Category Archives: Works!

Time Accountability

Thanks to my recentish iPhone purchase, I’ve discovered that these days it is much easier to be accountable to myself than ever in the past.

Because there are apps.  There are apps that make it ridiculously easy to track your food intake (more on that in a later post), to track your money, and to track your time.

Now I recently took a RWA (Romance Writer’s of America) course through their Futuristic, Fantasy and Paranormal online group on Writing as a Business.  And much of that course boiled down to:  act professional, look professional and keep track of your stuff as a professional.

One of the specifics then from this was the recommendation to keep track of your time.  Should the nightmare happen and you get audited, you have a stronger case if you can show how much time you actually spend on this second job (with it’s typically horrible hourly wage of next to niente).

Well, keeping a log is effort.  And not fun.  And those two things combined typically kill something for me.

But with my recent iPhone acquisition and success in taking control of other aspects of my life by using the tools it offers, I had to know, was there another tool out there waiting for me?

Why yes, yes there was.  Hours Tracker is its name.  Tracking jobs is its game.  So I entered in all of the different stories I’m working on and the typical other work associated with writing, such as blogging and email management (gods, how I loathe email, but that’s neither here not there for this post).

And when I start working on something I tell the pretty little app that I’ve started and on what.  When I’m done, I turn it off.  And it keeps track for me.  Tallied by project and possibly by month (but I haven’t been using it long enough to tell).  And it’s exportable.  So at the end of the month I just export the data, print out the report and file it as my physical backup.

So easy.  So lazy.  So fun.

So suddenly noticeable as to how much time I’m actually spending writing.  Okay, sure, I can still use the ‘recovering from back injury’ excuse.  And it is true, but the reason is disappearing in direct proportion to my physical improvement.  And I’m left staring at the number, or lack thereof, of hours spent actually working on specific stories.

That leaves me only one question.  Am I going to change my behaviour and get writing more?  Or not?

Sh*t or get off the pot, as they say.

So when I…you know, this analogy is starting to disturb me.  So let’s go with, when I start logging hours on writing that isn’t blogging, I get this happy, positive reinforcement from seeing the hours start to add up on the app.

Accountability and reinforcement.  For me they are wonderful tools for getting me off–no, wait, that would be on my ass and writing.

It’s amazing what a little awareness will do for our behaviour, don’t you think?  And being accountable, even if only to yourself, of how your time is spent.  Well, it got me in my chair tonight typing rather than on the couch watching Hot Fuzz.

Anything that helps me with writing is a win in my book.  Okay, I couldn’t resist the pun which is a clear sign it is time to get some sleep!  So I will stop now but would welcome hearing what self management techniques have working for you!

Writers, may your words flow onto the page; readers, may the stories delight you.

May we all dream in technicolor,

~Samantha

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SnT: Body Expressions via V for Vendetta

Yes, this is another Showing Not Telling post.

Today’s focus is on the body, not the face.  How do we, as people, express ourselves by our body’s movements?  It’s so easy to concentrate on the eyes, the mouth, the chin and forehead.  We’re drawn to faces, after all, it’s the first thing we want to look at.  (Just did a google search on “study attention first face” and boy, are there a bunch of psychological studies involving faces on the internet, but as most of those are pdf’s, I’m afraid you’ll need to do your own search rather than click on links from me as I don’t like to download other’s work.)

It’s also an easy thing for us to focus on as writers.  Raised eyebrows and pursed lips are familiar tools.  How do we show emotions in someone’s body?  It is not necessarily as easy to do.

So let’s use an example where we can focus on that particular skill:  V for Vendetta.

I’ll be using some youtube clips to illustrate points but if you have not seen this movie yet, I strongly recommend watching it in its entirety as the clips will be spoilers. Even reading this post further will include spoilers!

