Friday, September 25, 2015

Write Club: How Not to Write with Dr. McNinja

Hey y'all.  So the webcomic Dr. McNinja is coming to a close.  It's a fun webcomic, if randomness is what you're after.  Y'know, what with a doctor who is also a ninja, and all the silliness that Chris Hastings decides he wants to jam in there.

However, as much as people like it, it's kind of...well, not great.  Several things about it get on my nerves.  Given that I'm not a fifteen year old male, that's to be expected.  But when I was younger, I did in fact share many likes with that particular demographic, which is how I got started with it, when it was...oh, about the beginning of issue three.  I really liked it at the time, but at the end of issue three is when Gordito was introduced.  I somehow got the feeling that something had gone wrong in the comics, and that Gordito's entrance would somehow damper the comic.  I was half right.  Something did change, but it wasn't his fault.  Interestingly enough, Hastings mentioned in an interview that issue three was in fact a turning point for both himself and the comic.

This isn't going to be a proper review, for the record.  There are many reasons why a review of it isn't entirely appropriate.  For one thing, Dr. McNinja appears to be something Chris Hastings created more for fun than anything else.  It comes across as more stream of consciousness than straightforward, and serves as a way for Hastings to develop his comicking/storytelling abilities.  This tends to be the case with many webcomics. The long stretches a webcomic lasts mean that they can't always think of everything as a narrative the same way a novel writer would.  Everyone needs practice, so what better way for a comic guy to practice than to make a webcomic?

There's many positive aspects of the comic.  It's funny, and has good ideas on how to parody life as it is.  If you're a guy who enjoys stupid humor, I highly recommend you take a look at it.  Note that I don't mean "stupid" as an insult.  "Stupid humor" is pretty much its own genre by now, is all. Y'know, the kind of humor that makes people laugh at how dumb it is.

However, I've always wanted to get off my chest why exactly this comic gets on my nerves at times.  As a result, the things I write here will make the comic seem more negative than it really is.  Bear in mind that despite these errors, the comic is not the worst thing ever, or horrible in general.  It's fun for what it is.  This will just be a post addressing the writing errors present within the story that any writer worth their salt should be aware of.  Flaws in storytelling transcend their particular mediums, in most cases.

Alright, so quick story summary.  Dr. McNinja is an Irish American ninja who abandoned his family's more ninja occupations so that he could become a doctor.  After teaming up with tween Gordito, nephew of the Mexican raptor bandits, he goes after such enemies as ninja-killer Frans Rayner and ruler of all things cool King Radical.  Together they face time travel, evil dinosaurs, a weatherman, giant robots, and all manner of random whatnots.

This post will probably be easier to understand if you've already read the webcomic.

1. Almost every character is a white, teenaged, male nerd.

Not physically, but mentally.  McNinja himself, despite being in his thirties, acts not a day over eighteen.  King Radical declares things cool based on things a stereotypical teenage guy obsesses over: fireworks, skateboarding, and Mountain Dew.  A senator makes a joke about chickens tasting like farts, before proceeding to make fart noises.  McNinja's brother geeks out with technology and awkward teen lingo.  An adult man names his chickens Mr. and Mrs. Rockadoodle.  Dinosaurs wear jetpacks.  Gordito, despite being raised by raptor bandits and a guy starring in a gun circus show, constantly putters on laptops.  Every single woman in this comic acts like a dude.

Actually, there aren't a lot of women in the comic at all.  Not that I mind.  Artificial equality is always patronizing.  Hastings is a dude, after all, and he is not intimately familiar with the female the comic makes excruciatingly obvious.  Every woman in the comic is a man with boobs, or a joke based on someone Hastings has met.  I have never seen this level of non-female females without it being on purpose.  Another comic he wrote, based on the game Galaga, is even worse in this regard.  These women are not offensive, and are often funny, but it is a weakness in the writing nonetheless.

I dunno, maybe it is on purpose.  Being married, he's got to know something about women by now.

The biggest disappointment in this regard is McNinja's sidekick.  Gordito, at the beginning, was a steely young lad, and chose to stay with Dr. McNinja because he believed it would make him stronger.  In a way, he was more mature than the doctor himself.  His name apparently means "fat little boy", which he chose himself as a way to be motivated into working harder.  That's a potentially really great type of character, funny in a completely different way from the others.

