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Month: August 2010

Another week of animating and plotting

Animation this week

It’s been kind of a meh week so far. My sleep cycle, which was already all out of whack, has become even more out of whack because I have to wake up at 7 AM to take care of some neighbor’s dogs. Which I don’t mind doing, it just messes up your sleep cycle if you’re going to bed at 3 or 4 AM. So then I have to take a nap later on, and/or get a headache, and/or then stay up even later, or lie in bed not able to sleep, etc… everything just gets messed up. So I haven’t really gotten that much animation work done yet. (I did do some, but it looks awful… I blame fatigue.) So I’m going to try going to bed really early tonight, but I fear I’ll just lie there not able to sleep… worth a try though… doing nothing is always worth a try, and fortunately I have Saturday off this week, so I’ll have that extra 9 hours or so to work on animation.

Book plotting progress

Fortunately book plotting (like blog post writing) I can do at work (when there’s time), so I did get a bit more book plotting done, and I figured out a theme.

I am a strong believer that good stories (at least long-form ones like novels and movies) should have themes, that is, they should say something beyond just the actions of the plot; the plot should mean something. It might be cliche, it might remain unresolved by the story’s end, it might be a bit ambiguous (like “the nature of dreams”), but it should be there. I think I’ve stated this somewhere before on this blog, but the only kind of long-form story that can get away with having no theme at all is the comedy, but even those tend to have little themes (though often cliche; really the comedy itself is the theme).

Ayn Rand, one of my favorite writers, defines what I mean by “theme” here the best: Theme (Literary) in the Ayn Rand Lexicon. Of course, this is by no means a way to objectively judge the art of literature, or a formula… I just agree with it and find it useful.

Anyway, back to the point: I have a theme in mind for The Designers. I’m not yet going to tell you what it is though, ha ha! It’s not a religious theme in and of itself, but it’s sort of philosophically related to religion, so I’m trying to explore different religious and non-religious resources on the matter. I don’t have the entire theme yet; I know I want it to be about X, but I’m not exactly sure what I want to say about X, or what each character will think about X.

So, I consider defining the theme part of plotting, and it’s helping me come up with a really fun ending. Bwa ha ha ha!

Erm… I guess that’s it…

More comics soon and novel plotting

Appendix or no appendix?

The last poll about whether or not I should put an appendix with all the “magic rules” at the end of my fantasy novel as a resource to readers only got two votes, 1 yes, 1 no, so that’s no help! (I guess I might have gotten more votes if one of the choices was “Who cares?”) So the issue remains open for now… not that it’s really an issue, or something I should even be worrying about at all… it’s just blather really…

Plotting The Designers has begun!

Now that the rules of magic are just about all in place (there are a few little issues I haven’t quite worked out, but I don’t think it’ll matter for the purposes of this story), I have begun plotting. Act 1 is pretty much done, easy intro stuff, the conflict starts, seems like fun to write. Haven’t outlined specific scenes yet, but the overarching story is all there, I don’t foresee any problems with it. Act 2 and 3 however are quite tricky. I have a bunch of Act 3 done, and I pretty much have half of the climax figured out, but I still need to decide what exactly will happen to certain characters. And I still need figure out Act 2, how they get from the end of Act 1 to the beginning of Act 3. I’ve got some of it, but the details are tricky to work out.

Anyway, that’s how I’m plotting, just kind of going all over the place (though I like to get the ending set in stone as soon as possible, as it helps figure out what should precede it).

And, as I said before, I’m resisting the urge to turn this into a huge long epic (since I don’t trust myself to actually finish writing an epic). The rules of magic allow for tons of possibilities, but I must resist the urge to allow all those possibilities to be explored, which, I must admit, is hard! But I can always write sequels, I keep telling myself. KISS!

Hannifin World – Season 2

I’ve been continuing to draw comics for Hannifin World, it’s just a pain to scan them all in and resize them, upload them, etc. so I think Hannifin World will be a season thing; I’ll save up comics, then scan them in and upload them all at once.

So Hannifin World Season 2 will start on September 1st! I have about 70-something saved up, so it will run daily until sometime in November.

