I’m not one to normally do film/book reviews the conventional way. I prefer to see the movie first and then be delighted by the book’s additional story and character development. However, I went old school with Kathryn Stockett’s The Help. I read the book last month and shared my book review here. Then this past weekend I went to see the film with my mumsy, who has also read the book. Here’s why I thought it worked.
Kathryn Stockett partnered with a friend. She didn’t just go to the highest bidder. She had someone who was invested in this story and wanted to assist her in telling it; Tate Taylor did that. It’s impressive, being only his third directorial picture, the first being a short film, and now The Help is ranked an 8.1 on IMDB (Internet Movie Database-If you haven’t checked this site out, you’re missing out on fun and hours of killing time!) Taylor also wrote the screenplay, so I imagine he worked closely with Stockett to illustrate the necessary scenes that depicted the danger of the situation and the growth of the characters.
I was pretty pleased with where they chose to edit or show scenes. I was worried at first, the previews gave off such a humorous overtone, I thought they may have omitted the seriousness and danger that all of the maids were threatened with for sharing their stories. But that’s the power of film, showing a few strong scenes was enough to show the audience the severity of the times during segregation and Jim Crow laws.
They didn’t sugarcoat the characters. It would have been easier to peg Hilly Holbrook as the racist white woman. And she was, but she also was loving to her children, and a strong, powerful woman in the community, which adds its own pressure. And the floozy Celia Foote, could have been dumb as a box of rocks, and she was, but you also saw she came from tough roots, she suffered great losses, and she always thought the best of people. As for the lead, Eugenia (Skeeter) Phelan, she wasn’t just a hero who came to share the help’s stories and save the day. We knew she wanted to find love, please her mother, AND start a career.
If there was a character that could be described as too much one trait, it might be Aibileen Clark, the main maid to work with Skeeter. Then again, this is one of the main arguments about Stockett’s book too, that perhaps Aibileen is too good. I think Taylor and Stockett did a fine job and I love the casting of Viola Davis for this role. Aibileen is the quiet and good friend. But she does express her anger or frustration, but she does so in the true form to her nature. I think this choice about character exemplifies Stockett’s attention to detail. She started the book with Aibileen being the key maid’s voice, but when she needed things to be said that weren’t natural for Aibileen to say, she created a second character, Minny, and Minny is all fuss and vinegar. I love them both!
I truly believe this film will be one you’ll love whether you’ve read the book or not and you’ll love the book if you read it after too, cause there is more to the story. Great cast, great characters, a story I believe needed to be told.
What about you? Have you seen The Help? Can you think of any other examples where they adapted a book into a movie and did an awesome job? Why do you think that was possible?
I was so energized by the comments and support in my previous post depicting my struggle with outlining that I compiled a list of various ways writers can propel their work in progress forward. All of us have battles each day to face. Mine typically include: getting out of bed without hitting snooze 1-6 times, eating a healthy breakfast, trying to coach people with 20 years of bad habits under their belts, and getting home and not immediately grabbing a bag of chips and falling asleep on the couch missing the ending of yet another movie, and oh yah…writing consistently. I never used to live like this. Yah, right.
So, I started thinking about the different kinds of work writers do. It’s more complicated than ‘writers write.’ We write different genres, we write fiction or non-fiction. We build worlds and set construction, we develop characters for readers to fall in love with, and often, if we are successful, we’ve somehow infused real life into our work. It could be using an image we saw, a place we grew up, a person we knew. We transform the real world around us into great writing and reading. The process to do those things differs for every person. And what kind of Perseverance Expert would I be if I couldn’t help us all find ways to move forward when we’re stuck in one place.
1. Take a Walk Sounds too simple, right? No really. Try it. Sometimes we’re too close to our story to think openly about it. Taking a walk clears our head. We’re able to focus on new tasks, such as crossing the street safely (I look both ways to left and right, left and right, left and right, I look both ways to left and right before I cross the street). I was a Safety City Instructor for 2 years! **crickets** Ok, back to the point, honestly taking a walk could lead you in a thousand directions! Duh, Witkins, we’re walking! No, no, I mean writing directions. You could overhear a conversation that would spark up your own dialogue and give you insight into your characters. You could take a camera with you and snap photos of things that interest you along the way. Maybe an image will help spark a next scene you could jump to or assist you with world building.
2. Brainstorm/Free Write/Scene Build This was a difficult lesson for me. Back in November when I did my own version of NaNoWriMo, it killed me to stare at the cursor on my computer screen and think THINK THIIIIIINK what would come next. It didn’t occur to me I could write non-chronologically and piece the scenes together during editing. If you’re stuck in one place, or writing a particular scene has become daunting or less than fun, move to another scene you’re excited about and sketch it out. It keeps you writing your story and should help keep you passionate for it too.
3. Outline, Character Development If you like structure and that helps you focus, take a time out to list qualities about your characters or plot turning points in your story. Spend time asking yourself about the mask your protagonist/antagonist wears, what do they fear, what is their strength, motto, what characteristics do they admire in others (supporting characters), do they have a dark side, what is their core need and what will make them their best self? There’s lots of character development outlines available online, find one that piques your interest and spend time getting to know your characters.
