I’m attempting NaNoWriMo

Yes, I get it, Halloween is a bit late to decide this. It’s fine, I decided weeks ago. I even planned out a few “leading up to” blog posts I would post over the last two weeks. It’s just things have been pretty busy lately and unfortunately that has meant blogging has taken the hit as being pretty far down the priorities list. Job hunting, dealing with a car that keeps breaking down, feeding my parents’ cat while they’ve been away, and various other pressing issues have taken precedence.

Anyway, I will be attempting NaNoWriMo. I will be writing a story based on last year’s NaNoWriMo, but with some significant changes. Here’s a blurb:

Since the great city of Caer burned and Kell did not in spite of being in the middle of it, and subsequently being saved from a mob by a man magically bound to the Brown River and somehow part of it, she’s been looking for others like her, others touched by magic. Leaving Shen to search along the banks of his river, Kell has crossed an immense plain to reach the White River, hoping to find another like Shen there, or at least someone who has heard of others like her.

Atoni is a princess, one of many nieces and nephews of the king of Porroa, and like all her siblings and cousins, she has a role in the structure of the family and government of Porroa: the Deputy Minister for Architecture and Construction. Her uncle the King wants to build the greatest monument the world has ever seen, but with the arrival of a lone traveller from the Brown River it’s clear that the world is a great deal bigger than anyone in Porroa ever realised. Atoni is sent on a mission to record the greatest monuments of the Brown River cultures, and establish initial diplomatic relations with any she feels Porroa could trade with, so that her uncle’s ambitions can be fulfilled and her own legend can begin.

When Kell and Atoni team up, they are ready for the adventures and travels that await them.

The Legend of Korra rewatch: book 1, episode 5: The Spirit of Competition

Now that we’re well into the series, with all the key components set up in previous episodes, episode 5 should have given a sense of the true threat of the antagonist, Amon, and his Equalist movement. Instead it felt like a slow-down, a filler episode.

There are two threads running through episode 5: the love triangle and the probending tournament. They’re quite well interwoven, with the emotional impacts of the former affecting the latter. But there’s no real threat. Let’s get into it.

Bolin is so adorable.
Bolin is so adorable.

The episode starts with snow, showing the passage of time and developing a cosy atmosphere. As the Fire Ferrets come in for a team huddle to discuss their training session, looks between characters reveal that Bolin likes Korra, Korra like Mako, and Mako feels uncomfortable. After the training session ends, we see Bolin’s terrible but endearing flirtation technique. He later discusses Korra with Mako, and it’s clear from Mako’s responses, in which he compares Korra to Asami then tries to put Bolin off dating Korra (telling him it’s a bad idea to date teammates, which is good advice but backed up by an ulterior motive) shows that Mako isn’t committed to dating Asami and has feelings about Korra. Korra’s subsequent conversation with Jinora, Ikki and Pema demonstrates she’s interested in Mako too.

By this point, the whole first five minutes of the episode has been focused on romance, with the probending side of it taking a background role. Finally some tournament action starts (and I’ll go into more detail about that in a moment), but it doesn’t last – after Korra is unconvincingly rejected by Mako, she goes on a date with Bolin for fun.

Yeah, Mako doesn't look like he's focused on his relationship with Asami at all.
Yeah, Mako doesn’t look like he’s focused on his relationship with Asami at all.

But before their next match she gets in an argument with Mako about their feelings for one another, kisses him and breaks Bolin’s heart when he sees them. This leads to poor teamwork in the probending arena, before they all realise it’s not worth it and make up. At the end of the episode, the romantic situation is effectively reset, as if none of it happened.

Poor brokenhearted Bolin
Poor brokenhearted Bolin

This romantic subplot is the problem I had with this series the first time I watched it. We’ve got a love triangle here, and it’s so predictable. But it’s also so unnecessary, and that goes doubly for this particular episode. If we just have Bolin start to see Korra as a friend instead of a romantic interest organically through simply knowing her better, and keep Korra and Mako with unacknowledged mutual crushes, very little would have needed to be changed in later episodes to keep the romantic subplot alive. I don’t feel a romantic subplot is necessary at all, but someone did and I can understand the motivation on that, but I think its role in episode 5 is so overdone for cheap drama.

