Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Words Come Alive

What’s the Easy Way to Understand POV?

Your character walks through shadows in a narrow alley. But you may feel a distance as you watch him, or you may sense his anxiety. Part of that difference comes from the point of view (POV) of the character.

Most books are written in the third person, and mention the words, “him” or “her”. The first person use of “I” occurs rarely. However, the third person can come close with the first person by using the third person internal POV.

So what’s the difference? Think involvement by being inside the character’s head. Internal POV also means more emotion with each statement. Notice the difference —

Megan walked across the room to confront Sammy who expected her anger.

Megan clenched the note in her hand from Sammy as she walked across the room. “How dare he try that!” she thought. Why was Sammy simply standing there, not even blinking, as though he anticipated her reaction?

Notice the change. In the first example, the reader is aware of both people. Yet in the second, the reader is drawn into Megan’s mind. Sammy’s thinking is only guessed by her because the reader exists in her internal POV.

Using POV avoids the omniscient third person where the narrator knows all. For many writers, the goal helps place the reader as a participating voyeur, sneaking peeks into the heads of others without being in danger of discovery.

Yet it’s more than that. The device helps to set up mysteries. Often a narrator-told omniscient style leads the reader to think some marionette player sits above the plot, moving the characters. For some stories, that might be the approach needed. You might want to have readers see above the fray where a vast assembly of characters loom. However, when you want to let the characters chart their own course, the internal POV is another tool that a writer can use.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Fiction's Philosophy

Bauer or Star Trek

As the new Star Trek movie arrives on DVD, I dare to ask the philosophical question from fiction about why communication has been degraded when we deal with enemies. Star Trek introduced the idea that you communicate to find the flaws in your foe. Today’s more representative image of Jack Bauer on the TV show 24 sends the message that you often don’t have time to communicate.

Is there time in a frenzy to communicate? In last year’s version of 24, Bauer told the US President that lack of time was responsible for him needing to torture a traitor to stop an attack on the White House. Trek’s Captain Kirk didn’t have time when a computer system was about to doom a planet to a war with a neighbor if people failed to voluntarily kill themselves. But Kirk took just a few moments to short circuit the system by showing the flaws in the system’s logic.

Bauer had just a few moments to interrogate a traitor in the White House as agents were about to stop him. He chose to intimidate, and threaten the traitor. The result pushed the story deeper into a crisis as the traitor withheld vital intelligence. Agents stopped Bauer, and his goal was thwarted. He could have chosen the path to communicate. The traitor was loyal to a cause that drove him to allow an African General to seize the White House. Bauer could have played on that loyalty. He could have used that info to derail the person’s goal, but he chose the easier, more aggressive route.

Communication doesn’t mean you give in to the enemy. No enemy operates with illogic. The logic might not be that of the protagonist, but there is a system of logic inside the enemy. The better chance the hero has to reach success depends not on force, but communication. Kirk was a product of the Kennedy era. Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Captain Picard lived in the time before 9/11, so we can understand why the fear of lacking time threatens the characters in fiction after 9/11 — the time of Bauer. Maybe the fear from the real world could be changed by the philosophy in fiction. But in this case, the fiction’s philosophy follows that of the real world - maybe it should be leading it in another direction.

"24" image courtesy of tvshowfans.org
"Star Trek" image courtesy of tvmegasite.net

Friday, December 4, 2009

Thought For The Week

Jim Carrey’s A Christmas Carol is currently playing in theaters. The classic tale written by Charles Dickens, tells of a character who reforms his selfish, miserly life because of visits by spirits that show him visions of his past, present and future. Is a person a product of his/her surroundings and does their environment lead he/she under pressure to commit evil?

1) People can be purely evil and even favorable surroundings would lead them to commit evil.

2) People are formed by a combination of their personality traits and their environment.

3) People form their environment so that the environment reflects a person's true nature.

4) Other

List your choice of answer, or an alternative in the Comment section. If you pick answer #4, include an example as to why you picked "Other".

Picture property of Yahoo Movies.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Lights, Camera, Action!

Strange Bedfellows

On the surface, comparing the AMC series Mad Men to HBO’s The Sopranos might seem like comparing Doris Day to Peg Bundy. On the one hand, you have the dapperly-dressed advertising execs of Sterling Cooper and their dainty, obedient wives in direct contrast to the ruthless, violent vulgarity and misogyny of mafia boss Tony Soprano and the rest of his Jersey crew. But I dare to ask (and wonder) if both Mad Men and The Sopranos are really that different. If Don Draper and Tony Soprano weren’t on different TV shows and living in different eras, I could see the two of them as drinking buddies.

While Mad Men is set in the early 1960’s and the characters look and seem like they are cut out of the goody-two-shoes, cookie cutter mold of the 1950’s, it is quite the opposite. Don Draper, Roger Sterling, Sal Romano and Pete Campbell are the white collar versions of Tony Soprano, Paulie Gualtieri, Silvio Dante and Salvatore “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero. And while The Sopranos may have the market cornered on adultery, racist and homophobic behavior, blackmail, corruption, sexism and violence, one could say the ad execs at Sterling Cooper were actually their forefathers. The behavior exhibited by the male characters in Mad Men is a reflection of the changing social mores of the time.

