What Are Your Goals as a Writer?

No real advice or musings here. Rather, this is a post of inquiry. I’d like to hear from my readers who are also writers. Specifically, I’d love to know, what keeps you going? Do you dangle a carrot before you that encourages you to keep typing, revising, submitting, or even thinking? Heck, it doesn’t have to be a writing-related goal.

It seems we all need incentive of one form or another. For myself, I have an agent expecting the full novel whenever I can send it to her. So, I have sworn off on watching certain movies until the book is finally revised and sent off (if you’re wondering, the movies are The Hunger Games, The Avengers, and even the beloved John Carter).

So, how about you? Any goals you want to try speeding along by giving yourself a reward at the finish line?

“The Hunger Games” and Understated Violence

…In which I rant some more about academic/critical theories being applied to popular stories. Proceed at your own risk.
This is a continuation from a previous post, discussing the importance of social commentary in The Hunger Games, both book and movie. Here, I’d like to focus on the role violence played in the cinematic version.
The violence was considerably toned down in the film, and still that wasn’t enough for the people who apparently think children should never be told the world is often a cruel, violent place. During the saddest death scene in the whole story I had tears in my eyes, but that incredible moment was almost ruined for me. All because some grandma was sitting with her family right in front of me, and she just had to say, “Tsk. That’s barbaric!” You don’t say? Didn’t anyone tell her Hunger Games has quite the body count? This also reinforces Shepherd Book’s observation in Firefly that there is a special circle of Hell reserved for child molesters and people who talk at the theater.
But I’m not addressing the people who balk at “too much” violence in the movie. This is for those who don’t think there was enough. For that all-important social commentary, you understand. Some of the film’s reviewers, including the person I was responding to earlier, seem to regard the movie as not being violent enough to have any lasting impact or to communicate the horror of the novel’s story and get a point across.
I’ve said it before and I will say it again: a movie doesn’t need to rely on social commentary to be excellent, important, or memorable. In fact, that commentary, rather like excessive CGI, can become a crutch for a movie to lean on. It will be emphasized to hide a lackluster story, and distracts from a great one.
Does Games have something to say about violence and how we have come to view it? Yes, it does. The book and film do an excellent job of pointing out how we have gotten desensitized to it and crave corpses for the heightened drama (and as far as I’m concerned, it seems to leave anything further up to the reader/viewer). But my position is that this statement makes up a small part of the whole, rather than being the primary reason we should pay attention to The Hunger Games. If a story is treated mainly as an excuse for academic thought exercises, the experience is diluted, like deconstructing the jokes of a comedian while he’s on stage, and pontificating about what jokes mean to the human condition.
Even if the main/strongest point of The Hunger Games was to hold up a mirror to a violence-obsessed culture, do we actually need buckets of gore and lingering death scenes for the movie or book to give a satisfying commentary?
Even if I’m full of crap and Games is mainly meant to comment on something after all, I still challenge the idea that the movie soft-petals its inherent violence. Look at the audience Suzanne Collins was speaking to, and the limitations of media that is read vs. media that is watched. The Hunger Games and its sequels are very much young adult fiction, or at least they fell quite snugly into the YA market. Violence in the books is probably about as far as YA can go right now (please correct me if you know of YA books with much more carnage than these). And given the lower tolerance for explicit violence when it comes to the MPAA, I understand that they wanted less blood shown in the movie, so the main fans could come and see it.
But a counter-intuitive side effect of this toning down is that the horror of the titular Games is highlighted, not dulled. Violence is being described and commented on, but through what isn’t shown, almost like the use of deep shadow in a painting. The movie’s cutting away from most of the carnage works brilliantly — not because it supposedly panders to a younger audience, but because it leaves that carnage to your imagination.
This isn’t the same kind of underdone violence you’ll see in the X-Men movies or the Mummy remake, where people get stabbed quite brutally, but not a single drop of blood is seen when the blade is drawn out. In Games, the judicious application of quick cuts showing splatters of blood and corpses in the background contributes heavily to a visual telling of the story. It’s one of the classic tensions between novels and filmmaking. Novels get it right when they spell out enough of what’s happening for the reader to picture it; powerful films go much farther when they don’t show most of the violence — or save a full view of the man-eating shark for the climax. Either way, the audience’s imagination is being put to work. So how the novel and movie handle the story’s violence is expressed in an ideal way for each medium, making for a strong novel and a strong movie.
All right, I think that’s my last post on The Hunger Games, at least until I finally read Catching Fire. Any discussion, objections, or questions would be most welcome. Thanks for your time.

