The Things We Connect With

When you read a book, what are the things you connect with? Are there certain factors that stand out to you more than others?

I read mostly YA, but I don’t shy away from any particular genre, and do stray into adult literature on occasion. For me, there are a couple of elements that leap off the page, and make it easier for me to connect with the story and characters. In regards to the latter, give me a good sarcastic sidekick any day. One who has more purpose than to crack jokes, but still excels at being a master of wit with a cutting edge. I like a best friend or ally who is not afraid to call the hero out on their problematic behavior, and has a whole, well-developed personality all on their own aside from being a sidekick. I especially love strong friendships in YA of any genre. I don’t want a romance story where a relationship becomes the protagonists’ sole focus/purpose, so friendships with a solid foundation are often a favorable complement to that.

When it comes to protagonists, I connect with their flaws. Give me a hero or heroine who is not always likeable, who makes questionable calls, or who makes mistakes that possibly inspire various degrees of calamity. When they have distinct, relatable, or plot-affecting flaws, I am more likely to connect with them. I don’t want to see a female protagonist whose only flaw is that she’s a bit clumsy, or is “too nice,” or some cop-out like that. Give me drama. Give me reasonable self-doubt.  I like it because it gives them more room for growth, as well. I especially like it when a hero/heroine has to fix a major problem that they cause, whether by accident or on purpose. Don’t get me wrong, I like heroines who kick ass and are amazing with a sword… but because I don’t kick ass, I find it harder to personally connect to them.

Villain-wise, I need an antagonist who is more than just their bad deeds. Someone who actually has a point, but is going about it the wrong way. I mean, some villains are just evil to be evil, and that’s fine – but I prefer it when there’s a reason, and the reason has a solid explanation behind it. Or, sometimes I don’t even want a villain – it all depends on the story. Don’t give me an antagonist for the sake of it.

For example, some of my favorite series are The Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot, The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer, and The Charmed Life series by Jenny B. Jones. They contain some of my favorite characters, and ones I have connected with the most. As much as I love a good serious drama/fantasy, it’s stories with humor that I am drawn into the most – hence Meg Cabot being my favorite YA author.

It’s a similar experience with films, though the things I connect with tends to differ. I’m drawn in by the typical things, like basic plot, genre, and acting prowess. But when I’m actually in the theater, it’s different things that snare my attention. Don’t get me wrong, I still like snarky sidekick characters, occasionally-unlikeable protagonists, and conflicted antagonists. However, the things I connect with the most are more on a visual and auditory level.

I am compelled by strong cinematography/set design/production design. If a film is aesthetically pleasing to me, it has a higher change of connecting. Recent visually-inspiring films on my list include First Man, Darkest Hour, The Shape of Water, and The Favourite. It’s also part of the reason why I will see any film directed by Guillermo del Toro, Joseph Kosinski, and Zack Snyder. All-time favorites in the visual department include Tron: Legacy, Man of Steel, Crimson Peak, and Oblivion.

Another thing I connect with the most is the music. I need a soundtrack that is part of the film, not just the background. Composers who excel at this are Alexandre Desplat, Ennio Morricone, Father and Son Gregson-Williams, and Ramin Djawadi. Also, who can forget John Williams? He’s the perfect example. You know the themes to Jaws, Star Wars, and Jurassic Park because they are so interwoven with and indicative of the film itself. When the score really suits the film, I am more likely to connect with it.

So, I have to ask – what are the things you connect with, whether it be in books or film?

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Cinema and Sound

I’ve said it in previous posts, but I’ll reiterate here; I love movies. And, to take it even further, I love movie soundtracks.

A couple of years ago, while watching The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies on opening night, I saw a teaser trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. When the iconic Star Wars music started to play as the Millennium Falcon burst into the air, I promptly teared up. Then, last December, I saw The Force Awakens for the first time. I’ve never seen a Star Wars film in theaters before, and as soon as the familiar theme started to blast through the speakers over the opening credit scroll, I was in an emotional upheaval. It was such an awesome moment, to hear that iconic music blare as a new space adventure was prepared to begin.

Some soundtracks are just so evocative; so definitive of the work itself that it plays through your head whenever you call certain scenes or characters to mind. There are themes and soundtracks that everyone knows, even if they haven’t seen the movie it’s from. Jaws, anyone? I knew the “da-dum…..da-dum….da-dummm….DA-DUM DA-DUM DA-DUM” way before I ever mustered the courage to actually sit down and watch it.

In the Star Wars vein, everyone knows/recognizes the Imperial March. I recently saw Rogue One, and (MINOR SPOILER) when Vader appeared onscreen, his famed theme providing an ominous introduction, it set the scene and re-emphasized exactly the kind of character Vader is, even so many years after his initial appearance. Vader is the embodiment of that theme and vice versa. It’s a testament John Williams’s strength and prowess as a composer.

For me, the same goes for the theme from The Lord of the Rings; mainly the Shire theme. The tin-whistle and violin create a feeling of nostalgia and sense of “home,” and whenever it comes up, it’s easy to see and recognize how important that idea is to so many of the characters, especially Frodo and Sam. Sections of that legendary score translated seamlessly into The Hobbit series, which played on those familiar themes while simultaneously providing new ones, such as the “Misty Mountains” song and the instrumental motif that accompanies it. For all the flaws in the Hobbit films (while I personally enjoyed the films, I recognize the issues) the music was exceptional thanks to the genius of Howard Shore.

The theme from the Indiana Jones franchise is another example of a film’s music becoming essential to a character, much like the “Imperial March” and the “Jaws Theme.” I can’t think of Indy’s daring adventures, whether it be fleeing an immense boulder or taking a leap of faith for the Holy Grail, without also conjuring up that heroic theme. The music from Jurassic Park has a similar effect, but with a particular scene instead of a character. When Alan and Ellie first see the dinosaurs at the park and the music starts to play… it’s legendary. A brilliant movie moment that will go down as one of the best and most memorable, thanks to yet another marvelous theme from John Williams.

Disney films and their associated scores and composers (especially Menken, but also Hans Zimmer in the case of The Lion King) are also consistently fantastic, especially during the Disney Renaissance period. If I had to pick my favorites (as far as music is concerned), I’d probably have to say The Lion King – especially the track “Under the Stars” and the beautiful theme that plays when Simba officially becomes the King of Pride Rock. I also think the music to The Hunchback of Notre Dame is severely underrated, especially the music from the prologue, which has a haunting, almost dirge-like quality. But I don’t know if any Disney score can top the one from Beauty and the Beast. From the chilling piano in the prologue to the tune as old as time and the Beast’s magical transformation, the music definitely helps make the film pack an emotional wallop. When the familiar strains of the score started to play over-top the trailer for next year’s live-action remake, I legitimately teared up. It hit me right in the feels in the best way possible, as music should.

Whether it’s Daft Punk’s stellar and groundbreaking contribution to the Tron: Legacy soundtrack (“The Grid,” man… I am all about that movie and the music) or the gentle theme of Forrest Gump playing as a feather spirals into the air, movies are enhanced by their score on an emotional and visceral level that moving pictures and scenes typically cannot accomplish alone. For some, it might be the whimsical, fantastical themes from the Harry Potter franchise, or the swashbuckling theme from Pirates of the Caribbean, the music from some films can resonate in a person’s mind long after the film has ended. Sure, there are some notable and famed film scenes that occur in complete silence, but often, it’s the music that makes the movie, in a fusion of cinema and sound.

Note: It’s the FINAL DAY to enter my Goodreads Giveaway! Enter HERE for a chance to win one of five free copies of my debut YA novel, I’m With You.

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