The Power of a Plan

I saw Avengers: Infinity War last week. Please. You don’t have to leap at me to slap a hand over my mouth. As if you could reach me from where you are. This is a spoiler-free zone, so don’t worry.

There is so much hype surrounding this movie, that I don’t blame anyone for being a little fatigued. This post is not so much about the movie as it is a high five to Marvel Studios for the ten-year process leading up to the movie.

I’ve never had a ten-year plan for anything! Years ago, both of my brothers tried to get me to make a five-year business plan, but I flubbed it. I barely outlined novels! At the time, the thought of proposing enough novels or other writing projects to fill five years was

But now I see the value of at least coming up with a plan beyond my usual, “I just wanna write lotsa stuff.” I think about Charles Yallowitz and how weekly he discusses his writing plans. If you follow his blog, you know he sometimes he talks about his writing plans for the next year or so!

A good business plan really needs a good vision statement as well. (If you’re still in Marvel mode, you might be thinking of the character Vision. Ha ha!)

According to BusinessDictionary.com, a vision statement (also known as a mission statement) is

An aspirational description of what an organization would like to achieve or accomplish in the mid-term or long-term future. It is intended to serves as a clear guide for choosing current and future courses of action. See also mission statement.

Read more: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/vision-statement.html

If you’re curious, here is part of Microsoft’s vision statement:

Microsoft is a technology company whose mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. We strive to create local opportunity, growth, and impact in every country around the world. Our strategy is to build best-in-class platforms and productivity services for an intelligent cloud and an intelligent edge infused with artificial intelligence (“AI”).

“To empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.” Wow! Talk about a big goal. But that’s the value of a mission statement. It gives you something to work toward. If it’s achievable right now, then it’s probably not a big enough goal.

So, I’m working on a vision statement too. After all, I can’t get anywhere if I don’t have a destination or a plan for getting there. What about you? Got any long-term or short-term plans you’d care to talk about? Do you have a vision statement for what you want to do? While you think about that, I’ll move onto the winner of the birthday giveaway. Wondering what that’s about? Click here to read the post that announced the giveaway.

The winner of the birthday giveaway, thanks to the magic of the random organizer, is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

FictionFan!

But since this is my blog, I can have two winners. (Surprise announcement! Oh yeah!) So, the second winner is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Penny!

Please comment below to confirm! FictionFan, I will need to get the email you use with Amazon UK at some point. Penny, if you have a preference for the items mentioned in the birthday post, please comment below to confirm.

Thank you to all who commented.

    

This is what’s great about spring.

Avengers: Infinity War movie poster from comicbook.com. Marvel Studios Ten Year logo from screenrant.com. Vizzini inconceivable image from quotesgram.com. Vision image from wpaperhd.com. Other photo by L. Msarie.

The Look of a Leader

Last weekend, I saw Black Panther (directed by Ryan Coogler). The phrase kingly bearing came to mind as I watched Chadwick Boseman play the titular character.

Don’t worry. I won’t give any spoilers about the film. This post isn’t so much about the film as it is about the phrase I mentioned above.

Dictionary.com has this definition of kingly:

stately or splendid, as resembling, suggesting, or befitting a king; regal

Not that you needed that term defined. I looked it up, because I thought of the preconceived ideas many of us have about how kings/queens or other significant leaders should look and act—what we think “befit[s] a king.”

When you think of a king/queen (fictional or nonfictional), do any of the following adjectives come to mind?

• Decisive
• Intelligent/Skilled
• Charismatic
• Bold
• Honorable
• Tall/Attractive
• Wise

They do in my head. T’Challa of Wakanda (Boseman’s character, the 1966 creation of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby) fits all of the above. But he is a fictional king. So why, I asked myself, do I have the idea that a person with a “kingly bearing” fits those adjectives (or at least most of those)? Probably because of Saul, Israel’s first king. Check out this description, which I found in 1 Samuel 9 (in the Bible):

There was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish, the son of Abiel, son of Zeror, son of Becorath, son of Aphiah, a Benjaminite, a man of wealth. And he had a son whose name was Saul, a handsome young man. There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he. From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people (vv. 1-2, ESV).

