Friday, September 30, 2011

Be Persistent

There is no doubt that one of the most difficult things for me to do is start something. I spend too much time planning and fantasizing (and talking about it) that it never ends up getting off the ground. Eventually, I do muster up the courage, and do whatever it was that I was planning (writing a story, talking about myself to strangers, actually going to that one place I keep meaning to).

Usually though, doing something once isn't enough. I don't like to talk about myself, but sometimes I do feel particularly proud of something and want to share it. I may post a link on Facebook, and I will get some extra traffic, but not a lot of long-term readers. It's just people who check it out and usually forget it.

That doesn't mean there is a problem with Cheff Salad, nor does it mean that those readers didn't like my blog. Most likely, they simply forgot. All I am missing is persistence. If I want more readers and I want people to keep coming back, I simply have to not let them forget. Keep advertising. Keep linking. Keep it in people's heads.

And the same is true for any of your endeavors, including writing itself. You want to be a writer? Then write. Quit thinking about it or talking about it and do it. You finished one piece? Great! Start another. Or at least do something more with it (get it published or otherwise share it).

Cheff Salad itself is an example of this persistence. It will never be enough. It always needs one more entry. And I will always be adding one more entry. And because of that, I will always be a writer (and a persistent one at that).

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Being Divisive

I'm a fairly quiet dude, especially in large groups; they have tricky dynamics, especially when they are already established like a family or a clique of friends. Part of the reason I'm quiet is that I do not want to put my foot in my mouth. The other reason is that I am studying the group to figure out who the players are and what ground rules are in effect.

Eventually, I do figure those things out. And when the time is right, I crack a joke or make an interjection and it usually goes over quite well.

I actually really like working a crowd. It's fun to manipulate people with established relationships, sometimes because of those relationships, it's particularly amusing (married couples are so easy to make laugh [when they aren't fighting]).

But, for as easy as it is to make people laugh and bond, it can be just as easy to be divisive. It basically comes down to manipulating the same relationships, bending the ground rules, and getting the right players to go head-on.

Why am I saying these things? Because some people are not team players. And some people are even worse than not being team players. Some people actively try to break up the team. When you write your stories, consider a divisive character. How can a perfectly good situation be wrecked through no fault of the plan or the protagonists? Somebody pulling on the right strings can do that. It can throw people off their mental game, agitate them, and coax them into releasing that anger in negative ways.

It is easy for a divisive character to become cartoonish or unnecessarily evil. Don't let these characters out of control. Understand who they are and why they're doing it, (and since you created them, try to give them a compelling reason to do it).

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Fix It In Post

It amazes me, the idea of post-production. Obviously it is a necessity. After the filming, there is processing and editing to be done, but more than that, you can fix your mistakes. Bad lighting can be corrected. Bad voice can be corrected. You can damn near make a movie from scratch in post production (probably because it is still production).

Writing is quite a similar process. With revising, editing, proofing, and all the other steps in the process after the story is written, you can fix basically any error that comes up, basically including redoing the whole thing.

It is so calming and relaxing knowing that I don't have to get things perfect the first try. As long as I lay a solid foundation, I'm golden. I can always remodel from there.

Next time you get all antsy about your writing, just say, "No worries. I'll fix it in post."

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Correct vs. Compelling

I had a discussion with a friend recently about the sentence, "Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo." He had a very difficult time accepting that this sentence is 100% correct. But, it is correct.

'Buffalo' has three definitions. One is a city in New York. One is a large hoofed animal. And one is a verb meaning to bully. The sentence also makes use of English's ability to omit many words and retain meaning.

To use synonyms, the sentence can be translated as, "Bison from Buffalo that bully other bison from Buffalo bully bison from Buffalo."

Even when I explained why this sentence was totally correct, my friend was not satisfied. Frankly, I wasn't satisfied either (mostly because it's a horrible sentence).

But therein lies the lesson for today. Just because something is correct does not mean it is compelling. As such, things that are technically incorrect can be quite compelling.

