What’s Up Wednesday?

Back around again for another week of Jaime Morrow and Erin L. Funk‘s wonderful bloghop!

What I’m Reading 4a45a-buttonsmallnoborder

Well…The Girl Of Fire And Thorns was due back at the library yesterday, but I’m going to suck it up and pay the fines on it until I finish. No way am I sending this one back unfinished. I LOVE this book! I’m less than halfway through, but it has been nothing but stellar. I can’t remember the last time I liked a main character this well!

What I’m Writing

Believe it or not, I almost skipped the bloghop this week. Because…I didn’t write a thing. Not a word. I didn’t jot down an outline, rattle off a scene, nada. I didn’t even get a chance to open the document. Sigh. This was not my best week.

3513d-readysetwritebuttonI don’t think it was the fault of my goals, though. I still want to train myself into writing each day, but I can’t commit more time than that half-an-hour chunk. This week it got stolen by [What Else I’ve Been Up To], but I’m going to try again. Half an hour a day. Every day.

What Inspires Me

Last week I didn’t manage to comment very much, but I still read every single post. If nothing else, the enthusiasm is encouraging. There’s nothing quite like hanging around people who are passionate about what they love to do. Thank you, fellow writers!

What Else I’ve Been Up To

Friday through Sunday got stolen by an impromptu trip back to my hometown. My track record with traveling is terrible; I got caught in very heavy rain driving out and back, and Sunday’s bout involved hail. I haven’t had a trip back this year that didn’t involve bad weather of some sort! Other than that, I got some much-needed sleep, and a lot of planning and prep done for the debate workshop I’m teaching there in August. Plus, my sis and I managed to sneak in time to see Red 2, which I loved even more than the first one. I’m a sucker for action movies, and it’s always fun to see retirees kicking butt.

Otherwise, my writing evenings were individually usurped by my mom’s birthday, three hours of volleyball, a children’s program at church, time with my grandparents, and being engrossed by The Girl Of Fire And Thorns. But, I’m starting to handle my work schedule and only pulled one 10-hr day last week. Yes! Being home earlier will help with the life-is-crazy thing, I think. 🙂

What’s Up on your Wednesday? Check out Jaime’s blog to join in! 

Advertisements

The Art Of Dying Well

Kill your darlings. Yes, I know. Be ruthless and unfeeling with what you treasure most in your writing. Many authors and writers take this literally, killing off beloved characters in a dramatic moment for the sake of the story. But please, don’t kill them just for the sake of killing them. A book/movie/tv show/story is not rated based on the body count. One well-written death can have a thousand times more impact than a hundred cast-offs.

So, what are the rules to dying well? I recently saw/read some examples of what [not] to do when putting your darlings six feet under. These are my own rules and examples, taken from books, movies, and tv shows. Please argue with me, please add your own, please tell me about your favorite character death. WARNING: Spoilers abound. Each example is headed by the name of the original source. Below it will be a paragraph detailing a character’s death within that source…so feel free to skip those you haven’t seen/read.

I don’t mind it when characters die, no matter how much they break my heart. What I despise is when characters die and leave me wondering what the stars the writer meant to do there. So here you go.

RULES FOR DYING WELL

1. Don’t be a cop-out

I enjoy the redeemable villain/heroic character just as much as the next person, but what I don’t enjoy is when the death is the only option. It can be hard to imagine how a villain or hero could continue on with life once he redeems himself, but don’t kill him off just to save yourself the trouble of creating that possibility. His/her departure becomes a shrug and an expectation, with the emotional impact chopped in half. One of the important things about giving up the ghost is the cutting off of the possibilities. I want to know and feel that life beyond this was possible, and yet it did not happen. To think that the character might have had a life after this was all over. The sacrifice loses impact if there were no stakes to lose. The character’s untimely end falls flat because there was no life beyond.

Good: The Mark of the Horse Lord, by Rosemary Sutcliff

Phaedrus has possibilities, and a life beyond. He has a wife and a baby on the way. Despite his identity as an imposter, he has come into his own as leader, and the choice he must make at the end is completely in line with his character journey throughout. The sacrifice he makes is gut-wrenching, but it isn’t a cop-out. He doesn’t die in order to save his identity or get out of future consequences: he dies to give back to his people. He sacrifices as a capstone to his growth over the course of the story, and it is both tragic, unexpected, and entirely fitting.

