February 8, 2012

Blog awards

Filed under: Uncategorized — nascentnovelist @ 7:48 pm
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Thank you so much to the lovely Kourtney Heintz for nominating me for both the Kreativ Blogger and the Very Inspiring Blogger award. It means incredibly much to me to be nominated for something like this. And even better: I get to pass it on!

As part of being nominated for these awards, I get to (1): nominate 6 others for the blog award, and (2): share 10 things that readers might not know about me. So, here we go:

I’m passing the Kreativ Blogger award on to:

1) Anne Marie Stamnestro. Writer, friend and amazing cook. She manages to mix taste and words in her fascinating blog. Check it out, and while you’re over there, try the apple pie.
2) Tiffany A White’s Ooo Factor serves me news of the best TV shows running, every week. For a small screen fan like myself, I love being able to geek out on shows with someone equally interested.
3) I love Julie R. Andersen’s blog According to Julie because she has a fresh view on anything from politics to coffee. Seriously, she’s the only one I know who can make rants about espresso interesting.
4) In addition to being awesome at Zombie dice, Joshua Alan Doetsch puts the romance back in necromancy with his novel Strangeness in the Proportion. His blog’s not half-bad either. Check it out!
5) Hayley Campbell is a wonderful writer who makes me laugh with every peek she gives me into Australian culture. She might not post often, but each post is worth the wait.
6) Laura B. Writer knows how to make marketing interesting. Check out her advice on blog layout! Seriously bridging the gap between creativity and practicality.

The Very Inspiring Blogger award, I’d like hand to:

1) Deborah Bryan’s blog The Monster in Your Closet is truly heartening. Her story, her words, and her series of For This I Am Thankful (Ftiat) continue to inspire and entertain me each week.
2) Tales of a Supernova’s Daughter is a blog filled with deeply personal musings on life, society and the big city. Shinseiko knows how to inspire and entertain.
3) Caleb J. Ross’ blog The World’s First Author Blog is filled with great tips on marketing your books, in addition to other writer related tidbits. Caleb inspires me to dare push myself and my writing out there.
4) Carol Tice’s blog Making a Living Writing is filled with useful tips on how to make money from your words. It’s a must-read for anyone interested in freelance writing.
5) Shotgun Shack is a blog from the insides of NGOs seen from the eyes of an aid worker. Insightful, inspiring, and thought-provoking.
6) Metaphortunate son is one of the few blogs about motherhood that I follow. Who knew you could write posts that are engaging, funny, and about babies. Keep up the good work!

As for the 10 things you don’t know about me…I’ll save those for next time.


November 28, 2011

I’ve been 16 since I was 12

Filed under: Uncategorized — nascentnovelist @ 3:05 pm
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I’ve been watching teen shows since I was about twelve years old, identifying with the main characters I saw on screen.

Imagine my surprise when sixteen year olds are now born in 1995. I was grunge in ’95. My first boyfriend had moved away and I’d just discovered Orson Wells. Suddenly I feel like identifying with the protagonist’s parents. Add to that the fact that the people playing parents in TV-shows now look kinda like the kids in TV-shows from the eighties and early nineties. I mean, compare the ages of the actors in Beverly Hills 90210
and Buffy: the Vampire Slayer
with the cast of Pretty little liars.
Don’t they look small to you?
(Sure, so I just checked their ages on IMDB, and American television is still casting much older actors in the roles of teenagers, but still.)

Thank goodness I have The Vampire Diaries, where I can imagine being part of a Gothic romance set in modern day, and the main characters are all pretending to be between seventeen and twenty-three, but in fact are between twenty-five and thirty-two, and they look it.
Hell, one of the seventeen year olds is two years my senior. This makes everything better.

What do you think? Does watching YA television make you feel old?

