Reminders

Recently, being without Internet access for over a day was a reminder of how things used to be. (Don’t worry. I had enough chocolate to compensate.)

I’m old enough to remember when the Internet we know today was just an infant (when commercial ISPs became available in the late 80s to mid-90s). Back in the early 1990s, for me the word Internet meant the result of one of my volleyball serves. (Internet = into net or, if you’re from Chicago like I am, in da net. Ha, I crack myself up.) For interconnection, we had email on a pitiful scale where I worked—software we thought was cutting edge. We had no inkling of the technological advances soon to come. And that was back when I worked on a tiny Mac Classic at the office and later a larger desktop model—in the Mac II family.

At home, I had an old Mac PowerBook 160 with a 40 MB hard drive and four MB of RAM. You read that right. Four megabytes of RAM!!! Oh yeah, I was cooking with fire. Feast your eyes on this baby (below). I had to look on the Internet (namely here) for a photo of it, because that computer is long gone from my life! 

   Powerbook_100_pose-600x554  Shrine Of Apple: Macintosh PowerBook 160

Look at it. Cuddly, lovable. . . . Good times.

The guy at the computer repair shop I constantly visited begged me to get another computer. When the laptop finally crashed too often to be of any use, I went without a computer for a while, except for the one I used at work. And back then, I was at the office seven days a week sometimes. Around 2001, I finally moved on to my first PC—a Gateway with a 3½-inch floppy disk drive. Remember those? The disks seemed to corrupt really quickly. I lost the middle section of a novel when a disk went bad.

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I’ve since had other computers. But I won’t bore you with all of the details, since I began this post with a discussion about the Internet. So let me get back to that. Though the Internet is convenient and offers so much information right at the proverbial fingertips, ironically, I’m much more productive without it. In fact, I feel a little embarrassed by how much I accomplished while offline (namely, a huge chunk of my novel revision), simply because I was not checking email every five minutes, reading blogs and other articles, or looking up goofy cat pictures like this one (which I found here).

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Or this one (found here):lolcatsdotcom8dfwmlznjd0drnnz

Why am I embarrassed? Because, sadly, this proves how much time I usually spend procrastinating. I have only myself to blame.

I remember back in the 1990s when I used to goof off playing SimTower—the product of someone else’s fertile imagination (OpenBook Co., Ltd. and published by Maxis). I spent hours coming up with the right combination of offices, condos, elevators, and restaurants, trying to keep my tenants happy. I probably spent more time playing that game than I spent building my own fictional world. And that was when I was trying to break into screenwriting, particularly at the Disney Studios. Instead of revising my awful screenplay (which was 24 pages too long), I was stressing over whether some people in a computer game were happy. But what about the people in my story? I didn’t really know them. Unfortunately for them, I never paid attention with to them with my whole head. And by that I mean my mind and senses fully engaged.

  SimTower_Coverart Simtower

So, being without the Internet and its conveniences has caused me to think deeply about the ways I’ve often sabotaged myself by clinging to the convenience or entertainment of technology. I’m reminded of the wisdom of Andra Watkins of The Accidental Cootchie Mama blog, who once challenged her readers to unplug sometimes. (Sorry. I don’t have that exact blog post link.) When we make a conscious effort to unplug and get out into the world or get necessary tasks done, in some ways, we’re preparing ourselves for the coming zombie apocalypse, during which all technology will be useless and we have to get back to basics (like knowing how to swing an axe).

Do yourself a favor. Unplug. Unwind. And while you’re at it, perfect that axe swing.

Cats from LOL Cats. Mac computer from Old-computers.com. PowerBook 160 photos from Shrineofapple.com and Smashing Lists.com. SimTower images from Wikipedia. Floppy disk meme from here.

Energize!

I like to be entertained. I also like looking at this guy.

Theo+James+Inbetweeners+Movie+World+Premiere+AaF_kDveAnzl

Theo James

And since I recently saw an entertaining movie with this guy (Divergent, directed by Neil Burger), well, that’s even better.

