(Edit: Completely forgot to add Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, witches extraordinnare).
Thursday, January 31, 2013
(Edit: Completely forgot to add Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, witches extraordinnare).
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
3.Someone who is honest even when it hurts. Honesty really is the best policy. I don’t think I need to say more.
3.Just get involved and have fun. Hatrack River is a great forum. They have lots of contests (opening hooks, short stories, novel openings, etc). If you get involved, you can get to know the other aspiring writers and their writing. It is a great way to find writers to stalk, I mean admire. I’ve got a couple future potential beta’s in my crosshairs from this. You know who you are, well, at least some of you do.
Friday, January 25, 2013
|Not all villains are a single person.|
(The flag of the Alliance; Firefly)
|The villain in Chuck|
|Voldemort from Harry Potter|
|The Wicked Witch of the West|
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
One of my top three favorite Shannon Hale books (the other two being The Goose Girl and Book of a Thousand Days) has been born in movie form!
It's been a long gestation, but well worth the wait according to happy Sundance moviegoers - and Sony who just acquired it for $3,000,000.
But see, I'm getting ahead of myself.
Long, long ago, way back in 2008, Shannon Hale wrote a book.
Austenland is the tale of unlucky-in-love Jane Hayes who is stifled by an unhealthy obsession with Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth. No man or relationship will ever measure up (this she knows - she even has all her past boyfriends numbered beginning with a grade school crush). When Jane is bequeathed a three-week vacation to an English resort based on Jane Austen's novels, she apprehensively accepts, determined to get Mr. Darcy, and truth-be-told, all men, out of her system forever. But once there, robed in chemises, pelisses, day dresses and spencer jackets, Jane finds herself swimming in deeper water than she expected. The gentlemen actors are scrumptious with their top hats and side burns, her fellow vacationers both hilarious and endearing, but what is she really looking for, and what does reality mean when you're in Austenland?
It's a great book that hits all the right notes on America's obsession with all things British in general (*ahem* Downton Abbey *ahem*) and Jane Austen in particular.
Not long after the writing of said novel, a couple of Shannon Hale's friends (Stephenie Meyer, a la Twilight, and Jerusha Hess, a la Napoleon Dynamite) got a hold of it and together they dreamed of making it into a movie.
In July 2011 Shannon announced on her website that their dream was going to become a reality. Shannon and Jerusha wrote the script, Stephenie's company produced, and Jerusha directed. I was going to link to some of the hilarious posts Shannon wrote from the set in England, but there are just too many. I highly suggest going to her site and just reading forward for a few weeks starting July 5, 2011.
The cast had a blast filming, and apparently the camaraderie came through on the celluloid (pixels?) as well. Austenland was picked up for release at Sundance, an honor in and of itself. And the audience and critical reaction at the sold out showings has be gratifyingly positive.
You go, girl (and girls, including Stephenie and Jerusha).
What other books are on your wish list to become movies?
* "Hooray for ham" was the line that cracked me up today as I was rereading Austenland for the umpteenth time.
Monday, January 21, 2013
Go on. I'll wait.
Welcome back. Obviously, you've seen seasons one and two, and so you won't be annoyed by the spoilers that are below. Carry on.
So yesterday, Trisha posted a great blog about how when you set the rules of the world of your story, you need to stick by them.
She outs Downton Abby in particular of breaking the rules, most clearly with the character Matthew Crawley's "I can never stand again. No wait... It's a miracle, let's dance." plot line.
I suggest you click on her post, because she makes some great points. It's a common fault for T.V. shows to present an obstacle, and then just drop it when it gets boring. The worst offender I can think of is Glee, where characters are despondently in love with one character one episode, break up for a dumb reason the next, and then drop their hate just so they can sing a duet two episodes later. And don't get me started about how they never sing the same song more than once. I get why for a T.V. show the repetition is annoying, but as a real life choir dork, it strains believability.
And you can't stop believing.
But anyway. On topic. I have to defend Downton Abby, because the point Trisha raised is a huge one for me as a writer.
Season two of Downton Abby has Matthew just returned injured from war. The Doctor says there is a chance that he could recover, but most likely he will never be able to stand again. He won't be able to walk, to run, or... most importantly, he won't ever be able to have children.
This is a big problem, because as the heir, his child (if it's a boy) will inherit a huge fortune. And it's not just the vast amount of money, and properties that the child would inherit, it's the history of it that's important. The tradition. And don't forget who the fortune came from, Cora's American money, Lady Grantham's traditional money. Above all of that, what's most important is the name.
