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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Mannerisms

June 9, 2010 at 5:24 am (Character, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , )

We all have those odd little ticks and quirks that make us who we are. Our characters should too.

I would make a terrible character. I’ll tap anything on any surface and I’ll do it continuously until someone makes me stop. When I have a pen in my hand I flick the lid off, just a little bit, and then click it back on. I do this over and over again. If I have a tic-tac packet I will rattle it and open it and close it until it drives everyone else in the room nuts. I would probably be the character in the horror story that gets shoved in the path of the monster while everyone else flees.

But those little ticks and traits are part of what make me who I am.

So you need to consider is your character:

  • a hair flicker
  • an eye-lash flutterer
  • a nervous laugher
  • a twitchy sitter
  • a toe tapper
  • a question tagger (You understand what I mean, right?)
  • a jacket straightener
  • a collar turner
  • a ring fiddler
  • a lip chewer
  • an ear tucker
  • a head turner

And I’m sure you can add many dozens of interesting traits to this list. Let’s see how many we can come up with.

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Things that go thump in the night

February 4, 2010 at 5:39 am (Tension, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , )

Things that go thump in the night are fairly predictable. You lie in bed hearing a clattering on the roof, a bang, a tinkle, a crash, a thump and swishing noise and you count them off in your head.

Tree.

Cat /possum.

Another Tree.

Fallen branch.

Gutter pulling away from the roof.

Slight gap in the window so the wind is making that weird noise again.

Tree.

Nothing overly earth shattering. Not really. I actually find comfort in these sounds and others because I’m so used to them. When they stop I wonder why and the silence is actually more alarming than the myriad of sounds I usually hear.

Sometimes things that go thump in the night are perfectly mundane and sometimes we just tell ourselves they are and both can work really well in a story. If your character jumps at every single sound then people are going to be wondering if they had a sheltered upbringing but if they roll their eyes and ignore the sounds, and ignore even the important sounds it could make for some interesting possibilities.

Incidentally, the two thumps I couldn’t ignore: a car crashing into a wall down the road and a tree falling through a fence. Those two things were definitely not part of the usual nightly sounds and both got an immediate reaction.

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Ghosts are my Least Favourite Plot Device

January 21, 2010 at 5:39 am (Character, fantasy) (, , , , , , , )

Ghost stories are fantastic.  Who doesn’t love a good ghost story?  The key word being good.  The traditional ghost story that sends tingles down your spine and makes you laugh that strange, high pitched relieved giggle at the end.  I have always enjoyed ghost stories.

However, I don’t enjoy ghosts that are used as a plot device because the author just wrote themselves into a corner and now they need the ghost to explain something to the protagonist or the entire story will collapse in on itself.  The final book of the Harry Potter series was one of the more recent books to seriously annoy me by doing this.

Yes there will be spoilers for people who have not yet read the Harry Potter books.

Book six sees Dumbledore (mentor and guide) finally removed from the story.  Great.  We can finally see Harry take some initiative and take control.  He has been the protagonist for six books and he still hasn’t actually made any decision other than, I’m going to walk into danger and see what happens.  Book seven.  The final year of school (assuming any of the main characters were still in school), the final show down with evil, this is Harry’s chance.

Oh wait a second.  He doesn’t know about this and that.  He doesn’t understand this.  Nobody told him that yet.  In point of fact, nobody told the reader either so they don’t have a clue what is going on.  Great.  Bring on the ghost of Dumbledore past and in an extremely long winded flash back he can explain an entire back story that didn’t exist until this point but will conveniently tell Harry exactly what he needs to do next.

Ghosts can be great characters.  They can also fill in the a few of the blanks.  However if you entire plot relies on the summoning of a ghost to do a massive info dump at the last minute I’m pretty sure some of your readers will be upset.

So what is your opinion?  Is the ghost a useful plot device or a crux used to explain things away?

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Writing Lessons From Reading R.L.Stine

January 13, 2010 at 5:33 am (writing lessons) (, , , , , , , , , )

I know I said that my next writing lessons would have to come from a non-fantasy author but then I moved house and the people who packed the boxes didn’t really get the organisational structure of my collection.  As I unpacked my house in a matter of two days, at the moment the books are on the shelf in whatever order they were put into the boxes and that means there is really no order at all.  Finding a book, or group of books, from any one author is next to impossible and I like to have the books with me when I write these posts to refer to.