Since I am a storyteller, I care far, far more about being compelling. Being correct is certainly nice (it keeps Grammar Nazis off my back), but if I have to sacrifice one for the other, I will always make the same choice. And since I am a linguist, I also recognize that the rules are all made up and the only thing that matters is effective communication. What compels people the most will be accepted as correct. Of this, I have no doubt.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Try Writing All Day

Writing is an exhausting activity. It requires vast amounts of mental energy for every single aspect of it, but it doesn't use very much physical energy. After extended periods of time, you are totally burned out, but simultaneously restless. It can put you in a very bizarre state of being.

It's like the polar opposite of running. Very similar though. The first steps are easy and fun. It is a struggle to find your pace and rhythm initially, but you find it and keep a steady pace. You are working, but there is a calmness to it. After some time (depending on your stamina), you start to feel aches as your energy levels decrease and you push on.

Casual writers (and runners) tend to stop around here. Maybe they push themselves a little further just to try to feel better or feel like they are improving (and, by the way, if you actually can do more than you used to, then you are improving), but they are hurting, so they figure it's break time.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, but there is a secret level that comes afterward. If you can push yourself through that zone of pain, you can reach a sort of zen state (like the runner's high) where you have completely entered your world and it unfolds itself to you. You can create instantly and record quickly. It is a chore to reach, but can be done.

Try writing all day. Just for one day. Do all your chores beforehand or the next day. Turn off your phone, your internet connection, and lock your door. Put on some good writing music or work in silence (whatever is less distracting to you) and just pound away. It helps if you have a large project you are working on. National Novel Writing Month is coming up. It could be a great excuse to do exactly that.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Wide-Ruled Paper

I was writing a story overview and happened to be using a composition notebook. I don't generally like to use them - they're small, I don't like the binding, they all look the same - but it was there and I'm not terribly picky (especially when I don't have an option).

The overview was for a short film, intended to be under 5 minutes in length. Unsurprisingly, there was not a whole lot to put in there. With a film being so short, describing the action and bits of dialogue still doesn't take a lot of words. The nice thing, though, was that it did take up a lot of space.

I filled up one and a third pages of that composition notebook. It does not sound like a lot by any means, but if I had typed the whole thing out, it would probably take only a quarter of that much space. So when I had filled up an entire page and still had more to go, I felt very accomplished. It was a good start to the project; it had substance.

This is a nice little trick to get you started. Use any kind of wide-ruled paper. It fills up faster, but you feel just as accomplished for filling the street. And if that trick doesn't work because you know it's a trick, then the only way you'll ever be satisfied is to fill college-ruled paper and to fill up a lot of it, so this post isn't about you.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Bad Habits Can Come Back

I haven't done a lot of fictional prose writing for some time. I've mostly been doing short nonfiction (Cheff Salad) or I have been working on projects with a visual component (comics, children's stories). I haven't been practicing telling a whole story with only words.

Coming back into it, I realize that so many of my bad habits have returned. I am getting fussy with my wording. I am trying to write a near-perfect first draft. I am spending so much time planning that I feel like I am not making enough progress. And, in turn, that is sapping my energy to write continuously for extended periods of time.

It is a sobering reminder that if you don't use it, you will lose it. Bad habits can come back. If you aren't careful, something you worked very hard to do may be lost and something you worked very hard to lose may come back.

The one positive side to it is that you will be aware of it. You will also have the knowledge and experience of breaking your bad habits once already. Rebreaking bad habits is far easier to do.

Obviously, the best option is to simply keep your chops up and not let yourself get rusty. But, if you do find yourself out of practice, don't let it get you down. Just remember how you used to be and how you got there and go through those steps to get your process back. I promise it won't be that bad (as long as you promise to try).

Friday, September 23, 2011

Sometimes It's About The Challenge

Motivation is a core importance to me. Everything has a reason. All of our thoughts and actions have an impetus. What the heck is it? If you can understand what drives us, you will understand the world with superior clarity (and can probably come up with far more interesting stories).

