Friday, January 25, 2013

No Moldy Stories, Please.

Non violence sculpture by carl fredrik reutersward malmo sweden
     I just watched a movie called "Stolen" with my husband (who is a big Thriller fan and who has morphed me into one also. So persuasive, darn cute man). Strangely, I don't mind tearing apart a movie as much as a book. Food for thought. Moving on!
     The movie. It was...not awful, but I wouldn't ever recommend it to anyone. The strange thing is, it had a good actor. It had heart-poundingness. It had high stakes and it had (some, all right, not total) believability.
     But I still didn't like it. Why? Where did it go wrong?
     Let's check it out.

*Spoilers: If you want to see this kind of lame movie, don't read this next part. Move on to  the words "Spoiler Off"*
     In the movie,
  • an otherwise respectable man is robbing a bank. That's semi-interesting.
  • He gets caught. That's interesting.
  • He gets out of jail eight years later, and stuff has changed. Following.
  • His young daughter is not so young anymore, but is a "so whatever" teenager. Getting clichéy
  • Man's daughter is kidnapped by, you guessed it, a crazy cab driver who feels he's been betrayed by our hero. Haven't I seen this before?
  • Now cabbie is insane with anger and wants the money Hero-man stole from the bank, which everyone thinks Hero-man has...but which he burned.
  • ...and yes, crazy cabbie is going to kill the daughter. So Hero-man must pull off one last job to get the money to give to the cabbie to save his daughter. 
  • But will the insane cabbie really give the daughter back?
*Spoiler Off*
     Now, my story craft skills are okay. I've been studying them for a bit. But it was pretty sad how I called so many of these shots, and then continued to. Nothing unique or surprising happened. Also, I cared not for the characters. Even Kevin, who does not study storycraft, recognized that "this story was nothing new."
     I have a theory about this. Sometimes, stories are pushed into molds. They are formed a certain way because "Hey! That's how stories are formed and we need money so make a story. We give a man a desire, a ticking time bomb, and someone to combat the desire. Walla! Story!"
     There's a lot more to story than that.
     This story was one of those that followed the rules, but shouldn't have. It's been done before, it's unoriginal. The writer took a worn premise and recycled it without adding any originality. So the story structure was basically this:
     "Force a 'changed man' to steal money to pay his daughter's ransom."
     It was moldy. Stuck into a mold. When planning this movie, someone said, "Let's call this a Thriller and stick in some Thriller things. People will eat this up."
     Well, this particular "Thriller" needed to come with an ending an average storyteller like Christy couldn't call. In fact, Christy called a better ending than Thriller story served. There were other problems, and some of it was okay, but Kevin's words, "It's been done and it's been done better."
     Let me tell you the ending which you've probably already guessed.

*Spoiler On*
  • Crazy Cabbie refuses to give back daughter.
  • Hero-man kills Crazy Cabbie (a horribly long-drawn out, gruesome, unlikely, horror-filmish death involving multiple jumpings from behind and beatings).
  • Hero-man's daughter nearly dies,
  • Hero-man nearly dies,
  • but both live. 
  • Hero-man keeps some gold from the resulting last "job."
    Now, for a minute I thought they were going to pull off something really original in Hollywood. I thought they were going to kill the hero (after all...he was kind of a wimp and a criminal). I didn't see that coming until I thought they did it. Then they didn't do it.

*Spoiler Off*
    So, the "thrills" were less than steller. The characters could have been dug out quite a bit more. The cop-characters, the ending, the whole darn was all so very done before.
    I think this lame end and lame cast of characters lived to be filmed because it technically met the expectations of a Thriller-story. That's not good enough!
     Don't stick your story in a mold, friends. It'll grow green things on it and nobody will want it after that...unless you stick hot people in it, of course. Then they might.
     Now, because we can't all write original premises and we don't all just want to smack hot people into all our stories, we have to find our own unique twists. Is it a setting we know well? Characters we love? A topic we're passionate about? Could be. Add those. Don't just add mold-stuff and call it good.
     For great ideas about how to do this, read the book I'm reading: The Anatomy of Story by John Truby.

Photo Attribution
By Francois Polito (Appareil numérique OLYMPUS C700UZ) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Works Cited
Stolen. Dir. Simon West. Writer. David Guggenheim. Perf. Nicolas Cage. Malin Akerman and Josh Lucas. 2012.

