A Newbie’s Guide to the CW: Wednesday-Friday

I’m back with my second installment of a newcomer’s CW guide.  If you’re wary of the CW network, check out my blog on 4 myths about the CW.  For the Monday and Tuesday shows, I covered them on Monday.

Wednesdays:  Arrow & The Tomorrow People

Cousins Robbie and Stephen Amell headline Wednesdays on the CW.

Cousins Robbie and Stephen Amell headline Wednesdays on the CW.

This night is jokingly referred to as Amell Wednesdays.  I think the more accurate description should be Amell Shirtless Wednesdays.  The star of Arrow is Stephen Amell and the star of The Tomorrow People is his cousin Robbie Amell.

I guess the powers that be at the CW were afraid their regular female audience would lose interest in shows that were based on comic books with lots of action and explosions if they didn’t throw in a little eye candy.  Whatever the reasoning, the poor Amell cousins are going to catch their death of cold for all the shirtless scenes they have to shoot.

These poor Amell boys can't even make it through the title credits before they've stolen their shirts.

These poor Amell boys can’t even make it through the title credits before they’ve misplaced their shirts.

On TTP, not having the last name Amell doesn’t even mean you’re safe, as fellow cast member Luke Mitchell has also been sans shirt a lot lately.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, per se, just pointing out that the shows are strong enough on plot that I don’t need the beefcake to tune in.

Trust but Verify

Arrow is about reformed billionaire playboy Oliver Queen.  If you like Batman, Arrow’s storyline is one of the closest I’ve seen.  He got stuck on a very nasty island for five years where people did bad things to him and he learned his family had done some equally evil things back home.  He returns to Starling City and becomes the vigilante Arrow, with the help of his best friend Digg and the amazing Felicity, his IT girl and the best character on the show.

Laurel?  Who's Laurel?

Laurel? Who’s Laurel?

The writers have been trying really hard to convince us his one true love is Laurel Lance (as the comic books dictate), but I’m sorry, the chemistry between him and Katie Cassidy, the actress who plays Laurel, just isn’t there.  Oliver and Felicity, however—in the words of Sheldon Cooper, “Bazinga!”

Remember when Heroes was good that first season?  The Tomorrow People has that sort of possibility.

Remember when Heroes was good that first season? The Tomorrow People has that sort of possibility.

I’ve also already described the plot of The Tomorrow People here.  If you liked Heroes before it got terrible, then you’d like this show.  Sadly, they don’t have a villain quite as amazing as Zachary Quinto’s Sylar, but then Quinto’s just an exceptional talent.  I don’t think it’s been quite as good as Arrow was in its first season, but Arrow was exceptionally good right away.  TTP is a solid first season show.

Luke Mitchell, center, keeps drawing me in, and note that the girl is still standing next to him, not the hero (far left).

Luke Mitchell, center, keeps drawing me in, and note that the girl is still standing next to him, not the hero (far left).

I have to say, though, that although I like the lead Robbie Amell just fine, supporting actor Luke Mitchell is eating him alive on screen.  Mitchell is just so dang charismatic.  I’m not sure that’s good when Mitchell and Amell’s characters are in a love triangle together for the same girl. I know I’m supposed to be rooting for the hero, but basically I think Luke Mitchell should get whatever he wants.  Like the previous shows, Arrow’s first season can be seen on Netflix, and the current seasons of both are on CWTV.com or Hulu.com.

Thursdays:  The Vampire Diaries & Reign

That dance I did on Tuesday?  I do it again on Thursday.  The Vampire Dairies was the show that got me watching the CW.  I had heard about it, and I had seen bits of an episode that someone else was watching.  Quite frankly, from the outside looking in, I thought it looked juvenile and idiotic.

Just one of the times Entertainment Weekly put Vampire Diaries on its Must List.  I finally caved.

Just one of the times Entertainment Weekly put Vampire Diaries on its Must List. I finally caved.

However, I read Entertainment Weekly, and they could not shut up about this show.  They kept giving it covers and feature articles and cross their heart swearing that it was good.  This is the same magazine that kept pleading for people to watch Fringe and Parks and Rec, both underwatched gems, so I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt. It was summer, and so I decided to do a little Netflix binging and watch seasons one and two before season three came on.  People, this show is stupid good.

At its most basic it follows the lives of the two Salvatore brothers, vampires Stefan and Damon, and the woman they both love, Elena.  There is much more here than a love triangle, though.  The storytelling is wonderful, and you’ll fall in love with the characters.

vampire diaries cast

Now in its fifth season, it is 100% worth it to go back and watch the previous seasons.  You can just jump in if you’d like, but this show has a pretty deep mythology, and I can’t promise you won’t get lost, but they did at least just wrap up a long story arc and are starting a new one.

Price's running gag that Elena is illiterate is just one of the reasons I keep reading his recaps.

Price’s running gag that Elena is illiterate is just one of the reasons I keep reading his recaps.  He loves the show as much as I do, but that doesn’t mean he can’t find plenty to laugh about.

