March 2

Plans for Extended Critical Essay (ECE)

For my upcoming semester at Spalding University,  I need to turn in a 20-30 page essay referred to as an Extended Critical Essay, or ECE,  Since I imagine three and a half-weeks between each draft wouldn’t be enough time for me to do all my research, reading, writing and edits, I am working on gathering all my information now.

I’m not sure what my topic will be on. I’m leaning toward writing emotion into a story or something on world building.  Maybe I can somehow combine the two…. How character’s emotions can help with world building in YA. I may decide to go in a totally different direction as well. But I’m hopefully giving myself enough time to do the research and come up with a final decision.

In fact, I plan to write mini-essays on the two topics while I am doing the research, with the hope that it’ll help me build material/resources for the ECE I will need to work on. I would love feedback from people as I make progress, differing opinions, suggestions on what other resources to look at, no matter what stage I am in during this endeavor.

My first step is to find the resources that will help me write the mini-essays and eventually the ECE. I would appreciate recommendations on:

  • Non-Fiction books/articles on Writing Emotion
  • Non-Fiction books/articles on World Building
  • YA Fiction that is a good example of one or both elements.
  • Any other resources that you think may be of interest/help to me.

Thanks in advance for your recommendations and comments.

August 6

Perks of Being A wallflower

The Perks of Being A Wallflower is about a teenage boy, Charlie, experiencing high school. Although Charlie experiences a lot of “typical” teenage experiences throughout the book, Charlie is not the typical teenager.  Throughout Stephen Chbosky’s Young Adult novel, Charlie shows signs of being on the autistic spectrum.  Specifically, he shows a lot of signs of having Asperger’s. Asperger’s according to Medical News Today is “a developmental disorder that impacts on the individual’s ability to communicate and socialize, among other things.”

According to myAsperger’schild.com, teenagers “may be uncomfortably blunt.”  We see this with Charlie, when, Within a week of meeting a high school senior, Sam, Charlie writes to his unknown friend: “I told Sam that I dreamt that she and I were naked on the sofa, and I started crying because I felt bad, and do you know what she said? She laughed (21 -2).”

To say he’s blunt is an understatement. To say he lacks finesse isn’t quite right either. He has the social understanding of a seven-year-old, blurting out anything that comes to mind, appropriate to mention or not.  This also matches up with what myAsperger’schild.com says:  teenagers with Asperger’s “may be immature for their age and be naive and too trusting, which can lead to teasing and bullying.”

Charlie also demonstrates a lack of control and understanding of his own emotions.  He cries at the drop of the hat for seemingly no reason.  One example of this is when he’s at a party with Patrick and Sam.

I was sitting on the floor of a basement of my first real party between Sam and Patrick, and I remembered that Sam introduced me as her friend to Bob. And I remembered that Patrick had done the same for Brad. And I started to cry. And nobody in that room looked at me weird for doing it. And then I really started to cry (38).

Again this is another Asperger’s trait.  As, according to Asperger Syndrome Behavior, “Individuals with Asperger syndrome have trouble recognizing their own emotions and especially expressing them in a proper way.”

Despite his social and emotional skills being that of a seven-year-old, Charlie proves to be quite intelligent. We see this whenever he mentions his Advance English Class.

My advanced English teacher asked me to call him “Bill” when we’re not in class, and he gave me another book to read. He says that I have a great skill at reading and understanding language, and he wanted me to write an essay about To Kill A Mockingbird.

I mentioned this to my mom, and she asked why Bill didn’t recommend that I just take a sophomore or junior English class. And I told her that Bill said that these were basically the same classes with more complicated books, and that it wouldn’t help me.  (9-10)

“Bill” continually gives Charlie books and essays to write outside of normal class assignments to challenge him, proving that Charlie may be too advanced for even the advance class when it comes to literature.  But this is not necessarily unusual in children with Asperger’s.

According to myAsperger’schild.com , autistic  “adolescents may be extremely smart in specific areas, such as writing, math, or some form of the arts.”

