October 29, 2016

29102016

In my last post I mentioned how I had some writing news. That news is simply that I’m planning to participate in NaNoWriMo this year. NaNoWriMo, for any who don’t know, stands for National Novel Writing Month and is a challenge put forth to writers to complete an entire first draft of a novel of fifty thousand plus words during the month of November. It’s quite a challenge. It requires the writer to write a minimum of one thousand six hundred and sixty six (point six) words per day, if not more. For a professional writer that’s probably a fairly standard day, I’m guessing. However NaNoWriMo isn’t aimed at professional writers but novice ones. It’s expected that most people completing this challenge will also have a full time job, or a family, or at the very least a rabbit called Moriarty to look after (although maybe that’s just me). Basically, have a life that can’t stop while they attempt to smash out a novel in a month. Again, it’s quite a challenge.

For myself, that’s my situation. The job, the family, the rabbit. I am lucky enough to have a week off over November in order to celebrate my 30th birthday (November 20, mark your calendars) and spend some time with Brother Jonathan who will be back in the country as it’s also his birthday (because that’s how twins work), but I’m not planning to spend that whole week shunning my womb mate in order to write write write; and I will of course have to continue my full time job for the rest of the month. My point being that in order to complete this task I, and the rest of my NaNoWriMo brethren, are going to have to work hard and work smart. I’ll be honest, I’m excited but I’m also a little nervous. This is the writing equivalent of running a marathon. Throughout the year I’ve been getting better at writing more frequently and for longer periods. In other words I’ve been unknowingly training for this writing marathon. This doesn’t mean I think I’m going to win the race but hopefully it means I’ll be able to cross the finish line.

To do this I’ll need to be organised, motivated, and probably stock up on coffee and snacks. Luckily I’m not doing this alone. The NaNoWriMo site has a beautiful community of writers from all around the world offering blogs, videos, and forums to give advice, support, and encouragement. The site also offers writers to make an account and a summary of the novel they’re planning to write where they can connect with other people completing the challenge and even add them to their “buddy” list (for any wanting to add me to their buddy list my username is Damian.Robb because I’m not an abstract writer and also that is my name). Closer to home I also have a number of real life buddies who will be joining me on the frontline of this war of words. My writing group. They’ve all agreed to give it a go and we already have plans to have some writing days together throughout the month as well as an understanding that we’re allowed to send messages complaining how hard it is when it gets too much. I also have a supportive girlfriend who understands I’m likely to be more stressed and absent, and who’s ready to be a sounding board for ideas/updates/and whining. I’m a very lucky dude.

My main reason for participating in NaNoWriMo isn’t to finally write that great novel that’s going to take the world by storm. I don’t expect to write a good novel, or possibly even an okay one. Smashing it out in this way doesn’t exactly lend itself to good writing. But I do hope to get a nice amount of raw material that I can mould into something good over time. Clay to sculpt. Because that is what I’m hoping to get out of NaNoWriMo, to get myself to write more. As I said this level of content is likely normal behaviour for a professional writer and while I’m currently not a professional writer I one day want to be. So, in the mindset of dress for the job you want, I want to be able to complete the amount of content needed for the position. I’m definitely writing more than I was this time last year but now I’m ready to kick it up another notch. They say it takes three weeks to develop a habit, so I’m hoping that by the end of the month writing 2000+ words a day will be my new habit.

Finally, I also plan to keep this blog updated on my progress and potential descent into madness, so please stay tuned for that.

(P.S. this post was words eight hundred words so I just need to do that twice then add another four hundred words…everyday. Easy, right?)

Talk soon

Damian

Advertisements

October 24, 2016

24102016

There’s been a few new little things happening writing wise that I want to tell you all about but I also realised it’s been awhile since I’ve shared some bits from the internet. I know this because my Facebook saves and chrome bookmarks, the two places I usually store the interesting things the internet throws at me for future sharing, are starting to pile up. Because of that I thought this blog could just be a run down on all those cool things and I’ll save writing update for later in the week.

So, without further preamble…

++++

BITS FROM THE INTERNET!

I’m going to start off with a few short stories I’ve read lately. As I’ve been attempting to write my own short stories recently I’ve been on the hunt to read as many as I can in order to evaluate what makes a good one good, and a bad one bad. Luckily, the internet provides us with a huge amount of options in this regard; from newbie writers like myself offering up their work for free to writing magazines and publisher websites occasionally giving us a piece of work from the cream of the crop in order to suck is into buying more. Which it does. For myself I’ve mostly been reading ones from the publisher Tor, as they they print sci-fi and fantasy (my favourite), they offer a new short story for free every week in their newsletter, and because I’m subscribed to said newsletter. Convenience.

