Friday, July 25, 2014

Killing a joke with Kishōtenketsu

Even though I've been very lazy in keeping up my blog posts, that doesn't mean I haven't been thinking about them. I have a nifty note taking app and when not working out new plot points for books 3 and 4, I often jot down ideas for general ranting.

One of them was simply: Analyse a joke with Kishōtenketsu. 

I forget what else I intended with this, and I pushed it pretty far down my list of priorities until two things happened in close succession. 1, I read a bunch of books about classic three-act structure (see previous post) and 2, I came across this article in the New Yorker. 

All authors who write about writing have a stab at just what a story is, and to serve their particular thesis, they try to be specific. David Farland, in his attempt, goes so far as to say that unless a story has a particular structure, it is not a story at all. The example he gives is a Jape, or a Joke, where there seems to be all the elements of a story--character, conflict, resolution, but that these parts without escalating conflict and thematic resolution do not equal a narrative.

To me this is a tautological definition, akin to 'Art is not what art is not' By defining a story as the classic three-act try/fail, conflict/resolution cycle, he can conveniently ignore everything that falls outside this narrow selection. 

Robert McKee is a little more forgiving, and though he defines a good story as the classic three act cycle, he does allow for what he calls 'antiplot'  Such narratives, he admits, seem to work in a strange way that he does not delve into, but points out they only exist as a reaction to the dominant form of true story structure.

But lets get back to jokes. When I wrote that note to myself I was thinking a lot about Kishotenketsu and what it meant. I saw its structure everywhere--not just in film, but in the way we argue, the way I teach. I saw it most in jokes.

For a joke to work we must be surprised. There is a setup, and sometimes that setup is deepened. But we always have a twist--a moment of surprise that comes out of the blue and startles us with its absurdity. We then synthesis this knowledge into the setup information, and as comprehension dawns we end up laughing at the way the joke made us re-visit the seemingly mundane beginning. 

Now that is a very general breakdown of what a joke is, but there are enough examples i'm sure you can think of that follow it close enough to make my point. Jokes are inherently Kishōtenketsu.

But the aforementioned writers do have a point. Jokes might make us laugh, but we want something more from narrative. Thats where the New Yorker comes in. If you haven't read it yet, go and look at this article by Simon Rich. Bonus points if, like me, you can't help but read it in the voice of Norm Macdonald.
I'll wait right here.


So in Guy Walks Into a Bar we are given something more than a typical joke. I would argue that it is a story, and yet it has none of the elements we expect. There are characters who have desires, but there is no major conflict standing in their way. There is conflict of course, but its resolution is strange and surprising. So why is it so engaging? Why is it so funny--even touching? Is it enough to say that it is just a joke and move on, or that it is an absurdist antiplot and to stop looking for deeper meaning? 

No. I think this short piece has what any good narrative does. It has insight, entertainment, and then, just when I'm laughing, it has something else. It has beauty.

Not convinced? Lets dissect.
So a guy walks into a bar one day and he can’t believe his eyes. There, in the corner, there’s this one-foot-tall man, in a little tuxedo, playing a tiny grand piano.
So the guy asks the bartender, “Where’d he come from?”
And the bartender’s, like, “There’s a genie in the men’s room who grants wishes.”
So far so good. This is the Ki, part of the structure, where characters are introduced and the basic setting and premise is set up
So the guy runs into the men’s room and, sure enough, there’s this genie. And the genie’s, like, “Your wish is my command.” So the guy’s, like, “O.K., I wish for world peace.” And there’s this big cloud of smoke—and then the room fills up with geese.
So the guy walks out of the men’s room and he’s, like, “Hey, bartender, I think your genie might be hard of hearing.”
And the bartender’s, like, “No kidding. You think I wished for a twelve-inch pianist?”
So the guy processes this. And he’s, like, “Does that mean you wished for a twelve-inch penis?”
And the bartender’s, like, “Yeah. Why, what did you wish for?”
And the guy’s, like, “World peace.”
So the bartender is understandably ashamed.
And the guy orders a beer, like everything is normal, but it’s obvious that something has changed between him and the bartender.
And the bartender’s, like, “I feel like I should explain myself further.”
And the guy’s, like, “You don’t have to.”
And that is what we call the Shō, or the lead on from the intro, which leads up to the main twist in the tale. Ready?
But the bartender continues, in a hushed tone. And he’s, like, “I have what’s known as penile dysmorphic disorder. Basically, what that means is I fixate on my size. It’s not that I’m small down there. I’m actually within the normal range. Whenever I see it, though, I feel inadequate.”
And the guy feels sorry for him. So he’s, like, “Where do you think that comes from?”
And the bartender’s, like, “I don’t know. My dad and I had a tense relationship. He used to cheat on my mom, and I knew it was going on, but I didn’t tell her. I think it’s wrapped up in that somehow.”
And the guy’s, like, “Have you ever seen anyone about this?”
And the bartender’s, like, “Oh, yeah, I started seeing a therapist four years ago. But she says we’ve barely scratched the surface.”
So, at around this point, the twelve-inch pianist finishes up his sonata. And he walks over to the bar and climbs onto one of the stools. And he’s, like, “Listen, I couldn’t help but overhear the end of your conversation. I never told anyone this before, but my dad and I didn’t speak the last ten years of his life.”
And the bartender’s, like, “Tell me more about that.” And he pours the pianist a tiny glass of whiskey.
And the twelve-inch pianist is, like, “He was a total monster. Beat us all. Told me once I was an accident.”
And the bartender’s, like, “That’s horrible.”
And the twelve-inch pianist shrugs. And he’s, like, “You know what? I’m over it. He always said I wouldn’t amount to anything, because of my height? Well, now look at me. I’m a professional musician!”
And the pianist starts to laugh, but it’s a forced kind of laughter, and you can see the pain behind it. And then he’s, like, “When he was in the hospital, he had one of the nurses call me. I was going to go see him. Bought a plane ticket and everything. But before I could make it back to Tampa . . .”
And then he starts to cry. And he’s, like, “I just wish I’d had a chance to say goodbye to my old man.”
And all of a sudden there’s this big cloud of smoke—and a beat-up Plymouth Voyager appears!
And the pianist is, like, “I said ‘old man,’ not ‘old van’!”
And everybody laughs. And the pianist is, like, “Your genie’s hard of hearing.”
And the bartender says, “No kidding. You think I wished for a twelve-inch pianist?”
And as soon as the words leave his lips he regrets them. Because the pianist is, like, “Oh, my God. You didn’t really want me.”
And the bartender’s, like, “No, it’s not like that.” You know, trying to backpedal.
And the pianist smiles ruefully and says, “Once an accident, always an accident.” And he drinks all of his whiskey.
And the bartender’s, like, “Brian, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that.”
And the pianist smashes his whiskey glass against the wall and says, “Well, I didn’t mean that.”
And the bartender’s, like, “Whoa, calm down.”
And the pianist is, like, “Fuck you!” And he’s really drunk, because he’s only one foot tall and so his tolerance for alcohol is extremely low. And he’s, like, “Fuck you, asshole! Fuck you!”
And he starts throwing punches, but he’s too small to do any real damage, and eventually he just collapses in the bartender’s arms.
And suddenly he has this revelation. And he’s, like, “My God, I’m just like him. I’m just like him.” And he starts weeping.
And the bartender’s, like, “No, you’re not. You’re better than he was.”
And the pianist is, like, “That’s not true. I’m worthless!”
And the bartender grabs the pianist by the shoulders and says, “Damn it, Brian, listen to me! My life was hell before you entered it. Now I look forward to every day. You’re so talented and kind and you light up this whole bar. Hell, you light up my whole life. If I had a second wish, you know what it would be? It would be for you to realize how beautiful you are.”
And the bartender kisses the pianist on the lips.
That is one long Ten section. The twist here is the sheer absurdity of the personal nature of these mens' broken lives in the context of a bar joke cliche. We don't get merely one moment of twist, in quick succession we see a run of deepening sincerity that is seemingly out of place in this joke about a hard of hearing genie. In fact, were it to end here, this would be like those antijokes we all found so funny in primary school... you know the ones? 'Why did the boy fall off the swing? Because someone threw a fridge at them.' In these, the absurd twist is all we get, but Kishōtenketsu goes further:
So the guy, who’s been watching all this, is surprised, because he didn’t know the bartender was gay. It doesn’t bother him; it just catches him off guard, you know? So he goes to the bathroom, to give them a little privacy. And there’s the genie.
So the guy’s, like, “Hey, genie, you need to get your ears fixed.”
And the genie’s, like, “Who says they’re broken?” And he opens the door, revealing the happy couple, who are kissing and gaining strength from each other.
And the guy’s, like, “Well done.”
And then the genie says, “That bartender’s tiny penis is going to seem huge from the perspective of his one-foot-tall boyfriend.”
And the graphic nature of the comment kind of kills the moment.
And the genie’s, like, “I’m sorry. I should’ve left that part unsaid. I always do that. I take things too far.”
And the guy’s, like, “Don’t worry about it. Let’s just grab a beer. It’s on me.” 
And there we have Ketsu, the most important part of the structure, where we come full circle and the entire purpose of the narrative is made clear. All elements fall into place, and we see the true resonance of the piece. Not because conflict has been resolved, not even because some major revelation has occurred. We just see all the pieces laid out, and that perspective demands a reflection--a moment of insight that I think is the true purpose of all story telling.

