Writing Echoes

Delijah's Writing Blog

Tag Archives: resource-lecture

“Hard Lessons Learned From Tough People”: Jake Adelstein at TEDxKyoto 2012

After a month of waiting, it’s finally here! Jake Adelstein’s talk at TEDxKyoto 2012 (09.16.2012): “Everything I Ever Needed To Know In Life I Learned From The Yakuza Or The Cops That Bust Them”



The seven lessons:

  1. Know the difference between hearing and listening, and learn to listen to people
  2. Repay the kindness bestowed upon you, keep your code, all is good
  3. There are no small promises. A man’s promise should weigh more than his life
  4. It’s okay to be betrayed, just don’t be the betrayer. Betray others and you betray yourself. You won’t be able to trust anyone
  5. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. You can tell more about a man by his enemies than you can by his friends. A man with no enemies is worthless
  6. In life we only encounter the injustices we are meant to correct
  7. If you want to live well you have to die once

 
I think I fangirl that man too much for my own good XD. He mentions one of the quotes I like the most. The general rule of thumb for the yakuza is katagi ni meiwaku wo kutenai, or ‘not to cause trouble to ordinary citizens’. Thus they are forbidden from: 1. Theft and robbery 2. Using or selling drugs 3. Rape and 4. Anything else not in harmony with the ninkyodo (the ‘noble way’.)

Adelstein apparently asked a yakuza boss once “Why aren’t blackmail and extortion banned?”. The reply was: “If you have something to be blackmailed about, you deserve to be punished. It’s social justice”.

An Evening with Ray Bradbury (2001)


 

Ray Douglas Bradbury (August 22, 1920 – June 5, 2012) was an American fantasy, science fiction, horror and mystery fiction writer. Best known for his dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 (1953) and for the science fiction and horror stories gathered together as The Martian Chronicles (1950) and The Illustrated Man (1951)

Wikipedia

I found this doing some link-jumping. You can agree more or less with him, but I loved quite a few of his points. These are the top ones, just because:

  • Fire friends who don’t believe in you “any one who does not have faith in you and your future… to hell with them”
  • Have fun writing! Writing is not a serious business よ
  • It is good to admire other writers, but don’t try to be them
  • Don’t think commercially, write for yourself

Good talk is good. Enjoy it if you can spare the hour’s time.

Views on Life, by two great writers, and frivolities

Neil Gaiman Addresses the University of the Arts Class of 2012

Neil Gaiman [link] is an English author of short fiction, novels, comic books, graphic novels, audio theatre and films (like, really, the guy has done almost everything). His notable works include the comic book series The Sandman and novels Stardust, American Gods, Coraline, and The Graveyard Book. But… let the man tell you himself, not me:

Terry Pratchett on Religion

Sir Terry Pratchett [link] is an English novelist, who “ocassionaly gets accused of literature”. He is best known for his popular and long-running Discworld series of comic fantasy novels. the Discworld started running in 1983 and is still going strong, with 39 novels. He writes an average of two books a year, and suffers form Alzheimer’s disease.

That was the Wikipedia bit. On with the personal. Terry Pratchett is a Genius. Although the Discworld is officially ‘fantasy’ (because of course, the moment you have a dragon you are a fantasy writer) it draws inspiration from any and everything in the world. “Classic” Fantasy books gave birth to Rincewind the Wizard [link], Crime books to the City Watch [link], a ruffle with Hollywood made Moving Pictures [link] happen, and human perception in general created Death, the antropomorphic personification in shape of a walking skeleton – scythe and all that rides a white horse named Binky [link].

The Discworld is a “magical world in the shape of a disc which – as in certain well-known ancient cosmologies – is mounted on top of four giant elephants which are standing on a giant turtle, Great A’Tuin.” Take that. In the Discworld there are gods and magical things that can only be in existence if people believe in them (Small Gods [link]) and regarding that, he got asked about his own religion in The Guardian Book Club. Click on the image for his answer.

