Search

JPC Allen Writes

Inspiration for Beginning Writers

Writing Tips — Favorite Movies: Film Noir

grainw1-3026099_1280For over a year now, I’ve been faithfully tuning in each week to Noir Alley, a franchise on Turner Classic Movies where the Czar of Noir, Eddie Muller introduces a movie from the classic period this genre, 1940-1960. Since almost all the movies deal with crime, it’s small wonder I like film noir. It’s sort of the tough, blue-collar cousin of classic murder mysteries. If you aren’t familiar with this kind of movie, here’s a crash course in it’s basic elements that I discussed last August.

Along with a distinct visual style which often included  low-key lighting and deep shadows, classic film noir contained at least one or more of the following elements:

  • A weak, male character
  • A femme fatale — she manipulates the weak male
  • A private eye — who may be either weak or strong
  • A determined, good woman — usually, she is trying to rescue the weak male.  (These weak, male characters are a a lot of trouble.)
  • Corrupt authorities — including the police
  • An innocent man or woman convicted of a crime — see weak, male character
  • Characters doomed by fate or their pasts
  • Greed and opportunities to make huge scores
  •  Caper film — from Film Noir by Alain Silver, The audience sees a crime from the criminals POV. And during or after the execution of the crime, Something Goes Wrong.
  • Couple on the Run — from Film Noir. The couple can be innocent, fleeing from a trumped up charge, or guilty and trying to escape the police.

The setting for most of these is the gritty, corrupt city. A few movies from this time period can be labeled country noir, movies with noir themes set in a rural location — On Dangerous Ground, They Drive By Nightand one of my favorites InfernoMovies with film noir themes were made after 1960, and still are, but the two decades during and after WWII was when the genre was being created and when it was most popular.

The main reason I love film noir is that it deals with epic emotions, like trust, betrayal, greed, self-sacrifice, and more, in a realistic setting. Producers and directors today seem to think you can only explore these themes in fantasy stories, like with superheroes. Our civilized, technology-crazed society doesn’t seem to leave plausible reasons for a main character to follow an epic course of events.

For example, a story set in America today could have the best friend of the main character (MC) murdered. MC helps the police by answering their questions. As the police conduct their investigation, MC turns to friends, family, and professional counselor to deal with the loss. Some writers could make that story compelling. I’m not one of them.

I would take the film noir route. Because the local authorities are corrupt, my MC would begin her own investigation. When she got too close to the truth, she would have to rely on her own wits because she can’t trust the authorities. Or if MC is a criminal, he battles on his own because the police would do him no good. This isolation of the MC helps generate dramatic story arcs.

That’s why my YA novel and the short story being published in November are both country noir. I love showing readers that dramas with high emotions and higher stakes can take place in contemporary settings. And the rural locations of my stories help isolate my good guys.

Do you like film noir? Or what other crime or mystery movies do you like?

Monday Sparks — Writing Prompts: Who Are Your Favorite Movie Villains?

canvasw-3001164_1280A hero looks even better matched with a worthy villain. Would Sherlock Holmes have near the enduring popularity if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle hadn’t invented Professor Moriarity to combat him? A couple of my favorites are:

Supreme Chancellor Palpatine from Star Wars: Attack of the Clones and Star Wars: Revenge of the SithThe Chancellor is a wonderful villain before he becomes the evil Emperor. I wish the writers had given him more scenes because actor Ian McDiarmid does such a marvelous job of conveying the character’s insidious campaign of seducing Anakin Skywalker to the Dark Side. His scene with Anakin in a theater lets you figure out just how evil the Chancellor is.

Harry Lime from The Third ManIn this film noir, American Holly Martins comes to Vienna right after WWII to meet his friend Harry Lime only to learn that his friend has died in a car accident. Martins suspects murder and conducts his own investigation. The character of Harry Lime is discussed throughout the investigation, and the audience gets to know him from the various descriptions from different characters. It all builds to a intriguing picture of a charming rogue, who, at some point, abandoned the charm, and is now a murderous rogue. I don’t want to spoil the movie, but Harry Lime is one of the all time great villains of movie history.

