Monday, March 26, 2012

Movie Adaptations

The writing is going well, but there's nothing very interesting to see or show. I had to temporarily stop production on "Jeremy" because I have to write a short story for not a creative writing class, but a psychology class. It's on a touchy subject and I would prefer not to post what I have from that. Not yet, at least. Let me polish it some.

That means I'm going to talk about something nobody can agree on: movie adaptations. Everyone seems to generally dislike them (ever heard "it's not as good as the book" or "it butchers the plot"?), but everyone lines up at midnight to see The Hunger Games. In costume, too. Before you ask, no, I have not yet seen The Hunger Games, but I have seen a lot of other movies based on books and I generally like them. I have come to peace with a basic truth: a movie is a different medium of art than a print book.

Movies are about 2 hours long. They are visual and fast-moving. That means the plot gets simplified and some characters are cut. Hence you have movies where your favorite part is left out of the final edit. That's happened to some of my favorite books-made-movies, and it's disappointing. But it's understandable - trying to fit a complex (since books are often more complex than films) plot into 2 hours is not easy. On top of that, a book can show the reader a character's internal monologues whereas a film, being visual, cannot. This means dramatization of internal struggle - such as what Peter Jackson did with the character Faramir in The Two Towers. The hobbits never go to Osgiliath in the book, but in order to show Faramir's struggle with doing the right thing or pleasing his father, they made it happen in the movie.

I have come to a realization on film adaptations recently that makes me like them even more. An "adaptation" is not meant to be a perfect reflection of the book, and it can't possibly be one. In making the film the source book is read by many people with their own backgrounds and worldviews. Each one of those take away from the book a different experience, and then the filmmakers (producer, director, writer, actors) must agree on themes, important plot devices, and even the characters' motivations. By that point, watching the movie adaptation is less like reading the book and more like reading someone's critical analysis of it. It is the review, the scholarly article of the book. And I am perfectly okay with this.

Here's a good example of this re-reading of a source material and creating work based on it, but with certain themes brought out. I chose this because I can take it another level deeper. The YA novel Beastly by Alex Flinn was made into a film. It is also based on the fairy tale "Beauty and the Beast". When Flinn wrote her novel she noticed that the Beast is completely alone, abandoned by his parents. Beauty is also abandoned by her father, in essence. In the "Author's Note" in the book Flinn says, "The romance is really the story of two abandoned teens who find each other" (303). So Flinn deviates from the original story in her adaptation by having Kyle (the Beast) left alone with the maid as his father lives an ordinary life, and the father of Lindy (Beauty) offers her up to keep himself out of prison. The themes of abandonment are played up in Flinn's adaptation of the fairy tale because they are what she saw in the story.

And then we have the film interpretation. The directors making the film noticed an emphasis on sight and appearance. So you have scenes where a character says, "Find someone who can see better than you can", followed by Lindy entering wearing sunglasses. There are visual elements added, camera angles, eyes, reflections, that bring out this theme even more. The theme of abandonment is downplayed; Lindy's father is reluctant to give her to Kyle and only agrees because his daughter is in danger.

This is a long post, but I think movie adaptations get a bad rap. If you see them as someone's opinion on the book, and compare it with the book, you can get out of both works a new understanding of the story you may not have had. That's what happened when I watched How to Train Your Dragon, my favorite movie adaptation that is almost nothing like the book. I could wax eloquent on how well the film did in exploring themes in the book, but that's a topic for another week.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Good and Evil

One of my friends told me that I didn't explain myself very clearly when I spoke last time on my view of Good in books, and he was right. It was something passing through my head and still fairly unpolished, but I wrote it anyway. I apologize for the confusion. This time, I want to elaborate on what I said last time and write about my views of Good and Evil in literature.

Let's start with Evil. It's easier. In one of my classes this semester I learned that there are 2 classic views of evil. One: evil is the absence of good. Two: evil is a real force, active, and fighting against good. I read and write a lot of speculative fiction, so to me evil is the second more often than not. I've noted that evil takes form in different ways. There are the henchmen that are more of the first kind of evil - they follow a bad guy and don't do good. Some are actively evil, but that designation I think is more for the villain.

