Monday, February 28, 2011

Director's cuts and why we kill our darlings

She generally gave herself very good advice (though she very seldom followed it). ~ Lewis Carroll

Have you ever watched a director's cut version of a movie? They usually contain scenes that were cut from the original movie. I recently watched the director's cut of the 1985 movie, Legend, starring Tom Cruise, a long time favorite of mine. I was really looking forward to seeing an additional 20 minutes of footage I've never seen before.

I hated it! Twenty extra minutes turned what was once a dramatic tale into a corny, sappy disaster. (This isn't true for all director's cuts... leave a comment telling me which director's cuts you loved!)

One would think that a few extra scenes would enhance a movie (or a book) - but not necessarily! If they don't advance the plot or the characters' dilemmas, they could end up detracting instead of enhancing.

I've reached the 75,000 word mark for novel #3. According to my outline, it was supposed to be finished right around 75k, all the plot threads tied together nice and neat. But I'm just barely to the "darkest moment" part of the novel, with the "saving moment" and all the conclusion still ahead of me. The final word count for the first draft of this YA historical fantasy, at this rate, is probably going to push 85-90k (too high for a YA novel*).

Wordiness! My bane! - I'm going to have to kill some of my darlings (e.g. scenes or partial scenes that I love, but don't contribute enough to plot advancement or character development). My comfort when it comes to cutting will be remembering that the edited version of Legend was so much more dramatic and powerful than its uncut version.

Have you seen a director's cut that you'd recommend? Also - speaking of movies, it reminded me that the Academy Awards were yesterday. What 2010 movie would you have voted to get Best Picture (even if it wasn't a nominee?) (I was torn between the King's Speech, Toy Story 3, and Inception!)

* Several commenters have pointed out that 85k or even 100k isn't unreasonable for the world-building required for a historical fantasy. Great news! (But I'm still betting that my critique partners will spot lots of wordiness, and perhaps a few extraneous scenes, that need cutting.)

p.s. Many thanks to everyone who contributed encouraging and prodding comments to help me get to my March 1st word count goal. I wouldn't have made it so far without the on-line support. Winners are Laura Pauling and Candice Kennigton, both of which returned to comment again on my word count progress (thank you for the encouragement!) and earned extra entries ( picked the winning numbers). They each win a $15 certificate to Amazon. Victoria Dixon earned extra points for being my pick for most creative comment "Impressive. *Darth Vader breath* Most impressive. Seriously. :D Congratulations on the word count and keep it coming!" (I wish she could have won, too!)

p.p.s Also, many thanks to Alison Stevens who gave me the Versatile Blogger award recently, and Shelley Blatt who gave me the Stylish Blogger award. I'll be passing on these awards to some bloggers I've met recently via Rachael Harrie's wonderful Crusaders project (list to come tomorrow).

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Bonding with main characters

How can we increase the odds of readers bonding with our main characters in those oh-so-crucial first few pages?

Bonding doesn't happen with every person we spend time with or every main character we start to read about. We are such unique creatures, so this isn't a surprise. I will form a temporary connection almost every time I meet another mom with young twins, but I betcha you won't. In fact, you might bow out politely when she starts raving about the double cost of diapers.

Bonding occurs when you've shared a similar experience.

The more universal the experience, the more we'll increase the odds of bonding. That's why so many books start with a death in the first few pages. Death is a universal experience (and taxes, but I dare you to get readers to bond with your MC over taxes).

I recently read Across the Universe, by Beth Revis (no spoilers, I promise). How did she get me to bond with her main character? Because, I know I'm in the minority here, but I have no experience being cryogenically frozen.

But she blended this creepy freezing scene with some universal things that we can all relate to: fear of being separated, fear of the unknown. Then she upped-the-stakes: she gave her MC the freedom to make a choice, where the decision has permanent, life-changing ramifications. And if that isn't enough to get you invested in Amy, the first 250 words include a "you go first" "no, you go first" dilemma, and yet another universal theme we can all relate to: the awkwardness of having to strip down naked.

XVI by Julia Karr gets you to bond with Nina over sexual issues (yeah, that strikes a cord with most of us) and the universal dread we all have of being controlled (GPS units embedded under the skin for tracking).

Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson has this first sentence: "It is my first morning of high school. I have seven new notebooks, a skirt I hate, and a stomach-ache." Universal feeling of nervousness about starting something new.

