Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Create Ideas by Playing With Tropes

The most common question to writers is probably "Where do you get your ideas from?" I think this is a worthy question, especially for the writers. If we can discover how we come up with ideas, we can foster it to come up with ideas or try to create specific kinds (curing writer's block?).

I have a number of answers to this question. Sometimes ideas just strike me. Sometimes I hear a word or phrase and roll it around in my mind until it builds up into a full idea. Sometimes I think of a what-if situation and build up from there. The most common thing, though, is that I try to do the opposite if what everybody does.

"Ninjas are always portrayed as super soldiers or incompetent boobs," I say to myself. "Why isn't there a story about an average ninja?" Shortly after that (and I mean seconds), I started working on a comic series called Average Ninja.

Similar ideas have included "How come everybody with a superpower will eventually use it for good or evil? Does nobody simply think it's not worth it and either doesn't use it or just uses it to live a mostly average life?" Also, "Why does every bad guy either want to rule the world? What would happen if he actually did it?"

I usually call it screwing with standards. It can also be called playing with tropes. There are a number of ways to do it and this page has a bunch of them and convenient examples. I won't write them all here because the page is perfect as it is.

There are a lot of stories out there. Many of them use the same tricks and techniques over and over again. When it reaches the point that you can identify them, you should try to screw with them. Why is the damsel always in distress? Invert it and make the prince trapped in a tower and the princess have to rescue him. But whenever a woman isn't a princess, she's always a brutish amazon warrior; what if we subvert and make the woman who is going to fight the dragon fight her with words or diplomacy?

Whatever terms you use, the point for me is to do something different. Try to surprise the audience. If you can, try to surprise yourself. The sheer novelty of a new spin on an old classic (which is yet another term for it) can get you pretty far. It doesn't always guarantee a good story, but it is a fantastic way to create ideas.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Poetry Analysis: The Cherry Tree

I've been talking a lot about poetry in theory lately, so I wanted to put some of that theory to practice. So, I am putting my own work on display. The following is a poem I wrote in college called The Cherry Tree. I consider it my best poem for a few reasons: It has gotten more praise than any other poem I've written, it has never been rejected by a publisher, I have put in more work on this poem than any other and I am the most proud of the result.

In the heart of Tooms Field
A sole cherry tree blooms.

It marks the Great War of Haight
Where eight hundred opened bodies
Stained the white ground brown and red.

When winter falls
The horizon shines iridescent white
Save the human pink of the cherry blossoms.

No war deserves a monument
That makes its orphans smile.

Starting first with the story, there is one. We don't see action, but the story is told through a series of scenes. The first scene is a cherry tree, covered in flowers, surrounded by nature. The second scene jumps back in time and we see the remnants of a war. The green grass becomes covered in snow, which is stained red with blood and littered with mutilated corpses. The third scene, white snow covered in cherry blossoms, shows the same colors, but in a peaceful and attractive form, also bringing the scene back to the present. The fourth scene, admittedly, is weak. There is no concrete description. The closest we have is smiling orphans, which can imply little kids running and playing and climbing the tree while single mothers stand by watching, but such implications are more suited to lyrics than poetry.

Although the final stanza is the weakest visually, it is the strongest part of the poem. It is the point, the summary. It caps the story, which itself is very grave, and uses no flowery language. I spent the better part of a day trying to figure out the last stanza alone. I wrote and rewrote and struggled, racking my brain to come up with something that could do all of that. And when people read it, they always comment on those two lines. The last stanza gets more attention than anything else.

What gets the next amount of attention are the two names in the poem. People usually figure out that Tooms and Haight are homophones of 'tombs' and 'hate', respectively, and ask if that's the case. The only criticism this poem has gotten is the suggestion that the wordplay of those names can detract from the seriousness of the story. I kept them, though, because I believe that what they offer is worth the potential cost.

Tooms and Haight set a tone. Even people who don't realize the wordplay will feel a certain gravity by saying them or hearing them in their head. The sounds are powerful, even if they are represented with different letters. They also connect with other words that make for a solid unit and smooth transition. 'Tooms' rhymes with 'blooms', though it doesn't sound childish because it is not end rhyming; it just connects them. 'Haight' similarly rhymes with 'eight' and they both have the ay sound which is found in 'stained'.

Within the whole of the poem, there are many r and s sounds, which roll esily off the tong, making the poem smooth. This keeps energy low because there is nothing to build it up or crash it down. It creates a reserved or relaxed mood. Combining that with the serious subject material makes for a somber tone, which is the point (juxtaposing beauty with tragedy).

The choice of words also aids in the telling of the story. To simply say that there is a cherry tree in a field is too vague. By saying that it was in the heart of a field creates a sense of being surrounded by grass. By saying that there is a sole cherry tree, it shows that it is alone. And since it is in a field and not a forest, we know that there is nothing else around. By saying that it marks the Great War, as opposed to commemorating it, it keeps the mental image in the same place, which allows for the change in colors and images to stay grounded. When the tree is referred to as a 'monument', it can be understood that it was planted to commemorate or honor the battle and all the people who lost their lives there and is not simply a location marker. Its significance is increased by connecting it with dead people, making the beauty tragic, and making the smiles that immediately follow it also tragic.

A good poem tells a story or shows a scene. It makes use of words, sounds, and imagery, weaving all of them into a dense piece of writing that tells the story or shows the scene. It should also make the reader think. The Cherry Tree does all of those things. That is why I think it is an example of good poetry. The difficulty of doing all that is also the reason I write so very little of it.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Writing Exercise: Write the Story that Lyrics Imply

I mentioned in my previous post that lyrics are the essence of writing. Lyrics imply a story, but they are incomplete. This provides an excellent exercise for writers. Take the lyrics of any song, hopefully one you enjoy. Study the lyrics and try to fill in the missing parts. Write the complete story that the lyrics imply.

