Monday, January 21, 2013

The Fantasy Rules of Engagement

It should come as no surprise to anyone that I'm a stickler for the rules. The rules of the road, the rules of polite behavior, the rules of good social media etiquette, the rules of Scrabble (stop playing foreign words, damn it!)... I don't see them as just arbitrary limits on one's freedom, but usually as a logical means of creating order or preventing an evil. When they exist, they usually exist for a reason. And no matter what kind of rules we're talking about, before you can break them, you should at least understand why they're there in the first place.

Now, as any avid reader of fantasy knows, there are rules to fantasy literature, as well. They may not be carved in stone and there are plenty of rule violators out there who do quite well. But generally, the people who break the rules of the fantasy genre fall into two categories: (1) total newbs who had no idea there were rules in the first place and (2) genius-types who can expertly turn such rules upside down, usually for a specific purpose or with such cleverness that nobody minds.

When two fantasy-themed TV shows, "Once Upon a Time" and "Grimm", came traipsing into my life, rules were the last things on my mind. My nerdy heart was all a-flutter at the notion of the genre I so love filling my TV screen as artfully as it filled the pages of my favorite books. "At last," I thought, "television shows that cater to my interests. Let the magic-wielding mayhem begin!"

Then cue my dawning disappointment. Apparently, the writers of these shows didn't get the memo about the fantasy genre having rules. Episode after episode, I waited to see that there was something up their sleeves I wasn't expecting, some trick that would make me see they were the genius-types and not just clueless newbs who wanted to play recklessly in the fantasy playground. Unfortunately, two seasons into both shows, it's not looking good.

So as a learning experience and to explain how I went so quickly from devotee to disenchanted, I am going to go through exactly what some of the rules are, how the shows have broken them, and why the violations are problematic.


"Don't mind me and my lightning hands and my monster steed. 
I'm a pushover underneath all this majestic awesomeness."

Original image found here.

The Rule: Whenever you're putting a mystical black hat into play, setting out his or her weakness is almost as important as picking out a properly villainous name. (Nobody cowers from the Vile Wizard Herbert.) True, it can be a psychological one- arrogance can cause a villain to underestimate his opponent, or perhaps he's got issues that make him get sloppy when the hero's taunts strike a nerve- but generally, when it comes to magic-users, magic should also come with a cost. It can be physical pain, a fatigue that sets in, a narrow range of abilities, or the limitation that a spell dissipates from the mind after use and has to be relearned. It could also be that their power is bound to a physical object that can be taken or destroyed. In the end, it doesn't matter what it is, it just has to be there.

The Reason: Imagine you're reading a fantasy novel you just picked up at the bookstore and you're really digging it. The quality of the writing is stellar and you totally relate to the main character. Then the villain walks in in chapter two. It turns out he's an all-powerful demigod with every magical gift under the sun who can keep flinging bad voodoo 'til the cows come home. 

Maybe now you're wondering how this guy can EVER lose. Also, maybe you're thinking even if He Of The Limitless Power can be taken down, it's not gonna be by some plucky chump with a sword like the main character. So while you want the hero to save the day, if he/she does win, it's gonna seem pretty darned improbable. 

One might keep reading after that, waiting for the villain's Achilles' heel to be revealed. But if you're only getting mounting awe at the villain's magical prowess with no sign of any advantage to the hero in sight after a certain number of pages, the book in your hands is eventually going to start looking like a 500-page waste of time. And in TV terms, magnify that loss of time by multiple episodes across several seasons. Now let's all hit the "do not record" button on our DVRs together.

The Rule-Breaker: "Once Upon a Time" is the primary offender.

