Thursday, November 30, 2006

My not so dark secret….

I have to admit, sometimes, I’m just not a nice person. I carry grudges, people piss me off, usually with good reason, and I remember slights for years and years.

Why the reason for my true confession.

One of my favorite things is to put people I don’t like into my books. Not exactly as they are. And names have been changed to protect the innocent, but they’re in there.

Never as the villain. I like and respect my villains far too much to associate them with annoying, petty people. Nope, they’re usually the buffoons, the annoying co-worker, the cowardly associate, whatever works for the book.

Occasionally these people from my past/present are a minor, minor character. Sometimes a major. I combined two people I disliked for a major character in my current WIP. He turned out to be my favourite character in the book, also the most spineless, weak and morally compromised.

When ever I do this, I think of the quote from what was a really silly movie, A Knight’s Tale. The Paul Bethany character, playing Chaucer, threatened to eviscerate one of his tormenters in print. I always chuckle when I remember that quote.

It’s one of the rarely talked about advantages about being a writer. The ability to take someone we don’t like, and make them an unpleasant character in our books.

In doing so, I’ve found interesting sides to those characters, sad histories that explain their behavior, a sweet side they rarely show others. I’m sure this also applied to the people they’re based on, but I’m probably never going to know.

Am I alone in this? Do other people do this? Or am I the only petty writer out there.

Has anyone else read the book Poison Study by Maria Snyder, I finished it recently and was swept up in it, and completely entertained. I definitely recommend it.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Discussion Topic: Summing it up in one line

I think it's amazing when a writer can sum up a character with one line of dialogue, one telling action, one perfect piece of description or internal thought.

In the new Bond movie, a bartender asks Bond whether he'd like his martini shaken or stirred. Bond turns to the bartender, a slightly annoyed expression on his face and says, "Do I look like a man who'd care?" (or something like that)

What I love about this line is that it not only defines his character, but it also defines the new direction the franchise has taken. Bond is no longer a fastidious invincible cartoon hero but a real rough tough man who bleeds (and makes others bleed more).

Love it!

So, what perfect characterization lines do you love? In a book, a movie, your own work...

Post Script:
Depending on your perspective, I'd like to say either, "You're welcome," or "I'm sorry," for this uncharacteristically short post.

Friday, November 24, 2006

What’s Left – McKee, character vs. plot

To re-emphasize, personality issues aside, McKee’s seminar was amazing and informative and several lightbulbs went off in my head during the LONG three days.

The man has exacting standards, has no time for clichés, no room for poor characterization, and God help you should you try and resolve a plot using coincidence.

One of the things he did really nicely was define character driven and plot driven.

Character driven – Here he told us, the hard part is creating the story. The central question being, what would have to happen to a person to make them change?

Plot driven – Here, the hard part is creating the characters. They have to be interesting, but not too complex, or the story becomes about the character.

Lately, I’ve heard a couple of people express that character driven stories don’t have a plot, which I’ve never agreed with. What McKee confirmed for me, was that plot is essential for an effective character driven story.

Consider that for each scene, a value in the protagonist’s life has to be at stake and at the end of the scene, the value has to have changed. Each turning point has to raise the stakes for the character, all leading to a climax that resolves the questions created throughout the book.

Tough to do without a framework.

McKee does not believe in writing without a structure. He believes the first thing that comes to a writers mind is inevitably a cliché, and not until we dig deeper, much deeper do we come up with ideas that will surprise and delight our readers. This I very much believe. We have to meet the emotional expectations of our readers, while surprising them along the way. If they expect a rich, engrossing romance, we have to give it to them, but not in the way they expect.

Easy to say, way, way harder to put into practice.

I definitely have a lot to think about going forward, but now I have great ideas for structure and character and guidelines to help me when the book isn’t going well.

The man may have been annoying, but those three days were really worthwhile, even with the constant burping and cursing.
On the down side, I still have not seen the new Bond… have to see that

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

More on McKee and 3 Dimensional Characters

It's hard to know what to talk about from the McKee workshop this past weekend. My brain's still spinning and I haven't even opened the notebook I almost filled. I used up two pens.

With a day or two of hindsight... I don't think he said much entirely new to me, but I think concentrating so much intense information over a short period of time, using a consistent vocabulary, helped solidify some concepts for me. I hope. Maybe I’m still under the McKee cult induction spell.

