Monday, August 27, 2012

Why Movies Are Never As Good As The Books

How many times have we all been let down when the theatrical release of a beloved book comes out? There are always high hopes, expectations are lofty, but in the end, many of us leave the movie theater feeling cheated and a little jaded.

After pondering this phenomenon for some time, I've come to a few conclusions:

1) Interpretation. When you're reading a great book, your imagination takes over. In your mind's eye, you've recreated the setting and characters in vivid detail. However, what if the direction of the film version of that great book has a completely different take on some (or all) of those elements? All of those things that you've breathed life into on your own suddenly comes crumbling down and you're forced to watch another person's "incorrect" ideas within your beloved book.

2) Engagement. Reading engages the brain. Yes, I'm going to go all scientific on your ass. Science has shown over and over again that watching a movie (or TV show) is a passive behavior. Overall brain activity drops, and it even disengages during the viewing. When reading a book, your brain emits more hi-beta waves, which means your brain is busier at work. So it's easy to see why you can gain much more satisfaction from books. It's a case of active vs passive activity.

3) Format. The average five hundred page novel takes about 20-24 hours of total reading time to complete. It's so much easier to create a richer story with three-dimensional characters going through all kinds of sub-plots. A movie is two hours (or less) long. A director has to try to take 24 hours worth of stuff and condense it by 1/10th. That's a tough job. That's like asking someone who's 300 lbs and 6'8" to wear an 8 month old's onsie. I mean, you can do it, but it's gonna be painful.

There are several movies that have come pretty close, however. And many will argue that there are films out there that have even surpassed their literary origins. Here are a few that come to mind:

Harry Potter. The books are fun, and rich. The films are pretty good too. Although many who have read the books still long for the movies to be a more literal translation of the novels. Look folks, that's pretty impossible. Overall, the movies did a great job and many fans of the books love the movies too.

Lord of the Rings. Yeah, Merry and Pippin are regulated to C3PO and R2D2 status in the films. The Dumb and Dumber version of Middle Earth, if you will. These two characters are not portrayed this way in the books. Despite the differences, the movies are still pretty awesome.

Shawshank Redemption. This is one movie that many could argue surpassed the book version. I love this film, and it's easily in my top 5 of all time. The novella went by the title of  "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption." I think maybe the film had an advantage, as many of the differences between the novella and the movie were insignificant.

The Princess Bride. If you haven't read the book, you need to do it NOW! Of course like many others, I saw the movie first and then read the novel. The literary version is much more detailed and goes deeper into the back story of the secondary characters. But I love this movie. I can pretty much recite the words, but I refrain from doing so in order to keep from being struck from behind with a shoe.

Twilight. In my opinion, the movie is a little better than the book. But we're comparing shit to shit here. I'm sorry for offending any of you Twerds, Fanpires, and Twihards. The novel was horribly written. As a heterosexual dude, there was no adolescent female fantasy nerve that was struck while I ploughed through this terrible book. The movie is still bad, but not nearly as awful.

Can you think of any other movies that come close to the original books?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

My Personal List of Sci-Fi and Fantasy Cliches

Femme Fatale: This is my cliche stance!
Every single story (TV, movie, or book) has tropes. Nothing is wrong with tropes. In fact, we LOVE tropes. Especially if it's an interesting and original twist on a trope we love and recognize. When does a trope become cliche?

When the trope becomes so predictable, and it not only kills any kind of tension in your story, your audience (yawn) gets bored. That's when a trope starts going in to cliche territory.

Below is just my personal list of cliches that I'm sick of. These are cliches that will require some kind of crazy-ass twist in order for me not to groan and throw my hands up. For me, once something goes into the cliche universe, it's almost impossible for even the most creative genius to resurrect such a tired, overused, and boring cliche.

1) Normal everyday Joe/Jane learns about their secret heritage. Learns some awesome skills/unlocked powers and kicks everyone's ass.

2) Lasers hitting metal and making an explosion. Oh, and laser guns recoiling. Yes, this is science fiction, but you can't make me suspend that much belief.

