Thursday, July 30, 2009

Movies that Should have been Workshopped: Bride Wars

Movies that Should Have Been Work-shopped:

Work-shopping is when a piece of creative material is brought before a group of peers. In regards to fiction workshops, these groups read through each other’s stories to identify strengths and weaknesses in plot and character, and to make sure everything makes sense and make sure everything jives throughout the piece. It’s very easy as a writer to read right past things that are lacking, because you know them in your head and you forget that your audience is not, in fact, in your head, and they do not know what you know. The workshop process allows you to see what the reader doesn’t know. I’ve discovered, however, that not all creative pieces, be they works of fiction, or films, and to make sure everything is being used to its potential.

Bride Wars:

One film that I think really had aspects that were not used to their advantage is the recent film Bride Wars. In this film, Liv (played by Kate Hudson) and Emma (played by Anne Hathaway) play best friends who share a dream of getting married at the Plaza Hotel in June. Their plans go awry when their weddings are accidentally scheduled on the same day.

Their mothers are very influential in their futures plans because they are with their mothers that they see a wedding at the plaza, which sparked their dreams. They spend their girlhood planning their weddings based on this event. Then, at some point between this first wedding, and their own engagements, Liv’s parents die.

There is little discussion of how her parents die (though for some reason I’m thinking car accident) or how long ago it was (according to wikipedia it was when she was a child) or how it really affected her, though based on her reactions to it now it seems to have strongly affected her.

Liv’s character is that of a Type A personality lawyer, and there are certain clues that part of the reason she needs so much control over things is because of losing her parents, but this is never really explored, and a wedding planning setting is the perfect place to explore this aspect of her life because a wedding is such a family centered event and the lack of both parents would deeply impact the way she handles it. It is glossed over. For all that it is discussed, it probably would have been better for them to eliminate the aspect all together, and not complicate things.

I get the feeling a little that there was supposed to be more about this in the film, but that it got cut in the editing process. My thought, however, is that the film was only an hour and a half long, so there wasn’t really any reason to cut that out for time reasons.

One of the aspects of the film that some people might feel should have been done differently, is that there are several times where the action is not en scene, but instead comes to the audience through snapshots with voice over from the narrator. I found this to be a really creative way to cover certain important scenes that go with wedding planning, but that won’t necessarily give the story enough to justify them taking up time en scene. They were all things that could have been cut out entirely, but by including them as snap shots it gave the narrator a little time to speak, and it showed the audience something that they would not have otherwise seen.

Over all I really liked this movie, even though there were things that could have been changed and it didn’t do well with the critics. I thought it did a nice job of storytelling and it wasn’t horrible for a chick flick, which was what it was.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Webcomics

Today I’d like to talk about some of my favorite web comics that I follow. I’ll admit, they make me a little bit of a geek, but they’re so well done that I don’t really care. Several of these are already linked in the “Some of my Favorite Places to Go” section to the side, but all the links are below their descriptions.

Order of the Stick: One of the first web comics that I started following was Order of the Stick. I was having a particularly bad day and a friend of mine sent me this link and I’ve been following them ever since. This comic follows the adventures of a group of people living in a Dungeons and Dragons world. What is great about this comic though is that you don’t have to actually play D&D to find this comic absolutely hilarious. Many of the jokes have little to nothing to do with the game, and those that do don’t require a real in depth knowledge of the way the game is played (pretty much all you need to know is that it’s in a fantasy type world and that you role dice to get points to do things). The characters are amusing (most of the time) and you get attached to this guy’s little stick figures.

http://www.giantitp.com/Comics.html

Sequential Art: I stumbled upon this comic and read all of them in one night. It follows Art, Pip (an anthropomorphized penguin), Kat (an anthropomorphized cat), Scarlet (an anthropomorphized squirrel) and Leonard (their pet platypus – not anthropomorphized). They get into all kinds of adventures, from trips to the mall to secret undercover government operations and crazy shadow creatures that live in the secret lair in their basement. Some of the content is a little racy (probably PG 13 level, I think), so this is probably not appropriate for small children, but other than that it’s pretty amusing.

http://www.collectedcurios.com/sequentialart.php

Phoenix Requiem: This comic a longer, more graphic-novel style format, and is not a comedy. It is set in a time like the late 1800s and follows a small town experiencing some strange goings on. The comic is beautifully done and well thought out. It updates twice a week with 2-3 pages coming at a time, and it’s always exciting to see what is coming next.