As obnoxious and offensive as he is, I do think he’s intelligent and I think it's been a while since I've really felt challenged by someone in that way. Probably since University, or maybe since my stint as a researcher in California. I've missed using that part of my brain.

His section on creating 3 dimensional characters is what's sticking in my mind most right now. I think the reason this topic stuck out is because it's going to help me, I hope, with a particular problem I'm having right now.

Anyone who's been to more than one writers’ workshop has seen plenty of questionnaires and charts and various other techniques to help create fully developed characters. But really, most of these tools are about characterization, not core character values.
Don’t get me wrong, developing all those quirky details that make our characters interesting is important. But they aren’t core values. That is, how that character would behave under pressure.

McKee contends (and most writers would agree) that main characters need 3 dimensions. But I doubt many writers could define what they actually mean by 3 dimensional. Not flat? Realistic? Fully developed? All abstract explanations that aren’t really practical in helping to develop characters. What impressed me about McKee is that he actually suggests a definition for 3 dimensional characters.

Based on his definition, a character should have at least 3 major values that define them, that won’t change significantly during the course of the book. (except in an educational plot--which is the kind of story I write--and then one of them should move along the negative/positive scale over the course of the book.)

What excited me, was the idea that to make characters 3 dimensional, a writer should have their main characters display both the positive and negative sides of each of these 3 core values during the course of the story. I don’t know if I’ve thought of it this way before.

That is, if a protagonist is brave, we should see times when he/she is fearful. If a protagonist is kind, she should show hints of cruelty. If she’s self-assured, she should show moments of vulnerability. This helps creates a 3 dimensional character. A metaphor the reader will mistake for a real human being.

What I liked even better was his suggestion about secondary characters. He suggests they should be no more than 2 dimensional or they’ll take over, and that bit players should be one dimensional—display only one major core value. Also smart.

I know I have trouble creating secondary characters at times… either going too far or not far enough in their characterizations. I also know I’m not always purposeful in how I create them. (I think I have done this well at times… Sophia in my Miseducation story was very purposefully created to contrast April… But sometimes I just toss characters in because I need them to forward the plot.)

McKee’s suggestion was to create secondary characters which bring out different combinations of the positive and negative sides of your protagonist’s core values. In other words, secondary character A might bring out your protag’s vulnerable and kind side. B might bring out your protag’s brave but cruel side. And C might bring out her self-assured but fearful side. (Okay, that one might not make sense, but you get the idea.)

Let’s face it, we don’t behave the same way around everyone we know and neither should our characters. Some people know how to push our buttons and bring out our negatives sides. So, why not purposefully use your secondary characters to help you show the readers these traits in your protagonist. Smart.

I found this really exciting because in my current WIP I’ve been having a problem with the protag’s siblings. I keep changing my mind about how many sisters she has (one or two), what they’re like and how they’ve affected the protag’s life. (I know my protag’s life has always been overshadowed by her sister(s?) but how is the question I keep waffling on.) Also, I’ve changed my mind 3 times about what kind of subplot I should give the sibling(s?) to best enhance my main plot.

Haven’t figure it out yet, but I’m really feeling hopeful that McKee’s ideas will help. And soon. The GH deadline approaches. Ack!

Oh, and I saw the Bond film tonight. Great fun, yet not silly like some of the Bond films and what a sexy, sexy man.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Robert McKee comes to Toronto...

....and manages to insult Canadians, the French, the physically challenged, M. Night Shamalyn, homosexuals, modern playwrites, women, feminists, most of his audience, the Germans BUT oddly enough not romance writers.

We're, as he remembers from speaking at an RWA conference years ago are tough broads. I think I'm complimented.

Drunk Writers just spent the last three days 12 hours a day listening to the storytelling guru Robert McKee. And I'm still at loose ends. The guy is a dinosaur, he's rude, crude, burps constantly into his mic but...he is GOOD. My craft and process will be different after this weekend.

He created a way for me to help myself through the worst part of my process - writing the beginning of the book. Two concepts - that the inciting incident of your novel creates in the mind of a reader the scene that reader needs to read to be satisfied by the book - however, my job as writer is to give the reader that scene in a way they could not possibly expect. For instance in the book I have coming out in July 2007 (now titled UNDERCOVER PROTECTOR) when she decides to go undercover in the heroes house - the reader expects to see that scene when the hero finds out - I just have to give it to them when and how they don't expect.

