Category Archives: Movies

The Art of Character Creation

character_profile_girl

So I’ll just start out by giving a brief summary of my summer. I’ve been doing two things mostly: watching TV and nannying.

I suppose in a way these two share a connection, though that may come as surprise. I suppose what both have allowed me to reflect a good deal on is the art of molding a person into what we know as a character.

Character creation is one of my all time favorite parts of writing. Most of the time when I develop a person for my writing I come to love them to a point of obsession. They’re like my children, my own creations I know better than anyone else ever could. I know their quirks, their likes, their dislikes, the way they look when they sleep, the food they’d gobble up in a heartbeat, the person that simply brings out the worst in them, their dreams and deepest desires. There’s something so beautiful in that. And that’s why I think some of this summer has been so fantastic.

I’ve done minimal reading. Something about this break has made me frightfully lazy. However, that doesn’t mean I haven’t learned anything about writing.

Though television perhaps may seem a bit of a lower standard in terms of studying writing, there is no denying a writer puts work into each and every episode that airs. And while actors certainly play a key role in helping give that character life, it’s the initial writer who first births the idea.

Unlike in novels or movies, viewers spend a large amount of time getting to know television characters, perhaps one of the reasons it is so important to develop the character to a greater extreme truly showing off their complexities and unique personalities. Most movies give you a 2 hour window into a character’s life. In that time, you might get to know them well, but so much time is devoted to plot that often characters can seem to blend back into the background creating the same generic feel of others in their genre. Not to say I don’t think there are amazing movie characters because there are films that can easily reduce me to tears (the fact that Pixar’s Up is the first one I think of leaves me a bit perplexed but nonetheless provides a good example).

Books are perhaps more in depth than movies often are, filling pages that take hours to read rather than a short movie time span. However, authors too sometimes must cut back on areas of character development. First person often gives a great insight into the mind of the protagonist and yet side characters sometimes end up becoming rather flat. Writing on this makes me think of my English professor’s little rhyme to help us remember character development techniques: what they think, what they do, what others think about them too! However, when the plot is over and done we don’t see the characters everyday normal lives to a great extent. We get perhaps a glimpse in an epilogue of he or she with children or a significant other making their way in the world, but it’s not the same as glimpsing multiple scenes of them raising kids, having fights with a partner, crying over the loss of a loved one.

Television provides a unique lens into the lives of its characters. You spend 45 minutes with them through each episode. And unless we’re talking about BBC most often, there are at least 20 of these episodes in a season, and the show could run for five or more years!

My mother got me started on Bones this year. I started in season 4 or something like that. And though I initially rebuffed the idea of becoming hooked on another television series, I soon found myself all too fascinated by Dr. Brennan and her frank and (sometimes too) honest approach to life, or Angela and how brilliantly she works computers, or Dr. Hodges who never fails to get excited by something gross. And yet part of what gives me such love for each and every one of these fictional people is that I get brief glimpses into their semi-mundane lives alongside the drama of the crime show. I see Cam struggling to mother a teenage daughter, or Sweets confused with his love life, or Brennan’s strained relationship with her father. And every episode, every season there’s a new real life struggle that I get to glimpse the character in to accompany the disgusting discovery of a new crime. And unlike in movies or books I often begin to get a sense that I truly know the character the way I might more as an author. For as writers we discover parts of the character’s normal life, we just don’t always get to include it in our novels.

Bones

Didn’t you say something about nannying? I’m sure I’ve lost a few readers and I apologize. And yes, I did. Nannying has been my second glimpse of creating characters and actually relates rather well to television. This is because my characters live more of an episodic lifestyle than one out of a novel or movie.

My kids’ all-time favorite game we play they call Orphanage. Children for whatever reason often seem a bit fascinated by orphans (perhaps the reason so many children’s stories include these individuals as protagonists). And so, we created a game of three orphans living in a home for other equally parentless children, all of whom find that the place they’re living is anything but ordinary.

There are probably fifteen to twenty other children in the orphanage. And I play all of them. The idea is I’ll slip out, put on a different hat depending if I’m a boy or girl and then step back in to act out my part as one of their compatriot orphans. Sometimes I’ll be having drama with one of the other kids in the place, other times I’ll bring news of something odd going on. We’ve had a bit of everything, from werewolves attacking, to petrified students with a basilisk on the lose (sorry JK Rowling) to strange spells, to aliens attacking. Most recently I’ve taken a page from BBC Sherlock’s book and have started making the children solve a mystery in order to save a fellow orphan’s life.