How it's a problem: In the fantasy world of "Once Upon a Time", Regina is the evil queen from Snow White. They make it readily apparent from the start that she is so much more than a vain royal who clocks in too much mirror time; she's also a sorceress of boundless talent. She disappeared into thin air when Prince Charming threw his sword at her at his wedding. She cast the curse that banished the fairy tale characters to the magickless limbo they now inhabit in our world. She attacked the guards in Wonderland with plant life and she poisoned Snow White's apple with a sleeping spell. She ripped out the Huntsman's heart and eventually squished it into gooey bits. And she also seems to know everything that's going on in her world with the possible exception of where that pesky stepdaughter of hers has gotten to. With her limitless range of abilities and no sign of any spellcaster's fatigue, one has to wonder how even decent fighters like Charming and Snow could ever get the better of her. 

It was more acceptable in season one, which was dominated by the magickless setting of Storybrook, Maine. There, Regina was limited to whatever small magicks she'd brought with her and her own guile. Then season two brought the magic into our world, and suddenly the only limit on Regina's ability to kick good guy ass is that her magic is a little more unpredictable and she doesn't want to upset her adopted son. And as we all regard her newfound self-control dubiously and remember that this is the same woman who had her husband assassinated, sent a man to cut out her stepdaughter's heart, and stabbed her own father, Regina's mother, Cora, has come into play in the fantasy world. And Cora is even worse than Regina when it comes to appearing to have no discernible limit to her magical prowess. 

Too long, the show has progressed without it being readily apparent how anyone can get the drop on these two. At this point, I worry that no matter how much I admire Emma, Snow, Charming, and the gang, there is no way in Hell that they should be able to defeat these bad mojo-wielding mamas. If there were going to be limits or rules governing Regina and Cora's magic, they should've long since manifested. At this point, even if they're mentioned, they're going to seem like an afterthought. And that's just sloppy world-building.

On a related note...


Hey, this guy may not be in shape like Superman, but he 
can sure kick the Sunday crossword puzzle's ass!

Original image found here.

The Rule: Whenever you've got a bad guy engaged in a reign of terror and you meet the guy who's gonna make it all come to an end, you usually need some indication of why this guy will succeed where everyone else has failed. Is he a good fighter? Does he have some mystical destiny? Does he have good information about the villain's aforementioned weaknesses? What makes the hero so damn special, after all?

The Reason: Mostly, it just seems like less of an admirable feat for our main character to defeat his nemesis if it seems like dumb luck or that anybody with a pulse could've managed it. And you have to wonder, if it's that easy, why didn't someone else step up? So you need to know exactly what the hero has going for him that makes him uniquely suited to his quest.

The Rule-Breaker: I'm looking at you, "Grimm." 

How it's a Problem: I've said it before and I'll say it again: I do not understand why all the supernatural creatures on "Grimm" are terrified of Nick. He can see them, sure. He also has what amounts to a supernatural burn book ("Ooo, those hexenbiests are vicious bitches!") and an arsenal of ye olde weaponry. So he definitely has the right tools. But still, he's fighting things that look like were-animals, complete with slashing teeth and claws and some of whom have magic and/or poison, in addition to enhanced senses and supernatural strength. And yet our good-looking but otherwise seemingly normal cop seems to take them down with relative ease. 

HOW?! What is the big stinking deal about being a Grimm? If there's something else to it, I really should've found out before the second season began. Otherwise, it's like reading a Spiderman comic and not finding out that he actually has superpowers until issue 10. How many people would've stuck around that long thinking our hero was just a quippy dude in spandex?

Without knowing why Nick is uniquely suited to his mission, I don't quite believe that he is. And every single episode, as I watch him take down yet another monster, I wonder why just about anyone with his aunt's book, a crossbow, and a set of magical beer goggles couldn't accomplish the same thing.


"Hey, Rocky, watch me pull a madman out of this hat!"
Original image found here

The Rule: While magic has an inherently surreal quality that allows it to defy all the laws of physics and reason, it should not be utterly devoid of logic. There should always be a structure governing any magical system. We should be able to tell, to some extent, where the magic comes from and how it works. Do your spellcasters have to mumble arcane words memorized from books? Do they operate using potions or enchanted objects? Do they possess an innate gift for magic, or can anyone who has the right book and ingredients start conjuring away? How does it all work? And once you explain the mechanics, you have to stick to them. If we're talking about spellbooks and crystal balls, I'm going to call shenanigans if suddenly someone just points a finger and starts spouting lightning bolts. This same rule applies to magical artifacts and beings. Everything has rules to follow. 