Sometimes, we choose to do something for no real reason at all. It seems odd, maybe even out of character, but still, there is a reason. Sometimes, it's about the challenge. You get an idea in your head. You wonder what exactly it is that you are capable of doing, and you simply have to know and will do anything to find out.

Challenges are nice. They get you to work toward a goal, which makes you productive, and then, when you achieve that goal, you get a huge endorphin load which makes you feel amazing. Provided you don't go overboard and stop taking care of your primary duties like hygiene and feeding yourself and your dependents, it is an all-win situation.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Tough love: Anything you do seriously and at a professional level will require hard work. Hard work is hard. It takes time, energy, and dedication. That does not come easy to many people, but if it did, then it wouldn't be hard work.

I can give you tips and tricks and all sorts of tactics to try to get you to sit down and write something, but it's largely smoke and mirrors. What you need is willpower. If you want something, quit wishing and start doing something about it. Smoke and mirrors may get the ball rolling, but you need enough willpower to try them in the first place. You also need to build up enough discipline to continue writing after you have grown immune to the tricks.

It isn't pleasant. At least, it isn't pleasant when you have writer's block and/or just can't get those words on the paper. Hopefully, when you're in the middle of writing, it's not so unpleasant. But if you can't even reach that point, the problem is probably a lack of willpower. And if that's the case, the worst thing you can do is blame anything else. If you blame others, you will let them defeat you before you ever really try. If you use tricks, they become your crutch.

Trust yourself. Rely on yourself. Believe in yourself. It is the only way to be sure that you can succeed when everything else fails.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Look Presentable

When how you look isn't mission critical, it's really easy to let regular maintenance wait longer than usual. You just figure that you aren't doing anything too important, so what does it matter? Well, you never know when it's going to matter.

Recently, I had a day planned out where I would go cave exploring with friends, then play games and watch movies afterward. No part of that really required getting myself cleaned up. But, I decided to do some grooming just because I wanted to.

As it turns out, while my friends and I were out, I ended up making quite a useful contact. Later on, it occurred to me how fortunate I was not to look like a grungy loser. Looking professional aided in my portrayed image of being professional.

And that is the point. You can never know when the next important person will cross your path. Don't put off simple things like hygiene. No more "I'll do it tomorrow" talk. Do it now. When you make that next important contact, you will be happy that you looked terrific. (And, quite possibly, if you didn't look that good, you may not have even made that contact in the first place.)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Pick A Mastery

For as much as I am a man of the mind, I also am a very physical person. I have a great deal of respect for professionals in martial arts, dancing, gymnastics, in most any physical field. I studied martial arts for over a decade and, although my goals have changed over those years, the underlying desire is unchanged: I desire a mastery over the human body.

I find the most amazing thing a person can do is make their body do whatever they want it to. Seeing free runners leaping across rooftops or flipping through an obstacle course is astonishing and magnificent. Nothing can feel more free than being unlimited by your body (or at least less limited than most people).

Though I tend not to think of it, a very similar thing happens in writing and in storytelling. It is not an easy process and is not a natural thing to people. Learning interesting words, weaving them into melodic sentences, and applying it all to compelling stories can be quite arduous. And yet, professional storytellers can rattle off a beautiful story like it's nothing.

All mastery is beautiful. And since we're all nerds, we are all halfway toward mastering something already. Now, in that linked post, I said that some people are nerds because they have a little knowledge about a great deal of subjects. This is true, but you can't quite master having basic knowledge of subjects (feel free to prove me wrong though). And in that case, I really do suggest that you pick a mastery. It is a goal that makes for a lifetime of study and dedication and, if you do ever leave that course of practice, you will still have a tremendous amount of knowledge and ability that you carry with you (and you will probably not even realize how much of it you've absorbed over the years).

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Take On The Living Dead

I am fascinated by the human body. I find it a marvelous and miraculous construct - probably the most amazing specimen on earth. And being a man of science, I am compelled to learn as much as I can about what the human body and mind can do (and what it can withstand). And tonight, I had the good fortune of discovering a new physical/mental state with my own eyes.

