Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Prediction for the Future of Bookstores

Every time I walk into Barnes and Nobel these days it seems like there are more and more toys/games and fewer books.  Is it sad that when I need a Valentine's Day card the first place I think to go is Barnes and Nobel?

I can't say I'm totally complaining about the current state of bookstores.  They are trying to sell the geeky strategy games like Settlers of Catan.  I love geeky board games (I collect them) so it's kind of validating for me to see that my geekiness is, in fact, trendy and cool.

But I do feel bad for the people that run bookstore giants like Barnes and Nobel.  It has to be depressing going to work every day knowing your company is on life support.  It brings to mind Blockbuster's amazing press line: "Our company is doing fine, we're just shutting all our stores down."  Uhhh....  I guess admitting to the fact that your business model is no longer sustainable makes stocks crash?

The problem is not the commodity.  Books have never before been in such high demand.  The problem is how the commodity is being sold.  There are simply so many options for reading material out there that it is impossible for any one physical location to keep enough stock that will cater to everyone's tastes.

But it doesn't change the fact that people still like to shop.  The future is not one where everything is delivered to your doorstep.  Humans are social creatures and going out to buy things feels like an event or a productive way to spend the day.  The tricky part is that people are no longer satisfied with buying whatever the stores have in stock.  The click of a few mouse buttons and you can search the entire planet for exactly what you had in mind.

Which means that the commodities that people are not willing to compromise on will be absorbed by things they are willing to compromise on such as food.  Places like Starbucks will become the new bookstores.  Coffee shops are already profitable because they sell a product at a huge markup that people can't buy online.  Yes, you can buy coffee online.  But you can't buy a "hang out" spot.  The fact that coffee would still be the main product means that there's no pressure to stock every book, merely some books.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Review of "The Secret of Aniceto Cuevas," a short story by Jack Hughes and Peter Lewis



Summary:
In 1939, an English businessman is sent to San Juan, Puerto Rico to complete a deal for his firm. While there, he meets the fascinating and charismatic Aniceto Cuevas, a man who seems to truly have it all. He soon learns, however, that there is much more beneath the surface of Aniceto, and when the facade begins to unravel, a shocking discovery is made.

Review:
A gripping tale with a writing style that seems to ooze with the same charisma of Aniceto Cuevas himself.  Aniceto is rich, cultured, well-spoken and seems to know everything about everything.  You can't help but feel caught up with the protagonist as he strives to impress the type of man that everyone wants to be.

Without revealing too much, the story naturally leads to the reveal that not all is as it seems with Aniceto.  A tragedy in his past seems to have permanently twisted his mind to the point where he can't enjoy his present accomplishments.

While the story and its ending are good, I can't help but feel that the "shock" factor was built up to be more than it really was.  Had this been an Edgar Allen Poe plot, such a twist would have been considered cutting edge horror.  Since it is a post-Poe story, I would classify Aniceto as "messed up" rather than shocking (which implies a level of horror never before imagined).

Still, this story is certainly worth a read.  It has that classic horror vibe to it that short story lovers usually adore.

4/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Buy this story on Amazon.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Paperman

I love short films.  I know... shocker.  But I think with the current trend of moviemakers cranking out three hour movies on a regular basis, this becomes a really interesting topic.  When you're sitting through a three hour long film, do you honestly remember everything that happened in the film?  No.  You're left with an overall impression.

A good short film can have just as much of an impact on you as a movie.  Sometimes more so.  They're also a really good way to explore how to write short stories.  You don't need $10 million in explosions to make a moving story line.

So I thought I would do a few blog posts exploring some of my favorite short films and what we can learn from them.  Before reading further you must first watch this cute little love story (in honor of Valentine's Day):  http://mashable.com/2013/01/30/paperman/

Awww... cute, right?  From a storytelling perspective I really admire how little we actually know about the two main characters.  We know in the first second of the film that he's bored with life/job.  We also learn they she's a little shy and that they're both lonely.  And that's all the information the viewer really needs to feel connected to them as characters.

Hours of backstory or character development are simply not needed.  In being aware of the select pieces of information that truly matter, the viewer can fill in the rest of the details for themselves.

So let's discuss... what other storytelling techniques can you pull from this film?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

DANGER: Over-Editing Ahead. Take Alternate Route.

Writers have a tendency to obsess.  Wait, let me be clearer: writers have a tendency to really obsess.  Wait, what did I mean by that?  Should I have phrased that differently?  Maybe I could have said, "writers will really obsess over their work" and that would have been a more powerful statement.  Maybe "obsess" isn't the best word.

See what I mean?  It's endless and often times pointless.  Gasp!

I think the obsessing stems from a breakdown of what's on the page and what's in your head.  In your mind you have this epic sprawling tale of love and woe but the epicness is just, for whatever reason, not coming across when written down.

For me, it was kind of mind-blowing when I realized that the reason this was happening was because my ability level was not quite high enough.  There's a quote by Dr. Shinichi Suzuki that I really like:  "Knowledge is not skill.  Knowledge plus 10,000 repetitions is skill."

Sure we all know how to write.  But it takes practice to know how to convey the story in your head to the written word.  You literally have to just keep writing action scenes in order to figure out how to write an action scene that meets your expectations.  And in the process you're probably going to write a lot of really cruddy scenes.  And then maybe one spectacular one that you try to recreate only to realize that you basically just wrote the same thing twice.

Rewriting the same scene over and over again will accomplish nothing.  Write the scene as best you can, make sure it's grammatically well put together and then move on.  In other words, create the best story you can at this moment in time.  It is unreasonable to demand more than that.  You must allow yourself time and repetitions for your craft to naturally grow.  In order for growth to happen you have to approach the challenges from different angles.