Classic vs Updated Novels

I’ve never been crafty or witty enough to pull off April Fool’s jokes.  So this will be just another Sunday Vs.  Sorry to disappoint!

The topic of the week is Classic Novels vs. their Updated counterparts.

Example:  Pride and Prejudice vs. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which is a re-telling of sorts, with some zombies thrown in.  Another example would be The Trials of the Honorable F. Darcy, which is an updated version setting it in the 21st century.   Or Pride and Popularity giving the story a modern high school twist.

Think the 1996 movie Romeo + Juliet with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes.  Or even the BBC show Sherlock, a modern take on Sherlock Holmes.  And contrary to the rest of this post, I cannot praise Sherlock enough!

I haven’t read many updated novels of classics.  Although I did read the graphic novel of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  (Which was really entertaining, but perhaps part of it was because I deeply enjoy graphic novels.)

Generally, I try to stay away from updated novels because there’s a stigma that goes along with them.  I suppose some of them can be likened to fan fiction, even, which trust me, will be a whole other post!  And to be honest, I rather like reading the originals, both for the style of writing, as well as an intricate look at another time in history.

However, I’m not against the occasional retelling of a story.  But I find that most of the ones I’m drawn to are fairy tales.  (I grew up re-reading Just Ella and Ella Enchanted, interesting takes on Cinderella.)  There’s something about their old, magical feel that I love. And yet, for some reason, it’s difficult for me to get through modern spins on classics.  Perhaps I feel that modern takes lose their historical or magical appeal, so I only really enjoy re-imaginings during the period in which they take place.   Or maybe I’m just really picky.

So what are your thoughts about updating classic stories?  Have you read any good (or terrible) re-tellings of a story?  Or do you do you avoid them like a plague?

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Series vs. Stand Alone Novels

Hollywood isn’t the only industry about to be scrutinized for its sequels.  Let’s take a look at how books deal with the standalone vs series approach to story telling in this week’s Sunday Versus.

Whether you feel it while you’re writing or not, there is a pressure when publishing to separate a long story into a series.  Famously JRR Tolkien never intended to publish The Lord of the Rings as a trilogy.   And we were lead to believe that the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini was to be a trilogy, but upon the announcement of the third book, it was also revealed that there would be a fourth.  (And to be honest, I only read the first book and a half of that series.)

But you know what? Fantasy isn’t the only genre taken over by series.  What about The Millennium Series (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo & sequels for those unfamiliar with the formal series title), or Dan Brown’s novels with Robert Langdon?  Well, let’s not limit ourselves to fantasy and thrillers.  I for one have not forgotten the Little House on the Prairie series or Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery.

In fact, sometimes I feel like stand alone novels can be so short in comparison, that I hardly remember what happens in them.  They’re like a small blip on my reader’s radar when larger series take up the majority of my attention.  And most of the series, I admit, are deserved to be so.

However, I think there comes a point when even we have to set the books down and ask ourselves if it’s really a good story, or if we’re just attached to the characters at some point.  I like to think of it as the Jack Sparrow effect.  I’m not entirely sure the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie would have been made if Johnny Depp hadn’t been so in love with playing Jack Sparrow.

A prime example, for me personally, is the Anne of Green Gables series.  Now, the first two-three books were some of my favorites as a school-girl.  And I was in love with Anne Shirley!  But by the time I got to the fourth, fifth, and sixth, I was about done with her shenanigans.  And from what I hear, there’s a seventh, eighth, and ninth book as well.  I think, when one has literally written and chronicled a character from the ages of 10-50 or so, it’s about time to end it, unless you plan on doing it in one novel.

One factor that can weigh in on this, is whether or not a book is character or plot driven.  I realize there’s a huge grey area between the two, but for the sake of this topic I’m willing to find a split in them.  I tend to feel that character driven novels should be singular.  Mostly because the point of the story is watching the character grow and change, and although people are never done growing, if a character isn’t wrapped up by the end of the novel, then I’m not very likely to keep reading another.  However, with plot driven novels I’m more invested in the actual story and what happens.  I’m compelled to keep reading because I want to know how things are resolved, and I surely won’t be satisfied if they’re rushed through in one small novel!

