Sunday, September 23, 2012

New Column: Daydreams - Ikea, Piracy, Batman

Could not for the life of me think of something to write about on the site this week. I had some ideas and there were some things I'd like to discuss, but none that warrented their own article. So I thought I'd steal and idea from Movie Bob and the like and do an article of random bits stuck together to give the impression of a whole.

I was going to call these side dishes or some other random thing (junk drawer already being taken) but settled on day dreams to give at least one half assed attempt at a theme for the site. For better or for worse, here we go.


Yeah, the store. Run by the blonde people with the complex furniture. I know it's not dragons or whatever, just bare with me. Hadn't been to Ikea in years. Had some time to kill, went in one. There's one near me that's a muli story affair with it's own parking garage.

I have to say I was pretty impressed. The store has some problems for sure. I for one would never want to take a small child in one of those places for fear it would get lost, have to ration it's own pee for drinking water and be found a week later in the rafters having subsisted off bats.

The store layout is pretty genius. It has a little grocery section, a concessions area and a full cafeteria. And the way they take you from area to area winding your through a space, is pure brilliance. In most places it would be one big open, square room. Ikea takes you from mock apartment to fake bedroom, winding you though this space. It gives the illusion of a much larger area. There may be a more efficent way to arrange it spatially, but the effect it has on the customer's mental state is intelligent in way most stores can't match..

Back to writing. I found myself musing at the mock apartments and bedrooms, about how much they look like sets for a TV show. Then realized that's exactly what they are. I've also talked before on this site about how everything we see as writers are legos for our brains. It's true in this case as well. Each tiny example room was done in a different style, for a different demographic. It's showed me rooms I would have never thought up because I've never seen them or thought about them in that way.

Now in a movie or TV show that would all be handled by production and set design, but for narritive writers and even those simply trying to visualize the setting I think it has some value. Also, when I was walking around the cafe area and was reminded of airports. This led me to thinking that space stations of the future will be a lot like airports. Seems pretty obvious now that I type it out... Oh well.


The boring cyber kind, not the 'arrr me matey' awesome kind. Torrent sites and clients are basically libraries of the future, when you stop to think about it. That's all, on to the next topic.


I know, I know. I talk about Batman a lot. That's why I didn't want to do a full article. But since we're here, why not.

I'm almost done with the animated series. One of the interesting tid bits about the series is that in the third season they change the opening to Batman & Robin. It's a more stylised approach to the intro that's less dark and brooding even though the show stayed pretty much the same. In the fourth season they went back to the old intro, as they drop Grayson for Drake. Easier I guess then making a new intro.

The intresting thing though is the entire tone of the show changes. Even the animation changes in style to something much closer to Justice League. In addition the show takes a lighter, more comedic tone. This is mostly due to the added role of a kid Robin in Drake and a bigger role for Batgirl. Even the villains seem more comediac and down right cartoonish. What I find strange is that though the show becomes lighter, Batman actually becomes darker. We see more of his inner sociopath and willingness to go to extremes..

This is especially odd because when you look at the earlier seasons Batman isn't actually all that dark. Sure he's dark for a kids cartoon, especially one in the early nineties. But compared to modern batman he's pretty tame. He's very emotive, gets bested often by the baddies and even wares rubber masks as disguises on multiple occasions. And the villains in the older seasons are much darker. Much more tragic.

Take Babydoll for instance. In the older seasons she's a lost soul, pushed to the brink of insanity by the memories of a time when she was happy, and a society that refuses to accept her. She kidnaps her old fake family in a sick plot of revenge against someone who at the time of the original injustice was a toddler. In the newer season she's a walking punchline machine (purposely) that has a crush on Killer Croc of all people. Even the Joker comes off less menacing and crazy.

The obvious answer is  tone. The older seasons were so dark they had to have a light come from somewhere. So it came from our hero, someone often times flying solo. Allowing us to identify with him in spite of the mask. In the last season we have Drake and Batgirl able to bring some light, and the villains to bring the humor. This leaves room for the dark and brooding Batman we love.


Well, that concludes the first daydream segment. Maybe I will do more in the future. Hope you got something out of it. If you have something you'd like to see me talk about, let me know in the comments. God knows I could use the ideas. Also let me know what you'd like to see on the site. More articles about the things I'm watching or playing, or would you like to see articles focus more on the craft of writing and less on the analyses?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

No New Podcast This Week

Unfourtanly there will be no new episode of the Around the Trunk podcast this week. We ran into massive techinacal difficulties. Chris had near constant connection problems, Tyler was having some issues with his mic leading to him sounding a little muddled.