Now, some books offer some less-than-universal premises. For instance, I bonded instantly (the very first sentence) with the MC in Pegasus, by Robin McKinley. "Because she was a princess, she had a pegasus". I love princess stories and I love mythical creatures. But it's not exactly universal.

How about my own MC's - what do they offer to bond with? Uh oh, do I really have to ask myself this question?

I have one 13-year-old MC being forced to tramp around the wilderness of Alaska for her summer vacation when she'd rather be at the neighborhood pool with her friends.

Another book (women's fiction) has an MC that's being stood-up by her husband on her first anniversary.

The third book (YA) has a seventeen-year-old whose mother gets wrongly arrested, leaving the MC on her own.

I'm too close to these stories to evaluate how universal the feelings associated with these situations are. Um, you tell me.

And tell me about one of your memorable MC bonding experiences.

ps. I highly recommend this amazing series of seven posts on How to Create Compelling Characters, with lots of great examples from movies.

pps. Writing Nut at Writing in a Nutshell, you are my 300th follower! Yay for crusaders!

ppps. Discovered that a kick in the as* works even better than motivational cheers when it comes to catching up with my word count. Leave me a kick as* comment here, and you have a chance to win a $15 Amazon certificate (two winners) by 2/28.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Ten questions

Welcome to the Bernard Pivot Blogfest, hosted by Nicole Duclerior at One Significant Moment at a Time.
Bernard Pivot is the guy who came up with this questionnaire.

Confession and warning: I'm looking forward to reading other's answers, it's fun to get to know people better, but I'm also participating in this blogfest to get character development ideas from your answers!

1. What is your favorite word? Storm. I love so many words, but this one has serious substance to it, and the potential for both excitement and danger, for realism and symbolism.

2. What is your least favorite word? Vicious.

3. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? When someone writes something so honest and true that I immediately think - "oh yes! I understand! I've felt that way too, or I've seen that thing too." Or, just as wonderful "I've never seen it that way before, amazing - thanks for showing me!"

4. What turns you off? Close-mindedness. When someone won't hear your side of the story, or if they hear it, they hear only what they want to hear out of it. I have to be really careful to keep myself from being close-minded, it has a way of sneaking up on you. I think those people who read a lot, and read widely, gift themselves with greater ability to fight close-mindedness.

5. What is your favorite curse endearment? Te quiero (I love you in Spanish)

6. What sound or noise do you love? The recording of my daughter "cooing" when she was three or four months old. She's four years old now...

7. What sound or noise do you hate? The sound of someone chewing with their mouth open.

8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Teaching. The potential to inspire, to open minds to new things (but only if I could have just a few students at a time)

9. What profession would you not like to do? Nursing. I have the highest respect for them, precisely because it's something I can't possibly imagine doing.

10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive? "I can't wait to show you everything and answer all your questions"

Monday, February 14, 2011

Blogging love on Valentine's Day

Kate Hart, Tahereh Mafi and and Kristen Miller hosted a secret valentine's set up, and my secret valentine, now revealed, is

Chelsey Blair at Sense and Disability

About Chelsey: she claims she's just an average 21 year old*, but check out her blog, "an aspiring YA author full of book reviews, musings on writing, life and being a young adult with a disability."

She also features books that have to do with young people with disabilties, and she does a great job with book reviews. She lists Maureen Johnson as one of her favorite YA authors, and I definitely agree! I fell in love with Girl At Sea, 13 Little Blue Envelopes, and the Key to the Golden Firebird. She's also a fan of Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters.

Chelsea, I wanted you to wish a wonderful Valentine's day, I loved reading your recent posts, and I'll continue to be your not-so-secret bloggy admirer.

Thanks to everyone who commented on my Love Story Plots, or 13 ways to mess with your characters. I loved all the feedback! and now I have several more categories to add to my list.

  • Old Kitty added "Twisted love" - a little Fatal Attraction, anyone?
  • Which also reminded me of another related category, "Untrustworthy love" - the love interest that might have ulterior motives, but you're just not sure, and have to keep reading to find out!
  • Len suggested "Love lost and found"
  • Robyn suggested "Never Quite Gets a Chance to Be Love But It Really Is" (Remains of the Day)
  • Sophia cracked me up with her love mess, "just because they love each other they don't have to be happy about it"
  • Will suggests "Nerd's Bane" - the nerd is just smitten, but the object of the devotion thinks of them as a "Special Friend."
  • And I just discovered a similiar post with Love Story Archetypes at the Enchanted Inkpot.

