A Picture Says a Thousand Words

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Photography and the Art of Writing

So, I have some money coming to me this September. It’s from my Grandparents, the last of which very sadly passed away last November. Now I’m choosing to think of this money as my final birthday present, it is after all my thirtieth birthday in September. So, having put some thought into what I wanted, and they would have liked to give me, I decided on a camera. A reasonably powerful camera.

My Granddad loved taking photos, and they had lots of them. My Granddad even had a really expensive camera once, which was a shock to my dad and Nana when he brought that home. He may not understand the modern bells and whistles, but I think he would like modern cameras.

Anyway, so the camera is quite a personal thing. However, it’s also about writing. I’ve been using camera’s to help me write for some time. It all started off a few years back when I took a photo of Primrose Valley, (the one in Leeds, not on the East Coast), and wrote a story around it.

Since then, I’ve used photographs, and photography as a tool in a number of ways, some small, some large. It’s a handy tool to keep around.

Now, first of all, if anyone feels like following my usually terrible advice, you should know, it doesn’t matter how good or bad you are at taking pictures for this. I’m really bad – especially when I use my camera phone, (see the picture with this post).

There are all sorts of things to consider when taking a photograph, and you only have scant minutes, if that, to be ready to take it. I do my best with things like lighting, focus, composition and such – and if I get a new camera I’ll be really trying to get to grips with all that stuff. As a writer though, you don’t really need to worry about it.

As a writer what you need from photographs might be:

  • A catalogue (for description) of:
    • Things
    • People
    • Places
  • Ideas (inspiration)
  • Basis for story boards (planning)

Description

If you’re anything like me, (and there are some people out there that might be), you might struggle to do descriptions. I’m too busy writing to think about how something looks, it’s a distraction when in the flow of writing really. I mean, getting descriptions right is a very delicate work, and if you forget if a pattern had a green stripe over a blue, and instead go green over red, that’s a basic mistake that’s easy to miss in editing.

My solution is, as I write, I have in mind pictures, either from my anarchic photos folder, or from pictures, and clips online, stick them in a OneNote (or whatever your visual notebook of choice is, online or off), with a  note to who it relates to, and when. Then you can come back to it, in a quiet moment and give some definition to your very basic description.

This is great, because you can then sync up all your descriptions, (without repeating the same words), in such a way as you don’t contradict yourself.

This is probably the most useful reason for photography, and to be honest it really doesn’t matter if you take the photos yourself. I think it’s good to though, you choose the cars you want in your portfolio, the buildings, the rooms, the clothes, and the people. Google Images works just as well though.

Ideas

So, I’m not infallible, I have really fantastic ideas. I mean blow your mind fantastic ideas, but a lot of them never become something I can actually use. They’re too disconnected from reality, or their too real they’re mundane. Maybe I have a great concept, but nothing that really makes it concrete.

I need ideas to to tie it to, pictures are great for that. They give a bare bones idea some fleshy substance. Where I have a scene or a plot but no characters, I can have a visual representation of one. Maybe I’ve got a character, but no world for them, well I can pick some scenery shots, or a building, or maybe just a car, whichever, the character now has a universe, no matter how small. It’s something for the idea to interact with, which means it’s less likely to fade.

In my most recent NaNoWriMo Project, the Arsène Frassin space adventure, somehow I ended up with just two female characters in the whole thing. Not intentionally, I’d like to thinking I’m not a male chauvinistic pig, it’s just where the story went. However in editing, I’m going to insert a few female characters, and it’s helped to utilise images, (that I got from Google Images, wandering around taking random up close shots of women, won’t help you with your career as a writer, unless you want to write from behind bars),  to try and find suitable characters to a heavily male dominated universe.

Story boarding

Now, this one is new to me, but I definately see the potential. I’m on my big planning kick for the past couple of years, one of the things I want to try for NaNoWriMo 2012 is to not just have an outline, but a story board. Here I’ll already have key images set up, and laid out in reasonable order that progress with the story. Instead of hastily searching round for a descriptive picture I need to use later, I’ll have it to hand so maybe I can be more descriptive in my first draft.

Now, for stroy boarding, I can’t draw for toffee. Just a few very simple sketches, and maybe a technical drawing or two, but I can use photographs. Handily, for this year’s NaNoWriMo project, two of my three choices are set in the present day, which means I can take photos of places, people, fashions, and things that will be relevant to my novel. For the space option, I’ll have to get more creative, a combination of a visits to the Royal Armouries in Leeds, airports, and suh can fill the gap in the futuristic sides of the novel.

