26 October 2014

What in the World is a Mercy Law?

Politics is one of my least favorite subjects. And even in my writing I try not to dig into it. Mostly because, well, I hate it. Let's just let them fight it out...

I'm joking.

However, the other day I was listening to talk radio. I know, creepy. Not my usual commute pastime, but the subject caught my attention. They were talking about two things: The Mercy Law and the shooting in the school in Seattle this past week. At that point, I hadn’t heard about either one.

Apparently there has been an outcry against sports teams (especially in the little leagues and younger players) that outscore the opposing team by what someone has deemed “too many points.”

This is the story as I heard it. I haven't dug into the details personally. A little league football team had hit their maximum points as dictated by the mercy law. A kid on the defense intercepted the ball and, as he should have, ran it back for a touchdown. The game was already more than 30 points to zero. Well, the team got fined like $100 and the coach got fined $500. Something like that. All because an 8 year old kid saw a perfect opportunity and took it.

The Seattle shooting was yet another teenage boy—after a traumatic break-up with his girlfriend and depressed—with a gun who went to school, shot some other teenagers then killed himself. Again, I haven't delved into the details, but this is the gist.

The talk show was taking calls about both of these subjects. People had some good thoughts on both.

Some one pointed out the fact that if we enact mercy laws during sporting events, that we’re telling the players not to bother playing their hardest, because that’s just too much. Don’t bother training to that level, because you running faster than the other guy is going to make him feel bad.

Another guy mentioned the other side of the mercy law. Someone who is better than you at something is essentially punished because they're better than you. They’ve worked harder, but because that makes you feel bad about yourself, a higher power will make sure they’re not too good, and that they don’t hurt your feeler any more. Which is a strange and twisted sort of entitlement.

Now I do Kempo, and I’ve helped at a few tournaments. We give all the little kids that participate little medallions or trophy’s or whatever. I think that’s fine. BUT, we also give away a first, second and third place trophy. There is usually an obvious winner—someone who has worked harder than the rest to stand out while doing their form. That effort should be rewarded.

I once read a talk by Ezra Taft Benson (Former President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) that stated something along these lines: If someone accomplishes a great feat that they have worked hard at, it does not make you a lesser person. If you think it does, then you’ve got a pride issue. That's the interpretation that I got from the talk. If you want to check it out, click here.

On some level, kids aren’t getting to have those disappointing experiences. They don’t get to lose or get trounced by another team or another athlete or another brain bowl contestant. Remembering the trauma of these things, adults do their best to soften the blows to these poor children’s self-esteems.

Unfortunately, without learning how to deal with disappointment, kids never figure out how to bounce back from it. And when their girlfriend breaks up with them and they’re feeling depressed they might grab their parent’s gun and take it to school.

Don’t get me wrong, I hate seeing a sports team blown out of the water. I like people to be happy. I’m always trying to make people smile or laugh or forget about their problems, but no one can go through life without some strife.

There is a segment of children who will be crushed for life if they are defeated in anything, but there should be parents and friends and coaches that are there to help kids learn from the bad and turn it into something good.

So my conclusion was that maybe we have children shooting children because they've never learned how to healthily deal with loss, frustration, anger or tragedy.

I'm not trying to start a war here, but if anyone has comments, feel free to leave them! But be nice...

20 October 2014

Hop of the Blog to Ye

Hey all, it's blog hopping time!

 You know, one of those fun get to know you things that we all love so much at awkward work parties.

Only this one isn't awkward. Hopefully.

The lovely and talented Taylor Hart forced...er...asked me to participate. She writes clean romancy stuff. Not nearly enough explosions for my taste, but she's an awesome writer who is great at making her characters feel terribly awkward. I feel she abuses this power on her actual friends. If you're looking for some cute, clean romance, check out her website. She's always got something going on. And the fact that I've made it through more than one of her books is a testament to her awesomeness.

On to me.

1-What are you working on?
 A computer.

Oh fine, you want the non-literal answer? Okay, but remember you asked for it.

Right now I'm in the middle of revisions for a YA post-apocalyptic Sci-Fi novel.

In a world gone feral, sixteen year old Wendy finds herself the only survivor of an attack by the Skinnies. When she wakes up, she can't remember much of anything, but if she's going to help the people who rescued her, she's going to have to cut through the blockade in her mind, even if it means facing her worst fears.

2-How does your work differ from other works in this genre?
 I write it, not other people.

Again with the needing the serious answer? *sigh*

The YA section of the bookstore has exploded over the last ten years. There is so much crammed on the shelf that it can be hard to stand out. My story is as much about this very tough, yet very vulnerable, girl facing a twisted sort of PTSD as it is about making new friends, not accidentally killing anyone when she finds out that she's a master at fighting and saving those who saved her. It's kind of a grown up story, but even when I was a teenager (more than 6 or 7 or a lot more years ago) I felt like the world was this heavy.

