My Review of Spartacus: War of the Damned episode #1

Spartacus-War-of-the-Damned_Key-Art-400x600The Spartacus franchise for the Starz network has always had a tenuous relationship with the historical record. While the show maybe based on the historical figure that helped incite the Third Servile War, showrunner Stephen S. DeKnight has never hesitated with changing some of the more unsuitable aspects of the account.

I’ve been a fan of the show from the very beginning, and the first season, Spartacus: Blood and Sand, still stands as my absolute favorite of the quartet. The stylized presentation of violence, inspired by the film 300, helped make the show popular, and while I thoroughly enjoyed those exaggerated battle scenes and subsequent beheadings (not to mention the steamy sex scenes), it was really DeKnight’s ability to draw the characters that kept me coming back to the show.

While the tragic loss of original Spartacus player Andy Whitfield seemed to doom the franchise. Starz backed the show and recast the role with another unknown actor in Liam McIntyre. He’s done a serviceable job carrying the mantle, but he’ll never outshine the star that was developing in Andy Whitfield. Originally marked for a five to seven season run, the Spartacus franchise opened its final season last night.

You can check out my review of the episode, ‘Enemies of Rome’, here.

Becoming a Storyteller: Don’t Panic, or, The Perils of Exposition

Don't Panic Badge
Don’t Panic Badge (Photo credit: Jim Linwood)

Ideas rattle through the cavernous recesses of my mind perpetually. They seem to come in all the “normal” places–you know, the shower, the car. While listening to a particular artist, while staring at the ceiling above my bed. I dutifully jot down the nuggets of these ideas and go about the rest of my day, as Ideas have the penchant for arriving at the most inopportune of moments.

As a lifelong fan of speculative fiction, my Ideas tend to manifest within that genre–science fiction, sword and sorcery, contemporary fantasy, you name it. Despite my unsettled agreement with the post-apocalyptic subgenre, I might be graced with an Idea or two from them.

Aside: My unsettled agreement with the post-apocalypse is simple. I’ll enjoy you if you don’t make me think about my own mortality too much. As a diabetic, I’ve already planned raids against Walgreens and Publix at the first sign of the end of times. So, while I’m wont to enjoy the fun of say The Hitchhiker’s Guide, Battlestar GalacticaFalling Skies, Zombieland or The Hunger Games, I have a tenuous relationship with something like The Walking Dead. (We’re working on it.) But Cormac McCarthy‘s The Road, holy shit–we’re not even on speaking terms after what that did to me.

Back to my point. As someone whose Ideas tend to come with a lot of backstory, I find myself in a constant struggle with Exposition. I know there’s a thin line to tread here, a delicate balance to be struck–but it’s hard damn it! In reviewing my novel-draft ahead of some major revisions, I’m finding that much of the first fifty pages lands in the Exposition/Prologue bin–and that doesn’t work. So in my effort to become a storyteller, I’ve gone back to some valuable advice from literary agent and author Lucienne Diver, who orchestrated a “Writing Science Fiction, Fantasy and Paranormal” webinar for Writer’s Digest. Here’s what she said:

Ways to Avoid too much Exposition:

  1. Begin in the Right Place–don’t begin with backstory, but do begin as the elements that will be important to the plot come to a head.
  2. Avoid starting with Flashbacks, Omniscient Narration or Prologues unless completely necessary and put to good use.
  3. Don’t Introduce Characters before they appear. Once they appear, don’t stop the momentum to give us backstory but reveal it as it becomes relevant.
  4. Show, don’t Tell. (Use Body Language and Vocal Cues)
  5. Remember, POV characters are the lenses through which we see the story. If something isn’t relevant to them at a given moment, they won’t be thinking about it and the reader won’t be hearing it.

What resonates the most with me from what Lucienne Diver said can be distilled to one word: Relevance. If it’s not important at the very moment in the story, leave it out. If and when it becomes integral that the reader knows this information, then present it. Not a moment before. I can’t remember where I heard it, or exactly how it goes, but I remember being told somewhere along my writing journey that a reader should grant a story its premise.

I guess the implication there is don’t waste time explaining the premise, just get to the story.

I’m going to try this all with a short story I’ve recently imagined. The story will take place in a “world” I’ve already created in my head for a novel but haven’t fleshed out completely. I’m going to experiment with just diving in and providing only the necessary details along the way. I’ll keep you posted.