Being Emotionally Invested In Someone Else’s Story

This past week I went through an ordeal that could’ve been prevented. However, due to multiple reasons, namely my own arrogance, an ordeal transpired and now a friendship that I highly valued is on the rocks. Sharing this so that others won’t commit a similar mistake. 

First, some background, one of my writer friends is an amazing writer and she was kind enough to share with me one of her short stories. I loved it. Afterward, whenever a filmmaker wanted to shoot a short film, I would pitch her story, hoping that they’ll like it and that they’ll make her story come to life. I wasn’t interested in writing her story, if the filmmaker was interested, I was going to connect them. However, since I couldn’t go into too many details about the story, the filmmakers ended up passing on it. 

Then, an opportunity arose where I could submit a short script for consideration to be made. The opportunity was time-sensitive however, less than 24 hours and due to certain requirements, I had to be the one to submit it. 

By now, I had multiple options going forward:

  1. Write an original script and submit it (safe)
  2. Get my friend’s permission to adapt her story, adapt her story, and then submit it (still good)
  3. Adapt my friend’s story but don’t submit it until I get her permission (somewhat okay)
  4. Adapt my friend’s story, submit it, and then withdraw it without informing her (not great, but not the worst either)
  5. Adapt my friend’s story, submit it, and then tell her about it (probably the worst possible option)

Guess which brilliant option I went with? 

I messaged my friend, and being the polite person she is, she basically asked, “Who does this?”

I apologized profusely, took the script back, and then started to think — Why? Why did I do it? 

I wasn’t trying to steal her credit, as I clearly wrote that it is based on her short story. I wasn’t doing it for the money either, there’s no cash prize and if you think a short film can make money, then film financing might not be for you. 

This was the first time that I’ve done such a thing and I’ve been thinking about it and I arrive at the conclusion that it’s because I was emotionally invested in her story. I wanted her story (any version of it) to be recognized and so I adapted and submitted an adaptation of it. There wasn’t enough time to inform her and so I submitted it first. 

But why did I tell her? I could’ve withdrawn the script and not informed her about it. So why did I tell her? 

Arrogance, I think. Deep down, I wanted her to thank me for championing her work even though I knew that I should have asked for her permission. She went ballistic (rightfully) about my action and I immediately took back my script. I have been apologizing since.  

In order to prevent a similar problem from cropping up, I think it’s best to remember that:

  1. You shouldn’t be arrogant and expect that others will appreciate you adapting their work without their permission
  2. More importantly, you shouldn’t be emotionally invested in someone else’s work to the point that you’re no longer rational about it. It's akin to enrolling someone else's child in a play without informing their parent that you enrolled them. It doesn't matter whether or not the play is good or that you were doing it out of good intention, what matters is that it's not your child. The parent, not you, gets to choose what they want for their child. 

I knew better but I was blinded by my emotional investment in the story that I was jeopardizing my friendship. Ironically, it was my good intention (and arrogance) that caused the problem. 

Emotion, even positive ones, can bring a lot of harm if it overwhelms your rational self. 

I have never written fan fiction nor been emotionally invested in someone else’s story to the point of adapting it (that’s how amazing of a writer she is) and so this is new to me. 

This has been an eye-opening experience that I hope people who read this won’t repeat or experience it themselves. It's not a good feeling, trust me. 

Friendship is much more valuable than story.

Pictures from Uncanny Valley book launch

This past Sunday was the book launch of Uncanny Valley, my first short story collection, at The Arts House in Singapore. 

It was on a Sunday evening and I was worried that it'll just be me because of the time. Also, a concurrent panel which featured award-winning writers Audrey Chin, O Thiam Chin, and Sara Baume was running and so I'm extremely happy that the turnout was better than just my shadow. Got to see supportive friends, esteemed statesmen, and seasoned journalists at the intimate launch which was heartwarming to say the least. 

Below are some pictures from the launch. Thanks to those who attend and those who are supporting the book by purchasing it online here or here. Thank you!

If you're attending Singapore Writers Festival, the book is in the "S" section of the Select Books store. Thank you! 

Upper left corner of the bookshelf 

Upper left corner of the bookshelf 

Singapore Writers Festival 2016 Starts Today

This year's theme is Sayang. Sayang is a Malay word for love and the goal of this year's festival is to "delve into the multi-faceted human condition". Can't wait.

