Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Meat and Potatoes: Plot v Story

Maybe you've heard this story versus plot thing before, and you've wondered exactly what it is. Simply put:

Plot is the sequence of events at it's absolute most basic.
Story is everything else.

Here's an example to illustrate.

PLOT: Ships land on a foreign shore, and the people who came take resources from the new land. Boy from ships falls in love with native. Stands up to his people...

Now, if your STORY is that the Invaded People are blue and 8 feet tall, and Boy is in a wheel chair, then you've got AVATAR.

But if you're STORY is that the Invaded People are Native Americans, and Boy is a blond Londoner, you get POCAHONTAS.

Think of PLOT as the meat and potatoes. STORY is all the seasonings.

If you stick some meat and potatoes in a pot and boil them, you can make a meal. But without any seasoning, it's going to be very bland.

And you wouldn't eat a bowl of ketchup, pepper, and curry, would you?

It is possible to have a solid plot, with very few story details, but it feels generic to read. And plot, without story just feels pointless.


We hear from time to time, "There's just no plot." (When you hear it from me, you'll probably hear "Nothing Happened!") From the earlier analogies, it sounds kind of impossible. How could you forget to put the 'food' in your food? Wouldn't you notice if you only had condiments in the pot?


Maybe not.

Every year, on January 1, people around the world make resolutions about how they will be better this year. Clearly, they've had failings in the last year (and the year before that and the year before that...). Sometimes, they realise that they really haven't done anything in a whole year. Obviously they've done stuff. They got up every morning, and they showered, and they ate, and they watched tv, and read a book or two. But they haven't DONE ANYTHING. They're the same person at the end of the year that they were at the beginning.

They got all caught up in the story, and forgot about the plot.


Here are a few tips to find plot troubles! If you have difficulties doing any of these things, plot may the culprit.

1. Write a 1 page synopis or a query.
2. Draw a flow chart of the action in your story.
3. Summarise each chapter with a single sentence.


If your story doesn't have enough plot, brainstorm and see what cogs you can through in the wheels. Can the MC discover something he or she didn't know? Can some outside circumstance derail the MC's plan?

If your plot advances too fast, you can add some scenes that flesh out more character. Or use a minor character or subplot to slow the roll. If your plot is too slow, you can focus a little less on character and setting description. Or tone down or subtract a subplot. Or you can add elements to the main plot.

You can crank up the tension by playing around with your plot order. (Note the story always happens in the same order, but plot order can change for effect. For example: the first thing that happens in a murder mystery, is the murder, but you don't know whodunit 'til the end.) Write the chapter summaries on index cards and move them around. You can also add plot elements to put more at stake.

Chapter summaries and flow charts can also help you find plot holes. You can see at a glance where the plot doesn't flow smoothly, and you can add/change elements to help it along.

I'm really not an expert, so I hope this can be of some use. Here are two other articles on story v plot here and here. I think what the second defines as story is more premise, but they have great examples of plot.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Headliners: Jay

Next week, I'll be going to the biggest multi-genre music festival in Japan. 2 days, 2 cities, 6 stages (per city), dozens of artists. So happy!

Today's Time Travel Tuesday is dedicated to the Headliner for Tokyo's Saturday and Osaka's Sunday: Jay-Z!!!

WARNING: He's a rapper, so there's some language. But not much, cuz I'm not big on it.

I think Jay started becoming mainstream around HARD KNOCK LIFE, 1998, but he'd been around 10 years before that.

Then there was ANYTHING in 2000. Nothing like a gangsta love song. lol. Oh, can you tell that I love songs with kids singing the chorus?

I lived in Connecticut when this one came out in 2001, and it was hilarious to hear the Old Money teens adding IZZO to their words!

That same year, guys wished they had GIRLS, GIRLS, GIRLS, like Jay!

From 2004, DIRT OFF YOUR SHOULDER. They are still doing the dance in clubs today.

Between living in Connecticut for two years, flying to Japan, friends and family, and the fact that's one of the biggest ports (air) to the Caribbean, I've been in and out of NYC, more than anywhere else, without ever actually living there. But the only time I've ever wished I was a New Yorker, was the first time I heard Empire State of Mind, 2009, with Alicia Keys. I just happened to be standing in club in Manhattan at the time. By the way, chartwise, this is Jay's most successful single, hitting #1 on at least 3 US charts, and top tens in at least 6 other countries.

Hope you enjoyed!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Show 'em what done-right looks like!

The title is a line from one of my fave movies, HOW SHE MOVE. Yeah, it's formaulaic, but it's the only movie I know concentrating on the Afro-Caribbean American artform of step (dancing). Plus, it has one of my fave supporting characters :)

Have you ever heard anyone say, "You shouldn't sing Mariah?"

Mariah Carey can sing some ridiculously high notes. Decent singers often sound like dying dinosaurs when they sing her songs. Same goes for Celine,and more recently Jennifer Hudson. You just don't sing them.


you can sing your pants off. Because if you can sing Mariah and pull it off, it will be so amazing, your audience will get goosebumps on their nose hairs!

Last Wednesday, I went on a rant about an epic fantasy I read. One of the points I brought up was that you CAN'T show everything a character does. But that's my bad. Because a rule-hater like me should know that you should NEVER say never.

I read (more like devoured) HUNGER GAMES on Saturday and Sunday. From the moment Kat leaves to the end of the book, we are told just about everything that happens. Yet, it's not a drag. There's still tension. I wish there was a formula to show what was in HUNGER GAMES that was missing from the other books I've read like this.

