Thursday, February 24, 2011

Best Movies Adapted From Books

Nathan Bransford started an interesting discussion yesterday with a post asking us what we thought were the best movie adaptions of books. I thought it would be fun to list my choices.

1. Blade Runner -- Hands down the best! The music alone is better than anything any other movie has come up with. I thought the original story by Phillip K. Dick, titled Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, was pretty decent, but I didn't love it. However, if I could only pick one movie to watch in my life it would be this one. The atmosphere, the soundtrack, the awesome casting, and the spot on perfect acting make this a movie to cherish. It was also the last great sci-fi movie to use no CGI.

2. The Princess Bride -- I have never met anyone who doesn't love this movie, and I am not sure I would want to know someone who doesn't like it. Great casting and a terrific, funny script make this one to watch again and again.

3. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest -- I can't believe I was the only one to mention this one out of all those comments on Nathan's site! Ken Kesey's book is great, but Jack Nicholson and the amazing cast (check out how many of those bit actors went on to become famous) owned this story. It's sad, scary, and hilarious at the same time, and I never tire of seeing it.

4. The Lord of the Rings -- No one could possible adapt these novels perfectly, but Peter Jackson came as close as humanly possible (at least in the extended editions) with his films. The soundtrack can't quite measure up to Blade Runner, but Enya's Council of Elrond may be the single best soundtrack song ever.

There are loads of other great ones: The Godfather, Shawshank Redemption, Stand By Me, The Silence of the Lambs, Bridge to Terabithia, and many more. What are yours?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Magic in My Universe

In my fantasy series, a group of scientists from Earth arrives at the closest habitable planet and is shocked to discover that life on the planet is nearly identical to that on Earth. Despite being atheists or agnostics, the first conclusion that the group arrives at is that there must be some sort of pattern or design to the universe after all. They begin to question their own lack of belief, at least until they discovered an alternative explanation.

An experiment while studying local microorganisms leads one of the scientists to discover that he could switch his 'view' of the world and see energy flowing in vivid colors through every particle in the world. Later he learned that he could teach this ability to the other scientists, but not to any of the natives of the planet. Through much experimentation, the scientists learned that they could not only see the energy, but could in small ways use their minds to manipulate it. For example, if they held up a lit candle, they could 'send' energy through the flame and amplify it. The tiny flame could be turned into a burst of fire. The downside was that any manipulation of the energy, or magic as they half-jokingly began to call it, drained energy from the user, leaving them exhausted. This made any regular use of the magic impracticable.

Two decades after their arrival, the scientists realized that there was more to the magic than they first realized. For one thing, none of the scientists appeared to be aging. For another, many things that they took for granted on Earth did not work the same on this planet. If they mixed the ingredients for gunpowder, for example, it would only fizzle or spark rather than explode. If they developed a means of producing electricity, it would only provide the weakest hint of a current. They could only theorize, but they started to believe that the strong presence of this magical energy somehow inhibited or otherwise affected the standards of physics as understood on Earth.

Furthermore, the scientists began to believe that the magical energy connected every atom in the universe and provided a sort of template for life, thus explaining why life on this planet is nearly identical to that on Earth. The magical energy was influencing the evolution of life on each habitable planet. The scientists theorized that the magical connection was not solely physical, but that certain individuals may be more attuned to magic than others. This could explain why the life forms that are different, such as the dragons and dwarves of this planet, show up as legends and folklore back on Earth.

At the time of my first story, only three of the scientists are still alive. They have lived for more than six thousand years on the new planet, yet appear to have aged only a quarter of a century. They have witnessed the evolution of the local humanoid tribes, and have influenced some of them and helped them advance faster than others. The magic is so strong on this planet that scientific progress is severely hampered, and civilization evolves at a much slower rate than on Earth. The scientists themselves became this planet's only 'wizards'.

Hmm, looks like I need to come up with a name for the planet, as it isn't fun calling it 'this planet' over and over. The standard names that such a group of scientists might generally use, such as New Earth, all seem boring to me!

Friday, February 18, 2011

George R. R. Martin plays chess!

It's funny how the tiniest things can give you a little thrill sometimes. I was searching around on Goodreads and began reading the bio of my favorite living author, George R. R. Martin, when I saw that he had once really been into chess (which is one of my big hobbies). I had no idea that I shared two huge hobbies with my man George!

I'd gladly swap my slightly better talent for chess for his much bigger talent for writing! The bio only says that he directed a few tournaments long ago, so I visited the US Chess Federation site and looked him up. There he was, with a Class A rating.

Hey, George! I'll give you chess lessons if you'll work with me a bit on writing!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Must They Always Be Beautiful?

Hart Johnson had a post yesterday that tied in to my last post on unbelievable characters. She gets a lot more traffic and comments than I do, naturally, which makes for a more interesting discussion between commenters.

The question that arose in my mind while reading through all the comments was this -- do most readers want flaws in protagonists but still insist that they be physically beautiful? (I mean this mainly for commercial fiction, as I imagine literary fiction can get away with a lot more) Can we get away with ugly main characters, or does that turn readers off? I probably went overboard in my book by having extremely flawed characters, and rarely a pretty face to be seen, but that is what I see in real life, and I enjoy authenticity in what I read.

