Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Monday, January 30, 2012
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
For this installment of Whatever Wednesday, I'm going to introduce you to the cats in my world. These cats are one of the most wonderful things in my life. So, without further ado, here are my cats:
Sunday, January 22, 2012
- You have to know the writing craft.
- You have to commit to writing and actually write.
- You have to be able to look at your story and make changes.
- You have to be willing to send your story to other people.
- You have to be able to wait for long periods of time.
- You have to be willing to make changes that other people tell/suggest you to make.
|What a writer's desk MIGHT look like.|
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Monday, January 16, 2012
Let me start by saying I promise to never post a blog without first rereading it. My last blog post was written while I was tired. I posted it without so much as giving it a second's glance. I had promised to edit it the following day, but only managed to get to it yesterday. I was embarrassed by what I read.
When it comes to dialogue, I'm not an expert. Dialogue is an area I frequently find myself struggling with. My wife is the local expert. One of her pieces of advice is to pay attention to conversations in television, real life, and literature. It is most definitely a useful trick.
I'm going to compare two opposites: Alf and Dark Shadows. The two television shows differ in every way, but one (two if you count the fact that both have a character named Willie). The dialogue for both shows is terrible. I've been watching through Dark Shadows slowly over the last several months. Last night we reached the 111th episode available. I also recently watched the pilot of the 80's sitcom, Alf. One show is a soap opera drama with the supernatural. The other is an episodic sitcom about an extraterrestrial.
Dialogue should be simple. It is the choice of words characters use when speaking to each other. We are exposed to dialogue every time we have a conversation. Yet, with so much exposure, you'd think that writers would be able to piece together believable conversations onto a page. Unfortunately, this doesn't happen. There are a few reasons for this, but I think one of the most blatant sources for this poor writing is motivation. This is part of the reason I find that Dark Shadow's dialogue is scores better than the dialogue used in Alf.
Everyone has motivation. When we speak, we aren't just blurting something out at random. We have our reasons for saying what we say. This is just as important in writing as it is in the real world. When writers forget this, the purpose of the dialogue becomes muddied. Often times, writers will forget the overall character in exchange for the momentary motivation. In the pilot of Alf, Willie has this wonderful line:
Willie: "Alright, alright. Just give me one day, okay. If I can't get Alf going, we'll tell someone. Just one day."The dialogue makes me weep inside. Not just because of how terrible it reads, but because of Willie's motivation. This is the type of concern one would have with in-laws that won't leave. However, Willie is talking about an alien from another planet. After an earlier piece of dialogue, it is established the military would probably do experiments on Alf if they had him. So, his argument is for a single day before they tell someone. It's as if Willie completely forgotten about what will happen to Alf should the military find him. This is a momentary motivation convenient for the single scene. A more fitting piece of dialogue would have been, "Just give me one day. If I can't get Alf going, we'll figure out something." In the alternative piece of dialogue, it leaves a sense of uncertainty with Willie. It might be tell someone, or it might be getting Alf to find somewhere else to go.
Meanwhile, over in Dark Shadows land, the characters have their motivations, they just have dialogue that isn't well written. In Episode 321, Sam Evans, at the decision of Maggie Evans, has set a trap for Maggie's attacker. A rumor has been spread to summon her attacker to the home where the sheriff's men are waiting. This plan has been building for a couple of episodes now. In one scene, Maggie is in her room when Sam comes in.
Sam: "There are men all over the place. Now if you hear anything, you just give a yell and they'll come running."The motivation of Sam is present. He is trying to comfort his daughter, Maggie. The line doesn't even read that poorly out of context. In context, this is clearly exposition. They could have shown the men, or let the reader assume the Maggie knows. Instead, we hear Sam say something to Maggie that the audience needs to know. It is irritating (especially if you've watched all available 111 episodes up until this point), but it is within Sam's character.
The moral of the story is to make dialogue better, always make sure you know the motivation behind the speaker.
Thursday, January 12, 2012
I won't be talking about the fact I finished my fifth draft of The Rose and the Crown today. I'll talk about that in a future blog.
