Thursday, March 31, 2011

College PE (Or The Only Place a Klutz Can Be A Dancer)

Most everyone has horror stories of PE in middle school and high school (unless you are a freak who likes running. In which case, my condolences. You have a whole other set of issues). Tales of being forced to run the dreaded Pacer, hit with tennis rackets, and bludgeoned by volleyballs (all of which have happened to me). The gym is only a fun place if you are an athlete (or have some margin of hand-eye coordination).

But when you get to college, the options for PE become diverse and actually interesting. You can take yoga, Frisbee, Scottish Dance, kick-boxing, the options are dizzying. The one downfall of this cornucopia of classes is that if you can get in, you get to participate. That means that sometimes people who are crazy and have no idea the limits of their body (i.e: Me) can take classes far, far outside their ability range.

Which is how I ended up in both a Martial Arts course and a Ballet class. In the same quarter. On the same day. Because I have no sense of limitations apparently. Oh, and I am a crazy person. But only when it comes to common sense.

Let's start with Martial Arts. There is a very good reason that you sign a waiver before you start class. Remember how in high school you couldn't do cool stuff because they were afraid students would get hurt and then the school would get sued? Well here all you have to do is sign a waiver and you get to hit people. In the name of learning.

Okay, so it's not exactly like that. You're practicing a specific defense and attack. So you have to attack someone in a specific way. But right now I'm sitting with a raised lump of a bruise about the size of a Pink Pearl eraser on my right arm. From twenty-thirty minutes of practice.

Oh, and for anyone who writes fight scenes? I think everyone who does this needs to take a martial arts class. So they know what it's like to get hit repeatedly and keep going. They know the stamina it takes to not give up and the way your body reacts to certain hits. You don't know what it's like to not drop your weapon when you get hit until you know how dead your arm gets when hit repeatedly in the same spot.

Now, for ballet. I will admit here and now that I am not a dancer in the least. I am actually probably about as far from dancer you can get. The only reason i could learn choreography is that I am stubborn and memorize things quickly. It won't ever look as fluid and effortless as an actual dancer can make it, but it works for my purposes.

I chose ballet because I thought "Hey, it's pretty and there's not a ton of complex moves (step-ball-change kills me every time). This'll be great." And yes, it is slower, there's not a ton of complexity to the moves I've learned (though bear in mind I am in a basic ballet class).

However, it takes a lot of stamina and control. Um, I am the girl with low blood pressure and practically no endurance to speak of. Stamina and control aren't exactly my strong points. By the end of that class, my head was spinning a little and my legs had turned to jelly. But I didn't trip over my own feet, so score one for the klutz.

Again, if you are writing about a dancer, take a beginning class just to get an appreciation for it. Actually, for anything you want to write about you should try and find a way to experience a version of it, participating yourself (except for drugs, because that just seems like a bad idea). It helps to have experience of what your characters are dealing with. Of course, this isn't going to work for everything, but for what you can get to, it gives you a better grasp of the experience. At least, it has for me.

And if you can't actually experience it (like being an astronaut or living through WWII) you can always find someone with firsthand experience to talk to. Yes, terrifying I know, but we all do what we must for our art :)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Book Blog: Romance, Vampires, Demons, and A Road Trip

Wow, it's been a very long time since I made a post with book reviews. But I have six (between two videos) to give today. And hopefully when I get back to school and routine I'll post more often. Happy Reading :)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Getting Into Character

Did you know that apparently the odds of getting on the New York Times Bestseller List are 1 in 220? Doesn't that seem kind of insane? But it does give hope to aspiring writers such as myself. It tells us that our chances of getting published, while not amazing, are not as dire as some might have us believe. I have 244 Facebook friends who are not writers I've friended. Which means that odds are, out of those people, one of us will someday be on the New York Times Bestseller List.

This fact maybe why I was catapulted into finishing a scene and conversation I've been having trouble with writing for a while. Now, I am going to let you in on a secret that may or may not make you think I'm crazy. Just know that I am not alone. The way I write is I can hear the voices of the characters in my head.

They talk to me, dictate what the story sounds like (especially in the first draft). For the most part, in that first run through, I let them control the story. They tell me what they know and where the story goes. I've tried to fight them on things before and I only win about half the time. And sometimes they pout and won't tell me their story for a while.

Some characters have a better idea of who they are than others. Some will throw hidden talents or emotional crisis at you from absolutely nowhere. And some simply say "Hey, we don't know how it happened, but we hated each other and then liked each other and then stuff happened. Good luck with that". Then I have to wheedle the story out of them (because they always know far more than they let on).

Authors commune with their characters in a variety of ways. Sometimes they get lucky with someone who desperately just wants to spill their story and the writer just has to try and keep up with the thoughts being provided. Others build complex character profiles, answering questions as the character to get a feel for their voice and thought process (this is especially helpful with first person narratives so you can hear what the voice sounds like before you start writing in it).

