Sunday, February 26, 2017

So Long: An Internet Hiatus

Douglas Adams, anyone?
Starting March 1, I won't be posting or reading y'all's posts until Easter.

"Are you out of your mind?" you say.

Well, sort of.

*cue epic narrator voice*

We Catholics celebrate forty days known as Lent as a preparation for Easter. It's customary to find something to give up and/or do during Lent that will help you grow closer to God. Usually this is something that we prize too highly for our own good, something that keeps us back from loving God and neighbor to the fullest.

In past years I've given up sweets, tv, stuff like that. But this time round I aim to give up something that is (unfortunately) a much bigger part of my daily life: the Internet.

*Imperial March plays*

That's right: 40 days without the Internet (excepting music, email, and school-related work).

You could say I'm not really giving up the Internet so much as I'm giving up the part of me that spends so much time online that I have trouble focusing on anything else. That checks Pinterest at least five times a day. That relies on YouTube videos *cough* Vlogbrothers *cough* to get me pumped up in the mornings.

I'm hoping to use the extra time to talk with friends in person *gasp*, spend time with family (including my new nephew!!! yes, I have a new nephew and he is adorable), finish schoolwork, and read a lot (most of which will probably be Neal Shusterman).

So this is a tearful goodbye, but as Gandalf says, "Not all tears are an evil."

Farewell, awesome people. Seeya on the other side.

*runs away from the computer chair and pretends that wasn't a Hamilton reference*

Friday, February 10, 2017

In Defense of La La Land: Media as a Negative Enforcer

Nowadays I've been feeling 1) opinionated, and 2) in a decidedly make-my-own-covers-for-posts mood.

I've decided to roll with both.

So here are some thoughts/questions on moral values in media, because I feel like writing about this at the moment and seeing what y'all think. I'm open to discussion in the comments if you have any thoughts.

This post started coalescing in my brain when I read this analysis of La La Land on the blog Girl Defined. It's a fantastic blog and I encourage girls to check it out. The two sisters who run it have great thoughts on true femininity.

This particular post, however, caught my eye because it contained a common enough principle: that films have to endorse Christian values the whole way through or they are not worthwhile films.


I saw the main point of the post as saying that La La Land throws an immoral message at Christian girls because the main characters move in together and have a short-lived passionate romance, after which they break up and live happy lives as if nothing had happened. The post describes Mia as happy at the end, and being able to smile about the good memories she has of the past romance. 

The problem, the author states, is that La La Land thus depicts living together outside of marriage as ok and non-damaging in the long run. 

I thought this was interesting because my opinion right after seeing this movie was exactly the opposite. 

The ending did not strike me as happy. Instead it was emotionally wrenching, especially for Sebastian and, of course, the viewers. Neither Mia nor Sebastian seemed genuinely cheerful to me, and the music especially made the moment bittersweet. 

It was sad, but I liked that Mia and Sebastian's relationship fell apart. 

It illustrated that the moral laxity and the passion that they showed in moving in together before marriage was deprecating to their relationship. When they started living in the same apartment was when everything started going wrong. Their climactic fight over dinner would not have been as dramatic if they had genuinely committed to each other in marriage. Instead, they chose to simply "live in the moment" without thinking about the future of their relationship. Needless to say, that mentality backfired (even though it almost seems to be praised in other parts of the movie...).

In short, La La Land struck me as the perfect example of what not to do in a relationship. Rather than encouraging moving in together, I think it actually recommends waiting for marriage.

Why is it so easy to see the movie the other way round, though, and view it as encouraging immorality instead of deterring it?

I think the main problem is that La La Land is a negative enforcer, rather than a positive enforcer. (Speaking of enforcement in moral terms, rather than in training terms.)

We all have seen those movies that are positive enforcers, that show us good characters (almost perfect characters) and make these characters immensely appealing. Many of these films are spellbindingly beautiful and uplifting: The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, Captain America (yes, I have to include Steve Rogers with the best of them).