Overall I’m not opposed to series, but I do think if a writer is considering a sequel, especially a previously unplanned sequel, they should ask themselves if it’s really necessary.  Do they really need to use the same characters?  Are there loose strings to tie up, and how can they develop the characters more?  Will people still care after an already resolved story line?  Just some things to consider before venturing past a novel.  Sometimes I feel like a stand alone novel can be a bit underrated, especially the shorter ones.  If someone can tell a compelling and powerful story in a 120 page book, then more power to them! Stories don’t have to be long to be good.

Have you guys ever read a series that should have stopped after the first book? Or perhaps there’s a standalone novel that would serve as a great beginning to a killer series?  Let me know what you think!

What’s the Worst Thing That Could Happen?

Recently I’ve been running into this advice more and more often.   You ask yourself, what’s the worst thing that could happen to your character?  And then you make that happen.

People love this!  They use this advice at every turn possible.  While not terrible advice, I don’t really agree with it.

I blame the snarky little girl in me that wants to retort with “Well…an asteroid could hit the planet and annihilate all life, and since this isn’t a sci-fi story, then there would be nothing else to tell.”   Really though, that’s a little much.

I know they don’t mean to completely destroy your character, making them plunge deeper into darkness without having any positive things.  Even if your character spirals into an abyss and dies there, you at least need to give them hope for something better.

But no, my problem with this age-old advice, is that it’s too expected.  As a reader (and perhaps this is magnified by also being a writer), I often think about what will happen next to the characters I’m reading about.  I’ll sit there and ponder, “how terrible would it be if this happened !”  And then, of course, it does happen, and it is the terrible!  Yet, it’s still predictable.

I will admit, sometimes it is best to throw the worst at your characters, but I think it’s vital to mix up the formula.  If your story needs some extra malevolence, try throwing in a twist for your characters.  They got the promotion and raise so they can afford the rent (finally)?  That’s great!  But what if their workplace nemesis did too, and now they have to work together?   Or maybe it isn’t one big thing that goes wrong, but a lot of little things that add up.

While it’s definitely good to put your characters through tough trials, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to ruthlessly torture them with the worst that life has to throw at them.  Switch things up!  And try to do what best fits the story you want to tell.  It’s our job to tell the story in its entirety, relating both the ups and downs.

Happy writing!

Riding the Crazy Train to Breakdown Town

…And How to Make it a Productive Trip.

See this girl? Her name is Aly and she is full of crazy.

Yesterday I was in a mood.  I was in a eat-the-entire-box-of-Girl-Scout-cookies, cry-over-old-pictures, listen-to-Matchbox-20-on-repeat, and bury-my-face-in-tissues-while-watching-Pride&Prejudice kind of mood.  Let me clarify that girls are indeed crazy.  We can’t help it.

And while we’re on that topic, writers and creatives in general, also suffer from a crazy streak or two.  Known for suffering from a multitude of illnesses including depression, schizophrenia, bi-polar disease, alcoholism and drug addiction, we’re not the most stable of groups.  Philip K. Dick, Edgar Allen Poe, Sylvia Plath, anyone? Of course, some of us are more sane, grounded, and normal than others.

However, as people, we all have our ups and downs.  And as writers, it’s our job to capture those moments.

We write about the state of society, the intricacies of relationships, and about the past, present, and future. We write about our world or others, with happy endings or sad.  Through our writing, no matter the genre, we examine what connects us, what does, or doesn’t, make us human.

And perhaps that is what makes us crazy.  With every new experience and emotion, we remember it, save it.  We relive our anger, embarrassment, and disappointment every time our characters do.

At least, that’s how I am.  When I’m in a less than chipper mood, I sit down and write.  I write what I’m thinking and how I feel.  It doesn’t even have to be part of a story or for a character, but it’s something I can reference and go back to when I do need to write about a darker theme.  After all, even if we all act out differently, we still feel the same emotions.  Although my characters react differently than I would, their actions are still based on familiar emotions.

So, if you’re in a dark place, or in a mood, as I say, use it.  Maybe writing is the only thing you want to do, or maybe it’s the last.  But at least try.  Not only does it act as a release, but you can use it as a starting point for remembering and feeling what your characters should be feeling.

This also applies to happier of times, or hell, even average ones.  What’s important is that our characters have feelings too.  They’re living beings, if only from a two-dimensional world.  And it’s our job to breathe life and feeling into them.

