Monthly Archives: November 2009

Thwarted Desires

When director Steven Spielberg first watched the recent movie hit “Paranormal Activity” (at that time just a low-budget indie film), he found it successfully scary and wrought with frightening tension. He had only one complaint; change the ending.

Though the film succeeded in scripting, acting, tension and creativity, the ending alone could have been enough to sink it. Why? Because the original ending essentially took all ninety minutes of terrifying build-up and then diffused it, slowly and politely. For ninety minutes we watched moving objects, heard footsteps and breathing, saw characters forcibly dragged out of bed and down the hall–only to have the movie end with hinted-at off screen violence, one character sitting still for a long, long time, and then her quick death at the hand of a confused policeman.

We’ve all watched our read such stories. We reach the end of an otherwise fascinating plot and ask ourselves “What went wrong there?”

Authors make the same mistakes as directors. I recently finished a book which had one of those characters that you love to hate. Readers spent the book wishing for this character to be revealed as the two-faced insincere user that he was, only to see him die before the secrets of his true nature could be revealed. The plot offered some fairly good reasons why it was best that the other characters never find out, but we are left wondering, “What about me? I’m the reader–don’t my feelings count for anything? You spent an inordinate amount of time building me up for something you absolutely failed to deliver on.”

It’s frightening to contemplate all the ways in which your plot could fail to deliver. As a writer, I find the best way to avoid these mistakes is to learn about them from other books.

I’ve shared my two most recent ending pet peeves. How about yours? What books or movies frustrated your expectancies so thoroughly that it left you ruffled at the author/director?

RHDavis

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Tuesdays with Tuesday–Week 2

Welcome to the second installment of “Tuesdays with Tuesday,” where our literary friend Tuesday Jones expounds upon the virtues and disillusionment of post-grad life. For last week’s installment, go here.

Tuesday

So after last week’s laundry list of every grotesquely dull thing that happened to me, I had serious doubts about continuing this series of posts. But, in an odd twist of events, something happened this week that’s actually worth talking about.

Ike Cleavers disappeared from the face of this planet.

You remember Ike Cleavers, right? My neighbor and co-worker who I assumed skipped work due to swine flu? Turns out he doesn’t have swine flu–or, more to the point, if he does, no one knows about it. He hasn’t been to work, at his house, or seen any friends and family since last Friday.

My boss Misty shouted this at me and Penny today in the break room. I’m not sure why she shouted it. We were sitting right there in front of her. But Misty has only two tones of voice: so bored she can barely get the words to roll out of her mouth; so loud that the words reverberate around the office. I guess she thought dire news like Ike’s disappearance required more than a bored drone.

Everyone at work knew Ike had been absent for over a week, but we thought it a purposeful move on his part. We assumed he came to his senses and escaped this rainy little town for an exotic bachelor pad in Florida or Cancun. Maybe the Swiss Alps. I had my money on Japan, actually. We thought he got so fed up with our ridiculous workplace that he failed to give two weeks’ notice. I wish that were the case.

I barely had time to ingest this news before marching back to work. As a result, I floated around in a preoccupied haze for the rest of the day.  I always thought my job was mindless, until I actually tried to do it with my mind somewhere else. Instead of answering the phones with “Comp Systems Incorporated, this is Tuesday,” I accidentally blurted things like “Ike Systems Incorporated,” or “Comp Systems Incorporated, this is Ike Cleavers,” and even “Comp Tuesdays Incorporated, this is Cleaver, how can I assystems you today?” Yeah. I finally begged off sick and went home an hour early.

I’m not sure why the thing about Ike bugs me so much. It’s just weird, knowing someone who vanished. You see it on 48 Hours and Unsolved Mysteries, but don’t expect it to happen to your neighbor.

As if a vanished coworker, an angry boss and embarrassing phone slip-ups weren’t enough, fate saw to it that Mr. Chicory was outside when I came home, so I had to make polite small talk for a minute. And he was in one of his difficult moods.

“Boy, we’ve been having a lot of rain,” I said.

“Oh, not nearly as much as last year,” he said, and surveyed the looming clouds.

“Well, at least it’s not too cold,” I tried.

“Supposed to get below freezing tonight,” he offered helpfully.

“Oh?” I cocked an eyebrow at the fence around his back yard. “Kind of an odd time to start a new garden then, isn’t it?”

“Well who in their right mind would start a new garden in November?” He gave me an owlish glare through those square wire-rims of his–the lenses magnify his eyes to the radius of small pancakes–and wrinkled all the skin around his brow as though I were the most ignorant child he’d ever had the displeasure to live next door to. I sighed, and decided not to get into an argument about the garden plot I’d freaking seen him digging in not ten days ago. Contradicting Mr. Chicory is a bit like dealing with a case of badger-bite in which the badger won’t let go of its victim’s leg–unless of course you break its jaws, and I didn’t feel like doing that to Mr. Chicory. I doubt it would slow his talking much anyway.

