Copyright in the Digital World Part II: Why Shift Focus?

July 3, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Posted in Copyright and IP, writing | Leave a comment

So, if it’s no longer about copying (or shouldn’t be) and it’s actually about use (or should be), then the question is: what do I mean by use*?

The way I see it, there are a lot of different ways that a work can be used:

  • “consumed” (read, listened to, etc.)
  • distributed
  • sold
  • adapted
  • sampled
  • etc.

With digitization, all these uses can be appropriated by anyone with a computer and the right programs installed.

By contrast, there are many benign reasons for copying a work and making multiple reproductions of it (e.g. so you have access to it from your various devices; printing off a fresh copy if you left your printout elsewhere and need to look at the work on the page etc.)–none of which are in any way cutting into the creator/rights holder’s ability to profit from their work, but which are illegal under a regime that emphasizes the right to copy.

Continue Reading Copyright in the Digital World Part II: Why Shift Focus?…

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Copyright in the Digital World Part I: The Challenge

July 1, 2011 at 1:58 pm | Posted in Copyright and IP, Technology, writing | 2 Comments

Here in Canada, there is a great deal of discussion about (c)–copyright–reform. But there’s a problem. Where before, the process of copying was limited by technology, these days, you can copy with the right click of a mouse. You can then disseminate the work to a vast number of people with a few more clicks.

From what I can tell, in order to get a functional legal regime in place, you have to strike the right balance between culture and law. Right now, the two are widely divergent. We have laws that say: don’t copy. It’s illegal. It’s not your right.

And we have a culture–and supporting technology–that makes it absurdly easy to copy and ridiculously difficult to catch infringers and enforce any restrictions on copying, without raising privacy and security issues (e.g. once there’s a gap created to monitor copying, others can also exploit said gaps).

So, why are we so big on protecting the right to copy? There are a lot of stakeholders in the current regime–people who have business models built around protecting the right to copy. And that right goes back a bit.

Continue Reading Copyright in the Digital World Part I: The Challenge…

Plugging Plot Holes and Creating Brilliant Characters

January 3, 2010 at 5:37 am | Posted in Challenges, writing | Leave a comment

I recently read Grisham’s The Firm, which was fine, though I didn’t love it. Still, one of the strong points for me, was that Mitch, the main protag, behaved intelligently. He didn’t make the kind of stupid mistakes that drive me crazy in some books. He wasn’t blind beyond the point of reasonableness to another character’s flaws, or to the obvious disaster lurking around the corner.

This, in turn, raised what has been an interesting question for me: namely, what’s a writer to do, when working with a protagonist, or even a secondary character, who is smarter than she is? Which is to say, I’m no genius–so how can I approach working with characters who are supposed to be much cleverer than I am?

For me the best answer is to plot out the character’s actions–sketch out appropriate next steps, figure out flaws in my planning, and then think my way out of those flaws. That goes for other plot holes as well. There’s little that annoys me more, as a reader, than feeling that a writer hasn’t done this. It feels like the writer has taken shortcuts or gotten lazy in not looking for obvious flaws in the narrative and addressing them. It makes for far more difficult writing, but the results are exponentially better, and far more satisfying.

For instance–and this isn’t a matter of a character’s intelligence, but rather just of a plot issue that’s really going to screw up my self-imposed deadline, but needs to be addressed. In my current WIP, I was hurtling towards the final showdown, when suddenly it came to a screeching halt. I kept staring at the screen and getting annoyed with myself. Why wasn’t I busting through? Why wasn’t I getting these final scenes written? The end was so close I could taste it.

It was actually a discussion with friends–a Facebook thread (thanks, James and Andrew!)–that brought the “aha” moment I’d been missing. One of my friends remarked upon the archetypal quest paradigm and the importance of the journey, not just the destination. I responded:

“It’s true, re the journey itself. That’s where the insights are learned and gained, and the hero’s transformation takes place. But the finale is the test of those insights–where we see whether they actually stuck or not. There’s always the concern that the destination, in that sense, be worthy of the journey taken.”

And there it was. I had it. I sat down and wrote down each of the main characters’ story arcs. And voila! All my characters, EXCEPT my two main characters had great story arcs. All my secondary characters had cool, believable changes and developments in their emotional arcs. But somehow, in the middle of all those comings and goings, I had lost track of depicting those changes for the TWO MAIN characters! Embarassing, but it would have been more so, if I hadn’t spotted it. I don’t know that this sort of flaw is that obvious–it would more likely be a subtle sense of dissatisfaction, upon finishing the book. A sense of emptiness, like something was missing. And the thing that was missing is that my main female protagonist did not change or develop or do much of anything other than walk around, during the entire narrative (an exaggeration, but that’s almost how it feels to me, thinking back on it. Without that emotional underpinning and transformation, it feels empty). And that’s why the ending wasn’t coming–because she had nothing to test in herself.

Nothing had changed, so she was just going through the motions, in survival mode–acting rather than developing. Which is fine in real life–that’s what we do often enough. But we turn to story for something more than that. The catharsis/epiphany is in seeing that the transformation has worked–that the hero, having journeyed, and learned, has internalized the changes enough to be able to pass the final test.

