Friday, 3 January 2014

New Year Part 2: Welcome to 2014! (Plans for the year)

Well, here it is, the now very late New Year post dedicated to 2014. As I said in my previous post, I have high expectations for this year to be a good one.

I’ve already decided I’m not going to have the general kind of New Year’s resolutions I have the last couple of years because that just doesn’t work for me. That said, let’s look at the ones I made last year:
Get fit – Yeah… no. Well, I made a start. I did cut back on unhealthy snacks (because I couldn’t afford them) and I did start exercising again and managed to keep it up for a couple of weeks (until Christmas came along).
Keep improving work – Okay, this one seems to have been achieved, in that the results I got last year were better than the year before, but this isn’t a good goal for a January-December year because I don’t even know yet what kind of grades my work from last semester got.
Write every day – Done, but not in the way I wanted.
Seriously, this doesn’t work for me, but that’s about to change.

I have three specific goals for this year, and there are other things I plan to do at certain points. Let’s take a look at the big three first.

1. Graduate from university – This is going to happen no matter what, honestly there’s no reason for it to turn up on the goals list. Well, I guess everything could go horrifically wrong at the last minute.
2. Get a job – What are the odds of getting a job straight out of university? I don’t know about recently, but the last I heard it wasn’t good. Considering I’ve never been able to get an actual job before, that will definitely work against me. I’m free from uni after April, graduate in July. Let’s see if I can manage to pull this off before December.
It will become very important. After uni I won’t have student finance to feed me. I don’t want my parents to have to worry about that and I want to contribute to the rent as well as keep my hobbies alive. That’s right, I’m coming straight back here after uni, I have nowhere else to go and honestly I’m happy with that. I’ve worked too hard on fixing up my room this last year to just give it up. Plus I really, really just want a job.

3. I’m going to go ahead and bring back the fitness goal, as I have the next few months pretty well planned out for that. I’m going to be trying to eat more healthy food – I’ve looked up a lot of recipes so I can make more stuff rather than just throw something in the oven – and I’m attempting the ‘eat six smaller meals rather than three big ones’ thing.
I’ve also found a pretty good exercise routine that seems to fit with what I’m capable of doing right now, providing a challenge without it being impossible for me to do right.

To keep myself as productive as possible, I've decided to try to set a number of goals each month to complete, both to progress with my bigger goals and to achieve the smaller goals I have for the year. There are things I want to see and do in Liverpool before I leave it. I want to finish my cosplays in time for the conventions I’m actually making them for. I want to see if I can do anything with the short story I got a first on last year, maybe enter it into a competition or see if I can get it published. There are a lot of plans I have with friends as well. It’s going to be a busy year, but a fun one. 

My plans for January include starting with the new diet and exercise routine, developing a complete draft for each of this semester's assignments -aside from the one that doesn't work like that, in which I should still make significant progress- and write up a new CV draft, as well as see if there's anything I can do to add to it.

Ladies and gentlemen, have a good year.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

New Year Part 1: 2013 Review

Well, I’m a little late, but it’s time for the whole New Year thing. Before I go on to talk about the year ahead, I wanted to take some time to talk about the previous one. 2013 was a great year for me, maybe one of the best so far.

There were some downsides. I couldn’t go to MCM Expo in October and there were some other financial problems. Christmas didn’t quite turn out the way I wanted either, but that’s really all I can think of on the negative side.

On the positive side, there were a lot of great times with friends and family. I went to Alcon for the first time and it was amazing. I also gave blood for the first time, something I sadly haven’t been able to do since but am definitely looking forward to doing again this year.

If not in general, 2013 at least saw the start of my best year in university so far. 2012 was bad for accommodation and the beginning of 2013 saw it getting better, but since September I’ve been in a really great flat with two amazing flatmates and we’ve had a lot of great times together. I’ve had a lot more of a social life, continuing to go to Anime Society but also joining the new English Society and starting to talk to a group of people in my class more regularly. The classes themselves have been getting better as well.

