Dog Ear
Cold Dead Hands (DOG EAR) PDF Print E-mail
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Wednesday, 04 July 2018 19:47

really wasn’t into the family gathering on the 4th – I’d have rather stayed home and done my own things. But family gatherings are like gravity wells; hard to escape. We drove out to the beach and went on in.

My siblings were tech-talking, swapping aps and gesturing to tiny videos on tiny screens. As far is inclusiveness goes, it’s like those times I walk into a workplace galley and the Indians huddling there switch from English to Hindi. So I’m not sure what to say and I foolishly didn’t bring a book.

But dad’s shelf is in the hall, and dad’s books are in its ranks.  There were a lot of nautical historical fictions, Hormblower and Aubry and the like. And there on the bottom, a single book all on its own, not part of any evident series (though the author wishes it were so). And as I pulled it out, I realize that my dad might have been the last to touch it. This was his book, and I know what goes into the thought on adding a novel to always limited shelf-space – the book earned its way in.

Settled down on the couch and started to read, ignoring the background noises.

A hard gale blew off the Atlantic at dusk, west by south, raising a steep, breaking sea. All through the first watch pale crests surged out of the darkness, lifted in ghostly rumblings, then boomed against the forward quarter, staggering the ship.

And thus I was transported to a beleaguered short-handed ship fighting for its life in the wet dark. There is death about, and worse. And it took me into my own place, not with my siblings but with my father. I just enjoyed my time with him. Happily, mom let me borrow it so I can finish it at my leisure (still have a huge Stephenson to knock off).

Books do that. They are our companions when none are about.


p.s. I’m going to catch shit for writing this.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 04 July 2018 21:19
The Good, the Bad and the Chekhov (DOG EAR) PDF Print E-mail
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Wednesday, 27 June 2018 22:03

or reasons mentioned HERE, every year like clockwork I watch The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. As a Western placed in the Civil War, it is as sprawling and vast as a huge budget can make it. But when I was watching the heroes get past their final object, two armies poised over an idiotic bridge, I began to wonder.

In a nutshell, the Good and the Ugly (reunited after a series of parched misunderstandings) are bootstriding their way towards their final goal, a military graveyard (poetically named the Sad Hill Cemetery) and bumble into a Union Army. They are facing off against the Confederacy over a long rickety bridge which both sides seek to secure. Every day, there is clockwork bloodbath. The Union commander curses the bridge, wishing he could blow it up. Finally, Blondie and Tuco sneak down in the bloody confusion following one bloodbath, lay charges under the bridge and blow it sky-high (a magnificent shot). The bridge is gone, the armies shoot at each other for a while then decamp to fight elsewhere.

As a viewer winding this thing up at 2am, I rather wondered about this scene – everything else in the movie focuses on the strategies and interactions of the three protagonists. This whole side-adventure makes no sense. They arrive, they interact with a strange but resolvable situation and depart without gain, loss, or point. It seemed odd.

But then I remembered Chekhov's gun.

Chekhov's gun is a dramatic principle that states that every element in a story must be necessary, and irrelevant elements should be removed; elements should not appear to make "false promises" by never coming into play.

It loosely refers to a play where, if a gun is placed on a mantle in act one, it had better be used by act three. Everything strange and interesting in a story requires a point. You can’t write about a hardboiled detective and then describe him grocery shopping (unless he sees something that clicks in his brain about the current case). Pointless side trips and meaningless actions are out.

So why this side story? Then I realized that this entire movie was set in the Civil War. We’d seen troops marching. We’d been inside a Yankee prison camp. We’d suffered indirect bombardment. And yet, other than some guys in blue and some in gray (and some, hilariously, in gray-dusty blue) we had no direct involvement with the Civil War itself. So the director decided that he had to put us into a battle, a crazy ranging battle with thousands of men, shooting, screaming, bleeding, and top it off with a massive detonation of something, the brilliant physical manifestation of resolution, to satisfy us. He could not have placed the Civil War, with all its struggles, on the mantelpiece and not use it.

It was, quite possibly, the most amazingly vast example of Chekhov’s Gun I’ve ever witnessed.