But, at the very least, it was good to understand what the others were aiming for. This game is so crazy. When you shoot for the moon and miss, you don't get the stars. You don't get anything at all. But if you're on, if you hit the mark, it's such a beautiful thing.

Go on, Suzanne Collins, show 'em what done-right looks like!

Friday, July 23, 2010


I mentioned before that this time of year is when a lot of people in my job go home, and new ones arrive. I'm an ALT- Assistant Language Teacher- here in Japan. There are several different ways to become one: direct private contract, work for a private company or apply to the government program.

JET- Japan Exchange and Teaching- is the Government program. Japanese Embassies around the world (36 countries) interview potential candidates and liaise with towns, cities and private schools here to see what they want. They select candidates and then they ship them out. Generally they come in 4 groups: Group A, last week of July, Group B, first week of August, a small Group C- for upgraded alternates- at the end of August, and an April Group, for those countries who are on a different school year from the West, mostly the other Asian countries, Australia and New Zealand.

When new JETs first come to Japan, they spend 4 days in Tokyo at a huge Orientation, where they listen to Ministry Officials, CLAIR Officials (The organisation that runs JET has the same name as me, except my name is spelled different. It makes for fairly hilarious jokes), and current JETs present on a wide range of topics.

Tomorrow, I leave for Tokyo Orientation. I don't have to present, but I will be present at both Orientation A and B. I'm the Block 1 (4 Northernmost prefectures) representative of AJET (Association for JETs)so I have to be at both of the major Orientations. Not that I'm complaining. That's 2 weeks in Tokyo without having to use any of my vacation days.

Even if Tokyo tends to be 40C and 85% humidity, I'm happy. Tokyo is just like NYC- absolutely fantabulicious to visit, but you might not want to live there.

Oh, as for my net presence... I'm trying to set up posts for every day. I'll have internet access but I'll be superbusy. So I may not be as active commentwise.

I'm so excited!!! SHINKANSEN :D (high speed train- just in case you haven't heard me freak out about them before)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Random Words of Advice

Maybe you've realised I don't like hard and fast rules. It goes against my ENFP-bipolar-Sagittarius nature. lol!

So if I'm giving advice, and not just options (because I present different options all the time) it must be something really important.

So here's the lifechanging piece of advice.

If you're ever stuck on a stationary train for 3 hours, because the tracks are flooded, and you think that it might possibly be a good idea to pull out your copy of THE HUNGER GAMES and start reading, DON'T!

There's no way that you'll finish in 3 hours and then you'll get to your destination, and instead of going straight to the club like you planned on, you'll end up in the 24 hour McDonalds eating a Teriyaki Burger Meal as slowly as you possibly can. And you'll only leave when the employee comes to tell you that the upstairs portion is closing.

And you'll be tempted to just sit downstairs, but then you'll go to the club cuz you promised the owner. And then you'll spend the first few hours sipping on Peach Fizzes and China Blues and wondering if there's anywhere in the darn club that has enough light for you to read.

And then they'll play Rihanna's Rude Boy and there will be a twiggy Japanese chick wearing less cloth than your shirt sleeve, and you'll decide to take the floor and show here how it's done. Because really you're Bajan (like Rihanna) and you've been dancing these rhythms before you were born. Plus she has no hips or butt, and those are practically a requirement to dance reggae.

So you'll go and sweat Katniss out of your brain until the first train home, when you'll make an attempt to read, but fall asleep and miss your stop. And then you'll have to get off at the next stop and take a bus back to your town, because really why is there only one a train an hour on that silly private line? And when you finally get home your brain will want to implode, because it's 9 am, and you really would like to sleep, but how can you not know what happens???? ARGH!!!


And so my advice:


Oh, and by the way, today's post is purely hypothetical :)


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

EPIC fail

There is a really thin line between fantastic, and "What the hell were you thinking?" Take comedy for example. Where's the point when something stops being risqué and is just disgusting? When is an ethnic stereotype hilarious and when is it racist? Or at the base of all comedy, when is something going to leave them rolling in the aisles and when is it just not funny?

Like comedy, there are several fields where done well is fantastic, but so often it is not done well. And then it's horrible.

Epic fantasy is one of those things.

I just finished the first book in the French series I'm reading (Les Chevaliers d'Emeraude/ ). Truthfully the only reason I finished was because it was in French, so there was the study value as well as the entertainment value.

Let me just take the time to insert a DISCLAIMER here. This book is in French and written by a Québequois. I've seen tons of French, Spanish and Italian movies. Plus I live in Japan, and am constantly surrounded by Japanese media. You come to realise that things that are big no-no's in one culture, and the way to go in another. So maybe, this is just the way to write a book in Québec.

Unfortunately, it didn't quite work with me.

Here's a list of things that didn't work for me, and things you might want to consider if you're writing epic fantasy, or any series.

- Be careful of having too many characters. Trying to remember which character is related to who, and who was born where? Not fun.

- Something needs to happen. Just because it's an epic, that does not mean you can spend a whole book setting up. The characters managed to pass through pretty much all of their continent, about 12 countries. It felt like the whole book was devoted to having the readers discover the continent and the individual royal families.

- Don't show everything. I critiqued an MS like this once. We woke up with the MC, showered with her, ate breakfast... It felt more like being a PI watching a CC camera. Honestly, this wasn't much better. The entire second half of the book could have been written in a paragraph. "They decided to visit each monarchy and inform them of the situation. Two weeks later they met up again." Maybe it's just me, but I feel like sometimes, people write a series just for writing a series' sake, and their story could actually have fit in a single book.

-Don't have to much going on at once. Soap operas may tempt you to think that you can weave 12 plot lines together. I very much disagree. If you want 12 plot lines, maybe you SHOULD be writing a soap opera. For a book, one or two (or even 3 or 4) will suffice, thank you.

