Sunday, September 25, 2011

Can't You Smell I'm Writing?

Writers all have different little tricks they use to help them get into the mood of a story, or to connect with a character.  On my desk, I have plenty of little knick-knack items, most related to a story or character.  Things I can pick up, fiddle with, throw if I'm having a really off day, and generally remind me of what I'm working on. But those things don't really do much to help me when the words simply aren't flowing the way I want.

I'm one of those writers who loves to engage all of the senses in my writing.  I want to immerse you in a scene.  Sights, sounds, taste, tactile, and aroma.  And I have found that one way I can call my creative muse is by the use of scents.  I search out smells that evoke the mood I want to create.  The perfect candle, or just the right incense--sometimes even the right cologne can transport me directly into the ambience I need to make the words flow from my soul onto the page.  I don't know why it works that way for me, but it does.  Probably a Pavlovian response of some sort.  Smell the candle, write the words.

Yes, I write horror, and other dark fiction, so you might be wondering if I have a stash of blood-scented candles, and the answer is no, I don't.  But, in one story, I have a demon, masquerading as a woman--a rather beautiful woman.  For her, jasmine and orchids set the mood.  Exotic, and a little dangerous.  Sage, bergamot, musk, those all evoke an image of the unknown for me as well.  Especially the sage.  I even own a bottle of a deep, rich men's cologne.  One spritz is all it takes for me to channel the character I imagine wearing it. 

When I need inspiration, I'll go wander in a candle shop, or certainly the candle aisle in my store.  I have a literal treasure trove of candles, incense, essential oils--and each evokes a different emotional response.  Even more, once a scent engages my muse, my writing becomes more descriptive in the use of all of the senses.  I have a candle called Angel Whispers.  It's a clean scent, almost like a gentle spring rain, mingled with flowers in bloom.  It takes my writing in a much different direction than the deep musky sage and bergamot candle.  That one is mysterious--dangerous.  I used that one when working on "The Hunt," a story filled with magic and mayhem.  When I was working on the scenes with the Minister in "The Hunt," I found burning incense was helpful, even though incense is more of a Catholic thing, and my minister is Lutheran.  My Catholic brain didn't care one iota. It's all about the mood I, the writer, associate with the smell.  All I know is that for me, it works.  So, if you see me wandering the candle aisle deep in thought, it's all research, me attempting to appease the muse without destroying the budget in the process.  I always end up with so many scents that pique my imagination.

I'd love to know what works for you?  Music, sights, smells, touch, taste?... How do you USE your senses to add layers of meaning to your writing? 
Write on!!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Star Wars, you Rule-Breaker!

Last night I watched arguably one of the most famous movies ever to prepare for a plotting talk I'm going to be doing in October for Pagan Musings podcast.  "Star Wars, Episode IV, A New Hope."  (Not that we knew it was episode IV in 1977, it was just "Star Wars")  I chose this movie because it is so universally recognized, and it also fits the basic plot paradigm I want to cover.  Or so I thought.  But, as I analyze my notes, what I find is how many of the current screenplay conventions George Lucas broke in this script. 

Yes, Star Wars absolutely fits the paradigm I'm going to use in the podcast.  So, if you want to know how, you'll have to tune in to find out.  October 22nd, 7-9pm CST, on or on iTunes at

I want to talk about a couple of the "screenwriting rules" George Lucas chose to ignore when he crafted "Star Wars."

Rule:  Never open with an information dump, or in other words, disguise your exposition. 

Hello, that iconic scroll at the beginning?  You know how it goes, "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..."  Not to mention, why a long time ago?  Doesn't that mean the people I'm supposed to cheer on and care about are DEAD???!!!???  And why far, far away?  These are some scary bad guys.  Shouldn't this story be happening RIGHT NOW, and so close these bad guys are just one hyper-jump to light speed away from Earth, where they can wreak some real damage?  But the crawl at the beginning of each movie--information dump! 

Rule:  The story question must be posed in the first ten minutes of the film.  This sets up who is the "Good Guy" and who is the "Bad Guy", and ultimately, the question of who will win. 

Oh, man do we get a great glimpse of the bad guys.  When the huge Imperial ship chased down Princess Leia's ship in the opening sequence, the sound in the theatre rumbled.  It was massive, powerful--unstoppable.  Then Vader enters.  The breathing alone, coupled with the black mask and cape... then the guy kills someone with ONE HAND.  Hello, I don't think anyone--or anything can take him out.  And that's before he chokes someone out with his MIND.  But, where is our "Good Guy?"  Is it the lady with the cinnamon-rolls on the sides of her head?  How about the weird little robot that doesn't even talk, only beeps??  Uptight gold robot?  I don't know.  Ten minutes pass, and Luke Skywalker hasn't even hit the screen yet.  But, when Luke finally hits the screen, we know immediately that this immature, whiny kid is going to either have to defeat Vader, or die trying.  We just don't see how it is ever going to be possible. 

I could cover a lot of territory in how the script fits or doesn't fit standard conventions, but this would be a book, not a blog entry, so I'll end with one final "rule" Lucas breaks in "Star Wars."

Rule:  The Good Guy (Luke)  needs to control his own destiny, and defeat the Bad Guy (Vader) on his own merits.  (No one can rush in and save him at the last second.) 

Yes, Luke controls the Force, he flies into insurmountable odds and aims at the target.  But hold on a moment.  Vader is about to blast him out of the sky.  He's right on his tail, we're waiting for Luke to make a move against him... and no.  Han Solo to the rescue, and it is HAN who blasts Vader into the nether-regions of space.  Now, we know that there are a five more episodes to this story.  George Lucas knew he had way more story than he could fit into one movie.  But, he had to fight to greenlight "Star Wars," and the studio had no intentions of promising him anything until the first movie delivered.  Heck with a  working title like, "Adventures of Luke Starkiller, as taken from the Journal of the Whills, Saga I: The Star Wars." it's no wonder the studio balked (Okay, so that's Rule #4, you need a short, amazing, and compelling title, but since the film came out as "Star Wars," I'm not going to harp on it.)  My point is, in 1977, Lucas had no idea if he would ever see the completion of his vision, and his hero just let the sidekick clobber the bad guy.  Typically a fail as far as scripts go. 
"Star Wars," was one of those films that made an indelible mark on my psyche.  I lost count of how many times I saw it during the summer of 1977.  Why?  The characters, the story, the ground-breaking uniqueness of the film itself--I still love every frame of it.  When I look at the overall arc of the six films, I am so impressed at the craftsmanship--and Lucas's ability to successfully bend the screenwriting rules to give us a story that spanned a nearly three-decade time frame, from May, 1977-August 2008. Heck, I struggle to maintain continuity for a two-hour (120 page) script.  I bow before the Force. 

Have I captured your interest?  Don't forget, October 22nd, Pagan Musings Podcast.  It will be archived on the Blogtalk radio site, and on iTunes if you miss it.  Just in time to get your opus plotted for National Novel Writing Month 2011.  November 1-30.  I'll be leading the charge, and updating every week on how the Lincoln Region is doing on Pagan Musings.  Come be part of the magic!!