Trying to be less stupid with Twitter

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I actually first heard of Twitter back in 2006, the first year it was online. Admittedly I thought it was one of the dafter things I’d ever heard of and imagined it would disappear within a few months as yet another passing fad.

Thankfully I’m not paid to be a trendwatcher or I’d have lost that sort of job years ago šŸ˜‰ That doesn’t mean to say I’ve figured out how to really make use of it yet.

I’ve had an account since 2008 no less, so I’m not exactly a n00b in that regard. At first I found it hard to say anything within the allotted space, but once I got the hang of it and it was no longer a challenge, I got lazy again.

Then I kept forgetting not only my password, but also the email account I’d used to register my profile. Thankfully it wasn’t a work email address. Now I’ve logged on again and have the same feeling I get in a nightclub full of people at once both familiar and strange and lights flashing and music blaring and I can’t help wondering to myself,Ā why am I here?

Currently, I follow 105 people – mostly a mishmash of agents, actors or comedians I like, a handful of people I’ve met online and a few ‘meat world’ friends as well. And on a rare occasion I actually read some of the tweets.

I’ve had exactly two messages in that time. Both were from people I’dĀ love to receive messages from, but unfortunately not theyĀ type of message I’d like to receive: hack and spam.

I could be wrong but it seems like one of those ‘all or nothing’ endeavours – to make proper use of it you have to be on there pretty much constantly.Ā 

For now I’ll try to figure out what this ‘lists’ thing is (never noticed it before) and we’ll see…

Gratuitous post

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I’m on various internet forums (including Absolute Write) and under ‘new posts’ one of the threads threads there asks, when did you last update your blog?

Oops…

That’s the thing with writing. It keeps you too busy to write… other things.

At the same time, if I’m getting my arse in gear to submit things to agents and publishers and so on, it’s probably not a bad idea to at least try to keep my blog alive.

NaNoWriMo ‘Winning’

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I did it. My first everĀ NaNoWriMoĀ and I finished at 61K with several days to spare. NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month and the goal is to begin writing a novel on November 1st, and write at least 50 thousand words by November 30th.

Of course, I don’t have kids and a full-time job to disrupt me, but it was still quite the marathon.Ā Ā I’d taken a rough outline for a screenplay idea I’d been toying with (traditional zombies, employed via magic) and decided to turn it into a novel just for the hell of it. Each day I would check my word count and every few hours I’d update it to see where I was.

The NaNoWriMo website has handy graphs to show what your current word count is, your daily average, the average amount you need to write per day in order to hit 50K, and the date by which you should be able to finish, going by your current daily average.

Whew!

The first few days I averaged over 4000 words a day but would hit a wall not long after that. My maximum was about 5400. A five day trip that had been planned long before I even thought of participating in NaNo cut into my time so my daily average for the month ended up being a little over 2300. Naturally my pace slowed as I neared the end of the story and hit the end (gah!) at just over 47K. I had to go back to the beginning and start filling in some scenes to get to the final goal and ended up with basically a second completed draft.

Everyone is a winner for this ‘contest’, no matter what they write, so long as they hit that magic number of 50 thousand. The most important thing is to just sit down and do it.Ā The daily average a person needs write to hit 50K in a 30 day month is 1667 words, which actually isn’t that hard if you can allot an hour or two a day and dedicate yourself fully during that time.

What’s amazing are the people who manage to do this on top of having small children, a full time job and myriad other demands on their time and energy. Proof that if you want to do something enough, you make it a priority.

The website also hosts a forum where you can talk to other writers on a whole range of topics. You can post questions regarding the genre you are writing in, correspond with people in your age group, find tips on dealing with writers’ block or solve problems you’re having with your own characters or plot development.

You find answers to Big Questions like what happens if a Vampire dyes its hair, or what symbols would make the best tattoos for protection spells.

Public libraries in most cities and regions have also been hosting ‘write ins’ where you can meet other writers in your area.

