Neil deGrasse Tyson: Atheist or Agnostic?

I’m with Neil. I’m not an “ist”, I simply am what I am.

Smashwords Releases eBook Sales Data!

 As someone who publishes on Smashwords, I got an update today about their company blog, which has made public a powerpoint the owner recently gave on ebook sales.

Ignoring the advertising speak, it’s some really interesting stuff. Apparently longer ebooks (100k+ words) sell better (unless you’re selling Romance or Erotica) and $2.99 to $5.99 is the optimal price point. If you’re thinking of Indie publishing, I highly recommend you take the time to skim through this powerpoint as it’s great to finally have some real data about what’s working and what isn’t.

Rob

 

The Avengers ’78 movie promo – YouTube

Brilliant! Althought you might have to be a child of the 70’s or 80’s to really get it. 🙂

Applying the 6 Act Structure to Screenplays

Michael Hauge shows how his 6 Act structure for novels applies to screenplays. An interesting read from the point of view of understanding what goes where in stories.

Plot structure simply determines the sequence of events that lead the hero toward this objective. And here’s the good news: whether you’re writing romantic comedies, suspense thrillers, historical dramas or big budget science fiction, all successful Hollywood movies follow the same basic structure.

In a properly structured movie, the story consists of six basic stages, which are defined by five key turning points in the plot. Not only are these turning points always the same; they always occupy the same positions in the story. So what happens at the 25% point of a 90-minute comedy will be identical to what happens at the same percentage of a three-hour epic. (These percentages apply both to the running time of the film and the pages of your screenplay.)

via SCREENPLAY STRUCTURE.

Where to start your novel?

On a writer’s group I belong to, someone asked yesterday where they should start in their process of writing their first novel. I thought I’d post my reply here in case it could help others as well. I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject (yet), but I do have some experience I thought worth sharing-

It is generally said writers fall between two extremes- Plotters and Pantsers.

There are different names out there for each type, but in short Plotters are people who plan the whole thing out in advance (to varying levels of detail) and Pantsers (as in “fly by the seat of…”) are people who just start writing and see where the story takes them without any real plan. Neither approach is better or worse than the other, and most people fall somewhere in between while leaning toward one side. I myself tend to put together a loose structure before I write a story and then let my own creativity fill in the spaces in between as I write. It works okay, but I’m always trying to find better ways to do it- for me.

If you’re finding yourself with lots of scattered bits in your head, I find the best way to deal with them is to write them all down in a single document in point form, and then brainstorm and see how much you can add to it. Then after that’s done, go back and start to edit and play with your ideas, (re)arrange them, and see how the pieces could fit together. Once you have something that looks like it might be a story, try just writing a 1-2 page synopsis of where you think the story might go. (If it goes longer, no problem, but try not to let it go too long.) See how that synopsis looks, play with it, re-write it, add to it.

Then, when you’re happy with it,  do one of two things:

a)      Expand it out to what feels comfortable in terms of planning and plotting. (There are writers like Sydney Sheldon who were said to have longer plans and notes than actual pages in his books!)

b)      Throw it away and ignore it. (Which is what some Pantsers like to do. They just need a clear starting point and are good to go.)

Then, once you finish that, sit down and start writing. Keep writing until you finish what you’re writing. (

If it’s crap, don’t worry about it, that’s what the editing stage is for. Just keep writing! One of the most important things writers need to learn is to let go, accept you’re writing crap, and realize that the gold you produce is the result of the editing phases more than the writing phases.

Ta-dah! You have a book!

If you want a treasure trove of advice then I recommend you check out the following podcasts:

The Dead Robots’ Societyhttp://deadrobotssociety.com/archived-episodes/  Listen to them in any order you like, but I most recommend the Interview episodes and the ConJour 2011 Panel Discussions, which I found especially helpful in different ways.

The Roundtable Podcasthttp://www.roundtablepodcast.com/ This one is pretty new, but the hosts and guests are extremely experienced. I strongly recommend listening to the Twenty Minutes With shows. The actual brainstorming episodes are just so-so, but the TMW interviews with experienced writers are pure writing advice gold!

I also recommend reading Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, which although it was written for screenwriters, is a real treasure in terms of thinking about plot, character and story.

Rob

Stop Certifying New Teachers in Ontario

In London, Ontario right now if you want to become an elementary or high school teacher, here’s what you have to do:

  1. Do four years of undergraduate university education in your major of choice. ($40,000 basic tuition)
  2. Go to teacher’s college for one year (or more for some specialties) to get your certification. ($10,000 basic tuition)
  3. Get certified by the Ontario College of Teachers. (Start paying $138 a year for membership.)
  4. Apply to get on the waiting list to become a supply teacher in the Thames Valley School board. (Which covers much of our section of Ontario).
  5. Wait 1-2 years to get on the list (for no pay).
  6. Get on the list, and become a supply teacher. (Find out if you actually LIKE teaching.)
  7. Spend 1-2 years (or more) on the supply list, while working nearly random hours where you may not make money for days, months, or weeks. (Oh, and you can’t take other jobs during school hours because it means you’re not available to teach at the drop of a hat.)
  8. Succeed in sucking up to local principals and people who are influential in the system.
  9. Apply for jobs as they come up. (If they come up.)
  10. Get a job with the system.
  11. Spend 3 years as a probationary teacher with the school principal or VP looking over your shoulder while you show them your lesson plans and undergo reviews.
  12. Teach.