Robert McKee says that we like stories about conflict because we see our own lives as a series of battles, and that watching them unfold on page or screen is a cathartic process. The very reason we are all addicted to narrative, her argues, is that we know deep down that life is chaotic and meaningless, but that we cannot help but wish it otherwise. We accept the lie of the three act structure, where meaning comes from the resolution of clearly defined problems, and that any revelation serves the central synchronistic enlightenment of a characters internal or external problems, because that is how we wish our own lives would be.

Kishōtenketsu does something else. It shows us that life is awkward, surprising, sometimes chaotic and violent, but that all the separate pieces somehow fit anyway. Not into a jigsaw puzzle clean cut image, but the way all the thousands of sounds in a forest fit together, or all the colours of a sunset or smells at Christmas. The point is, the ending of a story doesn't have to mean anything, you just have to be elevated to a place where you can better see the landscape. 


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Books about books

It has been a while, and I am almost ready for a big announcement, but for this first post in over 6 months I wanted to talk about writing advice books.

A while back I read (when I say read, I of course mean listen--see my posts about audio books and my love thereof) Mr. King's autobiography masquerading as a guide to writing, 'On Writing'

A great book, and at the time it really pandered to my desire to stay a Pantster (as in fly by the seat of), or as G.R.R Martin calls us, Gardeners. Mr. King encourages us to sit down, lock the door, and write. Hopefully if you don't get hit by a car, you might come out at some point with a finished manuscript.

But like me, that might take more years that you are willing to admit.

This year, in a act I can only call madness, I decided to re-write my first two novels, and it was clear that my usual start-at-page-one-and-work-my-way-through approach was not going to cut it.

I needed more help. I had put off reading any other 'how to write' books mostly because I deep down knew they would tell me what I already knew: Get serious. Get a plan. Work your shit out.

When I teach media I even make my students read some of the cannon of how-to books on writing. So for my first step, I decided to undo my hypocrisy and finally read Robert McKee's Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting. Phew. Even saying it is a mouthful.

Hot on the heels of this bible, I moved onto Sol Stein's
Stein on Writing: A Master Editor Shares His Craft, Techniques, and Strategies. Are these guys just trying to prove a point with their titles or what? Yes, we get it, you can words.

And then to round off the list, i'm halfway through Dave Farland's Million Dollar Outlines.  Which, while not as long a title, makes up for it with actually admitting what the other two hint at.

And what have I learned so far? Everything is in threes, a character is only as important as the argument they represent, and conflict, conflict, conflict. is king.

You could not get a clearer argument against Kishotenketsu if you made a child watch My Neighbour Totoro on repeat until their eyes bled. McKee comes out and says that a story is nothing but conflict, much the same way that a song is nothing but sound. Stein agrees, just a little more poetically, and Farland goes as far as spelling it out with examples from his own book. And of course they are all right. Conflict is a part of life. Yes, we love to read and watch movies because seeing the consequences of other people in conflict is cathartic. (McKee strictly forbids alliteration--my bad)
And it works. I think Stein kinda laments that this is the case, McKee tries desperately to categorise films that sit outside the three act structure as contrary works that only exist because of it, whereas Farland, when not using examples from his own books, tries to convince us that 'Live free and Die Hard' was a brilliant work of art because of its carefully constructed try-fail cycles.

And again, they are all correct, (except Farland) but what i've come to realise is that it all depends on your point of view. (not your character POV, of which McKee commands you to limit to as few as possible, while Farland says to multiply so as to reach as wide an audience as possible, just like he did in one of his novels)

What I mean by point of view, is that as writers, I think we need to decide philosophically what we stand for. I don't mean that we need to inject a 'theme' into our work--indeed I agree with Stein that this must come organically only once you have finished a few drafts, as themes are answers to questions too complex to answer any other way.

But we must have a philosophy--a hunch that we know the way the world really is or could be. This obsession with conflict is so pervasive, no one sees it as what it is: one point of view, one philosophy of meaning. McKee even admits that films and stories are the lie we tell ourselves, the fantasies to make the world make sense. And this goes all the way back to Aristotle.

But we can do more, right? If all we do is chase a demographic that demands x amount of romantic 'beats' followed by a try-fail cycle until the act three reversal, then what have we proven? People like sugar. You put sugar in things and they will buy them. People consume things that make them happy,  ergo, sugar is good.

I'm reading Harry Potter to my son at the moment. (real read this time, and i'm trying my best to be Stephen Fry) We are up to Goblet of fire, and it is clear to me why the series is the epitome of a Million Dollar Outline. That doesn't mean its any good. But like the bowls of icecream I bribe my son with to finish his roast lamb and broccoli, i'll keep dishing them up, in the hope that he develops an appetite for something better.

Do I have an answer. I would be an even bigger hypocrite to say I do. My novels are rife with conflict, and I can't help but see my emotional beats and have to admit that injecting a 'time bomb' in chapter 23 really would pick up the pace. What I can say is that i'm trying for something bigger. The micro might seem to be noting but conflict, but I promise that when you step back, some other force is at work, and hopefully, other lessons will be learned.


Thursday, December 26, 2013

13 Reviews to End 2013

Instead of boring you with another self-serving summary of my writing, I will make my final post of 2013 a review of all the books I have consumed this year.

I say consumed as I don't read any more since I subscribed to an Audible gold membership late last year. I still have issues with the draconian international licensing that restricts certain titles from Australia, but otherwise, I have found Audible to be a wonderful marketplace for the audiobookphile.

At $15 per month I get access to a decent library of new and old books, and the quality of both the recordings and narration is consistently excellent. But by far the best thing about Audible is the convenient synchronisation with my phone app. The biggest hassle with 'buying' audio books from a miscellaneous range of suppliers is getting the file into a format and playlist and onto your device of choice. I would pay $15 to never have to manage 500 separate mp3s in 14 different chapter folders, with each file numbered from 1-34.

Like spotify and the appstore, audible has worked out the way to market digital content: make it easier than the swedish alternative.

So on with the reviews.

1. The Blade Itself.

This is the first book I listened to this year, and to be honest, I didn't fall in love with the story half as much as the narration. Lots of people love Joe Abercrombie, but to me he rambles and I got the sense early on that the payoff of the series would not be worth the investment. And my 'Low Fantasy' quota is already taken up with game of thrones.

2. The Diamond Age.

I love Neal Stephenson, but i'd never read the Diamond Age--some say his best work--and perhaps I should have left it that way. Yes the ideas are big--as all Stephenson's are--but unlike the Baroque cycle or Cryptonomicon, the Diamond Age just doesn't have many characters I can care about. The narration is also a little too formal for me--much like the older audio books made primarily for the blind and the elderly who apparently didn't need emotion in their stories.

