Why The Daughter of Dr. Moreau only half worked

Spoiler warning: While I’m not going to directly spoil the ending of The Daughter of Dr. Moreau, I’m going to say some things that will make certain parts of the ending fairly clear. You’ve been warned. 

I feel dirty even writing this post. Because I’ve read other books by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and I loved them. You can check out my review of Mexican Gothic here, Velvet Was The Night here, or God of Jade and Shadow here. They were great books! 

The Daughter of Dr. Moreau was, at best, okay. 

Let’s discuss.

The book did have a lot to love. Moreno-Garcia has a knack for writing endings that aren’t the anticipated happy ending but are so much more satisfying than that ending would have been. And for sure, this ending fit that bill. 

I fell in love with our main character, Carlota, right away. Just like I always fall in love with the main characters. I devoured the lush description of the jungle, just like I always love the descriptions in Moreno-Garcia’s work. These are the reasons I kept reading. 

My problem with this book is simple. It tried to be two things and didn’t manage either.

The book is supposed to be a sci-fi thriller and a romance. All of Moreno-Garcia’s books have that romantic element. I don’t adore that, not being a huge romance fan, but it fits in so well normally that it’s hard to argue with it.

But the romance genre has certain expectations. One huge expectation is that the love interest is going to end up with the main character. That didn’t happen. Worse, there was a gross age difference between Carlota and the man in love with her. 

This wouldn’t have bothered me that much, since it’s unrequited love if so damn much of the book hadn’t been devoted to Carlota wanting to fall in love!

She does fall for and has a full-on relationship with another man named Eduardo Lizalde. A lot of the book centers around what a bad match this is, how everyone knows it’s a bad match, and how Carlota’s father wants this match to work because Eduardo is rich. How much this is all hurting Langdon, our other MC.

At this point, I’d like to remind you that they are surrounded by hybrid monsters. I do not give a damn if Langdon is drinking himself sick because he doesn’t want Carlota to be hurt by some callous rich boy. At least, I don’t care half so much as I do about the hybrids meeting up with the rebel leaders to overthrow the elite of the area and bring freedom to the land.

That’s the book I want to read! 

But the hybrids and their plight seem like little more than a backdrop. I know we were introduced to more hybrids, but we only really get to know one of them, Lupe. 

This wasn’t enough to make me lose interest in this author. The other books are strong enough to tell me this was a temporary issue. But The Daughter of Dr. Moreau isn’t one I’ll be re-reading anytime soon. 

To sum it up, here’s what you can learn from The Daughter of Dr. Moreau.

-Don’t go halfway in a story. 

-Understand your genre expectations, and either meet or subvert them. 

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Why This Is How You Lose The Time War Works

This book might as well have been titled This is How You Win All The Awards. In 2020, This Is How You Lose The Time War won the Hugo and Nebula award for best novella. I finished it in one day, laying in bed crying.

Needless to say, everyone should read this book. And every writer can learn something from it. 

Just in case you haven’t read it, the book is set up as letters between time travelers, on opposite sides of a war. Red and Blue are manipulating the future so that their side will have an advantage. Their letters to each other are at first mocking, then playful. Then, they become love letters scrawled out over trees and mountains. 

This is a story that took chances. I don’t read a lot of books that are just letters back and forth. This is an example of two authors (Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone) knowing their craft well enough to do something like this. To write a whole novella in letter form, you have to understand what you’re doing. You don’t have dialog. You don’t have a third-party description. You have a limited point of view. With all of these restrictions, you’ve got to know how to use what you’ve got left. (This is something I’m learning as I write the second season of my audio drama, AA.)

This book is also an example of trusting the story enough to tell it the way it needed to be told. Not every story could be told in a letter format. Not every story could be told in a journal format, like so many of my favorite books from childhood. 

But some stories can. Some stories won’t work any other way.

Don’t be afraid of writing your story the way the story wants to be written. Be it a series of letters, or even tweets. If you have a story that isn’t working, this might be a great way to fix it.

Another thing that was striking about this book was its literary flow. The words are beautiful, they flow like a poem. And that’s something I wish more speculative fiction authors would embrace.