The Reason: In some ways, this loops back around to rule # 1. We need to know how it works to know what to expect from the magically gifted and the objects we encounter. It helps guide our understanding of the plot and set up the battles knowing what each party is capable of. How things work out, or don't work out, then makes sense within this magical system. Otherwise, your story will seem like the fantasy equivalent of a Michael Bay film- all random explosions, gunfire, and ass-kicking without a point.

The Offender: If you noticed my thinly veiled rage about Jefferson's hat in my earlier post, you know this is about "Once Upon a Time."

How it's a Problem: From day one, I could not completely understand how Regina's magic operated. Some things she accomplished just because she wanted to, like her disappearing or manipulating shrubberies. Some things, like the curses she cast, seemed to require book learnin' and perhaps a trip to the apothecary's. So I'm not entirely sure how magic works in the fairy tale world.

I thought I understood how magic worked in Storybrook in season one. Because, well, it didn't. That's what everyone kept saying, right? Then Regina smooshes the heart of the local sheriff- and countless fangirl hearts with it- and I am all kinds of puzzled. OK, obviously, she's still got some tricks then, yes? 

Enter the enchanted objects, such as Jefferson's hat. Jefferson, a.k.a. the Mad Hatter, can't seem to make his lovely little felt wormhole work properly because there's just no magic in our world. Cue his plan to kidnap Emma, the sole individual from the fairy tale world who has any resistance to the curse. He is convinced that Emma can make the hat work again. Emma is a little more skeptical, but she gets to craftin', 'cause, you know, he has weapons and a hostage. Then Jefferson gets shoved out of a window and appears to have disappeared into the hat...

...only to pop up a few episodes later telling Regina that he can't make the hat work on account of the lack of power in this world. But... but... How is he not all broken up and concussed, then? And how did he manage to disappear after Mary Margaret's act of defenestration? 

Then Regina tells him that she really can't do anything without magical artifacts from the fairy tale world, and she's clean out. So how did the heart thing work, then? Was the heart, itself, an enchanted object when it came into this world? Inquiring minds want to know.

Inquiring minds are also growing tired of waiting for things to make sense. After a time, one wonders if things like Jefferson's semi-functional portal hat were just goofs by the writers, who suddenly decided that they needed the hat not to work to enable a future plot point. And one finds oneself unimpressed by such oversights.


That awkward moment when two worlds collide outside of an 
officially sanctioned game of bumper worlds.

Original image found here.

The Rule: This one is an odd one, because most of the time it doesn't necessarily come up. But if we're talking about a fantasy world that bleeds into other worlds, unless the plot revolves around in jumping from one strange universe to another, it's always good to give the reader a frame of reference. Are we looking at multiple worlds, or two parallel worlds? How easily can one move between them, and what are their limits?

The Reason: Working these details out will sometimes alert you to inconsistencies or plots that reek of random nonsense. Plus, our setting needs to be tied in with what the plot is trying to accomplish and the theme of the work. And if you keep darting to random worlds that seem unrelated and unnecessary, my fantasy jet lag might make me decide to deplane and take a cab back to the real world. FOREVER.

The Offender: Yes, this about "Once Upon a Time" again. Apparently, if this show were to ask the magic mirror who the most rule-breakingest show of all was, the answer would be its own reflection. 

How it's a Problem: "Once Upon a Time" likes to push its limits, and typically, I like that in a show. Because of this, I've let some odd things slide. For instance, despite the show's concept being built on the notion of Grimms' fairy tales, I was okay when we tugged in folks from Wonderland and Neverland. Neither are Grimm creations and both are actually meant to be their own discrete locales, but the essence of the stories about these worlds was similar enough that I was willing to allow it. 

Then somehow Frankenstein got involved. And... I died inside. 