Bad: Spiderman 2 (2004)

Doctor Octavius may have been a fantastic villain, but of course he was going to snuff the candle. I can’t get too upset at this movie for doing what most villain-is-redeemed movies end with: the dissolution of the redeemed. Is it too hard to give him a chance afterwards? I see it quite often in other stories, where death is better than life because of all the terrible things done and the repercussions that will follow the conversion to good-guy. Man-up, story.

Granted, some stories occasionally feel like they don’t know what to do with a character now. As in: they were only interesting when they had questionable motives. Now that they’ve converted, let’s give them a heroic passing and be done. (Boromir and The Fellowship of the Ring, anyone?)

Exception: A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens

I think Sydney Carton must be the exception to everything. While he redeems himself through his extinction, and there is a dreading sense of doom throughout the book, there is also a pride in him. You’ve come to care about him as a character, and you want to cheer him on for choosing to do the right thing. There’s loss and redemption, both in the measure that should be.

2. Don’t be pointless

Make the Stygian shore mean something, please. You just killed your character. How does this impact those around him/her? What does it change in the story? Why did you kill him/her? And no, this is not the petulant “whyyyyyy????? that comes when you’ve just finished watching an episode of Supernatural and yet another beloved character has expired. No, this is the querying “why?” that happens when you can’t understand how going the way of all flesh for so-and-so advanced the storyline in any way.

Good: The Princess Bride

Mandy Patinkin’s lines are some of the most quoted, but they provide a great example for this rule:  “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” There’s your story, folks. Here’s the character. His father was killed. He is avenging it. The debt of nature had purpose, and appropriate consequences. Montoya drank too much and tried too hard, but the rigor mortis, while never shown, actually meant something to the story.

Bad: Red Dawn (2012)

Oh, guys, I hated this one. The movie was okay, assuming you ignore the gaping plot holes, bask in the glory that is Chris Hemsworth, and refrain from screaming at the screen when the ending comes. I’m spoiling it (I warned you), but HIS CHARACTER DIES. IN THE LAST 20 MINUTES. AND IT DOES NOTHING FOR THE PLOT. I hated this movie. There was no point to the deaths near the end. You could try to chalk them up to the horrors of war, but the scenes that followed did nothing to utilize that. It was simply a matter of the North Koreans being the bad guys and making sure the girl and guy never got to kiss. It was drama injected for the sake of drama, and I don’t appreciate it happening to anybody, let alone my freaking Thor.

Exception: Supernatural, Episode 8×22, “Clip Show”

Oh, Sarah. I wanted to be angry at you for being only having two appearances on Supernatural. Season 1 and Season 8. Years later, you came back as a fan favorite, only to fly off with your own swan song. Why? Because you meant something to us, the viewers. You were two episodes of spark and spunk and we liked you. We loved you, just like Sam. When you shuffled off this mortal coil, you grieved everybody. Your quietus felt hopeless, but it was supposed to feel that way. We were supposed to be raging, crying messes of madness over what Crowley had done, and you accomplished that by kicking the bucket. None of the others really meant much to us, but you did. Crowley was striking at the heart, and you were it.

3. Do fit the tone of the book

Joining the majority can come in a lot of different forms. If you’re trying for a hopeful, sunshiny book, please write your Davy Jones Locker appropriately. Heavy grief isn’t exactly a summertime read. If it’s a book about war, sudden or frequent perishings may be completely appropriate. This one is a little harder to explain without examples, but basically: don’t feel like you have to include a crossing of the bar because drama = good. If the situations your character(s) are in involves turning in one’s checks (and it follows the rules above), then go for it. If the expiration is unexpected because you felt like putting one in rather than the story bringing it in, I’ll probably hate you.

Good: The Book Thief, by Marcus Zusak

This is a book about death. Sheesh, the book is narrated by Death. What did you expect? It was written with every single character living on the knife’s edge that is war. You enjoyed your time with the characters, came to love them, came to live with them. Rudy’s cessation of life was probably the hardest for me. I knew I should expect to possibly part with every character, but I didn’t want to. That’s what made the departures at the end so well written. I was supposed to expect them, but I was hoping not to, and I was heartbroken when they came. They managed to be expected and unguarded at the same time.

