How do you find the time to write?
Can you be a writer when you have a full-time job?
Or a family?
I have a brilliant story idea but I’m just so busy…
The above are all questions are just a few ways people have essentially asked me “how can I be a writer if I don’t have time?” Every time I hear it I have a mixed reaction. I like it because it shows that these people understand that writing is a craft that takes time and work and dedication. It shows they respect that it doesn’t just magically happen. As a writer, I appreciate that because many, many people think writers just throw some words on a page, easy as pie.
On the other hand, I absolutely abhor the question. The reason I dislike it is because writing is like anything else someone wants to do, if they really want to do it they find the time. There’s no magical secret to how writers find time to write, they just make it happen.
That being said, I know some people will still want ideas for finding time to write, so here are some ways I find time to write when I am slammed with other life responsibilities:
If you really want to write, then you’re going to have to find the time elsewhere. If you don’t want to cut back on work, hobbies, free time, etc., then your other option is to cut back on sleep. Either get up an hour earlier, or go to bed an hour later, and use that time to write. You don’t have to do it every day, even an hour a week will add up in the long-term. The point is, the time has to come from somewhere and sleep is something everyone can cut back on now and then without too much consequence. So pick a day a week to try it and go from there.
Can you eat lunch and type at the same time? How about when you’re watching a movie or listening to music? Can you talk while you do household chores? What about when you’re driving or hiking or whatever your hobby is? When I’m on long road trips I use a tape recorder to plot and outline, develop characters, and sometimes even write a few pages. You can do this while out and about doing things like hiking and such as well. I know several authors who do this, and some even send the audio out to be transcribed for them to make things easier. It takes some adjustment to get used to writing in this fashion, and it’s not always your best writing, but getting something down on the page so that the next time you have a break you can revise it makes for better progress than not writing at all.
Every Spare Minute
Basically, this is the main option. Every spare minute you have you try to write. Even if it’s just you wake up in the morning and jot a line down, take a shower, jot another line, eat breakfast, jot a line, go to work, jot a line a lunch, work some more and jot a line again a dinner and before bed. If you do that all day you should at least have a paragraph if not a whole page. Writing is done one word at a time, and while it’s not the most efficient method for writing, the little lines add up throughout the days/weeks/months and before you know it you’ll have a finished piece of work. So anytime you can add another word, sentence, paragraph, and so on, you should.
I know the above advice is nothing brilliant or even particularly new, but sometimes as writers we all need reminders that if we want to write, we have to find time for ourselves. There’s no magic secret or perfect writing opportunity that’s going to appear in your schedule. You use the time you have, any way you can, using any medium available, to get words on the page. Yes, it may not be efficient or look anything like the “dream writer’s life” but you’ll be writing, and you can’t be a writer if you don’t write.
Robin Conley offers great writing advice in her Monthly Memo on Writing to be Read. If you just can’t wait until next month to find out more, you can pop into her blog, Author the World, for more tips, or a weekly writing prompt.
Since this month’s memo date falls near Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d write about how to pick your protagonist’s love interest for a story. I find you can’t always decide on the dynamic between a couple until you write out their first meeting. So with that in mind, here is how I go about doing that.
To start, we need to first pick your core protagonist. If you have one in mind, that’s great, skip to Step Two below. If not, begin at Step One.
Step One: Pick your protagonist.
An easy way I find to create a core protagonist when I’m really struggling is to think of three people I know. Then I think of a prominent personality trait for each of them.
Person 1: Talks too much, and rambles.
Person 2: Is obsessed with dogs.
Person 3: Is always negative.
Try to pick traits that don’t overshadow each other. So don’t pick traits like one loves cats and the other loves dogs. Once you have the three traits, combine them to create the partial personality for your new protagonist. Using those traits as a jumping point, come up with other details about the character you are creating. Male or female? Age range? Occupation?
For mine, we’ll say it’s a female, who is a vet, and who is in her late 20s.