As an example, I've chosen the song Flying by Neulander. The lyrics are as follows:

She was a lonely girl
Doesn’t have a lot of something to remind you
Lives in a lonely world
She’s always been there riding right behind you
She traveled around the world, going about it all the wrong way

She traveled alone until something comes up, but you know that it never will
Flying around the world
Oooohhhh, a lonely girl

She was a lonely girl
Grew up in her own society
It took a little piece of her
Like it took a little piece of you and me
She traveled around the world
In order to get away from her mother and…
Well, it was strange because, one thing never really led to another and…

Flying around the world
Oooohhh, a lonely girl

If you see her you should remind her of all the things she said
If you see her you should remind her she’s better off ‘cause she’s…
Not dead…

Flying around the world
Oooohhh, a lonely girl

I’ve lived in golden cities and I’ve lived in funeral towns
Went to the roof of the world and i didn’t ever want to come…

My mother is dead and my father is dead
And all my brothers and sisters are dead
And my heart goes boom, boom, boom

For the sake of not making this entry too long, my story will be on the short side:

A man sits in his seat, waiting for the jet to take off. He is wearing a Hawaiian shirt, Bermuda shorts, and sandals. Everybody is glaring at him, partly for being an eyesore and partly for being obnoxious. In the seat behind him is a girl that nobody notices. She's dressed in a red t-shirt, blue jeans, and sneakers. She's been on more planes than any of the passengers, been in more countries than any of them, and has spoken the fewest words.

She would never start a conversation with any of them, but she desperately wishes they would start one with her. She wishes somebody would ask her about herself. She wishes she could tell her story, about her horrible, overbearing, slave driver of a mother, about how she left at age 16, about how she has been to over half the continents since then.

But nobody ever starts that conversation. That's the reason she has traveled so much. When she left the house for the last time, her mantra was "I'll travel until something comes up. Then one thing will lead to another and I'll be where I should be." But nothing did come up. One thing never really led to another. And so she continues to travel, but no longer does she have the hope. She simply has nothing else to do.

And although she wants somebody to ask her about herself, what she needs is something different. She needs somebody to remind her that she's better off because she's not dead. She needs to be told that, no matter where you go and what you do, being alive is the greatest part of being alive. She needs somebody to tell her about their life, somebody who will say "My mother is dead and my father is dead and all my brothers and sisters are dead. And my heart goes boom, boom, boom."

A few notes on this example of what I've done. This is not an entirely faithful representation. Certain details I have added to it. I took the role of a narrator, but not necessarily the same narrator as the one in the song. I made up most of the story, but I did borrow certain lyrics directly.

There are no rules in how to do this. You can try to be so faithful to the lyrics that you just retell them as prose. You can try to fill in the gaps by adding a little of your own ideas. You could retell the story through the eyes of a different person (e.g. I could have told the story as the girl, as the mother, as the obnoxious passenger). You could also use the lyrics as a base and totally make up your own story (this is a great technique for especially vague lyrics). Whatever gets you writing is good. If you need some restrictions to get you started, then stick with the faithful-but-filling-the-gaps version.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Poetry vs. Lyrics

On their face, poetry and lyrics seem to be the same thing. They both use fractured English to convey a feeling, tell a story, or show a scene. They both can rhyme (though lyrics tend to do that far more). It seems the only difference is that lyrics have music as a background.

In reality, lyrics and poetry are different from each other down to their core. As I mentioned when I first started this foray into poetry, lyrics are the essence of writing and poetry is condensed writing.

Lyrics can tell a story, but it will be in the sparsest words possible. Lyrics would be like "She flew around the world/Looked for something pure/She came home with an answer/But she was never sure." This is the beginning of a story. It contains all the necessary parts: character, setting, action, plot. It just doesn't have a whole lot of it. There also isn't much to grab on to, either. No matter how much you study those words, you can never know what the full story is because there just isn't enough material. That is why they are the essence of writing.

Now, if lyrics were written alone, they would just be crappy poetry. It's weak writing with lots of repetition and not a whole lot going on (the standard song has about 12 unique lines in it). What makes lyrics acceptable is that they are not alone. They come with music, which is just as integral to the writing as the words.

Music is also meant to be performed. In this aspect, lyrics are similar to spoken poetry, where the aural experience takes precedence and can allow for less-than-stellar meaning.

On a final note, I want to say that there are several definitions of lyrics. One definition is that lyrics are any words that are spoken with music. Another definition is that lyrics are a specific form of writing (the essence of writing). I have been using the latter definition. As a result, that means that a song could have words accompanying it that are incredibly deep and dense. Such an example would be more akin to poetry than lyrics.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Poetry to be Heard

As I said yesterday, there are two kinds of poetry: that which is meant to be read and that which is meant to be heard. The two are so different from each other that they need to be discussed separately. So, that's what I'm doing.

Poetry that is meant to be heard is more akin to music than it is to the other form of poetry. However, it is still very distinct from music/lyrics (more on that tomorrow). This poetry should be experienced more than studied.

Spoken poetry (as I will now call it) is performance art by its nature. The key qualities are its sounds. The same things that you practice in all writing (ease of pronunciation, soft sounds for calm situations and hard sounds for emphasis, etc.) now become more important than ever. People won't just be hearing your work in their head as they read; they'll be hearing it in their ears as you speak it out loud. Writing must be entertaining and the most entertaining part will be the aural experience, so make sure it is top notch.

As I said earlier, this is poetry, not music. As such, it should still be treated as poetry. It should be dense. It should tell a story or show a scene. You just need to make sure that people will pay attention. Execution is always important and that includes the performing of the poetry. If you really want to make sure that people pay attention to the words and what they mean, you need to speak slowly enough for people to hear and to process them. You also need to force them to listen by using the tools of the trade (speed up, slow down, louder and softer, eye contact, etc.).

Of course, the natural fear of public speaking makes many people speak fast and either very loud or very quiet (usually very quiet). In that case, the best thing to do is get over your fears, but the next best thing to do is write poetry whose words matter less and whose sounds matter more.

That is the main difference between spoken and written poetry. Spoken poetry demands impeccable sounds and word choice but can let the meaning suffer for it. Written poetry demands impeccable meaning, but can let the musical qualities suffer to do so. Aside from that, they are remarkably similar (which is probably why they're both called poetry).

Friday, March 26, 2010

Poetry to be Read

I have a complicated relationship with poetry. I do love good poetry, but I write very little. And of all the poetry that exists in the world, I hate the massive majority of it. I can't even stand most of the classics or greats. The problem is that I have very strict beliefs when it comes to poetry.

First of all, there are two kinds of poetry: poetry meant to be read and poetry meant to be heard. They have very different characteristics, so each one will get its own entry. Today, as you may have guessed, is poetry meant to be read.