Similarities between the two shows are eerily inspired, starting with Mad Men creator and producer Matthew Weiner who also worked as a writer with producer David Chase on The Sopranos. Both show’s lead characters, Don Draper and Tony Soprano have pasts that they’ve tried to hide from their family, friends and business associates. Don, whose real name is Richard Whitman, assumed the identity of the real Don Draper while serving with him in the Korean War after the real Don Draper was killed. Tony is the head of a crime family while projecting the image that he’s an honest, hard working family man to friends and business associates.

Both show’s characters don’t handle the idea of alternative sexuality very well either. When Sal Romano, the art director at Sterling Cooper, who also happens to be a closeted gay man married with children, rebuffs the sexual advances of a male client, the client orders that Sal be taken off of the ad campaign. Don is so angry that Sterling Cooper has lost a large, lucrative account, that he fires Sal. Also, Don had accidentally witnessed a gay encounter that Sal had had with a hotel employee while the two of them were away on business in a previous episode. When Vito Spatafore, a captain in Tony’s crew is outed as a homosexual, he goes into hiding, but is found and brutally killed.

While the Sopranos crew throws out derogatory racial epithets as easily as if they were saying hello, the Mad Men crew express their racist tendencies in other, equally offensive ways, like when Roger Sterling decides to don blackface during a party to serenade his wife with the song “My Old Kentucky Home”.

And as far as women go, both shows treat women as objects of desire and of sexual conquest. While the male characters of both shows are either engaged or married, they frequently have sexual affairs with the opposite sex. In the Mad Men world, the objects of desire are usually the secretaries working at Sterling Cooper while in The Sopranos, it’s usually the strippers at Silvio’s strip club, The Bada Bing. Despite their best efforts, the women in both shows find it incredibly difficult to assert their individuality due to the very prohibitive environments in which they are living.

The old adage that “absolute power corrupts absolutely” certainly defines the lead characters in both shows. Don and Tony, as well as their partners in advertising and crime, will do whatever they feel is necessary to solidify their power bases and appease their narcissistic tendencies, even if it means literally and figuratively screwing (and in The Sopranos case, killing) their neighbor. Watching these characters balance their professional and personal lives while trying to stay on the side of the angels is one of the reasons why both shows are so compelling and keep viewers wanting more.

Mad Men image property of BBCshop.com
Sopranos image property of Tower Records.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Lights, Camera, Action!

Wars & Coming of Age

Children have a different slant on the world — dare we ask if that is the answer to the question of whether Mark Herman and Guillermo Del Toro see through different lenses than the rest of us.

Herman’s The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and Del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone explore the crises arising around young boys who grow up in a wartime arena. Both movies show how the idealism of the young gives way to the increasing pressures of an adult world. Yet the master stroke with each is the point-of-view displayed by the young boys as they bear witness to horrors usually seen from an adult point-of-view.

Both movies deal with the horrors of how a war divides people into groups so they can struggle against an enemy. Both deal with aspects of evil acts committed by the usual suspects and some unlikely ones. And both show the hope to bridge barriers.

In The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Bruno loses his father’s closeness because the war has taken him away so that despite being in the same house, father becomes distant. Bruno grows up believing the propaganda about a Jewish threat, but grows to see the falsity of his learning. He strives to counter that by forming a friendship with a Jewish prisoner.

In The Devil’s Backbone, Carlos strives to cope with hatred from students and a caretaker who murdered a young boy. He is surrounded by a staff that yearns for a fountain of youth to supplant death and also crave gold to avoid life’s harshness. But Carlos inspires others with a sense of community.

These examples of hope emerging from an arena of despair come to us from the way the stories are told by Herman and Del Toro. The struggles against war and close-mindedness don’t hit us from the eyes of the adults who have set the troubles in motion. The point-of-view strikes us from the child who suffers in the environment of that crisis.

Herman and Del Toro must have sat around a cafe talking about their approaches together. Herman takes Bruno step by step from his known world into the discoveries about the lies from father and the kindness of two Jewish people. Del Toro submerges us within Carlos’ world so that the staff and caregiver’s experiences only become understood through a layered effect of discovery. Herman and Del Toro want us to view the horrors from another angle.

Too often we only see the fight from the eyes of the combatants. Dare we ask how that conflict shatters the psyche of others caught in the mix?

The Boy In The Striped Pajamas image property of Tower Video.
The Devil's Backbone image property of Yahoo Movies.

Follow The Bouncing Brawl

Why Chase Away the Blue Collars?

Old frames of homeruns hit into the stands show the clapping hands of workers who chose to take the day off. Dare we ask why those people are missing in the latest shots of baseball games?

As more stadia erect plush boxes replete with hotel-sized rooms and catering staffs, the costs weed out those average fans in favor of the corporate clients. Rising prices have made the game a business, but that was also true in the 1920s. The Babe came to New York because the Boston owner lost money on a Broadway show. Money has always been a factor for trying to grab an audience. But the audiences have changed.

