FORCEdraft

Forcedraft

A while back, I blogged about WRITE or DIE!, which is a devilish little productivity tool designed to counter writer’s block by making noises, showing horrible images, or even erasing your text if you stop writing. I used it for a while, and I have to admit it works pretty well, but what if you’re someone who prefers to write at a slightly more leisurely pace or just needs a little freedom from distraction? Not everyone is suitable for the breakneck production speeds Write or Die! encourages.

Well, for you, there’s FORCEdraft- which as it says above is literally a program that won’t quit until you’ve reached your goals, and which will lockdown and block access to your entire PC until you reach those goals (or tell it to quit, if you wussed out and used that option). I actually stumbled across it a while ago and downloaded it, but it wasn’t until recently that I started to use it- and boy am I glad I did!

FORCEdraft lets you set a time goal or word-count goal, and keeps everything from distracting you until you reach that goal. Even if you change your mind- too bad! Once it’s running, nothing short of turning off your computer will stop it. I discovered this when I did a test run and realized that it doesn’t automatically stop when you reach your goal, and I didn’t know how to turn it off. I tried every single trick I could think of and the darn thing wouldn’t let me stop it! (In the end, I discovered by accident that you turn it off by clicking on the logo at the top of the screen and then it will save and exit. And it’s saving constantly, so if there was a crash your work would be fine.)

Since that first trying experience, I began using the program and came to like it so much that I added it to my startup programs so it comes on when it boot up my PC. (In menu mode, not writing mode- I’m not that hardcore! Having to write 500 or more words to get access to my PC would be good for productivity, though!) I’ve found I liked it so much I actually donated to the author, and am now using the PRO version which offers a few extra little bells and whistles. (You can change the screen colors, and it has a clock and word counter.)

It would also be great for writers using the Pomodoro Technique, or something similar, as you could set the timer for 25 minutes, do your block, and then set it for the next 25 minute block after you’ve had your break. However, whatever your schedule, I suggest you check it out if you’re looking for something to increase your writing productivity. I love it because I can craft my prose in a stress-free environment, but still know I have goals that I must meet before I can do anything else. (Including check my mail or Facebook!)

Rob

What Akira Kurosawa can teach us about writing

I recently watched an excellent short analysis of some of director Akira Kurosawa’s film-making techniques by Tony Zhou, and it got me thinking about how we prose writers could apply some of Kurosawa’s techniques to our own work.

So, before we begin, take the time to enjoy Tony’s short 8-minute video. It’s well done, and just watching it makes me want to run out and watch all of Kurosawa’s films just for their sheer artistry and beauty…

Akira Kurosawa – Composing Movement from Tony Zhou on Vimeo.

Okay, now you’re up to speed, let’s talk about how some of his key ideas can be applied to writing.

Now, my first takeaway from Kurosawa is the obvious one- nothing in a story should be wasted. Everything down to the last period should be in a story for a reason, and should be working to make that story into the best possible story you can make it. Since as a writer you have absolute control over what’s on that page, and what your reader perceives, you can control what they see much like a camera does, and like Kurosawa you should be using every tool at your disposal to bring your story to life with the greatest effect.

Let’s look at a few specifics:

The Environment

One of the first things Zhou discusses is Kurosawa’s masterful use of the environment- Kurosawa uses it to create both visual stimulation and to show the mental states of characters. While it might be trickier for we prose writers to use the environment to create direct visual stimulation, it’s definitely a good reminder that we shouldn’t underestimate the power of weaving the environment into our writing. It’s very easy to write everything as happening during sunny days and breezy evenings, but aren’t you missing an opportunity if you do so? Think about what environmental conditions could help to push your scene or theme to the next level, and weave them into the story in a way which supports and reinforces the story in some way. Whether it’s swirling fog to represent a character’s confusion, or a distant blazing forest fire that progressively fills the character’s world with smoke and indicates looming trouble, it can only make your story stronger.

Groups

Dealing with groups of people might seem a more visual element than a prose one, but it can still be useful for writers to consider. It’s very easy to picture characters doing things alone or with only the other main characters, but having groups of other people around can help to remind the reader that characters do have a place in society. As with the image of the showgirl crying while the other actresses rush past her from Kurosawa’s Stray Dog (1949), how groups of people react to a character can very much represent a character’s inner life as well as their greater place in society.

Key Gestures

Kurosawa liked to have each actor take on a unique gesture or way of moving so that the audience would instantly recognize him or her. This isn’t a bad tip for writers in general, either. Just as you can use visual cues like clothing, accessories or appearance to bring your characters to life in the reader’s imaginations, you can use gestures and movement as well. If you give each of the central characters a motion they consciously or unconsciously perform on a regular basis, it acts as another layer of characterization and something to play with. Of course, the gesture shouldn’t be overdone or comical (unless that’s your goal), but if subtly worked in it could reflect a lot about the character and their inner life.

Movement

There are many ways to look at movement and how it could benefit writing prose. The most direct one would be to try to have your characters doing actions or activities in their scenes, which both make the scene a little more lively (avoiding a “staged” feeling) and allows for a lot of subtext where you connect the actions with the inner life of the characters or themes playing out. I can’t recall who it was, but there was a famous author who said that they always started scenes with characters in motion in some way and finished in similar form.