On a side note, it is somewhat interesting that the Korean word for love is sarang (사랑). Hmm...wonder if there's any relation between the two languages or did one country borrow the word? If so, it's a very interesting word to borrow from another language.  

Book launch this Sunday November 6th

Marshall Cavendish (Asia) will be hosting a book launch for my short story collection - Uncanny Valley this Sunday at The Arts House Singapore.

A few amazing authors have read a review copy and offer some kind words for the collection: 

The short story has a structure that appears to be deceptively simple but it requires a master to craft it to perfection. S. Mickey Lin’s insightful stories exhibit his mastery of the form. His is a fresh voice that provokes serious thinking and yet delights.
— Josephine Chia, author of When A Flower Dies
A collection of masterfully rendered portraits of our country and our people. Incisive and biting, S. Mickey Lin conveys our diversity, foibles, strengths and weaknesses in sharply observed stories of university professors and civil servants battling with political correctness; slyly witty accounts in the voice of egotistical food critics and horny masters of the financial universe; and sweetly understated paeans to arts and the home by a floundering Minister of Speculative Technology and an imported badminton player. Insightful, funny and definitely thought stimulating.
— Audrey Chin, author of As The Heart Bones Break
Each story in S. Mickey Lin’s Uncanny Valley has been crafted from a strong premise, then propelled into motion with a whipcord of wit, clever characterisation, and astute observation. A few cross the line into absurd comedy or futuristic farce and have great entertainment value. Other stories like ‘Right History’ and ‘Home Game’ spin their narratives from current issues like blinkered nationalism and ‘foreign talent’. After reading this collection, the twelve tales will keep turning in your mind like colourful tops.
— Dr Chris Mooney-Singh, Artistic Director, The Writers Centre, Singapore
S. Mickey Lin’s stories can reach dizzying heights. If you suffer vertigo, I dare you to step out on this ledge with him to experience Singapore from multiple perspectives, helping to build a fuller, sharper view of this rich city and its multicultural, gastronomic splendours. Enjoy this feast of new work by an up-and-coming local talent.
— Jane Camens, Founder, Asia Pacific Writers & Translators
A lovely showcase. Uncanny Valley collects eclectic stories with great range—tender, funny, clever, moving. S. Mickey Lin manages to unearth the anxieties of city life, and give it a grand cinema strung together by intriguing simulacra. To take a leaf from one of his characters, it scarcely matters that the stories aren’t real, what matters is that we get to know how it all feels like.
— Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé, author of Singular Acts of Endearment

If you're in Singapore at the time, please drop by and say hello. 

If you would like to purchase a copy right now, it's available for purchase here.

LESSON: Write your personal best, keep upping your craft, repay others’ kindness, and remember to pay it forward.

Believable stories

Yesterday was Halloween, which is usually associated with supernatural elements. 

Thinking about ghost stories and storytelling, I want to talk about why some stories are more believable than others. 

Except for the fantasy genre, the general rule is that readers/audience will accept ONE fantastical element in their story.

The Time Traveler's Wife has one element - Henry's time-traveling ability. If the protagonist is also a vampire or his wife, Claire, also has another magical ability, it would be extremely difficult for the readers/audience to accept it. Everything else in the story, except for Henry's time-traveling ability, must be believable. His love for Claire and his interactions with people are believable and ground the story in reality, even though he can travel through time. 

Readers are generally willing to suspense their disbelief if the story is good enough and you don't require them to suspense their disbelief too much.

But, how much is too much?

More than one is already too much. 

Memento has one major leap of faith - the protagonist, Leonard, suffers from anterograde amnesia. It's a major leap because it's extremely uncommon. Everything else, however, is believable. Leonard's motivation and desire to avenge his wife is understandable and doesn't require audience to take another leap of faith. 

What about Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, etc?  Those fall into the realm of fantasy and that genre is much more generous with disbelief. 

So if you want to tell a believable ghost story, you already have one fantastical element - the ghost. Everything else needs to be realistic. 

In my short horror story "Lady Winters' Mirror" in the Shadow People and Cursed Objects anthologythe mirror may or may not be haunted. That is the fantastical element in the story and I tried to make everything else as realistic as possible. 

LESSON: Readers allow ONE leap of faith, use it wisely.

Happy Halloween!

Halloween - a night celebrating spooky and frightful things...or is it? 

Apparently, Halloween was not initially meant to be a celebration of Jack O'Lantern, candies, black cats, and witches, but of romance. It used to be about finding love. Crazy, huh? 

