Narrativizing The Random

Yep, narrativizing. I’m pretty sure I just invented that word. Inventing words! I’m just that kind of edgy creative type.

I couldn’t think of an existing word for it, though. You know that thing you do when things happen and you connect them in your head even though they’re not apparently causally linked and it makes a story? That thing! Narrativizing the random.

It’s a vital skill in playing D&D. The dice act as randomizers, but then you have to work the random effects into the story, right? For example, I used to play a half-orc warrior who loved a fight, right? First into every fray, that kind of thing. I was always out in front in my eagerness to kill anything that moved. Except that for some reason, I couldn’t win an initiative roll to save my freaking life. I almost *always* wound up last in the round, despite the fact that I was the one standing in the doorway, and I had to explain that. So my half-orc became a wild enthusiast who tended to get over-excited and charge right past the target, or miss her first swing in the excitement.

I’ve had some good luck with ‘it’s a sign’! More often than not, when I decide that I have been given a sign to go shopping, I will find a sale or something I really want. Of course, I never ever get a sign to suggest that I should not go out in bad weather, so I’ve been caught in many a severe weather outbreak. Signs are iffy things. But it can be fun to roll with them and see where they lead you.

Sometimes reality positively connives at this. Every time my husband and I have a major fight, something happens to him. He’ll get injured somehow, or knock something over onto himself, or a coconut will fall on his head (really, this has happened twice!) or our daughter will strike him a mighty blow to the testicles apparently by accident (about twelve times and counting), or he’ll in some other way be struck down by seeming chance. It happens every single time. At this point, I’m honestly not certain if it’s an increasingly unlikely set of coincidences,  if he’s being punished by the household gods for doubting me, or if someone up there just likes messing with his skepticism.

Nothing ever happens to me when we fight. He thinks this is very unfair. I think it’s because I’m always right.

I’ve used it for writing, too. When I’m really stuck, I’ll turn to anything for inspiration. Tarot cards are often very helpful – every card has its own little story event thingie, so drawing one at random and then throwing the indicated plot twist in there can really get a stuck story moving. Putting on the television and using the first plot idea you see can also work. I’ve flipped coins when I couldn’t decide which character to kill off, I’ve consulted my horoscope for suggestions, and if I’m really having trouble I create copies of my characters in The Sims and see what they do. (This is actually really helpful sometimes. The way the characters interact can give you a ton of new information, like ‘hey, these two are attracted to each other? that makes so much sense!’ and ‘wow, this guy whose sexual orientation I hadn’t decided yet is the gayest Simling I have EVER SEEN, good to know’.)

If you’re really stuck, don’t be afraid to consult the oracles. Your random card or coin toss won’t always help, but sometimes putting your plot in the hands of fate can really get things moving. And if your horoscope says today is a bad day for creative endeavours, well, fate clearly intends for you to put word-count on hold for the day and play Dragon Age instead. For inspiration. And in day to day life, narrativizing the random can really add interest… and sometimes paranoia.

 

Exclusionary Health Food

I have some food intolerances – specifically gluten, dairy, and for some reason apricots. My mother attributes my complete inability to consume apricots without feeling sick to the fact that when I was three, I polished off nearly a whole case of them over Christmas and made myself violently ill. Whatever the reason, I can’t have them now.

And boy is a problem with apricots a pain. I have to be very careful about what moisturizers and body-washes I use, because a surprising number of them have a little stow-away called apricot oil. Whenever I question a salesperson, to the tune of ‘Is there apricot in this? I’m allergic to apricots’, they assure me that external use won’t affect me. Yes, well, years of rashes and red blotches say otherwise, pal. Fortunately for me, the cheapest stuff is usually apricot free, so that’s handy.

And then there’s snack foods. Go ahead, try finding a muesli bar (I think they’re called granola bars in the US?) that’s free of gluten, chocolate and apricots. I don’t know if it’s an Australian thing or not, but the ‘healthy’ version, the one without the chocolate chips or yoghurt dips, is almost always full of apricot pieces. It’s a good thing I like nut bars and plain corn-flakes, because even the gluten-free muesli is frequently full of little orange land-mines.

Gluten and Dairy seem to have some kind of mutual exclusivity deal going on, too – one or the other of them stake out most products. I was trying to buy a korma sauce yesterday – I make most of my sauces from scratch, but have not yet mastered the curry family – and couldn’t find a single one that wasn’t loaded with either dairy, wheat, or both. Add in the fact that my husband is allergic to onion, and there’s a reason that I have to make all my sauces from scratch. Onion is scary ubiquitous (and delicious, and I miss it).