3. Redshirts

After two disappointing months, I decided March was time for some fun. And what says fun more than Wil Wheaton reading a star-trek parody where the main character is one of the expendable extras in constant fear of being killed. I was not disappointed. In fact the end of the book really surprised me in the way it transcended the 'joke' of the book and became something much more interesting.

4. Finding Ultra.

By April I was getting more determined to actually finish my C25k app, and as fate would have it reddit brought Rich Roll to my attention. I decided to break my fiction-only reading habit and used my monthly audible credit on a book about running ridiculously long distances. It made my struggle to complete 5k seem appropriately pathetic.

5. Why We Get Fat

Hot off the heals of a book about running I decided on another non-fiction book. I found that when immersed in my own writing, listening to fiction was not necessarily helpful. Also, since cracking 5km and on my way to 10, I was now more determined than ever to get into shape. Like most of us though, it was not working as well as thermodynamics dictates. I was adding up my calories with one app, and subtracting them with another. The deficit suggested that I should be strutting catwalks, but the scales mocked such vanity. This book explained what was going on.

6. The Great Gatsby

Continuing the theme of self improvement, and in need of a dose of fiction to remind me that language can do more than inform, I decided to read one of the books I always told people i'd read. At a little over 4hours of narration, I finished Gatsby in just a few of my 10k runs, and loved every minute. Jake Gyllenhaal did a great job narrating and he should have been cast in the film. There is a reason this is a classic.

7. Ender's Game

I heard the movie was finally getting made, and so I thought it was time to revisit a book i'd loved when I was 12. Ender's Game was one of the books that made me cross over from high fantasy to hard sci fi, and it was great to hear two narrators voice different characters. Great book. The film was almost as disappointing as its sequels.

8. Light

I took a risk on this one, having heard nothing about M. John Harrison before. Turns out he is a mix of Iain M. Banks and Dan Simmons. Pity about the cliche ending of the book, but I will read the sequels when and if they are ever released in my DRMd region. Sigh.

9. Intuition Pumps and other tools for thinking.

A friend gave me the paper version of this one, and I could hardly fit it in my bag. At the time I was looking for another novel, but I started to flick through the opening chapters and was hooked. Luckily it was available on audible, and so I dived into what turned out to be a very enlightening book, and perhaps the best thing I read all year. This is now on my must read list for anyone interested in philosophy. Cannot recommend enough.

10.  The Better Angels of Our Nature.

After the last book, I just couldn't find a fiction work that interested me, so when another friend started talking about a book that traced out the sweep of human history with an optimistic thesis about how things are getting better,  I couldn't resist. Unlike 'Intuition pumps' this is not a book for the faint of heart, nor is it something I suggest to people unless I know they are already intrigued by the ideas it champions. This is a big and difficult book, that brings together history, psychology, philosophy, politics and evolution, using copious amounts of statistical data to back up the central claim. To be honest this is the kind of book I would normally abandon, but due to the nature of audiobooks, it was easy to just let the words wash over me during my now 16km runs. I am glad I stuck with it. More than any other book this year, 'Better Angels' is the one that has left a lasting impression. I would love to try to sum up what it is all about, but at nearly 40 hours of narration, such a task is futile. If you want a challenge, this is the book for you.

11. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.

Better Angels had exhausted my ability to process information, and I was now determined to find a great novel to escape in. Lots of people seemed to love this one about magicians, and I gave it a good go, but I just couldn't get into the world Susanna Clarke created. Both her prose and story are long winded, and once again I didn't see any payoff for the huge investment of time. Perhaps i'll go back to this one and give it another go, but a book that is over 32 hours long needs to hook me early on. The premise that magic was mundane became, well, mundane.

12. Gentlemen of the Road.

I needed something short and sweet and literary and fun--full of action and wrapped up in clever prose. I wasn't asking for much. Luckily another friend had just the answer in Michael Chabon's lovesong to pulp-fiction adventure books. My friend gave it to me in dead tree form, and after reading the blurb I didn't hesitate to get the audiobook. This kind of story is everything I love about writing. Plus it has swords. At just over 4 hours, it inspired me to go on a few more runs than I usually do so that I could finish it in a week. People have criticised Chabon for this departure from his usual literary works about divorce, anxiety and existential malaise, but I thought it was brilliant, and am glad it was the first thing of his I read.

13.  The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.

And so I end the year on another Chabon, and am already hooked. I'm only a few hours in, but already there is a Golem and an escape from Nazi occupied Prague. I can see why this author is so well garnished with awards. This is what great writing should be: an even mix of big ideas, well crafted prose, and fun.


Thursday, November 28, 2013

top 5 reasons to use scrivener

I'm done with Word. This was the last time I let microsoft turn my novel into this:

Each time this happens I lose a month of life. I have written before about the system I have in place to staunch the loss of words, but the scars remain. The fact that it happened again the week after I learned that Dragonfall Press was shutting down, led to a moment of sudden clarity.

I am free. Not only of the need to use Word, but free of the deadlines having a publisher brings with it; free of any pressure to make book 2 and 3 retcon the mistakes I now see in book 1. Free, in essence, to start again.

So I decided to do something drastic. What started as a tidy up of the Dragon and the Crow has turned into a complete re-write. What became apparent at once was the mess my mythology was in.

I'll digress a moment to talk about what kind of a write I think I am. As GRR Martin has defined it, I am a gardener when it comes to the craft. Some people call this being a 'pantster' (as in fly by the seat of), others just admit that they make it up as they go along. The opposite, of course, are the 'planners' or as GRR Martin calls them, architects. But even he admits that a certain amount of planning must happen if you don't want your garden looking like this.

Which is exactly the state I found Magickless to be in when I slowed down enough to have a look around. I'd much prefer something like Monet's green thumb attempts: 

That of course, will take some work. Monet, I bet, had a few good shovels and wheelbarrows to help him make his garden. Hard work is easier with the right tool, after all. The right tool for a writer is not Microsoft Word. I optimistically opened my novels in apple Pages, but though the weird formatting bugs were gone, it was essentially the same as word. There were weeds running wild in my garden, and I needed a something more useful than a kitchen fork to deal with them. In essence, I needed something better than a word processor.

Think about that dubious software title for a moment: Word Processor. It suggests that its purpose is to churn out polished words on some kind of dictionary conveyor belt.

If you've ever tried writing something longer than a few pages, you'll know that the basic building blocks of the craft are not words, any more than a blacksmith's are individual atoms of iron. Writers work with things called scenes, and hammering them into shape is an art, not a 'process.' Word processors, to be honest, are not much better than pencils. 

I posted my woes to Facebook, and a writer friend suggested that I give Scrivener a look. I'd heard about it, but the learning curve had scared me. This time I took the plunge.

Let me start with a big warning. Scrivener is a completely different way to write. But i'll let you do the research. Here are my top 5 reasons to use it.

1. No more saving

Seriously, forget about it. Scrivener autosaves every second or so without interrupting your work. Just make the default location for your project a dropbox folder for peace of mind, and off you go.

2. Keep everything in one place

Everything to do with your WIP that is. I don't know how many different bookmarks and notes and rss meta tags I have created called 'notes' or 'research' or 'book stuff'--mostly because i've lost the majority and forgotten the rest. With Scrivener you have a built in research folder that can be used for note taking, or even better, you can drop a url of the wikipedia page about ship building into a sub-folder you have called 'sailing stuff' and the entire webpage is rendered right in your workspace, neatly filed away where you need it. But what about if you are on some other computer or your phone when you have an idea or find the perfect epitaph for chapter 8?

3. Scrivener Scratch Pad--the secret weapon.

This seemingly innocent note taking tool built into scrivener has turned out to be a central reason I use the program. While there are many ways of taking notes, like the research folder I mentioned above, the Scratch Pad is a small rich text window that floats above all others. This is designed so that you can leave scrivener workspace to do some web browsing and the scratch pad window stays with you, allowing you to take notes on the fly. But the real strength of Scratch Pad, is how it stores its notes. I realised that I could make any folder I wanted my Scratch Pad .rtf document location, and this is when I realised that Scrivener can consolidate my writing life. I installed an app on my phone called Jota+--a basic text file program for android, and it saves all the notes I make with it in a dropbox folder. The same dropbox folder Scrivener uses. Now when I have an idea at 2am about how to fix the plot hole in chapter 14 (that thankfully no-one noticed at the time), I make a note on my phone, and the next time I open scrivener, there it is, right inside the program. This may sound trivial but it is actually transforming the chaos my garden was becoming. 

