Monday, August 25, 2014

Languages and personal lexicons

Growing up, I didn't speak Spanish all the time, though my mother is a first-generation Mexican-American who speaks Spanish fluently.  Although she didn't actively teach my brother and me Spanish, she did use certain phrases and worked their way into our family's lexicon, just because in her mind, it was faster or easier to get the point across in Spanish than in English.

By this point, I feel comfortable saying that I can read and write Spanish fluently, but I don't speak it all that often.  Even so, there are some of the same phrases of my mother's that I hear coming out of my mouth when I'm not thinking.  It's easier and faster for me to say "fĂ­jate" than it is to say "look at that!", even if I didn't actually know that's what it meant in English.  Even though my husband doesn't speak Spanish at all, he's learned what some of the phrases mean just through the way I use them.  Similarly, I've picked up on a couple of phrases in Japanese, because my husband uses them as shorthand.

In general, we all have our own personal shorthand that we use with people we are close to.  Inside jokes are the most obvious example of this, as anyone who has been the third wheel with a couple who has been together for a long time can tell you.  Jargon's another way of describing language used for a specific purpose, as certain terms will me different things for different companies or businesses.  But even when it's not some sort of joke, everyone finds a way to reference a complex experience without describe the entire event, and everyone has a way of speaking that they use only when speaking to certain friends or family.

When creating a character, it makes sense to find out how your character thinks, and figuring out what their linguistic shorthand is can be a great way of getting an insight into that thought process.  Say your character has to tell someone that they are seriously ill.  How would your character tell his or her best friend?  What about their parents, or their employer?  Imagining how the same conversation will happen with different groups of people will tell you a lot about how your character interacts with different environments, and more options can always lead to more interesting interactions and plot lines.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Movement and people watching

Lo these many moons ago, I studied acting.  I took some classes at an academy in London for a semester in college, and one of them was called "Modern Physicality".  No, I don't know why that was the name - just go with it.

A few weeks into the semester, we did an exercise in that class where we each walked around the room and eventually paired up.  Each person had to try to imitate their partner's walk, and in the end we had to perform this by walking around in a circle, while the rest of the class watched.  One person would walk normally, and the other would imitate their walk behind them.  The class would call out suggestions for improvement, and finally the original person would be pulled aside while their mimic would continue the imitation.

I was paired with a woman who was fairly confident, and walked with a swing in her hips and her head up to face the world.  It took me a few tries to get the walk, because I had to fight my natural tendencies, but I got it down eventually.  Then it was her turn to imitate me.  At the time, I had been fighting with undiagnosed depression.  I hadn't been so far away from my family for this long a time before, and this happened to have been right after 9/11 - as in, my first day of classes in this program was September 11, 2001.  In other words, I was not in a good place.

I started walked around the circle, with my mimic behind me, and the first thing I heard was someone saying "Awww!" from among my classmates.  A second later, my teacher asked, "Is that really your walk, love?"  It wasn't until I was pulled back and watched my imitator's walk that I saw what they did.  Her head was down, eyes focused on the ground.  Her arms hardly swung at her sides, and she continually reached as though she were trying to put her hands in pockets that weren't there.  She moved slowly, so slowly, and her back was bowed as though under a great weight.  I could hardly believe it - this was what everyone else saw when they watched me walk down the street.

I'm in an airport right now, waiting for my flight home.  Remember the lessons from that class, I find myself fascinated by the body language of the people around me.  Some are walking slowly, casually, as if they really didn't care if they got to where they needed to be.  Several are walking quickly, looking around constantly - they're probably trying to find their connection.  There are a few who appear determined to get this over with - sitting upright, a look of boredom on their face as they poke at their phones.  And some are giving me the seeds of an idea - a man receiving a phone call and responding, loudly, by saying "No way!" repeatedly, for instance.  Watching people watch others is entertaining, too - as this is the closest major airport to GenCon, the convention we just left, there are some folks with different colored hair, funny t-shirts, and (in one case) carrying a stuff sheep waiting for their flights home.  Seeing how others react to these blips on the radar tells me a lot about both the observer and the observed.

Me?  I'm just trying not to get caught staring at people, and waiting to take the first leg of the journey home.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Quick post on gaming and writing

A bit of a shorter post today, as I have many and many a thing to do before I flee for GenCon.  This is the eighth or ninth year I've gone, and I always go as a demonstrator for Asmodee Games.  It's a ton of fun, though a touch on the exhausting side, so who knows how much actual writing will get done this week?

I've noticed that over the past ten years or so, while I've become more serious about my writing, I've also spent more time playing games (mostly board games and roleplaying games).  Both types of games have definitely influenced my writing, and my writing experience has influenced my game play.  I hope to get into this in more detail another week, but I'm curious - of those of you who write, do you also game?  Do you feel like there's an impact between one activity and the other?

Have a good week, my friends!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Plot bunny management

I'm not sure about everyone else, but I have story idea overload on a regular basis.  Some image will come to mind, or a phrase, or a plot idea, and I know I need to grab onto it before it disappears back into the wild before I have a chance to do anything with it.  These ideas are plot bunnies, and they are hard as anything to wrangle sometimes.

My main storage space is a Google Document (appropriately titled "Plot Bunnies") that I can access online and on my phone.  It's one of the easiest ways for me to jot down what I'm thinking of before it vanishes, and it gives me access to those ideas later if I get stuck.  Now, because I'm usually writing them down frantically while trying to get enough detail across that I'll know what I was talking about, there's a level of surrealism that pops up.  Things like "soul lever" and "honey blood" are just there, with no context whatsoever.  Admittedly, a lot of time there is no context to give, but still, it can be confusing.

While I enjoy using the Google Doc, and usually move everything over to that document so it's all in one place, I don't really like writing on my phone.  If I'm away from a computer, I'll usually jot the idea down in one of the multitudes of notebooks that surround me.  I admit to being a stationery addict, and have more notebooks than I could ever really use.  But you never know when you'll need a piece of paper, or you'll have an idea that'll take less time to write out by hand than it would to fight with your phone.  Also, as I discovered in college, moving text from the hand-written to the typed gives me an opportunity to do a first run of editing.  It can help me smooth out some of the wrinkles that come from just getting it on the page, and it also helps that it becomes legible after I type it up.

Finally, when it comes to images, I've become a believer in Pinterest.  One of my coworkers spends a lot of time on Reddit, and frequently sends around photos that she finds interesting.  After the second or third email, I created a Pinterest board for the images that seemed like they had a story waiting to be told.  I don't update it all the time, but it's nice to have an easy place to stash an image for later inspiration.

So tell me how you organize your plot bunnies.  What tools or tricks do you use to keep them under control?  How often do you use them to inspire new ideas in something you're working on?