Dystropian Blog Series on Ellar Out Loud

Dystropian Task ForceHave you been reading the Dystropian Blog Series on Ellar Cooper’s blog? If not, you should!

I participated in the series back in January with my thoughts on breaking the rules of character development, but my fellow VCFA dystropian classmates (who are fast selling books, getting agents, and taking the writing world by storm) have posted a ton of amazing articles for you to devour. The posts include life lessons on writing, hard truths, and of course a picture of a cute dog!

How could you resist?

Check out the awesomeness:

Journal Writing and Craft  by Melanie Fishbane

Writing Truth and Authenticity Amidst the Noise by Jessica Denhart

Writing Lessons Learned from My In-laws by Jeff Schill

What Travel Writing Taught Me About Fiction by Steve Bramucci

A Cute Picture of My Dog … And Words About my Writing Life by Rachel Lieberman

The Top 10 Uses for an Action Scene by Sheryl Scarborough

Breaking the Rules of Character Development by Ingrid Sundberg

My Night at the Oscars

Ingrid and Bette High Resolution

Me (with the purple hair) at the Oscars, behind Bette Midler!

I love the Oscars. I’m the kind of fan who watches three hours of pre-show and buys all the magazines after the event. I’ve thrown Oscar parties with ballot polls and paper red carpets that run down my living room. I’m the person who shushes her friends when they talk through the technical awards. I love this event.

You can only imagine how ecstatic I was to be invited to attend the Oscars in person! I’ve always dreamed of attending the Oscars. Granted, that fantasy often saw me hanging off the arm of Brad Pitt, but I wasn’t going to turn down an invitation from my good friend Heather. Heather is a film preservationist for the Academy and one of the benefits of her job is she gets to attend the Oscars every year. This was her tenth year at the show, and though the event may have become “old hat” for her, she loves watching us newbies go ga-ga over all the glitz and excitement.

The giddy reality of attending the Academy Awards didn’t hit me until we turned onto Hollywood Boulevard where the sidewalks were caged off with chain link fence. Pedestrians lined both sides of the street trying desperately to peek into our car and see if we were famous. They waved and when we waved back they got excited, even though we weren’t anyone important. A football field away from the red carpet we weaved through a security maze of cement dividers and it felt like we were entering an apocalyptic zombie movie. It seems they had those celebrities in lock down!

Of course it all got real when we pulled up to the red carpet and the crowd broke into excited screams. I stepped out of our car to see Jonah Hill exiting his limo and waving to the crowd. The roars of excitement came in waves, the crowd going wild to signal the arrival of Leonardo Dicaprio on my left, or Jennifer Lawrence twenty feet away from me on my right. Then whoopsie, Jen falls on her friend, laughing as she stumbles back to her feet and exclaiming that she’s mortified about tripping.

The famous people were whisked off to the left side of the entrance tent, and the rest of us stood in line on the right like we were waiting for our turn to go on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Disneyland.

The Red Carpet

The carpet was set up with two sections. There’s one aisle on the left for the famous people, a four food divider, and then a second aisle on the right for we mortals. “Our” side of the carpet was lined with security men who’ve been hired to say “keep moving” non-stop for three hours. I’d been instructed by Heather to ignore these men and walk slowly, very veeeeeery slowly and take it all in.

Red Carpet Map

Academy Awards Red Carpet Map (click image for larger view)

And there’s a lot to take in. The second we stepped on the red carpet it was celebrity overload! My first sighting was Chris Hemsworth chatting with Ryan Secret (and look, you can see me walk behind him on TV! That’s me with the purple hair!). But that was just the beginning. I blinked and there was another celebrity. Bette Midler stood half-way down the carpet on a stage. Between her and us was Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Whoopi Goldberg, Benedict Cumberbatch, and more. All looking stunning in their gowns and tuxes.

Ingrid and Bennedict_yellow circle

Yup, I’m that purple speck in the background behind Benedict.

“KEEP MOVING!” the security men grumbled, and we took our baby steps forward. Being non-celebrity folk, we’re not allowed to turn around on the carpet, we  so we inched forward as slow as we could. Suddenly, Kevin Spacey strides up next to us (only four feet away!) turning broadly to wave at the bleachers, and the crowd went wild!

