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CONTEUR

DID SKYFALL STEAL FROM THE DARK KNIGHT? 1


CONTEUR

INDEX WRITE A NOVEL IN A MONTH

NaNoWriMo kicks off, writers at the ready, 50,000 words to the finish.

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VILLAINOUS 6 Bad (and surprsingly complex) to the bone.

STRONG WOMEN 8 What is the best way to write strong female characters?

SKYFALL & THE DARK KNIGHT 9

The concept for this magazine, like so many ludicrous ideas before it, was dreamt up in a cafe on a napkin. We wanted to build a magazine for creative writers like us: astoundingly good-looking twentysomethings who consume ample amounts of pop culture, write voraciously for fun, and are curious about the world around us. We wanted the magazine to feature tips from the experts in the field and photography from a talented roster of our friends and peers. We are the writers. We are the quiet scribblers, makers of screenplays, novels, stories, drabbles. We are modern storytellers.

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Our hope is that this magazine, this adventure, this little Frankenstein’s monster of ours, will last a whole lot longer than it took for us to bring it to life. And we hope that you’ll enjoy watching it—and us—continue to grow.

THE SOUTHERN WILD

Today’s issue focuses on isolation and the archetype of the loner. Why the loner? Because’s badass. He has cool clothes. He’s a little less idealistic than the hero. He makes a grand entrance. And does it in half the time the hero does. We ourselves are loners as creative people. We isolate ourselves, intentionally or not, within our inner worlds.

ways that Skyfall borrows from the Dark Knight.

How a hushpuppy from the Bayou is shaking up Cannes.

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SHORT FILMS 10 A selection of gems from the short film scene.

ON THE RADAR 11 Local events and exhibitons.

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EDITOR’S NOTE

We imagine you’ll be even more stand-offish this month if you’re partaking in NaNoWriMo: the 50,000 word write-a-novel-in-a-month challenge. If you’re curious, check out our expose on pages 4 and 5, inform yourself, and maybe you’ll dive in yourself. If you are taking on Nano this month then we wish you high wordcounts and an endless wellspring of plot twists. We commend your bravery and hope you find yourself at the finish line on November 30th. Until then,


IDEAS:

Each story [of the collection] had quite a different origin. Some of them just came from first lines that would kind of appear in my head and excite my curiosity, and others of them came from childhood memories that I wanted to explore and develop, and others just from feelings that I had about my mother’s illness as I was growing up that I wanted to develop in a fictional forum.

NOVELS VS. SHORT STORIES:

HOW I WRITE: JULIE ORRINGER The author of The Invisible Bridge shares her creative process

Soft-spoken yet warm and generous, Julie Orringer is an author willing to follow her characters to dark places—whether they be the forced-labor camps of World War II or the shadowy side of their own nature. But she fills her stories with hope and wonder, too: In the first half of her sweeping novel The Invisible Bridge, Andras Lévi leaves Hungary in the 1930s for Paris, where he pursues his dream of becoming an architect. As a student, he falls in love with the City of Light—and a woman with a mysterious past. Later, he and his Jewish friends must return to their homes, where they face uncertain fates. Orringer’s elegantly lean story collection, How to Breathe Underwater, centers on female protagonists bridging the distance between childhood and adulthood. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Orringer has received several awards, including two Pushcart Prizes. She and her husband, the writer Ryan Harty, live in Brooklyn with their young son.

WHY:

I always loved books, and I found myself paying attention to stories, I think from a pretty early age. And when you [interpret] the world that way, I think stories kind of take on a certain critical mass in your mind until it’s impossible to do anything but put them onto the page, so I suppose I write because I can’t help it.

I think with a novel you have to be comfortable with not knowing how the thing’s going to develop for a very long time. With a short story, there’s that wonderful sense of discovery that is the arc of which you can follow within a week or a couple of weeks. But with a novel, sometimes it’s a year or a few years before you have a sense for where the book is going to go and how it’s going to develop. So, that really took some getting used to. The strain was akin to being at sea in a very small boat and not being able to see the shore on either side.

DIFFICULT SCENES:

There’s a kind of catharsis in writing those scenes. Especially with The Invisible Bridge, when I knew that there were going to be some very difficult scenes to write in the forced-labor service during the war, I felt, in a way, a kind of dread leading up to those moments. I didn’t want to have to do that to my characters. But as I’d learned enough to write those scenes, I felt like I was finally understanding something about the experience of the men who were in those forced-labor battalions. And that understanding alone felt like it was well worth the research and the time spent with the book.

INFLUENCES:

With [The Invisible Bridge], I really was obsessed with the 19th-century novel. ... I was reading War and Peace ... and I wondered why it had taken me so long to read that book. I think I was afraid of it, because it was the book that everyone joked about as using as a door-stopper. In fact, it is the most wonderful, the most perfectly characterized, the most beautifully structured book, even though it has some later parts that are much talked about as in need of editing. I totally disagree; I love every word of the book.

