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Mom loves a happy ending. When she writes a story, she makes sure there’s a problem, and then her characters try to solve it, but they always face obstacles trying to get it done. Mom struggles with the conflict in her stories. She says, “I don’t like trouble.” and “Why can’t things just go smoothly?” and “GET DOWN!!”
I LOVE trouble. Sometimes I surf the top of the piano to see if there’s anything for me to play with or eat. Mom said, “You’re going to get a spankin’!” I thought she said, “You’re going to get some bacon.” I ran into the kitchen so fast, I crashed into the cabinet. No bacon. Why does life have to be so difficult?
At the end of Mom’s stories, the conflict is gone, the obstacles are overcome, and the problems are solved. I love a happy ending.
Riordan, Rick and Gordon Korman, Peter Lerangis, Jude Watson. The 39 Clues: Vespers Rising. (Book #11) 2011. Read by David Pittu. Scholastic Audio.
Can a book be both a prequel and a sequel? Yes, if it's Vespers Rising.
In four separate books (hence the four authors), Vespers Rising offers a view to the past and the origins of the Cahill Family secret in Gideon Cahill (early 1500s) , a look at the activities of Madeleine Cahill and the formation of the family's secretive fifth branch, a glimpse of young Grace Cahill, patriarch of the modern Cahill Family, and finally, back to Dan and Amy Cahill, their cat Saladdin, and au pair, Nellie. Dan and Amy have completed the clue hunt and are safely back in Boston, but their adventures are far from over!
David Pittu continues as the narrator for the series, and as usual, does a stellar job in portraying a wide variety of characters with varying accents. His voice will be as connected with The 39 Clues brand as Jim Dale's is to Harry Potter. Listen to a sample here.
This book will answer many of the questions readers may have about the origin of the clue hunt, but its main purpose is to set the stage for the new series, Cahills vs. Vespers. The first book in the series is The Medusa Plot, and is available now. Read an excerpt here.
Fans of the series will be thrilled with the new offerings.
Prolific author for both children and adults, Ridley Pearson has written another edge-of-your-seat, action/adventure book in his Kingdom Keepers series. Book V of the series, The Shell Game, takes the five Kingdom Keepers–Finn, Maybeck, Charlene, Willa, and Philby–on a Disney cruise infiltrated by Disney villains. Disney World is under seige and it’s up to the Kingdom Keepers to save the day. I’m not quite finished reading the book, but true to form, Ridley Pearson takes you on a roller coaster ride of a story full of suspense and action. If you like the Alex Rider series, then Kingdom Keepers is for you! And if you need another plug for Ridley Pearson, I’ve heard him speak several times at book signings and author events, and he always impresses with his “never give up, you can do it” advice to writers. Sometimes authors at book signings are too tired and grumpy to even smile (even children’s authors), but not Ridley. He and Dave Barry even took the time to sign my son’s cast. Fantastic.
The question is not whether Red Dawn is a good movie. It is a bad movie. As the crazed ghost of Louis Althusser might say, it has always already been a bad movie. The question is: What kind of bad movie is it?
(Aside: The question I have received most frequently when I've told people I went to see Red Dawn was actually: "Does Chris Hemsworth take off his shirt?" The answer, I'm sorry to say, is no. All of the characters remain pretty scrupulously clothed through the film. The movie's rated PG-13, a designation significant to its predecessor, so all it can do is show a lot of carnage, not carnality. May I suggest Google Images?)
My companion and I found Red Dawn to be an entertaining bad movie. I feel no shame in admitting that the film entertained me; I'm against, in principal, the concept of "guilty pleasures" and am not much interested in shaming anybody for what are superficial, even autonomic, joys. (That doesn't mean we can't examine our joys and pleasures.) No generally-well-intentioned, "diversity"-loving, pinko commie bourgeois armchair lefty like me can go into a movie like Red Dawn and expect to see a nuanced study of geopolitics. I knew what I was in for. I got what I expected: a right-wing action-adventure movie based on a yellow peril premise. Red Dawn is an unironic remake of a 1984 movie predicated on paranoid right-wing fantasies; it's not aspiring to even the most basic Starship Troopers-levels of intertextuality and metacommentary. There's none of the winking at the audiences that fills so many other 1980s remakes and homages (e.g. Expendables 2, which relies on the audience's knowledge of its stars' greatest hits — the only convincing performance in the movie is that of Jean-Claude van Damme, who, apparently overjoyed to be released from the purgatory of straight-to-DVD movies, plays it all for real, and becomes the only element of any interest in the whole thing). The closest Red Dawn comes to acknowledging its position in the cinemasphere happens when it turns the first film's very serious male-bonding moment of drinking deer blood into a practical joke, giving the characters a few rare laughs.
What are we supposed to feel good about in this movie? The 1984 Red Dawn was not even remotely a feel-good movie, but it gave us a space in which to feel proud of an idea of America that could survive even the most devastating attack by the Soviet Union (and its Latin American minions). It made a point of showing concrete objective correlatives for the abstract idea that is "American freedom" — the one that was most impressed on me by my father when we first watched Red Dawn together was the scene where Soviet soldiers talk about going to a gun shop to collect the federal Form 4473s, and using them to track down gun owners. This, to my father and many other people, demonstrated exactly why even the most minimal type of registration of guns is not merely annoying, but a threat to freedom. I vividly remember my father saying, "If the Russians come, we burn those damn forms." Red Dawn was not merely an action movie; it was a documentary.
But Red Dawn was a movie made during a time when the U.S. was not officially at war. It appeared in U.S. theatres less than a year after the invasion of Grenada, and just at the time when the actions that would eventually become the Iran-Contra Scandal were making their way into the public consciousness. The hawks of the Reagan administration needed the public to be both patriotic and fearful of the Red Menace, because otherwise it was difficult to justify the massive transfer of wealth into the Pentagon. Red Dawn did that better than any other movie of the time. (For much more on this background, see the article by J. Hoberman in the Nov/Dec 2012 issue of Film Comment.)
Now, though? The new Red Dawn comes as the Iraq war is winding down and the war in Afghanistan (our longest) may be nearing some sort of end. (And then, of course, there's Libya.) But these have been wars where we have been invaders fighting insurgents. They have been long, unfocused wars with no clear victory conditions. They began with some popularity and unanimity of public opinion, but the longer they went on, and the more that people learned about them, the less popular they became. They continued because the U.S. military is, while a huge part of the national budget, not a particularly concrete and visible part of everyday life and concern for many Americans. Without the threat of a draft, and with the rise of long-distance and drone strikes, most Americans can ignore the immediate reality of American wars, the hundreds of thousands of deaths and injuries on every side.
