Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch…

 

So I saw Guardians of the Galaxy the other day and it was pretty wow. Normally I don’t go in for Hollywood Mega Franchise Sequel Cash Cow Summer Blockbusters, but I’d seen the first one, had a gut feeling I wasn’t going to enjoy the new Alien movie, and was hankering for popcorn, so we went for it.

I’m not going to do a full-on review of the film, it’s not actually that reviewable other than: fun space-romp with lots of laughs and one too many monologues. But I am going to use my viewing of Guardians to explain a great story-telling trick.

It’s called ‘Meanwhile, back at the ranch…’

So in the first act of Guardians, all the team is together, battling space worms and bickering about who’s boss. Then, after a series of self-induced mishaps, the team is split in two. Pratt and one half of the team off to the edge of the universe, while Rocket and the other half stay behind to do some repairs.

Now our team is in two we have two parallel stories taking place. This is where the trick comes in.

We follow Pratt and the gang for a while until a cliffhanger appears, and then cut back to Rocket and the gang for a while until a cliffhanger appears, then back to Pratt to solve the first cliffhanger and lead them to another, before cutting back to Rocket who solves his cliffhanger and leads up to another, etc, etc.

We keep revving up the ante, and instead of solving it we cut away to another story. This story is now imbued with the tension created in the other, we are left wondering what happened, and it fills up time as we delve into two stories which, usually, blend back into each other in some way.

In this case, Rocket and the team eventually Spoilers Spoilers Spoilers, before Pratt and the team Spoilers Spoilers Spoilers.

But you get the idea. Try it in your own writing next time a story idea pops by. But me, I gotta go do a thing for now… Meanwhile, back at the Stanzas HQ.

 

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Back at the Ranch, this month’s blog was written by the not-very-rancherly Shane Vaughan.

If you have something to say and nowhere to say it, why not send it to us? We’re looking for reviews, thoughts, essays, maybe even more long-form fiction that we can’t put in our physical zines! 

What’s the harm, send it to stanzas.limerick@gmail.com. If we like it, we’ll put it up!

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Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch…

The Talent Myth

 

Do you believe in talent or hard work? Do you believe hours or even years of honing one’s craft are required to achieve a certain level of mastery in a skill, or is there something else involved? Some natural affinity or flair? What’s the benchmark for someone to be even considered talented? There are some that dispute whether or not “talent” even exists.

Merriam-Webster defines talent as “a special, often athletic, creative, or artistic aptitude”, and the word takes its origins from the Latin “talentum: balance, weight; sum of money.” The modern definition and usage of the word can be traced back to the Middle Ages when it was used figuratively to compliment an artist’s or craftsman’s aptitude

In honesty I much prefer the medieval connotation. To say someone had talent was to say they had wealth, (in Ancient Greece a talanton was worth 6000 Drachmae) figuratively acknowledging the hard work and dedication of the individual. It’s a much more romantic sentiment than our current usage of the word, which so often merely admires the fact that a person is talented, and not the fact that they may have worked hard to get there.

Let’s theorise a moment about the different variables at play here. Let’s consider:

1: Someone with seemingly miraculous aptitude, who excels in their field exceedingly quickly and without much need of intensive training/learning/practising.

2: An individual who has been trained from a very young age and dedicated hundreds if not thousands of hours to intensive training/learning/practising.

3: An individual taking up a skill in adulthood, having no prior experience, discovering a natural affinity to learn and progress quickly.

4: An individual taking up a skill in adulthood, having no prior experiences, discovering a lack of natural affinity, but remaining dedicated, training hard and progressing and learning slowly.

Many savants could be classified into group one. English pianist Derek Paravacini is blind and severely autistic and has been playing the piano since the age of two. He has perfect pitch, he can identify each note in chords and polychords of up to, and possibly over, eighteen notes, and he can play every song he’s ever heard from memory. Talented?

Group two could easily include someone like Beethoven, whose father and grandfather were musicians. Trained practically from birth to be the classical great he would become. Even after going deaf he composed some of his greatest works.

Group three tend to be actors. People like Harrison Ford, who was originally an on-set carpenter; or Morgan Freeman, who didn’t star in his first movie until he was in his fifties, can often walk onto the silver screen and wow us with their sheer, un-corrupted honesty.

And group four would include people like fashion designer Vivienne Westwood. She got her start at thirty dressing the Sex Pistols, but her unique and colourful style didn’t bring her to international fashion fame until she was in her fifties.

I’m sure all our readers would consider the above individuals to have talent, but how do we judge? Is it more about the flair or the hard work, or is it about a combination of both? Old school talent requires experience and wealth of knowledge, and new school talent seems to just randomly occur. Perhaps it’s the word itself that’s such an issue. It’s broad and vague and provides no sense of superlative. You can’t quantify talent (ironic given its etymology) so perhaps a new standard should be set, a new benchmark, a new way for us to achieve a nonsense hierarchy. Or perhaps we can take back its old meaning, admire worth, and wealth, and knowledge, and not just admire each other.