“Move along! You’re holding up the line!” Which was true at this point. After all, I do have purple hair, which made it easy to notice how slow I was moving. The second half the carpet was full of more sightings: Laura and Bruce Dern, Lupita Nyong’o, Cate Blanchett, Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, and Anne Hathaway. At the end of walkway the carpet turns toward the theater and the four foot divider closes, allowing us to walk next to the celebrities. Who walks in front of me at that exact moment?

Meryl Streep! Holy moly Meryl Streep! I could have reached out and touched her if I wanted to.

Ingrid and Meryl Streep

Before the grand staircase is another photo area where the actresses are moved, cattle style, into position. Heather and I walked quietly behind Bette Midler, noting that we better look up Bette’s photo in in the morning. Because, yup, there’s a flash of purple hair behind all her photos on this end of the carpet! What am I wearing you ask? Why, a super fancy designer known as David’s Bridal.

Heather and Bette

The celebrities are shuffled to the first level and the rest of us go up the grand staircase to…

The Lobby

There were free drinks and mingling in the lobby as we peered down at the sea of penguin suits and colorful fabrics on the floor below us. The celebrities looked stunning, but the truth is everyone looked amazing. Coiffed hair, beaded satin, sassy bow-ties, and sparkling jewelry were everywhere. The only thing that made a famous person stand out was the fact that well … they’re famous. And for a brief moment we all seemed the same.

Michael and Tim

Michael Wilkinson and Tim Martin

In the mayhem of red-carpet-celeb-a-thon, I realized I hadn’t had a chance to look for my friend Tim Martin and his husband Michael Wilkinson. Michael was nominated for Best Costume Design for his work on American Hustle, and I was really hoping to wish him good-luck before the show. Only, there were hundreds of people at this event. It simply wasn’t going to happen. There were too many people! Just as I’m starting to accept this reality, the magic of Hollywood with its affinity for coincidences sprinkles a little Oscar fairy dust on our evening and I see the stunning couple! I offer Tim and Michael my congratulations, also getting to meet Michael’s agent and the art director of American Hustle (who gushed about my hair and even took my picture!). I may have been surrounded by celebrities on the carpet, but seeing Tim and Michael before the show was one of the highlights of the whole evening. The best part of any event is being able to share it with your friends.

Michel didn’t end up winning Best Costume Design, but I doubt this is going to be his last nomination. I’m betting he has plenty of Oscar events in his future. Plus, Cate Blanchett gave him a personal shout-out during her acceptance speech (check out minute 3.40)! How cool is that!

Headed to our seats, Heather and I saw Benedict Cumberbatch in a corner standing alone. He stood there politely, as if waiting for someone – a date in the restroom perhaps – and it was funny how quiet he seemed. Reserved and in his own small calm among the bustle of the room.

Box Seats

Normally, Heather has nose-bleed seats, but this was Heather’s tenth year working for the Academy, and lucky me, we got box seats! This meant we were closer to the stage and could make out who was sitting in which seat. Across the room we saw Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie the size of lego men, and directly below us was Matthew Mcconaughey and Jared Leto. I could have thrown popcorn at them if I wanted to.

Our box seat!

Our box seat!

I loved watching the celebrities between the commercial breaks. There were dozens of tiny moments that you don’t get to see on TV, like the huge hug Meryl Streep gave Jennifer Lawrence as the speakers counted down to the live broadcast, or Jared Leto keeping his Oscar statue on the floor by his feet.

The show itself felt a lot like being in the studio audience on a film set. Everyone was “on” for the live broadcast, and then the commercial breaks were a rush of stage hands setting up props, camera men moving into position, and seat fillers being funneled into place. Everything is rather transparent, like the moment when Jennifer Lawrence ran across the stage, realizing she was supposed to enter on the opposite side.

Heather and Ingrid at the Oscars!

Heather and Ingrid at the Oscars!

The First Floor Bar

After the second commercial break, Heather and I headed down to the bar. I saw less of the show than you might think. I missed a good hour and a half. I didn’t see the “selfie moment” or U2 sing, or watch Meryl Streep eat pizza. Instead, I opted for the “behind the scenes” experience of hanging out at the bar.