I think most people have forgotten this romantic aspect though. 

So, in the original spirit of Halloween, you might want to check out Singapore Love Stories

The book is available for purchase here

LESSON: Things aren’t always what they appear to be.

Halloween Contest - Win Prizes

Haunt Jaunts is holding a voting contest for your favorite scary story. 

Winners stand a chance to win: 

  • A complimentary copy of Shadow People and Cursed Objects
  • A $10 Amazon gift card
  • A Haunt Jaunts pen

It's easy to enter, just pick your favorite story of the collection and the story with the most votes will have a live reading on Facebook during Halloween. 

It's a pretty cool Halloween contest, especially since it's free to enter. Contest ends in 24 hours though so vote soon if you want to win

Story Analysis: The Girl on the Train

First, the novel is exceptional. If you haven't read it, go read it! Yes, it rightfully deserves all the attention and accolades it is receiving. 

Watched the film and I like it, but I like the novel more. 

While I'm doing a story analysis of the film, it should be noted that adaptation is extremely difficult. You have to basically take only the main part and then throw out the rest. 

I wanted to like the movie more but I think two things prevented it from reaching the same level as the novel:

  1. Multiple voice-over
  2. Know the villain too early

If you have read the novel, then you know that it has multiple POVs and so I understand the desire to respect the original work by having multiple POVs. But, it ended up feeling very stilted because the movie, unlike the novel, doesn't carry out the multiple POVs throughout the film. It is used only in the set-up and then we're back to one POV (from the main character). 

The Affair has multiple POVs and it works because the TV medium has a lot more time than film. One of the appeals of The Affair is that the different perspectives make you question reality as you're not really sure what happened as people disagree on the events and there is no authoritative voice to help the audience discern who to believe. 

For film, I find it difficult to like the characters when we’re introduce to one of them and then we switch again and again. 

Image of when Megan Hipwell discovers her baby from Girl on the Train

Image of when Megan Hipwell discovers her baby from Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train is Rachel Watson's (played by Emily Blunt) story. But, Megan Hipwell's (Haley Bennett) story threatens to undermine Rachel's because her story is equally compelling, especially the scene of her accidentally drowning her baby when she fell asleep. Megan's way of life and treatment of the people around her makes me want to learn more about her. 

Also, because of Rachel and Megan, Anna’s (Rebecca Ferguson) POV becomes trivial since it isn't as compelling as these two characters. Anna had an affair with Rachel's husband, Tom (Justin Theroux), and is now married to him. Anna dislikes and distrusts Rachel. While we understand her distrust, her POV is non-essential in the film. In the novel, it's compelling because we get to revisit Anna's POV and learn more about her. We get none of that in the film. 

In this case, I think the multiple POVs actually worked against them. 

The other problem though is that the film revealed the villain too early. 

Again, I understand the desire for fidelity to the original but we also have to remember that different media have different requirements. 

When Anna discovers Megan’s phone and hears her voice, we suspect that Tom is the killer. Anna doesn't do anything and then Rachel appears. This would have been the time to have Anna’s POV for why she’s staying with someone she should be suspecting but we don't get to see it. Instead, Tom shows up and Anna confirms to him that she discovered Megan's phone. 

To me, it would have been great if Anna could have made us believe that somebody other than Tom is the killer and so it would be much more shocking and surprising when we find out that he's the killer. The novel does this very well where we're constantly getting new information and changing our suspicion of who the real killer is. 

In the film, we didn't get it as much. 

Despite these shortcomings in the story, I still like the movie and would still recommend it for people to watch, especially if they have not read the novel (although they really should). 

LESSON: If you’re going to have multiple POVs, make sure they’re all compelling and we see them more than once.

Story Analysis: The Magnificent Seven

I haven't seen the original 1960 version, but I have seen the 1954 Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. Akira Kurosawa's version is considered a classic for very good reasons. It's an exceptional film. 

For the new remake, I'm already a fan of the casting: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Lee Byung-Hun, Vincent D'Onofrio, and Peter Sarsgaard. Furthermore, the film is directed by Antoine Fuqua, a director I'm also a huge fan of. 

Given everyone involved, I have no doubt the film will make a lot of money and be a major success. My analysis isn’t on whether or not I like the movie because I did, but rather where the story could’ve been improved upon.

Chris Pratt as Joshua Faraday

Chris Pratt as Joshua Faraday

After watching the film, almost everything worked in terms of story except for one thing — Chris Pratt’s character, Joshua Faraday. 

