Month: July 2013

Writing Exercise: Let Them See the Light

One thing I often find myself leaving out of my descriptions and settings is light. My writing time is usually in the evening, and I sit at the dining room table, underneath a bright hanging lamp. Light, especially natural light, often comes as an afterthought (if a thought at all) in scenes, unless the light is obvious. Yet how light strikes objects can give your setting and scenes depth, in more than one way.

A constructed world can often seem flat and unapproachable to a reader, and adding descriptions of light can add complexity to your details, and dare I say, brighten the scene [insert groan here]. And there are so many different kinds of light, such as daylight, afternoon sun, fluorescent light, dawn and dusk, lamp light, candle light, a cell phone light in a darkened theater… so many different kinds you can add into your scenes and descriptions.

A great writing exercise for light comes from a writing workshop I took during my Master’s program. Take some time to write about 4 different light situations and solely focus on writing about that specific situation for at least a solid paragraph or two. One way to do this exercise is to use photographs with a human model. so find four images in different light. such as Outdoors daylight, morning,

or rich, full library light,  or Dusk, by the ocean.

Then really focus on how the light looks, and how it works against the model. Be creative. Go outside your norm. Not only is this a good stretch of your creativity, but it’s great to refer back to later (to help you “see the light,” yuk yuk) when you’re writing a scene and need some inspiration, and all you have is an image in your head.

Writing Update: Chapter Break

I was actually going to post a different blog this morning, but I had a mini-breakthrough while rewriting a chapter in my novel last night. (The mini-breakthroughs are really what keep me going at the moment.) I was rewriting a chapter that had been giving me problems. I’d turned in the pages to a couple different workshops and each workshop said basically the same thing, something wasn’t quite working in the chapter – there seemed to be too much going on and not in the right order.

So I decided to rewrite it. And as I was rewriting it, last night I realized how I could create a chapter break and solve a lot of the problems. If I just added a few scenes and rearranged some parts, one problematic chapter turned into two solid (albeit shorter) ones.

The process of taking something I was unhappy with and turning it into something I’m satisfied with was a nice reminder of why I love to write and do what I do. So I recommend, if you’re stuck or something doesn’t feel right in a chapter, seeing it from another angle and asking yourself, “Am I in need of a chapter break?”

To the Point: Taking Writing Breaks

Give your eyes a break!

An all-too-important reminder: if you stare at the computer screen for hours on end, you should be taking writing breaks. Technology has been a blessed advancement, but with the progress and efficiency of work also comes a price. A few years ago I went to the optometrist to get my eyes checked – just a routine check because I needed my contact prescription refilled. We started chatting about my work – I told her I was a writer – and she asked me how many hours a day I spent staring at a computer screen. Did I get headaches in the afternoon? Yes. Did I feel my eyes straining as I typed or read? Yes. (Actually, at work, I usually type on the computer at around 200% text magnification. Seriously.) Considering my day job has me working on websites and copywriting all day, the number was considerable. And the only way I can describe the optometrist’s response was, “muted, disappointed acceptance.”

She told me that in this day and age, her patients’ eyes were plateauing much later, if ever, than before. She asked me if I could write by hand, or whether I needed to write on my personal time as well. She highly recommended I look away from the computer screen at least every 10-15 minutes. Crazy talk.

Fast forward to today. I want to share my own techniques and apps that have helped me save my eyes a bit… hopefully.

Option 1: Time Out Free:

At home, on my Mac, I have a program called Time Out Free. Downloaded from the Apple App store, this program allows you to set timed breaks at intervals of your choosing. You can use “Normal Time Outs,” which are longer sets with longer breaks, or “Micro Time Outs,” which are shorter breaks over shorter amounts of time.

For example, a “Micro Break” can be set for 15 seconds every 30 minutes. A normal break can be set for 5 minutes every hour.

So how does Time Out work? After the set amount of work time (i.e., the amount of time the computer has been on and active), the computer begins to fade to a translucent green, with the Time Out icon (a person sitting in the lotus position) appears on screen. During Time Out, you cannot access items on your computer – you are effectively locked out. There are three options for panicked workers and/or exceptions: you can postpone the break 5 minutes, 10 minutes, or skip it entirely. During Time Outs, the program suggests you get up and move around if possible, or at least sit back from your computer, change your eye focus level, and relax.