Lady Mary has been raised her entire life under the knowledge that she is entitled to a better life then others because of the name she was born into. Imagine the kind of self delusion necessary to live surrounded by people you like or love ( like Carson, Ana, etc.) who live feet from you yet in a completely different world. How can you justify that without giving the thing that separates you (i.e. family name and money) an enormous amount of importance.
Mary loves Matthew, but has lost him now more than once because of her need to prove the weight of her family's name. And now, here he is, in a wheel chair, engaged to someone else who will care for him more patiently than she would. By all tradition she should let him go. If she marries someone else and has a son, then she will carry on "the family show" the way she'd been born to do.
And then Matthew stands.
I love that, that shot in the dark that scatters the ducks. For me, it's not because it breaks the rules that this moment stands out, it's because it reinforces my most important opinion/rule of writing. Always scatter the ducks. Always go for the thing that changes a path, because a story ends once the path is set.
Yes, I see how it is jumping the shark for him to recover, and I'd be right by Trisha's side, complaining about lazy writers breaking their own rules, except that long before he stands, the doctor says that there's a chance that he will recover. By that one comment, the doctor put the dueling pistols onto the mantle.
But even if he didn't, I think I'd still be willing to look the other way, because to me it's not about the rule or the expectation of the audience that they are breaking, it's about the test the characters are going through. If you are going to test a character, and change them emotionally, prove themselves morally, or just hold a character over a fire, there is a segment of your audience who will stay by you, just to watch the characters squirm.
Not everyone will stay, but I probably will.
Trisha brings up the Spanish influenza story line as another example, and yes, it seems improbable that the only person who died from it, was the obstacle in the way between Mary and Matthew. But hey, it's a love story. Obstacles have to be removed somehow. And the creators go to great lengths to say that historically that's how it happened, it was just when a person seemed recovered that they were at their most dangerous stage.
Yes, I did watch the PBS specials.
There are a few other times when the writers suggest a treat or a threat, and then take it back, but for every "We're going to lose Downton", there's a punch that's not pulled. Characters die. Love stories end. Characters are pronounced guilty. Consequences happen, though usually the upstairs gets off lighter than those in servant's garb. But that's kind of the way with it, now isn't it?
Downton Abby, to me is all about the rules, and the traditions of polite society. The show is about the fairness and impracticality of rules; from Matthew, a distant relation inheriting all the money, and not Lady Mary, because he's male, to the rules of conduct between the upstairs and the downstairs, to the unfairness of Lady Mary's affair compared to the maid Ethel's consequences for the same level of mistake.
I think writers can take notice to some of these rules. For example, a writer with a "name" can break a rule and survive just fine, but a lowly writer could break the same rules and have a huge fall out. Also, yes sometimes success can happen for someone else, even though by all accounts, it should have come to you instead. Speak up about it, or else marry the person who stole your opportunity. ( Downton suggest's that's fine).
If you can give me a character that I love, like Lady Grantham, or Walter Bishop, or Kristina Braveman, or Matrim, or Gen, or Katniss, then you can break any rule you want to, and I'll stick along for the ride.
The main reason, however, that I'm going to keep watching isn't because of the soap opera characters in Jane Austen clothing. It's not because of the seeping slow minutia of the lives and growth of the characters, or the picturesque landscapes, the house itself, or the amazing costumes.
I will continue to watch for Lady Grantham.
That Dame Maggie is a treasure.
Sunday, January 20, 2013
The other program I record on Sunday is Downton Abbey. PBS fans will likely know the series, which is set between the years 1912 and 1921 in the Yorkshire countryside of England. If this is the first you've heard of the show, I have to warn you spoilers are coming, though I'll try to keep them at a minimum.
There is one thing that ties these shows together for me, and I probably only noticed it because they air on the same night, so I end up watching them back to back the next day. Like all stories, they both have to follow their own rules. In Once Upon a Time, magic cannot exist in Storybrooke, Maine. That is the entire reason the evil queen transported the fairy tale characters to our world. She brought them to a place where they could not rebel, and then took away their memories, creating a version of life that suited her.
Downton has its own set of rules. The plot follows the Earl of Grantham, his family, and the people that serve them. Life in an English manner house in the early 1900s was extremely structured. Clothes had to be changed several times a day, women had to be chaperoned when visiting with men, servants had to keep the house running without being seen by the family. Everything was done just so, with attention to both detail and propriety poured into every aspect of daily life.
The first season, for each show, was mostly about setting up for later conflict. Now that both shows are a few seasons in, some of those carefully laid out rules--the rules that govern the plot and character existence--are starting to come undone. (Here's your spoiler alert. Look away!)