ADVICE:

3 TIPS FOR CONSISTENT TONE

If you find yourself having a difficult time sustaining one tone over a long work, try these three tricks. 1. Find a paragraph that sounds exactly the way you want to sound for this work, and tape it to your computer so that it’s always in front of you.

2. Each time you’re about to return to the piece, spend 20 minutes reading the work of an author who writes in the tone you’re after. We’re natural mimics. You might try taking this a step further by more closely examining the sentence rhythms and word choices and looking for ways to make them your own. 3. Starts and finishes are especially important to tone. When revising your work, try moving some of your best sentences, the ones with energy and just the right tone, up to the top of your document: “I’m so looking forward to Christmas this year. It will be the only day in December not entirely consumed by children’s theater performances.” Could the piece begin this way? Experiment with moving equally strong sentences to the conclusion of your piece, for a cohesive ending.

Read as much as possible. Set a schedule and stick to it. Religiously write at least for three hours a day. And don’t let anybody tell you it’s not gonna happen.

NOVEMBER WRITING PROMPTS THE AFTERLIFE. You’ve died and gone to heaven, only it’s nothing like you’ve imagined. You’re greeted by a guide— someone from your past—who gives you a tour and explains what you can expect out of the afterlife. There’s one question you’ve been dying to know and, at the end of the tour, you decide to ask. BREAKING IN. You are 16 years old and you and your friends have just been caught breaking into the local gas station. After your parents post your bail, you must explain why you did it, since this is not something you would usually do.

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NOVEMBER IS FOR NOVEL WRITING Somehow, probably on ye olde Livejournal, I found out about a neat thing called NaNoWriMo -- National Novel Writing Month. And because sometimes when you are sad the thing that you need most is to just get outside of your own life for a little while, I signed up. The goal was to write a 50,000 words in 30 days. 50k is a fairly short novel, but for someone who had focused on short stories as a creative writer in school, it seemed like a fairly massive number of words. I wanted to see if I could do it, if I could set a seemingly impossible (or at least improbable) goal and make it happen. At the time, it was in no way a metaphor for the rest of my life, for wanting to make something better for myself. But, you know, the hindsight of a Creative Writing major can’t quite resist. Everything is full of stories. So I wrote. I wrote every day. I wrote longhand on yellow legal pads in blue ink. If I pay attention, my penmanship can be quite elegant. But when I’m scrawling things down simply because I need to get them out on the page to make room for all the words crowding behind those, well. It’s a wonder those pages were legible enough to be typed up later. Spoiler alert: I totally “won” NaNoWriMo that year. I topped out at about 55k. Unfortunately, I think I’ve lost that manuscript file or I’d excerpt it for you here. There was a lot of cold Chinese food, eaten for breakfast. That’s not as low as I’ve ever sunk; my second NaNoWriMo novel was full of jokes about laying pipe, because the main male character was a specialty plumber. I’ve never pretended to have a sophisticated sense of humor. The point of writing that novel was never to sell it. The point was simply to see if I could do it, if I could tell a lengthy story and keep it coherent and interesting. Discovering that I COULD do that was

honestly transformative. While I still love short fiction (and almost always have a short story that I spend time noodling away on), there’s nothing quite like opening a file that’s over 50k in word count and knowing that I DID THAT.

Any time we try something new or something we’re just not very good at, we risk making ourselves look like idiots. I’ve since “won” three times, and every time left me with the same sense of wonderment that I made this THING full of words. The year that I failed (in part due to RSI), I still didn’t feel like a failure. I mean, I had 18k of SOMETHING that has been sitting on my hard drive ever since. I actually pulled it out the other day -- and started to work on it again. Because sometimes things just need to percolate a little bit. Of course I’ve given myself permission to fail -- life is what it is and there’s no telling what

November will bring. But if not in November, when? The truth is that every month is busy and there will always be something that comes up and drags me away from my keyboard. There’s something about the cooperative yet competitive spirit that gets fostered both in the NaNoWriMo forums and the inperson write-ins. There’s something about doing something ridiculous with a bunch of other people that creates a sort of group camaraderie (dare I say: team spirit?) -- or maybe it’s the euphoric high that comes from knowing you don’t have to look foolish alone. I think we have that voice when it comes to a lot of different things, not just creative endeavors. Any time we try something new or something we’re just not very good at, we risk making ourselves look like idiots -- that’s a vulnerable position. Especially once we’re “grownups,” we’re supposed to look like we’ve got our shit together, not flail around trying to do silly things. 50k in 30 days. Let’s do this.