So, I wonder what the average book reading audience really desires. I may want realism, but perhaps they care more about superficial beauty and wanting only slightly flawed heroes? I'm not sure that we, being writers, can answer these questions. At the very least, I expect if any of our books ever got optioned for film, Hollywood would change our ugly characters to pretty ones!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Unbelievable Characters

I have been reading Scott Lynch's Red Seas Under Red Skies, the sequel to his terrific The Lies of Locke Lamora. Lynch's writing style is clever and fun, and though the books are quite large, they are quick reads since the reader never has a chance to get bored.

Lynch does commit what I consider to be some rather large mistakes, but he does so in such a delightful way that the typical reader would not even notice. The biggest mistake in my opinion has been to make the main character have abilities that are simply too good to be true, and thus the character becomes unbelievable. For example, he enters the most prestigious gambling den in the world and some guards who are supposed to be the very height of professionalism thoroughly search him. Later when he meets the owner he amazes the guy and shows his guards to be inept by pulling out five different packs of playing cards from various parts of this clothing. Sorry, but this is flat-out unbelievable. It did pull me temporarily out of the story, even if most readers would just accept it.

He also makes use quite often of deus ex machina, which is considered a particularly egregious crime by today's writing standards. The main character is always getting himself into situations that feel impossible to get out of, and only after he has miraculously escaped do we find out some pertinent information that makes perfect sense as to why he could escape.

I'm not complaining, really, as Lynch manages to weave such a wonderful story that he simply proves that not all rules can be set in stone. Despite my nitpicks, I still think he is one of the very best of the newer fantasy authors, and readers will generally love his work.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Fall of the American Empire

The American Empire is doomed. Oh, it will take its time, but rest assured the U.S. economy will completely collapse sometime within this century. The main reason is simple: politicians care more about their reelections and having 'their' party in power than they do about America. They simply will not do what is needed to resolve our biggest problems.

I view our national debt issues like this:
You charge a thousand dollars to your credit card each and every month without fail. You realize that you are in serious financial trouble because of this. So, you decide to forgo buying a cup of coffee once a week.

Yep, that will certainly help.

Or this:
Mr. Defense Budget and Mr. All The Rest
You have the big, real financial problem standing there (primarily the military budget, though health care and social security are a part of it). You know for a fact that if you want any chance at all of saving your country you need to tell that big guy to start losing a few pounds. Instead, you tell the skinny guy he must drop a hundred pounds. Make sense? No, of course not. Yet this is exactly what our Congress is doing to us. Oh no, we can't cut the military budget, even though that is what is sinking us. That would keep me from getting reelected. How about we cut things like diplomacy, even though it is already stretched thin and is but a tiny drop in the vast ocean of defense spending.

Sorry, but magic doesn't actually exist in the world. I don't see this as a political post, as the problem we face is one that affects all of us regardless of ideology. President Eisenhower was once our supreme commander of the armed forces, yet he warned us in no uncertain terms not to allow the bloating of the military-industrial complex, and we have done exactly what he warned us not to do.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Interview With Lord Midas Welby

I've been occupied with a lot of things, such as our new ambassador's arrival at the embassy, so I feel bad that I am not posting enough. This post was the most viewed and commented post that I have ever had, so I thought that anyone who has not read it before might enjoy a peek at the main character from my epic fantasy The Shard. This was done originally for the Character Interview Blogfest.

I've chosen to interview the main character from my fantasy novel The Shard. It's tough, because Midas is a fairly serious fellow, so it's not easy to get anything funny out of him. I decided to interview him a few years prior to the start of the novel (it would be interesting to do an after-novel interview someday).

Interview with Lord Midas Welby

A tall slim man, his brown goatee touched with gray, sits down beside me under the elm tree. He wears chainmail and a surcoat decorated with a black and red checkerboard pattern.

Me:  So, you’re a lord?

A very minor one. I think few of the other nobles truly consider me to be one. I actually got kicked into a moat once by a knight who was insulted by the very idea that I could be considered a noble.

Did you get revenge on that knight?

It's a long story. He's my vassal now.

You weren’t born a noble?

No. I was born in a tiny fishing village a little north of Mitinya in the Westlands.
(Map here)

Go on, how did you become a lord?

Well, for centuries it has been a rule that every able-bodied 16 year old boy must serve two years in the military, either at the capital of Pangalia or at the defensive fortress of East Gate. I began serving in Pangalia, but just a few weeks after I arrived, there was an attack by barbarians against some settlers beyond the gate, so King Alderic sent the army to crush them. It turned into a long campaign, as the neighboring Alsean tribe was joined by several others. This was how I met Lord Havlin Tathis of Iskimir. I was placed under his command.

I liked him, and he seemed to like me. He promoted me twice after battles, and when it was over he took me on as captain of the guard in Iskimir. Our friendship grew. I knew he was sad because he had failed to produce a male heir. One day he hit me up with the idea of marrying his daughter Rina. I was shocked, naturally. I didn’t know Rina; I had just seen her a few times at the castle. She was pretty, but always so aloof. I couldn’t say no to Lord Tathis, though.

