Cliches Are Like Bones

There’s a lot of debate among the writing community over the use of cliches. And it’s true that some things immediately jump out to us as overused and trite.

“A chill went up her spine” is a popular one. I still see this one in scripts and in stories. It was denounced in an older book on writing and how to write Fiction and Non-Fiction.  Another one within that same book was the idea of comparing someone’s cheeks to the color of a rose. It stated how that comparison was probably dated back to a time when roses were a common flower and the poet didn’t have much else to compare to the effect of blushing.

I’m not here to sway anyone in one way or the other. You can settle for a cliche like, “It was so dark I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face,” or you can go out of your way to find another way of describing total darkness. I’ve been in total darkness, in the bottom of a cave on a tour and in other occasions, so the experience is relevant enough that I can use the expression with confidence. It doesn’t make it less cliche but I’m not going to waste a lot of time finding another way to say something.

Kathy Reichs used another common cliche for describing silence “Deafening Silence”. It springs to mind as the go-to descriptor for any sudden silence that occurs after a continuous stream of noise goes quiet. Deafening silence is a cliche but it’s still the best way of describing that experience. And Kathy Reich is a brilliant writer who has created an icon of literature and television based on her experiences as a forensic anthropologist.

If Kathy Reichs was a lesser writer, that cliche would stick out like the bones in a steadily decaying corpse. But as long as the story is strong and solid, no one is going to notice the cliche unless it’s pointed out to them, or they notice it upon closer inspection.

Fever Pitched

I don’t know of a single writer who bragged about writing when they were ill. I spent most of Sunday fighting a cold and all of Monday yesterday sleeping off the worst of it. The whole time I was thinking of Lily James in Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies and wondering how Julian Fellows might have proceeded if he were to create a similar mashup with Downton Abbey.

Well, I’m no stranger to using Downton Abbey in my down moments, so stick around. What you see may shock you. (Or not, but “shock” gets a lot of search engine hits)

Virtual Vitality

Today was my turn to help people experience the presentation I got to experience on this day.  I have some thoughts to share about my shift at the Cinema Salem but more people want to hear about the VR, naturally.

Once again, you can find more information about the documentary called After Solitary, here.

It helped that I had a solid volunteer partner in this venture as I don’t think I could have done it alone. The goggles and headset are attached to a computer that is worth more per penny than an organ transplant. But there’s also the risk of bumping into something, or stepping outside the range of the “base stands”

That means one of us needs to hold on to the Frontline’s lifeline so that each participant has the chance to really look around inside of the cell. Some will remain stationary and watch the presentation but like me, there were quite a few who get absorbed in the detail in all 360 degrees of photography. For the explorers, you really have to have your focus on those people and to have someone standing outside of the range, with the clip board, answering questions and signing other participants up.

This is the first time the Salem Film Festival has hosted an interactive feature like this, so making sure that it goes spectacularly can’t be understated. So to all of the fellow volunteers who helped me out with this, I give my thanks and I certainly hope I made the experience as fun for you as you made it for me.

There were a couple of experiences I had during today’s shift that more or less belong in my other blog. But I’ve decided I can write about those things here without going on the attack. Still, I will hold off until after the festival is over to detail these particular “events”.

A Disclaimer

I should clarify something. When I said that reading about Penn Jillette’s experience with Clay Aiken, a fellow contestant on The Celebrity Apprentice, cemented my already waning opinion of Clay Aiken, I meant just that.

I did a brief review of Penn and Teller: Bullshit, which I was able to binge watch thanks to X-Finity and Showtime On Demand. In the very books written by Penn Jillette, that I also made comment on, he has mentioned that some of what he talked about on that show he simply didn’t know enough about. He has gone on record to say that he’s changed his mind about some of the views he share don that show.

But those shows are still available. They may cement some viewers opinion or they may change them. Penn is no more responsible for how someone reacts to the information presented on a show that he and Teller co-hosted than he is for my own lack of respect for an American-Idol runner up he happened to write about in his book. Likewise, he doesn’t have to apologize to anyone for what was said in the past, any more than I am required to apologize if my point of view offends anyone at any given time for any reason.

Penn and Clay maybe the best of friends. Heaven forbid something should happen to Teller, Clay might go on to become Penn’s new partner in crime (Hear me heaven? I said you better forbid that from happening) . But Penn’s new experiences with Clay does not, nor should it, have any effect on my own feelings.

But hey, if you want to be the unsung champion for the Cause of Clay, then by all means. If my fifteen minutes of fame is becoming a flavor of the month for not liking an Ex-American Idol then so help me, I’ll take that enema for my art.

Space Opera Is Not Science Fiction

Setting your story in space does not make it science fiction anymore than sticking wings on a squirrel makes it a bird.

“But there are flying squirrels, aren’t there?”

Flying squirrels are not birds. Try to stay with me, faithful reader.

I got into an argument. Big surprise, there. But the argument was over whether or not stories like Star Wars and Dune belonged in science fiction. My reply was, no.

Science fiction has to have an element of real science somewhere in the plot. From The Earth To the Moon, Jurassic Park and The Martian are examples of science fiction. They are based on the very real and peer-reviewed scientific knowledge of their respective eras. The fictional aspects of these stories does not detract from the science, even if the science of the book isn’t as accurate as a paper you might deliver to your professor at MIT.

Jules Verne and HG Wells are considered the fathers of science fiction. Although it should be noted that Jules Verne resented being compared to Wells, because unlike the former, the latter wasn’t as technical in his writing. Verne’s stories went the distance in showing the work whereas Wells mostly wanted you to just take him at his word that the science of his story worked.

To that end, the work of HG Wells is more accurately described as speculative fiction. While his stories do have some trace amounts of science, such as the science of lasers that is briefly touched upon in War of the Worlds, his stories tended to lean towards social commentary as opposed to making science fun and interesting.

So why is it that Star Wars and Dune are space opera and not science fiction?

Both stories are heavily influenced by mythology. Star Wars borrows from Greek mythology and Dune has it’s basis in Greek and Arabic myth. At the heart of both tales is the idea that faith in the all powerful religion of the respective universes will help a tiny band of rebels overthrow the evil empire.

Before the Prequels, The Force was mostly a spiritual path that allowed a Jedi to tap into this great storehouse of power in the universe. Even after The Phantom Menace introduced the idea of “midichlorians”, The Force was still mostly a fantasy because now the all powerful storehouse of power that gives you superpowers is a psychokinetic relationship with microorganisms.

Dune has a similar premise: Get high on this drug that can only be mined on one planet and you’ll be able to send spaceships from one part of the universe to another. I don’t know where to begin with that one.