As a random pimp, here’s one of my favourite excerpts of one of my favourite books by Pratchett:

This is where the dragons went.

They lie…

Not dead, not asleep. Not waiting, because waiting implies expectation. Possibly the word we’re looking for here is…

… dormant

And although the space they occupy isn’t like normal space, nevertheless they are packed in tightly. Not a cubic inch there but is filled is filled by a claw, a talon, a scale, the tip of tail, so the effect is like one of those trick drawings and your eyeballs eventually realize that the space between each dragon is, in fact, another dragon.

They could put you in mind of a can of sardines if you thought sardines were huge and scaly and proud and arrogant.

And presumably, somewhere, there’s the key.

Terry Pratchett – Guards! Guards! [link]

(I shall refrain here from pointing out the amount of adverbs. Honestly.)

Frivolities!!

I came across chocolate bars with quotes on them. How awesome can that be?? [link] I want one! Because as Charles M. Schulz once said “All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt”.

The Generation H

Let me start by saying: I read the two first books and they bored me to death. Thus I did not read the rest. I’m talking about Harry Potter. I don’t consider myself an antifan, just someone who disliked and ignored – and for the ones who know about me and fads, I read before the boom XP.

So I did not like Harry Potter, but a bunch of other people out there did. Let me touch the story briefly in case you have been living under a rock for the last 15 years. (if some people don’t know Angry Birds I expect anything XD). Harry is a modern day Cinderella Boy. He was orphaned when young and lives with his abusive extended family. Suddenly one day he gets a visit and discovers that he is a wizard. Thus he is kinda scooped into a magic school where he meets his best friends forever Hermione and Ron. Then they save the school and the world a few times from super mean evil dark mage who was responsible of the death of Harry’s Parents and whom Harry already defeated when he was a baby – I wonder how many Mary Sue points that gives…

So what’s the Generation H and what’s special about them? Generation H is something I made up for this post, it refers to a range of then children who started reading the books when they were about Harry and his friends’ ages. These kids who grew up with them, with their same age and mentality and who ran into the same kind of everyday trouble – sans evil Mage. The kids who could empathise with the characters on every damn book.

Kids who queued at midnight in front of book stores to buy their copy of the book the day it was out. Kids who, even if their first language was not English, got the books in English to have them earlier. Kids who read. And I think that is amazing. I might not like the books, but the magic of Harry Potter lies in the fact that J.K. Rowling made the miracle: she got kids reading. There is, in my opinion, a before and after Harry Potter in the reading mentality.

Let’s see Jurassic Park as an example. Blockbuster movie among blockbuster movies at the time. It spawned a franchise of movies, toys, more toys, roaring T-rexes in miniature and lots of other neat thingies with the logo (by the way, you can hear about the story of the TED Talk at the end of the post. Damn I love that guy XD). You know what didn’t you see? People around the public transport with the book in their hands.

The book sales went up, of course, that’s why Michael Crichton wrote the sequel, which gave way to another movie and so on and do forth. Not that I am complaining about it at all (long live Ian Malcom, in more ways than one).

Back in time The Name of the Rose movie was a blast. The book? What book? Did you even know that Stargate (the original movie, not the later SG universe) had a novel? Pretty awesome book, by the way. It has a few continuity errors but I highly recommend it. Most everybody and their dogs seems to have watched The Princess Bride, right? Wait, you mean it is an actual book?? (review by Denise here [link]).

Let’s, however, have a look at the latest motion picture / book phenomena: Game of Thrones, Twilight, The Hunger Games. There is a different attitude about them. You see them on planes, on trains, on buses. You see people reading. Even ‘older’ books have found their place again: Lord of the Rings / The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Narnia, Where monsters live.

Something happened that changed the attitude of readers between these two time frames, and that was the fact that suddenly J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter, and she did he unthinkable. She made kids read. She made reading cool. And se keeps Doing it whenever a preteen gets the first Harry Potter book and they want the next along with watching the movies.

