Monday, July 16, 2007

In praise of velociraptors

Or, musing on killer dinosaurs and killer fiction. . .

Some friends and I subscribe to a certain principle in regard to the cinema: "There are few movies that can't be improved by the addition of some velociraptors."

Ditto, books. Ditto, blogs. Ditto, life.

When we've seen a movie we didn't like because it moved like moooolasssesss, we tell each other, "Coulda used a velociraptor."

If you need to know the literal meaning of "velociraptor," I pity you. No, no, just kidding. What I will do is direct you to the movie, "Jurassic Park." And I specifically direct you to the kitchen scene and to the scene of the big game hunter in the woods. "What a smart girl," he said to the velociraptor, before she ate him.

Every piece of art needs "tension." So does life, apparently. It's how fictional characters and our own characters get built. Some artists and real-life people can pull that off without resorting to dinosaurs. They can produce nail-biting tension between two people sitting at a kitchen table just looking at each other. Others of us need the fictional equivalent of velociraptors, or floods, or hurricanes, or dead bodies, or some other crises. We need them to shake things up, raise the stakes, and make the journey build to a satisfying payoff at the end. We need them to test abilities, courage, and yes, character, and to build more of same. Either that, or our characters get to endure those crises and see how well they can fail. And that, too is a matter of character, whether in books, movies, or life.

When it comes to my stories, I tend to find my own missing velociraptors during the rewrites. That's when I check each scene to see if it has conflict, action, tension, or if nothing really happens in it. And how can I tell if nothing has happened in a scene? By whether or not the emotions of the main character have changed to any degree from the beginning of the scene to the end. If she enters the kitchen feeling scared, but she exits it feeling terrified, something has definitely happened in those pages.

Fear not the velociraptor! Or, well, no, that would be stupid. Go ahead and fear the velociraptor, but just remember she has a peabrain and you have a greenbean brain, so you really ought to be able to out-strategize her. The problem, of course, is that she and her mate have been stalking people for a living, and you have probably not been escaping for a living. This is where the tension (and imagination) comes in, heh.

When we're writing, maybe we should say to ourselves: There's a velociraptor to the left of me! And to the right of me! Now I will try to keep that tension in my writing, maybe even without using dinosaurs.

Got any velociraptors facing you today? In the comments, I'll tell you about mine. Oh, and by the way, I promise I will talk about something besides writing sometimes! But when it calls, it calls. . .:)


Nancy P said...


Oh, I do love the little critters. They're so focused, vicious, and altogether yummy.

May I introduce my current pair of velociraptors: to my left, we have Manuscript Is Late; to my right we have, Book Needs More Time to Develop.

In the middle we have ME!!


Anonymous said...

Good morning! Sorry I didn't explain what WRW was, Nancy - and thanks for doing so. Guess you become so immersed in the family, you forget there are folks out there who don't know the magic of Jason, Lorin, Brenda, Roman, and the rest of the clan. Oh yes, and being pampered for 10 days! And thanks for welcoming me to THIS family. I only have one velociraptor today - but it's a familiar one - "How can I make it matter? How can I make it worse?" Enjoy your coffee! Beth

GreenMinute said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nancy P said...

Beth! I'm so glad you're sticking around to join the A,SMo'L family. I hope there's some writer out there who reads what you said and wants to know more about the Writer's Retreat Workshop so we can make a convert. :)

". . .make it matter. . .make it worse. . "

Yes, yes, yes. . .I used to have a boyfriend whose motto about life's problems was, "Make it worse until it gets better." He was an adventurer, to say the least.

I AM enjoying my coffee, thank you. Ordinarily I loathe flavored coffee, but lately I've been adding cinammon to it and I like it.

Nancy P said...

Welcome home, Greenminute! I missed you madly.

Isn't it already a little late for "heads up"? :p

GreenMinute said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nancy P said...

Our standard rejection note was "Put a pirate in it. Or an Indian."

