Tag Archives: characterisation

Dynamics

It’s an interesting thing, redrafting a book you’ve already written. Interesting, and complicated. You’d think it should be easy, wouldn’t you – working on something you’ve already done? But no. Not so much.

You’ll already know that ‘Emmeline’ is with my agent, getting its (hopefully final) polish before it goes out into the world, and that I’ve been working on Eldritch for the past number of weeks. I’ve entirely lost count of which ‘draft’ this is; I don’t know, even, if I can still call what I’m doing ‘drafts’, as essentially I’m recreating the entire book. The structure, broadly speaking, is similar to what I’ve done before, and the characters are all the same (though some of them have been renamed), but besides that it’s a whole new thing. And that’s scary, because it makes me feel very close to the beginning of the process rather than the end, even though I’ve been thinking about this story for over two years.

The best part? I’m still learning.

Photo Credit: ~Brenda-Starr~ via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: ~Brenda-Starr~ via Compfight cc

I’ve been working on a scene near the third ‘corner’ of the book for a few days now, edging my way around the place where the narrative arc reaches its nadir. This happens right before a twist of fate flips everything on its head and sets the protagonist off on another last-second, madcap, grabbing-at-straws adventure, his last chance to ‘save the day’ and defeat the evil magician whose terrible plans threaten not only our hero’s life, but the fate of the world. So, as you can imagine, it’s a very important scene. I’ve been struggling with it, and wondering why it didn’t seem to be working, and I think I might have hit on the reason – or, one of them at least. It’s to do with the book’s dynamics.

When I studied music at school, we were taught that ‘dynamics’ were the core of any played piece. The relative loudness or softness of a note, the speed with which the music was played, the emotional intensity of a movement, the process of becoming – either going from loud to soft, or soft to loud – all of this was tied up in the idea of ‘dynamics’, and we ignored the instructions at our peril. A piece, lovely when played as the composer intended, could be shattered into discordant noise by a forte note when a piano one was intended, or the other way around. When it comes to writing, we need to be just as mindful of these movements in our work, as they are just as important.

I’ve already written the scene I’m having trouble with, but it belonged to a different story, then. I’ve already written and thought about my hero’s relationship with his enemies, and his bravery in facing them down, and the conflicted emotions he feels at his lowest point when he is being forced to take action he doesn’t want to take in order – he hopes – to effect the greater good. But the book those scenes belonged to was a lighter one than the one I’m currently writing. The emotional highs weren’t as high, and the lows certainly weren’t as low. As I’m reworking the whole thing, all the dynamics have to change this time around, and the emotional responses need to be deepened. The joys need to be more intense, and the sorrows darker; the triumphs more exciting and the setbacks more devastating. If this is neglected, what we end up with is a book which doesn’t seem honest, or where the characters are flat because their reactions and thought processes don’t reflect the reader’s expectations.

I think I had begun to find it hard to separate the ‘versions’ of Jeff, my protagonist, in my mind, and the earlier version, with his slightly more simplistic emotional palette, was having an undue influence on the newer, more nuanced version. I’ve also realised that a scene in the middle of the book, where Jeff faces down a terrifying threat, wasn’t nearly terrifying enough the first time around; I was falling into the same old trap I always fall into, which is keeping my protagonists too safe. Jeff wasn’t being tested enough, and his flippant attitude was no doubt as a result of the fact that he wasn’t the one in danger. In the redraft, he is smacked straight into the path of what he feels is certain death, and he faces it down with every scrap of courage he can find – and so, naturally enough, his reactions and his responses to this, and to everything that happens after it, need to be changed. His anger at the person who put him in this situation needs to be more intense; his relief at surviving needs to be palpable. His determination to succeed needs to deepen. All of this involves major work on my part, but it’s worth it – the story is reshaping, like a deformed piece of metal being straightened, and it’s all adding to the effect.