Rule making

The Designers progress

I have just about finished the planning for my novel. Not the plot planning, just the “rules of magic and stuff” planning. Which, uh… I might’ve gone a bit overboard. I mean, it’s not extremely complex, but there’s still quite a bit of info the reader will have to understand for the story to make much sense. On the one hand, all the rules give me quite a lot of possible scenarios to play around with, and it will be fun to create dangers and complex situations for the characters. On the other hand, it will be quite a lot to explain to the readers. One must be careful of infodumps or long expositional conversations.

I think the characters could have a book they refer to with all the rules in it, and then I can make that book an appendix or something. That way readers can read through all the rules if and when they want, and when characters refer to the rules, readers will know exactly where to look if they want clarification. Yeah, I think that’s the idea I like best. And, again, it’s not like there are really that many rules, but I like the book within a book idea. Do you think publishers would necessarily like it though? Might be a tough sell. Then again, I’ve seen it, or at least things like it, before, so maybe it’ll be fine. It’s not like I’m inventing a new language.

What do you think?

Is an appendix book a good idea?

  • Yes (50%, 1 Votes)
  • No (50%, 1 Votes)

Total Voters: 2

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(poll ends on August 21, 2010 @ 23:59 PM EST)

Three Uses of the Knife

In other matters, I recently finished reading David Mamet’s Three Uses of the Knife: On the Nature and Purpose of Drama. Um… I definitely agreed with some of it, some I didn’t quite agree with, but through most of it I had no idea what he was talking about. His writing is kind of weird and clunky. My parody of his writing:

We take for granted the anomalies of consistent redundancy. Ever estranged from the drama of everyday life, we look for blessings mixed with enemies among the anachronistic alternatives. But it’s useless, and we cheat ourselves into fulfilling the gluttony of the temptations we seek.

A couple annoying things about his writing:

1) One of the most annoying things is that he doesn’t speak as an author to an audience. Instead, he always uses this all-encompassing first-person plural “we,” as if what he says is true for everybody whether we like it or not. But then when he says something (such as “we abhor introductions to the truths we don’t believe”*) you can’t really tell if that’s what he truly believes or if he’s being sarcastic, if he’s really including himself in the statement or if he thinks that readers and himself are above whatever he’s talking about. We don’t understand why he writes like that… we find it annoying and we want it to change!

*Not an actual quote.

2) Big words. I know, I should pretend to like big words to make myself look smart. I know, they weren’t big words to you because you is smarter than me! But I think it makes the writing clunky. If you’re going to use the confusing first-person plural, at least stop using three or four syllable words when a two syllable word will suffice. Sometimes using a bigger less well-known word is good because it’s more precise. Sometimes you’re just being annoying.

3) No organization. There are a few headers here and there, but overall it’s more of a long essay than a book. Which I guess I just find annoying because I’m not used to reading nonfiction books like that.

4) Politics. If he actually makes any political points, his clunky rhetoric hides it, but now and then it seems like he might be trying to say something political, but then he just sort of tiptoes around it instead of just saying something clearly.

Overall… I guess I’d have to reread the book to take anything away from it. There are some other Mamet books that look interesting, but this one didn’t really do much for me. It was quite short at least. It might be a great book, I just don’t know why Mamet writes as if he doesn’t care if people will understand him or not. He might blame me for this circumstance, but I blame him.

I’m sure I could understand the book better if I went through and made a bit more of an effort, though I’m not sure I’ll do that anytime soon… also, reading some of the 5-star reviews on Amazon, the reviewers tend to write more like he does (as opposed to how I write), so this is quite a subjective matter. I’m not sure the target audience for Mamet’s book is just any wannabe writer though. Not that it’s for more serious (i.e. snob) writers, just for writers with different rhetorical tastes.

Novel plotting and stuff

Midway through week 8 of Animation Mentor! This week we’re studying the basic walk cycle, so by Sunday I’ll have a basic walk blocked out; next week I’ll do the inbetweens. There’s a lot of stuff going on in a walk, so it does get a bit complicated, especially if you’ve never done it before, but it’s fun!

In other news, I’ve started plotting out my novel, The Designers, which won the poll a few posts ago. Of course, I don’t think I’ll call it that, but that will be its codename. I think it’s quite a strange book. I wouldn’t say it’s innovative, because nothing is innovative, especially if you think it is. But I guess I could say it’s innovative to me… there are a lot of thorny storytelling issues to deal with… how do I create danger for this character? How do I get this character to seem important to an audience? I’m kind of trying to challenge the traditional answers to these questions, though I don’t think I can really escape them. It will be interesting. (But not that interesting.)

