Monthly Archives: October 2012

Sister Rebekah’s Musings on Editing

I find editing a difficult beast. Is it an allergy? Something I ate? All I know is that it’s not as much fun as being in the hot seat of creativity, hammering out a new story. I like to go to coffee shops to edit, because when I start the process, I get distracted too easily by sparkly things like the internet, or crazy lint on my shirt and hey, my nails need clipping…

I’ve attended some great classes on how to edit a manuscript at the Queensland Writers Centre and I can’t recommend enough joining your local writers organisation for this kind of thing. An added bonus is you meet other people to toss ideas around with. I also like to buy books on editing, stack them in a pile and feel wonderfully smart that I’m going to read these awesome books…any day now. I do have one dog-eared book, called Revision & Self-Editing by James Scott Bell, which I sometimes go back to for a pep talk or game plan.

A recommendation I’ve heard a few times, is let your manuscript sit for a few weeks, if not more, then do a complete read through for the big things, like structure and characters that don’t work. When doing this, some of the questions James Scott Bell says to ask yourself are:

  • Does the story make sense?
  • Is the plot compelling?
  • Does the story flow or does it seem choppy?
  • Do my lead characters “jump off the page”?
  • Are the stakes high enough?
  • Is there enough of a “worry factor” for readers?

Personally, I’m a slow editor, as I know I have a tendency to skip words or paragraphs I’m familiar with. So I go slow. My editing method begins with reacquainting myself with old editing notes as a reminder of what to watch out for. Then, since I have the attention span of a fruit fly, I write out a list and tape it to my monitor or my forehead, depending on my mood.

My mantra is: Try to remember the BIG rules. Drink COFFEE. Turn OFF internet. Ignore kids FIGHTING in the back room. Then I combine it all with a huge dose of self-belief. I CAN do it! Even when it feels I can’t. I call it my soapy bubble of self-belief and I think everyone should have one.

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Answers (and Unexpected Helpers)

A Quick Writing Exercise

Ok, this is a riff off someone else’s writing exercise. I’m calling it 25 Answers. The original exercise was called 100 Questions and you can find a description of it here on my friend and early writing teacher/mentor Sarah Armstrong’s website: http://www.sarah-armstrong.com/writing-tips/how-to-rewrite-a-novel-staggering-over-the-finish-line/p/41

I tried the 100 Questions exercise and it was fabulous for busting me past my first, most predictable thoughts and further, deeper into weirder, wilder territories – the kind I often long to get to but often find I don’t. Now I know a way to, more reliably.

The 25 Answers thing is something I spontaneously used once I was in that weirder, wilder territory. There was one key, central question to the story I was working on that I really needed to explore more thoroughly, it kept coming up and I kept answering it evasively. I actually initially set out to write 100 Answers but in the end 25 was plenty. I found the best way to approach the exercise was to write quickly but not without depth, I mean, with a real intention to try and get more and more honest with each answer.

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I also have to confess to a little bit of magic-business with this one. At one point a small moth landed right on the part of the page I was about to write on and so I had to stop. I almost brushed it away but then something told me not to. Instead, I watched as the moth crept up and across the page, finally settling on one word I had already written. It stayed there for some time. I could keep writing then, so I did, but I kept an eye on that moth. It stayed where it was until I was done, and then it fluttered off. I paid close attention to the word it had settled on, and I felt a little ringing inside, a resonance, a Yes. That word was key, and as I progressed with a full reworking of the story, it became even more obviously so.

So, I would add that along with your 25 (or more) Answers, you be open to mysterious, small, quiet helpers. You never know who might be whispering your most heart-sought answers.

On Time Travel Films 1

***SPOILERS for Looper***

What do you mean, ‘I go bald’?

Recently I saw Looper, the latest film featuring time travel, which joins the illustrious line of other films on this theme over the last 30 years or so. I love love love this theme in fiction, from the Terminator series, to the Back to the Future series, Flight of the Navigator, 12 Monkeys, Frequency, Kate & Leopold, Timeline, Primer, The Butterfly Effect, Frequently Asked Questions about Time Travel, Source Code, and Midnight in Paris. And those are just the ones I can remember and care to mention here. It’s taken me a week to post this blog, though, for reasons that will become apparent below.

The above list is diverse in tone and sub-genre; some are comedies, some action; some are light, others very very dark. But like all good science fiction, the movies featuring time travel generally deal with the impact of the travelling on people. Preferably, they are people we care about. As is true of all stories.

Now, I liked Looper a lot. It liked its treatment of the time-travel world-rules. The first 30-45 mins were especially engaging: the premise was a good one and set up with minimal fuss and maximum impact. And that scene with the other escaped Loop? Oh my god, fantastic!! Around half-way, though, the movie takes what felt like a rather abrupt U-turn into a different kind of film. A discontinuity, which could be a nice touch considering the subject matter. And despite the end of the film becoming a blend of counter-T2, X-Men 3 and The Butterfly Effect, I still enjoyed it. So, that discontinuity itself isn’t what I wanted to talk about. What I wanted to examine when I first wrote this blog is how that bump could have been a tad smoother; how I could have felt less like the movie the beginning set up wasn’t the one we got.

