Where Are the Good Guys?

BaileySpur4XAngoraBlendFurFetlCowboyHatWhiteThe other day I received an email about a new book series involving a beloved character from a classic series. Sorry to be cryptic, but I don’t plan to reveal who that character is or what that series is. Suffice it to say, this character and others in the series have been reimagined as evil characters when formerly they were on the side of good. My first reaction was irritation. What gives, huh? Is it because villains are portrayed as having more fun these days?

As I groused over that email, I couldn’t help thinking about Thor: The Dark World. This is my own opinion here, rather than a well-reasoned critique of the movie (I enjoyed it by the way), but the standout character in it was Loki (played by Tom Hiddleston). Really, he would be a standout character if he just stood there rearranging socks in a drawer. But in a movie with the name Thor in the title, shouldn’t Thor—the hero—be the standout character? Maybe he was for you (he is 6 feet 3 inches tall, heh heh), but he wasn’t for me in this movie, despite the romance and the tragic bits. My eyes were on Loki every time and also on Christopher Eccleston who played a dark elf named Malekith the Accursed.

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Thor (Chris Hemsworth) battling Malekith (Christopher Eccleston); Loki at right (Tom Hiddleston)

Now, I realize movie production companies and authors have the right to do whatever they want. And I have enjoyed some of the fruits of their labor. But here’s where my blood pressure rises: when good is portrayed as weak or even boring.

In a previous post, I mentioned a quote from Sean Bailey, president of production at Walt Disney Studios. This quote came from the November 8 issue of Entertainment Weekly in an essay by Anthony Breznican:

The better you make your villain, the better your hero has to be. . . . We call it the Hans Gruber theory. One reason Die Hard is a great action movie is Gruber never makes a mistake, but he’s still defeated by John McClane. McClane is a great hero because he’s up against such a formidable adversary. (47)

But in some of the books or movies I’ve seen in recent years—Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) being one of them—the good characters seem weak and timid in the face of evil. (Looking at you, Glinda!) This kind of thing sets my teeth on edge.

Glinda

Glinda

Making heroes weak to make the antagonists seem stronger goes against what Bailey talked about in Entertainment Weekly. As he said, “The better you make your villain, the better your hero has to be.” Keep that in mind while I bring up another quote. I could kick myself for not writing down the exact words or even where I found it, but the person quoted said something to the effect that villains are preferred, because we get tired of trying to identify with people who are good all the time. (I know. I’m running the risk of misquoting here. Bad, L. Marie. Bad!)

I’m guessing “we” refers to all of us. Well, I can speak for myself, thank you. And I’d like to address something I see as a fallacy: “people who are good all the time.” Know anyone who is “good” all the time? People are more complicated than that. Even pastors yell at their kids sometimes. If we can’t identify with people “who are good all the time,” shouldn’t heroes be complex?

Robert-Downey-Jr-Iron-Man-3I love Tony Stark as played by Robert Downey Jr., because we see his foibles. The choices he makes are what define him as the hero. I love Natasha Romanov (Black Widow/Natalia “Natasha” Alianovna Romanova) as played by Scarlett Johansson. I love everyone on Avatar, especially Prince Zuko and Toph Beifong. They don’t always play nice. They make mistakes.
 
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Black Widow

Zuko

Zuko

Toph

Toph (I wanna be her when I grow up)

Love the X-Men, especially Wolverine (Hugh Jackman!) and Rogue. Also I squealed over Four in Divergent. (Sorry. That was gratuitous. I just wanted to mention Theo James.) I continue to be mesmerized by the characters on shows like Babylon 5 and Young Justice, thanks to Netflix.

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Wolverine (and not just because he has abs of steel)

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Gratuitous photo of Four (Theo James)

I’m happy to say that many of you are taking the time to make your characters complex (a shout-out to everyone I know from VCFA, as well as authors I’ve met through the blog like K. L. Schwengel, Charles Yallowitz, Kate Sparkes, ReGi McClain, Emily Witt, Stephanie Stamm, John Carnell, and Andra Watkins). There are others too like Phillip McCollum, Andy of City Jackdaw, and Jill Weatherholt who work hard at their craft. You give me hope, people. You also encourage me to get my act together and put forth the effort on my manuscript.

