Show Me the Romance

No cherubs. No doilies. No crap.

Friday Frivolity: Easter Goes to the Dogs

I grew up with German Shepherds, and since Easter is on the way, here’s a little Friday Frivolity for you:

You can find the original page for this photo here.

Thanks to my husband for sending this picture my way 🙂

Wednesday Writing: Where Do I Begin?

Knowing if you’ve started your novel in the right place has got to be one of the most difficult things to master for a writer. Fortunately, there are professionals who read books and manuscripts for a living, so they have a finely honed sense of what makes a great jumping off point.

Unfortunately–for those of use who have yet to land an agent or an editor at a publishing house–we have to muddle along with help from fellow amateurs, trusting our instincts as readers to guide us to finding that magical point where a character’s story is ready to have a reader join the journey.

My writing partner has an excellent novel she’s been polishing for awhile. It has garnered contest wins and accolades from peers, and I certainly enjoyed reading it when we first became writing partners. However, the opening pages were hard to get through, and I thought it was something to do with presentation. I worked with her for some time trying to fix a problem I couldn’t quite put my finger on–was it the main character? The setting? The mix of dialogue to prose?

She recently got feedback from an agent and another professional who told her she wasn’t starting the novel in the right place. Instead of starting the novel with a magical duel between the main character and a rival, they suggested she start with the MC limping home from a fight.

My writing partner was worried I would be disappointed that she was essentially scrapping pages of stuff we’d worked on over a period of weeks, but I was excited! That sounded like the perfect place to start the story, and I looked forward to reading the new beginning.

In writing, you can never fall in love with your pages or become so invested in a partner’s work that you’re resistant to starting fresh.

Now, if only I could tell the best place to start my novels… 🙂

TV Show Review: Mary Stayed Out All Night (2010)

Mary Stayed Out All Night
TV Show (16 episodes, complete and available free on Hulu.com)
Korean romantic comedy starring Jang Geun Suk and Moon Geun Young.

When I last reviewed a Korean drama, I complained about the “scheming mean girl rival” and “go abroad at the end to provide more complications” plot devices used so frequently in Korean and Japanese dramas. The very next show I watched uses neither! Let’s hear it for Mary Stayed Out All Night.

The Premise

Wi Ma Ri (Mary, as everyone calls her) is cheerful, practical, and accustomed to having to dodge the loan sharks who are always hounding her dad for money. But when her dad strikes up a deal with his wealthy childhood friend to marry her to his friend’s son, Mary knows she’ll have to do something drastic to avoid marriage with a complete stranger–like pretend to marry the handsome rock singer she met last night.

The Pain

I feel like Mary Stayed Out All Night takes quite awhile to hit its stride, which might make it hard for some people to get into the story. Preposterous situations abound, but that’s kind of par for the course in these dramas. Ultimately, male romantic lead Kang Mu Gyul isn’t as hilarious as that actor’s character in You’re Beautiful, so it took me awhile to warm up to him and appreciate the more subtle layers in his personality.

The Payoff

A GREAT kiss between the two leads. Asian dramas can be rather hit-or-miss when it comes to realistic kisses, but when Wi Mary and Kang Mu Gyul finally kiss for real, it’s fantastic. I truly enjoyed some of the music in this show, most of all Kang Mu Gyul’s marquee rock song “My Bus.” The story is more emotionally mature as well, especially since the beautiful actress who struggles with her jealousy over the relationship developing between her ex-boyfriend Kang Mu Gyul and Mary actually seems like a real person. Sometimes she succumbs to her bitterness, but more often she rises above it–making her one of the few romantic rival characters I actually admire.

Rating: 

4 out of 5 arrows

Friday Frivolity: A Real-Life Batman

People say they don’t read the news because it’s depressing, and I get that–sometimes I feel the same way.

Photo by Jonathan Newton for The Washington Post

So imagine my delight when I opened my newspaper during breakfast (yes, I’m one of those people) and saw an article about a guy who goes all-in pretending to be Batman while visiting sick children at hospitals. You can find the whole story here.

I also love that he’s been doing this for years, and the only reason he’s getting any publicity now is because he got pulled over in his Batmobile–wearing his Batsuit–earlier this week. So he isn’t doing this for attention, just to spread a little joy and hope in the lives of children dealing with horrible illnesses.

