Archive for November, 2022

writing, movies

Saving the Cat

I’ve started a rewatch of the Star Wars saga, going in internal timeline order, since some of the recent series have put things in a new context (I’m only including live-action shows and movies in this because there’s so much of the animation that it would take me years, and I recently finished watching Clone Wars). I’m on the prequels now, and I figured out a valuable writing lesson from watching Attack of the Clones last weekend that I actually used in my own writing because it made me realize what I needed to do in the scene I was working on.

I normally fast-forward through the Anakin and Padme scenes when I watch this movie because that part is painful while the rest of the movie can be a lot of fun. I made myself watch the whole movie this time, and I think Hayden Christensen gets a lot of unfair criticism for his performance. He actually does a good job portraying the character as he’s written. The problem is that his character seems to be in a totally different movie from everyone else, particularly Padme. They’re all reacting to a different person than we actually see, and I think that has a lot to do with it all being so unconvincing. He’s this seething volcano of arrogance and adolescent rage, someone who hates the universe the way it is and thinks he could fix it if he could force everyone to do what he wants, but everyone’s acting like he’s this great guy who’s just a little cocky.

The romance really feels out of sync. It seems like every romantic moment is preceded by a scene of him being kind of scary, or at least creepy. Padme hears him having a hissy fit about how he’s the greatest Jedi ever and how unappreciated he is, and she has to ask him to stop staring at her because he’s making her uncomfortable, then she calls him out for mansplaining her home planet to her — and that’s what leads up to their first kiss. Since I usually skip these parts, I’d forgotten what happened, and based on her behavior leading up to that moment, when he started touching her and leaned in for the kiss, I expected her to flinch away and tell him to back off, so the kiss came as a shock. Later, the scene of them romping in the meadow and rolling around on the ground, giggling, comes after the conversation in which he talks about a dictatorship being a good idea, something she actually seems to find alarming since it goes against everything she believes. So why is she getting all romantic with him immediately afterward? And then before she declares her love for him, she hears him go on yet another rant about being better than everyone else and admitting that he slaughtered all the sandpeople, including the children.

Thinking about this, it occurred to me that not only were there a lot of reasons why she wouldn’t have fallen in love with him, but they also didn’t bother to give any reasons why she would. During their whole side of the story, we don’t see him do anything kind or heroic. There’s the chase through the city scene at the beginning, but she didn’t see that, and then there’s the battle after she declares her love. But during the middle of the movie, when she’s supposedly falling in love with him, he doesn’t actually do anything. He’s there as a bodyguard for her, but he never has to save her. They don’t have an adventure together where they have to work as a team — even when they’re in that factory, they’re off on their own, not working together. She doesn’t see him help anyone else.

The funny thing is, George Lucas has managed to make this sort of thing work before. I also rewatched Willow last weekend (to prepare for the launch of the series). That story has an even higher hurdle for the “why?” since it’s an enemies-to-lovers story, but you can see why she fell in love with this guy (the actors were falling in love in real life and ended up married, so there is something of an unfair advantage since they had crazy chemistry, but I think the script still supports it). First, we saw the way her mother constantly criticized and berated her, so when the guy starts spouting poetry at her and praising her, we can see it get to her (he was under a love spell at the time, but she didn’t learn that until later). It may have been the first kind words she’d ever heard. Later, we see her react to him being loyal to and protective of Willow and the baby. Still later, we see her impressed by his swordsmanship and bravery, the fact that he’s singlehandedly taking on her army in order to protect Willow and the baby.

In screenwriting, there’s a term, “save the cat,” which basically means a moment in a story when you make the audience like a character by having that character “save the cat” — they have a moment when they do something kind or heroic without receiving any benefit from it. That’s particularly useful when introducing a character who might be edgy or problematic if the story isn’t going to show them being heroic or good for a while, but you want the audience to like them. For instance, in the animated Disney Aladdin, Aladdin is introduced as a thief, stealing bread and then running from the guards. Along the way, he sees a starving child and hands over the bread he stole for himself. That’s a save the cat moment.

But I think the save the cat can be more than just for the audience. It can be a way of making a character like another character. There’s an example of this in another Star Wars film. Early in Rogue One, Jyn Erso is kind of being a brat. She’s being forced to do something she really doesn’t want to do, and she’s got an attitude about it. Cassian Andor is having to babysit this brat on a mission he’s not crazy about, and he’s tired of her attitude. Then they get caught in the crossfire when a group of rebels attacks some Imperials. She spots a small child who’s out in the open, in danger, and she jumps out of her hiding place to whisk the child to safety and return her to her mother. It works as a “save the cat” for the audience because we see that there’s a kind heart underneath the attitude, and I think it affects the way Cassian sees her. They get along a bit better after that point. In Willow, there’s not really one particular save the cat moment, but the fact that this brash swordsman is willing to risk it all to protect the small, weak, and helpless has a similar effect.