One tactic that many readers know of but don't know the reasoning for is writing with a playlist. You may think that this is just because the writer wants some sound while writing. And sometimes the music matches the story. Well the truth is that music is like booze for the people in your head. It loosens them up, mellows them out, and makes them a right bit more forthcoming about the vital plot points you're missing.

Not every tactic works for everyone. Personally if I'm having trouble concentrating on writing music is just distracting unless it is very very quiet. I'm sure my subconscious loves playing around with it when it's too low for me to actually hear. And I ask questions, but sometimes all that greets me is a cricket filled silence.

One of the best ways for me to pry the story out of my character is actually embodying them. This is actually how my trilogy began. The first book began just as me telling myself a story to try and get to sleep at night since I often have trouble drifting off. So I would play each character, have a basic template and then let them take me wherever they wanted.

I have terrible problems with confrontation (arguments, talking to strangers, etc.) which means conflict can be difficult for me to write. But I love acting, even if I just do it for myself. So when I get stuck there I sometimes actually get up and play the scene out, take the positions of both characters and embody the mood, talking through what they feel and how they act, even using dialogue. It's actually great for visualizing what's happening.

These are just a couple of things that help me when writing. Anyone have others? Oh and remember, if you know 220 unpublished people, any one of you could be a published author.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Pure Amid Merit

Wow, haven't done any posting in a long time. For which I apologize. I've been busy with finals and the end of winter quarter. I've had to write a 3500 word on Philip K Dick (who is a nut by the way) and prepare two separate portfolios, plus finish perfecting and then perform at the Glee Showcase (video of this to come later). What blogging time I had went into a blog project for one of my classes. Yes, English kids get the cool projects. You can be jealous now.

So what that all boils down to is no time for blogging. Plus I haven't really had a topic I wanted to blog about. But as I am getting closer and closer to the close of my education (at least the kind where I actually attend classes and do homework) I began thinking more about graduation. Graduation for some is just a chance to say "Finally I am finished with this." That's all some people need.

But others choose to walk, to have a ceremony that says "Hell yeah I graduated. I kicked ass and got my degree." And considering how many people drop out of school before accomplishing this (especially the higher up in education you get) this is a chance to be justifiably proud of your accomplishment.

I personally intend to walk when I graduate in the spring. Partly so that I get that recognition of doing something not everyone has the determination to see through. And I get the added bonus of only being twenty when I get my Bachelor's. There won't be anything in ceremony that signifies this, but I'll know.

There's another reason I plan to walk though, one that has nothing to do with accomplishment. I want the black robe so that I can finally have a decent Harry Potter robe. Yes that's right, I am participating in a time honored tradition of accomplishment so that I can satisfy my nerd needs. But come on, those robes are the perfect cut for Harry Potter. It's what they used in A Very Potter Musical.

For me, the other important part of graduation is the acknowledgement of my academic achievements. That instead of sliding by on a C, I work to get mostly As and some Bs (although the Bs irk me. But I haven't gotten lower than a B+ so far at Western). So I strive for graduation with honors. I want the cords dang it.

Only problem with trying for this at Western is that what honors and highest honors are depends on the GPAs of the other students in your "college" (Like I'm in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences). So you're shooting blind most of the time. I discovered today that I need a 3.76 to graduate with honors. This means I need two As and a B+ this quarter. Or higher, but if either of those As becomes an A-, I'm not going to make it.

Oh well, whatever happens happens. I know that my family at least will just be proud I'm graduating. And my GPA will be high, whatever it ends up being. Now, onto the educational part of this post, which the word nerd in my is just absolutely thrilled about.

At the university level, graduating with honors is called graduating "cum laude" (coom la-day). Graduating with highest honors is magna cum laude. As with much traditional university language, these phrases are Latin (this is why students have no idea what's going on with the university choices and budget cuts. Well that and sometimes it seems like the university just makes stupid decisions).

Anyway, back to words. I went and looked up what these words actually mean, since of course sometimes we don't actually know the real translation of what we're saying. And the nerd in me can't resist knowing things about words.

So, the word cum is used as an adverb or preposition. It means with, when, amid, on each occasion, in the situation that, and supporting. I'm sure the exact translation depends on the instance you use it in.

The word magna is an adjective. It means large/great/vast, powerful, distinguished, skilled, pure, powerful, and notable. This word was probably applied a lot to generals or leaders of Ancient Rome.

And the word laude is our noun. It means approval, praise, merit, renown, and even glory. So if you graduate cum laude, you've graduated amid praise and glory, with merit, and in the situation that you've earned praise and renown. If you graduate magna cum laude you graduate vastly powerful and skilled in your glory, pure amid merit, and notable on each occasion of praise. Does that make you feel all warm and fuzzy?

And even if you don't graduate cum laude, everyone graduates magna in my book.