A month ago, I watched a 2006 PBS documentary on Marie Antoinette, written and directed by David Grubin. Marie Antoinette, as you know, was married to Louis XVI of France. But the historians interviewed in the film probably would not have used most of the adjectives in the list above above to describe Louis XVI. Biography.com had this to say about him: “He was introverted, shy and indecisive, a lover of solitary pleasures such as reading and metalwork.”

Louis XVI of France when he was the Dauphin of France.
By Louis-Michel van Loo – Châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4936896

There are many other kings in history who don’t fit the mold either. I’m sure you can think of several whose tyranny or abdication of leadership to more forceful individuals made them a blight on history. But whenever I inject a king or a leader equivalent to a king into a fictional story, I have the image of a Saul or a T’Challa. (And yes I know that Saul was not considered an ideal king. But he had that “kingly bearing.”)

Watching the movie and thinking about my views on “kingly bearing” made me realize that I need to go beyond preconceived ideas when I create characters. It’s not enough to have a character “look the part” (i.e., merely having traits borrowed from other similar characters), which can make that person seem cliché. He or she needs to be fully realized—warts and all.

Kitty knows that she has the look of a leader. Don’t let the cupcake fool you.

Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa/Black Panther photo from trends44.com. Kitty photo by L. Marie.

This Is Me

Happy Valentine’s Day (and Ash Wednesday)!

If you’ve seen the movie, The Greatest Showman (starring Hugh Jackman and directed by Michael Gracey), you might know that the title of the post is the title of a song from the movie, which was sung by Keala Settle and other members of the ensemble cast. Yeah, I’d never heard of Keala Settle either before seeing the movie, though she’d starred on Broadway for years. Yet there she was in the movie, singing one of the most memorable songs from it.

A friend and I saw the movie this weekend. Afterward, we walked back through the frozen tundra to the car, processing what we’d seen.

Some of the lines of the song ran through my mind:

I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me. (Written by Justin Paul and Benj Pasek)

This post is not meant to be a review of the movie, though I thought it was fabulous. (Guess that statement is a mini-review of a sort.) I won’t give any spoilers about why the song was sung, though it came at a very appropriate point in the movie. And this post is not a commentary on the life of P. T. Barnum, the subject of the movie. I was struck, however, by the song and how long it took to get the movie made—seven and a half years, according to Hugh Jackman. Studios were reluctant to back an original musical. But this project was a passion for him. In an interview I found on the internet (sorry, I didn’t copy the link to the interview) he said this project was more like who he was than other projects.

Maybe you can relate to the lyrics I quoted above. I certainly can. And I can relate to a seven-year journey of working to get something made. I began my elf novel seven years ago. I’ve written many books and other things since then. Some were published, some weren’t. But the elf book is my passion project, which has its antecedents in a story I wrote twenty years ago—you read that right—back when I wrote parodies.

I grew up watching a little cartoon called Fractured Fairy Tales, which were parodies of fairy tales.

I thought I’d try my hand writing at those. But instead of using existing fairy tales, I wanted to write original fairy tales. I came up with some characters who rescued princesses. Only, they weren’t very good at it.

This is not the story I mentioned in the previous paragraph. I can’t find that one for some reason. This is another fairy tale I wrote back in the day. But I wrote all of my fairy tales on yellow paper like this.

I worked on that story off and on for six years for my own amusement, considering it a hobby like crocheting, while trying to finish a science fiction novel for adults. But around 2004, an astute friend asked me, “Why don’t you write fairy tales instead?” She meant for publication, instead of the science fiction novel for which I struggled to find a good ending. “They seem more you,” she added.

Honestly, the notion of getting that story published had never crossed my mind until she spoke those words. Well, I polished it, submitted it to publishers and agents, but got nowhere. Only one agent asked to see the full manuscript. He mentioned that he liked some of it. Now, let’s flash forward seven years. I’m in grad school at this point. An advisor read my fairy tale, which had been rejected probably twenty-five times. Ironically, I had submitted chapters of this book as part of my application to get into the graduate school.