http://requiem.seraph-inn.com/

The Meek: This is a new comic that I’ve recently started following. The writer of Phoenix Requiem had a link to it on her page. It’s so early in its life span that it’s a little hard to tell you what it’s about, but like PR the pictures are so beautiful and the comic so well thought out. One point of caution, this, too would only be appropriate for mature audiences, not because it is racy in and of itself, but the main character at this point, is either unclothes or topless. This is not done in a sexual way by any sense of the imagination, she is simply naked because she doesn’t have clothes, but again I would not suggest it for young children

http://www.meekcomic.com/archives/

Girls with Slingshots: This comic is only for mature audiences. It’s interesting and absolutely, but it deals with very mature topics a lot of the time. This is one that would say would probably appeal much more to women than men, but I could be wrong. The catch phrase is “Two girls, a bar and a talking cactus” and while that is a gross oversimplification, it’s true. The characters are a little more broad than that, not only are there the two girls from the catch phrase but there are also a couple of guys, a woman who works in a “library” (her code for an adult bookstore), and some women with… let’s say… interesting hobbies. It requires a special kind of audience, but if you fit the bill you just might find that you love GWS too.

http://www.daniellecorsetto.com/archive.php?today=736&comic=1

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Is It Necessary?

I was reading a description for a book on Paperback Swap earlier, along with the comments that were made about it, and I became a little frustrated. Why is it that there are some books that their descriptions sound so interesting, but in the back of your mind there’s that voice saying, “read what other people had to say,” and when you do you realize that what could have been a really interesting book has been contaminated and now it’s not really worth reading anymore.

I’ve noticed this more lately. Maybe (most likely) it’s because I’ve started reading different books lately. Until recently I read almost exclusively Christian fiction, but lately I’ve done some expanding into other secular fictions, and it’s been since then that I’ve noticed this annoying trend.

I recently read the description for a novel that I thought sounded pretty interesting, but something in the description made me pause and stop to read the ratings that readers had posted. It had decent ratings, but the comments that were written made me realize that the pretty interesting story was basically an excuse to write graphic sex scenes. It almost makes me wish that you could get the “adapted for TV” version like you can with some movies, with the really disturbing stuff taken out and the rest of the story that is interesting left in.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not a total prude; sex scenes don’t bother me, but when they’re there simply to be there it bothers me. I recently read a book by Author X (all names have been changed to protect those who frustrate me). Now, I’ve read books her books before(and by read I mean I’ve stood in bookstores and read parts of) and I liked them, so I thought I’d like the book. I stopped reading in the first fifty pages because while the characters were pretty interesting I read the first sex scene and was just like, “Oh please no.” The scene was between two characters who didn’t really know one another and it felt more like an excuse to shove them into bed than an actual relationship. Now don’t get me wrong. I realize that this happens, but within a romance novel, when the two characters in the scene are the two that are falling in love, I found it quite off-putting.

I’ve noticed the same thing about language recently, too. Again, I can read swearing without it bothering me all that much. But in some books there is just so much language and it seems unnecessary to me. When a writer can’t write dialogue without dropping an F-bomb every other sentence (or more often) it just comes across as weak writing. I’m not so na├»ve to say that there aren’t people out there who talk like this – I lived next to a prime example for a year – I’m just saying that not everyone talks that way. Now I think that language is a way that you can put flavor into a character, but not all of your characters can talk this way (of course there are exceptions, as one of my writing professors pointed out, such as if your setting is back stage on a rock-and-roll band tour and your characters all exist within this world, then I suppose it’s acceptable).

Thankfully not all authors are like this. Authors like Meg Cabot, Sophie Kinsella, Lauren Willig and Susan Elizabeth Phillips manage to tell great romances without making the sex completely senseless, and they can do it without swearing every other word. They employ these things, but do so without letting them take over the story. And I really appreciate that.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Susan Elizabeth Phillips

In my humble opinion, Susan Elizabeth Phillips (SEP) is one of the best romance writers right now. She creates realistic and interesting characters and puts them in some of the most interesting (and at times amusing) situations. And to top it off she does so with such beautiful and realistic writing that pulls you into the story she’s writing.

One thing I love about her writing is that her stories all occur within the same universe (not sci-fi universe, but fictional universe) so characters will occur in stories (and sometimes in series) that are not their own. And not just in the fact that Phoebe (the protagonist of It Had to be You) appears in This Heart of Mine in which her sister Molly is the protagonist, because clearly these characters are going to reappear. What I love is that the protagonists of the novel Glitter Baby appears in the novel What I Did For Love, though really in only a cameo-type capacity, even though their stories are not really related. So even after their stories are over, you get to find out what is going on with your favorite characters later on.

I would specifically like to talk about two of her novels, one because it’s my favorite, and the other because it has some of the most heartachingly beautiful writing in it. The first is Match Me If You Can. This is probably my favorite book from SEP thus far (though it’s hard to decide). It tells the story of Heath, a business savvy sports agent looking for a wife, though not necessarily for love, and Annabelle, a match maker looking to get her new business off the ground.

