Sunday, November 27, 2011

Weird Christmas shopping :)

I've had an awful cold this week, which kept me within a radius of a metre from the tissues and made me sleep a large amount of Friday. The UK has a whole different set of bugs to the ones I've built up immunity to so things affect me more.

That is my theory. Yes.

Anyway, when I haven't been in bed, I've been out Christmas shopping. I'm doing it a bit before the Christmas crowds, which is nice, but there were still lots of people struggling through the shops and dodging the salespeople who stand in the middle of the mall and try to attack you with hand lotion. I went to the new Westfield within spitting distance of the 2012 Olympic stadium and checked out the wares, which included Marmite chocolate, real elephant poo and advent calendars for cats (with little cat treats behind each window).

I wondered if they'd let elephant poo through customs, even if it was properly labeled and came from the National Geographic shop.

I think I like the design of the Shepherd's Bush Westfield better, but this one was a bit easier to find your way around. There were a few sales on, and I was sucked into one store to buy a half-price Electric Blue coat (cut like a soldier's uniform, where you can't lift your arms to surrender. I suppose I could have got the size up, but this one looked better). It is nice and warm and does up all the way to my neck, which is an improvement over the black and red Camden coat.

Now I just need to package everything up and send it halfway around the world...

Have a good week!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Perfect Characters

I finished the book I was reading on the tube the other day, and looked through the list of back-up books I have on my e-reader. These are mostly things like War and Peace or Crime and Punishment, books that I feel I may read one day if I have nothing else to do, though sometimes staring at a blank wall seems easier than clicking on War and Peace.

This particular day, I chose The (unabridged) Count of Monte Cristo in French. I’ve been reading this book for approximately five and a half years, and I am nearly halfway through. I read an abridged English version in high school, and really liked it, but got confused following all the different names and thought it might be less confusing in unabridged form. Then I found a French copy in the library and thought, what the heck, let’s go all the way and read it unabridged and in its original French. I am determined to finish it some time in the next decade.

This book comes in four volumes, by the way, and has a number of verbs that I’m not quite sure of. (HA! I’ve just realised that my e-reader has a French dictionary in it, that always comes up when I touch the screen wrong in an English book.  WHY did I not think of this BEFORE?)

Anyway, I’m currently at a bit where one of the characters is showing the Count of Monte Cristo around his house, and the Count knows everything about everything. This, in my opinion, is plainly impossible. The Count (for those who have not read the book or seen the movie) spent many years in a prison and then a few years on the outside and then took off on his mission as an Angel of Revenge. True, he had a very smart next-door prisoner who taught him many things, but there are only so many things you can teach through a small hole in a cell wall. In-depth knowledge of every painter who ever lived, and the ability to identify their paintings on sight, is not one of these things.

Please correct me if the Count ever spent several years completing a doctorate in art history at the Sorbonne.

On the other hand, perhaps the Count is actually a robot from the future with Wikipedia downloaded into his head.

The Count has elements of the Perfect Character. He knows all, he has an endless supply of money and he is Always Exactly On Time. Perfect Characters are difficult, because they’re not believable. I think the Count works (just – ignore my Wikipedia pokes) because, by this point in the story, he has become the mysterious outsider (so you no longer need to identify with him) and the reader is invested enough in the story to keep reading. There’s something kind of awesome about perfection, and if you hit it just at that line between unbelievable and okay-I-guess-that’s-possible-maybe you get an irresistible character.

Perfection is attractive when you’re writing a character. You want them to be the best they can be, so you keep adding character traits and skills and killer dress sense, but you end up with a flat, boring character who can do no wrong and carry no plot. Character flaws and weaknesses build tension, and if your character hasn’t got any you can’t move forward. People don’t tend to identify with perfect characters, either. Your perfect character just becomes annoying.

Superman has Kryptonite and a secret identity to hide. The Count of Monte Cristo has his need for revenge (and a secret identity to hide). For those of you still powering forward on NaNoWriMo, do you have any perfect characters you need to bring down a notch or four? Flawed characters make for fun writing.

Good luck everyone!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Running around shooting things

I would not be good in a real-life combat situation.

