On Recognizing the Actor vs. Expecting the Character

A voice actor recently shared an experience she had on Twitter where a fan attacked her for behavior actually committed by a character she played. While most of the commenters sympathized with her, it is sadly not an uncommon to find fans who cannot separate the actor from the character.

Who knows what leads to this inability to separate reality from fiction, but it does make you wonder how these fans reconcile actors who play a variety of characters who may not have a whole lot in common. For example, I had a recording session recently where I was (over the course of an hour or so):

  • two different little girls
  • two different adult men (Wow, does that sound creepy after the previous line!)
  • an older woman and her elderly husband
  • a sawhorse
  • a couple of creatures made of rock
  • a village of paper dolls
  • a brigade of spoons (and various kitchen utensils)

And let me tell you – Trying to type up this blog post with no fingers (or any appendages to speak of) while the light glints off my silver surface to reflect on the computer screen is quite trying. But honestly, there just weren’t any qualified spoons lining up to fill these parts.

Even more impressively, throughout a childhood (into college) engaged in ballet, I was a rat, a bat, a flower, a variety of candy, dolls of various nationalities, and a wraith. In fact, in the same show I was a wraith, I was also a page and a soulless churchgoer, so… The worst part of that was quickly having to shift between having no body and having no soul. Or was it giving up my body to begin with…? I wonder if I remembered to get my soul back after that show…

You may be rolling your eyes right now, but I hope I’m making my point.

Often, part of why people become actors or dancers to begin with is to get the opportunity to be people we would never be in our daily life. Yes, sometimes we get to play characters similar to us, but more often than not, we don’t and we look forward to the chance to explore. I’m no more a rock creature than I am a society woman who would carry on with a married man. But I’ve played both, just days apart.

And you can’t even say, “Well, actors and dancers have some choice in what they audition for, so they can stack their deck.” Because while that’s sometimes true, we can’t control what happens after the audition. Many actors and dancers, myself included, can tell you about auditioning for one character, and then being cast as a completely different character that we would never in a million years have tried. We’re really just doing our job and having as much fun as we can in the process. And then we go home. We’re not our characters.

But someday…if I continue to work hard, I might just figure out how to become a convincing potato masher. (That’s the transformation I’m really looking forward to!)

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Productively Managing Jealousy

We’ve all been there. We’re working on a craft, learning, practicing, and trying to reap some sort of benefit from all that hard work…only to watch others get noticed. Get the role. Get the contract. Get the acknowledgement. And sometimes, it keeps happening. It’s rough to watch and keep your own spirits up.

Some people hit this point and start blaming others for why they themselves aren’t getting where they want to be. It’s someone else’s fault you aren’t getting roles. The other person engaged in some insidious behavior to get whatever it was they got that you wanted, and you didn’t because you would never stoop to that level. The person doesn’t want it as badly as you did. The people making the decisions (who may or may not have ever heard of you) hate you because they know you’re so much better than them. Or even better, they sometimes transfer their anger. The other person needs to stop succeeding because it’s making you look or feel bad.

What’s really going on is that you are feeling jealous. And jealousy can be a fairly evil emotion. It’s certainly one of the more irrational ones. As in, it whispers irrational lies in your head, until you do something completely stupid and irrational, destroying things that were important to you. But it’s okay, jealousy tells you, because it’s always someone else’s fault.

Let’s make something clear right now: Your jealousy, and any actions resulting from it, are never somebody else’s fault. Your actions are always your own doing, your own choices. Get that into your head right now, because it’s going to make the rest of this easier.

Jealousy happens. No matter how nice of a person you are, there will come a day when jealousy will sidle up to you and tell you someone else deserves to have a cake dropped on their head because you didn’t get what you wanted, what you had been working toward. It’s startling natural, can look like a friendly voice, and can have some pretty negative consequences. But it doesn’t have to. It’s how you choose to respond to your jealousy that makes it a bad thing. If you act out maliciously against the reason you’re feeling jealous (because remember, the jealousy has told you it’s their fault you’re feeling this way), you’re doing it wrong and headed for trouble. If you stop for a moment and ask yourself why you’re feeling jealous, you just might learn something important about yourself.

Interrogating your jealousy can have a number of positive consequences. It can help you identify skills you’d like to learn or practice more. It can help you verbalize a challenge or obstacle you’re struggling with, giving you a better chance to confront and conquer that challenge/obstacle. It can help you verbalize a goal you maybe hadn’t been able to wrap your mind around before. It might even help you identify something you’ve been holding on to and help you release it. If you’re smart about it, you can actually use your jealousy to help you grow and improve in your craft and to help you find and focus on your goals.

