So now what do I do?

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So apparently I have a reader!  (I know, nobody’s more shocked than me.)  After pitching a pretty kickass idea they say:

And really, that’s about all I got. All I have so far is the setting and not really an idea for what to do with it in terms of plot/character arcs for my three main protagonists.

Whoa, asking me for help?  Well if I was pretend to be a writer…

So first question you always have to ask yourself is: what medium do I want this to go on?  Long or short form?  Long form would be like an ongoing TV series or comic book or short story series or 12+ novels.  You don’t need to have a plot or character arc ready, just start writing situations out and let the world breathe and have fun.  “I want to ask Suzie to the dance but she might learn my secret!”  “Hey let’s try out that new coffee shop that just opened!”  Monsters of the week!  Don’t be afraid to invent a situation and run with it no matter how silly or mundane it might be, the key is to try and tell the story in a way that it can ONLY happen in your world, not any other (even if they’re very similar).  After a few runs you should hopefully have figured enough out about the world and your characters that a proper plot & character arc will jump out and be so obvious you’ll wonder how you didn’t see it before.

But maybe you’re aiming more for a short form like a limited run TV or comic book series, a single novel or trilogy.  What then?  You can’t just mess around on meaningless stuff!  (Well don’t be afraid to run a short story or two – who knows if you get popular enough you might be able to release them as tie-in material in the future.)  Well forget the whole “3 types of stories [man vs ___]” deal, ultimately every story (setting aside experimental bullshit) revolves around 1 factor: Change.  You have a setting and all that, great!  That’s how the story world is today.  What could be different about it tomorrow?  It doesn’t mean it will be different, just what could be.  It’s the same with characters.  You know who they are today, who could they be tomorrow?  I think once you start asking yourself that question, the rest of it starts falling into place:

  • This change, would it be for the better or worse?
  • Would the antagonist(s) want to bring about or prevent this change?
  • Would the protagonist(s) want to bring about or prevent this change?
  • How are outside groups (if any) involved?
  • Does the change happen or not?
  • Any particular reason the change (or attempt) happened now and not before?  Later?
  • Why this protagonist or this antagonist?

The other key to remember is to always answer the questions within the logic of the story itself – don’t let your meta knowledge as author/creator infect it.  “It just can/can’t” should almost never be answer given to questions.  Sure, you the author may know that you can’t cross the streams, but how or why would the characters know?  Can they try it out?  Maybe that’s where you get your antagonist, somebody that just wants to see what happens if you do something and the protagonists have to prevent a total protonic reversal.

Hopefully these question will get you over that writer’s block and entice the muses to visit your dreams.

MLP:ER – Rainbow Falls, Pinkie Pride, & Three’s a Crowd

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(Yep, apparently Netflix puts these in production order.)

Rainbow Falls

Once again we see how rampant racism is in Equestria!  You’ll notice in the background the token team of griffons (which we previously established as the conquered people).  Then we have Rainbow Dash refusing to even consider her friend Twilight as a team member even though she’s clearly a better physical match for the contest than Bulk Biceps!  Clearly alecorns are totally discriminated here!

Actually it does make you wonder about the big BB.  Does he have small wings because of steroid use, or are his small wings a birth defect and he became obsessed with fitness to compensate?  RD might be encouraging his ongoing depression and self esteem issues!  Bad Rainbow Dash!  What kind of lessons are we teaching our kids in this animated show about completely fictional animals?  Griffons today… they’ll be mistreating their roc’s before you know it!

Pinkie Pride

Weird Al showing up as a major guest in a musical episode?  Done.  Perfection!  Humanity has reached our apex (at least until James Farr does a super-smash up of the star wars prequels).  Pack it in everyone, Jesus will be coming again to pick up His copy when it’s on disc. (Because you know Jesus don’t pirate.)

Also nice to get a glimpse at how Discord’s church recruits adherents.  And we see Cheese Sandwich traveling the world… making disciples of all towns we might say…

Three’s a Crowd

I wasn’t sure how well the whole “Discord reformed” story was going to work out but I’ll admit this passive-aggressive fighting is getting downright entertaining.  Like consider some of these comic panels from MLP:Friends Forever issue #2:

mlpff2a

mlpff2b

Yep, Discord joins the CMC to help them out and we get a stupendous meta joke as well as a nice fandom shoutout. (yes I am confirming that I watched Friendship is Witchcraft)  That issue was actually really really good and I recommend any fan to get themselves a copy even if they don’t care much about the rest of the comic.  The CMC & Discord teaming up is so brilliant I wonder they haven’t devoted an entire season to it!

