Readers at the Movies: The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Out StarsThis weekend my daughter and I went to see the movie The Fault in Our Stars. I laughed, I cried…she laughed and cried. I thought the movie was moving and poetic. I loved the strength and courage of the main characters and their journey to love, even while knowing theirs would not be a story of happily ever after. I left the theatre feeling satisfied with the storytelling, the actors, and the soundtrack. When I expressed all these things to my daughter she responded with the strength and conviction of all her eleven years of wisdom, “Really? I was pretty disappointed. The book was better.”

And there you have it. I did not read the book. I do not know what I’m missing.

I’ve been in her shoes before. There are very few films that have lived up to books I’ve read. Certainly no movie has ever exceeded a book from my perspective, although there are a few that got it pretty darn close.

This got me to thinking…why is it a book is nearly always better than the movie?

What is Left on the Cutting Room Floor?

As readers, we want every moment or detail between our beloved characters that elicited an emotion to make it onto the screen. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve turned to my hubs after watching a movie and said, “What you don’t know from the movie about this relationship is…” Often times, having not read the book, he didn’t find the moment a missing piece to the story he’d just watched on the screen. It’s just that I’m a reader and I want it ALL!

movie theatreThe Importance of Interpretation

When a reader watches a film, it is important to keep in mind that this is the director’s vision of the story. We have to accept this as part of the film journey and leave our expectations at the door. What might be important to me as a reader (“In this moment the character is thinking of X”) may not be important to the story the director wants to tell. When reading we are able to interpret, assume, and envision a moment to our liking. On screen, the actions and visuals are absolute.

My Cast!

This leads to the importance of casting. Remember the uproar with the Fifty Shade of Grey casting? TMZ reported the last minute change with the same intensity CNN reports breaking news. Why? Because the fans felt as if they had a say in the casting of their book. I can only imagine the insanity that will ensue when the movie is released.

So, what is it is about a movie like The Fault in Our Stars or The Hunger Games that makes us cry foul loud and hard when the movie doesn’t meet our expectations? For the record, I loved the casting and movie versions of both, but I will forever cry foul to the makers of the Harry Potter movies for all but KILLING the Harry/Ginny relationship. Not due to casting, but due to several omissions of moments in the movies. And why? What is it that makes readers feel as if we have a stake in all this? I blame the brilliance of the author. By creating a rich world filled with characters we love, we feel a sense of intimacy and then ownership for that world.

Books Belong to the Readers! 

I don’t want to spoil the The Fault in Our Stars for anyone who has yet to read the book or see the film, but the story line actually touches upon this idea. The main characters, Hazel and Augustus, grow intimately attached to characters within a novel they have read. These characters, and those around them, are on a similar journey as Hazel, Augustus and their families. So much so that they refuse to believe the story just ends. They are compelled to seek answers…what happens next? And as writers, isn’t that what we want our readers to ask?

A bit of research tells me John Green has been bombarded with these same questions about The Fault in Our Stars. I beyond love his response:

“I promise you: I DON’T KNOW. I have access to the exact same text that you do. I do not have access to any information outside of that text, because then it would just be me speculating about what might happen, and my speculations are no more valuable or authoritative than anyone else’s. Books belong to their readers! Own it! Make it yours!”

 

Dedicated readers do feel a sense of ownership to a book we love. It is this love of a book that takes us to the movie expecting a repeat of the profound experience created on the page. But it cannot. It is a different medium, and when it falls short, we rage and why? Because that is OUR book, and we want the world to see our version of our book.

What books turned into movies have met the grade for you as a reader? Which ones have fallen short? Have you ever felt this sort of ownership over a book that was made into a TV show or film? If so, which ones and why?

Signature

The Romance Book that Changed the World…or at least, mine

Every once in awhile, a topic comes up in discussion that offers as many varying viewpoints as there are people involved in the discussion. So it is with this month’s topic on the Femmes blog.

As I read Michele’s blog post last week, it occurred to me…there is a reason why there are so many different subgenres of romance. The books that immediately came to my mind, as the romance novels that influenced or impacted me, are perhaps not what you would typically consider “romances”, at least, not in the mainstream. They are the literary works that informed me, that educated me as a whole, and possibly, that made me the romantic I am today (behind the cynical, protective shell). Often, they are the books I read in high school in New Jersey, and later, at The University of Dallas in Texas.

There are many definitions offered on Wiktionary, of the word romance.

romance (plural romances)

  1. An intimate relationship between two people; a love affair.
  2. A strong obsession or attachment for something or someone.
  3. Love which is pure or beautiful.
  4. mysteriousexciting, or fascinating quality.
  5. A story or novel dealing with idealised love.
  6. An embellished account of something; an idealised lie.