I went laser tagging yesterday, which was a lot of fun, but slightly worrying to realise that, had it been real, I would have been shot around fifty times in the space of ten minutes. The game arena was quite different from the ones I've played in before, which were usually maze-like with lots of corners and dungeons and things to hide around or in. This one was open, with strategically placed pillars and boxes, and there was no way to get from one spot to another without being lasered. I got steadily braver/more foolhardy, which meant the time in which I used up my fifty lives got shorter and shorter and the 'dead, dead, dead' sound coming from my armour got steadily more annoying.

I didn't do too badly in the final tally, though - all my scores were on the positive side of zero, and at times I beat certain people who'd been playing similar games in virtual reality, which they were certain would prepare them both physically and mentally for the rigours of laser tag. Ahem.

I've been planning to go to Camden Markets, but keep getting waylaid. There is a very nice Turkish Tiffany lamp waiting there for me, and I must go and choose it. As well as get Christmas presents (it's getting closer and closer. Must send box of presents soon!!!).

Have a good week!

Update: I think I pulled a muscle in my leg while climbing through the back window of a pickup truck with a laser gun. Ow.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Freewriting versus the Inner Editor

So today is the tenth of November (or the eleventh, for those of you who are living in the future). That means that anyone doing NaNoWriMo should be reaching 16,667 words. If you haven’t, there are still twenty days to catch up. It’s possible! Don’t give up! If all else fails, take your main character to the supermarket. And then he bought a tube of toothpaste. And three bananas. And a jar of hot chilli sauce. Eventually you’ll get back on track and write some words that are worth keeping, but in the meantime you have a hundred-and-twenty item grocery list to add to your word count.

There’s something freeing about just putting down on the page whatever comes to mind, and not worrying whether it makes sense or is useful to the plot. It can make sense later, during the editing process, and NaNoWriMo is all about the word count, so why worry now?

I’m currently in the every-little-word-must-mean-something-stupendous stage or state of mind, which can be very annoying. I keep thinking I see the finish line ahead, but then I start thinking about some other part that could be improved or changed, and how the novel as a whole would be so much better if I just rewrote some things here and there, and the finish line recedes a little bit. And then my rewrite starts off a whole cascade of other small changes that will make everything sparkle properly, once I’ve finished this round, and then halfway through I get distracted by another bit that really needs attention, and then that leads on to another bit, and-

Must rein in perfectionism. Maybe I should do a pseudo-NaNo, where I just have to write and not concurrently edit. Good luck everyone who’s still bashing away at NaNo!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Public Transport Woes and Bonfire Night

I am fully moved!

When I first came to the UK, all my worldly possessions (in this hemisphere) fitted into one suitcase and a backpack. Now I have enough to fill the suitcase three times over, as well as the backpack.And a plastic bag. And a small blue guitar.

On Saturday I dragged my empty suitcase back to my old flat, filled it and started back to the new flat. When I got to the tube station, the next train on the fast branch was eight minutes away (eight ENTIRE minutes) so I took a train on the slower branch and got off at Waterloo.

The change at Waterloo is quite long, but it includes a travelator which is fun. Just as I reached the Jubilee line, a train pulled up going west, and I just managed to get on.

At this point I should mention that, usually, I have a pretty good sense of direction. Unfortunately, it doesn't work in the Northern Hemisphere. It goes further than not being able to tell where north is - I keep believing east is west and west is east, even when I think about it.

So yes, I was on the wrong train. I lugged my suitcase, guitar, backpack and plastic bag of food off at the next station, Westminster (by the Houses of Parliament - maybe I was subconsciously trying to visit them on Guy Fawkes?),  up the escalator and onto an eastbound train.

All was well after that. Well, mostly. I caught the bus that set me at the top of the hill rather than the bottom, but halfway through the route the bodiless voice that announces the stops declared "This bus is on diversion", and kept declaring it every ten seconds.

We were not going in the right direction. We were not going to pass my stop.

The bus finally doubled back again, and I followed us on Google Maps until we were the closest we were going to get to my flat, then jumped off and dragged my suitcase, guitar, backpack and plastic bag up a hill,  muttering to myself all the way.

Stupid diversions.