There was a lot of disjointed conversations as Chris dropped in and out and we attempted to get him back. After almost and hour and a half of this we gave up on Chris and thanks to Tyler spurning us on made an attempt at salvaging the epsiode. We talked for another forty minutes and had some great discussions, only to lose them to problems in the recording software.

We tried folks, we really, really did. These things happen unfourtantly. Instead of giving you pieces of what we do have I wanted to keep a high quailty, or at least a quality to the podcast instead of giving you some pieced together slop. We shall be back next week and hopefully have all of this sorted out.

So to our only listener, our apoligies and we'll be back next week.

We did want to have a contest in this one which we'll discuss in more detail in the next podcast. We are also hopeing to start a questions segment. If you have any topics, stories or questions about writing you want shared/answered, let us know.

You can reach us on Twitter:

Podcast =

Mike =

Chris =


And in the comments below.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Thoughts on my Writing and Writing What You Know

My sci-fi project has been kicking my butt lately. Normally I can write an episode every week, to week and a half, working for a short time in the evenings. The episode I was having trouble with before (the third) was tricky because I wanted to try some new themes and styles with it.

In trying to craft an episode into a certain mold I found myself struggeling to come up with the actual plot of the epsiode, something that normally doesn't give me trouble. Eventually I found the key was moving the big punch I was saving for the end to the middle. Why fill the episode with filler to get this one moment when we can start with that big moment and see the interesting stuff that comes after?

As I finished this episode I moved onto the fourth and set myself another challenge. I tasked myself with doing a bottle episode. A bottle episode is usually lite on plot and takes place in a single location. For instance the crew would never leave the ship, or the couple never leaves the apartment. These episodes are often regarded as the best or worst in a series, as the writers either phone it in or rise to the challenge. With no explosions or big events, with no outside forces it traps the writer into using character motives alone to drive the plot.

As I was trying to think of how to do this I kept hitting a brick wall. How do you make the uninteresting, interesting? As I thought out different plot elements I realized something about my own writing. I either can't or won't write a happy story. Every single thing I have ever written has been dark in some way. I'm not talking 40k, emo grim-dark here. I mean more of the inner torments.

My sci-fi project is probably the most clear example of this, as every episode in some way has a gut punching moment, either through something bad happening to a character or them struggling with the demons within. Now I'll admit it's a dark universe, not a lot of sunshine and lollipops in the worlds that those characters live in. But I have yet to give them lasting successes. I have yet to give them a triumph they could hold onto. Every single victory has it's price. Every hill, every saved victim, every personal demon slayed is paid in blood.

A week or so ago I started writing a movie. I wanted to play with characters, with writing stories that don't have action sequences or outside threats. It was going to be a sweet romance between a guy who's lost his drive in life, and a blind girl struggling to find her own place. Standard romance stuff. By the second seen the blind girl had been hit by a car and was in a cast. Though she laughed about it, not the nicest thing to do to a character. Two scenes later she was crying, wondering if she'd every be able to raise a family through the difficulties imparted by her disability. The more I plotted out the story and thought of the path to get there, the deeper and darker those tunnels became. While the story has a happy ending, I don't let them get there without their share of angry shouting matches and crying spells. And that was me attempting to do something happy.

Write What You Know?

So what the hell is wrong with me? Why is every story I write so damn depressing at times? Well, the easy answer without going to much into my personal life, is that I've only really felt strongly during the darker times. Pain has always been easier to feel than love. "Happy" has at times felt like a downright lie and at others as a boring retirement, of being set out to pasture.

To me the times that really mattered where the ones when I had to fight. When things were so damn dark I forgot what light looked like, what it was. When I had to close my eyes and look deep down inside myself and push on. When I had to trust my own voice and fight my way through to the other side. The times when I was drifting in a vacuum, only to claw and bite my way back to the surface.

A triumph of happiness, of victory, didn't seem important. It wasn't about reaching the summit, it was about the climb to get there. And there was always a higher peak waiting. Maybe it's wrong of me to put my characters through hell. To allow them only fleeting repreives from the hellish downpour that is their lives. Maybe it's some sadistic part of me wanting to share the scars. Or perhaps it's a voice seeking empathy. Who knows.