2013 brought some great seasons of some of my favourite programmes, and sadly some that weren’t as good, not to mention the awesome Doctor Who 50th anniversary special. I also discovered some amazing musicians and games that I hadn’t known about previously.


I was going to go into details and talk about specific things, but I think leaving this post as a summary is a nice idea. Overall, 2013 was a year full of great memories, and I have high expectations for this year to be even better.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Plot vs. Characters

This is something I’ve wanted to write for a while now because as a writer it’s a battle I often come across. What is more important to a story, the plot, or the characters? This is a question without a straightforward answer. It’s clear that regardless of the medium – prose, films, etc. – some are more character driven while others rely on the plot. The best, for me, will have a nice mix of both.

The focus depends on the nature of the story and the person writing it. In terms of my own writing, I think I’ve discovered which is best. Often, when it comes to the initial concept, I’ll either have characters with no plot, or a plot with no characters to fill it. Most of the time for me, the characters come first.

I find it really easy to create characters. I’ll start with a basic idea and then I’ll have a whole character develop from it, with a highly detailed backstory. That’s my bad habit in writing. Of course, you have to have good backstories for your characters. Even if they don’t show up in the story, it’s useful for the writer to know how their characters became who they are.

My bad habit is that when I have a good backstory for a character, whether I came up with it on the spot or spent days thinking about it, I want to put it into the story. This is okay, but there has to be a good way to go about putting it in, otherwise it will just be annoying. If the present is supposed to be the focus of the story, you don’t want the past overpowering it.

At the same time, it’s common knowledge that the character influences the plot. They’ll react to each situation differently from another character, and that will affect the outcome. Things you decide when about a character when developing them may also play a role in the plot.

Another problem I occasionally get is that I create really great characters and then can’t think of a plot to put them in, or the one I come up with either doesn’t make sense or isn’t what I wanted. Plot is the part that usually takes a lot more work for me.

Occasionally, I’ll come up with the idea for a plot first. Sadly, it rarely pops into my head as detailed as my characters do. Then I’ll have to develop it a bit more and look around to find what sort of characters would best fit into this plot to make it a good story.

Plot holes can be a big problem for a lot of people, things that don’t make sense, aren’t developed enough, or seem to be missing from the story. Some of these can be really hard to fix and often the solution turns out to be simpler than originally thought, for me at least. Sometimes either the characters or plot will have to be changed to work with the other.

The worst part for me is an exact setting, but we’ll talk about that another day. For me, the best part is when I’ve already developed a storyline and, even when I’m not thinking about it, new details about the characters or plot will just reveal themselves. This is especially good when it fixes a problem I’ve been having.

For me, I like character driven stories and I prefer ones with more psychological elements or deeper meanings. I love characters with a lot of internal problems in addition to external ones, characters with dark pasts. That’s probably why I love writing them so much. Plot is great too though, it all just depends on how it’s written. My favourites are still the ones with the twist endings.

Of course, that's just my approach to and thoughts on this part of writing. If you've read this far, I'd be interested to know what you think. What is more important in a story, good plot or good characters? Or are they equal, or even the same? If you're a writer yourself, what's your approach?

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Day Zero Project: Update #1

A few months ago I posted this lovely list of goals to achieve within the next couple of years. Oh, that was foolish. I’ve gotten very few of them done. For a while, I thought about just deleting it, so little progress had been made and there were other things I wanted to do too. I decided against that approach.
 
The point is, this happened, and small progress is still progress. Most of the goals listed are relatively simple and as I looked through the list I realised how much I still wanted to do some of them. I’m thinking about doing a thing each month where I select some of them and aim to do them in that month. Of course, some will also be on-going.

To aid my motivation, and in case anyone’s curious, here is a list of the goals I’ve accomplished so far:

Redecorate my bedroom – Complete with video commentary here.

Enter a competition – I’ve entered a couple. Cleverly, I didn’t specify the sort of competition. It was just the average kind you get to win stuff, although I have entered a writing competition before (I didn’t get a response).

Donate Blood and Find out my blood type – Both covered here, a bit long as I try to get across the full experience.

Get my eyes tested – Rant enclosed here.