Bad: Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins

Yeah, I know. Death follows Katniss around like a kite on a string, but Prim’s step out was maddening. Why did you kill her? What was this book supposed to be about, again? Family? Sacrificing for others? Great, so why did Prim have to die? Prim felt like a plot device to end the love triangle, and it broke every rule of a good chant du cygne. Your heroine sacrificed her life to save her sister in the first book. She lived with the consequences of that in the second. Suddenly these books are about overthrowing the government and shooting cool arrows and having psychotic breakdowns and oh, right, that sister of hers? Yeah, she bought the farm.

Exception: The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins

On the other hand, this trilogy does know how to write a completely tone-appropriate crossing of the Stygian ferry. The first book involved 24 contestants fighting to their last breath. Rue and Katniss couldn’t last forever, and her mortality was tragic but not pointless or unexpected. Plus, it made me cry.

4. Do cause grief/repercussions

Unless you are a robot, joining the greater number involves tears. Lots of them. It also involves significant emotional adjustment for everyone, and it’s belittling to the characters if you bypass that in any form. While this rule could be named The Inigo Montoya Rule in his honor, here are a few more examples. (Note: this rule can overlap heavily with the “Don’t be pointless” one)

Good: Supernatural, Episode 2×01, “In My Time Of Dying”

John. I picked this episode because he officially pops off in this one, although you don’t know it until episode 2. Technically, I could pick Supernatural as a whole. The grief, survivor’s guilt, and ensuing events are not wiped away or belittled. While the extent of character dissolution on this show may weigh it down at times, you can’t ever accuse it of not grieving the death rattle of its main characters.  Check out Episode 2×04 “Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things” for Dean’s exposition of his survivor’s guilt and how it played into his actions. The shadow of who John was and how he affected his children hangs over much of the show.

Bad: Red Dawn/Sherlock

Yeah, can I gripe again? The death(s) come too late for any character development. The responsibility that was shown at the end was already happening before the characters’ bitter end, making their deaths feel tacked-on and unnecessary.

Another example is Mary Watson, nee Morstan, in the Sherlock Holmes stories. Her marriage to Watson is mentioned, but her last exhale is given only a passing reference. There was little mention of the grieving process, and Watson resumes his bachelor life with Sherlock and all is well. For all the trouble Doyle took to make Watson a married man, he apparently tired of the wedded life and needed his favorite sidekick to be single again? The lack of sorrow retroactively converts her into a throwaway character.

Exception: Divergent/Insurgent, by Veronica Roth

I was really hoping that Will wasn’t launched into eternity. Truly. But I appreciated the journey that Tris took because of it. His demise could have been pointless, turning him into a one-off character that we met in the first book. Instead, his going off became a key turning point in many of the relationships, and it was a fabulous picture of how different people carry grief and guilt.

5. Do be respectful

If you’re going to kill your characters, please show some respect. It’s one thing to put them six feet under…it’s another to do it by having them slip down a flight of stairs and bash their skull in on a doorhandle. How they kick the bucket is just as important in the whole process of turning in your chips.

Good: Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013)

What would have happened if John Harrison had squeezed Kirk’s brains out on the bridge of the USS Vengeance? Think about it (if you’ve seen the movie). What would Kirk’s obit have meant to him as a character and to the USS Enterprise crew? It would have been tragic, senseless, unthinkable. Instead, his [albeit temporary] last gasp came as he showed his selflessness in the radioactive core. Totally different. With his death by his own choice, on his own terms, in protection of his ship and crew, he received closure on his character arc and went out with respect rather than as a byproduct of some frightening villain.

Bad: Supernatural, Episode 7×09, “How To Win Friends And Influence Monsters”

Sorry, another reference for what is arguably my favorite TV show. Bear with me a moment. Bobby Singer had been around since Season 1’s finale, and had been resident father, mediator, backup, voice of reason, and no-nonsense hunter ever since. A lot of people have argued about the weakness of Season 7’s Big Bad, Dick Roman. He was never quite as menacing as he was supposed to be, but he did manage to do what seven seasons of monsters had been unable to get away with: put a fatal bullet in Bobby’s brain as he was escaping in a van with his two pseudo sons/proteges/resident heroes (Sam & Dean). Really, show? You’ve created this kick-butt character who survived paraplegia and the apocalypse, but he doesn’t go down fighting?