Tonight, my friend got very drunk, very quickly. Toward the end of his drinking, he had a substantial energy drink. Between the two, he was full of life. He was bombastic and comedic. He wanted to move around and dance. Despite this mental and physical energy, he could not do too much without because his body had been crippled by the alcohol. He literally could not stand up.

Generally, when he consumes alcohol, it knocks him out. He gets so tired that within a few hours, he will fall asleep anywhere. In fact, before he had the energy drink, he was nodding off. It was amazing to see it bring him back to life.

Later on, though, it took a turn for the strange. My friend was very awake, but completely exhausted. He was starting to sober up (which he tried to alleviate), but his body was still completely crippled and aching to sleep, but his mind simply wouldn't allow it.

He was a zombie. And that was an interesting thought to me. A zombie is a human being whose body is semi-functional and whose natural mind is less functional than that, but is not allowed to sleep by some outside force. They are compelled to move and act, not allowed to do the one thing that would cure them of their ailments, but not really able to do anything useful, only to cause havoc and destruction.

I've seen voodoo zombies (living humans with a spell cast on them), necronomic zombies (corpses brought back to life), and viral zombies (a virus which kind of takes over/kills and reanimates them), and they all seem to work in a similar way.

I find it interesting that alcohol and energy drinks can turn somebody into a "zombie", but it is in fact quite similar to how legitimate zombies function.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Frustration sucks. It saps all of your joy and removes all sorts of motivation to do work, even something you love.In writing, I can easily get frustrated trying to find just the right wording to express my thoughts, or figuring out what a character will do or say in a new scenario.

The only way to fix my problems, though, is to not give up on them. Keep on looking for the right words. Keep on considering your characters' motivations and thoughts. Perseverance will get you through the rough patches, as long as you can maintain it.

I do want to say that sometimes you do have to walk away from a problem. So many impossible puzzles are easily solved when I leave it alone for a few hours or a day and come back to it. It's like my brain has processed all the information and coordinated a new strategy, all while I wasn't even aware.

Never give up. Continuously work to solve your problems as long as you can. If frustration gets the better of you, walk away from it, but come right back.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Eat Fewer Bees

People love to talk in abstract nonsense. You always see it in crappy high school poetry. You also always see it on Facebook. I really can't stand these sentiments. Do not speak in a public forum to an individual. Do not speak in a public forum to yourself. And if you do, at least make sense to anybody else who may be listening.

As a coping mechanism, I tend to mock and deride such posts with comments, usually taking things literally or making use of the vague wording to assume a nonstandard situation.

In plain English: When my friend posted, "I still feel you on the inside - biting through and stinging", I replied with, "Note to self: Eat fewer bees."

This does more than make myself laugh. It keeps me sharp. Vague language is something one does when they are weak. They function because you know what you are talking about, but they fail to all others because people do not have the same experiences and other pertinent background information to know what you are getting at. This is fertile ground for creativity. Fill in those blanks with your own ideas. Make it something silly or something thoroughly bizarre. If nothing else, just make it be your own idea that you find worthwhile.

Opportunity always surrounds you. Be aware of it and make use of it.

Friday, September 16, 2011

I Don't Do It To Help You

I love helping people. Whenever I do it, I gain experiences and stories (some from the experience of helping and some from the people I help). It is a validating experience, partly because it means I am capable of solving the problem and partly because somebody came to me because they already were confident that I could solve their problem.

My mind is wired to solve puzzles in nearly any form. People's problems are just another puzzle to me. Solving them is satisfying.

On top of that, I am a very empathetic individual. When I am in the presence of happy people, it makes me happy.

As such, my desire to help people is conflicted. On one hand, it is a true and genuine desire to make people happy. On the other hand, I choose to do it because it makes me happy. When a friend of mine said how happy she was that I truly wanted to help her, my gut reaction was to say, "I don't do it to help you. I do it to help me." Fortunately, I didn't actually say it (and provided she manages to miss tonight's update, she will continue to not know that little fact).

