Finding Story in Setting

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When I needed to come up an idea for this summer’s short story contest I struggled to find a redemption story I wanted to tell.  I thought first about choices that needed redemption.  Next I thought about characters—who they were, what choices they made and what situations they found themselves in that required redemption.  Both were fine but not the “Wow!” story I wanted.

Finally I thought of setting.  One came to mind that would have lots of action and I could picture vividly.  I knew the smells, the sights and the sounds.  In my mind I wandered around my setting searching for my characters and their story I could tell.

Guess what?  I found both of them, or maybe they found me.

The antagonist found me first, probably because he would have the most interactions with everyone else in this setting.

Other character’s started to introduce themselves and their stories to me.  Then we worked together to find some action and discovers their disasters.  I threw a few rocks at them to see how they reacted.  They brushed off some like they were nothing.  They didn’t respond the way I was hoping to others.  I tossed a few more and together we found the right balance in character and action to bring a story I wanted to tell alive.

Fore me, these contests require a different creative process because my ideas need to conform to a preselected topic.  Typically I come up with ideas, write down the ones I like and develop the ones I love.  But in this situation, as with most contests and many freelance assignments, I’m forced myself to come up with something creative within the set guidelines.  That is where the ability to apply any new ways of approach idea generation can be a godsend.

Where do you get ideas when they need to conform to specific parameters?  I’m interested in what methods work for you, especially when you are under a deadline.

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Yearning to Learn

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Ever since I can remember I’ve always had a strong desire to learn new things.  In the past few years I have been diving deep into learning how to write a novel—structuring plot, building tension, crafting scenes and developing great characters.  Writing, whether a novel, short story or this blog, has been my creative outlet for a while now.

Lately writing alone has not been enough to fill my learning needs.  You’d think with all there is to learn about structure and style, brainstorming ideas, and sitting down to actually write would fulfill my learning needs.

Yet, I still needed something more, something different.  Setting aside any requisite skills and abilities to venture into other creative avenues, I thought about adding one of several options to my creative repertoire.

Music, Guitar?

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I’m no musician but I do love music.  I played the piano when I was young, but was never very good.

When I ventured back into piano lesson in high school, I learned to improvise the rhythm of the left hand by reading chord notation and playing the right hand as written.  This method provided me with the opportunity few of my piano playing fiends every had—to play popular music and make it somewhat recognizable to the listener.

Learning to play guitar seems somewhat similar, but it will need a dedicated regular schedule of lessons and a bit of an investment.  Guitar probably isn’t in my near future.

Drawing, Illustrations, Art?

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My dad’s mother was an artist.  She painted beautiful Michigan forest-scapes generally with a smattering of birch trees.

One day after dinner, I was probably in middle school, she taught me to draw my subject upside-down.  We pulled a Donald Duck rubber magnet off the fridge, turned Donald on his head and she had me replicate it on paper.  The result ended up to be far more accurate than had I drawn it from the correct perspective.

I have since learned that drawing a subject upside-down uses your visual right brain leaving the rational, thinking left brain that keeps telling you “that doesn’t look right” mostly out of the activity.

I need to learn more technical skills to improve my drawing abilities rather than simple practice.  I enjoy doodling, but I think I’ll leave illustrating to trained professionals.

Finding the Right Fit

These are just a couple of choices I considered, choosing two where I would likely have the best chance for success based on my interest level and limited history.  Whatever choice I made would need to fit my style and not be a burden on my other responsibilities and interests.

Although I yearn for another creative activity I feel I already have a lot going on.  If I could learn guitar using headphones, I think I’d pick up the guitar, although I’d prefer to learn acoustic.  I wouldn’t want my family suffer the sounds of my “learning”.

App Development, Coding

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I’m certainly dating myself when I tell you that I learned BASIC programming on my own using a TRS-80.  Then in sixth grade we were taught using Apple II+ and Apple IIe computers.  I still regret not taking more advanced programming courses (do you remember PASCAL and FORTRAN?) when I was in high school.

I’ve always been a math and logic based thinker which is probably why learning to code is so appealing to me.  As with other creative pursuits, I love the idea of creating something tangible from my own idea.  With coding there are loads of resources on-line, and I pretty much already have the software and equipment needed.

With the influx of apps created in basements or dorm rooms, on lunch breaks from work, by friends in bedrooms or a continent away, the flexibility checks another box on my next project evaluation list.

