Can you hear the distant rumbling? The pitter patter of the happiest of feet? Can you see visions of plot bunnies and character deaths everywhere?
The most wonderful time of the year is upon us: the month of November, when thousands of novelists all over the world gather for thirty days and thirty (sleepless) nights of literary abandon. National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, is, for many of us writer-by-night types, a fantastic excuse to pump out a 50,000 word novel in thirty days or less. This year will be my sixth taking part in an annual event that some may call crazy, and by now I’ve got the rhythm down. For those of you who may not, however, here are a few tips to NaNo success.
Grated, I am perhaps the worst example of this as I put off getting this article out until today. I have, however, been preparing for NaNo throughout the month of October. There are two main kinds of writers in the NaNo world; plotters and pantsers. Plotters are self-explanatory–they plot out their novel or parts of their novel before November first even dares approach.
I am more of a pantser, myself–both in that I am the champion of pantsing people, and in that I come up with a general idea for my newest project, or a character, or a format I’d like to try out, and then see where it takes me. Plotters, however, may be more in to looking up storyboard templates or character design information, or diving into the depths of the NaNo forums. No matter what kind of writer you are, however, I highly recommend stocking up on provisions well before October 31st. I’ve been stockpiling cheez-its for weeks.
That Being Said…The Best Laid Plans…
See above. I started writing this article about two weeks ago, knowing it would take some time. Life got in the way, as it always does. But I’m determined to finish before my deadline (today, obviously)…so here I am. The whole point of NaNo is to stop making excuses, sit down at your computer or notebook or whatever, and write. This is the time of year when thousands of other people like you have committed to setting and then meeting a ridiculous goal. You can do it, even when the dog is throwing up and Thanksgiving dinner has to be made and you have work in the morning.
Know that things happen. Know that all the planning in the world can’t stop a hurricane from hitting, or a job crisis from landing smack in the middle of your “crunch” week. Stay ahead of your daily goal as much as you can, and maybe that crisis won’t be so bad.
Know Your Comfort Zone
I mean this in every way possible. I know my writing groove requires hot tea, comfortable pants, warmth, and some kind of music to which I don’t have to pay attention. I also know that I type fast and get discouraged easily. Having Cheez-its handy helps.
I am easily distracted, so sometimes removing myself from my house completely is a good idea, but I need to go somewhere I can spread out and get food and/or caffeine easily. I like using a writing program called Q10, which essentially turns my screen into a DOS word processor so all I can do is type or not type. It also makes typewriter noise, the monotony of which helps me focus a little. You should know what makes you comfortable, or what puts you into writing mode–both physically and mentally. You should also know if your comfort zone is acually the same as your productive zone, and be honest with yourself about it. Your bed is almost never a good place to get things done.
Set a Reasonable Goal
If you can’t make 50,000, then aim for 25. If 50 sounds a little low, aim for 75. Aim for ten pages a day or two or one. Aim for a short story a week if that’s your thing, or work on poems one at a time. This is a month to do what you’ve always wanted, not to set an arbitrary goal and then go for broke.
Personally, I like using November for novel writing. I don’t get a lot of time for long-form writing for the rest of the year, so that’s what I focus on come NaNo. And yes, it does have NOVEL right in the title, but if you poke around in the forums even just a little you’ll see plenty of people use it as an excuse to pursue other literary goals.
Know Your Most Productive Times
I’m productive after dark. I hate leaving everything to the weekends. I like working in short spurts and proving how much I can get done on lunch breaks or commercials.
You should know if mornings aren’t your thing. You should know if your brain shuts down after nine. Knowing when you’re productive will help avoid frustration. One year I was all “imma get up early and get all my writing done before work and school and I’ll be the coolest.”
I did not win that year.
Be Willing To Ask For Help
Writing groups are awesome. You can create a writing group out of like-minded friends, whether they are participants or not. You can find a local group in the forums, if you don’t have and real-life writer buddies. One of the great parts about NaNo is that just by participating, you’ve got a writing group of thousands of people at your fingertips. I’ve made several twitter friends through writing sprints (short writing times where you try to write as much as you can within a set time limit) just because we were constantly comparing numbers. We went on to create off-time challenges against one another to keep the writing flow going, and then kept in touch long after NaNo was over.