Participating in NaNoWriMo is something I would recommend to every writer, especially beginning writers who might still be struggling with having enough confidence to write anything at all. You become so focused on meeting the deadline that you worry much less about quality or your skill level. After all, the best way to become a good writer is to keep on writing.

 

 

 

 

Blogvember. Naming names…

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Blogvember. Naming names…

According to a relative of mine it is ‘blogvember’. I’m not entirely sure how widespread this concept is because when I googled the term, her post was in the first page of search results. Of course, I had it open at the time as well so I’m not sure whether that made a difference or not.

At any rate it gave me the kick I needed to get blogging again myself. Yes, it’s been a while (kicks self).Ā Nanowrimo and few other things made inspired me get back into novel writing for a bit and it’s been pretty time-consuming. Both projects began as ‘novelizations’ of screenplays I’ve written but one has developed into a full-blown book that I’m already starting a sequel for. The other one will be strictly a novella. Short and sweet. And probably free and self-published just to stick my neck out there, which always feels like I’m putting my head under a guillotine. Chop!

Novel writing got me to thinking a lot more about character names. That and having a bunch of friends and relatives who have had babies over the past few years. In scripts you can get away without even naming a lot characters, at least as far as the audience ever sees. With novels it’s a lot more difficult.Ā In earlier novels Iā€™d sometimes name characters after characters in other books or movies that I wanted to subtly reference. Other times names just pop into my head that I think might ‘suit’ the character somehow and usually they are based either on names I’ve encountered repeatedly in life, or names I just happen to like for whatever reason.Ā I’m certainly not one to ever knock the power of theĀ subconscious.

While I like some characters names to fit their professions or other traits, I dislike when it’sĀ tooĀ obvious, even in humour. I would never use the name ‘Gross’ for one who never bathes for example, but it’s fine for a character who is also a very large man, or for the sake of irony, a very tiny one. One of my favorite real life examples is the TV financial analyst ‘Art Cashin’.

Naturally using an ‘ethnic’ name is an easy way to give a partial description of a character and depending on where they live it might go into shaping their world view to a fair degree. One fantastic site I found isĀ http://www.20000-names.com, which gives a huge list of both female, male and last names for a variety of different nationalities.

The site also give the meanings of the various names, which can add depth to the character or the story in more subtle ways.Ā For example, you could have a character who is a psychic and call her ‘Aislin’ which is an Irish name for ‘dream’ or ‘vision.’

Surnames have various meanings as well. Most people are well aware of ones that were once attached to a particular occupation like Miller or Baker, but probably fewer would know that Lowell means ‘wolf’ or Madoc refers to ‘luck’. This site is very useful and has a great search function.Ā http://www.behindthename.com/themes.php

Names donā€™t just indicate the character however, but sometimes say even more about the characterā€™s parents. Parents who knowingly give their kid a ā€˜jokeā€™ name or put little thought into it are probably lousy parents in other ways as well. The bookĀ FreakonomicsĀ delves into this topic. The name a parent gives a child can be a strong indicator of their socio-economic origins, which itself can have a profound impact on that personā€™s life later on, particularly when he or she has to go look for a job*. It is also another way to add depth or a level of irony to both the character and the story. For example, you’re not likely to find too many debutantes with the name ‘Destinee’. Near the back of the book is a helpful list of different female and male names, along with the average number of years of education the mother had.

According to someone I know who works in the education system, more often than not, kids with ā€˜low-classā€™ names tended to have much lower marks and much higher truancy levels. It isnā€™t just stereotypes.

For background characters, sometimes I want a name that is generic without resorting to something completely hackneyed. TheĀ US Census BureauĀ provides a handy list of the most common First and Last names.

Anyway, to keep me more disciplined I plan to follow up with two more posts on characters: my own personal likes and dislikes for character names just from whatĀ I’veĀ come across, and one where I play with different ideas of how names shape characters.

Happy blogvember! The cold miserable rain is a great excuse to stay indoors and write.

