Observations from a Blue-Haired Gal

One of the keys to being a good writer is to be a keen observer of human behavior and life in general. No matter what genre you write, observations and experiences from real life impact your writing; and so the more you can observe – and think about what you observe – the better.

Ever since I dyed my hair blue, I’ve observed some very interesting behaviors from people around me. Nothing bad – and even those few who have said in one way or another that they don’t like my hair have still helped me by adding to my list of observations. I’ve even gone so far as to say, when people ask me why I colored my hair, that I’m doing research for a novel. In response to that, I’ve gotten blank looks, and someone asked me when my book was coming out.

My current look, as of my most recent color touch-up

My current look, as of my most recent color touch-up

Note: I’m not doing research for a specific book – I’m just doing research on human behavior, as I mentioned at the beginning. No matter what the response is to that statement, or my hair in general, it’s research. So thank you, one and all, for helping me to become a better writer!

Here are some of the most surprising things I’ve observed during the past six months:

“I wish I had the nerve to do that.” Countless people have said this to me. Some have said that they wish they could do wild things with their hair, but because of their job (usually a high position in the corporate world) they can’t. I can understand that. But what has truly surprised me is the number of young, “edgy” people who have said they wished they had the courage to color their hair. I have had people with tattoos or piercings say this, and also have had hair stylists and other people in the fashion industry say it. It took a lot of courage, yes, for me to initially take the leap and turn my whole head blue, but I didn’t realize how many people don’t feel that they have the courage to make a drastic (but still temporary) outward change.

Let it go! My hair is a bit more purple now, since my stylist used only purple dye for my last color touch-up. But for a couple of months there, my hair was a bright blue. During this time, the most common comment/question I got was: “Did you color your hair because of Frozen?” Um, no. Why? Last time I saw the movie, Elsa had blond hair. I eventually figured out that people were probably saying this because my hair was the exact same shade of blue that predominates the film – especially in the opening title sequence. Even after I figured out the reasoning, it still startled me every time someone brought it up. I even had – on more than one occasion – a random person come up to me and start singing “Let it Go.” Kind of surreal – it was like being a musical where someone spontaneously bursts into song. I’m the creative writer here, and even I couldn’t make this stuff up.

My Queen Elsa hair, apparently.

My Queen Elsa hair, apparently.

I’m more tolerant of other styles. I’d like to say that I never judge a person based on their looks, but I’m afraid that I have – probably more than a few times. We all try not to judge by appearances, but let’s face it – appearances are what we notice first. We make certain assumptions about that girl with the pink Mohawk and the lip ring, or that guy with the rat tail and wife beater. And even if our assumptions wind up being true to one degree or another, there’s still a human being under that clothing and hair, a person with their own unique strengths and dreams. I’m sure a lot of people make judgements about me (that they never would have made if I was still my natural blond). Because I can now see things from the other side, as it were, I try to be more outgoing and comment positively on looks I like or that are unique.

So this has been my diary of my blue hair! I’m enjoying the color – and the whole experience and everything I’m learning from it. Here’s to six more months as a blue-haired gal!

Advertisements

Sequels: Realism vs Entertainment

So I recently read that a sequel to Frozen is in the works. No surprise there. The movie has made gazillions of dollars, the already-famous Idina Menzel is now popular among six-year-olds, and it’s cool to like warm hugs. I don’t think a title or plot summary has been released yet, so here is my take on what Frozen 2 should be:

Frozen 2: Do You Want to go to Therapy?

High up on the North Mountain, Queen Elsa’s ice palace, now left untended, melts in the summertime sun. Avalanches and floods ensue, ruining crops and endangering Arendell. Elsa, however, is unable to stop it because she’s too busy wrestling with inner demons and the long-repressed anger at her parents for teaching her to fear and hide. Princess Anna is left in charge, but in addition to saving the kingdom and trying to help Elsa help herself, she has to deal with her husband Kristoff’s sudden depression. Sven, the oversized reindeer who acts like a dog, finally dies at the unrealistically old age of 217 in human years, sending Kristoff into despair at losing his only life-long friend. In desperation, Anna is about ready to call in the scumbags Hans and the Duke of Wesleton for help when Olaf – who has miraculously not melted yet like Elsa’s ice palace – has a daring idea.

Dun-dun-duuuuh….

Not much of a kids’ movie, if you want a (sort of) realistic plot like this. Mind you, I’m not bashing Frozen. I loved the movie and would love to see a sequel. But Disney has a so-so track record with sequels. There are the mediocre follow-ups to all of their animated classics of the 1990s. And then there are the more recent and more successful story continuations like the four Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

So this got me thinking – what makes a good sequel? Is it more important to focus on being “realistic” – like Elsa and Anna having nervous breakdowns due to repressed childhoods and living with dangerous super-powers? Or is it more important to focus on sheer entertainment (that is, box office numbers) by having a funny, song-filled sequel about Norwegian royalty and magical snowmen?

I’m sure Disney will go with something closer to that second option – and rightly so. Because Disney knows their audience. (And their track record with sequels has improved a bit since The Return of Jafar.) That’s actually my point for this post, and the conclusion I came to when I pondered the question of what makes a good sequel.

Know your audience. It’s the same question to consider with any movie, novel, script, or short story that you’re writing. Who are you writing it for? And why are you writing it?

I’m all for writing a sequel – or turning a story into a series – because the audience loved the original story. Or because there’s more story to tell. This is both entertaining and realistic, and I think quite appropriate.