My writing goal giveaway update: sadly, my progress chart (see top of blog), is not climbing as fast as it should toward my March 1st goal. Where have all my wonderful encouragers gone? I need you!

Happy Valentine's Day to everyone. What's your favorite way to celebrate?

1) watch the movie Valentine's Day and smirk because Taylor Swift and Taylor Lautner are SOOO history
2) have a candlelight dinner with your significant other
3) have a love-letter burning party with your best friends (anyone remember that Friends episode?)
4) splurge on chocolate (the one day a year we can do this entirely guilt free)
5) other? do tell!!! (PG rating, please)

*Not only did I get Chelsey's age wrong but I misspelled her name the second time, too! What a good sport she is! Also, late breaking news, my "secret blog admirer" was CA Marshall and she gave me a map valentine! She noticed I love maps! Totally made my day :)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Love story plots, or 13 ways to mess with your characters

One of the great appeals of fiction writing is getting to inflict your own fantasies (and miseries) on your characters. While we often don't have much control over our own affairs of the heart (as Valentine's day so poignantly reminds us), at least we can write a love story exactly the way we want.

In honor of/in derision of Valentine's Day, I looked over some famous love stories and grouped them into 13 ways to mess with your character's hearts:
  1. Forbidden love: Romeo and Juliet, Lancelot and Guinevere, Paris and Helen, Anna Karenina, Casablanca, the Thornbirds, Twilight. I think perhaps the most archetypal and most-used love story plot.
  2. Love triangle: these proliferate the YA scene today, led by Bella/Edward/Jacob and Katniss/Peeta/Gale, but they've been around a long time, such as in The Phantom of the Opera.
  3. Secret love: where one person loves the other secretly, believing the object of his/her love is unattainable. Examples: Shiver (Sam loves Grace for years but she knows him only as a wolf), the Little Mermaid, Memoirs of a Geisha
  4. One-sided love: similar to the secret love plot, except the besmitten one announces his/her love instead of keeping it secret. Beauty and the Beast, the Hunger Games (Peeta and Katniss)
  5. Love forsaken: a pair of lovers where one rejects the other (usually because of unequal status or to honor the family), and then regrets it (Wuthering Heights, Persuasion)
  6. You're the last person I'd ever love: two characters start out disliking each other, often quite intensely, and then fall in love as they get to know each other better. Pride and Prejudice (Elizabeth and Darcy), Stardust (Tristran and Yvaine), Shrek (sort of)
  7. Happily-ever-after love: the classic fairytale love story, where lovers must overcome obstacles to be together. Examples: Westley and Buttercup (Princess Bride), Captain Navarre and Isabeau (LadyHawke)
  8. Love torn apart: the opposite of a happily-ever after, where love reigns for a while, but then is torn apart by circumstances (The Time Traveler's Wife, Jane Eyre, Orpheus and Eurydice)
  9. In love with the wrong person: the classic is Gone With the Wind, where Scarlett thinks she and Ashley are destined for each other, but she's really meant for Rhett. More recent example is the movie Enchanted.
  10. Reluctant love: where two people are forced by circumstances into a betrothal or marriage. Sometimes both are reluctant partners; sometimes one is willing, the other reluctant. As the reluctant one comes to know her partner better, they genuinely fall in love. The great Bollywood love story Jodhaa Akbar. Outlander by Diana Galbadon. Love Comes Softly by Janette Oke. I know there are lots of others... anyone?
  11. Discovering love in a strange place: Tarzan and Jane, Jake and Neytiri in Avatar, the pair in Stargate
  12. Re-discovered love: two lovers have a falling-out, and but fate forces them to work together and they rediscover their love. Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio in the Abyss, Jeff Goldblum and Margaret Colin in Independance Day, Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfieffer in the Story of Us. Can anyone think of any novels with this sort of relationship?
  13. Platonic love: Rose and Lissa in Vampire Academy; Frodo and Sam in Lord of the Rings; Thelma and Louise; Harry, Hermione and Ron in the Harry Potter series. Striking examples are often in a guardian/guarded relationship, master/protege relationship (Obi-Wan and Luke), parent/child or sibling relationship, hero/sidekick, human/animal pair (Calvin and Hobbes, the knight and the dragon in Dragonheart)
I thought I'd be able to pick out my favorite type of love mess, but I really can't. Do you have a favorite kind of love story? Did I miss any? And if you've read Across the Universe, what type of love story would you call Amy's and Elder's?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Quotable science fiction films

Ellie Garrat at is hosting the Top Ten Science Fiction Movie Quotes Blogfest tomorrow... I'm posting this a day early so you can join too, if you're interested.