However, many of these "positive enforcers," which go the positive way of demonstrating goodness and beauty and focusing as little as possible on flaws and sin, fall short.

Think of all the other positive enforcers that try to make goodness appealing, and fail terribly. Opinions will vary on this, but I'm sure you've seen a Christian movie, or just a kid's movie, that portrays a moral wonderfully and is squeaky clean, but to do so it pounds it into your head and gets away with poor acting, little character development, a lacking script, and a kind of feeling of...emptiness, of falsity.

It's easier to portray messiness than beauty. Or let me rephrase that: it's easier to portray bits of beauty than perfect beauty. 

C.S. Lewis, especially, runs a precarious tightrope between beauty and error/cheesiness. When you have a talking lion who is a direct representation of Jesus, you have to be really careful with how he acts and what he says. 

He pulls it off, though--Narnia is the most uplifting series I've ever seen or read. 

But he is one of the best writers of the 20th century. Not all Christian writers are so fortunate.

I can't help now but to think of all the negative enforcers, even if they're not trying to portray a good moral, like John Green in The Fault in Our Stars. That book contains some of the most hauntingly beautiful passages I've ever read, but if you back up and take a look at the whole story it's basically an atheistic and often profane lament about the pointlessness of human existence. 

Negative enforcers aren't just a modern phenomenon. Even many of the stories in the Bible seem to follow this path of showing people making major mistakes: the tale of David and Bathsheba, for example.

Stories like this show us that life is messy and often profane and often seemingly pointless. But they also show us beauty along the way, often pointing out that the path of the main character is NOT the way to go.

I think the awkward queasy feeling I get from watching a too-perfect conclusion where everything ends morally right (excepting the mastery from Lewis, Tolkien, and several other people) may be partly from my desire for a movie to portray something true. Something real.

And it's easier to portray true messiness (which we've all seen a lot of) than to portray true, pure beauty (which is rarer and difficult to fathom).

What do you think of this idea? Do you have any recommendations of movies or books that portray pure beauty in an excellent way? And last but not least: Nutella, yes or no?

Sunday, February 5, 2017

8 Creative Writing Tips

*insane laugh*

Richard Price's quote on writing is typical of the Pinterest-y kind of things I've read about creative writing. And I'm not sure I like that.

Popular opinion, especially among writers themselves, seems to be that if you are a writer you are a certifiably insane colossal introvert who doesn't know how to interact with real people. And you are obsessed with chocolate and one or more cult tv shows.

Sure, the writers I know are different from the majority of the population. A lot of them are comparatively withdrawn and they have their quirks.

But we all do. I mean, even that extroverted, popular person that you know in your life (if you aren't that person, you must know at least one of them) has quirks. A fascination with music theatre, maybe, or a propensity for rock climbing.

What makes being into writing weird, and being into rock climbing normal?

Ask Richard Price. For now, that's not the main topic of this post so let's move on.

Disclaimer: I have only seriously been into creative writing for about a year now, so I can't say anything about the long-term effects of writing. I've just done NaNoWriMo and edited my resulting first draft (oh yeah, I hadn't told you guys about that yet, whoops). So take the following advice with a grain of salt. 

Tip #1 
Be okay with messing up

Steinbeck, you da man! (If this quote is correctly attributed...)

Yes, I said it. MESSING UP. If you're just starting to write anything--a novel, a short story, or something in between--don't expect it to be perfect. 

It's called the first draft for a reason. There's nothing wrong with having a hastily written first draft that has so many plot holes that it could host all of Hobbiton, and as many deus ex machinas as a Doctor Who episode (Sorry, Steven Moffat. It's true.)

In fact my favorite living author, Brandon Sanderson, has said that in his first drafts he experiments with different character dynamics as he goes, which means that now and then a new character pops in without warning and the others act like the newcomer has been there all the time. Needless to say, that takes a lot of editing later. I don't see why we can't do the same thing.

