Friday, August 29, 2008

Crush

my heart beats faster
at the slightest thought of you
annoying hormones

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Monday, August 25, 2008

Nostalgia

seeing old pictures
listening to old albums
in a rosy fog

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Heroes in All Shapes and Sizes

This is another one of those posts that threatened to fry my brain cells. Writing about the Protagonist (capital P, kids) should be easy. (I’ve already written about characterization in general.)

The protagonist is the main character of your narrative. The story is told from his/her (or even its) point of view. Or if not told from their perspective, the story is at least concerned with what happens to them. Yes, you can have more than one. No, they do not have to be shining embodiments of virtue. Yes, they can be evil incarnate. No, the reader doesn’t have to like them. No, they don’t have to win the fight.

All well and good. My brain cells were still humming along quite nicely. But when I tried to get more specific, things stopped going so smoothly. Traditionally, the protagonist is the Hero (capital H) – whether comic or tragic, triumphant or defeated – you’re supposed to like them, or at least be interested in what happens to them. But one very common mistake I’ve noticed is that protagonists are often made either too perfect or too flawed. They’re beautiful, talented, brilliant, and completely wonderful, or they’re ugly, useless, ignorant, and utterly unsympathetic.

Both types are very possible, but there’s something too engineered about their construction. And you can feel it, too. Elizabeth Bennet works because she’s pretty and witty enough, but she sometimes says the wrong thing or gets carried away with the wrong idea. Holden Caulfield works because beneath the self-destructive surface is a vulnerable, miserable boy, fighting to survive in a world that makes him sick. If Elizabeth always said and did the right thing, she’d be boring. If Holden were totally despicable, it would be difficult to make an emotional connection with him. Creating an emotional connection with the protagonist isn’t prerequisite, but it helps.

The point is that having an “all or nothing” approach in defining the protagonist is probably inadvisable. It might work for a supporting player. Jane Bennet can very well be the prettiest girl in the shire and the sweetest one to boot, but can she carry a whole narrative? (Although she’s actually a bad example, since her good nature allows her to be preyed upon by others.) If you read a novel by Ann Radcliffe like The Italian, Ellena Rosalba, the heroine, is as perfect as a Raphael Madonna and only slightly more talkative. The result? Boredom. You know she’s going to make the right move at every turn, so you have to look elsewhere for thrills. And, in fact, Radcliffe devotes much more energy to the villains of the story (but that’s for another post).

In my post about characterization, I wrote that character traits, given the right circumstances can be reversed, i.e., taking a good trait and making it a weakness – say, honesty or generosity, or turning a flaw into an advantage, such as gullibility or compulsiveness. This is especially important when dealing with the protagonist because, since they’re the narrative focus, you want to get the most out of them. Character traits create a certain dynamic; they’re not simply a list of items in an inventory that you can call upon when needed.

Finally, the protagonist is the heart and soul of your narrative, and if they’re soulless and heartless, that’s just fine, but you need a motive for it. Call me an optimist, but no one is born evil. If you can’t come up with reasons for why a character thinks and behaves the way they do, you might as well cut them out of cardboard.

Next time on Technical Saturday... the antagonist.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Ziggy Stardust

Ziggy played guitar
he could lick 'em by smiling
there goes the band, man


I was recently memed by Book Calendar to list six unspectacular facts about myself and then meme six other bloggers. So here's my unspectacular list (please don't judge me too harshly):

1. I've never read Milton's Paradise Lost.
2. I only eat vegetarian sushi because I don't like fish.
3. I can play a song or an album over and over and over again without getting sick of it. Ditto movies.
4. It annoys me that I use the word "just" as emphasis more than necessary.
5. I know I should restrict the number of labels in my tag cloud for the sake of space efficiency, but I like the way it looks.
6. I've seen relatively few foreign films, but I'm trying to fix that.

I pass this meme on to Paul of Paul Burman, JJ of Nature Shows and Dreams, Dorlana of Supernatural Fairy Tales, Duane of Shakespeare Geek, Steph of Watch Your Steph, and Natasha of Maw Books.

Monday, August 18, 2008

xkcd

ah ha ha ha ha
ha ha ha ha ha ha ha
*wipes eyes* ha ha ha

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Tempest

the Bard's final play
stranded on a desert isle
with Three Unities

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Monday, August 11, 2008

Much Ado About Nothing

jesting all around
some villainous slandering
hey nonny nonny

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Lost in Adaptation

You may have already noticed that adaptation is a subject which has been on my mind since... well, forever, judging by what’s in the archives. Taking a book (or play or whatever) and turning it into a film (or series or whatever) is as complicated a task as creating one from scratch. In a way, it’s harder, because – even if you didn’t write the original yourself – you have to transfer it to another medium.

Literature and Film are two different mediums.

I put that sentence separately, not to be melodramatic, but to be perfectly clear. What works in a book doesn’t necessarily work in a film, and it’s up to you to transfer the book in the best possible way. First – not all of it will make it into the screenplay. A book is rarely consumed in one sitting, while most films are, so instead of ten to twelve hours to tell a story, you only have two to three – and three is pushing it. I already did the math in a post at TVFH: you can’t expect a book that’s 300 pages long, numbering approximately 120,000 words, to be adapted into a 100 page screenplay and then produced as a two hour movie, without assuming that a few things will be lost along the way.

