Color Grading Your Story

Happy Good Friday/Regular Friday (if the celebration of Good Friday is not your thing).

Days ago, I watched a YouTube video on the digital color grading for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movie trilogy (2001-2003). I know. Random. The following is not the video I watched that day. But it provides a really good explanation about digital color grading for film.

Lest you’re sitting there, unable to muster concern about the subject, let me just say there’s been a lot of talk of movie color palettes. While some praised the Lord of the Rings movies for their color palette, others denounced Jackson’s The Hobbit (2012) for being “too crisp and bright.” And while some Marvel’s movie palettes have been praised for their brightness, some DC movie palettes have been criticized as too murky. Even when DC tried to brighten things up with Justice League (2017), some people still criticized them. Movie fans can be fickle, I guess.

       

In an article by David Geffin, “The Power Of Color Grading And The Benefit It Can Have On Your Work Summarized In Two Minutes” (and yes, all of those articles and prepositions were capitalized by this author, so please don’t feel the need to point out capitalization errors in the comments), we find this truth:

Color is so important because, like lighting, it affects a mood and feel of a piece, and therefore how we interpret the final image.

Geffin includes the two-minute video mentioned in the title that you can check out if you click here.

I’m a big fan of color to enhance mood. But what can you do in a book where the imagination is the only screen you have to work with?

I like to use thematic colors in narration. In my young adult novel with three protagonists, I have a fire wielder, a plant wielder, and one person in between who is neutral. (While he does not wield an element, he has the ability to block magic.)

Let’s say Rosie Bloom (left) is my fire wielder while Macy Macaron (right) is my plant wielder. (Okay, the fact that Rosie has roses kind of messes up the analogy, but work with me here.) Shuri (middle) is my neutral person.

My plant wielder might be dressed in natural colors on the cooler side of the spectrum (green and blue) to make you think of a forest or a river flowing by trees. Emotionally, she’s a bit down also, so the blue palette does double duty for her.

My fire wielder was trickier. As an assassin, I couldn’t put him in warm, fiery colors, because he’d stand out. He prefers the shadows. So, I had to use color in a different way—to highlight his emotion, i.e., through phrases like “the red blaze of his anger.”

My neutral dude was a lot easier. He wears a lot of gray, because some of his actions fall into a gray area morally at times.

Another way to color grade a story is to make sure the colors that emphasize mood are the ones emphasized on a page.

19063In this passage from The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, what do you see? (SPOILER ALERT. Look away if you don’t want to know something that could possibly spoil a plot point in the book or the movie. I will tell you when to look.)

   There were shocked pajamas and torn faces. It was the boy’s hair she saw first.

Rudy?

She did more than mouth the word now. “Rudy?”

He lay with his yellow hair and closed eyes, and the book thief ran toward him and fell down. She dropped the black book. (Zusak, 535)

In this aftermath of a bombing, I see two colors: yellow and black. This scene involves Liesel Meminger who makes a grisly discover concerning her friend, Rudy Steiner. Zusak mentioned two colors that enhance mood: the bright yellow of Rudy’s hair, which shows the brightness of a life tragically ending in death—reminiscent of the black book Liesel drops. Ending with the black book after the yellow hair is like watching a solar eclipse. (END SPOILER)

In what ways have you seen colors used effectively to enhance mood? Perhaps you’ve seen filters and other highlights done well on Instagram or Facebook. Do tell!

Zusak, Markus. The Book Thief. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. Print.

Color grade image from fstoppers.com. Book cover from Goodreads. Justice League movie poster from fanpop.com. The Hobbit movie poster from flicks.co.nz. Rose Bloom and Macy Macaron are Shoppie dolls made by Moose Toys. Shuri, from the movie Black Panther, was made by Hasbro. Photo by L. Marie.

Music to My Ears—Five Years A-Bloggin’

I was sitting at my desk the other day, contemplating what I would have for breakfast, when I suddenly realized, Oh my goodness! My blogoversary passed!

