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Friday, January 31, 2014

To Thesaurus, Or Not to Thesaurus, That is the Question

This quote from Stephen King comes from his book On Writing, which is an excellent investment for anyone who wants to write.  It's got a lot of great advise and tips about the craft, and whether you're a King fan or not, you can't argue the man's success.

I see this quote all the time on social media sites and across "the internets."  It gets thrown around a lot by people who I have the sneeking suspicion don't live by it themselves.

I sure don't.

I use my Thesaurus all the time.  I don't use it to try to find impressive  words or to try to make myself look smarter than I am, and I partially agree with what I believe King is trying to say.  I don't mean to put words in his mouth, but I believe he's speaking about the need for language to flow naturally.  It's more desirable when the words in a book flow organically and don't seem like they were forced or over-thought.  I agree with all that.

However, I use my thesaurus all the time.  I find it an invaluable tool when I'm working on my books.  Here are a few reasons why.

1.  Sometimes a word is on the tip of my tongue, but I can't remember what it is.  I look up its synonyms to find the word I'm trying to remember.

2.  From time to time, the word I'm using doesn't quite fit.  It's almost the right word, but not quite.  I use the thesaurus to see if I can find a word to more accurately describe what I'm seeing in my head.  Most of the time, I find a word I already know, but wasn't thinking of.  I don't use obscure words that my readers won't recognize unless some explanation can be given to define the word for them.

3.  Sometimes, I want to double check a definition.  I'm 90% sure of the meaning of a word, but want to make sure I'm using it properly.  The dictionary is the primary tool for this, but the thesaurus can be helpful as well.

Much of what Stephen King writes in this book is a record of the way he personally does things.  It's excellent advise, but what works for him isn't always going to work for you or me.  We're all different, and we all have methods and strategies that work best for us as individuals.  The best way to approach any advice (mine included), is to eat the meat and throw away the bones.

I for one love my thesaurus, and it's not going anywhere.  What about you?  Any thoughts about this quote or others from Stephen King's book On Writing?  Feel free to leave comments below.  I'd love to know what you think.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

My To-Do List

This week I wanted to lay down a few thoughts about productivity.  Like everyone, it often seems that I have way too much to do, and not enough hours in the day to get everything done.  I've tried all kinds of tricks through the years to try to give myself a boost as far as personal productivity, yet I find myself always coming back to the same place- lists.

To-do lists are about as primitive a tool as you can use, but I've never found anything that works as effectively for me when it comes to getting things done.  Currently, I use a program called Wunderlist, which isn't perfect for my needs, but it's pretty close.  It's a simple list making program that allows me to check off completed items, and allows for due dates and repeating tasks.

I've also used a simple yellow legal pad, and crossed things off as I got them done.  When the list gets too messy, I transfer the remaining items to a new list and start over.

Whether you're a writer, podcaster, artist, student, or hobby enthusiast, if you want to succeed in your business and personal life, getting things done in a timely manner is essential.  I think the key is to find whatever works best for you, but if you've never given simple to-do lists a try, I recommend that you do so.  You might be surprised at how much you start getting done.

What kind of productivity tools do you use?  Is there something particularly effective that helps you get things done?  If so, then comment below.  I'd love to hear some new ideas!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Is Writing Hard?

Is writing hard?  Let's begin by taking a look at the quote that sparked this question.

If writing seems hard, it’s because it is hard. It’s one of the hardest things people do. – William Zinsser

From Wikipedia-
William Knowlton Zinsser (born October 7, 1922) is an American writer, editor, literary critic, and teacher. He began his career as a journalist for the New York Herald Tribune, where he worked as a feature writer, drama editor, film critic, and editorial writer. He has been a longtime contributor to leading magazines.

I found this quote while doing some research online, and it made me start thinking about whether or not I agreed.  I've done some pretty hard things in life when it comes to earning a living, here are a few examples-

I worked in an animal hospital for a few years as the kennel boy.  I cleaned up a literal ton of dog and cat poo, cleaned the cages, and got bit and scratched on several occasions.  I also had to hold several dozen dogs as they were put to sleep.  Overall, this was not the hardest job I've ever had, but it was the dirtiest, and I was more than ready to move on when the time came.