My feelings about this development can best be summed up by a scene in "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy", when the characters are discussing past loves. Trying to be included in the conversation, Brick starts saying he loves the carpet and the desk and the lamp, forcing Ron to inquire, "Brick, are you just looking at things in the office and saying that you love them?" 

This about sums it up...

This video was originally found here.

At this point, I feel like Ron Burgundy, with "Once Upon a Time" as Brick. Stroking my impressive mustache, I inquire, "Once Upon a Time, are you just saying random things now? Do you really think Dr. Frankenstein makes sense in this plot or did you just throw it in because you tripped over a copy cleaning out your attic last weekend?" And then I retire in a huff to languish among my many leather-bound books.

There is no rhyme or reason to the inclusion of Dr. Frankenstein as a character in this show. He is not a fairy tale character, there is no real fairy tale theme to his story, and Dr. Frankenstein's world isn't even a discrete world such that it gels with the notion of world-jumping via Jefferson's hat. What's more, we're now genre-jumping, as well, because Frankenstein is generally regarded as a horror story. So not only am I not sure what worlds I'm dealing with here anymore, the inspiration being invoked is creating unsightly thematic inconsistencies even more frightening than Dr. Frankenstein's monster. It's enough to make a gal want to take up a torch and pitchfork in protest.


So there you have it; the problems that have bumped these shows from must-see TV to "I guess if I have a lot of time to kill, maybe someday I'll catch up" all boils down to the rules. In TV as in literature, you have to master the game before you can change the rules, and I am not convinced the creative minds behind either show have enough mastery to get away with their shenanigans. 

At this point, it's "so long and thanks for all the fish!" from me as I depart with lessons learned, but then, that's just me. There are probably others who disagree. Maybe you're the type who firmly believes the rules are made to be broken. Or perhaps you think there's a method to the madness that I have somehow overlooked. If so, hit me up in the comments! I may be all about well-defined worlds, but I am wide open to conflicting opinions! 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Blog Always Hops Twice

Perhaps it's the thrill. Perhaps it's the acclaim. Or perhaps it's that nothing good will be on TV until 10:00 p.m. tonight. (Come hither, "American Horror Story," for I yearn for thy perverse oddity). In any regard, I find myself, once again, participating in a blog hop. This one is called the Liebster Award and, having been tagged by Elise Valente, I am now compelled to do the following:

Step the first: I must list 11 random facts about myself.

Step the second: I must answer the 11 questions posted by the person who tagged me.

Step the third: I must nominate 11 others to participate in the blogginess and post 11 questions for them to answer. 

And so the cycle continues... Mwoohahahahahahahahaha... *lightning flashes*

There is nothing so precious as an evil child's laughter...

Original image found here.

Now that you know what you're in for, step into my fact-filled parlor...


1. Much like Odin of Norse mythology fame (and soon to be of HBO series fame), I am known by many names. However, unlike the All Father, the most prevalent of my nicknames is "Lizardsquisher," which stems from a tragic childhood event involving my bare foot, a lizard making a mad dash across my kitchen floor, and a wee green head shooting across the tiles. Having played with the lizards on my porch for so long and having written my first poem about one of them ("Ode to a Lizard on a Cup"), I found the whole thing quite traumatic. 

I fear the day when the lizards have their revenge. I only hope that 
Mothra will be around to save me...

Original image found here.

2. The first book I ever read was The Tortoise and the Hare

3. However, the first book I ever fell madly in love with was The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. I devoured the Chronicles of Narnia when I was 7 or 8 and immediately started writing my own fantasy stories. I even wrote my first book report about The Silver Chair!

4. I compulsively collect the stickers from the tops of my gum containers. It sounds weird, but I started chewing gum when I quit smoking in 2011, so each sticker is sort of symbolic of a day I didn't smoke. I've stuck them to the outside of a plastic container for the time being with a notion of turning them into a mosaic at some point.

5. I used to have competitions with myself ever summer break from school to see if I could read more books than I did the previous summer. I always won. I don't recall the last record I set, but it was over 50.