Where was I…

So there’s further proof of Pinkie Pie’s devotion to her chaotic lord (notice how eager she is to help him yet he has to brush her off lest the others get suspicious).  Instead he targets the two allied most strongly with Fluttershy before moving on to tormenting Celestia’s chief supporter with the next probable in line to boot!  At best he eliminates two more of the best soldiers his rival has.  At worst he’s dug his claws in a little deeper, drawing them to his fold.  Yes… the Game of Saddles continues to play out in tense political struggles week after week…

There’s also some lesson about how quality time IS quantity time when it comes to our loved ones or something but who cares about that.

Still Alive Report – Sept 2014

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Yes, yes doctors have confirmed that I am still living.  I pointed out my blogging activity but they said that was of less health concern than something called a “pulse”.

What is up with all these ponies on the blog?  It’s like I was babysitting my niece and she logged onto my wordpress account when I wasn’t looking.  Yes that’s what I’ll say under oath.  No I don’t see how my being an only child is relevant.

Elsewhere on the web:

Reviews of the Serenity comics issues 3 and 4, 5 and 6.

(that is my copy of the latest Firefly RPG – those interested in adventuring drop me a line somewhere)

If my H-Day fic was a little too much to digest all at once, I put it up on WFB in smaller pieces.  Part 1 is here and at the end of each part is a link to the next.  By all means, drop a comment even if it’s harsh, I won’t get any better otherwise.

There were some cons in Louisville I attended and I wrote up SPN-specific accounts of them at WFB as well.

Hunting at DerbyCity Comic Con.

Hunting at Fandomfest.

2 vids from the later are also up on my youtube page.

Now pardon me, I need to see if I can finally get something resembling a rough draft of episode 5 hacked out.  Have a happy labor day weekend everyone!

MLP:ER – Rarity Takes Manehattan & Pinkie Apple Pie

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Whew.  Got some other writing projects finished so now back to PONIES!

Rarity Takes Manehattan

Ugh, a musical number right in the middle?  No I don’t care if it was self-referential 4th-wall breaking meta-whatever, it sucks!  Why do we need something like that taking up valuable time that could be devoted to plot??

Then… let me see if I can explain this…

So the story starts out with numerous examples of Rarity being generous.  At one point, she’s generous with the “wrong” pony and gets screwed by it.  Now the traditional motifs and tropes of this arc are: she decides to give up generosity, starts failing even worse, then is saved near the end by all the people she had been generous with before coming together (deliberately or accidentally depends on the tale) and reminding her that when you’re generous, the positives almost always outweigh the negatives.

Well… they don’t quite do that here, with all the “previously helped” folk coming together at the second act (in fact, before she helps the wrong pony) making the arc structure all messed up.  Instead of seeing it demonstrated that generousness is best the protagonist just has a sudden bout of guilt.  Yeah it’s believable and all, but it’s narratively unsatisfying.  Also these arcs often have a member of the antagonist’s side be “redeemed”.  It happened but, again, more out of a general sense of guilt and not by seeing the power of the protagonist’s generosity winning out over the antagonist’s selfishness in a very overt manner.  Again, nothing wrong with it, just like there’s nothing “wrong” with serving a meal out of order (like: salad – ice cream – steak), everything should still taste just fine.  But… it’s all a little ‘off’.

And way to skip out on your obligations, Rarity.  Yeah it’s nice to give the redeemed mook a job, but YOU promised the playwright that YOU would design and create the costumes.  You have no idea if the girl you just gave the job to can do the work as well or even if the customer will like the girl’s work as well as you.  You should stick with your original deal and send the newbie to Ponyville to maintain your shop while gone if you want to give her work.  Shame on the show for teaching kids that they can just pawn off their tasks and contracts.