* http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2007/apr/29/theobserversuknewspages.uknews

Well worth a read: the seven things Joel Runyon learned from his encounter with inventor Russell Kirsch

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I came across this blog post here from theĀ Passive Voice blogĀ about an encounter someone named Joel Runyan had at a Portland coffee shop with Russell Kirsch, the inventor of the world’s first internally programmable computer. He had also created the first digital image. It is a fantastic post that I recommend reading in full:

http://joelrunyon.com/two3/an-unexpected-ass-kicking

In the post he retells part of the conversation they had, and it is something every creative person – everyone – should keep at the top of their heads:

ā€œIā€™ve always believed that nothing is withheld from us what we have conceived to do. Most people think the opposite ā€“ that all things are withheld from them which they have conceived to do and they end up doing nothing.ā€…

Thatā€™s good, who said that?

God did.

What?

God said it and there were only two people who believed it, you know who?

Nope, who?

God and me, so I went out and did it.

He then wroteĀ a follow up postĀ on the seven things he learned from his encounter with Russell Kirsch.

  • Make Stuff
  • Be humble
  • Don’t trifle over details too much
  • Stop complaining, start fixing
  • Keep creating and don’t stop
  • Live more so you have your own stories
  • Stop reading, start doing.

Joel Runyon was keenly aware that he could have easily shut out the elderly gentlemen from the start, and many people do just that – assuming what they are doing is more important than listening to someone else. It was a reminder to give everyone at least the chance, because you never know what you may learn from them. Whether it is the inventor of digital pictures or some random person in a coffee shop.

Aside from a few self-absorbed ‘crazies’ or pickup artists, perhaps there is a reason someone chose to come up and talk to us, and it is worth taking the time to listen rather than just dismiss anyone out of hand just because we may be fixated on some other thing at the moment.

I’d add to stop daydreaming to the list as well, and just do something. You might not be good at first, but if you like doing it and keep at it enough, you will be.

And thank you Joel Runyon for hitting ‘publish’ and sharing it with the rest of the world.

Vampires and zombies and ‘Vampire Hunter’ vampires.

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My favourite type of ‘monster movie’ has been and always will be vampires.

No other monster even comes close. Not zombies, not werewolves, Godzilla, aliens, or any other other-worldly creature.

The fascination probably started when I was a child. I was rather obsessed with Death – much more so than other kids. The very idea of Death terrified me and I’d never believed in stories of heaven or anything in the bible; even at the age of five I equated Death with complete and final extinction. Very scary. I can’t pinpoint exactly when I first read or heard about vampires but I was young enough that at the time I believed they were real. And immortal! There was a Dracula-type comic book I borrowed from the library and I remember a nascent frissonĀ when the vampire came into the bedroom of his first prey… No wonder that as a teenager I was drawn to ‘Goth’ although nobody called it that back then.

In my free time I’ve been working on a vampire novel (the screenplay is pretty much done) and working with concepts that don’t seem to be that popular right now. I’ve wanted to concentrate more on the supernatural aspects and introduce other rather esoteric elements into the overall story (there will be a sequel, possibly a trilogy) that I hope is at least somewhat original; I certainly haven’t come across this particular blend before at any rate.

Another thing I’ve been pondering more recently is vampires vs zombies. Both are hugely popular and probably always will be, though I find in mainstream culture right now both ‘genres’ have moved quite far from their origins.

Vampire hunters have become almost a genre in itself and although I wouldn’t consider myself a fan I can appreciate its appeal. I saw Buffy the Vampire Slayer when it first came out, and have since seen a couple of John Carpenter flicks, Dusk til Dawn and the various sequels, scanned several books in Google preview and most recently, saw Tim Burton’s Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter. Now while I enjoyed these films and might read some of the books I previewed I wasn’t too crazy on the vampire aspect.

In the Vampire Hunter lore I’ve read and watched (which admittedly isn’t that much), there seems to be a growing divergence between the vampires in such books and movies and fast zombies*,Ā which I also find objectionable.

