Pencil to Paper

The Daily Life of a Compulsive Writer

Thoughts on The Hunger Games March 26, 2012

Filed under: Books — katblogger @ 8:10 PM
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Last night I finally got to see “The Hunger Games”.

Yes, I just said finally. About the movie that’s been out for four days. But when everyone on your Facebook page is gushing about something, it feels like it’s been out forever and you’re the only one left out. This has now been rectified.

Where do I start? First of all, the scenery was gorgeous. The genuine Appalachian setting of District 12, the ritzy opulent Capitol, the famous arena… it was all beautifully done.

The camerawork? Not so much. It tended to be a bit choppy. The studio couldn’t risk an R rating that would lose half the audience, so the film relied on quick or wobbly cuts to preserve the PG-13 rating in fight scenes. As I watched, I started to wonder if the camera man, editor, somebody was ADD. During the whole movie, I saw a handful of long takes. Apart from those, the scenes constantly jumped forward and around. It’s hard to build suspense when Katniss is fumbling with ropes… no, on the ground… no, running… no – I give up.

I was iffy at first about Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss. She’s much older than the character, and I’ve already mentioned the racebending controversy. However, she was excellent. Haymitch – another casting ‘eh’ I had – delivered some original and hilarious lines. “Know in your hearts that there’s nothing I can do to help you” indeed.

Naturally they had to cut some things, but overall, I thought the movie hit all of the important points. A few subplots weren’t mentioned in enough detail. The movie makers clearly assumed that viewers had read the books, because some things – Katniss’ relationship with Rue, the ruse she played with Peeta, and the whole bread scene (all we see is Peeta chucking a loaf of bread in Katniss’ direction) – aren’t fully explained. However, cuts to commentators or Seneca Crane did their best to keep viewers up to speed.

What was my favorite part? Strangely enough, it’s a scene that didn’t even happen in the book. If you recall, after Rue dies, Katniss is sent a loaf of bread from a grateful District 11. In the movie, instead, angry district members revolt against the Peacekeepers, filling the screen with the first of many riots. Although the rebellion doesn’t start until book 2, I thought this added another layer of emotion to the scene, as well as foreshadowing Katniss’ future role as starter of a rebellion.

Overall, this was one of the best book-to-movie adaptations I’ve seen, and I’d definitely recommend seeing it. Still, read the book first.


Worldbuilding and Fantasy Counterpart Cultures March 16, 2012

Filed under: Books,Writing — katblogger @ 7:32 PM
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As I mentioned last post, my newest project is a fantasy book. A lot of fantasy books just recycle the same tired tropes. The Chosen One receives a call for help and travels on an epic quest with their doomed mentor (a prophecy may or may not be involved) to save the kingdom from an evil overlord. Sound familiar? That plotline can apply to Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, or Eragon, and that’s only scratching the surface. They can be done well, but I’m sick of them, so in this project I seek to overturn – subvert, to use TVtropes terminology – a bunch of them.

) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons”]A very common stereotype in fantasy books is the setting. I swear, whether you’re in a parallel dimension Earth, a completely made up story, or in the distant future, everyone seems to be stuck on medieval Europe. Sword fights abound, knights in shining armor rescue damsels in distress, and the culture, food, and typical clothing reflect medieval European norms (or what we think they were.) The rest of the world might as well not exist.

To counter this, I made sure that the two cultures explored in my book aren’t English at all. One is almost perfectly like rural Afghanistan – surprisingly so. I had a rough idea of what I wanted, started researching the country, and they matched. The other is  a bit like pre-industrial Russia.

When you’re building an entire world, you have to consider a LOT. That’s why so many people make it a carbon copy of the cultures they already know. If you’re trying to adapt a culture you’re less familiar with – or invent an entirely new one – it takes a lot of work.

How much work? If you’re curious, or interested in building your own new universe, check out Yuffie’s extremely helpful guide on Wattpad:

Taking an anthropology course, visiting other countries, or just reading a lot will also help. So what are you waiting for? Happy world building.


Fun With Characters March 12, 2012

Filed under: Books,Writing — katblogger @ 8:43 PM
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I have this thing about selfless characters.

You know the ones. The holier than thou, too good for this sinful earth kind of guys. You can tell them, “Hey, I’ve signed you up for this extremely high pressure quest that’ll probably kill you and definitely involve some maiming” and they’ll just ask, “When do I start?” They never seemed concerned with their own well-being, righteously striving for the greater good.

