Monday, April 14, 2014

Directing Your Book

This post originally appeared in October of 2010. Here are some great tips from actress/writer Leanna Renee Huber that deserve a repeat performance!

"Before I write down one word, I have to have the character in my mind through and through.  I must penetrate into the last wrinkle of his soul." Henrik Ibsen

Not long ago, I attended a workshop presented by award winning author, playwright and actress, Leanna Renee Hieber, entitled, "Direct Your Book: Theatrical Techniques Towards a Blockbuster Book."  As the title suggests, she demonstrates how you can incorporate theater techniques into your writing.

As an author, you are also a:
  • Cinematographer -  By describing the setting, as well as providing the mood and ambiance
  • Director - By setting the stage and establishing pace and viewpoint
  • Actor - By describing your characters, revealing their motivation and intent, and writing their dialogue
  • Marketing Director - By writing your "movie poster quote," your one line pitch, defining your brand and choosing best how to present you and your work.  Gone are the days when the writer could sit at his computer all day in sweats and slippers while a publicist did all the marketing!
Ms. Hieber pointed out some important questions that actors (and authors) must ask of their characters:
  • What is my motivation?
  • How am I going to get what I want? (Intention/tactics)
  • What is the conflict? (or, What's keeping me from getting what I want?)
  • What's my environment and how is it affecting me? (Context)
She emphasized the importance of never forgetting your characters, and that the environment itself is a character.  Think about (the red earth of) Tara in Gone with the Wind, or the cyclone in The Wizard of Oz.  Tara is motivation for Scarlett.  Keeping the plantation from being sold drives her to make decisions hurtful to others, such as tricking her sister's beau into marrying her so his money could pay the property taxes.  The cyclone is dangerous, yet brings Dorothy to a different world where she learns valuable lessons.

Ms. Hieber ended her workshop by touching on some viewpoints expressed by Anne Bogart, author of A Director Prepares.  While writing, consider the following nine elements and ask yourself if you can use any of them for greater dramatic advantage.

1. Spatial Relationship - What's your set up? How close or how far apart are your characters? What position would create the greatest amount of friction between them?
2. Kinesthetic Response - How can you use, for instance, a loud noise, to show a character  flinch, scream or show some other reflexive or gut reaction?
3. Repetition - Repetition creates history. The reader comes back to something he's seen before. Can be used for symbolism or foreshadowing.
4. Floor Pattern/Topography - Blocking to display mood and setting.  For example, when writing about a nervous character pacing, how can you show him moving through that space?
5. Tempo - Pacing, is it fast or slow?
6. Architecture - Physically, what does the space look like in your piece? Describe the environment.
7. Duration - How long does something last?
8. Shape - Bodies have shapes.  What do your characters look like as they sit or walk?
9. Gesture - How do your characters hold their hands? Do they have nervous or happy gestures? Is there any form of nonverbal communication between any of your characters?

Ms. Heiber recommends  A Director Prepares, as well as the following books to open up your writing and general artistic process:
Playing Shakespeare by John Barton
Audition by Michael Shurtleff

I can't say enough good things about the workshop! It was an afternoon well spent and I took away some valuable writing advice.  Hope what I've shared will be useful to you!

Have you ever realized that theater techniques could translate into writing a better novel?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Scariest Shower Ever

Over the weekend I saw the movie Hitchcock, starring Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren. If you love film history, I highly recommend it! Alfred Hitchcock's life is explored after he has been a well known and supremely accomplished director for over three decades.

Now in his sixties, should he consider retirement, or stick around and find a project that excites him? You guessed it--and Psycho (1960) is that project! I won't disclose anymore about Hitchcock the movie, however, I will share some fun facts from Tuner Classic Movies regarding the famous shower scene from Psycho:

The shower scene in Psycho required 78 shot set-ups and took seven days to film. The set was built so that any of the walls could be removed, allowing the camera to get in close from every angle. Although other scenes were shot with more than one camera, this one used only one cameraman.
Janet Leigh in Psycho
The shower scene was originally written to see only the knife-wielding hand of the murderer. Hitchcock suggested to Saul Bass, who was storyboarding the sequence, a number of angles that would capture screenwriter Joseph Stefano's description of "an impression of a knife slashing, as if tearing at the very screen, ripping the film."

Janet Leigh wore thin moleskin to cover the most intimate parts of her body in the shower. Hitchcock kept a closed set during the shooting of the murder. Even so, Leigh later noted, "Security was a constant source of trouble. Even though I wore the moleskin, I was still pretty much 'on display,' so to speak. I didn't want strangers lurking around, hoping to get a peek in case of any accidental mishap."

