I find it very hard to articulate my thoughts on this subject. I don’t think I can cover the full range of the issue in one post, but I’ll take a first stab at it. Maybe people’s comments will give me more insight and I can write a part 2.
Last week a TV report and an article prompted me to write this blog post.
The TV report was a PBS Frontline report on the development of Internet celebrity called “Generation Like”. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/generation-like/
The report covers the growth in internet celebrity; mainly focussed on young people. Internet celebrity can be very lucrative. What bothers me is the ways in which they have become successful.
I am very uncomfortable with promoting myself and my movies. I have been tempted to use techniques like misleading and sensationalized titles, stunts and outrageous behaviour, and various Search Engine Optimization tricks, and have even tried some of them a few times. Afterwards I always felt bad about what I had done, and so I now avoid anything that strikes me as pandering.
I am also unconvinced that these techniques will work for me. The kind of people who would find my work of interest are unlikely to be drawn in by tricks.
I have tried to build up followers on sites like Twitter. While it is fairly easy to gain followers, even if you don’t pay for them, it is much more difficult to gain followers who really support you. I have 1,558 followers on Twitter, but I doubt that more than a few dozen ever bother to read my tweets.
No one cares about your novel
The article was a Salon articled called “No one cares about your novel: So writers, don’t be boring!” http://www.salon.com/2014/03/12/no_one_cares_about_your_novel_so_writers_dont_be_boring/
This article looks at the difficulty writers have in gaining readers. An important issue is the need for writers to make money from their writing in order to be able to continue their writing career.
Again, there are many many writers who struggle for attention, but I get a sense that the goals are not the same as with the Internet celebrities. Writers seek attention so people will read their books and seriously consider what they have to say. With the Internet celebrity culture it seems that they want attention for the sake of attention.
When I read this article I was reminded of something I read about Alfred Hitchcock. He wanted his films to be successful as art, but he also felt that in order for them to be successful art, they needed to be successful commercially.
I believe that in order to be a successful creator you need to enjoy the activity of creation. But, unless other people appreciate your creation, the job isn’t done yet.
I’ve always thought that if what you create is good, then people will watch it. But, even if you do create something good, it is still hard to get people to pay attention to you. You can’t be successful without supporters. A few dozen supporters who really believe in your work are far more valuable than a few thousand who don’t bother to read your tweets.
I thin it is important to promote your work, but you must also continue to work to improve the quality of your work. With the technology available now it is much easier to make and distribute a film, but it is still just as hard to make a good film.
I made a few changes to the scene I started on last week. In it the two astronauts explore “the target area”. Then I extracted the dialogue from the STATE file. STATE stores the dialogue and other information in an XML file. All I needed to do was open it up and do a little reformatting.
I transferred the dialogue to Word, and then I used that as a basis to write the version for the story. I did make some minor changes to the dialogue, but most of the work was to add in descriptions of the location and the action.
I felt that it went quite smoothly. I feel that the text flows quite well.
I went on to do another scene. In it the astronauts explore a cave next to “the target area”. For some reason this didn’t seem to work as well. I’m not sure why. Maybe I tried to go too fast. I went through the same process to convert the dialogue into text for the story. Nevertheless, I felt that the process did help and the result was better than if I had just worked with the text and not the animation.
Next week looks like I’ll be busy with other things, so I won’t likely get much done on “Felix”.
I noticed a similarity between a recent news story and a script I wrote years ago and had abandoned.
I upgraded my computer from Windows 8 to Windows 8.1 this week, and spent the rest of the week fixing the problems that created. I didn’t get anything done on “Felix”. That left me with nothing to talk about in my blog, so I thought back to an old script.
Back in 2010, I wrote a script that I called “My Detective Story”. Not a great title I admit. I meant to go back to it, but after a while I decided to abandon it
Nevertheless, from time to time I do think about it. Although, overall, I am not happy with it, it does have some good ideas. I often wonder if I should have another go at it. I think I have learnt more about writing since then and could do a better job of it.
The central idea of the story is that a very important person commits a crime. A lowlife happens to make a video of the crime. The detective learns about the video and for the rest of the story he tries to get it.
I was struck by the similarities to the case a certain Canadian mayor. Do you think I can sue for plagiarism?
I actually got back to work on “Felix” this week. I think my idea to use the animation program STATE to help me write will work.
A couple of weeks ago I installed the animation program STATE on my computer. It is a hacked version of the Xtranormal program. I was reluctant to use it at first because of the uncertain legal status. Since Xtranormal shut down the program’s legal status is in limbo. That might be clarified soon, if the planned resurrection of Xtranormal happens. I decided that it would be OK for me to use STATE as a writing tool until the legal issue is resolved.