All that remains is coming up with that wonderful, exciting, stupendous idea.  But, isn’t that half the fun?

Choosing Your Next Undertaking

Selecting new skills and abilities to learn can be a tricky task.  In addition to showing an interest, you will need to evaluate whether you can put the time into learning that the new skills deserve.  Weighing your commitments to family, friends and work as well as those you have made to yourself for other pursuits must be done prior to embarking on such a journey.

Sometimes it can be appealing to dive right in, but your success with any new undertaking hinges on whether you can put forth the effort necessary.

I’m all for learning new things to make my own world a more interesting place.  I just want to make sure I’m not cluttering up the place with a bunch of half-baked attempts.

What new skills are you eager to learn?  Do you have any skills you started to learn then pushed them aside?  I’m interested to know what took precedence and whether you think you’ll pick them up again.

More Misses than Hits: My Weekly Update

To keep myself accountable, I have chosen to post about my creative progress each week.  Although you may not be invested in the details of my progress (or lack thereof), I hope you can take from some ideas on developing your own personal accountability method.

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Writing

Blogging

I fell short of my target and only had four posts this week.  This first week of summer activities from outdoor chores to fun after work weekly activities ate in to my writing time.  I’ve taken a look at how these activities impact my writing time and have adjusted my writing schedule to accommodate them.  I know with these adjustments I can hit my goal of six posts this coming week.  I certainly don’t want to miss out on the summer fun!

Next week’s target: Post 6 of 7 days

Fiction

I had little time for my novel but was a able to complete a Flash Fiction piece which I posted on Wednesday.  I’m not sure I’ll be spending much time outside in the 90 degree heat and high humidity this weekend, so my novel will be at the forefront of projects I will work on this weekend.

Next week’s target:  3 hours brainstorming and outlining

Photography

I spent a couple hours rewatching some of the Affinity Photo Video Tutorials.  I want to keep learning and have found that I get more out of each tutorial on a second and third view.  Much of this comes from a better understanding of the overall process and being able to take what I learn from one  tutorial to help me better understand others.

Next week’s target:  1 to 2 hours of tutorials and practice

Coding

I worked through most of the UICollectionView tutorial I wanted to complete this week.  My next step is incorporating what I learned in my own project.

Next week’s target:  3 hours, minimum with the goal of understanding Collection Views

Videography

I’m still working on the script for my Motion project.  I am targeting completion again this week because I am at a stage where I don’t want to put too much work into the Motion project until I have a clear understanding of the storyline.  I’m sure as I dig in to the actual animation I’ll have some story tweaks here and there but what I want to avoid is major structure changes.

Next week’s target:  Complete the script

I hope you are finding success with your own projects.  I’d be interested in knowing how you stay on target to complete your projects.

Motion: Testing Ideas

As I mentioned in my Friday post, I am working on a Motion project for the senior pet rescue where my wife works and where I volunteer.  I am still drafting the final script, but in the meantime, I am doing some test work in Motion.

A frequent part of the action will be characters moving on and off screen.  I am anticipating simple characters with few animated parts but I want their movement to be more realistic and less “riding on a skateboard” as they move around screen.

To accomplish this I added a wave motion path to my character with a very low amplitude and frequency.  I snapped the alignment of my character to the path keeping the character’s vertical axis perpendicular to the wave path.  This resulted in a subtle rock forward and backward as of the character moved.  The more I rewatch, the more I realize the action needs some tweaking, but overall I’m happy how it turned out so far.  Plus, it should be easy to replicate with slight variations for each new character.

For the idea clouds, I used a particle generator.  Again, I need to do some more tweaking to make the initial flow from the character’s head smoother.  I also want to add a second generator flipping the idea cloud so the trail of small bubbles points left or right depending on which side of the head the cloud emerges.  I’m not sure if I can figure it out, but I’d love to have the clouds pop rather than drift off the top of the screen.

Finally, the final idea cloud follows a motion path before coming to rest in the upper left portion of the screen.  Right now, the path is too long and complex as compared to the particle flow which makes the final cloud immediately stand out form the generated ones.  If I can simplify the flow and path to naturally follow the generated idea clouds, I hope it appear to drift off the expected path as the cloud generator stops.

I have loads more work to create my full vision, so I’ll keep posting more of my tests and any completed sequences as I push forward on this project.

Are you an expert with Motion?  I’d love to hear any tips or ideas you may have that will make this project better.

