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Massive Update Like Whoa!

31 Jan

Dear Blogosphere (and Twitterverse, while I’m at it)—

I’m so not ignoring you. I know it must look that way, as it’s been FOR.EV.ER since I last posted. But, seriously: I have a good reason.

It’s called morning sickness. I’ll spare you the details.

Since I’m feeling well enough to type out a little update this morning, here goes. Yes, it’ll be mostly pictures, but whatevs—who doesn’t love pictures, right?

The past two weeks have been full of things like the following:

 

Thanks to the lovely Liza Kane—and the rest of the Internet, who simultaneously and inexplicably exploded their love for Veronica Mars one day last week—I proceeded to get myself hooked on the series. I am only, like, seven episodes in to the series, and I know I’m ridiculously behind the rest of the world. That said? DO NOT SPOIL IT FOR ME. Or else.

I have joined the ranks of e-reader readers. Thanks to this post by the fabulous Natalie Whipple, I decided to devote a good chunk of my birthday money to a sleek gray Kindle like the one you see here. Before Natalie’s post, I wasn’t sold on how useful it would be to me, but since I do a fair amount of beta reading (and, let’s face it, regular reading) I decided to take the plunge. The verdict? AMAZING.

These Jamba Juice Sorbet & Yogurt Bars are INCREDIBLE. I’ve been eating the Vanilla Strawberry Jubilation flavor, but while looking for a photo to use—the one pictured above—I stumbled across a whole blog post that informed me of four other incredibly incredible looking flavors. Want…neeeeeeeeed…

And, finally, we have Seryn. This band is fantastic. I posted a shout-out about them on Twitter last week, and I’ll say it again—check out their music. They’re wicked talented and their sound is chill in a really refreshing way. PS: I am not just saying that because I’m friends with three-fifths of the band. (The bass player, the awesome dread-headed girl, and the one with the banjo, FYI.) They just released their first album last week—it’s called This is Where We Are, and you can find it on iTunes or listen to a sample here. [UPDATE! Paste Magazine posted a video of the title track from Seryn’s new ablum—you can watch it here.]

Okay, that’s it for now. Must get back to watching Veronica Mars. I’ll post again soon, but disclaimer: my MWF posting schedule may be a bit erratic for a while.

The Verdict | Creativity Workshop Goals, Week 3

24 May

As you might imagine, on the morning after the Lost series finale, my head feels like popcorn popping in a microwave.  (I won’t spoil anything, promise.)  Ben Linus.  Smoke Monster.  Time.  Death.  Life.  Jack, Kate, Sawyer.  Locke.  Flocke.  Lemon-raspberry tart, jungle plates, apple crisp.  Guacamole, cabernet.  Vacuum.  Dishes.  Seating arrangement for nine in a tiny apartment living room.

Now that all the planning is over, the processing of what just happened? has begun.  Thus, I’ve already succumbed to the distractions of message boards, EW.com, and a let’s-discuss-this! phone call with my mom.  Finally, I tore myself away for productivity’s sake.  For now.

You might have guessed it already, but I, um, didn’t quite meet my Creativity Workshop goals this week.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, I blasted off with a full tank of fuel back on Tuesday, when I posted about the flamin’ ladybug story — trouble was, much as I REALLY REALLY REALLY wanted (and still want) to spend time on it, it was an altogether strange week.  Admittedly, the most I did on my story this week was to plan it and get way excited about it.

Though party-planning and general I’m-so-excited-yet-sorta-sad-that-I-get-to-find-out-how-Lost-ends bubbly feelings dominated the weekend, that’s not the only reason I was unproductive.  A few of the weekdays were just plain difficult, in terms of some personal stuff going on, and my willpower lacked its usual oomph.  On the days where the oomph was alive and kicking, I made some great progress on my novel edits and at the gym.  I was thisclose to completing a section of the novel, so when it came time to work, I gravitated toward that.

The good thing?

I’m not discouraged.  Still excited, actually, and encouraged that I made progress with the novel and the gym.  It’s really tempting to write the ladybug story this week instead of doing the third story in the set, but: no.  That would put a bad habit into motion, I think.  As excited as I am about it, I shall shelf it for now, knowing I have a great idea to come back to in the future.  Instead, it’s time to press on.

