Friday, October 16, 2009

Cut Loose That Footloose Villain!

Don your legwarmers! Fluff your hair! Turn up your radio! It's 80's Dance Party!

Or not.

At least not in the small Midwestern town to where teen aged Ren (Kevin Bacon) has relocated from Chicago. Dancing has been banned by the one and only pastor (John Lithgow) who has taken it upon himself to be the moral voice of reason for every family in his flock. [Kathy’s note:  I've seen the updated version since writing this article. I like how the writers fixed the problem of having only one “man of God” in the entire town. That always bothered me that the original pastor (Lithgow) had so much influence. In the 2011 version, Reverend Shaw Moore (Dennis Quaid)  is still a leader, but he’s not a tyrant.]

We're talking about the movie Footloose. I watched the 1984 rerun for the first time in at least twenty years the other night. The music had my feet stompin' and had I not been in my mother's tiny senior apartment, I may have cut loose. Now, if I can silence the title song from my head long enough to write this article, I'll continue.

While much of this movie is silly, the writers did do something right with the characters. They gave them depth, which in our world translates to believability.

We believe that Ren is tired of being labeled the "bad boy" simply because of where he's from. We believe the PK (preacher's kid) Ariel, played by Lori Singer, is a deeply troubled young woman because of her strict upbringing. And we believe that Reverend Shaw Moore wants to save the rebellious youth in his town. And why? Because his son was killed after a night of drinking and dancing.

Rev. Moore is the major antagonist in this story. The writers didn't do the typical thing and made him strict because of his religious beliefs alone. They upped his conflict in the back story. Rev. Moore lost a child due to the very thing he now opposes. And that gives his character depth.

When we create our villains, it is so important not to make them Disney cartoons. That worked for Walt but it won't work for us. All of our characters need a reason to do the things they do. A good reason. Not just because they're inherently wicked, but because something has happened in their past to make them that way. And even more importantly, they need to think that what they're doing is the right thing. Rev. Moore sincerely thought it was his calling, no, his duty to protect the young people in his town and keep each and every one of them from suffering the same fate as his son. This made his cause noble, if not a little misplaced.

So, to recap, give your antagonists depth by giving them a reason for what they do, and give them a noble cause that is only noble in their own minds. That will make them believable and entertaining enough for the readers to keep turning those pages.


Tonight we're gonna cut loose
Kick off your Sunday shoes
Please, Louise
pull me off a my knees
Jack, get back
C'mon before we crack
Lose your blues
Everybody cut footloose

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing

Hubby and I are sitting here watching the greatest summer movie of all time, The Greatest Show On Earth with Charleton Heston, Jimmy Stewart, Betty Hutton, and Cornel Wilde.

Because I can't just watch a movie anymore--I have to analyze it--I ask hubby who he thinks is the main character. By now, he just rolls with my craft obsession. We launch into an intense discussion about this and several more movies of which that question needs to be asked.

Regarding the movie of topic, I listed the four mains above, but they each have strong storylines, each have plenty to lose--the criteria for knowing who the main character is.

Heston is the owner of the circus. A lot happens under the big top, and he's responsible for it all. What about Stewart? He plays a clown who hides under his makeup. He's a doctor who is responsible for the death of a patient. And Hutton? She fights for the center ring and finally gets it because of a fallen comrad. Her guilt eats away at her. Wilde has an accident. Is his trapeze career over? But above all four main characters, there is one that I haven't mentioned yet.

Or have I?

Take the movie, Twister, another summer fave. A romantic story between Helen Hunt and Bill
Paxton ensues. One would think they share top billing. But do they? Maybe the main character is someone different entirely. Yes, I have mentioned that character.

What about Showboat? There are a lot of characters in that story. Who is the main character? Or The Alamo? Rich history (although somewhat inaccurate) is told through the characters, but the Texas mission itself is the primary one we care the most about.

May I suggest that the question isn't WHO is the main character in each of these stories, but WHAT?

Midway, a WWII movie with a slew of characters and storylines, was actually about the island, Midway, and the battles fought over it for control. The Japanese wanted it to launch attacks from, the Americans owned it, and defended it to keep that from happening. In this case, the island has the most to lose.

Yes, I'm suggesting that the main character need not be human. I'm sure you can think of several movies where you aren't sure who the main character is. In that case, perhaps the backdrop holds that honor.

In Twister, the backdrop is the storms and finally, that one F5 that nearly takes the characters lives, but actually leads Hunt and Paxton to success in their research for an early warning system. As such, the tornado loses its punch because it "knows" it can no longer surprise people in the middle of the night. That final twister is the main character.

And in The Greatest Show On Earth, the circus is the main character. In the final scene, it is crippled from a train wreck. Will the show go on? The circus breathes life and the characters under its canvas are its heartbeat. And to bring that point home, the boss man, Heston, is accused of having sawdust in his veins.

Here's something else to ponder. Could the main character be something that isn't tangible? An ideal perhaps. Take Journey to the Center of the Earth. Could the main character be the journey itself? Or is that just the backdrop? Does the journey have the most to lose? Hm. Perhaps not. What about The Hunt for Red October?

A Russian submarine captain defects, taking the Red October with him. Now the US and the Russians are hunting for it. Is the sub the main character, or the hunt for the sub? The title suggests the latter. That hunt is what drives the movie. It is important for both parties to be the first to find the sub. I suggest that the Hunt is the main character.

We are now taught that you must have one character for the readers to identify with. Some storylines call for a plethora of characters and plots. Yes, by today's standards, we may have to comply and showcase actual people, especially the new author. But once you're seasoned, and really know what you're doing, it would be great to see stories where the backdrops take center stage.

As you think about writing that breakout novel, remember to create a strong backdrop. Make it a character in itself, and maybe, it will steal the spotlight. Wouldn't that be awesome?

Consider the following movies, (which hubby helped me compile) and decide for yourself. Is the title character the main, or is it simply the backdrop?

The African Queen
The Poseidon Adventure
The Titanic
Stage Coach
The War Wagon
Air Force One
Towering Inferno
Apollo 13
The Rock
42nd Street
New York, New York
South Pacific
Jewel of the Nile
Police Academy
Back Draft
Big Trouble in Little China
Murder on the Orient Express
Holiday Inn
Gunfight at the OK Corral
How the West Was Won
Royal Wedding
The Great Race
The Great Escape
Stalag 13
The Guns of Navarone
The Bridge over the River Kwai
The television shows:
Gilligan's Island
The Love Boat
Fantasy Island

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Proposal - My Review

I saw The Proposal tonight. Sandra Bullock is back! She's so funny, and has the ability to do drama. Her characters show depth, and that's why she's my fave female actress. The male protagonist, Ryan Reynolds, also proved himself as a fine actor, able to play humor with realism that endeared me to him with every passing minute of this movie.

I strive to write like that. Sprinkle in the humor, but give my characters depth. I write sweet romances, but that doesn't mean my characters can't have real issues. In Merely Players, (now available in the 3-in-1 Florida Weddings available here,) my hero was abused by his father. This shaped him into the adult he became, one more comfortable playing a role than being himself. In my next book, God Gave the Song, (available in November 2009 through Barbour Publishing's Heartsong Presents,) my hero was abandonded by his hippie mother. And in my current work in progress, Crossroads Bay, my heroine needs to save face, proving her father wasn't crazy for chasing his dream.