The other concept that your protagonist as a three dimensional character has to show the contradictory sides of three different traits. If your hero is courageous at some point they have to be cowardly, if they are kind at some point they have to be cruel and if they are indifferent at some point you have to show them engaged. As a romance writer I admit -- I settle at two. I need three.

I understand as I type this that these are really simple concepts but thinking about them up front - man that changes the nightmare of the first three chapters for me.

But McKee himself is actually pretty unlikeable. He believes he invented the concept of "the inciting incident" and clearly has not read The Hero's Journey. He attempted to save European film, but sadly, not even he could accomplish such a feat. He contradicts himself 30 times a day. The stringent parameters he uses to determine a film as good can be applied to films he has decided are bad for no other reason but that he doesn't like them. IE -- The Others -- good movie. The 6th Sense -- mind fuck.

But his parameters are wide - he is deeply in love with film of all types. Borat for crying out loud! Those parameters are just inconsistent. I think like most people how have created a system and applied it to an art he sees in black and white and taste constantly falls into the mix.

What I am really amazed by is how RWA has gifted me (and most of us) with huge possibilities to learn and study craft. I think many people in that room were learning theories we know well - show don't tell, dramatize exposition, etc - for the first time.
All in all a great weekend. Is the guy a hero? Not really. He's good - but he needs an editor.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Welcome back Kim Howe

We invited Kim back, not only because she's a really talented writer, but also, because there's been some controversy about one of the judge's comments about her heroine on the Romantic Times American Title contest.

A lot's already been said about the comment - And I'm paraphrasing here - about not liking a heroine who would choose military service, and I know I feel that comment was sort of ridiculous, but a lot of readers bring with them predjiduces regarding what the heroine and hero should be. I'm not condoning it, but I think it's far more prevalent that we would like.

We asked Kim about it, as well as some other questions we were curious about.

What sort of books have inspired you, what authors, and why?

When I first started writing, I protected my characters with the ferocity of a lion guarding her cubs. It didn’t work. The tension fizzled, the stakes were laughable. I studied other novels, looking for answers. The books I couldn’t put down had characters who faced incredible challenges, failed, tried again, and finally triumphed. Rage of Angels by Sidney Sheldon, Savages by Shirley Conran, and The Brotherhood of the Rose by David Morrell are all excellent examples of brilliant character torture, and they were all bestsellers. I learned a valuable lesson not to overprotect my protagonists. To truly change, characters need to face and conquer their deepest fears.

Why do you write romantic suspense?

Romantic suspense is my favourite genre because I’m able to write two novels in one. Sometimes it’s tricky layering the story, but the challenge makes it interesting. Each scene must further the romance or the plot, but I love it when a scene does both! The suspense keeps the pacing strong and the romance gives the novel emotional depth. Romantic suspense also satisfies the both aspects of my personality—the thrill-seeker and the romantic!

Can you expand on why you chose Kenya as your heroine? You definitely avoided the cliché of the scared woman in peril.

More like “scarred” woman in peril. J Kenya is more than capable defending herself in battle, but when it comes to her heart, she is incredibly vulnerable. I was inspired to write about a female sniper after learning about the 2,000 female snipers who participated in the battle of Stalingrad. They were more successful than their male counterparts because of their patience and skill. Unfortunately, only 500 women survived to share their experiences. Kenya’s grandmother Tatiana became one of them and that’s where the story started.

All we're trying to do is create differentiated fiction, and a sniper heroine is a great hook. A lot of readers would pick up the book based on that alone, but some would put it down. Not sure where I'm going with this, except we won't please everybody, but we can try and really please a select few.

A sniper heroine is definitely a little off the beaten path for a romance novel. I hope readers will give the unique premise a chance. When I read novels, the heroine’s occupation is always an interesting addition, but what really matters to me is character. If the protagonist is someone I care about, her job will not get in the way. If readers allow Kenya into their living rooms, maybe she’ll ensnare their hearts. Besides, a sniper is always a good friend to have and Kenya works freelance now.

You’re represented by the Evan Marshall Agency. What drew your agent to this book?