People who died in one episode turn out to be alive in the next. Emma and Snow White become trapped in the fairy tale world, with no hope of return, and yet after several episodes of searching and fighting, they find a way home. Regina promises never to use magic again, but within an episode or two, she's back at it. Rumple makes similar promises to Belle, but breaks them almost in the same breath. In fact the only thing you can count on anymore is when a character says "This is never going to happen," it'll probably happen next week.
It might sound like a lot of backhanded storytelling, and I suppose it is. Here's why it works, in my mind anyway. Once Upon a Time is a fast-paced story. Because you flip between the present and past, you get a more rounded idea of who these characters are. It's also pretty normal for the characters to be embroiled in a physical fight in one era, while struggling with an emotional war in the other. It helps keep the plot from feeling stuck. It's the changes themselves, though, that usually set this pace. When you think you have a grasp on what's happening, or how the world works, someone throws a wrench into the gears.
However, the writers always ensure the changes are plausible. Magic isn't possible in Storybrooke because of a curse, but as the first season unfolds, it becomes more and more evident that Emma is going to break that curse. And once the curse is lifted, all bets are off. It's no wonder then that they start to find fairy dust, or that Rumpelstiltskin's previously worthless antiques start to exhibit strange new properties.
My only criticism is how often rules are set and then broken. Most recently, a character crossed the town line. In the first episode of season 2, the writers laid down a rule: anyone that crosses will lose their memory of their fairy tale life. I suspect the rule was put in place for two reasons. One, to keep the characters contained, and therefore keep the story on track, and two, to make it a gut-wrenching moment when this character fell over the barrier. They will never regain who they are--something the character's love interest pointed out with great pain. And yet, having spent as long as I have with this story, I'm not buying that for one moment.
The solution will be plausible--magic, true love, whatever they come up with, will fit with the story enough that it'll pass. The writers are too smart to have an easy solution on hand right away. The characters are going to suffer, and struggle. Sacrifices will be made, but in the end they'll find a cure for this unfixable memory loss.
This false suspense is okay in small doses, and forgivable when the solution is plausible. But what about when the writers just cram something in to tie up whatever plot line they're struggling with? What happens when you break the rules of your world for no good reason?
Enter season 2 and 3 of Downton Abbey.
In season 1, the audience was given a very intimate look at life within the Grantham household. Sibling rivalry, scandal, even housemaids with a grudge all had their moment in the story. All the rules were set, and when they were broken, the offenders were met with consequences. Mary's adventure with Mr. Pamuk had particularly dire consequences for most of season 1 and all of season 2. It was season 2 that really dropped the ball, though.
Matthew, heir to the current Lord Grantham, sustains an injury in the second season which, according to the doctor, will leave him crippled for the rest of his life. His miraculous recovery is never given a satisfactory explanation. In fact, the doctor merely shrugs his shoulders and sweeps the whole thing under the rug. Later in the season, several of the characters catch Spanish flu. Again, most make another miraculous recovery, and the one character who dies does so unexpectedly. I'm not sure I want to be sick under Dr. Clarkson's watch. Seems to me every time he gives a diagnosis, it goes the other way. (Is this some kind of foreshadowing for poor Mrs. Hughes? I hope not.)
Season 3 is driving me crazy. Lord Grantham swore he'd never allow his runaway daughter Cybil and her less-than-respectable husband to visit Downton, and yet the season kicks off with them staying for several episodes. Lord Grantham also lost basically every penny he owns and faces ruin, but of course an unexpected inheritance for Matthew means they can keep their home, and fortune, if only Matthew would get over himself and accept it.
There are so many convenient, hardly plausible events that pop up in the latter seasons of Downton Abbey. It's almost as though the writers threw up whatever obstacles they could think of, and when they got tired of them, they magically went away. If it had only happened once, maybe twice, I think I could overlook it. But it happens constantly, and it's getting out of hand. I'm ready for this season to be over, and while I hear there will be another season in production soon, I'm not totally sure I want to watch it.
It doesn't matter if the world you're building is complete fantasy or if it's set smack dab in the middle of your hometown. There are always going to be rules you have to follow. If your character is blind, she can't regain her sight just in time solve a murder simply because it's convenient to the plot. If your character loses all his money at a game of craps and he's wandering through the street destitute and hungry, he'd better have a good reason for finding that million dollar lottery ticket. Otherwise you're just slapping a band-aid on a problem you aren't ready to deal with.
If you find yourself doing this, I hope you'll take a step back and figure out why you've chosen this route, and start asking questions. What other path could you have taken? Maybe your character can use her other senses to solve the murder case, or your gambling addict will finally see he has a problem and start the slow path to recovery. You can break your own rules, by all means, but not without a good reason or a lot of skill.
