Monthly Archives: August 2013

A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words

The movie adaptation of John Green’s book, The Fault in Our Stars, is currently in filming, and it started me thinking, why is the question always “Will your book be a movie?” and not “Will this movie be a book?”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-3H1T3xqzZY

As a kid there was a particular type of conversation I hated. It went something like this:

Me: Well, what about Harriet the Spy?

Friend: Oh, I loved that movie.

Me: I meant the book.

Ex-friend: Same thing.

I’m not a book Nazi, declaring genocide on anyone who doesn’t agree the book is always better. Because, it isn’t. Not always. The Scarlet Pimpernel anyone? But there’s still that nagging annoyance with anyone who doesn’t know the movie was originally a book, or worse, thinks they’ve seen the movie so why bother reading the book.

Why do good books “have” to be made into movies? Well, as much as I hate it, movies are more accessible. It only takes a couple hours to watch a movie as opposed to days and weeks to read a book. Movies are visually stimulating which a lot of people find more engaging. And finally it’s easier and quicker to portray a scene in a film. A picture really is worth a thousand words (unless you really do the math in which case a movie is actually 216 million words).

But is all that better? There is something to be said for taking the time and care to peruse a good book. A movie has cinematography going for it, but a book has language and voice. It allows you to use your imagination and life experience to visualize the details of setting and characters an author gives. And it allows you to get inside someone else’s head in a way a movie never could.

Again, is that better? In the end, they’re two different media with which to tell a story. Neither “wins” over the other. But the question persists. Will the book be a movie? And I’ve never heard the vice versa.

To be fair there have been a couple instances of movies spawning a book or two. Case in point: Star Wars. Huge expansion on canon there. And there is fan-fiction which, while an entity in and of itself, can’t be ignored. Or look at Twilight which spawned a movie, which spawned fan-fiction, which spawned erotica. Oy. But still the phenomenon is very rare.

So what’s the deal? Are movies still such a novelty compared to the thousands of years of fiction that are out there? I can’t deny that, like John mentioned, there is a thrill to seeing your characters come to life. But there’s a large part of me that’s resistant, that says I’m writing a book and hoping or assuming that book will one day grace the silver screen cheapens what I’m doing. I don’t know. I have no answer. What do you think? Why do we insist on making our most successful stories into movies?

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Kinect Concerns

I am a gamer. I log far too many hours playing Minecraft, The Elder Scrolls, and Halo. Gaming accessibility has never really been an issue since I’m perfectly capable of sitting on the couch, smashing buttons. But when Xbox announced the Kinect a few years ago, I had serious concerns. A couple friends I considered knowledgeable brushed them off saying it wasn’t really an issue.

How can it not be an issue when all the promos look like this?

Kinect promo

If this is the future of gaming, I’m going to be relegated to the position of party-pooper. Not an entirely unfamiliar feeling and an extremely unwelcome one.

Now, the Xbox One is on its way, which includes the Kinect as part of its hardware, meaning game producers can use its capabilities whether you want to use the Kinect itself or not. Part of me sees how cool this could be: zipping through menus with my hands, voice recognition during movies, wielding a sword in an RPG. But if I have to stand up and balance while wielding said sword…Game Over.

I’ve done a little researching and found some promising information. Gaming accessibility for people who are blind is something I never really thought about until reading The Fault in Our Stars, but there are developers out there working on it. Pricing is still the biggest limitation but it’s a start. As for the Kinect, it looks like there are those who share my concerns and are working toward accessibility for all users. “Seated users can enjoy several features and games developed for Kinect for Xbox 360. Currently, the ability for Kinect to work with seated users is largely dependent on the actual game itself. Some games are more accommodating of seated users than others. Game developers do have the ability to design their games in such a way that activities that some users have trouble with can be skipped or completed in a different way.”

“Some features and games” and “Skipped or completed in a different way” doesn’t sound particularly ideal to me, but at least I won’t always be stuck in the corner. And I’m happy to see Fable: The Journey, Skyrim, and Mass Effect 3 on the list of “seated friendly” games.

I just hope Microsoft will continue to educate game producers and challenge them to create versions of their games that are just as enjoyable sitting down, or with prosthetic limbs, or limited vision. Hopefully a controller will always remain an option. It just seems a little counter-intuitive to some of us that you now have to be physically capable to play a video game.

