Monday, July 25, 2016

The Best of Mae West

Last week I posted an article about dialogue, so this week I thought I'd share some funny lines of dialogue from the one and only Mae West.  In case you've never heard of her, Wikipedia says:
Mary Jane "Mae" West (August 17, 1893 – November 22, 1980) was an American actress, singer, playwright, screenwriter, comedian and sex symbol whose entertainment career spanned seven decades.
Known for her lighthearted bawdy double entendres, and breezy sexual independence, West made a name for herself in vaudeville and on the stage in New York City before moving to Hollywood to become a comedian, actress, and writer in the motion picture industry, as well as on radio and television. For her contributions to American cinema, thevAmerican Film Institute named West 15th among the greatest female stars of classic American cinema.
One of the more controversial movie stars of her day, West encountered many problems, especially censorship. She bucked the system, making comedy out of prudish conventional mores, and the Depression Era audience admired her for it. 

When her cinematic career ended, she wrote books, plays, and continued to perform in Las Vegas, in the United Kingdom, and on radio and television, and to record rock and roll albums. Asked about the various efforts to impede her career, West replied: "I believe in censorship. I made a fortune out of it."  


Most of Mae's quotes are rather provocative, but quite funny, nonetheless. For a more complete list, check out Quotilicious. Now, time for a good laugh!

"Between two evils, I always pick the one I never tried before."
"Anything worth doing is worth doing slowly."
"He’s the kind of man a woman would have to marry to get rid of."
"I believe that it’s better to be looked over than it is to be overlooked."
"One and one is two, and two and two is four, and five will get you ten if you know how to work it."
"Don’t keep a man guessing too long – he’s sure to find the answer somewhere else."
"Opportunity knocks for every man, but you have to give a woman a ring."
"A dame that knows the ropes isn’t likely to get tied up."
"Give a man a free hand and he’ll run it all over you."
"A woman in love can’t be reasonable – or she probably wouldn’t be in love."
"A man has one hundred dollars and you leave him with two dollars, that’s subtraction."
"When women go wrong, men go right after them."
Do you have a favorite Mae West quote that I didn't include? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, July 18, 2016

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words: The Art of Writing Dialogue

I haven't posted anything on the writing craft for a while, so I thought I'd share something I wrote for Romance University back in 2012. I don't think I've ever published it here because it's a little long for a blog post. Although lengthy, I hope it's useful!

Think of your plot as a blank linen canvas stretched over a stiff wooden frame, and your dialogue as the oil paint you will use to create a masterpiece. Well written dialogue produces a vivid image that truly brings your story to life in living color!  It’s also one of the first things agents and editors look at when reviewing a manuscript.

If dialogue is choppy, wooden and stilted, a potential agent will assume that that sets the tone for your writing, and then reject your manuscript.  For the indie published, poor dialogue is what makes a potential reader either skip a purchase, or write a very bad review!

Dialogue has many functions, but two of the most important are to advance the story and intensify the conflict, all the while keeping it natural.  So here are a few ways to craft dialogue into a more compelling and natural sounding work of art.

Red: Tension, Conflict, Emotion
In Writing Fiction For Dummies, Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy say, “Dialogue is war! Every dialogue should be a controlled conflict between at least two characters with opposing agendas. The main purpose of dialogue is to advance the conflict of the story."  

·         Skip the pleasantries.  No one cares about the “Hi, how are yous?” Jump right into the heat of the moment.
·         Stay away from the info dump monologue.  Providing information without tension is boring.
·         Never use dialogue as filler.  Dialogue has to  heighten conflict, advance the story or display character development.  If it does none of this, hit delete.
·         Show emotional tension in dialogue through your characters actions and reactions. Perhaps a he falls silent, she interrupts, or the teen changes the subject.  

The Abstract: Loose and Free Flowing
Dialogue has to have a natural flow, but a common mistake among many new writers is to make it stiff and formal. Use these guidelines to make yours sound real:

·         Read dialogue out loud.  Does it pass the “ear test” and sound like actual conversation? Avoid fancy words.  In The Elements of Style Strunk and White say, “Do not be tempted by a twenty dollar word when there is a ten-center handy.”  "Seeing her confused him” is plain and simple. “Upon looking at her, he became discombobulated" is not.  It’s also too wordy. Streamline your dialogue and cut out unnecessary words.
·         Use contractions:  will not/ won’t, do not/ don’t, we will/we’ll, etc. They’re much less formal.
·         Think about real conversations with family and friends. It’s okay to be grammatically incorrect by ending a sentence with a preposition. “So what was that about?” sounds more realistic than “So about what was that?”  In stressful situations, you can use sentence fragments and one word answers.
·         Avoid the lecture.  A character expounding in detail about a subject will bore your reader. You’ve done your research, but it’s not necessary to show how much!