And that’s what we needed some of in Attack of the Clones. Lucas may have gone too far in showing Anakin’s downward spiral starting so soon. Maybe he could have held off with the ranting and slaughter of children until after Anakin was already married to Padme, or maybe it should have been in secret and she didn’t know about it. But at the very least, Anakin needed to save a few cats. He needed to whisk a child from danger, use the Force to levitate a kitten out of a tree or stop something from falling on someone. We needed to see that he had a good heart underneath the attitude and the rage. And we never did see that. The audience does see him saving Obi-Wan a time or two, but Padme doesn’t see him doing or being good in the whole time between their reunion for the first time since she met him as a child and the time she declares her love for him.

The characters I’m working with aren’t nearly that problematic, but I did have a situation in which I needed to get one character to trust another character quickly, even though she met him in difficult circumstances, and after thinking about these movies it struck me that she needed to see him doing an act of kindness that showed a gentler, softer side to him. And from there, I knew what my next scene needed to be.

My Books

New Book and Holidays

The new book came out yesterday, and you should be able to find it at most places. It may take a while to show up on the various library services, and I just remembered that I haven’t yet put it on Google Play (but I haven’t sold a single book there yet, so that’s low on my priority list right now), but it’s at the big ones, and the paperback is available via Amazon. It should also eventually show up at other places, but it takes time to propagate.

This will be my last release of the year. I don’t yet know what the schedule will be for next year. It depends on a lot of things. I’m frantically writing the start of what I hope will be a new “traditional” fantasy series (secondary world, quasi-medievalish setting with horses and castles and an adorkable wizard because of course).

In the meantime, I’ll be taking next week off for the Thanksgiving holiday, so no blog posts from me. I need to do a little writing in between feasts and travel days, so keeping up with other stuff is more than I want to do when I need to take some time off.

See you after the holiday.

movies, writing, TV

Epic Overkill

A couple of weekends ago, I rewatched the Hobbit trilogy. It’s weird that it takes longer to watch the movies than to read the book they’re based on. They took a fairly simple book that was written to read to a kid at bedtime and turned it into a bloated epic. It’s pretty obvious the parts in the movies that came directly from the book. They tend to have a warmth and wit and are on a “human” scale (using the term loosely for this story). It made me think about epic vs. intimate in fiction. I think sometimes when writers or filmmakers go overboard in trying to make things exciting by making them epic, it comes back around to being dull. I kept checking the clock while watching these movies, and usually during the biggest, most “epic” scenes.

I think a lot of that comes down to something I’ve heard said about the news, that two lives lost is a tragedy, and two thousand is a statistic. Seeing one character we care about in a reasonable amount of peril against a foe they have a chance of fighting against can be gripping, but seeing thousands of faceless CGI characters we’ve never “met” in a massive battle is boring.

I had a similar problem with the overkill in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. There were so many cases when our heroes would be overwhelmed by swarms of orcs, and those scenes got kind of ridiculous. It was hard to believe that they could survive those odds without major plot armor. The scene would end up being the hero fighting about six stuntman orcs while dozens of CGI orcs swarmed around. I guess all the bonus extraneous orcs were meant to make the scene exciting, but it had the opposite effect on me. If they’d kept it to the few stuntman orcs, it would have made for a more engaging scene.

I think one way that the Rings of Power series worked for me was that the fights all had reasonable odds. It wasn’t a mass of CGI characters. It was mostly characters we knew fighting a realistic size opponent. We saw more of the one-on-one fighting in a way that seemed like either side had a chance of winning, without the need for plot armor and with skills that fit what we knew about the characters.

I’m in no danger of going too epic because that kind of mass battle doesn’t really interest me, but looking at things this way made me more aware of what interests me. I’m far more engaged by character interactions than I am by battles, and if you want me really engaged, make me care about the people. A few weeks ago, I had to pace the living room during an episode of Andor (to switch franchises) because I was so anxious about what would happen to the characters in a big heist/fight scene. I cared about those people, and the focus was on the characters we knew instead of them trying to make everything massive (it turned out that they actually had some other plans, but COVID restrictions meant they couldn’t do a big crowd scene, and so they wrote around their limitations in a way that made the story work better).

If you make me care, you don’t need all the epic bells and whistles to engage me. The makers of The Hobbit movies wasted a lot of money on CGI when they had strong enough characters (and actors) to keep us involved with something on a smaller scale.

My Books

Pre-order the Next Mystery

I can’t believe how quickly this crept up on me, but the holidays are almost upon us, and that means we’re a week away from the release of my holiday paranormal mystery, the latest book in the Lucky Lexie series, Mystery of the Secret Santa. It’s available for pre-order now. The release date is November 17, for those of you who aren’t like me and can’t deal with Christmas at all until after Thanksgiving. Or you could just make sure you’ve got it before you dive into Christmas stuff. The action in the book begins on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, in case you want to be totally in sync.