November 15, 2011

Trends and What To Do With Them

Filed under: Uncategorized — nascentnovelist @ 4:27 pm
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Trends. There’s a new one each year. One year book stores, movie theaters and television screens were filled with Vampires, the next year: Werewolves. Zombies have taken over everyday consciousness to the point where almost everybody has a strategy for survival in case of an outbreak.

But this year, the hip, new trend is fairy tales. It started with Tim Burton’s re-imagining of Alice in Wonderland, followed by the Red Riding Hood movie. Then ABC announced their new TV series Once Upon A Time almost at the same time as NBC announced their new series Grimm. And then we learned that we’re not going to get just one, but two movies based on the famous fairy tale Snow White (in addition to a comedy about Hansel and Gretel as witch hunters). There’s the quirky comedy Mirror Mirror (not to be confused with the horror movie from 1990 bearing the same title) and Snow White and the Huntsman. I would show you both trailers, but since I couldn’t find Mirror Mirror anywhere, I’ll just show you Snow White and The Huntsman, because it’s epic:

When I first started writing, I spent a long time worrying about trends. How could I stay ahead of the them? How could I pitch something that was just ahead of the curve enough to entice, but not too far ahead or behind to hit the mark? Then I realized that since it takes years to perfect a manuscript, my story ideas will just have to work on their own merit. If I’m lucky, the stars will align and my story will hit exactly the right slot once I’ve finished it, and if not, perhaps the next one will. And, as we can see with Snow White and the Huntsman vs Mirror Mirror: sometimes there’s room for more than one.

Remember to check back in tomorrow for Writer Wednesday with Julie Ragnhild Andersen from According to Julie.

October 15, 2011

Half full or half empty?

Filed under: Uncategorized — nascentnovelist @ 10:45 pm
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When I was twelve years old, I went on a boating trip to a group of islands with three friends and our dads. A friend of mine dared me to race along the shoreline with her. I, of course, said yes even though I was wearing impractical shoes and several of the rocks were slippery and wet (bravado was more admired than sense in my group of friends). We ran, skipped and jumped as fast as we could along the shore, seeing who could reach around the island first. I like to believe I was leading when I slipped and fell face first onto a rock. I expected pain, but felt only adrenaline. Pieces of white were scattered across the rock. I couldn’t breathe. Slowly, I raised my hand to my teeth. They felt sharp, and crooked: my right front tooth was broken and gone.

My friend ran and got my dad while I hyperventilated. We took the boat back immediately and he called the dentist on the way. The perks of living in a small town: everyone knows each other. The office was closed on Sundays, but he came in anyway. I don’t remember the boat ride or the drive to the dentist, I only remember thinking that my face was ruined. I would never be pretty.

But before the dentist filed down my jagged tooth and fastened plastic on top, my father asked him if, since he was fixing my teeth anyway, he couldn’t file down a bit on my other front tooth as well. Make them more even, he said. The dentist agreed and I ended up with smaller and prettier teeth than before the accident. While the dentist worked, I thought to myself that every cloud has a silver lining. I might have lost a tooth, but I ended up with a better smile.

And that is why I don’t believe for a second the reaction of the main character in Bionic Woman. When she learns that she’s lost both legs, an arm, an eye and an ear in a car crash and that they’ve replaced her limbs with super strong, rapid-healing, awesome-sauce pieces, her reaction should not be: “What have you done to me? Why did you do this to me? *tears* *angst* ” It should be something along the lines of: “Oh. Well, thanks, I guess. So, how strong did you say I was gonna get?” I mean, come on lady, your glass is definitely half-full.

Am I completely off-base here? How would you react to losing your limbs, but getting bionic superpower limbs instead?

October 13, 2011

Believability: mixing magical and mundane

Filed under: Uncategorized — nascentnovelist @ 4:31 pm
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We all want to get it right, to connect with the reader so strongly that they grow with our characters. That they stick with them throughout our stories. That they love them like we love them. That they cheer at their victories and mourn their losses. But how do we do it? What is that “it” factor that draws the audience in and keeps them hooked?