NaNo also has “municipal liaisons” which are basically leaders in specific areas. When you sign up for NaNoWriMo, you can add a region, and whichever region you add signs you up for emails from your ML. The best MLs organize write-ins where wrimos can meet up and write together IN PERSON.
Whether you ask for it in person or online, there’s no shame in admitting you’re stuck, or spitballing ideas, or scrapping your entire story board and starting from scratch based on an idea you jotted down at three in the morning.
And Finally, Have Fun!
Remember, no one is forcing you to write. No one is going to force you over the finish line, either. It’s going to be hard–if you want it to be. Personally I enjoy a challenge, and love carving out time in my schedule to write furiously. But not everyone is the same.
If you’re not having fun, really think about whether or not it’s time to change something in your NaNo schedule. If it’s too many words, or not enough, then pick another goal. Or maybe it’s just not your year. Out of the six years I’ve participated, I’ve only won three. One year school was too much. Another I was trying to write only when I had hours at a time. And finally, one year I just didn’t have a novel’s worth of material. There are all sorts of reasons not to cross the finish line, Make sure if you don’t make it there that it’s for a reason.
See you all next month, hopefully 50k words richer! Follow my progress at NaNoWriMo.org/jenisaurusrex
Image credit: Nanowrimo.org
Pokemon is a 17-year old franchise, and flagship of Nintendo’s first party titles, that has relied on the same formula since its inception. While the policy to “not fix what isn’t broken” has certainly been successful for the Pokemon franchise, each new generation has brought with it new wishes from fans on how to make the Pokemon experience more personal, and how to improve the overall presentation. After 17 years, X and Y are now the quintessential and refined entries in the Pokemon franchise. Although the formula remains the same, this new experience is absolutely unparalleled.
X and Y begin as all Pokemon adventures do, with the protagonist having just arrived at a new home in a new region, before being handed a Pokemon partner, a digital encyclopedia and sent off on an adventure. Right off the bat, veteran players will notice subtle changes in start of this adventure. For instance, rather than having one rival character, you have four friends who accompany you on your Pokemon journey. Each of these friends has different goals and ideals, and this is one of the things I came to appreciate most about X and Y. The diversity in friends represents the diversity of people playing Pokemon. Some are determined to conquer the Elite Four and become Champions, some are on a journey to complete the Pokedex, while others are simply going around the world to have a good time and make friends. X and Y is an inclusive adventure that allows for all of these goals to occur.
X and Y has over 450 Pokemon available in the pre-Elite Four Pokedex, more than in any other region. Surprisingly, very few of these 450 are new Pokemon, and many of them are drawn from previously explored regions in the Pokemon universe. This creates a wonderful experience combining nostalgia and new adventures. For example, in this game, you get to choose two starter Pokemon: one from the new generation, and either Bulbasaur, Charmander, or Squirtle from the original Red/Blue games.
|The three new starters from the Kalos region! Each has its own strengths and weaknesses, and will prove an invaluable ally.|
Perhaps the greatest strength of this new generation is the completely overhauled visual presentation, brought to life by the Nintendo 3DS. Despite the fact that the overworld cannot be displayed in 3D, the environments of the game look incredible. I would frequently get lost in the various routes and cities within the Kalos region, just to marvel at a shimmering river or softly falling snow, while spellbound by the music. Battles looks incredible as well, with each Pokemon now having been rendered in 3D, and each displaying unique attack and idle animations. For the first time, I feel as though Pokemon are creatures truly brought to life.
|Chespin prepares to launch a powerful Solar Beam attack!|
The plot of X and Y is relatively straightforward, and provides an engaging 35 hour experience before opening up to post-game contact. I really enjoyed my struggles to thwart the ambitions of Team Flare, all the while obtaining Gym Badges and preparing to take on the Elite Four. The plot is one of the most well-developed in the series, but does suffer from some minor pacing issues. I easily spent the largest percentage of my adventure between the first three Gyms, and then I quickly reached the fourth through seventh Gyms in almost immediate succession. Suddenly finding myself near the end of the game was a rather jarring experience, and I felt somewhat cheated as the plot rushed through several new environments in short succession.
