What more can be said of Tom Cruise in sci-fi roles? He always seems to deliver, so I was expecting something a bit special when I sat down to watch Oblivion last week.
Things were looking good after half an hour; great sets, great scenery and great special effects. Cruise was, as usual, dry in his delivery of Jack’s lines and held my attention.
But then I noticed something odd; Andrea Risborough, as Jack’s girlfriend and teammate Victoria, was acting badly. I thought, ‘Oh yeah, she must be an android and this will all be explained properly later,’ but no, the further into the movie I got, the more it became apparent that Victoria was human, and therefore badly portrayed. I am not saying Risborough can’t act, but she must have been at least badly cast here. It makes all the scenes with Cruise wooden and the love-making scene was just embarrassing.
But then along comes Olga Kurylenko. I won’t spoil the plot by telling you what relationship she has with Jack, but her acting is convincing and the story began to take off.
Morgan Freeman then put in an appearance. His flying googles, stubbly beard and short, white hair worked very well, allowing him to bring a new level to the film in a very convincing way.
Little touches, like the Led Zeppelin song Ramble On, were nice. In general the soundtrack worked very well and the tempo of the film increased nicely.
The sets of sunken landmarks like the Brooklyn Bridge were a bit cliched. Such things have become overused in sci-fi movies since the original Planet of the Apes, but I didn’t mind too much.
The main twist of the movie only began to dawn on me in the second half of the movie, which may not be a bad thing, and then I was further confused by the appearance of Cruise’s double. Being confused is something I expect to feel during a good sci-fi movie so all was good.
The climax of the movie is a sacrificial scene and it worked very well; the music suited and the action was muted, but poignant. I was convinced and felt my time had been well-spent.
Do not read on if you want to watch the movie and don’t want to know the ending.
Ready to turn the TV off, I saw what I hoped was the postscript scene with Olga Kurylenko. I thought, ‘Ah! Now we will see that there is a child and she is happy and they both lived happily ever after.’ Jack’s rebel mates then appeared and – horror of horrors – Jack himself! My mind was double-taking and reeling with the stupidity of a director who had just delivered a decent sci-fi movie.
We then find out that Jack has survived, sort of. I turned the TV off in disgust.
Why, oh why, do Hollywood producers insist on happy endings? And why, oh why, do directors go along with it? This was a very decent movie without the final scene. I can just see the producers saying, “No, we can’t have the take-home message that Jack has killed himself to save Earth. It must be that Cruise heroes always survive, no matter what!”
God help us if there is a post-generation-X bunch of kids who believe any of this tripe!
Four stars for everything except the last 5 minutes. A molten asteroid for that bit!
So you have your plot of Rudolph’s adventures all worked out and you know where the climax and twist will be. Now you are considering writing the climax and want to know how to show tension when Rudolph can’t get the tractor down a narrow alleyway, or gets stuck in a snowdrift. So how do you show the tension?
It’s not as easy as you might think!
Action Words and Expletives
The first rule is to use more action words when you are writing action sequences. These are words like ‘ripped,’ ‘spun,’ ‘yelled,’ ‘wrenched,’ and ‘panted.’
Here is an example. See how this sentence sounds quite calm.
– He knew he needed to get through the door. He put down the axe and walked up to the door. He pulled on the handle and it opened. He went thought the opening and all was well.
That definitely lacks tension. Let’s try it again:
– He had to get through the door. He only had seconds left! He threw his axe down, spun round and leaped toward the door. Grabbing the handle, he pulled and pulled but the door wouldn’t budge. Using all his strength, he gave it one last almighty heave and wrenched the door open. The wood cracked and splintered as the lock broke, and he was through!
“What’s the problem Rudolph?” Santa yelled.
“The door! It’s bloody stuck!”
Okay, so I went a bit over the top there; it’s twice as long. But it’s much more exciting.
Notice the use of words like ‘grabbing,’ ‘cracked.’
Also notice saying ‘had to’ instead of ‘knew he needed to.’ Forget about considered thought in tight situations. People just act and think later when they are desperate. This is one place where we definitely don’t need to know what the hero is thinking.
Also note the use of an expletive (swear word) by Rudolph. You might not want to use expletives in your writing but it’s a fact that people swear a lot when under pressure. Leave swear words out and you risk losing realism.