This is where this first one comes from. It’s entitled The Three Lives if Sonata James and is written by Lettie PrellIt’s a sci-fi story about a young woman called Sonata who lives in a world where you can automatically update your persona to the cloud. This means if your body dies you can just upload your persona into a new android body; one that’s capable of doing so much more than your current weak squishy bod. This theoretically means you could live forever, continually jumping from body to body whenever an old one breaks down. The story discusses the ramifications to this re: overpopulation and a resistance to the technology. It also goes into the idea of life as art and the beauty in the limitations to both. It’s a truly gripping story that will have your mind ablaze with questions and possibilities by the end of it.

+

Next is a short story called The Egg by Andy Weir. The Lady Holly and I rewatched The Martian on the weekend, based off the book of the same name written by Weir, and it got me curious to see what else he had written. The story of how The Martian got published is infamous and, to me, fairly inspirational. Weir initially self published the novel off his website in a serial format, one chapter at a time. At the request of some of his fans he then made it available on Amazon Kindle, setting the price at 99 cents; the minimum he could set it. It quickly climbed to the top of the list of Amazon’s most downloaded sci-fi where it then garnered the attention of some publishers who bought it, published it, made a lot of money off it, and the rest is history. For any of you out there who haven’t read it it’s a terrific novel and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Back to my research though. From Weir’s site I found a bunch of short stories and webcomics he had written that he happily lets people consume for free. The one that is probably the most famous is The Egg – the story I’m sharing here – and for good reason. It’s an incredibly short read, perhaps two pages at best, but it contains a huge idea that chances are you’ll be mulling over for a while. I won’t tell you more than that for fear of ruining it but as examples of good short stories go this one is pretty high up on the list.

+

We’ll stick with cool writing bits for the minute with this animated video of advice from screenwriter, Michael Arndt. Arndt has written for a number of Pixar movies, as well as the screenplay for Little Miss Sunshine, and more recently Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Clearly with a resume that good the guy knows what he’s doing.

In this video he talks specifically about his time with Pixar and what he learnt there about writing a good beginning to a story.

+

Let’s now move into the science and design side of things with another video that shows basically the most bad ass coffee table anyone has ever owed. I won’t bother describing this one because the video speaks for itself (that’s pretty much what videos do) but if anyone wants to buy me one I won’t say no.

+

It must be time for a TED talk right? Right. I’m currently planning out a story that incorporates virtual reality (again, more about that in my next post) and so when this TED talk about how VR can be used as an art form popped up on my Facebook feed I had to watch it. It’s fascinating and shows how, much like the birth of movies back in the day, the rise of VR will give audiences a whole new medium for art and storytelling. A truly fun, engaging, and moving talk.

+

One more video for us to finish things off. A beautiful and thought provoking animated short film about a dog doctor who wonders if she’ll be happier as a stay-at-home pet. It’s only a couple of minutes long and covers the topic of the difficulty in making life choices really well. And it has adorable dogs wearing human clothes, so it’s a double win.

++++

That’s it for today. I have a bunch more internet bits I could happily share but probably best not to over do it. In the meantime have a mental chew on those and hopefully you enjoy them as much as I did.

Talk soon

Damian

October 17, 2016

4539093.jpg

It’s been a funny week for me. I’ve been sick. Not terribly unwell but it’s been enough to throw me off my axis. Illness will always do that I’ve found. It takes just enough from me that even if I do manage to complete my usual tasks they become a struggle. There’s a part of (healthy) me that romanticises being sick, that builds it up as a perfect excuse to do nothing and just luxuriate in a state of laziness. What healthy me really wants is a day off work. Unfortunately being sick is work, at least for your immune system, with the added bonus of feeling crap. The romance I build up while healthy quickly evaporates when I start tasting sour mucus at the back of my throat and become weighed down with a lethargy that makes my head feel like it’s full of cotton wool and my body want to lie down on everything. It took a full week but I’m now starting to feel normal again. The cotton wool has dissipated and now I only want to lie down on a few, more specific, things; and for that I am grateful.

+++

With my health on the improve I once more rode to work this morning. My ride is mostly a nice one, full of greenery and solitude. As I leave quite early in the morning I usually get to see the birds doing their early morning thing of getting worms and singing songs, as well as snails who slowly cross my path leaving a slimy trail behind them, and rabbits who bound away from my spinning wheels while I call out good morning to them (as I have a pet rabbit at home I feel they warrant a greeting).

