"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us." —J. R. R. Tolkien

Monday, April 30, 2007

Word of the Week - Didactic

Defintion:
Literature or other types of art that are instructional or informative. It does not merely entertain.

I've heard over and over how this is a turn off and discouraged in writing, and based on some of the didactic things I've read, I'd have to agree. I think to pull this off without being "in your face" is next to impossible.

But here's my question. Yesterday I went to the movies with my kids. We saw "Meet the Robinsons." And the last movie we saw was "Happy Feet." Besides ultra-cool animation, the best word I can come up with to summarize these moves is DIDACTIC.
"Happy Feet" was didactic to the point of being painful to watch. Here are the mojor plot points:
1) Save the fish and stop huge fishing boats or all the cute little penguins who dance around will die.
2) Do not throw your six-pack plastic holders into the water of all the cute little penguins who dance around will die.
3) Do not keep cute little penguins who dance around in captivity.

"Meet the Robinsons" was not nearly so bad, but was didactic to the point of sheer obviousness.
1) Don't give up. Keep trying especially when you fail.
2) Keep moving forward.

OK, I haven't reached my question yet so here it is:

Why is it OK for movies to be so blatently didactic when books are criticized so much for being so?

(And my writing is not didactic, so this is in no way a defense of myself.)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Exercise for the Week - Reflect

So last week we made a list of great things that were going to happen to us that day.
This week, let's reflect a little.
Stop whatever you are doing right now and make a list of 10 great things that happened to you in the last week. Big or small - just come up with 10. What 10 things made you happy?

I'll get you started again:

1) ...

Are you a Perfectionist?

Then this article is for you!

Life Tip of the Week - Short Term Goals

When asked what our goals or aspirations are in life, many of us come up with things far out in time.

Dream House
1 Million dollars
5 kids

And these are great to have, but I think it's highly important to have short term aspirations which are achievable and will come to resolution soon. Reaching and achieving short term goals will keep you inspired, and believing in the power of goal achievement.
A good example: I want a cheap airfare to Virginia for travel in July.
There would only be 2 months to achieve this, and come July, you either achieved it or you didn't.

I think it's also important to have a mix of levels of believability in goals.
For example: learn to solve the Rubik's Cube. I knew I could do this as long as I worked on it. There was no chance involved here; it was strictly based on practicing.
But other goals rely more on the faith in the universe. For example: Receive $1000 out of the ordinary in the next month. This could very well happen to all of us, but it will take more than picking up a cube and twisting it (unless someone can think of a way I can use my Rubik's Cube skills to earn $1000 in the next month).

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Writing Tip of the Week

(subtitle - What I learned from "The Simpsons")

I remember years ago (insert - when I used to be an AVID TV watcher), a friend and I discussing how hilarious "The Simpsons" was. The friend made the comment - "It's all about the details."
How true this small little comment is. The particular episode was when Mr. Burns gave the Simpsons family some large monolithic statue of a head, and it was shown in the background WITH THE CAT SLEEPING ON TOP OF IT. This minor little detail added so much to the scene. It stated more than any words could have done. Just showing the statue wouldn't have hardly even been funny, but the fact that the cat was on top ... well, you get the idea.
I have to give another example, this time from the big screen. Has anyone ever seen the movie "Monsters Inc."? No? Then go rent it immediately. I've seen this peripherally probably 100 times. And of kid's movies, it's the best when it comes to small details. Things like the sticky note inside Mike's locker which reads "file paperwork."
I have to say - The people who make this stuff are the cream of the crop. They are creative, and I strive for anything nearing this level of creativity.

There's a cool description of this when it comes to writing. I'm sure you've heard it before, but this post wouldn't be complete without me saying it.
"Cool things per page"
I keep this posted in my office, and think about it as I revise. What extra can be added without overloading or detracting. Where can I put sticky notes in my books?

Monday, April 23, 2007

Clean Desk

Clean mind. I meant to take before and after pictures of my desk and post them, but forgot until I was nearly done with the great cleansing. But suffice it to say, my desktop space has increased to over double what it was. The CPU and one printer went under the desk. The paper tray wasn't really necessary. And I must ask - how many USB cords does one person need? I must find a clever use for all the excess cords I have around the house.
Tomorrow? I begin a character worksheet.

Finished a revision ...

... last night. And now it's time to move on to what's next. But first, tonight's acitvity will be cleaning off the desk. Rearranging the computer. And the two printers. And the scanner. Cable modem. Wireless router. Phone. I need space on the desktop! I have some great ideas about how to go about getting it (none of which are throwing everything in the trash).
What are your "finish one thing and move on to the next" routines? Desk cleaning? Surfing the web for a month? Read twenty books?

Friday, April 20, 2007

Exercise for the Week - What's happening?

