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Why Write About the Dark Stuff? 03/26/2010

Posted by allisole in Writing.
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I finished reading the novel Push by Sapphire the other day.  The  movie Precious was based off this book.  I haven’t seen the movie, but it’s on my list.

There are a lot of dark stuff in this book.  The boyfriend and I actually got into a fight about it.  The book was on my mind, so I wanted to talk about it, but he didn’t want to hear anything about a girl who had been raped by her father and abused by her mother.  He thought it was sick,  thought the author must have been sick to want to write about that sort of horror.

Our conversation got me thinking.  Why do people write about terrible things?  Why do people read about those terrible things?  (Why do people actually DO any of these terrible things is another thing altogether and I’m not even going to try to go there in this post.)

I enjoyed Push on a lot of levels.  It’s written in a stream of consciousness, which usually isn’t something that appeals to me.  Precious’ voice is strong though, and it pulls you in.  The story is one of survival, of triumph and growth, and I liked those parts of the novel.  But so much of it made me sick, enough that it literally gave me nightmares.  The things that happened to Precious were horrifying, and often it seemed like there was no end to the terribleness.  Do these things happen in real life?  Unfortunately.  Do they ALL happen to just one person?  Oh, I hope not.  I really, really hope not.

Why would I read something like this?  Even now, thinking about it gives me the willies.  And why write about it?  Why have your mind go somewhere that dark?  Because those things happen in real life and writing should reflect life?  Because you want to draw attention to real problems?

My own writing sometimes dips a little into the dark side.  I’ve written suicidal characters, I’ve written a flash fiction on torture.  I’m drawn to characters  who lose everything, because that forces them to reach deep and pull out something from themselves that they didn’t even know was there.

Push, for all it’s darkness, ends on a very hopeful note.  There are other stories out there that are full of misery, that still end in misery.  For me, those would be worse than Push, and I’ll be honest- I don’t want to read them.  I like my happy endings.  I like my good conquering evil.  When I read unhappy endings, I respond the way the boyfriend did, and I think, why would you write that?

I guess we all just have different tolerances for dark stuff.  Is something wrong with me because I could read a book like Push?  Or does the boyfriend (who may read this, sorry I’m picking on you if you do, you know I love you) just turn a blind eye to some of the dark stuff in life?

Another question to think about: is there anything out there too dark, too taboo for anyone to write or read about?  Or is everything up for grabs now?


I’M GOING TO BE A VET! 03/26/2010

Posted by allisole in Uncategorized.
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  • Word Count: 68,192
  • Number of cats bothering me right now: 0 (this may change soon)
  • Days until I hear about vet school: 0!!!!!!!!!   BECAUSE I GOT IN!!!

I got accepted into the University of Missouri!  And I can’t stop telling people because it feels awesome!


How I Came to Realize That I Am So Much More Awesome Than My High School Self 03/22/2010

Posted by allisole in Uncategorized.
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  • Word Count: 66,435
  • Days until I know about vet school: 10 or less
  • Number of cats bugging me right now: 1
  • Lifetime Movie I am Watching: Mom at Sixteen

Due to a a variety of circumstances, I found myself forced to interact with high school students for several hours this weekend.  You could practically taste the awkwardness in the air around them.  Some of them (the boys) looked a little unwashed.  They were all perfectly nice, don’t get me wrong, but you would tell they all felt a little uncomfortable in their own skin.

I remember that.  I remember being like that.  I remember being paralyzed by fear: fear of humiliation, mostly, fear of being judged, fear of opening my mouth and shoving my foot down there.  That last one’s a genuine fear, as anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that my mouth and foot are very closely acquainted.  I was shy in high school, painfully shy is the expression, and it’s true.  I was so shy it hurt.  I remember stomach pains from the stress of talking, of risking everything by opening my mouth.

What I don’t remember is when that changed.  I mean, deep down I still am a little shy, I still have that horrible fear of judgment and embarrassment, but I’ve also figured out that 1) everyone worries about this stuff to some degree and 2) who gives a crap?

That’s right: WHO GIVES A CRAP?  Man, it was freeing the day I realized that the answer was NO ONE BUT YOU.

I still regress sometimes.  I still freak out over nothing, and play scenes that went wrong in mind over and over.  But I am so much better than I used to be.  And I don’t even know how that happened.  I guess that means people can change.  I think that’s a good thing.