She said, “I liked some of it.” Familiar words. And then she said (and I’m just paraphrasing here, since we had numerous conversations on this subject), “You’ve got to take writing more seriously. These characters deserve better.” Meaning, stop writing parodies, making fun of the fairy tales you claim to love. Write from a sincere heart.

So, I lifted several characters out of that book and gave them a new home and a new plot, which became the book I started seven years ago.

That’s why I was encouraged by The Greatest Showman. It’s nice to know that projects made with love can find an audience of people who love them too.

What’s the longest you’ve ever worked on a project?

If you want more information on the movie, check out this
HBO Interview, which involves Hugh Jackman, Zendaya, and Zac Efron talking about the movie:

The Greatest Showman movie poster from cinematerial.com. Fractured Fairy Tales still from avxhome.se. Other photos by L. Marie. The Valentine owl crochet pattern can be found here.

Beneath the Surface

Lately, when I’ve heard people talk about the movies they’ve seen, invariably I’ve heard phrases along these lines:

• Stunning visuals
• Bad script
• No character work
• Script okay, but not memorable
• Rich in cinematography, but dialogue poor

The last comment really resonated with me, because I love dialogue. I’ve memorized whole sections of dialogue from movies like The Princess Bride and Moonstruck. Not so with the movies I’ve seen lately. In fact, I can’t think of a single line of dialogue from any of the movies I’ve seen in the last four months. This is not to say that I disliked those films. They were very enjoyable.

As you know, dialogue and characterization go hand in hand. Dialogue can reveal a character’s motives and help move the plot along. Good dialogue can be fraught with tension.

I brought up dialogue, because I’m reminded of some feedback I received on a chapter I’d written, which centers around a family dealing with a crisis. The friend who’d read the chapter mentioned that she wanted to feel worried about the main character, but didn’t. While she complimented the writing, the scene just didn’t have enough tension. I later stumbled upon an article online that helped me realize why that scene was so troublesome.

In the article, “What Can You Learn from David Mamet About Adding Subtext to Your Script?” Justin Morrow mentioned this:

In all good drama, no one says what they want. . . [D]ialogue (or conversation, depending on what plane of reality you happen to be inhabiting) is all in the subtext, the hidden motivations and secret engines that drive our interactions.

The author went on to talk about Mamet’s screenplay for the movie, Glengarry Glen Ross, a 1992 movie adaptation of Mamet’s award-winning 1984 play. But what really caught my eye in that article (which you can find here), is this quote by Ernest Hemingway (sorry, David Mamet):

If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.

In my scene, the characters said what they meant (i.e., that they were angry or hurt), because I thought directly stating what was going on created tension. But the scene lacked subtext-—those simmering undercurrents that let you know there is more to a scene than meets the eye.

The following excerpt is from “The Light of the World,” a short story by Hemingway.

When he saw us come in the door the bartender looked up and then reached over and put the glass covers on the two free-lunch bowls.
“Give me a beer,” I said. He drew it, cut the top off with the spatula and then held the glass in his hand. I put the nickel on the wood and he slid the beer toward me.
“What’s yours?” he said to Tom.
“Beer.”
He drew that beer and cut it off and when he saw the money he pushed the beer across to Tom.
“What’s the matter?” Tom asked.
The bartender didn’t answer him. He just looked over our heads and said, “What’s yours?” to a man who’d come in.

You can infer by the bartender’s actions that he has a low opinion of the narrator (Nick) and Tom. Though the dialogue seems sparse, I felt the tension of this scene, because of what the bartender didn’t say.

If I had written that scene, I probably would have had the bartender show his disdain by saying something mean or sarcastic immediately. But I love the fact that Hemingway didn’t do that. He showed the tip of the iceberg and let the reader infer that there was a lot more going on beneath the surface.

Does every conversation have to be as subtle as the one Hemingway wrote? No. But considering the subtext can make your dialogue memorable.

