Thursday, August 30, 2018

The NaNoWriMo Family Support Team Needs You!

Someone significant to you needs your help. They think they will need it just in November, but they're wrong. They need you now. Many challengers fail NaNoWriMo and carry the defeat in their hearts for months. Some never forget and never try to share their best work ever again. Readers around the world crave good stories. Here are some intervention strategies to help your loved one survive and thrive during the month of agony known as "National Novel Writing Month" (NaNoWriMo).

There are four critical components to a writer's survival. You don't have to study writing; just work these four areas to support your writer.

Time

To claim victory your writer must average 1,667 words per day, every day, for thirty days straight. Most of us take between two and four hours to produce that. A lot of things might not get done around the house. Pick up the kids, fold the laundry, put up the dishes, wash most everything. Social events can fall off the calendar if your writer is an introvert. Cuddle time with the rug rats might seem rare.

How You Help: The first big thing to do is accept that some things are less important than your writer's success. Maybe clothes don't get put up as quickly so your writer has the time to work. Maybe family meals turn into Ramen with cheese, soy sauce, and some Texas Pete tossed in. Secondly, your writer may need you to do some things they normally do. Yeah, it means more work for you. Is your writer worth it?

To Win:The key is prioritization. For a while you put your writer's work high on the list. Some things won't get done. That's okay.

Focus

Writer's wander in their heads. A lot. We walk in foreign places and absorb the sounds, smells, colors, relationships, and struggles our characters are in. If something yanks us out of that space it can take half an hour or more to get back in. Sometimes the scene is gone forever. That hurts.

How You Help: Leave your writer alone. Shield them from kids, pets, in-laws, and traveling salesmen. Realize that even if they are standing right beside you, pouring coffee, they are in a totally different reality. Let them wander there as long as it takes.

To Win: Establish a verbal signal between you and your writer. "I'm done writing for the day." is mine. My wife knows I'm mentally exhausted, still returning home, but am trying to give her my full attention. She's now free to talk about anything though it's often "the cat puked in the hallway again."

Energy

Okay, Ramen for breakfast, lunch, and supper might not be the best health choice. An active brain can consume 25% of the daily calorie intake but processed sugar (soda) and process wheat (Ramen, pizza) are bad calories. They cause the brain to crash and the mind to get mired in sludge. Further, while some of us want to retreat to the Bat Cave for the entire month, fresh outdoor air and sunshine actually help us write better and longer. We won't admit that, but you know it's true. Mix that with a walk around the mall or watching a movie together and everyone wins.

How You Help: Figure out how to have healthy meals and snacks. Check out the Primal life-style and eating ideas. It will take months to transition if you're used to Happy Meals but everyone in the family will benefit. You won't miss the weight you lose, either. A little exercise, some fresh air, and a mental diversion will round out the weekly health adventure. Don't ask permission, drag 'em out the door.

To Win: Improve diet, get your writer outside, do short mentally engaging "dates" together. Tell your writer they can use it for a scene.

Encouragement

We all want to be emotionally strong, connected. To have it all together. Some of you may be like that, show the rest of us how. Writing puts our best thoughts and deepest emotions on display. Critics hurt. Even well meaning "you should write it like this" hurts; you're saying our work isn't good enough without your changes. We really need you to keep saying how great we are and how proud you are of us.

How You Help: Early in the day remind us that the world is waiting for our novel. When we've stopped for the day let us talk about it. Show appreciation and pride in us. Smack your writer if they want to quit. Then kiss them; the shock will give them an idea for a scene.

To Win: Keep your inner critic in check for the entire month. Yes, it will be difficult. Yes, your writer's work needs a lot more work. We know that. Trying to create like mad and keep faith in ourselves is tough. We need you. We'll get to revising later, right now we need to believe in ourselves.

To Our Shared Success

You, your writer, my wife, and I, will win. On the first day of December your writer and I will be overcome with emotion: WE DID IT! There is a mind bending level up in a writer's brain when the novel is actually written from start to finish. Once the laughing, crying, and gibberish settle down we're going to find our Number One Team Mate and love you like mad. Our hearts have grown and you're the one we want to share it with.

You've got eleven months to enjoy the victory. ;)

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Book Review: “Goal, Motivation, and Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction”

“Goal, Motivation, and Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction” Debra Dixon

WIBA? Yup

Okay, yes. Writing conflict in scenes is difficult for me. You might have an easy time of it. Lucky you. I go through hours, sometimes days, of conflict trying to write conflict. I saw a great recommendation for “Goal, Motivation, and Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction” (GMC) when I had money to send Amazon. Glad I did. Ms. Dixon does a great job of explaining how to map out internal and external conflict in your characters and how to link them together. I learned a lot and recommend the book. Buy it. Really.

Instead of another couple paragraphs gushing about Ms. Dixon’s work and repeatedly suggesting you buy the book, though, I’ll show you how it plays out. In TDW.1416.02 there’s a female character mentioned in passing. She is introduced in TDW.1429.01 and you get some of her backstory, involving her father, in TDW.1429.02. Zoliana “Zo” Chemin is not a woman to trifle with. In TDW.1429.03 Dede McKenna refers to Zo as “Blaster Lady”. But we never meet Zo’s dad. Zo herself referred to him as a regular guy who became a hero for love. For her. Who is Harold Chemin? Even I didn’t know until I put him through the GMC process.


Character: Harold Chemin

Description: Worried father

GMC Blurb: Harold's daughter needs help but he doesn't have the money, skills, or space travel experience to get to her.

External Internal
Goal Rescue daughter Overcome distance with estranged daughter
Motivation Act as should Driven by love
Conflict Lack of skills or resources Scared of everything it takes to succeed

[208.155.0917] Betzala's desk, Abunt LLC, Lunion

"No thank you." Harold repeated.