I do feel bad, but sometimes they did and then re-submitted. I had to leave town.

Sooo laughing!!

Get thee to a movie, Nancy? Now THAT is excellent advice.

See ya later. :)

Catharine said...

(out of the blue)

Did you know you could drag & drop the text from the top of this window into this comment panel?

Like this:
Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life

I did it by mistake and scared myself.

greenminute, I'm sure there are a lot of ways to use the sentences: "Put a pirate in it. Or an Indian."

I wish someone had told it to me years ago.

Kelly McCullough said...

Again, great writing post. Once Tate's post has had some time to itself on the top of the front page at Wyrdsmiths I'll throw up a link to this and the smart things Jay Lake is saying about persistence this morning.

My velocipraptors for the day are post-first reader polish plus the looming deadline, vs. family crises. Nothing that isn't manageable, but I am looking forward to this book being my editor's problem for a while.

Hello to everybody else who's stopped in. And goodbye since I'm off to enter line edits, bleah.

Man Eegee said...

¡Buenos Días! I am loving these tips. I'm so glad you started up this joint. My velociraptors are: to the right - work, and to the left - bloglandia. I wish I could eliminate the choice between them altogether, but unfortunately need to have money for eat and drink. So I'm off! Be back around later, have a good day, everybody!

AndiF said...

We're leaving on vacation tomorrow for 10 days -- so pfft to the petty fears of velociraptors; we'll have gut-busting elevation changes, talus slopes, scree, steep drop-offs, and, horror of horrors, no internet connection.

But we will laugh in the face of fear because we will be on the soul-fulfilling quest at the heart of all hikes into the wildness of nature -- a gorgeous place to take off your pack, stretch your legs, and eat your lunch.

Kelly McCullough said...

Have fun, Andi,

Bring back lots of pix of the blue dot.

Anonymous said...

I'm thrilled to be a part of the family, Nancy! And am loving the posts, insights, etc. Yep, we need more converts to the WRW mystique. Hopefully we'll meet at a future gathering...

I think I knew your ex-boyfriend in another life...then again, maybe that was me! I'm in the process of moving from Idaho to Florida for the winter - this is my 42nd move in 48 years...can you say making it worse?! Oh, yes, and trying to write between packing and canceling the cable.... :-)

Nancy P said...

Hi, man ee! This blog thing is fun. It really is too bad there's that pesky business of earning a living. :)

Nancy P said...

Beth, 42 moves in 48 years. . .I am staggered just imagining it. You got stamina, girl. Either that, or the cops are chasing you. :)

Andif, I hope you and Jim and a wonderful trip and I am eager to see your photos!

AndiF said...

Don't you want to admire my ghastly, overwritten purple prose? My strategy was perfect -- velociraptors can't get you if they're busy retching.

Nancy P said...

Snort! I didn't want to mention it while you were packing your lunches. Velociraptors, btw, just love baloney.

Have oodles of fun, Oh Revered Blue Dot. Maybe when you get back we'll even explain to the new folks what a Blue Dot really is.

Catharine said...

Andi, It sounded wonderful to me. I wanted to go along for the ride.

Catharine said...

Nancy, I've meant to ask about Harold and Maude: What part do you like?

I like the area where he lives (Marin County, CA)


The music (Cat Stevens)

But I don't much like the ending. Also for a funny movie, I thought it was also pretty depressing.

boran2 said...

Or Car chases. Almost any movie can benefit from them. ;-)

Nancy P said...

boran2, you are so correct, lol. Car chases, yes, although they can go on too long for me. Whereas, no velociraptor attack has yet bored me.

Some movies could also use a few good explosions. :)

Nancy P said...

Cathy, I love every morsel of Harold and Maude. I love the ending, too. It is the movie that leaves me feeling happier and lighter than any other movie I've ever seen.

I could be that I am a sick person. :) Velociraptors. Harold and Maude. Car chases. Explosions. But hey, I loved "The Way We Were" and "Out of Africa," and "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." Hmm, I do detect another theme, and its initials seem to be RR.

