Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Movie Was Better Than the Book

Many people may recall how I tend to rant about movies and the superiority of books. In fact, many of my friends claim I don’t even like movies. This is true to an extent. There are exceptions. Sometimes, the movie is better than the book.

Now before you condemn me for heresy, please allow me to propose a couple questions. Do quality movies exist?  And do poorly written books exist? If you answered yes to either of these questions, might it be possible that these two coincide?

In my experience, there are three general reasons why some movies may be better than their books, and they may overlap in some circumstances.

1) The movie was better researched than the book.

You don’t usually see these kinds of books, but they exist. In these cases, the book falls short of enriching details whereas the movie fills them in. And I’m not just talking about setting. A well-researched story should include culture, setting, time period, and character development just to name a few aspects. Sometimes movies include cultural aspects or languages that the books skims over.

A great example is Dances with Wolves. I enjoyed the movie for the development of the Sioux culture and language, not to mention the music, but when I read the book, I was disappointed. The Indian language was mentioned, but none of the words were included like in the film. Likewise, the characters had more depth in the movie than the book. Though this may seem unusual, this was the case.

2) Writing was not the author’s main talent.

As a reading challenge from a friend, I read Collision Course by William Shatner. Despite being a Star Trek fan, I had no idea who the author was until halfway through the book. (This is because I know more character names than those of actual people.) Ultimately, the name of the author had no impact on my low rating for the book.

Some people make good writers. Others don’t. And sometimes people who are better at something else, end up writing poor books. Just because a person can write a book, doesn’t mean he/she should. It takes more than a big name to make a book successful. Often times, writing is 99% dedication and 1% talent. Dedication gets the work done, but talent makes it effective. Some authors’ talents lie elsewhere instead of with writing.

3) The book was based off the movie.

Basically, I’m not a big fan of fan-fiction. I’m a firm believer in the original writers getting the credit for their fictional worlds because they came up with the ideas. The main reason that some fan-fiction falls short is because readers cannot draw from the same experiences that the writer has already drawn from.

This is not to say that fan-fiction is completely worthless. Writing fan-fiction may be a fun writing prompt activity. Some writes may even manage to capture a character’s essence and an author’s style. But this is rare. Besides, there are plenty of books I wish people would write a based on movies and shows, such as Ladyhawke or Leverage, but that’s another story.

So, though many readers may discount the value of film in appraise of the written word, there are some cases, rarities, that a movie might actually be better than the book. Ultimately, neither books nor movies can be a perfect form of culture, and audiences may prefer one over the other. But if readers are going to claim to be avid, it’s important for them to tell the difference between a good book and a poor one.

Are there any book-to-movie adaptations where you considered the movie to be better? Why/why not?

Literary references: Michael Blake’s Dances with Wolves, William Shatner’s Collision Course.
Movie references: Dances with Wolves, Ladyhawke, Leverage, and Star Trek.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The #1 Thing Writers Want from Readers

Have you ever wondered what a writer’s biggest dream is? Honestly, many writers would like to have their stories end up on the bestseller list, receive a reward, and have a movie adaptation made. While these may be wonderful goals, more often than not, they may not happen, and instead many writers end up with more rejection letters than bestsellers. But that doesn’t mean those stories are worthless.

This month I’ll be focusing on things that readers should say to writers. So on the one hand, writers have struggles within the publishing market, and on the other hand they might get “But it’s a good story!” or “I really enjoyed it!” from friends in family. While purely positive feedback can be nice, it isn’t always beneficial when it conflicts with rejection or criticism.

Here are just a few things readers should keep in mind when talking to writers:

Friends should encourage their writer friends, not flatter them.

This has two dimension to it.

1) While it’s good to encourage your writer friends to submit and resubmit, sometimes stories have mistakes. Though many friends are tempted to skim over this and assure the writer that their story is fantastic no matter what, please don’t do this. Consider sports for example. If an athlete makes a mistake, like tripping, and a coach notices, friends shouldn’t pass this off as the coach being unable to see how great the athlete is. If there’s anything more harmful to a writer than rejection letters it’s dishonesty. Leave it up to a writer’s parents to tell him/her that he/she is the best writer since Shakespeare. (Thanks for all your encouragement, Mom!)
2) A writer’s artistic style will not always match up with every audience. This may cause rejection letters or bad reviews. If your writer friend is discouraged, it’s okay to encourage them, but it’s not beneficial to slam whoever turned down/critiqued a story. Leave the harsh words to villains and people who write poor book reviews.

The #1 thing writers want from readers is honest feedback.

