Monday, June 6, 2011

It’s Not What You Say… It’s How You Say It.

I love reading dialogue more than anything else.  There.  I said it.  I’m not ashamed of it.  A good conversation can have more weight than thirty pages of exposition.  There is nothing stronger than listening to characters opening up and verbally interacting with one another.  With that in mind we peer into the world of dialogue within the Agent M series.

                They say actions speak louder than words and in an essence, it’s true.  Approximately 85% of what we say is body language.  That leaves only a weight of 15% to the actually words that are coming out of our mouths.  In writing, that 15% needs to be able to push beyond those boundaries because the readers need to imagine the characters speaking within the facets of their imagination.  With such a huge weight on the writer’s shoulders, it leaves little room for error.

                I firmly believe good dialogue will turn a good book into an unforgettable one.  Sure the story has to be solid and the writer has to have a certain degree of skill to properly formulate their world but if the dialogue is boring then so are the characters.  Seriously.  Who wants to read about a character that can’t even hold a decent and believable conversation?  Character personalities are extended through the words they speak.  If a badass sounds like an idiot, how believable can he really be?

                In the Agent M series, I take focus on two dichotomies of dialogue.  The Michael Madison character appears very reserved, serious, and somewhat uninterested in the world around him.   To compliment his personality, I’ve described him as being very soft spoken.  Not in the usual context you may be thinking of but Michael speaks almost effortlessly.  As if the words pass through his through with minimal thought or strain.  If you’re still unsure, try talking in such a low pitch that you no longer feel the muscles vibrating in your throat as you speak.  With that in mind, every time Michael had to openly speak, I had to choose his words carefully.   Every piece of dialogue he has is stated in the shortest phrases possible in order to match his personality.

                Looking at the other side of the coin, the Meryl Lewis character is spunky, upbeat, and impulsive.  She’s the kind of person that speaks her mind and isn’t afraid to do it.  Because she has such a strong personality, her dialogue has to be equally as tough.  Meryl isn’t a character one would want to be in an argument with.  Her intelligence only compliments her quick wit and strong beliefs.  In all honestly, it’s a lot more fun to write a character as unique as Meryl but there is more of a challenge involved when writing Michael’s dialogue.  Successfully balancing the two makes for a widely entertaining story.

                When actions are silent, it’s up to the character’s voice to drive the story forward.  While the Agent M series is focused more towards action, I cannot stress how important it is to have strong dialogue.  It’s the part of the book where the readers get to personally connect with our heroes and villains and find out what really drives them.  If I could write a book with nothing but action in it, believe me, I’d do it.  However, I know all of that action without dialogue would suffocate the readers after a while.  It’s important to consider just how strongly our words can affect the life of another.  Don’t believe me?  Next time you meet a friend of yours, look them dead in the eyes and tell them “I hate you.”

Go on…  I dare you.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Com'on guys, you know the drill - The Hangover 2 Review

There are some moments in film that are considered truly legendary.  Darth Vader declaring that he was Luke Skywalker's father.  Peter Venkman declaring that Walter Peck had no dick.  And, of course, Alan slicing his hand open with a knife declaring himself as blood brothers with Stu, Phil, and Doug.  Since the ending of the original, I couldn't wait for the Hangover 2's release.  And I was not disappointed.

                Within the first few seconds of the film’s opening, we were treated to gut-wrenching laughs as Stu (played by Ed Helms) was being berated by Phil (portrayed brilliantly by Bradley Cooper) during a dental examination and discussion of Stu’s upcoming wedding in Thailand.  From there, the gags seamlessly didn’t stop.  At some points, I almost found it hard to breath as each joke fired out like a chain gun.

                To whet your appetite a bit while keeping this review spoiler free, Stu is well aware of what happened at the last bachelor party held in their circle of friends and opted for a simple bonfire on the beach while drinking a single bottle of beer.  Of course, they wake up in Bangkok with no recollection of what happened the previous day and Stu’s future brother-in-law has gone missing. 

                And so, the search begins.  Similar gags from the previous film find their way back into the sequel with all knew ones leaving their “horrifying” mark (poor, poor Stu).  The film ends with a similar picture montage just like its predecessor, revealing the details of their horrifying trip and showcasing some of the best gages ever

In many ways, this is a solid representation of the first film and in others it surpasses it.  However, some of the more popular critics don’t share my opinion.  I’m not exactly sure what they were looking at but I’d give this film a solid A.  Critics often are all over the place with their opinions, especially concerning sequels.  They’ll rip one apart from diverging too far away from the original, or in this case, staying to close to the previous formula.  I say “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

People went into this movie completely expecting to see an updated version of the first film.  And that’s exactly what they got.  Some jokes were similar, others completely original.  Of course, the general formula had to be the same.  I just have to ask, what the hell did critics expect to see?  It’s titled “The Hangover 2”.  No subtitles.  Just another number.  An addition to an already wonderful original.  That’s what we got.  As other’s continue to throw in their two cents of displeasure, I have to pose the same question.

