Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Compelling Entertainment: Diction (part one)

Continuing from the last two weeks, I spoke on the elements that make certain works compelling: Plot, Character, Diction, Music, Theme, and Spectacle. So far I addressed the questions I ask concerning Plot and Character. To many… To most… These seem to be the most important elements of a story. Yet, there’s more. Yes, the backbone of compelling entertainment is Plot and Character, and if a book or movie has a good plot and great characters, I can forgive other faults… But, the way a story is told is important too. How does one draw the picture that paints both amazing plots and interesting characters? Diction.

What is Diction? Quite simply, it is the language artists use to express themselves. There are gobs of ways to tell the same story. Not just through books and movies. Ultimately, all art strives to tell some sort of story. To give insights into some sort of personalities. Yet, even within books or movies, there are so many different languages of storytelling. Movies come in all forms, genres, and such: Action, shorts, horror, thrillers. When you break down even the genres, there are several different considerations, lighting, transitions, etc. Having all the same genres, books speak in various formats: short stories, narrative, journal, documentary. All carry their own language. 

At its base, whichever language a writer chooses to use, he or she generally bases the structure on a set of rules: grammar. Strictly following rules would leave you to believe that creating a compelling story is easy. Know the rules, know quality, right? Well, how often have you heard from your high school English teacher not to do such and such, then you go and read a critical masterpiece which breaks the very rules we’re all supposed to keep?

Or concerning movie choices, how does an actor choose to emote? Characters may be written perfectly, but if an actor does a poor job of expressing the character it can take an audience out of a movie. So, even acting folks have their own rules as to how an actor should handle various situations. But, so often following rules kills authenticity. Cloris Leachman once said something about acting that stuck with me. She said a lot of actors will ‘know’ the ‘right’ step, or the ‘right’ reaction to take for each circumstance. And, because if this knowledge they’ll think they are good, but in actuality they are cliché.

This brings me to the more important element of diction: Voice. Proper grammar is not the most important element of good diction (not to say it is unimportant). Yes, one needs to follow an agreed upon set of rules in order to be understood. And, the rules are objective, so one can feel superior if he or she can catch a ‘poor’ writer or actor breaking a rule. But, good diction lies in Voice. And, Voice is a subjective minefield. Voice attempts to describe that which seems beyond what words are capable. Personalities. Emotions. Colors. Voice is the fuel of the writer’s and actor’s rule: ‘show, don’t tell.’ Diction’s overall purpose is to reflect a character’s or event’s every shade of meaning, not just the denotations, but the connotations. With bad grammar, audiences can often figure out what a creator meant. With bad voice, they won’t feel what an artist is feeling. 

Above all, Diction should not draw attention to itself. That is the trap so many writers, actors, directors etc. fall into. In trying so hard to get noticed, they either overwrite or overact. Or they film odd artsy fartsy camera angles. In turn, their work comes of as pretentious, unauthentic, ridiculous or all of the above. So how does an artist get the attention for their work, without seeming as if they are trying to get attention? Isn’t that why they create? This is why I think Diction is so often one of the hardest elements to get right when creating any art, especially in books and movies. Does this mean we can’t marvel at brilliant diction? No. But Diction carries the height of brilliance when it most perfectly embodies the object of its message. 

Next post I’ll share the questions I ask concerning the quality of a work’s diction.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Compelling Entertainment: Character

Last post, I spoke on the elements that make certain works compelling. These elements are Plot, Character, Diction, Music, Theme, and Spectacle. The previous post I focused the questions I ask concerning plot. I love a good plot… Some, however, are character people. All they need is characters they can latch onto, and they don’t care where the ride takes them. What is Character? Ultimately, Character is more than simply individuals. It is the personality of people, animals, settings, and even objects. But, what elements make compelling characters? It’s subjective, but these are questions I like to ask. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Compelling Entertainment: Plot

When watching a movie, or reading a book, tastes often vary. How can anyone say something is objectively good… Or for that matter… Objectively bad. Many people will simply take in a movie, and say, “I liked it” (or didn’t), and will care little concerning why... Which is fine. I don’t think as consumers--who simply want to escape the humdrum of everyday life--we need to know why we like something. Yet, whether or not we think about the elements that make certain works compelling, they are still there. Good use of certain elements pull us in. Capture our attention. Inspire. Make us feel something. Wow us. What are these elements? Plot, Character, Diction, Music, Theme, and Spectacle. 

I have mentioned these elements in a former post, but now I’d like to break each one down over the next few weeks, pointing out the questions I ask as to whether or not a work hits the mark in any given area. Different people prefer one of these elements over the other. I, myself, am a plot guy. 

What is plot? Quite simply, it is the series of events that drive a story forward. Conflict, tension, rising action, climax, and resolution. That stuff. On paper we were taught these terms in high school English, but how does one create a compelling plot? Again, there is a lot of subjectivity, but I ask the following questions--whether consciously or unconsciously--as I delve into a plot. 