In one word: believability. I’m going to use two pop-culture phenomenons that requires a leap of faith from the audience to show that it’s the believability of stories that make them powerful.

Love and loss in Doctor Who

In 2005, the BBC introduced a new generation of viewers to the 1960s sci-fi show Doctor Who. He’s an alien, flying through space and time in a blue box, saving the world. Hard sell? Yes. But it works like a charm because the show mixes the magical with the mundane. If we followed the Doctor without a human companion, the show would fall flat. The audience can’t identify with a superhuman character, no matter how many flaws we give him (rage, arrogance, a certain reluctance to use force) because he’s too alien and too close to all-powerful. We need that human companion not just to have someone to ask the questions for us, but to have someone to identify with in the show.

If we look at the doctor’s companions: Rose, Martha and Donna,* they’re all everyday characters. The doctor didn’t pick an alien companion, or someone from the future or past, he picked someone from modern-day London, someone down-to-earth with real problems. In addition, showing the families of the companions, especially the interaction between the doctor and the companions’ mothers, adds that extra layer of realism. The show isn’t just about a human and an alien flying through space and time, saving the world, it’s also about love, family, friendship, romance and eventually about loss. About tough choices made very real by the addition of everyday life. Without that element, the true tragedy of the Doctor—that everyone he knows and loves will eventually die—would not matter. It’s the human element that makes him a favorite hero.

Inhuman evil in Harry Potter

In eight movies (and seven books), we follow Harry Potter, a normal kid who finds out he’s a wizard. He’s introduced to a magical world with us and his friends Ron (who’s born into it) and Hermione (who’s a fullblood human with magical powers). Throughout eight movies they have to face evil, while still surviving boarding school, sports, bullying, hormones and finals. Even though we can’t relate to having magical powers, or to facing ultimate evil, we can all relate to the mundane things that take up our hero’s everyday life, and that is why we buy the inhuman villain and the frankly non-functioning monetary system and society of the magical world of wizards and muggles.

I have to admit that I love the Harry Potter movies more than I love the books (don’t hit me!). The streamlining of the plot in the movies work well for me, but that’s not why I love them so much. It’s because we follow a group of children as they grow up and go to war.** The story only grows more powerful as the color scheme in the movies mirror the darkening mood of the whole series (see the development of the Warner Brother’s logo for emphasis). The mood, the plot, the characters, the choices they face get more and more difficult as they grow up. Add to that the fact that the child actors grow with their characters and you have a powerful coming-of-age combo.

In case you, like me, have forgotten how much the characters have grown through this past decade, I give you two clips which both show the development in mood and the growth of the characters throughout the series. This is Harry and Hermione’s first meeting and here is after they’ve gone to war.

To keep an generation captive through a decade of new releases is something most writers can only dream of, but one thing we can all take from J.K. Rowling’s success is her mix of the mundane with the magical. That mix creates truly believable characters and plot and that’s what we need to keep our audiences coming back for more.

*Note that I’m stopping this review after the end of series 4 of this show. In my opinion, the lack of character development in series 5 and 6 is an excellent example of how not to do something.

**Sure, you can argue that the books are about the same thing, but it’s not nearly as clear-cut or as powerful.

May 2, 2011

Breaking the Fourth Wall

Filed under: Uncategorized — nascentnovelist @ 11:09 pm
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I believe all types of storytelling are related. Writers like Stephen King might tell you that time spent in front of the TV is wasted. I call bullshit. Time spent watching movies and TV-shows teach you how to tell a story visually, audibly and through dialogue. In the same way playing a computer game can show you just how much you can glean from a well-placed street sign or a scrap of paper on the ground, a well-made season of a TV-show can show you how to frame your main plot through action, sub-plots and detours. I say: take knowledge where you can find it.

That’s why I’m going to use examples from the TV-show Supernatural to discuss breaking the fourth wall with you. That, and the fact that I just re-watched the first two seasons of it so it’s on my mind.

