Books, TV

Playing with Pride and Prejudice

I’ve finally started digging into the pileup of Christmas movies on my DVR. Last night’s was an old Lifetime one, The 12 Men of Christmas, which is basically a retelling of Pride and Prejudice — a PR exec who lost her job and seems to have been blackballed from other agencies after she caught her boss making out with her fiancé at the office Christmas party takes a desperation job of promoting a small Montana town as a site for corporate retreats. She gets off on the wrong foot with one of the locals, and Pride and Prejudice ensues, with the external plot centering around her idea to raise money for the local search and rescue squad by doing a sexy calendar involving the men on the squad. Of course, “Mr. Darcy” is against it because it’s beneath his dignity, and it doesn’t help that “Mr. Wickham” is gung-ho.

And then my bedtime listening was the last part of an audio drama of Pride and Prejudice. Which seems to have led to my waking thought this morning being to wonder if anyone’s ever done a gender-flipped version of this story. I’m not sure it would work in the original setting because so much of the plot involves gender politics — the precarious situation of Lizzie’s family because they were all girls and the estate was entailed, which required them all to make good marriages; the scandal of the elopement, which affected the woman’s family more than the man’s. But it would be interesting to play with the idea of the woman being proud and aloof and the man taking an instant dislike that skews his discernment about anything anyone says about her.

Next thing I know, I’ve got a TV Christmas movie playing out in my head — there’s a family with five sons who run a ski lodge. They’re barely keeping the business afloat and need a huge influx of cash. Then they learn that a wealthy woman (maybe a movie star or rock star?) has rented a chalet in town. Maybe they could get her to invest in their lodge — or, since she seems to hit it off with the oldest son, they might end up with a cash infusion in another way. Unfortunately, her haughty best friend gets off on the wrong foot with the second oldest son, who then hears some nasty rumors about her from one of the guests staying at his lodge — a guest who’s actually a con artist who scams the youngest brother.

Hmm, maybe I’ve got my next Christmas story right there. But for it to be me, I’d have to find a way to add a dash of magic. I was thinking I’d have to write it in third person, or else write it from Mr. Lizzie’s perspective, but then it occurred to me that this story from Ms. Darcy’s perspective might be interesting. To some extent, part of the fun of the original story is not knowing what’s really going on in Darcy’s head, so we only see him the way Lizzie sees him, but it might be fun to flip that around and be in the Darcy character’s head, with all the “what is wrong with these people?” that surely must be going on.

There’s a conference in a ski resort town (though not during ski season) that I’ve been thinking about going to next year. That would be a great opportunity to research this story. I’m not sure it has to be at a ski resort, but that was the setting that occurred to me and where I see it playing out.

My Books

The Story Behind the Holiday Story

Holiday movie season is now in full swing, which means I feel a lot less inappropriate about promoting my holiday novella, though I haven’t actually started watching the holiday movies yet. My DVR is filling up, though, so there will have to be a binge at some point.

So, anyway, I have a holiday novella that’s on sale now. You can get more info and the sales links here.

Twice Upon a Christmas cover

Hallmark gets all the press for these now, and it’s become such a thing for them that they start showing non-stop Christmas movies before Thanksgiving and even show some during the summer, but even before they made themselves the Christmas movie channel, there were others doing it (and doing it better).

The first one I can recall that fit the mold of “romantic comedy set at Christmas” rather than the kinds of movies that are more directly about Christmas — the Santa Claus movies, various versions of A Christmas Carol, etc. — was on the Family Channel (which has gone through a lot of names and owners over the years and is now known as Freeform) during the 90s. It was called The Christmas List and starred Mimi Rogers as a department store perfume counter employee who, on a whim, made a list of silly things she wanted for Christmas, as though she was writing a letter to Santa. One of her co-workers snatched it away from her and put it in the mailbox for letters to Santa — and then all her wishes started coming true in strange ways. One of the wishes coming true made her path cross a widowed doctor with a kid. I really loved this movie. It had all the pretty Christmas setting stuff, and the plot did tie into the holiday, but it had a lot of thought-provoking stuff in it, like how we sometimes don’t do a lot to go after the things we want. That was what was interesting, how getting some of her wishes gave her the courage to start taking steps on her own. Unfortunately, I don’t think this movie has ever been released on DVD, but it sometimes shows up on TV during the holidays (but beware: there’s an inferior Hallmark movie with the same title), and at one point it was on YouTube (I don’t know if it still is).

