Friday, November 19, 2010

How To Find a Supervillain’s Essence


At the recent American Christian Fiction Writers conference, I attended a class taught by Michael Hauge, THE screenplay guy who is famous for hisbook_w_drop lectures on story structure and his book, Writing Screenplays That Sell. Every novelist should learn how to write using his method, which is a linear version of the Hero’s Journey. You can read his articles and sign up for his newsletter here.

During the discussion on Character Arc, Hauge made this elusive concept even clearer in a way I had not heard before. He refers to the hero’s essence, which is only found in his inner journey.

Here are my rough notes on questions to ask about your character:

  1. What is my hero’s longing? The deeply held desire that the hero is paying lip service to because he/she doesn’t have the courage to go after it. (Hauge refers to the hero as both male and female characters.)
  2. What is my hero’s wound? The unhealed source of continuing pain. Often happens well before the story begins. It can be a single event or an ongoing situation.
  3. What is my hero’s belief? When we’re wounded, we take on a belief of how the world works.
  4. What is my hero’s fear? A situation that will lead to that wound again.
  5. What is your hero’s identity? What is the false self the hero is presenting to the world to protect them from the wound? This is the emotional armor we create to protect us from the fear created by the wound that created the fear in the first place.
  6. What is my hero’s essence? Who is he really if he could strip away the emotional armor? Who is the hero truly?

I just saw the movie, Megamind. Great movie! The dialogue is witty and the plot, while not believable, (because let’s face it, it’s a cartoon,) delivers a story that clearly develops the hero’s inner journey. It is text book in it’s display of the above questions.

Before you read further, I want to remind you that THERE ARE SPOILERS HERE! If you haven’t seen the movie, close your eyes and go a different website! Um…which might be difficult with your eyes closed. Oh well, I’m sure you’ll figure it out. Once you’ve seen the movie, come back. This is great stuff!

Let’s look at the questions above as they apply to the title character, Megamind.

What is Megamind’s longing?

In a prologue type of beginning, we see an adorable blue alien baby with a bulbous head being placed in a round space traveling device ala Kal-el who later became Superman. And reminiscent of Krypton, the blue child’s planet is also collapsing. As the glass door closes, his frantic parents tell him he is destined for gr—. And that’s when the door snaps shut and he is flung into space. Not having heard the word “greatness”, he wonders, “What am I destined for?”

We also see a more human looking baby in a similar craft. He’s much more self-assured, and we can see the beginnings of a rivalry. The blue child is excited when he sees earth drawing near and it seems his space craft is heading straight for a mansion. But, the humanoid child bumps him out of the way, and lands under the Christmas tree inside the opulent manor while the blue child lands in the yard of the Prison for the Criminally Gifted.

Through the next few years, the humanoid child is doted upon, while the blue child is taught right and wrong from the inmates, namely, good is bad and evil is good. The blue child is finally sent to school where the humanoid child has already won over his classmates and teacher. The blue child tries to do the same, but fails at ever attempt and gets into trouble. He finally decides that his prison family had it correct. He couldn’t be the good child, so he vowed to be the best bad child he could be.

And so, in answer to the question, his longing is to become the most notorious villain the world has ever seen.

What is Megamind’s wound?

As the two grow into adulthood, the humanoid child continues to be good, and has become Metro Man, a superhero who consistently saves the citizens of Metro City. They love him, to the point of ridiculousness, but then, who wouldn’t love an Elvis/Superman type with extraordinary good looks, good hair, and the ability to vanquish all your foes?

The blue child becomes Metro Man’s arch-nemesis, Megamind. He doesn’t have superpowers, but he has a phenomenal brain and can invent anything to further his dastardly cause—which is to destroy Metro Man. And why does he want to destroy him? Because of his wound. Metro Man will always be stronger, better looking, and. . .more popular.

What is Megamind’s belief?

Megamind is secure in his belief that he will never be good, because that would be bad. And since bad is good, that’s the only way he wants to be. Evil to the core.

What is Megamind’s fear?

Megamind finally accomplishes his purpose and fries Metro Man by intensified sunrays until he’s a mere skeleton. High on victory, he takes over Metro City, becoming its Over-Lord. But his victory is fleeting. With no Metro Man, he has nothing to do, and he is bored.

So, he devises a plan. He creates a superhero with whom he can spar as he did Metro Man. Problem is, he accidently shoots a doofus cameraman named Hal with the Metro Man’s superhero DNA. Hal becomes Tighten (originally Titan, but the doofus misspelled it,) quickly learns that it’s more fun to be evil than to be a superhero, and so he becomes the most dangerous supervillain Metro City has ever seen.

Hal, before he became Tighten, was the lovesick cameraman for a sassy reporter named Roxanne. Megamind also has a crush on Roxanne, and now he not only has a villain to deal with, he’s locked into a love triangle.

Roxanne, who was repulsed (and vaguely bored) with Megamind, begins to see him as a different person. . .literally. Megamind can change his appearance with the help of one of his inventions. After several dates with whom she thinks is Bernard, an unassuming, bookwormish guy, Roxanne begins to see the true essence of Megamind. When she kisses “Bernard” in a restaurant, Megamind’s disguise is revealed and she rejects him.

And this is his greatest fear that began in that classroom many years ago. Rejection.

What is Megamind’s identity?

I think we can agree that the hero’s identity is as a supervillain. Bad is good. It’s the emotional armor that he’s been carrying around ever since his school days.

What is Megamind’s essence?

However, if he could strip away his emotional armor, he would see himself as a genius inventor with a large capacity for love.

