The Fantasy Movie Canon

The Hobbit is now only two weeks away from release, and upon it’s arrival it will doubtless ascend to a high place in the Fantasy Movie Canon.  Needles to say, I’m excited about it.

And in celebration and anticipation of the imminent release of The Hobbit, I thought now would be a great time to delve into what I, personally, consider to be the Canon of Fantasy Cinema.  This is not an exhaustive list, obviously, because I haven’t seen every fantasy movie ever.  But it’s the list that exists in my own head and heart.

To do this, and limit the number of movies in my list to a reasonable number, I had to make a number of rules.

First: a complete movie series or cycle gets one entry.  So, Harry Potter doesn’t fill eight movie slots.  Many great fantasy movies are stand-alones, but several really high-quality ones exist as part of a series, so this rule was necessary to keep them from consuming the list alive.

Second: I’m only listing live-action movies here.  There are tons, tons, TONS of great fantasy-themed animated movies.  From classic Disney movies to the greats of anime and everything in between… I don’t think I could even begin to list them all in a coherent fashion.  Since I’m celebrating the release of the live-action Hobbit, I thought it useful to limit my celebration to live-action movies.

Third: I’m trying to limit my selection to movies that got an actual theatrical release.

Fourth: I have to limit what I mean by “fantasy”.  I’m talking about movies in which magic, the supernatural, or the mythical play an important part of the story.  I’m not talking about superhero movies.  I’m not talking about sci-fi movies.  Generally, I’m not talking about holiday-themed (especially Christmas-themed) movies.  I’m not talking about movies with spaceships, or weird and implausible science or people with mutations, or just anything that’s generally just unrealistic.  I’m also not talking about horror or semi-horror movies.  I love all sorts of movies in all of those categories, but I’m after a particular subset of this broader “fantasy” genre.  I’m talking magic spells, wizards, dragons, fairies, myths and legends, and what-have-you of this sort.

So, with the rules out of the way… here it is (drumroll please):

The Not-At-All Official Canon of Fantasy Cinema

1. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

There can be little doubt that this movie series is rightfully ranked at the top of the Fantasy Canon.  It was not only ground-breaking in terms of the technology used to tell the tale and the breathtaking visuals and the overall quality of the production itself… but it is a powerfully-moving adaptation of the the single-most genre-defining epic of fantasy literature.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy undeniably deserves the lion’s share of credit for creating the market for literary epic fantasy.  Peter Jackson’s adaption proved that a fantasy movie could be not only good entertainment, but great art.  These movies are the only ones on this list that won Academy Awards not only on technical merits, but for Best Movie and Best Director.  It is, in a word, a masterpiece.

2. The Princess Bride

“As you wish.”

“Hello.  My name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my father.  Prepare to die.”


“You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.”

I could go on, but you get the idea.  This movie is not a special effects extravaganza.  The magic is subtle and amusing, but not overtly visual.  It is not typically cited as a sumptuous feast for the eyes.

But on the strength of its script alone, and the amazingly perfect performances of its terrific cast, this is the only movie that can even come close to claiming the number-two spot on the Fantasy Canon list.  Few movies have made so indelible an impact on the popular culture.  Few movies warrant (or reward) relentless rewatching.  Few movies are so amazingly quotable.  Few movies rise to the level of The Princess Bride.

3. The Wizard of Oz

The Lord of the Rings trilogy may perhaps be the most honored movie on this list insofar as the Academy Awards are concerned.  But The Wizard of Oz is perhaps one of the most recognizable and enduringly popular films of all, and ranks among the most decorated and honored.  While it didn’t win a Best Picture Academy Award it did, unlike almost every other film on this list, get nominated (which really is, by itself, an honor).  And it continues to get recognized as one of the greatest movies of any genre of all time.

The 1939 movie was so defining that it left an impact on the popular culture that can still be seen and felt today, nearly three-quarters of a century after its release.  Every adaptation and interpretation of L. Frank Baum’s original stories is impacted by this movie.  There are Tony Award-winning musicals (Wicked, which I’ve seen and is a terrific musical) that exist only because this movie exists.  There’s even a latter-day prequel that’s about to come out (Oz: The Great and Powerful).

