Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

The question for the last four years has been, is there any way they can top The Dark Knight? The answer is obvious, and became beside the point in the early morning of July 20th. The question unfortunately for this series of Batman films by Christopher Nolan is why such grand cinema must be forever associated with tragedy. At the end of the day, this is just a movie. It means nothing in the light of the loss of so many lives in Colorado, just as The Dark Knight meant nothing in the wake of Heath Ledger’s unexpected passing in 2008.

What TDK did become was a tribute to a spectacular actor. The Dark Knight Rises was not intended to be any tribute to what happened last week, and it cannot be. What TDKR becomes is a tribute to a feat very rarely accomplished on film – the successful trilogy. The bad third movie in a trilogy is a bit of a running joke in cinema. Say when: X-Men 3, Spider-Man 3, Superman III (yes, they did it in Roman Numerals once) The Godfather 3 (this actually happened). The Dark Knight Rises withstands any comparison to these movies, and most movies being made today; for all its faults, TDKR is a barely restrained commentary on the current state of class in our society – the villain Bane (Darth Vader’s love child with Dr. Evil) comes to Gotham looking to liberate its people from the oppressive greed of the rich and privileged, Bruce Wayne foremost among them.

Why connects this film back to the first, Batman Begins, and this is where the film becomes something on the order of Return of the Jedi, and these three films something akin to the original Star Wars trilogy. I don’t say that lightly – there simply is not another comparable series of films, much less a frame of reference, for these movies.

For a writer – for a geek like myself – it is a powerful thing to become inspired again by something as familiar, and fundamental, as a character like Batman.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Rule #10: WINNING

A writer offering rules on writing is always a fun exercise to - if nothing else - argue about the rules of writing. Colson Whitehead provided his own the other day in the NY Times that you should definitely read if you write or have any interest in writing.

All of the rules resonate, but for me, #1 and #10 do the most:

Rule No. 1: Show and Tell. Most people say, “Show, don’t tell,” but I stand by Show and Tell, because when writers put their work out into the world, they’re like kids bringing their broken unicorns and chewed-up teddy bears into class in the sad hope that someone else will love them as much as they do. “And what do you have for us today, Marcy?” “A penetrating psychological study of a young med student who receives disturbing news from a former lover.” “How marvelous! Timmy, what are you holding there?” “It’s a Calvinoesque romp through an unnamed metropolis much like New York, narrated by an armadillo.” “Such imagination!” Show and Tell, followed by a good nap.       
Show, Don't Tell is extremely pervasive in fiction workshops, and can be stifling, depending on the type of story you are wanting to - key word - tell. What Whitehead says makes a lot of sense to me. Showing gets you a lot of places. Telling it is what you went there for.

Rule No. 10: Revise, revise, revise. I cannot stress this enough. Revision is when you do what you should have done the first time, but didn’t. It’s like washing the dishes two days later instead of right after you finish eating. Get that draft counter going. Remove a comma and then print out another copy — that’s another draft right there. Do this enough times and you can really get those numbers up, which will come in handy if someone challenges you to a draft-off. When the ref blows the whistle and your opponent goes, “26 drafts!,” you’ll bust out with “216!” and send ’em to the mat.        
Now, whenever friends ask me how the work in progress is going, I no longer need to hang my head and mumble, "I'm revising." Now, I can hold my head high, and answer with gusto:"I'm WINNING."

What do you think of Whitehead's rules?

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Maze

aMAZEme Book Maze In London
Imagine you wake up in the middle of one of those huge hedge garden mazes. The scary Shining kind. You start wandering around, looking for a way out. Time after time, you hit a dead end. Some paths hold promise only to come to nothing. You ultimately test each possible path, because you don’t know where you are. You know where you’re going – out – but how to get there? Eventually you find your way, but only after you have spent a lot of time, effort and frustration. Fear, even.

This is writing a novel for me.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Revision Revisited

 Matthew Salesses wrote an outstanding article on revision at Necessary Fiction the other day, and it inspired me to think a little about what rules I have for revision, since it's mostly all I do. There are no hard and fast rules - a random Google search will generate hundreds of equally good suggestions - but what I liked best about the 'thoughts' Matthew shares is that they're fairly unique. Most how-to's and guides you will find on this subject are very clinical and technical. Do this. Do that. Writing is rewriting, and writing to me has always been a very intuitive process.

The best one maybe the first:
1. To me, the most important question to ask as I revise is: Am I bored here? The best “advice” I’ve ever heard on revision was from the wonderful teacher and writer Margot Livesey. It was something like this: if you are bored, it’s not because you’ve read that section so many times, it’s because it’s boring.
A lot of the time as a writer, you spend so much time with something, you lose perspective on it. Writing a novel for me at least is something like a relationship, so I'd offer this thought:

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

If We Let Semicolons Marry...

I came across a nice essay on the semicolon over at NYTimes today.  I'm a fan, in case you couldn't tell, but it seems not everyone is. The writer, Ben Dolnick, quotes an amusing anecdote from Kurt Vonnegut on the subject:

“Do not use semicolons,” he said. “They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”
This only endears the semicolon to me. I find it one of the most musical of tools in the language. The semicolon allows you to impinge on other thoughts, other sentences, often in a rhythmic or as Dolnick points out when discussing William James, symphonic way; in the present tense, the use of the semicolon can help achieve a certain kind of kinetic energy that has always appealed to me. I love music. If I had a choice of any artistic ability, it would be to create music. The only way for me to even try is through words. I fail daily, but I keep tapping away at beats I hear in my head. I marry them to images, and then dialogue, and time them to punctuation. I have this fantasy any of it makes sense. Periods are absolute. Non-negotiable. Music, like language, is always a negotiation. Fluid.

It surprises me, the hostility Vonnegut had against the semicolon. The language he uses is especially grating. You could do worse heeding the advice of Kurt Vonnegut, but I'd suggest giving every instrument in the language a try. Music is music; language is language.