It’s especially tempting to write the ladybugs when I look ahead to this week’s project: Little Bo Peep and severed tails.  What in sideways world am I going to do with that?

No.  Clue.

(Yet.)

Okay, dudes.  I’m feeling that good old oomph right now, so I should strike while it’s hot.  The first goal of the rest of this week: get writing stuff done before I allow myself any more Lost message-board perusal.  Then, I’ll tackle the rest of the week.

PS: That picture of Benjamin Linus and his #8 bunny is a limited edition screenprint made by Todd Slater.  I want this.

[tweetmeme source= “olsonkayla” only_single=false]

Shadows, Sun, Stillness

21 Apr

Peace.  Today seems like it just might be full of it.

Unlike yesterday.

Yesterday, I learned that for some people, nothing goes better with 8:30am sun and breeze than a good, loud dose of rap music.  Bonus points if said music echoes through the entire courtyard when others are trying to concentrate.

I also learned that my idea of proper laundry room etiquette doesn’t exactly line up with everyone else’s.  Seriously, just because I got up early to use the four washing machines, it doesn’t mean I might want to dry my clothes right after that, you know?  It’s perfectly fine with me if you disregard the usual order of who-got-there-first and dump your own wet laundry in the dryer right when I’m about to use it.  Perfectly.  Fine.¹

But, whatever.  It was a sunny day, albeit a loud and laundry-filled day, and I did my best to be patient.  The music stopped, eventually, and my clothes are dry and folded.²  Even though my DVR somehow managed to not record Glee, it was still Tuesday: Lost-day.  Plus, my friend brought me a free non-fat latte and some Shiner for our midnight Lost-viewing refreshments.  (Public Service Announcement: there’s a reason Starbucks doesn’t make Grande Non-Fat Beer Lattes.)

Today, though: aaaaaahhhhhhh.

I can smell peace, and it smells like green grass and potted plants.  It sounds like breeze in the leaves, and the on-going conversation between the two little red birds who sit in those leaves.  It’s sun and shadows, and the fact that they’re shifting slowly.  It’s stillness.  This day will not escape me like yesterday did.

I’m fully aware that inner peace and circumstantial peace are two separate things.  Sometimes, though, circumstantial cacophony has its way of drowning out inner peace’s calm voice.  Today, the two peaces are having a nice little conversation.  I hope it’s a long one.

Better take advantage of this morning, so I’m off to start reading the last few chapters of Linda’s novel!  (PS: Go read Linda’s latest post, and not just because she says nice things about yours truly.  It’s full of honest perspective on rejection and the often discouraging querying process.)

I wish you all a peaceful day of sun, breeze, and birds.  (Singing birds, as opposed to creepy Alfred Hitchcock birds.  Also as opposed to the visually challenged kinds of birds who nosedive into windows, or birds who mistake big hair for their nests/toilets.)

¹I guess I should add, in her defense, that she cleaned her clothes in her own washer and they happened to need drying at the same time as mine.  Being dryer-less, what else was she to do?  Wait?  Though I understand where she’s coming from, it had a frustrating effect on me nonetheless, due to the way I had scheduled my day.  (Got up early to do laundry, only to have it take way longer than expected due to Dryer Girl.)  Add rap music to the mix, and the frustration was turned all the way up to eleven.  (This Is Spinal Tap, anyone?)

²As for dry, folded, and put away?  Not so much.

My Good Intentions? Totally Smoke-Monstered.

5 Mar

So.

You could say my life has been like Season Six of LOST lately, that I am stuck in a strange sideways world where things are mostly good but a little off, a little unusual.

You could also say my life has been like this week’s episode of LOST, where [MAJOR SPOILER ALERT AHEAD] [NO, SERIOUSLY, LIKE IF YOU EVER WANT TO WATCH LOST AND HAVEN’T, YOU TOTALLY DON’T WANT ME TO SPOIL THIS FOR YOU] [RACHEL, IF YOU’RE STILL READING, YOU’RE IN TROUBLE BECAUSE THESE SHOUTY ALERTS ARE MAINLY FOR YOUR BENEFIT] the Smoke Monster wreaks havoc on the Temple-dwellers, carrying them kicking and screaming to their own demise.

