“A Rose by Any Other Name…”

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Recently, two people have influenced a certain area of my life that also reflects into writing: these people are John Green and Daniel Handler, both authors. Green mentioned in a video the line from Romeo and Juliet: “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, while Handler wrote a book that I only read recently called Adverbs. More on that later.

Green goes on to explain something about this line: Juliet suggests that what we call something isn’t important, only what the thing really is. “There is ample evidence that the words we use to describe the things we feel matter,” Green says. In short, Juliet and Shakespeare were wrong. What we call things is important. As people and as writers (that’s specifically as writers, not instead of being people) we all ought to take a long hard look at that; John’s example is that he has to say “I love you” to his brother Hank. If he were to say “I really like you a lot,” it doesn’t mean the same thing. For one, you can love someone without liking them. They’re called your siblings.

So I guess the point I’m making is that we need to be careful about the words we use, because they do hold a certain degree of significance. What we say matters. And trust me on this one – I know from personal experience from the past week or so that it really, really does matter what words you use.

So, on to Adverbs. To cut a long story short, this is a book about love, specifically the way in which it is shown and expressed and felt. My point is that Adverbs shows us that it’s not just what we say or do that matters, but also how we say and do these things. We’ll stick to the same lines as John Green and the book’s topic – love. Earlier videos from John and Hank’s channel tell us that for a year they couldn’t communicate textually with one another. This sort of kept up, a lot, though they make videos less regularly (every couple of days instead of every day) so the need to write emails and cards and letters and other such things kind of increased. However, it means more to Hank (I’m assuming) and more to the viewers of the channel if John says “I love you” on camera rather than in written form.

I know, that’s not an adverb. Let’s rephrase this, then. John looks at the camera. “I love you,” he says quickly. There: quickly. Adverb. He says it quickly because he’s already shown his discomfort when it comes to displaying emotion. Especially love, and especially towards Hank. He’d much rather have over 10,000 trees planted for him for his birthday than tell him he loves him (FYI, that actually happened: over 10,000 plants on 6 continents).

So I argue that we need to think about how we tell someone something. I think it’s fair to suggest that everyone reading this has Internet access of some sort, unless it’s been printed off and handed to them (in which case, I thank whoever printed it off in this hypothetical world). A lot of people with the Internet have an account on a forum or a social networking site. Not everyone, but a lot of people. Most of the time, people with accounts on a social networking site use it to talk to people they know in real life.

Is anyone seeing where I’m going with this?

Without assuming too much, I think all of these people with accounts on, for example, Facebook have mobile phones. Or at least a land-line if not that. I won’t suggest that we see all the people we talk to on Facebook all the time in real life. I don’t. I’ve seen one friend twice over the whole summer since early on May 27th, at about half two in the morning when he nearly threw me under a car. Most of the time I’ve spent talking to him has been on Facebook.

Here’s where the “How you say something” part comes in. We talk a lot. We talk on chat or in messages, whatever. Sometimes, but not always, we make phone calls. Here’s where the problem is: most of the important stuff isn’t said on the phone, where at least the line of communication is drawn a little more clearly than it is online. At least then we’re conversing properly, usually without any other distractions (like all of the Internet). And I’ve come to realise that too many people do what we do, only a lot of the time without the phone calls.

We’re a society forgetting how to talk.

Now, I will point out that I do also say things in the wrong way on the phone, not just online where it can be misinterpreted easier. It’s too easy to sound upset if you actually are upset. That worries people. A lot. Facebook is even worse. If you tell someone you’re really, really upset on Facebook and they’re not online, by the time they read it you could be gone and they’d worry. Trust me on that – I made the mistake before. Bad Paul.

I guess what I’m saying is, when Joey in Friends says “It’s not what you said, it’s how you said it,” he was only half-right. It is what you say that matters and how you say it, in both the words the use and the way you express them, be it vehemently, sarcastically, quickly, objectively, whatever. It’s all important.

Now, this has been a fairly touch-and-go blog post. I apologise. I’m technically still on Internet Holiday for another day, at least, so no complaining. Just keep in mind what I’ve said, because I know it’s good advice (I can say this, because if I’d taken this advice I would have avoided a lot of unnecessary trouble).