But this post isn’t about that movie or Theo James. (Sorry to disappoint. But at least you have a picture.) It’s not even about Star Trek, though the title of course is a command from that series. As I said, I like to be entertained. Writing is a form of entertainment for me. Consequently, I often write blog posts or scenes off the top of my head that I find entertaining without thinking about whether anyone else might agree. Yes, I’m one of those sad people who love to laugh at their own corny jokes. As I draft a novel, ideas for scenes pop into my head thusly: It would be fun to add a bank robbery scene here. So I write the scene and chortle away.

bank robber bandit robbery lol clip art clipart

12088345But as I began the process of reading through and revising my novel, some of the scenes I thought were entertaining seemed less so. In fact, my energy waned just reading them, so I found myself turning to Plants vs. Zombies or email. I didn’t understand why, until I started reading The Plot Whisperer by Martha Alderson. Alderson states the issue succinctly:

A scene that shows the character achieving a short-term goal but that fails to transition effectively to the next scene dissipates the story’s energy. It’s like stepping on a stair that’s missing. The reader knows instinctively that something’s wrong, sighs, and puts down the book. (Alderson 45)

What’s sad is that I put down my own book. Trust me when I say that as much work as crocheting is, I never stop in the middle of a project to check my email or play a round of Plants vs. Zombies. My crocheting projects are too absorbing, and I know how everything fits together. If I decided to add exta stitches for my own entertainment (like adding extra scenes to a story), I would throw the whole pattern off. (By the way, here’s my latest. I’m still making shoes. My life has become a living version of “The Elves and the Shoemaker.”)

004

So, I get it now. Some scenes have no purpose, because they don’t really further the plot of the novel. They’re just distractions like Theo James above.

Alderson has other advice for fixing problem scenes. I highly recommend that you get her book. I don’t want to give all her tips away, because that wouldn’t be fair to Martha.

I think you know instinctively the scenes that energize your story and those that drain the life out of it. During the draft phase, my pulse quickened as I approached certain scenes involving certain characters. But one character’s scenes consistently gave me fits, because I didn’t really know her all that well. I found myself coming up with fantastic, plotty ideas like the bank robbery scene I alluded to earlier (and I didn’t actually involve her in a bank robbery; that was just an example) to make her part of the story seem more interesting. Silly me. I need to invest the time to get to know her, to find out what’s interesting about her and how she would react in situations, so that her scenes have the energy of instinct. Even if she stood there washing dishes, my knowledge of how she ticks, and how that dishwashing fits her emotional arc, would invest the story with energy and purpose. But that dishwashing scene needs to be strong enough to lead into the next scene—to be the cause that leads to an effect like ripples on a pond.

It’s also like driving. I don’t have to think about how to do it or what I should do in a certain situation. I move by instinct. If I turn the wheel a certain way, I can expect a certain outcome. Same with my characters in a scene. If I know that character A is the jealous type, I need to show that somehow, as well as the consequences of a jealous reaction in a follow-up scene. I can’t have her suddenly robbing banks in the middle of all of that jealousy just to inject excitement. Instead, I could probably turn that bank robbery scene into a short story. But it needs to be cut from the novel.

So much to do! But making my story tighter gives it more energy . . . and me as well.

measuring-tape-around-waist-410x290

Speaking of robbery, I couldn’t resist leaving you with this image:

snowman_robbery

Alderson, Martha. The Plot Whisperer. Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2011. Print.

Theo James photo from zimbio.com. Tape measure photo from prevention.com/food. Book cover from Goodreads. Bank robber image from lostinidaho.me. Snowman robbery image from jobspapa.com/robber-clip-art.html.

Fractals: The Purpose of the Pattern

Before I get into fractals (and I know you’re holding your breath until I do), let me first announce the winner of the Ice Cream Giveaway discussed in Monday’s post.

ice-cream

The winner is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Phillip McCollum!

Congrats, Phillip! Please email me at this address—lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com—to let me know your snail mail address and phone number for package delivery purposes.

Now, about those fractals. . . . For some reason, I woke up the other day thinking of them. This is either because of the large amount of snow my area has received or because I’ve been doing a Lumosity workout every morning.