It’s had it’s impact on me, too.  I still remember the first time I saw it.  We didn’t watch a lot of black-and-white movies or classic movies growing up, but apparently this one was important enough that my dad made a big deal of it.  So we gathered together to watch this old, classic, depressingly black-and-white movie.  (As a note: I no longer have the same feelings about black-and-white stuff that I did in my childhood.)  Imagine how impressed and awed I was as my dad waved his hand magically at the TV when Dorothy first awakes in Oz, and everything explodes in brilliant, even riotous color: brighter than anything I was then used to on television.  It made me believe in the magic of the Wizard.

4. The Harry Potter Octology

The Harry Potter movies are not adaptations without faults, let it be said.  On a whole, their quality is uneven, though each of the eight movies is generally quite good and some of the entries in the series even border on great.  On average, the movies get better with each entry as the actors portraying the lead parts get better at their craft.

Given these caveats, why do I rank these movies so highly on the list?

For the sheer audacity of trying to interpret a seven-book epic fantasy series with over a million words of fiction for the big screen.  And for trying to maintain, throughout this process, some artistic cohesion and integrity and faithfulness to the books.

This was not an easy accomplishment, and if the films fell short of perfection, it was only because of how highly they aimed.  That they came so close at all to achieving it is quite remarkable.  The resulting series is a highly watchable and highly enjoyable epic fantasy series: there is magic, whimsy, adventure, danger, and love.  In short, there is everything you need to have a good time enjoying a fantasy movie, and I’ll wager these films will stand the test of time.

5. Willow

For serious fans of fantasy in film, I’m sure the inclusion of this movie will come as no surprise.  For the casual fans, this may be the first you’ve heard of it.

It has a plot that’s derivative of The Lord of the Rings… but in reverse: instead of taking the magic token into the heart of darkness to destroy it, the diminutive hero of Willow is trying to smuggle his magic token (in this case, a baby) as far away from the heart of darkness (the fortress of the evil queen Bavmorda) as he can take it, because the baby in question is prophesied to bring about the end of the evil queen’s reign.

Derivative or no, Willow really is a great movie.  While not quite as quotable as The Princess Bride, it still has some really memorable and often hilarious moments.  Try: “Go in the direction the bird is flying.”  “He’s going back to the village!”  “Ignore the bird; follow the river.”

Or: “I stole the baby from you while you were taking a peepee!”

Or: “What are you looking at?”  “Your leg.  I’d like to break it.”

Or: “That way!”

Or: “Not A Woman?!”  “Gentelman… Meet Lug.”

Again, I could go on… but if you haven’t already seen Willow, none of these quotes will be nearly as funny to you.  Combined with this quotable potential are some really snazzy special effects that were quite good back in the late 80s (and which even today are still pretty impressive): from a fire-breathing wyrm, to magical transmogrification, to a wizard’s deul with competing fireballs and ice blasts.  And there are lots of awesome, old-school sword fights.  So… if you love fantasy movies and if you haven’t already, you should take the time and watch it.

6. The Dark Crystal

The Dark Crystal was truly Jim Henson (in collaboration with Brian Froud of Fairy fame) at his finest.  These puppets are not your fuzzy green frogs or friendly neighborhood Fraggles.  What Jim Henson brought us with The Dark Crystal was a fully-realized fantasy world totally independent of our own.  It had its own flora and fauna, its own visual style, its own magic, its own sense of being.  There has been almost nothing that rivals it on terms of visual imagination or creativity either before or since.  I can still remember the awe I felt the first time I saw Aughra’s massive orrery swing into motion.

There are no human actors in the world of Jim Henson’s Dark Crystal.  Every character and every being in this elaborate fantasy is fully realized using honest-to-goodness puppetry.  But they never feel like puppets.  Every creature and every character feels fully alive.

The plot of The Dark Crystal isn’t spectacularly original: a diminutive elf-like hero has to go on a journey to destroy a powerful magical artifact that will otherwise allow a race of evil vultures to conquer and rule the world for a thousand years.  But even if the plot isn’t fantastically original, this amazing movie will still keep you sucked in and wanting more.

7. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

This was not the first adaptation of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books (not even the first live action adaptation).  Nor was it the only film in this series.  But it is the only one that I feel merits inclusion on this list.

