Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Inglish

Originally posted 9.04.2004 on Limes with Orange

I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough?
Others may stumble, but not you
On hiccough, thorough, lough, and through.
Well done! And now you wish, perhaps,
To learn of less familiar traps?

Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard and sounds like bird.
And dead: it's said like bed, not bead--
For goodness' sake don't call it "deed"!
Watch out for meat and great and threat.
(They rhyme with suite and straight and debt.)
A moth is not a moth in mother,
Nor both in bother, broth in brother,
And here is not a match for there,
Nor dear and fear for bear and pear,
And then there's dose and rose and lose
Just look them up--and goose and choose,
And cork and work and card and ward,
And font and front and word and sword,
And do and go and thwart and cart--
Come, come, I've hardly made a start!

A dreadful language? Man alive!
I'd mastered it when I was five.
And yet to write it, the more I tried,
I hadn't learned at fifty-five.

by T.S. Watt (1954)

I was reminded of this poem today while reading "Inglish (iz a tuf languaj to spel)" in the September edition of Saturday Night magazine [update May 30, 2007: this magazine is no longer in publication]. It's about the spelling reform movement that promotes simplification of the English spelling system to better reflect the phonetics of the language. My knee-jerk reaction was to reject reformation out of hand. The three arguments that I subsequently formulated to support my reaction were:

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(1) The proper spelling of a word can give you an idea of its origins, which can help you figure out the meaning of an unfamiliar word.

(2) What about all of the existing printed matter? Will future generations taught spelling-reformed English be able to understand anything written in pre-reform English?

(3) With all of the dialects within the English language, whose phonetics would we use? I'm thinking that British spelling reform would look far different from American spelling reform.

Well, all of these points were mentioned in the article to some degree. Apparently my first point is proof of my intellectual elitism. Hmm... an uncomfortable, but possibly accurate, assessment. So let's put that one aside for now. The second and third points were acknowledged as obstacles to spelling reform. But apparently there are far more people than you might think trying to overcome these challenges. So maybe someday spelling reform advocates, such as the Simplified Spelling Society, will have answers to those questions that will satisfy even me. But I'm not holding my breath.

Ironic Epilogue: It was with a certain amount of embarrassment and amusement that I found myself reflecting on my strongly held opinions against spelling reform while I was working on my cryptic crossword and realized that I hadn't the faintest idea of how to spell "rutabaga" [the plural of which was the answer to "Turnips in a sack one put in furrows (9)"].

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

Speaking of Book Reviews

I wanted to mention this book review site that I've recently been enjoying. It's called The Symposium. The reviewer, Joana, definitely has a penchant for Horror, SciFi and Fantasy (which I love) but she does reviews of books outside of those genres, as well. Her reviews are thorough and intelligent without giving away too much -- not an easy task when reviewing fiction -- so you definitely won't be disappointed. And don't forget to check out her Recommended Reading List while you're there!

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Book Review: Save the Cat

This screenwriting book definitely has some usable information, and its breezy tone makes for easy reading, but it's by no means the last book on screenwriting you'll ever need. Blake Snyder has certainly made money in the industry -- good for him -- and if that's all you're looking to do, then this is the perfect book for you. Not to say that I wouldn't love to make a living in this industry, but -- call me a naive idealist -- I'd rather do it by having a really good movie made out of my screenplay than by selling a formulaic spec script that never even gets made.

Don't get me wrong, I am no elitist who eschews the Hollywood formula; it has its merits and its uses. I've enjoyed many a formulaic movie and have no problem using those formulas when they work for me. However, I'd much rather have a movie like "Memento" to my credit than "Miss Congeniality"... even though, as Snyder points out, "Miss Congeniality" grossed far more at the box office.

The bottom line? Read more...

If you're like me, writing something a little outside the mainstream, I do actually recommend this book (albeit with a little hesitation): his "rules" might inspire some ideas and, among other things, his breakdown of the beat sheet is extremely useful (but be warned that you may find yourself a little annoyed at times). If you're a little more mainstream than me and want to write a Hollywood blockbuster, then I HIGHLY recommend this book for you; in your case, it may well be the last book on screenwriting you'll ever need. HOWEVER, if you have no intention of going the Hollywood route, or if you think that the Hollywood formula is cheesy, tired and/or a total sell out, I suggest that you avoid this book... you'll just end up quoting Dorothy Parker: "This is not a book to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force."

