Dignity of the person and the character of characters

droughtThere’s been a lot of bad news this summer. Drought, unrest, domestic violence, hacking the Cloud, hacking off heads… in the 21st century. We’d hoped we would be better by now.

One of the most important things the arts can do is allow us into another person’s world. Of course, if you set out to do that, you probably won’t achieve much of anything beyond preaching to those who already agree with you. But if you’re willing to allow it to unfold as part of the process, magical things can happen.

Some are calling the leaking of nude photos of celebrities sexual assault – no – sexual assault is sexual assault. What is closer to the mark is a disregard for the dignity of another human being. Intentional humiliation is attempted murder of the soul.

Disregard for the dignity of another human being. How do the characters you create feel about that

Michael Redgrave in The Browning Version
Michael Redgrave in The Browning Version

phrase?

At their best, stories help us understand each other and ourselves. If you can tell one honestly, passionately, through writing or acting, you will affect others. Watch the actors who allow their vulnerability to shine through; think of the books that stayed with you. What was it that resonated? If you are willing to dive into your unconscious, if you have courage, if you are willing to be still and let us see, you can give that gift. Michael Redgrave shows us the secret part of himself – he allows us to see his vulnerability – and a quiet performance becomes powerful and deep.

What do you know that is yours? That thing you’re fighting. Your success. Your failure. What do you feel deeply about? Why? If you allow the real you, with all the fears and insecurities and secrets to shine through, we will love you for it. And you will make our load just a little easier to bear.

 

 

Guest Post from Grammarly: Are Style Guides Poisonous to Your Fiction Writing?

grammarly 2 This week’s guest post comes from Nikolas Baron of Grammarly. Thanks, Nick!

When I sit down to learn how writers write — their styles, preferences, and techniques — I fluctuate between feeling limited and focused. Most companies have official style guides to help writers communicate in a clear voice with tense, tone, vision, and style. Some writers find style guides constricting; but to become a published author, a writer needs to adhere to the guidelines of the magazine in which he or she wants to be published. Writers dream of being published in “The New Yorker” not only because of the prestige, talent, and luck they must have to make it between the pages, but also because they like the style of the magazine. Publishers have a distinct voice they want to resonate through the ink and text of their magazine. It is a good idea to look into what kind of material a magazine, newspaper or publishing company publishes before contacting the business with your work. Style guides help writers see the end of the tunnel and the path they should follow to a successful piece. Although they can be limiting, style guides are an important branch of the writing tree.

Writing fiction novels is far different from writing a short story and hoping to publish it in a magazine, newspaper, or literary journal. When you write a novel, you can write however you want, for as long as you want, about whatever you want. When you are a writer for a fiction literary journal or hope to publish a piece in one, it’s important to remember that a style guide keeps the magazine going. Readers are buying and reading that magazine for a reason; they like the content and style of the material. Violating the style guide and writing something outside the material defeats the purpose of having a magazine devoted to that particular niche. When you’re looking for a place to publish your material, do your research. Spending the extra few hours finding a magazine that caters to your style, techniques, and genre will not only show the editors you understand their goals, but your material has a better chance at becoming published. Also, when you submit your work for publication, an online proofreader can be key. Proofreading your work will help to incorporate different stylistic elements you identified in their previously-published pieces.

Would you publish a Stephen King short story in a children’s literary magazine? Probably not. This is the same sort of idea that goes into professional writing. You wouldn’t want to send a query letter to a science fiction journal if you write romance stories. It’s unprofessional, shows that you blatantly don’t care about their journal, and that you’re too lazy to spend a few minutes looking into what they normally publish. Styles of journals, along with their style guides, are critical to keeping your favorite publications going. By ignoring them, you’re only putting your publishing career at a disadvantage.

