Monday, April 30, 2012

Script Frenzy 2012 Victory Lap: My Muse Takes a Rest

I won Script Frenzy with 120 pages. My muse decided it was enough. "Feed me more tropes!" she cried. "I'm hungry!" I had no choice but to give my muse her wish. And so I stopped at 120 pages. However, that doesn't mean I'm done, just that my muse is tired of working on scripts. So off to TV Tropes I went, hunting for wild ideas or combinations of ideas.

I think I'll consider this my victory lap.

Meanwhile, I'm back to reading poetry. After those middle weeks of intense immersion in Modernist poetry, I now find that many novels I previously considered just literary fiction, or New Wave or cyberpunk science fiction, read like prose poetry, even Surrealist poetry. Also, I'm watching more art films, starting with Chris Marker's seminal New Wave film La Jetée with its still-image storytelling, and the early experimental film it languidly riffs on, Dziga Vertov's The Man with a Movie Camera. Watching La Jetée, I found myself strongly reminded of the French science-fiction comics I so loved back in the '90s. The film was released in 1962. I realized with a shock that I was witnessing the origin of all French science fiction unfolding on my soon-to-be-replaced television set. I was equally unaware that the first act of Spanner Chapter 15 was being born at the same time: I'm writing it in script form first, as a cinematic montage; it was originally inspired by the wordless calm-before-the-storm montage sequences in Mamoru Oshii anime (I'm even calling it "The Calm Before the Storm" in homage to Oshii), but Oshii borrowed the technique from Marker. In the booklet that comes with the La Jetée/Sans Soleil DVD, Marker reveals in an interview that he is very impressed with the new breed of American TV series; he specifically mentions Deadwood, Firefly, and The Wire. Since JulNoWriMo 2010, my approach to Spanner has been to write it as the novelization of one of these new-breed shows. My purpose for this year's Script Frenzy was to adapt it back into a no longer hypothetical show.

I'm not done adapting, of course. I'm only giving my muse a rest. But for May and June, I'll be writing the TV script and the novelization together. I'll also correct the scripts I wrote for last year's Script Frenzy project, the first three Spanner episodes, now that their novelizations are complete and almost ready to publish. Next year I might finally get to that visual novel. But by next April I want to get all 23 episodes of the first season scripted, novelized, and complete. Meanwhile, instead of AugNoWriMo, I may be doing WeSeWriMo instead — Web Series Writing Month. And I might just do it with a reboot of Spanner Book 2...

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Spanner R4 Update: New Themes

As I rewrite Spanner Book 1, partly in script form for Script Frenzy, I find new themes emerging. One is the "bicameral mind" hypothesis of the late Julian James, who in The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (1977) posited that ancient civilization up to the end of the second millennium BC (and longer in more isolated cultures) was not built consciously but by hallucinated gods giving commandments that people obeyed without question or even awareness, that what is now the mental illness called schizophrenia was once the universal human mentality, and that religion, government, and much culture are remnants of the dying "bicameral" mentality struggling to regain its ancient supremacy against the inexorable rise of consciousness. Corporations as cults, the nation as God incarnate, mediums and channellers, and mass self-annihilation in cult and fascist rallies: all this fits the theme so perfectly that I suspect my muse kept the Jaynes hypothesis in mind even when I'd forgotten it. Recently I realized how perfectly it fits Freud's structural theory as modified by Henri Wallon, Jacques Lacan, and the British object-relations school: In the beginning, there was only id; man was just another ape with a typically simian mentality despite his greater cleverness. Through a series of events largely involving ice ages, language began to evolve around 45,000 BC and developed in tandem with tool technology until the twin innovations of names and agriculture around 10,000 BC. Names allowed chieftains' voices to survive their deaths: the gods were born, and superego with it. The breakdown of the bicameral mind created a gap between superego and id which can be called nemo (Latin for "nobody"), which silenced the gods: this was the Fall of Man, corresponding roughly to the explosion of the island of Atlantis around 1170 BC which created a tsunami that wrecked Mediterranean civilization. Nemo provoked many attempts to overcompensate, in religion, politics, and culture. Psychologically, the torment of the abyss produced first the false self that is colloquially called "ego", as in egotism and narcissism. Last to develop was true ego, and consciousness with it. But superego is by nature a jealous god and will not tolerate rival authorities such as ego, or the voices of reason, conscience, and the muse. Superego is the tyrannical voice that tortures schizophrenics, who have little to no ego to defend themselves against it.