We learn early in the film that Joshua Faraday is a gambler who's very good with his guns. We also learn that he’s street smart by the way he handles himself when two brothers get a drop on him. He kills one of the brothers and tells the other one to run away. From that, we infer that he doesn't kill unless it's necessary. So far, so good. 

Later, Denzel Washingon's character, Sam Chisholm, recruits Joshua by paying for his horse. Josuha is obligated to join Sam in his mission to save the town against an army of bad people as a way of paying back debt. Again, so far, so good. 

Sam quickly recruits the rest of the Magnificent Seven:

  1. Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) is Sam’s good friend and “noble”, willing to befriend blacks and Asians when his Caucasian peers are too ignorant to consider them their equals.
  2. Billy Rocks (Lee Byung-Hun) is Goodnight's good friend and we get the sense that he’s been fighting against injustice all his life until he befriended Goodnight.
  3. Jack Horne (Vincent D'Onofrio) is a skilled tracker who is more shamanistic now. He joins the team because he feels that it is the right thing to do. 
  4. Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) is a Comanche warrior who befriends Sam and is therefore obligated to join him in his mission. 
  5. Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) is a Mexican outlaw who joins simply because it seems fun and crazy. 

Later, we get hints from the conversation between Goodnight and Sam that Sam didn't take on this mission for a noble cause, but rather for revenge.

So far, so good. We understand everyone's motivation for joining this crazy mission. 

However, towards the end of the film, Joshua's character becomes an enigma. 

Even though Sam explicitly tells him that Joshua is free to leave as he has already paid back his debt, Joshua decides to sacrifice himself and that's where the story lost me. 

Why did Joshua sacrifice himself? We get no indication whatsoever. Family? Nothing. Religion? Nope. Honor? His character didn't exactly give off that vibe. So, why did he sacrifice himself? 

If only we got to know Joshua a little better, then his sacrifice would have been that much more impactful. Instead, I was wondering why in the world did he do that? 

Now, Chris Pratt is an extremely likable actor and not the main protagonist in the film and so maybe the writers and director thought that they showed enough for people to understand. I didn't and maybe it's just me. 

LESSON: The more we know about the character’s motivation, the more invested we are in them.

Writing the superhero show

Yesterday, I did a bit of story analysis between MacGyver and Scorpion

Thinking about it a little more, I think the two shows are basically about "superheroes" in that it is their intelligence that is their "super powers". 

In our current knowledge economy where knowledge is power, raw intelligence - such as Walter O' Brien's 197 IQ or MacGyver's encyclopedic know-how - is essentially portrayed as a super power. The writers on Scorpion know this and illustrate it by having an episode where the team dressed up as superheroes. 

Image from Scorpion Season 2 Episode 5: "Super Fun Guys" written by Adam Higgs and Nick Santora

Image from Scorpion Season 2 Episode 5: "Super Fun Guys" written by Adam Higgs and Nick Santora

If we accept that both shows are superheroes show, then it furthers cement the reason why Scorpion is currently a better written show.

Superheroes must have a weakness. It's a cardinal rule because without a weakness, they're kind of boring. Imagine Batman or Superman without any weaknesses. Why would you care? 

In Scorpion, Walter is clearly attracted to Paige, a beautiful waitress of average intelligence who joins the team to better explain "genius talk" to plain speech. He is attracted to her but because of his weakness, he is unable to express his feelings for her. The romantic tension between them is part of the genre (i.e. Lois Lane and Superman, Selina Kyle and Batman, etc). 

While Walter might be the smartest person in the room, he's an idiot when it comes to affairs of the heart. Superman might be the most powerful being in the world, but he took a very, very long time (52 years) to confess to Lois Lane his secret identity. 

MacGyver is portrayed as an extremely intelligent person who can do almost anything. He's able to have a girlfriend, Nikki. He's able to have a normal roommate, Wilt. 

He doesn't exhibit any weaknesses for us to care or relate to. Again, I hope they fix this soon as I'm worried this MacGyver reboot will be less than two seasons. 

LESSON: Give the main character a weakness - the more relatable, the better.

Story analysis: MacGyver vs Scorpions

It’s been a while since I got to watch some shows and so I figure I might as well do some story analysis of what works and what isn’t working for me and how I can apply that to my own writing. 