Then Lifetime got into the game, and they did a bunch of these — fairly low-budget, mostly filmed in Canada (so you recognize all those actors from various science fiction shows). I think the Lifetime ones tend to be more urban, compared to Hallmark’s glorification of small towns. Now Lifetime seems to have backed off somewhat and ceded the territory to Hallmark. Freeform’s barely in the game (though my favorite movies all seem to have been on whatever incarnation of that channel).

When I decided to write my own holiday movie, I think it was before I got Hallmark on my cable system, so I was going more on the Lifetime/Family model, which is a little urban and maybe a bit edgier while still counting as “sweet.” I’m not sure Hallmark would have wanted this story, but it would have been a perfect fit for Lifetime or Family back in the day. I tried to stick with the formula of what I saw. The plot was loosely based on a familiar story or movie — in this case, the Sliding Doors story of seeing the different paths life could take based on a seemingly minor difference. I mixed it up by having the heroine aware of both lives and able to use what she learned in one life in the other, with her alternating days. There was a lesson to be learned. I chose music for the less secure potential life because I noticed that they frequently cast former teen actresses whose careers didn’t quite take off when they transitioned to adulthood in these things, and a lot of these actresses come from the Disney sitcom factory, where they’re required to also do some kind of singing. I figured the role would be appealing to an actress with singing talent. Plus, that was around the time the first Pitch Perfect movie was really big, so there was more awareness of a capella singing, and I thought that would resonate. There was even a chance of doing a spin-off single to be released for radio airplay if the lead actress had any background there. There’s a group around here that specializes in Christmas caroling in Victorian attire and is booked solid during this time of year. I’ve heard some of their stories about having to get to events in hoopskirts, and I thought that would give the seasonal tie while also providing some fun visuals. Meanwhile, I noticed that there was always a role for an “elder statesman” type actor, usually someone who was really big in a sitcom during the 80s and whose career has leveled off since then, so I wrote that kind of role (basically, you can imagine that Tilly in my story is played by Shelley Long).

Unfortunately, right around the time I finished writing my screenplay, Hallmark really took off with these movies and the other networks mostly gave up, producing only one or two new ones a year. I wasn’t sure mine was a good fit for Hallmark — they haven’t used music as much as the other networks have, it’s in an urban setting, and it’s implied that the hero and heroine do more than kiss before the end. I also wasn’t sure I wanted to try writing more of those, and there wouldn’t be much point of trying to go through the effort of finding a screenwriting agent and dealing with Hollywood for one TV movie script. And so, when I re-read it last year and found that I still really liked it, I decided to turn it into a novella. I’m always looking for something like that to read around the holiday season, and I figured others might like that, as well. Short pieces are good when you’re so busy. It’s something you can sit down and read in one sitting.

While I do enjoy these movies, I have to admit that most of the parodies I’ve seen are pretty accurate. There’s this early draft of a Hallmark movie script. And someone I know created a randomized holiday movie plot generator.

It was fun to write this. I haven’t seen how well it’s selling, so I don’t know if it would be worthwhile to write another one, but it might be something fun to do as a “break” while my house is still decorated for the holidays.

Books

Updating Classics

I’ve developed a habit of listening to audio dramas before I go to sleep at night. I find that they’re a good way of bridging the awake and asleep modes — a little time with the lights out but the brain still somewhat on, and then I fall asleep much more quickly after that night’s episode is over. The BBC web site is full of these, and a lot are classic literature, so I get to refresh my knowledge of some of these stories, or else experience them for the first time.

Recently, I listened to a version of Jane Eyre, and after that there was Jane Austen’s Emma, and then Pride and Prejudice. That got me started thinking — there have been modern versions, updatings of Emma (Clueless) and Pride and Prejudice (Bridget Jones’s Diary, among many others), but has there been one of Jane Eyre? I know there have been other books inspired by elements of it (I even used the governess and employer with a secret in Rebel Mechanics), but they usually take place in a Victorian-like setting, not in modern times. It’s not just that comedies work better than more serious dramas for updating, since there have been a lot of modern versions of Romeo and Juliet, for instance (West Side Story, Twilight).

