Peer Production: munchman sees EXPLAIN LIKE I’M FIVE

Reddit-launches-web-mini-series-Explain-like-Im-Five

…Which is a Reddit-associated video – first of a series, it appears – in which a couple of condescending dweebs explain Friedrich Nietsche to a group of kids so much smarter than they are that it’s pathetic.

THE GOOD:

  • It’s a video. I love video.

THE BAD:

  • Everything else.

THE HOPEFUL:

  • This is a parody, right? I say that because it has everything wrong, starting with the premise that Nietsche “created” existentialism. Oh wait, parodies are supposed to be funny, right? And this…:

Peggy Bechko: You’re a Storyteller

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by Peggy Bechko

This is a reminder to all the writers out there.

When you create a script or a novel or a short story or even something more along the lines of an article you’re not just writing. You’re not just creating an object like a script or a book or a magazine that can be held in someone’s hands.

Nope, you’re doing a lot more. You’re telling a story. You’ve become a storyteller.

Why is this important to remember? Well, telling a story means getting involved with your audience, getting their full attention, connecting. Creating an object such as a book or a script, getting the grammar, the formatting, the punctuation right, is another matter.

Not that the creation of the object isn’t important to your task if that is your outlet and not verbal storytelling. And by the way, I highly recommend you catch an honest-to-god live storyteller some time. In my town of Santa Fe, we have Joe Hayes and it really is a kick to watch how he draws his audience into his tale.

But I digress. Well sort of. Because the two are linked really.

When you begin a story you’re going to tell you, as the writer, must first get your readers’ attention, not unlike the live storyteller who has to do the same.

So, if the live story teller opens with a question, perhaps something like “who’s here to hear a good story?” or something more directly related to the actual story like “do you believe in ghosts?” that storyteller is engaging the audience and you can just see them perk up and direct their attention.

For the writer, the parallel is the hook. What can you do or say on that written page to engage your audience, be they script readers you have to get past to move your project forward or a reader of your book who you must immediately engage?

In effect you ask a question. You plant the seed of curiosity or create a scene so breathtaking it’s hard to ‘look away’.

When a storyteller connects with an audience it’s done by speaking to them like a family member or a friend is spoken to. It’s something to think about in your writing. No, you’re not having a conversation with the reader, but you can make your work very readable. Stay on point. Keep your sentences mostly short. Don’t show off your great vocabulary just for the sake of it – you wouldn’t do that to a friend you’re talking to. They’re human. You’re human. Connect.

And consider; when you work to the written page you can’t hear your audience or see them or get a feel for how they’re reacting as a live storyteller can. So you have to know your audience. What they want to read, what they’re looking for when they read. How to engage them.

It’s a challenge to get your readers, your ‘audience’, to become a part of your story, to understand it and connect with the characters you create, but that’s what you’re here for, right?

Less is More – A Musical Metaphor for Jazz Cats Everywhere

If Miles Davis’ music told us anything, it’s that there is meaning in silence. In the spaces between the notes. And in good writing we can find ourselves transfixed by the beauty and meaning of, yes it’s true, the spaces between the words:

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Writing With Miles Davis
by Aaron Gilbreath

If Miles Davis’s midcentury trumpet solos can be described by a single phrase, it might be “doing more with less.” Despite his renown, Davis wasn’t a flashy or highly technical player during the late 1950s and early ’60s. He was melodic and economical, and his approach can teach prose writers a lot about the power of concision, suggestion and space.

It’s difficult to characterize music in simple, sweeping terms. Davis explored numerous styles in a catalog that spanned decades; change defined him as much as his Harmon mute. But in the 1950s he started moving away from the early bebop of his mentor and band mate Charlie Parker to explore a leaner sound. Rather than squeezing as many notes and changes into solos as possible, Davis dispensed with clutter and ornamentation and pared his mode of expression down to one defined as much by the notes and phrases he played as by the silences left between them. As the critic Stanley Crouch once observed: “Part of his genius as a musician was that he edited what he heard Charlie Parker play.”

