11 August 2014

Transformers robots in disguise

Some very cool advances in technology I thought I'd post on today.

1. Origami Robots:
These crazy self-folding/self-constructing robots are inspired by Origami.
Check out the video.
Prof Wood, who is also part of Harvard's Wyss Institute for biologically inspired design said there were a huge number of applications for devices that self-fold.
"Imagine self-deploying structures - maybe shelters or structures for space exploration or for satellites," he told BBC News.
"Things where the logistics are difficult, like humanitarian aid in war zones."  "
2. Computer Chip full of artificial neurons.
Computer are fast when it comes to a lot of calculations, but there are some things the human brain can do better, but it maybe we are about to be outstripped.
I'm going to give a longer quote here: "Part of the reason is that both the architecture and behavior of neurons and transistors are radically different. It's possible to program software that incorporates neuron-like behavior, but the underlying mismatch makes the software relatively inefficient. 
   A team of scientists at Cornell University and IBM Research have gotten together to design a chip that's fundamentally different: an asynchronous collection of thousands of small processing cores, each capable of the erratic spikes of activity and complicated connections that are typical of neural behavior. When hosting a neural network, the chip is remarkably power efficient. And the researchers say their architecture can scale arbitrarily large, raising the prospect of a neural network supercomputer.


Conclusion: Together these things give the Transformers. Maybe one day we really will see Bumblebee and Optimus Prime - the thinking self-constructing robots of fiction could be made real.




22 July 2014

Word Crimes

Have you heard of Weird Al Yankovic? If you haven't now the time to find out :)

He does marvellous parodies of popular songs. This one has to be my favourite  - and I'm sure all the other writers and editors out there will agree with me :)




Parody of Blurred lines by Robin Thicke

18 July 2014

Ah-choo


Sorry - no real post this week. I've got a cold and my brain isn't up to it.


08 July 2014

War art

I read a fascinating article on the BBC, it's about the painter Christopher Nevinson. What's interesting is the way this artist's view of war changed the longer he was there. The writer ties it to his own experiences as a war correspondent, which is also fascinating. War changes people there is no doubt, but this is such a visual representation of that change.


This picture was done in 1915. All sharp angles and energy. It's modern and clean. It's true one of the soldiers is dead, but he's not the focus and the angles oddly dehumanise.













Compare the above to this, faceless, nameless real men lying cast aside in a muddy wasteland. There is nothing that suggests hope or energy or even a reason for the deaths that the viewer.  

 I strongly recommend reading the article. 

02 July 2014

Ingredients for a powerful scene

I thought for the next few months - until it bores me, or I forget - I would make the first week of the month writing craft week. For the next few let's breakdown a scene - think of it as the 'Ingredients of a powerful scene'. What bits and pieces, tricks and tips, can help make a scene powerful and engaging? 

People have said to me: romance is easy thing to write because everyone knows what’s going to happen. Girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl gets boy again, they live happily ever after. Easy.

To which I reply: that’s not what makes romance easy to write, it’s what makes it ever so tricksy. If readers know how a book is going to end before they even open the pages, then our jobs as writers is that much more difficult because we have to convince them the book is worth reading. We have to make the book about the journey as much as about the conclusion.

How do we take our readers on that journey? One scene at a time. Let's begin that journey in the natural place, the beginning. 

As your scene opens, in first few lines, It needs anchor and re-engage the reader. People who write episodically (and there's more of that type of fiction coming out on places like Amazon, or fan fiction or internet serial writers), will be thinking about this, because they know their readers have had a break from the story.
But the rest of us should be thinking about it too, because scene changes are often where readers put down a book (a cup of tea, make dinner…). They are also the places where we transition between locations and characters. We don’t want our readers confused, we want them reading. So what does it mean to anchor & re-engage?

Anchoring & Re-engaging

As your scene opens, in first few lines, it needs anchor the reader. Unless you deliberately want you reader confused (which you may) you need to anchor them. You need to make sure your readers knows where they are, & whose point of view (POV) they’re in.

It's good to begin in a moment of action or interaction, something to grab the reader's attention right away (re-engage them in the story), but it's important to remember that your reader experiences your fictional world as your protagonist does. Thus a good scene opening is one that grounds the reader in the main character's perspective. Immediate action that's not grounded in character is just Stuff Happening and can be disorienting for a reader.

Think about the effort you put into the opening lines of the book, whilst quite the same level of effort may not be needed at each scene you should at least be thinking about it. (Remember that not everything has to be done the first time through - editing is the time to make your book shine).