However, some of the greatest strengths of X and Y are its new mechanics that provide the player with whole new ways to delve into the Pokemon world. Arguably the most popular of these is Pokemon-Amie, which allows you to pet and play with your Pokemon directly, using the touch screen of the 3DS as an interface. This function has plenty of appeal simply as a cute little mini-game, but playing with your Pokemon has some amazing effects in battle. Some of these effects are superficial, such as changes in the text when you send a Pokemon into battle. At one point in my adventure, however, one of my team members survived an otherwise fatal attack with one HP left, and I was informed that the Pokemon toughed out that attack simply because it loved me too much to disappoint me. It was the first time a Pokemon game has ever made me cry.
|Petting and playing with a Pikachu in Pokemon-Amie is a uniquely entertaining experience|
In X and Y, it is easier than ever to connect with friends in the Pokemon universe. Trading and battling with complete strangers can be done within minutes after obtaining your starter Pokemon, and that interconnectivity makes X and Y a uniquely collective experience in the Pokemon franchise. This installment has also revolutionized the competitive meta-game, with the new Fairy type balancing out previous type advantages, and the Effort Values of each Pokemon now directly visible and under the player’s control.
That is not to say that this experience is perfect. Aside from the pacing issues, I found that X and Y removed some of the challenge of Pokemon. New experience mechanics, such as capture experience and the revamped Experience Share item make gaining levels require little to no effort on behalf of the player. Without grinding to level up my Pokemon, or EV training, I almost immediately found myself with significant level advantages over AI trainers and Gym Leaders. Even the Elite 4 and Champion of the Kalos region were easy to defeat without breaking a sweat. That lack of challenge definitely takes something away from the experience of veteran players, while making X and Y more inclusive to a new generation of Pokemon fans.
Overall, however, X and Y provide an experience and presentation unmatched by any of the previous Pokemon generations. Whether you’ve been a fan of Pokemon since the days of Red and Blue, or whether you’re entering the franchise for the first time, X and Y is an essential addition to your gaming library.
Halloween is fast approaching (says the writer who has yet to start making his 1930’s Flash Gordon hot-pants costume) and to celebrate I’ve found a wacky bunch of informative and even a little spooky and all-together amazing books to share with everyone from Applewood Books, who specialize in new reprints of classics from yesteryear. These books are historical, odd, and are still helpful and fun even today. Parents, do you want you and your kids to step away from the TV, tablets and laptops for a little while? Many of these books are chock full of fun and interesting activities and things to do this fall and onwards into the future that will help unplug and interact. Don’t have kids? These books are still great to have and are great references especially if you babysit. Or actually like to have fun. It’s always good to have a party trick. Which leads me to my first pick:
Madam Le Marchand’s Fortune Teller and Dreamer’s Dictionary.
In the spirit of Halloween there is first this fun “occult” gem and guide originally all the way back from 1863. This eerie guidebook to fortune telling provides an endless list of how to tell people’s, especially ladies, fortunes in various ways from rolling dice to tea leaves, palm reading, cards, counting people’s freckles or moles or egg whites, being able to calculate a person’s character and discovering truth from falsehoods. It also includes a nifty pre-Freud “Dreamer’s Dictionary” a glossary of dream symbols and their meanings to one’s future or current state , lists of fortunate and unfortunate days and even particular charms to enact. With this little tome kids at parties or get-togethers can recreate the fervid Victorian interest in the supernatural, read each others or adult’s fortunes and one can liven up any Halloween or Birthday (or even Christmas if you prefer the British tradition of horror and ghost stories) party with a real life Harry Potter Divination “lesson” or exhibition. It’s still fun stuff to do and weird people out. Speaking of finding things to do…there is then my second pick, which is actually two:
The Boys and Girls Own Books
Continuing the guidebooks filled with fun activities to do there are also two books hailing from 1829 and 1834 respectively that can fast become a great source of entertainment; The Boy’s Own Book by William Clarke, and The Girl’s Own Book by Mrs. Maria Child. Written long before the advent of electricity, radio, television, internet and videogames these books are stuffed to the brim with fun games and guides of activities kids can enjoy and play the same way they did two-hundred years ago. It’s not only fun to see what kids back then did, it’s just as much fun to revive them. Many of the games are still played today so many are still quite accessible.