Now giant boxes are aimed to give smiles to CEOs and board chairs. The number of seats has dropped to make room for those stretch limo rooms. Regular fans can watch the game on their FIOS or Cable. Maybe the front office thinks the corporate people are more consistent in terms of paying for seats. Maybe the aim is to fill in the seats before the season starts. Whatever the reason, the seats are being held for upper and middle management people. After all, clients come to town and the office has to show off the team.

But the blue collars were also consistent. Despite the Depression, those workers filled the stands even in day games. The worker returned in more of a pattern when the price was right and almost guaranteed the same support for the team. Those people would also act as the advertising arm as they hovered around the water cooler the following day. So they helped the sales in a number of ways.

So why then does the current mentality aim for the big bucks over the constant flow? Those workers kept the game alive for more than a century. The new guys are up and down with the Dow. Who’s more reliable — the homerun hitter, or the guy for average?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Thought For The Week

After the tragic shooting rampage at Fort Hood by Major Nidal Malik Hasan, an Army psychiatrist and Arab-American, many fear that life for many military personnel of Arab-American descent will become noticeably more difficult. Was the shooting at Fort Hood an isolated incident or is it a product of larger issues taking place?

1] This was an isolated incident by a psychologically disturbed individual and should not be a reflection or generalization of all Arab-Americans in the military.
2] Arab-Americans wanting to join the military or who are already in the military should be subjected to extra questioning and debriefings.
3] Prejudice in the military against Arab-Americans exists. The military needs to do a better job in addressing racial and religious harassment issues which might lead to more violence in the future.
4] Other

List your choice of answer, or an alternative in the Comment section. If you pick answer #4, include an example as to why you picked "Other".

Friday, November 13, 2009

Worlds Meet

Conrad’s Heart of Afghanistan

When the outlaw leader Hernandez asks the miner Bonafacio why he supports the silver mine in Joseph Conrad’s Nostromo, Bonafacio’s answer should be heard as Congress spends $10 billion in Afghanistan. We dare to ask why literature can see an answer that eludes the reality decision makers.

Bonifacio answered that the mine owner, “Senior Gould pays me very well.” Yet the policy makers in DC can’t find a similar group to pay the way they did with the Awakening in Iraq. The situation is different, they say. So the funds go to the military.

While the groups in play are very different between Iraq and Afghanistan, the presence of a group like Bonifacio’s miners does exist in Afghanistan — the poppy growers.

Conrad’s Nostromo shows the political elements in a fictional Latin American country where the English mine owner fights local groups who try to expel all foreigners. The lessons from literature demand we see certain parallels. The miners are the poppy growers. The use of force alone does not work. Respect for the local population is needed.

While it’s easy to see the importance of the miners in Nostromo, our real decision makers can’t see the crucial aspect of the poppy growers. The miners produced the wealth that drove the plot in Conrad’s book. The poppy grower’s wealth supports the Taliban. The real world of Afghanistan is filled with vying groups that seem to dilute the image of those growers in the minds of the decision makers. Control a few warlords, and maybe you can swing some support to the Kabul government…for awhile. But control the livelihood of those growers and suddenly the Taliban loses its fighting ability. Maybe the $10 billion could be used to change the growing patterns of the poppy growers.

The use of force alone doesn’t work. In Nostromo, the Gould character uses the secret police after he becomes dominant. But he still can’t stop the anger of growing resentment and an underground resistance. When he first took possession of the mine, he stopped General Montero’s brother who arrived at the mine with a small army. He stopped them because the workers remained loyal to him because of the fair treatment. Afghanistan could be seen in the same way. Extra force to control the poppy fields means nothing if farmers working those fields require money to live.

This brings us to respect for the local population. The strength of the Taliban comes from the support of the locals. Spend the money on troops or to aid the warlords, and those farmers will still have to grow poppy. They are growing poppy because certain grain fields were destroyed during the ages-long conflict. They have to survive, and poppy gives them a chance. Give them the financial support while they convert their fields to pomegranates and you take away the local support from the Taliban.

Nostromo’s characters showed a lesson for Afghanistan. The miners who supported Gould’s mine against Montero had family members who stood by and watched Gould’s father being killed by a previous revolt. Gould avoided that when he respected the miners in the beginning of the story. He saw other methods were needed than using force, and he recognized the value of the worker. Well, we have $10 billion and we have a choice of spending on the military, the warlords or the growers — hmmm.

The Response Meter

Where Have All The Circulation Professionals Gone?

It seems like each day I read about another publication folding and more circulators being laid off. There’s no doubt that the current economic crisis has hit the publishing/media industry like a freight train and circulation professionals have been directly in the line of fire when it comes to their jobs and resources being cut. I’ve lost count of the number of colleagues who have lost their jobs and who are currently pounding the pavement like a pack of rabid dogs all trying to compete for the same one or two jobs that happen to show up on the publishing/media job boards each month.