I write all of this for two reasons. The first reason is that I consider this to be an interesting dynamic. In terms of characters or stories, a conflict like this is compelling to me. It is a conflict only because it seems impure to the protagonist; other than that, it seems perfect.

The other reason is that it is important to understand what compels you. Why do you write? What are you trying to accomplish? Why are you trying to accomplish it?

When you can answer those questions, you will be better able to know your path and the next step in writing.

Move Those Fingers

I find it to be a dirty trick that I feel most creative at night. Every time I start working on my writing, my brain takes off with ideas and scenes and words, but my body falls behind. My eyes close and everything else shuts down.

Now, there is something to be said for getting enough sleep and starting your writing before you have exhausted your mental energy. But, sometimes we either aren't that responsible or simply don't have that luxury.

There is not a whole lot you can do in this situation but to stay motivated. Move those fingers! If you start getting a good idea, don't just think about it. Write it down. When you are that exhausted, you will either pass out or simply forgot what you just came up with by the time you snap your body into writing mode.

Cajole yourself into keeping continuous movement. That momentum may make you maintain your composure.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


I love wordplay. It is the reason I write. It's the reason I do most of the things I do. I find it sad, though, that when people hear the word, they assume it is just puns. There is so much more to wordplay. Quite literally, it is playing with words.

I think it is interesting how two words can be very similar, yet very different, like "commendable" and "condemnable". I like to manipulate words, switching sounds and letters around and discovering new words because of it.

A game I play is trying to create new words by adding a single letter to a smaller word. An example:
or -> ore -> core -> score
ow -> cow -> cowl -> scowl
to -> tot -> tote -> stote

It's a simple game, though I find it quite enjoyable. I consider this to be a form of wordplay, just as much as puns or witty retorts. I also find it just as beneficial to a writer. It is an exercise in vocabulary. The bigger yours is, the better you do at it. It also can make you think of words you don't commonly use, which might spark thoughts or ideas, or even modify your style.

Wordplay is nothing but beneficial. I recommend it in all forms to all people, writers or not.

It IS Dangerous

I don't like it when people say that something "could be dangerous". That completely ignores what 'dangerous' actually means. 'Danger' is the risk of harm. It means that you are not guaranteed to be hurt, but that it can happen. Any situation that is dangerous therefore might result in harm, but may also not yield harm.

If a situation "could be dangerous", then you're saying that there is a possibility that a situation has a possibility of causing harm. And although it could be argued that such situations exist, I think of it as an overcomplication.

Handling radioactive material is dangerous. If you put radioactive material in a proper casing, you minimize the danger, but there is still a risk (for example, if the casing breaks). You might be tempted to say that this could be dangerous, but the reality is that it is dangerous. There is a risk of harm, which is the very definition of 'danger'.

This is one of those "think about the words you use and what they really mean" things. As always, most people would never really think about it, but they will still be manipulated by it. The reactions to "it is dangerous" and "it could be dangerous" are very different. Use the one that produces the reaction you want.

Monday, September 12, 2011

How We'd Like To Be Seen

There is so much thought and energy that goes into questions like, "who am I?" Identity is a difficult concept. We humans are so multifaceted that it is impossible to be defined by any single factor.

There is also a major disconnect between how we see ourselves and how others see us. We know all of our different aspects, including all of our deepest, darkest secrets. Others, however, do not see those secrets, nor do they even see all the aspects of our public lives (usually).

Because we are aware of this on some level, we usually try to present a particular image to particular people. We can even go to the lengths of not only showing only one side of you, but actively hiding others.

In writing, this is made much easier. Any evidence needs to be secifically written in order to exist. Writers, therefore, have absolute domain and control in showing who all of their characters are.

As a writer, decide carefully what you want to be true of your characters. It can be a major continuity issue if you are reckless, and it can be incredibly boring if underutilized.