Okay, so it’s not totally like that.  Kind of, though.  I do feel like I’ve been swept up into a Bizarro World, and that my time has been Smoke-Monstered (and in this analogy, all of my good intentions = the doomed Temple-dwellers).  Usually, I’m the super-organized Queen of Self-Discipline, which makes it all the more annoying that I can’t put my finger on exactly where the time went.  Also usually, whenever I can’t put my finger on exactly where the time went, it’s safe to say I was perusing blogs or reading helpful articles about writing, but alas, I’m far behind on all of that stuff, too.

Fortunately, today is gorgeous and I have a large chunk of hours awaiting me.  I’ve planted myself (along with a too-thick stack o’ stuff) at Starbucks, and I’m going to WORK.  

And, oh, how much more productive I’d be if only I could get that episode-closing creepy-chilling rendition of  “Catch A Falling Star” out of my head.

Revision Update, Phase Two | Time has been ambushed by the Smoke Monster, and my good intentions are trapped in a pit à la Crazed Claire.  No progress has been made (gasp!) since last update, but luckily?  No progress also means no backward progress.  Time for a step forward.

Yellow Rainboots

8 Feb

Do you ever have those weeks that, when you get to the other end of them, feel like the past seven days were actually only one day?  That’s what I feel like right now.  It’s like I blinked, and BOOM: one day I was writing about my excitement over the LOST premiere, and then the next day (or, um, almost a week later) here I am wondering how I managed to take an unintentional week-long hiatus from blogging.

So.  I’m back, and I missed everyone!  I spent some of this morning catching up on posts I hadn’t read yet (for example, check out Merrilee’s latest on dealing with criticism: it’s greatness!).  The rest of the morning, I wore my yellow rainboots (both literal and figurative) since our parking lot is a river in this weather, and also since I’m still muddling through Phase One of Project: Edit.

Though I didn’t finish reading by Friday like I hoped I would, I don’t have too much more to do to finish out Phase One.  The Plan (detailed in this post) is going well.  My colored pens have not yet dried out, my spiral notebook isn’t in such pristine shape anymore, and I have thoughts of all sorts on how to make this thing better.  The pacing is more even than I thought it was, my plots and sub-plots are woven pretty well, and I haven’t seen too many loose ends just yet.  As suspected, the scenes are getting better as I read – they aren’t as skeletal as they were toward the beginning of the draft.  There are definitely areas that need work, but by and large it’s a huge improvement over the first draft.  

Anyway!  Time to get back to work if I want to put a bigger dent in today’s to-do list.  Better slip back into my cute yellow rainboots and grab my adorable new umbrella.

(FYI, the umbrella is a floral print of hot pink and yellow, with a navy blue backgrount: matches gray skies and yellow rainboots perfectly!)

Revision Update, Phase One | 245 pages down, 91 to go | 72.9% finished!

Happy LOST Day!

2 Feb

At the risk of sounding like an obsessed freak¹ — after eight months of waiting (impatiently), it’s LOST Season Premiere day!  It’s only ten in the morning, but I’ve already learned a few things today.  (Be warned: I haven’t had many lattes lately, and I’m having one now.  That, combined with my excitement?  Put on your seatbelts, because I’m feeling some energy today.)

First?  Today might as well be a holiday.  Examples include the email I got from my music-teaching mother:

“Happy LOST Day!  I moved around my piano lessons so I can watch — if Obama can rearrange his State of  the Union address, I can rearrange my lessons!”

and the text messages with friends, á la Christmas Eve, yesterday:

“It’s LOST Eve!  One more day!”

and the greetings from not one, but two, of my barista friends at Starbucks (granted, we watch the show together every week, rotating from house-to-house, Bible-study style, with desserts and coffee):

“Happy LOST Day!” (shouted in chorus when I walked in)

Examples abound.  You get the picture.

Second thing I learned this morning?  I’ve been (*sob*) spelling the word premiere without the final e for days and days.  I felt like a schmuckety schmuck when I figured it out and promptly rushed to add the elusive e to my latest Tweet and the invitation to our viewing party this evening.  Crisis somewhat averted.