I also used STATE plus, which is an add-on that allows you to modify characters, sets and actions. I found that useful on this project.
I wanted to rewrite several scenes from “Felix” that I wasn’t happy with. In the first scene I tried the two astronauts explore a site on Mars and argue about what they find. STATE didn’t have a Mars set, so I modified the Moon set to look like Mars.
I shifted the colours from black/white/grey to pink/pink/red. I removed the lunar lander and the flag. I also duplicated the astronaut character, so I would have two characters. I gave them different helmet colours to tell them apart.
I tried twice to write a new scene. Both times went quite smoothly, but I wasn’t happy with the way I did it the first time, so I started over. I’m much happier with the second try and plan to build on that. I do find that it is easier for me to write with this approach, and I find that it does spark my creativity.
Unfortunately, I got distracted by experiments with the program. I didn’t really need to modify the set and characters like I did for what I planned to do. Even after I had something that looked like Mars, I continued to tweak it. It does look better, but it is hard to justify the extra effort.
On the other hand, maybe the extra work does help. The more appropriate it looks, the more it can “put me in the right mood” for the story. We’ll see how it goes this week.
I had thought my idea for this story was original, but then on one of the Lovecraft Geek podcasts (http://lovecraftzine.com/the-lovecraft-geek-robert-m-price-podcast/), Robert Price mentioned that someone had suggested that a new version of At The Mountains of Madness would have to be set on the Moon. I think Mars is a better choice.
Many writers distain “formula” writing. I am not one of those. I look to formulas as a tool to help me write. I think that all writers use formulas, but great writers develop a new formula for each story.
In movie making the most common structure is three acts. When I’ve tried to use this, I find it doesn’t help me with the second act, which usually makes up 70% to 90% of the movie.
I found an approach that I find works better for me through a study of the writers Lester Dent and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Lester Dent’s article on his formula was particularly useful. (see: http://www.paper-dragon.com/1939/dent.html )
Dent formula is for a 6,000 word action story, but I have used it for other types of stories. I want to write stories that are longer than 6,000 words. Since he divides a story into four parts, I developed a multilevel structure based on the four parts. My structure has three levels.
- Acts – The top level I think of as parts, but they could be called acts. The story has four acts.
- Sequences – The second level I call sequences. Most movie writers think of sequences as a series of scenes that build upon each other. This is how I use it in my formula. Each act has four sequences.
- Scenes – The third level are scenes. By this I mean what most people think of a scene. Each scene will tell a little story that moves the main story along. In my way of looking at it, several scenes can happen at the same location and time. Each sequence has four scenes.
The final structure will have four acts, sixteen sequences and sixty-four scenes. This structure is used for planning the story. As you work through the story, you can add or eliminate scenes sequences and event acts as needed to make the story work.
Purpose of Each of Part
I deviate from Dent’s approach in how I see the purpose of each of the four parts of the structure. The different parts are:
- Realization – where the protagonist realizes that he faces a barrier. Initially the protagonist doesn’t want to deal with the barrier, but then realises that they need to.
- Weak Response – where the protagonist makes an initial attempt to over come the barrier. In general this attempt will fail. In cases where it succeeds, it will turn out that he has only succeeded with part of the barrier.
- Distraction – where the protagonist is distracted from the goal to get past the barrier. This is a special kind of barrier, in that it is not directly related to the primary barrier, it only distracts them from their efforts to over come the primary barrier.
- Strong Response – where the protagonist makes a more concerted effort to get past the barrier. This may, or may not succeed.
These four parts are repeated at each level. The four acts will be realisation, weak response, distraction and strong response. The four sequences within each act will have the same structure, as will the four scenes within each sequence.
The mistake I have often made in the past is to put too much effort into subplots. This structure forces me to concentrate on the main story. Any subplots would only show up in the distraction step.
Each of the acts, sequences and scenes involves the protagonist meeting a barrier and either overcoming it, or failing to over come it. I start by brainstorming a collection of barriers and ways of overcoming them. We would need a total of 84 barriers for the complete outline. However, it is wise to generate far more than that. Many ideas just won’t fit into the story when you need them.
My next step is to start identifying at which level a barrier is used. A locked door could be a barrier in a scene, or in a sequence or in an act. It might even be that the goal of the whole story is to open the door. The various barriers can then be slotted into a scene, sequence or act. I would start with the acts and then move to sequences and finally scenes.