- Don't paint too much. Okay, we've established that I'm not a visual person, so maybe there are people out there that like this. I, however, can't stand when people think, "Oh, it's fantasy, and it's a different world, so I can spend 12 consecutive pages describing the landscape." Er... No, you can't. If I wanted beautiful landscapes, I'd be in an art gallery. I read for story. Did you get that? I want a STORY.

As I said before, if it wasn't for the fact that I was also studying French as I read, I would not have completed this book. I already have books 2 and 3, and I will read them in turn. If it gets better I might consider reading more of them, if not, I'll be looking for something new.

Oh, and I just figured out where I can buy Italian books! YAY! And just in case you wondered what I'm reading now: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - in Japanese. I must not like myself very much!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Youtube dance mix- TTT

Last week, when I flashbacked to Queen, I found Ice Ice Baby and when I clicked on it, the recommends were the BESTEST collection of 80's/90's dance/rap EVER!!! Unfortunately embedding was blocked left, right and centre, so if you want to see original videos, you'll have to head over to youtube yourself :(

First up, Vanilla Ice and Ice Ice Baby- 1989. Vanilla Ice claims that it was the highest selling rap single ever with over 40 million sold!

Karma Chameleon by Culture Club (Boy George) from 1983

Snow sang Informer back in 1992

Sir Mixalot's Baby Got Back from 1992

And the original baggy pants man, MC Hammer told us U Can't Touch this in 1990.

Here's the original Mr. Linky, if you want to check out the music vids I couldn't embed, and if you don't believe that youtube did this all on it's own. lol. As if I could even make this up :)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Psyched! MBTI

This is the last instalment of Psyched! (At least for a while...) To see the earlier posts, check out:

Psyched! Sensual Perception

Psyched! Learning Style

Today we'll be doing a little overview of personality type as defined by the MBTI. For more information on MBTI, hit up the wikipedia article.

MBTI stands for Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and it's a psychometric instrument wihch seperates people into sixteen personality types. It's the most widely used instrument for personality testing.


The research started out with Carl Jung, who determined that people perceived things in one of two ways and made decisions in one of two ways. He then added that they did these things either in an internal or external way.

A mother daughter pair, Katherine Cook Briggs and Isabelle Briggs Myers, started with Jung's research and determined 4 dichotomies. They were originally meant to help women enterign the work force for the first time to identify what sort of war-tim jobs they'd be best suited for.


E/I - Extroverted/ Introverted

The first thing to remember about the Myers-Briggs pairs is that the terms used have definitions which may not agree with their layman definitions. So just because you can be the life the of the party does not make you an extrovert, and reading a lot does not make you an introvert.

This pair has more to do with how you relate to the world and where you get energy. When an extrovert is tired, he/she needs to do something: go to a social event, a class, etc. An exhausted introvert needs to spend time in reflection: read a book, paint a picture, etc.

Extroverts act first
Introverts think first

Extroverts are energised by being with people but drained by being alone
Introverts are drained by being with people but energised by being alone

Extroverts prefer many interactions (ie many acquaintances)
Introverts prefer deep interactions (ie close to 2 or 3 bffs)

S/N - Sensing/INtuition

This has to do with how we perceive the world. Do you prefer what is or what could be? Do you look at your bank account and see $3000 or do you see a trip to Italy?

Sensers like ideas to be concrete
Intuitives like ideas to be abstract

Sensers focus on the here and now
Intuitives concentrate on what could be or what might have been

Sensers prefer to deal with lists of facts
Intuitives prefer to notice correlations

T/F - Thinking/Feeling

This is how we make decisions.

Thinkers decide with logic
Feelers decide with emotion

A thinker would buy a blue Tshirt because they have a pair of shoes it matches, and they don't have any other blue Tshirts. A feeler would buy a blue Tshirt, because they like it, even though they happen to have 12 other blue Tshirts.

J/P- Judging/Perceiving

This is about whether you lean towards your Judging (T/F)or your Perceiving (S/N) function.

Judgers prefer to have decisions made
Perceivers prefer to have outcomes open-ended

Judgers like order
Perceivers like chaos

Knowing your type can help you deal with just about everything in life. For example, I'm an ENFP. On the E/I scale, I'm near the middle. For all the other scales, I'm near the extreme. These things combine to mean that I get really enthusiastic about new ideas (and things and places, and even people), but I can't follow through. My entire life, I've been fighting to be 'normal', but since MBTI, I don't. I just accept that I'm not cut out for that life, and keep moving.

MBTI can also give you a framework for dealing with others. My 2 bff from school days to now, are both ESTJ. We only have the E in common. As you might guess, it means we have severely different views on pretty much everything (It's kind of a miracle we've never killed one another, actually!). For example, when I felt like I was meant to go volunteer in India, money was tight. My BFF, O, said forget it and do it another time. That's the T in her. The F in me was having none of that. In the end, it all worked out and I went to India. But not before we had a huge blowout. Now I've learned to appreciate how much she needs things to add up.

There are a lot of character questionnaires out there with minuscule details. White or black? Beach or mountains? Cherries or strawberries? Frankly, I don't think a lot of that matters. I don't have a preference on two of those three. And while I prefer the beach to the mountains, I'm not sitting on a train for 3 hours to get to one. Plus, I don't know which of these my friends prefer. That does not make us any less friends.

Truth is the Pepsi/Coke question is only important if you're in a restaurant.

The dichotomies on the MBTI are much more important to knowing your characters.