I have to admit, I’m a little shaken by Ike’s disappearance.  Even tucked away in our cozy upstairs apartment, I feel something akin to the creeps. Thus I’m in my office, arguably the safest and most defensible bit of the house–a little leftover space in the corner of the upstairs, with only one entrance and a locking door, and a window overlooking the porch roof to serve as emergency escape. My desk and shelves take up most of the floor space, and I  sit practically on top of the hot water heater, so it’s probably a massive fire hazard. But it’s an office; I’m lucky to have that in this neighborhood of divvied-up houses, where most apartments sport only one bedroom, squealing floorboards and ragged paint from the 1980s.

I just have to keep the creeps at bay until Jonah comes home.

Tuesday M Jones

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Sci Fi, Fantasy Lovers Unite!

Most Sci Fi/Fantasy lovers agree; our beloved genres take a lot of abuse from the general public. Whether it’s outright disdain for the genre, or a passive disregard for it, we’ve all felt the sting of having our great worlds, stories and concepts dismissed as fringe hobbies for “losers.”

But what if Sci Fi and Fantasy are already an integral part of our culture–so integral that people would be forced to admit their value? The World in the Satin Bag has a wonderful article about this phenomenon. Blogger Shaun Duke talks about “cultural literacy” (the shared knowledge set which members of a society use to communicate), and how SF and F have invaded our cultural literacy in the past few years.

Read Shaun’s post. Forward it to someone, Tweet it, or post a link on your own blog. It’s time to give SF and F credit where due, and it’s up to us to make people aware of it.

RHDavis

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Tuesdays with Tuesday

In light of several time-consuming events (vacation, FLYNN, NaNoWriMo, graphic novel, part-time job-hunting), I thought it prudent to have someone help contribute posts for me now and again. My good friend Tuesday Jones volunteered to submit posts once a week. We’re calling it “Tuesdays with Tuesday.” You’ll like Tuesday; she is just a scream.

I am Tuesday’s scribe. We met years ago when she needed someone to help tell the amazing stories of her life. Our first attempt involved the story of how she helped catch a killer who’d been working at her mom’s office for ten years. We then tried our hand at her amazing Halloween story, which involved an old mansion, faked deaths, a car chase that actually involved buses rather than cars, and a lot of boobie-traps.

I finally said “Tuesday, you have such a unique voice and a poignant sense of humor; you really ought to try writing yourself.” After some prodding, I talked her into contributions for the blog.

So I turn the spotlight over to her for the day. I don’t know what she will write about–she hasn’t told me–but I know that if it’s coming from Tuesday, it’s bound to be entertaining.

Tuesday

Hello to all you Up and Writing followers. My name is Tuesday. Tuesday Jones.

And before you ask–no, it’s not a pen name. My parents actually named me Tuesday. And no, it wasn’t some lame attempt to be cool like “Indiana Jones.” It was more the result of my mother wanting me to have a name that no other kid in my class would have. Well, they got that part right. What I don’t understand is why they didn’t name me Saturday. Saturday is unquestionably a more interesting day of the week.  And Saturday Jones has such a nice ring to it, don’t you think? I’ve asked them about this, but my mother staunchly defends her choice of Tuesday.

Well, what can I tell you? Rachel expects me to churn out brilliant blog posts, but in truth, I can’t think of a single thing to talk about. She’s mentioned some of my crazy high school adventures already–and I assure you, college held even more adventure–but since graduation, I can’t think of anything to talk about but my mundane day-to-day existence. Perhaps that’s a good enough start.

Today I woke up in the same old bedroom in the same old upstairs apartment, went down the same old stairs of the same old two-story house, stepped onto the same old porch and surveyed the same old neighborhood I’ve lived in for about a year now. It’s so boring around here. Every morning I go outside and wave to Mr. Chicory, our retiree neighbor. This morning he was doing his boring old gardening–standing on his front porch with a huge shovel, covered in a layer of blackish mud up to his thighs. I think he’s planting a big garden in the backyard or something–I caught a glimpse over his fence and saw disturbed earth right by his patio. You’d think if he had done enough work to get mud up to his thighs he would’ve had more to show for it than a seven-by-three rectangular mound.

Mr. Chicory waved and said “Hey kiddo!” Like always. I gritted my teeth. At twenty-two-and-a-half, I don’t appreciate being called “kiddo” anymore. I didn’t appreciate it when I was a kid.

I lied and said good morning, though truly it wasn’t a good morning at all–the rain has come back. This year, October dumped as much rain on us as November usually does. So, to make up for it, November decided to behave like October, with sun and mild temperatures. But last night it came to its senses and unleashed a steady, cold shower.

Well. Fine. I can outlast it until spring.

The rain kept up all day–I watched it from the office window, though my watching was periodically interrupted by answering the telephone and telling people that yes, so-and-so was here, or no, so-and-so wasn’t here, but would you like to leave them a voice mail? And then, for the older set, a long explanation of what voice mail is and why they might want to leave one. Thanks so much, and do call again.

