Becoming a better writer through purging “thought” verbs.

Chuck Palahniuck (writer of Fight Club, the book) had this great advice up on Lit Reactor that I thought I’d share. His argument is an old one (“show, don’t tell”) that every writer learns towards the beginning of their career, but he explains it very well in a way I haven’t seen before. The whole article is worth a read, but this first excerpt has the core of his argument.

In six seconds, you’ll hate me.

But in six months, you’ll be a better writer.

From this point forward – at least for the next half year – you may not use “thought” verbs.  These include:  Thinks, Knows, Understands, Realizes, Believes, Wants, Remembers, Imagines, Desires, and a hundred others you love to use.

The list should also include:  Loves and Hates.

And it should include:  Is and Has, but we’ll get to those, later.

Until some time around Christmas, you can’t write:  Kenny wondered if Monica didn’t like him going out at night…”

Instead, you’ll have to Un-pack that to something like:  “The mornings after Kenny had stayed out, beyond the last bus, until he’d had to bum a ride or pay for a cab and got home to find Monica faking sleep, faking because she never slept that quiet, those mornings, she’d only put her own cup of coffee in the microwave.  Never his.”

Instead of characters knowing anything, you must now present the details that allow the reader to know them.  Instead of a character wanting something, you must now describe the thing so that the reader wants it.

Instead of saying:  “Adam knew Gwen liked him.”

You’ll have to say:  “Between classes, Gwen was always leaned on his locker when he’d go to open it.  She’d roll her eyes and shove off with one foot, leaving a black-heel mark on the painted metal, but she also left the smell of her perfume.  The combination lock would still be warm from her ass.  And the next break, Gwen would be leaned there, again.”

In short, no more short-cuts.  Only specific sensory detail: action, smell, taste, sound, and feeling.

Typically, writers use these “thought” verbs at the beginning of a paragraph  (In this form, you can call them “Thesis Statements” and I’ll rail against those, later)  In a way, they state the intention of the paragraph.  And what follows, illustrates them.

via Nuts and Bolts: “Thought” Verbs | LitReactor.

A Short Film Festival

I’ve been going through (very) short films this week for school, and I thought I’d share a few of the best ones I’ve found. My requirement was that they each be around 5 minutes or less. Enjoy! 🙂

The Black Hole- a nearly perfect short film.

Kung Fooled- Perception is Everything!

2+2=5 – Power is Knowledge

Mama – The short that inspired the horror movie of the same name.

Review- Dredd

While some of my closest friends are Judge Dredd aficionados, I am merely a casual fan of Dredd and his world. As such, I wasn’t really hung up on accuracy or continuity when I saw Stallone’s Judge Dredd film, or the current film Dredd. As a result, I didn’t hate Stallone’s take on it as much as they did, but I didn’t especially like it either, as it was an over broad and not especially well written film.

In fact, about the only baggage I had going into watching Dredd this weekend was that I watched The Raid earlier this year, which is a film with a very similar premise. I admit, like many people, I viewed Dredd through the eyes of it being a Raid knock-off, which might be part of the reason I took so long to watch the film, despite being curious about it. (As it turns out, Dredd went into production before The Raid did, and came out after it because of bad luck, so the films are the result of parallel development rather than one film copying another.)

In any case, despite its over-the-top violence and occasional flaws, I really enjoyed Dredd. It’s a solid and entertaining film that didn’t get as much attention as it deserved, and it will be a shame if it doesn’t get a sequel. (Which it likely won’t, due to poor box-office.) Yes, it could have upped the dark-humor quotient a little more, but I thought overall it was pretty balanced and well thought-out. About the only thing that bugged me was that it really made the judges look massively outnumbered and almost impotent in the face of trying to control Megacity One’s crime. Maybe that’s accurate for the comic, I’m not sure.

Also, I don’t think Karl Urban has the chin for Dredd. But he does have the attitude and his voice does convey menace pretty well…

But I’d have to say I enjoyed it, and give it a thumbs up. 🙂

Rob

P.S. 138 is the number, in case you were wondering.