As of February 19, I’ve been blogging for five years. I didn’t think I’d last five minutes, let alone five years. But here I am. Like the proverbial bad penny, I keep turning up. I’m grateful to all of you who discovered this blog and keep coming back. Rest assured, the weirdness will continue. (Or, run away while you still can.)

On with the show. Recently, a friend who is taking a writing class shared the following video with me.

In case you elect to avoid spending almost eight minutes watching the video (though it was well done), its creator, Nerdwriter1, discusses the recurring musical themes (leitmotifs) of the Lord of the Rings movie soundtracks, composed by Howard Shore (movies directed by Peter Jackson, based on books by J. R. R. Tolkien). These are my favorite soundtracks of all time, so of course I had to take a look.

I was already well aware of Howard Shore’s genius. But the video was a lovely reminder of what you get when a powerful musical score is wedded to a powerful story.

   

See, kids? These are CDs. We used to play these back in the day.

On many days, I had the soundtracks playing in the background while I wrote. I can remember writing scenes that matched the tempo of Shore’s compositions. These soundtracks made me want to write the kind of story that would merit a skillfully written score played by an equally skilled orchestra.

So yeah, I love those soundtracks. But not just Howard Shore’s. I love the soundtracks from Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008) (movies directed by Christopher Nolan), which were composed by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard. These soundtracks, with their edgy orchestration, are an interesting contrast to the Lord of the Rings soundtracks. But they all have an epic quality that evokes emotion. (If you look at the list of musical selections on the Batman Begins soundtrack, you’ll note that each was named after a bat genus. Also, BATMAN is spelled out.)

    

    

I have music in my head, even as I write this blog post. I’m hearing the horns from The Fellowship of the Ring soundtrack. Being a blogger is a kind of fellowship. You post something and hope someone will read it. And when someone does, and you get to know that person, relationships are forged. I’ve met many great people through this blog. People like you. Thanks for coming along for the ride.

Kitty and her interns. Somebody’s gotta get the coffee.

Batman Begins movie poster from geekynerfherder.blogspot.com. The Dark Knight movie poster from popcritics.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Snow-Fro and Kissy Boo Shoppets are registered trademarks of Moose Toys.

Like a Movie?

I’ll get to who won Kinda Like Brothers by the awe-inspiring Coe Booth in just a minute. But first, you know me. I have to share what’s on my mind.

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Three years ago, I wrote a fight scene and submitted it to one of my grad school advisors, thinking that it was pretty good. She totally ripped into it. Her problem with it had to do with cause and effect. If Adam punches Claude (cause), what is the effect of that punch? If the effect is Claude falling against Jared, why didn’t I state this? Why did I instead cut to Sam throwing a knife, when I started the fight talking about Adam and what he’s doing to Claude? And where is Adam positioned by the way? Where is Claude? I didn’t provide enough information to make the fight understandable. 

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Though I thought I adequately conveyed the scene I saw in my head, I left out key steps to help a reader track the action. I’ve begun to think of that experience as “movie shortcut thinking.”

In a movie, we can see a ton of action in a wide shot. I can’t help thinking of a scene from The Return of the King (2003, directed by Peter Jackson), specifically, the Battle of the Pelennor Fields where thousands of characters fight. (Um, my fight scenes are not on such an epic scale by the way.) A camera can easily pan or zoom in quickly to show us key elements in a scene. Also, a director might make the decision to fade to another scene altogether in the blink of an eye.

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The Battle of the Pelennor Fields

We’re not bothered by the switch in scenes, because the eye can process a lot of images quickly. We’re getting used to seeing films like The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012, directed by Peter Jackson), which was filmed at 48 FPS (frames per second). But the mind’s eye is different. In a book, a reader’s imagination requires more cues to track the action. While writing my fight scene, I had taken too many shortcuts, as if I were a camera panning across a landscape. The scene I presented to my advisor needed more work than I’d originally thought to make it effective. Every action needed a reaction. Newton’s third law at work.