If your MC is stressed, will she call up her friends and have an impromptu ice cream party? Or will she curl up with a book?
If she say a shoe heel on the ground, would she think that it's a hideous shade of green? Or would she wonder if the person had to cut a first date short when their heel came off?
Is she going to buy the black dress to have something sensible to wear to formal events? Or will she buy the pink one because she's feeling sparkles this week?
Does she prefer to have all the answers? Or will she leap before she knows where the next branch is?

I hope you enjoyed this miniseries, and maybe even learned a thing or two. Thanks for tuning in!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Crazy 3 prefecture weekend

Last weekend was so crazy I'm still recovering!

First a map so you understand what I'm talking about. The yellow part is Tohoku (North East).

The prefectures are, from top to bottom, left to right:


Akita Iwate

Yamagata Miyagi


I live in Iwate. It's the biggest on the mainland and 2nd biggest in Japan, behind the megaloth island at the top, Hokkaido. For an idea of size, the whole of Tohoku is around the size of West Virginia.

First I headed down to Shichikashuku, South Miyagi, for a friend's goodbye party. Since I live on the Northern border of Iwate, that's a 6 hour journey, but I cut it to 2, with this- max speed 275 km/h

I went to say goodbye and Happy Birthday to my girlfriend Phelia. Apparently I got jokes noone else did....

Phelia's Japanese friends did a drum show for us.

I got 4 hours sleep and headed back to my prefecture, for a wedding party. I didn't go to the actual wedding- that is pretty common in Japan.

Then I went to a club event. Several of the ALTs here have been DJing, and now all of them are leaving. I'm partying with my Bolivian-Japanese bff here. Our conversations are hilarious to onlookers because we argue loudly in whichever of 3 languages we feel like.

Then we got 4 hours sleep and headed up to my town to pick up my neighbours. They were at the Goshono Jomon site, where some of the earlier people in Japan lived.
(Aside: I left and went to a beer garden while writing this post. In Japan there is no such thing as one party, there's always an after party. Sometimes there's an after after party, and an after after after party, so I'm full of liquor - all you can drink all night for $20 plus karaoke- so I really hope the rest of this post makes sense :) )

Inside the hut

Outside with bff

A Jomon hut

Then we drove to Shingo in Aomori to see the Tomb Of Christ

According to the Japanese, Jesus Christ did not die on the cross, since his Japanese brother Isukiri casually took his place.

This plaque from Israel acknowledges that the Japanese say they have the body of Christ.

In front of Isukiri's grave with bff and Yuria.

In front of "Christ's grave"

My neighbours posing as Christ's family

Bff has too Mommies!

I'm the Queen of the World!

This Christ was brought to you by Coca Cola!

Afterwards, we headed to kaitenzushi, back in my prefecture, Iwate. Kaitenzushi is sushi on a conveyer belt.

Here's hamburger sushi.

And the menu, and 8 million kinds of sushi. The most expensive cost about $1.60 USD for 2.

14 hours sleep over 3 days. I'm still exhausted, and seeing as I've just got in from drinking and karaoke (we tore the house up with We are the World, Fat Bottomed Girls, Avril Lavigne's Girlfriend, and others- I did even did two songs in Japanese!) this weekend does not really look that much better.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Say hello to my little friends

Here is the offspring of my end of June madness. All of this is a result of 7 day shopping spree.

Everything you see here is new.

All the books, the Kindle DX AND the bookshelf!

By the way, who buys a bookshelf, then 28 books, THEN a Kindle?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

We go together like gramma lamma lamma

First person to identify that lyric gets an extra for the first day of the next INSANITY!

Today's Write Away Wednesday focuses on the ensemble cast.

Simply put, an ensemble cast is a story with multiple MCs (Main Characters) or the cast of characters in that story. Ensemble is the French for together, so it makes sense. The term "ensemble cast" really applies to television, but it sounds so much better than polyphony, which is the word for the same thing in literature.

These ideas define an ensemble cast for me (although others may say different):

- There must be at least 3 MCs (If you have only 2 MCs it's an intertwined narrative)
- Each MC must have the story told from their point of view
- There should be more than one major plotline
- MCs should be of around the same importance to the story

It's easy to see a book with many characters and think, "That must be an ensemble cast!" But please keep in mind the rules I listed above.

Let's look at LOTR: FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING as an example.
There are at least 9 characters of major importance in the film, (I don't think it happens so much in the book) but the plot really follows Frodo. And no matter how sexy Orlando Bloom makes being an elf look, the others are really just a supporting cast.

On the other hand, I consider THE TWO TOWERS an ensemble cast. You've got several plot lines going on: Frodo and Sam, Aragorn's group, Merry and Pippin. Frodo remains the most important, but now, if one of the other groups fails, his quest could fail too.

Some other examples of Ensemble Casts
True ensemble casts exists in films where a theme is more important than a single character.
CRASH (about racism)
LOVE ACTUALLY (about love)
VALENTINE'S DAY (which just happens to be the biggest ensemble cast Hollywood has ever seen)

By the same token as FOTR, I would not call OCEAN'S ELEVEN an ensemble cast.

This is where ensemble casts thrive. Because tv series are spread out over such a long period of time, ensemble casts became popular to avoid having to deal with the issues caused by losing your star. Also they promote longevity for a series. When one character's plot line gets stale you can focus on the others for a while.

I don't think books support ensemble casts as well as visible media, so polyphonies appear less often. I've also found that in recent times, polyphonies seem to occur primarily in children's literature.

More characters? What's not to love? Before you run off and pen an ensemble cast, there are a few things you should remember.

