Unexpectedly Catching Up with the GamerGate Controversy

I learned two new “G” words last night: GamerGate and Gawker. Perhaps I’ve been living under a rock, but until about 8pm yesterday evening, I’d heard of neither of them. Then, suddenly, according to the Twittersphere, we had come out in support of GamerGate – which was news to all of us. I’d therefore like to set the record straight.

First, as I understand it, what has been claimed is this: that we have withdrawn advertising from Gawker following pressure from GamerGate. It would, in fact, be impossible for us to withdraw advertising from Gawker, because we have never knowingly advertised through Gawker in the first place; we have never had any form of relationship with Gawker. Not that this was a conscious avoidance – Gawker just wasn’t something that was even on our cultural radar. We do very little advertising, as it very rarely has much effect for us. Back in the summer, we did run a promotion with StackSocial, who pushed Scrivener through social media and various sites, and from what I understand, we appeared briefly on Gawker through that promotion (although we never saw the advertisement ourselves, and Gawker wasn’t on the list of sites StackSocial advertises with).

Following that, we received a number of emails from apparently concerned Scrivener users, expressing disappointment at our involvement with Gawker, and providing numerous links purporting to show Gawker as an evil, sexist and bullying entity. (It turns out that these emails may not have been from Scrivener users, as I have since learned that GamerGate supporters routinely send these exact same emails to many companies.) This is where we went wrong. The person who responded to those emails (actually two people responded to the emails, but using the same reply as written by one person), having never heard of GamerGate or Gawker either, was somewhat naive in his reply. He thought he was merely reassuring an upset user that we wouldn’t knowingly get involved with companies with bad reputations for bullying or sexism. (If we ever receive a complaint from a user about a company we have been associated with, we always take it seriously as we do our utmost to work only with ethical and like-minded companies.) Unfortunately, then, he wrote his reply without knowing anything about GamerGate and without actually researching the allegations about Gawker, and also over-stepped the mark a little in his reassurances. He certainly had no idea that he was unwittingly stepping into the GamerGate controversy.

Below is his stock reply that was sent to those who wrote to us complaining about our apparent association with Gawker (to put it in context, all of the emails we received contained multiple links pertaining to Gawker, and claims about large and reputable companies dropping support of that site). This is the reply that was posted on social media by GamerGate as though we were coming out in support of them:

GamerGate Email

Our reply was ill-informed, since we knew nothing about Gawker Media beyond what the person writing to us had told us, and the person who wrote the above email should not have said that we’d be saying no to any further marketing approaches from StackSocial since no such decision had ever been made among the directors of L&L. (And, just for the record, I have no opinion on Gawker either way, as it’s not a site I’ve ever looked at or read. My wife looked at it briefly last night and was less than impressed, but that’s about the sum total of L&L’s knowledge of the site.) What the reply should have said is that we would look into their allegations before pursuing future marketing promotions, which is what we would do with any such complaint.

So, just to be very, very clear: we are not affiliated with GamerGate in any way, nor have we endorsed the movement. Nor have we withdrawn any advertising because of pressure from the GamerGate community, since there was nothing for us to withdraw anyway. We have simply been drawn into something of which we were entirely oblivious because of the over-zealous reassurances of a member of our staff to what he thought was a concerned user.

Our official statement, a version of which was sent to The Verge and which was also posted on Reddit last night, is as follows:

Literature & Latte is most certainly not aligned with GamerGate in any way, and we have been somewhat caught off-guard. To be honest, I hadn’t even heard of GamerGate until all of this happened. We have, unfortunately, been rather naive. We received several emails complaining about our involvement in promoting Scrivener through a particular company of which GamerGate disapproves. We were entirely unaware of GamerGate and its associations, and the emails we received provided links purporting to prove sexist and bullying behaviour on the part of said company. As our company is – naturally – against bullying and sexism of all kinds, the person on our team who responded to those emails said that we would refuse further marketing approaches, unfortunately before researching the matter further and without consulting other members of the team. That is the entire extent of our involvement. We have not withdrawn any advertising from anywhere, as there was no advertising in place to withdraw. Had our member of staff been aware of GamerGate and the harassment with which it has become associated, our response would have been much more circumspect. We were certainly most surprised to see our reply to what we thought was a genuinely concerned user posted on social media as if we were endorsing GamerGate – we were not.