In all three stories, I've added giggles here and there, but hopefully I haven't missed the real issues, and the spiritual struggles that round out real-life situations.

As Rachel Hauck mentioned in the previous post, The Proposal is well worth seeing. If you'd like to learn how to write funny with depth, this is the movie to watch. Each character had reasons for being the way they were. And the writers brought that out in natural ways.

Disclaimer for my "family friendly" readers: Do beware that there is a partial nude scene between Bullock and Reynolds. Nothing is seen, and it is totally hilarious, but I thought the director let it go a tad too long to the point of gratuitousness. Is that a word? It is now. Because of that, this movie gets 4 out of 5 stars from me.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Proposal - Guest Author, Rachel Hauck

This week, guest author Rachel Hauck will give a craft review of the new summer movie, The Proposal. I met Rachel in 2002 at the first national conference for American Christian Romance Writers, (now called American Christian Fiction Writers.) She has served in that organization as worship leader, president and now as adviser, and has never lost her sweet, humble spirit. She has since authored some terrific novels, the latest -- Love Starts With Elle.

Rachel wrote the following post to our ACFW loop and I quickly snarfed it up for this blog. I haven't had a chance to see this movie, yet. My husband and I usually reserve the theater for blockbusters, like Star Trek. But I've heard so many terrific things about it, we may have to break that rule. I'm not sure I can wait for it to come out on DVD.

And now, Rachel:

I just saw The Proposal with Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds. It was a great movie. There were a few cliche scenes, but the director made them work well for Sandra's character and the setting.

Otherwise, this was a GREAT movie for dialog, pacing and how to raise the stakes. What starts out as a ridiculous set up -- she's a publisher from Canada about to be deported because she violated her green card status, and he's her exec assistant working his tail off to become an editor.

So she pretends they are getting married so she won't be deported. Why would he go along with this? He hates her! But the screenwriter wisely raised the stakes for him, and brilliantly. Lots of times we see stupid reason for raising stakes: she's going to tell he dated the bosses daughter... Big deal.

But the stakes are real, and believable. This is a great movie to discover how to raise the stakes, both private and public.

The dialog was also fantastic. In one scene, Drew and Margaret are quietly arguing and he wants to reminder of what kind of hard woman she is and instead of doing the typical name calling or using the B-word, he says, "you're going to have to quit eating children while they're dreaming."

I loved that line. Why? Because it shows how hard she is and how he perceives her. She's a dream killer for her own gain. Best of all, it was utterly unique. I love dialog and struggle to get unique lines sometimes, but this has inspired me to think and dig deeper!

Best of all the chemistry between Bullock and Reynolds was great. We should strive for that among our protags!

Thanks, Rachel, for the great review and writing tips. Folks, Rachel has a wonderful service for writers called My Book Therapy. She knows her stuff!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Summer Movies Fresh Out of the Gate

I've been to see one summer release already, Star Trek in IMAX. All I can say is, WOW! Okay, I can say a whole lot more than that.

As one who remembers the original series before it became reruns, I worried that this movie would mess with my icons. I feared the same thing with last year's summer blockbuster, Get Smart starring Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway. Both Get Smart and Star Trek honored the original series, as well as punched up the stories for the big screen.

The casting was perfect with Chris Pine (Princess Diaries 2) as Kirk and Zachary Quinto (Heroes) as Spock. I'm so glad Quinto played this role because after watching Heroes, I was having nightmare with his character, Sylar, showing up and slitting the tops of heads. If I was dreaming and Sylar showed up, I think, "Oh, crumb!" Now, I'll just turn him into Spock if he suddenly appears. (But I digress.)

The other iconic characters were also well cast, particularly Dr. McCoy played by Karl Urban. From his opening line off camera--"I don't need a doctor. I am a doctor, damn it!"--we knew we were going to like this young Bones.

I also liked Uhura, played by Zoe Saldana, who refused to give her name to Kirk. This, according to the IMDB site under "Trivia" was a tribute to the character on the series who never had a first name. (Check out the trivia site after you watch the movie. It's fun to see how director J.J. Abrams and his team honored those responsible for all of the original series and movies.)

From a writing standpoint, the back story for the two main characters worked very well. We know why each man is the way he is--what makes Kirk a rebel and Spock...well...Spock. If you must write back story, watch this movie to see how it's done. Also, the movie followed the character arcs of both Kirk and Spock well, leaving plenty of room for growth. Could a new Star Trek franchise be in the works?

I sincerely hope so.

For another review of Star Trek and its competition, Up, go to the blog, Musings on This, That, and the Other Thing by Jennifer AlLee titled, Summer at the Movies: Action, Laughs, and a Bunch of Kleenex

I hope to see more summer releases soon. Up and Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian are next on my list. Watch for more reviews.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

But What Does She Really Want?

Rainy days and Mondays always get me down, (nod to Karen Carpenter,) unless I have a library of fave DVDs to pass the time.

My very most favorite movie of all time (could I be any more emphatic?) is Ever After: A Cinderella Story with Drew Barrymore and Dougray Scott. When I first saw this movie in the theater I was going through a very emotional time. My father was dying. To give my mom more time alone with him, my sister and I would go on errands or hit the theater occasionally. I don't know if that's why this movie holds such a special place in my heart, or if it's all the wonderful writer craft things that it has going for it, or if it's Dougray. Probably all three.

This movie is the "true" story of Cinderella. There are no singing mice, pumpkins, nor fairy godmothers. No magic, and no Bippity-Boppity-Boo. It starts out with the Grimm brothers riding in a carriage and entering an impressive castle in France. It seems they were summoned by the great, great granddaughter of Danielle De Babarac, nicknamed Cinderella by her deliciously wicked step-sister, Marguerite. The purpose: to inform them that the story they've written, while it is true, did not happen the way they depicted. The closing line of the movie is the Grand Dame informing them, "And while Cinderella and her Prince did live happily ever after, the point, gentlemen, is that they lived."

For this movie, I'd like to look at GMC, or Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. If you haven't heard of this all important fiction tool, please buy GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict by Debra Dixon. When writing our stories, we want to know what our characters want, their external goal, and what they really want, their internal goal. For this movie, I want to look specifically at the internal goal. I watched this movie a dozen times before it hit me that Barrymore's character, Danielle De Barbarac (Cinderella,) answers perfectly the question, "What does she really want?"

In this article, as I synopsize the story, I'm going to show two threads, the romantic and the family issue. By the end, I'll reveal what Danielle's goal really is.

When the Grand Dame begins telling the tell, the scene opens with Danielle as a young girl. She loves her father who has been on a long trip. He has brought her home a book, Utopia, for his daughter who reads voraciously. (I like her already!) He has also brought home a wife and two step-daughters. Danielle, who has been motherless for a long time, is very excited to meet her new mother, the Baronness Rodmilla De Ghent, played by the fabulous Anjelica Huston, and sisters, Marguerite and Jaqueline. But when her father dies, the Baronness turns ugly. She treats Danielle like a servant in her own home.