It takes work to make a hero complex, just as it takes work to make a villain complex. So why not make the effort to do so?

Maybe we need a better definition of good. Think about the characteristics that make a parent, a doctor, a fire fighter, or some other professional good at what he or she does. Many times that individual has to make some tough choices—i.e., disciplining a child; giving a patient a shot; and so on. When you really need a professional, you want someone tenacious and strong, not someone who cringes. But you also know that person isn’t perfect. Anyone who has a parent or is a parent knows this.

That’s what a good hero is—someone who isn’t perfect, but who tries to do the right thing. I can relate to that person. Can you?

Breznican, Anthony. “A Villain Will Rise.” Entertainment Weekly. 8 November 2013: 46-47. Print.

Tom Hiddleston as Loki and Chris Hemsworth as Thor from marvel-movies.wikia.com. Theo James as Four from pinterest.com. Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow from marvel.wikia.com. Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark from wallpapersshop.net. Zuko and Toph from avatar.wikia. Hugh Jackman as Wolverine from x-men.wikia.com.

Energize!

I like to be entertained. I also like looking at this guy.

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Theo James

And since I recently saw an entertaining movie with this guy (Divergent, directed by Neil Burger), well, that’s even better.

But this post isn’t about that movie or Theo James. (Sorry to disappoint. But at least you have a picture.) It’s not even about Star Trek, though the title of course is a command from that series. As I said, I like to be entertained. Writing is a form of entertainment for me. Consequently, I often write blog posts or scenes off the top of my head that I find entertaining without thinking about whether anyone else might agree. Yes, I’m one of those sad people who love to laugh at their own corny jokes. As I draft a novel, ideas for scenes pop into my head thusly: It would be fun to add a bank robbery scene here. So I write the scene and chortle away.

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12088345But as I began the process of reading through and revising my novel, some of the scenes I thought were entertaining seemed less so. In fact, my energy waned just reading them, so I found myself turning to Plants vs. Zombies or email. I didn’t understand why, until I started reading The Plot Whisperer by Martha Alderson. Alderson states the issue succinctly:

A scene that shows the character achieving a short-term goal but that fails to transition effectively to the next scene dissipates the story’s energy. It’s like stepping on a stair that’s missing. The reader knows instinctively that something’s wrong, sighs, and puts down the book. (Alderson 45)

What’s sad is that I put down my own book. Trust me when I say that as much work as crocheting is, I never stop in the middle of a project to check my email or play a round of Plants vs. Zombies. My crocheting projects are too absorbing, and I know how everything fits together. If I decided to add exta stitches for my own entertainment (like adding extra scenes to a story), I would throw the whole pattern off. (By the way, here’s my latest. I’m still making shoes. My life has become a living version of “The Elves and the Shoemaker.”)

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So, I get it now. Some scenes have no purpose, because they don’t really further the plot of the novel. They’re just distractions like Theo James above.

Alderson has other advice for fixing problem scenes. I highly recommend that you get her book. I don’t want to give all her tips away, because that wouldn’t be fair to Martha.

I think you know instinctively the scenes that energize your story and those that drain the life out of it. During the draft phase, my pulse quickened as I approached certain scenes involving certain characters. But one character’s scenes consistently gave me fits, because I didn’t really know her all that well. I found myself coming up with fantastic, plotty ideas like the bank robbery scene I alluded to earlier (and I didn’t actually involve her in a bank robbery; that was just an example) to make her part of the story seem more interesting. Silly me. I need to invest the time to get to know her, to find out what’s interesting about her and how she would react in situations, so that her scenes have the energy of instinct. Even if she stood there washing dishes, my knowledge of how she ticks, and how that dishwashing fits her emotional arc, would invest the story with energy and purpose. But that dishwashing scene needs to be strong enough to lead into the next scene—to be the cause that leads to an effect like ripples on a pond.