So, the next time you find yourself upset at another person who’s just sitting there minding their own business, ask yourself what’s really bothering you. The answer might just surprise you, make you better at your craft, and save you within your industry or community of practice.

Participating in a Hashtag Community

Recently, we looked at participating in Facebook communities as part of our learning network. Other social media platforms are important to building your learning network, too, but not all of them offer a way to gather together easily. That’s where hashtags often come in. It’s easier to gather people on Twitter and Instagram around an event- or interest-related hashtag, and there are communities that make great use of them.

I’m part of a couple of hashtag communities on Instagram. One of them is led by a user with a crazy awesome level of understanding of how hashtags work and how to make them work. The overall community has a hashtag, and then each weekly challenge has a hashtag related to the community hashtag. So through the first, we can find everyone’s post in the community, and through the second we can find everyone’s posts related to a challenge. It’s great!

Another of these hashtag communities…has all but left Instagram for a Facebook community over the last year. (And it’s funny to watch those who recently joined the Facebook community start discussing moving over to Instagram.) The community centers around a series of daily challenges, organized by month, where the challenge’s name is the hashtag. At first, things went well. But then people who were practicing a similar craft, but didn’t understand that particular hashtag went to a particular activity, started using the hashtag. And they did it on all of their posts, regardless of what that picture was.  So the community altered their hashtag slightly in an effort to make the hashtag’s intended audience clear, but the same people jumped on that hashtag as well. The hashtag has effectively been ruined on Instagram by people who couldn’t be bothered to learn what a hashtag is, or what hashtags were relevant (or in this case, off limits) to their own work.

If you’ve read my Facebook post, you already know where this is going.

When you use an event- or interest-related hashtag for posts that have nothing to do with the event or interest, you’re hijacking the hashtag. And hijacking hashtags doesn’t help anybody, the hijacker least of all. Some hashtag hijackers are just trolls, out to ruin other people’s fun because they have no skills or interests to focus their time on. But others do it because they’ve decided the best way to show off their skills is to blast it out to anyone who might have even the tiniest possible interest in their work. I can think of people I will never follow (and in some cases have blocked) on Twitter and Instagram because they engaged in hashtag hijacking trying to get their posts more widely seen. I’ve even been known to mark posts as spam because they hijacked a hashtag.

So…if you are thinking about using a hashtag (and used correctly, they’re a great tool for meeting and interacting with people…or for just getting your snark on), research the hashtag first. Make sure your post will contribute to the discussion going on in that hashtag, or fit in with whatever is being showcased. Don’t just throw on a hashtag in the hopes you’ll gain exposure, because you will gain the wrong kind of exposure and might find yourself shut out or ignored.

Participating in a Facebook Community

One of the things I like to talk about around here (when I talk at all *wink*) is the importance of communities of practice. These are groups that come together to learn, practice, and share information around a given topic or skill. And one of the easier ways to accomplish this is to join related Facebook groups (unless you’re one of those who has decided Facebook is not for them, and that’s perfectly fine. You may not gain much from this post.) I’ve been joining a fair few groups lately, some related to my professional interests, some related to personal interests. Meeting a new group of like-minded people can be pretty exciting, but there are some things to be aware of to make the experience smoother.

Communities have the ability to lay out guidelines, and many of them take advantage of this feature. On the website, these guidelines will be in a box in the sidebar or on the About tab. On the app, there will be a link to them just below the cover image. Some communities prefer to use a Pinned post, so look at the top of the community. It’s your responsibility to find and familiarize yourself with the community’s rules. Some communities have little to no tolerance for those who cannot be bothered to read the rules and abide by them.

Once you’ve read the guidelines, take a few minutes to skim the group and see what people typically post. If the majority of posts are of one type (text, for example), do not think you are being clever posting a different type because you want to stand out. It’s quite possible the community makes the type of posts it does for a reason. If you see no self-promotion posts, do not think you will be clever for doing it first. There’s probably a reason why you aren’t seeing those posts (possibly laid out in the guidelines? *wink wink*).