While I think you’ll enjoy watching the past seasons, if you want a faster way to catch up that also happens to be hilarious, then read through Price Peterson’s photo recaps of the previous season’s episodes.  Even if you do watch them, still read his recaps when you get the time.  Half the fun of watching TVD is reading Price’s recaps the next day on TV.com.  He also does shorter reviews of The Originals.

I mean just look at that screen shot.  This show is so pretty.

I mean, just look at that screen shot. This show is so pretty.

Reign I have gone on about in a couple of different posts, so I won’t bore you again, but this is another show that I don’t understand why everyone isn’t watching.  Not only is it visually stunning, every week it takes the sort of risks that make my jaw drop. If you’ve enjoyed the insane story telling of Scandal, then you’d appreciate what the writers of Reign are trying to do.

Want Scandal the 16th Century version?  Try Reign.  Don't worry, they're not historically accurate enough to be boring.

Want Scandal the 16th Century version? Try Reign. Don’t worry, they’re not historically accurate enough to be boring.

Also not to be missed are Lily Sparks’ hilarious next day photo recaps.  She gives Price a run for his money.

I still can't remember this character's real name because Lily calls her Peaseblossom, and that's just way funnier.

I still can’t remember this character’s real name because Lily calls her Peaseblossom, and that’s just way funnier.

Fridays:  Go out and have fun; they’re not showing anything good.

Fridays is currently where they are running off episodes of shows that are already dead in the water.  The Carrie Dairies airs at 8 followed by Nikita, but I don’t believe either of them will be back after January.  They have two midseason replacements in the hopper, The 100 and Starcrossed, both of which look intriguing.  However, I doubt they’ll put both new shows on Friday night.  It’s more likely the whole schedule might get a shuffle.  Friday nights is generally where they stick proven low performers.  Ten bucks says Beauty and the Beast is headed there midseason.

So have fun and get watching!

Mythic Villains: Bring on the Big Bads

With this post, we’ve reached the end of our Hero’s Journey, the monomyth based on the writings of Joseph Campbell. The Villain is the last of our cast of characters, and like the Hero, he has a very specific list of qualities.

Much like the Hero, who is supposed to be unambiguously good, there needs to be no question that the Villain is evil. Remember the motto from the producers of Seinfeld: No learning and no hugging. Your Big Bad can’t be misunderstood, can’t be redeemed, and can’t be conflicted. The Villain is often called the Evil One in the monomyth and with good reason.

Seinfeld finale in jail

The Seinfeld finale drove home the “No Learning” lesson. Your villain needs to be just as selfish as these four.

Interestingly, he or she shares a number of qualities with the hero:

  1. Hubris, although in his case, it might be a straight up big head.
  2. An outlaw, but in the true sense of the word. The Villain is a criminal, not just a little rebellious.
  3. Clever and resourceful. A stupid villain easily duped isn’t a worthy opponent. Also, someone who was tricked into doing the wrong thing isn’t truly evil.
  4. May be wounded, giving him an excuse to do evil. This characteristic is terrifically important for making a three-dimensional villain. The mythical Evil One can easily descend into a cat-stroking, cackling caricature. The wound explains the motivation for his actions, but it cannot make us sympathetic. Don’t make your villain evil for evil’s sake, but make him appalling enough that even knowing his back story, we find him despicable.
  5. Have a special talent, which he’s using for evil. If he has a knack for chemistry, for heaven’s sake don’t have him making medicine for babies and puppies. He should be concocting fowl poisons.
  6. Have great sex appeal. This isn’t required, but I’ve always found the good-looking villains infinitely creepier than the wart-covered oozy ones. However, you can’t have any great love affairs here. He or she will be using and manipulating their lovers for personal gain. Sure, they could fall in love, but they are first and foremost selfish, and nothing will change that. Remember, no learning.

The Evil One also has a number of qualities that are directly opposite of those listed for the Hero:

  1. Is motivated by greed, avarice, lust, lust for power, vanity, narcissism, and other moral flaws. With a list like that, it’s easy to slip into posturing and sneering, but keep the wound in mind.
  2. Is never motivated by idealism, only selfishness. There is one exception: the Evil One’s family. He’s allowed to do nice things for his family, but ultimately that is also a form of selfishness and vanity. They reflect on him.
  3. Is often cruel.
  4. Can win by luck.
  5. Is not forgiving.
  6. May quit, but only at the end.
  7. May whine, grovel, and complain. No need for him to suffer in silence.
  8. May not be loyal.
  9. May not be physically superior, although sometimes he has a sidekick or minions that are.
  10. Has no special birth or destiny, although he may claim one.

Not nearly as much direction is given about the Evil One as the Hero, but that should not mean that you spend any less time crafting a deep and well crafted antagonist. Kristen Lamb recently wrote an article about how a lot of writer’s block and sagging middles could in fact be due to poorly constructed antagonists.

Ben Linus LOL cat

When do you know you’re villain has captivated the public? When they start making LOL cats about him.