4. Journal I had a big aha moment this weekend after reading the Freshly Pressed post by Jamie Lee Wallace. She wrote about the top 10 ways journaling can make you a better writer. I highly recommend checking out her post if you haven’t already because all the reasons are great. My favorite two are: it gets rid of the crappy writing by allowing you to get your ideas out on page and it makes it clear to you what you’re really struggling with because it’s a way to record your progress, good and bad. Just start journaling already! I love it. You might too, and there are no rules, the more you do it, the more beneficial, but whatever you choose to enter inside it is what’s right for you.
5. Share If none of the above seem to be helping, bring in another set of eyes. I used to think I couldn’t share my work with anyone until it was completely finished, thereby revealing the proverbial masterpiece that came from my mind alone! Muahahaha! But frankly, that’s stupid. It’s ok, I admit it. I was young and naive, and still am at times, but I’m moving forward and making smarter decisions. 😀 If you read the thank yous published authors write in their books, a lot of them thank the readers who read their work before it was on the shelf. Also, when I was at the Writers Institute Conference, all the agents said you should absolutely submit your work to a critique group before pitching/publication. So unless you’re the next Emily Dickinson or John Kennedy Toole, you should let others give you feedback, good and bad, about your work. Somehow, I don’t think most of us want the hidden papers in a mattress/shoebox approach anyway.
These are the strategies that have been the most helpful to me, because they cover whatever aspect you’re struggling with each day. If I need more structure, outline. If I’m feeling lackluster about a certain part, jump to a new one! Need to set it down for a minute? Ok, go walk or journal. And advice from other writers has always been eye opening to me, both in form and story development.
Many of you have been posting recently about the changes you’re making in your writing lives. Maybe it’s putting your name on your blog! Woohoo, welcome! Some have been blogging about their character developing strategies and what inspires them. And several of my pals are taking writing retreats and attending conferences this weekend. (Even though I just got back from one, I’m still jealous; they’re just so much fun!) So chat with me. What strategies are you focusing on right now with your writing? What changes or steps have you taken to be more successful? Do you have a critique group? How has that input from other writers helped you? How has blogging helped you? I know my community here means the world to me! *bats eyelashes at you all* Can’t wait to hear from you, and happy writing!
Today my goal was to outline my entire story. From beginning to end. A bold task that required getting up early and focusing by planting my butt in a chair for the time it takes to drink a venti passion tea. Three hours later (I savor my drink, ok?…I got lost in social media, ok?), I had at least figured out the “want, motivation, but” for my protagonist, that wasn’t difficult. But I got stuck on my antagonist! I know what he wants, but I have no motive, and without that motive I can’t outline major turning points! Damn it all to hell! Excuse me, I needed to get that off my chest.
If I lost some of you at “want, motivation, but” it’s a plotting tool I learned at the Writers Institute by the wonderful Lori Devoti. Lori is a paranormal romance author and if you want a great deal on e-books, she’s running one on her blog right now. What Lori showed us at the conference is a chart where you list what your character wants, which needs to be the goal of the story so it has to allow growth in your character. For example, someone’s goal might be to save her marriage. After you’ve named the goal, you have to know the motivation behind it. What is it that drives the goal for the character? What is the best thing that could be if they get their want? And finally, you put the BUT in there. The obstacle that prevents them from achieving their goal. For example, if the goal was for the character to save her marriage, but her husband dies, her motivation and goal become something different, possibly about creating a better life for her child. Lori’s advice was to draw up this chart with the protagonist and the antagonist side by side because as much as you can pit them against each other with conflicting wants, motives, buts, then the easier it will be to plot them against each other.
Today my problem is that I haven’t figured out my antagonist’s motive yet. So I decided to stop staring at a blank piece of paper and definitely STOP getting lost in social media world, and do some research for the book to get my brain spinning again. So, I spent the better part of an hour walking through a graveyard.
No, no, this wasn’t a suicide mission. Not in the slightest. It’s the main setting of my story, and I thought a stroll through my character’s world would help clear up the muddy bits. Despite the fact I had to hide my camera from the protective groundskeeper who kept driving past me while I sauntered around, it was a productive visit. I got several great shots that will help me create scenes in the graveyard. And best of all were the names! Many of the graves in this cemetery are from the 1800’s and the names and variety in the tombstones was something spectacular to see. I also found the FREAKIEST tree that may or may not make its way into the story (I’m almost too creeped out to write about it).
I still haven’t quite nailed down a motive that doesn’t leap beyond the borders of “yaah, right, Witkins!” so I’ll keep working on that. But I still consider this a productive day that will help me when I am scene building. I mean, look where I was!
What do you think? Any advice for this stuck writer? What helps you sculpt your characters and outline better?
Also, don’t miss out on a chance to win a free book! Read my review of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, leave a comment, and you’re automatically entered to be a part of the World Book Night Giveaway!