Ah! ‘Tis the Season We All So Love!

Summer?  Nay!

The season of dying electronics/appliances.  Yep, plural.  It never seems to be just one.  Several always seem to give up the ghost around the same time.  Maybe after one succumbs, the others think “well, if that electronic can die, why can’t I?”.

So, how are YOU spending your summer vacation?  Me?  I’ll be electronics shopping…

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May the Best Man Win!?

The story I just wrote was interesting.  Usually, the characters behave themselves and do what they are supposed to do.  In this case, the protagonist’s sidekick kept hogging the limelight.  To a certain extent, he was meant to, but he…got carried away.  I got carried away with him.  I liked the character and he was fun to write, but he was overshadowing the protagonist to the point that I knew readers would question why the love interest didn’t go for the sidekick instead of the protagonist.

Fortunately, I recognized that fairly early in the story and was able to dampen his role and bump up the protagonist so that he “made sense” as the lead.  The sidekick didn’t disappear entirely, but he became less present on the page and the protagonist was able to step forward and take his rightful place.

It is easy to fall in love with a character so much that we get carried away in making use of them, but if it isn’t their story, it won’t work.  Be sure people are doing what they need to do in order for the story to make sense.  If they aren’t, then maybe you aren’t telling the right story.

If X is the hero, let him, even make him, be the hero.  It may mean rewriting a lot of what you already have written down, but it is the only way for the story to work.  And, if you discover a more interesting story surfaces among the characters, then make the entire story shape around that.  Trying to force disparate elements together (character vs. story) just never works.  It confuses the reader and doesn’t accomplish your purpose.

Whatever you write, let the best man (or woman, or child, or creature) win.

What’s For Supper?

“So, what are you having for supper?”

“WATERMELON!”

“Well, yes, but I meant the meal?”

“WATERMELON!”

“But, ‘real food’?

“WATERMELON!”

“That isn’t exactly—”

“WATERMELON!”

*sigh*  Nevermind.

Enjoy your celebrations tomorrow, U.S.A.!

Who is Your Character?

I mostly write fan fiction, and therefore have read quite a bit of it.

In the Harry Potter universe, Draco Malfoy is well-known as Harry’s nemesis through most of his school years.  Only much later in the books does he really reveal any redeeming qualities at all.  The problem, though, is that he was represented in film by Tom Felton.  Many girls developed a crush on the actor, and so when they turned to writing fan fiction in the HP world, they wanted to include Draco and they wanted him to be “good”.  Now, I can deal with someone writing a storyline that drifts from what the author originally wrote, but if they are going to change the nature of the characters to any appreciable extent, they need to provide a valid reason for the change.  We have seen Draco be nothing but arrogant, snotty, rude and even downright mean, particularly toward Harry and his friends.  If you want me to believe that they are all now “best buds”, then you need to show me a compelling reason for that change.  Why did Draco turn away from all that bad behavior and become someone who could be friends with the Trio?  Or did the Trio have a compelling reason to give up being good and go join Draco in being bad?

Why does this matter?  It’s part of staying true to the character.  It isn’t a bad thing for a character to change over the course of time and events, but show that change happening, show what is causing it to happen.  Few people make a drastic personality change on a whim for no discernible reason.  J.K. Rowling understood that, and changes in Draco were incremental through the course of the book, so that toward the end, you understood a little of how and why he regained respectability.  These fan fiction authors don’t ‘get it’, and they make a complete turnaround in behavior happen in the blink of an eye for no reason at all.

What about your characters?  Do they stay true to how you wrote them?  Do they make logical changes over time, based on things that happen to or around them?  Spoiled and petulant teenage girls don’t become the Duchess of Cambridge without a lot of work happening in between the two.  Muscle-bound bullies don’t become champions of the weak without a compelling reason.  Gangbangers don’t suddenly beome priests without some defining event altering their perception.