Well, he was fun, until he became that kind of guy that watches funny commercials on the internet and quotes Stephen King novels to try and make himself look cooler.  Anything Hispanic about him, other than looks, just vanishes entirely.  His motivation of becoming stronger vanishes as well, and he ends up just being a hapless companion on Dr. McNinja's adventures -- or left behind, as often as not.  He becomes another white, teenaged male nerd, just inside the body of a Mexican twelve year old.  It negates the point of his existence.

In the end, all the characters are filtered through a screen of 90s teenaged boyhood pop culture.  Some will find this appealing (that is, those who are now teenaged males or were in the 90s), but it's wearisome for the reader to spend the entire comic wallowing in the mind of one particular type of person.

One of the base appeals of storytelling is to meet with a variety of characters, particularly those who aren't like you.  The clash between how a reader thinks and how a character thinks is the most compelling aspect of any story.Characters should not merely be expressions of the self, but also expressions of reality.  Real people give depth to any fiction world, and that means having multiple people with multiple mindsets. 

2.  Dr. McNinja needs more focus.

Much of the time Doc isn't acting on his own.  He's partnered with Gordito, his family, Hortense the ex-girlfriend, Chuck Goodrich the time traveler, Judy the gorilla receptionist, and even his own clone.  While technically this is fine, McNinja has always been something of a Batman parody -- he's always idolizing Batman, and trying to be him despite the fact he's nothing like the guy. Thus, the comic works better when he's alone, dealing with everything around him on his own.

While a group thing could work, it contradicts the natural randomness of the comic.  Hastings is forever introducing bizarre characters to the mix, and when random characters get added in, particularly ones with gimmicky powers, they tend to take up a lot of Hastings' attention.  Often the person McNinja is paired off with is more interesting than him.  It's like we're expected to know everything about McNinja's personality after issue four, so he never gets a chance to be developed further.

In short, Dr. McNinja is criminally underdeveloped.  Keep in mind that character development has nothing to do with screentime.  A character can be around for a long time and have no more impact than a random animal drawn in a background.  The protagonist in TRON: Legacy, for example, was a lifeless, robotic, paint-by-numbers action lead.  Characters like Stephen the Irishman from Braveheart, on the other hand, can do in less than twenty minutes what other characters can't do in an entire movie. 

McNinja is better than TRON's lead, at least.  We know he's a nerd.  We know he's obsessed with Batman, and is generally nice.  We know he has emotions that he doesn't understand, and fears failing his family.  And that's about it.  Dr. McNinja is the embodiment of randomness, and it's near impossible to sum him up in a few words.  What began as a crazy character in a half-realistic world became the only character still somewhat grounded while the rest of the world has gone crazy-go-bonker-nuts.  Post issue four he only remembered on special occasions that he was supposed to be the nutty one.  This effect is greatly lessened when everyone else is nutty too.

It appears as though Hastings had so much fun creating new characters that he didn't consider the effect it would have on McNinja himself.  Particularly King Radical, whose constant appearances stole the show at times.  It's fine for McNinja to have regular bad guys, but since he never really defeats Radical at any point, it makes McNinja's characterization look weak by comparison.

This is kinda the result of having so random a comic.  If a character can be the clone of a historical figure, a president dinosaur, an alternate universe wizard, then any form of inspiration can instantly become something fun and new.  As a result, it can be more fun to make smaller characters work, rather than developing McNinja and Gordito.

Note also that during issue four he stopped doing much of anything really doctor-y at all.  One of the things I most loved about early McNinja is that he really used to be a character who was a doctor and a ninja.  He stopped seeing patients almost entirely, however, and Hastings stopped adding medical terms and situations to McNinja's adventures.  In other words, he ceased being Dr. McNinja.

I say all that to say this: McNinja's family should have been around less, making their impact greater.  Gordito's entrance as Dr. McNinja's sidekick should have been delayed to give McNinja more development time.   And McNinja should have been doing more actual doctoring.

Is it harder to make McNinja feel like a plausible doctor?  Yes.  But it's also better.  The more ties a fantasy, superhero, or science fiction character has to reality, the easier it is for readers to accept the weirder elements.  Particularly when the world in question has fewer rules.

#3. Don't explain the joke.

I've seen this happen in more than one comic, and even in a book, once.  It's very pertinent in Dr. McNinja, though, because the comic thrives on randomness.  Thus, things are going to be coming out of nowhere extremely often.  These things are funny because they are random.  Explaining these things ruins the joke.