According to Newton, whenever objects A and B interact with each other, they exert forces upon each other. . . . For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

fall_2013_sketcheskey_3I needed to show the pertinent actions and reactions in this fight. Doing so doesn’t mean spelling out every microbe (which would be boring) and spoon-feeding a reader (which would be condescending). It simply means making the action clear and compelling. That required slowing down and writing the fight step by step.

                         step-1  Step-1-and-2-.1

But I didn’t understand all of this when my advisor ripped into my scene. Understanding dawned finally this year when I was asked for my opinion about a manuscript written by the relative of a friend of mine. I had trouble tracking the action in—you guessed it—a fight scene. I didn’t understand who was fighting whom or which actions caused the reactions described. Now that I had walked a mile in my advisor’s shoes, I understood her frustration with my scene. Some lessons take years to sink in, I guess. The gist of the lesson: when it comes to writing, a shortcut is not a good thing.

Now, the moment you’ve been waiting for: the announcement of the winner of Kinda Like Brothers by Coe Booth.

            coe_booth_-_author_photo KindaLikeBrothers

That person is . . .

. . . Is . . .

. . . Is . . .

. . . Is . . .

Sharon Van Zandt!

Congratulations, Sharon! Please confirm below. Let me know if you want a hardcover or eBook.

Battle of Pelennor Fields image from comicvine.com. Step 1 from kirbasinstitute.com. Step 2 image from addictionblog.org. Action/reaction image from wired.com. Fight scene image from forgotmylines.com. Mind image from bubblejam.net.

Trained to Use the Light

I love the concept of the hero (male or female) and monomyth—the hero’s journey. Joseph Campbell aficionados will recognize his stamp, thanks to his seminal work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. I tend to gravitate to a work with a clearly defined hero on a mission. And Samurai Jack is a hero on a mission.

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I’m too sexy for my shirt . . .

Who is he? The title character of Samurai Jack, an animated show created by Genndy Tartakovsky, which ran from 2001—2004 on Cartoon Network. Jack has an archenemy: Aku, the spirit of evil who continually sends assassins to murder Jack. Why? Jack has the only weapon in the world that can defeat Aku: a mystical sword. And Jack’s mission is to destroy Aku.

Okay, I see you rolling your eyes, so let me get to the point of this post. One of my favorite episodes of Samurai Jack, and one I saw again recently, is “Samurai Versus Ninja” (#4.1), a 2003 episode written by Bryan Andrews and Brian Larsen. I can’t avoid spoilers, sorry. In the episode in question, a desperate Aku sends a highly skilled ninja to kill Jack. For much of the episode, the ninja remains hidden in the shadows, watching Jack kick butt. To lure Jack into battle, the ninja kidnaps a child. When Jack rescues the child, he explains what he knows about the ninja:

Shinobi. Warrior of the night. Trained to use the darkness of the shadow. I know your arts as well. But I have been trained to use the light. (IMDb)

I love that quote! It makes sense in Jack’s case, since he’s the hero out to help those in need. I love the idea of a warrior trained to use light, rather than darkness. It shows the power of good, rather than the perceived weakness of it.

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Clash of the titans: Jack versus the Ninja

I wrote a post before about how annoyed I get when heroes are portrayed as weaker than, and certainly less interesting than, villains. I realize I’m in the minority on that. After all, I keep reading about or hearing about actors who covet the villain roles in movies and on television because the roles are “juicier.” But I resonate with Jack’s methodology.

When darkness is total, light needs to be powerful enough to pierce through it. A weak light can’t do anything for you, except show you the cliff you’re about to fall from. But a strong light can show you the cliff’s edge before you reach it.

You know what? I get the fact that the world is messed up and times are hard. I get the fact that people suffer. I could tell you a story or two of suffering. But I’ve been trained to use the light as well—to use hope and encouragement even when I’m in the most need of both.

So yeah, I cheered when Jack handed the ninja his butt served on a platter. (Not literally. But it’s a more interesting way of saying “Jack beat the ninja.”) Jack fought against an extremely difficult opponent—a fight without shortcuts. He got knocked down, but got back up each time.

