Posts from the ‘Fiction and Writing’ Category

Movies and Television: Artistic Liberty over Reality

Movies and television programs are always fun to watch and are great diversions, but they are never to be taken seriously. This is likely due to the fact that such fare intends foremost to entertain. In this context, then, artistic liberty takes precedence, even when the content claims to promote a sense of realism. Audiences, especially professional researchers, must always remember that point. Unless the research conducted pertains to entertainment, movies and television are not reliable resources for factual information.

That’s not to say that such media offer no valuable insight worthy of intellectual consideration. Frasier was a long-running television series known for its high-brow content dealing with real life issues and personal growth; yet it should be noted that the show was a comedy written and produced to entertain above all else. Viewers are wise not to depend on the show as an authority on psychiatry or to promote therapeutic treatment, though the insights shared do offer watchers an opportunity for personal reflection. Still, everyone should remember that this example serves as a means of artistic expression, not a professional or academic contribution to the behavioral sciences.

As for full-length features, films depicting historical events do not guarantee complete factually based content. The Titanic (one of my specialties, as my readers already know) is an ideal example. The actual event caught the world by storm in April of 1912. Over time, the ship and its story would achieve the status of legend. As a result, the tragedy has inspired no fewer than eight different cinematic incarnations, none of them conveying the reality to a point of indisputability. Yes, many aspects still remain unknown, spurring off personal interpretations that play a role in story progression. This is one reason why movies offer nothing beyond face value. Where gaps or uncertainties exist, filmmakers take artistic liberties for dramatic effect. This is even the case with established specifics (i.e. facts); filmmakers quite often initiate changes in certain details to enhance plot elements, such as suspense and intrigue. Numbers and rating are priority, not scholarly advancement.

Some argue that filmmakers, like James Cameron, conduct research for their historical pieces like Titanic. That is true, but Cameron’s purpose first and foremost is financial, as his films require a substantial return on the initial investment put into production, such as set creation, computer graphics and, of course, performer compensation. If this return is not met, the company loses money.

One must consider also the fictional aspects involved. The central characters of Jack and Rose in Titanic are a great example. Neither of these individuals ever existed, nor were they on board the Titanic. Creating fictional characters in their own fictional story allowed Cameron the means to spread his artistic wings and build suspense and drama as he saw fit, including the impossibility of a romance between a first-class and third-class passenger. Adolescents and young adults between 13 and 30 comprised the bulk of Cameron’s target audience, and so he needed to appeal to the idealism of those in this age range in order to draw them into the story. In doing so, he ensured the movie’s popularity, its eleven subsequent academy awards and the ongoing financial returns. The fiction of the project made this happen, not the reality of the actual event that had inspired it. Since Cameron foresaw this, his sense of artistic liberty superseded the research he conducted. His research served only to create a sense of realism without adhering to all the facts involved.

Other film genres are the same way. One common instance can be seen in science fiction. Futuristic movies that show explosions in space negate the fact that such fiery cataclysms require oxygen, which is not present in the vacuum of space. Therefore, such ignitions would be impossible. Yet the excitement that such an effect generates draws in paying audiences. Time travel movies as well offer cleanly knit plotlines where characters travel back into time to explore or right a wrong. This condition creates a paradox whereby a problem still exists even though the character(s) had eventually gone back to correct it. Movies like Back to the Future, Austin Powers and Star Trek First Contact are popular regardless of the holes and the answered questions that such holes generate. They do not correspond to the principles of Physics, but instead what sounds convincing to progress the plot twists or showcase the ‘glitz’ of future technological innovations. Despite their innovative cinematic conceptualizations, these films are meant to be nothing but escapist fare, although they do drive viewers to ponder the question: “What if . . .?”

The ironic twist behind such visuals is that they captivate the minds and imaginations of the audience. That quality serves as a double-edged sword, meaning that such effects intend to make the story compelling, yet attempt to convince the viewers that what they are experiencing is somehow palpable and genuine. This is where the role of the spectator emerges with regard to the characters and story.

That is not to say that movies and television can not or do not serve a viable role in the research process, as they do offer inspiration with regard to creating visual and auditory dimensions to the subject being researched; these depictions are assimilated into the greater body of research to assume the status of pieces to a larger puzzle, as long as they are utilized appropriately and only to the extent needed. No compilation of research on the Titanic would be complete without the many cinematic representations of the tragedy; something vital would be missing from the whole in their absence.

One exception to all of this is documentaries. These projects offer a well-concentrated focus on information pertaining to a particular subject of interest. After all, one of their purposes is to take enthusiasts on a journey of exploration by discussing any and all current information. Still, documentaries are not totally removed from the influence of the numbers; rating ensures broadcast and/or DVD sale priority, which comes before scientific promotion. Moreover, documentaries often reflect the perspective and/or agenda of the filmmakers, even when including expert or witness testimony.

