Tyson Adams

Putting the 'ill' back in thriller

Archive for the category “Writing”

Writer’s Block Solved

EPSON MFP image

More from Grant at his site: http://www.incidentalcomics.com/

More on Writer’s Block.

That isn’t literature

When I think of literature I think of an older guy sporting a greying moustache, sipping a sherry, wearing a smoking jacket, seated in a library of leather-bound books in front of a simmering log fire. The guy speaks with an aristocratic English accent and expounds on the greatness of some book that other older men dressed like him, sitting in similar log-fire warmed libraries, also like to read when not shagging the maid.

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Aspiring literary snob reader

Now clearly not everyone who reads literature fits this image. Some probably can’t even afford a maid to shag. But it does appear to be an image that people aspire toward, an image that informs what they deem literature, and thus what they deem worthy of reading. Rather than judging any written work based upon its lasting artistic merit – although that definition is so subjective as to be useless and ideal for starting pointless arguments…. (cough) – people seem intent on creating boundaries before a work is allowed to be judged. They must defend Fort Literature from the invading Lesser Works.

Normally I’d launch into a whinge about how speculative fiction is unfairly maligned, or how I’ve read crime fiction that has more artistic merit than most literary works. But instead I’m going to talk about graphic novels. In an article on The Conversation, Catherine Beavis explained how the graphic novel Maus came to be part of the literature curriculum.

Despite this explanation there was always going to be someone in the comments telling us how a graphic novel can’t be literature. I assume they wrote their comments whilst wearing a smoking jacket and taking a break from shagging the maid.

Well well……..so it’s art as literature.

Why not a more well-known comic (sorry graphic novel).

Not saying this isn’t a worthy addition to any curriculum, but more as social comment rather than literature.

Surely the novels of great Australian writers should be preferable – Winton, Malouf, Carey etc.

Let’s break these points apart one by one. As will be seen from further comments, the argument primarily revolves around the feelpinion that because graphic novels contain pictures they are art and thus not literature. A similar argument could be made for movies being TV shows and thus we could abolish the Oscars… actually, that isn’t a bad idea. Anyway, I guess we’d better break the news to the literature professors that Shakespeare’s plays need to be taken off of the curriculum.

The argument then moves to the “I haven’t heard of it, so it can’t be good” assertion. Maybe because they realise this isn’t a great argument, they immediately distance themselves from it. But we start to see the worthy argument being formed. I’ve argued many times that worthy is a great subjective argument put forward by people who think they are worthy.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a literary argument if someone didn’t cite some authors they deem worthy. For those unfamiliar with Winton, Malouf, and Carey, they are award-winning Aussie authors who write “interior histories” and about “people rebuilding their lives after catastrophe” and “people who experience death and will never be the same again”. None of those statements could be applied to a graphic novel about someone who survived the holocaust…. No sir.

Their list of worthy authors is as subjective as their comments about graphic novels and Maus. I could similarly ask why the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy isn’t on the curriculum. It has a lot to say about society and has entered the lexicon, which is more than can be said for any of the other authors mentioned nor the graphic novels being shunned. I could say the same again about Superman or Spiderman, which have implanted ideals and phrases of morality into society, regardless of whether people have read those graphic novels or not.

*Steps on soapbox*
I personally welcome any work into the class that will encourage kids to read, think and learn. And to anyone who derides graphic novels, they are clearly saying they don’t or haven’t read any.
*Steps down from soapbox*

The commenter responded to criticism of their subjective opinion:

That may be so, but my bigger point was that literature = words.

This is art with captions.

Not disputing that it may be hugely popular or good (even great)…
but literature it ain’t.

I think the appropriate response to this is a head shake. The problem is the black and white definition of what literature is, whilst ignoring the fact that the graphic novels fit the definition of literature. Pointing out the flaws in these opinions is as easy as saying that graphic novels, with very few exceptions, are composed of words. They also use graphics, but that is often a collaboration between the writer and the artists they work with. Thus, by the definition of “literature = words”, graphic novels are eligible to be classified as literature.

