Writing

How TV Shows Ruin the Romance

Thanks to the transfer of information from my old laptop to my new laptop taking FOREVER (still going after 46 hours), I finished binge-watching Veronica Mars yesterday (three episodes plus the movie in a single day). Yeah, I really should have saved some files onto a jump drive before I started that process. Today I am being more resourceful than frustrated and working on the blog and from some items in my email.

Anyway … as much as I loved Veronica Mars, it clarified for me how TV shows–due to their long-running nature–ruin the romance.

I guess I should mention before you read any more of this post that if you haven’t watched Veronica Mars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or Friends, you should stop now because there will be spoilers. Also, if you haven’t watched these shows, perhaps some of this post won’t make sense :).

Still reading? Ok.

So. Veronica Mars. From a romance standpoint, the first season was pretty much perfect. That moment after Logan jumps in to save Veronica from the guy he thinks is hurting her and they have their first kiss?? Swoon city! There were so many twists and turns to that romance and I was all in for those two getting together at the end of season one.

But then … season two happened and reality set in. Ok, so part of that was how the writers plotted it, but a lot of it was the characters themselves, and even more of that came out in season three. The reality of it was, as much as I loved the idea of these characters, could they really make a relationship work? This is why TV romance often becomes more realistic than the romantics among us may like.

Take me. I love a good romantic comedy or romance novel where they get together at the end and you can blissfully assume it’s all roses and chocolate forever. But that’s not real life, is it? People argue and get past that honeymoon phase where they think the other person is perfect and then they either work through their issues or break up. Which is what happened to Veronica and Logan in the series. I actually thought the movie did a believable job of showing how they could have grown up enough to finally be together. But on to another example.

My husband and I also recently watched the complete box set of Friends. My husband didn’t watch the show when it was originally on, while I was a fan. Anyway, I’m sure you can guess I’m about to discuss the Ross and Rachel issue. What was interesting to me watching the show over again was that as a first-time viewer I remembered wanting them to be together. However, when we watched the episodes in big chunks, I noticed how well the writers pushed the two characters apart in the last few seasons. At the beginning of the last season, in fact, as a repeat viewer, I was almost convinced Ross and Rachel were incompatible.

Now maybe this is also me looking on the show as someone who is married and knows what the day to day is like but still. I also think it’s a reflection on the writing of the romance. The writers had no idea when the show would end so they kept pushing them apart, but the ultimate goal was always to end with Ross and Rachel together. They knew Ross and Rachel were the central romantic conflict of the show and having them actually together would end it.

I’m not sure what that says about us as viewers–that we won’t stay engaged if the characters are happy romantically. Hmmm.

So. On to the last show I’d like to discuss–Buffy. Here’s a romance that was never actually resolved thanks to that Angel spin-off that kind of screwed everything up. I mean, I watched it, but obviously he wasn’t meant to be with Cordelia or that werewolf girl.

Anyway, back to the discussion at hand. This is probably my favorite show ever, but as with the others, I think the romance suffered from the show going on for so long. Once again, we had this issue of reality intruding but for completely different reasons. In this case, the reality of the fictional world. They couldn’t sustain the Angel tension past a few seasons, so they threw in a bunch of imitation love interests. I know a lot of people love Spike, and he is a fantastic character on his own, but I hated when they put him with Buffy. I felt bad for him, but it was so wrong for her. Anyway, the final episode where Angel showed up and they kissed? Perfect ending as far as I was concerned. We can just pretend anything that happened romance wise on Angel after that didn’t. It’s really too bad vampires don’t age and so they can’t do a reunion movie like Veronica Mars.

My point with all of this is that if you plan to watch a long-running TV show and expect that couple you love to stay happily together the whole time, it’s not happening. The writers are going to break them up. It might be for realistic reasons, or it might be fantastical, but they can’t keep them together for more than a season and keep you watching. I love all of these shows, but I kind of hate the writers for what they did to the characters. Maybe that’s part of why I love them so much …

And, yes, friends who have read my current manuscript, I do recognize the irony.

Character, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: IGNITE ME by Tahereh Mafi

Eventually I’ll get back to middle grade, but there have been a string of YA books in series I’m already reading that have come out in the last few weeks, and I have another one today.

I originally picked up SHATTER ME by Tahereh Mafi because of Twitter buzz. Although I didn’t fall in love with the main character or the love interest, I was fascinated by Ms. Mafi’s interesting use of language and the intricacies of the plot. She hooked me even without a character I could identify with, and that interest carried through the whole series, including the two e-novellas that fell between the full-length novels. While I enjoyed the first two books, I absolutely loved the final installment, so I’ve decided to only review IGNITE ME. However, you still need to read the first two books–and really the novellas–to get to this one, so if you haven’t read them yet, hold off on reading this review. In fact, STOP READING NOW! Sorry to yell at you, but the following description for IGNITE ME includes spoilers for the earlier books, and so will my review.