Third lesson isn’t so much a lesson; it’s more like confirmation that yes, in case there was any doubt, I am excited about the season premiere.  While it is completely abnormal to, say, dream that you are a cast member of the show (who may or may not be Evangeline Lilly) and that you are trying to get back to the Island via military plane leaving from Alaska-slash-Miami (apparently my dream-world has not seen the script for the finale)(or an episode, for that matter)(or a map) — it is completely understandable that this dream would poke its way into my head on LOST Eve.  Especially after watching the brain-melting minute-long teaser-trailer a couple times in slow motion² to catch all the sneak-peaks into what’s to come.  

Lest you think I’m merely jumping up and down as if I’ve just been surprised with a Disney Cruise to the Bahamas³, I should mention that while I have zero focus right now, I am nonetheless completely inspired to work on my novel.  In sort of the same way I’ve been inspired by J.K. Rowling, I feel inspired by the writers of LOST.  

Seriously.  To write a show where, six seasons in, loads of people still care about your characters?  Your mysteries?  Where people feel simultaneous hatred and compassion for your villain(s), simultaneous empathy and frustration with your heroes?  Where people can read a zillion things into what you’ve written because you’ve managed to share just enough to raise questions about religion, literature, and mythology?  Where you write on two levels — one for the casual (though necessarily consistent) viewer, who just wants a story; and one for the engaged viewer who loves to unscramble anagrams, look for symbolism, pick out hidden easter egg clues, read into the very purposeful placement of details?  Where people dare to get this worked up over a season premiere, in full confidence that you’ll deliver because you deliver every single time?

Can you imagine writing, and executing, a story like this?  Can you imagine ideas coming from your brain and resulting with people who wish each other “Happy LOST Day!” in Starbucks, people who rearrange piano lessons, a  President who agreed to not conflict with what you’ve created?  

I can’t really imagine what that must feel like, to be honest.  

I’m consistently amazed by the process of creation, especially when that creation is executed in such a compelling way.  This is at the heart of why I love to write: to watch things form, to hope that the details will fall in such a way that inspire any inkling of resemblance to this sort of thought-provoking stuff.

Now, to try and get some work done before descending into the inevitable pit of party preparation: that’s my challenge for today.

Revision Update, Phase One | 134 pages down, 201 to go | 40.0% finished!

¹We obsessed freaks, by the way, prefer to be called devoted, completely intrigued fans.

²What?  It had new footage.  Very weird new footage.  Plus, it played in the middle of The Bachelor, which I have zero interest in whatsoever (except for the fact that Mr. Jake Pavelka Bachelor himself grew up, literally, about two minutes from where I currently live.  His parents live next door to my friend.) so I was easily distracted.  And it was about one in the morning.

³Which actually happened, by the way — my husband’s work surprised us with an all-expense-paid Disney Cruise that we get to take later this year.  Hello, bathing suits, beaches, sun, and ocean (and the gym!)!

Iron Sharpens Iron

3 Nov

Looks like I’m going for the less-traveled road, like I told you yesterday I thought I might.  In one of the comments on yesterday’s post, Jennifer Neri wrote:

Just write, stop thinking about it.  What will come will be your novel, and I am certain it will be great whatever way it goes.

(She also mentions her recent post about writing from intuition, which is excellent, and you should check it out here.)

Jennifer’s advice is so true, and so very helpful.  I shouldn’t lock myself into must-write-this mode – I should listen to the story, listen to the characters, and not just force them to squeeze into my little idea box I’ve molded for them.  Though it’s looking like my story is headed toward the direction I initially planned, the shape of its characters and story details are coming together in a totally unexpected way.  I didn’t expect to like these characters so much, honestly.

On a different-yet-related note, my NaNo friends are kicking butt and taking names.  They’re rocking so hard on this challenge it makes me feel inspired to do so much more than I already have.  I’ve met the Day 1 and Day 2 minimum word counts, and I’ve got a few hundred more to go before I meet Day 3’s expectation.  Though I’m blowing my personal levels of recent productivity out of the water, I’m so inspired to keep going because of all the committed people around me.  Shout-outs to my NaNo buddies:  J.C. Hart (6,262), Melissa (4,614), Joy of Dawn (3,230), Katherine (5,052), Brigid (6,842), and Nicole (6,444)!   