Literature and Latte is committed to equal opportunities (our company itself comprises an equal number of men and women across all positions on the team). Bullying and harassment, whether online or off, is abhorrent and Literature & Latte does not tolerate such behaviour in any form.

We would like to apologise unreservedly for any offence we have caused in our naive and un-researched responses and the way they have been represented.

In addition to that official response, I will also say this: bullying and harassment, whether sexist, homophobic, racist or anything else, is never, ever acceptable or justifiable, wherever and however it occurs, and the effect it has on its victims is hideous. I’ve seen some of it first-hand. Julia, my wife and fellow director at L&L, is also a journalist, and some of the online comments I have seen about one of her articles in particular were absolutely disgusting and sickening, of a kind that would never be posted about a man. I’d like my daughters (and son) to grow up in a better world than that, and I have absolutely no time whatsoever for anyone on any side of any movement involved in the harassment of women or of anyone else.

Why I Hate Sky But Quite Like David

Grr, Sky! Grr, Cornwall! (The sky I am referring to is the corporation owned by devil-incarnate Rupert Murdoch*, by the way, and not the most excellent canopy, the brave overhanging firmament, the majestical roof fretted with… Not the actual sky, I mean.)

Despite the year being 2010 (2010! Where’s my hovercar? Where’s my robot butler?), thanks to the Cornish infrastructure, my broadband connection is capped at 1.5MB per second. Mr Internet tells me it’s capable of 2.5MB (woo!), but is for some reason limited to 1.5. (Perhaps this snail-like connectivity is because the Cornish generally distrust anything fast – SUCH AS DRIVING ABOVE 15MPH, for instance. Seriously, a 17 year-old in a Mini told me to slow down the other day because I was doing 30 in a residential area. This English county – just provoking the locals there – is as strange as it is beautiful. But then after thirteeen years of living in London, I still haven’t got used to people being friendly and generally chilled out, and I still retain some of that city-dweller’s tendency of thinking that everyone else is just in my way.)

Why is my internet connection in any way interesting, you ask? It’s not, but it is frustrating when you try to download the iPad (iPhone) SDK, which is 2Gb in size (and downloading is the only way you can get it, as far as I can see). And it’s even more frustrating when Sky Broadband suddenly reduce their 80Gb monthly usage to 10Gb without telling you and then keep cutting off your internet connection when the download gets to 1.9Gb. Thanks, Sky. The conspiracy theorist in me can’t help but think there is something intentional in this – after three attempts at downloading I was already at half of my monthly usage allowance, and it’s only the start of the month – and if I go over again the prices go up. Of course.

Maybe I wouldn’t mind if Sky had ever provided a half-decent service, but have you actually tried using a Sky+ box? It’s as though they kidnapped Sir Clive Sinclair from the past, fresh from inventing the ZX81, stopped off in the early nineties to pick up parts, and then locked him in a room to knock the thing together without bothering to tell him about any technological advance since Teletext. I swear it’s John Titor all over again. I don’t know why I’m surprised by this – after all, the Sky box was designed by Amstrad. Using Amstrad technology as the basis for the country’s most popular (um, only) satellite television box is a little like giving the troops on the front hum-vees built on the chassis of Robin Reliants. Oh look, it’s raining – the signal’s down. (Pity I live in Cornwall, then.) Oh look – it’s just turned itself off again. Oh look – it’s frozen on Peter Andre’s face for the past hour. But living in Cornwall you either use Sky or put up with four channels of drivel rather than a hundred (note to Richard Branson: hurry up and install cable down here you b*****d!). And I need those extra channels if only to pretend I’m not loving Glee or really looking forward to the new series of Supernatural, and so that I can bitch in an informed way about how rubbish Caprica is and how Ron Moore should be made to wear a hair-shirt and personally apologise to everyone on the planet for his crimes against Good Endings That Don’t Make Me Want To Thrust Pencils Into My Eyes. Oh wait, some readers don’t like me mentioning that, best move on…

But anyway. Thanks to David, who since joining Literature & Latte has consistently won Employee of the Month every single month,** for saving the day by downloading a copy of the SDK and getting it to me on DVD the very next day. (Even the British postal system is better than you, BSkyB!)