3) The old mage/wizard/teacher that helps the hero save the day. I don't mind characters having teachers, but when they're used deus ex machina, I get bored. 

4) Sentimental little sayings between loved ones. I've read a few books with this little mechanism. It's to do two things: foreshadow the death of one of them AND to make that death more painful for the reader. One book I read had a mother and son have their own little cute saying. I think it was something like "Only you and me forever" or something hokey like that. The moment I read that, I thought to myself, That mother is toast!

5) Evil bad guy/gal that's evil and ruthless only for the sake of being evil and ruthless. Just so you know, tyrants never see themselves as evil. Tyrants believe they are HEROES. Give us some three-dimensional villains!

6) Speaking of villains - how about villains that are scarred, maimed, or defective in some way? Whether an eye patch, a robotic claw, or a big ass jagged scar across their face...sick of these visual cues. 

7) Elite or royal guards that couldn't defend their lunch from the cafeteria bully. Oh, and the bad guy's minions/sidekicks are blindly loyal and moronic.

8) Humans are determined to be so unique and amazing to aliens because of our capacity for emotions. And then we're told that emotions (our capacity for love) is both our greatest strength, and our greatest weakness. (Yack, barf, barf).

9) Prophecy of the Chosen One. Pretty sick of this. Many times, it ties into Cliche #1 above. Writers try to avoid this cliche by sliding a little "Accidental Hero" trope, or "Anti-Hero" trope in there, but we all recognize this cliche. And it's so overdone.

10) Main characters that don't die. As a reader, I don't ever feel real tension if I'm sure a main character is seemingly immortal, no matter how dangerous the obstacles are in front of them. Thank you George R.R. Martin for breaking this cliche.

11) Magic Schools. From Hogwarts to Camp Half Blood (Percy Jackson), I'm bored of this one. A school for wizards, vampires, gods, werewolves, heroes, etc.

12) Speaking of vampires and werewolves, I'm sick of them too. You can go ahead and add angels who come down and fall in love with humans. Damn you Twilight. Had to put a paranormal twist on Romeo & Juliet.

13) Female cliches. We're all tired of the damsel in distress one. But what about the smart-mouthed kick ass one? I think we've rocked the boat too far in the other direction. It seems tons of paranormal romance, sci-fi, and urban-fantasy stories have a very pissed off female that kicks everyone's ass. But then her heart melts when she falls for the alpha male.

I especially get annoyed when this tough woman finally "lets go" and isn't such a wisecracking ass kicker when she finally gets some good lovin' from some stud. Isn't this characterization demeaning to women???

14) Love triangles. 'Nuff said.

15) Evil Dark Overlord Villain Dude dies by falling. I guess nothing is more satisfying than watching the bad guy falling in slow motion. I guess bad guys never heard of HAND RAILS.

How about you? Are you sick of any cliches?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Release Day! Weighted, by Ciara Knight

Ciara, who is a great writer and blogger buddy, is celebrating the release of her newest work: Weighted, a prequel novelette for her upcoming series, The Neumarian Chronicles. You can grab a copy any number of ways. Check it:

Barnes & Noble
And if you get your ebooks elsewhere like iBoostore and Kobo, don't fret - it'll be there soon.

You can also put it in your "to read" shelf on Goodreads.

So what is Weighted about? Here's a blurb for your viewing pleasure:

I see spy a steampunk clock!!!

The Great War of 2185 is over, but my nightmare has just begun. I am being held captive in the Queen’s ship awaiting interrogation. My only possible ally is the princess, but I’m unsure if she is really my friend or a trap set by the Queen to fool me into sharing the secret of my gift. A gift I keep hidden even from myself. It swirls inside my body begging for release, but it is the one thing the Queen can never discover. Will I have the strength to keep the secret? I’ll know the answer soon. If the stories are true about the interrogators, I’ll either be dead or a traitor to my people by morning.

Wow! Dang. Looks like our young protagonist, Raeth Arteres is in a bit of a pickle. She's taking on the Queen of Earth? This book sounds like it's got some science fiction, futuristic apocolypticalations goin' on, and some cool paranormal stuff in there too.