As I consider that fight, I can’t help thinking about Gandalf and Saruman from The Lord of the Rings. Gandalf was the “servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor.” If that’s not a description of someone trained to use the light, I don’t know what is. Saruman the White, the head of the White Council, was supposedly on the side of good. But his actions proved otherwise. He delved too “deep in the enemy’s council” and lost his effectiveness as a warrior of the light. When Gandalf and Saruman fought in Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf lost at first. But ultimately, Saruman was the biggest loser.

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Grumpy old men? Nope. Gandalf and Saruman chillin’

In times when darkness seems to win, we could use all the light warriors we can get. Warriors who know the struggle and the costs of the battle. Warriors who can say, “This is how you win it” without compromising or changing sides. I can’t help thinking of people like Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, or others today who have suffered greatly, yet maintain their humor and verve—like Maria, that sassy Brick House Chick many of us know and love.

How about you? What are you trained to use? How has that helped you fight the good fight?

Samurai Jack images from images1.wikia.nocookie.net and sharetv.com.

Shattered Hopes

I have close friends who grieve the recent loss of a child through miscarriage. Other family members also have lost a child this way. At first, I resisted writing this post due to the sadness of the topic, but this is a blog about writing and life. Grief is one of the harder parts of life.

Interestingly enough, I’ve come to the part in my novel revision where a baby has died. Life imitates art sometimes and vice versa.

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I’ve never had a child. I can’t, due to having been born with a malformed uterus. I won’t go into the ins and outs of that (and you might be squirming and hoping I won’t), but suffice it to say, I can’t have children. Though I can’t, that doesn’t mean I can’t understand the pain of hopes shattered and plans made that are now unmade. Just when you get used to the idea of welcoming a little one into your family, you have to say good-bye.

I can’t help thinking of King Théoden in Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Two Towers (J. R. R. Tolkien). His son Théodred was much older, and in fact had been killed in a battle. But Théoden’s words ring true: “No parent should have to bury their child.”

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Sorrow wears many faces. There’s the sorrow of rejection when a manuscript you’ve worked on gets a no from an agent or editor. In some ways this feels like a miscarriage, and you have to deal with the shattered hopes and the unmaking of plans. (I said in “some ways,” so please don’t send me a how-dare-you-equate-human-life-to-a-manuscript message. Some of us can’t have children and can’t afford to adopt, so book “children” may be all the children we’ll get in this life.) You also have to deal with well-meaning people who tell you to “Snap out of it” or “Move on, you can write others,” just as grieving parents are told, “You can have other children” or “Be thankful for the one you already have.” As if they aren’t.

Another sorrow includes the disappointed expectations that come with broken relationships. I don’t have to tell you about those. I’m sure you’ve experienced them. You can’t live on this earth for long and escape that experience at least once or twice.

The sorrows of those close to you take a bite out of you. We were made to live in community. But sometimes, being in community hurts.

Cradle photo from lizcurtishiggs.com. Théoden (played by Bernard Hill) grieving photo from pinterest.com.

If I Had an Eagle . . .

eagle-the-hobbitRiding an eagle is the only way to commute . . . and escape from wargs!

I’ll resist the urge to sing, “I’d hammer in the morning,” since the title of this post reminds me of the song “If I Had a Hammer.”

bald_eagle-normalI’ve been thinking about eagles lately, and not just because my brother claims he saw one as we returned to Illinois after our trip to Houston. I recently watched the extended version of The Hobbit (directed by Peter Jackson) and am currently making my way through the appendices (the behind-the-scenes documentaries). In various forums, I’ve read comments of people complaining about the deus ex machina effect of the eagles in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

According to Wikipedia, deus ex machina is

A plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly resolved by the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability or object. Depending on how it is done, it can be intended to move the story forward when the writer has “painted themself into a corner” and sees no other way out, to surprise the audience, to bring the tale to a happy ending, or as a comedic device.

