I got into an argument with my cable service provider and ended up cancelling TV before the new season of The Walking Dead began. This bummed me out until I discovered I could buy episodes from Amazon and watch them on my Kindle Fire. Well… Well. After how disappointed I was in the last season, I was hesitant about watching this season. Marina kept talking about it and I am forever the optimist, so I’ve been keeping up.
And not digging it. Not at all.
Rule Number One (and the only rule that counts): Don’t be a bore.
Sorry, TWD, but this season is a wretched bore.
You writers have made an elementary mistake. You’ve mistaken situation for plot. I don’t care how interesting any particular situation might be, it can only hold a reader’s or viewer’s interest for so long. The zombies are a situation. Once you’ve killed a few thousand and had them kill a few dozen characters, nobody cares. They just aren’t that interesting.
What makes any story interesting is the drama. Drama comes from the characters. Boy, have you guys dropped the ball regarding TWD characters. Your second elementary mistakes lies in narrowing the individual stories to the situation. The characters are flat because the only thing they do is react to the zombies. Fine, we get it. Zombies bad. Kill or be killed. You’ve reduced the characters to survival mode, but survive for what? I wouldn’t want any of those sad sacks to attend my Christmas party. Last season you had some interesting conflicts playing out. Glenn and Maggie’s romance. Shane’s struggle with madness. Herschel’s hope for a cure. This season? Stick them in a prison. Big whoop. I had hopes for Andrea and Michon. But all Andrea is doing is playing mouthpiece and Michon just wanders around looking sullen. And the governor? Come on! Haven’t we seen this villain in just about every bad movie ever produced? The guy’s picture should be in the dictionary next to “Stereotype.”
I have a suggestion for you (that is, if you’re hoping for another season–if your real goal is to kill everybody off and the season finale will be a gray screen with THE END IS OVER, then ignore this post). If you want to salvage TWD, watch Faith.
Faith is a Korean fantasy-historical series. It has time travel and a mystic warrior and a king and queen and sword fights and martial arts and an annoying twit of a heroine and absurd sub-titles and gorgeous production values and wonderful costumes. Mostly what it has are incredible characters.
Every night for the past week I’ve been watching Faith on hulu.com. It’s riveting. I am caught up in the story. I am invested. Why? The characters.
As I said, the heroine is an annoying twit. She screams and whines and overacts and screws up and accidentally stabs people. She shouldn’t be likeable. Except… she wants to go home. She was kidnapped from the future and she doesn’t belong in ancient Korea. It frightens her. She doesn’t understand the culture. That’s kind of her strength, too. The other characters don’t understand her either and they either over- or under-estimate her. Annoying or not, she’s never boring.
And the hero? This is a guy with a story. What he wants is to honorably fulfill his obligations so he can retire peacefully. He’s suicidal, too, and you’d think that would make him a downer, but it’s a cultural thing and it doesn’t mean he’s depressed. It means that’s a reasonable option for him, which actually heightens suspense and causes genuine conflict between him and the heroine. Plus, he keeps making promises he is honor-bound to keep, so he’s in conflict with himself, too.
You want a villain? Watch a few episodes and meet Excellency Gi Cheo. That guy is evil. He’s also charming and sly and funny, and he tries to hide a huge weakness. He doesn’t just want power. He wants everything! If he can’t get it through the people, he’ll kill them all and get new people. If he can’t it through the king, then he’ll get a new king. And if heaven tells him no? Well, he’ll figure out a way to remake god. He’s fascinating to watch.
Faith knows how to use female characters. Strong, active female characters with their own stories, desires, goals and conflicts. A queen and a court lady and female warriors and an assassin and a drug dealer. The writers on this show aren’t afraid to give the females stories and big dreams and interesting things to do.
Know why viewers hated Lori? Because you bounced her around like an irritating puppet. What did she want? What was in her heart? Every time you worked up an interesting conflict for her, you solved it with a zombie attack.
So do yourselves and the fans of TWD a favor and watch Faith. pay attention to the characters. You’ll learn something.
Coming up with a Top Ten list is tough, especially in fantasy fiction. I made it easier on myself by only including writers who are alive and well and currently writing (Which is why Tolkien, Saberhagen, Bradbury and many, many more aren’t on this list.). Still tough and I’m leaving out many authors I enjoy, but a top 200 list is just too big to handle.
Steven Brust — Vlad Taltos, assassin, crime boss, witch, but a pretty nice guy nonetheless.
Jim Butcher — The Dresden Files, featuring Harry Dresden, wizard of Chicago; the Codex Alera, the rise of Tavi from shepherd to First Lord.
Suzanne Collins — I’m not a big fan of dystopian fantasies or young adult novels, but sheer skill as a storyteller and a compelling heroine, Katniss Everdeen, makes her Hunger Games trilogy one of my faves.
Larry Correia — accountant turned monster hunter, Owen Z. Pitt, becomes a member of Monster Hunters, International. His cast of characters, especially the very surprising Agent Franks, is the best.
Charles DeLint — Anything he writes, but especially the tales of Newford where the spirit world and reality often clash.
Charlie Huston — Joe Pitt is the best vampire ever! Dark, volent, funny, and romantic as hell.
Charlaine Harris — Sookie Stackhouse. Even though Ms. Harris deeply disappointed me with her last Sookie story, the overall series is still one of the funniest, and sexiest takes on vampire and werewolf mythology ever.