As Tighten continues his reign of terror, Megamind and Roxanne discover that Metro Man did not die in the burning sunray blast. He is, instead, hanging out at his secret. . .er. . .hangout. It seems that Metro Man faked his death because he has decided to shed his identity as a superhero and become what he always wanted to be—in essence, his. . .er. . .essence—a musician. He tells Megamind that he must stop Tighten and become the new hero. Roxanne agrees because she’s seen Megamind’s true essence of character when he was disguised as Bernard. But, Megamind refuses, believing the lie that his wound has caused—that he is condemned to be a supervillain for life. He is beyond redemption.

Dejected, he throws himself in prison. Nothing will change his mind that he could ever be good.

However, when he sees on the television that Tighten has captured Roxanne and she is in real danger, he escapes and faces Tighten—not as a supervillain, but as a superhero.

Alas, Tighten has all of the qualities of Metro Man since he was shot with a dose of the superhero’s DNA. Megamind’s brilliance is no match for Tighten’s strength. But wait! With one last effort, Megamind uses one of his inventions and changes Tighten back into Hal, but that doesn’t stop the falling building that is headed straight for him.

Suddenly, the building splits in two and we see Metro Man save the day once again. But this time, Megamind doesn’t. . .er. . .mind.

In the end, Metro Man continues to live in his true essence as a musician, and Megamind fulfills his parents’ prophesy that he is destined for greatness. He moves into his true essence as the much loved hero who vanquished the supervillain, Tighten.

In my class with Michael Hauge, he also taught about the romantic thread. He said, “The reason the romance character and the hero belong together, is because the romance character is the only one who sees beneath the hero’s identity and connects at the level of essence.”

We see this with Roxanne. She literally saw beneath the hero’s identity, especially easy since he didn’t even look like himself. She fell in love with whom she thought was Bernard, but it was Megamind who allowed her in to see his true essence.

This is the recipe for developing your Character’s inner journey. It worked with Megamind, and I’m sure if we watch for it, we’ll see it in other movies as well. Just remember Identity vs Essence. One is what the hero believes about himself, but the other is who he truly is.


Megamind -

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Fall Movies Announced

Follow this link for a list of the Fall Movie premiers coming in September through December. Just a few jump out at me, but I’m sure the descriptions aren’t nearly as thrilling as the trailers will be.

Coming in September:

  • ALPHA AND OMEGA: Two wolves take a cross-country road trip home in an animated adventure featuring the voices of Justin Long and Hayden Panettiere. (I saw the trailer for this and it looks cute.)
  • THE AMERICAN: George Clooney plays a hitman who finds romance and tranquility in the Italian countryside as he prepares for one last assignment. (I just like George, okay?)
  • BURIED: An American driver (Ryan Reynolds) in Iraq wakes up buried in a coffin with only a dying cell phone and a lighter. (I also like Ryan, but I’m curious how a two-hour movie will deal with this. I recommend my mother stay away from this one. Claustrophobia!)

Coming in October:

  • SECRETARIAT: Diane Lane stars as the housewife who oversees the legendary horse to a Triple Crown victory in 1973. With John Malkovich. (Saw the trailer for this, too. I think it will be just as good as the 2003 racehorse offering, Seabiscuit.)


  • MEGAMIND: Brad Pitt, Will Ferrell and Tina Fey provide voices for an animated comedy about a supervillain whose life is empty after defeating his superhero nemesis. (I liked Despicable Me, so this may be just as good.)
  • TANGLED: Mandy Moore provides the voice of Rapunzel in an animated musical about the fairy-tale teen with really long hair. (Yes, I’m a sucker for cartoons. Especially those based on fairy tales.)


  • THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER: C.S. Lewis' fantasy series continues aboard a magical sea voyage. (Can I have an AMEN!)
  • TRUE GRIT: Jeff Bridges is boozy lawman Rooster Cogburn in Joel and Ethan Coen's remake of the John Wayne Western. With Matt Damon. (Cautiously optimistic. Bridges has mighty big boots to fill. But I know Damon has GOT to be a better actor than Glen Campbell. Plus, I like the Coen brothers and hope they put their usual wacky spin on this.)
  • YOGI BEAR: Dan Aykroyd and Justin Timberlake provide the voices of Yogi and his pal Boo Boo in a big screen take on the cartoon bear. (This just made me laugh, in a good way. I loved Yogi and Boo Boo as a kid, and am wondering why it took someone so long to do this.)

Some of the movies I didn’t mention deserve five question marks instead of stars, such as THE ILLUSIONIST: A stage magician forges on with his old-fashioned act as rock 'n' roll sweeps Britain in this animated tale. Um. . .can’t wrap my mind around the two different things, magic and rock ‘n’ roll. But some on the list may jump out to you like these did to me.

Check out the Yahoo link for yourself.

Friday, August 6, 2010

You Tube Movie Trailers – The Lesson

At the end of my post titled “You Tube Movie Trailers – Sort Of,” I said there was a lesson for writers in the goofy little films that pair two unlikely genres.

Here it is. It’s so simple you’ll wonder why you’ve been on anxious little pins waiting for this equivalent to the Meaning of Life.


There. Wasn’t that worth waiting for?

In all seriousness, (yes, I can be serious when I try,) I know that this is usually a newbie’s first mistake. They don’t know what they write, so they just sit down and allow stuff to flow from their fingers. I’m not saying this is a bad thing as a newbie. You must experiment to find your voice, your genre. But when it comes time to send that puppy in, you had better not have mixed him with a tiger.

Often when I ask new writers what they write, they don’t have a clue. Or worse, they have several faves and don’t know where to start. I’ve heard people state that their project started out as (for example) a historical but turned into a sci-fi thriller. This is simply a toddler taking her first steps.

