Sunday, July 25, 2010

THE POWER OF WRITING

I love the power of writing fiction.
Making up a story, then doing my darnedest to make you believe it’s true. It's a writhing, never-ending series of inventions. And isn’t invention another word for lies?
Fiction is all lies, after all.
And lying involves a lot of effort.
First, I have to choose a voice to lie, er, write in. The most intoxicating part of a writer's power is the choice of voice.
What a wonderful thing to be able to choose to be tough or timid, male or female, old or young, smart or dumb. To be an object, an insect, a mineral or an animal.
Very exciting.
Absolute power.
In animation and film production, unless I'm directing, I have no power; it’s all about following orders and directions and ghastly teamwork.
Even in screenplays I’d be restricted to writing:
HOUSE – INTERIOR – DAY.
Whereas, in a book, I’m gloriously free to create the house, decorate and light it as well as pick the
furniture, the weather and the season.
On the page, I get to be writer, producer, director, cinematographer and God. 
I can dictate who’s who, what’s what and who does what to whom and when.
I am the writing dictator.

Woof! 
 
I also get to cast the actors, choose their makeup, their props their age and their wardrobe.
I can dress them and undress them,
make them witty or thick, ugly or lovely.
Sometimes I torture them, sometimes I pamper them.
I decide whether my protagonist evolves in the first, third or, if I’m insane, the second person.
And whether she’s good or evil or a little of both.
I can kill her off or make her blossom, put words in her mouth, thoughts in her head, clothes on her back.
Make her purr or suffer.
I rule her world.
But, once the choice of basic ingredients has been made, the more muscular part of writerly power begins. Wrangling those choices into literary reality, making a believable world with warm, living characters is the part of writing that makes us all sweat. If the “rules” of technique are followed too closely, I can end up at best, with a clever book and stone dead characters. David Mitchell and Martin Amis write very cleverly but their characters don’t live. Not for me, anyway. On the other hand, if I flout all the rules, I risk an incoherent plot and dead characters.
A delicate balance of solid construction, believable invention, charm, humor, suspense, living breathing characters and the unexpected is what I’m after.  

Piece of cake.
And, at
some point, that hobgoblin of small minds, consistency, has to be respected. Dialogue and actions must match the choice of voice, gender, wardrobe, plot, climate etc. Making sure that the petite, magenta-haired beauty on page one doesn’t comb her blond hair and admire her long legs on page one hundred, is every bit as challenging as the power of choice.
Finally, I have the power life and death over my characters and plot.
I delete cherished bits of writing that no longer fit, remove whole episodes and people from the story if they don’t contribute anything, swap one character’s dialogue for another’s because it’s more dramatic that way.
I actually love this power and never miss the darlings I’ve murdered.
I always prefer the leaner, sleeker story.
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WRITING, TECHNIQUE, FICTION, CHARACTERS, 

Sunday, July 11, 2010

BETTER BLOG DESIGN

As a writer, I read a lot of blogs. And, as a designer and artist, I often find myself subconsciously re-arranging the layouts, fonts and colors of the blogs I read.   
I cant help it, it's déformation professionnelle.  
When I find a beautiful, well-designed blog, I clap my hands and Tweet it. 
I’m not just confessing my personal preferences here, there actually are official rules of design and here are some that could be used to get the best results for your blog:  

Use DARK type on a WHITE or very pale background.  It's  clear and easy to read.  We blog readers are an impatient lot, so make it easy and pleasant for us to read your content fast. 

*  Light type on a dark background  may look dramatic, but in fact it's hard to read and gives readers a headache.   Even worse, is dark type on a dark background, practically illegible, how can you expect anyone to read this?  Light type on dark can work for a headline but not for reading a long piece.  Besides, a black page is depressing.  When I see a blog with a black background and a light font, I usually click off right away.  So do other readers.  This is a shame if you have good stuff for us to read.

*  Blogs with too many confusing elements, like lots of pictures, columns, clashing colours or flashing ads are also hard to read and are often skipped.
 
Type shouldn’t be too small or ornate to read comfortably or too BIG and SHOUTY.  A sans serif font like Verdana or Arial is more legible than Times or Georgia.
 
Spacing is also important: great slabs of text are off-putting.  A lack of margins is suffocating.  And too much space between paragraphs can cause readers to lose the thread and drift away.  


A peaceful-looking page with plenty of space, wide margins, a clear, easy-to-read header and maybe an interesting picture that tempts us into the generously paragraphed text, will make us more likely to enjoy your content and come back for more.

If you think it's the value of the words in your blog that counts and its appearance  doesn't matter, think again.  People can be turned off before they even get to your valuable prose.  We do judge books by their covers.
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Sunday, July 4, 2010

HOW TO BE A FOREIGNER

First, get into a vehicle of some sort and drive, fly or sail across a border.
Get out of the vehicle and bang, you’re a foreigner.
Easy.
The funny thing is, nothing has changed about you.
You’re exactly the same person.
But now people are suspicious of you.
Because you’re different from them.
You feel they're different, but majority rules.

If you're on vacation you'll go home in a few weeks and no longer be a foreigner.
But if you stay, your understanding of "foreignness" starts to evolve.
You begin to adapt to the new culture.
You dress differently, you eat differently, you speak differently.
Sometimes you have to learn to speak a new language.
Learning a new language is a wonderful thing even though you
feel like an idiot for not being able to say the simplest things for a few weeks.
Locals will also think you’re an idiot for not being able to say the simplest things in their language, forgetting that you can say them perfectly well in your language which they probably don't speak.

And you have an accent, the trademark of the foreigner.
In a couple of months, you find that you can speak with ease.
And you’ve learned more than just words.
New customs have been absorbed and you perceive the world differently.
You’re enriched, expanded, grown.
And now, when you go home, you’ll be treated like a foreigner.
§
Because I’ve lived in so many places, I’m a universal foreigner.
There’s nowhere I can go without hearing:
“You have an accent.  Where’re you from?”
On one hand, I’ve been massively enriched by other cultures 
and experienced thrilling things.
On the other hand I don’t belong anywhere.
In a patriotic, flag-waving way.
And this isn’t a bad thing.
The world could do with less jingoism and xenophobia.
There’s no reason to be defined by our birthplace, something over which we have no control, for heaven’s sake.
I’m a citizen of the world and I wave whatever flag I fancy.
I’ve chosen the country I call home and it’s not the place I’m “from”.
On July 4th, US independence day will be celebrated with fireworks and gusto.
On June 26th I celebrate with champagne and quiet satisfaction, my personal independence day, the day I left my birth country for the country I consider home. 
The day I became a foreigner.
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