It's in what the new Red Dawn makes us attach our feelings of pride, joy, and power to that it really differs from its predecessor, because the idea of America that it presents is neither particularly clear nor the product of much conviction. There are flags and some general genuflecting in the direction of "freedom", but the original Red Dawn offered a vision of how its idea of "freedom" actually works in the world, and what threatens it. There was an attempt at creating a certain amount of plausibility and verisimilitude — one of the advisors to the original film was Alexander Haig, Reagan's former Secretary of State, who worked with writer/director John Milius to craft what seemed to them a relatively realistic invasion scenario, the weapons and vehicles were as realistic as could be accomplished without being able to buy actually Soviet weaponry (the CIA inquired about the tanks after seeing them being moved to the set; later, the Pentagon used images of them to train the guidance systems in spy planes), and the tone is dark, with war presented as hell for both sides. Milius made numerous references to his masculine hero Theodore Roosevelt, and the vision he presented was stark, painful, and apocalyptic, more Hobbesian than Amurrican. It was Panic in Year Zero! by way of The Battle of Algiers.
Ours is the Age of the Tea Party, not the Age of Reagan, and so the new Red Dawn is closer to the ideological vision of The Patriot than that of its original source. The Patriot is the story of a man in Colonial America who doesn't see much point in fighting against the British until his own family is affected, at which time he becomes a psychopathic vengeance machine, and then at the end returns home to a small community not to help build up a new government or create the idea of a common United States, but to become the leader of a little utopian plantation. (He had already been leader of a utopian plantation before the war, because the black people doing work on his property were not actually slaves, but free employees. Really. As William Ross St. George, Jr. wrote in his review (PDF) of the film for the Journal of American History, this must have been "the only such labor arrangement in colonial South Carolina".) What matters in The Patriot is not country or government — all government is portrayed with contempt in the film — but rather self-reliance and, especially, family. Despite the movie's title, it's not about being a patriot, but about being a loyal, strong, independent, and avenging father.
The new Red Dawn, much more than the original, is also a movie about families and fathers. Jed, played originally by Patrick Swayze and in the new film by Thor, is now an Iraq vet who struggled to be a good son to his father and, especially, a good brother to Matt (originally Charlie Sheen, now Josh Peck). Lots of family melodrama is alluded to. The boys don't visit their father in a re-education camp; instead, the Evil Korean Guy (whose name I thought was Captain Joe, but IMDB tells me it's Captain Cho. I prefer my version), who for some unfathomable reason recognizes from the very first moment that Teenagers Are The Enemy (he was probably a high school teacher back home), rounds up their fathers, brings them to the Evil Dead Cabin where the kids had been hiding out, and makes the fathers plead with the kids to come in. Of course, the weak and collaborating mayor pleads with them to give themselves up, but the strong and noble father of Jedmatt (in a much blander performance than the clearly unhinged and perhaps psychopathic man portrayed by Harry Dean Stanton in the original) instead tells them to fight to the death, causing Captain Joe to channel his inner Nguyen Ngoc Loan and shoot him in the head. Oh dad, poor dad. Jed and Matt then go on to learn how to be good brothers to each other, just in time for— Well, you don't want to know the ending, do you? (For a moment, I thought it would turn out to be a movie climaxing with brotherly kisses and fellatio, but, alas, it did not. Well, not exactly. Although the more I think about it...)
We have to talk about the ending, though, because we have to talk about who lives and who dies. The original Red Dawn was not Rambo — while it certainly stirred up feelings of patriotism against the Soviet enemy, and admiration for the U.S. military, its tone isn't all that far away from The Day After. The end is a downer, but it's not nihilistic. We zoom in on a memorial plaque, its words read to us on the soundtrack: "In the early days of World War III, guerrillas, mostly children, placed the names of their lost upon this rock. They fought here alone and gave up their lives, 'so that this nation shall not perish from the earth.'" The memorial asserts that these lives were lost for a great cause, and by quoting the Gettysburg Address, it connects their sacrifice to that of soldiers who fought to preserve not just some idea of Americanism, but the union itself.
The remake turns patriotic tragedy into personal tragedy — Jed is killed just at the moment when he has reconciled with his brother. Toni (Adrianne Palicki in the remake, Jennifer Grey in the original) and Matt both survive in this version, along with many of the other Wolverines. Well, the white Wolverines.
The new Red Dawn isn't just a yellow peril movie, it's a vision of white supremacy. Only one nonwhite Wolverine has much of an identity (Daryl, played by Connor Cruise), and the others die pretty quickly. Finally, Daryl is, without his knowledge, injected with some sort of tracking device that can't be removed from his body, so he's given some supplies and left to wander away, probably to be killed by the North Koreans. Almost all of the white Wolverines survive, presumably with a new understanding of the miraculous powers of their skin color.
Remember what happened to (white) Daryl in 1984? His sleazy father (the mayor) forced him to swallow a tracking device. He knew it was in him. After barely surviving the assault that followed, the Wolverines take him to the top of a freezing mesa with a captured Russian soldier and get ready to execute him. Jed and Matt fight about it, with Matt saying it will make them worse than the Russians. Jed kills the Soviet soldier, but doesn't seem to be able to kill Daryl. Robert, whose experiences have fully brutalized him, shoots Daryl. It's a wrenching, disturbing scene. Again and again, the original Red Dawn says: War is a horrific, destructive experience for everyone involved, and it reduces us to our most animalistic natures — naming the guerrillas Wolverines was not merely the naming of a mascot or a rallying cry, it was a statement of what they had become.
The new Red Dawn doesn't hurt. It's superficially entertaining in a way that the original is not. Sure, it's shocking that Jed dies, but the way that scene is set up and edited highlights the shock, not the pain. In the original Red Dawn, Jed and Matt know they're heading out on a suicide mission. Jed survives a little while longer only because the Cuban Colonel Bella (Ron O'Neal) feels some respect or sympathy for him and is tired of the whole war. Jed1984 kills the Super Nasty Russian Bad Guy, just as Jed2012 kills Capt. Joe (with his father's gun, because they just happen to be in Dad's Police Station!), but the original film then takes the brothers to a frozen park, where, mortally wounded, they sit together on a bench and drift off to eternity.
The new Red Dawn instead puts its concluding weight on the idea that you probably shouldn't trust the black guy, even if he's friendly and well-intentioned. He's probably got a tracking device in his blood. Even though he doesn't want to be, he's a traitor. Best to leave him in the wilderness. This in a movie that begins with a montage showing us that President Obama and his minions are ineffective at defending us from the North Koreans (and their secret Russian puppetmasters).
The original Red Dawn had an unabashed political purpose — it warned us not to let our guard down, it encouraged us to support massive increases in defense spending, it encouraged us to stockpile guns and canned goods. It especially wanted us to call our congresspeople and tell them to support funding for the Contras and similar anti-communist forces. The September 1984 issue of Soldier of Fortune magazine includes an article about Red Dawn's production, particularly its weaponry, that begins: "Military strategists have often discussed the repercussions of a communist takeover of Central America. One worst-case scenario has the Soviet Union training Cubans and Nicaraguans in the offensive use of advanced weapons such as the MiG 25 and T-72 tank." The article ends:
Red Dawn seriously attempts realism. Milius spent $17 million trying to give the American public a taste of what Soviet weaponry, tactics and occupation practices are all about.
Liberal critics will howl about Reagan's deleterious effect on the creative arts and scream that Red Dawn is unabashed saber-rattling propaganda. It sounds like our kind of movie.
Red Dawn opens across the country on 17 August.