4. No more formatting

Not only can you forget about having to save your work every few minutes, Scrivener does away with the need to set fonts and sizes for the text itself. You can also let go of the notion of 'styles' for headings and ignore the hidden voodoo of inserted page breaks or margin sizes. Scrivener works like software development. You write the code and then at the end you compile out the finished program. In the case of a novel, each scene is a file within a 'chapter' folder, which are embedded in 'part' folders. Each element is edited and then when you want to see what your manuscript is looking like, you compile a version in whatever format you desire. This is where you can set things like fonts and headings and chapters, but you can change them whenever you like, and can do so in a whole range of built in templates. To me, it feels now that I am working in the engine room of my subconscious. I am no longer caught up in how the text looks on page, just what it is saying. 

5. Full screen

Finally I have an adjustable full screen writing app. Even though scrivener is about seeing the big picture of your work, every now and then you just need to zoom in and lose yourself in the flow of writing. When you activate scrivener's full screen mode, all your scenes come together in one seamless scroll of words. With adjustable text and background colour you can even pretend you are hacking the matrix.

There is much more I will say about Scrivener another time, for I have only just scratched the surface, but if you fear you have more weeds than flowers, it might be the tool for you.

And of course, since installing it, I have not lost a single word.

The only problem is that now i'm worried I might be turning into an architect.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Bad news.

Terrible actually. Dragonfall Press, my publisher, is closing down.

Effective immediately, all rights to my books return to me. The question is, what to do with them?

I have already sent out some query letters to agents, and hopefully my initial success in getting published will open some doors. One way or another, Magickless will continue. Book 2 might have to wait a little longer, however.

I still might decide to self publish, given that Sceptre and the Sword is ready to go, but I will try the old beaten path of agents and publishers once more first.

Wish me luck.

In a strange way it feels liberating to be back at the beginning.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

final edits and first lines

Now that my wonderful editor has returned the Sceptre & the Sword manuscript, the last edit begins and I am once again consumed with thoughts on opening sentences.

As synchronicity would have it, in the last few days I have seen a number of online discussions spring up about the very same topic. If you haven't read it yet, this article on the Atlantic covers many of the obvious (Margaret Atwood likes Melville's 'Moby Dick') and some more obscure, (Jonathen Franzen likes Kafka's 'Trial') They all agree, of course, that the opening lines of a story are crucial.

Then I came across this post on reddit, which had a whole lot more to choose from. Even if you browse only the most upvoted, you can't help but be impressed by the efficiency of those few words that the writers chose to start their tale. 

I'd love to know if they struggle as much as I do getting them right. Luckily, Mr King is happy to discuss his process, and in another Atlantic article, he admits that sometimes he spends years getting them right. 

'If I can get that first paragraph right, I'll know I can do the book.'

I hear you, Mr. King. I hear you.

As I look over the markup of my MS, nothing seems as daunting as the absence of any at all on the opening line. From this I can assume my editor considers that what I have now is functional, but as I read it (and read it again), I know it needs to be better. 

If I pick three of my favourite books from the shelf next to me I find even more examples that get it right.

'"Tonight we're going to show you eight silent ways to kill a man."' -- Joe Haldeman, The Forever War

'The Hegemony Consul sat on the balcony of his ebony space-ship and played Rachmaninoff's Prelude in C-sharp Minor on an ancient but well-maintained Steinway while great, green, saurian things surged and bellowed in the swamps below.' -- Dan Simmons, Hyperion.

'The island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts its peak a mile above the storm-racked Northeast Sea, is a land famous for wizards.' -- Ursula Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea.

I did not pick these because they stuck out as memorable openings, only as memorable books. Interestingly they each do very different things. Haldeman jumps right in with dialogue of a secondary character, forcing us into a POV of the protagonist we have not yet met. Simmons introduces us to our protagonist, but does so in a way that sets him against the backdrop of a strange land where remnants of our world still linger. Finally Le Guin paints us an epic vista of the location her story will take place.

All three different, and whilst none is perhaps on league with 'Call me Ishmael' they all grab me, even now, drawing me into their world. 

So this is where I am at.

The queen pounced down the empty tunnel.    

I can't tell you how many edits it took to get here, but once again I look at those seven words and find them lacking. As I sit here considering my options it seems that the examples I have just typed out offer my best three ways forward.  

Either I pull away from the character to paint an image of where the story starts, or jump right inside the character's mind with internal dialogue, or I bite the bullet and craft a long compound sentence that tries to do a bit of both. It worked for Simmons right?

At least King offers some consoling words: 

A book won't stand or fall on the very first line of prose -- the story has got to be there, and that's the real work.

If you want even more examples of opening lines, have a look here at a convenient wikiquote page on the subject. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Kishōtenketsu part 3: Fixing the Man of Steel.

Fair warning, there be spoilers ahead. 

There is no other heroic character that more perfectly suits the four-act narrative structure of Kishōtenketsu than Superman. Kishōtenketsu is a sorry paradigm centred around revelation and surprise rather than conflict, and Superman — essentially invulnerable — is the perfect vehicle to explore something beyond the normal good v bad themes of our current cartoon craze.

After my last rewrite of Iron Man, you might say I am perhaps expecting too much of these genre spectacles, and in the case of Iron Man, you might be right. But Man of Steel was conceived from the minds of Nolan and Goyer, and both Blade 2 and The Dark Knight stand out as superhero films that transcended their medium. Even though Zack Snyder was directing this one, I was still hoping it would be more Watchmen than Sucker Punch and perhaps even be what Joseph Campbell would call a modern mono-myth. This is, after all, the reason we continue to write (and love) stories like about superheroes — They embody the qualities necessary to overcome seemingly impossible trials that are themselves embodiments of the issues of the culture that wrote them into being. When done right they do not merely entertain, they tell us something important about ourselves.

Sadly this was not the case with the Man of Steel. Perhaps there were too many rewrites, perhaps not enough. I have read that Nolan gave Snyder free reign to ‘Make the film he wanted’ — it seems now he should have held on tighter to the bridle.

I have to point out that the film was far from terrible — in fact there were moments I really enjoyed, and it was these that became the seed for this re-write, yet overall the little that worked in Man of Steel was drowned in the mess of overt Christian symbology and tacked together battles that existed more for the trailer than for any lasting narrative meaning.

So please indulge me while I apply the structure of Kishōtenketsu to the Man of Steel, and rewrite it into the film I wish I had seen. No TL;DR here I am afraid just one long rant… Remember to keep in mind that instead of the black and white question of how good triumphs over evil, I am aiming for the more subtle question of what it means to be all-powerful. Arguably this is the key philosophical question of our age. Whether it is how to fix our environment, or how to feed the millions of starving, us Westerners who flock to the darkened cinemas to scoff down our popcorn and high fructose corn syrup, really don’t need to be seduced yet again by a story that asks us to sympathise with the weak. Rather, we should be challenged to question the responsibilities of power, and the dangers.

Okay, enough grand-standing. No one wants a lecture. Have to open eyes before you open minds and all that. So here I go.

Did I mention yet that this was going to be a rant?

Act one. Kishō. (Intro)

This is the part of the film I liked the most. From the design of Krypton to the casting of Russell Crowe as Jor El, the first big sequence almost worked. Almost.

*Note I am assuming you are familiar with the plot of the film. From now on I will not recount what happened, rather what I wish had*

We open on the grand hall of the Krypton High Council, who are being addressed by Jor El. He is trying to convince them that their pig-headed commitment to tradition and draining energy from their core will be their death. By his calculations they might not have many weeks, let alone years left before the core explodes. The Council point out that they have survived for three thousand generations, that Jor El’s fear-mongering is treason.