That’s the bad news, but the good news is you don’t have to get every single page of the book onscreen for the adaptation to be successful. And now for some more good news: while books relate to all five senses, films deal primarily with sight and sound. A screenplay, after all, describes what is seen and heard onscreen. The audience can’t smell, touch, or taste what’s happening, so there go a few more pages that you don’t have to concern yourself with. Your main concerns are plot, characterization, and dialogue.

A good way to start is to define the most important sequence of events in the book – this is the core that you need to hold onto. Of course it’s difficult to decide what events should be left out of an adaptation because you’re going to want to cram in as much of the book as possible, but pinpointing the crucial events makes it easier to eliminate the lesser ones. And, just because a book starts at a certain point, doesn’t mean the adaptation has to. If, for example, the book describes the childhood of its adult character at some length, that may be precisely the first thing to remove. If there’s a specific scene that’s significant to establishing their character, it can also be inserted via flashback or a few lines of dialogue.

But also keep in mind that when you alter something or remove it for the sake of streamlining, you not only have to make sure that what remains still makes sense, but consider that you’re probably removing layers of subtext as well. As I said, some things are inevitably lost in the transition to film, but don’t lose everything. It’s not enough to cover what happens in a book, you need to convey its significance.

Have vision. Film is a visual medium. Consider what techniques you can use in order to fully take advantage of this. Not that you have to go crazy with gimmicky things like handheld or freeze-frame, but keep in mind that filmmakers use certain techniques in order to create a film, just like writers use figurative language, POV, and so on. It’s not merely a matter of filming actors and then pasting the scenes together.

Split target audience. An adaptation has to consider that there will be those who have read the book and those who haven’t. Those who have read the book expect to see a faithful adaptation and those who haven’t expect to understand it even though they haven’t read the book. In other words, the movie has to be able to stand on its own. A really great adaptation should make you want to read the book.

Broad perspective. Don’t just adhere blindly to your own interpretation of the text. Talk to other people about it. Read other interpretations and critiques to get the fullest comprehension of the material. You may have overlooked certain elements or maybe even misinterpreted others altogether.

Whose shoes are these? POV is a tricky issue. If the book is in first-person, should you use voice-over? Or do you “convert” it to third-person by showing scenes that the protagonist doesn’t participate in? If the book uses a third-person narrator, but you’ve dispensed with voice-over, how do you hold on to the witty/poignant/informative observations of the narrator? Do you put them in the mouths of the other characters, or do you just give them up altogether? These decisions affect what your characters know and say. There usually aren’t easy answers or only one way to do something. Play with the options – weigh their advantages and disadvantages.

Narrator: yes or no? While a narrator is something you can’t do without in a book, a film can carry on perfectly well without one. The problem is that the charm of many books hinges on having the story told by the specific narrator. So if you dispense with the narrator in the adaptation, a lot of the book’s charm and individuality may be eliminated. Yet, as witty, insightful, and useful as narration can be, it can also become intrusive or redundant. You can possibly salvage some of the book’s narration by letting the characters use it as dialogue. Then the danger is that it may seem totally out of character for them to make such remarks.

Plot-driven or character-driven? In the one, the emphasis is on the events, and in the other, on characterization. You can also have a combination of both, of course. You’ve probably heard someone say about a good action movie, “Things didn’t just blow up – you actually cared about the people involved.” This doesn’t mean that in order to make events interesting, you need to turn it into a character study, but giving the characters some background and some good dialogue are a definite asset.

If a book is character-driven, it might be a little more difficult. Particularly, if most of what goes on are the thoughts in the character’s head, it may be very difficult to translate to the screen, since technically nothing is happening. That works fine in a novel, but onscreen it can be problematic. If you’ve decided not to use voice-over, then you’ve essentially gotten rid of the most crucial part of the book. And it gets dull watching an actor stare into space. You can try converting the thoughts into actual dialogue, but this again raises the question of whether it’s appropriate for the character to be saying this. If you decided to use voice-over, that solves part of the problem, but it can become overbearing, making people feel they’re “watching” a book.

Economical exposition. A book can take a much longer amount of time to establish its premise. It can relate extensive incidents in a character’s life – merely for character development - and it can do this without derailing the plot of the book. Sadly, a movie does not have the luxury of meandering or digressing. So though every scene you read in the book may seem absolutely crucial to comprehending the character or story, this isn’t necessarily the case. Sometimes a few words or a carefully placed, carefully chosen scene can do more than 20 minutes of back-story.

The spirit of the book. It sounds quite elusive and indefinable, but “spirit of the book” is simply a more poetic way of saying “tone of the book.” Is it melancholy? Joyful? Comic? Tragic? Romantic? Satirical? Make sure your adaptation captures the tone or it will probably skew the feeling of it.

Taking liberties. Altering endings? Inserting material that doesn’t originally figure in the book? Two words: very risky. Avoid doing something because it seems cool. Remember that you’re meddling with something that exists as a whole and you don’t want to disturb it by inserting inappropriate elements. Besides, it’s kind of rude to jump in and rewrite someone’s book, although I admit that I’ve seen a few adaptations where the changes were justifiable.

Next time on Technical Saturday... I’ll be starting a characterization series, beginning with the protagonist.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Spanish Lament

having learned Latin
would have come in real handy
(though flash cards do help)

Monday, August 4, 2008

Novel

I don't dare write you
because... I just don't, okay?
believe me, I know

Friday, August 1, 2008

Dictionary

if only I could
remember you all by heart
the world would be mine