Keep expanding the details of your protagonist until you feel like you have a good general idea of who they are.
Step Two: Find the love interest.
If you already have a protagonist in mind, make sure you can describe them as if they were one of your friends you’ve known for years. What’s their hobby, what’s their job, what’s their secret wish, what’s their favorite thing in the world, and what’s their biggest pet peeve? You should be able to at least answer the above questions, but preferably much, much more.
Once you have the general idea of the protagonist, it’s time to find their love interest. Whenever I have to find a love interest, I always make a list of the places my character is most likely to be because these are the places the love interest is most likely to be found.
For my example: My character is most likely to be in her vet’s office, at home, or maybe volunteering at an animal shelter. So the place she’s most likely to meet her future love interest is in one of those places. Let’s go with at the Vet’s office.
Once you choose where they may meet, then it’s time to choose who the love interest is. What kind of person would go to that place? For mine, it’s clearly going to be a pet owner, or maybe a vendor selling vet supplies, or even a coworker. I chose the easy one, pet owner.
Now go through the character building questions again – what does this love interest look like? What do the like to do? Why are they at this place interacting with your protagonist? Do they share any of the same personality traits as your protagonist? Do they starkly contrast to any traits? I usually like to have one strong thing that the two characters connect with (for mine, a love of animals), and then I have two or three things they can disagree on and fight over (for mine, attitude and the proper treatment for the pet).
Step Three: The first interaction.
The key to every love story, in my opinion, is the first interaction. In general, I find that love story first meetings go one of three ways: either the couple feels an instant spark, they instantly hate each other, or they barely notice each other at all except mild acknowledgment. So decide which of the three ways your meeting is going to go.
If they’re going to get along, decide what they instantly connect on and go with it. Write the scene and let try to make it last a few pages in the first draft. Show the strength of their immediate connection. Is it just physical, or is it mental, or both? Do they plan to meet again? Or never again? Explore the scene and free write a bit, you can cut it down later.
If they’re going to fight, then what is it that’s going to make them hate each other? Since my protagonist is always negative, I think it would work best if she and the pet owner get in a fight initially. She wants him to treat his dog with a specific medicine, but he’s adamant that he wants to treat the dog naturally. Whatever your characters are fighting about, write the scene.
It’s generally works better if they can both be somewhat right, because you want them both to be likable. So for mine, I wouldn’t make the illness for the dog anything serious, maybe something minor like fleas, and then the fight isn’t something that would make the owner, or the vet, unlikable.
If they’re barely going to notice each other, they still have to connect on some small scale so there is something to build their relationship on as the story progresses. So what is the small detail they’re each going to remember about each other? Do they both buy the same item in a store? Do they both do something kind for the same stranger without knowing it? Does something one does have a positive impact on the other somehow?
Write the scene and see what transpires between your protagonist and new love interest. Remember, you aren’t writing the entire relationship, you’re writing the first meeting. You want to leave room for their relationship to grow and develop. So make sure when the pair parts, there’s room for things to continue changing between them.
I really think the first meeting is the key to developing any relationship because it sets the tone for everything to come in the story for that couple. Once you have that first meeting right on paper, then you can build the rest of the relationship from there.
Until next month, happy writing!
As almost every writer knows, anywhere you go to discuss writing will always have someone proclaiming their tried and true rules for writing that you MUST follow. Post on any writing forum whether it be for screenwriting or fiction and you’ll find dozens, if not hundreds, of eager “expert” or “professional” writers ready to tell you exactly which rules matter and which are hogwash. Yes, many of these writers have published novels or sold scripts and are professionals in the industry, but does that mean their rules are THE rules to follow?
Let me say that again – Absolutely not. Just because someone has sold a script or published a novel or piece of writing doesn’t mean that they will be able to give you rules to writing that will be guaranteed to work on your story. If you put every writer who ever sold something in a room and asked them to come up with a master list of writing rules it’d be impossible. There’d be factions who think you can never write in present tense and others who think a description of the weather should never start a novel.
