Monday, July 23, 2012

The Confession

Okay, so I have been busy lately with family things and scout camp. This blog update is a little overdue. Hopefully I will make up for that with wittiness and intelligent comments. In case of failure in that purpose all I can say is, "At least it's better than reading your teenager's facebook.

After a long couple weeks of careful consideration I have decided to post about something that has been bothering me for a while. That is the presence of the bad guy's confession in books, movies, and especially television shows.

My wife watches several police type dramas on Hulu and Netflix. I noticed a common thread in many of the shows where after a lengthy investigation with many dead ends and red herrings, the street-smart cop and his sidekicks finally corner the bad guy.  He is trapped into coming clean in a lengthy confession and personal epiphany of his terrible wrong-doing.

Now I know that this is a huge pay-off for the regular viewer as our society loves to have someone else take the blame for bad stuff that happens. Trust me. I have enjoyed many a good, "Take that to your cell!" moment in TV drama. We all like to see the good guy triumph and the bad guy get what he deserves.

My problem is simply this. I believe that in the real world we are all the heroes of our own life's story. No one likes to think of themselves as the "bad guy" or evil. Most of us will never experience a life changing epiphany where we realize how evil we are, or feel sorrow at how much pain we have caused to other people. We like to feel that those bad acts are justified because the other person somehow asked for it, or deserved it because they are so bad.

For instance: How often have we seen a movie where the bad guy is so bad that we cheer for the good guy to kill him? After and hour or so of countless atrocities by the villain we actually want our hero to take him out for good. The villain has killed people, and we call it bad. Then it somehow becomes okay for us to want our white knight to ride in with vengeance, and soil his righteous armor by the same act?

Call me a hypocrite. I like those same movies.

The confession bugs me a little more. I have seen it done well at times, but I think the part that bothers me is when an author uses the confession to fill in plot holes, or introduce a mind-blowing twist. I feel it is cheap and lazy.

I simply have a hard time suspending disbelief when a hardened criminal breaks down in tears to explain that he killed the girl because he loved her. It is inconsistent with the man I have seen be so diabolical and deliberate throughout the rest of the movie or show. Be true to your character.

I almost like it better when the villain goes to jail cursing the police officer the whole way, and blaming everyone--even his own mother for not loving him--the whole way there. It is more true to real life. Think about it. What was the last thing you did that someone was offended by? Did you have a lucid moment of epiphany where you realized you just might be that person's villain?

Monday, July 2, 2012

Guy's Week

This last week my wife and step-daughter were out of town. This left me with my step-son, 3 biological sons, and our baby girl to play Mr. Mom with. While most of you are shuddering with visions of Michael Keaton in a flannel shirt, feeding his baby chili, I will have to tell you my week was nothing like that. I spent time taking my boys on their paper route, teaching them to make tin foil dinners on a grill, eating out at a pizza place with a play-land, and making various ice cream treats. It was pretty smooth.

Alas, I was not able to get much writing done as a result. I didn't even have time to write my blog.

I have been doing alot of visualizing though. Hanging out with two ten year old boys, with their eight year old brother, as well as my other six year old son, I was able to learn alot about my target audience. First, they have a pretty grown-up vocabulary. Even the six year old. They also are able to get very complex concepts. Finally, I learned that their love of violent video games was deeper than I was comfortable with.

All these things I will take into consideration as I work on my book. Dialogue, complexity, and video games will all play a part in my novel.

I am convinced that it is close to impossible for someone who isn't familiar with children to just decide to write a novel for the middle grade audience. They would talk down to them, miss the correct voice in dialogue, or just totally fail to pique their interest.

Lucky me. I can do research walking through my living room at home.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Tale of Two (Movies) Stories

Last night my wife and I stayed up and watched a couple movies. (Which is why I didn't post at my regular Monday time.) The experience was pretty interesting.

Since I have been taking myself somewhat seriously as a writer I have studied the craft from a variety of sources. Authors, podcasts, and websites have supplied me with much of what just reading doesn't teach. (Though it does teach alot.) Usually I have discussions with my wife about what I have learned, and she is turning into quite the critic. We look for story elements when we watch movies, and discuss what we think after we watch them. Last night was no exception.

The first movie we watched was an epic, coming of age fantasy that felt like someone's role-playing game that just happened to be made into a movie. That being said I was able to find several positive merits in the film. The bones of a good story were there: interesting character arcs, conflict, and a great antagonist. However, the film missed the mark in developing those arcs, and the lines and acting were not adept at bringing out the story.

