Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Whatever Wednesday: Skyrim WTF Moments

I have Skyrim. I put off buying the game as long as possible and actually put off playing it for nearly a week after I bought it. I even managed to limit how much I played the game at first. Eventually, the will to play the game overtook me. I can put it down and will do so if there is something else going on. However, wanting to put it down... not as easy.

As anyone who has played Skyrim can tell you, there are glitches. Oh, how there are glitches in this game! However, they can be typically overlooked. And so I'm going to do just that. Instead, I'm going to talk about three things in Skyrim that drive me absolutely crazy and are part of the reason I feel this game is highly overrated.

Blacksmith Dialog

In Skyrim you have skills that can rise up to level 100. Skills are raised by performing the skill. As the skill gets higher in level, you can learn perks that allow you to do more with the skill. The Smithing skill has a perk available at level 100 that allows you to make Dragon Armor. Dragon Armor is the best armor in the game that I'm aware of and can only be crafted. In order to raise the crafting skill, it requires a lot of Smithing. After reading online, the best choice for leveling the skill is by making Iron Daggers. Iron Daggers use 1 Iron Ingot and 1 Leather Strap. It takes a lot of Iron Daggers to match the skill.

You can get iron two ways. You can find iron mines and mine them (slow process) or you can hop from city to the city and buy iron from the various blacksmiths (fast process). I picked the latter, more expensive process for maxing my skills. In doing so, I quickly learned something about the game that makes me want to fire bomb Bethesda. All of the blacksmiths recorded the same dialog for their shop script. There are about four or five lines in total when you speak to the blacksmith, but they are identical. The only thing that changes is the voice speaking.

And these are some of those precious lines:
Blades, helmets, pretty much anything to suit your needs
Looking to protect yourself or deal some damage?
So Bethesda pulled multiple voice actors into a sound studio and had them read the exact same script. What the fuck?

Sneak Attack AI

I'm going to tell you a story of three bandits. For this story, we shall call them Larry, Curly, and Moe. Larry, Curly and Moe were sitting around talking one day when an arrow suddenly appeared in the forehead of Curly. This act greatly upset Larry and Moe. They responded to this by running around the immediate area looking for the source of the arrow. After about thirty seconds, they decided the arrow's source could not be found.

“I thought I heard something,” Larry said.

“Must have been my imagination,” Moe said.

The two returned to the table, walking over the body of Curly. Moe, was at least kind enough to look at Curly and say, “I'll get kill whoever did this!” Then, Moe and Larry returned to their coversation.

At which point, Moe suddenly became a unicorn. This alarmed Larry who ran around for thirty seconds looking for the source of the arrow. Not feeling too original, he returned to his spot at the table saying, “It must have been my imagination.”

He stood there for a few seconds before he, too, became victim to the imaginary arrows.

The Quest Dump

In Skyrim, you can do these things called quests. You wouldn't know that from the look of my game. I only currently have 22 main quests, 24 miscellaneous quests, and 20 completed quests. Many of these quests, according to the NPC, must be completed IMMEDIATELY before great peril befalls the lands. Me, I prefer to ignore the quests over those that are less time sensitive such as the “Hide and Seek” quest and the quests to find 10 Fire Salts.

I'm also particularly fond of the quests that launch automatically.  They work even better if you are talking to someone else first when the NPC just walks up to you and starts talking. There is nothing like two people giving you quests at the same time to simulate the frustrations of real life.

I also love how I'll walk into a town, run into somebody who will declare that I'm the perfect person to complete this quest. Maybe my reputation for gathering lost [item of family heritage] from the [local cave] that has been stolen by bandits is starting to spread. Or maybe he just noticed I'm carrying 200 iron daggers on me and decided I needed a break from Smithing.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Giving Back to the Community

I own a lot of books, don't I?

I want to give back to my community. One of my original long term goals when I established SWAG was to do fund raising in order to start a local scholarship. That idea hasn't gone away, but it is something I'm putting on the back burner while I focus on other things in my life. This, however, does not mean I don't want to do any fund raising.

