Bilbo vs Frodo

I have always preferred The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Consequently, I’ve always preferred Bilbo to Frodo, but it is only recently that I’ve been able to figure out why this is so. I was watching the Hobbit on HBO, refreshing my memory in preparation for the next installment coming out soon, and one scene struck me as a pivotal moment for Bilbo. He’s invisible, having just escaped from Gollum and the goblins, and he overhears Thorin saying Biblo has probably deserted them and run back home—that’s why he’s missing. Bilbo could do that. He could leave at that point and go back home. He’s invisible and they would never see him. He knows Thorin has always doubted him. He’s no hero and he’s not a thief. He feels out of place and floundering. The dwarves are so strong and good at what they do and Bilbo feels like all he knows how to do is live a quiet life and tend his garden. But it’s at that point that he choses fully to commit to the quest. When he first decided to join them it was more from a sense of adventure and fun. But this time he truly wants to help them. He takes off the ring and reveals himself. When asked why he hadn’t left he tells Thorin that he’s right. He misses his home. He misses his books and his garden. That’s where he belongs. And that’s why he had to come back. They (the dwarves) don’t have a home. Someone took it from them. But he will help them take it...

Too Complicated?

I saw the animated film “Epic” last Friday. The one review I saw said it was a bit complicated. Sometimes I wonder if I see the same movie as critics. The plot wasn’t complicated. In fact it was pretty straightforward. It had some depth and character growth and maybe that was the problem for the reviewer. It wasn’t shallow, one-dimensional. The characters were fun and the artwork was AMAZING. See it in 3-D. It’s an experience. I thank God that the computer is now a tool for the animator/artist. It allows the filmmakers to create scenes that couldn’t be done with hand animation. The drama created by the way the camera moves through a scene is all thanks to the computer. Plus the ability to create multiple crowd scene images also depends on the computer. The “complication” the computer allows the director to add to those scenes multiplies the emotion created by the images. I wonder if reviewers think a children’s movie has to be simple for the audience? They couldn’t be more wrong. Simple movies don’t become classics. Simple movies that lack dimensional characters and plots that matter to the characters, aren’t memorable. Epic is memorable because it offers emotional depth, characters you understand and empathize with, and imagery that takes your breath away. Go see...

Episodic Writing

I remember getting a comment back from an editor on one of my early stories that said my writing was episodic. I didn’t know exactly what was meant by that, but I knew it wasn’t good. It took me awhile, but I finally figured out what episodic meant. It meant there wasn’t enough character arc or story arc, and that the chapters were too neat, self-contained—like an episode. So I tried to correct that. I was more conscious of having arcs, of crafting scenes that built upon one another and of creating characters that pulled you through the story, which is good for a novel. I’ve recently read a novel, though, that is unapologetically episodic. In fact it doesn’t have chapters. It has episodes. The Human Division  was first released as three ebooks, and then several months later the hardback and audiobook were released. At the same time a new ebook came out with the complete book plus a couple of extra codas that the hardback and audiobook book had as extra features. I think the book needed to be episodic because of the way it was first released, which was similar to the way the stories were serialized in the paper. Think of the Sherlock Holmes stories. When I heard about this book I was curious to read it. I’m also a big John Scalzi fan. His book Redshirts is one of my all time favorites. I have to say I think it was very effective. It’s different from his other novels. It’s very much like a TV show, similar to Babylon 5 in structure. And while there aren’t...

Sacrifice

I had an interesting talk with a writing buddy about whether or not a main character must always make a sacrifice in order for it to be a satisfying story. We finally decided that it depended on the type of story. For simple stories like early chapter books and some picture books it’s not necessary. In those sometimes the character just learns something or experiences something—like the first day of school. There’s not a lot of character growth in those kind of stories. This is also true of series mystery characters. There isn’t a lot of character growth in a continuing character. The detective or amateur sleuth figures out the mystery and catches the bad guy, but doesn’t change a lot from book to book. They often don’t even age. They are stuck in a time warp. For me I see characters changing the most in middle grade and young adult novels. In order for the characters to grow they have to make choices and learn from those choices. And in the climax they are going to have to make a sacrifice. They have to give up something they want or have  in order to achieve the better good. That sacrifice forces them to change, to grow, to mature so they aren’t the same person they were at the beginning of the story. If they don’t have to make a sacrifice then the change doesn’t feel real. They haven’t earned it. And once they’ve made the sacrifice, they can’t get back what they gave up. Janie gives up her place in the cool kids’ clique in order to help...

When No Character Arc Works

I recently watched Wall-e (yes, I asked for it for Christmas—it’s one of my favorite movies) and I realized that Wall-e doesn’t have a character arc. He basically stays the same character throughout the movie. Yes, he falls in love, but that’s not a character arc. Wall-e wanted to fall in love and he did, given the opportunity. He didn’t have to overcome some internal struggle to do it. He had to convince Eve that he loved her, but again, that’s not a character arc. What he did, though, was influence every other character in the story to grow and be more than they were. The greatest change was in Eve. She grew to believe in love and embrace it. Wall-e influenced all of the robots (with the exception of auto-pilot and his minion) to go beyond their programming and try new things simply by being himself. He even influenced the humans to go beyond their programming and routine. Ultimately, he brought out the best in everyone because they could see the purity and goodness that was within him. He gave everyone a chance at a new life by his example. Off hand I can ‘t think of any other story where the main character doesn’t have a character arc and it works. Usually, not having a character arc is the problem with the story. However, I’ve watched Wall-e probably 20 times and it only occurred to me after this last viewing that he doesn’t have a character arc. And it’s not that he lacks one, he simply doesn’t need it. He’s perfect, which, again, is usually a flaw...