I reiterate. It’s okay when you’re starting out to play with genres. Pick your favorite, and then target your publisher. In many of the guidelines, they will tell you what they want and definitely do not want. Study your market. I’ve listened to countless editor and agent panels and invariably someone will answer the question, “What do you hate,” with, “authors who send me a story in a genre I don’t sell.” And yes, hate is the word used in this context. Lesson: Don’t tick off your potential publisher.

So, the moral of the story is, find out your niche, watch the silly You Tubes, and enjoy your writing life.

Here are three more entertaining. . .and yet disturbing videos for your amusement.

Lord of the Bug's Life:

The Dark Knight Trailer Recut - Toy Story 2:

Disney/Pixar Cars - Star Trek XI Trailer Recut:

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

What if. . . The Movie!

Coming to theaters this month! This looks like a great movie with a redemptive message. If we want more good, clean, Christ-filled movies, we must show up at the theaters in force. I hope you all join me!

From a portion of the press release:

Jenkins Entertainment and Pure Flix Entertainment are proud to announce the theatrical release of the acclaimed feature film, “What If…”

Coming to theaters August 20th, What If… tells the story of Ben Walker (Kevin Sorbo, Hercules), who 15 years ago left the love of his life Wendy (Kristy Swanson, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and his calling to be a preacher for a lucrative business opportunity. Now with a big promotion and a trophy fiancĂ©, he has no desire for family or faith. That is, until an angel in the form of a mechanic (John
Ratzenberger, Cheers) visits him and shows him what his life would look like had he followed his true calling. Suddenly he’s married to Wendy, the father of two kids (including Debby Ryan, Suite Life on Deck), and the new pastor of a small church. If he’s going to escape this new “reality,” he must first learn the value of family and faith. In the tradition of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “The Family Man,” What If… offers a glimpse of the consequences of life’s choices and the joys of pursuing a second chance
of redemption.

For a list of theaters, go to this site. Note that in some cities, it doesn’t debut until September.

Go to the website and view the trailer.

Monday, July 26, 2010

You Tube Movie Trailers – Sort Of

A couple of these were sent by my friend, Kay Day, who we’ve recently discovered is my long-lost twin. We both have the same . . . um . . . eccentric sense of humor.

The following are three trailers made by talented out of work people.

What if Mary Poppins had been a horror movie?

The Shining as a romantic comedy?

There’s a lesson for writers here. Come back later and I’ll tell you.

I know. . . cliff hangers . . . you gotta love ‘em.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Despicable Me – Review

As I stated in a previous post, I wanted to see Despicable Me out of curiosity. The early trailers didn’t reveal much, but just enough to whet the appetite. As the time of release drew near, we got more of a glimpse. We knew that a super villain suddenly is in charge of three children, all adorable girls. In fact, the tag line according to IMDb is “Superbad. Superdad.”

It could also be, “The Pink Panther meets The Spy Who Loved Me.

I enjoyed this movie very much. Yes, it’s a cartoon, but I think we’ve established that I kinda like those. I love watching the craft of storytelling in its purest form. . .yeah, I’ll go with that. It had action, adventure, fluffy moments when the youngest girl wraps herself around the audience, and, surprisingly, quite a timely moral for our get-ahead-at-all-costs society today.

It was a teensy predictable in parts, but also held some surprises.

Steve Carell voices the main character, Gru, and does it so effectively, I would have never know it was him. As a writer, I love what they did with this character. Remember that a villain must have a reason to be bad.

You may want to take a tissue, although I didn’t blubber through this movie like I did Toy Story 3

I didn’t see it in 3D. I’m reserving my hard-earned cash for movies where it makes sense to shake hands with the characters. My choice didn’t ruin the experience, although I could see where one scene would have benefitted in the WOW-I’m-in-the-movie effect. I may have needed an empty popcorn bucket afterward.


I give this movie 4 out of 5 stars because of the predictability factor. But it didn’t ruin the movie for me, and there were enough surprises to keep my writer-brain from overanalyzing. At least, until I got home. :)

You can view the trailer at the IMDb site.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

When the Opposing Guy is NOT the Bad Guy

Okay, confession time. I have a crush on one of the stars of The Fugitive, and it isn’t heartthrob Harrison Ford. Oh sure, he was cute in his American Graffiti/Star Wars/Indiana Jones days. But the man who has stolen my heart is Tommy Lee Jones. Rugged, great sense of humor, wonderful actor. Okay, he’s not Pierce Brosnan, who is in a different category altogether. But charisma oozes from him whether he’s playing a semi-serious man in black to comedic Will Smith, a rootin’, tootin’ space cowboy, or just doing his job as a US Marshal.

I like him.

That’s why I was happy to see him as this particular antagonist in The Fugitive.

Antagonist? But, Kathy, how can you like an antagonist? Aren’t they all villains? Don’t they either kill, maim, or destroy?

Uh, no.

The Merriam-Webster definition of antagonist is:

“one that contends with or opposes another”

Opposition need not be violent. It could be as subtle as Marshal Samuel Gerard doing his job as he tries to catch Dr. Richard Kimball, a suspect in his own wife’s murder. In this movie, Marshal Gerard is an excellent example of the definition above. As Dr. Kimball hides from the law while proving his innocence, the marshal is hunting him down, in clear opposition to the doctor’s goal.

Is the marshall evil? No. Does he wish harm on the man he’s been hired to bring in? No. He is not the villain.

A story can have more than one antagonist, and often, those sub-antagonists serve as the villains. I think you can clearly see that the killer, the man with the prosthetic arm, is also in opposition to Dr. Kimball’s goals. Kimball is closing in on him, and the killer doesn’t want to be caught. Another antagonist, and perhaps the most dastardly villain, is Dr. Kimball’s good friend, Dr. Charles Nichols. Nichols is behind Kimball’s wife’s murder, trying to silence Kimball before he can blow the whistle on Nichols’s defective drug that he’s trying to market.