Anonymous said...

The cops after me...I think I'll start using that instead of my old standby, "It's just time to move on"! Thanks Nancy! :-)

I haven't seen Harold and Maude since college, but I LOVED it! Once I figured out what was going on...the first few minutes I was appalled that everyone was laughing as this poor kid tried to kill himself...but soon I was laughing right along with them. A classic...

Nancy P said...

Glad to oblige, Beth. :) You can cock your hand to your ear and say, "Is that sirens I hear?

Harold & Maude. . I'll never forget the first time. I was with a group of friends at a matinee. Down front. ON the front row there was a tall guy in a long black coat, and he laughed uproariously at everything, even slapped his knee. It was only after we started laughing that hard, too, that I realized he must have seen it before.

Catharine said...

I remember the first time I saw it too (The original Glenwood Theatre) I loved it, but it always makes me cry as much as laugh.

Nancy, I think it's interesting that you don't have to have a top 10. That you've got just one favorite.

Nancy P said...

I guess I could come up with a top five, if forced at velociraptor-point to do it, but really, H & M is it for me.

What's your top one or l0, Catherine?

Nancy P said...

Beth! Jason just showed up in the previous thread!

For people who wonder. . .and since he identified himself. . .Jason runs the most wonderful writer's retreat, where Beth has been, and where I have taught a couple of times.

Catharine said...

Oh, I had to ask....

Everything stops if one of these movies comes on the TV. But, if I had to choose just one, it would be the first.

Let it Ride
Don't Tell Her it's Me (The Boyfriend School)
Die Hard
Christmas Story
Hannah and Her Sisters
Star Wars
Indiana Jones
Total Recall

Nancy P said...

I think "Let It Ride" is a sleeper on a lot of people's lists. I've never heard of "Don't Tell Her It's Me"! Goodie, a new one, even if it's an old one.

You've reminded me of how much I loved Die Hard, Star Wars, and Indiana Jones the first time. Real movie-movies.

Catharine said...

I think you might like Don't Tell Her it's Me. But make sure you get the uncut/original version. And I'm not kidding.

Catharine said...

Mister says, Have you seen Final Destination?

Nancy P said...

I have not seen FD. You guys recommend it?

Catharine said...

Well. Recommend? I don't know that a person could recommend them. You can't stop watching them, but I don't know if that's a GOOD thing.

With Final Destination movies you have to start wondering if there could be too many velociraptors.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the heads-up, Nancy. (And the kind words!) Jason speaks highly of you. Were your ears burning in May when we were in KY?

I hope there ARE more WRWers out there in the twilight. He's mentioned a couple of times that we should check out your blog, and I'm SO glad he did!

You have to wonder how it DID turn out, his using that, I'm not asking nutin'. ;-)

Favorite movie? Princess Bride, no question.

Night, folks back east! Or morning, I guess!

Nancy P said...

The Princess Bride--makes me grin to remember it.

I think this central time zoner is off to bed, too.

See you guys tomorrow, I hope, and maybe some shy ones will jump in, too. Really, the velociraptors are all on other blogs. :)

AndiF said...

Hey kb, it is wonderful --but if you come along, you aren't getting to ride (we might carry your backpack for you though). :P

Nancy, don't write any good posts while I'm gone so I won't have to worry about missing anything. ;)

Oh and here's a parting shot -- call it the start-of-vacation glow.

See ya all.

Maria Lima said... can I tell if nothing has happened in a scene? By whether or not the emotions of the main character have changed to any degree from the beginning of the scene to the end.

You know, once again I so owe you. I've been struggling with something in the current WIP and this just really hit home for me.


Nancy P said...

Maria, you're welcome! I didn't figure that out (and not without help) until a book or so ago, and it has made a big difference to me, too.

p.s. . .have you been to a Buffy singalong? There's one coming to KC and I'm thinking it could be tons o' fun. I'll probably cry at the end. :)