But anything to keep only the “worthy” books in contention as literature. Can’t have that kids stuff being called literary!

So I named three contemporary Australian writers – call me subjective.

I am not knocking the (art) form…just that it (to ME) is not literature.

Your opinion is obviously as valid as mine……don’t get huffy.

The last point here is one that irks me more than irksome irkers on an international irking junket. Opinions are not equally valid. That sort of subjectivism nonsense eats away at reality and suggests we “just don’t know, man”.

The commenter made a subjective list, so I put together some examples that were superior in quantifiable ways (impact on society, entering the lexicon, referenced by society) to show that the subjective claims were more worthless than a $9 note because clearly not much knowledge or thought was put into the claims.

There is also the idea of literary critique and argument, rather than stating feelpinions. I’ve stated an opinion and argued it, offering reasoning. The examples I countered with aren’t necessarily the best choices, but I have justified and quantified my argument, something you learn in high school literature class. Art Spiegelman won a Pulitzer, so clearly someone in the literati agrees. And surely a Pulitzer prize winner is worthy of being on the curriculum. But of course all opinions are equally valid and “I’m entitled to my opinion”, dammit!

Surely the whole point of literature is that the reader has to imagine the scene described, the way words are spoken, the implications of what is said and much more. It’s all in the mind, which develops through reading.

A graphic novel presents the words and pictures with almost no imagining required. The number of words is hugely reduced to give way to often wasted space. In the example above there are 21 words, which if in normal lowercase type could be written in 10% of the space.

Sorry I’m not convinced graphic novels have any merit for senior students.

Shakespeare’s plays give stage directions and poetry is often deliberately obscure. So how do those examples fit this exclusionary definition of literature? I’m sure some artists would object to the idea that they aren’t conjuring a scene that develops in people’s minds. And is the idea to only allow readers to imagine a scene? Isn’t it about conveying ideas and emotions too? Isn’t this some great mental gymnastics to try to maintain Fort Literature from invasion by the Lesser Works?

The second paragraph is also exemplary of someone who hasn’t read many, if any, graphic novels. So of course this commenter wouldn’t be convinced that graphic novels are of any merit. First they’d have to know something. But that doesn’t hold them back from commenting.

While I’m in the mood for alienating folks, let me also say that this is a good example of dumbing down literature.

Give the kids a picture with limited words and maybe they’ll get the idea.

Don’t kids these days have the attention span to read a novel?

The last graphic novel I read was 480 pages long and took many hours to read. It covered sexual identity, morality, the greater good argument, do evil deeds make us evil, etc, as issues. The last “literature” novel I read was about a woman who manipulated people to get what she wanted. It was ~300 pages long and took many hours to read.*

This argument is typical of people who have a snobbish attitude to something based upon pure ignorance of the topic. Similar statements have been made throughout time, decrying the dumbing down or declining standards of today’s youth. Oddly enough it has been proven false again and again only to be spouted once more.

XKCD on declining writing standards

See the full original here: https://xkcd.com/1227/

There is a similar article on The Spectator – a home for uninformed opinion – which argues that if we let graphic novels into literature we have to let in everything. They must defend Fort Literature from the invading Lesser Works. Maybe I’ll address that one at some stage when I’m feeling masochistic, but I’m going to leave it there. The maid has arrived.

*This comparison was true at the time of my original comments on The Conversation. I’ve read many graphic novels since, but no further literature novels.

Bring back the Percontation Point

Have you ever written something sarcastic only to have someone take you seriously?

Have you tried to be ironic but people are confused as to whether you are being serious, ironic, or satirical?

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Well, how about we try to bring back the Percontation Point.

The Percontation Point, or the Irony Mark, used to be a punctuation mark that indicated that the sentence had another layer of meaning to it. With spoken words we get to use tone of voice or facial expressions to make sure people are hearing the other layers. In writing we have to make our layers so obvious that we bash people over the head to make it clear. Even then people will inevitably ask:

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Seriously, there is an entire website devoted to this.

So it is clear that writers need to revive the use of the Percontation Point to indicate sarcasm, satire, and irony. It is an essential tool for smart people to use to make stupid people feel even stupider. Which makes it the best punctuation mark of all.