Trailer for The Hunger Games

After finishing Suzanne Collins’ excellent novel The Hunger Games, I realized why it would make an equally awesome movie, and why so many people were looking forward to its release. I still need to go through Catching Fire and Mockingjay, the other two books in the trilogy, but you can bet I will be at the cinema for this movie, as eager as the rest of you to see a truly great story brought to the screen.

In more ways than one, this looks like it could shape up to be a phenomenon similar to Harry Potter, in that it takes an example of excellent storytelling (as opposed to popular but flawed novels, like Twilight and Eragon), and helps an entire generation find heroes and characters they can connect with intuitively. It’s much like how Generation X related to Han Solo or Princess Leia, or how we have in recent years grown to love Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger. Now, it seems to be time for Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark to step up to the plate, and become some of the defining characters of our generation.

The Joy of Discovering

…especially when it comes to reading.

Hello, everyone. Sorry for the unintended break I took around Thanksgiving, but now I am back.

Don’t we love it when we discover something new? When an astronomer elates at the finding of a new planet; when a zoologist runs across a new species of animal; when readers find a quality author or book overlooked by almost everyone else; when writers trip over a new idea that takes over their thoughts until they get it down on paper, only to see it grow and spread; when a pleasant surprise shows up at your door. These and millions of other moments of discovery help awaken a person to a world that is still full of wonder. Discovery, of course, is a powerful drive, and in many cases is best pursued for its own sake.

In the case of reading, I have discovered a few novels in recent months, through varying circumstances, that have been quickly growing on me. Some have caught the attention of hundreds, or even thousands, of others before I finally got to them. Slow reader that I am, I haven’t finished most of these, but you can bet I will see them through to the end, and keep an eye on the authors for any future books.

China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station is the biggest surprise I’ve had in my recent reading, a quirky and intense novel that deftly blends science fiction, fantasy, steampunk, and horror into a sprawling but self-consistent tapestry. I’ve only gotten through 40% of his long, complex, gritty novel, but Mieville has already blown me away. I don’t want this book to end. Oh well. At least when that final page is regretfully turned, like taking the last bite of a feast for kings, there will be a number of other books he has written that I will soon devour. Soon.

Per the recommendation of several friends, I have finally read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. And I can see why it has picked up so much steam. The book is an awesome hybrid of dystopian sci-fi, Lord of the Flies, and even a dash of Ender’s Game. It’s a fast-paced read, especially given its present-tense prose, and it left me with a thirst for more. As soon as possible, I will have my hands around the second book, and I look forward to the movie coming out in March.

I’ve just crossed the halfway point of Hilari Bell’s The Last Knight, one of three books in a series that I won as door prizes a few weeks ago. It did have a bit of a slow start as I recall, but it is still a quality story. It’s kind of a murder mystery for YA fantasy, about a man taking on the calling of knighthood in a fantasy world that has long abandoned the concept, and his reluctant squire who slowly befriends his “lord” and actually wants to stick around. And I look forward to finishing it, and getting through Bell’s other two books.

In the meantime, I’ve got my own novel to build. Which is especially important since I have missed some personal deadlines I set for it. Time is of the essence. See you soon, friends. Whatever words and worlds you craft in your writing, may they never cease. Thanks for your time.