I’ll need shots of as many people as possible to drill down to my core characters, and same with palces and things. Always take too much, you can filter out what’s there to the essentials you need. Which is true of many things in life, to be fair.

So, once I’ve got all my pictures ready, using the outline, I can use OneNote, or Word, or Publisher, or my whiteboard to layout a story board and put the pictures on it. Choosing a picture to represent the core aim, location, character, or event for each chapter, or scene. If you want to get complex, (and let’s face it, I’m a complicated guy, so I do), you can do varying levels of story boarding. Starting at the overall plot, then each layer goes into more and more detail.

Before you think I’ve gone nuts, I should point out I’m a Business Analyst, and this is often how I go about designing process maps. So it makes sense to me, if you want to do a story board, find the way that makes most sense to you. Which is true of any advice you find online, or in books, or the random drunkard who once wrote a story long before he became a alcholhic, and insists on telling you how the best way to do it is.

Lastly

I mentioned, you don’t have to be particularly good, and that’s true. You don’t need a fancy schmancy camera for this, the camera on the phone will do just as well, (and whether you’re on iPhone, Android, or Windows Mobile there’ll be great apps for cataloging your photographs). That’s how a lot of mine get taken, from my phone, though I do prefer a proper camera when I can, sometimes the perfect thing that needs capturing is at the time you’re least likely to be carrying a camera. Make do, having the photo is better than not having a photo because you couldn’t have taken it perfectly.

I should add a note of caution, make sure you don’t appear like a peeping tom, it’s no good sticking your lens into people’s homes without permission for instance, and it’s no excuse for stalking.

And one final bit of advice, get a couple of high resolution crowd shots, within those crowds should be a mix of gender, ages, race and other cuts of society. When you’re stuck for inspiration for a character, get out the picture and point at one at random, then see if you can work them up into a character, complete with physical appearance and description. It’s a bit like people watching, only more convenient when you’re at home on your computer writing.

Happy snapping, and happy typing to you all.

P.S. I included that particular photo for a reason, aside from getting the law of thirds very roughly right, getting lead-in lines, it was done on my camera, and came out blurry, which is unimportant, it’s a great item for the story board for one of my ideas. Plus it didn’t contain any people, so I couldn’t offend anyone.

NaNoWriMo 2011 – Week One

So this time last year was an unmitigated disaster, and it’s telling there weren’t any more weekly posts after week one last year. This year I’m singing a different tune.

I’ll go into stats and numbers later on in this posts, however right now day six has just finished, and I finished it at 22,056. I’m not starting with any other number than that purely because I just want to take a moment to enjoy it. To bask in it.

Why because by Thursday, though I was over performing the 1,667 daily weird count by a few hundred our so each day I didn’t think I’d do it. I was behind on my pre-NaNoWriMo schedule that I’d set. Now I’m a tough scheduler, when setting them, but I do my best to make them easy to adjust when inevitably underachieve, which I was doing.

So what changed? Friday I went into the #NaNoYorks chatroom and met some lovely fellow participants, and we challenged and encouraged each other. As a result Friday I hit the 10k mark, and that felt great, I was start to build some steam, and have a buffer against a bad day.

Saturday was even better, had a great write-in in Leeds city centre, meeting many of the people I’d been in chat with the night before, and some familiar faces from previous years. Drank lots of tea, and wore a lot of words. That wasn’t enough though, so I was back in chat Saturday night, and when I was struggling to motivate myself and get started again I was given a prod or two and made it to 16k, and that felt great too.

Carried on after midnight too with some hardcore NaNoWriMo’ers  still doing word wars until 3am. Wasn’t quite as much written in those hours, but it did nicely.

Sunday evening it was a similar tale until midnight, it’s with their help that achieved my 22k.

It’s a genuine pleasure to be part of a community of writers all working towards the same goals, even if we all do so at faster and/or slower paces than myself. We all enjoy writing, talking about our writing, and other topics when we need a break.

I’ll be spending a lot more time in chat and won’t be skimping in write-ins, after payday will be going to more than just Leeds ones, I’d like to goto a Huddersfield one, and one in Scarborough (as post of a weekend writing by the sea).

So anyway, I’m feeling positive, and am hoping to get to 50k by mid-month so I can enjoy the pleasure of writing with less pressure for the rest of the month. The more I write the more options i’ll have in editing in January, and hopefully I can carry the form in December and redo the works in progress I mentioned in previous posts.