There’d be groups who think the epitome of literary or cinematic genius is one specific piece of work, and others who think that same work is a crock of shit. If the people who are actually selling works of writing cannot agree on what makes good writing, and which writing rules are always true, then how on earth can a newbie writer even dream of making it in the industry, let alone be brave enough to even try to put words on the page?
Ultimately, all of this boils down to one single fact about writing: There are hundreds of rules for writing, but one of those rules is that there are no rules. Now before you dip out of this article, because that’s a useless piece of advice in the previous sentence, give me a chance to elaborate.
Writing is a subjective thing. Every story is going to require following a different mix of rules to make it work. That’s why whenever I write a post about the “rules” of writing, I try to explain which situations the rule applies to, and where it might not apply. Also, every writer is going to have different opinions about what makes a good story, and every publisher/studio/audience is going to have a different opinion about what they find marketable and worth buying. If this is true, which based on the evidence presented through comparing a wide range of published and produced pieces of writing it is, then the one and only real rule for writing is that you have to know the “What” and the “Why” of your story.
Essentially, knowing the What’s and Why’s of your story is all about researching the genre or style of writing you want to write by studying the existing works in that genre, and being conscious about your story and your writing choices so that you can answer the following questions on each project you work on:
- What writing “rules” do you have to follow for this particular story? In general, writing rules are not actually rules at all, but rather they’re typical or common guidelines of storytelling that work or don’t work based on previously existing works. So knowing what “rules” you have to follow just means you know which “rules” actually apply to what you’re writing, and which don’t. If you’ve done your due diligence and prep work before writing by studying other works that are similar to what you want to write, then you should have a general idea of what the common rules of that style or genre of story are, and which might apply to your story.
- Why are you following or ignoring these rules? Every time someone tells you a “rule” for writing, it’s important to understand why the rule exists, and where it applies. For your own work, always be able to justify why you’re breaking one set of rules, and why you’re following other rules. You may not have to follow all the “rules” in your writing, but people come up with these various rules for a reason, so understanding why they exist will help you understand why you need to follow certain ones and ignore others in your work.
- What is your setting, characters, plot, etc.? If you don’t know this when you’re writing, then your writing will probably be all over the place. Some people can free-write and discover a lot of these details as they go, but it is almost universally true that having these elements solidly in mind before writing will make your writing stronger.
- Why are you choosing these characters, this setting, that plot, etc.? Ultimately, the core of writing is to make deliberate choices and to be able to justify those choices as being ones that serve the story. Every character, setting, plot device, and elements of your story down to word choice can have a major impact on your writing. The more deliberate and conscious you can be in your choices, the more your writing should come together to tell a successful story.
As you can see, this one and only writing rule really boils down to being conscious about each choice you make in your writing and constantly asking yourself why whenever you are presented with a “rule” that someone thinks is universally true. All of these “rules” people come up with regarding writing are the results of people looking for the magic formula to a guaranteed sale on a piece of work, and they find it by looking for common elements across sold pieces of writing. While it is often true that these elements do exist, there are also just as many pieces of writing out there that break these trends.
Every story is its own thing and has its own identity, and I’m a firm believer that if you focus on serving the story rather than trying to force it to fit pre-existing rules or expectations, then your story will be better for it. I’m not saying you’re guaranteed to sell it, no one can guarantee that, but I am saying if you stay true to your story even if it means breaking the rules, your story will be stronger.
The important thing is to know what “rules” exist and to be able to justify why you broke these preconceived rules that people have and to show that you did so consciously. Ultimately, people aren’t going to focus on whether you broke the “rules” or not with your writing when deciding to buy it, they’re going to focus on whether you’ve put in the work to construct a compelling story that people want to read. If you do that, nothing else matters.