So yes, Red Dawn was propaganda in 1984. But it was not merely propaganda; there is cleverness and even humanity to it. It's an action/survival movie, so character development isn't a particular goal, but where it spends it moments of character development are telling. Instead of just building of family melodrama, the original Red Dawn gave humanity to some of the antagonists (particularly Colonel Bella). While the Soviet commanders are cartoons, the Russian soldiers are clearly just as trapped in the horrific logic of war as the Wolverines.
The new Red Dawn also wants to be propaganda, as the opening montage shows us. But there are more subtle connections to not just right-wing militarism, but extremist nuttiness. The key is three letters: EMP.
How do the bad guys invade North America? They wipe out the American defense infrastructure, and apparently the entire American military, by setting off at least one electromagnetic pulse (EMP). Now, EMPs are real. Boeing is even developing an EMP missile. But who gets really excited at the idea of an EMP knocking out electronic infrastructures? The apocalypse addicts at WorldNet Daily. Famed doomsayer Newt Gingrich brought it up during the Republican primary. Right-wingers get positively giddy at the idea. Why? Because it justifies lots of spending on missile defense. But according to the right wingers, President Obama is not spending nearly enough money to defend us from missiles. We could be wiped out at any moment by an EMP. But the weak, appeasing black guy in the White House is, whether he knows it or not, a traitor.
The politics of the new Red Dawn are about as coherent as those at a Tea Party rally, where really the only unifying theme is hatred of anything that can be called "government" (and doesn't contribute to the life and happiness of the complainer), hatred of the Socialist Kenyan Muslim Manchurian President Nazi Obama, and love of weaponry.
Whatever can be said about John Milius, at least he was committed enough to his concept to have thought it through. The new Red Dawn seemingly unintentionally opens itself to all sorts of odd moments, such as when Jed says, "When I was overseas [in Iraq], we were the good guys, we enforced order. Well, now we're the bad guys. We create chaos." In 1984, when the Wolverines went into the desert on horses, they evoked images of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan. (The cover of that September 1984 issue of shows a guerrilla and the headline "Exclusive: Afghan Raiders on Russia's Border".) In 2012, when a character talks about the order enforced in Iraq, it's hard not to think about all the insurgents created by the chaos of the American invasion. When the Wolverines are called "terrorists" by their enemies, who doesn't think of the War on Terror? No wonder the U.S military has been disappeared by the new Red Dawn (instead of being assisted by active duty soldiers, the Wolverines are assisted by retired Marines). Nobody can forget that the U.S. military of the 21st century is an invading force. In 1984, the U.S. wanted to arm and train the "freedom fighters" of the world. In 2012, insurgents and terrorists "hate our freedoms".
In the nearly thirty years between the two films, gender roles seem to have become more confining. There weren't many women in the original Red Dawn, but Toni and Erica (Lea Thompson) in the original were interesting, active characters. They were stereotypically, tragically traumatized by something that happened with the Russians (likely, rape), so much so that their grandfather hides them in the cellar, but though they remain traumatized and quiet, they also assert themselves against the assumptions of the men, and (like the women in Battle of Algiers) prove to be excellent, committed guerrillas, and more resilient than many of the men. When she dies, Toni makes sure she takes at least one Russian with her. The women of the original Red Dawn do not end up as objects of our pity or our lust, but rather of our respect.
Toni and Erica both survive in the new Red Dawn, but that's about all they have going for them. Erica is a sharp-cheeked blonde (Isabel Lucas) whose entire job in the movie is to be gawked at and pined for — Matt is so in love with her that he repeatedly risks the safety of the Wolverines to save her. (Girls are dangerous! They make boys stupid!) Once her role as the Imperiled Love Interest is over, she mostly disappears from the movie. Toni exists primarily to help Jed get in touch with his emotions. Her costumes tend to highlight her figure (the opposite of the costumes in the original film), and though she gets to shoot stuff and blow things up like everybody else, there's little sense of her as an integral member of the unit.
One of the problems for the new film is that it doesn't really know what to do with its characters. The mayor is set up to be just as sleazy and appeasing as the original, but nothing much is made of his story. He's just another weak, naive black guy. But that's what happens when you allow black people into government, as we should have learned from Birth of a Nation. While the original Red Dawn ended by invoking Abraham Lincoln, the new Red Dawn conjures the glory days of the John Birch Society.
But I'll end where I began: It is entertaining while it lasts. There's lots of action, lots of explosions. Some of the action is badly filmed — a car chase in the beginning is particularly incoherent, much to its detriment, because though part of the point of this action is to get us excited for our protagonists in peril, it also has some information to convey, and it can't do it because it's so badly shot and edited. There is moment-to-moment excitement. But though I went into the film determined to give it the benefit of the doubt, soon the entertainment was at least partially because of the film's idiocies. It's breathtakingly racist, but I also found it difficult to be disturbed by its racism, because it was so obviously stupid that it was comic, and my companion and I kept nudging each about the blatant, self-parodying silliness.
However, as Twitter showed, plenty of people found the movie inspiring, convincing, and powerful. Its political message got through. Its racism buttressed the inherent racism of many people who went to see it during its opening week. Its ideology did some work in the world.
Thinking about that fact is very far from entertaining.
It has been a while since I reviewed any Young Adult books so for this update I will review Three wonderful YA books that your teens would love. Please enjoy and grab them for the holiday season.
1) Starters- This book was written by Lisa Price and published by Delacorte Press in 2012. Imgine a world where a deadly war called the Spore Wars wiped out everyone between 20 and sixty years old. A young girl named Callie decides to rent her body to Enders-seniors who want to be young again. Callie's world is divided and full of danger, while teens are only second hand citizens. This book follows Callie and her survival in this detopian world full of renegades who will kill for food. As she rents her body she discovers that her renter intends to do more then just have fun. This is a great book to read. It will make you ask the question What if this can happen to us? I highly recommend this book not only for teens, but adults as well. It will take you to place that may excist one day. Who know it may already be a parral world like this already. It is a very enjoyable read and lots of fun.
2) Elsewhere- This book was written by Gabrielle Zevin and published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2005. An imprint of Macmillan. "After fifteen-year-old Liz Hall is hit by a taxi and killed, she finds herself in a place that is both like and unlike Earth, where she must adjust to her new status and figure out how to "live". This book look at the afterlife in a whole new way. The writer creates an amazing world that will imerse the reader in it's content. It is full of wonderful discrptions and has a great voice. As you read the book Liz will become a part of you and you will cheer her to the end. A great page turner. Please grab this book and read it yourself or share it with your teen. A great gift for everyone.
3) The Knife of Never Letting Go. Book 1 in Chaos Walking- This book is written by Patrick Ness and published by Candlewick Press 2008. "Pursued by power-hungry Prentiss and mad minister Aaron, young Todd and Viola set out across New World searching for answers about his colony's true past and seeking a way to warn the ship bringing hopeful settlers from Old World." I really enjoyed this book and the world the auther created. In this world males can here what other males are thinking. Our two main Characters Todd and Viola set out on a journey running away from death. This book is full of action and intersting characters. You get to know the young teens very well. As you read the book it will be a page turner. it also has a much deeper meaning to it. I highly recommend you grab a copy for yourself and your teens. Just be warned the is very gruesome and not recommended for children under 12.
