Friday, September 30, 2011

MASKS Commentary Track: Chapter 9

This chapter basically breaks down into three plot threads. I’ll address them in turn:

1. Rae and Mike: This is the first major step in what will be a pretty complicated relationship between Rae and Mike Glass, the Resident Advisor slash Responsible Adult in her life. I wrote this scene to work out how Mike would feel about what Rae’s doing—and eventually decided that while he envies her a little, he is profoundly worried about her. Rae hasn’t seen the kind of life Mike’s had just yet, but trust me when I say he knows what it’s like to be sixteen and want something stupid. Mike has seen his life nearly destroyed by his own lack of impulse control, and because he’s a responsible, empathetic guy at heart, he can’t stand the thought of Rae making the mistakes that cost him so dearly. Basically, Mike once faced the same dangerous choice that Rae now faces, and he chose to embrace the danger—and he failed. He thinks Rae will fail, too. He wants to save her from that. 

Of course, he thinks he can save her by scaring her. This is because Mike’s 18, not 30. If he were really thinking this through, he would know that he’s essentially bullying Rae into behaving. And we’ve seen how well Rae responds to bullies. Oh, Mike, you’re in so much trouble …

Sidebar: The defacement of Mike’s door is a direct reference to this song, by the irrepressible Throwing Toasters: 

Yes, the entire reason I made Mike an RA, specifically, was so I could glue things to his door. I never said I was sane ... 

2. The Black Mask: Hey, look, this world has some history to it! You have no idea how long this segment was before I cut it down, and cut it down, and then cut it down. I’ve had some of the more recent readers congratulate me on writing a Google scene that people can actually read; in fact, Rae’s search for information about the Black Mask is more or less based on what I used to do as a journalism student, diving into my university’s databases. I love a good database crawl, but it gets wild and random, just like it does for Rae here. So I combined a little of my own experience with Rae’s natural curiosity and the advent of the YouTube age, and produced the requisite grainy video clip of dubious provenance. And of course, because Rae thinks way too hard about this stuff, it leads her to decide she needs a new hairdo. We’ll be seeing more of the Black Mask, never fear, and more of this library.

Sidebar: Some of my readers have mentioned confusion as to the meaning of the word “do-rag.” Be glad you don’t remember the early to mid-1990s, guys. I still have the image of skinny white guys with oversized bandanas tied around their heads seared into my brain. Especially those who were trying to talk like rappers. It was also common among cheap thugs in bad nineties action movies, hence its inclusion here. Just say no to do-rags, kids.

3. The training montage! Oh, I’m going to get letters about this. I know there’s a contingent of longtime readers who are very upset about the fact that Rae, in this version of Masks, is Trevor’s inferior in a straight-up, hand-to-hand fight. They feel this endorses stereotypes of young women as weak, flighty, undisciplined, etc. Let me say now, for the record: That’s not why I made Rae a lousy fighter. This scene is why. I needed a character who could ask the questions about the life of a superhero that the reader would need answered, including the ones about how fighting is different for superheroes, and there was no way I could pass an ex-sidekick off as someone who didn’t know his way around a fight. That meant Rae had to be the one learning. Rae will mature as a hero as this story progresses, too, and part of that will involve discovering how to use her physical power, but I couldn’t do that if she started the book kicking every opponent’s butt. So yes, Rae is a white belt in this scene, previous dojo experience notwithstanding. I had to give her room to grow, and to let the audience grow with her.

Aspiring writers, I’ll bet you can tell me the other reason I didn’t give Rae hand-to-hand chops for this scene. Look carefully. See it? Care to share it with the class?

That’s right. This is not actually a fight scene. Don’t get me wrong, all those rules of superhero combat will be important later—but this chapter is actually a love scene. From Rae’s dorky attempt to attract Trevor’s attention with the magic of stolen hair products to Trevor’s acute discomfort whenever the conversation isn’t about hitting, this scene is all about these two characters trying to feel each other out and figure out where they stand with each other. It doesn’t end with sloppy kisses, but it’s an important step in their relationship nonetheless. The hitting is almost entirely incidental.

That said, this chapter’s soundtrack is the song I always use when I’m blocking or writing a fight scene. I give you Black Lab’s “Learn to Crawl”:

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