Tag Archives: white noise

Senses Exercise

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 This technique was originally intended to be a concentration and anger management tool, but I think it’s a good exercise for the writer’s arsenal too. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, stop your train of thought and concentrate exclusively* on what your senses are telling you.

  1. What can you see?
  2. What can you hear?
  3. What can you smell?
  4. What can you feel (not just hands, any part of your body)?
  5. What can you taste?

One-word answers aren’t acceptable. You should take at least 2 minutes to run through this, and 2 minutes is a long time. Really think about the detail; notice the world around you, not as a background that you’re passing through, but as something important. The smell of exhaust and late-night chips, cut with a sudden burst of rose from a garden you’re walking past; the orange streetlights reflected at least three times in dark house windows, and above them the few stars that are strong enough to penetrate the glare of the city; the itch under your little toe, and the hint of a breeze on your arm-hairs.

Start thinking in descriptive inner monologue. These are the details that make a written passage come to life for the reader, and these are the senses that your characters have available to experience your world. (Unless you’re writing sci-fi, in which case feel free to swop additional senses in and out as desired. But USE them.) And if the character is blind or deaf? Even better! Make that absence come across. By cataloguing how you notice things, you’ll start to understand what they’re missing out on, and how the other senses can be used to compensate.

It takes practice. Your mind won’t like following strict orders for so long, and will go off on tangents. Late-night chips – mmm, am I hungry and is the chip shop still open? But the brain is a muscle and this is a really good exercise for making it do what you want. It might also change the way you look at the world, even if only for 2 minutes at a time.

* Er… within the bounds of safety, obviously. Don’t run a red light, or walk off a cliff, or anything.

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Augmented Reality

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I work in telecoms (the obvious home for classicists) and was recently at the Mobile World Congress expo in Barcelona, where the latest and greatest developments were being demonstrated. My personal favourites were the waterproof paper and the laser keyboard, but there was a lot of noise around the trend of AR – Augmented Reality.

This means a ton of different things, but mostly overlaying what you see on a screen with additional information. Currently you can look at a street through your camera phone and get info on the buildings (like ‘this is a restaurant, here’s the menu, here’s the number to call for reservations’). I spoke to someone at Ford who was talking about HUDs on cars combined with AR, and that by 2020 he expected to see an AR-HUD on most car windscreens showing satnav on the road, minimum stopping distances from the car ahead (and what speed that car is travelling at), speed camera warnings, turn-off warnings, etc etc.

This all sounds pretty cool (although I’d have thought that much white noise on the windscreen might be a bit dangerous? But I’m not a driver so not confident of my ground there), but it did slightly leave me wondering – are we advancing the technology because there’s a demand for it, or because we can?

It’s the same thing that the tablet threw up. Even the phone operators didn’t know what it was for – one of the most popular speeches I ever put together was a bunch of people who use tablets in their businesses, because that let the operators hear where their product fit in the market. Mental. They just made it because Apple did, and people bought them.

Why did people buy them? This got asked in the conference as well. One of the delegates, who had just got one, replied with ‘it’s the nicest thing you don’t need’. Do we really want this stuff? Or do we buy it because they tell us we want it, and it’s shiny?

I don’t have a tablet. I have played with one at various events and decided that it is ultimately fairly pointless. My phone, laptop and TV will do each task better. But everyone who does have one seems to adore them. So – and I’m genuinely curious about this – what is it about advanced technology in general, and tablets in particular, that is so attractive?

Tools & Top Tips

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Today I intend to be useful to others, as others have been useful to me, and share some of my writing resources. There are tons of articles, websites, books, podcasts, magazines, courses and general know-it-alls out there to assist the amateur writer and the resulting plethora of choice means it can be tough to find something actually useful (see previous comments on white noise). Now, I’m not saying that the following links will be of value to anyone else, but these are all resources that I use on a regular (i.e. weekly or more) basis. I hope they help!

NAMES

The controversy around character and place names in fantasy writing is an old and bitter argument, and I’m not going to go into it in detail. Suffice to say that random punctuation in a name is neither big nor clever, and you should also try to avoid names that look like you’ve sieved the vowels out of the alphabet. If you have trouble thinking up strong, memorable, pronounceable names then a really good place to start is the Old Testament (don’t worry if you don’t have a copy – Wikipedia lists them all). Alternatively, I offer for your delectation and delight a website called Godchecker. It doesn’t just do gods, it also has heroes and saints from a million different cultures complete with comedy descriptions. You can search by culture, by meaning, by alphabet… you need never recourse to bizarre apostrophes again.

STRUCTURE

Last weekend a friend recommended a free podcast called Writing Excuses – ’15 minutes long because you’re in a hurry and we’re not that smart’. They cover everything from flora and fauna in a fantasy setting to how good guys go bad. It’s a bit rambling occasionally, and not every episode is gold-plated, but there’s definitely enough in there to offer everyone a helping hand. Their episode on brevity managed to break the writer’s block I’ve been suffering. I can’t give it a higher recommendation than that. Season 7 is currently available free on iTunes, and every back episode can be listened to on their website.

EDITING

The curse of every writer. You get to the end of your story – it’s done and finished, it’s your beautiful baby – and then you have to go back to the beginning and start tearing it apart. I hate it and never used to do it. Then about five years ago someone loaned me a copy of Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. I read it from cover to cover and then bought my own copy which now lives in my handbag. It has honestly changed my writing style from the bones up, given me a lot of guidance (and, as a result, confidence) in structure, and not once did I feel lectured. There are tons of books on writing out there – this is the only one I’ve ever recommended. You can read the first chapter on Amazon, and then decide for yourself.