Clearly, nerdgirls are forged in the fires of Mordor and the forests of Narnia, 
not in your petty mortal sunlight...

Original image found here.

6. I arrange my markers in ROY G BIV order and I am devastated when someone screws them up.

7. I didn't get my driver's license until I was 25. I just couldn't be bothered. Also, I knew I was flighty and was somewhat afraid I would kill someone. (Contrary to popular opinion, this concern has proven to be ill-founded.)

8. I delight in organization but deplore maintenance. Hence my apartment, while perfectly sanitary, is in a perpetual state of near chaos. 

9. I have a huge crush on the talented actor/ handsome goofball, Norman Reedus. I usually try to hide my feelings and I realize this will come as a complete shock to everyone, but I felt like it was time to admit it.

All (with working eyeballs) shall love him and despair. 

Original image found here.

10. I have sent Norman Reedus fan art on two separate occasions, as well as the only fan letter I have ever written. It was actually a two and a half page letter about how I don't write fan letters, written in a scrupulously edited anecdotal essay format. After I sent it to him in the mail with some other trinkets, the talented Mr. Reedus sent me a direct message on Twitter expressing his appreciation, seeming specifically amused by the letter...

11. One of my all-time favorite songs in the world is "Mandolin Rain" by Bruce Hornsby. Every time I hear it, I get all misty-eyed and full of sighs.


1.  Should there be a law that forces gorgeous guys to remain shirtless as often as humanly possible, even in the face of inclement weather?


"But... but... I live in New York City!
Damn it, it's gonna be a tough winter."
Original image found here.

2.  What do you think of the fact that Pluto is no longer a planet?

This about sums it up.

Original image found here.

3.  If you could meet any fictional character, who would it be and why?

That's a tough one. I think maybe Howl from Howl's Moving Castle, because he's pretty, adorably shallow, charming, and magical. I suspect that shenanigans would ensue.

4.  What makes you think you're so special?  I mean, you are special, but please elaborate on your specialness.

Um, 'cause my mom says so. Word to my mother.

5.  What is your biggest pet peeve about the writing process?

Synopses are the tools of Satan, meant to oppress those who have spent years coming up with 200 pages of gold and must now reduce their genius down to a trite, digestible blurb. 

Not that I have strong feelings on the matter or anything...

6.  If I yell at my dog because she's currently throwing a temper tantrum over her bone, does that make me a bad person?

No, but if she yells back, it makes you a crazy one. :P

7.  Did you hate the new Star Trek movie? (Hint: the correct answer is "yes.")

I wouldn't know. I went to see it in the theater after several vodka and cranberries. All I remember is something about a really big, shiny screen and someone saying "ssshhhh" a lot. 

8.  What is your preferred genre to write?  Do you ever see yourself writing in a different genre? (I know that's technically two questions, but since one is a follow-up, it doesn't count).

Fantasy has always been my one true love. I like the element of escape with the underlying notion of using these magical elements as metaphors for real-world problems and comments on the human experience. However, I have written psychological horror and straight fiction before and enjoyed it.

9.  Without using Google or any other search engine, do you have any idea where the phrase "Klaatu barada nikto" comes from? (+20 geek points if you do)

Is that Klingon for "What's your sign?"

10.  You love vampires.  Yes, this is a statement, not a question.

Unless they sparkle. Then I'm calling in Abraham Lincoln.

Original image found here.

11.  Tell us all about your current project and why we should encourage others to start riots over buying it when it's released.

Well, if you follow me on Twitter, you've probably seen me tweeting about Ash, my current work-in-progress. Still, the one I'm really excited about is my finished novel, The Humble Abode. This story combines the elements of the things I love most in life- sarcasm, the supernatural, magic, and short people with attitudes-  into a work that is both original and humorous. Plus, there's a free fire-breathing frog included with purchase!