Examples

Let's look at some examples. Below are the openings to four sequential scenes from THE UNSUNG HERO by Suzanne Brockmann. I haven't chosen the beginning of the book but the middle-ish, (chapter 8), this is to show that even though the reader is already in the story the writer hasn't stopped anchoring and re-engaging..
##
Just kick aside the laundry, Kelly had said. It seemed easy enough in theory. Execution, however, was slightly more difficult. Because it seemed to Tom as if most of the laundry that was scattered about the room was underwear. Lacy, silky, completely feminine underwear.
[Anchoring: POV - Tom’s, place - Kelly’s bedroom (because where else would a woman leave her underwear all over the place]
[Re-engaging: Tom’s vulnerable/awkward, also a little humour, we want to see what he’ll do next. Go in her room and finish his task, or give up and try again later, or get distracted from his task]
##
The printer fell silent, and Tom shut down Kelly’s computer. As he crossed to the door, he had to shake another piece of silk and lace from his foot. Cursing, he took the pictures he’d printed out into the hallway, down the stairs, and into the dining room, only to find Charles and Joe smack in the middle of another argument.
[Anchoring: Still Tom’s POV, but we’ve moved to the dining room]
[Re-engages with clear conflict, the argument which Tom’s walked into – What’s it about & again how will Tom respond]
##
After hearing at the farm stand that Mrs. Ellis had seen her father and Joe playing chess in the lobby of the Baldwin’s Bridge Hotel, Kelly had been in a real rush to get home. But now that she was here, she paused just outside the door. She could see Tom through the screen, sitting at the kitchen table, surrounded by piles of papers and file folders.
[Anchoring: Kelly’s POV, kitchen of Kelly’s home]
[Re-engaging: well she rushed there so we know something urgent is driving her, but she’s paused, what’s important enough to change her action]
##
“She isn’t going to show.”
David glanced up from putting a new roll of film into his camera to see that Brandon still had on his jeans and T-shirt. “She’ll be here soon. Get changed, will you?”
“No way, bro. Not until she’s here. No point to it. I’ve got places to go, people to see—Sharon, that redheaded cocktail waitress who works the pool the same shift I do? She dropped a major hint she was going to go see the Jimmy Buffett wannabe over at the Marina Grill tonight. She’s definitely mine if I want her.” Bran wandered over to David’s drawing table. “Whoa. Is this Mallory?”
“Yeah.” David had done some preliminary sketches this afternoon, from memory.
“You’re using her just for her face, right? I mean, this body—that’s whatchamacallit… artistic license, right?”
David adjusted the white sheet he’d spread out on the bare wooden floor. “Nope.”
[Anchoring: David’s POV, this is dialogue so it takes a few lines longer but we’re clearly wherever David takes photos/ draws (could be a studio or his home, but it gives the reader enough that they're not lost)]
[Re-engages – I'm going to leave you to think about this one :)  ]
Next time we'll move on from the opening of the scene to the meat, the body, of the scene.



24 June 2014

Worst Romance Covers 2013

This week's instalment of Cover Cafe's romance cover competition is... Worst Romance Covers.
Last week we looked at the best - this week we're covering the other side of the scale.

This is the category that authors (myself included) dread being nominated for. When I get that email and my finger always hovers nervously before I can bring myself to open the cover art file. So far I've been able to breath a sigh of relief. These poor authors are less lucky...

The full list, first to tenth is on the Cover Cafe site, but here are a few to wet your appetite for... less.

In first place: 
The Search is Over

The scary trend for this year is started with this cover - computer generated people. I'm sorry but they all just look weird and plastic.

Sunny also wasn't impressed. "Ugh. These bad CGI art covers have to go. Maybe those two guys are supposed to look like giant latex dildos, and maybe her breasts are supposed to look like frozen hams (and what the heck, are they training her to mime an invisible wall?) But if this is the best you can do at drawing what I assume is supposed to be sexy romance, please give it up and turn to technical manuals or Japanese robot fetish fantasies."

Elyse: "Nothing says romance like a badly-dressed woman with oddly-shaped breasts being restrained from behind by hairless conjoined twins. Seriously, the bald guys are standing so close they MUST be joined at the hip, with only two arms between them. I'm pretty sure the right one also lacks genitalia, and nipples are doubtful. I'll keep searching, thank you very much."


Fourth place goes to:
Wild Things Lost

More plastic people, this time they're both wearing wigs, and what's with his expression he looks like he hasn't a thought in his head other than staring weirdly at her chest.

from Lynn P.: "You know how when you were little and played with your Ken and Barbie dolls -- and you would end up losing some of their clothes? And then you would just make do with what you had left? This cover is the result. He looks like a plastic doll -- particularly the area where his hips join the rest of his body. He also looks like what your Ken doll looked like when you decided to play beauty shop and cut his hair. She is a little bit better but still looks like a plastic doll. His stare is also really creepy."

Robin B. was rendered speechless: "I have no words...."
In ninth place:
Sweet Delight

Which really isn't much of a sweet delight. I like most of the commenter's can't get past the fake tattoo - in fact it's so bad I didn't even immediately realise it was a tattoo.

Cover Cafe's Mary Lynne: "Ah, the higher glories of the Worst category. How can I choose? Should I opt for the amateurism ofEntangled? The overly busy bodies on Perfect Mate andRetribution? The creepy android-like people of The Search is Over, On Thin Ice, and Lost? The use and abuse of babies and dogs on Baby Papers and Animal Attraction? The eerie shininess of the man's body on Desperately Seeking Fireman? They are all pretty awful. But there is just so much wrong onSweet Delight. There's the way the man's body proportions don't quite work--that torso looks a bit too Photoshopped. There's that godawful paw that's just slapped on the image. But let's face it. The guy's wearing a Speedo. In today's day and age, that earns you the worst label no matter what

In case you've forgotten, here's the winner and runner up from last year (last year's list). While there are some shockers this year - the CGI especially - I almost feel that last year was worse. So, that's got to be good hasn't it...