The Dolby bar was a small round room with glowing blue lights. It gives the illusion of being exclusive because it’s off the main bar, but anyone can go in. Heather told me this was where the celebrities liked to hang out and she wasn’t lying. Anne Hathaway was at the bar when we entered, looking polished with the hint of a fake smile behind her calm. In contrast, Barkhad Abdi from Captain Phillips, leaned casually against the wall, laughing with his friends and taking it all in. It took me a minute to recognize Sarah Paulson (12 Years a Slave) at the bar sipping champagne.

After meeting some of Heather’s co-workers, we settled in at a standing table, when I looked up to see Julia Roberts standing directly behind Heather. I motioned awkwardly for Heather to turn around, because I couldn’t tactfully say “Dude, Julia Roberts is behind you!” By the time she turned around, Julia had passed us. Only, at that exact moment, Cate Blanchett walked in.

Everyone notices Cate Blanchett walk into a room. This woman has a presence. In fact, I’m convinced she didn’t act in Lord of the Rings because she actually is Lady Galadriel in real life. She’s commanding and effortless and beautiful, seeming to glide into a room and cast a spell over it.

Cranberry drinkWe’re all a little overwhelmed by Cate when I noticed Benedict Cumberbatch in the doorway. Once again I caught him in a contemplative stance.  He hesitated by the door, unannounced, politely holding a cranberry drink and scanning the room. He had the air of a tentative teenager searching for the friend that invited him to the party, but not quite sure he was in the right place. Finally he saw Cate and Sally Hawkins and passed by us to join them. Only he fumbled awkwardly with his glass, turning to place it on the standing table before us. He almost missed the edge, taking extra care to be sure the glass didn’t smash, looking up at us with a quick “it’s cool if I put this here,” glance. We all smiled doe-eyed, trying our best not to gawk. He returned to his conversation with Cate and we stared at his glass. Should we steal the glass and sell it on ebay? Do we use the DNA on the straw and clone him? Or as Heather’s husband mentioned later when I relayed this story: This is how you roofie Benedict Cumberbatch!

Benedict retrieved his glass a few minutes later and I was struck with how much shorter he is in person. On Sherlock, he’s always towering over Martin Freeman. But here, he looked me dead in the eye at 5’9”. Which means, by comparison, Martin Freeman actually is hobbit sized in real life! In general, everyone was smaller than I expected, particularly the women. Jessica Biel walked in the bar a moment later and I was stunned by how slight she was. And Kristin Chenoweth only came up to my shoulder.

The Dolby bar began to feel like an overcrowded sauna, so we moved to the lobby bar for more free drinks and celebrity sightings. We saw Mathew Mcconaughey dash out of the bathroom and head into the theater. Mads Mikkelsen sipped champagne like he was an evil villain in a Bond movie plotting his next move. Michael Fassbender talked to Glenn Close  and made eye contact with me as I passed. Granted it was for two seconds, but still! Michael Fassbender has seen me in real life!

The Show

After Pink sang Somewhere Over the Rainbow we returned to our seats to watch the rest of the show. I was bummed to have missed Christopher Waltz give Lupita Nyong’o her best supporting actress award. Though it was fun to watch Michael Fassbender get really excited when she accepted the award, as he was near us watching the bar monitors.

And as cheesy as it may have seemed for Bette Midler to sing The Wind Beneath My Wings after the in memorium section, it was absolutely stunning to watch live. It was a highlight for me.

Ingrid-and-HeatherThe rest of the show played out as seen on television and before we knew it the show was over and we were headed to the valet. We weren’t invited to any after parties (we aren’t that fancy), and we found ourselves once again returned to our normal lives: stuck in LA traffic and headed to get Thai food.

The funny thing about attending the Oscars is it’s oddly more normal than you’d think. I’m so used to consuming the show through magazines and television that I imagined everything bigger and brighter and more intense than it actually is. The truth is there were a lot of stars I never even saw, like Sandra Bullock or Amy Adams. There were plenty more I didn’t even know were there until I saw photos of them online the next day. And its weird to see small moments like Jennifer Lawrence tripping turned into hot celebrity gossip.