Marianne Kirby is a published author and ‘blogess’ at xoJane.com.

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WHAT IS NANOWRIMO?

National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing on November 1. The goal is to write a 50,000 word (approximately 175-page) novel by 11:59:59 PM on November 30. Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novelwriting program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved. As you spend November writing, you can draw comfort from the fact that, all around the world, other National Novel Writing Month participants are going through the same joys and sorrows of producing the Great Frantic Novel. Wrimos meet throughout the month to offer encouragement, commiseration, and—when the thing is done—the kind of raucous celebrations that tend to frighten animals and small children. In 2011, we had 256,618 participants and 36,843 of them crossed the 50K finish line by the midnight deadline, entering into the annals of NaNoWriMo superstardom forever. They started the month as auto mechanics, out-of-work actors, and middle school English teachers. They walked away novelists.


4. NOVEMBER IS A TERRIBLE MONTH FOR THIS.

Oh, November, you so crazy. Thanksgiving. The day after Thanksgiving. Inlaws showing up and lingering around like a herpes flare-up. November is a month full of distractions, obligations, and easy excuses for giving up on Nanowrimo. But here’s the thing: so are the other twelve months of the year.

5. YOU’LL START CRAVING THAT PURPLE BAR

One thing about Nanowrimo is that the little blue word-count bar will slowly creep into the center of your life and stay there, mocking you with merry japes every time you try to turn your bedraggled attention elsewhere. You’ll become obsessed with it. You seek out new and more complex widgets to post on Livejournal, or Twitter, or your blog, or the forums, or the project management software at work so everyone can see how badass you are. You’ll write a paragraph, and check your word count. You’ll write a word, and check your word count. You’ll do nothing and check it anyway, just because you might have read it wrong. Checking your own progress toward that mythical purple bar can overshadow other goals if you let it. Don’t let it. Keep writing, resist the urge to update, and put your story first.

6. WORD COUNTS ARE NOT TO BE TRUSTED.

9 TRUTHS ABOUT NANOWRIMO

According to the National Novel Writing Month website, I’ve been participating for eight years. No one’s more alarmed about that than I am. That’s a minimum of 400,000 words, which is at least two-thirds of your average Robert Jordan novel. Countless hours. Millions of keystrokes. Untold cups of coffee. I’d like to think I’ve learned a few things in those eight years. (I’m not saying I have, necessarily, I’m just saying I’d like to think so). But if I’ve learned anything, it’s that Nanowrimo is not without its pitfalls.

1. YOU’RE GOING TO PISS SOMEONE OFF.

The spirit of Nanowrimo is one of friendship, mutual support, and unalloyed enthusiasm about writing that novel. It would be nice if family and friends always felt the same way, but they won’t. Writing takes up a lot of time, and Nanowrimo even more so, because of the high word count and short deadline. Chances are, people are going to want to spend time with you, and will be tempting you with trivial concerns like socializing, eating, or expressing affection for your loved ones. Things can get especially problematic when the people close to you try to be “supportive” by lovingly telling you you’re wasting your time.

2. MUCH AS YOU MIGHT WANT TO, YOU CAN’T COMPLETELY IGNORE LIFE.

What would an insightful point be without another that immediately contradicts it, right? While you have to let the unhappiness and disapproval of others bounce off like a cat hitting a beach ball, you also can’t turtle up entirely. Regretfully, you’ll still have to go to work, feed your pets, pay the phone bill, and shower. Seriously, shower. That unwashed writer cachet only works on film and television because you can’t smell film or television. Some things just can’t be ignored. All passions, and especially writing, require a balance, and Nanowrimo is great at throwing that balance out of whack. You’re going to need to cut vast swaths of time out for writing if you’re going to make it — but you can’t, and shouldn’t, cut everything.

3. YOU’LL WANT TO THROW IT ALL AWAY.

Sometimes, even if you carefully plan ahead, things will fly off the rails. Plow ahead. See where your latest gonzo plot development takes you. Better yet, see if you can wrestle that unexpected plot development back on track. Make a challenge out of it. At the very least, sit down and really think about whether your work can’t be salvaged. Tossing out big chunks of text is one of the easiest ways to get demoralized.