Recently, there has been a larger than normal outcry against the organization Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood is an essential charity organization in our local communities. There is no shortage of need for the services that this group provides. Its critics believe that Planned Parenthood only provides a single service: abortion. The truth of the matter is that this service is only 3% of the services provided.

In 2010, this is the breakdown of services rendered:
38% - STD Testing/Treatment
33.5% - Contraception
14.5% - Cancer Screening
10.4% - Other Women's Health Services (mostly pregnancy testing)
3.0% - Abortion Services
0.6% - Other Services

You need to remember that Planned Parenthood is providing services to people who cannot afford these services any other way.  Be it free condoms for healthy sexual activity or screening for breast cancer, these services are provided for free to people without the resources to take care of themselves. Cutting funding to Planned Parenthood is taking away from services that support low-income women.

In this post, I'm announcing my desire to give back to the community. I want to raise money for Planned Parenthood. I don't have much to offer, but I'll offer what I can. I have included a recent photo of me with this post. You'll note that my hair is getting long. Well, it's reaching the point where I can start having it styled. I was planning on doing a simple ponytail most of the time, but I'm going to let the public decide what happens to my hair based on how much I can raise.

$1 - If I get a SINGLE donation, I will find something that I can wear 24/7.  I don't know how long I'll wear it, but I'll wear it for at least a straight week.  I'm thinking that I'll wear it at least one day for every $1 raised.
$100 - I will have my hair done in a style of the top contributor's choice.  If it something I can handle myself, I'll do this for a month.  If it is something that requires a stylist, it will be for as long as I can maintain it.
$250 - In addition to the above, I will let the public pick out a hair color to dye my hair.

I honestly don't have enough subscribers to justify coming up with ideas for more than the $250 threshold.  If for some reason this proves to not be the case, I will try and do something epic.

Update:  As of 3/5/2012, I have raised $65 for Planned Parenthood.  At this point in time, I'm going to up my game.  For every $1 raised, I'm going to throw in $0.50 to match, up until $50 because I'm pretty broke.

Donate with the button below:

Monday, February 27, 2012

2012 King of the Hill Movie Challenge

Drive v Tucker and Dale vs. Evil
This isn't a 1v1v1.  This is two movies going head to head, one of which has "vs." in the title.  One movie is a dark action flick that bested a classic.  The other is a dark comedy that both makes fun of and pays homage to common horror tropes.  However, only one of these movies can survive the 2012 King of the Hill Movie Challenge.

For those who do not know, the 2012 King of the Hill Movie Challenge is my system for determining the best movie of year that I saw. One movie from each month will be selected and, at the end of the year, I will do a tournament style showdown where they will take each other on until the final movie has been selected. Bracket placement will be determined by the number of movies the monthly movie faced and won.

Challenger:  Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

Director: Eli Tucker

Writers: Eli Tucker and Eli Jurgenson

Starring: Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, and Katrina Bowden

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is a difficult movie to box in and explain.  The movie is about two red necks on vacation.  The movie is about a group of kids out partying.  The movie is about the ridiculous tropes of horror flicks.  The movie is all of these things rolled into one.  Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) are just trying to have a nice relaxing time in the woods when a group of kids mistake them as killers.  This mistake comes from when Dale rescues Alison (Katrina Bowden) from drowning.  The kids think they have killed Alison and everything goes downhill fast.

The movie pays homage to several movies.  Honestly, I couldn't tell you half of them; I'm not a big horror fan.  The cliches addressed in the movie are what make it for me.  It covers everything from creepy cops, to red neck stereo types, to evil pit bulls.  Honestly, there wasn't a cliche I could think of that the movie didn't tackle.  I'd say more, but to go too far into what I loved about the movie would require spoiling it.  I encourage you to watch the movie if you don't mind blood and gore.