So how do you guys deal with emotional swings, especially if they get in the way of writing?  Have you ever dealt with a character experiencing emotions you’ve never felt?  How did you write about that?

Paige: An Introduction

This piece is quite different from what I usually write.  It’s one of many short writings that I plan on eventually accumulating into a novel of sorts.  The story of Paige is loosely based on myself, even her name coming from what my parents almost named me.  So, I write about Paige when something significant or striking happens, or almost happens, to me.  This has been left unedited intentionally because I wish to preserve the short stories as they are until I finally compile them and can edit them as one.

Also, I realize the majority of people, aka, everyone who has subscribed so far, who read my blog, are pretty much the opposite of my intended target audience for this.  But on the off chance you like it, feel free to let me know. 🙂

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There is a rumor that your life flashes before your eyes when faced with death. For Paige Macintosh, however, that time came sooner. Although she was in no real danger of dying, life as she knew it was indeed ending. Paige was sitting on a ratty brown couch picked up while dumpster diving. Her soon to be ex-boyfriend was currently pacing a hole in the carpet in front of the couch. His ranting words were lost on the girl who was preoccupied by her own life story.

Age 4: She watches enviously as her brother gets to hold the puppy on the ride home. Age 9: The room is filled with laughter as her cousins make fun of her. Paige would never care for them again. Age 15: She’s sitting on the curb with her mom, watching the tow truck pull the car out of a ditch. Results of her first driving lesson. Age 18: The dorm room is impossibly small to be sharing with the wild room mate she just met. Age 21: Looking at the letter of dismissal from the college. Enter depression. Age 22: Paige’s boyfriend gives her a big hug after they finish moving boxes into their new apartment.

Now: She’s getting dumped. Again.

“I don’t know what more I can do Paige. How am I supposed to keep looking after you when you won’t let me and refuse to do it yourself? I thought things would change but apparently I was wrong,” Alex said, finally standing still and looking at her. The movie reel of her life ended. Everything culminated to this very point in time and she wasn’t even paying attention. She didn’t need to. Paige knew full well what was about to happen, why her mind replayed every significant memory. Realizing this, she faced Alex for the first time since he started talking. “Well? Aren’t you going to say anything?”

“I’m not sure what to say,” her voice was quiet and timid. Alex looked at her incredulously. Paige averted her eyes. “What? What do you want to hear from me?”

“I don’t know…something! You sit there silently, as if this doesn’t even matter to you anymore.” He waited for her to reply. When she didn’t say anything he threw his arms up in defeat. “I give up. I’m done with this. Paige, you’ve become impossible to deal with. I’m leaving.” With that Alex grabbed his jacket and headed for the door.

“Wait! Alex…are you breaking up with me?” For the first time in three weeks she actually cared about what the outcome was.

“Yeah, I guess I am,” he said, before slamming the door behind him. Stunned silence followed.

All her hopes, dreams, and happy memories shattered like a wine glass in the wrong place on moving day. Paige could see her fragmented thoughts imbedding themselves into the carpet, where just minutes before her boyfriend had stood. Time didn’t stop, but Paige’s life was stuck on this singular frame. Minutes passed into hours as she sat unmoving. Her mind was numb, unwilling to process what just happened and what it meant for her. Instead, she sat there, going over all the now broken memories she shared with Alex. What were once beautiful scenes were reduced to shards, threatening to cut through her heart if she dared tried to put them back together. She didn’t dare.

Her life was sitting before her in ruins, and she didn’t have the will to put it back together. Was there even a point to try and fix things? She was estranged from her parents, didn’t have a job, and had dropped out of college. Not only that, but her boyfriend just walked out on her and the apartment they shared. How would she pay for it? If he came back and kicked her out then where would she live? Paige suddenly imagined herself selling all her possessions, moving to a big city and either becoming a crazy homeless person, or a prostitute.

The horror of her prospective future catapulted her mind back to the present. It was almost dark out, and had been at least an hour since Alex had stormed out of the apartment. He had to come back at some point, and when he did, Paige would be ready. She started rehearsing what she would say to win Alex back. Becoming a crack whore was not an option.