There’s still a disconnect between genre writers and literary writers. While one focuses on pure storytelling, the other wants the writing itself to be pleasurable. Both of those things can work together, but you’ve got to put the work in to make it happen. 

Now, a warning. The story should always come first. I’ve read some truly bad writing because of a damn good story. I’ve yet to sit through a boring story because the paragraphs were just so beautiful. 

Finally, This Is How You Lose The Time War was an achievement in co-writing. Each of the authors wrote for one of the characters. This worked wonderfully because it allowed both authors to bring their own voices and style to the story. In an episode of Writing Excuses, Amal El-Mohtar talked about writing in a gazebo with Gladstone, sending chapters back and forth to each other. This sounds like a blast. This is probably part of why the book was so fun to read. 

This could only be done because each writer trusted the other. They respected each other enough to follow along where the other one lead. Clearly, it worked out very well for them. 

To wrap things up, here is what you can learn from This is How You Lose The Time War. 

– Trust your craft enough to try something different.

-Trust your story to tell you what format it needs to be told in.

-Don’t be afraid of literary writing, even in speculative fiction.

-When you’re working with others, let both of your styles and voices shine. 

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Why The Travelling Cat Chronicles Works

Spoiler warning! I’m going to ruin the ending of this book for you. Proceed with caution.

The Travelling Cat Chronicles is not a speculative fiction novel. (By the way, that is the correct spelling of the title. It’s the UK version of travelling. My spellcheck is not happy with me right now.)

It is from the point of view of a cat. But it’s not a magical cat. It’s just a regular cat, traveling around Japan with his regular person. 

As someone who usually reads only speculative fiction, with the occasional dive into historical fiction, this was a step out of the norm. 

And I’m honestly glad I did. It was a great story. By the end of the book, I was crying on a public bus. Just, you know, as a warning.

The Travelling Cat Chronicles cover

As writers, we should never restrict ourselves to reading our genre. We should read as widely as we can. If a book catches your attention, read it. There’s always something we can learn from a story, no matter the genre.

One of the things that kept me turning the pages was the vivid descriptions of Japan. This is a country I’ve long been fascinated with. I loved hearing about Nana, the cat, and Satoru, his person, exploring the country. I was fascinated by the stories of Satoru’s childhood, his school tales, and descriptions of trips with friends. They had such rich detail. I loved every single second of it.

If your work takes place in a fantasy world, then it’s easy to talk up the details. But if you’ve got a story set somewhere real, it can seem less important. But it’s still just as crucial. Your hometown is probably boring to you because you see it all the time. But for someone who’s never visited, it’s fascinating. 

It didn’t take me long to realize that this story wasn’t going to have a happy ending. I’m willing to bet you can guess what happens. I guessed around page four. 

But that didn’t stop me from bursting out into tears when it was happening. Because by that time, I was connected to the characters. There’s only so much you can brace yourself. 

Your ending doesn’t have to be a shock for a reader to enjoy it. Yes, there should be questions. Yes, it’s better if someone can’t guess the ending by reading the blurb, which I’ve done on multiple occasions. But the main ending doesn’t have to be a huge surprise. 

I knew pretty soon that Satoru was going to die. (I did warn you that I was going to spoil the ending.) But I didn’t know what would become of Nana. And I desperately needed to know.

That I won’t ruin for you, by the way. Trust me, the book is worth reading to find out. 

I will tell you that the book has a happy ending. It wasn’t all syrup and perfection. It was great, though. Satoru doesn’t live, but he does touch the lives of the people he cares about for the better. He leaves the world a brighter place. And that’s a realistic happy ending. And a fully satisfying one at that. 

Some other good examples of this can be found in Pixar movies. This has been pointed out before, and by lots of fans. The toys in Toy Story go to a new home, so they’re not with Andy anymore but they’re still happy. Sully from Monster’s Inc doesn’t get to keep Bo, but he can visit her. There are lots of ways to have a happy ending. I love that we have so many that go beyond our expectations. 

To wrap it up, here’s what you can learn from the Travelling Cat Chronicles. 

  • Read outside of your genre. Read anything that sparks the slightest bit of interest.
  • The description of your story’s location can and should be a selling point. 
  • Your ending doesn’t have to be a shock to be satisfying.
  • You don’t have to have a traditional happy ending for it to be a happy ending.