As an audience member, read the facts of characters closely. Consider who they are, and then consider who they might be. Do you think certain chages would significantly change the story?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Memory Can Improve

I very often run a gambit with my ideas. Whether it be sheer laziness or simply not having materials on me, I will get an idea and not write it down. I always tell myself, "You'll remember it later. A series of thoughts will jog your memory or respark the idea."

I often mocked myself because it always failed. I remembered that I wanted to remember something, but have no clue what it was. Now, though, I have a better success rate.

I can only attribute this to the amount of times I have actively tried to commiting an idea to memory and how many times I have tried to recall them. And it makes sense to me. The body does what you train it to do, and the brain is part of the body.

Over time and with enough proper exercise, you can make your body do whatever you want, including improving your mind's memory. There is zero reason to not be doing that.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Expressing Language Mathematically

My phone has a pretty cool function: speech to text. In short, I talk into the mic and it types out what I said. It's incredibly handy for small stuff like putting an address into the GPS, but is pretty lousy for anything long than a phrase.

My major issue is the complete lack of punctuation. I cannot get this thing to put in commas, colons, dashes, not even a period. And turning speech to text without any punctuation is worthless.

It occurs to me, though, that computers do not seem to really understand English, and that it is because the language is not expressed mathematically. Either there are no set of formulae that can encompass all of English, or nobody has made them.

Now, granted, I have not been able to play with more advanced software like Dragon Naturally Speaking, so I could be totally wrong, but in my experiences, language seems too complex and nuanced to be expressable by a computer program.

Still, I find it a worthy endeavor. For as much as I am interested in the musicality of language, and in its freedom and evolution of usage, I find myself endlessly fascinated with the mathematics of language.

No matter how often they change, languages have rules. They are established and agreed upon (until people agree upon a new set of them). As such, these rules should be solid, which means computers should be able to understand them. Even if the rules have exceptions, those exceptions are also firmly rooted rules.

Consider that aspect next time you write, expressing language mathematically. See how it affects your views and usage of language, knowing that it is no more than an elaborate set of rules. Then tell me what you find.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Tell People How You Feel

I have learned more about life, people, and humanity from watching stand-up comedy than anything else. People are so guarded. They feel so alone, so abnormal and bizarre because of all of their foibles. And comedians do too. But comedians don't care. They go out on stage, put themselves under a microscope, and project it to the world. Ironically, any comedian who thinks that they are funny because their life is so unique is wrong; they are funny because they are so relatable.

By and large, audience members do not interact with performers. Most people get up and leave a theater or a comedy club after the curtain closes. Most people read a book and put it away when they're done.

I don't necessarily mind this, but it can be disheartening. A creator affects a great number of people - more people than they will ever know. Too few people take the time to share how they were moved with the creator.

I believe that anybody who shares themselves with the world wants to affect people. Every acknowledgement they get empowers and drives them to continue creating and sharing. It is very much a reciprocal relationship.

As such, I speak to you as both an audience member and as a creator.

Creators - Know that you are affecting people. Understand that many people will not tell you that for a variety of reasons (shy, lazy, afraid), but that you are still reaching them.

Audience members - Tell people how you feel. It really makes a tremendous difference in somebody's lives. I have read from authors that, even though they literally get more emails in a day than they can respond to, that they enjoy and appreciate every one and that those emails get them through the rough times. Be part of that group of special, benevolent people.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Come Back To It

So, I had a bit of an oopsie with a friend of mine. He asked me to read his screenplay and give him notes (thoughts, opinions, suggestions, etc.) on it. I diligently read it, wrote up my thoughts, and forgot to send them to him.

So, yeah, oops. Then I got an email asking what was up. Guess who felt like a fool. (I'll give you a hint: it was me.)

So I read through my notes before sending them and I saw me commenting on parts I didn't even remember (it's weird how you think you remember a story, but you actually only remember a few scenes). So I read through the screenplay again, weeks after doing it the first time, and it was a very different experience.

A lot of the surprise was gone. It's like, although there were parts that I forgot, when I approached them in the story, my memory jogged. However, because I was less concerned with "what happens next", I was able to focus on smaller details much better.

