Tuesday, December 25, 2012
Then when the basics are done, move into other realms. How does your character move from past to future, and back again, or from dimension to dimension? Does she require specials words, or totem, a machine, or assistance from another? Does she disintegrate and re-form? Make the transport as simple as possible. Then brainstorm all the possible things that could go wrong. Decide whether there is a risk every time, or only in improbable circumstances.
Whether you use man-made or magic-made they need to be believable, and again they must follow the rules you set up for them. No last minute, “oh look what else this can do too.” Decide early on what are the levels of safety and what are the levels of danger, whether in transportation or other uses.
If it’s difficult to decide where to start, use a real life category such as medical or a sport to copy as part of a journey. For example choose a vegetable or fruit that if eaten in great quantities or not eaten at all can produce serious side effects, such as the scurvy sailors experienced out on the high seas. Or choose a sport that needs to build up to its peak such as swimming or running. What damage can be done if an athlete doesn’t follow the rules and tries to push himself beyond physical preparedness?
Share: What is the most memorable travel scene to you in either movies or novels? Why?
Thursday, December 20, 2012
Metaphors have the ability to explode our thinking. However, the most effective are not delivered by loud gestures and shouting voices clamoring for our attention. They simply are. And at some point we begin to notice that they are different from what we expected, or what we thought we knew, and decide to take a better look. And a better look is required because competent metaphors can be used for both good and evil intent.
“Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” warns the prophet Isaiah.
Sometimes we just don’t notice. For example, growing up I often heard the reference to little green men from Mars and always given in a negative context. I realized the idea came through a story or movie, but I wasn’t all that interested. In later years I’d still notice the reference given in books or shows and again wonder where and why the origin.
This week I’ve finally seen the movie John Carter and the first thought I had when I saw the first inhabitants that he saw was, “Oh, green men from Mars, but they aren’t little.” In this movie they are eight to ten feet tall, with four arms. They ride creatures as if on horseback. They argue; they care; they are funny and loyal. They insist that they don’t fly in spaceships and they won’t interfere in a war between two opposing cities. However, because of John Cater, their perspective changes as well.
Metaphors can go far beyond word choices and stereotypes to bring fresh nuances to timeless stories, especially when we tap into heart motives.
Take a support character in your novel. How can you change the readers’ expectations of him or her?
Try one or two characteristics towards positive and then again as negative. How does that influence your own perception?
Share: Which one impacts your purpose effectively?
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
More Ways to Travel
Vehicle travel, water travel, animal travel. Begin to keep a resource journal, both for now and future novels. First write down each category of transportation. Then make a list under each with two columns: one fantastical and one reality.
Pick out a few from each category that fit your location. If your story is in a building such as the opera house like Phantom of the Opera, then you don’t need a large ship, but you do need a boat to navigate the underground canal.
Choose a movie in your genre category and mark down how each form of travel is navigated. How does that contribute or impede their abilities. For example in the movie John Carter of Mars, two races use air travel but one race refuses to fly. Make notes of the hindrances and look for ways they can become plot conflict in your version.
Share: What is the most fantastical on your list? What is the most practical for your world?
Thursday, December 13, 2012
The lure of a mystery is present in all genres due to the main story question. If we are hooked at the beginning we will read, even through dull sections, determined to find the end’s answer. Chapter endings, scene endings need to leave us with that pause of ‘will she or won’t she succeed or fail’. The books and movies that keep us wondering breathe that mystery thread with both multiple possibilities and/or multiple questions.
The movie Shag keeps several story lines as bait.
For the trip itself, we are introduced to each girl leaving in the car, two by choice, one by stealth and one reluctantly so our first questions are why the hesitation and will they get away. Then will they caught when they head for a different place? If they get caught what will the consequences be? To everyone or just those whose property has been ruined? Each step of the trip requires a choice and each choice has unforeseen consequences that keep the reader wondering.
Another thread of questions lies in character discovery. With each girl acting a little out of character we begin to wonder if everyone is not what he or she seem to be. What are the hidden agendas? Which parts are masks and which parts are real? Sometimes the characters themselves aren’t sure which adds even more suspense. Or are others misunderstanding what they see?
Journal Prompt: On a recent TV series one of the main characters is caught by some incriminating photographs that become publicized as an affair and yet in reality are not. Put your character is a compromising situation, and then list three to five alternative reasons that she is there. Choose the one that will require the most confusion as to why or the one with the most costly consequences.
