Thursday, October 17, 2013

Plot Diagram Video

At the risk of posting a vlog ;) I have a video of my plotting a story diagram. I hope this helps you all :)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Anatomy of the Antagonist

Today I'm questioning what you know of antagonists. 

I’ve got a surprise for you: antagonists aren’t vaudevillian characters forced into all-black outfits including matching mask and cape. They don’t have to have skinny, curly moustaches, wear pointy-toed shoes, or have a maniacal laugh.  They don’t have to have bomb-making kits or stroke white, poufy cats while monologuing about their devious plan. They don’t have to have a Chevy if you have a Ford, and they don’t need to smoke their tires at the green light. And I’ve got news for you: they almost never wear “Hello: My Name Is” nametags that say they’re the bad guy, or do other things to openly declare their role.

How do you know? Because an antagonist is almost always defined by the viewpoint narrator. If your viewpoint narrator changes, your antagonist changes.

What? I thought a bad guy was the bad guy. How can there be a story without a bad guy?

The definition of an antagonist is only that person that stops the protagonist from getting what he/she wants. If there are two high school girls after one guy, one of the girls is the narrator and the other girl is the antagonist. They might both do not-so-nice things to each other to get to the guy, but that doesn’t make either of them the “bad guy” per se. The antagonist is only the person that is stopping the narrator from getting what she wants.

Nonfiction writers: afraid of hurting someone’s feelings? Don’t be. The truth is that there has to be conflict in the story for it to be interesting. You have to make someone the antagonist –and you can do that without villainizing him or her. This is another good reason to write objectively: you don’t have to tell the reader how he/she should feel about your antagonist, just what the antagonist did and let the reader make up his/her own mind. Your writing should be for you, not to defame the antagonist, no matter what he or she has done. If you aren’t telling the story that needs to be told because you’re afraid of what that antagonist might say or do, you’re allowing him/her to be the antagonist again, aren’t you? Remember, the only definition of an antagonist is someone who blocks the protagonist from getting what he or she wants.

Which characters make the best antagonists? Okay, so you should always assume that your reader is as smart as if not smarter than you, right? If that is true, they don’t want to be told that a 2-dimentional vaudevillian in black is your bad guy. Give us a bad guy that is charming, that a little part of us still respects –even if we don’t want to respect him/her. Christoph Waltz has an eye for these kind of characters. In Inglorious Basterds, he plays a Nazi that is at both times charming and evil (he is, after all, a Nazi officer…). He plays the same type of character in Water for Elephants: he’s inviting and hospitable. After all, no one would get sucked into his web if he wasn’t, right? In Django Unchained, he isn’t an antagonist because he’s helping the protagonist get what he wants, but he still does things that you may not ethically agree with. Which brings me back to the example about the high school girls: both the protagonist and the antagonist need to have good and bad qualities. No character is all-good and no character is all-bad.

Can the antagonist be abstract? Yep. Sometimes antagonists are things like self-doubt, fear, complacency, or change. Think about Hamlet, for instance. While, yes, Uncle Claudius was the murderer and while Hamlet wants to bring justice to his uncle, the uncle never actually does anything to stop Hamlet. What stops Hamlet is his own fear of inadequacy and his own complacency. When he’s overcome that is when the story has its climax.

I hope this helps, dear writer. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

HiFi Kids

Parents, students, and teachers, this one is for you.

Okay, parents, Facebook makes you nervous, doesn’t it? Aside from the fact that almost everyone is on Facebook and that includes dangerous people that may try to contact your kids, Facebook can be a huge time-waster. The games on Facebook (like Candycrush, Words with Friends, etc) don’t work toward anything but more time-wasting. What if your kids could get the social elements of Facebook and work toward something educational?

Teachers: wouldn’t it be great if your job was made easier? (Yeah, I bet I got your attention.) What if there was something that you could assign as homework that was not only fun for the kids to do, but it helped them with the subjects they need to improve in? And if you don’t have a lesson plan one day, or if you want to take an easy day, do this:  log in, have your kids do an e-quiz, and use the projector screen in your classroom to show stats on the quiz.

Students, don’t you want social networking that’s just for you? You can talk about sports, your favorite subjects in school, and compete with your friends about how is the master of your favorites?

