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Recently, The Economist outlined How to Make a Good Biopic in light of the slew of biographical and semi-biographical films being released in the coming weeks. The article wrote, “Oscar voters love them because the ‘based on a true story’ tag gives them a veneer of seriousness…” The article goes on to discuss a number of critically-acclaimed films from the biopic and partial-biopic subgenre, all which certainly fit the “seriousness” that is applauded by The Academy year after year. But just last year, the Oscar-nabbing film The Social Networkstirred up controversy when its portrayal of its subjects was called “a complete work of fiction” by, well, its subjects. Since the people portrayed in the film were all public figures, it was technically fair game to not bother with changing character names despite a good chunk of the movie being largely fictionalized.
Law and Order and its many spinoffs boast that their stories are “Ripped From the Headlines,” and rip they do. Their most popular spinoff, SVU, has covered pretty much any and every special victims news headline from the last three or four decades (and considering most of the series takes place in present-day Manhattan, those who don’t reside here are left to believe it’s easily the most dangerous place in the world). There are times they do little in changing the original news story with episodes parading characters like Billy Tripley, a shameless rip of Michael Jackson with the only differentiations being in name and career (Tripley is a toy company CEO). In their Domnique Strauss-Kahn episode (announced just two months after the incident), they pretty much ripped the headline when the headline was hot off the press and even had one of the detectives call it “another Dominique Strauss-Kahn situation” (like some sort of self-loving nod to the fortune of receiving this headline right before the new season).
So for lack of better exclamations, what’s up with that? It’s one thing to change names to protect the parties involved (or protect one’s own ass), but what’s the deal with being a clear rip of a story but also acknowledging the actual events within the storyline?
And how about the opposite of this occurrence of not changing characters/real people’s names and placing them in original/fictional/offbeat/obsessive situations? Once upon a time, FanFiction (or for those opposed to the extra syllable, “FanFic”) was contained within the science-fiction community in hopes of extending the lives of their favorite fictional characters. Eventually, this broke beyond sci-fi and into mainstream/more popular television shows and many took it upon themselves to create the storyline they wanted but were never given.
A visit to sites like WattPad and one will see that FanFic is no longer exclusive to fictional characters (preteen girls seem to find it cathartic to write and read about average suburban girls somehow ending up with Justin Bieber). Most are far from great literary works (hell, most can’t be called literary) but a surprising amount of these pieces have legitimately interesting plotlines and are well-written (take it from a person who knows not of Justin Bieber but somehow read a couple stories… in the name of research). The stories are free and available on the site with no need for download but the concept is reminiscent of the free-for-all self-publishing world that Amazon introduced with Kindle Direct Publishing years ago. Anyone can publish just about anything which means anyone who writes or blogs about anything remotely literary (as I occasionally do) now have inboxes/mailboxes full of ARCs and free books. One that recently crossed my path appeared particularly relevant to today’s discussion. If you thumb through the indie-published Hidden Gem books by India Lee, you’ll find it peppered with “articles” and “blog posts” by fictional entertainment magazines and bloggers. If you are well-versed in celebrity gossip, you’ll find these “fictional” bloggers are clear rips of the popular ONTD, Perez Hilton, JustJared, among others, using similar memes and vernacular as the individual bloggers do. But just as SVU did with the whole “referring to the thing we’re totally ripping from,” Lee refers to D-Listed and ONTD as competitors in searching for the Lady Gaga-esque protagonist’s true identity (the plotline, from what I gather, is pretty much Hannah Montana for the Gossip Girl crowd) and the tweeny, celebrity-laden story refers to real celebrities as well as what I believe are fictional ones (there’s just no way to tell anymore, I’m not hip and I’ve come to terms with that). And as Gaga has her Little Monsters and Justin Bieber has his Beliebers, a character by the name of Tyler Chase (undoubtedly based on Bieber) has his “Tyler Chasers.” The books are not free like the FanFic on WattPad (unless you’re on the Lit Drift staff, in which case you can find the ARCs on my desk) but considering it’s subject and publication method, is that pretty much the only thing that sets it apart?
So tell me – “Based On a True Story” vs. “Inspired By Real Events” vs. “Ripped From the Headlines” vs. “Fan Fiction” – where do you draw the line?
In this amazing short by UK filmmaker Tom Jenkins, a lonely desk toy longs for escape from the dark confines of the office, so he takes a cross country road trip to the Pacific Coast in the only way he can – using a toy car and Google Maps Street View. This is stunning.
So people call me Garebear (Bear for short) not because it rhymes (that would be lame, and my friends are not lame) but because I’m actually half bear, on my mother’s side. A few years back I started an advice column for the lovelorn: as it turns out, you learn a lot about making relationships work when one of your parents is a bear. And, well, I just like to feel useful. I think you’ll see what I mean. Let’s dig into the mailbag, shall we?
My favorite questions/answers:
My boyfriend is my best friend, he’s smart and funny and sexy, but he’s not a giver: he never considers my feelings, never asks me how my day was, and in five years he’s never once told me I look pretty. What should I do, Bear?
Are you pretty? Is it possible one of the qualities you left off the list of his many fine traits is “honest?” Have you ever considered the possibility that he’s just taking pity on you? I mean, you call him your best friend, but it doesn’t even sound as though he likes you all that much. You’re clearly very needy, you have limited self-esteem, and at this point the jury is still out on your looks – although, honestly, if he’s never once in five years said you look pretty, well, do the math. And count your blessings.
I’m following up to let you know I took your advice and talked to that girl at work I like. You were right – it was so easy! Turns out she got a new pair of glasses and she was asking people in the break room what they thought, and I said, “They’re librarian hot.” (No pun intended.) What’s my next move, Love Doctor?