Repo Men! 03/19/2010

Posted by allisole in Musicals.
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Repo Men opens tomorrow.  I’m kind of looking forward to it, even though it looks like it might be getting some bad reviews.

But even if it turns out to be good, can it ever compete with the awesomeness of THIS?

That would be a no.  And yes, that’s Giles from Buffy singing there.  If that alone doesn’t make you want to see the greatness that is Repo! The Genetic Opera, there is something seriously wrong with you.

Tasmanian Devils 03/18/2010

Posted by allisole in Wildlife.
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I took this picture my junior year of college, when I was studying abroad in Australia.  In case you don’t know (or didn’t read the title of the post), this is a Tasmanian Devil.

So, no, they don’t look like this:

I think Tasmanian Devils are amazing.  Really, they’re just so dang cool.  First, they’re marsupials.  Marsupials are awesome– they have pouches, they give birth when the babies are ridiculously tiny and barely developed, and then these itty bitty babies (like, crazy small, no joke) CRAWL up into the mama’s pouch and latch onto a nipple, and that’s where they finish developing.  Tell me that’s not insane.

Here’s video of a kangaroo giving birth.  If you’re a total weenie, you may find it a little gross.  I think it’s awesome.

Devils are also really aggressive.  Not only do the males fight with each other for females, but the males have to fight the females too, for the right to mate with them.  They basically all just beat the crap out of each other during mating season.

One last reason to love them?  They are so damn cute.

So I obviously love me some Tasmanian devil.  Which is why is kills me when I hear about how they’re suffering, and on their way to extinction.  Not only are they being out-competed by the invasive red fox (who was introduced INTENTIONALLY to Tasmania by some jack-ass), but they’re being wiped out by a disease called devil facial tumor disease (DFTD).  It was looking like this cancer was going to be the end of the devils, but it looks like there might be some slight hope for them after all.

What’s my point?  Just that Tasmanian devils are fantastic animals.  So let’s help them if we can, and enjoy them while they’re here.

Ha! I Knew It! 03/17/2010

Posted by allisole in Cats.
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Is your cat plotting to kill you?

Is YOUR cat plotting to kill you, too?

I am a Secret Genius (and don’t let anyone tell you different) 03/16/2010

Posted by allisole in Writing.

Fun Stats:

  • Word count for WIP: 64,528 words
  • Number of bruises from fencing tournament this weekend: 10 (including one on toe)
  • Days until I know about vet school: 14 (or less, dear God please let it be less)
  • Number of cats bugging me right now: 2

I wrote myself into a corner the other day.  It was a bad one.  My characters were doing unnatural things just so I could reveal info to the readers, my MC was stuck waiting to be rescued, and a lot of coincidences were starting to happen.  None of that is good.  I was getting worried that I was going to have to backtrack, rewrite, and get rid of a few pages.  PAGES.  I’m not a fast writer.  There are days where I’m lucky to have written a page.  It would have killed me to get rid of pages.  I mean, I know I’ll have to do it eventually, when I go through and rewrite, but that still doesn’t mean I didn’t whine about my predicament to my boyfriend and my cats.  (Sometimes they are the only ones who will listen to my whining.  Not because they want to, but because they have to.)

But then, after staring at the computer for a long, long time, PURE GENIUS AWESOMENESS STRUCK!  HAHAHAHAHA! I went back, changed a few details about the setting, introduced a new character, and BAM!  Oh, it felt good.

This is one of my favorite things about writing.  Just letting my mind go, letting the plot, the characters, the world of my work roll around in my brain.  Maybe it doesn’t sound like it should work, but it does.  Give it enough time, don’t push it, and things click into place.

Sure, there are more professional ways of working through the rough patches, but mine is more fun.  And you get to feel like a secret genius.

Things I have learned from Lifetime Movies 03/15/2010

Posted by allisole in Writing.

I love Lifetime movies.  Maybe I should be more embarrassed about this, but I just can’t help myself.  My favorites are the over the top ones, full of drama and over-acting.  There are message movies, where the messages are as subtle as anvils.  (Example: No One Would Tell, with DJ from Full House being abused and eventually murdered by the kid from Wonder Years.  I kid you not.  IT’S AWESOME).  There are secret life movies, where the wife/husband/whoever finds out that a someone they love has another family or faked their death ten years ago.  And there are the crazy people movies, where someone insane is doing things to bring down a family member/coworker/neighbor/whoever and no one knows.  Seriously, what’s not to love?