I am told by vegetarian friends that stow-away meat essences and fish sauces are legion, by a friend who’s allergic to eggs that they hide everywhere, and none of us can buy canned soup. We all spend hours carefully reading ingredients lists, and enduring the occasional upset stomach when something innocuous turns out to have something dreadful lurking inside it. And we all have to endure the frustration of foods that only omit one thing. Can’t eat gluten? Let’s load it up with dairy! Or soy! Or eggs! Or apricots! And then there’s the ‘health’ foods that feel that healthy = mushy and tasteless.

My intolerances aren’t that severe. Though I’m usually careful about gluten, a little dairy doesn’t bother me too much, so I can at least eat the cheap chocolate. And it’s getting much easier to get gluten and dairy free foods. But I still walk by displays of ‘health’ foods without sparing a glance, because I know they all have milk solids or wheat or apricots or all three. I still know that the Woolworths store brands are actually more likely to be safe for me to eat than the ‘good’ stuff that prides itself on healthfulness. And it bothers me that in my lifetime, hippie child that I was,  ‘health food’ has gone from meaning ‘healthy food’ to meaning ‘expensive macrobiotic crap that doesn’t give a good goddamn about allergies or intestinal health’.

I miss being able to go into health-food stores for something other than vitamins. I used to like it so much when I was a kid.

 

Writing Novels in Australia

“Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

~ E.L. Doctorow

To plan or not to plan? Now that is the question. It’s a reasonably simple one, but the answer is very individual. Do you plan your writing with excruciating precision, writing detailed notes on timing, character emotions and actions? Or do you come up with a general idea for a great plot, and simply write it as you go? Or do you fall somewhere in between the two extremes, needing a few solid pages of notes on the plot, sub-plots and character dynamics, but without the intricate details?

I know authors at either end of the spectrum – those who plan the finite details of plot well in advance of writing the actual story, and those who simply fly by…

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Adapting Classic Works

It’s big these days. From Clueless to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, stealing adapting the works of classic authors is a surprisingly long-lasting Latest Thing. Especially Jane Austen. Ms Austen is cool. L. Frank Baum is also big, theftwise.

I personally enjoy doing this. The closest I’ve ever come to finishing a manuscript is my adaption of The Wizard Of Oz, entitled Mobile City: Overlander Z. (I posted the first draft of the first chapter a while back, if anyone’s interested. Any comments will be extremely gratefully received.) But as with anything, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. I understand P&P rewrites/sequels/adaptions are getting a chilly reception lately, which is why I’ve shelved mine for now. (Jane and Bingley’s POV! Let them tell their love story! It would be fun, must get back to it some time).

I’ve been rereading Jane Austen’s works lately, as I frequently do when I’m tired or depressed or don’t have anything new to read or it’s Tuesday, because I love them and will basically read them over and over forever. It struck me that while P&P adaptions are rampant, and Sense and Sensibility and Emma have had their turn in the spotlight, you don’t see a lot of Northanger Abbey or Mansfield Park or Persuasion gadding about in new covers or movie adaptions.

Which is a real shame, because while Mansfield Park is reasonably tightly anchored to its own time, the other two would adapt pretty well, especially as Clueless-style movie retellings. (I know a lot of Austenphiles don’t like Clueless. I don’t care, I think it’s just adorable) Take Northanger Abbey: idealistic, slightly silly young girl goes on holiday, meets cute guy and sweet or duplicitous girls, visits guy and his sister, frightens herself half to death with wild imagination, marries boy. It’s got Hit Romantic Comedy written all over it.

Persuasion would be even better. Girl is firmly discouraged from getting married at nineteen, boy leaves in a huff, woman never really gets over the loss, then is taken advantage of by her self-absorbed sisters and father, before meeting boy again, having a couple of adventures, rescuing father from marrying sister’s scheming friend and then living happily ever after. It would transition really well into a modern setting, I think, and I like Anne as a heroine. She’s a bit over the romance-heroine hill instead of being a Young Thing, philosophical about her disappointments, and always considerate of other people’s feelings – unlike charming but thoughtless Elizabeth Bennet, just for example.

The more I think about this, the better the idea sounds. So IT’S MINE AND I CALLED IT.

I’ve always meant to try scriptwriting…

Little Details And Coffee Fandom

Little details are important. A little thing out of whack can get the attention of someone of someone who knows how things are supposed to be.

I used to work for the Queensland Police, and I really impressed them once by identifying a counterfeit twenty dollar note from across the room, while it was in a bag. I couldn’t tell that the note was printed on paper instead of plastic, or that the holograms were missing… but I could see that it wasn’t exactly the right shade of red. (Australian twenties are orange-red) I’d worked for years in a supermarket, and one of the few things I do remember well is colour. I see a scarlet red instead of an orange red on a twenty and I know something is wrong.