Of course, movement can also be played out with the “camera” of the descriptive prose itself. Looking at description as a camera and thinking through the effects that different “shots” would have like a cinematographer could definitely benefit your writing in subtle ways. For example, did you know that each of the standard camera shots (close up, medium shot, long shot, worm’s eye view, etc) actually have a psychological or emotional effect on how the viewer interprets the character and scene? There is a whole language to film that’s developed over a hundred years and that we learn as children on a subconscious level. Learning the different shots and why directors use them could benefit your writing by letting you tap into that treasure trove of audience psychology.

Regardless of what you decide to use (or not use) from Kurosawa’s approach, thinking through your approach to scenes in a visual or cinematic way can only enhance your final work. However, do remember that the power of prose over video is that it can go deep inside characters and to places that video can’t, and you should be taking advantage of not just the visual and audio, but also the other senses in your scenes as well.

Rob

P.S. Check out Tony Zhou’s other videos, they’re really something else and will give you a new appreciation of the power of film.

Extra Credits- Sengoku Jidai

Tonight I stumbled across the amazing collection of videos that is Extra Credits, specifically their excellent short video series summarizing the events of the unification of Japan at the end of the Warring States period. Six very entertaining videos of 5 minutes each that are totally worth your time if you have any interest in Japanese history.

Then, once you’re done those, start to check out the other Extra Credits videos on a wide variety of topics. I’m astounded I never noticed these things before, but that’s the nature of the Internet!

Rob

Everyday Augmented Reality

Futuristic smart glasses

One of the issues with running a general blog like this is that is has no real focus. It serves as a catch-all for whatever I feel like writing about or talking about, but it has no real direction to it. That’s one of the things that’s made it hard to write for on a regular basis- when you can write about anything, you tend to write about nothing.

However, something I’ve always been fascinated by is the power of Augmented Reality, and with the recent release of Microsoft’s new Hololens system, I’ve come to believe that we’re on the cusp of seeing this technology literally transform our lives and the world around us. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, watch this:

As a result, I’ve decided to start a new blog centered around Augmented Reality and how it’s both developing and transforming people’s lives. If you ask any of my media studies students, AR is something I won’t shut up about, and have been talking about for years, so I thought “why should just my students suffer?”

Everyday Augmented Reality will basically be me collecting news about Augmented Reality and things related to it and occasionally commenting and sharing my own thoughts and ideas on this next stage of media evolution. Everything the Smartphone did to society will be nothing compared to what AR will do, and Everyday AR will be where I watch it all happen.

Come join me and watch the show. We’ll laugh, we’ll cry, and we’ll definitely wonder why!

Rob

P.S. This blog isn’t going anywhere, and will still be updated from time to time. I need to talk about non-AR things sometimes too!

Random Dramatic Scene Generator

I’m feeling rather proud at the moment. I managed to code a simple webpage that generates a pair of naturally conflicting characters and an action verb which defines their relationship in that scene, in other words a Random Dramatic Scene Generator.

Of course, by “code” I mean I found an already existing webpage that did something similar, copied pieces of that code and modified it to suit my own purposes. ^_^ So, coding in the truly classic sense!

In any case, I made this page for use by my students in my scriptwriting class since they need to do short 5-minute dramatic scenes for one of their assignments, and I wanted a random way to give them a starting point in their scenes. Of course, it can be used by anyone who needs a quick dramatic situation for their stories as well.

Enjoy!

Rob

YouTube Martial Arts Theatre- Wheels on Meals

Legend has it that when the head of Golden Harvest productions heard that they were about to release a movie entitled Meals on Wheels, he refused to let them use the title. It wasn’t that he was afraid of someone suing him- he was afraid of losing money! You see, the previous two big Golden Harvest releases had both had English titles that started with the letter “M”, so he was sure this one was going to fail too if they used that title. Talk about superstitious!

So instead, they flipped it around to the pretty much nonsensical title of Wheels on Meals, and released what would go on to become a martial arts classic. Which in itself is a bit of a surprise, because it’s actually not really a martial arts movie at all! It’s actually a comedy with a strong martial arts element, but the fighting in it (especially the end fight) is so well done that it became known as one of the must-see martial arts films of its time anyways.

The plot is simple- a couple of Chinese (a young Jackie Chan and his buddy Yuen Biao) who run a food truck in 1980’s Barcelona, Spain find themselves involved with a beautiful and charming Spanish street thief who is being hunted by a group of mysterious men. She’s also be tracked by a bumbling private detective (played by Sammo Hung, who is also the director), and this all comes together as they try to solve the mystery of why this girl is so popular with all the wrong people.

The movie is from 1984, and is a total 80’s flashback highlighted by the visuals of Barcelona and the fashions of the times. The movie flows a bit awkward at times (normal for 80’s Hong Kong films), and the comedy is hit or miss, but it’s so light and generally fun that you can forgive it for its flaws. I definitely recommend giving it a watch, and this particular copy has good sound (a decent dub too) and good picture quality as well, so sit back and enjoy!

