Sunday, August 24, 2014

Six Feet Under and Cautionary Lessons for Writers

DH and I are always behind the rest of the world when it comes to viewing popular TV series and movies. We watch little live television (and that is mostly sports) and go to fewer movies. So there you have it. For our limited series viewing time, we watch DVDs and more recently streamed stories.

That explains why we were the last on the block to enjoy “The Sopranos”. We were more current viewing “Breaking Bad”, but we were always a year or more behind since we had to wait for the DVD release. Do you know how hard it is to avoid articles about the ending of such a popular show? I made a page of links so we could read them after we viewed the last season. Whew! What a pain!

We began “Six Feet Under” with very high expectations. After all, we had loved the later series, “Dexter”, with Michael C. Hall who was part of the ensemble cast for “Six Feet Under”.

Our expectations were well-deserved for that first season. What a quirky premise. Set an emotionally distant and dysfunctional family in a funeral home and see how each copes with life’s vagaries. For side servings, run through different casket-eers each week.

Of course, first thing we noted were similarities to the Dexter opening credits stuff like all the blood, dead bodies displayed, and knives featured. Okay.

Then there was the ghost dad who appeared and guided each family member like, yet not like, Harry in “Dexter.” Okay.

Even with similarities, we thoroughly got into the characters and stories. Some characters were more likeable than others, but that is standard fare for stories. Writers want to show growth and how crises affect the core of a person.

Second season had more convoluted plot lines and fewer satisfying resolutions. Some characters began to wear.

During season three we almost abandoned the series. Had we not already purchased the videos for the entire series, I think we would have. Will Nate EVER grow up? Will Brenda always be so self-absorbed and selfish? Get a life, Ruth! Stop being a whiny brat, Clair. And, David! Who are you???

We are finishing season four this week. One more season to go. While season four is better than season three (how not?), it is still not as compelling as we like our shows to be. There is little complexity to the characters. We just don’t care so much whether they figure out their lives. How sad is that? But I think I figured out why.

It is common for series to have multiple writers and directors, but I am wondering if this show has an above-average number of writers and directors. I think Alan Ball’s series got hijacked by using so many different folks.

But whose fault is that? He is the creative brain behind this series. It is his job to keep control, to exert focus, to keep story lines plausible, interesting, and consistent. Or if not always consistent--because, let’s face it, humans aren’t very consistent--so if not consistent, make the plot point plausible in its inconsistency.

When Rico demanded money from the Fisher’s to buy a house, I was like, Whoa! Where did that come from? Never a hint before that that he felt entitled. When Ruth started sleeping around and even pursuing men who were just nice to her, you wondered how that reconciled with this uptight lady who dressed as if she were 30 years older. And there was more. Too much more.

Authors, keep control of your story and your characters. Don’t go off after every bright and shiny object you see dangling. Just because you COULD make a happily married man unfaithful, what’s the point in the bigger picture? Do you really want to make the teen so disaffected there is nothing sympathetic about her to anchor her character? Just sayin’.

On a positive note, season four did end with a literal and several figurative bangs. But I will be watching them alone. DH opted out. He told me to recap once I finish season five, the final season. Sigh. That’s just a shame.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Making Color Wheel Relationships Work

All colors are the friends of their neighbors and the lovers of their opposites.

I have always been struck by Chagall’s work. He touches me deep in my soul. I resonate to the richness of his palate and the magnitude of his vision. Have you seen his mosaics in downtown Chicago? Amazing! 

When I happened across this quote somewhere, it too struck a chord. Of course, on the surface the quote is about the color wheel we all learned about in school. Shades can be together in a room thus blues, purples, greens—they all harmonize. But for energy, we put red and green together, opposites on the color wheel, and magic happens.
Not to get too political, but it’s the season, eh? 

Politically, I fear that we are in for more of the same bitterness and divisiveness that has dominated both Arizona and national politics for too many years. Why can’t we all just get along? As an educator, I couldn’t choose not to teach certain children because they were unlike me. I couldn’t choose to disregard the opinions of other teachers who disagreed with me. We all had to work together, because it was about the children. Not about me. Not about you. Not about a philosophy. We came together around a common goal and found common ground so we could move forward. 

