Plots, Peterson, and Avengers, oh my

A couple/few weeks ago I set up a raspberry pi as a home media pc. I generally only watch stuff I have locally available. I don’t have cable tv. I don’t have Netflix, Disney+, Apple TV, Amazon Prime, or any other such nonsense. I just refuse to pay for services with dubious licensing of content that goes away when I stop paying. I’ll happily pay for dvds, drm free downloads and such. But no spotify, youtube music or any of that crap.

Well, I got the thing set up and the video bled off the edges of the screen. I got frustrated and walked away from the thing until…I think this past Tuesday or so, when I wired up the laptop downstairs where the TV was and started looking in to the proper solutions to such things.

There was some back and forth as I figured out what the hell I was really looking at, then spent a few mintues doing the real calibration required to get it all up and running correctly, finally. I think I watched a couple episodes of Archer to prove to myself that it was working.

Last night I was tired of looking at the computer and the workshop was just too damned cold to go farting around in, so down to the TV I went. I paged through what I had available and settled on The Avengers…again.

Now I must have watched The Avengers…I don’t know, a few dozen times by now and I will no doubt watch it a few dozen more. I can pretty much recite the dialog. Hell I could probably do a scene by scene treatment of it without actually watching the movie at this point.

There’s clearly something in there I keep going back for. It absolutely pulls me in. The whole of the Marvel Cinematic Universe does.

As of the end of Avengers: Endgame, pretty much the entirety of the MCU is the Tony Stark story. Sure, there’s a lot more going on. The show must go on after all. But it’s really all about him.

Cut to my writing. I’ve been allowing myself to get more and more frustrated by the unfocused nature of my writing projects as time has gone on. For all the millions (and it really is millions) of words I’ve put down, there is a truly astounding lack of fiction. All of it, by any reasonable estimation, has been this kind of stream of consciousness thinking on to the page. It’s absolutely vital for my life that I do this and arguably do more of it.

When I’ve worked on what little fiction vignettes I have they’ve been pretty universally well received and I want very much to continue and expand on the form. Sure at the beginning I was perhaps overly prone to take compliments as fundamentally dishonest. But I don’t think anyone who’s read more than a post or two of mine could come away with the slightest bit of confusion about that at all, though it really is something I need to explore in some depth.

I’ve always had a very hard time writing…well…stories. I can blast out a vignette or scene just fine. There are a bunch of things I have trouble with, like action scenes for instance. I find those particularly opaque. Overarching structure though, the large scale scope of story has really eluded me since the very first time I was asked to write one.

I was a kid, maybe in 7th or 8th grade (12/13 years old) and I was in…someone’s office. School councelor maybe? It wasn’t a classroom. The details are a bit fuzzy through 40 years of memory. But it was me, one of my bullies (oddly) and one of his buddies. The councelor asked us to write a story. Any story. About anything at all. Just…anything. They wrote for a few minutes each. One waited for the other, they looked up when they were done and left.

I absolutely locked up. The absolute horror of the blank page just stared at me accusingly. I didn’t have a flood of “what if it’s not good?” Not consciously anyway. Sure the “I can’t write anything if it’s not perfect” excuse comes to mind. I’m not sure if that’s not just parroting what people say about that kind of writers block or if it’s an actual reason. Pretty tough to tell. Hell, I can still feel it as strong as that day when I broach the topic in my head while writing this sentnece. It’s an absolute sense of panic. I just started sweating and gripping my goofy little pencil tightly enough that the school psych noticed my fingers were red with the pressure.

Having waited him out, he finally let me off the hook. I have a vague memory of him, me and maybe just my mother, maybe both my parents sitting in a room as he related the scene. “You should see how hard he gripped the pencil.” It was fucking humiliating.

One of the problems, as I see it (which may or may not have anything to do with the actual problem, but I’ve got to start with what I’ve got) is that I don’t have far-sighted motivations for my characters. Sure there are a couple of immediate seeming concerns. But what happens after the scene I’ve got in my head? What led them to these places and these events? How does their interaction with the events of the scene/event/world on the small scale contribute to their goals (successfully or not?)

I’ve looked at the various story structure graphs, turning point this, conflict number that, yadda yadda resolution, blah blah, turning point, etc. But it all just seems like so much noise to me really. Yeah, I understand it well enough. It’s not like it’s that difficult a concept. But there’s a line between that structure and what I write that’s entirely broken.

So last night when I went down to the tv room in the basement I brought a pad and a couple pens (getting down there and seeing a bunch of pads and a pile of pens already on the ottoman I had a good chuckle.)