Before we get into the specifics, I think it is important to remember that all poetry is writing and should cover the universal characteristics of writing. It needs to tell a story or show a scene. Characters should be interesting, relatable, believable. The world needs to be concrete. It needs to be entertaining and satisfying on a first read and also on subsequent readings. It should provoke thought in readers.

Most of the reason I hate so much poetry is that it does the exact opposite of good writing. It is incredibly vague. It tells instead of shows. It beats around the bush and never gets to the point. Instead of showing a scene of two people in love, doing something that expresses that love, they simply talk about the concept of love itself. And not only that, but they never even use the word love. God forbid you call a spade a spade.

Poetry is the densest form of writing.

I often hear poetry called the essence writing. I disagree. Lyrics are the essence of writing (more on that in a couple days). The essence is the core, the simplest, smallest part that makes it what it is. Poetry is not that. Poetry is condensing a short story into a paragraph (or stanza) or a novel into a page. You haven't stripped anything out of it; you have crunched it all into a tight, tiny space (like when a star goes nova and collapses into a neutron star or like when you take a handful of fluffy snow and mash it into a snowball).

Dense writing means every level is doing as much as it can. The sounds, words, phrases, and sentences are all providing as much meaning as possible. They set the mood, the scene, characterize people, describe action. They show the the set-up, point of tension, climax, and resolution of a story. Poetry uses groupings that prose doesn't use, namely line breaks and stanzas (though stanzas function similarly to paragraphs), which allows it to drop the fluff in prose (like grammar and transition words), leaving only the densest words.

I have been told that poetry should be experimental. I think poetry can be experimental. I also think that most of those experiments fail miserably. Most "experimental" poetry is either weird or confusing. Like I said earlier, poetry is still a form of writing. If it doesn't entertain, it has failed because nobody will want to read it, let alone think about or study it.

'Poetry' is one of those terms that has no solid definition. It seems that just about anything under the sun can be called poetry. While people may not agree on a definition, I do have one. Poetry is dense writing. If you want to know how to write poetry, the first step is to write a story. Then all you have to do is make it more efficient.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Surprise Yourself

It is useful in your writing to be able to surprise your audience. It is useful for your sanity to be able to surprise yourself. If you aren't getting excited, anxious, or curious about what you're writing, it may be time for a change.

What gets me the most excited to write a story is to find out what happens next. I have a scene or a character or a situation and I want to know what came before what happens, and what comes after.

Eventually, though, there reaches a point where I have figured it all out. I get writing and I work on the story and the actions and there comes a point where everything falls in place and I know what will happen from there to the end of the story. That is the exact moment where I have the greatest difficulty finishing the story. It is no longer an adventure or a mystery. It's just work. I have to sit down, put one word down after another, and reach the end.

If you ever find yourself in such a rut, throw a monkey wrench into the machine. You're the author. You're God. You can do whatever you want. Even if you can't make your characters do what you want (because of taking n a life and personality of their own), you can still create obstacles, twists and turns at every corner. Try to make up a situation that you yourself didn't see coming.

I will warn that it is possible to hurt your story in this way. Obstacles for the sake of putting in obstacles can be a drag; they can put off the main story while not adding anything. That doesn't mean that you shouldn't make extra twists happen; you may need them to keep yourself interested enough to finish the story. Just be able to make them significant or useful, to show something we hadn't seen before. And if not, just be willing to chop it out in editing. As long as it does what you need, it has served its purpose.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Surprise the Audience

I personally find it very important to surprise the audience. If you watch a Disney movie, there are no surprises. Heroes are always in danger, but can never die. There is always some point of suspense, but we always know it will be resolved and get a picture-perfect Disney ending. No matter how well-executed the story is, it can never be surprising, which takes away from the potential power.

That does not mean that these stories aren't powerful. It means that they could be more powerful. A story that doesn't surprise must rely entirely on its execution to entertain the audience. West Side Story is just Romeo and Juliet, which is just Pyramis and Thisbe. So why don't we just read the original story and be happy? Because their execution is so fantastic. Romeo and Juliet turned a classic Greek story into a modern British tale. West Side Story turned an old British tale into a modern American story. They were both extremely relevant when they were made and were so significantly different than the predecessors that the already-known story wasn't a problem due to its magnificent execution.

However, despite execution alone being powerful, a surprising story can add even more. Make your characters make nonstandard decisions. When a character says it's too dangerous to try to save the trapped friend, have the hero agree. When the main characters only have one option and the odds are massively against them, maybe try being realistic and not having them always succeed.

Sometimes it's not just about the choices people make. Make surprising connections. Have unexpected thoughts. Not many people think of vanilla extract and consider how it represents the need for diversity in a culture, but some weirdos do just that. Those are the kinds of things that can grab attention. They are familiar enough that people don't need to look it up, but are expressed in a totally new way, forcing people to think about it.

People are constantly coming across familiar things. It basically is the definition of the mundane. If you want people to pay attention (and I'm sure you do), then surprise them. Surprise them in any way you can.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

You're the Author; You Should Know

I get really bothered when I read something like "They traveled for 6 or 7 days" or "He was a man between 34 and 37" or "Her sweater was pink or purple." There is no excuse for phrases like this. How can you be so vague? You're the author; you should know.

This goes right along with being concrete and creating definite worlds. If you are telling the story, you should know every relevant fact involved. If you don't know some fact, then either you haven't put in enough effort or it is a piece of information that isn't important and should be left out. And of course, if you do know a concrete fact, you should be specific and avoid vagueness in your writing.

I will admit that there are exceptions to this. If a character is speaking or is narrating a story, vagueness is allowed. A character may not know exactly how old somebody is, may not remember how long they traveled, may have trouble recalling a color (though that may still be better left out if it isn't relevant). I will say, though, that even if the character doesn't know something exactly, you still need to. You're the author you should know everything.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Examples Without Concepts

I think that vanilla extract is pretty neat stuff. You can add it to so many dishes and it makes them taste delicious. And yet, if you drink it straight from the bottle, it's disgusting. It's a perfect example of. . . actually, I have no idea what it's a perfect example of. I first came across this in high school and I still have no idea what concept it exemplifies.

Sometimes, I find things that are particularly interesting to me. I think about them all the time. I would love to use them in a piece of writing, but I have no idea what to do with it. If I was pushed, I could certainly find some way to BS meaning from it. With the vanilla extract example, I could say that it is an example of the need to have dilution or diversity; some things are so powerful that having nothing but them would be unpalatable to anyone.