The Boy’s Book is filled with rough and tumble gymnastic games and exercises and chemistry-based experiments and activities that would make most modern helicopter parents faint (yay mercury!), but there are also guides to other ball-based games and small “sports” games ranging from marbles to spinning tops. There are guides on swimming, learning sign language, archery, draughts and checkers, “ledgerdemain” or slight-of-hand and magic tricks, card-games and many other fun miscellaneous activities. One interesting one in particular is how to preserve rose-buds in early summer to bloom at Christmastime (this was before repeating roses were common and the planted varieties at the time only bloomed in late spring), arithmetic games and puzzles, riddles and guide to fishing, fencing and pigeon care. There is literally nothing left out in this little book and while a bunch of entries are purely comical or rather impossible to do now and serve more as a learning experience and a laugh, boys and girls both can still find fun and interesting things to do or learn how to do from this book. It’s super useful for those who watch kids, are a camp counselor or just want to be the “cool” cousin or sibling.
Likewise The Girl’s Own Book is chock full of games in which to play, and while somewhat dated in terms of the scope of what girls could do is still surprisingly engaging; girls didn’t just sit and play with their dolls in fact many of the games suggested in this book are still played today on playgrounds (if kids are even granted recess) by both sexes. The activities in this book are more group based; circle based both word and action games to do with friends most involving a little bit of roleplay. Some games like “Cries of Paris” involve a lot of roleplay, each child assigned to be a certain pedlar (cherries, umbrellas, water-bearer, flowergirl etc) which also involves the use of french phrases. Perhaps a helpful exercise and game for French teachers to try out. The Girl’s Own Book also features guides to archery, riddles and puzzles, tongue teasers and songs, active games like shuttlecock (similar to badminton), old out of fashion or rather forgotten games like the more or less exclusively female game la grace (small hoop throwing and catching back and forth on two rods) and even a guide to calisthenics. Additionally the Girl’s book is much more creative activity based, providing different things in which to actually “make” with one’s hands such as paper screens, many different types of baskets, paper cutting and folding, candle ornaments, engraving egg shells, butterfly and leaf impressions, and then domestic topics with guides to sewing and knitting and even encyclopedia-esque guides to bees and silkworms, on keeping animals and also gardening. While a bit less full to the brim with activities as The Boy’s Own Book it still is a extremely cool book full of activities to try instead of the usual offers. I’d gift both books together as a bundle for both girls and boys to get a complete scope of fun stuff to do or as a gift for teachers and babysitters.
Onwards to my third pick!
Goops and How to Be Them: A Manual of manners for Polite Infants by Gelett Burgess
This 1900 book is a guide on manners full of small little poems and poem-y stories to teach etiquette and proper outstanding morals in children. It’s notable for its very stylized and simple illustrations featuring the titular ” Goops”, children who are depicted as these bald round headed little caricatures with noodley almost octopus like arms and simple but very expressive faces including quite a bit of side-eye. Many of the little ditties featuring these Goops as they both behave and misbehave are actually still pretty applicable to kids today, but the real charm lies in the artwork, whose simplicity and quirkiness looks like something someone today would come up with, not 113 years ago. The poems and little stories are charming in their own way and while somewhat dated the book can still be enjoyed for the illustrations alone which are quite different from most children’s book art of the time which leads us to my final pick….
