Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Raisin Rant: The 2012 Sausage Fest

An ABC News Picture

Last week, Congressman Darrel Issa convened a panel to discuss the pressing issue of contraceptives for women. Everyone who needed to be there was included.

Unless, of course, you think possibly a woman needed to be there.

So here's my question for Congressman Issa: where do you get the giant brass balls to think that you have the right to make decisions for me?

Oh, that's right. You were born with them. (Although I'm guessing the bronzing came later.)

And the fact that I was born without them justifies completely ignoring my right to have any say-so over what happens to my body.

(Yeah, I know this hasn't been an issue in my life in 30 years. Roll with me on this, please.)

Rick Santorum shares Congressman Issa's opinion. Well, Rick, here's a thought for you: As a taxpayer, I have an issue with you continuing to have unprotected sex even though you've already gifted society with one child who will never be able to care for herself. The fact is, once a woman reaches a certain age, the odds against her bearing a healthy child increase. For heaven's sake take some responsibility for your own reproduction. Strom Thurmond may have continued to squirt out babies till he was 99, but he didn't do with a 99-year-old woman.

And here's my next question: why does Rick Santorum (and every other zealot out there) think I should live my life according to his religious beliefs? I get the anti-abortion thing: if you think life begins at conception, then abortion is murder and we don't let people murder other people. But using a condom or some other form of contraceptive to prevent pregnancy in the first place isn't abortion.

It's behaving responsibly.

Santorum also believes that if a woman--even a young girl--becomes pregnant after being raped, she should be forced to carry that rape baby. And he wants her to do that even if it means putting her life at risk.

Because that's his religious belief.

Here's an idea for you, Rick: how about we stuff a growing, living representation of the worst thing that's ever happened to you under your sweater vest and let it gestate there for nine months? It will shove all your other organs out of the way, permanently changing the landscape of your body so there can be no forgetting what happened to you, until it's time to push it out through a too-small orifice.

How does that sound?

Oh, that's right. You aren't making this decision for yourself.

You only want to make this decision for women.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Fiction Friday: The Twilight Story

(Yeah, I know it's Saturday Sunday. Give me a break.)

Last week we analyzed Twilight using the beat sheet developed by the late Blake Snyder. This week, we'll look at it based on the precepts of Robert McKee, Hollywood's grand master teacher of script-writing and author of Story.

Assuming Twilight is a story in 3 acts of Bella and Edward's star-crossed love, the act structure looks something like this:

Inciting Incident: Bella sees Edward in the cafeteria.
Act 1 Climax: Bella realizes Edward is a vampire.
Midpoint: Bella and Edward realize they're in love.
Act 2 Climax: James spots Bella and decides to make her his quarry.
Act 3 Climax: Edward rescues Bella from James.

According to McKee, each of these points should represent a turning point in the story, where the action turns in a completely different direction.

So on that basis, the story works well.

But McKee also says "repetitiousness is the enemy of rhythm." A story where something good happens, then something else good happens and then a third good thing happens is one boring story. But what some writers don't realize is that a story where something bad happens and then something worse happens and then something even worse happens, with no alternating rhythm of positive things, is also pretty tedious. At best, it's one of those mindless action flicks where the hero runs from one nightmare situation to the next without a break. At worst, it's melodrama.

The turning points listed above should turn as follows:

Act 1 Climax: + to - (For a down ending, this reverses)
Midpoint: - to +
Act 2 Climax: + to -
Act 3 Climax: - to +

So, based on the value of "love" (which is the overarching value in this story):

Act 1 Climax: Bella realizes Edward is a vampire. + to -
Midpoint: Bella and Edward realize they're in love. - to +
Act 2 Climax: James spots Bella and decides to make her his quarry. + to -
Act 3 Climax: Edward rescues Bella from James. - to +

So, at a macro level, the story works well. Especially since the degree of negative/positive movement in the situation intensifies over the course of the book.

On a more micro level, scene outcomes should also alternate positive and negative, based on some value held by the protagonist (or POV character). So let's look at the first few scenes of Twilight.

SceneWhat HappensValue ChangeValue
1Renee takes Bella to the airport+ to -Happiness
2Charlie picks her up at the airport and she learns he bought her a truck - to + Happiness
3Bella cries herself to sleep (sequel) + to - Happiness
4Bella sees the Cullens for the first time in the cafeteria - to + Excitement
5Bella gets Edward as a lab partner and he acts like she smells bad + to - Acceptance
6Mike chats with Bella, easing some of her tension (sequel) - to + Acceptance
7Bella overhears Edward trying to drop their biology class + to - Acceptance

As you can see, Meyer does a great job of alternating her value changes, impelling the story forward and pulling us along with it. The other thing I found interesting was her use of sequels. Sequels, as you probably know, are designed to allow the protagonist (or other POV character) process the scene that just occurred and decide what to do next. It also lets the reader take a beat. Meyer shows that sequels can also be used to let the author slip in a needed value change.

Next week: Characters or Why Twilight Sold a Bazillion Copies

Friday, February 10, 2012

Fiction Friday: A Look at Twilight's Plot a la Blake Snyder's Beat Sheet

There are many ways to analyze plot structure in novels, plays and movies. The one I'm most familiar with are the Act/Scene/Beat breakdown taught by Robert McKee in his book Story and in his seminars.

