The Lipogram Challenge

My second year here in Winchester is now in full swing, and until Christmas, Thursday will be the busiest day of my week. Last Thursday, from 11am until 2pm, I was in the first seminar of my Telling True Stories module, the one Lara and I are both expecting to enjoy the most this semester. Eventually, it will require us to choose, research and write about any person or event we like – the idea must be big enough to theoretically fill an entire book. At such an early point in the term, though, we haven’t started thinking about that just yet, and a large part of that session was just devoted to what would be expected of us over the next twelve weeks.

When we did get around to writing, I definitely found the exercise to be an intriguing test of our abilities. Through an example shown to us by our lecturer, we were introduced to the lipogram – a piece of writing in which a particular letter, or group of letters, is avoided. As you might expect, we were soon asked to write our own, and we were given the choice of either creating something original, or adapting one of the lecturer’s two chosen news articles. You can see the story I chose to work on at The Guardian‘s website here. I found it tricky to decide on what I would exclude from my piece, so I turned to the person sitting next to me and asked them for their opinion. They opted for the letter ‘C’. Deciding that there were enough synonyms in the world for me to make that work, I got started, and what you can see below was the result. The nature of the lipogram meant that the original story ended up somewhat condensed, but rather than limiting me as a writer, I found that it opened my mind and really made me think about how I could get around the obstacle facing me. Surely that means that it’s worth trying again?

“Parisian onlookers were astounded on Saturday evening when a young man braved the outside of a building to save the life of a boy about to fall from an upper floor. He is being referred to as the “Paris Spider-Man” due to his selfless and remarkable show of strength, now widely available in video form. Following the heart-stopping event, 22 year-old Mali-born Mamoudou Gassama was personally thanked by Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, who said that it would be “very keen to support him in his efforts to settle” in his new homeland. He will also be honoured for his valiant deed by the President this week.

The boy was home alone at the time of the episode – his father was held for questioning and is due to appear before a jury, but his mother was outside of Paris.”

Mason

Prioritise

A few weeks ago, as I got closer and closer to returning to Winchester, I had a virtual post-it note in the top right-hand corner of my computer desktop. The to-do list on it was as follows:

  1. “Look at Freshers’ Week application form”.
  2. “Continue the script”.
  3. “Browse uni societies”.
  4. “Continue proofreading research (ongoing)”.
  5. “Look at reading lists and make purchases”.

In addition to those, I also made a mental note to print out my Arrival Pass to show when we drove back onto campus, and to completely clear out my university inbox. The latter was swiftly done – 276 emails were deleted to give me a nice clean account for the year ahead. The printer was problematic at first, and it transpired that this was because of a lack of black ink, but I got what I needed in the end. You might therefore assume that now I’m here, nicely settled and delighted to be back, everything is fine and dandy. You’d be right, but I can’t deny that the aforementioned list is still bugging me. Yes, the script I wrote about recently is now complete, and yes, the books I need for this semester have been ordered and are here (everything else, aside from the application form and the society browsing, is a work in progress). But when I look at the way I tackled these things, and how I put them all in order, it bothers me. Take the script, for instance. It’s important to me, because it’s a potentially valuable example of my writing, but did I really need to put it ahead of my proofreading research, or buying what I need for my course?

This academic year marks the point at which everything starts to count towards my final degree. If ever there was a more appropriate time for me to get my priorities straight, it must surely be now. I’ll still enjoy myself with my friends, but I also need to focus as much as I can – and although it’s still only Freshers’ Week as I write this, I’m already struggling slightly with that. As ever, there are four modules to get through this semester, each with plenty of preparation to consider before we even get to the assignments. What that means is that I’ve spent much of this week trying to think about everything at once, and only scrambling my head as a result. Of course, I know there will come a point where I’ll have to juggle more than one task, but right now it’s early enough in the year that I can afford to tackle each class one at a time, and clear my mind in the process. First up – Rewriting and Adapting at midday on Monday. Bring it on!

Mason

 

Bum Notes

Ahead of starting my new “Composing Song Lyrics” module next semester, I wanted to do something different here and review the next album I listened to for the first time. That way, I’d have something to go with my review of the film Whiplash, which I posted here at the end of June. It was my birthday on Sunday, and at my request, Louis gave me one of the albums that I needed to plug a conspicuous hole in my vinyl collection – I was missing the final three Oasis records, of which Dig Out Your Soul is the last. Released in 2008, this seventh studio effort was also the seventh consecutive album by the Manchester icons to go to number one in the UK, and their last hurrah before their abrupt split in August 2009. As we have now arrived at the tenth anniversary of the event, it seems apt for me to tackle their last offering now, even if this did come about entirely by coincidence. Louis tells me that he chose Dig Out Your Soul because out of all my missing Oasis albums, “it had the prettiest cover”.

