Recently I came across Pixar’s rule #19, quoted in James Scott Bell’s book, “How to Write Short Stories (and use them to further your writing career)”. It’s an excellent book, and one of a few of his I’ve got in my Kindle collection. But this rule reminded me of the whole list, full of good advice for storytellers whether their format is film or novel (from flash fiction to tome). Most writing advice boils down to things like focus, self-discipline, detail work, and honing one’s craft to the best it can be – and that is an on-going process, a habit, an addiction. It needs to be a passion. Honing our craft means covering all the bases – grammar, syntax, plot, character, vocabulary, pacing, theme-building, and so, so, much more! If you’ve got a weakness in your writing skills, the good news is that you can always improve it! Make it a strength! So be inspired, and keep writing!
Tag Archives: writing
Recently I was chatting with a few friends, and the topic of finding information came up; I was surprised that it hadn’t even occurred to them that they could find such information online. Time and again, I meet such people. It is a modern phenomenon that we have the world’s knowledge at our fingertips; Google has become so ubiquitous with searches that it’s made it into dictionaries as a verb, and yet it seems that some people have still not realised its potential.
Granted, there is a lot of static out there: Misinformation (whether intentional or unintentional), nonsense, and useless clutter (someone’s grandkid’s cousin’s uncle’s birthday party, or videos that need massive editing before they’re much use but they’re online nonetheless). But if you know how to search, there’s a world of information out there to be had; you need to use discernment, and – especially if using the information as a basis for an article, or in writing a novel – you need to get cross-references and confirmation. But I’ve found that the people I’ve talked to on this topic can’t seem to get past the static and therefore seem to have difficulty in viewing cyberspace as a serious information source.
The downside of so much ready knowledge with easy access is that people no longer need to memorise or learn information themselves – they can just grab their phone and look it up. The upside of it is that, if people make proper use of it, they can learn so much more than previous generations ever even had access to. The photo below, gone viral, is of a school class sitting in front of Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch”; while it appears that they are bored and inattentive to what is around them, they’re actually using the museum’s app to learn more about the photo and the painter as part of a school assignment. Notice that they’re interacting with each other, and even helping each other. Hopefully part of the assignment was also to study the painting with their eyes.
I do a LOT of research online; for some of my books, I’ve done odd searches which I’m certain mess with the algorithms of Google & co. I’ve searched for the average size of a human corpse and the distinctions between a coffin, casket and cist (I started getting ads for funeral services after that); how to throw a kris dagger vs. a regular dagger; tide tables; sunrises, sunsets and moon phases in the 9th, 18th and 21st centuries; native flowers to Britain in the Georgian period; medicine at sea; the effects of various soil compositions on a corpse and artefacts, postmortem forensics, and dozens of other bizarre topics. In my free time, I do a wide variety of crafts and cooking, and so my Pinterest pins multiply like rabbits in the dark! Just click on my gravatar link to have a peek through my cupboards there.
If you put your mind to learning how to do anything, you can find instructions for it somewhere online. A few weeks ago, I wanted to reupholster our office chairs (they are the kind that has a hard plastic frame at the back and underside of the seat). I found a Youtube video that showed how to take them apart, and within an hour I had the first chair dismantled, reupholstered and reconstructed. As Amelia Earhart said, “The most difficult thing is the decision to act; the rest is mere tenacity.” I find that, in talking with friends, they often don’t know how to begin searching, and I think that’s the key: They don’t try because they don’t know how to start, and so they can’t learn how to do it – learning by trial and error. Failure is merely success in progress, but the point is that progress requires action… movement.
For writers, cyberspace is worth its weight in gold; no library could hold the amount of information available to us at our fingertips; no university could teach the wide range of topics available online; no video library could contain the staggering amount of documentaries, DIY instruction videos, and step-by-step how-tos.
What was the most recent thing you searched for online? Was your search successful? How much time did it take you to find what you were looking for? Please describe it briefly in a comment below!
POV is shorthand in the film industry for “point of view” – in that context, it has to do with not only the narrative context but also the camera angles and editing process. Changing the POV can affect the way the audience – or readers – perceive a character, an event, or the overall atmosphere of a scene.
Recently I was watching a history documentary series from BBC called, “British History’s Biggest Fibs”, with Lucy Worsley. The basic point of the series is that history is subjective; whoever wins gets to name the battles, and shape future generations’ perceptions about events; the victor gets to smooth over their own weak points and play up their heroism for posterity. PR and spinning a good yarn helped to shape how reigning kings were perceived and toppled, or usurpers could style themselves as “successors”.
When writing a novel, the POV can drastically change a scene either from the inside, or the outside, or both; by that I mean that either the scene itself changes “camera angles” to tell the story from a slightly different perspective, or that something within the scene shifts slightly, affecting the reader’s perceptions of characters or events in the scene. For example: I was reading through a particular scene in my current manuscript that I knew I wasn’t happy with, but couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was that bothered me aside from the outcome. The scene involved an unjust flogging aboard a Royal Navy ship. The officer on duty was forced by the captain to either flog the innocent man or be punished worse in his stead. The original scene played out with the officer carrying out the punishment unwillingly but obediently. The scene’s purpose is to show the gradually decaying grip on reality in a captain going insane; I wanted a stronger contrast, and so I tweaked the dialogue, which changed the outcome: The officer refuses to punish the innocent man and takes the punishment on himself. This outcome builds far more tension among the crew, gives grounds for retribution against the true instigator (a snivelling King John’s man of a junior officer), and contrasts the honourable dealings of the officer on duty against the captain’s failing sense of right and wrong. By shifting the scene slightly, I take the reader and myself down a much steeper path.
In this illustration from Marvel’s Avengers film series, the camera angle chosen gives much more of an adrenaline rush than, say, if you were passively watching from off to the side; the fact that the arrow’s flying straight at you gives the scene that extra “kick”.