Evan told me he liked two things about my work: my voice and the fact that ONE SHOT, TWO KILLS was different than anything he had read—not all romantic heroines prefer Glock over Prada. J
At this point the controversy regarding the comments made about your entry are ALL over the internet—do you think that's going to help you with voters?

It’s not about the votes. Rather, it is the principle I feel strongly about. Women form an essential part of every democracy and we have a right and responsibility to participate in all aspects of the countries we love so deeply. Women have fought and died for their beliefs for centuries, and there is no reason to exclude strong, capable women from serving their nation. Romance readers are educated, wilful, and independent women who are making their own way in the world. The idea that women don’t belong in combat hurts the image of our genre, and tells us we should stay in a limited role in our life. As a modern woman, I take offence to anyone telling me to be a good girl and let the men do the fighting, especially in fiction! If we cannot explore cutting edge or new ideas in women’s fiction, we will stagnate as a genre. I am most surprised and pleased by the number of women and men who have rallied to support me on this issue.

Thanks for re-joining DWT, Kim. We're thrilled you're coming back.

Kenya and I both appreciate your invitation. Nothing better than joining the Drunk Writers after a hard day sniper-crawling through the publishing jungle!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Holly Jacobs Drops by for a drink

Today, we're happy to be sitting down for a some writer talk with Holly Jacobs who, with Sherryl Woods and and Darlene Gardner, is part of the Harlequin Christmas Anthology, DASHING THROUGH THE MALL. (Great title.)

Thanks for stopping by, Holly!

I want to thank you all for letting me visit!! I brought along a gift that, given the name of the blog, I hope delights... (Holly plops down a pitcher of her strong margaritas and some homemade salsa and chips!) Dig in everyone...and thanks again for letting me guest blog.

Anyone who comes bearing margaritas is welcome! Tell us how this Anthology came about.

Harlequin came to us with an idea...a Christmas book that takes place at a mall on Christmas Eve. Thus Dashing Through the Mall was born. The three of us (Sherryl Woods, Darlene Gardner and myself) spent a couple weeks brainstorming three stories that were set in the same mall, but pretty independent of each other. Mine, Deck the Halls, involves Dr. Ed Hall and his three sons who won a Christmas Eve shopping spree, and Joy O’Connell who finds herself stuck shopping with them. Either Santa has a wicked sense of humor, or he came early to Joy and Ed.

Can't wait to read it. What is your favorite thing about writing? Your least favorite?

I love finding a story. Love watching it unfold, and being surprised by it. That surprise part is my favorite. When I come up with a character, I think I know them. But frequently they surprise me. Now, if I weren’t a writer, having people come to life in my head and do their own thing might result in a prescription for some serious medication. But because I am a writer, I get to embrace this little foible, and run with it. Right now I’m working on a fun short contemporary, Everything But a Groom. When I initially wrote the hero’s stepmom in the synopsis, I thought she was going to be an unpleasant character. As I wrote her scene, I realized she really did have a good heart, but just wasn’t adept at showing it. Surprise! She’s all bristles on the outside and totally gooey on the inside. Love those moments.

What don’t I like? I’m not a huge fan of the editing at the end. I have this weird reading quirk. Most of the time, when reading or writing, I don’t see the words on the page...I see the story unfolding in my head. Now, this is a joy while reading. It’s like a movie playing in my heads, and the characters always look just as I imagined them, which doesn’t always happen in a real movie! But this quirk makes editing hard. I have to constantly remind myself to look at the words, not the story. I’ve gotten better at it.

What is your typical writing day?

Back when my kids were young, I had a vampire-like schedule that involved writing after they went to bed. But now that they’re all older and in school I get to embrace the light! LOL Seriously, I get everyone out the door, then curl up on the couch with my laptop, the dog curled next to me, and write. I stop for lunch, and occasionally get called away by family stuff, but most days I write from about 8:30 to 2. I set a five page minimum, but never mind if the story is flowing and I get more done! In between all that, I balance four kids and a husband...and a slightly neurotic dog, Ethel Merrman!

Are you a pantser? Plotter? Do characters come first or conflict?

I was a pantser. My first handful of books were sold as completes, and I had no real need to write a synopsis, no need to figure out where the story was going in advance. Learning to do that was so difficult, but as I sold books and was able to sell a proposal, it was necessary to learn. The trick for me has always been presenting enough of a plot to satisfy an editor, while leaving enough of a mystery to leave the pantser in me a few surprises!
Oh, and for me, it’s all about the characters. Figuring them out, learning about them...that’s the fun of it.