The fundamental principle of the Enlightenment, in Freudian (and Jaynesian) structural terms, is the development and strengthening of ego, the integral self and its consciousness, against the brutal instincts of id, the tyranny of superego, and the nihilism of nemo. Now consider the culture war in America, a republic founded by Enlightenment intellectuals turned by religious millennialism into a decadent empire, with the capitalist Robber Barons the most fanatical crusaders for empire whether their religion was Calvinism or Social Darwinism. Its sequel is Spanner's "Conservative Revolution", which attempts to abolish the Enlightenment republic in the name of deified empire but (here's the foregone conclusion, based on the fall of the Soviet Union) only accelerating the breakdown of the already weakened bicameral mind even further, until a disenchanted people bring the creaky imperial structure down.

On a more personal level, I noticed how perfectly my new model fits the extended character arc of Desiree Richter-Thomas. In Bad Company and its backstory, she originally had a personality of her own which was quite charming until her mother, the tyrannical right-wing guru Drusilla Becket (a major villain of the entire Spanner cycle), destroyed it with relentless abuse. Two false selves, the inner villains of BadCo, emerged to fill the abyss Dru created, psychopathic Melody Starlight Thorndyke and fanatical terrorist Jamila Becket de Gabriel. With the help of her adored sister Charlie, Desiree manages to destroy these two false selves and her abusive stepfather along with them. In the sequel, Black Science, her true self starts to grow back within the abyss, and she significantly remembers her happy childhood. This is the origin of Spanner's revolutionary heroine.

The second theme: said foregone conclusion based on the fall of the Soviet Union. Irony of ironies: the Robber Barons created a new "corporate socialism" based on the philosophy of that fanatical antisocialist, Ayn Rand. What the Soviet and American Empires have in common is central planning used to prop up a hereditary elite: the Communist Party nomenklatura in Russia and China, the High Corporate oligarchs in America. Such planning locks the economy in stasis, which inevitably gives way to entropy and crumbles to dust. Naturally, the oligarchs adhere fanatically to a denialism of entropy, which in America goes along with denialisms of evolution and climate change. Thus the oligarchic Conservative Revolution is inevitably opposed by a Populist Revolution among the disenfranchised masses, leading to the entire plot of Spanner.

The third theme: ascent experience, as described by Morris Berman in Coming to Our Senses (1989). Last night I reread it after rereading Jaynes, and found them interlocking in my mind. Berman's book is where I got the idea of nemo, and ascent experience — the experience of mystical ascent of the soul out of the material body into spiritual ecstasy — strikes me as the fundamental Western overcompensation for the emergence of the yawning abyss of nemo caused by the breakdown of the bicameral mind. Berman documents five massive waves of ascent experience in Western culture: the Hellenistic period to the rise of Christendom; the Cathar era; the Renaissance and Scientific Revolution; the Nazi empire; and the current New Age period. The first four led inexorably to disaster, as the archetypal energy of gnostic ascent invariably decays into the tyranny of hardened orthodoxy. Enlightenment scientific rationality was devised as a defense against these mysticism-caused disasters. The ideologies of ascent, from quietist asceticism to crusading fascism, are inherently dualistic; indeed, Western dualism entails mystical ascent. The proper defense not only rejects dualism in favor of objective realism, not only counters faith and revelation with reason, but must be dialectical as well. This position (objective realism + scientific rationality + dialectics) is that of Spanner's heroes as they struggle to survive against an oppressively dualistic Empire.

