Friday, September 25, 2015

I was more fun before YouTube

Today, on Facebook, one of my friends posted this.

MUST SEE VIDEO. The Anderson News captured an incredibly emotional scene when the father of a second grade student at...
Posted by LEX 18 on Wednesday, April 29, 2015

It's a video of a little boy surprised by his father returning home from duty in Iraq. Like most people, my eyes teared up, and then the camera panned over the uncomfortable faces of his classmates and I thought, "Oh that poor kid."

Once he sobers up from the overwhelming joy at his dad's homecoming, that kid is probably going to say the same thing. "Oh my god, did I just bawl my eyes out in front of Amanda?" The next day the boys will start calling him "crybaby," and the name will be virtually branded on his forehead until high school.

In the olden days, (the 90's) this would all be forgotten in a week, but now, this kid's breakdown has been posted to Facebook so not only have his classmates witnessed it, almost 7 million other people have too. This video will also likely be re-passed around every Memorial Day, Veteran's Day and 4th of July. He will be thirty and this video will still be circulating. He'll be at his middle management job, and he'll run into Mary from accounting by the coffee pot, you know, cute Mary, the one he was going to ask to dinner until she says, "Hey, I just saw this video of you, sobbing in your father's arms. So sweet." Great, because ya know, that's exactly how you want your potential dates to see you, as a little boy sobbing in your dad's arms.

Things that used to be private moments are now plastered all over the internet for everyone to see, and we love it. We love getting a glimpse into other people's lives, crying at the tender moments, laughing at their mistakes. Some of the people in these videos love it too, purposely setting up moments to record so they can become You Tube "stars." We've created a culture that now rewards stupidity and embarrassment. But there's a cost, like for the kid in the video above, and for the moments on the other side of the screen.

Case in point. A Fourth of July party a few years ago, and after too many beers and hotdogs, I was moved to sing a rendition of the National Anthem with sparklers. As soon as I hit the first note, the phones came out. All of a sudden, I went from being just another ass in a folding chair to Angelina Jolie headed down the red carpet. Drunk me didn't care. The next day, Hungover Me panicked when I found the video posted online, comments already flowing in. I made my friend take it down.

It seems harmless, right? Video gone and forgotten....except, I haven't forgotten. The next party, my favorite song came on. I wanted to get up and dance, but my eyes immediately bounced across the camera phones in everyone's hands, like a thousand little eyes ready to stand up and stare, and not only stare, but capture the moment for eternity. I kept my ass in the chair this time and continued talking about politics, because politics are safe. Boring adult conversations don't get posted to YouTube and watched a million times. And the result is a boring party that no one really enjoyed and no one remembers.

Parties in the old days were always fun. Look at MadMen, those crazy sixties parties where people took off their clothes and wore lampshades as hats. You know why people did that? Because there were no cameras. Even in the early 2000's. Yes, we had cameras, but they were old cameras, with film. If someone took a picture of you doing something embarrassing, there was a good chance there was going to be a finger over the lens, or the film would get over-exposed. There was an even greater chance of that film never getting developed. That picture getting scanned and put online afterward was nearly impossible, because ya know, people are lazy. You also really had to want it, and I think, when people have a second to think about it, they're like, "Maybe I shouldn't post that photo of my son on the potty." Because really, if someone took a picture of me on the toilet, they would either be dead or in jail. It's a crime, folks.

But now, you don't have to think. You shoot, post, and then a million eyes are on it, and this my friends, is why we have selfies of girls in front of a poo-filled toilets circulating online. That would have been caught long before it made it online when I was younger.

Now, I'm not trying to take down YouTube, I just think people have forgotten or don't even know what life was like before. Not everything needs to be videotaped. Not everything needs to be posted online. I give everyone a solemn vow that before I record something, it will not go online. It will just be for us, to privately look at and enjoy when we're old and we can laugh about how silly we were. I also make it a rule at my parties. No paparazzi. It takes a few minutes for people to adjust to the idea, but once they do, and the vodka comes out, my parties are memorable. But, I don't have any proof of it. You'll just have to take my word for it.