Well, the day is hardly over – it’s only 11 AM here – but today is looking to be another busy one, even without the writing.  I’ve got cleaning, cooking, and shopping to do, since we’re having friends over for dinner – we’re hanging out for the series premier of V, a new show starring Lost‘s Elizabeth Mitchell.  I should probably get to the gym, too, if I want to keep fitting into all the cute skirts I bought last week.

Thanks for being iron to me, you guys.  I’m sharper because of all of you.

NaNoMeter:  4,457 down | 45,543 to go

Stay Sane in November!

30 Oct

The cats are frolicking (with a vengeance, but frolicking nonetheless).  I just scored three super-cute skirts for $3 each at Ann Taylor Loft.  Thanks to Frugal October, we found ourselves victorious in the Us v. Our Finances battle this month, with more to spare than expected.  My favorite chef, Jennifer, eluded the dreaded elimination for the second week in a row on Top Chef (as she should, because she rocks).  And, it’s been another awesome week of writing.

Must be the calm before the storm.

Like many of you, and unlike many of you, I’m jumping in backs-of-my-thighs-first to the madness of November.  Here’s hoping I don’t end up bruised and black-purple, like my poor sister did, years ago, after an unfortunate leap from a bluff into the river¹.  I’ll be sure to post updates, though I’m going to try not to be exclusively NaNo-focused, since many of you aren’t participating.  Here’s a little something fun for all of us:

Owl and Sparrow’s Seven Tips for Staying Sane In November!  

(Hopefully, you’ll enjoy them whether or not you’re participating in NaNo – I think they apply to the rest of the year, too.)  Here goes:

#1: Priorities: Know Them & Remember Them.  Just because it’s November, doesn’t mean I can slap a pair of 1,667-Words-Per-Day glasses on my face and look at the world through them.  I’m still a wife, I still want to be a healthy person (meaning eat well, exercise, and sleep well), and commitments don’t just disappear for 1/12th of the year.  So I must remember that, first and foremost.  And I hope you do, too.

#2: Stress = Mess!  Stressing out, in my experience, only bears one fruit: more stress.  Doesn’t make you feel better to worry, doesn’t get more words written, it only gets in the way of a clear head.  How are ideas expected to flow through a messy, stressy brain?  So, I plan to stay calm, which leads me to…

#3: Kiss the Critic.  Goodbye, that is.  Everything written can get fixed later, but it won’t have a chance to get fixed if hours are spent agonizing over its inevitable lameness.  Lame just might be the precursor to awesome.  

#4: Squaliteed.  What do you get when you mix speed and quality?  Probably something better than squaliteed, but hey, it was the first thing I came up with.  In a challenge like NaNo, it’s inevitable that quality sometimes gets sacrificed for the sake of mere speed.  In the other eleven months of the year, speed gets sacrificed for quality.  Now’s the chance to smash them together.

#5: The Future is Now!  Especially if you were a passenger on Oceanic 815 and are stuck in the 1970’s with a little Benjamin Linus².  Oh, wait, we’re talking about writing, not the best TV show (ever) on the air?  My bad.  Here’s what I meant to say: write without worrying about the what-other-people-might-think-in-the-future stuff, and rather, write the what’s-the-best-it-can-be-right-now? stuff.  

#6: Chase the Cats, along with other stuff that has nothing at all to do with writing.  I’m pretty sure I’d even get sick of Lost if I watched it all day, every day, for all of November.  Same with writing.  Gotta keep it fresh so you’ll want to return to the story; make some biscotti or some mushroom soup, then come back to the project refreshed (and/or satiated with deliciousness).

#7: Unserious Seriousness.  Last but not least, it is a commitment – and commitments, self-imposed or otherwise, require follow-through.  That doesn’t mean it has to be a drag, though³.  How amazing is it that we have ideas, language, and tools to communicate them?  Food to eat, family to visit, cats to referee?  Other authors at our fingertips to bond with – whether they’re cramming their novels into one month, or spreading them out in a more timely fashion?  Life is amazing, you guys.  Make the commitment, but don’t miss the beauty of it all in the process.

¹In case you’ve ever wondered what small-town Texans do for fun when they’re in high school, it goes a little something like this.  When it’s daylight, go in droves to the river, jump off something high, get bruised if you land with your legs out, do it all over again.  When it’s dark, meet at the gas station and drive up and down the same road all night.  I wasn’t in the in-crowd in high school, so I didn’t get to participate in these exhilarating activities.  In case you can’t tell, I’m sooooooo bummed I missed out.