Drive is a unique story with an unnamed character.  Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is a compilation of dozens of stories and cliches, but told in a way to make fun of them all, and yet still pay homage to the very movies it is mocking.  Honestly, it should be a hard call, but it isn't.  Tucker and Dale vs. Evil tackles something I hate, cliches.

Winner:  Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Stephen King Post

Photo of Stephen King's Home in Bangor, ME.
When I was one-and-a-half years old, my family had dinner with Stephen King.  The dinner happened at my grandparent's house in Eastport.  Eastport is a port city in Downeast Maine.  Though it is a port city, and has its own airport, the only reasonable way to access the city is by car.  In order to drive to Eastport, you have to drive through Pleasant Point.  Pleasant Point is a part of the Passamaquoddy reservation.  The most notable portion of this drive is a stretch of road with ocean on either side.

For reasons I'm not entirely certain, my father's side of the family was having dinner with Stephen King.  I know that my aunt was involved somehow in the reason behind this meal.  Stephen King is a wonderful philanthropist and my aunt worked for the harbor during this stretch of time.  I suspect it was a dinner following Stephen King doing one of his many charitable contributions to the State of Maine.  I don't know for certain.  What I do know is that the dinner took place at my grandparent's house.

For as long as I have known my grandmother, she has always had strange, people-hating cats.  At the time this story took place, her current cat had another particular trait; he loved to curl up in the backseat of parked cars.  You see, while Eastport is technically a city, it's only one in political structure.  The actual population of the city resembled the size of a small town under normal definitions.  There was little crime and everyone left car windows down and doors unlocked.

Stephen King came to dinner, met me and my family, and after socializing, climbed into his car to start the three hour drive drive home.  As the story goes, Stephen King driving through Pleasant Point  when my grandmother's cat, woke up, jumped into the front seat and raised a kind of hell only a person-hating cat could. The incident scared the crap out of Stephen King.  He somehow dealt with the cat, turned around, and drove all the way back to my grandparents house.  Once there, he somehow managed to wrangle the cat into his arms.  He carried it over to the front door and politely returned him to my grandparents.

The conclusion to this story came later when Stephen King's Cujo was published.  In the book, the five-year old Tad has a strikingly similar description to two-year old me.  Also the description of Donna was equally similar to my mother.  When Stephen King later published On Writing, he admitted that during this period of his life, he was in a dark place and doesn't remember where he got the idea from for this book.  In fact, he confesses only vaguely remembering writing parts of the book.  As far as I'm concerned, this cat incident was at least part of the inspiration behind his book, Cujo.  

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Difference in Perception

Today's blog is a strange one.  My wife asked me to write two paragraphs of description on our bedroom.  In her post, she talks about how the same approach is taken to describing a scene for the same characters.  It is an understandable peeve.  Multiple perspectives will bring about multiple areas of focus.  Anyway, because I'm shoehorning this entry to make the two paragraphs relevant for her blog and mine, I'm going to talk about perspectives.

Take a moment to think back to a time when you did something.  This something might have been a haircut, cleaning a room, or your normal work at your job.  When you looked at what you had accomplished, you saw it one way.  Now, think of that something and think of the reactions that others had to this thing.  I bet you can identify times when a loved one or friend didn't notice the haircut.  I bet you can identify a time the room cleaning was either not recognized or seen as not significant.  I'm willing to bet that you can identify a time that your hard work at your job was met with negative feedback.

Different people have different perspectives.  When I clean the desk here, I put a lot of time into it.  There is a lot of little clutter and finding a home for that clutter can be time consuming.  So when I announce I cleaned, for me, I see the effort I put into cleaning.  Alice, however, sees that the mess on the floor is still there, the floor hasn't been vacuumed, and that my shoes are next to the television stand.

When writing a scene, remember who your perspective character is.  A character that is a bit paranoid, alert, and on the look out for danger isn't going to notice that the books are arranged flush to the shelves.  He is going to notice that the arrangement of the bookshelves provide possible dark corners.  He won't notice the details, only the possible dangers.  So, when you approach a scene, remind yourself who your character is and what his mindset is at the time of describing the scene.  This will give you two, very different descriptions.

