Showing Intimacy between Characters

Two Weeks Notice is an average romantic comedy in which Sandra Bullock plays a lawyer Lucy (a brilliant tofu-eating liberal) who agrees to work for George, a lazy, self-indulgent playboy, played by Hugh Grant at his corporation. After working for him for several months, she becomes so annoyed with being more like his personal nanny than his lawyer that she tries to quit.

As I said, the movie is average. Both leads are funny and charming and they play well enough off of each other to keep things entertaining. (The movie also has one of my favorite movie lines, when Lucy declares that she’s going to quit. George says he’s become addicted to her opinion and needs to know what she thinks. He holds up a pair of cuff links and asks, “What do you think?” She replies, “George, I think you’re the most selfish person in the entire world.” He replies, “Well, that’s just silly. Have you met everyone in the entire world?” Classic.) However, I never can’t quite buy their relationship fully. I know opposites attract is the point of many romantic comedies, but sometimes the connection isn’t always there.

But that’s not the point of my post.

While Two Weeks Notice is far from a perfect romantic comedy, it does have one scene that perfectly shows intimacy between the two characters. I don’t mean sexual intimacy. I mean the kind of intimacy that comes about when two (or more) people spend so much time together that they come to be very comfortable in each other’s presence.

At one point in Two Weeks Notice, about a third of the way through, Lucy and George sit down to an otherwise uneventful business lunch together. The conversation between the two of them is unmemorable, the same kind of “this meeting is when” conversation that anyone would have. What’s important is what they do while they are talking.

The waiter brings over their plates of salad — they both have the same thing — and without hesitation Lucy reaches over and takes the crispy noodles off of George’s salad. Once she’s done, George reaches over and takes the beets off of Lucy’s salad. Just like that.

I would never take food off of my boss’s plate without asking. I wouldn’t even take food off of a good friend’s plate without asking, and even then I would feel shy and embarrassed just by asking. But with my brothers and sisters, whom I’ve known just about all my life on the other hand, I would have no problem reaching over to take something off their plate.

Having Lucy and George share their food in such a manner makes it instantly clear that these two people know each other very, very well. So well that they are completely comfortable around each other and in their interactions.

When my friend, Jordan Dobbs Rosa and I were working on the script for Firecracker together (he plays the firecracker salesman, btw), he came up with the idea of having our MC reach over, take her boyfriend’s sunglasses off of his face, and put them on herself. “It’s that kind of gross intimacy,” Jordan said. “It’s when you know two people have been together too long.”

I don’t know about gross (sometimes I think it’s cute), but it definitely shows that two people have known each other a long time. That bubble of “this is my space / this is your space” is broken and becomes closer to “this is our space” or at least “this is communal space.”

It helps to remember this kind of thing when writing stories in which you have characters who know each other well. These little seemingly insignificant actions are excellent ways to show that they are comfortable with each other without saying so.

What are some movies or books you’ve seen that show this kind of comfortable intimacy well? How have you approached showing intimacy in your own stories?

[Cross-posted to my livejournal.]

Where My Writing's At

Current Project: The Witch of the Little Wood
New Words: ~4,000 new words in the last round of writing last week
Current Total Word Count: 13,690
Goal: Complete the story (this short story is turning into a novlette, I think).

Random Rough Sentence(s): Her hair was a nest of nettles, her skin gouged and wrinkled bark, her eyes the green of light pooling through leaves.

Notes: I’ve managed to get through two climactic scenes (very fun to write) with one major confrontation left to write and then several scenes of resolution to round things out. (I also have a scene that needs to be added to the beginning in order to make the mom more sympathetic.) Hopefully I’ll be able to get through all of those before the next Writing Gang meeting in a couple of weeks. That way I would have the first draft done before I head off to Australia, giving me time to let things simmer.

Writing a story that jumps between a past event and present events is an interesting process, because while the past influences and must reflect in the present scenes, it also has its own arc and own climax. I’ve been going back and forth between the past and present as I write, which has allowed me to discover parallels between the two arcs, which is kind of cool, but it also is a cause of anxiety for me because I’m not entirely sure the past and present mesh as well as they should (though my Writing Gang assures me otherwise). I guess I just have to get the whole thing written, so I can look at it in entirety and see what works and what doesn’t. The joy of revision.