Pinkie Apple Pie

Notice how Pinkie seems to be gaining greater control over the reality-warping powers her master, Discord granted her?  Undoubtedly she’s realized that Fluttershy and Applejack are natural allies, considering how both work so closely with nature and animals, if Rarity would be Lord Fluttershy’s grand vizer, then Applejack would probably be the “enforcer” or “chief of royal forces” (a natural given her strength and brains).  So Pinkie’s plan (obvious if you rewatch the episode) is to break AJ’s loyalties (if that fails – her mind) by first claiming a family bond then engaging in an adventure to strengthen the bond.  Given that Pinkie is now “officially” family, AJ will find her ties tested when the War of Ponies for the Crystal Throne begins.

The episode is initially set up that one thinks it will be one of those traditional motifs or arcs where Pinkie tries to join the family but the Apples don’t want her around (like the episode of Andy Griffith when Andy saved Gomer’s life).  Then it takes a left turn, however, when we come to find out that the Apples don’t mind Pinkie at all, in fact they WANT her to think well of their family, so we shift into a more “cover up the dysfunction, let’s impress” arc.  Clever and well done, I liked that twist.

Finally, that song was just awesome.  Yeah I would have preferred it stayed in “STOMP” style but if not, banjos & violins are a great substitute.  It’s just so catchy and fun.  I wonder we don’t trim up the plots to give more space to these songs!

MLP:ER – Bats!

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Oh look we see Fluttershy’s true self revealed as Twilight’s spell inadvertently rid FS of self control.  Now she must be extra careful to keep her true, power-hungry self hidden all the more from her future subjects friends.

Ok, I can’t do this, even by magical standards and weirdness of Equestria this episode makes little sense.

  • Fluttershy says that the seeds from the fruits the bats eat grow into “better trees”.  How?  First, apple trees can take anywhere from 3-8 years (depending on factors) to bear fruit, so how does she know?  Second, how does that even work?  The seeds would land clumped together, meaning their sprouts would be competing for space and resources vs the careful, organized orchard growing where each seed would be given the best amount of space and tended to.  I think this was intended to be a parallel with some bats & birds that eat seeds than poop them out, but that has the advantage of spreading the seeds out and providing ready fertilizer for them.  How bat-spit is supposed to accomplish that is beyond me.
  • I get that maybe this is supposed to be a “rah rah Environment”! episode but it’s disgusting how much it glosses over the problem of pests in food cultivation.  People don’t hate pests out of some blind hatred, but because for each ear of corn eaten by them is one less ear of corn for everyone else.  Not a problem if one or two are lost, but unless there is an outside force striking their numbers, the pests will eat as much as they can and breed as much as they can.  You can’t just toss out a few ears of corn and satisfy the locust hoard, they want it all with no concept of seed-corn, rationing, or sharing.  In reality the bats would quickly spread out of the “section” marked off for them and continue to ravish the rest of the crop.  (Yes, “Swarm of the Century” was more realistic than this episode.)  Look I get the appeal of “the wild”, even I feel tempted by it at times, but there are reasons humans historically went to the trouble of cultivating crops – we like to eat.  When pests could be described as a “plague” if they grew numerous enough, they could literally be the death of entire societies.  Control over our food allows more of us to live than ever before, and losing that control isn’t something to be wished for.
  • No really, how badly did this impact the Apple family’s finances?  In the show it’s shown as somewhat lucky what with their fields seemingly infinite but in reality where would Applejack & family make up the revenue loss?  Selling apples and their products (cider, pies, etc) is how the family earns a living.  If their product is reduced for a year until the next harvest, what then?  Does Applebloom end up having to miss out on school activities since they can’t pay for them?  Or do her grades suffer as supplies must be forgone?  Will Granny Smith get any treatments and medicine that a pony her age would need?  Would Winona have to be given away now that the family couldn’t afford her dog food?  Now the Apple family might be lucky enough (the farm being a long family ownership) to not have any outstanding loans liened against their property but if they did then this disaster could be the end of Applejack and her family having a home.  Next season: AJ has to move in with Twilight while Applebloom is sent to an orphanage, Granny Smith to a retirement home, and Big Macintosh to a factory for work.  Have fun, kids!