The reason I recommend this film to study the expression of emotion strictly through the body is that the main character, V, (played by Hugo Weaving who does a stunning job, imo), is wearing a mask, wig, and rather stiff clothing that covers his whole body.  There are no facial expressions whatsoever, and even the other bodily hints such as straining tendons in the throat, are not visible at all.

Everything he expresses is through tone of voice and physical movement.  And he conveys it so well, that he is captivating.

Yes, Natalie Portman does a great job as well, she’s jut not the focus of this post.  🙂

Because there are no other indicators of emotion, we are forced to focus in different arenas for those emotional clues.  As writers, this is a great exercise.  Especially if you turn off the sound (mind you, with sound you can concentrate on how he is using his voice to substitute for those subliminal facial cues we’re so used to).

To start off with a bang, there is this “god is in the rain” scene.  This one is even subtitled, so turn off your volume and watch what happens.  Natalie Portman’s character, Evey, has just gone through a massive psychological death.  Watch her body, not her face!, as she enters the room.  What does it convey?  How does her movements, position of her body, her arms, her hands, make you feel?

Watch V react to her, does he move slow or quick?  Turned to her or away?  Head up?  Head down?  Placement of shoulders?  How is he holding his torso?  What does he do with his hands?  How do you react to all of these components?

When you feel an emotional response, what has just happened?  What have they done that elicited that response?  That, my dear friends, is the motion you want to capture in your storytelling.

In this dance scene there is at least one moment where I’m convinced V loves Evey and is expressing it in just the way he’s holding her.  Do you feel it too?  What is it about how he moves that makes me so certain?

For fun, here is the V speech which just for the sheer use of ‘v’ words, is a veritable, well, wonder.  I’m not as good with my thesaurus, clearly.  ;D  Here V is rather light and playful, attempting not to frighten while still maintaining an aura of gentle menace (is that even possible?  perhaps I’m just deluded and overcome by that pile of v words, you be the judge…).  Everything he is conveying is through tone of voice and movement.  How much of it is in the voice?  How much in movement?

Hugo Weaving also manages to do an evocative death scene, in mask, barely moving.  The emotion is in his breathing, the tilt of his head, particularly in how he orients to Evey.  “But surely the emotion is in his voice?  His words and how he says them?” you say?  Watch it again, without sound.

Any movie can be watched for how the actor conveys emotion, intent, purpose via movement, but it can be tricky to dissociate the body from the face (our natural inclination is to watch it primarily for cues to what people are feeling).  This movie provides eliminates our ability to cheat.