Look at that cover! You all know I'm a big steampunk fan. That giant clock has got steampunk written all over it. If you want to read an actual excerpt from Weighted, click HERE.

Technology is a wonderful thing, isn't it? I think one interesting evolution in the publishing world is how authors are able to get short stories and novelettes out there to a hungry audience. It's a great way to get a short piece out there to satisfy readers, and build that audience for the upcoming books tied into that introductory piece.

Ms. Knight's The Neumarian Chronicles will encompass the following books:

Escapement (Book I) Early 2013
Pendulum (Book II) Mid 2013
Balance (Book III) Early 2014

Ciara is one busy writer. She also has another series out right now. Her Battle of Souls Series consists of:
Love's Long Shadow (a novelette)
Fall from Grace (Book II)
Ascension of Evil (Book III) - coming in October!

So why should you read Ciara Knight's incredible books? Because she got ME to read, finish, and really enjoy a book with romance in it. That's a tall order! Ciara's style has such an effortless flow, and she pulls you in immediately with all kinds of dramatic tension.

What's also great about much of Ciara's work is that you can't easily pigeonhole her stories. Yeah, you could put The Neumarian Chronicles in the YA paranormal shelf, but there's so much other stuff in there for everyone to love. You're going to get adventure, action, a little gore (the Queen love to torture for goodnessakes!), fantasy, and science fiction...all rolled into one.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Body Language - Let Me Hear Your Body Talk

Yippeeee! My plane didn't crash.
I was in Dallas all last week, Sunday through Saturday (although I was supposed to come home Friday night). In fact, Friday was my daughter's birthday, and yes, I did miss it on account of my plane having a mechanical issue. Seriously, when I smelled that weird stench that something was burning, I knew we were doomed. Apparently, some kind of electrical mechanism burned out, so we had to wait for a new plane.

Anyhoo, I was in Dallas for some sales training. Yeah, hee-haw! The first day focused on presentation skills. I rolled my eyes too, but in the end, it was very interesting. Since I'm in sales, I rely on reading body language quite a bit, and I even studied it in college. I'm not sure about the 93% of communication being non-verbal stat you hear quoted a bunch, but we can all agree that it's often how you say something that tells the REAL truth.

Here are my tidbits of body language that you can keep an eye out for when you're at work or heck, even on a date!

Hands Clenched. Ever see someone at a meeting that looks like they're praying. Their hands are clenched together, fingers interlaced, palms touching. This is not to be confused with the "steeple" gesture. Scientists say that the hands clenched gesture shows frustration. The person doing the clenching is hiding negative feelings. Experts also say that how high the clenched hands indicates just how negative they are.

So if the clenched hands are up (elbows on the table) near his face, they're more negative. If they're on the table, even with the elbows, less negative, and then others might have their clenched hands down near or below their waist, showing even less negative attitudes.

I got the power!
The Steeple. I also call this the spider and its shadow. With this gesture, the person it touching their fingers, but their palms are not touching. If they raise this "steeple," it shows confidence - even arrogance. You will see managers and people in positions of power often perform this gesture. This is so true. While in training, we had a district manager with us, and when he spoke, he did the steeple a lot, keeping it near his face. It shows a know-it-all attitude, and this guy was definitely a know-it-all.

However, if you lower the steeple down to your waist, however, experts say that shows someone is listening keenly. It shows confidence too, but a more open kind of confidence.

Hand-to-Mouth Combat. Also called the "mouth guard." When someone is trying to deceive you with their words, they will put their hand to their mouth. The brain is trying to suppress the lies. Often, liars will even do a fake cough and then cover their mouths. LIAR! If the speaker does the mouth guard, he's lying.

If the person listening does the mouth guard, guess what - they think YOU are the liar.

Nose touching and eye rubbing are variations of the mouth guard. Not good signs that the person you're speaking with is being honest with you. By the way, if a person's nose is itchy, they will scratch the damn thing. If they're lying, they will lightly touch or brush their nose. You know that's not going to satisfy an itch!

