Friday, November 6, 2009

Movies and Writing (my favorite things)

Wow I tweeted a lot yesterday. You can tell I was at my desk working all day.

Tonight! Mansfield Writes. Checking out the webpage, I see that they'd like for you to reserve a spot if you're coming, but I *believe* it's otherwise free. (Though if you join the Friends of the Mansfield Library, you get a tote bag.)

Among yesterday's tweets was a mention of That Hamilton Woman, a movie starring Vivian Leigh and Laurence Olivier as Emma Hamilton and Admiral Horatio Nelson. It may surprise people to know, since I write contemporary fantasy novels about snarky girl detectives and sarcastic ghost plagued ballerinas, that I grew up obsessed with all things nautical. The Hornblower books, the history of the Age of Sail. I loved everything ship--except actually being on one, because I get horribly sea sick and slightly claustrophobic. (Okay. A lot claustrophobic.)

I wrote my thesis for my military history and leadership classes about Lord Nelson, which is only funny because the class was taught by the Army ROTC department.

But That Hamilton Woman isn't about Lord Nelson. It's about Emma Hamilton and her love story with the war hero. Which is why I'm going to talk about point of view, not in the first/third/omniscient sense, exactly, but in the sense of perspective and what is important to the character in whom you're investing your story.

Decide what your story is about, and then tell (or show) your reader only what they need to know about that story. That Hamilton Woman is Emma Hamilton's story. What's going on with Nelson and the British Navy is important, but only where it impacts Emma Hamilton.

Except for, I believe, one brief battle scene midway through the movie and the depiction of the Famous Thing That Nelson Didn't Really Say (Exactly), there's not that much Naval stuff in it for a movie about a famous admiral. The interesting thing, to me, was that because it was through Emma Hamilton's eyes, it was about victualing the ship, politicking with Naples to get water and supplies. Which, of course, is a big part of war. Armies march on their stomachs (a quote attributed to Napoleon).

Obviously, Nelsons fame and success as an admiral is such a part of that, you can't leave it out of the Emma/Nelson story. It would be boring... and incomplete. But what we see of battles and tactics is through Emma's eyes. Nelson goes off all beautiful and whole (and Laurence Olivier was certainly lovely, I'll say that), and comes back missing an arm and the sight in one eye. Because we didn't see that battle, only the after effect, watching Leigh/Emma's face as she sees him and processes what happened is truly heartbreaking, because we're experiencing it through her eyes. "I'd heard about your victories," she says, "but not the terrible price."

Likewise, there's this scene later, where she and Nelson have been cozy and domestic for awhile, and they have his old navy buddies over, and Nelson starts talking tactics at the dinner table, using salt shakers and gravy boats to illustrate naval tactics. (Which, by the way, was awesome, and the way I first really understood why the British beat the holy heck out of the French and Spanish at Trafalgar. He basically did what the Americans did in the Revolution--ditched the idea of standing/sailing/marching in a straight line.)

Anyway. Are straight line naval tactics important to the story? Does the movie go into a big long discussion of them? No. The moment is just long enough to show that 1) Nelson is an out of the box thinker and 2) he'll never be happy sitting at home being domestic. The scene is about Emma realizing he's going to leave her for the sea. Again.

What a lot of you will find as you're writing your NaNoWriMo projects is that, writing without editing, you're going to tend to go off in directions, and put everything and the kitchen sink in the book, and include a lot of author-vanity scenes--that is, scenes that are interesting or fun for YOU but maybe don't serve the book that well. That's great for first draft. (THese scenes are the reasons it takes me 600 pages to write a 300 page manuscript.) But remember it's okay to leave those on the cutting room floor.

I always come back to staying in character. Emotional resonance, info-dumps, sidetracked plots, show don't tell--stay in your character's head, and it will keep you on course. Always come back to think: How would my character view this? Does she need to know this? How is this important to her?

Happy read-- er, writing. :) Come by in Mansfield or in Southlake (Barnes and Noble 5 - 7 PM) tomorrow, and say 'hi.' We can chat about naval tactics, Laurence Olivier, or even writing.

2 comments:

  1. Hi :)
    I love the Horatio Hornblower books. Did you know the African Queen was written by C.S. Forester too? I liked the way you illustrated perspective. It'll stick with me.
    Have a wonderful time tomorrow and I hope you have an excellent weekend.
    Love & Best Wishes,
    RKCharron
    xoxo

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  2. Thank you for your post, Rosemary Clement-Moore. I too love "That Hamilton Woman". Which, I've read, was also a favorite movie of both Churchill and Stalin!

    I especially your advice about a writer looking at her story through the eyes and mind of the character in whom she, and hopefully the reader, has invested the most emotion. It's a great way to keep the plot focused and elements such as description and back story relevant.

    I wish more writers would follow this advice! Keep up the good work.

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