Which is really just a roundabout way of saying that I now at least have the iPhone SDK (the one capable of iPad development), so I can take a look and make a more informed judgement on future possibilities for Scrivener when I get some time. This doesn’t change anything in the short-term, of course – Scrivener for the Mac remains my number one priority, Scrivener 2.0 will take up all my development time for the next few months, and I have no intention of doing anything that will have a long-term negative impact on the Scrivener I use and love myself. But it can’t hurt to take a peek, can it?

* I’m pretty sure Omen 3 was a Murdoch biopic sent back through time from the future.

** Can you guess how many employees we have?

Stardust and Inciting Incidents

Just to warn those who read this blog purely for Scrivener-related news: this post is only tangential to Scrivener, as it’s about my own fumbling attempts at writing (for which I use Scrivener, obviously), so you can safely tune out if you don’t like reading self-indulgent prattle.

One of the reasons I created Scrivener in the first place was that, over the years, in the process of attempting to write a novel I had written a lot of scenes, snippets and ideas but had no idea how they all fitted together into anything like a coherent whole. Rather naively, I believed that if I kept plugging away at writing down those ideas and scenes, one day something would magically “click”, and in my Eureka moment I would suddenly just know how everything I had written so far fitted together into a tightly interwoven whole that would win me the Booker Prize for sure.

As I say – naive; as though by working on the parts the whole would somehow assemble itself without much conscious effort on my part. Nowadays I understand that this would be the same as attempting to come up with a writing program by building a corkboard, an outliner, a word processor, and so on, and then hoping that how they all fitted together would just come to me while I was pondering the curious blue hair of the old lady sitting in front of me on the bus. Suffice to say, that’s not how I designed Scrivener. Sure, there were some small things I knew I wanted in Scrivener beforehand, but it took a lot of design to figure out how it all fitted together. (The defunct Scrivener Gold, an early beta of Scrivener, didn’t fit together. It had four separate interfaces for doing different things. In fact, I wrote a whole series of blog posts about my quest to work out a decent integrated interface. And Scrivener 2.0 integrates some of the features that don’t work so well together in 1.0. In other words, that design has taken years and is still ongoing.)

When, after a decade of halted attempts at finding what I was really writing about, that hoped-for Eureka moment still hadn’t come, I started thinking that maybe I would be able to figure out how everything fitted together if only I could get a good overview of everything. I wanted an easy way of assigning a synopsis to each of my ideas and scenes; I wanted to be able to move these synopses around as a way of moving the underlying text around; I wanted to be able to see the whole, the parts, or just an overview, and to work with each. I’ve covered the conception of Scrivener in depth before, but what I’m saying here is that I thought that by getting an overview of the whole I would start seeing how everything fitted together. Well, Scrivener has been around several years now, and although I have certainly got much further along in my projects since having Scrivener, I still end up stumbling at this point: where is it going? How does this fit together?

You’re probably ahead of me: just because you wrote it and used the same character names doesn’t mean it’s part of the same story. I wanted to pour everything into one story – the only problem being that I had no story.