If you don’t see any “Thanks for adding me” posts, do not think you will be clever by being the first. If you really, truly are incapable of stopping yourself from writing a nonsubstantive “Thanks for adding me” post, see if the community has an Introduction thread. Many do in an attempt to curb those pointless posts, and your comment will cause the post to pop up in the community, allowing existing members to know you’re there and what you have to offer as a member of the group. (Also, seek help…and maybe three or four hobbies. Because, honey, if you are that desperate to be seen and think it’s acceptable to only be seen by taking up space pointlessly, you have issues.)

Once you’ve read the guidelines and familiarized yourself with the content expected from community members, it’s time to write your first post. Think about why you joined the group, what you’re hoping to gain from the group, and then write a post that reflects that. In other words, add value to the group. Make sure your post conforms with the community guidelines, and ask yourself if your post is relevant. If it fails either condition, maybe don’t write the post. And if you’re posting just to post in a community, you’re probably doing it wrong.

Facebook communities can be a great asset to your learning and skill development, but it’s important to do your part to be an asset to the community.

Finding Yourself By Exploring Different Characters

Recently, I’ve found myself playing characters with the exact same descriptor – sinister. Sometimes, it’s the key description of a character. Sometimes, it’s down the list, behind such fun adjectives as stern and aloof. In one case, it ran in direct opposition to the other descriptors in the list.

I’ve played a sinister character before. I have an award for that character. The problem is…she wasn’t openly sinister. She didn’t even see herself as evil. She thought she was doing what she had to in order to keep her world from completely dying, even if it meant engaging in some…less than moral activities. So, she was sinister…but she never really presented herself that way.

The most recent sinister character to cross my desk was not that subtle, just based on the script and notes I had. But it was clearly important to the director I figure it out, so I tried.

But I am not a sinister person by nature. Sarcastic? Yes. Sinister? Not so much. I used to teach middle school and high school students, and while I could be regarded as firm or even strict at times, I failed to come across as mean, let alone any shade of evil. (It’s amazing what you learn about nuance of language from teaching teenagers.) I struggle to come across as unfriendly in my interactions with people I don’t really care to be around. So, trying to figure out how to play sinister has been…challenging. Something I’m going to be working on for a while. (Probably why it keeps coming up.)

You might argue that an actor should be able to just drop into any description…but when the description is far from your own personality, that isn’t as easy as it sounds. An actor isn’t an empty vessel. They walk in with their own definition of self, and then layer or build a character off of what they walked in with. (Or…I do… Maybe I do it wrong…) For characters who aren’t a strong fit, it’s a chance for the actor to take some aspect of themself and play with what would happen if that aspect developed in a certain direction. The closer the shift, the easier the exploration.

I think this is actually what’s meant by increasing your range, because each time you engage in these explorations, you expand what you bring with you, and can then expand off that. It can be a lot of fun, but it’s a definite challenge.

Learning to Write MRUs

I’ve mentioned in a past post that my efforts to learn to write Scenes and Sequels were derailed briefly by…well…let’s just call it a side quest. You see, many of the articles that explained the Scene-Sequel technique referred to another technique that many use as part of their writing process: the MRU (motivation-reaction unit). Honestly, this is a fancy way of saying, “Hey, dummy, write cause and effect!” (Seems obvious. Isn’t always. I’ve now seen some scary examples of this.)

For many writers, Scenes and Sequels are made up of these MRUs, and if you put enough of these together, you eventually end up with a story that makes some form of sense. People might even read and enjoy your story. (No promises.)

All right, so…what is an MRU? It’s a basic action sequence made up of two parts: the motivation and the reaction.

  • Motivation – an external, objective stimulus that can be experienced by at least one sense
  • Reaction – the character’s subjective response to the Motivation in order: emotion; reflex action; rational thought/action

The MRU is pretty straightforward, because it’s how we actually respond to things. I know some of the articles pointed this out, but I didn’t actually get my mind around it until I realized trying to overthink my way into writing MRUs was just leading to writing how I normally write. I’ve always tried to write out how I would move through something, right down to the stage blocking. (And hearing professional writers use stage terminology to describe how they write has helped me understand and accept that I’m not a total weirdo for doing it. It helps me to see what’s going on in the scene I’m writing.)

When I was first reading about MRUs, I thought you were supposed to use them to build the entire story. And found out the hard way that’s not exactly true. I struggled for days trying to make MRUs work for my action-light stories, unable to figure out why they weren’t working, before I finally learned they’re for action sequences. I don’t write a lot of action to begin with, so practicing MRUs has been a frustrating process for me. I finally came up with the following and incorporated it into my daily writing habits so I have something to practice on.

