Monthly Archives: September 2013
As I’ve mentioned before on Points of Light, writers should take inspiration from all sources, no matter how they may differ from their own likes and dislikes. For example, I’ve written about how writers can learn about group interaction from watching/reading Justice League and tragedy from Darkman. However, today’s piece of inspiration is a very intense study of character growth and interaction that is often overlooked by many due to its age and audience. Yet it still stands to me as a strong, powerful example of character-building, growth and dynamics. So for this POL, I give you perhaps the strongest work of the late John Hughes- The Breakfast Club.
The Breakfast Club is a classic 80’s teen movie, dealing with five teenagers serving Saturday detention in Illinois. They are each from a different school clique, defining themselves as an athlete, brain, princess, criminal, and basket case. As they are watched over by their abusive vice principal, the teens are forced to interact with each other, which at first causes intense strife, but slowly causes them to bond as well. Eventually, they begin to reveal their personal lives to each other, showing how their lives differ from what they present themselves as in school. And though they bond, they admit they have no idea if they will be friends on Monday morning.
What Writers Can Learn: Group Dynamics, Character Depth, Insight
One of John Hughes’ themes with this film was how people are more willing to open up to strangers then to people they know. It’s an interesting theme for writers to examine, especially because such characters don’t need to have a written history together, and can be as opposite as possible. That especially works here, as every character is unique and different from everyone around them. Just imagining having characters like a ‘princess’ and a ‘criminal’ locked in a room together is fascinating for a writer to imagine. It’s especially fascinating to imagine this as each character type is someone that we can all remember being or seeing in high school. So already, the reader can imagine the pressure cooker from putting these characters together. They envision a massive blow up, but at the same time, there is always that question of whether these characters can truly interact with each other and find something in common.
That leads Into what truly makes TBC unique- the depth of the characters. Since the film is in one location with six characters, they have to be written strongly and have different sides to them. While everyone struggles with their initial meetings and interaction, that struggle also makes them learn about each other. The character of Claire, for example, is viewed as the spoiled princess, but reveals her parents use her as a weapon against each other, and that she feels tremendous pressure from the popular kids she hangs out with. Alison starts as a basketcase, but is ignored by her parents, and acts, dresses, and speaks strangely in order to get attention. Andrew the jock is trapped in wrestling because of his obsessive father, who is also the reason he pulled the shameful attack that landed him in detention. And Brian, the brain, is under similar academic pressure, to the point where he considered suicide over a failing grade.
However, the most surprising depth is from the criminal of John Bender, who starts the film as a brash and rude youth, constantly aggravating the vice principal, Richard Vernon. While Bender is initially agonistic to everyone else, he slowly reveals why- he is from an abusive family, and constantly told by everyone that he will never amount to anything, despite being insightful and showing signs of being a good person. Even Vernon, an educator, viciously threatens and humiliates Bender, even threatening to come after him when he is finally thrown out of school. It is those constant attacks and revelations that causes the other students to start bonding around Bender and see each other differently than their perceived images. It also helps them to ask the question of what they will amount to, and if they will end up like their parents. As for Vernon, even he gets some depth, as the janitor hints that he became disillusioned with teaching, and that his anger at the students stems from his emotional abandonment of his career.
But perhaps the strongest part of the film, that writers must pay attention to, is the simple question that the film ends on- can the characters move past their perceptions? Claire reminds the characters about how easy is it for them to fall under pressure to ignore each other. And the movie ends without answering the question either. And so this teen movie asks us to look at a question that both teens and adults have to face- do we go with the crowd and lose ourselves, or can we rise above the crowd and be true to ourselves? And rather than answer that question, the movie does what a good story should- make the reader answer it for themselves.
The Breakfast Club will always be viewed as a teen film, but that does not deny how important it is as a show of strong characters and what makes them work alone and together. Seeing these characters interact will not only inspire writers to make their own, but also how to put them together and interact. That interaction alone drives the story, which is what the best interactions should. And most of all, it uses that interaction and deep characterization to make the viewer ask themselves a serious question about their lives, and the person he or she wants to be. For that reason alone, TBC deserves to not be forgotten about, no matter how far from their teenage years a person might be.
On October 26th, I will be signing copies of The Lightrider Journals at the Clark Public Library in Clark NJ, from 2-4 pm, as part of The Local Authors Meet and Greet. If you live in or near the area, please stop by and show your support for Lightrider and all the authors involved.
I’ve spent a great deal of time lately reflecting on positive influences for a writer. But as many reviewers point out, it’s just as important to understand negative influences or trends so that readers and writers can avoid them. And since this week marks the return of Legend of Korra, the slightly less spectacular but still worthwhile sequel to Avatar: The Last Airbender, I decided to take time to restart Paths to Darkness and comment on a flaw both series, and many others, suffer from – the deus ex machina.
The Definition, And the Problems
A Latin phrase that translates to ‘god in the machine’, deus ex machina is the sudden resolution of an unsolvable problem, usually by the intervention of a contrived character, event, or device. It’s origins came from Greece, where machines were often used to lower actors playing gods onto the stage during plays. Oftentimes, the gods would enter to save the hero from an insurmountable problem, thereby ensuring a happy ending. However, poets such as Horace criticized the device, warning poets in his work to avoid them. In modern literature, use of the device generally implies a lack of creativity on the part of the writer, who uses the device after writing into a corner. It is also criticized for ruining internal story logic, or to create a forced happy ending to satisfy readers. But unlike other literary flaws, the deus has been used positively, usually as a comic device, or as a deliberate effect by the author.
Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra– as mentioned, both of these shows, while exceptional in all other aspects, suffer from ending on this note. In Airbender, Aang is conflicted by his duty to kill the villainous Fire Lord, which goes against his belief that life is sacred. Rather than confront this dilemma and make a difficult choice, Aang meets a mystical creature that gives him a new bending technique that allows him to strip the Fire Lord of his power without killing him. Korra actually uses the device twice. First, when Korra learns Airbending at a crucial moment, saving the day despite not using any of the established methods to Airbend or showing any previous ability to do so. And second, at the show’s end, when she is stripped of her power, but has it magically restored by Aang’s sprit to ensure a happy ending.
Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
One of the classic fantasy tales also has a well-known DEM at its conclusion, when Frodo and Sam are trapped on an erupting Mt. Doom following the destruction of the One Ring. At this point, the characters must either escape by their wits, or die. However, neither happens, as they are rescued by eagles and flown to safety.
The son of Marvel Comics’ Sue and Reed Richards, Franklin Richards is a mutant, gifted with incredible but undefined cosmic power, which has often been used to solve massive problems instantly. Most recently, the mini-series Fear itself used him as a DEM, by using his power to magically cure Ben Grimm of a demonic possession that had afflicted various Marvel heroes and villains.
Monty Python’s The Life of Brian
A successful parody of the device, the film features scene in which Brian, a Hebrew in the time of Jesus, is saved from a fall by a passing alien ship, which then files him about the world before crashing back in Jerusalem. Brian emerges safely, and the event is never referenced again.
Lord of the Flies
The classic tale of boys left on a island to devolve into mindless savages ends with a navy officer happening to swing by and rescue the children. However, William Golding used the DEM to emphasize the horror the savage boys would’ve inflicted on Ralph (the lone ‘sane’ boy), had the ship not come by. As such, the DEM manages to serve a serious purpose and offer a new question- what is the captain bringing back to land?
The DEM is in essence, a test of creativity and integrity. Just like in real life, we may wish for a magic solution to come and solve the problems of our characters. Or perhaps, we fear the results of a downcast ending. While these urges are understandable, remember that as writers, we should always look to challenge ourselves. Real life does not always has easy solutions that fall into our laps, and neither should stories. If you are creative enough to get your story to its end, then you have no need to resort to alien spaceships or magic powers that can somehow solve the problem. You simply need to sit down, look at what you have, and flex your creative muscles to come up with a true, logical, emotional ending. Because anything else, makes as much sense as a giant lion-turtle talking about bending a person’s soul.
This edition of marketing advice is a more recent invention of the social media age- the blog tour. As social media and the internet has become more prominent, it has become easier and easier to post opinions online, hence the tremendous amount of people writing blogs and posting videos on everything from movies to politics to, obviously, books. A writer has to use this new avenue to expand their book across cyberspace, which is a far speedier way to get a lot of attention then having signings. But obviously, reaching out to individual blogs one at a time takes patience and effort. Therefore, setting a blog tour to post info about your book is a surefire way to reach a large group of people very quickly.
What It Is and How to Do It
A blog tour is basically a book tour done electronically- a large group of blogs all reviewing your book in sequence over a period of time. How many blogs and how long the tour goes are affected by a number of things, but the first part of the tour is to get a solid number of blogs to work with you. In my experience, this is best achieved by a blogger that already sets these tours up and has a large number of connections. Many blogs are independently set up, and therefore work in a community, depend on each for promotion and materials review. As such, a blogger that can use connections to promote both an author AND their fellow bloggers are vital assest. And this should not be a hard step- most bloggers are eager to review, so they are skilled with promotions like this, to boost themselves and others.
That said, it doesn’t make the process any easier. I was fortunate in that I was able to get a blogger that already had set up tours for authors, and did the work herself to get the bloggers a copy of my book (which saved me some expense). She even set up the dates for the promotion to take place, so that I could post information myself and bring more views to the blogs (another reason for bloggers to support these tours). Obviously, if you don’t have that source, you need to organize all the dates and blogs yourself, so ideally you want to have someone helping you.
But beyond setting the dates and getting the product (sometimes), an author is also responsible for providing some information. To help make the tour stops more informative, I filled out several interview sheets for different sites, with questions ranging from inspiration for my book to what foods I liked. It might seem strange, but it’s still good prep work for future interviews and strange questions in future interviews.
All In all, a blog tour is a great tool for an author to reach a large audience quickly. Many of the blogs that hosted me were actually in other countries like Australia, so I was also able to reach an international audience as well. But the best part of all was that aside from the interview sheets, I didn’t have to go tour those far-off places and my book was still promoted. And while that might not be the case if you don’t find the right person to set things up, it’s more than a reason to try and set up a tour for yourself.
And on a personal note for the readers that are also fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender, the Nostalgia Critic has finally posted his review on the unholy abomination that was the film adaption. Please go and support this wonderful takedown of one man’s failed adaption of my most important writing influences.