Don’t get me wrong, I really do think we should take care of the environment and I would love for the woods around my house to grow for generations to come so kids can always play and explore, but there seems to be a growing message of “if farmers just make a tiny sacrifice…” nowadays without the realization that often farmers live lives by their fingernails where one bad season can result in the loss of family land and home.  Even many “industrial” farms are the result of decades of planning, effort, and luck by families to build up a bit of a “buffer” that other businesses have in order to survive lean times.

No this isn’t the worst episode ever for the show, but it does disappoint.  Kids these days could certainly use a little less romanticizing of the wild and a bit more instructing in how challenging and near-miraculous it is to get food to them.  Maybe then they’ll realize how fortunate and blessed they are to live during a time where farming is a career choice, not a survival necessity, and pests are a curiosity, not a death sentence.

MLP:ER – 4.05 & 4.06

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What happened last week?  Why didn’t my reviews get published?

Actually I’ll admit that watching some people do my bit about “evil undercurrents” in Thomas the Tank Engine (only as far as I could tell, they were serious) has sort of dampened my enthusiasm for this.  It’s hard to do parody when people race to make your joke the baseline for their behavior.

Flight to the Finish

Besides, I’m never quite comfortable doing the “dark truths of Equestria” when it comes to the CMC.  True Fluttershy and her loyalists are looking to bring them into the herd same as Discord and Celestia seek to expand their ranks as well but that’s still a long way aways (especially since the ancient treaty and custom that said no blank flank may ever be recruited by any military).

Plus it was a musical episode.  I hate musicals.

Otherwise a mostly ok, serviceable story that does at least show that the CMC seemed to have grown out of their misdivision of labor problem they had way back in S1’s “the Show Stoppers”.  So +1 for a subtle lesson in economics.

Power Ponies

Now THIS one… I wonder if Discord is involved, seems irresponsible for a public shop to hand out something that could be so dangerous.  Unless maybe this 4th-wall-traveling happened because of the location they were in… Then again I was expecting that the story would be drawn from Spike’s dreams after falling asleep from reading the comic.  So kudos for figuring out some way to “really” do this story.

Though what if the CMC had gotten sucked in?  Would they be trapped until they defeated the villain or is victory always assured somehow?  Is time different from in there vs outside or are they in sync? (Story pitch: “Cutie Mark Crusaders get sucked into the comic.  One minute later they emerge fully grown and battle-hardened.”)  Whoever came up with Rarity as Green Lantern and Pinkie Pie as the Flash deserve all the internets as such was a touch of brilliance and a great way to show & reinforce aspects of both’s character.

So setting aside the premiere (which had Discord, always a crowd pleaser), this is the best episode of the season so far.

Now which comic would I want to get sucked into…

(probably Grimm Fairy Tales because of the babes and sheer b-movie fun of it)

Long reviews of some short stories

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Well my big bang challenge fic finally posted and episode 5 is off to one of my editors. (note: if you’re also one of my editors and you’re wondering why you didn’t get 105, don’t worry, it’s actually not even to the point of “rough draft” at the moment so we’re kind of doing some fixing before I bother the rest of you – trust me, nobody should read what it is at the moment)

So I got to read a lot of short stories recently.  Most of them by John C Wright. 

Spoiler free:

Awake in the Night Lands – Setting that makes Lovecraft look like Holiday World theme park.  Recommended for those with sturdy constitutions, this isn’t for the light sleeper.  Just make sure you read every story in a single sitting.

Opera Vita Aeterna – Not bad.  Easiest way to sum up: did you ever see the movie the Book of Eli?  However you felt about that movie is going to be a good indicator of how you’ll feel about this story.  Apparently it’s part of a larger literary setting which may affect your enjoyment.  If you don’t care much for medieval style fantasy, avoid.  If you love that style fantasy but feel it’s played out and overly cliche, you may want to give this a try.

City Beyond Time – Unless you really, REALLY hate time travel in stories, get this, read it.

One Bright Star to Guide Them – A fun tale.  VERY much recommended for fans of CS Lewis.

Spoiler talk will resume below.

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SPOILERS!

Awake in the Night Lands – It’s literally published fan fiction and I have to admire this fan community that grown up around this old novel.  It’s pretty awesome how the fans have kept this work alive and expanded it.

