Kristan Hoffman - Writing Dreams Into Reality
Thu Oct 24 2013

Moms are the best (Or: A brief scene from Friday Night Lights that brought me to tears)

First, a very relevant shout-out to my mother: Happy birthday, Mom! Thanks for always supporting me in the pursuit of my dreams.

After a series of controversies, Dillon Panthers star running back Smash Williams finds himself without a scholarship. Which means he can’t afford to go to college. Coach Taylor lines up one last opportunity, but Smash isn’t sure he’s going to take it.

Smash: Hey, I’m not going to the walk-on next week.
Mrs. Williams: What?
Smash: Alamo Freeze made me an offer. They want me to be a regional manager. It’s a good job, and I can help you –
Mrs. Williams: Alamo Freeze? Hell no.
Smash: Well look, I decided. And I’m gonna tell Coach tomorrow.
Mrs. Williams: All you’re gonna tell Coach is thank you. After all that man has done for you? He could have lost his job, Brian.
[pause]
Smash: This is not how it was supposed to be. I mean, I was supposed to buy you a house.
Mrs. Williams: I did not have kids to buy me a house. What is wrong with you?
Smash: I’ve done everything right. I’ve done everything I was supposed to do, and it’s still not enough.
Mrs. Williams: And you’re gonna keep doing things right. That’s what makes you a man. The son I raised is a man. So you’re going to that tryout, and you’re going to play like God made you to, and you are going to go to that college.
Smash: What if I don’t take your help?
Mrs. Williams: Oh, you’re gonna take my help. I am your mother. Maybe you’ll get the scholarship, but if you don’t, I am going to help you. You let me be your momma. That is my job.

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Mon Oct 21 2013

Family and football rule all

When people say they love Friday Night Lights, they generally mean the TV show. FNL, if you’re in the know. Dillon, Texas. Go Panthers. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.

fridaynightlights

Since I tend to resist things that are hugely hyped, I avoided FNL for a long, long time. Finally, the dust settled — to the point that I forgot about the show entirely, in fact, until a friend brought it up in book club last year. Then, thanks to Netflix, I was able to watch all 5 seasons of what I can now say is one of my all-time favorite TV series.

Why do I (and millions of others) love FNL so much?

Coach and Mrs. Coach

Contrary to the popular belief that marriages make for boring television, the Taylors serve as the backbone for FNL and all its drama. But they are not the source of drama, usually. They love, respect, and support one another, even when they completely disagree. And through 5 seasons, there are no affairs, no big deceits. Coach and Mrs. Coach tackle a lot of problems over the years, but always as a team. In a world full of adultery and backstabbing, both on screen and in real life, that is so, so refreshing.

Eric: “You know who I miss? I miss the Coach’s wife.”
Tami: “You know who I can’t wait to meet? The principal’s husband.”
Eric: “Touché.”

Underdogs

From the very first episode, this show is about people that no one believes in. No one thinks that Coach Taylor can take the Dillon Panthers to the state championship. No one thinks that Saracen can hack it as a quarterback. No one thinks that Riggins or Tyra (or, like, half a dozen other kids) will escape the chains of their broken homes. And later on, no one thinks that East Dillon’s ragtag football team can amount to much of anything.

I won’t give away who succeeds and who fails, but I will say that FNL takes you on one heck of an emotional roller coaster to find out.

Shades of gray

Black-or-white morality tales are for kids. Real life — and therefore, good stories — live in the gray. It’s not about “good” versus “evil” — but rather, a bunch of flawed human beings doing their best. Each character is just fumbling toward their hopes and dreams and ambitions, and making mistakes along the way.

Example: Tim Riggins, everyone’s favorite bad boy. He feels guilty for not protecting his best friend. Anguished about loving a girl he can’t have. Ashamed of his drunkard father and loser brother, and even more ashamed of how much he takes after them both. He’s a playboy with a good heart and a lot of talent. He wants to be better than the path he’s on.

Or: Buddy Garrity, the former Big Man on Campus, the hotshot, the hypocrite. He’s a lousy husband, and not much better as a father, but he loves Dillon and he loves the Panthers. He’d do anything for his team — even if it’s a little shady.