I'm talking about things like Gordito's mustache and Judy's background.  It's funny that a kid grew a mustache out of pure will.  It makes Gordito seem tough and determined, and possibly even more tough than McNinja himself.   When we don't know how or why Gordito grew his mustache, it's left up to the reader's imagination to where he got it.  Because this mustache is not relevant to future stories in the comic, there's no point in bringing it out of reader imagination, where it is bound to be more interesting.

Judy's backstory is even more disappointing.  Granted, the idea of her welcoming Dr. McNinja into a gorilla society is just fine.  However, the idea of a gorilla receptionist is funny because we don't know where it's from.  It emphasizes the mystery of her motivations.  A gorilla from nowhere is funny.  The only sane character being unable to talk sense into the doctor is funny.  The more you explain her origins, the less funny she becomes.

The same principle applies to why Dr. McNinja knows so much on various topics, why the McNinjas are bad parents, and other things as well.  This is a humor comic, not a fantasy epic.  Explaining backstories waters down the comic's foundation of randomness.

Note that it doesn't apply to things like the McNinja family's heritage presented in "So What is a McNinja?", because that storyline brings up more questions than answers, as well as introducing the family.  It is not explaining something that was previously referenced.

#4. The references....oh man, so many references....

References aren't funny in and of themselves.  They're cute when they point out obscure things that only some of the audience is going to get.  They're funny when the reference is part of a joke.  Referencing things that are very obvious to a large number of people without making a joke of it is not funny.  And there's so much of it in Dr. McNinja.

Let's see how many references I can think of on the top of my head.
- Naming a ridable dinosaur Yoshi.
- Pizza making brothers that are a bad parody of Mario and Luigi.
- Ronald McDonald rip off
- Video game boss logic in Frans Rayner's third appearance.
- Ben Franklin clone.
- Ben Franklin clone dancing to Michael Jackson's thriller.
- Eighties song references
- Internet joke: pirates vs ninjas.
- Purple Hulk rip-off.
- Legend of Zelda type traps in an ancient temple.
- Lost reference during discussion of temple.
- Vampires running the Red Cross.

And those are only the ones I thought of without looking.  It should be noted that most of McNinja comic's flaws are nothing I take too seriously.  They're there, but do little to interfere with the entertainment value of the comic.  The references, however, are offensively apparent.  It's the typical "look at me, I'm mentioning that thing you like!" that's become so common in bad writing these days.

It was this massive glut of references that killed off my desire to read the comic for many years.  They were so many and so often that it made me question Hasting's ability to write original work.   Everything he was writing referenced or based itself on other things.  The point where I gave up was when he had Dr. McNinja wearing one of the shirts Hastings produced for sale (temporarily, as it turned out).  When I saw that, I abandoned the comic in disgust.

What brought me back?  Eh, boredom.

The short of it is that inspirations should be as invisible as possible, like stitches in a garment.  There's a time and a place for exposed stitching, but it's an occasional decoration.  The more references your writing has, particularly obvious ones, the worse your writing is.  People should be able to be entertained by what you have, not by other people's ideas.

#5. Some of the ideas presented are too intelligent for this comic.

I left Dr. McNinja at a bad time.  The comic pretty much went on a quality arc -- good at first, then declined for a long stretch, and then the story right after "Death Volley" (where I quit) the story immediately started getting more clever, particularly with its time travel trickery.  As I read the whole comic again, I noticed that some of the ideas were really great -- the time travel combined with alternate universes, while to some degree confusing, is actually a really great idea.  As I read more of it, I couldn't help but think that the time travelling would make a great basis for serious science fiction story, rather than as a gimmick in a humor comic where a doctor is also a ninja.

I really hope that Hastings makes serious science fiction, perhaps based on the alternate universe Chuck Goodriches.  These characters could be far removed from McNinja, enabling them to showcase Hasting's knack for oddities without drowning the ideas in stupid humor.

There's also good ideas like the technomage McNinja's brother becomes, or McNinja's first name being imprisoned by a wizard's curse.  Those are all great, and could be the basis for their own stories.  Instead, these ideas are forever doomed to be momentary bright spots in a story that thinks dinosaurs with jetpacks is automatically funny.