Also called the Percontation Point and the Irony Mark, this one's used to indicate that there's another layer of meaning in a sentence. Usually a sarcastic or ironic one. So it is essentially a tool for smart people to use to make stupid people feel even stupider. Which makes it the best punctuation mark of all.

 

14 Tips From Stephen King’s On Writing

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Terrible Writing Advice – Evil Empires

This Youtube channel has lots of great material for budding writers. World building is often done without much thought. J.P. Beaubien runs through how to create the antagonist Evil Empire.

Read more here.

Writer’s Block

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Writers are very special people. We are so special that we have to have our own special terms instead of using the ones everyone else uses. For example, what everyone else calls procrastination is what a writer would term Writer’s Block. And because writers are so special, their procrastination isn’t just a time suck, it is THE WORST THING EVA!!!

Terrible Writing Advice has a terrific video to help understand this affliction.

Suffer no more.

Your Story

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What are some great books that will teach me to be a creative writer?

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I love creative writing and I’m good at university dissertations, but when I try to write a story, I struggle and the writing is often awkward. Yet I love doing it. What pratical guides or reading list would you recommend for people who wish to masted the art of writing and creative writing?

Creative writing is as much about practice as it is about any advice you can read in a book. Part of that practice is writing, part of it is editing your own work, and part of it is reading to see how others construct their prose.

Essentially, if you already know the mechanics of how to write, then the part that is missing is the hours and hours of practice and analysis of that practice.

That said, there are plenty of manuals on style and grammar that would be helpful. E.g. Strunk and White’s Elements of Style is regarded as a classic of writing.

I personally think Stephen King’s On Writing is a must read for any author.

This post originally appeared on Quora.

How Long Did it Take to Write the World’s Most Famous Books?

Print

Let’s be honest, Lord of the Rings did feel like it took 16 years to write, but I was surprised Stephanie Meyer took a whole 3 months to write Twilight.

Original courtesy of PrinterInks.com.

Do people in Australia ride kangaroos?

 

riding-kangaroo

Yes and no.

Like most advanced countries, Australia has moved past antiquated methods of travel. Just as you don’t see horses and carts in major cities anymore, Aussies have moved away from riding kangaroos in much the same way. Let’s face it, kangaroos are smelly, need to eat lots of food, and are dangerous with a nasty kick – kinda like horses when you think about it. Cars really are much nicer to commute to work in.

But just like horses, there are diehard kangaroo riding enthusiasts who haven’t figured out that cars are so much better. As such there are riding schools, such as Alex Hayek’s Kangaroo Riding School, and clubs for people to learn to ride. Some children do prefer to ride kangaroos instead of bikes to school, but that is becoming less common with the advent of helicopter parents.

riding-school

The sad thing about kangaroo riding is that it isn’t as popular as horse riding in Australia, despite kangaroos resulting in less deaths each year than horses. So it will be interesting to see if this proud tradition is continued in future generations.

Originally published on Quora and Medium.

When Science Fiction Became Science Fact

One of my favourite science blogs, From Quarks to Quasars, had a great post from Isabelle Turner that I needed to share. Take a look at the things from science fiction that became science fact, and wonder whether it was prediction, influence, or just wishful interpretation on our part.

BookPredictions2

Book Review: Sign of the Cross by Chris Kuzneski

Sign Of The Cross (Jonathon Payne & David Jones, #2)Sign Of The Cross by Chris Kuzneski

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Sometimes when I’m reading a book I’m not sure if I’m meant to be excited, enrapt, or cringing. It’s taken me a few days to arrive at a decision and I’ve decided to cringe.

Sign of the Cross is a fast paced action adventure novel in the vein of Steve Berry, James Rollins, or that guy who wrote the book that annoyed the Pope; what was his name? In the second instalment of Payne and Jones’ adventures, the mercenaries are hired to hunt down two archaeologists who have uncovered a secret that could bring down the Catholic Church. Meanwhile a team of killers are reenacting the crucifixion, because, you know, that’s what Jesus would have wanted. With everyone hunting for Payne, Jones and their pet archaeologists, and a few murderers running around, who at the Vatican knows and who wants the secret, and do they want it for power or payback?