Freaks and Frolics of Little Girls and Boys by Josephine Pollard
If this book title doesn’t belong in an October review then someone help me. This lushly illustrated book of poems and little ditties about mischievous, overtly emotional or just naughty children in the era of being seen but overall not to be heard or fuss is different from the above book in that it is more conventional in it’s “playing it straight” Victorian earnestness…but…. there’s something amiss and extremely compelling amongst its gorgeous color prints. While a great deal of the entries are straightforward tales about little girls such as “Foolish Fanny”, and “Stupid Jane” (things that don’t age too well) and boys like “Teasing Tom” and “Inky Jake” all of whom express “too much” of a certain emotion, or are vain, or get ink everywhere, essentially examples of what not to be…there….seems also seems to be….oh….a poem-story about a kid catching on fire as a warning not to play with fire. Okay. Let’s see…oh god she’s getting attacked by winged pies….and oh god a boy makes himself into a kite….another boy getting attacked by poultry and other farm animals in his dream…..oh….oh my. He actually gets dipped into a vat of ink? Oh god. This is some weird stuff. Help. Help.
Amidst the earnestness and some rather dated and “cutesy” stories there are somewhat macabre or fanciful additions to teach those kids who are seen as less than good or well behaved a “lesson” that truly put the “freaks” in the book. These are further emphasized or rather contrasted by the very pretty, conventionally detailed and idealized artwork of the time which is a treat to look at especially for those interested in what I’ll assume is mostly middle and upper-class fashion and activities of the time for children. The array of socks, bows, stockings and shoes and jackets the little boys wear is just as interesting to look at as the girl’s smock dresses maybe even more so as the boys fashions are no longer really worn whilst variations of some of the girls’ dresses are still used and worn by little girls even today. Much of the behavior seen in the book would not be seen as freakish today either but more reflects what was seen as bothersome to Victorian sensibilities so it’s further a curious read to see how things have changed and realize how things have changed since then too. Yet another book that is great for checking out for the illustrations, fashion, and bizarre stories alone.
So if you can, take a look into the past this week and pick up one of these books or seek them out to have or give to others as they’d make a perfect gift for the right kid or person. You might learn something frighteningly good if you do!
See you next week!
Staff Writer/The Doctor
Pokemon X is awesome. If you disagree then you are disagreeable. You like that logic? You better or else Pokemon X and I are gonna beat you up.
First off, the last Pokemon game I played was Pokemon Silver back in the year 2000. That’s crazy. 13 years ago. Somehow Pokemon X managed to hold on to everything that made Red/Blue & Gold/Silver fun to me back then, but also managed to change everything. “The more things change the more they stay the same”. That sort of thing. Having missed five generations of Pokemon game also means there are several hundred Pokemon I’ve never heard of before. It’s a delight to see all the new ones alongside my old favorites.
As I played, the old theme song line of, “Gotta catch em’ all” rang true. I have spent hours walking through the tall grass just looking for the different variety of Pokemon that show up, battling the ones that I already have and catching the ones I don’t. I will spend many more hours playing this game within the game.
True to form, Pokemon have to use HMs to “cut”, “surf”, etc. Most of the time I don’t have a move I am willing to give up, so just pass by the thorny bushes, noting their locations so that on my second play through I will get them.
Game Freak removed all the annoyances from the old games, like the fact that only my Pokemon in battle got exp (now everyone at least gets a little). They also gave me awesome roller blades. It’s fun.
Graphically there is a huge overhaul and it’s great. There are dynamic camera angles that go from over the shoulder third person to birds eye view, to the traditional offset angle. The 3-D is great. It only activates during battles and special events, saving battery power and not over-playing it.
And I finally have a T-Rex Pokemon. Need I say more? I have five badges currently and I’ll update you guys when I have more.
I had a great time at NYCC this year. There was a bunch of stuff to see, some great cosplayers (which you can see in the IHOGeek Facebook galleries), and of course a good list of panels to check out. On the latter I had the side-splitting pleasure of experiencing the Adult Swim treatment on Friday night, catching back to back panels from the Venture Brothers and Robot Chicken. Two hours of Adult Swim personalities answering fan questions, cutting up and going nuts, and well, just hijinx in general.
… And you know how I feel about hijinx, kids. Love ’em.
