Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Zombieland, the Jonas Brothers, and breaking the rules

Don't worry, non-Jonas fans. The zombies will come soon enough.

Ever seen Zombieland? It's a pretty cool movie, even if you don't like zombies. I wasn't a huge zombie fan when I saw it for the first time. And my dad generally shies away from zombies or any other sort of sci-fi/otherworldly creatures, and even he enjoyed it. (Also, this post will contain minor spoilers for the movie. You have been warned.)

One thing that makes Zombieland stand out is its self-awareness. The protagonist, known only as Columbus, creates a list of rules for surviving a zombie apocalypse. Some of them are common sense, like "get in shape," or the famous "double tap" rule (if you shoot a villain down, don't assume they're already dead -- shoot them again).

And what's rule # 17? Don't be a hero. But, unlike the other rules, Columbus finds himself breaking this one to save his crush and her sister from a zombie horde.

But probably not this one. (source)

I've blogged before about breaking the rules, and how difficult it is for me. I'm a big rule follower. Rules are there for a reason, my thinking goes, and if people don't follow the rules, what's the point of having them? We might as well descend into the anarchy so common in zombie tales.

But when is it okay to break rules? For a slightly less dire visual than zombies, look at the writing world. If you want to be a writer, you learn some ground rules pretty fast: Show, don't tell. Keep it concise. Avoid "-ly" adverbs. Yet paranormal romances like Twilight and Hush, Hush are notorious for breaking rules and still being successful.

And for the least dire example of all, take Camp Rock 2, which I totally watched may or may not have watched the other night and multiple times before. The movie features a song called Heart and Soul which, while it doesn't discuss rule breaking much, states that you need to do much more than go through the motions of you want to produce something successful.

"Practice makes perfect
                                        But perfect's not workin'
There's a lot more to music than knowing where your cue's gonna be
You can play all the right notes, But that don't mean you're movin' me
But if you can jump like David Lee Roth
Or pump your fist like your Bruce "The Boss"
If you got a heart and soul,You can rock and roll"

So when is it okay to break the rules? Well, if you're a writer (or a musician, or trying to save someone from zombies), it's usually at your own discretion. But you'll probably know the opportunity when you see it. So writers, while you're working on that first draft, throw those stupid rules aside. Tell the best story you possibly can, and worry later on whether it follows the rules -- or if it even needs to.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

What Bones taught me about storytelling

I don't normally watch crime shows. I love true crime shows, actually, but these one hour fictional crime dramas that are so popular right now really aren't my thing. But one that I haven't been able to get enough of lately (and really the only one I watch on a regular basis) is Bones.

In a lot of ways, Bones is just like any other crime drama, featuring a team working to solve murders, which are generally solved in the one hour time frame. This particular show follows the title character, Dr. Temperance "Bones" Brennan, a forensic scientist at the Jeffersonian in Washington D.C. (an obvious substitute for the Smithsonian.) Bones and other scientists at the Jeffersonian work with the FBI to solve murders where the bodies are too decomposed or mutilated for the police. It took me an embarrassingly long time to learn not to watch the show while eating.

Spaghetti...or intestines? (source)

And in a lot of ways, the romance subplots are typical too. I only had to watch one episode to realize that Bones would eventually end up with FBI Agent Seeley Booth. And since I didn't start watching until a few months ago, I learned pretty quickly that they had already moved in together and had a baby. But that's not stopping me from catching up, and it doesn't spoil their developing relationship in earlier episodes.

In the majority of books, movies, and other stories, the audience generally knows how the story will end. And if they don't, then they at least know which characters will be paired off and end up together. (Well, except for The Hunger Games, which threw me for a huge loop...but that's another story for another day.)

So why do we watch if we already know how something will end? Because it's about the journey, not the destination. Even though I knew Bones and Booth would end up together, I like seeing their relationship develop. Even if I'm watching it backwards.

Especially if I'm watching it backwards.