Many have given up on the notion that they could make a career out of being a circulator and are now working in completely different lines of work. Obviously, the state of our economy has played an enormous role and has forced companies to make a lot of hard decisions, but I began to see the exodus out of circulation/audience development by many even before the economy went into freefall and I dare to ask…why and how did this happen?

I think I speak for many when I say, that I didn’t go to school wanting to be a circulation professional. When I graduated from Adelphi University back in 1992, my original goal was to get a job in Editorial at a major publishing company. Unfortunately, the job market when I graduated was in a bit of a slump and because I had graduated with a French major (I had originally wanted to work in International Business, but found that it wasn’t to my liking) and a Communications minor, I found it hard to get my foot in the door because I didn’t have an English degree or prior experience working for my college’s newspaper. After bumming around and doing a couple of odd jobs here and there, I got my first taste of Circulation through a family friend that happened to work for CMP Publications in Manhasset, NY. CMP hired me on as a Circulation/Quality Control analyst. I spent my days making sure all of CMP publications were ready for their audits by doing dupe checks and mock audits. My original plan was to stay as a Quality Control Analyst for approximately a year or two and then make my eventually segue into Editorial.

Unfortunately, the Quality Control department at CMP was eventually phased out but I wound up getting a job as a Circulation Assistant at Miller Freeman Inc. Miller Freeman was where I received my Circulation education. I found that I liked Circulation because of its mix of the analytical and the creative. I also worked with a supportive staff and was given the ball to run with. If I stumbled a bit, I was given to opportunity to learn and correct my mistakes. I also found that I could make a decent living being a circulation professional. In my close to three years at Miller Freeman, I was promoted from a Circulation Analyst to an Assistant Circulation Manager and then to a full-fledged Circulation Manager.

Back in the early to mid 1990’s when I started my career in Circulation, magazines were plentiful, companies had lots of money to hire and train their staff, and employees would be rewarded for their hard work with salary and title increases. But as the years went on, a circulator’s role expanded to include not only the promotion of magazines, but of enewsletters, company websites, trade shows and eventually adding a company/brand presence on various social media sites. In many cases, this added responsibility came with little to no additional help and in many cases without an increase in salary. As the economy started to unravel, companies demanded that their circulation staffs do more with less.

Because of their increased workloads, circulators, myself included, found themselves having to learn new skills on the fly, and have even more responsibility without having the necessary resources to go along with the additional work flow. As the economy continued to spiral downward, pay freezes and pay cuts became common in many companies. Many circulators began to feel overwhelmed, underappreciated and burnt out. They also began to see their job descriptions change dramatically as the shift from print to digital and online caused them to have to learn new skills with little to no training provided by the company’s they worked for. Many began to feel disenchanted with the industry.

I began to see this trend occurring at the beginning of 2000. Pressure from upper management to increase revenue and decrease costs seemed to filter down to the group directors, then to the circulation managers and ultimately to the circulation analysts. Everyone became so consumed with just keeping their head above water and learning new skills on the fly that they didn’t have time to help the person below them. The recession was ultimately the straw that broke the camel’s back.

I have colleagues and acquaintances that are no longer in circulation but are now teachers, running day care centers, firemen, writers or physical therapists. Others have been out of work for close to a year. Many are trying to ride out the storm, hoping the economy will right itself by early to mid 2010 and that job opportunities will become plentiful once again.

Some have become so disheartened and are so skeptical about what the future holds that they’ve decided to find new careers. Many wonder if they’ll have the necessary technical, web and online skills needed when or if the job market rebounds, or if they’ll be left in the dust. It will be interesting to see how many return once the storm subsides.

In the interim, for those trying to weather the storm and get back into the audience development industry eventually, it’s vital to keep up-to-date on company and industry trends. Going to industry events such as NTCFI (the National Trade Circulation Foundation Inc), signing up for industry webinars, and reading industry enewsletters (Audience Development, Media Business and Folio are my top three) and blogs on a daily basis is extremely important. With the move away from print to online, knowledge of web analytics, search engine optimization, HTML, social media and other online resources is essential. I would even advise taking a couple of courses in the above topics to ensure that you’re up-to-speed on the constantly evolving world of online marketing and technology. Keeping in touch with colleagues is also crucial and could provide the extra edge needed to get back into the workforce.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Laughs Abound

Washington DC — Congress Creates Restaurant Insurance

Since the nation’s healthcare insurance works so well, Congress has decided to create a restaurant insurance industry to encourage more people to dine out.

The effort puts in place insurance firms that collect money to be used in payments to restaurants when a diner wishes to eat out. People obtain their coverage from employers who are required to set aside funds for their workers.

“This makes it convenient for the average joe to take out his family,” said Sen. Morgan Weight. “He doesn’t have to dig into his pocket for those flimsy credit cards.”

However, restaurants are struggling with long lines of people who wait for hours to check out as groups of restaurant administrators have them sign forms.

“I saw a broccoli third party administrator who made me fill out a form in triplicate when I ordered a stuffed pepper filled with broccoli,” said Les Green, a new vegetable advocate. “The dish meant that the restaurant had to work with a third party for the vegetable side dish, and another third party for the subcontracted work with the added broccoli.”