Characters like these (and oh so many more FNL favorites) are the reason I read and write.

Crossover appeal

Something FNL does exceptionally well is flip between the adults and the teens. Most stories let one or the other be props. I mean, there are a lot of orphans in YA lit, and a lot of kids taking care of themselves off-screen in television and movies.

But in Dillon, TX, we get to see things from both sides. Student or teacher, player or coach, child or parent — every character is nuanced, everyone gets treated as real and worthy of our attention. This means the storylines appeal across a wide age range. We get to see things from multiple sides. And we get deeper, more genuine relationships.

And more

There are probably a dozen other things I could point out that make FNL great and set it apart from most other TV shows, but I think you get the point.

(Also, FYI: you really don’t have to like football, or even understand it, to enjoy the show.)

Part of the reason I’m picking FNL apart today is to remember and share what the series taught me as a writer. Another reason is that all these elements are on my “wishlist” as a reader and viewer — they’re what I want to see more of in the stories that I consume — and there was a big discussion about that on Twitter today. You can check out #RBWL (reader/blogger wishlist) for more.

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Fri Sep 13 2013

Taylor and Katy (and me?)

Screen shot 2013-09-13 at 2.56.53 PM Screen shot 2013-09-13 at 2.57.26 PM

More than once, I have joked that I wanted to be the Taylor Swift of writing. Meaning that I wanted to become a hot-shot novelist in my teens (and ideally continue to put out hits for the rest of my life). Obviously my teens have come and gone and that didn’t happen. But it’s all good. Maybe I can be the Katy Perry of writing instead?

Recently I watched both Taylor and Katy’s biopic/concert movies, and I came to some realizations:

  1. They work really hard. Yes, they’re doing what they love, and the’ve managed to become rich and famous from it. But that doesn’t take anything away from all the heart, soul, blood, sweat, and tears they put into their music. And in addition to the singing and songwriting, they spend a lot of time designing their concerts, rehearsing and performing and marketing their work, connecting with fans, and making decisions that impact the dozens (if not hundreds) of people in their employ. They are in fact young businesswomen. It’s impressive, humbling, and inspiring.
  2. They have achieved a lot of success at very young ages, but it didn’t happen overnight. Both struggled to be taken seriously, to be allowed to express themselves in the way that they wanted. At one point, Taylor walked away from a good opportunity with a major record label because she believed that she could do better. She ended up taking a chance on a startup, and together they skyrocketed to the top. (Guts!) Katy spent years bouncing between record labels, all of whom knew she was talented but weren’t sure how to market her and thus were reluctant to invest. Despite the frustrations, she always went back to the music, writing songs and playing gigs until finally someone decided to back her all the way — and even handed her the reins. (Perseverance!)
  3. I think part of what appeals to people (certainly to me) about their music is how much of themselves they put into it. Their personal experiences, their emotions, their style. Taylor is infamous for writing about her famous ex-boyfriends, and Katy makes no secret that many of her recent hits are about her the ups and downs of her relationship with Russell Brand. Some people think that’s tacky; I think it’s brave and endearing. I can relate to their excitement, their doubts, their hopes, their heartaches. And it makes their songs stand out from some of the more generic stuff.
  4. As much as I might joke about wanting to be the Taylor or Katy of writing — and as many similarities as there may be between our dreams (artistry, storytelling, entertaining the masses, etc.) — one key difference is that being a pop star usually requires a youthful appeal. They probably have a limited window of opportunity for mainstream success, whereas writers are not judged by the marketability of their faces/bodies, but by the quality marketability of their stories.
  5. At one point, Katy’s sister talks about how people were trying to get Katy to be the next Britney, or the next Avril, or whoever, and how she never wanted to be the next anybody. She wanted to be the first Katy. Good point. I don’t want to be the next JK Rowling, the next Stephenie Meyer, or the next Suzanne Collins. I want to be the first Kristan.
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Sun May 26 2013

These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise

A few nights ago, I went to see Star Trek Into Darkness. As I tweeted the other night:

Screen shot 2013-05-24 at 10.37.11 PM

My thoughts can be further articulated by this well-written, thoughtful review at Wired. (Warning: There are MAJOR SPOILERS for both new and old Trek films!) While I agree with almost everything in that review, good and bad, I want to be clear: Overall I really enjoyed the movie, despite its imperfections.

