Friday, September 28, 2007

The Office

It’s back, and the new season begins with a bang. Poor Meredith.

Michael is rationalizing his return to the office with pure Michael Scott logic. Which makes a better boss—a dog or a fish? Always an interesting question, but since he’s run down one of his employees in the parking lot, he has much bigger issues to deal with. Like how to make it seem as though the accident wasn’t his fault or, even better, that it was actually a good thing, not just for Meredith, for the entire world. Ah, Michael.

Dwight, by contrast, feels no need to rationalize his behavior. From the moment he returned from Angela’s apartment and reported that the ailing and aging cat was dead, we knew he had a hand in it. Like Michael, he’s convinced he did the right thing. He just doesn’t need to justify it.

The similarities and differences between these two characters are brilliantly crafted, in my opinion, and skillfully interwoven into each episode. It’s because its done so well that the writers get away with being as outrageous as they are.

PB & J . . . so adorable together, just as we knew they would be. By the second half of the hour-long premiere I was already starting to want more from Pam and Jim, and I’m confident these writers will give it to us. Now that they’re truly a team, I’m looking forward to seeing them play some great practical jokes on Dwight. Can they top last season’s episode in which Jim convinces Dwight he’s been bitten by a vampire bat? Oh, I think so.

I’ll wrap by saying that I think the dialogue is as brilliant as every other aspect of the show. Even if you’re not into off-the-wall comedy, studying a script would be like a master class in dialogue. And I get the sense that the writers are constantly trying to outdo themselves by coming up with over-the-top lines for Steve Carell’s character, and then waiting to hear him deliver them. Imagine how much fun that must be.

“I’m not superstitious . . . but I’m a little stitious.”

Way to write, guys. Keep it coming.

Back tomorrow.


Thursday, September 27, 2007

Gossip Girl and Private Practice

I’ll start by saying it’s been a busy week that has included my mother-in-law coming to visit. She usually makes the trip once a year and we love to see her. Her visit felt too short, though, and we’ll be sorry to see her leave this afternoon. While she was here, she taught my daughter how to knit and got her started knitting a cell phone case. LOL! If I can get a good picture of it, I’ll post it here. While my MIL was here, I was also able to give her a copy of my first book. She told me that she sat down to read for a few minutes, lost track of time and ended up reading for an hour and a half. Having a reader get lost in a story is just about the best compliment an author could hope for and when it comes from someone you love, it's gold!

This week I’ve watched the second episode of Gossip Girl and the premiere of The Practice. Before seeing either show I had expected to like The Practice and feel so-so about Gossip Girl. Turns out, it’s the exact opposite. Gossip Girl characters had me hooked within fifteen minutes.

After I watched The Practice last night, it didn’t take me long to figure out why I wasn’t drawn in. I liked the scenes with the psychiatrist and her patient-they were emotional and felt believable to me-but Addison still seems like a secondary character from Grey’s Anatomy. On Monday I blogged about secondary characters. I hadn't thought about it until now, but I think Addison needed to be a better-developed secondary character before becoming a heroine.

She is a self-described world-class neonatal surgeon, and yet she gives up that career and moves to a different city and a very different job. Why? Well, no matter what she says, it seems she did it because Alex said he wasn’t her boyfriend (or she wasn’t his girlfriend), and because Pete kissed her in the elevator. She’d already accepted that her relationship with McDreamy was over, she had to know there was no future with McSteamy, and she couldn’t possibly have believed she’d make head surgeon. So Alex’s brush-off just didn’t seem pivotal enough to have precipitated this, and I think the writers could have found a way to way to give Addison a stronger and more believable motivation for such drastic life changes.

So I think the writers rushed Addison’s transition from a secondary character to being the hero of her own story. In The Practice, they’ve given her a cast of quirky secondary characters—with the exception of the surfer boy/midwife, I had a hard time buying that—but Addison is still a secondary character too. She didn't seem strong enough to outshine everyone else. Can the writers redeem her in the next few episodes? Can Addison become the hero of her own story? I’m curious enough to watch a few more episodes and to see if they can.

Note to self: The Office and Grey’s premiere tonight! Also set VCR to record Ugly Betty and Big Shots.

