The Oral Storytelling Traditions of My People

…by which I mean Valley Girls, yes.

And by “oral storytelling traditions” I do not mean the stories that begin with “sing in me muse” or even “once upon a time”, but rather those that begin “oh my God*, dude,” or sometimes “no shit, there I was”. Sometimes people storm out of restaurants. Sometimes people start fistfights in order to defend the superiority of Pearl Jam. Sometimes, in the words of Cordelia Chase, you need to call everyone you know right now , and when you do that, there’s a particular idiom for relating the cause of that phone call.

See, I just finished John McWhorter’s What Language Is –excellent book, by the way–and the section in there on “she’s all” made me think of Sarah Bunting’s excellent point about “like”:

My mother never grasped the distinction here, but “say” is for what people say. “Like” is for what people meant, for their faces, for their attitudes, for everything you can’t see for yourself when you hear about something secondhand. I have often said, “Okay, great,” but been like, “God, whatever.”

Pretty much. Except that I also use “I’m like” and “she’s all” for another, related purpose: when I don’t remember verbatim what was said, but still want to convey the general gist of it. “…and I’m like ‘well, fine, then, can I go home now’?”

And it occurred to me, when thinking about this, that you–or at least I–pretty much never use the standard written conventions when telling these stories. “He said ‘blah'” does not come up a lot.** Rather, there are four basic forms. The three others:

1) Summary. “…and she said that she went there a lot.” Nobody cares about the details. They may care about the information–“and he said he’s moving to Kansas tomorrow”–or the information may just be necessary context for subsequent drama, but the manner or attitude really doesn’t matter.

2) Begging for (over)analysis. “So she said ‘I can’t date a guy who’s really into the Grateful Dead’, and I’m wondering if she means she can’t date a guy who likes the Dead at all, or just that she can’t date a guy who, like, follows the tour in a modified VW bus.”

This is the closest to standard dialogue tag stuff, but it nearly always has elaboration afterwards. “And I’m wondering,” or “…so…do you think…” or whatever.

3) Verbatim. Sometimes you *do* care exactly what So-and-So said to What’s-her-Face. Usually this is because So-and-So’s wording was dramatic/obnoxious/otherwise noteworthy in and of itself. Therefore, sentences like this take a parenthetical. “He said, I swear to God…” or “He said, and I am completely serious here…”

When telling a friend about the Worst Date Ever, you may use all four, as follows:

“So he mentioned Depeche Mode and I said that yeah, they had some good songs.

To which he said, and I’m not even kidding, ‘They really speak to the darkness in my soul. My last girlfriend couldn’t understand that.’

And I’m all ‘Oh, that’s nice, great to meet you, I just remembered I have to go and…wash my…fish.’

The thing is, earlier in the evening, he said, ‘I think a girl like you could really understand where I’m coming from,’ so do you think I’m sending off that kind of vibes? Should I wear less eyeliner?”

And now you know!

*At some point, I may write another post on the different inflections and meanings of “oh my God”. Yes, this was totally worth the student loans. Really.


Everyone Makes a Star Wars Post

So September contained no actual time: I was working on the first draft of Book 3, finishing edits for Book 2, going on blog tours for No Proper Lady, visiting a friend across the country, and…I don’t even remember what else. I might have robbed a bank; I might have met aliens; it’s all kind of blurry.

I’m back!

And a discussion over at Ana Mardoll’s blog has gotten me thinking about writing redeemable villains, which in turn leads to the old geek standby: Yet Another Reason the Star Wars Prequels Sucked. Which I have to write eventually, anyhow, lest armed thugs come and confiscate all of my multi-sided dice.

First of all, a caveat: I’m approaching this from an audience perspective. To date, I don’t think I’ve written any particularly redeemable villains. This is partly because I’m harsh and partly because it’s…really pretty tough, striking the balance between “bad enough to need redemption” and “good enough that redemption is a triumph rather than a cop-out”.

Vader establishes Point 1 pretty damn quick. We’re a quarter of the way through the movie when he blows up a planet of civilians–okay, Grand Moff does that, but Vader certainly isn’t protesting–thus skipping merrily across what TV Tropes calls the Moral Event Horizon. First objective: completed.

But then, somewhere along the line, the film became a trilogy and Lucas decided that Vader needed redemption, because he was Luke’s father, and while I don’t get the “sharing DNA with a good guy means you too must have the potential for good” trope, okay, whatever.

Except now we have a problem. Mr. Planet Exploder Force-Chokey Dude in Movie 1 shows up as a peaceful blue Force ghost in Movie 3, and somehow the audience has to be okay with this. This is not easy. Even the most universal-salvation-and-fuzziness religions in RL, one of which I nominally follow, don’t dwell too much on the fact that Ted Bundy *also* gets to chill out in the good afterlife, because…yeah, nobody really likes thinking about that. Vader has billions of dead people on his count, and somehow he redeems himself.

The thing is? The three main movies make this possible, or at least make it possible for me to fanwank a story where it makes sense: guy starts out serving the Empire for good reasons, watches it become more and more corrupt, makes larger and larger moral compromises for “the greater good”, and then finds he’s in a place where he can’t turn back and…what the fuck do you do then? You’re doomed anyhow, so you might as well go along…and then someone stubbornly insists that you’re not doomed, so you throw the Emperor down a convenient reactor shaft. Okay. I can deal with that. That’s a guy like Obi-Wan describes, who could have been amazing and awesome but got lost somewhere.

Except…the prequels don’t let me do that any more. The prequels establish that Anakin went from “basically faithful if slightly ragey Jedi” to child-excuse-me-“youngling”-killing-Sith-Lord over about two days, and that his thought process was something along the lines of “waaah the Jedi don’t listen to an apprentice barely old enough to shave and I’m worried about Padme’s Insanely Vague Vision and trying to prevent prophecies NEVER MAKES THEM COME TRUE OR ANYTHING fuck it I’m gonna hang out with a walking corpse called Darth Sideous and kill everyone”.

I don’t see the potential for extraordinary good in that guy. (Except in a fuzzy, nebulous, “we all have the potential for extraordinary good” way, and in that case, Luke’s decision to redeem him at the expense of his own life and possibly the war doesn’t make any damn sense.) I don’t see the potential for *anything* in that guy. I don’t really care if he gets redeemed or not.

I think there’s a lesson here.

That lesson may be “don’t be George Lucas”, although the guy does have several billion dollars, which I would imagine does a lot to salve any artistic pangs he suffers.