As promised, here is my description of the bedroom.  If you want to read Alice's blog post with her perception of the room, you can click on here.

The room is both spacious and cramped.  My dresser is small and barely fits the clothing I own.  I can't buy new clothes without having to get rid of the something else first.  The pile growing on top, the one that obstructs my clock from all angles but in bed, is a result of my resistance to find sacrifices.  The closet, if I opened it, would assault me with clutter that fills the bottom.  I find the space impractical, and yet I have freedom of movement.  I can make my way around the bed if I choose and access my side without that cramped feeling.  Yet, I'd love to have a dresser just a bit wider, deeper, and taller.  I'd love to get the clothes put away.

The window has the curtains drawn and shades down when it is in use and is opened when the room is empty.  Not that this makes a bit of difference, the view of the water tower outside is hardly scenic.  The only true scenery offered by the bedroom are the numerous photos, posters, and art depicting different places.  The art represents everything from Boston to Machias to Asheville.  Perhaps it is these gateways that open up the room to give it that spacious feel, or maybe it is simply knowing that our king-sized, wire-frame bed fits in this room that makes me feel like it offers everything I could want.  That is, so long as the closet door remains shut.

Monday, February 20, 2012

On Motivation

You may have noticed a lack of updates lately.  I certainly noticed.  I'd love to say that there was some epic reason for this.  The reasons for me not posting are, problems with motivation and problems with ergonomics.  Today I'll talk about both, focusing mostly on motivation as it applies to writing.

Motivation is a tricky word to nail down, in my opinion.  I find that the definition from various online dictionary sites sucks.  As a rule, I hate any definition of a word that refers to the word's root.  These definitions are almost as annoying as self-referencing words (for a perfect example, check out the definition of “the”).  Here is my attempt to define motivation.

Motivation is the state of being focused or driven to complete a task.  

How does motivation apply to the writing world?  In order to stay writing, you need to be motivated to do the writing.  That motivation is going to differ from person to person and from day to day.  Some days, I have little motivation.  Others, like today, I have bucket loads.  In addition to finding the main motivation to writer, there are obstacles that create barriers.  In some circles, you will here reference to “writer's block”.  I personally do not prescribe to this idea.  I've never had “writer's block”.  I've had “I'd rather play Skyrim block”, “this character needs to be shot in the head block”, and “my wrists are killing me and I wish I'd die block.”

Motivation is exactly what you put into it.  This is the hardest thing that you could probably hear, but this is true.  You cannot get motivated if you don't have a solid motive to do the writing.  (Damn, self-referenced the word!)  For me, writing is about sharing the story and becoming a better communicator.  Writing is also about proving to the world that I can do this.  I write because it creates a personal joy to know that I made my own world or universe on my own.  If it sounds like a bit of a god complex, it is.  Creative arts are the act of making something out of nothing.  If that isn't the biggest motivation right there, I don't know what is.

Unfortunately, we have to watch out for things in the world that take away from our motivation.  This can be difficult.  I could play Skyrim and run around and make iron daggers to up my Smith skill.  Or I could sit down and write 3000 words on my latest novel, Extrication.  One has immediate satisfaction with a short-term reward.  The other has a delayed satisfaction with a long-term reward.  Focusing on this long-term reward has been what I've personally needed to do to get the writing done.

Take a few minutes and create a list of what motivates you to write.  Post the list near your computer and maybe, seeing that list will be a good reminder of why you write.

At the start of the blog, I mentioned that my motivation was influenced by ergonomics.  I'll explain.  I have canal tunnel syndrome in my left arm.  Canal tunnel is like carpal tunnel only it involves the ulna nerve.  The nerve is located in your elbow where there is a lack of decent padding to protect it.  Due to my job, I'm typing around 15,000 words a day.  My ergonomic situation hasn't been great.  This is something I'm in the process of resolving.  As a result of my ergonomic situation, I've transferred the pressure from my ulna nerve to my wrists.