I haven’t really put much thought into characters. Usually I focus on the plot and the character develops from that. Some times I come up with lines that I want the character to say, and then use them to define the character. This may not be a good way to do it, but I do find that characters will often begin to take on a life of their own.
As I said above, I see this formula as a way to get started with a story. When it comes time to write, I don’t want to be trapped by the outline. It needs to stay flexible. I often find it hard to rewrite because I have become attached to the story the way it is. Even when I am not happy with the story, I find it difficult to break out of the structure.
I see the creation of the outline (formula, structure, whatever) as the bulk of the work of writing. The actually writing of the story is much easier after a good outline has been done. That said, I still have difficulty with the actual writing of the story. In part this may reflect that I think like a movie maker, and the script is really just an outline you fill in with the help of others.
“Felix”, a science fiction story set on Mars, was inspired by a H. P. Lovecraft story.
What has me blocked is that there are several sections that I want to toss out and start over on. Everything I try sounds far too bland after a couple of lines. To a degree, I think I am still somewhat wedded to the earlier version.
When I did “The Barrier” I found it much easier to write when I did it directly in Xtranormal. I think that maybe that is an approach I should try. It may at least get me to think differently about the story.
I haven’t heard about anyone else who used Xtranormal as a writing tool. I can’t imagine I am the only person who thought of it.
Xtranormal is no longer available and I haven’t found anything that I really think is a good replacement. There is a “abandon-ware” version of Xtranormal available (State Plus/Forever), so I downloaded and installed that.
I ran into a couple of problems with the install, but I have most of them fixed now. Since it isn’t really supported, I can’t get any outside help. I hope to have it working in the next few days.
The program is different than the Xtranormal Desktop that I used. I’ll need to get familiar with the system before I can start to use it.
In last week’s blog post, I talked about an idea I had to replace Facbook. Well, it turns out that isn’t a new idea. One person on FaceBook suggested that I look at Diaspora. (diasporafoundation.org)
It isn’t quite what I had in mind. For example, it has been hosted at an on-line “pod” and not on your own computer. You can set up your own pod, but it comes across to me as a very geek-friendly system. In other words, not everyone can set it up.
I suspect that over time it will become easier to use so non techies can use it. I’ll keep an eye on it, and see what I can learn about it.
If you have had some experience with Diaspora, I would like to hear about it.
Many people are dissatisfied with Face Book and other social media sites because of privacy concerns. However, since these sites allow them to connect with friends and family, they are reluctant to abandon it.
That reminded me of when people first began to use e-mail back in the 90s. At first, most did so within a network, like AOL or GEnie. This limited communication to others on the network, so eventually people shifted to e-mail clients like Outlook, Eudora and Thunderbird. Something similar could happen with social media.
A Way to Gain Control
The way for people to maintain control of their own data is have it reside on their own computer, tablet, or cell phone. A system would be needed that would allow people to share this information with friends and contacts. I think this would be some kind of peer to peer network.
I suspect that it would have to be developed as an open source project. Possibly it would only be necessary to develop a protocol for social media data transfer. That would allow multiple developers to create social media client systems just as e-mail clients are today.
I think it would be difficult for a system like this to become popular unless it is easy to transition to. A social media client could be developed that would connect to other people through Face Book or other provider. The information would reside on the individual’s computer and only links to the information would be loaded onto Face Book.
I’m not really on top of the technology, so maybe there is already something like this available. The closest thing I know of is Hoot Suite. If you know of something, I would like to hear about it.
I find it difficult to get started on my rewrite of my science fiction story “Felix”. Once I get started, I am sure it will go OK, but I haven’t got started yet.
I feel frustrated at my lack of progress. Part of the problem I think is that the rewrite is daunting. There seems like so much that I need to do. Somewhere I read that the way to rewrite is to rewrite several times. Each time you focus on a different aspect. I think I will try that approach.
My first rewrite will be to make structural changes to the story. This isn’t too big an issue, but I think it will help me get started. I want to move some sections around. What I have now is strictly chronological and I think parts of the story should be told as flash backs. There are also some parts where I want to cut material out. I have some long sections of detailed description that I want to be just suggested.
In my second rewrite, I plan to replace several sections of the story. This is primarily because I have changed my mind about what should happen. In some cases the sections are too short and not in enough detail. In others I have the plot develop too fast. In both cases the changes are drastic enough that I think it is better to start over from scratch. I expect this rewrite will take up most of my time.
I plan to do several rewrites that focus on just one character at a time. I want to ensure that each character is consistent in how they talk and behave. I have 4 main characters, so that means 4 rewrites.
