What all stories are about

Within a week of reading The Traitor Baru Cormorant I watched the whole of Ryan Murphy’s Hollywood, the new episode of Rick & Morty: Never Ricking Morty, and Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Four pieces of fiction about fiction. Meanwhile Plandemic was igniting social media and making me think about why we believe what we believe. My thoughts were pushed from one to another so that these unrelated experiences became a five-pointed star holding within it conspiracies, rewritten history, and literary devices made literal.

Spoilers.

Why does anyone tell a story? The character Baru Cormorant in Seth Dickinson’s fantasy novel lives within layers of story spun around herself as camouflage, cocoon and prison. The empire of the book tells a grand story that anyone can recognise as the knife-edge of colonialism editing the history of the conquered. Familiar from the letters of Rhodes, speeches of Churchill, and poetry of Kipling. Baru Cormorant tries to unpick the story, but first she needs to become its author. The book is about conspiracy and power, betrayal and betrayal and betrayal.

“This is why I chose to write about the problem of powerful stories.” writes Seth Dickinson, “They work. Our world is full of them, and they continue to propagate forward. We must confront them.”

Ryan Murphy’s Hollywood has been described as ‘ahistorical’ but that would only be half-way to the truth. It is anti-historical. In imagining a group of filmmakers creating a diverse smash-hit film, Hollywood the show makes good on the promise of Hollywood the legend. When a young director begs a producer to let him cast Anna May Wong in a lead role he says, “Movies don’t just show us how the world is, they show us how the world can be.”

Hollywood is story as wish-fulfillment. History rewritten just as the film within the show is rewritten from tragic to hopeful as that same producer asks, “Is that what we want to say about the world?”

Meanwhile Tarantino tells an anarchic tale in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood… History unraveled and rewoven for a character study of two men who may be at the end of their careers. Sitting on a tv lot Rick Dalton cries while describing the plot of a paperback novel he’s reading to a precocious child-(method)actor.  But while Hollywood and Traitor have a certain feeling of responsibility, for Tarantino story-telling is about saying something that only he can say. Having an unconstrained voice. It’s indulgence and freedom. It’s his.

Rick & Morty has that same ego-driving the story. In Never Ricking Morty the characters are trapped in a literal narrative device. They point this out themselves. They point everything out themselves as they try to break, subvert, and escape the möbius strip of story.  In this the meta-narrative isn’t about taking control of the story, or rewriting history, or having freedom… the story is about breaking story. Rick & Morty runs along the edge between nihilism and meaning. Dan Harmon has talked extensively about Campbellian structure and tropes. Well, I say ‘talked’ but I mean ‘ranted’. Harmon is one of those people who thinks he’s a piece of shit and also better than everyone else. He thinks tropes suck and also that he’s a master of them. He’s not wrong. In Never Ricking Morty the ‘rules’ of story are broken and ripped away to show… nothing? Storytelling is meaningless illusion.

Plandemic is its own kind of storytelling, existing only as a counter-narrative – a shadow-story of distorted shapes cast by the light of intense scrutiny on the real story. Conspiracy Theories exist because the mainstream story does not convince everyone. Sometimes these independent thinkers have spotted real flaws, sometimes they’ve misunderstood something, and sometimes the story being ‘mainstream’ is all the fault they need. Trust No One. Even before Plandemic‘s surge and subsequent purge, people were writing about the rise of Conspiracy Theories. And they were usually getting it wrong by making the same mistake as the theorists: linking different phenomena together into a grand psychological narrative.

The conspiracy theorist, the debunker, and the observer are all competing storytellers wrestling over the meta-narrative while claiming Facts.

Fiction doesn’t claim Fact, but it does claim Truth. And you can see the same fight play out over and again as audiences offer or revoke their suspension of disbelief to the tellers. They fixate on details, they chant, “well, actually” and they compose sweeping essays tying unrelated experiences into a single theory.

Maybe you could stick colourful pins in a cork board and graph meta-fictions on axes of ego and idealism. You could pick out constellations and clusters, but it wouldn’t mean much. Why tell a story? That can only really be answered in each telling.

 

 

 

 

Keep Your Quiztance

The Pub Quiz without the Pub

Writer, improviser, and geek Jon Keevy has hosted Let’s Get Quizzical for two years at The Courtyard Playhouse (formerly Alexander Bar). But all of a sudden he’s stuck at home with a stack of facts, a cupboard full of trivia, and no one to share it all with! (He tried quizzing his plants but they remained stoically silent – maybe they just don’t have any answers.) What’s a quizmaster to do? Go online obviously! Jon Keevy presents Keep Your Quiztance! the weekly quiz you can enjoy responsibly from the comfort of your home. Every Wednesday at 7pm he’ll be challenging audiences with tricky trivia and quirky questions.

KYQ Patreon Banner

How does it work?

Visit Twitch.tv/jonkeevy at 7pm on Wednesdays, the show will be streamed live.

That’s it? But how do I play?

