Tag Archives: Film

Dropkicking the F-Bomb

Warning: Language Alert. For writers the “F bomb” is always out there and writers are either comfortable using it or not. Some will use it sparingly, some will pepper it. Like all curse words, the F bomb serves its purpose so for those people offended by its use in print, accept it or give up reading. It’s just another word in the English language. Some of our words are classy and elegant and some are abrasive and ugly, even offensive. Writers need all those glorious options when they create.

Language should be fit to the genre, characters, and story. If you’re writing a cozy mystery, the F bomb isn’t going to make an appearance, but if you’re writing noir, it will. If your main character is a youth pastor, not likely he’ll drop it, but if he’s an ex-con working the docks, it’s probably his favorite verb. The important thing for writers is stay true to the character. An astute reader will know if the character wouldn’t speak that way. Never use any word, the F bomb particularly, for shock value. Which brings me to a current proclivity in film.

Seriously, Hollywood, get over the “F” bomb. I hate attending a film where the only dialogue is that word. Just the F bomb strung together between gun fights or bombings or whatever. If a writer is that lazy, that uncreative, my advice is write yellow page entries. Language should always be a tool for the characters to relate, and the F bomb alone cannot do that. Whatever it is that makes Hollywood think it’s necessary, it isn’t. Like any word, choose the F bomb carefully, use it for a purpose that will delineate character and emphasize action.

Do real people use the F bomb as every other word? Absolutely. However, your writing teacher will tell you that people speak in dialect too, but that doesn’t mean you should write an entire book in it. What happens in real life doesn’t translate well to the page, not without the writer’s delicate touch. Never use a roller to plaster the words on, always use a touch up brush, with a light hand. The meaning is as clear as if you used flourescent lighting, but the impact is subtle.

How do you use expletives in your writing?

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Land the Plane Already!

I’m a huge film buff, and I’m pretty generous with filmmakers. If they entertain me, I’m not terribly critical. However, there is one area where films and books alike can set off my inner critic.

Endings.

A writer that can’t ‘land’ a book or film drives me nuts. It’s not that I don’t understand their pain. I do. Endings are so difficult. They must be organic and sometimes that means kneading until they are just right. I have read too many books and seen too many films where I thought the book ended, only to face five more endings. Seriously, a book only needs one. The right one.

Find it. Use it.

Some writers know their ending in advance and even write it in advance. This is fine as long as you review and refine it after the book’s written. After all, changes have probably forced adjustments to that ending. Some endings are so perfectly organic, they shock. Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” comes to mind. It’s a great example of building to one ultimate ending.

Endings don’t actually have to provide total closure. Some endings leave the opening for sequels in film and series in books. Some endings like to leave questions in the reader’s mind, things to mull over in the aftermath of reading. A lot of  Jodi Picoult’s books are this way. Especially, Change of Heart, which is rife with so many social issues I swore to my husband that there was no way even she could ‘land that plane.’ I’ve never been more thrilled to be wrong in my life. The book is still in my favorites list after all this time. It resonated in my thoughts for years after I read it. A good book, even one that leaves questions in your mind, will always satisfy.

Once a reader invests 200 -500 or more pages with you, they need a pay off. Never wax the ending. A writer should spend as much time polishing that ending as he did the beginning pages used to market the book or the query or pitch to sell the book. In the end, it’s the last thing the reader will remember about your book. Did they walk away satisfied or frustrated?

Are endings tough for you? What’s your favorite book/story ending?

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Blogging Film

This week my post is on Novel Clique Press. Check it out! See you back here next week.

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Say What?

Wasted. Underutilized. It’s not the first time I’ve heard these thoughts expressed by reviewers. This time it was regarding Gary Oldham in Lawless. I’m a writer, but I have a background in theatre so when I view films I’m always watching a host of artistic concepts at once. One of many reasons I’ll watch a truly good film more than once, the way I’ll read a good book more than once. But I digress. Oldham plays a character whose role is minor in the story of the Virginia bootlegging boys as told by Matt Bondurant in his novel based on their story, The Wettest County in the World. (Bondurant is the grandson of Jack, the youngest of the trio.) Oldham is one of those gifted actors that many critics review expecting to see them stand the movie on its ear. If that doesn’t happen, they’ve been underutilized.

It is not my intent to say that characters are not important because they can certainly make or break a book or film. However, this belief that somehow a character is so ‘unimportant’ that the director has underutilized the actor bothers me. If a character is that unimportant, edit them out. Only characters that propel the action of the story or the arc of the main character forward should exist within the framework of the prose. If they impact the protagonist’s journey, how can they possibly be unimportant?

In the case of Jack Bondurant, Oldham’s character plays a role in Jack’s personal growth and in the lessons he learns in his entrepreneurial journey. While Floyd Banner (Oldham’s character), never interacts with Forrest or Howard onscreen, his actions with young Jack, impact the paths of the two older brothers as they are drawn into battles young Jack begins.

Every character in a story has a depth and a story. Whether we see all of it, it is there simmering just beneath the surface. Banner is a violent man, taking advantage of a fiscal opportunity. He sees in young Jack an earlier version of himself. Someone who wants more, who is willing to work hard and be hard. The fact is, Jack is not hard. The softest of the brothers, he’s the last one to resort to violence. His interactions with Banner spiral the brothers into a battle that grows more violent over time. Eventually, circumstances drive Jack to the type of violence Banner is capable of without blinking. For Jack, it takes the murder of Cricket who, “…never hurt nobody.”

Oldham, as usual, is wonderful. His role is not peripheral, it’s vital. Just because a character is not center stage, does not mean, he or she doesn’t play a vital role. As writers, when we create characters, we make decisions and difficult choices. These impact the characters and their journeys. We should never have to question whether an actor playing the role would be ‘wasted’. If that was the case, the story does not need that character.

Think about the minor characters in your story. In what way do they propel your story forward or your protagonist ahead in his journey? Do you have any characters you have edited out on subsequent drafts?

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