“What were you expecting?”

Everyone I asked thus far that didn’t enjoy the movie simply told me they didn’t like it.  When I asked why, many of them had no real response while others said it was too similar to the first one.  I swear, some people are too hard to please.  Can’t we just enjoy a film for what it is?  A hilarious, swear-filled romp into the seedy underworld of Thailand?  I’m sure other people share my opinion.  That’s why it made almost $90 million over the weekend, trumping Pirates 4.

If you’re not easily offended, do yourself a favor and go see the Hangover 2 right now.  Check your expectations at the door, sit back and just enjoy the damn movie without overanalyzing every frame.  You’ll thank me later.

Final Rating: Mother-Fucking A

And That's the End of That Chapter

The one thing about writing that I am constantly debating about is formatting.  Granted, almost all writers have to stick with a tried and true format in order to make sure their message/story gets across clearly to the reader but I believe there is plenty of wiggle room to push the boundaries of the norm and try something different.  Thus, today’s discussion entails the decision on how to format the Agent M series.

                Back in my days as a fan-fiction writer, it was much easier to take liberties with your story since there were a few variables that separated the medium from the published writing world:

1)      Manipulating already established copyright characters
2)      Published on a free to read venue
3)      Little to no moderation of stories

In an essence, the fan-fiction realm of writing is akin to the Wild West days of this wonderful country.  Anything and everything goes.  If you wanted to write about Solid Snake drinking tea with Neo from the Matrix, have at it.  The world was at your disposal and only limited by the facets of your imagination.  Obviously a few major issues presented itself but hell, it’s fan-fiction, not too many people take it seriously anyways.  Some see it as an outlet to take their beloved characters and add onto their already established universe while others are a bit more “expressive” with their motivations and direction.

While I am all for writers getting out there and publishing as much as they possibly can, making a career with fan-fiction is almost impossible.  I certainly did enjoy my time there and wouldn’t mind going back for another round or two just for shits and giggles but not until I’ve got a few original titles under my belt.

One thing I credit towards fan-fiction writing is that it helped me establish a way to format and present a story unlike any other I have seen before.  When you’re writing fan-fiction, normally stories are published on a chapter by chapter basis.  Instead of completing the story outright, authors would put up the next part of their story as soon as they were ready.  This in turn gave me a great I idea.  I began publishing my stories in an episodic format much like a television series.  With every week or so I updated, each chapter was presented as if it were its own story intertwined into the larger one as each piece began to be put into place.  I loved this method and so did my readers.  It allowed them to be richly invested into the story while being taken through the story’s rollercoaster ride.

If I were to compare it to anything, it would be the Universal Studio Tour at Universal Studios Hollywood.  The entire ride spans 45 minutes but during your journey you get to visit little segments of individual stories that make up the framework that is Universal Studios.  The entire ride wouldn’t be entertaining without each individual section and each individual section wouldn’t be enough to make up their own ride yet as you pass through each one you get a complete understanding of the story that section was trying to tell.

The main idea I wanted to do with, what I’m calling “Episodic Chapters”, is give the readers substance in each chapter they read.  Some of the novels I’ve read have had 20, 30 or even 40+ chapters.  I couldn’t tell you what happened in chapter 4 or even chapter 34, just a few key points of the book as a whole.  With the Agent M series, I wanted each chapter to matter.  That way, when you’re reading it and wanted to refer to a certain scene in the book, you’ll recall it that much quicker.  In order to create synergy, I opted to have 12 chapters (not including the prologue and epilogue).  Why 12?  Because it provides a nice balance in size and flow.  That and there are 12 numbers on a clock and that’s another cool way of looking at it.

So there we have it.  Thanks to fan-fiction, I was able to learn a wonderful method to present the Agent M series.  If you’re thinking about doing something unique or different with your story, then give fan-fiction a shot.  It’s a very easy medium to get into and the feedback you get is surprisingly beneficial.  Practice a bit and maybe you’ll find something so good that others will want to copy it.  After all, people only copy what’s good.