Thanks for the margaritas. How do you recommend making them?

Frozen and strong. I didn’t think they were all that strong until a friend had a first sip of one of mine, then promptly turned an interesting shade of red and choked. She informed me that indeed, I do like them strong! LOL

They're great. Hic! About Christmas... Are you more scrooge or santa?

Well, I hate Christmas decorations and music before Thanksgiving (and don’t get me started on either before Halloween is even finished!) and I’m no fan of shopping chaos (which is how the idea for Deck the Halls shopping’s done way before that!), but I am at heart a santa. I love the season. Love baking. The last few years, we’ve been scaling back on the Christmas presents, and trying to put more emphasis on family time. For instance, we started a brand new tradition...jigsaw puzzles. We start a new one on Christmas Eve and spend the next day all working together to try and finish it. I try to find very hard ones. And we’ve been adding a new game to our cupboard, and try to spend time playing them. And of course, there’s the family watching of Rudolph!

It was great chatting with you, Holly. Thanks for stopping by.

You're welcome. And you’re all invited over to my place ( I’ve got a nifty little contest going on for the holidays!

Thanks again Holly. We hope to have another surprise guest blogger later in the week.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

CAGE MATCH: Prison Break vs. Friday Night Lights

Tonight I am admitting my love of Friday Night Lights. Yep. The Texas High School football show based on the non-fiction book of the same name which was made into a movie of the same name and now, thanks to Peter Berg I have something else to watch on Tuesday nights.

Now, admittedly, I am from a small town where on Friday nights the whole town rolled out to watch the high school football game...and my dad was a coach...and my brother a player. I am so so white bread.

Anyway -- all that aside -- this is a great show in the same way Prison Break WAS a great show and why both shows are helping my writing in a BIG BIG way. Here is what I've been spending way too much time thinking about...

The weight of both shows rest on two incredibly LIKEABLE MAIN CHARACTERS. Scofield and The Coach. It helps that Scofield is hot - though that whole Clint Eastwood tone of voice he uses, endlessly infuriates me and the Coach is always sweaty and sloppy looking (like a real coach). Both of them are fighting battles in which there is no gray area between winning and losing. Scofield if he fails will go back to jail or be killed and so far in Friday Night Lights if Coach loses I really think he might be killed or sent to jail too. Because of this stringent black and white both men are being morally tested and are PROVING THEY ARE WILLING TO BEND RULES and are NOT ALWAYS HEROIC. Scofield manipulated pretty nurse Sarah and Coach illegally influenced a high school athlete displaced by Katrina to come to his school to play. This shit comes back to haunt them all the time. As it should. Heroes can't always be heroes but they should feel bad about it. These kind of heroes are like romance gold mines.

Anyway, both men put forth Herculean efforts to get even the smallest amount of success which in GREAT story telling fashion, is only rewarded by increased stakes and MORE TROUBLE/BAD STUFF.

My editor constantly reminds me of the power of the +/- factor to scenes. If a scene begins with a positive event, or the character feels good something has to happen through the course of the scene - information has to introduced or events change that forces the scene to end on a negative note. Cliffhanger style. Both shows do an amazing job loading their scenes with the +/-.

Now, I totally understand this - but frankly it can be hard so I maybe get this 70% of the time. But, also I think doing that a hundred percent of the time gets predictable and you loose a chance to build into bigger climaxes. Prison Break is spinning off into completely unbelievable areas in terms of Scofield's boy scout preparedness for every single possibility. And the +/- reversals are coming so fast - that they are completely losing their effectiveness. Last week for instance -- Sarah and Scofield meet up Yeah!! Bad FBI guy finds them - oh no!! They get away - yeah!!! Scofield apologizes says he's glad she's with him - yeah!! He gets out of the shower and she's gone - oh no!!! She's in the car and decides not to leave him Yeah!!! She gets out of the car and there's the second scary FBI guy -- oh no!!!

Come on let us catch our breath -- let something build a little bit more before you chop it off at the knees.