Towards the end of my twenty kilometer ride I head through a school district and so am often joined on my path by parents walking their kids to school. When people are on the path ahead of me I always feel a slight sense of trepidation. This is caused by the fact that I know with an almost certainty that I’m about to cause these people a shock. With surprising regularity pedestrians are either walking side by side, in the middle of the path, or weaving back and forth across the path thanks to the presence of their phone in their hands. So, I ring my bell. Just once. A loud confident ‘DING!’. This is where the shock comes in. It’s not that I try to sneak up on them but usually the people in front of me are unaware of my increasingly encroaching presence and so when they suddenly hear a ‘DING!’ come from a looming figure on a bike behind them they instinctively startle.

I don’t love that my presence routinely startles people but what I do love is the reaction from the parents. When they hear that ‘DING!’ the first thing they do is put an arm around their child. Every time. I could confidently place bets on it, and I’m not a betting man. That unconscious act makes me smile. Granted they’re trying to protect their child from me, but the fact that their first instinct is to protect their kid is so sweet that I don’t even mind. I always cry out a thank you to them as I cycle past, both for moving out of my way and for making me think maybe people aren’t so bad after all.

++++

Sadder news from my world is that on Sunday morning I found my budgie (pictured above) dead on the bottom of his cage. He was around six years old and hadn’t shown any signs of sickness so it’s a bit of mystery what caused it, other than perhaps simply natural causes. His name was Sherlock, a name which was well suited to him as his temperament was not precisely friendly, but he will be missed. We are a house in mourning.

++++

The last thing I’ll share with you all is a poem my Dad wrote. He shared this poem (from his home in Traralgon) with me (in Melbourne) and Brother Jonathan (in London) through the magic of our individual smart phones, internet connections, and viber apps; because that’s something you can do when you live in the future. Quite appropriately the poem is on writing.

+

words
written words
slowly surfacing
giving form and clarity to
thoughts/ideas/feelings
forged/trapped deep inside
hoping for the banks to burst
to be free
to be

+

And now they are.

Talk soon

Damian

October 12, 2016

12102016

I believe that the term ‘write what you know’ is about including small details of yourself and your experiences into your writing in order to imbue it with authenticity, rather than only write about topics where you are academically knowledgeable. Because of that when I have a small memory from some part of my life that seems to stick around I like to write it down as I figure it must have some import for me not to forget it, with the added hope that one day I’ll be able to use it when it’s appropriate to a story. On that note, here is one of those memories.

++++

It was 2011 and I was shaving my head in the bathroom. I find the experience of going to the hairdressers uncomfortable. This is mostly because I never really know the answer to ‘What are we doing with your hair today?’, but also because the forced conversation or uncomfortable silence option is one I’ve never managed to master. As a result of this I prefer to chop my hair off myself. That was true back in 2011 and it’s true now.

The only problem with shaving my head is that I can’t cut a nice straight hairline at the back by myself. I’ve tried and it’s never ended well. Luckily for me I’ve always lived with someone who can help me out. At the time I was living with my older sister, Angela, and the Lady Holly; who I think had either recently moved in or was around enough that she may as well have. As it seemed a more girlfriend than sister type duty I asked Holly to do the back of my head for me.

Quick diversion. When I was a kid Angela and my older brother Matt would sometimes pick on me because, you know, they’re older siblings, and that’s what older siblings do. In those moments I would always try really hard to contain my anger. Even back then I was someone who preferred to remain calm and reasonable. Unfortunately I was also five so rather than contain my anger I instead bottled it until my icy calm would explode into a burning rage; basically a tantrum. I always regretted when my anger would explode, one, because I didn’t like feeling out of control, and two, because it had little effect on my older siblings anyway. Now I am no longer five, and I haven’t had or even come close to an outburst like that since I was.

Back to the head shaving. Holly was going to cut a neat hairline at the back of my head. To assist with this I had removed the attached comb from the clippers, which controlled the length of the cut, leaving just the blades. Unfortunately there was a miscommunication and so Holly thought she was shaving the whole back of my head rather than just a line at the base of it. She turned the clippers on, zipped them across my scalp, and I had a bald patch. Holly, sweetheart that she is, became upset by what she had accidentally done. I was a little bit upset too, not at her of course, just at the situation in general, which is what I told her as I tried to comfort her and stop the flow of tears that had started. I told her it was okay, it would grow back, and that she shouldn’t worry about it. As I started to clean up my fallen locks Holly went to the bedroom to compose herself.

Angela, having heard some of what had happened, went to Holly and told her something along the lines of “He’s always had a temper” in an attempt to comfort her. Holly, shocked by a statement I’m happy to report she saw as the complete opposite of both the situation and a misrepresentation of me as a person, struggled to give a response.

Holly told me later what Angela had said and I could only sigh and explain to her how five year old me would occasionally get picked on to the point of explosion by the very person who now, fifteen years later, saw me as someone with anger problems.