If you're looking for a simple book giving you a breakdown of the Hollywood formula, I would actually recommend Viki King's "How to Write a Movie in 21 Days." I know it sounds even more formulaic than "Save the Cat" but I never felt like throwing it out the window. And for a more in-depth screenwriting book, definitely opt for Robert McKee's "Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting." In my opinion, don't waste your time with Syd Field's "Screenplay." He may have been first but everyone else has said the same things a hundred times since then and usually better than he said it in the first place.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Screenwriting 101 - CSIF Workshop, part III

Originally posted 6.20.2006 on Limes with Orange

Now for the third and final installment of my writing exercise. This is the first person stuff, where all the breakthrough happens. In my case, it's a flashback for my character... possibly to be used in the script or maybe just backstory, don't know yet. But I learned a lot about my character while writing it:

I was fourteen when my brother died. When I watched him die in a car accident. I don't really remember what happened. Not as a continuous memory. What I see in my mind is a series of jumbled images. His face tight with pain. Rain on the windshield. Broken glass. The dashboard wedged impossibly where his pelvis should have been. Blood. Mostly I remember the blood. And the moment when his face relaxed. Not unconscious. Dead. I knew it right away, even though there was no one there to tell me. Not yet, anyway. They all came later. The lights, noise, people. People taking me away from Bernon, who was long past feeling pain, telling me it would be okay even though I knew it would never be okay again. And I was right.

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If my dad had been there... but he wasn't. He'd won the big bronc belt buckle at the rodeo the day before so he'd stayed overnight to celebrate, leaving Bernon to drive me to the horse show. But Bernon was only sixteen and not used to hauling the horse trailer. We made it there all right, but coming home I guess I distracted him as I swung between joy and despair at my third place ribbon. I had so wanted to win but Elizabeth Bennet -- Lizzie, my pony -- had simply been outclassed. As if that matters now.

There is no sound in my memories. Except for Lizzie's scream. They told me she died instantly but I don't believe them. In my memory, the scream goes on and on. But maybe it was me. Memories are unreliable. Like my dad forgetting about the horse show. Unreliable.

I don't remember much about the months afterwards either. Well, maybe I could if I tried but I don't really want to try. Whenever I start down that path, the guilt and the heartache smack me in the face and I turn away again. I think maybe my parents feel the same way and that's why they split up... so they wouldn't have to look at each other and remember. I think it would have been easier for them if I could have disappeared. One less reminder.

But I didn't disappear. I'm still here. And I'm okay. I've always been okay. Really. I never broke down and bawled like my mom. I never got blitzed drunk like my dad. My grades didn't drop. I didn't act out. Everyone told me I was such a good girl, a brave girl, a comfort. I was the only thing that wasn't messed up back then. I was okay. I am okay. Really.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Think Like a Poet

This is an excerpt from a something I wrote a while back:

As poet Gwendolyn MacEwen writes:
Poetry has got nothing to do with poetry.
Poetry is how the air goes green before thunder,
is the sound you make when you come, and
why you live and how you bleed, and
The sound you make or you don't make when you die.
(From "You Can Study It If You Want", Afterworlds)

So this exposition has nothing to do with the study of poetry, nor is it a how-to-write-poetry manual. It is about knowing (in a deep down remembering way) that words speak images and images speak words... it's about casting aside controlled, censored, logical thought and looking at the world in an unexpected way. Askew. It is about what is out there in the large dark and the long light. Breathing.

So how do you unleash your poet's heart?

For my answer to this question, read: Think Like a Poet

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Screenwriting 101 - CSIF Workshop, part II

Originally posted 6.16.2006 on Limes with Orange

So here's the very awkward second person, second section of my writing assignment to get to know my main character better. I opted to write it as two very short vignettes, rather than one cohesive piece. So here goes:

You walk into your first year anatomy lab, looking lost in your oversized blue lab coat, nose wrinkling and eyes watering as the formaldehyde fumes hit. You examine the cat and dog cadavers that have been assigned to your group and pronounce, to no-one in particular, that their names shall be Fluffy and Spot henceforth, even though they are neither fluffy nor spotted.

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You then move over to the horse. Or, more precisely, a section of a horse. Each of the large animals (some groups have a cow) had been cut down the middle, so that one animal could be shared between two groups. Each half was further divided into front and back, one half to be dissected each semester. So there you stand, looking at the front, right section of your horse.

"I guess we've got a quarter horse," you deadpan.

Your remark elicits startled laughter from a few students and sour looks from others who seem to find it tasteless.