It’s very important to keep your eye on emotional authenticity when writing. It’s easy to get swept up in plot, and to plonk your characters around like they were puppets in front of a brightly painted backdrop, hoping that the spectacle will do the work for you – it won’t. If your characters aren’t thinking, feeling, and behaving exactly the way a ‘real’ person would in a similar situation, to the best of your ability to imagine it, then a reader won’t want to invest in them. It’s a hard line to tread, the one between melodrama (when an emotional reaction is too intense, or is such a mismatch for the event which caused it that it seems false) and unintended glibness (when a character seems as engaging as a plastic doll), and as well as that you need to be careful to maintain the overall ‘tone’ of your book. For instance, Eldritch is supposed to be funny, and I have to remember that at the most intense moments, so that they don’t become too intense and suck all the humour out of the plot and the characters. Luckily, if you have a good handle on your characters – including, in Jeff’s case, his black humour – this isn’t too tough.

Famous last words? I guess we’ll see! I’m off afresh into my emotional nadir; I hope I’ll see you all on the other side…

Effective Storytelling

Today’s a day when I’m up to my back teeth in stuff to do, and sadly – because I haven’t yet managed to perfect the art of bilocation – something has to give. That thing will have to be the blog, unfortunately, which will, perforce, be barely more than a thought.

It’ll be a good thought, though. It’s one I came up with all my by own self, too.

Image: takenfilm.wikia.com Taken (2008), dir: Pierre Morel, EuropaCorp Distribution.

Image: takenfilm.wikia.com
Taken (2008), dir: Pierre Morel, EuropaCorp Distribution.

Have y’all seen the film Taken, released back in 2008 and starring Ireland’s finest, Liam Neeson? I’m going to assume you have, because it seems as though this relatively low-budget affair took over the world a few years back, pretty much becoming the movie, spawning goodness knows how many memes and jokes and so on. It’s a pretty good movie, I think – but then I enjoy most anything with Liam Neeson in it, so that’s no surprise.

Anyway. The point of all this is in the image I’ve used above, taken from an early scene in the film. You may remember it as being the scene wherein Mills, whom we’ve watched paying for a birthday present for his teenage daughter in instalments, wraps up said present in brightly coloured paper. I think this scene – just those few tiny seconds when Mills is wrapping the present – is one of the best examples of characterisation I’ve ever seen on the big (or small) screen.

Why, you might ask? It’s just a big bloke with some naff wrapping paper, surely? But no.

I love that the director chose to show us – even if it’s only for a second – the precision and painstaking exactitude with which Liam Neeson’s character wraps the present. You could literally shave on the edge he creates in the paper, and it all lines up exactly. You see him checking the ‘line of sight’, to make sure it’s neat, and you see the small grin of satisfaction when it’s all done. I think this scene is a particularly neat piece of visual storytelling because, at this point in the film, all we know about the character is that he has a teenager whose birthday is coming up, and that he’s short of cash.

But this present-wrapping scene tells us everything else we need to know.

Precision, exactness, attention to detail – just from watching him wrap a present we can infer that our Mr Mills is, or was, a military man and/or a person with high levels of concentration and focus. Now, of course, as movie watchers we’re familiar with Liam Neeson and the types of characters he plays – he doesn’t go in for playing poets much, let’s say. All his characters are butt-kicking types. But just put that aside for a moment and appreciate the sheer storytelling power contained in this tiny scene. I think it’s genius, and it shows how tiny details, seemingly innocuous, when skilfully utilised, can tell your story for you. Something we can all learn from, oui? Oui.

(And if this post-ette gives you a reason to re-watch Taken, then my real work here is done).

Wobbling On

It will probably surprise nobody to learn that I spent yesterday, and will spend today, taking the least sensible of all the writing options open to me; viz., carrying on with my new WiP. I have nothing to offer here in terms of a sensible explanation besides the fact that the story is bashing me around the brain and writing it seems to soothe the savage beast inside my skull.