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Why Practical Magic Works

As a witch, Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman is required reading. I’ve of course seen the movie countless times. But I only recently cracked into the novel.

It was a far different journey than the one I was expecting. I’m not the only person to mention this, but the movie is far different than the book. Normally when this happens, one or the other is more enjoyable. Most of the time, like with the Giver or Hunger Games, the book is better. On rare occasions, like with Forrest Gump, the movie is better. But in the case of Practical Magic, both are great. Just in very, very different ways.

First, let’s discuss what the two have in common. Both are about two women, sisters named Sally and Gillian Owens. After their parents die, they’re raised by their aunts. Gillian, the wild child, runs off as soon as she’s old enough. Sally finds a good man, has two baby girls and is widowed when the girls are still little. Then Gillian brings back trouble, in the form of an abusive boyfriend she accidentally poisoned. When a detective named Hallet arrives, Sally and Gillian try to hide their homicide. But soon Sally finds herself falling in love with him.

The movie, on the off chance you’re one of three women in the world who hasn’t seen it, is a feel-good film about sisterhood. The townswomen have hated the Owens family for generations. But in their time of need, they come together. 

The book isn’t that sort. Sally Owens, after being ostracized her entire life, decides to leave. This is after her husband died, and she spent a year in a depressive fog. 

The book is a bit more episodic. Yes, Gillian does bring her troubles and her abusive boyfriend to her big sister for help. But then the two bury him in the backyard and go about their lives.

Their lives revolve largely around raising Sally’s daughters. 

And this is where the book shines.

Sally and Gillian fight over how to live their lives and, by an extent, how to raise the children. Gillian undermines Sally’s parenting, and Sally in return blows up at her.

The girls bicker like teenagers, fall in love with boys, and are threatened by drunks. It all feels real. It all feels like the lives of girls all over the world right now.

The same can be said for Sally and Gillian. They’re both struggling with the fact that, despite The Aunt’s best intentions, they never felt wanted. Sally handled that by growing up to fast. Gillian handled it by not growing up at all. 

In the end, though, The Aunts prove that they love the sisters more than they ever realized. They come to their aid, after years of neglect by both girls, might I add. 

I know I keep saying this, but it all feels so real. And through it all, we see notes of magic that feel attainable. It feels, in short, practical. 

In short, here’s why Practical Magic works.

It’s honest. That’s it. The book talks honestly about depression. It talks honestly about a woman’s relationship with her parents, her sister, and her daughters. It talks honestly about romantic relationships, both good and bad. It talks about loss, and it doesn’t sugarcoat a damn thing. Sometimes Sally and Gillian are just fucking mean to each other. Sometimes they do stupid things. Sometimes Sally isn’t a good mother. Sometimes the girls are also fucking mean to each other. And I love that none of them are right all the time, none of them are wrong all the time. They are, only and entirely, family.

I loved this book, and I’ll be reading it again soon. I hope that if you haven’t read Practical Magic, you do soon. Because it works. 

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Why Futurama Works

As I mentioned last week, Futurama is one of my favorite television shows of all time. I’ve watched it a hundred times. The darling husband and I quote the show almost daily. There are some episodes I can’t watch because they’re too emotionally damaging. There are some I could watch every day and not get sick of them. 

The Star Trek cast in Futurama

Futurama has won countless awards for writing. And it’s with good reason. Now, I know that some of you reading this right now will think I’m being far too generous to a silly cartoon. But I’ll submit to you that I’m not. And the massive fan base that Futurama still holds would agree with me. 

So, it’s time to get it up on the table, break it apart, and see why it works.

There are professionals on the writing staff.

Of course, the writers are professionals with years of creative experience. I would hope the same could be said of most content, but that’s probably idealistic. 

Futurama takes this several steps further, though. Among their writing team, you’ll find scientists, mathematicians, physicists. And if they don’t have a professional on staff, they go find one. 

While this is a fiction show, they want to make sure that the science they use is real. Which makes the rest of the story more believable. As one of their splash screens says, you can’t prove it won’t happen. 

The writers hid jokes and didn’t explain.