Robin Conley offers great writing advice once a month on Writing to be Read. If you just can’t wait until next month to find out more, you can pop into her blog, Author the World, for more tips, or a weekly writing prompt.
Welcome to the first Monthly Writing Memo! So for my own blog, Author the World, I’ve been thinking about doing a post about villains. As those of you who have been following know, I’ve been studying horror as I work on my horror film script. During this process, I’ve been wondering about the different types of villains, which in turn made me wonder about the different types of heroes in stories. So for this Month’s Writing Memo, I thought I’d do a post about heroes, and then later this week my post on villains will be up on Author the World.
In general, I think all heroes can really be broken down into a few main types, and every hero in a story usually falls into one of them. The way I’ve divided them up is by what motivates them rather than what they specifically do, or how they go about being a hero.
- The Savior –
The Savior is someone who actively tries to be a hero. They want to help people and save the day, so they seek out ways they can do this. The most obvious example of this is many superhero stories where characters like Superman or Spiderman actively seek out those in danger to help them. These characters do it solely because they want to help people and be a hero. Some want recognition, some want the satisfaction of saving people, but either way the thing that drives them is the need to be the hero. It’s a compulsion almost, and when they don’t just help when they see someone in danger, they actively seek the danger (and the victims) out.
- The Soldier –
The Soldier is similar to the Savior in that they feel the desire to help people, but the soldier does it out of a sense of duty and honor. That’s not to say they don’t have other motivations as well, but this character type is driven by the sense that it is their responsibility to help people, and they must take action. I think if you look at the movie “Die Hard” you’ll see John McClane fits into this character type. Yeah, he’s in the wrong place at the wrong time, but he is also a police officer and when he sees the problem he feels it is his duty to take action. Many of these character types are those military or police type characters, or have other positions that are focused on helping people in some way. Some other example jobs that a character can have to fit this role include teacher, doctor, or even counselor/therapist.
The goal of this character is to do their “job” and help people because they think it is their responsibility and duty. Maybe it can cross over into the Savior role of feeling driven to help people, but the slight distinction is where the Savior would say “I helped because they were in trouble,” the Soldier would say “I helped because it was my job/responsibility to help.”
- The Mercenary –
The Mercenary Hero doesn’t necessarily have to be getting paid, though some form of payment is generally the motivation for them to be the hero. They are a hero because they get something out of it. An example of this is are characters like Nicholas Cage’s character in National Treasure. That is a personal mission for him and he doesn’t do it for anyone else, he does it for largely selfish reasons—he desperately wants the truth and the excitement of discovering the treasure.
The Mercenary is driven by what he/she personally gets out of being the hero. They can be paid to do the job, they can be on a personal mission of love or vengeance or profit, but whatever it is they are being the hero because it serves them, not because they want to serve the people they are saving.
- The Reluctant Hero –
The Reluctant Hero is one of my favorite types of heroes to write because they don’t try to be perfect, and often try to extricate themselves from the drama, but they morally feel the urge to help when they see a situation. Unlike the Savior they won’t seek out the conflict, and unlike the Mercenary they don’t want anything for themselves, but similarly to the Soldier they feel a sense of duty.
The Reluctant Hero is someone who doesn’t want to be a hero, and they aren’t doing it because it’s their job like the Soldier. They are a person who just happens to be in the wrong place at the right time, and they morally can’t bring themselves to turn away from those in need. If asked why they helped, they would respond “I couldn’t turn my back on it, and it was the right thing to do.” They don’t feel like it’s their duty, they just feel like they were the only one there at the time who could do it, so they did.
I think the one thing that is often interesting about the Reluctant Hero is that, if someone else was around who could successfully do the saving, the Reluctant Hero would let them, but often they are put in situations where either they have to try, or all is lost.
