Saturday, December 9, 2017

The 'Last Jedi' Experiment: Part 1

Well, it’s that time of year again . . . 

Despite being bombarded with porg memes and reading trivia on friends’ Facebook pages, it just hit me Wednesday that Star Wars episode VIII: The Last Jedi is only a week away. I honestly haven’t been paying a lot of attention to the release date.

I haven’t seen a Star Wars trailer since early May. And I regret seeing that one.

Let me explain.

I shared in a post last year how much I love my first experience of something new. And I regularly complain that trailers give away far too much of a movie’s plot. So last year, looking ahead to the next numbered installation of the Star Wars franchise, I thought, “I’m going to see this anyway. What would happen if it was a complete surprise?” Would I enjoy the story more or less? Be satisfied by the ending, or be disappointed by my own expectations?

How hard is it to avoid spoilers and media of all kinds leading up to The Last Jedi’s release? At first, I didn’t think it was possible. But around February or March of this year, before any trailer had come out, I thought, What could it hurt to try?

My rules were:

1. Hide from Star Wars trailers, clips, articles, spoilers, and basically as much media as I can, all the way up to the day I see it.

2. Don’t be a jerk. If something major gets spoiled, accept it and document how long the experiment lasted.

To my own shame, I was the first to break the streak. Thinking it would be rude to theater goers to walk out during Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 trailers, and thinking I’d never make it through the rest of the year anyway, I sat through an early preview. And I really don’t remember much of it anymore. Just Luke’s ominous “It’s time for the Jedi to end” line.

I got smart when I went to see Thor: Ragnarok and brought along a pair of earbuds. That worked well, except that the trailer started pretty inconspicuously (for me, anyway, who didn’t know what to expect), and I got a few seconds of Snoke voiceover before realizing what was happening and cranking up Hamilton songs on my phone.

So there you have it. I know Luke wants the Jedi to end, Snoke and Kylo will be a big deal. I’ve also seen a lot of movie art, so I know that Rose is a new character. And porgs. It’s hard to miss those.

Porg knows to get excited for The Last Jedi.
But skipping, and wanting to skip, most of the spoilers has been pretty easy. Way easier than I thought. And I probably have a lot of wrong ideas in head my from hints dropped or old false leads I accidentally glimpsed, so it won’t really be a blind first impression.

The biggest downside, however, is that my mindset about the movie hasn’t changed much since a year ago. I’ve been worried Last Jedi will be far too much like The Empire Strikes Back, I’ve been afraid Snoke’s reveal will be lame or predictable, and I’ve been complaining that Luke will just be Kevin Flynn from Tron: Legacy

Rey is messing with Luke's zen thing.
I found myself not very excited to see it—until I began to think about writing this post. Until I began looking up show times. Until I forgot I was going to marathon all eight movies sometime this fall (oops).
Next weekend, I’m sure to be as excited as anyone watching The Last Jedi. And I’m asking you, my readers, to help me out in my last few days of radio silence. I’ll be entering self-imposed social media blackout soon, but please, for the sake of science, just steer away from the conversation at all for now. We’ll have plenty of time to talk later.

So for now, have a merry Star Wars—I mean Christmas. See you in two weeks!

P.S. Check out my tweets about watching through the movies in preparation (no marathon, and I skipped episodes I and II) with the hashtag #starwarswatchthrough.

Image credits:

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

My favorite editing movies

Since this blog is primarily about editing, I knew I needed to round up my favorite editing movies. My problem? There aren’t that many. I guess fewer Hollywood writers are also editors. Nevertheless, I’ve compiled what I’ve seen:



You’ve heard of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. You might have heard of Thomas Wolfe. But have you heard of Max Perkins? He’s the editor who saw the potential of these authors and mentored them to success. This movie makes editing almost look painful, with the pages and pages of manuscripts and endless rewrites—unless you love it as much as Max does. Note to authors: Don’t be married to your words. I’m not sure I’d ever spend as much time cutting them as Max did for Tom.


