The Rundown: Week of September 10 – 16, 2018

I take in a lot of articles, blogs and podcasts through the week. It feels wasteful to keep all this goodness to myself. Here are a few highlights of things I read or heard that are worth your time.

Worth a read

Stewart, Susan. “Use a Story Structure to Make Writing Your Novel a Lot Easier.” The Writing Cooperative. 2018sept06.

Stewart offers a quick blog post (4 minute read) about the value of studying particular narrative forms as an aid to organizing your own work. When writing fiction, I most often write from a very clear sense of an opening scene and improvise plot from there. This “Write From the Seat of My Pants” approach often sends me into dark alleys, where the plot is easily lost or confused.

Stewart suggests that command of narrative structure can help in advance with brainstorming major plot points, twists and character development. She offers six different forms: Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey; The Three Act Novel; The 7-point Story Structure; The W Story Structure; The Snowflake Method; and The Story Equation as structures to explore. The Hero’s Journey is famous as the plot structure employed for Star Wars. I have worked a bit recently with Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method, an interactive layering approach to story building. The article includes graphs, which helps visualize the major elements of each. It doesn’t matter so much which method you employ so much as it matters that you pick a method and practice it deeply. The Hero’s Journey and Snowflake Method are the two plot methods that appeal most to my work.

Hardy, Benjamin. “Here’s How Successful People Avoid Information Overwhelm.” Ladders. 2018Sept04.

This article celebrates the wisdom of intentionally limiting the information inputs you welcome into your life. Successful people are ruthless about protecting their attention so that they stay focused on the things that matter most to them. Lots of things matter but you cannot possibly take it all in. You certainly can’t act on most of it. Too much information means too many choices about where to place your attention. Paralysis and fatigue sets in.

Here’s the crux: “Removing options is not limiting, it’s liberating. It allows you actually to have a path, a plan, and to get some traction. Most people are tossed to and fro with every new idea. They have no stable footing upon which to stand, and consequently, they are wholly aimless and confused by the complexity of everything going on around them.”

Decide what you are trying to accomplish and only study those things. You will miss out on things that matter, to be sure, but the most important of those other things will inevitably show up in your attention eventually.

Rosen, Jeffrey. “America is Living in James Madison’s Nightmare.” The Atlantic. October 2018 issue.

The Founding Fathers designed American government to be as democratic as they dared with protections built in to protect against the worst impulses of mob rule. Our social media age is the latest in an ongoing evolution of technologies that help like-minded people find each other across ever greater distances while shortening the time between thought and action. In preparing the Federalist Papers, Madison studied the demise of historical democracies and placed his faith in the size of country as a natural brake on intemperate acts. It turned out that newspapers and, eventually, political parties worked against the cooling potential of size. Insightful read on our present moment and where we might go from here. Inspired me to read the Federalist Papers ASAP.

Worth a listen

Trash! Planet Money. (Episode 613)

Turns out, recycling is a business and is prone to market fluctuations. The plastic you put out at the curb doesn’t always make it into the post-consumer after life. They know. They placed tracking devices on their trash to see where it goes.

Is the 1st Amendment Obsolete? On the Media. 2018Sept07.

Summary: “Between the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, an anonymous op-ed in The New York Times and the Senate hearings on Twitter and Facebook policies, questions about political decorum and dissent percolated all week on Capitol Hill. During this time of heated debate and protest, however, many of us continue to use dated terms to describe freedom of speech. According to constitutional law scholar Tim Wu, author of The Attention Merchants, the language of the First Amendment fails to incorporate how speech is censored in 2018: by online mobs, anonymous death threats and the flooding of news-feeds with pro-government narratives. He and Bob discuss why the 1st Amendment may be obsolete, and a new law that could protect our fragile free speech environment.”

The Story Behind the Numbers. TED Radio Hour. 2018Aug17.

We often assume we live in terrible times, but an exploration of data shows a very different possibility. Things may actually getting better for most people. Much better. Features author Steven Pinker and his argument that progress, while not inevitable, is happening. There is analysis of the Gross Domestic Product as an incomplete metric for national well-being. Most powerfully, a rather gloomy but hopeful discussion with Paul Gilding on the imperative of economic growth run up against Earth’s limited resources.

Superpowers. This American Life. 2001Feb23.

The best, funniest episode of This American Life ever. I’ll just leave it there for you.

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