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!

Link- http://brandonsanderson.com/article/92/Tweets-October-31-November-14-2011 
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.