Villains themselves come in different flavors. Some are brutes, unpleasant, who know they are evil and like it. This kind of evil is completely repugnant and the reader has no doubt the good guys are in the right and that they are going to win. Then there are the smart villains who believe they are doing good. These are difficult for the heroes because there's no guarantee they can defeat a villain who is smarter than they are, and if the villain is right and the cause is good, why would they want to? That brings me to my favorite kind: the smart, self-aware villain. This is the manipulator who knows his cause is unjust but will do everything he or she can to bring down the hero. Think Iago from Othello. These are scary because they can turn the hero into a puppet and make evil look attractive to the hero and to the reader. Of course, this is the kind of villain I would prefer to write as it has the most depth, but the other kinds can be more appropriate to the story.

Now I get to Good. What I meant last week when I said there were 2 kinds of depictions of good was that you can differentiate them like you can evil: good is the absence of evil, and good is an active force fighting against evil. I wholeheartedly believe in the second. I have read books where good characters are simply characters who do no harm, and I dislike them. These good characters don't do anything, they are ineffectual, and I find myself rooting for the bad guy (especially if he is smart).

My favorite heroes are the ones that carry a Goodness that is active, that burns like white fire against the darkness of evil. While evil is almost always bent on power, good looks to promote peace and unity. The heroes that do this act - they strengthen, they heal, they protect, and at times they fight. It is almost always a sacrifice for them to do this, but they do it because they serve what is good. They carry a power superior to that of evil because they willingly do what servants of evil cannot. These are the heroes that, to me, are worth writing about.

Hope that explains things better. It's not easy to sum up Good and Evil in a short blog post, not when they're so loaded and abstract. If nothing else, gain from this that I favor active Good rather than passive Good in my literature.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Publisher's Fair

It's surprising that I'm a day late posting when I actually was looking forward to this week's post. A lot has happened in the past week, and it all kind of revolves around the Publisher's Fair at BYU. It was last Wednesday, and long story short I have now sent Nightshade to two publishers. They are both new, relatively small publishers, which is a big difference from who I have been sending it to. I don't know how this will play out, but fingers crossed. Maybe trying something new is what I've needed to do.

It's amazing how motivated one can be when submission is imminent. I worked like crazy Wednesday through Friday polishing Nightshade and preparing my submission package. I don't know how it stands now; I think it's epic, but I'm the writer. I'm very biased. I suppose I could keep revising, but I could revise it into the end of the world. At some point I have to let it go, and I guess I'll see if now's the time. I also finished my revision of "Once and Future" and am determining where I'll submit that. I'm thinking Leading Edge Magazine.

So, future plans. I don't know if it's the new drive to publish or the nice weather, but I suddenly want to write. I think the Jeremy Wilderson, Retrieval Specialist novel is the next up. It will be fun, perfect for warm weather writing, and I can practice writing characters and dialogue. I will soon start the process for revising The Shifting, just as soon as I have time to look it over.

I've realized I prefer stories that, in addition to having the hero sacrifice when the stakes are high, have an interesting portrayal of Good. I think there are often two ways of depicting "Good": the well-meaning, sentimental version and the kind that I call "white fire." Both are sides, I think, of the same thing. Good is often soft and gentle, healing and caretaking. Good is meek and humble. However, Good is also immensely powerful. It conquers darkness and is a source of strength. I like books that take into account both sides of Good: meek, but far from ineffectual.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Odds and Ends

I'm still not back on a regular writing schedule. Sorry, I know every writer should write regularly, every day, etc., but how many of those writers are still in college? Technically, I do write every day, just not always creatively. But I'll spare you the boring accounts of my in-class responses to Eliot and Woolf and my class participation paragraphs for media effects. Instead, I'll talk a little about the bits and pieces I have been writing.