Ignite Me by Tahereh MafiThe fate of Omega Point is unknown. Everyone Juliette has ever cared about could be dead. The war could be over before it ever really began.

Juliette is the only one standing in The Reestablishment’s way. She knows that if she’s going to survive, The Reestablisment cannot.

But to take down The Reestablishment and the man who very nearly killed her, Juliette will need the help of the one person she never thought she could trust: Warner. And as they work together to bring down their enemy, Juliette will discover that everything she thought she knew–about Warner, her abilities, and even Adam–was wrong.

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The use of language – As I mentioned above, Ms. Mafi’s use of language fascinated me from the very beginning. In the first book she extensively used strikethroughs and interesting punctuation to give a unique look inside Juliette’s mind. It kind of blew my mind how perfect it was for the character. As the series continued, Ms. Mafi phased out some of these techniques to show how Juliette grew from someone contained entirely in her own mind to looking outward. I’ve never seen such an interesting use of language as character development.

2. Warner – Oh, I just love Warner. In the first book he was an intriguing villain, but then I read DESTROY ME. After that, he became the broken hero I wanted Juliette to heal. Without that novella, I would have read UNRAVEL ME with a completely different perspective. It’s impressive how Ms. Mafi makes both Juliette’s initial impression and final judgment of Warner so believable.

3. Juliette’s friendship with Kenji – I loved the dynamic between Juliette and Kenji. It brings a lightness that is rare in a story where almost every other relationship is tense. It also kept the story grounded in young adult, as most of their actions and interactions otherwise are very adult.

4. The romantic tension – For me, the best romance is built on tension, and that is evident through all three books. I won’t outright say who Juliette ends up with, but honestly, I don’t think there was any doubt at the end of UNRAVEL ME. Even when I felt like the romance was finally going to be resolved, Ms. Mafi kept building the tension. Sooo good. One caution for younger readers: this book shows more of the physical than a lot of YA. It didn’t seem gratuitous as so much of the story is tied up in Juliette’s issues with touch, but in case any of my MG readers are interested in this story, you might want to hold off.

5. The ending – I did not expect the story to go the way it did, mainly because I couldn’t have anticipated Juliette’s character growing as much as she did in the early part of this book. The climax was a satisfying end to the story. In the acknowledgments, Ms. Mafi said: “It is my very great hope that you will find this a worthy final installment.” From my standpoint, the answer is yes, Ms. Mafi, a very worthy finale.

Who else has read IGNITE ME? I’m happy to discuss spoilers in the comments!

 

Character, Reading, Review, Young Adult

Series Recommendation: DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth

I came to this series later than most. I didn’t read the first book until September, but I’m actually glad because then I didn’t have to wait very long for the final installment. To be honest, I wish I could do this for all series–particularly those that deal in cliffhangers–but sometimes I get hooked in with the first book and have to wait for each one. (Like The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. Why didn’t I wait to read CINDER? Oh well. Too late now.) Anyway, for the purposes of this review, I’m going to use the description from the first book, which I pulled from Veronica Roth’s blog.

Note: The first part of this review is spoiler-free. You will be warned when to stop reading if you haven’t read ALLEGIANT.

DivergentIn Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves … or it might destroy her.

Here are the five things I loved most about this series.

1. The premise – It’s like the houses in Harry Potter. Don’t pretend you aren’t trying to figure out where you belong. I would totally test into Erudite, which isn’t the best place to be in this series. Of course, in real life we are more just one attribute. Oh wait. That’s the point of this series :).

2. The romance – I really like the element of reserve Tris and Four’s backgrounds in Abnegation lend to their romance. There’s a lot more tension due to the fact that they both come from a faction that doesn’t condone PDA or giving in to physical urges in general. As a result, the physical side of the relationship isn’t the main focus. I like a good kissing scene as much as the next person, but I appreciate it when the tension’s about more than how far they’re going to take things.

3. The pacing – These books are pretty much impossible to put down once you start reading. The action never stops, and Veronica Roth doesn’t pull any punches, either. Even though the main character is a girl, these books will appeal to guys. I’ve already told my husband he should read them :).

4. The mystery – From the very beginning, it’s clear that all is not what it seems in this city that doesn’t even have a name. The first book does a good job of keeping the mystery within the walls, but by the middle of the second book, I was wondering about the outside world. The mystery of their existence expands with each book. It’s very well done.

