How CinemaSins Can Help Writers

Now, I know that CinemaSins exclusively pokes fun at filmography (they even have a little note on their intro screens saying that the books mean nothing), but their prodding and mocking of filmatic plot holes could be transferred to the unaware plot bunnies or weird deliberate twists of plot in fiction.

Whilst #3 came out recently (Jan ’14, anyway), I look to #2 of their Harry Potter series – since my father has also criticised, without seeing these sorts of things, the points like that of Dobby and clothes at 7.58. “Now these aren’t yours clothes, Dobby. These are for cleaning.” :P

Personally, I like CinemaSins. I’m nodded along. I find these Sins amusing and so blunt. It’s not charm, but the points raised are points that, from an outside view, are incredibly truthful. When you think about it.

Following that, what do you think of JK’s lapse in explaining quite how the rules work in this case? I’m not saying that she didn’t think about what she was writing – she’s probably the queen of planning for years, and for that she is admirable – but there are times when one questions the devised systems. Eg. This wizard going around the web: no wand > super magic.

(And he’s multi-tasking)

Just yes. EVERYTHING YES. (I’d also like to give a huge thumbs up to the usernames of those Tumblrs ^.^)

Removing from these examples, we might look at the frankness with which CinemaSins treats whatever films they dissemble: they have ‘reader’s eyes’ and notice every sort of minute problem. This is what we need as writers – we appreciate the critiques rather than praise, because we can learn very little about improving our writing from abstract praise.

Everything can be improved.

For instance, “this is the luckiest and most convenient set of circumstances for these characters to defy death.” See, I wouldn’t want my own readers to be thinking that. Coincidence is the grim reaper to realistic plot.

Removing from these examples, we might look at the frankness with which CinemaSins treats whatever films they dissemble: they have ‘reader’s eyes’ and notice every sort of minute problem. This is what we need as writers – we appreciate the critiques rather than praise, because we can learn very little about improving our writing from abstract praise.

Everything can be improved.

For instance, “this is the luckiest and most convenient set of circumstances for these characters to defy death.” See, I wouldn’t want my own readers to be thinking that. Coincidence is the grim reaper to realistic plot.

Subtext from the movies.

I’ve spoken about using more subtext when writing novels before, but only recently did I once again come across a couple of posts about the constant inclusion of subtext and theme or extra-textual mysteries.

Have you ever heard of the Disney Show ‘Gravity Falls’? It’s new, but it’s pretty incredible in its little secrets that don’t necessary in the plot. Theories have set YouTube alight. You see, even the title sequence features backwards language suggestive of the ciphers that feature throughout the [first, so far] series. They tell us more about the characters than a casual observer might.

Okay, subtext isn’t so important, but I’m sure there are many writers who’d love to be able to weave in something more secretive than the straightforward plot; we want readers to spot the references – and I don’t [necessarily] mean pop-culture – and to find themselves in the midst of a story they weren’t quite expecting.

(I might add, just out of speculation, that the book the ‘science wizard’ above is reading could have been placed there as a nod or foreshadow towards book three’s time-travel. Probably unlikely – but it’s these kind of unconsci-textual blips I think more writers should slip into their scenes.)

That’s one of the reasons I like transforming my writing into scenes in my head. If your scene was visualised, what would be where? Would there be messages on the walls? Or clothes on the stairways? Maggots in the flowerbeds or in the pantry? I guess it’s contrary to the normal notion of writing – or the Chekhov’s Gun principle anyway – of only mentioning things that are important, but I, as a reader, like to know that the world into which I’m being coaxed has four walls, 3D, and not simply two.

Then again, one must remember that ‘important’ also relates to scene setting. Try:

“Alex walked into her uni room. Like all the other rooms, it had white walls, three grey shelves, a medium-sized bed, a small chest of three drawers next to a big wardrobe and a large white sink.”