Share: What movie or novel kept you on the edge of your seat until the final page?
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Air travel. What exists? The usual planes, helicopter, and hot-air balloons, or magic carpets, flying horses, jetpacks, giant birds and floating ships? Can the skateboard act like a flying carpet?
Is your space ship made of metal or is it a living creature? In the series Firefly the crew is always dealing with their spaceship home, Serenity, which needs constant attention to function. In fact the ship’s mechanic, Kaylee, came on board in the first episode solely due to her intuitive knowledge of how to repair Serenity. The crew need Serenity for transportation and without a crew Serenity cannot fly.
However in the series Farscape, Moya is a living ship, a fifth generation Leviathian once free, then captured by the Peacekeepers, a militant regime, and now home to renegades fleeing the corrupt empire. Moya has allowed her passengers to stay, but has the ability to defend herself against unwarranted actions by the crew. They need her, but she doesn’t need them for transportation.
Compare these long-term relationships with other sci-fi movies or shows where transportation is simply a vehicle and has no emotional value at all.
If you have a central mode of air-travel, brainstorm a spectrum from no emotional connection whatsoever to a living, being, co-character, and then choose which location on that spectrum works best for your character and your story. What plot points can impact your story because of potential difficulties?
Share: What basic transportation does your character use and how invested is he its survival?
Thursday, December 6, 2012
Emotional memories have the interesting capacity to focus a high beam on who we think we are, or want to be, and who we really are down deep.
As the four friends, in the movie Shag, try on different personas and test run different actions on their escapade weekend, they are more than a little surprised to find out what really matters. Melaina, the preacher’s daughter, can’t wait to toss scruples, rules and clothes out the window to adopt a sultry presence ready for action. But when one heated Romeo takes her seriously she realizes just where her actions are taking her and instinctively fights back. “It against my religion,” she says desperately and recognizes that she actually means it.
However, young engaged socialite, Carson begins acting with ultra moral and rigid convictions, and then slides steadily into a physical relationship with a boy she just met. “I guess I was always bad inside,” she tells her friends, “but I didn’t know it.” In reality, she decided to act on her own feelings instead of what others expected and had dictated she act. And was more that a little startled at the degree of her rebellion.
When Chip is challenged as to his behavior towards Caroline, he immediately asserts his honor by declaring that he is a southern gentleman. And he is such a gentleman that Caroline thinks he only sees her as overweight and just friend material, because from her emotional memory that is the only way boys see her.
Luanne, though, attempts to stay on track and keep everyone else on track. She upholds the social status she believes in as a senator’s daughter and doesn’t veer away. At the same time she acts as a true friend, by saving Melaina, protecting Carson and encouraging Caroline.
In just a few days these four young women discover, through memory, themselves at the very core of their being, before they head into the next stage of their lives. Their last fling of freedom had deeper roots than they could have imagined.
Journal Prompt: Put your character in a situation where he thinks he is getting exactly the treatment he wants and deserves, but finds his heart is rebelling against it. Why? What memories are reminding him of who he really is?
Share: What surprised your hero?
Tuesday, December 4, 2012
History and Transportation
What forms of transportation exist in your world? Start with the basics. Make a general list: foot travel, air travel, vehicle, water or animal travel or other. Are some divided by economics or class hierarchies? Are they natural to your world or have some been superimposed? For example, in the movie Avatar the earth has brought heavy machinery to the planet Pandora.
Which ones will your heroine be using? Does she have access to all? Make her a list of methods common to her. How does dislocation affect her? Will there be any distinctions or oddities? Has a person so used to an entourage around them not even know how to push a button in an elevator? Go through each category and look for details that can forward your plot or characterization.
Foot travel. What kind of gait does she have? Will she walk, skip, hop, or run? Can she run fast—will she need to? How will she accelerate? Barefoot, spiky heels, leather boots, sneakers or ?? and in what circumstances. What is the next step up: roller blades, skateboard, or scooter?
In a writing workshop at Mount Hermon one year, author Lauraine Snelling demonstrated just how insightful watching a person walk indicates their emotional situation. She would call four or five people up at a time and whisper their attitude to them alone, and then have them walk around the room. The audience had to guess what was happening.
Share: Give one mini sketch for foot travel mode in a lighthearted or humorous circumstance, and one for a dramatic encounter. Which was easier to communicate?