Today, I made some adjustments at home that seem to be making a difference.  It still hurts to write, but the writing is easier.  I'm hoping that between this change and the changes I'm making at work, I'll be able to maintain higher levels of writing without putting unnecessary strain on my wrists.  Only time will tell.

Upcoming blog posts:
Writing a scene – I've been requested to writing a short narrative.  I'll be doing so and discussing how scene writing is influenced by perspective. (Tentatively tomorrow)

Whatever Wednesday – I have something special planned for Wednesday.  I'm going to attempt to do some fundraising and I'll need help getting the word out.

The Stephen King post – I've been requested to do a blog post on my family story on Stephen King.  You'll like this one, I promise. (Thursday, if not, next Monday or Tuesday)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

2012 King of the Hill Movie Challenge

Drive v 10 Things I Hate About You
Last Sunday, we had company over to watch Drive instead of the Super Bowl. After watching Drive, we agreed to watch something fluffier. 10 Things I Hate About You was the choice. How will a gritty action and a romantic comedy fare against each other?

For those who do not know, the 2012 King of the Hill Movie Challenge is my system for determining the best movie of year that I saw. One movie from each month will be selected and, at the end of the year, I will do a tournament style showdown where they will take each other on until the final movie has been selected. Bracket placement will be determined by the number of movies the monthly movie faced and won.

First Contender: Drive

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Writers: Hossein Amini, James Sallis

Staring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, and Bryan Cranston

Drive is, without a doubt, gritty and dark.  It opens with a calm, cool getaway driver (Ryan Gosling) waiting for some robbers to return to the car from a heist. During the escape, the driver never loses his cool, even when those sitting in the back of his car are clearly starting to freak out about their pursuit from the authorities. The driver succeeds with his getaway and walks away as if nothing had happened at all.

Notice how I keep referring to the protagonist as “the driver”. In the movie, his name is never mentioned. In the ending credits, the character is only identified as “Driver”. This is a very interesting method of storytelling. Denying critical information about someone is a way to keep the audience invested in the character. Drive doesn't just withhold the character's name. Drive also denies a lot of information about Ryan Gosling's character. Midway through the movie, we learn that the driver just arrived one day.  There is no history to this character at all.  Another trick is seen at the start of the movie.  For the first fifteen minutes of the movie, the driver rarely speaks.  This hooked me onto the character early on.  Later, when the movie gets really crazy, I found myself forgiving the driver for some of his behaviors because I was hooked on his mysterious nature.  I can't think of a movie that uses this technique better than Drive.

The story itself was decent, albeit dark. Drive is about the driver and his romantic interest in Irene (Carey Mulligan). This is complicated by the fact that Irene is married and her husband is in prison. The driver, who cares more for Irene than her husband does, attempts to help Irene's husband get out of tough situation. This creates a downward spiral that doesn't let up until the movie ends.  The movie also has several of the goriest scenes I have seen in a while. If you do not like blood and gore, this is NOT the movie for you.

Challenger: 10 Things I Hate About You

Director: Gil Junger

Writers: Karen McCullah Lutz, Kristen Smith

Staring: Heath Ledger, Julia Stiles, Joseph Gorden-Levitt

10 Things I Hate About You is a movie based on the William Shakespeare play, The Taming of the Shrew. The movie follows Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger) and his attempt to woo Kat Stratford (Julia Stiles). I'd call the story formulaic, but this is based off of Shakespeare after all. Patrick is a tough, shop class student at school that everyone is afraid of. Cameron James (Joseph Gorden-Levitt) wants to date Kat's sister, but can't until Kat has a boyfriend of her own. So Cameron and his friend Michael (David Krumholtz) trick Joey (Andrew Keegan) into paying Patrick to date Kat.

