NaNoWriMo Prep #20 – My 7 Favorite Movies about Writers

Movies3Need  more incentive for NaNoWriMo? Check out seven of my favorite movies about writers. Although some of them may make you NOT want to be a writer, but I’ve enjoyed them all. So grab some popcorn and check ’em out.

Shakespeare in Love – The Bard has writer’s block!

Cross Creek – A little-known movie about Marjorie Rawlings, the writer of The Yearling,and her time spent in the backwaters of Florida.

Sunset Boulevard – William Holden plays a down on his luck screenwriter who agrees to help the aging star, Norman Desmond, rewrite a script for her big comeback. A dark look at Hollywood and the cost of fame.

Possession – I love the book by A. S. Byatt that the movie is based on. I’m not as fond of the movie’s version of the contemporary storyline but I do love the storyline set in the past.

Old Acquaintances – I saw this move a few weeks ago on TCM. It stars Bette Davis as a serious playwright whose best friend, played by Miriam Hopkins, decides to write a book and becomes a big success writing pulp novels, which strains their friendship.

The last two movies are based on books by Stephen King. Probably not the best movies to watch if you’re wanting to be a writer, but they sure are fun!

Misery – A famous romance novelist, played by James Caan, has a car accident and is rescued and nursed by his “biggest fan”. But things start to get really crazy when his “fan” discovers Caan plans to kill off a beloved character.

The Shining – The ultimate movie about writer’s block! A writer takes his family to a hotel which is closed off for the winter and hopes the peace and quiet will help him to write.

Ah, but this movie is based on a book by Stephen King. Peace and quiet? Are you kidding?


NaNoWriMo Prep #12 – The Six Stage Plot Structure

Book CoverMichael Hauge is a script consultant and author. His book Writing Screenplays That Sell has been in print for over 20 years. He’s also collaborated with Christopher Volger, author of The Writer’s Journey.

Hague’s plot diagram follows both the outer and inner journey of the character. He also divides the story into three acts with Act Two having a mid-point break.

I’m going to use James Cameron’s Avatar as an example of this plot structure. SPOILERS AHEAD!

Hauge Plot Diagram

Avatar 1In Act One, the story is set-up and a new situation is introduced. Jake Scully, the story’s hero, is a disabled vet. When his twin brother is killed, Jake is offered the job of piloting his twin’s avatar, which plunges Jake into a new situation on the world of Pandora.

As it relates to Jake’s inner journey, he is living fully in what Hauge calls The Identity. The Identity is the emotional armor a character wears to protect him or herself from some wound, whether emotional or physical.

In Jake’s case, his identity is to do as he’s ordered and to operate as the former soldier he still sees himself as despite his disability. The other soldiers look down on him and don’t consider him one of them, especially since, according to Jake, they’re only on Pandora for the money.

The Essence is who the character is when that emotional armor is stripped away In Jake’s case, deep inside he wants to be a hero, a warrior who yearns for something truly worthwhile to fight for. He doesn’t want to fight just for money. He wants something more.

In  Act One the character also gets a glimpse of what they could be if he or she were living fully in their Essence. In this case, Jake’s avatar, the alien body he will pilot using his mind, is a glimpse of who and what Jake will become over the course of the story’s journey.

In Act One, there are also two Turning Points. Turning Point One is  the Opportunity. In Avatar, it’s the offer made to Jake Avatar 2to start a new life on Pandora. The second Turning Point, Change of Plans, is the Turning Point that pulls the character into Act Two. In Avatar, the second Turning Point for Jake is when  he is separated from the other scientists and soldiers and winds up being found by Neytiri.

Not only is Jake now firmly in Act Two but he’s also in a different world, the world of the Na’vi or what Campbell and Vogler call the Special World.

In Act Two, as it relates to the Outer Plot, Jake is making progress on his goal to learn more about the Na’vi. But as it relates to the Inner Journey, Jake is still operating from his Identity as a soldier. He’s been ordered by the story’s antagonist, Quaritch, to obtain military intel on the Na’vi so Quaritch can force them to comply with the company’s desire to mine on their land,

However, one of the functions of Act Two is to move the character along both the Outer and the Inner journeys. As it relates to the Outer Journey, the hero faces more complications and higher stakes in achieving his goals. As for the Inner Journey, the character wavers between the Identity and the Essence.

Avatar 3This is illustrated when we see Jake switch back and forth from his disabled human body to his strong, powerful Na’vi body. He’s also becoming more and more like the Na’Vi and, at the midpoint of the story, or as it’s called the Point of No Return, Jake not only becomes a member of the Na’vi, or the People as they call themselves, but he and Neytiri make love and she tells him they are mated for life.