Take care,
Paul.

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All Great Tales

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Important before I start: Doctor Who  has just finished, and this post is a little bit about it. If you wish not to receive any spoilers for the first part of the Season 5 finale (part one of two), then you may wish to bookmark this page and come back at a later date when you have seen the episode. I may spoil a few things for you. You have been sufficiently warned.

Now, for once I have a thing or two to say that might actually help people in how they think about stories. I know, Paul with a thing or two to say about writing. A thing or two that’s based on the experience of reading or viewing someone else’s work, too, so you know this isn’t just a giant advert for something I’ve written. Two things I’ll be referring to: Doctor Who: The Pandorica Opens and Stories. In that order.

So, to begin: what did this episode, this particular episode, of Doctor Who teach us about story? Assuming you’ve seen it, you’ll have noticed a few things. A few very obvious things. (Quick side note: The Doctor missing the obvious – very funny! Almost worthy of an “LOL” …but nothing justifies that. I’ll settle with, “Paul started rocking in his chair laughing quietly, for fear he would startle his brother, and the neighbours.”) First obvious thing: the best heroes from the series were back – that’s Vincent Van Gogh, Liz 10 and the wonderful River Song. Second obvious thing: most of the best villains from the whole five seasons were back – that includes the Daleks, the Cybermen (whom Amy hadn’t met), the Slitheen (mentioned by name) and many, many more. Third obvious thing: the episode ended on a climax.

Now, why are these obvious things important? The first two are separate to the third in this regard. What they’ve done is bring the whole thing together at the end. When we write, we should aim to include the important parts of the whole of the story. The climax of the book, play or script shouldn’t ignore everything that’s happened before. Everything should be incorporated. Hence, heroes and villains returning.

This is where Harry Potter was a great big flop. First six books – continuity. Everyone understood why Harry lived, why Voldemort was feared, stuff like that. But no one knew why Voldemort was so afraid of Dumbledore. So, JK Rowling decides, “I think I’m going to give Dumbledore a strong wand.” (Side note the second, for the benefit of those with a less dirty mind than me, I made a sex joke. Geddit?) But she couldn’t just give Dumbledore the strong wand. She had to do something else. She had just brought in that absolutely stupid idea of the horcruxes, so she needed to give the good guys weapons, and she needed to get Harry out of Hogwarts. So she gave him a more-than-magical invisibility cloak. It was the best one ever. And she gave Voldemort something that’d grant him immortality. Yet… he turned it into a horcrux? Bit useless then, isn’t it? And these three changes to the whole of the series were completely out of sync with everything else.

So, back to the Doctor and his troubles – surrounded by everyone he hates. Bad, right? Out of nowhere? A bit. On both accounts. You might wonder – how did all that happen? Well, if you were paying attention, and I most definitely was, you will have seen some more obvious things throughout the fifth season. They were all the same – a crack in space and time. Now, if you paid extra special attention, you will have seen that there was one in the keyhole of the TARDIS. They showed it briefly. And the Doctor wonders why his key gets jammed? Slight hole in the universe, Doctor.

So why is that important? Because he’s been blamed for breaking the universe. A bit true, though he didn’t mean to. My guess – he was pulled to the cracks in the universe because there was one in the TARDIS, but he put the cracks there through the TARDIS itself. This has yet to be confirmed. The other half to this theory is that someone hacked into the TARDIS (the “Silence will fall” guy… or whatever he specifically said). They broke it so that it would break everything else. Clear a path. No more Doctor. No more TARDIS. Nothing left to stop this BIG BAD. Most likely, he’s the one who brought the allegiance together, the one that consisted of all the other BIG BADS from throughout the show.

So, continuity. Characters brought back for the final battle (but in a significantly different way than Russel T Davies devised at the end of season four), cracks in the universe in most episodes, and it all led to one point that was constantly referred to in the show. Brilliant.

