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It really helps to read writings out loud April 18, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Misc, Novel, On Writing, Study.
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The other day I finally got to workshop a chapter of my novel in my creative writing class.  I was a bit nervous (as I always am when getting other people to read my writing), but this was a little different.

This was a genuine first draft, and it wasn’t the type of writing the class was seeing.  The style was chatty, colloquial, and very light on description.  There was a lot of telling, not a whole lot of showing.  It was my attempt at something new in order to try and establish the voice, the most important part and what I’ve been struggling with.

If I learned one thing that night, it’s that reading your writings out loud really helps.  As I said, this was a first draft, but I did have a read over it to correct typos and spelling/grammatical errors.  But I read it over in my head, and to me, it all sounded fine.  I thought it was good enough.

When I read it out loud in class, however, it was a different story.  The story itself was not problematic but there was something about the rhythm to the narrative and the voice that were just a little…off.  There were moments when it sagged, when it didn’t sound right.  It was a flaw my lecturer picked up and said it was particularly important in comedic pieces (which this was) to have the right beats.  I hit some and missed some in this draft.

There were various other tips and recommendations from my classmates (including, of course, trying to ‘dramatise’ the ‘telling’ a bit more), but this was one thing that stood out the most.  Reading my writings out loud helped me to capitalise on the problem immediately.

From now on, that’s what I’m going to do with every draft and redraft.  Read it out loud and see how it sounds!

Movie Review: Something Borrowed (2011) April 18, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews, Reviews.
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National Release Date: 5 May 2011

Something Borrowed has a specific target audience in mind, and that target audience doesn’t include me.  After all, it is based on the bestselling chick lit novel (by Emily Griffin) and stars Kate Hudson, who I simply don’t like for reasons I don’t really understand.

Something Borrowed is an apt title, I suppose, because it borrows freely from other chick lit and chick flicks.  Rachel (Ginnifer Goodwin from She’s Just Not That Into You — is it just me or has she lost a lot of weight?) is a thirty-year old single woman who is a quiet sidekick to her wild best friend Darcy (Kate Hudson), and is secretly in love with said friend’s fiance Dex (Colin Egglesfield), who was once her potential suitor and may have feelings for her too.

That’s all I’ll say but I imagine you can guess the rest.  Angst, heartache, heartbreak, loyalty, betrayal, friendship, love lost and love won — you get the gist.  It’s categorised as a rom-com but the humour is light and typical.  I wouldn’t call it completely predictable but there was definitely a sense of inevitability to the whole thing, which was all very formulaic.

There were good reasons for me to like the film.  Rachel is a lawyer (my old world) and her long-time confidant Ethan (John Krasinki) is a writer (my new world).  It’s a film about something I can appreciate — competing desires — what you want against what others think is right.  But I just couldn’t get into it, and I doubt the rest of the almost entirely male reviewer audience could either.

To be fair, I am a fan of Ginnifer Goodwin, who seems to be making a habit of being the lead actress without getting top billing (she was really the central character of He’s Just Not That Into You and dominates this film from start to finish).  She gives a stellar performance and is likable as the torn Rachel.  And as much as I hate to say it, Kate Hudson was pretty good too (but it doesn’t change the way I feel about her).  As for the male cast, John Krasinki was solid, bringing his comedic presence from The Office along with him, but Colin Egglesfield was horrible.  A fine looking man, but he failed to bring out a character that could have and should have been so much more.

Ultimately, the target audience may very well enjoy Something Borrowed.  Modern fairytalesque love triangle, (very) light humour, pretty stars and a cookie-cutter plot with an ending that’s too neatly wrapped for my liking (though for a film of this kind it’s not too bad).  I just wish it was more engrossing, had more laughs, and had more likable characters.  Was that too much to ask?

2 stars out of 5

Hangzhou’s Lingyin Temple April 18, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in China, Travel.
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That says 'Lingyin Temple'

The most famous attraction at Hangzhou is obviously the beautiful West Lake that dominates the city.  Having arrived around noon on the first day, and after checking into the hotel and eating a quick lunch at the Ajisen Ramen across the road, we decided to check out an attraction away from the lake — Lingyin Temple.

Lingyin Temple is a Zen Buddhism temple up in the mountains west of West Lake and you pretty much have to catch a cab to get there.  Cars can only go so far, and after we were dropped off, we asked a security guard which way we should head to see the temple (there was basically left and right).

The dude told us that it was a long, mountainous walk, and that we would be better off catching one of the tourist shuttle buses which takes you right to the temple.  I can’t remember how much the fare was, but it wasn’t all that expensive, so we went along with it.

The shuttle bus took on another solo passenger (a local) and departed basically 90% empty.  It went left.  And the security guard was right — it was indeed a long, mountainous path, and we were glad we didn’t have to walk it.  We went past some pretty scenery, a monastery, and spotted rows upon rows of Longjin teal plantations.

Longjin tea plantations

A monastery

The shuttle bus eventually stopped and told us that we would have to walk the last leg.  It wasn’t far, the temple was right in front of us.  The solo traveller went with us, taking photos (mostly of the young school girls nearby) along the way.

As soon as we entered the grounds, I felt a strange wave of serenity sweep over me.  It was indeed beautiful, with pagodas and rocky walls lining a misty lake — the kind that you might see in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.  Further down there were some rock carvings along the cliff walls of buddhas.  Very cool.  We snapped away.  And this was just the outside.

Misty lake...

The famous carvings at Feilai Feng (aka Flying Peak)

To go in, as expected, you need to pay an entry fee.  No worries.  I’m glad we decided to go in, because it was definitely worth the price of admission.  Once we walked through the main arch into the central courtyard, there was a massive temple standing right in front of us, and dozens of people lighting up incense sticks and praying towards it.

To join in on the fun, I went and grabbed/bought (can’t remember if they were free) a whole bunch of incense sticks and went up to the little furnace they had running there to light it up.  It was harder than it looked, and awfully hot.  The little sticks just wouldn’t light.  I was told to take them out and shake them a little, get some air into them.  I must have shook took hard, because the entire bunch of sticks (about 12 of them) snapped right in the middle!  It was embarrassing.  Fortunately, they were still long enough to use.

The crowded central courtyard

After bowing in the general direction (following the crowd) and sticking them in this dusty box where everyone else was sticking them, we walked inside the temple.  Sadly, no photography allowed, but believe me when I say it was awesome.  How do they make such giant buddhas (and his friends)?

We discovered there was a door at the back of the temple and walked out, and low and behold, there was another one, built higher up on the mountain.  And there was another one after that, and I believe there was one more.  Lingyin Temple was essentially several temples built on top of each other.  There was also a small museum of some sort with some interesting artifacts.

Wall carvings inside the temple grounds

In the end, we spent a lot longer there than we had anticipated.  We even went back outside and snapped more photos of the misty lake.  The only downer was seeing the poor beggars hanging around the area, many with only stumps for arms and legs.

When we were finally done, we walked out of the temple grounds (in the opposite direction from where we came), hoping to find a taxi stand.  We didn’t want to walk all the way back.  But as it turned out, a few steps later we were back where we got off the cab.  Holy crap — we realised we had been duped by the security guard.  If we had headed right instead of left, we would have been able to walk to the temple entrance in two minutes.  Instead, we went left on the shuttle bus and took the long scenic route.  I can only guess he was trying to help out the economy.

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