Thursday, May 31, 2012

Damn the plot! Full speed ahead!

Last Saturday, with Memorial Day looming, I was feeling a bit patriotic. So when a good friend asked if I wanted to see Battleship, I said yes.

I know, I know. Watching a movie based on a board game isn't exactly the most appropriate gesture considering the many sacrifices of our service men and women. Believe me, if I had enough gas money, I would have gone to Willamette National Cemetery (it's a two hour drive, round trip) and placed flowers on my Grandparents' grave.

Anyway, I was curious about the film. How do you take a classic board game and turn it into a movie? It could be fantastic. Hollywood did that to Clue and (in my slightly biased opinion) it's one of the best movies of all time! But on the other hand, it could suck like a Hoover. So to play it safe I kept my expectations low. If all else failed, the explosions would keep it from being a total waste of time.

It turned out I was right on both counts.

The explosions were everything I wanted them to be. They were big, loud, and plentiful. It was glorious!

The plot....well, lets just say that I'm still trying to find it. I'm convinced that the writers are either schizophrenic, really really indecisive, or under a lot of pressure from the studio to write a blockbuster. I highly suspect it was the latter.

This movie suffered from an identity crisis. It was a mish mash of scenes borrowed from other popular movies. It was as if they were trying to make a screwball comedy, then a Top Gun-esque military flick, and after that it was Predator, Independence Day, Contact, Saving Private Ryan, and oh yeah, we have to put the board game in there somewhere, and while we're at it we should put a real vet in the movie since Act of Valor made that a thing...

The writers were so busy trying to create a blockbuster that would impress everybody, that they forgot what their real job was: To write a good story.

Notice I said a good story, as in a single good story. You can't create a good story out of seven good stories.

Think of it as a jigsaw puzzle.  If you took the pieces of seven different puzzles, mixed them all together, and picked out a random 100 pieces, there is absolutely no way you could put them together into a cohesive whole. It's impossible. You can't focus on one idea long enough to fully develop it. Plus, while you're jumping around from idea to idea, some vital details are left behind. Did you notice that they never explained why the aliens were here and what they were after? They explained how they found Earth and why they needed the satellites to phone home, but their true reason for coming was never adequately dealt with. I'm not even going to start talking about the many inaccuracies (both military and scientific) that a little research would have taken care of. That's a blog for another week.

So, you remember the plot problem I mentioned in my last blog? The one I was having with my short story? I was having the same problem as the writers of Battleship. My story had too many cool ideas. So many, that the real story was getting lost. I was also letting the pressure of impressing the editor(s) get to me. Thankfully, I discovered the fault in time to correct it. I had to scrap half of what I wrote, but it'll be worth it in the end because now I have the proper focus.

I can do my job. I can write a good story.

It's too bad it's too late for the writers of Battleship to do the same.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Character Camping

Last night I asked my (local) writing group for help with a story I'm working on. While we were discussing solutions, one of the members asked a random question.

"What is your character's hobby?"

I admit I was caught off guard and the only answer I could give was "I don't know." The group gave me some flack for not knowing my character inside and out. I also admit that I didn't listen to a word they said  concerning how important it was to know the answers to the pop quiz. I wasn't being rude, I just don't create characters that way.

I've observed that there are two camps when it comes to character creation. Camp 1 is where my writing group resides. Camp 1 believes that in order to know your character well enough to bring them to life on the page, you need to know every minuscule detail of their life: who was their first crush, what kind of soda do they drink, what does their Aunt's former roomate's cousin do on a rainy Friday night in June, etc.

Camp 2 is where I live. Camp 2 is much more prudent. If the character's first crush has no bearing on the story, then we don't care. If the character drinks a soda, we'll make something up on the fly, and when it comes to Auntie's former roomate's cousin...I would rather get my 2 year old niece hopped up on sugar, keep her up past her nap time, and chase her around the mall.