This brings me to Stories. I know, big leap. Stories is a collection of short stories edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarantonio. Now, I’m still reading it, but the fiction of it isn’t what’s relevant to this lesson in fiction. It’s Gaiman’s words at the start, the four words that have been implanted into every good story without the author realising it (or maybe they did, and they’re intentionally brilliant at what they did). The four words are “And then what happened..?” Yup, that simple. We’ve seen it at the end of Doctor Who, I’ve seen it in books (even my own… I was impressed with myself when I realised I’d done that… then I got back to editing so that my “And then what happened..?” moment would actually mean something) and I’ve seen it in other TV shows. Write an “And then what happened..?” story and you’re sorted. Children say it, the rest of us crave it. Not just in fiction, mind you. I recall many stories told by friends where I’ve sat there just wanting to scream at them – AND THEN WHAT HAPPENED? YOU STOPPED TALKING! This is how chapters end in books – the author stops talking.

So, All Great Tales contain these elements – continuity, reference to previous chapters (or episodes/books) and the element of “And then what happened?” This is my advice to you as you write or as you edit: if you’re missing one of these things and you really shouldn’t be (chapters that don’t relate to each other, like those with different characters in them entirely, are except from that sort of reference, or you reveal something the current character doesn’t know already. This is BAD.) then you need to fix the problem. It is a problem, trust me. I’ve just shown you where it was a problem in the last Harry Potter. And was everyone happy with that? Nope. Simple answer. Don’t make the same mistake as JK Rowling.

Okay, time for me to stop pretending I know what I’m talking about. Thoughts, comments, additions to necessary elements, etc – leave them below. (Side note the third: if this was a YouTube video, I’d tell you to put all those things in my pants! Paul = mature)

Peace out!

Hairography

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For those of you who watch Glee, this term isn’t new; for the rest – Hairography is some people do to hide the fact that really they can’t sing. I’ve found, though, that the concept of that episode, distractions, works its way into this wonderful thing we call ‘real life’. This is especially true of my life right now, where distractions aren’t quite as few as I’d like.

Exam season has well and truly gotten underway. I have gotten through half of my exams (so I still have six left…), but I’m still getting distracted by a number of different things. Facebook isn’t quite as nice a website when there’s studying to be done, and work and other such things at the weekend result in things like this blog post being a day late. Do not be alarmed!  I am merely a human being with real human problems.

Poetry, for me, is a big distraction. Well, fiction too. I find that on my walks to college – they take about an hour, depending on how fast I walk – are filled with little lines of poetry I can’t do anything with, until later in the day or week, when something suddenly clicks into place, and ideas for stories start working themselves out when I have no time to write them down.

But distractions can be a good thing too. For those of you who read my own blog, you will see that I had quite an “eventful” day on Monday, and on Friday (though that wasn’t as positive as Monday…), in which we managed to do no work at all in the space of six hours studying. Yes, six hours studying and we did nothing. See, we found a distraction in the wonderfully rude Omegle.com. I won’t recommend that site to anyone who wishes to maintain their innocence; it’s full of filth, and on that day, some of that filth got a wake up call. I won’t go into the detail here (because most of it is too rude…) but you can read the exciting details here.

Distractions keep us from working properly, and as this post might suggest they can be both good and bad. It’s important to note which things are killing us and which ones actually help. Omegle.com – helpful for relieving stress. Internet games – helpful for wasting time. Now, like I said, I don’t recommend Omegle.com, but if you can find your own helpful distraction, I advise following it up, assuming you still have time to do what you intended to do. In the summer, the long summer ahead of me, I’ll be doing the same thing with my writing. My distractions, my proverbial hairography, will be the day-trips out with friends, the nights out to the pub, the craic, the ceol, the cinema, the life I never led in the past. And I’ll still write. I promise you that, right here, right now, I will write. And my God I will love every bit of it.

And that’s the point of this post – not to preach about not letting yourself get distracted, not to whine about not getting any work done, or having too much work to do, but to stress the importance of taking time out, of letting something distract you from the hardships of life, from all the work, even that you enjoy. It’s a refresher, an experience you won’t have had. I can honestly say everything is different since Monday. Heck, these past two weeks have provided many distractions that have brought me closer to a few friends. So, remember, when all your troubles get you down, just find a distraction. Go out with friends (though if you intend on drinking, make sure to pace yourself… especially if you have an exam the next morning… there won’t always be someone there to bail you out with a coffee! – speaking from experience here… being the one who bailed someone out!). Live your life, and when you’ve relieved yourself of some stress, get back to work.