In fact, attending the Oscars was humbling. When you see so many famous people all at once it reminds you that they’re just people. They hang out with their friends at the bar. They say excuse me when they bump into you in the lobby. And all that glitz and polish … ironically it only feels big in the small frame of your television, or in the glossy images of a magazine. In real life, there isn’t time to admire Cate Blanchett’s million dollar jewelry, or wonder what designer Sandra Bullock is wearing, or over analyze the best and worst dressed. All of that is window dressing.

In real life, you just enjoy the fact that you’re there.

Ingrid and Heather at the Oscars

Character Questionnaire: Getting to the Guts of Character

whoareyouThe other week I wrote a guest post about a film that gets away with not developing its protagonist. However, that tends to be the exception to the rule. Normally, it’s a good idea to spend some time developing your characters. You want to know as much as you can about your main and supporting characters and see what makes them tick.

A great way to get started is with a character questionnaire. There are dozens of these on the internet, and I’ve listed a few below. Questionnaires can range for simple characteristics (hair color, favorite song), to detailed life-histories of your characters. I like to scan these forms for questions that gets me excited. It’s always different from character to character, one question might be relevant to my protagonist, while another gets me thinking in a new way about the villain.

Over time, I’ve found that there are a few questions I like to go back to over and over again. For me, these are the ones that cut through the fluff and get to the real guts of my character.

Favorite questions that help to develop character in regards to story and plot:

  1. What is your character’s controlling belief?
  2. What is your character’s biggest fear?
  3. What is your character’s great weakness?
  4. What does your character need?
  5. Who is your character hurting at the opening of the story?
  6. What is your character’s moral need (this will relate to who they are hurting)?
  7. What is the crisis or problem your character is in at the opening of the story (before the inciting incident or any other events occur)?
  8. What is the “ghost,” wound, or hole in your character’s heart? (Something that happened in the past that affects their actions today and may or may not be related to their weakness/fear).
  9. What is your character’s obsession? Why are they obsessed with it?
  10. What is your character’s external goal?
  11. What is your character’s self revelation? What do they learn at the end of the story?
  12. What does your character believe or think they know at the opening of the story?
  13. How is your character wrong about what they believe at the opening of the story?
  14. How does the story world reflect your character’s needs, desires, fears, or challenge their weaknesses?
  15. What is your character’s Inciting Incident? (This is an event that connects need and desire, and jump starts the hero out of paralysis and into action). What would cause them to act?
  16. Who are your character’s allies? And what do those characters want for themselves?
  17. Who are your character’s opponents? Who wants to stop the hero from getting what he wants and why? What does the opponent want? Is he/she competing for the same thing?
  18. What are the opponent’s values and how do they differ from the hero’s?

Favorite questions that help to get to the heart of your character:

  1. How does your character relate to other human beings? Why?
  2. What’s his/her relationship with their family (mom, dad, siblings), friends, co-workers?
  3. What/who does your character love? Why?
  4. What/who does your character hate? Why?
  5. What does your character view as his/her greatest failure?
  6. What does your character view as his/her greatest success?
  7. In what way does your character feel the world has wronged them?
  8. What’s your character’s greatest strength? And weakness?
  9. Who does your character think they are better than?
  10. Who/what do they think they will never live up to?
  11. What traits does your character value/respect in others?
  12. What causes your character shame?
  13. Who does your character trust?
  14. What are your character’s religious and political views? And what affect do they have on their actions/way of life?
  15. If your character could change one thing about themself, what would it be?
  16. What does your character lie about when they meet other people?
  17. What’s your character’s motto?

Other fun questionnaires to check out:

The Color Thesaurus

I love to collect words. Making word lists can help to find the voice of my story, dig into the emotion of a scene, or create variety.

One of my on-going word collections is of colors. I love to stop in the paint section of a hardware store and find new names for red or white or yellow.  Having a variety of color names at my fingertips helps me to create specificity in my writing. I can paint a more evocative image in my reader’s mind if I describe a character’s hair as the color of rust or carrot-squash, rather than red.

So for fun, I created this color thesaurus for your reference. Of course, there are plenty more color names  in the world, so, this is just to get you started.

Fill your stories with a rainbow of images!