How cool is that?

Wednesday Writing: Think Before You Name

As writers, we name a whole lotta stuff. Characters. Towns. Fantasy and science fiction writers name entire worlds. But a name isn’t just an arbitrary placeholder meant to differentiate people and places in your book.

In unillustrated works, the name is the face.

Think about that. You get a character’s physical description a handful of times in a book. Maybe you get clues to his personality a handful of other times. But how many times do you see his name? In a 300 page novel, the number is probably close to a thousand times. If your name sounds weak, the character will seem weak. If your name sounds brawny, the character will sound brawny. If your name is an unpronounceable mouthful, readers will skip right over it and probably not connect with your character very well.

I really want to know what Suzanne Collins was thinking when she named Peeta in The Hunger Games.

  • Katniss–sounds feminine but fierce because of the “Kate/Kat” element. It also makes sense in District 12 because it’s the name of a wild plant. A good, solid name for her.
  • Haymitch–great name for this character. He’s crotchety, older, a real scoundrel.
  • Peeta–wha? Is it male? Is it female? Is it concerned with the ethical treatment of animals? Is it a type of bread (seriously, I hope this isn’t the reason)? Whatever it is, Peeta certainly doesn’t sound like an attractive male lead. Maybe that’s the point, but Peeta’s name still bugs me.
And we’re not even going to talk about Renesmee. (shudder)

J.R.R. Tolkien used the power of connotation and our linguistic heritage to give Middle Earth its intense depth of history. This article in the New Yorker explores the power of brand naming and linguistic connotations. Naming isn’t the most important thing we do as writers, but we can’t afford to overlook it.

Movie Review: No Strings Attached (2011)

No Strings Attached
Movie (108 minutes, R)
Starring Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher

Two “friends have casual sex and–oops–fall in love” rom-coms came out in 2011, but unfortunately, the more highly regarded one (Friends with Benefits starring Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake) is not available on Netfix’s streaming service. So how does the other one stack up?

The Premise

Adam and Emma (Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman) have known each other off and on for years when they finally reunite as adults. Adam is still stinging from discovering his ex-girlfriend is now dating his father, and as a full-time resident at an area hospital, Emma has no time, no interest, and no faith in romantic relationships. They decide to distract themselves with casual sex, laying a number of ground rules to keep them from becoming emotionally involved. We all know that won’t last, so the primary entertainment is in seeing how they go from “friends with benefits” to a real couple.

The Pain

This film is unnecessarily raunchy in places. There’s no real nudity, so the R rating rests solely on the dialogue and one rather awkward sex scene. The funniest parts were not even the crude ones. On a larger scale however, the movie fails to really show why Emma is so deathly afraid of emotional intimacy. She keeps turning away from what seems to be a no-brainer relationship with the wonderful Adam, and simply saying her parents divorce fifteen years ago turned her off of love doesn’t cut it. Maybe it turned her off marriage…but dating, too?

The Payoff

Some of the dialogue is fun, and it’s hard not to love Adam’s character. Especially the way he throws himself in headfirst, refusing to let uncertainty rule his decisions the way Emma’s fear paralyzes her. The romance between them works–barely, but it works.

Rating:

3 out of 5 arrows

Friday Frivolity: Fiction is GOOD for you!

Recently, the New York Times published an article on the neuroscientific effects fiction has on the brain. The upshot is, fiction doesn’t rot your brain, it stimulates it.

Photo by Jayel Aheram

As a lifelong bookworm, I’m doing a little happy dance in my chair. Clever metaphors, evocative words, intense emotions felt vicariously through readers…it all has a positive effect on the brain, stimulating multiple areas at once and giving us the next best thing to living out these experiences in real life.

My husband is always giving me a hard time for binge-reading fiction while neglecting non-fiction. I do agree that whenever I make myself read non-fiction I enjoy it, but fiction is my passion—and now I can come back at him with proof that all my fiction reading (apart from being excellent research for writing) is worthwhile.

Happy Friday to fiction lovers everywhere 🙂

Wednesday Writing: Starting your story with ‘Want’

Today’s Wednesday Writing is a short one since I’m only expanding on a tip I gleaned from a literary agent I follow on Twitter.