This formula is pretty common place in movies these days. Guy lies about something to girl. Guy reaches the point that the original lie no longer matters. Girl learns about lie. Guy has to convince girl that the lie no longer matters. Guy eventually gets girl back. 10 Things I Hate About You stands higher than the rest of the field of this formula. First, it rightfully attributes that the plot premise is from The Taming of the Shrew. Second, the movie is well directed and well cast. The movie avoids common place cliches, common for movies at that time, with twists to the characters. Joey, the “villain”, is a model, not a football jock. Michael, the goofball, is decently liked in school. Patrick isn't just a shop guy, he also has a history that gives his character depth.

This is the hardest decision I've had to make so far. I enjoyed both movies quite a bit. Picking which movie won has been difficult. When I started writing the post, I hadn't yet decided. However, having now written out my response to each film, I can come to a decision. 10 Things I Hate About You is a great film. If you haven't seen it, rent it. However, 10 Things I Hate About You is a retelling of a famous story. Drive has a plot I've never encountered before. It has a type of character I would normally loathe that I actually sympathized with. I can't overlook that.

Winner: Drive

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

My Life with Anosmia

I am anosmic. The word is Greek and translates to “without smell”. Anosmic is the term used to describe people who have no sense of smell. For a long time, I thought I was born anosmic. I hadn't been completely convinced of this fact, because I do have the memory of one single odor. It is the smell of cherry cough syrup. That's probably not the best memory to hold, but it is the only smell that I do think have. Given the fact that I recall this smell, it is possible that I had a sense of smell at one point in time. When did this change? I do not know. How did this change? I have a theory.

I don't know when I discovered I have no sense of smell. I don't even know when I came to recognize the fact that I lacked a sense other people had. What I have, instead, are three stories about my sense of smell from my childhood. I also have my experiences living without this one sense and the interactions and complications that I have run into with this smell. And, I have my own personal response to common questions or statements I hear.

My earliest memory involving the sense of smell is a very short picture. I remember having a set of scratch and sniff stickers. The stickers, I believe, were fruit shaped. I tried scratching them and sniffing them. I didn't notice anything different. I tried other stickers and came to the same conclusion. My mom, I believe tested them and confirmed they did actually work. I tried again and gave up. In my childlike mind, I could not grasp that it was me, not the stickers that were broken.

My next memory has a little bit more detail to it. I was in the fifth grade in Mrs. Murphy's class. The class was studying the five senses. I remember volunteering to the class that I had no sense of smell. Mrs. Murphy actually tested this in front of the class. I was blindfolded and different foods were held beneath my nose. I couldn't even tell that something was underneath my nose, let alone identify a smell to them.

My other memory is more of a story. I was a teenager and I was vacuuming the living room. My mom came racing into the room in a panic. And had me shut off the vacuum cleaner. I had no idea what the alarm was about. Well, as it happened, the rubber belt to the vacuum cleaner had slipped loose. The vacuum cleaner was creating a lot of friction on the rubber, making the entire house smell of burnt rubber. My mom, realizing I had no idea this had happened, turned to me and said, “You really don't have a sense of smell, do you?”

The last story is important, because it is an echo in my life. Smell is both a major part of our world, and something overlooked. On one hand, I'm lucky with my disability. The impairment is both minor and inobvious. People can be horrible or idiotic when dealing with people with disabilities. I have witnessed first hand on numerous occasions the offensive behaviors from members of our society. I've been lucky in that I've never had to experience those behaviors. On the other hand, my disability has the drawback of being both minor and inobvious.

My mom's statement is a perfect example of the minor drawback. She forgot. Everyone forgets. My sister over Christmas, who has known me for her entire life, forgot. Everyone forgets that I have a sense of smell. I absolutely hate having to remind people. If I had a five dollar bill every time someone asked me, “What's that smell?” I'd own my own personal elephant with a private elephant trainer.