My top ten was really hard to put together, which is why I actually ended up with twelve. My list also includes a few older, more obscure movies that never really made it big, but I still loved them.

12. Treasure Planet (2002)
"When the time comes you get the chance to really test the cut of your sails, and show what you're made of, well, I hope I'm there, catching some of the light coming off you that day."

I love a great twist on a classic! Treasure Island in space! The ultimate SF skateboard, pirate John Silver as a cyborg, Emma Thompson as a space ship captain, okay so the doggish Doctor was a little annoying, but then again, the breathtaking animation! Who wouldn't love it? And yet this movie never made it big, I never could figure out why. The science-fiction trick they pull off at the end is the stuff that science fiction geeks like me get all giddy about.

11. Transformers (2007)
"Fifty years from now, when you're looking back at your life, don't you want to be able to say you had the guts to get in the car?"

Not much depth to this movie, but I love colorful characters with snappy lines, and the original Transformers were my favorite after-school treat in the '80s, so I had a lot nostalgia tied to this movie. It was really hard to pick a favorite line from this one because I like so many of the quips "fifty-year old virgin car" "it's a mystical bond between man and machine" "what would Jesus do?" "so what'd they get you for?" "I bought a car, turned out to be an alien robot, who knew?"

10. BladeRunner (1982)
"All those moments will be lost in time... like tears in rain."

I thought this movie was more stunning for its visual effects (and Harrison Ford adds some great eye candy, too) than for its words, but nevertheless one quote has always stuck with me. The main antagonist, a ruthless replicant, has a chance to kill Deckard (Ford) but, realizing he's running out of time before his pre-programmed death, actually saves Deckard instead. The quote is from Roy just after he saves Deckard, as he's reflecting on his memories moments before he dies. A powerful scene. (And, totally unrelated, but the implications of the unicorn... fascinating)

9. Avatar (2009)
"Everything is backwards now, like out there is the true world, and in here is the dream."

Like BladeRunner, I loved this movie more for its stunning visuals (flying on the dragons - okay yeah technically they are Ikran but jeez didn't they remind you of dragons?) (and OMG the neon forest and the spinning lizards, so cool!) than for its concept or script. But Jake Sully's comment above, about being sucked into his life as an avatar, was a memorable one for me.

8. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
"I know now why you cry. But it's something I can never do."

This was my favorite movie for years. I loved the twist: your worst enemy comes back to save you. The scene where Sara Connor sees the Terminator for the first time and backpedals in terror - and then she sees her son run out from behind him - one of those scenes you never forget. The quote is from the end where the terminator machine shows human compassion but at the same time admits he can never be quite human.

7. The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
"There's a whole section on tax law down here that we can burn."

Proof that there is always a silver lining, even in the clouds that are harbinger of massive climatic disaster. Most memorable (and ironic) scene from this movie: thousands of Americans illegally crossing into Mexico across the Rio Grande river.

6. Contact (1997)
"You're an interesting species. An interesting mix. You're capable of such beautiful dreams, and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you're not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we've found that makes the emptiness bearable, is each other."

This film embodies the belief that science and religion can co-exist rather than being opposing camps. I loved it for all the cool SF touches (anyone ever notice that the waves on the alien beach move out from shore instead of in? - and you've got to watch it to see the simple but oh-so-cool trick required to interpret the aliens' message/blueprints) but I also loved how this movie wasn't afraid to explore conflicts between religion and science. The quote is from the person who might have been an alien, or might have been Ellie's own subconscious reconstructing her long-lost father - the ending remains purposefully ambiguous, like the next one on the list (Inception). Such endings are frustrating but thought-provoking - definitely memorable.

5. Inception (2010)
"You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling."

This is the most mind-bending film I've yet seen; I had to watch it three times almost back to back to figure it all out and I'm sure I'm still missing tons of nuances. The concepts of dreams within dreams and how that effects our perception of time is fascinating. Another movie where there are so many good quotes it was hard to pick one. This one is from Eames as he joins Arthur in a gunfight (within a dream) and ups the ante by pulling out a grenade launcher.