Photo Creativity: Affinity Photo

There is something to be said about an authentic, unretouched, undoctored photo. But, as we look back at many of our photos, do they truly represent the color,s brightness, contrast, clarity and details that we saw, or at least what we remembered seeing?

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Matching Memories

Whether we rely on the camera’s automatic settings or expertly fine tune them before snapping away, often the end result does not live up to our recollection of the scene. Maybe it’s washed out or so dark we cannot see many of the details. Do spots of overexposure that draw your eye away from other areas? Are the colors slightly off, especially in the skin tones, creating a slight alien aura to the shot?

Whether fixing a photo because it’s just off or because it doesn’t live up to our recalled expectations, digital photographers have so many tools available. Almost all free photo software—designed mostly for storing, tagging and logging photos—has some type of editing feature. These are generally limited to the basics of exposure, brightness, hues, contrast and maybe some red-eye corrections.

Once you make the leap to professional software, the number of tools increases exponentially. With infinite ways the tools can be applied, layered, and masked, any photo can be corrected to a more realistic representation of your subject or converted to a less realistic work of art.

So Much To Learn

I am a novice in this arena. I could never get the adjustments right in most of the basic software I have used, although Apple’s current version of their Photos app has far more editing features as well as the ability to add extensions (free or purchased) to further expand these capabilities.

Having so many tools is all well and good, but without some guidance as to what the features do and how to use them, most of us are stuck in a trial and error loop until miraculously the photo comes out as expected, or more likely we repetitively reset and fidget with the adjustments until we get something we think looks better but hasn’t necessarily reached perfection.

A Reasonably Priced Professional Option

When I first saw Affinity Photo demoed I assumed it would be out of my hobbyist budget since its features and technical abilities appeared to be on par with Adobe Photoshop. Then the demo revealed the price—$49.99 in the Mac App store and on their website and it doesn’t require a subscription.

In addition to the reasonable price, Affinity Photo offers a huge library of video tutorials covering everything from basics of using the software and simply adjustments to more complex layering and complete workflows. Most videos are less than ten minutes long but pack a ton of great instructions. What is harder to pull from these and so many tutorials is the reasoning behind applying each tool and the order in which they should be layered. The good news is this limitation does not detract from the usefulness of the tutorials because I was able to apply what I learned to my own photos, usually by following along step by step.

According to the documentation, Affinity Photo can read and export to Photoshop files, so in theory, you could use Affinity Photo and collaborate with Photoshop users or companies that require submissions in Photoshop file formats. I have not done this, so I cannot confirm how well the import or exports work, but many online forum responses indicate this feature works quite well.

The Choice Is Yours

I’ve never used Photoshop so I am not suggesting Affinity Photo is better or worse. I can propose an equitable alternative to the subscription based, top rated graphic and image editing software.

I’ve already learned so much, but have a long way to go until I feel comfortable in my editing. The image above is one of my recent attempts at improving one of my photos. Here is a side by side comparison of the before and after.

And, here is my attempt at a stylized version of the same photo.

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If you are interested in image editing, I encourage you to give Affinity Photo a try. They even offer a free trial of the software on their website.

Are you into image editing? Do you have a software preference? Let me know what you think in the comments.

 

 

I have no relationship with and have not been compensated in any way from Affinity Photo or Serif for this review.

Staying on Target: My Weekly Update

To keep myself accountable, I have chosen to post about my creative progress each week. Although you may not be invested in the details of my progress (or lack thereof), I hope you can take from some ideas on developing your own personal accountability method.

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Writing

Blogging

I’m proud of the fact that I have posted five times over the first seven days in June. With renewed commitment to my blog, I planned to post six of seven days. I nearly reached my goal for this first week. To stay on target, I am starting out the next seven days with this post on schedule, two more drafted and another sketched out.

Next week’s target: Post 6 of 7 days

Fiction

Getting back into my fiction project has been a struggle. I decided to go back to my first successful NaNoWriMo project from several years ago. That November I wrote 50,000 words without an outline, so it’s incomplete and quite a mess. I love the idea of this book and am now returning to outline the story. My biggest hurdle is the middle. It’s always been the middle. I have a clear picture in my mind of the beginning and the end, but the middle is causing me fits. Each time I sit down to work on the outline I am easily distracted.