I'm also a little obsessed with some aspects of mental health, and I find it fascinating to explore it in my fiction. Lots of teenagers face a daunting world for which they may feel they don't have any real skills to cope. I'm trying to show them that while the world is ugly, there are plenty of ways to get through it in one piece. Even if you drew the short straw at some point.

3-Why do you write what you write?
Because I do.

I love YA. I love coming of age stories and I love a good team effort in a story. It's what I (mostly) read and it's what I write.

4-What's your writing process?
Spew forth many words onto the computer, scowl, rewrite-using only a third of the original words, repeat.

No serious side there. that's pretty much it.

I do try to outline, and I'm good at the major plot points, but the details come through exploration on my part. Again and again an again...

That's my blah, blah.
Now for the lovely and talented Sarah Boucher!

13 October 2014

Hercules Vs. Guardians

Yes, this may seem like a strange comparison.

 Allow me to elaborate.

The other week my husband and I went to see Hercules in the dollar theater. Hello, Duane Johnson for a buck? Yes, please. This being the case, neither of us were expecting much out of this film. I wanted some fan service and we both wanted some cool action.

As a writer, I often go through the beats of the story as they come on screen. Hercules hit all of the beats. I didn’t have a hard time spotting them, but that’s fine. There is a (loose) formula for films, and it almost always makes a good movie.

Hercules had action, there was some fan service—although I don’t love all of the people being dirty. Some pull it off, others don’t. I generally feel like I want to go and take a shower for them.

I loved the concept of the film. I haven’t read the comics, so I had no idea that Hercules had a posse with him. And right off, I liked the posse. All of them. Even the guy who should have probably been on a leash the entire time. The girl wasn’t stupid in love with Hercules and the everyone was loyal.

This is the cast of characters I love! Comradery is one of the concepts in stories that I crave and hardly ever get. Mostly because someone has to betray someone to make the story more exciting. That also works, but it’s not my favorite.

The filming, the action, the costumes, the fighting…all of it was good.

My husband and I were driving home, and I was trying to figure out why I felt so “Meh” about Hercules. Why hadn’t I loved it?

Then, being foolish, I asked this question out loud. My husband is a smarty pants, so he immediately started tossing out ideas.

Did I not like the characters? No, I actually liked them.
Was the story dumb? No, it was fine. A little cookie cutter, but fine.
Was there bad music? (this is his pet peeve) Nope, music was okay.
Were the conflicts weak? Not the best I’ve ever seen, but not bad in any way.
Was everything believable? As much as it could have been.

So what was the problem?

After a few minutes of discussion, I came up with it. I liked the characters. The director and writers did a good job of rounding out the entire cast of characters. The characters were loyal to one another (they tried to make you think otherwise for a second, but I saw through it). Then I realized that the characters hadn’t progressed. They were essentially the same at the end as they were at the beginning. Even Hercules, who did have a little character growth, didn’t strike me as much different.

The characters of Guardians of the Galaxy went from scoundrels to heroes. Some of them against their will, but knowing it was for a greater good. That progression is what makes characters interesting. It’s what helps the audience relate to them. I can understand not wanting to do something and being tricked, guilted or simply talked into it. I’ve done things I didn’t want to do and they turned out great. But sometimes they turn out lousy. But in the end, I’m changed in some way.

So either the Hercules writers didn’t show him to the extremes, or they didn’t feel any of the characters really needed to change.

That’s what I have to say about that. Anyone else have any thoughts?

06 October 2014

Order Vs. Chaos

Last week I promised a comparison between The Walking Dead and LOST

Now there are a lot of aspects of each story that we could compare, but I am going to stick with the title of this blog post. Order vs. chaos.

I talked about seeing The Maze Runner a few weeks ago.  I did a mini rage session on how confusing the story was, and how the characters had no idea what was going on. Neither does the audience. As my husband and I were driving home we talked about this. Why does it bother me so much?

I watched every last episode of LOST. The first season or two were especially interesting, mostly because of the character flashbacks. Getting to know the characters in a story is really important. For most audiences, it is the most important aspect of a story. (Not everyone, and not every story, but a vast majority.)  Once the extremely confusing and non-winnable people vs. the island story took over LOST, I got less interested. I do admit that the writers did a pretty good job through a bunch of real life crap to keep the show going. And I loved the end of the series…because the characters I had invested so much time into were happy. I still don’t have a clear picture of what exactly LOST was about—there are plenty of speculations, and most of them lead in the same direction, but it never gelled for me.