However, in the process of all this I’m weaving together characters that the children have come to know and love. And because I often play this game for four hours at a time, five days a week, for four or five weeks of the summer, for three years, the tales are often episodic in nature. There are new major plot conflicts, but also minor ones such as a girl rejecting a boy, or another orphan being adopted again, or one of them trying to escape unwanted attention. And in doing so the characters really begin to create a life of their own. You have quirky Nick the beat boxer who never fails to bring a smile to people’s faces as the somewhat goofy comic relief, or sweet motherly Anna who tries to run the orphanage as best she can when the adults fail, flirty Italian Antonio who never gives up no matter how often he gets shut down, or even obnoxious girly-girl Ivy who spends most of her time talking on the phone about her nails.

Both the kids and I have fallen in love with some of the characters. If we lose the list I keep of who’s who, there are always characters they are guaranteed to request, ones they’re sad over possibly losing, ones they fear for when threatened. Just the other day when the latest girl was threatened in order to get them to solve the little homemade treasure hunt puzzle I’d developed one of the kids commented, “No she’s our friend!”

And so this summer has reminded me all the more that making a good character involves truly knowing them. In a novel it can be a bit harder because you may have less time to let your audience fall in love, but I think a key part of character development is truly getting to know each and every person as an author, figuring out how they’d react in different scenarios, knowing more about their childhood background, understanding their interaction with others. My assumption of course is in doing this you help open up the reader to a truly unique person, one that almost seems to have life in spite of how fictional they might be.

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Writing Is an Open Door

To any who haven’t seen Frozen yet I highly recommend it. With fantastic music, beautiful animation, and a marvelous storyline, it is easily one of Disney’s greatest movies.

One of my all time favorite songs in it is “Love Is an Open Door.” I don’t know why exactly, other than the fact that it’s catchy and fun. But I guess in the last few weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about openness, about closing oneself off, something that is a big part of Frozen. You might have noticed, dear readers, that this has been a theme of my last few posts. I suppose it’s just something I’ve been thinking about that’s been coming up again and again in my life.

Elsa and Anna represent two completely different approaches to life. Elsa closes herself off completely for fear of hurting others or being hurt herself, but in doing so she pushes anyone who might try to be close away. Anna opens herself wide, expressing all of her feelings, letting loose her heart, but in doing so she puts herself at risk for those who might hurt her.

In relationships I’ve so often found myself doing one or the other. It’s easy to either slam the door shut or to open it too wide. I once had someone compare friendships to walking into a house. With some people we only let them sit on the porch, others come and walk through, and still others are allowed into secret dark rooms to see the dirtiest most broken parts.

But writing is also something where someone has to debate whether to open or shut a door. Do you write about personal private things that hurt, or do you simply write fun amusing stories with no depth?

In my literature class this semester I had the pleasure of reading Moby-Dick and ended up writing my end of the year research paper on it. In reading more about Herman Melville I found that his novel was in many ways a picture of his own dark and desperate struggles with life’s questions: whether there is a God and if so is he good? Can humans define their own destiny? Is there a greater purpose?

First Edition American copy of Moby Dick by Herman Melville

In reading about Melville, about how he allowed himself to open the door to the inner turmoil and capture that on a page, I found myself utterly fascinated. I’ve always prided myself on trying to remain open in my writing, but to put such dark confusing questions into a novel remained something I wasn’t sure I could ever do, or certainly not something I could publish at the very least.

Writing is much like relationships in that respect. It’s a choice whether to open the door and let depth and meaning come about, to allow deeper connection with readers, and yet risk being hurt. Or to shut that door and keep up a cool exterior of writing that has nothing to do with anything personal, merely meaningless fun.

There are writers we read who certainly do the latter. One of my literature professors had us try building a portrait of a writer we were reading, and we agreed that it was easy to understand what type of person he was just from reading his works, but other writers hide behind their works and we never really know who they are. Sometimes maybe we catch a brief glimpse of their voice, but it’s never with the same depth or meaning as others.

