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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Why 9 Works

Spoiler warning! We can’t break apart a movie like this without giving away its twist.

9 is a little heard of film from 2009. It’s a dark dystopian film about little dolls left over after all the humans are gone. 

In this version of the end of the world, we were destroyed by our machines. This movie would have fit very well in the Animatrix. 

Much of what made 9 enjoyable was the atmosphere. The artwork is bright and dark at the same time. The little dolls have some great detail that holds up even after twelve years. And I love anything cute and creepy.

But as a writer, that’s not something I can replicate. What I can learn from is the story. 

Now, I have to say, the plot of the movie leaves something to be desired. It’s a little all over the place. At different times 9, our main character, has very different goals. It certainly doesn’t fall into a three-act structure.

While this is disorienting, it’s also not terrible. It’s just what I’d consider experimental. 9 has a set goal in mind, save his friend from the horrifying cat machine who stole him. 

It was entirely shocking to me when he failed at this. I had no idea what was going to happen after that. Which is kind of awesome. It’s kind of fun to be disoriented in the same way it’s kind of fun to be scared. 

It’s also brave to have your main character just straight up fail to do something he’s been trying to do through most of the movie. It’s realistic. We fail sometimes, at really important things. And if art is to be honest, we need to show those failures. 

I loved that, even though 9 couldn’t save his friend, he wins in the end. Because that’s a lesson we should all learn. That even if we fail at really important things, that doesn’t mean we’ll keep failing. 

Writing is about lying while telling the truth. The lie is this whole dystopian story. The truth is that one failure, no matter how big, isn’t a deciding factor for the rest of your life.

Now, you know I have to talk about characters. I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t like the characters in this movie at first. They all seemed one-dimensional. This character was brave, this character was angry. They all seemed to have no more depth than that.

But that’s the gimmick. Because these aren’t separate characters. It’s only at the end of the movie that we learn they’re all aspects of their creators’ personality. This floored me. But I love it.

The main takeaway is this. 9 did two things that, if the movie hadn’t done them just right, would have been awful. They changed goals halfway through the movie and they had a cast of one-dimensional characters. And yet the story wouldn’t have worked any other way.

What we learn from this is to break the rules of writing if you can do it well. We don’t just ignore these rules out of laziness. No, I’d say that this story took a lot more effort than if the writer had obeyed the rules to the letter. If we ignore them, it should be a conscious choice. It should be to tell a great story, rather than just a good one.

Is there a story you’d like me to break apart to see why it works? Let me know in the comments.

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Seven years of blogging. Let’s level up together

It’s been seven long years since I started writing this little blog. And I started preparing to write this post by reading all of my other anniversary posts. 

Every year in the past I’ve been surprised that I’ve kept writing. But after seven years, I think I’ll go ahead and keep writing. I’ve proven to myself that I can do hard things.

What continues to surprise me, and what I’m still deeply grateful for, is that you’re still reading. That there are still people who want to follow along this journey with me. Who want to learn, or at least be entertained by me.

I am humbled by this every single day. 

Seven years ago, the realization that people were reading things I wrote inspired me to keep writing. Now, you’ve inspired me to level up.

I want to be a better writer. I want to write better. Those might sound like the same thing, but they’re not. Let me break it down a little. 

To be a better writer means to be more disciplined. To practice more. To treat my art like art and my business like business. To spend less time on Instagram and more on writing practices. 

To write better is to produce better stories. To learn my craft inside and out. To understand language, word choice, grammar, and world-building in ways that I don’t now.

How exactly I’m going to do this is still in the planning stage. But I’m doing what anyone does to get better at anything. Learning and practicing.

I’m taking all of the writing classes on Masterclass. I’m re-reading books about writing that inspire me, like Wild Mind and On Writing. I’m reading Writer’s Digest from cover to cover. I’m listening to writing podcasts like Writing Excuses and Ditch Diggers. That’s the learning part.

I’m freewriting and doing daily exercises. I’m creating a dedicated Writer’s Notebook. I’m thinking more about word choice. I’m thinking about why stories work and why they don’t. I’m making lists. That’s the practice part. 

This is the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. I love focusing on the words. It’s the hardest goal I’ve ever made. There’s no damned ruler to measure my progress. 

I can enter contests, and I do. I can track how many people follow me here. I can track how much of my content sells. But those are all measurements that are dependent on the opinions of others. And that’s arbitrary. I can never control other people’s opinions. I can only write good stories. Which is, again, arbitrary. 

What constitutes a good story? I don’t know, but I know when I read one. So I’m on a mission to know. To understand. 

I don’t think I’ll have a set of rules that will tell me if my stories are getting better. But I do think that if I keep at it, I’ll have a better understanding. And I think I’ll enjoy my work more.

So let’s make a deal. Let’s, each of us, commit to leveling up our art over the next 365 days. It doesn’t have to be writing.

I’ll post blog posts that will hopefully teach you something. I’ll also post more short stories, so you can decide for yourself how I’m doing. And you commit to doing one thing every week to improve your art, whatever that means to you. 

Let’s meet back here in a year and see how we’re doing. 

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Meet the AA Characters, Joan

Meet Joan

Played by Eve

Moving is never easy, let alone moving with two little kids. But for Joan, the move was necessary. Even if she had to leave behind her home and most of her belongings. Even if she had to give up her job. Even if she has to live in the spare bedroom of a human she barely knows. 

It’s better than what’s hunting her and her children. 

The only trouble is that the thing hunting them followed. All the way to Peach Springs.

You can hear about Joan in the first season of AA, starting on September second.