Mystery of the Secret Santa book cover

This is a fun little book that doesn’t get too dark. I didn’t want to write a murder for Christmas, so there are different kinds of cases. Mostly, it’s about Lexie getting to live out her Hallmark Christmas movie fantasies as the town goes all-out with a spectacular holiday celebration and finds out that Wes isn’t a big fan of Christmas. She thought she was living the “big city career woman comes to small town and meets local guy” story, but maybe it’s the “Christmas lover persuades Christmas grump to learn to love Christmas.” Unfortunately, she’s sidetracked in this effort by the Secret Santa, someone who seems to know all the secrets in the town and is sharing them, leaving notes for people letting them know what other people are doing behind their backs. There’s also the occasional gift left, things people never told anyone else that they needed. The gifts are good, but the secrets are really damaging the holiday vibe. And then there’s the wave of robberies at fast-food places and convenience stores — crimes in which the robber only takes small things, not money. Who is it and why is he doing this?

This is a fairly short book, so it should be good for the busy holiday season. You can sit down and read it when you have time to take a break. Make some cocoa, get some cookies, put on your favorite holiday music and escape to a small town right out of a Hallmark movie for a couple of hours.

The order links are on the book’s page.


Portal Fantasies

Like a lot of fantasy fans, my gateway to the genre was Narnia. I’d read fantasy books before, including the one Narnia book that was about someone in that world who didn’t travel between worlds (The Horse and His Boy, read during my horse phase when I read every book that had “horse” in the title or a horse on the cover) and The Hobbit, but the book that got me really hooked was The Silver Chair (yeah, I was all out of order). There was something about the story being told from the point of view of a character from my world who got to travel to a magical world that really captured my imagination. I devoured the rest of the series and from there got into fantasy that didn’t involve traveling between worlds. I guess I needed my hand held for that introduction, since I pretty much went straight from The Silver Chair to The Lord of the Rings.

I still love a good portal fantasy. It’s fun imagining that a magical world lies behind the wardrobe, through that odd doorway, behind that gate. I spent a lot of my school days imagining a portal opening up and someone coming through to take me away. That was the idea behind my book Spindled.

Spindled is now part of a new Storybundle that was put together by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association that’s all about portal fantasies. The idea behind the bundle is essentially “What am I doing here?” What do you do when you find yourself in another world?

If you’re not familiar with a Storybundle, it’s a curated group of e-books. You pay what you like for the bundle. By paying at least $20, you unlock bonus books (Spindled is a bonus book). You can get ten novels for $20 (but you can pay more if you like). Some of the money goes to support the efforts of SFWA and the authors split the rest. It’s only available this month.

You can find the info about the bundle and buy it at

A variety of book covers from the SFWA storybundle

Happy Friday!

I can’t believe it’s Friday already. It’s been a busy week. I’ve made a good start on writing a new book, scheduled my annual check-up, proofed most of another book, bought groceries, and done a ton of book-related research.

As a result, I have zero brainpower right now. I haven’t been able to think of anything to post about. My recent reading has been the middle of series I’ve already mentioned or else is book research. My movie viewing has been a series that I haven’t finished watching, so I’m not ready to discuss it and don’t have much to say about it.

So I’ll just say happy Friday, enjoy the weekend, and vote on Tuesday if you’re an eligible voter in the US. Don’t waste the power you’ve been given.


A New Start

I started work on a new book yesterday. Well, re-started. Or re-re-started. I first started writing this book about thirty years ago, then nearly ten years after that finally finished a draft. It never really worked and it got shelved after a few rejections. I took it out to play with a couple of times over the years because I could never quite forget it. Then last year I realized I was Doing It Wrong all that time and figured out how to fix it, but then found some other problems and shelved it again.

I took it out again to look at this summer and realized that part of the problem was that it was woefully underdeveloped. I hadn’t really figured out the settings and some of the characters. I’ve spent the past few months doing development work, and the more work I did, the more obvious how blank it was. I’m kind of embarrassed. But once I started really developing, it all clicked into place and became so vivid.

Along the way, I “recast” one of the main characters. I’d always seen him as a particular physical type, but lately I had a totally different image of him pop into my head. I resisted it because I knew the character the way he was, and this version was entirely different physically. But then the more I thought about it, the more right the new version seemed. It fits his character so much better, and the moment I made that change in my head, the character came to life for me in a way he never has before. I felt like I knew him so much better.

The scene I wrote yesterday is a totally new one, starting the story in a different place, and it was amazing how much easier it was to write and how much more interesting it all was when I had the details in place.

I’m doing double duty this week, drafting this book while also doing the final proofread on the next mystery. When I feel like I’ve run out of words, I switch over to the mystery and read a chapter out loud, then when my voice gets tired, I switch back to this book and write a little more. But I’m afraid everything else is going to fall by the wayside this week while I try to get all this done.