Tuesday, 30 April 2013

[Writer's Blog] Creating Characters; A few Do's and a Definite Don't

In order to better understand and enhance my creative process ever since I decided to get back into story writing I turned to a variety of sources such as writing sites and a subscription to Writer's Magazine.  Much of what is being passed on to aspiring writers is on par with what I already know which is a relief. The only thing that has changed is the technology. I was disturbed to find however that under the guise of having stemmed from "published authors" there were some pointers that bordered on insane and if followed could cause more problems and possibly land one in prison. This has compelled me to put a few thoughts down here to assist fellow writers but also as an aide memoir for me because let's face it I would have a hard time raising the necessary bail money.

Image Credit; Riley Roxx

Characters Are All Around (DO)

Finding inspiration for believable characters is not as a hard as one might think. Unless you are living the life of a hermit you are surrounded by a rich limitless treasure of believable characters; other people. Theyare in our lives everyday from family and friends, passing strangers, colleagues all potential characters that could be worked into a story. 

People In Our Lives

Provided they have no objections people who feature in our daily lives from friends and family  to colleagues and acquaintances, can be crafted into fictional characters for the story.  Through years of cultivated relations we have been ushered through the door of someone's heart and mind where we learn about their greatest joys and their darkest fears. We also learn about their  strength of character and how they make their way through life's good times and the bad. Friends and family are the richest source as we know them well. Other people with whom we have relations (or dealings) such as acquaintances whilst not as intimately familiar we know well enough to draw inspiration. They say write what you know and the same goes for characterisation. You are surrounded by a wealth of human inspiration on a daily basis, so learn to utilise it. 

News and Literature

In order to be better writers we are called on to read, a lot and to observe extensively. This acts as an even richer source as thanks to the Internet we have access to people's stories that horrify and inspire (sometimes both!!!). This is another source that should be taken advantage of especially human interest stories although the idea can come from anywhere or anyone. For one story that involved competing athletes and the extreme measures used to win I based the two main characters on Olympic athletes. I prefer not to say which athletes but I inspiration from scandals involving athletes who went to great (and illicit) lengths to win. Magazines, news items, forums, social media can expose an author to a variety of stories and character traits to be used. 

People Watching

If like me you work best in a coffee shop or cafe with free WI-FI, stimulating & tasty beverages and a panoramic view of the surroundings then this is perhaps the best way to seek out and develop characters. Sit comfortably flip open your laptop and/or have a note book handy  and start discreetly looking around. See who is in the cafe with you and make notes about what you see or hear. Be sure to include dress, style, gestures, facial expressions, what people are eating and drinking etc. You can also use this to help the creative process flow by singling one or two people and then crafting a story around them. I once observed a couple entering a coffee shop, one of them was carrying a baby but there was no sign of the baby's pram/buggy, or even a bag of essential baby related items. I thought this was bizarre at first until a third person entered with said items. From observing them however I still created a number of scenarios from child kidnapping to meeting with prospective adoptive parents. One story even featured them as undercover spies and the baby was on loan. 

Caution is Key (Don't)

Remember when basing characters on real people (mainly living ones), whether they are people you know or have read about, be mindful that your sources are likely to be your readers. It can be flattering to recognise yourself in a piece of written work, and a little massaging of the ego never does any harm. However it is not hard for someone to take umbrage on what they read, especially if the portrayal is negative. This can cause breakdown in personal relationships and in some cases result in court action if you are seen to be defaming someone's character. 

Use these sources to add meat to the bones of your character and avoid the danger  of recreating them. Remember this is all about "creative" writing so be creative.

A Final Warning 

I mentioned earlier that I subscribed to Writers' Magazine, a very helpful publication full of interviews, insights, tips and of course prize winning competitions. As a free gift I received three books designed to teach yourself how to be a better writer, with one of them focusing on creative writing. In a chapter looking at Finding Believable Characters an exercise was prescribed as a principle means of character creation. Here is the exercise in full; 
Take yourself off into your nearest town or village. Spend some time really looking at your fellow citizens. Find someone who is as different from yourself as you can. Someone much older, say. Or much younger. And follow them. Keep a discreet distance but stay close enough to be able to watch how they move. If they are with companions, try and overhear what they say. You could even begin this exercise in a cafe, overhearing what your fellow customers are talking about and then following a selected target as he or she leaves the premises. Try and gather as much information about your target's life as you can and then, safely back at home, make some detailed notes. This should give you enough material on which to base a central character.

