Saturday, August 13, 2011

Week In Review - August 13, 2001 - Darth Vader, Place-Holders, and Hot Wings

I understand that, during the filming of Return of the Jedi, there was this one spot in the script where they couldn't think of the right line of dialog, so they just put in a placeholder. "Darth Vader says something to get Luke mad."

They left it like that well into the filming of the movie, until they finally found the right line -- or actually, the right subject for the line. Darth should realize that Luke has a sister and say something about that. A ha! Perfect thing to get Luke to react.

I really liked hearing that story, because I use placeholders like that myself all the time.

In some ways, that kind of placeholder is a MacGuffin. "The thing that the spies are after but the audience don't care," as Hitchcock described it. The spies are after the whatsis, and you can sometimes write a whole book without knowing what the whatsis is, and it doesn't matter. Because after all, the story isn't about the whatsis, it's about the characters and their struggles.

But sometimes the placeholder does matter. It may not matter to the audience even, but it may need to be something that matters critically to the characters. Luke Skywalker is mostly trained, and so Vader can't get him to react by saying "Your mother wears army boots!" He needs to say something which Luke will care about. He needs to find the chink in Luke's armor.

I bring this up because, as I mentioned, I write with placeholders all the time. The first generation of the story goes through my head in a dreamlike state -- often with blank spots where MacGuffin-like elements reside. Some of those things are true MacGuffins, and don't matter what they turn out to be. I can just backfill later whether it's the plans to a secret weapon, or an assassination plot, or a stash of diamonds. Other placeholders, though, take a lot of thinking to find the exact right detail to work with the emotional trajectory I have established.

And this week I finally found the perfect, beautiful detail to fill one of those spaces in my book. I needed to know what Karla would say to George in a particular circumstance, something which would put him on the right track. Something which would help the whole story transition to a new direction.

And this week, I realized exactly what she would say. It was so exactly right, I had to do a little happy dance around the room.

Write-A-Thon Update

So.... Last week I extended my write-a-thon efforts until Sunday. But now I think I'm going to stick a fork in it today. The little epiphany mentioned above gave me a burst of writing which officially got me to the point where I need to stop doing raw word count, and take the time to pull everything into place. Yes, there are still holes to fill, but this last piece of the puzzle galvanized the story, and I think I need to see it whole before I know what the last steps are.

I'm going to take a week or two to pull the darn thing together, and really see what the last push needs. I'll deal with a chapter or two a night... so on my week in review on the 27th, I'll announce what I think I need for the final push. I don't think it will be a lot.

Regardless, I'll probably set some short term goals for a couple of weeks at that time. Even if the WIP is done, I have other projects.

The next big dare which interests me is the A Round Of Words in 80 Days effort. It's a nice, freeform blogfest which has gone three times so far. They are currently in a "Round" until September 22. If they stay true to form, they should start the next round at the beginning of October, and it should last until around the end of the semester.

This is a better length and focus for me than NaNoWriMo. (For one thing, the rules of the game are flexible enough that you probably could do NaNo in the middle of it.) I'm going to set my goals lower this time, though: 625 words a day for 80 days, to make 50k words by the end. I need to do something which I know I will keep up every single day. I may even set the daily goal lower -- to 500 words -- and just have the overall goal a little higher so I'm not tempted to slack off from the minimum if I have a few good days in a row.

Drawings Of The Week

Nothing showing at the movies still. I have, however, been visually entertaining myself by looking at old issues of Punch magazine from WWI. Punch was kind of a cross between the funnier parts of the New Yorker, and Mad Magazine. Every issue chock full of pen and ink sketches like the one you see here from 1917.

These are in a technique I'd like to be able to do better myself. And the period, of course, is when I set The Misplaced Hero. So... I've decided to do a pencil sketch on scrap paper from some Punch cartoons every day until I feel comfortable to start playing with my own illustrations.

I haven't got anything worth showing yet, though, so I'm just posting the image from Punch. The artist in this case is L. R. Brightwell, a great illustrator who was in the army at the time. (The scene being depicted shows an officer giving an order in incomprehensible slang, and the private, who was an English professor before the war, having no idea what he's saying.)

Tasty Food of the Week - Hot Wings

We had a party at work (as we do whenever we can) and I made my version of "hot wings" -- which are a particularly succulent version. They are baked.

First line the baking pan with tinfoil. It makes cleaning up MUCH easier, and the foil is recyclable. Then....

The marinade is equal parts fresh squeezed lemon juice, Sriracha hot sauce, and dry sherry. (This makes a tasty substitute for "Red Hot" or "tabasco" sauces as well. I will often keep a squeeze bottle of it in the fridge.)

Arrange the wings in the pan, douse with the sauce and bake at 350 or so. Douse them with more sauce after fifteen minutes or so. Sometime after that, the pan should be accumulating juice from the chicken as well as the marinade. At that point, I'll just use that sauce to baste a couple more times, until they start to brown.

You don't have to baste after the first two bastings, mind you, but the more you baste, the more the hot sauce flavors the skin.

If they seem like they're done, but they havne't started to brown, you can turn the heat up a little to finish them off.

Serve with rice, celery and bleu cheese dressing. (Note, even if you don't like bleu cheese, you may want to give the taste combination a try. The bitter of the cheese really hops up the flavor of the wings, as well as cuts the heat.) I often include strips of sweet red pepper or even carrots with the celery. The sweet goes well with it all. Plus you need something healthy with this rich dish.

See you in the funny papers.


Anonymous said...

There was a spy movie in the can when they heard of the atomic bomb. They yanked it and reworked the dialogue to make it about a process used to make the bomb.

Sometimes it really doesn't matter.

The Daring Novelist said...

That's like the example Hitchcock uses: in NOTORIOUS the MacGuffin is uranium or plutonium. The script was written before Hiroshima, and before the idea of an atom bomb was generally known. It was a state secret.

The FBI contacted Hitch over this breech of security, and that's when Hitch told them he not only didn't know anything about it, he didn't care. It could be industrial diamonds for all it mattered to the plot.

I don't recall if he convinced them he wasn't revealing any secrets, or it was just that Hiroshima happened -- but by the time the movie went into production, they were able to stay with uranium.