OK, I never know who to ask to do these things, so I'm gonna ask you guys to be all Katniss Everdeen about this and volunteer. Don't worry, you don't have to fight children to the death and make out with a baker boy who is clearly less foxy than your childhood B.F.F., you just have to step up and answer my questions on your blog. Sound fair? All right, let's continue...

1. What is the best book you've ever read and why?

2. Do you have any hidden talents I might not know about?

3. How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? (Hint: The answer is, "less than Chuck Norris.")

4. If you had a theme song that played whenever you came into the room, what would it be? 

5. Does cheese, in fact, make everything better?

6. What was your favorite cartoon as a kid?

7. What is the coolest thing you ever dressed up as for Halloween?

8. If you could be any mythological creature, what would you be?

9. If you found yourself in mortal peril, which super hero would you want to rescue you? 

10. A spaceship crashes in your backyard and a relatively harmless-looking furry purple critter comes rolling out to ask you for directions to the nearest Taco Bell drive-through. What do you do?

"Go home, alien. You're drunk."

Original image found here.

11. Same scenario as #10, only now the alien requests a DVD to show him the finest TV that Earth's culture has to offer and to keep his kids from fighting in the backseat on his way back to Naboo. What, if anything, do you place into his eager tentacles?

Aaaand that concludes this exciting edition of "Amanda does random things instead of writing or cleaning her apartment." Tune in next time, when I will either have drawn a random comic or gotten unaccountably passionate about something I saw on TV.

If it's the latter, that something will probably look like this and shoot a mean crossbow...

Original image found here.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Blog Hop: A Peek Into "The Humble Abode"

All right, ladies and germs, welcome to my first Blog Hop. I'm told it works something like this: some writer friends of mine have been passing around the following interview questions. When tagged, one must answer the questions about one's latest work-in-progress and then pass them on to someone new. I got tagged, so now it's my turn to talk about what's got me banging the keys of late.

If you'd like to see the answers of She Who Tagged Before Me (that's her Native American name), then visit the following blog: If you want to know what I'm up to right now, then read on!

Ten Interview Questions for The Next Big Thing:

What is the working title of your book?

Well, I've got one still in progress and one I'm putting the finishing touches on. The latter is the one I'm going to chat about here. It's called The Humble Abode.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Honestly, I couldn't tell you anymore where the particulars stemmed from, but the main character is based on a true story of smart-assery. I have a friend whose sarcasm setting was turned up so high when I first met him it nigh scorched my eyebrows off. My initial impression had me torn between amusement and kind of wanting to drown him just a little. Then, the more I got to know him, the more hilarious I found him, and the more I was like, "Hey, who are you kidding, buddy? You're a ridiculously nice person! You can't fool me with your diverting snark!"

Of these traits, a cranky hermit was born.

What genre does your book fall under?

Fantasy, but heavy on the comedy a la Terry Pratchett.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Honestly, I have no idea. The only character I have a notion for is Jior, my pointy-eared grammar freak. I'd find it quite charming to see what Jim Parsons of "The Big Bang Theory" fame could do with him.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A cranky hermit living in a haunted forest gets dragged out of his cottage and into a madcap adventure.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I admire the hustle my indie author friends have, but I'm going to take a run at representation.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I started writing it when I was 22 or 23. I will be 33 in February... :O

Honestly, it didn't take that long to write the dang thing, it just took me that long to quit picking at it. But I can tell you, there is not a comma out of place. This baby is IMMACULATE.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I think there's a zippy, wacky quality to it that's comparable to the works of Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

See the above response regarding my unnamed friend who speaks sarcasm fluently.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Well, it's got a little bit of everything: mystery, romance, adventure, death, grammar, and ghosts haunting jam jars... I mean, what more could you want from a story?

So anyhow, that is what I have up my sleeve just now!

Now, I'm supposed to tag others to answer some questions as well, but it looks to me like so many of my writer friends have already done this that I'm going to just post this picture of Norman Reedus in sexy nerd glasses instead. Enjoy!

"I feel like I just got tagged in a blog post that has nothing to do with me. That's so weird..."