Where David Foster Wallace showed writers like me the possibilities of labyrinthine stories and digressions, Davis showed me how to be affecting without being opaque, lyrical without being verbose. Editing imbued each of Davis’s notes with more weight. It also let his melodic lines breathe, an effect that highlighted the depth and strength of his lyricism. No matter the tempo, Davis’s precise, deft touch produced solos whose moods ranged from buoyant to brooding, mournful to sweet.

Many writers fall prey to the quintessential American notion that bigger is better. They overload their sentences, adding more adjectives, more descriptions, more component phrases, tangents and appositives to form sprawling, syntactical centipedes (like this one) whose many segments and exhausting procession repeat themselves and say the same thing in different ways, with different words, and exhibit an entire ideology: that prose’s sensory and poetic impacts exist in direct proportion to the concentration of words. I know: I succumbed.

For many years I was impressed by flamboyant displays like the 255-word sentence in the journalist Marshall Frady’s essay “The South Domesticated,” a monument to excess held together with only three dashes.

Calvin Trillin’s sinuous, compound sentences also enchanted me. The problem was that when I aped Trillin’s style, I imitated only his long sentences, not the short ones he interspersed. This disparity gave my early essays a manic quality that frazzled the nerves and tired quickly.

Something about youth draws many of us to maximalism: Hunter S. Thompson, Jack Kerouac, Terry Southern, Tom Wolfe. Maybe the style — the sentences’ wildness, decadence and audacity — mirrors youth itself. The opening line of Southern’s novel “Candy” seemed to confirm to me that iconic stylists are the ones who pen mouthfuls:

“‘I’ve read many books,’ said Professor Mephesto, with an odd finality, wearily flattening his hands on the podium, addressing the seventy-six sophomores who sat in easy reverence, immortalizing his every phrase with their pads and pens, and now, as always, giving him the confidence to slowly, artfully dramatize his words, to pause, shrug, frown, gaze abstractly at the ceiling, allow a wan wistful smile to play at his lips, and repeat quietly, ‘many books … ’ ”

Yet the more I listened to Davis’s music, the more his approach started to influence my writing style. His solos in “Diane” and “It Could Happen to You” show how measured, uncluttered phrasing increases rather than decreases the impact. Unlike so much fat-cat prose, Davis’s solos didn’t divert from their emotional center by wowing the audience with speed and facility. With less distraction, the force of his music landed more squarely on me.

I started to experiment with economy as a form, hanging fewer phrases and images on the white walls of my essays. I also began to seek out writers who utilized this sparse style. Take Abigail Thomas. In her career, Thomas has distinguished herself, in part, by her brevity. She begins her memoir “A Three Dog Life” with succinct, meticulous bursts:

“This is the one thing that stays the same: my husband got hurt. Everything else changes. A grandson needs me and then he doesn’t. My children are close then one drifts away. I smoke and don’t smoke; I knit ponchos, then hats, shawls, hats again, stop knitting, start up again. The clock ticks, the seasons shift, the night sky rearranges itself, but my husband remains constant, his injuries are permanent.”

Like Davis’s trumpet, Thomas’s short sentences create mood. Structurally, she spins an ingenious centrifuge to take readers through the whirlwind of her confusion and despair. Beginning with blunt declarations, she builds momentum with a list and then uses commas to amplify the pace and tension, creating turbulent whitecaps on the flat, sullen surface of her introductory statement.

Davis’s saxophonist Cannonball Adderley once described him as “the type of soloist who implies a lot of things.” What is left unsaid colors much of Tony Earley’s book “Somehow Form a Family.” To describe his poor family’s character Earley chooses basic, unadorned details: “Our clothes were clean. My parents worked. We went to church. Easter mornings, Mama stood us in front of the yellowbell bush and took our picture.” I don’t know what a yellowbell bush is, but I know that these people are upstanding, proud, independent, tight-knit, without the writer’s spelling it out.

Some of Raymond Carver’s best writing also operates in the realm of suggestion. Describing his father’s 1934 departure from Arkansas in search of work, Carver wrote: “I don’t know whether he was pursuing a dream when he went out to Washington. I doubt it. I don’t think he dreamed much.” The impact of these short sentences stems less from mood or tension as bluntness. His brevity registers as acceptance, a pragmatic, maybe even disappointing, shrug at life’s deprivations: It’s unfortunate, but that’s how Dad was. At least, that’s how I interpret the passage. It’s also how suggestion works. Brevity often invites speculation and facilitates a dynamic interaction between reader and writing.

