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Archive for the ‘Reference’ Category

Sorry for the lack of content over the past six months or so. I’ve been both very busy with my day job AND very uninspired in my writing. But all of that is changing. Here’s my second post of 2014:

IMDb Logo

I recently discovered that IMDb, the Internet Movie DataBase, has an incredible collection of keywords tagging the movies in their database.

How can a writer use this?

  • To predict the popularity of what they are writing.
  • To choose between potential plot points.
  • and most certainly many more…

Visit: http://www.imdb.com/Sections/Keywords/ for the MoKA home page. If you scroll down, there are lists of all the keywords broken down by starting letter, keyword length (!), and tag count.

I think the list of keywords tagged on 10,000 or more movies is quite revealing:

  • Death (11,357)
  • Family Relationships (10,721)
  • Father Son Relationship (12,334)
  • Female Nudity (14,770)
  • Husband Wife Relationship (10,371)
  • Love (13,509)
  • Murder (20,994)
  • Sex (13,022)

So there we have it. There have been more movies about Murder and Death, Family Relationships, and Love and Sex than on any other topics.

So should we all be writing murder-death-kill thrillers about families involved in complicated love quadrangles featuring kinky sex scenes?

Of course not.

Write what you know. Write what you love. Write what you would enjoy reading. This is only one measure of success. But a writer should always use multiple metrics because past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Charles Goodhart put it another way: When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure. 

So we must use IMDb’s MoKA appropriately. It is interesting information, but it is an indicator, a measure, a metric, and not your writing goal. It is a tool best used to hone existing material. If used prescriptively when creating material, you will have relied on it too much and the quality and direction of your writing will likely suffer.


Note: I removed the following non-plot keywords from the list above:

  • Based On Novel (29,833)
  • Based On Play (13,908)
  • Character Name In Title (42,430)
  • Independent Film (35,628)
  • Number In Title (13,716)
  • TV Mini-Series (10,145)

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Warren-Buffett

Source: What can we learn from the science of high performance? via Farnam Street

An amazing list composed of only 5 items:

  1. Routines

In his book, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, Roy Baumeister contends that the most successful people don’t make better decisions because of their willpower. Rather, they develop routines.

These routines reduce the number of decisions we need to make (as well as reducing stress). Thus it becomes easier to use your limited resources of self-control to avoid, rather than solve, crises.

  1. Focus

What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it. – Herbert Simon

  1. Practice

If we want to perform better beyond some basic competence researchers say we must engage in deliberate practice. These are designed, mindful efforts, to master even the smallest detail of success. To get better you have to get out of the autonomous stage.

  1. Exercise

Just about every mental test possible was tried. No matter how it was measured, the answer was consistently yes: A lifetime of exercise can result in a sometimes astonishing elevation in cognitive performance, compared with those who are sedentary. Exercisers outperform couch potatoes in tests that measure long-term memory, reasoning, attention, problem-solving, even so-called fluid-intelligence tasks.

  1. Rest

Taking time to rest won’t make you a slacker. While the corporate culture of “back-to-back” meetings from 9-5 may seem “cool” it is actually crazy. Rest is a critical component of creating and sustaining excellence.

Read the whole article. I’ve perused a lot of self-help lists aimed at making people more productive. This is clearly the best I’ve found and each of the items (excluding #5) is backed by research into what makes people productive.

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Source: John Cleese, ‘A lecture on Creativity’ Video Arts, 1991

Thirty-six minutes of pure genius.

What follows are my notes on the lecture.

Five Factors to make your life more Creative
or, Five Requirements for an Open Mode Mindset

Creativity is associated with play. True play is experiment. And humor is an essential part of spontaneity, playfulness, and creativity.

An open mode mindset requires the following five requirements:

  1. Space – Create some space for yourself away from the normal demands of life.

“Create an oasis of quiet.” – John Cleese

  1. Time – Create space for yourself for a specific period of time. You need both a specific time to begin and a specific time to end.

“Play is distinct from ordinary life both as to locality and duration. This is its main characteristic: Its secludedness. Its limitedness. Play begins and then at a certain moment it is over. Otherwise it is not play.” – Johan Huizinga

“It’s easier to do trivial things that are urgent than it is to do important things that are not urgent (like thinking) and it’s also easier to do little things we know we can do than to start on big things that we’re not so sure about.” – John Cleese

Note that it takes about a half hour for your brain to race and then calm down once you begin getting into the open mode. Therefore, you should allot more than a half hour to this endeavor.