Exception: Supernatural, Episode 7×10, “Death’s Door”

Aaaaannnndddd…here’s how you redeem yourself. You give us a walk through Bobby Singer’s greatest hits, having him fight through a proverbial fog of memories to regain consciousness and give a final word to his beloved boys. You allow him to make his own choice and go out on his own terms. The bullet may have seemed despairingly arbitrary, but Bobby Singer’s last stand is anything but that.

6. Don’t assume I care

I know. You care about your characters. You know of every gravestone that will be chiseled and placed as a result of your manuscript. You will dust off those names and recite them before bedtime. You will care. But you have got to learn to make me care. You may have given your character a watery grave that is a catalyst, fitting to his personality and the tone of your book. But unless you show me why I should care, none of that will matter. I won’t be invested in the ensuing journey if I’m not invested in the character to begin with. (Note: this most often happens when a character has too-little introduction before going to one’s last home)

Good: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis

Aslan doesn’t show up for much of the book. He’s name dropped, revered, and feared, before eventually coming on as a fully formed character who manages to awe and comfort the characters that we’ve come to know. We are treated to him by proxy, through the eyes of the Pevensie children, and his death matters to us because it matters to them. We’ve become invested in their lives and his martyrdom is as terrifying and aching as if we were the ones hiding in the shadows and seeing it take place. He doesn’t have to be in the first chapter to matter to us. He’s written in such a way that we care when he comes, no matter how tardy.

Bad: Tron: Legacy (2010)

Admittedly, I never saw the first Tron movie. Maybe I would care more about Tron himself if I had known him previously. But he’s outlined in a flashback and introduced in a breath. Then he’s gone. Rather than being some great sacrifice of a beloved character, he’s merely a questionable pawn who we never quite understand and never quite care about. He helped them escape; awesome. But I can’t mourn his loss if I barely track his existence.

Exception: To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

Remember Tom Robinson? The man whose case becomes a turning point in the book? Did you realize, in reading it, that we barely met him? He was a whisper from a jail cell overhead, and a witness on the stand with a bum arm. But it didn’t matter how little introduction we had. Harper Lee managed to write him into a representation of the African American community, and while his death was barely described, it was heartbreaking. Here was a man we met for a chapter or two, and yet his shooting hurt us. It hurt the main characters that we loved, and it felt like a loss. Like we had lost. The nature of the story requires Tom Robinson to be unforgettable and deeply moving. In a few short words, we met a polite man, caught between a caste system and a court system, and his desperate end made us feel desperate, too.

I think this post has expounded long enough about death’s door, mm? Let’s recap:

HOW TO DIE (the quickie version)

1. Don’t kill somebody just because you don’t know what to do with them.

2. Don’t kill somebody just because you feel like it.

3. Don’t kill somebody just for–oooohhh, drama!

4. Death has baggage.

5. Respect the dead.

6. Make me care.

Okay, folks, discussion is now open. Agree? Disagree? I love hearing viewpoints other than mine, because I only see it one way and I am inclined to think that I’m right until somebody tells me otherwise. *wink* So tell me otherwise!

What makes a good character death? What are good examples in literature/movies/tv/etc that follow the rules of dying well? What other rules would you add?

Road Trip Wednesday: Heartless Love

Welcome back to Road Trip Wednesday, hosted by the fantabulous writers at YA Highway. This week’s question:

“In our Bookmobile selection this month, Debra Driza’s MILA 2.0, the main character discovers she’s an android trained to obey orders. We want to know: What other human-like robots (or robot-like humans?) have you enjoyed in books, TV, or movies?”

Let’s split this into the categories, to make it easier on my poor indecisive brain.