Anyway, six days in I’m getting good stats now from my tracking spreadsheet:

Words so far: 22,056
Total hours writing: 26
Avg Words Per Day: 3676
Avg Hours Per Day: 3.12

Avg Words Writing Per Minute: 15.25
Avg Words Per Hour: 915
Max Words Per Minute in a Single Session: 49.3

Avg Morale Per Day: 7 (a qualifiable number based on how I feel each writing period, or out of 10)

Number of Words Remaining: 27,944
Number of Days Remaining: 23
Number of Hours Remaining: 28.00

Those stats may not mean much to most people, but to me they’re a story that is unfolding as I do this project. For instance the average words per minute has risen by five since Friday which tells me that when I suit down and write I’ve been more focused and am starting to spend less time looking at a blinking cursor. Which is a very good story if you’re me.

I’ll stop feeling now and get on with writing. Here’s hoping for continued successes.

Nanowrimo Day One

Day one… is done.
I’m not going to bore you and me with daily NaNoWriMo updates – I’ll keep it weekly.  However as the first day is over, I thought I’d give it a start.
So my thoughts on my NaNoWriMo project so far – I suck. Okay, it’s not that bad, I’m  well past the 1,667 word standard target for day one, however I wanted to blast it. My  personal schedule called for 6,000 words. In the end, when I finished last night I was  at 3,062 words. I should be happy with that, but I’m not.
See the problem is, I got home from work, (and I’d been successfully writing on my  phone on the way home), and just went pfft. I got distracted by the interwebs,  television, food, reading the news. So what I need tonight is a digital coccoon to stop  this happening again. Going to need it to, as I’d really like to make the Herculean effort  to get back on track, (according to my schedule for the early push by the end of today I  need to be pushing 10l to 11k). However, that’s probably not reasonable, so if I write  6,000 words today, I will allow myself to get back online. Though from this point  onwards I’ll only be recording the shows I like, I’ll wait until I hit 50k to watch them, (I  actually prefer watching multiple episodes back to back anyway, you get to to see arcs  developing better than if watching them one by one.
After today the schedule, aside from weekends, becomes a lot less punishing – that’s  why a good strong early push is so important.
Okay, aside from my crap ability to focus after a days work, and my inability to resist  the temptation of other forms of entertainment,  the story itself is going pretty good.  I’ve got a pretty good idea where I’m going still, we’ve not gone completely off plan  (though I used more words than I anticipated in the first section – I can easily see in  editing that the word count in that chapter alone will drop 25-50% but I’m not too  worried about that now). I’m now on the second chapter, and I’m pushing hard at the  world building, because chapter one was too limiting an environment to build up the  world the story takes place. Chapter two is a little cruise, several meet and greets,  and  just a tinge of excitement, as a preview of what is to come as the story progresses to  the thirdhalf way point.
That’s actually a little bit of an issue, but again I’m pusing it aside until the editing  process – I think the plan I have flows pretty well, but it does trouble me that the main  events of the story line don’t happen till late on – with feeder events earlier on building  up to it. However, if it doesn’t work I’ll worry about it in editing, because it’s too late to  go back now, and if I go off plan I’ll probably lose the thread in my head.
This of course makes sense to me, but I offer no guarentees anyone else will  understand a word of this.
So, do I feel confident after just one day? Despite not being where I want to be, the  likelihood is I will finish this year, I do have a plan, I’ve got a cast of characters, yet still  there’s plenty of room for my own creativity.
I was going to throw in all sorts of random stats, such as I’ve spent around 4 hours 37  minutes writing, currently averaging 15 words per minute (including the time I’m sat  looking at the screen trying to motivate myself to put words down), at my current rate  there’s 59 hours writing to go, and as things stand now (with only a part day done on  the second day),  should finish on or around the 27th November), however I just could  find a seemless way to fit them into this post, so you’ll have to wait till I’ve got a few  days worth of stats.

And we’re off…

Right now, this very moment I’m opening up my laptop putting my fingers to the keys and getting started on the actual writing of my NaNoWriMo novel.

I’m only going to do an hour’s writing, I have to go to work in the morning afterall. After work the aim is three to four hours solid writing while the passion is there. All being well I can clear 10% on the first day, get off to a great start and ride out the rest at a fairly comfortable rate. Or panic write over half the word count in the last weekend, (though hopefully not).

I’ve also got a new spreadsheet which is based on spreadsheet that Erik Benson created (I found out via Google at http://erikbenson.com/nanowrimo-report-card.xls). I’ve modified it with a few macro’s to create a more accurate log of my time and writing style.  Hey, what can I say, I’m a stats geek, and honestly believe the better I understand how I write, the better I’ll be as a writer.