What was the last movie you saw or book you read that had memorable dialogue or a scene of tension that you thought the author/screenwriter handled well? What engaged you about that dialogue or scene?

Glengarry Glen Ross movie poster from movieposter.com. Subtext image from theatrefolk.com. Dialogue image from clipartkid.com.

Shattering the Glass[es] Ceiling

Today I’ll reveal the winners of Smile, the middle grade graphic novel by Raina Telgemeier. I have a surprise announcement about that. But before I get to that, let me distract you with this.

Not long ago, I watched a movie on the Hallmark channel involving an “ugly duckling” hero who turns into a swan. His hottening factor? Taking off his glasses at the suggestion of his dating coach. Suddenly, he’s Swoon City.

men-women-eyewear-tablin-wood-eyeglass-frames-rectangular

Sigh. Remember this old maxim: “Men seldom make passes at girls [or in this case, guys] who wear glasses”? By the way, Dorothy Parker, famed writer/critic said that in 1937. Marilyn Monroe uttered a variation of it in the 1953 movie, How to Marry a Millionaire. I guess people still take that maxim as gospel. But I couldn’t help thinking that if the dude in the Hallmark movie had invested in a pair of stylish frames, he wouldn’t have had to take them off to be hot.

Poster - How to Marry a Millionaire_02

I look better with glasses. You get it? I look [at things] better with glasses. Ha ha. Okay, I’m laughing alone here. Yes, I know the advantages of contacts. Many people love their contacts. I’ve tried contacts. My eyes simply don’t have enough moisture. So after much frustration, I returned to glasses and never felt happier.

Yet in some movies and TV shows, certain attitudes prevail about the wearing of spectacles. For example, the idea that people with glasses aren’t as attractive as people without them or seem nerdier. (Bet you’re thinking of the CBS show, The Big Bang Theory, right about now.) I’m here to announce that a paradigm shift about the limited appeal of glasses wearers is needed.

May I present Exhibits A, B, C, and D?

10f2b03dcbe7491a2566b7541e16b1fc tumblr_mokeuzZnTI1qd4aano2_500

© Copyright 2010 CorbisCorporation ryan-gosling-glasses

Ladies and gentlemen, I rest my case. (You get it? Glasses case? Huh? Huh? Okay. I’ll stop.)

For a great article on the benefit of great frames, check this out:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2234931/Specs-appeal-Men-make-passes-girls-wear-RIGHT-glasses.html

Dog-with-Glasses

Now, I’ll reveal the winners of Smile. Here’s the surprise: I’m giving away THREE copies of the book, rather than two. I also have signed stickers.

6393631  008

So without further ado or tired jokes, here are the three winners:

Andy Murray of City Jackdaw
Carrie Rubin of The Write Transition
Afton Rorvik of Afton Rorvik

Congratulations, winners. Please comment below to confirm, then email your street address and phone number to lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com. If you would prefer an eBook, please send the email address you use with Amazon. Afton and Carrie, when you confirm, please tell me if you would like red, orange, or blue daisies. I will send two to each of you. (They are about six inches wide.)

Daisies

I’m sorry that I can’t afford to send daisies your way, Andy. But you will get a book. 🙂

Thanks to all who commented.

Triple Daisies

I’m working on more daisies. Sorry. The purple ones are spoken for.

How to Marry a Millionaire poster from doctormacro.com. Hot guys found at pinterest, swoonworthy.net, bookishtemptations.com, and blackdoctor.org. Dog with glasses from mrwallpaper.com. Eyeglasses frames from flowerhop.net.

Sound and Silence: Shaping the Mood

Someone shrieks. A parent scoops up a child and flees. Gazes swivel skyward as a sudden crashing sound shatters the brittle quiet. The thumps and thuds of hurrying feet sound a timpani beat on the stairs.

What is this? The aftermath of a horrible crime? Fear engendered by a natural disaster?

