Saturday, March 31, 2012

Lessons from Hollywood - The Hunger Games vs. John Carter

This post is the first in a "Lessons from Hollywood" series focusing on writing/publishing truths gleaned from Tinseltown. I've written similar posts in the past (Writing lessons from Eclipse, for starters), but now such posts will have a club of their own to belong to.

Anyone reading about films and box-office reports will have heard that The Hunger Games has done very well. Games had a strong opening weekend and has continued to dominate.

Conversely, Andrew Stanton's baby, John Carter, has gone down in flames.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Anne with an "e" knew what she was talking about: What to Consider as You Name your Characters

I renamed a character this week.

I have a thing about names. Some authors are pretty relaxed about them. I think that's great - it's just not me. When I create a character, the name is one of the first things I have to nail down. Otherwise, it's like making a friend whose name you don't know - who does that?

(Actually, I do sometimes. I'm not always great with remembering names. But when it happens, it's VERY uncomfortable and certainly not ideal. Not in real life, and not with made-up people).

With the book I'm working on now, it really became necessary to change several names of central characters. For a couple people, that was fine and downright easy.

But the others? Not so much. You see, these people are half French and half Italian. They're practically a super-species, if by "super" you mean "super stubborn, super strong-willed, super opinionated." And you know what?  They did not appreciate the name change. Not. One Bit. One character even flat-out refused.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Sundry (mostly about the dog. A little about writing, but mostly about the dog).

Things are pretty quiet around here. It's nice. After SO much travel and change, getting into a boring home routine is kinda great.

We've got family coming up next week - so the quiet part will change - and a wee bit of travel to Bellingham in the near future, but until then it's nice to enjoy the house and the less-wigged-out dog.

Speaking of, Tesla is loving life right now. When she's not spending time in elegant repose (and bear with me as ALL of these photos were taken with my phone)...

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Spring Thing

I am usually not much a fan of Springing Forward. Every year, I whine and complain about why we still have Daylight Savings and why do they want to take a precious hour of sleep away from meeeeeee???

Like I said, not my fave.

(I do not, however, have these feelings in the fall).

However, now that we live in a more northerly location, it gets dark. Way dark. Dark by 3:45 in the winter kind of dark, which is really pretty depressing. I know there are far darker locations (say, Alaska), but after a dimly-lit winter, when a friend of mine mentioned we'd have an extra hour of light soon -

- it was the best news, ever! Like getting a birthday gift on a day that is nowhere near your birthday, just for being alive. Losing an hour was a completely fair trade - I would give two for the extra daylight.

One way to get through Daylight Savings, without the sleep-deprivation-angst, is to help your husband move five tons of river rock. It actually works really well.  By the time we were done last night, it felt hours later than the actual time, rather than and hour earlier. Mission accomplished.

Terribly excited about that rock, though. One of the joys of a new-build house is having basically no landscaping whatsoever. Last fall we seeded the backyard (the front had sod) and put cement curbing around the edge. But the grass came in really thin in places - and thick in others, partly because the sprinkler system turned out to not actually be going off.

Which was a problem.

So we've wintered with thin grass, open vats of dust/dirt on either side of the patio, and dirt/dust/weeds on the other side of the curbing.  Let's just say it was prettiest when it was covered up with snow.

Danny picked up river rock on Friday afternoon, and Saturday and Sunday we hauled it off the trailer, wheelbarrow load by wheelbarrow load (with breaks for Danny to pump the tire back up, as it tended to go flat quite often), and dumping it onto the weed cloth-prepped areas. And honestly, the yard looks SO much better! There's more work to be done before we can move on to fun things - like plants - but the yard is off to a great start.

Tesla also thinks the yard is pretty great - in particular, the weed cloth.  We left the unopened rolls outside on the patio, which she discovered is shaped rather like a giant dog toy. There was much joyful leaping and running with the roll of weed cloth until I stepped outside to retrieve it.

