The Dirty Dozen

June 21, 2010 at 6:02 am (Other) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I’m participating in a blog hop set up by Alex J. Canauagh today. The question being – if I could only round up 12 films which 12 would I choose.

Tricky question and I had to really think about this and in the end I decided to go with the idea that I was going to be stuck in isolation for the rest of forever. Which movies did I have to take and what combination?

I decided to start with the child-hood classics.

1.  The Dark Crystal – Jim Henson at his finest. An epic fantasy tale told with muppets with some of the most interesting characters I ever met as a child. I love Kira and her matter-of-fact nature as well as her ability to talk to pretty much any animal with a reasonable expectation of being answered.

2.  Willow – Again, epic fantasy. This time it is a combination of Warwick Davis and Val Kilmer who are the defnitely draw though the shield bob-sled over snow we probably could have done without. Fairies, trolls, witches, prophesise, what more could a movie want?

3.  The Princess Bride – Because it is awesome. Fantasy and romance and action and adventure all rolled into one very entertaining story.

Moving on some old favourites.

4. Indiana Jones (If I’m not allowed the entire trilogy I choose Temple of Doom – though many fans think that this is the weak link) – With the exception of the Crystal Skull (which I still maintain is not Indiana Jones) these movies are incredibly fun, action packed and scenic.

5.  Clash of the Titans – The original. Clunky stop-go animation but that vulture is hilarious and this was my gate-way to Greek mythology. Can’t be without this one.

6.  The Trouble with Harry – Hitchcock at his most amusing. I just like the twisted sense of humour.

The B-Grade Collection – I have this thing for really bad horror movies.

7.  Tremors – If I can have all four of the movies I will, but otherwise I would have to choose the second one. Underground monsters that get smarter by the minute and eat anything that moves. A great laugh with one or two jumps thrown in (just so you remember it was sort of supposed to be a horror).

8.  Ginger Snaps – Possibly the best werewolf movie I have ever watched and yet you end up laughing more than being scared by this coming of age movie mixed with horror. I will say that the scariest thing in this movie is Ginger’s mother (creepy).

9.  Scream – This one was a toss up between The Faculty and Scream but Scream came out on top for two reasons. One – it gave us one of the best quotes from a bad villain ever: “My mum and dad are going to be so mad at me”. The second reason is that they made sure the last hurrah wasn’t dragged out. Short and sweet and done.

Finally, the feel good movies.

10.  Elizabeth Town – Most people will hate this choice. Yes, it is Orlando Bloom. Yes, it does start with him trying to commit suicide. Yes, it mostly deals with a funeral. It is light and amusing and by the road trip at the end you are genuinely feeling good about yourself. This is what I want in a movie when I need cheering up.

11. 10 Things I Hate About You – An updated take on the Taming of the Shrew and my introduction to Heath Ledger, I love this movie. It is well done and uplifting.

12.  Just Like Heaven – I needed at least one genuine, sickly sweet movie on this list. This is my choice.

You should head over to Alex’s blog and check out the rest of the blog hop.

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Is it a fashion statement?

May 22, 2010 at 5:01 am (Character, Setting) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

I usually have a lot of fun dressing my various characters.  Mostly because I have such a strong mental image of the character and few of them ever dress for what they end up doing – plus I set them in fantasy worlds and so I don’t really worry about whether people dressed like that in any particular era or not.

That said, the protagonist in my latest WIP is giving me all kinds of trouble. I have a strong mental image of her but the clothes keep changing and they are always very practical, clothes. Lots of leather and denim and most of it torn and patched, which given the hostile nature of the world I’m building makes perfect sense. But it isn’t all that fun to write about. Still, every time I try to dress her differently I just think, there is no way she’s going to wear that skirt and she certainly isn’t going to wear bright colours and try to attract a lot of attention.

I did destroy her denim jacket though. Which lead to the very touching boy lending her his brown vinyl jacket scene which wasn’t really an improvement on her look but was an interesting interaction between the two characters.

Dressing your characters? Fashion statement or practical? Or both? Love to hear your views.

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Best Movie Endings

February 3, 2010 at 5:36 am (fiction) (, , , , , )

The Best Endings For Movies (Yes there are spoilers if you have not watched the movies):

  1. The Matrix (the first movie) – The story itself had ended. The protagonist had gone on his journey, discovered the truth and learnt to use his inner power. Yes there were still problems but they weren’t important to this story. This story was about Neo finding out what the matrix was and who he was. He did that. The end. No sequels. I loved the ending of this movie.
  2. Once Upon a Time In Mexico – I think I have to love a movie that ends with everyone really getting exactly what they deserve. The ending is explosive, it is a little gory and it brings together multiple plot threads in a really interesting way.
  3. The Princess Bride – Classic fairy tale ending for both Buttercup and Westley and the grandfather and his grandson. Beautifully told and it just leaves you feeling very happy.
  4. Willow – Same as the Princess Bride really. He saves the day, returns to his village, is reunited with his wife and shows the bully what for. Classic ending and well-executed.
  5. Kill Bill Vol 2 – The ending of this surprised me. The violence throughout the story kind of had me anticipating a massive fight sequence with way over the top gore but instead it ended with a more intimate family note. Yes there was still a bit of violence but it was definitely a sequence more about experiencing emotion. Plus, Bill’s speech about Superman has to go down as one of the most interesting monologues in a long time.