²Random Lost shout-out!  January, come soon, please…

³Feel free to remind me of this when November 29th rolls around, after the eight-hour drive home from seeing our Kansas relatives, and I’ve spent several days probably not writing.

And…I’m a Gleek. It’s Official.

24 Sep

I was practically designed to connect with all things Waiting for Guffman¹.  After last night, I’m thinking Glee just might satisfy as television’s answer to the deadpan musical madness I so connected with in Guffman.

It’s not just because of the singing football team, who pranced around a football, doing Beyoncé’s Single Ladies dance in order to distract the other team and slip past them to touchdown, and victory.  It’s not just because they sing popular music in new ways, and sing it well.  It’s not even (only) because Jane Lynch delivers gems like this without breaking a smile, supposedly for a segment on the local news:

I often yell at homeless people: Hey!  How’s that homelessness workin’ out for ya?  Give not being homeless a try! 

And, it’s not just because there are other one-liners in the mix, delivered so seamlessly you almost miss them.  For example, as said by Finn, a member of the football team:

I got this at the school library.  Did you know you can just…borrow books from there?  [insert look of awed wonder] All of ’em…except the encycolpedias.

No, it’s not just because of these individual things that I’m spiraling quickly into Gleekdom.  

It’s because – so far – they’ve done an incredible job of setting up conflict, introducing a large cast of characters, and weaving several story threads together at once.  They’ve given us reasons to keep watching: will Jane Lynch’s cheer team (the “Cheerios”) manage to destroy Will’s glee club?  Can Will, a loving husband who works incredibly hard, stick with his manipulative wife, even though he’s working extra hours as a janitor in order to pay for a gigantic dream house she wants (but doesn’t need), and to pay for the baby she’s told him they’re having – even though she found out she’s not pregnant, after all?  Add to the mix a lovable gay kid, an egotistical prima donna, an insecure football player, a pregnant cheerleader, and other memorable secondary characters whose stories, though we’ve seen only glimpses so far, are compelling.

So, they’ve introduced conflict, and begun to weave a bright fabric out of it.  Yes.  They’ve also juxtaposed the unexpected, like sticking the lovable gay kid on the football team, having them all dance on the field as a plausible plot point, and having the kid score the winning field goal, thus helping him to bond with his macho father.

I especially love the creative way they flipped the stereotype with two of the main characters, Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) and Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison).  One is a cocky coach, the other is a sensitive music teacher.  Putting a woman in the role of cocky coach, and a man as the sensitive type, puts a new spin on old clichés. 

Also cool?  They support every action and reaction and motivation, and they accomplish this by showing, not telling.  There are too many examples to list, but the one that sticks out to me at the moment is their use of popular music.  They don’t just stick in a song and dance – they justify it.  If not by direct plotting (the football scenario), they justify it indirectly.  Like a music video, they let images tell the story during certain songs, showing us what the character is feeling while she sings passionately².  

One last thing about Glee in this (very long) post: I know someone’s doing something right when the writing, and the execution of that writing, makes you feel.  I feel pain for Will’s marriage, frustration with his witch of a wife, shameful identification with the egotistical prima donna, compassion for the gay kid, and a whole slew of other emotions.  Sprinkled in with those is the huh? factor – scenes, settings, and witty lines that are off-the-wall, yet somehow make complete sense in context.

I like shows that make me laugh, feel, and think, all at the same time.  Unlike Community, which I blogged about the other day, Glee is teaching me effective ways to go about showing v. telling, expanding characters and their motivations, tweaking stereotypes, and stirring up conflict and tension.  If you haven’t seen it, we’re only four episodes in³, and you can click here to catch up on Fox’s website.

¹Small town + musical theater = things I’m all too familiar with.  Add in quirky randomness, desperate-for-something-to-live-for characters, and so-bad-they’re-awesome musical numbers?  I’ve been a fan since day one.  

²The song I’m thinking of here, specifically, was from the episode “Showmance.”  At the end, Rachel (Lea Michele) sings a song by Rihanna.  Let it be known that I hated this song with a vengeance before hearing her sing it.  By the end, I was moved to tears at her performance.  I connected with her not only by hearing the passion in her voice but by seeing the video roll clips of other story lines that made her feel like singing with passion.  Brilliant.  Click here to watch the excerpt from the show.

