the anthology of work by GPWS (Greater Philadelphia Wordshop Studio) participants and alumni,
hosted by Wolfgang Books of Phoenixville:
Jill Belack (fiction)
Todd Stevens (poetry)
Eileen Cunniffe (non-fiction)
Saturday, June 19, 2010
Steel City Coffeehouse
203 Bridge St.
For directions see http://www.steelcitycoffeehouse.com/directions.asp
Free — please arrive 30 minutes to get a good seat and grab something to drink.
Founder & Director
72 W. Hillcrest Ave.
Havertown, PA 19083
You can purchase a copy of Prompted at http://www.philadelphiastories.org/prompted-4
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Back in November of 2009, I attempted to write 50,000 words along with other crazy people around the world. National Novel Writing Month is every November and it’s a mad rush to the finish.
The people at Ravenshead Software sent me a full version of Write It Now 4 (WrIN4) to use during that crazy month. I didn’t get to 50,000 words this year, but I gave the software a thorough 10,000-word thrashing. The software held up well.
There are more than a few software packages out there for writers. One could spend hundreds of underpaid and overworked writer dollars on these applications. Before I delve into my review of WrIN4, just know that none of these programs will write your novel or short story for you. They can help with organization, though.
The WrIN4 application, available for Mac and Windows, is deceivingly simple. The menus and tabs are easy to understand and use, but behind these screens are added drag-and-drop features that make editing almost fun. The Tools menu has helpful things in it like “Create Random Character,” which will create a character for you based on typical story archetypes. For example, the software created the character “Alexandre” for me, and gave me this description:
That’s probably enough to put you over the top of your writer’s block wall right there.
I could play with the Tools section all day. I particularly like the built-in Thesaurus and reading level assessment (under “Story Readability”).
I kept in close contact with Ravenshead services throughout the month of November. Here were some of the finer points that I’d like to see addressed in the software:
*Can’t add images into the text. We are now in a multi-media age. Writing software needs to catch up. There are times we writers will want to place an image, for example, a picture of a molecule, within the text. You can’t do this with WrIN4, and I don’t know if competing software can do this either.
*The + and – buttons at the bottom of the left-hand column are teeny tiny and their function was a bit confusing. What was I adding? What was I subtracting?
*The program makes you save again to exit. This is ok for most folks, but I find it annoying to have to click through another menu when I’ve already saved the document 2 seconds earlier.
Ravenshead said that they’d look into these complaints and see if they could tweak things before their update release.
One last note: The pricing isn’t great. It’s more expensive than Scrivener, another popular writing program (for Mac only, though). I think they can lower the price a bit to be a bit more competitive.
Download the demo and tell me what you think.
As a continuation of my previous post on Happiness, I’ll talk a little bit about Positive Psychology (PP) and the lessons we can learn, as writers, from this emerging field (perhaps in a way you might not predict, though.)
In 1998, the American Psychological Association’s then-president, Martin Seligman, used the term “Positive Psychology” to describe a new trend in Psychology research: the study of how humans become and stay happy. Dr. Seligman was tired of mental illness being the sole purpose of Psychology research and practice; He wanted Psychology to study more of what makes and keeps people happy instead of only mending the sick. PP has been the trending topic in Psych since then. Graduate students are clamoring to study topics like resiliency, decision-making, sense of control, character strength and uplifting traits. Journals publish more and more studies about the effects of “learned optimism.” Books like Stumbling on Happiness by Dan Gilbert are topping New York Times’ bestseller lists.
Like with all emerging fields, PP has its critics. The biggest and strongest critique of PP is that the field isn’t regulated. Any person can stick the term “Positive Psychologist” on the end of their name and claim to know how to apply the concepts that certified scientists and counselors developed. This means that every “life coach” kook is all over the Web promoting themselves as a “PP Counselor,” and no law or national certification program is barring them from doing so.
Another critique that is of lesser strength but more relevant to us as writers is the type of personality PP seems to attract. Those kooks on the internet and late-night infomercials are the most slimy of the bunch, but from an outsider’s view it does seem that the PP people have drunk the kool-aid. PP people are very gung-ho and tend to be exuberant evangelists for the field. The majority of them are do-gooders at heart; they want people to be happy and they think they’ve found science that can help.
Do you know a person like that? A person who stresses the positive so adamantly that it becomes unbelievable or in the very least, annoying? Your answer to this question will probably have more to do with your own place on the cynical scale than with the PP-type you’re remembering, but nonetheless let’s take a look at that character more closely. This person isn’t a snake-oil salesman; they are what I call a Believer. For reasons they usually aren’t too familiar with themselves, Believers truly feel that their solution is the answer to many people’s problems. How does a first encounter with a person like this go? What are you thinking? What would by-standers think as they listened to your conversation?
One thing about people who are enthusiastic about life is that they are usually magnetic. They light up a room, they are always surrounded by a crowd. People naturally gravitate toward other people who are happy and seem in control. But what happens when you get close enough to see that they are just trying a tiny bit too hard to be legitimate? What if the consistency or substance isn’t there? How does that character keep up the charade? How do you see it? How, if there is truly no substance, do you as a reader discover it? Will it be in the Believer’s frayed pant leg or missing button? Will it be in the quick glance down she makes after every human encounter? Just like the emerging field of PP, every character must have cracks in the armor. Even the Truest-Happiest-Believer-of-All-Things-Positive has a ding in the shield. What is it? Does the critique of that person’s belief-system hold water? Could the character make a journey over time to mend the damage?
