12 Years a Slave

It’s inventory time for those of us who work retail. I’ve done one inventory overnight and later today will be doing overnight number two into Sunday morning–me, wielding a merchandise gun. Boop, boop, boop. Beep. No tag on that shirt. Ticket! Tap foot impatiently. Realize that you’re not getting out of work until 6 am, no matter what.

Anyway, in the meantime, I found some time to progress on my outline. I’ll show you my little notebook in a future post; it’s a little ridiculous how happy I feel simply writing out a very summarized version of scenes in pen.

On Monday night, I saw 12 Years A Slave. Finally. I’d talked about seeing it with my friend a while ago and it seemed like the opportune moment. The deeper I’ve gotten into the research for my book and the more I’ve realized how important certain strands and characters are, the more factual I’ve become. My story is utterly fictional, of course, and 12 Years is not–it’s based on a memoir written in 1853 by Solomon Northrup, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor.

But the movie has really stuck with me since I saw it. It probably would have anyway; it’s a very immersive film. I really went on that startling journey with Solomon as he’s kidnapped and taken into the slave-holding economy and the South. I guess it’s a haunting movie in that way. The fact that it’s a true story is a bonus, at least for me. This might be my father’s preference for documentaries coming out in me, but true stories pack a punch, right? I feel like if we fiction writers can get our stories to pack a truthful punch, whether the story is based on real life or not, just tell something honestly, then we’ve done our jobs.

My WIP takes place about 40 years before 12 Years and isn’t set in America, but as the director Steve McQueen and Ejiofor have said in interviews, it’s not just about American slavery, but the Atlantic slave trade–Britain, Africa, the West Indies, and America. I’ve done a bit of reading about the Atlantic slave trade, to say the least, just to understand what kind of world Miles and his daughters live in. But for me, at least, there’s always something about seeing something on screen or stage that brings a concept to life.

I’ve been having a hard time–my betas can verify this–figuring out how to shape a certain character, the most vocal racist in my novel. Intellectually, I get what people like her thought and believed in. How do I portray that and show that, though, you know? It’s so of its time.

12 Years a Slave made that task clearer to me, too. At Solomon Northrup’s first plantation, he is bought along with a distraught woman who has just been sold away from her children. The mistress of this plantation wonders why the woman is crying, learns that her children have been taken away, and says, “Well, you rest. Couple weeks and you’ll forget about your children.”

To which my friend muttered, “Idiot.”

There are far more brutal things that happen to the characters later on in the film, but that line right there is churning things around in my head about this certain character and her views. Which means she’s coming to life, y’all.

Edited to Add: This is my 500th post.

2 thoughts on “12 Years a Slave

  1. 500 posts! Oh my gosh…I think I'm hovering close to 100. I know what you mean. Things like this can really help us out in our writing, especially with characters we can't relate to all that well. I rarely see movies like this on purpose, but they often surprise me when I do. Dude, I remember the old days when I had to do inventory by hand! Thank God it was a small store. Still took forever. Never did figure out what the point is.


  2. My friend and I like to see a couple of the award-worthy movies before movie awards season, if we can. 12 Years is definitely a different movie than, say, Glory or Amistad. It was more personal but it showed more of the way slavery worked in the 1840s, too. Shouldn't somebody have figured out how to do inventory in a more sophisticated way by the now? Honestly!


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