I’ll be back tomorrow.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Everybody Loves a Good Love Story

Romance is my favorite thing to read and watch. With all the wonderful storylines in Gilmore Girls, Luke and Lorelei’s love story was always at the core of the show. Everyone knew they belonged together, long before they knew it themselves, and the final scene of the final episode was the perfect ending for the series. Lorelei and Rory sitting in the diner, Luke making breakfast for them, everything as it should be. No fairy tale endings, no one riding off into the sunset, but it was the happily ever after that fans had been anticipating.

Two and a half weeks and counting till the fall premiere of Men in Trees, and already I’m looking forward to what those writers have in store for us. In her August blog, Jenny Bicks, the show’s creator said, “You will get some delicious Jack and Marin this season, I promise.” Yum.

But as much as we’re rooting for Jack and Marin’s happily ever after, we know we won’t get it. Not yet. Because just like Gilmore Girls or our favorite romance novel, HEA also means THE END. I’m looking forward to many seasons of Men in Trees, so I think Jack and Marin will have a lot of issues to work through before we close the door on their story.

Even people who may not be devoted fans of romance still love a good love story and the promise of happily ever after. It humanizes a story. Seriously, who watches The Office and doesn’t root for Jim and Pam? Last season ended with Jim returning to Scranton to make a date with Pam, and for one or two glorious moments we thought Karen had ridden into the sunset, solo. Cut to commercials. Then we discovered that Ryan got the job in New York, which means Karen will be back. Hm. Is the office big enough for Pam and Karen? I’m not expecting HEA, but for sure there’ll be conflict! Can’t wait till Thursday!

Talk to you tomorrow,


Monday, September 24, 2007

Those Seemingly Insignificant People

I adore secondary characters. In books, films and television, they play such an important role. So what’s the trick to creating successful secondary characters? I think it’s knowing how to push the envelope, but not push it too far.

Many readers have told me they love Aunt Margaret in my first book, The Man for Maggie. The interesting thing to me is that Aunt Margaret doesn’t really exist. She’s either a ghost or she’s Maggie’s conscience, and no one, not even me, has been able to figure out which. I do know there was no conscious effort on my part to create Aunt Margaret but when she appeared, she was essential to the story.

So how do we write significant secondary characters? Again, I look to the people who do it so well—scriptwriters.

In Gilmore Girls, Lorelei and Rory are sympathetic characters we can relate to. Luke is as steady as they come. Rory’s friend Lane is the girl next door. Then we have Paris, Kirk, Babette. Oh my. Sally Struthers as Babette. Wasn’t she wonderful? Many of the secondary characters in this show were delightfully over the top and that worked because they fit the story and made it richer.

Look at Men in Trees. Honestly, I can’t say enough wonderful things about this show’s outstanding writing. Of course we relate to Marin and Jack as the main characters, yet the cast of secondary characters is extensive and brilliantly woven into Marin’s and Jack’s story arcs. Patrick and his family mosaic. NYC editor Jane and Elmo plow guy Sam. The bar patrons. The hairdresser. The minister. The pregnant ex-girlfriend. The way-too-attractive guy who shows up to renovate Marin’s house. The show wouldn’t be complete and Jack and Marin’s story wouldn’t be nearly as interesting and without all those endearingly offbeat people.

One of my favorite secondary characters of all time is Dr. Larry Fleinhardt on NUMB3RS. Brilliant physicist. Homeless and living in his car. Astronaut. Not your average resume, to be sure!

So what have I learned? Secondary characters are integral to a story. To be effective, they should be as three-dimensional as the story’s hero and heroine. They can’t be mentioned in passing. They can’t be glossed over. They should be fleshed out and they can even have a story arc of their own, no matter how small that arc might be.

Secondary characters can be much quirkier than our heroes and heroines because the oddball provides such an excellent foil, making the main character appear normal by comparison :)

An easy thing to write? Maybe, maybe not, but do stay tuned. I’ll explore this some more throughout this TV season.

Meanwhile, I’d love to know who your favorite secondary characters are, and why.

Till tomorrow,

Sunday, September 23, 2007

At Home on TV

The list of my favorite shows in the sidebar might seem a tad eclectic—dramas and comedies for adults and young adults, and settings ranging from small towns to big cities or, in some cases, stories set primarily in a single building. I’m not saying these are the best shows on TV. They’re simply the ones that have a struck a chord for me.