This scene is intercut by the espionage exploits of a woman doing aerobatic type moves as she makes her way into a heavily guarded facility. We only see her from behind — she is lithe and controlled in her Indiana Jones infiltration. Once inside the central chamber she steals a crystal skull from within its containment field.

Meanwhile Jor El is imploring the council to listen, but they are interrupted as a robotic voice proclaims that the inner chamber of the Archives has been breached and the Great Codex stolen. Jor El smiles and the council, enraged, sentence him to death. General Zod steps forward from amongst the council to arrest him. With the help of his top commanders, (the big guy, Tor-An and the girl, Faora-Ul) they surround Jor-El, and Zod brings out a portable device that will open a dimensional gate to the Phantom Zone. Yet as Tor-An grabs for Jor-el, his hands pass right through, and everyone realises that it was only a projection. Jor-El’s hollogram blinks out of existence as Zod curses and starts issuing orders to capture the condemned traitor.

We cut to the interior of Jor-El’s laboratory. In the corner is a cot with a baby safely asleep under the care of a robotic nanny. Jor-El starts to work at the controls of a device as the door hisses open and the woman we saw steal the crystal skull enters with the codex in hand.

note on Kishōtenketsu — Remember that like all plot structures it is a fractal; that is it works on the macro and the micro. The previous mystery of who the strange woman was is now revealed and integrated into the plot. It is of course, Lara Lor-Van, Superman’s mum. Whilst there is plenty of conflict in this scene, the real driver of the story comes from the realisation that two previously unrelated situations are in fact entwined.

Lara Lor-Van

Did you succeed?


No, but I see you did.

Lara Lor-Van

I told you the council would not listen to reason. This is the only way.


We do not have much time. They have sent general Zod.

Lara Lor-Van

(hissing the name and visibly terrified) Zod!

She runs to her baby, no more than twenty months old. Jor-El prepares a small three-man craft that rises from the floor. We realise that their plan is to escape with their child. Taking her son, Lara places him into a compartment, carefully closing him into the pod and then guiding this into the main craft. Lights begin to flash.



Blasting his way through the door, we see Zod with his two commanders by his side and the Phantom Zone device in his hand. Lara goes to get in the craft, but Jor-El realises there is no time.


(to Lara) You go. I must finish setting the coordinates.

But before Lara can get into the craft, she is blasted by Faora. Jor-El uses his equipment as a weapon, zapping Tor-An, but by now Zod has his wife.


You were meant to be our saviour, Jor-El. The greatest mind of our civilisation. Yet you betray us and run like the coward you truly are. Now you will spend eternity in the Phantom Zone.




(seeing the crystal skull already inside the small ship’s cockpit) Do not fret, sweet Lara. The council has decided your fate also. You can join your husband in the Phantom Zone. Now your love will truly last die. Prepare the device!

Faora starts to turn on the dimensional machine, programming the device to open onto the dreaded Phantom Zone.


(turning back to Jor-El) What did you think you would achieve with the codex? Were you planning to run to one of the lost colonies? You know that experiment failed long ago.


This world is doomed, Zod. I thought only to keep safe all that we have learned.


I can see you are lying. But no matter. You can take your lies with you.

By now the dimensional device has opened a portal to another world — through the hole we see a ravaged landscape of dark rock and twisting mist.


Don’t do this Zod, if you ever loved me, don’t. You can come with us, you have your ship. Come with us and we can start again.

Then the ground begins to shake. It is the start of Krypton’s destruction. Without hesitating Jor-El lunges at the craft, sliding in his command key while within we hear the cries of a baby. Lara leaps to attack Zod, who calmly shoots her.


(Watching as Lara dies) I still love you

Jor-El cries out in rage, but it is already too late. Lara reaches up as the small ship blasts out of the building. Zod turns his weapon on the ship, managing to hit one of its engines before it zooms away into the sky.


Is he safe?


He is safe, our son is safe.

Zod lifts his communicator.

Capture that ship. Do not destroy it. There is a child on board.

From his communicator, one of his officers replies.

It is too late, it has already jumped to hyperspace (not sure if they call it hyperspace in Superman cannon, for that matter I neither know nor care too much about the lore of Superman for the purpose of this re-write. My apologies to the fans)


(looking down at the striken Jor-El, kneeling by his wife.) You were not issued breading rights Jor-El. I see you treat all our laws with equal disrespect.

Around them the room rocks and cracks appear.


Laws mean nothing now, Zod.


Sir, we should leave. Send him to the Zone. We must return to the ship.

Zod looks at his commander and then switches off the dimensional device.


No. His punishment is complete. He stays. I want that ship, commander. I want that child. (turning back to Jor-El.) do you hear that? I will find your son, and I will make him my own. It seems you were right after all. A pity you must now die with the planet you failed to save.


My son is beyond your reach Zod.


Nothing is beyond my reach

An entire wall falls away from his laboratory, revealing the destruction of the world. The Tor-An pulls Zod away and they leave Jor-El alone with the body of his wife. On the ship Zod watches the planet implode. He asks his chief scientist.


Did you track it’s destination?


Roughly. It was headed somewhere in the Theta quadrant.


Set course.


But sir, there are over three million habitable planets and…


(furious) Don’t tell me the numbers. I have lived for five centuries. If it takes fifty years I will not rest. The codex holds the locations of the colonies. Jor-El thought they were our only hope. (He looks back at the destroyed Krypton, now a ball of flame surrounded by a ring of debris.) Perhaps in that too, he was right.

Cut to earth.

Now this is the other bit I really liked in Man of Steel. Great idea to start with Superman already grown up. And likewise, we see him working on a fishing boat, saving people from oil rigs etc. But instead of traveling aimlessly, he periodically takes out a necklace, holding up the same command key we saw Jor-El use to set the escape pod flying. Cupped in his palm Clark closes his eyes then seems to decide he is closer to his destination. We follow Clark on his journey north. Now he is in a bar in Alaska. He hears a reporter, Lois Lane, talking on her phone about a cordoned-off area — that the military has already flown in their top scientist, Lex Luther to investigate. Clark again takes out the necklace and holds it up. Now we flash back to the day he got it.

Clark is young, and having just been beaten by some bullies, Jonathan takes him into the barn and shows him the small pod they found him in.


I saw it break up. A ball of flame, I thought we were dead, and then we found you. Instead of death, life. This is the way the world works, son. Its often in the moment of defeat that the greatest victory is achieved.

Jonathan opens the small pod and takes out the key of dark metal, explaining that it is not from earth. (some of the dialogue from Man of Steel is great — especially all of Kevin Costner’s)

Back to the bar, and Clarke is still holding his necklace in hand, and doesn’t realise that Lois is there, asking for a drink.


Oh, sure. Sorry. (he tucks away the metal pendant.)


From an old girlfriend, right? ( Clark smiles.)


(poring drinks)Something like that.

*I also liked the bit with the redneck taunting Clark, and we follow the next few scenes of the film with Lois going up into the snow.

Lois follows the stranger she sees through her camera into the hills and down the ice tunnel. There she finds Clark in front of a small three-man ship, buried in the ice. Earlier we hear the scientist say that it was revealed in the melting glacier, no more than thirty years old.


You again?


(with a finger to his lips) Shhhh

Winking at her, Clark pulls the small ship free and leaps away with it.. Lois freaks out, just as the army and their top scientist, Lex Luther arrive.

Now Clark returns home to Kansas with the ship. It is very broken, but he manages to get enough working that a flickering image of Jor-El speaks to him. But Clark does not know this stranger, and the hologram is on a broken loop, telling him nothing. Martha Kent appears behind him.


So you found what you were looking for?


(frustrated) No.


Can’t you fix it?


No. I need a scientist. And not one from this planet.


Come inside, son. The news said there was a tornado coming.


I’ll be fine.


I know you will be. I was thinking about me.

Flashback to the Kent’s driving and Clark and Jonathan arguing. Then the tornado comes. But instead of young Clark watching his father die, this time Martha takes him by the shoulders.


I don’t care what he said, Just save him.