So, no showdown. I don’t think it’s worth writing at this point. I need to go back and rework the scenes between my main female and male protags. The male protag’s story arc is better–he does change, but it’s not strongly enough drawn as it is, so that also needs to be brought out more clearly. I suspect once I fix that, the finale will write itself. Wish me luck!

As as for the question of writing about characters who are more intelligent than I am. It’s a conundrum all right–but again, by working through the steps, methodically and critically, I figure I can at least enhance the character’s intelligence. After all, he or she must figure out those solutions in a high-stress situation, and often has to think on his or her feet and make snap decisions, where I will have spent time, and many sheets of paper, working it out, and trying to eliminate the issues. In that sense, it reminds me a little of the LSAT. They say that most people, given enough time, can get high marks on an LSAT–it’s getting high marks in each section, with tight time constraints, and under the stress of a high-stakes exam situation, that’s the tricky part.

Springtime awakening

May 6, 2009 at 3:39 pm | Posted in writing | Leave a comment
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Standing by the creek, you can hear the quiet splash of water flowing.

Standing by the creek, you can hear the quiet splash of water flowing.

The scene I’m working on is resisting me—not quite sure why yet, though I just scrapped the 1500 or so words I had written on it and started it afresh from a different POV. That feels better, but the resistance is still there. I think it might just be loss of momentum—I have to push through and get back into it. But for now, I’m taking a brief “blog break.”

These past couple of days, it’s like my senses have been awakened with the spring. Not that I’ve been senseless before this, but in retrospect, my appreciation of the winter was all about the crisp clarity of bare, filigreed branches and starkly exquisite detail, against a cool palette of whites, blues and sparkling ice. It felt refined, aesthetic and cerebral, though my appreciation was no less profound for all that.

Spring is different. The Ontario spring is brief, electric, colourful—like a jolt in the arm. And suddenly, I’m noticing smells, textures, colour.

Breezes cool but not arctic, whispering across the bare skin of my arms as I pull up the healthy crop of garlic mustard that has sprung up under two of our trees. The air is redolent with the smell of garlic from the plants. The cold of the moist earth in my fingers as I get at the root and tug, gently. There’s either an exquisite sense of release, as the root yields and emerges whole, or a quiet, disappointing “pop” as it breaks off partway. Whereupon I sigh and move onto the next one.

One of the trees has soft, silken needles, like the pelt of an animal, and climbing under it to get at the garlic mustard feels like an embrace, its soft branches parting gently to allow me in. The other is spiky and harsh, its needles a pale, frosted green, as if it carries with it a touch of ice, even in midsummer. If I forget my gardening pad, then I dare not kneel or sit under that one—the fallen needles, branches and cones are sharp and leave splinters, often as not. But once I find the hidden entrance, where the branches are thinner, and sneak under its canopy, it feels like a hidden fortress. A quiet sanctuary. The dappled light shines through onto the layers of discarded needles, the breeze tickles my bare arms and I can hear the sound of the nearby creek plashing over rocks and branches, such that I simply have to pause and honour the moment, if only briefly. With much of the garlic mustard routed, I can now smell the bracing cleanliness of the pine itself.

Later, I sit out on our crumbling, overgrown terrace in the back, listen to the birds, and watch a languid, furry bumblebee browse through the catalogue of our bushes and tulips. The green of the moss is almost neon in its sunlit vibrancy, and the early blossoms of blue-purple periwinkle, yellow daffodils, red tulips and white trilliums entice me into the little grove beside our house, where I feel the rough, varied textures of the tree bark under my fingertips as I reach out to trunks and branches for balance.

So it is that the world blossoms, and along with it, my senses.

The tumbledown terrace.

The little grove, with daffodils and trilliums.

911 Writers Block

April 29, 2009 at 2:41 pm | Posted in writing | Leave a comment
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911 Writers Block

This is kind of a fun little website. Don’t know if it would work for me, except possibly in the planning stages, but it’s basically a little telephone console, and the sidebar instructs you to “Punch a Key to Break the Block”. The writing prompts and ideas fall into a list of different categories:

Dial 1 for Settings

Dial 2 for Characters

Dial 3 for Dramatic Entrances

Dial 4 for Dialogue

Dial 5 to Commiserate

Dial 6 for Verbs

Dial 7 for Calisthenics

Dial 8 to Kill a Character

Dial 9 for Endings

Dial 0 for More Help

“Dramatic entrances” is intriguing. 😀 At any rate, if you’re really stuck, something like this could well be worth a try. If this whole planning ahead experience (which thus far has been really positive and fun for me!) works out, then I suspect I’d have recourse to something like this during the planning stages. By the time I actually started writing, I’d hopefully have ironed things out enough that this wouldn’t be necessary.

On the other hand, I ended up inserting a bit of a revelation in my scene a couple of days ago that came much earlier than I planned. I knew it was the right time for it, but it does mess things up rather nicely. I’ve got to shuffle around and rework the next couple of scenes to get things back on track. I suspect they’ll get there–I have a few ideas floating around for what and how to shuffle my stuff. But, such surprises aren’t altogether eliminated from writing, even with a ton of planning ahead of time. And I think they’re important. Sometimes the story shapes in a new way, and action gets switched around from the original plan–and it’s all to the good. Forcing it the other way in such cases often just results in stiffer, more stilted prose.

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