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Discipline? Can You Give Me Context? Maybe Use It in a Sentence?

Discipline? Can You Give Me Context? Maybe Use It in a Sentence?

(originally posted September 4, 2010)

As a writer, I have no discipline.

That could mean many things:
1) I don’t have a specialty.
2) I can’t control my hands while typppppppping.
3) I write all over the place, and prefer markers on freshly-painted walls.
4) Uniquely constructed sentences I make.
5) 5:00 in the morning is meant for sleeping, not writing. (Unless, of course, one is on a creative spree, and has not yet been to bed.)
6) Focusing on only one project at a time is imposs- Squirrel! (Squirrel Removal in 12 Easy Steps — HI-larious!)
7) I give great writing advice but rarely follow it. (Write to the end then edit.)
8) I find all sorts of activities that keep me from writing, when writing is all I really want to do.
9) An outline is not the Ten Commandments, and is a lot of hard work for something I’m just going to ignore anyway.
10) Planting butt in chair and creating is not something I generally do on command. In fact, there are very few things I do on command, and even then I might pause to think about it.

And the list goes on, but I’ll end it there. (End not to be confused with aforementioned butt.)

Yesterday, I sat on the couch, felt-tip pen and scrap paper in hand, stared into space while a DVD miniseries adaptation of a Charles Dickens novel played in the background, and wrote a couple good pages of material. All rough, of course, but solid.

As I wrote, I thought it was brilliant.

Then, some time later, long after the pen had been capped and I was no longer under the heady influence of Sharpie fumes, I read it again.

Meh. As I said, rough but solid. I can work with that.

As for discipline, well, that’s a concept that looks different to each writer. What really matters is the outcome: What is produced? Regardless of a writer’s method — laptop in the park, legal pad in the coffee shop, scrap paper on the couch — words must be written. Stories must be told.

Bring on the Sharpie!

"Presented in Cinemascope!" facade, Hollywood Wax Museum, Branson, MO (c2013, KB)

“Presented in Cinemascope!”
facade, Hollywood Wax Museum, Branson, MO (c2013, KB)

 

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Shakespeare, Modern Romance Novels, and a Rant

MuchAdo

“We are the only love gods!”

I kept hearing this line in Denzel Washington‘s voice, and couldn’t recall why and where and when, then it hit me: He’s Don Pedro in Kenneth Branagh‘s version of Much Ado About Nothing. *

What does that have to do with anything? Well, it happened to wander through my head after I posted this on Facebook:

Just finished proofing a romance novel with naughty bits. Those bits could have been reduced from pages to paragraphs, or been excised altogether, and the story would have been better for it.

I have said many times I am not the audience nor the editor for romance novels. And yet in which genre do I have the most editing experience?

Yep, you guessed it.

Perhaps my canted eye — that distrust and dislike of the common romance novel — makes me a good choice to edit such books, because I am not enamored of them. Everything — depth of character, depth of relationship, dialogue, plausibility, etc. — is scrutinized. Perhaps more than if the books were in a genre I enjoyed.

But, please, SOMEbody, let me edit more Westerns or mysteries or speculative fiction. I beg you.

Yes, I was a bit cantankerous at the time, and further explained my mood thus:

Every once in a while, the curmudgeonly editor has to have his say. He blows off a little steam then gets back to work.

The novel that sent me down the editing path was a Western, and I think there may have been romance somewhere in the plot. In my own novels there may be characters who are in love, but my tales aren’t much akin to modern romance novels. My mom used to read romances written in early decades of the 20th century, and I’m a Jane Austen fan, so I’m not against love stories.

However, many of the romance novels I’ve edited/critiqued/proofed have seemed to exist mainly as catalogs of physicality. **

Y’know, I don’t care if I’m the odd man out. I don’t care if I’m called a prude, old-fashioned, or whatever. I really am not interested in reading that stuff. Shakespeare is full of bawdy puns and ribald jokes, but at least there’s wit. Chemistry is great, but give me romance with more depth than hormones.

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Feel free to disagree, but please keep comments respectful, on topic, and clean. Many thanks.