If you’re casually watching an episode of Futurama while scrolling Instagram, you’re going to miss background jokes. And a lot of them. That’s because the writers love throwing in hidden jokes and never explaining them. They even developed alien languages and hid messages in the background. They never released a key for these languages, either. 

This means that the show can work on two levels. If you just want to watch a silly show, it’s great for that. If you want to watch it on a whole other level with a ton of in-jokes, it’s great for that too. 

Awesome attention to detail.

In the first episode, the main character Fry is tossed into a cryogenic chamber and frozen. This starts the whole story. But, as you go through the series, more and more comes to light regarding that moment. And every time you learn something else, you can go back and watch the first episode again to see if there are signs visible. 

And they always are. 

The writers trust their audience to be smart. 

The writers can do all of these great things, because of one simple fact.

They believe that their audience is smart. They don’t talk down, they don’t over-explain. They put out smart content, and they trust us to get it. 

Futurama The Sting

It’s time for the wrap-up. What can we as writers learn from Futurama?

– Get the factual parts of your story accurate, and it will make the whole thing more believable. 

-Don’t be afraid to add details or background jokes without an explanation.

-Pay attention to detail, and keep everything cannon. 

-Trust your audience to be at least as smart as you are. 

Is there a show, movie or book you’d like me to take apart to see why it works? Let me know in the comments. 

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Why Only Murders In The Building Works

A few months ago, everyone was talking about Only Murders in The Building. Even one of my favorite writing podcasts, Ditch Diggers, discussed it. It was for a time everybody’s favorite show.

And I’m part of Everybody. I watched every episode, and couldn’t wait for the next one. Honestly, with comedy writing legends like Steve Martin, Martin Short and Tina Fey involved, I’m not the least bit surprised. These are some of the best comedy writers in the business with years of experience. 

Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez in The Building

So today it’s our topic for why it works. Let’s get it on the table, cut it apart, and see why it worked.

Motivated by the characters conflicting wants

Some stories are motivated by a situation. Some stories are about people coming together for a common goal. And some are about characters reacting to something in varying different ways, depending on what they want. 

The latter is a bit more complicated but far richer. 

Only Murder In The Building is about three people with parallel goals, not necessarily the same goal. You have Mabel, who wants to find out who killed Tim Kono. She has several reasons for this, that I don’t want to ruin for you on the off chance you haven’t seen it yet. Oliver wants to have a successful project to prove that he isn’t a failure. And Charles wants to prove that his career isn’t behind him. He isn’t a has-been. More than that, though, he wants to have people love him again. 

Oh, and both Oliver and Charles want to prove that they’re hip enough to have a millennial friend. 

All of these goals can line up, but won’t always. 

Relatable on multiple levels

I think we’ve all had friends who are only our friends because we share a common fandom. People we don’t have a single thing in common with beyond liking this piece of art. It’s a true-crime podcast that brings Mabel, Oliver and Charles together. And I think most of us love a little True Crime

But we’ve also all experienced that excitement when a new episode of something we love comes out. Many of us, unfortunately, know what it’s like to lose someone. We know what it’s like to be hurting for money, or missing someone we’d like to call but can’t.

So we might not know what it feels like to investigate a murder in an upscale apartment building. But we can still absolutely relate to these characters. 

Selena Gomez in Only Murders In The Building.

Twist upon twist upon twist

At any time while watching Only Murders in The Building if you think you know what’s happening, you’re wrong. There were so many twists and turns I barely knew which way was up. But at no time did I feel cheated. At no time did I feel like a twist came out of nowhere or didn’t make sense. 

I want to tread lightly here because I don’t want to ruin anything for you. But there’s more than one mystery to solve. 

This isn’t the sort of thing achieved in one draft. This is the sort of thing that takes rewrites upon rewrites to make sure that the twists are logical, but still hard to see coming. This is what can be achieved when you know your story back and forth. When you’re careful with your craft. When you’ve gone through the damned thing over and over. It takes planning and patience. 

Every episode left you with a question

When I was a kid I used to love reading Goosebumps. Every chapter ended with a cliffhanger. They weren’t, in hindsight, good cliffhangers. A common one was for the character to open a door and scream. On the first page of the next chapter, it was too often revealed that this was just a sibling or friend startling them. Cheap.

But it did give me a taste for that sort of thing. 