I worked as a cashier at a drug store and had to deal with disgruntled customers, drunks coming to buy booze, and very sick people filling their prescriptions.  Again, not the hardest job on earth, but it definitely tried my patience and taught me a lot about dealing with people.

I went through Air Force basic training, which was pretty darn hard, and then served as an ICBM technician.  This job put me out in the middle of harsh Wyoming winters, where I had to work outside in sub-zero degree weather, wishing I was any place but there.

I've officiated at numerous funerals, including that of a young mother who died of a drug overdose and a six year old drowning victim.  I was honored to serve these families, but doing the job of a minister is often hard in a way that few people understand.

These are just a few examples, and I'm sure you have your own.  Now there are a few lessons that I've learned about work in general throughout the years that you'll probably agree with.

1.  Just because a job is hard, doesn't mean it's not a pleasure to do.

2. Who you are working with contributes or diminishes exponentially to the fun you have while doing a job.  If you're working with great, fun people, you'll enjoy what you're doing a lot more.  The opposite is also true.

3. If you don't enjoy what you're doing, you should move on a quickly as possible.  Life is too short to be spending time doing something you don't enjoy.

I don't want to get too much off point, so let's get back to the main question.  Is writing hard?  My answer is yes.  That is to say, it's hard to write well, at least for most people, and especially in the beginning.  Like anything else, some people are just natually gifted, the rest of us have to work at it.
In short, writing is easy, writing good is hard.

 There are a number of other things that can make writing hard, like dealing with comments from people who aren't all that diplomatic or constructive with their criticism.  But these are things that all writers must learn to deal with if they want others to read their work.

Am I a good writer?  I'm trying to be.  I think I'm getting better.  I'll never be the greatest, but I'm certainly not the worst.  But, I digress.  Let's look at that quote again.

 If writing seems hard, it’s because it is hard. It’s one of the hardest things people do.

Zinsser is quoted as saying that writing is one of the hardest things people do.  I'm not aware of the full context of this quote, but at first glance, it's almost laughably inaccurate to me.  How about getting shot at for a living, or working in an emergency room?  How about being a teacher with a room full of forty kids who aern't interested in learning or being made by anyone to listen?  How about going to work at a fast food joint every day where you despise your job, but it's the best thing you can find right now and you have to feed your kids?  All of these things are hard.

If you're a writer, and you think that writing is hard, you should!  If you think it's one of the hardest things that people do, then you should stop writing immediately and go find another job or hobby.

Perhaps I'm taking this qoute out of context from the author's intention.  If so, it gives support to the fact that writing is hard.  It's not always easy to find the write words for the ideas and emotions one wants to convey.

At any rate, I have some writing to do on my upcoming novella.  I'm looking forward to it, because for me, even though writing can be hard, it's also a great pleasure!

How about you?  What are your thoughts about this quote?
What are some of the hardest jobs or tasks you've ever done?
Feel free to comment below.  I'd love to hear your thoughts on this subject!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

5 Things That Would Have Made THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG a Better Movie

So I'm in a love/hate relationship with this movie, my friends.  Fortunately, the love outweighs the hate.  In fact, there were many aspects I loved, such as the stunning visuals, the rich character acting, etc. etc.  You know, the same magical stuff we find in all these Peter Jackson Tolkien movies.  And lest you think I'm just a naysaying loyalist with clenched fists around the books, let me add that I liked some of the changes for the movie interpretation, such as the appearance of Legolas and the addition of a female supporting character.  I thought these were fine decisions in transitioning the book for the big screen, but there were also a number of things that just plain bothered me.

I'm going to list 5 changes that I believe would have made this a much better movie.  The list could be longer, I know!  But these are five of the biggest problem areas I personally had with the film.  I know how much you love to hear me complain, so let's get started, and take a closer look into this padded bra of a movie, shall we?

Oh, by the way,
!!!!!!!   SPOILERS   !!!!!!!