Researchers must maintain a sense of objectivity when assessing movies or television shows and what they intend to do. These presentations are what they are and do have their place. As long as researchers are cognizant of this, they will be able to use such resources efficaciously.

Still, in the end, there is a compromise. The dichotomy between cinematic purview and research must always remained balanced, as should the conciliatory relationship between artistic license and realism. The tasks of justification and responsibility fall equally on both the researcher and the filmmaker.

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Mysteries of Lambertville: Putting Research and Influence into Writing

Urban Legends: Real or Unreal?

Urban legends, such as those created and maintained through stories of Lambertville High School, are always assumed to be just that, with no basis of reality, at least not in the major sense with all of the ghost stories prevalent throughout history and the various cultures of the world; most of these stories are believed to be figments of the imagination or tales conjured up through pranksters or hearsay or those weird inexplicable phenomena witnessed by people who find no logical source but that are, again, assumed to have a rational explanation.

Still, with all of the accounts that continue to emerge and be passed along throughout time and space by people from all walks of life—those of imaginative capacity and those who are “respectably level-headed,” as the learned and prominent in society—not all urban legends can be untrue or non-factual, can they? What if some of these urban legends were based on some actual truth in reality? After all, many encounters have been investigated and still remain unexplained. Some even have scores of witnesses.

Such a case would be Columbine High School. The dreadful event took place on 20 April, 1999, almost eleven years ago. Two disturbed high school students burst into the school library and murdered several students in cold blood. Some bodies were even tossed out the windows for terrified onlookers to see. No one ever believed that such a situation could happen, until it did—more than once.

Virginia Tech, even more recently (17 April, 2007), echoed that long-ago scenario, and it occurred in another part of the country (the former in Colorado; the latter in Virginia, farther east). A troubled Asian student burst into a hall while classes were in session and open fired, killing many, this time including instructors.

Both events and others like them have left lingering nightmares in the minds of those who witnessed them or knew those involved—effects that will likely last a lifetime. The country, as a nation, will never forget these horrible scenes and the lives lost. Such indelible impressions have shaken a nation and scarred its conscious so deeply that no one will escape the damage incurred.

As far as haunts go, however, Columbine has already begun manifesting the paranormal residue of its own story based in reality. Accounts reported by both students and teachers attest to feelings of being watched, oppressing pain and apprehension, voices and screaming throughout the school (but especially near the library), orbs and even sightings of mysterious figures. Could this be a result of so many minds still under siege by a persistently lingering nightmare that many are unable to forget? That is entirely possible. Yet, how can one explain the uncanny similarities between accounts, especially with regards to students now attending the school who were too young to remember the actual event of eleven years ago? To those who have experienced these phenomena, the series of variable manifestations are certainly unwaveringly real.

Obsession or Destiny Fulfilled?

The protagonist of my novel, Hallowed Halls, encounters similar manifestations. Nothing so unusual about that, only that he is drawn by forces beyond his control to pursue them in a dire need to uncover answers and is uncertain as to what he might find, even as he is succumbed into what he senses as real. This is subjective, of course, until others from his clan, without knowing anything about his situation, become involved and experience the same overwhelming manifestations that purposefully interact with them as well.

This is a case exploring what it would be like if such urban legends were actually true or based on some fact. My protagonist (and later his comrades) conduct research on the haunted place and discover the horrible event that happened there so many years before, so long ago that it has been left forgotten, except by those who were there and have managed to survive. The answers reveal a story that is surprisingly not as much science fiction, fantasy or as supernatural as human. THIS is enough to weigh upon the heart and mind because it involves actual people. It is such a sad ordeal that no one can or would want ignore it. An obsession turns into a need to help others who are lost, and that attempt, the protagonist learns over time, is his destiny, whether he is ready for it or not.

Both Lambertville High School and Columbine play a part in this story’s development, mainly because these are real-life places with real-life stories. Although the legends of the first example are unproven and are assumed by lingering manifestations continually permeating the place eerily destroyed but still standing, the latter has a confirmed account that correlates to the phenomena experienced by those there.

Another chilling point testified by Columbine is the fact that such a possibility of an in-school massacre is, in fact, true, since it actually happened. Such a scenario, though one that no one wishes to imagine, is indeed not beyond the realm of feasibility. As ugly and as tormenting and as disconcerting as it is, such an occurrence forces us to keep an open-mind and never underestimate what is possible and what is not, and never to assume anything is considered too farfetched to be conceived or believed. The protagonist of Hallowed Halls learns this lesson all too well, as do all of those around him, including those who have died.