1. It's harder to keep track of more characters. Not just for you- in fact as a writer, you probably have the aid of a spreadsheet or something- but for the reader. I just finished an ensemble cast, and I find myself flipping back through the book several times, reading to remember who was who's son, and who said what, etc. On the wriitng end of the equation, it's harder to make 7 distinct characters than it is to make 3. When it's not done well, characters either end up being too much like one another or they end up being caricatures.

2. Too many plot lines. For heaven's sake, you can not have 7 people run off and do 7 different things. BRAIN! IMPLODING!

3. You spend less time with each character, so they have to be that much more loveable to pull people in. Unless your story is a plot driven one (see the list of ensemble cast films).

Honestly, I'd just recommend you stay away from writing more than 2 MCs, 3 at the most. I really love a good ensemble cast. CRASH is one of the most mind-blowing films I've ever watched and I love LOVE ACTUALLY, but so often (especially outside tv) ensemble casts are done so poorly it's laughable, or at least cryworthy.

The Remake Queen- TTT

I love Queen! But not on purpose. Let me explain. I'm 28, so when I was born, Queen was mostly old news. BUT, on more than one occasion I've absolutely loved a song, and then I've discovered it was a remake of a Queen record.

Everyone's heard WE WILL ROCK YOU at some sporting event, even if they've never heard the 1977 version.

And WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS also from 1977 is another sporting anthem.

Just recently, I discovered the movie, ELLA ENCHANTED. One of my favourite moments was Anne Hathaway singing (and dancing to) SOMEBODY TO LOVE. Little did I know, Queen did it way back in 1976

ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST became popular again in 1998 when Wyclef Jean sang it, but it had been Queen's top selling single back in 1980

Coca Cola brought back I WANT TO BREAK FREE last decade, but it had been a hit for Queen in 1984

I had never heard UNDER PRESSURE, after all it came out the year I was born (1981) but it was familiar from the sampling in Vanilla Ice's ICE ICE BABY.

And of course, The Fugees brought it back in the 90's but BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY (1975) is the definitive Queen song!
(Aside: My neighbour told me that her sister was singing it, since she knew the Fugee version, and then her Mom started singing it, from the Queen version. Then they both stopped. "How do you know that song?")

And they composition of their pose at the beginning has been used by everybody, including Tupac and the Muppets.

And speaking of the Muppets, this must be the best Queen cover of all time!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Psyched! Learning Style/ Perception Modality

Psyched! is a mini-series in which I will discuss some sociological/psychological theories, and how these affect you and your characters. If you missed the first instalment of Psyched! you can read it here.

Today on Psyched! we look at learning style, as it relates to perception modality.

There are 4 types of learning style:


As you may be able to tell from the names these learning styles are related to the sensual perception styles we looked at last time. You will probably need to use all 4 styles in a classroom, but you probably have a preference for one or the other.

Visual learners prefer to recieve their information pictorally- pictures, graphs, diagrams, videos, etc. Visual learners love colour and often dislike working in groups. When they think about a scenario, they often visualise it.

This person learns by reading and writing. This was the kid in school that read the text book and understood even before class started. Like the visual learner, textual learners don't like working in groups. Textual learners tend to do well in traditional school enviroments.

An auditory learner learns through the spoken word. This person prefers small lecture classes, discussion groups and talking out ideas. They learn by saying things out loud, making jingles, putting sounds to rhythm, etc.

These people learn through doing. They need to be actively involve in something, and prefer to employ several senses at once. For example, they may walk around, ipod on, and read their notes. These people do well in lab-based classes, art, and drama.

While this could have some applications for your characters, I believe that the most important applications are for you, the writer. Perception modality, in my opinion, mainly affects two stages of the pre-writing process: research and outline.

Some writers inhale everything they can their hands on when they research. When writing a book about Greece, they read all the books they can find on Greek history, they look up words in a Greek dictionary, find every picture of Greece on Flicker- heck, they even watch THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELLING PANTS.

Other writers dread research. They've never liked poring over tons of books and websites. They choose to write what they know or write fantasy. That way they can avoid research. (This is me- mainly because I'm convinced that if I write what I don't know, people will see through me.)

There is no reason that some of us should be researchers while others are not. You just haven't found a way that suits you yet.


Let's say you're writing a novel about a girl who is doing a cooking internship in Italy. Here's how different learning styles could go about researching.

Watch movies/tv programs on Italy, Italian foods, cooking and internships
Search online for images of Italy, Italians and Italian foods
Look at a map of Italy
Look up charts for the Italian demographic, climate, etc,

Read books and articles about Italy, Italian food, cooking and internships
Write lists (or flash cards or post its) of pertinent information while researching
Look up common words (like bongiorno: good morning) in an Italian dictionary
Compile a list of cooking terms

Watch films/tv programs or listen to radio programs about Italy, Italian food, cooking and internships
Go to lectures about these topics
If you have to read, read out lead
Listen to music about Italy/ from Italy
Listen to broadcasts in Italian
Find an Italian restaurant and talk to the chef or owner
Record what you find and play it back

Go to Italy (Don't I wish!)
Go to an Italian culture or language class
Go to an Italian restaurant
Interview an Italian
Take a cooking class/ try to make Italian food
Make a model of important spaces/places- like the kitchen the MC works in, or the Leaning Tower of Pisa

Writers often argue whether their they are outliners or pantsers (seat-of-the-pants writers). For a long time, I believed myself to be a pantser. Now I believe that every writer outlines. An outline which has not been written down is no less an outline.

Colour code your outline
Find pictures of people who look like you imagine your characters
Map your story progress with concept bubbles
Use a tree diagram or concept bubbles to show character relationships
Use Venn Diagrams to show similarities and differences between characters, locations, scenes, etc.

