Thursday, August 28, 2014

Writing Tip: Elements of a Romantic Comedy

For the past three weeks I’ve been trying to finish everything on my plate so I can focus on a new screenplay that my script-writing partner and I have begun. I’m almost there. And because the script we are writing is a romantic comedy, one of the things I’ve been doing in my spare time is researching what makes romantic comedies different from other types of stories. And although I’m focused on screenwriting, the principles apply to novels and short stories as well. 

So far I’ve found six distinguishing elements that separate romantic comedy from the rest of the field. They are:

1) The main character (Hero) must pursue some sexual or romantic interest. This sounds like a no-brainer, but a writer could decide to have the love interest be someone other than the hero. However, as with all successful stories, the most important character is the hero, with whom the reader or audience most strongly identifies with, and in romantic comedies it must be this character who is pursuing (or being pursued by) some compelling romantic desire. That’s what makes it a romantic comedy – the hero must desperately try to win (or win back) the affections of another character. 

2) The hero must pursue an additional goal. Simultaneously chasing two or more goals (often goals at odds with each other) adds complexity and originality to the story, and also accelerates the pacing.

3) The characters are desperate to achieve their goals, and fight apposing conflicts with tenacity. They should never think they, or the situation, is funny. It must be deadly serious to them. Strangely enough, the comedy grows out of the hero’s pain and loss. The plots of the most successful comedies deal with cheating spouses, disease, physical abuse, humiliation, unemployment, suicide and death. The humor arises from the way the hero overreacts to these situations. 

4) Although most romantic comedies almost never show actual sex, they are sexy. There is always lots of flirting, and the hero must confront his/her sexual desire. If the hero and love interest do slip into bed together, the audience must see everything leading up to that hot embrace before the bedroom door shuts in our face. 

5) The plot resolves around a deception. For instance, the hero is pretending to be someone he’s not (Mrs. Doubtfire, Tootsie, The Birdcage), or is lying to his beloved about his feelings or intentions in order to pursue the relationship. Dishonesty is a necessary element to increase the conflict and humor, and also to force the hero to confront his/her inner conflicts and deceptions. Only by facing the truth about themselves are they able to arc into someone better.

6) It must have a happy ending, or if the hero doesn’t get the boy, the reader feels that the resolution is the most appropriate or satisfying ending for the hero.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Prism Book Alliance Reviews First Exposure by Alan Chin


Tuesdays are the days I showcase my own work on this blog. Today I’d like to share a review of my latest novel, First Exposure.


Publisher: Bold Strokes Publishing

Rating: 5 of 5 Stars

Blurb:
Straight, married Petty Officer Second Class Skyler Thompson battles homophobia from his navy buddies, the military, and his wife when he takes a job creating flower arrangements at a gay-owned florist. But rather than yield to pressure and quit, he refuses to give up the joy of creating beautiful arrangements, battling homophobia for artistic expression. His dream is to leave the navy and open his own florist shop.

Ezra Dumphy—his shipmates call him Dumpy because of his obesity—is a gay sailor who likes to dress in drag. He is shunned by his shipmates, tragically lonely, and uses drugs to cope with his solitude. What he wants more than anything is someone to share his life with.

Can these two men, opposites in every way, help each other achieve their dreams?

My View:
“Life, friendship, love, was a crapshoot.”
After just two chapters into this book, I had bought into this story, to Ezra and Skylar, to their lives, to this author’s writing.

On the surface of things, it may appear like these are trope-worn characters with trope-worn backgrounds, but this is not the case. Chin has given these people lives through their struggles and the crutches with which they try to deal with those struggles. He’s given to them talents and the joy they feel when they get lost in them. The level of emotional honesty is unavoidable, it’s so real.

Ezra and Skylar share a connection, though through different media. The result is a door that opens practically on its own.

To him, art was somehow sacred, the way you gaze up at a night sky and wonder if you’re standing on an electron that revolves around a proton in a series of infinite universes, and suddenly your mind expands and you experience your reality in a new and more significant light.

Anyone who has ever gotten lost while looking at a photograph or watching a playing musician or reading a passage in a poem, or anything of the like, will understand that feeling. There’s no turning back from it, either.

Desperation.

Fleeting joy.

Deep pain.

Strength.

Loneliness.

Wispy hope.

Sadness.

Unexpected chances.

This writer has a healthy comfort level with language and knows how to use it. It’s such an interesting juxtaposition, his use of what I can only call celebratory prose in writing about difficult things taking place in complicated, uneasy lives. The styles aren’t all similar but I got the same feeling from his writing as I do when reading Harper Fox or Edmond Manning. The words the words the words.

There are a few cases of what feels like overindulgence in that language, but when it’s this enjoyable, I let it go like a two-day old bagel.

At some point during all of this, I realized I wouldn’t be able to ever forget these characters. Beautiful, sweet, carrying their burdens, frightened, hopeful and working to survive. Again, it’s the writing. It brings inspiration and darkness to life.

“Flowers are more delicate, more ethereal than the plants they emerge from, and they have scent, which is amorphous. They are the bridge between the physical and the formless, body and spirit. Flowers are a metamorphosis of the plant in the same way spiritual awakening is to a human.”

Hollister, one of the supporting characters and co-owner of the flower shop with his partner Miguel, says this to Skylar as they work on creating some arrangements for an event. This is one of many, many turns in this story for multiple characters. I have to say, as well, that in this kind of story, I almost don’t like to use the term “supporting”, as if they aren’t important all on their own. Believe me, every character in this book is meant to be there.