Listening to Davis taught me these things. He also underscored the value of experimentation and reinvention, the fact that it was all right to change, to try new styles, even when evolution meant abandoning your old comfortable routines, or worse, forsaking peoples’ favorites. Even though I don’t particularly like the musical directions he took later in life, I admire his need to explore, to test the limits of his form and himself. “The way you change and help music,” Davis said, “is by trying to invent new ways to play.” Every day I sit down at the computer, I try to remember that.

RIP Henry Bromell, Writer-Producer of HOMELAND, NORTHERN EXPOSURE, More

henry-bromell by Team TVWriter Press Service

An executive producer behind Showtime’s critically acclaimed series “Homeland” and other shows has died.

EW.com’s Inside TV reports that Henry Bromell died at 65. The veteran television writer and producer died Monday after reportedly suffering a heart attack.

Bromell’s list of credits included “Homicide: Life on the Street,” “Northern Exposure,” “Chicago Hope,” “Brotherhood” and “Carnivale,” among other shows.

The production team behind “Homeland” issued a statement saying: “Henry was a profoundly decent and generous man. A great writer and a great friend. No matter how crazy things got, when he was in the room, you knew everything was going to be okay. Everybody here at ‘Homeland’ is grieving, and we will miss him beyond words.”

A statement from Showtime said: “We are deeply saddened at the loss of our dear friend Henry Bromell, who has been a part of the Showtime family for over a decade. Henry was an immensely talented and prolific writer, director and showrunner, and his work on ‘Brotherhood’ and ‘Homeland’ was nothing short of brilliant. His passion, warmth, humor and generosity will be greatly missed. Our hearts and thoughts go out to his wife and family.”

Nine of the Best Ways to Boost Creative Thinking

Great advice on how to make the most of whatcha got going on in your sweet little ole head, from Lifehacker.Com:

 

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by Gregory Ciotti

When it comes to creativity, one of our biggest concerns is usually how we can be more creative, or how to come up with better ideas. Research in this area is all over the place, but I’ve gathered some of the most practical studies out there to help you utilize specific techniques that can boost your creativity.

All of these studies are useful for everyday creativity in daily life, so try a few out for yourself and see which ones work best for you.

Restrict Yourself

The research shows an insidious problem that many people have is that they will often take the path of “least mental resistance,” building on ideas they already have or trying to use everyresource at hand. The thing is, the research also suggests that placing self-imposed limitations can boost creativity because it forces even creative people to work outside of their comfort zones (which they still have, even if they are a bit “weirder” than most).

One of the most famous examples is when Dr. Seuss produced Green Eggs & Ham after a betwhere he was challenged by his editor to produce an entire book in under 50 different words. I’m no Dr. Seuss, but I’ve found (and I’m sure other writers can relate) that when I’m suddenly restricted to writing something in 500 words when I had planned to write it in 800 words, it can lead to some pretty creative workarounds.

Try limiting your work in some way and you may see the benefits of your brain coming up with creative solutions to finish a project around the parameters you’ve set.

Re-Conceptualize the Problem

One thing that researchers have noticed with especially creative people is that they tend to re-conceptualize the problem more often than their less creative counterparts. That means, instead of thinking of a cut-and-dry end goal to certain situations, they sit back and examine the problem in different ways before beginning to work.

Here’s a candid example—as a writer who handles content strategy for startups, my “cookie cutter” end goal is something like “write popular articles.” The problem is, if I approach an article with the mindset of, “What can I write that will get a lot of tweets?”, I won’t come up with something very good. However, if I step back and examine the problem from another angle, such as: “What sort of articles really resonate with people and capture their interest?”, I’m focusing on a far better fundamental part of the problem, and I’ll achieve my other goals by coming up with something more original.

So, if you find yourself stagnating by focusing on generic problems (“What would be something cool to paint?”), try to re-conceptualize the problem by focusing on a more meaningful angle (“What sort of painting evokes the feeling of loneliness that we all encounter after a break-up?”).

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