Part of the problem is that over the years I’ve grown attached to some pieces of writing I’ve done that really don’t belong anywhere. Now, I’ve been very lucky in that developing Scrivener has brought me into contact with professional, published authors who have been very generous with their time and advice. (Yes, my dialogue with some users goes something like this: Author: “Hey, thanks for Scrivener. Just started using it for my new book and it’s really useful.” Me: “Great! Wait, you’re a published author?” Author: “Er, yes…” Me: “Tell me everything you know about the masonic secrets of writing a novel! Help!”) I used to be terrified of published authors, as in terms of what they have achieved they represent everything I hope for, so I’ve always put the very notion of a published author up on a pedestal, but it turns out that they’re human beings who use e-mail and are often really, really nice. Who’d have thunk it? And pretty much all of the authors whose time I have stolen have told me this in one form or another: KILL YOUR DARLINGS. It’s old advice, they say, and it’s really difficult to follow, but it’s good, sage advice. It’s taken me a long time to accept it, but they are of course right. I may be attached to all those passages of purple prose I wrote in my twenties, but really, if I’m just trying to find a place to slot them in so I can use them somewhere, I’m not really thinking about what this particular story needs, am I? And I’m certainly not writing. If anything, I’m avoiding it by trying to reuse old stuff. For instance, there’s one passage I wrote years and years ago about a girl being born in the hour when the clocks go back, when BST becomes GMT again. I was really proud of that passage. It had all these phrases that at the time I considered dead clever, such as “edited from the spool of time by the scissoring of clock hands” and others you’d probably laugh at. Even after the birth of my first child six years ago I clung to it, despite now knowing that its description – and my younger self’s understanding – of birth was woefully inaccurate. From that passage you would have thought that birth was something like a scene from Alien. Oh, and for years I was desperate to find a use for this sentence: “The precipitation precipitated his capitulation.” Oscar Wilde eat your heart out. Hell, I might still use that one, actually. Anyway, my point is simply this: I was going at everything backwards; “arse-about-tit” in the proverbial phrase. I was trying to construct a story out of parts that had been written randomly with no story in mind. Imagine a painter folding up the canvas into tiny squares, painting something that appealed to him or her on each segment, and then unfolding it and trying to figure out what the hell sort of picture could be painted around the edges to make sense of a ten-foot pillbox, a bonsai tree, Medusa in a tutu and a purple duck. Same thing.

Like many would-be-writers-but-probably-won’t-bes, one of my fondest pastimes is procrastination. Indeed, some have pointed out that I have taken procrastination to whole new levels – I decided that before I could write The Novel, I had to spend several years writing The Software in which to write it. (For the record, this blog post is itself procrastination.) And one of my favourite forms of procrastination is reading books about writing. (As any wannabe-writer knows, this is priceless – you can trick yourself into believing that you are furthering your writing efforts even though you really know that you are doing exactly the opposite because you are reading a book on writing instead of, y’know, actually writing.) For the longest time I rejected all ideas about structure, narratology, acts, and so on; and I was – and still am, if to a slightly lesser extent – sceptical of any approach to writing that tries to give you a formula. Still, in my desperation I’ve recently been a little more open to taking on board ideas about approaching structure, and I have found some things particularly useful. For instance, I found Jeffrey Alan Schechter’s assertion that in most stories the protagonist goes through four stages of character development (orphan, wanderer, warrior, martyr) particularly insightful. It sounds like one of those rigid paint-by-numbers formulas until you realise that all he is really saying is that a protagonist changes over the course of a story – he or she starts off in need of something and ends up having to make sacrifices to get it after all the easy options have been exhausted. The four archetypes are just a way of hammering into your head that you need to think about how your character is changing over the course of the story, and you can see them operating in the character arc of almost any movie or story. (Jeffrey, incidentally, is the guy behind Contour from Mariner Software, and there is a lot of other great stuff in his Contour theory.) But I’ve also been more open to the things you get told just must be in a story, whereas before my fingers were placed firmly in my ears as I sang, “La, la, formula-la-la-la-la, not listening.” And the one thing that everyone agrees on is this:

There must be an inciting incident.