Friday, November 16, 2018

Quick Fix Essentials

It’s a given. Things fall apart. As, Red Green says, “If I ain’t broke, you’re not trying.” Sometimes we don’t have the time to repair things right. We need them to work right now. For Instance, a while back, my sump pump had issues. I couldn’t go out and buy one, because we were leaving to visit family for a couple of days. So, I jerry-rigged something. Redneck-repaired it. Or, whatever kind of name you might call the deed. But, not only do we at times not have time to fix something right, there are other instances we don’t have the money, and the repair just needs to be good enough, until we can fit the fixing into our budgets. With that being said, I figured I’d offer a list (top 8) of quick fix essentials, that are good to have around the house. 

8. Metal Coat Hanger. I know this one seems out there and crazy, but there are a lot of redneck uses for this common household item. Most have heard of using them when you locked your keys in your car (though with newer cars it has become quite difficult). Apart from that, the rigidness of a hanger holds it shape well. I’ve used it to hold various contraptions in place, like my lawnmower flap. Or, to hold a bag open. Plus, if you have a clogged drain, but no snake, you can bend a sharp hook into the end, slip the coat hanger down the drain, and pull up the obstruction. 

7. Lalths. I’ve devoted an entire post to the value of laths in the past, but they are also quite useful for quick fixes. Use them to nail plastic over a broken window. Secure them to broken wood structures for a quick split. And, they are great makeshift shims. 

6. Plastic Sheeting. Whether clear or dark, plastic sheeting has a gob of uses. If you’ve broken a window during a rainstorm, it is a great fix. Or, perhaps a car window won’t roll up because of an electrical short, in the dead middle of a record low winter (personal experience)--fix it with plastic sheeting. But, depending on the look you’re going for, you many not want to drive that way for long. 

5. Zip Ties. I’ve fiddled around with trying to find the right bolt and nut to fill certain hole, only to eventually give up and secure it with a zip tie. These things have many uses. I love the fact that when I need something secure tightly, I can crank on them until they reach the desired tautness (or break). 

4. Super Glue. Great for securing broken things, from ceramic to plastic. A good super glue makes all the difference. Our kids have the habit of breaking our blinds, and we got sick of buying new ones. (We’re just waiting for our color scheme to get in line before we buy curtains.) Eventually, we learned a good dose of super glue does the job well enough. 

3. WD40. Famous for being a rust remover. The numerous bolts this stuff has loosened growing up, particularly since I grew up with mostly ‘gently-used’ equipment. But, apart from being an anti-rust agent, this product has a gob of uses. If I’m out of paint thinner, I can use it to clean oil-based paints from my brushes. Other great uses: gum removal, fire starter, bug killer, stain removal, remove silver tarnish…

2. Wire. I know many would place WD40 and my number one item, as the two most important quick-fixers, but for me, wire has come in handy some many times. I mean, yeah, one can certainly use it for fences, but what’s the fun in that. It’s great for securing things. Or, you can stretch it across rafters for hanging. I’ve held a dropped muffler in place with it. Plus, I’ve even made my own charcoal-starter chimney out of chicken wire. It’s moldable, pliable, easy to tighten. It’s great. For emergency fixes, everyone should have a spool of wire on hand. 

1. (I’m sure this is no surprise).... Duct Tape. It secures. It sticks. It binds. It finds. It’s water proof. Windproof. Is there anything duct tape can’t do? I’ve quoted him before, and I’ll quote him again. Jamie Hyneman from the Mythbusters said duct tape, “is adequate for everything, but perfect for nothing.” He said that in an episode where they made a boat out of duct tape. That sump pump issue I’d talked about earlier? Yeah. I used duct tape for that. From clothing to airplane building (yes, on Mythbuster they built an airplane out of duct tape) a person can configure nearly any quick fix repair with this ingenious product.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

In fairness to postmodernism: part two

Last post I spoke on how Kierkegaard began this new wave of philosophy, which were the seeds of what became existentialism. Contemplating passions and the human will, he shifted from the objective to the subjective in order to determine human purpose. Now, he did not suggest that right and wrong were a matter of individual preference, but that purpose/morality is a matter of passionate and willful obedience to God, regardless of His commands, even if they do not fit an objective instruction found in scripture. Thus, according to Kierkegaard, passion and will are the primary identifiers of purpose, simply following God’s word is not enough.

While I agree that passion and will are crucial, in order to have healthy relationship with God, I do not agree that passion and will are the determining factors of purpose. Revelation is. Passion and will are gifts that spring from revelation. In addition, I do not believe that God will give us a command that contradicts revelation. (Although, being a bit simple minded and stubborn, I may not understand what revelation may actually say on any given topic.)

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

In fairness to postmoderism

A few times I have spoken less than flattering about postmodernism. Plus, I have also written about the importance of not beating down those one disagrees with. So yes, I have some great problems with postmodernist thought, yet, I understand why it is embraced.

