Saturday, September 21, 2019

The Case For Self Help Books

During the formative years, we avidly collect books on the writing craft and relish them like epic novels. Something like this: "Yep, that's for me. Amazing! That makes sense. Can't wait to try it." Then the day comes when our writing is no longer cringe-worthy. Congrats--you've just found your 'voice'. How much is a result of the writing aids? You probably absorbed gems of special interest, osmosis style, and now have an innate sense for what works and what doesn't. You might even donate your collection to a thrift store, to the delight of an aspiring writer. Let's look at the categories of reference, then a specific example from the many topics.

Genre Reference
The Writer's Complete Fantasy Reference, by Writer's Digest Books, breaks it down thusly for us fantasy types: culture, magic, pagan society, commerce & law, races, myth, costume, arms, and castles. Your own preferred genre will benefit from technical books on travel, courts & police, government & military, as the shoe fits.

Scene Structure
Just to pick one from a hat, The Scene Book, by Sandra Scofield, lays it out in four parts. First come the basics; event and meaning; and focal point. Part two covers pulse, tension, conflict, and senses. In part three we have characters, openings, and major scenes. The last section shows ways to handle narrative and become a critical reader.

Director vs People Person
Now we must choose a style, and that's a whole topic in itself. A quick study will show pros and cons of two major methods. THE WRITER DIRECTOR orchestrates a grand vision, unfolding it much like a film. Actors must follow the script, and it can be formulaic. THE PEOPLE PERSON creates vibrant, compelling cast we care about. But their strong wills can pull the story in different directions.

Getting In Character
Some writers use physical aids when getting into a character's mind. You might listen to that person's favorite music, sample their food, or admire the type of art they like. I'll use an example from my preferred fantasy genre: Gothic Fantasies, a book of paintings by Anne Sudworth. Depending on the scene requirement, these pictures help create the background mood you're looking for. Nuff said for now. Donate your collection yet? It's time to lose the training wheels.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Beowulf's Origin

Many ancient texts are the work of multiple authors that have been mashed up into one story over the course of generations. Works like The Iliad and The Odyssey ascribed to the blind poet Homer are likely authored by generations of would-be Homers. The same goes for the Old Testament of the Bible. But new research suggests one piece of writing believed to be the work of several poets is actually the work of one wordsmith. Computer-based analysis of the Old English poem Beowulf indicates it’s the work of single author.
The origins of the epic poem about a Danish hero’s quest to kill Grendel and later the monster's vengeful mother, have been debated for centuries. The only known version of the poem came from a vellum codex, likely composed around 1000 and saved for centuries in a monastery. It wasn’t until 1815, however, that the first printed version was published. The first English edition came out in 1833.
According to a press release, scholars found the manuscript odd from the beginning, suggesting it was at least two poems stitched together. In the original manuscript the handwriting changes abruptly mid-sentence, suggesting two scribes worked on the document. And stylistically some of the poem feels disconnected, with strange sections about Beowulf's swimming ability and tales of unrelated ancient kings.
Readers noticed that from the start. ”[T]he unity of the work was almost immediately attacked,” Harvard postdoc Madison Krieger, co-author of the paper in the journal Nature Human Behavior says.

To assess the poem’s authorship, the team split the original text of Beowulf into two sections and analyzed each using cutting edge textual analysis to see if they came from two different authors. They analyzed features like the rhythm of the poem, the pauses, clusters of letters and joined words, all of which can serve as the fingerprint of an author.
Despite all the weird asides, the textual analysis indicates that the poem was written by a single author, even though it appears two different scribes wrote out the vellum manuscript. That’s in contrast to another Old English epic called Genesis, which was also believed to be by more than one author. Analysis of that poem shows noticeable differences between its various parts.
“Our work demonstrates a stylistic homogeneity of Beowulf on a level never before documented,” Krieger tells Tom Whipple at The Times. “So it’s fair to say that we’ve tipped the needle slightly more towards unitary authorship.”
The study is something of a vindication for a man who knew a thing or two about epics. In a 1936 paper, J.R.R. Tolkien argued that the poem was the work of one author, at a time when most academics believed it was the work of multiple poets. Tolkien, as it happens, relied on the poem’s content and themes for his argument, a case now bolstered by the textual analysis.

