Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Thought Provoking Critique Of The Phantom Menace

I hadn’t planned to do another post before the end of the year, but then Lovely Lindy sent me a link to the first part of a video critique of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.   I watched it, expecting humorous jokes, sarcasm, and snide remarks, and all that abounds in this review. 

But it also contains carefully thought out, extremely sophisticated, arguments about the difference between strong characters and weak ones, between exciting plots and boring ones.  It openly and honestly lays out the necessary elements for a good story, and argues convincingly that all those elements are missing from The Phantom Menace.

Below is the first part of the series, and here is a link to it on YouTube.  There are seven parts in the whole series, each 10-minutes long. 

Yes, that’s right, this is a 70-minute critique of The Phantom Menace.  Trust me, just watch the first 10-minute segment; if you don’t like it you won’t be interested in the rest. 

But if you are like me, if you care about storytelling and seek to improve your skills, you will find yourself wanting to take notes.  This is the kind of honest, unvarnished criticism that writers always want but rarely receive.   It has given me  insights into my own attempts at writing; has prompted me to ask myself questions that I will be struggling with for some time to come. 

I Must Include The Following Warning

This video series also includes a darkly comic sub-story revolving around the narrator’s fictional private life.  I won’t provide any spoilers here, except to say that the video does contain elements which may offend some people and which are not for young children.  Consider yourself warned.

The maker of this video series also has has a 4-part series critiquing Star Trek: Nemesis.  The comments on his YouTube site indicate the Nemesis review is as funny and insightful as his Phantom Menace review.   If it is, I may well write another post promoting it as well.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Talk About Things To Come

I’ve been swamped lately, which is why I’ve fallen behind on this blog.  Given the rush with which Christmas is approaching  (and bringing assorted guests) I suspect this will be my last post before the end of the year.  After that I think my schedule will settle into a new normal that will make it easier for me to focus on writing in general and keeping up with this blog in specific.

As I write this, I am sitting in a hotel room in Atlanta as part of an unplanned trip.  Unplanned,  but surprisingly beneficial in that it gave me a chance to plow through a pile of emails that became unmanageable some time ago.  Which led to me exploring the multitude of other blogs I discovered thanks to FeedBlitz and Jane Friedman.

FeedBlitz Is Not One Of Santa’s Reindeers

FeedBlitz is a service I discovered while setting up my new website,  It lets people sign up to receive email updates from blogs and newsletters.  I added a FeedBlitz email signup box on my website, then used FeedBlitz to signed up to receive Jane’s blog, There Are No Rules, which she writes for Writer’s Digest.

Some of Jane’s posts contain links to other blogs.  A treasure trove of information from a broad swath of writers, editors, agents, publishers, and so forth.  Simply skimming over all these blogs is a daunting task.  As I went from blog to blog, reading what professionals were posting about, I began to have better understanding of the direction I wanted to take with this blog, and with the one I am going to be doing for Gods-Among-Men.Com.

Where Do We Go From Here?

In the coming new year I am going to focus first upon what others are posting about.  I plan to state the positions I agree with, and argue against those that I don’t.  I will discuss how the comments and thoughts on these sites are affecting my own growth as a writer, and my understanding of the profession which calls to me. 

I shall also strive for more brevity.  I know I have a tendency to be verbose, which can be tolerated to a certain degree in novels.  But blog post should be short and to the point.

And with that thought, I shall close today’s blog by wishing everyone a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Crazy Kwanza, and a Blessed New Year.   I’ll be back in 2010 with a host of topics to post about.  Hang onto your seats; the party is just getting started.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Creating An Online Presence

I started writing this post about two weeks ago.  I was pretty close to posting it when events in my personal life started spinning out of control.  Those events are still spinning, but there is little that I can do about them right now, so I have decided to finish this post before moving on to Christmas shopping, working on the new website, writing, editing, and the rest of the items on my list.

What Follows Is From Two Weeks Ago, With Some Recent Edits

I have spent a fair amount of my free time recently working on creating a website to host my story, Gods Among Men.  I have had numerous false starts and tried more than a few approaches that ended in failure.  This is to be expected in any new venture; it is part of the learning curve that such efforts entails. 