Lewis’s “Chronicles of Narnia” are children’s books, but of course that doesn’t mean they aren’t great fantasy stories.  And the original book of the series, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, is one of the best.  For one thing, the story of this one is different and more unique: it’s not a straightforward quest fantasy like so many others.

And of all the adaptations of the book that I’ve seen, this one ranks as very likely the best, and is likewise the best of the movies produced in this series of adaptations of Lewis’s books.  It tells a complete tale, one that doesn’t need the additional movies to enjoy.  And it fulfills the promise of magic that you would expect if you’d read the books.  All in all, this movie was a delight to see, and for that reason, it deserves a place on this list.

8. Dragonslayer

A movie that many – even many fans of fantasy – may not be familiar with is the 1981 film Dragonslayer.

In this epic fantasy tale, a wizard’s apprentice takes it upon himself to slay the dragon that is terrorizing a medieval kingdom after the wizard’s death.  The people of the kingdom have protected themselves from the ravages of the dragon by offering up their daughters as a sacrifice to the monster, chosen by lottery.  But the kingdom is upturned when the King’s daughter, upon learning that her name has been excluded from the lottery, replaces all the lots with her own name, making the erstwhile Dragonslayer the King’s only hope.

It’s  a classic dragon story ripped from the pages of mythology: but the movie delivers some genuinely unique twists on this ancient formula.

All that alone would not likely make this movie the classic that it deserves to be credited as, save for one critical element of the movie: Vermithrax Pejorative.  That’s the name of the dragon from this movie.  And even though the special effects are clearly dated by modern standards, Vermithrax stands as one of the greatest movie dragons – if not the greatest – of all time.  The creature design, the modeling: this dragon felt real, and it really breathed fire.  It was a true menace, and a true mythic monster.  If you haven’t seen Dragonslayer, and  you’re  a fantasy fan, you owe it to yourself to pick it up and watch it.  It’s truly one of the most underrated fantasy films ever.

9. Labyrinth

I don’t know… there’s just something about David Bowie’s “Magic Dance” (which is quite catchy), and his bizarre and mesmerizing turn as the Goblin King.  And all the Jim Henson creations, of course.  There are also moments of surprising sadness and profoundly absurd whimsy.

I can’t say I’m surprised that Jim Henson and Brian Froud make two appearances on this list.  That said, the creatures of the Labyrinth are all decidedly more muppet-like and are less refined than those found in the earlier The Dark Crystal.  But still: imagination abounds, here, and powerfully so.

And when all is said and done, this is just a fun movie to watch.

What’s interesting about this movie is how compelling the protagonist is: she’s fully human and motivated throughout the movie by very human emotions.  She’s not a typical, high-minded hero.  She’s not out to save the world or defeat evil.  She’s just trying to rescue her baby brother, who’s been stolen by the Goblin King.  Not because she loves the little tyke, but because of more complex motivations including guilt and fear.  She was responsible for the Goblins taking the baby in the first place, calling upon the Goblin King in a moment of resentment.  The emotional depth of the character makes the story more interesting.

10. The Neverending Story

The story-within-a-story and the interplay between book and reader made The Neverending Story a strong metaphor for my own fantasy life, as a child.  Given the enduring popularity of this film, I would venture to guess this is true for others as well.

For readers of fantasy literature, The Neverending Story is a resonant reflection of their inner lives: many fans of fantasy have reason to identify closely with the bullied Bastian, and recognize their experience of total immersion in the world of a fantasy novel that the movie portrays.

Fantasia itself is like the imagination of the fantasy fan: a shifting, unknowable, unmappable place, constantly surprising and constantly changing as new ideas and new discoveries are made.  And it is a place that can’t exist without the engagement of the imagination.  In the end, it’s a place that can’t exist without the imagination of the story’s true hero: the reader of the book.

This portrayal of the reader as hero makes The Neverending Story a unique and important entry in the Fantasy Cinema Canon.

pirates_of_the_caribbean_sm11. The Pirates of the Caribbean Trilogy

Yes, I realize that there are actually four “Pirates” movies, not three.  But, first of all, I haven’t seen the fourth movie and, second, the first three tell a complete, closed story arc.  Regardless of the existence of a mostly unrelated fourth movie, that makes the first three “Pirates” movies a trilogy.