Image: dailymail.co.uk

Image: dailymail.co.uk

It’s a little like examining a massive tapestry in a huge, unlit room using only a tiny, weak battery-powered torch. All I can see is the picture which is illuminated by the sputtering beam of light in my hand; the bits still to come are shrouded in darkness. I do know what I want to happen in the story, of course – I have a skeletal plot structure and an ending in mind. The detail, however, and the actual meat of the story which will bring me from where I am now to that wonderful point where I can write ‘The End’, has yet to materialise.

But that’s the fun of it, isn’t it? Isn’t it?

I’m working on a story which I first came up with almost eight years ago, during which time the protagonist was a couple of years younger than she is now and my writing style screamed like something out of the nineteen-fifties. I have a draft chapter of this WiP saved, which I wrote in 2006, and I’m surprised words like ‘balderdash!’ ‘jolly good,’ and – of course ‘lashings of ginger beer!’ (which, apparently, doesn’t actually appear anywhere in Enid Blyton’s oeuvre, despite the stereotype) aren’t studded through it like cloves in a boiled ham. I really find it hilarious that the writing I was doing a few years ago is like something from a different planet – it took me years to shake off the style of writing found in the books I loved to read as a child, and develop a voice of my own.

I’m still not sure I’ve managed it, but I think I’m on the right path at least.

My. That's a big path. Image: helenotway.edublogs.org

My. That’s a big path.
Image: helenotway.edublogs.org

However, I tried to explain this current story to my husband the other night, and I ended up going round and round in a ring of syllables, getting more and more confused. I finished on the word ‘basically,’ which is never a good sign you’ve explained yourself clearly, and he turned to me and said ‘Er. Yeah, that sounds… um.’

I made it sound terrible. Absolutely awful.

Now, admittedly, I’m not very far into the writing of this story yet – fewer than 7,000 words of a first draft currently exist – but, as I said, I do know where I want it to go, more or less. In my head, it all hangs together beautifully. But when I tried to put it into words it came out as something like:

‘So, there’s this pilchard, and it lost its watermelon a few years before in a tragic squash-making accident, and then there’s this spider-thing, with a net, that wants to, you know, catch things, and there’s a bucket and spade which the pilchard really wants and so the spider-thing decides to take it first.’

Clear, non? Of course. I know you guys know what I’m getting at.

It’s important to be able to talk about your work in a way that doesn’t make you sound like you need a long lie-down; summarising your plot and characters should, really, be something you practise from the get-go when you’re writing a book. You never know when you might need to pitch something, after all. Of course, it does help to have written the thing first, and that it’s polished and buffed to as high a shine as you can manage before you start pitching it, but still – always be prepared. It does worry me that a story so clearly outlined in my head can turn into a mouthful of must when I try to explain it, and I hope I’ll be able to do it justice in the future.

I’m also feeling a little like a cobweb in a stiff breeze about this book because I’m taking the same approach as I took for the previous one – ‘Emmeline’ – wherein I knew what I wanted to say, but the story pretty much told itself as it went. I’m trying to rely on my inner pantser, which involves forcibly silencing my far more vocal plotter-persona. So far, the story has set itself in a new location, it has raised the protagonist’s age by at least two – if not three – years, it has developed a whole new set of characters and it has given the Antagonist an entirely new and (if I may say so) deliciously plausible reason for being so Evil. During yesterday’s writing a new character – a boy! – walked into the story and held out his hand in greeting, and I didn’t know his name until I typed it.

So, it was really like meeting someone new for the first time. In a weird, spooky and ‘man, my brain is strange’ sort of way.

And yes, I know I know I should be finishing ‘Eldritch’ (again) and trying to work out just exactly what is wrong with ‘Tider’ and chewing my nails to the quick as I wait for news of ‘Emmeline’, but it’s really hard to resist the lure of a new story.

So, for the moment, I am bending to temptation, and hoping it’s the right decision.

