Adding Humor When You’re Not Funny

Like most of my peers, I went into this project with a little too much confidence. The New Yorker, I thought. It’ll be easy, I thought.

Real Housewives

Wrong. Soooooooo wrong.

Not only do the staff writers for The New Yorker have an insane personal dictionary, they’re also funny. Prior to beginning this project, I wasn’t anticipating having to include humor in my repurposing project. This aspect of the new genre in a new style is both enjoyable and extremely challenging for me. In my opinion, adding comedy (in my case, attempting to add comedy) to a written piece heightens the vulnerability of the writer. Since humor varies from individual to individual, it is increasingly difficult for a writer to ensure that their joke is understood–even more so that it is understood in the way it was intended. What I have noticed as I wrote my draft is that I might think a certain phrase is funny because I tend to have a more sarcastic tone. However, sarcasm is tough to detect in the written form because it requires a certain understanding of context and an awareness of the reader’s background or experience.

The articles themselves are more like short essays. These essays have forced me to adjust my sentence style to a more compound-complex structure. From the articles I have looked as a model, personal experience as well as whimsy are critical to crafting a memorable argument. Each author, while having a unique voice, allows readers to daydream and draw out themes that challenge and excite them.

Each piece also exudes an air of coolness that has been difficult for me to emulate. The diction and sentence structure of each piece appears so effortlessly composed, as if they sat in a coffee shop and cranked out the piece in 30 minutes with minimal error. While I know this probably is not the case, and I definitely won’t be doing that for my final draft, it makes me think about how important it is for a piece to be appear sophisticated and put together even if it was created without a strict plan put in place. A way in which I hope to improve my piece will be through refining my sentence structures and adding words that both reveal my love of language and surprise my readers. However, I do not want my piece to appear as if I spent an hour looking through my thesaurus, picking out difficult sounding words, and then sprinkling them into my project. Each word, like the words used in The New Yorker, must serve an explicit purpose. A balance will need to be struck between making my article chic but not to the point where my reader cannot understand my argument.

Clueless

My goals moving forward will be to get my entire argument and all of my ideas on the page before going in and adding new words. I want to make sure that my argument is solid before I go in and make finishing touches because I think, at the end of the day, a piece is only as successful as the argument it makes. The revision process won’t be easy, but I’m looking forward to seeing how far I can push myself.

Technology in High Fantasy

I wrote an essay in my final year of high school about the role of technology in the genre high fantasy. In it, I explored how different authors dealt with the issue of a stagnant tech system in a world with a vast history. Some authors combined tech with magic, others did in fact come up with ways to use advanced tech within their stories, others explained lack of tech outright or decided to stick with the traditional medieval tech system found in the genre.

Writer Matthew Wuertz suggests that each sub-genre of fantasy, though important for defining the overall genre as a whole, can sometimes take away from the amount of stories for any one sub-genre. I bring this up, because Wuertz may be one of the people who find my short story experiment a bit controversial. Within his blog post on the topic, he defines high fantasy as traditional “storybook” literature. Though he recognizes the intriguing quality of other fantasy sub-genres, he encourages writers to stick with the traditional high fantasy sub-genre and to build a “steady flow of excellent writing”. Though, as a fan of the genre, I will agree with Wuertz that there is never too much high fantasy, I think I disagree with his greater point.

I think that everything needs a certain amount of experimentation to stay relevant in our modern attention-drifting world. Brandon Sanderson, the author of a few books I used in my original essay, is for the most part in agreement. Sanderson thinks the genre should become a bit more experimental, at least for the case of helping individual writers stand out, if not for the betterment of high fantasy as a whole.

Mistborn fan art by watermother2004
Mistborn fan art by watermother2004 on deviantArt.

The Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson is part of the way he’s accomplishing this. In my original essay, his work spanned over several of my exploratory categories. Mistborn was used as an example of an author explaining lack of technology within the story. Sanderson has a sequel series in the works, with his bridge book being Alloy of Law. This book is an interesting add to the genre. You would think that all books in a series we be the same genre for the sake of continuity, but Alloy of Law (though containing the same magic system as the Mistborn trilogy) is more akin to an American Western.