Marli Renfro was paid $400 as Leigh's body double for some shots (according to some reports, she was only used for the scene of Marion's body being wrapped in the shower curtain). Although Leigh said for many years that there was never anyone actually naked in the shower, she admitted late in her life that Renfro did some shots nude. She also mentioned in her autobiography that she was nude in some scenes as the flesh-colored moleskin was washed away from her breasts. "What to do? ...To spoil the so-far successful shot and be modest? Or get it over with and be immodest. I opted for immodesty."

Reportedly, a fast-motion reverse shot was used to give the impression that the knife actually enters Marion's abdomen.

To achieve the effect of the water coming out of the shower head and streaming down past the camera on all sides, Hitchcock had a huge shower head made to order and shot with his camera very close to it.
Mr. Hitchcock
Hitchcock has said that one reason he shot Psycho in black-and-white was because he thought the bloody murder might be too much for audiences. He used chocolate syrup as the blood swirling down the drain. Nevertheless, some audience members swore the scene was in color and that they saw red blood.

Here's a link to the actual shower scene, plus one of Janet Leigh discussing it.

Have you ever seen Psycho?  Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Lost Boundaries

I'm about two-thirds of the way through writing my next novel, Revelation, which deals with the painful topic of  passing.  While doing research, I stumbled upon the movie Lost Boundaries.  This motion  picture is based on the book by William Lindsay White that tells the true story of Dr. Albert Chandler Johnston, a graduate of Rush Medical College. Johnston's family passed for white while living in New Hampshire. In the movie, Mel Ferrer plays Johnston's character as Scott Carter. A brief synopsis from FilmGordon follows below:
[After graduating] from medical school, Scott Carter, a fair-skinned African American, marries Marsha Mitchell and moves to Georgia. When he arrives at the black clinic in Georgia, he discovers that the job must inconveniently go to a Southerner. Discussions between two nurses at this clinic suggest that Scott’s light skin may have some bearing on the decision not to hire him.  
Defeated but not conquered, Scott returns to Massachusetts to live with his in-laws until he can get employment. He tries unsuccessfully to obtain employment as an African American. Because Marsha is pregnant, Scott decides to take a job at Portsmouth Hospital, but he reluctantly does so as a white man. While there, he manages to save the life of Dr. Bracket, who encourages him to take a postion in Keenham, New Hampshire.  
Scott decides to continue “passing” for white. In Keenham, Dr. Scott Carter proves to be quite a success for the town. For twenty years, Dr. and Mrs. Carter live peacefully in Keenham with son, Howard and daughter, Shelley. All
goes well until Scott and Howard decide to enter the military during World War II. When Scott applies for officer status with the Navy, an investigation reveals his black heritage, and he is barred from receiving a commission.
I'll be ordering a copy of the film and the book to help with my continuing research. Click here for more on Dr. Johnston.

This is a fascinating story I wasn't familiar with. Were you? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Randy Ingermanson: Helping Writers

Randy Ingermanson
I published this post back in March of 2011. If you missed it then, hope you'll find it useful now!

 "I help turn wannabe writers into gonnabe writers." Randy Ingermanson

If you're not familiar with Randy Ingermanson's, you don't know what you're missing!  Randy is the author of Writing Fiction for Dummies.  He's also known as "The Snowflake Guy" because of this article.  It outlines the way he designs/constructs a novel, by starting small, then building up until it looks like a story. Hence, the snowflake metaphor. You start with a paper triangle, then keep cutting until you make a more elaborate design emerge.

Randy, a writer and award winning author of six novels and one non-fiction book, is also a physicist and self proclaimed computer geek.  To learn more about him, click here.

His website is wonderful, and his e-zine is free! It's a monthly publication that provides some great secrets for novelists who want to develop their craft and better market their fiction.  In addition, once you subscribe, you'll also receive his 5 day course entitled "How to Publish A Book," along with his free report on Tiger Marketing.

Visit Randy today and take advantage of all of his great free stuff!  Do you have a favorite writing website that you'd like to plug?  Thanks for stopping by, and happy writing!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Balsamic Grilled Chicken

Nothing beats a great marinade, and this one was created by my late father-in-law. It's wonderful with chicken, but can also be used with beef, pork or even veggies. Enjoy!

Balsamic Grilled (or Roasted) Chicken

3 lbs chicken thighs
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
2 T soy sauce
2 t garlic powder
2 t dry mustard
1 t oregano
2 t salt
2 t pepper

Place chicken in Pyrex dish and set aside. In a small bowl, combine remaining ingredients.  Pour over chicken. Cover and refrigerate eight hours or overnight. Grill until juices run clear.

If you cannot grill, preheat your oven to 425. Place chicken on an oiled baking sheet and bake for 30-35 minutes.

Do you have a favorite grilled chicken recipe? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!