I’ll be succinct. Word counts are goddamned liars. Microsoft Word will tell you one thing, OpenOffice another, Notepad something else still, and the Nanowrimo word count validator will renounce them all like Saint Peter selling out Jesus. Don’t be a chump and stop at 50K just because Clippy says you’re done. Finish the story properly. Add a denouement. Pad the thing out if you have to, because the last thing you want is to have a character recite the Declaration of Indepence for a finale because it’s ten minutes to midnight and Nanowrimo says you’re sitting pretty at 48,104. Which brings us to our next point:

7. THE NANOWRIMO WEB SITE WILL PROBABLY FAIL YOU WHEN YOU NEED IT MOST.

Anyone who’s ever done Nanowrimo will tell you that from the 1st to the 5th of November, and the 27th through the 30th, the two hamsters that power the Nanowrimo site will start getting tired, and it will stop functioning. Much of the time, this is a boon, as it keeps you from downloading wallpapers or browsing for overpriced coffee cups or whatever super-vital thing you’re doing that isn’t writing. However, more than one Wrimo has tried to validate their word count at the very last minute, only to find out a bunch of other people are doing the same thing, and instead of a pretty placard and a congratulatory message, their reward is a blank browser page and the sound of their own screams. Do your blood pressure a favor and finish as early as you can.

8. THE INTERNET WILL EAT YOUR LIFE.

This particular truth is not endemic to Nanowrimo, but to writing in general; at some point, it will become clear to you that you cannot in good conscience write another word without firing up Wikipedia. I’m not saying that research isn’t necessary for a successful novel. Quite the opposite. But I will suggest to you that when you’re three days behind quota and fighting off a panic attack about it, now might not be the time. The same goes for social media and blogging. You have to wrangle that behavior into line if you’re going to finish on time.

9. A DAMP, DRIZZLY NOVEMBER IN YOUR SOUL

This is probably the ugliest truth to face when it comes to Nanowrimo, and when it happens to you, there isn’t anything funny about it. There will probably be moments when you’re exhausted, you’re frustrated, and it seems like there’s no one there who believes in you. You’ll wonder why you’re bothering. You’ll briefly entertain dramatic notions of Never Writing Again. Nanowrimo can be a real blast, a useful experience, and a great utility for pumping out a first draft. But it’s very easy to take it too seriously and let the images of the purple bar, the winning trophy, and the approving faces of your friends coalesce into a harrowing vision of guilt and shame. When this happens, just sit back and remember, it’s just Nanowrimo. Winning is great, but it literally only means as much as you let it. Bailing out doesn’t make you a failure, or a bad writer, or a lazy no-good mutant. Sometimes, goals are just beyond our grasp for the moment. But if you can, take the knowledge that you can walk away from Nano, consequence-free, and use it to rekindle your love of the game. You’re not here because you have to be. You’re here because you want to be. Because you love the exhilarating, exhausting, fun-as-hell rocket ride of Nanowrimo. Then finish your book. Good luck.

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VILLAINY Among all the possible characters to populate a novel, the villain is one of the most interesting. The protagonist, or main character, receives the most attention in character development articles and books. But a good villain can bring a dull story to life. Francis Foster, publisher of Frances Foster Books, says, “A novel needs conflict. A good villain can make that conflict clear and strong. Villains add interest, excitement, edge.” Author David Lubar takes it a step farther. “There are both internal and external reasons to use a villain. Externally, this helps map the real world, which affirms the reader’s suspicion that there are unpleasant people out there. Internally, it raises the stakes. The hero can’t reason with a villain.”

VILLAIN OR ANTAGONIST?

If nothing interesting happens without a villain, then we need to know what a villain is. Foster says, “Thinking of villains in the most basic, childlike language, he is the bad guy in the novel. The people that do evil things. They come in many different sizes and shapes.” Rich says, “The villain is the nemesis of the protagonist, a no-good nick with ill intent. He’s nasty for the purpose of being nasty.” How does a villain differ from an antagonist? An antagonist is a general term for the person who opposes the protagonist and villain is a subcategory of antagonists. Foster says, “An antagonist is someone that is against whatever is happening. They aren’t all villainous. You can be an antagonist, but still be good. On the other hand, a villain concentrates on bad deeds, on evil. ”

ARE VILLAINS LIMITED TO FOLKTALES AND MOCKVICTORIANS?

It may seem that the term villain is outmoded. It applies only to folktales (monsters, witches, ogres, evil wizards) or to Victorian (Snively Whiplash) or outdated stories (outlaws like Jesse James). Contemporary antagonists tend to be more rounded, less patently evil. But editors insist that villains still populate contemporary books. An example of a contemporary villain is in Suzanne Fisher Staples’ novel, Dangerous Skies, which is set in Chesapeake Bay area. The antagonist is pillar of the community, in that he gives money to the library and is from an old, respected family. He’s a bad character even though he isn’t generally recognized as this. What makes it so agonizing in reading and hard for the protagonist is that none of the adults see him as bad. They see him as a good man, but he’s not. He’s a villain.