YES. RT @AdviceToWriters: Make your characters want something right away even if it’s only a glass of water. KURT VONNEGUT

I really like that idea. It’s so simple, and like Vonnegut says, it doesn’t have to be a big thing—maybe your character just wants to punish her little brother for quoting her diary at the dinner table—but just the simple desire and attempt to get something draws the reader in: will he/she get what he wants?

BUT (and this is a big caveat) it’s probably a good idea to make the wanting relevant to your overall plot.

  • Maybe your MC succeeds in punishing her little brother, but that rash act sets the plot in motion.
  • Maybe getting up for a simple glass of water means he’s awake at the right hour of the night to witnesses  a murder in his driveway.
  • Maybe the thing your MC wants is his big goal for the entire story.

Tie it together, and the reader’s interest won’t wane after a few pages in. You got them reading, don’t let them drop now!

Book Review: The Scarlet Pimpernel

The Scarlet Pimpernel
 By Baroness Emmuska Orczy

Many modern adventure stories owe a severe debt of gratitude to Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel. Blackadder has parodied the character. Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation novels function on the assumption that not only was the old Scarlet P a real person, he eventually retired and his flower-named pupils continued spying for England. I love both Blackadder and the Pink Carnation, so I decided to see what all the fuss was about.

The Premise

To imitate the book’s language…
It’s 1792. The Reign of Terror has Paris in its grip, and the guillotine drinks deep of France’s noble blood. A league of young English gentlemen dash back and forth across the Channel, rescuing French aristocrats from a revolution that has lost its way. Their leader calls himself the Scarlet Pimpernel—he plots every move and slips like a wraith through the French authorities’ fingers.

Now the French government has their best agent on his tail. He intends to blackmail Lady Marguerite Blakeney into helping him unmask the Pimpernel. If she doesn’t, he’ll have her beloved brother killed. Marguerite moves in the highest English circles thanks to her fabulously wealthy, incomparably stupid husband, Sir Percy Blakeney, but even she doesn’t know the secret that makes her part in betraying the Scarlet Pimpernel so awful: she’s married to him.

The Pain

Although I love the fact that Marguerite is a strong, active heroine who tells almost the entire story from her point of view, the overwrought palpitations of her heart will probably be off-putting for anyone with a low threshold for melodrama. That being said, the book is more than a century old and it gives me a happy ending, so I throw it a bone.

The Payoff

Percy, Percy, Percy . . .  you care for nothing, yet you watch your wife with incredible longing. You make the world think you’re an impeccably dressed buffoon—all so you can save innocent people from the barbarism of the guillotine. You laugh like an idiot, plot like a genius, and love like a starving man. You are worthy of Marguerite’s love, and you make the novel. Bravo.

Rating:

4 out of 5 arrows

Friday Frivolity: Last Times at Childhood High

I have a bittersweet topic for today’s Friday Frivolity, so beware.

To write YA books, I have to do a lot of reflecting on my teenage years. That involves trying to remember all the feelings and experiences of growing into adulthood. Many of the memories are fun (I didn’t have an angsty adolescence) but a few make me kind of wistful.

This could have been my sister Tanya and I.

Have you ever thought about how many “last times” of our growing-up years have been lost to the ether? Most of us don’t keep doing the same things we did at 4, at 7, at 11 …  so, logically speaking, there had to have been a last time for lots of things—but they’re gone, never remarked because at every age, we sort of assume that life will continue to be the way we know it today.

For instance, I can’t remember:

  • The last time I played Dodge-the-Tree—i.e. sledded down the backyard of the house where I grew up. My parents moved the summer I was 26, so there’s definitely no going back.
  • The last time my two younger sisters and I packed little wooden Barbie trunks and pretended they were Conestoga wagons rolling over the great prairie (our green living room carpet).
  • Heck, the last time I played with my sisters. It must have been upsetting for them when the playmate they had all their lives suddenly didn’t feel like joining in their creative adventures any longer. I remember being 14 or 15 (I played a lot longer than most girls my age) and how my limbs just didn’t have the energy anymore. At least they made up for it by casting me as the mean old landlady in their new game, which could best be described as “Dickensian Orphans.”

Growing up is tough, and letting go is all part of the process. I guess my point is that even in adulthood you never know when will be the last time you do something you love. Instead of letting that be a depressing thought, turn it into an inspiring one.

Make new memories. Enjoy every second. They’re all worth it.

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