And, well… despite some unfortunate misfires, the “Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy really is a rip-roaring and highly entertaining fantasy trilogy.  Johnny Depp’s turn as the wildly eccentric Captain Jack Sparrow was both hilarious and engrossing.  Don’t tell me you didn’t fall in love with the character the moment you first saw him on screen, perched atop the crow’s nest of his sinking skiff.  Not to mention Geoffrey Rush as Captain Barbossa and Bill Nighy as Davy Jones, plus Orlando Bloom as Will Turner and Keira Knightly as Elizabeth Swan.  All fantastic actors and truly memorable characters.

In fact, not since The Princess Bride has there been such a fantastic, funny, and engaging ensemble cast in a fantasy film.  And so, despite some of the significant misfires in these movies, they still deserve to take a place on the Fantasy Canon.

dragonheart12. Dragonheart

While Draco, the heroic, good dragon of Dragonheart, doesn’t quite hold a candle to Vermithrax Pejorative, he is nonetheless a pretty spectacular cinema dragon (probably the third best to appear on screen; the second-best dragon having appeared in a mostly otherwise execrable non-fantasy flick that I won’t mention).  Dragonheart tells a fantastic, traditional heroic tale in which good and evil struggle for the fate of a kingdom.

It’s not a groundbreaking or deep movie, there aren’t many surprises, and you could even argue that the script and plot are a tad trite.  But it’s a movie that truly believes in the idea of dragons, and the fantastic world they represent.

And it did something else that was important and groundbreaking: Draco was the first fully computer-generated character with a speaking role in a theatrical film (voiced perfectly by Sean Connery, whose acting was also captured to provide Draco’s expressions).   As such, he paved the way for Gollum and, ultimately for Smaug.  And that deserves some recognition.

(Now, the less said about the uninspired Direct-to-Video sequel, the better.)

jasonandtheargonauts-skeleton-fight_sm13. The Harryhausen Cycle

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Jason and the Argonauts, and the original The Clash of the Titans aren’t strictly a single movie series: none are sequels or prequels or at all related to the others.  But these three movies do hold something else very important in common: each is a classic of fantasy film on which Ray Harryhausen’s special effects genius was on display.

Ray Harryhausen is the pioneer of stop-motion animation, an early special effects technique that made some of the most amazing fantasy images possible for the first time.

Harryhausen made possible fantastic sword fights with animated skeletons and six-armed goddesses of destruction.  He brought to life Medusa, the Cyclops, Pegasus and the Kraken.  And he did these in an age when computer-generated graphics in movies was still a notion of science fiction, rather than movie science fact.  His artistic and technological breakthroughs made possible the most amazing movie images of his day.  And still today, his works have left their permanent mark on the popular culture.  What more can be said but this:

“Release the Kraken!”

Honorable Mention: The Original Star Wars Trilogy

Per the original rules I set out at the start of this post, I couldn’t include the original “Star Wars” Trilogy.  There are spaceships, lasers, and robots. All very non-fantasy things.  Indeed, many people classify “Star Wars” as Sci Fi or, to be more exact, Space Opera.

But let’s be frank: “Star Wars” is a fantasy movie.  There are magic swords, a wise mystic who guides the young hero (only to expire at an inopportune time, forcing the hero to step up), a beautiful princess and a dark lord.  There’s a mysterious, magical power possessed by an ancient order of warrior-wizards.  (Unexplained, of course, because we’re ignoring the Prequel Trilogy; the explanation there basically sucked, and didn’t make sense, anyway.)  I could go on, but in short, the original “Star Wars” Trilogy had all the ingredients of a major Epic Fantasy movie series.

And of all the movies listed here, none can be said to have had as powerful an impact on the popular culture as “Star Wars”.  No characters are more instantly recognizable and memorable as those from Star Wars.

So there you have it: the Not-At-All Official Canon of Fantasy Cinema.  These are the movies that are must-see for fans of Fantasy.

But hey, don’t take my word for it.  See them for yourself!

Speaking of… have you seen all of these movies?  Would you order them differently?  What movies did I miss that really should be included on the Fantasy Cinema Canon?  Talk back in the comments and share your knowledge of Fantasy Movie Trivia.