 

Meet the AA Characters, Jim

Meet Jim

Played by Jim Phonix 

Jim’s everyone’s friend. He teaches the kids of the community, helps out at meetings. He’s quick to led an ear when needed, or pick someone up from the train station. And he’s happy to make friends with Josey. Maybe more than friends. 

A transplant himself, Jim is one of the only members of the community to move to Peach Springs as an adult. But he’s found himself a member of the community anyway. 

You can hear about Jim in the first season of AA, starting on September second. 

My review of the Hero’s Journal

(This isn’t sponsored, but I was gifted a copy of Hero’s Journal for donating to Nanowrimo.)

I received a Hero’s Journal during Camp Nanowrimo. And I was pretty stoked about it. You know me, I love a good notebook. Especially (gasp) a goal-setting notebook that is specific to my writing.

This journal has been all over the internet. People, let me tell you, love this thing. And now that I’ve played with it a few weeks, I can see why. 

But I still ended up giving it away. So I thought I’d talk a little bit today about what I liked about the Hero’s Journal, and why it’s not for everyone. 

When the journal arrived, it came with fanfare. I opened the container to find it was packed in a delightful box covered in art that reminded me of the Bone comics. I was charmed right off the bat. 

Inside, I found the start of a journey, with a whole mythical motif. I started with writing out my goals, and actionable steps to reach them.

The next thing I found was the daily pages. And this is where I think the magic happens. There’s room for hourly planning, goals for the day. A good amount of room for notes.

My favorite part, however, was the space to consider your allies and enemies for the day. An ally is something that’s going to help you through the day. An enemy is going to stand in the way of your goals. So if I were going to fill out this section for a day, it might look like this.

Today’s Allies-

1. A good night’s sleep last night.

2. Good coffee in my brand new fall travel mug.

3. Monday vibes. (This post was written on Monday)

Today’s Enemies-

1. Overtime hours at my day job.

2. I have a ton of editing and posting to do tonight.

3. I want to read Hollow City and not be productive at all.

Taking some time to consider what might get in my way, along with what I can lean on to help me, has kind of been a game-changer. If I know what is likely to sneak up and bite me, I can prepare for it.

After 30 days, there’s a little review process. And you all know I swear by monthly reviews. No organization method is going to be half so productive if you’re not taking time to see where you are, and what’s working. 

I love the artwork that flows through the whole book. I love how it makes goal setting feel like a journey. It’s an adventure.

If you’re struggling to find a way to keep your life in order, get the Hero’s Journal. It’s a little extra fun and it will probably help you reach your goals. It’s got just enough structure and just enough free space.

Now let me tell you why I’m not going to be using The Hero’s Journal. It comes down to one thing.

It doesn’t do anything to me that bullet journaling doesn’t already do, or that I can’t incorporate into my bullet journal. But there are a lot of things that my bullet journal does that the Hero’s Journal cannot.

This isn’t to say that just because I don’t use it, no one with a bullet journal will find it useful. I just have already incorporated my writing journey into the rest of my life. They cannot be separated. I wake up, walk the dog, brush my teeth, sit down to free write, get dressed. I make my to-do list for the day, and it includes dishes, word counts, laundry, and blog posts. I am a writer, and after seven years I cannot tell you where the writer begins and the woman ends.

I consider this ideal, but it’s not for everyone. 

Honestly, I’d suggest giving the Hero’s Journal a try. Especially if you find goal setting rather boring. It’s a clever concept executed well. 

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Meet The AA Characters, Rose

Meet Rose

Played by J.M. Brannyk

There’s something in Rose’s past that her family doesn’t know. That even her best friend Stevie doesn’t know. Whatever it is, it’s made her less than happy to find a human has found her way inside the community. In Rose’s eyes, there’s no way Josey’s there for good reasons. More likely she’s a spy for the men in grey, just waiting to take the community out one by one. And Rose has got no intentions of letting that just happen. 

Not if she can do anything about it.

You can hear about Rose in the first season of AA, starting on September second.

 

Meet the AA characters, Heather

Meet Heather

Played by Jennifer Weigel

A truly type A person, Heather runs the AA meetings in Peach Springs. She’s quick to pull people into her inner circle, and to lend a hand when needed.

Heather is every organized cub scout leader mother. Someone needs a place to stay, Heather will find them a bed. Need furniture, she knows a guy. She’ll be the one at your house at seven at night with a casserole, still wearing high heels and a smile, Honey. 

You can hear all about Heather in the first season of AA, starting on September second.

Meet The Characters from AA, Stevie

Meet Stevie

Played by Maity

Stevie is called when there’s trouble. And trouble has come to Peach Springs in the form of the illusive men in grey. She plans to be there only long enough to find out why this quasi government agency has their eyes on her community. But when she finds Josey, a human, has woven herself into the meetings, she decides to stick around for awhile. 

Stevie is trained to spot and deal with trouble. She hasn’t decided if Josey is trouble or not. For Josey’s sake, Stevie had better decide she’s trustworthy. 

You can hear all about Stevie in AA, starting on September second.

Meet The Characters from AA, Josey

Meet Josey-

Played by me.

When Josey moves to a new town, she thinks her life’s going to get better. Then her new job falls through. So she finds herself working two jobs to afford an overpriced apartment. But it’s the divorce papers sent from her ex that really sends her past demons back to haunt her. 

Josey needs to find a meeting.

What she finds is a community of aliens hiding in plain sight. 

You’ll be able to hear Josey’s story starting on September second on Haunted MTL.