Sunday, September 30, 2012

Story Tips from Vampires

It was a rare event. I was home alone on a Friday night, with the tv and Netflix to myself. Feeling the urge to get lost in something good, I happened across The Vampire Diaries. Hey, I thought, I'll just give it a try. I never did watch Twilight, and only read the first book. (Sorry, people!)  And just like that, I was hooked. By the way, there are articles out there contrasting TVD with Twilight, in case you're interested. They're quite different.
Now I have to admit that my book writing has been derailed by this drama. As soon as one episode ends on Netflix, the next one begins in 15 seconds. I have 15 seconds to listen to this eerie music and decide whether to close it or watch "just one more."
In order to justify this habit, I began to wonder what these vampires could teach me. What can I use in real life, other than knowing how to keep an original vampire dead? Surprisingly, I did find a few useful ideas.

To begin with: Every episode has a resolution of at least one problem, and then more mysteries open up. Every episode also moves the plot forward. Each one is building up to the next, which are all building up to some end. In book chapters, we need to build and keep the suspense running. Resolving now and then, to satisfy the reader-- but then starve them again to keep pages turning.

There are two vampire brothers, one "good" and one "evil." Except that later, the bad one turns good, and the good one turns bad (or does he?) The bad one begins to show a lot of "boy scout" moments that make you really like him. Plus, he's laugh-out-loud funny. We need characters like this- with faults, but boy scout actions. Make us laugh. Show a little vulnerability. It wins us over.

Klaus is the name of the villain who causes shivers. I absolutely hate him. So I studied him to figure out why. First of all, he's done BAD things like kill off almost all of his family. Secondly, he's selfish. He's bent on breaking this curse that will hurt a lot of people in the process, but will give him a ton of power. Third, he's already very powerful physically, and not much can defeat him. And last-- this is the part I can really use-- he's unpredictable. Which makes him very, very scary. You just can't tell what he'll do. However, I've now seen a tiny glimpse into his loneliness and disappointment when his plan doesn't work. So, he's vulnerable too. But this is just a ploy to see inside his bad deed-doing, and make him more three-dimensional. It's not working, Klaus. I still despise you.

The heroine is strong-willed, independent, and a little stubborn. But she's brave, and a good friend, even willing to die for those she loves.

The hero is brooding, moody (hey, he's a vampire), and self-sacrificing. He has values and lives by them. And he looks into his heroine's eyes and LISTENS to her. Sigh.

All the supporting characters are really well-developed and have their own plot-lines and issues going on. There isn't really one of them I dislike-- they're all interesting.

Sometimes people and vampires die. But then again, in this show, sometimes they can come back. I guess in writing, you have to keep it real if you're not writing fantasy, but you can still draw on those emotions.

The setting is pretty cool-- Mystic Falls, a small town in Virginia. The town has a historical society, with "founding families" who are on a council. They're constantly throwing "Founder's Day" parties and all-school car washes, and "Miss Mystic Falls" pageants, and masquerade balls, and campfire nights, and a myriad of other community events where everyone participates. A little too ideal, but it gives great opportunities for Very Mysterious Things to happen. What opportunities can we create for our characters?

Finally, I like the historical flashbacks. These vamps have lived a LONG time. We don't get the backstory except in bits and pieces here and there, as the characters reveal them. This should be obvious in writing.

Now if you'll excuse me, I must watch Season 3, Episode 4 before the sunrise.

Any other fans out there? They're just about to start Season 4 on tv, so pretty soon, I'll be out of episodes to watch. That's probably good news for my novel.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Reviews in 15 Words or Less

Now and then, I enjoy reading a really good memoir or non-fiction. In this blog, I have been featuring each book in its own spotlight. Not so this time. Since I adore lists, here is a lowdown of books I've read the past few years. And this is only Part 1. As a bonus, I'm including a review of each one, 15 words or less.

The Glass Castle (Jeannette Walls): Most impactful book I've read in ten years. Heartbreaking, inspiring, loved it.

Half-Broke Horses (Jeannette Walls): Story of Walls' grandmother, told in her voice. Frontier life in Texas, worth the read.

The Firstborn Advantage (Kevin Leman): If you are a firstborn, you may feel strange how well this book pins you. 

The Birth Order Book (Kevin Leman): Same as above. Especially helpful as a parent and spouse, learning others' birth orders.

Born on a Blue Day (Daniel Tammet): Memoir of a man with Asperger's Syndrome. Eye-opening, brilliant mind. 

The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World (Eric Weiner): Different views of happiness in various parts of the world. Entertaining, fun to read.

Escape (Carolyn Jessop): Jessop's life in the FLDS sect, abusive, horrific, makes you want to scream. She escapes.

Safe Passage (Ida Cook): Amazing tale of two sisters who rescued Jews from Nazis. Lots of opera love. Enjoyed!

Unsweetined (Jodie Sweetin): Stephanie from Full House tv show. On drugs. Lots and lots of them. Gets better. 
*I had to read this, as she was the only decent actor on that show, in my humble opinion.*

The Great Typo Hunt (Jeff Deck): Interesting trek around country to fix typos in public places. Funny. This would be fun.

What about you? Do you break out from reading fiction? What good memoirs or non-fiction have you found recently? How did they impact you? You can use more than 15 words, by the way.