Actually, that sounds like a decent beginning set-up. It makes me think of a story where every character is the same generic archetype. If every character is a witty jerk or every character is a noble adventurer, the world could never work. Conversations between witty jerks would never end because every snide remark would be met with a snide remark that would require a similar response. If every person was a hero, there would be nobody to give out the quests for heroes to take, not to mention anybody to run the inns and markets for heroes to resupply. These character types we love so much are wonderful, but only when they are rare and surrounded other people who are very different.

This sounds all well and good, except for the fact that I'm full of crap. This has nothing to do with vanilla extract. It's me grasping at straws to try to make any connection I can. I like my vanilla extract example too much to sully it with this ridiculousness.

Sometimes we just have examples without concepts. There's nothing wrong with that. Enjoy them for what they are. Just don't try to make it something that it's not.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Putting One Word Down Ater Another

A friend pointed me to Neil Gaiman's blog, specifically to an essay giving advice to writers. In one point, he mentioned that people will often come up to him, offering a truly fantastic idea that is sure to be a best seller and all Gaiman has to do is put the words on paper. At that point, Neil kindly explains that he already has plenty of ideas and doesn't have enough time to work on his own stuff. Ideas are pretty cheap. Everybody gets them all the time. Gaiman writes, ". . .no matter how good the idea, the execution is everything. And the real work is done at the keyboard or huddled over the notebook, putting one word down after another."

I find this particularly true. I have countless ideas in every stage of completeness. I have fully-realized ideas, ideas that need a good editing, ideas that need major revision, half-formed ideas, one-sentence ideas, and vague notions of ideas. And without a doubt, I have the least amount of fully-realized writing. It's hard. It's a pain in the butt. It's time-consuming and exhausting. Half-formed ideas and vague notions of ideas are way more fun to imagine certain scenes and how awesome it will be when it's real. Actually making it real can be way less fun (mostly because it takes effort).

Still, it should serve as a reminder and a motivation to writers. The difference between us and them is that we sit down and put one word down after another. We all have ideas, but writers do something about them. Instead of fantasizing about it and talking about how great it will be, we actually make something that's great. It isn't easy, but if it was, everybody would be doing it instead of just talking about it.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Comedy Breeds Drama; Drama Breeds Comedy

i find that it is always really easy to kill the mood. Whenever something serious is going on, it is too easy to make jokes. When people are making jokes, I want to dissect and discuss them and what they would entail.

I've always found that comedy breeds drama and drama breeds comedy. This can very easily become a struggle in writing. If you are a natural comedian, but doing a serious piece, you may find yourself wanting to crack a lot of jokes. Feel free to crack them in your head, but it's probably not a good idea to write them in your story.

Similarly, though it may be interesting to discuss the possibilities in making a pig fly, somebody who uses the phrase light-heartedly has already set the mood as light-hearted, so even if you are intrigued by the idea, keep it to yourself unless the mood changes.

Some willpower is all you need. Writing is usually better by saying the things that naturally come forth as you think, but there are certain limitations. Cracking a joke in the heroic sacrifice scene is one such limitation.

Write With A Purpose

I have trouble writing longer works of finish because they feel like they drag on and I lose steam. One method of avoiding this problem is to write with a purpose. Specifically, make each chapter or section have a specific goal.

In chapter one, the main character is introduced and we see his old life being destroyed. In chapter two, the main character has no choice but to start his journey. He meets a guy who, despite a shaky start, becomes an unlikely companion. In chapter three, the main characters get lost in the woods and learn about each other's histories and motivations while trying to find their way back to civilization. In chapter four, the two lose sight of their goal, get disheartened, but a mysterious stranger gives them new directions that reinvigorate their spirits.

Chapters naturally function as section breaks. You might as well predesignate them with specific goals to cover. This will also focus you and allow you to keep writing without burning out on trying to figure out what happens next or what needs to be added.

The Spectrum Character-Driven and Story-Driven

I've been thinking about the classifications of character-driven and story-driven for writing. I can't help but find these to be worthless labels. Stories are not simply character-driven or story-driven; they're both. Any given story is going to have a certain amount of action and a certain amount of characterization.

If you had a story that was purely character-driven, it would read like character bio: Clara Schwartz was Welsh on her mother's side, Chinese on her father's side, and married to a German. Her 5'5" frame was not impressive to her peers, but it was more than enough to keep her children in line, at least until they hit puberty. Interesting though Clara might be, she's worthless until she does something.

Conversely, a story that was purely story-driven would read like a screen-play: Campbell drove his car to the grocery store. He bought three pounds of haddock and two pounds of potatoes. He then drove home, cooked the fish, and fried up some potato chips. He made four dishes of this meal and gave one to each member of his family sitting at the table. Campbell here is a generic blank. There is nothing about him that we know, so here's nothing we can connect with or care about.

There also comes the fact that most characterization implies action and most action shows characterization. Clara married a man and she also had kids who needed some discipline. Though the action is not explicitly written, one can still see these things happen by reading the descriptions. We learn about Campbell by analyzing his actions. He drives, lives near to a store, eats fish nd potatoes, and has a family that eats with him. Sure, he is still largely a mystery, but we slowly gain an idea for who he is, even if conversations or narration doesn't explicitly tell us.

Any decent story needs a certain amount of action and a certain amount of characterization. To call a story character-driven can only mean that there is more characterization in it, and vice versa for story-driven works. Don't focus on labels. Focus on telling a good story. Let the scholars apply the labels.

Look Beyond the Offensive Parts

Everybody has different tastes, so saying that something is offensive is subjective. However, most people do have a line or a subject that, when brought up, really bothers them. When that happens, people rarely notice anything but how offended they are. While I totally understand that reaction, I believe it is important to be able to look beyond the offensive parts.

I don't particularly hate profane words, but I do have a limit of how much I can take before it becomes too much. Normally, that would mean that I would never care for the stand-up comedy of Chris Rock. That man swears every third word. That's way too much for me. And yet, I love Chris Rock. I think he's funny as hell. And more importantly, he has important things to say. Chris Rock talks about race and race relations. He talks about marriage and about being a father. If you can get past his language, he actually is a very smart and powerful speaker.