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Cliffhanger

Defined by wikipediaA cliffhanger or cliffhanger ending is a plot device in fiction which features a main character in a precarious or difficult dilemma, or confronted with a shocking revelation at the end of an episode of serialized fiction. A cliffhanger is hoped to ensure the audience will return to see how the characters resolve the dilemma.

The phrase I focused on here is "hoped to ensure the audience will return." HOPED. Because I despise cliffhangers at the end of a book. At the end of a chapter? Sure. Then I can get some immediate resolution, but when you're reading the first of a series and you have to wait a year for the answer, it's torture. In fact, I usually feel duped, so I don't even bother getting the next in the series for fear it will try to trick me again. (Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.)

I expect that the conflict raised in the novel will be solved by the end of 500 pages. When it isn't; it's frustrating. Yes, I get that you're trying to sell more books, but what I prefer to do is to solve conflict A and introduce conflict B in my last few pages. That will ultimately be the focus of book two, but I want my readers to feel like the time they spent with me in book one wasn't just a build up to something else. (Although, I'll admit, I am a shameless user of the cliffhanger for my chapter endings.)

Q: So, where did this blasted device come from?
A: We can all thank Thomas Hardy. In “A Pair of Blue Eyes,” a novel that was published in fifteen installments in Tinsley’s Magazine in 1873, the main characters literally fall from a cliff at the end of one of these installments.*

And since then, characters have been hanging from cliffs, defusing volatile explosives, catching husbands in affairs, and tearing off weaves all for the sake of dramatic pause for the past 142 years.

But I want to take a poll.

How do you feel about cliffhangers? free polls

*Source: "Tune in Next week" from the New Yorker.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Writer's Retreat Complete

I just got back from my first writers' retreat in lovely Gilmanton, NH. I had two full days of writing up in the peaceful farm country of NH with the ladies' from my writing group in a historic country home.

Going into this, I wasn't sure what to expect. I'd set myself up for this wonderful, productive weekend, drinking wine, typing out page after page, and then settling down for dinner with more wine and a rousing discussion of our progress followed by a heated game of cards. It sounds perfect, right? But you never know if that's what will really happen. However in this case, it did. I got thirty-five pages written and learned a new card game.

The house, for starters, was lovely. Although built in 1790, it was purchased by the owner's grandmother in 1930, and I swear to you, nothing has changed since then apart from the necessities like plumbing and wifi. It still featured the ornate wallpapers of the art deco age and the beds with mattresses atop rusty, metal springs. It was like staying in a museum, and we were pretty sure the house was coated in lead paint, which is fine, since none of us like to eat paint chips.

As proof of its age, at that far door in the foyer, there are penciled in lines marking different children's heights with the name and the year. They went on both sides of the molding and onto the closet door.
There were also shelves of musty old books, including some first editions.

The house was large enough to accommodate more than the five of us, and we all were able to claim our own writing nook. I started in the gazebo here.
But to combat the sun, I had to keep my laptop screen on bright, which drained the battery pretty quickly. I moved inside for a while, and after lunch, decided to explore the barn. And that was where I found my place.
From there I had absolute quiet, a nice summer breeze and a view of the woods. After poking around a bit more, I also found it had its own "bathroom," an indoor outhouse. Betcha haven't seen one of these in a while...if ever. And in case you're wondering, yes I used it just to say that I have peed in an outhouse.
In my previous post, I mentioned the creepy dollhouse upstairs and its creepy little doll residents.
They were there, of course, as horrifying as promised, and they had a friend.

For some unholy reason, one of my friends actually wanted to sleep in this room, even after we had a discussion about how scary doll horror movies are. A terrible idea to talk about right before bed, by the way, when you are with a group of people known for vivid imaginations. 

As expected, sometime in the night, she heard scurrying, and as much as she hated doing it, she used the flashlight on her phone to check the dolls, making sure they were snug in their tiny beds. Another writer didn't even mess around. She slept the entire night with the light on. 

But apart from the few moments of terror, creaking walls, and the highway traffic rolling by at night, we really had a fun and productive time. We're already planning our next retreat, and if you have the urge to stay in an old, historic house to get the creative juices flowing, here's the listing. Bill was an awesome host.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Writers' Retreat

You guys, I am so excited! I'm planning my first writers' retreat. I've got a house rented. I've got fellow writers coming, and I have an entire weekend booked for writing.