Instead, I'm going to talk about the importance of writing research and reading. I have several stories that I'm working on in one phase or another. Regardless of what project I'm working on, I'm always looking for ideas that can help develop my stories. I look for ideas everywhere. I've had ideas for improving stories come while running, while on my morning commute, and even from conversations overheard at a doctor's office. However, the best ideas I've come up with have come from conducting research or reading lots of books.
To provide you with an example, I'm reading The Kalevala. The Kalevala is the national epic poet of Finland as collected and written down by Elias Lönnrot. I'm not very far into the epic and I've already gotten a few great ideas for my “paranormal romance” project.
The story I'm still peculating in my head will involve a great deal of the supernatural, including numerous animal mythologies, alchemy, and magical enchantments. I've done a lot of research so far towards this world, many pieces I may never use. However, last night while reading The Kalevala, I came across this gem:
Who then took a bough
took eternal happiness
and who then broke off the top
broke off eternal magic;
who cut off a leafy twig
he cut off eternal love.
A few lines later we also have this:
She saw a sliver floating
gathered it into her bag
in the bag carried it home
in the long-strapped to the yard
to make her witch's arrows
her weapon of enchantment.
Both passages are talking about the destruction of a particular oak tree. These two passages, each six lines in length, give me a few ideas to file away. I have a bough that grants happiness, a top of this tree that grants eternal magic, a twig that grants eternal love, and slivers that can be used as enchantments for arrows. This gives me for potential plot items I could bring into the story. I might use all of them, or none of them. What matters is that in my arsenal of ideas, I now have Arrows of Kalevala that could be fired at my protagonist.
Options are an important part of the writing process. You need to be able to look at your story and determine what works best for the situation. It might not be the oak tree, but the oak tree is there for consideration. It logically follows that you need to spend time reading and researching to give yourself more options. A few hours at your local library in the reference section can give you hundreds of new ideas. I've done this a dozen times, just flipping through, reading and learning the names and stories of mythological creatures I've never been able to find online.
I know I talk about cliches a lot, but I wanted to point this out. Proper research can give you a way to avoid commonly used cliches. If I wanted my protagonist to be magically forced into falling in love with the antagonist, I could use the common cliche of a love potion. Alternatively, because of my research, I can have my antagonist walk up to the protagonist and whack him in the head with an oak twig. It adds a bit of comedy and takes at least one cliche out of the story.
No, I will not be having my protagonist forced into love with anyone else. That was just a hypothetical. You'll have to wait and read to see what evil plans I have in store with him.
Monday, January 9, 2012
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
Director: John Hughes
Writer: John Hughes
Staring: John Candy, Steve Martin
On a whim, I was flipping through the channels of the television and noticed that Planes, Trains, and Automobiles was coming on. I put the movie on and watched it again for the first time in over a decade. The movie has, surprisingly, aged well. Neal (Steve Martin) is trying to get home to Chicago and fate keeps him stuck with Del (John Candy) on the worst cross country adventure ever. The journey has them taking just above every form of transportation known to man.
The only movie I expect to be worse with cliches than a comedy flick, is a romantic comedy. Much to my surprise, this movie did a very good job of hiding them. Neal can't stand Del and slowly warms up to him. This cliche plays out across the entire movie. This is a useful trick to blending a cliche into the background. If you stretch it out and make it subtle enough, it isn't as offensive on the eyes. Another cliche that is a little less obvious is fate throwing every possible obstacle in their path. This was over played and became a heavy annoyance. The car really didn't have to catch on fire, did it?
I miss these style of comedies. Most comedies these days seem to involve the absurd circumstances or bathroom humor. Even Bridesmaids, a movie I adore, had a rather eye raising scene involving food poisoning. Unfortunately, John Candy, John Hughes (Director), and so many other wonderful minds and talents from the 1980's are dead. I can only hope for a resurgence of the humor style.
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is a well-written movie and great comedy. However, it has nothing on the imagery, action, and character development, and visuals of Hanna.
Sunday, January 8, 2012
During 2012, I'll be pitting the movies I watch against each other to determine the top movies of the year. Each month, I will compare every movie I watch to the defending champion. The top movie at the end of the month will be that month's pick of that month. At the end of the year, I'll be comparing the twelve movies together to determine my movie of the year.
