Monday, March 31, 2008

Deconstructionism

it just goes to prove
that the pen is mightier
than any damn sword

Tricky Linguistics.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Yellow

bananas egg yolks
school buses taxis cheeses
and diamonds sometimes

Banana
potassium source
preferred by monkeys worldwide
(I can't back that up)

Bananaphone.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Adapting Bronte

The Concept: Let it not be said that I’m neglectful of the Brontes.
Previous Victim: Jane Austen

The Book: Jane Eyre
The Author Whose Disdain I Deserve: Charlotte Bronte
Original Plot Summary: England, 1830s. Jane Eyre is an orphan being brought up by her spiteful aunt Mrs. Reed, and tormented by her spoiled cousins. They are attractive and wealthy, she is a poor and plain no-one, a fact which is continually brought to her attention. Jane disagrees - vocally. To get rid of the proverbial thorn in her side, Mrs. Reed sends Jane to a wretched boarding school, whose headmaster, Mr. Brocklehurst, almost makes Mrs. Reed seem decent by comparison. Jane is clever and feisty, survives eight years of school, and becomes a teacher. Restless, after two years she decides it’s time to find a new place. She advertises to become a governess and a Mrs. Fairfax of Thornfield Hall offers her a position tutoring a young French girl named Adele.

Jane likes Thornfield from the start – the house, the people, the countryside. She likes it even better when the proprietor, Mr. Edward Rochester, dramatically gallops into the story on his horse. He’s mysterious, tempestuous, and 20 years older, but it’s a mutual case of love at first sight. Emotional baggage + the English class system + a mysterious X-factor (which may or may not be a crazy person in the attic) = quite a few chapters until our protagonists reveal their feelings to each other. The emotional baggage is forgotten, the English class system is told to go to hell, and the mysterious X-factor is blissfully ignored as the couple decides to tie the knot.

On the joyful day, however, a lawyer interferes claiming Rochester is already married. The mysterious X-factor turns out to be his insane, partially-Jamaican wife, whom he was encouraged to marry when he was a naive 20-year-old. (His family needed her money so much they were happy to overlook her ancestry, and her family was thrilled to marry into English society.) Clueless about her madness at the time, Rochester found out about five minutes later and suffered ever since. Rochester wants Jane to stay. Jane can’t possibly. She flees north, despite having no money and not a single person in the world from whom she can ask a favor. (There’s a maternal uncle floating around somewhere, but this is not an option at the time – I forget why.) Starving and desperate, Jane begs on the doorstep of a cottage, which turns out to belong to her three cousins (from another maternal uncle) she didn’t know she had. Mary, Diana, and St. John take her in, and she finally has a place to belong. Bonus: orbiting uncle dies and leaves all his money to Jane, which she generously splits with her cousins. She is now wealthy enough to marry Rochester, but he’s still married and she decides not to go there.

St. John, alas, decides to mess up domestic peace by proposing to Jane. He’s cold and self-righteous, otherwise spoiling his advantage of looking like a Greek statue. Jane, lonely and manipulated, is on the verge of accepting, when she feels she can hear Rochester calling her. This is troubling. To set her mind at ease, she travels back to Thornfield and discovers: a) the hall burned down thanks to Mrs. R; b) Mrs. R killed herself in the fire; c) Rochester is still alive and living at a small country house nearby, but has lost his eyesight and one hand. It takes some rather unnecessary teasing and time, but Jane and Rochester finally marry, have two children, and Rochester even regains his sight in one eye. The end.

New Title: Jayne Air
Genre: Science-Fiction
New Plot Summary: The Universe, 3830s. Pretty much the same plot, except Thornfield is one of the many moons orbiting the Planet England. Also, it’ll be Commander Rochester instead of Mister, since it sounds so much more sci-fi. (He fought in the Titanium Wars or something.) Rochester’s wife is some kind of fancy cyborg. If she were a robot or a droid, there would be no problem getting rid of her, but because she is partially human, it’s against the law (or something). And because the human part of her is on the crazy side, Rochester has to hide her. She’ll be this perfect blond blue-eyed woman of 21, because she doesn’t age visibly – adding to the creep factor.
Cinematography Suggestions: Very futuristic, of course, but stark. No dazzling, colorful metropolises, etc. The endless space should emphasize isolation rather than freedom.
Sample Scenes:
[Night. Rochester and Jane are standing on a terrace, looking at the moon terrain, which is some cool desert landscape. Planet England is visible in the sky.]
“D’you miss England, Jane?”
“I don’t, really. It’s rather strange.”
“That you don’t miss it?”
“No, I meant I used to look at the stars and imagine the different worlds. Now I am on another world.”
“I used to be as enthusiastic as you. I hate to disappoint you, but the hard truth is the other worlds are not much different than this one. Oh perhaps you can find some different scenery, but five, six worlds and you’ll be through. You would think that with space being so damnably infinite, you could find some variety in it. But there’s no variety in infinity, only monotony. You smile, Jane. You don’t believe me?”
“No, Commander.”
“You’ll believe me after I show you some of the other worlds.”
“... you’ll show me?”
“Well. I’ve been thinking Adele needs to see more than this desert or she’ll be unfit for society. Of course she’ll need her worthy governess with her.”
“... Yes, Commander.”