Anyway, according to Wikipedia:

A fractal is a mathematical set described by fractal Geometry, the study of figures exhibiting fractal dimension. A fractal set when plotted typically displays self-similar patterns, which means they are “the same from near as from far.” . . . The concept of fractal extends beyond trivial self-similarity and includes the idea of a detailed pattern repeating itself. (Emphasis added.)

But I probably didn’t have to tell you that. The Koch snowflake (below), developed by Swedish mathematician Niels Fabian Helge von Koch, is a fractal made of equilateral triangles. Dutch artist M. C. Escher also featured fractals in many of his illustrations.

280px-KochFlake_svg

Yeah, yeah. I know. You couldn’t possibly care less, right? Okay. I’ll get to the point. When I think of replicated patterns, I can’t help thinking of my writing. What I see replicated at times is a pattern of procrastination. When scenes seem insurmountable, I turn to other activities: games like Plants vs. Zombies, checking email, texting, or reading other people’s blogs. I even sometimes use my Lumosity workout, which takes a few minutes at most, as an excuse. (BTW: Ingrid Sundberg wrote a great post on measuring productivity: http://ingridsnotes.wordpress.com/2014/01/10/keeping-track-of-time/)

So, as I began writing this post, I started to get down on myself about my procrastination. But after thinking about it, I decided to take a radical view and look for what’s positive about this pattern of behavior. No, I’m not crazy. I’m trying to follow the pattern of fractals in nature. If you’ve observed these patterns (snowflakes, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.), you’ve seen the beauty in them. (BTW: The WebEcoist has beautiful photos of fractals in nature here: http://webecoist.momtastic.com/2008/09/07/17-amazing-examples-of-fractals-in-nature/)

800px-Fractal_Broccoli

Romanesco broccoli—another fractal

So, there had to be something good about my pattern of procrastination. And I discovered just what that something was. You see, I often procrastinate, believe it or not, when I’m going in the wrong direction in my writing. Only, I don’t often know right away that I’m going in the wrong direction. When I approach a scene for which I have no energy and no thoughts about how it could work; when I try to shoehorn a plot point into the narrative, thinking that someone might judge my story as boring without it, I immediately think of other things more enjoyable to do—like playing Plants vs. Zombies. However, when I’m writing a scene for which I have great emotional investment, I usually work on it until it’s done, with no interruptions other than the necessary ones (like going to the bathroom or eating chocolate).

Wrong-Way-Sign-K-6172

Case in point: for the last few days I’ve been going in circles about adding to my novel some chapters involving a side quest. You see, one of my characters is dying at this point in the story. Yet I had great plans of writing a couple of chapters in which the dying character’s companions explore a beautiful cavern and make a discovery about their people. But I couldn’t make much progress on the chapters, even after free writing and brainstorming. I found myself going back to Plants vs. Zombies out of frustration. A vicious cycle? I’d like to think of it as an opportunity for reflection. Why did I pick up that game again and again? Because it’s fun and fast paced. Note the words fast paced.

After reading a post at Charles Yallowitz’s Legends of Windemere blog (“Distractions from the Plot or Character Building?”), I determined that the proposed chapters are probably a distraction. I asked myself: If a character in this scene is dying, why would his companions take the time to explore a cavern? Shouldn’t they continue their search for help for the dying person as quickly as possible? After all, that’s the ticking clock element. By trying to squeeze in this side trek, I had inadvertently sabotaged the pacing of the story by decreasing the tension. And I learned that through procrastination.

Now, I’m not justifying a habit of procrastination. We all know its negatives. None are more apparent than in my life. But sometimes, you have to look for patterns and what they tell you. There may be a purpose to that pattern, if you’ll take the time to look. Speaking of looking . . .

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Have you thought about what your procrastination might be telling you?

Ice cream image from hfboards.hockeysfuture.com. Koch snowflake and broccoli images from Wikipedia. Wrong way sign from myparkingsign.com. Ninja cat from LOL Cats.