Image: writeontrack.ie

Image: writeontrack.ie

A Soul Timid, but not Meek

I am frightened by the Devil,
And I’m drawn to those ones that ain’t afraid…

Image: michaelyung.com

Image: michaelyung.com

Joni Mitchell is a huge hero of mine. I’ve been in love with her music for as long as I’ve had ears (so, quite a long time now), and the lyric above – from ‘A Case of You’, on the majestic album ‘Blue’ – is probably my favourite of her songs. I’m not sure, exactly, why I love this particular set of lines so much; perhaps it’s because it says, to me, that being afraid is perfectly all right – so long as you don’t lose your curiosity, too. It’s natural to be scared of some things, but shutting your mind off from those things forever, without admitting even a thought which relates to them, is bad news.

Maybe.

That’s the thing with song lyrics, I guess. They mean different things to different people.

I’m a fearful type, by nature. Anxious, a worrywart, ‘worst-case-scenario’. If I were a fairytale character, I’d be Chicken Little.

Image: capstoneyoungreaders.com

Image: capstoneyoungreaders.com

I’m afraid of lots of things, some of them rational and some of them (all right, most of them) not. I’m a quietly controlled hypochondriac. I have a lot of sympathy for the guys who stand on street corners wearing ‘The End is Nigh!’ sandwich boards. I’ve often wondered if it comes from my interest in the Middle Ages – those guys lived, teetering, on the edge of instant annihilation for centuries, too. They were convinced, with every passing generation, that this would be the one. This would be the era in which Christ would come again and perform the final Judgement. Millenarianism was de rigueur.

But perhaps that was hope, more than fear. I think there was a bit of both mixed up in there. And maybe that’s a defining characteristic of fear – a tiny, tiny shard of desire mixed into the terror makes it all the more terrifying.

I’m thinking about all this because a close family member is jetting off in a few days to spend several months abroad. While there she plans to gain a qualification in something she hopes will lead to an exciting career, and I’m sure she’ll be successful. As well as that, no doubt she’ll have adventures and experiences which will leave long-lasting memories, and she will do things that I would not do, and things that I could not do, because I would be far too afraid to even try.

But there’s a little spark, deep inside me, which wishes I could just get over myself for long enough to give it a go. A tiny spark, now. Barely there at all, really. But there, all the same.

This woman – the adventurer – has already had a year abroad in which she did death-defying things, with every indication that she was having the time of her life. Fear didn’t seem to come into it, for her. It was all about the exhilaration, the joy, the celebration of what her body was capable of. I have cousins who, when they were children, were like chalk and cheese when it came to facing their fears. One of them would throw herself at any challenge, totally uncaring of how much she could hurt herself if it all went wrong, and another who was stiff and awkward and afraid. The second child would give everything a try, as far as she was able, but would end up causing herself an injury because her fear would get in her way. The first child was lithe and fluid and free – due to her fearlessness, as well as a natural athleticism – and never suffered any physical damage from her exploits.

I think the second child, the fearful one, took after me. Perhaps it’s no surprise that we are both oldest children, and statistically likely to be more cautious and less adventurous than the siblings who come after us.

There are different types of fear, for sure. I have faced plenty of my own personal fears – public speaking, standing up for things I believed in even when I was sure it would spell disaster for me, tackling academic challenges that I felt sure were beyond me – and I came through them all reasonably unscathed. It’s when it comes to physical things, like sport or heights or speed, that my terror overwhelms any desire I might have to take part. Things that would horrify other people are no bother to me, and things that others would do without a second thought are so far beyond my level of ability that I can’t even imagine doing them. I have a friend who lives right by a massive motorway junction just outside Dublin, and she drives around it with carefree abandon – and she always did so, even when she was new to the area. She doesn’t drive dangerously – in fact, she drives far more safely due to the fact that this particular snarled-up collection of high-speed traffic lanes doesn’t make her blood run cold, as it would mine – and she has never come even close to having an accident, thank goodness. If I had to do that drive, I’d cause a multi-car pileup within five seconds, and I know it.

But I’d love to be able to do what she does. I admire her for it. I just know I never will.