Stop whatever you're doing right now and list out the top 10 great things that are going to happen to you TODAY.
Small. Big. It doesn't matter. Just get it down on paper and then proceed to have a great day!

Here, let me get you started:

1) ...

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Tip of the Week - Turn off the TV

OK, so this goes along with a post from my other blog about not watching the news, but this is just a bit more general.
Turn off the TV.
Just do it. Turn it off.

I know - I've heard to arguments:
- There are so many educational shows to watch.
- I need humor from sitcoms to lighten my day.
- Watching other people's misery makes me feel better about myself.
- I watch "just a little bit" each night to unwind.

And here are my counter-arguments:
- I agree. TV can be educational. But pick one show a week and limit it to that. Otherwise, all you end up doing is sitting around learning, never applying what you've learned. I'm interested in archaeology, but if I watched every show that came on TV about it, all I'd ever do is watch TV.
- Humor can be found anywhere. Look for it outside of the TV.
- Does it really make you feel better to watch other people's misery? Then change this thinking right now. It makes me feel better to think about myself and my loved ones in positive ways.
- TV is only a habit you've developed to help you unwind. Make a list of a million other things you could do instead. Read a book. Draw a picture. Play with Playdough with your kids. Make your own Marinara Sauce (thanks Carmen). Then, pick one and do it.

Here's an idea. If you have a young child around the house, hand them your remote control and ask them to hide it. Then get on with living!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

All books have a place

Because Jim (almost) defensively announced he reads other stuff beside children's books, I thought I would create this post.
There is such a place for everything. In the last few years, I've tried to expand my reading experiences quite a bit. In general, here are the genres you may catch me reading:

Children's fiction
Children's non-fiction (not my first choice, but my son loves it)
Adult fiction (Chick-lit, mystery, suspense)
Science Fiction and Fantasy (this is all I used to read)
Personal development (also known as self-help)
Writing development

I think ideas can be found everywhere. In fact, I think some of my better sparks ignite when reading things other than children's books. And let's look at the facts. Nearly each and every book has had an author put in a tremendous amount of research in the writing.
In addition, I believe writing can be improved by both reading and listening to books. When listening, dialogue can be heard so well. However, small snippets of information which tie into plot line become much more obvious (maybe against the author's will) - such as give-aways of who the bad guy is.
Thoughts?

Monday, April 16, 2007

It is OK ...

... to let life touch you.

My heart aches for everyone involved in the Virginia Tech tragedy. I haven't been back there in 14 years, but the news stories bring it back so close to home. My thoughts are with the college and families.

The Hero's Journey and Audiobooks

I admit it - I'm an avid fan of audiobooks. I love using my time in such a great and valuable way. Previously, I've listened to The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler and loved it. Now, I've moved on to Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces. I'm about halfway through, but now I totally get why Christopher Vogler took this book and re-wrote it, although I think he should have named it The Hero with a Thousand Faces for Dummies.
Have you ever tried to audiobook thing? I listen when I drive. I listen when I exercise. Boom - right there is almost 2 hours a day.
This past weekend, I downloaded a short (10 minute) Winnie the Pooh audiobook. My kids loved it - they sat entranced both times we listened. So next, I downloaded a Curious George - because who doesn't love this curious little monkey :) I tried The Magician's Nephew a few months ago with my son (almost 6), and he wasn't hooked. I may try again, although now he's expressed some interest in listening to Charlotte's Web.

Monday, April 09, 2007

How to Refresh the Reader?

So I finished another revision of Book 2 last night. And I didn't do so bad this time. I managed to cut out 5000 words which will hopefully make my editor happy (especially since most of it is from the beginning). Not that none of that information was valuable. It is just better used as backstory.
So here's my writing-a-sequel question. What is the bet way to "refresh" the reader on what happened in previous books in the series without being too verbose? I feel like before I know it, I have paragraphs of stuff that went on in the prior book. How much do I have to tell the reader? Can I assume they've read the previous book(s) and that this is a refresher? If they haven't read the previous book(s), can I assume they will "breeze" through these refresher paragraphs and that will be OK?

Monday, April 02, 2007

No Internet = More Productivity?

This past weekend after a transformer blew, we were out phone, internet, and TV for over a day. And although this allowed me to get a lot done around the house (like cleaning, yardwork), my question is does this make writing more or less productive.
The obvious answer is 'more productive. No question about it.'
The not-so-obvious answer is 'less productive'.
See, I've developed a nice routine for myself. Log onto the computer. Check my email accounts. Check my blogs. Do any internet research I'm currently working on for my books, and then begin writing.
I do this routine every night, and have for years.
So the response would be 'great - now you can skip all that initial stuff and get right to the writing.' Wrong. I found it hard to get started. Almost like I was missing a critical wind-down part of my evening. I couldn't get into the writing, ended up editing a couple pages, then calling it a night.