Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Lot to Do About Nothing

Song Playing: Cosmic Love by Florence and the Machines (on repeat one)

If you've never heard of Florence and the Machines, I suggest you check her out. Oh my goodness, her entire CD (named "Lungs") just gives me oodles of inspiration. I just love how powerful Florence's voice is, without being harsh. Listening to "Cosmic Love" brings to mind rocky coastlines and cold beaches.

Here's the Youtube link in case you're feeling lazy and : Cosmic Love

Anyway, on to more relevant topics. Or semi-relevant.

I was productive yesterday. I worked on some worldbuilding and plot building for my WIP, I went shopping with my mother, twin brother, and his wife. We did the wander around Barnes and Noble and eat lunch thing, which is always good times. Afterward I watched the new Star Trek movie with my parents. I know, that movie's been out forever now. Remember how we talked about time? And how I prioritize my writing just under the Day Job and my family? Yeah, that means I am usually way behind on movies, unless it's something I rabidly want to see.

I must say, the new Star Trek movie was an interesting reboot of the franchise, especially since I had to explain the concept of "reboot" to my mother. She was irritated they changed so much of what was canon in the original series. There was a vaguely confusing time travel plot, which I content was there just so they could shoehorn Leonard Nimoy into the movie to play Old Spock. I had heard fans complaining about the lens flare in the movie, and while I do like the quality it gave the movie, I agree it was a little much. There were several scenes where I couldn't see anything clearly because of the flare, or the glare from the flare (I'm a poet and I didn't know it) actually hurt my eyes. Not a deal breaker, but certainly annoying.

I also watched "Inglourious Basterds" which was much better than I feared. I am hot and cold with Tarantino films. Some of them are so bloody and violent I have a hard time following the plot, but this film seemed like a good balance between plot and Tarantino's trademark bloody scenes.

The dialogue is excellent, and I really enjoyed how the movie was broken up into little short stories that tied everything together. It was an interesting way to bring so much plot lines together. I was most impressed with his use of suspense in this movie. It's not your average sort of "girl walks down shadowy hallway" suspense, but more focused on characters hiding secrets. In one scene, a German SS officer Hans Landa is talking to an woman, who we know to be an escaped Jewish woman. Landa was there when she escaped, but didn't really see her face, so we're left wondering if he knows who she is, and if he's going to attack her or what. All over some coffee and strudel.

It was also fun to watch with my father, who HATES subtitles with a passion. And for those of you who have seen "Inglorious Basterds" the movie is more subtitles than English. The characters go between French, German, and English. Dad can't read subtitles as quickly as I can, so I wound up reading 3/4's of the movie out loud to him. I even tried to do different voices, and put inflection in my voice during long conversations between characters.

The reason why I brought the movie up, other than the fact that I wanted to talk about it, is there was a really cool bit of culture in "Inglorious Basterds". It was such a subtle thing, but it made the difference between a German officer recognizing a British Officer posing as a German.

The British Officer ordered three drinks, and held up three fingers: his pointer, middle, and ring finger, using his thumb to hold his pinky down. Like how we all do it, right? If I told you I was holding up three fingers, that's probably what you would imagine me doing.

But that simple gesture blew the British Officer's cover, and wound up getting the lot of them killed. Why?

Because in Germany (according to the movie, I have no idea if this is true or not. I will have to ask my friend Lena**) they hold up their thumb, pointer finger, and middle finger to indicate the number three.

When we write, we chose which details of our world gets let in, and which do not. I think fantasy tends to lend towards the end of over-description because we think since it's not a real world, we need to make sure people can see what we're describing.

It's important for your reader to picture your setting, but equally so for fantasy and non-fantasy alike. I have never been to Colorado; consequently, the author describing the setting as "Colorado in the spring" does nothing for me.

But if the author gives me some specific details to the setting, maybe the clear mountain air, the crisp, clean atmosphere, and jagged mountain peaks in the distance, suddenly I am there. It's no different if this place exists solely in your imagination or not. I believe description and sense of place comes out better in the small details, like how a people indicate the number three with their hands, than three hundred pages of beautifully wrought prose.

What about you? What are some ways you attempt to get the culture and setting across in your work without stopping the story?

*thank you wikicommons for the pretty pictures.

**I have asked Lena, and she says yes, it's true. They start counting on their thumbs. Cool!


  1. When I was younger, I would start counting on my thumb instead of my index finger. If you asked me to hold up three fingers, I would have held up my ring-to-pinky fingers. I don't know where all that came from.

    I also did one-handed military counting for awhile, but once I was away from Army folk, no one understood that a sideways index finger was a six and not a one, so I gave that up as well.

  2. It's strange how there are all these gestures we use every day, and think nothing of. I like to remind myself of these details for my world building. A great way to make things seem real and fleshed out without droning on and on. :D

  3. The extra challenge is describing such a gesture without bogging down your story. Since people don't commonly think of how this is different (and you don't have the luxury of the visual medium), it's easy to overdescribe the gestures and their respective relevancies and kill the pacing.

  4. Oi, that's true. Stuff like cool hand gestures are like the spices of a book: too much rosemary and the entire thing sucks.