My favorite scene in the movie, and one that brings my antagonist-is-not-necessarily-the-villain point home, is when Gerard corners Kimball at the end of a tunnel in a dam. “I didn’t do it!” Kimball says. “I don’t care.” Gerard answers just moments before Kimball plunges into the water to escape. Gerard is stunned as he doesn’t wish harm on Kimball, he simply wants to do his job.

The role of antagonist can change to supporter as the story progresses. We see this as Gerard investigates and comes to the same conclusions that Kimball does. Their goals become the same as they both close in on the real killer.

At the end, after Nichols and his henchman, the one-armed-man hired to kill Kimball’s wife, are taken into custody, Kimball is also placed in a squad car. Gerard reaches in, removes the handcuffs and gives him a bag of ice for his bruised hands. Kimball says, “I thought you didn’t care.” Gerard jokes, “I don’t.”

Hero and antagonist have joined forces, the true villains are hauled away, and we are confident that with this new ally, Dr. Richard Kimball will be set free.


The Fugitive -

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Toy Story 3 -- Review

I had a “me” day today, although I probably didn’t deserve it since I haven’t been overly stressed lately. But it just seemed appropriate. I spent my “me” day at the theater all by myself, munching buttered popcorn, drinking soda, and watching Toy Story 3.

Upon hearing about this third in the franchise, I feared it could never live up to the first two. Forgive my failure to review Toy Story 1 and 2. Suffice it to say, I LOVED THEM! They each get 5 stars as does TS3.

Andy’s grown up and about to leave for college when the toys find themselves given away to a daycare. I won’t spoil how they got there, but let me say that the writers handled it very well. We know from the trailer that this daycare is run by some unscrupulous toys, and Woody and the gang must get out of there with parts intact.

A tad darker than the first two, it made me think about those toys crammed into my Memories Box all these mumble-mumble years. Sammy the seal—once as important to me as Woody is to Andy—his straw hat, a flipper, and both eyes now gone, is waiting for me to play with him once again. sniff

If you’ve ever loved a toy, or ever loved a child leaving the nest, this movie will pluck your heartstrings and affect you like no other Pixar film. It ties up the series nicely, yet. . .perhaps leaves room for more. Please, Pixar, please? The principles taught in all three movies should be taught everywhere, to children and adults alike. (Politicians, you listening?)

Rating_star I give this movie 5 out of 5 stars. Now, I have to dig through the garage and hug the stuffing out of Sammy.


Toy Story 3 -

Monday, July 12, 2010

Nothing New Under the Sun

My son posted this on his Facebook page. Someone has taken a synopsis of Avatar and shown how it is exactly the story of Pocahontas. Absolutely priceless!

Beware on this site, though, if you go clicking around. What I saw could be rated PG13 for language and. . .um. . . immature humor.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Backward Character Arc

I’m back from vacation and ready share my insights once again.

Ask anyone who knows me. I love stories with happy endings. Give me sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows. Give me a character who changes for the better. Give me Disney!

But I watched a movie the other day that seemed the antithesis of my strong desire to leave the theater covered in fairy dust. Up in the Air starring George Clooney is a downer, yet I oddly liked it.

Before you rush out and rent it, let me give you my disclaimer. The language, particularly in the first five minutes, but spattered throughout the film, is offensive and in my opinion, unnecessary. There is also a brief female nude scene. Also, unnecessary. I don’t know why “sophisticated” stories translates to gutter language and smut. I nearly turned the thing off so I could jam it back in it’s Netflix envelope. I’m glad I didn’t.

The tagline for this movie is, “The story of a man ready to make a connection.” Ryan Bingham is a seasoned airline traveler with a company who fires people for corporations. His life is literally up in the air. He’s rarely home, he barely knows his younger sister who is getting married soon, and his life can be summed up in one neat little carry-on bag. And he loves it.

Ryan isn’t ready to make a commitment, or so he thinks until he meets Alex played by Vera Farmiga. She is the girl who is the female him. Also travels extensively, knows the ins and outs of car rental, and covets the American Airlines concierge key in Ryan’s possession.

Another thing that Ryan has that Alex doesn’t is scruples. More on that in a minute.

As Ryan and Alex rearrange their schedules so they can be in the same city at the same time, Ryan begins to fall for Alex. The self-proclaimed loner bachelor begins to enjoy feeling like a couple. After his sister’s wedding, he has an epiphany. Love means never having to be alone again.

Ryan has this epiphany in the middle of a seminar where he is the keynote speaker. When he’s not firing somebody, he’s speaking on baggage. . .internal that is. He teaches people how to cut the fat from their lives, and for him that used to mean relationships. But just as he’s introduced, he realizes that he no longer believes his own conviction. He leaves the podium and the thousand or so people who came to hear him and hops on a plane. When he lands, his rental car leads him to Alex’s doorstep, where she lives, or rather. . .where she lives with her husband and kids.

Ryan is crushed. It was because of Alex that he threw out his entire belief system. He no longer wants to live and die alone. He wanted a companion. Instead, he gets someone who angrily informs him that he was merely an escape, a “parenthesis.” How humiliating.

The end of the movie has Ryan continuing to fly, but the zeal is gone. He no longer sparkles when talking to the ticket agent. He has lost the spring in his step as he drags his carry-on bag behind him. The fun is gone, and now he is just another passenger traveling from one destination to another.

How can a “give-me-true-love-or-give-me-death” kind of gal like me enjoy a movie like this? Because it made sense. People are wired to connect with other people. I loved watching him change to the person I knew he could be. And then, I was just as angry at Alex as he was. The story put me in his shoes; I empathized with him. That’s the key to any good story, by the way.