Interesting Dating Gestures. This is where we separate the boys from the girls. The following is only for heterosexual folks only, although I'm pretty sure many of the gestures also somewhat follow similar patterns with those that are homosexual. The sexes all have separate gestures indicating how attracted they are to someone. Men will hook their thumbs (think cowboys in Western movies) into their waist or belts to show how virile they are.

Hubba hubba!
Women will often point with their knee towards the guy they're interested in. The shoe fondle is also a pretty obvious signal. A female will have one knee tucked under the pointing leg, and then they will slip their shoe on and off. Use your imagination as to what that means, you dirty birdie.

When men enter a big social gathering where women are present, they will pretty much seek to make eye contact with just about every single woman there. If the women returns the gesture, that means (at least) some initial interest or attraction. Basically, men are looking for one thing: willingness.

Women are a little different, they will scan the room, seeking out the attractive men. But they zero-in on their man of choice. Women are much more picky and discriminating in such a social setting.

Finally, Eye Contact. Don't stare into someone's eyes for longer than five seconds. Otherwise, it creeps people out. I hate it when people stare into my eyes - especially in business settings. It's like they're trying to dive into my soul. 3-5 seconds, and then break the gaze. Obviously, you can return to looking into someone's eyes (and if there's attraction, go for it). But in a more professional and non-dating situation, watch the eyeball lock!

But there are also cultural differences at work with eye gazes. For example, Japanese people look at a person's neck instead of their face while having a conversation.

If you're speaking with someone, in order to build rapport, make sure you match the other person's gaze 60-70% of the time. Anything over that, you might come off as too aggressive or a damn stalker.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Dialog Tag Wars

In January, I did a post about how to avoid the common mistakes in dialog. You can check it out right HERE. Since then, I have received several questions via email about dialog tags. It seems to be a hot button for many writers.

I spent a vast majority of my writing career editing, and I have seen my share of great and not-so-great ways to use dialog tags. Overall, it's all about balance. If you put a bunch of descriptive dialog tags in your writing, it becomes a major distraction.

If you get any one thing from this post, it's this: there is nothing wrong with the word SAID.

SAID is a great way to tag dialog. It's practically invisible and readers fly right over it without thinking twice. Using "said" helps your writing flow, and without consciously knowing it, readers appreciate it when writers use "said." It allows the reader to concentrate on the dialog and action of your story instead of trying to interpret cutsey tags.

Here's a couple examples of using descriptive dialog tags:

"You will die," he seethed.

"I quit," she sobbed. "Leave me alone."

"Oh please," he groaned.

What's wrong with these dialog tags? They actually don't make sense. Go ahead and groan. Did you actually groan any words? Try seething. How do you seethe words at all? Get rid of these. They are one of the first signs of amateur writing. Use of these descriptive tags is TELLING instead of SHOWING.

My favorite list of stupid dialog tags also include: hissed, spat, gasped, cajoled, snorted, moaned, and ejaculated.

Yes, ejaculated.

So how can you show description and not use these goofy dialog tags? You can do a number of different things:

1) Drop the tag. If there's two people talking and it's obvious who's speaking, you don't always need dialog tags after every single block of dialog.

2) Use action. Example: His eyes narrowed. "You will die." BE CAREFUL! If you litter your dialog with all kinds of action, your book will read like stage direction for a play. I've made that mistake too many times to count. Action tags, if used properly, can be powerful. They can not only help the reader understand who's talking and show what's happening, they can give the reader some insight into your characters.

3) Use "said." It's tried and true. "Asked" is another great dialog tag that readers don't stumble over.

4) Use "said" with a little action. Example: "Oh please," he said with an exaggerated roll of his eyes.

What about alternative dialog tags?

These include: whispered, admitted, yelled, shouted, taunted, suggested, confessed, noted, examined, concluded, retorted, argued, questioned, offered, advised, etc.

Use these sparingly. They're not bad at all, and once in a while, it's good to put one in just to change things up a little. But just make sure it's not redundant.

Example: "I suggest you wear the blue one," he suggested.
Example: "Watch out for the tornado coming your way!" he screamed.

Both of these examples show redundancy. So tread carefully when using alternative tags.

And if you use the word "ejaculated" as a dialog tag, I will hunt you down and burn your manuscript.