Perhaps the world needs all types of fearlessness, both the risk-taking type and the emotional type. I have lived long enough to know who I am, and to be aware that I have limitations, and to give myself a break when it comes to respecting those limitations. I have the desire to be an adventurer, but the flesh is weak.

But I can write about those who are fearless, and use my own tiny sparks of curiosity – my own sense of ‘being drawn to those ones that ain’t afraid’ – to fill in the blanks when it comes to creating characters who aren’t fearful of heights, or the dark, or of throwing off the shackles of the everyday and setting off on an adventure across the world with no real plan of how to get home.

Perhaps my own fearfulness will lead me to create better characters, even. Let’s hope so, at least. It has to be good for something – right?

Image: hybridtechcar.com

Image: hybridtechcar.com

 

Resolution – Not Just for the New Year, Folks

I’ve recently come to a renewed appreciation of the power of a good ending.

Image: dailymail.co.uk

Image: dailymail.co.uk

Over the past few days, Ireland has been gripped (well, all right. Perhaps that’s a bit over-the-top. Mildly interested, then) by a TV mini-series, which has been showing on our fine upstanding national broadcaster since Sunday night last. I was one of the many thousands of viewers who tuned in, night after night, hooked by the tale of a teenage girl who inexplicably vanishes from the bosom of her (fractured, and slightly weird) family, waiting patiently for the story to come to a Conclusion.

(If, by any chance, you were watching the same TV show and you managed to miss the final episode and you don’t want your televisual world to implode, you might want to stop reading at this point. Here‘s a fun thing for you to look at, instead. See you tomorrow, when I’m sure I’ll be discussing something non-controversial.)

If you’re still with me, let’s proceed. Please note: there will be spoilers.

So. This TV show was, by Irish standards at least, slickly produced and reasonably well acted. It showed Dublin as a hip, happening sort of place with its own fancy tram system and everything (get us! None of this ‘starvin’ for a spud’ nonsense any more), and several lovely cosmopolitan apartments. It featured an ultra-modern separated couple. It had hints of the movie ‘Taken’ (which also featured – of course – the most famous Irishman since Daniel O’Connell, our very own Liam Neeson!) in the frowning, ex-Army Ranger father character. It had a beautiful young mother character who was very well equipped in the crying department and who lived a super-swish lifestyle without any visible means of support. It had a mournful-looking little boy who nobody really cared about, which was terrible and Very Meaningful all at the same time. It hinted at Societal Issues, touching on things like immigration, organised crime, prostitution and underage people doing things that they shouldn’t really be doing in fancy nightclubs.

Nobody mentioned Mass. Or tea. Or shamrocks.

Feck it, anyway. Image: fatherted.wikia.org

Feck it, anyway.
Image: fatherted.wikia.org

So, in many ways, it was different from anything I’ve ever watched before in terms of a TV show cooked up, produced, and made in Ireland. The only Irish thing about it was that funding difficulties meant it was made over two years ago and we’re only getting to see it now, but that’s another story. Anyway, I watched it with great enjoyment, having fun spotting all the places I recognised and wondering if I’d see anyone I knew wandering around as an extra and trying to figure out how they made Dublin look so clean and tidy.

And then, last night, the final episode aired, and everything went a bit sideways.

Nothing was explained. No resolution was offered. I’m sure that plenty of choice words were hurled at TV screens in living rooms across the country as the credits rolled.

The show’s conclusion was one of the most frustrating things I’ve ever seen on a small screen. If I may be permitted a small flight of pretension – I understand, artistically, what the makers of the show were trying to achieve by ending things the way they did. From a creative, oh-so-modern point of view, things were wrapped up perfectly. It didn’t play into the hands of expectation, norms were shattered, and the idea of perfect closure was told to take a long walk off a short pier. Rather more poignantly, from the perspective of how it really feels when a person goes missing, the ending of the show makes sense – and I understand all that.

But from the point of view of storytelling?