Truby, John. The Anatomy of Story: 22 steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller. New York, NY: Faber and Faber, Inc. 2007. Print.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Welcome to Professional Writing 101...*snore*

Dry Grass     
     “There is no lake at Camp Green Lake” (Sachar 3). Humor, personality, voice—I love it!  And who doesn’t?  An engaging style is fun to read. Writers often strive to emulate this kind of tone. It's fun to inject personality into our own writings, too. (Guess why I enjoy blogging?) Fiction writers, let's be honest: in comparison, writing professionally (articles, papers, etc.) can be a snore. We have to be so serious and the subject matter is non-fiction and we can't tell jokes and use slang. Despite these downsides, all writers still need to learn how to write professionally. Why, you ask? Why, when it stifles my creativity? Why, when it's so boring? I've often wondered that and still do when I get knocked for my informal style. Let's examine the issue.
     Ever had anyone tap, tap, tap on your shoulder, over and over? Usually, it’s annoying, right? Scribblers, we don’t want to craft our writing in such a way that we annoy our readers. For instance, I’ve tried some unsuccessful ways to make my writing stick out.

     Like this. <--
     Unfortunately for my grades, this sort of gimmickry doesn’t play nicely with academia. It's important to know how to write professionally if we ever want to publish our fiction. Every magazine has its own tone and style, and we must be able to match it. We will also need to write professional sounding documents like query letters, book proposals, etc. Amateur writers often draw too much attention to their writing. Inappropriate informality in academic or professional writing is almost without fail a sign that the writer is an amateur--which, pfft, I am so over being. <---*being amateurish*
     A versatile writer, one who can switch from style to style, is highly coveted for jobs, as well as for posts and studies in universities and other places we want to be. Some readers evaluate style over story. Those people are often editors of magazines we want to write for. We need to know how to write for them, too. We can’t afford for our writing to stick out and become a distraction.
     We can also learn a lot from studying professional writing. In journals and newspapers, writing must be economical. Those writers are given small word counts and tall orders. If we studied the principles used for this kind of writing, we might be able to hone any clunky areas of our fiction into a smooth machine. Readers appreciate forcible writing.
     So, even though sometimes we may feel caged by certain rules of professional writing…they make sense. Writing with personality is good, but not if it’s the only kind we can do. Don't we want our writing to be taken seriously? Learning to write professionally can only help us.
Works Cited
Sachar, Louis. Holes. Dell Yearling, 2000. Print.
Photo Credit
By Zuhairali (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via
 Wikimedia Commons

Friday, January 11, 2013

Labels: "Christian Fiction" versus..."Un-Christian"?

Heart of Jesus Lookout
     Scribblers and Book Bandits,
     I want to talk about the label “Christian Fiction.” I’ve had trouble discerning what it is, exactly, or why it matters. Here’s what I’ve come up with:
     I find the label of “Christian Fiction” unhelpful. Is the novel written by Christians? Or for Christians? Should it matter if the book is written by a Christian or not? Aren’t the story and message more important?
     I think it’s simpler and much more helpful to evaluate the book’s worth based on its craft and truthfulness. Not that that’s easy, but…“Good fiction, whether or not it is identified as Christian, will provide a memorable reading experience that captures the imagination, inspires, challenges, and educates” (Hatcher).
     God is truth, yes? If literature supports truth, it supports God. So, literature, whether written by Christians or Non-Christians, can support the truth, and therefore God. If a book is filled with more falsehood than truth, it probably isn’t worth reading.  No book will ever be perfectly truthful or perfectly untruthful. It will be on a scale.
     In one of my favorite books, a character claims he believes in the same thing as Catholics. Then he says, “I just don’t believe you can find it [God or religion] in a building” (Stievater 201). Well, the Bible says going to church is important. I’m not going to argue with that. If Maggie Stievater wants to, that’s her business and I disagree. But that doesn’t make her book “bad” or “Un-Christian” (whatever that means).
     It’s a lot easier to define the goals of a Christian writer than to define “Christian Fiction”: 1) telling a good story, and 2) showing truth through it. If a book does these two things well, it will glorify God. Glorifying God is the purpose of the Christian life. If we write about sin gratuitously, or if we support lies, then our fiction won’t be worth reading.
     Of course, if a novel is written both by and for Christians, the label might be appropriate…but people who feel this way must not hold all Christian writers to this standard. Some don’t want to write books like that.
     Like me. I want to write for a Non-Christian market. *
     And either way, I think the label just limits your audience—it might scare them away. It sure scared me away for a long time. I didn’t know what to expect from a book like that. Would it be a morally-driven tale? Would it be about church kids? Would it say magic is evil? I really didn’t know. I’d never heard of most of them and I usually read whatever was popular at the time. I didn’t know any better. If the label “Christian Fiction” scared away a church kid like me, what do you think it would do to Non-Christians?
     I personally don’t think we need the label. Our values will show up in our writing.
     What do you think?

