Tag Archives: plot

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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Filed under bad movies, classics, creativity, doctors, editing, fantasy, Fiction, frustration, Goals, Halloween, historical fiction, history, Horror, hospital, Lillian Csernica, nature, publication, reality TV, research, science fiction, surgery, therapy, Writing

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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When the Story Shapes Itself


by Lillian Csernica  on October 23, 2014

My NanoWriMo prep is well underway.  The plot outline is rough, but I wrote one.  I have my list of major and minor characters.  Today I brainstormed all the probable settings where significant action would occur.  That’s when it hit me.

I have to get Tendo and Yuriko all the way from the Ryukyu Islands off the southwest coast of Kyushu, the southernmost island of the Japanese archipelago, across Shikoku, and on to Honshu, the main island where Kyoto is located.  How much of the trip do they make by land?  How much do they make by water?  How many horses will the party need?  Will they take ferries, boats, or ships?

I have to figure all of that out before Nov. 1.  Welcome to writing historical fiction.

This does bring me a certain amount of relief, because I now know what Tendo and Yuriko are going to be doing for the first several chapters of the book.  Oh sure, I could just open in Kyoto with Tendo in his new position as a member of the Imperial diplomatic corps.  Trouble is, I’d still need to fill in the gap regarding how things went while he worked at the Satsuma Embassy on the Ryukyus, and that would be told in flashback.  BO-RING.  I think it would be much better to show the still newly married Tendo and Yuriko having to cope with yet another drastic change to their lives.  How are they dealing with married life?  Neither of them has had a serious relationship before this, and now all of a sudden they’re married and yet still on the run from their enemies.

 

 

I’ve decided to give Tendo and Yuriko one of the minor but important characters from the first book.  They will be taking Matamori along with them to Kyoto.  I don’t want to get into the entire plot of Sword Master, Flower Maiden right now, so let me just say Matamori is the Captain of the Guard for Kobayashi, the samurai lord whom Tendo’s father serves.  Kobayashi is the one ally strong enough to really protect Tendo and Yuriko from the evil schemes of Nakazawa, the bad guy.  Kobayashi wouldn’t send Matamori with Tendo and Yuriko if he didn’t believe their very lives were in danger.  I did not make this decision consciously.  Once I understood the length and difficulty of the trip to Kyoto, I knew I had to dramatize it.  Matamori showed up in my mind’s eye, riding along beside Tendo on horseback.

The story is already showing me how it needs to be told.

The trip to Kyoto will put Tendo and Yuriko under pressure.  This is a big promotion for Tendo, so he has to live up to it.  First he has to reach Kyoto alive.  Yuriko is still making the adjustment from first rate courtesan-in-training to the proper wife of a samurai civil servant.  Yes, they love each other with all their hearts, but will that be enough to keep them together?  A road trip of any sort means obstacles, delays, goods inns, bad inns, potential ambush, and several long boring hours just getting from one place to another.  This is the great part about mixing both travel by land and travel by water.  I wonder if Tendo gets seasick?  That would be embarrassing.

So much to research.  So much to discover.  A whole new adventure about to begin!

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Reblog: Divas on Writing


by Lillian Csernica on March 30, 2014

Here’s a very useful article from a very helpful blog.  Enjoy!

 

Divas on Writing: The Five Basic Elements of Plot (via http://writedivas.com)

The Five Basic Elements of Plot: Exposition Rising Action Climax Falling Action Resolution These five elements are derived from Gustav Freytag’s pyramid-like analysis of dramatic structure, which consists of an exposition or beginning, a rising action…

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