It’s important for stories to conclude. Even if things don’t work out the way you want, and even if certain things – important things – are left unexplained. My main problem with this particular TV show was the fact that, as well as the main storyline, so many side threads – subplots, interesting hints dropped during previous episodes, stories which started but sputtered out – were left to the viewer’s imagination in the long run. Sure, I get that when you’re investigating a person’s disappearance in real life, you have to cope with red herrings and false leads and information which doesn’t go anywhere at every step of the journey – but this wasn’t real life. This was a TV show. This was the kind of thing that people turn to for comfort, and for explanations, and for resolution. Leaving a storyline unfinished is like infesting people with an itch they can’t scratch. It goes further than irritation – it is profoundly disturbing.

The human psyche is programmed to need completion when it comes to a story arc. It’s not so much because an audience is curious to know what happened to these particular characters in this particular situation (though, doubtless that’s a large part of it); it’s more than that. Our need for an ending comes from a deep part of the brain, and it’s no coincidence that stories have been told by humans from our very earliest days, when the world was full of unexpected threats. Stories end because they are controllable – unlike life. Stories are utterly in thrall to human power, and it is completely within a person’s ability to affect and effect the movement and meaning of a story. In a world where nothing else seems to pay heed to humanity, where our power is regularly crushed out by nature or war or random tragedy, stories can be used like talismans to reflect back to us our perfected version of how the world should be. We need stories to end – even unsatisfactorily – because if they don’t, they might as well be real.

And nobody wants that.

I wish that this TV show had ended differently – even just slightly differently. I can accept the fact that the main thread of it couldn’t have a neat conclusion, and I understand that this is the only way it could have gone. But I’m irritated by the way it was done. I’m annoyed that the subplots, and the details, weren’t tied off, and that the viewers’ investment in the show – the effort put in to ferreting out connections and seeing the hints and wondering about images and motifs – wasn’t paid off. It’s irritating because it’s frightening, and because it says more about the chaotic nature of reality than anyone is comfortable facing up to. It was a clever artistic statement, sure – but a deeply upsetting one.

And a good lesson in how to anger an audience, too.

Imagining Places, Imagining Spaces

I’ve been doing a lot of hacking away at ‘Emmeline’ this week – in other news, I think I may have come up with a better title for the story, but more on that anon – and I’m right up there within, I’d guess, 5,000 words of the Grand Dénouement. However, nothing ever runs easily in my world.

I feel a bit like this guy. Image: lookandlearn.com

I feel a bit like this guy.
Image: lookandlearn.com

I’m finding it tough going these past few days – maybe 500 words here, one thousand there – and I reckon there are a few reasons for that. One of the main reasons (besides a few plot issues, which I’m pretty sure a rewrite will take care of) is the fact that the ending of the book takes place in a part of the world I’ve never been to, in a space I find hard to imagine, and in a setting so unfamiliar and different from my everyday life as to be completely alien.

I’m learning that one of the most important things you can do for yourself when you’re writing is this: Believe in your settings.

If your book is set in our world, and you have the means to travel there, then I suppose nothing can beat the experience of seeing it for yourself. But, however, if you’re like most people and your means are feeling pretty mean, travelling to far-flung parts of the globe isn’t really an option. The internet can help, of course, with images and inspiration and handy phrases in the local language and first-hand testimony of how it feels to scale Everest or survive an earthquake or visit Pompeii, or whatever it is you’re writing about, and it’s a good tool to use if you can’t see your setting with your own two eyes. But something as important as all that – and something I am currently finding difficult – is the necessity to believe, wholeheartedly, in the setting you’re writing about. Write about it with as much confidence as if it was the view you can see out your bedroom window. Write about it with as much pizzazz as if your fictional setting was somewhere you know intimately. Open your imagination up, and make sure your settings – your landscape, your climate, your vegetation, your animal life, your transport networks, your geographical anomalies, your people, your language(s), whatever – are all as clear to you as the reality around you, whether or not your imagined landscape is strictly true.