Tip #2
Show and tell

One of the most popular pieces of writing advice is "Show, don't tell." 

Imagine what a book would look like if all the author did was show, without describing any part of the setting, the character motivations, or the plot in general. 

I don't know about you but I would be really, really confused. Every book that I've read has used some aspect of "telling." Take this passage from the Brandon Sanderson short story that I'm reading right now, "Sixth of the Dusk": 

He [Dusk] continued on his journey, paddling his outrigger canoe and reading the lapping of the waves to judge his position. Those waves were as as good as a compass for him--once, they would have been good enough for any of the Eelakin, his people. These days, just the trappers learned the old arts. Admittedly, though, even he carried one of the newest compasses, wrapped up in his pack with a set of the new sea charts--maps given as gifts from the Ones Above during their visit earlier in the year. They were said to be more accurate than even the latest surveys, so he'd purchased a set just in case. You could not stop times from changing, his mother said, no more than you could stop the surf from rolling.

This internal monologue is a great example of the efficiency of telling instead of showing. He stuffs in a huge amount of world building, raises a lot of questions, and lets you know that Dusk is thrifty and that he paid attention to his mother. All in one paragraph.

"Show, don't tell" is helpful to an extent, though. Of course it's better to show a scene with your villain being evil than to write, "He was evil. Very, very evil. Like, so evil that he was the villain of this story." 

But it's also confusing to describe your villain's actions in that scene without telling the reader anything. You need to get into his head. And it wouldn't hurt to get some direct world building at the same time.

If you "show, don't tell" you might as well write a movie script instead of a book. 

Tip #3
Watch Brandon Sanderson’s College Lectures

Not only is Sanderson a good fantasy author, he is also a fantastic creative writing teacher and he has his creative writing lectures from Brigham Young University posted on YouTube. I watched almost all of his 2013 lectures last year, and they helped me immensely. He focuses on sci fi/fantasy, but a lot of his tips are useful for any genre.

(Note on content: his lectures, as you can imagine from lectures at BYU, are clean. At least the ones that I watched. However, when a guest speaker comes in and talks about humor he makes some off-color remarks so I would recommend skipping those.) 

Tip #4
Commit to NaNoWriMo, no matter how scary it appears

I know I just said I disagree with this stereotype, but that doesn't mean it isn't funny.  xD

Writing 50,000 words in the month of November doesn't sound like fun. I've also seen arguments that it's not even efficient, since the only way you can do it is to throw all thought out the window and type out 50,000 words of bleh. 

I really don't see what's wrong with that. 

NaNo helped me by killing my internal editor for 30 days so I could just relax and immerse myself in story without worrying, "Does this word fit here?" or "Should I save this bit of dialogue for the climax?" It was grueling, but also freeing. I highly recommend it.

P.S. 50,000 words really isn't that long. If the internet is truthful, it just takes one pencil:

Not so bad, huh?  ;)

Tip #5

Use Pinterest (without letting it use you)
Pinterest seems to be a popular tool for writers (at least the ones who also blog). I just started using it for writing and it has really helped. I made a private board for A Sky of Mistakes and posted pictures that reflect the theme, setting, location, and characters. I even used to upload my own quotes from my story. 

Now when I need to get into the mood for writing, I just scroll through the board. It's encouraging.

Also, I started making character profiles. I put a picture (from Pinterest, of course) that is the best representation of my character at the top of the document, and I devote the rest of it to descriptions of the character's personality. I use these character prompts from Simply Delicious, although I'm sure there are other good ones. 

Tip #6
Use Spotify, too

The soundtrack for my NaNoWriMo manuscript, Sealed, was Owl City and Twenty One Pilots. 

No matter the story ended up so dark. 

But seriously, it helps to have a specific artist or two that you listen to while you write. I just went to the artist and clicked on their first song, and then Spotify went through every song of theirs. It was relaxing to listen to music that I wasn't familiar with.