Someone who handles money all day – and pays attention to it – is much more likely to spot a forgery than someone who only uses it to buy things. Someone who spends all day taking care of kids will notice the signs of illness, especially in a kid they know, before a non-expert. Someone who spends all their time in a particular place – the woods, the city, whatever – is going to notice something out of place that no visitor would.

… I had to get up and deal with the kid and now I have no idea where I was going with this.

So, I really like coffee. But I don’t like good coffee. I like cheap instant with way too much sugar. I’m really bad at liking coffee, or so I’m told by *real* coffee-lovers. But I don’t care. I like it how I like it and it works for me.

Coffee fandom is a lot like most other fandoms, when you get right down to it. Everyone thinks their flavour preference is the best, people get really passionate about what sweetener their coffee is shipped with, and they can be very judgemental of other fans who don’t like coffee properly. Seriously, walk into a Starbucks and order a plain black coffee, or ask for a mocha frappucino in a nice cafe, and see how people look at you. It’s Avengers Movieverse vs 616 all over again.

So it can be a good way of explaining fandom. A lot of people drink coffee, and they understand that drip vs instant is a whole big thing, and sometimes if you can find a comparison they understand, people can transition from ‘god, you’re so weird for being so obsessed with fictional characters’ to ‘God, you are not seriously comparing Captain America to a cappucino how does coloured ink on paper compare to SWEET CAFFIENE’.

Well, it’s not perfect.  But if you’re trying to explain fandom to a Muggle, coffee isn’t a bad gateway obsession.

 

 

So I Forgot Again

I forgot to post again. I’m sorry!

I forgot a lot of things yesterday, number one being ‘drink coffee’. Once I’ve failed at coffee, a lot of other things get forgotten – and in short order, since I left the house early yesterday.

If you have a bad memory, a good routine makes life a lot easier. Get up, shower, drink coffee, sit at computer, write blog, have breakfast – if you do it all in the right order, nothing gets forgotten. But if you think ‘hm, I’ll be busy tomorrow – I’ll shower tonight to save time in the morning’… well. It seemed like a good idea at the time. (I didn’t get breakfast either)

That’s the blessing and curse of a good routine – it keeps me from leaving the house without brushing my teeth or picking up my phone, but I have to do all the steps every time or it doesn’t work and I forget things and wind up missing the train. On one memorable occasion I wound up at the station with 1) no wallet, 2) no phone, and 3) the book I’d already finished, not the one I’d just started.

Routines are good. But don’t mess with them in the name of efficiency! It never ends well!

Multitasking

I hate multitasking.

I really hate that it’s expected of me because I’m female.

Some women multitask just fine, and good for them. But if you’re insanely forgetful, like me, multitasking rapidly turns into ‘wait, was I doing something else? What am I doing now? Did someone just talk to me? What?’ and getting distracted and having a half-dozen half-done tasks instead of four finished ones. I have learned that it is a very bad idea to go put the kettle on while the laundry tub fills, or to answer one email while the kettle boils, or just play one little flash-game while I think about what to write next in an email, because I will invariably forget what I was doing, and then I’ll flood the laundry, realize an hour later that I still don’t have any coffee, or realize two days later that I never finished answering that email.

I can mix related tasks just fine. I can make Kielle’s lunch and my coffee simultaneously. I can answer work emails while answering the phone. But I usually can’t leave the room and remember to come back. And it drives me mad when I get yelled at because of it, as has happened often both at work and at home. My sister once took shameless advantage of the fact that I don’t register sound very well or very fast while reading to walk up to me and say quickly and loudly ‘Hey, Sarah, can I hit you?’

I looked up and said ‘yes?’ because all I’d heard was my name.

She punched me in the arm.

I responded with “OW! Why did you… wait (her earlier words finally registering)… that was mean!”

Our dad, who’d seen the whole thing, nearly passed out laughing and refused to punish her for hitting me because she’d asked permission first.

I have no idea why, but it’s very difficult for me to read and process verbal input simultaneously. My mother has the same problem but even worse – she is literally incapable of reading and talking at the same time (she reads out loud just fine, but can’t read and talk about something different), and has to stop and do a mental reset every time she’s interrupted.

So if you have trouble multitasking, and have been told that you’re just not trying, or not paying attention, or whatever, then I am hugging you in my mind right now. Because I feel your pain.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go to the bathroom, put my e-reader on the charger, and find my phone. I am confident that I can get at least one of those done before I forget what I was doing and wander back to the computer.

Edit: I got distracted and played five games of Candy Crush before even getting up, and only just now remembered to charge the e-reader, but I got there eventually.