To say that says nothing about the character. Nada. Because you’re just seeing any other room. What makes it mine? Try this, instead:

“Alex sighed as she shifted her bag onto the wardrobe-door-knob. If she’d leave it amongst the stray papers by the radiator, it would end up being holepunched along with the rest of the flat panes. She danced around the cake-tin – it had already rolled out of its place between the east wall and the stash of papers draped over the chest of drawers, even when the double-size of the wardrobe meant her furnishings shifted together more than in the neighbouring bedroom – and flung herself onto her bed. The pattern of Poppies sewn in her duvet bulged up, and Alex dived under the bedclothes, where she latched onto a bean-filled bag of faded orange.

‘Ah, Pumpkin, I had wondered where you’d got to…’”

Beanies_AlexBAlready from that, we can sense that I’m not the tidiest of room-keepers. And I have a fondness for stuffed toys. As a reader, I’d expect to get a similar feel of messiness from the rest of description of the room.

Anyway, it’s good to get a different perspective on these sorts of things, and CinemaSins is great at that, at spotting what a writer themselves might miss simply because of the written words not performed. We say it’s best to step away from a novel, but coming back is less talked about. How do we deal with looking at our mistakes so that they are easier to change?

Writers!

  • Don’t be so stubborn/biased to your worlds – at first, they will be flawed.
  • Use the concept of a humorous film critique (after all, humour makes everything better) to assess all parts of your stories: concept, realism, plot, characters, etc.
  • At times, I think it is useful to read your novel that second time as if you are studying it like a film adaptation: what doesn’t fit with the prior ideas/expectations in your mind? What seems to be missing or surplus in the scene? Is this character saying the wrong thing in a scene where they act the same as usual?
  • Sense! ;)

Just think about it from another medium for a moment. Whilst prose writing is the end, there’s sense in stretching away from writing and seeing a scene unfurling in duocolour.

My Top Five Movies

Something light for your Friday evening Saturday. I’ve not done one of these ‘top five’ posts before, and that’s not surprising, considering that I dislike having favourites – everything should be grand, in my opinion! However, recently I noticed a trend of some sort in my love of old[er] movies rather than the newer stuff. I like a film that, whilst being entertaining, also resonates and is wise.

1. Stardust (2007)

I don’t think I’ll ever stop loving this epic fantasy. It’s sweet, funny, clever and just a bit magical. ;) The entire cast are on fine form and the setting is gorgeous – just look at those rolling hills. Gah, I could pointlessly praise the film repeatedly. To be honest, it’s one of those pieces of work for which I have no particular love. I just do love it! I’m not the only one to say so, either. It’s one of the great English films of the ‘noughties’.

Oh, and, as a plus, my dad likes it, too! His favourite characters are the ghosts and his favourite scene the confrontation between Tristan and the witches after Septimus is killed, which makes sense, since he’s in the army and that fight scene has an element of military humour.

2. Alice Through the Looking Glass (1998)

Oh, great, Alex is talking about this movie again. Haha, yes, I am! I’ve mentioned before how much the book influenced me – even if Carroll does suggest the ‘it was all a dream’ ending – and the film did the same with its faithful adaptation. It’s so quotable! One only has to think of the rich universe Carroll created to imagine the presentation the movie brings: prissy talking flowers, chessboard portals, cacophony and order, wrapped together with some delicious pieces of soundtrack by Dominik Scherrer.

"'The white knight slid down the poker; he balanced very badly.' That's not a memorandum of your feelings!"

“‘The white knight slid down the poker; he balanced very badly.’ That’s not a memorandum of your feelings!”

The actors bring those exotic characters to life, from Kate Beckingsale right up to Geoffrey Palmer and Penelope Wilton, and it doesn’t take much to get lost in the fantasy. Sure, it’s a 90s film and the people dressed up as animals reflects that, but, despite this, there’s no sense of falseness in the filmography. One gets so ‘into’ the fiction that one forgets what is reality or not. Apparently, it was low-budget, too!

In a way, one could argue that my adventures into philosophy started with Lewis Carroll’s fiction, and for that I shall be forever grateful.