And hey, I don’t like Harry Potter, but I, from my Pre-Harry-Potter-reading-is-for-nerds nerdiness, think that is awesome. So may the Generation H live long and prosper ^^

Chip Kidd: Designing books is no laughing matter. OK, it is.

Note 1: everything stated in this post is pure opinion, not backed up by anyone and solely product of my musings and observations.

Note 2: I enjoyed The Name of The Rose movie much more than I liked the book, but that might have had something to do with Sean Connery XD

Rap and Science

Charles Limb: Your brain on improv

I believe this TED Talk can’t be pimped enough. Charles Limb is a neurosurgeon who conducted a study on creativity using Jazz and Rap. And that’s all. I think it’s fascinating. No more words of wisdom. This guy could totally have yelled “Stand back, I am going to try Science!” [link].

I wonder if my brain turns on and off like that when I write or if the cool thingy is only a musician trait…

ETA: What do you know, NaNoWriMo people wondered the same and went and asked Dr. Limb [link]

Inferno & Creative Confidence

I was going to wait until half-course to write an ‘ongoing review’ of how Inferno (my writing course) [link] is going, but today I need to… talk about it. I need to tell someone (or nobody) or I will explode. This is my equivalent to count to twenty in Greek.

Truth be told, I am… disappointed.

The first thing that surprised me was the feedback methodology. You share your piece and get to ask a few “open, neutral questions”. The reader then gives you a “statement of meaning” (i.e. tells you what you did right) and asks you a few “open, neutral questions” in turn. You answer them. Then they ask you if you want opinions on your piece. The way it is panned, there is no constructive criticism anywhere, because that is considered aggressive. The tutor follows this feedback process too, and after the piece you get a “grades” for different things (excellent, satisfactory, unsatisfactory). These are those points:

  • Adherence to word limit
  • Evidence of knowledge of components of writing
  • Evidence of creativity and imagination
  • Structure of the piece
  • Language of the piece
  • Textual cohesion/ coherence (pace, flow, storytelling)
  • Evidence of self-editing

The first assignment was writing a synopsis. Pointers? “google ‘write a synopsis’.” Hm. Thank you, I can google on my own. I’m a fan of JFGIing, don’t need to pay to get it told.

The second assignment was a 3000-words piece. I chose the first chapter of Victim #14 for it. Most pointers were ‘satisfactory’. I asked specifically for feedback on pace, because I know it is one of my weak points, got none. And here is the fun thing. My language is merely ‘satisfactory’. Fucking excuse me for not trusting you much, but at least I can tell your/you’re and it/it’s apart. Failbook [link] is full of Grammar Nazis correcting those, so you would hope that your writing teacher could deal with them. Apparently not.

Here’s some pointers on my feedback:

  • Le gasp. I use adverbs. Fucking surprise, I like them. And Terry Pratchett does too, so I feel vindicated.
  • The gesture of extending your hand, palm up, to check if it is raining/snowing is strange
  • The sentence “Maybe tonight he would be in a playful mood, but right now he would not even play Angry Birds.” got me a “What kind of game is angry birds?”
  • Substituting Medical Examiner by ME is… super strange and disconcerting
  • I give too much information, too many details
  • Metaphors are not all right
  • Reprhase, rephrase, rephrase (Why? Keep reading)
  • Why do you use things like ‘The other one’, ‘the detective’, ‘the medical examiner’ as synonyms for their names?

Maybe I abuse the synonym thing a bit, but you try to write a same-sex intimate scene using just first names and he and see if it does not become awkward or confusing. If it does not, I want pointers!!

Pointers. That is what I wanted to reach. I have tried to explain every decision I made in the choice of words and storytelling, get told that I have defended my assignment well, and I come up with a wild idea. Since I have gotten some ‘rephrase!!’ comments I dare ask my teacher for pointers for improving my writing.