Between that, the rain and studying the toe tips of my black heels, the day passed quietly. Even Penny didn’t bother me too much. Penny sits closest to me in the front office. In truth I don’t remember her real name. I call her Penny in my head because she dresses like a JC Penney’s model–tans and grays, smart heels, white blouses, not a wrinkle in sight. Neutral. Proper. Adult. Everything I pretend to be while in this office, but am not in reality.

Anyway, Penny only bugged me once, to talk about her plans for hosting Thanksgiving. She’s in her early thirties, and very caught up in being a mature grown-up who does mature grown-up things. She asked if I myself would try my hand at entertaining now Jonah and I have a bigger place. I smiled politely, running through emergency scenarios in my head of a turkey catching fire in my oven, cranberries roiling from the stove top and engulfing the floor, boiling gravy spitting brown spots all over the kitchen and me–and told her that my mother is pretty insistent about keeping family gatherings at her house for now. Penny cooed how nice that was, that I didn’t have to worry about cooking for once. Yes, this is true. My microwave noodles can take a break for one day.

Our boss Misty–a beefy, forty-something pit bull of a woman–stormed in right about then demanding to know where Ike was, and cut the conversation short. Ike Cleavers hadn’t shown up for work, and Misty suspected Penny and I of receiving his call-in-sick and failing to tell her. We worked for about five minutes to convince her he hadn’t called, and after that Spanish Inquisition was over, I wondered briefly about Ike. He lives in my neighborhood. In a smallish town like this, you usually end up more interconnected with people than you’d like.

Sad to say, that was my entire day. I drove my clunking blue car home in the rain, and saw Mr. Chicory outside again. He had finally ditched that ridiculously huge shovel for a more appropriate garden-trowel, though for all his appearance of the diligent gardener the seven-by-three mound hadn’t grown in size since this morning. I asked Mr. Chicory if he’d noticed Ike out for his usual morning run lately, and he said not since Friday–which was the last time I saw Ike, too, at work. I determined that Ike must have come down with swine flu, and thought briefly about jumping into a Hazmat suit and taking him some soup or something. Then I realized that taking a sick neighbor some food would be the final step to becoming my mother, and abandoned the idea immediately.

Jonah came home. His honey-colored hair looks hottest when it’s wet and sticking up everywhere. We had microwave noodles for dinner.

I really wish something would happen around here. Hopefully these Tuesday appointments won’t just become the whine sessions of a bored, disillusioned college grad.

Tuesday M Jones

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Second Book in Trilogy

Nano has begun, and so has my feverish dash through a first draft of FLYNN Book II. I find writing the second installment in a trilogy much different from writing the first. Authors usually have a clear idea of the story’s beginning and end, but the middle–well–that gets kind of muddy.

When written well, second installments can be the filling in the proverbial sandwich–every bit as good and wholesome as the bread. But they need a certain blend of elements to accomplish this.

Continued conflict. First books set up the conflict. Third books bring it to fruition. Often, second books get lost in the shuffle. They end up the “catch-all” for any scenes that don’t have a home in the other two books. This

The best antidote to this dangerous trap is to devise a specific point of conflict related to (but not identical to) the overall conflict of the trilogy. Take, for example, THE TWO TOWERS. While the overall ring quest continues from FELLOWSHIP, Frodo and Sam are also occupied with the new challenge of how to deal with Gollum/Smeagol.

Continued character development. Authors feel pressure to wrap things up at the end of first books. Even if several sequels follow, that first one still needs a sense of closure. This often leads to the wrap-up of character development, leaving nowhere to go in the sequel.

But consider real life people for a moment. We all develop continually, not just at certain points. Just as fast as we gain closure on one issue in our lives, another opens up. Storytellers must take that attitude to their characters.

For example; at the end of Star Wars: A New Hope, Luke has grown from a farm boy to a fighter, Han has decided to be a good guy, and Princess Leia–well–actually, she pretty much stayed the same 🙂 But their development doesn’t stop there. Empire Strikes Back finds a blossoming romance between Han and Leia, and opens the door to Luke’s ultimate struggles against the temptations of the Dark Side.

A tone of their own. I don’t know why, but most successful second books share one overarching quality; they set the tone for the remainder of the trilogy. Usually, Book III looks a lot more like Book II than it does like Book I.  Let’s take our two previous examples and add some others.

In TWO TOWERS, Tolkien began the trend of splitting up the protagonists. This increased their danger and gave the story the larger, more sweeping feel which remains constant almost to the end of the trilogy.

Empire Strikes Back introduced a dark feel to Star Wars not present in A New Hope. It also introduced the central plotline of the entire trilogy; Vader’s true identity and path to redemption.

In Robin Hobb’s Liveship Traders Trilogy, MAD SHIP plucks the protagonists from the situations they lived out in SHIP OF MAGIC, and sets them into the roles they will fulfill in SHIP OF DESTINY.

What about you? What really turns you off in a second book? What really works? I feel like there are tons of great trilogies I haven’t considered in this post that need to be mentioned. Feel free.

RHDavis

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