People forgetting I don't have a sense of smell isn't that big of an issue. It certainly isn't my biggest annoyance. That is reserved for people who are trying to sell products with an odor to them. You might find these people annoying too, but take this from the stand point from someone without a sense of smell. Imagine walking into Best Buy and having a salesperson shove a DVD within inches of your face. Now imagine going into Target and having a salesperson spraying jets of mist in your direction that only make your throat choke.

You see, there is something I didn't know about my sense of smell. Smell comes from two sources. There is the olfactory gland and the nervous system. The olfactory gland processes the smaller odors and transmits the signals to the brain. This gives you the different scents you come to know. The nervous system gets larger particles and transmits directly to the brain. My olfactory gland does not work, but my nervous system does. For me smell functions like this. Air is clean and crisp or air is thick. Candle stores, perfume shops, and those annoying “smell this” vendors don't produce positive smells. They make my breathing clench up.

FAQ Time!
First common statement: “Can you taste food?”

Answer: Yes. I can taste food and I enjoy a wide variety of foods. Most of what makes my food experience different from yours, is your ability to smell the seasonings and spices of the food. I can taste some spices in my meals, but not all of them. Which, in my opinion, tells me that some spices don't actually add taste to food. The reason why your food experience changes when you're sick, is because you are used to having the smell and taste blend together. I am not.

Second common statement: “That must be nice, not being able to smell XXXX.”

Answer: Thank you for pointing that out. I never realized that before that moment. Yes, the world has a wide variety of smells that are horrific, or at least I'm told. At the same time, I'm missing all of the smells of the world that aren't horrific. And, if that isn't enough, smell can invoke memories. That's something I'll never, ever be able to do.

Third common statement: “Are you sure?” or “How do you know?”
Answer: Yes, I've gone 33 years of my life and just haven't sniffed the right odor yet. There is no response to this question and yet I hear it a lot.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Context in Stories

You may have noticed that I've been quiet. I even missed the last Whatever Wednesday.  My writing group, Social Writers Assistance Group, is doing a major writing event that is keeping me busy.  We are doign what we call SWAGNoWriMo. It is a variation of NaNoWriMo with two major differences. First, the month of February is picked because of the lack of major holidays involving family. It also is in the middle of winter when there are less events going on. The other difference is the goal system. SWAG unanimously agrees that the concept of completing a novel in a month is not appropriate goal settings. Each of us are setting our own personal goals based on our own expectations.

I will still be blogging. I have three movies to report so far, for February. I won't be getting to those until tomorrow at the earliest. I also need to stay on track of writing Whatever Wednesday posts.  These posts, while important, are not part of the point to this blog.  This blog is a place to discuss the craft of writing. Today, I'm going to talk about context of a scene.

Context is important. Take this photo of Risu. She is sitting on the floor, looking straight ahead towards the camera. Her expression is a strange one. The photo is provided with no context. Take a moment and think about this photo before reading on. What do you think is happening here? A photo without context is like a story without context. You can look at at it and analyze it, but you don't have a full understanding without the context.

With writing, a lack of context has some benefits to it, but only to a certain point. Many books open with the characters in the middle of the action. These stories start you without context. You may have a character running from something.  You don't know what this character is running from or why. As the story progresses, this event is put into context as more details are provided. This use of context helps build tension and captivate the reader.  Another technique with context is to only apply a part of the context to emphasize something specific.  In the movie Cloverfield, a giant monster is attacking the city. The creature is only partially exposed to the viewer and never, in the course of the film, do you learn why it is attacking, nor do you learn what this monster is. In the case of this story, the context of the monster is left mysterious so that the viewer focuses on the the real story, the characters trying to survive this horrific and mysterious event.

So, what is the context of the photo with Risu? I decided to lie down on the kitchen floor with the camera. Risu came over to me.  She was trying to figure out what I was doing on the floor when I snapped the photo. Now go back to that photo and take a look at it. Doesn't this make much more sense?  That is the importance of context.