C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

Write and publish with love and fury.

Emma Stone movies & embracing cliches

We’re often told to avoid clichés like the plague.

That’s good advice, except when it’s not. 

I was thinking about clichés after seeing two Emma Stone movies in quick succession: Crazy Stupid Love and Easy A. I have to say, I enjoyed both films and they did one thing the same way: Namely, they called attention to rom-com and John Hughesian clichés and made fun of them. The screenwriter  pointed at them (some call this writing technique “hanging a lantern on it”) to let us know, proudly, we know this is cliché and we aren’t apologizing. It’s not dumb if you know what you’re doing.

In Crazy Stupid Love, Steve Carell gets into an argument that destroys him. As soon as it’s over, he’s left alone to sulk and it begins to rain in buckets. “How cliché,” he says. Wink!

Easy A is a witty story with smart people saying funny things (so it’s the opposite of reality TV.) Stanley Tucci and Emma Stone are father and daughter and, in wordplay, are the same smart, funny person. The jokes are often about clichés that the protagonist recognizes are worn out repetitions, but she longs for them anyway. She wants her life to be like an ’80s high school movie. (Is Emma Stone old enough to get the reference to John Cusack with a boom box outside the dream girl’s window in Say Anything?)

Easy A is fun because of the clichés. I haven’t enjoyed a high school movie this much since Ten Things I Hate About You, so all those hanging lanterns didn’t hurt the movie a bit.

It’s okay to use clichés as long as you do so consciously and cleverly. In a rom-com, the couple are going to get together in the end. You know it. I know it. Everybody knows it. A few self-deprecating nods to the demands of the form (mixed in with original surprises and charming characters we care about) can make a rom-com much less cloying than it might otherwise be.

When forced to succumb to cliché, you can use the opportunity for wry dialogue and a wink at your audience through the fourth wall. Do so clumsily and your second draft will have a bunch of strokes through the too familiar and the repetitious.

Filed under: movies, writing tips, , , , , , , , , ,

Write believable characters

I’ve been on Walkabout. After crawling through the seedy underbelly of a big city, I feel dubious about the idea that there are unbelievable characters. There are so many strange people walking around, we shouldn’t be so dubious when they turn up in fiction.

Just this morning I saw:

1. A guy dressed up like a Bollywood character in a flashy musical. Same big goofy smile, too.

2. A handsome man, dressed in a sharp black suit and sporting a $200 haircut, looked like he belonged at the airport picking up cocaine from Columbia.

3. An impossibly sexy woman walked by. It’s Stella, long before she lost her groove! With asthma.

4. A very muscled young athlete strutted by. He’s had a great summer. The pancreatic cancer has already taken root.

5. Homeless people of all ages. They all have that same haunted look around the eyes. Their postures show that boredom is terribly heavy. I did not expect the dirty, skinny Santa to pull out an iPhone 4, however.

The trick, of course, is to provide enough character detail that your fictional actors have a believable context. Strange characters need a lot of reality around them to find the sweet spot on narrative’s balance beam. Let your mob goon have a soft spot for kids. Let the sweet grandmother swear when she doesn’t think anyone can hear. Don’t allow cardboard stand-ups and clichés in lieu of character development. Characters can be weird. Really weird. You can even clump them together since freaks often do gravitate to freaks. I’ve noticed Goth kids with parrot haircuts often do travel together, for instance.

Just avoid making them one-dimensional. For instance, one of my novels has a couple of gay characters. Ever notice how gay characters are often safely relegated to the flamboyant dancer who’s good with make-up or the safe gay neighbour who’s just a stand-in exposition device? In my novel, compared to the protagonist, the gay guys are proactive in how they deal with plot obstacles. By that I mean, they have skull-cracking ability and they are not just sitting around articulating plot details with pie charts. They have their own backstory and you’ll find yourself curious to follow them out the door to see what happens to them after the novel is over. (At least I’m curious.)

I plan a series. In the first book we meet Romeo, a young New Yorker who wants to be a movie star and becomes a murderer’s target. The next in the series will follow Romeo’s estranged mother as she tries to track her son down on his journey to Hollywood. The third book will be Romeo in Hollywood and once again in mortal danger. Things will get strange but will feel real.

Verisimilitude is easy because reality is scary weird. 

Look at the news. 

Filed under: self-publishing, Useful writing links, What about Chazz?, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , ,

3 Cliched Openings to Avoid

1. Don’t start with your protagonist waking up in the morning.

2. Don’t start with your protagonist starting a trip.

3. Please do not start with a dream…unless you’re writing Inception 2.

Filed under: writing tips, , ,

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