Now to justify this very guilty pleasure of mine, I’ve decided to write a list of things I’ve learned from these movies, in terms of what NOT to do when writing a story.

1) Don’t assume your audience is stupid.

You can be subtle.  If you have a message, or a theme, you want your audience to take away from your work, you don’t have to spell it out.  As much as I love No One Would Tell, even the title tells you the message: HELP YOUR FRIENDS IF SOMEONE IS BEATING THEM.  I mean, the unsubtly of it cracks me the hell up and is one of the reasons I love it so much.  Unless you want me to laugh at you too, don’t treat me like I’m an idiot.  This also goes for foreshadowing as well as messages.  No neon signs, please.  I’m slow, but not that slow.

2) Pacing is important.

For a lot of these movies, the first hour and forty-five minutes is all about so-and-so doing secretly bad things.  And then there are a crazy fifteen minutes where everything is revealed, someone is almost stabbed, and then the police come and it’s all over.  Build up is good, but the bigger the build up, the better the payoff should be.  It’s always disappointing when all this awesome build up leads to a rushed finale with more questions than answers.  Endings stay with people, it’s the last part of the story they take with them.  You don’t want to leave an audience with an unsatisfied taste in their mouth.

3) Don’t end a story where it should start.

A story shouldn’t be mostly back story.  If you’re showing the before and after of a life, you need the before, but it shouldn’t be most of your story.  In fact, it should be the smallest part.  That’s the boring part.  If all the excitement happens at the end, start the story there.  Then you can show the aftermath of what happens, which is way more interesting than seeing the perfect life that is about to be ruined.  If there is a twist at the end, don’t leave it there.  I want to know what happens AFTER I get to the twist.

4) Bad guys are better with motives beyond: ‘I’m just crazy/evil.’

Bad guys that are just evil/crazy are BORING.  Give them some humanity, make them real.  That’s scarier too.  Nobody is really pure evil.  They say Hitler liked dogs and didn’t eat meat.

I’m sure there are more things we can learn from Lifetime movies, but these are just a few I can think of off the top of my head.  Now go see if you can watch No One Would Tell.  You know you want to.

August is Hot 03/13/2010

Posted by allisole in Musicals, Writing.
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Saw the play August: Osage County last night.  It’s gotten great reviews, won awards, and is hugely popular.  I’ll be honest: when I go to the theater, I love me some musicals hardcore.  My iTunes library is practically all musicals.  I love music with emotion, songs that tell stories.  But despite that sad lack of songs, and the fact that it was 3 and 1/2 hours long, I enjoyed the play.  The dialogue was sharp, funny, real.  This was a story all about family, and it captured the reality of dysfunctional families perfectly.  It also featured three grown sisters coming together and realizing they have no real connection.  As the oldest of three sisters, this really stuck with me.  Will that be me and my sisters in twenty years?  Not even able to remember what state the other lives in?

So no snappy songs to sing afterward, but a lot to think about.  I want to write something like that one day.  Something that feels real to people; something that they keep thinking about, keeping talking about, long after it’s over.  Yeah, I know, pretty big goal, but what is it they say?  Reach for the moon, even if you miss you’ll be among the stars.  Cheesy, but I like it.

I Know Why the Bad Guy Monologues 03/10/2010

Posted by allisole in Writing.
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I am about 60,000 words into my fourth novel.  The other three were all terrible, terrible things that will never be read by anyone, but this one I have hope for.  One of the reasons this one is working better is that I actually had a whole plot in mind before I started writing.  I’m usually a plan-as-you-write gal,but now I’m seeing the great benefit of planning.

But I’m also running into new problems.  Since I planned this one out, I was able to add some mystery to it.  Which is great, except now I’m at the point where all (or most) becomes revealed.  And I can’t think of a good way for the MC to figure things out without just being told.  I can see now why so many movies have that old cliche of bad guy revealing all parts of his evil scheme to good guy.  It’s so much easier that way!  And all that beautiful, really subtle stuff that the bad guy did?  Now you get to find out about it all!  I’ve seen it done the other way too, with the good guy revealing to an astonished crowd/police station all that the bad guy did.

So is there any other way to do it?  Is there any way to show readers what’s been going on besides just having it all spelled out through dialogue?

I guess what I really need to do is read some more mysteries and see how experts do it.  Mystery is not usually my genre (and it’s not what I’m writing, really) but knowing how to add mystery to a story would not be a bad thing.