Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Going Backwards

Have you ever read a novel that started off one way and then somehow morphed into
something totally different mid-book? That kind of stuff throws me as a reader.
But as a writer, I can see how it happens.
You start out with a bunch of newbie characters, then you put them into difficult situations.
They react, and how they react shows what their true character is like. Before your eyes, your
little newbies are growing up (*sniff, sniff!) having opinions, growing a backbone (or not) and becoming
At least that's the way it is for me.
Other writers might experience it differently. Maybe their characters come to them fully-formed but then the further they go along in the novel, the characters end up changing or going in directions the author did not anticipate.
This is why, when writing a novel, some 'writing days' are spent reading.
Today was a reading day. I hadn't planned on it, but I'd gotten to a place where I needed
to be reminded of where my MC had been and how far he'd come.
Writers have to stop sometimes and read from the beginning -
to make sure Main Character in Chapter One matches Main Character in Chapter Twenty-One. And if he/she doesn't, you have some 'splainin to do, Lucy.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Death in the movies

WARNING: This post is not for sensitive/squeamish readers

So last night the teen son invited me to watch Lucky Number Slevin and since my social calendar was amazingly free, I did. He also said it was a fine movie for his 14 and 12 year old sibs, so I let them watch too.
Let me first say, there's a lot of blood.
And shooting.
And dying.
And more than a little skin.
I kept yelling my son's name every time someone got knocked off or was doing something, erm, private.
"Sorry!" he'd say. "I forgot about that!" "That's the last time!" "Oh! Well, I mean THAT's the last time!"
It WAS a good plot-twisting story and (sadly) my younger kids thought nothing of the blood. However, at one point, someone (don't want to give too much away if you are going to watch it) is killed by a clear plastic bag over their head. Now THAT bothered them. And it bothered me as well. And I'm sure just the thought of it bothers you.
Why did that one incident affect them when 10 shooting deaths didn't?
I think because they could relate to that suffocating feeling - who hasn't had a blanket or pillow or something tossed over our heads/mouths accidentally (or by one of those type of friends who think they are being "funny") and had that panicky feeling?
Not many people (hopefully, thankfully) can relate to the blood-spattering gun play we see on TV every day. (And maybe it's partly BECAUSE we see it every day (on TV/movies) that it doesn't touch us as easily. )
And WHY, you may be wondering, am I writing about such a gruesome subject?
Definitely not because I'm going to write about people being killed in my middle grade novels!
But I'm interested in what moves children, what affects them. And I think one ingredient in that is how
well a child can relate to the main character's feelings - those universal truths that are the same for everyone. Basic experiences that we all, as humans, have all gone through. If we as writers keep those basic human experiences in mind as we write, we will created characters/stories that our readers will relate to on a gut, been-there type of level.
        The fact that my children were unaffected by all the shooting/bloodshed - well, that's a subject
for a different post all together. (rolls eyes and shuffles off...)

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Crazy Heart and Character love

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My hubby and I saw Crazy Heart last night. And Jeff Daniels did earn his Oscar.
But as far as the movie went, *shrug*
I just didn't get invested in the characters much. I felt somewhat distanced and didn't care.
On the way home, the Hubster and I compared this movie to WALK THE LINE and we
both agreed that WTL was waaaaaaaaaaaay better as movies go. I CARED about Johnny Cash.
So why didn't I care about Bad?
As a writer, I NEED to find this out. I want readers to fall in love with my characters, to root for them, to be invested in them. What did WALK THE LINE have that CRAZY HEART didn't? IMHO:

1. Sympathy -  We didn't see Bad BEFORE, when he was still wet behind the ears, full of hope and excitement. It was easier to fall in love with "Johnny" because of his sad upbringing and because of his early, eager years. When CRAZY opens, we see an overweight, alcoholic, chimney smoking, greasy-haired, past-his-prime country music star. If I'd seen Bad in his prime or in childhood flashbacks, maybe I would have related to him better.
In "The Writer's Journey" Christopher Vogler talks about establishing The Ordinary World, in which the main character is introduced and is hoped to be portrayed as "relatable." We don't have to even like the character but we have to be able to "understand his plight and imagine ourselves behaving in much the same ways, given the same background, circumstances and motivation." I think a little bit of backstory could have helped achieve this in CH.

2. Physical attractiveness - Face it, throughout CH, Bad is not attractive. The movie star Jeff Bridges is a hunk, but his character, Bad, was pretty scummy. Even when Bad cleaned up his act, he still looked like he needed a shower, a haircut and a generous amount of deodorant. Under this same heading was his constant smoking, which, I understand was part of his character, but it just added to his scumminess. Take it out of the intimate scenes and maybe I would have found him a smidgeon more attractive.

3. Realistic relationship - I'm sorry, but I just couldn't buy that cute Maggie Whoeversheis, whom I always think is Katie Holmes, would fall for this drunk, sweaty, much older guy. Maybe
I don't believe it because I didn't see his attractiveness (see #2.) If we could have seen him really clean up and look sharp for her a few times, we could see a glimmer of hope of what he could be, what might keep her trying in this relationship. Or maybe if we'd known more about her and what makes her tick - maybe then we could have seen how she'd fall for this guy. Or, if there was a scene in the beginning of their relationship that showed a glimmer of something really admirable in him, he'd win us over, along with the cute girl. But all he did was be nice to her cute kid and make biscuits.

4. Fill in the blank. What makes you root for a character? or not?

Friday, 5 March 2010

Lessons from the Tennis Court, #2 THE BALL

I am in a ladies tennis group that meets weekly.
The women vary from friendly and gracious to cold and competitive. Some are
there for the exercise. Some are there to perfect their game. I am there to learn and get better and hopefully have some fun in the process.
But it's hard to learn and get better and have fun when I have The Competitive One staring across the net at me. I start 'hearing' her thoughts about me:
She doesn't belong in this group.
Why did she have to come today?
Look at her form! 
She can't even return the simplest shot.
This is a waste of my time.
Why did I have to get paired with her?
And on, ad nauseam.
Now, who knows if any of this is going through The Competitive One's mind.
Maybe she's thinking of the movie she saw last night. Or what to do about her delinquent son.
It doesn't really matter because it's going through MY mind, and it's screwing me up.
I am trying to play to please her, to have her think well of me, to be accepted by her
and the end result is playing worse than normal.
I am outside of myself and outside of the rhythm that is tennis.

When I find myself playing to please, I try to step back and focus only on THE BALL. I stop looking at the person. They do not exist. There is a ball machine in their place and I am merely returning the ball. There is no judgement. There is no acceptance or rejection. There is just the ball and me.
And then I hit. Not always well. But probably better than what I had been hitting.

As a writer, I sometimes find myself writing to please - please the market, please a critique buddy, please a hoped-for agent. And writing to please works about as well as playing tennis to please. The result stinks. When I write to please others, I am outside of myself and outside of the rhythm that is writing. MY writing.
And so I must focus on THE STORY, the story that is buried within. There is no Competitive One, staring across the net from me. There is no Instructor or Agent or Market. There is only THE STORY.
In keeping my eye on the story, I hope to someday serve up an ace.