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Ingermanson’s Double Vision

Randy IngermansonWhen Dillon Richard helps build a quantum computer that can crack any and all code, he gets way more than the better-privacy-for-everyone that he counted on. Now he’s stuck between those who want to use him and those who want to kill him, and the woman who makes his heart pound and the woman who could give him a future.

 

I really enjoyed this book. When I read the cover copy, I thought this would be a spy novel. Warning: It’s not. It’s more of a cross between Frank Peretti and Michael Crichton. Lucky for Mr. Ingermanson, I love both. The thriller with a Christian/romantic vibe really worked for me, and I’ll admit, I kind of have a thing for nerds (being a huge one myself) and Dillon made a seriously cute nerd. Now, I don’t have Asperger’s, so I can’t really analyze Dillon’s character for accuracy or that gut feeling I get with other books that are closer to my experience, but there were some things that bothered me and some things I thought Ingermanson did well.

Dillon referred to the people around him as “Normals” and to himself as “not-Normal”, recognizing there was something significantly different about him. I don’t know how people with Asperger’s think or feel about themselves vs society, but I do know some people with Autism and they don’t necessarily think in terms of us and them. Accuracy aside, I think this is a dangerous idea for an author to perpetrate. It encourages readers to think of Dillon as “other” which will eventually translate into real life. I felt like that could have been handled a bit better.

I liked watching Dillon try to figure out social cues, fitting them to formulas he can solve. This expression plus these words usually equals this, therefore I should respond thus. His logic and thought process were also well represented in the stripped prose. Dillon’s point of view was clearly different than the others, not just in word choice and backstory, but in the way he viewed the world, and it’s always really interesting to see the world through someone else’s eyes.

There was way too much quantum mechanics for me. I did not sign up for a lecture, and I thought the writing was a bit repetitive in places. Some things were said several times the same way and all I could think was, “Thanks for the recap but I got it the first time.” Also, some of the conversations and character interactions felt forced and unlikely. I’m aware that I’m emotionally reserved when it comes to talking with people, but I’m pretty sure very few others would have been that blunt and candid at such an emotional climax. “Pick me, Dillon.” “No, pick me.” I kept expecting him to wake up from the dream.

With that said, a book is the sum of its parts and this one came out way in the positive on my scale. I’m so sick of love triangles, but I picked it up anyway because Dillon seemed like a great character. I was impressed by the way the women treated him throughout the book. There was some recognition of Dillon’s “weirdness” at the beginning but mostly they treated him like any other character with some specific quirks and pet peeves they can work around. And I’m just glad he picked the right girl in the end. “Roses are red, the multiverse is blue.” Be still my heart.

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Is Merry a Person First?

Once Upon a Time

Last week, I talked about writing characters with disabilities and finding a balance between the two extremes. Because it would be easy to overplay your hand so a character is nothing except their wheelchair, or treat it with kid gloves so the disability is just another window dressing that fades into the background. Then I posed some questions for writers to really dig in and examine their characters and their motivations for writing them in the first place.


And I’m going to share a secret with you guys. Lean closer. Closer. Okay, you can’t tell anyone…I…write…characters with disabilities. Shocking, I know. So I decided to put my money where my mouth is and ask myself these same questions about Merry, the heroine of my young adult fantasy,
By Wingéd Chair. So let’s see if she’s a person first.

Merry is a seventeen year old student who suffered a spinal cord injury three years prior to By Wingéd Chair. She uses a manual wheelchair that her father built.