Also, in talking with Andy about it on the drive home, I found myself remembering the many ways in which Star Trek touched my childhood.

It’s amazing to me how one man’s stories grew into such a vast empire, and how those stories have impacted so many lives and minds, including mine. Amazing, humbling, and inspiring. This is what good writing can do.

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Sat Jan 12 2013

TV Talk: My ABC shows

Sorry, Revenge, you’re out.

revenge promo

Your cast is beautiful and well-dressed (and sorely lacking in diversity…) but there’s no one left to root for. In Season 2, everyone has become either dumb or irredeemably manipulative (or both), and that just doesn’t interest me.

Scandal, on the other hand, is still kicking ass and taking names. (Literally.)

scandal

Spoiler level: Low.

Thursday night’s episode, while somewhat predictible (a first!), continued the special mix of smart and funny dialogue, emotional character development, and gray area ethical quandaries that I’ve come to love.

Every time I try to pick a favorite — David’s “the United States of America is in this room” speech, the confrontation with Mellie at the hospital, Harrison blowing off the ditz at the bar, Huck cringing from Olivia’s touch, Cyrus going to see his baby — another great scene comes to mind. It’s a good problem to have.

And then of course there’s the other Shonda show, Grey’s Anatomy.

richard adele

Spoiler level: HIGH. Continue reading at your own risk…

This episode had a few good (even tear-jerking) moments but was mostly “meh” for me.

Let’s start with the good: amusing miscommunication between the interns and their attendings; Dr. Webber’s guilt and sorrow over Adele, as well as his narrating her surgery from the gallery (and the intern taking his hand!); the strangeness/ambiguity of Owen and Cristina getting divorced but obviously still loving one another. These were all very human and real, and as usual the actors did a great job.

Then, the not so good: the biker gang storyline was over-the-top; stuff with Callie and Arizona felt obvious and rushed; Karev and the Princess were douchey and annoying (a particularly large step back for Karev, who’s been maturing so slowly but nicely over the show’s course); and finally, the writers conveniently “forgot” that Richard didn’t just ditch Adele in a home, SHE TOLD HIM TO, AND THEN STARTED SEEING SOMEONE ELSE ROMANTICALLY. Ugh. She doesn’t need to be a saint — nor he a devil — for us to feel compassion for her, so don’t retroactively try to paint them as such.

Related to that, there was a small thing that I wouldn’t say I “hated,” but it definitely niggled at me: Meredith asking Derek never to put her in a home.

Here’s the thing: In the show, Meredith put her mother in a home, and it was fine. Hard, but fine. They took good care of her mom, care that Meredith could not possibly have provided. So is it pleasant to think about someday losing your marbles or needing more attention than your loving spouse can offer? Of course not. But is it fair to make your loving spouse swear to carry that burden on their own anyway? Um, no.

(Maybe she means for him to hire a live-in nurse to help, or have Future Zola chip in? Fine. It’s not that she HAS to be put in a home someday; it’s that this is way too early to be making promises of any kind about the situation, at least not without some real discussion about logistics and finances.)

Caring for ailing and aging family is such a critical issue facing today’s generations, and everyone’s got to figure out what’s right for them and their family. So basically I’m disappointed that there wasn’t a more nuanced discussion/portrayal of that in the episode. (Shonda projects usually do a good job of this!) Instead the episode seemed to imply that assisted living/nursing homes are bad and that putting your parent or spouse in one makes you a bad person. Not cool, and not true.

But, um, to end on a positive note, Ed Sheeran’s “Kiss Me” was featured, and I adore him and that song. Hope this gets him lots more exposure!

PS: Whoever does the screencaps for ABC’s site really needs to get a better sampling from over the course of each episode. We don’t need or want 10 photos from one irrelevant scene, thanks.

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