Maybe I'm taking this too seriously, but this is one of those literary things that writers tend to learn after spending a long time constructing stories.  Indeed, the rise in cleverness is more than likely Hastings figuring these things out for himself.  The trouble is, the intelligence of some of these ideas clashes with the humor type of the comic.  Because Hastings stopped doing medical research and depended so heavily on stupid humor, he firmly established that that's what the comic's base notion is.  Reintroducing the cleverness so late in the game dilutes what people have come to expect from it, not to mention being a waste of potential for those ideas.

Eh, this one isn't so bad.  Hastings has been learning and growing throughout his time making this comic and other things, so he's bound to get good ideas in over time.

#6.  The episodic structure of the comic archive clashes with the epic, flowing nature of the storytelling.

This relates a lot to the webcomic affect, what with how comics change over time.  Early on, Hastings told his stories through episodic stories whose only connections were generally McNinja himself and Judy the receptionist.  Given the random nature of the comic, this worked pretty well.  Each story was meant to stand on its own.

However, over time, starting with the D.A.R.E. storyline, each story became part of a greater narrative, where one thing led to another and future events became based on established events.  Each story, the further it went along, stopped being an episode and started being just another chapter.  Yet Hastings continually used an episodic framework, even when it made continous stories feel choppy and inconclusive -- "Palentologists, Presidents and Prologue" in particular.

Granted, I really do like the episodic structure.  It allowed McNinja to have different adventures where different things could happen.  But if Hastings is inspired to make a continuous, flowing narrative, then the story structure should reflect that, diminishing the use of strong storyline breaks and McNinja's Final Thoughts segments.  His thoughts can't exactly be final if the storyline hasn't really ended.  At best, the Final Thoughts can be used at the end of each arc, becoming clever breaks from the storyline.  However, the more sensible option is to excise them permanently, particularly since they became lazy after the first few.

#7. Directing the readers to a past story every time the past is referenced is really annoying.

Yes, the comic is ten years old.  There's a lot of updates in there, and the audience isn't going to remember everything.  That's no excuse to waste space by a plethora of "[see this story]" boxes all over new updates.  Most comics presume that readers have been keeping up, and/or make the stories comprehendible in other ways.  That's why the episodic structure worked a little better.  You didn't need to know McNinja's run-in with the Ronald McDonald parody to understand his Katanakka adventure.

But when a story continually bases future events on past happenings, like chapters from a book, there still needs to be clear arc divides in the story.  Things that allow the past to be the past, something that enhances present reading for returning fans, but isn't all that necessary for new fans.

Take Girl Genius (mild spoilers).  Despite likewise having a flowing narrative, it has clear arc divides by location -- Castle Wolfenbach, the travelling spark circus, Sturmhalten, Castle Heterodyne, etc.  While it's good to remember that Gil Wolfenbach was the first guy to acknowledge Agatha's potential (Castle Wolfenbach arc), it's not necessary to know that now Agatha is in Paris.  All we need to know at this point is that Agatha is the Heterodyne, and she's in Paris looking for a way to un-time-freeze her home city.  We didn't need a page number reference to Castle Heterodyne's personality when Agatha encountered it in Paris, despite not having seen the Castle for over two years.

The audience of any story, no matter how much a story may rely on stupid humor, should always treat its audience like they're smart.  Treating readers intelligently makes them feel intelligent, and thus like the comic better.  That means no constantly referring the audience to past issues, or constantly reminding them that the forest near Doc's office is haunted.  There's that whole 4th wall thing, y'know.

#8. Some smaller stuff.

I hate that they brought back Frans Rayner.  The original Rayner arc was exciting, and very well wrapped up.  Bringing him back negates the fun of the original arc, particularly since Rayner's activities afterwards are really boring.  Not to mention obvious setups for some payoff down the line.

It's nonsensical to say that Paul Bunyan disease isn't recognized by the scientific community.  After all, they were the ones that came up with the cure to it, not McNinja.

While King Radical does do some shifty stuff later on, McNinja's rabid obsession with taking him down seems poorly motivated in the beginning.  It feels like something Hastings knows about McNinja that isn't clear in the comics.

The link for new readers isn't really helpful.

Judy getting a kitten was probably the most cliche thing the comic has ever done.  Well, other than vampires running the Red Cross.

"Dame Dudical"?  Really?