You really couldn’t just stick the plot of Jane Eyre into modern times because it would fall apart. Divorce is more common and socially acceptable, and there are treatments for mental illness, so the mad wife in the attic as an impediment to remarriage wouldn’t be an issue. I did manage to strain my brain to come up with a way to kind of get the same effect in a modern setting, but then I started wondering if it’s a story that should be updated. It’s very much a story of its time and place.

When you look at the stories that get retold and put into current settings, it tends to be the ones that have an element of universality to them. There will probably always be people who think they know it all while they’re actually oblivious to the damage they’re doing by trying to “help” others, so you can take the plot of Emma and put it into almost any time and place (hmmm, now I want to do the space opera version). Ditto with Pride and Prejudice — bad first impressions are always going to happen. Not all of Austen’s novels get updated. A lot of the plot of Sense and Sensibility falls apart when there’s no real social stigma to a man breaking an engagement, though I think the emotion vs. reason, and there being positives and negatives about both, theme is universal enough that you could probably do something with it, even if the plot had to be changed somewhat to find some other reason Elinor and Edward can’t just get together. Mansfield Park is very much of its time and place and would be hard to put into a new setting because its themes aren’t that universal.

If you look at themes in Jane Eyre, while the mad wife in the attic is very specific to that story, I think the theme of Jane’s resilience and her awareness of her own standards is something that could hold up in any situation. As desperate and vulnerable as her situation is, she holds true to her values, refusing to live as man and wife with Rochester when she’d know it wasn’t true and that he had another wife, and then refusing to marry St. John Rivers just as a cover for them to do missionary work together while living like a brother and sister, because that marriage wouldn’t be true, either. Maybe that story could be moved into the workplace, where someone who desperately needs a job won’t compromise with employers who want her to cross ethical lines, and her stand on that makes one of her employers realize he needs to change his ways.

And now I think I may have a possible plot for a future Christmas story — kind of A Christmas Carol (one that gets updated a lot) meets Jane Eyre.

TV

Catching Up on Star Wars Rebels

One thing I’ve been doing a lot of lately is knitting, since I have a gift I need to get finished. And something I’ve found that makes good background noise for knitting is the Star Wars Rebels series that Disney has put on demand, going all the way back to the first season. I watched the pilot when they aired it on ABC and wasn’t impressed. I didn’t like the “teen with attitude” main character, and I really hated the animation/character design.

But I kept hearing good things about it, and then apparently they worked in stuff from the movies (and vice versa), so since I needed something to watch one day, and since most of the episodes are about 22 minutes, so they fit into small chunks of time, I decided to give it another shot.

I’m still not crazy about the character design and animation. It’s weird that the scenes, the ships, and the droids are all beautifully rendered and gorgeous, but the characters themselves look like the kind of animation that was in video games about 25 years ago. The way the faces are rendered reminds me of the kind of book covers that showed up on small-press romance novels back in the 90s, when there was apparently some kind of software that generated pictures of people, except they looked weirdly (and creepily) lifeless, more like people wearing masks, and with cold, blank, dead eyes. This is why this is a good background noise show. I can’t just sit and watch it, but I can listen and look up occasionally.

The plots in early season one struck me as very Disney sitcom-like. It was sad how many of the stories involved the characters getting into trouble because they did something childish and stupid. I think they thought that since this was on the Disney XD channel, their target audience was tweens. Then somewhere along the way the writing really got a boost and it started to feel more like Star Wars and less like a tween sitcom in the Star Wars universe.

There are two other things that make this a good show to listen to: the music and the voice acting. They use the original John Williams themes and weave them together to make a good score that fits — when we see walkers, we hear the walker music from the Hoth battle; when someone uses the Force, we hear the Force theme, etc. They also have an excellent voice cast (that even includes at least one Oscar nominee among the regulars). I was really impressed by how right Darth Vader sounded, and then I looked it up, and they actually got James Earl Jones. When Lando shows up, they have Billy Dee Williams. It’s just a pity that they don’t back up this excellent voice cast with better character animation and design.