Yet the new jobs are a boon to the economy, according to Rake Itinn, a business lobbyist. “Businesses run the country, and anything that helps them, helps the country.”

Other lines have been set up in tented streets next to restaurants to accommodate the people who have to identify types of dessert and appetizer they want so they can have the correct coverage. Restaurants no longer make complete meals, but have to contract out with local food provider groups. The tented areas in streets have caused a traffic jam in most cities as cars try to navigate around the restaurant areas.

But the benefits of the restaurant insurance structure are greater than the obstacles, according to Sen. Cap Tilsim. “This is just the marketplace at work and we can’t hinder the marketplace.”

The employer groups have been excited about spending the extra money for their workers because they obtain special food for CEO banquets from the insurance plans.

Most plans have been set up in either a Hot Meals Organization (HMO) or a Plate Plan Option (PPO) that handles the way people are covered. The insurance firms believe this will keep the costs of food down.

“People are demanding more and more special items,” said Ginger Flakes, an insurance spokeswoman. “We have to run tests in most restaurants now to determine the types of food best suited for the diner.”

These tests include the Most Ravenous Index (MRI) and Eating Kitchen Gourmet (EKG) are forcing manufacturers to design equipment to scan the diner so they can determine the best menu for the person.

But these options can annoy some diners who liked certain foods besides what is shown in the tests. The insurance firms refuse to cover previously digested patterns.

Restaurant goers are also finding that not every restaurant will be covered. Often, people have to visit a special restaurant that offers a previously desired favorite like seafood. Usually, these would be considered out of network for many insurance firms.

“We can’t cover everything the person wants to eat,” Ginger said. “We’re trying to contain costs for the employer.”

The tests also take time and add to the long lines that bother neighborhoods. “These restaurants are putting a drain on our entire city,” said Pete Zer, from a Foods Rights group. “Why don’t we have a one plate system like other countries?”

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Thought For The Week

Can consensus building work when the leading opposition exists at the extreme edge of the issue?

1] Consensus building can only work by attracting those in the center — ignore trying to influence those on either extreme.
2] Consensus building means we lose sight of the ideal solution and results in pleasing none — grab the core of the ideal and run with it despite the opposition.
3] Consensus building demands that the concept be described in the language used by an opposition — that will mean a successful communication will evolve.
4] Other

List your choice of answer, or an alternative in the Comment section. If you pick answer #4, include an example as to why you picked "Other".

For more information about Consensus building, click on the following link: www.youtube.com/watch?v=w_gMS9ID9X0

Fiction's Philosophy

Has Fiction Forgotten About Cooperation?

As Rorschach slinks into dark corners to find the gaps in the Watchmen mystery, one overriding theme is the way people cannot rely on one another. Fiction has long been either a reflective mirror of our society, or a guiding path to an alternative. Our present social climate is ushering in a stream of reflection with little on the alternative side. Mistrust is abundant, cooperation bears few examples. Reasons exist for the trend, but many arguments also cry for a counter to the trends.

Whether it’s the Watchmen, Taken, Angels and Demons or even the Jack Bauer look-alikes on television, more material is coming forth reflecting the distrust in our society. It’s been several years since the Hobbits cooperated with Humans, Elves and Dwarfs. Since then, we have seen one character after another offer a smile to an associate, only to use a cell phone in the next scene to set an obstacle in that person’s path. Great plots with conflicts now cast the protagonist at the right spot at the right time, but only to miss the very goal he seeks because he failed to trust someone in the previous scene.

Reasons exist for the plethora of mistrust. When our economic leaders shred the idea of trust with mortgages or skirt the social responsibility to aid a community,that leads to part of the public’s frustration. Yet, that image of mistrust is heightened as political leaders laugh at the concept of promises. The previous political campaign showed debates where one party embraced Joe the Plumber as a small businessman before they discovered the following day that Joe wasn’t his name and he failed to own his business. The society’s craving for fiction’s depiction of distrust naturally follows the frustration.

However, that’s exactly why fiction has the responsibility to lead with an image to counter that frustration. During the terror of the McCarthy era, the SF world showed how people could trust aliens. That era showed how Henry Fonda instilled cooperation against racism when he encouraged a consensus in 12 Angry Men. During the height of the Cold War, an episode of the original Star Trek asked the question, “Maybe they thought we were the aggressors.” Daring to ask that question defied the political hammer that pointed a finger at our real world people who asked the same question.

Fiction’s history shows a proactive role of countering the norm. Yet fiction’s display of cooperation has wavered over the past few years. We expect our fiction to reflect the real world, show us the details that make up scenarios we all face. But fiction also has the responsibility to show a path where few trod, to open up a consciousness that shows where society is missing the mark. That means showing the value of cooperation.

For more information about this article, click on the following link:

Worlds Meet

Earth as a Space Station

When corporate head Fabio Bianco directs his science teams on the space station Trikon to investigate a worldwide biological threat, he ignores the individual desires of his European associates. Instead he breaks down the barriers between the Japanese, American and Europeans by impressing some of the leaders with a renewed view of Earth. Dare we ask whether Ben Bova’s novel The Trikon Deception could meet the real world as the global discussions about nuclear proliferation continue?

