Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Lesson Learned from "Lost" Special Features

Don't worry ... no spoilers here!

My husband and I watched Seasons 1-4 of "Lost" in just about a month. Santa brought us Season 1, which we popped into the DVD player Christmas night, and we wrapped up the finale of Season 4 last week. That's 83 episodes, or approximately 58.5 hours of nail-biting, mind-bending TV, in less than 30 days. Impressive, no? (OK, maybe depressing is a better word for it.)

Anyway, in an attempt to avoid "Lost" withdrawal--because we have no intention of watching Season 5 as it airs because we seriously cannot bear the thought of following it week to week--we've started digging into our DVD special features. Among them are episodes with commentary, where you can watch a past show and listen to some of the producers and actors give their take on what is happening, how certain scenes were constructed, why they made various production decisions, etc.

Fascinating stuff. And all the more so because, as someone who has immersed herself in the show quite thoroughly, I have to admit I didn't notice much of it the first time around. The incredible lighting when Mr. Echo is telling Locke his story. The skillful recreation of a cold London Christmas morning on a set built in Hawaii. The old, disrepaired look of the pipes in the hatch, created using styrofoam and paint.

Oh, I saw all of that. But I didn't appreciate it.

That's because I was too caught up in the story. This is life and death, people (and it might even go beyond life and death). As a viewer, I'm there on that island with the characters, letting them take me whichever crazy direction the story happens to go. I'm not analyzing every little prop and camera angle.

And this is where we want to go with our writing. We take great pains in choosing each word, developing each character and constructing each scene. But the reader doesn't need to notice that. The reader just needs to be pulled into the story. In fact, if the reader does start noticing word choice, character development and scene construction, we might be in trouble.

I've had several writing teachers say you have to "kill your darlings," meaning when we've written something we feel is so clever, so brilliant, so ... noticeable, we need to strike it. It does not serve our story to have our readers taken out of it to notice how smart we are.

Of course, if our books someday get made into movies or TV shows and we have the opportunity to provide commentary on the DVD version, well, then we can let everyone know how exactly much thought and effort goes into this whole writing thing. Can't hurt to dream, can it?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Tools of the Trade: Special Presidential Inauguration Edition!

I've read mixed reactions to the Inauguration Poem, Praise Song for the Day by Elizabeth Alexander. Personally, I liked it. I listened to the proceedings live on the radio (because I was in my car, not because I don't believe in TV or the Internet), and found it thought-provoking and appropriate for the event.

The use of the word "declaimed" in the sixth stanza caught me a bit short, though, as I realized I wasn't entirely sure what that word meant. In the context of the poem, it seemed to mean something along the lines of "proclaimed" ... but why would "de" and "pro" have the same meaning? Then again, "declared" starts with "de" and is a synonym for "proclaimed."

Anyway, long story short: My curiosity about the use of that word in the Inauguration Poem inspired this edition of "Tools of the Trade." (You can find past editions here.) Upon reading the poem, I noted two words I wasn't entirely sure about: "declaimed" and "filial." So I thought I'd explore those two words along with the word "inauguration."

Credit for much of this info goes to the Online Etymology Dictionary.

Inauguration dates back to 1569, from the French, meaning "installation, consecration.” This in turn comes from the Latin, inaugurationem, from inaugurare "take omens from the flight of birds, consecrate or install when such omens are favorable." The root word is augurare, meaning "to act as an augur, predict.”

I don’t think we see much bird migration here in the D.C. area in late January, but maybe the light snowfall we had the day before the inauguration was a good omen ... snow always helps people see the world around them in a new light. (Full disclosure: I voted for John McCain but certainly appreciate the historic moment we had here this week and of course hope that President Obama will lead our nation where we need to go.)

Declaim, the seminal (there's a great word for ya) word for this post, does indeed mean the same as "proclaim." It hails from 1385, from the Latin declamare. Turns out, in etymology, "de" is an "intensifying prefix." ("Pro" as a prefix means "forth.") And the Latin clamare is "to cry, shout."