What if there was something to combine all of these elements? There is! It’s called HiFi Kids and you can find it at www.hifikids.com. Founded by Tushar Sayankar to fill a void in social networking, HifiKids is intended to incorporate all of the social elements of Facebook with the intention of being educational for kids. Teachers use Hifi Kids as a supplement to lesson plans, and parents love Hifi Kids because this type of social interaction strengthens education. It sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Well, let’s take a look at some of the features.

When you first sign up, it asks for some personal information, and if you’re a student, it asks for your teacher’s email address. That way, when you’re signed up, you’re already connected to your classmates. You set up a profile similar to a Facebook profile, but instead of focusing on where you live, what your phone number is, and who your family members are (all unsafe information to have online), you focus on what your favorite subjects are, and what passions you have. Instead of having a “News Feed” like on Facebook, you have a “Quizboard” where active users post quizzes about their favorite subjects. This is fun and educational.

On the right scrollbar, you can see something called Top Performers. These are people who quiz well with the interests you have. You can send them friend requests and you can also challenge them to a quiz. Hifi Kids ranks the Top Performers based on your interest and age group. Much of the page looks like Facebook –you can look at your followers, you can Chat, you can have Events and Birthdays- but it’s all geared around education.

Instead of “Liking” something like you would on Facebook, there’s a developing feature called Appreciations. In Appreciations, you can like someone’s post, but with different words like “You are awesome”, “You are superb”, or “You are fantastic.” This gives kids the opportunity to use other words than just “Like” and it allows you to encourage your peers. Appreciations are designed to encourage those that may not otherwise be encouraged. For example, teachers and stay-at-home moms can be told that they’re doing a great job.

But Hifi Kids isn’t just for students who safely want to meet other students, and this isn’t just a great social outlet for homeschooled kids. Hifi Kids can be a platform for great education. There are classes and tutoring opportunities offered online. Students can take quizzes to see where their skills are, and the teacher could, then, decide which online class the student needs to be in. Hifi Kids is a great supplement to public education. After all, public schools have to meet curriculum standards, state testing standards, and SAT standards. Have you noticed that your child is still lacking in some subject areas? When it comes to the SAT, your child can’t afford to be lacking because it could mean the difference in getting a scholarship or not, or going to a good college or not. Hifi Kids offers several classes in all subject areas, but there is one specifically designed for the SATs, at only $65 per year as opposed to some community colleges, which charge up to $150 per semester. There is no age limit to sign up, so your child who is a freshman in high school could start learning the SAT syllabus now at a steady, comfortable pace. Hifi Kids offers what no social networking site has offered before.

If it sounds too good to be true, check out the website at www.hifikids.com or contact them at support@hifikids.com. On the website, you can navigate classes, quizzes, profiles, and other things like blogs, photo quizzes, and video quizzes. Not all kids learn in the same way, and if your kid learns better in a comfortable, social environment with different sets of technological media, you’ve found the best option for your child’s education. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Real Life Plot Twist

Warning: Don’t Believe Anything I Say…
…on reviews, that is.

Did you know that reviews are hired out? I had an idea this summer when a client hired me to write a review of an iPad cover with a stand. Um, I don’t even have an iPad, so how would I know about the cover? The old-school business person in me emailed him and asked if I could test out an iPad in this cover, even if it meant mailing it back when I was done. False. You are the weakest link, goodbye. Thanks but no thanks. His reply akin to these is paraphrased: lie. Here’s another paraphrase: I hired a creative writer, not a journalist. Yikes. So if you’re on Amazon looking at iPad covers and you see my name, don’t believe what I’ve said.

This week I’ve found the same thing to be true. For a new employer, I’ve had to write two reviews so far. One was for a Google review for a photography shop in New York I apparently love, and today I wrote one for TripAdivsor admonishing the best Italian day trip that I’ve ever not done.

All of this to say, if you’re the type of person who wants to read a review before buying or travelling, think twice about what you’re reading. It could be full of crap. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Dear Rejection Letter

Dear Rejection Letter,

Yeah, you suck, too. Now that's been said, let's see where we both stand.

Lorian Hemingway said she was impressed with my accomplishments and that I was still a winner even though it admittedly sounded cliche. The Lunch Ticket said that they know that rejection letters are part of the process and hope that I find a home for my piece. The River Styx said they received so many good poems that they didn't know what to do with them all. Form letter? Maybe. Nice things to say because they rejected my work? So what.