Jake is now in the second half of Act II, the stage known as Complications & Higher Stakes. We see this when the company invades the grove where Jake and Neytiri made love and destroys a sacred tree. We also see that Jake is fully committed to his Essence, his warrior Na’vi self, when he attacks the soldiers and bulldozers. He’s crossed a line of no return here. He’s made his choice and he’s choosing the Na’vi over the company and his fellow soldiers, although at this point Jake still hopes to find a way for the two to live together.

Hauge Plot Diagram

The Midpoint was Turning Point 3. Turning Point 4 is known as the Major Setback and it’s the point that also turns the story from Act Two into Act Three.

When Jake tries to warn the Na’vi that their home is about to be destroyed, they find out that he was essentially nothing but aAvatar 4 spy, gathering intel for the humans. Jake tries to tell them that over time he came to love not only Neytiri but the Na’vi people, but they reject him and cast him out. Jake now has nothing and is nothing, neither a part of human society or the Na’vi. It’s his dark night of the soul, the Black Moment, and he literally wanders alone in the wilderness.

At this point, the hero may be tempted to retreat back to his Identity. If this happens, the story turns out to be a tragedy. But Jake does not do this. He chooses to become more fully Na’vi and even more of his Essence by taming a Toruk, a dragon-like predator both feared and honored by the Na’vi. By taming the Toruk, Jake regains the trust of the Na’vi, including his beloved, Neytiri. He rallies the Na’vi for battle and we are now fully in Act Three.

There are two major stages in Act Three: The Final Push and the Aftermath. There is also one final Turning Point, the Climax.

Avatar 5In Act Three of Avatar the humans are planning one final battle to utterly destroy the Na’vi. In response, Jake organizes all the tribes of the Na’Vi to fight the humans.

In the climax, the hero and the villain usually come together for one final, decisive confrontation. This happens when Quaritch attempts to defeat Jake by killing his human body and incapacitating his avatar. However, Quaritch is killed and the humans that had wanted to despoil Pandora and destroy the Na’vi are defeated and forced to return to Earth.

The Aftermath not only resolves the story questions but shows the transformation of the main character from Identity to Essence.

In Jake’s case, he not only literally forsakes his human body, which represented his Identity, but his consciousness is transferred permanently from that body to his Na’vi avatar body, the symbol of his Essence.

You don’t have to worry that following Hauge’s structure will cause you to write a NaNo novel like Avatar. Keep in mind that story structure is like a cup. You can pour coffee, milk, water, wine, hot chocolate, etc in it. Structure is nothing more than a skeleton upon which you flesh out all kinds of stories; mysteries, thrillers, science fiction, romances, literary, etc. each one as unique and individual as you are but supported by a strong structure that will keep your story from meandering or falling apart.

Man, Machines and Monsters – Pacific Rim Companion Book

From Pacific Rim – Man, Machines & Monsters

So I’m over at my local library and, lo and behold, I come across this really cool book. It’s the companion book to the movie Pacific Rim. It’s called Man, Machines & Monsters. Written by David S. Cohen. the foreword is written by the film’s director, Guillermo Del Toro.

I’ve come across my share of companion books for movies. As a matter of fact, I own most of the companion books that came out when the three movies in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy were released. Not only are companion books great for all that cool, behind-the-scenes info, but they’re usually also gorgeously illustrated.

Man, Machines and Monsters is no exception. It’s a big, glossy coffee-table sized book chock-full of photos and illustrations and lots of info about the world of Pacific Rim and what went into creating it for the movie. The book also contains two gigantic posters, stickers (and considering this is a library book, I’m grateful and surprised that no one, so far, has removed any of the stickers.) There’s lots of concept art for the characters, the Jaegers, the Kaiju, the sets and also storyboards, sketches and photos from the movie.  There are even plastic ID cards that feature Mako and Raleigh.

And, like any good companion book, there’s background information about the characters. For example, the Wei triplets, who pilot Crimson Typhoon, were initially going to be quadruplets, which makes sense since the Jaegers are piloted by two pilots, but Del Toro couldn’t find any quadruplet actors. He did, however, find,  Charles, Lance and Mark Luu, who are real triplets and were cast as the pilots for Crimson Typhoon.

Another interesting tidbit of information is that the distinctive cooling tower shape on top of Cherno Alpha, the Russian Jaeger, was inspired by “Mr. Fusion”, the power source for Doc Brown’s DeLorean in Back to the Future.