Even though the show ended with a lovely sense of peace, I still get irritable when I try to figure out what in the Sam hill was going on. The characters I learned to love/hate/love, were constantly put into situations where no matter what they did, it was the wrong thing. Because they had no way to know what would actually help (push the button, don’t push the button…). As a reader/watcher this is insanely frustrating.

Now don’t get me wrong, a measure of mystery is good for a story, but (in my opinion) answers shouldn’t always lead to dead ends with a whole slew of new questions that don’t relate to the first set, and at the end of the season none of the first, second or third questions have really been answered, because the whole show is really about LEGOS. Maybe. As a reader I need some closure. A bunch of kids jumping into a bus or helicopter at the end of the movie thinking they’re safe but not actually being safe is annoying. Especially since some of them died getting those that got out, out. Like I said, mystery is good, befuddlement is angertating.

Now, for The Walking Dead. Also great characters—some of them good guys, some of them bad guys, some of them smart, some of them downright stupid, all of them trapped in the world that is now full of zombies.

These guys know what they’re up against.  Near the beginning, the writers did put in the discovery that there isn’t a cure for the zombie disease, and that everyone has it. When you die, you’re going to try to eat your friends. And unless you destroy the zombie’s brain, it will never give up trying to gnaw on whatever living thing gets too close.

This is a clear-cut, straight-forward problem. The characters in The Walking Dead know what they’re up against. The audience knows what they’re up against. And it is still a great story. The mystery is in how the characters will react as well as what the other still alive humans are going to try to do to our characters. But the show didn’t go for five seasons before revealing that there are zombies in the world, and they do indeed want to kill you. They can’t be turned back into people and the whole cast isn’t in some twisted version of The Truman Show.  I hope.

The thought of 95% of the people in the world being zombies and wanting to kill you is pretty daunting. That alone is enough to ratchet up the tension to the point of yelling in frustration each time an episode ends. I’m perfectly okay knowing what the characters are up against. I’m okay with them knowing what they’re up against. For me, this kind of a story is more engaging than the super-powered-nothing-is-what-it-seems mysteries that have become so popular.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good twist in a story. Those are awesome. It’s when the story spirals everywhere and nowhere at once that I get annoyed, then bored, then I walk away.

What about you? What kind of a story to you prefer?

29 September 2014

What I was Thinking During The Maze Runner

My hubby and I went and saw The Maze Runner this past weekend.

I've read the book, he hasn't. We both enjoyed to movie but didn't gush over it. I felt pretty much the same way about the book. A few years ago I read the second book in the series, and by the end of it I was frustrated enough to not read the final installment of the trilogy, or the prequel.

Now I love Ender's Game. This story line is very similar-teenagers in an isolated place where the adults are testing them in ways that they (the kids) don't know about or understand. Actually there are dozens if not hundreds of plots that echo this same trope. Sometimes I enjoy them and sometimes I don't.

About fifteen minutes into The Maze Runner, I had a thought. One of those resounding things that surfaces and then pops, filling your mind with a certainty that you shouldn't question. It went like this:

"I will never write a story like this, where the characters in it have NO IDEA what's going on."

For the next few minutes I thought about this. Why? Mystery in a story is good, right? Characters having to discovering things is conflict as well as exciting, right? And not knowing what's going on builds tension, yes?

True. To all of the above.

So why, in my mind, had I just sworn off writing a tale similar to this?

I mulled over it through the movie, gritting my teeth each time a new mystery unfolded, only to be added on to the already extensive warehouse sized puzzle that was already in play. The characters never got answers, and if they somehow did, it was either a blatant lie or an outlet for a dozen more questions.

There are plenty of people who love this kind of a story. I get frustrated by it.

What about you? How do you react to a story that continues to ask question and rarely gives answers? When the hole for the characters gets deeper and deeper and their attempts at being proactive often make things worse because they have no idea what they're doing?

Next time I'm going to compare L.O.S.T with The Walking Dead. Two very different stories, both with massive followings.

22 September 2014

What if the Experience Isn't Perfect?

Last week I told you about this play (Roadshow) that I was directing for my church congregation.  I even mentioned the most important line of the show. Without it, the light bulb moment that leads to the climax of the story doesn't make sense.

Keep in mind, most of our cast were kids from 11-18 years old. Some were nervous, some were excited, others were downright terrified.

I had to sit on the front row and simply watch. Can I tell you how much I hated that? Not being able to DO anything but see the story unfold and flinch if anything went wrong was pretty much terrible.

Anyway, back to the story.

The first song went well, if not a little slow. The audience chuckled when they were supposed to, and even those in the back could hear the words. (We had people singing live to a piano, which isn't the easiest thing in the world) The second scene set the theme of the story, and went off beautifully. Singing, dancing and the big rivalry went off without a hitch.

