30 August 2012

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End - Do Absurdities Work?

Warning: This post contains major spoilers for the film Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End!

I recently re-watched the 3rd Pirates movie, and I was struck by an absurdity near the end. The rest of the movie is strong storytelling. I like how the writers threw so much at Will and Elizabeth, and had them questioning their love and trust for each other. This made their characters stronger and more realistic.

And I love all the twists and turns in the story. As a voracious reader, who has read thousands of stories, nothing is more boring to me than a plot I've seen again and again with an ending I can see coming a mile away. Even watching it through for a second time, I was surprised by twists I hadn't remembered.

I don't have a problem with the tragic nature of the ending. Things don't always turn out well, and often I prefer stories that don't have a traditional "happy ending." There's something terribly romantic about how they get married, and then he dies, and then he comes back but now he's the captain of the Flying Dutchman in Davy Jones' place.

The part that bothers me is summed up in the following exchange:

'Bootstrap' Bill Turner: This ship, it has a duty. And where we are bound, she cannot come. One day at shore... ten years at sea. It's a heavy price for what's been done. 
Will Turner: Depends on the one day. 

Ten years??!! Seriously? It would have been tragic if it was one year. Ten is completely over the top. In ten years so much could happen. If they happen to conceive a child during that one day, that child will be ten years old before s/he sees his/her father. Will may not age now that he is immortal, but Elizabeth will. And in ten years, she will age a lot. Say she's twenty at the beginning of this--she'd be sixty by the time they have their fourth day together. It's absurd.

But does it work? Writers are often given the advice to throw as much adversity as you can at your characters because that is what shows their character. Is there such a thing as too much? Is ten years apart too much? What do you think?

21 August 2012

What's Your Name?

I've always loved my name. I don't want to be "normal" and I'm so glad my parents gave me an uncommon name. I also think it's a beautiful-sounding name, and I love the story of Queen Esther in the Bible (I was named after her). So, I'm glad my name is Esther.

However, there are drawbacks to having an uncommon name. Most people don't know how to spell it, and some can't pronounce it. I work in a call centre and, while a few callers get it right, most have no idea what I said when I introduce myself. Surprisingly, most of those who don't hear me clearly don't ask me to repeat my name--they just call me "Astra." And that's weird, because I've never met--or heard of--anyone named Astra. It's pretty, but where are they getting it from?

I've also been called Heather, Aster, Easter, and even Erica.

And almost everyone spells it "Ester." You know, like "polyester"? (That's a chemical compound.) I told someone once my name is "Esther with an h," and they wrote "Hester." Wow. I've gotten into the habit of automatically spelling it out for people when they ask for my name.

Although I've had all these problems, when I have kids, I'm still not giving them common names. After all, my last name is Jones, and that's already common enough. I love choosing and making up names--maybe that's one of the reasons I'm a writer. I'll never have enough children to use all the names I love, so I'll have to use them for my characters.

So, what's your name? Is it common or uncommon? Do you get called other things by people who misheard you? Do you like weird names?

13 August 2012

"What If?" Fairy Tale Madness

This is my entry into the "What If?" Fairy Tale Madness Blogfest hosted by Morgan Shamy.

Anna rolled over and groaned. What did they stuff the mattresses with--gravel? Giving it up as a bad job, she sat up and swung her legs over the edge, her toes searching for the ladder. You’d think such a high, thick bed would be soft.
There! Her toe caught a rung, but she misjudged, slipped, and fell. The floor struck her with a muffled thud. Thank God for thick carpets or she would probably have broken something. Everything in this place was thick: thick beds, thick walls, thick carpets.
Gasping, she pushed herself into a sitting position and glanced up at the bed with a shudder. She might as well sleep on the floor now. There was no way she was going to climb back up there just to toss and turn again. The floor wasn’t soft, but at least it was smooth. Pillowing her head on her arm, she stretched out and managed to drift off.
The creak of the door woke her and she tried to sit up, but found that her joints had stiffened overnight.
“Why are you on the floor, dearie?” The landlady peered at her in concern.
Anna tried to be tactful. “I’m sorry, ma’am. I couldn’t sleep way up there.”
The old woman shuffled over and grabbed Anna’s arm. Seeing the bruises, she cackled--actually cackled. “You’re the one--the real princess! Now we can appease the gods.”
With surprising speed and strength, she tied Anna’s hands behind her back and lifted her to her feet. Stunned, Anna allowed herself to be led outside, where she stopped. Dominating the backyard was a large marble altar, its surface marred with many bloodstains.
Turning to run, Anna crashed headlong into a handsome young man. “Please, help me,” she begged. He smiled a mocking smile, and everything went dark.