Each one of these has found a place in mainstream romance novels, from The Bridges of Madison County to Fifty Shades of Grey. The novels that have inspired me are those that combine two or more of the above definitions.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez – copied from caribbeanbookblog.wordpress.com 

Michele touched upon one of my favorite authors in her blog…Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Although she referenced One Hundred Years of Solitude (a fabulous book, by the way), the book  that won’t stop pushing its way to the forefront of my mind is Love in the Time of Cholera. As the title suggests, this book is a love story. Actually it is two love stories: the forbidden love of Florentino and Fermina, and the practical love of Fermina and Urbino. Florentino’s personality personifies the love he shares with Fermina, as does Urbino’s. Florentino is flamboyant, soulful, engaging and optimistic, and his love is filled with gestures both sweet and grand. His passion flows out of him in passionate words and gestures. Urbino is practical and  methodical, and he provides Fermina with the stability that she needs to survive in difficult times as the city is overrun with an epidemic.

Florentino, Fermina and Urbino…from the movie

What makes this novel so remarkable to me is that, while the ideal of love is presented (see romance definition number 5), in many ways, the book depicts the lie that is idealized love. Romance novels of yesterday presented this ideal of love…innocent, demure heroine meets perfect, alpha man, there is little or no conflict of merit, they ride off into the sunset. Marquez’ book sets out from the beginning to debunk the idea that love is perfect. Fermina, far from pure and demure, defies her family in her youth, in order to be with her first (and true) love, Florentino. Throughout the novel, Florentino declares his love practically from the rooftops, yet his many affairs are detailed for the reader. Even the upstanding, practical, righteous Urbino is found to be an adulterer. All of which, appropriately, takes place among the sordid, filthy, rotting, disease-plagued streets of a fictional seaside town in Colombia, a town that, itself, is practically a character in the book. Yet, for all the dirt, the insidious treachery, the adultery, the philandering, the suggestion that love itself is an incurable disease (is love actually the epidemic from which the town suffers?), the purity of the love (definition 3) between Fermina and Florentino endures. Powerful stuff.

Interestingly, Marquez himself cautions against taking his book at face value. “You have to be careful,” he says, “not to fall into my trap.” *   *(Booker, M. Keith (summer, 1993) “The Dangers of Gullible Reading: Narrative as Seduction in García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera“. Studies in Twentieth Century Literature 17:181-95).  From Wikipedia.

Which begs the question…is this book even a romance?

If you haven’t read it, I strongly suggest you read Love in the Time of Cholera. In fact, I just put it on my nightstand…to be reread.

A final thought:  My mother always called me her “gypsy daughter”. Perhaps it is the gypsy in me that draws me to books that create worlds that are, in themselves, characters.  Here are a few books that have had a great impact on me. What do you think…are they romances, or not?

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

What books (with evocative settings) have influenced you? Leave a comment, and be entered in the July contest to win a trio of books from the Femmes.

Hugs,

Jaye

Risky Business

Be sure to stop by the Violet Femmes blog each week this month and comment to be entered in our contest. This month you’ll be entered to win two novels, Until There Was You by Kristan Higgins and Beguiling the Beauty by Sherry Thomas. Come back every week and leave a comment to increase your chance of winning!


I am many things. A mom. Wife. Sports fan. History buff. Shoe lover. One thing I’m not, by nature, is a risk taker. I like my little comfortable bubble where I don’t have to talk to people I don’t know or eat things I’ve never heard of. I tend to hang out on the fringes of a party, and knee-high water is about the deepest I’m willing to venture out into the ocean.

So now that I’ve shared WAAAAAY more information about myself than any of you ever wanted to know, we can talk about risk and how it relates to writing. Do you take risks as a writer? Do you push yourself to be more, to be better, to be different? Because while our comfort zone is, well, comforting, you never know what you will discover when you step outside it.

“An essential element of any art is risk. If you don’t take a risk then how are you going to make something really beautiful, that hasn’t been seen before? I always like to say that cinema without risk is like having no sex and expecting to have a baby. You have to take a risk.”
            —Francis Ford Coppola, Director, Producer, Wine Maker

Dare to be Different

We frequently see examples of risk in movies and television, such as when an actor takes on an unexpected role. Or the business world, with entrepreneurs who strike out on their own with nothing more than a few bucks and a wacky idea. With writing, it can feel as if everything we do is a risk. You’re putting your thoughts on the page and then sending them out into the cold, cruel world for everyone to rip apart. Isn’t that enough, universe?! Well, no. It’s not. Just because you can string a few sentences together and know where to stick the commas doesn’t mean you’re going to get noticed.