Thank you everyone for reading my blog and have a wonderful Holiday season. Look for a new update soon.
Release Date: April 19th, 2008 Publisher: Razorbill Age Group: Young Adult Categories: Paranormal, Vampires, Romance, Action, Vampire Academy Source: Web Overall: 5 Monkeys Interest: Series Date Read: December 2010
Summary from Goodreads:
Rose loves Dimitri, Dimitri might love Tasha, and Mason would die to be with Rose… It's winter break at St. Vladimir's, but Rose is feeling anything but festive. A massive Strigoi attack has put the school on high alert, and now the Academy's crawling with Guardians—including Rose's hard-hitting mother, Janine Hathaway. And if hand-to-hand combat with her mom wasn't bad enough, Rose's tutor Dimitri has his eye on someone else, her friend Mason's got a huge crush on her, and Rose keeps getting stuck in Lissa's head while she's making out with her boyfriend, Christian! The Strigoi are closing in, and the Academy's not taking any risks… This year, St. Vlad's annual holiday ski trip is mandatory. But the glittering winter landscape and the posh Idaho resort only create the illusion of safety. When three friends run away in an offensive move against the deadly Strigoi, Rose must join forces with Christian to rescue them. But heroism rarely comes without a price…
I'm beginning to see why everyone loves this series so much. I'm sure I don't have to tell you what this book's about, I'm the one who jumped on the wagon a little late. And you can't really blame me for starting this series so late, I just learned about them last year.
I love Richelle's vampire world, with its Moroi, Strigoi and Dhampirs. Vampires doing magic and controlling the elements, that's something original! (if you don't count that certain other vampire book).
If there's something I love, that's a good romance. The sexual tension between Rose and Dimitri is amazingly written, in a way that sometimes I'd think, "Just kiss him already!" The love they have for each other feel real, not forced nor rushed.
There's action in every chapter, it never gets boring.
I'll read Shadow Kiss next. I need to know how this continues!
Author: Stephen Davies Genre: YA, Adventure, Mystery Release Date: November, 2010 Source: Netgalley Rating: 3.5/5
Description: Long ago in the ancient city of Timbuktu a student pulled off the most daring heist in African history, the theft of 100 million pounds worth of gold. The stolen treasure has remained hidden until now, when teenage hacker Danny Temple discovers a cryptic Arabic manuscript. It's a good job that Danny is a keen traceur (free runner) because he has to run across rooftops and leap from buildings to stay one step ahead of his pursuers. His nightmarish and adrenalin-charged quest leads him all the way to sub-Saharan Africa, and the mysterious cliffs of Bandiagara.
What I Didn't Like:
My main issue is the fact that the main character, Danny, is 16 and lives alone (parents are in Australia, I believe). Also it's kind of....far-fetched that a 16 year-old kid could find what the pros haven't been able to in seven centuries. I don't know. It seemed a little far fetched to me. With that being said...
What I Did Like:
The book was action-packed and fast-paced...especially towards the end. I could so see this as an action thriller.
It introduced my to the phenomena of parkour. According to Parkour Visions website, parkour is "the art of moving through your environment as swiftly and effectively as possible using only the human body." In Hacking Timbuktu, Danny and his best friend, Omar, use parkour to get away from the ones after them.
Hacking Timbuktu shows what 100 million pounds of gold can do to your morals (like, uh, forget them). This book is definitely "boy" book, especially with the action and parkour tricks. I mean, being able to jump from building to building without having to be a superhero? Awesome.
Gutman, Dan. 2011. The Genius Files: Mission Unstoppable. Read by Michael Goldstrom. Harper Audio. 6 hours, 8 minutes.
Mission Unstoppable is book one is a new series about twins, Coke and Pepsi McDonald, and their adventures as secret members of a highly-classified program known as The Genius Files. Brilliant children from around the country have been chosen (based on their standardized test scores - a reason to do well!) to be part of a group charged with solving the problems of the world - or in this case, saving the world! With trademark Dan Gutman humor and wisecracking, the story follows Coke and Pep on a cross-country summer trip with their parents, who are unaware of the Genius Files project and the dangers the kids face. Someone is trying to kill them and they're in a race against time to reach the world's largest ball of twine and save the world! Narration is third-person with frequent asides to the reader, "Go ahead. Look it up. I'll wait."
What's not to like? There are some stereotypes here - a mysterious woman with an Eastern European accent (why must they always sound Hungarian?), incompetent sanitation workers make a cameo appearance (but Mr. McDonald may be partly to blame for their error), the "bad guy" is the health teacher (it's always health or gym, isn't it?), Mom and Dad are relatively clueless (well, in fairness, perhaps we really are!), but these are minor issues in a book that will likely find a broad audience.
What's to like? Mission Unstoppable is very current employing the Internet, texting, GPS, etc. Mrs. McDonald is the primary bread-winner in the family, making a living with her funky website, "Amazing But True," which prompts the many stops at quirky Americana sites. The story encourages map skills and geography in a fun way. The siblings may fight, but they genuinely like each other.The nonstop action, adventure, and high-tech gadgets and explosions will make this a popular choice for reluctant readers - especially boys. Reader Michael Goldstrom speaks clearly and in a very measured manner, again making this a good audio choice for reluctant readers.
The only thing I would have liked better would have been a less affluent family. It is assumed that all families have a Rand McNally Atlas at home and the McDonald twins bemoan the prospect of a cross-country trip in an RV. These are things that would not ring true to many (most?) of the children I see in the public library.
Still, a solid beginning for a new series. Dan Gutman is a perennial favorite, especially for summer reading assignments. Get them hooked on this series, and perhaps they'll keep reading all year!
Stories need a lot of talking. Mom calls it Die-A-Log. That word makes no sense to me. I understand Bite-A-Log and Trip-Over-A-Log. I do that a lot. But Die-A-Log is puzzling. Even Dye-A-Log seems colorful, but silly. But Mom likes it and she puts lots of it in her stories.
Today, she decided to put more action in between the Die-A-Log. She said, “Talking is good, but too much talking is bad.” and “What we need here is some action!”
ACTION?! That’s my specialty! So I jumped on the chair, slid across the floor, flipped the rug over, bounced on the couch, pushed a pillow onto the floor, crashed into the door, shook my stuffed fish, leapt over my bed, and somehow ended up tangled in the table legs.
Working on a novel revision, I realize that I need to refocus the relationship between two characters. The question is where to start.
Grand Entrance for Your Character
I once heard the late Sid Fleischman talk about the importance of giving a character a Grand Entrance. Think about a stage play, where a character sweeps onto stage commanding the attention of the audience. It’s a first look at the character and sets the tone for everything that follows.
Characters out of focus? Start revising with the Grand Entrance Scene.
I’ll be focusing at first on the scene where Character B comes on stage and crashes into–literally–Character A. Right now, the scene sets up a romantic relationship and I want to back off that and make it more platonic. How to accomplish that?
