Things I Wish I Had Known in School

When I was in seventh grade, I had to write my first research paper.

Back then, we were only expected to write a summary — a restatement of facts in our own words.  Most of the paper should be citations.  Though our teachers didn’t put it this way, they really meant we shouldn’t put much original thought into it.  Just the facts, please; no opinions need apply.

We had to select at least 5 sources.  Back then, it consisted of books, magazines, newspapers, and similar reference materials.  There was no such thing as the Internet, and what little of it existed was difficult to access and poorly cataloged.

With our sources in hand, we had to write each idea, fact, figure, etc. that we might use on a separate index card.  Somehow, this was supposed to help us organize our thoughts — except that we were never instructed how.  Beyond turning them in on a milestone date, I had no clue what to do with them.

Which left me with a crap ton of useless index cards.  What was the point?  Maybe some people figured it out, but I sure didn’t.  And I’m not the only one — I asked my wife and she drew a blank, too.  She hated those pointless index cards just as much as I did, and no one in her class figured out what to do with them.

Now that I’ve taken the time to study how the greats organize their fiction, I found a useful parallel in Syd Field’s book Screenwriting.

Before writing a screenplay, Field writes a scene summary on an index card for each scene, tacking them to a bulletin board in the order he thinks is best.  This way, we can see a summary of the entire work before investing months or years writing it.

If something isn’t right, we can trash it.  Or we can rearrange the index cards to see how the story reads in a different order.  We can see the aerial view of the work before doing the heavy lifting.

See the connection?

For the research paper, lay those “pointless” index cards out in the order you want to discuss them.  You can see how they will read in a different order quickly and easily just by rearranging them (as we did with the scenes above).  This will give you a nice visual aid to write or revise your outline with, and will make citations quick and easy (because you color coded the cards, right?).

I use this technique in both fiction and nonfiction.  Let me take the time to explain, as well as plug some great free software.

In my religion and philosophy blog, I often have to answer comments or opposing blog posts.  I use a computerized index card program called Text Block Writer to do a variation of the technique described above in order to answer especially lengthy comments or blog posts.  That way, I can sort it a few different ways and see what makes the most impact (or sense).

My novel writing software of choice, yWriter, does the index card thing but without the corkboard texture and index card graphics (as you see in Scrivener).

And, of course, script writing software CeltX has a built-in index card feature to help write screenplays and comic book scripts, as well as novels (but I don’t really care much for the novel writing capability yet).

I wish that the power of the index card was something I had known all along instead of a recent discovery!  I probably would have become a much stronger writer more quickly.  But, at least I know now; and, through the magic of my blog, you dear reader can learn the lesson too.  Hopefully earlier in life than I did.

Master Splinter’s Unexplored Backstory

Hollywood has an obsession with happy endings.  And here, I’ve posted about how the film industry often glosses over horrid consequences of the characters’ actions to achieve a happy ending.

This glossing over horrid consequences isn’t limited to endings.  And it isn’t limited to Hollywood.  As it turns out, the comic book industry employs it too.

My daughter loves the newly rebooted Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon.  As a matter of nostalgia, I’ve picked up the original comic book run, now collected in graphic novel format.  Some elements are changed, because the comic book was intended for a much more mature audience than my 5-year old daughter.

Among the changes is that Splinter is Hamato Yoshi.  Yoshi is covered in the ooze and mutates into a rat.

In the comic book, the backstory is more complicated.  Yoshi was a member of an infamous band of ninja thieves and assassins know as The Foot.  Yoshi had a pet rat named Splinter, and the little rat would mimic his master’s movements and through that learned the secrets of ninjitsu.  Splinter tells us that Yoshi was known as The Foot’s finest warrior.

The comic never again mentions any of that, bringing to focus the next part.  Yoshi main rival was fellow Foot Clan member Oroku Nagi.  Nagi and Yoshi competed in everything, but their most bitter rivalry was over Tang Shin.  Shin only loved Yoshi, but Nagi kept trying to win her hand.  Eventually, Nagi threatened Shin with death if she didn’t love him, and Yoshi killed Nagi for it.

Rather than face an honorable death by his own hand for killing a fellow member of the Clan, Yoshi and Shin fled to America.  Nagi was survived by his younger brother, Oroku Saki.  Saki vowed vengeance and trained hard.  Eventually, he was selected to head the New York branch of The Foot, and there he sought out his brother’s killer.

Saki murdered Shin, and staged the scene to surprise Yoshi when he returned home.  Without a word, he cut Yoshi down.  During the fight, Splinter’s cage was broken and the rat ran free.

You know the rest… he found the turtles, got covered in ooze, they grew up… blah, blah, blah.

I want to seize on three facts:

  1. The Foot Clan is an evil band of assassins.
  2. Hamato Yoshi was a member of The Foot.
  3. Yoshi was the finest warrior of the Clan.

Do we understand what is left unexplored in every iteration of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?

Either the sensei of the TMNT or the master of the TMNT’s sensei is a cold-blooded killer.

And that puts the first issue of TMNT in perspective.  After telling the tale of the turtles’ mutation, Splinter reveals that his only purpose in training them was vengeance.  He tasks the turtles with finding and killing Oroku Saki, who now calls himself the Shredder.

So, unlike most iterations, the comic book has the turtles on the offensive.  They seek out Shredder and kill him at the end of the issue, under Splinter’s orders.  Most iterations have the turtles stumble on to The Foot’s activities in New York City and gradually learn that the mysterious head of it, Shredder, is the old enemy of Splinter: Oroku Saki.

While most iterations have Splinter/Yoshi a member of The Foot and The Foot a gang of assassins and thieves, they gloss over the fact that as “the finest” warrior of The Foot Splinter/Yoshi would most certainly be involved in such activities.

That should keep TMNT fans awake at night…