Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Warning: Too Stupid to Live

So I’ve been thinking a little about movies and some of the stuff writers can learn from them. Disclaimer: There is SO much that correlates between screenwriting and writing novels that I promise I will make barely a tiny scratch on the surface. For one thing, I’ve learned to make sure you don’t leave things in your stories that are “too stupid to live” (phrase stolen from Holly Lisle).

What do I mean by "too stupid to live?" Unfortunately for the Transformers franchise, those movies are front and center in my example.

My hubby has been working insane hours the last 8 months, but the last month in particular. That means we haven’t seen many of the newer movies. (Not even Harry Potter. Oh, the humanity!) One of the summer movies that my boy kidlets really want to see is “Transformers 3,” which, according to all their friends who have seen it, is “nothing but 2 ½ hours of action and blowing stuff up.” Yes, 11 and 13 year-old boys are real movie connoisseurs. The hubby and I missed “Transformers 2” when it came around (partly because we were busy and partly because we heard it was as bad – or worse – than “GI Joe,” which made me lose IQ points when I watched it) and we noticed it was back at Red Box, so we decided to give it a shot.

Let me clear something up before I lose your respect: I did not finish the movie. I figured I lost enough brain cells giving birth to three children to voluntarily give away IQ points.

“Transformers 2” was riddled with bad dialogue, overt and gratuitous innuendo that was in really bad taste, and a whole bunch of “too stupid to live” examples. It did have giant, kick-butt space robots, but even the cool factor couldn’t override the other stuff. Here’s just one example of “too stupid to live.”

Sam goes to his first astronomy class and pulls a “Beautiful Mind” stunt. He runs back to his dorm, freaking out, and calls his girlfriend (biting my tongue on the stupidity involved in that relationship/dialogue/casting) on the way. She says she’ll catch a plane and be there that afternoon. Sam starts writing symbols all over the walls of his dorm, and his roommate, who was in astronomy, shows up after class (classes last about an hour – I’ve been to college) to check on him. Also with roommate is psycho hot chick who is really a space robot in disguise. Hot robot chick throws herself at Sam (literally), and his girlfriend walks in on them kissing.

Now, the time frame from “Beautiful Mind” freak out to girlfriend catching Sam is probably around an hour. Heck, I’ll give it two hours just to be nice. Ummm… Last time I went to the airport it took me at least an hour to GET THROUGH SECURITY. There is no way in this day and age that the girlfriend could pack, buy a ticket, go through security (not to mention get a box with tiny space robot with an accent and street slang - hello, more stupid – through security in the first place), get on a plane, get off the plane, pick up baggage, catch a cab to the college, find the right dorm building and Sam’s room, and walk in on hot robot chick kissing Sam in TWO HOURS!

*beating head on wall*

This is not the reaction you want your readers to have when reading one of your books. This is the sort of thing that gets books thrown across the room at my house. (Or if you spend 4 books building up to a vampire smack-down and then having the two armies agree to disagree and walk off. The book gets thrown and yelled at if you do that. Name the series, anyone?)

Moral of this blog post: Avoid “too stupid to live” mistakes in your writing at all costs. Or make sure your books have really soft covers so they don’t hurt anyone when they are used as projectiles.

Anyone else want to share in my rant? Other "too stupid to live" examples are welcome!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Childish Wanted

I remember reading certain books as a kid, like the Anne of Green Gables series (more particularly the later ones when Anne is a mother) and Little Men & Jo's Boys, and deciding I wanted to be like those characters when I grew up. I would have fun and play and see the joy in simple things. As a mother I would play with my kids, and listen to them, and come up with creative - and effective - ways of disciplining, and never make my kids feel like they are less important than other things and that they only ever get a fraction of my attention.

Fast forward several years and three kidlets of my own later, and I'm chagrined at how often I fall short of the type of grown up I wanted to be. I am now the mom my boys tease because she never gets her hair wet (my tomboy younger self shudders). I don't smile as often as I should and sometimes act downright boring. Yes, grown up responsibilities like paying bills and managing a household and working on a career can leave limited time to get in touch with my inner child, but I realized a while ago that I was becoming at times downright curmudgeony.

I needed a quick dose of childish, and I needed it STAT!

I'm not talking about the childish half that quarrels or whines or is selfish or procrastinates. (I seem to have little problem channeling that childish Jaime.) But have you noticed how often kids smile? How frequently they laugh? How they get so excited about something that they can't help but move because they can't keep it in? They use their imaginations (if video games haven't dumbed it out of them) all the time and can find the wonder in things around them. They haven't become so cynical that they immediately dismiss things as impossible - like I've caught myself doing. THOSE are the childish characteristics I need to work on, because they're atrophying under grown up crankiness.

In an effort to rejuvenate my childishness, the other day I took five minutes and sprawled in the grass under a tree and just stared at the sky. If there had been clouds I would have found shapes in them. (Next time.) And it was wonderful. Yesterday one of my kidlets was moving slower than molasses and had left his giant teddy bear in the living room. I checked my initial reaction to holler about him being responsible for his stuff, and instead made the teddy bear sneak up the stairs and pounce on my son, and in a goofy teddy bear voice I had the teddy bear shower him with hugs and kisses and tell him the things he needed to get busy doing. I have gotten more traction with him from that little bit of play than I ever imagined. He jumped up and got to work, and talked about it the rest of the day. He asked to have the teddy bear wake him up this morning.