For the last reason above, short sentences are good in action sequences. We want simple action, and short sentences tend to increase the pace.
Another trick is to use time. If the hero is not only fighting against an evil adversary or obstinate door, but also against the clock, this will dramatically increase tension.
I used this a great deal in Ordo Lupus and the Temple Gate.
Adversity or Obstacles
Elements of adversity of obstacle can also add tension. In the example above the door wouldn’t open easily and he had to wrench it open. Small accidents can also increase tension. He needs a key to unlock the door but he drops it, as people do when tense or in a hurry. Both accidents and obstacles also prolong the tension, which also helps create tension.
Use of Commas
The use of less commas during action sequences can increase tension, but this is a technique not all authors employ. If you try it, you still need to observe good grammar rules.
A Word of Warning about Length of Description
As you probably noticed in my example above, quite often action sequences can make the prose longer. For this reason, you will need to allow a bit more space for describing action, perhaps as much as 50% more space. But on the other hand, if you use short sentences carefully and avoid any description of inner feeling, you can sometimes keep the prose in action scenes as short as elsewhere.
Slowing the Pace
It may sound crazy, but sometimes you will want to slow the pace!
You can’t have climactic scenes throughout the whole book. This would be exhausting to read, and would ignore the whole point of climaxes. But you may want more than one climax. In The Devil’s Own Dice I knew there would be a big battle in the middle of the story. Inevitably this has to be very tense and a climax of some sort. But I didn’t want it to be the final climax. This made things tricky. I got round it by making the lead up to the battle quite leisurely and keeping the tension high afterwards. I also had a strong ‘insight’ scene after the battle, so that we see a previous love affair in detail and how it affected the main character. This kept the pace up, because of the tension of an affair, but also allowed the reader a bit of a contrast to battle. I had to make sure the final climax was even more exciting, but on the whole I think the reader feels they got a bonus, rather than a let down
Using Chapter Breaks and Scene Switching
I put these 2 factors together because they sometimes amount to the same thing.
Because you will want the climax somewhere near the end of the book, each chapter should, on the whole, be more gripping than the last. This drags the reader along and won’t let them put the book down. For this reason, you should normally end each chapter on a cliff-hanger. That is, they should either be just about to learn something, or have just seen some action but not know the outcome. This will make the reader want to turn the next page.
If the book has a large cast and a complex arena of action such as the invasion of Earth in my science fiction book Worlds Like Dust, you might try switching between different areas of action, either at section breaks or chapter breaks, rather than trying to describe it all simultaneously. Allowing yourself to describe one piece of action completely before switching to another increases tension, because the reader is wondering in the back of their mind what has happened to so-and-so in the other scene. Tolkien does this brilliantly in Lord of the Rings. You must handle continuity very carefully when you do this.
So, in conclusion, to vary pace, use:
Action Words and Expletives
Adversity or Obstacles
Reduced Number of Commas
Chapter Breaks and Scene Switching
Join me for the final part of this series 6. Editing in two weeks’ time.
Let me know what you think of my tutorials by commenting below:
I wanted to let you know that I will only be posting every second Monday from now on. I have to focus very hard on my latest novel and the real world tends to intrude as well so I don’t have to much time.
If you really want exclusive inside information on what I am working on, what is coming up, competitions freebies AND THREE FREE THRILLERS, then you need to sign up for the Lazlo Newsletter.
You will always find a page with the link to the Newsletter in the menu at the top of all my blog pages.
Short post this weekend because I am hard at work on the June Newsletter. This month: no less than 3 chances to win free books and one of those gives you the chance to spend an hour with me onlie for an interview and keep a copy of the interview to share with your friends! There is still time to sign up for the Newsletter here – If you sign up before Friday 10 July, I will send you a copy of this month’s Newsletter. After that, no dice!
Two other things to mention for this Independence Day in the USA:
Lotus is Free from today 3 July until 7 July at 8am EST.
Lotus is an encounter between a soul and Satan. Satan uses every trick possible to torture the soul, who is reincarnated at Satan’s whim but eventually Game Theory proves the undoing of one of them! Click here to get the deal!
Attack Hitler’s Bunker!