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* I like this version slightly more than Joss Whedon‘s update of it: Much Ado About Nothing. However, both versions are great fun, and are excellent renditions of the Bard’s work. Michael Keaton edges out Nathan Fillion in their different portrayals of Dogberry the idiot sheriff, but both are comical. (Read more about the play here.)

On a side note, my favorite Hamlet is Mel Gibson‘s portrayal in the Franco Zeffirelli film, followed by Ethan Hawk’s and Kenneth Branagh’s portrayals.

** “Physicality” — in other words, the porn-y stuff that now comes standard in the average romance novel these days. And have the authors actually tried some of the stuff they make their characters do? From folks in the know — and by that I mean folks who’ve tried it and lived to tell — sex in the shower is an emergency room visit waiting to happen. Or, at the very least, a series of visits to the chiropractor. 

Other places that the adventurous advise against due to logistical and physical issues: the bathtub, the car, the couch, the alley, the public restroom, and the list goes on. Pretty much, folks, keep it horizontal and in the bedroom. (from an online blog post or author interview or panel discussion that I can no longer find, or I’d provide a link)

But, as the consolation prize, links regarding the pervy side of Game of Thrones, which is by no means romance but does include similar, uh, physicality:
The naked hypocrisy of Game Of Thrones’ nudity
Hollywood’s Secret Rape Culture
Dehumanizing Actors for Our Entertainment
a faith-based commentary at Speculative Faith regarding the TV show

 

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Romeo, Romeo

RomeoJulietLooking for contemporary interpretations of Shakespeare’s work?

You just may find your fix in the 2014 version of Romeo and Juliet starring Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad. It’s muscular and creative, and it plays up the humor.

The balcony scene could easily have been set in two separate bedrooms and featured the characters looking at each other through their windows while speaking on the telephone and waiting for the other person to hang up first.

Christian Camargo gives one of the best portrayals of Mercutio I’ve seen, delivering the Queen Mab speech in a comprehensible, conversational fashion.

However, the play can be antic at times, speeding through the scenes as if afraid to sit still, and the actors often deliver their lines by rapid-fire sing-song rote that often steals the power, playfulness, or pathos of the words.

When the play slows to allow the moments to play out more naturally, less frantically, that’s when it shines.

Still, though I like many of the lines and scenes, this remains one of my least favorite Shakespeare works.

 

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The Wind Rises

The Wind Rises DVD coverDirected by Hayao Miyazaki for Studio Ghibli, The Wind Rises is a fictionalized account of the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the aeronautics engineer who designed the infamous Zero fighters used to attack Pearl Harbor during World War II.

Some viewers dislike the film for its fiction (Jiro’s wife did not die of tuberculosis, for instance), some for its pacing, some for its glossing-over of the death and destruction his planes caused. There was offense at the way his wife was portrayed, and offense at the way he treated her. Some viewers were either offended on Jiro’s behalf, thinking the added fictions dishonored him, and some were offended that the creator of the Zero was the focus of an animated film.

Regardless of detractors, the hand-drawn animation and the beautiful colors are beyond excellent. There’s a night scene in Germany where the elongated and distorted shadows of men running through the streets are stunning in their realism, and the clouds throughout the film are nigh photo-realistic.

The story — which borrowed heavily from an unrelated novel, The Wind Has Risen, by Tatsuo Hori — is interesting, and the dialogue is often sharp and funny.

It’s an homage to love and dreamers, and is a film well worth seeing.

 

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“The Eye of Sauron”

The family and I wandered down to Bricktown yesterday to visit Myriad Botanical Gardens, and nearby stood a tower we know well as “the Eye of Sauron”.

c2014, Keanan Brand

c2014, Keanan Brand

Surrounded by other structures — including the Crystal Bridge, a massive greenhouse suspended over water — the tower looks like the backdrop for a science fiction film.

IMG_0945^edited

c2014, Keanan Brand

c2014, Keanan Brand

c2014, Keanan Brand

c2014, Keanan Brand

c2014, Keanan Brand

A landmark to help orient one while traversing downtown Oklahoma City, the tower can look sinister when lit at night, and the triangular top roughly mimics the fiery eye of the mystical villain from The Lord of the Rings. However, yesterday afternoon, it’s reflected light imparted an otherworldy glow to the park-like setting.

c2014, Keanan Brand

c2014, Keanan Brand

c2014, Keanan Brand

c2014, Keanan Brand

The above photo is unenhanced, unedited. I like it, though it doesn’t convey what our eyes saw. The one below is closer, but still misses the mark. But that’s what imagination’s for, eh?

c2014, Keanan Brand

c2014, Keanan Brand

 

More photos to come.