3. The Jungle Book (1994)

Live action, adult romance version of Rudyard Kipling’s tales. Mowgli is separated from Kitty as a child when vicious tiger Shere Kahn attacks the camp in which they’re staying. Mowgli survives in the Indian rainforest by being raised by wolves and a panther and a young bear he rescued from a fallen log. By the time Kitty returns as part of her father’s army posting, she’s unhappily betrothed to an arrogant young officer who seeks the mythical treasure of monkey King Louie, regardless of who he betrays in the process.

The tension! It’s such a rich plot. (And, no, it’s not a love triangle. From the first time we meet adult Kitty, Katherine, we can tell that she’s become uncomfortable with her previous flirtation, but is squashed under the rule of her officer). Lena Headey is one of my favourite actresses nowadays, though I guess I can now link back to when I first saw her, even when I didn’t realise who she was then. And John Cleese. :) I can’t really say much more about why I like this film, but it’s clever, funny, and unique, since Mowgli cannot speak for the first forty-five minutes of the film so the actor who plays him portrays so much emotion through feral glances and movements.

Animals are our friends. :)

4. A Bug’s Life (1998)

Classic Pixar. This was one of my favourite childhood films, though I have no idea why. Inventor ant hires a bunch of circus clowns to free his colony from the tyranny of mean ol’ grasshoppers. Atta was my favourite character – you know, the lovable, sensible female lead – but Flik and Hopper resonated with me so much that the first piece of fiction I wrote was a short story about them, written on two sides of A4 in bright red felt pen. I think my house still has a giant talking Dot doll somewhere, too.

So, it was probably the dynamic colours, setting and the characters that drew me to the film, but the plot and believable dialogue kept me to it. Pixar worked hard with this one.

 

5. Bringing Up Baby (1938)

The only one on this list I’ve seen only once, but I’d jump at the chance to see it again, cringiness or not. This is also the most unusual of the top five, for its black and white-ness. I don’t normally watch black and white films, but, like a good book, I forgot that the colour had gone because I was so immersed in the quaint tale of a crazy heroine, her pet leopard called Baby, and the palaeontologist who finds himself in the middle of their business. Katharine Hepburn is a gorgeous charm, though her character is frustratingly insane to no end! Cary Grant plays pathetic to perfect pitch.

You said it, 1930s trailer!

What Makes a Monster Scary?

Not what makes a villain villainous, or what makes a person ‘evil’, but what makes an actual dark monster incur fear in us.

For this Doctor Who day, I’m looking at the creatures, the ideas behind why we feel scared of, for instance, the Cybermen and the Daleks. In many plots, a creature of the deep is needed – in films and TV, this is for watcher thrill as well as plot-tension. In books, a similar idea is used, but less for visual, though I myself ‘see’ characters and settings in my mind. We might want to shock the readers; we might want to raise the tension and the horror element. With our natural curiosity of the macabre, monsters make the perfect emotion teasers. When our heroes are facing a monster, we quake for them.

But what exactly creates that?

Take Hopper from A Bug’s Life, for example. You might think this is a weird example, but when I was little, I loved A Bug’s Life to the point that my mother bought me all the themed toys related to it. The characters, I played with, and the figurines, I stared at. But there was one item I couldn’t enjoy.

I loved the idea behind the Hopper alarm. A 12 inch model with a press button for movie quotes and a motion sensor setting, where he would quote if we walked by – “you’re not supposed to be here. Back off!” In my room, though, it terrified me, especially with my fear of the dark.

Though, actually, one of my very first stories was a fan fiction of Hopper – ‘Hopper’s Revenge’. I lost the 2-page, red-pen piece, but it remains in my heart

I think that was something to do with the aesthetics of the model, of the creature in general. Alien-like with bulging eyes (one blinded) and gangly limbs, Hopper casts an unpleasant shadow on any desk. He’s not what we would call ‘normal’. He’s a monster by more than his sharp tongue and hateful attitude.

In the movie, of course, he is not the size of a regular grasshopper (that is, not the size we humans regularly see grasshoppers as), but we are shrunk to the size of ants, and clever camera shots have made him tower over us. I always liked that the animation was from the perspective of ants – but that meant that whatever they were afraid of, we were afraid of.