Danielle, now grown up, one day sees Prince Henry on her father's horse, (he's a discontented prince who does not wish to be king, so he ran away,) and mistakes him for a thief. She pummels him with apples, but drops to her knees the moment she recognizes him. He takes her for a country girl and dismisses the meeting. The next time they meet, she is disguised as a courtier to free her elderly servant, a man whom the baroness allowed to be taken to pay off one of her many debts. Now, Henry is captivated by the mysterious girl who tries to avoid his attention. This fascinates him since most courtiers throw themselves at the handsome and eligible prince.

Prince Henry has brought back the horse and mentioned to the baronness the country girl he'd seen. Now the baronness knows that Danielle saw the prince and didn't tell her he had the horse. She slams Danielle into a chair and rails on her about deceitfulness. When Danielle claims that she didn't recognize him, step-mother becomes patronizing. The poor servant girl wouldn't know the prince when she saw him, would she? Danielle has dodged a bullet because she is underestimated.

The third time they meet, she is swimming and is startled by Leonardo Di Vinci, who is walking on water with one of his inventions. (He has been commissioned to paint in the castle, and becomes Henry's confidant.) The prince waits on shore. Danielle must keep up the pretense of a courtier to avoid getting thrown in prison for impersonation. Not a problem, because really, how many more times can she accidentally meet this guy?

It's night and Danielle is brushing the baronness's hair. They have an almost tender moment where baronness talks about her own mother and how hard she was on her. We get a glimpse of why she's the way she is. Then, she gently pulls Danielle in front of her and and says, "Pity you never knew your mother. There must be some of her in you somewhere." Danielle says she wishes she could remember her, and baronness tells her not to dwell on the things she cannot change. Then, again with uncharacteristic tenderness says, "You have so much of your father in you, I can almost see him looking out from your eyes." Danielle, clearly pleased: "Really?" Baroness: "Yes, well, your features are so masculine. And, to be raised by a man, no wonder you're built for hard labor." Danielle: "Did you love my father?" Baronness, with a sad expression: "I barely knew, go away, I'm tired." And the moment is gone.

The next time Henry shows up unannounced, Danielle hides behind a haystack as her best friend, Gustave, "helps." He tells the prince she's staying with a cousin and gives Danielle's address. He's now aiding and abetting. She has to hoof it the house before the prince gets there. She quickly changes into her courtier clothes and greets him at the door. He convinces her to come with him to a library at the monestery. At the library, she shares her political views, which, strangely enough, come straight from her favorite book, Utopia. She makes the spoiled prince think about his life.

On the way home, their carriage breaks down, and while Henry's footman goes for help, Danielle decides to walk, being the sturdy girl that she is. They get lost, and she shinnies up a tree to see if she can see the castle. While up there, Henry is accosted by a band of gypsies, and Danielle hurries down in her underthings (she took off her dress so it wouldn't get ruined,) to save her dress from the head gypsy who wants it for his wife, and ultimately to save Henry. The leader of the gypsies says she can take anything she can carry. Instead of the dress, she heads for Henry, pulls him over her shoulder and begins to walk away. This endears her to the gypsies, and she's made friends for life.

Danielle and Henry hang out with the gypsies, and while still discussing matters of great importance, have their first kiss.

The next morning, the baronness is livid. Danielle has been out all night, and now she's acting strangely, telling them to fix their own breakfasts. To spite her, the wicked step-mother, who had previously deceived her into thinking she was going to the masked ball, now is allowing Marguerite to wear Danielle's mother's dress and beautiful silver slippers. Danielle reminds them that these are her mother's things, and Marguerite cattily responds, "Yes, and she's dead." Danielle snaps and slugs her step-sister in the eye. She then proceeds to chase her through the house until Marguerite threatens to throw her favorite book into the fire. "The shoes for the book," baronness tells her. She makes the difficult decision to hand over the shoes, but Marguerite throws the book into the fire anyway and step-mother blocks her way to save it. Now, she's lost her mother's things and her father's books. And, she's in for a sound lashing.

She meets the prince the next day at the ruins with the intention of telling him who she really is, but finds she can't because he's being so...charming. She simply tells him that last night was the happiest night of her life. He kisses her, but when he pulls her into a hug, she cries out for the raw lash marks on her back, then she runs out.

Meanwhile, the baronness has found out that Danielle has been impersonating her mother as a courtier and disappearing with the prince. She confronts her and asks where the gown and the slippers are. Danielle says, "Where the candlesticks and the trapesties and the silver are. Maybe the dress is with them." She then delivers one of the best lines in the movie. "I would rather die a thousand deaths than to see my mother's dress on that spoiled, selfish cow." Step-mother: "Perhaps we can arrange that." She locks Danielle in the cellar and threatens the servants not to let her out.

The night of the ball, Gustave tells Di Vinci what's happened. He comes and opens the door with a couple of whacks to the bolts. Then, he becomes Danielle's fairy godmother by inventing beautiful wings to go with her mother's dress that has mysteriously reappeared. She makes it late to the ball and takes the prince's breath away. But baronness accosts her before she can explain to Henry who she really is. With a torn wing, she admits to the prince that she is an imposter and a servant girl. Henry now believes she's just like all the other girls. She runs away, falling and leaving her silver shoe behind, and Henry sulks outside. Di Vinci asks him what he's done, and tells the prince that he doesn't deserve her.

Danielle is back to being the servant girl and is outside doing chores. Baronness joins her and twists the knife a little more. She says, "I have it on good authority that before your embarrassing expidition, the prince was about to announce that Marguerite is to be his bride." After more digs, Danielle says, "Don't you understand? You've won. Go move into your palace and leave us be!" Step-mother: "You are not my problem anymore." Danielle: "Is that what I am? Your problem? I have done everything you ever asked, and still you deny me the only thing I ever wanted." Step-mother: "And what was that?" Danielle: "What do you think? You are the only mother I have ever known. Was there a time, even in it's smallest measurement, that you loved me at all?" Step-mother: "How can anyone love a pebble in their shoe?" This seems to be what breaks Danielle.

So, we've finally gotten to it. What was Danielle's goal, what she really wanted deep down? To win the prince? To move her evil step-family out so she and the servants could live in peace? No. It was to be loved by the only mother she ever knew. How tragic that the baronness couldn't see past her conniving, evil heart to give a little girl love.

I won't leave you at this sad moment though.

Suddenly, all of the things missing from the house are brought back by the evil Pierre Le Pieu, who has had a "thing" for Danielle. The baronness had sold him all the things from the house to feed her mismanagement skills. And now, she's buying it all back, and using Danielle for currency. He takes her away to his castle where she's a slave in shackles because she threatens to run away at the first chance she gets. When he makes advances, she grabs a dagger and cuts his cheek. She then grabs a sword and tells him her father was an excellent swordsman and taught her well. She then delivers another great line. "Hand me that key or I'll slit you from naval to nose."

The prince finally swallows his foolish pride and narrowly misses an arranged marriage by letting the grieving Spanish woman off the hook. It seems she didn't want the marriage anymore than he did. He finds out what happened to Danielle and comes to "rescue" her. But our robust girl has saved herself as she walks out of the evil castle free from shackles and smiling. One can only hope that Pierre Le Pieu is now wearing the chains. Henry pulls out the slipper and asks her to help him "find the owner this rather remarkable shoe. She is my match in every way. Please tell me I haven't lost her." He kneels in front of her, slips off her ugly work shoe and slips on the slipper as if it's an engagement ring. "I kneel in front of you not as a prince, but as a man in love." And he proposes to her. She cries, and says yes.