I think what all of these movies have in common is that the ending fits the plot, it resolves the main issues, it is interesting, and it ends. That might seem odd but there are quite a few brilliant movies and books out there that just don’t seem to know when enough is enough. We don’t need to see anymore of Westley and Buttercup. They kiss as the sun is setting the end. Yes they are then going to have to find somewhere to stay for the night and figure out what they are going to do now that Westley is no longer a pirate and Buttercup is no longer a Princess but we don’t really need to see any of that.

What are your favourite movie or book endings?

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Building Better Worlds

January 19, 2010 at 5:34 am (Setting) (, , , , , , , , )

Yes – the title of the post is a quote from Aliens about the terraforming process used to create a new world to live on.

I mentioned last week that I would be talking about world building in a bit of detail so here goes.

One of the prerequisites when writing high fantasy is that there is a totally different world and usually that world is completely separate from the ‘real’ world (though because we live in the real world and are writing for a real world audience it kind of helps to give enough similarities that people can understand what they are reading).

There are many different approached to world building and everyone does it their own way.  Some people start with a clear vision of what the world looks like and draw it and then break it down into its individual pieces, other people start with a theme (such as medieval) and build the world out from there.  One person I spoke to once mentioned that the world in their story came from a dress she really wanted to wear and she built a world around her ideal fashion.  The point is, you start wherever you are comfortable starting.  If you are like me, you tend to start with a character and then build the world around where that character may have come from.

A couple of points about worlds.  There needs to be logic to them.  If nothing else there should be geographic logic.  Yes, you can sometimes get away with magical landscapes and where things float in midair and the like but you need to consistently apply whatever rules and logic you’ve decided on and you need to make sure you somehow make it acceptable to the reader. Otherwise they aren’t going to believe your world and if you are writing high fantasy your reader has to believe in the world you’ve created – at least for the duration of their reading.  Also, draw a map, even if it is only a rough sketch on a napkin while drinking coffee.  You don’t want to be heading east to the river one minute and then end up in the desert.  It doesn’t matter whether that map ends up in the book or not but you need it so that you can check for continuity errors in your story.

Other than the geography there are three things I like to think about when planning worlds.  Politics, religion and economics.  Whenever you study a society, whether it be a modern day society or an ancient civilisation, these three things are always prominent in your learning.  What political structure existed?  What religion or religions were practiced?  How prolific were they? How influential were they? Did they trade?  Were they self sufficient?  Was there currency or did they barter? How do all of these things affect day to day living?

My theory is that once I have the geography roughly mapped out, the political structure decided, religious beliefs created and a working economic system (or multiple ones if I am dealing with more than one part of the world), I have a more or less workable and believable foundation for a world once I fill in the finer details.  Those finer details would be things like fashion, food, architecture, occupations, modes of transportation, weaponry, etc, etc, etc.  You know, minor details that can cripple the entire story on the spot.

So – what do you think about when building your world?  When reading what can make or break a world?  I would love to know how other people approach this.

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Writing Lessons From Reading Terry Brooks

December 16, 2009 at 5:02 am (fantasy, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , )

I’m trying to make the writing lessons a regular feature of the blog but it is probably going to be an every other week thing rather than a weekly inclusion.  I really like writing these posts because it makes me think about books I’ve read and loved and what works and what doesn’t.  The feedback I’ve gotten from readers of the blog seems to imply that others are finding these helpful as well so I’ll try to throw them up from time to time.

Terry Brooks is awesome.  I am not going to hid the fact that I am a fan of his work and that I definitely see the good rather than the bad.  If you aren’t into fantasy Terry Brooks is the writer behind the Shannara series followed by the Heritage of Shannara series, – literally the only time I thought the follow on series was better than the original – The Magic Kingdom of Landover Series and Word and Void series.  There are also a whole stack of other Shannara titles and he has written two novelisation of sci-fi movies.  Busy guy and fabulous writer.

My focus is going to be the Word and Void series because it was my favourite and it is the one I have read again and again.  Why is this series better than his others?  This one is set in the ‘real’ world and deals with a young female protagonist who in the first book gets her first real taste of tragedy and by the final book becomes a woman of great strength and poise.  Her development is amazing and as a young female reader I connected instantly with this story.

So, what did I learn about writing from reading Terry Brooks’ Word and Void series?

