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Jeffery Cotton "Jeffery Cotton" RSS Feed (Philadelphia)

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The Dramatic Writer's Companion: Tools to Develop Characters, Cause Scenes, and Build Stories (Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing)
The Dramatic Writer's Companion: Tools to Develop Characters, Cause Scenes, and Build Stories (Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing)
by Will Dunne
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.85
55 used & new from $6.95

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Also for fiction writers, August 4, 2010
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Will Dunne's The Dramatic Writer's Companion: Tools to Develop Characters, Cause Scenes, and Build Stories is one of several books I've read that target playwrights and screenwriters. In this case I think that's a shame, as the exercises in this book, especially for character development, are useful to anyone who creates fictional worlds.

Like Roy Peter Clark's Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, this book has you apply the exercises to your work in progress, rather than to synthetic prompts.

For that reason, this is my go-to book for those moments when nothing is working.

The Dramatic Writer's Companion stands out because of the way it is organized. Many chapters are only a few pages long, and discuss the development of your story or characters out of a particular need you have. For example, take the chapter "Finding the Character's Voice." As in every chapter, Dunne provides a description at the top to let you know what it's about:

FINDING THE CHARACTER'S VOICE
THE QUICK VERSION: Hone and contrast the unique voices of two characters
BEST TIME FOR THIS: Any time you need to know a character better

These "Best time for this" tags are invaluable. Here are some others:

During early story development or any time you add a new character
After you are well into the story
After you have a working sense of the main character
When a character seems like nothing more than an evildoer
During scene planning
etc...

In fact, these "best time for this" descriptions are so useful, I hope there will be an index of them in a future edition.

For my writer friends fond of using the Dramatica Theory of Story to build story structure and characterizations, I have found that Dramatica maps easily into these exercises, which provide intense focus on relationship.


Creating Character Emotions
Creating Character Emotions
by Ann Hood
Edition: Paperback
133 used & new from $0.01

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The argument is sound, the examples poor, June 16, 2010
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In Creating Character Emotions, author Ann Hood makes the argument we've all heard so many times before (not that it isn't worth repeating): show your characters emotions rather than telling about them. Each chapter is devoted to one emotion (36 in all). Many reviewers on Amazon complain that the chapters are quite brief and seem to lack any in-depth look at the issues.

My complaint: the Bad vs. Good examples she offers hardly distinguish themselves from one another, and often the very things Ms. Hood criticizes in the bad examples show up in the good examples. Take "sadness". As a bad example she offers this:

"Sadness filled Jessie. She looked at the empty house one last time, then slowly drove away."

Then, as a "good" example she offers this, from Max Apple's short story "Bridging":

"We both think about what might have been as we sit beside her glass coffee pot with out lists of sachet supplies. [...] If she was Barbara Streisand and I was Robert Redford and the music started playing [...] we might just fade into middle age together. When Kay looked at me before going to put alcohol on the mosquito bite, our mutual sadness dripped from us like the last drops of coffee through the grinds."

Frankly, such hokey similes make me yearn for "Sadness filled Jessie."

Another problem here is that there is no context provided for the bad examples. What if we know that Jessie is a psychopath and the "empty" house is actually filled with the freshly dead bodies of her own family? "Sadness filled Jessie" would pack a chilling punch in that case.

Kurt Vonnegut made this point in his essay "How to Write with Style", in the section "Keep it Simple":

"[James] Joyce, when he was frisky, could put together a sentence as intricate and as glittering as a necklace for Cleopatra, but my favorite sentence in his short story `Eveline' is this one: `She was tired.' At that point in the story, no other words could break the heart of a reader as those three words do."

So, "Sadness filled Jessie" is meaningless as an example of bad writing. I think the book suffers from these synthetic examples, and they should have been left out.

Still, Ms. Hood's book serves a purpose, if unintentionally. As writers -- indeed, as human beings -- we struggle to understand a character's emotions well enough to describe them. I think this is because emotion is not a single feeling, but many simultaneous ones, and, after all, there are no clear boundaries between them.

By providing this catalog of 36 emotions -- Anger, Anxiety, Despair, Longing, Passion, etc. -- she allows the writer to ask him- or herself questions such as "Is this character's longing colored by passion, or by despair?" "Is this character's worry colored by love, or by hate?" So, ironically, I have found that this breaking-out of emotions into separate chapters has allowed me to zoom in more closely on a character's feelings.

Which, after all, is the point of the book.