Now, obviously, you don’t need to describe all this detail to the reader. All the story needs is what’s necessary to make it happen. But it helps you to know your setting in all this detail. In a lot of ways, depending on the book, the setting is as important as another character. You know your characters inside-out – their backstory, their dreams and hopes and loves, their motivation – so why not your landscape, too?

Image: minigardenshoppe.com

Image: minigardenshoppe.com

My story, right now, is suffering because of my own fear of the setting I’ve put it in. It’s a vast canvas, an empty and howling landscape, a frozen and barren expanse. I don’t know what it’s like to live and work there – and I don’t know what it’s like to breathe its air or walk on its surface or exist in its embrace. I’m trying to imagine it, and it’s hard. I lack the confidence in myself and my own ability to just trust myself to write it well, even if it’s not entirely geographically and/or climatically accurate. This particular landscape is important to the plot insofar as it’s a challenge, and an obstacle, and it’s home to certain creatures who do not have anything good to say about the heroine and her brave band of comrades – but I’m not writing a natural history of the country, and so I feel I’m getting hung up unnecessarily, in some ways. I’m allowing myself to be derailed by doubts – ‘could that actually happen?’ ‘There’s no way the landscape would look like that,’ ‘This is stupid! None of this could actually take place!’ – and I have to keep reminding myself that this is my book, my world, my story, and anything I dream can happen within it.

If verisimilitude of setting is important to you, or to your story, then by all means get your work checked over by someone who’s familiar with that part of the world, or do some more intensive research, or whatever you need to do once the words have been written. If, however, you’re not writing a book whose plot hinges on whether a particular type of flower grows at a particular altitude or whether a certain wave pattern brings specific weather effects to a defined part of the world, then perhaps it’s not as important to be absolutely accurate, in a geographical or scientific sense. What matters is that your landscapes and settings are real to you, and that they make sense in the world of your book – without, of course, taking liberties like placing a sandy desert in the heart of Antarctica (without having a very good, and logical, reason, at least!)

It’s hard to write without a backdrop against which to place your characters – at least, it is for me. But, equally important as having a clear, skilfully described landscape (not too much detail, and not too little) to place them in is having the confidence to say ‘this is my story, and this is my world. These are my rules.’

Image: covermyfb.blogspot.com

Image: covermyfb.blogspot.com

I’m going to tackle ‘Emmeline’ with a different mindset today. I’m not going to let my fears that I’m writing something ‘wrong’ derail my desire to finish this story, and I’m going to stop letting the backdrop run the whole show.

And I’m going to start trying to believe in myself a little more.

Hobbitting On

So the other day, we decided to go to see ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ in the actual cinema.

Exciting enough for a whole *can* of Squee! Image: firefox.org

Exciting enough for a whole *can* of Squee!
Image: firefox.org

I was hoping we’d get a chance to catch it on the big screen, because let’s be honest here. ‘The Hobbit’ is the sort of movie you need to see splashed all over a massive canvas. I really enjoyed the first Hobbit movie, even though I only saw it on DVD, and I’ve been fangirling about the sequel now for quite some time.

Oh, and before I carry on, I’d better clarify something: I was one of those mumble-grumble ‘The Hobbit shouldn’t be three movies, what on earth is Peter Jackson thinking?’ purists when I first heard about the plan to turn this tiny book into a trilogy of blockbusters. Now, however, I have eaten my words with a side order of humble pie, to go. Peter Jackson is a genius, and I cannot wait for the final movie.

**Please note: I’ve tried to keep this as spoiler-free as possible, but consider yourself warned…**

‘The Desolation of Smaug’ is brilliant. I can only sum it up by recounting the fact that my husband remarked ‘that didn’t feel like three hours, did it?’ as we were leaving; he is – as he is in most things, of course – entirely correct. This epic movie zoomed along so quickly that by the end I was left clawing for more, let alone thinking ‘Man. What a painfully obvious money-grabbing, story-padding exercise that was.’