Writing Progress: Week Ending November 24, 2012

It was Thanksgiving last week, and between travel and holiday festivities, I didn’t write too terribly much, but still:

Book of M:

  • Background Notes Wordcount: 0 words
  • First Draft Wordcount: 0 words

Story of V:

  • Wordcount: 506 words

Grand Total: 506 words

This brings me to a total of almost 2 and a half thousand words on “Story of V” (the code-name for the currently untitled Short Story project), at what feels like something close to or just shy of the midway point.  Which means that I’m roughly on target for my goals for the total length of this project: in the 4,000 – 6,000 word range.

So that’s encouraging.

It’s slow going, but hopefully soon I’ll have a first draft of this story done.  And maybe then… maybe then I can find alpha and beta readers.  I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Other than that, there isn’t much to talk about in my writing world.  So why don’t you tell me about yours, instead?

Giving Thanks

It’s another Thanksgiving day here in the United States.  (I know the same holiday is celebrated at other times in other parts of North America, and isn’t celebrated at all on other continents.  To all of you: I’m sorry you keep having to hear about our American holidays and traditions; but on the other hand, giving thanks isn’t so bad, is it?)

It’s traditional, this time of year, to reflect on the things you’re thankful for.

I’ve done that here on this blog in the past two years.  You can see my prior posts of thanksgiving here and here.

Mostly, the things I said in those places remain true.

Yesterday was also my Blog Anniversary. I’ve been online and writing posts for three years, now.  That’s not a lot of time in the grand scheme of things.  But it’s been a long time for me.

I don’t expect this blog to go anywhere for a while.  I’ve got lots of ideas for things I want to say and stuff I want to write about here.  But I have noticed that my posting has been somewhat… light these past few months.  I’d said already that I expected this to be.  My blogging time is constrained.  My writing time is constrained.

But I’m thankful still to be able to post now and again.  I’m thankful to be able to write, even if there isn’t as much time as I’d like.

This year, I’m not going to bore you with a long list of the things I’m thankful for.  I’ve done that already, and those lists still stand (as I linked above).  This year, I’m going to be a little more quiet and introspective as I think about what I’m thankful for.

However, if you’d like to share what you are thankful for, please feel free to tell us in the comments.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody, wherever you may be.

Writing Progress: Week Ending November 17, 2012

Another week that was surprisingly good on the wordcount front, all things considered:

Book of M:

  • Background Notes Wordcount: 0 words
  • First Draft Wordcount: 1,180 words

Story of V:

  • Wordcount: 200 words

Grand Total: 1,380 words

I did at last hear back about my standing on the Super Secret Project.  And it was not unsurprising.  Which is why you no longer see that listed among my active projects this week.

Someday, I may revisit my plan for the Super Secret Project, and actually write the thing, even without a market for it.  For now, however, it will not be appearing in the anticipated essay anthology.

Of course, I had been excited about the prospect of writing this, and I’m disappointed by the result.  On the other hand, however, I’m relieved to know for certain, and to have the freedom to arrange my writing time (limited as it is) around other projects (namely the short story I started in the prior week, code-named “Story of V” for lack of a real title, and of course “Book of M”).

Speaking of “Book of M”, this week went fairly well.  It was the largest single-week wordcount I’ve made on “Book of M” in over two months.  And it felt good to get some of that writing down.  I managed to overcome another difficult transition element in the story.

I’ve said before and I’ll say again: managing transitions is probably the single biggest difficulty I’ve faced in writing this.  I mentioned last week the excruciating frustration of writing only very little bits at a time, all herky-jerky like.  Transitions are one of the biggest reasons I find this painful.  It’s hard to manage your transitions when you’re putting down so few words at a time.  It’s hard to even know where the transitions are.

So it is that I strongly suspect, when this thing is finished and looking for Beta readers… that it’ll be in a terrible and almost unreadable state.

I also worked a bit on the short story this week, but didn’t do much with it.  I had to spend a good bit of time thinking abou the story and what I wanted to accomplish with it and how I was going to get there.  So I didn’t have much forward progress.  I’m feeling my way toward the story I want to tell.

And that’s writing, for last week.  I expect this week will be somewhat more muted in my writing progress, for reasons that may be obvious. (Or they may not.)  We shall see how it goes.

Now then.  Tell me: how was your week?

