Posts Tagged ‘tv’

writing life

Origins and Influences: Girl Sleuths

I’m still discussing some of my origins and influences — the things that played a big role in me becoming the writer I am today.

My musical theater phase never really ended, though I did sort of eventually grow out of putting on dress-up clothes and acting out my own stories to soundtracks (now I just put together a playlist and write the book that goes with it). But then I got to the point I could read novels, and I devoured them. I don’t recall paying much attention to authors or genres. I didn’t really think about types of books. It was all about subject to me. For instance, there was the horse phase, during which I’d go down the shelves in the library, checking out any book with anything to do with a horse in the title or a horse on the cover.

Or there was the witches phase, which ended up leading me to Nancy Drew. The witch phase came in second and third grade and mostly had to do with the TV series Bewitched. I moved to a new neighborhood in the summer before second grade, and I noticed that although there were plenty of kids to play with in the neighborhood during the day, the streets got strangely empty after dinner, even though it was still light outside and we didn’t have to be home until the streetlights came on. Eventually, people would come outside again. I learned when I tried to make plans to play outside after dinner with one of my friends that this was when Bewitched came on (in syndicated reruns), in the slot between the local news and prime-time programming. Apparently, this was mandatory viewing for girls in my neighborhood. I got sucked into it, and soon was joining my friends in trying to wiggle my nose to make things happen. That made me want to read books about witches, so I went down the library shelves, reading anything with “witch” or “magic” in the title. I don’t remember a lot of these, and I got derailed somewhat when I got to the K section and found a book called The Witch Tree Symbol. It had a spooky picture on the cover with an eerie symbol carved into an old tree.

Except, it turned out that the book wasn’t about witches at all. It was a Nancy Drew mystery taking place in Amish country, and it utterly captivated me. Not necessarily the story itself, but I wanted to be Nancy. She drove around in her sporty blue car with her best friends and had adventures. I became obsessed with Nancy Drew, reading every book I could get my hands on, from both the post library and the school library. I quickly learned, however, that I didn’t want to buy these books because the good ones were the old ones the libraries had. The new ones were different, and I didn’t like them much. Even if they were the same books reprinted, they had different illustrations that were very 70s, not at all like the 40s and 50s books.

I was far more interested in Nancy’s personal life than in the actual cases. I liked seeing her hang out with her friends, and I was intrigued by her relationship with Ned, though I didn’t understand why he went to college and she didn’t, even though she clearly wasn’t still in high school. For a while, I kept trying to find the last book, to see how things worked out, except it seemed there was no last book.

From Nancy Drew, I discovered other girl sleuths, like Trixie Belden, who was younger, and Cherry Ames, a nurse. When people talk now about needing strong girl role models in books for kids, I wonder what library they visited because I had all these people who allowed me to imagine what being an adult, or at least an older kid, would be like.

Strangely, there were fewer mysteries in adulthood than these books led me to believe.

Anyway, although these books didn’t necessarily spur me to want to write that kind of thing, I do think that intrepid girl sleuth character forms the basis for most of the heroines I write. I did make up some stories about Nancy and the others in my head, though I didn’t know what fan fiction was at the time and never wrote any of them down. I think I also did some mental “Mary Sue” stories, in which I imagined that kind of adventure with me (or a version of me) as the heroine.

And I’m not sure I ever got around to the “witch” books that came after the Ks.

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.

writing, TV

The Supersonic Raven Fallacy

I’ve noticed that some writers have a tendency to get defensive when they’re called out about something that doesn’t quite work. There’s a particular tendency among some writers of fantasy to question “nitpicks” in a fantasy work — if you can believe in magic, why can’t you accept these other things? It seems to be more of a trend in TV writers than among novelists, which may have something to do with the way novelists approach worldbuilding. At any rate, this arose again this week, thanks to events on Game of Thrones, and I have now dubbed this particular argument the Supersonic Ravens Fallacy.

The argument goes: “You can believe in X, but you can’t believe in Y?” where X is “big fantasy element” and Y is “mundane thing that doesn’t quite work the way it does in the real world.” For example, “You can believe in dragons, but you can’t believe in ravens that had to have flown faster than the speed of sound in order to deliver a message in that amount of time?”

The defensive writers blame the audience for being nitpicky or unwilling to suspend disbelief, but I think it’s the writers’ fault. If the audience doesn’t believe in Y, it’s because the writers didn’t make them believe in it. They believed in X because the writers built it into the world. The disbelief comes when the writers fail at building something into their world or portray it inconsistently. The audience wouldn’t believe in X, either, if it was written inconsistently.

It’s a false equivalence because the big fantasy element and the mundane thing that don’t work right aren’t on the same level. The suspension of disbelief that allows the audience to buy into the big fantasy element isn’t transferable. It only applies to that big fantasy element. Writers have to make the audience believe in every single aspect of the story, and it’s usually the easy stuff that trips them up. You don’t have to explain “ordinary” things to the audience. They take those things as a given. If you don’t show us that these things aren’t the ordinary things we’re used to, then we’re going to assume they work the way things in the real world work. We get annoyed when they don’t work the way they work in the real world.

So, say there’s magic in your fantasy world. You’ll show us that magic is a part of this world, suggest who can use it and who can’t, show how it works and what it can do, and give an indication of what people in this world think about magic — do they know it exists? Do they like it? Fear it? If a character suddenly uses magic to get out of trouble when you haven’t established that magic exists, then that surprise needs to fit into your world. You can’t have a character with no magical powers in a world with no suggestion of magic just suddenly use magic to get out of trouble without that being a big deal — “OMG! I have magic powers! How did this happen? What do I do now?”

Meanwhile, if you have horses in this world and haven’t given us any indication that they’re different from horses in our world, then they have to act like horses in our world and have the same needs, abilities, and limitations. We’re going to assume they need to eat, have to have rest and water every so often, and they walk on land. If a horse suddenly flies when your plot requires it and you’ve given no indication that horses in your world can fly or are at all different from what we know of as a horse, then we’re not going to believe it, even if we believe that there’s magic in your world. You’d better have a good explanation, like the horse ate enchanted hay or someone did a horse levitating spell, and people better be surprised about the horse flying. Otherwise, if you need the horse to fly to get your character out of trouble, you’d better establish previously that horses in this world can fly, and you need to show how that affects your world — people carry really sturdy umbrellas, there aren’t as many roads, etc.

Basically, it comes down to the fact that you can’t change the rules of your world to fit your plot —especially not to get your characters out of trouble — whether it’s the magical elements or the mundane elements. If you can set up the fact that ravens serve as the messenger system, then you can set up the fact that maybe there are special ravens to be only used in dire emergencies or there are spells to be cast on ravens to make them fly faster, or there’s a special supercharged raven food. But if the ravens have acted like our ravens, other than the fact that they work as the Internet, then they need to keep acting like our ravens and not flying thousands of miles in a few hours.