Thursday, June 11, 2015

A little more writing advice...

There's a post going around Tumblr right now with several writing "cheat sheets". One of these proclaims that "said is dead" and suggests a variety of other words to use instead of 'said'. Words like "laughed", "giggled", "hissed", "smirked" and "pondered".
I hammered out a reply that I hoped would catch fire and zoom around Tumblr. Of course it did no such thing.
So I'm going stick it here as well, because two or three readers would be two or three times more than it has had so far! Yes, I can math! 

This is pretty basic writing advice, kids, so listen closely.

Your high school English teacher got it wrong. Said is NOT dead. It will never be dead. Said is the best possible word you can use when characters are talking. There are three main reasons why:

One. A lot of the words people try to substitute for “said” are kind of rubbish if you really picture a scene. A person might have said it with a hint of a giggle in their voice, or they might have tried to say it while choking on laughter, but a character does not ‘laugh’ or ‘smirk’ or ‘beam’ words.

Unless they are an alien spaceship, in which case they might beam words every now and then.

Two. These are crutch words. And yes, sometimes it’s better to use them. All rules are made to be broken, especially in art. A new character who happens to be an army sergeant might boom or shout to establish what he’s all about as quickly as possible.

But it is much more effective to describe the way the floor shakes when he really gets going, or the vein popping out of his forehead when a new recruit pisses him off. 
This gives the reader a much richer variety of information, telling them more about the narrator, or the setting, or the reactions of the other characters, as well giving them the information that a man is yelling.

Three. Once you’ve established that someone is yelling, or happy or sad, there’s no need to keep finding new and unique ways of reminding the reader.

“Said” is invisible. It helps the reader to know who is making words with their mouths (or their minds if you are writing about telepaths) and that’s about it. And that’s a good thing.

Basically you want to describe the scene well, and you don’t want to say the same thing twice. Describing a yelling man, and then repeating that he is yelling, is saying the same thing twice.

TL;DR: Long live 'said'.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Overall I Consider Being Alive to be a Positive Thing: Five Reasons Why

So, the last post I wrote was about suicide. It was vague and didn't have any practical advice at dealing with depression.
So, here I'm going to note down a few things that I try to keep firmly in mind whenever I do feel down.
Thinking about these things might not work for you. When I'm depressed my mind seems to become extra sneaky and good at talking myself out of seeing anything as positive.
For me, the knack seems to be generating enough wonder to penetrate even a thick shell of cynicism.

So here they are, five positive things, the contemplation of which helps me battle depression:

1. A mind is essentially billions of dollars worth of wetware. I mostly use mine to play video games, and write inane blog-posts, but it is constantly performing astronomical calculations of co-ordination, regulation and analysis.
It also gets to interact with other advanced systems. So advanced that no one can predict what they might do from moment to moment or how they might develop over the course of a lifetime.
That's just cool.

2. Civilization is changing all the time and in a lot of ways it is changing for the better. Admittedly, there is still a very long way to go in a lot of places. Ignorance and greed are abundant. But free movement of information is starting to be the norm rather than the exception and the ways in which people collaborate for the greater good all over the world really make me hopeful that we're going to continue on an upward trend.
Doing good is becoming easier and more rewarding. Being an arsehole is becoming more difficult.

3. There is a m**f**ing lot of exceptional art out there. A person could gorge on it for years and never run out of the marvelous. There are hundreds of thousands of institutions dedicated to collecting and sharing the creative offspring of generations of humans. Libraries, museums, galleries, websites, theme parks, gardens...

4. The world is infinite, or it might as well be. A spoonful of dirt from the garden holds massive amounts of tiny organisms; The tip of your finger contains a multitude of cells, molecules and atoms; The solar system is so large we have trouble comprehending it (let alone the galaxy or the universe); Time extends beyond our understanding in both (or more) directions. Science is endlessly fascinating.

5. If you want to know what the meaning of life is, you're asking the wrong question. Meaning is relative and in an infinite world it can't possibly exist as an absolute.
But why should that matter? Words like meaning and purpose are simply a method of assigning value to things. Once you accept that every aspect of life is truly a personal decision, rather than one that needs to fit into some kind of universal scaffold, you begin to be free.

This was not as cheerful as I expected it to be when I started out. But thinking about this stuff really does help me to stop feeling desperately depressed.
Funny animal videos also help.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Suicidal Ideation

I've worked on myself a lot in the last two years. And I've realized some things that weren't clear to me before about the nature of depression, and suicidal ideation in particular. 
I thought I might take a moment to write about one thing in particular that I wish I had realized earlier in life. 