Here is where you should stop reading if you haven’t finished the series. My last point isn’t exactly a spoiler, but it could lead you to certain conclusions about the series. I’m going to put the covers of the second and third books here as a buffer. Consider yourself warned.

Insurgent            Allegiant

5. The ending – I know a lot of people disagree, but I thought the ending to the series was entirely appropriate and fulfilled my expectations for the character arcs based on the groundwork in the first two books. For those of you who have read ALLEGIANT and/or don’t mind spoilers, Veronica Roth has a great post on why she ended the series the way she did.

Anyone have thoughts? I’m happy to discuss spoilers in the comments.

Character, Movies, Reading, Young Adult

Thoughts on Movie Adaptations and THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS in Particular

A couple of weeks ago, in preparation for “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” movie, I read CITY OF BONES. I loved it and couldn’t wait to get CITY OF ASHES. I’m still waiting on CITY OF GLASS, but the fact that I’ve only read the first two is an important point in this post.

Anyway, because I loved the books, I went into the movie expecting to like it. And I did, even though it was quite different from the book. But I’m ok with that. Movies are a different medium. You’re experiencing the story in an entirely different way–watching the characters go through the plot rather than going through it inside their heads. So here are a few things I think affected the way this particular movie was adapted, with some general thoughts on adaptations as well.

Set-Up

If I hadn’t already read the second book in this series, I would have thought the writers had taken a lot more leeway with the story than they actually did. In order to explain the world, the writers revealed a number of plot points in the “City of Bones” movie that don’t happen until at least CITY OF ASHES. Even without having read CITY OF GLASS, it was clear to me from where things were going at the end of CITY OF ASHES that some of the things revealed from the very beginning of this movie are actually things you find out in CITY OF GLASS.The Mortal Instruments Sorry if that sounds vague, but I’m trying not to include any spoilers.

In any case, I can understand why they did it this way. When you’re reading the story, you want that tension to get to the end, but in a movie where the viewer hasn’t been gently grounded in the world, it could just end up a confusing mess. Did the writers have to do it the exact way they did in the movie? I don’t know. They might have been able to come up with a way to avoid spoiling a couple of those plot points, but maybe not. It will be interesting to see how they handle those things if they move forward with adaptations of the later books.

Length

As an avid reader, I’m willing to sit through a four and a half hour miniseries (PRIDE AND PREJUDICE) or a two-part movie (BREAKING DAWN, HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS) for a book I really love. But for a book I probably wouldn’t read? Like THE HOBBIT? (Sorry, just not my taste). Nope. I’ll go for the only slightly long version, like “The Lord of the Rings” non-extended version, but I’m not going to sit through something I anticipate being too convoluted for a movie. Even if it’s not true, I expect it to be slow-paced and possibly boring. So, that’s the dilemma film-makers have when they decide to adapt a book. There’s no way they can include the whole story, so they cut scenes and plot points and condense it down to what they anticipate viewers will connect with best. I understand that, and I don’t mind that they had to cut quite a few non-action scenes to make this movie work.

Budget

There’s a lot of scrutiny on YA books made into movies, particularly because TWILIGHT and HARRY POTTER and HUNGER GAMES were so successful. Not every book adaptation is going to bring in those numbers, but the comparisons will still be made. I could definitely see the effect budget had on this adaptation. Cassandra Clare created numerous creatures you’ve never heard of before. While there were some great special effects in this movie, there definitely was room for more with the demons. They chose to simplify in that area, and since the box office numbers didn’t reach the TWILIGHT levels (which, let’s face it, would have been unrealistic to expect), I think it was a wise decision. Who knows? If the numbers improve, they might do more with book two.

Characters

How the characters will translate to the big screen is probably what I’m most anxious about when I go see a movie adapted from a book. If I love a book, it’s because I care about the characters, and I want to love them on the screen, too. For the most part, it’s about the way they act rather than appearance. Sure, I want them to look the way I pictured them, but the only way the actor’s appearance is going to really bother me is if some physical characteristic that’s intrinsic is off–for example, the MC is touchy about being short but the actress is 6 feet tall. That’s a lame example, but hopefully you get the idea. The thing is,  that character doesn’t exist in real life, so there’s never going to be an actor who fits exactly. In “The Mortal Instruments,” I was fine with all of the main characters. The only one who stood out as being very different from what I expected was the antagonist, Valentine, who didn’t look or act the way he’s portrayed in the books. But even here, I can understand why they went for the more flashy/unhinged bad guy. It certainly plays better in a movie.

I’m sure there are other things I could point out, but these are the points that stuck out to me most. What are your favorite movie adaptations? Or least favorite? What did you think of this one?