Usually when I’m reading or listening to a book or watching a movie or a show I get a barrage of “what if” flashes. They’re fun, but they go as fast as they come.

While I didn’t have a deep agenda I was determined to take some notes to see if I could get some insight into, if not to the bottom of, the reason I keep going back to the same material over and over again, even through I absolutely know it through and through.

I’d watched some Peterson yesterday morning, as is my wont (a determined follow through a copule of his online courses is on my extremely long short list) and he said (butchery incoming) that stories of sufficient mythological and symbolic significance are essentially bottomless, that they can be explored and examined almost infinitely since we don’t consciously KNOW what they “really mean”, that these things speak to us on a level beneath (or aside) language.

It’s a fascinating notion that, having heard him (and Jung, and Campbell, etc) say it over and over again over the past 20 or so years of my explorations into their writing, is starting to really grow legs in my head.

One example from the lecture I watched yesterday went something like this:

“If I asked you if you believed in vampires you’d say no, of course not. But you’re perfectly willing to watch hours of vampire movies and have no problem with it at all. Yeah, tell me again what it is you actually believe.”

On one hand it sounds like a ‘reducto ad absurdam’. But…I think a large part of his point was that it wasn’t, not at all. While we don’t “consciously” think that there are supernatural undead that survive on the blood of the living, there’s a part of us that those stories speak to strongly enough that we accept the notion fully.

The idea that we’re not simply what we think we are and that that aspect of us might actually be a very small part of us indeed is one that causes some initial fright, but is insanely enticing, perhaps literally.

So I laid on the couch with a couple blankets (I keep the heat off downstairs since I’m so rarely down there. Besides that’s cozy as fuck) and had my pen handy as I watched, determined to keep a closer eye on things than usual, interested to see what it was I’d notice.

I did take some notes I thought about a bit, but by the end of the movie I was more or less on auto-pilot. But I did watch a couple “Agents of SHIELD” episodes afterwards that got me back on track.

Today as I left for the cigar lounge I passed by the pad, ripped off the top page, folded it in half and stuffed it in my pocket.

Just for fun I haven’t looked at it and going to unfold it and type out my notes here. It says…

  • Character spends too much time in the other/under-world and is driven mad while being granted great insight.
  • Enlisting forces beyond their control and losing that control
  • Omens and Heralds
  • The villain understands far more about the world than the hero (at least at the outset.)
  • A weapon fed by blood [I think this was just something that occurred to me along the way. Not sure what specifically triggered it.]
  • Travis McGee [Coulson fantasizes about TAHITI (it’s a magical place) where he read a bunch of Traivs McGee novels. I didn’t know who that was so I wrote it down.]

And that’s it. Clearly what I did was not write down the ideas from the movie itself but ripped something out of those ideas and saw them as inspiration.

But the theme (Travis McGee aside ;)) is clear.

The idea that the villain (in this particular case Loki) is driven mad by deep knowledge that is simply inaccessible to the heroes, who spend an awful lot of the movie (and indeed the franchise) trying to figure out what the hell is REALLY going on.

Both Loki and SHIELD are dealing with things utterly beyond them. Loki was “given knowledge” of the Tesseract and SHIELD had the benefit of decades of study by Howard Stark and Hydra.

They have some success but are still clearly outmatched by what’s really going on. The short-sighted task of the Avengers is really just to thwart Loki, and as such they succeed.

I don’t mean to rip the whole thing to pieces. Geekier minds than mine have almost certainly done that to absolute death, and I’ll leave all that to them.

That trope though shows up all over the place. In the Bethesda franchise, reading an Elder Scroll grants tremendous insight but literally blinds the reader over time, if not driving him out of his mind with truths too large for a normal mind to hold.

I fear I’ve become a victim of my own meandering on this one. It leaves me with more questions and thoughts than it resolves.

The issue of overarching plot continues to frustrate me. I…suppose I could pepper my setting with characters and, if I make them rich enough, just pit them against each other (by which I mean only bringing them together and forcing them to interact) and see what they do in response.

Tapping in to that kind of symbolic/mythological understanding as a source for material instead of “merely” as a tool for understanding what I’m consuming is an idea that seems to have the promise of a little tuning fork resonating in my head.

Yeah, log jam broken.

There’s so much more here that I just don’t QUITE know how to get to, which I suppose is the entire point of this little (checks his word count) or…medium-sized rant.

If there’s ONE thing that’s clear it’s that I absolutely need more blackboards in my office and may need to cover the walls in cork board as well. Then I could get some string and push pins, print out a bunch of nonsense and pull lines between them all.

“My God, it’ll be beautiful.” – Judge Doom