The baronness and her daughters are summoned to the castle. She believes it's so that the prince can announce that he's chosen Marguerite. When she gets there, she is immediately accused of lying to the Queen. Sentence is passed that she and Marguerite will be shipped to the Americas unless someone can vouch for her. Of the roomfull of people, no one helps the baronness. But, finally, one voice says she will speak for her. It's Danielle, and it's very obvious, even to the baronness that she is now a princess. Danielle tells her that she will never think about her again. And this is her arc. She'd started out wanting love from this woman, and now, she's willing to forget her forever. Then Danielle, in her mercy, asks that her step-mother be spared, but that she be afforded the same courtesy that she'd bestowed upon her. And the next time we see baronness and Marguerite, it's in the laundry, getting shoved into a vat of purple dye.

Di Vinci presents his painting to Danielle, a portrait of her, and then some truly cheesy things are said between her and the prince. But, they kiss, and we know that they live happily Ever After.

Ever After: A Cinderella Story -

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Subplot - A Key to An Inner Door

We end Irish month with the delightfully funny Waking Ned Devine. When an elderly man wins the lottery, he dies from shock, and the entire town covers up the death and schemes to claim his winnings. You'd think this was a movie about greed, but not so, and the key to this fact is in the subplot.

First, here's what goes on in the main thread of the story. In the tiny coastal village of Tullymore, someone has won the lottery. It's announced on the telly that one person holds the ticket, and the townspeople set out to guess who it is. Jackie and Michael are old men who act like young boys and are best friends. They ask around town and suspect it may be Pig Finn because he's driving a fancy sportscar, but discover it's only borrowed. Finally, the pair, along with Jackie's wife Annie throw a chicken dinner party where they plan to ask each guest what they would do if they won the money, hoping someone will tip their hand. At the end of the evening, it appears that no one has won. Annie notices, however, that one plate of chicken was never eaten. Someone missed the party.

After a quick run-through in their heads of the guests, they realize it was Ned Devine that didn't make it. Jackie goes to check on the man, and finds him dead in his chair, the winning lotto ticket clutched in his fingers, and a big grin on his face. Ned, it seems, lives alone and has no family. Jackie goes back home without calling the authorities as he thinks about how he should approach this new development. That night, he has a dream where Ned is eating his chicken dinner while they both drift in a boat toward "the light." Ned is at peace and in a celebratory mood. Jackie wakes up and believes Ned is telling him to claim the money.

Jackie convinces Michael to pretend to be Ned when the lottery official comes, and they hide the body. When the man, Jim Kelly, shows up, he sees Jackie on the beach and asks where Tullymore is. He hasn't seen Michael as he is behind a large boulder. It seems the two friends were skinny dipping in the ocean, and Jackie has gotten dressed while Michael lingers with his towel on. When Jackie realizes this is the lottery official, he hops into Jim's car to direct him to Ned's house, the...uh...long way. Meanwhile, Michael, who is having trouble getting his pants on, hops on his motorcycle stark naked except for his helmet (safety first, you know,) and races to Ned's before the car can get there. (I'll talk about this brief nude scene at the end of the article.) Michael changes into Ned's clothes, and after a few more Laverne and Shirley moments, Jim is dupped into believing that Michael is his man. He leaves satisfied and says he'll have to visit the village in a few days to make some inquiries to be sure that he is Ned Devine.

Now they have to convince the town to go along with the scheme. Annie doesn't want a part of it, telling them they'll both go to prison.

Jackie calls the town together to explain what he and Michael have done. He apologizes for thinking he could claim the money by himself. He had no idea the winnings would be so large--seven million pounds. It's all or none of us, he says. The money will be claimed and divided equally among the fifty-two of them. He tells them to think about it, and later they will sign a paper saying they agree. Either all sign, or they don't claim the money, and he and Michael will take what's coming to them. Annie comes around, saying Jackie is no good to her in prison, but you get the idea that the amount of money also swayed her.

The next day, everyone signs except the town sourpuss, a bitter old woman in an electric wheelchair. Everyone shows up at her door bearing gifts to bribe her into signing. With Jackie, Annie, and Michael sitting in her parlor, she asks them, "Did you know if you report a fraud, you get ten percent of the winnings?" That sum would be more than they're offering her to sign their paper. She assures them she won't call the Lotto, but she wants her share bumped up to the amount of money she would have gotten if she had.

They hold Ned's funeral, and the official shows up unexpectedly. He listens as Jackie gives the eulogy, quickly revising it to bury his old friend Michael. Michael listens to his own funeral, thoroughly enjoying all the great things Jackie is saying about their friendship. Afterward, Jim Kelly tells Michael/Ned that he's satisfied and that he'll get his check.

The wake becomes a true celebration. And as Ned's friends party, Jim drives away.

Meanwhile, Lizzie, knowing they'll never give her the exorbitant amount she'd asked for, makes her way to the nearest phone booth, (some miles out of town,) in her motorized wheelchair. They'd had a storm earlier and it knocked down all the phone lines in town. She shows her true colors when the wheelchair runs out of juice, and she gets out and walks. Lizzie apparently only uses the thing to get sympathy. She finally makes it to the phone booth and begins her call to the Lotto. At the same time, Jim Kelly, who has dreadful allergies in the country, sneezes and loses control of his car. We think he's going to hit the phone booth, but he swerves in time, nearly hits a vicar in his van, and causes the vicar to hit the booth, knocking it off the cliff and to the sandy beach below. Lizzie has had her come-uppance, and it seems by a divine hand as it was a man of God who had finished her off.

That is the main story line. It seems complete. What could the writer have added to it in a subplot?

Briefly, here's the subplot. A young single mother loves Pig Finn, but can't stand his smell. He get's his name by working a pig farm. Finn loves her back, but can't quit because he needs the money. A wealthy outsider also loves Maggie, and she'd do well to marry him, but she doesn't love him. She knows Finn would be a great dad to Maurice. Both men think they could be the boy's father. She finally tells Finn that he's the father, but confesses to Jackie during the wake that Ned Devine is really the boy's dad. Maurice is Ned's heir, and therefore could have the entire seven million pounds. But, she tells him he'd be spoiled from the money. Besides, Finn would never understand, and Maurice would grow up without a dad.

Yowza! What a message! Our movie about greed has become a movie about sacrifice. Ned sacrifices his life for his community, (okay, he had a little help.) Jackie and Michael sacrifice going to prison to bring in the other townspeople. And Maggie sacrifices the whole Shepherds Pie to give her son what he really needs.

The subplot opens the door to this theme of sacrifice, making it even more clear, and giving it a satisfying punch.