Suicide seems to have four stages. Ideation, planning, action and attempt.
These might spread out over years or all take place in an afternoon. And the final two stages are what usually cause alarm. I'm not talking about alarm among friends or family. I mean alarm in the person who is suicidal. 
Reaching those stages might finally push them to get help.

But I think people need to realize that the first two stages should be treated as well. They can come to seem like they are inevitable, or unremarkable, and not something worth bringing up to anyone.
I know I drifted between them for decades and never considered that this was something I could change.

Suicidal ideation is thinking about suicide all the time. Planning is thinking specifically about your own suicide and how you might go about it.

Personally, I would always have an opposing voice, one that would object on terms of logic or emotion, directly or indirectly disrupting my planning. It would be too tired to go to the pharmacy this week, maybe next week. It wouldn't want to do that to elderly loved ones, maybe after they passed away. In very real ways this voice was my savior. But it also contributed to purgatory. 

It led to a kind of ongoing misery where I was never quite well, but never quite sick enough to justify treatment. Since that voice was always there, I considered myself safe. Since actual death wasn't a danger then it seemed foolish to complain about a few silly thoughts. 

And I've got to confess that I never did get treatment for those 'silly' thoughts alone. It took a huge burden of stress, a breakdown and a sharp movement in the direction of the third stage to get me to a counselor and to get me on anti-depressants.

But I wish I had realized that stage one and two weren't inevitable. They weren't something I just have to learn to weather. They were a bad habit and one that I could overcome. I deserved better than to dwell constantly on my own negation. 

There are probably a lot of other people out there who still think that way. They think because they never are never driven to the point where they must seek help, that they don't need help. They believe that containing those malevolent thoughts so that they won't harm others is the best that can be achieved. It's not. 

Please seek help. If you can't afford a counselor, then seek it with friends and family. If they won't take you seriously, then call a hotline, or try to find guidance at the library.

All of these stages are symptoms. None of them should be dismissed.

You deserve to live a healthy life. Fight for yourself.   

Sunday, November 23, 2014

fishing for words

My mind is not vast, but it is deep.
Strange things live down there and are rarely seen. They thrive on the dregs of the sunlit ecosystem above, without ever needing to announce their presence.
An occasional mass of tentacles washed up on shore, or a flash of bio-luminescence from the depths, are the only glimpses the world gets to enjoy.

This is what happens when I try to justify to myself why I'm not very good at word games like crosswords or anything where you have to come up with synonyms in a hurry. So apparently my using a thesaurus is akin to trawling the Mariana Trench with a drag net.

Here, have a mer-squirrel to break up the pretentiousness.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Old Oil Tears

I once read a book in which an apprentice was being taught by a master artist. One of the questions the apprentice was asked by the master was "How can you paint tears?"

The apprentice responded by painting a picture of the back of a man who was obviously in pain and weeping.

The artist then said something like, "that's great, but technically, you didn't answer my question."

For some reason this always stuck in my mind. It wasn't exactly played as if the apprentice had misunderstood the question, or had surpassed his master's expectations. In fact, if you take the apprentice's response and flip it into a writer's metaphor (as I'm going to do) it's a good representation of "show, don't tell". You don't have to actually draw the teardrops. In fact, it's better if you don't, especially if you're learning, because teardrops by themselves don't mean anything and they can be used as a cheap prop.
If you are forced to to describe the sorrow of your character without mentioning tears, then you will probably write a better description of sorrow.

OK, I know, this is pretty basic stuff, one of the first things they try to beat into you in writing 101, the mantra "show, don't tell."

So why am I bringing it up? I was browsing Tumblr, as you do, and happened to see an extreme closeup of a classic painting, showing an eye with a tear falling from it.
The tear was beautiful. But I realized the artist hadn't actually painted the water of the tear. He (or she) had painted the faint shadow surrounding the tear and the tiny splashes of light reflecting from it.

This is some next level shit, I thought to myself. This is cutting as close to 'tell' as possible without nicking it. 

Now I'd like to describe how you can do this in your writing, but I have absolutely no idea. I don't know if I've ever done it myself. This is the kind of illusion so beautiful and precise it could convince a reader that they sat down and had a heart to heart with a character, who, in fact, never said a word about their inner thoughts and was never tattled on by the narrator either.

Anyway. I don't know if that was the original intention of the master painter, because I don't actually remember if the question was revisited in the novel. But I'm glad to have found the answer for myself. Thank you Tumblr (the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems)!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Art Update

I have just realized I haven't posted any art for a while. So I'm going to post a few things here. Specifically, I'm going to post the two listings on Redbubble that I just spruced up.