The issues confronting our states and nation are mammoth. So call me na├»ve, but isn’t it the legislators’ job to solve the problems not focus on how they can begin campaigning now for the next election? Do the work you are being paid for, and do it not because of the pay, but do the work because anything else should be unacceptable. Legislators, find common ground and the solutions we desperately need to get out of this mess. Be the red and green and make magic happen.

Compromise is not a four-letter word! 

Benjamin Franklin said, “Compromisers may not make great heroes, but they do make great democracies.” Yep! 

Considering the Chagall quote in writing terms, think of how the quest for this quote could be the theme of your next novel. People similar to one another get along just great, but the opposites-attract scenarios spice up the action. It is one thing to tolerate one so different from you. To love that person, well, that takes some work. Think of the plot points you can exploit! Write away, Reader!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Why People Cheat and How to Use That in Your Novel

I came across an intriguing article that spurred my plot-line thinking. “An Expert Look at Why People Cheat” ( got my attention because of the relationship Carrie and Harlan share in my erotic romance series. In Streetwalker, Carrie senses something is off with Harlan’s sexual appetite and his continual search for more and different sexual experiences. His sexual behaviors make it very difficult for him to commit to a monogamous relationship with Carrie, even though he wants it. In Sex for Sale, book two, more is revealed about Harlan’s condition and the two seek help in dealing with it.

But, back to the article, in situations where there is not a medical condition, what makes people stray? Why do they cheat even when they know they’ll be caught? Can’t you see how you could build a great plot line and interesting characters with that information?

In the interview with Dr. Gilda Carle, she shares the research on cheaters and addresses issues like what qualifies as cheating, what are the signs of cheating, how do cheaters justify their behavior, rebuilding trust after cheating, can cheaters change, and more.

So to extend the information into our own books, let’s take a look at some of these elements.

The signs of a cheating partner include taking more care with personal appearance, regularly makes excuses for being late or not showing up at all, and stops listening to you. Probably your gut knows before you do.
Of course, not everyone with excuses is a cheater. We would hope attention to personal appearance is for your benefit. But, if flags go up, the partner should be attentive. In a book this can look like an ordinary-looking paranoid wife expecting her gorgeous husband to stray. She drives the wedge because of her unjustified jealousy. Or he slowly begins to notice that she is absent a lot and when he calls her cell, she doesn’t answer. He wonders if she is faithful. Lots of ways a writer can go with suspicion, paranoia, and found evidence.

Cheaters may not feel guilty at all because they rationalize and justify their behavior.
In your book, the protagonist is feeling neglected by a workaholic boyfriend. One of her co-workers is sympathetic and gets her to go out with a group to form her own life and associations. If the boyfriend isn’t available, don’t sit around waiting for him. Develop other interests and friends. Of course, this has the potential for meeting another lonely guy who girlfriend travels a lot. See where it’s going?

What qualifies as cheating?
Any behavior that splits your time, attention, and/or affection is cheating. So imagine a guy whose wife goes to bed early, but he’s a night owl. He finds some dating sites and decides to play around using a pseudonym--just for fun, he tells himself. Then he happens on a high school friend on the site. She was a queen, back in the day, but appears to have had a rocky time with relationships since high school. They connect. Wife finds out. Hubs claims nothing happened, nothing will happen, just re-connecting. But he spends more and more time on the computer with his friend neglecting communication and time with his wife.

“Once a cheater, always a cheater” is not necessarily true.
People can and do change. A book premise might be that she really wants to change but he doesn’t believe her. Another is that he doesn’t want to change but he wants her to believe he does so he can have it both ways. A third premise is that she doesn’t want to change but he really wants her to so he goes to extreme measures to help her change. See how each story line and the concomitant characters will be very different?

I could go on, but I think I made my point. Click on those Internet articles and quizzes and then let your mind play, “What if …”.