This is the first Chris Kuzneski book I’ve read, and it will be my last. Now that I’ve had time to reflect upon the story and writing, I’m actually surprised I finished the novel. Kuzneski came up in my recommendations because he writes fast paced adventure novels like two of my favourite authors, the previously mentioned Berry and Rollins. Unlike those two, however, Kuzneski takes all of the same ingredients for a novel, mixes them in an overly large bowl (the book is over 400 pages), and manages to make gruel.

The novel started well, but I noticed myself cringing at the end of the chapters with the ham-fisted foreshadowing. This continued until I would start preemptively cringing as I reached the end of each chapter. Seriously, it felt like the end of every scene or chapter Kuzneski would have a line like “Little did they know that only two of them would return.” But wait, there is more. There is an underlying casual sexism and racism to the novel that is unintentional, but jarring. An early scene has one of the characters, Nick Dial, surprised to see a woman Interpol agent. Not that Nick was sexist, women could be just as good as men……. No, Nick explained that he wasn’t sexist, but some of his bosses weren’t as open minded. Yeah. I’m not sexist, but….

These two points are just the major problems I had with the writing of this novel. And it is mainly the writing that lets this book down. In the example I just mentioned, there are many ways authors could discuss Nick’s surprise at seeing a woman on the job. But the way the scene was written it sounded like the author was desperately trying to sound progressive and PC. This poor writing happened throughout the book, which actually has a reasonable plot, a bit of humour, and great pacing. Some readers may not notice these issues, although I note many reviews complain about the foreshadowing, and it was entertaining enough for me to finish reading, so others may find this enjoyable. But I would recommend reading anything by Steve Berry or James Rollins instead.

View all my reviews

How to be creative

Couple of interesting videos I thought I’d share. The first is a recent video that refers to some fascinating research that looked at musical creativity with fMRI scans.

The second video is from the indomitable John Cleese.

Creativity is not an easy thing to achieve. I hope these two videos give others a few pointers.

Update: Another great video from Brain Craft on creativity to add to the list.

Down with Reading?

An interesting table of statistics – yes I am assuming statistics are interesting, why yes, I am a huge nerd – crossed my feed today. The table, presented below, shows the household expenditure breakdowns over time (1990-2009). The highlighted lines show the amounts spent on entertainment and reading.

US Bureau of Labor Statistics (with labour spelt incorrectly)

US Bureau of Labor Statistics (with labour spelt incorrectly)

For those of you who are blind or prefer reading my words rather than a table of numbers, the statistics show that since 1990 there has been a pretty steady increase in household expenditure on entertainment, but the amount spent on reading has been in steady decline. Clearly it is time to panic. Movies, TV and gaming have won. Time to give up reading and writing. No future in it.

Well, that would be the conclusion if you don’t go and look for the source data.

Now I am rather lazy, so I haven’t bothered to look up every year of data and tried to recreate the table. But what I have done is looked up the figures from a few of the years not included in the table: 2010, 20112012 and 2013. The spend on reading from those years is $100, $115, $109 (no 2013 data as yet) and entertainment spend of $2,504, $2,572, $2,605 and $2,482. Seems like that trend stopped, or something.

Actually, the trend has more to do with the household demographics and income than any change in book buying. Whilst in the early 2000’s there was a drop in reading for entertainment from ~0.4% of household expenditure to ~0.2%, this has been consistent since. So readers are still buying and reading books at roughly the same proportion as always.

And who are the readers? Well, from the demographics breakdown the readers tend to be middle-aged or older, higher income, educated households, or households without kids. Apparently having kids stops you reading, can’t think why. And clearly older and more affluent people are the ones who can afford the hardcover prices, or see the value in them, or just like having something on the bookshelf surrounding their money pile – rich people have money piles in their houses, right?

