Wednesday, January 30, 2013

instigated by Arnzen and MGOC

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)

Support Arnzen's Kickstarter Campaign!!!  fabulous!

Be an instigator, support the Fridge of the Damned poetry magnet kickstarter. 

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.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Words are Things! Lesson Plan Love

Words are Things
Mood and Metaphor

Dictionary, Basket of Same Six Words, Index Cards, Writing Utensils

Set up:

Prior to class:

Place a single index card on each student seating area. Place a sample near the front on a desk.

Create zones (in different room areas) with post it notes for each word.
Write bolded underlined info on boards left to right beginning with first.
As students enter classroom allow them to draw a word from basket. Direct them to draw what they drew.  Allow settling time.
Introduction of self

Draw the word you drew on a card.  Make a visual representation of that word.
When you select your word- write the word in the center of the card and begin to draw what that word feels like.

Words brighten my day!

Let me let you in on a secret.  Words are things, and I have proof.  Who can tell me the definition of a noun? What for response. That is correct. Person, place or thing. I have a sentence on the board. What’s the noun in this sentence. Words! Is it a person? Is it a place? It’s a thing. So today we are going to create more proof of this statement words are things by using metaphors to create a sensory poem.

Words can allow writers and readers to bring in mood.

MOOD: The words used in a piece of writing with the intention of evoking a certain emotion or feeling from the reader.      Reference sentence.

METAPHOR: A comparison of two different things to create figurative language to imply likeness. A simile is a metaphor using the words "like," "as" or "as if."

Things have particular attributes that we can also give to words through our senses using metaphors. The word I have to use often is focus and I’ve given it some thing-like characteristics.

Focus is clear
Focus sounds like radio station static when driving from one Texas town to the next. 
Focus smells like the day before the rain.
Focus tastes like air and 
It looks like the light.  The light at the end of the tunnel. 
Focus feels like shoulders up. 
Focus is clear

Let’s do one together: love, wealth, fun, kisses.  Take class responses
You can do the same with your word by creating a sensory poem on the back of your card. Talk them through this, then give time for extra response. Explain that their simile can be one word or many to get to the point.

Name your positive word is and finish with a color
Name the word Sounds like...
Name the word Smells like...
Name the word Tastes like..., and
It Looks like... 
Name the word Feels like...
Name a positive word is and finish with a color

On the front of your card write the word... then add the mood you just created with your sensory poem.

On the back write your poem.

Start music play video while work walk around and pass out stickers.

Extension and Technology Inclusion
When the exercise is finished have the same word students congregate in that word’s area that was assigned with the post-it notes.  Allow them to share results. Cards can be arranged for phone photos for screensavers or to post to twitter: @toimaginemore and fb:

In longer classes take volunteers to act (silently mime) out the word – Name that word.

Talk about purpose as it relates to life.

Close class with t h a n k s.