Dress up for Halloween – Okay, it wasn’t really a Halloween costume, but we did a murder mystery for Halloween and I did put together a costume for my character. It counts.

Carve a pumpkin for Halloween – Picture included in this post.

Make a new friend – It’s always hard for me to tell at first where the line between acquaintance and friend is crossed, but I feel like I have made a few friends this year. At the very least, I think my awesome flatmates count.

Make more effort with social events – Well, I’ve been going to anime society still. I’ve been really tired on the Thursdays this month and coupled with the cold weather it’s made me not want to go. I have missed a few meetings but I’ve gone a lot more than I would have just to see people.
I’ve also done things with the English Society and I’ve even been talking more in class.

Donate money to charity – I’ve done this a couple of times now. One was a lady collecting for children with a disability, though I feel bad I can’t remember which one now.
The other was when the YouTuber Markiplier was doing a collection for charity, he does it a lot which is awesome and I’ve been wanting to donate to one of those for a while. It just happened to be when there were special shirts available too, which meant I donated twice as much as I probably would have otherwise (I feel bad saying it, but it’s true). Stupidly I had it sent to London so I won’t get my hands on it until December.

There are, as I said previously, on-going ones as well. Some goals on the list are monthly. Others have been started but they will take time.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

NaNoWriMo is Hard


NaNoWriMo, one month to write one 50,000 word novel. It’s easy, right? I mean, I once wrote a 10,000 word fanfiction within a week, so something like NaNoWriMo would be nothing for me… right? Ever since I learned of this beast, I’ve wanted to conquer it. For the last three years I’ve been trying, I really have. I am a novelist dammit. So then, where are my novels to show for it?

I can’t blame my university work on it, because lots of university people do NaNo and they succeed in it. At the same time, I can’t say my failures have nothing to do with the fact that it occurs in the month before deadlines. At the start of next month I have assignments due for three modules, and that isn’t just three simple pieces of work. Then there’s the pitch for the screenwriting class I have to give on Monday. I wouldn’t say any of them are that hard, they just take a lot of time.

Even so, it can’t take up every second of my time, can it? Of course not. Does being in a writing class make me want to write outside of it less? That has been true at times, there is such thing as too much especially with multiple projects going on. Am I just lazy? Of course, I am trying to balance university work with having a social life and maintaining other hobbies, which I think I’m doing pretty well at, but that seems to be leaving me with less time to write a novel, or even this blog at times.

I think the most annoying part this year is that next semester I was hoping to write a novel chapter for prose rather than a short story. We have the option to do either and they recommend going with the short story as there’s arguably less to consider, but for people who would prefer to write novels I think it’s better to work on improving in the area you’re interested in.

In a way I think they can be easier to write than short stories as you have more time to develop plot and character. Of course, novels are longer and as such can require more planning. My plan when we started in September was that I would use NaNoWriMo to come up with a full first draft of a novel so that I’d be able to work on it through the second semester and pick out the best chapter for workshopping. Clearly, as we are now two thirds of the way through the month and I am even closer to my deadlines, that is unlikely to happen.

I truly have so much respect for the people who can successfully do this and full time education/work. Of course, this is a busier month. Which brings me to my next plan. It’s the same as getting on a self-improvement kick in any month other than January, you don’t have to wait until the New Year to make resolutions. You shouldn’t. Goals like this should be taken as they come, or as you have the time for them, while you’re still excited about it. At the very least, the planning stages for such a goal should begin.

I know a number of other people have started doing NaNoWriMo outside of the official month, at all times throughout the year, and I think I shall have to become one of them. Writing for the sake of writing isn’t something I want to do, nor do I want to continue putting off something both fun and beneficial to me. Therefore I have decided to spend December and the start of January creating a full draft of a novel. Seriously, hold me to it.

This gives me the rest of this month to at least decide on a concept for the novel. I also have a number of posts planned for this blog to keep the writing going.