This one is from a photo that I took in Tonga. The original (which is "safely" stored on one of the many hard drives I have in my drawer that I keep intending to convert into external drives, so I can't currently access it) had a very bright blue sky, but the flowers were kind of faded in front of it. I also don't think it was very large.
A lot of the photo manipulation tricks I taught myself were originally ways to stretch my photos out without making them too blurry. Or, at least, to make them look artistically blurry.
But I always liked the way this one turned out. And our trips to Tonga have been incredible adventures.
Which is why I have crassly plastered our memories all over bags and cards and mugs and so forth.

The other listing I was fiddling with is the one everyone likes, which is this one here:

Oops, there it is in a frame like all the classics should be.

The Cherry-Tree Dragon is completely made from vectors, and I actually drew it sometime back in my first year of university (which was about... 15 years ago now? eek!).

I think it was actually supposed to be a good luck dragon for one of my friends who was nervous for an exam, but they didn't exactly appreciate it, so I usually conveniently forget that part.

A few months ago I actually went in and cleaned up the file (I love vectors so much, they are so easy to tweak) so it looked more professional. This little baby has sold on a few t-shirts which is freakin' cool, because one day I might run into one of those people and be able to shake their hand (and kiss their feet).

What I mean by saying I'm 'sprucing up the listing' is I'm basically adding it to some more groups in the hope of getting greater exposure and maybe sticking a few more key words on it and updating the image files so they can go on the newer products.

I was also going to start adding all of these to Zazzle since I got a sale recently on there even though I have hardly any listings and I got all excited, buuuuut I checked this morning and it's been refunded. Which was a bummer.
I'm also having a bit of trouble getting my tax information sorted through them, so I'm not in a hurry to spend hours putting all my work up there. Being a dual citizen is a pain in the arse sometimes.

Although I don't know why I'm suddenly becoming fussy about getting paid. I've certainly made some money doing this, but in terms of how much time I've put into it, it's got to be something like pennies per hour.

Still, I really like Redbubble, even if they don't have quite so many item types for sale.

Anyway, I'm also going to post my latest masterpiece (made with the helpful advice/prodding of my lovely sister Katie) so we end on a high note.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Later on, in 2014...

It's been a year since my last blog entry here. So I guess it's time to send another update into the void.
I re-read all of my previous entries, which was painful at first but also kind of adorable. I re-invent myself over and over, and often I'll forget whatever was once the intense preoccupation of my life and be surprised.
Like the art phase. I do still do art, but it's almost entirely done digitally now. I have listings on Zazzle and RedBubble and make the occasional sale that I find very exciting.

I have a few drips and drabs of freelancing left, although that bubble has burst for most of the websites I used to write for.

I currently have a job as a discussion leader with a content website that I'm constantly worried is going to evaporate, but has lasted me for three years so far. This year it's been my main income source.

I also have a tiny collection of novellas for sale on Amazon, that I'm hoping will grow. I'm getting better as an author but I'm still not "there". Wherever there is. But I've made sales in the double digits now, so I'm not a complete failure. I'm working my way up from "complete failure", to "barely scraping by".

So in the material sense, I haven't got very far with my life. I'm not particularly disadvantaged, in that my health is relatively good and I'm educated and have a supportive family. But I'm poor. I live on maybe $200 a week, which is less than I would get if I was on the dole. Still I've managed to survive an entire year on that. In Palmerston North, but still, it's something of an achievement.

This year has been a kind of hibernation for me. I had a bit of a breakdown last year, under the stress of trying to be a teacher. I ended up deciding to go on anti-depressants for the first time, which felt like an admission of defeat but turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made.
Suddenly, I wasn't depressed all the time. I wasn't so overwhelmed by anxiety and gloom that I couldn't see straight. It felt like I had been treading water for years and I suddenly found chunk of drift-wood to cling to.

That sounds dramatic, but I honestly had no idea that I was as depressed as I had been because it was such a normal state for me.

So now I've been on the meds for over a year and I still feel good. I decided that teaching wasn't for me, at least, not in a classroom context like that. I still want to be a lazy, bohemian artist type and even though I get very frustrated with poverty (insofar as I experience it) I am glad that I don't have to get up and go to a "proper" job every day. That would have killed me.

I'm a strange person. My counselor liked me to say "quirky" rather than strange or weird, but I prefer to load my description with negative connotations and then embrace them because they add much more texture and depth.
I'm strange and I'll always be strange and there is something comforting in that.