Friday Night Lights has set up really excellent pacing and like the incredibly well written DEXTER - it allows us to feel good while the characters feel good (or as good as Dexter can) because the show, the concept and the momentum built up has it's own cliffhanger. We know what's at stake, we know what COULD happen - so let us enjoy the good stuff while it's happening. I think it gives us a chance to truly root for the characters, to get invested so the pluses are higher and the negatives lower.

I agree that ending a chapter with a character falling asleep is an invitation to the reader to put the book down and get some shut eye themselves but ending a chapter on a high note is not the same thing -- like going into commercial break on a high note can be just as much a cliffhanger as the manipulative stuff Prison Break does before a commercial break.

I think it's about pacing, characters the case of my new favorite show...high school football. I know my fellow drunk writers will not let me live this one down.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Where I go for inspiration –

A really common question writers get asked is, where do you get your ideas. Many authors have developed witty, cute responses to this, but me, I actually sort of know, I can usually pin it down and God help the person who asks me, because they might get an answer that will bore them to sleep.

95% of the time, I get my ideas, from the movies, or my husband, who lately, has been throwing incredible concepts at me left right and center. I am a lucky girl. And he can cook too…

Some movies just make me think of a whole host of different ideas, characters, ways of playing with plot structure. And it’s not necessarily the best movies, or the most well written either, in fact, some Molly has ridiculed me for loving.

The most recent movie is Serenity, which is playing on and off on one of my movie channels. I LOVED this movie, but then again, I loved the TV show, and whenever I see even ten minutes of this, I’m reminded of how shaking up an old concept, giving it a different setting and a great cast of supporting characters can really revitalize a genre. Like the Western, which this movie is, just one set in space.

Or the Long Kiss Goodnight, not a great movie, but another movie I whole heartedly loved. The scene where Geena Davis comes out of the water while being tortured and tells the bad guy he’ll die screaming. Pure cheese, but I know I can attribute many of my ideas on both character and plot to that movie. (Whether that’s a good or a bad thing, I’m not sure)

Lots more movies have given me great ideas. Ideas that go in a completely different direction than the movie. Films like Le Femme Nikita, From Hell, Aliens, History of Violence, Whale Rider, these are movies that give me ideas for concepts and guide me in what tension should be. There are tons others of course, more than I could possibly mention here.

What movies have given you fodder for the next book?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Babel and Alternate Structure

I'm a sucker for alternate storytelling structures. If I continue wanting to write popular fiction, this may well prove my downfall... but I do love books and movies that use unconventional devices to tell a story.

Maybe I just like to be challenged a little while I'm reading/watching something? Maybe I need an extra something to keep my attention these days? Not all the time. I also enjoy a simply-but-well-told story. But some of my all time favorite books and movies have had some kind of alternative structure. (And alternate structures--particularly fractured timelines combined with heavy use of flashbacks--seem to have overtaken the TV writing these past couple of years. So far, I'm likin' it. Studio 60 had a reversed timeline last week...)

One of my favorite movie structures is interconnecting stories. (I've been working on a book like this, but it's in very early stages and I'm not sure how well it's working.) While struggling with that book I've been thinking movies have a bit of an advantage for this structure, because it's easier to show the reader which story they're in using visuals--such as the actors themselves, the setting etc. It's harder, in a book, to flip between stories when the reader is still getting all the characters straight. Not impossible... Just harder to suck a reader into a book that flips around a lot and still not bog down the pace with too much description and/or narrative.

But other alternate structures can work in popular fiction... I blogged a while ago about Journal of Mortifying Moments, by Robyn Harding which used a journal as a literary device. And Deidre Knight's Parallel series books use time travel to allow the reader to replay events in the book and/or see events out of order. Other books released as literary fiction but which crossed over to mainstream that used alternate structures by way of multiple or disjointed timelines include Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood and The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. LOVE both of these books.

But I was going to talk about interconnecting story movies. There are plenty like this in the "art house" genre. (Robert Altman is a god. (Nashville, Gosford Park, Short Cuts) Paul Thomas Anderson has done some great ones, (notably Magnolia) and Babel filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu, (21 Grams, Amores Perros, Babel) is a master at this style as well.) Plus, he's cute. (Blogger wouldn't let me upload his photo. Maybe he's too hot?)