So far, I've seen exactly one movie for the year. Hanna was a movie I wanted desperately to see in theaters but never got a chance to until now.
Director: Joe Wright
Writers: Seth Lochhead and David Farr
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett, and Eric Bana
This movie sets a very, very high bar for January. I loved just about everything that this movie had to offer. The story follows a young girl, Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) who has been raised by her father, Erik (Eric Bana) in the arctic tundra of Finland. Convinced that she is ready, Hanna is intentionally captured by CIA special forces so that she can get close to Marissa (Cate Blanchett) and assassinate her.
The movie is a hard movie to categorize. I can't truly call it an action flick, but it isn't drama either. It's refreshing to have a movie that defies categories. Notably, the movie has strong character development in Hanna, something I rarely see in the action genre. Another aspect of the movie that makes it impossible to call it an action flick is its use of imagery. The imagery is subtle, enough to hint upon your subconscious. The movie opens with Finland and a world of pure white and it is a significant amount of time before more than one or two colors become common place on the screen. This color shift is, clearly the imagery of Hanna's state of innocence. Additionally, the movie makes multiple references to fairy tales. At one particularly important scene, Hanna is confronted by Marissa who has just stepped out from the jaws of a wolf at an amusement park.
None of the above is to say that the movie is perfect. There are issues with this film. In Morocco, Hanna is on her own for the first time. She finds herself quickly overwhelmed by the many sounds in her room. The television, which had been on a piece of music seconds before is suddenly making war noises. The phone happens to ring at that moment. There are gunshots in the street. It was forced far too much and pulled me out of the story. Another issue with the movie, and this is a minor complain, is the languages presented in the film. The movie has five languages used in the film I could identify. The characters all speak English. German comes up in a few scenes. Arabic is used for one of the Morocco scenes. Italian and Spanish are both used once. Five languages, and they couldn't bother to use the native language for the country of the opening scene, Finland.
For those of you reading this who do not know me yet, I happen to love Finland. I was looking forward to watching a movie that might have a few scenes of characters speaking in a foreign language I know. This was disappointing.
With no movies to compare this to yet, Hanna is the top dog. Woe be to the next few movies that try and knock this movie off of the hill.
Thursday, January 5, 2012
He gave Kelly the present that night. After spending a moment to ponder the package, Kelly unwrapped a pair of dolls. The night was suddenly interrupted by a dragon from out of town. It landed on the guard's tower and setup camp in the parapet. The appearance of the dragon created a bit of drama for the family. After a heated conversation with his wife, Thomas decided to go to investigate. From the top of the tower, he saw the dragon hanging out on a parapet below. Thomas took a giant ball and tried to drop it on the dragon's head. In retrospect, the act was a bit of a reach. The ball missed. He decided it had been a case of bad judgement to try and slay the dragon. He was upset, but after dancing a jig at home, he felt much better.
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
There was once a happy family living in a house. The night had been a peaceful so far. Thomas had just given Kelly a gift to open. After spending a moment to ponder the package, Kelly unwrapped a pair of dolls. The night was suddenly interrupted by a dragon from out of town. It landed on the guard's tower and setup camp in the parapet. The appearance of the dragon created a bit of drama for the family. After a heated conversation with his wife, Thomas decided to go to investigate. From the top of the tower, he saw the dragon hanging out on a parapet below. Thomas took a giant ball and tried to drop it on the dragon's head. In retrospect, the act was a bit of a reach. The ball missed. He decided it had been a case of bad judgement to try and slay the dragon. He was upset, but after dancing a jig at home, he felt much better.
The story, at its core is pretty dull and ripe full of cliches. Peaceful life is disrupted by an outside force that is given a monstrous appearance. Male decided to take his approach against the wishes of the female and tries to defeat the beast. Male makes an attempt to stop the beast and fails. I'm willing to bet you can take this plot summary and apply it to thousands of popular stories. I took a brief look at my bookshelf and only had to scan as far as my collection of Andrew Lang. That's the start for a large chunk of fairy tales.