As a young girl I promised myself I would never write anything just for the fun of it. I use to say: not for the fortune, nor the fans, nor even the fun. And I think that continues to be my motto as I write. I never want to be like Elsa and close off that door to my readers. I don’t want to build an icy exterior to keep my readers at bay. I want to be open and honest, want to develop a relationship with them on the page just like other writers that I have loved reading. But in doing so I know I risk being hurt from criticism or rejection. But I don’t care. I want my writing to be an open door. And I shall forever try to maintain that.

Have any other writers out there struggled with this? Readers do you have any favorite books that you see a writer coming through the pages? Any Frozen lovers out there just want to discuss the movie? I’m up for that too. Any comments you have are great.

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Saving Characters like Mr. Banks

You can probably guess what this post is going to be about. Good for you.

For any who haven’t seen Saving Mr. Banks yet I highly recommend it. I thought it was an excellent movie and very much enjoyed it. And I think there’s a lot to see in the film, even beyond the immediate story.

For any who don’t know, it recounts P.L. Travers’, the author of Mary Poppins, struggle to maintain control of her story that is being transformed into a Disney movie. In the process, she recalls her childhood memories that inspired her to write the original story, including the purpose behind it.

As a writer myself, I strongly connected with Mrs. Travers (as she likes to be called in the film). Admittedly, I’ve had a much easier life than she’s had, but I still can share in that agony of surrendering your character into another person’s hands. It’s painful enough for me to give up my works as reading material even to my closest friends and family, because those characters are precious to me.To anyone out there who’s read my fictional works, you should understand just how much I’ve surrendered even just in giving a glimpse of a chapter. Even this blog, can be difficult for me to share.

Mrs. Travers tells the Disney corporation that Mary Poppins and the Banks are family to her. Of course, she means in the sense of having created them based on real people, but for me there is a strong reality of seeing my characters as more than fictional beings on a page.

SAVING MR. BANKS

I dealt with a lot of loneliness in my junior high days. And one of the main things that kept me going was my writing. I spent most of my free time at school scribbling down stories on pieces of notebook paper, folding them up and tucking them away to take home. To this day I have hundreds of pages just from eighth and ninth grade year. And in those times, my characters felt more like friends than simple figments of my imagination.

There was a sense to me that if my characters could go through the things they did, then I could find the strength to face each new day. I could push myself out of bed, get ready for school, head off for a few hours of lonely writing time. In many ways my characters could achieve the things I’d only dream of, and I could create their own reality that was different than mine. And it gave me hope.

I’m not the lonely little girl I was back in those days. But I still find a sense of happiness in writing, in creating new people to become acquainted with, who will not judge me when I share my darkest secrets. They never disappoint me. They never leave me. They’re always their. A constant companion to guide me through my hardest times. Real friends come and go. They break hearts, they tear open wounds. That’s not to say characters are always perfect. They have their struggles, they have their quirks, and they have their weaknesses. But there’s something indescribably special in breathing life into an empty dead piece of paper covered in ink.

And then to have others look at your characters and change them or criticize them. It’s painful. They’re like my children. Like my best friends.

“Life is full of risks,” my father said when I explained how much I sympathized with Mrs. Travers. And I guess it is. But putting out your works feels like so much more of a risk. What if people hate your beloved characters? What if your publisher changes things around and makes it seem utterly different from how you originally thought it would be? What if they end up utterly misunderstood why you have to stand on the sidelines as their only champion? There are so many things that can go wrong. And it’s so hard to understand if you have never created a character that you know and love as much as a good friend.

“Why did you have to make him so cruel? He was not a monster!” Mrs. Travers cries when she sees their portrayal of Mr. Banks. How accurately this captures the author’s unique perspective on a character, the insight they have that others don’t. A character is an author’s whole world. And seeing them ripped apart is never easy.

SAVING MR. BANKS

There are many wonderful aspects of this film that I cannot even begin to cover. But from a writer’s perspective there is much to garner from this author’s struggle to maintain control of her beloved story. Life is full of risks. For Mrs. Travers it’s possible the risk wasn’t worth it. But I think those of us who enjoy the wonderful film of Mary Poppins would disagree.