  1. You can give your characters really bizarre names if by the end of the story they have made the names their own.  This might sound strange but if you read the book you will understand.  The main character is named “Nest Freemark” and on the very first page of the first chapter she is woken from sleep by “Pick”.  My first thought as a young reader was why is this girl’s name Nest?  By the end the question is, why isn’t Nest one of the most popular names for girls.  Nest manages to endear herself to the reader and because she is a mostly normal girl with the slightly odd habit of having to patrol the park at night for wandering children being lead off cliffs by ‘feeders’ the name which sounds odd at first begins to fit her perfectly.  One thing is for sure, you never forget Nest’s name.
  2. Just because a book is fantasy doesn’t mean it has to be full of epic battles and sieges.  The Word and Void series covers three specific confrontations between the Word and the Void and though the confrontations take place in the real world, they barely make a ripple.  These books are focused on the relationships between characters and the choices that they make.  There is magic, but it comes at a very high cost (point three), and ultimately these books are about the characters in them.
  3. When characters have magic there need to be limitations and these have to be observed.  What peril is involved for anyone if they can magic their way out of any given situation?  Do you care for that character?  Does your heart race as they find themselves in jeopardy?  Probably not.  Nest has magic but she can’t use it very well and she is scared of it.  By the third book she has learnt some control but her power is still limited.  John Ross, the Knight of the Word, has a magic staff but in receiving it he was crippled and can’t walk without leaning heavily on the staff.  Using the power drains him and leaves him vulnerable to attack.  Other creatures have magic specific to one purpose and it isn’t easily used otherwise.  This allows there to be a real sense of danger surrounding these characters as they face off against demons.
  4. Everything has a price.  I know I’ve talked about it before but there have to be real consequences for characters.  Otherwise the reader feels cheated.  A wrong choice in youth will come back to bite a character and making the decision to walk away from a battle has to have disastrous consequences.   Think about it for a minute.  If the other characters are begging someone to stay because they ‘need’ their help and that person walks off and nothing happens, what is the point?  Why does the reader care?  If however many of those people begging for help are in  fact killed or injured because that person didn’t stay then there is a reason for the reader to care.  Terry Brooks is a master of giving us a reason to care about the choices his characters make but the consequence is never quite what you expect.

I’m going to say it again, Terry Brooks is awesome.  If you have ever wanted to read fantasy and haven’t, Terry Brooks is a great place to start.  Let me know if this advice has been helpful and which writers you think have helped you become a better writer.

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How Do You Research That?

December 15, 2009 at 5:15 am (drafting) (, , , , )

Research is one of the essential tools of any writer, regardless of what they are writing.  Direct observation of people and places is one form of research that we all undertake every day but for most of us, this is only the beginning of the lengthy researching process.

I write fantasy and I don’t actually mind too much when someone tells me that fantasy isn’t real writing.  Mostly because when someone tells me that it tells me more about the person than about what I am writing.  I do mind when people tell me that fantasy writing must be easy because ‘you can just make stuff up’.  I can just make stuff up?  Why didn’t someone tell me that sooner?

Admittedly I do have a lot of leeway with facts and even after the research process if I haven’t come across something suitable I can create something new, but I have to do it in such a way that people believe it.  That means there are basic rules and preconceptions that have to be met or the reader is just going to roll their eyes.  How do I know what rules and preconceptions there are? I research.

My reference collection is a bit on the odd side but it has steadily been growing over the years.  Lots of books on mythology, all kinds of mythology.  The latest addition was a book on Japanese fairy tales.  This gives me a chance to look at similarities between mythical creatures across the world as well as the differences.  Dragons turn up in every single mythology but the differences are extraordinary.  So, when I say there is a dragon in front of my protagonist, people instantly get the image they are most familiar with, unless I give them more information to go on and I best not say it is a wyrm if it isn’t (learnt that lesson the hard way – one critique of a short story ended up being a five page list of types of dragons and why mine didn’t fit into any of them).

Mythological creatures however is only a tiny fraction of the research.  The online research is generally extensive.  If you have a knight carrying a sword, what kind of sword is he carrying?  Does he swing it? Thrust with it? Stab?  Could he chop through a log with it or would that just dent the blade?  Some readers are extremely picky about their swords.  To me, a sword is a long shiny thing you hit stuff with.  I don’t focus on sword fights in my stories but being fantasy, it is fairly inevitable that swords will come into them, even if just in passing.  I don’t want to make a passing comment and have a reader throw the book down in disgust and then send me a lengthy email explaining why I haven’t got a clue.

Then we have styles of dress and construction and various landscapes and on and on and on the research goes. It is a good thing I am curious by nature and that I like keeping trivia files of random facts.  It means that usually I have some information on a given topic close at hand but other times I need to go a little further in my research.

How do you go about your research and how much do you do before writing the story?

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