Unpublished authors frequently hear you need a “great hook” to sell a book these days. Stellar writer and character development will only get you so far. The competition is fierce, and your story premise better sound like nothing anyone’s ever heard before. Sounds daunting, right? As if we don’t have enough pressure with the darn commas!

A recent article in The New York Times claims the biggest risks in literature right now are taking place in the young adult market. I don’t really read YA so I can’t say whether this is true or not, but the author wrote:

“Here are a few audacious books you won’t find in the adult section of the library. A Holocaust memoir narrated by Death. A novel written entirely in electronic messages. A historical novel in prose poems. A murder mystery in screenplay format.”

So if you have a story idea you want to try but are worried it’s too “out there” to be marketable…that kind of idea just may make you stand out from the crowd.

Or it may make you sound like a nut job.

The point is, you’ll never know if you don’t try.

“Growing as a writer means taking chances and pushing boundaries. Not that you necessarily want to try and sell all your writing exercises, but that doesn’t mean you [shouldn’t] practice and experiment.”
                        —Josh Lanyon, Author

Breaking Out

Risk means something different to everyone. For writers, maybe it’s attending a conference for the first time or taking a writing class. Submitting to an agent or an editor. Heck, maybe it’s just allowing someone other than your mom to read your work. Or, in the case of our own VF Michele, it might be trying your hand at writing in a completely different genre. She went from writing French historicals to contemporary sports-themed stories. (And guess what? She rocks both genres.)

Occasionally, I’ll hear an unpubbed author express the reluctance to “put themselves out there.” If you stay in a writing bubble by yourself, you’re missing out on a great opportunity to network and learn from others. Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest aren’t there to SCARE you; they exist to help people connect with others, even other writers. Sites like WordPress and Blogger make it easy to set up your own blog.

At some point, you have to crawl out of your writer’s cave and start to build a name for yourself—whether you are published or not. If you don’t, how will anyone find out about you when you DO get published? The difference in the approach is huge: you’re either spamming people you don’t know to spread the word about a book they don’t care about, or you’re relying on your friends to help build word of mouth for your book. Which would you rather be on the receiving end of?

“Learn something, try something, do something else. FAIL. FAIL BIG and FAIL A LOT. Failure is always guarding the door to success.”
                        —Kristen Lamb, Author and Blogger

The Non-Traditional Route

While self-publishing is not for everyone, no one can deny it has changed the landscape. Not only does it allow writers to publish stories that might not otherwise get exposure, it also helps readers find a wide variety of non-traditional books.

Take Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James, which was first posted online as Twilight fan fiction. FSOG breaks many of the rules first-time authors are told to avoid. Don’t write a story in present tense. Don’t write a first-person narrative. Don’t have too many sex scenes. Don’t use British vernacular when your characters are American. (Okay, that last one is true.) James’ trilogy has become an international sensation, despite everything we may think she did wrong. Clearly, she’s done something RIGHT because readers can’t get enough.

(Of course, if you’re going to risk breaking the rules, you have to know what the rules are first.)

So, have an idea for a story but worry it won’t sell because it’s just too wacky? Having the option to self-publish may be the little mint on your pillow every night, comforting you just enough to take the risk and write the book you want to write—whether you end up self-publishing it or not.

“Fear of failure is the reason most often cited to explain why so many aspiring writers never realize their dreams. But I think it’s that same fear of failure that absolutely invigorates those who do push through—that is, the fear of not being heard.”
                        —Betsy Lerner, Editor and Author

Fear Factor

Are you clutching your laptop like a security blanket, even though you might suspect there might be a grain of truth in what I said? I get it. I understand because I wrote in a bubble for a few years, then finally took a chance and joined the New Jersey chapter of the RWA. I couldn’t get over how nice and supportive everyone was, and I lucked out in getting an amazing critique partner (VF Maria) that then led to meeting the rest of the Violet Femmes. Exhibit A of a small risk that worked out in spades for me. My writing improved by leaps and bounds, and my life improved just by having these inspiring and talented women in it.

Beyond that, I feel I’m still learning, still stretching my skills to make myself the best writer I can. Is it working? I don’t know yet, but I hope so. After I finish my current historical WIP, I’ve got an idea for a contemporary series that I’m going to run with. Who knows, right?

So tell us—what risks do you take in your writing?

Joanna

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