As writers we have to risk putting our characters out there (or just our works if we’re not interested in fiction). Sometimes we cannot save them from the fate of what publishers, movie makers, or readers consign them to. Nothing has been more painful than having a friend tell me they don’t like one of my characters (one they’re not supposed to hate anyways) or having someone tell me: “he’s immature, she’s too grumpy, or he just isn’t at all appealing as a person.” Because so often they’re missing the true perspective only I can give them. I’ll reply to the criticisms: “He’s never been given a proper childhood, she’s just gone through a death of her beloved, or he’s just working on developing into a better human as we all are.” But often it’s too late. They’ve made their judgements. And only for us are those characters saved.

Do any other authors out there agree with my analysis? Have you seen problems in other people’s perceptions or changes to one of your characters? As someone who has not been published I can never fully give a perspective on that, but I’d love to hear from others. To any other readers, tell me your thoughts on the movie if you’ve seen it. If not maybe tell me about a movie you have seen that’s inspired you as a writer. I always look for more!

This trailer might contain a few spoilers but I thought I’d post it anyways.

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Those Moments we Understand Books the Best

I’ve spent a lazy weekend unwilling to even start studying for finals, but as I wasted time today I re-watched the Masterpiece version of Jane Eyre from 2006.

Jane Eyre (2006)

Now for those who don’t know Jane Eyre is probably one of my all time favorite books. There are few others that can reduce me to such utter happiness when I read, make me smile and laugh and cry all at once. And watching the movie just reminds me so much of the book I fell in love with all those years ago.

Now I think Jane had a special meaning to me this time I watched. I’m leaving to go off to France next semester leaving behind my college to go study abroad. And while I’m certainly excited and looking forward to the whole thing, another part of me is saddened at having to leave behind the place I’ve grown so familiar with over the last two and a half years.

And in finding myself in this situation I’ve constantly found myself sympathizing with literary characters like Jane as they leave their familiar homes behind, the places they’ve come to know and love so well over a significant portion of their lives. I feel like Jane leaving Thornfield, Harry leaving Hogwarts, Lucy leaving Narnia, Oliver Twist being forced from the Brownlow’s.

That’s not to say I don’t want to go to France, it’s merely that I dread leaving the place I’ve become so familiar with. I have a loving home back with my parents to be sure, but something about college has just really clicked for me. I have learned more about myself than I ever dreamed I would, have met wonderful new friends who support me in my growth, and have simply found a place I can only describe as home.

And to be sure I’m embarking out on a grand adventure. But I’m like Samwise Gamgee heading out of the Shire, a little wary to leave the place that has been so safe and good for him all his life.

He looks at Frodo on the first little bit of their walk and says:

“If I take one more step, it’ll be the farthest away from home I’ve ever been.”

The road ahead of me is still so shadowed, unknown. I feel in many ways like I’m setting out without a map, no concept of what might happen of where this journey might lead me. But I know if my books have taught me anything that even if the road will be hard that it will be worth it and that this new stage of my life is going to change and shape me.

https://i1.wp.com/static2.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20120428032236/harrypotter/images/0/02/Tumblr_lvfx24sgay1r5tevgo1_500.jpg

So I cling to my books right now in hopes of comforting myself as I set out. It’s moments like these that I feel like I truly understand why literature exists in giving us a sense of shared human experience and understanding for our struggles and fears.

I suppose I should warn you dear readers that I will possibly be taking a break from my blog for a while as I study abroad. I need to focus on learning the language and shouldn’t spend too much time using English. I will probably start a blog about my travels though and will be sure to announce when that’s up.

But regardless I still just wanted to share that brief moment of happiness in recognizing the way I see literature in my own life and the hope I have as I head out for my grand adventure. To all friends from my new “home” at school, just know I will miss you. I feel like Harry leaving Ron and Hermione, or Lucy leaving Mr. Tumnus. I will miss all of you, but I will be back one day for sure. And I look forward to sharing with you the adventures I’ve had in my time away. And since I can’t take you with me I take the hope books have given me about friendships, adventures, and everything else. To my followers, don’t give up on me yet. I’ll try to keep this going as long as I can. 

So, what ways have you seen parts of your favorite book in your own life? What hope do characters give you?