And without the romantic subplot there would have been more time in this episode to set up Tahno and the Wolfbats as a great tournament rival.

So let’s get back to earlier in the episode: at the end of the Fire Ferrets’ training session, Asami brings the new uniforms. She’s tied into the Krew through her father’s sponsorship of the team and her romantic involvement with Mako, and it’s clear she will continue to be an important character, though in this episode she’s still a minor character.

At the team’s first match, the commentator mentions the improvement they demonstrate, and attributes this to more training, as evidenced by the Avatar’s withdrawal from active duty in Councilman Tarrlok’s taskforce. We get the impression that some time has passed and that Korra has been hard at work focusing on her training. The Fire Ferrets’ convincing win illustrates this, and they’re through to the next round.

The Fire Ferrets celebrate their first win
The Fire Ferrets celebrate their first win

When Korra and Bolin are out for a date, Korra finally meets Tahno for the first time – though if she’s been reading her newspapers cover to cover, she’ll already be aware of him as his photograph was in the paper in a previous episode. Tahno is the leader of the White Falls Wolfbats probending team, the reigning champions of the tournament for the last three years, and this encounter shows him as arrogant, vain and not above using underhand tactics, like trying to bait Korra into hitting him, which would disqualify the Fire Ferrets from the tournament.

Tahno thinks he's so smooth
Tahno thinks he’s so smooth, but really he’s just slimy.

It’s a sign of Korra’s restraint, of her personal development under Tenzin’s guidance, that she refused to be baited – but she’s not lost her attitude, and rather than getting into a fight that would have cost her team dearly, she got Naga to roar at Tahno, showing him that she was entirely capable of standing up to him without breaking any rules.

And he's not as brave as he makes out, squealing with fear at Naga's roar.
And he’s not as brave as he makes out, squealing with fear at Naga’s roar.

The Fire Ferrets go on to their next match in a state of disorder thanks to arguments and resentments arising from the romantic subplot – Bolin feeling betrayed by Mako, Korra and Mako angry at one another in spite of their kiss, Korra feeling guilty for having hurt Bolin. They do not perform well, but are saved at the last minute, going through as a result of Korra’s sheer strength and the skills she has learned as a result of their intensive training.

Thankfully Korra's a good enough waterbender, and has luck with her opponents lining up in a row, and manages to make a last-second knock-out.
Thankfully Korra’s a good enough waterbender, helped by luck with her opponents lining up in a row, that she manages to make a last-second knock-out.

With some more time in the episode created by the removal of the romantic subplot, it would have been possible to see more of the Wolfbats, including seeing them in action in the arena against another team – it would, after all, have been a good idea for the Fire Ferrets to observe other matches in order to identify their opponents’ strengths and weaknesses. And not just in the arena, but outside it too – how do they interact with fans or treat other teams in public encounters? The show runners could have built up a picture of the threat the Wolfbats pose to the Fire Ferrets, and perhaps go more into Tahno as a direct rival to Korra.

Instead all we see is the confrontation in the restaurant, and the Wolfbats’ opponents being taken off in stretchers after the shortest match ever, which all happened off-screen while the Fire Ferrets were getting over their earlier romantic conflicts.

08-taken-out-on-stretchers

Overall this episode feels like a step down. Fluff. There’s a dangerous criminal out there who is capable of removing a person’s bending, a man with thousands of followers willing to do actual harm to bending leaders and in particular the Avatar, and what does that Avatar occupy her time with? Crushing on Mako and trying to win a competition. The commentator might appreciate her attitude to training, but I can imagine various journalists writing scathing articles about the Avatar taking time out of fulfilling her duties to Republic City to play a game.

Without the romantic subplot of this episode, there was a lot more it could have achieved in developing Tahno as a character. It could have also acknowledged the threat Amon poses, perhaps with reports that Equalist activity is down, or that a prominent Equalist has been captured or an Equalist hideout has been raided and resources captured – something to show that Tarrlok’s taskforce is active, that the threat is currently reduced and that as such it would not be too inappropriate for the Avatar to focus on probending instead of stopping Amon.