A lot of Charlie’s behaviors and “symptoms” can be very off-putting to the reader, especially the frequency of how much he cries.  But to discover there is a reason for these eccentricitieswould make these annoying quirks forgivable to most readers. However, Chbosky never reveals the reason behind these idiosyncrasies. He lets readers know Charlie was molested as a child. And boys who were molested are not likely, according to what I could find on boys who are molested, to behave the way Charlie does in The Perks of Being A Wallflower, leaving readers to wonder if Charlie has Asperger’s and was molested…or if something entirely different is going on with him.

In the movie, Charlie doesn’t have these oddities in his behavior. He doesn’t cry at a drop of a hat. He’s smart. He makes jokes. He isn’t blunt.  He has the awareness of a neurotypical person his age. The only real oddity in him is the one or two times he blacks out in the movie. And that fits better with Charlie having been molested, as he could have easily been in a fugue state at the time.

Chbosky had a great opportunity and did a great job setting up a story about a character who is on the Autistic spectrum but undiagnosed. Unfortunately, he fumbles it by not following through, or perhaps, simply deciding to go with the ‘shock value’ of a molestation.

Works Cited

“Asperger Syndrome Behavior.” Asperger Syndrome Behavior. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 July 2013.
Chbosky, Stephen. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. New York: Gallery, 1999. Print.

Hutten, Mark. “My Aspergers Child: Problems Experienced by Teens with Aspergers.” My Aspergers Child: Problems Experienced by Teens with Aspergers. Mark Hutten, n.d. Web. 20 July 2013.

Nordqvist, Christian. “What Is Asperger’s Syndrome?” Medical News Today. MediLexicon International, 09 Mar. 2012. Web. 20 July 2013.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Dir. STEPHEN CHBOSKY and JOHN MALKOVICH. Prod. LIANNE HALFON and Russell SMITH. Perf. Emma Watson,, Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller. Roadshow, 2013. DVD.

August 4

Let The Right One In Critical Review

Vampire Eli is Let In The Hearts of Audiences

John Ajvide Lindqvist’s “Let The Right One In” is a story about a bullied twelve-year-old boy who happens to meet a vampire.

The book gets into a lot of heads and offers a lot of different POVs: Tommy’s, Håkan’s, Oskar’s, Jonny Forsberg’s, a squirrel’s. There are even chapters from an omniscient point of view, illustrating things going on in the larger world, like the fear over a Soviet sub that runs aground on the shoreline, and the ongoing reaction to Håkan’s—Eli’s caretaker—murders. Although some segments are written from Eli’s point of view, little is revealed about her. Despite that, Eli is easily humanized in both the book and the movies.

The third time Eli and Oskar meet in the book Eli is hungry, needing blood. Oskar and she are alone in the courtyard playground, and he is easy prey, trusting he’s safe with her. The scene shows that Eli is prepared to kill him however.

His voice was not even a whisper. Only an exhalation. The girl’s face was close. His gaze was drawn to her butter-knife cheek. That was why he didn’t see her eyes change, how they narrowed, took on another expression. He didn’t see how her upper lip drew back and revealed a pair of small, dirty white fangs. He only saw her cheek and while her mouth was nearing his throat he drew up his hand and stroked her face.

The girl froze for a moment, then pulled back. Her eyes resumed their former shape; the city of light was back. (70)

The fact Eli could kill someone she has met, spoken with twice before shows that she doesn’t think like a human. The interactions they had are not enough for her to hesitate, like a human normally would. After all, it’s one thing to kill a complete stranger, another to kill someone you’ve met.

In both movies, Let The Right One In and Let Me In, this doesn’t happen. Eli seems to recognize Oskar as a kindred spirit from the first meeting. She instead bonds with him, gives him advice on how to handle the school bullies Oskar is tormented by.  A few pages later, we even see their deepening bond when Oskar and Eli start walking home from a candy store:

They walked back. Before Oscar had even had any himself he held the bag out to Eli. She shook her head.
“No thanks.”
“Don’t you eat candy?”
“I can’t.”
“No candy?”
“Nope.”
“What a drag.”
“Yes, no. I don’t know what it tastes like.”
“You haven’t even tasted it.”
“No.”
“Then how do you know that…”
“I just know, that’s all.” (123)

Eli doesn’t give into Oskar, because she knows nothing good would come of her eating the candy.  However, her interaction with Oskar also manages to humanize her, because most people know what it’s like to want to try something that they can’t have, be deprived of experiences, whether due to a health issue, circumstance or something else. At the same time, viewers know the reason she can’t eat the candy, is because she’s not human.