Different as they may seem, I see lots of similarities. Gilmore Girls (even though it’s been cancelled, it’s still a favorite), Men in Trees and October Road are set in small town America. To me, those communities are like secondary characters in their respective stories. But communities don’t have to be towns and cities. In The Office and Grey’s Anatomy, communities exist within the walls of a building. The Office’s boss Michael Scott (Steve Carell) has almost as much affection for the building as he has for his staff. Seattle Grace is practically home for the surgeon and interns of Grey’s Anatomy. In Degrassi: TNG, the community is a high school and, for the first time last season, a university.

Home and family are important factors in most of these shows. The contrast between Lorelei’s home and her parents’ home was a major story element in Gilmore Girls, and Rory eventually leaving home became a major part of the show. In Men in Trees, Marin Frist leaves her home in New York and finds a new one in the unlikely town of Elmo, Alaska. October Road is about a character returning home after a long absence and having to come to terms with what has changed and what has stayed the same. The relationship between two very different brothers and their father is an important element of NUMB3RS and for me it’s one of the things that sets it apart from most other crime shows on television. Their family home is a retreat from the chaotic, albeit predictable according to Charlie, world around them.

Brothers and Sisters is all about family. I didn’t watch it during the regular season last year, but I caught the summer reruns. At first I thought it might be too political for my taste, but that’s overshadowed by each family member’s individual story arc and the adult children’s relationships with their, um, slightly neurotic mother, Nora Walker (Sally Field).

I’m still debating which new shows I’ll watch this year. I saw the first episode of Gossip Girl and will definitely check out a few more before I make up my mind about that one. Since The Practice is a spinoff from Grey’s Anatomy, I’ll give that one a chance, too.

Any recommendations?

Back tomorrow.


Saturday, September 22, 2007

Who Has The Remote?

This is my first post on my new blog. Thank you for stopping by! First, a bit about me. I am a romance author, thrilled to be writing for Harlequin’s American Romance series. Yes, those covers in the sidebar are for my first two books! Aren’t they gorgeous?

Along with writing, the most important things in my life are family and friends. Which makes American Romance a perfect place for me because that’s what these books are about—everyday people overcoming difficulties with the help of their family and friends, and finding love and happiness in the communities they call home. If you’re already a fan of these books, you’ll know exactly what I mean. If you’re new to American Romance, I hope you’ll love them as much as I do.

Readers tell me they love my characters and I’m always thrilled to hear that because creating characters is my favorite part of the writing process. And it’s so much easier than developing a plot. Fortunately, after I get to know my characters, they fill me in on their story as I write. As unbelievable as that might sound, that’s how the process works for me.

The hardest part is coming up with a book proposal to send to my editor before I’ve actually written the book. How can someone like me write a synopsis for an unwritten book when she doesn’t have the faintest idea what’s going to happen? I’ve struggled with this and finally managed to get a handle on it when I learned a little about scriptwriting and storyboarding techniques.

A TV or film script is a thing of beauty. Dialogue and a few stage directions—an entire story arc, stripped to its bare bones. It’s similar to what I might come up with if I were plotting a book, and it sort of resembles a first draft. Then I get to take off my scriptwriter’s hat and become the costume and set designer, director and camera operator as I flesh out the story. That’s the fun of being a novelist!

I still have a lot to learn and believe it or not, and watching my favorite TV shows is part of the process. I’m especially looking forward to this week because many of the season premieres for those shows will be on.

The Office (NBC) (one-hour season premiere!)—Thursday, September 27
Grey’s Anatomy (ABC)—Thursday, September 27
NUMB3RS (CBS)—Friday, September 28
Whistler (CTV)—Saturday, September 29 (only in Canada)
Brothers and Sisters (ABC)—Sunday, September 30

My top fav, Men in Trees (ABC), doesn’t start until Friday, October 12. Still three weeks away, and I’m trying very hard to be patient.

Every week I’ll blog about my take on what I’ve seen, why I love these shows, and what I’ve learned. I may discuss what I as a writer might have done differently, but I’m not a critic so don’t expect in-depth analyses and critical reviews. Also, don’t expect Hollywood gossip—it’s not my thing.

From time to time I’ll also post news and reviews about my own writing, and there’ll be the occasional guest blogger and even a contest or two. And of course I’d love to hear your insights and recommendations or anything else that’s on your mind, so drop by any time.

See you tomorrow.