Dad plugged my record player back in – after it had spent the last couple of months in the garage following my return from university – and I listened to the album from start to finish with my notebook to hand. I tried to write something about every song, even if it was just a few words or a single sentence. For the opening track, “Bag It Up”, I wrote “raw, repetitive, lumbering juggernaut of a riff begins the album. Liam’s vocals are crisp but full of attitude.” As I soon discovered, those words presented me with a considerable problem – namely that I could pretty much say the same for every song. I’m not saying that that’s necessarily a bad thing, but as I got further into the album, I struggled to muster anything more adventurous, to the point where it felt like I was scraping the bottom of the barrel out of desperation at times.

I can see the decline in the notes I made. Of “The Turning”, the album’s second song, I was able to say that its opening was “soft and more subdued, with gentle drums and keyboards.” From this point, though, I can tell that I was gradually running out of any kind of valuable insight. All I could offer on “Waiting For The Rapture” was that it was “stylistically similar to the opening track”, and a throwaway reference to the fact that Noel Gallagher apparently wrote it about meeting his wife. It got even worse by the time of “Ain’t Got Nothin'”, another song full of attitude that only received a response of “typical Liam!” from me. I did redeem myself to some extent with certain judgements. I managed to specify that “The Shock of the Lightning” was “a great, unashamedly rock and roll anthem that would have been great to hear live”, and “I’m Outta Time” was a song that seemed to “unknowingly foreshadow” the fate of Oasis itself. Overall, though, my attempt to thoroughly review Dig Out Your Soul fell flat on its face – there were several songs about which I could say nothing at all.

I don’t think that’s a reflection on the quality of the album at all. There are only a select few records I’ve ever heard that I’ve categorically disliked. It’s more a reflection on my own reviewing abilities, and the fact that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get the depth I was looking for. I didn’t feel confident enough to try using any musical terminology either, and the end result was a set of notes that couldn’t have looked less knowledgeable if they’d tried. They’ve given me a reason to go back to the drawing board, but I’m going to look at that as a positive thing. Maybe my upcoming module will give me the insight into the songwriting process that I need to confidently discuss how music is made. At the very least, it’ll allow me to think about adding another string to my writing bow, and including more reviews here. Mum has told me they’d be well worth doing more often, so maybe – for once – I should take her advice on board!

Mason

 

Fade To Black

Towards the end of July, I wrote about a script for a short film that I was gradually developing from a short story I’d written last year, Warm Leather. Knowing how badly I procrastinate, I was doubtful that I’d manage to get it finished anytime soon, but I’m now pleased to report that I’ve broken the habit of a lifetime – I have a complete draft! I typed the words “fade to black” on Tuesday last week, and quickly shared what I’d done with a small group of friends. They may have been slightly biased, but the feedback they gave was largely favourable, so for now I will stick with the draft I have – my next objective is to send it elsewhere and see if I can find some more informed advice.

After so many years of only managing to write snippets of script, it means rather a lot to me to have committed to this one through to the end, even though it’s only 14 pages long (quarter of an hour in length, rather than the half an hour I had anticipated). It’s given me a solid starting point to develop and grow the story where necessary, and if nothing else, it’s been good practice for the “Creating Short Screenplays” module I’m starting in Winchester next semester. I couldn’t be happier with my progress so far, and if I can find the right place to send it next, then who knows? Maybe this won’t be the last update I give you…

Mason

 

Warm Leather: The Movie

The last few weeks have seen a marked lack of inspiration where this blog has been concerned, so for creative fulfilment I’ve had no choice but to write something else. With more scriptwriting modules looming next year, a screenplay seemed an appropriate project, and Warm Leather the short story I wrote just before Christmas – seemed to be the perfect source material to use. Before it existed as prose, it had been a very rough short film, and now that the story has given me a better idea of where everything in it is going, I decided that it was time to redraft it in its original form.

In order for me to get at least one new draft finished, the script currently sticks as close as it possibly can to the story. I have removed certain lines of dialogue that feel awkward in hindsight, but otherwise I am simply imagining each scene as if there were a camera present. At this moment in time, I’m almost eight pages into a film that I wouldn’t expect to last more than half an hour if I was actually making it. That might not sound like a very long script, but as a general rule of thumb, one page equals approximately one minute of screen time – so the completed product should be around 30 pages long. Don’t forget that as I have an alarming tendency to procrastinate, eight pages is arguably quite an achievement!