Heath and Annabelle have a very interesting dynamic that works so well in the piece that it makes you want to keep reading, just to see what insanity is going to happen next.

The other novel I want to talk about is This Heart of Mine, the story of children’s book writer Molly Somerville and Kevin Tucker, the star quarterback for the Chicago Stars football team. Molly ends up pregnant (I won’t ruin the book by going into the story behind that) and she and Kevin end up married. And on their way home after their civil ceremony wedding Molly miscarries the baby and the scenes that come after that are some of the most beautifully written passages I’ve read. You can really feel the pain that the characters are feeling and the way this horrible event in their lives is affecting them and how it is affecting them each differently.

Another thing that is so wonderful about this book is that from time to time you see Molly writing her books in her head, and you can imagine those characters as vividly as you can imagine Molly and Kevin. There are times that I have the pictures in my head and I’m almost convinced that the version I originally read had illustrations, because they’re so vivid in my mind.

I’ve loved practically everything that I’ve read from SEP and I’m constantly looking for her next one. I find myself thinking about books of hers that I read from the library and I keep telling myself, I need to just buy it myself so I can have it to read any time I want.

And SEP’s novels are romance, but not in the bodice-ripper, The Secret Venetian Royal’s Pregnant Virgin Mistress kind of way (not to knock those, there are lots of writers who write good ones and there are lots of readers who read them – they’re one of the largest categories in publishing). There is sex and language in these novels, but it isn’t ever used just as filler. There is intent and purpose behind everything that is said and done in SEP’s novels and I really appreciate the way she does it.

If you’re looking for a good book (possibly a beach read if it ever gets warm enough to go to the beach this summer – here is SW Michigan it’s been too cold most of the time, unfortunately) check out one of SEP’s many books (and while some of the books are in a series you don’t really have to worry about any sort of order – it’s nice for continuity’s sake, but it’s not really a surprise that the guy gets the girl at the end, so reading Natural Born Charmer before Match me if You Can, or reading It Had to be You after Dream a Little Dream doesn’t really make a huge difference.

Hope you enjoy!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sequels

Chick flicks never have sequels. The sequels that do exist are rarely worth watching (The Prince & Me 2? Really? And there was only one person from the original in the sequel, so why didn’t they just make a completely different movie?). The question is, why? Why is it that Disney feels that it’s necessary to make sequels for everything, even sequels for sequels, and there have been, what four Die Hard movies and three terminators, and yet you never find sequels worth watching for chick lit movies? The women who watch these movies, and the men who suffer through them with their significant others, would more than likely go to see what happens next, and yet you never find them.

I have a theory. I think it’s because we like to watch the people fall in love, we like to watch the struggles they get into at the time, but we don’t really like to think about what happens next. We don’t want to think about the struggles that they’ll have in their marriage afterward. We don’t want to think about the way their marriages might fall apart. The divorce rate in the United States is around 50% and we have no reason to believe that these relationships in these movies should be any different. Yes, these stories have romantic stories of the couples falling in love, but chances are, so do many of the marriages in the US that end in divorce.

Not only do we not want to see the struggles, but we get tired of seeing them. If we were to have these sequels there couldn’t be a plot, the story just wouldn’t be the same, unless there was some kind of conflict that might possibly separate the lovers in the story. However, after a while we would get tired of seeing the problems over and over again. We’d get tired of watching as Suzy Busybody time and time again does something to alienate Not-Quite-Prince-Charming-But-Pretty-Darn-Close to the point that they break up or almost break up and then in the end she somehow does just the right thing so that he’ll take her back. We’d get tired of watching Jenny Insecure worry that her boyfriend/husband is cheating on her so she goes into all these crazy situations to find out only to discover that he’s planning a surprise party just for her and then she ruins it, almost ruining their relationship. We don’t want to see these things and we certainly don’t want to see them over and over again. But in the sequels that we do have these are the inevitable things that appear.

And the alternative is worse. What happens when Suzy or Jenny don’t get the guy back in the end and they end up with someone new? Can we go back to the original and watch it the same way ever again? No. A bad sequel can totally ruin the original for the reader/watcher. I’ve had it happen to me. I’ve read a book and loved it and then read the sequel and thought, I can never read that again because I know what happens and I don’t like it.

We want to see the possibility in the relationships in movies and books. We want to see what might be. We want to write our own happy ending even if it’s not realistic and even if it wouldn’t be possible to make into a good movie or book. It’s a fantasy, and we want to keep reality as far away from reality as we possibly can.