Let’s Talk About “Beyond the Lights”

Like so many of you (who have heard of Beyond the Lights), I was not sure if it would be worth the 2 hours and $13. However, it’s a love story starring a bi-racial artist and an African American aspiring politician that’s written/directed by the person behind the classic Love and Basketball. So of course I watched it.

For those of you who don’t know. It’s a movie about Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a pop-star who attempts to jump off a building, but is literally saved by Kaz (Nate Parker), a noble police officer who wants to save the world through public service. From there their love grows.

And I loved it. Oh, how I loved it. Do you understand that Beyond the Lights represents everything I want to accomplish as a storyteller?! Here’s why:

  • It’s character driven. The plot isn’t completely original, but the characters are well-written and well-acted in this case. As we get to know them throughout the movie, their actions and reactions make sense.
  • It’s a love story. I love love stories and I hadn’t seen a really good one in a while. This was a good one.
  • It’s a love story starring non-white people. I don’t like this concept of telling a story where the characters “just happen to be black” because I feel like that aspect of one’s identity shouldn’t be ignored, even if it’s not the point of the story. I think this movie does a good job being a love story first, but also acknowledging the unique backgrounds of the characters. For example, the main character Noni is biracial (not uncommon), but she actually has a white parent – Minnie Driver – who plays a major role in her life (surprisingly uncommon)! I mean it’s so obvious and easy to have a bi-racial person depicted with a white parent, but how often do mixed people actually see themselves represented in that way?
  • The music was awesome. It was sooo on point, and helped tell the story. That’s the thing about fiction, it has to make sense. You can’t just have any song playing in the background and at any moment, every detail has to help move the story along—and in this case it did.

I encourage you to check the movie out!!  Or at least the soundtrack! 🙂

 

 

Progress, Nicholas Sparks, and Why I’m Confident This Novel Will At Least Be Original

So I have about 349 days to complete my novel.   Two weeks ago (when I had 350 words) that meant I had to write about 200 words a day to reach my goal.  Of course, my birthday, bachelorette parties and Inauguration weekend got in the way, so I didn’t work on this for an entire week.  Then when I looked back on the 350 words I had written, I realized they were horrible!  Normally horribleness wouldn’t bother me (since high school I’ve had the strategy of first getting words on the page and then editing, editing, editing) but the piece was really heading in the wrong direction.  My few paragraphs were in the first person, had a very casual tone, and honestly sounded way too much like me and this blog!  My hope is for this novel to be a bit (OK a LOT) more sophisticated than this thing.

While living my life and pondering about how to proceed next, I cautiously shared a high level version of my plot idea to an acquaintance.  Her response was that the premise reminded her of a novel written by Nicholas Sparks (he wrote The Notebook, A Walk to Remember, Safe Haven and more).  Thankfully, she didn’t refer to one of the ones that became a movie, but her response did annoy me for 5 seconds…until I realized that any idea I have probably exists in some form somewhere.  So instead of running away from the news, I decided to embrace it.

I purchased the book she mentioned and started reading.  Immediately I was inspired. When I think of Nicholas Sparks, I think of break-your-heart romance, and that’s exactly what I’m going for.   I haven’t finished it yet, but already it has given me an idea about how to structure my story.  Specifically, his novel is written by the point of view of both the man and the woman in the relationship.  Waaaay back in the day, that’s how I originally envisioned my story.  Back then, it was Disappearing Acts by Terry McMillan that had come to mind.  I moved away from that because I thought it would be too difficult to execute; however, now I think my original instincts were correct.  I want to take people inside of a relationship, and the best way to do that is to hear both sides of the story.  This will also ensure that I understand both of the main characters really well—not just the woman (who is NOT going to be me!!)  AND it nixes the whole first person perspective.  I could be wrong, but I feel like the first person point of view is more casual or something.  Or maybe it will just be hard for me to  make it not casual.  Either way, I feel good about this move.

In terms of the whole this-is just-like-this-other-novel thing—I’m just not worried about that ish. As soon as I started reading the Sparks book, I became confident that the experiences informing my writing will simply not be anything like those that informed Sparks, McMillan or any other writer who published a novel about a relationship! Therefore, I know mine will be original. 🙂 Whew! Glad I got over that!

So where am I at now?   Well, I deleted my 350 words.  I tried to just start free writing again, but that didn’t work so I went back to my old post about the snowflake method!  I’ve started working on this daily—fleshing out the plot and characters, but haven’t started producing yet.  At first I thought I would do this after work, but I just can’t.  So it’s been happening for an hour before I go to work.  Hopefully it will last.  Either way, I’m so happy to be making progress!!

Love is a Drug

broken heartSo today, I’m going to do something out of the norm.  I’m going to discuss an idea that I will write within the next couple of weeks.  Meaning, I’m actually going to write some fiction! Seriously!  My writing group has been meeting for a couple of months now and it’s reaching the point where I should try to produce something rather than simply drink other people’s wine, eat cookies and share my wisdom.  Side note: in case you’re wondering what I, who has no creative writing experience beyond the class where I met these people, offer the group, it’s this: the perspective of a random person who feels like reading a story. 🙂  In other words, I choose to critique as a consumer, asking, if I purchased a book/magazine that included this piece of fiction, what would I think? Would I be satisfied? Confused? Bored? Distracted by factual errors?  I do this because, despite studying History and Literature, I don’t like to provide, like, deep literary analysis.  When I read fiction, I’m looking for an enjoyable experience.  What I’m saying is,  I’m not looking to study and analyze fiction anymore, I just want to think and feel. Lalala.

But back to THE IDEA.  Basically, I’m thinking about writing a short story from the point of view of an addict.  Not because I’m an addict (I’m not), and not because Whitney Houston’s death made me cry (it did).  Rather, as I lived my life (aka my research),  I’ve had the reoccurring sense that being in love is like an addiction.  I know what love is like, so can I use that experience to write a story about, you know, substance abuse? We’ll see. Don’t get me wrong—I love love.  But it does essentially require one to, in many ways, prioritize something else over themselves.  Typically this is a positive thing, which is why relationships and families are wonderful.  However, love, or the idea of losing love (much like drugs/alcohol or the idea of losing drugs/alcohol), can make people do some pretty crazy things: they may stop doing the activities they enjoy, alienate themselves from friends and family, quit their jobs, go against their core convictions or beliefs, spend crazy amounts of money, etc.  In extreme cases, they are willing to endure physical abuse to their bodies or even die! And, of course, once someone has decided quit, there are the withdrawal symptoms.  Trying to recover from addiction (be it to a substance or a person), one endures stress, weight loss, anxiety, among other things.  They have their good days and their bad days, and require a tremendous amount of strength to stay away from things that may send them spiraling back down the wrong path.  In the case of love that might avoiding a specific, toxic person rather than staying away from love itself (although, I do believe people run into problems when try to avoid deep relationships altogether).  So that’s something I plan to explore.  We’ll see how it goes.  Later dudes!