Author Intention or Audience Intervention?

Last week I saw the movie Sucker Punch.

The movie focuses on Babydoll, a girl committed to an asylum when she accidentally kills her sister.

Once in the asylum, Babydoll’s evil stepfather pays off an orderly to have the girl lobotomized. Babydoll, knowing her time is short, devises a plan to escape.

The thing about Sucker Punch is that it tells the majority of Babydoll’s experiences in the asylum in dreamlike sequences that are like fevered geek-boy fantasies. Dragons, zombies, killer robots and more all become obstacles Babydoll and her friends must overcome in gaining items needed for escape. Add into the mix a group of attractive young girls dressed scantily with guns, and well, you can see the demographic this one is gunning for.

My wife and I both enjoyed it. Yes, we are those kind of geeks.

We started talking about the film and the various imagined worlds Babydoll & co. encountered. At one point I said to my wife, and yes this is the point of this post, “Do you think he really meant it to be that deep, or are we just putting our own ideas into it?”

The question that still lingers in my mind is, did the writer intend for us to interpret things the way we did, or are we seeing those themes and ideas because we brought them to the movie ourselves?

How much control should writers exert over the audience experience? How clear should we make our thematic intentions?

When your audience completes the tale you’ve written, do you want them to think a specific way, or do you want to leave it open for numerous interpretations?

Sometimes this can work. When a story has enough layers, enough emotional power, leaving room for audience interpretation makes the story more personal for each person that experiences it.

Years ago, an anime called Neon Genesis Evangelion caught my attention. Evangelion left so much open for debate and interpretation that even today, more than a decade after it’s run completed, people still debate various plot and philosophy points. It’s given the work a staying power that is rare in our consume and toss society.

But does it always work? Well, let’s look at Sucker Punch. Fact is, this movie has the world pretty divided. Some see it as having a deeper psychological message about trying to overcome feeling owned and trapped. Other people see it as a pointless story that exists only to satisfy an orgasmic display of anime and video game inspired imagery. Even those who recommend Sucker Punch do it more for the visual appeal as opposed to the story.

Simple fact is, Sucker Punch doesn’t have enough meat to allow the audience a deep level of participation. It’s too easy to see the film as exploitation as opposed to being a statement against it. It’s far too easy to walk away with no message at all.

So how do you do it? How do you strike a chord that unites the audience, yet leaves them enough room to make the story their own?

I think the trick is balance. First of all, you need a good hook. This should be clear, no room for interpretation.

Take Inception.

What’s the hook? Crooks break into people’s dreams to steal information.

It’s clear, no one is going to debate that their interpretation is any different.

But as Inception continues, it starts to throw ideas out that ask more of us. The deeper we go, the more the film allows multiple interpretations, but only a handful.

For instance, the ending presents us with a simple is he or isn’t he? type conundrum. The writer has still controlled our experience. He knows we will walk out thinking one of two things. There is room for personal thought, yet it’s still been controlled and manipulated.

When I watch Inception, I know the writer intends to leave us hanging. I know he intends to leave us slightly disoriented and questioning. But one reason it still worked was that it made perfect sense in context of the story we had watched. Either possibility was plausible.

In Sucker Punch, Babydoll’s delusions, while being visually engaging, leave us wondering where the imagery came from. How does a girl in what appears to be the 1950s or 60s have visions of giant samurai or killer robots? Instead of fitting in with the story, it takes us away from it. Instead of Babydoll’s experiences informing her delusions, it is the author who is informing the visuals. This robs the film of a genuine voice of its own.

But I liked it, so I start peeling at the nasty rind to find the juicy orange inside. I see the movie how I would’ve written it. I have no idea if I see things for the reason the author meant, because I haven’t been given enough clues for guidance. I am intervening into the film as opposed to following the author’s intentions. And I’m doing it to justify my enjoyment of the movie.

Here’s what I’ve learned;

  • You can leave some things open for interpretation, but they must be informed by the story
  • You can’t just throw things in because you think they’re cool & expect the audience to buy it
  • You need to exert control over situations where multiple interpretations present themselves.
  • You should know the majority, if not all, of the ways people will view the story and its themes.
  • Don’t allow the audience to question your intentions. Mean everything you do.

Should Self-Pubbed Authors Refer to Themselves as “Indie?”

I’ve seen the odd snarky comment on Twitter about this, so I thought I’d weigh in.