From Step 1-4 will take you approximately 5 years (not counting multiple tries to get into teacher’s college) and you will graduate with a minimum of $50,000 of student loans- if you did it all through loans. (And that’s just tuition and books)

You then get to shoulder that $50,000+ for 2-4 years with little to no income, while making monthly payments on top of trying to survive in HOPES of getting a teaching job, which may never come. After which, you hit the goldmine and get to make $42,000 a year, while paying that debt off and trying to survive.

How did this monstrosity of a system occur? Well, you see, here in Ontario there are several factors at play right now:

  • Ontario’s Teachers Colleges (alone) are pumping out at least 9,000 new teachers a year. (Plus the ones returning from the US or Australia where they did their training instead.)
  • Ontario’s population isn’t having children.
  • School boards have less money due to recessions.
  • Schools are being closed and consolidated because of dropping student populations in many areas.
  • Baby Boomer teachers are retiring, but their jobs are going to other experienced teachers from their school or schools being closed and consolidated.

So, the end result is that we have a system in Ontario glutted with new teachers, 2/3rds of which have minimal prospects of finding a job, even if they do manage to survive the process.

Does this sound healthy to you? Or like a good system?

So, what can we do about it?

Well, I lived in another country that had a similar problem- Taiwan- an island nation with a shrinking youth population which was pumping out a glut of new teachers each year who had almost no hope of employment. There, the government did the most responsible (not to mention ballsy) thing they possibly could have done- they put a moratorium on certifying new teachers for a period of several years.

Yep, no new teachers could be certified in Taiwan for several years. That let the system work itself out and the excess number of teachers to drop because it gave the people who were already certified the time they needed to find jobs as the older ones retired.

That’s also what I propose Ontario do right now. Tell the Ontario College of Teachers to stop certifying new teachers in Ontario until such time as there are jobs for new teachers to fill. Without membership in OCT, you can’t teach, so this effectively means no more new teachers for the already massively overloaded system.

The teachers colleges don’t need to close, and people can still get their credentials, but they can’t teach here in Ontario and will need to look elsewhere (other provinces or countries) if they want to follow that path. It’s my experience that people who truly have a passion for teaching will still find ways to teach anyways, and those who were just looking for a public sector job will look elsewhere and forget the whole idea.

It’s the responsible thing to do.

Flashback! Revenge of the 80s: It’s All In The Reflexes

I’ve fallen out of love with anime over the years, but during the late ’80s and early ’90s I lived and breathed anime. (I even started London’s first independant anime club- Anime London.) So when I heard that the Anime News Network podcast was doing a “Top 10 of the ’80s” anime review show with a couple of old-timers (ie people slightly older than me), I was so there!

The show(s), which in total are around 3.5 hours long are totally worth listening to if you want to learn about what anime was like during what’s often referred to as being its “golden age”. The panel have a lot of different perspectives to bring to the table, and they do a good job of explaining their choices in detail. Even I learned quite a bit, and it inspired me to seek out a few old gems I think I missed or dismissed back in the day.

Part 1: Revenge of the 80s: It’s All In The Reflexes – ANNCast – Anime News Network. (Numbers 10-6)

Part 2: Revenge of the 80s: You’ve Got to have Power! (Numbers 5-1)

Enjoy!

Rob

Skyrim- Peter Hollens & Lindsey Stirling – YouTube

I don’t play Skyrim, but I have to say his vocal work impresses the heck out of me. Her violin work is great too.

Bakuman

I buy very few manga these days, in fact, I can count the number I do buy on one hand without using all the fingers.

But if I had to pick just one manga from that very short list, that manga would be Bakuman.

How do I describe Bakuman to someone who hasn’t read it? Well, I guess the simplest description would be it’s about two Japanese teenagers who want to draw manga (comics).

But, like most things, that simple definition doesn’t even begin to cover what it really is. You see, Bakuman is funny, witty, and charming, but it’s also an in-depth exploration of the creative process, the Japanese manga industry, and even the philosophical underpinnings of what it means to be a manga artist. It manages to critique the industry and the art form itself while at the same time making us fall in love with a sometimes kooky, lovable and weird cast of misfits who inhabit that industry and live in the pressure-cooker environment that it produces.

And, it’s those characters that keep me coming back each time a new volume comes out (I refuse to read it online), because it’s like getting together with old friends with each new release. You become a part of their world, invested in their successes and failures and in them as people.

You also learn from them. Volume 10 just came out this week, and it reminded me of one of the most important things to remember as an artist- failure is good.

Not blind failure, but learning from everything you do even if you fail or if your work doesn’t measure up. The audience will never see the pile of failures that each successful story is built on, but they’re what make an artist’s craft what it is.

It’s so easy to forget that as a writer, and only want to do projects that you think you can do 100% or not do anything at all. But, those risky projects, those experimental projects, and those failures are what will make you that successful artist you want to be.

Bakuman reminded me of this, this week, and helped get me back on the right writing path. So I want to give it thanks.

If you’re curious, some fans did what they call a “visual comic” (a comic with voiceovers, music and sound effects) of the first couple of stories of Bakuman, here’s the first one-

There is also a Bakuman anime, which I’m told is quite good and popular, but I’m enjoying the manga too much to switch over.

Rob