The Baker: A Character Study

This is a simple short story written about one of the main characters of a new novel concept I’m working on.  I’m pretty much just exploring the character and the world.  Most likely this will be the first of several short stories to help me further develop my ideas.  Also, I am very open to critiques/comments/suggestions about my writing.  I’d love to hear feedback.

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The brick oven was slowly spreading it’s warmth around the bakery. The sun had yet to rise and Walter was thankful he wouldn’t have to work in the frigid cold for long. He had always hated the cold, preferring the sweltering bakery when it was busy. But, he knew when he accepted the apprenticeship that the early mornings would not be kind.

Walter let his hands linger at the opening of the oven for a moment longer before finally turning around. His eyes roamed the small room, mapping out the rest of his day at the bakery. He was tasked with starting up the oven and making the first rounds of dough for baking. It would be another hour before Stephan, the master baker, arrived. Until then the bakery was his. At least, in his mind it was.

When his scarred hands stopped freezing he knew it was time to start the dough. He strode over to the stacked sacks of flour. A small grunt escaped as he hoisted one of the sacks over his shoulder. The resounding thud of burlap on wood almost surprised him as he shouldered the flour onto a table. It was the loudest thing he’d heard all morning.

He made quick work of gathering and measuring all the ingredients. Walter moved around the bakery with the efficiency of a hard learned baker. It had been three years since Stephan took him as an apprentice. He was 14 at the time, orphaned with no place to go. The aging baker had no sons of his own, and he took pity on Walter. An easy agreement was made between the two. Stephan would teach Walter an invaluable trade, while Walter would help around the bakery and tackle the tasks too laborious for the baker. Luckily, Walter picked up the trade quickly and easily. He even enjoyed the work, which was evident in the inimitable breads he baked.

At the moment, he was mixing one such batch. When the dough started to ball he split it into halves for kneading. He smoothly floured a table and grabbed the first batch of dough for the morning. A plume of flour shot into the air as dense, pliable dough hit the wood table. Dexterous fingers quickly went to work, kneading the mound.

Push. Fold. Smash. Quarter-turn.

The process was a simple, if arduous one.

Push. Fold. Smash. Quarter-turn.

There was a certain clarity of mind that came with the repetitive motions.

Push. Fold. Smash. Quarter-turn.

For Walter, it marked the only thoughtless and worry-free time he possessed.

Push. Fold. Smash. Quarter-turn. SMACK!

Every fourth quarter-turn he lifted the dough then briskly slammed it back onto the table. The satisfying sound immediately fell into a rhythm. A methodical melody filled the small bakery, serenading none but Walter.

Slowly but surely the dough transformed from a viscous mass into a smooth slab. When Walter was satisfied with the texture of the dough he set it aside to rise. Before starting on the second mass he grabbed a towel and wiped the sweat form his forehead. The physical exertion and the heat from the oven had rapidly warmed him up. He chanced a glance out the shutters, and saw the sky was beginning to lighten. He had to get working again if he was to have the dough in the oven by the time Stephan arrived. Ignoring the burning in his muscles, Walter grabbed the second piece of dough and vigorously began to knead.

By the time Stephan entered the shop, Walter had already scaled the risen dough and put it in the oven. Now he was working on specialty breads, and barely looked up when Stephan walked in. The master baker walked over to the brick oven to examine the bread inside. He shook his head with a smile.

“Perfectly scaled and shaped,“ he praised. “Maybe I should let you take over the shop tomorrow, eh?”

That caught Walter’s attention. He paused and looked up at Stephan. His dark, young eyes met Stephan’s wise blue ones. Walter determined the old man was joking, but he made sure to remember that remark.

“I dunno Master Stephan. Who would buy all my flat and burnt pastries?” Walter asked with a guilty smile. Bread and rolls he had mastered, but the art of pastries still eluded him.

Stephan chuckled as he made his way across the bakery. “When I have the resources to waste good pastries on you, I’ll let you practice,” he teased Walter. “Til then, you’re stuck on bread, my boy.”

“I know, I know,” Walter said with a sigh. He wasn’t entirely sure the old man just wanted to keep his precious secrets to himself. But he was determined to learn, no matter how long it took. If Walter was sure of anything in this world, it was that he was going to be a baker and take over Master Stephan’s bakery.

He couldn’t have been more wrong.

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