Saturday, June 4, 2011

Folktales and Tradition

We don't grow up much on traditional tales anymore.

The old standbys, Goldilocks, Snow-White, Sleeping Beauty, we know them better from cartoons than from the actual, original stories. A lot is lost in the translation from Traditional Storytelling to modern rendition. The folklorist in me, who favors the old tales and ancient epics, laments the loss.

The folklorist in me also looks at the "new versions" and realizes that a new Tradition is being created for a new era, where reading, and especially reading for leisure, is taken for granted; where one doesn't need to travel miles and miles to see a show, but can call it up on one's TV at the press of a button.

It is bad or good? Better or worse? A folklorist doesn't pass judgment. It's for politicians and social activists. A folklorist observes: this is how it is. A folklorist may comment on the changes and the rise of new traditions, but a folklorist doesn't pass judgment.

How about the person who is also a folklorist? That person cannot be fully objective. Writers know that the emotional response will determine the choice of words, of rhythm, of other writing strategies that are mostly unconscious, even in non-fiction and in the spoken word.

Me, I prefer traditional tales. I teach about them, I share them whenever I can. It's my thing. However, I don't see the modernized versions as the product of evil manipulation. Like the old tales, the modern, televised, comic-ized, cartoonized tales based on old stories, are a Tradition in that is it shared by a group of people, and the sharing creates a bond of familiarity. It's not the village square anymore, where the Minstrel stops to sing about Saint George and the dragon.

It's TV, and then Social Media, and the function of the tale remains: to define a group, a community, those who are in the know and those who are not.

Consider this: an immigrant into the United States today will not feel truly at home in the larger American society until he becomes familiar with icons of pop culture. Not a fan, just familiar.

Everybody knows Bugs Bunny. And Disney. And if you're completely unaware of these two (as an example), then you will miss out on a lot of hints, references, and especially humor.

And that is Tradition: things that define a group and unifies it.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

It's not all fun and games in computer art

If you keep making corrections on a paper-and-pen drawing, you can end up with an eraser-rubbed hole. Or a mess of a dark smudge. Either way, you crumple up your paper and start over, because obviously, you weren't getting anywhere.

You'd think you'd be immune to this with computer art. Piece by piece, you can create the components of an image, like a collage (whichever way to go about creating these pieces, and that's not the point of today's post). And then you can put together the disparate elements, move here, tweak there, adjust elsewhere... Correct the angle of the light, and the reflection, and...

You'd think it gets easy once you have everything in place and all you have to do is a final render, and then take a look at the finished image in a "normal" format such as JPG or PNG or some other ordinary image format.

And you'd be wrong. You may not know it, but your computer is plotting against you. It's already damaged your "paper" and worn down your "pencil" so when you hit , what you get is a jumbled mess.

Can you control this? Oh yes. It's a skill, just like using a pencil that's sharpened enough, but not too much. Applying pressure, but without marking the paper until the next three sheets in the pad become unusable.

And the conclusion? Not much. My image got scrapped.

So I'm back to the cartoony illustrations of Russian tales. One in the pipeline and almost ready for publication, and a few more to go to make a dozen.

Take a sneak peak at the Tale of the Turnip.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Show&Tell Workshop Starts Friday

I've been having lots of fun doing workshops for Savvy Authors. Friday, I'm starting my next one, on Showing and Telling. As always, I try to make it both lecture-full and hands-on, so that every attendant can get something out of it.

And yes, when I say hands-on, I do mean I respond to all posts, and I do go over the assignments, and if you join in and wish to challenge me, I'm always game. I don't grade, I don't judge, and I don't assess. I do, however, suggest what I think could help you given my experience as writer, teacher, and literary scholar.

But mostly, I have FUN. I love workshops. I started them because I missed the in-class time I had with my college students. But at the same time, online and out of the formal university structure, I have the freedom to teach and share whatever I want -- you're the judges of whether it's good or not.

So if you're like me, and you've been puzzled by the advice to "show, don't tell," check out my workshop.

Because why do you think it started out to begin with?

I needed to put the information into order, and what better way than to attempt to explain it to someone else. If you can make sense of it (whatever it is) so that a third person can grasp the essence of the problem, then you know you understand it yourself.

Teaching is the best of learning. And I've taught this workshop more than once. But you know what? Teaching it is like taking a refresher. Knowing and understanding the ins and outs of Showing, Not Telling is not enough. You have to practice it constantly and consistently to truly master it.

... Now I have to remember ALL the OTHER details of writing a story. Like sentence structure. And avoiding pot... I mean, plot holes...