- The Anti-Hero –
The final type of hero isn’t quite a hero at all – the Anti-Hero. The Anti-Hero is not someone who is trying to help anyone, and they’re most often not a good person. There are slight varying definitions of this, but in my opinion, the Anti-Hero is a character who ultimately has their own larger goal, but they do kind, heroic things along the way in pursuit of their goal. I think this falls into a lot of gangster characters who do wonderful things for the “little people” but who aren’t really good characters at all, and whose larger goals are really something quite unhero-like.
Another version of the Anti-Hero is someone who does dark, violent things in order to achieve something good. This kind of character is like Batman at times (The Dark Knight is the obvious example). Batman kills and commits crimes in order to make Gotham a better place, going from loved hero to wanted criminal.
Either way, the main thing about the Anti-hero is that they don’t follow the same rules as the normal hero, and that they will often commit villain-like acts in the pursuit of their goal. These sorts of acts will stand in stark contrast with the heroic elements, and it will make the audience question whether the character is hero or villain.
I’m sure there are some more minor variations of heroes, but in general, I think most heroes in stories can be divided up into one of the five categories above. If you aren’t sure about which your character is, ask yourself what motivates them to be a hero? What motivates them to commit heroic acts? If you have that answer, you should be able to pinpoint what type of hero they are.
If you aren’t interested in my update, skip to the bottom for a writing prompt.
As any readers who have been checking in regularly have probably noticed, I’ve been a little behind on posting these Weekly Writing Memos for the last few months. Between picking up new jobs, constant traveling, and a big move to Los Angeles from Michigan, it’s just been a struggle to keep up. Starting in December I am also going to be embarking on a project involving studying the horror film genre, as well as some new work as a part-time assistant editor for a small publishing company.
With my increasingly complicated schedule, this is going to have to be my last Weekly Writing Memo post for a while. Instead, I’m going to be cutting back to monthly memos and the first post will be sometime in December. I’ll still be doing other guests posts now and then to fill in for Kaye when needed, and I’ll hopefully be posting more on my blog as well. If you have questions, or if just miss me dearly, feel free to contact me at my blog Author the World or on my AtW Facebook page. For my final Weekly Writing Memo, I thought I would go with a writing prompt to leave you all feeling inspired (hopefully).
Writing Prompt – The Breakfast Fight
You have a character in a restaurant. They’re eating breakfast. Start with the restaurant. What kind of place is it? What kind of tables does it have? What kind of waiters or waitresses? What kind of clientele?
Now go to your character. Who are they? What kind of mood are they in? They can start alone at the table but they can’t stay that way. Your character is about to get in an argument. Do they know it yet, or will it be a surprise?
Before the argument starts your character’s breakfast arrives. What are they eating? Is it actually breakfast time? How are they eating it?
Once everything’s in place—the breakfast, the characters—it’s time to start the fight. Have your character continue eating throughout the argument. Try to keep the characters from making the argument into a big scene for as long as possible.
When the fight ends, does your character take out his anger on anyone else? Does he snap at the waitress, or forget to leave her a tip? Does he finish his food or lose his appetite?
Where does your character go next? How will he resolve the conflict? See where the argument takes you from there. Where there’s a conflict, there’s often a story, so follow it. If you decide you don’t like the characters in the argument, try writing it from the waitress’s or another diner’s perspective. Explore the scene and the people in it, and see where the writing leads you.
Everyone always wants to know the big secret for how to write. They want the shortcuts, and the formulas, and the rules, but while those things may give you the illusion of a solution, they’re not the real answer. Shortcuts, rules, and formulas for writing can be great and useful, but in the long run, they limit your abilities as a writer. Knowing the rules can be a good foundation, but personally, I believe that it can’t be all you know. While everyone has a different theory about the best way to learn to write, there are a few “tricks” that almost everyone agrees on.