Julie and Julia

Besides giving an inside look at writing, this film provides a sneak peek into the work of another editor, Judith Jones of Knopf (it’s pronounced Kuh-nopff). If only food could win me a book contract... But the best scene with Judith is the one in her office, where she and Julia are trying on book titles. I’m terrible at good titles myself, and I really want to recreate this scene someday for my own book!

Title meetings are a real thing that happens at publishing houses. During my internship at Focus on the Family, I got to sit in on one that finalized the name of a book about C.S. Lewis and Mere Christianity. Picking just the right title isn’t easy, and the meeting wasn’t quick.


Back Page

This one is about newspapers and reporting, but the main character is a newspaper editor. A small-potatoes writer at the Associated Press in the 1930s gets a job at a small paper with a small staff in a small town, but she becomes a big deal fast when she shows local business owners they can’t control her. If I were going to pull a teachable moment from this movie, it would be, “blackmail can solve your problems,” (whatever happened to “all the news that’s fit to print”?) so I’ll just recommend this film for entertainment value.


Shattered Glass

Again, journalism plays a large role here, but this movie gives a detailed and realistic look at the editing process at a reputable magazine—one that will get in big trouble if something is wrong. And maybe that’s part of the irony of this film that I never noticed before: No number of red pen passes from editors in an office will spot the type of deceptions Stephen Glass weaves, if he does it well enough. Sometimes fact checking requires a detailed and thorough examination of what’s being presented. Photos would’ve helped too.

I know there’s more movies out there starring editors (The Devil Wears Prada, Fatal Attraction), but they’re not always about the editing. Which ones do you like?

Thursday, August 31, 2017

My favorite writing movies

The tortured soul trying to beat a bad case of writer’s block into submission. The frustrated has-been desperately trying to breathe fresh life into his words. The free spirit who doesn’t care about people or popularity, just prose. We’ve all seen the stereotypes of writers—and the not-so-stereotypical—played out in movies. Below, I’ll share a few of my favorite films featuring writers, and what I learned from them:

Julie and Julia (2009)

This one gets bonus points; it’s about two writers. And the message in it that can get lost in failed recipes, the enchantment of Paris, and life after thirty is how hard it is to write and how long it takes to write well, especially when you have a full-time job, especially when you don’t have a network of writers around you. But Julia and Julie persevered, because if those real-life characters hadn’t, we wouldn’t have a movie.

What I learned: Keep at it, because you never know how far you’ll go. (Also, having co-authors can be both messy and fun.)


The Ghost Writer (2010)

I confess, I first watched this because it starred Ewan McGregor. But the noir-style suspense and intrigue, combined with a writer’s mundane struggles to write a book of someone else’s stories, kept me hooked. 

What I learned: Think twice before accepting a ghostwriting job for a controversial political figure. But seriously, ghostwriting’s an interesting profession. Never assume that famous figure on the cover wrote their book alone, even if you can’t find another name. To paraphrase one ghostwriter: “The only place your name has to be is on the check.”


The Rewrite (2014)

How do you break the curse of being a one-hit wonder? Hugh Grant learns that it’s about more than the next big sale, and gives at least one full lecture’s worth of writing advice by the time the credits roll. Plus, I’m pretty sure most of us see ourselves in one of his students—the nerd writing thinly-veiled Star Wars fanfic (guilty), the lovebird who clues in her crush through her stories, or the troubled teen with baggage that only comes out as her screenplay plot develops.

What I learned: If your goal is fame, you won’t last long. Find what about writing really makes you passionate.


Inkheart (2008)

I admit this wasn’t a great movie. I admit I went to see it with a friend and might not have otherwise. I admit I never actually read the book this was based on. But one moment captured me forever: when the author of Inkheart, whose characters are escaping into the real world and vice versa, sees his protagonist standing in front of him. The look on his face made me want to do anything, write anything, to experience what he experienced. Such is the power of a good story.