When you book a writing job, you want to make sure that you fit in with their style; you could be writing in it for quite some time. Do style guides limit grammarly 3you? Perhaps in some ways, but if you have chosen the right place for you to write for, those limitations will most likely be small. When you begin proofreading your articles, it’s a lot easier to fix and incorporate pieces of the style guide. It’s also easier to find those mistakes when using an online resource like Grammarly. Grammarly has a great proofreading tool that will help you look at your writing in a mechanical sense and identify your most common errors. If it seems like a style guide is too limiting, it could be because your writing is mismatched with what the editors are looking for. Although some style guides are extremely specific, sticking to a style guide is what keeps writers employed, and magazines, newspapers, and literary journals afloat by being consistent with viewpoint and style.

By Nikolas Baron

Nick’s Bio:

Nikolas discovered his love for the written word in Elementary School, where he started spending his afternoons sprawled across the living room floor devouring one Marc Brown children’s novel after the other and writing short stories about daring pirate adventures. After acquiring some experience in various marketing, business development, and hiring roles at internet startups in a few different countries, he decided to re-unite his professional life with his childhood passions by joining Grammarly’s marketing team in San Francisco. He has the pleasure of being tasked with talking to writers, bloggers, teachers, and others about how they use Grammarly’s online proofreading application to improve their writing. His free time is spent biking, traveling, and reading.

Movement & Character, part one

Benedikt Negro
photo kateconklin.com

Sunday evening, I had the great pleasure of taking a workshop at Body Chance from Benedikt Negro, lead performer in Cirque du Soleil’s O for the past 11 years. Let that sink in a moment. 11 years, 10 shows a week and no injuries, thanks in part to the Alexander Technique. That’s something like 5,000 performances. He studied mime and pantomine for 3 years in Berlin in addition to dance, acting, etc. It is astounding to be taught by someone who has that much control over his body. And we had a lot of fun!

Shorthand difference between mime and pantomime? In pantomime, you walk the dog, in mime, you are the dog. Paul Curtis, Founder/Director of the American Mime Theatre, uses the following definitions: Pantomime is the art of creating the illusion of reality by dealing with imaginary objects or situations. Its art rests on the ability to imply weight, texture, line, rhythm and force to the air around them. Mime, on the other hand, is the art of acting silently through various kinds of theatrical movement.

Among other things, Benedikt taught us about progressive and digressive movements (as in throwing and catching an imaginary ball bouncing off a wall). The movement is big to small and then small to big in terms of the body – torso to fingertips, fingertips, hand, arm back to torso. It’s expressed in the body, not the face, which is an important note for improvisers, actors and fiction writers creating characters. Concentrate on the body, the shape, how it moves and you can learn a lot about character and emotion.

After the workshop, he performed for a small group of us and it was extraordinary. At O, the audience is 2,000, so to see a performer of his caliber in a studio was a very special treat. There was a Q & A and my question was how he keeps the performance fresh for himself after years. He said that once he regarded it as part of his daily routine, then it is like anything else, some days you notice a spectacular sunrise, or enjoy the smell of coffee, birdsong, or a friend’s smile. You look for the small pleasures and that’s what keeps it fresh not only for himself but the audience. He was very aware of the obligation to the person seeing the show for the first time. Good advice for anyone, especially those of us living the creative life.

More next week….

 

Movement & Character, part one

Benedikt Negro
photo kateconklin.com

Sunday evening, I had the great pleasure of taking a workshop at Body Chance from Benedikt Negro, lead performer in Cirque du Soleil’s O for the past 11 years. Let that sink in a moment. 11 years, 10 shows a week and no injuries, thanks in part to the Alexander Technique. That’s something like 5,000 performances. He studied mime and pantomine for 3 years in Berlin in addition to dance, acting, etc. It is astounding to be taught by someone who has that much control over his body. And we had a lot of fun!

Shorthand difference between mime and pantomime? In pantomime, you walk the dog, in mime, you are the dog. Paul Curtis, Founder/Director of the American Mime Theatre, uses the following definitions: Pantomime is the art of creating the illusion of reality by dealing with imaginary objects or situations. Its art rests on the ability to imply weight, texture, line, rhythm and force to the air around them. Mime, on the other hand, is the art of acting silently through various kinds of theatrical movement.