Hat’s off to Hugo for a great job of acting.

~~~

Addendum:  was just checking the links and as I watched snippets of them again I realized there was one other comment I wanted to make.

Despite the fact that the character is so limited in how he can express himself, he doesn’t overact the movements.  They’re not exaggerated or serving as a substitution for the face in the sense of compensation.

Or at least, so goes my opinion.  ymmv.  🙂

Get your bodies speaking for you

Showing not telling is all about describing something as your senses would perceive it directly, without a judgment attached:

  • Her fingers moved constantly in random, jerky patterns vs. she fidgeted nervously
  • His eyebrows rose up towards his hair vs. he looked surprised

We like to read stories where we are engaged in the creation process, where we envision what is happening rather than having it handed to us on a silver platter with all interpretation laid out for us.

In order to do this effectively, we need to be able to describe the important parts of movement, the key indicators of mood and thought.  We also need to use different descriptions or we and the reader will get bored with the one and only way we know how to show surprise.  (Those pesky raised eyebrows…but don’t forget that there are other things those lifted eyebrows can indicate, such as a question in the offing.)

A friend gave me a fabulous book, What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell.  It is a series of essays that explores the intersection of science and society, that answers such great questions as “what is the difference between choking and panicking?  Why are there dozens of varieties of mustard but only one variety of kechup?”

I read it in a weekend, gobbling up each essay and then starting on the next one before I could even catch my breath.  I highly recommend it.  It will get you thinking, in the best, most entertaining way possible.

In the title essay, I was reminded of this question of showing not telling, of how we get the setting and the characters to show their feelings for us rather than using those cheap, easy descriptive words.  And maybe some tools to make it a little easier.

The essay focused on how dogs interpret human body language and react accordingly.  A University dance instructor analyzed the movement of a ‘dog whisperer’ which led to the mention of the Laban Movement Analysis.  The abbreviated list of things they look at struck me as a start for writers to use to get at those motions that will lead the reader to the experience we want them to have.

“Movement experts…use…Laban Movement Analysis to make sense of movement, describing, for instance, how people shift their weight, or how fluid and symmetrical they are when they move, or what kind of effort it involves.  Is it direct or indirect – that is, what kind of attention does the movement convey?  Is it quick or slow?  Is it strong or light – that is, what is its intention?  Is it bound or free – that is, how much precision is involved?  If you want to emphasize a point, you might bring your hand down across your body in a single, smooth motion.  But how you make that motion greatly affects how your point will be interpreted by your audience.  Ideally, your hand would come down in an explosive, bound movement – that is, with accelerating force, ending abruptly and precisely – and your head and shoulders would descend simultaneously, so posture and gesture would be in harmony.  Suppose, though, that your head and shoulders moved upward as your hand came down, or your hand came down in a free, implosive manner – that is, with a kind of vague, decelerating force.  Nows your movement suggests that you re making a point on which we all agree, which is the opposite of your intention.”  (p. 136-7)

This is one example of how our body moves expresses our mood, our intention and underscores or undermines our words.

“[The dog whisperer] then leans forward for emphasis.  But as he does, he lowers his hands to waist level, and draws them towards his body, to counterbalance the intrusion of his posture.  And, when he leans backward again, the hands rise up, to fill the empty space.  It’s not the kind of thing you’d ever notice.  But, when it’s pointed out, its emotional meaning is unmistakable.  It is respectful and reassuring.  It communicates without being intrusive.” (p. 137)

As writers, we need to capture the essence of the movement, the specific items that will lead the reader to where we want them to go.

“His phrases are of mixed length…Some of them are long.  Some of them are very short.  Some of them are explosive phrases, loaded up in the beginning and then trailing off.  Some of them are impactive – building up, and then coming to a sense of impact at the end.  What they are is appropriate to the task.  That’s what I mean by versatile.”

Switch up your character’s movements.  Play with them as you would play with pacing.  Use their bodies to add to the scene, to give it greater depth, greater meaning that is there waiting for the reader to discover it and make their own judgment.

I love it when there are multiple layers to things.  Today’s layer cake includes a book recommendation, the reminder to always be open to finding inspiration in anything read or experienced, and some suggestions on how to look at and describe movement to show, not tell, what’s going on with your characters.

I hope you enjoy.

P-pl-pl-plot-plotting?

WIP:  Agent of Fate

Today’s writing accomplishment lies in overcoming my fear of plotting.  I sat down with my whiteboard and the memories of my NaNoWriMo project and I plotted.

