Monday, May 23, 2011

Progress Report: 5/21/2011

I suppose one can say it's progress to have survived yet another apocalypse. How many is that now? I've actually lost count. It's kind of a heroic feeling though, kind of like being a superhero!

Seriously, I didn't even know about this one until the day before when my neighbors suddenly mentioned it. Silly things, these predicted apocalypses. You would think the 100% track record of failure would put people off this particular game, but no. I suppose the temporary boost of attention is the underlying motive, even if you end up looking like another poser the morning after.

The Rapture version of the apocalypse, to me, boils down to a desire to be proven right. Hey, we all want to be right, I get it. This is just an extreme hankering for that particular human need, where the Ultimate Authority descends from the sky, says "You were right all along!" and then for good measure points at everyone who ever disagreed with you and says "You were wrong and you will be punished for it!" I suppose the theory is that you could surf on the splash wave from that moment of cosmic satisfaction for all eternity.

Is the next one actually December 2012, or do we have another interim apocalypse to get through?

The 2012 one is not, of course, a Rapture prediction, though I suspect there will be some Rapture-seekers willing to co-opt the date as another chance to have the Judge of Heaven call a final winner in their eternal argument. The Mayan 2012 prediction, as I understand it, wasn't even necessarily an apocalypse, but an "end of an age" prediction. Also, they ran out of room on their stone tablet. I mean, how much calendar do you really need to get by? Comes a point where the speculation game is a little to abstract to warrant the constant meticulous chipping and carving you need to make a calendar back then.

Anyway, I'm sure that when we hit 2013, we'll have another apocalypse prediction to look forward to. After all, that buzz you get from surviving the end of the world is too good to give up.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Progress Report: 5/16/2011

About pushy characters...

In my experience, when a story is really on track, it has a life of its own. You end up writing things that surprise you. Characters take on their own identity and begin to do things that you didn't really plan for. They become pushy. This is a good sign.

Thunderstruck readers may be surprised to hear that Gail was one such pushy character. Way back in my original conception of the story, it was about Sharon's journey, and she quickly left her entire family behind. She had this sort of irritating religious sister who was, I am not terribly proud to admit, a pretty shallow figure... practically a caricature. They had some arguments about miracles, then Sharon found out some important things and pursued them on their own, bye bye family.

Only that sister, that stubborn, pushy sister, refused to just be one-dimensional. She had no interest in parroting simple-minded beliefs. She was a deep thinker, and her faith was something she wouldn't let me write off. Nor was her love for her sister... and Sharon, the troublesome creature, loved her back with just as much ferocity, despite their differences. Suddenly I had two central characters, not one, and I had to think a lot more about Sharon's whole family. And Thunderstruck became a hell of a lot more interesting.

The trouble with characters like this is they mess with your plot. They don't go where they're told, or do what you ask, or disappear when you want to be done with them.

I'm dealing with such a character now. He refused to be the simple jerk that I wanted as a plot device, he doesn't want to go away, and now Gail has decided she likes him. He's messing with my script.

So an author has the ultimate power and can force characters to behave however he wants, but I really think that severs your fundamental connection with the story and characters. The story breaks, perhaps irreparably.

But what you can do is kill a character. I think it's often a good idea to dust a character that the audience likes early on in order to show that the stakes are high. An early sacrifice. And I think I've just found my lamb.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Progress Report: 5/2/2011

Hi everyone. Still writing, still trying to get a handle on all my new responsibilities at work, and this month an unwelcome visit from some microscopic friends has helped make things even more interesting. The cold season has gotten an extension, it seems. So without much in the way of news to report, here's something I've been thinking about as a writing matter.

We're three installments into HBO's Game of Thrones series now. I'm enjoying it, but it does make me wonder a couple of things.

1) How is it for someone who hasn't read the books?

I often wonder this about these kinds of adaptations. The Potter movies, for instance, seem like they would lose movie-only fans on some pretty significant plot points. For Thrones, I wonder how hard it is to keep track of all the characters, 'cuz there are a hell of a lot of characters to get straight. Perhaps someone who hasn't read the books but who's watching can tell me. My hope is that it would inspire you to read the books.

2) What is it that a visual medium does better than print?

This is a question near to my heart, because I am grappling with it as I adapt Thunderstruck to its new novelized form. Certainly when you have visuals, you can choreograph certain kinds of scenes (action, especially) with more ease, but I think that a good writer shouldn't be hindered by that. It's fun to see a full artistic realization of a landscape, a castle, a suit of armor, yet I find that as often as not, even big-budget movies don't add a whole lot to what I've already imagined for a book I really love.

I'd say the biggest advantage that film has is actors. The subtlety of expression and inflection that a good actor can bring to a role are things that a writer simply has to hope the reader can fill in for themselves. Writers who try to spell out every detail of their character's facial tics, body language, and vocal emphasis tend to bog down their stories. An actor can, with a very minor change of expression, convey a whole world of information. To an extent, a drawing can do that as well.

(For Game of Thrones, I'm thinking particularly of the actor who plays Jaime Lannister. I'm really enjoying his performance.)

Now, a writer has all sorts of other tools and advantages that a visual medium lacks. It's a lot easier to fill in backstory and track the internal thoughts of a character in writing, and these are things that I definitely feel are missed in the Game of Thrones show. Still, it's nice to see good acting for characters I know and love (or love to hate). It adds a new dimension.

The other thing that films have as an advantage is the soundtrack. There's not much answer to that as a writer, unless you want to say "play this CD while you're reading."