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!

08 September 2014

Salt Lake Comic Con-How the Other Half Lives

This past weekend tens of thousands of geeks, in all of their bizarre glory, descended upon Salt Lake City. They put on their geeky t-shirts or donned their Cosplay outfits and headed toward the Salt Palace in droves that probably frightened the not so into Comic Con people of the city.

I’m allowed to say this, because I’m one of them.

Well, I didn’t dress up, but I did pull out some of my more favored t-shirts. Mostly because I needed to look somewhat professional. Which isn’t all that hard at a geek fest.

I’ve been to the last two installments of Comic Con in Salt Lake, but for both I came as a guest. This time around I was sitting behind a table, selling books.

My books, which first off how awesome is that? I never thought I’d be a vendor.

The Con takes on a whole different dimension from behind the safety of a six foot by two foot table. While I did point, laugh, squeal in delight and in general adored the crowds as they meandered by, my perception of them changed. Instead of all geeks, now they were geeks who read books and those who don’t.

Now don’t get all feisty, there were quite a few people that came by that said they didn’t read. Some didn’t have time, others only read comic books, others only played video games and others only listened to audio books. (One woman said “books on tape” and corrected herself. I still call them books on tape. But I’m blonde, so I’m allowed.)

It was very interesting to try to judge (yes, going to a bad place after I die) people as they approached. Did they read? Would they like my books? The process reminded me of putting together a jigsaw puzzle. That point when you’ve finished the easy parts, and have a choice between the trees and the sky. You go with the sky and have to identify the pieces through slight changes in color. Changes you didn’t even notice before you needed the next shade of blue.

I’m not going to lie, I’m terrible at this. I’m a failure as a sales person and if not for the other authors at the table I may not have done as well as I did with book sales. An area to improve on, I suppose. Add it to the list.

Still, we had a great time. I learned a lot. I’m still exhausted.

My favorite part about Comic Con is that looking at all of the geeks that go through the place, it makes me feel positively normal.

I’m not normal, I know this, but hanging at Comic Con is like finding my people. And let’s just say that to compete with the best of the best, I have a long way to go!