Flesh Tone: Make it Real
Stay away from unnatural dialogue.  Would your sister really say, “How’s your husband Ed and your step-son Frank, the child by Ed’s ex-wife, Beth?”  Using dialogue like that sounds artificial. Find a subtle way to convey those facts.  For example:
     “So where’s Ed?”
     “I left him at home working on my honey-do list.”
     “Is Frank helping him?”
     “No, he’s with his mom, this weekend.”
     “Beth, the wench?”


The Portrait: Provide a Distinct Voice for Each Character
Dialogue is an important part of characterization. Keep in mind the time period, age, gender, social status, education and geographic locale.

Imagine how different a Wall Street executive would sound compared to a Georgia factory worker.  White collar professionals are more likely to use correct grammar and speak in longer sentences, whereas blue collar workers might use rougher language and shorter sentences.

Take into account individual personalities: quiet, talkative, cruel, manipulative, compassionate, insecure, outgoing. Be mindful of the situations they’re in; dialogue has to be suitable for their action and reaction.


The Difference Between the Male Still Life and the Female Landscape   
According to Richard Drobnick from an article in YourTango:

“He believes communication should have a clear purpose. Behind every conversation is a problem that needs solving or a point that needs to be made.”

“She uses communication to discover how she is feeling and what it is she wants to say. She sees conversation as an act of sharing and an opportunity to increase intimacy with her partner.”

So keep in mind that men are more direct and brusque in tone. They use simpler vocabulary with fewer modifiers, and are likely to use one word responses and shorter sentences.  Instead of talking about people and feelings, they’d rather talk about things.  Also, dialogue is action for men.  Instead of discussing a way to save the heroine, the hero plans and executes it.

Women, however, love talking about people and relationships.  Their language is softer, and they’re more likely to talk around a subject.  “I’m not too happy about this,” she might say, while he says, “I’m mad as hell!”  Women express themselves in complete sentences, and want to share their feelings.

In closing, always keep your dialogue tension filled, loose, naturalistic and distinct for each individual character to create your masterpiece!

What do you like most about writing dialogue? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, July 11, 2016

White Heat

 Last week I mentioned that White Heat is my favorite James Cagney movie. This week I thought I'd share its September 3, 1949 movie review from "The New York Times" written by Bosley Crowther. Check it out below:

Warner Brothers weren't kidding when they put the title "White Heat" on the new James Cagney picture, which came to the Strand yesterday. They might have gone several points higher in the verbal caloric scale and still have understated the thermal intensity of this film. For the simple fact is that Mr. Cagney has made his return to a gangster role in one of the most explosive pictures that he or anyone has ever played.

If that is inviting information to the cohorts of thriller fans, whose eagerness this reviewer can readily understand, let us soberly warn that "White Heat" is also a cruelly vicious film and that its impact upon the emotions of the unstable or impressionable is incalculable. That is an observation which might fairly be borne in mind by those who would exercise caution in supporting such matter on the screen.

For there is no blinking the obvious: the Warners have pulled all the stops in making this picture the acme of the gangster-prison film. They have crammed it with criminal complications—some of them old, some of them glittering new—pictured to technical perfection in a crisp documentary style. And Mr. Cagney has played it in a brilliantly graphic way, matching the pictorial vigor of his famous "Public Enemy" job.

Indeed, as the ruthless gang-leader in this furious and frightening account of train-robbery, prison-break, gang war and gun fighting with the police, Mr. Cagney achieves the fascination of a brilliant bull-fighter at work, deftly engaged in the business of doing violence with economy and grace. His movements are supple and electric, his words are as swift and sharp as swords and his whole manner carries the conviction of confidence, courage and power.

If you think Mr. Cagney looked brutal when he punched Mae Clark in the face with a ripe grapefruit in "Public Enemy," you should see the sweet and loving things he does to handsome Virginia Mayo, who plays his low-grade wife in this film. Or you should scan the exquisite indifference with which he "lets a little air" into the trunk compartment of an auto in which is locked a treacherous "friend."

