Monday, May 31, 2010

Lessons from Push and The Last Airbender

It's a good day when you're able to take pieces from other works of art to better understand your instincts in your own art. In working on my YA fantasy, I've struggled with how far do I have my heroine go in avenging her father's death. I didn't want to forget that my heroine starts out as an overgrown child in many ways, but learns and grows through her journey. She reacts in fear, makes poor decisions, and has to learn so she can do the right thing. When I originally plotted out the story, I had her kill someone, in self-defense, but still the person died because of something she did. As she reached the climax of the book, I realized she couldn't do it and the climax switched gears toward a less violent ending (but still as full of drama, I hope). I admit, I was a little worried about this, though I knew I was being true to my character, I wasn't sure how it would read.

 I was watching Push with the commentary and was fascinated when the director noted that Cassie never fires a weapon (there's a lot of gun fire in this movie) and that he did it on purpose, because in his view Cassie is still a child and he didn't want her running around shooting people. The first time she has a gun in her hand, she throws it at the villain instead of firing it. The second time we see her with the gun, she's protecting someone else by pulling the gun, but it shakes in her hand emphasizing her discomfort with the weapon.

Avatar: The Last Airbender has a similar thread near the end. For the entire three seasons, Aang is told and prepared to battle the Fire Lord to death. As the Avatar it is his responsibility and destiny to kill the Fire Lord and restore balance to the world. But Aang (a 12 year old boy raised as a monk) battles this destiny in his head. He can't come to terms with the idea that he has to take another person's life to restore balance. I don't want to spoil the ending in case you haven't seen it yet and are watching it, but this thread through the third season touched me because it made so much sense. Everyone expected this 12 year old boy (or maybe he's thirteen by the time he faces the Fire Lord) even his own ancestors (the previous Avatars) to go against his entire life philosophy and do what must be done.

Seeing how these writers worked on these issues helped me to feel much more confident in how my own heroine handled her own violent encounters.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

More Lessons From The Last Airbender

"Why am I so bad at being good?" Zuko - The Western Air Temple
I've been reading my own YA fantasy and thinking a lot about The Last Airbender as I do. What's stuck in my head is the character, Zuko. He's the villain in the first season, a villain that starts toward redemption and switches back to villain in the second season, reluctant villain in the beginning of the third and then completely switches sides in the end to join the heroes. It all goes back to what I talked about in my last blog post. If you're writing about young people, remember they are growing and learning and will take steps back. Zuko is a perfect example of this.

I've been thinking a lot about his back and forth. How he lets his anger get in his own way. How his strong sense of honor often leads him to do the right thing even if he wants to do the "wrong" thing. How he refuses to give up on his "quest" of capturing the Avatar to regain his father's approval even when faced with great obstacles (mental and physical). How he gets tempted so easily to the dark side when the path to do good has fewer obstacles than being bad. How he holds firmly to the "truth" even when it is shown to be a lie. How he fails miserably in his attempts to be a teenager. He is a sixteen year old working toward becoming a man and embodies all of the conflicts that one faces when reaching adulthood. Zuko's transformation into a hero isn't an easy path and he hurts others on his journey. Of course, his path toward redemption includes opportunities for him to make amends so he can fully realize his potential as one of the heroes.

Sometimes we need our characters to say or do things we don't like. Sometimes we have to put them through hell for them to grow and get to where we need them to be. Poor Zuko, those writers literally put him through the wringer over and over again, but which character has captured my imagination, you guessed it, Zuko.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Lessons from The Last Airbender

I don't know about you, but I am very excited for the movie The Last Airbender. It's based on the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender. When James Cameron's Avatar was coming out this is the movie I thought it was going to be - enter the blue people and I realized it was not the same story at all. LOL

On to the lesson I've learned from this animated series. If you haven't seen the show, the Avatar is a person that possesses the abilities of all four nations - air, water, earth, and fire. Other characters may have the ability to manipulate a single element, but not all four. What is interesting about this show is you have a young boy (they show him as being a preteen) who is the next Avatar and has to work to control all four elements before any other Avatar was required to because of a war. A child being thrust into a massive quest isn't new, but what Avatar: TLA does so well is they don't forget that Aang (the Avatar) is still a child and his traveling companions are teenagers, Katara and Sukka. Aang is constantly getting into trouble of his own making whether he's goofing off or has made a bad decision. This makes him much more believable. Katara and Sukka are thrust into the roles of adults due to the war and protecting Aang, and they also make mistakes based on their inexperience in life.

This is a good lesson for anyone who wishes to create characters who are teenagers or children that will be tasked with "great" things in your story. Don't forget that they are teenagers or children. They are going to make mistakes based on immaturity and inexperience. They are going to want to have fun. They are going to be self-centered at times.

This doesn't mean that your characters don't exhibit traits of greatness whether it is in supernatural powers, intelligence, and leadership, but remember that they aren't miniature adults. Part of their journey should be them growing into their abilities and "growing up."

Avatar: The Last Airbender never forgets that it's stars are children of various ages. Through each episode we watch them grow and mature, and stumble and take a step back in their maturity, and then grow some more from their mistakes. I'm curious to see how the live action film will show this arc or will they skip it altogether (having three seasons to grow your characters vs. 2 hours will prove challenging to the film makers).

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A Choice Between Two Classes

I mentioned in a previous post that I was thinking about finishing up my screenwriting certificate from UCLA. I have to take 3 more courses and I'll be done. I saw that my favorite instructor is teaching this summer and had planned on taking her course.