From the outside it may appear that progress has stalled, but I have worked long enough as a computer programmer to know better.  I have amassed the information required to sustain my efforts into the future.  The fact that there isn’t much to show at the moment is not indicative of what I have learned how to do in the last few days.

Initially I was using software called SiteBuilder to build my new website.  It had several advantages, including the fact that it was freely available on the servers hosting my site, had a plethora of sample themes to choose from, and it let me quickly throw together an initial set of pages that I could later change to suit my needs.   

Once I had the initial pages created, I planned to use Microsoft Expression Web to modify the pages.  Expression Web, as far as I can tell, doesn’t have options like those in SiteBuilder for quickly building an entire website with a few clicks.  That said, it does have terrific options for managing existing sites and building new pages.  

I soon ran into the problem that SiteBuilder and Expression Web don’t play well together.  Actually, a better description would be that SiteBuilder doesn’t play well with anything else at all.  After making various changes using Expression Web, I decided I needed new pages that would be easier to add in SiteBuilder.  When I loaded my site back into SiteBuilder I discovered that it didn’t see the changes I had made using Expression Web.  Since I had a copy of everything on my local hard drive, I decided to plow ahead and see what SiteBuilder would do after I added the new pages and republished the site.  What happened is that SiteBuilder wiped out everything I had done and recreated the website from scratch, with my new pages now added.

Nonplussed, I considered just using Expression Web to build my site.  This would give me total control of the content.  The drawback was it meant I had to become much more familiar with the ins and outs of website development.  A task requiring a substantial commitment of time and effort on my part. 

As I was debating this problem, I was also working with WordPress, the software that I chose for my website’s blog.  Here I had a different problem, namely the theme for my blog was not the same as my theme for my website.  I liked the initial theme I choose for my blog, but it had some limitations that proved frustrating.  Fortunately there are a gazillion prepackaged themes available to choose from, including a large variety of free ones. 

With a bit of exploration I found a theme called Atahualpa.  This highly customizable theme not only removed the restrictions I had been laboring under with my previous theme, but it made me wonder how far I could push its limits.  After playing with it I decided it would be possible to make my blog the home page for my entire website and create custom pages for hosting my story.  This also addressed the problem that my blog had one appearance and my initial website had another.

I still had a problem with Expression Web.  I couldn’t use it to directly manage pages hosted by WordPress, but I discovered ways around this limitation.  To be precise, I found out how to create a page or part of a page in Expression Web, then copy the generated HTML and paste it into a page created by WordPress.  While far from perfect, this process let me have my cake and eat it too.  That is, I could quickly generate an entire website that would look professional and consistent from page to page, and I could tweak it to display anything I wanted.

And Now I Am Adding New Material

Since I wrote the above I have spent some time adding new pages to my website.  I put customized, if somewhat crude, graphics of my own creation on the site.  I added an “about the author” page, and created a menu and associated page with options to go to any of the books in Gods Among Men.  I also added a page with the synopsis of the series' plot, including a spoiler alert for those who prefer discovering the story for themselves.  I designed a format for the title page I will use for each chapter I post, including copyright information and appropriate disclaimers.  I used this format to create a PDF version of the first chapter in the series and put a link on the website to download it.  I also created an XPS version of the first chapter, but have had some difficulty putting it on the site.  When I try to upload the file, WordPress bleeps out an obscure message stating that it is not secure enough.  I will do research later to find out what the heck that is all about. 

There is still much work to do, and I have grand plans for the site’s future that may exceed both my time and abilities.  Still, it is better to aim high and fall short than to never test your limits.

The new site has, in the upper right corner of the home page, ways for visitors to subscribe to the blog I have there.  Sometimes I will post the same information both there and on the blog for the Magic City Writers’ Group, such as this post.  My long term plan is to post about writing in general on the Magic City Writers’ site, and about Gods Among Men on my new site.  I hope everyone will sign up for both.

Given the holiday season and the upheavals in my personal life, new posts as well as progress on the new site may be sporadic for the next few weeks.  Hopefully things will settle down in the near future and I can resume a more normal schedule.

Until next time, take care and have fun.