And here is the answer I got:

I am often asked this question, and to answer it fully I would really need to write a book as what you are asking is best covered in ‘how to write’-type books of which there are an awful lot out there. There are resources within the course site as well as Creative Writing how-to reading suggestions.

As I said in my feedback, I don’t think that it’s worth your while worrying too much about this kind of thing at this stage of the writing. Once you have more of it, and can see the whole thing – and are perhaps more confident of the style that the piece requires – that is probably a better time to be thinking about these matters.

I will however bear these questions in mind when I see your next assignment.

So basically… no, I can’t have pointers because it is too much work and I already have the material provided in the course, which is basically… let me count… okay, 15 pdfs, out of which half repeat the same information and give you the same prompts again and again, one is just a random collection of texts and the rest are rip-offs of online writing tips (copyrighted, of course!). Oh, and and hang on, I forget the one that says that everything I do is wrong (adverbs are wrong, details are wrong, descriptions are wrong, characters talking in coherent sentences are wrong…)

Conclusion: my writing course is not there to teach me to write better. Then why the fuck am I paying you? I am pretty happy with my narrative voice, you’re the one who says it is not right. The least you could do is tell me what you find wrong. And if it is ‘use of language’, learn your possessives first and then we talk.

*sigh* Hey, at least I am learning to be diplomatic i.e. outright lie to people and tell them that I enjoy something I don’t? I can write it up as research for You & I.

By now I’ve read all the “material”, I got myself the coursebook and have the three assignments planned. But allow me to tell you, my enthusiasm for this is long gone. What’s the point of paying a teacher who tells you ‘read the material’? I did that through uni already. There goes my hope for useful feedback.

I stop for tonight, leaving you a TED talk that I enjoyed for some reason. Because in the end my writing is mine and mine alone and Inferno is a “writing credential”.

How to build your creative confidence

P.S.: Wow, you can tell I was riled up. Almost a thousand words post and not one image XD

Kurt Vonnegut: How to write a short story

Kurt Vonnegut [link] (1922 – 2007) was a North American writer whose works blend satire, gallows humor and science fiction. They include Cat’s Cradle (1963), Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) and Breakfast of Champions (1973). He was a POW during WWII, and became known for his humanist beliefs. Wikipedia [link] says he was a “critical liberal intellectual” which I guess is a label you only understand if you are either North American or highly versed in their political system. The man seemed to be quite versed in sarcasm and skepticism, too.

“The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possible can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”

― Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country

In his book Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction he listed a few “rules” on how to write a good short story. While I am not a fan of how-tos at all, these are nice. So while I am nobody compared to Kurt Vonnegut, here are his “rules” and my approach to the issue. You can hear them from the man himself, too.
 

 

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted. Write something worth being written, worth being told, something that comes from within, that you need to write, that makes you feel. If you don’t feel, chances are the story won’t be alive and end up being a timewaster.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for. Bonus points if it is the bad guy! One day I want to write a bad guy a reader can identify with better than with the good guy. How’s that for a challenge?
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water. Wanting makes them human. A good character will develop “wants” in no time. The problem comes when they take over your brain with said wants. Then, boy, you are in trouble.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things-reveal character or advance the action. Hm… I like setting too. I am a fan of settings.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible. Good piece of advice. Else your short stories devolve and you end up with 40,000 words when you are not looking.
  6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they are made of. Hell yeah! Guilty as charged, your Honour.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia. That person should be yourself above all. In very rare occasions someone else (and only if you love them very much). Unless we are talking about about your publishing agent. Then things are different XD
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages. Make them believe in the story as much as you do. Then it’ll work.

 
Then again, I believe that if you want to write something (or if something / someone wants to be written through you), just write it out, screw rules. You know that saying that you must always tell your lawywer the truth, it’s his job to scramble it up? – you probably don’t because I don’t really remember how it goes, and I don’t think it is an English saying XD. Anyway, you get the idea. Or maybe you don’t. The point is write. Rules are the narrow world of the editor’s job.

Write.