Side note: by “realistic,” I mean realistic within the rules of the world of the story. What is “realistic” or “logical” within the world of Frozen would not be at all appropriate in a Batman story, for example.

So when I think about a “realistic” sequel to a story, what I’m looking for is “what is the next logical occurrence for this plot that fits within the established rules of this world and is expected of these particular characters, based on their beliefs and actions thus far.”

What I don’t like is a sequel that has characters who have undergone a strange personality overhaul somewhere between story 1 and story 2 (like if a different writer and director do the second movie). Contrived plot devices also bug me – like, say, a character who returns from the dead without any sort of precedent for that in the previous story.

As an example, in the X-Men comic series, one expects the character of Jean Grey to die every so often, and then return again after a while, only to later die again (hence her title of Phoenix). This element of world building was established long ago, and so a plot thread featuring the death or resurrection of Jean Grey is “realistic.” This same idea would not work in the world of Middle-Earth, for example, because in Tolkien’s world building, his dead characters usually stay dead (with a few minor exceptions). A Middle-Earth story featuring the unexplained return of (insert dead character here) just because he/she is a cool character would, in my opinion, make for an “unrealistic” sequel.

Of course this is all my personal opinion, and of course there are exceptions to every point that I just laid out. But I do believe that consistency in world building is one of the most important elements, and I feel that the details of a richly-developed fantasy world should not be sacrificed just to capitalize on popularity or make big bucks.

Tell me your opinion? What sort of sequels do you like? Are there some stories that beg to have continual sequels made, or stories that should remain solo tales? What do you think Frozen 2 should be about? Please share!

Fantasy Characters as Role Models

Finding role models in fiction is not a new concept (or even a new idea for a blog post, probably). But I’ve been thinking and reading lately about characters, how to write them, and what they can mean to readers. So here’s a short list of some of my favorite characters from fantasy and science fiction, and what they can teach us about how to live and how to behave.

Sam Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings Loyalty

Let’s start with everyone’s favorite Hobbit sidekick. Except he’s more than just a sidekick. He’s more than a gardener, a bodyguard, or even a good friend. He’s a man so loyal to his friend and to his own word that he faces off against orcs, a giant spider, and a raging volcano just because he told Gandalf that he’d protect Frodo. His word is his bond, no matter what.

Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series – Courage 

Hermione can be described in many ways: smart, clever, nerdy, loyal. But really, none of these traits would enable her to accomplish half of what she does if she weren’t exceptionally courageous. Courage isn’t the absence of fear – it’s feeling the fear and doing what you need to do anyway. From the first book on, Hermione bravely steps out to help save the day, never letting fear of Voldemort – or worse, expulsion from Hogwarts – stop her from doing what she knows is right.

John Sheridan from Babylon 5 – Justice

Captain Sheridan is the perfect leader for the Babylon 5 space station – he’s brave, smart, and a true warrior. All of this stems from his fierce sense of justice. When faced with the tough decisions of life, the ones with no clear-cut right or wrong, he uses his sense of justice and fairness to temper his decisions. He lives by the understanding that every decision – good or bad – comes with consequences. Whether others label him as a hero or a villain, he stays true to his principles of justice and personal responsibility.

Fezzik from The Princess Bride – Honesty

Fezzik the gentle giant is kind, patient, and maybe a little slow, but he’s the most honest character in the story. While he never directly rebels against Vizzini, his honesty prevents him from carrying out his malicious orders to kill Westley. He’s intensely loyal to his friend Inigo, and once he determines that Buttercup and Westley are the good guys, he never stops supporting them because he believes in rightness and honesty.

Princess Anna from Frozen – Compassion

Anna is brave, eternally optimistic, and loves her sister dearly. But really, her greatest role model-worthy trait is compassion. Her love for Elsa is more than just a sister bond. Despite her shock and confusion when Elsa reveals her powers, Anna immediately understands how Elsa must be feeling. Her ability to empathize with Elsa’s fear and loneliness is what drives her to literally freeze to death for her sister’s sake.

The Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz – Wisdom

The Scarecrow is the smart one without any brains, but he’s also very wise, which is a different sort of intelligence. Wisdom such as knowing when to take charge – which he does for most of the story – and when to let someone else lead (by telling the Lion that he’s the one to lead them into the Wicked Witch’s castle, or by submitting to Glinda’s authority at the end of the movie). Wisdom tells him to trust this strange girl and her little dog. The intelligence of knowing the Pythagorean theorem is less important in life than making wise decisions.

The Addams Family – Love

From the movies to the classic TV show to the original cartoons by Charles Addams, Gomez and Morticia Addams have represented the ultimate in passion and romance. But there’s more to love than romance. Love means sticking together no matter what storm is raging, or standing up for a loved one who might be acting very unlovable. This family may have dead flowers as the centerpiece and a loose hand that runs around the house, but they have love. No outside force or inner turmoil pits Gomez and Morticia against each other, or draws their children away. Even Uncle Fester’s poor decisions can’t make the others turn their backs on him. Any family that wants to stay strong should put as much of an emphasis on love as the Addams do.

Yes, I know that this is a really short list. I could have listed several hundred characters, and made this post longer than the epic fantasy trilogy I’m working on, so I had to pare it down somehow. If you have a favorite fantasy character that has positive role model traits, feel free to share in the comments!