Writing Echoes

Delijah's Writing Blog

Category Archives: Course

Introduction to ScreenWriting + Body and Soul

Last week I started a FutureLearn course called Introduction to Scriptwriting. I’m busy as hell these days but I figured out that I could dedicate some time to it for the two weeks it lasted, or afterwards, or just forget about it if it was not interesting. I was surprised because I did find it quite interesting – albeit I probably need to watch more films as I could not find anything they proposed that I had watched ^^””

Although sometimes the “teaching team” seems to be just brushing and patting their egos at times, there are quite a few interesting things that they mention.

One of the things I liked was this quote: “Stories happen because somebody wants something and has trouble getting it” ( David Mamet). While it’s common enough to be (uncredited) even in TVTroopes, I came across it at a time when I was ready to toss the story I was compassing through – more about that later – and it actually helped, even if it caused an unexpected twist. The idea is simple indeed; it just summarises character + goal + conflict, but at that time it felt refreshing on what I was working on.

Then the educators propose a way to pitch or summarise a story in five parts (fingers): genre, main character, goal, problem, and theme (they call it “something important”). While I’m not convinced about the need to define the genre beforehand, as half of the time I’m not even sure of how to classify what I do, I am thinking that I can adapt the method somehow, even with my own categories – after all I write ‘yakuza’ in the NaNo page under genre most of the time. Or I can just substitute it with ‘universe’ as lately it seems that most of what I write is linked to something else.

All in all, I like the insight I’m getting from the course. I really hope it keeps up – both the second week and the future ones they claim they’ll do.

For now I can say that it did help me finish Body and Soul, though. I’ve been compass-ing my way through that since the characters bombed the timeline I had organised, and the plan went to hell, but now it’s done. The problem is that a while ago I agreed with myself to start that and while I was working on that figure where I was taking Terazuma’s character arc to incorporate into the Shikigami verse, guess what I didn’t do. Exactly. Work on Terazuma.

I’ll never change.

Transmedia StoryTelling course – Review

I’ve recently taken I’ve recently taken a Course called `Transmedia Storytelling’ through the platform FutureLearn and I’ve been thinking for a while that I wanted to write a review. The problem was that I was not sure what to say about the course. I mean. It was not bad, and it did follow what it said it would do in the introduction page. And yet… and yet it was lacking something, and I am not sure of what. I think – after quite a bit of wondering – that it lacked the practical approach, or the case studies, which were only mentioned in the last week, where ‘successful example of transmedia’ were mentioned.

The course, by Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU) , provided quite a lot of information and definitions, but I’d say it was a bit locked – it barely spoke about anything that was not cinema-based, with some mentions of video games, and books only were brought up to speak about adaptations. And yes, while the Avengers have been a massive success, they haven’t been the first example of transmedia in the world. it surprised me that even if the course was taught by a South Korean institution there was no mention to the platform jump between cartoon – real life drama – films – comic – novels etc that part of the Asian creations seem to take quite easily.

The most interesting part was the differentiation between the idea of adapting a concept to different media and creating a world that can tell different stories in different media. This is an intriguing concept.

On the other hand, it focused a lot in the ‘consumer as creator’ angle, which I am not sure I understood. I am guessing it referred to videogames, especially building ones. There was a non-committal silence regarding fanfiction, too.

The course gave me the idea, however, that the creator was relegated to someone in second place, and I don’t really agree with that. Gee, I wonder why.

All in all, I took the whole course, although I won’t buy the certificate because it’s quite expensive… But it made me want to compose music for the story I’m working on… and I have discovered music is hard…

Introduction to Forensic Science Certificate

A few months ago I took a Forensic Science course for the sake of research. As you may remember, and I was a bit disappointed that I could not get any kind of certification from it. However, as I took another course from the same platform, I saw that statements of participation had been made available, so I decided to buy myself one, even if at first I had decided not to. And here it is:

cert_forensics

It is not the most impressive thing, let’s all keep in mind that the course was a MOOC from FutureLearn, an online platform that cannot guarantee you’re you. So nothing really… proving of any knowledge. I did the course because it played in Scotland close to where Victim #14 happens, so I thought it would be cool to have some background on the actual forensics that would take place in Scotland. The course was not bad – and hey, free + the 27 pounds this cost, so quite cool.

Introduction to Forensic Science MOOC

strathclyde_shieldAfter the Historical Fiction MOOC, I snooped around for some other courses, and stumbled into FutureLearn, who offered an Introduction to Forensic Science , from the University of Strathclyde, in Glasgow.

I was quite thrilled to find this as you might remember Victim #14 happens in Glasgow, and has a police plot. I thought that it would be interesting to have an insider on how Forensic Science works in the UK.