Write lists of characters, their characteristics, scenes, plot points, settings, etc in sequential order
Make columns with main ideas and add supporting details underneath
Create concept trees or bubbles

Bounce ideas of friends round robin style
Turn on the recorder and talk about your characters, setting scene, the plot, etc
Think cause and effect- X happened so then Y happened, so then Z happened, and then we were back at A
Talk to characters- either out loud or in your head, give them different voices, tone, accents, etc (you might want to do this one out of the way of prying eyes and ears and save yourself a trip to the asylum)
Explain why and how things happen in the plot

Write main ideas on Post-its or flash cards that you can move around later
Act out scenes in your mind
Do something physical (preferably repetitive, like walking) and think about your characters
Write a first draft- for tactile learners, it's difficult to detail things without doing them, so a first draft is really a final outline.

So you see, we're all outliners, whether we have every single plot point on paper in words or pictures, whether we've only talked it out or it's only in our mind, whether or not a 60,000 word first draft is our only real outline.

If you're not immediately sure which type of learner you are, you can try this quiz. Textile seems to only recently have come into it's own as a category, so most tests and information lump it in with visual.

Once you know your learning type, you can use it to your advantage. Or you can just try out several of these techniques and see which one works for you. Personally, I lean towards Tactile, but I've also got some Auditory in me. I'm so bad at visual and textual that I fell asleep in every written exam I took until my final year of university! Only last Sunday, I discovered that tests are so much easier if I draw around the words and mouth them as I read. ( I fully expect mouthing what I'm reading will get me kicked of a test some day...)

I hope you find this information useful.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

I am the (off-key) world

Since I translated WE ARE THE WORLD into English, and someone asked for it, I made a vlog. Let me warn you: my mother was a professional singer, my dad sounds like a cat being burned alive. I can carry a tune but only in bucket! Also this is like Take 910 and still full of mistakes. The word "jinsei" appears in the chorus and I kept saying "sensei" (teacher) instead. Oh, and I added a little rap at the end. But I suck at rap and suck worse at rapping Japanese :)

It's so bad! I'm still laughing. I will stick to translation and writing and never delude myself about singing.

And since it's a Far Out Friday, I thought I'd share some other (on-key) versions of the song.

Here's the original for Live Aid from 1985

And the 25th anniversary, for Haiti

And the Spanish (and my favourite) version SOMOS EL MUNDO, 2010

Lastly, the crazy Japanese version with Japanese people pretending to the be the originals! Cyndi Lauper!!! lol!

Oh and a heads up. This is the time of year that my life gets really hectic. People on this program are leaving and new people are arriving. I think the next weekend I will be spending a weekend under my own roof is the last weekend in August. I'm going to try to line up the posts as best I can, but I can't promise 5 days a week. Tomorrow I'm off to see a friend off in Miyagi, 1 prefecture South. Then Saturday is a wedding and a goodbye party in my capital, and then Sunday is Jesus' Grave. Hopefully, I'll have pics on Sunday! :)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Call me Al Time Travel Tuesday

Some of my books came yesterday. I came home for lunch, as I sometimes do when I work at the office. It's only a 10 minute walk. (For minimal confusion, I'm at the office whenever I'm not at a school, Mondays and vacations- yes, teachers don't get vacations off here.) When I got to my door, I saw a postal notice. I was so happy, I skipped down the road, and this song popped into my head! (On a musical aside, I had pretty close to nothing to do at work today, and translated We are the World into Japanese for sheer boredom!)

Call Me Al, Paul Simon, 1986, with the Chevy Chase video. Btw, Paul Simon, next to Chevy Chase? Hee-lar!!!

Of course when you think Simon, you think Garfunkel. Here's Mrs. Robinson, from 1968

And the Sound of Silence, 1965

In 1968, we went with them to Scarborough Fair- or at least some people went. My Mom was only 13 back then, so I wasn't going anywhere ;)

They were our Bridge Over Troubled Water in 1970. I'm tempted to think this is their most well known song, but with such great hits, who knows?

And on of my faves, The Boxer from 1969, a song I feel like everyone knows but noone knows the name of.

These two had a knack for haunting melodies, and their voices were smoother than silk. This is further back than my time travel usually goes, but I'm versatile; my Mom used to be a musician. Hope you enjoy!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Psyched!!! Sensual Perception

If you're wondering how my Japanese test went, in a word, hilarious! There was one part where I had no clue what was going on, but I picked Answer #2, because that one was about butter and flour and we had cooking class last week. lol. It was funny :)

One of my random obsessions in life is social/personality theory. Why we are who we are and how we are. So for a couple of weeks, I'm going to be intruding on the "Mondays on My Mind" feature with "Psyched!" Psyched! will introduce to a little bit of social theory and I'll even tie it to how it can be relevant to you and your characters!

When you've finished with this post, feel free to check out the others in the series:
Psyched! Learning Style/Perception Modality

For the first installment of Psyched! we'll be looking at Sensual Perception. I know that sounds rather Rated Harlequin, but it's totally not.

Sensual Perception is about which senses you use to take in the world. This concept is actually new to me. I read about it last week in a Writers Digest article, and it resonated with me.

We all have a preference for our senses, a hierarchy, if you will. We each use all the senses we are capable of, but even for those of us who have full use of all 5 senses, we use some more than others.