In both movies however, the scene plays out differently.  In Let Me In, Eli, known as Abby, gives into Oskar, known as Owen:

Abby watches as Owen collects his candy, trying to hide his disappointment. She feels bad.
ABBY: Well… maybe I could try just one…!
Owen looks up, suddenly excited. He opens a package, gives her a piece. She puts it in her mouth. He watches for her reaction. She smiles for him, nods. He grins, so pleased — (42)

Both movies show Abby throwing up after she eats the candy.   The movies allow readers to see Abby trying to please Owen, which is a very human urge. The effect humanizes Eli to viewers more than the book does, but at the same time, since she can’t digest the candy, reminds viewers she is in not human.

In traditional vampire books and movies, vampires are clean, efficient killers, the ultimate predators. Vampires are written differently in Let The Right One In and the movies. In them, Eli and her adult companion make sloppy and sometimes ineffective attempts at killing people. These slipshod attempts make the attacks seem more realistic, more possible, more frightening, and at the same time, humanizes Eli.  We see her not as the efficient killing machine we expect from vampire lore. She doesn’t have the practice of a skilled predator. And the fact audiences know that like an animal, she has to kill to eat, makes her sympathetic to readers, even as she murders someone.

Although the different mediums often use different techniques, both the movies and the books, remind audiences that Elli/Abby is a vampire even as she is efficiently humanized. The result is a well-told story that can easily stand up to Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Work Cited
Ajvide, Lindqvist John. Let the Right One in. Trans. Ebba Segerberg. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin/Thomas Dunne, 2008. Print.
Reeves, Matt. Let Me IN. N.d. MS. Http://screenplayexplorer.com/wp-content/scripts/Let-Me-In.pdf. Http://screenplayexplorer.com/. Web. 29 June 2013.
July 10

Princess Bride Critical Review

Whose Who In The Princess Bride

For most people the terms main character, protagonist and hero are interchangeable and belong to the same character.  However there are intricacies to the terms that do cause them to be different.  In fact, in The Princess Bride, a story about Westley fighting to be with his true love Buttercup, the terms belong to different characters.

The term ‘Main Character’ usually refers to who the story is mainly about. By this definition it is possible to have over thirty main characters in a story. In this case, however, the true main character would be Westley.

Westley is who drives home the plot, the character who the story circles around.  He gives Princess Buttercup hope and a reason to stand up for herself.  He gives Prince Humperdinck someone to fear and ruins his plans. Westley is the reason Inigo Montoya gets revenge on Count Rugen for his father.  Without Westley, we would have a different story.  However, if you removed a different character, the story would change but multiple plot lines would remain the same.  Although Westley is the spider that weaves the story together, he is not the hero.

According to John August, the hero “is the character who you hope to see ‘win.’” As noble as Westley’s goal is—fighting for true love—audience members already know that Buttercup loves Westley, so half his battle is already won.  All he needs is to defeat the bad guy and with the level of skill he demonstrates throughout the movie, we know it’ll be inevitable that he will.  This leaves Inigo to fill the role of hero.

Early on, Inigo reveals he studied sword fighting until he believed himself skilled enough to defeat the six-fingered man that killed his father.  In the book, Inigo comes to believe that he obtains the skill level of wizard, which is the level above a master swordsman. After acquiring that level of skill and believing himself the only living wizard in existence, he searched for his Father’s , murderer.  Eventually he works for Vizzini ‘to pay the bills.’  It’s while working for Vizzini that he meets the ‘man in black,’ later to be revealed as Westley.

Westley beats Inigo in a sword fight which makes the audience wonder if Inigo truly has the skill to defeat the six-fingered man, especially since Westley has had significantly less time to study fencing than Inigo. This question is juxtaposed with another when Inigo finally learns that the six-fingered man is Count Rugen: How would he be able to get close enough to his father’s killer?