So, he knighted me and arranged for our wedding to take place after a big tournament the king was throwing in Pangalia. We met King Alderic, who had me swear fealty, and that was it -- I was a noble. Lord Tathis gave me a tiny province on his southern border with Laithtaris and Vimar Keep.

So, does that make you Lord Tathis’s heir now?

No, though it’s possible I might be a steward if necessary. Hopefully not! I’ve had three sons with Rina, so my oldest boy Miros is Lord Tathis’s heir.

How is your marriage going?

Umm, do we have to talk about it? Rina’s a lovely woman, very smart and headstrong. She felt I was far beneath her, so she was quite unhappy with her father’s arrangement. She also doesn’t like Welby. It is tiny and she has no friends there, unlike her life in the huge city of Iskimir. She loves our children, especially our daughter Daria, but I think that’s all that keeps her happy. She’s started drinking a bit too much wine lately.

Are you happy as a noble, or would you rather be back in the fishing village?

I loved fishing with my father, though the ocean makes for a hard life. Those three moons cause crazy tides and choppy water. I wish I could be happier in my marriage, of course, but I am content. My sons are all growing fast and show great promise, plus they get along well together. I have a few good friends. My neighbor at Vimar Keep, Lord Solomon Arthanis, is a good friend, but his daughters are terrors, so I admit I avoid visiting. My closest friends are my vassals -- the knights Brindor, Voor, and Victus, and also my captain of the guard Dalthis. We go hunting sometimes, and now that my son Miros is getting older we are even taking him with us.

I know the lands have been at peace for years. Any looming dangers?

Not that I know about. That blasted dragon keeps coming out of hibernation every ten years or so and laying waste to the Eastlands, but the barbarians seem to have settled down. I hear they are actively trading with us now.

Welby borders on Laithtaris, where the elves live. Can you tell us about them?

They might as well be mythical as far as I can see. I’ve never seen an elf. Have you?

Monday, February 7, 2011

It's All Just Words

There are many words in the English language that we take for granted when we were just plain readers, but once we turn to serious writing we find out nuances we were unaware of. I will just show a few of the ones I learned about.

Flammable, Inflammable -- All my life it never occurred to me to even think about these words. I always assumed that flammable meant something would burn while inflammable meant the opposite. Nope, they both mean the same thing. I really don't like having confusing pairs like this!

Further/Farther -- Farther seems to be relatively new compared to further. Many Brits still prefer to only use further; for instance, check out Lord of the Rings and you will never find farther in it. Modern English now prefers to use farther for instances of physical distance.

Gray/Grey -- It is again strange to have two such similar words mean exactly the same thing. My feeling was that it was simply a matter of taste, so I began to write my novel using grey. Later I ran into a longer word that incorporated gray into it, so for consistency I had to change all of my greys to grays.

Amid/Amidst, Among/Amongst -- I never thought about these prior to taking up writing. As far as I can tell, these are purely a matter of taste, no difference in meaning. As with Gray/Grey and Further/Farther, I believe in being consistent in usage. It constantly amazes me to see even famous authors having farther in some spots and further in others when they all referred to physical distances.

Friday, February 4, 2011

First Paragraphs

Nathan Bransford ran his annual first paragraph contest, and naturally a great many people entered. What strikes me hardest each year when he does this is just how many writers out there are absolutely convinced that the first paragraph is of paramount importance and must grab the reader immediately.

Now, it certainly doesn't hurt to write such a paragraph, but many of my favorite books have paragraphs that, should they be entered into Nathan's contest, would have been ignored by almost everybody. I, for one, tended to skip right over any paragraph I read in the contest that tried too hard to 'grab' the reader. I prefer a simple paragraph that helps guide the reader properly into the flow of the story.

Meanwhile, I just started a new book of short stories by various famous authors, and it made me laugh to see just how badly the first paragraphs of these very famous authors would have done in Nathan's contest. It shows just why no one should be feeling upset that their paragraph didn't make the cut.

Here is one example:

"The wind blew off the mountains, filling the air with fine ice crystals."

There you go. First paragraph. Would you have even noticed this one if it were posted in there with all those other entries? I know I wouldn't have. Yet this is by the world famous Terry Pratchett.

Here's another:

"The way along the upper sea cliff had always been the secondary road into the Hold. Erosion had left only a narrow thread of a trail, laced with ice from the touch of stormdriven waves."

Not too bad, but nothing that would have grabbed Nathan's attention in my opinion. Yet that is the grandmistress of fantasy herself, Andre Norton.

So, I will keep entering Nathan's contest each year and not even getting honorable mention, but it won't bother me. I don't really believe in grabbing the reader by the throat in the first paragraph. I prefer to do it my way.

I will add one more note: I dislike most first paragraphs that feel like beginnings. Life is generally not like that. Any particular moment in life that you choose to start describing had moments prior to it. Every moment is but a continuation of previous moments. Thus, I like to begin my story with the feel that whatever is happening is but a continuation of something that was already going on. Too many of the first paragraphs that I read were blatant about telling us that this is the beginning.