These are not their conscious views on the info, but the stuff that occurs to them automatically because of the assumptions that come from the way their experiences shaped them. A native earthling may compare the strange aliens to birds because that's the closest frame of reference they have. An abuse victim may view any conflict at all as a potential danger. A novice horseman may interpret a horse's violent reaction as a sign of aggression rather than fear. This colors their narration without their realizing it.

Filter, then, is what that narrator consciously chooses to mention or not mention. A person who suffered a trauma in the past may remember every moment but declare they don't want to talk about it. A morally questionable person may leave out details of their actions so that their behavior doesn't seem as repugnant. This shapes their narration because of their choices of what to say and what to leave out.

So, when you think about point of view being made up of what is possible to know, what is slanted about that knowledge, and what of that knowledge is presented or withheld, now you have more refines axes to consider how point of view is used in a given piece, and how you can make use of point of view in your own writing. Again, this level of precision prompts questions-- what information do I need possible? In that case, what sort of narrator is in a position to provide it? That sort of thing.

I put this to the test recently, when I assigned a midterm in my literature class. I asked my students to choose one of three possible premises for a story, and then make a series of design choices as to how that story might play out in utilization of the various narrative tools we'd studied in the class. I found that a lot of them had much better ability to decide on meaningful storytelling choices because they knew what each tool's function was. They could choose strong conflicts because they knew that conflict was supposed to provide a struggle for that character that was specifically challenging to the ways in which that character was currently deficient, and would have to grow and change in order to manage. They could choose effective settings because they knew setting provided context for the events based on time, location, and continuity of the universe. A lot of them who never thought they had the capacity to tell a story were better able to because the tool's definitions let them ask the right questions-- what would be the toughest thing for this character in particular? What did they need to develop in order to manage this challenge? Where were they going to end up once they'd grown that new strength? I took that as vindication that this approach works, not just as a working style and analytical process as it's been for me, but also as an effective way to teach writing and literary analysis to people who don't know how to do it.

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One somewhat controversial thing I believe about writing is that it's very good to be able to imitate other writers' styles. Other writers and scholars thereof might disagree, failing to see any practical application for it, and protesting that it's more important to refine and develop your own unique voice rather than trying to copy someone else's. (You often hear that argument when people denigrate the writing of fan fiction.) But I maintain it's not only good practice, it's actually a skill worth having for its own sake.

Voice is an important aspect of writing, as it influences mood, feel, tone, and style. But I think an author shouldn't necessarily be limited, or limit themselves, to only one. As nice and useful as it can be to have a signature style, I think it's good to be able to adapt your writing to sound different for different pieces, or even for establishing different characters. If you don't find some way to be flexible that way, you run the risk of making everything sound the same no matter the feel of the piece you may be going for-- or worse, you make everything sound like you, which I find to be a sign of immature work. So imitating the sound of other writers' styles and voices is an exercise in developing your flexibility. It requires you to stretch yourself beyond your natural impulses or current artistics strengths in order to create something that sounds like someone else's work, which broadens the possibilities for what you're capable of depicting. It gives you more control over the voice you give any one project, and enables a wider variety of feels and effects you can impart to your work.

This for me ties into the appeal of fan fiction. I know not everybody is this way, but both when I'm reading and writing fan fiction, I'm looking for more of the story I already love, with more of the things I love about it. So I'm drawn to pieces that stylistically capture the soul of the original. That also means that when I'm writing it myself, that's what I'm shooting for-- something that believably feels like it could be part of what's canon. So I make a special effort to study and emulate the way the original material is written in my fic. The best job I ever did at this was with my piece for the BBC radio comedy Cabin Pressure. I wrote basically a script for an additional episode of the series which, after the fashion of its idiosyncratic episode titling system, I called "San Tropez". Cabin Pressure has a very specific, British style of humor with characters who have highly distinctive voices, and I worked very hard to capture them. If I may say so, I'm really proud of how good a job I did. I've gotten a number of comments from readers saying I nailed the style and voices exactly, and that it's both funny and extremely in character.