The course ran over six weeks, covering:

  • Principles and practice of Crime Scene Investigation
  • Fingerprints
  • Blood Pattern Analysis and DNA
  • Footwear and toolmark impression evidence
  • Drugs of abuse
  • Forensic Science as the “Silent Witness”

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The MOOC covered some theory along with a “case study” to illustrate the lessons, where a culprit needed to be identified. It had videos and discussions, and some fun activities to do.

The course is not bad in itself, and I can deal with the Scottish accent pretty well. However, by the fourth week I decided that reading the video transcripts was much more productive than listening to the videos, except in the case study where the images were better to play along.

Procedure-wise it was interesting, as it covers a few aspect that investigation in the UK differs from what we’re used to see in US series and films, and I want to adapt a few things in Victim #14. Science-wise was not too bad, either.

All in all it was a good entertaining for six weeks, a couple of hours a week. The course promised an on-screen participation statement which you can see to the right (click for bigger) and which was rather disappointing. It cannot be used to prove anything, as it has no name on it anywhere. When you print it, it looks even worse, as those are just formatted letters. It does not bother me that much as I am doing it for fun but… really? That is ugly. And useless. And just tries to force into buying a printed certificate…

And don’t be impressed by those 100%s, the tests were easy and could be taken with the notes anyway.

Plagues, Witches, and War: The Worlds of Historical Fiction (3)

Well, the Plagues, Witches, and War: The Worlds of Historical Fiction course is officially over. In all honesty, I started the course aiming to find some tools to work on a story regarding the Keichō Embassy from Japan to the Vatican, lead by Hasekura Tsunenaga between 1613 and 1620.

I am not left with an overall impression of the course that is positive. As you might remember, I have been a bit peeved with the whole deadline fumbling, and everyone going on their high horses about it. Well, the last deadlines also got juggled, and jumped a whole week backwards, so in the end basically every deadline got moved, some with louder announcements than others. I won’t go into that again, but changing requirements is not something that is going to give a course a good reputation (and the course organisers have been complaining about the “bad rep” of MOOCs).

Opinion on classmates aside, my general impression of the course is a big… ‘so what?’ I mean, what is the whole buzz about historical fiction? That it requires research, and sometimes a lot of it? That is true, if you want accuracy, but you need to research with whichever genre you are writing. Even when planning a fantasy world you need to decide on your laws of physics. I am making a big effort to get my hands on every factual yakuza publication out there, for example (which apparently makes me a huge geek somehow).
hfmoo_gen
It is not my intention to put down historical fiction as a lesser genre, but… research-wise it does not really feel a particularly different genre. If you want to portray anything with accuracy, you need to do your research. Using real people as characters might be the tricky part, but that is a choice the author makes. Each writing path has its own difficulties, I’d say, and historical fiction is not an exception in any way. You can also quite easily ‘ignore’ the research part and be deliberately ‘imprecise’, just giving clues about where and when you are – that’s the easy way (I am guilty of doing that before, I confess… and I am sort of doing that with the location of Turn of the Page right now).

I did decide to give Dickens a second chance and I would have bought one of the guest author’s books, if some idiot had not given away the ending on the forums. Also, I had thought about sharing the assignment ‘essay’ I wrote, but… you know, I kinda lost interest.

This is not me wanting to complain about something that I got for free, but not convinced. I did not find the course serious enough somehow. Wobbly deadlines are a sign of bad organisation and it is very hard for me to learn anything if it is not organised. That might be why right now I don’t feel like I learnt anything particular from Plagues, Witches, and War: The Worlds of Historical Fiction that can at the moment help me improve my writing.

courserahisfiction2013

Plagues, Witches, and War: The Worlds of Historical Fiction (2)

This post was going to wait until the course was finished, and should have been a tadbit different, but something happened today that had made me a bit miffed.

As I mentioned in the previous post, the Plagues, Witches, and War: The Worlds of Historical Fiction course has three grading points:

  • Three quizzes
  • Five “guest author” questions, one for each of them
  • An essay, which had to:
    1. identify a primary source (an original document / object / place…)
    2. add a link to it or an explanation of why a link was not included (i.e. you used something not on the Internet)
    3. be over 10 sentences
    4. be handed in at a fixed point in time, for which you had a countdown (total time circa 20 days)

After that you check points 1-3 on five essays (“peer evaluation”), and that’s all folks.

