Sunday, March 29, 2015

Mathematics: The Language of the Universe

"Mathematics is the language in which God has written the universe. - Galileo Galilei

Throughout childhood and adolescence, I often questioned why math was important or relevant. Questioning everything is admirable, but I often stopped before arriving at satisfactory answers. After a time, I began to see math as interesting but often irrelevant to daily life, as did many peers.

I did not realize then that mathematical and philosophical logic are deeply intertwined, that math can be both exhilarating and cathartic, or that the cognitive growth acquired by constantly solving more difficult problems than before can be applied to myriad fields, from medicine to business to theatre to national security. Even when one is not actively calculating numbers, the combination of rigorous logic and unrestrained creativity is a powerful cure to boredom and blockage.

Math is also, in a way, flawless: humans make mistakes, and computing systems may glitch from time to time, but pure, intangible numbers and patterns click perfectly--whether or not we are aware.

Students in a classroom may stare out at a lovely autumn afternoon and wish they were outside, away from pedagogical lectures, but math is everywhere. It is the blueprint for physics, after all.

One of my more mathematically-oriented friends suggested that STEM become STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics), as creativity is a crucial element in the sciences.

So instead of convincing children (particularly girls) that math is difficult tedium, adults need to alter our own mindsets to positively influence the new generation.

Math is beautiful. Math is natural.

Math is fun.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Thoughts on Ambitious First Projects

(Disclaimer: I am not an expert, and these are only my musings and predictions.)

Many budding writers - myself included - are often told to "start small," usually meaning to first sell short stories or poems before progressing to things like screenplays or novels. The latter is often recommended to be restricted to stand-alone novels or films, emphasizing also that said first novel or script should not be too long. (Mostly novels, as screenplays are required to stop at 128 pages.)

But I wonder if that is not always the case. David Farland once suggested to write what one wants to write, be it serial or singular, depending on the individual tales' needs. (Tom Doherty said something similar when he appeared on Writing Excuses.)

For instance, I have several stand-alones and quite a few series mapped out--some being trilogies, others consuming every number between four and seven volumes, and one whopping nine-volume cycle. (The "trilogy of trilogies," as I'm calling it for now, has a more or less definite story arc for each volume, but I won't spoil it here!)

Am I using sequel bait? I'd like to think not, although that isn't always a terrible thing, either. Many of these wrap up one story arc but either open another or are nested within a larger conflict.

My very good friend and mentor recently helped me form the skeleton of a middle-grade comedic fantasy novel (now forming sinews and muscles, in case you wondered). This project holds its own story, but I can see it becoming a trilogy or tetralogy; it's sequel-flexible, like Cornelia Funke's Inkheart or the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. It can stand on its own, but if I feel that an extension can comfortably be added, I won't hesitate. And no, I'm not in it for the money; gods know that I don't make any from writing nowadays.

The other issue is large books. Something like The Stand or War and Peace or Les Misérables or The Count of Monte Cristo. Much like series, starting out by publishing giant novels is said to be difficult. I'm still trying to figure out how to expand my own "novels" (which are way too fast-paced) to a proper scope, but I think the same principle applies of not compromising too much at the expense of one's work. Cuts are necessary, obviously, but one must hew close enough but not too close to separate content from fluff.

The great thing about large novels, in my opinion, is that they can inspire multiple films or even a television series, like many modern YA adaptations or Game of Thrones. One of my current stories is one long novel and three screenplays to capture the entire plot (yes, I adapt my own work).

Of course, this advice may not be fit for all; this is mainly how I view it for my own literary career.

PS. - I'm trying to blog more now. Humblest of apologies for my insanely long and unintentional hiatus.

Backward Plotting

One thing I've struggled to achieve when writing novels and screenplays is what Alexandra Sokoloff calls "plants and payoffs." These are defined as subtly "planting" a plot device early on in the story before using it later to serve some larger goal. J. K. Rowling and Steven Spielberg are both excellent at plants and payoffs.

But how does one contrive such things?

Since my uncle studied Dramatic Writing at NYU, I asked him. He suggested that I try plotting stories from the ending to the opening--in other words, plotting backward. It sounded like a great idea, and it was. I now have a full novel in the works thanks to my uncle's little hack. One thing I'll add is that I actually began with the climax, worked to the closing scene, reread my intended climax to refresh my memory, and worked all the way to the beginning. As of a few weeks back, I'm further than I've ever gotten in crafting a long-form story. I started to write it, but I still need to work on my characters and settings. (Perhaps I'll spill some character-development tricks in future posts, but that's a weak point for me at the moment.)

Historically, I have also struggled with length. I've written (finished) three would-be novels, none of which reached even ten thousand words. Perhaps I tend to rush, but I clearly have an issue with expansion. Character development, more scenes not filled with action, and more complicated plots and subplots will surely help, but the figurative pachyderm might be led out of the chamber if I plot backward and allow myself to "inject" more material between scenes or chapters.

This brought to light another idea: what if I were not only to plot backward, but to actually write the latter scenes early on and piece them together when I finish? This is indeed intriguing, but I have yet to try it out. If it does work, I doubt the pieces will fit together seamlessly at first, but I can always edit.