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Archive for October, 2009

I started a new correspondence chess section this week, under the auspices of the CCLA. This is my third event with this group since leaving the US Chess Federation (You think Congress is screwed up? Try the USCF.), and I’ve been mostly happy with how things have gone. The people seem friendly and the officials helpful. Aside from one major glitch with my entry into my second event, all has gone well.

While some people still play correspondence chess by post card, more and more play is online via email or, increasingly, a web server. Web server play is great: the system keeps the official game score and watches the time limits (in CCLA, you have 40 days to make 10 moves). All you have to do is worry about your moves – and what your opponents are cooking up.

I’m playing in a section of people rated roughly equally (my own CCLA rating is about 1670 – “Class B”). I have four opponents, and we each play two games against each other: one as White and another as Black. It’s early days yet, as we’re still making our opening moves, but things have already gotten interesting in a couple of games. Here’s the position in one:

Stuart v. Ragan

Stuart v. Ragan, CCLA Fall Server series S90251

I’m playing Black, and Mr. Stuart has just played 10. Bb5, threatening and pinning my knight. (No kibbitzing, please. We’re not allowed help with our games. I do think I have a slight advantage in this position, however.) This game had started as a kind-of Trompowsky Attack, but had evolved into into something resembling a reversed Scandinavian Defense. A bit weird, since the Scandinavian is my main defense against 1.e4.  Just this morning, however, I realized that the pawn structure most resembled a reversed Slav Defense. I’ve never played with or against a Slav in my life, though it bears some resemblance to the Scandinavian.  If this confuses you, think how I feel! I have some studying to do.

Meanwhile, it’s always fun to start a new section. I’ll try to post updates as they occur.

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Some of these I quibble with and some I can’t say one way or the other (I’m not much of a baseball fan and I lost interest in basketball several years ago), but Number One is spot on.

And that picture – hah!

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The cast of Criminal Minds

The cast of Criminal Minds

It’s one thing for a character in a movie or TV show to make a mistake that costs them dearly: pick the wrong door, dial the wrong number, or cut the wrong wire, and something bad happens. If no one made a mistake, then the story would never advance – or, if it did, it would be very dull.  So… mistakes happen, and the writer needs for them to happen.

It’s another thing altogether, however, for a writer to take his character from the realm of mistake to that of mind-numbingly stupid in order to advance his story. That is unacceptable; it ruins the tale.

Case in point: The other night, I was catching up on episodes of Criminal Minds, a generally very good series about a team of FBI profilers who ride to the rescue to catch serial killers and mass murderers. My writing partner and I have been following the show with the idea of writing a spec script for it.

The episode in question was titled “Roadkill,” from late last season. The killer murders his victims by running them down with his truck. Not a bad idea; it has kind of a “Christine” vibe to it. Trouble is, in each of the killings we see, the victims have to be unbelievably moronic to advance the story:

  • Victim #1 is caught alone on a narrow rural road, her car broken down. A truck pulls up, and she thinks help has arrived. When she realizes the driver instead intends to run her down, she flees. Up to this point, fine. No problem. Her escape is simple, right? Just run off into the nearby woods where the truck cannot follow her. So, of course, the writers have her run along the road ahead of the truck, eventually meeting her grisly death
  • Victim #2 is caught in a multi-level parking structure. When he realizes the psycho is trying to run him down, does he run into the nearby public stairwell where the half-ton pickup cannot go? Nope. Does he hide behind other cars, using them for cover until he can escape? Nah, that would be too logical. No, this fool runs ahead of the truck down a spiral ramp until he’s crushed against an elevator door.

In both cases, the victims were so dumb that I was left with little sympathy for them. They deserved to die. And the writers deserve to be mocked mercilessly.

The problem with mandated stupidity is that it breaks the suspension of disbelief. Instead of being caught up in the story, the viewer is suddenly shaking his head and asking that famous question, “WTF?” And, as I mention above, you stop caring what happens to the characters. If you don’t change the channel, you keep watching just to see how much worse the cluster-frak before your eyes will get, like watching a train wreck happen in front of you.

And that is a moment of failure as a writer.

Both writers have excellent credits to their names, so how did something this bad get out of the writer’s room? I can only guess there was time-pressure to get the episode shot and in the can to meet the schedule, and that there was no time for an extensive rewrite.  Whatever the reason, Roadkill is a good example for budding writers of what not to do.

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