After the 5 minutes (and yes, there’s a loading bar that is reminiscent of old upload or download bars), the icon and green block screen fade out, and you are free to work again.

Pros? This definitely reminds you to take a break and it’s hard to ignore. Skipping breaks makes me feel guilty, and I like the fact that there’s a warning, slow fade to lock-out. I also like that until the break, there’s nothing on my screen distracting me from my work.

Cons? It’s a bit too easy to skip breaks or forever postpone them. Yes, I know – I should be taking them for my own good, but still.

Option 2: Focus Booster

At work, on my PC, I have a program called Focus Booster. Downloaded from the program’s website, this program also allows you to set timed breaks and periods of work time. However, unlike Time Out Free, Focus Booster works as an actual timer, that sits on your screen and counts down (with another little bar that reminds me of a kitchen timer or stopwatch) from your chosen amount of work time. I have mine set for every 45 minutes, take a 2 minute break. Which means look away from my computer screen and get up from my chair. I reset this if, during that 45 minutes, I have to get up for any other reason (as often happens).

Pros? You can set the timer to tick, if you want that constant reminder of your time. I do not choose to have the main time tick, as I would find that highly annoying. But I do have the break time tick, since I’m away from my computer, and it’s nice to be able to hear the “time’s up” bell even if I’m standing a few feet away. Because there is a little chime when the break is through and you can get back to work. I also like that the timer counts how many “sessions” you’ve completed throughout the day, and that you can manually start and stop the session yourself, if you get up and walk away on your own.

Cons? I cannot find a happy medium between wanting the bar visible on my computer screen so I don’t FORGET to take a break (since there’s no fading and freezing of the monitor) and having it be obnoxious and over what I’m trying to do on screen. The default bar is too long to reasonably keep on the computer screen, and the hide option so completely hides the timer that when it’s a break, I often don’t hear (or recognize) the bell, and so miss the break. The compromise I’ve come up with is using the condensed version of the bar – which is about the size of a small square. However, this small square floats on top of all your other work, and so it can still be annoying at times. Also, if you stop the timer yourself because you’ve walked away from the computer on your own, there’s no way to count that as a “session” – the only sessions the timer logs are ones where the timer itself has reached the set time (in my case, 45 minute) mark.

So those are the two programs I use to try and help save my eyesight from early disaster. They both at least help remind me to look away every so often from the computer screen – and they remind me to get up and walk around even when I’m working or writing.

If you’re not into using applications – you can always go with the traditional 20-20-20 rule. Which is: Every 20 minutes, look away from your computer and at a spot 20 feet away, for 20 seconds.

What are some ways you try and save your eyes and/or back/neck/body from constant computer and office strain? Share your stories and applications in the comments below! And remember, take a moment to rest those eyes and stretch!

10 Great Book-to-Movie Adaptations

I have a t-shirt that reads, “Don’t judge a book by its movie,” and in discussions about movie adaptations of books, I’m usually on the side of, “The Book Was Better.” But there are exceptions to such a belief (or at least times when I enjoyed the movies and was not shaking my head afterwards, vehemently pointing to passages of the book and telling my friends, “See? Why would they leave that out? And that other thing? That’s not in the book!”) and I wanted to share some of those here.

This list is limited to titles where I have read both the book and seen the movie (in that order, with the exception of two). Please note, if you haven’t read the books (or seen the films), this blog might contain a few spoilers, though I’ll try to keep my references vague.

10. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton v. Jurassic Park (1993)

I read this book a long time ago, and the entire time I wanted to see the dinosaurs. Okay, the science and suspense was fine, but I wanted to see the dinosaurs! And with the film version, I did. They were impressive. And I didn’t mind that they merged characters and removed sub-plots, I thought that the movie was interesting, fast-paced, and there were dinosaurs I could see.

 

 

 

9. The Sheep-Pig by Dick-King Smith v. Babe (1995)

This is one of the two books on this list where I saw the film first, and then decided to read the book. And I must say, the film was pretty close to the story of the book and the tone, which was impressive considering the film was “live action” and involved talking animals. Both were entertaining and cute, and the film did not stray from the source material in any terrible ways.

