Monthly Archives: July 2017

How Bad Movies Help Us Write Good Stories


by Lillian Csernica on July 29, 2017

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The Blair Witch Project and the first Paranormal Activity movies launched a new sub-genre of horror: found footage. Sometimes the people who find the footage know its original purpose. Sometimes the footage is simply discovered and viewing it can provide answers, deepen the mystery, drive you insane, and/or get you killed.

The problem with the success of these two movies is how often and how badly other filmmakers keep trying to imitate them.

This happens in the world of books as well. Charlaine HarrisSookie Stackhouse series began appearing close to the start of the vampire craze. Their popularity and the subsequent HBO series True Blood did a lot to prompt the already growing industry of vampire-based novels. Some of these are quite good. Others are not. (cough cough Twilight cough.)

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Really bad books and movies can serve as practical guides for What Not to Do. This brings me back to those found footage movies. I love a good ghost story. Now and then I go trawling through Netflix and Amazon, hoping to find a movie that doesn’t just shuffle together the same tiresome people, camera equipment, Ouija boards, and insane asylums. I have found a few gems, but it’s appalling how many mediocre wannabes clutter up the genre.

Let’s have a look at how such a movie provides a check list for What Not To Do.

PLOT — Familiar, contrived, predictable, unrealistic, and not all that scary. What is the opposite of all that? Strange, natural, unexpected, realistic, and terrifying. Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak is all that and more.

CHARACTER — Shallow, annoying, not sympathetic, and their motivations are often forced. They do really stupid things that anybody with a shred of survival instinct wouldn’t even consider. We want characters who are complex, endearing, sympathetic, and genuine. Above all, make your characters intelligent with at least some common sense.

SETTING — Not realistic. Never mind the question of whether or not ghosts actually exist. Let’s think about the fact that laws about private property, trespassing, and public health are very real and rigorously enforced. Abandoned medical facilities with a history of death, disease, torture, horrible medical experiments, and abuse of the patients by the staff were often built back when asbestos and other toxins were a regular part of the construction business. Professional paranormal investigators know about contacting property managers, getting the appropriate permits, and avoiding lawsuits.

TONE — They’re going for creepy and atmospheric, but when the filmmakers abide by the trite formula of dead cell phones, flickering lights, poltergeist antics, etc. etc., there’s no suspense. Instead, it all becomes laughable. Remember how Professor Lupin taught Harry Potter and the gang how to get the upper hand with the Boggart, the creature that would take on the appearance of a person’s worst fear? Just find a way to make it funny, and that takes all the fear out of it.

THEME — This depends on the particular variations present in a specific movie. Most of the time, it boils down to “People who refuse to listen to multiple warnings about the Haunted Madhouse deserve whatever happens to them.” That brazen band of party animal college students is so annoying I’ve ended up cheering on the monsters.

PACE — Such movies usually kick off with an info dump about the setting, the main characters, or both. This is the movie version of a Prologue, and it contains every reason why smart people don’t go near the setting even in broad daylight. Too Much Information ruins the movie because now we have a good idea about what horrible fates will befall the characters. Place your bets, because once the Ouija board is out and the candles are lit, the bodies are going to start piling up.

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In the spirit of fairness, I will mention a few of those gems I’ve found:

Grave Encounters

Session 9

Cabin in the Woods

Boo

Find Me

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Reblog: 3 Sneaky Techniques Covert Narcissists Use to Disarm and Demean You


Today’s post is a two-fer! Some excellent mental health tips, along with raw material for creating a really nasty antagonist! Enjoy! — Lillian

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We’re all familiar with loud, bold, and overly confident overt narcissists. These types of narcissists are visibly grandiose, aggressively posturing their superiority for all to see. They may be…

Source: 3 Sneaky Techniques Covert Narcissists Use to Disarm and Demean You

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Three Top Tips to Put New Power in Your Writing


by Lillian Csernica on July 9, 2017

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When we’re in the process of writing, we sometimes reach a point where despite having a complete list of story elements on board, we feel like something is still missing. What we’ve written so far is good, but we want more. More depth. More intensity. More power.

Here are three simple, effective techniques to bring more power to your ideas and the ways you write about them.

 

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CHARACTER ORCHESTRATION

There are two parts to  proper character orchestration.

First, you make the protagonist and antagonist very different from each other. Create strong contrast with opposing traits, whether physical, emotional, spiritual, financial or all of the above!

Author James N. Frey provides an excellent explanation of this technique in How To Write A Damn Good Thriller.

Second, the events of your story leave these two characters tied together in what’s known as the “unity of opposites.” In his blog The Story Element, Paul Nelson explains:

The two opposite characters who are in conflict must be forced together, and neither of them can be allowed to leave the battle. For example, if Gandalf gives up and the ring isn’t destroyed, then Sauron wins and turns Middle Earth into hell. If Sauron gives up and lets the ring be destroyed, then he is also destroyed. Both Gandalf and Sauron are in danger of being destroyed, so they must destroy the other. They cannot both exist at the same time.

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JUXTAPOSITION

From Writing Explained:

What does juxtaposition mean? Juxtaposition is a rhetorical device that places two elements in close relationship for comparative purposes. Juxtaposition is a type of comparison. Typically, the two elements being juxtaposed have differences and the juxtaposition is meant to highlight contrasting effects.