I don't really get the whole Dracula on the moon thing.  It works as a story point, but why does Dracula forgive Doc for messing up his moon base?  Why didn't the dinosaurs take over his moon base in the alternate timeline?  Why did he wait so long to stop the dinosaurs?  Waiting for a polite request to do so is a cheap convenience. 

Just because Dr. McNinja points out how dumb the name "Old McNinja" is doesn't mean it isn't bad writing to give a character that name.  That, and Old's motivations for joining King Radical are unclear.

#9.  Tell the story you want to tell, not the story cultural sensitivities are okay with.

Now, I'm not saying that people should "push the envelope."  Many stupid things are done in that name.  I am merely stating that one shouldn't be bullied into weakening a story because certain people are worried you're going to be offensive.  Being gracious to others is good, but let it be your graciousness and not other people's manipulation that decides what you have and don't have in your story. 

For example, some people are offended by the idea of a woman being rescued by a man.  This feeling not only refuses to acknowledge that there are many types of heroes (not just punch-the-baddie-save-the-princess types), but ignores reality.  Men more mentally inclined toward heroics (the superhero genre is the result of the male psyche), and man's greater testosterone levels mean they are capable of developing greater muscle mass.  Meaning, men are going to end up doing more of the stereotypical heroic activities.  Female heroics, with some exceptions, tend to be subtler in nature. 

In other words, I don't like Dr. McNinja apologizing for "accidentally implying" that Hortense needs rescuing, despite her being a competent ninja herself.  He's inclined to save her because he still cares about her.  It has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not she can defend herself, because it's a statement about McNinja's feelings, not a statement about her  (That is the entire basis of male-psyche heroics -- rescuing is a show of love, not of dominance).  If Hortense is silly enough to be offended by a statement that most readers wouldn't even notice until McNinja started apologizing, then she's not girlfriend material.  Huh, maybe that's why they broke up.

Also, if cultural sensitivities are what made the raptor bandits feel so watered down in their second appearance, then that's lame.  Granted, I'm not Mexican, so my ability to say what's offensive to them is limited, but this is a parody comic.  It's making fun of everything it comes across.  Besides, clearly nothing in the comic was meant to offend, and honestly, I really loved the bandits.  They could never make me think less of Mexicans, simply because they were too absurd to reflect anything realistic about Mexico.  By watering them down, they become less interesting.  It would have been better if they'd never returned at all.

Take the anime Hetalia.  It's a show where each nation is represented by an individual, and their personality is based on stereotypes about that nation. America is a dork who gobbles burgers and constantly proclaims "I'm the hero!"  France is a gay pretty-boy, Italy is a wimp, Russia is a jolly bully who wields a metal pipe, Germany is an awkward tsundere, Belarus is a creeper, and the Baltic states are three cowards.  And you know what?  It's hilarious.  People love these characters for their unabashed dedication to stereotype and constant wonky adventures.  Granted, Dr. McNinja isn't quite as extreme as Hetalia, but the point is, you're not a horrible person if you know how to have fun with potentially serious topics. 

I've also sensed some sensitivity on religion.  The Christian aspects of Dr. McNinja are fun, and it's great to see a little bit about Catholic school.  However, the way it was handled seems restrictive, like Hastings is constantly on the edge of trying not to offend.  It feels like Hastings should be a bit more comfortable with his topic than he comes across.  Instead he jams in forced references to evolution in the attempt to make sure the reader knows he's not "just another religious nut," as well as some forced Catholic references to keep people from thinking he's a dense materialist.  He's trying too hard to look unbiased.  In the end, all it does is make the comic feel weird at times.

Look, Hastings, it's okay to have opinions of your own.  Stop feeling like you have to be unbiased.  This is just a dang webcomic.  No one's going to slap Article 58 on you and drag you to Lubyanka.

Let's refer again to Girl Genius.  It's pretty obvious that any statements made on the topic are the opinions of the characters, not the writers.  Some characters are dismissive of religion, while other characters believe.  My favorite group in the comic is the Corbettites, train-traveling monks who serve God by providing politically neutral transport across Europa.  They're just another group, adding a rich layer of detail to a marvelously constructed world.

Girl Genius neither panders to believers or makes passive-aggressive stabs against them.  What makes Girl Genius so genius is that it's not merely the author's "reality," but actual reality, just filtered through a fantasy, steampunk aesthetic.  Hence, steampunk monks.  We can learn nothing about the actual beliefs of the Professors Foglio from reading their comic, other than that they aren't directly antagonistic toward believers.