And finally, filial means "of, relating to, or befitting a son or daughter." It first appeared in Medieval French, 1393, and has roots in the Latin filialis, from filius, "son," and filia "daughter."

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What Font Am I?

I am (drum roll, please!) ... helvetica!


At least I wasn't comic sans. I think I would have puked if I came up comic sans.

What font are you?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

It's a Start, Part VII

Time to revive an old favorite!

"It's a Start" takes a look at the first sentence (or so) of books plucked randomly from the Acorn bookshelves. You can find Parts I-VI along with my later "It's a Start: Work in Progress" posts here.

I don't get paid to do this and have no real credentials, so my comments are just one reader's thoughts. If you feel differently, speak up! That's what the comments section is for. Note: Maximum number of stars = 5.

The week before I left my family and Florida and the rest of my minor life to go to boarding school in Alabama, my mother insisted on throwing me a going away party. Looking for Alaska, by John Green

As I noted in an earlier post, this book really didn't do much for me, but I do love this first sentence. We get some sense of the main character and his voice ("minor life"? "insisted"?). We get setting. We get a hint of the change that is about to set the plot in motion. So much accomplished in so few words. Stars: ****

I was supposed to play the piano.
A Crooked Kind of Perfect, by Linda Urban

Talk about accomplishing a lot in a few words! We know our MC believes she was supposed to play the piano. Why? We can infer from this statement that she does not play the piano. Why not? This sentence involves the reader right off the bat and respects our intelligence. A lovely sentence, simple and yet complex. Much like the book itself. Stars: *****

The day I broke up with my boyfriend Evan was the day he wrote the song.
Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway

Again, we have a first sentence that tells us something has just changed in the narrator's life: a breakup. We also have a teaser. What song? We also have a bit of a play for empathy. Anyone who has been through a breakup knows this ex-boyfriend-writing-a-song scenario can't be good. Stars: ****

When Eddie B. dared me to walk the net bridge over the Elijah Hatchett River where we'd seen an alligator and another kid got bit by a coral snake, I wasn't scared--I just didn't feel like doing it right then.
Violet Raines Almost Got Struck by Lightning, by Danette Haworth

I love spunky main characters (and who doesn't?), so this grabs me right away. Again we have setting. And you can't help but feel there's more than just a hint of foreshadowing in there, can you? Net bridges, alligators and snakes, oh my! Stars: *****

Of all the kids in the seventh grade at Camillo Junior High, there was one kid that Mrs. Baker hated with heat whiter than the sun. Me.
The Wednesday Wars, by Gary D. Schmidt

Can you say, "conflict"? Sheesh! A teacher who hates our MC with a "heat whiter than the sun." Why? And what does she have in store for him? A great first sentence from my current Favorite Kid Lit Writer on the Face of the Earth. Stars: ****

That's it for this post. Not sure what's up with all the first-person narrators this time around, but they sure make for some compelling starts! What did you think of these?

Friday, January 2, 2009

Seven Things I'm Thankful For

Happy New Year!

It's been a little while (OK, a long while) since the last post. My bad.

Sometime between then and now, the lovely Kimberly Lynn tagged me to reveal seven random things about myself. I already did a couple of posts similar to that here and here), so instead, in the spirit of New Year's, I've decided to name seven things I'm thankful for.

  1. My health. Of course. Though I tend to take it way too much for granted except when I'm ailing.

  2. My family. Especially my amazing husband. And my wonderful mom and dad.

  3. My church. Especially the youth group.

  4. My friends. Including those of you I only know virtually.

  5. The U.S. of A. Living in a free country is another one that's way too easy to take for granted.

  6. My job. Keeps me busy and pays the bills. And the clients I work for are some of the nicest people in the world.

  7. My stuff. Especially my cozy home, my iBook, the cat and the puppy.

Bonus item: My writing. Much as I have a love/hate relationship with it, it gives me something to hope for.

Here's to a 2009 filled with love, gratitude and hope for us all!