The same can be said for nudity. If the naked body offends your eyes, don't bother watching pornography; there's nothing you will enjoy there. However, not all nudity is useless. In the movie Daybreakers, there is a repeating scene where humans are held captive, immobile, attached to a device that is slowly harvesting their blood. These humans are completely naked. Their genitals are covered, but there are still a number of close-ups, including the breasts of a pregnant woman. Though this might be offensive to some, there is a point to it. It is a visual representation of how humans are treated. They aren't human; they're animals, mere resources to be harvested. The lack of clothes shows how they have been stripped of their humanity.

Sometimes, offensive things simply exist for shock value. Those can be safely ignored (unless you are down for the metaphilosophy of offensive material itself). Sometimes offensive things exist to illustrate a meaningful point. And sometimes, offensive things merely coexist with a meaningful point. In the latter two examples, you will never get a meaningful point unless you can look beyond the offensive parts.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Ingredients List

Say you want to make a meal, so you pull out your cookbook. The first thing on the page is the list of ingredients. Nothing seems odd there, but one thought comes to mind: where do the ingredients come from?

Everything we use in cooking comes from somewhere. Meat comes from an animal, which needs to be born, raised, slaughtered, and butchered before you can cook its flesh. Corn needs to be planted, grown, harvested, and shucked before it can be eaten (and that's assuming you're eating it on the cob). So how come we list ingredients that have already had a certain preparation to them?

The simple answer is that listed ingredients are the ones you can find at the grocery store. It's a lot easier to find pork chops than it is to find live pigs. It's a lot easier to find apples than it is to find fruit-bearing apple trees.

But apples also present a strange example. The apple can be found in several stages of processing in the grocery store. We have whole apples, sliced apples, diced apples, and apple puree (apple sauce). So if I needed diced apples for a recipe, the ingredient list may call for whole apples (and the instructions tell you to dice them) or it could just say apple cubes (expecting you to buy them in that form) and either one would be correct.

Another funny thing about the ingredients list is that many do not list utensils. Oven and skillet are rarely on ingredient lists. Cookbooks just assume you have a fully-stocked kitchen.

So the question remains, what does this have to do with writing? Well, when writers are given advice, it usually reads like an ingredients list. Good writing needs: interesting and believable characters, concrete and vivid locations, intriguing story, etc. Good writers need: strong grasp of standard written English, large vocabulary, sense of rhythm, etc. The problem with these lists is that we don't have a writer's grocery store where we just pick up prepackaged vocabulary words that can be added to our internal lexicon.

But if you look at these ingredients and you learn about them, you can find out where they come from. You can cultivate your vocabulary, your understanding of characters, your ability to weave words melodiously.

If you need an ingredient and you have no store, you have to grow your own. If you need a utensil, you will need to fashion one for yourself. As a writer, it is a wonderful asset to have a naturally large vocabulary (or any other skill), but if you don't have it, you will still need it, and as long as you can find out where a skill comes from and do the work to grow it to what you need, you will be fine.

Monday, March 15, 2010


I read a short story by Anton Chekhov. It was called The Bishop. Chekhov is noted for his character-driven stories and The Bishop was a fine example of that. If I were to judge Chekhov by this first experience, I would say that I don't know if I like his work, but I do respect it.

I think it is very important to separate preference and respect. It is totally possible to respect something you don't like, as is it possible to like totally unrespectable things. Personal preference produces a very strong emotional. Things we like are awesome. Things we don't like suck. But respect doesn't work that way. Respect is a matter of ability and execution. Somebody who is particularly great at something is worthy of respect.

To continue with Mr. Chekhov as an example, the main reason I don't know if I like his work is that I generally don't care for character-driven stories. The lack of action irks me. I find too much time spent on descriptions and back stories. That sounds to me like it flies in the face of "show, don't tell". However, The Bishop is a good piece of character-driven fiction. There is a certain flow of action in it, enough to keep me wondering what will happen next in a scene and what will happen in the end. The descriptions of people and of scenes were not excessive or repetitive (well, maybe a little), so it didn't drag on. It also made me think when I finished it. I wondered not just about the characters themselves, but about bigger things, like if everybody should shoot for the stars or if being people should just reach a point that they're comfortable with and stay there.

Of course, I always say that making the audience think is the most important goal of writing after entertaining them, so The Bishop is definitely successful. I read through it, never felt like I was forcing it, and felt rewarded for finishing it. Even if I don't care for character-driven stories in general, I respect Chekhov for writing a good one.

If you want to improve as a writer, look for authors you respect, even if you don't like them.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Edit While Transcribing

I write both on a computer and on paper. Both have pros and cons to them, though I generally prefer using a word processor. Writing digitally allows for quicker writing, easier editing, and is more legible than my handwriting. However, writing on paper does have one unexpected positive quality that is worth noting.

Anything I write on paper that I want to keep, I transcribe into a Word document. I am always paranoid about losing my writing, so having a digital version makes me feel much safer. Of course, that means that I will have to go through my entire story, line by line, writing down everything I have already written. This seems like yet another con for writing on paper, but I would disagree.

When I finish writing a draft, I'm too close to it to do anything careful like proofread or edit. I already know what I wrote and what comes next, so I skip over parts, and those are the parts that need the work. There are techniques to help overcome that, and transcribing is one of them.

When I am typing out a story, I have to go one word at a time to make sure I get them all. This brings me back to my normal pace for reading and writing, which is the pace at which I speak. That is the pace when I do my best editing, too. Now, I am forced to read my work slowly and carefully and experience each sentence. I can tell when a word or phrase just isn't fitting right and can change it right there. This allows me to get through my second draft almost instantly after writing my first. If I write my first draft on a computer, I probably won't transcribe it onto paper or into another Word document, so I lose this editing opportunity.

Writing on papers has a list of pros, which is a story for another time, but this is an uncommon one, so I felt it deserved a special recognition. If you need (or just really want) to get through your drafting process faster, try transcribing as a way to force you to slow down and edit as you normally would.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Different Appreciation

Once you learn the tricks and techniques of storytelling, you are fundamentally changed. You don’t just read a story anymore. You critique it, analyze it, proofread it. There is no more mystical magic going on behind the scenes to power the dynamo. You've looked behind the curtain. You've seen the gears, you know how they work, you've even used some of them to power your own dynamos.