Don’t get me wrong. I longed to see him glance across the aisle to a pretty woman who shyly grins back, giving me some kind of hope that he would be okay. But I didn’t get it. For all I know, Ryan is still up in the air, sipping his cocktail, and avoiding commitment.

This, my writer-peeps, is how to write a character arc backwards. Ryan starts out happy with his life in perfect order. It changed when he met Alex, and he was still happy but his introspection changed. Disney would have given him a happily-ever-after. But the rule of arcing your character is not that the hero/heroine end up in contentment, but simply that they end up in a place different from where they started.

And the writer did it perfectly.


Up In the Air -

Friday, May 28, 2010

What Jack and Elvis Do Not Have In Common

Here’s my final tribute to LOST that, apparently, I’ve been doing this week. That wasn’t my intention, but, golly, that show was good.

I know many disagree, and that’s okay, but if you’d like one last commentary to help you digest the last six years, please go to Bryan Allain’s site for his recap of the show. Don’t know who Bryan Allain is? Neither did I until I saw his link on Facebook. Apparently, he’s a Christian with the tag line, “Daily Doses of Nonsense and Inspiration.” I think I shall friend him because he seems like my kind of guy.

Back to his article, “My Final Thoughts On Lost.” I hope you take the time to read it. He not only answered some questions, he also gave me a nugget of what I should do as a writer if I’m ever brave enough to write an epic novel. Or any novel with…say…more than two characters. (Okay, I have written novels with more than two characters, but I’m trying to make a point here.)

One word. Protagonist.

Have you ever watched a movie where you weren’t sure who the main character was? Frustrating, wasn’t it? I have yet to see all of Elvis Presley’s movie “The Trouble With Girls” about a traveling chataqua (school mixing education with entertainment) set in the early 1900s. Elvis is only on-screen about a third of the time, yet he’s supposed to be playing the main character. I’ve tried to watch it, but it’s like swimming through Mississippi mud. Just…couldn’t…quite…get…to…the…end…

The point is, regardless of how many characters or plots you have running through your story, concentrate on one person. Some of the unanswered questions on LOST were because the answers weren’t in Jack’s perspective. It’s his story, not Sayid’s, for instance. Why did Sayid “move on” with Shannon and not Nadia? Dunno. If it wasn’t important to Jack, it wasn’t important to the storyline.

That’s my takeaway. I can make my plotline look like a pretzel, I can have an island load of characters, I can even suspend disbelief. (Really Hurley? After all that exercise and natural food you lost no weight at all?) But, I’d better stick to one person through which my story is told. Even in the romances I write, even though I have clear plot skeletons for both hero and heroine, and each follow the hero’s journey, I lean to one character over the other to tell the story through.

So, once again, do yourselves a huge favor and go to Bryan’s site. He’s funny, a little snarky like me, and has great insight from a Christian perspective.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Writers of LOST Explain Their Process

Just saw this cool article posted on Facebook by my friend, Kay Day. Thanks, Kay! It tells us the process that the writers of LOST went through to write their epic show. Of particular interest to me was how they brainstorm from Day1 to Day 4. Funny, insightful, encouraging. I don’t feel so inadequate with my own work after reading this.

Here’s the link to that article:

Monday, May 24, 2010

LOST – What They Did Right


It’s over.

Unlike some who are asking what they’re supposed to do with their lives now, I’m joining the choice few who have decided to blog about it—and move on.

I admit to getting hooked from the first episode. From day one, my little writer brain began spinning with possibilities. Not only for the great story I knew would be forthcoming, but also for the opportunities to learn my craft. Week after week I sat at the feet of the masters as they spun their tales, willing myself to become a sponge as I soaked in their wisdom.

Whatever you may think of the finale, you have to admit that these guys knew their stuff.

Let’s recap some writing rules and how LOST showcased them like a freshly mined diamond.

  • Create questions.

By the time Act 1 of the first episode was over, we had plenty of questions. The big one…What just happened? We have a downed airplane. A remote island. Will the survivors sleep in tiki huts, listen to a squawky radio made of bamboo, and eat a skipper’s weight in coconut pie? Or maybe it was just me who had that question.

Week after week questions were raised. What is the monster shaking the tops of the trees? How can Jack see his dead father? What is the light coming from the hatch? When the polar bear showed up, I threw out every lame theory in my head and started over.

  • Create conflict.

Uh. Yeah. The rule of conflict came into sharper focus for me during the finale. As each couple reunited, I recalled the high points and low points of their relationships. It seemed when something went right, you could expect something to go horribly wrong. It was a pendulum swing of “if this happens, then this should happen.”

  1. Claire and Charlie had just become a happy threesome. Free-basing rocker Charlie had finally begun to think of someone besides himself, which led to him drowning in the freighter and saving his friends.
  2. Jin and Sun resolved their differences. The couple who at first seemed miles apart, became so literally, and not just by miles, but by time as she stayed in the present and he was thrown to the ‘70s.
  3. Sawyer and Juliette were living a peaceful existence in 1977 when she like, blew up. Dude!
  • Create believable characters.

It was through flashbacks that we really got to know the characters, where they were and where they were heading. Each one had serious arcs, yet it all made sense once we got the whole picture. We are cautioned against using flashbacks as new writers, but this show proved they could be done effectively.

I think the most serious arc, and probably the hardest to pull off, was Sayid. When we were first introduced to him, he pulled his weight, he made alliances, and we got to liking him. Really liking him. But then we found out he had been a torturer during the Gulf War. Whoa! That spun my mind around counter-clockwise. I had friends in that war, on the opposite side from where Sayid stood. How could I like this guy? But learning his softer side, even in the flashbacks, and through his redemptive actions, I got to liking him again. But then, in the last season, the writers made him bad again. By this time, I knew we were watching a spiritual parable, and I so feared that Sayid would be truly lost. However, he rallied, and I was so happy to see him in the Sideways Church ready to move on into the light.