A much better way to handle an ending is to leave your audience with a question. And I mean something beyond the core question of the larger piece. In Only Murders in The Building, the main question is who killed Tim Kono. But in any given episode, you might have any other questions. 

Will the dog die?

Why is that strange ring there?

Why is that hoodie important?

Will this character lose their home?

None of these are cheap gimmicks. They’re real questions that stick with you for the whole week. Until it’s time for the next episode. 

To sum it up, here’s what we can learn from Only Murders in The Building.

-Make sure every character wants something. Bonus points if it’s something different from the other characters.

-Make your characters relatable in realistic ways, and we’ll be more likely to relate to them in unrealistic ways. 

-Plan out your twists and take your time.

-Give us a question, not a cliffhanger. 

What piece of content would you like to see me cover next? Let us know in the comments. 

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Why Velvet Was The Night Works

Velvet Was The Night is the latest novel by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia. We’ve talked about several of her books in the past, including Mexican Gothic and God of Jade and Shadows. She has no trouble genre-hopping, going from horror to fantasy to political noir without missing a beat.

Through each genre hop, some things remain constant. Each book shows Mexico for the beautiful, complex, rich country that it is. And each book includes a love affair that melts my heart. 

Velvet Was The Night is that political Noir genre I was talking about. Set in the 1970s, it’s all about political uprisings and protests. And, about a young woman named Maite who accidentally gets caught up in all of this.

I loved every single page of this book. So let’s break it apart to see why it works. 

We see the story in this book from two points of view. One is Maite, a secretary who’s bored to death with her life. She has just one pleasure in her life, a series of romance comics.

The second pov character is Elvis. He’s a pseudo-government agent, tasked with shutting down protests in the city.

These two people show us entirely different views of the situation and the city itself. More than that, though, they know things the other doesn’t. They’re able to see the mystery from different angles, revealing secrets to the reader that one or the other character isn’t privy to. This means that this is one of those delightful mystery novels that you can play along with.

I’m not a fan of mysteries you can’t solve. Maybe that’s just a me thing.

So now, let’s talk about Maite. I didn’t like her at first. She seemed dull. Not interested in anything but her comics. She also didn’t like cats, which is a total turn-off.

Maite was also a thief. She stole little things from her neighbor’s apartments. It’s a weird thing to do, not gonna lie. At first, it seems like this is just a weird thing she does. And it makes sense. Maite is bored with her life. Bored people sometimes do dumb things to entertain themselves.

Eventually, though, we find out that this is a crucial plot device. If this petty theft trait of Maite’s hadn’t made sense right from the start, this would have felt cheap. Instead, it made total sense. 

Honestly, a lot of the enjoyment of this book came from Maite. She’s miserable, but it makes sense that she’s miserable. Her mother treats her like an afterthought. Her boss barely notices she’s there. She’s broke and has no friends. Everyone would be a little miserable. 

As you read the story, you can see exactly why she fell into the scary situations she found herself in. 

There are a lot of stories about bored young women ending up in fantastical, scary, dangerous situations. Most of them don’t seem plausible. But this one does. 

So, what can you as a writer learn from Velvet was The Night? 

Point of view switching is a great way to build suspense. 

Flawed characters work best when their flaws make sense.

It doesn’t work to put a random character in a random situation. How or why did they of all people end up there?

Is there a movie, tv-show or book you’d like me to break apart to see why it works? Let me know in the comments.

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Why Loki didn’t work

We talked about Wandavision, and how it collectively broke us. We talked about Falcon and Winter Soldier, and how it revealed dark truths and personal growth. Now, let’s talk about Loki.

I’d describe Loki as the Booberry of the Halloween cereal trinity. It’s fine, but if there’s Count Chocula or Frankenberry I’m grabbing those first. 

We watched Loki, but it’s hard to say I can remember a lot of it. It just didn’t grab me in the same way most of the other Marvel content. So let’s break it down and talk about what didn’t work.

First, though, I do have to say that there were several really good characters in Loki. Mobius, played by Owen Wilson, was a good character. He had hopes, dreams, friendships. He cared about his job for good reasons, which allowed the world to shatter his reasons to the four winds.