Well, duh. That’s just a posh way of saying, “Something has to happen,” right? Except, I think I only recently realised how little importance I had attached to perhaps the most crucial part of working out my story. In his superb On Writing, Stephen King says that most of his books start with a “What if?” situation and then he writes the book to find out what happens as a natural outcome of that initial premise. And despite having read that, and despite all those authors I’ve hounded having told me that they usually start from something similar – whether they plan every little detail before they write or just make it up as they go along – I seem to have stumbled through years of failed writing attempts thinking, “I’ll worry about that later; if I just start with these characters and this location, something’s bound to happen…” Unsurprisingly, the things that tended to happen were all a bit jumbled and didn’t go anywhere. Then, I recently came across this site:


It’s the blog of American suspense and horror writer Alexandra Sokoloff. There’s absolutely loads on there – she used to be a Hollywood screenwriter, so a lot of it is about using screenwriting methods in writing fiction. One thing I found really useful, though, was her suggestion – which she repeats again and again – that if you’re stuck with a story, watch several of your favourite films and read several of your favourite books in your genre, breaking them down and making lists of very specific things. For instance, you might break down the structure of each one – she suggests using the eight-sequence structure such as the one described by Chris Soth and some other Hollywood screenwriters. Or you might just be looking at how the romance subplot is handled, or how plants and payoffs work – whatever it is you’re stuck on. Her main point, I think, is that if you’re going to use any sort of formula, it should be one that you work out on your own, based on your own favourite stories – because presumably they are what made you want to write stories in the first place. Now, these suggestions appealed no end to the procrastinator in me – not only do I get to read books (and websites) about writing and tell myself I’m working, but now I get to watch movies too (notebook in hand, of course). Brilliant! So I tried her suggestion.

At this point, you may be reading this and thinking, “Wow, you really are the most useless wannabe novelist I have ever come across. Just get on with it already!” I wholeheartedly agree. Although I would ask you, why are you reading this and not writing yourself, huh? Huh? So if you’re not thinking that and are instead one of the pitiful creatures like me who will try anything to help you get past three chapters before giving up in despair, you may find this useful. (Did I mention that you get to watch movies and pretend you’re working? Genius.) I got a lot out of it. For a start, I found that identifying the structure in the films and books I liked best made me less afraid of structure as a concept. A couple of authors have told me that although they would hate to outline their whole novel, they use sort of “stepping stones” – that is, they have something like ten or twenty sentences or questions written down that guide them along as they write the story; rough markers that give them something to head for. Actually looking for these markers (set-pieces, I suppose) in stories I liked, and thinking about how the rest of the story built towards them, was something I found really helpful. Everyone knows that if you want to write you have to be a reader first, but normally when I read I’m not thinking about how it all fits together – I’m just getting sucked into the story. Stepping back and looking at certain specific elements as I read or watched (rather from memory) was an eye-opener. Which brings me back to…

The inciting incident.

Everything I watched and read that I loved had a really well-crafted inciting incident. I say “crafted” because I doubt the writers were as lazy as I hoped to be and had the inciting incident fall wholesale out of the sky into their laps. Oh, I bet some of the inciting incidents came to them out of nowhere, but then they surely must have crafted them to do a lot more work. The one that struck me as absolutely brilliant in its elegance, though, was the one in Stardust (film or book). I’m not normally a fan of fantasy or anything even vaguely romantic, but hey, the film has Claire Danes and Robert de Niro in it… Actually, I love the film. Don’t get me wrong, Neil Gaiman’s book is great, but Stardust the film gives me the same great warm-inside feeling as The Princess Bride. Hmm, I probably shouldn’t be admitting to any of this in public. Whether you like the film or not, though, its inciting incident is perfect in that one single event kicks off the main plot and every subplot, putting into place all of the conflicts that will drive the narrative through to its conclusion. Namely:

The dying King of Stormhold, having several sons remaining alive, which is against tradition (they are supposed to kill each other), throws the “power of Stormhold” – a gem on a necklace – out of the window and declares that the first male heir to retrieve it will take his place as king. This being a fairy tale, the stone soars into space and hits a star, which plummets down to earth. Three witches witness the star’s fall, as does Tristan, the protagonist, who in trying to woo the uppity Victoria declares that he will retrieve it for her in return for a kiss. (If you haven’t seen the film, this all sounds rather sickly, I know – trust me, it’s a fun story. I mean, it includes Robert de Niro doing the can-can in a dress.) The star hits the ground over in the faery kingdom of Stormhold – and it’s a beautiful girl; turns out stars in this world can take the form of people. So, with that one action – the throwing of the stone – everything is set up: Tristan is going to travel into the faery kingdom to fetch the star, and we know he is going to find a girl, not a lump of stone – and we already hope that he ditches Victoria for the star; the King’s sons are now out on a quest to find the stone, which the star possesses, and we have seen that one of them in particular is murderous; and we soon learn that the three witches want to cut out the star’s heart because eating it will restore their youth.