I read/watch these characters and call bs. I’m sure there are gloriously selfless people out there. But most humans are selfish creatures at least part of the time. We’re programmed to look out for ourselves, and it’s perfectly ok not to have suicidal grandiose impulses. For example, if I was about to turn into a vessel for some monster creature, I’d probably at least pause and consider the pros and cons before chucking myself into a volcano. But I digress.

The point is, characters are supposed to be real people. Relatable people. And that’s why most of my characters start out looking out for number one. Some of them are pretty much normal, while others are shockingly self-centered. It takes them a lot of time before they start doing things for other people, and I feel that it’s more realistic that way.

For example, a supporting MC in my newest project (tentatively titled Starborn after three changes – I seem to have a thing for S’s) starts out as a total jerk. The novel serves as a bit of a private joke about typical fantasy clichés, and I did my best to flip around a lot of the things you’d expect. This character is a subversion of the typical noble knight/warrior who lives by a code of honor and whatever whatever. Instead, he’s a thief buried waist deep in the criminal underground who isn’t averse to bending a few rules – or breaking them. He spends a good chunk of the book lying to and manipulating the main character (who’s supposed to be his best friend). Nice. Interestingly enough, he has his reasons – ones that seem ironically noble on the surface but are really motivated by self-preservation. When he finally straightens out (or becomes marginally less crooked, at least), it’s after a lot of time and development. People don’t change right away, even if they seem to. (Yep. He’s going to be a lot of fun to write.)

Maybe other people like the heroic archetype, and I’m just a curmudgeon with jade colored glasses. Either way, you’re unlikely to find any perfect self-sacrificing hero types around me. Just a lot of complaining, selfish real people who finally get up the guts to do what they have to do before it’s too late. Having that development and making that decision to completely change their character, to me, makes them even more heroic.


What Am I Reading? 2/27/12 February 27, 2012

Filed under: Books — katblogger @ 8:37 PM
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I can’t believe it took me this long to get around to reading this book, honestly. I love Terry Pratchett, and I enjoyed the one book I’ve read by Neil Gaiman. I also had no clue that this was originally written in 1990 – from the buzz it recently generated, I assumed it was a much more recent creation.

What’s the book about? It’s 1990s England, and all hell is about to break loose. Literally. The Antichrist has been born, which heralds the coming Apocalypse. Angel Aziraphale and demon Crowley aren’t too pleased about this. They’ve spent the last 6000-odd years living on Earth and aren’t keen to see it destroyed. So they decide to find the Antichrist and stop him. Witchhunters Sergeant Shadwell and Newt Pulsifer (armed with sadly antiquated technology) are on a similar mission. Unfortunately, due to a mix-up at the hospital, the Antichrist appears to have been misplaced…

The book is hilarious and irreverent (usually hilariously irreverent) as you can expect from the two authors. It also makes a few clever comments on the nature of good and evil without really getting preachy about it. Half the jokes probably flew over my head because I’m not British, but I enjoyed it anyway. I’d definitely recommend this book.

(Ironically, looking at the official book summary, I used a few of the same phrases. Odd. Perhaps it means something.)


Back on Moral High Ground February 23, 2012

Filed under: Books — katblogger @ 6:01 PM
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I generally have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the world of technology. I don’t like it, and it definitely doesn’t like me. Two days ago, I forced myself to go around taking pictures for the school newspaper. The button worked, it made a clicking sound… but when I got back, we discovered that the camera hadn’t taken any pictures. No one could fix it either. Whether caused by bad luck or my propensity for accidentally destroying electronics, this is really quite typical.

So naturally, I am a staunch defender of printed books even as e-readers seem ready to wipe them out of existence. “Real books are solid,” I argue. “You can smell them, turn their pages, write in the margins, have your favorite author sign them… they’re better.”

To which e-reader defenders respond with a list of impressive statistics. E-readers hold more books, take up less space, and – the final winning point – they’re better for the environment.

This final argument always made me sulk. I’m all for the environment, and I was aware that my love for paper books meant cutting down more trees. I just couldn’t make those two opinions align.

Then I really started thinking about it. I’d always taken it for granted that e-readers were better, environmentally speaking. But once I considered things more, it became a lot less clear.

Both products  need to be manufactured. However, I’m willing to bet that books take a lot less in terms of machinery needed, energy used, and raw materials/waste produced. Books are paper, ink, covers, and binding. E-readers have screens, casing, electronics, and all sorts of crazy gadgets these days.

The make-up of both products was the most interesting to me. Books are primarily paper. There are other ingredients, yes, but the majority of their mass is made out of paper. Paper is recyclable, and it can be renewed by planting more trees. Books, once they’re in the trash, will break down fairly quickly.