(The other novel I was plotting a few months ago was The Protectors, which got no votes. That one still needs a lot more plotting anyway. For now, it will be put aside, along with all those plans I had made. Though I did say at the time I made them that I didn’t think I’d follow them. See, I was right!)

I’m also trying to keep the overall plot nice and short. My last few novels that I’ve planned or started writing (I’ve never finished one) were huge epics. OK, maybe not huge, but probably too complex for a first novel. So I’m trying to keep this one really short and tight. Just two or three character storylines with short overarching plots. Hey, I can write sequels if I want, let’s actually finish something first. For now, nice and short and to-the-point. I’m going to try to make the “epicness” come from the ideas, the plot, not the length.

To help me plan out the novel, I created a private wiki for myself, kinda like Hanniwiki, except it’s a top secret private one that I can’t tell you anything about. The secrets within would just blow your mind, you can’t handle the truth! Anyway, it’s been quite useful so far; if you know how to install it and set it up, I think it’s a very useful tool for writers, great for keeping notes and stuff all organized and in one place.

Graduation speech and animation and stuff

Valedictorian unhappy with school – part 2

Back on August 4th I posted a link to a graduation speech in which the valedictorian went over some major criticism of the current American education system, which I mostly whole-heartedly agreed with. After all, I’ve ranted about the education system on this blog quite a few times. I said that I couldn’t verify the speech though; it was only posted on the web from a second-hand source. However, I finally came across an actual recording of the speech, which seems to have been uploaded to YouTube by the speaker herself. So, for your enjoyment, or for your frustration with young people these days, here’s the speech:

Woohoo! Yes! Indeed! That’s right!

Do you agree with this speech?

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Animation Mentor progress

Week 8 (of 72) starts today! I’m pleased with my assignment this week, though of course I can still see areas that could use some tweaking, but you only have a week, so running out of time is inevitable. I’ll upload it to YouTube tonight or tomorrow. I was hoping to revise my pendulum assignment from last week, but never got to it. (I got sick that week so didn’t spend as much time on it.) Oh well.

The transforming room

Someone on Facebook posted a link to this very interesting video:

Of course, here in America, if you have enough money to afford designing and building something like that, then you probably have enough money to just buy a more spacious place, unless I suppose there’s some squished location that you really really want to live in. It would be awesome if someone opened up apartment buildings or hotels in which every room was like this; should get some good business just for the uniqueness of it. (Probably apartments; hotels would probably need too much maintenance.)

Little probability problem

OK, here’s a pretty simple probability problem, but it took me a moment to think about… until my geniusness came up with the solution. The problem is:

You want to choose randomly between 3 choices, but all you have is one coin. What’s the minimum amount of times you need to flip the coin so that you can choose fairly between your 3 choices? (That is, so that each choice has a 33.3…% of being chosen?)

The first person to answer correctly gets the prize of being the first person to answer correctly.

(To complicate the problem, suppose you have two coins, but one has been tainted with iocane powder, and no immunities allowed…)

Mental breakdown

Don’t you hate it when you have a good idea for a topic you want to blog about, and then the next day, when you have time to blog, you forget what it is?

Anyway, haven’t been up to much these last couple days, just working and animating. I’m staying busier than I was in high school or college! Of course, in high school and college I 1) could get away with procrastinating every now and then and 2) hated doing the work in the first place, which is why I procrastinated. Though animation can be a bit frustrating at times, it’s something that I really want to do, and I wish I had more time to do it. Having my paid job interrupting my more interesting animation work is the annoying (but monetarily necessary) thing. I’m scheduled to finish Animation Mentor in Fall 2011, and, after paying my last tuition, it will be very tempting to try to leave work at that time and work on animation full-time for my last semester, with the intent of course of polishing a demo reel and getting a real animation job. And in 2012, take a vacation, a real vacation, ahhhh… but I must snap out of it! It probably won’t happen! Focus on the now! But, geez, the now is pretty intense! The ice I skate is getting pretty thin, and the water’s getting warm so I might as well swim! Can’t even fly out of a window! A tree doesn’t think it’s a tree, it is a tree! Ah-he-who-ha-ha!!

Oops, I had a mental breakdown there for a second. Please forgive me.

Do you forgive me?

