Tag Archives: movies

Why new writers need the “Make Your Story” series

30 May
Sheherezade

“Scheherezade” by Édouard Frédéric Wilhelm Richter 

I started writing Make Your Story on my blog because I wanted to contribute some of my ideas about imagination, vision, and voice to writers who are just starting out.

Make Your Story is less about how to write a story than it is how to “make” good writing and artwork.

This is because you have lots of options for learning about story and structure as a new writer. I highly recommend that you familiarize yourself with those key elements and here are some great places to start.

In this post, Now Novel has good overarching advice about structure. Follow that blog for solid insights to story, fiction, and the rudiments of writing prose. They always have intelligent things to say about writing.

Writers Digest is always trustworthy and this article by Orson Scott Card is general but excellent.

On a more specific, structural approach, the 7-Point Plot Structure is a good tool to know, and I bet you already do if you’ve seen any Hollywood film more than three times in your life. What you may not know is how to execute it.

If you respond to the 7-point approach and want to know more, check out the Story Structure Database by KM Weiland. This database breaks down an impressive number of contemporary films and classic novels into plot points (almost always the 7-point structure, I believe). This approach doesn’t always work neatly (Moby-Dick wasn’t written to be wedged into this structure) but it’s a terrific resource if you have movies, books, or authors in mind that you want to emulate.

And there are many other great resources. Feel free to mention your favorites in the comments so other writers can check them out!

But I started Make Your Story because, for all the blogs and resources out there about story structure, there’s precious little on the Internet about (a) feeding the imagination, (2) employing personal material in fiction/art, or (c) considering how one sees the world and how to develop a writing aesthetic and voice that express what you see.

This is because people have the expectation that you can teach yourself to do anything on the internet. Wanna grout your bathroom? Change your oil? Pull up a life-hack on Youtube! And it’s totally, utterly awesome that that’s even possible. I believe the modern human species is better for widespread knowledge-sharing.

Storytelling isn’t solely like grouting bathroom tiles, though it can be! Now Noel’s piece on how to use adjectives in fiction takes that approach, and it’s good advice, indeed.

But creative storytelling (fiction or nonfiction) is also learning how to take what you see in the world and make it into a narrative that other people can relate to.

Ever try to tell a story that really happened to you, only to have people read it and say, “That doesn’t seem realistic.” And you think, joke’s on you because THAT’S THE WAY IT REALLY HAPPENED!

Well, the joke isn’t on your audience – it’s on you. All writers do this at some point because they haven’t yet developed a sense for what real-life material works as story or how to deliver it so that it will. We’ll talk about what makes good material and how to use it, in Make Your Story.

Every professional writer dreads the question, “Where do you get your ideas?” Mainly because the answer is so sewn into their DNA and/or brainwaves so intrinsically that they can’t articulate it and know they’ll sound like idiots if they try.  In Make Your Story, we talk about ways to feed your imagination and deepen your pool of available story ideas.

Writing also requires an aesthetic (AKA knowing if your writing is awesome) because at the sentence level, your writing style has to be engaging, beautiful, or seamless/invisible if readers are going to keep reading your work. Do you know what seamless writing looks like? Can you imitate it? What is a beautiful sentence as opposed to purple prose? How do you engage people with words? Great writers typically express their personal aesthetic with a killer writing voice, a skill we’ll talk about here, too.

Lastly, making your own story requires learning how to really see the world, not just repeating what you think you know or churning out cliches. Cliches especially stand in the way of a personal aesthetic/voice and saying what you really want to say. Do you know what that is? Do you know what you’re really looking at when you look at something? Are you sure?

What about the name? Why “make your story” and what does that mean?

Minneapolis photographer Doug Beasley refers to photography as “making a photograph,” not “taking” one. “Taking” a picture is quick and sounds underhanded while “making” a picture is mindful, takes a little time. “Telling” a story is similar. It sounds like it’s all done, waiting inside you until you are ready to spill it, like Sheherezade famously did for 1001 nights in a  row, when really, writing or telling a story is usually a creative, mindful process (and often a slow one).

So please join me and let’s talk about how to make your story.

Mel Brooks’ Fight Against Fascism

6 Apr

mel brooks hitler

BREAKING: MEL BROOKS IS NOT DEAD!

But before my lifelong hero leaves the building, and while he’s still using a comb for a cheesy mustache, throwing fake salutes, and mocking the most evil dictator in the modern world, Mel Brooks needs a gigantic thank you from the United States. And from me.

If you think punching Nazis is a good idea, my fellow American, please take some time and thank our good buddy Mel, too. No one has done more to shrink Nazis down to punchable size than Mel Brooks.

Before his movie The Producers (1968), Nazis were still an ominous almost cosmic evil, too sprawling to destroy utterly. They still showed up as viable villains in the two decades after WW2, and I think the “specters of returning evil” trope (LOTR, Harry Potter) was fed in subsequent decades, by fears that Hitler had escaped death and that Nazism would rise again — see Boys from Brazil (movie and book, late-Seventies) for examples of that fear.

It might have been just a tad too soon, when Mel Brooks faced that evil for everyone in 1968, doing it not like a soldier or a knight, but as a fearless jester. Writers of heroic stories, by design, keep the villain large in order for it to be worthy of panic and anxiety, or it’s not a very good story. Only a comedian could poke fun at the world’s worst fear and only an excellent one could actually make people wet their pants laughing at it.

