Shiny, glittering, distractions.
It is how magicians get away with their tricks and it is frequently how movies manage to make even the weakest of stories seem somewhat plausible.
It would seem that in writing, distractions can’t save a poorly written story because you don’t have all the shine and glitter – you certainly don’t have an amazing soundtrack and special effects.
Still, many writers seem to use a bit of shine.
Colourful humour and language to throw the reader off the scent of poorly executed scene.
Flowery language and description to gloss over the massive plot hole.
Throw another dead body into a scene that was feeling like it was going nowhere.
Introduce a new character to hide the fact that one of your other characters has suddenly had a personality transplant.
And the thing is, as an audience member, you frequently allow yourself to be distracted by the shiny because it is fun. Because even though you know that you are being had, that something is missing, what you are being given is still enjoyable and there isn’t really any fun in pulling it to pieces. You know what is going on and you let it happen. At least when it is still enjoyable.
You start to really question the shiny when that is all you are being given. There is nothing else underneath and it isn’t really going anywhere. All you’ve been given is the glossy overcoat and there is no substance. As a reader, a lack of overall substance just can’t be tolerated.
So what shiny distractions do you enjoy reading? Which ones have you used? When won’t you accept a shiny distraction?
I’m going to preface this post by pointing out that I really dislike animal movies. That is, movies where the main character is an animal that is befriended by a human and does a range of cutesy/mischievous things before ultimately solving some massive problem and healing all the wrongs in their friendly human’s life while giving us some moral message. There are a lot of these movies out there and they are well loved movies but they’ve never grabbed me as an audience member. Mostly because cute didn’t cut it for me as a replacement for story or character development even when I was a child and the overly moralistic message of so many of these movies seemed really condescending.
That said, I do like animals in stories. They can serve a valuable role and if well written can even have all the attributes of a full fledged character. There is a difference between a movie with an animal in it and an animal movie. Same with books.
When I consider using an animal in a story I usually think about the following:
1. Is the animal’s presence actually adding anything to the story? A means of transport, companionship, comfort, finding something, revealing something, etc.
2. Could a human character serve the same purpose better?
3. Is the animal actually acting in the way an animal would or are they simply a human character dressed up like an animal?
4. If the animal is magical and can talk, are they still acting in the way an animal would or is there some cross over between the animal characteristics and human characteristics? And is there any point behind this cross over?
5. Is the animal becoming simply a cute distraction from the plot?
Inserting an animal as a character for me is like inserting any other character. They need to have a purpose and serve some sort of function in the plot. They need to relate to the other characters and if possible those relationships should grow and change as the story progresses.
What are your thoughts on animals as characters? Or animal movies for that matter.
There are times when I want to write, have the time to write, and I just can’t get into it. At these times there are a whole bunch of things I do to try to focus on writing but one of the most effective is music. Here are my top 5 songs to get me into a writing mood.
1. Flying Without Wings: Westlife
Why does this song work? It begins with one of the best lines ever – even if the song itself is not that great. “Everybody’s looking for that something. One thing that makes it all complete.” With just that opening I suddenly think about what my characters are looking for and how to get them to where they want to be and instantly I feel the need to write. This makes it one of my favourite writing prompts.
2. The Fear: Lily Allen
Firstly, I just love this song. It is so boppy and lyrical and yet listening to the lyrics there is quite a bit of depth to this song and the issues it raises are quite serious. This song reminds me to look into the inner parts of my characters and to find their true motivation.
3. Words: Kate Miller-Hiedke
This song moves really quite quickly and helps me pick up my pace. It jolts me to action. At the same time it makes me think about the transitions we go through and how our characters can change and development over time. It also reminds me about the highs and lows.
4. Grace Kelly: Mika
Asks the question really of how face will a character go to reach their desire and is it worth it in the end? Plus this song always makes me smile.
5. The Rose: Not sure who sings the version I like
Sad and sweet and hopeful and yet slightly lost. I find this song puts me in a very thoughtful frame of mind and that always helps get me writing.
I guess for a song to be good for my writing it has to inspire some emotion and usually it leaves me with a question. It can’t be too loud or boisterous because that makes me not want to sit still so tragically Prisoner of Society misses the list here because while it is an amazing song it doesn’t make me want to write. It also helps if I don’t associate the song with a particular movie because that then distracts me and makes me want to watch the movie.
What are your favourite songs for writing?
I’ve previously looked at heroic traits and my favourite heroes but recently I’ve been thinking about why some heroes just don’t live up to their hype.
Personally, I have never liked Superman. I know, this is a terrible thing I am saying and many of you are staring daggers at the screen but I’ve just never really connected with Superman. Why? Because the man in the red cape and blue lycra has it far too easy. The only reason he’s ever in peril is if someone manages to get hold of one particular kind of rock (which is meant to be hard to find but there seems to be prolifically spread throughout the stories) and you just can’t care about someone who is mostly invincible. I did like Tarentino’s take on the Superman story as explained in Kill Bill 2. It may be a long winded scene and the story itself has very little connection to the story of the movie (there is a very loose tie-in at the end of the tale) but it is fascinating hearing Bill’s perception of the man of steel.
So where do other heroes fail and why do they fail? And is it actually failure or is just a matter of these heroes not being directed at the right audience?
Examining movies the obvious character to pull apart would seem to be Riddick (or at least it would be obvious if you were currently inside my head). Riddick was an incredibly interesting anti-hero in Pitch Black and his characterisation and development were smoothly executed, he had some of the best lines of the movie, and while he was the hero of the story at no stage did he make you want to gag because he didn’t have that sudden epiphany of “what have I been doing with my life”. He was who he was and his essential personality did not change.
Then we move on to Chronicles of Riddick and while it might seem a pointless exercise to attack Riddick’s character when the entire movie had issues, I’m going to do it anyway. To start with, the minor developments of character that he underwent in Pitch Black are gone and we seem to be back at the beginning of Riddick’s character development. In their haste to try to develop a back-story we have info-dumps all over the place that weigh our character down and don’t really help us to understand him any better. As a hero he fails to appease the audience because at no stage do we care if he succeeds at overcoming an incomprehensible ‘evil’ army. The worst thing about his character here is that he becomes less heroic and more unlikable by the minute in this film. Heroic failure – though feel free to disagree if you found some redeeming qualities in Riddick.
If I look to books then I start to think about Janelle from Ann Bishop’s Dark Jewel’s Trilogy. I love these books and the stories. Janelle’s character is fascinating and frightening and completely mesmerizing, but as a hero she doesn’t really do much for me. Her changeable nature from passive, to fragile, to furious in the blink of a few pages makes her an interesting character, but hard to support as the hero. The characters surrounding her are more what you could call traditionally heroic, but even they are deeply flawed individuals. Great story but hard to find the hero.
Does it matter? Do we need a ‘hero’? Do we have to like the hero for the story to be effective? Clearly in the case of Ann Bishop I didn’t like the hero on reflection and can see all the flaws in the other candidates and yet I still loved the story. In the case of Pitch Black, I liked the development of the anti-hero but found the break down of Riddick’s character in the sequel to be tiresome and boring which completely undermined the little story being told.
Who are the heroes that you never liked?
What makes a hero work for you?