That part is up to you. You can get a group together on a chat platform (like Zoom, or Google Hangouts, or even Whatsapp, Signal, Telegram, or Discord – whatever works for you). With your group assembled you can compete amongst yourselves, or play as a team. Just follow along and answer the questions!

But what about points? Prizes? Do I have to log in or register?

Keep track of your points and feel the pride of knowing things! There are no prizes, just an opportunity to spend some time playing a game with friends in the virtual company of a charming host. You don’t even have to register, unless you want to post messages in the chat.

Then how do I pay?

I am really glad you asked! Payment is by donation and there are a couple of different ways to go about it, the easiest if you’re a South African is donate via Snapscan, but there are other methods available and explained on Twitch.tv/JonKeevy. The suggested donation is R50, but times are tough so pay what you feel is fair. In fact knowing how tough things are, 20% of all donations will go to the bar staff of the Courtyard Playhouse who aren’t earning during the lockdown and need support.

More about Jon Keevy

Beyond hosting Let’s Get Quizzical, Jon Keevy is a writer who dabbles in a bit of everything. He’s written about a dozen plays (he’s bad at keeping track) from serious solo shows to raunchy sketch comedies, he’s done a handful of short films, and spent half-a-year writing a fantasy novel about rebels and sentient plants. Probably his highest achievement was writing the script for Free Live’s Genital Jousting… a game about a squishy penis searching for love and meaning. The story was even nominated for an international award. Weird. He does other things too but frankly this seems like enough for now, and you can always google him if you want more. Or go to his website: jonkeevy.com

Some quotes from the live show at the Courtyard Playhouse about how rad Quiz is:

“Just the right combination of tricky and creative questions, strict but just guidance from the quizmaster, and merry competitiveness between the teams. Always a treat.” – Johan

“The quiz is super fun, challenging and entertaining. The quiz master is hilarious and the atmosphere is great!” – Matthew

“Love the quizzes here. Nice crowd, great host with interesting questions and just the perfect blend of subject matter!” – Alastair

“I would give this 6 stars but it only lets me rate out of 5 :)” – Carla

“Really had an awesome time! Super tough questions, but had a good laugh through the bonus round” – Laura

Fight Write

Some thoughts on writing fight scenes

My novel, War of the Unbound, is an action fantasy in an African-inspired setting. So there are a couple of fights here and there. I love a good fight scene and a bad one makes me cringe – especially if I’m the one who wrote it. Here are some things I learned while writing the book.

There are two parts of a fight scene: the actions and the words.

The action is the mechanics of the fight, from the details of each punch thrown and techniques of the combatants to bigger arcs of upper-hand and reversals. For this I research the combat styles by watching whatever fights and demonstrations I can find online. I think about the characters’ training, skills, weapons and their bodies, and how those would interact. Then I consider the space they’re fighting in. I draw out floor plans and move the pieces around. Are there levels to exploit, or cover, or improvised weapons at hand? The choreography brings together all these elements into movement that tells a story. Do I want the hero to kick ass or almost die? Do they win by grit, cunning or luck? If they win at all. The fight needs reversals, and rise and release of tension. If the reader can tell who will win and how then the fight is boring.

All of this action needs to be expressed – scraped off the notes and doodles and shaped into prose. The first priority is clarity, then rhythm. I usually overwrite the first draft often by more than triple the word count I need. The aim is to have the bodies and their actions in the space absolutely clear. Then I start cutting to create rhythm. Writers control the time it takes to see a drop of sweat fall or a bone splinter under a strike. Or things can happen in a blur and panic of movement. Does the rhythm serve the points of tension in the story of the fight? Slow to build, fast to release is a good guideline.

A great fight scene comes down to tension. If it’s not believable, tension is lost. If it’s predictable, tension is lost. If it’s confusing, tension is lost. Pull your scene tight as a bow string and it’ll fly like an arrow and hit just as hard.


To be a beta reader of War of the Unbound, drop me a line at freelancer@jonkeevy.com

San Francisco days, San Francisco Nights

GDC Jon at the IGF Awards 2019

This is me at the GDC award show in San Francisco, part of a team nominated for Best Narrative at the Independent Games Festival. How I came to be there is a story that goes back a few years and involves friendship, honesty and dick jokes. Evan Greenwood and Richard Pieterse had a weird and super fun game featuring squishy penises with little butt-holes that they called Genital Jousting. I’m not sure why they decided to put in a story (probably a joke or a punk whim) but they did and decided they needed a writer. They got me.

After that the mission and the team got bigger. Robbie Fraser joined the core. But it wasn’t getting bigger that made Genital Jousting something to be proud of… It was how much deeper it went. It was a process of challenging ourselves and our ideas of masculinity and what it means to have a dick. The meetings with Ev, Richard and Robbie where we discussed and shared were sometimes close to therapy… These three men have taught me a lot. About games, but really about being an empathetic and reflective person. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but that’s what Genital Jousting is about, and I think that’s what life is about.

We didn’t win the IGF award. But we still won.