Unfortunately, the time and care that went into this character didn’t transfer into the rest of them. One prime example is Sylvie. 

I thought a female Loki was a clever idea, at first. But honestly, I can’t tell you one damn thing about her that distinguishes her. 

And I don’t mean I can’t distinguish her from other Loki variants. I mean I couldn’t tell you what makes Sylvie different from literally any character. She’s like Selene from Underworld or Alice from Resident Evil. We just do not know anything about them. You could literally swap out either one of these women for Sylvie, and it wouldn’t change the story at all. She was, in a word, boring. 

We also don’t see a lot of growth in our world’s Loki. At least, no more than we’ve seen in the Marvel movies. And this is what I’d consider the cornerstone flaw of this show.

The character of Loki transitioned a lot from his first appearance to his last. He went from being compared to Hitler by an old man who had for sure survived the Holocaust, to being a hero who gave his life to save his brother. 

And this took several movies! We were given time to see the complexity of the character. He loved and hated his adoptive family. He wanted to be accepted but didn’t want to have to try too hard. This was an important story arch for him that impacted the rest of the world around him.

All of this great character growth was smooshed into a few moments, scattershot here and there through a series that consisted of six episodes. 

Finally, the biggest issue I had with this show was the constant talking. Not talking about anything interesting, mind you. Just talking. 

Especially between Sylvie and Loki. It appears that whoever was writing this series thought the only interesting characters were them, and the only interesting thing they could do was fall in love with each other. Which I, at least, didn’t care about in the slightest.

I’ll be honest, I left the show feeling cheated. Here we have an awesome premise. Time cops, making sure that there aren’t a million evil timelines going on. Someone to step in like Abed in the best episode of Community and grab the dice out of the air. So many cool things could have been done with that! We could have seen alternate timelines where literally anything could have happened.

Instead, we get a lot of sensitive talking done by two people who aren’t that interesting, followed by a lot of things blowing up that we don’t care about because we don’t care about anyone who’s affected by them.

Time for the wrap-up. Here’s what we can learn from Loki.

One clever character doesn’t make a show.

You have to make your characters actual people for your audience to care about them.

It would be nice if something, you know, happened. 

So that’s it. What did you think of Loki? Let us know in the comments. 

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Why Falcon and The Winter Soldier works

Released this spring over six weeks, Falcon and Winter Soldier was a huge hit. I certainly watched every episode. It wasn’t as funny as Loki. It wasn’t as emotionally devastating as Wandavision.

But it was great. It was a solid political intrigue terrorist story, with some superhero antics thrown in for good measure.

Let’s talk today about why it works.

I want to start with the primary antagonist, Karli. She is a terrifically written antagonist. 

Notice that I don’t say bad guy. Because Karli isn’t what I’d consider a bad person. She’s a person who’s lost hope in the world. 

After the blip was corrected, millions of people were displaced. There are not enough resources to go around. Karli’s barely surviving with her friends and what little family she has left. She’s not a bad person. She’s just trying to get someone, anyone to take this situation seriously. And it is serious. People are dying.

Kind of like now, in real life. But I digress.

Karlie is the perfect example of a person with good intentions who does horrible things. We don’t want her to succeed, but we also don’t want her to suffer. Part of this is achieved by the fact that she’s young and adorable. Come on, what melts a heart faster than curly hair and freckles?

The other part is that she’s a genuinely loving person with real familial attachments. We see her hanging out with her friends. We see her mourn the passing of the woman who raised her. We care about her because we can see that she cares about the world around her. This is not detached from the horrific things she does. If anything, it’s a direct relation. She loves, and so she feels like she has to kill. 

Of course, Karlie’s just part of the story. As it’s been pointed out online, we spend a lot of time (maybe too much) seeing the character growth of Sam and Bucky.

Sam is angry at a lot of people. And he’s got every damned right to be. He’s saved the world as an Avenger, and no one can even help his family save their boat. And now, everyone wants him to be Captain America, and represent a country that has treated him badly.

This storyline delved into some deep issues I’m not fully qualified to discuss. The super-soldier serum being tested on unwilling black men is too close to actual historical events for my comfort, frankly. If the popularity of this show does anything, I hope that it shines a much-needed light on some disgusting moments in our history.