I really did enjoy this series more than I first thought I would.  It takes you to whole other world and challenges you in ways unexpected.  Heck in my opinion almost everybody should get their toes stepped on a little.  Example: in a state of constant war and near extinction, it would be hard for “the Right” to make a case for free markets in this land.  Likewise for “the Left” this seems to be a world with no room for equality or sexual deviancy.  I mean this is an apocalyptic scenario like few others (zombies, nuclear, whatever) and makes you really wonder what would society be like in such a state?  What SHOULD such a society be like?  It makes the mind wonder…

First story is a great gateway drug to the world, heck I’m tinkering with a spec script because it’s just begging for a big screen adaption. (Hey, Hollywood needs some new sequel properties doesn’t it?) 

Second story ended up being my favorite because it subverted my expectations on two accounts.  The first is that the “smartass rebels” didn’t get away with insanity.  See, there is a habit in stories that those who buck tradition are always right.  And I get it, I’m American so I’m very sympathetic to bucking tradition (as they say, slavery was once a tradition – thank goodness it no longer is).  The problem is that stories have turned now from the motif of “it’s right because it’s tradition” to “it’s wrong because it’s tradition”.  Both views are wrong and I do grow tired of creators using that “bucking the trend” as story shorthand for the protagonist.  Traditions and rules exist for a reason and if a character is going to break them, then there has to be compelling reasons within the story that show the audience why either this one instance is an exception to following said rules, or the flaw in the original reasoning that demands the whole thing be struck down.  In this story we see a demonstration that there are very good reasons for the rules and traditions that exist and they should be maintained.  The second thing I was actually surprised about was that the main character – a female! – was actually allowed to be flawed and wrong.  Similar to the above there’s also a running motif that “doing the right thing” should get a person off any punishment scott free.  Partially related to the above, that’s not strictly the case (though the discussion of it probably deserves it’s own essay).  Of course authors almost always rather reward their protagonists rather than punish them so I’m not unsympathetic to the tendency, but you make the protagonist a girl?  Then they’re likely to escape any consequences! (probably because authors are paranoid about being labeled sexist)  It is then with some irony that many of these female characters end up becoming as shallow and 2D as any previous caricature.  Even though at times I found the protagonist of this story grating, in the end I liked her far more because she was more real, flawed, and (more importantly) she had an arc and grew out of those flaws.

Third story I wanted to like more.  I would have preferred less action in it and more discussion about (as mentioned above there) how society can/should be in this world and whether survival trumps all or if there are more important things.

Fourth story… I need to reread.  My fault in that I didn’t go through it all in one sitting and really, you HAVE to on this one.  No, even if your house is on fire, you sit there and finish this story (you’ll at least have plenty of light to read by).

Opera Vita Aeterna – Ok, one problem I had with this story is that I read it immediately following the previous story collection. (hence it’s order and I picked it up because it was free)  Going from JC Wright’s Night Lands to this is rather like going from the finest steak meal you can imagine to a Wendy’s frosty.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Wendy’s frosties, but the taste and level of filling is very different.

Confession time: For a few years I subscribed to Realms of Fantasy (which I actually quite liked).  If you were to hold up the picture that accompanied every short story in the magazine, I could probably give you a decent summation of said story (because I have a semi-freakish ability to retain almost anything I’ve read).  If however you asked me to NAME any story (or summarize it) off the top of my head from that mag, that number would be less.  The most common feature of the stories I could name?  Religion. (even one or two that were INCREDIBLY insulting towards it)

Now it’s always been a bit odd that religion is left out of so many stories (though I can understand it from a business perspective), particularly stories that often describe odd details about the characters to add realism to them (especially something like that person burping or farting).  This is a big feature of a lot of people’s lives and it is weird that it is so rarely touched on (unless you assume there’s an atheist requirement to be an author) though I’ll admit I’d rather it not done at all than done poorly (which is why some topics and things I avoid in my own works since I’m not confident yet in my ability to do them justice).  However, that’s for generally modern day set fiction.  If a story is set in a medieval style period, then it gets REALLY weird for religion to not be present.  I’ll admit it’s very hard for any of us to conceptualize just what religion was like back during the middle ages of… actually most of the world (not just Europe).  The closest approximation would be to the internet today – so every time you read a medieval style story without religion in it is rather like reading a story set in modern day times (2000+ AD) that has no internet in it: kind of weird.