What I’m enjoying is getting a broader look at that universe from other perspectives. Plus, since I have four seasons to catch up on, it’s amazing to be able to have new Star Wars content every day. I remember waiting years for the next movie and having nothing new in between movies. Now, whenever I turn on the TV, I can have new-to-me Star Wars stuff. And I haven’t even started delving into Forces of Destiny. I tried one episode of Clone Wars and had the same cheap animation problem, with a side of wrong voices, but maybe I should check that out of the library and give it another shot.

Books

This Year’s Spooky Classic: Dracula

During all my travels, I had a chance to do some reading. Last year, I decided I should read a spooky classic in October, and I decided to continue that as a tradition. This year’s book was the original Dracula, by Bram Stoker. No, I hadn’t read it before. I’ve never been a big fan of horror or of vampires.

I must say that the book was nothing like what I expected. Has there ever been a movie version that was all that faithful to the book? Because the book is nothing like most of the popular culture depictions I’ve seen of that story.

For one thing, it plays out to some extent more like a detective story or mystery, with the various letters and journal entries giving us pieces of the puzzle as all the characters see parts of what’s going on. We, the readers, have to read between the lines to figure out what’s happening. Then when they put their heads together and sort out all those pieces, it’s about finding and tracking down the villain and figuring out what to do about it. Almost all the “horror” is totally offstage, and Dracula himself affects everyone but is seldom actually present. So I enjoyed it far more than I expected to. I love books that aren’t written in straight narrative but that are put together from letters and other sources. In this case, compiling all this information into a coherent narrative is actually part of the plot, because it’s only when the information is put together in the proper order that they figure it out. The book itself is essentially the compilation the characters put together. It’s an interesting structure for a novel.

But the main thing I love is the character of Mina. She’s a wonderful example to look to for people who want to write strong female characters in a historical setting. She’s totally appropriate to her time (given that the novel was contemporary when it was written) and doesn’t feel like a 21st century character plunked into that setting, but at the same time she’s dynamic and active in a way that modern audiences can relate to. She’s not out physically kicking ass and taking down much larger men, but she’s the one who has a lot to do with bringing down Dracula, using her knowledge of stenography, typewriting and organizing, and she keeps a clear enough head to use the psychic connection Dracula forces on her to track his movements. The men recognize her abilities, even as they act like men of their time — and that even figures into the plot when keeping her safe by keeping her out of the action turns out to work against them because that leaves her vulnerable.

I may even end up reading this one again to analyze the structure and characterization, now that I know how the story comes out.

writing life

Home Again!

Whew, I’m finally at home for at least a little while. Three trips in a month, five conferences/conventions in about six weeks, was a lot. I’d thought about taking a vacation trip this fall, but at the moment, I don’t really want to leave home, and my post-Thanksgiving calendar is already filling up.

So, here’s where I’ve been:
There was FenCon locally in late September — my “home” convention that I also help put on. At least for that one, I got to stay at home and sleep in my own bed, but I got sick near the end of the convention and was out of commission for about a week afterward.

Then I flew to St. Louis for a quick trip to speak at the Missouri Library Association, where I felt like a really big deal.

Then the following weekend was Writers in the Field, a new event that’s sort of a hands-on subject matter workshop for writers. Instead of reading about things like swords and archery, you get to actually try it and talk to experts. They’ll be repeating it next year, so mark your calendars if that sounds interesting to you.

Then I went to Florida for Necronomicon, where I was a Guest of Honor — my first time doing that. I got to feel like a celebrity and met a bunch of great people.

After a weekend off, I went to San Antonio for the World Fantasy Convention, where I was a lot more obscure. I’m still working on that invisibility within my field thing, but I did sell a lot of books, so maybe it’s improving. I was very good and didn’t hide out in my room too much. I hung out with people in the lobby or in the hospitality suite and even made a couple of potentially valuable professional connections (in fact, I have a conference call later this week based on one of those contacts). I also took advantage of being in downtown San Antonio, with the Riverwalk making a lovely setting for my morning walks. I particularly love the main downtown area of the Riverwalk early in the morning, when the only people out are the maintenance staff and other walkers/joggers. It’s so peaceful, and it’s like getting a secret behind-the-scenes look without the crowds of tourists. Every time I’ve been to San Antonio, it’s been for some kind of business, meeting, or conference, and I keep saying I need to go sometime when it’s just for fun. Maybe that’s how I’ll use that airline voucher. I found a few things I’d have liked to do if I’d had the time.