³In my opinion, the best episodes so far are #2 (“Showmance”) and #4 (“Preggers”).

Lock Them In A Room

20 Sep

It’s been a while since I’ve posted – oh, how I’ve missed it! – and even longer since I’ve written anything specifically related to the writing process.  Lately, it’s been all cats and bad drivers.

Not tonight, though.  I’m writing about writing tonight, y’all (though it’s disguised, in parts, as a television re-cap…trust me on this!).

Tonight is an effort to redeem the twenty-four-ish minutes I spent watching the new NBC comedy Community, which I hoped would be on par with The Office and 30 Rock.  Sadly, if the rest of the season follows suit after episode one, that hope is unlikely.  Thus far, I measure its worth not in how many times it made me laugh, but unfortunately, how many times it made me groan.  

The thing about Community is this: though it made me roll my eyes and sit there not laughing, it did inspire me to think.  Yes, I rolled my eyes, but why?  With such snappy dialogue (sometimes), why did it just not measure up to the tried-and-true treasures of the NBC wonderworld?

As a fledgling author, I’ve done my fair share of thinking about the whole what-makes-a-story-work question.  You’re familiar, I’m sure – depth of character, suspense, tension, conflict, realistic motivations, show-don’t-tell – all that good stuff.

I hate to say it (but I’m going to, anyway) – Community broke all of those rules in its pilot episode.  

First, we are introduced to a bunch of half-developed characters who have their own sorta-cliché little roles (the Pretty Girl, the International Dweeb, the Old Guy).  Then, we move from one uninteresting location to the next, and not only is there very little action, we basically just watch as two or more characters engage in conversation while they stand/sit in one place.  I’m pretty sure this is the definition of boring, and sadly, a bunch of quippy one-liners fell on deaf ears for lack of ability to call attention to themselves.  They drowned in a sea of static blahdom, crammed and glossed over.   Many words were written and read, but good writing consists of more than just words, it seems.

The main thing that inspired this post, however, was the lack of sufficient motivation present in their characters.  I noticed this particularly in a scene toward the episode’s end.

The scene:  Main Guy has crush on Pretty Girl.  Pretty Girl likes honesty, Main Guy is a liar.  Main Guy offers to tutor her in Spanish, but he doesn’t know Spanish.  She agrees.  To Main Guy’s annoyance, International Dweeb invited several people to attend the tutoring session.  All are strangers at this point.  Cliché Strangers don’t get along and awkward bickering ensues.  Pretty Girl pulls Main Guy aside, tells him to fix it.  Main Guy goes back in the room and gives witty speech to Cliché Strangers, who listen and cease the awkward bickering.

Okay.  Now that you have the run-down, what bothers me so much about this scene is why don’t they all just leave?  It’s not like they’re forced to be in this room at the library, at a study group together, with a man who isn’t really in charge of anything.  The door is open, they could just walk right out.  But they don’t.  They sit around a table and bicker, they sit there while Pretty Girl talks with Main Guy, they sit there as if they’re chained to the chairs.  Are they really such losers that they’d rather sit in a room at the library all afternoon with a bunch of strangers, mad at each other?  Are they really that desperate for something to do?  Same with Pretty Girl – if she doesn’t trust or like Main Guy, why not just leave?  She only met him two-and-a-half seconds ago.

This, obviously, got me thinking about conflict and proper motivations while writing characters in our novels.  Characters need to be believable, and not flat paper-dolls puppeted by our contrived little agendas.  We have to lock them into rooms with their adversaries if we want them to stay, because logically, why would a person stay around someone who is berating, abusing, torturing them, or just plain wasting their time?  And, these rooms aren’t merely physical – we have to lock them to the conflict by developing what’s at stake emotionally.  Only then do motivations become plausible, and staying face-to-face with the enemy becomes not only reasonable, but inevitable.

And…that’s the end of that.  To make up for my (slightly negative, though good-natured) criticism of Community, expect a more positive post in the near future about Glee, a show that is inspiring me in much more fun and sparkly ways!

Anyone else have an example of how pop culture has influenced your writing process, whether for good or for bad?