To me this doesn’t say reading is a dying industry, rather that there are groups being missed by the current industry. Of course I’m biased and probably daydreaming about a magical place where books hunt down DVDs for sport. The younger people tend to have less entertainment expenditure, with the average consumer spending 5% of their income on entertainment, whilst under 25s spend between 4 and 5%. Their book buying appears to have declined and is lower than the average consumer, at 0.14% (2012). This makes them a missed market (or possibly buying cheaper e-books). The other groups spending less on books are the less educated and lower income people, and again, not just in total expenditure but in the proportion of household expenditure.

Clearly these three groups could be reading just as much but instead of buying books they are borrowing them from friends or libraries, or they might be buying cheaper books. But something tells me this isn’t the case, what with the kids these days with their hippity hop music and haircuts. To my mind the fear that the market for books is shrinking, as suggested by the above table, is not borne out by the more recent data. We see more competition for entertainment dollars yet books don’t change that much ($150 to $110 over 22 years is 3 paperbacks in the US) suggesting that the problem is in who is reading. If reading is going to be only for richer, older and more educated people then we have a problem, especially if we aren’t creating the next generation of readers.

It’s banned book week again

What better way to celebrate one of my favourite weeks than with a quote from John Green about his book, The Fault In Our Stars, being banned:

I guess I am both happy and sad.

I am happy because apparently young people in Riverside, California will never witness or experience mortality since they won’t be reading my book, which is great for them.

But I am also sad because I was really hoping I would be able to introduce the idea that human beings die to the children of Riverside, California and thereby crush their dreams of immortality. (Source)

There are all sorts of weird reasons that books have been banned in the past and present. Last year I covered the topic at length with both the reasons and the recent favourites for the book banning trolls. As another year rolls round, nothing has really changed. Please, won’t somebody think of the children!!

More here:

https://tysonadams.com/2013/04/15/banning-books/

https://tysonadams.com/2013/04/18/banned-books-the-huff-post-sequel/

http://www.buzzfeed.com/krystieyandoli/mind-boggling-facts-about-banned-books-in-america#2r6o5qf
(I promise, this is the only time I will ever link to Buzzfeed)

http://io9.com/the-12-weirdest-reasons-for-banning-science-fiction-and-1639136022

Unbelievable plots

Unbelievable plots

Stolen from: http://www.tickld.com/x/the-20-biggest-plot-holes-in-world-history-the-titanic-one-is-so-true

The Periodic Table of Storytelling

Sometimes my worlds collide and produce awesome stuff. Today I present science smashing into writing and producing a revision of the periodic table of elements (did you know that the periodic table should actually be seen as cylindrical?).

Apparently this gem has been doing the rounds of the internet for at least a year, which shows you how out of touch with reality kids makes you. But recently the Periodic Table of Storytelling has become interactive, with James Robert Harris taking his design of storytelling tropes to the next level. Serial killer name aside, James has created a fun tool that is worth checking out.

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James has also developed a few other narrative media that are worth checking out, such as the hero’s journey using Star Trek. See the rest of his webpage here: http://www.designthroughstorytelling.com/design-through-storytelling

The pros and cons of owning a toddler

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Pro: They are easy to entertain with just about anything.
Con: They want to turn everything you own into a sticky, finger-mark covered, toy.

Pro: They make charming noises as they play, running around being delighted by any and everything.
Con: They make noise the entire time about any and everything, usually at ear splitting volumes.

Pro: You’ll have so many social events to attend that you’ll be flat out partying.
Con: All of those social events involve other people’s toddlers, usually mashing food into the carpet.

Pro: You will have everyone buying your toddler clothes and toys so you won’t have to spend much on clothes and toys.
Con: Everything costs more with a toddler and you won’t be able to walk through your house without tripping over all of the crap your toddler has been given.

Pro: They spend a lot of the day sleeping, so you get plenty of down-time.
Con: You spend most of the day trying to get them to sleep because they refuse to take a nap despite being so tired they just want to cry.
Con: All that down-time is spent cleaning, cooking and basic personal hygiene that can’t be managed whilst the toddler is awake.

Pro: Someday they’ll be grown up and able to support you as you age.
Con: You’ll probably do a crap job of raising them and they’ll decide to put you in a home with only one staring window.