Maybe I’m a purist, or too traditional in my outlook but I just find that many of the elements that made vampires so great for me was that they were difficult to kill, highly intelligent, they were attractive, sometimes mesmerizing, and the books and movies that were true to form explored the themes of loneliness, obsession, and lost or unrequited love that I always found so compelling. Hunted vampires seem more like zombies – generic, diseased, highly infectious; a plague to be eradicated.

People are welcome to disagree with me; and suggest better films or books than I’ve come across but for now I’ll stick with the Vampire lore that has revolves around more classical story lines…

*The reason I find fast zombies objectionable is because the zombie was often a metaphor for the mindless masses and sometimes for consumerism as well. Slow moving but relentless in their assault. I don’t find anything wrong with some fast-moving diseased monster that eats people and spreads their plague but I just wish there’d be another name for them.

ā€œNo one can teach you to write.ā€

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I just came across this excellent article on writing and thought I’d post it for my own reference since I’m incapable of organizing bookmarks share it with the world.Ā 

By now I figure I’ve read enough books and advice on writing, but every now and then there’s an article that pops out that perfectly summarizes some similar ideas that have simmered in the depths of my brain for many years and that I was always too lazy to try to articulate myself.

http://www.indiesunlimited.com/2012/07/18/tips-from-the-masters-john-gilstrap/?goback=%2Egmp_2055555%2Egde_2055555_member_136338419

These two paragraphs struck me in particular:

Ā 

I teach a few writing courses every year to reasonable acclaim, but I start every one of those courses with a PowerPoint slide that reads, ā€œNo one can teach you to write.ā€ I put that up so as not to be a fraud. One learns the principles of writing the same way one learns the principles of reading or golf: You practice.

As you read material that you love, you become a better reader, and if youā€™re wired to be a writer, you instinctively try to decode what the writer did to get into your head.

Ā 

This writing gig is a game without rules. Read that again: no rules. There are things that work for me that would never work for you because you and I are different people sifting different imaginations through different filters.

Iā€™ve learned what I think I know about writing the hard way: by writing crap and rewriting it till itā€™s less crappy. It took me four books to get it right. The first three I wrote sucked and I knew it. But I also knew that each succeeding effort sucked less than its predecessor.

I sought input, listened to it, and then rejected most of it because I thought it was misguided. I knew what I was trying to do, and when I finally got there, I recognized it for what it was. I donā€™t know how, but I did.

Ā 

Now there are plenty of people out there who seem to think that their half-written novel or first draft screenplay puts them in the same league asĀ DostoevskyĀ or Shakespeare while any discerning reader might be secretly submitting for the Bulwer-Litton Contest. My opinion of my own work tends toĀ vacillateĀ between one extreme and the other šŸ˜‰ No course is ever going to provide that magic formula for writing a great story. All it can do is guide the process.

The most important thing is to hone your craft, read the best writers whose work appeals to you most and keep writing until YOU are satisfied with it. Not anyone else.

While criticism can be extremely useful, especially if you haven’t written a whole lot (why do you have that extra character in there or why did they just randomly appear? That phrase doesn’t make any sense. I don’t see how you could get from point a to point b like that) at some point you do have to stop listening to other voices and trust your own instincts. The more you read and the more you write, the more you should be able to honestly see the flaws in your own work and learn to address them. The more you write and read (I think!) the narrower that gap between arrogance and staying true to your vision becomes.Ā 

Because ultimately, it is your unique vision of the world and your way of filtering the world as an individual that makes you an artist. The goal isn’t to try to be someone else or to adhere to a formula that will please critics or audiences, but to but craft your own stories as best you can.

And most importantly, just keep writing, and reading the sorts of works that you aspire to write yourself. Let your filters. imagination and instinctsĀ do the rest.

Gallows humour – What, too soon?

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There have been several different news stories, controversies and facebook posts that recently converged to where I’ve finally decided to write about a subject that I’ve been thinking about for ages.

Dark humour. Especially ‘Don’t go there’ humour.