My MRU Practice Routine

  • Respond to oneword’s daily prompt. (I do it in my journal instead of on the site.)
  • Rewrite the response into an MRU format. (Also in my journal.)

Feel free to steal that, or use it to create something that suits your own writing habits. And then let me know how exploring MRUs goes for you. Maybe you’ll find yourself frustrated like I was. Maybe it will be just the thing to help with a problem you’ve been experiencing in your writing. But I’m willing to bet you’ll find something useful in it.

 

Learning to Write Scene-Sequel

Like so many others, I spent the beginning of the year looking over what I had done last year and thinking about what I wanted to get done this year. I know I have a tumultuous relationship with my writing, and thought I was starting to turn things around. Really, I was deluding myself. While I got more written last year than I had in the previous five years combined, I wasn’t getting any productive writing done.

So I started my writing plans for this year by tabling every writing project I failed at working on last year. Then, I planned out a new daily writing practice schedule, focusing first on reconnecting with and strengthening my writing skills and letting my projects grow out of that recentering. Because somehow, things are easier for me if I feel like I’m learning and practicing something concrete. (I know you’re surprised.)

My first writing lesson: Writing Scenes (not to be confused with scenes) and Sequels.

I’ve heard people talk about Scenes and Sequels on writing blogs and in writing podcasts for some time now, but never actually looked into it. Now seemed as good a time as any, so I pulled together some favorite podcast episodes, added in some blog posts and articles, and jumped right in. It did require a small side trip (which I’ll get to later), but I think I’m starting to get the hang of things.

Scenes and Sequels are narrative units that work in pairs to create rhythms that encourage readers to keep moving through the story. The Scene consists of three parts: the Goal, the Conflict, and the Disaster. The Sequel also consists of three parts: the Reaction, the Dilemma, and the Decision. Breaking those down…

The Scene contains the action (or rising action) in the pair. It is composed of three parts that help keep that action building.

  • Goal – what the character wants when they first come into this moment
  • Conflict – the infamous try-fail cycle (It can be as simple or as complex as the situation requires.)
  • Disaster – an obstacle appears that severely hinders the character’s ability to reach their goal (This does not have to be a literal disaster. I had a hard time wrapping my mind around that.)

The Sequel contains the reflection (or falling action) in the pair. It is composed of three parts that help the character process what has happened and figure out how to move forward.

  • Reaction – what it says on the label; the character’s immediate response to the Disaster
  • Dilemma – the character figures out what options they have moving forward, with no good options present
  • Decision – again, what it says on the label; the character picks an option and runs with it, moving us into the next Scene

The nice thing about these two units, when used well, is that they really follow a logical flow while building in good opportunities for tension in a scene. And they build a cycle, which can help minimize writer’s block to an extent. If you’ve crafted a good Scene, it should lead into a logical Sequel, which if well-crafted leads into another Scene, and so forth and so on.

As I said, I’ve been playing with is for about a month now, and I think I’m starting to craft them without having to look up each step. I’m even starting to find some success with them. Try them out in your own writing and let me know how your own explorations go.

Why Tagging Matters For Online Writers

I was recently reading some Yu-Gi-Oh fan fiction (as I do periodically) when I came across an unfamiliar situation. Someone new to writing for the fandom, rather than look up established names for various ships, tagged their story with their own names for the ship they were writing. Three different names for the ship, plus a tag admitting they didn’t know how to identify the well-established ship in question.

I tend to surf this repository by tag because the fandom is usually flooded and I have narrow reading interests within the fandom. Because I know the proper name for the ship, I would have completely missed this story. I just happened to surf the general catalog that day and stumble across it. Anyone who surfs by tags would miss this story because it doesn’t use the long-agreed upon name for the ship.

The Perc’ahlia ship in the Critical Role fandom has a similar problem. When people first started writing fan fiction and creating fan art for this ship, there were at least half a dozen stabs at giving the ship a meaningful name that didn’t necessarily rely on a portmanteau. Again, those searching for fan work in this ship have to know not only Perc’ahlia, but also those other early contenders, or miss out on some potential gems.

In this day of social repositories and search engines, tags matter. To some degree, we all know this. We work with them enough on blogs and in these catalogs. We tag to identify fandom, genre, characters, topics, any potential triggers. The list goes on. We understand that it’s useful to label our work with these tags to help potential readers understand at a glance what’s in the story.