When you write each character, you must first begin with knowing who they are.  Then as you go along, ask yourself how they would react in each new situation they face.  Yes, sometimes they can do something surprising – perhaps even to themselves – but there still should be a reason.  Maybe they rose to the occasion and finally stopped whining, complaining and avoiding doing what was right.  Maybe something happened earlier that affected them more than they realized or acknowledged, and not until this moment does it strike a chord in them.  An example would be the Black Panther in the Avengers: Civil War movie.  [spoilers]

His father is killed, sending him off on a vendetta to kill the person responsible.  For a long time, he is pursuing the wrong person (who has been framed for the crime).  Then when he finally comes face to face with the true culprit and sees how this man was so broken by his own loss of family that HE went on a revenge vendetta, he realizes that killing him won’t bring back Black Panther’s father or make him feel any better.  He sees himself in his enemy and changes his actions.  But we have seen him come to this point, and we aren’t particularly surprised by his choice.

So look at your characters closely.  Know them.  Know how they think and act and react.  Keep them true to that, no matter what.  And, if you want them to change, introduce catalysts for that change – some spark.  Would Black Widow be seen crying?  Would Steve Rogers disembowel someone just because he could and didn’t happen to like the person?  I’m sure you can think of many other characters in books or on tv and movies, and you know how you expect them to act based on the character you have been shown.  You know what you would find very odd about their behavior or language.  We see it all the time, whether voiced by others or ourselves.  A movie is made of a book we’ve read and loved.  Immediately a howl goes up:  That’s not who that person is!  That’s not how they would act!  You got them completely wrong!

Many Lord of the Rings book fan were outraged by Faramir’s treatment in the Peter Jackson’s movies.  In the books, he was completely honorable and never once came close to succumbing to the Ring’s power.  He gave the Hobbits aid and sent them on their way.  Instead, in the movie, we see him dragging them with him to Minas Tirith, with dreams of glory put in his thoughts by the Ring.  Only much later does he come to his senses (and not for an entirely clear reason) and let them go.  Suddenly it looks like mental illness runs rampant in the entire line of Stewards: father, older son and younger son, with each succumbing all or in part to Sauron’s evil.  Lost are the important differences in motivation and reason for their actions, and completely lost is Faramir’s utter integrity and strength of will that he didn’t succumb.

Peter Jackson’s problem was in changing the nature of someone’s character, a person known and beloved from the books.  Had his movie been an original story, that person acting in that way would not have elicited such a strong response.  But Lord of the Rings (book) fans knew who that character was, and it wasn’t the man they saw portrayed on the screen.  That disconnect affected their enjoyment of the movie.  That detail jarred the viewer out of the story.  And the last thing you want to do is lose your reader/viewer because you derailed them.

Know your characters.  Keep them true.

Movie Review: Two for the price of one

I don’t usually do movie reviews, but I thought I’d make an exception.  Since I signed up for Netflix, I’ve found some more obscure films.  Some are rightly obscure – nothing to write home about.  Others might not have been blockbusters, and they may have problems but they have nice “moments” that make them worth watching, at least once, and sometimes more than once.

Two that I stumbled on happened to have Reese Witherspoon in them.  I haven’t seen much of her work and there haven’t been any of her major films that moved me particularly, but I do like both of these.  They are fairly gentle romantic comedies, at heart, though one of them does not have that as the main storyline.

The two are Just Like Heaven (also with Mark Ruffalo) and Penelope (also with Christina Ricci).

There isn’t anything very remarkable about the story in Just Like Heaven, but what makes it enjoyable are the characters.

The Netflix summary is thus:  Shortly after David moves into a new place, winsome Elizabeth shows up to assert that the apartment is hers, then vanishes. When she starts appearing and disappearing at will, David thinks she’s a ghost, while Elizabeth is convinced she’s alive.

And that is basically it – the two of them trying to work out what exactly she is while falling in love.  But they are surrounded by quirky friends and family:  Elizabeth’s sister, David’s best friend Jack and a guy who works in a bookshop and firmly believes in the paranormal.  There is a scene where Elizabeth manages to ‘inhabit’ David’s body, well acted by Mark Ruffalo, and Jack’s zingers are amusing.  But mostly it is a sweet love story with plenty of obstacles along the way.

