Monday, August 31, 2015

Flaw Your Hero

"No man can climb beyond the limitations of his own character." John Morley

When developing a hero in your fiction writing, it's important to make sure he's flawed. As in real life, this character should be imperfect. If he's good looking, smart, compassionate, loves children and animals, has a high paying corporate job and volunteers all his spare time working in orphanages and soup kitchens, your hero is too perfect. In other words, too boring!

Spice up your hero by flawing him with arrogance, or a hot temper. Perhaps he's a recovering alcoholic who struggles daily with his addiction. Maybe he was an abused child, and now carries the psychological scars that prevent him from building a meaningful relationship. Could he have suffered trauma (seeing his family killed), could he have been abandoned as a child, could he have been betrayed by a friend?

The possibilities are endless! Transform your hero from plain turkey on white, to turkey on crusty bread with sharp cheddar, salty anchovies, hot peppers and black olives! (Anybody else hungry for a hero sandwich, or is it just me?)

Want more insight into flawed heroes? Check out this article by Bruce Kirkland, Top 10 Flawed Film Heroes.

Who's your favorite fictional hero and what are his, or her, flaws?

Monday, August 24, 2015

Myrna Loy: Exotic Temptress to Refined Socialite

Myrna Loy is one of my very favorite actresses!  I thought she'd be fun to write about because of the mixed race issues I sometimes discuss here at the blog.  Although not of mixed race heritage, Ms. Loy’s early films often portrayed her as such.

Trained as a dancer, Myrna Loy devoted herself fully to an acting career following a few minor roles in silent movies. Because of her looks, she was originally typecast in exotic, mysterious roles.  However, when you think of her as the wealthy Nob Hill heiress, Nora Charles from the motion picture detective series, The Thin Man (based on Dashiell Hammett's novel by the same name) that’s hard to believe! 

It was during her silent days that she was cast mainly as vamps or femme fatales.  Although born Myrna Adele Williams in Helena, Montana (of Welsh, Scottish and Irish descent) Ms. Loy frequently portrayed characters of Asian or Eurasian background.  Some of those early films include Across the PacificA Girl in Every PortThe Crimson CityThe Black Watch and The Desert Song. 

She later recalled that those roles "...kind of solidified my exotic non-American image." And it took years for her to overcome this stereotype.  As late as 1932 she was cast as a villainous Eurasian in Thirteen Women.  (I actually saw this movie several years ago, and Ms. Loy  played the heck out of that role!)  She also played a sadistic Chinese princess in The Mask of Fu Manchu, opposite Boris Karloff. To see some of Myrna Loy at her vampish best in Thirteen Women, click here.

Prior to her early thirties vamp roles, she had small parts in some musical films, yet because of those, she became associated with musical roles.  And when those early musicals became less popular with the public, Ms. Loy’s career declined.

In 1934, Loy appeared in Manhattan Melodrama with Clark Gable and William Powell. Gangster John Dillinger was shot to death after leaving a screening of that movie at the Biograph Theater in Chicago.  After that, the the film received widespread publicity. Some papers even reported that Loy had been Dillinger's favorite actress. (As an aside, if you haven’t seen Johnny Depp in Public Enemies as John Dillinger, that film did a great job of portraying what happened at the theater very realistically—great movie, worth renting!)

Later in 1934, Loy was cast as Nora Charles in The Thin Man.  That film's director chose her after he detected a wit and sense of humor that lay untapped in her previous films.

The Thin Man became one of  1934’s biggest hits!  It was even nominated for the Academy Award for Best Film.  Ms. Loy received outstanding reviews, and in addition was acclaimed for her comedic skills. She and costar William Powell became a popular screen couple and were paired in 14 films together.  Loy later said of  The Thin Man "that [film] finally made me... after more than 80 films.” What a journey she had from exotic temptress to refined socialite! 

Are you a Myrna Loy fan, too? If so, what’s your favorite Myrna Loy movie? Mine is The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer! Thanks for visiting!

Reprinted from 7/9/12

Monday, August 17, 2015

It's All in What You Say: Writing Dialogue

"A dialogue is more than two monologues." Max Kampelman

My favorite part of fiction writing is dialogue. It serves many purposes. And so much can be revealed about a character through his thoughts, actions and especially words he says or doesn't say. Each word clues the reader in to that particular character's identity.

I love old movies and Casablanca is one of my all time favorites! William Bayer, in his book The Great Movies, classifies it as one of the 60 greatest motion pictures of all time. Bayer says it is one of the few adventure films where the adventure takes place indoors. There are no fights or outdoor adventures. "There are, instead, adventures of verbal jousting, of dialogue and innuendo, and they are dominated, in fact ruled, by a supreme adventurer, Rick."