  • Is she more than her disability? A lot of Merry’s flaws come from her experience in the wheelchair. She is defensive to the point of hostility. She does not accept help gracefully, and she hides her vulnerability behind layer of snark and self-sufficiency. But there are other things that define Merry that have nothing to do with her disability. She is goal-oriented and persistent. She is courageous and funny. And her knowledge of the OtherRealms is second only to her father’s, which is what leads her to team up with Robyn Hode eventually. All of these things are affected by her disability, but they aren’t a result of it. They’d define her even if she was able-bodied.
  • Is she more than one detail deep? Since I’m writing from personal experience, I tried to give readers many things that would ground them in Merry’s situation as well as her head. And I tried to stay away from stereotypes and tropes that are damaging to the character and reader alike. I did touch on going to the bathroom but that was more a nod to the time period and setting, not the stereotype. Movement is a huge consideration for Merry, and as a result, for me as the author. For instance, how do you navigate a fight in a wheelchair? And what happens when you’re kidnapped or stranded without your primary means of locomotion? Merry is faced with these questions and many more. And I consider her fears another detail that help round her out. There are the expected ones: who does she ask for help? Will anyone ever find her attractive? But there are others buried deeper. Merry is afraid of new situations. She’s afraid of losing what little control over her life she has. There are plenty more details, if you’re interested, over in the Accessible Excerpts series.
  • Do they have heroic qualities above and beyond their ability to adapt? One of the things I love about Merry is that her strengths keep moving her forward despite the obstacles I throw at her. She doesn’t take no for an answer. Whether this entails dealing with her disability or not, Merry goes for what she wants. And she runs toward danger – well, rolls toward danger – disregarding the consequences. And she is loyal, even when presented with a temptation most in her situation would have to seriously think about.
  • Is she healed at the end of the book? Hell no. Just as in real life, Merry will have to deal with her disability for the rest of her life. She is in a much better place emotionally at the end of the book, but physically she is the same. Even in fantasy reality has its limits.

So, all in all, I think Merry is a person first. Her disability plays a large role in her growth as a character because that was the story I wanted to write. But she is so much more than the sum of her physical abilities and by the end of the book she’s confident in who she is.

Person First: Just Happen to Be Disabled

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“Just Happen to be Disabled”

Disabilities in SF/FI see requests all the time for books about characters with disabilities where the disability is not the main conflict, characters that “just happen to be disabled”. The thing is, I understand where this is coming from. I talked about it last week. People with disabilities are first and foremost just people. Our struggles are not the most important – and certainly not the only – things about us. But we still want them acknowledged. We want to be “normal” and normal requires representation, doesn’t it? No one will recognize us as normal without first recognizing us.

But to be completely honest with ourselves, disability tends to be pervasive. I mean, it’s exceptionally hard to define, but I believe a major part of disability is it changes your life. As okay as I am, as much as I’ve accepted my limitations, the truth is, I would live differently if I could walk better. No chair, no crutches. Those are obvious, but there are others, too. No constant low-level anxiety about how I’m going to get out of this folding chair. No putting my back to a wall so I don’t have to worry about being jostled from behind. No blog about disabilities in fiction, and no writing fairytale heroes in wheelchairs. Life would be different.

Then what’s the difference? Why do we read about certain characters and cringe at their portrayal? What does it mean that they “just happen to be disabled?” If it means that a character should be a person first, then I agree. But if they’re saying they want to see a character that’s in a wheelchair and the chair doesn’t play any part in the main conflict or the character’s arc, then I feel like that’s unrealistic.

A disability is going to affect the way a character thinks, feels, and reacts. The same way their race or socioeconomic class would. We’re taught to take these things into account about the characters we create so why would one who’s disabled be any different. It may not be the main conflict (and honestly, I’m struggling to figure out exactly what that means), but it’s going to affect it. Just as much as it will affect the character’s arc. No matter how hard you try to write the book so it’s “not a big deal”, if you’ve done it right and the disability feels real, then it’s still going to feel like a big deal because it’s always there.

So in the end, it’s a balancing act. How do you recognize the life changes and still write a character who is a person first and disabled second? Especially when that second begins to feel like a pretty big first.

The questions I’m starting to ask myself while I write are:

  • Are they more than their disability? Disabled characters are going to have quirks and flaws and strengths unrelated to their disability, just like every other character in the book.
  • Are they more than one detail deep? No character should be limited to one characteristic, just as no disability is defined as one trope or stereotype. An author loses a lot of points by repeating the same detail over and over again as if that makes the disability more real. We got it, she needs help going to bathroom. You’ve beat that dead horse to death.
  • Do they have heroic qualities above and beyond their ability to adapt? Yeah, sure being adaptable is a good thing, but when left with no other options, most people will bend before they break. I want to see the heroic qualities of Aragorn or Luke Skywalker in a character with a disability.
  • And my least favorite, are they healed at the end of the book? This is just plain insulting and unrealistic and damaging to all people with disabilities everywhere. By healing a character of their disability, an author is saying, “There’s something wrong with you that needs fixing.”

These are my questions. What are yours? I’m realizing that everyone is going to read my books differently. I cannot please everyone, but I can’t enrage everyone either. All I can do is write my characters with as much reality as possible. They will have strengths, and flaws, and they will have disabilities.

Person First                                                     Person First: Is Merry A Person First?

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