[After the wedding is interrupted. Rochester, in a fit of fury, takes Jane, the priest, the lawyer, and his wife’s brother up to see Mrs. Rochester. Dressed in white, she looks beautiful, perfectly calm and somehow terrifying at the same time.]
Rochester: [bitter] Good morning, Mrs. Rochester.
Mrs. R: [vague] Good morning, Mr. Rochester. [as though recalling a program] It is a pleasure to see you. I hope you are well. You are looking well. Would you care for some tea?
Rochester: [overlapping with Mrs. R] This is my wife. How do you like her? Perfectly turned out, isn’t she? Miraculous bit of science! Saving a girl with severe brain damage from a transport accident by making her mostly machine! But you mustn’t tell anyone about that. It wouldn’t be right!
Mrs. R’s Brother: [hissing] Rochester!
Rochester: What is it, damn you!
Lawyer: She has a blade.
[Mrs. R is holding a small knife. We can see red stains on her shirt sleeves and blood dripping from the blade.]
Mrs. R: [almost normal] Edward?
Rochester: [quietly] Yes, Bertha?
Mrs. R: Why don’t I die?
[Silence.]
Mrs. R: Aren’t I supposed to die? [she looks at Jane, who’s dying from pity and anguish] Aren’t I supposed to be like her?
[Silence. They’re all horror-stricken. Out of nowhere, Mrs. R starts shrieking wildly and charges toward Jane. Rochester restrains her at the last second.]

Special Notes: Bronte lovers be merciful. I don’t mean any harm. I actually enjoyed Jane Eyre.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Orange

fire yams carrots
oranges (obviously)
peaches and pumpkins

Jack-o'-lantern
smiling grotesquely
eyes flickering with malice
a pumpkin no more

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Fade out.

I’ll be spoiling the endings of a few movies in this post, so if I give an example you don’t want spoiled, just skip to the next tip.

So where are we? The climax is over. Which ends do you wrap up? Do you wrap all of them up? Basically, it’s a matter of reconciling what you’d like to happen and what could possibly happen given everything that’s happened up to this point.

Generic flavors. The golden rule is comedies end happily, tragedies end sadly. But then again there are other genres where the answer isn’t as clear-cut. A romance can end happily as well sadly. Thrillers can go either way, although it’s usually not a question of happy or sad, but who is left standing and how psychologically damaged they are. Sci-fi is perfect for the open ending. All in all, I’d say there are about eight flavors: Happy, Sad, Hopeful, Miserable, Bittersweet, Open, Ominous, and Uplifting.

Possible flexibility. But why should you let the genre determine the ending? There’s no rule that says you can’t break with a genre’s conventions, but... a comedy that ends sadly? A thriller that ends with sunshine and rainbows? Technically, it can be done, but it’ll probably seem artificial, stupid, or even cruel. The ending is supposed to fit the story that leads up to it and if your story doesn’t fit into a specific genre, then you can be more flexible. Casablanca isn’t exactly a thriller, romance, or war movie, hence it can have a “hybrid” ending: the hero shoots the bad guy, doesn’t get the girl, and we’re not really sure what will happen to him, but we hope it will turn out well. That’s pretty much bittersweet-open-hopeful flavored.

Deus ex Machina. A plot device also known as Artificially Resolving the Plot by Bringing in Something Out of Nowhere. Okay, that’s not totally fair. Sometimes it works, like Queen Elizabeth setting everything right at the end of Shakespeare in Love. Although actually it’s more of a joke because Shakespeare used to do that himself, and it’s not exactly out of nowhere since they already set it up somewhere in the second act. The idea is to make it plausible. If it looks like you ran out of patience, ideas, or ink, you’re in trouble.