My character's hobby, if they were to have one, was never going to appear in this story. Why go to all the effort of giving them one if we're never going to see it? If I don't need to know it, I'm not going to spend time on it.

So, if these two camps were to be pitted against each other in a no holds barred death match, who would win?

Honestly? Neither.

There really isn't a right or a wrong way to do this. There is only your way.

My writing time is limited. On average, I only have two hours a day so I need to make the most of the time I have. I can't afford to spend half an hour figuring out if my character loves a good D20 or if they stick to crossword puzzles. What I will spend half an hour on is going over my outline. I'll do my best to memorize it so when I start writing, I know what kind of person my character needs to be and what they need to learn or gain in order to survive the journey ahead. Sometimes I'm lucky and the characters waltz into my brain, fully formed and ready to go. But when they're not, I let the story take the lead so I can get to the good part -- writing.

I'm not upset that my writing group tried to convert me to their camp. It's their method and they love it. Huzzah. But it's not my method, it doesn't fit my needs, and the fact that I can unequivocally say no to camp 1 makes me very happy.

Friday, May 18, 2012

To the stars and back

Last week I promised you I would talk about the Superstars Writing Seminar and since I'm a woman of my word, I'm doing just that.


The seminar was freaking awesome!!!

What's that? You want details? I'm sorry, I can't do that. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.  :)

Oh, alright. I'll give you more, but only because I'm a softie (and because it was freaking awesome).

If you're not already aware of what the seminar is, it's a nuts and bolts discussion of publishing presented by Kevin J. Anderson, Rebecca Moesta, Eric Flint, Dave Farland/Wolverton, Brandon Sanderson, and a few guest speakers. This year the guest speakers were James A. Owen (the A stands for awesome), Dean Wesley Smith, and Kristine Kathryn Rusch (who unfortunately had to cancel at the last minute).

I want to make sure that you noticed that this seminar is chiefly about publishing and not writing. We did briefly touch on the subject of writing but the primary focus of this seminar is publishing, which is why this seminar is so essential. The industry is changing so fast and if you don't know how to navigate the changing labyrinth, you're going to become someone's lunch.

Don't become someone's lunch.

If you're writing for your own enjoyment, then this seminar isn't for you. But if you're like me and want to make money doing what you love, then you need to pay attention to what these seasoned professionals have to say -- and believe me, they have a lot to say. I have 18 pages of notes.

If you're allergic to people and learning about publishing is more than enough awesome for you, then follow the link ( and buy the discs. If you want the full freaking awesome experience then you need to pull out the credit card and attend in person because the best parts of the seminar happen between the lectures. That's when you network.

This is one of the best and easiest places to network. There's a private Facebook group so we could get acquainted before we arrived (and stay in contact after we left) so many of us didn't need to break the ice. As for the attendees we didn't know, we learned really fast that asking "what do you write?" was the perfect ice breaker. During the seminar there were many short breaks, in addition to meal times and BarCon which gave us ample opportunity to break said ice and converse.

I don't want you to think that it was just the attendees getting geeky together. The pros were there too.  And honestly, if you go and don't ask at least one of the speakers to join you for a meal, you're missing out. Some of the best discussions with the pros happened after hours.

If you've been debating about going to a seminar, I highly recommend this one. Yes, it's expensive, but it's tax deductible and worth every penny. The friends, contacts, and opportunities I gained from this experience made it more than worth the expense.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Can you rewind that?

Sorry about the long gap between blogs. I spent the first half of last week in Las Vegas attending the Superstars Writing Seminar and the last half working both day jobs. (As a side note, I don't recommend going back to work the day you fly back.) The seminar was beyond amazing and I'll write about it over the next few weeks. However, right now I want to talk about the Avengers.