Last but not least, there's the recent evolution of my scornfully cynical attitude toward terrorism. In a new scene in Chapter 8, Shira complains to counterterrorist Will Becket, "Problem with terrorists is, they're trying to be superheroes. They got the same contempt for the people that Superman used to have for Lois Lane before they got married. You can practically hear 'em sneering, 'We're heroes and you're not.'" Later, in Chapter 16, she answers Will's question "What do you think the terrorists want?" with: "Unconditional surrender." She explains that terrorists believe God or History gave them and them alone the divine right to oppress the people, making the government in power usurpers. In her crowning moment of cynicism, she declares that Henry Becket, leader of the Conservative Revolution, is the true heir to Che Guevara, theorist of terrorism who became the butcher of Cuba. Dr. Becket, after all, created both the Unabomber (founder of the Earth Revolutionary Front) and Osama bin Laden (founder of Al-Qaeda killed by the fangs of the Egregious Doctor's own son Will), both of whom followed Guevara's theory of terrorism religiously. In Chapter 21, Shira warns that Becket will use Guevara's paramilitary terror system against the people of Seattle, for he is its grandmaster whose greatest moment came when he used Guevara's theory to destroy Guevara himself. "Terrorism," she corrects Trotsky in Chapter 16, "is conservatism with a bomb." All the while she wears a Che T-shirt which says on the back, "I tried to exterminate the evil Yankee imperialists, but all I got was this stupid T-shirt."

These are the themes developing so far in the Fourth Revision. I'll probably find more themes and motifs as I edit beyond Chapters 4-8, 15, and 16. You'll know about them almost as soon as I do.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Script Frenzy 2012: Victory Is Official!


Today Script Frenzy activated the page-counting validation bot. I took the four episode scripts out of my planned five that have actual script in it, copied them from Celtx into Libre Office, and saved the combined file in PDF format. Then I fed it to the validation bot, and the bot made my third Script Frenzy victory official.

I have officially won my third Script Frenzy!

Problem is, my Screnzy record is now only .500. In 2007, I still didn’t know my way around a plot despite all the many years of learning and training. In 2009, I moved across town. I forget what — oh yeah, Bad Company defeated me twice more in 2009 and 2010. Strangely enough, so far I’ve only been able to win with Spanner: with the original comics script in 2008 that was the rough basis for the novelization’s first draft; last year with “Spanner The TV” episodes 1-3; and now this year with episodes 4-8 of the TV series. Maybe next year I really should attampt that visual novel?

I didn’t really start getting going until after the middle of the month, when I started writing the new planned scenes for the Final Revision novelization in the script rather than the actual novel file. My guideline: make each episode script 55-65 pages (representing about one hour of running time), or easy to edit down into that range. The equivalent chapter in the novelization has slightly over 15,000 words.

I managed to finish one episode: Episode 4. Finishing it turned out to be surprisingly difficult, enough that I gave up on editing the new revisions and scenes into the novelization until Script Frenzy is over. That’s how I’m going to write the new scenes in the remaining episodes up to 8. Then on May 1, I will let out a sigh of relief and adapt the new and revised scenes back into the novel.

Of course, I’m not done yet. Now that I’ve got Script Frenzy victory out of the way, my next target is my 2008 record that still stands: 172 pages. So, it’s back to the action…

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Script Frenzy 2012: The Halfway Point

Script Frenzy is now half over; despite my week or so of procrastination earlier this month, I've zoomed all the way to 75 pages, which is 3/4 the number required to win. And this time I'm confident I'm going to win it. In fact, I might just do it tonight!