In the long-awaited Wonder Woman movie, the juxtaposition of Diana and Steve Trevor serves to highlight the many layers of meaning in the story. Diana is a strong, independent warrior at a time when Steve Trevor sees a woman as being weak, needing his protection and guidance. Diana sees victims of the war who need help right now, while Steve knows they have to complete the mission to save the greatest number of people. Steve expects Diana to learn how to follow the rules of his world. Diana is committed to her sacred duty and says so in one of the movie’s best lines: “What I do is not up to you.”

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ASYMMETRY

Let’s start with symmetry. From Dictionary.com:

noun, plural symmetries.
1. the correspondence in size, form, and arrangement of parts on opposite sides of a plane, line, or point; regularity of form or arrangement in terms of like, reciprocal, or corresponding parts.
2. the proper or due proportion of the parts of a body or whole to one another with regard to size and form; excellence of proportion.
3. beauty based on or characterized by such excellence of proportion.

Sounds good, right? Symmetry has its value, but in writing a good story, asymmetry can be even more useful. Find out why here:

How to Blow Your Own Mind in Just Five Minutes

These three techniques can help you make the most out of any story idea. Write with power!

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Universal Studios: Eating and Drinking


by Lillian Csernica on July 3, 2017

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Lard Lad Donuts. A cardiologist’s nightmare.

When we’re at an amusement park, Chris and I have to make John eat. He gets so excited he just wants to move on to the next ride or show.

The heat was in the 90s, so I made sure we had water bottles that we refilled frequently. Anywhere we saw a restroom sign, there would be a water fountain close by. This was very helpful knowledge when bottled water was selling for $3.49 each.

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I’ve already mentioned the supreme delights of Butterbeer. Available at Honeyduke’s is the magical ice cream that never melts. I’m not sure that we really tested the truth of that “magic.” John ate it rather quickly. Florian Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlor also offers many chilly treats.

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The Giant Donut — This is, if anything, an understatement. We’re talking about something roughly the size of the front wheel on a child’s tricycle. The GD is most commonly available with either bright pink frosting dotted with multi-colored sprinkles, or chocolate frosting and chocolate sprinkles. I’ll give you one guess which one John chose.

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Minion Cupcakes — Red velvet cake with a good inch and a half of blue frosting swirled on top. From there you could choose the Twinkie Minion version, or the round, flat, yellow disc decorated with white eyes and black details. I’m not a fan of Twinkies. Neither is John, thank God. By the time he was halfway through his cupcake, his lips had turned cyanotic blue. When he was finished, he stuck his tongue out at me. One of my nicknames for John is “Puppy Boy.” With that blue tongue he could be a Chow!

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Here we have the Chicken Thumbs meal available at Cletus’ Chicken Shack. The coleslaw is all right. I like a lot of pepper on mine, but that’s just me. French fries aren’t on my diet, and John had already eaten all of his, so I offered the fries to the four Australian gentlemen sitting nearby nursing their pints. They were happy to accept. Throughout the park the French fries are dusted with a seasoning mixture that will make you even more in need of a cold drink. They are tasty!

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The second night we were in the park we had dinner at Luigi’s Pizza.  For a cafeteria-style restaurant the food was quite good. Pasta or pizza or even pizza-by-the-slice, plus a small Caesar salad.  The desserts were what you’d expect in an Italian restaurant, featuring huge slices of a six layer chocolate cake edged with mini chocolate chips and topped with serious whipped cream. You do get your money’s worth at Universal Studios.

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Universal Studios: Screaming and Laughing


by Lillian Csernica on July 2, 2017

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Next up: Shrek 4-D. This adventure was so amazing and funny we saw it both days.

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You start out in Lord Farquad’s Dungeon, where the Three Little Pigs and Pinocchio are being held prisoner. The Magic Mirror and the Ghost of Lord Farquad get the story started as a prelude to what happens during the 4D movie in Ogre-Vision!

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No spoilers here, but I will say this is more than just a visual experience. Four out of the five senses get some stimulation. One of them hit me right where I live, bringing a whole new dimension to this thrill ride!

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Minion Mayhem — Another wild ride! When the Minions all get thrown into prison, Gru starts a recruiting campaign. This is the basis of the ride’s storyline. Gru’s henchman Dr. Nefario has created another evil death ray gizmo that will turns even humans into Minions. (I got to be a purple Minion!) John and I can’t wait to see Despicable Me 3.  What we saw during the ride convinced us we had to see the whole movie. John bought a Minion key ring with his name on it. I bought a charm that shows Kevin and Bob back to back, both of them holding serious ray guns! The perfect keepsake to remind me of the time John and I joined the ranks of the Minions!

The Simpsons Experience — Ever wanted to be inside an episode of The Simpsons? This will do it for you. It’s an insane 3D ride through Itchy & Scratchy Land, facing the homicidal robot cats and mice. There’s an ominous undercurrent to the ride’s lead-in, which explodes into some genuine terror (at least for me) when you experience the very realistic sense of being trapped on a shattered roller coaster.

Yes, that’s right. If you weren’t already in enough of a panic, the ride starts going backwards!

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Back when I was ten years old, just the prospect of going behind the scenes at a real working movie studio was a huge thrill. In today’s modern digital world, visitors expect a whole lot more given the endless competition for their attention spans. Now the Studio Tour includes a 3D adventure between King Kong and some vicious dinosaurs. The grand finale is the hyper-realistic, HD adventure Fast and Furious: Supercharged.

I confess a certain nostalgia for the Jaws portion of the tour. There I was, sitting in the tour shuttle with John just as my mother had sat with me. John has a pretty good grip on what’s real and what isn’t, but that didn’t stop him from yelping when the shark reared up out of the water. Another fine family tradition, watching the next generation get freaked out by Bruce the animatronic shark.

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