Sanderson is essentially stretching an exploration of how far he can stretch his genre over an entire series of novels–I hope to do a semblance of this over a series of pages. I think the length of a sing short story, as well as the limited amount of time I have to write it in, will pose serious constraints to what I am actually able to achieve while still trying to have a certain level of nuance in my writing. To be honest, I’m worried it may devolve into a bit of a caricature piece, which though potentially amusing is not where I want to go with this.

Both of the blogs I’ve sited have similar audiences (fans of the writers), but they arise from completely different exigencies. Wuertz wants people to stick to original conceptions of what high fantasy is so as to preserve it as a solid sub-genre. Sanderson is more discussing his own experience as an author and what he hopes to achieve from it by creating his own sort of sub-genre branching off from high fantasy. Both bring up valid points, and I really hope there is a way I can experiment via my short story and still have it considered as part of high fantasy. I don’t want to do anything so extreme as create my own genre just yet, but I do want to help high fantasy stay relevant as a sub-genre in an increasingly tech obsessed culture.

 

words and moving words

The more I’ve gotten into reading for pleasure online, the better I have realized my ideal type of work I prefer to interact with. I’ve always been a huge fan of long, informative articles on topics I admire such as Detroit sports, college culture and anything Michigan. If a writer attracts my attention in a topic of interest for the first 30 seconds it takes me to read their piece, I’m hooked.

With my discovery of booming centers of creativity like BuzzFeed, The Rsvlts, and The Daily Pregame (formerly known as College Town Life), I have become an avid reader of not only blocks of text pieces, but ones that incorporate impressive infographics, list and memes. I browse these sites for laughter, inspiration and occasionally to learn about something that I was uninformed of before. I look forward to updates and love going through the archives to stumble across articles I might have already read but wouldn’t mind reading again. It’s sites like these, with much user-generated content, that get me excited about writing and what you can do with it beyond the bounds of the English language.

As much as I enjoy these websites, I find myself being turned off from BuzzFeed video or the same material presented in video form. I was trying to figure out why I can go through Jimmy Tatro’s entire video library and not be bored, but resist watching a segment like two-minute 10 Scrumptious Facts About Your Favorite Cereal Brands or one of the other playful videos found on their site. I think this is because I can’t easily scroll through a video and get a sense if I want to “read” it fully or not, or even skim it. Short videos are meant to be watched all the way through, and with my busy schedule I’d rather spend 30 seconds skimming a BuzzFeed article than taking a full two minutes on a BuzzFeed video.

This article over video preference is somewhat topic specific though. If a video headline really caught my eye I wouldn’t hesitate to watch that. But with the wide range of videos on the net, I’d rather spend my time watching Ted Talks or ESPN’s 30 for 30 series or movies I’ve been dying to see but haven’t got around to or Netflix. Producers of culture and content are vying for our time, our screen time and intellectual time.

Even we are engaging in trying to get each other’s attention through flashy titles and strong writing that will get a reader through to the very end of our pieces. It’s a tricky thing, both muddling through a sea of content and producing content ourselves to be muddled through and plucked out as worthy of attention. Sometimes I feel as if even trying is a winless battle in a place where the top dogs leave little room for other mutts to emerge.

As we become more digitally saturated, I hope that I’ll eventually like to watch videos more often but until that time, I’ll take my learning traditionally, through text. Even though it’s old-fashioned, it feels more comfortable to me.

 

Genre Challenge: Gamefied Points


A How-To-Guide for Writing Music Criticism:

Music criticism, according to the Oxford Companion to Music (a music reference book produced by the Oxford University Press) is defined as: “the intellectual activity of formulating judgments on the value and degree of excellence of individual works of music, or whole groups or genres.” Because interest in music has become so popular in the advancing technological world we live in today, music criticism has come to acquire the basic meanings of journalistic reporting, particularly on musical performances.

