Monday, October 29, 2012

3 things Frasier and the Jonas Brothers have in common

For starters, they're both awesome. 

I've always thought of myself as a pretty well-rounded person. My dad might disagree and point out that 95 % of the movies I watch involve teenagers getting sliced in half, beheaded, or blown up. But aside from movies (and even my taste in those has expanded rapidly over the past few months), I actually have a bizarrely broad range of interests. Then again, maybe it's not so bizarre -- I bet there are plenty of people out there who love classic 90's sitcoms and boy bands. And while these two things seem worlds apart...well, they're really not.

1. They both involve brothers. Well, duh. Frasier and Niles are brothers, just like Joe, Nick, and Kevin are brothers. Both groups of brothers spend a bit more time together than the average brothers (though I've never had brothers, so this is just a guess). And both are great examples of brotherly and familial love.

2. They both deal with the terrible feeling of wanting someone you can't have. For months and years, even up to this day, hundreds of thousands of teenage girls (among others) have squealed and giggled and lusted over the Jonases. For some, it goes beyond the average celebrity crush. A few weeks ago, I blogged about how important it is for artists to make an emotional connection with their audience, and they've done this perfectly -- people feel as if they actually know them. And on the road from youth to adulthood, when a girl realizes that her fantasy crush is just going to have to stay a fantasy, it can be a tough pill to swallow.
But unrequited love is something even adults go through. Year after year on Frasier, Niles lusts after Daphne, his father's physical therapist turned housekeeper. Upon their first meeting, he is trapped in an unhealthy marriage, and by the time he separates from his wife and feels ready to date again, Daphne is already engaged. Niles does many crazy things in the name of lust, but ultimately chooses to move on and let Daphne be happy. And they end up getting together anyway! So having an unrequited or even fantasy crush come crashing down isn't necessarily the end of the world.

3. They've worked together. Well, two of them anyway. Jane Leeves, who played Daphne on Frasier, is now on Hot in Cleveland. Joe Jonas has guest starred on the show twice; the first time, his character hit on hers. Fortunately (unfortunately?), David Hyde Pierce wasn't there to step in.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Why unsatisfying endings are the best

(Just a little note: If you haven't seen The Descent and don't want spoilers, stop here.)

If you don't know a lot about me, you should know that I am an avid horror movie watcher. Few things make me happier than watching a group of teenagers or twentysomethings get hacked up with a machete, de-limbed by a chainsaw, or just generally creeped out by some malevolent spirit.

This guy falls a little out of the twentysomething realm, but he'll do. (source)

Horror movies are supposed to be scary, disturbing, or, at the very least, adrenaline inducing. And when you put characters through the wringer like horror writers usually do, chances are they're going to come out scarred for life. Even if they do actually live.

The Descent is a British horror movie with two endings: The original, British ending and the alternate, "American" ending that was put on the US DVD and used when the movie airs on TV here in the States. I was fortunate enough to get my hands on a copy of the DVD that included the original ending, and that was the version of the movie I watched.

Both endings involve a lone survivor, a woman named Sarah. A year before the titular descent, Sarah's husband and daughter were killed in a car accident. Sarah reunites with her adrenaline junkie friends and, well, descends -- into a cave full of man-eating monsters.

In the final moments, the only survivors are Sarah and her friend Juno. We learn that -- surprise! -- Juno was sleeping with Sarah's husband before he died. So what does Sarah do? She stabs Juno and stays in the cave. The exit is just a few hundred feet ahead of her, but the final shot shows her sitting on a rock, envisioning her dead daughter there with her. She shows no signs of wanting to leave.

Guess what happens in the American version? Sarah escapes, although it is implied that her life will never be the same.

It's common for horror movies -- especially slasher movies with large casts that are picked off one by one -- to have a lone survivor finally defeat the bad guy. But these movies usually don't follow our hero after their quest is finished. And if you spent two hours being stalked by a psycho killer and watching all of your friends die around you, you'd probably spend the next few decades racking up some impressive therapy bills.

So, when Freddy tried to hack you up with a knife...how did that make you feel? (source)

People loves happy endings. Movies (and books) are supposed to be an escape, and we want to see other people succeed even if we can't. But some of the most powerful stories involve endings that aren't so satisfying. Both The Lord of the Rings and The Hunger Games trilogies (again, spoilers!) follow a hero that succeeds in their quest and survives their journey, but forfeits life as they know it. I bitched and moaned for months after finishing Mockingjay about how much the ending sucked, but I'm actually sort of glad it did. If I wasn't emotionally invested in the story, I wouldn't have cared what happened.

Whether you're writing about hobbits destroying a powerful ring, teenagers fighting against a totalitarian government, women escaping man eating monsters, or anything else, a story has to transform the character, for better or for worse. And if you're unsatisfied with how a character's story ends...well, you had to care about them in the first place to get that way, right? It might upset you. You might do what I considered doing and chuck your copy of Mockingjay out the window. But that story will stay with you much longer than a happy one. Because it's real.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Privacy in the public eye

Wednesday night, I finished reading one of the most depressing books ever written. If you have a weak stomach or can't tolerate endings that make you want to take a Prozac...don't read The Ruins by Scott Smith.