Supernatural is a show that’s been running for six seasons (and just got renewed for a seventh). It’s a simple premise: two boys in a car killing monsters. To quote one of the main characters in episode two: “Saving people, hunting things: the family business.” The trouble with running such a straightforward gig for six years is that you might run out of original ideas. Usually, I’d find that annoying, but in this case it gives me the perfect example. You see, the writers of this show ended up making the same episode twice.

In season two it was called Hollywood Babylon, while in season six it was The French Mistake. Both episodes are used as lighthearted breaks from an otherwise dark main plot, in both episodes the main characters find themselves on a movie set, and both episodes flirts with breaking the fourth wall. At the same time, they are vastly different. Let’s see why Hollywood Babylon works and The French Mistake doesn’t.

In Hollywood Babylon, the main characters, Dean and Sam Winchester, go to Hollywood to work a case of a mysterious murder on the set of an upcoming horror film called Hell Hazers 2. The guys take the tour bus of Universal Studios and it goes past the set of Gilmore Girls (the show Jared Padalecki was previously playing in). The guys complain about the weather, saying it’s so cold it could be Canada (which is where Supernatural is shot). On set, the parallels between the movie and the actual TV-show we’re watching become obvious, opening a can of jokes about the “science” of the Supernatural world. The show nudges the audience with in-jokes, playing with the fact that Supernatural is an action-specked horror. This proves that they don’t take themselves too seriously, while still remaining within the diegesis of the show.

In the episode The French Mistake on the other hand, the main characters are thrown into a parallel world, our world, where they play Sam and Dean Winchester, but are Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles. They have to find their way back, but in the “real” world, there’s no magic, no demons, no angels. So they’re trapped. Sounds like a concept that could work? Well, it doesn’t. And this is why.

First off, it’s almost a direct copy of the Hollywood Babylon episode. Secondly, the show has pulled on the fourth wall so much throughout season four and five (discussing fanfiction, creating the Supernatural books inside the Supernatural universe, meeting fans in the episodes, even going to a Supernatural convention) that there’s little more than a thin layer of gladpack left holding the universe in. And when The French Mistake takes a battering ram to that thin layer of gladpack by tossing characters from the show into “our” world, it breaks that wall forever.

The main problem with The French Mistake, however, is that is proves something I’ve been suspecting for a while: that the creators of the show has lost confidence in the product. Though there’s a few jokes in The French Mistake about the set they’re on and the troubles of being a monster hunter stuck in the body of an actor, the brunt of the jokes are about how bad the show is, how trashy Supernatural’s become, and how all the fans want touchy-feely crap. The staple comment is just “It’ll do. Season six, right? *sigh*.”

And that’s why it doesn’t work. The reason why Hollywood Babylon is one of my favorite Supernatural episodes is because it makes fun of itself in an intelligent, subdued way while still maintaining the illusion that the show has a serious edge to it. It’s a lighthearted break from the horror of the second season, and fits well with the tragic and hardcore episodes that precede and follow it.

The French Mistake, however, makes fun of the fans for still watching. It’s like being in a room with someone with low self-esteem who keeps making jokes about how he sucks so much he can’t believe you’re hanging out with him. Very uncomfortable. I sit there, staring at this forty minute self-deprecating mess and wondering why I’m still following this show, if that’s how bad the writers think it is.

What’s my point? Well, the point is that making self-referential jokes, skirting the edges of breaking the fourth wall can be a great idea for your story, if it furthers your plot. It’s also something you should be very careful about doing. When it works it’s great, but when it doesn’t, it’s truly terrible. And you should definitely be certain that you’ve got your tongue firmly in cheek and that you’re sure you know what you’re doing.

Edit: It’s been brought to my attention that the episode is actually called The French Mistake, so in the proud tradition of revisionist writing, I’ve changed the post to fit this. Nothing to see here, moving right along…

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