 

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Clint & the Gang

Took this photo at the Hollywood Wax Museum in Branson, Missouri, last summer:

classic Clint Eastwood Hollywood Wax Museum Branson, MO (c2014, KB)

classic Clint Eastwood
Hollywood Wax Museum
Branson, MO (c2013, KB)

Makes me downright nostalgic.

So does this, although the artistry is somewhat less than that performed on ol’ Clint:

classic Star Trek crew Hollywood Wax Museum Branson, MO (c2013, KB)

classic Star Trek crew
Hollywood Wax Museum
Branson, MO (c2013, KB)

Maybe Westerns and outer space, mashed together, is why I love Firefly so much, and why I can’t escape the Old West influence in my writing, whether that be space opera, modern fiction, or even medieval fantasy.

I was raised in the West and the South — I live on the cusp of the West even now — and that independence of spirit and manner of speech creeps in, even when I’m not aware. Not gonna fight it. Just gonna embrace it.

 

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Rant, Rebellion, and Realistic Characters

This entry was originally posted in late December 2011, almost two months after I left a job of fourteen years and began a new life.

This work-related rant turned toward writing and characterization, but I cut the post short back in May 2011, and never finished until picking it up again seven months later, after the source of the rant was no longer part of my life. For good or ill, the rant is unchanged. However, I’ve expanded upon the original characterization portion, and hope my frustration and anger produced something worth reading, something that might serve others in their lives, their writing, or their work relationships.

I don’t like to be controlled. Don’t like to be micromanaged. Don’t like someone being “all up in my business” or constantly asking questions about matters that are no business of theirs.

This is an increasingly intense battle at my day job, in which colleagues misbehave but put the burden on my shoulders. I am made responsible for their behavior, and for the morale of my fellow workers.

Funny. I thought morale started at the top. And, last time I looked, neither my paycheck nor my title reflected that kind of responsibility.

Everything comes back around to one issue: control. Who’s gonna be the puppet master?

When someone says they trust me then they try to manage me, push me, pull the rug out from under me, they’re saying, “I don’t trust you.” When someone says they appreciate all my years of service to the organization then they try to confine me rather than giving me room to do my job, they’re saying, “I don’t appreciate you.”

Tasks that I did over a decade ago are no longer acceptable now. There’s been an added position, one that’s supposed to free the rest of us to do our jobs better, but the person in that role is so uncertain of his place that he’s grasping control wherever he can, and in the process making life difficult for the rest of us. Commonsense has gone the way of freedom, autonomy, and trust: out the door.

Layers of bureaucracy do not produce efficiency. They do, however, produce mountains of paperwork, frustration, and demi-tyrants.

A couple weeks back, I was told by a supervisor, “I don’t need any Lone Rangers.” Really? It was concerning an area I had overseen since I was hired almost fourteen years ago. Suddenly, I’m a Lone Ranger.

Then, last week, I was reprimanded — this person was shocked, shocked, I tell you — because I didn’t immediately do the first thing the boss asked, but offered an alternative that was better suited to the situation. After all, said this shocked individual, the good of the organization is superior to the good of the individual.

That’s a scary notion. There’s a whole lot of subtext to that statement (socialism and communism, for instance). Countless crimes and misdeeds have been carried out under the banner of the corporate good.

To my mind, the good of the individual is the good of the organization. After all, the organization cannot operate without the individual.

But what does any of this have to do with writing, other than serving as my personal rant?

Thus the soapbox is put aside, and here begins the actual writing-related portion about characters. Hope it helps!

Writers, how much control do you exert over your characters? Are they real, or are they robots?

If one is writing science fiction, robots might be expected, but even robotic characters tend to have personality i.e. C3PO or R2D2 in Star Wars, or android Mr. Data in “Star Trek: The Next Generation”; human characters, however, should not display robotic tendencies, unless the writer intends to use that stiffness or coldness to further the story somehow. (Or the “human” is a droid. That’s almost always cool.)