Below is a picture of the house. The owner is also a writer, and (not that this influenced my decision) but Robert Frost stayed there once too. However, I mostly chose this house because it was large enough for everyone to have their own bed, it was affordable, it's absolutely adorable, and it is literally in the middle of nowhere--so we won't be distracted.

Can't you just see yourself sipping lemonade in that gazebo, the inspiration pouring from your fingers?

But it was this photo that really sold me.

Something about it says Middle Grade Horror, like I can see this dollhouse front and center in an R.L. Stine novel, where the dolls are possessed by the former residents of the old farmhouse. *shudder* I love it!

I'll be sure to use some of my writing time to update my blog when we're there next month, to let you know if I hear any tiny dolls creeping through the house or ghostly whisperings from the attic. And if this retreat goes well, I might make it an annual thing.

But what about you? Have you ever gone on a writers' retreat by yourself, with friends, or a hosted one? What did you like and not like about it? I would love the advice as I am in the process of working out a schedule. I'm trying to keep it structured without turning it into a writing concentration camp.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Before and After

Before writing a draft.

After writing a draft.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

People are Selfish

It was writing advice I got at a conference once. People are selfish. It's true. Even the most seemingly selfless people are receiving a personal reward for their selfless deeds. People donate money for a tax break, or to make-up for some bad karma, or because they like the feeling they get when they help people less fortunate. No one does something for nothing, which is something you need to fulfill in your characters if you want to keep them out of the "Mary Sue" trap.

Motivation is what makes a story. Let's look at Hunger Games. There are a multitude of reasons why Katniss could volunteer to compete. She could have been a thrill-seeker, or could have volunteered so she could get into the Capitol and enact her own plot for revenge, or she could have been in it for the money. I doubt any of these reasons would make us like Katniss the way we do, but even volunteering for her sister is because of her personal wants. She can't sit back and watch her sister die. She would rather sacrifice herself than lose another beloved family member.

From there on out, the reasons for her actions are very clear. She wants to ensure her survival so she can go back to her sister. Even partnering with Rue serves a purpose to Katniss. She needs help to destroy the others' food supplies, and Rue reminds her of her little sister, Prim. She offers Katniss comfort in an unfamiliar place.

The major plot of the novel isn't getting revenge against the Capitol. It's Katniss struggling with her own wants. She wants to survive, to get back to her family. But she doesn't want to sacrifice all of her morals to do it. Two selfish wants butting heads gives us the drama that made this a best-seller.

In your own writing, stop at pivotal points and ask yourself, "Why is my character doing this?" If the answer is that you're forcing him to do it, or you need him to do it for the sake of the plot, you have to do much, much better than that. Even with your secondary characters. Why does Peeta join forces with the Ones and Twos? Because he wants to protect Katniss. Because he loves her.

Need help? Try writing a scene from one of your secondary character's point of view? How different would the Hunger Games be if Peeta had told the story? Or Prim? Or Gale?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Cyborgs, Androids and Robots, oh my!

Sometimes I forget how much of a sci-fi nerd I am until I start talking to other people about my writing projects. My latest features a cyborg. I was explaining this to a group of writers, and one of them asked, "So it's part human?"

I looked at her like she'd just asked me if I had two eyes. 

Of course a cyborg is part human. That's what a cyborg is! But at that point I realized not everyone is as nerdy as I am, and also, general media uses these terms interchangeably and often, incorrectly, so here are the very basic breakdowns.

Cyborg: a being that is both manufactured and organic.  One of my favorite examples...Darth Vader. He is a cyborg. Part man. Part machine. Technically, so is an old guy with a pacemaker. Think about that for a second.

Android: an android is a completely mechanical being made to look and act like a human. Because I am such a dork, and I use Star Wars repeatedly for my examples, think C-3PO. 

Robot: a completely mechanical entity that may or may not look human. Ie, an android is a robot, but a robot is not always an android. For my last Star Wars example, our little R2D2 is a robot, but not an android, so calling it a droid is technically incorrect assuming that's short for android. (But we'll forgive George Lucas for his genius.)

So to recap with pictures...