You've learned it; you can't unlearn it. This can be frustrating. I find movies extremely difficult to enjoy these days. I can't help but identify the tropes going on, predicting the outcome of a given scene, and picking apart errors in continuity or realism.

Not all is lost, though. You may not appreciate things the way you used to, but you gain a different appreciation - the appreciation of a beautifully-designed story. Even if you can predict what will happen next, if it is written so that you are still excited and you still react to the events that happen, you still appreciate the story, but more for how excellently the writer did it. The same thing happens when you learn how to draw or paint or learn any skill.

Of course, this is also the reason that I wish so badly for writers to be surprising. I desperately wish to read like an ignorant audience member again. I want to have absolutely no idea what happens next, but it is quite rare. Still though, I am content in finding a story so well-executed that I marvel at its excellence. So go forth and write one so I have something to read.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Be Aware of Great Ideas

Brilliant ideas are around us all the time. The difference between a writer and everybody else is that a writer is aware of them. I was in a conversation that ended up talking about insects and the different names that people come up with for them. Somebody mentioned that the giant water bug is also known as the electric light beetle because they are attracted to street lamps at night. It was a fairly dull conversation on its own, except for one thing.

"The Electric Light Beetle" sounds like the name of an awesome nightclub. I had a scene flash all in the blink of an eye. A dark room, lighted all around by lines of blue neon lights. Hot music plays, pumping energy and life into the scene. The place is packed. The people on the dance floor are working themselves into a fervor. A woman picks up two drinks from the bar - one for her and one for whatever lucky man she picks out of the crowd.

With a scene so vivid and alive, there are countless stories that can be told. And all it required was taking one phrase out of context and thinking about other contexts for it. This is not an isolated incident either; it happens all the time.

Just today at work, I noticed a typo that said "mortocycle". Since mort- means death, it becomes a cool name for a daredevil. I could also put it into Spanish and call it the Muertocicleta. Now I have a character who enjoys both defying death and the Spanish language. That is definitely the beginnings of an interesting story.

Open your eyes and ears. Be willing to accept the strange, the bizarre, the wrong, and try to find a way to make them normal, regular, and right. That is one of the core principles of writing.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

All In The Blink of An Eye

I gave one of my friends the link to this blog recently. I told her to look around and read anything that looked interesting. The next night, she sends me an instant message saying that I need to write a new blog entry. My response to her was:

"I just had this image in my head of you in a dark room, blinds shut, despite it being well after sundown, a cigarette in your hand, three more in the ash tray, smoked down to the filter, a knocked over tumbler with the remnants of cheap scotch dripping out, and you glued to your computer screen, shaking from all those chemicals coursing through your body as you just finished reading my 394th blog entry."

When said that I just had that image, I meant it quite literally. It flashed before me, the whole thing in the blink of an eye. I then had to madly dash the entire thing down before I lost all of these fine details. I also wanted to portray this image with the right style, dark and gloomy, with an energy akin to a candle in its final seconds before finally petering out. Of course, that part was secondary.

These flashes are like dreams. They are so vivid, but they have a minuscule half-life, dissipating into nothingness within seconds. Sometimes brilliant ideas can strike like lightning and disappear just the same. If you want to keep them (and you should), then either try your hardest to keep as much in your head as possible (say it out loud, think about it, try to relive it over and over again) or write it down somewhere as fast as possible. It sucks if you get such a flash in the middle of driving somewhere, but if you have the chance to record an idea, make sure you get to it right away. Every second that passes causes something to be lost.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Be Your Own Motivation

So much advice I see for writers is to give yourself deadlines. In fact, I've given the same advice. I know it to be true. Heck, the best part of college was having deadlines all the time. I couldn't not write something every night. Now I'm out of school and don't have any hard deadlines. This blog is a self-imposed deadline, but that's it. However, I still write.

I do not write as much all together as I did in college, but most of that writing was assignments for classes. In college, I did less personal, creative writing than I do now. I never felt strongly enough to write much of anything because if something was important, my teacher would make me write it.

Now I don't have my teachers to force me. I also don't have a job that is forcing me to write creatively. The only thing that makes me write is me. I am my own motivation. I write because I'm a writer and this is how I prove it. I write because I can't stop from coming up with awesome stories and I want to bring them to life. I want to share them with other people. I'd also like to make some money from them.

Deadlines are a wonderful thing, but they're a crutch. If you can't make yourself write because you love to write, then ask yourself why you want to write. Ask yourself why you need a crutch and why you just can't write without it. If you can't come up with respectable answers, maybe you should reconsider why you want to write.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Common vs. Fancy Words

People are generally taught that common words are boring, simple, and ineffective because of that. I disagree. Common words can have the most power because everybody knows what they mean and they know it deeply. That is not to say that calling a women "really pretty" is more powerful than calling her "spectacularly gorgeous". However, if you called her "unequivocally pulchritudinous", nobody but a nerd of the highest caliber would have any idea what the heck you were talking about.

So where do we draw the line? When is a word too fancy to be useful? This is completely subjective. Some people think "inexplicable" is too fancy to be used, but I find it perfectly normal. The general rule I use is, if I've heard the word before and I know how to use it in a sentence, it is acceptable.

Of course, just because a word is acceptable to be used doesn't mean it is always appropriate to be used. As I have mentioned numerous times in the past, words have certain qualities which make them blend or clash with other words. What is appropriate is choosing words and phrases that fit with the overall tone of your sentences. For example, it is perfectly acceptable for a character to say, "Damn girl, you fine as hell." We also know that "spectacularly gorgeous" is an acceptable phrase. However, it would be an example of horrible writing for a character to say, "Damn girl, you spectacularly gorgeous."

If you just aren't sure what's right, then go out and take notes. Listen to people talk. Listen to high class talk and low class and write down the differences. Listen to formal and informal speech and see how different the language becomes. Listen to educated and uneducated people and pay attention to what they talk about and how they describe them.

Everybody has a certain tone, a voice all their own. They rarely betray that voice. If you can learn their voice, however you choose to go about it, then you will always know which words are too fancy for which people.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Don't Use "Various"

Recently, I have decided that "various" is officially the ugliest word in the English language. It is worse than "really" and "very" and "like", all rolled into one. In fact, if every use of "various" was replaced with "fucking", I would be a happier person (try it out some time, it may end up being hilarious).

So what's my problem? Why all this hate for the word? It's not profane. It's not even a dumb-person word.

