Most of our characters are sociopaths

I’ve recently watched a movie review by Stefan Molyneux. While Stefan is a philosopher who uses internet to spread his ideas and insights about out culture, gender roles and numerous other topics, he took the time to review the movie World War Z.

The movie is based on the book World War Z by Max Brooks. I read it multiple times. It represents a fascinating look into human nature and what happens when humanity is faced with a situation that is too strange and horrifying to accept. While the book is excellent, the movie has its weak points but as Stefan points out, still worth to watch.
While his review concentrates on the zombie horde being a metaphor for modern anti-intellectualism, I found his analysis of the main character, played by Brad Pitt, to be far more interesting.

Brad Pitt’s character starts as a warm and kind family man with but a hint of his previous occupation (UN agent of some sort). Fast forward five minutes and he find himself in the middle of a zombie infestation, dragging his family through fire and death, yet meticulously noticing details such as how long it takes for the infection to turn a human into a zombie or noticing that feeble people don’t get bitten. He shoots people, hacks off their hands, meets a family¬† which he leaves behind to be eaten alive, fights hordes of zombies… and in the end of the film he’s still the same warm family man as he was in the beginning.

In his video, Stefan explains (would like to say ‘reminds’ but sadly I cannot) that for a man to see and perform such horror and then to have no emotional trauma to speak of is completely sociopathic behavior. But as consumers of modern entertainment we’ve grown so used of this that we (myself included) do not even notice how unrealistic this all actually is.

Yes, it’s fiction. Yes, it’s fantasy. We’re talking about a movie with walking corpses after all. But the point of it all is to provide an experience for the reader/viewer that he/she can relate to. And the protagonist’s main role (apart from driving the story) is to be the access point to the story. The main character is our eyes and ears and nose into the strange and wonderful world of fiction. If anyone needs to be believable, it’s the main character.

What I’m trying to say is perhaps as creators of stories, we need to take a long hard look at what we’re used to and what is reality. Modern entertainment is so full of violence that we have become jaded to it. The point of good fiction is not to dull our senses. It’s to provide an experience that would otherwise be out of our reach of possibilities.

This also got me thinking about old/ancient cultures. While they might not have developed the same level of psychology and self-awareness as we have today (or did they?), they were definitely familiar with the mental and emotional strain trauma can cause.

I’ve read recently that medieval texts describe symptoms in European knights that could be interpreted as post-traumatic stress disorder (though I prefer the World War I period phrase: shell-shock). I’ve also heard that medieval Christian knights went through years of training which also included study of piety and humility. In other words, an education about what makes humans humane.

A great example of this in fiction is The Last Samurai. In the film, the leader of the Samurai would charge into battle mindless of his self-preservation, deal death and mutilation, and yet he will spend hours each day meditating, writing poetry, discussing the warrior code bushido which dictates compassion, selflessness and human dignity.
Why did all these warrior cultures take such efforts to teach their warriors about how to control their demons? Because when they were not warriors, they still had to be functional members of society. Each knight/samurai/warrior still had to be a husband, a father and possibly (though in extreme warrior societies not necessarily) a craftsman producing his goods.

These ancient cultures understood the emotional strain of trauma and prepared as well as possible to ameliorate the after-effects.

Human beings are not killing machines as modern film industry has made us believe. If we are to write realistic fiction and let our readers immerse themselves into flesh and blood characters, this must be taken into account. Unless our characters are in fact sociopaths (and some of them are), we need to treat them as emotional beings we need them to be.

Why the word ‘talent’ should be led out back and shot in the head

The single most enraging thing about the word ‘talent’ (and its bastard brother ‘gift’) is that people believe it simply happens. Some of us are just born with it. We perform effortlessly. We create flawlessly. We were gifted by the Almighty himself or by Momma Nature herself. It makes us arrogant, doesn’t it? To have this talent, to be gifted without any effort whatsoever.

Well, allow me to tell you that such people are morons. All offense intended.

To me, “talent” is a word equivalent to “magic” and “vodoo”. And there’s another word for all three of these.

“Superstition”.

What these people cannot comprehend is that what they see us do wasn’t instantaneous for us.

I think you’ll remember us if you think back at your youth. We used to be those weird kids that no one wanted to play with. We were called mean names, often ignored or downright walked over. So we learned to keep to ourselves. We had time to spare, used it to for weird things like writing, drawing, rubbing some strange piece of wood or fingering a metal tube of some kind. And we got good at it. 20 years later, those same people that called us names and walked over us look at our achievements and sigh: “I wish I were as talented as you.”