I need to fix a few things, but I’ll post it up when it’s done.

I’ve set myself a gruelling schedule, but it’s designed to slip and be rescheduled, though I’m going to really push the early word count.

So if anyone is hoping for any sense from me for the next thirty days, good luck with that.

Aspiring.org it’s coming back to life

I must be the worlds worst blogger – well okay with 7 billion people on the world as of the 31st October 2011, it seems so unlikely that I’m that unique in my lack of blogging.

It’s been the biggest part of a year since I posted here. As years go, it’s been pretty crap to be honest, but it there have been some pretty good moments, and a few game changers.

One of those game changers hasn’t been writing unfortunately, but as the year isn’t over yet I’m going to change that next month. Next month because it is National Novel Writing Month, and I’m going to end my NaNoWriMo listing streak, (previous form WLL). I’m well under way to making this year different to the disappointing last two years, as for the first time I’m making a serious effort to plan a novel.

Usually I have a great idea and I run with it until I run or if steam, and I enjoy writing by the seat of my pants. To be honest though, I rarely ever finish, because between energy draining BAU of the daily grind, and the distraction of often not great extraordinary events, my steam runs out far easier than I would like. Still just because I run out of steam with a project doesn’t mean that project is at an end. I have plenty of projects at various stages ready to go again when I’m in the mood. Indeed my plan for December is to rework two fantastic ideas for short stories I had from the past couple of years. Also though my NaNoWriMo project is a do over of the Space Corsair project I started last year.

Anyway, Aspiring is back, and between all the writing I’m going to aim to at least hit fortnightly posts from now until the end of the year.

Good luck to all my friends old and new taking part in NaNoWriMo this year.

28th Birthday Poem

So in the interests of establishing my own personal traditions, as with last year I’ve written a birthday poem, and as with last year its later than my birthday. We are getting closer though, last year it was a week, (or two),  this year its just a day, (or now two, as its one in the morning).

I make no claim to it being especially good, or an annual highlight to the poetry scene, (though my 27th Birthday Poem is the most read page on site – from people Googling for the exact words of the title I guess), its just a poem about my birthday and what the day means to me.

A Year to be Surpassed

A shadow fell over yesterday,
I turned twenty-eight,
It’s not that aging is bad,
But that another year has gone.

For every joy I’ve had to pay,
Yet seek joy come what may,
The same old slate,
Without a wipe date,
I will not say it was all sad,
And it didn’t make me mad.

The beast of success I did not slay,
My performance didn’t rate,
Yet for moments I am glad,
With a niece as lovely as a chiffon.

Another milestone be gone,
Next year I’ll have myself outdone.

©, Jonathan Lawrence 2010

P.S. I should add, as a cautionary note – I haven’t listed anything other than my niece being born as being explicitly good or bad. So I should note, that since my niece was born, I’ve enjoyed a fantastic time, being an uncle, thanks to some fortunate circumstances I’ve lived like a king, I’ve been to Prague, and I’ve come here to the Science Festival with some great people. Things like this were the moments I am glad for – just in case anyone thinks that I think I should be so rich and fortunate in life that the past two or three months have been less than notable.
When I think about it, it is quite strange that my niece coming into this world has marked such a massive turn around for my year, right at the end. However, life returns back to normal from here on in, I need to to start saving to make next year that bit more magical, all year round.
So to all my family and friends who have provided the highlights to my year, those moments I am glad for, have helped keep me sane when all else might have rendered me mad – I would like to say thank you. I hope I can do the same for you.

Quarks of Love

It’s been a while since I did much poetry, however I was going to be writing a poem today (and still will be). However, I got started early yesterday.

Once again I’m on holiday, this time not in Prague, but in Birmingham. I’m down for the British Science Festival, which is brilliant. So far I’ve been to the following talks and events:

  • New Psychology of Leadership,
  • Discovering Dyslexia
  • Planets Outside the Solar System
  • So What’s New in Particle Physics
  • What Yeast Can Do For You

The other event I’ve been to, and this is where the poem comes in, was “There’s Science in my Fiction (And Poetry)”, which was an open mic for writers and poets who use science in their writing. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean science fiction, whereby future technologies are emphasised, but current science, and historic science that exists.

It was a really good event, there were poems on one of the first morticians, (his rise to fame, and subsequent fall), short stories set in a lab, a piece aimed at children which was all about how earth got its moon (which was really interesting), and a poem about horses.

