I watched Back to the Future last night. No surprise, I’m sure since probably a million other people did too. As usual, the movie didn’t disappoint in its Michael J. Fox wonderful-ness, the great look back on the 50s, and the line “I can’t go back in that…that zoot suit.”
That line always makes me smile. Maybe it’s because I find humor in the fact that the boy has his fashion timeline skewed. But probably it’s because I know the definition of the term “zoot suit” and I know that Michael’s character is making a mistake when he says. –A scripted mistake, but one nonetheless. And yes, I call him Michael…oh; you didn’t know we’re on a first name basis? We are. I use his first name and he doesn’t know mine.
As I watched the movie, sans notebook (I think I need to go back to carrying one with me. Not having one attached to my hands is a serious writer failure), I focused on watching it as a writer.
If you haven’t done this, it’s fun, but not as fun as watching the movie in writer oblivion. Watching it as a movie goer means you can swoon over MJF, dislike his movie girlfriend for getting to kiss him, and basically repeat all the lines because you’ve watched the movie so many times you can recite it verbatim even if the mute button was on.
Not the same thing if you’re watching it as a writer.
As a writer, you watch it for writing related nuances. You focus on character development or setting. In my case, I was drawn to the inventory items used and the conflict/tension.
Anybody who’s ever worked in retail or the restaurant business or even in nursing knows there’s inventory to be tracked. How many green shirts do we have? How many have been sold? Are there enough eggs to get through the breakfast rush this week? Does the nurse unit have enough…nursing things (I’ve never been a nurse!) for all the patients on the floor?
It turns out movies and books and plays all have inventory too. There’s a line that goes “If you have a gun on the mantle in act one, it needs to go off by act three.” Basically, you use everything you have at the outset of the storyline by the time the story ends.
And #BacktotheFuture does that well.
Did you notice the can of Pepsi Free on the bed when his phone rang the night the Doc got shot? It showed up later when Marty was at the diner in 1955 and Lou, the owner, asked him if he was going to order anything.
What about the pick-up truck Marty and his girlfriend saw after school? He was telling her that “someday” he’d be driving one. And bam! End of the movie, there it was in the garage.
And the flyer about the clock tower? That one really caught my attention. It’s a flyer Marty didn’t even care about when it was handed to him, but it was so relevant to the storyline. It showed up in history for the sole purpose of getting him back home. That’s good writing.
I don’t mean sword fighting conflict or arguments between characters. I mean the conflict that shows up as the characters try to get what they want. The makers of this movie did this well too.
Marty wants his band to be picked to play at the dance –the school administration says he’s too loud. (This was also an excellent inventory item if you didn’t notice. Who played at the dance in 1955?)
The Libyans want to kill Marty after they see him in the parking log –can’t. The gun jams and Marty gets away.
After Darth Vader tells George to ask Lorraine out to the dance (nobody wants their brain melted), he can’t get it to happen. Biff gets in the way, Lorraine crushes hard on Calvin/Marty.
When George does get the nerve (and the script) to ask her out, Biff shows up in the diner. In that scene, Biff wants to punch George, right? He shows up with a goal. Does he get it? Nope. Rocks are thrown at him in the form of Marty tripping him and punching him. Then you’ve got the car chase scene –which ends with Biff not getting George and George not getting the girl.
As the credits were rolling, I was not a happy movie goer. I was a writer, more frustrated after my movie/writing lesson than I had been before it started. Not cool, MJF. Not cool.
How does a writer get all those inventory items identified before using them all up again?
Seriously, I’m asking you how.
Laying there in bed, I kept imagining a puzzle box.
I like puzzles. It’s been ages since I’ve put one together, though I’m thinking about ordering one and putting it together to see if this image helps me somehow.
In a puzzle box, you’ve got a number of pieces and if you’re missing one, the whole picture is useless. The time spent putting it together is pretty much wasted. People spend hours (I know I have) searching for the missing piece to a puzzle.
With #BacktotheFuture, I imagine the Pepsi Free can was a puzzle piece. Without even that small detail, the story would have derailed. The scene at the diner, when Marty first walks in wearing his vest, would have been an epic fail if the writer hadn’t dug around in the box and pulled out that can of sugar free soda.
Speaking of that soda –did anyone ever drink Pepsi Free? I don’t remember drinking it. I’m not much of a soda fan anyway. And I think my family of origin was more of a Dr. Pepper kind of family.
So I’m going to take last night’s lesson and see what I can do with it. I also want to get a puzzle. With seventeen days before my next writing assignment is due, I’m going to try drawing up a list of inventory items to see what I have to work with. I’ll throw some rocks at my characters after they tell me what they want. And maybe I’ll find a puzzle to put together just to see if I can drive home this lesson.
And maybe, when it’s all said and done, all these things will propel my writing forward. So that publication can be in my future.
It’s been a little while since I’ve blogged. Sort of. I’ve written blog posts –several in fact over the last few months. And for a myriad of reasons, they languish in electronic folders waiting to be given finishing touches before I post them.
Which basically means you may never get to read them.
Not because they don’t have a message or because they consist of incomplete texts, but because they aren’t pretty enough. They lack things like creative canva art or specially taken photos that are sitting on my cell phone being forgotten about.