Excellent. Here’s a fool-proof way of becoming exactly like me:

1. Lock yourself in a room.

2. See you in 20 years.

Here’s a message to those loud sighers: talent is not something one finds while taking a stroll. Nor does it fall from the sky and hit you in the head. You are not born with it.

You build it.

It’s not magic.

It’s practice.

It’s experience.

It’s skill.

Why doesn’t anyone say that line to a successful and well-off professional? A lawyer? An accountant? Did an engineer take a dog for a walk one rainy day and got struck by a flash of talent?

Well, no. These people went to school, worked their asses off to get a degree, a Masters, a PhD, then worked low-paid junior positions until they clawed their way up to their current set of skills and experiences. Leaving a trail of sweat, tears and blood in their wake.

You think a writer’s life is any easier?

How about a painter’s? Sculptor’s perhaps?

Maybe a musician’s life is somehow easier, who knows. Those string and keys don’t look that complicated to me.

You think we don’t know hardship?

You think we don’t know struggle?

The word ‘talent’ devalues our work, our skill. Our soul.

That single word throws a handful of dung at our sacrifice.

Talent is only used by people who are not willing to admit they were wrong for walking over us in school.

Talent is used by people who are terrified of the thought of living for a purpose higher than their basic selfish needs.

Well, if you ask me, ‘talent’ can go fuck itself. I’m not ‘gifted’.

I’m skilled.

And tomorrow I’ll get skilled some more.

Plot predictions: Vikings

I’ve been a fan of the Vikings series from the get go. I love the historical period that is so often overlooked. I love the character development the series offers. I love the rather bizzare intertwining of myth and fact that would never’ve worked in other shows. I even love how the creators used their limited budget as a way to show how small in scale these dark-age realms were. It’s safe to say Vikings is one of the top three favourite shows of mine.

As a writer, I suffer from a terrible condition: if a story becomes a part of my reality, even if it’s not originally created by me, I will expand and develop it on my own. One of the results is I will start to predict what could be the possible outcome of the current situation. It would be strange if I didn’t anticipate the upcoming episodes of Vikings.

Preview of 4th season until now: the raid on Paris had kept the inter-character aggression in a latent stage. But now, with winter almost done, old feuds are re-emerging.

The players: Kalf is ambitious but seems to be content at the moment because he’s won over Lagertha. Erlendur is driven by blood vengeance against Ragnar and all his family but is too weak by himself to pose any serious threat. While Kalf and Erlendur grow supressed intentions to attack Ragnar, they have been laying low for the time.

Meanwhile, Ragnar seems to be making enemies in his own camp.

Floki is an agent of the old Norse ways. The recent punishment by Ragnar for killing Athelstan suggests Ragnar is willing to forsake the old ways, though he cannot do it openly as he would undoubtedly lose the support of his people (I honestly find it strange that Floki has no supporters as he is supposed to be atune to the will of the old gods).

Ragnar is also at a discord with his wife and queen, Aslaug. She is another potent character who despies Christianity and is willing to spill blood to stop its spread. The connection between Floki in Aslaug has been amplified by her giving her youngest son to Floki for schooling.

And now enters a new foe: Harald. A charismatic and ambitious follower of the old ways, he seems to be Aslaug’s spurned suitor of old. Here is a man equal to Ragnar in cunning, ambition and ferocity.

With Harald’s arrival, it now makes sense for Ragnar and Aslaug to feud (from the story’s perspective). If Harald were to arrive with Aslaug happily in love with Ragnar, she would’ve dismissed him with a smile and a pat on the head. But now, with Ragnar and Aslaug in discord, Harald’s arrival means a very serious threat to Ragnar. If Harald is willing to spare Ragnar’s sons, he would get no objections from Aslaug if he were to overthrow her husband.

If Harald is willing to abide to the old ways (judging from his appearence, he is), he would also be able to acquire Floki’s support. And if Harald is a resourceful man (which no doubt he is), he would seek further support from other foes of Ragnar. This means Erlendur and Kalf.

Harald. Aslaug. Floki. Erlendur. Kalf. This is starting to become quite the conspiracy.
Who are Ragnar’s allies? His sons by Aslaug are children and cannot be expected to turn against their own mother. Only Bjorn and Lagertha remain. But Lagertha is dangerously exposed. She is sooner to become a hostage than an ally. I hate to say it but Lagertha might become this season’s casualty of war.
That leaves only Bjorn.

