Saturday, May 26, 2012

Rebel With a Cause

This is Memorial Day weekend, so strains of dog fights and screech bombs, rapid gun fire and explosions float from the family room as my husband enjoys yet another weekend of war movies.Midway
I’ve seen a few, though I must admit, what drew me was more the  actors than the action. With its all-star cast, I remember seeing Midway in the drive-in theater when it first came out. Three hours sitting in the front passenger seat and no destination in sight. But I was riveted. Not because of the carnage in front of me, but because this was the first war movie I remembered seeing where the opposite side had a voice.
I didn’t agree with why the Japanese Imperial Navy felt they needed that tiny island, but I appreciated hearing their point of view. They felt the island of Midway would give them the best advantage to totally defeat the US Pacific fleet and put them in prime position for an all out land attack. Listening to their conviction, I began to feel sympathetic with the admirals in charge, even while rooting for my own team.
Years later, when I began to study the craft of writing, I was told that I must make my villains sympathetic. All I could think of were Disney villains who didn’t have an ounce of redeemable quality in them. Cruella Deville who wanted to kill puppies; Lady Tremaine, the quintessential evil step-mother to the innocent Cinderella; Stromboli, who burned his marionettes for firewood when they could no longer perform. Now these are villains! We never knew, nor cared, why they were so evil. Their only job was to make our skin crawl and our tiny throats clench as we cried out in the theater, “Run away, Pinocchio!”
But the Japanese Navy in Midway had, what they felt, a very good reason for defeating the Americans. They pushed their cause to the bitter end. And that is why studying movies such as these can help to strengthen our own antagonists, giving them layers and a purpose for being in our stories.
I always have the GMC, (Goal, Motivation, and Conflict) clear for my main characters. What do they want? Why do they want it? What gets in their way?
Wonder what the GMC is for the Imperial Navy?
  • Goal – Take the island of Midway.
  • Motivation – It would put them in prime position to totally defeat the Americans.
  • Conflict – But a crippled, yet determined, US Pacific fleet, still reeling from the attack on Pearl Harbor only six months prior, stand in their way.
I must admit, answering those questions for my villains were rarely on my top to-do list. But, if we could take the time to figure out what makes these bad boys/girls tick, I believe we’d have a much more compelling story.
In honor of Memorial Day, I’d like to include a link to a blog post I wrote in 2009 titled “Thank You For Serving”. It’s a small tribute to the men and women in my family who made the brave decision to join the U.S. military.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Foreshadow Knows

Kudos and a case of Bengay if you know where that title came from!

Foreshadowing. When you talk about the art of writing, foreshadowing is the fine brush strokes that make the painting pop. It’s the subtle waves on the lake that create moving water. It’s the sunshine on a mountain face to depict a sunrise. It’s the trust placed in a child’s eyes.

Without foreshadowing, our stories would lay flat and motionless.

Water for Elephants One of my new favorite movies is Water for Elephants starring Robert Pattinson (Jacob), Reese Witherspoon (Marlena), and Christopher Waltz (August.) I watched it again last night and thrilled at all of the foreshadowing that was woven in. Following are some of the spots I saw:

1. Jacob’s roots:

  • He’s the son of Polish immigrants.
  • He becomes fast friends with a man named Camel, a worker for the circus, because he also is Polish.
  • He unlocks Rosie’s abilities by realizing she only knows Polish commands.

2. Jacob is clearly a moral, gentle soul who would never hurt another living being. Here are the brush strokes to make this clear:

  • He wants to be veterinarian.
  • He shoots a horse to put it out of its misery.
  • He is in torment over being forced to prod Rosie, the elephant, with an iron rod.
  • After his tyrannical boss, August, beats Rosie with the prod, he grabs it and goes after him to beat him as well. But as angry as he is, he just can’t do it.
  • He runs away with Marlena, August’s wife. When she is caught and forced to return, Jacob, bent on protecting her from her husband’s abuse, holds a knife to his neck while he’s sleeping. But even then, he can’t take this man’s life.

3. Jacob is held back physically:

  • When Rosie is being beaten by August.
  • When Marlena is being strangled by August.

4. Marlena calms August twice by looking in his eyes and saying, “I’m right here. I’m not going anywhere.” :

  • However, she leaves him in the end, which makes that foreshadowing even more poignant.

5. Rosie’s cool trick:

  • Removes stake from ground so she can walk over to drink from the lemonade bowl.
  • Removes stake from ground so she can swing it at August’s head and kill him.

6. And speaking of August, his role as villain was delightfully painted with foreshadowing:

  • In the beginning, he is so clearly god of his own domain (a second-rate circus) that he doesn’t even show his face to Jacob when he first meets him.
  • He has his goons throw men off of the train to avoid paying them. Most of the time they die.
  • Shows potential violence toward his wife, Marlena, when he grabs her chin and hurts her.
  • Prods Rosie until she bleeds.
  • Beats Rosie with the prod until she can’t stand.
  • Is sadistic when he makes Jacob and Marlena act out a “scene” he’s thought of about two people falling in love, simply because he knows now that really have.
  • Hits Marlena after what happened above.
  • Orders his goons to beat Jacob after he runs off with Marlena.
  • Throws Jacobs friends off the train, where they die on rocks, because they supported him.
  • Strangles Marlena in an uncontrollable rage, and would have succeeded in killing her had it not been for Rosie and her cool trick with the spike.

Not every story foreshadows . . . but the good ones do. Whenever possible, I watch for those scenes when I view a movie for the second, or third time. As a result, I’ve learned to go back after I’ve written the first draft and layer these opportunities in.