Please withhold all groans. This isn't another pointless review. We all know how awesome the movie is (and if you don't because you haven't seen it yet, what's wrong with you?) and that Joss Whedon is a genius. Besides, this is a writing blog, not a movie review blog. So, why bring it up? Because it's very well written. Now, I'm not saying that it's a masterpiece of cinema, but it is well constructed. In fact, I want to go back and see it several times so I can pick it apart and study it.

Two years ago I went to Dave Farland's Writer's Death Camp. As part of the course, we watched two movies (Avatar and J.J. Abrams' Star Trek) and looked for the various emotional beats and storytelling devices we'd been studying. Dave did warn us that once we learned how to do this, we wouldn't be able to simply watch a movie anymore. We would always be in dissect mode. He was right about that, but it hasn't ruined movies for me. In my opinion it enhances the viewing experience. Now, a good film can entertain both halves of my brain.

You see, last night, my right-brain fan girl was very happy. I was squeeing throughout the film. It was Avengers, it was action packed, it was Joss (squee! I love you Joss!), it had schwarma. What's not to love?

Well, there were a few inconsistencies, which my left-brain was more than happy to point out. But overall, my analytical left-brain loved it too. Why? Because the beats and devices were exactly where they needed to be in order to keep the viewer engaged. The big fight scene on the hover-ship stands out in particular. The way they jumped from character to character while moving the story forward was brilliant. We care about each of the Avengers in some way and exploiting that affection is, in my opinion, the ultimate device.

(spoiler alert)

Each Avenger is placed in individual danger as well as the larger group danger that the ship is facing, which is on top of the overlying threat of Loki destroying the world. At the beginning of the movie, the Earth is placed in danger by Loki's bid for world domination. This is also when Hawkeye is placed in personal danger when he's mind hacked by Loki. In the big hover-ship fight scene, each danger/threat is dealt with one by one. It's just done in such rapid succession that you don't notice unless you know what to look for.

The inciting incident for the fight is when Hawkeye shows up with his goons, shuts down engine 3, and attacks the bridge. While Cap and Tony are dealing with the engine repair (group danger), Natasha is running from the Hulk (personal danger). Of course, the Hulk's smashing is an additional threat to the ship which is why Thor stepped in (and he needed to save the damsel in distress). (I'd say that this places Thor in personal danger but it's hard to argue that when he's a god.) The Cap and Tony are each placed in personal danger when Hawkeye's goons attack and the engine rotors reach top speed. Since the group threat is mostly dealt with, they can deal with the personal danger quickly and get back to saving the ship. Meanwhile, back on the bridge, the goons have been dealt with but not before Hawkeye shuts down the computers and another engine (group danger). Cap finishes the goons and saves Tony just in time, which also saves the ship, just in time.

Ok, let's pause for a tally.

Personal danger: Cap (X)  Tony (X)  Natasha (X) Thor (in progress)  Hawkeye ()

Group danger: Engine 3 (X)  Hulk (in progress)  Bridge (X)

Earth danger: ???

Alright, back to the frey. Natasha puts on her big girl panties (no, that wasn't a deleted scene. I was speaking figuratively) and takes out Hawkeye, which of course solves his personal danger by literally knocking Loki out of his head. The final ship danger, the Hulk, is dealt with by a nameless, but not forgettable anonymous airman. The hulk's removal and descent could be argued as personal danger, but like Thor, his indestructible nature makes it a hard point to prove.

Now that the Personal and Group dangers have been dealt with they can get back the saving the earth, right? Wrong. Loki breaks out of his cell, tricks Thor (another arguable personal danger) and kills the lovable squire (personal loss for the group). Do you see what he did there? In typical Joss fashion, the plucky heroes are given a reason to put their differences aside, work together and kick Loki in the balls. Plus, it gave the heroes the final piece of the puzzle so they knew exactly where to go to do said ball kicking.

Now, this is just what I've picked up upon first viewing. I know there were some things that I didn't pick up on, so feel free to add to the discussion. Because, lets face it. There can't be too much discussion on the writing brilliance of Joss.