Now, a word about the nudity and other less moral issues in this film. At first, I wondered why they would have a scene showing naked wrinkled old men. (It's all from the back except the motorcycle ride, that that's so far away, and possibly blurred that you can't see anything you shouldn't.) Then, I realized that it shows these guys as the little boys they are. It's symbolic. It's also European. They don't have the same mindset that we have here. Nothing was dirty, but rather innocent contrasted with the fact that they were about to break the law. Another issue you may have as a Christian is Lizzie's demise. If this had been written from a Christian perspective, I'm sure she would have seen the error of her ways. And finally Maggie's problem--a son who doesn't know who his father is. Throughout the film, young Maurice confides in the vicar, (not the one who delivered judgement on Lizzie's phone booth.) We see him as a kid seeking answers, and seeking them in the right places.

So, if you watch this movie, please just enjoy the story. Like God's people, it's not perfect, but it sure is entertaining to watch!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Conflicts of Epic Proportions

Couldn't do Irish Month without mentioning Far and Away, written by Bob Dolman, co-written and directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman -- none of whom are Irish, by the way. However, they manage to capture that excitement when America was new and immigrants flocked here to make their dreams come true.

I have heard that to have good conflict in your stories you should put your character up a tree and throw rocks at them. This movie pummels Cruise's character, Joseph Donelly, until he is bloody and bruised, often literally. After a tiff with a landlord, (in this case one who owns the land that the Donelly's live on and work,) Joseph's father is hurt. He dies in his son's arms, but comes back to tell him something. "You're an especially odd boy." Once Joseph gets over that, his father speaks the theme of the story. "Without land, a man is nothing. . .Land is a man's very own soul."

With his father gone, Joseph is faced with eviction, and he takes revenge on the landlord. After several failed attempts at killing him, he ends up getting hurt by his own weapon. The landlord nurses him back to health with the intention of hanging him when he's well enough. He escapes and is caught by Stephen Chase played by Thomas Gibson. Stephen is the arrogant manager of the property and is in love with Shannon, the landlord's daughter. Joseph spits on Stephen who in turn challenges him to a duel.Shannon is a rebel and has learned that they're giving away free land in America. She helps Joseph escape and together they board a ship bound for the new world.

Joseph pretends to be her servant on the journey, a job thrust upon him unwillingly. But he keeps up the pretense until they port in Boston because Shannon has paid his way. They find out from a kindly gentleman that to claim the free land, they must race for it in Oklahoma. Worried about the expense, Shannon tells the man she has silver spoons and can sell them. He helps her find a place, but then steals them from her. He is shot by someone with a similar complaint against him. The spoons scatter and a crowd gathers. Shannon's spoons are gone, picked up by other hungry vultures. Joseph rescues her bag from being the next victim and gets Shannon out of the street. Now, poor Shannon and Joseph are homeless.

He finds an Irish community and is given a room. He tells the landlord that Shannon is his sister, hiding the fact that she is from money to keep her from being tossed out. This particular group looks with disdain on the wealthy, regardless of whether they just lost their fortune in a mad spoon frenzy. They get jobs at a chicken processing plant, which I'm sure is way beneath Shannon's social status.

Back in Ireland, Shannon's parents' home is burned to the ground. They, too, decide to try their hand in America and look for Shannon.

While living together, they pretend to hate each other, but in truth are becoming attracted to each other. One night Joseph leaves, frustrated at his feelings and stumbles upon a barehanded boxing match in a bar. He does some pummeling of his own and wins the match, which thrusts him into a new social status. He becomes a celebrity overnight as he wins match after match and instead of saving the money, buys suits and hats.

Shannon becomes frustrated with his buying habits, knowing they could be well on their way to Oklahoma. He brags that he's making the most money and she vows to out-do him at earning cash.

He heads out to the biggest match of his boxing career, and while there sees Shannon dancing in the bar. This doesn't settle well. The men in the club urge him to fight and offer $200 to back him. Shannon encourages him to fight one more time so they can have enough money to go to Oklahoma. He agrees, but during the match, sees Shannon being pawed. He leaves the match to protect her from the roving hands of one of the backers who happens to be a city council member. He attempts to leave the fight and save her, but the other man thinks he's still in and throws a sucker punch. Joseph loses the match and he is thrown out of the club and onto the street. When he wakes up, he sees Stephen asking people if they'd seen Shannon.

He runs to the room he shares with Shannon. There, he finds the councilmen who had backed him rummaging through his personal belongings in his apartment. They want their $200. They steal it from the savings and toss both Joseph and Shannon onto the streets, bullying the landlord by telling him not to let them back in or the place would be shut down.

Joseph and Shannon are homeless -- again.

Up until now, these characters have been beaten again and again with various sized rocks. Did I, as the audience want it to stop? No! It kept the action moving. If they had gone to Boston, hopped on the first train heading west and fulfilled their dream, I would have been disappointed. Conflict equals action, and action equals page-turners. Keep them turning pages, and you have acheived the ultimate goal of a writer.

Having said that, an entire movie or book of rock-throwing can get tedious. It's best to craft in some downtime, just don't make it too long. The next scene gives the audience a brief breather.

Joseph and Shannon are cold and hungry. They find a seemingly empty house of affluence and break in to stay warm and find food. Shannon warms to Joseph, realizing what he sacrificed to protect her. He continues to sacrifice when they pretend they belong there and he takes on the servant's role once again. She tells him she'd rather pretend they are married, letting him know that she feels they are equals now. This is the turning point in their relationship. As they "play house," the real owners show up. When the couple flees, Shannon is shot. Knowing she'll die without help, Joseph makes the ultimate sacrifice and takes her to where her parents are staying in Boston.

Knowing her family will never let her near him again, he heads west and works on the Trans-Continental Railroad. After many months, it seems he's abandoned the thought of owning land. But he has a dream where his dying father reminds him of his desire -- a scene that echoes the beginning of the movie. He joins a wagon train and finally makes it Oklahoma days before the Land Run of 1893.

He chances upon Shannon and her family, who are getting ready to claim their own land. Shannon appears cold toward him, leaving Joseph disappointed. Stephen sees the encounter and threatens Joseph with death if he sees him near her again. It appears Shannon has chosen Stephen.

Our rock beaten Joseph now has no girl to share his land and, unfortunately, no horse for the race. His only options at this late date include a horse ready for the glue factory and one with the spirit of his Shannon -- wild and unattainable. He opts for the aging horse, but alas, the poor thing doesn't make it through the night. This leaves him with the spunky horse, who clearly resents being told what to do.

The race is on, and Joseph chases after Stephen and Shannon, knowing that Stephen has broken the law. They had been told not to search for land before the race, but he has found out that Stephen had done just that. Shannon falls off her horse and Joseph is the first to get to her. Stephen is torn between getting to the land before anyone else or following through on his threat to kill Joseph. He decides to go back for Shannon, not wanting to be bested by the common man. They fight a couple of times as Joseph breaks away to claim his land at Shannon's encouragement. But, Joseph falls, hitting his head on a rock. Shannon rushes to his side, sacrificing her dream (just as Joseph had for her during the boxing match.) She rejects Stephen and stays by Joseph's side as his life slips away.

This would be the ultimate rock, wouldn't you say? After all Joseph has been through, must he now die without any satisfaction? Thankfully, the writer manages a happily ever after despite Joseph dying. He had set it up in that very first scene where his father slipped away, came back to deliver a message, and then slipped away for good. Joseph goes through a similar process, coming back to tell her that the land means nothing to him without her. He dies, and as Shannon mourns, professing her love for him, he is revived, (a scene that would seem contrived if it weren't for the opening scene with his father.)