I confess, as horrible as it sounds, that I had the overwhelming temptation to tweet about the horrific shootings in Colorado with ‘well if it had been the opening of Twilight I could understand…’ Of course I didn’t; I’m not an idiot. There are just some things you don’t joke about, at least not publicly, and especially not to people who don’t know that dark humour is your coping mechinism.

There is little that probably horrifies me more than being in the place where these victims were, watching the same movie I’ve been looking forward to seeing for months (and nowĀ plan to watch in the Drive-in if I can, since it’s showing there). How many of us go to a movie and think nothing of what will happen to us in that time? It probably didn’t occur to a single victim that they’d be in the midst of a bloodbath before the second plot point. My heart practically stops when I hear a car backfiring, and making a joke about it is a way of reminding of telling myself it couldn’t possibly happen to me. I wouldn’t be caught d—… No, stopping now. No more jokes about Twilight.

Many people who work in incredibly stressful, traumatic jobs, or occupations where they are constantly dealing with other people’s tragedies also deal with it through humour. The only way you can face really terrible things it to laugh at them; it’s the only thing that takes away their power.

My sister used to runĀ a flower shop and most of their business came from weddings and funerals. For funerals they often dealt directly with the funeral parlours themselves rather than the mourning family members at least. Now, Christmas is a stressful time for many people and Christmas was a busy time for the shop because of the spike in funerals that would happen around that time. Some funeral directors would refer to it as their ‘Christmas clearance.’.

On Reddit not that long ago an anonymous woman posted about her experiences at a crisis center and said she made far more rape jokes ‘than she probably should’. This Reddit thread came out around the same day as the ‘comedian’ who became the center of a social media storm specifically over rape jokes when one member of the audience stood and said they weren’t ever funny. I won’t repeat what he said, not because I found it offensive (I didn’t) but because it was just stupid. Crude. Lame. Time for the Shepherd’s crook to yank him off the stage.

Of course some people cried ‘censorship’ at the calls to take him off the air. The relativeĀ merits of that is another subject for another time. Humour and ‘free speech’ shouldn’t have any boundaries! they cry. And it shouldn’t, but in that caseĀ people are allowed to react to thatĀ free speechĀ the way they choose to as well.

When it comes to the limits of humour, it allĀ depends. It depends on how it’s said (in my own not-so-humble opinion).Ā It depends on the context, it depends on the person telling the joke, whether it’s a defense mechanism or just some macho twit who doesn’t realize it’s no longer the 80s and that Andrew Dice Clay was never terribly funny either. It depends on what else they do or don’t find funny as well.

One person I know who got extremely upset about this ‘comedian’ and was practically calling for his head later posted a snark about a child who’d been struck by lightening at a bible camp. If you don’t think a joke about rape can ever be funny, I don’t see how the death of a child can be either. Of course, it was meant as a joke about religion, but still…

We’re sometimes hypocritical about what gets to be funny and what doesn’t. Religion is a fair target but feminism isn’t. Or vice versa.Ā  Some of Russell Peters’ routines would probably get him booed off stage if he was white instead of Indian. Some ‘end the drug war types’ thought jokes about Rush Limbaugh’s drug abuse were definitely NOT funny.

People might claim that it is about power but sometimes I suspect it’s really a means ofĀ rationalizing our own personal biases. We all have our own personalĀ limits of what we find funny, or of what we can joke about; our boundaries, the lines we just don’t cross, which are different for every one of us.

Personally, jokes about pedophilia or child sexual abuse are strictly off limits. Never funny. I’m not talking about the tired Roman Catholic Priest jokes, but along the lines of ‘hey, I have some candy for you… jokes’. I’ve never been subject to such abuse myself, fortunately, but IĀ think you have to have something seriously wrong with you to even joke about such things. That the notorious ‘Chester the Molester’ creator of 70s porn magazines turned out to be a real-life abuser certainly drove home that point in my mind. And I get that same squeamish sense about *some* rape jokes although I always laughed at Pepe Le Pew.