And Mr. Cagney's performance is not the only one in this film. Director Raoul Walsh has gathered vivid acting from his whole cast. Miss Mayo, in fact, is excellent as the gangster's disloyal spouse—brassy, voluptuous and stupid to just the right degree. And Edmund O'Brien does a slick job as a Treasury Department T-man who gets next to the gang-boss in prison and works into a place of favor in his mob. Steve Cochran is ugly as an outlaw, John Archer is stout as a Treasury sleuth and Margaret Wycherly is darkly invidious as the gangster's beloved old "ma."

Perhaps her inclusion in the story is its weakest and most suspected point, for the notion of Mr. Cagney being a "mama's boy" is slightly remote. And this motivation for his cruelty, as well as for his frequent howling fits, is convenient, perhaps, for novel action but not entirely convincing as truth.

However, impeccable veracity is not the first purpose of this film. It was made to excite and amuse people. And that it most certainly does.

I love this movie and reading that "NY Times" review makes me want to see it again soon! Have you ever seen White Heat? If you love a gritty crime drama, you'll really enjoy it!

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, July 4, 2016

Yankee Doodle Dandy

Happy Fourth of July! A great movie to watch today is Yankee Doodle Dandy, starring one of my favorite actors, James Cagney

Although Cagney is best known for his gangster roles and snarling, "You dirty rat "(even though the actual line was, "Come out and take it, you dirty yellow-bellied rat, or I'll give it to you through the door!"), he was also a talented song and dance man, which is evident in his performance as songwriter George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy.

Wikipedia says, "Cagney was a fitting choice for the role of Cohan since, like Cohan, he was an Irish-American who had been a song-and-dance man early in his career. His unique and seemingly odd presentation style, of half-singing and half-reciting the songs, reflected the style that Cohan himself used. His natural dance style and physique were also a good match for Cohan. Newspapers at the time reported that Cagney intended to consciously imitate Cohan's song-and-dance style, but to play the normal part of the acting in his own style."


Never seen the movie? Here's the synopsis, courtesy of Wikipedia:

In the early days of World War II, Cohan comes out of retirement to star as President Roosevelt in the Rodgers and Hart musical I'd Rather Be Right. On the first night, he is summoned to meet the President at the White House, who presents him with a Congressional Gold Medal (in fact, this happened several years previously). Cohan is overcome and chats with Roosevelt, recalling his early days on the stage. The film flashes back to his supposed birth on July 4, whilst his father is performing on the vaudeville stage.
Cohan and his sister join the family act as soon as they can learn to dance, and soon The Four Cohans are performing successfully. But George gets too cocky as he grows up and is blacklisted by theatrical producers for being troublesome. He leaves the act and hawks his songs unsuccessfully around to producers. In partnership with another struggling writer, Sam Harris, he finally interests a producer and they are on the road to success. He also marries Mary, a young singer/dancer.
As his star ascends, he persuades his now struggling parents to join his act, eventually vesting some of his valuable theatrical properties in their name.
Cohan retires, but returns to the stage several times, culminating in the role of the U.S. President. As he leaves the White House, after receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor from the President, he performs a tap dance down a set of interior stairs (which Cagney thought up before the scene was filmed and performed with no rehearsal). Outside, he joins a military parade, where the soldiers are singing "Over There", and, at first, he isn't. Not knowing that Cohan is the song's composer, one of them asks if he knows the words. Cohan's response is a smile and then joins in the singing.

Great film, and James Cagney was great in it, but I admit, I really love his gangster movies! White Heat is my favorite. Do you have a favorite Cagney film?
Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Red Wine Braised Chicken

I’m always on the lookout for quick and easy recipes! This one is for the crock pot, which is always a plus for me. It's from Midwest Living and sounds wonderful! Think I’ll try it this week.
Red Wine Braised Chicken
Ingredients
·         1/2 large onion, chopped

·         pounds bone-in skinless chicken thighs

·         packet (1.3 oz) McCormick slow cookers red wine braised roast seasoning mix

·         cup small peeled baby carrots, halved

·         10 ounces white button mushrooms, quartered

·         bag (14.4 oz) frozen pearl onions, thawed

·         1/2 cup dry red wine

·         1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped

·         Mashed potatoes and green peas (optional)

Directions
1.       Coat slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray.
2.       Place chopped onion in slow cooker; season chicken with seasoning mix and place on top of onion. Add carrots, mushrooms and pearl onions. Pour red wine and 1/2 cup water over top.
3.       Cover and cook on HIGH for 6 hours or LOW for 8 hours.
4.       Stir in parsley and serve with mashed potatoes and peas, if desired.


Sounds like comfort food to me! What do you think? 

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!