The feedback I’ve been getting from the Gang has put a whole other idea in my head for this story, namely that it could be easily stretched into a novel — which has my head spinning. I had not thought of it before, but as soon as they said it, the idea started to germinate and now I have notes for starting to expand it. Making it novel is a scary concept, though, because it’s such a bigger work. It would require completely restructuring everything (the past/present alternation wouldn’t work, for example) and adding a litany of new characters and figuring out just who the Bear is and what he wants as my potential alternate villain.

So, in the meantime, I’m going to focus on finishing the story as a story, in the hopes of submitting it to various magazines (though there aren’t many that will accept this kind of length).

Other Projects in the Works:

The Untitled Werewolf Novel has been put on hold for the time being, while I work on “The Witch of the Little Wood” having settled firmly into the pre-planning stage. Don’t worry it’s not going to live there. My plan is to start getting chapters onto the page as soon as I finish the Little Wood short story. The Werewolf Novel keeps popping up every now and then tugging at my sleeve with new scene ideas and character arcs, so I won’t be able to ignore it for long.

I also have a couple of poetry manuscripts to work on. Astounding Beauty Ruffian Press is holding a chapbook competition, and it occurred to me that I have 10-20 pages of poetry that I could submit. I’ve been gazing at poetry chapbook competitions for a while now, thinking that I should submit to one, but haven’t felt like my work was cohesive or up to par enough to submit. Now I think I just might have a collection that would work — maybe.

You know those letter-poems I’ve been writing for the 30 Day Letter challenge that I never finished… well, I need to finish it, because I’ve been talking with the rather fabulous collage artist Jill Allyn Stafford about putting together a book that combines her art made out of international envelopes with my letter-poems. We’re both stoked on the idea (even though we’re not sure what publishers to approach about this sort of thing). First, I need to get those poems written.

And because I don’t have enough projects going on, there’s the Not-so-Secret Screenplay. I got an email about a script competition from Script Magazine, in which you have to come up with a script idea for a logline (which is: “After waking to find his wife dead in their backyard, a man conducts his own investigation and uncovers the hidden life of a woman he thought he knew.”) and submit the 15 pages.

Of course, instead of thinking, gee, I’ve got a lot on my plate right now, I think, gee, I can work with that, and my mind immediately started trying to put a supernatural spin on the story. So, yeah, now I’ve got a screenplay idea kicking around my head along with everything else. Deadline for the 15 pages is August 30th … we’ll see if I can pull it off.

[Cross posted to my livejournal.]

Story Completed!

About six months ago, I stayed up past midnight writing the scenes and outlines of a story for anthology market that wasn’t even open.

Well, guess what? Machine of Death opened up for submissions for Vol. 2! Yay!

All my writing over the last several weeks has been focused on getting, “Shaking Hands,” my submission for MoD, Vol. 2 written. Those midnight notes came in handy and the story fell into place rather quickly. A couple of edits, a run through my writing gang (who gave some excellent feedback), and another edit later, I have a 4,150 word story that I’m rather quite happy with. In fact, I think it’s about ready to be sent in.

This marks the first story I’ve written for a specific anthology that I’ve actually completed by the deadline. Woohoo!

Also, a spin off of sharing my story with my writing gang is that most of the group has been inspired by the MoD concept and is sitting down to write their own stories for the anthology, which makes me all smiley with joy. Wouldn’t it be awesome if we all got into the anthology together? Heck, it would be awesome if anyone of us got into the anthology. (^_^)

[Cross-posted to my livejournal. If you feel inclined, you can comment either here or there.]

Switching Settings

The Short Version:
I’m pretty sure that I’m going to change the setting of my Untitled Werewolf Novel from California to Alaska.

The Long Version:
I love Alaska. I love the mountains and the moose and the crisp weather and the trails and so many things about Alaska. My parents were both born there before it was even a state and I still have family ties there.

