Month: May 2015

Self-Help Characterisation

What with one thing and another, I have read a number of self-help books – particularly parenting of late. There are a few of them that have been helpful to my family in handling otherwise contentious situations, but this post is not about how to use self-help books to improve your life.

What these books are great for is demonstrating dysfunctional character traits.

There are a few ways to use these books as a resource:

  • use the negative examples. Any book which is talking about child behaviour is going to be presenting examples of children with those undesirable or inappropriate behaviours – imagine an adult with those traits, or a new-born AI.
  • use negative behaviours to escalate the situation. If your antagonist’s mental state is shading into irrational because of emotional stress, try having the protagonist attempt logic and reason then see how far that gets them.
  • use the positive behaviours to give your characters plausible techniques for “winning”. This might be as simple as being given actual insight into how a knotty situation could be resolved, but might be a specific action or way of thinking that could calm things down enough for the protagonist to gain the upper hand.

My intention is to make this an occasional recurring series here – not to review self-help books for their original purpose, but to present the kinds of character details which can be extracted from them. A couple of particular books I’ll be looking at include How To Talk So Your Kids Will Listen and The Whole-Brain Child, but there are a couple of ADD-related books which have interesting things to say too.

Are there any psychosocial resources you use to give your characters realistic traits?

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Star Wars Day


Happy Star Wars Day.

I’ve seen every single Star Wars film at the cinema in the year of its release, and I intend that to continue. I will concede that we went to see the third of the prequels more out of a sense of duty than actual excitement, but still – we achieved some kind of closure.

I was ten when the first Star Wars film was released. It took us a few goes to see it.

I grew up in a small town on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales which did not have such luxuries as a cinema. The nearest theatre to us which was showing Star Wars (back in the early days when it was not yet A New Hope) was in Bradford. We all piled into the car and started the drive.

About four miles down the road in standing traffic, the car overheated. It was winter and had been cold overnight (the film was release in early 1978 in Britain) and my father had put a blanket over the car engine to stop it freezing. Unfortunately, he had forgotten to take the blanket off again, and it had been caught in the fan which broke. No fan meant the radiator overheated.

The second time we went, there was a long queue to get into the cinema. My mother had not joined us and we eventually got in to the theatre which was showing the film. Unfortunately, there weren’t actually enough seats (this being in the days before computerised ticketing when they actually knew how many seats had been sold) so we were all standing at the back leaning against the wall. The ushers ushered us out. Something about a fire hazard, I believe.

Finally, on the third go, we got into the cinema and there were seats! However, there were not four together so I sat with the older of my two sisters (who was eight) while my Dad sat with my youngest sister (who was six).

It was mesmerising.

I don’t remember much about going to see <i>The Empire Strikes Back</i> although I imagine very long queues were again involved.

However, <i>Return of the Jedi</i> sticks in my mind because it was the first film I went to see at the cinema on my own. I took the train into Bradford and walked across town to the cinema which was showing the film. The queues were not as bad as earlier, and I did enjoy the spectacle.

I am delighted to realise that my sons will be same age that I was when we go to see the Star Wars VII as I was when I went to see the first film almost forty years ago.


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2015 Goals Post: Beltane Edition

Last time – I said that things were busy, and they have continued in that vein. We’ve had some short times away and school activities which have occasionally been disruptive, but dropping planned work on Song was a good decision.

Traffic Lights

Finish Song0/30/3n/a
Complete Shapes1/31/11/3
Write every day2/22/22/2
Run Hood To Coast4/43/43/4

Shapes is the only fiction I have worked on this period, and I’ve made consistent progress on that. At this point I am expecting to continue on that book until the second draft is done before picking up Song again.

1. Finish Song

The 2015 plan:

  1. Read second draft – read for readability and typoes.
    Last action: read the draft.
    Working on the Shapes so I haven’t picked this up yet.
  2. Apply corrections from draft read. Pending completion of step (1)
  3. Give it to my wife to read Pending completion of earlier steps, and depending on her interest.
  4. Revise that second draft Pending completion of earlier steps.
  5. Polish the draft Pending completion of earlier steps.
  6. Make submission materials – synopsis, pitch, hook, and all of that.

Goal Assessment

There were no Ostara goals for this project.

Total: n/a

Goals for next update: including these goals as placeholders for when I come back to this book. Still no metrics for Song this time though.

With that in mind, these are the things I will work on next if I come back to Song, but I’m not going to define metrics this time.

  • review and typo edit second draft manuscript.
  • identify any significant issues with the story.
  • hand it off for first read feedback from my first reader.

Metric: none.

2. Complete Shapes

The plan for Shapes:

  1. complete detailed outline – done!
  2. play with some ideas in the outline
  3. complete outline
  4. second draft

Goals Assessment

Goal from Ostara was:

  • try out some of the ideas I have for variations in the premise – achieved. The new premises are interesting and make the right promises to the reader early on.
  • fill out the outline around the end of the story – no work specifically on this, although there has been a lot of outlining and background writing to flesh out other story components.
  • have a completed outline, preferably re-combined with text – as I mentioned last time, this was never a realistic goal and it was not achieved.

Total: I’ve finished off the list of questions that need to be resolved and continue to work through the hotspots and other issues. This is a yellow since only the first one of these metrics was really achieved, but I feel like I have a stronger story to start working on in earnest around mid-summer.

Goals for next update: finish the outline –

  • finish the high-level plotting.
  • populate detailed outline.
  • re-combined outline with text.

Metric: Yellow for one or two of these, green for all three. The first two will be in the text format, while the third should see me going back to Scrivener*. At this point I am expecting to go from outline to drafting without pause.

3. Write every day

Make words or something every day.

Goals Assessment
I’m pleased both that the writing log has been maintained and that it is useful.

The amount of not-writing this period has gone up because of a couple of necessary weekends away and some day job interference. Despite that, I wrote on 32/40 days in this period which is 80%.

I’m a little disappointed with this rate, but I am still calling this a green because I logged honestly, made actual progress on all projects, and did in fact make words on more days than just the work week.

Goals for next update: the metrics for this goal worked the last two periods, so keeping those the same – keep a log, and make sure that I actually put fingers to keyboard. I will call this green if I write more than five of seven days on average (72%).

4. Run Hood To Coast

The plan for my racing this year:

  1. Shamrock Half Marathon, 15-Mar-2015 – completed!
  2. weight
  3. speed
  4. Hood to Coast, 28-Aug-2015

Goals Assessment

    • lose weight – failed. I am up if anything, but I have also stopped weighing because I know I will not like what I see.
    • start cycling again – achieved, but later in the period than it should have been. I’ve been back on the bike for only a week.
    • stay on the 10,000 steps a day – achieved, although again late in the period. The lateness of making these goals may be connected to the failure of the first goal.
    • continue uninjured – achieved. There are niggles, but nothing persistent.

Total: 3/4 – yellow.

Goals for next update: Hood to Coast beckons, if we actually have a team.

    • lose weight – lose five pounds, because good… grief.
    • cycle more often than not – the week I’ve ridden so far has helped a lot. Keep it up.
    • stay on the 10,000 steps a day.
    • continue uninjured.

Metric: yellow for 2-3, green for 4

Extra Stuff

A New Dawn started a couple of weeks ago and it was epic. The second episode went well too – I like this story, and I Like exploring it with my friends.

[*] it may seem strange that I am working on an outline in text files when I am such an avowed enthusiast for Scrivener, but the detailed outlining I am doing requires line-by-line positioning which is harder for me to manage in the more user-friendly tool.

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