Together, they grab his flag and plunge it into the ground claiming the land that has taken two and half cinema hours to obtain.

Whew! Throwing rocks is exhausting, but so worth it if it means your readers will keep the book in their hands and lose sleep...possibly their jobs. We can only hope.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

James Scott Bell's Q-Factor

An excellent article on what James Scott Bell calls the Q-Factor (alluding to the James Bond character Q) was just posted today on Novel Journey. Great craft article! Important nugget for any writer. Check it out!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Simple Storyline With Depth

To continue Irish Movie Month, I viewed Once, a simple story about a guy named Guy and a girl with no name. If you watch this movie, beware. It's about a street musician in Dublin and the language reflects that. The opening scene, although funny, uses the f-word in every sentence as two people interact. That is the worse of it, though. I think they did that to set the scene and maybe create a shock factor. The rest of the movie sprinkles in the foul language like dollops of cow patties over an otherwise beautiful field.

The writer/director, John Carney, said in the extras on the DVD, this story was something "you could write on the back of a postage stamp." And it was, literally. Here is what the movie was about. Two people suffering from similar broken relationships help each other heal by encouraging their music interests. This is the elevator pitch. It's also the entire plot.

But the plot, sparse as it is, has a surprising depth. It's actually a musical, with Guy singing in at least 60% of the movie. But with just a few well placed snatches of dialogue, we feel the couple's pain.

Guy is a singer/guitar player/song writer living on tips as he sings on the streets. He also works in his father's vacuum repair shop. Girl is a Czech immigrant who plays the piano in a music store because she doesn't have one of her own. When Girl meets Guy, she immediately recognizes his songs as ones written for a lost love. Guy, a definite loner, doesn't know what to think of this straight-forward woman who speaks her mind.

Girl draws Guy out by letting him see her world. She brings him to the music shop where she plays a classical piece. He immediately sees a kindred soul, and teaches her one of his songs. They play and sing together, bonding a friendship that will last.

Girl finally gets Guy to tell him about his lost love. He tells her in song, and thus "Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy" is written in the back of a bus. He tells her his girl slept with someone else (although, remember the cow patties--he didn't say "slept") and is now living in London.

Girl invites Guy to her flat, where he meets her baby daughter and her mother. Now we know that our Czech girl has a past.

Guy invites Girl to his place where she meets his Da, and Guy, being a...well...a guy, misinterprets Girl's attention asking her to stay the night. Highly offended, she leaves. (You go girl!) It takes some fancy talking the next day to convince her how sorry he is, and the friendship continues.

He tells her he's going to take her advice and go to London to find the woman who still has his heart. Girl is thrilled. But before he goes, he wants to make a music demo to take with him. She helps him rent a studio and agrees to play piano and sing on the CD. They gather a small band of street musicians for backup, and proceed to rehearse.

Girl tells Guy that she's married. No divorce. It didn't work out and she left with her daughter, but she doesn't want her to grow up without a dad. The romantic in me wants these two to get together in a happily ever after, but I don't think it's to be.

The band is finally ready to record and they lay down several tracts. During a break, Girl finds a piano in another room and plays a classical tune. Guy joins her and encourages her to sing something she's written. She starts, but breaks down before it's over. She cries on Guy's shoulder as he makes the observation that the song is about her child's father. She affirms this, but never says what happened between them. This simple act gives her character depth, and confirms that Guy and Girl are on the same path.

A day after the recording is done, Girl tells Guy that she's spoken to her husband. They're going to make it work. Guy calls his lost love in London letting her know he's coming. She sounds happy to hear that. Before he goes, he buys a piano in the music shop and has it delivered to Girl.

The end.

The theme of this story is "healing." And even though it's a simple story about Guy and a girl, their lost loves and their music, it's a story with depth. They both have real pain. They both hide that pain in their music. They both resolve that pain through each other's encouragement.

Can you write a simple story with depth? Sometimes we get so bogged down in the "rules" that we miss the simple story. I encourage you to write that story with heart, make it simple, give it truth.

If you want to hear "Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy" here is a link. Caution: There are a couple of cow patties in this cute stick-figure video that's also included on the DVD.

Monday, March 9, 2009

A Man With a Past

What better way to start Irish Month than with the John Ford classic, The Quiet Man, starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara? Set in Innisfree, Ireland, Sean Thornton, played by the Duke, arrives from America. But Ireland is his birth place, and he wishes to buy the little cottage where he was born.

We learn this in the first few minutes of the movie as Sean tells Michaleen Oge Flynn, a little man with a big job, that they knew each other when Sean was a child. After a few more introductions of the tall stranger, we learn through Father Lonergan that Sean’s grandfather died in a penal colony in Australia, his father was a good man who apparently died in a bad accident, and Sean’s mother died in America when he was twelve. Later, when he talks to the patron of the town -- an old gentleman with a long, white beard -- we find out that he knew the grandfather, and that he was a good man.

Quite a past, but we’re not through yet.

We see Sean in the church, a pensive look on his face, as if he’s reflecting on his past. Afterward, he meets a fiery redhead, Mary Kate Danaher played by O’Hara, and becomes enamored with her. Ah, romance, but that’s not what this article is about. Strange coming from me, but true.

Sean visits the Widow Tillane to buy the land that is now in her possession. He tells her when he was a kid living in a shack near the slag heaps, his mother told him about Innisfree and their home. We get that life was probably rough for the little Irish immigrant and his widowed mother. He further tells her, “When I quit the r…, when I decided to come here…” What was he about to say? What did he quit?

Questions! The author’s best friend. Yes, Sean has a past, but the writer is very careful not to tell everything in the first scene. Watch how Sean’s back story is skillfully woven in.

As we get to know Sean, it becomes very clear that he wants to live in peace, but Squire Will Danaher, Mary Kate’s brother, is a scrapper and angry that Sean has bought the land he’s been wanting. In the pub, Will challenges Sean, who tells him, “I’m not going to fight you, Danaher.” The other men in the pub stop Will from punching him and make the two shake hands. It becomes a power war, however, both men crushing the other’s palm, showing their strength. They’re an even match. Will storms out and two members of the currently nonviolent IRA tag Sean as a “quiet, peace-loving man.”

But is he?

He meets the Reverend and Mrs. Playfair. Upon hearing the name Thornton, the vicar appears to recognize him, but can’t place him. “Thornton. Has a familiar ring to it… Ring to it.”

More questions.

When Sean calls on Mary Kate to ask her brother permission to court her, Will refuses to allow it. Sean has been civil, but through his Yankee ignorance, insults the ritual. Will yells at him to get out of the house by the time he counts to three. Sean, with a dangerously quiet voice, tells him, “If you say three, mister, you’ll never hear the man count ten.”

Ah, is it becoming clearer, now?

Through this sprinkling of dialogue, Sean’s past unrolls like the fog over an emerald meadow. Piece by piece, bit by bit, a theme begins to emerge.

Let’s continue. The priest, the vicar, and his wife, plot to trick Will into giving his blessing for the courting. They tell him the Widow Tillane is interested in him, but wouldn’t think of marrying him with another woman in the house.