It’s also like driving. I don’t have to think about how to do it or what I should do in a certain situation. I move by instinct. If I turn the wheel a certain way, I can expect a certain outcome. Same with my characters in a scene. If I know that character A is the jealous type, I need to show that somehow, as well as the consequences of a jealous reaction in a follow-up scene. I can’t have her suddenly robbing banks in the middle of all of that jealousy just to inject excitement. Instead, I could probably turn that bank robbery scene into a short story. But it needs to be cut from the novel.

So much to do! But making my story tighter gives it more energy . . . and me as well.

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Speaking of robbery, I couldn’t resist leaving you with this image:

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Alderson, Martha. The Plot Whisperer. Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2011. Print.

Theo James photo from zimbio.com. Tape measure photo from prevention.com/food. Book cover from Goodreads. Bank robber image from lostinidaho.me. Snowman robbery image from jobspapa.com/robber-clip-art.html.

“That Inner Furnace”

I could use a furnace right about now to melt some of the snow still on the ground here. But this post isn’t about my snow complaints. It’s about two book giveaways based on recent interviews with Charles Yallowitz and Andra Watkins, an announcement about a delayed third, and a guy who has “that inner furnace.”

If you missed the interviews with Charles and Andra, you can find them, here, here, and here. Now, ready for the winners? Let’s get to them, shall we?

Here are the first three books of Charles’s fantasy series, Legends of Windemere:

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The winners are . . .

Phillip McCollum and Kate Sparkes!!!

The winners of Andra’s historical suspense novel, To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis, are . . .

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Sandra Nickel and Professor VJ Duke

Congrats, winners! Please confirm below, then email me at lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com to provide the email address attached to your device (Kindle; Nook; iPhone; iPad). If for some reason, you do not wish to receive the book you won or already have a copy of it, please email me and I’ll choose another winner.

As for the third book giveaway, the winner of Juliet Marillier’s Shadowfell series turned out to be a spambot (what an age we live in), so I will choose another winner in the next day or so. I’ve been remiss in doing that, because of the back-to-back interviews I’ve posted.

industrial-furnace-fireplaceNow, about that post title: ever read a quote that really resonated with you, but you didn’t know why exactly—at least not at first? The title of today’s post is a quote concerning British actor Theo James, one of the stars of the movie adaptation of Divergent, a young adult dystopian novel written by Veronica Roth. Doug Wick, one of the film’s producers, said this of James in Entertainment Weekly: “Some people have it, that inner furnace.” I’m guessing he means that elusive, movie star quality or just plain sexiness. Sara Wilkomerson, the author of the article, also mentioned, “The camera flat out loves the guy.” Both predicted great things for Theo James, who is not yet a household name here in the States.

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Theo James, the furnace guy. Watch him smolder. . . .

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That inner furnace. An intriguing notion. I can’t help wondering what characteristics that would mean for a character in a book. That’s the challenge I’m facing as I revise: how to convey my character’s inner furnace in a non-cliché way, so that a reader might say, “I flat out love this guy.” After all, there’s a huge difference between seeing an actor on screen and “seeing” a character through a book. An author has to use a frame of reference a reader can readily understand and, hopefully, find appealing. But so many qualities are subjective. What’s appealing to me might be repulsive to you. (I can only hope that’s not the case.)

I know I shouldn’t overanalyze. I have a tendency to do that. And genuine chemistry can’t really be analyzed, can it? It has to be experienced. But how to convey it??? That’s what I’m puzzling over. And staring at James’s picture above just doesn’t cut it. Guess I’ll head out to see Divergent when it opens. 😀 But getting back to “that inner furnace,” is it a particular glint in the eyes? The smile? The walk? The words? I dunno. But I’ll find out. In the meantime, feel free to share your thoughts on the subject. Is there anyone you know who has “that inner furnace”? Would that person mind traveling to the Midwest? We could use some heat here!

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Vilkomerson, Sara. “Diverge & Conquer.” Entertainment Weekly. 7 March 2014: 28-55. Print.

Theo James photo by zimbio.com. Furnace image from socatherapy.blogspot.com. Legends of Windemere and To Live Forever book covers courtesy of their respective authors.