Now that I’m home and more or less recovered, I need to get back in the swing of writing. I’ve got a book to finish, a book to revise, and a potential new thing to develop.

writing

Endings

I’m done with a lot of travel and can get back to writing posts — but then I just looked at the calendar and saw how quickly the holidays are approaching, so I think this may be the last “official” writing post this year. I’ll take a bit of a hiatus and come back in January with a lot of new ideas (I hope!). But I do hope to be better about blogging about other things. I’m just trying to avoid having scheduled obligations.

So, to conclude the series on parts of the story, let’s talk about endings. I’ve heard it said that the beginning is what sells this book and the ending is what sells the next book. The ending has to take care of a lot of things. That’s where the climax of the story goes — the peak action, where all seems lost until the hero prevails (or fails entirely). It’s also the culmination of the hero’s character arc, when he has to make some kind of change in order to prevail or perhaps because he prevailed. It’s when the loose ends are tied up, relationships secured (or ended), and we see just enough of the new normal in the aftermath to know how things are going to look for the hero going forward. If there’s a sequel, the seeds for the sequel may be planted to tease readers into coming back for more.

At the end of the middle, our characters have recovered from whatever their big midpoint ordeal/midterm exam was. Now they need to gear up to deal with things once and for all. They may have to return to the point of their failure to try again, they may have to race against the villains to get somewhere first in order to take care of business, or they may have to go where they will confront the villains. However it goes, it needs to be (at least figuratively) do or die. If this attempt fails, all is lost. There may not be another chance. This is also a moment of truth for our hero, who’s been resisting the kind of internal change she/he needs to make. If she doesn’t make this change, she probably won’t be able to succeed, but making that change is scary and leaves her feeling vulnerable. There may also be a moral choice — do things the right way and there’s a chance you won’t win, do things the wrong way and you might win, but there will be a huge personal cost. Making the right choice is a leap of faith. This is when the hero will be tested again on whatever he might have failed in the middle of the book — if he failed because he was too impulsive before, now he has to be able to wait for the right moment. If he failed before because he wanted to go it alone, now he has to trust in his team. It works best if whatever the hero needs to learn is closely tied to what he has to do to win.

Even though in genre fiction we’re pretty sure the hero is going to win, you have to trick the reader into wondering if maybe this time is going to be the exception and the hero will lose. The odds have to look bad, and there needs to be a good chance for failure. Victory should come at some cost. Secondary characters who are important to the hero may die. How far you go with this depends on the tone of the book you’re writing.

And then, victory! It’s best to end the book as soon as possible after that climax so there’s not a huge letdown, but you do need some winding down because readers want to savor that victory and see how it affects the characters. There may be celebration or mourning. We need to see at least a glimpse of what our hero is going to be like now that she’s been transformed. How will that affect her relationships with other characters? What do other characters think of her now? How have these actions and events changed the world of the story? You probably don’t want more than a chapter or so of aftermath, but you need enough to reassure readers that everything’s okay and all is right with the world (at least, until the sequel, and then you need to leave just a little bit that’s not entirely right). How you wrap things up depends on the effect you want to have — do you want to leave readers sobbing or sighing?

One common way of showing how things have changed is to reflect the beginning. In a quest, the character may have returned home, and we see the contrast between the hero and his surroundings. How is he different from the person who left? How has his view of his home changed? Will he be happy there? Or you can reflect an incident from the beginning and show the changes. In my Enchanted, Inc., the book opens with the heroine seeing strange things on the subway that no one else seems to notice, and it bothers her. At the end, she’s on the subway seeing strange things again, but now she understands them and is part of their world. You could do something similar with an encounter between two characters that goes differently or by showing the character facing a similar challenge in a different way. Or the character may have embarked on an entirely new life, so we need a glimpse of how she fits into that new life and new world and how it’s different from her old life.