Bova’s conflict enters around a murder mystery, hardly a comparison with nuclear disaster. Yet the crime arises from group and personal fears and greed that duplicates the way nations view the select nuclear club. Bova paints a scene where the interests of an Indian engineer and British politician vie for power over the European Community. The Indian owes a debt to the British fellow from a drug habit. The drives are basic human ones, but we could also view them as examples of how the poppy farmers in one nation are linked to interests in the Iranian faction that craves power with the bomb.

Bova’s Asian research team struggles for recognition with the global effort of the station, yet the single-mindedness could be similar to how a nation like North Korea tries to assert itself. The country is flexing its muscles, wanting recognition and ignoring desires of others. The Asian team emerges within a global community where most awards ignore the Asian skills. North Korea’s fear of being encircled by the West and Japan has recently been heightened by an abandonment of China and Russia. The actions by North Korea could resemble the attempt to horde the scientific breakthrough on Trikon.

Bova contrasts the realistic images of discord with an idealistic hope. Bova’s use of real personal drives makes us look into the goals held by nations and how various groups display a fear of lack of control. However, his vision seen through the eyes of Bianco take us to view the globe below the station as the corporate head encourages the teams to work together. Bianco’s declining health doesn’t stop his enthusiastic morale boost. If the station is saved because the teams start to think about themselves as station dwellers rather than ethnic group members, then maybe the leaders who vie for nuclear power could think about the global impact of the struggle on all the world’s members.

Words Come Alive

Show and Tell or Both?

We want readers to enter the mind of our characters, so we don’t TELL readers she’s anxious, we SHOW them how Jane wrings her hands, drops a pen, or covers her mouth with her hand. That’s the essence of SHOW versus TELL, and we’re always instructed to use that device. But dare we ask when we should tell instead?

Actually a few major reasons help us decide when to use either show or tell. Think in one case whether we are trying to move the plot between scenes or write about the action between characters. In one case, we’re filling in background or describing images. That’s different from where we want to enter the character’s head. Another reason in making the decision comes when we want to prompt a general image in the mind of the reader, which may call for telling instead of showing. Especially with dialogue when body language informs the reader about the mind of the characters.

Are we moving the plot, or standing inside the scene? If we’re trying to get Carlos to the meeting with Jorge, we may want to tell about where Jorge’s house lies, or the difficulty in driving past traffic. We may want to remind the reader about the ties Jorge has with certain other people. That’s the realm of telling. But if we want to bring in why Carlos was frustrated with Jorge, we might have him sweating with clammy hands on the steering wheel. We might want to be inside his head as thoughts go back to the last meeting. Carlos felt belittled and shrank from Jorge. Then we would want to show how Carlos looked, or acted.

How do we decide between show and tell when we’re in the middle of a scene? Actually a balance of the two might be important. Show means describing the action or body language of a character. Tell means using a word that informs us of the character. We could say Jorge was confused because we want to tell the reader in a short amount of time so we can focus on a more crucial item. But we could avoid that by showing his movement as he walks to one desk, picks up a paper, then without looking at it, places it down, only to walk to another desk and shake his head. The focus dictates whether we use show or tell — what’s more important in the development of the scene?

Dialogue can include the best example of a balance of show and tell. Lead off the dialogue with telling, and then show at the same time through body language and the dialogue. Carlos had a shocked look on his face. He dropped the stack of papers. “How could she leave him that way?”
Notice the way the blending of the two devices works together. We don’t know how the reader will actually understand the dropping of the papers. We reinforce that by indicating the word shocked. But we use the showing description of the papers to add to his comment about the situation.

When we dare to ask when to use the devices, we should think about how much we’re in the head of the character, whether the necessity calls for giving information quickly, or how we can blend the two in describing the action. We should ask ourselves what is the crucial activity in the scene. That will help us decide on the device.

Behind The Mask

The Summer Mega Event – Have We Had Too Many?

From The Infinity Gauntlet to Civil War to Secret Invasion, the summer comic mega event has practically become a yearly tradition. In the 1980’s and 90’s, the mega event was a special time that occurred once every couple of years. It was a chance to see your favorite characters interacting with others they normally wouldn’t see or fight on a regular basis and an opportunity to see them band together to deal with threats too large for just one hero or one team. Summer was also a chance to see your favorite comic book character doing something extraordinary in front of his or her comic book peers. But through the years, the excitement and novelty generated by these mega events has become diluted and I dare to ask if we comic book fans are getting a bit worn out by all these mega happenings.

If we’re looking at things from a sales perspective, the answer would be a resounding “no”. For comic book publishers, especially at Marvel and DC, the mega event means big sales and big money. The last four Marvel summer events, House of M, Civil War, World War Hulk and Secret Invasion finished in the number 1 position in terms of copies sold and total sales. They spawned numerous tie-ins and new comic book series.