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Anyway, I’ll post this week’s assignment on YouTube tomorrow night. I don’t think I’ll ever post that pendulum assignment. It turned out terrible, and I don’t think I have time to do a revision like I had hoped, so too bad, but I think this week’s assignment looks a bit better.

Poll: What novel to work on?

Hey, I finally installed a WordPress plugin that allows me to post polls… took a while to get it to work; a lot of plugins seem to have problems with WordPress 3.0, but I think this one should work OK.

So, as sort of a test of the new poll plugin, my first question is: what novel should I work on?

Over the past year, I’ve been working on plotting out at least three novel ideas. They all need more plotting and planning before I can actually get to the writing, but they all seem like fun to work on. (Not that I really have any time for this, maybe just 1 hour a week.) Here are the three ideas:

1) The whodunnit solvers: It’s about solvers of a whodunnit mystery. Only this takes place in a Hannifinesque fantasy kingdom. Really, all these ideas take place in fantasy worlds, and I just love the idea of writing a mystery.

2) The protectors: It’s about children (though this is not necessarily a children’s book) who receive certain magical powers to protect a kingdom from evil-doers.

3) The designers: It’s about people who have the magical power to design magical things. Only one of the designers is evil, oh no! And, alas, the only designer who has the power to stop him doesn’t even know he’s a designer! Woah, amazing! I won’t call them “designers” of course; that makes it sound like they belong on HGTV. And it would be less cliche than it sounds.

So which novel should I work on? They all seem like fun ideas. Of course, I probably still won’t actually get around to writing any time soon; most free time goes to my animation studies. But if I can spare one hour a week, on Sunday nights perhaps… that short story sale last week just really makes me want to write some more. (Though I have to remember to do it for the fun of writing, and not the prospect of money, which is always tempting.)

What novel idea should I work on?

  • The designers (75%, 3 Votes)
  • The whodunnit solvers (25%, 1 Votes)
  • The protectors (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 4

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(poll ends on Sunday, August 15, 2010 @ 23:59 PM EST)

This is all kind of self-indulgent I guess, but that’s what a blog is for, right? I mean, I guess I could post helpful stuff, like stock tips or how to improve your golf game, but what fun would that be?

Anyway, that’s the poll. Now I’ll have polls more often, woohoo!

Animating and reading and music and stuff…

Animation studies continue

It’s now week 7 (of 72) of Animation Mentor! The first semester (of 12 weeks) is half way over!

Last week’s assignment involved animating a pendulum. Unfortunately, towards the end of the week (mostly Saturday and Sunday) I caught some sort of virus, so I lost a nice chunk of animation time, and my assignment turned out pretty “blagh.” I mean, it wasn’t completely terrible, but it needs lots of polishing, so I’ll post that up on YouTube after I do a revision. Feeling better now, so I hope this week will be better.

Reading…

I finished reading The Talent Code the other day. Overall, ’twas a pretty good read, though I still think that in some of the chapters the author kind of goes off on these less interesting tangents. There was this whole chapter about how good some “KIPP program” schools were, though to me they seemed kind of brain-washy. One of the main points of the program, besides instilling militaristic discipline, was to not only get the students to go to college, but get them to want to go to college. Apparently the founders of the KIPP program believe that going to college is pretty much the most important thing in the world. It’s kind of … disturbing. Maybe there’s a grain of truth to it, in terms of there being a correlation between income levels and college attendance, but I don’t think brain-washing children to believe that college is the most important goal in life is necessarily helpful, even if the students in this KIPP program preform very well on tests.

Which kind of leads me to another problem… so often it seems that how “good” a school is is determined by comparing it to other schools. People say things like “this school scored in the 90th percentile!” That sounds pretty good, but it actually really doesn’t say that much. What exactly is the “score” of the 90th percentile? Shouldn’t the actual score matter? With this sort of comparison-rating system, a school (or a student) doesn’t even have to improve for their score to improve… everyone else just has to do worse.

