Movie Moments of Stillness – A Creative Necessity
Movie references tend to creep into my stories a lot; in my most recent paranormal release, In the Company of Witches, my heroine Raina (half-succubus, all witch) is a big fan of the movie Titanic, and she and Mikhael, my hero (a Dark Guardian, something like a cop/sorcerer), end up necking in a theater where they’re showing New Moon (I’m not ashamed to admit it – I LOVE the Twilight movies!). Anyhow, though I’m a bit of a movie addict…(ahem – 500+ DVD library and counting!), the movies serve a creative purpose, as any source of good storytelling does. In fact, this week they helped me turn a flat, ugly scene into something worth reading. To make that happen, I employed what I call the “Moment of Stillness” exercise. Let me explain, with a few less parentheses (lol).
There’s an amazing movie called The Legend of Bagger Vance, with Matt Damon and Will Smith. It centers around a golf game between Matt Damon’s relatively unknown character, Junuh, and golf legends Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen. During the movie, there’s a part where Bagger (Will Smith) tells Junuh to watch Bobby Jones when he steps up to the ball to take his swing. Once Bobby arrives at the tee, everything else disappears. He clears his mind completely, and when he does, a synergy of instinct and experience happen—and so does a great shot. It’s as Bagger tells Junuh: “All we got to do is get ourselves outta it’s way.”
I have noticed this theme in other movies. In Finding Neverland, Johnny Depp portrays playwright J.M. Barrie, who wrote Peter Pan. Caught in writer’s block, he strikes up a friendship with a widow and her children. As he gets lost in the enjoyment of being with them (rather than worrying about his stale play), he starts “seeing” a new story, Peter Pan. There’s an extraordinary scene where the boys are jumping on their beds but, in J.M.’s imagination, he sees them bounce, bounce, and then begin to fly through the air, finally soaring out the window, just as will eventually happen in the Peter Pan story.
In Star Trek – Insurrection, Captain Picard meets a people who have slowed down the aging process. In a lovely moment with one of the female leaders of the community, he is sitting by a stream with her where she helps him “stay in this moment”. We see a hummingbird’s wingbeats get so slow we can see the delicate wing structure, everything in slow motion.
Final example – Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey, Jr and Jude Law. In both the first and second installment of these incredible movies, there are times Sherlock, with his amazing ability to anticipate action and reaction, shows in slow motion what will unfold and plans his response to it, all before it happens. Though in reality, it all happens very quickly, it is slow and steady in his head, the rest of the world tuned out.
Anyhow, this process of slowing down the mind, opening it up, “getting out of its way” is vital in almost every creative endeavor. It becomes absolutely essential to find this method when you evolve from doing something you love merely because you love it, and doing it professionally. Business and creativity have always had an uneasy relationship. For instance, the athlete who is pure poetry on the broken asphalt of the inner city basketball court, must learn to hold onto that craftsmanship when playing for a million dollar contract, with the demands of team owner, fans, etc piled on his back.
On the same note, writers have to make the transition from scribbling away in their glorious solitude, where getting published is no more than a distant pipe dream, to being an author who writes on deadline, meeting promo requirements, answering copious amounts of email, social networking, etc… Yet every subsequent story must be a creative and fresh as the ones they created in the beginning, in their little private cubbyhole.
Impossible? Nope. Not with that moment of stillness. At the beginning of this post, I claimed that “moment of silence” had really helped me this week. I was working on the latest book in my Vampire Queen Series, Taken by a Vampire, which features a threesome—Evan, my vampire hero, his Scottish servant Niall, and Alanna, the rigidly trained Inherited Servant who has come under their protection until her treasonous Master is apprehended. My editor needs a partial sooner than expected, so over the past several weeks I’ve been typing furiously, getting that first draft vomited out onto the pages (yeah, no better way to put it than that). But now I’m in the first edit. I can do the “barf to meet deadline” for only so long before my soul shrivels up into a husk.
So I take a deep breath, slow it all down. Surround myself with that creative stillness, and tap deeper into who and what my characters are, where they are, etc. As such, what was a pretty bland, bare-bones section became the following, which I like much better, even though this is still only a rough first draft. I’m too proud to give you the first version for comparison; just imagine blah blah blah, vomit, vomit, vomit, and you’ll have the essence of it – grin.