Actions. First, I’ll look at the action verbs. A story is almost always contained in the verbs. Too many “to be” verbs (is, are, has, had, am, etc.) and the story is flat, uninteresting. Action verbs characterize and I want to sharpen the characterizations while setting up the relationship differently. It’s not that the ACTION — what the character DO — will change much. But the meaning of the actions will take on a different tone.
Sensory Details. Likewise, the choice of sensory details will be crucial: visual, auditory, tactile, gustatory (taste) and olfactory (smell). For example, if you want to talk about a romantic relationship, you might describe a guy with these details: musky smell, soft curly hair, rough baritone voice, brush of his lips and –well, let’s forget the taste one for now.
On the other hand, a more platonic relationship might be sweaty smell, greasy hair, clear voice, firm handshake and –well, taste just doesn’t work here, either.
I’ll be looking at the actual choice of words carefully. I don’t expect that the scene’s actions will change much, but the reader should get a very different feel for the character relationship.
Of course, all of this relates to a slightly different tone set up in the relationship. Tone is that underlying attitude that characters have toward something that comes out in the language choices of the writer. I don’t want romance here, but an honest, growing friendship. I’ll use action verbs and sensory details to change that tone in this scene of Grand Entrance. If I can nail it here, it should act as a touchstone as I revise the rest of the novel.
Auxier, Jonathan. 2011. Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes. New York: Amulet.
(Advance Reader Copy provided by the publisher and signed in New Orleans by the young, very friendly, and tall Jonathan Auxier. Some lucky young reader will be the recipient of this great new book!) A sightless, orphan boy under the control of a heartless man, the Dickensian Peter Nimble uses his remarkable senses to survive, becoming as unseen as he is sightless - a master of thievery, lock picking, diversion, filching, clipping and pilfering. It is a mean and demeaning life until the day he steals an elaborately guarded, locked and fortified box containing three sets of eyes - eyes which catapult him into a strange and fantastic journey to the spaces that have heretofore been left blank upon the maps of the world. His destiny is a quest for the Vanished Kingdom. To accomplish his mission, he has only his new companion, the part feline/part equine/part human Sir Tode (a most miserably enchanted knight), an unfinished riddle, his burgle-sack, and of course, the Fantastic Eyes.
The language of Peter Nimble is the straightforward language of action and adventure, which is not to say that this book is simple or unsophisticated. In fact, the plot has many twists with depth equal to the cruel mines of the Vanished Kingdom. There is some obvious foreshadowing, but this may be a planned device, offering the reader a sense of accomplishment while following this exciting adventure as it changes perspective when new characters enter and expand the story.
As Peter Nimble is blind, the reader depends upon the narrator and good Sir Tode to set the visual scene. Peter's view of the world is colored, so to speak, by his other senses. He tells the time of day by the "feel" of the sun or moon. He can "smell the dew percolating up from the ground." He can judge the size of a chamber or hall by the echo of voices or machinery. But he cannot do it all alone, and enlists the help of the loyal Sir Tode, a fish, thieves, a raven, and "the Princess," in a fierce battle to aid the author of the riddle,
Kings aplenty, princes few, The ravens scattered and seas withdrew. Only a stranger may bring relief, But darkness will reign, unless he's --
For ages 10 and up, readers of Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes can expect some violence and even death (no quest is without danger!), but Peter and his allies are up to the challenge, and when they falter, they are reminded,
There are times when Justice demands from us more than we would give.
(I love the cover art!) True story: I have never encountered the word sternutation before reading Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes. After looking it up, I shared my discovery with my family that evening only to have my son tell me that he, too, had learned the word sternutation that day - from a Snapple cap! A strange coincidence to be sure!
I am in sympathy with Stork's overall point, and one of my few absolutely fuddy-duddy tendencies is a belief that classical action composition and editing is usually superior to the chaos cinema style Stork identifies -- I often want to yell at directors like Christopher Nolan (who is five years older than me), "You kids will never understand why Howard Hawks is great!"
But I have some reservations about Stork's analysis. Basically, they are two: 1.) He interprets an aesthetic technique as a single type of moral expression; 2.) he assumes all audiences watch the way he does.
The first problem is always illegitimate. Not because aesthetics and morality aren't linked -- they often are, as both realms are ones of choice -- but because a technique separated from context has no meaning, moral or otherwise. The types of filming and editing that Stork doesn't like acquire different meanings and purposes in different movies, and Stork's inability to see this blinds him to the vast differences between, for instance, a Michael Bay explodagasm and Gamer. Stork has it in his head that a particular way of filming means one thing, and so he's incapable of understanding Gamer -- he needs to spend some time with Steve Shaviro. To have filmed Gamer in a classical style would have changed the film's meaning and ruined much of what is interesting in it, including various effects that could be considered moral or ethical points.
The problem of assuming audiences see, hear, and feel all in the same way is endemic for critics, and may, in fact, be unsolveable -- but a bit of humility helps. Audiences are creative, complex, clever, and contradictory (as some of the more thoughtful comments at the Press Play post show). It is perilous to forget that.
In the second part of his essay, Stork says that chaos cinema is "an aesthetic configuration that refuses to engage viewers mentally and emotionally, i
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Just how big is Rick Riordan in the publishing world? Well, he doesn't have a mere web page, he has a world, The Online World of Rick Riordan. And he needs an online world to contain all of his projects!
I've been meaning to share a few things about Rick Riordan since attending the American Library Association conference this summer. I am so impressed with Rick Riordan's commitment to his craft, his boundless imagination, his friendly personality, his circle of talented colleagues, and most of all, his ever-increasing appeal to readers. Like Midas, whatever he touches turns to gold.
Did you know that The Lightning Thief and subsequent books in the series are being released in graphic novel format? I might have passed on this news, had I not attended a session in New Orleans that featured Rick Riordan in a panel discussion with his colleagues. One of the panel members was Robert Venditti, who wrote the adaptation for the graphic novel.
Robert Venditti signing books @ ALA in NO
Venditti explained both the challenges, and his method of condensing a beloved book into GN format. It was not a task that he undertook lightly, and it was clear to everyone in attendance that he put a great deal of effort into maintaining the spirit and content of the original book. My co-worker and I spoke with him later about the process of working with Attila Futaki (artist) and Jose Villarrubia (colorist) in creating the adaptation to ensure that readers of the original book would not be disappointed. There is much more to the process than you might think.
The resulting book is a new way to experience the Percy Jackson saga (the rest of the series will follow!) and adheres to the story much better than the movie. And yes, Annabeth is blond, as she should be. My only complaint with The Lightning Thief: The Graphic Novel (2010 Disney Hyperion) is the font color for otherworldly messages. I found it difficult to read, but perhaps I'm just getting old!
The Lost Hero, the first book in the Heroes of Olympusseries, flew off the shelf all summer! Can't wait for the second installment, Son of Neptune? Well, here's a teaser for you -
(It will be interesting to see how the issue of narration is reconciled. So many listeners loved Jesse Bernstein, the narrator of the original Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. Joshua Swanson narrated The Lost Hero, which is told in first person narration from varying points of view. Swanson portrayed all of the chara
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The Plot: Alex Sawyer admits he is a thief. Has been for two years, since he was twelve. Started with money from kids on the playground; moved up to burglary. But he is NOT a murderer. He did not kill his best friend, Toby.