GETTING PUBLISHED

Okay, this isn’t exactly a resource so much as an opportunity but I figured I’d include it here. Mr. Terry Pratchett is running a competition for first-time fantasy novelists called Anywhere But Here, Anywhen But Now. The deadline is 31st December 2012 and the word count is 80k-150k. Details are on his website. Competition will doubtless be tough but it’s an incredible opportunity to kick off your writing career. Go for it. I will be.

All the Talking in the World

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I’ve talked about the global country of social media before, and I suspect it’s something I will come back to more than once as it’s become such a dominating force. The rise of social media has impacted almost every part of our lives in some way, meaning we have had to redefine etiquette – how do you unfriend someone politely? – behaviour, and even relationships. If you can keep up with someone’s life by watching their Facebook status’ go by, requiring little to no effort from you, are you still really in touch? If you chat to someone online a lot, but have never actually met them face to face, what kind of relationship is that?

This brings me onto the subject of voice. I’ve already talked about the impact of the narrator’s voice in stories, but it goes further than that – what voice do you use, either consciously or subconsciously, in different situations?  You wouldn’t address a business meeting using the same vocabulary or mannerisms as when talking to your mates down the pub, after all. The same goes for media: your choice of communication channel will directly impact the language and style of your speech.

A close friend recently commented that he would not have guessed this blog was me if he hadn’t known already, because the tone and style of language is so different to my day-to-day conversation. It’s a common phenomenon that people are very different online. Some have more confidence because they are not face-to-face, some are less adept at socialising because they cannot take cues from body language, some are more open and some are less. Relationships will therefore be different.

There seems to be a growing trend of using social media for everything – relationships, business, marketing, hobbies, etc etc. I may be in the minority here but I happen to think this is not the right approach. You still have to choose your voice and your channel. Twitter, for example, is not a good marketing tool (no matter what my boss might think). The updates go past so quickly, the space is restrictive, and there is so much white noise on there that people are not going to bother reading something boring. The more noise there is, the louder you have to shout to be heard and no one will listen if all you’re shouting is ‘get your hot dogs here’.

This idea of global communication is not new. Go back to the Old Testament and you’ve got the classic Tower of Babel story. Just after the Flood, everyone tried to live together and speak the same language – an approach that was confounded by God because of the risk that ‘nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.’ (Genesis 11:6) Compare this to the Invisible Children Kony 2012 campaign, and the movement they created. We aren’t there yet, but we’re closer than we’ve ever been.

No Man Is An Island

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Communication and storytelling in the modern world has run into a weird phenomenon – something that various people have termed the ‘over communicated society’. Social media means there’s so much white noise that it’s nearly impossible to hear the important stories or (more crucially in some cases) the important silences.

I want to take the recent Kony 2012 video as an example. When you have 30 minutes to spare, watch this:

It’s a fantastically well put-together story, spread using social media to tell the world. The global fireplace, if you want to get purple about it. And when I first saw it, I was hooked. Yes, it simplifies the issue of advocacy in a regional/civil war, but that was inevitable since you can’t get an international popular movement without a single strong point. The man on the street isn’t going to be emotionally involved in a debate on the morality of funding in Africa, but he might possibly get off his sofa to do something about child abduction and torture. They weren’t asking for money, either – all they were asking people to do was raise awareness of Joseph Kony, so that his crimes could no longer be ignored. I was impressed, enough to want to help. (And that’s hard to do, since I’m innately both lazy and selfish.)

Assisted by the raptor, who is innately cynical (one of many reasons we work well together), I spent a couple of hours on the internet researching. There are issues around Invisible Children, including funding (irrelevant to the argument of raising awareness), something called the ‘White Man’s Burden’ (insert John Dunne quote here), and the ignorance of Western Society meaning we shouldn’t get involved (which, followed through, means no one does anything about injustice and I might be speaking German right now). There were numerous blog posts, twitter feeds and debates going on across all forms of social media and, in the end, it came down to whether I felt the central point – that of raising awareness about Kony and his crimes – was valid and separated enough from the attacks on IC themselves.

What I did not find until the following day was this: Kony isn’t really the problem anymore.

The amount of social noise and hype made that rather crucial fact very hard to find. More hours of research later, I’m still not 100% certain of it (citation please, James?). What Invisible Children did – telling a story to the international country that is social media – is truly impressive, and the response shows how powerful such tools are. But I think it also shows the dangers.

There’s another danger which I haven’t really seen people touch on. Exposure to what’s commonly called the ‘data explosion’ means that we are much more likely to become jaded. Murder? Nothing new. Famine? We’ve all seen millions of pictures. You can’t care about everything so, in the end, you don’t care about anything if it doesn’t directly affect you. It’s much, much harder to get people worked up enough to take action which is one of the reasons I was so impressed with IC. As a couple of teachers on various blogs about the issue said, they even managed to get middle-class American teenagers to care enough to save up their pocket money. That’s powerful.

Like I said, I’m lazy, selfish and jaded. Yet the story IC told was strong enough to make me start to do something. If it wasn’t for a friend sending me that last link, I would (I hope) have gone ahead and run London IC Blackout Night. But the fundamental story is based on a lie – one they have deliberately propagated.

I still believe in the importance of stopping child abduction, soldiery, rape and torture. There are other ways to help. But, with all this white noise, they are harder to find and sadly, I’m a bit more cynical than I was before.