I had already laid out the basics (I usually sum up a scene with 1-4 descriptive words) so today was actually working with that information.  Where did it need work, where could I twist things more, what didn’t make sense and so on and so forth.  Had to use all four colours of my whiteboard markers, too.

Part of me still feels like I should do more.  The rest of me feels like I’ve got a good stepping stone to sorting out this WIP so I can get back to writing.

Guess I’ll find out when I start back into the writing.  But if nothing else, I’m a big step closer to figuring out how I plot.  And that, my dear friends, is the important part.

Okay, that and getting back on the writing train.  😉

Getting Moving

Treadmill:  65 minutes at a nice mellow speed
Words on treadmill:  1582
WIP:  Agent of Fate
Additional words:  1832

Day one of new commitment.  And what do I have to show for it?  I finished NaNoWriMo!  That’s right, I hit the 50k word mark tonight.  Woohooo!  Party time!

Okay, so it’s like another 40k words until the novel is actually done and then there’s all the editing and the rest of the work, but I set a goal and met it, so yeeha!

Happy weekending to everyone!

Enjoying a moment of satisfaction

That’s right, I am.

I got my word quota done tonight by 9 p.m.  9!  Not 10, not 10:30 or even 11, but 9!  I’ve only been home since 6:30 and had to get some dinner in there.  9.  So fabulous.

And you know what’s even better?  I did almost all of it while walking on the treadmill.  Treaddesks are definitely way to go.  I got in my exercise and my words.

But the point of this blog post is to remind me (and any of you who care to be reminded) that it’s important to take these moments of satisfaction and suck them bone f*cking dry.

As writer’s we drive ourselves crazy, are always faced with that ‘but there’s x more still to do’, never actually done working feeling.  Like being in University all over again when there was always another paper, another exam, another chapter to read waiting for your attention.

When these moments of satisfaction happen they have to be grabbed and savoured.  I want to crawl into it and wrap myself in it, roll around and coat myself in it, drink it until heady with it.

And how did I spend my extra time?  Why writing about it, of course!

Panster Plotting Trial #5

Yes, I’m a panster.

For those in the writing know, that means that I write my stories by the seat of my pants.

The opposite end of the spectrum are the plotters. They plan, they outline, they strike me as exceedingly organized, and they add the wordiest parts later.  As I understand it.

As a panster, I can only imagine the life of the plotter.  But when I do, I cringe.

Not that there’s anything wrong with it!!!  Not at all.  I’m afraid it’s not just my thing and the thought of working that way makes me feel like I’m back in high school, not in a good way.

I love to see my created world unfold before me, to let the words flow and the action come and discover as I write what is going to happen.

When that’s all done, though, the panster must become the plotter.

Except I don’t know how.  I remind you, it’s not my thing.

So it’s been trial and error.  Today’s trial we shall call trial #5.  I’ve tried a few other things already and perhaps one day I’ll blog of them, but today it’s #5 for discussion.

I began by taking my list of chapters, a really basic list.  Number, title, one word descriptions of where things took place (i.e. scene shifts).  Most chapters had 2-5 such words.  But that’s not the plotting aspect.  Well, maybe it’s plotting trial #2, One Must Have a Summary of One’s Novel’s Chapters.

The plotting aspect was adding symbol descriptions of tension for each chapter.

Arrows up were for a tension increasing chapter, a star for a holy-fuck-tense chapter, a watery squiggle for a more relaxed, catch-your-breath chapter.  Some chapters had more than one marker, like a main indicator plus a modifier.

I marked in the current state of feeling in the chapter and then went to Analyze Town.  A wonderful place that all writers should spend time in, imo.

I saw at the start of my novel a lovely anticipatory intro then a big tense chapter then a drop to catch our breath.

The middle was decently paced.

The end of the book had a generally higher level of tension but it doesn’t have the good variation, the rolling waves that bring readers up to the pinnacle of the climax.  Like a great round of sex, or love-making if you prefer.  You don’t want to just get all excited and then poof done.

You want the excitement to draw you in, tantalize you, until you have to follow the story further.

And then it gets more intense until you are feeling almost over-stimulated and so the love-making slows, letting you catch your breath, and relax just a little.

Why?

So that when you start getting seriously intimate again, you can handle more of the passion, can feel more intense sensations without hitting that too much stage.

By ratcheting up the intensity with periods of apparent calmness you can get to a much higher fever pitch.  And that means a much bigger orgasm in the end!

Well, unless the end moments fail to live up to the promise and then it’s just a frustrating fizzle.

I don’t want to finish my story with a frustrating fizzle.  That’s just depressing.

So trial #5 is telling me where to relax further, where to make the conflict and tension stronger.

Which means tomorrow…okay, saturday, it’s back into the story with much more clarity of what my next stage of editing will look like.

Booya!

~Samantha