But not only do I think it's just good practice for increasing flexibility in other projects. I think it's actually a useful skill in its own right. For collaborative projects, particularly ones that run for a while and have teams of writers, being able to fit in with the "house style" is essential. I have dreams of someday writing for television, and writers' rooms have to have some degree of cohesion to make all the episodes feel consistent with each other. People tend to notice when the "voice" or "style" of a television show gets inconsistent or deviates from what is established, and reactions are usually disapproving. Sometimes it's even at fault for what people describe as Seasonal Rot. In that case it would be a necessity for me to be able to adapt to a certain voice that may or may not naturally be mine.

So it's more than just an amusing little "party trick" for writers of fan fiction. It's actually a powerful developmental tool for a writer to expand their toolkit, and sometimes even demanded by a collaborative situation to keep the pieces all cohesive. So I like challenging myself to play in someone else's sandbox every now and then.

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The most effective way of producing writing for me has always been the "vomit draft" method-- or, if you prefer a less disgusting description, the process by which you just make yourself write some garbage, no matter how badly it's coming out, until you have some semblance of a beginning, middle, and end such that you can by some measure call the draft "complete." I discovered this method in grad school, and it revolutionized the way I worked. Up to that point I was writing constantly, producing volumes, without ever actually finishing anything. I would try to edit as I go and end up spending forever tweaking individual sentences, or not actually writing things until I was certain I "knew what I wanted to do with them"-- which meant nothing ever actually got drafted. Now, whenever I have a project I want to work on, I make as detailed an outline as I can so I have a roadmap, then I just puke something out, and then go back and edit it after it's complete. I recommend this method to my students, or anyone struggling to write things, because you can fix something that's on the page-- you can improve a piece that doesn't even exist.

Lately though I've got a couple of "first drafted" projects laying around, technically complete but still in a state of garbageitude, waiting to be edited. As tough as I find drafting, I find editing to be even harder-- WAH WRITING IS HARD YOU GUYZ. Usually I push through the editing process fairly immediately, due to the fear of losing momentum, but I do find taking a short break from the piece can be helpful to looking at it with a more critical eye to improvement. However, I have to balance that, as I do lose momentum if I wait too long, or I rush it and don't always do the best job.

Right now I have two "technically complete" pieces laying around in first draft form, which is unusual for me. The first is my "Frasier" spinoff pilot, as yet unnamed, which I never dove into editing because something more pressing came up, though I currently can't remember what it was. That one has good bones but is pretty much a mess and will need a lot of fixing. I came up with a lot of things I wanted to do with it, but it's been long enough I'm a bit worried I won't be able to actually remember what they all are. I took some notes, but I'm not certain they're enough. This is hardly a pressing project, as there's nothing I can do with it, but I liked the concept and I'm going to fix it up at some point.

The second is a short story which I banged out over the last few weeks, mostly to get in a little practice as to writing prose. I find prose to be incredibly challenging, probably due to the fact that I've done so little study or practice of it in the last five to ten years while I've focused on drama. This will likely need a TON of work, again due to my inability. When I finished I wanted to take a nice break from it, and fortunately I have no preconceived notions of what it will need to improve, so I'm not worried about forgetting anything. However it will definitely need work before I show it to anyone, and the difficulty of that may make me avoidant over it. I will have to steel myself to get through, given that I struggle to believe my prose has the potential to not suck.

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I have started a new writing project recently. I'm not ready to say what it is yet. But it's one that I've been considering for a long time, not least because I've received some urging from other people to do it, but up to now I've been avoiding it. It wasn't EXACTLY what I wanted to do, it seemed like a huge investment of time and effort, and perhaps more than anything else, I was afraid I wouldn't be able to do a good job with it. It's kind of out outside my wheelhouse, and I don't have nearly the experience or training for it. I know the only way to improve is to write garbage until the practice improves you, but this isn't a project I wanted to turn out bad. So like a coward, I've been avoiding it.

But in the last couple weeks, I've said screw it and dove in. I've had success in the past with just drafting to the point of being technically complete, and then worrying about making it not suck later, so I'm trying to make myself do it. I set a very low bar for daily progress goals, and it isn't much, but it's been effective in making me write SOMETHING almost every day. I'm not sure I don't hate what I've done-- but I'm making the attempt. We'll see how it goes, and if I'm likely to talk about it based on my progress.

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I like to look at the pieces I completed over the course of the year and see what work I did. It seems I accomplished more than I realized, at least in the screenplay department. Hood is the only wholly original full-length piece of significance, but it was also important of me to get a good version of the Mrs. Hawking screenplay done as well. Not bad for a year that also included two production cycles of two full-length plays! Especially since the previous year at this time I was worried I was slowing down.