In addition to these less commercial films, a few movies using this structure have crossed into the mainstream. LOVE ACTUALLY comes to mind. In fact, I might argue that many episodes of Seinfeld used this structure. That is, seemingly unconnected story lines for each of the main characters end up connecting in an unexpected way. Love that kind of thing.

But back to BABEL.

I don't know if BABEL has opened everywhere yet, but it opened here in Toronto last weekend and I saw it in September at the film festival. I liked it enough that I may go again now it's been released. It is a long and challenging movie and the stories aren't as intricately connected as this filmmaker's earlier films... (like 21 Grams) but I was really impressed none the less. I found it a totally engrossing film.

And what a great theme for our times: Miscommunication.

Miscommunication because of language differences.
Miscommunication because of emotional baggage.
Miscommunication because of deafness (which I guess is just a special case of language differences)
Miscommunication because of cultural bias
Miscommunication because of prejudice.
Miscommunication because of politics.
Miscommunication because of fear.

If you haven't seen it, go. Brad Pitt actually made me cry. Something I really didn't think he, as an actor, could do. And the strange thing about my crying is, the way the story unfolds, it's not like the audience is finding out new information at the point he made me cry. (It was during the scene in this photo.) We'd see one side of this conversation early on in the film, so by the time we see this scene, we know what's going on, and still, as much as I've fallen out of love with Brad Pitt of late, it was hard not to admire how he evoked strong emotions in this scene. For me, anyway. Now I really want to see the film again.

And speaking of celebrity marriages... (Okay, Brad made me think of them.) Britney and K-Fed? Those two crazy kids.... Who saw that divorce coming? Shocker.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

For the LAST's NOT a @#!$*&! FORMULA!!!

I love my job. LOVE IT. I love romance. And right now, I really really love Harlequin. But I'm getting a twitchy feeling these days from reader expectations and the non-believers.

We'll begin with the my grandmother...and lot's of other people in the world who, I agree with Maureen, believe that because romance is read primarily by women, written primarily by women, about issues paramount to women (family, love, children, self-respect, finding one's strength and keeping one's humor in the face of the daily shit that can beat us down, clothes, hair, gossip, chocolate, world peace, education, politics, war, violence and of course -- sex) it must be of less value than other books. Add some crappy covers over the years (DAMN YOU FABIO!!!) and some even crappier books and we romance writers might as well walk around with targets on our backs.

Because the books have a man and a woman and must end with some kind of commitment (A+B=C) the non-believers think it must be easy because after all...A+B=C...the formula it's right there! Well, let me tell you -- it's not easy to get two emotionally damaged, fragile, commit-phobes - believably at HEA in around 300 pages. Beliveable being the key word. That 'formula" is more like a dark, overgrown path in a jungle with lots of possible wrong turns. And poison ivy. And a bad flashlight that keeps shorting out. Oh, and there's a bear. A bear that is actully my critique group and a cliff that is my deadline and a cheerful woman with a gun that is my editor.

So - nope. Not easy. No formula. Bear. Gun. Woods. Bad flashlight.

Add to that scenario -- the incredibly avid romance reading audience. Who open every romance with expectations about what a hero should be and what a heroine can and can't do. Reviews are coming in for my latest book - His Best Friend's Baby and they are strangely lopsided. What I belived would be my problem - my hero and his brooding self-indulgence - is getting eaten up. People love my battered dark, suicidal hero. They HATE my misguided, earnest, heart of gold heroine who is ready to do anything for a little love and approval. We talk about rules and loving the books and tv shows that break those rules - but man, don't mess with the romance readers heroine. That's been my lesson this week.

On a far more fun note -- I spend WAY too much time thinking about Laura Kinsale's novels. If you haven't read these brilliant brilliant romances -- you need to. I love the Shadow and the Star and all this Daniel Craig talk (and the poster I saw today outside the movie theater - we saw The Queen) has made me decide that he would be a perfect Samuel. Him or Christian Bale.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Dexter and Characters who break all the rules …. And why I love Daniel Craig

Molly got me started on my new love, Dexter. Great recommendation, Molly. I love, love this show, and especially him.
Well, he is the show really. That they had the balls to create a show around a serial killer, without any real emotions, or much a conscience is amazing. They’ve pulled it off, and I’ve been thinking about how, lately.

First off, they gave him moral guidelines. They’re not his, but his father’s but the character, in a way, that is really true to character, has made them his own. So he’s a serial killer who doesn’t really kill good people, but he really enjoys killing bad people.