A visual person notices visual details. They notice what people look like, what people are wearing. They see the colours of buildings. One of my closest friends, L, is a very visual person. When I bring up memories from our school days, she can often remember what clothes we were wearing.
I, on the other hand, can't remember what I wore yesterday. In fact, I am so out of tune with these things, that I often end up wearing the same to schools twice in a row. I only go to my Monday, Thursday and Friday schools once a week, and since I can't remember what clothes I had on last week, it must look like I only own one outfit!

If my friend and I witnessed a crime, and have to do composite sketches, her's would look like a photo. Mine would be like, "Um- dark hair, eyes, a nose, a mouth?"

This person picks up on auditory details. They never mistake a voice on the phone, and they probably pick up song melodies (and sometimes lyrics) easily. I am very much more an auditory person. I can tell the difference between a scooter, motorbike, K-car ( a Japanese thing that I hope to remember to explain at some point), car, taxi, SUV, truck, bus and the two types of trains that come through town. All using just my ears. I know all my colleagues' voices, which is no small feat, since I work in 4 schools and an office and have about 80 colleagues, only 2 of whom are English speakers.

A person who picks up on olfactory details. I have fairly bad sinus allergies. So, perfume makes me sneeze. Dust makes me sneeze. 50% of flowers make me sneeze. The other 50 make me stuffy. So I notice these smells. I'm not very in tune to people's natural body odors or mild stenches, like old garbage.

One of my foreign colleagues here, has no sense of smell. And since taste is between 50 and 90% smell - depending on who you hear it from - this affects her sense of taste. For example, she doesn't like some fruits, because in the absence of smell, they just taste like sickly sweetness.

A tactile person likes tactile detail. As a kid, I used to love "feely" stuff. I would rub the material of my satin-y nightgown between my thumb and forefinger as I drifted off to sleep. In winter I pull my turtlenecks up over nose. Not because I'm cold- although I am- but because I like how stuff feels on my nose. It's so weird the other ALTs in my office call me "Textile Ninja."

People see the world in different ways. Another way that you can paint your characters is through what they relate. In books with multiple POV this can even be a way of differentiating characters.

For example, if I were to walk into an office for the first time, talk to the secretary, and take a seat, here are a few things I might notice:
The flowers in a bouquet on the centre table and how I'd have to sit in the corner of the waiting room to avoid sneezing
Why is this woman wearing so much danged perfume?
The music on the PA
The fabric on the arms of the chairs

My friend, L (the visual one), might notice these things:
The secretary's earrings
How her nail polish is clashing with her top
The nice fragrance she's wearing
Fashion magazines on the centre table
All the furniture matches
How many other people are in the waiting room

It's the same scene, but we've noticed different things. You could even try it with a few of your friends, if you like. If you go somewhere you've never been, ask your friend to describe anything they remember afterwards, and see which details stayed with them.

People identify with stories told with the senses they use most. I'm not a visual person. I live in a place that's quite possibly the definition of picturesque. I've got train tracks in front of my house, a river behind it and mountains on either side. You should see it in winter. I know it's beautiful, but in the same way I know 1 and 1 is 2. It doesn't take my breath away.

There's an abundance of visual details in books. I don't know if that's because most people are visual people or most artists are visual people. This is a perk for visual people, but for those who rely on other senses, it may actually get in the way of the story.

Weaving a wider web of senses can help define your characters, and it can also be useful in pulling in people who rely on the 4 less described senses.

ACTIVITY: Try writing a scene where vision is irrelevant, either because a character is blind or because it's dark. See what details come out. Good luck!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Thank you! And Winner, Day 5!

My French books are here!!! Like physically in my hands!!! Well, not right this moment, because, I don't know about you, but I haven't mastered the art of typing with a novel in my hand, yet.

I actually haven't opened them, yet. I had to bribe myself to finish the interview templates for this month's interviews. Not sure when the interviews will appear but keep your eyes peeled. Well, not actually peeled, cuz, EW!

So INSANITY day 5? Congratulations to M.L. Mansfield!!! Email me at muchlanguage(at) with your address. Also, because I'm actually a complete spaz (and should not write posts at midnight), Beautiful Darkness does not actually come out til October, so let me know if you want a pre-order or if you want to sub in another recent debut. Anything from 2010 is fine.

I'd like to thank all the participants this time around, both for your participation and you're continued support. Congraatulations to the 4 winners! If you didn't win this time around, don't worry. INSANITY returns August 30th! Mark your calendars!

I'm off to mail out the prizes and to read the French books. Even though I really should be studying for my Japanese exam tomorrow. lol!

Happy 4th to the Americans!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Logic? Nope, not here! (And Day 4 winner!)

Thursday's winner: Congratulations again Alleged Author! You're allowed to win twice and you did! Lucky you!

And Lisa Descrochers is having her usual monthly contest. You can win an ARC of her debut novel, Personal Demons. Trust me, you want to. Luc is hotter than hell!

I've mentioned my insane shopping spree. The end damage? 28 books!

1. Les Chevaliers D'Emeraude, Book 1
2. Les Chevaliers D'Emeraude, Book 2
3. Les Chevaliers D'Emeraude, Book 3

4. La Ciudad de las Bestias
5. El Bosque de los Pigmeos
6. El Reino del Dragon de Oro

7. Ramona the Pest
8. Hottest, Coldest, Highest, Deepest (These two are for my students.)
9. Pippi Longstocking
10. Wuthering Heights
11. Wicked Lovely
12. Things I know about love
13. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
14. Hunger Games
15. The Juvie Three
16. The Forest of Hands and Teeth
17. As you Wish
18. The Naughty List
19. Heist Society
20. Some Girls Are
21. Something Like Fate
22. Dead Until Dark
23. Rush
24. We Hear the Dead
25. The Star Shack
26. Deception
27. Good Enough
28. The Secret Year

Yep! That's crazy, right?