CREATE ANTIPATHY INSTEAD OF SYMPATHY FOR YOUR VILLAIN

Lubar says, “Pure, unrelenting evil gets boring. That’s why Bond villains have pet cats. Give your villain a bit of depth and variety. In his excellent pamphlet, ’12 Things I Wish I had Known When I Started Writing,’ Ben Bova points out that, ‘No one actually sets out to do evil.’ This is a brilliant

observation that has served me well in all my writing. The bad guy isn’t doing bad stuff so he can rub his hands together and snarl. He may be driven by greed, neuroses, or the conviction that his cause is just, but he’s driven by something not unlike the things that drive a hero.” When you create a villain, you want the reader of your novel to feel antipathy toward that character, rather than sympathy. To do this, you use the same tools that you use to characterize any character. Give the character a convincing backstory that explains motivations, then personalize them with depth and variety. Foster edited Louis Sachar’s book, Holes, which won both the 1998 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and the 1999 Newbery award. She says, “One thing about Sachar’s villains is that they are nuanced characters. He has a sort of darkly humorous approach, so his villains – even in Holes – aren’t cartoon characters.” Foster discusses how Sachar creates both antipathy and sympathy for the villains. “You need enough enough explanation so you can understand the novel. In Holes, when you realize what the Warden’s history is, or when you look at Kissing Kate Barlow, you have examples of characters who seems justified in their actions. You understand why Kate turned bad. It makes the novel richer if you can follow the line of thinking or reasons for someone’s behavior. That doesn’t mean you always spell it out. But within the needs of the story, you need to know.”

BELIEVABLE MOTIVATIONS FOR EVIL CHARACTERS

Sid Fleischman, author of numerous books, including the Newbery award winning novel, The Whipping Boy, says, “I do think you have to lay in, at least in a single broad stroke, a motivation for villainy. In the Three Little Pigs, we assume the wolf is hungry.” Why is this character ignoring society’s standards of morality and doing something that is considered evil? Without this information, you run the danger of losing credibility in the story. While most agree that the villain’s motivations need to be clear, some novels get by without this. Rich says, “Lemony Snicket never gives Count Olaf redeeming qualities. We’ll never learn that Count Olaf was mistreated as a child, or he is lonely, or needs a friend. He won’t be redeemed. He’s thoroughly villainous. I find that a redeeming quality; he’s likeable because he is so outrageously horrid.”

“Resist the temptation to make him or her sympathetic. We don’t need to learn that the villain has a soft spot for puppies. That waters them down, rather than strengthens their character.” Because of her experience editing Count Olaf, Rich doesn’t agree that you must include specific motivations in every novel about a villain. “Resist the temptation to make him or her sympathetic. It’s not necessary. We don’t need to learn that the villain has a soft spot for puppies. That waters them down, rather than strengthens their character.” Count Olaf is a pure villain, through and through. And that is precisely what makes him a wonderful character. The decision to include specific motivations or not must depend on the type novel you’re writing, and the specific needs of that story. Lemony Snicket’s stories are sort of mock-Victorian and following the Victorian tradition of melodramatic villains.But even Holes requires a more developed villain.

DEPTH AND VARIETY FOR YOUR VILLAINS

After the broad strokes laying out the evil intentions and motives of the villain, it’s time to make him or her more specific. Look to the needs of the novel and the milieu of the story for ideas on specific villainy. For example, the Warden in Holes has rattlesnake venom nail polish. On his website, Sachar says, ” It’s hard to remember where different ideas come from, but I think it first started when I originally thought the Warden was going to be the granddaughter of Kissing Kate Barlow. And Kissing Kate always killed the men she kissed. At the time, I may have even considered that her lipstick might be poisoned. So, I wanted to do something along the same lines. Instead of poison lipstick, the warden had poison nail polish.” Often writers have a difficult time creating specific evil in a novel. The writer is non-confrontational themselves, and it just feels wrong to include such bad things in a story for kids. Lubar says, “To do it right, I think you need to move beyond your own comfort level. If I create a villain who is basically just me at my worst, I’ll end up with a guy who jaywalks and maybe drinks milk directly out of the carton. Real villains do things I’d never do. (On the other hand, they obviously do things I’m capable of imagining and describing. But that’s another issue.)”

TIPS TO WRITE A BETTER VILLAIN CHARACTER

“I think the main danger with a villain,” Fleischman says, “is going over the top. It’s easy to have him twirl his mustaches too much and chortle and sneer too sneeringly. You gotta make him believable. The villains in my novels chew up the scenery a bit more than others. I get away with these touches of whimsy because my novels are comedies.” In other words, avoid cliches and melodrama.