MacGyver vs Scorpions

MacGyver vs Scorpions

I’m a fan of the show Scorpion. I think the premise is well thought out and they educate audience by sprinkling scientific facts when solving complex problems. The show is loosely (extremely loose here) based on Walter O'Brien. Scorpion is a team of geniuses: Walter has an IQ of 197, Sylvester is a human calculator, Happy is a mechanical prodigy, Toby is a behaviorist who can read people based on their expressions, and Ralph is extremely good with computers. 

MacGyver, on the other hand, only has one genius - the titular character MacGyver. He has to "hack" readily available material through his knowledge of scientific facts to get him out of difficult situations. 

I should note that I was a fan of the original Macgyver series, way back in the 80s.

The original MacGyver

The original MacGyver

So, as much as I would like the new MacGyver to work, it’s currently not working. Ratings have been steadily dropping and I’ve been trying to figure out why from a story point of view. 

Obviously, other factors beside stories (like actors, time slot, etc) are also at play, but I’m going to focus on story. 

The main problem with the new MacGyver is that the Phoenix Foundation, the clandestine organization that he works for, is a very shallow foundation (pun intended) for which to base the story on. It works in the 80s because that was a different time (and I was a lot younger). Now, however, audience are much more sophisticated and discerning and they can sense it when you're just winging it. 

Why is the Phoenix Foundation a problem? 

Precisely because we don't know we're not exactly sure why MacGyver is getting these assignments and not the CIA, FBI, or Interpol. Basically, what kind of assignments can the Phoenix Foundation take on and how is it different from any other clandestine government agency? 

Contrast this with Scorpion, where we learn that they are a for-profit private agency that is made up of various geniuses. The government hires them because the job requires geniuses to solve it. We know why the government is hiring them — the government doesn’t have the brainpower to handle it. We know why they’re doing it — for the money, mostly. They explain why they need the money, but we understand that they're brains-for-hire essentially. Every week is a different problem that they’ve to quickly solve before it starts the next World War or a major catastrophe. We know the stake and we know that Scorpion is the only team smart enough to solve it. If they don’t solve it, then the world is screwed. 

This premise works because we know everything that we need to know — their motivation and what’s at stake. 

Contrast this with MacGyver and we start to see the weaknesses in the premise. 

MacGyver’s motivation is to track down and figure out why his ex-girlfriend Nikki is working for the enemy, but we don’t exactly know why he’s doing what he’s doing.

Why did MacGyver join the CIA? Before Nikki betrayed him, was he motivated by money? 

Is the Phoenix Foundation the government's last resort or the first one?

Can MacGyver afford to fail because the CIA can handle the case later? 

The writer(s) might have thought that MacGyver's goals, motivations, and what’s at stake were communicated clearly to the audience but it didn't feel that way to me. 

I’ve watched the first 3 episodes and I’m hoping that they figure out soon that the audience needs to know these things before rooting for these characters. If they don't figure it out soon, this MacGyver reboot might be short-lived (2 season max?). 

LESSON: Make sure the character’s goal, motivation, and what’s at stake is absolutely clear to the audience. Without it, it’s hard to root for the character.

The beauty of print

A good friend told me that the Macau Public Library had reviewed Tales of Two Cities

This was completely unexpected as I didn't even know the book was available in Macau. 

This happy incident shows the beauty of print - as long as it's physically available, eventually somebody will read it and, if they like it enough, comment on it. 

Here's hoping more of these happy incidents will keep on happening with all my projects. 

Macau Public Library Periodical August 2016

Macau Public Library Periodical August 2016

It's been a while...

Blogging is time-demanding and so I haven't had time to write anything here for the longest time.

Due to personal and professional reasons, I've been swamped with other activities besides blogging. Still, it's nice to have a personal place to post your thoughts and such. 

The walled gardens of Facebook, Twitter, etc makes it feel as though the digital space isn't yours and that they're simply allowing you to use their space. You need their permissions and such whereas with your own website/domain, you can pretty much post whatever you want. 

Seeing people arguing about censorship on Facebook makes you realize that your FB account or post doesn't belong to you, you're simply renting it from Facebook and they're allowed to kick you out anytime they think that you're doing something they don't like. Activists asked Facebook to not censor videos about police confrontation following the tragic death of Korryn Gaines. Earlier this year, the website banned Aboriginal activist Celeste Liddle for posting pictures of bare-breasted Aboriginal woman performing their cultural ceremony in the desert. 

It's not a complaint as Facebook is free to do whatever they want but a good wake-up call for everyone that it's their walled garden, not yours.