At first, I felt the principle reason for this was lack of future stakes. In any film where the plot asks a character to change the past in order to change the future (which isn’t all films in the genre), we get some idea of what that future could look like. In Terminator (1 and 2 – I pretend the others don’t exist) this is done with short, powerful sequences showing the rebels battling Skynet. In 12 Monkeys, we see the post-apocalyptic landscape. The Butterfly Effect spends all its sequences playing out the possible scenarios. So, when I first saw Looper, it felt glaring to me that Bruce Willis’s character is out to kill three children on the premise of a terrible future leader we never see. Yes, said leader has killed Bruce’s wife, but we don’t get invested in his relationship with her. So, it feels unbalanced – three kids for a wife doesn’t quite compute. And this twist in the plot comes so late in the film that it’s difficult to switch investment. We get a tantalising glimpse of said future with the pilgrim-hatted bad-guys who take Bruce to the time machine, but a glimpse is all it is.

But then, a friend pointed out that I’d kinda missed the point. And so I thought about it. And thought about it some more. Ok, so we’re not supposed to root for Bruce. He’s selfish; the end badness of a generally bad life. I couldn’t help feeling that the tension could have been greater if my allegiance could have been made as grey and morally ambiguous as the characters (which were well done generally, I thought). But, ok. Alright.

Then I started thinking about how the resolution relies so much on Emily Blunt’s character, who we don’t meet until an hour into the film. I still wanted to be convinced young Joe really believed the future was really such a bad place. But as I thought about it, I realised that wasn’t his motivation. He saw the badness in himself. He didn’t need to see the future. Ok, fine.

I went through a dozen other tracks of thought about why the film didn’t quite feel right. For instance, why does Bruce’s character not act to protect himself when he realises that young Joe is being stupid and not running away like he’s said to? After all, if young Joe gets himself killed, his plan is over. For a while in that first half of the movie, I expected the film would involve the two Joes teaming up. After watching Half in the Bag’s review, I then started thinking about the issue of plot – if disposing bodies is so hard in the future, why to the pilgrim-hatted bad guys randomly shoot Bruce’s wife in the first place? And then I realised, after all this, why it’s a good film. It hasn’t left me alone. I’ve been thinking about it non-stop, and not because it annoyed me (I’m looking at you, Prometheus) but because it was intriguing.

I still have an issue with the inconsistent tone. The first half was still more engaging than the second. But maybe this is one of those cases where, for the story to be told, there isn’t a ‘fix’ that makes it perfect. Looper  is a good film. And when I see it again, I’m going to be wondering about that first-half/second-half dynamic again. I’d recommend it for any sci-fi fan. Then, if you haven’t seen it, see Primer. Consistent tone, and it will bend your mind.

Love and causality 🙂 Char.

Cauldrons and Cupcakes

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So, I unexpectedly find myself in downtown Byron Bay, at a bookshop cafe, while I wait for a friend.

Except for a brief visit to a second-hand book store on the way to a friend’s funeral a few weeks ago it has been many months since I’ve been in a bookshop. It’s been too long since I’ve had my head buried in a book of any description.

And what I also realise as I sit here sipping chai, is that it’s been too long since I have lost myself in that world that is my own land of story. The characters sit languid, waiting, growing paler and more indistinct.

I have the usual excuses; life, health, family, a crazy schedule…

But it’s all bullshit really.  I recognise a pattern sneaking back into my life where I make everything else momentarily more important that words on the page.  How have…

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Ronin the Boston Terrier’s Most Awesome Review of Classic B Grade Stuff

Ronin the Reviewer

Hello, my name is Ronin the Boston Terrier. I am very unimpressed that my mistress, Sister Rebekah, has not finished her blog on purple prose in romance, entitled: Oh La La! Are those Titties I See?

So I am posting my own blog. Here we go…

Ronin’s Review of: Guilty Pleasures

by Laurell K. Hamilton

“My name is Anita Blake. Vampires call me “The Executioner”. What I call them isn’t repeatable.”

Rebekah cut her Urban Fantasy teeth on Laurell K Hamilton’s adrenalin-fuelled, blood-soaked adventure, Guilty Pleasures, the first book in the Anita Blake series. This is a series that has been credited in establishing urban fantasy in popular fiction by bridging romance with the supernatural. Not that others hadn’t done it before, but Hamilton’s hard-boiled writing style and Anita Blake’s uncompromising character was, at the time, fresh and new.

Anita Blake works as an animator; raising zombies for money. She also doubles as a court appointed vampire executioner. In Hamilton’s well-realised world, vampires are out of the closet and petitioning for the right to vote.

When Rebekah read this book, nearly ten years ago, Anita Blake rocked her FREAKING socks off. She’d never read anything like it before. Anita was a fascinating character. She went to church, had strong morals, could kill a man with her belly button and slept with a stuffed penguin called Sigfried. Of course, now the series is up to something like nineteen books and the tone has changed dramatically. But that’s another story.

Guilty Pleasures follows Anita as she investigates a murder with the police, acting as a consultant (a plot point that is something of a cliché now). A rampaging ghoul is mutilating bodies and Anita has to find and kill it. Her second problem is the master of the city blackmails Anita into finding out who is murdering vampires. The horror! The horror! And much horror there is, churned together with sex, action and great beats of humour.

The narrative in Guilty Pleasures zooms at light-speed. Rebekah remembers devouring it in two days. The book reads like if Anne Rice lived in a trailer park, ate greasy Chinese food and packed a pistol. There’s with great sexual tension between Anita and the vampire Jean Claude, though, personally, Rebekah didn’t like Jean Claude. He dresses like a pimp and says ma petite too much. There’s the ice-cold assassin, Edward, who is so cool, I suspect he wears sunglasses at night. Then there’s a rat king, a stripper called Philip, and references John Carpenter movies.

What’s not to love? If you’ve never read this book and have a thing for classic trash, this book is a killer read.

Peace out.

Ronin the Destroyer