Nobody believes him, though. So Alex gets sent to the worst prison ever imagined: Furnace. Beneath heaven is hell. Beneath hell is Furnace.
The Good: Have readers who are adrenaline junkies? Who want books were things actually happen? Who have little patience for books about thoughts, and feelings, and emotions? Who don't want books that are all about lessons?
Give them Lockdown. And guess what? There are thoughts and feelings and emotions, but they are wrapped up in a nonstop breathless reading experience. And there is a lesson or two. Either, "don't do the crime if you can't do the time." Or, it's OK for guys to show emotion by crying, especially when they are tough, strong criminals wrongfully accused of murder who are thrown into prison and have to witness other inmates eaten by out of control dogs.
All of Lockdown is set in Furnace; but a handful of flashbacks tells us how Alex got himself in this situation, a life sentence in Furnace. A prison just for teenagers -- well, some only boys, younger than teenagers -- who society decided are too scary, too dangerous, too bad to be free. Instead, they are sent to Furnace, with no promise of parole, no hope of escape. Death is the only way out.
Alex doesn't understand why he was framed. He may be innocent of murder, but others in Furnace are not. His new cellmate, a few years older than Alex, was eleven when he killed a man. Gang members from the "Summer of Slaughter," when teen gangs killed mercilessly, control Furnace. Well, control Furnace to a certain extent. The person really in control? The warden. And his silver-eyed, black suited guards. The odd, wheezy men wearing gas masks. And the dogs... Don't forget the dogs. The blacksuits, the wheezers, the dogs.... aren't normal. Aren't like anything you'd see on the street. They are monsters. What is worse? Being taken away at night, disappearing.... or being a meal for things that may or may not be dogs?
Lockdown is non stop action. Both Alex and the reader never pause for breath. One minute, it's arrival in Furnace; next is scrambling for the cell as sirens ring and dogs are let out; then there is the terrifying moments when "they" come, in the night, to take people away. Turn the page (or in my case, listen for one minute more) to find out what happens next, what Alex does next, whether Alex can figure a way out. Because while everyone says escape is impossible, Alex doesn't care what everyone says.
Oh, Alex. He is an old-fashioned hero, but I doubt he'd think of himself th
Hooray for Friday; the new day for blogposts in my schedule! So what are the current happenings? This week featured a very nice break from a heavy workload, but I am now back at nose-to-the-grindstone (before and after this post, of course). Regardless, I got some time in on some really rewarding experiment results, and I am eager to start working those outcomes into some artwork. I am planning out a summer (and beyond) project that will be artwork in a different vein from the illustration work; I am becoming very interested in working in a more narrative manner as opposed to my usual abstract-concept approach. Basically, with this summer project I hope to explore storytelling rather than conceptual communication. As Aliyah would say, it will be artwork of "content" rather than "concept." I guess this has spawned from the return of my reading interests.
But that will all be coming down the line eventually.
And now for some art. Here is a new editorial recently completed for Carli at Macworld. the subject of the article was about unexpected uses for the Esc key. Apparently, that key can be a lifesaver! Apparently, its more than just...escape.
Sketches: Sketch #1 was ato show how powerful the key can be; its exploding off of the keyboard. Sketch #2 was a play on the multi-function aspect of the key. Sketch #3 was a exploration of the key's helpfulness; I portrayed it as air-dropped relief. Carli chose the third sketch, and I went to finish.
Completed Artwork: I wanted to keep this artwork very warm and bright. I stayed away from a blue sky as I was simply using blue skies in several pieces during that time. This illo also ran in the same issue as the IMAP mailbox image from a few post back. That image was mostly blue as well so I wanted to make the two image look completely different since they would be in the same issue.
As I said before, it was a pleasure working with Carli and I even got a compliment from another AD at Macworld on the images. Good stuff!
First lines. We all obsess over our novel’s first lines, and rightly so, because from it the rest of the story must flow naturally and without a pause. Here are 10 strategies to use on first lines for your novel. I’ve illustrated them with the “100 Best Lines from Novels,” as chosen by the editors of the American Book Review. The number at the beginning of each quoted line indicates its position in the Best 100 List. This was inspired by an article by Susan Lumenello, “The Promise of the First Line,” (The Writer’s Chronicle, Volume 38, Number 3, December 2005. 57-59).
It was. . .
It is. . . This is. . .
These openings give a writer freedom and flexibility because anything can come after these words: abstract images, a synopsis, a setting, etc. To the reader, this opening signals authority. The possible downside is over familiarity with the opening, so that it reads as a cliche.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
Pride and Prejudice
It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.
A Tale of Two Cities
This is the saddest story I have ever heard.
Ford Madox Ford
The Good Soldier
It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.
Edward George Bulwer-Lytton
It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not.
I got a Greek-God-lovin' kick out of Rick Riordan's first series for kids, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and so I was pretty amped to pick up the first book in The Kane Chronicles, Riordan's new series. This time, Riordan places his focus on Egyptian mythology, which is awesome, since not only am I interested in it, but I get requests from kids all the time for books about it, and I can usually only pass them The Egypt Game(which is awesome!) but does not really sate the want for action. But, good gods, does The Red Pyramid have action. So much action, in fact, that sometimes I felt a little overwhelmed by the explosions and underwhelmed by the characters who, of course, have learned that they have the power of gods within themselves. Being that the conceit of this novel is inherantly more complicated (the Egyptian notion of divinity is a bit more complicated than the Olympian) there was a lot of expository dialogue in which things are explained. Which was probably a necessary evil. As intrepid kid reviewer Clare pointed out, it's hard to introduce people to a whole new spectrum of Gods and monsters without being a bit expository, and she's totally right. There was a lot to take in here. But even with that in mind, I felt myself rolling my eyes during some of the more didactic passages, which to be fair, were NEVER boring. Ever. And I must admit, I did rather like the talking baboon. I wonder, though, if perhaps Riordan bit off a weency bit more than he could chew when he decided to make his lead characters mixed-race. Being hapa myself, this is always something of great interest to me, and so I am a bit more critical of any material covering this topic than the casual reader. But I felt like the way in which Riordan calls attention to race felt neither organic nor necessary. The way that the characters discuss their race in their interior monologues felt a bit belaboured, and I couldn't help but wonder if Riordan was forcing himself to try and reach another demographic. But none of these things that I've griped about here will stop me from recommending this book. It's an awesome primer for Egyptian mythology, just the way Percy was for the Greek pantheon. It's got enough action to keep even the most reluctant reader involved. It's got enough tough female characters to make Tamora Pierce proud. It's got enough pithy dialogue to keep the chuckles coming as fast as the explosions. It's got everything it needs to go blow for blow with Percy. Which I hope it does. A sly mention of the "other Gods" that live in Manhattan tells me this is happening in the same universe as the previous series. Battle of the Gods, anyone?
