Monday, February 25, 2013

An Impromptu Rehearsal

Saturday night I returned to the theater for a special event. A dear friend, who also happens to be my favorite director, finished her degree and a commencement ceremony along with a reception was being held at ACT. I should clarify that the only person at this commencement ceremony that had actually graduated was my friend. The valedictorian's speech was script that was lovingly written by the organizers and the rest of the "graduating class" were the casts of You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Out of all the commencements I've been to, not only was this the first that didn't threaten to put me to sleep, it was by far the funniest.

It was wonderful being able to see my theater family again, many of whom I hadn't seen in several months. There were even a few people there that I hadn't seen since I retired. Of course, since it had been so long, the questions I heard the most were "what are you up to?" and "how is the writing going?" I've written in a past post about how I don't mind answering these questions. However, I've never been subjected to it with as much frequency as that night. It actually started to get on my nerves. I had to remind myself that being asked about my writing was a good thing. If they weren't genuinely interested, they wouldn't ask.

It didn't occur to me until near the end of the evening that this was exactly what I'd like to happen at WorldCon. So in some ways this was an unexpected practice run. (Leave it to actors to turn an event to an impromptu rehearsal without knowing it.) Once I had this mini-revelation, the whole night turned around. The questions ceased to be annoying and I didn't need to draw on my acting skills to make the thirtieth answer as energetic as the first. Yet again, changing how I view the situation has provided me with exactly what I needed.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Witches, candy, and ass-kicking...oh my!

This weekend I took some much needed time off to go see Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters with a friend.

Overall, the movie was good. It's an action packed flick which was exactly what I needed to blow off some stress. That being said, there were a few things that made me scratch my head and wonder what the writer was smoking?

(Spoiler Alert)

It was like they were trying to set the story in the same universe as Van Helsing and with the same modern attitude of A Knight's Tale but they didn't know how to combine the two. (I plan to use this film as proof that directors shouldn't write unless their first name starts with a J.) The steampunkish weapons were very cool but since we didn't get any explanation about where/how they were acquired, how strange and wondrous they were, or introduced to their eccentric and reclusive creator, they had a tendency to be an anomaly rather than an asset.

For example, the hand-crank tazer was a great tool, especially at the end when Gretel used it as a defibrillator. However, when the woodsman used it on the horned witch I wasn't sure if that was a sign that such technology was common or if they (Hansel and Gretel) instructed him on its use. Either way, I have to flag it as bad writing. There's a reason why in every classic Bond movie there is a scene where James visits Q. It's not just so Bond can get new toys, it's to show us what each discreet gadget does and to flag it as something important to the plot. Somehow that innocuous wristwatch that can summon a flock of rabid seagulls at the press of a button is going to save his life.

Another thing that bothered me about the tech was that the second they used it in a clever way, I had to unplug my brain before it was filled with a long list of reasons why that shouldn't work. The afore mentioned incident with the tazer turned defibrillator is a key example. A gadget like that isn't capable of producing a strong enough charge to restart a heart.

I will give the writer/director credit for a couple things. He did a good job of putting a new twist a classic Grimm's Fairy Tale and on witch lore. The explanations for the physical differences between white and black witches, while simple, was very effective and it fit in well with how both are portrayed in fairy tales. I also liked how Hansel and Gretel's journey came full circle in the end. That was a nice touch.

When all is said and done, despite how much I like the film, I have to say that Hollywood has provided us with another shining example of how not to tell a story. Exciting action sequences and a spectacular music score can't hide bad writing.

Monday, February 11, 2013


Yesterday when I arrived at church I learned that the choir was scheduled to perform during the service. This took me by surprise. You see, I am a member of the choir and as such was expected to get on the stand and join them. However, this time I couldn't. Because of illness and family obligations I've missed the last three rehearsals and it didn't feel right to stand with those who had been there. Sure, I could've winged it -- it wasn't a difficult song and I'm a quick study. Heck, one of the ladies even offered to give me a crash course on the hymn, but I still declined.

Why? It's simple. I hadn't practiced.

Was it was perfectionism, laziness, fear, the caprices of an artist? Call it what you will but I choose to think of it as professionalism. If I joined the rest of the choir, I wouldn't be at my best. I've been singing long enough that not only do I know what my skill level is, I know what kind of work I need to do to maintain that skill. I've also become accustomed to giving quality performances. It's to the point where anything less just won't do. Ego has nothing to do with it. It's simply because I have a reputation to maintain. Most of my friends (and in this instance, the congregation) know that I have a lovely voice and that while I'm not a professional vocalist, I've sung at a professional level for many years. Whether they consciously realize this or not, all of them expect me to perform as such. I certainly expect it of myself.

It's an expectation that I'm trying to transfer to my writing. Granted, since I'm in the early stages of my career it's far more difficult because I'm still learning what I'm capable of and what areas of the craft I need to devote more study to. Plus, since my work isn't published yet, not very many people have had an opportunity to develop or even attain a similar expectation. I am working hard on changing the latter -- both by submitting my work to publishers and by regularly updating this blog -- but the progress is slow. In some ways it's good that I've reached that level of notoriety in another art form because I can use those experiences to keep me motivated. I can look back on my early efforts as a vocalist and know that all of the hard work I'm putting into my writing and establishing this as my chosen career will pay off. To put it simply, I've done it once and I can do it again.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Bourne again

A few weeks ago I decided to watch a movie while I folded laundry (there was a lot to fold). Since Spider Web desperately wants to be a thriller I decided to watch The Bourne Identity. I’ve seen it before so I wasn’t concerned about missing anything as put everything away. However, as I watched, I became far more concerned about something else – my pacing.

From the start, poor Jason Bourne can’t get a break. The second he catches his breath, something happens to send his life flying sideways again. Sometimes it was as simple as an argument or a mysterious piece of information, but usually it was someone trying to kill him. It made me realize that if my book was far to calm in the beginning chapters.

Sure, I had a Bourne-sized mystery to solve, but there wasn’t enough tension. Instead of just mentioning the nefarious forces that she’ll have to contend with, I needed to show them coming after her from the very start. After all, when one has a clever and techno-savvy foe, they need to be one step ahead of the hero/heroine. Otherwise the hero/heroine won’t be forced to perform nail-biting stunts or compromise their principles in order to survive yet another crisis. Of course, I didn’t need to rev things up to an Honor Harrington level – that would be ridiculous – but I did need to put my heroine in peril a lot sooner than I had originally planned.

The next night I used half of my writing time (hard won writing time, I might add) to restructure the first six chapters. I didn’t delete anything; I just split up a few chapters so I could take advantage of a few missed opportunities. By the time I had finished, a pair of transients had become mob thugs, a bit recon ended with an argument between allies, and a trip to the pub turned into a game of cat and mouse. For all of these I only needed to make a few small changes, but they succeed in keeping my protagonist on their toes.

As a bit of a bonus, it also added some much needed length to the first half of the story. Luckily this didn’t throw my outline out of whack because I knew that something like this was going to happen. It doesn’t matter how carefully I outline or how thoroughly I think things through. After I get into a story I always think of some cool new twist or free write a scene that makes the story ten times better and about fifty pages longer. That’s why I always under-outline. If I’m writing a 100 K novel, I’ll outline about 80K of it.

Another bonus of this is that I’m looking at later scenes with new eyes because I’ve learned that it isn’t enough to have my protagonist doing cool things in cool locations, I have to make sure that the crap hits the fan in those locations too. So for once I’m actually not grumbling about my story wanting to be something else because it was right.