Theology of Fullmetal Alchemist

The following is a transcription of an excerpt from Brotherhood, a podcast analyzing every episode of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. To listen to the rest of the episode this was taken from, click here.

We see a man walking across the desert, beaten and bruised, with nothing but the rough coat on his back. He is a sage, a rabbi, and a scoundrel — depending on who you ask — and this man has been forced to flee his home, like so many before him, because of his faith and his ancestry. He has lost everything to this war — friends, a brother, a home — and he will lose so much more in the future, but right now, this man of God has only one question on his mind, a question burned into his skull, and it is a question that will change the shape of his country forever.

In times of great crisis, it is only natural to wonder if there truly is a God watching over us. Many who believe are forced to ask why such a God would let these terrible things happen. Who is God that he can sit idly by as his people are slaughtered? But this man is no ordinary disciple. He doesn’t doubt who God is, he knows. He has prayed to Him, worshipped Him, dedicated his life to Him. He does not doubt. Many men have come and gone claiming to be God, or sons of God, to prey on the believers for their own selfish gain, and this man has seen through them all. As he grieves for the loss of his home, he does not ask Who God is, or Why. Only one question rings through his mind, now:

What is God?

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The Dark Souls of Exposition

Exposition is the worst. I don’t know a single author who wouldn’t give their right arm just to make the challenge of writing decent exposition all go away. We're not here for technical writing. We're here for drama! But because we writerly folks care, we write it anyway. We write and rewrite; we pray that through our sweat and tears, our own exposition might not be so noticeable; we study our heroes and try to emulate them; all in search of some elixir that will make it slightly less horrible. We want our readers to love the stories we tell, but we know that boring exposition is toxic to that.

Alas, I do not come with such a miracle elixir. Instead, I come with a game. But it’s a game I love dearly and a game whose solution to the problem of exposition is both utterly strange and powerfully potent.

As you may have guessed, I'm writing about Dark Souls.

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Pun vs Double Entendre

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between a pun and a double entendre? I have, and I'm here to share with you just how it is they differ.

A pun is a word with two meanings. Crucially, the two meanings must be immediately obvious for the word to be a pun. The double meaning is plain to see and almost always crucial to understanding the sentence.

A double entendre is like unto it. Whereas the pun is obvious, the double entendre is subtle. The double meaning of the double entendre is obscured to the point of invisibility.

Sound pedantic? Well, that's language for you.

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Getting Things Done and Getting Them Good Enough

This is a short thought on deadlines.

Some people respond well to deadlines. It's what motivates them to do the thing, and it's what keeps them from getting lazy and complacent in their pursuits. 

I am not one of those people. 

I am motivated by the final product. As far as my brain is concerned, it doesn't matter when the product is due so long as it's interesting. If I believe in it, I'll sell my soul for it, day one. Deadlines haven't so much motivated me to work as they have consistently gotten in the way. I've never had an arbitrarily decided deadline that didn't leave me feeling frustrated when I parted with a project. "There's so much I could still do," I've often complained, "So much left before it's even close to being done." And as someone who has had the opportunity to take a small number of projects to that magic "done" point, I don't believe that that's an unattainable goal. There's a difference between done and perfect. Done is when you know you've given it everything you can give. I don't care about perfection. I just want it to be done.

Nevertheless, I still think it's important to have deadlines for when you'll consider something good enough... for now. 

I ran into that with my app Ibsen (then Draugr), back in March. It was clear to me at the time that developing everything I wanted for that app was going to be a herculean affair far beyond any of my existing abilities. But I needed it to be useable quickly so I could finish writing the pilot episode for Elda's Song. I gave myself a timeframe of about two weeks to develop everything I absolutely *needed* to start writing -- which in my mind was autocomplete, RTF export, and Dropbox syncing. I wrote horrible, awful code during those two weeks that, had it ever been publicly released, would have put me to shame. But at the end of those two weeks I had moved all of my scriptwriting to Ibsen and I was absolutely loving it. The product wasn't done by any means, but it was good enough for what I needed then.

I'm running into that again with a number of projects that I'm dedicating myself to now. I'm just not smart enough, talented enough, of caffeinated enough to get it all to where I think it deserves to be. And the clock is ticking for when I won't be able to give those projects anything more.

I said at the beginning this was about deadlines. Really this was about rethinking what role deadlines have in my life. It's not about giving a date for when something will be done. It's about setting a date for when I'll be ready to move onto something else.

Even if that means publishing when I only have 500 words.

Podcast Analytics on Squarespace

It's been a while since I last wrote about podcasting so it's time for some followup. I recently took inventory of my Brotherhood subscriber numbers across both Squarespace and Podtrac and discovered a pleasant, if somewhat overdue, surprise.

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How to Start a Musical Cue

Think back for a moment. When was the last time you had a good laugh – the kind that made you think, “Oh yes, that's where my ribs are,” or the kind for which the word “hysterical”, a word otherwise reserved for victims of extreme emotional trauma, was invented? What was it that made you laugh? What was the joke?

Let's be honest: it probably wasn't that funny, and your friends probably weren't that impressed when you told it to them.

Starting a musical cue is a lot like trying to repeat a side-splitting joke: it almost doesn't matter whether the joke is actually good or not as long as you get the timing right. I speak from experience, both as someone who writes and as someone who appreciates music that is tied to narrative. If you want your musical accompaniment to sound like laugher and joy, and not a play by play description of your night out with the lads, there are only two ways to enter a scene.

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The Art of the Reveal

As a storyteller, nothing feels more exhilarating than dropping an unexpected revelation on your audience that you know they didn't see coming. You can see it on their faces, with their eyes wide and their mouths agape and with Greg in the back suddenly standing up straight for the first time all day. It's what we live for, as both storyteller and listener. If you've never had a chance to drop a reveal in front of a live audience, you're missing out.

But the reveal is a tricky note to play. It's like the high note of the Star-Spangled Banner: nail it and you're a god, miss it and you're just a poseur wanna-be. Nobody wants to feel like a poseur, but the allure of the reveal is so great that even bad writers can't resist it's pull.

I'm going to ignore the fact that this might include me.

But you know who does the reveal absolutely right, every time? J. K. Rowling. I'm not saying this because her books have particularly good reveals (although I personally think they do). I'm saying that because her reveals all rewarded rereading. And if your audience cares enough to reread what you wrote, nothing says “I got you covered” quite like a rewarding second round. If you've ever reread Harry Potter, you'll know exactly what I mean. If you haven't, allow me to fill you in.

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