In the meantime, I've learned something about my writing and myself, and I can only think that will lead to better stories and characters. And maybe, just maybe, I'll give the character's that easy victory they yearn for.

On second thought, I'll probably shoot their dog. Builds character.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Podcast is Now on iTunes

What it says on the tin people. After some techinical trouble we have the podcast on iTunes with the correct information. Subscribe if you like it. We're going to keep them coming each week. We normally record the podcast on Sunday, edit and post on Monday.

If you have any topics or questions you'd like us to cover, let us know. You can reach us by email, in the comments section or on twitter.

Also want to thank the guys over at The What Have I Done Podcast again for their help in sorting out the feed. Check out their great podcast. They talk about creative stuff, if you like us chances are you'll like them.

Almost forgot the iTunes link...

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Around The Trunk Site

Our awesome podcast covering media and writing and all manner of nerdly things now has it's own website.

Around The Trunk Podcast

All future podcast will be posted there. Still working on getting it in iTunes. Should be sorted out soon.

Monday, September 10, 2012

2 - Spoilers, Spoilers Everywhere

Episode Two of the Around the Trunk Podcast.


This time we talked about the return of Doctor Who in Asylum of the Daleks, reviewed Super God by Warren Ellis and close out with a discussion of our favorite characters from Game of Thrones (the TV show)

Spoilers. This show has them. Lots of them. We talk about these subjects as if you have already viewed them. If you haven't, no worries, this podcast will still be here once you've gotten caught up.



We are on iTunes, but under the wrong name. Something went wonky in the submission process. We hoped to have it fixed soon. We will also be experimenting with different editing techniques next week and I'm going to dig deep under the couch for some pennies to get a mic, hopefully this will lead to better audio for you and less editing for me.

Show Notes:

Intro: 0:1:00

This entire episode deals with spoilers for it's respective topics. You have been warned.

First Topic: 1:00-29:00

Doctor Who Returns!

What did we think of Asylum of the Daleks, Amy, Rory and Oswin (New Companion?)

Second Topic:29:-47:42

We discuss

Super God by Warren Ellis & Garrie Gastonny

And let you know what we like and didn't like about this comic and tips for how to avoid some of the problems the comic
runs into.

Third Topic: 47:42-120:17

We talk the Game of Thrones TV show, specifically who are favorite characters are and what makes them so well written.

Closing: 120:17-121:51

Twitter Handles & Blogs

Mike: @Madness Serenade

Chris: @TheArchetipical

Saturday, September 8, 2012

JL8 and What It Means To Define a Character

I don't normally feature other work, but today I found something that not only is cool enough to share with others, but ties into some overall points I've been thinking about.

 JL8 #1

JL8 is a web comic by Yale Stewart that follows children sized versions of DC's the Justice League as they navigate through the playground perils of every day youth. Most of the arcs are remniscent of most children's fare including bullies and school yard crushes, while retaining a solid foundation of humor. The real trick is in keeping the characters familiar and true to themsevles, while putting them in the bodies of children.

Yale manages to retain the characters' voices and overall personalities while putting them in new and often lighthearted situations mostly unfamiliar to how we've seen the characters previously. Yale is able to distill them down to their definitive state without turning them into cardboard cut outs.

Those who watched the Justice League animated series will remember an episode in which through magical hijinks the heroes were reduced to pre-teen age, they remembered their skills and training while losing their maturity. At first I hated the episode. I thought it was a cheap gimmick after the writers had run out of ideas. But around half way through the episode I found myself loving it, and even thinking I'd watch a full series in that style. While we may never see that, JL8 retains the idea and takes it further.

The reason for my change of heart was because the writers went beyond the gimmick to use the episode to show sides of the characters rarely seen. We got to see Batman,  Superman and Green Lantern in a more immature state, and Wonder Woman less dignified and pompous. More importantly by retaining the characters' skills the writers were able to retain the character's level of bad ass so we wouldn't lose out some of what makes these characters awesome in the first place.

In both the animated series and Yale's strip they used their setting and premise to show us sides of the characters and their relationships with their parents, mostly dead or missing in the comic, which we would have never other wise seen, outside of isolated flashbacks.