Betzala's typing was excruciatingly slow. Harold still had to find the ship and convince the engineer to take him on. She hadn't sounded like she believed he could do the work. He wasn't sure he could do the work. Betzala was dragging out the exit process and Harold would miss his appointment.

The door to Betzala's office slammed open. Harold had seen Johanic coming. Impossible to miss two meters of bullying line foreman stacked a meter wide. Even if Betzala hadn't talked the boss into glass walls for her office three years ago, Harold would have felt the floor vibrate as Johanic stomped his way forward.

"Waddyamean, you little puke?" Johanic bellowed. "Get back to scrubbing press number four. Oil it good this time!"

Harold was trapped. Betzala's typing magically improved as she gave Harold a wicked grin. Whatever she was entering into his record would end his career at Abunt and any of the other manufacturing companies around. Probably on the entire planet.

Harold's hands shook. His heart hurt. The doctor told him months ago to eat better. The doctor never explained how to afford the food Harold was supposed to eat. The company retirement accounts weren't doing well and demanding another five point three percent in contributions just to stay solvent. After seventeen years of contributions Harold had nothing to show.

He unconsciously wiped the sweat off the top of his head. His hands shook.

She had come to him earlier, it had seemed such a great idea. The sun had glistened as she skipped along the sidewalk into his view. Yellow print sundress and boundless giggles.

Harold wished the memory would return. His quest was about to end by heart attack in the HR office. He would run out of time before he ran out of time.

The memory of her arms wrapped around his chest. "Peekaboo." She whispered in his ear. She was a little older. A little taller. The sundress still fit. Hair brushed straight and smile as beautiful as ever.

His chest relaxed. Harold looked up at Johanic. "I'm resigning. Sorry."

"You're gonna get your stupid self back to scrubbing the press." Johanic towered over Harold.

More sweat covered Harold's bald head. The worn line of hair around his ears dripped. He smelled the flower she had brought. He stood.

"I'm leaving. Please move aside, I need to be elsewhere. Now." Harold stood. His hands shook and he gripped the back of the chair.

"I'm going to stand right here until you get it into your thick skull that you do what I say." Johanic said. "And I'll take this waste of my valuable time out of your pay."

Harold forced his eyes to blink away the sweat. He looked at Betzala. His hands rested on the back of the chair he had just vacated.

"Please let Missus Abunt know I expect my full pay to be in my accounts by fourteen standard." Harold forced himself to breath. "Otherwise I will retain a lawyer to discuss significant safety violations and union financial malfeasance perpetrated by her latest boyfriend. Mister Johanic is an idiot and can pay for the glass."

"What glass?" Betzala said. Her jaw dropped as Harold picked up the chair and threw it through the glass wall.

Harold looked at the shocked faces outside Betzala's office as a meter long fractured segment of glass shattered at his feet.

"Sorry for the noise." He said as he stepped into the hallway. He sat the chair upright. "And the mess."

Another crash behind him. Harold strode to the "Exit" sign and ignored Johanic's bellows and Betzala's screaming. His mind focused as the yellow sundress clad memory skipped down the corridor in front of him.

"Daddy's on his way, sweetheart."

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Best Programming Language

At one job interview they gave me a full page list of computer programming languages and asked which ones I knew. There were hundreds on the list! I thought SNOBOL was a trick question, turns out there really is a language called SNOBOL. AT&T Labs, mid-60’s. Wow.

Job analysts say the ability to program, even at a basic level, is becoming a necessary general skill. Being able to break huge problems down to smaller solvable tasks, helps us overcome many challenges. And programming can be really fun!

Which one do you learn?

Each language has strengths; people who love the language say it is the best. What they really mean is “It is the best to me.” That’s nice. How do you find the best for you? Use the “Observe, Orient, Decide, Act” (OODA) loop to find the answer.

Observe – Yourself, actually. What do you like to do? What problems do you like to solve? Some people like to work statistics for sports teams. Others like to build web pages to share information. I like to play Role-Playing Games (RPGs) and a lot of my coding as centered on that. Be honest with yourself at this stage and it will pay off soon.

Orient – Each language has strengths and challenges. C is a powerful language that works for systems programming but is not as good for web pages. PHP is exactly the opposite. Note that both languages can be used where they are not best but you will have to work harder at it. Focus on the strengths a language has and find half a dozen or so that work really well with what you want to do. If you have no idea where to start, check out the TIOBE index. Do a little research on the top twenty languages and see which ones seem interesting. If you don’t find several choices then go on down the page, they list the top 100 according to their metrics.

Decide – This is both fun and risky. The way to decide is to spend a few days with each language on your list. See how much you enjoy doing the things you want to do. Do not pick a language based on TIOBE ranking or number of jobs on Dice. Pick the one that works best for you. For what you want to do. Decide based on actual experience with the language. Starting out can be frustrating; how do you compile code? Is this even a compiled language? How do I do simple stuff like “Hello World”?

Act – This is the big step; the real challenge. You have spent a few days with multiple languages, now you commit the next ninety days to just one. That’s right, about three months. Focus on one language and learn the basics. Do the things you want to do with it, research how to do those things. Do not pay attention to claims about other languages being better, faster, more modern, or whatever. You have your language, get to know it. Work side by side to get things done.

Does all that sound like a lot of work? Yes! That’s part of the learning process. A big part of coding is breaking the problem down and figuring out how to test each question. Then you put the parts back together and test the questions again.

The critical point is this: if you choose a language that you enjoy coding in, you will code more. That is the only way to get better at coding; code more. Learn new things and then code them. Go back to your old code and make it better. Look at some library code from your language and work to understand it.

Soon you will be solving the problems you like to solve with the language you want to code in. That’s the best place to be, and with the best language.