If the epic is by one creative force, it opens up a lot more questions, like what’s the deal with all the swimming and other unrelated tangents. “Maybe one of the biggest takeaways from this is about how you structured a story back then,” Krieger says in the release. “Maybe we have just lost the ability to read literature in the way people at the time would have understood it, and we should try to understand how these asides actually fit into the story.”

The textual analysis used to look at Beowulf isn’t just good at detecting ancient authors. Whipple reports that the paper authors hope similar tools can help identify social media posts written by troll farms, a use that could help stop modern-day cyber-Grendels.

Beowulf Cotton MS Vitellius A XV f. 132r.jpg

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Art: Alpine Camp

Landscape, 11x14, acrylic on canvatex.

In which yet another magazine photo gets re-imagined. The appeal was twofold: orange sun contrasting with blues and violets, and the serpentine flow of snow down the mountain face. The yellow tent is an extra touch for scale and a little human element. Wet blends suggest a frozen flow as night overtakes the lower half. Higher up, dry edges accentuate the windblown heights. The eye follows a challenging path right up to the peak.

The advantage of working fast is that you capture the mood while it's fresh in mind. Wrestling with fine detail moves it closer to photography. There's nothing wrong with more deliberate methods; they provide hours of fulfilling work. This more sketchy method is for those wanting to channel a madcap Impressionist who races against the failing light. It also echoes their dislike for black in nature, since even the darkest areas are done with diox purple muted with orange.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Character Development

Creating that memorable realistic character is like a recipe.  For example there are the steps to follow to making a five course dinner as a good writer doesn't go without a character sketch or outline to makes their character unique.  There is a story, then the character and how he or she goes through the plot.   First and most important is the hero/ heroine. A character can be complex as we all are.    For each character I think it is better to get their physical attributes down to their emotions and personalities that make them unique.  I can immediately tell by the way the author describes a character whether they are the protagonist or the antagonist.    From there it's the minor and supporting characters who also have a small sketch.  

Also I try to make sure about consistency when describing them as they re-enter a scene.   Do you favor short named characters to longer names?  If they are different and new, I think the reader will remember them.  

How fond we writers are of our characters and they go on their way through the story.   They do their job as in the outline or sketch.  Is it your story or theirs?  They say the author should stay out of the story and let their characters have their own voice and purpose and change.  Ah, voice and dialogue of a story that compels the reader from the start.   

Are most on here published or aspiring to be published one day?  Let us know and your expertise and what genre you prefer. What is your system that works for you with creating a memorable character? A lot of times I think I unknowingly put myself in the story as if we're in a parallel universe.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Canned Dialog

Even in this age of cell phone cameras, artists sometimes carry sketchbooks for those times inspiration strikes. After all, a camera can't suggest how to portray a view; it only shows what's there. If you don't recall what attracted you to the scene, you may wonder why you took the photo to begin with.

Writers aren't known for jotting dialog as it occurs, but it's a good idea to get it down asap. Otherwise, when the time comes to use it, you might reach up there and grab empty air. Bummeracious. With the 'sketchbook' method of saving inspired dialog, you don't need fussy prose--just who says what, along with some stage cues. A second benefit (sort of like the 'character interview') is testing encounters between characters. If they act bored, then find another foil for the current POV. Often you'll only need to remember a joke or amusing incident, though dramatic conversations can go several pages. Things will change by the time you're ready to use it in the story, but it's invaluable to have these talking points saved. Thirdly, you'll already have a first draft of the talk. By the time it's needed, you'll see better ways of doing it. A short example follows.

From the Satire Zone
Rick and Jake are two construction workers on a break, proving that it isn't all sports and women. A surprising range of topics comes up, from erudite to goofy speculation.

RICK What would you say is the single most-used word in World War 2? Forget 'sir' and 'heil'.
JAKE [Ponders] I'd go with 'halt', since both sides used it.
RICK Could be. The allies tacked on 'who goes there', which in German is 'ist da jemand', or 'is anybody there'. Which of course is less effective, because all you have to do is answer 'no'.
JAKE [Laughs] Like on Hogan's Heroes!

The subtlety of the joke might have been lost if we only remember it was vaguely about World War Two. Dramatic scenes may need more stage cues, and even notes when ideas for future scenes occur. It's just another way the cast can show you which way they want to go.