I, myself, realized that my first draft contained a cartoon villain. A strong antagonist can make a story come alive. How amazing was Lost after the writers added Michael Emerson’s Ben character? Did I like him? No. Did every scene he was in crackle with energy? You betcha. Why was the third season of the Vampire Dairies so amazing? The Originals, lead by Klaus. That set of villains was so good, a year later the CW has spun them off into their own show! Why was season four less interesting? Because the new Big Bad, Silas, is booorrrrring.

A word of caution, though. In your effort to make your Evil One interesting, don’t make him or her more compelling than your Hero. In this summer’s Star Trek, it became clear that someone was going to have to die. As the final showdown between Spock, Kirk, and Khan approached, Benedict Cumberbatch’s villain was so amazing that he was not my first choice to go. I’m not even sure he was my second. And I like both Spock and Kirk.

Related Reading:

Did That Monster Come Out of You? (Reflections on how to write the truly evil villains from the always great Charles Yallowitz)

Sort of Related Art:

I found this post on the art of Kiersten Essenpries, who did a series of pieces on what villains do in their spare time.  If you like her brand of kooky, you should check out the whole series at her website.

Publishing First Steps: Finding Your Market or Lack Thereof

In a post last week, I mentioned that when I decided to start writing a novel, I made the rookie mistake of beginning the process by writing. One of the key steps I failed to take was researching which publishing market would want to buy what I was creating. I didn’t really see why it mattered. I just needed to write a great book with an intriguing premise and compelling characters. After that was done, then I’d do some research and send it off to the publishing houses most likely to be interested. Again, this seemed completely reasonable.

Note to self:  Do not assume anything in the publishing world is reasonable or logical. Assume you know nothing.

So what did I do that was so horrible? I made my heroine nineteen. Those of you who know about publishing are probably already gasping and clutching your chests. For the rest of you, who like me did not know about this huge faux pas, let me explain.

I love young adult fantasy, so I was aiming to write for that genre. However, I didn’t want to have to mess with my character going to high school. I could have solved this problem a la Vampire Dairies (the TV show, not the books) by having my characters simply never go to school. Seriously, how have they not all been expelled for truancy? They only show up for school dances.   I don’t mind that the teenagers in the show never go to school, since nothing interesting ever happens to them in history class anyway.

vampire diaries class

Still, this solution for the high school problem seemed like cheating to me, so I instead I made my main character a few measly years older. No biggie.

Wrong.  The young adult genre is one of the best for letting its authors take risks. There aren’t many hard and fast rules, but there is one:  your characters have to be between the ages of 12 to 18. When I finally stumbled upon this rule, I did not want to accept it.

But what about all the crossover success of Twilight, The Hunger Games, and Harry Potter? I had just read an article about how 55% of young adult books were now being bought by adults.  Surely that huge adult audience of young adult fiction would not care that my protagonist was nineteen. In fact, they probably don’t, but YA publishers care a lot. Just because adults are reading them now doesn’t mean the 12 to 18 rule has changed.

I was discouraged, but not defeated. Okay, so YA wouldn’t want me anymore.  I’d just head over to the adult fantasy market. Not so fast. Publishers of adult fiction don’t want to read about nineteen-year-olds, either. I had stepped into a no man’s land that I didn’t know existed. Books are not written about characters in their early twenties. I dare you—try to think of one single book you’ve read where the characters were in their college years. If you think of any, leave a comment (button is to the left near the blog title), because I’d love to read it. I could only think of one: Lev Grossman’s The Magicians.

Only one option seemed to be available to me; namely, have a good cry and eat some chocolate. Thankfully, before I picked up the Kleenex and Edy’s Double Fudge Brownie, my stubbornness kicked in, and I did one last search for a market for my book. What I found was the emerging market called New Adult.

New Adult targets readers ages 18 to 30, appealing to both older teens and adults. The characters in New Adult usually face more mature challenges than in YA books. For a full description for the difference between New Adult and Young Adult, Writer’s Relief has an excellent write up.

So problem solved, right? Not quite. New Adult is so new that Publishers are still a little wary. So far the genre exists almost entirely in self publishing. Book sellers aren’t even sure where to shelve the books that are being published. Also, New Adult is currently almost entirely contemporary romance, with very little subgenre breakouts. While there is romance in my book, it’s first and foremost a fantasy novel. Perhaps the worst part is New Adult’s awful nickname, “YA with porn.” Ick.  That doesn’t seem like the best tagline for a genre trying to gain respect in the industry, although I’m sure someone other than the NA authors themselves saddled them with that label.

I haven’t given up, and I’m trying to explore New Adult more, as well as other options in adult fantasy fiction. However, much like exploring how to write better, this is a lesson I wish I had learned before I started writing. Would I have made my heroine 17 instead of 19? Maybe. At least I would have known I had an uphill battle ahead of me.

Research your potential market. Find out its rules and preferences. If you know of other such industry no-no’s, share your wisdom in the comments section.

Next Up:  Establishing Your Platform, or, When I Gave in and Reached for the Kleenex and Edy’s Double Fudge Brownie