Image: the-hobbit.tumblr.com

Image: the-hobbit.tumblr.com

Things I thought would annoy me, like the creation of an entirely new character, Tauriel – who is more important to the plot of the movie than some of the characters from the original book – didn’t end up bothering me at all. Tauriel herself was, I thought, a brilliant character, skilfully portrayed. Tolkien, much as I love him, wasn’t too big on the whole ‘writing parts for women’ thing, so I have no problem with Peter Jackson trying to even up the balance a bit. Tolkien, as a medievalist, wrote his stories in the same vein as the epics – wherein the important thing is the comitatus, or the group of (male) warriors who fight together and the bond between them, not the relationships between men and women – and so it’s to be expected that women don’t do a lot in his canon. Tauriel fights as well as any of the male characters, she’s brave enough to make a choice that genuinely feels conflicted and challenging during the course of the story, and she (potentially) sacrifices something very precious to her in order to remain true to who she is.

The only irritating thing about her is that she is, to an extent, defined by the men in her life – but I don’t want to get too spoilery here.

Well, that's not the *only* irritating thing about her. She's also stupendously gorgeous, of course. Elves are like that, aren't they?  Image: totalfilm.com

Well, that’s not the *only* irritating thing about her. She’s also stupendously gorgeous, of course. Elves are like that, aren’t they?
Image: totalfilm.com

I was, admittedly, slightly annoyed by another thing, which was the pronunciation of ‘Smaug’. I have been saying this word inside my head for over twenty years now, and I’ve always said it like a Bostonian saying ‘smog’, with a long vowel sound in the middle of the word. Apparently, however, that’s wrong. It should be ‘Smowg,’ according to these guys. Luckily, I got used to it fairly quickly – but he’ll always be ‘Smawwwwwwg’ to me.

Howaya. Image: lotr.wikia.org

Howaya.
Image: lotr.wikia.org

The film also drew a lot of criticism for featuring a character from ‘The Lord of the Rings’ who doesn’t appear (as far as I remember, though it has been many years since I last read ‘The Hobbit’) in the original book – I’m talking, of course, about Legolas.

I actually had no problem with this character making a reappearance, mainly because he was always my favourite character anyway – and, yes, this goes back to my reading of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ as a twelve-year-old, and has nothing to do with the movies – and I think his portrayal in ‘The Hobbit’ gives a fascinating layer to the character. In ‘The Lord of the Rings’, Legolas is a preternaturally skilled fighter, of course, and a vital member of the Fellowship, but he seems detached and cool and always utterly, remarkably calm. He’s an elf, of course, so this isn’t unusual – they’re not given to huge explosions of emotion – but even so, Legolas seemed a little too graceful and perfect to be relatable or real.

This is not so in ‘The Hobbit.’ In this newer movie, we see a different Legolas – we see him as he originally was, the Prince of Mirkwood, an important character in the ‘LOTR’ universe in his own right. He is rash, impetuous, angry, even arrogant, and I thought that was amazing. He still fights like a whirlwind, but in one excellent scene he comes up against a foe who does not bow before him like a blade of grass in a stiff wind. It was nice, in a strange way, to see Legolas not have everything his own way for once – it’s hard to get behind a hero when all they touch turns to gold. Seeing Legolas struggle made him a far more sympathetic character, and I really enjoyed his portrayal in this film.

Then, of course, there were the dwarves (to use Tolkien’s own spelling!), who are the best part of the movie. Bombur, in particular, was my favourite.

Image: lotr.wikia.org

Image: lotr.wikia.org

Bumbling but brilliant, and brave to his bones, old Bombur stole the show for me. The dwarves aren’t exactly how I pictured them as a reader of Tolkien – some of them are far too handsome, for a start! – but they work flawlessly in the movie all the same. The scene where they are attempting to escape from Mirkwood by floating down a river hidden in barrels is one of the best things I’ve seen on a cinema screen, ever.

So, anyway. If you do one thing this weekend, yada yada. Check out ‘The Hobbit.’ I hope you’ll agree with me that it’s a slice of cinematic wonder.

Happy Friday!