The uncertainty raised in the audiences minds make the audience more invested in Inigo’s goals than in the certainty that Westley will succeed.

Despite the importance of their roles in the story, neither Inigo nor Westley can technically be called a protagonist.  According to John August the protagonist is “The character who changes over the course of the story.”

There really is no such character in the book The Princess Bride. None of the characters really change or learn anything new. However, a protagonist can be found in the movie/screenplay.  The protagonist is never named, but in the screenplay he’s identified as The Kid.

Although the kid has very little screen time, his presence is felt throughout the movie.  The story, Princess Bride, is interrupted by the grandfather telling the story or the boy himself.Sections of the story are skipped at the boys insistence. The grandfather also narrates part of the story, reminding the audience that the story is being told to the boy. The boys persistent presence and the fact he is the reason the story is being told, makes him a lead character.

The boy also changes. At the beginning of the movie he dreads his grandfather’s arrival.  He asks his mother: “Mom, can’t you tell him that I’m sick? (p.1).” And he’s not too interested in the book his grandfather gives him as a get well gift.  However he grows more interested in the book as his grandfather reads it. By the end of the movie, however, he appreciates the book and asks his grandfather, “Maybe you could come over and read it again to me tomorrow (p. 124).” As such, he fits the protagonist role best.

In The Princess Bride, Westley is the main character, Inigo is the hero, and the kid is the protagonist.  Not one character in the book or movie fits the definition of all three terms. But the terminology that one may use doesn’t affect the quality of the story.  It simply brings better understanding to the characters roles.

Works Cited
August, John. “Johnaugust.com.” Johnaugustcom RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 June 2013.
Goldman, William. The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure. Orlando: Harcourt, 2007. 37-358. Print.
Goldman, William. “Princess Bride, The (1987) Movie Script.” – Screenplays for You. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 June 2013.
The Princess Bride. Dir. Rob Reiner. ACT III Communications, 25 September 1987. DVD

July 8

Stardust Critical Review

In-depth or Faster-Pace in Stardust 

Stardust is a coming-of-age tale about Tristran Thorne, who to prove his love to a girl by crossing into a new world and bring back a shooting star.  During the course of the plot, he finds his true love, his self-confidence, and where he belongs. Neil Gaiman’s book has been adapted into a screenplay by writers Jane Goldman, and Matthew Vaughn. As many know, there will be differences between the book and the movie, when Goldman and Vaughn adapted Stardust to film; they sacrificed some of the clarity the book provided for scenes with higher tension. 

The sacrifice can be seen immediately.  Seconds within the movie, the voice over narrator mentions a boy sending a letter to ask a question. 

Our story really begins here, 150 years ago at the Royal Academy of Science in London, England, where a letter arrived, containing a very strange inquiry. It had come from a country boy and the scientist who read it thought it might be a practical joke of some kind. But he duly wrote a reply politely explaining that the query was nonsense. And posted it to the boy who lived in a village called Wall, so named, the boy had said, for the wall that ran alongside it–a wall that, according to local folklore, hid an extraordinary secret. 

However, seemingly unsatisfied with the answer he receives, the boy, Dunstan, decides to investigate and cross the wall that borders his town. Here the book and movie converge, because Dunstan meets a girl later identified as Una, and nine months later Tristran, the hero, is born and left in Dunstan’s care. Although viewers are okay with the vague explanation as to how and why they met, better clarity is found in the book. 

In the novel, there is a sort of festival on both sides of the wall that occurs every nine years.  During this festival, Dustan crosses over the wall, doing so is forbidden any other time. While checking out the various stalls, looking for a gift for his soon-to-be fiancée, he meets Una.  Instead of revealing this, which would have required a decent amount of set-up time, Goodman and Vaughn use a single vague explanation to get the story started quicker. 