You need both positive and negative forces in opposing characters for your novel or work of fiction to be memorable. Chart which side, positive or negative, your character will fall on. No middle ground. You can make a sliding scale (using a common measurement tactic from Psychology), but you still must divide the scale into two halves. The scale can have two of any extremes (e.g. Grape Jelly Fan vs Strawberry Jelly Fan), but you need to put each of your characters on that spectrum.
If PP had its way with your characters, they would test them on a variety of scales to diagnose current states and predict future behaviors. PP would look at self-efficacy (which is like “agency” – the ability and belief that one can accomplish tasks and goals on their own), resiliency (the ability to bounce back from trauma) and perhaps even sense of humor and daily laughter rates. The science behind PP is the same as a lot of Personality, Developmental, and Behavioral Psychology, they are just choosing to measure different traits. As writers, we tend to go into the dark sides of characters; It’s almost easier to write drama than it is to write pleasantries. But having no happy characters, or people who are optimists that promote achievement and satisfaction in others, isn’t giving your novel the opportunity for some significant conflicts.
Showing personality through habitual wordings.
If you could see all the different kinds of real life characters I come across in the tech geek community, you’d never wonder why I spend too much of my writing time on-line. There are some true characters in the Web2.0 crowd, both good ones and bad ones, cheerleaders and haters, zen gurus and crazies. The egos on some of these guys (and I mean guys, because the women are mostly cool) are bigger than the numbers on a bookie’s ‘you owe me’ list. Seriously, it is a VERY good thing that space online is virtual, because the amount of real estate needed to house these overblown self-images would mean we’d have to take over the Americas and then kidnap scientists to develop moon colonies. Like my favorite fiction-writing saying goes: You can’t make this stuff up.
Anyway, FriendFeed is a website I hang out with these geeks. Forget the friendly name – these people are neither friends nor providers of any food. FriendFeed is an aggregator, i.e. one website that collects little bits from other websites, where you can type in comments in response to those little bits. It’s like a chatroom, but not live.
A big name in this place and in the tech geek community at large is Robert Scoble. I won’t even try to describe Robert; you can google him, he practically owns the interwebz. Recently on FriendFeed he linked to a site run by another start-up boom gazillionaire, Mark Cuban. Mark wrote a short rant about a pet peeve of his. Mr. Cuban’s personality *ahem* shows:
You Just Dont Get It
Jul 5th 2008 3:24PM
I just want to put it out there to save everyone and anyone who deals with me time. If at any point in time you utter the words “Just Don’t Get It” or “Just Doesn’t Get It” in any conversation with me, I will not do business with you.
If you try to justify your business, idea, proposal or whatever and in the course of conversation you utter these words, you have just proven to me that you are lazy. That rather than discussing the merits of another position, you think I’m stupid enough to dismiss that position because you want me to.
If you truly understand your topic its really easy to stand behind your position with facts and well thought concepts. If you have no idea what you are talking about, the other side “just doesn’t get it”
Call it a Mark Cuban rule of investing. If these words come up in any way shape or form, they just dont get “it”. “It” being an investment of my time or money.
Under Robert’s link to the above rant by Mark, a lot of the conversation centers around what “You just don’t get it” really means and bickering over who ‘gets it.’ It got me thinking about how catch phrases can do a great job in portraying a character’s general attitude toward the world. Catch phrases are an efficient way to show a lot of inner information and motivation about a character with a few uttered words of dialog.
The “you don’t get it” phrase is condescending and is meant to stop all protests from the receiver. You can picture the prodigy hacker kid with limited verbal skills screaming it at her parents. We can see an emo teenager saying it through a cloud of his clove cigarette smoke to a wide-eyed punk wannabe outside the coffee shop. And let’s not forget the 60’s, where “you just don’t get it” was the tagline for a whole drug-doused generation.
What is your character’s outlook on life? How can that outlook be condensed into a few words? For example, an administrative assistant who says “F*ck me” under his breath several times through the course of his day is probably a bit of a pessimist who thinks that fate is out to get him. “Everybody deserves a second chance” may be the what gets a slightly-delusional injured kicker through the season.
There are several catch phrases from movies that you can adopt or adapt, like “Life is like a box of chocolates: You never know what you’re gonna get.” Forrest Gump repeated his mother’s adage; it shows the flexibility and resiliency inherent in his character. (Warning: Don’t use that one, though, it’s been too done. You get the idea).
So when you’re thinking about your character’s personality, think about how they’d ‘sum up’ life. Which common or original phrase you could use to portray that perspective? (Warning: Don’t let your character use the catchphrase too often, unless it’s “K-Mart Sucks” and his name is Rainman.) Pepper key scenes in the story with it in dialog or thought. Bonus points: make up a saying that sounds like it could be a common adage.
Do you have a personal catch phrase? No? Ask your spouse or co-workers – they’ll tell you. Think of ones you may have used in the past and start from there. Cool beans! Share your thoughts in the comments. Thanks!