No. This is a three-year-old’s birthday party that I recently attended. Taken out of context, the sights and sounds above have a veneer of tension and horror. (Perhaps the notion of a three-year-old’s birthday party fills you with horror now.)

2-party-birthday-hat-for-kids-11

When a bunch of small children congregate in one space, you might imagine you’re in a war zone when you catalogue the amount of spillage, breakage, and yell-age (not a real word, but appropriate) taking place. Somehow seven small children can seem like 30, especially when they’re sugared up.

Actually, the most eerie sound at the party was the sudden onslaught of quiet. All of the children were upstairs in one child’s bedroom being very quiet. The silence sent every parent rushing up the stairs to see what was going on.

Since I was in charge of games at this party, I was privy to the most sounds: shrieks, protests (“I didn’t get a turrrrrrrrrrrrrrrn”), and questions. (“Where’s my baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaalllllll?”) I wondered what the neighbors thought of all of the sounds coming from this place.

Expectations factor into how sounds are received. Because we expect a bunch of kids ranging in age from 2 to 7 to be loud when they congregate, screams aren’t as ominous as they would seem coming from a crowd of adults at a non-sporting event. Therefore, our heart rates remain even when we hear them, unless we recognize the switch in a child’s tone (from excited to upset).

violin1The birthday party reminds me of something to which I need to pay more attention in my writing: sounds and their effect on a listener. Consider the way sounds shape our reaction to scenes in films and shows. We’ve all seen horror movies where high- or low-pitched instruments are the signal that something awful is going to happen. At the Moving Image Education website, I found a quote that encapsulates this experience:

Pitch can greatly affect audience response: a low rumbling sound might imply menace, while a high, sustained note might create tension.

If you’ve got time and don’t scare easily, you can watch one of the most famous scenes in cinematic history—the shower scene from Psycho (1960), one of director Alfred Hitchcock’s most famous films. (Seems a lot tamer than movies today.) Listen to the music and how it affects the mood of the scene.

If you watched the scene or remember it from the past, did you notice the quiet at the beginning? That aspect makes the murder all the more jarring.

In a book, an author has to work hard to help a reader correctly interpret the mood. For descriptions of sounds, we have to rely on figurative language and other well-chosen words to create a frame of reference for the reader, since he or she can only “hear” through his/her imagination. (For example: “I said, no!” Jessica’s “no” sliced the air like a knife.)

I usually look at the behind-the-scenes documentaries of shows like Clone Wars or movies like The Lord of the Rings to learn what sound engineers do to create sounds that add to our experience of the media. A great online resource for the use of sounds to convey mood is the article, “Change The Sound, Change The Mood,” at NHPR (New Hampshire Public Radio). Click here for that article. If you have time, check out the videos that show how the mood of well-known movie trailers drastically changed as the music used in them changed. (The revised Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory trailer made me laugh out loud. The boat ride is key.)

57768-Willy-Wonka--The-Chocolate-Fac-dmUY

The boat ride from Willy Wonka

How has a sound affected your mood lately? How do you use sound in your writing to heighten the mood? What book or poem have you read recently where the descriptions of sounds made the text even more vivid?

Birthday hats from trendymods.com. Violin from bibleconversation.wordpress.com. Willy Wonka boat ride gif from pandawhale.com.

Slow Dance

thBack when I was an undergrad (and humans had just learned how to work the sundial), I didn’t dance on a slow song at dorm or frat parties with just anyone. The dude had to meet at least a couple of the following criteria:

(1) Hotness
(2) Someone with whom I’d made significant eye contact during the evening (and by significant, I mean 15 seconds)
(3) Hotness
(4) Three Greek letters on his T-shirt (or at least be the leader of his own fake fraternity)
(5) Enrollment at the school
(6) Hotness
(7) Cigarette-less. I didn’t care if he smoked. Just put it down for five minutes, please, wouldja?
(8) Someone I thought was cool
(9) Hotness

Ah, those were the days when my shallowness was at its height. (I can’t say I’m very deep these days.) But the selection criteria often depended on the song. If it was a favorite, I was not so choosy about my companion in the dance. Getting to dance was all that mattered.

