Saturday, September 29, 2012

On Blogging... and why we write

Maintaining this blog is an interesting learning experience. What I'm finding is that I feel a lot more comfortable when I've written the posts in advance. My intent, at this point, is to keep the Lone Wolf story going on Mondays and Wednesdays (which, of course, can't be written very much in advance due to reader involvement) and to put out one more deep and thoughtful post with actual content once a week on Fridays.

What I'm finding, especially for those thoughtful, content-ful posts is that if I put it off till Friday, I'm no good. I'm just stressed about typing it, and can't think about the actual content to really focus on it.

Which is why, tonight, instead of what I had scheduled for you, I'm going to write about Moonrise Kingdom.

If you haven't seen Moonrise Kingdom yet, go watch it. Right now. Stop what you're doing, go find somewhere where it's still playing; if it's not still playing, get a bootlegged copy. Then buy the dvd when it comes out.

This movie took me away to another, magical world, a place where boys can be men, where dreams can come true, where life is hard, but it all comes together in the end, and where true love can be found at the end of a very awkward and difficult rainbow.

I wish that was my life.

There are only two other movies that come to mind that have made me feel this way: Miyazaki's Spirited Away, when I was in college, and My Girl, with Macaulay Culkin and Anna Chlumsky when I was a kid.

What I really getting at here is this: it's stories like these that make me want to write. Sometimes, I come across something so spectacular, so inspiring, that I can't help but fall in love.

Here's where it gets tricky though. Moonrise Kingdom is a fantasy. It's a very good fantasy. Hell, it's MY fantasy, packaged up, put in a box, and handed to me tied up in a pretty, silver ribbon. And it makes me happy that someone out there understood me well enough, without ever having met me, to tell that story.

But it's still a fantasy.

I watched a very interesting pair of Extra Credits episodes the other night about Spec Ops, The Line. The guys at Extra Credit were basically blown away by this game because by the end it becomes clear that it's not just another shooter--it's actually critiquing it's own genre and making a point, a very real, very unpleasant point.

If you haven't watched these episodes of Extra Credits yet, the basic gist is this: Spec Ops, the Line, drives your character to actions that any reasonable human would question, but that you are so used to doing in games of this genre that you don't question it, only then they use the gameplay and story to highlight just how unnacceptable everything your character is doing is, without actually ever breaking the tropes of the genre.

As you proceed through the game, the message becomes more and more clear, and on more than one occasion, lines in the narrative break the fourth wall and directly address the player. The most powerful of these comes at the end, "You're here because you want to pretend to be something you're not... a hero."

The Extra Credits guys then go on to point out that all the big title shooter games, in fact many games and stories, especially popular ones, go out of their way to make the reader/player/viewer feel like a hero. It's a carefully cultivated fantasy.

This raises some very serious and disturbing questions for me. Is it actually okay to use fiction to live out fantasies that aren't, and never will be real? What are the moral ramifications of this? Or, re-phrased, does that actually make our lives better?

Escapism, fantasy and wish-fulfillment are all very nice, but does it actually make us happier, better people? Moonrise Kingdom made me incredibly happy to watch, but now, in retrospect, it kinda just leaves me feeling very depressed, because that's not my life, it wasn't my life, and now it never will be my life. The closest I can come to experiencing those kinds of events is through fiction, either enjoying it as an audience member, or potentially creating it myself.

I loved Moonrise Kingdom, but is it just wish fulfillment? If it is, is that okay? Should we aspire to something more than that in creating fiction? Or is that enough, once in a while?


  1. Now that's one hell of a question. I think that living for the fantasy world and trying to escape from reality is unhealthy but it is important to have these fantasies, if for no other reason to know that there is someone out there who thinks like you do. There's definitely more to life than the mundane that most of us come into contact with every day and I think that we all visualise something greater but I think that if we are not reminded that everyone does it and that we should strive for our fantasies, even if it is for just a moment of happiness, then we might start to think that there is something wrong with us.

  2. Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, co-authors of many a Dragonlance novel, were once approach at a book signing by a young soldier. This soldier told them gravely about how his squad had been pinned down enemy fire while in Afghanistan. Despite all his training, and with some of the best equipment in the world, he had still frozen. Fear and doubt kept him from being able to act.

    As he related the story, this soldier then pulled his Bronze Star from his pocket. He explained, "I then asked myself, 'What would Tanis do?'" THAT was what prompted him to act. THAT was what encouraged him to fight bravely to save his squad. Not his Army training, not his state-of-the-art weaponry. A character from some paperback fantasy novels inspired that young man to go above and beyond and earn a Bronze Star.

    The soldier put the medal down in front of the two stunned authors and walked away.

    THAT is why we write escapist fantasy. Yes, it's entertaining. Yes, it's fun. But deep down, we really do want to be like those fantastic characters. And every once in a while, we get the chance.

    1. I should mention that I was relating that story from memory after having not heard the original account in at least 5 years. I was unable to track down the podcast where I originally heard the story, but I'm pretty sure it's one of these ones:

      You can find a better second-hand account of the story here:

    2. That is an EXCELLENT point. We write, and read, not just to live out fantasies (even if we sometimes do), but to learn, and to teach. To talk about what it means to be alive, how to live, what's important (and what's not important) and all in all, to perpetuate the great discussion going on in everyone and between everyone all the time: how to make the most of this time we've got.