Stop right there because I already disagree. It may not be profane, but it is definitely a dumb-person word. In fact, that's part of the reason I hate it so much. "Various" is the word that dumb people use to sound smart. It's three syllables, doesn't sound common, and has a useful meaning.

"Various" just means many. Any time you ever want to talk about a group of things, you can talk about "various things". But why would you do that? There are countless synonyms that you can use. Let's take the sentence "Various colors are beautiful." Now let's replace "various" with other words. We could use "many", "lots of", "tons of", "several", "different", "countless", "numerous". Oh, and let's not forget the joke example, "Fucking colors are beautiful." (Maybe not hilarious, but an amusing change to an originally-harmless sentence.)

My problem with the original sentence is that it comes off as pretentious. It sounds like the speaker either wanted to sound smart or simply couldn't think of a better word. Out of all the other possibilities I listed (and be sure there are many more that weren't listed), I think that "many" or "several" would fit much better. None of the other words are fancy, so why use a fancy-sounding adjective? It's jarring.

Now, I know that this is 100% opinion. I'm sure most people don't have any problem with the word, which is probably why they use it all the time. I also know that my argument could be made about most words, especially the "you can always use a different word" part. However, I still stand by the belief that there is never a need to use the v-word. Even profanity has certain excuses. "Various" has no good reason to be used, thus making it worse than profanity. And what could be more offensive than constantly using a word worse than profanity? Just say no, kids. Just say no to "various".

Thoughts on Writing Style

It seems to be commonly accepted that one's writing style is greatly affected by the writing styles one reads. I remember Stephen King saying that a writer's style will be a conglomeration of the last three authors that writer has read. I do agree with this, but I think there are nuances beyond the basic rule.

The first is that I believe that every person has a unique personal voice which will always be present in their writing. It is the same voice we use to speak. Whether we learned it while we were young or we were born with us, the fact remains that it is in our blood. Unless I am specifically trying to sound like somebody else, like if I were parodying a piece of writing, it's always going to be recognizable as my writing. So the rule is more like: a writer's style is a conglomeration of the last three authors that writer has read and the writer's own voice.

As for "the last three authors", there is a catch there, too. Some authors are thoroughly unpalatable. Think about a textbook on world history. It has a very distinctive style, but I could never write that way (well, I could, but I never would unless I was offered money or had a gun put to my head). In fact, textbook writing is so offensive to me that I struggle to even read passages. Just reading a paragraph is a chore and a serious battle of willpower.

This isn't restricted to dry writing, either. I have read the works of many people, sometimes amateur writers, and had the exact same problem. Certain aspects of their styles were so annoying or boring that I just refused to continue reading it.

So although the authors I read will affect my style, I can only be changed so much because drastically different styles are rejected outright. And I believe that what makes a style palatable is based on one's personal style. Because of that, one's writing style is going to be more based on one's personal voice than anything else. Other authors will simply make a writer try variances of that style until a preferred one is found.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

A Right Choice

In life, we often struggle to figure out what the right choice is. Sometimes it is agonizing. Mostly, it's worthless. The very premise assumes that one choice is correct and that all are incorrect, or that one is the best and all the other choices are inferior. With thinking like that, it's amazing people like that get anything done.

For example, I wanted to grab dinner with a friend. We were both in the mood for Chinese food, so the only question was which one to go to. We whittled our choices down to two. Both of them were good places and were basically next to each other. So trying to decide on which one was killing me, especially since neither of us had a preference.

Ultimately, I picked one and we had dinner there. It was a wonderful meal. In fact, I mentioned to my friend that we definitely made the right choice. But as soon as I said that, I felt strange, like I said something wrong. I then realized it and corrected myself. "We definitely made a right choice."

I can't prove that we wouldn't have had a good time at the other restaurant. I can't prove that we wouldn't have had a better time there. I also can't prove that we would have gotten into a car crash and been hospitalized on the way there. We can never know what would have happened if things were different, not for sure. All we can be sure of is if our choice worked or not. If you made a decision and you are happy with the results, then you made a right choice. You can't change the past anyway, so quit worrying about it and keep moving.

This same thing happens for our characters. As we write, we may think of several options that a character may have to handle. Our character may also see several ways to handle a given situation, all of which would make sense for the character to do. So what do you do? What choice do you make? Any of them. Just pick one and stick with it. Don't worry about making the right decision; just try to make a right decision.

Of course, in writing, you have the rare ability to go back and rewrite history. So that should make you feel even freer to try out a path and not worry about what is best. Realize, also, that a character may see a right choice as one with a positive outcome, but for the writer, a right choice is one that is natural and believable. They can be very different, so it is important to be aware of that.

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Point for Profanity

I am not a proponent of profanity. I don't have any very good reason for it; it's mostly because I was raised that way (good work mom and dad). Anybody who reads my blog will find profanity very hard to find. However, it is in there. In fact, you can find all of them by doing a search for whatever word you want to see.

I will swear in real life, but still not as much as most people my age (unless I'm in a particularly rotten mood). I know all of the common reasons to avoid it. It's filthy. It's crude. It's ignorant. There are always better options out there. All of those arguments are crap. The only question when it comes to word use in writing is: does it fit?

If you're doing a job interview to be a systems analyst, profanity just doesn't fit. Similarly, if you are writing an academic essay, four-letter words just don't fit. The same is true if you're writing a children's book or if you are writing wishy-washy love poetry.

However, that does not mean that profanity is never useful. These words still hold a great deal of power, especially when written down. People say these words all the time, but speech is ephemeral. Writing stays written. You stare at it and it stares back at you, refusing to go away. This power can be used to great effect. Consider this scenario:

Roland is a 15-year old boy, living in a big city. He is currently sitting down in an alley with his back against a grimey brick wall. His school friend Chris walks by and sees Roland looking bad. Roland has salty streaks down his face. His clothes are frayed and dingy, and he is hiding a black eye under the brim of his cap. Chris asks Roland what the problem is. Roland tells the story of the last 24 hours, where his friend since the first grade died in the crossfire of a gang shootout while bringing home a carton of milk and some apples, where his father walked out on the family in a fit of rage, but not before picking him up off the ground and throwing him across the apartment and landing head first on the corner of the table, where his mother hasn't stopped crying for the last three days because she had a miscarriage, which probably happened because she can't go a day without drinking a fifth of rum and smoking a pack of unfiltered cigarettes. After this story, Chris extends his hand and offers to play some basketball with him. Roland snorts, buries his head in his crossed arms, and says. "Fuck it."

