Tag: Master Class

Master Class

Getting In Touch With My Villains

 The other day, I lost it on my daughter. She had taken out a school library book for the third time and, for the third time, she’d completely and utterly forgotten where she could have possibly put it. The first time my six-year-old lost a library book, I was a good mom. I explained to her the importance of taking responsibility for her things, particularly things on loan. I reminded her of the designated spot in her room where the library books lived when she wasn’t reading them (this spot is not on her bookcase mixed in with the hundred books or so that she and her sister own). I found the book, buried in a toy box, and told her that I would pay the fine but that she had to help me Swiffer the kitchen floor to earn back some of the $5 fee. The second time, I was calm—albeit a little less so. Again, I pointed out the spot where she should keep the book when she was done reading it. This time, rather than dole out a chore, I took away a toy that was the amount of the fee and, since I couldn’t find the book, bought back the book that she’d lost at a store and had her bring it in. The third time, I yelled and nagged. I slammed my hand down on the desk in her room where she was supposed to keep her library books and asked her why in the heck she couldn’t remember to put them there. I told her that money didn’t grow on trees (horrible both because it’s a cliché and because it means I’m turning into my own parents) and that we had paid thirty dollars in fines in the past three months, also known as the cost of takeout dinner for our family of four. I threatened to have her write a note to her teacher explaining that she was not allowed anymore library books because nothing her mommy did could help her remember to be responsible. On and on I went, until she cried. It was not a good day for either of us. Afterward, I felt very guilty. She’s six. She forgets things. It’s developmental. It’s also an accident. She’s not trying to get me to buy the book by hiding it. To be completely honest, if she left the book in the kitchen while I was cleaning, I might have tucked it away somewhere and forgotten about it. I also had learned something I can apply to my villains. Sometimes a villain doesn’t start out bad. They try to do the right thing and it doesn’t work. Then, they try again and it doesn’t work. Ultimately because of a lack of patience, inability to deal with frustration or some other moral flaw, they lose it and opt to do something negative in order to achieve a desired result.  Yelling at my kid is bad. By the end of my tirade, I’m sure that she no more remembered where to put the book than she had the first time I’d shown her the special spot on her desk. All she was thinking about was that mommy had made her feel horrible. But, I was frustrated and annoyed that doing the patient parent thing wasn’t helping and I got angry. I became the villain. Clearly, I still feel guilty about my behavior because I’m blogging about it. But at least I can bring the insight to bear on my writing.

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Just off a reading jag and Lee Child owes me a few hours

I took a well-deserved break the other evening and went to a movie. I picked Jack Reacher, Never Go Back as my two hours of entertainment. The problem, and one I should have anticipated, was that once I’d seen the movie I needed to read the book. How did it compare, what changes were made (other than the obvious ones…. how tall is Reacher?). Fortunately (deep irony here), when I went to my book shelf there it was – Lee Child’s Never Go Back in hardcover splendor. I have a lot of books that I’ve bought and not had a chance to read, so there is no shame in an unbroken spine. I thought I’d take a peek at the first chapter or so and get a sense of the difference between movie and manuscript, then get back to work on my own manuscript. It takes me around a minute to read one page of a novel. That’s over four hours to read Never Go Back. In one big chunk of time. I’ll skip the obvious, clearly I enjoyed it. What struck me is how much of Reacher is internal. Jack Reacher the quintessential action hero is actually the quintessential cerebral action hero. How does that translate on screen? How do you show Reacher weighing all of his options and trying to get the bad guy to back down unharmed? Reacher is a loner and loners aren’t the most loquacious people. How do you translate that into film without it becoming a silent picture? Anytime I read I feel like I’m taking a personal master class in writing. With Lee Child it is a master class in picking the exact level of detail to incorporate. In an interview he once said that he skips research. He wants to write what will feel familiar to the reader. If the reader expects the gun to be heavy why interrupt their immersion in the story to explain that ‘technically the xyz revolver is lighter than most in the same category.’ Who cares! At that point in the story, with the gun pointed, all the reader should care about it What Happens Next. Child knows this. Maybe a little of his talent and skill will rub off on me as I re-read my own draft, trying to gauge the details needed for my reader to feel the place. Really feel it. I undergo serial reading more often that I’d like to admit. (A real confession here…. a bit embarrassing… I was on a long flight last week and read three Jack Reacher novels in a row. Yep. In a row. It was like eating a whole bag of candy at Halloween. I blame this on e-books which allow instant gratification. I also blame this on the airline. There was not one single good movie to watch.) Back to the point. Reading a clump of books by one author is instructive. If they have a continuing character you see very clearly how they capture that introduction each time. How much description and backstory is enough? How much does it vary? You judge what the author keeps as part of their style and what is unique to the story being told in that particular book. How do these authors keep us coming back? We want familiarity, but not imitation. In Lee Child’s Never Go Back the story was comfortingly expected, yet fresh. Of course, in the end, I have to remember that I read that last Reacher novel when I should have been writing. Maybe Lee Child will offer a few hours of his time to make up for my writing jag? Writing for me, of course. Or maybe I should count the debt paid, since I certainly learned enough from my read to justify those few hours immersed in someone else’s world. Thank you, Mr. Child. 

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