From a character development and creative standpoint, the answer is a bit more complicated. Comic book readers and writers alike have found themselves having to shift gears and stop storylines abruptly because of publisher mandates to include their characters in the next big event.

When Secret Wars, the first big comic book company crossover, came out in 1985, I remember buying all twelve issues and thinking how amazing it was to see all those characters in one book. As a long-time fan of the Incredible Hulk, I remember reading issue 4 of the series. I floated in seventh heaven as the Hulk wound up saving his fellow heroes by bracing an entire mountain range that had been dropped on them by the Molecule Man. But Secret Wars, also served as a foreshadowing for what would happen with the Hulk in his own series, as the Banner-Hulk personality slowly eroded away. He had been the dominant personality when Secret Wars began. This would eventually lead to the emergence of the savage and then mindless Hulk in the Hulk’s own series (circa issues #293 to #300). This “mindless” Hulk would wind up fighting the likes of SHIELD, Power Man, Iron Fist, Thor and the Avengers and was ultimately banished by Dr. Strange to an inter-dimensional pocket universe called The Crossroads. During the Onslaught saga, Marvel’s summer mega event of 1995, Peter David, the writer of the Hulk at the time, was extremely annoyed that he had to stop his current storyline and make his stories connect with the current Onslaught crossover. Marvel mandated it. I remember sharing his annoyance as I was enjoying the current story arc in, The Incredible Hulk, and didn’t particularly care for the Onslaught tie-ins, which seemed a bit forced. I admit that my inner fan-boy came out once again when I read the finale to the Onslaught saga, Onslaught: Marvel Universe. I saw the Hulk after requesting the X-Men’s Jean Grey to shut down Bruce Banner’s influence in his brain, go toe-to-toe with the all-powerful Onslaught. The ensuing battle was so epic that it created a psychic tornado so powerful that the other heroes found it difficult to even approach the fight. The battle ended when the Hulk, after being pinned and goaded by Onslaught one too many times, unleashed a massive punch that destroyed Onslaught’s physical form, causing Onslaught to become a being of pure energy. The ensuing explosion also wound up splitting Banner and the Hulk into two separate entities.

While seeing the Hulk do something “incredible” once again was great, the moment became somewhat fleeting. Unfortunately, plotlines in the Incredible Hulk comic series from before the Onslaught event were dropped in favor of new, unwelcomed plotlines about the ramifications of Banner and the Hulk splitting apart. As a comic reader and a fan of the Hulk, I felt the switch in plotlines strained and uneven. The natural flow of the comic had been destroyed because the higher-ups at Marvel felt the need to make a radical shift in the plot and tone of the book. Apparently Peter David felt the same way since he wound up leaving the book shortly thereafter. I quickly followed suit too.

I eventually made my way back to comics and to the Hulk, but the Onslaught saga had me feeling greatly jaded (no pun intended). As I saw more of these mega events taking place, a part of me was happy that they were doing well from a sales and revenue standpoint for it showed that the comic industry was strong and an interest in the product existed. But at the same time, I hoped that my favorite characters like the Hulk would be left out of those big events unless it was fundamentally connected to what was going on in their respective title (or titles). I wasn’t so lucky when the Marvel summer event, House of M, took place with the Hulk getting dragged in. But I then got my wish and the Hulk was left out of the following year’s big crossover, Civil War. While Civil War was raging in the Marvel Universe, the Hulk had his own mini-event going on within his own title called Planet Hulk, which naturally segued into the next year’s mega event, called World War Hulk, which had the Hulk as the central focus.

In the end, the situation all comes down to dollars and how much the Marvel’s/DC’s of the world can generate. As long as mega events like World War Hulk and Secret Invasion continue to pull in big money, you’ll continue to see more of those events on a yearly or semi-annual basis along with more tie-in to mini-series’ or more spin-off titles from these events. That will happen regardless of quality, the threat of character saturation or whether the event has a logical or natural connection to the current storylines in each character’s or team’s book. The shift back to character-centric story-telling with less of these big crossover events will depend on the comic book consumer and how many dollars they spend as well as the number of books they decide to buy on a weekly or monthly basis.

Marvel seems to be getting the message. Summer of 2009 was the first summer in many years that they did not have a company wide crossover. They instead chose to focus on the ramifications of Secret Invasion, and the Dark RItaliceign of Norman Osborn and his cadre of former supervillains over the Marvel Universe.

In these tough economic times with the rising cost of an individual comic, comic buyers are being forced to buy only the titles that they feel they must have on a monthly basis. Ultimately, it's up to them to determine whether the mega event or the character/team book is more important.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Laughs Abound

New York City — Pigs Barred on Subways

In an effort to clean the mass tranportation system for school children, Mayor Bloomberg has decided to stop pigs from using subways. The aim is meant to decrease the need for swine flu shot storage in the schools.

“We all know how pigs like to use the subways,” he said. “This new policy will help us while also cut down on the costs of all those needles in closets.”

“We don’t want to be cruel,” said B. Acon, a spokesman for the mayor. “This way we’re simply stopping them from traveling on confined subway cars that could spread the flu.”