It works, and Michaleen chaperones Sean and Mary Kate in his carriage on their first outing together. The couple gets out to walk in front of the carriage, and as they talk, he compliments her bonnet. This reminds her of a few days prior, when he had left her bonnet sitting on the post during a race. This race on horses, I’m thinkin’, was a fun way for couples to get together. A twist on the decorated box lunch in American culture. Mary Kate’s temper flares and she rears back her hand to slap him. Micheleen stops her with a cluck of the tongue. “Is this a courtin’ or a donney brook? Have the good manners not to hit the man until he’s your husband -- and he can hit ya back.” She apologizes and informs Sean that she has a fearful temper. “We Danahers are a fighting people.”

So far, our clues are “ring,” “hear the man count ten,” and “fighting.”

During the wedding reception, Will announces his intentions concerning the Widow Tillane. She embarrasses him by rebuffing him in public. He blows up as a result saying he’d agreed to the marriage under false pretenses. Sean steps into his tirade and Will punches him, knocking him flat. We hear a bell. As Sean lay unconscious, we get inside his head. He’s in a boxing ring, and punches the opposing fighter who goes down hard. The man dies. And now we know why Sean has fled back to his roots, the peaceful Ireland his mother had painted for him. As he comes to, he jumps up as if still in the ring, but Rev. Playfair stops him saying, “Steady, Trooper. Steady.” The vicar knows that Sean is Trooper Thornton, a boxer with a painful past.

From here, we follow Sean’s motives in light of this revelation. His past has dictated his actions thus far, and continues to do so.

The couple move into the cottage, but Mary Kate doesn’t have her furniture that’s been promised to her. Her brother is withholding it in an act of spite. She wants her things about her in her new home, and she wants her fortune, money she’s inherited plus some she’s earned for herself. Sean, in typical male fashion, doesn’t understand this. Can’t he provide for her? They spend their wedding night in separate rooms.

The next day, he presents his gift to her, a small, one horse carriage, and they ride to town. While there, she sees her brother who is in a good mood because he’s just sold some sheep. She demands Sean go get her money while her brother still has it in his pockets. Sean refuses and she calls him a coward. Obviously, she hasn’t been paying attention to the clues. Sean gets out of the carriage, and Mary Kate swings the small whip as if she’s going to hit him. But she takes off instead, leaving him in town with only his feet to get him home.

Sean finds Will in the pub and wants to talk in private. Pig-headed Will refuses, then sneers. “You’re among friends. They’ve done your fighting once, maybe they’ll fight for you again.

Sean says, still controlling his anger, “I’m not asking anyone to do my fighting for me.”

“Oh,” Will continues to taunt him. “So you’re willing to do your own are ya?” He challenges Sean to ask for the dowry, and if he does, he’ll be chewing his teeth for a week. “I’ll fight you with one of my fists in my pocket.”

Sean slaps his hand away and walks out while Will mocks him. “The Fighting Thornton!”

The last thing we see in this scene is Micheleen, sitting on a stoop, thoroughly disappointed in Sean.

Sean retreats to the vicar’s house. He needs to talk to someone who knows about his past. Sean tells him that the man he killed in the ring was a good man with a family. But Sean went into that ring to pound him into the mat -- to murder him. All for a purse, a piece of the gate, and lousy money. The vicar nods. “And now money is behind your troubles with Danaher.” The vicar shares that he knows a little about boxing. He shows Sean a picture of himself, skinny with boxing gloves on. He was the lightweight champion once. Sean now has a broad grin on his face, as if knowing that he has something in common with such a peaceful man has taken the burden of guilt off of his shoulders. The vicar offers him a drink, but then thinks better of it. “You’ll be in training again, of course.”

So now we know all about Sean’s past, and it’s taken three-quarters of the movie to learn it. It’s important as we go into the final act why Sean was afraid to fight Will. Not only did he fear killing him, but the circumstance is similar to why he fled America. Money is the root.

Mary Kate has left Sean, telling Micheleen that she can’t stay with a man she’s ashamed of. This is the final straw. Sean finds her at the train station (where she, by the way, totally believes he’ll come after her and is disappointed when he’s not there right away.) He drags her out of the train and ushers her home, half dragging, half pushing. The entire town follow them, knowing that the long hoped for fight between Sean and Will is about to happen.

Sean finds Will working in his field and pushes Mary Kate to the ground in front of him. He asks for the money. Will refuses. Sean says, “You can take your sister back. Your custom, not mine. No fortune, no marriage.” Will finally comes to his senses and flings the money at Sean. He picks it up, and Mary Kate runs to a large furnace where the men were working, opens the door and allows Sean to toss the money into the incinerator.

This completes her character arc. The money was the only thing driving her, and now, she realizes that her husband means more to her than the money ever did.

The two start to stroll away, but Will isn’t finished yet. He swings at Sean, who ducks and lands a fist into Will’s stomach. Mary Kate looks at her husband with pride and says she’s going home, and she’ll have supper ready for him. Then she walks into the crowd, head held high.

Will attacks Sean again. And now, it’s on! The two men begin to pummel each other, sparking an all out brawl with the surrounding townspeople. Micheleen stops it by shooting his starter pistol into the air. “This is a private fight. The Marquis of Queensbury rules will apply.” All agree civilly, and the two men continue to beat each other to a pulp.

Delightful symbolic scenes follow while the two are fighting. The police, who should break up the fight, have called their commissioner to get advice. He tells them to put money on Danaher. Father Lanergan’s protégé comes to him while he’s fishing, fighting the big one that always gets away. The younger man tells him there’s a big fight in town. Father Lanergan tells him he must stop it, it’s his duty. But when the priest finds out it’s Sean and Will who are fighting, he throws down his pole and the two watch from around a rock wall. Meanwhile, the vicar and his boss, who has arrived to see if the vicar’s congregation is big enough to keep him on there, watch the fight through binoculars.

Sean and Will battle their differences and become best drinking buddies. Sean has conquered his past.

In a final symbolic scene, the vicar (Protestant) drives his boss through town and the Catholics cheer, pretending to be protestants so he won’t lose his job there. In the typical Irish village, Catholics far outweigh Protestants.

A word about the symbolism. The running theme of this piece is “fighting.“ The writer used the following to get that point across, thus deepening Sean Thornton’s angst against it.


  • The IRA, not exactly known for its peace talks.
  • Catholics and Protestants, not only getting along, but helping each other in need.
  • The Vicar’s name, Playfair. I didn’t get that until I looked over my notes. Cool.
  • A scene where bickering friends at the train station start rolling their sleeves, but it’s done so civilly, it’s comical.
  • Father Lonergan fighting the fish. If you watch the movie, there are a couple of scenes where he is obsessed with this fish. When the younger priest goes to him about the fight, he says he's in a fight himself, with the fish.
  • Marquis of Queesbury rules (a civilized way to fight.)

And now we all know how to weave in back story. We create questions, leaving clues in the dialogue and in symbolism. Now, stop playin’ patty fingers and get to it!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

So, What Happened to Romance?