Image Credit; Sudhamshu

I can't even begin to detail what is wrong with this little exercise in building believable characters. Observing people sitting in a cafe, park, or on the bus stop is one thing but following them around? I am fairly certain that there are certain laws that prohibit such behaviour unless of course you are a policeman, member of the intelligence service, or Miss Marple. What is more alarming is the author's reference to "targets". Imagine if you will a stranger caught hanging around a school playground when questioned replies "it's OK officer, I am observing children at play for a story I am writing." 

What is suggested in the exercise is tantamount to stalking which is illegal. So anyone who has read the same book or have read this exercise in other publications then please, in the words of rapper Melle Mel , I implore you "don't don't don't do it, don't do it."

Monday, 29 April 2013

Open Innovation Competition to Design Better Cities for the Future

In an effort to find the ideal design for a sustainable city of the future IT giants Intel Labs Europe have launched the 2013 Better Cities competition in partnership with with Dublin City Council,Trinity College Dublin, and the European Commission on Open Innovation Strategy Policy Group (OISPG). The competition calls for designers and innovators to submit a video presentation outlining their designs for a city that is economically and socially sustainable using IT and open data. Participants will also be in with the chance of winning an assortment of prizes should their design be shortlisted and chosen as the winners by an independent judging panel of stakeholders and experts.

The partnership and competition all form part of the European Union's Digital Agenda known as Open Innovation 2.0 Sustainable Economy & Society collaboration effort. In addition to the competition a conference will be held at Dublin Castle from 20th to 21st May 2013 bringing together business leaders, academics and social innovators to develop a manifesto for a more sustainable economy and society development. 

Participants in the Better Cities competition will be asked to produce a 30 second video presentation outlining their idea for a city of the future, with a focus on how to engage citizens  and contribute to the innovative process. The video can take the form of spoken presentation, storyboard of the ideas, or even a demonstration. The competition will consist of two categories; university competition which will be open to students of third level institutions and the general competition for all entries. Prizes include a Dell Inspiron Laptop, tickets to a Gala Dinner, latest Motorola Smartphones, tablets and e-readers. 

The closing date for entries is 8th May 2013 and you click here for more details about the competition as well as those all important terms and conditions. A shortlist of suitable entries will be presented to the judging panel to chose the winners who will be contacted 15th May. 

Image Credit; Sam Howzit 

Friday, 26 April 2013

Outlandish Australian Election Candidate Crowdsources Campaign Video

General elections, no matter where they are held in the world attract their mix of heated debates as well as colourful and controversial running candidates. In the upcoming Australian Federal Elections, of the many candidates looking to unseat the incumbent Prime Minister Julia Gillard, none come more colourful and controversial than Bob Katter. No stranger to headline grabbing antics which have had Australians laughing and expressing outrage in equal measure, the self-proclaimed independent has turned to crowdsourcing in search of the winning campaign video.

As outlandish as he might seem, Bob Katter clearly has qualities that voters admire given that he has been a serving political representative for his home State of Queensland for nearly forty years. After having served as second lieutenant in the Combined Maritime Forces, Katter earned a living in various fields including insurance, mining as well as cattle interestes before turning his eye to politics. In 1974 he was elected to the State Queensland Legislative Assembly serving as it's member until 1992. Katter was then elected to the Federal House of Representatives for Kennedy in Queensland.

Recently during his campaign, Katter has entertained and infuriated Australian voters from claiming the Bieber cut as his own to calling for missile-equipped boats to patrol his country's borders protecting them from asylum seekers. Competition for the most coveted political seat in Australia is hotting up and Katter is rising to the challenge by using crowdsourcing to find a campaign video that best reflect his policies and personality. Submissions should be no more than 60 seconds in length and cover topical issues ("important stuff") such as nation building, what it means to be an Australian, and protecting local jobs. The deadline for submissions is 7th June 2013.

The tagline for Katter's YouTube call states that "this election, Bob Katter is doing something different. This election, Bob Katter is shaking things up." The decision to use crowdsourcing and social media reflects this statement, an innovative move to get the voting public involved in his campaign, something many politicians still avoid. Whilst it could be seen as refreshing to see crowdsourcing used in political campaigns, those who view Katter as an embarrassment might wish more serious candidates followed his ideal. Nevertheless the prospect of crowdsourcing as a democratizing tool is slowly being recognized in politics as evidence by Bob Katter's latest call.