Closure, catharsis, whatever. I’m not going to get into an argument over whether closure is a necessary plot component. Whether you think closure is a must or whether you think it’s only a cheap psychological trick, the end of the plot inevitably forces you to come to some kind of conclusion, even if the conclusion is that there is no conclusion. (Read that sentence slowly and it makes sense, I promise.) Not that you have to wrap things up with a velvet bow and chocolate sprinkles. Sometimes the conflict you’ve been dealing with can’t be totally resolved or sometimes the resolution only breeds a different conflict. The point is, carefully consider the emotions you leave the reader/viewer with. For example:

The Third Man tackles difficult questions concerning human nature, friendship, and the outcome of war. It doesn’t really the solve them (at least I don’t think it does). The central conflict is resolved by Holly shooting his best friend Harry, who’s guilty of exposing people to diluted penicillin, killing some, horribly wounding others. As if killing Harry wasn’t bad enough, it permanently alienates Holly from Anna, Harry’s ex, whom Holly has inconveniently fallen for. The final scene takes place in a cemetery. Harry has been buried and Holly is being driven away in an army jeep. They pass Anna and Holly asks to be let out. He waits for Anna by a wagon, but she walks by, utterly ignoring him. Holly doesn’t go after her – he simply stands there lighting a cigarette. And that’s it. The end. Holly could have gone after her and tried to say something. He could have ridden away in the jeep and cast one last regretful look in her direction. It could have been a lot of things, but the last scene gives you an extra moment to help digest what’s happened.

The last word. As with the first lines of any story, there’s a lot of pressure to make the last lines memorable, and it’s so easy to disappoint. As I said with the first line – if it doesn’t come to you, skip it. Avoid it for as long as you can. If you can’t avoid it any longer, ask yourself: what is the image or idea you want to finish with? That’s what the last line is. It’s not necessary for it to be “The Moral of the Story.” Just remember, this is the very last thing you convey to the reader/viewer before the book is closed, before the credits start to roll.

Next time on Technical Saturday... Genre.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Red

carpets blood stop signs
apples little riding hoods
hearts rubies cherries

The Red Carpet
I suppose you can't
have one of gold and diamonds
let's be practical...

Monday, March 17, 2008

Acting

not lying, you know
a facsimile of Truth
or something like that

An instructive video: Shakespeare Master Class.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Complaint, Response, Compensation

Complaint
no images here
only gray (and some green) text
what's the deal with that?

Response
my apologies
I guess I've been too lazy
to add a picture

Compensation (Rainbow)
red orange yellow
green blue and violet too
arched in a gray sky

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Adapting Austen

The Concept: Proving I have a sense of humor, even when it comes to Jane Austen. (I’m also giving the anagram server a vacation.)
The Book: Pride and Prejudice
The Author Whose Disdain I Deserve: Let me think...
Original Plot Summary: Early 19th century England. Mr. Bennet is a respectable country gentleman with a decent estate, a nagging wife, and five daughters he has to marry off, because they can’t inherit said decent estate (what with the times being sexist and all). Jane is the eldest daughter – an angelic beauty. Elizabeth, our heroine, is second in birth and beauty, but she’s witty and vivacious. Next is Mary, the solemn, plain sister. Kitty is cute, but basically a groupie of her younger sister Lydia, who is wild, vulgar and an incorrigible flirt. Enter two handsome rich strangers to the neighborhood: Mr. Bingley the adorable, and Mr. Darcy, the proud and aloof. Bingley is also accompanied by two snobby sisters – Louisa, the married, and Caroline, the unmarried, who spends her considerable leisure time throwing herself at Mr. Darcy. He, in the meantime, despite being far above her in terms of social rank and fortune, starts to fall for Elizabeth. She can’t stand him and much prefers the company of the dashing Mr. Wickham, who wastes no time in disparaging Darcy (once he’s out of the county). Bingley and Jane fall for each other. Jane isn’t what you’d call demonstrative, so Darcy whisks Bingley away before he can propose to this supposed husband-hunter. The Bennets don’t take this very well – especially Elizabeth. Several chapters later, Darcy proposes to Elizabeth against his better judgment and all common sense since she’s not exactly secretive about her dislike for him. They have words: she calls him a meddling snob. He calls her a prejudiced fool. A letter of explanation later and Elizabeth finds out Wickham is a womanizer, liar, fortune-hunter, and all-around jerk, while Darcy turns out to be the good guy. Time passes. Feelings change. Darcy and Elizabeth meet, but now Lydia picks the time to run off with Wickham, so the romance gets postponed. A few chapters of inner turmoil and uncertainty later, Darcy fixes everything. Bingley proposes to Jane. Darcy proposes to Elizabeth and all ends well.

New Title: Pride! And Prejudice!
Genre: Musical
New Plot Summary: America, 1910s. More or less the same plot, except the Bennets are circus performers with a family trapeze act, “The Brilliant Bennets.” Bingley, Darcy, etc., are from New York high society.
Cinematography Suggestions: Splashy Technicolor like the musicals of the 1950s.
Sample Scenes:
[Jane and Elizabeth are discussing Bingley and Darcy after seeing them for the first time.]
“What kind of a name is Fitzwilliam Darcy, anyway? You’d think he’d just gotten off the deck of the Mayflower.”

[Darcy has just proposed to Elizabeth for the first time]
“I’d rather marry a dancing bear. He’d be more of a gentleman than you are!”