Pandora works, too. Film scores and instrumental pop are helpful because there are no words to distract you. I tend to alternate between the Pirates of the Caribbean and 2Cellos stations.

(Note: Be careful to mute the ads. Unfortunately, not all of them are good or appropriate.)

Tip #7
Get a candle

Just do it

This, like many of these tips, is probably something that only works for certain people. I saw on a NaNoWriMo forum (those can be helpful too, if only for the encouragement that you aren't failing quite as badly as other people), that candles help you to get into the writing mood. Preferably a different candle for each project.

I tried this now and then for NaNo, adding to the ambience by wearing my cloak and turning all the lights off. It was epic and it seriously did help me concentrate. I felt like Strider at the Prancing Pony. 

All I need now is a pipe and a pint...

And now when I smell that candle I'm taken back to November. Ah, the nostalgia. 

Tip #8
Read this lovely Owl City Quote

Happy writing! What are your writing tips? 

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Random Things #5: A Poem and My Self-Imposed NaNoWriMo

Sherlock and Watson send their somewhat awkward respects.

Yes, it's been a while since I've posted anything. I've been scrambling to finish schoolwork, so on the weekends I've been wanting to relax instead of type. But the main reason is that I haven't had particular ideas for blogging. I feel like I've been cheating you guys with all these posts that, even when they aren't labeled "Random Things," are pretty all-over-the-place. That's because I like to type a quick draft, look it over, and send it out, rather than actually thinking about what I'm writing. 

After this one, I'm hoping to send out some more cohesive posts. These will likely range from book/movie/music reviews to thoughts on the universe to discussions of particular areas of life to guest posts, if anyone would like to do them! 

If you know me, you know that I hate commitments, so that's not a hard-and-fast promise. We'll see what happens.    :)

For now, behold, a poemish thing!

"Voices": A Poemish Thing

Each quaver represents a year
Each rise and fall calls to mind the paradox that those who fall will rise again
Like rings in the body of a tree, the vibrato reflects the age of the singer
A woman from days of elaborate curls and black and white,
A man from days of wheat and silence,
Share one thing: a voice
Aged and strident
Aged and beautiful

And behold, a writing thing:

NaNoWriMo…in February??? 

Yes, you read that right. I'm planning on doing NaNoWriMo: The Slow Version this February and March. By March 31, I hope to have finished a spanking new 50,000 word first draft. (That deadline will very likely change. :P  You'll also notice there are a lot of "planning" and "hope"-like words in this post. I plan to do something about that soon...)

Why this insanity, you may ask?

One word: Boredom. I'm still planning a creative writing class for myself this semester, but slogging through short writing exercises doesn't compare to the joy and drive that I get from working on one cohesive story. Also, working on an overarching project helps my life in general. Especially in this dark, cold winter, I feel more meaning in life when I can be creative in this controlled way. 

Plus, I somehow came up with two detailed characters and a plot in the past few days. A PLOT, you guys! I am so excited about this. And it's not something super crazy like saving the entire planet, which are the plots that I usually come up with at the beginning of brainstorming. This plot is much more character-driven and closer to home. 

This more personal story is probably a result of the recent media I've consumed such as Hamilton, La La Land, and The Fault in Our Stars, which prove that even a small piece of a person's life contains huge dramatic potential. 

The title may still be subject to change, but that didn't stop me from making a cover as soon as I could. There's nothing more satisfying than seeing a cover with "Art3mis Took" at the bottom. (Sure, call me a narcissist. I'm a writer; I can take my righteous umbrage out on fictional characters.)

Isn't it pretty?  ^_^

So far it's a fantasy romance. That's all I can tell you for now, since I found with my last story that if I share ideas with people before the book is finished, the ideas seem less cool to me. No offense.  :)

How's your winter going? Dark and cold? And if you're interested in writing a guest post,or if you have particular topics you'd like to see posts on, let me know!