Some genres have specific expectations of what happens in the end. A mystery requires the hero to find and unmask the killer, who’s brought to justice, and there often isn’t much aftermath wrap-up, unless there are relationship subplots to be addressed. A romance requires some kind of emotional commitment between the characters, so that you know they’ll be in a relationship going forward.

One of the best ways to learn to write a good ending is to look at the books whose endings have stuck with you and see if you can analyze why you like those endings. How many pages are left after the climax and main plot resolution? What events happen? What emotional tone is struck? That will help you figure out what you need to do.

In general, it’s a good idea to leave readers wanting a little more — give enough to be satisfying, but not enough to start to get boring. It’s better for readers to wish for just one more page than to have them flipping ahead.

And with that ending, I’ll close out the writing posts for the year.

My Books

Christmas at Halloween

Happy Halloween! I’m not really doing much for the holiday because I’m leaving on a trip in a couple of days and I have so much to do. I do have some candy and some little toys I can give out, but as it’s supposed to be cold and rainy during Trick-or-Treat time, my porch light is burned out and I haven’t gotten around to replacing it, and I never get trick-or-treaters because you can’t see my front door from the street, I suspect the candy will be all mine.

I’m actually already thinking ahead to another holiday, since a week from today, my first Christmas-set romantic comedy novella will be released. I know it seems early, since I refuse to do Christmas stuff before Thanksgiving, but hey, Hallmark has already started their non-stop Christmas programming. I figure by releasing after Halloween, that gives people time to become aware of this book in time to read it during the season. It’s an e-book only (but you can find apps to let you read all the major e-book formats on your computer) because it’s really too short for a print book.

Long-time blog followers may remember when I tried to write a script for a holiday movie a couple of years ago. I think it was a pretty good script, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to go through everything it would take to find a screenplay agent and sell it, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to do more of them. Since I loved the story so much, I rewrote it in prose form, and now it’s a holiday novella. If you like the Hallmark Christmas movies — or, really, more the Lifetime, ION, or what used to be the Family Channel movies, since it’s got more magic than you tend to get with Hallmark — then you might like this. It’s short enough to read in one or two sittings, so it’s perfect for that busy time of year when you have just a moment to yourself to curl up with a cup of hot cocoa, turn on the Christmas lights, put on some seasonal music, and relax with a fun book.

Twice Upon a Christmas cover

The story is kind of a holiday spin on the Sliding Doors concept of exploring two possible life paths, only in this case, the heroine is aware that she’s experiencing both possibilities, so she can take what she learns in one life and use it in the other. Eventually, though, living every day twice gets confusing and frustrating, especially when that means she’s spending half her time away from someone she’s come to care about. Twice Upon a Christmas is now available for pre-order. You can buy now and have it ready for when you’re ready to get into the holiday spirit. You can get more info and links for buying it on the book’s page.

And if this one turns out to be a success, maybe I’ll write another one for next year. I already have an idea … And if I do more of these, I may put them together in a collection in print.

writing life

Travel Catch-Up

I’ve been quite remiss in my blogging lately, but I seem to have been either getting ready for a conference or convention, at a conference or convention, or recovering from a conference or convention for the past month or so.

There was FenCon in September, which was local, so I didn’t have to worry about packing and travel, but I’m on staff, so I had work to do in addition to being a guest. I started getting sick on the last day of the convention, and I spent much of the following week in bed.

Then I recovered just in time to go to the Missouri Library Association conference, where I was the keynote speaker for the young adult librarians breakfast. That was a quick trip, just one night, and it was a lot of fun because librarians are cool people. I went out for barbecue with a group the night I arrived, and then there were some interesting discussions the next morning at breakfast. Librarians always give me food for thought.

They put me in a room on the club floor at that hotel, so I felt very special. I have new incentive to write more and sell more books because now I’d like to get on the club floor whenever I travel. I’m going to get spoiled.

I had about a week to recover, and then there was another local event, Writers in the Field. This was kind of a writing conference, but it was more hands-on and real world. It was held at an event space in the country, and it was an opportunity for writers to learn about horses, archery, swords, guns, and that sort of thing that we might need in our books.