Unpredictable characters making unpredictable choices. I like that I didn’t always agree with those choices or that they didn’t always feel right for the characters. Whenever that happened, it forced me to reexamine my understanding of them. How great is that? Highly involved reading is the name of the game here. Love it.
There are all types of relationships explored in this story: friendship, co-workers, married couples, child/parent, long-time companions, lovers, and all of them feel very real. Real means emotional, relatable, they made me think, stayed with me, and I couldn’t wait to get back to reading about them each day.

“Honey, did you ever have a kite pull you right off the ground when you were a kid? If so, then you know the thrill I get when I work with flowers.”

There’s a nostalgic feel to this book. I’m not even sure how I can “prove” that, except that it does. Maybe it’s the overall style of the storytelling Chin has. I think that’s what it is. I want more.

This is not an easy read given the wide array of tangled, difficult subjects examined and experiences revealed. Despite all of that, I felt peaceful when I was finished. Looking back at everything that happened, everything these characters put themselves through, I never would have predicted peace being my final reaction. Just like the story itself, it was unpredictable.

This is a novel that, frankly, defies categorization. It left me utterly satisfied. It’s very personal. And that last scene? I still can’t find the words to adequately describe how it made me feel, all of these days later. I do know that I want more of Ezra’s story.
I could not recommend this book more even if ‘more’ meant… more. Read it.

Buy Links

I would like to thank the publisher for providing me with the eARC of this title in exchange for my honest opinion.


Monday, August 25, 2014

My Lesson for the Week: Catholic Nuns vs. Buddhist Monks


Yesterday, I experienced something particularly interesting, for me at least. I watched the beginning of a movie called The Nun’s Story, directed by Fred Zinnerman, and starring Audrey Hepburn and Peter Finch. I only watched the beginning thirty minutes because Herman became bored (he’s not a Hepburn fan like I am,) and switched to a different movie.

What I found so interesting was watching Audrey Hepburn as she struggled through the training of becoming a nun. I confess that, having not been brought up a Catholic, I’m ignorant of the Church’s teachings. Because of my ignorance, I’ve always felt a slight distain for Catholics, having always assumed that my Buddhist teachings were superior. Yet, as I watched her training, I realized that there was little or no difference in what nuns are taught vs. what monks are taught.

The focus of the training Miss Hepburn’s character underwent was to quiet the mind, silence the ego, become selfless, become an empty vessel through which the pure energy of the holy spirit (for Buddhist’s it’s the Buddha’s energy) flows into the world to spread its love to all creatures. By giving up the self, one gains the whole universe through the enlightenment of untainted love.

Even the methods of giving up one’s identity were the same: being taken away from society and everything one knows, giving up all worldly possessions, dressing the same as all the other nuns, giving up freedom of choice by vows of obedience to the senior nuns, and learning to never dwell on oneself, but rather always dwell on the needs of others.

Assuming this movie was realistic, there really is no difference in training or goals, except the names used to depict the holy ones and the processes.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. What actually startled me was my own prejudices I’ve carried around for forty years. Little by little, I keep chipping away my preconceptions, and when that happens I feel myself expand, become more accepting and sympathetic toward the world.

Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not boasting. I know the path ahead of me is long and hard, so long it takes all my will just to take another step. But with each realization like the one above, each step becomes more joyful.

Now I need to go back and watch the entire movie to see what other lessons are in store.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Joy and Drama of Publishing Your Work


An interesting thing (interesting to me at least) is going on with me at the moment; actually it’s been building for years. I have a new novel out, and this is the time I should drop everything and promote the hell out of my new book to give it a good launch. That’s what I’ve done in years past with other books. Yet, I’m spending very little time on promotion, and this is a trend that’s been going on with me for some time now.

On my morning walk today, I thought about why I spend less and less time marketing my books. I’m fortunate that I don’t rely on royalties to put food on the table, so my motivation for wanting books sales is so that hoards of people will read and enjoy my work, and also I want my publisher to get a good return on their investment in me.

As for me, I see two sides to writing. The first side I call joy, and it has to do with sitting my butt in a chair every day and challenging my creativity to explore plots and characters and themes, and tie them all together into something meaningful. It’s a process of opening up to the universe for imagination, and then recording those images using the skill I’ve developed as a writer. When I do that to the best of my ability, it brings about a feeling of joy that has no equal in my modest life.

The second side of writing I call drama, that part rears its head once one becomes a published writer trying to increase your readership. To do this, one needs to become embroiled in the drama of being a writer—developing a mindset that says, “Look what I’ve done. Read my work because I have something to say you want to read.” Early on, and like many other writers I’ve met, I was more concerned with developing my image as a published writer than I was about the product I was creating. That drama of being/becoming something—a writer of quality books—took over my life and bloated my ego out of all reasonable proportion.

So a few years back, I began to realize that this drama I was caught up in was something stealing my focus, time and energy away from the joy of writing, and entangling me in a trap of my ego. Since at realization, I’ve purposely downplayed my role as a writer, and try to spend more time alone, writing.

These days the only drama I want is on the written page.

Yes, my sales have suffered, and for that I must apologize to my publisher, but my life continues to grow more fulfilling, and I believe my stories have become more satisfying, too, not only to me, but to my readers as well.