Technically R.L. Stine writes children’s horror rather than fantasy so it is a slight change of pace.  He was my first favourite author and I read all through the Goosebumps and then Fear Street series as a kid.  I couldn’t get enough of the books.  I’ve read and reread my entire collection of these books so many times.  The fact that I can read one of these books in under an hour also helps as I tend to use them to de-stress.

What lessons did I learn about writing from reading R. L. Stine?

  1. Just because a book is a part of a series does not mean the story has to continue.  Sometimes I wish all series were like this.  You can pick up any Goosebumps book and get a perfect understanding of the story.  Or you can read them in order and you get a slightly bigger picture of the whole but for the most part it doesn’t matter.  The Fear Street books were a little more connected at times and reading them in order helped you understand some of the references, but the stories made sense regardless.
  2. Simple writing does not have to mean simple story telling.  The Goosebump books are fairly formulaic but the Fear Street ones really open up to a variety plot twists and intrigue even though the writing itself remains fairly basic.
  3. An off-sider is an incredibly useful device.  Reading the Goosebumps and Fear Street stories, every protagonist has someone that they talk to and the few that don’t tend to keep journals and the like.  The reason for this is the stories are written in third person but the author wanted us to know what was going on in the protagonist’s head.  It is very much the same in Doctor Who.  Without someone tagging along for the ride, why would the Doctor ever bother to explain anything.  By having the off-sdier the protagonist can get away with explaining things to the reader.  Though, R. L. Stine did like to vary his off-sider . He had brothers, sisters, best friends, worst enemies, dogs, neighbours and pretty much anyone who would serve the purpose filling this role.
  4. You don’t have to save everyone.  Even as a young reader I really appreciated that R. L. Stine would at times kill his characters.  This was very different from other books that were recommended for young readers and I really liked the fact that tragedy could happen.  In other books for kids you don’t get a real sense of tension because you know that everyone is going to be all right.  When reading R. L. Stine there is a good chance they won’t be and so you tend to care more about the characters and are more intrigued by the situation as a whole.

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What Genre Do You Write?

December 18, 2009 at 5:11 am (fantasy, Genre, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , )

I stumbled across Dorotie’s Blog the other day and read a post called “Crossing the Boundaries – Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror” and I found it raised a few interesting points.  Admittedly it left sci-fi and fantasy sitting together and contrasted both genres simultaneously with horror but it was still a good read.

The arguments brought forward are that in fantasy and science fiction the heroes have abilities that are comparable to their antagonists (yes, there are exceptions but for the most part that is true), that usually one of the characters has knowledge about what is going on or why it is happening (or they can find someone who can explain it), and that most of the characters will make it through the climax and live to the end of the story (again there are exceptions but generally this is true).  These things happen in fantasy and science fiction. In horror the heroes are usually completely powerless compared to the antagonist, they are usually completely clueless or misinterpreting the situation and most of them die in tragic ways usually long before they reach the climax.

All and all, I agree with these distinctions for the most part and it was something I hadn’t really thought about before.  I read all three genres prolifically and yet because most of the horrors I read are fantasy/horror or science fiction/horror I never bothered to think about what distinguished horror from the other two genres.  I have however spent a lot of time wondering where the line between fantasy and science fiction begins and ends.

I classify myself as a fantasy writer.  I deal with magic, mythical creatures, mental powers, gods, destinies and prophecies.  Mostly these are set in make believe worlds with very occasional attempts to write fantasy stories set on Earth in modern day without putting too many cues in that might date the story.

I have attempted to write a story set on a space ship.  The ship is alive and talks, has a very annoying personality (based on the original pilot of the ship) and the characters are all slightly off-kilter.  This is not a science fiction story.  There is no explanation of technology, no exploration of themes such as do machines have souls and what does it mean to be human, the physics of careening through space are left completely out of the story.  The ship flies.  It is piloted telepathically.  It is a fantasy.  The characters deal with their own personal demons, relationships form and are tested, and there is a minor political drama midway through that disappears entirely by the third act.  I will admit I class this as an attempt to write a fantasy in space.  I don’t think it was overly successful as the couple of fantasy readers who have had a look at it, don’t like it the setting and the science fiction readers who have read it claim there are too many scientific impossibilities.  Well, we have to try new things occasionally and I like enough of this story that I may salvage it and relocate the events to a fantasy world, or maybe I’ll just research myself up a storm and have a go at writing straight science fiction (somehow I doubt it).

What genre do you write?  How do you classify your genre?  Do you cross between or do you stick to one?  I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

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