Books

You can’t really talk about robots without mentioning Isaac Asimov, writer of some of my favorite science fiction stories. I, Robot is an amazing collection of stories centered around the development of robots throughout the lifetime of a famous robopsychologist, Susan Calvin. The first story in that collection, “Robbie”, features my current favorite robot character on the page. This is mostly a nostalgic love; I wanted Robbie to look human, and he didn’t, but his character more than made up for it. (He had glowing red eyes and parallelepipeds for his head and torso…since when is a friendly robot supposed to have red eyes??) He wasn’t the Tin-Man, he couldn’t speak, but somehow he managed to shatter all my preconceived notions of what a lovable robot should look like.  And he was a nursemaid. Win.

TV

Truth? I don’t have a favorite TV humanoid robot. I hardly watched any TV shows when I was growing up, and I haven’t been able to catch up on all the ones I’ve heard about: Doctor Who, Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek…I know they’re all science fiction shows that would offer me an ample supply of mechanical beings to choose from, but clearly I haven’t vegged in front of the tube enough. I don’t know of any. Recommendations, anyone??

Movies

This one was the hardest, I think. As much as I loved R2-D2 and C-3PO (my first movie robots), and as greatly as I enjoyed the movie adaption of I, Robot and its creative bending of Asimov’s Three Rules as manifested in the character of Sonny… this next guy still steals my heart, every time.

(source)

How can you not love this?

(source)

 

What robotic characters have you enjoyed? Any TV recommendations of the mechanical sort? 

Tell The Truth Tuesday

1. I slept 30+ hours this weekend, and I’m still tired. I think something is wrong with me.

2. I’m on spring break this week, so technically I can go play volleyball tonight with my peeps…but I’m not sure I want to go? I should, but I’m feeling lazy.

3. The Divergent casting news has got me excited all over again.

4. I really want to do the Blogging from A to Z challenge, but I’m not sure that I could keep up with all of it.

5. All of my snow is melting, and I’m the only one who is sad about it.

(reaction gif’d!)

How is your Tuesday?

 

Tell The Truth Tuesday…

1. I hate talking on the phone.

2. I watched Minority Report and Total Recall for this first time this past weekend. The cities may be mostly CGI, but they are amazing.

3. The engine light on my car came on again, and the vehicle sounds like it has no muffler. So I finally called to schedule a repair. The engine light turned off ten minutes after I made the call.

4. The printer in my office randomly cycles on its own and freaks me out.

5. I’m renegotiating some of our utility contracts at work. 90% of this involves me pretending like I know what I’m talking about. (The other 10% is putting my John Hancock on whatever paperwork they send over.)

Check out my tumblr for this…with .gifs!

Road Trip Wednesday #165

This week’s RTW: “Good for a laugh: who is your favorite comedian or funny book and/or movie?”

Comedy…mmm…when I think funny, I usually think family. Growing up in a large family definitely taught me about comedy. The siblings would heartlessly slaughter a poorly-told joke, and it was a feat to get the whole table to roar. You had to learn how to make people laugh. It’s half the reason holidays are such a treat; with the family all together, we can pack enough in-jokes during Christmas to last the rest of the year.

But, in lieu of inviting you to a family meal, I guess I have to pick a favorite? Here are a few…

 

Cartoons

(source)

Okay, so this one is a little obscure. As much as I love some of the current-running strips, I had to include this European holdover from my dad’s childhood. For Latin and English puns, check out these Asterix/Obelix comics – the comedy is heavily language-based, and the humor has survived the translation from the original French.

Runners-up: Johnny Hart’s cavemen in B.C., and the indomitable Calvin and Hobbes

 

Books

(source)

My mom read this book to us kids when we were younger, and the portrayal of a large family and the relating sibling/parent dynamic is accurately hilarious and touching at the same time.

Runner-up: Any of Phil Callaway’s books.

 

Movies

(source)

His Girl Friday

I loved this movie. So. Much. It features the epitome of rapid-fire dialogue, encouraging multiple viewings to catch it all.

Runner-up: Princess Bride. The script of this movie can be plagiarized to fit nearly every life scenario.

 

Comedians

This one is also a little obscure. I can credit my grandparents for my introduction to Victor Borge; I would go over to their house and we’d watch their VHS tapes from the original public tv showings. These below are two of my favorite routines, although check out his piano-based comedy for a seamless combination of talent and humor.

Runners-up: Mark Lowry, Tim Hawkins, and Laurel & Hardy

 

So…who can get you into a good mood?