In that situation, there is no other phrase that fits. Something classy or witty would be worse because it would be unbelievable. Some philosophical diatribe on life and happiness would be preposterous. No, this character only had one line that could fit, and it was the one he said. Those two little words perfectly cap the scene and describe how Roland is feeling. Anything else would be inefficient to say the least.

The only real restriction with profanity, aside from having it fit the tone of your writing, is frequency. All words have frequency limits. If you use the word 'really' more than once every two or three paragraphs, it loses what little meaning it has. Profanity is even stronger, which means it loses a lot of its power even faster. Personally, I suspect that a full-length novel doesn't need as many as five major profanities. Beyond that, it's just cheap, no matter how well it would otherwise fit.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Baby Steps and Small Victories

It can be easy to get discouraged when it comes to writing. Sometimes you question if what you have done is worthwhile or if you should give up. You may think that everything you do has already been done and done better than you.

If you find yourself in such a funk, then step back and take a deep breath. Don't worry about the big picture right now. Take baby steps. Do you have an idea? If not, then try some brainstorming exercises. If you do have one, then try doing some outlining of it. Write a rough draft that you intend to throw out. Heck, before that, just write a sentence. Then write another sentence. Finish a paragraph. Then do another paragraph.

Writing, like any endeavor, is simply a collection of baby steps. These baby steps are totally achievable. Maybe trying to do twenty baby steps all at once is overwhelming, but one is totally doable.

Every baby step that you complete also counts as a small victory. Since writing is just a bunch of baby steps, then finished writing is a ton of small victories. If you are feeling down, then look at how many baby steps you've achieved and celebrate all of them. If you've only done a couple of steps, that's still enough to celebrate.

And if you think that you haven't finished any steps, then think again. Just deciding that you want to write something and trying to get started is more than many people do and is definitely the first small victory on the road to many more.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Terminal Conversations

Writing is very much about paths and connections. Point A leads to Point B and so on to the end. In conversations, one statement leads to a question which has another statement, and so on down the line. This is not a bad thing on its own, but eventually, all conversations have to end, and sometimes sooner is better than later.

Suppose a man walks into a courtroom and the bailiff asks him to remove his hat. Now, the man could tell the bailiff that he's sorry and that he didn't realize he had to take his hat off, then ask if it was a rule or a custom and how it came about. He could do all of those things, or he could just say ok and take his hat off.

The deciding factor is the importance of the story. Is the story about the man walking into court or is it about the trial that goes on there? A story about a person can usually benefit from dialogue that exemplifies the character's thoughts and mannerisms. A story that cares more about a whole scene or an action doesn't need to see the mundane details of a given character as much as it needs to show the whole scene.

There is always more that can be said. Every statement can have a question asked about it, which then demands another statement, or it can be followed by another statement, which also can make for an endless back and forth. As an author, you should be able to know which conversations should be expanded and which should be cut short. As a hint, the key is whether or not a conversation is useful. Usefulness can be tricky because it is such a broad term, but if a conversation can be considered useful, it should probably be kept. If it is necessary, then it must be kept.

Characters Are Not The Author

Sometimes there can be a difficult relationship between characters and their authors. People often assume that a character is simply an author's avatar, letting the author do whatever he or she wants to without real-world consequences. This is especially true for main characters. This relationship is especially believed if the main character and the author are already similar (same age, race, background, etc.). And the relationship is strained when that main character is a less-than-pleasant person.

What happens when you read about a character who kidnaps random strangers off the streets? What happens if that character tortures his victims? Then kills them? Then disembowels and consumes them? Assuming that people aren't so disgusted that they just close the book and call it trash, they usually attack the author, the standard rhetorical question being, "Who writes this filth?" The other common attack is along the lines of, "This book is a flimsy pretense for the author to do all the things he wished he could do, but was too afraid to ever try in real life."

The simple fact is that characters are not the author. I suppose that the more accurate fact is that characters shouldn't be the author. Sometimes these criticisms are true. An essential component of a Mary Sue character is that it is an author's avatar, but they are also a quintessential example of terrible writing. Every character will have a piece of the author inside, but none of them can be said to be the author in actuality.

If you have a character who happens to be a sick, twisted bastard, then write a story with a sick, twisted bastard. Don't be afraid of what people will say about you; be confident in the knowledge that it isn't you. However, you should be aware that some people will not understand this. People are compelled to make connections and associations. If you write something that seems to glorify an activity, let's say arson, then everybody will assume it is because you yourself are a fan of it.

In reality, the proper advice is to tread carefully. In a perfect world, people wouldn't assume that the author is writing something to live out a fantasy. In the real world, it does happen (and sometimes rightly so). If you're truly afraid of being mislabeled, then play it safe and just write about wholesome, pleasant characters. If you either don't care what other people think or simply care more about telling a story you think is worth telling, then damn the criticisms and do what you know you must.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Unthinkable Options Are Still Options

In writing, as in life, we are often in situations that have countless options. In life, we are told to consider all of our options and choose the best one. We don't always do that, though. And in writing, we especially don't have to.

Suppose a guy thinks a woman is attractive, but he is terribly shy. What options does he have? He could go up to her and pretend to be a cocky bastard. He could approach her and be a cool, regular person. He could do nothing and silently pine for her, praying that she will come forward and approach him.

Now, are those his only options? Of course not. There are nearly limitless things he could do. Some of them, though, are unthinkable. He could go home and slit his wrists because death is so much easier than dealing with the petty bullshit of life. He could kidnap her and rape her. We're nont allowed to tell those ones though. They're bad and wrong and horrible. Beyond unspeakable, they are unthinkable.

No matter how vile and disgusting these things are to consider, they are still options. Are they good options for life? Hell no. But they're still options. They're always options. And if you are writing a story, your characters can exercise these options. Sometimes, people do horrible things. It happens in life. It can happen in stories, too.

Not every story has to be pleasant and use upstanding citizens. Not every story has to star the scum of the earth either. I'm not saying that you should write about these options. You could go your entire life and never have your characters do anything so terrible. What I am saying is that they are still options. And if you are going to consider your options, you should consider all of your options, even the unthinkable ones.