Monday, February 20, 2012

Adventure? Excitement? A Jedi May Not Crave These Things But I'm No Jedi

It's Winter Break. That lovely time of year where there is no school that dates back to the 70s oil crisis when schools were given a week off to alleviate some of the heating costs in the northern part of the country. Winter break is writing time for me and I'm hacking away like crazy at Spring's Tempest. I think I've got a handle on things and I really think I can have this beast in some kind of decent shape by April. It's not going to be easy, but I know I can do it. And I figure it's time to return to the blog.

Winter Break is also one of those magical times you remember as a child because there were loads of adventures and excitement that often took place during that week. (Spring Break is another beast altogether!) I have fond memories of Winter Break. Getting in all kinds of exciting adventures (see what I did there?) hanging out with friends. So much of my high school days revolved around skiing during that time of my life, I always associate Winter Break with it. Because of my physical condition (bum hip and back), I haven't skied in close to 20 years and miss it terribly.

Life changes, we all know that, and instead of skiing, I'm hanging out with my little girl (almost 4) and my niece (4 1/2). We watched the movie "Up" this afternoon and, when I wasn't weeping or laughing, it got me thinking about the idea of the adventure story. Now, I seriously think that "Up" may be the best adventure movie I've seen since "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Raiders is an old movie. 31 years old, truth be told. And you want to know holds up. I recently did a lesson plan on suspense in writing and showed the opening 5 minutes of "Raiders." I had two classes full of inner city HS freshmen mesmerized by it and BEGGING to watch the rest of the movie, which we eventually did and they were just as mesmerized by it the second time. It fascinated me on many levels as I tried figuring out why a 30 year old movie with no CGI in it appealed to them on such a level.

What is it that makes a movie like "Up" or "Raiders of the Lost Ark" appeal to me? What is the appeal of "adventure?"

There's plenty of things to list, I'm sure. There needs to be excitement. There needs to be urgency. There almost certainly needs to be a McGuffin. There also needs to be some stakes. Without the stakes, there isn't much that adds any tension that is so important in the adventure story. But there was one thing that both of said movies had that I think is sorely missing in a lot of adventure stories now a Really. We've become so consumed, especially in YA lit, with addressing "issues" in our works that the fun of being a young person is completely overlooked. The fun of adventure is often sacrificed for some misbegotten message or theme the author is trying to cram in our cram holes.

YA isn't the only place this is happening. My first literary love, fantasy, is falling victim to this. The pursuit of "grittiness" and "realism" has sacrificed the sense of fun in the genre.

Fun doesn't mean you can't be serious. Fun doesn't mean you have to write something humorous. though there might be more of that in your story if you do. Fun has become like the word Romantic in a lot of ways. You absolutely can be serious when you write something is "fun" but you can

I want people to call my books "fun" when they are done reading them. I think Winter's Discord, while playing with some pretty serious themes at times, is a fun book. I think Sisters of Khoda is a book rooted in the concept of a "fun" fantasy. I think my YA scifi I was working on clearly embraced the concept of fun.

Where have I seen this recently? Well, I think Arthur Slade's Hunchback books do a hell of a job. They are fun books even though there is a clear sense of danger in all of them. Scott Westerfield's Leviathan books are the same things. Obviously, the above mentioned Up and the timeless Raiders are terrific examples. One other example I can think of is my friend Mike Winchell's book that I had the honor of reading. It had all the benchmarks of a good adventure story and was most excellent. It made a flight to Orlando a lot less boring.

Think of the adventures of your youth. Of your adolescence. Of you early 20s. They were fun on some level, right? Especially when there was law enforcement involved...okay, maybe you didn't have the same kind of fun I had when I was growing up.

Okay, back to writing.