And Hopper was creepy.

So: size, shape and strangeness all add to what makes us cringe or want to duck behind the sofa. Take the other usual monster elements, perhaps: a gravelly/different/robotic voice; some sort of power or ability that makes them a true threat; and evidence to show that they are prepared to kill, whatever the victim. Then you’ve got something to be feared.

Work on how to show these traits for fearsome inspiration.

To conclude, monsters, or gruesome beings/acts, bring the xenophobia out of us, being a hit because we leave our jaws slack in disgusted wonderment – “how is this twisted fiend/animal/thing possible?” Even if we are not aware of those exact feelings, they’re there, in the base animalistic twitches of our humanity.

An in-group, out-group complex suggests to us that different or ‘ugly’ humanoids/creatures can become monsters. Obviously, this is a theoretical generalisation, and something to which I, as an author (rather than a Psychology student) am opposed.

A difference lies between villains and monsters, but I try to make the characters or things I specify as ‘monsters’ unassuming/not so obvious by their beauty or averageness. The obvious monsters are the mindless things rising from the ether at a call. This is not realistic. Monsters – however they be defined – have their own minds and activate their own lives, but they still cause the chills to run down our spines. They may not be the puppeteer, but they have their own motives, evil or not.

For instance, the paragraph I use to describe the evil fairy/imp/creature in my short story could be recycled for a romance piece (give or take some of the words). He exists in a handsome form, but his dark green chest is riddled with scars, and that makes the MC fear him. He’s different to what she’s ever seen: a monster to her.

Scary, yeah?

Oh, and I was also afraid of the Heffalump. This backs up the theory, as the big, colour-changing elephant-like creature was always jumping out of nowhere, looking creepy, even when it wasn’t. What monsters were you afraid of as a child? Why do you think these rational or irrational fears occur?

Another Next Big Thing

Basically tagged by Joan, I decided I do another Next Big Thing, a companion to my previous, but this time, about my other main novel.

What is the working title of your book?

A TALE OF JACKETS AND PHONES

the less-than-awesome cover I created when I was fourteen

the less-than-awesome cover I created when I was fourteen

From where did the idea for the book come?

Interesting story, actually: my school put on a ‘murder in the library’ research project, oh, four years ago, and I participated with my friends for the random fun of it. It was almost a waste of three lunchtimes, but good that it helped me cope with my depression at the time.
It also got me thinking…what if this murder had actually been real? How would everyone have reacted? I did very little on the spot, but when I went on holiday to Jordan that Easter, I befriended a girl slightly younger than me and started to talk about my ‘version of events’. When she said “you should turn it into a story,” history was sown.

What genre does your book fall under?

YA contemporary mystery.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

AlexB5I don’t know whether I’m allowed to elect myself for Agnetha King, main character, but, as a white, British teenage actress with blonde hair, I am eligible to play the part. Who better to play a character than someone who knows her best? I’ve been told that I can play younger, though there’s not much of an age-difference between us, and I would say that the greatest physical difference between us is that my hair is now darker, shorter and frizzier.

As Rosaleen Cloade

As Rosaleen Cloade

Eva Birthistle caught my eye when she played Rosaleen Cloade in Christie’s ‘Taken at the Flood’, but, researching her, I found that she’s also great at playing tough, changeable characters. Her short, blonde hair is how I had imagined Caroline Peterson, ex girlfriend to the deceased and key suspect in the police’s eyes. This actress needs to be flexible in her acting, as Caroline keeps changing herself, both voluntarily and involuntarily due to something mysterious. By the end of the novel, she’s almost a different person to the one Agnetha first meets.