[Darcy proposes for the second time; a tasteful kissing scene ensues]
“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather marry a dancing bear?”
“Ugh. Don’t remind me of what I said then.”
“Why not? I deserved it.”
“Well, maybe. But not from me. Not like that.”
“I’d rather be humbled by you than anybody else.”
“Mr. Darcy!”
[more tasteful kissing ensues]

Obviously, it will also be packed with thrilling musical numbers, such as...

Catching a Man is a Circus Act – Mrs. Bennet to the girls

Can You Love a Girl on a Flying Trapeze? – Bingley

Commend Me to the Local Gentry – duet, Caroline and Louisa

You’re No Gentleman, Mr. Darcy – Elizabeth
“You’re no gentleman, Mr. Darcy
You’re a bully and a louse!
You must be stone cold crazy
If you think I’ll be your spouse”

Wickham is a Phony! (A Seller of Bologna!) – Darcy

Pride Comes Before a Fall – duet, Elizabeth and Darcy
“Pride comes before a fall
It’s really quite a tumble
But when love conquers all
You’ll never ever stumble”

Special Notes: I can’t believe I just did that.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Six Word Memoir

somewhat surreal
eulogizing myself now
will it fit later?

Stella Carter: a Memoir in Six Words
Read, wrote, repeated more than needed.

That was a fun tag, brought to me by Book Calendar. I pass it on to Nature Shows and Dreams, Paul Burman, Sounds of Memory, The Anatomy of Construction, and The View from Here.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Everything in Between

I’m going to do my best not to repeat what I already said in the post about Plot and Beginnings.

A story is not just about getting from Point A, the beginning, to point B, the end. For one thing, you may not know where point B is. For another, you often have to balance between what you’d like to happen and what could probably happen in a given situation. On top of that, you usually have to deal with a genre’s conventions – whether you’re adhering to them or breaking them.

No padding, please. If you do happen to know where point B is, the middle shouldn’t feel like padding or filler. Getting to the end is as important as the end itself, and if you find yourself wasting time, then you need to develop the story more.

Creating a nurturing environment. Anything can happen in a story – whether it’s believable is a question of details. For example: Chapter 1, Cookie McLain is a regular, happy housewife. Chapter 2, Cookie McLain kills her husband. Chapter 3, Cookie is killing other people. Chapter 4, Cookie is building an army of other murderous women. Possible? Yes. Believable? That depends. I’m not only referring to psychological motivation, but to physical, social, economic, and cultural conditions. How is Cookie getting away with these murders? How is she convincing other women to join her? Literally – is she holding secret meetings? Is she disposing of the bodies? Are the police on to her? Is someone on the police force helping her? It’s only one example, but these conditions affect how a situation develops.

Juggling too many objects. I said it before and I’m saying it again – take full advantage of every element you use: characters, dialogue, references, and so. Since I’ve stressed that point (twice), I’d just like to point out that you don’t have to hold on to everything. Sometimes it is best to get rid of something after it’s served its purpose or you’ll be stuck juggling too much.

The wires are showing. Ah, plot devices, those convenient little tools for advancing the plot. The Letter/Photo They Weren’t Supposed to Find, the Dead Body, the Bad Weather Which Isolated the Characters, the Cellular Phone That Stopped Working at Precisely the Wrong Moment – and so on. Sometimes you can practically see the phrase “plot device” floating in the air; it can’t be helped. But try to camouflage them as much as possible with significant details. Try to avoid being obvious in the sense of, “Ah, well of course they need to [do/get/find] that because then they’ll have to [whatever] which is the whole point.”

Twisting and turning. Plot twists are difficult to pull off. (Personally, I consider them one of the most difficult story elements.) First, there’s the “ooh and ah” factor involved. A disappointing/idiotic twist can really kill a story. Second, there’s a limit to how many times you can reverse things. As I’ve said before (there I go...), the plot needs to work backwards. A twist can be thrilling at the moment it’s revealed and a moment later make the story illogical, ridiculous, or outright impossible. Recommended viewing: Charade. It has a neat little story with some neat little twists (not to mention Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn).

How do you like your explosions – literal or emotional? The Climax of a plot (which should be getting its own post sometime in the future) does not have to be an explosion or a battle or anything action-oriented. It can be a word or an image. Likewise, someone doesn’t have to scream or have a nervous breakdown in order to qualify as climactic. You could argue that a “climax” per se isn’t necessary, but with any story the assumption is that you’re building up to something significant. If not, it would be like a sentence going on and on, then trailing off without any apparent reason – which you’re free to do, of course, but it’s not advisable.

Next time on Technical Saturday... Endings.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Ode to a Brownie

oh fudgey delight!
alas for the New Year's vow
that makes me shun thee

Confession
ice cream was consumed
during the making of that
previous haiku

Monday, March 3, 2008

Edouard Manet

he painted people
not waterlilies or trains
like that Monet guy