On the other hand, e-readers contain plastics, glass, rubber, and electronics. I’m sure there’s more stuffed inside as well. Any metal used is non-renewable. You can’t magic more ores into existence. The use of plastic is another concern. *puts on HL Chemistry nerd hat* Because of the nature of the bonds in plastic polymers, plastics never break down. Ever. Even if the earth was vaporized, some of that vapor would be plastic molecules, all their atoms securely in place. Think about that for a moment. Every piece of plastic ever made will and always will exist somewhere. Do we really want to keep making more?

That’s not even mentioning the electricity that constantly is needed to power the e-reader.  Plus, they need batteries – a nemesis of the natural world, full of acid and other fun stuff.

Finally, I looked it up. According to the Sierra Club, the e-reader is less environmentally friendly unless you’re buying over 23 books a year. Another source said that you must read 100 books (that you otherwise would have bought) on an e-reader before things break even.

Everyone agrees that there’s one definite winner in environmentally friendly reading: the library. Hundreds of people can share the same book, and there’s no damaging technology involved.

Either way, the environmental debate isn’t as clear as you might think, and I can go on reading my paper books with a clear conscience.


Revisiting the Childhood Bookshelf February 18, 2012

Filed under: Books — katblogger @ 7:54 PM

Remember your favorite book when you were a kid? (If you were like me, a better question is ‘remember your favorite books when you were a kid?’). When was the last time you read them? Years ago, maybe. Do you ever miss them?

Some children’s books only work for children. You’ll go back and realize that they’re poorly written, patronizing, full of plot holes, whatever. They were fun when you were a kid, but you’ve moved on now.

However, some books are timeless. Like the wonderful comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, both adults and children can find entertainment and meaning in them. Some ‘kid’s’ books ought to be picked up every few years and revisited. That’s what I’m doing now.

I went through Andrew Clement’s sweet – if unrealistic – books, and then revisited the always fun Borrowers series by Mary Norton. If you haven’t read these… read them. Seriously. It’ll give you a fun new perspective on the world, and Homily is always good for a laugh. I’m currently rereading the Anastasia Krupnik series by Lois Lowry, another must-read filled with humor and a lot of heart. (The first one will probably make you cry.) Next on my list is the complete works of Roald Dahl, who manages to be hilarious and irreverent all at once. You think the film version of Willy Wonka is nuts? You should meet the one that stabs Vermicious Knids in the butt and composes poetry about it on the spot.

Just reading a childhood favorite makes me remember a happier, more innocent time. Plus, a lot of these books are still great for adults too. Try revisiting an old friend. You might be pleasantly surprised.


Was Is Dead To Me November 30, 2011

Filed under: Books,Writing — katblogger @ 8:39 PM
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My novel-in-progress Strange Bedfellows weighs in just over 68,000 words right now. I’m quite pleased with it. At least, if you define ‘quite pleased’ as ‘savagely ripping chunks out, rewriting them, sticking them back in, smoothing the edges, and fixing all the details that just changed’. I’m basically performing open heart surgery on this innocent, unsuspecting piece of writing. It’s for its own good. I recently rewrote all 6000 words of the climax – in pen, no less. Carpal tunnel is headed my way.

You might be wondering what my strangely ungrammatical title means. I shall explain. I was happily paging through a writing advice book when I came across this tidbit:

(paraphrased) I’m a publisher, and one of the things I hate to see is overuse of the word ‘was’. To be, in all its forms, is a weak verb, and I’ve sent manuscripts back if there’s too much of it.

Hmm… I thought. I’ve probably used ‘was’ somewhere in there. I should go take a look and replace all of them.

I cheerfully and naively pulled up the Word document, imagining that this would be the work of ten minutes, tops. Using the Find and Replace function, I decided to get a rough estimate of how many ‘was’s I needed to cull.

A single click, and the message that would cause a spike in my blood pressure arrived. “‘was’ appears 1,059 times in this document” it informed me.

I believe my response was a combination of “Ack” and “Nng”. Honestly, I’m surprised a headdesk was not involved. Oh dear. I just used two ‘was’s in this line. …

As you may have gathered, this is not going to be a ten minute job. It’ll take me ages before I remove all the ‘was’s – and some really can’t be removed. Sometimes that’s just the best word for the job.

And if a publisher rejects me for that, I guess he wasn’t the one for me.

(Now excuse me as I chip away at the current 935 ‘was’s remaining.)