*Revising this to say: I want to write to an open audience, whether Christian or Non-Christian. I don't want to specify one and alienate the other.

Works Cited
Hatcher, Robin Lee. “What is Christian Fiction?” Originally excerpted from 10 Jan. 2013. Website. <>

Stievater, Maggie. The Scorpio Races. Broadway, NY: Scholastic Press, 2011. Print.

Photo Credit
By Istvan Kadar (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, January 4, 2013

A Negative Impact on Your Art

     In her essay "A Sweet Devouring," Eudora Welty described how her reading appetite has changed since childhood. She used to enjoy quantity over quality. Book lust. The more books in a series, the better. That didn't last forever, though, and she eventually began to care more for the content of her reading. "And then I went again to the home shelves and my lucky hand reached and found Mark Twain -- twenty-four volumes, not a series, and good all the way through" (251). She found a new kind of "Sweet Devouring."
     The idea of "more is better" is not an uncommon one in America, and the many trilogies and expansive book deals of late seem to reflect this. In her essay, Eudora Welty mentioned that a certain series was "one grand prevention" (250-251) of resolution. A series keeps the reader asking for the resolution, but doesn't give it until the final installment. Sometimes I just feel like I'm being strung along, as a reader, so that I'll keep buying books and giving the publishers my money.
     Trilogies are hot in the YA market, right now. I used to enjoy that aspect, but it's getting old. A lot of books just aren't interesting enough to merit several sequels. Not that all of them are bad, but many of them are just "eh." I'll read the first book and think, "Why didn't *insert author name here* stop after this book? It was fine, but there isn't enough room for expansion to create a series. I probably won't pick up the next book..."
     But I can think of examples that have the opposite effect. For instance: The Montmaray Journals. I'm reading the third book of this series and enjoying it immensely. Catching Fire, the second book in the The Hunger Games series, is another example. I thought it was even better than the first, which must have been tough to pull off because the first was already an incredibly engrossing Dystopia and a thought-provoking social critique. I couldn't put it down. Why?
     Suzanne Collins did not just add episodic adventure to episodic adventure in her series. She created, explored, related, and critiqued a whole society over the course of her three books and she made a statement about war. She used a compelling character in order to do so. The plot and character stakes grew in each book. And, of course, she made some interesting new comparisons between Panem and America in each book. Collins NEEDED three books to fully explore the concepts she tackled in the style she chose. Those are general ideas of about why THG worked so well over the course of a series. Maybe someday if I ever wise up (will I ever?), I can theorize about the specific craft work that powered Suzanne Collins's success.
     I hypothesize that when a book doesn't meet my high expectations for a series, it has something to do with money. When publishers release a book, they test reader response before releasing a sequel. They leave the story ending slightly open to keep up the possibility. If interest is low, they may not publish another book. If response is high, they rip out a sequel. I think the author should be allowed to write for however long their universe supports a good story and they should stop there. They shouldn't have to or want to stretch it on and on just to make big bucks.
     Movies can also have this problem. I anticipated watching The Hobbit like MY ENTIRE LIFE and was very excited to finally see it. Although I enjoyed a lot of it, the "sequel storm" definitely impacted the movie negatively. Because the story is being stretched into three separate films, someone had the, uh,  brilliant idea of attaching a whole subplot. No, no, no. That kind of thinking is all about money. *
     I'm resisting the urge to explain in-depth my thoughts about the new Bourne movie, The Bourne Legacy. Basically: they created it for money, and used the hype from the original Bourne movies to carry on a new, completely unoriginal story line.
     When art is created singularly for monetary gain, it's usually not very good. Don't get me wrong--all artists should get paid for their hard work. I even think it's okay for money to be a part of the reason you choose one project over another. But adding to a perfectly good story or stretching it out just for money is wrong, because the focus is not on art, but on money and how to make it.
     Scribblers, why do you write? Let's not get caught creating "one grand prevention" to get more money.

*Update 1/7/13: I did find out that the subplot was not entirely tacked on. Some of it was discussed in the Simarillion. still felt out of place to me. I understand what the producers were trying to do. I even like some of it--but parts of it felt silly. I won't ruin it for you. If you have any opinions on this matter, I'd love to hear about them!

Works Cited
Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. NY, Scholastic Inc., 2008. Print.
Welty, Eudora. "A Sweet Devouring." The Best American Essays of the Century." Ed. Joyce Carl Oates. Co. Ed. Robert Atwan. Ser. The Best American Series. Houghton Mifflin: 2000. Print.