As for those of you who are still participating in NaNoWriMo this month, I wish you luck. Enjoy the feeling of having a project that actually gets completed. And, if you can’t, remember you’re not alone, this is a hard challenge to take on, especially with a lot of other stuff going on, and there are other months you can finish in.

For those of you who have read this far, I thank you for sitting through my little ramble.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

My Halloween 2013

Well, this is a bit late coming but I wanted to talk about the week of Halloween. Holidays like this are special to me and I haven't really been able to celebrate it for the last couple of years, so this one was especially fun.

It really started the Sunday before Halloween. We started decorating by putting up our spiders, Quentin and Tim. Quentin, the bigger one, came from a pound shop and we had to put him together ourselves. Tim came from Tesco and was inflatable.
After they went up we still wanted to do something, so we built a blanket fort, the first real one I've been part of. We then spent the rest of the evening in the fort, doing work and playing Xbox.
 

 
It started again on Wednesday, when we carved our pumpkins. We'd settled on the theme of moustaches. I based mine on Jack from the Nightmare Before Christmas. Hers came out looking like the Pringles guy. Both were awesome and shall be missed.




 
I don't remember what I did all of Thursday, if anything, but it went very quickly. Then we started setting up the room and making cupcakes. To celebrate Halloween, one of my flatmates wrote a murder mystery for the three of us and two of their friends. The whole thing was great and the story was brilliant. Let's just say I was very happy with my role. Afterwards we played a drinking game.
 
 
So that was my Halloween week, the best I've had in a while. I look forward to the next one and though I'm sure I won't be able to spend it with the same people I'm always looking for ideas to make events like this great.

After Halloween, it was fun playing with other people's costume pieces.



Saturday, 19 October 2013

Making Progress - Halfway Through the Semester

Last month I did a mini-series on starting my third year at university. This next week is going to be the halfway point of the semester. Yeah, it happened fast. I was shocked when I realised, and naturally a little worried. Then I started thinking about how things are going right now, so I wanted to give a little update.

Things are going really well. I’ve done full first drafts of my assignments for my prose and screenwriting classes and the general feedback is it’s really good. There are some problems obviously, no one has a perfect first draft, but from what’s been said it doesn’t seem like it’ll be too hard to fix. I’ll be doing that within the next couple of weeks and we still have the chance for them to be looked at again before the deadline, at which point I feel confident I’ll be able to write them up well enough for a 1st. There are other things that still need to be done for them but looking at how the classes are laid out for the next few weeks it seems that there’ll be time for everything.

I haven’t done quite as much for my Writer at Work project but I have done a lot of research for it and I have someone I have to contact about it on Monday. Hopefully then I’ll be able to write up a full first draft of my assignment within the next couple of weeks.

So I’m completely on schedule. So much so that I don’t actually have any work that needs to be done this weekend, aside from reading the books I’m using for research, but that seems significantly easier than having whole things to write out. There’s been a lot of work going into it and it hasn’t always been easy but I haven’t felt too stressed or overworked either.

That’s the work stuff. The classes themselves have all changed in layout slightly in a way that makes them feel better for me. For example, our prose workshops have split into smaller groups so we only discuss people’s works in groups of three or four at a time, which is a lot more comfortable and allows for more discussion.

Outside of class things are going well. I’m still loving the place I’m at and the people I’m living with, even more so than when I first moved in. My hopes of having a more social year have also been answered, not just with my flatmates or being back at anime society, but I’ve been talking more to the people in my class as well which has been great.

I realise a lot of this just seems like me going on about all the good stuff happening in my life, and I’m sorry about that, but I really wanted to give a halfway update for the semester. It’s not all great, money’s never good first semester and then there was the whole computer thing that didn’t help.

My plans for the rest of the semester are just to stay on schedule, try to develop things as much as possible, and try to keep improving my social life. If nothing else, my dear flatmates and I have some very nice plans for Halloween.

Come November I’m also planning to attempt NaNoWriMo for the third year in a row and succeed finally. I’ve had this story developing for two years now, I used it in two of my classes last year, and I’m going to try to translate it into the full first draft of a novel. If all goes well, I’ll use one of the chapters for my prose assignment next semester.