It amazes me the number of writers, screenwriters or fiction writers, who loudly proclaim how little they read or how much they hate reading in general. Whatever your chosen medium, you should be reading it and absorbing it as much as possible. As a screenwriter, reading scripts can help you learn techniques for telling a story in script format, succinct characterization, how to establish setting and many other things. As a fiction writer, reading novels and short stories can help you learn much the same. The more you immerse yourself in what you want to create, the more natural it will be when you begin writing the material yourself. Everything you read, whether you realize it or not, is integrated into your pre-existing knowledge and expands the “tools” you have at your disposal for writing.
A great example of this that works for most people is something like grammar – if you read a lot, you will gradually pick up grammar rules and standards that you don’t even know you know. Think of every sentence you write. Do you specifically analyze the sentence structure and whether it is grammatically correct, or can you read it and know it “sounds” or “feels” right? Many people who have learned grammar through reading have this ability, where they can correct a grammatically incorrect sentence because the proper format has been ingrained in them through reading, but they can’t explain how the sentence was incorrect.
Learning story and writing works similarly in some ways. If you read enough of the medium you want to write, you will start to build up your ability to recognize what is standard, what is abnormal, and you may even start to recognize typical story structures and character archetypes. You’ll also be able to recognize when a writer does something unusual, and then you can begin to break it down and figure out what they did and why.
This next step is one that I think is critical in learning to write. While reading as much of your preferred medium is the first step, analyzing what you’re reading is the next. Forcing yourself to think critically about what you’re reading is how you can make it easier for yourself to recognize issues in your own work. Whenever you’re reading, ask yourself what is working for you and what isn’t. Then take things one step further and ask yourself why it isn’t working. If you can break down why something isn’t working, then when you encounter it in your own writing you’ll be able to fix it. Every piece of writing has good and bad to it, and learning to identify both in the works you read will help you figure out things you may want to emulate in your writing, as well as things you probably want to avoid.
The most obvious way to learn to write is by doing. So many writers constantly research how to write, or talk about writing, or dream about writing, but never actually get to the writing part. Writing takes practice, and the more you do it the more you’ll improve. Personally, I think the best way to improve is to constantly push yourself to try new styles and techniques of writing. When I was first starting out I embarked on a 365-day project to write a short story a day for a year. I did this because I wanted to really buckle down and explore my writing so I could improve. I know everyone doesn’t have the time to do something like that, but I do think the most valuable thing I learned from doing it was to try new styles of writing. By trying different styles, genres, techniques, and story structures, you become familiar with them and add them to your “toolbox” of abilities. If you understand how they work, then when you need them in a story you’ll easily be able to work them in. I also think it’s useful because just knowing about the various techniques broadens your abilities when you’re writing. It’s easier to figure out how to tell a story in the best way if you know 100 different methods than it is if you only know 2.
Mentors and Other Writers
Having a mentor can mean joining an MFA program, finding someone in the industry willing to advise you, or finding a workshop group or another writer to get advice from. The important aspect is to find other writers who you can share your work with and get feedback. Ultimately, I think writing stops progressing at a certain point without feedback, so you have to decide what you are looking for and where you can find it. Some people luck into a mentor and find the feedback and guidance that way, but others have to seek out that feedback in their own ways.
I’ve done workshops, worked with other writers, and been in an MFA program, and I think they all have their own benefits depending on what suits you personally. Workshop groups can be great because you get a huge variety of voices on a piece of writing and you can learn a lot about it. They can also be negative, however, because some workshops devolve into a hive mind and are no longer helpful. The problem is, you usually don’t know how helpful the group is until you get there, but the beauty is they usually don’t last long so you can always find another one if needed.
For some, an MFA program is a ridiculous waste of money and gets you nowhere, but I personally found it incredibly helpful because it fit what I was looking for. I did a low-residency MFA program at Western State Colorado University where I studied both genre fiction and screenwriting. I choose my MFA because the focus was on genre fiction rather than literary fiction (I already had a degree in literary fiction), and because the professors in the program were all people actively working in the industries they were teaching about. I also chose to continue studying writing in an MFA program because I wanted to learn as much about writing as I could, as quickly as possible, and an intensive 2-year program would give me that boost to help me write better and make connections.