Dialogue is far more than words inside quotation marks…
by Rob Walker
What’s just as important as what your character says? What do you need concern yourself with as you craft dialogue other than just the dialogue? Let’s start with the face.
Whose face? Why the face of the speaker and the features of the other speaker as dialogue means two logues, not one. Facial expressions and features are a starting point. Squints, ticks, licking of lips – it all becomes part and parcel of how it all comes off the page like life itself or remains on the page like a dead, dehydrated piece of road kill.
In other words, now that we know so much about non-verbal communication, it is incumbent upon us writers to think of using three non-verbal “triangulations” just as we would triangulate at least three of the five senses in a scene.
In a dialogue scene eye contact is huge, facial expressions, big, sounds, sighs, rolling eyes, as well as gestures and even how a character sits, legs crossed or not, and how he stands, firm or shaky. Posture and proximity. These are all key to making dialogue action rather than feeling like inaction. So what does science tell us about body language? Here is a pretty good list of items that I use as I write:
Non-verbal signs of Cooperation:
Standing with feet apart, head tilted high.
Uncrossed legs and arms
Open arms and palms out
Finger to face (as opposed to hand covering face)
Hand covering mouth or shading eyes
Need for reassurance:
Sucking on pen, pencil, glasses or other item
Cuticle picking, biting nails
Hand to throat
Hands in pockets
Hands locked at back
Hand rubbing back of neck
Body twisted away
Stalling for time by cleaning glasses, pipe, rearranging, etc.
Hand to cheek
Hand over nose
Rapid eye movements
Affirmative head nods
Rubbing hands together
Interim phrases of agreement or acknowledgement (Eh? Uh-huh? Hmmm, oh, etc.)
Leaning back (as opposed to forward)
Hand covering mouth
Peering over top of glasses
Crossed legs, arms
In other words, it is as important to see/hear what a character says but just as important to see and hear what is going on between the spoken lines, alternating with interesting actions the character is involved in and engaged in. This keeps the dialogue interwoven with the action, and the action engaged while speakers speak. Action should not end when a character opens her mouth. Same as with thinking; we are in real life normally involved in multi-tasking as we are thinking, no? Same as when speaking. Your dialogue needs to walk; your dialogue requires legs. When the man says, “Lights, action, camera” include in that list “dialogue” but dial it UP!
My latest madness is found via google at Dirty Deeds – Advice where you can keep tabs on the work in progress – Curse of the Titanic, or google Write Aide, or check out his blogs at www.makeminemystery.com
Reinier, Aaron. 2010. The Unsinkable Walker Bean. New York: First Second (:01).
Walker Bean's is a seafaring family. His grandfather and father are members of the navy. Walker is a young inventor who has been regaled by his grandfather with legend and song of an ancient and prescient skull that resides at the bottom of the ocean, guarded by two aquatic beasts. Walker is thrust into a dangerous adventure when his grandfather finds and then succumbs to the accursed skull; and is then double-crossed by Walker's father who seeks to gain from its unusual powers and value. Walker must unravel the mystery of the legend to save his grandfather's life. With the help of Shiv, a young pirate deckhand and grudging assistance from the girl, Genoa, a fearless pirate, Walker embarks on a remarkable and dangerous journey to return the skull to its beastly owners.
The dark colors of The Unsinkable Walker Bean (chosen by colorist Alec Longstreth from a limited palette inspired by old, richly colored, but faded picture books) are a complement to its dark and dangerous story line. Only Walker's blond hair and the crisply inked dialogue stand out immediately from each panel. Other details emerge slowly from the dark holds of ships, the night skies, and the depths of the ocean. Sketches of plans, inventions, charts, and musical notation add depth to Aaron Reinier's detailed illustrations and story. Panels per page are varied from a single, double-spread rendition of a fiery confrontation at sea to an action-packed page of ten panels.
The story of The Unsinkable Walker Bean takes as many tacks as a ship sailing upwind. Enemies become friends and new dangers emerge as Walker follows the ever-changing course his grandfather began, traveling by pirate ship to remote islands and dockside shantytowns. The multiple story lines of Walker's quest, Genoa's strange behavior, the duplicity of Walker's father, and the motivation of a mysterious doctor, combine with the supernatural Merwitch sisters of the deep, to create a complex story rich in details - even including a fabled language written in runic characters. The breakneck pace of action may have readers may scrambling back through the pages to re-examine a scene, but seaworthy or time-tested graphic n
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Fussell, Sandy. 2010. White Crane. Ill. by Rhian Nest James. Somerville, MA: Candlewick. (Advance Reader Copy)
Set in an undetermined year, after the heyday of the samurai warrior class and prior to its demise in the 19th century, White Crane is an improbable story of a ryu, or Japanese school of martial arts, inhabited by a revered warrior teacher and his hand-picked students, each disabled in some way. Niya Moto is White Crane, the story's one-legged narrator, so named for his spirit totem. The white crane is a kindred creature, as comfortable as Niya in standing upon only one leg. Kyoko, the White Monkey is an albino with extra fingers and toes. One-armed Mikko is the Striped Gecko, Taji is blind and guided by the Golden Bat. Yoshi, pacifist, yet strong and sturdy, still searches for his spirit. All are under the guidance of the wily Sensei, who is so old that the mere mention of his name usually elicits the response, "I thought he was dead." All are preparing for the yearly ceremonial competition between theBoar, Dragon, Eagle, Rabbit, Snake, Wolf and Cockroach ryus. Niya's ryu is, of course, The Cockroach; but as Sensei reminds his pupils,
Cockroaches are small, but they are very hard to kill.
Though the characters may be improbable, White Crane is believable. With writing reflective of the Japanese philosophical code known as Bushido, the reader is drawn into a world in which the most important concerns are Chi! Jin! Yu!, wisdom, benevolence, courage. White Crane is not without humor, however. When the boys travel to the village to see the master swordsmith, they bow low to honor his age, reputation and craftsmanship,
He chants as he works, I want to listen, but Onaku's singing is even worse than mine. Covering my ears would be impolite, so I grit my teeth and hum inside my head. Om. Om. Om. "An honorable sword sings loudly with truth and purity, " Sensei teaches. No wonder Master Onaku's swords are so prized. They are born singing at the top of their lungs to drown out their maker's awful voice.
The chapters move swiftly, each containing an illustrated title page and a additional full page, action-packed sketch by Rhian Nest James. With five students, many competing schools, and a fascinating period in history, debut author Sandy Fussell has all the ingredients for a great new series. Recommended for 4th grade and up.
When the Dramatic Action changes the Character Emotional Development at depth over time, a story becomes Thematically Significant. These three threads: Dramatic Action, Character Emotional Development and Thematic Significance, hold the core dynamic of plot.
But if one broadens the definition of plot to include it as a verb -- what a writer does in deliberately arranging scenes by cause and effect, then there are a multitude of story elements a writer is able to plot. An excellent source to plot out in your stories is the vast array of antagonists* (see below for a list of the Six Standard Antagonists).
Antagonists work well because Dramatic Action caused by an antagonist always creates conflict, tension, suspense and/or curiosity, thus placing those scenes above the line of your Plot Planner. (For more information on the development of a Plot Planner for your individual project, watch one of the Plot DVDs or read the second part of Blockbuster Plots Pure and Simple.)