The other movie, Penelope, I didn’t actually know Reese Witherspoon was in until I was watching it.  Netflix’s summary says:  In this modern-day fairy tale, a young woman cursed with the nose of a pig lives her entire life in seclusion — until an unlikely beau stumbles onto the scene and convinces her to celebrate her inner beauty.

Some reviewers thought the pig nose looked fake, but I had no issue with it.  They do sort of drop a few ideas over the course of the story, but they aren’t terribly essential to the story.  Catherine O’Hara plays the mother, in an over-the-top performance.  While it somewhat suits the character, she is pretty annoying.  Despite the extreme reactions when people see Penelope for the first time, her appearance doesn’t truly warrant it.  Indeed, one becomes accustomed to the prosthetic nose because it blends in well with Christina Ricci’s face, and most would almost forget about it after a time.  There is some question as to why the eventual resolution didn’t ‘work’ sooner, but that can also be forgiven.  The heart of this movie is the interaction between Penelope and Max (James McAvoy), and later with other people she meets.

The resolution is a worthwhile message for anyone, but particularly young girls, about accepting themselves.  And another nice touch is that Peter Dinklage gives a delightful performance as a reporter, and his size isn’t even noticed at all in the story.  It simply is irrelevant – he’s a reporter.  Little people are not always afforded that courtesy in life or as performers, so it was good to see.

One rather strange thing about the movie is that it is evident it is set in England, but the British/Scottish actors use American accents (for the most part) and it is put forward as if it were in America.  It’s not clear why it wasn’t simply set in England.  Perhaps the filmmakers thought that was cliché.

At any rate, it is nice to see Penelope come into her own and find her own happy ending.

Unless you absolutely hate any kind of romantic comedy, you might enjoy these.  Note:  I saw them on DVD from Netflix.  I’m not sure if they are available via streaming there.

An Infestation of Weasel (Words)

And here I thought I was better than this!

I noticed in my most recent work that two ‘weasel words’ had snuck in (a word that steals its way into your writing repeatedly), and carefully combed through the story to ferret them out.  (Sorry, bad pun.)  Fan fiction posts online by chapter, so fortunately I am only 3 chapters in, since I just noticed 4 more weasel words that need ruthless culling.

Weasels are sneaky creatures.  In and of themselves, the word is good, and probably you even used it correctly.  The problem arises when you use it (or some variation of it) over and over and over.  This is another reason for reading your finished story straight through from beginning to end – you are more apt to see such things so they can be fixed.  Well, most of the time.

If you notice you’ve used the same word three times, it might be a good idea to do a search for it.  And not just the exact word (unless it is very specific).  In my case, I have been using words that have ‘variations’ – for example:  consider/consideration, express/expression, press/impress/impression.  You get the idea.  In those cases, I can either search each variation separately, or  search a portion of the word that will pick up most of the different forms (such as ‘consider’, ‘impress’ or even just ‘press’ to pick up many more).

Time to get the pest control in order.  Weed out those rascally weasels.  Don’t let them infest your stories.

Which Famous Author Do You Write Like?

This actually came from a genealogy blog that I follow (written by Randy Seaver, though I don’t know that this idea is original to him).

1) Find something that you have written that you are really proud of – the best of your work. Do an Edit > Copy of it.

2) Go to the website http://iwl.me/ and Paste your text into the waiting box.

Is it accurate?  Who knows, but it can be a moment of fun as a break from your day.  According to the site, I write like Anne Rice.  Since I’ve never read anything by Anne Rice, I couldn’t say if there are any similarities or not.  But I posted 3 separate short stories that I wrote, and all three came up as writing like Anne Rice.

How about you?  Who is your “spirit author”?

Move!