What is postmodernism? You know, that is one of trickiest parts of postmodernity, defining it. Deconstructionism, relativism, anti-traditionalism, such phrases are thrown around, but none of them fully, or fairly, encompass what binds all postmodern adherents. I’d say the highfalutin term I’d throw around that best encompasses the tenets of postmodernism would be existentialism. (Yes. It’s more complicated than that, I mean, I can’t even figure it all out.) 

Ok. So what is existentialism? In the history of philosophy, existentialism represents a shift from modernism. Descartes, often considered the father of modern philosophy, used the idea of radical doubt in order to find some sort of objective foundation, upon which we could build truth. Quite simply, modernism is the pursuit of an objective truth, or an objective reality, even if people don’t agree on that objective truth. Ultimately, existentialism’s underlying principle is that we create our own purpose. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Revelation, reason and experience

I spoke last post about two foundations upon which determine truth, reason and experience. Such traditions stem from the rationalist and empiricists. Yet, most truths we believe as true do not come from either. This is not to say, we do not apply both reason and experience to every truth we come upon, just that it most often not the first step in discovering truth. So what is this truth foundation? 


Think about it this way, of all the facts, truths, and principles you stick to, how many of them first came to you by reason or experience? Sure, you could say, that those truths came through the reason and experiences of others (which I will get into later), but primarily most of what we know to be true has been revealed to us. 

Sunday, September 9, 2018

The foundation of truth...

We’re all trying to figure out a gob of gunk, as the world throws at us what it thinks we should think. But, how do we determine which voices to listen too? What is that foundation we rest upon where we declare, “This is my authority as to where I determine what I see as true?”

Being a philosophy/theology major (because I wanted to go through life having people ask me what I would do to make money), I learned of two camps of two authoritarian foundations: the rationalist and the empiricists. 

Rationalists start with the idea that within in ourselves, there are the tools necessary to discover truth. Simply stated, as a rationalist one would say, “It makes sense to me, so so-and-so is true.” Again, very simply stated. In our core, we hold many things as true, just because they make sense…to us at least. Descartes, the father of modern philosophy, was a rationalist. He began his philosophy with the idea of radical doubt. He asked,”What is one truth, where one can’t possibly get me to doubt it as true.” He considered all his perceptions, and asked, “What if a crazy demon is playing a trick on me?” Clearly, such philosophical questions have been played around within movies: The Matrix in particular. 

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Apple Smoked Pork Roast

If you were to go the rest of your life only able to eat meat from one animal, which would you pick? Although it would be incredibly difficult to give up steak (prime rib in particular), I would have to pick pork. Pork is the most versatile of all the meats. It has both red meat and white meat capabilities. As in, you can smoke sweet, or you can go mesquite. But wait, there’s more. Sausage, bacon, ham.... Some would say you could make these out of other meats. I’d say, “Wrong. Turkey bacon is not bacon.”

And then... Pulled pork, loin, spare ribs. Mmmm. I shouldn’t be writing this while I’m hungry. Oh well. So many options, so many things you can do with pork that you can’t do with other meats. If I could only eat one, I’d eventually get bored from any other options… 

Speaking of great things you can do with pork, the other day I was up to my old grilling tricks. I’d gotten a pork butt roast from the grocery store. And, I remembered that pork and apples go together like boys and rowdiness, so naturally, I soaked up some of my applewood chunks and grilled me a savory, juicy, amazing smoked pork roast. Want some? Just follow these easy steps.

First prepare you grill. Spread burning coals out over one side of the grill, the side opposite your vent, if you have a fixed vent. Next gather pre-soaked applewood chunks. I let them soak overnight, depending on the size of your chunks, you’ll want to soak them anywhere from 30 minutes to 8 hours. Lay the applewood over the coals right before you’re ready to place your roast on the grill. 

To spice a pork butt roast is simple enough. I used salt, pepper, and cinnamon and rubbed them all over the roast. Next, I cut small holes throughout the meat, and stuffed garlic cloves and basil leaves into them. I did about 5 holes. Use as much as you wish. The roast I bought happen to have a nice netting holding it together, which made the next step easy. I stuffed apple slices underneath the netting, covering the top of the roast. If you don’t have a netting, you could use toothpicks, or perhaps placing them in holes might work. 
Once you’ve done all that, you are ready to throw the pork on the grates, opposite the coals. As you take in the heavenly applewood aroma, position the lid on the grill with the vent sitting over the roast. Leave covered for at least one hour. Feel free to add quicker cooking foods after that time. The meat will take longer than one hour, but you want to keep the smoke in and not allow the fire to get too hot. 

Using an instant read thermometer, I wanted to check for an internal temperature of 145 degrees (because that’s what the National Pork Board recommends), but I left it in a smidge too long for that temp. It hit 165. I’ve read some places that say you should cook all meats to 165, but posh. 145 is likely the absolute lowest you’d want to go with pork. Anyway, mine was 165, and it was still excellent. So, take that information and do with it as you wish. Larger chunks of meat can handle higher temp better than, say, a chop. 

Once the roast hits the temperature you want, pull it out and let it rest for 10 minute. Once rested, slice it up against the grain, take out the garlic chunks (if you’re not tough enough to handle them), and enjoy.