Among other things, Benedikt taught us about progressive and digressive movements (as in throwing and catching an imaginary ball bouncing off a wall). The movement is big to small and then small to big in terms of the body – torso to fingertips, fingertips, hand, arm back to torso. It’s expressed in the body, not the face, which is an important note for improvisers, actors and fiction writers creating characters. Concentrate on the body, the shape, how it moves and you can learn a lot about character and emotion.

After the workshop, he performed for a small group of us and it was extraordinary. At O, the audience is 2,000, so to see a performer of his caliber in a studio was a very special treat. There was a Q & A and my question was how he keeps the performance fresh for himself after years. He said that once he regarded it as part of his daily routine, then it is like anything else, some days you notice a spectacular sunrise, or enjoy the smell of coffee, birdsong, or a friend’s smile. You look for the small pleasures and that’s what keeps it fresh not only for himself but the audience. He was very aware of the obligation to the person seeing the show for the first time. Good advice for anyone, especially those of us living the creative life.

More next week….

 

Don’t fall on the idiot side of stupid

IdiotIn an ongoing conversation about men and women with my friend, Chuck, he remarked that men often fall on the idiot side of stupid where women are concerned, whether it’s about seeing what’s right in front of them, breaking old patterns or choosing destructive over healthy. Women have their own issues around bad judgment, such as bonding before they have any idea of what they’ve gotten themselves into and then literally fighting their own biochemistry to break free (see Dr. Pat Allen).

I’ve been thinking about what it means to fall on the idiot side of stupid in other areas and it seems that a lot of it goes to the issues of change and habit. I’ve been taking improv classes for about six months now and can recognize habits and patterns. Some of them are very successful, but as with any art form, they can also be a trap.  Light side/dark side. At TEDGlobal, I learned the Greek root for idiot, idios,refers to the self, so there’s a self-centered component in all of this. What happens when you look past yourself?

If you always date the same type of person and it always crashes and burns, you might want to change your type even if it feels weird, wrong, scary or uncomfortable at first. Challenge your assumptions and pre-conceived ideas. Same with the acting, writing, music, painting, or improv habits you’ve developed. Some of them may not be serving you; some of they may be serving you exceptionally well, but there might be challenges to learn from if you shake things up.

There’s a great tribute to the late Elmore Leonard by a man who had a life changing encounter (yeah, NRO, get over it, arrived via libertarian). It’s a testament to the power of habit and how to churn out a great deal of work over a lifetime. After reflecting, and particularly after a time of day exercise in improv and seeing how scenes change when the time of day changes – for example an office at 8:30 am is different from right before closing is different from the office in the middle of the night (H/T Craig Cackowski) – I began to wonder how it might affect one’s writing if a writer mixed it up, if one did not always write first thing in the morning. I realize not everyone has the luxury to experiment due to jobs, kids, spouses and other family obligations, but if you can vary any part of your creative routine, do so and see what happens.

zeus-greek-mythology-687267_1024_768
Zeus says don’t be an idiot.

Elmore Leonard’s routine worked for him and I’m not saying you have to change what works – far from it! – but consider the habits, routines, choices and so on that you know in your gut are hindering your progress, your growth as an artist and as a person. Try something new once in awhile – a new routine, work with unfamiliar characters or forms; if you’re single, date someone “out of your league” or against type; try a new activity such as rock climbing, improv, singing, learning a new language, anything that sounds both intriguing AND scary, so you don’t fall on the idiot side of stupid.

 

Don't fall on the idiot side of stupid

IdiotIn an ongoing conversation about men and women with my friend, Chuck, he remarked that men often fall on the idiot side of stupid where women are concerned, whether it’s about seeing what’s right in front of them, breaking old patterns or choosing destructive over healthy. Women have their own issues around bad judgment, such as bonding before they have any idea of what they’ve gotten themselves into and then literally fighting their own biochemistry to break free (see Dr. Pat Allen).

I’ve been thinking about what it means to fall on the idiot side of stupid in other areas and it seems that a lot of it goes to the issues of change and habit. I’ve been taking improv classes for about six months now and can recognize habits and patterns. Some of them are very successful, but as with any art form, they can also be a trap.  Light side/dark side. At TEDGlobal, I learned the Greek root for idiot, idios,refers to the self, so there’s a self-centered component in all of this. What happens when you look past yourself?