With a change of circuitry or software, at the whim of the designer, robots can be altered, predicted, controlled.

Not so with humans. Push, prod, bully, or demand, we’re stubborn, willful, changeable, foolish, scheming, proud, weak — all sorts of traits and addictions not easily controlled by ourselves, let alone by others seeking to change us.

Why, then, do authors try to impose their wills on their characters? Granted, characters should not run amok in a story, or behave illogically (unless, of course, that plays to character or plot). However, ever read a story where the author obviously had a goal in mind for certain characters, and forced them to adhere to that plot, against the integrity of the characters?

By integrity, I mean the truth of the characters — who they are, what they do, how they think and reason, what they believe, how they respond to authority figures, etc.

In the real world, questions don’t necessarily mean disrespect for authority, though there is the assumption that questioning a command equals insubordination. Questions are a search for information, for reliability, for a reason. Authors should allow their characters to ask questions and establish realistic identities: “Why must I say that? I would never do this. I’d never hang out with that guy. Even if she’s my relative, I wouldn’t just excuse her behavior. If you, the author, want this from me, you must first give me a reason.”

Just as valid a question in fiction as in the real world, have you earned the authority to make such demands of your characters? Are you a trustworthy storyteller? Do you keep your story’s promises? Give your characters logical motivations? Allow plot twists to arise organically from the story rather than, say, including gunfire or an explosion — or the cliched dead body — just to jazz up boring or dead-end material?

Even if they can’t always express it, readers can tell when they’re reading the work of a competent and trustworthy storyteller, and when they’re reading a story full of contrived circumstances and unrealistic characters.

My opinion: A tacked-on happy ending is less desirable than an organic, realistic tragic ending. (Although, to be honest, I much prefer happy endings to sad ones.) And give me a hero I can believe in, flawed or not, because he or she is written as if real. Warts, rebellion, and all.

 

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“Many Happy Returns”

Sherlock returning for Season 3–Woo Hoo!

In the interim:

And that’s all I have to say.

 

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Ryan Runs for His Life: untitled screenplay

In effort to re-ignite creativity, I’ve been rummaging through old story ideas — novels, short stories, screenplays — and found a few things I’d forgotten. Below is an excerpt from my first attempt at a screenplay. Might make good story fodder for another project in the works.

———————————————–

Ext.Artist’s porch.Day

Sound of motorcycle roaring down the dirt road from the cabin to the highway.

RYAN, arms crossed, is leaning against the railing, his back to the view. He’s looking down at an old willow rocking chair; the tip of his boot on one of the rockers keeps the chair in motion.

Coffee in one hand, an old paint rag in the other, THE ARTIST watches him through the screen door, shakes his head, then pushes open the door and steps onto the porch, letting the door slap closed behind him. THE ARTIST steps to the rail, tucks the paint rag into his back pocket, and sips his coffee while looking out at the view.

THE ARTIST
Everything?

RYAN
(not looking up)
“Thanks for your loyalty. You’re the best person I know. And, oh, by the way, I hired the hitman.”

THE ARTIST
Yeah, but did you tell her everything?

Ryan looks aside, toward the dirt road. The motorcycle’s roar has faded almost to nothing. Shoving his hands into his pockets, Ryan steps to the side of the porch.

THE ARTIST
Clouds are more colorful than people think.
(gestures with his mug)
There’s white, sure, but then there’s blue, pink, gray, ocher…

Ryan looks up at the sky. It’s pristine, not a cloud in sight.

THE ARTIST (CONT’D)
…a little red, umber, maybe some green…

Ryan looks over his shoulder with a quizzical expression.

THE ARTIST (CONT’D)
…a hint of purple. And black. Definitely black.

Frowning a little, Ryan turns around, leans against the rail, wanting to ask what the heck the old man is talking about, but

THE ARTIST
Without the shadows, there’d be no dimension, nothing to give the clouds shape.

c2013, KB

c2013, KB

The artist sets the coffee mug on the top rail, takes a chunk of wood from a collection of rough shapes lining the lower porch railing, then pulls a folded knife from his pocket. He opens the knife, holds the wood close to his face, and starts shaving off pieces.

Ryan watches for a couple of beats.