What I learned: Write fiction that will make your fans want to cosplay your characters. A surprisingly good motivator.


Little Women (1994)

This has stayed in my top five favorites out of all movies for most of my life. My family watches it nearly every Christmas. Once in junior high, I declared I was sick of it and decided to go on strike, but I could hear it from my bedroom and succumbed after ten minutes of listening to young Christian Bale.

Anyway, I’ve long related to Jo March and her quest for authorship, right down to her love for absurd adventure pulp stories (remember, Star Wars fanfic?). What published author can’t relate to her romp around the house after getting her first payment for something she wrote? Or her late nights of dreaming and scribbling? Jo gets us.

What I learned: Dont be afraid to chase after your ambitions. Write what’s close to your heart.

What writerly movies inspire or motivate you? What’s something I should add to my list?

(This is part one of three, with my favorites about editing and newspapers to come.)

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Vocabulary quiz: What do these 8 words have in common?

The words below all have something in common, and if you know what it is, you have a clue to this week’s blog post. (Hint: try to guess all the definitions before jumping to the answers.)

1. Malapropism
A) Unintentionally using a wrong but similar-sounding word, often with humorous effect
B) Grabbing the wrong item from the prop table in the middle of a play
C) A gibberish word made up when one cannot think of the correct word to use in a sentence

2. Quixotic
A) Extremely strange; beyond belief
B) Quick to believe made-up stories
C) Idealistic and prone to absurd lengths of chivalry

3. Braggadocio
A) An attempt to impress Italian women
B) A braggart
C) A word that has extra suffixes appended to it to make it sound more impressive

4. Gamp
A) A large, baggy umbrella
B) A piece of plastic tied around one’s head to keep off the rain
C) A special shoe or boot cover worn while riding a horse in rainy or muddy weather

5. Pecksniffian
A) Someone who smells food to see if it’s ready instead of tasting it
B) Haughty; proud
C) Annoyingly hypocritical

6. Panglossian
A) Characterized by talking too much
B) Optimistic beyond belief
C) A magazine with only glossy pages

7. Bunburying
A) Using visiting a made-up person as an excuse to go somewhere or get out of something
B) Baking bread or rolls with a savory or sweet filling in the middle
C) Traveling without a plan or destination in mind

8. Wellerism
A) A transition in a conversation made by saying the word “well . . .” and trailing off
B) Like an old wives’ tale, a piece of inaccurate medical advice, especially one that sounds like a cure-all
C) An expression that pairs a well-known saying with a humorous or ironic take on it

A. This word sounds like it originates with proper Latin roots but actually was made up in the late 1700s. Playwright Richard Sheridan named one of his characters in “The Rivals” Mrs. Malaprop, and she regularly committed the blunders in the definition. Geography became geometry, influence became affluence, and so forth. However, Sheridan started with a French term, “mal a propos,” or inappropriate. Here’s a video with more on malapropisms and a similar concept, “egg-corns.”
Another character known for his malapropisms--before malapropism was even a word.

B. If you guessed this stems from Miguel de Cervantes’ 1605 novel Don Quixote de la Mancha, you’re right, but don’t pronounce it the same way. Quixotic is pronounced “quicks-aw-tic,” while Quixote retains the Spanish “Key-ho-teh.”Merriam-Webster puts the first use of Quixotic at 1718.
Because I had to. (

B. (though a case could be made for A or C ...) Braggadocio was a minor character in Edmund Spenser’s epic The Faerie Queen, the first installment of which was published in 1590. He was basically what the definition says, and the word probably originated from “braggart.” The noun can be used several ways: as a stand-in for a person (“He was a braggadocio”), the description for the bragging done (“To impress, he relied on braggadocio”), or a way to describe the overblown efforts of someone trying to sound proud (“His braggadocio was not convincing”).

