Here’s my latest 4-pronged update:
I’m still working on revising chapter 1 in the book per my mentor’s feedback. As I mentioned last week, the chapter is turning out to be really long. I killed some of my darlings, but am finding little places where additional information is needed. For example, there’s a scene where I want the reader to REALLY understand a decision that’s made. Without the proper justification (the character’s feelings, the situation, etc…), the decision seems rushed, or even wrong. But it shouldn’t feel that way. I’d like to write it in a way where the reader thinks “there’s no other choice”, even if that reader doesn’t agree with the decision.
And so, I found myself filling in detail, which ballooned the chapter back up to about 50 pages. It still feels long, but that could be because I’m comparing it to the original. Which I shouldn’t do. This is a brand new attempt, so I think I’m going to leave the length as is.
I’m really obsessing over the chapter because I want to create an immersive opening scene. I’ve spent a ton more hours on the rewrite and want the investment to pay off in terms of reader satisfaction.
To that end, I’ve been thinking a lot about individual scenes. When it’s all said and done, an entire book is what gets judged. But there are definitely those scenes in books and movies that are breathtaking and engage the reader/viewer.
This isn’t like super deep or anything, but I wanted to share scenes from books or movies that I thought were really amazing or really terrible. These are the ones that just popped into my head so I’m sure I missed a ton:
Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince (Book 6)
Felix Felicis – Chapter 14
Harry Potter ranks on (just about) everyone’s list of favorite series. And this book was one of my favorites. Chapter 14, in particular, was just brilliant.
In case you’ve forgotten (or haven’t read it – that’s your spoiler alert warning), Harry takes a good luck potion that aids him in getting something done. It doesn’t sound that earth-shattering, but here’s why I like the chapter so much:
1. J.K. Rowling so expertly captures the essence of good luck. And, at the same time, she keeps the reader engaged. Think about writing a piece on a lucky person. How could you do it in a way where it’s realistic (you can’t say a person is lucky then have a lot of bad things happen) AND keeps the reader invested (if things are too easy, it gets boring)? I think it would be very difficult. And so, I really appreciate her execution.
2. It adds a bit of levity to the book, but not in a cheesy way. By the end of the series, things are going downhill and everything is such a struggle for Harry. Therefore, it was really nice to take a break and read a chapter where things were easier.
A Prayer for Owen Meany (by John Irving)
If you haven’t read it, this is an AMAZING book about an incredible little boy and the effect he has on others. It’s been a while since I picked it up, and I don’t remember many specifics, but there’s one scene I’ll never forget:
Towards the beginning of the book, no one wants to play the Ghost of Christmas Future in A Christmas Carol. The part is boring, there are no speaking lines, etc…
Owen Meany totally disagrees and volunteers to take the part. Even though he’s young and scrawny, he somehow creates a terrifying ghost and essentially becomes the star of the show. Keep in mind, he doesn’t do anything out of character. He just embodies the slow, methodical creepiness of the ghost and the effect is mesmerizing.
I have to credit John Irving with writing such an amazing scene. Somehow, he convinced me that a boy took a small role and ran with it. And it doesn’t seem goofy at all.
Like Harry Potter, this wasn’t a pivotal or climactic scene; but it was incredibly engaging.
Cabin Boy (starring Chris Elliott)
All righty, I have to throw a fun one in here. Cabin Boy is a movie starring Chris Elliott as a “fancy lad” who has just graduated. He’s spoiled and completely helpless in the real world, but learns how to be tough after getting on the wrong ship.
OK, OK, Cabin Boy isn’t a good movie. But the opening scene just kills me. I have seriously sat through the entire move several times just because of the opener. And it’s not even a great scene. It just appeals to me:
Basically, Chris is singing with the choir and, because he’s a “brat”, he starts singing the wrong notes and butchers the ending. That’s really it, but I find it so funny. In my opinion, any scene with bad singing (done right) is funny.
I guess this example stresses the importance of knowing your audience.
Thanksgiving (by Janet Evanovich)
I think romantic comedies, when done right, are actually really fun. The problem is, some are so formulaic that it just kills any spontaneity and creativity.
I picked the book up just before Thanksgiving in an attempt to get me in the holiday spirit. I decided on this particular book because it was cheap and short, so the investment was tiny. Well, I’m actually glad I read it, because it has a horribly hilarious scene that embodies the formulaic approach mixed with moving a story along with no support:
Wow this is actually hard to write (God, it’s terrible), but there’s a scene where the heroine meets a guy who will end up being the man of her dreams; I guess it’s the “meet cute” scene. Essentially, a rabbit starts eating her dress and she gets all mad. Then, the man (who is the owner of the rabbit) approaches and is really rude to her for no reason.