As is the case with many other projects, I’m hoping that if I maintain some kind of routine, and write a little bit more of the script every day, I’ll have a draft done very quickly – something complete to show for my efforts if anyone asks to see it. Then I can re-examine it more closely, and make any initial improvements. That seems simple enough, doesn’t it? Surely I can stick to that plan…

Mason

Solid Proof

I may only be at the end of my first year of uni, but it’s never too early to start looking to the future. I’ve recently started thinking more and more about what my next move will be post-graduation, and it seems that one particular area may end up providing the answer. Obviously, my ultimate goal in life is to be a writer for a living, but that’ll have to be a target I work towards over time. If I’m to reach that stage, I’ll need to look for something that is relevant to both my ambition and the skills I have, and that also provides good experience. Having done some research, it transpires that proofreading may be just the thing.

It’s something that has often been suggested to me for a number of years now. As I’ve always been so focused on writing, I’ll admit that I haven’t always been warmly receptive to the idea, but since the start of my degree it’s become increasingly clear that it’s definitely something to consider. I’ve definitely been a stickler for good spelling, punctuation and grammar for as long as I can remember! My research into the matter began, as always, with some simple Google searches and emails. The former revealed that most professional proofreaders and copyeditors take industry-recognised qualifications before they begin work – and I quickly discovered that there are many on offer to novices like me. Those that seem to be especially well-regarded, however, come from the Publishing Training Centre and the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. Both were heartily endorsed by the people I emailed, including a lecturer from Winchester whose name had been passed to me by a friend.

These two institutions are therefore my next port of call, and I’m glad that all of my original options have been narrowed down to make this process easier. I need to look carefully through both websites to see what they can offer me in terms of distance learning, since that’ll probably be easier than attending a workshop (which is also more expensive). From what I’ve seen so far, they could both be excellent choices, so there’s much more digging to be done if I’m going to pick one over the other. The ball is now rolling, though – so you’ll have to watch this space.

Mason

Whiplash (2014)

From the very first scene of writer and director Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash, budding jazz drummer Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) is presented as a man under pressure. Before we see him, we hear the rolling of his drum kit, getting faster and faster as he pushes himself to the limit, determined to improve and impress. When he is subsequently introduced to his formidable tutor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), he stops playing to greet him, only for Fletcher to ask why. He begins again, only to be challenged once more. Eventually, when Fletcher asks to hear Neiman’s rudiments in double time, he obliges, but becomes so engrossed that he does not initially see Fletcher leave the room. It is clear from the outset, then, that Neiman is not destined for an easy ride, and it’s this exchange that begins a dramatic student-teacher relationship. I was immediately both hooked and emotionally invested.

I felt my chest tighten seeing just how much pressure Neiman was under to succeed, as much from himself than anyone else. I shared in the intimidation he and his fellow Studio Band musicians felt in Fletcher’s presence, particularly when he is unleashing the full force of his fury upon them; Chazelle told Simmons to be “a monster, a gargoyle, an animal” during filming. He is established as a firm perfectionist who won’t think twice about punishing the band for rushing or dragging even by a fraction. His abuse is both physical and verbal, and we learn that a past student of his, Sean Casey, was driven to suicide as a result of his aggression. Nobody’s position in the band is safe, and many of the musicians are deliberately pushed to their physical limits in order to prove themselves. There are multiple scenes of sweat, blistered fingers and blood on the drums as they strive to play harder and faster to perfect a piece, and the sheer pain involved induced many a wince in me; I had never realised just what such determination can drive people to do. The strain is mental as well as physical; Neiman breaks up with his girlfriend and crawls out of the wreckage of a car accident in order to join the band at a performance, even though he is covered in blood and severely injured. The latter incident demonstrates just how Neiman’s priorities have changed as he looks to achieve greatness, and it also pushes him over the edge, as Fletcher’s lack of compassion leads Neiman to physically attack him on stage and get him fired.

At this point, relieved that Neiman’s torment was over, I assumed that the film’s conclusion would be smoother for him. The emotional rollercoaster continues, however, when Neiman, having subsequently abandoned drumming, re-encounters Fletcher at a club. They chat in a manner that is almost friendly, but I was convinced this was too good to be true. Sure enough, when Fletcher offers Neiman a drumming spot at a local festival, he reveals he knows Neiman got him fired, getting his revenge by forcing him to play a piece he has not learnt. Fletcher’s status as a total villain is sealed, as it seems he has humiliated Neiman in front of an audience. Neiman hits back with a performance that eventually earns Fletcher’s respect, and in the closing moments of the film the two exchange smiles. It’s a satisfying ending to something that toyed with me from the start. It’s what Chazelle and his cast do so well; I felt fear, anger, determination and disappointment, all alongside our protagonist, and that is surely the mark of a truly great film.

Mason