It saddens me that this is included in my older sister’s opinion of me. 1) because I don’t like the idea that anyone would see me in that light and 2) because despite all the evidence to the contrary I’m still victim to a first impression my sister made when she was nine.

Mostly though it taught me that you never really know how people see you nor do you have any control over it.

Turns out that’s what I know.

Talk soon

Damian

October 3, 2016

03102016

One of the best things about the internet is that you can get anyone to teach you to write; as long as they’ve recorded and posted a series video lectures of themselves doing so. Luckily Brandon Sanderson, one of the current greats in fantasy writing, has done exactly that. A while ago did a post detailing this news as well as giving a recap from my perspective on the first in this lecture series in order to enhance my own education. Today I do the second.

Find the lecture below, and my recap below that.

++++

This lecture, entitled ‘cook vs chef’ covers writing formulas. Sanderson starts by explaining what cook vs chef means, which is that the difference between the two is that a cook follows a recipe and a chef comes adds to a recipe and comes up with something new. Meaning that when using writing formulas the idea isn’t to rigidly stick to the formula and make sure you tick every box, but to start with them but then add more, add your own style. He also notes that for himself he doesn’t think about formulas while he’s writing, but usually when he runs into a problem or as a way to analyse a story when it isn’t working. For myself it’s much the same. Having studied screenwriting I was well initiated in the three act structure, which I find extremely helpful, less when beginning a story but more throughout it when I need to figure out what sort of plot point should come next.

The first formula he sets up is an analyses of the parts that make up story structure. Think of a venn diagram, where you have three unconnecting circles representing plot, setting, and character. Over the top and connecting all those is a fourth circle representing conflict. Sanderson explains how conflict is what ties them all together. For example you could have a character at odds with their setting, or at odds with other characters (or even themselves) or at odds with the plot and what the world thinks they should do. At its most basic that is what a story is.

The next formula, or rule, he talks about is the advice that ‘you should always start a story with a bang’. Sanderson explains that this doesn’t mean start with an action sequence but with a really intense character moment that will draw people in. I’ve learnt much the same thing. With screenplays the rule is to start as close to the action as possible. Another way to put this is ‘in late, out early’. Meaning start your story as late into the action as possible, then leave as early as you can once it’s resolved. He then goes on to explain what it means when people say you need ‘a hook’, namely something that introduces the idea of your story in a concise and interesting way, and encapsulates the kinds of emotion and tones you are going to give your reader by reading this book.

Sanderson next talks about what makes a good character and what makes a character interesting. He references the quote by Kurt Vonnegut “Start a story with somebody who wants something really badly, even if it’s just a glass of water”. I’ll add to that by saying that the character has to have a strong will to seek that something that they really want, there’s nothing worse than a passive protagonist. He then goes on to list aspects that make a character interesting, including: conflicted morals, they need to be capable, they’re out of their depth, their relationships with others, that they seem real and relatable, that they are proactive, they’re flawed, they’ve got a past, and they’re funny.

To aid with this character development Sanderson next gives us another formula; a timeline where at one end you have the everyman and at the other you have the superman. He tells how the everyman reminds us of ourselves, who we see ourselves as, and are a person we can become sympathetic towards, and that the superman are hyper competent people who we want to be like and find interesting. A lot of stories have characters who move along this line throughout the story, becoming the superman. Which here can mean becoming super dominant in their field, or in high society, or whatever.

His next formula sticks with the character development and involves three scales that range from high to low; they are competent, likability, and proactive. He explains you can use these scales to drive what makes your character interesting. Someone who’s competent is very interesting to us, even if that competency is in a very narrow area. Likability works simply by making us like the character. He states the adage “if you want an audience to like someone have them pet a dog, if you want the audience to dislike someone have them kick a dog”. Finally, proactive. Simply, we like a character who moves the story along, who tries to fix a problem even if they don’t always succeed.

Sanderson explains how by moving characters up and down these scales you can create different styles of characters who will all be interesting for different reasons. Take Sherlock Holmes for example. He has high competency and high proactivity, but low likability. Whereas Watson has high likability and medium competency and proactivity. Both are interesting characters but for very different reasons.

Sanderson then finishes up the lecture by detailing a few further methods for the development of characters. Including: Create a list of questions to ask yourself about each character. Write a monologue from the point of view of a character, almost as if they were being interviewed. Ask yourself why doesn’t a particular character fit the role you’ve given them? With the aim to develop the worst person for the job in order to maximise conflict.

++++

Lecture number two done. Good stuff, right? Learning continues to be fun.

Talk soon

Damian