A dance comes to mind as I contemplate the relationship between the heroine of my novel and a would-be love interest who also is a point of view character.

PrideandprejudiceposterDance is the metaphor often used for two people moving toward love. So I appreciate authors who incorporate relationship-building dance sequences in their works. Take Jane Austen. I can’t help thinking of her, because Professor VJ Duke mentioned Pride & Prejudice on his blog recently. (Waves to the Professor.)

In Pride and Prejudice—and I’m thinking not just of the book, but of the 2005 film adaptation starring Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen—dance is not only an opportunity for social commentary, it is a declaration of war.

Matthew Macfadyen and Keira Knightley in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (2005)If you’ve seen that movie, cast your mind back to the scene at Mr. Bingley’s mansion. Mr. Darcy (Macfadyen) has asked Elizabeth Bennet (Knightley) to dance. But this isn’t just a dance—it’s a battle. She’s thinking of how much she dislikes him, but can’t snub him—an act of social suicide. He’s thinking of why he shouldn’t like her. After the opening salvo, their conversation is polite but barbed—a thorny rose. The tension continues as each retreats to his or her side. I love this dance, because during that sequence the others in the scene fade away, leaving just Darcy and Lizzie. Neither looks happy, because neither will give in.

Instant_OatmealAh, I love that stuff, though some might judge such a scene as too subtle. But I love the slow build toward romance—a delicate pas de deux. I tend to lose interest in stories where the love is as instant as oatmeal. I’m not debating an author’s right to go there. However, if I already know true love is in the room the moment a pair of eyes meet another, I’m outta there.

I’m not talking about chemistry. You can be attracted to someone in an instant. But in a novel, I like roadblocks. And since my novel is not a romance but contains romantic elements, I can throw all the roadblocks I want into the mix as long as they fit the plot. But I have criteria for the roadblocks standing in the way of true love.

(1) Hotness/Chemistry

I started to write Just kidding as if I were referring back to my earlier dance criteria. But as I think about it, hotness is an issue. If I write about someone who is conventionally hot (and my hero and heroine actually fit this convention, contrary to another novel I wrote), looks will not be the golden ticket that gains him or her his/her desires. Sorry. I’m quirky that way. This is not to say that I dislike books where the hero and heroine are both hot. On the contrary, I’ve loved many books with this feature. But what’s huge for me in this book is to show what lies below the surface. So physical attraction is something my characters seriously wrestle against.

(2) Misunderstanding

The tension between Person A and Person B must go beyond the tiff that a five-minute conversation can solve if only they would stop glaring at each other. There has to be a fundamental reason why Person B is the last person on earth (or at least the semi-last person) Person A would fall for. In fact, Person A considers several compelling reasons why Person B might need to be executed for the good of humanity. And I need to keep raising the stakes against their relationship. But there’s a third criterion.

(3) Abuse

I draw the line at physical or sexual abuse as a step in the dance toward love. Sorry, but that’s my preference as an author and a reader. I’m not talking about the physicality of a battle-trained hero and heroine engaged in a battle to defend himself or herself or because he/she follows a commanding officer’s orders. Books about warriors need battles. If both are warriors, they know the stakes. I’m talking about books where the misunderstood bad boy shoves or punches the heroine or a rape occurs, but they fall in love within the space of 100—200 pages. I’m old school, so please don’t write me and complain if your book fits this description. I’m talking about my preferences here. Physical abuse or rape is a hurdle I’ve never been able to jump over as a reader and I refuse to try as an author. I’m of the belief that rape is not a crime of passion, but a crime, as is physical abuse. Sorry. Won’t go there.

I’m getting off my soapbox now and will return to my slow sizzle story. And now you can tell me what criteria you have if you include romance in your book. What books with romance do you love as a reader?

Knightley and Macfadyen dancing photo from kootation.com. Pride and Prejudice movie poster from Wikipedia. Instant oatmeal photo from talkhealthytome.com. Couple slow dancing from gograph.com.