Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Movie Reviews for Writers: Conjuring Spirit

I love Asian horror. I just don't get to cover much of it here because it usually doesn't have much of anything to do with writers and writing. But today, we're both lucky, because Conjuring Spirit is a creepily beautiful (or beautifully creepy, take your pick) Vietnamese ghost story about a popular mystery novelist who leaves her husband after his affair and takes her son with her to an apartment complex to start over. 

After walking in on her husband in flagrante delicto, Lan decides she has had enough and she and her young son, Bi, move out. Cue the haunted apartment and the ghosts that only Bi can see at first. (Because, of course only the kid can see the spirits.)

All the while, Lan is under deadline (almost behind deadline) for her next book. 

The Guilt of Frustration

So, in the midst of having to learn to be a single parent, deal with a haunted kid who may or may not be seeing ghosts, and fend off the romantic advances of a neighbor, she also had to make time to write her book. Throughout it all, Bi constantly asks her to play with him and she promises later just about each time. 

You can hear the frustration (both with herself and him) in her voice and see the frustration in her face each time. Ever been there? You've finally managed to carve out some time to write and BAM!, here comes a call from your mother, one of your kids breaks a glass, you name it. And you start to feel guilty for your irritation that your family is cutting into your work time. (Because, your mother has clearly told you before that writing isn't a real job.)

The Power (and the Trap) of a Series

Early in the film, Lan meets with her publisher, who lays down the law about the pending deadline. During this conversation, Lan offers a few tidbits that are common to us as writers. 

Lan's mysteries series is based on the adventures of Detective Kieu, a female private eye. It's a best-selling series, so fans and the publisher keep clamoring for more. Only, Lan is growing a little tired of Kieu. 

When asked for yet another Kieu book, Lan responds, "Another story of Detective Kieu?" She's a writer who is full of ideas and wants to explore them, but she's trapped by her own success and by the expectations of readers. 

For all the benefits of writing a series in which each new volume markets all the others, there is the downside of sacrificing all your time to one character or set of characters. 

Hitting a Trouble Spot

During her conversation with her publisher, Lan admits that she is stuck with the newest book. She feels as though Kieu has worn herself thin as a character and she just doesn't know what she will do next. Without that crucial question answered the author can't move on to develop either the plot or the character. 

What does the issue stem from? It's coming from Lan's personal life (Can you say authorial intrusion, anyone?). But she can't help it. With her personal life in turmoil, much of that is bleeding over into the life of her best-selling detective. 

Because of Lan's situation, she just can't keep treating Detective Kieu like she has. With her life hitting a serious emotional depth suddenly, she feels like that must also be applied to her characters. 

Just as she faces new challenges, so much Kieu, or so she believes. 

Just as her view of the world has been shattered, so much the detective's worldview. 

It's what they both need to move forward. 

Detective Lan

Now, this is a minor and more fun thing, but sometimes we learn things in order to better write our characters. It could be something simple like visiting a cave to gauge the temperature and the feel of the rocks in the dark for accuracy in description. Or, in the case of both Lan and myself, it might be learning lockpicking to better incorporate it into your work -- writing work, I mean, so don't call the cops. 

When Lan and her boyfriend are breaking into a suspected killer's home, the guy is surprised to find she is able to pick the lock. She responds with a smirk and basically tells him she wouldn't be much of a mystery writer if she couldn't.
I concur, Lan. I concur.

No comments:

Post a Comment