A. To be fair, this is listed in the dictionary as a British term, but it’s really fun and on topic (if you’ve got that figured out ...). Mrs. Sarah Gamp, a nurse, was one of many caricatures from the mind of Charles Dickens and captured the public’s imagination in his novel Martin Chuzzlewit. (Here’s a fun, short description of her.) She carried an umbrella that fits the definition, and pretty soon, the umbrella kept her name. The stereotype of her as a nurse also stuck around longer than was beneficial for society.
Image credit: Illustration by Fred Barnard, scanned by Philip. V Allingham.

C. Going right back to Martin Chuzzlewit, this word derives from Seth Pecksniff, a character trying to appear virtuous while being quite the opposite. According to Merriam-Webster, the term was first used in 1849, only five years after the publication of the novel.

Image credit: Illustration by Phiz (Hablot K. Browne). Scanned image by Philip V. Allingham.

B. A is the deceptive answer here, since the root origins of the word are pan, meaning all, and glossa, meaning tongue (think glossary). In fact, Voltaire’s character Dr. Pangloss from the 1759 novel Candide does talk a lot, at the expense of actually doing anything. But he’s also convinced that everything in the world is as it should be, and the evil that occurs is bringing about the best good possible. (This was a controversial theological theory in the day.) Voltaire is satirizing an extreme response to this idea, which is pretending bad things must somehow be good.
Also, I’ve never read Candide, but now I realize I never want to ... it’s weird.

A. This one’s an even tougher sell than gamp, because Merriam-Webster doesn’t list it at all. However, Google will turn up a plethora of resources that do define it, like Wiktionary,, Collins Dictionary, the Free Dictionary, and, of course, Urban Dictionary. Bunbury is a made-up friend of Algernon in Oscar Wilde’s play The Importance of Being Ernest who is constantly sick. Algernon can plead needing to visit Bunbury anytime he wants to escape to another city or avoid an awkward situation. Actually, Ernest is a “Bunbury” as well, made up by the play’s protagonist, Jack. I guess saying bunburying is just more fun.

C. Dickens characters just say the darndest things. Sam Weller, Mr. Pickwick’s servant in The Pickwick Papers (1837), was known for spouting gems like, “It’s over, and can’t be helped, and that’s one consolation, as they alway say in Turkey, ven they cuts the wrong man’s head off (sic).”

By this point, you’ve probably guessed the common denominator of these words—they all originate from the name of a fictional character. There’s a term to describe this—last vocabulary word for the day—eponym. Any place, person, or thing that gives its name to a common or different noun is an eponym. (I’ll just let you browse the full list to get an idea of it.)
The words in my quiz are special because they’re eponymous to fictional characters. (Bunbury holds the record; he’s a fiction of one of the characters in a fictional play.) Some of these are very old, others not at all. Some took a century or more for the definition to become separated from its work of literature, others took less than a decade. Such is the power of fiction, that we’ll coin words based on characteristics of people who don’t even exist.
But we want to believe they exist.
That, I believe, is one of the true marks of a great writer—having characters so distinct that readers remember them by what they say (or how they say it), their mannerisms, and even they accessories they carry. Characters that bleed into the real world because we can picture them talking to us, walking down the street, or standing out in a crowd.

Want to have equally memorable characters? Here are a few tips:

  • Try naming your characters creatively, with roots to real English words or foreign words. Just the name Braggadocio gives you a pretty good idea in an instant of what he’s like.
  • Give them interesting behaviors, quirks, or items. What would cause you to say about someone in the real world, “That person’s a character!”? Characters are, well, characters because they’re larger than life or absurd. Plus, readers can keep characters straight in their heads when they’re tied to concrete items and behaviors.
  • Don’t be afraid to get really out there, dialogue-wise. Everyone talks differently, and people in the real world are memorable when they have an unusual way with words.
  • A caveat here is that many of the above characters aren’t three-dimensional. They’re often memorable because they emphasize a single trait. So you may want your memorable character to be a supporting character, like Gamp or Malaprop.

(Special thanks go to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary. Most of my information came from that site.)