Birthistle's modern look - perfect for Ms. Peterson

Birthistle’s modern look – perfect for Ms. Peterson

1009552low_reshustleIt was more difficult for me to find an actor to play DCI George Leonard, simply because I don’t know the character enough yet (he only recently obtained a first name!). He’s a determined cop, but unsympathetic man when it comes to Agnetha’s feelings, so I needed someone with a stern attitude. I came across Adrian Lester. I’ve seen him play nice, but I think, after growing a moustache, he could also play a less friendly character.

wildjt01Juno Temple rocks the teen look in a lot of films. That’s why I’d choose her to play the mysterious girl who turns up whenever Agnetha is in danger. Whilst her hair would have to be cut, it’s pale enough and I love the springiness of it – and, with a bit of makeup, she could have a real pallid physique. I’ve not seen Temple in many other films, but I know she can play straight roles well – and I’d love to see her play the weak girl who has strength hidden deep within her.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

When her schoolteacher is murdered, Agnetha vows to solve the mystery and bring his killer to justice – for better or for worse, even when she and the only link to the truth are the next targets on the killer’s list.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’ve always wanted to traditionally publish this set of books. Because Of Jackets and Phones was the first successful attempt I made at writing a full novel, there’s a lot of significance in having the Trilogy traditionally represented. Until then, however, I need to madly edit it.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

A few months, though no longer than half a year. I know I started this time in 2009, writing everything longhand in notebook(s); I finished typing up the draft just before the Christmas of the same year.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Um, I guess Nancy Drew, though I’ve not read any, but it’s a similar idea of a teen detective, though Agnetha is  lot ruder than Nancy. I’d not like to compare my writing to Agatha Christie’s works, but – as well as the fact that Agnetha makes allusions to Christie a few times – the style of ‘cosy’ mystery is very similar.

Oh, and it’s set in oxford, so I can say that you might be reminded of Morse/Lewis (I’ve seen all episdoes of Morse, though I’m too young to remember them when they were first shown, so I actually grew up watching Lewis). I’d love Agnetha to hunt murderers along DI Lewis and DS Hathaway!

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

Three people/things (excluding myself) pop into mind:

1. Emily Beswick, the girl whom I met and told my story to in Jordan. I owe her big time!

2. ABBA music and dubbed Doctor Who stories that I listened to/watched on YouTube. I intended to, at one point, write a story about those Rhino aliens, but it got shelved.

3. The teacher who ended up being the victim in the library research project, in whose form Mr. Josh Craig was born (and subsequently died).

OJAP was my first finished novel, so I say that I helped, having the gall to do it.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Explosions! Megaphone weapons! Cucumber yoghurt! Agnetha gets herself into a fair few scrapes, but the worst is when she finds herself trapped in a science cupboard at school…and she’s claustrophobic! The same scene I twisted for inclusion in my short story in last year’s ebook ‘Scream For Charity’.

Also, it’s the first of a Trilogy that gets darker as Agnetha grows into an adult.

That’s me done! Anybody who feels inspired to write a Next Big Thing post, feel free to link back here. :)

To Sequel or Not?

Sequels are infectious things. I say that as an observer of life as well as a writer/reader. One only has to look at the charts of books and films to see a trend: where book one is popular, its sequels are present, too. Hunger Games. Harry Potter. Twilight.

sequels stephen king

I can see the commercial point of sequels, definitely – as an actor, I would rather be given work in a novel-turned-movie that came with certain follow-ups (in which my character would still be present, of course; there’s only a little bit of fun in dying!) than act in a single film. Too, everybody else involved with movies gets money and attention from sequels.

From a simple writing point-of-view, sequels are just as commercially valid. In the more complicated view, commercialism aside, a sequel gives a writer the chance to further interact with characters they know and may love. I know this for certain – it’s one of the reasons that, once I had finished OJAP, I knew I wanted Agnetha to have more adventures, to the point of fantasising about giving her a TV detective show (yeah; it’s cliché, but so much fun to imagine).

Yes, these sequels are often necessary to complete the long story (I say ‘often’ because Twilight could well have been left after Film 1), but on the book charts, trilogies are storming ahead. 50 Shades of Grey, for instance.

Why do so many writers scribe trilogies? Trilogies are overrated. They are almost archetypal.

Yet: the trilogy is the novel – it’s the Three-Act Tragedy (Agatha Christie reference!), the change of parts and people over the rhythm of three. My romance novel has the working title ‘Triangle’ because, at basic, it’s in three parts, between three people, involving three settings.