You may not like the story itself, but I hope you’ll at least agree that this is a great inciting incident in the way it sets everything in motion. It made me realise how little I’d thought about the inciting incident in my own novel; in fact, it made me realise that I had several small, not-particularly-exciting inciting incidents that were only vaguely connected and that this was one of the big reasons why the various subplots I had been working on didn’t seem to gel very well. So, in light of this, I’ve gone back to the drawing board and am now looking at my various plot threads and working backwards to see how they could all have been fired off by the same inciting incident rather than different ones. I printed off the synopses of a lot of my ideas (yes, Scrivener 2.0 supports the printing of synopsis index cards) and am going through them with a fresh eye. It’s made me realise that I have too many What Ifs for one story, and by thinking more carefully about the inciting incident I’m actually starting to see which plot threads and characters just don’t belong in this particular story, no matter how much I like them. It’s hard, but I’m determined to kill my darlings.

And it’s still a bit arse-about-tit, I admit, but at least it feels like progress.

P.S. While I’m at it, I’ll just put in a plug for a couple of Scrivener-using authors who regularly touch on various aspects of writing on their own blogs:

http://www.davidhewson.com – David’s book The Blue Demon is out tomorrow and is the first book he wrote from start to finish in Scrivener (even though his books adorn shelves all over the world, it still took this one two years to get from final draft to publication, apparently).

http://www.neil-cross.com/wordcount – Neil’s past couple of books have been written in Scrivener and he is now documenting the process of writing his next on his “wordcount” blog.

(I’m sure both would be appalled to read the above and realise that, despite the great advice they have handed out to others and to me personally over the past couple of years, I am still a fumbling simpleton when it comes to my own writing.)

J.D. Salinger

(Note: Although I’ve moved most non-Scrivener related posts over to my Machine Dreams blog following a couple of users taking umbrage over my opinions on the objectively terrible Battlestar Galactica finale, I’m making an exception for this one. This is a re-post from the forums, and I feel it’s justified purely because J.D. Salinger was one of the authors who made me want to write, and thus had a direct impact on the eventual development of Scrivener. Justification over.)

J.D. Salinger died the day before yesterday. I don’t suppose it will be considered by many as exactly a huge loss to literature given that he stopped publishing anything over fifty years ago, but still, I feel I have to pay my respects in some way as he was my absolute favourite author in my early twenties. Of course, it’s not difficult to read all of his published works – a grand total of four extant books (one novel, one collection of short stories and two books containing two longer stories each). But I was such a fan that I tracked down much of the difficult-to-get stuff, the stories he refused to have reprinted. On a visit to the US, for instance, I went to a library and accessed the microfiche archives of the New Yorker to get a copy of his last-ever story (“Hapworth 16, 1924” – disappointing, as it made Seymour Glass seem an annoyingly precocious brat, quite at odds with his morose but seraphic portrayal in “A Perfect Day for Bananafish”, and if that is the direction Salinger’s writing was taking then maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing to withdraw and let readers appreciate his past achievements).

But even more obsessive, when I did my MA and had access to the British Library, I spent two weeks hand-copying The Inverted Forest – a rare bootlegged collection of 22 of Salinger’s stories that he has never allowed to be republished (I’m pretty sure the book itself was illegal, so I’m not sure what it was doing in the British Library but I’m glad it was there). I sincerely hope his family allow these stories to be republished now, even though it may be against his wishes, as they are wonderful. “A Young Girl in 1921 with No Waist At All” remains one of my favourite ever short stories. I don’t know why. Not much happens – it’s just beautiful, somehow, and whilst stories like “Teddy” seemed profound to me in my early twenties, it is these less ostentatiously Zen stories that still resound with me now.

