Monday, June 24, 2013

A Shift in Wonder

By DeAnna Knippling

There are some spoilers here, but in general nothing you couldn’t get by watching some trailer.*

Some things fall apart when you look at them too closely.

For example, Cabin in the Woods. If you’re a True Fan, skip down a bit, because reading this will just make you mad. I got to the end and felt like I’d been sucker-punched. Not with the last scene - nope, I was perfectly happy with that. But with the climactic battle right before it.

Who was the main character of this movie? Who changed the most, who learned the most, who had a real arc from beginning to end? Okay, now, who was the main actor in the climactic scene?

Not the main character. For a couple of  writer/directors who are supposedly all about strong women, she fell flat. Pure-d-flat. Did not resolve her problem on her own. No, she had a man do it for her. Fun movie?  Sure. I enjoyed the rest of it - blood, gore, guts, low humor, and final twist in the denoument - all of it. But that climax. What a stinker. And don’t try to deus ex mansplain me into thinking that she wasn’t the main character, or that really, she had some valid choices to make at the ending. Nope. None of the other characters changed (if a character solves a problem by doing what they normally do, then that’s not change - subversive guy was subversive, who saw that coming?!?), and the only choice she made at the end was to passively accept what the guy said was The Right Thing To Do. Big whoop.

Another example.

When I watched the first Star Trek reboot, I liked it. Then I read some of the critics, not the professional ones who have some interest in encouraging the movie-going public to keep buying movie tickets, but the amateurs. They gleefully pulled Star Trek to bits, turning it into illogical nonsense. As I’m writing this, I just got out of a showing of Star Trek: Into Darkness. I’m going to stay away from the reviews for a while. Because I just loved the movie, and I don’t care how unrealistic it was. The story was good, nothing is perfect, and screw the naysayers for a while. 

And yet. Cabin in the Woods. I am that naysayer.

Flaws in books are even harder for me to accept. I recently discovered, due to a recent increase in my reading superpowers, that a book that I have read so much I had to repair the spine isn’t the book I thought it was, and that the person who’d done a lot of the heavy lifting of making it grrrrreat! was me. For example, there were dozens of scenes that didn’t move the plot forward. I won’t say which book it is, because in a later series he’s fixed this issue, and honestly I...I can’t take the risk that he’ll somehow find this blog during a vanity search. No book is perfect, and I loved this book once, and he has my loyalty. But I don’t know that I’ll ever read my beloved, patched copy of it again. 

Again I’m a naysayer, or at least a nay-thinker.

I mentioned that I have recently increased my reading superpowers. What I really mean is that I’ve been studying better, typing in parts of stories, writing outlines for them, finding out how authors use conflict and structure and all that on a different level than I used to. If writing is the exhale part of being a creative writerly type, then reading is the inhale part, and I’ve learned how to inhale more deeply lately.

Part of me is saddened by my new reading superpowers. 

Because I feel like I’m losing a certain level of innocent “wow!” in reading, in watching movies, in participating in stories. My daughter comes up to me and tells me about books that she’s read, and I often have inappropriate reactions (eye rolling, mocking laughter, general killjoy naysayerisms). I can’t love stories the way an eleven-year-old does anymore, and part of me wants that back.

But part of me is enriched, too.

I pull down Dorothy Sayers and am freshly amazed. I read a James Patterson and I laugh, because his books are so perfectly orchestrated. Donald Westlake isn’t just funny anymore, he’s a god. I read a Loretta Savage and curse with pure envy on her POV structures.

More recently, I just finished studying Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns, breaking it out chapter by chapter, until I could see at least a little bit of how the conflict in each scene built upon previous scenes, layer upon layer upon layer. It makes me want to reread A Clockwork Orange, oh my brothers.

I feel like I lost one kind of wonder in order to gain another. 

Is it worth it? Someday I hope it pays off and helps me sell more stories. I hope it is paying off already, as I write.

But as it is, it’s sometimes hard to talk to people about what I learn from stories. One of my favorite bits in Star Trek: Beyond Darkness was the part where people are trying to get across the falling ship. Those scenes weren’t amazing...and yet, from a storytelling perspective (and as far as I can tell at this point) they were perfect. Please don’t talk to me about the technicalities of how it could never have happened that way at the moment. I don’t want to know.

Hypocritical. And yet there it is.

I think in the end, foolishly, I want the things that are brilliant to be laid open, so I can see their brilliance - no analysis of mine can lessen true shininess - and the things that are  less than brilliant to stay hidden, so at least I can enjoy the powers of my own imagination in filling in the gaps, the artlessness, the learning curves of other creative types in the process of gaining their own superpowers, too.

Except the ending of Cabin in the Woods. I want a secret director’s cut in which Our Heroine lays that bad b---- down.

*And why are they called trailers, anyway?  Good grief.

About the Author: DeAnna Knippling started freelancing in May 2011 and wouldn’t be able to do it without her wonderful family and friends, especially her husband. In fact, she owes a lot to Pikes Peak Writers for helping her be a better writer, especially through the Write Brains, both in the lectures and in meeting lots of other writers.

Her reason for writing is to entertain by celebrating her family’s tradition of dry yet merry wit, and to help ease the suffering of lack of self-confidence, having suffered it many years herself. She also likes to poke around and ask difficult questions, because she hates it when people assume something must be so.

For more kicks in the writerly pants, see her blog at or her ebook How to Fail & Keep on Writing, available at Smashwords, B&N, Amazon, and OmniLit.


  1. Okay - you've piqued my interest in this Loretta Savage person - but I can't find her books! Am I missing something?

    Thanks for an awesome post, btw. :) I loved Star Trek, too! ;)

  2. If you're familiar with Mystery Science Theater 3000, you know they're the guys who riff on bad movies--brilliantly. I used to be part of a group of MSTies (fans of the show) who would all cue up the same movie at home and riff on it online. This gang was almost as good as the originals. I loved it. Until they started riffing movies I liked. I couldn't watch them anymore without hearing the riffs. So I would only join in on movies I didn't know.

    I had the same problem with reading for a while after I started writing. All the "rules" would be banging around in my head no matter what I was reading. And it started to ruin reading for me. I've finally learned to turn that off. Not on really bad writing. No getting around that.

    Now I turn it on for critiques or when I need to dissect a book, but it goes off if I'm just reading for pleasure. Especially reading favorites.

  3. I was so crushed by Cabin in the Woods! I'm a hard-core Wheadonite and I was looking forward to his take on straight-forward horror. A few minutes in, upon learning that there was nothing straight forward about it I was all the more excited. And then, as you said, the ending. Bleh. I felt like the whole idea kind-of failed in the end because I found myself thinking "But it was ushc a brilliant idea!" I honestly didn't trace my disappointment back to the lack of character arc.

    I think there is value to mastery, though, even if it means you can see the man behind the curtain. The journey doesn't remove your sense of wonder, it just demands more from the material that's going to give it to you. Great thoughts.


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