1. Nix the love triangle between Legolas, Tauriel, and Kili.

For most people, I assume that this point needs "little," pun intended, explanation.  What were they thinking?  Are you telling me that an extremely attractive, highly successful (captain of the guard) elven women like Tauriel would ever give a dwarf- any dwarf, the time of day?
Now, I know that Kili is handsome, as well as being "quite tall" for a dwarf, but so what?  If height is on Tauriel's checklist, then why is she eyeing a dwarf in the first place?  She has an entire tribe of Orlando Bloom look-alikes to choose from, not to mention Orlando Bloom himself.
So let's take a page from the "Homeless Dwarf's Guide to Picking Up Elf Chicks."  Tell the girl a wiener joke, and then threaten to curse her.  Show the girl a pretty rock, talk about your mother and the stars for a while, and before too long she'll be ready to rock and roll!

I'm not so sure about that.

Can you imagine a ten like Evangeline Lilly hooking up with a dwarf in real life?  I can't either.  Sure, stranger things have happened, but it's still not a believable story device.  This subplot just doesn't sit right with me; it's just not believable!

So let's deep six this whole love triangle thing, shall we?!
A friendship?  Sure, okay.  I can buy that.  It should have been stressed that the dwarves were in that elfish prison for many days, and it's reasonable to assume that a friendship (even a crush on Kili's part) could have grown in that time.  I could believe that Tauriel chased down an injured friend to offer him some help, but a homeless dwarf who made her weak in the knees?  Sorry, not buying it.

2. Extend the Mirkwood scenes.

Now this is assuming that we have to give people a three hour film, which we don't.  But since we're tossing in all kinds of ingredients to make the movie longer, why not extend the journey through Mirkwood?  I would have liked to see the starving dwarves trying to chase down those elf feasts from the book.  I was actually looking forward to seeing this, and then my hopes were dashed when Legolas came crashing into the spider scene like Mr. Weasley's car from Harry Potter.
A lot of people might disagree with me on this one, but I think we could have gotten away with seeing a bit more of Mirkwood.  We didn't have to, but we could have, and the running time wouldn't have suffered by cutting some of the nonsense carnival ride that went on in Erebor (Lonely Mountain) toward the end of the movie.  I'll discuss more of that shortly.

3. Give Legolas his personality back.

Where is the Legolas we all know and love from the Lord of the Rings films?  Does he smile or laugh at all during this movie?  Maybe he does, but not that I remember, and I saw the movie twice.  He gives Gloin a hard time when looking at the picture of his wife and son, which was mischievous and funny, but apart from that, Legolas is an angst ridden, poker-faced git.
The elf I remember is kind, fun loving, dashing, and funny.  I guess he wasn't any of those things until his bromance with Gimli occurred years later, which must have melted his stony heart and taught him that there was actually a bit of fun to be had in life.
No, the hard-faced, dwarf hater we met at the beginning of the Fellowship of the Rings had always been that way until he met Gimli.  No wonder his girlfriend was trying to chase down the dwarves, she wanted to get away from the grumpy old elves.

The romance between Legolas and Tauriel should have been built up better in this movie.  It would have been something we could get behind and believe in.  The struggle should not have come from a forced love triangle involving a cute, homeless dwarf, but rather from the fact that Legolas is a Sindar prince and Tauriel is a commoner, or "lowly Silvan Elf."  This would have given more depth to Legolas' character when Tauriel dies in the Battle of Five Armies (my prediction).  But giving depth to Legolas' character is something that this movie seems bound and determined not to do.

I think a casting call was put out for "generic male elf 3," and Orlando Bloom just happened to be walking past the audition room.  He accepted the part, and then everyone got out their pencil and changed "generic male elf 3" to "Legolas."

4. Turn the "Morgul Arrow" that Kili was shot with into a regular poisoned arrow.

For me, the decision to have Kili shot with a "Morgul Arrow" is probably the most baffling addition in the movie.
I'd always thought that the "Morgul Blade" used to stab Frodo by the Nazgul was some type of a rare, magical weapon.  I thought it was special.  I didn't know that every Tom, Dick and Harry in the orc world was running around with these things strapped to the tips of their arrows.
And why was Kili shot with this thing anyway?  Whether the weapon was rare or not, what was the purpose of Kili being shot with a Morgul blade?  Wasn't the orc trying to kill him before he reached the lever?