Driving home, I was thinking about the Alaska that I love and wondering at the fact there are so few books set in Alaska. I can think of two off the top of my head: Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen, in which a boy is trapped in the Alaskan wilderness for months and must survive, and The Curious Eat Themselves, by John Straley (isn’t that just about the best title ever), a mystery novel surrounding the oil companies. (I’m sure there are more, but I would have to do an internet search to find them.)

Most books about Alaska fall into the Hatchet category, as in: gee, look at how beautiful and wild and empty and dangerous Alaska is, looks at the pretty mountains, the roaring brown bears, the lumbering moose, and there’s like no one there! And yes, of course, there is a lot of forest and wildlife in Alaska and it is certainly achingly beautiful. (This romantic notion of Alaska in books and movies, I’m sure contributes the question I still get of whether or not I lived in an igloo.)

However there are people there and most of them are quite normal, just trying to live ordinary lives, concerned about bills and getting super on the table and boring normal things. It’s just that shopping at the local supermarket might be interrupted my by a bull moose meandering through the parking lot.

There should be more books like The Curious Eat Themselves, I thought to myself, more books obvious set in and influenced by Alaska, but focused on the more mundane aspects of people actually living there. Even better, why not a book with supernatural elements.

Hey! I thought, why don’t I write a fantasy novel set in Alaska. I could do that… which ultimately brought me to thinking about switching the location of my werewolf novel.

Doing so would require a rather large shift in how I’ve been thinking about the novel thus far, so I’m not fully committed to the idea yet. It would change the entire basis for how the characters interact with each other as well as their environment. They simply would not behave in the exact same way as they always have.

Making the switch would resolve some problems and create others. For example, I would not have Claire move to Alaska, she would have grown up there, eliminating the getting-to-know-you aspect from the plot. Also, it’s plausible that a werewolf could get away with living in Alaska, because the people are used to seeing large animals around. But, this would also mean that I will not be able to have the running off to San Francisco scenes that I was looking forward to writing, and there is not equivalent Big City in Alaska. Fortunately, I’m not very far into the writing of the novel (just the first chapter), so making the change would not require me to drastically rewrite much.

I’m pretty sure I will be making the switch up. Here’s why: I’m super excited about it. I mean, I’m hair-is-standing-up-on-my-arms happy about it. So it should be obvious that I need to do it (I’m not really clear on what my hesitation is). All I know is that I’m loving this novel more than ever.

Have you ever made a drastic setting change to something you were writing? How did you decide to make the switch and how did it change how you thought about the novel/story?

[Cross-posted to my livejournal. If you feel inclined you can comment either here or there.]

A list of things I've been meaning to post

1. I’ve received an acceptance for one of my poems. Will give you the when and where once the contract is signed, but in the meantime, yay!

2. I’ve also received a rejection for a very short story I submitted, but I don’t feel bad about this because: a) I generally don’t worry about that sort of thing, and b) see above.

3. I totally rocked my Minnie Mouse ears on my trip to Disneyland last weekend. We hit the theme parks hard over those two days (for example, on our last night there, we rushed through nine rides in two hours).

4. which I’m pretty sure contributed to my being sick all last week (that and the crazy work schedule I’ve been having lately).

5. The result of which is that I did not run last week (rest was needed), though I haven’t been sticking to my training schedule anyway.

6. My writing is going well, however, as evidenced by my multiple NaPoWriMo posts and the progress I’m making on “The Witch of the Little Wood.” I’m hoping to have the draft done by the middle of May at the latest.

7. [info]alg posted a call for submissions for a Buffy verse anthology that I may have to write something for.

8. Another awesome market is looking for reprint submissions for an anthology of speculative feminist poetry. (I’ve submitted a poem thatmight work.)

9. During Easter, my mom pointed out that as soon she had grandkids, she would no longer making easter baskets for my siblings and I — not exactly good incentive for us to start breeding. 😉

10. I just like nice, round numbers.

[Cross-posted my my livejournal. If you feel inclined, you may comment either here or there.]