Better yet, maybe a little of both.
Thursday, January 17, 2013
There's a lot of good stuff in there. I particularly like his advice on story structure:
In developing a theme, whether descriptive or narrative, it is necessary that three structural qualities be present: Unity, Mass, and Coherence. Unity is that principle whereby every part of a composition must have some bearing on the central theme. It is the principle which excludes all extraneous matter, and demands that all threads converge toward the climax.
Mass is that principle which requires the more important parts of a composition to occupy correspondingly important places in the whole composition, the paragraph, and the sentence…. According to this law, the end of a composition is its most important part, with the beginning next in importance.
Coherence is that principle which groups related parts together and keeps unrelated parts removed from one another.... It demands that kindred events be narrated without interruption, effect following cause in a steady flow.
Descriptions may be of objects, of places, of animals, and of persons. The complete description of an object may be said to consist of the following elements:1. When, where, and how seen; when made or found; how affected by time.2. History and traditional associations.3. Substance and manner of origin.4. Size, shape, and appearance.5. Analogies with similar objects.6. Sensations produced by contemplating it.7. Its purpose or function.8. Its effects—the results of its existence.
In fictional narration, verisimilitude is absolutely essential. A story must be consistent and must contain no event glaringly removed from the usual order of things, unless that event is the main incident, and is approached with the most careful preparation. In real life, odd and erratic things do occasionally happen; but they are out of place in an ordinary story, since fiction is a sort of idealization of the average.
“In many cases, the usage of good authors will be found a more effective guide than any amount of precept. A page of Addison or of Irving will teach more of style than a whole manual of rules, whilst a story of Poe’s will impress upon the mind a more vivid notion of powerful and correct description and narration than will ten dry chapters of a bulky textbook”
I know that if I've been reading a lot of a particular author, it seems like I'll start to mirror some aspects of their writing even in my own thoughts. Anyone else do that? And whose writing style would you like most to emulate? I'd like to be more like Patricia McKillip or Joseph Conrad, lyrical but not nonsensical.
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
SPOILERS (but really who hasn't seen this movie?)
It is powerful ending, where Sheriff Brody is hanging off of the mast of a sinking boat with his gun and Jaws is coming right at him, chewing on the oxygen tank. Brody shoots at Jaws aiming for the oxygen tank but keeps missing until the shark is almost upon him and then he shoots the tank and Jaws explodes.
Friday, January 11, 2013
You tried to kill me, James. You tried to murder me. What could you possibly say that would make that alright? You held me under the water until I passed out. In what universe is it alright for a guy to do that to his girlfriend? You tried to kill me.
It's not what it looks like, Ana. I can explain.
|Not every paranormal romance hero can be Jensen Ackles, ladies...|
So, far from being embarassed by my apparent multiple-personality-disorder, I'm kind of proud of it. It reminds me a little of method acting.
Method acting is any of a family of techniques used by actors to create in themselves the thoughts and emotions of their characters, so as to develop lifelike performances. Though not all Method actors use the same approach, the "method" in Method acting usually refers to the practice...in which actors draw upon their own emotions and memories in their portrayals, aided by a set of exercises and practices including sense memory and affective memory.
Wednesday, January 9, 2013
I'm sorry this post has to be brief today. Maybe someday I'll fill you in on the adventures of my real life - but I'm not quite ready to yet. So, instead, here are a few things I ran across the other day.
A little while back, I posted about when not to query an agent. Recently, I found this bit of interesting data. Agent Sarah LaPolla, over at Glass Cases, has been gracious enough to share her 2012 month-by-month breakdown of queries she received and manuscripts she asked for - with surprising results.
Unsurprisingly, in 2012 Sarah received the most queries in January (430) and the least in December (152 w. a shortened month), with an average of about 332 queries per month. Now the interesting thing is that even though January and February were her busiest months for submissions, they were also, by far, the months where she requested the most manuscripts.
Hold onto your seats folks. February won Sarah's querying lottery with ... drum roll please ... a 3.6% manuscript request rate. January (2.7%) and November (2.8%) were nearly tied in second. The worst month? October, coming in with just one manuscript request out of 300.
Now, this is just one agent (whom I greatly appreciate for giving us this glimpse into her world), and she goes out of her way to try to make it seem like these numbers aren't quite as intimidating as they really are, but isn't this an interesting tidbit of data about our chances of making it?
Kristin Nelson at Pub Rants also provided a run-down of her yearly stats.
Per her website, of "32,000+ or some big number..." queries sent to her agency, they asked for 81 full manuscripts. Let's see:
81 / 32,000 X 100 = a 0.25% manuscript request rate.