As he comes to terms with helping a nation that has not helped him, Bucky’s going through a very different evolution.

He has done terrible things. He’s killed innocent people. And the fact that it wasn’t him committing these actions doesn’t matter to him. His body was used, he’s just as much of a victim as anyone. But he still buys lunch for the old man whose son he murdered as Winter Soldier.

These character arches are a big focus of the show, and I was thrilled to see this. We need more stories of growth and change. Yes, explosions are fun. Yes, aerial battles are awesome. But fiction is supposed to tell truths while telling lies. And I’m thrilled that such a mainstream, popular show talked about some hard truths. 

So, the takeaway for writers is this.

Write an antagonist who’s pure enough to be relatable, but still twisted and broken enough that you can’t root for them to succeed.

Write honestly about things that need to be talked about. 

Is there a show, movie or book that you’d like me to break apart and discuss why it works? Let me know in the comments. 

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Why Resident Alien Works

Premiering in January of this year, Resident Alien is based on a Dark Horse comic. Proving once again that some fantastic writers are working in comics. It’s funny, it’s emotional, and it’s on our table today. We’re going to break it apart and discuss why it works. 

The story is simple enough. An alien intending to blow up Earth accidentally crash lands. His ship and the device he needs to blow us all to small gooey bits are both broken. But not beyond repair. He can fix it and complete his mission. But first, he has to find all the pieces.

To do that, he has to pose as a human in a tiny town where everyone knows everyone. He kills a man and assumes his form. This would have all worked out fine, and the world might have been destroyed before we got a chance to do it ourselves. But he had the bad luck to have taken the form of Harry, the only doctor in town. After, that is, the current doctor died under mysterious circumstances.

A laugh riot!

Breaking this all down to its basic elements, we have all the good points for a story to hit. We have a main character with a clear goal. We have several obstacles in his way. Plot bunnies abound here, my friends.

The show took it several steps further, though. For one, it’s a blending of some genres we don’t see blended often. It’s SciFi, but it’s also sometimes a medical drama. But it’s also a small-town cozy murder mystery. Normally if a writer were to throw all those things at a story, I’d assume they lacked a compelling storyline in just one to carry the whole way through a season.

But that’s not the case at all. The way this story is constructed, the elements of each genre build on each other. They fit together like puzzle pieces. We wouldn’t care about who killed the doctor if we didn’t see Harry taking on his patents who loved the guy. We wouldn’t care so much about the medical aspects of a small-town doctor if we didn’t have that extra element of trying to figure out who killed the doctor and why. And both of these elements would be overused tropes if we didn’t have an alien pretending to be a doctor and looking up surgery procedures on Google.

But blending unusual genres is only part of the picture. As always, it comes down to the characters.

Take Harry. We really shouldn’t like the guy. As previously stated, he’s here to kill us all. So why do we like him? 

Part of it is that we all like a flawed character. He is selfish and socially stupid. But he starts getting better despite himself, surrounded by the positive influences of Asta and D’Arcy. When we see him move past his hatred of the little boy, Max and start to care about him, this endears Harry to us. This works in two ways. First, we all love a redemption story. But it also works because the people he interacts with are likable characters to start with. I loved Asta and her dad. I want to go drink with D’Arcy, even if I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t survive the experience.

Of course, this only works if the opposite is true. That is if we don’t like the antagonists. In this case, it’s a couple of deep-cover military operatives named Lisa and David. We should like them. After all, they are trying to save all of us by catching Harry. And, for the most part, we do like David.

But we don’t like Lisa. And that’s because, right away, she proves that she has no moral compass. Or if she does, it doesn’t work like other people’s. She has no issues with killing people, innocent or guilty because they threaten her mission. And even though her mission is for the good of all mankind, it doesn’t feel like that matters to her.

Lisa feels less human than Harry. She feels like a weapon, that could be pointed in any direction. 

So that’s why Resident Alien works. It blends genres, making them depend on each other. It endears us to a character that we shouldn’t like through growth and the great use of secondary characters. And it makes us hate people we should side with by painting them as cold and inhuman.

What did you learn from Resident Alien? 

Is there a show, movie, or book you’d like me to talk about in Why it Works? Let us know in the comments.

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