Conjuring, contemplating, pondering…writing is sort of like gathering the ingredients for a magic spell. Or a cake. But more like a magic spell, because you don’t really know what you’ll have when all the ingredients are combined. Like baking a cake and opening the oven and finding a cornish game hen in there. That’s sort of what it’s like.

Here’s what I’ve had in my head for the past week:

I find music hugely inspiring to the creative process. This song sparked something in regards to a new project I would like to work on (when I finally have the time). It’s not like I’ve figured out what should happen in the murky middle, or that I’ve figured out all of the plot points. Nothing that concrete. But I can see them, these characters, these kids, when I listen to this song. They are on a quest. To where, I do not know. But right now the sun is shining on their faces, and they are walking toward their destiny. They know as much about it as I do. We’ll take this quest together.

Published in: on November 17, 2010 at 5:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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movies teach writing

I’ve been thinking about Anna Staniszewski‘s post about learning writing tips from watching a (bad) romantic comedy. Noting how a movie is paced, how it reveals information can offer great writing insight. And watching a bad one can help, too. What could be more fun that to pull apart a bad movie? In doing so, you may expose some of your own pet peeves in storytelling.

Last week, I had the urge to watch cheesey horror films. We watched The Grudge, which I hate to bash because of my loyalty to Sarah Michelle Gellar of Buffy fame, but (no offense to Ms. Gellar) this movie did not work for me. Yes, it’s cheesey, what did I expect? But it did make me think about what helps build suspense in a scary story. (Warning: SPOILERS ahead!!)

1. Horror stories need to create rules, and follow them. What’s the specific danger facing your victims? As Tom said “What’s scarier than Nothing? Anything.” I’m sure there are examples to the contrary, but in this case he has a point – if we know the doom facing our characters, it can be much scarier. In the movie The Ring (another remake of a Japanese film, but this one I enjoyed) we know that the targeted characters will die suddenly, faces distorted in terror (though we don’t see how until the end of the film). In The Grudge they die when a weird curse/ghost creature makes a weird noise at them. Sometimes it looks like murder, others a suicide. It’s a bit vague.

2. What’s the result of the danger facing your characters? It should be consistent for all of the victims in question. In The Grudge, this was a gray area. After being attacked, one victim vanished. Another one walked around like a ghost. Others just appeared, well, dead.

3. If you’re going to include back story, include some surprises. We were told early on that the curse started because a man killed his family. Later we learned that…yes, indeed, that is what had happened. What’s the point of all that build up to show us what we’ve already been told?

4. If the hero escapes, show us why she escaped. Make it believable. Make it clever. If your character escapes from a burning building, hearing a detective say “We don’t know how she escaped” is not very satisfying.

In his book HOOKED, Les Edgerton suggests watching movies – especially the opening scenes – to see how the movie captures your attention (or fails to do so). What have you learned from movies, both good and bad?

Published in: on November 2, 2010 at 5:37 pm  Comments (1)  
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