“The writer has put so much energy and emotion into creating the character that the writer has lost sight of how the villain is appearing...” Often writers face critiques of their villains and the recommendation is to soften the villain’s evil ways. Foster says, “That usually means that the villain isn’t coming off as quite believable. The writer has put so much energy and emotion into creating the character that the writer has lost sight of how the villain is appearing. Usually, when a writer is asked to revise a depiction of a character it is to make it fit the needs of the novel better. It’s not because the editor is afraid of including an evil character in a novel.” Foster gives an example. “When I worked with Louis Sachar on , There’s a Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom, the teacher seemed too harsh to believe in the first draft. He was modeling her on real life experiences, but the depiction wasn’t working. Sachar did soften the teacher character a bit, not because I was concerned about being politically correct, or teachers who might read the book or reviewers. But it was important that the character was strong and credible. By going back to look at her again, Sachar took the raw passion of the first draft and refined what he was doing.” Above all, credibility is the key to creating good villains. Within the story being told, this villain’s evil ways must be appropriate. “Believe in your villain,” Rich emphasizes, “as much as you believe in your heroes.”

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WRITING WOMEN LIKE HUMAN BEINGS Every once in a while, the question makes its way around the writing circles: how to write strong female characters? Well, I’m a guy, so I probably shouldn’t be the first person you ask. In fact, definitely not. But, because I’m a guy, here comes my opinion anyway. (Right away with the gender stereotypes — buckle up!) If you look at your typical urban fantasy cover, the answer seems to be “crop top, big knife, and tattoos.” This is a pretty hoary complaint by this time, and I feel a little self-conscious even making it, but seriously, show me a bad-ass vampire hunter with her midriff covered, and, well… I’ll be mildly surprised. Not that this is a bad thing in itself, beyond being something of a cliché at this point. But it does seem to reinforce the idea that “violence = strength.” Not that I mind ass-kicking characters, but groin-punching is a behavior, not a personality trait. The most iconic modern-fantasy female of them all, Buffy Summers, much more going for her than just beating monsters senseless. The question’s also been kicking around the blogosphere recently. For example, “The Fantasy Feminist” by Fantasy Faction (say that five times fast), points out some of the most common gaffes in writing female characters:

These issues are, at their core, character issues. The problem isn’t the warrior or promiscuous personality in itself; rather, it’s the idea that to be a strong character, a woman must act like a man or shun feminine things or use her body to manipulate people or some other misconception. And even then, it’s really only a problem if the writer believes that the character must act that way to be strong. If the character believes it, then the writer has taken a first step toward creating a multi-layered person. Michel Vaillancourt, author of The Sauder Diaries: By Any Other Name, relates how he carefully researched and constructed his female characters. Vaillancourt sums up the problem neatly: “Within our North American pop culture, we have built a mystic divide between the principle genders.” What’s most interesting about this post is the mixed reaction Vaillancourt got from female readers – proving that there is no One True Way when it comes to writing characters, nor should there be. My favorite answer to this question, however, came from a recent Google+ thread in which a writer asked, “how do you write female characters?” and someone answered:

1) I THINK OF A CHARACTER. 2) I MAKE THEM FEMALE. I love this answer, because I think it gets to the heart of the issue: gender plays very little part in what makes a good or strong character. So why start with gender at all?

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by Kate Beaton


10 WAYS SKYFALL BORROWS FROM THE DARK KNIGHT Rumors that Skyfall would borrow the playbook from Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy and serve up a “dark” James Bond left some people fuming and others positively buoyant.

The reality is better than either camp had reason to expect: In Skyfall, we get the gritty realism that defined Nolan’s bat-flicks and the previous Daniel Craigstarring Bond films, coupled with a colorful villain, a well-rounded protagonist and the compelling storytelling director Sam Mendes brought to American Beauty and Revolutionary Road. Skyfall’s winning combination of sweeping cinematography, keen dialog and the requisite hero’s journey, along with traditional 007 staples like a rich score and gorgeous title sequence, let Bond soar to new heights. And even though Mendes has flip-flopped on whether The Dark Knight Rises influenced Skyfall — first he said it did and then he said it didn’t — there’s an undeniable whiff of bat clinging to the latest 007 film. And that’s a good thing. Here are some ways the PG-13 Skyfall, which opens Friday in the United States, parallels the Dark Knight trilogy. Some are trivial, others speak to the power of both film franchises.

PULSE-POUNDING OPENING:

Start with a bang. It’s a classic cinematic power play, and a Bond staple. Both The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises hit viewers hard with intense opening sequences that signal, “You’re about to see an epic movie.” Skyfall does the same, coming out of the gate with a stupendously inventive chase sequence that will make you glad you’re watching the latest Bond on a big screen. (I wish I’d seen it in Imax.)

GIVE MR. GRIM A SENSE OF HUMOR:

For the first time, Skyfall made me actually care about Craig’s heretofore dull-eyed take on Ian Fleming’s superspy — the actor loosens up in this film, cracking wise and showing a human side. It’s similar to the way The Dark Knight Rises added a little humor to Christian Bale’s scowl-and-cowl performance, but much more effective.