Should Authors that choose the route of self-publication refer to themselves as “Indie Authors or Writers?” Seems a number of people are bothered by this. Their argument seems to rely on the fact that it is the small press publishing houses that are “indie” and not the authors themselves.

I call bulls*!#.

Let’s look at the two areas of artistic expression where indie is considered, by many, to be a badge of honour; the film and music industry.

What makes a band or filmmaker indie? Well, they aren’t paid to create their work. Instead, they invest in the tools to create it and then find a way to put it out to the world for consumption. Perhaps that’s a simplified view, but really, what else is there? They are creating work that isn’t being done with the blessing and bankroll of a major corporation. They take all the financial risks themselves and, if they’re lucky, reap the benefits.

So what makes them any different from a self-pubbed author?

Did the indie band build their own instruments? Did they build the software they used to record and edit the music? Did they create the infrastructure of iTunes that they used to market and sell their music? No, they didn’t do any of those things. They used their money to buy existing, proven, equipment and then used an existing means of publication.

Did the indie filmmaker build his cameras? Did he create the film and projectors used to show the movie? No, he outsourced all of those things.

If we apply the “publisher is the indie” aspect to the film makers and bands, then shouldn’t iTunes or the company that created the DVDs be considered the indie ones?

The fact is, in today’s ebook world, an author can write their book and create the epub file themselves. In fact, they can do everything up to the point where they have Amazon or iBookstore or the like sell the product. In the sense of the ebook, the author has done everything. The online etailers are just the store where they sell their product.

And if an author decides to create a paper and ink version of their book, they are still involved in the whole process, and in the end, they still pay for the service. They take the financial risk upon themselves to produce the book. No one pays them for it. There is no security that they will ever recoup the money they have invested. In essence, they have outsourced the printing, the same way the indie film maker outsources DVD production, the same way the indie band outsources CD production.

In truth, there is no difference between the financial risk, effort, and love of craft between the indie filmmaker, band, or author. They all create works of art and they all take financial risk to get their work out to the world. Just because they use a company to outsource a service doesn’t strip them of their indie status. After all, they are still the ones paying for it.

I mean, should Compaq get partial credit for my novel because I used one of their laptops to write it? Should Scrivener be considered the indie author because I used their software?

In the end, the reason writers are being questioned as to whether they are indie is because self-publishing still has such a bad rep. It’ll take years of amazing self-pubbed authors to wash that stain away. When that happens, being in complete control of your creative content will be seen as a badge of honour, as opposed to being a hack who couldn’t get a book deal.

So writers, proclaim yourself indie. Get outside the box. Write amazing, crazy stuff that no publishing house would touch and get it out there into the world. There will be people who will love you for it!

Apologies

I know I’ve been absent for a while.

I’m sorry.

The stats for the blog certainly reflect my neglect.

If you follow my Twitter feed, you probably know where I’ve been. I have been fighting the chapter from hell.

Yes, a month ago when I wrote how I was having a hard time progressing, I was working on the chapter that I just finished tonight. Yup, a month later.

But I now have something to show for my troubles.

  1. I have only two chapters left to write of The Veil
  2. I have surpassed my minimum word count of 60,000 words.
  3. The chapter turned out a lot better than I thought it would a month ago.

So tonight, I’m pleased.

This is not a great post, another time I’ll say I’m sorry.

But I just wanted you all to know I’m still around, I’m still slugging it out, and now that this chapter is behind me, I finally feel like I might be winning.

Not a bad night’s work.

I’ll post more, promise ๐Ÿ™‚

Is It Too Complex?

I was out in the car today with my wife, babbling about The Veil.

I told her I’m having serious difficulty writing the final four chapters. Simply put, they need to be planned in an in depth fashion. I’ve been lucky so far, my “Chess” approach has worked well and brought me into novel length territory.

But this is the end.

If I don’t get some kind of ending written that has the foundation of being kick-ass, I’m sunk.

So now I feel challenged.

In the midst of telling her this, I started to relay some of the numerous ideas and influences that exist in The Veil. When I was done, she looked at me and said, “Now, I’d have to read it, but something has me a little worried… It sounds kinda complicated.”

And she’s right.

The Veil is a mish mash of various story ideas I’ve had over the past couple years. It incorporates science, religion, myth, conspiracy and so much more, it threatens to spiral out of control. But it’s meant to be several books.