There is a bit of discrepancy in the book, however. In the movie Cherno Alpha is described by Pentecost as a Mark I, which makes sense as it doesn’t look as slick as the Mark IV Jaegers or the Mark V, Striker Eureka (piloted by those gotta-love-em Aussie father and son, Chuck and Herc Hansen), but in the companion book Cherno Alpha is classified as a Mark IV

Hmmm, now I feel like Brandon from Galaxy Quest. Remember that scene when he asks Jason Nesmith the following:

Galaxy Quest

Brandon: Hey, Commander, uh. So, as I was saying, … In “The Quasar Dilemma”, you used the auxiliary of Deck B for Gamma override. The thing is that online blueprints indicate Deck B is independent of the guidance matrix, so we were wondering where the error lies? 

Okay, I’m not that much of a nerd.

No, wait, I am. 🙂

Another bit of info about Cherno Alpha is that the Conn-Pod, which is where the pilots are housed and where they control the Jaegers, is located in Cherno Alpha’s chest, which makes it impossible to detach. So, unlike Gypsy Danger, Cherno had no escape pods. It’s like the Game of Thrones if you’re battling the Kaiju in Cherno Alpha. You either win or you die.

Anyway, if you’re a fan of Pacific Rim, you’ll enjoy this book. Just like the movie, it’s big, gorgeous and full of fun stuff.

McAvoy, Fassbender & Jackman – X-Men Wow!

Okay, this is just waaaaay too much awesomeness not to share.

Professor X, Magneto and Wolverine dancing! Or, I should say, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Hugh Jackman dancing. The new X-Men movie, Days of Future Past is coming out Memorial Day Weekend and these three eye-popping eye candy were on the Graham Norton show promoting the movie.

I love all three of these actors (I still remember seeing James McAvoy for the first time in Syfy’s Children of Dune miniseries  where he played Leto Atreides the II and I saw Fassbender for the first time in 300  and he was hardly clothed). 🙂 And Jackman, well that six-foot two Aussie has always been on my hotty radar. 😀

Happy Monday!

11 More Great Science Fiction & Fantasy Pets

My post yesterday about Data’s cat, Spot and Captain Archer’s dog, Porthos got me thinking about other animals in science fiction/fantasy movies and TV shows.

Here are eleven more of my favorites in no particular order:

1.  Einstein – Back to the Future 

Doc Brown’s dog Einstein was so beloved by the good doctor that it appears every dog he had, no matter the time period, he named Einstein.

2. Hedwig – Harry Potter

Loyal and fearless to the end, Hedwig was Harry’s companion through most of his years at Hogwarts.

3.  Ein – Cowboy Bebop

In the futuristic anime series, Cowboy Bebop, Ein (short, I’m sure, for Einstein) is a genetically enhanced Pembroke Welsh Corgi, who is very intelligent and immensely cute.

4. Hellboy’s cats

In the comics and the movies, there’s no doubt that the demonic looking Hellboy is a cat person. He loves cats. I mean, seriously LOVES cats.

5.  Jonesy – Alien 

Speaking of cats, is there any cat that was so loved by its owner? In the first movie of the Alien franchise, Ripley risks her life to go back for Jonesy even while there’s this acid-spitting, 8 foot tall murderous alien running about the ship. Now that’s devotion!

6. Toto – Wizard of Oz 

Not only does Toto get the plot going in Wizard of Oz (Dorothy runs away from the farm because that mean, dog-hating Elmira Gulch tries to take him away from her) but he’s loyal and brave and oh so cute.

8. Podo and Kodo – Beastmaster 

1982’s Beastmaster probably won’t go down in the annals of movie history as a great film, but it did have Marc Singer running around half-naked and he did have some really cool animals. He was, after all, master of beasts. The cutest, however, were his two ferrets, Podo and Kodo. They were like Toto. Brave and loyal and pretty cute to boot.

9. Tribbles – Star Trek

Tribbles, cute and fuzzy as they are, never really got on well with Klingons. They tended to go into a shrieking hissy-fit whenever one was around. As for the Klingons, they considered the troublesome creatures mortal enemies of the Klingon Empire and sent an armada of ships to destroy the tribble’s homeworld.

10. Gizmo – Gremlins

Another cute, fuzzy, adorable creature that proved to be quite troublesome. In the movie Gremlins, the father, after giving Gizmo to his son as a gift, tells him the three things he must do: (1) Keep it away from bright lights. (2) Never get it wet and (3) Never, ever feed it after midnight. Yes, you know what happens.

11. Direwolves – Game of Thrones

In Game of Thrones, all five of the Stark children get their own direwolf. So does Jon Snow, though he’s not a Stark, although he does have their blood. Rob has Grey Wind, Sansa, Lady, Arya’s direwolf is named Nymeria, Bran’s Summer, Rickon’s Shaggydog and Jon Snow’s Ghost. If you’ve been keeping up with either the books or the television series, you know the fates of some of these adorable pups. And that’s all I’ll say about that.