Whatever you may have felt about the season finale, I think as writer you have to admit that the show as a whole was done extremely well.

As a Christian, the works=salvation message wasn’t “lost” on me, but that didn’t ruin my experience or keep me from rooting and cheering for each character as they “got it.” I pray as people discuss the show, this puts them on their own journeys down the true path that leads to God, Jesus Christ.

And speaking of true paths, I also wasn’t happy when the show took an “all paths lead to enlightenment” approach, but honestly, that felt like a tag on that the writers felt was needed to please most of the people all of the time. The show as a whole, I felt, had a strong Christian influence, from the name Shepherd to the Jesus statue outside of the church. If you need a point made on what not to do, that’s what I would caution. Don’t stick something in that doesn’t belong just to please your readers. Be true to your story. Be true to your characters.

The following links are some insightful commentaries I’ve found on LOST.

  • Christian author Susan Meissner says everything I wanted to say in this article, but I chose to stay with the craft of writing theme. Click here.
  • Airlock Alpha has a positive spin on the show and finale. I’m getting a little weary of the comments lambasting the show because it didn’t answer all of the questions. It’s fiction people! Use your own imaginations. This website is a breath of fresh air from the negativity. Click here.
  • E-Online answers some of your nagging questions in short You Tube type videos. Click here.
  • The addresses the spiritual aspect of the series. In much of the article I wanted to pump my fist and yell “Yes!” Click here.

I will remember LOST for the stellar writing, the characters that became family, and the spiritual theme: …For this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found. Luke 15:32b


Lost -

Friday, May 21, 2010

When the Arc Belongs to Someone Else

I’m too old to have a child graduating from anything, and too young for a grandchild to be graduating, unless you can count kindergarten. But with all the talk from my friends on Facebook who are celebrating graduations around the nation, I've decided to honor that tradition today.

Not coming into this prepared, and if I had I’m sure the world would implode, I thought I’d write about the first movie I could think of that had a graduation scene in it. Legally Blonde popped into my head. My apologies.

Actually, Legally Blonde is a great study on character arc, but not necessarily from the heroine’s point of view. Sure, Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) starts out as a sorority queen acting like the stereotypically self-absorbed dumb blonde. But as the movie progresses, her true colors, predominantly pink, shine forth and we see her as an intelligent, caring, beautiful woman on the inside. She shatters the dumb blonde myth, but I don’t see this as an arc. Elle is pretty much the same from start to finish, we just see deeper layers throughout the film.

But her arch enemy, Vivian Kennsington. Ah, now there’s an arc.

Elle decides to attend Harvard Law so she can win back her boyfriend/lizard, Warner Huntington III (Matthew Davis.) But, she finds out he has a new love interest, Vivian, (played by Selma Blair,) a vile brunette dressed in even viler dark clothes. She torments Elle throughout much of the second act. But slowly, she begins to soften as Elle wins her over.

The turning point for Vivian is when she sees Warner for who he truly is. This happens during the trial for which they are all interning under their professor (Victor Garber.) Warner shows no compassion and says something stupid about Elle. From this moment on, Vivian wears her hair softer and the stark black clothes are replaced with lighter colors. She then befriends Elle.

Vivian even has a black moment when she thinks Elle is sleeping her way to the top. A half-heard conversation between Elle and their professor/jerk creates a misunderstanding, and she believes once again that Elle is simply a blonde bimbo whose beauty puts her at the head of the class. This, our astute imaginations have figured out, is something that has happened often in Vivian’s lifetime, and why she was so antagonistic toward Elle in the first place.

Her ah-ha moment comes toward the end where she sees she had misjudged Elle, and they are once again not only friends—but friends for life.

Why does this movie work without a strong character arc for the main character? Perhaps it’s her over-the-top personality. Or maybe it is that Vivian, a secondary character, takes up that slack. I don’t know, but it’s worth studying if you have a storyline where the main character doesn’t change much throughout.

Check out the fun quotes from the movie!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Alice in Wonderland 2010 - Review

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves Did gyre and gimble in the wabe: All mimsy were the borogoves, And the mome raths outgrabe.The Jabberwock, with eyes aflame, Jaws that bait and claws that catch, Beware the Jabberwock, my son, The frumious Bandersnatch He took his vorpal sword in hand The vorpal blade went snicker-snack He left it dead, and with its head He went galumphing back.

Alice In Wonderland. An odd movie, but then again I expected that having grown up with the cute little Disney cartoon where baby clams sleep in their beds and flowers with faces sing. Doorknobs protest when twisted and purple cats that sound like Winnie the Pooh grin maddeningly until they turn into a crescent moon.

But this Alice is typical Timothy Burton--dark and melancholy--yet still manages to maintain the wonder of the colorful 1951 version.

I liked it.

Burton, according to IMDb, never felt an emotional connection to the other Alice in Wonderland films out there. They all seem to be about a girl wandering around from one crazy character to the other, which is actually what the original books by Lewis Carroll are about. "So with this," says IMDb, "he attempted to create a framework, an emotional grounding... Tim said that was the challenge for him--to make Alice feel like a story as opposed to a series of events."

This, gentle writers, results in a clear character arc. Alice starts out as one person, but becomes another. Thank you, Mr. Burton, for taking the general nightmare of Alice's life and making it mean something.

I give this movie 5 out of 5 stars. The plot makes sense, the arc is clear, and there are no singing flowers, although they do complain a lot.