 

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This month’s blog was written by the uber-talented/Very Hard Working Jared Nadin!

If you have something to say and nowhere to say it, why not send it to us? We’re looking for reviews, thoughts, essays, maybe even more long-form fiction that we can’t put in our physical zines! 

What’s the harm, send it to stanzas.limerick@gmail.com. If we like it, we’ll put it up!

The Talent Myth

What’s In a Title?

 

This blog is called “The Wednesday Blog On a Thursday!” because I’m terrible at time-management and I have a memory like a… what’s that thing… tiny dolphin?

Titles are a tricky thing to get right, but when they work you to buy a book or read a poem, so they’re kinda important.

I’m a huge fan of both JK. Rowling and Philip Pullman, but I’ve got to say Pullman wins in the Titles category – there’s The Dark Materials trilogy comprised of The Northern Lights, Subtle Knife, and Amber Spyglass, or there’s his Sally Lockhart books of The Ruby in the Smoke or The Tiger in the Well, to name but a few.

Rowling, meanwhile, has Harry Potter and the Something of Something, for several iterations.

Now here’s the thing, I love Pullman’s titles, and they work for Pullman’s books, but it would be a strange world where Harry Potter’s name didn’t emblazon the books he’s in.

A good title provides either Hook, Context, or Familiarity. I think Pullman is a master of the Hook. You can’t read those titles without wondering what they’re about.

Rowling, on the other hand, went down the familiarity/context route. Picking up the newest HP book and reading the title was a story in itself. You already knew he was going to be in Hogwarts doing magic, but this time, this time! there’s a cup, or a snake, or a deathly wotsit.

Both authors have good titles, but each has a different requirement for their stories. Have a think about what your own writing needs, what are you trying to tell the reader, where are you taking them, how do you want them to feel?

Oh, and as for the Wednesday Blog, that’s just so you know never to expect good time management from a writer. We are the masters of procrastin-hey, what’s that over there –

 

What’s In a Title?

Who said What?

There’s a great sketch from Abbott and Costello called Who’s on First. In it, there are three baseball players, “Hu” (on first), “Watt”, (on second) and “I Don’t Know” (on third.) The gag lies in knowing these names are also questions, and thus hilarity ensues as one guy keeps trying to figure out who is on first, second and third base.

This sketch works so well in part because both Abbott and Costello have a strong command of Subject-Object Grammar.

Stay with me.

In the sketch, we the audience are totally clear who our Subjects are; “Hu”, “Watt” and “I Don’t Know”, and what our objects are; First, Second and Third Base, so we can follow the dialogue even as one of the characters is descending into total chaos.

Let’s compare this to a sentence I found while reading a trashy listacle about drunkenly buying amazon products.

“Just as you should never put car keys in the hands of someone who’s had one too many, you should also keep them as far away from the computer as possible.”

Uho. Do you see what’s happening here?

“Just as you should never put car keys in the hands of someone who’s had one too many, you should also keep them as far away from the computer as possible.”

Oops!

Here we have Subject-Object confusion, which leaves the reader wondering why they should keep their car keys away from the pc. Here, the Subject is the keys, and the Objects become a drunkard and a computer.

It’s actually a simple fix.

Just as you should keep your drunken friend from their car keys, ­so too should you keep them from their computer.

Better, and not bad advice either.

When writing a story or a poem it’s important to get your grammar right, even if it’s only the basic stuff. Obviously you care about your story, your idea, about finding truth in reality and all that beautiful talk, but you’ll nullify that beauty by confusing readers with car keys browsing google and getting wrecked on cans of dutch.

Grammar puts people off because it’s technical, complicated, and confusing. It feels so far removed from the creativity of writing a poem or a story, but I assure you it’s not as complicated as a poorly written spiel.

You don’t need to get a degree in technical writing, but you should be abreast of the basics. Get to know your grammar. Learn why sentences are structured the way they are, and why we speak the way we do. It will help you a hundred-fold and will instantly improve your writing. After all, you can’t break the rules if you don’t know them.

So be like Abbott and Costello. Know Who is on First, What is on Second, and Why you should never let your car keys drunk-drive.

 

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Take some time to learn.

Grammar-basics: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Object_(grammar)

A very useful book: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Elements-Style-William-Strunk-Jr/dp/020530902X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1493723998&sr=8-1&keywords=strunk+and+white

Light relief: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kTcRRaXV-fg

 If you have a blog idea and want to contribute, drop us a message at stanzas.limerick@gmail.com

Who said What?