Or, more specifically, what happened to romance month? My main computer crashed, and while I have a laptop, it runs reeeaaaallll slow. Besides the fact that our local group didn't get to watch the main feature presentation due to everyone being busy. Our groups usually host 4-10 people, so for EVERYONE to cancel, I felt maybe the Lord was trying to tell me something. For whatever reason, it just wasn't to be. We will do Ever After at a later time. Everyone I've talked to either said they love the movie or they haven't seen it but always wanted to. So I'd still love to do that one in a group. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, please read the Coming Attractions above. In honor of my Irish/Hungarian hubby, and the fact that I have some Emerald Isle in my blood, we will be doing Irish movies this month.

Okay, is anyone else singing in their head "I'll Go Home With Bonnie Jean" from Brigadoon?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Character Driven vs Plot Driven

This month’s movie, Enemy Mine, is not your typical shoot-em-out-of-the-sky Sci-Fi. Although it does have some of that, the story centers around a relationship between a human and an alien. Sworn enemies must rely on each other to survive. Somehow, you know the plot will emerge from their lesson.

A character driven story is one where the “plot emerges from the core of the character.” (From The point of the story could not be made without the conflicts suffered, the lessons learned, and the eventual triumph (or fall) of the characters. In Enemy Mine, the human space-soldier, Willis Davidge, (played by Dennis Quaid,) hates the alien Dracs with all of his being. When the story opens, he is embroiled in a battle similar to those we saw in Top Gun. Earth fighter pilots and alien warriors are bent on destroying each other as the galaxy is being colonized and all is up for grabs. One of the Dracs shoots Davidge’s wingman out of the sky. Now it’s personal. Davidge goes after the Drac despite his crew’s concerns for the ship, ultimately crashing on a God-forsaken planet and killing all on board, including a kid named Joey, just fresh out of basic training.

Sounds like a lot of action so far, right? If the plot revolved around the destruction of the Dracs, how earth forms an alliance to save Davidge from the planet, or anything on a broad scope, (think external) it would be considered plot driven. But, once Davidge pulls himself from the wreckage and realizes the Drac he’d been pursuing has crashed also, and is still alive, we get into the thrust of Davidge’s motivation. He pursued the Drac despite his common sense, causing him to kill all under his command. Fueled by guilt and anger, he is no longer a soldier fighting a worthy cause. He is bent on revenge, and will do all in his power to exterminate the vile beast that, in his mind, caused it all to happen.

The plot emerges from there through the core of Davidge’s character, revenge being the watchword.

Now, you can’t have a relationship story without two parties, (unless that story is Sybil, in which case we have a whole ‘nother lesson to learn about plotting.) Davidge finds the enemy Drac, an ugly reptilian being, looking suspiciously like the creature from the Black Lagoon, camped by his downed spacecraft. Davidge begins to plot its demise. After a series of failed attempts, the Drac, (played by Louis Gossett, Jr.,) captures Davidge. After Davidge is nearly eaten by a sand creature and a horrific meteor shower threatens to pummel them both, they learn they need each other to survive.

The Drac, nicknamed “Jerry” by Davidge who can’t pronounce Jeriba Shigan, soon learns the human language, and we learn that he feels he has as much a right to the galaxy as the earthlings. Clearly, this is not a matter of who is right, but who has the greater power. Both are professional soldiers, on the same level, and now, both marooned.

Jerry becomes an interesting study. We quickly sympathize with him, understanding that his compassion far out ways Davidge’s bent on revenge. He sits for long periods of time in meditation, singing softly, and apparently praying. Now we get to the core of his character. Jerry is a spiritual being. When he quotes from the tiny tome he carries around his neck, it sounds suspiciously like scripture. We get the impression that God is everywhere, and that He has somehow redeemed this one alien soldier. Cool.

Because of Jerry’s gentle nature, Davidge learns the Drac’s language so he can read the words in the small book. It seems Davidge has a need for something greater than himself. They finally become friends in their shared plight.

A character driven plot has sprung from Davidge’s hatred and Jerry’s compassion.

Because Davidge is the main character, we clearly see his arc. He explores the rest of the planet, on his own because Jerry won’t go with him, to see if there is anybody who can help them. He finds a despicable slave colony, with abusive humans using Dracs to mine out the rich minerals. Davidge has gone from hating the Dracs to wanting to protect them.

When he returns to camp, Jerry is sick. Not only is he sick, he is pregnant. It appears that Dracs are both male and female. (Hmm, could this be where Jerry’s compassion springs from? I wonder.) But something is wrong with the baby. After extracting a promise from Davidge that he will teach the child his lineage so he can quote it to the elders on their planet, (a seemingly right of passage,) Jerry dies in a sacrificial act as he instructs Davidge how to take the baby from his body.

Now, Davidge’s protection instinct is stronger than ever. He has a tiny life to care for. The baby Drac quickly grows into a small “boy” named Zammis who calls Davidge “Uncle.” The two form a family bond. When Zammis learns of other Dracs on the planet, he yearns to see one. Even though Davidge is his uncle, they don’t look alike. So, he disobeys his uncle and searches for the slave colony, only wanting to watch from a distance. But he is caught, and Davidge’s worst fear is realized. He had lost Jerry and now he’s about to lose Jerry’s child.

Now, the character driven plot is fueled by obligation, and honor, and love.

Davidge is hurt while trying to rescue Zammis (more Sci-Fi action, because a story based on relationship alone would be called…um…Steel Magnolias.) He wakes in an earth ship and after his wounds are healed, goes back to the planet to save Zammis. All that hatred fueled passion we saw in the beginning of his arc is now directed to the right place. He returns to find Zammis near death. He kills all of the slave traders and saves his best friend’s child.

The final scene shows Willis Davidge, once a soldier fighting against the Dracs, standing in front of their council with Zammis as he quotes his lineage diligently taught to him by his “uncle,” the only family he has living.

So, in my quest to learn the difference between character and plot driven stories, I’ve come to the conclusion that if you can use the words revenge, hatred, compassion, obligation, honor, love, or anything internal to describe how the plot unfolds, that’s character driven.

Plot driven stories spring from the action. An example might be the recent Tom Cruise offering, War of the Worlds. Obviously Cruise’s character had motivation. If he had a pulse, he had motivation. But the main thrust of the story was to save the earth from destructive aliens. Outward rather internal descriptions prove that this story would be plot driven.

Please be aware that all good stories have some kind of character drive. Consider The Fifth Element with Bruce Willis. Clearly, this is an action-packed, plot-driven story. But there are internal elements, as well. The universe dependent on a rogue cop who cares for no one but himself to save it from destruction. A beautiful alien being learning about violence for the first time. A self-absorbed celebrity thrust into a hero’s roll. A story based on action alone would be called…um…Speed. Or worse yet, Speed 2.

Our group discussion came to the conclusion that in the end, it all comes down to a sliding scale. Some movies clearly are both character and plot driven. Star Wars comes to mind as an equal partnership of the two. Others seem more or less predominant depending on where the scale sits.

So, we’re encouraged to write where our strengths are. If you’re a plot driven writer, go for it. But don’t forget to develop a character or two along the way. If you’re a character driven writer, pass the tissues, but please include some kind of action to keep your reader from yawning half-way through.

If you’re wondering which one you are, take a simple test that can be found at

Me? I write romance. ‘Nuf said.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

This Month: Enemy Mine

Just a quick post to let my subscribers know that we will be watching the movie, Enemy Mine this Saturday in Denver. Please read the above box titled Coming Attractions for more info.

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