And in the fight against fascism, Mel Brooks championed our side with the precision of a master, with demolishing satire of the Nazi demeanor; epic derision of the rise of Hitler in Germany and the absurd Riefenstahl-esque production value of the Nazis. He was so bloody good, he could even satire himself satiring Hitler, and still make it funny as hell. Mel’s was the most astonishing use of free speech that I’ve seen in my lifetime, and I feel so lucky to have been able to watch Mel put the mock in democracy.

Sure, Indiana Jones punched more Nazis, and the gods only know how many Nazis Captain America killed. But without Mel, we might not have embraced either of those heroes as completely as we did. We might not be spotting and standing up to fascism as bravely as we are now, three (?) generations after the fall of the Third Reich, if we hadn’t been able to first laugh at Hitler.

Mel, you have been on my mind so much lately, with the ghost-like return of Nazi salutes and white supremacist evil on the rise. Thank you for inspiring me with your bravery and your gift for diminishing villains.  Thank you for providing an example of someone with a moral base for their politics (and art). I know what my beliefs are and why I have them when I watch Springtime for Hitler or the Inquisition number. Thank you for wrecking me with brain-clearing laughter my whole life.

I love you for your passionate hysterical fight against fascism, Mel Brooks. Thank you.

And remember: MEL BROOKS IS STILL NOT DEAD!

The Train to Busan review: Prepositions of the Undead

3 Apr

 

train to busan

You Must Take the Z Train

Train to Busan is a 90-minute grammar lesson on prepositions by way of zombie apocalypse: The humans are on the train. The zombies are on the train, too! Now the humans are crawling OVER the zombies. Uh oh, now the humans are OFF the train and IN big trouble. Whew! Back on the train going TO Busan. But, oh no, now, some of the humans are IN the zombies on the train!

School House Rock Grades: Action A-. Script B+. Acting: N/A (zombie flick)

Novel Progress on The Mad Queen’s Game

5 May
juana

Queen Juana 1 of Castile

I had to make a big decision on the structure of The Mad Queen’s Game that cuts out a major plot line. It adds up to removing half the book.

This cut is a good decision — the two narratives don’t actually fit together, but I thought I could do it with sheer will power and creative force. Silly me. It turns out what I suspected from the beginning is correct, that the second narrative is actually redundant thematically. I pout in shame for not listening to that.

Of course, the material would make a terrific book in itself, a parallel story that’s more swashbuckling and adventurous in the same world. So it’s not lost time, really. I think the way to avoid this in the future is to:

1) KISA

Keep it Simpler, Anderson. Repetition without advancement of theme or mood might mean something needs to be cut. Watch for that early on next time.

2) Outline to Streamline

When in doubt, put the most effort into streamlining the plot. You’re just fine at complicating things later. No need to put more effort into that than you need to early on, Barth.

3) Breaking New Ground is Always Best

Sniff out the fun and new. That’ll allow you to see the plot more clearly earlier.

In other developments, I found a GIF of my main character from a 2001 Spanish movie called Juana la Loca.

giphyjuana

Juana the Mad whapping Philippe the Handsome

My book, The Mad Queen’s Game, is about Juana of Castile (Spain) who is slapping her incredible prick of a hubby in this GIF. Yay!

My Juana is very different than the Juana in this movie but it’s still fun to see how she’s presented, especially in her homeland. My Juana is not a basket case for a man, as she turns out to be in this flick: My Juana is mentally ill (and in my opinion she suffered from severe depression if not something stronger) but she had to suffer a mind-blowing Greek Tragedy-level of grief that didn’t have much to do with this dweeb in the GIF.

That said, there’s a lot behind this slap. He deserves a hot one across the chops, and after two years of research, I wanna slap this incredible prick, too.

More: My “Mad Queen’s Game” Pinterest page where I keep images from research about characters and the period (turn of the Sixteenth Century) for inspiration, if you like spying on that sort of thing.

New Blog and The “Food Mystery”

30 Jun

I’m Barth Anderson, and welcome to my new blog Con Gusto.

Con gusto is a lovely junk drawer of a Spanish phrase that can mean anything from “to taste” (as in, adding a spice to meet one’s liking), to accomplishing tasks with pleasure, eagerness, relish. Comer con gusto means to eat with a lusty appetite.

Some of you know me from Fair Food Fight, where I write under the name “El Dragón.” Y’all know that I blog con gusto.

Unfortunately, it’s been a long time since I’ve blogged about writing and books, two of my great loves. I miss writing about writing and reading, so that’s what I’m going to hit here on Con Gusto.

Well, that and food politics. I’m pretty obsessed with that, whether I’m writing at Fair Food Fight or here. And I’ll still write about issues facing small farmers. Oh, movies, too. And, music, probably. And stuff that makes me laugh. There’s a lot that I do con gusto.

I’m also starting this blog because I’ve begun work on my third novel (you can read about the first two books here), and I’m hoping to have a first draft/treatment finished in the next six weeks. This book doesn’t have a title yet, but it’s about a murder that takes place on a dairy farm and the shock waves its discovery sends through the food world. Let’s call it food noir, with a jaded organic inspector, an emergent super-flu, a supertasting clairgustant, and dead bodies getting dredged up in manure lagoons.

These are a few of my favorite things.

So throw me on your blog-reader and you can track the growth of this book from seed to store. Bueno? Claro. Thanks for stopping by.