Acon did admit that the job would become more difficult for transit police to identify the actual pigs from some two-legged ones that plague women on the subway.

However, the 20 new pig-prevention turnstiles that need to be installed will provide extra shovel ready work for people without jobs. The newer turnstiles will be low enough to stop any unwanted pigs from access to the subways.

Acon did worry about increased passenger injuries as people might stumble over the lower turnstiles that could create hamstring problems.

The frequency of pigs is most often seen during winter months when groups use the subway to hunt for the roots of truff les in the tunnels. They groups were most often protected by various restaurant owners who desired the truffles, according to Will D. Boar, owner of the new eatery, the Four Hoofs.

Recent health studies of the subway have tracked the number of swine flu cases from the past year. However, the results show no connection between cases of the disease and the pigs who used the subway. Instead, the studies showed a significant correlation between high school students carrying paper and then becoming sick.

“We’ve changed our minds about the cause of the sickness,” said Hy Fever from the city’s public health bureau. “Now we think the flu is tree flu instead of swine flu.”

Plans to bar the pigs will still be in effect because the city’s planning commission has already purchased the lower turnstiles. “Besides, we can’t bar trees from the subway even though the paper comes from trees,” Fever said. “We are thinking of putting barriers around the trees in parks, though. That way people won’t get infected from the pollen which could contain the paper virus.”

Animal rights activists are angered by the extra burdens the new rules will place on the ability of pigs to get around town. “This isn’t a pig-friendly city as it is,” said Poohie Stye from the American Civil Pig Union. “As it is the new bike lanes aren’t set up to accommodate bikes for pigs.”

B. Acon did consider the increased government activity could seem like pork barrel legislation, but insisted that tree legislation was not about to happen.

Follow The Bouncing Brawl

Are Sports Organizations and Players Doing Their Part In These Tough Economic Times?

In these tough economic times, sports organizations are also feeling the pinch. Fan attendance and corporate sponsorships are down while ticket and concession prices continue to rise. But I dare to ask if these organizations are really doing enough to help themselves and the average fan.

In order to survive, we’ve seen numerous cases of companies both big and small not only cutting budgets, but also cutting employees’ salaries and jobs. Yet, sports organizations’ payrolls as well as player salaries continue to rise. If everyone else is feeling the pinch and making sacrifices, shouldn’t ballplayers too? Is that extra million or two in the grand scheme of things really going to make a difference?

In sports, if a player isn’t producing on the field, they are either benched or demoted. Because their contracts are guaranteed, there’s no fear that their base salaries will be affected. Of course, there may be performance-based incentives in their contracts that could affect them or the possibility of outside endorsements being lost, but generally they are assured that money, and lots of it, will be coming their way. For the average joe, who is making but a fraction of what even a mediocre player makes in any of the four major sports leagues, who works more hours year in and year out, failure to produce means the loss of their job. Ball players have always been held to a higher standard. Why?

Organizations need to stop giving in to agent/player demands and setting new salary precedents each year while then turning around and increasing ticket prices (in some cases close to 50% compared to the year before) to help pay for their new state-of-the-art stadiums. Why not pay a player based on incentive, or at least give them a smaller base salary with lots of incentives thrown in? Give them a reason to play rather than have them phone it in when their team is down by ten runs in the bottom of ninth.

The Response Meter

The Rise of Social Media

A few years ago, the term “social media” was just a buzzword for many business-to-business and consumer publishing/media companies. But with print advertising on the decline and more and more readers getting their news and information online, media companies have needed to adapt quickly to the changing times and current economic climate by having a presence on social media websites like Facebook, Linked In, YouTube and Twitter. Audience development professionals have had to adapt too.

Audience development professionals and marketers within these companies are being called upon to not only help set up an online presence on these various social media websites, but also to drive and track traffic and collect as much demographic information as they can. The primary focus right now for most publishing and media companies is not only for survival, but also for generating as much brand and product exposure as possible, which they hope will ultimately lead to more site traffic, more potential partnerships and ultimately, more sales.

The problem that many audience development professionals, CEO’s and publishers are having with these social media websites is how to take the site traffic and demographic information from these sites and use it effectively as a sales and advertising tool. The Interactive Advertising Bureau is currently in the process of creating a way to do just that with their “Social Advertising and Best Practices” document which contains definitions of crucial elements of social advertising, as well as policies on opt-in and opt-out practices. This I believe will eventually lead to the creation of the social media equivalent of a BPA/ABC statement which will give potential advertisers the ability to see a company’s traffic and demographic information in a quantifiable format. In fact, BPA is currently beta testing an interactive audit that hopes to include a company’s social media site traffic as well as information on a company’s other silos, whether they be magazines, enewsletters, trade shows and/or website.

In the meanwhile, audience developers will need to learn on the fly about social media optimization as well as obtain more online skills. Terms like RSS feeds, blogs, social bookmarking, tagging and photo sharing need to be added to their collective consciousness. They’ll also need to get familiar with web analytic tools like Google, Omniture, and WebTrends, etc.

It looks like social media is here to stay, whether we, as audience developers like it or not.