Chapter 4 is mostly adapted; as a bonus, the novel version's final revision is now pretty much complete. I've started adapting all the completed scenes in Chapters 5 through 8; I expect to finish those during the upcoming week. Getting 100 pages will be easier than ever before, and I may even beat my all-time Script Frenzy record of 171 pages from 2008, when I wrote the original Spanner comics script. And it even turns out my current burst of poetry writing is not hurting my scriptwriting productivity one bit; in fact, exactly the opposite: writing poems has given me new inspiration to write, both editing the novel and writing the script.

It's starting to actually get fun...

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Spanner: Double Poetic Prelude for Chapter 15 R4

Here’s the new double prelude I’ve just composed for the dedication page of the ebook edition of Spanner Chapter 15, that pivotal episode of Book 1:

Carne Levare

She wakes up from a dream into soft desiring flesh
Cool wind caresses kisses dark skin sensitive tender
Blood surges hot with electric intensity of passion
Conscious mind bathes in streams of thought and sensation
The wind brings summer birds’ gentle songs into her ears
Strong emotion burns her vision to intense clarity
She stretches out with pleasure the worries of the day before
And turns to the warm soft-eyed lover resting beside her
They surrender to each other with joyful savage kisses
And fuse inflamed bodies to raise their flesh to nirvana.

Carne Vale

The Ego longs to storm the ethereal sky
   Yet finds itself trapped in its fleshly tomb
Infernal powers oppress his exalted eye
   And carnal monsters drag his dust to doom
Fighting the world, he struggles to crucify
   His flesh and wills escape from the mortal gloom
To take new flesh divine his efforts bought
And reduce the dead material world to naught.

If Spanner is a sort of Carnival in political-thriller form, the two Latin origins of the name “Carnival” (carne levare = to raise the flesh; carne vale = farewell to the flesh) encapsulate the radical difference between carnal heroine Shira and unworldly archvillain Dr. Becket, who clash for the first time in Chapter 15.  I might not be taking part in NaPoWriMo this year, but its spirit has infected me. And now you’re reading it here first!

Copyright © 2012 Dennis Jernberg. Some rights reserved.
Creative Commons License

Friday, April 13, 2012

Fall of the Abomunist Party: Poem

Inspired by Bob Kaufman, author of “Abomunist Manifesto” (1958)
(with Ginsberg and Plath sneaking in)

San Francisco is no longer San Francisco
   not City but skyscraper suburb of Silicon Valley
   fossil entombed in amber Wall Street gold Beijing flytrap
   hedgerows of hedgefund hedgehogs
   Larry Jerry Steve and Zuck printing money
   notice posted by Abomunist Party on all bank doors
   the Beat is gone

Abomunist Party Central Committee
   traded their soul to the Man for stock options
   traded rapture for tenure
   traded boho for pomo
   traded holy chaos for mediocre jobsecure blah
   traded free love free speech free Mumia
   freedom to freedom of the

Abomunist Party Central Committee
   sold their soul to the company store for
   free tickets to the secret policemen’s ball
   trussed up for intellectual property violation
   send all hosannas kowtows asskisses to
   United States President Goldman Sachs & Company and
   Vice President Koch Industries Incorporated

Abomunist Party Central Committee
   betrayed the surrealist revolution
   coldly executed the ancient sexy poetry muse
   handed down sentence of death to the author
   handed down the rules the Party line decreed forthwith
   waterboard the author torture the text to death
   there is no text your tongue been plucked out

Abomunist Party Central Committee
   removed the dancer from the dance to the gulag
   no dancing allowed in their revolution
   no revolution allowed in their Party
   no party but the Party line decreed on high
   no parking on the dance floor baby
   the Party bombed

Abomunist Party Central Committee
   was a very dodgy year
   was a tonedeaf ear
   there is no more ear here
   you are ear be ear now
   tonedeaf tonguetied politburo can’t dance their empty suits
   trip over their two left feet

Fall Abomunist Party fall
   out of the ivory towers beheaded by lightning
   out of the partyline soundtrucks
   out of fashion
   tickytacky plastic colossus fall to splinters all fall down
   slam on the street we dance on their remains

(Note: not written for NaPoWriMo, but while procrastinating Script Frenzy.) [Second Edit: Stanza 4 line 2 now reads “betrayed the surrealist revolution” (the original manuscript read “put paid to the revolution”); I removed the “the” before “sentence” from line 4 because the new way sounds better. Third Edit 5/11/12: Stanza 6 line 4 changed from "hear here".]