(name withheld for obvious reasons)
Guh. Please tell me you didn’t . . . Okay. Shit. Okay. Your next move . . . your next move. Okay, here’s the thing: “no pun intended” is not an idiom. It means exactly what it means. It is intended to follow an unintentional play on words, like when you’re in a meeting and somebody asks the fat guy to “weigh in” on the topic. So I’d say your next move should be to tell her in no uncertain terms how much you love her boobs, and then say, “No pun intended.” Get it, Scott?
Distract yourself from work with some surrealism(ish) and read the whole thing here.
Plots are covered on page 1, characters on page 2, and lots of tips to fill the whitespace.
I created this just before NaNoWriMo 2011, to combine all my notes on writing and storytelling. It fits all on a double-sided A4 sheet, which you can keep in your back pocket. I hope you find it useful.
Rachel Walsh is a second year Illustration student studying at Cardiff School of Art & Design. She was given the project: ‘“Explain something modern/Internet-based to someone who lived and died before 1900.” Her choice: explain the Kindle to Charles Dickens.
‘All the books I made had the actual covers on them, and were the books Dickens wrote, his favourite childhood books, or books I’ve got.
Welcome to this week’s Free Book Friday, wherein we give you the best titles in indie publishing for the low low price of nothing.
This week, we are giving away a copy of Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner. Adam Gordon is a brilliant, if highly unreliable, young American poet on a prestigious fellowship in Madrid, struggling to establish his sense of self and his relationship to art. Instead of following the dictates of his fellowship, Adam’s “research” becomes a meditation on the possibility of the genuine in the arts and beyond: are his relationships with the people he meets in Spain as fraudulent as he fears his poems are? Is poetry an essential art form, or merely a screen for the reader’s projections? A witness to the 2004 Madrid train bombings and their aftermath, does he participate in historic events or merely watch them pass him by? In prose that veers between the comic and tragic, the self-contemptuous and the inspired, Leaving the Atocha Station is a portrait of the artist as a young man in an age of Google searches, pharmaceuticals, and spectacle.
James Wood of the The New Yorker called this debut novel “subtle, sinuous, and very funny.” Leaving the Atocha Station has also been praised by Paul Auster as “utterly charming” and by Deb Olin Unferth as “beautiful, funny, and revelatory” in Bookforum.
1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
5. Start as close to the end as possible.
6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
I’m kicking off my November by eating leftover Halloween candy for breakfast and getting a head start on NaNoWriMo. This year marks the fourth year I’ve participated (and, uh, failed), and I don’t plan on stopping any time soon.
So let’s do this together. Gather your candy, get out of the gutter, and don’t make any excuses to write this month.
To inspire you, here’s a roundup of writing tips to keep you going. Some of them are old, some of them are new, some of them are serious, and some of them are totally insane. I’ll let you decide which is which.
Tip #1: Write slowly. NaNoWriMo is like running a marathon. Don’t sprint the first 2 miles and then spend the next 24 dragging your feet along and wheezing. That’s not fun. Most NaNoWriMo-ers aim for 1,667 words a day. Stick to that, even if you want to write more.
Tip #2: Do not place a photograph of your favorite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide. (from author Roddy Doyle)
Tip #3: Stop writing when the going is good. Hemingway has said this, along with a whole slew of other authors I’m forgetting right now. Once you get to word 1,667, even if you’re pumped and want to keep going, stop. It’s much easier to pick things up when you’re already in the moment, rather than sit down to a blank screen and have no idea what you’re going to write next.
Tip #5: Have you considered writing a sex scene or giving your protagonist large breasts? And more insightful tips from Laura Ellen Scott.
Tip #6: Only bad writers think that their work is really good. And most good writers think their work is really bad. So don’t be so hard on yourself. Even if you think your writing is crap, keep going. The nature of NaNoWriMo is to create one big, sticky mess that you’ll need to clean up later, so don’t stress if everything is absolutely perfect. The point is to get words on the paper, and to edit, edit, edit starting December 1. And, besides, it’s rarely as bad as you think.
Tip #7: And following Tip #6, I can’t stress this enough: EDIT LATER. EDIT LATER. EDIT LATER.
Tip #14: Tell all your friends that you’re doing NaNoWriMo. Maybe they’ll shame you into finishing.
Tip #15: But don’t actually show anyone any part of your novel while you’re writing it. This is your story right now. Don’t let anyone in. Save the story until the new year, at which point you’ve presumably given it a thorough shake-down and editing, to get a fresh set of eyes on it.
Tip #16: If you get stuck in a rut, keep writing. Don’t stop. Take your character to the park. Write about your dog. It doesn’t matter. If you keep writing, you’ll find the story again eventually.
Tip #17: The Guardian put together a series of rules for writers a while back. Read these. These are really good. Seriously: Part One and Part Two.
Tip #18: Find your writing ritual quickly, and stick to it. Do you write best in the morning? Evening? In your pajamas? Outside? Whatever it is, make sure you spend less time on “preparing your space for writing” than actually writing. Time spent making coffee, cleaning your desk, and thinking about how literary you are does not count as writing time.
Tip #20: Come up with a way to reward yourself on December 1. This is going to get hard and ugly, so at least give yourself some sort of light at the end of the tunnel.
Tip #21: Back up your novel every day. I CAN’T STRESS THIS ENOUGH SO I WILL WRITE THIS IN CAPS LOCK. Imagine how upset you’ll be when your 30,000+ word novel-in-progress disappears because of accidental deletion or because you spilled your writer-coffee all over your computer. Sucks, right? So back that business up: email it to yourself, save it on Google Docs, save it to a flash drive, whatever. Do all three.
Tip #23: Following Tip #22: keep reading. Don’t be afraid about accidentally copying the writing style of the author you’re currently reading. You learn about writing from reading, so don’t stop learning.