Without Amon even being mentioned, and Korra’s activities attempting to stop him barely being brushed upon, there isn’t any sense of threat in this episode. The romantic drama feels empty and pointless, especially once it’s been resolved. And Tahno and the Wolfbats don’t feel like a serious threat even just to their tournament chances, even though they’re reigning champions, because we don’t see them fighting and cannot compare it to the Fire Ferrets’ matches.

Hopefully episode 6 will be more exciting.

Amon. Fear him. Or, you know, forget all about him for an episode.
Amon. Fear him. Or, you know, forget all about him for an episode.

The Legend of Korra rewatch: book 1, episode 4: The Voice in the Night

This is where the Legend of Korra series really starts to pull away from the standalone episodes. The first three episodes set things up – episode one brought Korra to Republic City and hinted at the problems the city faces. Episode two introduced her to her training, both the traditional methods under Tenzin and the modern methods with her new friends Mako and Bolin. Episode three introduced the series villain, Amon, and demonstrated just what kind of a threat he is.

Episode four attempts to move forward, conducting the last of the setting up and moving the overall plot arc forward.

The problem is there there’s a lot still to set up. There are several threads running through this episode, leaving it feeling disjointed, jumping around.

The threads in this episode can be broken down into three key subplots: Korra vs Amon and her own anxieties; Councilman Tarrlok’s powergrab and manipulations; and Mako’s introduction to and fledgling romance with Asami Sato.

Continue reading The Legend of Korra rewatch: book 1, episode 4: The Voice in the Night

2016 Reading Update, September

I’ve met my target of reading 26 books this year, with a few months left to keep reading in. Since my last update I’ve added seven more books to my total, four of which are Patrick O’Brian books – and I’ll finish the series before next update, library stock permitting.

The list so far

Here’s what the list looks like after the last update in July:

  1. Cadfael: Monk’s Hood by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)
  2. Cadfael: St Peter’s Fair by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)
  3. Key Under Blue Pot and Please Milk the Goat by Marie Sever
  4. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
  5. Cadfael: The Leper of St Giles by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)
  6. The Fire Mages’ Daughter by Pauline M Ross
  7. Cadfael: The Virgin in the Ice by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)
  8. The Mages of Bennamore by Pauline M Ross
  9. The A to Z of You and Me by James Hannah
  10. The Plains of Kallanash by Pauline M Ross
  11. The Magic Mines of Asharim by Pauline M Ross
  12. The Morville Hours by Katherine Swift
  13. The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence
  14. Echoes of the Great Song by David Gemmell
  15. The Dragon’s Egg by Pauline M Ross
  16. The Reverse of the Medal by Patrick O’Brian
  17. The Letter of Marque by Patrick O’Brian
  18. The Errant Hours by Kate Innes
  19. Iceland Defrosted by Edward Hancox
  20. Touch of Iron by Timandra Whitecastle
  21. The Thirteen-Gun Salute by Patrick O’Brian
  22. The Nutmeg of Consolation by Patrick O’Brian
  23. A Star-Reckoner’s Lot by Darrell Drake

Continue reading 2016 Reading Update, September

The Legend of Korra rewatch: book 1, episode 3: The Revelation

With episode three, The Legend of Korra really starts to get into the meat of the plot, and the way it moves from the smaller scale of episode two into the series arc is really quite well done. Episode two was heavily focused on Probending, with Korra ultimately joining the Fire Ferrets as a permanent member of the team. Episode three starts with the Fire Ferrets needing to pay an entry fee for the tournament, a fee they cannot hope to afford – so Bolin takes an opportunity that presents itself, and gets himself into trouble in the process. This pulls Korra and Mako right into Amon’s plot and makes it impossible for Korra to simply train with Tenzin and the Fire Ferrets and ignore the revolution that’s happening in Republic City.

