Monday, November 17, 2014

Laughter Really is the Best Medicine

In life, as in writing, it's important to see humor in even serious situations. In literature, humor eases the stress level in tension filled scenes to give the reader a chance to catch his breath.

American Heritage Dictionary defines comic relief as follows: n. A humorous or farcical interlude in a serious literary work or drama, especially a tragedy intended to relieve the dramatic tension or heighten the emotional impact by means of contrast.

Wikipedia says, "William Shakespeare deviated from the classical tradition and used comic relief in Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, The Merchant of Venice and Romeo and Juliet. The Porter scene in Macbeth, the grave-digger scene in Hamlet and the gulling of Roderigo provide immense comic relief... In popular culture, the character of C-3PO, featured in all six Star Wars films, is also considered to be used as comic relief. He is often found criticizing the desperate situation the other characters find themselves in, or being rescued from predicaments by his counterpart R2-D2."

In real life a good laugh is important, too. According to About.com's page on Stress Management:
  • Laughter gives us a physical and emotional release
  • Good belly laughs work out the diaphragm, contract the abs, and exercise the shoulders
  • Laughter takes away focus from negative emotions like anger, guilt, or stress in a more positive way than an ordinary distraction.
To learn more about the health benefits of laughter, click here!

Here's my prescription for a happy, stress free life: Smile, laugh, hug often--oh, and read some good books with lots of comic relief! What's yours?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Writing Bad Guys


Tom Hiddleston as Loki in The Avengers
"O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain!"  William Shakespeare (Hamlet, I, v, 106)

There's never a dull moment with a bad guy--or a bad girl.  Let's face it, creating fictional villains is just downright fun!  I, personally, hate confrontation, and the last thing I'd ever want to do is hurt some one's feelings.  Perhaps writing about a mean person is cathartic for me.  I've been told I do it well.  Not quite sure how to take that.  But whatever the case, it's rather exciting to write dialogue I'd actually never say, and write about nasty, villainous deeds I could never imagine being done in real life--until I see them reenacted on America's Most Wanted.      

Margaret Hamilton as The Wicked Witch
of the West in The Wizard of Oz
Villains break all the rules of decency and morality and don't care.  Lying/cheating/stealing is their MO, and political correctness doesn't exist in their world.  Heroes don't make derogatory comments regarding race or sex, but with a villain, why not?  Our heroes don't smoke, and if they drink, they're merely social drinkers.  Villainous women can be portrayed promiscuous to the point of nymphomania.  And a bad man isn't into real relationships, because he's too busy using and discarding women.
  
Our heroes can be flawed individuals who have overcome some of the same demons our villains don't see as demons.  Perhaps a hero is a recovering alcoholic, recently quit smoking and still struggles, or maybe was a womanizer at one time, but no more--since finding "the one."

As the hero is flawed, the villain must to be humanized.  Through back story, he or she must be seen as a person first, not a monster.  Otherwise, that character will just come off looking like a cartoon bad guy.  Reading bios of notorious criminals can help develop a believable villain.

Depending on the circumstances that molded this individual's psyche, the reading audience might feel a little sympathy (because his mother died when he was an infant, he lacked a mother's love), or make them hate him even more (because he was bitten by a dog as a child, one of his hobbies as an adult is running over dogs with his car).

How will you have fun creating your next villain, or making your current one even scarier?

Thanks for stopping by and have a great week!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Creating a Villain's Villainy

Anthony Hopkins as Villain Hannibal Lecter
Sorry my post is a day late. Life gets in the way sometimes!

"An excellent man, like a precious metal, is in every way invariable. A villain, like the beams of a balance, is always varying, upwards and downwards." John Locke

Not long ago, I attended a fabulous all day workshop presented by authors Laura Baker and Robin L. PeriniDiscovering Story Magic explored the integral relationship between character, conflict, plot, realization and turning points in producing salable fiction.

The information I received is much too plentiful to put into a blog post, but I do want to share an exercise Ms. Perini suggested in creating a villain.

Gene Hackman as Villain Lex Luthor
Pick an "inciting incident" from your own life and spend three minutes writing about it in first person, present tense.  An inciting incident is a change that affected you in a bad or sad way.