If you’ve never seen this flick, you gotta watch it, if only as an exercise in storytelling.


p.s. Interesting factoid – with the bridge wired up by the Spanish Army (who were also suited up as background actors for the sprawling battle), a fumble on the set walkie talkies resulted in the bridge being blown up (fully and completely) with the cameras not rolling. There were screamings and firings, but then the level-headed Spanish Commander calmed everyone down, had his men rebuild the set in record time, and blew it up a second time, all for your enjoyment.

The Good, The Bad and The Movie (DOG EAR) PDF Print E-mail
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Wednesday, 20 June 2018 22:48

y dad passed away a number of years ago. Our relationship was okay; not the continuing nurturing warmth of the modern suburban buddy-dad, but the classic father/son bond. He wasn’t my everyday friend but we did have a number of special things we shared in our lives. And one of them occurred when I was a lad of twelve – we were stationed in the Philippines as the Vietnam war was winding down, with the body counts and all that stuff. And one day, he said he was going to watch The Good, the Bad and the Ugly on Armed Forces TV. And it was late show, starting at 10pm or so, and it’s a three hour movie.

As we settled in, he told me he’d teach me a lesson on life and told me to get paper and pencil. As the movie started with a seeming two-on-one showdown, he explained how body counts worked – when they watched this flick on the fantail of his carrier off the Vietnamese coast a few years before, they’d make three midshipmen do just what I was doing, keeping a tally of the slaughter. But I had to have a reasonable proof that someone had actually died. So when those gunslingers turned, rushed into a saloon and were crossfired by Tuco, at first I couldn’t count them, not until the camera panned in and showed their bodies (and if you know the movie, you know how incorrect even a visual overview can be).

But that was it. We watched the movie and had a great time, with me checkmarking each kill, just enjoying each other’s presence. And a few years back after he passed away, I told myself I’d honor his memory by watching G,B,&U the Saturday before Father’s Day, roll film 11pm. And I have.

It’s funny, but even through I’ve seen it over and over now, I always settle in and find my boredom with the same scenes and dialog being swept away by my enjoyment of a story well told. And there is also the fact that I can feel his presence once more, the gruff old man who taught me a lot of what I know and gave me an appreciation for esoteric knowledge. And so I watch, alone in my dark, and so I feel him watching with me.

It’s a great evening, and a testimony to the power of storytelling.

Miss you, Pop.


p.s. and the life lesson I learned is that Good kills way more people that Bad and Ugly combined. In fact, Bad only get’s two (if I remember right). Draw your own conclusions.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 20 June 2018 22:51
You might remember (DOG EAR) PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 14 June 2018 00:00


he above comes from a flashy new space opera on WebToons, a little tale that is still finding its legs. The reason I note it was the speedbump reaction I felt when I read it. It’s that rocky little literary trick when two characters who should know something overword it so that the reader can pick up a fact they need. While not quite as bad as the writer specifically conversing with the reader (“…for you see, Dear Reader, they had been searching the entire station…”), writers have been struggling since stories got complex and backstory important. Once you got past Gilgamesh, you ended up with characters talking weird and unnaturally.

I remember a friend in Virginia Tech noting this once. In Star Blazers, a space opera we Hokie-geeks dearly loved, the captain of a base on Pluto tells his sub commander, “Have you forgotten our new weapon, Bain? The Reflex Gun?” And my friend smirked, “Of course, commander. We only had to ship it here, get dozens of satellites into orbit to support it, dig a huge gun under an ice sea, place huge power generators and computers to help it fire along with all the support personal required for operations. Forgot all about it.”

Part of writing stories with any sort of interesting secondary (yet possibly important) information is how to convey this to the reader without your characters acting like they’ve suffered a stroke or lived through a gas leak. Keep an eye out for this, in others (so you can see how to and not to do it) and in your own writing (when suddenly things get stupid). Possibly weave the tale a different way, so we see these characters just finishing their full search (or complaining about it). Another method is to have a passing NPC (non-player character, for those who aren’t D&D Hokie-geeks) pass the point. In our example above, possibly someone else asks, “Say, I hear you boys searched the entire station”. Sometimes it might just take a review of your wording, to make something a little more clear.

Like everything in editing, half the trick is spotting it with your inner writer’s ear, catching an unnatural conversation and ironing it out before it goes to print.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 12 June 2018 19:39

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