"I think I'll call him Trigger," you say quietly as you stroke the lifeless neck with tenderness.

~~~

You look up at him with your big, blue eyes, the dark circles underneath them like bruises against your pale skin. His surfer boy good looks are all but obscured by his bulky firefighter's gear. Pushing your hair off your dirt-streaked face, it never seems to occur to you that he might find your damsel-in-distress vulnerability attractive. Or that the obvious hero worship in your eyes is more powerful than any aphrodisiac.

You thank him for saving your life, your ironic half-smile showing clearly that you realize how trite that sounds. He smiles back, the sort of smile that typically melts women into puddles. And you are no exception. Your own smile broadens in response and finally reaches your eyes, something that doesn't happen often but is rather devastating when it does.

Had anyone actually been watching, the moment between the two of you would have been obvious. But the bustle of firefighters, vet students, faculty, paramedics, et al merely swarms around you, oblivious that your life just changed.

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Friday, May 18, 2007

The Death Bed

My favourite poets include (but are not limited to) Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Siegfried Sassoon, Ranier Maria Rilke and Syliva Plath. So far, I've written guides about Yevtushenko and Rilke. Now I'm thinking it's time to do one for Sassoon. What sparked this thought? Believe it or not, it was the TV show Numb3rs. They quoted part of Sassoon's "The Death Bed" tonight. So I decided to post it here in its entirety.

The Death Bed

He drowsed and was aware of silence heaped
Round him, unshaken as the steadfast walls;
Aqueous like floating rays of amber light,
Soaring and quivering in the wings of sleep.
Silence and safety; and his mortal shore
Lipped by the inward, moonless waves of death.

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Someone was holding water to his mouth.
He swallowed, unresisting; moaned and dropped
Through crimson gloom to darkness; and forgot
The opiate throb and ache that was his wound.
Water--calm, sliding green above the weir.
Water--a sky-lit alley for his boat,
Bird-voiced, and bordered with reflected flowers
And shaken hues of summer; drifting down,
He dipped contented oars, and sighed, and slept.

Night, with a gust of wind, was in the ward,
Blowing the curtain to a glimmering curve.
Night. He was blind; he could not see the stars
Glinting among the wraiths of wandering cloud;
Queer blots of colour, purple, scarlet, green,
Flickered and faded in his drowning eyes.

Rain--he could hear it rustling through the dark;
Fragrance and passionless music woven as one;
Warm rain on drooping roses; pattering showers
That soak the woods; not the harsh rain that sweeps
Behind the thunder, but a trickling peace,
Gently and slowly washing life away.
. . . .

He stirred, shifting his body; then the pain
Leapt like a prowling beast, and gripped and tore
His groping dreams with grinding claws and fangs.
But someone was beside him; soon he lay
Shuddering because that evil thing had passed.
And death, who'd stepped toward him, paused and stared.

Light many lamps and gather round his bed.
Lend him your eyes, warm blood, and will to live.
Speak to him; rouse him; you may save him yet.
He's young; he hated War; how should he die
When cruel old campaigners win safe through?

But death replied: 'I choose him.' So he went,
And there was silence in the summer night;
Silence and safety; and the veils of sleep.
Then, far away, the thudding of the guns.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Script Frenzy

For those of you familiar with NaNoWriMo, the same folks are bringing us Script Frenzy! For those unfortunate souls who are not familiar with NaNoWriMo, that refers to National Novel Writing Month which happens every November, bringing writing communities around the world online together as each of them tries to complete a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. Phew!

I've participated twice and "won" once. I may not be thrilled with my completed manuscript but I'm thrilled to HAVE a completed manuscript and I certainly learned a lot about myself as a writer in the process. I highly recommend it to anyone who is having trouble committing themselves to a writing project and staying the course to the end. Or anyone who is struggling with finding their voice and their genre. It certainly taught me that I didn't want to write novels and I don't do light and fluffy!

So I've finally figured out that I am meant to write edgy screenplays. Hence the long format screenwriting workshop that I'm taking. And our summer "break," when we start to stare at blank pages or blank computer screens write, happens to correspond with Script Frenzy which will take place in June. The goal of Script Frenzy? To write a 20,000 screenplay or stage play. I figured I might as well sign up since I'm gonna be writing anyway and I could definitely use the moral support. Maybe I'll see you there!

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Screenwriting 101 - CSIF Workshop, part I

Once again, I have signed up for a screenwriting workshop at the Calgary Society of Independent Filmmakers. This year, it's a long format that spans both the spring and fall sessions of the CSIF workshop schedule. The intention is for us to finish the first draft of a feature length screenplay. So I've dusted off the screenplay that I was working on last year before I got sidetracked into filming shorts.