 

YouTube Martial Arts Theatre- Hapkido

Recently, I’ve been on a jag of watching old Kung Fu flicks on YouTube, which is a bit like eating candy in a candy store! Almost any Kung Fu movie you can name has been uploaded to YouTube, and they literally made hundreds of these movies back in the 70’s and 80’s.

I thought I’d post links to a few of the ones I’ve really enjoyed, and the first is Hapkido (aka Lady Kung Fu), which is a unique little movie on several levels.

First, it’s a Hong Kong movie about Chinese who go to Korea (during the Japanese Occupation period) to learn a Korean martial art (the title Hapkido) and then bring what they’ve learned back to China. So despite being a “Kung Fu” movie, it’s actually about showcasing the Korean counterpart to Kung Fu.

Second, Hapkido stars Angela Mao in a role that would normally be played by a Bruce Lee clone, which brings an interesting twist to it. She is incredibly badass, but does so in a different and more calculating way which is different than how male martial artists tend to fight. On top of that, there’s no attempts to feminize the movie in any way- it’s a straight martial arts movie where it’s just accepted that she’s the boss of the group and everyone just treats her as an equal. It’s an interesting case where the lead being female did nothing to affect the plot. but still has an effect on the way things play out.

Yes, the English dub is stilted, but since it’s also pretty straightforward you get used to it after a bit. Oh, and there’s a pair of nude female breasts in a single shot for a few seconds, in case you’re watching it at work.

Enjoy!

Rob

Good Advice from Author Scott Sigler about Writing Your First Novel

The School of Greatness Podcast

The other day I mentioned The Art of Charm podcast, which is about social networking and personal psych-social development. Another great podcast in a similar vein is The School of Greatness podcast, which has a focus more on financial (as well as social) success.

The School of Greatness podcast is one of those shows that rose out of necessity. As Lewis Howe (the host) puts it, he was “broken, broke, and clueless on how to make money or get a career” after a football injury shattered his lifelong dream to be professional athlete. So, he started seeking out successful people and recording his sessions with them, and when he started to share these sessions online The School of Greatness was born.

Now over 100 episodes in, Lewis’s interviews with business and personal development leaders are fascinating as he has a very humble and curious approach to conversation. Since he doesn’t come from an academic background or a media background, he approaches every conversation with these people as a true layman. This makes him ask the questions that might sometimes seem simple, but which can really help to find the advice that average people need and can relate to better.

So, give it a listen! I’m not going to recommend any special episodes since they’re all pretty interesting, but I can promise whatever episode you choose you’ll learn something that can help you in 2015!

Rob

The Art of Charm Podcast

Since it’s the second day of the new year, I thought I’d start with something about self improvement for 2015. A few months ago, while I was looking around for some podcasts about social networking, I came across what is probably one of the most amazing podcasts I have ever listened to- The Art of Charm.

Originally starting out as the Pickup Podcast in 2006, which as you might suspect was about giving guys tips about how to talk to women, the show eventually morphed into something very different. Host Jordan Harbinger started to bring on experts in various social fields from networking, to body language, to even esoteric things like sleep modification. The show turned from being about just meeting people, to being about becoming the best person you could be as a way to find the right partner, job or friends for you.

As a result, the show’s episode count is now in the 300’s, and it’s one of the top lifestyle podcasts on iTunes, with every episode having more and more amazing guests to talk about different ways we can improve our lives. I, myself, have probably listened to nearly 40 episodes of the show in the last two months, because it’s also incredibly addictive. You literally never know what gems you’re going to find in each episode that you can apply to your life, and if one episode doesn’t work for you, the next one might be mind blowing. This is the kind of stuff shows like Dr. Oz and TED Talks purport to tell you about, but never have enough time or focus to really do because that doesn’t make sexy TV. This is practical, tested and proven advice based on experience and research in many different areas.

Since there’s a lot of episodes, I’m going to recommend a few to give a look to. Now, they have already put together a toolbox of episodes that they recommend people start out with, and those episodes are good, but you should know the early episodes don’t really reflect the show as it is today. The majority of the early toolbox episodes were done back in 2006 when it was the rough form of the Pickup Podcast, and are just a few guys hanging out chatting about techniques for meeting women in social environments. They’re worth listening to (especially if you’re a single guy), and the ones on Banter are especially useful, but they’re very different from what the show will become.

One other minor note- they sell this show as a men’s lifestyle show, and it is, but especially once they get into the interviews the show is really about being the best human you can be without a specific gender focus. Most of this advice can apply to anyone of any gender, since we all need to become better in some ways.

Anyways, so here’s a few episodes I’ve enjoyed recently (their own best of list can be found here):

Susan Roane- How to Work a Room

Shawn Stevenson- Hack your Sleep

Hal Elrod- Miracle Morning

Steve Sisler- How to Read People

Yu-Kai Chou- Gamify your Life

And I’m finding new great ones all the time! It really is a treasure-box of human knowledge, and I’ve already started to apply things I’ve learned from it to my life with some success. Give it a try, you never know what you learn and how it might change your life in 2015.

Rob