Friday, August 28, 2015

Reading Books and Plays Aloud: Should You Read Books Aloud?

When I was in high school, I was one of the most obsessed Eragon fangirls you can possibly think of. Why I fixated on this series in particular is a whole nother blog post, but the upshot of my obsession was that I wanted my brother to read it.

Brother: Ugh go away
Brother: But I don't like to read thingssssss
Brother: Oh fuck off already
Me: fine then I'll read it to you
Brother: GO. AWAY.
Brother: FINE THEN

So I read him the book.

And he fucking liked it, as I'd told him he would. Sisters are always right about these things. 

Then I read him the sequel, and he hated it just about as much as I did. 

I'm amazed that I had the vocal stamina to read him this long-ass book, and amazed that he let me without punching me in the throat halfway through mangling the ancient-magic-language. But I think he'd never have read it on his own, and that neither of us would have enjoyed it as much without me doing voice-acting-reading and creative interpretations of "lines" and characters. 

Which is odd, because novels are not a medium meant to be performed or read aloud. 

Recently, I posted my review of William Shakespeare's Star Wars, which, while it can't be performed because of copyright, is a play. Meant to be performed.

Reading plays is tricky, because plays aren't meant to be read. They are meant to be heard, and seen, and played. So much is lost in translation if you simply read a play silently to yourself. Thus I, my professors, and every other drama nut I've ever known will advise you to read a play aloud -- preferably with other people, to get more voices in the mix, but also just on your own.

Is it worth doing the same thing with books?

A lot of writing advice says to read your work aloud when revising. But sometimes, I'll read the dialogue in books aloud just as a reader. I've found surprising benefit from doing this. It alerts me to clunky dialogue, cliches that I didn't notice, and vocal tics (or writing tics) such as overused words.

And in the cases where the writing is good, reading aloud doesn't alert me to flaws. It imbues flawless words with life.

Have you ever read a book aloud, to yourself or anyone else? How about audiobooks? Opinions, anyone?

Saturday, August 8, 2015

William Shakespeare's Star Wars: My Nerd Dream Come True (Review)

The trilogy of verse plays, William Shakespeare's Star Wars, is one of my favorite things in this world. 

The author, Ian Doescher, wrote them as part homage, part parody -- exploring the question of what would it be like if the famous Star Wars original trilogy was written in the style of William Shakespeare.

Not only is the full trilogy in iambic pentameter -- the verse in which Shakespeare's plays are written -- but it also incorporates, reappropriates, and adapts a mishmash of lines from Shakespeare's plays. The majority of the verse is Shakespeare's words, reassigned and sometimes tweaked slightly for plurals and pronouns. Doescher supplements the Shakespeare with additions of his own, but keeps the plot firmly Star Wars. 

The style feels strangely Shakespearean in more than just the language. Fans of Shakespeare will be reminded of the Henriad when the plot grows more chaotic -- with characters rushing on during brief transitional and battle scenes to deliver their lines and move on. You can imagine the plot taking place on the stage, or you can imagine the plays' language transposed over the original Star Wars movies. It works brilliantly either way.

Doescher also adds monologues and scenes of his own. Darth Vader has a surprisingly moving monologue contemplating his own evil after he force-chokes someone to death, for instance. That soliloquy incorporates lines from Richard III -- an apt parallel. Also like Shakespeare, Doescher gives characters of minor importance important scenes. While their significance to the plot is small, the scenes shine with innovation and interest -- a refreshing break from the main action. The conversation between two unnamed Stormtroopers is probably my personal favorite. 

And then there are some things that are obviously there just for hilarity. R2D2 speaks in beep-boops of iambic pentameter. Which is written out, with shared lines and all. 

Anyway, a mere review can't express my happiness that this thing exists. It's like the author took my two favorite geeky fandoms and smashed them together. Unfortunately, no one is allowed to perform it because of copyright issues. Disney now owns Star Wars, so we're probably never going to see this parody hit the stage or the screen anytime soon. However, I'm told there are a number of amateur performances and readings that have already been done on YouTube or elsewhere. 

Seriously. Just read this. You won't be disappointed. Also, I really like reviewing stuff from this publisher (Quirk Books) because of the fantastic cover art. The Darth-Vader-in-a-ruff cover art. 


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

More Reviews Upcoming (I Promise)

June and July have been nuts, and I've been largely absent from my usual online spaces as a result. 

I'm finally getting around to seeing various doctors re: my visit to the ER, and so far things are looking better. I still have weird chronic pain, vision and hearing problems, and dizziness, but it's getting better. Or at least, it's not as bad as it was.

I've also been writing a lot, but not on my typical projects. I've been doing a lot more freelancing lately -- translation, mostly, as well as some editing and (fingers crossed!) I may be hired later for a content-writing job, if they like the samples I sent. I'm also making a tentative foray into copywriting. I'll see how that goes. 

What I really want to do is get back to writing reviews. I have to review Virtues of War (quite good), Inked (shaping up to be good), The Sorcery Code, and A Legacy of Light. Reviews just take longer than you'd think, probably because I obsess over every detail and want them to look good on the site. I also find it harder to write reviews of books I loved, since it's difficult to find new ways to say "I loved this and it was amazing." That's a good problem to have, I suppose -- it means I'm reading a lot of good books.

I'll get around to it. I swear.