In the premise, as alluded to in the various movie trailers, (so I don't think I'm giving anything away,) Alice has returned to Underland. She doesn't remember, of course, because she was a child and thought it all a dream. With this knowledge, the Mad Hatter knew the younger version of Alice. Now, however, he's not impressed with the nineteen-year-old that has fallen through the rabbit hole. Following is key dialogue to Alice's growth:

The Mad Hatter: You're not the same as you were before. You were much more..."muchier." You've lost your "muchness"
Alice Kingsley: My "muchness"?
The Mad Hatter: [Points to Alice's heart] In there.

I love that line. "You've lost your muchness." Words to live by.

Do go see this movie before you are late for a very important date--the day Alice moves on into DVD land.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

How To Train Your Dragon -- Review

I LOVE Dreamworks movies. Shrek 1-3, Madagascar, Bee Movie, Over the Hedge, etc. all have more going for them than superior animation. The stories are crafted well, have a strong moral, and just generally make me feel good. How To Train Your Dragon follows in the tradition with witty dialogue and tear at your heartstrings action.

The short synopsis on this film is this: A hapless young Viking who aspires to hunt dragons becomes the unlikely friend of a young dragon himself, and learns there may be more to the creatures than he assumed.

There is teen angst, father/son misunderstandings, and friendship in unlikely places. There's even a girl--everything needed to form a strong character arc.

It also has plenty of action, and not just the meaningless roller coaster ride for the thrill of 3D. Every movement has a purpose. Every word spoken moves the story forward. Every second of the story peels another layer to get us deeper involved.

I give this movie 5 out of 5 stars. Saddle up your dragon and go see it!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Character Who Wasn't There

In honor of Mother's Day, I'd like to talk about a good old Western. I know. Mother's Day and westerns don't seem to go together. But the movie I'd like to highlight today has a very strong maternal influence. Last Saturday, I wandered into the living room where hubby was watching one of John Wayne's all time greats, The Sons of Katie Elder.

But how can this be a movie honoring mothers when we never see her throughout the entire movie? No, I'm not talking about the Invisible Man/Woman/Honey I Shrunk the Kids scenario. When the story opens, Katie has already died. We see her staunch personality through the eyes of the townspeople as her four prodigal sons interview them to find out who swindled her out of the family ranch and who killed their pa. It is her friends and neighbors who watched Katie endure the humiliation of three no 'count sons (the fourth she had sent off to school) and a gambling husband who didn't deserve her.

A word about the four sons. If it weren't enough that the second son, Tom (played by Dean Martin,) takes after his father, and Matt, (played by Earl Holoman,) has a history of trouble, the eldest, John (played by John Wayne,) is a gunfighter. We'll find out in a minute how much Katie hated killing. The last son, Bud, (played by Michael Anderson, Jr.,) is the last redemption for this dysfunctional family. He was away at college when his mother died. But he thinks now he can quit school and join the band of brothers in their misdeeds. To the older brothers' credits, and in my best John Wayne accent, "It ain'a gonna happen, mister."

In the beginning of the movie, we are drawn in to this family through Katie. She's the one who has sacrificed for the people she loves. She has two dresses to her name while she gave selflessly to others in need. All her other resources went to send Bud, the youngest, to school. We see she had spunk when she had arranged with a man from Pecos to take his overabundance of horses off his hands, even though she had no money. But she had been willing to deal, and suggested that when she sold the horses, they both would profit. This, the brothers surmise, was to keep Bud in school. Furthermore, we find out through the town and through Katie's friend, a young woman named Mary Gordon, (played by Martha Hyer,) that Katie wouldn't want her boys to find out who killed their father and stole the ranch, because that would only lead to more killing. During a telling scene into Katie's character between Mary and John, she tells him that Katie wanted her to read his letters. But, Mary points out, when the tone changed, presumably as John spiraled into the killing lifestyle, she noticed something had changed--but Katie did not.

A mother's love. The closest thing to God's unconditional love on this earth.

The four brothers provide plenty of lighter moments as they bicker and roughhouse. One memorable scene is when Bud is sassing off to big brother John about going back to school. John tells him, "All we want to do is make you end up rich and respectable." Bud replies, "I don't want to be rich and respectable. I want to be just like the rest of you."

But the most poignant scene is when they're discussing a monument to Katie after John finds the family Bible. Bud suggests a stone angel. He'd seen one with it's finger pointing up. But someone shot the finger off and then it just looked like it was shaking its fist. Matt suggests something of marble, and Tom's contribution is a horse.

"A horse?" John asks with a distasteful look on his face.

"Why not?" Tom says. "Ma liked horses."

Matt joins in. "How would you like to spend eternity with a horse on top of you?"

John reins them all in. Katie, he says, wants them to amount to something. That's the monument they should give to honor her love.

And through the rest of the movie, they try to do what Katie would want them to do, despite insurmountable odds.

To me, The Sons of Katie Elder is not only an excellent way to study characterization even for off screen characters, it's the perfect Mother's Day movie.

Friday, April 30, 2010

A Twitch and a Spit

I watched Fantastic Mr. Fox the other night on DVD. Based on a children's book by Roald Dahl, the movie was nominated in two categories at this year's Oscars--Original Score and Animated Feature Film. Alas, it lost to the movie Up on both counts.

Here's a brief synopsis: The stylish Mr. Fox has retired from chicken thievery and is now a journalist and family man. Bored with his staid life, however, he decides to make a brief return to crime that will put him at odds with local farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean.

I enjoyed the film once I got past the "normalness" of the characters. You'd think after watching the Nickelodeon channel with my grandchildren, I'd be used to seeing animals dressed in clothes and living human lives.

The one takeaway I received from this movie from a craft standpoint came from the title character's son, Ash. Poor little guy couldn't get any respect, not from his family or friends. A smallish fox, Ash tries to compete with the larger boys in his class, only to be shot down for his efforts. And when Dad decides to go back into the chicken stealing business, Ash's golden-child cousin gets to go along, but Ash is told he will only ruin the outing.