The Analysis and Cognition of Basic Melodic Structures: The Implication-Realization Model
The Analysis and Cognition of Basic Melodic Structures: The Implication-Realization Model
by Eugene Narmour
Edition: Hardcover
3 used & new from $898.94

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As a composer, this work influenced me tremendously, May 22, 2010
I was fortunate to be at the University of Pennsylvania from 1986-89, when Dr. Narmour was working on this book. He was extraordinarily generous with his graduate students, in that he included us in the process of working out the ideas in this book. Penn has always been an iconoclastic school where music theory is concerned -- rejecting Schenker's religious and racist views of how "superior" music is structured ("superior" meaning that it reflected the "trinity" and the ideals of Nazi culture) -- and this work takes that view to the opposite extreme, arguing that while cognitive understanding of what is happening in a piece of music is universal, the true understanding of a piece of music requires an understanding of both cultural and chronological placement.

While Schenker argued that any piece of music could be boiled down to the same background structure ("three blind mice", in essence), Narmour agues that the value in any piece of music is how it differs from others. This cultural and chronological neutrality of the theory -- that is, it argues no superiority of one culture or period over another -- is what makes this approach to analysis so attractive -- and is also the reason that Narmour has been so disparaged by the musical establishment at Yale, Columbia, and the like, who still teach Schenker as if it were gospel.

This is NOT easy stuff. But I believe that it will stand the test of time.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 25, 2014 9:05 AM PDT


Planet Of The Apes: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack - Also Featuring Music From Escape From The Planet Of The Apes
Planet Of The Apes: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack - Also Featuring Music From Escape From The Planet Of The Apes
Price: $16.64
35 used & new from $8.57

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Utterly original, April 1, 2010
Great story, OK movie, unbelieveably fabulous score.

I am a composer, and still remember how as a young man this score was a revelation to me. Jerry Goldsmith proved that you could write a score to a film that was entirely "correct", from beginning to end, and still have a "sound" that identified you. He became at that point, and remains to this day, my favorite film composer. While the largely atonal music to this film may sound today a little dated and "effecty" (it was 1968, after all) it was spot on right for the character of this movie.

The number of films he composed music for is itself breathtaking (look him up on Wikipedia), and he is probably known to most these days for his Star Trek scores, which frankly to my view were not his best -- he went in the direction of the neo-Romantics like John Williams, who redefined what science fiction scores had to sound like -- Strauss, Wagner, etc. (You can also usually identify a John Williams score, mostly because it sounds like all the big Romantic composers without actually being any of them.)

But the vast majority of the films Goldsmith scored were not science fiction or fantasy: A Patch of Blue (1965), The Boys from Brazil (1978), Basic Instinct (1992), and many others. But this is one of the best.


Planet of the Apes
Planet of the Apes
DVD ~ Charlton Heston
Price: $5.00
65 used & new from $1.00

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great story, OK movie, one of the best scores ever, April 1, 2010
This review is from: Planet of the Apes (DVD)
So, another opportunity for Charlton Heston to say "Oh my God!" I don't think the film necessarily deserves 5 stars, and given how many reviews of the film there already are here, I'll focus on the thing about this film that most got to me, which is the score.

I am a composer, and still remember how as a young man this score was a revelation to me. Jerry Goldsmith proved that you could write a score to a film that was entirely "correct", from beginning to end, and still have a "sound" that identified you. He became at that point, and remains to this day, my favorite film composer. While the largely atonal music to this film may sound today a little dated and "effecty" (it was 1968, after all) it was spot on right for the character of this movie.

The number of films he composed music for is itself breathtaking (look him up on Wikipedia), and he is probably known to most these days for his Star Trek scores, which frankly to my view were not his best -- he went in the direction of the neo-Romantics like John Williams, who redefined what science fiction scores had to sound like -- Strauss, Wagner, etc. (You can also usually identify a John Williams score, mostly because it sounds like all the big Romantic composers without actually being any of them.)

But the vast majority of the films he scored were not science fiction or fantasy: A Patch of Blue (1965), The Boys from Brazil (1978), Basic Instinct (1992), and many others.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 19, 2010 12:34 PM PDT


Mystic River
Mystic River
Offered by cdgiveaways
Price: $8.00
56 used & new from $0.01

3 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars You've GOT to be kidding!, March 31, 2010
This review is from: Mystic River (Audio CD)
I'm a professional musician, and I went to see this movie with a number of musician friends of mine. I remember that at the end, we actually sat through the entire credits just to see who this dreadful composer was. Guess who!

Talk about self-indulgent BS! Not only was the music completely inappropriate from beginning to end, but it all sounded like finger exercises for the piano that you did as a child. (Gee, what all those black keys for? I think I'll just leave them alone...)


Serif DrawPlus X3 Graphics Studio [OLD VERSION]
Serif DrawPlus X3 Graphics Studio [OLD VERSION]
11 used & new from $3.73

11 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars "Graphics" Studio... but don't expect to edit any graphics, March 30, 2010
Rather than continue to respond to the ridiculous comments this review keeps getting, I will simply edit it. My original review is below. I have been told in the comments that I didn't "understand" how this program works when I bought it. With that I agree. I expected to be able to edit graphics. Apparently I'm too stupid to understand that a program called a "graphics studio" will not allow me to do that.