Clark nods, and rushing in he pulls his father from the tornado. People point, but he doesn’t care. He saved his father. But in the excitement, Jonathan has a heart attack. Now Clark can’t do anything but watch him die. He screams, and runs away.

Back to the present, Clark looks up at his old mother, and agrees to come inside.


So what are you going to do now then son?

On the tv there some news report of war. Clark watches it for a moment, then  smiles.


What Dad said I shouldn’t do.


Your father was stubborn as an ox with his head caught is fence. You do what you feel is right, Clark. That is all any of us can do. Think about it too much and you’ll always turn yourself in circles finding reasons to do nothing at all.

On the TV we see now an old-school Flash Gordon episode. Clark grins.


I think I have to help people.


And what about the government. What will they do when you start running around doing their job for them?


I think they might already know, mum. A reporter saw me. When I found the ship


No, she just saw a man.


She saw more than that. If she learns who I am, you won’t ever be left alone. I can’t protect you and save the world. (he puts his head in his hands, obviously despairing at the thought of what might change.)


So you can be a farmer after all. (She grins, knowing how foolish it sounds)


But what will people do, mum? Forget the government. It was what dad was always scared of – how it will change things. People aren’t ready for it.


(taking the remote control and flicking the channel back to the news) So you play god either way? You decide we are children, or trust us to grow up.


But I don’t know what will happen, I don’t know what everyone will do.

Martha watches the silent news show images of war and crime.


People might start to hope again, son.

Then she flicks the channel back to Flash Gordon. Clarke smiles.


I guess you’d better get out your sewing machine, mum. I’m going to need a costume.


You’re going to need a job first. And a place to stay. Most suspicious thing in the world is an unemployed thirty three year old living with his mother.

They both laugh.

Act 2: ten. (Follow on.)

We are in metropolis, and we see a man looking at the classifieds, many job openings are circled in red. We see one that reads ‘New media reporter.’ He seems unable to deal well with the crowds, and bumps his way along the street. Then he stupidly steps into the path of a truck. Suddenly he is woodshed to safety by a stranger, who smiles as he helps him to his feet. The truck, meanwhile has careened into the pylon of an overhead rail line.


You okay?

Clark places the man he saved on the ground



Clark smiles then sees the man’s paper and the circled jobs. He looks up at the building they are in front of. The daily planet. Then the pylon of the rail falls down in a crash of concrete.


Perhaps we should leave the job hunting today?

The man nods, then Clark dashes away. He pulls open his shirt, revealing a homemade costume. In homage to the old cartoons it is the original shield design. Superman leaps up (note the leap he cannot fly yet. He is only just working out his powers and this is another homage to the old cartoons, silver age superman has strength and heat vision, but nothing else.) After this we see a quick montage of Superman saving people. Rescuing them from burning buildings. Etc. His suit is noticeably torn and patched. Intercut with these scenes are those of Martha re-sewing the s design and mending the cape.

We also see small scenes of Lois, still trying to comprehend what she saw in the snow. She is trying to link it to a bigger story. Perry warns her that she cannot write stories about caped crusaders – this isn’t Gotham.

Cut to space. Inside the ship we see Zod and his generals, none look to have aged a day. Behind them in the command room is a huge sparkling chunk of Kryptonite.


Sir, I just picked up a signal from a class five planet in sector eight. Warp signal. It is the ship.


Do a full spectrum scan. I want everything.

Back on earth we follow Lois as she tries to understand this mystery man dressed in a suit. Ignoring Perry, she writes article after article, and reports are in the news of the new Superman.

Meanwhile Clark is still living at home, we see him running back to Kansas dressed in his suit.


Find a job yet?


I have a job.


You can’t keep going like this. You have to have a normal life too.

Clark laughs scathingly.


Now you want me to settle down? Every day there are more people who need me. And it’s not just here, other countries, other people. They all need me.


I need you too, you know.

There is silence.


Other countries? Really? Don’t tell me you can fly now, son?


(laughing). Water acts like concrete if you hit it fast enough. I’m pretty fast.


(frowning) So you’re walking on water then? Careful, you know what that reporter from the Planet will say about that. (Both laugh.) Seriously though, you have to limit yourself. Chose the battles to fight, the ones worth fighting.


You mean the ones I can win?


(concerned) No. The ones worth trying — worth dying for.


(laughing darkly). I don’t think I can die, mother.


(angry now, takes Clark’s face in her hands) Don’t ever say that. Of course you can. You might be different, might be from another world, but you’ve grown up just like a normal boy. You can die, Clark, and one day you will. It’s what you do with your time that matters. Leave the cats in the trees for the police, and the international relations for the UN. You stick to heavy lifting.

Clark looks at his mother, and then hold out his suit.


Another hole in the cape?


Damn thing catches on everything.


Yes, but it makes you look so dashing.

Act 3 – Ket (the twist)

They are interrupted by a news report. There is a huge meteor heading for Metropolis.

News anchor

Our top scientists with the pentagon, Lex Luther, has confirmed that it is roughly half a kilometre in diameter, and weights more than three thousand tones. The TV shows an image of a huge rock spinning through space.

Lex Luther

This is what I have been warning about for years. We must put more funding into Norad. There are Dangers out there that we are blind to…

Clark turns off the tv.


I have to go, he says.


Of course you do.

She hands back his suit. Like a bullet Superman rushes across America. The asteroid is already in the sky, and he picks up his speed, zooming across desert and water towards Metropolis where the meteor is headed. Superman leaps up to the top of a building, while we stay on a tv in the window of a shop in the deserted street.

News reporter

Scientists have calculated that by the time the meteor has broken up in the atmosphere it will weigh no more than 14 tones yet according to Doctor Luther, this will….

At the top of the building Superman sees the asteroid. With a giant leap that is almost flying he rockets up towards the flaming ball of rock, smashing it to pieces with his fist and blasting the debris to slag with his heat vision. A rain of ash and larva splashes down on the city, and Superman falls unconscious, into the street. (homage to the Donner films)

The few people left in the city stand around the hole, pointing, taking photos.

Military is already there, and they approach, forcing the people back. But before they can do anything, a huge form in armoured suit falls down into the hole.

It is the giant, Tor-An and he takes hold of Superman’s body and leaps back into the air, rocketing away on boosters set into his powered suit.

Inside Zod’s ship, Superman awakens, sees Zod and his generals and one other Kryptonian – a scientist. He strains at his bonds and the metal twists but does not break


Bring me a shard! We are still too close to their sun. His strength lingers.

Faora brings a glowing chunk of kryptonite and places it on Superman’s chest. He tries to pull away as if it will burn him.


Relax, that is part of your birth planet. It will not harm you – only slow you down to the rate you were meant to live. There will be no pain.

Behind zod there is a screen showing the tv broadcasts of earth and the meteor. With a wave of his hand, the screens go blank. Out the window Zod regards the sun.


Such strength. Such power. Such a waste.

With the chunk of kryptonite on his chest, Superman relaxes into his bonds.


Where am I?


With friends, son of Jor-El. I am Zod, Genera Zod. And these are the last survivors of planet Krypton. The place where you were born.


You knew my father?


Yes. And your mother. We served together on the small council.


Are you taking me there?

Zod laughs, as do the other Kryptonians.


That rock on you chest and the other hanging behind me, are all that is left of Krypton.

Zod gestures to the huge hunk of crystal suspended behind him. He then explains how he tried to aid Jor-El to save the planet from destruction, but failed. He also explains how the shards of Kryptonite sap his strength.

Zod (cont.)

You see, we are not meant to be gods our here amongst the lesser stars. Our world was an ancint world. Our people shaped by eons of hardship. We grew strong. Immortal. And then we explored the galaxy, only to find we had become as gods. The light of stars like this speed us up, turning our longevity to supreme power. Those colonists who left the sacred heart of our home world grew arrogant in their power. They did not long survive, for such strength had its price. How old do you think I am, Son of Jor-El?


I do not know. 40, maybe 50 years old.


Years. (laughs) The turning of this planet around the star. In these terms I have lived for almost one thousand years, and as long as I stay within the influence of this fragment of our once mighty planet, I can hope to live for one thousand more. You however, were a babe the last time I saw you, and already you are a man entering the last stage of your life.