BRING GOOD GUY BACK FROM THE BRINK:

At the beginning of The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce Wayne is depicted as a crippled-up recluse who gimps around his mansion with a cane. Later, he miraculously recuperates from a broken back (while doing a stint in yet another dark hole). In Skyfall, Bond goes missing and is presumed dead, but he’s really licking his wounds and playing killer drinking games on a beach somewhere. He’s beaten down and only gets pulled back into the game after a terror attack on his beloved London. (Batman’s motivation, as always, is to save Gotham.)

PUT YOUR HERO IN A HOLE AS A BOY:

Bruce Wayne fell into a cave full of bats as a boy, a traumatic experience that made a mark on his psyche. A young James Bond, as revealed in Skyfall (although not actually shown on screen), spent two days in a priest hole after his parents’ death. When he emerged, he was changed forever.

MAKE HIM LORD OF A MANOR:

We all knew about stately Wayne Manor, but who knew James Bond had a mansion in the family? In Skyfall, 007 returns to his boyhood home — a large estate on the Scottish moors. It’s in disrepair, was sold when Bond was missing and presumed dead, but there’s a definite bat-echo in these scenes.

GIVE THE HERO A HOT SET OF WHEELS:

Nolan’s Batman has the Tumbler and the Batpod; Bond keeps a vintage Aston Martin DB5 in a secret garage. The first glimpse of the immaculate automobile will get 007 gearheads revving.

MAKE THE VILLAIN MEMORABLE:

Can you even remember the names of the villains in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace? I can’t without a little Wikipedia memory boost. Casting Javier Bardem as psychotic cyberterrorist Silva might not have been the master stroke of putting Heath Ledger in the Joker’s smeared makeup, but it’s damn close: Bardem plays Skyfall’s big bad with the same sort of relish, turning Silva into a Bond villain for the ages.

GIVE US A PEEK AT FAMILY GRAVESTONES:

Both The Dark Knight Rises and Skyfall show their heroes’ family burial sites, establishing a more complex character.

END WITH A WINK AT THE FUTURE:

At the end of The Dark Knight, Nolan played the Joker card. In the final minutes of The Dark Knight Rises, we got a hint at a possible bat-future with a last-minute character reveal. The same sort of thing happens in Skyfall, giving us a glimpse of the franchise’s promising future.

Prove That Orphans Make the Best Crime-Fighters: In Skyfall, spymaster M proclaims that orphans make the best recruits. Anybody who knows Batman’s origin story would have to agree.

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SHORT FILMS

BLINKY™

BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD ‘Did you cry at the end?” It’s the day after her first ever premiere at the Cannes film festival, which ended in a standing ovation, and New Orleans schoolgirl Quvenzhané “Nazie” Wallis – eight years old, going on 30 – is taking the whole circus in her stride. Calm and unruffled, she is a force of nature, one minute sitting quietly, the next skipping round her endlessly patient parents. “She really is an old soul in a little body, and always has been,” says her director, 29-year-old first timer Benh Zeitlin. “It’s funny, because it seems she really gets it – she knows what she’s doing, she knows how to be a little star. But at the same time it doesn’t faze her.” This “it” is Zeitlin’s debut movie, Beasts of the Southern Wild, which premiered at Sundance in January and has since swept across the planet, today hitting Cannes just as a violent storm sweeps in from the sea. Which is an odd coincidence, since Zeitlin’s film, loosely inspired by the events of Hurricane Katrina, is a rites-of-passage story that depicts a bizarre, primitive swampland flooded by rain. At the centre of it are Hushpuppy (Wallis) and her father Wink (Dwight Henry), two local residents transformed by Zeitlin’s production team into grimy, shock-haired rebels who must fight for their hometown and resist attempts by the mainland to assimilate them.

“and we shot it in the Mississippi river …” “It wasn’t no pool!” Wallis interrupts brightly. “… In 40, 50-degree water, all day. Because Benh wanted everything to be as real as it possibly could be, even with the animals that we had. The pigs, the chickens …”

Boy wants the latest toy for christmas, a friendly robot to fill the love left by his parents’ broken marriage. But when the boy loses interest in blinky, one final request remains. Ruairi Robinson has been a name to watch for a while. The Irish animator broke through to great acclaim with his 3D short film, Fifty Percent Grey, which was nominated for Oscar in 2002 (a time when 3D films made by one guy and a PC were still quite rare). He then followed it up with Silent City, a post-apocalyptic short film starring Cillian Murphy.