But what I love about unsatisfying endings is that they stick with you. And after I finished reading, I wanted to know more. Who was the person who wrote this book? What was he like when he wasn't writing about man-eating plants? And where on earth did he come up with the idea for this story?

And I found...absolutely nothing. No official website. No articles or even commentaries on the book. And almost no information on the author. I now only know two more things about him than I did before: He has a live-in girlfriend (which is of absolutely no use to me), and he wrote the screenplay for The Ruins (which is really interesting, but just one little tidbit.)

If he had an official website, this is what it would look like. (source)

Maybe I'm just too used to the world of young adult fiction. YA authors are strongly encouraged to connect with their audience via social networking because that's how their audience connects with each other. But even some of them don't give away many details about their private lives. Heck, I've been reading Veronica Roth's blog for months, and I had to read the back cover of Insurgent to find out she was married. She rarely mentions her husband on the site or anywhere else. Other YA authors mention their families constantly on twitter.

So why the difference? Why do some authors (and other public figures) reveal so many details about their lives outside of the public eye, and why do some reveal so little? And which one is better? Or is one better than the other?

I've always been a really private person. If you don't know me very well, trying to get details of my personal life can be like pulling teeth. After all, if I told everyone everything about me from the second we met, why would they want to take the time to get to know me? They'd already know everything about me -- so what would we talk about? Then again, I've always wished I could be more open. It's hard to form relationships when you're so reluctant to let people in.

So should there be a balance? Writing is a very personal task, and anyone writer who shares their work with an audience is going to have to expose themselves. But what and how much should they give away? Should there even be a limit? Should they blatantly share personal things, or let the writing speak for itself?

Just food for thought.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Why some people hate reading

Being the avid Cracked reader that I am, I read an article earlier today entitled "4 Ways High School Makes You Hate Reading." Kind of a depressing title to a writer, but it was really interesting. The writer of the article is an avid reader describing the high school English system with which I am, unfortunately, all too familiar.


When I was little, I loved reading. I started with picture books before I could read myself, which I was doing by the age of four. I started on the American Girl books at age five, and by elementary school I was staying up late into the night reading Goosebumps under the covers.

By junior high, my enthusiasm for reading had begun to wane. We had an Accelerated Reader program at our school that offered prizes for reading designated books and passing quizzes (I'm sure plenty of present or former students are familiar with this program). And it was all well and good until 6th grade, when our English teacher started counting the AR tests as quiz grades. Suddenly, the pressure to remember little details to regurgitate in class trumped the pleasure of reading. Over the summer, my mother (who I love very much, despite this) required me to read 50 pages a day of one of the books we already had in our house. Most of our books were nothing that I was interested in, and I plowed through classics like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Wizard of Oz as if they were a chore.


Unfortunately, I didn't have William Moseley to use as a reference when picturing Peter. (source)

High school only made it worse. I was always in the most advanced English class I could get into for my grade, and that meant required reading both over the summer and during the school year. Most of my classmates, even the ones who still read for pleasure, didn't even read the assigned books, only skimming the information from class they needed in order to pass the tests. By AP English senior year, we were (supposed to be) reading a book a month. It seemed daunting at the time...then I got to college. Being a Creative Writing major means you're going to have at least a few classes where you're reading a book a week. Some of the books are actually enjoyable and not difficult to finish in the short time frame. Some, not so much.

In English classes, especially for those of us who choose to major in some sort of reading or writing field, some required reading is essential. And fortunately, for those of us who do like to read, some of the books aren't so bad. But is it always necessary to assign only books that are seen as acceptable to teach? Some classrooms have recently started teaching books like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, and I think that's awesome. Both of those series have become household names because they have both literary and commercial appeal. I'm sure there's some reason why more teachers won't assign books like these -- maybe if they teach in a public school, they're going by a required curriculum or might even get in trouble with the school board. Or maybe -- just maybe -- they still have this stupid idea in their head that these books aren't substantial just because they're popular.

How on earth could The Hunger Games have literary merit? People actually like it! (source)

Reading is supposed to be fun. Back before there were televisions or radios -- hard to imagine, I know, but bear with me -- people actually read for fun. Books like Frankenstein and Uncle Tom's Cabin, books that are revered today for their literary value, were seen in their day as cheap and tacky. People probably read them under the covers at night and hid them in sock drawers, just like they do with 50 Shades of Grey now. I know people to this day who will always think that Harry Potter is trite simply because it's popular. And I just don't get it.

For every terrible story out there, for every celebrity author who hires a ghostwriter to slap their name on a joke of a novel, there's another book that made it to the bestseller list because people actually enjoyed it. And if people enjoy a book, then a potential writer should sit up and take interest. Like it or not, we're in the business of giving people what they want. And if we don't deliver, we're going to get more and more people who hate reading. And why on earth would a writer want to get people to hate reading?