Ultimately, whether you choose an MFA program, a workshop, or a mentor, it’s all about research and knowing yourself. What method do you learn best? Who are the teachers or writers you’ll be working with? What may the teach you? All that being said, the key to this is finding someone, somewhere, who you can connect with on your writing and learn from. If you have a mentor, or a writing group, or an MFA program that does this, that’s awesome, but the key is getting your work seen and getting a reaction. Writing is meant to be shared, and having a “safe” group to share it with before you go public can be pivotal in your writings’ success.
There are a lot of other tips and tricks you’ll see about how to perfect your writing and become a master, but ultimately they all boil down to these four things: Read what you want to write; Study it, analyze it, and tear it apart until you understand how the writing succeeds and how it doesn’t; Write as much as you can and practice, experiment, and repeat; and find someone to share your work with that you can trust, that you can learn from, and that you can get feedback from. It takes time, and a lot of work, but your writing will show that it’s worth it in the end.
Robin Conley offers great writing advice most Wednesdays and shares an occasional guest review on Writing to be Read. If you just can’t wait until next week to find out more, you can pop into her blog, Author the World, for more tips, or a weekly writing prompt.
I’m not someone who is particularly a fan of movies that are more about being artistically beautiful than having a solid plot, but after seeing The Neon Demon claimed to be horror, and several friends recommending it to me, I knew I had to see it. A great movie to me is one you can get lost in, either because of the plot, or the characters, or the setting/world, or even because it’s so visually stunning that you just want to stare and don’t care what’s happening. I wasn’t sure about The Neon Demon from the few trailers I saw beforehand, but it looked like it had potential so I decided to check it out despite it not being my typical choice of movie.
The Neon Demon is a movie that has so much about it that is so brilliantly, beautifully, and boldly done that it’s impressive. I could go on for a long while about some of the amazing craftsmanship that went into this movie (and I will below), but I felt like the movie also had one amazingly large fault—its plot. As I said above, a great movie for me is one I can get lost in, and while I can appreciate a lot of the talent, craftsmanship, and just pure artistic awesomeness of this movie, I couldn’t get lost in it for several reasons. I know I am not the target audience for this style of movie so I don’t fault it in the least, but I do want to discuss the things that I loved individually, as well as the things that kept me from loving the movie as a whole.
Cinematography and Sound
I am pretty sure that at least 90% of the shots in this film could be captured into a still frame picture and hung on a wall somewhere as art without question. It’s beautiful, and scene by scene. It’s captivating in that you want to look at it. The balance of colors and costumes, makeup and posing, works so well throughout that it really is enticing to look at even amidst the gore and violence. The opening shot of Elle Fanning as Jessie laying “dead” on the couch immediately has you intrigued because of the surprising prettiness of it all. You don’t know whether it’s real or a photo shoot and you can’t look away. The trend of that alluring beauty carries throughout the film, and it fits well given The Neon Demon’s themes of narcissism and vanity.
Right along with the cinematography was the sound throughout the film. The music used worked incredibly well to create these intense moments during scenes, but what I loved just as much was the use of silence. There are these intense moments where the silence is distinct, and it makes you focus even more on what you’re seeing. Many films or shows don’t use silence in a noticeable way and there’s always some kind of sound going on, but The Neon Demon embraced it at times to heighten moments such as the scene where Elle Fanning is at her first “real” photo shoot. I also appreciated the silences between characters in dialogue because, while they were long at times, I felt like they were used at appropriate moments for emphasis on specific elements or events.