Oh dear, I think I need to polish my rose colored glasses a little more. :)
And just to finish things off, a completely unrelated yet highly educational diversion - my son's new favorite animal:
Monday, January 7, 2013
“A story is told that Whistler once painted a tiny picture of a spray of roses. The artistry involved in the picture was magnificent. Never before, it seemed, had the art of man been able to execute quite so deftly a reproduction of the art of nature. The picture was the envy of the artists who saw it, the despair of the collectors who yearned to buy it. But Whistler refused steadfastly to sell it. 'For,' he said, 'whenever I feel that my hand has lost its cunning, whenever I doubt my ability, I look at the little picture of the spray of roses, and say to myself, Whistler, you painted that. Your hand drew it. Your imagination conceived the colors. Your skill put the roses on the canvas. Then, said he, 'I know that what I have done, I can do again'”
~Sterling W. Sill
Sunday, January 6, 2013
The other night, a show about mansions came on. We're not aspiring to anything quite that opulent by any means, but it was fun to see how rich people live it up in their custom homes with heated indoor pools and gold-leaf toilets. One house in particular was so over-the-top, decorated in a style that would have put Louis XVI at home, that we laughed. There was nothing--nothing--we liked about the house. At least that's what I thought at first. But then they started talking about the kitchen, and they cut to a picture of the range oven. Okay, I thought, I could stand to cook in a kitchen like that. Maybe a little smaller, though, without the heavy gold knobs and finials everywhere. A watered down version of that kitchen would be really nice.
The same can be said for the romance genre. I like the happily ever after, but sometimes the way you get there can be a bit too over the top for me. I like watered down romance. I like plot outside of boy meets girl, which is exactly what I try to put into my writing.
So today, I want to pull examples of watered down romance plots buried in other genres. The most obvious, or perhaps the most useful within this group, is young adult.
Let's take a look at two very different young adult books. For this purpose, I'm going with ones I know are relatively universally known for the sake of time. Harry Potter and Twilight are popular enough that I won't have to go into lengthy detail, and at least most of you will know what I'm talking about. So even if these aren't your favorite books, try to stay with me.
Harry Potter is about 99% fantasy, 1% romance. I'm not necessarily talking about the way things end, with Harry and Ginny, and Ron and Hermione married with families. I'm talking more about the themes that arise throughout the series. Harry himself spends seven books learning his own value despite an unhappy beginning and what appears to be insurmountable odds in his future. This is a theme that romance has perfected. There is, in every book of the series, a bond between the characters that does eventually erupt into an actual, though downplayed, romance. At one point Hermione has to choose between Ron, whom she loves, and Harry, who she knows is right. She does what is right, and stays with Harry, despite the fact that it means losing Ron. To me, this was the moment that rang most clearly of romance.
So, would Harry Potter survive without these aspects? Probably. It would be different, but it would be recognizable, because it is first and foremost about Harry and his world, and the fight with Voldemort. Now if we look at Twilight with this in mind, we get a very different answer.
How long of a series would Twilight be if you removed the love triangle between Edward, Bella and Jacob? Maybe two books? What if you remove the love aspect altogether? Let's say, for instance, that Edward was already with someone. That he and Bella became friends, and that Jacob too only felt platonic love for her. That might take up a single, albeit long, volume, but it wouldn't be the same book. I'm not even sure you would know it for what it was. That's because there is nothing watered down about Twilight.
There are so many books that fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. For young adult I like between twenty five to fifty percent romance. In middle grade, or those on the cusp, like Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me or Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, I prefer little or no romance themes. Older fiction, like sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, etc. can contain as much romance as is necessary to develop and enhance the plot, without stealing the spotlight. That really goes story-by-story for me, and it's up to each writer, and reader, to decide how much is too much, or too little.
I'm curious to know what percentage you think is adequate--or at what point you think romance is overdone in various genres, specifically young adult, since I know so many people on here write it.
Saturday, January 5, 2013
We still feel horrible about the whole thing, but I try to find a silver lining in my posts so here goes:
|Make someone happy.|
Thursday, January 3, 2013
The best part of all this?
If you don't have time to dig in to the whole thing, here is a four page short story about Agatha and her warrior friend Zeetha, who insists on waking Agatha up before dawn for training, and Agatha has finally had enough.
The authors also sell all their volumes online, though they’re not cheap (thus it took me like three years to acquire them). But I’ve already got one friend here hooked, and I plan to pass them around to others. For those of you with kids, the authors recommend the stories for teens and up. There's language and a few corsets, and allusions to sex, but nothing shown.