 

 

 

8. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones v. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

As the other of the two books on this list that I read after I saw the movie, I was once again impressed with the way that the later film took the source material and created a solid story from it. I didn’t realize until much later after I’d seen Hayao Miyazaki’s version that it wasn’t an original story. When I began reading the novel, I was surprised at how true to even the dialogue the film had been, though the film did remove two large sub-plots and condense characters together for a more streamlined story. I was disappointed in one of the lost sub-plots because I think it really worked to humanize Howl, but I understand why it was removed.

 

 

 

7. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje vs. The English Patient (1996)

The book was beautiful. It was so well-written and I remember being drawn into the beauty of the world, the words, and loving the story of mystery, love, betrayal, and war. The complexity of the story was also something I enjoyed, and so I had high expectations for the film as well, and was not disappointed. While there are distinct departures from the plot of the book (including one that really bugged me, involving how the English Patient ends up at the hospital), on the whole the characters are well-defined and the passion of their stories remains intact. It is a slow film, but I remember also drinking it in as I watched, and being moved by the beautiful visuals, which I thought did justice to Ondaatje’s world.

 

 

6. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee vs. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

The book is a classic. Scout was one of my favorite girl characters growing up, and despite the controversial language, the book raising important discussions that, especially at the age when I read the book, made me think outside myself and view the world in a different way. The movie is also a classic. Gregory Peck is so good, and even though the movie focuses much more on the trial and removes much of Scout’s adventures (which I loved reading as a young girl), I thought the film lived up to the book’s high expectations.

 

5. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk vs. Fight Club (1999)

I admit I am not as adamant a Palahniuk fan as some of my friends, as I often find his writing style tiresome, but I still enjoyed Fight Club (the book) and thought the narrator’s voice was excellent – strong, confusing, and twisted, but with enough there that you could still almost follow what was going on. I remember thinking when I finished the book, “They’d never be able to make this into a movie.” Well then the movie came out, and I skeptically went to see it with my friends. And, well, it became a hit of my generation. I knew guys who had made it a bragging point that they’d “never really read a book” (apparently using Cliff’s Notes in English Lit class didn’t count) go out and look up Palahniuk after seeing this movie, three or four times. I thought that the way David Finch wove the characters together was incredibly well done, and both Edward Norton and Brad Bitt are excellent in it. I can even almost forgive the film’s Hollywood ending. Almost.

4. Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen vs. Pride & Prejudice (BBC series, 1995)

So I could have compared the book to any one of the theatrical films that were adapted from it, but my favorite, the one that is dear to my heart, is the 1995 BBC series that starred Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth and Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. I confess to owning the VHS series (a whole six tapes, if I remember) and watching this series repeatedly in the basement, and loving every minute of it. I had read the book long ago and fell in love with the witty, stubborn, intelligent Elizabeth who bucked the traditions of her time. And I also fell in love with the imperious and brooding Mr. Darcy. I might have bonded with the antics of her madcap family, and the story in whole I just loved. When the original series aired on TV, I was immediately hooked. I was given the VHS tapes as a gift and watched them so many times my mind now visualizes every character as that actor from the series. Both are so good.

3. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling vs. the Harry Potter series (2001-2011)

dotd-potterOkay, so I admit, the books (especially the first ones) might not be the best well-written, and the films (especially the first ones) might not be Oscar-worthy, but these books were with me as I grew up, and I immersed myself in them, and enjoyed them so much that I appreciated the world and characters brought to life via film. The books, of course, were able to stay in Harry’s perspective more, and thus we learn much more about him and what he thinks of the world than the films portray. And there are many subtleties in the book in regards to the character relationships that are only brushed over in the films, or hinted at in a winking, nudging sort of way. I remember dragging a friend to one of the movies on opening night, and she’d never read the books. Halfway through, while the audience was laughing at yet another implied, basically inside joke, she looked at me and said, “I have absolutely no idea what’s going on.” So perhaps the films relied a bit too heavily on its audience’s prior knowledge, nay perhaps even expertise, in the books, but I think that – especially Prisoner of Azkaban onward were solid stories in their own right.