Image Credit; mrsdkrebbs

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

GE and Quirky in Partnership to Inspire Greater Open Innovation

Leading multinational giant GE is no stranger to open innovation having backed campaigns seeking innovation in the medical field. The company's latest move brings them into partnership with Quirky.com, a venture that might be small in comparison but within a relatively short period has grown into a multi - million dollar enterprise. This David and Goliath team have announced the creation of an inspiration platform for inventors to browse through a selection of previously inaccessible patents and devise new consumer products.

To some, a behemoth company like GE partnering with a platform like Quirky might seem like an odd choice. Yet the sudden rise of Quirky, whose young founder Ben Kaufman is himself an inventor, makes the partnership an ideal one. At only 18 years of age Ben Kaufman convinced his parents to remortgage their home and loan him the sum of $185,000 to help fund the design for a  prototype of a new form of headphones. This product a retractable lanyard headphone known as the Song Sling went onto to help Kaufman's company Morphie win Macworld's Best of Show award for 2006. The young inventor/entrepreneur returned to Macworld the following year and set up a basic version of what would become the working model for Quirky. 

The ideas was simple; inventors pay a small fee (usually around $10) and submit their idea or design onto the platform. There they will be reviewed by Quirky's community of registered users, which number over 220,000, who will rate the design and offer any suggestions. Those that rank the highest are then reviewed by quirky's team of experts to assess it's uniqueness and market potential. On average the team select one to two ideas to per week for development into a product that will grace the shelves of some of the top name retail outlets. Quirky reviews as many as 120 products across a development cycle with more than 75 products on sale, and 35% of revenue sales going to the inventors. One of Kaufman's favourite products, the PowerCurl earned its inventor over $80,000.

Quirky's partnership with GE will help fuel their latest concept, the Inspiration platform through which inventors will have access to a portfolio of GE's selected patents. There is a potential barrier to some inventors not well versed with GE's technically rich and rigidly structured patents. This could make it difficult for some to extract key pieces of information to make any potential design viable. However the aim of making these patents available is to inspire and invigorate the inventor/entrepreneur, enriching Quirky's already established community and for GE access to some truly creative and innovative products.

Image Credits; KrossBow

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Help Crowdfund Rastamouse to A World Audience

Not content with spreading joy amongst the young of the shores of Blighty, Rastamouse, one of the UK's most popular children's television characters will be looking to "make bad tings good" the world over. The twice BAFTA nominated children's animation is looking to expand  onto the international scene, which as well as broadcasting all over the world, will also include lucrative licensing and merchandising opportunities. In order to make world domination of children's television possible the makers of the show are looking for investors to help raise the necessary funds through equity based crowdfunding offering in return a stake in this entertaining enterprise.

Rastamouse was first broadcast on the BBC's children's channel, cbeebies, in January 2011. The show quickly became popular with its blend of Caribbean style music, fun animation, colourful characters and of course its lovable star voiced by presenter and actor Reggie Yates. A second season was commissioned and broadcast in July the same year becoming the BBC's most watched children's programme, Rastamouse also garnered thousands of hits on YouTube as well as enjoying as regular repeats on both the BBC as well through the iPlayer on demand service. Rastamouse's popularity has rivalled that of previous popular children's characters such as the Teletubbies, and now  the creators want to take the lovable mouse to the next giant leap.

The show's creators, Three Stones Media, and The Rastmouse Company feel the time is right to produce further series for broadcasting but to a global audience, and are looking for investors to help make this happen. Through the UK based crowdfunding platform, FundTheGap, the creators are looking to raise £500,000 equating to a total of 5.3% equity. The investment will be used to facilitate the expansion of show to a planet wide viewing audience made possible thanks to a signing deal for international distribution with DHX Media. Specifically, the funds will be used to complete production on series three as well as the recently commissioned fourth series, help raise revenue from broadcasting commissions, expand merchandising and licensing operations, and produce live shows and tours.
It is fantastic that Rastamouse is to be featured on FundTheGap. The initiative sits alongside Three Stones Media’s current funding activity, and will allow fans and people who are not already in the industry, including parents of the kids that love our show, to be a part of and to benefit from, the success of Rastamouse. It will also open us up to a range of investors we wouldn't usually connect with if we were to only go down the traditional route of investment. - Greg Boardman, Producer, Three Stones Media
In terms of benefits for the investors Three Stones Media are aiming for extensive growth from 2013 to 2017. The target is for a five year exit strategy with a very healthy return anticipated for the investors, who will also qualify for tax relief under the UK SEIS and EIS schemes. At present the venture has only raised £17,000, just 3% of the target funds with less than 60 days of funding deadline. Those who are interested must first register with FundTheGap to qualify as an investor (if not already done so) before visiting the project's funding page 

Image Credit; Worthy FM

Friday, 5 April 2013

Crowdfunding The Road to Hollywood for UK Film Distributors

UK based startup Seraphim Entertainment has a mission to sell independent UK produced short films on the international market but needs the power of the investor crowd to make this happen. The company has therefore turned to equity crowdfunding via the platform Crowdcube for help offering not only just shares in the enterprise but also a Hollywood excursion which includes premier screenings and even a tour of some of the hot spots of the city where movie magic is conjured. 

