Monday, May 17, 2010

Not Dead

Sorry. I know, it's been a while. Turning in the book sucked out my will to blog. Or write, really, much of anything.

To catch up:

1. Robin Hood. Thumbs-down, sadly. Honestly, you don't know how much that breaks my heart. I wanted to love this movie, but it wasn't meant to be. You really do have to have characters to make a story work. More on that later.

2. The Losers. Thumbs-up. Honestly, the trailer made it look like the poorer, potato-sack wearing cousin of this summer's The A-Team. Which I haven't seen yet. But The Losers does, it does well. The characters are drawn broadly with much love and affection. The action sequences are fun. The villain is pitch-perfect. If she could sound feasibly British, I'd nominate Zoe Saldana for the Tomb Raider reboot. I recommend much.

3. Letters to Juliet. Thumbs-up. It's swoony and unapologetically romantic in a take-no-prisoners sort of way. When I am old, I want to look like Vanessa Redgrave.

4. Crazy Heart. The scriptwriter really did go with the "less talk more rock" approach. Literally. And while I won't begrudge Jeff Bridges his Oscar in the slightest, I found the story itself to be lacking. My engineer husband (who spends a lot of time these days with a novelist) summed it up this way: "It's like it was an act and a half, rather than three acts. There was a lot of setup, the climax, some plot, and then it was over. I didn't like it.)

*Note* He'll come home from work and tell me I didn't quote him right. But it's pretty close and true to the intended message.

That's it for movies. We've been watching a lot of Top Gear lately. So much that the phrase "Some Say" followed by a pause will now cause a Pavlovian-type giggle reaction. (This is inconvenient for Ridley Scott, since it happened during Robin Hood while one of the actors was trying to be profound. I don't remember who. I was giggling at the time). But it's really delightful and is the only media-related item I've ever found that can make my frequently stoic husband weep with laughter. WEEP.

And honestly, I can't blame him.

One of the reasons I heart it much is that the three hosts - Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond, are all very good at being characters. And I'm all about characters.

So maybe Ridley Scott needed to watch a little more Top Gear, because the sense of character was missing from a film about one of the most famous literary characters.

Lessons We Can Glean From Robin Hood (2010)

1.) It's important to give the audience a reason to like the main character. If we like the character, we will care about his story. If we don't like him, we won't give a cockroach's tush. The late Blake Snyder wrote about this in his seminal screenwriting book, Save the Cat. Basically, give your protagonist an opportunity to save a cat, or something - anything - that makes us like him. It doesn't have to be much. It doesn't have to be a cat. Russell Crowe could have saved a horse, and it would have helped. This is true for anti-heroes as well. Even if they have issues, the likability has to be there.

2.) Characters have to be consistent. When characters are consistent, we believe they're real people. When they're not, we struggle with the suspension of disbelief. So if you give us a smart, gutsy woman like, say, Marian, and especially if you cast a smart, gutsy woman like Cate Blanchett to play her, do not have this character threaten to remove a man's manhood at knifepoint and then have her light a lamp so she can undress behind a thin curtain, giving the aforementioned man a lengthy opportunity to observe and admire the silhouette of her feminine form.

I mean, really.

3.) No plot development is going to be interesting enough to save your story if your characters are flimsy. In fact, if you don't have characters, it's not a story. It's not. It's a recitation of events. Character make story. Stories make character. You can't have one and not the other, if it's going to work. A lot of plot-driven writers struggle with this, particularly sci-fi/fantasy writers. I've seen it in both published and unpublished work. Political machinations don't mean a thing if we don't care about the characters. The reason why is that if we have nothing invested, the stakes will never be high enough to create the tension necessary for a moving plot. And you need high stakes. You need tension. As Lauri Deason once said, "The original Star Wars movies were about saving the universe. The new ones were about tax reform."

And we all know which ones were the most successful.

4.) Pick your tone. Own it. Films like The Losers, Clash of the Titans, and Letters to Juliet work because they know what they are and they're good with that. They're not trying too hard to be too much. Robin Hood swung around from battle epic to comedy to drama to romance in such an awkward way that it didn't work at any of those. (Note: kissing someone in the midst of battle while blood drips onto that person's face...gross. Not romantic. Not sexy. Gross and awkward. No one wants to kiss a bio-hazard.)

So there you go. I've been reading a lot of British Chick-lit lately. I can't wait for this book to arrive at the library (it's currently out). I have a thing for books in which a woman inherits or manages to land into a large, old, decrepit house and has to make it a home of some sort. I don't know why, but I've had this thing for a long time. It's a big plus if the house has a secret history, or if the heroine makes curtains for it. Books like this, this, and this, and obviously this. I just finished Harriet Evans' A Hopeless Romantic, and that was a lot of fun :-)

Speaking of books, need to get back to Simply Sara edits. More less than two weeks :-)

P.S. The frog pic at the top is one of the ones I shot at the Oregon Garden during out getaway weekend. The rest are in the slideshow - go take a peek.


  1. I just saw Robin Hood on Saturday, and it seems I liked it better than you did. I see what you're saying about the characters, but I think they were assuming we already knew (and loved) the characters. As to the "save the cat" problem, I think we are supposed to see that Robin/Robert is an honest man when he tells King Richard what he really thinks, and that is supposed to make us feel something for him. I do completely agree with the tone thing, though (and the bloody face kiss grossed me out, too).
    (-Valerie Paschen)

  2. Hey Hillary!
    I'm a friend of Rachel Lulich's. She directed me to your blog because I'm trying to write a book that's been in my head for years. Thank you for the advice you give here. It really is useful and very relative to where I am at in my writing career.

  3. Heather H :) :) :)May 18, 2010 at 9:50 PM

    Glad the book is out of the least this one :) Now on to the next one...???..:) :) :) :)
    I haven't seen Robin Hood yet, but I think I may still go see it because I like the legend. Oh, read the King Raven series by Stephen Lawhead. It's a trilogy with a new retelling of the Robin Hood legend. Fabulous. You'll like the characters in there :)

  4. Valerie - Interesting point. I'm just not sure that honesty equals likability. I did enjoy Friar Tuck, though. Made me want to watch A Knight's Tale again :-)

    Alicia - You're welcome! Have any specific writing questions? I'm working on putting together a writing and technique series for the blog - let me know if there's anything you'd like to see included!

    Heather - Almost out of the way...there are still edits and galleys and more edits...and then promotions...but looking forward to the next! I haven't read the Stephen Lawhead books but I've seen them - I'll have to get them from the library soon!

  5. Darn. And I was so looking forward to Robin Hood. I really like Ridley Scott's work. Yep. Characters make the story. Have you seen Burn Notice? Love those characters, even if some of their escapades are a bit of a reach.


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