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.