Who are your favorite movie villains?

 

Writing Tip — Just For Fun

dandelionw-3637041_1280I found this photo, and the lines for the poem immediately popped into my head. I only had to work on the last line.

Writing Tip — Writing in Time: Road Trip as Writing Inspiration

roadw-4125391_1280I love to drive. I especially like to drive in rural areas. Highways get so boring. So it’s fortunate that I live in the U.S. and in the Buckeye State where there are plenty of rural roads to satisfy my wanderlust. Although road trips can happen at any time of the year, summer seems made for this kind of adventure. Below are three advantages to using road trips as writing inspiration.

Limits of Technology

If a car blows a tire, you either fix it yourself or wait for road service. There is no digital quick-fix, and that’s true for any car malfunction, making such mishaps perfect for adding tension to a story. Another technology plot point is for your characters to drive in a rural area that has spotty or no reception. How do the characters cope?

Even when technology is working, Something Can Go Horribly Wrong. I’ve had recent experience with this when my family and I drove to Blackwater Falls State Park. Because we made a detour to lay flowers on the graves of relatives in Shinnston, the GPS routed us a different way from the one we took two years ago.

As we approached Parsons, the county seat where the state park is located, I was surprised the GPS indicated getting away from the state route I knew would take us right to the park and plotted a course through a tiny town called St. George. Always ready to see new sights, I told my husband to take it.

The road out of St. George wound up the mountain, just like the state route, except that it was one and a half lanes with turns so sharp you couldn’t see oncoming traffic. At one point, the edge of our lane had crumbled down a steep cliff. My husband, a man without any Mountaineer blood in his veins, bravely followed the road and saw us safely to the top of the ridge, where we reconnected with the state route. He did wipe his sweaty hands on his jeans shorts all the time he was driving, though.

We still have no idea why the GPS would recommend such a route. But it’s a great plot point to remember if I’m writing about a road trip and the narrative begins to stall.

Fish Out of Water

“Fish Out of Water” stories are always fun and a great source of tension when you throw your main character out of her comfortable habitat. Maybe she’s accompanying her new fiancee to meet his parents in a part of the country she’s never been to. A new salesperson could be heading into unfamiliar territory. An aspiring writer drives into a new state to attend a conference. (This is slightly autobiographical.)

Family Commitments

We often endure great inconveniences and hardships for the sake of friends and family. Road trips fit that bill. They also give your characters plausible reasons to make decisions that under other circumstances readers might find unbelievable.

Great-grandma has died. Main character wants to go to the funeral, three states away, and is broke. So he grits his teeth and asks to ride with a cousin he can’t stand.

A quarreling husband and wife must endure a long drive to the graduation of a relative.

Trying to get to a wedding, a family accepts help from a passing driver when their car breaks down.

How would you use a road trip as writing inspiration?

Monday Sparks — Writing Prompts: Who Are Your Favorite Movie Heroes?

filmklappew-818198_1280This month’s theme is movies and how being a classic movie fan has influenced my writing.

So who are your favorite movie heroes, characters you will watch over and over again? Here are a few of mine:

  • Sherlock Holmes: I will try most Sherlock Holmes movies, but I haven’t watched the ones staring Robert Downey, Jr. because, physically, he is so unlike my vision of the character that I don’t think I could buy him as the Great Detective.
  • Amateur detectives: I love movies in which a non-professional investigates a mystery. Underdogs have always appealed to me.
  • Unlikely heroes: I know this is pretty broad, but what I mean is when a movie creates a hero that breaks usual movie stereotypes. I’ve only seen parts of a 1943 horror movie called The Return of the Vampire but the parts I have seen I’ve enjoyed because the characters tackling the vampire are not a well-muscled young hero and his brave girlfriend, but a middle-aged women and a almost-retirement-age police inspector, who are trying to thwart the vampire’s efforts to capture the fiancée  of the women’s son.

Who are your favorite movie heroes?

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