Yes, I know all the weird and complicated maneuvers that are going on behind the scenes, but I don’t intend to show all my cards to the reader in book one. Nope, I want them in for the long haul.

This presents a conundrum. How much do I reveal in Book One?

I need to present some smattering of all the themes and ideas, or I’ll get to book two or three and something will just hit the reader out of nowhere. To me, it’ll be obvious, but the reader is going to shake their fist and scream “Bullsh!t.”

This is where editing is going to be crucial.

I believe I’m not the only writer to do this. To be honest, I’m positive there’s a boatload of writers in the exact same situation.

I’m sure you’ve all read the writing advice that as an author, you should know all the back story; but you shouldn’t feel the need to info dump all of it.

Honestly, some things are useful to build a character’s identity in our mind, but are unnecessary to state explicitly for the reader.

But what if the whole series hinges on that information?

Do you remember the fifth book of Harry Potter, The Order of the Phoenix? It finally revealed why Voldemort went after Harry and his parents. Thing was, the prophecy was mundane. I mean, Duh, any astute reader had that prophecy already figured out. It felt like we’d been baited with something earth shattering, only to have a deflated feeling when it turned out to be the same old “the boy & monster will meet, and one will defeat the other.”

While the actual prophecy was a bit of a let down, it served to explain why it had been so important to Voldemort to find and eliminate the Potters. It answered a question that had been nagging for a number of books.

On the flip side, the reveal of the master wand in book seven seemed forced. There was an article I read on the web that asked a very good question; Why the hell didn’t Voldemort just take everyone out at the end of book six? Well, because it would have been a suck ending. The introduction of the master wand and its ilk tried to a) answer why Voldemort remained in the shadows and b) provide a way for Harry, who hadn’t been the most powerful wizard in the world, to defeat Voldemort. While it was thrilling, it felt forced.

Don’t get me wrong, Harry Potter is brilliant. If I could write a series half as good, I’d consider myself blessed. My point is, if you have an invisibility cloak early on in the series that is part of this mystical triad of items that are integral to the end of the series, couldn’t you have mentioned something about it earlier? Reading the books, I have no doubt JK Rowling knew all about the wand and company early on. She just didn’t let us in on it until the last book.

Given the complexity of plots and themes in The Veil, I need to avoid this. First off, I need to do so because people aren’t going to be as forgiving of me as they are JK Rowling. Secondly, because people really will call me on using big twists out of nowhere.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with big, complex ideas. In fact, I thrive on things like that, which is why my book is filled with them. The key is finding a way to make them feel organic. Book one needs to lay the ground rules. If a stepping stone doesn’t exist in book one, that’s a path I won’t be able to follow.

Editing this thing is going to be a beast. I know that, and I’m not even there yet.

What do you think? Can you get away with omitting some ideas from book one as long as they get put into book two? Or should the whole path be present in book one, even if left obscure?

Or am I making a huge mistake from the start, having it clear in my head that this story is going to require several books to tell?

Of course, it’s too late to stop now ๐Ÿ™‚

From Dark of the Moon – Optimus Prime!

Optimus Prime from Transformers 3 Dark of the Moon

OK, I admit it, I’m a bit of a freak for Transformers. Almost as big a fan as I am Doctor Who. So each time something new in the franchise comes along, I’m a little excited for it.

The best part is, my 7yo son is a fan too. So I have a perfect excuse to make trips to Toys-R-Us and check out the latest toys ๐Ÿ™‚

But hey, you all know that, right? I mean, this is the blog space that trumpeted the pics of the Megatron and Shockwave toys.

Confession: My favourite transformer of all-time is Optimus Prime.

When I was a kid, I had to have every version of Optimus Prime. It didn’t matter whether it was a repaint, a mini, or a bat, monkey, etc. If it was the current version of Optimus, I had to have it. No other transformer inspired such loyalty.

While I wasn’t a huge fan ofย  the flames, I loved how Optimus was envisioned in the live action films. I darn near squealed when the classic Gen. 1 voice of Peter Cullen started with the intro. And man, it was awesome to see Optimus unleash some kick-ass. I mean, the forest fight in the second movie? Damn.

And the third movie Dark of the Moon? It looks like it’s going to deliver some more Optimus-ownin-Decepticon-butt action. Yes, my hopes for the third film are getting elevated with each released trailer.

So along comes the requisite refresh of the Optimus toy for the third movie. No huge surprises here. It looks pretty standard to the previous versions. Clearly they’ve altered the transformation a bit, but that’s to be expected.