The Story of Film – An Odyssey

I love movies as much as I love books. And because I love movies so much I started watching The Story of Film, which is currently available on Netflix.

Directed and narrated by Mark Cousins, a film critic from Northern Ireland, The Story of Film is 15 episodes, each an hour in length, that is literally the history of film from its early beginnings in the late 19th century to where it is now in the 21st century.

I’ve just finished Episodes 1 and 2, The Birth of Cinema and the Hollywood Dream, and I’ve learned so much about movies and the language of film that I can’t wait for the remaining 13 episodes.

What I especially like about this series is that it doesn’t just focus on American movies and Hollywood. Directors and filmmakers from around the world are also featured.

One thing of note from Episode 1 is that back in the early part of the 20th century, half of movie writers were women and women also directed. That, of course, was before movies started to make the kind of money we’re used to hearing about now. When the movies did start to turn a big profit, women were shouldered aside.

I highly recommend this series to any movie buffs, fans, groupies or afficionados. As I said, I’ve only seen two episodes and have learned so much not only about the history of film but about the language of film. The way light and shadow, movement and perspective, editing and pace, affects how we make and view movies.

For example, movies make use of the idea of perspective. Objects that are far away appear smaller, although in actual size they can be the size of a house.

Here’s a clip from Citizen Kane that shows how Orson Welles used the idea of perspective in film to convey an emotion. In this scene, Charles Kane (Welles) has learned that he’s been financially ruined by the stock market crash of 1929 and, although a grown man, must now depend on his guardian to help him. Notice how Welles walks away from the camera until he appears no bigger than a child (symbolizing his now dependent state on his guardian), but then returns until he’s his actual size and, which also occurs when his guardian says that Kane’s economic woes are just temporary.



What Does Your Character Value?

Love? Money? Fame? Staying Alive?

It’s important to know what your character values when writing your story. What they value will drive the momentum of your plot.

I was thinking about values and motivations while watching Pacific Rim for the umpteenth time today. (It’s on rotation on HBO). I started thinking about what the characters in the movie valued and needed.

One way I approach that is to make use of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. I won’t go into a detailed discussion of it. If you want to learn more about it the link above will provide information  and there are plenty of resources on the web. The way I use it for character creation, however, is to look at the five different levels and ask myself where is my character on the chart. The one featured below is from Tim Van De Vall’s website.

Courtesy of Tim Van De Vall

Level 1 is all about basic survival. What we need to keep our body alive. The next level is safety, whether personal, financial, etc. That usually means needing a job or money or providing a security system for your home. The next level is love and belonging. Our need not to be alone in the world. Next is esteem, which moves us beyond family and friends and to the outside world. Finally the last level is self-actualization, which is a term Maslow defines as living to one’s highest and fullest potential.

In Pacific Rim, it’s pretty apparent that all of humanity is focused on the first two levels, which is staying alive and being safe. So are the Jaeger pilots.

But the characters also want more than just to survive or to be safe.

I would place Raleigh Becket on Levels 3 and 4. He obviously wants to survive and stay alive and he does want to ensure the safety of all humanity, but he also wants to belong somewhere and I believe he  also needs to regain the sense of pride and esteem he once had as a Jaeger pilot.

Mako Mori is a rookie Jaeger pilot. She too wants to stay alive and keep humanity safe,  but she wants to prove herself as a competent pilot. Unlike Raleigh, she’s not alone. She is part of the crew at the Shatterdome and she also has Marshall Penetcost, her foster father. I’d place her on Level 4. She wants Penetcost’s respect and the respect of her fellow pilots.

Marshall Pentecost is the commander of the Jaeger pilots so  he’s not out on the front line risking his life, but he knows that if humanity doesn’t defeat the Kaiju, he’ll die along with everyone else. He strikes me as a man who is confident in his abilities as a leader, so I wouldn’t put him on Level 4. He already has the respect and admiration of the people under his command. But it’s apparent that he cares very much for his foster-daughter, Mako, so I’d put him on Level 3, Love and Belonging, as he’s driven by his need to protect her at all costs.

Obviously a character can have more than one motivation or value more than one thing. The need to survive or be safe is a primal one and it’s a need, as the late, great Blake Snyder, author of the seminal screenwriting book Save the Cat, stated that even a caveman can understand. That’s why disaster movies, adventure flicks, etc., translate well across culture. Romances tend to hover around Level 3, Love and Belonging.

The more levels from the Hierarchy of Needs that you can bring into your story and characters, the more nuanced it and they can be. There’s nothing wrong with a story where the characters are only trying to stay alive, but having them need and want more than just to be alive can make the characters even more interesting.