My dilemma: it is a rom-com class and I have absolutely no idea what to write about. It isn't that I don't like rom-coms. Some of my favorite movies are rom-coms and I admire their cleverness. Being a romance writer I generally prefer movies that have some sort of romance (as long as it isn't forced in). But I have no flipping clue of an idea of what to do in this class. I know that Jacque can be very flexible in you coming in to one of her classes with just a basic idea, and outline, a part of a script, or a completely written script. But I don't even have a basic idea waiting to be told. I find comedy challenging.

So, I think, maybe I should try a new instructor and genre, something I haven't done yet, learn something new. I check out the one hour drama class. This is something I haven't done. Would like to learn how to do. The catch, you have to pick two new to newish one hour dramas to pitch ideas for and work on throughout the class. The problem,  I have no clue what is on TV. One of the things I cut out to get more writing time is TV watching. I only catch a few select shows here or there and the ones I have been watching are old shows like NCIS and Criminal Minds. You can't just pull a show out of your hat as you need to at least understand the basics of the characters and arcs to be able to know what you are talking about in pitching a show. So, I'm looking through a current TV show lists to see if there is anything that I haven't been watching that I might like to watch.

That's my dilemma. And then a little voice in my head says, hey, those Kindles look awfully cool, why don't you just get one of those and skip the whole class thing?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Blog Contest to Win a Copy of Horse Schools

I am running a blog contest on my other blog for a chance to win an autographed copy of my book, Horse Schools: The International Guide to Universities, Colleges, Preparatory and Secondary Schools, and Specialty Equine Programs 3rd Edition. Head on over to the Horse Schools Blog to enter.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Lessons from Parenthood

I've watched parts of three different Steve Martin movies this week (two I just caught the last half because of when I turned the TV on). Parenthood is currently in our Instance Queue on Netflix because it is one of my favorite movies. A great ensemble cast in this movie, but it was watching this and the end of two other Steve Martin comedies that got me to thinking about character.

I'm one of those writers that casts actors in the roles of my character so I can visualize what they look like when I'm writing. I'll print up a headshot of a picture that I think suits the character and put it on my bulletin board to help me get back into character if I'm struggling. Often watching the role that made me think they would be good as my character can also help when I'm having a hard time. I know plenty of other writers that pick people they know or random people of the street. Other writers flip through magazines and cut out pictures that interest them: real people, actors, models, other public figures.

I have a hard time visualizing real people as my characters as I get too stuck into what the real person would do. For me, an actor, acts, so whomever I cast in the part then becomes the character in my head. Sometimes I fall on the correct person right away while other times I struggle with casting a different actor over and over (feel like I'm casting a movie at that point). But I need that image in my head or their voice feels false.

Steve Martin is the type of actor that I'd like to cast. He has a certain "type" of character he plays so if I have a character like that he would automatically pop into my head, but he also has the talent that he could play any type of character so if my character starts to veer away from that "type" I'd have no problem keeping the image of Steve Martin in my head.

What about you? How do you come up with or cast the characters so you can visualize them?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Lessons from Madeleine L'Engle

My DD recently read A Wrinkle in Time with her grandfather. She immediately wanted to know if there was a movie and low and behold there is a fairly recently made movie version of A Wrinkle in Time. I unfortunately didn't get to watch the whole movie with her, house chores, ugh. But I did notice a bonus feature which was an interview of Madeleine L'Engle talking about A Wrinkle in Time and writing in general.  If you get a chance I highly recommend that you check out this bonus feature as she discusses writing Wrinkle and trying to get a publisher to sell it.

The two main lessons I learned from this interview are:

1) She wrote with little children underfoot and grabbed five minutes here and there to write whenever she could and that is how she wrote her books. I know this in theory, but rarely do it in practice. I tend to focus on getting large chunks of time to accomplish anything, but I wonder if I grabbed the five minutes here and there as she did if I would get a lot more done than waiting for a large chunk to come.

2) Wrinkle was rejected by publishers over and over, but Madeleine believed in it and kept sending it out until a publisher was "brave" enough to put it out there. It really was a ground breaking book at it's time. Especially since the hero was a girl. A good lesson in believing in your work and following Heinlein's rule of keep sending it out until someone buys it.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Lessons From Push

Just re-watched Push (twice) to see what lessons I can learn from this extremely complicated movie. Another one that people either love or hate. Go figure. As I was thinking about taking lessons from this movie I realized that the last three movies have all had opening narrations. Hmmm. What is that telling me? Should I open all my stories with a narrator? LOL

One lesson from Push is how to do an extremely complicated back story and world building. A reviewer mentioned that this is one of the few movies of this genre released recently that isn't based on a comic book series. So, the makers couldn't assume that people would understand the basics of the world and how everything works. Therefor it all had to be explained. The basics are told via Dakota Fanning's narration during the opening credits. We now know the basics of the psychic warriors and how the Division was created and why our heroes are running from them. The rest is interspersed through the actual plot. Our characters are also knee-deep into their world so they aren't going to be explaining a lot to each other as no one is a newbie. Some minor details are revealed this way as one character knows something a different character doesn't. And yes, it is one of those movies that you need to watch twice to really understand everything that has happened.

I like this. A lot of movie watchers didn't; a strong reason for some of the bad reviews. It is also one of those movies you gotta watch - no multi-tasking allowed.

What I enjoyed best was the relationship between Cassie (Dakota Fanning) and Nick (Chris Evans). So many movies focus on the romantic love interest when you have the male and female co-stars. Yet, there is an element of the hero's journey that is strictly on the "courtly love" end of things. Also, known as friendship love, family love, or brother/sister type love. This type of relationship was also shown very well in X-Men with Logan and Rogue. As a romance writer, I get stuck on the romantic type of relationships and sometimes forget the power of friendship relationships between male-female characters.

If you're looking to see a successful example of this type of relationship/characters I highly recommend you check out Push and X-Men and focus your attentions to the interactions between Cassie/Nick and Logan/Rogue.