Basic Minimum Income

I admit, I find the idea of Basic Minimum Income fascinating, and I think that one day we’ll have to start shifting to some form of this for the simple reason that we will simply not have enough jobs for the majority of people to work. We’re already getting into a situation where almost all manufacturing jobs are gone, and the remaining ones will be done by robots, and the majority of jobs will be service industry ones that can’t support a family, so what do we do?

Basic Income is one definite solution, although I’m more in favor of a Negative Income Tax scheme, where you’re guaranteed a certain amount of money per year (say CAN$20,000) and any other money do you make is taken off that basic amount. If you make more, you get to keep it all (well, except taxes), and if you make less the government closes the gap between you and the minimum standard.

I guess the only issue is one of what society will look like if people work because they want to, not have to. Humans are lazy creatures by nature, and there’s no doubt many would simply take the money and spend their lives online playing MMOs and having cybersex. (Of course, these people probably won’t breed much…) I think we’d need a social movement to go with this shift, one which idealizes people who work hard and try to achieve something more in their lives. If we strongly encourage hard work and success as a social value, that might help to balance out at least some of the natural tendency of people to slack-off. Also, this system was tried in Manitoba, Canada as a test project back in the 1970’s called “Mincome” at the time, and there was only a very slight drop off in the number of people working during the 5 year period it was implemented.

The results showed a modest impact on labor markets, with working hours dropping one percent for men, three percent for wives, and five percent for unmarried women. (Mincome entry from Wikipedia.)

So, maybe I should have more faith in humanity?

Of course, this “minimum” should be barely above the poverty level anyways, which encourages people to get out there and work for something more to have a better life than just the very basics.

I’m not sure if this is just Communism 2.0 (which is how many will portray it), or a perfect balance between Communism and Capitalism (both of which are ultimately failures, only Communism died faster) but it might be worth a try. Luckily, it’s not an idea which is going away anytime soon, and sooner or later we’ll see someone try it in earnest and we’ll be able to judge the results.

Rob

Movie Review- Singham

Friday night is movie night in my household, I collapse onto the couch, pick a movie from Netflix and go to it.

This week, I decided to go for something a little out of the ordinary and this poster caught my eye…

singham-1-poster1

Now, the fact that it’s a clear ripoff of Iron Man’s aesthetic aside, it is a pretty impressive poster and so I read a few glowing reviews and decided it was time to finally face my destiny. You see, to my eternal shame, I’ve never actually watched a whole Bollywood movie, just seen pieces of them here and there. So, I decided to settle in and see if this movie earned it’s cool poster.

Short answer- it did.

The basis of the film is super simple- Singham (the guy you see in the poster) is a modern Hercules (or rather Rama) who works as a much beloved policeman in a small rural village where nobody ever actually goes to jail because of his wise guidance and judgment. Unfortunately, he runs afoul of an urban gangster from the nearby big city of Goa and the gangster uses his corrupt influences to get Singham transferred to the big city where the gangster is the one who has all the power and is determined to destroy our hero. Of course, things don’t quite go as the gangster planned.

For my first Bollywood film, I think this was a good choice. The plot was dead simple, the music was catchy (this is Bollywood, of course there are song and dance numbers!) and it was just plain fun to watch. My only issues were that it’s actually a bit long (it drags in a few spots) and the ending is really odd and brutal by North American standards, it’s not a Hollywood ending, and was a little unsettling in some ways. (Ethically and morally, but it’s good to see non-Hollywood endings from time to time and different perspectives.)

If you’re still on the fence, just watch this clip, and you can decide whether this is your kind of film:

Ironically, I had seen this clip months ago, but didn’t realize it was from this movie until I got to this part.

Singham!

Rob

The Emergence of Talent

An interesting meditation on the issue of what “talent” really means for artists.

Feeling Social Again

Hi All,

It seems that when I updated WordPress at the end of December, there was a glitch and the tiny little “allow comments” checkbox under each post was now unchecked by default instead of checked, so my last few posts couldn’t have comments. I’ve re-installed WordPress and got back and rechecked those previous posts, so the issue seems to have been fixed. Sorry about any inconvenience!

