Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Many Genres Writing Tip from Michael A. Arnzen

The other day I stumbled upon a website that made these neat pieces of art by compressing every frame of a film down to a teensy ribbon only one pixel in width, then lining these ribbons up side-by-side, sequentially in the frame. The site ( calls these images "movie barcodes" but it's much cooler than that sounds: the result is a beautiful curtain of color and shade. It's artful because it changes the way you think about the movie, compressed down into a visual summary that you can't really sort out logically, but upon closer study nevertheless effectively captures the "feeling" of the entire feature-length film.

[ Example: Blade Runner from]
This capture of the emotion of an entire story in a single frame is very compelling to me. In a way, it's sort of like our memory of the whole movie, condensed down into one inexplicable image that captures our experience. It is an emotional summary. These compressed films, these "movie barcodes," reveal the way the cinematographer and director used a spectrum of color and composition across the whole movie to shape our emotional responses to what we see (whether they intended to or not). The patterns are fascinating, and imply a great deal about the subtle ways our reactions were shaped. Scanning one of these movie barcodes from left to right, you can tell at a glance when the film may have slowed down in pace (therefore creating straight horizontal "bars" of repeated color, or clusters of similar tones) or you can see when the director may have intensified the action (resulting in rainbow effects or chaotic diagonal-lines suggesting shifty camera movements). There are moments when lighting darkens, suggesting doom and gloom, followed by brightening bars of light, suggesting a change in the characters or world. And we see all this in the patterns of color alone.

Change is everything. As colors change across the picture, the image implies different moods that emerge from various regions of the plot, as the story moves from beginning to end.

I wondered what my novels might look like if they were compressed and rendered in the same way.

The lesson here is that sometimes it is what we don't see, but what's still there, that gives shape and structure to our stories. Writers might consider outlining the mood (or other subtle elements) of their story in the same way that they outline their plots. Color code it. It pays to think about how expository cues--like colors, symbols, shapes and other images--change over the course of the novel, giving shape to not only the mood you hope to set in any one scene, but how that mood moves the reader across the whole book. Too often we put all of our attention into the obvious actions and the external character changes when plotting out our books. It's all foreground. We shouldn't forget to think about the chronology and coherency of the background, too.

One time-tested trick for setting a mood, for instance, is to use the weather in the setting to suggest the emotions of any given scene. But that scene is just one ribbon of time. Don't just think about the weather in isolation--weather is constantly in flux, moving one season to the next. Seasons can change over the course of the book, depending on the chronology of your story. Have you thought about these? Have you chosen the best span of months to set this story? Map the motion of time--these changes in weather patterns--out carefully, and your book will have a natural and more meaningful feeling that the reader will intuit. Likewise, time of day for any given scene can transform a setting from "dark" to "light." Pay attention to this from scene to scene. Avoid writing a story that--if compressed in the reader's imagination--would just be one big emotional bar of the same color. The last thing you want to do is put a lot of work into something that emotionally flatlines. As characters change, so too should the backdrop that we see them framed within. Construct your book so that it creates a curtain of emotional color and it will feel more three dimensional, more transformative, and more natural in the way the stories moves over time than it otherwise might.

Contributor: Michael A. Arnzen

Articles in MGOC: "Genre Unleashed"
"Tuning Up Your Writing"
"The Element of Surprise: Psyching Out Readers of Horror,
Mystery and Suspense"
"Making Modern Monsters"
"Working the Workshop: How to Get the Most Out of Critique
Groups (Even the Bad Ones)"


Other Work: 100 Jolts: Shockingly Short Stories (Raw Dog Screaming Press, 2007)


You can purchase Many Genres, One Craft, edited by Michael A. Arnzen and Heidi Ruby Miller, through any of your favorite book sellers, including Amazon.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Cotton Trivia

How can you use social media in the classroom?

Many Genres Marketing Tip from Sally Bosco

The purpose of Tweeting isn’t really to sell books, it’s to build relationships, have a dialogue with writers and readers, to pique potential readers’ curiosity about you, and to gain their interest. They’re gaining access into your secret world. Make that a place people want to visit.

If you’re new to Twitter, start by following your friends. They know people who know people, and this will widen your circle. Do the same for any writers you know or writers’ associations that interest you.

Find groups who hit your target market and friend them. Just Google "Twitter + your subject matter." You may want to do this gradually so it won’t appear that you’re spamming people.

Follow people and organizations who are relevant to your writing. If you are writing a novel about, oh, I don’t know, cross dressers, try to make contact with people who are interested in that subject matter. A simple Google or Twitter search will yield that info.

Contributor: Sally Bosco

Articles in MGOC: "The Manga Explosion" and "From Far East to West"


Other Work:

You can order Many Genres, One Craft, edited by Michael A. Arnzen and Heidi Ruby Miller, through any of your favorite book sellers, including Amazon.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Many Genres Educational Tip from Matt Duvall

One area many teachers (myself included) struggle with is assessing whether students are actually understanding what we're teaching. Formal assessments, such as tests, take time and effort to create, grade, and return. Worse, there are some situations where a test just isn't an option--like when you're teaching a writing workshop. Here are a few quick ways to assess student comprehension in almost any teaching setting.

The first technique is student self-assessment. Have the students give you a "thumbs up" if they're very confident in their understanding, a "thumbs sideways" if they feel so-so about it, and a "thumbs down" if they're completely lost. This gives you a quick, immediate sense of how your students are feeling.

The second method is to pose a simple question based on the material you covered. Have the students write three sentences, max, to answer the question. You can quickly read these over during a break or while the students work on another activity, and decide whether there's anything you need to clarify.

The third method is to have a volunteer share with the class a paraphrase of what you've said. Then, the students can discuss if anything was left out or different than what you taught. This allows students to learn from each other, and also gives you feedback on areas where students are still confused. (You can also break the students into small groups, where each group does this--it can help for shy students or large classes.)

There are many ways to check for understanding--these three are just some that have worked for me. Regardless of the method you use, make sure you are checking and not just assuming that because you've said it, students got it.

Contributor: Matt Duvall

Articles in MGOC: "Powerman Writes Women's Fiction: On Writing What You Know"


Other Work: "Writing Hell" to appear in The Chiaroscuro re-launch mega-issue (April 2011)
"Writing Hell" is a reprint of Matt's humorous horror story that originally appeared in Seton Hill University's Eye Contact magazine.

You can pre-order Many Genres, One Craft, edited by Michael A. Arnzen and Heidi Ruby Miller, through any of your favorite book sellers, including Amazon.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Cotton Trivia

What's your standardized test day specials?  We always have waffles, protein shakes and peppermints.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Writing Tips From Authors Coming Soon!

Contributors from the only writing guide you will EVER need, Many Genres, One Craft, will be sowing f a b u l o u s cotton seeds around here the next few months.  Score!

Cotton Seeds #14

The Treasure
Find a used a book store and play there!  

One, Two, Three - GO!

Check the Cotton Seeds Section for Elaboration.  Stay tuned.  New 'seeds' on Tuesdays & Thursdays!