Based in Bridgend, Wales, Seraphim Entertainment was founded by Daniel Lyddon and James Morgan who identified a gap in market for a brand identifiable with the distribution of short films. Calling upon their experience with the film industry as well as a run in or two with crowdfunding, the company's founders came up with the idea for a platform from which independently produced UK short films could be launched onto a global market. 

Seraphim Entertainment is looking to raise £80,000 and offering in exchange a stake of up to 20% in the venture. Additional funds are not being sought after from alternative sources. For investors who purchase shares into the first £40,000 of the required funds will receive "bonus shares" essentially being awarded double equity return on their investment. The money raised will be used to cover operation costs of the company which will include attending promotional events and festivals to secure the most sought after short films. 

In addition to owning  a piece of a UK film company, major investors may be in line for a number of red carpet rewards. These include exclusive access to the company's catalogue of  films as well a visit to Hollywood in conjunction with the UK Short Film Showcase. This event organised by Seraphim Pictures aims to take films from around the UK for an exclusive Hollywood premier to be screened at the Arclight Theatre on Los Angeles' Sunset Boulevard. The trip will include a Hollywood tour, tickets to the premier followed by a canape reception, and even a visit to Universal Studios Theme Park, and even attend the recording of a live show.

At present there is only one film lined up to be featured, The Final Punchline, but discussions are under way to add more titles that have garnered positive attention at festivals making them highly marketable. In fact Seraphim Entertainment is working to secure representation for two titles Under The Rug and Defining Fay. Investors looking to purchase shares in this venture should first register with the Crowdcube site before heading over the project's campaign page. Those looking to purchase a stake in the project can qualify for tax relief under the government SEIS scheme.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Croation Corporation Group Partners with Open Innovation Leaders NineSigma

Following in the steps of leading multi-national companies such as Unileaver and Nokia, Croatia's largest private company,the Agrokor Group has embraced the potential benefits of open innovation. The company, which has both a manufacturing and retail arm, has teamed up with NineSigma to develop and expand their own open innovation strategy. 

Since launching in 2000, NineSigma became one of the first providers of open innovation essentially setting the standard of open innovation practice. Big name brands such as Kraft, Philips, and Unilever have learnt to engage with the open innovation process tackling a wealth of challenges resulting in significant financial improvements. NineSigma currently boasts the largest community of solution providers and a comprehensive database of established innovation solutions. In June 2012, NineSigma launched NineSights, the first platform that combined open innovation with social media via a single hub. Its partnership with Agrokor illustrates the increasing popularity of open innovation as it spreads beyond Europe, US and Asia into Eastern Bloc continents and beyond.
Through this relationship with NineSigma, Agrokor and its companies will enjoy access to the world's greatest network of innovators. With this investment we have started to adopt a new innovation strategy, open innovation, which will be implemented through all of our business processes. Our plan is to strengthen our own research and development capacities, integrate new knowledge, and expand our product portfolio to successfully respond to competitive challenges - Ivica Todoric, CEO of The Agrokor Group.
Although largely unheard of outside of its homeland of Croatia, the Agrokor Group is generally considered to be the largest company in Europe's Adria region, a big leap from its early days as producers of flowers and flower seedlings. After it was founded in 1976 the company expanded its operations over the years acquiring a variety of other business, including Konzum, the country's largest supermarket chain with over 600 stores, as well as big names in retail, newsstands, and even agriculture. By 2009 the group recorded annual sales of over EUR 3.6 billion ranking it number 18 in Deloitte's list of Central Europe's biggest companies.

Crowdsourcing and open innovation continue to be recognised as the leading provider of innovative product design, and marketing techniques for a digital age where Web 2.0 is becoming increasing adapted into many companies' everyday operations. Agrokor has already proven its ability to thrive in one of the toughest regions in the world despite a crippling financial climate. As consumer-centric engagement through the web spreads across the continents, Agorkor's partnership with NineSigma, generally considered to be the leader in its field, should it help it remain competitive and prosperous in an ever changing and demanding market.

Image Credit; Joakim Westerlund