I noticed continuity issues that I missed before. I noticed subtle visual cues that were a little too subtle for my first runthrough. I noticed that certain issues I had taken with characters' actions actually made perfect sense when I read more carefully.

So, it ended up being a mixed blessing. I screwed up on getting a review out in time, but because of the wait, a better review came out of it. (I still sincerely apologized.)

I have mentioned in the past how beneficial it is to put your writing away and return to it later.You see it with fresh eyes. But, on top of that, you see them with a wiser mind. Much like the experience described above, I was able to see so much more because I was no longer just going with the flow of the story.

A first reading is a truly unique experience. When you do it, I do recommend as much as impossible to ride the story from beginning to end. If there is a glaring error, make note of it, but don't let it ruin the mood. However, always make sure to give yourself a break to chill out and digest it all, and come back to it.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Feel What You're Saying

I find it amusing that we place a magical quality to foreign language. It is this mystical phenomenon that we are certain makes perfect sense, yet we have no clue what it means or even how to go about solving the puzzle. It's no surprise that magical incantations are rarely in English; they aren't mystical enough.

There is a catch with foreign words, though. Although they can hold tremendous power, they are meaningless if you don't know their meaning. If you say magical words, but you have no idea what they mean or what they are supposed to do, nothing is going to happen.

You can see the same thing happen in music. When people sing in a foreign language, there will be one of two outcomes: either the person knows and truly understands the lyrics, thus singing with great power and greatly affecting the audience, or they are just making melodic sounds that they learned by rote and it comes off flat and lifeless.

Oddly enough, the same is true of music sung in English. People who are singing words are flat, and people telling stories and expressing emotions connect deeply with listeners. There's no way that you can listen to Freddie Mercury sing and not feel the emotions he was giving you through his voice.

Not so oddly, the same is true of writing. It is never enough to just put down words (though it can be a good start for a draft). You need to feel something when you write. You need to express that feeling. You need to make other people feel that feeling.

This is why I always suggest writing as though you were speaking it out loud. If your writing reads like a speech, then your audience can hear it more easily, even if they are reading it silently to themselves. You need to be able to feel what you're saying. Then you will have the chance to pass that feeling on.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Best Choice At Each Juncture

People usually have to make decisions. We reach a juncture where a choice has to be made, so we weigh our options, pick the best option we can see, and move on. It's a pretty simple task, which we and our characters often do.

What isn't done as often, though, is planning several junctures ahead. You make a decision and follow through with it, and you are happy that it was the best choice. But sometimes some terrible thing happens afterward and you suddenly find yourself looking back, wishing you had made a different choice.

The reason we usually don't do it is that it's impossible. You can't know the future. Some things are completely out of your control. As such, your decision appeared to be the wrong one, but it wasn't. You made the best choice at the juncture.

In stories, too many people try to make everything fit perfectly into a neat little bow. Even worse, a Mary Sue character will just be so flawless that nothing bad ever happens because they always make the best decision. That's boring. When you have characters who try to do good things, but get thrown a curve ball, they scamper to try to fix what has been made wrong, and that's interesting (it also sounds really sick when described that way, audience members enjoying watching other people struggle).

In life, you are the character. Shit happens. You may find a moment of weakness where you keep wishing things were different, but that's not a useful path. The only thing you can know is that if things were different, then they might not be the same. So long as you make the best choice based on everything you know, you should never feel bad for what you've done.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Build For The Sake Of Building

While visiting a friend, he introduced me to the computer game Minecraft. I was familiar with the concept of it, but had never before seen it in action.

In Minecraft, you play a character in a totally open, 3-dimensional world. You can go anywhere and break down the different materials you find and collect them. You can then use those materials to build various items. Some are tools, some are weapons and armor, and there are vastly more things to make.

The purpose of the game is nothing. You simply live in an open sandbox and make or do whatever you please.

That bothered the crap out of me. The game has tasks and tools and abilities, but they are naught. There are no objectives, no puzzles to solve, no impetus to DO.