With a wave of his hand, zod makes the restrains release superman. He gets to his feet. Zod smiles, and tells the female commander to get him refreshments. She leaves, after smiling suggestively at superman.


Faora likes you. Of course, you are a child still, so the notion is disgusting, but evolution does make its demands, and we are helpless to resist.

Superman looks uncomfortable, then she returns and hands him a drink. Superman drinks deeply and seems surprised at how delicious it is.


See, you are one of us. What should I call you, son of Jor-El? Superman? This is what the earth people call you, is it not?


Clark. My parents called me Clark.


An earth name. From earth parents. We must chose for you a proper Kryptonian name.


You said you knew my parents, knew me as a child. Didn’t you know my name?


Alas, you were sent to the stars before you were named. It is an oversight that your Father would be happy for me to remedy.


Tell me about him.


In time. (he smiles and places his hand on Superman’s shoulder.) First we must find an artefact that your father sent with you to escape the destruction.

Zod explains how he needs the Crystal Skull, for it is a repository of all the knowledge of the doomed planet. Amongst the information are the coordinates of all the Lost Colonies. Zod intends to finish the work Jor-El had planed.


Your father wanted to travel to the colonies – he hoped, as I do now, to find the remnants of our people. Perhaps, somewhere out there, our people survived.


Crystal Skull?


Yes. It was in your ship. I had hoped you knew where it was?


I found my ship – but it was damaged. There was no Skull. Nothing like that at all.

Zod, seeing that he is telling the truth, nods and looks down at the planet.


I had hoped to save these people from the shock of our existence. This is the reason we located you the way we did.


The Meteor?

Zod (smiling)

 You have your father’s wits. Yes, we have been monitoring the communications of this planet as we approached. We needed a way to draw you out.


By sending a rock crashing towards Metropolis? You could have killed thousands!


I was counting on you having your mother’s strength.


So you just want this skull – this codex, and then you will leave?


Of course I would ask you to come with us on our mission, but I understand how you must feel. Connected to this place. It is a consequence of your strength. Those that are beneath you give you an obligation of servitude.

*Note on Kishōtenketsu. What Zod is doing here is calling into question Superman’s very nature and purpose. This is not conflict, per say, more a philosophical argument, and as I have mentioned before, Kishōtenketsu lends itself perfectly to the notion of a debate. This is the single biggest mistake they made with Man of Steel, and led to the inevitable confrontation between Zod and Superman that lead to murder. Such a waste.

Zod, seeing he has awoken new purpose in Superman continues.


Your father sewed the seeds of our re-birth in you.

Zod walks up and points at the worn S on Superman’s chest.


(Cont.) You must have seen this symbol on your ship? Do you know what it means?


The papers say it stands for Super.


No, it was your father’s emblem. The house of El. It means hope.

Superman still looks hesitant.


I apologise for the brutish nature of drawing you out. I am a General bred for war. My methods are often crude. We need men like you, men of peace. Tell me, where is your ship so that we may bring it here and see if we can find a clue to the location of the codex.






Not where, who. Lex Luther. He is a Scientist working with the military. He was the one who found my ship. Though now that I think about it, I found it. They must have found something else near by. The codex, perhaps.


So this Human, Lex of the house of Luther has the Skull?


Or knows where it is. Give me a craft so that I can return. I will find him. I will explain.

Zod considers this.


And the ship itself. Where is that?


I told you it is half ruined…


You fear my intentions? You are still trying to protect your world from my influence. Fear not. It is for this very reason that I must recover all the technology of Krypton before we leave. It is not for these mortals to tinker with. Who knows what danger they will wield with our weapons – who knows what terrors they have already dreamed up. I can only hope they have not uncovered the secrets of the Codex. It might already be too late.

Zod gives orders to his generals to retrieve the codex from Luther. He then turns to Superman.


I can help you. I can…


You already have. I think you must take the time necessary to think on all I have said – on what you will do.


But I can help you talk to Luther – help you make the government see that you are no threat.


You know little of the minds of men – even having lived as one. They will fear you, as they will me. They will see you as spy, not saviour. It is better you stay dead.



Zod waves a hand over a screen where a news report appears. A reporter stands before the smouldering hole caused by superman’s fall. The headline reads. ‘Man of Steel no more.’


See, I have given an end to your short lived life as their god. Let them turn you into myth. It is safer for them, and for you.

Faora returns, looking concerned.


Have you located the human?


We have.

The screen flickers to life, showing an interview between Lois Lane and Lex Luther. They are in a science facility that looks military, and Lois is interviewing Lex about the recent meteor and what the death of Superman means.


Come. Let us go at once.


(looking to Superman) and him?


Leave him. He has much to think about.

Both leave, and Superman, alone, turns to look down on the view of earth.

He notices a control panel and walks towards it, only to find it powered down, and unresponsive. He is holding the shard of Kryptonite, and he walks to the huge lump of it in the middle of the room, sliding it back amongst the many other crystalline shards. He returns to the controls, this time noticing that there is a small key-hole on the bench. He reaches up to his neck, drawing out the pendant attached to his necklace. He slides it into the control panel. At once the entire device comes alive. An image of a man flickers into life behind him.



Superman turns, and is startled by the image of his father.

He explains everything. How he died, how his mother died. He explains how he was born – a natural son to a world ruled by genetic laws that defined a man’s destiny from before he was even conceived. He tells him his true name.

Then Warning lights start to flash.


Quickly son, my presence in their system has been discovered. You must leave this place. Zod will not suffer these people to live if they have accessed the information in the codex. It was to keep it from men like him that I sent the skull with you in the first place.


Leave, how? Do you have a ship?


(Smiling.) You don’t need a ship, son. Not here. But you could do with a new suit.

A panel opens on one wall and within is a proper Kryptonian suit. Superman walks towards it, and as he touches it the emblem changes from that of Zod, to the ‘S’ of house El.


It knows who you are, son. Now go.

We cut to outside the huge command ship, and suddenly an entire wall of the craft erupts in flame. From it flies Superman, and he rockets towards earth. He cannot control his flight and he plummets through the atmosphere, faster and faster. He is heading for the ground, and at the past minute he pulls up and is flying.

Act 4: su (synthesis)

Superman flies to the military base, and breaks his way into the compound past security forces who are helpless to stop him though they set everything they can against him. He demands to see Lex Luther, head scientist of the secret tech division. He explains that he is in grave danger.

The commander of the military reluctantly agrees to take him, once superman points out that he cannot be stopped. Then the commander takes out a gun, and shoots superman. Superman tries to catch the bullet, but it cuts deep into his hand. Superman tries to get up, but the commander keeps shooting. More bullets hit, but Superman’s suit manages to deflect them.


(shouting as he quickly puts a new clip into his pistol) They told me you might come. Guess they weren’t lying about these new bullets.

Superman flees, and using his x-ray vision, tracks down the secret laboratory of Luther. On the way he manages to pull out the kryptonite bullet from his hand where it lodged in his palm. He flings it away, and the wound quickly heals.

He throws open the heavy steel door to Luther’s lab, only to find the esteemed scientist happily in talks with General Zod. Lois Lane sits between Faora and Tor-An, her crew terrified in one corner and Luther’s scientists in another.


Whatever they have promised you is a lie!

Lex Luther

(laughing) I liked you better in tights. And they have not promised anything. They have already given me more than I could have ever hoped.

Superman looks to Zod, who is calmly watching things progress, the crystal Skull safely in his hand.

Superman. (To Luther)

Then he will take it away as quickly as he gave it. I know who he is now. He will not let you keep whatever he gave you for the skull.


(patting a small Kryptonian box) He has given me knowledge, the only gift that cannot be taken away, that makes both giver and receiver the richer in the transaction. But what would you know of such things? You have lived here for what? Thirty years? Not once coming forward and revealing the truth to the rest of us. Not once sharing the knowledge or technology of your world. Think of the lives you could have saved,Superman.

Luther waves at the room about him, all the pieces of technology, all the scientists under his control.

Luther cont.