In my final rewrite I want to focus on the details of the writing. That will include grammar, spelling and sentence structure. At the same time I plan to work on what I call word-smithing, where I revise the writing for clarity and flow.
Hopefully, this will greatly improve the story. Then I can start to ask people to read it.
I wasn’t very productive with my film and writing projects this week. I dabbled away on “Felix”, “Bright Freedom”, “The Barrier” and “Two Friends”.
I did do some analysis of my story “Felix”, my Lovecraft/ Science fiction story, in preparation for a rewrite. Mostly I tried to work on the structure and where I needed to rewrite. I wanted this to be my top priority, but I have made any progress on it.
I also did some analysis of my story “Bright Freedom”, about the woman lawyer. I haven’t done any work on that since the summer of 2012. Again, it was mostly reworking the structure. It needs a lot of work.
I did a little experimentation on “The Barrier”, my transportation planning story. Someone suggested that the robot voices really detracted from the movie. I tried to record my voice to replace Arthur’s voice in one of the scenes. It really didn’t work well. I got the timing off. Arthur’s lips were still moving after I finished talking. It is a skill I just don’t have. Maybe I can do it with a little practice.
Xtranormal did allow you to use pre-recorded voices in place of the artificial ones. There is still a rumour that Xtranormal may be restarted, which would allow me to use that approach. Otherwise, some other animation programs have a similar feature.
I tried out soundcloud.com this week. It is supposed to be like a YouTube for audio. I recorded my short story “Once Upon a Time”, my fable of greed and friendship, and posted it a few years back, but later removed it.
I made one change: I renamed the story “Two Friends”. The audio had the old name, so I tried to re-record the title. Unfortunately the sound quality was very different, so I couldn’t use it. Instead, I found the phrase “Two Friends” in the story and did a copy and paste. I had to modify my website. I renamed the story and added an audio player to the story page.
I find it very difficult to promote my movies. Partly it is because I don’t feel comfortable promoting myself, and partly that I just don’t know how. I’ve read many blogs and articles, but I still haven’t found something that works for me.
They say that the best way to promote your work is to produce high quality and unique movies. Even if you do, it is still hard to get people to watch. Another twist to keep in mind is that, no matter how good your work, not everyone will like your work, so you need to reach the people who will like your work.
There are many “tricks” that people use to attract interest, and it is easy to be tempted to use them.
Search Engine Optimization
It seems like you find people who push SEO everywhere. This can be done in a positive way, since there will always be people who want to find what you have on offer. All too often though, it can be just a bunch of tricks to get people to visit your site.
Time and again I’ve visited sites that seem to promise something that interests me, only to find it isn’t what I wanted. I get quite annoyed when that happens. I often see people in comment sections expressing their anger at this kind of thing. I must admit I used a similar approach with my movie Who Shot the President.
Another problem with this approach is that it is self-defeating in the long run. For long-term success as a movie maker you need to develop a fan base. When you turn people off you’ve lost them forever.
Get More Followers
Many people believe that you need to build up the number of people who follow you on Twitter and other websites. You can even buy followers. Even when they don’t buy followers, some people resort to various tricks to get others to follow them. One that particularly annoys me who follow me, then when I follow back, they thank me and then un-follow me.
It was my practice to follow people who followed me, but I now doubt that this is a wise approach. I follow far too many people to really follow what they post, so why follow them. On the other side, what is the value of followers who never see your posts? When I checked this morning I had 1,543 followers on Twitter. I doubt that even a tenth of them have ever noticed any of my posts.
One good follower who supports you is better than a 100 that never even see your posts.
Face Book Pages
Face Book pages are supposed to be a good way to keep in touch with follows. With recent changes to Face Book, that has become more difficult. Even before the changes, if someone didn’t click on your posts on their feed, Face Book would not put them on their feed anymore.
Once you’re no longer on people’s feeds, it is very hard to get back on. Many people are angry at Face Book for this change. I wouldn’t say I was angry, but I am disappointed that people who said they want to know what I’m up to are cut off so easily. On the other hand, is there anything I can do to get people to interact with my page more, so they continue to get my posts?
Rules to Follow
I have started to adopt some rules that I think will work for me.
Don’t Annoy People – Do not do anything that would annoy me if someone did it to me.
Don’t Look for Followers, Look for A Follower – Build up your followers one at a time. It is the quality of follower that you need to focus on, not the quantity.
Don’t Lash Out at Criticism – A nasty response can drive people away. A more constructive response can draw people in. This has been a challenge for me.
I am sure that there are many more that will help me, and fit in with my approach to life.