Another aspect that correlates between Lambertville and Hallowed Halls are the echoes that ring over time through several means to grip the minds of those in the present. Such signals take the form of visual manifestation, such as the mysterious artwork of students on the blackboard and other various images throughout the site to sounds vibrating in the inner conscious, such as calling voices and laughter of those from an earlier time to even the deeply embedded feelings of presences sensed. These are common, true, but they are nonetheless profound on those who experience them, whether young explores at the Lambertville ruins, attendees at Columbine or the protagonist in Hallowed Halls, who encounters his own array of inexplicable visuals and sounds directed specifically at him. They all share similar experiences that draw and tie them to the past where they learn more about their surroundings and themselves. This is the true nature of any haunting, and though it is skeptically contested by many, it is an experience prevalently shared by an even greater number of people than those who deny it. There is no concrete evidence to substantiate any of this, of course, but, then again, those who have experienced such phenomena do not need evidence—their own sensations and how they are affected by said phenomena are absolutely real enough. Perhaps that’s all that is necessary to create impressionable meaning in the human mind.

This is what gives the story of the novel its strength, persistence and solidity, as well as the assurance that so many people will be able to relate to it over time. This is an urban legend that is all too human, just as the readers are; the human factor is what makes the story as real to the reader as the ghostly experience does to the individual. If this is the case, as apparently it is, the story is well-justified, as it achieves its intended purpose.

Lessons on Writing

As writers, we all learn more about writing by actually writing. It’s not too out-of-line to say, then, that each writing project we complete as writers teaches us lessons on writing while simultaneously improving our skill in writing. The two, therefore, go hand-in-hand.

What have I learned about writing through Hallowed Halls?

First: that the characters themselves create the story, just by being the entities they are. If the writer knows and is confident in her/his characters, the story will flow out and write itself. Yes, I already knew this, but this experience has reminded me that such a notion is not merely an ideal, but indeed a truth in creative writing. The Characters are everything; they are the essence of the story. If a writer underestimates them, s/he is wasting time with the story. First thing a writer needs to do—regardless—is to get to know the characters. Before I even started writing on the story itself, I delineated pages upon pages of life story for each of the characters. That took hours, days, even weeks, but it was necessary, and by the time I was done, I knew exactly what the story would be from beginning to end. Yes, some details fluctuated, but the essence of the entire story was already there and out, so I felt confident when I started on the actual novel. All this came to be because I knew my characters well beforehand.

“But if it isn’t going into the novel, why waste your time writing it out?” Many of you might say.

The answer: It doesn’t matter. Not all of the details of a character’s background should go into the body of the novel. The important thing is that you, the writer, must know your characters well enough to write about them.

A fine example would be that which lies in a different field of writing—journalism. One does research on a given subject to familiarize oneself with the subject so that one can write about it, even if much of the information obtained remains unenclosed in the final product. The writer gains an in-depth understanding regarding the overall nature of the subject so that s/he can write about it confidently without the need to include everything.

A writer isn’t wasting time by developing character backgrounds. The principle described above applies to creative writing and the characters one creates. Writers need to know their characters, how they think and feel and what makes them tick, how they relate to others and what motivates them, their families, their childhood friends, their enemies, their issues and pathologies (we all have these). In doing this, the writer IS writing the novel because all of this serves as the basis for the story upon which the novel is founded.

Another important point I accomplished through writing Hallowed Halls relates to foreshadowing. This not only alludes to future developments in the novel’s story, it also ties together the many elements of the plot so that everything is unified. This is done through the employment of metaphors and similes, setting, dialogue, structure, even font. As I mentioned in earlier posts on this blog, modifiers are of the essence. Nouns themselves can and do serve as modifiers for themselves. If such elements are used correctly and innovatively, foreshadowing will be effective.

One should keep in mind, though, that the most efficacious foreshadowing is, believe it or not, the most subtle. Nothing destroys a storyline like foreshadowing that SCREAMS what will be to come. Never underestimate the intelligence of the reader; if they are paying attention, readers will pick them up quicker and easier than the “in-your-face” references, probably because the former are naturally and casually presented, as they are in life, and are therefore more profound.

An instance of the subtle foreshadow would be a conversation between two characters who are joking. An off-the-cuff slur is made that will come into play later on. Do NOT elaborate or explain this right then and there, as the foreshadow will lose its power and so the story will lose its strength. A writer should simply make the slur and move on. Unnecessary explanations and descriptions are not only redundant (please see post on “redundancies”), but also interferes with the flow of the story and bloats the content.

The overall irony about composing a novel is that despite all of the writing that goes into character developments, minimal referencing will make the final product.

A conscientious writer should never underestimate the power of a single word, as long as it is the RIGHT word.

As for Hallowed Halls, this is only the beginning; more writing development and lessons to learn will come with the revisions. That’s where the REAL writing takes place.

I am looking forward to it . . . .