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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Inside This Author's Mind: Learning from Movies RED and RED 2

Some movies can be useful for us authors as teaching aids, but not all. For example see Larry Brooks's recent post here: http://storyfix.com/novelists-hatch-a-stronger-story-idea-in-2014.

Especially investigate those that speak to you. I really like Brooks's two suggestions (in the same post, link given above) about reading book blurbs to see what interests you, along with checking out movie reviews or recaps, to find what stirs your curiosity. Use that info to create books that come to life for you and hopefully your readership.

But I learned several things from two movies, RED and RED 2. Loved both. The second one did not disappoint, as some sequels do. And what's not to love about Bruce Willis anyway? If you have not seen the TV series Moonlighting starring him (with hair) and Cybill Shepherd, then you won't know about this. But one of the cute one-liners to come from that series was where Maddie (Cybill) calls Dave (Bruce) a "sissy fighter" and proceeds to knock him in the jaw and down onto the floor.

Isn't that a wild beginning for an acclaimed action star, from the Die Hard series to the Fifth Element and more? Makes me smile.

And if you've not seen RED yet, here's something else I'll share with you. Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) tells Frank (Bruce Willis) that she was expecting him to have hair. While I fell in love with Bruce Willis from Moonlighting forward, I think the older, bald version of him is even better.

Now to the gist of this post. The beauty of each individual author is in the worldview, in the segues, in the unique compilation of events and circumstances woven into a story that could only be written by that one person. Try giving a writing prompt to your fellow authors at your next CP meeting and allow everybody five minutes to produce a piece of flash fiction. Read them. See how totally different they are, based on its creator.

It has to be that way.

Our stories are our fingerprints. They match up to us. They explain us. They identify us. So much so that I believe you could determine who-wrote-what simply by the style evident therein. Given applicable software, you could confirm it too.

So while we have our natural settings within our imaginations and moral codes, tempered with our memories and reactions to life events up to this point, I am certain we can still learn from others.

SPOILER ALERT: Here are some of the interesting but random tidbits I gathered from RED and RED 2:

  • A retired male CIA agent reading a romance novel alone in bed, reading glasses included. What a funny merging of two opposites: the rough-and-tumble killing machine reduced to reading happily ever afters to get the girl. And that's the takeaway here: what is the negative to the positive in your scene? The north to the south?
  • A man flirting with or getting to know a woman over the phone is nothing new. Phone sex would be the erotic version of this. But a retiree calling about his checks and who finds love within the government pension administration? What a brilliant and unexpected PG-13 version of those 1-900 numbers of old. I love it! For this variation, I would suggest you check the heat of your scene. Does it land on the R-rated end or more toward a Disney movie? Surprise your readers.
  • Marvin. What a character he is (played wonderfully by John Malkovich). Proves one of many great lines from the TV series Numb3rs where the DA is telling the FBI team that a suspect may be crazy, but he could still be right. That about sums it up for this RED character. I particularly enjoyed his childlike facial expressions and body language throughout both movies, and the use of the pink pig prop (found only in the first movie)especially Marvin moping in the airport hangar, holding the animal upside down by the tail. There is so much to learn from this one point: go against stereotypes (crazy but not, adult yet child), humor in unexpected places (not only a "stuffed" pig, but pink?), just to spell out two.
  • I'm a sucker for foreign languages. They pull me in, whether I understand them or not. So the fact that Frank can speak Chinese and Russian is intriguing to me and also another insight into the main character. For authors everywhere, I believe we should impart something we love into each of our books. Still we need to mix it up and not bore our readers with the same ole, same ole. Plus add in layers in every story. Don't let it stay one-dimensional.
  • Duct tape is another well-used prop throughout the first movie. But expanding from that point is where Sarah teaches Frank something about interrogating people. How there are other ways than duct-taping them. So the romance-reading government employee taught the best-of-the-best CIA agent a thing or two. Remember in the elevator when she dropped Frank's contact lens (for the eye scan at the CIA offices)? She was cool under pressure. As for our application of this, I just think we should look at the traditional versus the nontraditional, the expert versus the novice, the old versus the new. How can we switch it around in our scene? Remember that our hero isn't always right or doesn't always win just like our villain isn't all bad. Otherwise you end up with cardboard characters. 
  • Oh, and the motel room scene. Here Sarah is making noise that could be misconstrued as a couple making love when she's really just trying to get free from Frank's protective custody before he returns at any moment (she's understandably not accepting his words as the truth that they are). Ha! Very ingenious. This illustrates how we must address the clichéd and the trite. Make it new, as Margie Lawson teaches.
  • The romance between Frank and Sarah is so sweet and feels genuine. Sarah's help (via telephone) encouraging Frank to grow a plant from an avocado seed, Frank buying and reading the books she enjoys, holding hands when they are together...all these actions spell love to me.
Gather from this hodgepodge as you wish. Have fun with your writing (and your research)!

*P.S. Ernest Borgnine was about ninety-three when he made this movie released in 2010. And makes ninety-three look good. Wow. So he was the oldest of the minor characters. But wonderful. When I see him, I am still reminded of McHale's Navy. Sorry we have lost him.

"If your vocation isn’t a vacation, then quit, leap, change careers."

Denise Barker, Author, Blogger, Copy Editor
Books that Build Character(s)

What lies behind you and what lies in front of you pales in comparison to what lies inside of you. Ralph Waldo Emerson
When you give someone a book, you don’t give him just paper, ink, and glue.  You give him the possibility of a whole new life. Christopher Morley
The best inheritance you can leave your kids is an example of how to live a full and meaningful life. Dan Zadra

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