But oh wait….

What’s that?

Booyah, Optimus Prime with a trailer!!! OK, my hopes for this film just went Kerplow! Other than the flames, what was the thing we fanboys bitched about in regards to Optimus’ appearance in film one? Yup, where’s the trailer?

Fixed.

Not only fixed, but I’m laying odds plays a part in the plot, cause lookey what Optimus becomes with his trailer….

Some super crazy powered up – winged – version. Yeah, I’m thinkin this version of Optimus is going to own. I hope it isn’t a wimp out and just turns out to be his “Fly me to the moon” outfit.

All this hype is thanks to the good folks of Tomopop.

So verdict? Excited. OK, yeah, Michael Bay, I’ll be in the theatre. PLEASE let it be as good, no, better, than the first movie. Between this toy and the Superbowl trailer, I’m starting to get hyped!

Hitting Milestones

So last night I crossed 50,000 words in The Veil.

Depending on what guidelines you follow, that means I’ve officially crossed into novel length territory.

When I launched this blog in April of 2010, I had written 9,000 words. I admit, there’s been times when I wondered if my idea would actually amount to a novel. There were days whenย  the ideas weren’t flowing and I thought it was hopeless. I figured The Veil was bound to be another file in my “Failed Attempts” folder.

But last night I crossed over into novel territory. And what’s even better, there’s still eight planned out chapters. At this rate, I think The Veil will easily weigh in at more than 70,000 words.

It’s funny how a weight feels lifted. This is the furthest I’ve ever taken a story. At this point, the question is no longer will I be able to make it, but rather, how long till I finish it?

So it’s a happy day. I’ll be even happier when I make it to 60,000. That’s the goal I set for myself as that’s considered a lower end Young Adult novel.

My goal is to have the first draft done by this blog’s anniversary. Wish me luck!

Writing Software Changed My Life – For the Better

I’ll admit it, I’m not an organised person. My “office” is a chaotic storeroom of books, bills, important documents, and an assortment of other baubles. To be honest, it’s hard to move in here.

So it’s a tad ironic that when it comes to writing, I crave organisation. I hate having to have multiple Word files. I despise writing ahead because it means putting the scene in another Word file or constantly bumping it down while I write ahead of it. But what if I have multiple scenes that take place later in the book? Ugh.

Because of this, I never really planned out my books, I always wrote in a linear fashion and if I had a great idea for a scene, I would scribble on a piece of paper or just hope I remembered it when I got there.

Writing software has changed all that.

I started with yWriter5. There were two reasons.

  1. It was free.
  2. It was compatible with Windows.

I didn’t mind yWriter. Every chapter was its own file, so I could create a number of chapters and add data to them so I knew what I had planned for that chapter. If I had an idea for a scene in a chapter later than the one I was working on, I just hopped over to that chapter and added it.

There was a place for adding character information, scene information and so much more. And it had an export feature so I could fire it off to Word as a single compiled document when I was done.

The things I disliked about yWriter though were

  • Pop-up windows for writing.
  • The in-program spell check wasn’t user friendly
  • It felt like I was jumping through numerous tabs to find things I wanted.

For me, yWriter wasn’t a perfect solution, but it was vastly superior to Word. yWriter allowed me to be a bit chaotic and free flowing in my writing, yet provided me with enough structure that I could still see where the myriad of pieces fit.

A few weeks back, I saw a tweet about a Windows version of Scrivener.

I’d been anxious to try Scrivener because I’d heard great things about it and some of my favourite authors were using it. So I went ahead and downloaded the free Beta version.

I’m in love ๐Ÿ™‚

Scrivener does all the things yWriter does, only it doesn’t have any of the issues I had with yWriter. There’s no pop-ups, spelling is handled much like my WordPress blog and all my info is handy on the left-hand side of the screen. I also appreciate that Scrivener has some built-in templates for characters and locations. Overall, it’s clear why yWriter is free and Scrivener is a paid for product; Scrivener just has more polish. I find I don’t flip from one tab to another because I can lay out my screen with all the info I need.

About the only issue I have with Scrivener is that the Windows version doesn’t have the capabilities of the newest version of Scrivener for Mac (which includes compiling straight to eBook formats!).

Regardless of which you choose (or if you know of another similar product), writing software allows so much more freedom and organisation of materials. I noticed a marked increase in output when I switched. Do you think it could help you too?