Think of a story as the shifting of power back and forth between the protagonist and the antagonist. Or, in other words, the protagonist pushes toward something, while forces internal and external (the antagonists) attempt to thwart her progress. A story is the struggle between a protagonist who wants something enough to take action against all the antagonists or forces within and without who work against her. The Plot Planner is merely a line that separates the scenes into those where the energy or power is with the antagonist(s) (above the Plot Planner line) and those where the protagonist is in control or holds the power over the antagonist (below the Plot Planner line).
Scenes with conflict, tension, suspense and/or curiosity test the protagonist and show the reader or moviegoer what the character is made of. Since most people read and go to the movies 70% for the Character Emotional Development, it makes sense to employ as many antagonists as you need to in order to create heightened conflict, tension, suspense and curiosity.
Remember, not all antagonists are people.
A prime example is when the protagonist goes up against nature. Nature as an antagonist can be as monumental as a flood, a hurricane, or an earthquake. Nature can also work on a more subtle level by helping to create mood and add depth to the conflict, tension and suspense. Plot out these nature elements and you will be better able to control the effect intended in each and every scene, and in the overall story itself.
Nature unfolds according to the four seasons. The first of the 7 Essential Elements of Scene is to establish (explicit or implied) right up front in each scene the date and setting. This includes the time of the year, the day of the week, and the time of day. Each of these time factors of nature has the potential to create mood and/or conflict, tension and suspense.
For instance, dawn and dusk are often considered the "between times" when there is a thinning of the veils between the physical and the spiritual, the past and the future. These times often create a sense of poignancy, melancholy, or imbalance in people. Throw in the haunting cry of a mourning dove and the feeling intensifies.
The author of Jerk, California (winner of the Schneider Family Book Award) returns with another great read. The only thing that will clear the clouds from Jake’s head is risking his life. He jumps off of waterfalls, takes risky rides on his dirtbike, climbs the town watertower, and scales rock walls. His father and older brother don’t understand what he does at all. His father basically owns their town and his perfect brother is following in his footsteps as a firefighter, something that holds no appeal for Jake. One thing with appeal is his best friend Salome, but he can never let it become anything more than just friends, because he hurts anything he gets close to and he can’t do that to her. When Jake’s older brother loses his best friend and quits the firefighters, Jake is offered a place on a crew that rappels into wildfires. It is a crew with a record of young firefighters dying. Jake isn’t worried, this suits his thrill-seeking nature just fine, but Salome refuses to stand by and watch him die. He now has to choose between his friend and the rush.
My short summary above just scratches the surface of this novel. It is a novel of depression and trying anything to feel clarity and connection. It is a novel of family, exploring the tension-filled relationship between brothers as well as fathers and sons. It is a novel of love, of taking that final step and feeling a different kind of clarity and rush. It is a novel of bravery, of honor, of betrayal. It is a novel that reads at breakneck pace, yet never loses touch with the importance of character and setting.
Jake is a great character in the novel, exploring the reason why people take large risks. He is a tormented soul, unable to form connections with those he loves, able only to bond with the thrills. Yet at the same time, he has friends who love him, despite the ways he pushes them away. The novel is beautifully written, exploring the danger and power of fire, which is used as a perfect metaphor for Jake and his own destructive nature.
A novel that will appeal to a broad range of readers, from those who are thrill seekers themselves and want a great action-filled read to those who are interested in a well-drawn character facing incredible odds. Appropriate for ages 15-18.
“Stories should begin at a point of innocence.” When I read that recently, I had to stop and consider: where should you start a story?
Point of Innocence: Don’t Foreshadow the End
The main point of this quote is that you shouldn’t start with something like, “It was the worst day of my life.” That robs the reader of entering a situation innocent, not knowing what to expect. It lessens tension, suspense and conflict. Not a good thing to do. It’s jumping the timeline, foreshadowing to your own detriment.
Instead, readers want to experience a situation from the main character or narrator’s point of view with a blow-by-blow, as-it-happens narration of events. Yes, it’s fine to include some of the MCs or Ns attitude, in fact, it’s essential. So the experience is colored with rose or jealous-green glasses. That’s expected and it enhances the reader’s experience of the story.
Orson Scott Card says it a different way when he suggests that the only thing you withhold from a reader is what happens next. We know where we are, who is there, when we are, and why we are here. The only thing we don’t know is what happens next. THAT is where tension comes from.
The Moment Before
Openings should also be fraught with a feeling for the moment before. That is, the subtext of the story, even in the opening, should be embued with the characters hopes, dreams, experiences, joys, triumphs, dangers, and more. What happened just before this opening scene? How does that affect the emotional content of this scene?
Too often, in an attempt to jump start a story, I see openings which drop the reader into an action scene. The problem is that we don’t have any emotional connection to the characters and, well, so what?, if character A dies horribly?
Openings are a delicate balance between action and character, emotions and plot. You need to slow down enough to evoke that “moment before” and make the reader care; yet, you must always remember to hook the reader hard.
My advice, after reading many “first 5 pages” is to write a draft that hooks with action; then write a draft that makes us care; then try to blend the two together somehow, making whatever adjustments needed.
Scenes are made up of Actions, Thoughts, Dialogue and Emotions.
In every scene, a character has external goals and internal goals. External goals might be something like getting a cup of coffee to drink, while the accompanying internal goal is getting to talk with the pretty barista one more time. These goals can be expressed through actions, thoughts, dialogue or emotion, usually all four.
Each scene has a structure.beginning, middle, end. This implies that some event is happening. It may be walking inside a house, or it may be a scene where a character finds out something important. Sometimes, you even want to make a distinction between the external and internal: the scene takes place in the stands of a football game, but it’s really about discovering the villain’s real name. in The Scene Book, Sandra Scofield, uses two terms, the occasion and the event. Here, the Occasion is watching the football game; the Event is finding out the villain’s real name. In other words, the Occasion is the external circumstances; the Event is the actions that directly relate to your plot.
Scenes open in various ways, but the goal of an opening is to hook the reader, just as you would in the opening chapter. The middle involves obstacles and complications to the goal, and the end is usually a disaster. Somewhere, there’s a pivot point, a place where the action speeds up, changes direction, or twists off in a tangent. Things don’t go as expected. It may be just deepening of tension or emotion.
Pulse. Sandra Scofield says there’s a pulse to every scene. For me, it’s the subtext that is happening. Two characters talk but that means nothing without understanding the characters and situation. When we understand the underlying issues, we know that the conversation may be about eating apples or oranges, but really, it’s a quarrel between lovers; or it’s between a husband and wife and is really about who has control of the family budget; or it’s between a grocer and stock boy and is really about job expectation and job performance. In well told stories, often the underlying issues (control of the family budget) isn’t stated explicitly. That’s good: remember the adage to Show-Don’t-Tell. Talking about fruit is a good way to SHOW the strain in a marriage over the divisive issue of money.
Scofield, then, says to search for the subtext in every scene. What are the characters fighting for? What do they long for? How can you subtly add this to the scene?