This wartime thriller has just been accepted for translation and distribution in China so to celebrate, I am offering it in an Amazon Countdown Deal. This means it will drop to 99 cents from 8am on 4 July and gradually climb back up to its usual price of $2.99 by 11 July 12am PST. So hurry because it will only be at 99 cents for a day or two! Click here to get the deal!
Another great vote this week; which is the best scifi vehicle of all time?
The choice is HUGE but below are just a few suggestions to get you started. Please nominate your favourites by commenting here or tweet me @Lazlo_F or message me on Facebook. The nomination deadline will be 22 June at 5pm. Then we will vote!
Ein weiterer großer Stimme in dieser Woche; Welches ist das beste SciFi Fahrzeug aller Zeiten?
Die Auswahl ist riesig Gewinn Hier sind nur ein paar Vorschläge, um Ihnen den Einstieg. Bitte benennen Sie Ihre Favoriten von hier zu kommentieren oder tweet ich Lazlo_F gold Nachricht auf mich Facebook. Der Nominierungsfrist wird am 22. Juni 17.00 Uhr sein. Dann werden wir abstimmen!
Un autre grand vote cette semaine; qui est le meilleur véhicule de scifi de tous les temps?
Le choix est énorme, mais ci-dessous sont quelques suggestions pour vous aider à démarrer. S’il vous plaît nommer vos favoris en commentant ici ou tweet moi Lazlo_F ou un message moi sur Facebook. La date limite de mise en candidature sera de 22 Juin à 17 heures. Ensuite, nous allons voter!
I woke up this morning wondering what to blog about and I decided the best post would be about the subject of my pondering at the moment; what makes a good hero?
Everyone (well, in the West anyway) will know who Marlon Brando is, possibly the greatest and certainly one of the greatest actors of all time. Martin Freeman plays Bilbo Baggins in the recent Hobbit films.
I am as big a fan of Bilbo as anybody and nobody can deny Bilbo is the hero of The Hobbit. What is more, he is an ‘everyman.’ What that means is that everyone can identify with his situation because he is just a normal guy. Brando, on the other hand, rarely plays normal guys; from The Wild One to Superman and Apocalypse Now, nearly all his characters are superhuman or out-and-out rebels; men on the edge of society.
Here are my reviews of two of his films that I watched recently. After you have read these, I will ask the question again:
Marlon Brando in The Young Lions
I have been trying to view this 1958 film since my father watched it and recommended it, about ten years ago. He is not a huge fan of Brando and not one to recommend films very often so my interest was piqued. The film proved hard to find; a trip to Virgin and HMV in Oxford Street(at the time) produced nothing and not been able to stream it on-demand since. I tend to watch films when I am in the mood; one day a film might be just what I want, the next day what I definitely don’t want so ordering it from Amazon just wasn’t gonna work for me. A friend finally got it for me and so I was set.
The film starts promisingly enough with Brando, as Christian, a young German ski-instructor, wooing the delicious Hope Lange. But then we are ‘treated’ to nearly half an hour of very mundane acting by Dean Martin (only recently out of his partnership with Jerry Lewis) and a struggling Montgomery Clift. I have seen Clift acting well but for the first hour in this film, he is wooden or overwrought by turns. His tone is so misjudged, I found it hard to watch and Martin is of course not an actor of even Clift’s calibre.
I was beginning to lose hope that we would see Brando on form but he finally reappeared, now as an SS officer in Paris. He meets a friend who sets him up on a blind date with a French girl, whose husband has been killed by the Nazis. “Okay; fireworks! ” I hear you say and you’d be right, She throws the wine Brando just bought her in his face and Christian, with his oft-employed stoic look, listens to her rant without comment for what must be a couple of minutes of screen gold.
Of course he is so tolerant and charming that she has to forgive him in the end and they strike a flame together. Christian has to arrest a Jewish boy but reacts by refusing to make any more arrests and risks a firing squad when ge confronts his commanding officer.
“Ah this is the Brando we love!” I thought. “A rebel within the SS! What a gem!”
His commanding officer takes pity on Christian’s humanity and sends him on an errand to deliver a silk nightie to his own wife, back in Berlin. Brando is happy to get some leave and thus meets the gorgeous and Deitrich-like May Britt. With half-lidded eyes she tells him he can sleep on the couch and help himself to as much schnapps as he can hold while she beds a general.