2. A Scanner Darkly by Phillip K. Dick vs. A Scanner Darkly (2006)

As an aficionado of science fiction, especially growing up, A Scanner Darkly was one of my favorite Phillip K. Dick novels. I read it fairly young, and was enthralled with the descriptions of drugs and drug culture in the story. I was also intrigued by its California setting, as at that point in my life, I was set on, at some point, moving there. I love the twists and turns of the story, and the duality of the main character. I also love the questionable reliability of the narrator. As with Fight Club, I doubted this film could ever be made into a decent film, but the 2006 theatrical release proved me wrong. I remember being excited, yet skeptical when I went to see it, and then interpolated rotoscope (yes I looked that up) animation, at first, threw me. But it didn’t take long for the style to really work for me, and I think it was a great choice to portray the weirdness, the out-of-body and almost nauseating feelings of the characters, and the overall sketchy (pun intended?) hold everyone has on life. I thought it was a very solid adaptation of the book.

1. Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings series (2001-2003)

These books were one of my favorite fantasy series I read growing up, and I remember thinking they must be cool because I found the books on my older brother’s bookshelf too. The world Tolkien creates is massive, rich, and complex. The stories he tells are epic, beautiful, and … also complex. This complexity was why I was skeptical that, even with the long runtimes, the films could do the stories justice. But the world Jackson created was impressive, and the care and thought put into the films, especially the first and the third, was applause-worthy. My only major gripe was that they never returned to the Shire, because I actually liked that part in the books, but I can see why they might have chosen to leave that part out.

So there you have it. Some great Book-to-Movie adaptations. What are some of your favorites? Agree? Disagree? Comment below!

What’s the Problem with QR Codes?

Oh QR codes. What an interesting idea and yet, not. Even when the buzz around this new marketing medium was hot, I never quite bought into the idea of asking your consumers to perform a series of steps to see your advertisement. I mean really, who is going to (1) download an ugly QR code app just so they can (2) scan random advertisements to (3) only be taken to a consumer website or given a ‘secret’ message?

I know one person who owns a QR code scanner on their phone, and that person is a graphic designer who has to create QR codes and test to make sure the links are correct. You have to test to QR code, otherwise this might happen:

Honestly, I was going to attach an image of a QR code onto this blog at the beginning. But then I thought, wait – if I just take a random QR code, I won’t know what it says… because I don’t own a QR code reader. And then I thought, eh well I doubt anyone else does too…

QR code

 

Tempted to check it out?

I didn’t think so.

Writing Tip: Give Yourself a Break and Gain Experiences and Stories

I hope everyone had a nice Fourth of July weekend. This weekend I hung out with some old friends and some people I’d never met before. Throughout the weekend, I was constantly reminded of something I think many writers forget as they get caught up in the daily grind. And that is that in order to be a good writer, you have to have experiences! You need to live life and hear stories and have fun and do interesting and exciting things, and meet interesting and unusual people. If you consider yourself a storyteller, you have to have stories to tell. And I know that as writers, it’s easy to feel guilty if you’re not sitting in front of your computer / tablet / typewriter, fighting with the words as they form. I know when I have free time, part of me always whispers, “You should be writing!” even if I just want to read / watch a movie / take a nap / cook dinner / play with the dog… basically live life.

But sometimes (and not all the time, because that is where it becomes procrastination) – you should give yourself a break. You should go out to that party and get in a conversation with someone and learn about their life and jot down (maybe in your mind, maybe on a pad of paper) snippets you hear from conversation or ideas that come to you. I especially found that this weekend I was talking to some older folk and hearing their stories and the timeline of their lives and thoroughly enjoying myself (plus taking away some ideas for later).

So I hope that you allow yourself some time “off” from writing. I hope you went out and experienced life and met some interesting people and heard their stories. Now as you face that blank page yet again, what will come forth?

To The Point: Some Great Quotes About Editing

So I’m in the midst of editing chapters and I’ve come to several conclusions, such as (a) it’s difficult to edit your novel as you find yourself wanting to rewrite everything; (b) opinions matter, but too many opinions about one scene or character are not necessarily helpful. My goal now is to take the notes and pick what aligns with me and makes sense for my characters and my story, and scrap the rest.

At the current moment, these quotes speak to me – all of which are quotes about editing.

“Put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.” – Colette

“kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings” – Stephen King, On Writing

 “I’ve found the best way to revise your own work is to pretend that somebody else wrote it and then to rip the living shit out of it.” – Don Roff

“I’m all for the scissors. I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.” – Truman Capote

“No author dislikes to be edited as much as he dislikes not to be published.” – Russell Lynes

“Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel like I should be doing something else.” – Gloria Steinem

What about you? Do you have a favorite quote about editing? Share it in the comments section below and happy editing!

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