Maybe the orc was thinking "I'd better kill that dwarf before he reaches the lever, but at least if I only nick him in the leg he'll turn into a wraith in a week or two."

If Morgul blades are rare, why wouldn't the orcs have tried to shoot Thorin with one?  He was the real target, after all.  On top of that he was a sitting duck floating there in his barrel.  Why didn't the orc just position himself, take aim, wait for Kili to pull the lever, and then shoot Thorin?

Pick me, Teach!  I know the answer, I'll tell you why.  Because Jackson wanted the Kili/Tauriel story to mirror the Frodo/Arwen story.  It was supposed to be one more link between this trilogy and the previous trilogy.  That's the only reason, and it is a STUPID reason.  In fact, it's so stupid that I think George Lucas must have called in to offer the suggestion.  Why Peter Jackson took the bait, however, we'll never know.

5. Give Smaug his teeth back- and dismantle the Erebor carnival ride of  indestructible dwarves and convoluted draco-incompetence.

The cartoon carnival ride at the end of this movie showed us one thing- Nobody needs to be afraid of Smaug.  Apparently, he is completely incompetent and incapable of injuring or killing anyone.
"What have we done?" Bilbo asks at the end of the movie, just after Smaug flies off toward Laketown.
Don't worry about it, Bilbo.  Judging from what we've just witnessed, I doubt that Smaug will even be capable of finding the place!

This movie did an excellent job in bringing the dragon to life!  He looked awesome, he sounded awesome, he was pretty much the most terrifying, organically based killing machine we've ever seen in a movie.
And then... he ran around Erebor for half an hour chasing ten short-legged little dopes (4 stayed behind in Laketown) without managing to singe the beard on a single one of them.
Don't be scared, now.  Don't worry kids, everything will be OKAY.  This dragon might look mean, but he really just likes to talk a lot, run around and knock down pillars, and spout off a bunch of threats that he doesn't intend to follow through on.

Smaug's not dead yet, but if you ask me, his character has already been assassinated.

He clawed and growled a lot on the way to the vet, sure!  But we've successfully had him neutered anyway.  Mom says we need to keep him inside the house until December 17th of 2014 when he can come out and play again.  But not to worry, people of middle-earth, his bark seems to be much, much bigger than his bite!

So there you have it!  Do you agree or disagree?
Like I said, this list could be longer, so now it's YOUR turn.
What bothered you about The Desolation of Smaug?  What is something that YOU would have changed to make this a better movie?  Leave your comments below and tell me what you think!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Pacific Rim- "Rampage" the video game meets Robotech meets Independance Day

I just took the family to see Pacific Rim, and I want to take a few moments to urge everyone who's been on the fence to go ahead and see this movie in the theaters.

The way things are going, it may turn out to be a box office flop, which this movie definitely doesn't deserve.  Why?  Well, it may have something to do with the marketing strategy.  I'd seen the trailer a few times, but had not planned on seeing this movie in the theaters until Ben Avery (Strangers and Aliens , and Welcome to Level Seven podcasts) posted a few comments on FB giving the movie praise.

I had also failed to notice (probably my own fault) that this was a Guillermo Del Toro movie.  That alone would have sold me on seeing it in the theater.

What you see in the trailer is pretty much over during the prologue- that's the way I felt anyway.  We are dropped right into the action of this story and it's a pretty wild ride right from the get go.  As the title says, just imagine a mash-up of Rampage (that classic game with the Gorilla and Lizard that smash up buildings), Robotech, and the Will Smith movie Independence Day.  That might sound like a crazy combination, but it all works somehow.  The storytelling is very good, character-building is on the level, and the action is all paced very well.

Pacific Rim succeeds where Man of Steel fails- it reminds us that a movie can be action packed from start to finish without making us want to shoot ourselves to escape the madness.

It also succeeds where Star Trek Into Darkness fails, it gives us a lot of nostalgic value without being blatant or cheesy.  It is what it is- a fun, action packed adventure for all fans of the genre!

With all the regurgitated junk that Hollywood throws at us these days, it is your duty to go and support this kind of movie, you won't regret it!