4. Armageddon (1998)
"If anybody's anybody, I'm Han and you''re Chewbacca"

Bruce Willis' oil drilling roughneck crew turned save-the-world astronauts is still the best collection of buddy characters ever put together, in my opinion. The scene where the crew bargain with top NASA officials for "no more taxes, ever" and "say, do you guys know who killed Kennedy" and "bring back eight-track tapes" is a favorite, though the scenes were they are being evaluated for physical and psychological fitness are close seconds. The quote I selected though is AJ arguing with Oscar over which members of the crew match up with Star Wars characters.

3. Deja Vu (2006)
"I'll speak slow, so those of you with Ph.D.'s in the room can understand."

Denzel Washington is one my favorite actors, and when he finally got brave enough to go SF I knew it was going to be a treat (especially because I love time-twists). The ultimate appeal of this movie, in a post-9/11 world, is the idea (yeah, it's far-fetched, but science fiction fans are always dreamers) that there could be a way to go back in time to prevent terrible disasters from happening. The above quote is agent Doug Carlin (Denzel) trying to get the time-technology geeks out of their theoretical ivory towers and into the serious reality of the situation. This movie has a chase scene that takes place simultaneously in the present and the past - whoa!

2 and 1. All the Star Wars and Star Trek movies. I couldn't pick one over the other. So many great quotes that they have literally become part of the vocabulary of modern culture.

"Make it so" - Jean Luc Picard
"These aren't the droids you're looking for" - Obi Wan Kenobi
"Beam me up, Scotty" - James Kirk
"I suggest a new strategy: let the Wookee win." - C3PO
"Are you out of your Vulcan mind?" - Bones
"Boring conversation anyway. Luke, we’re gonna have company." - Han Solo
"I would cite regulation, but I know you will simply ignore it." - Spock
Please share your favorite SF quote or scene - I'm sure I've overlooked some good ones!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A winner, a new contest, progress and hobbits

The winner of January's contest is Old Kitty! Contact me and two books of your choice will be waiting eagerly for your selection.

This contest worked so well (see my progress chart above! YAY!) that I am doing it again. Specifics are below, but in short, all you have to do is be a follower and comment on this post by Feb 28th with a few encouraging (or prodding) words to help me meet my March 1st writing goal.

This time: TWO winners will get their choice of a book from Amazon ($15 gift e-card each for the two winners, a little extra if you aren't in the U.S. to cover shipping).

Oh, about hobbits. Anybody see TH Mafi's post about hobbits? Racist hobbits - who knew? I still love hobbits though. If you've ever read my profile, I have an inordinate fondess for mythical creatures, even the sharped-teethed (dragons, chimeras and the like), and apparently even racist kind. Little known fact about hobbits: Tolkien came up with the name from the Old English words hol byldan, meaning 'to build a hole'.

And did you know that scientists are saying hobbits may be related to humans now? Scary things you discover when googling.

Back to your comments and my progress, I loved your comments! (over 40 of them, 70 total entries after adding the tweets and following and other nice extra things you did for me). You guys came up with some funny creative comments and now I'm addicted. And it seriously helped. SEVEN of you came back and got extra entries for offering a second comment (and I think a couple even stopped by three times. Woot!).

One most awesome writer, @nicholegiles, offered to tweet motivation regarding my #writegoal. Exchanging writegoals is so much fun, I'd love to have others join in (I'm @writerWyoming. I'd love to hear your #writegoal and tweet motivation, and victory when you reach it).

A few contest specifics: you must be a follower and leave a comment about my writing progress (see chart at top of blog). You can get an extra entry each for 1) already being follower, just let me know; 2) sidebar link to this contest 3) Facebook post about this contest and 4) Tweet about this contest. Two winners will be chosen by

You can get 3 extra entries each time if you come back with another comment after I repost my word count progress chart at the end of every Sunday in February (that's a total of 12 extra points). And - stealing this idea from Lisa Gail Green - I'll give an extra 9 entries (why 9? I dunno) for the most creative comment (whether it's encouraging, annoying, A.D.D.-hyper-ish, favorite cartoon-character-ish, favorite novel-character-ish, sky's the limit).

One of my favorite comments from last month: If this were a drinking contest, I'd shout "CHUG!" I guess "WRITE!" is more appropo? - Victoria Dixon.
Let the creative comments roll!
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