You probably already knew that, didn’t you? Getting back to the eagles, I love their intervention in these books and the film adaptations. SPOILERS AHEAD. I read The Hobbit when I was a kid, and can readily recall the immense comfort I felt when the eagles arrived to rescue Bilbo, Gandalf, and the dwarves from burning trees, and later when they showed up during the battle of five armies. As I read The Lord of the Rings (and watched the films), I cheered as Gwaihir, Lord of the Eagles, rescued Gandalf from Isengard (Fellowship of the Ring). I woo-hooed as eagles fortuitously arrived during the battle at the Black Gate (The Return of the King), and cried when they carried Frodo and Sam away from Mount Doom. END SPOILERS.

Their presence provided the assurance that all would be well. Now, I realize everyone does not share that sentiment. But I love the fact that when characters are on the verge of death or at the very least, at the end of their strength, help comes from an unexpected source. I can breathe a sigh of relief until the next crisis. And in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, the next crisis is always just around the corner.

Help comes from a surprising source in my novel. I don’t use eagles, however. I won’t say what I use, but I wonder if I might be judged in the same way as Tolkien has been. To prepare for the possibility of a deus ex machina backlash from readers, I used foreshadowing earlier in the book so that what happens toward the end is not a total surprise. At least one of the intervening forces makes an appearance early on, so I’m hoping the later arrival feels inevitable, rather than contrived. Also, the intervening forces don’t actually fight the battle at the end. The main characters still have to do that. But these forces are there to provide help and hope in a story with many bleak moments. I included them, because it is a fairy tale after all. 😀

I don’t know about you, but I read to escape. Life is difficult sometimes. So if an eagle wants to appear and whisk someone away from those who would do that person harm, I’m all for it.

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This is not a feather from an eagle, in case you’re wondering. (You probably aren’t.) It kept flopping on my living room floor, so I had to take a photo of it and include it.

What’s your take on the subject? Are you appalled by even the whiff of a deus ex machina ending? Do you employ one in your novel?

Bald eagle from hdwallpapers. Bilbo on the eagle image from The Hobbit.

Arise!

I read a post today which discussed heroes giving noble speeches to hearten people, and whether that’s effective today. When I commented, I cited King Théoden’s speech in The Return of the King, little knowing how much I would need that speech five minutes later. While I thought of the stirring speech from the 2003 movie directed by Peter Jackson, what’s below is from the book by J. R. R. Tolkien.

Arise, arise, Riders of Théoden!
Fell deeds awake: fire and slaughter!
spear shall be shaken, shield be splintered,
a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises!
Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!

220PX-~1Bernard Hill as Théoden. Photo from Wikipedia.

I always loved that speech, because Théoden and his army rode toward a battle none was sure he would survive. But they went anyway.

I think about that speech now, as I contemplate an emailed rejection I just received. I wasn’t going to post today. I was going to huddle in a ball in the corner. Yet I felt that I need to write this while the feelings are fresh and raw, not just for myself, but for anyone who has been rejected and now wanders lost in the fog of confusion and “what next?”

Some days writing seems like a battle I’m not sure I’ll win. Maybe like me, you start to second-guess yourself, thinking, Am I a total loser? If that’s you today, look at Théoden’s speech. I don’t know exactly why I get totally pumped when I read those words or hear them in the movie. This is an example of persuasion, spoken by a man who wasn’t content to hang about his halls while his army swept into battle. He went with them.

People tell you that rejection is par for the course. Yeah, it is. It hurts, because you’re left reeling. Others tell you to get up and try again, but you feel like a newborn foal standing on shaky legs. That’s how I feel right now.

Is that you today? I don’t have words of wisdom. I just have that speech—those gorgeous words of Tolkien. And I take heart. And I cry. And I scream:

Fell deeds awake . . . a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises!

And I go into battle once more.

Tolkien, J. R. R. The Return of the King. New York: Ballantine Books, 1955, 1965. Copyright renewed 1983 by Christopher R. Tolkien, Michael H. R. Tolkien, John F. R. Tolkien and Priscilla M. A. R. Tolkien. Print. 123.