Completed 2016

Screenplays
- Mrs. Hawking pilot, versions 1, 2, 3, and 4
- Hood pilot, versions 1, 2, and 3
- Frasier spinoff pilot, version 1

Tabletop games
- Silver Lines

Articles
- Smile and smile and be a villain: supporting the narrative function of villain roles in larp, version 2
- No battle plan survives contact with the enemy: the tension between narrative structure and player autonomy in larp, version 1

Larps
- Pub Crawl

Scenes
- “A Separate Battlefield”
- “The Part of Me I Kept for You”
- “Carrying”
- “Nothing in Common”
- “As My Guest”
- “Bloody Great Fool”
- “The One You Should Fear”
- “About Me”
- “From a Bloody Nightmare”
- “Reginald Managed It”
- “Wedding Toast”
- “A Small Thing”
- “Loyal Servant of the Empire”
- “After Two Years”
- “Alone”
- “True Gentleman”
- "Three Ships"

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When it comes to literary interpretation, I have a few concepts I use as guides for understanding the meaning of a work. Since I got into some discussions where people didn't necessarily see the delineations I did, I thought I'd talk about some of the concepts I use to make it clear how I approach things-- specifically as regards the impact of design.

By "design" I mean the choices the artist made in putting the piece together that creates some effect on the audience. In writing, the storyteller begins with a theoretical "blank page," and anything that makes it onto that page had to be put there. The level of thought or intention behind each thing may be variable, but still the writer had to decide to include it or else it wouldn't be there. That means it had the potential to be done for a particular reason, because of the effect it would create in the audience experiencing it. Authors rarely approach their work with zero intention, so there is almost always at least SOMETHING they included specifically for the effect they hoped it would create.

This makes up the first level I think you can analyze on-- taking into account the author's plans, choices, and efforts. The creator decides they would like to imbue a particular meaning in the work and makes design choices that are designed to achieve that effect. It's not the be all and end all, of course, but these are important if only because they shape the final product; in their absence, you would not have the work as you know it. Now, jsut because the writer meant to put something into a story doesn't mean they succeeded. They have have failed, in whatever way for whatever reason. But the intentions still matter, because of how they influence what choices are made in the design.

On the other end of the spectrum is of course Death of the Author-- where once an artist has finished a work, they have no further influence over its meaning, and whatever the audience sees in it is legitimately present. Personally I use a limited version of this in interpretation. This is a very necessary perspective, as you cannot influence the way an audience experiences your work, so what it brings out of them in response is always important no matter what the intended effect was. I tell my students that whatever you can justify with a line of reasoning, you can legitimately say you see in the piece. I tend to draw a line, however, when things are so far beyond the scope of the creator's possible perspective, or when the reading requires so much extrapolation as to be completely removed from the text. For example, I doubt Shakespeare has much to do with ideas on artificial intelligence, given the subject matter of his plays and the period of history he comes from. But still, I believe the way an audience experiences a work is always relevant to examining it.

Most people are familiar with those two lines of thinking. But I also think there's something in between. Not just things the author intended, nor what rises from the audience's experience-- but also what got in there through the author's actions but in the absence of intention, or sometimes even awareness. This comes from the idea that no one is one hundred percent self-aware and may do things without realizing, or at least without realizing why. As this is true in our everday lives, so is it true in the making of our creative work. Writers can do this with how they design things and gets results that may not have been intended, but were still demonstrable results form the writer's choices.

Here's an example. Say a writer is including a father character in their work. This writer had a dad who was kind of a jerk, but doesn't realize that this was a quality unique to their father in particular. Unconsciously, the writer has generalized this to all fathers. So, when the writer goes to write a father in their story, he incorporates the jerk qualities without intending to write a jerk, because they don't see that in their mind, "jerk" and "father" are inextricably bound. This results in a character who is readably a jerk, and whose jerk qualities demonstrably rose from the choices the writer made, but NOT because the writer meant to create a jerk.

This may seem like a pointless distinction, but I think it's important-- because both the writer's choices AND the audience's perceptions are important. This extra shade of classification helps for better understanding of how stories are made, and what factors create the meaning and power of a story. The better we understand that, the better we understand how stories affect us, and how to build stories with the power to do so.

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