Secondly, they’ve surrounded him with vulnerable supporting characters, who are great foils to his character. The sister especially. He loves her as much as he’s capable (which isn’t a lot) but he gives her leads on cases because he has no ego unrelated to killing, and therefore no need for glory in his job. These are small touches, but go a long way towards humanizing his character.

They’ve made him really good at his job, which is, not surprisingly, blood related.

They even gave him a girlfriend and a nice way with her children, which we know is an act, but still manages to make him more sympathetic.

Then there’s the subplot with the serial killer. Spoiler Alert: His admiration for the other serial killer, their little game, and his absolute lack of empathy for the victims of the other serial killer, nicely shown in a scene with his sister, who has nothing but empathy for the victims. It’s brilliant. I love this subplot.

So the writers and actor, took what should be a standard villain, and made him fascinating, and funny and completely watchable.

This is a perfect instance where the rules would say this character would be the nemesis of the hero. Screw the rules.

It’s also why I’ve loved great TV shows more than the movies I’ve seen this year. I find the writing sharper and the characters better defined and more interesting. Shows like Firefly, Buffy, Dexter, 24, have all gripped me more than all the movies I’ve seen on the big screen this year. (There are a few others that should be on the list, but we’re still playing catch up. Right now, I have DVD seasons of Battlestar Galactica, Six Feet Under and Band of Brothers still to watch)

Why I love Daniel Craig. Well, I’ve seen him in a few movies, but a movie called Layercake, (Molly has already blogged on this) will explain why he’s going to be a great Bond. He has this undercurrent of dark, something in his screen presence says he’s capable of being bad if required, and I believe the character of Bond desperately needs it. Or else we’re back to the Roger Moore days… shudder.

Plus, like some other actors, Clive Owen jumps to mind, Edward Norton has the same thing, minus the British accent, they come across like men, not boys playing at being men. No offense to Jude Law, or Tom Cruise.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Rule Breaking and Little Children

Okay, that title sounds like I'm going to do a post offering parenting advice. Ha!

Actually, I saw the film Little Children last night (instead of handing out candy to real little children) and was blown away. In spite of feeling absorbed in the story/characters, I knew I had to blog today and so the movie made me think of something writer related -- rules and rule breaking.

In the romance world new writers are faced with a lot of "rules" some of which I started to think had been made up by the writers themselves. Amazing what rumors can do. But in all genres of writing there are lots of rules of good writing we learn. Don't dump backstory. Stay in one character's POV at a time. Don't include too many POV's. Don't include too much exposition. Don't do prologues. Don't do flashbacks. Start with action. Each scene should move the plot forward. etc. etc. etc.

At the Surrey Writers Conference last week I went to a workshop by agent Donald Maass on breaking the rules and getting away with it. He read some examples of good writing from published books (one example was from a new Anne Perry manuscript to be published next spring) and each of them broke some golden rule, yet worked. One of my favourite things about this presentation was that two of the examples he used were from romance novels. You should have heard the collective gasp in the room when he casually dropped in that one of them was a Harlequin. Everyone had been praising the prologue, saying how tight and tense and ominous it was... Then "gasp" It's one of those novels. Gotta love Donald Maass. But I digress...

I was thinking of rule-breaking during Little Children tonight. It did some things that not only broke "writers" rules but also broke "film making" rules -- at least as I know them. Big sections of the film were narrated with the narrator telling us very omnisciently what each of the main characters was thinking. Robert McKee would not approve. But it really worked. At one point, I noticed there was no more narration and I thought, "Oh, he only did that at the beginning to set up the characters. Now we know them, we don't need it anymore." But later I realized the narrator was back and then gone and then back.

I'm making the narration sound distracting... but my point is that it wasn't distracting at all. If I hadn't been trying to keep track, I don't think I would have noticed and even trying to keep track I blew it, not noticing until well after each switch, because I was so caught up in the characters.

Todd Field, the filmmaker, who I don't remember as being a very memorable actor when he was an actor, is certainly a talented filmmaker. His previous films include In the Bedroom which also blew me away. Such a talent for exploring the darker side of human nature that resides even inside the most normal/sympathetic people. Master of quiet tension, too. Very good.

Highly recommend this movie. Two beer mugs up.
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