Did I mention: all men are evil!

42-17984473 The Australian media have a few targets they rely upon to generate readers: dole bludgers, terrorists, boat people, terrorist boat people, dole bludging terrorist boat people. Today Tracey Spicer decided to add men to that list with her article: I don’t want my kids sitting next to a man on a plane.

Now clearly, whilst men are to blame for most wars, most economic problems, most political problems…. Okay, men are shit. But it is just a little bit sexist to declare all men are pedophiles. It is even more misleading of Spicer to make arguments justifying the myths and misconceptions about child sexual abuse. She starts her article by insisting that despite 90% of abuse being perpetrated by someone the child knows, that a stranger on the plane better not be male and sitting next to her kids. Let’s just ignore that entire issue of proximity of people on a plane not changing that much by moving one seat away.

Spicer is very concerned about the “more and more” unaccompanied minors flying and how airlines should be making kids as safe as possible on flights. First of all: “more and more”, seriously? I did a search for some statistics on unaccompanied minors flying and came up as empty as the “more and more” statement. Secondly, the safest possible option would be for a suitable guardian to travel with the kids when flying. Preferably this person accompanying the child would be unrelated to the child, over the age of 40 and Tasmanian. But I guess it is too much to ask for concerned parents like Spicer to travel with their kids.

The big problem with the article is that it buys into the common myths and misconceptions associated with child sex offenders. The Australian Institute of Criminology study listed the top five:

  • not all child sex offenders are ‘pedophiles’. That is, child sex offenders are a heterogeneous group with varying offender profiles;
  • children are usually abused by someone they know, although data suggest that strangers comprise nearly one in five perpetrators of child sexual abuse against males;
  • not all child sex offenders have been victims of sexual abuse themselves and there are complex relationships between being a victim of child sexual abuse and becoming a perpetrator, which require further research. It is important to recognise that while many offenders report a history of being sexually abused, most victims of child sexual abuse do not become perpetrators later in life;
  • while not all child sex offenders have high rates of recidivism, a specific subset—those who target extrafamilial male children—do frequently reoffend; and
  • although it is difficult to accurately determine how many children a child sex offender has already offended against by the time he is detected for an offence, this number varies according to offending profiles and is unlikely to be as high as is commonly assumed. There is, however, a subset of extrafamilial male offenders who abuse high numbers of victims.

Now it is true that child sex offenders are mostly men in a father – child relationship with the victim. But let’s also remember that not all men are rapists, only about 0.012% of us (rate of 12.6 per 100,000 Aussies*). It should also be noted that sexual assault has been decreasing, whilst reporting of assault has improved (probably linked, in my opinion), although sexual assault is still a big problem. So trying to say that kids are in danger of sexual assault from an unknown male in the next seat whilst flying on a plane is nothing more than fear mongering.

The reason Spicer wrote the article is because there have been a few instances on Australian airlines of male passengers being asked to change seats. Most people would be glad to not be sitting next to someone else’s unaccompanied brat, but branding all men as pedos is not really justified, unless it gets the individual blokes a free upgrade to first class, then it’s okay. But articles like this aren’t just pedaling myths and misconceptions, they are ingraining the idea that all men are evil, and that kids aren’t safe around men.

For another indication of how this is impacting society, take a look at some of the gender ratios of teachers: the rate of men teaching in primary and secondary schools is declining, and the younger the student, the less male teachers there are. How can you encourage men to become teachers when people like Spicer are essentially saying that all men are pedos? Spicer admits she is being sexist, but doesn’t realise she is also pedaling myths and misconceptions that hurt more than her sexism.

Of course, since all men are evil, it probably doesn’t matter. Maybe we should just kill all men at birth and save ourselves the trouble.

Another view: http://allsignificantbattles.wordpress.com/2014/04/28/sometimes-people-punish-you-by-giving-you-what-you-want/

* Yes, that figure is misleading because the figure is only for currently incarcerated offenders, and it is an old figure.

Happy Birthday Shakespeare

Here is some Epic Rap Battles to honour the occassion.

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