But we don’t always think about what it really means to tag. We forget that tagging in archive situations like these repositories is really setting up a way to help people interested in that tag find our contribution to the tag. This becomes evident when you see a tag that reads, “ireallyjustlovethishipandnobodyiswritingitsoidid” (yes, I have actually seen this tag), or something equally ludicrous. (I once saw a tag that was literally the writer rambling to see how long she could make the tag before she was cut off. It failed because it split between lines and caused anything after the break to form its own link.)

I think this practice comes from the sarcastic hashtag trend favored on Twitter, but it does nothing but clutter your tags list (and therefore your findability) on search engines and repositories. And the point of the game is to be found, or else you wouldn’t be tagging at all…or posting publicly online, if you want to be completely honest about it.

So, the next time you’re posting a story, be it original or fan fiction, by all means, think about the fandom, characters, genre, and potential triggers. But also take a moment to think about how readers might search for your story, and make sure your tags reflect how you want to be found.

Habitica and the Nonproductivity of Gamification

I’ve spent the last month slowly tweaking my Habits and Dailies on Habitica. They needed it. There were things on both lists that came from old challenges or were not relevant to how I currently work. There were things I added to both lists that were no longer relevant to the work I’m doing. So with an eye toward my current projects and future plans, I’ve been working my way through both lists, removing expired tasks, modifying tasks that could be more beneficial (I use the checklists on the Dailies and Tasks, so those got an overhaul), and adding new tasks as needed.

It’s brought to light a few problems in my current workflow, things I’ll need to address in coming weeks.

Earlier this year, I started experimenting with Tiny Habits. While I really like the idea and understand the benefit, I’ve struggled to identify good Tiny Habits for my own life and work. Or I’ve struggled to implement those Tiny Habits. Having the accountability of Habitica and my party helps to a certain degree, but it hasn’t turned out to be a strong motivator. So, things that really need to be a part of my daily life for multiple reasons have not only not become routine, they’ve become ignored.

This overhaul has also revealed just how little effort I’m currently putting into my writing. I’ve written for so long that people who barely know me quickly come to understand that I write…and yet it’s fallen by the wayside in pretty much every way imaginable. Just look at the last year on this blog. Look at the last few months on deviantArt. Writing is considered by many, myself included, to be one of my core activities. It’s a core part of activities I’m pursuing. And yet even with Habitica tasks, I’m not only unmotivated, I’m demotivated to get anything done. (When I challenge myself on this, I remind myself that my voiceover workload has been sufficiently busy since April to leave me little time for much else. But I can’t get my personal voiceover projects done if I’m not writing.)

This is the danger of living through gamification. Being rewarded for completing tasks with little or uncertain nutritional value, as it were. As I say this, I know that’s not Habitica’s actual goal. They’re hoping users will build goals and associated tasks that will help them grow in the directions they want to go. But it’s too easy to not understand or review what you’re doing within that aspiration, and so it’s easy to do the absolute minimum to check something off or to find other ways around the incoming damage for not getting things done.

So, my goal as we come into the last weeks of 2016 is to review my Tiny Habits, my Dailies, my tasks. My project log, actually. (I’ve already started this.) To set a direction for my voiceover work, and rebuild or tweak existing habits, dailies, and project tasks to move toward that direction. To set a direction for my writing work, and rebuild or tweak Habitica to help me get closer to staying on the path.

Who’s with me? What area of your life could use a bit of an overhaul and a push in the right direction?

The Daring Girls Project

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So…a couple of years ago, I started narrating for a publishing group that specializes in narrating public domain books. The company’s focus has changed as it’s grown, but I’m still working on the public domain narration.

Primarily, I’m working on what I’m for now calling the Daring Girls Collection, a collection of classic children’s audiobooks that focus on girl protagonists being brave, imaginative, compassionate, assertive, and curious.

All those soft skills children need to develop to be productive adults.

I’m in the middle of an audiobook at the moment from this collection. And when so many of us last week were trying to figure out how to react and adult productively, I made the decision to continue working on that audiobook. Largely in part because I felt the best thing I could do in those moments was to continue producing books that would hopefully inspire children to choose to grow up brave, imaginative, compassionate, assertive, and curious.

All those traits they’re going to need to face whatever’s coming next without resorting to actions that help no one.

If you’re at all interested in checking them out or maybe sharing them with children in your life (or you just want to encourage the collection’s continued development), they’re all available on Audible. And I keep an updated list of them here on the website.

Pictured above, In the Wild 😉