And every week, #MondayBlogs rolls around without my weekly contribution to the blog world. Nothing gets posted, there aren’t any tweets about them (much less retweets –shock!), and no one is liking them on Facebook.
By Monday evening, when I’m too tired to do more than sit on the sofa reading through everyone else’s witty blog content, I’m content to feel like a blogging failure. Trust me, you get used to the feeling, and by Wednesday it’s passed. –Tuesdays though…oh my…those show themselves right when I’m feeling at a low point from Monday and BAM! #Top10Tuesday blogs start surfacing and I want to run away and hide from the shame of not having ten of anything to blog about. It’s tough being a writer. #writerproblems
So while I was mulling over what I could spend my lunch hour writing about today, I decided I would face my #writerproblems and deal with this bloglessness. –Yes, that’s a word.
First: I’m examining my reasons behind blogging.
Why do I blog?
Because I want to carve out a small part of the cyber world that I can call my own. I like to write and for the most part, I don’t mind sharing tidbits of my life with others. I also like to share my take on things that everyday people encounter in life. Misfits, the misunderstood, and the underdogs of life: unite. Am I right?
Second: It’s time to take a close look at what keeps me from blogging regularly.
When I stall out on blogging, what keeps me from it?
There are a number of things that can interfere with my blogging routine. Everything from not getting a decent night’s sleep to writer’s block. Strangely enough, I suffer from the former more than the latter. Though lately, neither have been the culprit. Currently, it’s one thing. Well, one thing that is made up of multiple things.
It’s really stupid when you think about it.
And, if I’m being completely honest, sometimes I don’t blog because I’m trying to find the perfect, politically correct way of saying something. –Again, stupid really. I mean, having a filter is good, but it’s not the end all, be all either.
So I’m going to work on doing better at posting my blog entries. Whether they have a pretty picture or they don’t. Whether my thoughts are worded perfectly or not. Be it a #MondayBlog or a #Top10Tuesday or just a random Thursday.
Today, we have a guest post by Nina Schuyler, author of Translator. Enjoy her insights into learning a second language and don't forget to pick up a copy of her book.
When I was ten years old, my father had business in Japan, and this time the family went with him. When I look back at this experience, I'd say it was fundamental to my sense of the world. I didn't have the words for it as a girl, but now I see that it opened my awareness to culture as a set of assumptions and choices, rather than an absolute. You could live in a house with walls, not made of wood and drywall but paper. You could begin your day by visiting a Shinto shrine, located two houses down from your own, to pray for good health and safe travels. You could have three alphabets, not one. And beauty could be a single cherry blossom branch in a vase.
I was intrigued and enamored, and I wanted to know more about Japan. As a lover of words, I was especially drawn to the Japanese language and the beauty of their letters. In college, I took my first Japanese language class. I'd studied Spanish in middle school, so I was familiar with the methods of learning a language -memorization, listening to the language, writing. Let me say, Japanese is difficult, and despite years of study, I am not fluent. They say you need about 2,000 kanji to read a Japanese newspaper. At the same time, the Japanese language is well-suited for the English tongue; there aren't clusters of consonants or diphthongs to negotiate. It's syllabic-based and all the sounds are familiar to the English speaker.
After I graduated, I wondered how I could retain this language, since I was living in the United States, immersed, not in Japanese, but in English. I knew I'd have to devote time and resources, but why not? I enjoyed Japanese. And all the brain research showed that, despite getting older, the brain could continue to form new neural connections. Some people do crossword puzzles; I'd practice and learn more Japanese.
Here are some things I did to learn and retain this language:
1. Find a Private Teacher: After graduating from college, I found a private teacher, a sensei, who taught Japanese. I live in the Bay Area and we are blessed with many Japanese people living here. For every lesson, my sensei had me write an essay in Japanese. I'd read it out loud and she'd correct my spelling and my punctuation. Then we'd move on to my language workbook -appropriately titled "Japanese for Busy People" published by the Association for Japanese-Language Teaching. Then onto memorizing kanji, using "Remembering the Kanji" by James Heisig.
2. Take a Class at the Community College: When moved away from my teacher in San Francisco, I took a class at the local community college. With a set structure and a dedicated time, I found it easier to carve out the time to learn.
3. Watch Films or Listen to Music: My language teacher recommended I watch Japanese films to train my ear. In the beginning, it was hard because everyone spoke so fast. But slowly, eventually, I could understand a word, then a sentence, then more. A couple of my friends wanted to learn French and they listened to French music, which, they say, helped them learn new words and the correct punctuation.
4. Online Language Courses: While I haven't taken any online courses, there are a plethora of options.
5. Live in a Foreign Country: I've traveled to Japan several times to immerse myself in the language. In fact, everyone who has learned a foreign language well puts this at the top of their list. Complete immersion. You learn or you starve. Or suffer from intolerable loneliness.
6. Read Children's Books: After several years of study, I found another way to continue learning and practicing Japanese: I taught it to children and teens. Together, we read Japanese children's books, which I purchased at the bookstore. With simple words and syntax, the books helped me learn how to best use a specific word and also word order.
Learning another language has made me aware of language itself, which is a good thing for a writer. Word choice, syntax, rhythm, sounds, these aspects of language are brought to the forefront when you step out of your native tongue.
I'd love to hear your ways of learning and retaining a second language!