Let me quote from the box the installation CD came in:

"A complete graphics package and a value for the money."

"The all-in-one studio for professional quality creative design."

So, from this, I was supposed to infer that editing existing gifs, jpgs, etc, was not going to be possible?

I suggest to anyone thinking of buying this "graphics studio", and seeing all the unhelpful votes I got, that you consider it was the employees of the company that makes this software who gave me those negative votes.

-----------------------

I agree with the previous reviewer about everything.

I bought the program because of some of the cool shape options it had, which I needed to create some new images for a website. Fine.

Since it's a graphics program, you might expect that you could, for example, open a GIF or JPG file with it for editing, right? -- grab part of the image so you could move it a few pixels, that kind of thing? Nope. I even went to the Serif DrawPlus users forum when I couldn't figure out what I was "doing wrong", and was told "No, you can't. It opens everything as a bitmap."

Truly, I could not believe what I was hearing. A graphics program that doesn't let you edit graphics.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 7, 2010 11:16 AM PDT


Keurig B70 Platinum Brewing System
Keurig B70 Platinum Brewing System
Offered by STL PRO, Inc.
Price: $136.99
37 used & new from $89.98

1.0 out of 5 stars The thing leaks water everywhere, March 14, 2010
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I had one of the lower-end models for quite a while, and loved it. I decided to get this fancier machine and donate the older one to a friend.

I am so disappointed in this machine. From day 1 it has leaked water all over the counter every time you use it. And the vibration as it is pulling in water to make a cup of coffee is so violent, that the coffee cup actually will "walk" off the machine unless I hold it in place.

A search on Google for "keurig leaking" shows that this is a common problem. I'm going to contact Keurig directly as they are apparently quite good about replacing the machine (although given how common the problem seems to be, I'm not sure that's going to end up being the solution).

In the end you just want a cup of coffee. So I'd recommend sticking with one of the simpler models that are tried-and-true.


The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller
The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller
by John Truby
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.75
100 used & new from $5.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly an amazing way to think about story, February 24, 2010
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I just wanted to add my voice to those who have rated this book so highly.

While it is very oriented toward screenwriting (all the examples and analyses are of screenplays), all of the ideas and exercises in this book apply as well to writing good, mainstream fiction.

I also use the Dramatica theory and software, and find that the two dovetail into each other beautifully. The Dramatica software (you can see my review of it here as well, look up the Dramatica Pro software) asks you endless questions regarding your characters, situations, relationships, etc. Doing the exercises in this book first has allowed me to answer those questions with rich, meaningful answers.


Dramatica: A New Theory of Story
Dramatica: A New Theory of Story
by Melanie Anne Phillips
Edition: Paperback
Price: $17.35
21 used & new from $13.49

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly excellent, with a huge learning curve, January 3, 2010
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I have both the book and the software. The terminology in this theory is sometimes difficult, because it redefines certain words we use commonly to serve its own purposes. For example, Dramatica refers to "dynamic pairs" of story elements. Some of them are easy enough to grasp: Order/Chaos, Help/Hinder, etc. But many of the dymanic pairs are more difficult to get, e.g. Possibility/Certainty (one might have expected Possibility/Impossibility) or Obligation/Rationalization (when you understand how the theory defines these terms it makes perfect sense, but at first blush it looks a little odd). But if you put the time into this, the payoff is enormous.

(Please also see my review here of Dramatica Pro 4, where I go into considerable detail about the "contextual" nature of this theory.)

I think the most useful part of the software is the HUGE number of questions it poses to you about your characters, situations, relationships. As I went through the questions regarding my main characters, I realized many times "Hm, I never thought about that..." So neither the theory nor the software are providing answers, just lots and lots of questions that you, as the author, are responsible for being able to answer. Even if those answers don't make it directly into your final draft, having those answers will definitely color your take on the way your characters interact with each other and their environment.

The software itself is an obsessive-compulsive's dream, I have to say, and especially your first time using it you may find yourself playing with it endlessly (like me). But the characters in my story have nonetheless blossomed into "real people" for me in a way I have never experienced before.

There is a free PDF version of the book available at the dramatica.com website, but it is an older edition. But if you want to get a sense of how the theory works before buying the book, that might be a good place to start.

The Dramatica website itself is a treasure chest of additional information and in depth discussions of certain parts of the theory. There is also an excellent users' forum for both the theory and the software, where you can post your questions. Chris Huntley (one of the authors) is usually very quick to respond and offers excellent input.

I strongly recommend that you don't try to use the software without reading the book first. It will make no sense to you otherwise.


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