If you find yourself staring at one of your scenes – or even an entire premise of your story – that you’re not satisfied with, trying shifting the POV (sometimes it helps me to refer to it as the “camera angle”). Put your inner eye’s camera in a different position in the scene, and see if that unlocks the key to improving that scene, the story arc or a character’s arc. Keep writing!
I’ve been editing, tweaking, editing, and tweaking this week; not to mention editing. Over the years I’ve used a wide variety of tools, such as Scrivener, but have found that, for me, the best combination is MS Word and my brain.
One of the tools I’ve also been using recently is a new one for me: The Grammarly app in Word. I’m of a mixed opinion about it. Do any of you use this app with your manuscript? If so, what is your experience/impression?
So far, the app is batting less than 1 out of 10; in other words, of 10 “critical errors” that it points out, only 1 of them is legitimate. I’d say the average is more like 1 out of 15 or 18. There is also a version of this app, which requires a monthly or yearly subscription, that will expand its range of editing suggestions; but before I go that route I want to know that the app actually works in the free version. So far, it’s more static than editing aid.
Now to be fair, my manuscript is not the average; it’s got words like en queue (the hairstyle of men in the 18th century), and odd terminology to do with nautical actions or environments. But some of the errors that it points out, such as those to do with commas, are actually correct (e.g. pointing out the second comma of a parenthetical phrase as out of place). Most of the time the suggestions that it makes are just downright wrong in the context; it proves that language is a fluid concept, and nearly impossible to intelligently simulate in a computer program. It also means that we are far better off becoming fluent in grammar rather than relying on ANY program to correct our writing!
Having said that, I still appreciate it because it forces me to think through a decision, whether that be sentence structure, punctuation, or phrasing. Sometimes it sends me in search of confirmation for a grammatical assumption I’ve made; rarely am I surprised by what I find, but it nevertheless helps to solidify the right way of writing something in my mind. For the most part, I have the app turned off (a great function – the only reason I still use it!), just running it through sections at a time as my other editing nears an end.
Are there any programs or apps that you use for editing? If so, what is your experience? Please share in the comments below!
After 11 months with an exchange student here with us, our life is now beginning to revert to its previous “business as usual” state. That means that I can schedule my time, my days, and even weeks, and actually see those goals come within reach and grasp them. It means that I can sit down at my computer, and write 10 hours straight if I’m on a roll! It’s suspiciously quiet here now, but that does not mean something’s afoot this time… unless the cats are up to something. With all of her exams through the school year, I was reminded of a list I’d seen years ago; when I shared a similar list in my previous post, I decided to track this one down and share it with you.
This ought to keep you entertained and out of trouble, while I dive into my fifth novel’s manuscript with a fresh eye (since I haven’t really seen hide or hair of it since April…!). Enjoy, and have a great week!
Warning: I take no responsibility for snorted drinks or explosions of anything out of your north or south ends.
The Ultimate Final Exam
Read each question carefully. Answer all questions. Time Limit: Four hours.
Describe the history of the papacy from its origins to the present day, concentrating especially but not exclusively, on its social, political, economic, religious and philosophical impact on Europe, Asia, America and Africa. Be brief, concise and specific.
Predict the position of the tectonic plates as they will appear two billion years from now. Be prepared to prove your results.
You have been provided with a razor blade, a piece of gauze and a bottle of Scotch. Remove your appendix. Do not suture until your work has been inspected. You have fifteen minutes.
Create life. Estimate the differences in subsequent human culture if this form of life had developed 500 million years earlier with special attention to its probable effect on the English parliamentary system. Prove your thesis.
2500 riot-crazed aborigines are storming the classroom. Calm them. You may use any ancient language except Latin or Greek.
Give an objective analysis of the relative significance and quality of the works of the major artists of the past three millennia. Be specific, and prove your analysis with detailed examples.
Write a piano concerto. Orchestrate and perform it with flute and drum. You will find a piano under your seat.
Based on your knowledge of their works, evaluate the emotional stability, degree of adjustment and repressed frustrations of each of the following:
- Alexander of Aphrodisias
- Ramses II
- Gregory of Nicea
Support your evaluation with quotations from each man’s work, making appropriate references. It is not necessary to translate.
Estimate the sociological problems which might accompany the end of the world. Construct an experiment to test your theory.
Write a program that will end world hunger and homelessness. You may use the computer console next to you, however use of a modem or any other communications device is prohibited, as is the use of electricity.
The disassembled parts of a high-powered rifle have been placed in a box on your desk. You will also find an instruction manual, printed in Swahili. In ten minutes a hungry Bengal tiger will be admitted to the room. Take whatever action you feel appropriate. Be prepared to justify your decision.
Explain the nature of matter. Include in your answer an evaluation of the impact of the development of mathematics on science.
Create a miniature stellar fusion reaction, and describe in detail the effects of close-range stellar radiation on human flesh.
There is a red telephone on the desk beside you. Start World War III; report at length on its socio-political effects, if any.
Take a position for or against truth. Prove the validity of your position.
Prove or disprove the existence of God, without the use of religious texts over a century old. Be specific, and include a discussion on the possible true meanings and uses for the Tetragrammaton. Also be prepared show how your proof relates to the national debt and the Watergate scandal.
Develop a realistic plan for refinancing the national debt. Trace the possible effects of your plan in the following areas:
- The Donatist controversy
- The wave theory of light
Outline a method for preventing these effects. Criticize this method from all possible points of view. Point out the deficiencies in your point of view, as demonstrated in your answer to the last question.
Sketch the development of human thought; estimate its significance. Compare with the development of any other kind of thought.
Describe in detail. Be objective and specific.
Define the Universe; give three examples.