But in seeing my friend play, it got more exciting. The sheer scope and size makes exploration alone a task. Building a sweet house or fortress is a fun and creative way to generate ideas to make it and implement them.

That's when I realized that we make our own games here. This is simply the building blocks we use for it. We build not to solve a problem, but to satisfy a curiosity.

Can I do it? How would it function? What will it actually look like?

This can also be true of writing. Sure, professional and academic writing is strictly to solve problems. Even when we write personal short works, they tend to make a point.

Try doing it differently, though. Just build for the sake of building. Don't worry about what anybody says or thinks - write it because you thought about seeing it.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Nacirema Method

There is a well-known piece of writing which studies the Nacirema tribe. It discusses the bizarre practices, rituals, and beliefs of these savage, backward people. We read this, some in shock, some in contempt of these people, not realizing that we are them.

'Nacirema' is 'American' spelled backward. All of these people's practices are our practices, just said with different words to make them sound foreign.

I think this is an excellent technique. It is also known as the "Alien Observer" technique because the author or narrator takes the role of an alien and explains what they are seeing with zero context or other understanding.

This is how you find ideas. Reframe the world. Try to understand it less, but then understand it anyway. You might come up with something cool.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Stunningly Weird

Recently, I had a conversation with a friend in which I said that I was fascinated by a not-so-common subject. I felt I needed to explain myself, which made me consider how exactly I define 'fascinating' (because defining terms is critical). That is how I came up with the phrase 'stunningly weird'.

As I see it, the quality that makes something fascinating is that it stuns me. I become transfixed on the subject and it stops all of my thoughts and actions for a period. Beyond that, though, it needs to maintain a mystery. Once I understand a subject, it becomes nothing more than a collection of facts. A subject which I can see actively, regularly, and still not understand is just plain weird to me (and a fair number of subjects in life are like that).

Practically every thing that both captivates and confounds you will seem to be fascinating. And everything that is fascinating should captivate and confound you. It's a mutual relationship, one not to argue with or fight against, but simply accept and understand.

Everybody should be fascinated by something. If you have nothing stunningly weird in your mind, the world must be a sad, boring place. And if you really do believe that, I challenge you to find one thing which amazes you. Most likely, the best place to start looking is your hobbies. If something matters enough to invest time into, even if it is just watching TV, there is something there compelling you to do it. It's probably something fascinating.

Friday, September 2, 2011


I find the word "bound" to be interesting because of its diversity of meanings. It can mean "connected to" (friends bound together), "trapped by" (wrists bound by ropes), "fated" (bound to save the world), or "jump" (leap tall buildings in a single bound).

There are even more uses for it than that, too. Just consult your local dictionary. The point is that this one word not only has multiple meanings, but very different ones. As with any word, be careful when you use it. Make sure that it can be used for the meaning you intend, and also make sure it doesn't have any other potential meanings which may make your words awkward.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

You Are A Vat Of Chemicals

I continuously see commercials for body spray and make up and deodorant and perfume, countless products to make you look and smell different, always touted by claiming it will get you laid. The only thing more ridiculous than the claim are the products themselves, most of which are repulsive.

I found myself shouting to nobody in particular, "you are just turning yourself into a vat of chemicals." But, it occurred to me that we are all a vat of chemicals. Everything in the universe is a chemical (well, at least all matter is). Just because we are using chemicals that are not self-produced on ourselves isn't necessarily condemnable.

I was so ready to go on a tirade about chemicals and such, but one simple argument completely shut it down. (And that is why it is so important to argue with yourself.) And boy would I have looked the fool had I done so.

In writing, we are making a point, or at least making a claim. Generally, the main impetus that drives us to write is making that point. As such, it is a very wise idea to thoroughly consider your argument before you share it with the world. If you discover that it has a glaring error in it, you can safely revise it or throw it out.

Fortunately, the best way to study your own argument is to start writing about it. So, do not consider this as an excuse to not write. Consider it an encouragement to write thoughtfully.