RYAN
What’ll you do when you finally can’t see?

THE ARTIST
(chuckles)
Pottery.

He runs a thumb over a surface his knife has just smoothed, then he turns the shape, studying it, and starts carving again.

RYAN
How much do you get for one of those?

THE ARTIST
Fifteen, twenty dollars.

RYAN
A couple years ago, I bought one of your early landscapes. _________ Mountain. Quarter of a million.

THE ARTIST
I heard about it.

RYAN
Had to move a doorway to hang it.

THE ARTIST
You know where my money went? Everybody else. I drank. Gambled. Other stuff. Landscapes looked more and more like abstracts, and portraits could have been painted by children. I lost my family. But when I started losing my sight, that’s when I remembered how much I missed the details.
(a beat)
I came home.

RYAN
So going blind is a good thing.

THE ARTIST
(shrugs)
My hands still work.

Ryan strides to the opposite end of the porch and looks up the hillside. The peak of a weathered shake roof rises from the ridge: the old studio.

RYAN
If he’s anywhere around, he’ll follow the bike. He’ll know the rider isn’t me, but he’ll follow her anyway.

THE ARTIST
If he’s around, he’s probably up in those trees somewhere with a rifle, and you’re giving him the perfect shot.

RYAN
If he was here, he would have already done it.

The newspaper lays headline-up on the porch swing, forgotten from the earlier argument: “Playboy Billionaire Still Missing”, and a smaller headline, “No Ransom Demands”. The caption under a photo of Ryan’s distraught housekeeper includes the phrases “survivalist hike” and “presumed dead.”

He picks up the paper, looks up at the hillside again, drops the paper back onto the swing.

RYAN
Got any plans for that studio?

THE ARTIST
Give it back to the forest.
(pauses his carving)
Why?

c. KB

 

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Saturday, Science Fiction, and Such

So, I didn’t set the alarm, and I still woke early. Dagnabbit!

My new digs are smaller than the sprawling basement that could accommodate all my furniture, including a massive desk and several bookshelves, in addition to my brother’s family’s overflow.

Several framed pieces of artwork and photography still need to be hung on the walls — that’ll be the last project, I think — and bookshelves must be hauled upstairs. There’s little room, however. My printer occupies the window seat. Short boxes are stored under the bed. The bed serves as a desk.

laptop on the bed, 'cause who doesn't use the bed for a desk?   KB, 2013

laptop on the bed, ’cause who doesn’t use the bed for a desk?                               KB, 2013

No complaints, no worries.

Some folks don’t have a home, and I have more than enough.

hand-painted, pottery turtle (doesn't he look curious?)     KB, 2013

hand-painted, pottery turtle (doesn’t he look curious?) KB, 2013

Including this little fellow, a hand-crafted coin bank from Honduras, where I traveled at age fifteen, just for a week in the capital city, Tegucigalpa. Came home with this turtle and a few other friends. At the moment, he huddles near a girly, long-lashed ceramic piggy bank, also hand-painted, from Mexico.

What do they talk about when no one’s listening?

I took these photos in low light, just using the glow of the small lamp behind the turtle, and whatever morning sun came through the blinds. I shoot on a Canon EOS Rebel, and have only two lenses: the mid-range that came with the camera, and a nice little lens that shoots 1:1 aspect, mainly for indoors and low light. However, these shots would have been sharper / cleaner had settings been correct and the tripod handy (it’s in the car, awaiting field trips).

Rather than photography and blog posts and answering e-mail, I should be bringing up those aforementioned bookshelves out of the garage, and then posting this weekend’s episode of Thieves’ Honor, the space opera serial still in production despite no longer having a magazine home.

We’re up to Episode 32 (or the sixth episode of Season 2, however one prefers to refer to it), and I need to go back and add in a deleted scene that was omitted from the original publication due to word count constraints. The story makes better sense with that scene; therefore its return.

And that, my friends, is why I most often prefer the director’s cut of a film to the theatrical cut. Only rarely have I ever preferred the pared-down version.

On the other hand, I do like brevity in my writing. The books may sprawl, but they’d better never be boring. Get to the point, and keep the story moving.

KB, 2013

KB, 2013

The turtle and the pig agree.

 

 

 

 

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