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.  🙂

Mini Chocolate Chip Muffins

With mini chocolate chips, in mini size.  So tasty!  So very simple:

Dry ingredients (combine into bowl):
1 1/2 c all purpose flour
1/4 c white sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
(I usually mix at this point and then add the chipits and remix)
1 c mini semi-sweet dark chocolate chipits (the mini ones work better than the large ones)

Wet ingredients:
1 egg (mix it up with fork)
1/3 c melted butter
1 c milk

Mix dry ingredients together and make well in centre.  Mix wet ingredients in their own bowl.  Add wet ingredients all at once to dry ingredients and stir until just mixed (don’t over stir and absolutely do not use beaters).  Spoon into greased mini muffin tin (yes, you can use regular size, but I like these sweet ones to be nice little bite sized pieces).

Bake ~18 minutes at 375 degrees.

Yield:  ~22 mini muffins

NOM straight out of oven.  NOM NOM NOM.

Lemon Butterscotch Muffins

These are also known as “crack” muffins.  They’re that tasty.

Preheat over to 375 degrees.

Dry mixture:
1 cup flour
less than 1/4 cup sugar (I know, not an exact measurement, but this recipe was like that)
1 heaping tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 cup Chipits Butterscotch pieces

Wet ingredients:
1/4 cup melted butter
2 eggs
grated zest from 1 lemon
juice from 1 lemon (yes, the same one)
1/4 cup “realemon” lemon juice

Standard rules apply:
Combine dry ingredients in bowl, mix well, make well in centre.
Combine wet ingredients in separate bowl, mix well.
Add wet to dry all at once and stir until just mixed (no over mixing!)
Spoon into muffin tins (recommend mini tin)
Bake @ 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes

NOM!!  These were an experiment that went very right.  The yield was about 15 mini muffins.

Short Story in Print!

I am very pleased to announce that my first short story to see print has come out today!

Issue Eight of the magazine Title Goes Here from Misanthrope Press is out and my story “Djinn in a Bottle” is right there, inside of it.  Published.  😀

I’m a little speechless.  In that happy glow kind of way.

It’s a dark story as befits Title Goes Here.  Anything else you want to know about it, well, you’ll need to read the magazine.

Calloo callay 😉

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.

Completion of a Cycle

6 months ago I started upon a new adventure.

I decided to learn how to make my own honey wine, a.k.a. mead.  This weekend was the completion of this adventure.  Well, the ending of the first round as I will certainly do it again!

After waiting and waiting and, yes, more waiting, it was finally time to put all that lovely liquid into their own individual bottles.  There they will rest and age for probably another three months before the drinking starts but I can tell you now that the flavors turned out better than I had expected!

I had four batches on the go, two 1-gallon jugs (beet & rose) and two 2.5 gallon carbuoys (raspberry/pomegranate and mild orange spice).

Isn’t it great when something turns out better than you hoped for?  Talk about some feel good moments.  And tasty sippings.  Not to mention all the future drinking.  After bottling, this is what my wine rack looks like:

As all good endings contain the seed of a new beginning, this ending has brought the opportunity to get some new meads started.  Yay, more mead!

Pumpkin pie is bubbling away in one bucket (primary fermentation) and mango in another.  Can I wait another six months before getting to enjoy them?  Absolutely.  Because I don’t have a choice.  😉

May you enjoy your favourite beverage this week.

~Samantha