“A horse!” chirps Wallis. “… the birds, the dawg …”

“I was caught in hurricane Katrina. Someone that has gone through this brings a realness.” “Everything was real!” insists Wallis.”They were untrained before we started, and they were only trained to do what we needed them to do. So everything you see is real. Benh could have gone to California, to New York, maybe gone and got an actor to play my part. But what he wanted was somebody who actually, in real life, went through what we go through in the movie, with storms and the like. I’m from New Orleans, and this is something we go through every year. We have to deal with the possibility of a storm coming in, evacuating – family goin’ all different places – so having someone that has gone through this brings a realness. I was caught in hurricane Katrina. I was in …”

ONE DAY

One man always on the move will have an encounter that puts into question everything he knows. While pleasing to the eye, the film is also simply great storytelling—truly Pixar-esque in its way of combining subtle fantasy, with emotional character development. The fact that it accomplishes this in only 4 minutes is all the more impressive..

“Neck-high water!” interjects Wallis. “Because I had two businesses,” continues Henry. “And when things like that happen, vandals come to your business, they loot it. And I refused to let that happen. So when Katrina came, I stayed down there, and I had to get out of neck-high water to save my life! That was a real thing that I brought to the movie.” Henry and Wallis, in their everyday lives, are unrecognisable. Henry, 49, is the refined, sharpsuited and very charismatic manager of successful New Orleans eaterie the Buttermilk Drop Cafe and Bakery. Onscreen, their chemistry is total, as Wink, suffering from a fatal illness, tries to school his daughter in the ways of the world. And this is no world that we know, a world of rust and nails, sumps and driftwood, feral animals and insects – an anarchic paradise. “The first scene we shot was my most difficult scene,” drawls Henry,

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Such realism is what Zeitlin calls making this film “humble to the elements that you’re using” in order to tell the story. He says that the script was rewritten several times around Wallis and Henry, that the production design was “organic”, and that, set-wise, almost nothing was used that wasn’t already there. “You want to tell a big story, so you write a big story,” he continues. “But then you allow the elements that define and speak to that story to change and alter it. You don’t come in with this precious script and a perfect plan.”

PLASTIC BAG

Werner Herzog gives voice to a plastic bag’s existential crisis. The film follows a wayward plastic grocery bag: sentient and voiced by Werner Herzog to amazing effect, as it searches for meaning to its existence. The result is a film that is a success as education and entertainment; one that musters a startling amount of pathos from its subject and a surprising amount of empathy from its audience.


ON THE RADAR

Featured Artist Meghan Howland at Calgary Public Library.

Howland is a contemporary oil painter working on canvas, creating figurative paintings, with a narrative edge. Her paintings are often dreamlike, and yet carry a weight of something that is slightly more dissonant. The question of whether something is safe or dangerous, loving or hateful, is often unexplained in her work.

GRAPHIC NOVELS THE WALKING DEAD ISSUE #104

Many characters were unhappy with Rick’s seeming deference to Negan in The Walking Dead #103, least of all his son Carl. Obviously that isn’t quite what happens, but this issue is still host to some interesting new developments and a further evolution of Carl’s gung-ho personality. It’s not that readers can’t sympathize with Rick’s precarious position, but it is nice to see some of the characters refusing to play ball with the dastardly Negan. Robert Kirkman sheds a bit more light on the inner workings of Negan’s community. The moral of the story is that his own people aren’t much more fond of the tyrannical leader than Rick’s gang. This adds another interesting wrinkle to the formula. There’s little doubt that the new central villain of The Walking Dead is going to get what he deserves sooner or later. The question is who will bring him down and exactly how much damage will be caused along the way.

CHARACTER CREATION

NOVEMBER 17. 1:00 - 3:00 PM. JOHN DUTTON THEATRE Join local authors Susan Calder (Deadly Fall) and Garry Ryan (Blackbirds) for an interactive workshop on making your characters come alive and about using E-Resources. Bring your questions and meet other writers. Everyone welcome.

EBOOK OR PRINT?

NOVEMBER 17. 12:00 - 1:00 PM. JOHN DUTTON THEATRE Consider both formats when publishing your writing. Susan Toy discusses the many changes in promotion and marketing that have occurred as a result of both methods of delivering books to readers.

Though the zombies themselves continue to be an afterthought at this stage in the conflict, the grotesque display of undead outside Negan’s camp is enough to remind readers that this is a zombie book. There are certain panels where the level of detail drops out and characters lose all facial features, but in general this is a pretty strong effort from the art team. The general momentum the series has built up since issue #100 continues unabated.

RATING: 8.5/10

Carl steps up to the plate in another engrossing installment of the Walking Dead comic.

WRITER-IN-RESIDENCE SERVICES. BY APPOINTMENT. Book your manuscript consultation with Brian Brennan today and get some free, professional guidance on your journey to 50,000 words. Mr. Brennan’s residency will end November 30 so do not wait.

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Conteur