And then I’m aware that when I crack jokes about some of the things I do,Ā thatĀ there are people out there who probably feel the same way about the sort of thing I resisted tweeting about above. That there must be something wrong in the head of anyone who jokes – who even thinks of joking – about a public massacre, especially so soon after the tragedy.Ā Not everyone copes with trauma through humour. Many people don’t have that need to detach themselves from things and so joking about anything has to be at least tempered with the awareness of other people’s limits as well. Someone isn’t simply humourless just because they don’t find something funny.

And some people probably have a similar abhorance to jokingĀ about the kid who died at the bible camp that I admitĀ finding funny myself. I always find jokes about Religion funny.

Then again, I think GodĀ Himself has a sick sense of humour.

However, just because we each have different views on what is funny or what isn’t, doesn’t mean there are no limits, no sacred cows. Although I don’t think people should ‘censor’ themselves, it’s probably best if we at least think a little about the likely consequences before spewing off, especially in this day and age of viral videos and memes that spread like Ebola.

And we needĀ to keep in mind that freedom of speech isn’t simplyĀ license to be an asshole.

Books versus film – can a film beat a good book?

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I just commented on a blog post that asked the age-old question: Can a film ever truly beat a good book?

However, I think that is asking the wrong question. It’s like askingĀ whether a good cheese can ever beat a truly good chocolate truffle? Or a good wine. Perhaps they should simply complement each other.

A film can certainly beat a bad book ā€“ many people cite Robert Blochā€™s Pscyho. Others have mentioned Fight Club, which I didnā€™t know WAS a book to begin with. Hemingway’s To Have and To Have Not is barely recognizeable once it became the Lauren Bacall-Humphrey Bogart masterpiece. And to be honest, I prefer the movies written by Faulkner over his books.

I donā€™t seeĀ thisĀ as good or bad, just that film and books are entirely different media. I think a mistake people make ā€“ including sometimes the film-makers themselves ā€“ is in trying to ā€˜translateā€™ one to the other and try to make the movie simply a ā€˜versionā€™ of the book. Audiences often expect this as well.

Film needs to be efficient in a way that novels do not ā€“ indeed the better novels Iā€™ve read arenā€™t so quickĀ  ā€“ conveying as little as whatever will drive the next plot point along in little snippets. Most sub-plots and minor characters need to go as well. Part of the reason I read novels is the way they can indulge in details about the characters’ backgrounds, or explore larger themes or abstract ideas.

Iā€™ve been working on a project where Iā€™ve been writing both ā€“ I wrote a screenplay, and am now working on a novel; which is turning out very differently. At first the ‘novel version’ was written in the present tense, and while I did like the immediacy, after about ninety pages I changed my mind. For that very reason – I wanted to explore concepts that could only be alluded to in film.

Part of the problem is the nature of the Industry ā€“ the book was a hit, letā€™s capitalize on it and make some money. While itā€™s still hot. They might haul in the original author, who might not know the first thing about writing screenplays, or put more thought into the casting of Police Officer #2, or try too hard to adapt a novel whose story simply isnā€™t conducive to film (like Slaughterhouse Five) .

Some book lovers complain that film leaves little to the imagination, since now we “know” what the characters look like, or that house that was central to the story… But at the same time, film leaves a lot to the imagination as well, that novels sometimes don’t. It’s only the actor’s gestures we have to go on, a few snippets of dialogue or how they react to circumstances that let us know who they really are. We have to guess what their childhood trauma may have been, or why they feel strongly about a particular place, person or object in a way that can be conveyed in great detail in a written narrative. So while the scenery may no longer be left to our imagination, a lot of aspects of the character still can be.

Film is a visual medium first but unfortunately there is plenty of lazy or bad film-making these days on top of lazy or bad writing. Film is about spectacle, but it is also about seeing into someone elseā€™s imagination, not just our own, and seeing someone elseā€™s vision. Film inspired me to write as much as any novel ever did. Although I had my own vision of Alice in Wonderland or Charlie and the Chocolate factory growing up, I loved seeing how Tim Burton realized it as well.

A good adaptation should be like a good cover song ā€“ the artist takes the basics of it, but makes it something their own.