Background: Alanna is meeting Evan for the first time in the root cellar of a mountain cabin, which he also uses as a dark room to develop film – he’s an artist/photographer:
Turning away from the ladder, she faced her new Master. She was five-four in height, so the tilt of her head to view his face suggested he was just at six feet. Evan Miller, a common enough name, but he had the absorbing features and piercing eyes of a handsome Jewish man, the charisma obvious even without the vampire enhancement. He didn’t have Niall’s height or breadth—she didn’t imagine many men did—but his shoulders were broad, despite a rangy body type, lean and knotted. He had a long face with straight slash cheekbones, his mouth a firm, thin line. His straight nose was the dividing marker for wide-spaced eyes that were gray and heavy lidded, with dark fine brows beneath a straight fall of dark hair.
She was wrong. She had seen his face at some point, because she remembered his eyes. How long had he and Niall stayed at her bedside when Stephen was torturing her through their mindlink? Evan’s painting on her bare skin, the touch of Niall’s hands on her face…it had seemed to go on a long time, hell’s minions howling at the door but unable to get through while they were there.
“Just as impossibly beautiful as I expected,” Evan murmured. Without permission, her body swayed toward his at the recollection of that voice. He put a hand on her shoulder, steadying her. “Though a little dizzy. Niall didn’t feed you.”
“No, he did, Master. My apologies. I…” It wasn’t dizziness, not that kind, but she couldn’t explain it to herself, let alone him. She knew now they’d been real, the both of them. While learning more about them should be putting her feet more solidly on the ground, she was so outside her normal milieu, they seemed even more fantastic.
He touched a loose lock of her hair at her temple, apparently considering the red-gold color that had always made her more noticeable than most servants. His fingers were truly extraordinary. Elegant but capable, the hands of a master artisan. She remembered a greeting card her brother had sent her. The stained glass style painting had shown an oak tree coming to life, the branches turning into male arms, wrapping around the body of a human woman, who was kissing the face surfacing through the bark, the powerful, graceful tree spirit that shared life with the oak. Evan’s hands reminded her of that. He also smelled like the forest.
She had to fight the urge to turn into that touch. InhServs could show pleasure at a Master’s attention, when the time was appropriate. This didn’t feel like that time. He’d think her a fool.
“Was your trip a pleasant experience?” he asked. “ I expect the opportunity to skewer Niall was one of the highlights.”
She blinked. “Yes… I mean, the trip was fine, Master.”
Evan chuckled. Brushing her cheek with his fingertips, he kept his other hand on her waist, but it didn’t feel like a casual touch. She was practically vibrating beneath it. By the flicker in those heavy-lidded eyes, she could tell he was aware of it, but now he’d shifted his regard from her hair to her face.
It felt different from how she’d been studied by vampires in the past. It was a full exploration, as if he was trying to determine what emotions and experiences radiating from her soul made her face what it was. It was disconcerting, but she held still. She was on firm ground as long as she relied on her training.
Evan glanced toward the ladder. Niall was leaning against it, the trap door closed above him. She hadn’t heard him come down. He moved like a hunter, even more silently than she was used to thirdmark servants moving. His eyes were darker in the dim light, the broad planes of his face even more rugged. “She didn’t have any questions, except how best to serve you.”
“I’m sure Niall told you he was not the best person to answer that,” Evan noted dryly. “You know that I call our gorgeous mountain view the Atheist Test, but did Niall tell you his response, when I first called it that?”
“I told him all it proves is God likes to pick up a paintbrush,” Niall said, shifting his gaze to her, then back to the vampire. “Just like Evan, He may not be good for much else than pretty pictures.”
She blinked, astonished at the rudeness to his Master, but Evan merely bared his fangs at his servant, a feral smile. “But you didn’t refute the theory. Whether you think He’s an inept deity or not, you don’t deny His presence in your life.”
“No more than I deny when there’s a thorn stuck in my arse,” Niall said mildly.
Evan lifted a brow, but shifted his attention back to Alanna. “It’s my understanding that you are an exceptionally intelligent woman, Alanna. A very accomplished one. As such, you’ve already realized we’re a far cry from the formality and etiquette of high echelon vampires.” His gaze intensified on her face. “Much of your training may not apply here.”
* * * * *
So did this intrigue you, or does it need more work? Yeah, I know, it’s a first draft, so it needs more work, but now that I’m more in tune with the characters, I think there’s some solid stuff there, enough to engage my creative interest and make me pursue it as much for the sake of the story as that looming deadline. And that’s the key to keeping it fresh (wink).
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