Christian takes up her offer and later beds her but he doesn’t like her and nor does she care for him.
The strange relationship tension between Christian and his commander weaves a thread right through the film to near the end when Christian has to deliver another gift to Britt’s character in a ruined Berlin. This time, he can’t even find pity for her and takes out his pent up rage about the pointless war on her.
Of course Martin and Clift have parts which run parallel to Brando’s but while theirs is the simple story of all-american-boys making good in the war, albeit a Jewish underdog in the case of Clift, these only serve to highlight just how unusual and complex Brando’s part is. No doubt he worked hard to accentuate this but he hardly needed to; his acting alone lifts the film far beyond what it might otherwise be. He looks the part as the blonde-haired SS uber-soldier but of course he has a weakness in the eyes of his superiors – he is human.
The final scenes play out in, and around a liberated concentration camp. The film is poignant for the inclusion of Clift’s Jew liberating such a horror and Brando delivers a final scene that tops even that (as you would expect) and I am not giving it away.
All in all, well worth a watch if you like a war movie with a little Brando to spice it up! Oh and watch out for a very early performance from Lee van Cleef as a drill sergeant.
I watched this 1997 film simply because it is one of the few Brando movies I haven’t seen and it was available on Youtube. I didn’t expect too much from this, the only full-length Johnny Depp directed film to date, although it also has Johnny Depp in the lead role and a cameo from Brando so I expected to at least be competent.
I quickly realised that this film was so obscure and unloved by Hollywood that I could watch it free not because it was bad but because of the subject matter. It’s certainly not an uplifting movie and no doubt the distributors and marketing people had their heads in their hands on this one!
Depp plays a Mexican Indian who is struggling to support his small family on a reserve that essentially survives by recycling stuff from the municipal dump of white people. In and out of jail all his life, he is offered the chance to ‘star’ in a snuff movie for Brando’s McCarthy. He takes the job, knowing it will pay to rehouse his family and educate his children but later regrets it.
The scenes in the rubbish dump are harrowing; Depp’s family sleeping in a tiny caravan, surrounded by waste and his trips further and further up river to find clean water, which he collects in plastic pales hung from a yoke over his back, turned my stomach.
His life is so bad, you can almost understand why he takes up the snuff movie offer… almost … but not quite. When he visits McCarthy in a downtown warehouse he sees the iron torture chair he will be strapped into for the first time. I could barely watch from this point on. Depp underplays his role, playing the stoic American Indian brave trapped in a sick world by uttering very few words, instead using facial expressions silence to communicate his feelings of entrapment.
Brando is incredible! He rolls himself into the warehouse in a wheelchair, while playing a sad blues tune on a harmonica (for real; Brando was a highly accomplished musician, drummer and dancer) and proceeds to take apart the whole concept of death, to the point that he makes it almost sound like a higher-calling. Of course Depp’s character isn’t fooled but he takes the cash and McCarthy tells him to come back in a week.
“Why would you trust me to come back?” Depp asks him (I am paraphrasing here)
“I have a feeling for people; a sensitivity. A man, such as yourself, a man of spirit, is a man of honour.”
This movie is well-worth watching if you care at all about the struggle of some communities to overcome prejudice and inequality. It is heart-breaking to watch what one man has to contemplate in order to provide for his family. I am not very tolerant of pain myself and McCarthy’s answer; “It depends on how much you can take,” when Depp’s character asks him how much he will get, really made me squirm. I simply cannot put this film out of my mind. Of course if you are a person who likes to see the world through rose-tinted glasses, don’t watch this film. But don’t ever look behind you again.
That’s the reviews over. Now back to the question. I am thinking about my next book and it often helps me to think of a Hollywood actor when planning the main character’s role. Here I have got a bit stuck; I see a plot with an old-time Hollywood actor called William Holden. I guess in some ways you could say he is like Martin Freeman in that you probably wouldn’t pick say he was a flamboyant character or would stand out in a crowd.
The trouble is, I worry that such a book would not have a wide enough appeal because the character is not larger-than-life. I get the feeling big epic themes need big epic characters and I wonder if a Brando/Pacino/Russell Crowe type character would work better.
Which type of character do you like best? Let me know by commenting below or @Lazlo_F or on Facebook.