Except now the deadline has been extended. It has been pointed out that I am a horrible person for not wanting Philippines people to get their certificate of completion. But let be honest here, while I admit that a natural disaster sucks and that people who have been through the typhoon need a break and leeway, these are other reasons I have found:

  • It was Thanksgiving. Who puts a deadline in the middle of a holiday??
  • Messed up time zones
  • Assumed the time was 23:59 and not 00:00
  • Had it done, but I wanted to send it last minute
  • Did not log in before that day
  • Signed up for the course after the deadline was passed
  • Mistook the deadline for the deadline of another course / issue

hfmoo_gen

I believe that generally extending a deadline is a mistake. It lowers the quality of the course, as the requirements become more on the lax side. There are ways to deal with individual cases, such as those affected by a natural disaster, and can be done. It requires more effort, yes, but can be done. Furthermore, for a free course, reputation is everything, and now a precedent has been set – just whine, even if your reasons are “I can’t read a clock”, and the deadline will be moved. Because the instructor wrote that “it had been poor planning on his part to set the deadline in the middle of a holiday” anyway, so it was his fault, right?

This also pushes forward the clock for assessing your peers. I am done, but many people are not. Now those people are falling behind with their schedules, blocked for 48 more hours (which is time to “post if you’re done”. Hah. Ten sentences and we have a list of archives right there. It IS doable in an hour. Not that I believe many people would do it anyway, start from scratch when they have already missed the deadline once). So now we either have less time for the peer evaluation, or the deadline for that will also be extended and the results will be in later and people will complain that they’ll have less time for the quizzes and… It could go on and on forever.

All in all, I think that extending the deadline was a poor idea. When you want something free to have quality you need to put effort on reputation, and this, silly thing as it might sound to you, is unfair. It reduces the quality of any certificate of completion that can be obtained, because the grading criteria are not rigorous at all, they are accommodating and bendable beyond the human condition of wanting to give a hand to someone who has found themselves in the middle of a natural disaster.

Because of Thanksgiving or misreading the clock? That is where quality dies down.


Just to be very clear here: Giving Philippine students a second chance, I agree with. Giving everyone a second chance, just because, I disagree with. I believe there could have been another way to deal with the situation.

Plagues, Witches, and War: The Worlds of Historical Fiction (1)

Lately MOOCs are on the uprise. In case you don’t know, a MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course, which is basically a course held over the Internet, no participant limit, and lots of forums to create community feelings. I semi-accidentally signed up for Plagues, Witches, and War: The Worlds of Historical Fiction, a MOOC on (did you guess?) historical fiction!

The course is offered for free through Coursera by the Unversity of Virginia and takes 8 weeks.

hfmoo_gen

The course is comprised of:

  1. What Is Historical Fiction?
    • 1.1 Defining the Genre
    • 1.2 The Pre-History of Historical Fiction
    • 1.3 From Archive to Novel
    • 1.4 The Question of Origins
    • 1.5 Historical Fiction: A Global Genre
  2. Poetry and Exile in Ancient Rome: Jane Alison. Seminar with Jane Alison on The Love Artist
  3. Two Centuries of Historical Fiction
    • 3.1 Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales: Fiction on the Frontier
    • 3.2 Brown’s Clotel: Slavery, Fiction, and a Founding Father
    • 3.3 Dickens and the French Revolution: A Tale of Two Cities
    • 3.4 Anna Katharine Green and the Invention of the Historical Mystery
    • 3.5 Modernism, Metafiction, and the Mass Market, 1920-1980
    • 3.6 The New Historical Novel in Latin America
  4. Witchcraft and the Early Americas: Katherine Howe. Seminar with Katherine Howe on The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane
  5. A Plague Year in Renaissance England: Geraldine Brooks. Seminar with Geraldine Brooks on Year of Wonders
  6. Disease and the Written City: Mary Beth Keane. Seminar with Mary Beth Keane on Fever
  7. Ghosts and Marriage in Colonial Malaysia: Yangsze Choo. Seminar with Yangsze Choo on The Ghost Bride
  8. Wrap-Up and Conclusions

The course offers a diploma given that you:

  1. Pass three online quizzes on the content of the lecture
  2. Ask a question to every guest writer
  3. Write a small essay about a historical primary source

I don’t think I’ve ever been an avid reader of historical fiction, but I have enjoyed a few books by Spanish authors from the Medieval and Arabic-Spain times, and I thought it might be interesting considering a tentative idea I have in mind (Have you ever heard of the Keichô Embassy?)

It has made me realise that it is hard for me to just listen to a lecture without having any kind of written anchor, so I found that I either needed to take notes or use the subtitles. I chose this last option and it worked nicely, I was able to concentrate much better once I could read along. I guess I’m a written-words person XD

I’ve currently finished unit 1 and worked my way through the reading of unit 2 – awaiting for the lectures to be posted. I will keep you posted.