And now imagine what I can achieve. Humanity is on the cusp of greatness, and you would have me throw it away.


Leave us, Clark. You have nothing else to offer.


Call me Kal-El. That is my true name.


Very well, Kal-El. Leave us. Your time on earth has come to an end. These men do not need us now, is this not so?

He turns to Lois Lane, who, realising she is being addressed quickly nods in agreement. Many more military men arrive, all pointing weapons at Superman. The commander keeps his pistol aimed squarely at Superman’s head.

Lois Lane

I’ve already written your obituary. You should go. Go now

Superman looks at the box Luther holds greedily. With his x-ray vision he spies within, to see that it is a a bomb. He looks back at Zod, and realises that the General does not yet guess the extent of Superman’s powers.


What did he tell you was in there, Luther?


(Looking nervous at the question.) Information. Knowledge. Coded in a language our computers can comprehend. With it we can build star ships, travel the solar system – the galaxy.


And you believed him?


This is a man of science, Kal-El – much like your father. I did not expect him to hand over the skull on faith alone. I showed him a small trick with energy. That is all.

Luther points to a scientist who brings up a model of a molecule.


See? (turning to Lois Lane) This will be your next article Miss Lane. How Lex Luther brought unlimited energy to the nations of the world. It will be like the dark ages never happened; there will be a new renaissance on earth. And I shall lead all nations into an era of peace and prosperity.


See, you are not needed any more, Kal-El. Come back with me, and you shall be welcome at my side, a brother in arms as we restore our own people to greatness.


Like I said, Luther – you believe this madman?

Lex looks angry now. He stands, and goes to open the box. Zod and his officers get up, making for the door.


No, Luther, don’t – it’s a bomb!

Luther does not hesitate as the other Kryptonians flee, Faora dragging Lois Lane along with her.

Superman rushes at Lex, swiping the box from his hand just as it detonates. He embraces the explosion, smothering the blast with his body. The military men and the scientists are obliterated in the huge eruption of radiation. Luther cries out, but Superman shielded him from most of the energy – his hair, however, has been burned away.

Superman blasts his way outside. And now we can have a battle with Faora and Tor as Zod takes Lois Lane with him into the ship and flies away. Faora and Tor battle Kal-El across the desert – Superman draws them away from cities. Faora finally gets a communication from Zod, and with one last look at Superman, rockets away, Tor-An quickly following.

Superman has no choice but to do his huge leap after them, powered by his own flight, and not by rockets like the other two.

Back on Zod’s ship, Superman finds his way into the command room where Zod holds Lois Lane by the throat. At his side is the flickering image of Jor-El. The hologram looks to Superman and tries to call out to him as Zod presses a button and deletes the stored consciousness of Jor-El.


It seems your father left one final obstacle for me. Luckily I had the foresight to keep one of your precious humans.


I told you he looked favourably on her.

Zod keeps his eyes on Superman.


Let her go and I will do whatever you want.

Zod holds out the crystal skull.


One drop of blood, Kal-El – that is all.

Superman looks confused, then allows the scientist to draw out a small vial of blood with a syringe. This close to the huge piece of Kryptonite the needle slides in easily. The scientist hands the vial of blood to Zod, who releases Lois. Faora steps forward, taking hold of the reporter.

Zod lets a drop of blood fall on the crystal skull. Nothing happens.

He grows furious. He turns on the scientist.


You told me it was locked to his genetic code.


It is! You saw me retrieve that information from the copy of Jor-El yourself.


Bring him back for questioning!


I cannot—you deleted him completely from our system


(to Tor-An) Take him.

Superman allows the giant Kryptonian to hold him as Zod approaches. He holds out the skull.


Touch it.

Superman reaches out a hand to the crystal skull, and it starts to pulse with light. Suddenly Superman is flung away by a blast of energy from the skull as it disintegrates – evaporating and streaming into him.



Furiously he clutches at the vanishing tendrils of energy, but he is too late. They are gone. The skull is completely within Superman now.

Zod lifts Superman from the floor – he is half conscious, and cannot focus.


(screaming) Tell me! Where are the colonies – what are the coordinates?

Zod slaps Kal-El, waking him. Superman focuses on the General.


(turning to Faora) tear off fingers until he speaks.

Faora takes hold of Lois Lanes index finger.


Wait. I’ll tell you everything. Just promise you will go.


(regaining composure)

In the end you have remembered your mother’s honour. I will go; you have my word.

Superman looks confused. He closes his eyes.


It is hard. I cannot tell you. I can see. I must show you.


(to his commanders) Ready the ship! Ready the engines. (turning back to Superman) Show me then, Kal-El. Show me the first colony world. Program my ship to go to each in order. Only then will I let your human go.

Superman stumbles to the control panel. He begins to rapidly type on the Kryptonian keyboard. Star Charts and maps appear on the screen. One planet is singled in. Zod stands before the view, smiling.


We do not have enough energy to make a jump that far.


Frustrated.) How long will it take to drain this planet’s core?




(Laughing) Silence. You will be allowed to live. Be thankful.


If I start now, it will take perhaps five of their years to build up the capacity.

Zod swears in kryptonian, and strikes the feeble scientist. He flies against the wall, and does not get up.

Tor-An goes to investigate, leaving Superman standing alone. He prods the scientist’s limp body, then looks back at Zod


You killed him.


He was a fool. We do not need him now.


Sir, perhaps if we take a smaller craft.


Yes. Prepare one at once. (turning to Tor-An and gesturing to Superman and Lois) bring them..

All thee kryptonians along with Superman and Lois enter a smaller ship. Superman programs the coordinates into the computer.


Now we will see what remains of our people.

At his side Faora’s eyes sparkle in anticipation.


What will we find?


Our destiny. Ships, weapons. Survivors. We will liberate them, and then we will begin again, stronger than before. No weak minded scientist to muddy our stock, only warriors.

Faroa smiles whilst Superman finishes setting the coordinates. Ahead a swirl of space opens in a crackle of energy. Zod and his generals step forward, eagerly looking down on the planet they see a glimpse of through the small hole.


Quickly now, before it closes.

At the controls, Faora pushed forwards, and Superman is left for a moment alone with Lois.


Hold your breath.



Without waiting, Superman wraps his arms about Lois and uses his heat vision to blast the back of the ship away. Zod cries out in rage, but is too late. The small craft vanishes into the hole in space that closes seamlessly after it.

Superman, with Lois in his arms, speeds back to the command craft. She collapses from his arms, breathing deeply and coughing onto the floor.


(panicking) How soon can they return?

Superman looks calmly out into the darkness of space.


I don’t know. I think, perhaps never.


Never? How? Where did they go?


When I touched the skull, it was like I lived an entire life. My father was there, teaching me. My mother too. She was better at explaining. (he smiles with the memory)


We have to warn earth – we have to prepare. Zod will return, that is what his kind always do – return worse than before and twice as mad.

Superman turns to Lois.

Not this time. Father showed me the place to send them. It is a place called the Phantom Zone – it is not one of the Colonies – It is hard to explain. It is in another dimension, and from their side they cannot return. Ever.

Lois calms, and looks out on earth.

So where are these colonies then?


You're looking at the only one that survived. Earth. It was why I was sent here. To help guide people, to try and make sure you do not make the same mistakes that destroyed my world.


So you saved the world?


Looks like you will have to bring me back from a premature death, Miss Lane.



We see Zod’s ship land in Antarctica, and Superman using his heat vision to melt it into the snow. This will be his fortress. We see Luther recovering in hospital, one of the Commander’s kryptonite bullets in his hand, his face scared from the blast. We see Superman return to Martha, putting his old ruined suit in a box and into the old attic. Mother and son embrace.

Then we can end with Clark getting a job at the daily planet. This final scene from The Man of Steel was the only other thing I’d keep. The line ‘welcome to the planet’ was great.

Run credits.

And that’s it. This really did turn into an epic post. Almost 8,000 words all done. I can’t believe you read this far. Sorry for any spelling/grammar mistakes – didn’t have time to draft. I’d write a summary of the main Kishōtenketsu plot points, but I really am too tired now.

Until next time.