In the book, Tristran encounters, Charmed, a hairy but extremely fast creature in the woods after managing to get over the wall.  They become traveling companions for a while, looking out for each other and sharing what they have.  At one point, Tristran saves both their lives by instinctively knowing where a trail is.  This instinct is brought up in conversation: 

“Where’s the village of Wall?” he asked.  Tristran pointed.  “Where are the Debatable Hills?” Tristran pointed once more without hesitation.  “Where’s the Catavarian Isles? Tristran pointed to the southwest. He had not known there were Debatable Hills, or Catalvarian Isles until the little man had mentioned them, but he was as certain in himself of their location as he was of the whereabouts of his own left foot or the nose on his face.”  114-15 

Readers infer from the conversation that Tristran can instinctively tell where he’s going so long as he’s in the land of fairy thanks to his mother. Nothing like this happens in the movie. In the movie, Tristran lights a Babylon candle—a gift from his mother—in his father’s attic. He’s engulfed by light and lands on the star he seeks. The movie completely bypasses Charmed and Tristran’s interactions.  However, the story moves on quicker for it.  The only hint we get that Tristran is truly directionally challenged is a scene where Yvainequestions Tristran on how he knows they’re heading the right way. 

Yvaine. Oh, right. So let me get this straight. You think you know we’re going the right way because… And I quote, “I just do.”
Tristran. I do, though. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s my love for Victoria guiding me home.

 

The lines can easily be interpreted as part of the “Men insist they know where they’re going even when completely lost” trope.  As both Yvaine and Tristran are foreigners, neither are able to have the in-depth conversation that Tristran and Charmed had.
In the movie, a unicorn appears after Tristran leaves Yvaine chained to a tree in the forest.  It uses its horn to break the chain and carries Yvaine away.  Audiences don’t question it because the scene takes place in a mystical forest and animals do not, traditionally, need a clear-cut motivation. The scene is short, simple and moves the plot along quickly. 

However in the book, the unicorn is fighting a lion when Tristran and Yvaine first meet it.  Tristran stops the fight, thereby saving the unicorn’s life, by presenting the lion with its crown.  The unicorn than becomes Tristran’s and Yvaine’s traveling companion for a while.  The scene gives the unicorn a motivation for helping Tristan and Yvaine that the movie lacks, outside the one Yvaine reveals.  Unicorns are the Moon’s creatures, and, in the book, Yvaine is the moon’s daughter.  The moon asked the unicorn to help Yvaine.  As the movie demonstrates, the information isn’t necessary but the knowledge deepens the characters and the audiences understanding of the world. 

Movie audiences demand a faster-paced movie, especially when they’re watching fantasy. Readers are more willing to enjoy a slower-paced story, so long as it holds attention. So it is understandable why Goodman and Vaughn would not keep exactly to the book when they adapted STARDUST into a screenplay. And, although Goodman and Vaughn removed details that would bring more insight and deepen the characters, they did not remove anything that devastated the plot. In fact, Vaughn and Goodman probably stayed closer to the actual storyline than Gaiman did.  Seeing the differences between the book and the movie, in this case, is a great way to see how what you put in or take out of a story can affect how it reads.  Whether one reads Gaiman’s more detailed story or one watches the fast-paced movie, either variation of the story is entertaining. 

Works Cited 

Gaiman, Neil. Stardust. New York: HarperCollins, 1999. Print. 

Stardust. Dir. Matthew Vaughn. Paramount Pictures, 10 August 2007. DVD. 

 

April 25

Preparations for School

Life is growing increasingly hectic as I prepare for my second semester of school.  Outside of  normal responsibilities, I have things I need to read, critique and watch.  I’m also trying to decide what to pack.

When I made this trip last year, I had the luxury of driving down. I say luxury, not because the cross-country trip was easy, though I’ve made the trip so often it’s probably far easier on me than on someone who has never managed it before. I say luxury because cars have the advantage in some areas when it comes to travel. By taking a car, I don’t have to limit my luggage.  As long as it fits in my car it can go, whether it’s edible, leaky, necessary or dangerous. With airlines you either pay a small fortune or are severely limited to what you can take on the plane, and how heavy/large your bag can be. So it’s a tossup on which is better the plane or the airline.  Both are uncomfortable, but you’ll, usually arrive faster on a plane than by car.