Starting with Queen’s “Princes of the Universe” hitting the speaker system, The Venture Brothers‘ Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick came out to the stage rocking black jumpsuits to a wall of pure sound from the audience. After playing it up a little, they sat at the table and answered some fan questions. It was a strange panel in the sense that there was no footage from the show like some of the other panels I attended, but it really wasn’t all that surprising. Doc and Jackson let us know that they had just started working on the new season 6, and even though it was going to take a while that it is “going to be awesome” (don’t expect it until 2015). SO i guess without any content to give you, I can at least give you some of the Q&A schtick that they put on –
On underwear: Jackson’s underwear costs $60 a pair. Sixty. and Doc rocks boxer briefs. We’ll just have to take his word on that though – when chants to show the crowd came up he declared he couldn’t, because he has no ass.
On continuity: When asked whether continuity helps or hurts the show’s comedy. Big surprise, it hurts.
On music: Doc doesn’t care who your favorite guitarist is – your favorite guitarist is Johnny Marr.
On giant robot cosplay: If you ask a question dressed as a giant robot, Doc Hammer will go into strike mode (as he appeared to do) and state his desire to jump across the table and knock you out.
Throughout the answers was of course the nutty behavior we expect from these two fancy lads, but it was their last act that got the biggest round of applause from the audience, myself included. A young lady stepped up to the microphone and upon trying to speak, saw that she couldn’t find her words. “I’m too nervous to ask a question,” she said. Without missing a step Doc Hammer comes back with “are you too nervous to DANCE with me?” and proceeded to dance with the young lady while the DJ played “Greased Lightning.” And a grand time was had by all. Check it out from Adult Swim here.
Next up was Robot Chicken. The whole crew was out in force – Seth Green, Matthew Senreich, Clare Grant, Breckin Meyer all clad in cat ears, including an unannounced appearance by Macauly Culkin, who is indeed, as it appeared to me, alive and well. The crew made a couple of big announcements, the first being a sequel to the wildly popular DC Comics Special entitled DC Comics Special II: Villains in Paradise. They showed some footage from the special, focusing on Batman’s embarrassment about being dragged around in Green Lantern’s green bubble. A musical bromance ensues between the two, with Batman being floated along in a green sailboat construct.
Seth Green also talked about Übermansion – a joint project between the Robot Chicken crew and Bryan Cranston, who is fresh off the heels of the success of Breaking Bad. Cranston voices Titanium Rex, an elderly superhero who fights the day to day perils of, you know, being old sharing the mansion with this super-team. It’s stop motion like Robot Chicken, and from the trailer we were shown the humor is unrefined, juvenile, and let’s face it kids, right up your alley.
There wasn’t much commentary on future Robot Chicken seasons, but they did announce their Born Again Virgin Christmas Special, which will air this December.
Early in the panel a young lad by the name of Emmett got up to the microphone to ask a questions. The panel addressed him as “the young man in the brown hat.” After snarkily replying “first off, it’s a Borderlands hat, so…” he went on imply that by Seth Green taking on his series Dads that it could take away from the writing of Robot Chicken. After some more sass and Green’s “I’ma point at you and yell” antics Breckin Meyer jumped in to Green’s defense – “Hey Seth’s working REALLY HARD!” After that Emmett became a running gag for the entire panel, cracking me up more than any of the other antics the panelists had, aside from meth jokes at the expense of Macauly Culkin. Afterwards, in response to a simple “Hi how are you?” from a fan, Breckin’s answer was “Well I was having a great day until I met this douchebag named Emmett.” And this went on and on for the entire panel. Please, do yourself a favor and watch the panel here. Warning though – the panel features a moment between Seth Green and Doc Hammer’s nipple, who made an impromptu cameo.
Stay tuned for my next installment where I talk about that time i met Neil DeGrasse Tyson!
|Darth Aus and his force boomerang|
But what kind of convention would this be without cosplay I hear you ask? Well, EB Expo also catered to our cosplaying friends by throwing a massive cosplay competition with prizes up for grabs for those who had the best voted costumes. As I worked the expo floor, I saw an assortment of Links, Mario’s and Assassin’s from all walks of life. They were all quirky and wonderful, bringing a much needed gaming atmosphere to what would essentially have been a hardware/software show and tell.
|One of the truly amazing cosplays that walked past me|