Another, one that's probably a little easier for the neophyte, is the beat sheet shared by the late screenwriter Blake Snyder in his book, Save the Cat.

If you're interested in learning to plot better, you can't find a better place to start than with Snyder's book.

The table below represents Snyder's Beat Sheet, which assumes a 110-page script. I was looking at the trade paperback version of Twilight, which ran 498 pages. Because Snyder recommended that certain things happen at specific intervals in a movie script, I've listed the appropriate page numbers from the script and applied a multiplier of 4.54 to calculate a similar spot in the book.

Where Twilight varies from Snyder's recommended placement of a beat, I've indicated the suggested spot with a strike-through, followed by the actual page number(s). As you can see, up to about the midpoint, Meyer sticks pretty close to Snyder's beats, then blazes her own trail. Which is interesting, because it's that last quarter of the book that has all the action. It's relatively cerebral up to that point.

Also, Twilight doesn't really have much of a B story. For lack of anything better, I treated the "Bella settles in at a new high school" as the B story, but it doesn't get much page time.

Note: In a normal book/movie the A and B stories get switched when you move from the printed page to the screen. This is because the A story in a novel tends to occur too much inside the protagonist's head to translate well to the screen. The B story tends to be more action-oriented, which works a lot better for film.

Script Page Twilight Page Beat What Should Be Happening
1 5 Opening Image Foreshadowing of James attacking Bella
15 68 Theme Stated "That was the first night I dreamed of Edward Cullen."
12 55 Catalyst Edward risks exposing himself as a vampire when he saves Bella from being crushed by Eric's van
12-25 55-114 Debate Bella tries to figure out how she feels about Edward Cullen
25 114 Break into Two Jacob tells Bella about "the cold ones" and Bella realizes Edward is a vampire.
30 136 B Story Bella goes to Port Angeles with Jessica and Angela
30-55 136-250 Fun and Games Edward rescues Bella from the rapists; he and Bella spend the day alone in the meadow
55 250 286 Midpoint Edward finally commits to not kill Bella (a high point in any relationship)
55-75 250-341 427 Bad Guys Close In Rosalie doesn't like Bella; James catches a whiff of Bella and begins to hunt her
75 341 427 All is Lost James claims to have Bella's Mom hostage
85 386 440 Dark Night of the Soul/td>
Bella thinks about all the stuff she's losing as deliberately walks into James' trap
85 386 452 Break into Three Edward arrives to save Bella
85-110 386 452-500 Finale Bella and Edward go to the Prom
110 500 Final Image "...and he leanded down to press his cold lips once more to my throat."

Next week: Acts/Scenes/Beats (different kind) value changes and rising action.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

I Kissed a Vampire

(Credit to ftwapples, who's got an amazing singing voice and several other parodies on YouTube.)

So, if you've been hanging around the Raisin Chronicles at all lately, you know I'm currently obsessed with Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series. One thing I don't get, though, is how hot Bella finds it that Edward is so cold. She goes on and on about the excitement of kissing his "cool marble lips."

As a woman who once slept on a waterbed after the heater went out, I can tell you that sleeping with/on something that's a steady room temperature and never warms up is a bone-chilling proposition. And that the flimsy comforter Edward thoughtfully places between them is not going to fix that.

Still, I'm kind of fascinated by the concept of the cool marble lips.

It's been exceptionally warm and sunny here in southern Ohio for the past couple of weeks. Temperatures running above average--60 degrees a couple of days--and, even more shocking, it's been sunny. Generally, it clouds up here sometime in early November and just stays that way until May. In the winter, the Pacific Northwest has nothing on us for gloom.

In fact, it's been so nice that Old Dog was able to get his bike out after work one day last week. What he failed to take into account was how fast the temperature would drop once the sun started to go down. By the time he got home, he was pretty much a dogsicle. As soon as he walked in the door, he kissed me with his ice cold lips.

A light bulb went on over my head. I gave him my most enticing smile.

"Wanna play Edward-and-Bella?"

He turned me down like a duvet cover.

"I don't do my best work when I'm cold." And off he went, in search of a hot shower.

I haven't given up hope, though.

After all, spring riding season is just around the corner.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Fiction Friday: Love Stories and Lumpy Goods

Still Twilit here....

In the world of negotiation/gamesmanship, a "lumpy good" is something over which people are unwilling/unable to compromise.

One example we're all familiar with is Palestine. Neither side is willing to share the city. Each feels that if they don't win complete control of the geography, they've lost.

Another is Solomon's Baby. Well, not actually Solomon's baby, although, with 700 wives and 300 concubines, he must have had enough of them. This was the baby brought to him by two women, each claiming to be the child's mother. When each refused to give up her claim, Solomon proposed to slice the child down the middle and give each woman half. Upon which, the child's mother offered to renounce her claim for the good of the baby, thus identifying herself as the true mom.

As we discussed last week, the more intense the differences between our two lovers, the more tension/conflict/interest resides in the plot.

So I'm thinking, what could create more tension than a lumpy good?

From our examples last Friday, Dr. Abortion and Ms. Right-to-Life clash over a lumpy good, human life. There is no compromise position here. Either you ban abortion and let the fetuses live or you prioritize a woman's right to choose. No middle ground.

Likewise Bella and Edward clash over a lumpy good--her life or, arguably, her immortal soul.

What other lumpy goods can you think of in this context?

Next week: an analysis of the plotting in Twilight.


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