Copyright © 2012 Dennis Jernberg. Some rights reserved.
Creative Commons License

Monday, April 2, 2012

Script Frenzy Day 2: In Which the Muse Changes My Script

Script Frenzy day 2. After I got home and posted my first Screnzy entry, I started writing. But the muse refused to write my visual novel script! She's still hyperfixated on Spanner. She wants me to adapt it, and she won't let me do otherwise.

And so I put my visual novel aside for now, and started Spanner where I left off last year. In other words, episode 4 and later. So I upgraded Celtx, signed up for their online cloud service (web app and cloud storage), and resumed writing the TV scripts. Starting with yesterday's Chapter 7 preview, no less. After that, I went back two chapters to write the climactic sequence to Episode 5, which so far I haven't yet written for the novelization's fourth draft. And then I went back again to start completing Chapter (Episode) 4.

Don't worry, though, visual novel fans! I'll still get to The Jennifer Theory. Thing is, I still have to climb my way up the learning curve first, and that's going to take a little time...

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Spanner R4 PREVIEW: 7.5 The Birthday Party NaNoEdMo REMIX

To understand just how much Spanner has been changing between the Third and Fourth Revisions during NaNoEdMo, compare Part 7.5 R3 with the new revised version below. A lot of it hasn’t changed. It’s the new additions that change everything, especially the brand new ending. (Except for Shira’s insistence on ditching her clothes; girl’s been acting up on me lately. That’s what happens when your characters escape your control...)

But first, a bonus extra scene, newly added to Chapter 7 R4, called “Mass Marriage at Xbox Field” (“Xbox Field” being the 2014 name of Qwest/CenturyLink Field in Seattle), inspired by the opening of Don DeLillo’s Mao II but quickly diverging from it:
7 september 2014.
xbox field.
The faith-mad zombies of the cult of America rush onto the pitch to line up in perfect formation, two by two, male and female, to join in perfectly eugenic matrimony. Sun Myung Moon, late Shepherd of Korea, industrialized marriage into mass spectacle; Shepherd Moon, the hater of Communism, communized it in a way that Stalin and Mao would approve and the Kims adopted. The Eugenics Institute rationalized the aristocratic tradition of arranged marriage to advance Galton’s science into the age of space conquest. With absolute faith that they are bringing into being the New Man, crusaders united to defend the grail of Corporatism against the passing of the great race and the all-destroying entropy of individual passion, one thousand Corporate aristocrats in battle formation advance across the sign of the X to be united in eugenically correct union by the savior of the American Union.

Her name is Princess Drusilla Anne Becket Thomas Thorndyke von Wegener Pernell of Dictel, Incorporated, and she reigns over them as Supreme Shepherd of the Church of America in the American State of Cascadia. Upon the stage, before the altar, she stands before and above them as a living goddess: gleaming golden prophetic robes encrusted with glittering gems, beautiful harsh face artfully painted into an Egyptian objet de culte, golden locks architecturally braided atop her head and crowned with the spiked iron crown of Columbia, the Nation, eternal bride of Jesus America. Drusilla Becket, superstar: flanked by her top-hatted, leather-trenchcoated Patriot Metal acolytes Byron Scofield and Jeremiah Light, she appears before them as the Ideal made manifest, blinding all present who see her without the rose spectacles of faith.

[unfinished Mudlark House scene omitted]

In perfect unison, one thousand Corporates reach out to the sacred Flag in the legionary salute. Drusilla leads them in the Pledge of Allegiance, the Great Invocation of the American Religion.