The movie began with a standard warrior hero as the protagonist only to change at the midpoint to be about the warrior's younger brother stepping into his birthright as a chosen-one type of dragon slayer. It developed the older brother's love interest and conflicts only to leave him as ineffective as other supporting characters at the climax. Further, another really cool character died for what appeared to be no good reason while the chosen one watched, screamed, and otherwise waited off camera while other characters reacted. It left me pondering where the movie missed, and what could have fixed it.

The second movie was a classic technology out of control movie where the character's lives are endangered by some really cool artificial intelligence that becomes smarter than everyone else. My wife's initial reaction was, "I know the good guy will win, but I hope it isn't just about the battle to destroy the technology." I agreed. That would be predictable and boring.

Lucky for me I had already seen this particular movie, and knew that an awesome thrill ride awaited for her viewing enjoyment. In the end the technology became smart enough to know that it was the problem, and ended up redeeming and sacrificing itself to save the main character and his love interest. The antagonist was so subtle that you didn't realize until late in the movie he was the bad guy. In the words of the Writing Excuses crew, It was, "Surprising, yet inevitable."

The first act of the second movie was a little slow in the setup, and the conflicts looked flimsy and manufactured, but kicked into overdrive in the second act. It was the complete reversal of the first movie that made all kinds of promises and failed to deliver. Even though I had seen the second movie previously it was an exciting ride.

My final synopsis is the first movie failed to deliver because of the presentation in the story telling, and the second movie thrilled because it took you past the promises made to the audience in the first act. For me, I learned that if you begin to set up a story and make promises, you have to full fill them in interesting and unexpected ways.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Writing for Middle Grade Readers

I am back from my run and ready to continue the habit of blogging on Mondays.

This week has been rather eventful for me since this my the first full week back as a writer. It is also my first full week of Summer Vacation. Between mowing the lawn/yardwork, fishing with the kids, running a paper route, and general family stuff I have actually spent quite a bit of time in the pre-writing process. (By the way, fishing is fantastic for that.) During the last year I actually have had a bit of time to prepare lots of crazy and fun ideas. I also received some great advice from both Brandon Mull, and Brandon Sanderson.

Brandon Mull was at a book signing in the local Barnes and Noble, and since my wife had everything published by him we were there. After waiting in line for a short time we got to the table, and I introduced myself telling him I was working on writing. He said, "Awesome! Write crazy stuff!" He then asked me if I had any questions for him. I asked, "How do you find time to write when you are also a Dad?" His answer was very insightful and helpful.

"When you aren't writing, be thinking about what is happening in scenes."

Now this may seem like a no-brainer, but I have thought about story ideas without ever actually thinking through a scene when I wasn't sitting down just to write. In other words, I had only ever thought through a scene right before I was preparing to write. With Mull's advice I was constantly visualizing scenes.

Several months ago I was able to get into a Twitter chat with Brandon Sanderson with the same question. I will post a link to his answer below, but the gist was the same. I had to make time to write, or do something else. What I ended up doing was taking a hiatus from actually writing, biding my time with ideas and development, while waiting for summer to come.

So here I am with several ideas waiting for me to tap the potential. With the many children between the ages of 8 to 10 in my home, and with my job teaching Special Education in a local junior high school I have finally decided to write for the middle grade audience. It was a tough decision to make as I love epic fantasy and young adult, but my writing voice trends toward those middle readers. The stories with be fantasy flavored.

Armed with my genre and with a specific audience, I have decided on the story to work on first. It involves a ghost and 12-13 year-old-students. That is all I will say for now.

Thanks for visiting!

justinkjeppesen Mon Nov 14
#torchat @BrandSanderson Any suggestions for finding time to write for a full time dad with a full time non-writing job?
BrandSanderson Mon Nov 14
@justinkjeppesen It depends on whether or not your day job is creatively draining. If it is writing/programming, etc (more)
BrandSanderson Mon Nov 14
@justinkjeppesen You'll have a much harder time, as those jobs flex the same muscles as novel writing. #torchat
BrandSanderson Mon Nov 14
@justinkjeppesen The people I've known who do it tend to get up an hour early, before their brain is worn out, and write then. #torchat
BrandSanderson Mon Nov 14
@justinkjeppesen Basically, you'll have to give something up. Television, video games, golf, something. (But not family time.) #torchat

Monday, June 4, 2012

Hiatus over

I am back!

This last year has been a crazy year! Having my boys come live with me was great, but hard on the writing. All in all, I don't feel bad about making the sacrifice to be a father. As a result of my time with my children and step-children, I have some fantastic middle grade novel ideas. (Sorry no spoilers!)

School is out for the summer, and I have some time now to sit and write. It feels strange to once again set goals, and brainstorm story ideas after taking so long off. I hope to get back on track, and crank out some serious wordage.

Now it has come to it, I think that my writing will be better as a result of prioritizing my life. You can never get time with your children back.