Writing Progress: Week Ending November 10, 2012

This past week was, I have to see, was a legitimately good week:

Book of M:

  • Background Notes Wordcount: 0 words
  • First Draft Wordcount: 219 words

Super Secret Project:

  • Wordcount: 0 words

Story of V :

  • Wordcount: 1,764 words

Grand Total: 1,983 words

I wasn’t going to start working on a new short story until I heard back about whether I’d be moving forward with the Super Secret Project.  I didn’t want to get involved in another creative project when I’ve already got more on my plate than I can legitimately spend any time focusing on.

Well, I didn’t hear back on Super Secret Project, though I’m comfortable guessing that my proposal didn’t make the cut.  Either way, I had time to write this past week… and I’ve been feeling creatively stuck on the Book of M.  I’ll get back to that in a bit, but first I’ll spend a little talking about the new short story.

Like the last short story I worked on, this one is based on an idea and flash fiction first posted here on this blog.  Like that one, this will expand upon the idea of the flash-length story, add new depth, new dimensions, and new characters, and re-examine the plot.  While my last story wasn’t successful in the sense that it did not accomplish my writing-career aims I still considered an artistic success – I felt it was better than the previous short story I had written.  Both of those turned out to be novelette-length stories: both were over ten thousand words in length.

This time, I feel more confident that I’m writing a true short story.  Unlike last time, I’m not taking the basic plot sketched in the flash short and running in a whole new direction: I’m keeping the same plot structure.  But I’d been unsatisfied with the flash short because I didn’t feel it accomplished what I’d wanted it to, mainly because it lacked some important development of the main characters.   So what I’m doing with this story is I’m mainly fleshing out the characters and filling in the plot to make the story complete.  But overall, it’ll have the same structural arc.

At just over seventeen hundred words, it’s already longer than the flash it was based on.  I expect it to be about 4,000 words when it’s done, give or take a little.

Past experience would suggest that when I say “I expect it to be about 4,000 words” that what I really mean is “It’ll probably be about 6-7,000 words”.  We’ll see, but in this case I don’t think so.  I really think it’ll stay fairly short.

When it’s done and polished, I’m sure I’ll send it off to Writers of the Future or something like that.  And I’m equally sure it won’t win any prizes.  But it’s the short story I feel like telling right now, and that’s that.

As for the Book of M… I’ve alluded to some frustrations I’ve been having with it, lately.  “Creatively stuck” is one way of putting it, but it’s not really an accurate way of putting it.  I don’t have writer’s block.  I know basically what happens next… I just need to write it.

Rather, two things have been bothering me about it.  First, there’s my progress, or lack thereof.  The past couple months have been painful in how slow it’s been.  It’s literally been fits and starts: a week with 500 words here.  A week with 200 words there.  And lots and lots of weeks of plain flat nothing in between.  The writing and progress has been so disjointed, there’s no continuity in my writing head.  Each time I sit down to write, I’m starting from scratch.  I expect that it’ll read the way it was written: very disjointed and incongruous and fidgety.  Which is to say: not very good at all.

I realize this stuff can be fixed in editing.  But it makes it harder to write in the first place, never mind editing, because I’m so disconnected from the story.

Maybe now’s just not a good time in my life to try to be working on this thing.  I don’t know.  But the thought of arresting my progress entirely, the thought of giving up – even with the promise of coming back to it later – it’s even more depressing than the ugly and slow progress I’ve had these past few months.

So I keep going as much as I can… and I resign myself to the realization that not only am I writing complete and utter crap, but I’m writing it slowly.

And that bothers me, too… because it’s not like I’d figured on finishing this any time soon, as it was.  Even at what I considered a modest and successful pace of 2,000 words a week, I knew this thing was going to take me years to finish.  But at the abysmally slow pace of… what… a few hundred words a week, on average?  I can’t say there’s any likelihood at all that I’ll ever finish.

Yes, I know, it wasn’t likely I’d ever be a published fantasy novelist in the real world as it was.  But it’s downright impossible to be a published fantasy novelist if you can’t finish a single fantasy novel.  I’m not getting any younger here… and, unfortunately, my novel mostly isn’t getting any more written, either.

Enough of my grumbling.  Maybe you’ve had a better week, in writing and/or in life, I hope?  Why don’t you tell me about it?