Next week’s target: 3 hours uninterrupted brainstorming and outlining

Photography

I spent a few hours viewing Affinity Photo Video Tutorials and applying what I learned to my own images. I’m improving on a technical level and in my understanding of how to select and apply adjustments. There is still so much to learn, particularly on the “whys” and “whens”—for example, why should I use a curve adjustment over an exposure or brightness adjustment, or when should I apply a high pass filter first? More about this in tomorrow’s post.

Next week’s target: 1 to 2 hours of tutorials and practice

Videography

My current project is a Motion piece for the senior pet rescue where my wife works. I am currently doing some testing of the action sequences and drafting the script. As I move along in the script, I am realizing this is more of an undertaking than I originally pictured. I have figured out some motion paths and a cool particle effect but these still need loads of fine detail work. As a draft, I am liking how it is coming together. The rescue just began construction on their new shelter buildings this week, and I would love them to use this as a promo video about their new permanent home so time is of the essence to complete this project well before they move in.

Next week’s target: Complete the script

Coding

I dedicated most of my free time to blogging this week to ensure I met that goal. Not much time was left for other pursuits so coding fell by the wayside. Unfortunately, at my learning stage of coding, not keeping up with learning and practice results in significant steps backwards.

Next week’s target: 3 hours, minimum with the goal of understanding Collection Views

 

Good luck with your personal goals for the week. I will post an update on my target progress next Friday.  I’m interested to hear more about the projects you are working on, so feel free to share in the comments.

Journaling – What Your Creativity Needs

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I always thought journaling would be a waste of time. I never understood when I should, could or would want to go back and read prior entries. I resigned myself that journaling longhand would be useless since you would have to have an incredible memory or some intricate method of indexing entries if you ever wanted to find and reread something specific. When I decided to journal it would be on a computer using searchable software.

I am not one who journals daily, going days or even weeks without making an entry, but I have found a love for journaling and this love stems from the complete opposite reasons I listed at the start of this post.

After a while, I realized journaling isn’t about researching past entries. It’s not about finding something specific. Revisiting old entries should be an unplanned journey, albeit one into previously visited territories. These trips back in time can have so many unexpected affects. I’ve reread pieces that have forced me to figure out what the hell I was thinking or feeling at the time. I recalled things that had since slipped my mind. Rereading allowed me to vividly remember the emotions I replicated in words. At times I sparked new ideas for projects where I was stuck or needed a push in the right direction.

When I do write in my journal, the entry kickstarts my creative process. Whether I hit my full 500 word a day goal in an entry or only scribble out a hundred or so words, the act of journaling revs me up enough to continue using my creative juices.

It doesn’t happen for me everyday, but I don’t feel like I need to journal everyday either. Journaling cannot be defined, scheduled, structured. What it can be is useful as an enticement, and a tool for creativity.

Do you journal? What is your journaling goal or process? I’d love to hear more about you in the comments below.

Resolution Time, Again

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2018 is going to be a new year for me. I’ve said it before (probably even on this blog). You may have said it before, and we all could probably name a few people who we’ve heard say it before. For me, this year is going to be different for a couple of reasons. I have a new attitude and a new approach to making positive changes in my life.

The skeptic in me keeps asking, “how could your attitude transform as simply as the year changes on the calendar?” As I ponder his query (and yes, I’m aware arguing with myself is not always the best use of my time), I realize my attitudue has been evolving over several months now. Due to a very emotionally exhausting experience early this fall, my attitude has fluctuated between investing more time in my creative pursuits or just pluggin through life at my normal job. What the change in year gives us is a powerful line in the sand past which we can fully enact a change. Its a fresh start, a new beginning, or it can even be a do over.

I’m a goal setter and a resolution maker. This year it occurred to me that apparently I am better at establishing personal levels of achievement more than actually fulfilling these goals. I don’t beat myself up when I miss them because I can seemingly rationalize away the defeat by focusing on the other things I have achieved or new goals I have already set in my mind.

I am bound and determined to make a change in this personal process this year so I am taking a new approach. Rather than set very specific goals as I have done in prior years I am taking the lead from Scott Adams’ book “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life”. Adams says in his book, “goals are for lossers”, so this year I will establish systems. The difference between goals and systems, Adams explains, is that goals have a very specific outcome or ending while systems are things or processes you carry out every day that could, and in many cases should, go on indefinitely.

For 2018, I choose to focus on three systems – Learning, Organization, Completion. Rather than set a list of highly specific goals at the beginning of a long year bound and determined to morph from month to month, I changing my approach to set up three systems that will allow me to succeed this year even as my ideas, interest and available “me” time adjusts under the influence of external stimuli.