J.F. Lewis — Who’d a thought a grouchy, murderous, self-centered vampire like Eric could be such a charming hero?
Robin McKinley — Her writing is a dream, lush and lyrical. I reread two of her novels, Deerskin and Sunshine, at least once a year just to remind me what beautiful writing is all about.
Christopher Moore — Funny. Really funny. When I pull out A Dirty Job the Old Man groans because the TV is going on permanent mute while I read aloud the funniest bits.
I could be saying that about the actual book itself. I purchased Spellbound in hard cover a few months ago and it’s been sitting on my desk, looking… huge. I’m spoiled by the comfort of reading on my Kindle. Print books are so clunky and awkward. But anyway…
Putting on my writer hat for a minute. When crafting a plot, the writer needs to keep thinking in terms of “upping the stakes.” The fastest way to lose reader interest is to introduce conflicts and situations that just don’t matter. Who cares if Spiff Bunkerson has to choose between coffee or tea for breakfast? What diff does it make if Spiff tells his boss, “I quit,” if he has another, better job waiting in the wings? The key to tension is risk. Danger can come in many forms: physical, emotional, psychological. True suspense comes not from the danger itself, but from what is at risk.
Larry Correia knows how to up the stakes.
In his Monster Hunter International series and in his Grimnoir Chronicles, Correia doesn’t mess around with run of the mill monsters. Spooky little creepies vulnerable to holy water or a splinter just aren’t big enough or bad enough. Correia’s characters have to tackle gods. When reading any of his books, you learn to cringe whenever a character has to open a door. Anything could be on the other side. Zombie elephants, anyone? Giant robots? How about Godzilla’s and King Kong’s foul-tempered love child?
It’s not just the increasingly monstrous monsters upping the stakes. If it were, then these stories would be nothing more than B-movie romps. Uh uh, it goes much deeper than that. One element runs constant through all of Correia’s books, and it is that constant that lifts his writing out of gobble-’em-and-forget-’em story pile. Sacrifice. Every time you think his characters can give no more, Correia ups the stakes. He rips away what little comfort they’ve earned and demands to know, “How much more you got?” Your life? Liberty? Honor? Dignity? Love? Reputation? Friends? Family? The world and every human in it? It’s all at risk.
Back up a minute and let me tell you a little about Spellbound: Book II of the Grimnoir Chronicles. In a melding of steampunk, pulp noir and B-movie homage, the story is set in an alternative history, 1930s America. “Actives,” people infused with magical powers, are increasing in number and no one is sure why. On the surface, the big conflicts seem to be between “Actives” and “Normals,” those who have no magical ability. America is engaged in a Cold War of sorts with the Imperium–pre-World War II Japan. The Imperium has plans to conquer the world. There is, however, a threat much bigger than that. The Power is coming from somewhere and something is pursuing the Power. The Grimnoir Knights are a secret society of Actives self-tasked with saving the world, originally from the Imperium, and now from the dark entity pursuing the Power across worlds. Jake Sullivan and other Grimnoir knights are also faced with a battle on the homefront against their own government who want to round up the Actives and enslave them for the “good” of all society.
In the preceding novel, Hard Magic, the Grimnoir knights prevented the Imperium from wiping out America with a Peace Ray. Shady government types managed to twist that act of heroism around to fuel the hatred against the Actives and use it as an excuse to properly “control” them. (Correia draws spooky parallels with the real Progressive movement, from President Wilson through FDR, trying to destroy the Constitution and reshape America for “enlightened” ends) You don’t need to read Hard Magic to understand the story in Spellbound, but you’ll enjoy the series more if you read the books in order.
Back to sacrifice. A lesser writer would delineate between good guys and bad guys by making the good guys nice, always on the right side of the law, and of course good-looking, while the bad guys sneer and kick puppies. Correia draws a more powerful distinction. Good guys are willing to sacrifice themselves while the bad guys are only willing, and eager, to sacrifice others. That, my friends, makes for memorable characters on both sides.
But don’t think these are lofty, philosophical novels. No, these are high-octane action with lots of guns, battles, chases, twists, turns and high emotion to make for a thrilling read. Enough bright spots of humor, too, to ease the tension a bit before it ratchets right back up again.
The Healing spells on his chest were certainly earning their keep tonight. Sullivan got to his feet. The lack of noise from the courtyard indicated that his team had gotten all the mechanical men. “Thanks.”
Toru just grunted a noncommittal response as he lifted the feed tray to check the condition of his borrowed machine gun. They didn’t see the final robot inside until it turned on its eye and illuminated the Iron Guard in blue light.
Sullivan’s Spike reversed gravity, and the gigantic machine fell upward to hit the steel beams in the ceiling. Sullivan cut his Power and the robot dropped. It crashed hard into the floor where it lay twitching and kicking. The two of them riddled the mechanical man with bullets until the light died and it lay still in a spreading puddle of oil.
“Normally, this would be the part where you thank me for returning the favor and saving your life.”
“Yes. Normally… If we were court ladies instead of warriors,” Toru answered. “Shall we continue onward or do you wish to stop and discuss your feelings over tea?”
Sullivan looked forward to the day that the two of them would be able to finish their fight. “Let’s go.”
Spellbound: Book II in the Grimnoir Chronicles by Larry Correia
Discovered: Author is on my must buy list
Purchased: from Amazon, $16.50, November 15, 2011