Then came scene three. This is the one where we had to add lines of dialogue because so many of the youth wanted to participate. This is the moment when the most important line is to be uttered. I watched my script, ready to prompt people if they needed help. I stressed that the kids not close enough to the microphone weren't going to be heard. My feet wouldn't stay still. The scene progressed. I turned the page.

And that's when it happened.

It may be my fault. One guy says almost the same exact line (for good reason) twice within about ten lines of dialogue. We had the other kids memorize the line before theirs so they knew when to come on. So the one kid said the second version of his line instead of the first one, which threw half a page of talking out the window as the kid after that second version of the line picked up his cue and set off.

I looked up, opened my mouth and was about to prompt them to go back, but the next line and then the next line spilled out of mouths...just like we practiced.

So the audience didn't get that precious clue that I'd embedded into the play.

Then the fidgeting really started.

The next three scenes went great. The kids had the audience wrapped around their fingers, and the spots where we hoped people would laugh got filled by the melodious sound of about 200 people being amused. Shoulder angels that only sing lines of songs, crazy accents, It's a Small World with new lyrics, We Will Mock You...it went on and on.

Then came the moment when the hero is supposed to put the pieces together. Unfortunately, he hadn't received the first one. Of course our lead went right through the scene, and the moment when he figures out his solution, the audience cracked up.

Somehow they'd gotten it. Without the key line of the play the audience had put the premise together and had made the leap, just as our hero had.

So things didn't go quite as planned, but our Roadshow was a raging success. We got a lot of compliments, and everyone involved had a great time. Which forced me to brush off the missed line and bask in the cast's excitement. Because even though it wasn't perfect, the show still did its job.

We're all our worst critics. Just remember, sometimes a slightly flawed experience is just as good, or better, as the perfect moment.

15 September 2014

That Moment When Hindsight Kicks In

A few months ago my church congregation asked me to direct what we call a Roadshow. A Roadshow is a skit that people from the congregation put on-no professionals and usually little to no budget. Traditional elements include rewriting song lyrics Weird Al style (preferably older, popular music from musicals and such), comedy, choreography which may or may not turn out on performance, and as much cheese as you can pack into thirty minutes.

Back in the day (when my older sisters were young) each congregation would travel around to the other congregations and perform-thus the Roadshow title. There was judging and prizes and everything.

Well, there are no prizes anymore, and we only perform once, but the cheese, songs and iffy choreography run rampant through our skit. We got assigned a modern day retelling of David and Goliath. The man in charge came up with the idea of doing The Younger Games. The elevator pitch is, "Fifty years of rivalry between adults and children comes to a head when the scrawny, video game playing Dave moves to town and the other teenagers sucker him into going up against Big "G" in the 50th anniversary of the Rivalry Games."

Let me point out that I have exactly ZERO stage experience, barring my own roadshow 25 years ago which consisted of parts of The Music Man, and one time I played in the pit for Guys and Dolls. Also 25 years ago. So I have no idea what a director is supposed to do. Lucky for everyone, we have lots of great people who come to help. I owe them all more treats.

So my lack of directing skills may add to the cheese factor.

However, my writing experience has influenced a few things. Mostly additions to the script. The original script was great. My writer brain grabbed a hold of it and started to ask questions about characters, motivations and plot points. Suddenly there were all sorts of extra lines about how the original rivalry started as well as what the punishment is for losing. And the kids always lose. Plus, shoulder angels. What could go wrong?

Well, among these extra lines is the pivotal moment of the show. Dave asks about what games get played at the Rivalry Games, and one of the kids says, "Any game with physical activity, we get to choose."

This is key. This line leads Dave to the inspiration for using a Dance Dance Revolution/Angry Birds/Tetris game as the challenge for Big G. (I'll post pictures next week, it's kind of epic).

Last week we were practicing, and the kid who is supposed to say the line above sort of mumbled it and said it as fast as he could. I stopped the practice and said, "Hold on, the audience has to hear that line. It is the single, most important line of the play. If they don't hear it, then it doesn't make sense when Dave (with the help of a big voice from above) figures out which game he can use and still win."

I got a few puzzled and blank looks, but a few other eyes lit up and I could tell that they were readers. We've all had those moments when our minds go back through the story and that fleeting second that felt like natural conversation comes back with the clarity that says, "I should have seen that before!"

This often happens to me during James Bond movies. In one of them I saw some huge, tree cutting machine at the beginning and I was like, "Bond is totally going to have to fight that at the end of the movie." I was right. Sometimes I'm way off. But either way, authors put clues for the readers. They're important. Readers get 20/20 hindsight, so give them something to look for!