What makes us know Rick is an adventurer is his dialogue. Bayer outlines several snatches of it that reveal glimpses into Rick's character:

His Irony:
When asked to explain why he came to Casablanca, Rick says,"I came to Casablanca for the waters."
"What waters? We're in the desert."
"I was misinformed."

His Sex Life in Casablanca:
As seen with a girl in a brief exchange. She asks,"Where were you last night?"
"That's so long ago I don't remember."
"Will I see you tonight?"
"I never make plans so far in advance."

His Bitterness:
When he accuses Ingrid Bergman of having had other lovers: "Were there others in between? Or aren't you the kind that kisses and tells?"

His Urbanity:
"What is your nationality?" Major Strasser asks.
"I'm a drunkard," says Rick.

His Mystique:
Claude Raines explains to Ingrid Bergman: "Rick is the kind of man that if I were a woman, I would be in love with Rick."

Besides revealing insight into your characters, dialogue moves your story along by providing important information. That's why the lines are there in the first place, and that's what keeps the reader reading!

Keep your dialogue natural sounding. Reading it out loud is a good test to hear if it sounds like a real conversation. As far as dialect, a little goes a long way. It makes your reader work too hard by having to intepret what you've written. Just throw in a few words, then leave the rest to the reader's imagination. They'll get the message regarding the character's speech pattern.

Hope this insight into dialogue has been helpful! If you haven't seen Casablanca, rent it soon! It's worth it!

What's some of the best dialogue you've seen or read lately?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Reprinted from 6/25/10

Monday, August 10, 2015

Miracle Vichyssoise

I love soup! At the first sign of autumn crispness, I pull out all my recipes. With air conditioning, hot, hearty soups are great all year long, although I'm not particularly inclined to make them in the summer.

Cold soups, however, are another story, and they're especially delicious with with a big salad or a tasty wrap. One of my favorites is Vichyssoise. It sounds difficult to prepare, just because of the name. Calling it cold potato soup seems less intimidating. And to be honest, I've never made traditional Vichyssoise, so I can't really tell you how hard it is to make.

With me, simplicity is key! Miracle Vichyssoise is a recipe I found in the Raleigh News and Observer several years ago when I lived in North Carolina. It's wonderful, not to mention easy and fast! But I'd suggest slimming it down by using skim milk instead of whole milk or half and half as the recipe calls for. Hope you like it!

Miracle Vichyssoise

1 T butter
1 large onion, chopped
2 (14.5 oz.) cans fat free chicken broth
2 (14.5 Oz.) cans sliced new potatoes, drained
1 cup milk or half and half (can use skim milk to cut calories)
1/2 t Worcestershire sauce
black pepper to taste
1/4 t salt (optional)

Melt buttter in a small skillet on medium heat. Add onion and raise heat to medium-high. Cook onion 4 minutes or until translucent, stirring occasionally and taking care not to brown.

Meanwhile, put drained potatoes and 1 can of broth into blender or food processor and puree until smooth. (If using a food processor, add only half can of broth to prevent overflow.)

Add onions and blend 45 seconds or so. Pour potato mixture into a large serving or storage bowl. Add remaining ingredients. Stir well. Chill before serving. Makes 8 1-cup servings.

Do you have a favorite cold soup?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Reprinted from 6/21/10

Monday, August 3, 2015

Movie Re-Makes: Worth it or Not?

I saw the new RoboCop released in 2014 and enjoyed it a lot. Rotten Tomatoes said, "While over-the-top and also a surprisingly smart sci-fi flick that uses ultraviolence to disguise its satire of American culture." I've seen the 1987 version, which I also enjoyed, but the FX technology in the re-make is, of course, far superior.
RoboCop, 1987
Sometimes movie re-makes can be an improvement over the original film, like The Maltese Falcon.  In the 1931 version, sound was relatively new in movies, and sometimes actors delivered lines with their backs to the camera.  In addition, there was no mood music.

The Maltese Falcon, 1941
The 1941 re-make has become a classic, thanks to a charismatic cast that includes Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, Sidney Greenstreet and Mary Astor. The musical score and dramatic cinematography place this film head and shoulders above its earlier counterpart.

Psycho, 1960
Although some re-makes surpass their predecessors, that's not always the case.  Take Psycho, for instance. The 1960 version was directed by Alfred Hitchcock.  Hitchcock--need I say more? Then along came the 1998 version, a shot by shot remake.  Why?

Do you have a favorite movie re-make and a not so favorite one?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Reprinted from 1/13/14