So, thank you Mr Salinger. If the rumours are to believed, you may well have been the grumpiest man alive. You may have eaten frozen peas and raw sheep, drank your own urine, sent love letters to Winona Ryder and had a penchant for lawsuits that Apple would envy, and I have no doubt that you would have despised me for my fanboyism, but I thank you all the same. For Catcher in the Rye and Holden Caulfield with his poor broken hand and his cool sister Phoebe. For the Glass family, with their tendency to take long baths and make phone calls to each other from within the same house to discuss Eastern philosophy. And for making me really think about the meaning of the words on the page, how a broken record could be a metaphor for a dead brother.

So I don’t care what the naysayers say (they say nay). To me, J.D. Salinger deserves his place as a Great Author of the Twentieth Century, and I hope the kids of my kids are still taking university courses on the works of Salinger and Mr Vonnegut in forty or fifty years’ time, or just holing up as teenagers in their bedrooms and nodding or grunting agreement with Holden about the phoniness of the world around them.

I am sorry that he’s gone.

Dollhouse / Sarah Connor

Okay, so I have now sat through nine episodes of Dollhouse with good grace, trying to trust in the usually brilliant Joss Whedon. After all, he created the generally superb Buffy, the fun Angel (which actually managed to make the hitherto dull character of Angel likeable and played off David Boreanz’s comic strengths, now used well in Bones), and the sublime Firefly. (Ah, Firefly and Serenity; I share xkcd’s obsession with thee, even though I believe you were derivative of my beloved Farscape.) And it stars Faith my favourite Vampire Slayer and Helo (okay, so I try not to think about BSG too much since the appalling – hock, spit! – finale, but I’ll always have a soft spot for Helo and Athena regardless of Ron Moore’s tripe ending).

And yet here I am, nine episodes in, and Dollhouse shows no signs of… well, being any good. I hear Alan Tudyk is to appear in the last episodes of the season, so I’m holding on for that, but really, what I don’t understand is this: how the hell did this get picked up for a second season by Fox while the excellent Sarah Connor Chronicles was cancelled? The first season of Sarah Connor walked all over Dollhouse with size five Terminator-ballerina boots, and more than earned my patience when I had to put up with a bit of a mediocre middle to the second season (more than pulling it back again for the end of the season). Dollhouse hasn’t earned such patience; I’m merely giving it an extended chance because it comes after Firefly.

Does it get any better? It’s difficult to care about “actives” who are essentially call girls, especially when all of the cast seem to be turning out to be actives. And yet an emotionless robot played by Summer Glau… Oy, Fox! Bring back TSCC!

And that is my Tuesday lament.

Chasing the Pigeon

The catalyst that lead to my moving certain posts over to a non-Lit’n’Lat blog was my rant about the Battlestar Galactica finale. One reader of that rant has just contacted me to say that he is sorry to see it go, though, as he liked the term “chasing the pigeon”. I will thus proffer and elaborate on the term here.

There are already two great terms with similar meanings that have become widespread:

• Jumping the shark (from Happy Days)
• Nuking the fridge (from Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull)

Both refer to the moment when a series completely loses the plot and the viewer suddenly realises that something he or she once loved, something once brilliant, has now, definitively, disappeared up its own backside. “Jumping the shark” refers to a TV series; “Nuking the fridge” refers to a film series.

I would like to propose another, a variation:

• Chasing the pigeon

For me, the moment I saw Lee Adama chasing a pigeon around his apartment in Battlestar Galactica, in a scene that was neither meaningful nor relevant (flashback scenes attempting to add depth of character in the final episode?), I knew that one of my favourite TV shows of all time had lost it. Not only was the scene irrelevant, it was also one of the most tired clichés ever… A bird representing someone or something (Kara) out of reach. It invited an unfavourable comparison to the dove at the end of Bladerunner (and also made me think back to Cavil’s speech to Ellen about wanting to smell supernovas or whatever, and how that harked back to “teardrops in the rain” from Bladerunner too – not comparisons you want to invite).