For published authors, this may include an honest book review. Even if you don’t give a book 5 stars, providing constructive criticism can mean the world to a writer. Besides, book reviews are a good means of publicity. For unpublished authors, you can still help your writers by being honest. Who knows, if you provide enough support and critical feedback, you might even get to be a beta reader and get a sneak peek at a book before publication.

Writers may be wondering why particular stories are rejected or why some stories do better than others, but they don’t usually get such feedback from publishers. So they have to rely on you, dear readers (yes, and editors too), to tell them not only which story is good but why you believe that. Writers should enjoy constructive criticism. And if they don’t, they haven’t received enough of it yet.

Have you missed the first part of “The Proper Care and Feeding of a Writer”? Check out Part 1: Some of the Basics and Part 2: 7 Things No Writer Wants to Hear. Be sure to let me know if you think I’ve missed anything, and come back Dec. 20 for the conclusion: Gift Ideas for Writers.

Readers, how comfortable are you with constructive criticism? When is the last time you wrote a book review for a book you enjoyed? Writers, what else do you wish you heard from your readers?

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Scanning Draft 3

There’s a reason writers call plot bunnies, well, plot bunnies. Perhaps they should call them Tribbles. Once you have one, you suddenly have ten and they never go away. Especially when you’re trying to write an essay or trying to sleep. I recently found a black-and-white, dystopian plot bunny wandering about and decided to house it in my little bunny hatch. (Aka my folder of story ideas.) Can you guess what else I found there? A really old bunny that developed into a novel, which I know call Breaking a Thief. I looked back on the original idea and laughed. Wow, had my story taken completely different turns than I had originally planned!

Pfeffer: my writing/editing buddy this summer.
She's not cuddly unless she's hiding from the wind.
Photo credit: Lori Klein
What had started out as historical fiction changed to medieval fiction with my own countries and towns. Characters came and went and others developed. Major plot points changed. Earlier this year, I posted my experiences rewriting giant portions of my novel (You can read about it here: Wrestling with Draft 2.) But the work didn’t stop there. After I set the novel aside for another month so I could take part in Camp NaNoWriMo, I dove right back into editing.

After a whole month dedicated to Visionary, a story with no plot, I was excited to get back to some structure in Breaking a Thief. I enjoyed the characters, the setting, the plot, all of which is vital to working on a story. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t have stuck with it so long. In my third round of edits, I decided to try two new techniques to help me catch as many mistakes as I could.

First, I enlisted the help of several beta readers. (Thanks again, you lovely people!) I did this in cycles. After Draft 2, I got feedback from my first beta reader, then got feedback from another reader after Draft 3. Though these readers didn’t edit for me, they told me what they thought of the story and if there were any inconsistencies.
Perhaps the three most valuable things I learned from them was that some of my characters needed rounding out, whether or not a plot twist was obvious/plausible, and that my ending needed some serious work. And by serious work, I mean I rewrote it four different times. Though the extra comments meant a bunch of extra work, it was worth it to receive honest, critical feedback from my peers.

Then I read through the whole story again by reading each chapter twice in a row. In no way would I ever recommend this as a way to read a novel for fun, but two readings helped. First, I reacquainted myself with the chapter, getting to know what the story was trying to say. Then I would reread the chapter to analyze each sentence and see what the story was actually saying. Because of this long process, I would get through two or three chapters on a good day (that’s about 20-35 pages a day).

By the time I got to the midway point of my novel, I was sick of reading it. It was tedious, but I managed to look beyond the story and at the grammar and wording. Once I finished this process, I set the book aside and didn’t touch it for three weeks (During that time I worked on another project until my classes started. More on that story later! J)

Then I sent the story off to my editor. I recently got it back, and have been working on more edits throughout the week. Once I’m done editing, I’ll be off to sending out query letters to agents! Until that happens, I’ll keep writing, reading, editing. You name it. Talking about stories and ideas is fun too.
In fact, whenever I tell people I’ve written a novel, I get the age old question: “What’s it about?”

After my initial annoyance at this difficult question, I’ve learned to enjoy telling people about my story, which is easier now that I know the story inside-out. So now I say, “It’s about a thief.”
“Cool,” People typically say. “What does he do?”
I smile. “She seeks to become the greatest of all thieves by challenging a superior.”
Then I sit back and watch the shock on their faces as I defy stereotypes one character at a time. Silly readers. Whoever said all thieves had to be guys?
Writers, what does your editing process look like? Have you ever employed the help of beta readers?  Readers, what’s your favorite genre? I’m torn between several new ideas for my next story.