I might have logged into my Submittable account and seen a running list of my poems and stories that have been rejected, but that doesn't mean I'm going to stop there, but you, rejection letter, have no where to go from here. So you might feel powerful right now, words of discouragement or empty inspiration, but that power will fade and I will prevail.

Sincerely and With Tenacity,
Kristen Kauffman
Will not take no for an answer

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Nerd Girl Problems

This only happens to nerds: flirting over typewriter ribbon.

Hello, my name is Kristen, and I have an addiction to typewriters.

Hello, Kristen.

It all started with my great grandmother's Underwood, a heavy desk typewriter, a beast of dust and metal. When I found out that it was unloved in a dank, under-the-house storage space, I rescued it from sticky webs and wiped a layer of dust from the keys -a place that dust should never collect. "Wait -I can have this?" I asked my grandparents. "Are you sure?"

My grandmother chuckled. "Of course you can have it. I didn't even think we had it anymore, and no one else would want it." Oh, how I love it. The click of the keys, the movement of the carriage, the way it makes the desk shudder...

From there I started collecting. Craigslist, antique stores, it didn't matter. If it was in workable condition, it came home with me and received a loving spongebath (unlike any recently comparable care). So when I bought my latest mid-century Smith-Corona from the Goodwill at a steal for $7.99, it was time to get more typewriter ribbons.

"Do you have any typewriter ribbon?"

The guy in the blue shirt had visible whiplash. "Typewriter ribbon? Whaddaya need that for?"

"For a -um- typewriter."

"Oh. Aaa-aisle one." He paused, then grinned. "You really have a typewriter?"

"Yep." I turned went went to aisle one.

Of course the only typewriter ribbons available were for electric typewriters, and came in the form of plastic cartridges that looked like a gray handle on a Tron suitcase.

As I came back to the front of the store, he popped up from behind the customer service desk. "Did you find it?" The nervous energy abounded.

"Yes and no."


"Not the right kind of typewriter ribbon. I don't have an electric."

"Wait- you have an oooold typewriter?"

"Yep. Thanks. Bye."

As if one awkward interchange wasn't enough, then came the next store fifteen minutes later.

"Do you have typewriter ribbon?"

"Typewriter ribbon?" Two guys in red shirts put their hands on their hips and cocked their heads at me as if I'd said something about puppy get the ball or something about taking a jetpack to the moon to become a florist.

"Yeah," I replied. "It goes in typewriters."

"Oh, ah, let us get someone who loves typewriters for ya. He'll love this. He thinks he's the only person left with a typewriter." The tall one in the red shirt walked around the edge of the counter and to register 3.  "We've got a girl with a typewriter here."

A brown mop of hair peeked over the plexiglass display of gift cards. "A girl with a typewriter?" He grinned.

"I'm just looking for ribbon."Yes, just ribbon. Not witty conversation. Not a moment in a spotlight. Not a date. Just ribbon.

"What do you have?"

"I have an Underwood, two mid-century Smith-Coronas, and a 1921 Corona 3."

His nerdy laugh sounded like he was starting a car. "Right this way." He pointed to a collection of Tron-handled ribbons varied only by two plastic spools: large and small.

"That'll work," I said, and I collected two of each.

"Do you have a Staples card?" he asked when we returned to the register.

"Nope. I should get one because I buy a lot of supplies for my classroom here, but whatever."

"What do you teach?"

"College and high school."

He flipped out an educator application with a flourish. Did I detect a little soap opera twinkle in his eye? "What's your name?" he asked, his voice seeming to drop a few tones.

"Uh, Kristen Kauffman."

He ducked his head to write it down and then he craned it up again with another Old Spice commercial-worthy expression. "What's your phone number, Kristen?"

Now, normally it would be thrilling for a cute typewriter nerd to ask this question, but it was right about this time when obstacles stopped blocking my view of his right hand -namely the third finger.

Really? You're married? What kind of typewriter nerd are you that you're going to flirt unsuitably with the rest of us? As a typewriter nerd, I am shocked to have you in our ranks. You are the weakest link -goodbye.

*Wow, that was so 2000 of me to mention that.
**Who am I kidding? Nothing in this post is contemporarily relevant...

Meanwhile back at the ranch, the typewriter guy in Mesa called and my sweet little Corona 3 is ready to be picked up. So excited.