  1. Time – Give your mind as long as possible to come up with something original. If you are prepared to stick with a problem longer and don’t take the obvious and easy way out, then you will almost always come up with something more original. The most creative people tolerate the discomfort of having a problem without a solution far longer than less creative people.

“The people I find it hardest to be creative with are people who need – all the time – to project an image of themselves as decisive and who feel that to create this image they need to decide everything very quickly and with a great show of confidence. Well this behavior I suggest sincerely is the most effective way of strangling creativity at birth.” – John Cleese

“What I’m suggesting to you is that before you take a decision you should always ask yourself the question, “When does this decision have to be taken?” and having answered that, you defer the decision until then in order to give yourself maximum pondering time which will lead you to the most creative solution.” – John Cleese

  1. Confidence – Nothing will stop you being creative so effectively as the fear of making a mistake. You’re either free to play or you’re not. Know that while you’re being creative nothing is wrong. There’s no such thing as a mistake. And any drivel may lead to the breakthrough.

“You can’t be spontaneous within reason.” – Alan Watts

  1. Humor – Nothing gets us from the closed mode to the open mode quicker than humor. Things can be Serious – and thus involve humor, spontaneity, and play – without being Solemn.

“Creativity is like humor: In a joke, the laugh comes at a moment when you connect two different frameworks of reference in a new way. Having a new idea is exactly the same thing: It’s connecting two hitherto separate ideas in a way that generates new meaning.” – John Cleese

Finally, you also need to keep your mind gently resting against the subject. It’s very much like meditating. Allow your mind free reign to mull over a problem while you go about your normal routine. This leads to those Ah-ha! moments when solutions appear.

And make sure your creative friends are people you like and trust. Never say anything to squash them. Always be positive and uplifting. Try to establish as free an atmosphere as possible. If even one person around you makes you feel defensive, your creativity will be undermined.

Managers: How to stamp out Creativity in your Organization

  1. Allow your subordinates no humor.
  2. Don’t miss an opportunity to undermine your employees confidence. Be a fault-finder. Never balance negatives with positives. Only criticize.
  3. Demand that people always be active doing things. Never let them stop and think. Demand urgency at all times. Use lots of fighting talk. Establish a permanent atmosphere of stress, breathless anxiety, and crisis.

In a phrase, keep that mode closed!

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Venn Diagram for Books

Source: Writer’s Chat with Alton Gansky: An Interview with Chip MacGregor

In part II of the chat at index 4:14, Chip MacGregor talks about a Venn Diagram for books. He describes three essential areas that make a book successful: The Bigness of the Idea, The Quality of the Writing, and the Size of the Author’s Platform.

As Chip puts it, “[Publishers] will sometimes settle for two… but they really want all three”.

Part I

Part II

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Source: Science Fiction Writer Robert J. Sawyer: On Writing — Heinleins Rules.

  1. You Must Write
  2. Finish What You Start
  3. You Must Refrain From Rewriting, Except to Editorial Order
  4. You Must Put Your Story on the Market
  5. You Must Keep it on the Market until it has Sold
  6. Start Working on Something Else*

Note: Rule #6 is an addition by Robert J. Sawyer.

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Source: Colours In Cultures via Information Is Beautiful.

Colours in Cultures

From the announcement:

What colour is happiness in China? Or good luck in Africa? Or anger in Eastern Europe? Are any colour meanings universal across cultures and continents?

A visualisation of the meanings of different colours in different cultures by David McCandless and AlwaysWithHonor.com.

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Source: Ten rules for writing fiction | guardian.co.uk and Part Two

The authors are: Elmore Leonard, Diana Athill, Margaret Atwood, Roddy Doyle, Helen Dunmore, Geoff Dyer, Anne Enright, Richard Ford, Jonathan Franzen, Esther Freud, Neil Gaiman, David Hare, PD James, AL Kennedy, Hilary Mantel, Michael Moorcock, Michael Morpurgo, Andrew Motion, Joyce Carol Oates, Annie Proulx, Philip Pullman, Ian Rankin, Will Self, Helen Simpson, Zadie Smith, Colm Tóibín, Rose Tremain, Sarah Waters, and Jeanette Winterson.

This is simply a “can’t miss” article. Read it. Devour it. Learn to write better from it.

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