Because they are visual mediums, tv and movies of necessity have ‘action’ taking place.  Would you enjoy a movie where two people simply sat or stood and talked excessively about the details of the story?  No, of course not.  You want to see it ‘acted out’.  People tend to do things while they are talking.  In the movie Field of Dreams the lead character, Ray, is talking with his wife, Annie, in their kitchen.  The scene would have been rather dull if they simply stood or sat holding the conversation, but instead, Ray is getting himself a glass of water, and Annie is getting things out of the refrigerator, preparing food and putting things in the oven as they talk.  The scene moves, and it feels completely natural because that is how people behave in ‘real life’.

Similarly, we need movement in our stories.  Don’t simply have two people talking at one another (at least not all the time).  Depending on the setting, maybe one of them is grooming a horse while the other hangs over the stall door, occasionally handing them grooming tools.  A woman could be knitting while she is talking with a friend.  In more modern settings, in a group of people sitting around, there is usually at least one of them playing with their cell phone or checking emails.  Have the characters move and ‘act naturally’ in whatever setting they exist.  That will bring them to life more, and help the reader envision the scene.  If they just talk, I can’t ‘see’ what they are doing or what is happening around them (others moving in the background or crossing the sidewalk in front of them).

Bring your story alive with movement.

Wow! A Milestone for My Writing

Last night I topped 100,000 words on the story I’m currently writing.  Usually I am more of a short form writer.  In fact, of all the fan fiction I’ve posted, only 4 stories have topped 50,000 words.

Not that it makes a great deal of difference for me, since I only publish in an online forum (though people do love a longer story to read).  For me, the word count is determined by whatever it takes to tell the story.  If it takes 6 words, then that’s it.  And if it takes 500,000, then I will do that.

But for those who read my stuff, they probably shouldn’t expect many longer forms from me.  It just isn’t my style, and I can say a lot in a few words.

A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words

Why?  Because the wrong words can paint the wrong image.  The image itself, however, shows what ‘is’.  If I want to describe a dragon in a story, I need to choose the words that will lead the reader to see in their mind the same (or at least very similar) image that I see in mine.

If I could draw, I could sketch out what I see in my head, but for me that isn’t an option.  That is one of the benefits of the internet to writers today.  If Tolkien wanted a visual reference of a dragon, he had to go to a library and dig through endless books searching for whatever had been drawn and published.  Writers now can simply do a search for images and be handed a tremendous variety to choose from.  It can be far easier to describe a dragon in great detail if you aren’t simply trying mentally imagine those characteristics, but can actually see what you want.

That is not to say that you should take someone else’s picture and simply use the dragon you see in it.  Your dragon can be a composite of many dragon pictures.  Some dragons are given wings, others are not.  Some have a smooth snake-like skin while others have scales.  A picture can give you an idea of how light might strike a dragon’s scales and be reflected (or absorbed).  A picture can help you decide if you want small, vestigial wings that are essentially useless, or wings that spread so wide to each side that a half dozen houses would be covered by them.

Just as writers are encouraged to look around themselves for inspiration in people, situations, locations and so forth, they should also make use of the vast library that is the internet, brought to your doorstep to peruse at your leisure.  Maybe you have a vague idea of your dragon being green in color, but then after seeing numerous pictures, you are inspired to change that to a reddish color and do so for a specific reason.  Maybe you thought to make its skin smooth, but after seeing many dragons with scales you might decide you like that better.  Dragons can lose/shed scales.  Those scales might have properties that are beneficial or harmful in some way.  Suddenly you have a whole new aspect to your dragon that you didn’t have when he vaguely had smooth skin.

This is just one example, of course.  There could be many other applications.  If you’re feeling daring, you could set up Pinterest pages to use in collecting images for reference.  (Beware, though, as Pinterest can be addicting and cause you to lose vast amounts of time ‘playing’.)  Or you could download images to your computer, or paste them into a word-processing document.  And you may prefer to do a search whenever you want a visual reference, but not save that image after you have finished extracting the needed details from it.

We live in a very visual world – make that work for you in your writing.