Backing up a little, first, though, when the Krew are discussing the 30,000 yuon championship entry fee, Mako asks for ideas, but then scorns the first thing Bolin suggests – an animal circus starring Bolin’s pet fire ferret Pabu. Having dismissed this idea, rather than ask Korra for suggestions or continue to brainstorm as a team, Mako instead says “Don’t worry, I’ll figure something out. I always do”.

01-pabu-circus-tricks
This and all other images used are the property of Nickelodeon and used here under fair use for review purposes.

Continue reading The Legend of Korra rewatch: book 1, episode 3: The Revelation

Progress Report: One Million Words, August 2016

Another late one; I’m slipping. I apologise. I have lots of excuses (it’s been a tough month) but I won’t bother relating them. Suffice it to say things aren’t working lately. Excuses aside, I need to keep better track of things, or I find I’ve got weeks worth of writing log to catch up on and have to work out what day I wrote what through a combination of dates in file names, dates on pieces of paper, and where dates don’t exist, a process of elimination. Not the best approach, I admit.

So for August I wrote 17,315 words. That brings me to 259,899 words in total, or 26%. August’s output was a modest improvement upon July’s, but it’s still below where I really want to be. I have continued to write daily and my total as of the end of August is 410 consecutive days.

I finished Horrible Monster at the start of August and then proceeded to write some short stories of various lengths, as planned. Some were related to my next project and others were based on prompts I found online or other ideas.

Kell & Atoni

My next project has the working title of Kell & Atoni. It builds upon my plans from last year for Kell’s Adventures, using the protagonist from that as one of my protagonists in the new project, but I wanted to take it in a different direction. Anyone who has been following my reading updates might have noticed I’ve been working my way through the Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian, and it is from that series that I draw upon in attempting, with Kell & Atoni, to tell a series of stories in which two characters become firm friends and travel together as they seek to achieve their own goals which are compatible with one other.

So far I’ve done a little worldbuilding and worked on a few short stories set before these two characters meet. I’m not yet ready to begin with the story proper, but with November approaching I feel that this is a project to tackle for NaNoWriMo, which gives me a few more weeks to prepare.

The plan for Kell & Atoni is for novella-length stories exploring their goals, their world, the directions their obligations, fears and ambitions take them in, and the human and magical obstacles they face. In preparation, I have begun workign on, and will continue to write, short stories exploring points of the protagonists’ lives before they meet, elements of the world and the cultures they are part of or encounter.

The Legend of Korra Rewatch: Book 1, Episode 2: A Leaf in the Wind

Apologies for the delay in posting this. I’ve had some problems with my DVD playing software that are now, hopefully, resolved.

The goal of this episode seems to be to introduce two of the series’ main characters: Bolin and Mako, the probending brothers that make up two thirds of the Fire Ferrets. This has been done with a self-contained episode that doesn’t mention the main conflict in the show – Amon and the Equalists – but it does feature prominently Korra’s core personal conflict, her difficulty in learning airbending, and another major theme, Korra in conflict with a figure of authority. Using these conflicts in a scaled-down version of the overall series is an effective way to establish them and their importance in Korra’s story.

It’s a well-structured episode too. It opens with a reminder of the first episode, narrated by the same voice actor as the probending announcer, with the visuals in sepia tone with visual artefacts to give it a feeling of being old, a nice little nod to the time setting of the series, an industrial, almost modern world.

01 sepia opening
All images copyright Nickelodeon. Used under fair use for review purposes.

Continue reading The Legend of Korra Rewatch: Book 1, Episode 2: A Leaf in the Wind

The Legend of Korra rewatch: Book 1, episode 1: Welcome to Republic City

When I first watched The Legend of Korra, I wasn’t too happy with it. I said “I generally enjoyed watching it, but was constantly aware of major flaws in the story” in my first review of the series, and though my second review, just before the second season came out, was more favourable I still didn’t rate it highly.

Now I’ve got the DVDs for all four seasons, and it’s time I re-examined the series. Over the coming weeks I will be examining the show in more detail, looking at the successes and failings in its writing.