The following week, it was Necronomicon in Florida, my first time to be a convention guest of honor. Again, I felt like a celebrity and I could get used to that. I met so many great people that weekend and really enjoyed myself. I may be spoiled for conventions where I’m not a GOH now.

And now I’m gearing up for the World Fantasy Convention next week. I just have one panel, so it’s less of a working convention for me. This is supposed to be more of a networking event. I’ll have to see how that goes because I’m terrible at networking. The very thought of “barcon,” where you do your networking while hanging out in the bar, utterly terrifies me. I usually make it to the threshold of the hotel bar, feel like a new kid on the first day of school, looking for someone to sit with in the cafeteria at lunch, then flee in a panic. It doesn’t help that my body has decided that I’m now a morning person, so I’ll probably be falling asleep before barcon gets in full swing, and my energy levels drain rapidly in noisy, crowded places. Maybe I need to spearhead “morning walk con” for the non-night owls.

I’m giving myself permission to treat this as sort of a working vacation. I’ll go to the panels that interest me, I’ll attempt to be social in the con suite/bar/lobby, and otherwise I’ll enjoy San Antonio. I have a list of places where I want to eat and things I want to see and do.

After that, I get to stay home for a while, though I do need to plan a vacation. I volunteered to get bumped on an oversold flight on the way home from Tampa, so I have a voucher toward a flight, and I’ve decided it should be used on fun, not a business-related trip. I just need to decide where and when to go. But first I want to be at home for a while.

writing

Middles, Part 3

I’ve been talking about the various parts of a story, and now we’re getting close to the end. I’m not even sure I’d call the next part of the story part of the end. Maybe part three of the middle?

After we’ve had the big semi-climactic moment in the middle of the story, the audience and the characters need a chance to recover and catch their breath so they’ll be ready for the end. There’s usually some kind of quieter interlude after that big middle part. On a chart, this would be falling action. You need some less intense times so that the intense times will be a contrast, but that doesn’t mean this part of the story is allowed to be boring.

This may be an emotionally intense part of the story, even if there’s not a lot of action. You see a lot of love scenes in this part of a story. Think about The Terminator — after Sarah and Kyle escape from the police station and have a big car chase, they make it to safety in a remote motel. There, they talk and get to know each other a little better. He tells her about the future he came from and her role in it as the mother of the leader who’s helping humans fight back against the machines, and he tells her that he came through time because he’s always loved her — at least, the idea of her. They make love. This scene may seem slow in comparison to the rest of the movie with all the car chases and gun battles but, in a sense, it’s the most critical scene in the story, since it’s when that future leader is conceived.

Another example would be the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark in which they’ve made it safely to the ship with the ark after that big chase and fight scene, and Marian tends to Indy’s wounds, trying to find a place where it’s safe to kiss him without hurting him.

If someone — usually the mentor figure — got killed during the midpoint semi-climax/ordeal sequence, this is when the surviving characters mourn that person. If they weren’t very successful in what they tried to do in the midpoint, they may regroup here. There may be planning sessions or an analysis of where they went wrong.

This may be a time when the hero has some doubts. If he failed in the midpoint, he might fear that he’s not up to the task. He might question the goal. Sometimes he might even try to sneak away, feeling everyone else is better off without him.

Or, if everything went right, they may think they’ve won. They may have obtained the quest object and are celebrating. Because they don’t know they’re characters in a story, they don’t know that the story isn’t over yet. They may think everything’s okay or that the rest of it will be easy. Surely the most difficult part of the quest was getting the charmed amulet out of the evil wizard’s secret base. Now all they have to do is get home and use it to save their land.

But, of course, the story isn’t over yet. That knowledge allows the writer to maintain some tension even in this quieter part of the story. Readers can see that there are still a lot of pages left, so it’s not over. There won’t be a hundred pages of celebrating. The villain is still out there and not ready to give up. That cyborg will track them down and continue trying to carry out its mission. The Nazis aren’t going to give up on the ark, and they have a lot of resources. The evil wizard is going to try to get his amulet back. The hero can’t just give up and walk away. We know this, and that makes any celebrating, bonding, or rejoicing bittersweet. We enjoy seeing the characters get to be happy for a little while, but there’s a sense of dread about what they’ll face next.