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Horror Stories for Horror Stories

Horror Stories for Horror Stories

I found this amusing and thought I’d share it. Just a cute cartoon about the reality of some books transition into movies. Hope it made you smile!

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August 24, 2013 · 3:16 PM

Wishbone: My Roots as an English Major

What’s the story, Wishbone?

My love of literature started at a young age. Though I didn’t realize it at the time I was fascinated by many of the books of the canon. Even before I could read myself I already knew stories like The Odyssey, or Tom Sawyer, Romeo and Juliet, The Count of Monte Cristo, or Pride and Prejudice. But of course at such an early age I wasn’t reading, instead I was watching.

My favorite show as a child was Wishbone, a PBS show about a Jack Russell Terrier that uses classic literature to relate to the adventures of his humans. My family didn’t have cable so for the most part I was stuck with public television or movies. But I didn’t mind too much, it gave me more time to play rather than absorbing screen entertainment. As a result of my few choices I usually was presented with the opportunity to always watch Wishbone. And that started me down the path of loving stories.

I will never forget when I started reading those books for myself. Remembering how they portrayed things in the children’s version always gave me great joy in rediscovering the stories as an adult. It was a new angle, a further dimension to the thirty minute episodes I used to watch. It was a great joy to get to read my favorite stories again.

Alongside that Wishbone’s example of applying literary lessons to real life was one I would continue to value for years to come. When I’d be scared for a presentation at school I’d remember brave heroes I’d read about in books and use them as an example of what I wanted to act like. When I was bullied for being a book nerd I’d remember Hermione Granger and how her cleverness paid off in the end. If I struggled to find comfort in my circumstances I’d think of Sarah in The Little Princess and how she always found ways to be happy, and in turn to share happiness with others. Books are full of inspiring people and circumstances and thanks to Wishbone I learned some of what it means to apply a book to my own life.

So, here I am years later as an English major, continuing to read and write. I hope one day I can share with others that love of books that I first gained as a child. I know my own children will grow up with books all around them, constantly being taught that when life gets hard a book can be a great friend to keep you company.

Thanks for all you taught me Wishbone. I miss you!

Where did you learn to love reading? What childhood memories stand out to you? Did anybody else watch and love Wishbone?

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Reviewing Research with Richard Castle

With the summer drawing close I am trying to start finding activities to keep boredom from striking. As a result I have been writing, reading, and of course watching massive amounts of television. At the moment I’m in the middle of a Castle marathon and watching the charming writer solve crimes has been an interesting time of reflection.

Castle of course revolves around Richard Castle’s crime fighting but also includes some of his struggles as a writer. Of course, the main reason that Castle is allowed to tag along for the crazy crime stopping adventures is because he is doing “research”.

As a writer research is a crucial part of the writing process. I remember first learning this when I was a young girl, and my mother and I were discussing writing. We had been reading the Spiderwick Chronicles, a tale of children chasing fairies and having many wonderful adventures. And I remember my mother mentioning to me that even with fantasy, a writer had to do their research. She used as an example the dumbwaiter the children used to get up to the attic. “If a writer didn’t know about dumbwaiters, they could severely mess up this scene, so as a writer goes through the book they have to learn about different things,” my mother explained. At the time, I thought this was somewhat silly. Could details really be that important? As I’ve grown older I have begun to realize just how important and tiring research can be.

Richard Castle follows detective Beckett around trying to better learn about the crime fighting system, learning what’s fact and what is merely fiction. It’s important to understand even the minute details and, with his crime fighting, Castle can better understand the aspects of life as a cop. I only wish I was lucky enough to get to follow a tough detective around to learn for my books. Sadly most of the time it comes down to google searches or a trip to the library.

But what’s the best way to research? Many writers do go explore their subjects like Castle. I have done some traveling in Europe thanks to my amazing parents and have been able to take away so much more material than I would have looking up French towns on the internet. But of course I can’t afford to go to Europe every time I have a question. And sometimes my material isn’t even easily experienced. The library, the internet, and experience can all be good tools in their own way.

I suppose the main thing is that writing takes diligent effort. It’s hard sometimes to make myself look something up, but in the long run, I am glad to have details right no matter how small they may seem. Whether it’s learning the history of makeup, researching the traditional Victorian flower language, or finding out if vodka can be used for disinfectant, I try to take the time to find out the truth.