Peace, Love and Potter,
Paul.

Finding Time to Write

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In a cruel twist of both Irony and Fate (the latter’s not actually cruel…) I found myself on the receiving end of a question about writing, particularly about how to avoid procrastination and finding time to write around school work and paid work and sociliasing with friends, and a million and one thousand things (to steal a line from Alex Day’s Holding On) that get in the way of writing.

My blog post, this blog post, was due in yesterday. My excuse for it’s lateness? I had no time to write it. Now, normally I’d laugh at such excuses. “No time to write?” I’d cry out. “Make time!” That’s supposed to sound enthusiastic for writing by the way, not like a drill sergeant being a tool. But yesterday, and Friday, my time was stolen. Now, I’m not complaining about Friday… I got to go to a Muse concert here in Dublin (fantastic, by the way!). That took up a day of writing for NaNoWriMo, and meant I couldn’t prepare this blog post.

Yesterday though… that was a nightmare. I arrived in work a full two hours early. I know, how? Well, my head was so full of madness that I messed up my time table and was in fact due in at twelve, not ten, and was due off at six, not four. So instead I worked from ten until six. You might wonder, then, why I didn’t write when I got home. Simple answer, the honest answer, is that I had mass to attend. I know, I’m putting God before you all. I apologise. But in all seriousness, I was actually singing in the mass in my friend’s choir, so I couldn’t skip it. Then when I got home, I had dinner and was subsequently too tired to even think about remembering something as hugely important as this blog, let alone move from out of the couch.

Now, that twist of Fate! (yes, I give “Fate” a capital letter.) You see, in my vlogging days (i.e. now) I talk about NaNoWriMo to try and encourage mass participation in the event. The people at NaNoWriMo, henceforth called NaNo to save me typing too much, found out about these vlogs. In fact, they were so happy with them that I was asked to do the Daily Q&A for their site! Even today I’m still on the homepage, and my vlog views and subscribers have shot up. Not only that, but my face is out there with someone actually asking for advice via email! Ironic, then, that I had no time to write. (have I said that already?)

So, how do you find time to write? Well, it’s simple – plan to write. Much like you’d plan to see friends or go to work, plan to write. I had planned to write on Friday before seeing my friends, but was instead getting ready for a concert. I got my ticket two hours before the show; I couldn’t plan, so I couldn’t write (I also couldn’t pass on the opportunity to see my favourite  band play live – you can priorotise if you wish; don’t say no to a one-time event so you can write, unless you really have to). Saturday, I planned to write after work, before mass, but couldn’t because I had my time table wrong. I then planned to write after mass, but was too tired to do anything because of work. Today? I slept in because I was so tired from work. I think you’re beginning to see a pattern – plan!

Now, I’m as addicted to the Internet as a lot of people, but there are things you can do to help yourself write. Only look at your favourite sites and forums after writing your daily goal. Don’t play online games. Farmville and Cafe World can wait until after NaNoWriMo. Only watch the shows you want to follow, not just whatever’s on TV. Re-runs are not good for your novel, unless you use them for inspiration and go straight to work afterwards.

When reading, if it’s for pleasure, not school/college, choose something to help you find your voice, or something short that you don’t have to spend hours at, so you can write more later that day.

If you have an English essay due in (or if you speak both English and another language and can clearly understand this, any essay will do), try plan some writing time before it, but leave enough time to get the work done. When you get down to your school stuff then, you’ll be in writing mode! (not good for Maths though, as vocabulary and numbers don’t go hand in hand).

Use your time efficiently. If someone asks you to play a game with them (like Fifa 10), say “no” if you’re behind on your novel, or say “one match” if you really want to play, and make it one match! And when you write, actually write, don’t just sit there looking at a screen.

Now, hope this is helpful, because I have to go and try do some of my own writing! Best of luck with the novels guys!