As of today, some of the things I would like to learn this year are Apple’s Motion software, Affinity Photo (an affordable Photoshop alternative), and advanced Swift programming. I’m afraid if I set out specific goals for all three items I would not sufficiently succeed in some of these goals. I might also purposely avoid an opportunity to switch gears should a new interest arise. By focusing on “Learning” I will be successful when I make progress on each and every new task I undertake related to learning.

I chose organization and completion as two additional systems. To make lifestyle improvements I see these system going together like peanut butter and jelly. I tend to jump around from task to task in both my profesional and personal responsibilities., so improving my organzational abilities will lead to seeing more projects all the way through to completion.

Even though this first post of the year is over a week past that all important calendar change, I have already made strides toward these goals. So far this year, I have been excited everyday to put my new systems to use. The key to my success is execution, continued execution.

Have you set any resolutions this year? I’d love to hear about your approach to success in 2018 in the comments section.

Practice, Practice and More Practice

Lately, I have been spending more time practicing my writing than working on my novel, and I can honestly say it has been for the better.  I am still moving forward on my novel by working through the structure and new ideas in my head.  Sometimes this process muddies the waters but more often it allows me to see clearly all the way down to the riverbed, but my daily practice is the driving force that will help me get through to the end.

I also read (and re-read) Joe Bunting’s book, Let’s Write a Short Story, which can be found at one of Joe’s sites The Write Practice or Let’s Write A Short Story or at Amazon.  I took the approach that I need more practice before I will be able to complete my first novel and what better way than to improve my ability to write a story.  Additionally, the confidence of completing a smaller project that must contain all of the same elements of a story will be worth any time spent away from my novel.

Practice tips are included throughout the book and after every blog post.  A morphing of several tips lead me to develop my own method for daily practice.  I chose to take at least five to ten minutes, once or twice a day, and write a descriptive passage based on an emotion, a feeling, an object, a character or any other single item I imagined.

This method of practicing frees my mind from the constraints of my current project.  These practice passages open my creative mind to new ways of approaching just about any aspect of a great story.  What’s freeing is not having to adhere to or develop a backstory or do extensive world building because these are just snippets.  The thoughts of “my character would never do that” or “that would be impossible in this world” never come into play.

And you know what the most freeing part is?  It doesn’t have to be good.  I write it and can set it aside, never to be read again.  I’ve written a few passages that I am proud of and may choose to develop.  If I can work out a full story that fits with the passage I wrote in practice perhaps I will use the piece in a completed short story or novel.  You never know.

Although I ask myself for only five or ten minutes to complete the practice, by the time I am done fifteen or thirty minutes have usually flown by.  The following passage took just over thirty minutes to write.  Other than correcting some typos and minor errors, the piece has not been edited.

If you have a few minutes I would be interested to hear your thought on my piece or how you practice your own creative pursuits in the comments below.

Dumbfounded described his sudden feelings perfectly.  Perplexed?  No that was too scientific.  Dumb.  Founded.  A wonderful juxtaposition of two words with so little in common, but his thoughts led him down a path designed to distract him.  It worked.  His mind knew him better than he knew himself.  He pulled his mind back to the situation at hand.  The predicament he found himself in could never have been predicted, at least not under the normal laws of physics.

He began to pace the room.  He pictured the great thinking minds of the world pacing or walking through a beautiful campus setting solving their problems.  With such little room to pace, he doubted the same methods would work for him here.

The sea roared below him.  At least that is what he assumed made that sound.  He had never been to the sea, so he pieced together memories of sea noise from movies and decided it matched.

The diamond shaped window sat high in the wall, emitting enough light for him to review his surroundings, but too high and far too small for an escape.  The curved walls began at the deep red wooden door and ended back at its hinges.  The black iron showed no signed of rust, in fact they appeared newly painted.  No handle or latch was visible on his side of the door, only a comically large keyhole, which made him chuckle a bit.  The infrequent yet distinct marching coming faintly through the underside of the door prevented him from peering through the hole.

Moments ago he had been in the gym locker room in Ohio.  Now the ancient stone walls, beastly wooden door and sound of the sea altered his well established understanding of reality.  Had he asked for this?  Perhaps, his mind answered him before going silent.  He was at last alone.  Truly alone.

Metal scrapping metal drew his attention back to the door.  The hinges squeaked as the door inched inward.