Winton Dean, an English musicologist of the 20th century, noted that music is especially difficult to criticize in relation to other art forms. Music is written in a language unique to its own kind. In other words, the musical note C, for instance, has no explicit relations to love, journey, peace, or other abstract notions or ideas that music works to portray. Additionally, music can be recreated and reinterpreted, making it a dynamic art form, rather than one that is static.

If you’ve never critiqued a piece or pieces of music before in your life, do not despair. I have broken it down for you:

First, consider these questions when critiquing music:

  1. What was your overall reaction to the performance?
  2. What was the strongest element of the performance?
  3. What was the weakest element of the performance?
  4. Was the event well-organized? Was there any element of the performance that detracted from your concentration or enhanced it?
  5. If the performance is vocal, how did the text correspond with the music? Did the music communicate the text effectively?
  6. If the performance was purely instrumental, what visual images and/or emotions might have been conveyed by the music? Did the music communicate effectively?
  7. If there was a conductor, did you feel the conductor communicated his or her interpretation of the music to the players and the audience?

Now, let me break it down for you even further, with eight easy steps to keep in mind as you are answering these questions:

1.     Decide what sort of music you’ll offer critiques on.

First, set parameters for yourself. What genres of music will you critique (Rock & Roll, Jazz, Folk, Metal, Hip-Hop, Pop)? All genres are open to criticism! While some online bloggers have “listening blogs” through which they listen to and critique a multiplicity of genres at once, others prefer to critique one specific genre at a time.

2.     Form an opinion before saying it out loud.

As you listen to a song or other piece of musical art, avoid expressing your opinion about it while you listen. You should refrain from doing so because your opinion on the piece may change multiple times before it ends. Wait until you have listened attentively before saying or writing/blogging about how you feel.

3.     Refrain from presenting yourself as an expert on musical techniques.

For those of you who aren’t musicians, you might find it hard to avoid pretending you are. If you want to refer to a professional musician’s skill or talent, make sure you do so in an opinionated manner. Rather than saying, “He’s not that good of a piano player,” you may want to say, “Personally, I like how Pianist 1 plays piano over Pianist 2.” This allows others to contest your opinions, and allows for further discussion.

4.     Use your knowledge of similar music.

Draw connections between musical groups, songs, musical genres, instrument sounds, etc. when you notice they exist. This will help validate your opinion in the eyes of others who might not be familiar with the particular music piece you are critiquing, but instead are familiar with alternative, similar pieces. Drawing these similarities will also boost your credibility in the music world, and prove you are generally knowledgeable about a particular genre/style/instrument/group.

5.     Do your homework.

Read other music reviews in the same genre you are critiquing. It might be helpful to get a second, third, and even fourth opinion from people who have done similar critiques in the past. Also, if you play an instrument that is prevalent in the genre you are critiquing in, play it on your own time! Producing and listening to your own music can help you to become even more familiar with the tone, pace, harmonic techniques and other existing aspects of the musical piece you are critiquing.

6.     Contact people, if possible!

Don’t be afraid to contact the musician of the piece you are critiquing, whether it is someone you have met before, or a complete stranger that lives on the other side of the country. Ask questions, conduct interviews, and find out information that may help you better critique the piece you are studying.

7.     Encourage others to discuss the music with you.

Generate open discussions with others in the music world. By talking out your opinions with people who understand how music is written and produced, you may notice and learn new things about a particular song, band, or performance. Open discussions allow for agreement and disagreement… but don’t be afraid, because both can be good!

8.     Recommend your favorites.

How does word and opinions about music spread? You! Recommend your favorite bands and songs to others, publish your criticisms, and get other people talking about your work and critiques. Word of mouth is what allows the world of music to exist, how connections among music-lovers are maintained, and how musical criticism stays alive!

 Examples of Music Criticism:

 

Music_Panels__Compiled_by_smashmethod