Dr. McNinja, on the other hand, is clearly suffering from sensitivity pressure.  The entry concerning how he met Judy is replete with McNinja making accidentally insensitive remarks to hypersensitive gorillas.  Is it really that politically correct in Cumberland, Maryland?  Will people fly off the handle over the slightest things?  Well, it is fairly close to D.C., so that would make sense.

What it all boils down to is telling the story you wanted to tell, without being too fearful that you'll step on someone's toes.  Any realistic story is going to piss off a few people.  Be gracious, but not wimpy.  People will respect someone who can say what they wish to say.  Being afraid to introduce a story element because people can't handle talking about about religion, politics, or social reality will weaken what you're writing, as well as inhibit your ability to respect yourself.  Listen to reasoned objections against your work, but recognize when a commenter is bullying rather than critiquing, or when the content of your work is more important than unrealistic sensibilities of the person in question.

#10. I am super sick of all Dr. McNinja's failures.

At the beginning of the comic, Dr. McNinja was a great character, and clearly the protagonist.  Each story arc was a new reason why he was so awesome.  While he still had his awesome moments later on, in many of his major story arcs, he fails completely.  In the There's a Raptor in my Office story, the conflict was mostly solved by a weatherman, whose identity McNinja never discovered.  That was kinda funny, so no biggie.  In the D.A.R.E. arc, he failed to save Gordito and Ben Franklin's clone, but that was alright because it only emphasized his struggle against Rayner and heightened his victory in the end.

But then McNinja never really seemed to succeed again.  He failed to save Ben Franklin from becoming a headless horseman.  He didn't stop Dracula.  He isn't shown stopping the other vampires from eating babies.  He repeatedly failed to subdue King Radical or figure out what he was doing.    Rayner comes back, not only escaping McNinja, but also establishing that his original defeat was really another of McNinja's failures.  He failed to save everyone from a planetary dinosaur invasion.  He manages to stop the giant robot Radical created, but fails to catch Radical again. And then McNinja failed to save President Funkhouser from being trapped in the Negazone, Radical from taking over the presidency, and himself from being trapped in an underwater prison.

(It should be noted that it's strange the Doc could even be trapped underwater this way.  Who is good enough to trap him?  Are Hortense and Old McNinja so loyal to Radical that they would?  If not them, who?  McNinja has always been agile enough to escape any number of ridiculous enemies.)

More importantly, McNinja is never using his abilities to do anything interesting anymore. McNinja is supposed to be an awesome guy, but aside from a few stunts and the times he cleans up his own messes, he stops doing anything truly effective since the first (and should have been actual) death of Frans Rayner.

Basically put, Hastings seems torn between the cartoonish, Batman parody McNinja started out as, and a more complex protagonist who doesn't always save the day at the end of the episode.  I would be fine with the latter, if this weren't a comic about a ninja who is also a doctor. 

You know what?  I think that about sums it up.  Chris Hastings, throughout the run of the comic, is caught between clashing ideas: the cartoon hero vs. the detective, episodic storytelling vs. flow storytelling, stupid humor vs. intelligent science fiction, good jokes vs social sensitivity.  Choosing one out of each pair would work, but because the comic never really falls on either side of each pair, it feels weaker than it could be.

At the end of the day, I hope Hastings' sense of humor takes a back seat.  I really like his science fiction ideas, and it would be better if, after he finishes McNinja, he writes a serious book.  It needn't be a comic.  If he were to write a novel about a time travelling astronaut, or thought of some other seemingly wacky idea and took it seriously as a concept, he could have something truly deep and interesting.  As it is, his attempts at being funny undercut his real potential to create something truly good, and his attempts at making a serious story undercut his ability to be funny. 

As I write this, the current update is Friday the 25th's.  In it, a submarine is firing.  The captain says, "Do all the stuff we have to do to shoot at him and then fire torpedoes!"  The alternate text claims that it's "more fun" to give the captain that line then to do research and then be emailed about how the submarine proceedures were wrong.  Let's be clear.  This is only "more fun" for the writer, presuming the writer doesn't take pride in his work.  For the reader it is lazy (for not at least trying research) and uncreative (for not coming up with his own procedures typical of his fiction world). 

In summary, Hastings is better than this.  He knows it.  We know it.  We're all just waiting for the other shoe to drop.

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