Montage: For Books!

Montages in movies are a lot of fun.  They spend a tiny amount of time showing us the most interesting parts of training, scientific discovery, and any other thing that needs to happen but would take a lot of time to live through.  Rocky goes from inept to competent in a matter of minutes.  Hiccup discovers the quirks of the man-killing beasts he’s feared all his life over the course of weeks, possibly months— condensed into a handful of quick scenes.  Iron Man builds a suit in his basement through trial and error, without destroying the pacing of an otherwise quick and fun movie.

Can books do this?

It’s a question I’ve had for a while.  Movies are easy to consume because they take little time compared to books, but books and prose are what I want to write.  The techniques that work in movies— the character arcs, the plot twists, the magic systems— usually work in books as well.  But those are story elements, for the most part.  The presentation of those elements, such as slow pans, jump cuts, close-ups, and the like?  Those are restricted to movies.  They have parallels in the book world, of course, but the book world has its own tricks movies can’t match.

So how can we take the idea of a montage and apply it to prose? (more…)

Imagination in Character

One of the things that struck me most about War and Peace was the style of characters.  None of them were the same, but they were portrayed so elegantly and truly that I couldn’t help but love them.  Even though it was written in third person omniscient, War and Peace seemed to go inside the minds of every character, helping me know them exactly and completely.

One day, when I was halfway through the book for the first time, it struck me that the characters were imagining things.  I stopped.  “Hey,” I thought, “I do that too!”  I imagine sequences of conversation between my friends and I, what I’m going to do when I grow up, and what it would be like to enter a whale rodeo.  Some things are fictional, sure, but that’s what catapulted me into writing fiction.  Other things might come to pass… under very lucky circumstances. (more…)

Kill Me Quickly

Which is more emotional, dying fast or dying slow?

In stories, deathbed scenes are often annoying because of the amount of last words the dying man whispers.  He’s waiting at death’s door, but he can still make a speech on why the villain must fail, speak a blessing over the main character, and prophecy the winning score in the next football game.  Death is more patient than I thought.

Death scenes are emotional to the extreme.  The death of a villain is triumphant and contented.  The death of a friend is dark and angering.  The death of a traitor is grim and satisfying.  Every death scene needs to evoke feeling in the reader, but drawn out scenes can defeat the purpose.  During a death scene, the reader assumes it will end in death as long as it feels like a death scene.  If the dying man opens the conversation by saying he doesn’t have long, the reader waves goodbye and tells the main character to hurry up and defeat the villain.  Once it is assured, it’s happened in the reader’s mind.  There is no shock involved. (more…)

“Weird” is Never an Insult

Have you ever felt ecstatically weird?

It’s a nice feeling.  It’s a happy feeling, but it’s a feeling that, when expressed, will earn you more odd looks than a cyborg penguin in court.  I felt this feeling in abundance yesterday.  Why?  Because I felt ecstatically weird.

In short, it’s a feeling of pleasure derived from the knowledge that you aren’t completely normal, but that it’s okay not to be.  It can also be defined as the feeling you experience just after you get a particularly strange or childish idea.

I felt ecstatically weird yesterday after doing a few things, listed below: (more…)

The Top Five Characters From My Bookshelf

There are few characters in literature that I’ve encountered that have really made me love them.  There were characters that I liked, but high above those were the characters with beautiful personalities.  The following is a list of five amazing characters I’ve encountered in my own reading. (more…)

Low Self-Esteem and How to Conquer It

You’d think that reading good books often is inadvisable to young writers because their self-esteem will be crushed, palpitated, then thrown off a cliff for good measure.  For some odd reason, this is not the case.

For young people particularly I can’t think of any better aid to developing your writing skills than by studying how others have done it.  — Chris D’Lacey

Read a lot.  — Christopher Paolini

The best writers are voracious readers.  — Rick Riordan

There are a few quotes from three of my favorite authors.  Notice anything about them?  Yeah, they all say the same basic thing:  Read if you want to write well.  Why do they say this?  Because people get better at what they do if they watch the experts do it first.  Perhaps this is only a bit of self-promotion by these authors, but I think it’s genuine advice.  All of the writers we love, all the writers we admire, they all began simply: they read stuff they liked.  Eventually they began to write, and what we see in bookstores today is what they wished they could have had to read as kids.  I’m serious.  If you don’t write what you’d like to read, you will neither like writing it nor will anyone like reading it.  If you’re enthusiastic, it shows.

But I digress so massively I’m surprised the floor hasn’t begun to slope.

A month ago, whenever I read a good book, part of me would be thrilled (the reader part) and part would be depressed (the writer part).  The trouble was that I recognized good writing.  With a jolt, I’d realize all of a sudden that I wasn’t as good a writer as, say, Alexander Dumas, Rick Riordan, Cornelia Funke, Chris D’Lacey, Leo Tolstoy, or any other you’d care to mention.  Especially with Riordan’s writing, I’d have a bad case of inferiority complex just after finishing one of his books.  I remember finishing the Son of Neptune and writing to one of my friends on how “reading Rick Riordan makes you feel inferior.”  I was just in utter awe of the writer’s prowess.  Now, however, I’m quite happy to note that I’ve gotten over this feeling quite completely.

Unfortunately, I’m slightly ashamed of the reason for this.

You see, I had seen Rick Riordan as a perfect writer who had no flaws.  Though people dock points on reviews for his books having too many typos, I always overlooked that since, well, they weren’t his fault.  It was the typist, after all, who was falling asleep on his typewriter.  It wasn’t the author’s fault that there were gross misspellings and errors in the text.  But at last I found a flaw.

You know the best way to boost your self-esteem?  Find fault in someone else.  I say this half jokingly, since of course no one likes having their mistakes pointed out in a brutal manner.  Politeness and tact is called for, but that doesn’t mean you can’t laugh maniacally in your bedroom as you realize– “Rick Riordan isn’t perfect!”  Just don’t crow it to the world with too big a smile on your face.

Many amazing authors used to make me feel very very inferior.  But do you realize that you learn more from finding the flawed and realizing what could have been done better than from admiring the good stuff?  Most of the time it’s a combination of the two, but usually it’s learning from the mistakes of others that can make you great.  Everyone says learn from your own mistakes– why not learn from everyone else’s, too?

Admiration does not come from just standing and watching a perfect person from afar.  True admiration begins when you see the fault of another, recognize it, and still like the person for what they are.  Isn’t that the lesson countless fairy tales have tried to pound into our heads with a sledgehammer?  Though finding fault with someone may mean the person isn’t as perfect as they first appeared, if you still think the person is great, even though you’ve found that fault, it means they are great indeed.  If you find fault and they no longer have the same appeal to you, they probably aren’t worth your admiration.

In my mind, it is beneficial to find fault.  In moderation.  If you can find fault with someone you admire, it means that you aren’t following them blindly.  If you live to find fault with someone, you’ll soon find yourself not admiring them anymore.  It’s the difference between giving constructive criticism and insulting.

I have finally found Rick Riordan’s fatal flaw, but I admire him nonetheless.  I found fault with Christopher Paolini and admire him much less (but still a lot), since his flaws were more serious.  I found flaws in Obert Skye’s writing, and yet he remains one of the most creative writers I have the pleasure of knowing.  You find flaws with something and you remove the film from your eyes.  You see the person in a new light.  But if the person still seems admirable in that new light, they’re worth the admiration.

Otherwise, they aren’t worth it.  The rubbish bin awaits.