What I liked about this character was the body tags he used to show his displeasure. When he was told he couldn't do something, his ear would twitch, ever so slightly, and then he'd spit. This became a vehicle throughout the movie that I began to look forward to. The director of the film knew how to use it, because it got to where there would be a slight pause so that in my mind I'd be saying, "Wait for it..." and then the ear would twitch, Ash would spit, and I was delighted that I knew it was going to happen.

This is an excellent way to characterize. It works especially well for secondary characters who don't get as much on-air time as the main characters. But, as in everything, it must be done with a light touch. In Writer Land we often use the example of seasoning. Too much salt will spoil the menu, but just the right seasoning, and voila! Culinary delight.

Ash's role in Fantastic Mr. Fox provided just the right seasoning. Watch it for yourself to learn how to create body tags for your characters.

For a full list of nominees and winners at this year's Oscar ceremony, go to

Here is a link to some fun trivia on the movie from IMDb.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Summer movies: Comics, Classics, Cartoons...and Face

I missed Friday's post because I was on a mountain retreating. ACFW Colorado hosted the annual get-away where we all refocused our lives and our writing to point to our Lord Jesus Christ. It was deep. It was fun. It was exhausting.

As a bonus gift for missing my post, I want to point you to this link at the ReelzChannel. It lists the summer movies coming out this year. I'm particularly excited about these:

  • May 7 - Iron Man 2 (Thoroughly enjoyed the first one. Even bought the DVD!)
  • May 14 - Robin Hood (Not hugely big on Russel Crowe, but interested to see what they do with the story.)
  • May 21 - Shrek Forever After (I think it's the whole retelling the fairy tale thing for me.)
  • June 11 - A-Team (But they'd better have someone pretty enough to be named Face!)
  • June 13 - Toy Story 3 (You have to un-American not to be anticipating this one.)
  • June 25 - The Green Hornet (Okay, I'm more excited for my hubby. I was never a fan.)
  • July 9 - Despicable Me (More curious than excited.)
See you all at the movies!

Friday, April 16, 2010

What's In A Name?

If you're a writer, and you haven't yet experienced the ABC hit Castle, I urge you to get online and view the past episodes.

This is Wikipedia's synopsis of the series:
Castle follows Nathan Fillion as Richard Castle, a famous mystery novelist who has killed off his main character in his book series and has writer's block. Castle is called in to help the NYPD solve a copy-cat murder based on one of his novels. Stana Katic stars opposite as the young determined detective Kate Beckett. Castle, who becomes interested in Beckett as a potential character for a new book series, uses his contacts and receives permission to continue accompany Beckett while investigating cases. Castle decides to use Beckett as the model for the main character of his next book series, starring "Nikki Heat". Beckett, an avid reader of Castle's books, is initially disapproving of having Castle shadow her on her cases, but later warms up and recognizes Castle as a useful resource in solving crimes. While technically a drama series, Castle also features comedy and romantic tension.

Yes. It's a show about a writer written by, well, writers. Every week they sneak in tidbits that writers can relate to, such as this gem from an episode titled "The Double Down":
Beckett: [reads what is written on a therapist's dead body] "Your out of time"?
Lanie Parish (coroner): Looks like a patient lost their patience.
Castle: Also his command of grammar. "Your" should be You-apostrophe-R-E as in "you are." That's not even a tough one, not like when to use "who" or "whom."
Beckett: You really think that's the take-away here, Castle?
Castle: I'm just saying - whoever killed her also murdered the English language.

In this week's episode, "The Late Shaft", Beckett wants to bring in a man for questioning. When she tells Castle his name, Zach Robinson, Castle says, "Good villain name! Sneaky Z, hard k-sound." This dialogue goes by so fast, my husband missed it. When I laughed, he made me rewind the DVR so he could catch it. I'm tuned in to these little writeresque moments. My electronics technician hubby is not.

This got me thinking about names. I've heard that my character's name should reflect The above exchange is a perfect example. Keeping with the villain theme, I started wondering about famous villains in movies. How many of them had audibly harsh names? No offense to the Zachs of this world, or any of the names represented in the following list of villains:
  • Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) - The Silence Of The Lambs (1991)
  • Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) - One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
  • Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) - The Godfarther Part II (1974)
  • Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) - Misery (1990)
  • Max Cady (Robert Mitchum) - Cape Fear (1962)
  • Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) - A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)
  • Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) - Wall Street (1987) (Kathy's note: The beloved icon Geico Gekko had not yet been created.)
  • Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi) - Dracula (1931)
  • Graf Orlok (Max Schreck) - Nosferatu (1922) (Kathy's note: Never saw it, but isn't that a great villain name?)
  • Joan Crawford (Faye Dunaway) - Mommie Dearest (1981) (Kathy's note: Sorry. Couldn't resist. :-> )
  • Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) - Die Hard (1988)
  • Regina Giddens (Bette Davis) - The Little Foxes (1941)
  • Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando) - Apocalypse Now (1979)
  • Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stormare) - Fargo (1996)
  • Gollum (Andy Serkis) - Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King (2003)
  • Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone) - The Adventures of Robin Hood - (1938)
  • General Zod (Terrance Stamp) - Superman II (1980)
  • Frank Fitts (Chris Cooper) - American Beauty (1999)
  • Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) - Robocop (1987)
  • Max Zorin (Christopher Walken) - A View To A Kill (1985)
Note the hard sounds of G and K. The disquieting pairings of "ctr" as in Lecter, "tch" as in Ratched, and "tz" as in Kurtz. And the ugly way your mouth twists when you say, Graf Orlok, Gaear Grimsrud, Frank Fitts . . . Joan Crawford. :->

This little lesson is making me rethink my own name. Kathy Kovach. All those hard Ks. What must people think of me?