Image credit: Nickelodeon
Image credit for this and all images in this blog post: Nickelodeon

Continue reading The Legend of Korra rewatch: Book 1, episode 1: Welcome to Republic City

Advice for students hiring proofreaders

This morning on a popular freelancing website I spotted a listing requesting proofreading for a dissertation of approximately 100 pages, with a deadline tomorrow afternoon – allowing, at best, 30 hours in which to complete the work.

I did a few calculations and estimated that a document of that length would probably take me anything from 16 to 20 hours to proofread, depending on how good the author is with grammar and spelling. Now, you might have done a few calculations of your own and worked out that there is indeed time to complete this job – 30 hours minus 20 hours leaves 10 for sleep and meals. Not a problem, right?

And yes, it is doable, but it’s a rush job. Proofreading requires concentration. There are all sorts of things that make concentration difficult, most notably tiredness. I find that, no matter how much coffee or sleep I have had, after about hour 4 that concentration starts to slip; after hour 6 it has got to a level I can no longer rely upon. Some days it’s worse than that; on rare occasions it is better. So for a 20 hour job, I’d schedule at least 4 days, preferably 5 to give a little leeway. If the client was insistent that it was needed urgently, I could concede 3 days, but I’d also expect to be paid extra, to cover the increase in my electricity bill from all the times I’d boil my kettle in those three days.

I certainly wouldn’t accept a 20 hour job with a 30 hour deadline; while I could do it, I wouldn’t be doing my best work and I couldn’t guarantee that the manuscript I returned would be error-free.

So students, don’t do this if you can avoid it. Plan ahead. It’s possible, I’ve been there. Specifically, I’ve been the last-minute person who pulled all-nighters for about half my assignments, though I was rather better when it came to my dissertation (thankfully I believed a rumour that the university’s binding service would be overloaded around deadline day and could take three days; it was not and it took 3 minutes).

If you plan on hiring a proofreader for your thesis or dissertation, follow these simple steps:

  1. Aim to complete your dissertation at least a full week prior to the deadline. The longer the dissertation, the earlier you should finish.
  2. Engage a proofreader before you finish it, so they are lined up ready to go as soon as you finish it. Take an hour or two out a couple of days before your self-imposed deadline to get this sorted.
  3. Give your proofreader a deadline at least 48 hours before your submission deadline. This gives you time to go through and check changes and make suggested edits, it creates a buffer in case your proofreader goes over by a few hours, and it gives you time for printing and binding. Note: if printing and binding will take longer, factor the required time in as necessary. Find out well in advance how long this might take.

It’s a good idea generally to finish something as important as a dissertation well in advance anyway – to allow some leeway in case something important crops up that disrupts your studying.

Beyond hono(u)rable travel(l)ers going to the theat(re/er): British and American English

Most of us are familiar with the most commonly seen differences between British and American English, and can recognise which side of the Atlantic an online commenter is from based on such spellings (most of the time anyway; but I won’t get into Canadian and Australian spellings here).

You’re probably already thinking about some of these differences: the inclusion or exclusion of U in words like colour/color, honour/honor and labour/labor; whether an S or a Z is used in realise/realize and analyse/analyze; whether you go shopping in the city centre or the city center, or go to the theatre or the theater. Perhaps even whether the L is singular or doubled in words like traveller/traveler and barrelling/barreling – and, conversely, skilful/skillful, enrol/enroll and instil/instill.

There are numerous sites that cover these sorts of differences. In today’s blog post, I’ll be looking at some of the less familiar rules and individual words which don’t fall into a particular rule of difference, but stand alone.

Ending with T or ED for some past-tense verbs

This is a rule that is starting to become obsolete as the ED version is starting to become dominant in Britain, in line with English in the rest of the world, but it’s worth knowing about – and worth recognising that these are valid, if less common, spellings in British English.

Words include:

  • Burnt/burned
  • Dreamt/dreamed
  • Knelt/kneeled
  • Learnt/learned
  • Leapt/leaped
  • Spelt/spelled

If you’re British, you may be familiar with the first of each pair, though both are acceptable; in American English, only the second is used. It is also worth noting that “spelt” does exist in American English too – as it is also a grain variety related to wheat.