08 August 2012

A Good Bad Guy

Warning: The following may contain spoilers.

"All men must choose between two paths. Good is the path of honour, heroism, and nobility. Evil... well, it's just cooler."

"Well, this is a strange turn of events... " I watched Megamind last night, and it's an amazing movie. The protagonist is the "bad guy." And it's a Dreamworks family film. What a great idea. Really.

There's nothing more "been there; done that" than repeating the same formulaic plot over and over: good guy fights bad guy; good guy wins; good guy gets the girl. That's the genius of this movie. They play with those tired tropes and twist them around and make something new and fresh. At one point, Megamind's friend Minion says, "I may not know much, but I do know this: The bad guy doesn't get the girl!" But what if he does? (And yes, his name is Minion. So awesome.)

Megamind says to Titan, "I'm the villain, you're the good guy! I do something bad, then you come and get me!" But is Titan really the good guy? And is Megaman really the bad guy? Unlike a lot of "kids movies" it isn't quite so black and white.

I've always loved the good bad guy character. You know, the one who's technically working against the good guys, but has redeeming qualities. Can you think of any other examples? Do you do this in your writing?

04 August 2012

Stop Asking Me Questions!

I have worked in customer service and retail for years. I've seen a lot of crazy stuff, but today I'm going to talk about something that boggles my mind: customers who don't want me to ask them questions.

White or brown bread on your sandwich? Do you want cheese on your burger? What kind of drink would you like? How many gigabytes do you need in your USB drive? If I don't ask these questions, how would I know what you want? I think these people expect me to read their minds or something.

What would you do if you were the customer and the employee didn't ask you what you wanted, and you got something that wasn't right?

You know what? I'll tell you a secret: the customer is not always right. ;)

03 August 2012

When I Don't Like Reading

I have always been a voracious reader. I learned to read when I was four years old, and I read my first novel (Anne of Green Gables) when I was seven. For the most part, I've enjoyed reading everything I could get my hands on. However, there have been a few times when reading felt like slogging through waist deep wet sand, where it became painful to continue reading. When this happened, I used to force myself to finish anyway, for I felt that I should finish what I started. And maybe--just maybe--it would get better. It usually didn't, but I could pat myself on the back and brag that I read The Scarlet Letter and Dracula.

As I've gotten older, and I have more demands on my time, I find that I have less patience for such things. I recently downloaded a free ebook called The Last Ringbearer which purports to be the story of The Lord of the Rings told from the other side of the war. Intriguing idea, I thought. I didn't even finish the second chapter before I set that one aside. I've done this with a couple of other books lately as well. What with my dayjob, my writing, and the books I actually enjoy reading, I just don't have the time or inclination to plow through something that doesn't grab me or, even worse, is painful to read.

For me, a book that is painful to read is one that is written like a history textbook. Things happen, maybe even exciting things, but the style of writing is such that I'm bored. This includes long telling passages, info dumps, and distance from the main characters. I want to be inside the MC's head, seeing what s/he is seeing, feeling what s/he is feeling. This is the way I try to write.

What do you find painful to read? Do you plow ahead anyway, or do you abandon the book?

01 August 2012

The Other Washroom is Better

My husband likes to joke that public washrooms aren't fair because the men have only a hole in the floor for a toilet and only cold water in the sinks while the women have couches and lotions and a hottub. On the other hand, I've heard some women say that they've heard that men's washrooms are often cleaner than women's. Now, I once worked as a housekeeper at a summer camp, and I also worked at a McDonald's restaurant. In both of these jobs, I was required to clean all the bathrooms. In my experience, while the ladies' room isn't as nice as my husband jokes, it is usually a lot cleaner than the men's room. This is especially true when teenage or younger boys have been using it.
Have any of you had experience with both washrooms? What have you seen?