Saturday night was Guy Fawkes, or as it's more well-known here, Bonfire Night. This night comemorates the day 406 years ago that Guy Fawkes and some other people tried to biow up the British Houses of Parliament, and in New Zealand people let off fireworks (it's the only time of year you can buy them) and watch public displays. In the UK, they have bonfires too, and throw straw effigies of Guy Fawkes on them.

I'd researched a few displays and had two options, but for one of them I didn't know the bus route and I wasn't going to trust myself to unknown public transport after the day's public transport adventures. Instead I went to North Greenwich, where I was able to see two fireworks displays as well as the Canary Wharf skyscrapers all lit up (one of them was doing fake fireworks in lights all along its side) and a green line of laser light shooting across the sky.

A green line, pointing north, near Greenwich. Hmm. Could this be the earthly representation of the Greenwich Mean Line?

And the bus got me back home with no trouble! Hurray.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Fifty Thousand Words and really good bread

At this very moment, thousands of people around the world are sitting in front of their computers or poring over their notebooks, typing madly or scribbling frantically, trying to reach that magic number: sixteen hundred and sixty seven words. Why? It’s November! NaNoWriMo!

(National Novel Writing Month, in which you attempt to write 50,000 words in thirty days.)

I did it two years ago and ‘won’, despite my computer cord dying on the 28th of November, necessitating me copying all my files to my external hard drive as my computer battery indicator flashed dire warnings about critical levels. I had to finish my final three-and-a-bit thousand words on the university computers. But I did it!

It’s a great experience. You have to get over your inner editor and just write, write, without worrying if something sounds stupid. You put your writing first (even on holidays at the beach). You stop using contractions (“won’t” only counts as one word, but “will not” is two!).

When you keep writing, your characters and plot do strange things and the world of your story opens up before you. It’s a voyage of discovery, even if you’ve outlined the heck out of it. And when you do get to the end, you can scroll back through your thousands and thousands of words and think yeah, I wrote that. In a month! Haha, super writer! And then you read over it and some of it is really really bad, but some of it actually ... isn’t. Some of it is quite good. In your humble opinion.

I keep thinking I will do it again some time, but that some time keeps getting pushed back to ‘next year’.

But for those of you who are doing it this year, here’s what I learned.

1.     1.  Choose an idea that won’t need hours of research, or do all the research in October. I outlined a huge idea in October, and dropped it at about 8pm on the 31st of October because it was going to need at least an hour of research a day. Started afresh with a completely new idea. I had no idea where it was going, and it went fine.

2.    2.  Keep up with the word count! 1667 words is a lot easier to reach than 3334. Or 6667.

3.   3. Have different parts of your story going at the same time. Maybe this works for me because I get distracted/bored easily, but I prefer to call it writer’s block. If you get stuck on one bit, don’t waste time staring at it or bemoaning how bad it is. Think of another bit and start in!

4.   4. Free-writing is good. Something comes out of it eventually. Even if you’re only describing what your characters had for breakfast.

5.     5. I have Gabe’s typometer in the bottom right hand corner of my screen, telling me how fast I’m typing and how many words I’ve written today. It won’t quite match up with your word count (it counts EVERYTHING, including Google searches and IM conversations), but it’s a nice little in-the-moment motivator. How far can I get the needle to turn?

6.      6. Don’t leave it until 11pm to start writing.

7.      7. You will get faster! By the end of the month, I was able to get out my 1667 words in a little over an hour. True, they may not have been the best of words, but they were on my page!

You can do it!

(Now stop reading blogs and surfing Twitter and go and write.)

And finally: an announcement.

I have Vogel’s.

(this is a NZ brand of bread, and not a strange disease, for those who were wondering).

Tomorrow I will have Vogel’s toast with butter for breakfast, and on Sunday morning (when I have retrieved all my food and bits and pieces from my old flat) I will have Vogel’s toast with butter and Marmite. And for lunch I will have, among other things, a can of L&P (Lemon & Paeroa, fizzy drink World Famous in NZ) and Arnotts Mint Slice. Tesco’s sells Vogel's, but the rest of my haul is from a NZ shop and cost about three times what it would in NZ.

And I will be happy.