In the stands, some are so overwhelmed by this tsunami of holiness that they lose all sense of self and cry out their ecstasy in the Unknown Tongue. Glossolalia spreads throughout the crowd like a fast-acting virus until they, the Intendeds on the field, the band and crew on stage, and even the legions of the faithful watching on television are on the ground, rolling, convulsing, glossolating the Invocation before it ends, masses of souls raped by the Holy Spirit, until only Drusilla, the channeller of gods, is left standing, her painted lips stretched into a smile of triumph.
And yes, the revised “The Birthday Party” now refers back to “Mass Marriage at Xbox Field.” So let’s now get back to our feature presentation:

Script Frenzy 2012: In Which He Attempts to Script a Visual Novel

NaNoEdMo 2012 is now finished, though my fourth draft of Spanner isn't. But now Script Frenzy has begun. And lo, what did I decide but to abandon my original plan to adapt a new batch of Spanner chapters into TV episodes in order to flirt with a new obsession: the visual novel.

What is a visual novel? It's something like a videogame version of a "Choose Your Own Adventure" novel that's recently become huge in Japan. Actually, the form is older than you think, and it didn't even start on any computer system. It dates back to the 1985 laserdisc arcade game Thayer's Quest, whose creator had the "Choose Your Own Adventure" novels specifically in mind because, well, how else do you translate the experience of Ultima or the Atari 2600 Adventure on a laserdisc system? But though the storytelling has improved greatly in the ensuing decades (just compare Thayer's Quest and the rest of the Kingdom series to, say, When They Cry or Fate/stay night), the actual gameplay system has not. Visual novel elements have been incorporated into various adventure game genres (e.g. the "conversation" scenes in the Persona series). But considering how in writing Spanner I've been mutating the political thriller genre far beyond the ANSI Standard Thriller Format, I can see that this game genre that hasn't really changed since the days of laserdisc arcade games, I can't help but try to push its limits to the breaking point too. I'm already mulling possible minigames, say, puzzle games, hidden-object games, SCUMM-language point-and-click adventures...

But I won't be concerned with that this month, not really. During Script Frenzy, my primary concern is with the script. And with its translation into an open source game system called Ren'Py. The Ren'Py site explains:
Ren'Py is a free and cross platform engine for digital storytelling. It makes it easy to combine words, images, and sounds to create visual novels and life simulation games.

Visual novels are computer-based stories that are told through words, images, sounds, and music. Many visual novels also present the player with menu choices that allow the player to control how the story is told.

Ren'Py's script language makes it easy to write visual novels, and other writing-heavy games. It's easy to learn, and scales well to the largest projects. Even without customization, Ren'Py provides the features players have come to expect from their visual novels.

Life Simulation games, such as management and dating sims, are more interactive games that mix story with gameplay. Ren'Py's screen language allows one to create complex interfaces, while its support for the Python scripting language makes allows for complex game logic, if that's what your project requires.
Now, Ren'Py's scripting language doesn't look like the standard script formats used for movies, TV shows, comics, and stage plays. Furthermore, you can add Python scripts to your visual novel's main Ren'Py script (that's the "Py" part), many of which are available online but none of which I'll add to my Script Frenzy page count even if I write some myself.

And my first visual novel? It's called The Jennifer Theory. It has nothing to do with my NaNoWriMo 2006/Script Frenzy 2007 project that quickly mutated into another novel entirely, but is a graphic novel that I've been thinking about doing almost as long as Spanner itself, as a side story or (as it eventually turned out) a prequel. I'm reworking it as a visual novel. It's a thriller that wouldn't be much of a "ren'ai" (romance) game anyway (there would be only two romantic choices for Jennifer anyway, her mother [this is a Spanner Side Story] and her favorite cousin Shira, and no way would she dare choose between them). So I'm using thriller conventions to push the limits of a game genre.

So that's what I'm doing. Now to do it...