I've been thinking a lot about characters lately. About how you add depth and layers to a character while still making them feel true to themselves. In game of thrones Tyrion Lannister, played by the amazing Peter Dinklage in the show, is able to have a surface character that is a carefree fool and a deeper layer of incredibly intelligent and emotional conflict. This is informed by his background of his twisted family and physical conditon, but on camera comes across as natural. The writers were able to start us off with the jester, giving us hints of what lay beneath until finally showing it to us in full. This gave us a character with depth that still felt consistant, something I continue to strive for in my own writing.

In the Justice League they had the opposite problem. How do we take characters from their own histories and valued stories and remove layers of complexity while retaining their depth? Some may argue if they succeeded or not but I think they did. You have Superman as both the man of steal and  the outcast boy worried he'll break everything around him. You have Bats as both the brooding loner and the man struggeling to not only intergrate into a team but lead those following in the teams footsteps, and his complicated realtionship with Wonder Woman.

In Hawkgirl's story arc they took a character that was intially a battering ram and developed her over time, gave her conflicts, trials and triumphs. Yale does this in his comic as well. Early on there's a scene where Batman and Superman are confronting the bullies of the playground, Lex, the Joker and others. Superman gives a speech that could have come from any of his comics, you can't help but here it in the voice of Tim Daly (of Wings fame and the voice actor for superman for as long as I can remember.) It's a brilliant scene that shows the character at their finest, even when reduced to the more simplistic days of childhood.

Wrapping Up

We can learn a lot from characters by looking at them in different settings and points in their lives. The childhood Bruce of JL8 and the old man Wayne of Batman Beyond show us different sides of the character that can help us write them in their prime as Batman. We can also learn to add layers of depth to our characters while keeping a simplicity that makes them easy to understand and pick up by our readers.

Don't forget to check out JL8.

JL8 #1

Monday, September 3, 2012

Help From the Community

I want to give an official thanks to @ for helping me out with some podcasting issues. Was very helpful and nice. Go check out their awesome podcast at

Thanks to them the podcast should soon be on iTunes.

People like that remind me that there is hope for humanity after all. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a new podcast to listen to.

1 - Gods Of Earth 09/02/12

The very first episode of our Around the Trunk Podcast.

First Topic: 3:08- 30:00

Skyrim and Fallout, a comparison of Worlds.

Second Topic: 30:00 - 51:00

Time Travel. We had a more centralized focus for this topic, but it got away from us. As the wibbly wobbly tends to do. During this topic Chris got interrupted and didn't mute his mic, so the audio gets a little garbled. He will mute his mic in the future or we will skin him alive. We also go on a bit of a historical tangent toward the end. We will be better about that in the future.

Third Topic 51:00- 1:37:00

The Super Power Game

This was a special thing we did for the first episode. It goes pretty long and is the last topic. If you have no interest in it you can turn the podcast off here and not miss anything else.

Mike: Flight, Immortality (G), Solar Sustenance
Chris: Time Travel (G), Earth Bending, Muscle Memory
Tyler  Brute Telekinesis, Healing Factor (G), Teleportation

Let us know in the comments which super powered God you think would in the game of world domination and which one you would rather be.

Twitter Handles & Blogs

Mike: @Madness Serenade

Chris: @TheArchetipical


Tyler texted me after recording this. Killing kids in games isn't illegal in US law, but in the industry would almost guarantee an Adults Only rating, leading to most carries to ban your games.

First episode, already getting things wrong. Off to a great start.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Two Face and the Importance of Our Past

Everyone has a past. Some of us are defined by them. From time to time I've come across Character Sheets on the web. Forms that ask you to fill out every single detail about a character, from the house they grew up in to their favorite food. I've always hated these. Why would you spend hours staring at a piece of paper trying to decide what food best explains your characters personality? Does a love of pizza say someone is out going? Can't a rich guy love mac & cheese? Why aganoize over something that will likely never come up in your story?

Most of these character sheets aren't meant to be filled out line by line, but instead help get the mental wheels turning, each question acts as prompt to get us to consider aspects of a character we have yet to think about. And almost all of them deal with a character's past.

Harvey Dent

Anyone who's been following this site (if they exist) will know that I've been on a bit of Batman kick lately. Reading some of the comics I've missed and re-watching the animated series from the nineties One of the thing's I've really enjoyed about the animated series is watching their take on certain story arcs, how they've condensed some, expanded others, and made alterations for the show to be more family friendly..