I umm’d and ahh’d about entering, but a friend convinced me (@maryrperkins), and so yesterday afternoon I sat down and cobbled together a piece inspired by the particle physics talk earlier that day.

Here’s the great thing – I went, and I stood and I read my poem out. Shitting bricks I was, I’m not exactly a public speaker kind of person, and I know my voice, and accent (when I acknowledge I have one), don’t lend themselves to the job either. I came third in the competition, and have one a year’s subscription to BBC Focus magazine, (which I’ve never read before, but apparently is all about science, technology, and the future, so I’ll bet it’ll be interesting).

Now, we’re on to what this post is for, here’s the poem that did me proud:

Quarks of Love

Continue reading “Quarks of Love”

Aspiring.org goes international

Good day folks, or as they say where I am now dobry den (or ahoy).

I’m currently on holiday in in the beautiful city of Prague. Only been here a day, but the creative juices are flowing (get your mind out of the gutter I meant the intellectual ones). So far in MSC (Memoirs of a space corsair) we’ve not done much but there is our first proper space battle coming up, and some actual piracy – I’m going to base the world they go to fence.their ill gotten gains on the Czech capital I think. It makes sense, the more we leave where we came from, the more we try to capture the spirit of what we left… so in the future major colonies will be heavily influenced by their language/ethic groups in architecture and design. The architecture here is beautiful that it needs to be preserved in some fashion by the Czech speaking people 500 years from now.

I think it will be especially true of language/ethnic groups that lost much of their homes on Earth during the wars of 100 years from now. Well its war or catastrophic after affect of going over the green cliff (entirely depends how preachy I’m feeling when I write it).

Just need to break my current chapter and the show will really get going.

Here We Go Again…

I never meant for there to be so long between chapters, however, I kind of got stuck, so much going on in life.  Of course work is the biggest drain on my creativity, but as I’ve mentioned before, it pays the bills, so has to come first.

However, there is a new first, and that is my beautiful niece Phoebe, born two weeks ago today. She’s amazing – well amazing probably isn’t the most accurate description so far she’s learned to sleep, poop, and cry, but who knows what she’ll be doing this time next week.

Also, I have a pretty significant problem which interferes with my ability to write for any length of time. I started with carpal tunnel syndrome a few weeks ago, it was, and still is, really bad in my left hand, however now my right hand has all the symptoms too. I know have tubigrip covering both my arms in an effort to find release.

Carpal tunnel snydrome kind of caught me by surprise, I never thought i’d feel pain like this – even know as I type everytime I stretch to hit a key the pain is there, but ther are times when its excrutiating, especially at night. I’ve known people that suffered, and heard of plenty more – but I always figured it was constant discomfort rather than pain.

It does mean the limited time, and energy I have in my life for writing his decreased considerably, because I can literally only write during times the pain isn’t so bad.

I’m not giving in though, in a couple of chapters time, Memoirs of a Space Corsair is really going to take off, and get into the exciting adventures in space, and I fully intend to enjoy it.

Meanwhile, while the muse is with me, and I’m able to write I’m trying to get as much of chapter five done as I can, since its a day off work today, but back tomorrow.

Writing Music Playlist Summer 2010

I’m a big fan of writing while listening to music, with the right music it can keep me going, and focused on the job. It was so effective last night I didn’t stop writing until 4am, which was nice. Fortunately I’m on a week off, (yes, I know I had one of those this time last month as well, my colleague likes to tell me that I’ve got “More holidays than Judith Chalmers”), so I’m free to write at all the odd hours. Its quite liberating waking up at 2pm, and writing until 4am – or whatever other time feels right.

So, yes writing with music really does help me. Of course it has to be the right music, it can’t be too exciting, or too catchy, and anything below three and a half minutes should be considered carefully – if the songs are changing too much you’ll pay more attention to the change. Or I would anyway, but I am easily distrac…

Ooooh Diet Coke, thanks.

Where was I? Oh yes, I’m easily distracted. Back last year, I had planned to do monthly ten song playlists – but I got distracted, I also got writers block, so it never really happened. What I’ve done this time, now I’m writing again, is to make a longer playlist, and call it a seasonal writing playlist.

I’ve got quite a mix of music in my summer version, it’s mostly easy listening, rock, and alternative, with a touch of pop – it works well as background music, while still giving pace to help put fire into the writing process.

If you other suggestions for a playlist for writing music, long or short, feel free to add them to the comments.

Since I got Spotify, it allows me to share my playlist with people – so if you want to have a listen to my summer playlist, just click here.

Click more to see the playlist without Spotify

Continue reading “Writing Music Playlist Summer 2010”