So, if I can be more less grumpy old woman *and* have my home a happier place, you better believe I'm after a little more childishness. I love writing and reading children's & YA books, but I could love it even more if I peel back some of the adult layers. Today I think I might play hopscotch or basketball with the kidlets when they get home from school.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Querying and Flashbacks to High School

That's right, ladies and gents, I'm officially querying again.


When I hit "send" my heart was pounding like I was back to age 16 and asking a boy to a girl's choice dance. (And, for the record, I got turned down. So yeah, not a good heart pounding thing going.)

So not only am I catapulted back into high school - and not the best parts - I now must battle the compulsion to check my email every 5 minutes. Even though it's been only hours since I sent out my first few queries. It also means I suffer from bouts of temporary insanity where I actually think things like, "It's been almost six hours. They must hate my query, or my sample pages, or both. Because if they liked it I would have gotten a reply by now, right? RIGHT???"

I need to go pick weeds or clean something. Or.. or... or maybe work on something else. Yeah! That's it! I can channel this new neurosis. Get in touch with my teen self, even though I've worked oh, 15 years, to leave the teen me behind. The one whose first Homecoming date was forced by his dad to go...

STOP! Don't think like that! You are a capable, confident writer. And your book is good, gosh darnit! Just breathe... it's okay... you're not 16 again.

Thank goodness.

*breathing deep*

Sorry about that, everyone. I'm better now. Excuse me while I check email again. It's been 7 whole minutes...

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Words of Wisdom

It's very hard in the beginning to understand that the whole idea is not to beat the other runners.
Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit. - George Sheehan

I wish I'd seen this quote before I wrote the last blog post, since it sums it up my scatterbrained thoughts pretty good. And that little voice speaks up very often in writing, too. Down with the quitting voice!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Blog Comeback - sputtering to a start

Question: Is it a comeback if you've had to come back 4 or 5 times?
Answer: Maybe the sixth time is the charm.

So, here's blog comeback number six-ish. It's good to be back. Hopefully it will stick this time. ;)

I've been up to a lot while I've been away, not the least of which is a moment of insanity that is spelled m-a-r-a-t-h-o-n. Many of you would follow that with a word spelled like this: c-r-a-z-y. And my husband would agree, even though he ran it with me.

It was an incredible experience, but I don't know if it was until recently I really figured out the core reason why it moved me so much. Yes, it was a goal, and I achieved it, and of course that feels good, but it meant more than that. I've started and stalled on several blog posts on how running a marathon is like writing a book, because I could feel connections, but I ended up not able to finish those posts, and it's because this was the one I needed to discover.

First, I'll summarize some of those tossed posts for you. ENTER BULLET LIST (Yea for lists!!)
  • I spent 4 months of hard training to get ready, showing the importance of proper preparation--and persistence.
  • There were many days I didn't want to run, but the race loomed ahead, so I got up and did it anyway, proving the importance of goals.
  • At mile 24 I was ready to stop, but I just kept going--put my head down and gutted it out, showing the grit your teeth and endure to the end moments of writing (and life in general).
  • The cheer I remember the most was a lady I'd never seen before and probably never will again who shouted from the sidelines a block from the finish, "Look how strong you are!" and I thought about how tempting it is to limp to the finish your story.
  • I thought I knew about nutrition, but I had to relearn what worked for me, and it wasn't what worked for my husband, who was following the exact same training regimen. That's an easy analogy for finding out the meat and drink of what keeps you going through the long haul as you write, and it's very individual.
  • The satisfaction of doing something hard is worth the pain and not being able to walk afterward, and the revised, finished book that finally lives up to the magical idea you had before you slaughtered it with a crappy rough draft is worth all the torment to get it there.

See, those are all good takeaway analogies, right? But here's the takeaway message I needed for me. In running this marathon I learned some things about what makes me tick and matters to me. And those are things that I need to tap into to make my writing mean something to me, no matter what genre, what characters, or what plot I am working on.

Through training for and running 26.2 miles, I learned that I push myself to touch the potential that is inside every person when things get hard and you do it anyway. I am amazed and awed by those who are up against a wall and through sheer will, determination, and digging deep (usually by leaning on faith in something) they overcome and often succeed brilliantly. I think that perhaps we can't truly understand our own potential - the potential that resides in every human being - until we are pinned right at the boundary of what we think are our limits, only to push past that boundary and discover we are capable of so much more than we thought. But stepping through the boundary is a personal choice, and not something you can make someone else do.

*moment of deep thought*

Hopefully that makes sense to some of you. It was an epiphany for me, and now I can see that "theme" in what I write. Not in a preachy way, mind you, and no one else may ever catch it, but I know it's there, and it matters to me that it is.

So, that's what running a marathon did for my growth as a writer.

And here's the obligatory picture. This is about mile 16, I think.