Feel free to use these spellings in documents intended for British readers – but remember to be consistent. You don’t want to have learnt in one paragraph and learned in the next.

SC or SK

Fans of Terry Pratchett might be aware of this one: Discworld is a world located on a disc. Or on a disk, if you’re American. This is an odd one, actually, since the disc spelling is universal within the record industry, and disk is universal within the computing industry. You might have hired a disc jockey for your party, and saved the photos of said party onto your computer’s hard disk. But for general usage, such as referring simply to the flat circular shape, it’s disc on my side of the Atlantic and disk on the stars-and-stripes side.

This rather small rule extends to a few other words too. Garden snails are a variety of mollusc – when they’re in Britain. Across the pond, they’re a variety of mollusk. You might be sceptical about a snail’s ability to cross the Atlantic, unless you’re on the other side of it, where you’d be skeptical instead.

Enquiries and Inquiries, Ensuring and Insuring

In Britain if you are subject of an inquiry, you’re probably in legal trouble, but in America it might just be that someone has asked a question about you – a usage that in Britain would instead be spelled (spelt?) “enquiry”. The two meanings – the specific formal investigation and the general questioning – are encompassed by one word in America and separated into two in Britain.

Similarly, if you’re insuring something in Britain you are entering into a commercial transaction to protect your property or yourself from risk. An American insuring something might be doing the same thing – or they might simply be making sure – checking that the lights are turned off before going out, perhaps, or that a document has been properly proofread before it is sent to a client. This second meaning in British English is covered by the word “ensure”.

EY up

Paraphrase this for me: “there’s a fake wall on the fifth floor”.

You might have come up with one of these two sentences:

  • There’s a phoney wall on the fifth storey
  • There’s a phony wall on the fifth story

Or, well, it might be the sixth story or the fourth storey, given that British and American architecture counts levels within buildings differently (American: Floor 1 is the first you reach; British: Floor 1 is the first above the ground floor). Either way, the versions ending in EY are British; in just Y are American. For storey at least this British spelling distinguishes the word from that for a tale.

Silent E ending

Drawing on original French spellings, some British English words end in a double consonant and an E where the American spellings end on a single consonant only. This is to be found in words such as omelette/omelet and programme/program (though the latter is used in British English for computer programs). This is less commonly seen in gramme/gram, where the shorter spelling is now more common. Note: tonne in British spellings specifically refers to the metric tonne, while ton is used for the imperial unit; in America ton is used for both.

Individual words

Moustache is the British spelling; mustache the American.

Sulphur is British; sulfur, dropping the ph that comes from the Greek letter phi and replacing it with the more straightforward f, is American.

Aluminium with an -ium ending is British, and aligns with the endings of other elements such as calcium and potassium, but is pre-dated by the American spelling aluminum.

Following the trend in British English where different meanings of the same word sometimes get different spellings, the word for the rubber casing of a wheel is a tyre in British English, but a tire in American English.

A colour that might be formed of a mixture of black and white paint would be spelled gray in America and grey in Britain; a black tea flavoured with oil of bergamot, however, should be Earl Grey both sides of the Atlantic, as it is named after a person.

Do you have any favourite – or any that confuse or confound you? Do you prefer British of American spellings – or are some you prefer one way and some the other? Personally, I don’t think the O in a British moustache is needed, but appreciate the British spelling nuances available in written texts for words like storey, ensure and enquire. And while I’m equally comfortable with both T and ED endings for dreamt/dreamed, leapt/leaped and learnt/learned, I prefer spelled over spelt but also knelt over kneeled.

Most important, of course, is consistency. Whether American or British English is used – or indeed Canadian, which has elements of both in roughly equal measure, or Australian, which mostly follows British English with a few exceptions (like their Labor Party) – any piece of writing should stick to just one and use it throughout. We can’t have you analysing results on one page and realizing something on the next. And we certainly can’t have you drinking any Earl Gray tea.