So that was our weekend - how did you handle the loss of an hour?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Little Romance: The Mechanics of a Love Story

I've been asked to appear as an expert, of sorts, for middle school writers.  The subject? Romance.

Yeah, I know.  I struggle with smooshy, mushy romance.  But they asked for romance, so romance they shall have.  I spent some time thinking on the subject of Romance Theory (which seemed to dovetail with the blog on The Vow, come to think of it).

Good romance is the most character-driven of all genres, so if you're going to do romance (or a believable romance subplot/thread), you've got to know your characters and be able to communicate their essence on the page.

I mean, *really* know your characters.  Because the reader has to believe both characters as people, be invested in both of them, and believe that those people could/would be into each other. Obviously, there will be obstacles - that's what drives the turning of pages.  The reader has to:

a.) want the two characters to get together


b.) not be certain it's actually going to happen.

If one of those is missing, you've got a problem. If the reader doesn't want them to get together, she (we'll just assume the gender here) will hate you in the end when they do.  And if you make it too easy, there's not enough plot.  The love story can't be a foregone conclusion.  There have to be roadblocks, there have to be difficulties. For your characters - your hero and heroine - to be motivated enough to persist through those roadblocks, they have to be more than likable. They have to be desirable.

(Sorry. The italics just kind of happened there.)  If you skip out on desirability, your reader will sit/read/watch and yell at the character (the one who's romancing the undesirable) to RUN, RUN FAST, RUN FAR, IT'S NOT WORTH IT!

Think of The Bachelor, for this one.  Sure, the girl the guy likes most may be pretty, but if she's also evil, no one will want them to actually fall in love.

Conversely, it can also be a problem (for some plotlines) if your characters are too desirable.  The Vow is a good example -  they were both too pretty and desirable for us to believe they weren't even remotely attracted to each other. If one or both of your characters are very pretty (either inside or out), there had better be some good obstacles!

As far as I can tell, there are three core types of romance -

1.) The "will she/won't she" romance - will the heroine fall in love with him? Will she??  Stories that fall into this category include Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Anne of Green Gables,

2.) The "will he/won't he" romance - will he fall in love with her? Austen examples include Persuasion  and Sense and Sensibility. YA examples include Anna and the French Kiss and The Princess Diaries.

3.) The "can they be together" romance (a variation on this is how long will they be together - especially applicable in Nicholas Sparks books).  The Princess Bride is a good example.

Those are the core types.  Many stories are a combination of the two. Stranger than Fiction is a "will she/won't she" with a twist of "can they be together" - Maggie Gyllenhaal's character has to decide if Harold Crick, the tax man's flours are charming enough, but even after they all for each other, there's this niggling reality that Harold Crick is going to die.

You've Got Mail is a "will she/won't she/can they be together" mashup - they fall in love online first, but have to reconcile their real lives and true selves with their online personas before they can be together.

Something to consider with love-triangle plotlines - it's still a will she/won't she with a twist of  which one should he/she choose (most successful triangles involve a woman choosing between two men).  It can be kind of  a cop out. The question is "A or B?" rather than "Do I love A with my whole heart? Or should I ditch A and B because this situation is disturbing?"  My take is the same in fiction as it is in real life -  if you really can't choose, the answer should be neither - because you don't love one enough to give up the other.

(This is why I'm neither Team Edward or Team Jacob, but rather Team Go Find a Strong, Reliable, and Loving Human Man With Less Baggage. And don't tell me humans are boring within the framework of Sci-Fi/Fantasy. Because: Aragorn. End of conversation.)

My personal preference is for a combo of the core types - it gives the characters two kinds of drama.  While you're figuring this out, though, you've got to make sure you're maintaining both believability and likability.  It also works best for stories where the romance is a subplot. Your main plot throws your characters just as many curveballs as their love lives.

So - there's my short masterclass on plotting romance. What do you think?

Brief Update: Found this rather awesome article about female stereotypes in chick flicks - you know, the women you see onscreen but NEVER meet in real life. Worth the read.