But that's not the craziest part. I bought these 28 books last Saturday. The French books have arrived and I've been playing tag with the delivery guys for two days. But
after buying 28 books on Saturday, I ordered a Kindle DX yesterday!


Oh well. :)

Hanaichi and INSANITY Day 5!!!

Congratulations to Wednesday's winner of the Blogger's Choice Packet: ElbieNy25!

I have to comment on you guys' responses on sex in YA. I was a little shocked to find that you're all so, um, sensible about it. Not that you're not all sensible people. But sometimes otherwise sensible have amazingly extremist views. I'm sure you've met a few like that. Maybe it's because we're all writers that we know that everything we see or hear in art won't make the world implode. To quote M.L. Mansfield "Marilyn Manson did not cause the shooting at Columbine!"

You guys are brilliant!

Last weekend the high school in our town put on a dance show. They had an exhibition dance called hanaichi, which seems to be a regional dance, but as with much of the stuff outside of the Tokyo-Osaka-Kyoto bubble, there's not much we could drag up online. We thought it would just be a little thing, but when we got there, the Mayor and the Supervisor of the Board of Education were there.

As it turned out every class had to do a dance. It was pretty fun. Except that I had the shouts of "so-ray," "so so so," and "ha" etched into my auditory nerves for hours after.

Here are a few pics!
The entire school. It may be small to you. But we've all adjusted to smaller schools- the largest school in town, one of mine, is 208 kids- so we thought this was amazingly huge.

The Hanaichi dancers

A third year class. Cross-dressing is a staple at school events. As my neighbour put it, "Think about it. All our politicians, people of power, they've all cross-dressed at some point!" And in case you haven't figured it out by now, the two in the back are GUYS!

This kid was the only excitement in this first year class. Everybody else looked like they could think of better things to do with their Saturday.

3 more boys. These three were freaking hilarious though. At the end of the dance, the others surrounded them and stole their skirts and ran off!

But the best part was when they leapt into these other guys' arms!

This girl was imitated the "Shodo Girls." A group of girls who do calligraphy like it's a martial art, jumping around and waving giant paintbrushes while dressed in traditional martial art style.

Awesome flips, sucky pix :(

One of the first year classes. Since I've been here 2 years, and my JHS is the big one in town, I taught many of the kids at the high school. Only one kid in this pic wasn't my student.

Please excuse me while I fix my boob!

A guy as a girl, and a girl as a guy!

Bunny-eared girl on the left (imagine that! I have to differentiate) was my student 2 years ago. She came up and said, "Remember me? Junior High School!" Then she turned to her friends and said, "This my friend!" I was so proud!

Guy's head under guy's skirt. Where to begin. Top kid is also a former student, but I did NOT teach him that!

The teachers dance

You shouldn't ask something of your students that you wouldn't do yourself. So I present, cross-dressing teachers!

The whole event was at a historical site (Goshono Jomon Site) where the earliest known inhabitants of my town lived. Here's a recreated hut.

The entrance to the bridge at Goshono Jomon which one the "Naisu Dizain" (Nice Design) award. Seriously, that is the name of the award.

The inside of the bridge

I don't know how this turned into the cross-dressing show, but here's a clip of the Hanaichi dance, which involved only one male, who was, thankfully, dressed as a male.

PS, My theory on cross-dressing is that since being gay is so outrageously unacceptable here, cross-dressing is just funny, with no undertones of homosexuality.

Also, here's IWATE 16

And finally INSANITY Day 5!!

The Recent Debut Packet:


1. This is the last day of INSANITY


2. I'm crazy


3. I absolutely suck at making decisions

I will be giving 4 books to a lucky winner. And because I love you all so much, you're all eligible today. Disregard earlier rule about winning a mximum of twice (although noone's actually won twice anyhow).

You've got until 11.59 pm EST to enter.

These books are kind of random. I tried to pick four books that were very different from one another and did not favour YA (my obvious preference too heavily). I hope you likey!

Two questions today.

1. What will (did) you do when your book debuts?
2. Since it's summer (except for those in the Southern hemisphere- any Southerners out there?), what's your dream summer vacation?

My answers:
1. Pink hair!!!
2. Italy/Spain/Greece. I'd be in heaven!

Good luck guys! And thank you all for supporting my blog and for joining in my madness!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Upcoming Interviews and INSANITY DAY 4!!!

Hello Beautiful People!

Welcome to those of you who've joined me in the last few months. It's great to have you!

First: Tuesday's Nathan Packet Winner! Alleged Author! AA, email me at muchlanguage (at) email (dot) com with your address and name.

If you were around in April you might remember that I started a feature "Talk Back Thursday" where I interviewed a few authors. You might also have noticed I haven't done any interviews in a while. But good news, Belle (bellay, the plural of bella, Italian for beautiful and not bell, French for beautiful) I'm working on lining up some new interviews. If I have my way (and I never do but a rabbit can dream, can't she?) they'll be starting to appear in late July. I'm looking forward to it. I enjoy this whole interview process entirely too much.

Onto INSANITY Day 4!

Remember you can win up to twice, and you have until 11.59 pm Thursday night to enter.

Today is the Debut Author Packet!
There are so many fantab debut authors, that this was honestly a very tough choice. I will admit to an incredible amount of bias towards my name and French in the same title. Well, we all have our faults. lol.

To win, two things.
1. What are your fave genres to read?
2. Are there any authors who's debut you're really looking forward to? (For me, in order of release dates, Kiersten White, Kody Kepplinger, Lisa Descrochers, and Stephanie Perkins.)

Good luck to all!