So, since it's still the same project as last year and I'm planning on moving a certain number of my writing posts off of Limes with Orange, my personal blog, I figured I'd start with my posts about last years course.

Originally posted 6.14.2006 on Limes with Orange

I've been all wrapped up in my screenwriting workshop that I took through the Calgary Society of Independent Filmmakers (CSIF). It finished tonight, so I thought I'd share some of the results of my writing exercises. My homework assignment was to get to know my main character better. To that end, I was supposed to write for one hour (the sort of timed writing that I always associate with Natalie Goldberg and Writing Down the Bones).

The first third was to be written in third person as an outward description of my character. The middle third was to be written in second person (holy crap, that's hard!) as I step closer to the character. The final third was to be written in first person, from the character's point of view. That last part flowed really well. My instructor, Jason Long (co-author of Turning Paige), said that he hears that a lot about this exercise. The third person stuff may be dry or judgemental or somesuch, the second person stuff is hard for almost everyone, but those are the necessary hurdles for the first person stuff to just flow and allow you to discover things about your character that you never knew before.

So I decided to be bold and post the various sections of my writing assignment on this here blog. Today's post shall be the third person section...

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Katrina Jones walks down the hall in her blue scrubs that identify her as a vet student, distinct from the green scrubs of a faculty vet or the red of a volunteer. Her mousy brown hair is in a convenient ponytail and her mildly pretty face is devoid of make-up. Her expression is pleasant but just distant enough to deter anyone but her closest friends from more than a casual hello.

She tugs at the long-sleeved T-shirt that she wears underneath her short-sleeved scrub top, even though the building is well-heated and nobody else appears cold. That long-sleeved shirt is the only thing about her that stands out. It's as if she's perfected the science of being average.

She walks past a lecture hall where first year students drowse in the darkened room as the physiology professor writes incomprehensible notes on the overhead. Past a group of third year students huddled around a bulletin board, searching the notices for the perfect summer externship. She nods a polite greeting to two of her fellow fourth years heading in the opposite direction in their blue coveralls, coming off of a large animal rotation.

Kat pushes through the swinging doors of the small animal surgery suite, then through another set of doors into the scrub room. She again nods her standard polite greeting to a vet and two other students who are already scrubbing up. Stepping up to one of the sinks, she removes her watch from her left wrist and an elastic band from her right. With a quick glance at the others to make sure no one is watching, she pulls up the sleeves of her long-sleeved shirt enough to allow her to scrub properly. Then she begins the meticulous process of scrubbing for surgery, one side of each four-sided finger at a time. A slight smile turns up the corners of her mouth, almost as if she were enjoying the feeling of the hard plastic brush on her sensitive skin.

Once finished, she enters the operating room, back first through the swinging doors, hands clasped together and held up as if in prayer, carefully not touching anything. One of the technicians helps her gown and glove up before she steps up to the table to perform her first feline spay. The instructor that she's assisted so many times before is now there to assist her.

He hands her a number 3 scalpel to make her first incision, which she does with none of the hesitation typically shown by students performing their first surgery. Something else about her that isn't average. This unexpected confidence is evident throughout the rest of the surgery.

Afterwards, she celebrates her first successful surgery in the cafeteria with Lorne, her best friend and fellow fourth year. They "clink" their Styrofoam cups of bitter coffee as Kat relates the details of the surgery. As she talks, Lorne notices a rare, unselfconscious animation of her features that is really quite becoming to her. What a pity he was gay.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Introduction to Weirdgrrl's Words

Welcome to the brand new redesign of the WeiRDgrrl website. Links to the Writing, Editing, Research and Design business are in the navigation menu to the left. The rest of the page is now devoted to Weirdgrrl's Words, my new blog about writing, poetry, language and related topics.

For my inaugural post I'll simply recommend "Writing Down the Bones" by Natalie Goldberg. This is one book that should be in every writer's library, regardless of genre. Both inspirational and practical, this book is a must have.

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Film Screenings

Coda in G Minor

July 22, 2009
CSIF presents ImagineNATIVE
The Plaza Theatre
1133 Kensington Rd. NW
7:00 p.m.
Calgary, AB

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Weirdgrrl

Calgary, Canada

1 part shy intellectual, 1 part edgy chick, 1 part sophisticated woman, 1 part mental patient (after all, sanity is a type of conformity)... what's your mix?