Then take that same inciting incident and pick one of the following villains: Hannibal Lector, the Wicked Witch of the West, or Lex Luthor. Now, write about it in first person present tense from the point of view of the villain you chose (be sure to stick with that same villain).

Perhaps the sadness of a grandmother's death to you, could bring happiness to the Wicked Witch, since your loving grandmother was an obstacle to her power. Maybe the sadness you felt after a friend moved would be joyful to Lex Luthor, who wanted him out of the way, since Lex's parents always compared the friend unfavorably to little Lex.  Or how about a  decision to drop out of medical school?  Disappointing, although the right choice for you, but Hannibal Lector regrets it and vows to go back.

So--you are your own villain! Think you'll give this exercise a try?

Have a great week and thanks for stopping by!

Reprinted from 11/15/10.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Easy Pork Roast with Gravy

Here's something kid tested by my kids, and mother approved by me! It's also really easy to prepare and cooks in the crock pot. This recipe comes from Reader's Digest, and they suggest serving it with mashed white potatoes. Rice works well, too. Enjoy!

Pork Roast with Gravy

1 boneless whole pork loin, 3-4 lbs.
1 can chicken broth
1 cup julienned sweet red pepper
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 T Worcestershire sauce
1T brown sugar
2 t Italian seasoning
1 t salt
1 t pepper
2 t cornstarch
2 t cold water

Cut roast in half, transfer to 5 qt. slow cooker.  In small bowl, combine broth, red pepper, onion, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar and seasonings.  Pour over pork.  Cover and cook on low 3-4 hours, or until meat thermometer reads 160 degrees and meat is tender.

For gravy, strain cooking juices and skim fat.  Pour 1 cup into small saucepan. Combine corn starch and water until smooth.  Stir into cooking juices. Bring to a boil, cook and stir two minutes or until thickened.

Do you have a favorite pork roast recipe that your mom used to make? Thanks for visiting, and have a wonderful week!

Reprinted from 4/15/11.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Say What? Simple Ways to Make Dialogue Tags Disappear

"There is nothing so annoying as to have two people talking when you're busy interrupting." Mark Twain

"John," Mary said, "I love you."
"Mary, I love you, too!" John declared.
"But what about Evan?" Mary cried. "We're to be married tomorrow!"
"My brother!" John exclaimed. "He's ruined every good thing in my life, and now--"
"Stop!" Mary interjected. "All of this--it's not fair to Evan, but..."

Shall I go on? I think not. First of all, there's nothing wrong with using "said" as a dialogue tag. It's like the ugly chain link fence that when painted black, becomes invisible. Readers are less likely to notice "said," because it easily blends in.

Too many different verbs are distracting, as in the example above. But that doesn't mean you can't use different verbs at all. You might want to say something stronger like hissed or spat for certain situations, but not too often. And make sure the words you choose in those instances have lots of s's that create an actual hissing sound or flying spittle!

You probably know, however, that dialogue tags aren't necessary for each line of dialog. Plain old dialogue can be used for several lines, or gestures can be used in place of tags. Just don't overdo the gestures.

Mary ran a hand through her hair. "John, even though it's not fair to Evan, I can't live without you."
John sighed. "Mary, we'll have to tell him."
Mary eyes widened. "But there's no telling what he'll do! He might--"
"Don't worry." John embraced her. "Even though he's a convicted felon, he's been through anger management." John kissed her neck. "Everything will be fine. Trust me."

You get the message. Now, one last word on dialogue tags. Make sure they really are dialogue tags. People don't smile, laugh or gasp their words. Here's one last example that correctly incorporates everything discussed today:

"Oh, John, you're impossible!" Mary laughed.
He smiled. "I know."
A door opened. Evan stepped from the closet. "Just what are the two of you trying to pull?"
Mary gasped, pulling from John's embrace. "How much have you heard?"
"I've heard enough! My own brother, and the woman I love!" When Evan reached in his pocket, John stepped in front of Mary.
"What?" Evan said. "You think I have a gun?" He pulled out a granola bar and unwrapped it. "As far as I'm concerned the two of you deserve each other with all that rotten dialogue!"

I suppose you've probably read enough, so I'll stop now! But I hope this tip on dialogue tags has been helpful!

Any advice you'd like to share on dialogue tags? Thanks for stopping by and have a great week!

Reprinted from 12/27/10