The other major thing I have to say I enjoyed in this film is that I felt like every actor was captivating in their own way. The characters themselves may have had some flaws in their development (or lack of), but the actors who played them were amazing. Elle Fanning managed to walk that mysterious line of whether her character was predator or prey perfectly, and Jena Malone as Ruby was simultaneously disturbing yet sympathetic. Surprisingly, though, was the fact that Keanu Reeves almost stole the show. It’s not surprising because of who he is—he’s had plenty of great performances—but it’s surprising because of his minimal amount of screen time. Maybe it was just me, but every time he was on screen I felt like he stole the show. Some of it could be that his character was the most physically expressive of them all, and the most distinct personality-wise of all the characters, but I think a huge portion of it just has to be Keanu Reeves as an actor and his abilities.
As shown above, so much about this movie was great and worked incredibly well. I think the first area things really faltered for me was the flow. As I said before, if I’m going to get lost in a movie I have to have something to get lost in. For The Neon Demon, the most likely element for that would have been the pure beauty of it all, but the flow kept that from happening for me. While almost every shot was stunning and perfectly crafted, the flow between shots wasn’t always coherent of consistent. Just as I was being lured in by the imagery and about to stop caring about the plot, the tone or the story thread would abruptly shift and throw me out, leaving me wondering what the heck was going on. A great example of this is when Keanu Reeves’ character breaks into Elle’s room during the dream/vision sequence. At that point, the film’s tone and pacing shifted abruptly changing everything. We are in this vain and edgy world of modeling for 2/3rds of the movie and then suddenly we have potential rapes, necrophilia, murder, and cannibalism.
This is the real area that is the main flaw of the film. There isn’t much of a plot built up other than the idea of a young, new girl in town getting into the modeling industry and being preyed upon by others in LA who want something from her. I could handle that as a plot if that’s all it was, but there are so many elements in it that seem to lead somewhere only to be dropped away and forgotten, never explained, or not fully utilized. Because there are all these little threads and elements that are thrown in for either artistic pizzazz or random impulse, and because the main plot is so sparse, things get muddled.
An example of the random plot elements are things like the mountain lion appearing in Elle Fanning’s room. It is really used as an excuse to give Keanu Reeves’ character more screen time and to give her “boyfriend” and excuse to go pay off her debt and be her lapdog. In general, though, the whole set-up of the mountain lion randomly getting into her bedroom just seems weird, and like it’s going to be some kind of plot line later that is explained but never is. I did get the sense that it was supposed to sort of be symbolic that there are predators everywhere she looks lurking in the shadows for her, but that was obvious from the moment Jena Malone’s character laid eyes on Elle Fanning in the first scene and the film didn’t need an actual mountain lion to nail the point home. If the film just had the straight simple plot without the random side unexplained elements, like the mountain lion scene or the scene where Jena Malone’s character seemingly gives birth after eating Elle (which was also never really explained or returned to), then I think it would have been much better off.
Overall, while there was so much brilliance to The Neon Demon and some truly amazing craftsmanship that made me want to love it, it was hard to do so when I was kept from being immersed in it. I could go on for a long while about different aspects of this film, but instead, I’ll end with a final thought I had when thinking about what to write here. The Neon Demon is primarily about beauty, vanity, and narcissism, and the film itself manages to be narcissistic. The film is so focused on being beautiful in every moment that it forgot to add real depth. Some could argue that the metaphor and symbolism of the film could be considered depth in place of a plot, but I’m not so sure because so much of that symbolism was not subtle.
Ultimately, whatever I think about the plot or flow, the film is definitely worth watching for anyone who appreciates cinematography, unusual art, or the just plain odd. I can almost guarantee you’ll be asking yourself “What the **** is going on?” at least once during the film, but I can also almost guarantee you’ll find yourself entranced by the beauty of some of the camera shots and scenes. Just keep in mind it does get pretty dark, and as mentioned above there are scenes of murder, necrophilia, and cannibalism, so it’s definitely not for everyone.
Robin Conley offers great writing advice most Wednesdays and shares an occasional guest review on Writing to be Read. If you just can’t wait until next week to find out more, you can pop into her blog, Author the World, for more tips, or a weekly writing prompt.