So, I’m making and re-making packing lists, trying to prioritize what needs to go and what can stay.  The school stuff has top priority. I need to take the screenplays, books and the schedule with me, along with a handful of other things. Clothes are an obvious necessity, but how much do I take with me? With me staying at my mothers I can do laundry at her house without it costing me anything.  However, I don’t want to be doing laundry every night. Do I take my manuscript, even though my focus is screenplays? Make up, which I rarely wear, but wore every day at residency? Then I need to consider my sister, who will be coming with me on the trip.  She’s seven. This will be her first time on a plane. What do I need to make sure she has in her carry-on? Then I’m trying to get other things done.  Newsletter for the Coeur du Bois Romance Writer’s Group, paying bills, working…looking up ideas on what Young Adult screenplays I should read for the semester…

As stressful as preparing for Residency is, I’ll be glad when I finally get there.  Last year I learned a ton.  The information I received from lectures, workshops and critiques transformed my writing, making me stronger in some areas. My story has made a dramatic change because of what I learned last year.  This year, I expect, will be no different, especially when I look at lectures they’ve announced will be at residency. For me, the semester was fun, a retreat, a vacation of sorts despite the long hours and sometimes stressful, last minute assignments. Plus, things will be less stressful for me once I get into the swing of things and add homework to my regular schedule again.

Until then…well, I’m wondering if the queen of hearts is trying to chop off my head.  I hope not.  The way I’m going right now, I’d never find my head again.

March 23

Good Things Can Make Your Writing Stronger Too

As a writer, I know the importance of receiving a good critique from an honest eye. I appreciate the comments I get, the suggestions on how to make my work better, perhaps too much.  When I’m receiving critiques, I often find myself skipping over the complimentary stuff, almost ignoring it completely and focus on the “may improve” suggestions.  That isn’t to say that I don’t appreciate the occasional “Good Job” written on the manuscript, but it’s a secondary desire to improving my writing.

This, unfortunately, has caused problems for me, mainly when I try to critique someone else’s writing. I try to give those I critique what I want most–ideas on improvements. I will, on occasion, put a “Great Job” on the page, but those are extremely rare, mainly because I understand that the best way to improve is to get critiques and work on improving the area of confusion. This has left some people disheartened, even some who I believe to be talented writers.   As an MFA student, I am required to give critiques to classmates–a mixture of good and how to improves.  Although I’m good at identifying what needs improved, I really have problems thinking up the positives in the work to mention.  I’m not sure why, other than I’ve never really focused my attention on the positives I received during my reviews.

I can absolutely love a story but when I write something up, I’ll start listing the negatives, what bothered me about it and what I thought needed changed–even if what I’m reviewing has already been published.  This works out for me as well, since that lets me know what kind of things I need to avoid if I’m going to write a book in a similar genre.  Then, when I’m done, the  few positives I listed  beside the (possible) super-long list of negatives appear miniscule, pitying and/or may be invisible.

Recently I’ve read a book where the author pointed out that identifying the positives and negatives in a work can be beneficial to ones writing. The negatives I’ve already mentioned, will let me know what to avoid, what I don’t like, etc.  The positives, however, will let me know what I need to do more often.   For example, I nailed a description on page 32.  By knowing that, I can try using the same method used to get that description to create other great ones.  In that way, I’m improving skills that I’m already decent at, not just improving things that I’m poor at.

With that realization, I’m hoping that I can write up a more balanced review/critique every time I write one.  I don’t imagine this will be easy.  I’m almost blind to the positives in someone’s work, especially if the piece isn’t something that makes me go  “BEST BOOK EVER!!!”  But I think that learning to balance the positives and the negatives in a review or critique will serve both the writer and I better.  I may need help reaching this goal. And if my dear readers have time, I would appreciate a nudge whenever I focus too much on the negative. Remind me that I want to try thinking up more positives.  Lately, I feel like the latest books I’ve reviewed have come across as negative, when in fact I may have enjoyed the book.  And if you have any questions as to whether I liked a book or not, let me know.  I’d be more than happy to clear that up.

So, don’t do what I’ve done for years, ignore the positive and learn from the negative.  The positives in your writing could make you a stronger writer too.

What about you?  Do you focus on the negative?  The positive?  What about when the comments are from someone else and directed at your own work?