I've never really cared about Two-Face. He never seemed that interesting to me, a little one note (or two note in his case.) So he was scarred, and flipped a coin, big deal. I never thought it was interesting, just kind of stupid and sad. I thought Nolan's Dark Knight did a good job of humanizing the character and his struggle, but I tend to chalk that up more to Nolan than the character.

In the cartoon however we get to see a lot more of him. For starters he doesn't even become Two Face until a third of the way into the first season. The writers had the foresight to include him in early on as regular old Harvey Dent. We see him as the star D.A. helping out Gotham, working along side Batman and Bruce Wayne alike. Those of us who know his fate are rewarded with seeing the seed of something we know will blossom into fruition later. Those who are experiencing the story for the first time get the emotional payoff of seeing a character they've gotten to know and respect be tormented by his inner soul, and ultimately changed for the worse because of it.

The cartoon goes one step beyond the acid incident and shows that the character has real mental issues and a suppressed inner dark side. That the acid doesn't warp his mind so much as it unlocks the cage of the demons already present. It hurts Harvey to the point where he doesn't care anymore, where he's lost the will and reason to fight the endless war against his inner torments.

Further more the cartoon reminds us as his story continues of his old days as Harvey. In one of the best episodes of the cartoon "Almost Got 'im" we see Two Face, The Penguin, Killer Croc and The Joker sitting around playing cards telling stories of how they almost defeated Batman. Poison Ivy walks in, much to the displeasure of Harvey Dent. He says something like "Half of me wants to strangle you," Poison Ivy assuming he's referring to the scarred side asks about the other. Two face turns to her and says the other half wants to burn her alive. When the others gathered around the table give her a "what was that about" look she says they used to date, referring to an earlier episode that served as Poison Ivy's origin. In another episode Hugo Strange attempts to auction off the identity of Batman to The Joker, The Penguin and Two Face. When they learn it's Bruce Wayne, Two Face rejects this, saying that he's known Bruce for years and that he could never be Batman.

In every case the character's past, both pre- and during the show inform his motives and methods of operation. More importantly it separates him being just another flat villain with a gimmick.

Captain America and The Doctor

We see this in other characters as well. Almost everything about Captain America is defined by his past. From his patriotic duty, to his manners and fashion, to the pain he carries from the world and loved ones he lost. His past has made him a character displaced in time, and made him all the more interesting because of it. He not only is defined by his past, he's the definition of that era to others. He's a relic, forced to carry around the burden of an old soul and we love him all the more because of it.

In the reboot/relaunch of Doctor Who we have a much darker and tortured Doctor who's just come off the Time War. A hero that has spent his impossibly long life saving countless others is now burdened by not only the guilt of failing to save his own people, but the remorse of knowing he was the one that ended them. The Classic Whos have their charm, and the character of the Doctor is brilliant in a mad genius sort of way, but it comes off thin in light of the complexities of the modern Doctor. Davies and Moffat have crafted a character consumed by guilt and loneliness, transforming the often dull Companions from a cheap excuse to explain things to the viewer to a valued part of the Doctor's development. Instead of being a barely disguised stand in, the companion has a real reason for being there in helping to soften The Doctor, remind him what he is fighting for and helping to stave off his crippling loneliness.

Past, Present and Future

Our character's past can be more than a blurb in their file or a list of likes and dislikes. By giving our characters real struggles not just in the present but throughout their life we create deeper characters with richer motives. We get invested in their struggle because we know where they came from and want to see even more where there are going.

Going once more back to the Batman cartoon, we see multiple episodes that fill in the gap of Bruce Wayne's life between the time he left Gotham and returned. We see he was not simply a brooding loner, but that he forged lasting connections with people. He had multiple father figures that he deeply respected, helping to not only train him to eventually become Batman, but sooth the wound of his missing father, taken from him far too soon. You could also argue that the lack of his mother, and her sudden departure from his life informs his many conflicted love affairs with the women (often villains) in his life. In every case the past of the character adds to a richer and more diverse person.

Challenge yourself to go farther back in your character's lives and see what struggles emerge. Not every character is going to have one, and that's okay. Some characters become defined by their peaceful past being shattered by their present misfortune, as in almost every post-apocalyptic story. But for those characters that do have a past, let your reader know. And if you have the opportunity, show us a character like Harvey Dent, before he is transformed into Two Face. We can go on their journey with them, as opposed to being informed at the last minute why we should care.