Reading, Young Adult

SCARLET, A Perfect Follow-Up to CINDER

Those of you who have been following me for a while might recall that my favorite young adult book of 2012 was CINDER by Marissa Meyer. The day after I posted my review of CINDER last fall, I discovered Marissa Meyer was coming to town as part of the Fierce Reads Tour and I got to meet her. She’s quite lovely, as were the other authors on the tour.

If you haven’t read CINDER yet, you should stop reading this post now because the description for SCARLET has some spoilers.

Still reading? Ok, I warned you.

Scarlet by Marissa MeyerCinder, the cyborg mechanic, returns in the second thrilling installment of the bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She’s trying to break out of prison–even though if she succeeds, she’ll be the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive.

Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information about her grandmother’s whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.

And here are the five things I loved most:

1. The setup – When I read CINDER and discovered it was the first in a series, I expected the next book would be a straight sequel. Not so. Each of the four books is set to be a different fairy tale retelling. I wasn’t sure how this would work, but SCARLET completely exceeded my expectations. It continues to follow Cinder’s story, while also introducing Scarlet and Wolf. It’s clear from the beginning that their paths will cross. They each know different sides of the story, and there’s tension on every page as we wait to see them intersect. It’s so well done, and I can already see how the next one is going to play into the series.

2. The steamy romance – Ok, so I loved the romance in Cinder, but it was pretty reserved, and that was the exact right tone between Cinder and Prince/Emperor Kai. It’s completely different with Scarlet and Wolf. There’s a definite sizzle to it, and that has a lot to do with his animal instincts, I’m sure. Also, Scarlet and Wolf are a couple of years older than Cinder and Kae, so it makes sense that the romance here is a bit more physical–but only a bit. I really loved that the two pairings are so different.

3. The puzzle pieces – I love how we get a few more pieces to the overall puzzle. Based on the first book, I was very curious about the beast army Queen Levana was building. When I read the description for this book, I wondered if Wolf was one of them, even as I realized his appearance was more human. Marissa Meyer does an excellent job planting  clues early on so that they fit perfectly when you need them.

4. The new characters – While a few characters did carry over from CINDER, most of the characters in SCARLET are new, even Cinder’s jail break companion. I really enjoyed Captain Carswell Thorne. The next book, CRESS, is going to be the story of Rapunzel. Wouldn’t he be a perfect hero for her? Reformed, of course. I have no idea if that’s the case. He just really grew on me during the story, and I’d love to see him get his own happy ending.

5. The ending – Ok, some people might hate this ending because it leaves A LOT hanging. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that Cinder’s story won’t be resolved until the final book, but I felt satisfied with how things were left with SCARLET. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, so I won’t go into why, but I felt like there was a complete arc for this story.

So, who else rushed out with me to get SCARLET? If you didn’t, you should definitely put it on your list now. So good!!!

Writing

How Do You Feel About Spoilers?

Like much of the world, I’ve been glued to my TV this week watching the Olympics. I made it through Monday without seeing any spoilers about the men’s gymnastics team finals, but every day since I’ve seen some kind of spoiler. I still watched in the evening, but it marred the experience already knowing the results.

It had another effect as well. Because I already knew the results, I viewed the coverage differently, and I’ve come to a conclusion. Even if I hadn’t known the results, I would have figured it out based on who they focused on–and who they didn’t. For example, with the Chinese dominance at the last Olympics, I expected them to be contenders, but NBC showed only a few routines by Chinese gymnasts, so I knew they were out.

I could give some other complaints about the coverage, but since this blog focuses on writing, I’ll point the conversation in that direction. As a reader, I’ve been known to read the last page of a book before I get there, but it depends on what kind of book it is. Romance? I already expect them to get together in the end. Mystery? It depends on whether it’s a story where you already know the answer and are just going along with the protagonist or one where the point is to solve the mystery. I have to really fight myself on this one sometimes. Either way, I still want to read to figure out how they got to that point.

But the Olympics coverage brings another point to mind. There’s very little suspense because they’re directing you toward the winners. We should keep this in mind as we write. It’s so important to plant the seeds for your climax without giving it away (unless it’s one of those where you know the end and the characters just have to figure it out). You want to give hints and maybe even plant some red herrings so the reader doesn’t automatically know what will happen. Who wants to keep reading if they expect the ending? The best books make you really want to peek but resist because the author’s doing such a great job leading you along you don’t want to spoil it. NBC could learn a lesson here, but I suppose for them it’s about cramming as many things as they can into primetime.

So how do you feel about spoilers? Answer my poll below!