Along the same lines (though this is a complete tangent from the subject of the book), I hate when teachers, both high school and college, grade to a curve. As if a bell curve should naturally arise in the grades, and if it’s not there, you just shape the test scores to it. It makes no sense; you can get a better grade simply because everyone else did lousy on the test? But really this is part of the bigger “grading problem” in general that schools have; they simply use grades in a completely wrong way, as a form to easily compare students and to act as an easy gatekeeper for decision making. Unfortunately how well someone knows facts or a skill is not so easily numbered. (And this is really related to the “school problem” in general; how so many people think it’s a good use of time and money to teach and learn things students are not interested in or are not going to use. I’ll spare myself from going off on that tangent today…)

One last thing I’m starting to understand, from this book and others with similar themes, is that our personalities, as defined by our decisions and interests, are, or at least can be, as malleable as our intellect. They are a product of our environment. Maybe not completely, of course, but the true (often subconscious) sources of interests and personalities are quite complex; they do not simply emerge from DNA. In other words, if you observe that someone is bossy when they are a baby, that’s not necessarily just because they have “bossy” genes. Although, maybe they do… my point is that it’s complex. And people can change, at least to a greater degree than they may realize. Not easily, perhaps. It might take a complete overturning of your environment, and the change might be from “stable” to “completely depressed and crazy”, but it’s possible. I do wish it were easy to understand how interests come about and how they could be changed, but they seem to get so set-in-stone that we think of them as being as unchangeable as stone…

The other book I finished reading was Federations, a collection of sci-fi short stories. It was kind of a mixed bag… I thought some stories were very good, especially Prisons by Kevin J. Anderson and Doug Beason and Symbiont by Robert Silverberg. Some were OK. Some were uhhhh-what-the-heck? (I have more traditional tastes. When authors try to get all experimental and stylized, I don’t always get it. One of my big pet peeves is unisex/nonsex pronouns, like “hirs” and “shim”… blagh! You’re not clever! Stop it!)

Will books die soon?

In other news, I read this article in which some guy says that physical books will be dead in 5 years. *gasp* Firstly, the article states that we must consider what has happened to music and films, which makes no sense to me. Those are digital art mediums in the first place. You watch a movie with a digital TV, and you listen to music on speakers (or headphones). Those have required electricity to perceive the art for a long time. Not so with books. So I don’t think the comparison is entirely valid. Also, movies are still quite non-digital, in that they still are sold on physical discs. This not only helps prevent copying (to a degree), but it also allows customers to trade, rent, borrow, return, and resell their movies. In a purely digital world, we can’t do that. Money would only ever flow one way. Great for movie distributors (if they can prevent illegal copying enough), somewhat lame for everyone else (unless you can get free movies by watching ads at certain intervals… but still no returning or trading).

He also says that the sales of Kindle books has outnumbered the sales of hardbacks. OK… that in and of itself is not really evidence of anything, as far as I can tell. We’d also have to see a decline in hardback sales, and look at paperback sales. And publishers would have to at some point conclude that publishing a hardback would not be worth it. And then conclude that paperbacks aren’t worth it either. These business decisions would, I think, be way too drastic for publishers to figure out in just 5 years. Unless, of course, Kindle and other ebooks take off so well and make publishers so rich that they have nothing to worry about by going all digital. So I guess I’d really have to look at the publishers’ records to know…

Eventually, books may very well die, or at least become mostly dead… but in just 5 years? I highly doubt it.

Some beautiful music!

Lastly, as a reward for reading all that blather (or for scrolling down), here’s some beautiful music for you!

Want more? Of course you do!

These pieces were brought to you by the Portsmouth Sinfonia which I came across last week (or yesterday or something)… what beautiful sounds!

Sold my first short story!

This week, I made my first fiction sale! I sold my short fantasy story Maker of the Twenty-first Moon to Daily Science Fiction. They are a new market, so they’re not quite well-established yet, but they pay pro-rates (currently they pay 8 cents a word; pro is 5 cents and up, so 8 cents is quite good), and, from the few author names they are currently listing on their site, it looks like my story will be in good company! So I’m obviously pretty excited!

Unfortunately it will probably be a good long while until I ever write (or sell) more, as just about all my energy is currently focused on studying animation. But whenever I do write some more, I think this sale will affect me in two ways:

1) I’ll have more self-confidence. I’ll say to myself: “You sold a story before, you have it in you to do it again!”

2) I’ll have less self-confidence. I’ll say to myself: “Is this work good enough? Is it as good, if not better, than that story you already sold?”

Maybe those two effects will cancel each other out. And it probably shouldn’t affect me that much anyway, since in the grand scheme of the world, this sale isn’t of particularly significant historic importance. But I suppose one’s first ever sale will naturally go to the head just a bit.

Woohoo!