So I did appreciate this story placing religion where it belongs in a medieval style fantasy.  Though I was thrown off by this faith being a carbon copy of Catholicism with a few names changed to protect the innocent.  One of my favorite features of Narnia was the demonstration that a different world would have a different divine incarnation within it (world of beasts == God as beast).  The concept of humans sharing a world with other sapient species is one I adore (and am working on in another top secret work) but it does make the mind wonder why/how the Church ended up exactly like it did in our world.  As I said above, this story is apparently a smaller part of a larger whole so maybe some of those answers await elsewhere but I’m still on the fence of how well this story worked as an introduction to the world.  Had the differences been a little sharper I think I would have been intrigued enough to seek out more about this world to learn where and how things altered, but as it stands the similarities were so numerous I gained little interest in the world.  If however you’re a hardcore religious nerd (especially a geek for Catholic trivia) you will probably enjoy this a lot more and catch the probably more numerous differences that those of us less knowledgeable missed.  (I for one wanted more discussions on how magical spells and religious rites are similar or different.)

The story itself… well I LOVED the Book of Eli and quite enjoyed this story too though a few moments and motivations that the climax ultimately turns on I thought could be better fleshed out.  Oh right this is spoiler discussion.  WTF with the demon?  Yes I know I’m partially jaded because of all the Supernatural I’ve had to deal with lately but why it was so attached to the elf and why the monastery didn’t feel the need to ward off the bastard I didn’t grasp.  Again, might be elsewhere in another story, but since so much of this tale turns on these two factors it ends up counting against it.  All in all I don’t regret reading this story, it was enjoyable enough, but it didn’t grab me like any of these others.  Now the story of those missionaries going to the elves…

City Beyond Time – What can I say?  I love time travel and a collection of stories examining the morality of it rather than the usual questions tickled my fancy.  I think the choice of order for the stories was… debatable (but then when it comes to time, what events aren’t?).  Stories like the one about dad’s monument get kind of weird after you’ve read the tale at the beginning about how the city is fading.  I mean is the ending supposed to be hopeful or sadly tragic?

Slayer of Souls BARELY fits into the theme of this collection, but is so freakin freaky, unnerving and awesome, it’s impossible to complain.  I’ve talked about one of the stories before, I stand by what I said, and there’s not a lot to add past that.

One Bright Star to Guide Them – Here’s a fun game for the extremely nerdy.  Grab a copy of this story, get your favorite drinks, and then have a game where you see who can spot the most tributes to CS Lewis in this story (it might be even more fun as you all argue over whether this name or that scene are a tribute to Lewis or not – such is fun for the geek).  I’m a big CS Lewis fan (if for his writing ability and style if nothing else) so I got a big kick out of this story.

I admit I was surprised that there was no “twist” to the story.  Having read enough short fiction in the last few years, there almost always has to be some kind of “twist” come up at the end.  So through the whole story I kept waiting… ‘Tybalt will be the villain’ or ‘They’ll hint that Tommy might be mad and all this might be in his head and he’s killed innocent people the last few days’ were the two that most commonly ran through my mind.  And then… no.  None of that happened.  What does it say about the modern state of stories that the biggest twist to them nowadays is NO twist?  Honestly I didn’t expect a straight story.

What else to say… a lot of things I was going to discuss when reading ended up having the story itself pointing out by the end so I feel not a lot to say without quoting some passages verbatim.  I will say this: It’s a very common piece of advice to storytellers to “show don’t tell”.  Now in movies and TV and other media of that type the implication is obvious.  In writing (and radio) that’s… a bit harder advice to grasp since, on some level, isn’t everything you’re doing telling?

In this story Mr Wright apparently took that rule and said “Challenge Accepted” and decided to do a story that consisted almost ENTIRELY of telling.  In fact you could adapt this story as a stage play or independent film VERY easily (no really, I’d love to get a local acting troupe here to perform this story).  I have to admit though that this author pulled it off dagnabbit.  At the least I would recommend this story to classes to help writers grasp what is the difference between showing and telling and – if you must – how to make even telling exciting.  Whatever else you might say about the tale, the author deserves a slow clap for that.

Hmm… now how to get this into a movie on YouTube…