After he leaves with the bunny, she’s like “OOH that man was awful and mean and horrible! I never want to see him again.” Then comes the VERY NEXT sentence, “So why do I suddenly see myself kissing him and wanting to be with him.”
O….M….G…. I admit I dislike movies/books where people fall in love or learn a lesson in a day (watch Thor if you want to see a movie where both happen). But this book was the prime example.
It’s so bad, in fact, that my sister gives it to me for Christmas… EVERY YEAR.
Jurassic Park 2
This movie has the WORST scene in the universe. It’s at the top of my list and no scene in book or movie history comes close (if you disagree, let me know what’s worse):
OK so a girl in the movie doesn’t make her gymnastics team in the beginning and she’s all depressed (does anybody else remember this). WELLLLLL, later on in the movie, she’s trapped in a warehouse with a vicious raptor coming at her. Seeing no other option, she jumps down and starts doing a gymnastics routine on the pipes in the warehouse. Then, when the routine is over, she kicks the raptor through a window. Her dad is like “Whoa! She didn’t make the team?!”
O!!!!! M!!!!!! G!!!!!!
That wins the Cody award for worst scene in history. It’s so outrageous, I can’t even describe why I dislike it.
Interestingly, like the best scenes, I’ll never be able to forget the bad ones, either. Honestly, I don’t remember a single other part of Jurassic Park 2.
So I guess the moral of this story is: If my opening chapter is especially awful, people might remember it!
OK that’s probably not a good moral.
They needed me to sing at Mass on Saturday AND Sunday. Sunday was tough because I’m not much of a morning person, which is why I’ve avoided singing at the morning service. The last time I sang early was years ago and it took hours for my voice to warm up.
And so, I found myself sitting in the car early Sunday morning, warming up for almost 2 hours.
All in all, it went great. My voice was sufficiently warm and the songs sounded nice. Chris had to operate the CDs (there isn’t an organist on Sundays so the congregation sings along to organ recordings, lol!) and he did a great job.
My favorite part came during the middle of the service but, before I get into it, y’all need a little background.
I met a nun last week who came in from California to evangelize at a nearby Navajo reservation. I immediately liked her: she was extremely nice and engaging. She didn’t have a mean bone in her body. At one point, she mentioned that she enjoyed singing. And so, I told her what I tell everyone who says that: “Then you should join me!”
Wellllll, guess what happened during the middle song on Sunday? She got up, walked over, and stood next to me. Then she belted out the song with everything she had.
OMG it was so awesome and I give her SOOO much credit! How many people would do that in a strange church? None, that’s what!
Enjoying the Area
Hmmm I don’t have a lot to say about the area this week. I think this post is long enough so I’ll save something for next time.
Random Learnings or Stories
I was talking to some of my sister’s friends yesterday, and one of them was talking about throwing her daughter a “red party” when the time comes.
Has anyone heard of that? I hadn’t until she brought it up.
Basically, it’s a party celebrating your daughter’s first period. You have red punch and everyone wears red and… yeah.
I admit that, when I first heard it, I was like “WHAT?!!!!????!!!!”
But, after the initial shock, I tried to be more objective about it. I mean, I’m a pretty open person, so who am I to judge? And, if that sounds too goody-goody, I can change it to: I mean, I’m the guy who giggles and stares when animals at the zoo poop, so who am I to judge? 🙂
Anyway, I ended up doing what I do best: I started asking questions. Lots and lots of questions.
It turns out that most of the women there were really ashamed when they started their periods. I guess that makes sense. I mean, I was actually embarrassed when I started growing armpit hair, so I’d think a period would be a thousand times worse, LOL. I’d just never thought about it before. One woman said she hid it for months and just used toilet paper!!! (I admit I had follow-up questions to that one but kept my mouth shut for once)
After talking to everyone, I completely changed my mind and think a red party is actually a great idea. It’s a way to remove that shame and see it as a celebration of womanhood. The daughter is even excited about it, and I think that’s pretty amazing!
That really got me thinking about openness with parents. If I ever had children, I’d love to be the one they came to with random questions. I do have to wonder if I’d start laughing, though. Is that OK?