Monthly Archives: July 2008

Action sequels suck

I am probably the only person in America who didn’t love “The Dark Knight.”

It was okay. It was too long. I’m sorry, but I just don’t have the attention span (or bladder capacity) to sit in a theater for 2 hours and 45 minutes. That includes trailers, yes, so the movie is probably 2:20? 2:30? I don’t care. I was seriously bored with a good hour left.

Bored? How can anyone be bored in that movie? All those explosions! All those stunts! All those plot twists and turns.

Yeah, what plot twists and turns? See, this is my real beef with action movie sequels. Once you’ve seen the first one… once you know the players and their issues (and their super powers)… you pretty much know what’s going to happen. Oh, the specifics may change, but the outline is exactly the same. And I get bored.

Don’t get me wrong — I didn’t hate the movie. It’s probably the best Batman movie they’ve done, and Heath Ledger’s performance is OUTSTANDING. Christian Bales is probably the best Batman so far, and I love Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine. I’m not really complaining about the story. It was fairly complex as super hero movies go. But, really, there was an hour and half of story and another solid hour of stunts.

Yawn.

Oh, and I am SOOOOO over the super hero thing. Seriously. Can we stop with the conflicted, tortured super heroes? Been there, done that. Let’s just give super heroes a rest altogether for a while.

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Working in drive

I found that when I introduced toys into the equation, any memory of working with the poles flew right out of Pax’s head. All he was focused on was the BALL. He was more than willing to run out to get me to throw the ball — I taught that a long time ago — but the concept of running through the poles just seemed to elude him. He was getting really frustrated with the low rate of reinforcement. I realized I was going to have to start from scratch if I wanted him running through the poles in anticipation of a thrown toy.

Then I started wondering… Is that what I want? I am not ever going to be competitive at agility. I am overweight, clumsy, and slow. I’d like to qualify, yes, but I don’t need really fast times. In fact, I’d be running mostly AKC agility (because that’s the most common around here), and AKC favors precision and control over speed anyway. The last thing in the world I need is a really fast dog!

So do I need to train Pax to blow through the weaves at top speed? Do I need to use a thrown toy? Will it bite me in the butt later if I don’t use a thrown toy for this obstacle?

Honestly, I don’t have a good answer to that. Clearly, I can see a HUGE benefit to using thrown toys as reinforcers in agility.

In the meantime, I found a happy medium between food and tennis balls: a tug toy. Yesterday I went up to Monroe to get some food for the boys, and I found a great tug toy. It comes in various sizes, but the puppy size seemed absolutely perfect for tugging as it’s done in agility. Pax went absolutely nuts for it. So nuts that I heard him whining during the evening, and when I went to find him, he was lying near where I’d put the toy, gazing longingly in its direction. And yet, when I used tugging as a reward with the poles, he was better able to concentrate than he was when I used a thrown tennis ball.

I *still* need to start from scratch, because his arousal level is totally different than with food, but it seems like it’s a more manageable level than it would be if I continued using tennis balls.

Just wish I knew whether that was going to bite me in the butt later.

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The first 16 lines

The first page of a novel is about 16 manuscript lines long. Common lore among agents and editors is that a writer has that amount of space to hook the reader. If the reader isn’t hooked on the first page, then he won’t turn the page.

There are lots of ways to hook a reader. Whether you do it with action or description, the important thing is that something… story questions, voice, something… compels the reader to keep going.

I’m not sure my first 16 lines do that though. What do you think? Would you turn the page?

Lucas crept to the edge of the field and listened. Nothing — nothing close anyway. Maybe he’d lost him. He grunted. Fat chance.

Which way now? Blackberries snarled the fence between him and the woods. The creek? No, that’s the first place he’d search. Lucas hesitated, then darted back the way he came, getting only a few feet before rustling in a stand of cattails to his left sent him diving to the ground. He tried to make himself small in a patch of lank brown grass and wished he’d tried for the woods.

Footsteps splashed through the water, paused, then angled sharply back into the field. The footfalls came even faster — he’d been seen. He sprinted forward, but got only one step before two paws planted against his shoulder and sent him sprawling.

Flat on his belly, spitting grass out of his mouth, he had two thoughts. One, this spot of ground was altogether too squishy, which meant mud. His mom was going to kill him. And two, the dog sitting on his back weighed as much as Isabel Cutter, the girl who had knocked him down and tried to kiss him at school last summer.

He looked over his shoulder and got a glimpse of a lolling pink tongue and white teeth before the beast dropped and began bathing his face. Lucas snorted and choked and buried his face in his arms.

“You got me! You don’t have to drown me.” At least, he decided, pushing the dog off, Mouse was a better kisser than Izzy.

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What’s in a name?

My novel has a curly coated retriever in it, and I can’t for the life of me settle on a name for this poor dog. Let’s be clear — I have a curly coated retriever, and it isn’t this dog. This dog is a potential field trialer. My dog would rather chase rabbits, and he’s not even very good at that.

Still, I’ve been tempted to name him Pax, because, well, because my Pax is the best dog ever, and this sort of immortalizes him. Also a couple of people who have read some of the story get uncommonly gleeful when they see Pax’s name. (I think he has a bit of a fan club.) But then I waver and think that people will think that my dog is like that dog, and so I decided that rather than name him Pax after my curly, I’ll call him Rain, after my beloved Newf. So I’ve put “Rain” throughout all my notes.

It doesn’t look right.

Sigh. The obvious answer is to give this poor fictional dog a name all his own. Problem is, I can’t for the life of me come up with a name I like. At the moment I have a bunch of names for girls, but this dog is very definitely male.

Hmmm. How about Bailey? Or Mouse? Both are, to clicker training fans, obvious tributes to Bob and Marion Bailey. While I won’t refer to Bob or Marion or even clicker training by name in the book, the technology definitely has a prominant part in the events. Bailey is a rather common name for a dog these days — too common, I think. Mouse, though… Mouse is not only an uncommon name, it would be an odd, distinctive name for a character in a book.

Okay, unless and until a better name comes to me, the dog I have previously referred to as “Rain” has now officially become “Mouse.”

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Show, don’t tell

I haven’t been writing. I’ve been training my dog. It’s a peculiarity of me that I can have just one obsession at a time. Fortunately or unfortunately, those obsessions run in phases. So I’ll focus on my novel for a while, then toss it to the wind and train my dog for a while, and then forget them both and count calories and obsess about the gym for a while. On the plus side, though a phase may be short-lived at the time, I rarely have time to get bored with it, so it’s always new and exciting to me, and even after I drop it, it’s almost guaranteed to come around again sometime. On the negative side, it makes progress in any one area quite slow. In fact, it’s a wonder I ever get anything done at all. And yet, I have two completed screenplays, a published non-fiction book, and a dog who is actually pretty well trained.

My reading habits tend to mirror my current obsession, but before I switched to scintillating texts on agility training, I managed to read a couple of books on fiction writing. One of those books was Self Editing for Fiction Writers. Really, really excellent book! I think I was expecting more of a grammar focus, but instead it focuses on larger elements like dialog, voice, and point of view. The lesson I got the most from in this initial pass was “Show, Don’t Tell.”

“Show, Don’t Tell” is common advice to fiction writers. I even know what it means. But this book was better at explaining and illustrating the concept than anything I’ve read before, and it just clicked for me. I went back and read some of my short stories, and there’s a heck of a lot of telling there.

Kinda bummed me out.

But it really opened my eyes to the issue, and I think my writing will be better for it now. And, really, I do want to write this story.

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