Inferno Credit Award Letter

Back in September I entered correspondence with the Centre for Lifelong Learning in Glasgow to claim my Inferno: Novel Writing Certification. It was impossible for me to get them to send a replacement of it, since apparently had it been lost – or sent to my old address after the redirection period was over, never mind my contacting them to give them my new address well in advance. I managed a pdf, though, not official-looking at all.

In October I contacted them again, changing strategies. Instead of asking to get my certification, I told them that my Credit Award Letter had gotten lost and asked if I could somehow obtain a replacement. The reply was immediate: yes, it should be with me now, please provide my new address (again) and it would be posted. A week later it was here.

    

Two whole pages of it, too and on official paper! Woohoo! And only took me four months of emailing. Snort.

But hey, does this mean I’m an official novelist?

Inferno: certification. Sort of.

After talking to I think four different people I have come to the conclusion that my Inferno: Novel Writing certification has gotten lost somewhere. I am rather irked, but I don’t want to lash out at Strathclyde CLL, I did enough reviewing the course XD.

I managed to get an e-certificate of completion, which I guess will have to do for now. Next month, if I have not received anything, I will try to get a more official-looking certificate.

Cause, you know, I got a pdf sent and… you can’t change a pdf, can you?

Inferno 2012 – final commentary

It is June 25 and the Blaze Inferno Writing course is officially over. You might have gathered that I was not happy with it. To be completely honest with you, I don’t know what I was expecting and why it disappointed me so badly. I don’t think it is a bad workshop, but I don’t think it is a good course. It can be very supportive and motivating if you are the right kind of person, desperately clinging for an excuse to write. Since fortunately or unfortunately I don’t fall in that group, I had quite a few problems with it.

Material

The course indeed offers some writing material. Some of it is written by the original founder / teacher of the Blaze courses, which is not the current one. The exercises / prompts are repeated at times. One of the documents is said original teacher’s favourite novel excerpts, put together without much acknowledgement if at all.

There are a few internet-based resources i.e. links to other people’s writing pages or the infamous Rules of Writing that the Guardian publishes regularly [link] – the fun part of that is that most writers have their own sets and you can stay with the one you feel more comfortable with. There are also exercises that instruct you to ‘Google’ the info…

Book: the course has corresponding book, How novels work by John Mullan. The book itself is very interesting, a collection of reviews and analysis of a great deal of popular and classic novels, and why they work. Mr. Mullan is a professor of English at University College London and hosts the Guardian’s Book Club. The Club examines a book a month, via a weekly column in the Guardian Review (the first three weeks discuss the book in question and the fourth presents comments from the Book Club blog). How novels work is an edited collection of those columns, organised by themes (beginnings, characters, dialogue, endings…).

Feedback

Feedback method is designed to protect the author against evil commenters, which might be good in some instances, but completely blocks any kind of concrit or critical feedback. Restricting opinions blows your arguments when answering questions posted by the classmates. Maybe it would have worked better with other kind of questions rather than the ones used – there was a rule on no closed questions that got ignored quite a bit. It however seemed that some of us could get away with closed questions while some of us could not. Funny.

My confession: I lied. I told people that I liked their piece when I did not. Sue me, or call me a newborn diplomat. What good is my feedback going to do to anyone when it is not even real?

Teaching method

The teacher and I did not hit off. Overly cheery and pleasant ticks me off and makes all my alarms ring. I realise that there are people genuinely very cheery and pleasant, and I am way happy to rethink my opinions – excuse me, omgopinions. When I received the feedback on my Main Assignment 1, and after next to nothing of what was there became useful to me, I asked for pointers to improve my writing. She told me that I should have taken the previous courses to learn about style.

She offered a change on feedback style that I took and then the cheerful and the pleasant were gone. She became uncooperative and any effort on my part to ‘re-establish communications’ was ignored. To be honest, I started getting ignored when I tried to start a discussion in the public forum, too, except for one of my classmates. She also took great pleasure on highlighting every adverb she found. In theory Inferno was open to 25 people, we were nine and teacher was already overwhelmed…

Writing improvement

Not sure, to be honest. I got complimented on what I found a weak piece where the main character was acting too weakly, then got down marks for being weak in the areas I had already said I was weak in – but no actual improvement tips. I guess I should Google them…

Technology

… is it really standard to carry out ‘live chats’ in forums? For real? Doesn’t the Moodle platform offer actual chats?

Overall impression

“Would not buy again.” But some of my classmates enjoyed, were motivated and may try to do the course again. Good for them. I won’t.

Conclusion

I am an opinionated bitch and here’s the opinion I was not allowed to give during the course, in much less ‘diplomatic’ words than I used in the ‘feedback form’.