For starters, I've slid a few actually fun pieces of revision into my "kill all the adverbs" spree in Nightshade. It's amazing how fixing one scene can develop the characters and make the plot more exciting. I'm not great at pacing, but I think I managed to fix it in one area. There was a scene I realized I was telling, not showing. Ian's brain is sleep deprived and I made the mistake of telling what happened. This week I went back in and wrote the scene as if I were seeing it. Here's the first part:

Dad was wrong. During the first half of the day my mind kept flashing images of the murder dream and I couldn’t focus on anything. Ethan had to grab my arm and guide me to History – it was like it was my first time in the school, or I was blind. He led me to my desk and I spent the first few minutes of class with my hands over my eyes. The lights were too bright; they were making my head ache.

Through my haze I heard Mrs. Debors walk in and say, “Everyone pass in your short essays, and when you’re done with that we can learn what really caused the War of 1812.”

Mrs. Debors was a good-natured teacher, never cruel, but the snickering that erupted after her reference to my stupid answer was like red-hot caffeine to my system. Before I could stop to think, I shouted, “We’re all entitled to our opinions.”

The laughing got louder. Why? What was so funny? I looked around the classroom and the number of students doubled. My head ached, and my heart pounded with rage. I stood up, swaying, and shoved my papers off the desk.

“Ian! What are you doing?” Ethan hissed from his seat behind me.

“I can’t take this. I need to get out of here.” This wasn’t right. This wasn’t me. What was happening? Something was controlling me. I stumbled past rows of desks, past Mrs. Debors, and out the door.

A desk moved inside the room and I heard Ethan say, “Food poisoning.” Then there were footsteps behind me. Ethan was following me.

It didn’t matter what he did. I needed to get away from the anger and the thing that controlled me. I closed my eyes and a picture of Claire, murdered, flashed through my mind. I gasped and opened them. The lights. The lights were too bright. They were moving, wiggling back and forth.

There's more where that came from. I go on to show Ethan catching up with Ian and helping him. Also an improvement: in the last draft Ethan allowed Ian to tell him to go away. Ethan's a better friend than that. He won't abandon Ian when Ian's crazy with sleep deprivation.

This may be a long post, because another thing I did was write a summary of The Shifting for a school thing. I'm going to post it in 3, 2, 1....

Sixteen-year-old Sarah Flinn lives in a world of cell phones, physics, and magic. Most people can channel a force that allows them to move objects without touching them, cast simple illusions, and make minor adjustments to the technology they use. Sarah, however, is not one of these people. She lacks the dominant gene for magic, making her a “double recessive” and disabled in a society that relies on magic to function. Because of this, Sarah is excluded from normal teenage life and does not expect much of her future.

Meanwhile, twenty-six-year-old Thomas Carter has more magic than he knows what to do with. Born a double recessive, Thomas had an accident ten years before in Yellowstone Park that gifted him with a wilder, more powerful type of magic than humans have, known as Midsummer magic. He also is granted Sight into the realm of dragons and gnomes such magic comes from. As the only human with this gift, Thomas is considered crazy by his wife’s colleagues.

Their stories become one when Thomas’s wife disappears without a trace and Sarah’s double dominant, magically gifted friend Ryan casts a spell that begins to merge the human world with the Other Realm Thomas sees. As the human and otherworldly magic collide, chaos erupts that threatens to destroy both worlds. To end the spell and free Ryan from the evil that possesses him, Sarah, Thomas, and Ryan travel across a much wilder, more magical United States than they are used to, filled with skinwalkers, jackalopes, and thunderbirds. Their destination is a hub of incredibly powerful Midsummer magic: Yellowstone Park.

There is no going back. The world is changing and Sarah and Thomas must come to terms with who they are and what their places are in a world in flux.

It's not a query, just a summary. I didn't say how it ends because it's irrelevant for the assignment and I do want people to read my book. If you were wondering what The Shifting is about, now you know. Read it when it's published.

Until next week!