Below is what Ron Moore, the show runner and writer of the finale, had to say about Lee Adama (and by extension the show itself) chasing a pigeon. This is following an explanation of how he was trying to tie up the plot, all the loose ends, and how he was finding breaking the plot “frustrating and annoying”:

I went home and had an epiphany in the shower and said, “It’s the characters, stupid!” And it really always has been, and I went back the next day and said, “Let’s forget about the plot for a moment and just trust that it will work itself out, because it always does. What do we want the characters to deal with; let’s talk about the individual stories and resolutions.” I just had an image of someone in their house chasing a bird from the room, I didn’t know what it meant but it’s an image and let’s put it on the board.

(Before going any further, yes, I know that writers often have images that come to them that they want to include; I know that writers make stuff up as they go along all the time. That is fine. What is not fine is if the writer includes the image for no reason other than that he likes it, or if the writer cannot tie up or explain within the rules he set up in his fictional universe the stuff he made up along the way. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, of course, and I know that as many viewers loved the finale as hated it. By anyone’s definition, it was not good storytelling, though. Whether the finale as a whole was good or bad is subjective; the way it changed the rules at the last minute and frustrated expectations of explanations is, objectively, bad storytelling. And let me just say that I watched BSG for the characters, primarily. I would have been happy without any of the great mysteries, with just the characters developing and surviving while looking for a new home. But it wasn’t me who decided to introduce a lot of mysterious elements and conundrums – I was invited to ponder those questions by the writers; it’s a bit late to say “it’s about the characters” after you made an active decision to lead viewers down a different path. Well. I could go on parenthetically all day. Let us move on…)

The pigeon thus actually becomes a symbol for a writer making stuff up without knowing where it fits – which is exactly what the writers of Battlestar Galactica did with the opera house scene, Kara’s death and resurrection, and Head-Six and Head-Baltar (all of this is well documented, not my personal opinion – search for interviews with Ron Moore; he is very open about how he made it all up and “felt” his way through the story). There is nothing wrong with making stuff up on the fly and later working out how it all fits together later, of course, but the pigeon seemed egregious (the perfect word in the circumstances), and in the end Moore couldn’t come up with satisfying solutions to most of what he made up and instead threw up his hands and said, “It’s about the characters and God did all the stuff I couldn’t think of an explanation for.”

“Chasing the pigeon” is thus a nice variation on “jumping the shark”: it is the point in a show at which the viewer becomes aware of the writer struggling with the plot to the extent that it becomes so clumsy it feels as though the writer has just given up. It is the point at which the viewer finally loses all faith in a writer who had previously gained his or her absolute trust. It is the point at which the viewer feels cheated by a cheap trick and starts shouting at the screen in disbelief at the hours of his or her life spent in awe at smoke and mirrors; hours that are never coming back.

As in:

Battlestar Galactica really chased the pigeon in its finale.

End of line.

Welcome to Machine Dreams

Much of what is on this blog so far was originally over on lit-n-lat.blogspot.com. I have moved all of the stuff that was not pertinent to Scrivener or Literature & Latte over here, to this new blog, because a few readers found it perturbing to see a developer talk about topics that had nothing to do with development. So this is me being all professional. It is a new and curious feeling.

In praise of another Ethan Hawke film…

Okay, a little while ago I raved about Gattaca, one of my all-time favourite sci-fi films. But there are, of course, two Ethan Hawke films that blow even that out of the water (and no, I’m not talking about Dead Poets’ Society)… Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. You can call me an old romantic (although I’d rather you left out the “old”), but these two films are just superb. I just re-watched Before Sunrise, which, when I saw it in my early twenties, quickly became one of my favourite films… And it still stands up as a great romantic film about two people who meet and like each other, who spend a night wandering around in the way you do with someone you like when you’re young, and who then part. It captures that feeling of spending a sleepless night just talking to someone you like beautifully. When I heard they were making a sequel to a film I liked so much, the sort of film that doesn’t exactly cry out for a sequel, I thought Richard Linklater must be insane. But how wrong I was. Before Sunset is even better. It’s one of the most poignant films I’ve ever seen, taking up the lives of two characters you cared about in a realistic way. They have separate lives, partners and (for one of them) children