Bjorn might not be a friend to the Christians, but he would never turn against his father. As his oldest son, Bjorn’s own authority derives from Ragnar. He is no one to be trifled with, yet he is all that Ragnar now has. There’s already been an assassination attempt on him in the previous episode. Not one of the five players would hesitate to harm Bjorn: Kalf would kill him simply to make Lagertha more vulnerable; Erlendur hates Bjorn for taking Torvi from him; Aslaug feels no sympathy towards him; Bjorn publicly accused and condemned Floki in Ragnar’s name.

Since the Vikings series is roughly based on the Norse sagas, I believe Ragnar will meet his mythological end which does not include being foiled by a conspiracy. However, I’m certain the 4th season will be nerve-wrecking for many of us.

Daniel Craig’s James Bond: the greatest love story ever told (spoiler alert)

Every actor added something of his own to this familiar womanizing saviour of the (Western) world. I’ve seen quite a few of the old Bond films but would be lying to say that I was a fan of the franchise. That is, until Daniel Craig picked up the mantle. With him, the Bond franchise took a very peculiar turn. Of course, it wasn’t just the actor himself. It was also the producers, the screewriters, the directors who wanted to abandon the overly-used model and try something new. A risky gamble but a gamble well worth it in my opinion.

Daniel Craig has portrayed James Bond in four movies. All four act to deliver a single story (and character) arc. There’ve been clues in all four movies that his nemesis is a single entity, one that has been pulling the strings for a very long time.

The arc began with Vesper, a woman James falls in love because he’s impressed with her mind as well as her looks. In the end of Casino Royale, we can see that James genuinely loved Vesper and wanted to spend his life with her. Her death led to his quest of learning who was behind it.
This is how a man of action mourns his lover: by hunting down those responsible for her death. In Quantum of Solace, James is still in the early phase of mourning: he drinks heavily, he doesn’t sleep and he takes a very depressing view of the world. Above all, he follows the clues and eventually comes to the man who played Vesper into betraying James and had led to her death.

It seems his only reason of staying with MI6 is because this gives him data and resources to help in his hunt. He’s not working for MI6; MI6 is working for him. This would imply that James feels no sense of loyalty to MI6 or to M. But in Skyfall, James gets a chance to walk away from his double-0 life. He stays invisible for a time before he eventually returns to the fort. His reason: MI6 is under attack. While James fails the physical tests, M reinstates him anyway, going with her gut feeling that he is what the organization needs to survive. The film puts a lot of effort into showing that James cares about M and that M cares about James. While not romantic in nature, it is a very deep affection. M’s death causes James more pain and more determination to stay with MI6 and continue with the hunt for the mastermind that is pulling the strings.

In Spectre, James gets to the end of the long trail and punishes the man who was killing his loved ones. This is the closure James needed. The film ends with him leaving MI6 (possibly for good) and his current life behind. Madeleine, the woman he meets and bonds with, is just as scarred by Spectre as he is. Her father, Mr. White, is nothing but a projection of James himself if he kept to his current way of life.

James Bond remains one of the manliest characters of all time, but Daniel Craig’s portrayal has managed to humanize him. He is no longer an arrogant, bullet-proof prick but a tangible, flawed, fragile and resilient human being. For that alone, he’s worthy of our attention.

Hello, my old friend…

I’m not big in new year’s resolutions but it did remind me that I haven’t touched this blog in a while. There were plenty of others things for me to do this year but next year is going to be different. The Tribal Wars novel has been going on for quite some time but now I can safely say it’s coming to a close. In view of that, I will be looking for publishing channels soon, conventional or otherwise.

Also, I realized there are significant benefits from writing a blog. Blog posts are short pieces of text but arranged just as carefully as stories. The writing/editting/proofing process is much faster. While my worldbuilding and writing skills are honed daily, my editting and proofing skills could use some sharpening up. Writing the blog will be doing exactly that.

Off we go…

Finally…

No, I don’t write the blog as often as I used to. At least I have a good reason for it.

 

Tribal Wars: Episode 1

 

The wordcount will jump a notch when I inevitably add some words of description but the main text is finished.

Next step: finding beta readers.

I write.

I now see why so few people ever become professional writers.

It’s not just about taking a seat and writing. It’s about sitting down day after day after day, tirelessly working on a large project until that project is finished.

There are days of laziness, days of apathy, days of doubt in one’s own craft. Days with a sense of powerlessness. And yet you sit down. You write. Afterwards, there will be a few more letters and words that haven’t been there yesterday. If you haven’t taken a seat, they wouldn’t be there now. It’s not much. But you sit down anyway. You start with a single letter.
Then you write a word.
Then a sentence.
A paragraph.
A scene.
A chapter.
And then you realize you’ve barely begun.
But you do it anyway.
You write.