Right now, though, I'm working on a secret project. Very hush-hush and definitely outside my typical genres. I won't say much, in case it goes utterly to shit, but the newness of the idea, style, and genre have been quite fun. It's helped re-teach me the fun of writing. I think that's because, for once, I'm not worried about taking myself too seriously. It's not something I can spend a ton of time on, as I have freelancing deadlines to get to now -- but due to the nature of the beast, I can crank out a lot of words in a very short period of time, say, half an hour. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Re-writing: My Characters Don't Make Sense

As an actor, you're given a script and a character and told to go from there. You have to figure out why that character does what they do, and then you have to commit to that and sell it to an audience who will (hopefully) be engaged. And if they do not care about the character, they likely will not be engaged. This even goes for the school of thought that says audiences shouldn't be totally immersed and sympathetic -- but if they don't care about what they are seeing onstage, then why should they care enough to critique or think about what they are seeing?

So: you get a script and a character, someone who is not you, whose motives and actions may be totally incomprehensible. And you have to figure out why. 

Writing and revising are a bit like that. 

I'm currently rehauling That Novel I Wrote In High School* (yes, it is about as bad as it sounds) (and technically I wrote it in high school, finished it in college, and wrote the second book in college) and it's a lot like being given a script as an actor. I'm faced with the same sorts of questions, like...

Why do the characters do these things, apart from the fact that at the time I clearly wanted them to do it to advance plot?

Why does the plot move forward like it does? 

Do characters' actions make sense?

A lot of the time, I found that there was no reason for the plot to move as it did (apart from that I wanted it to happen). Characters did not have compelling reasons or motives to act as they did. Their actions did not make sense beyond getting from A to B. 

I thought for a long time that I was bad at plotting -- because all the above objections meant my plot made no sense. 

But then I realized: it's not that my plot doesn't make sense. My plot doesn't make sense because my characters don't make sense. 

I'm not bad at plot. I'm bad at character.

Luckily, I get to rewrite this "script." I can take the bones of the actions it contains and then write characters who would do those actions. And I can let those actions change as the characters develop. 

Giving the characters things and people to care about in order to inform their motives has been difficult. Letting go of some of the basic assumptions I've held about this story and these characters for years has been difficult. 

And -- if you'll permit me to ramble on about myself a bit more -- I'm glad I wrote that third book in college. I always heard that you should only work on one big project at a time. However, working on a different book helped me let go of this first project. It stopped being my "baby." Now that I'm not so attached, I can step back and rehaul it. 

Rewriting an old project has taught me a lot about writing.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Adventures in the ER

Things took an unexpected turn for the worse last Friday when a trip to the health clinic ended up with me in the emergency room.

For a little under a week, I had been feeling dizziness, weakness, nausea, blurred or randomly unfocusing vision, difficulty concentrating and putting words together, and a laundry list of other weird symptoms that added together to make "I feel like crap and I can't blame it on my usual spaciness." When I had what I thought was a fever on Friday, I decided enough was enough and went to the clinic at the local Wal-mart. That's my litmus test for sickness: have a fever, see a doctor. 

They listened to my symptoms, got very confused and concerned, took my vitals, and did some tests. While I had teeth-chattering chills, I didn't have a fever -- but my blood pressure was low enough to make them alarmed and my symptoms were bad enough that I didn't feel safe driving. They called me a taxi and sent me to the ER. 

This experience fucked up my entire weekend. I had to call out of work for the duration of the work excuse they wrote me (but still had to go in the day after that while still feeling horrible, because I need the money). I missed the deadline to apply for a TA position at my college. Luckily, they extended the deadline and I sent my application in (sans any kind of real work experience apart from a very earnest, hopefully not-too-desperate-sounding cover letter). I also missed the deadline to submit something I was working on as a freelancer. I've communicated the situation to the client, and hopefully I can finish it by Thursday. It wasn't going well to begin with, but since then, I've had even more difficulty concentrating. 

Also, whoever put the IV in to draw blood managed to BEND THE NEEDLE while it was in my arm. OUCH.

On the other hand, the experience was oddly positive in a couple of ways. This is one of the only times I've felt like I was taken seriously by a doctor. I'm someone who doesn't typically go to a doctor when sick -- partly because I've learned that all they will do is take my money, shrug at my symptoms, and manage to imply that I'm either pregnant and lying, on drugs and lying, or making the whole thing up and super-lying. They don't listen, they constantly interrupt, they make it clear I'm wasting their time, and they don't act like it's serious. The doctor's office is already a very unpleasant, invasive place where everyone acts like you're an idiot. I avoid it whenever I can.

So normally, I just shrug and assume it's nothing serious. But for once, the clinic and ER doctors actually listened. I was even trying to downplay the concerns of the clinic doctor, and was forced to acknowledge their validity when she asked if I felt safe to drive and I had to admit I didn't. Under different circumstances, I guess I might have been worried or scared. But I was too out of it to care at all, and my main concern was the work I was going to miss and how everyone was going to hate me for calling out of an opening shift the next day. 

End verdict: they didn't know what it was, but diagnosed it as vertigo probably caused by complications from an ear infection. But they also advised me to push fluids in case it was dehydration, and sent me home with a prescription for anti-vertigo medicine. Getting me out of the chair was kind of funny, actually. I kept shivering, so people kept offering me warmed blankets. By the time it was time to leave, I needed the nurse's help to break free of my blanket burrito.

I don't know. Maybe this IS something to be worried about. As the ER nurse told me, I'm awfully young to be having these kinds of symptoms. In the past few days, I've also experienced the added joys of shortness of breath and tightness/pressure of the chest. 

I've avoided finding a doctor in this area because of my dislike of doctors, but I'm going to pursue that this week -- to follow up on the symptoms if nothing else.