If you always date the same type of person and it always crashes and burns, you might want to change your type even if it feels weird, wrong, scary or uncomfortable at first. Challenge your assumptions and pre-conceived ideas. Same with the acting, writing, music, painting, or improv habits you’ve developed. Some of them may not be serving you; some of they may be serving you exceptionally well, but there might be challenges to learn from if you shake things up.

There’s a great tribute to the late Elmore Leonard by a man who had a life changing encounter (yeah, NRO, get over it, arrived via libertarian). It’s a testament to the power of habit and how to churn out a great deal of work over a lifetime. After reflecting, and particularly after a time of day exercise in improv and seeing how scenes change when the time of day changes – for example an office at 8:30 am is different from right before closing is different from the office in the middle of the night (H/T Craig Cackowski) – I began to wonder how it might affect one’s writing if a writer mixed it up, if one did not always write first thing in the morning. I realize not everyone has the luxury to experiment due to jobs, kids, spouses and other family obligations, but if you can vary any part of your creative routine, do so and see what happens.

zeus-greek-mythology-687267_1024_768
Zeus says don’t be an idiot.

Elmore Leonard’s routine worked for him and I’m not saying you have to change what works – far from it! – but consider the habits, routines, choices and so on that you know in your gut are hindering your progress, your growth as an artist and as a person. Try something new once in awhile – a new routine, work with unfamiliar characters or forms; if you’re single, date someone “out of your league” or against type; try a new activity such as rock climbing, improv, singing, learning a new language, anything that sounds both intriguing AND scary, so you don’t fall on the idiot side of stupid.

 

The Unforgettable Image, Part Four

Here’s the next installment from Lee Stoops. Been a crazy week, so apologies for the delay in posting!

Building the Case for Changing the Way We Think 

balanco-clouds-girl-perception-swing-Favim.com-55374We need to make sense of our perceptions.

Imagination is the core of our human experience. It’s how we build memories and process. I’m not talking about imagination as we often hear about it (cliché). Rather, I mean imagination in how we’re constantly creating everything we think as we think it.

We label these skills as innate, and therefore, forget how impossible it is our brains can do what they can do. We can invent complete realms within the unseen space of our minds just using the things we derive from our perceptions of a shared world. And that’s just the beginning.

If we’ve forgotten anything we learned immediately as children, it’s that we should be giving our imaginations carte blanche. Instead, we listen to critics and doubts and just about every voice we can hear, those in our heads and otherwise, and we lock up our brains up as they age.

We claim we don’t, but we do. We say things like “the more I know the less I know” and think we’re being clever and profound and mature. But what are we really saying?

That we recognize we have trouble using the first tool we ever learned how to use. Simple is sophisticated, here, but we’re so focused on sophisticated, that we forget how beautiful and natural it is and should be to let our minds just go.

As we age, we use our creative capabilities more for easy rationalization or occ

asional problem solving. Somewhere along the line, most of us have started thinking about imagination and memory as a perk of existence rather than the means. They certainly are the benefits – why we love books, movies, art, music.

As we hear all the time – this experience is magic. It’s what we’re constantly after, both in our reading and in our writing. We’re looking for the things we don’t have/know/understand, and we’re trying to make sense of the things we do.

But, think about this – outside our little world of narrative lies a world of problems being solved by imagination.olivier_hamlet3 For example – being able to imagine ourselves in other people’s places is how we gain social relationships and understanding. But it takes knowledge and memory to do this.

Knowledge. Things we know. Things we remember. Things that start to inform our imagination. We hold onto everything, not just for the sake of storing information, but because it enables us to make sense of future experiences, and it gives us the ability to predict outcomes, or, in the case of the impossible, imagine outcomes. We all daydream. Why don’t we give ourselves more credit for what we can cook up?

In the next post, we’ll look at methods of identifying unforgettable imagery in what you read for developing unforgettable images in what you write.