Writing Progress: Week Ending November 3, 2012

It’s kind of sad when I think that a week where I barely topped out over 500 words is a good week:

Book of M:

  • Background Notes Wordcount: 0 words
  • First Draft Wordcount: 566 words

Super Secret Project:

  • Wordcount: 0 words

Grand Total: 566 words

Be that as it may… I wrote over 500 words last week, so I have to count that as a good week, right now.

I might’ve been able to do another 200 or 300 words, but I hit a smallish roadblock as I was writing.  I discovered, as I introduced an important secondary character, that I had no idea what that character actually looked like.  No clear vision of him.  So I spent somewhere near to an hour or so looking up inspirational images on the internet.

One of the things I feel like I often get complimented on, in my writing, is my description.  I don’t know if that’s really a good thing, or just people stretching to compliment me on something, anything.  But assuming it’s a genuine compliment – to the extent that it’s actually a good thing – I think I owe that at least in part to the very visual way in which I approach writing.  I “see” a lot of what I write, and I describe what I see.  For better or worse, I expect my readers to be able to see the same thing I see.

And so it was, when I reached the point where I was introducing this important supporting character, and upon realizing I couldn’t “see” him… it quickly became incumbant upon me to cultivate my mental image on him.  Luckily, there’s no dearth of images easily searchable on Google.  (Unluckily, the search times I came up with for this particular character have not produced an awful lot that’s been particularly evocative and inspirational to me.)  So it took me a while to come up with anything that started to tickly my imagination the right way.

There are limits, clearly, to the benefits of writing in such a visually-oriented way. 

How was your week in writing?  Are you very visual in what you write, or else how to you typically approach writing description and evoking the world of your story?

Get Ready… Get Set… NoNoWriMo!

NaNoWriMoThere are a lot of pep talks out there for everyone doing NaNoWriMo this year – the same as any year.  If you need a pep-talk to get you revved up to write 50,000 words in 30 days…

You’ve come to the wrong place.

Instead, today, I want to talk to the NoNoWriMoers.  That’s right: the people who aren’t doing NaNoWriMo.

If you’re a writer, the first few days of the month of November can be a time of anxiety.  It’s like everyone you know is warming up their word processors and shooting out of the gate, ready to write.  It can make you feel like something less than a real writer if you’re not participating.

But the fact is, there are a lot of us writers who aren’t participating.  And you know what?  It’s okay.

Some of us aren’t doing NaNoWriMo because we’re already professional, published writers, and we have our own writing schedules to keep, and abiding by the arbitrary rules of NaNoWriMo doesn’t fit in with our writing work schedule.  Obviously, this group doesn’t include me.  Some of us aren’t doing NaNo because we think the whole thing is really rather a little silly.  This group does not include me either.  Some aren’t doing because, even though we think it sounds like an interesting and fun challenge, there are things in our life that make it more or less impossible to participate.  (I’m in this group.) 

But whatever the reason you’re not participating in NaNo, it’s okay.  You’re not alone.  We are the NoNoWriMoers, and we are legion.

Ultimately, if you’re a writer, you have to write in a way that fits your life, and what works for you.  If that means you can arrange things such that you can set aside a whole month in November to churn out a 50,000-word novel, and if this appeals to you, then that’s awesome for you.  If you prefer to work at a slower steady pace, and the frenetic energy of NaNoWriMo doesn’t sit well with you, then hey, slow-and-steady wins the race.  Go you!  If life has thrown a lot of distractions or troubles or higher-priorities and you have to take care of things right now, and NaNoWriMo is the least of your worries… I feel for you, and so do a lot of other writers.  Some of us have been there.  Some of us are there.

If you’d really like to do NaNoWriMo but for whatever reason you can’t… cheer up.  There’s always next year.  Or the year after.

Myself?  I won’t be doing it next year, either.  I’ll still have a toddler with even more energy than he has now (I think they peak at about 5 or 6, but I’m totally shooting from the hip here) and I’ll have a new infant with an even chance of the new guy still having a highly disruptive sleep schedule.  So if you’re like me… you’ll have to bide your time.

Until then, write whenever, however, and whatever you may.  Just make it work for you.

Now it’s your turn to sound off.  Are you NaNoWriMoing this year?  If not, why not?  Do you hope/plan to try for future years?