Thanks to Jack Ward for pointing it out, or I might have just assumed I freaked everyone out with that Opilions post and everyone was too creeped out to comment!

Rob

How Powerful Are Algorithms? | Idea Channel

Information Determinism. Scary stuff! Sadly, it sounds pretty reasonable. Think about it this way- we become like characters in a console RPG like Fable where every choice we make is locking us into a path because the Algorithms that are looking for key data indicators are channeling us this way and that.

Every time we make a choice, or a search, we’re slowly building a giant pile of data that will be used in certain ways to determine what we’ll be shown and where we’ll be sent online. Facebook is using these systems to even determine who our friends are, since our News Feed is being modified to just show us the people it thinks we most want to interact with based on our interactions with people. This will only get worse and worse with time, as the internet we see will become more and more customized to us and our tastes in an effort to keep us using it as much as possible. (To sell us stuff and make money from us.)

Not sure how to counter this, except maybe not using Facebook or other social networks, using Duck Duck Go for searching, and maybe proxies. But, if you want to use the Net at all for shopping, you have to log in somewhere, Ebay, Amazon, it doesn’t matter. And you will leave a trail, and they will use that data to try to sell you stuff, here, or in the future, it will happen unless you’re an ultra secretive and ultra-passive user.

A better route might be to give them too much confusing and conflicting data so they don’t know what boxes to stick you in. Or, since you know they’re watching, give them data which manipulates them to give you what you want. After all, if you show interest in a book with your Amazon account logged in, and then wait a week or two, you’ll get an email offering you the book at a greater discount. With a little knowledge and patience, you can use the system more than its using you.

Rob

Boys and Reading – Is There Any Hope?

Boys and Reading – Is There Any Hope? – NYTimes.com is a great article about the issue of getting boys reading in an industry dominated by women from top to bottom. I recall in high school where one of our English teachers (a middle-aged woman going through menopause) made us all read The Stone Angel by Margaret Lawrence (about a middle-aged woman going through menopause reflecting back on her life) which as you can expect all we 15 year old boys completely related to. We related to it so well that it (and being forced to read books like it) literally drove me and many of my classmates from reading novels for years, and I didn’t get back into it again until University. (And this was before the Internet was there to distract us!)

Also from the article:

But I think it’s also about the books being published. Michael Cart, a past president of the Young Adult Library Services Association, agrees. “We need more good works of realistic fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels, on- or ­offline, that invite boys to reflect on what kinds of men they want to become,” he told me. “In a commercially driven publishing environment, the emphasis is currently on young women.” And then some. At the 2007 A.L.A. conference, a Harper executive said at least three-­quarters of her target audience were girls, and they wanted to read about mean girls, gossip girls, frenemies and vampires.

Naturally, authors are writing for this ready group. The current surge in children’s literature has been fueled by talented young female novelists fresh from M.F.A. programs who in earlier times would have been writing midlist adult fiction. Their novels are bought by female editors, stocked by female librarians and taught by female teachers. It’s a cliché but mostly true that while teenage girls will read books about boys, teenage boys will rarely read books with predominately female characters.

He makes it almost sound like a conspiracy, which of course it isn’t, it’s simply how the industry has shaken out, since they’re making most of their money from a female audience. On the educational side, male teachers and librarians are sadly uncommon at the elementary and middle-school levels these days, so there is a gap there in connecting with boys as well. (Ironically, during the most critical time for making that connection!) So the boys get shortchanged and don’t always get directed to the stories that they will connect with the most. (Which isn’t helped by school book collections that are woefully ancient in their topics and selections.)

This is especially sad when you consider the high divorce rates and nature of modern families often mean there aren’t fathers around to direct young boys and show them that reading is something for men as well. They see their sisters reading, and reach the decision that reading is something girls do, and decide to shun it in favor of X-Box and sports. (Well, those boys who actually play sports, anymore…) Only the more nerdly of boys seem to gravitate towards reading, instead of a general audience who would benefit from it.

A sad state of affairs all around.

Rob