Three, it seems, is a magic number. funny-cartoon-numbers3-vector-801667

I’ve always liked tricolons; as my Classics Tutor says of segments and phrases: “four is too many, two is too few”. Perhaps readers and writers notice this rhythm of three, be that consciously or not. Certainly, books that only have one sequel create a disjointed appearance to their set (though there’s nothing wrong with that) – beyond three, the number doesn’t appear to matter as much.

So. Do we sequel or not? Do we create a trilogy or do we go further? Some stories naturally flow from book to book – and good for them! I’d hate to force a sequel out through my pores. Of course, the most obvious answer is: if a story feels incomplete or might have a following way of being told, a sequel might well work.

I know I sound like a stuck record with the point of genre, but it does depend a lot on genre. I have trouble imagining romances (at least, the type I have written) as being available for telling through following books. Looking at classical writers like Jane Austen shows that family-grounded, observational romance doesn’t need a sequel when it closes the way it has done.

The whole saving-the-world genre, though, is probably the easiest to write sequels on. Another enemy appears or turns out not to be vanquished, and so the ‘team’ are called back into action to save the world. That’s why the there is currently a great popularity for writing high fantasy and urban supernatural.

avengers-pic

Personal opinion and tastes play a huge part in whether someone would write a serial of novels. I think some début authors nowadays are expected to churn out a trilogy (like I said: it’s a bit of a cliché), but some authors are simply better suited for the standalone.

Why have I chosen to turn my standalone into a trilogy? I’d always had budding ideas, but I could have turned them away. I did for two years. But then I didn’t. It’s the silliest reason to give, but I’ve been called the Title Mistress and I have the right:

I couldn’t deny life to the titles. They just slotted into place, hinting at explaining the questions that When the Clock Broke hadn’t fulfilled. Then logline writing came and I could no longer suggest that I didn’t want to write a trilogy. Sometimes, it has to be done, that the characters are writing their own scripts.

Word of the Week

Word of the week that has been buzzing around my head is the word PARIAH.

Turns out there's a film of the same title.

Turns out there’s a film of the same title.

PAR-I-AH: noun: an outcast, a person without status, once a member of a low caste in southern India and Burma.

Etymology: From paraiyar, (of the ‘Tamil’ language of India and Sri Lanka) literally meaning ‘drummers’ to refer to the duty of being a low-caste drummer.

I’m A Domino

Ohh, oh oh ohhh.

Singer Jessie J in her video for Domino

Recently, due to my drama teacher’s brief inclusion of it during her lesson, I’ve had Jessie J’s song ‘Domino’ in my head. There’s something about that bubbly major key…and the barmy backgrounds in her music video. I’m quite glad that she’s not just singing against a monotone wall, as some musicians have done and still do to this day; at least with Jessie, we can see that her choice of a ‘living’ background reflects the excitement of the song. That video might be classed as rather strange, but that’s exactly why it sticks out in my mind. And, as an actress, I’ve always been one for dressing up; it’s this ‘quirkiness’ which I enjoy about Jessie J and her music.

It’s the type of music that emotes in me a happy, jolly feeling- I don’t know whether it’s just due to my susceptible cataclysmic personalities and all of Thursday I was dancing around, feeling as if I were full of a bright, shining light, bursting out.

That brings me nicely to another favourite of mine: the film Stardust. Out in 2007 and starring Clare Danes, Michelle Pfeiffer and Charlie Cox (as well as a wide variety of celebrity stars!), the fantasy, action/adventure, romance follows a fallen star’s race across the magical kingdom of Stormhold away from murdering princes and heartless witches. Shamefully, I’ve never read the book, but the film itself remains one of my all time favourites.

I only mention this because, during that Musical Thursday, I felt as if my giddy happiness should light me up just as the star in Stardust, Yvanne, did. I was very tempted to throw my arms wide!

Oh, what life is to shine!

Clare Danes as 'Yvaine' the star, shining

Take me down like I’m a domino.