What tools do you use to research or know of for research? How important do you think research is to a writer? Have you watched Castle? Just a few questions to get some conversation going. Let me know your thoughts! I always love to hear from my readers.

 

Writer vest

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When a Movie is Better than a Book: My Take on Hunger Games

Image

As an English major, saying a movie is better than its literary counterpart is almost blasphemous, but I am going to say it nonetheless.

Movies and books are for some reason assumed to be similar by some. I have friends who complain nonstop about the issues in some movie that was an adaption of a book. And while it is true that many movies utterly ruin the story (The Lightening Thief is an example in my opinion), others do a fairly good job considering what they have to work with.

The formats are so vastly different that it is impossible to have a movie that directly replicates a book. The closest I can think of are Masterpiece Theater versions of books that have 5 or 6 hours to run because they are on television rather than on DVD. The issues with transferring aren’t hard to see. Here are a few.

1. Narration. While a first person narrated book is a wonderful thing to read, a constantly narrated movie gets boring after a while. The viewer can see most things and therefore does not need a constant voice explaining what is happening. However, for explaining some important details or giving thoughts or feelings, this transfer can cause an issue. While a character might already know something and explain it to the reader in his or her brain in a book, a movie must use a different means.

2. Time. A book is something we spend a good deal of time over. Most people will read a book for several days (I confess I am a book addict and tend to devour in a matter of hours, but many enjoy savoring). A movie is limited in its time. A viewer cannot simply walk out of the theater because they are tired, or have dinner to get to, or need to do something else, and expect to come back to the exact same spot in the movie. Nor can an audience be expected to sit through 6-8 hours worth of film. The transfer of book time to movie time is tricky and involves cutting some elements.

3. Action. Hollywood often needs more action in the movies than the author might have provided. Slower dialogue scenes are acceptable in books, but in movies they tend to be a little long. Therefore, it is sometimes necessary to add some elements of action. Readers are disappointed, though, when scenes are cut for time and others are added to keep viewers interested. A good example is in The Chronicles of Narnia when battle scenes were added. The books were fun, but when put on screen they needed a little extra pizzazz (feel free to debate this issue with me, I can see both sides).

4. Emotional depth. It’s interesting to see how emotion transfers onto a screen. Sometimes a movie seems less emotional than a book. Othertimes it’s the opposite. I think that just depends. Seeing a picture of the story before you can be very meaningful, but hearing a characters thoughts can also be very powerful. This can cause some problems between book and movie depending (partly going back to narration).

5. Characters. Picking an actor is rarely easy. While well known names boost the movie’s potential, sometimes known actors just don’t quite fit the part. It’s hard to match a character perfectly: in physical appearance, personality, age, etc. One of my Harry Potter obsessed roommates has complained that Alan Rickman is too old to be play Snape by the books standards (he would be 31 in the first movie, but Rickman was 55 when the first film came out). It is hard to fit everything a writer was looking for when they were first creating their marvelous protagonists, antagonists, and extras.

These are merely a few of the issues going on in conversion from text to theater. I admire those who do this work, because I know the transfer takes a good deal of vision and perseverance to put the whole thing together. I cannot imagine making a book into a movie, even if I have complained I could do a better job.

I bring this all up because I (as I so blasphemously declared earlier) have found some books that I simply think make better movies. My best example of this is The Hunger Games.

I didn’t read the books until last year, the same week that the first movie came out. While I did enjoy the books for their story, I struggled with writing that I found to be less than satisfactory. I’ve never been a fan of writing in present tense, and that, along with Collin’s less skilled writing made it hard for me to follow in written form.

On screen, however, I didn’t have to deal with bad writing. I could enjoy the story (the best part of the suspense filled books) and see a picture of the marvelous Panem world. I also appreciated being able to see more than just Katniss’s perspective, getting to see some of Gale and Prim. The films seemed well done to me and I appreciated the interesting, fast-paced story.

I may have readers who strongly disagree with me. I look forward to hearing your opinions. With Catching Fire coming out this fall, it’s going to be interesting to see how the writers and director handle this next challenge. I am excited and looking forward to seeing it, hopefully at the midnight release.

Do you have movies you prefer over books? What was your least favorite adaption of book to movie? What was your favorite?

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