Saturday, December 31, 2011

Clear Your Head

People often make bad decisions when they are in a bad mood. They are overwhelmed by their emotions and their thoughts. They are so convinced that what they want to say is something that needs to be said. So they work themselves up and say how they really feel.

There's a couple problems with that. The first is that it isn't how they "really feel". They're just saying how they feel at the moment. The second problem is that the next day, they don't feel that way anymore, but what they said (or wrote) is still dangling out there, lingering in the minds of those who heard (or read) it.

When you communicate, your name is attached. Sure, people may use pseudonyms, but it can always be traced back to you. Be careful what you write. You may feel one way now, but you may change your mind later. However, once damage has been done, it's not so easy to recover.

Clear your head. Do something to calm down. Go for a run. Take a shower. Solve a puzzle. When you are not worked up and you are feeling more rational. Look at what you wanted to write, then see if you still think it's a good idea.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Style vs. Gimmick

I hate the repetitive. (And since most people would write that sentence five times in a row for a cheap laugh, I'm going to not do that and keep on going.)

When you read enough and you pay attention to what you're reading, you find how similar it all is. You start seeing the same stories, the same jokes, the same styles. For me, it gets irritating.

I hate essayists. They are the most gimmicky writers I regularly come across. Nearly every essay I read follows the exact same format:
  • Some mundane scene from my life was occurring.
  • My mind started wandering to some abstract subject.
  • I elaborate on that abstract subject, working it into a principle or lesson that can be applied to many aspects of life.
  • I return to that mundane scene and apply the lesson I just learned from my abstract thoughts.
  • Everything ties together and there is a touching, usually heartwarming scene to cap it off.
But the arguer in me then asks the question: What's the difference between a gimmick and a style? How come it is laudable to have an identifiable style of writing, but shameful to rely on a gimmick in writing?

This is not an easy question to answer. I do not quite have concrete answers yet. But it is a subject I don't want to wait to cover. To me, a style is the collection of principles used to string words together. It is about the melody, rhythm, and weight of words. It is about the kind of words that are chosen and how many of them are in a sentence. (The way I use parentheses, the way I group sentences into paragraphs, and the way I always make lists of three things are all part of my style.)

A gimmick, on the other hand, is a specific trick. It's something that always seems to work, and so it is reused. That format for writing essays is a great example. It is a compelling way to tell a story and teach a lesson. It starts with action, with a concrete scene. It gives people a way to emotionally connect. It wanders into the abstract, but by then, the audience is already into it and it is natural. After a journey through the abstract, we return to the concrete so that we remember where we came from, had a safe landing, plus we get to see that our trip was fruitful because we see that same scene in a new light.

The problem is that, once you are aware of that format, the veil falls and you recognize it as nothing roe than a gimmick. It is a canned trick which can be opened and used at any time.

I admit, there are only so many ways to write an essay. I'm sure that mine repeat the same styles over and over again (at 1000+, it's basically a guarantee). But I try to keep things varied. Sometimes I dive into the abstract and stay there. Sometimes I just tell a story and tack a lesson on at the end. Mostly, I'm doing it so that I don't get bored writing these things.

Ultimately, writing will always be about entertainment first. Gimmicks are effective when used lightly. They got famous for a reason: they work. But there is an illusion in writing. And if you show the same illusion over and over again, people are going to figure out how it works. Then the illusion is broken and you are suddenly boring (and you also ruined it for anyone else who ever wanted to use it).

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Half vs.Twain

I really don't like it when people use the word "half". It is used improperly so often that I now assume that people are using it incorrectly.

"Half" is a very specific term. It means that a whole is split into two equal parts. If the two pieces are not equal, then the object was not split in half; it was split in twain (or in two).

This is more often a colloquial issue than a written one. I find that when people are vocally telling a story, they are more likely to say that they ripped or cut something in half, even if it is inaccurate.

This is one of the things that makes me love the English language, but frustrates me in its use. It is wonderful to have a distinction between half and twain. But if they are used interchangeably, then the distinction is lost. English becomes simpler, but requires more words to express an idea (which thus adds a kind of difficulty).

As always, I ask that you be exact with your words. Choose words that say what you mean. The most effective communication is the one that requires no guessing or inferring to understand what is meant. That should always be your top priority.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Dark Matters

Quite often, the subjects I write about here are the ones on my mind as I sit down to write my post. I kind of like it that way; it really proves that we always have one new thing we can talk about every day. But the key word there is "new".

If I ever cover a concept multiple times, I am approaching it from new angles and with new perspectives. I do not write about the same subject over and over again. But that doesn't mean that I don't have the same thoughts over and over again.

During the shower I took just before writing this post, I came up with three well-formed ideas to write on. When I sat down, they were all gone. After some thinking, I remembered one of them (my knack for holding onto critical phrases is improving, but leaves much to be desired).

If I wrote about "forgetting ideas" every time I sat down and realized that I had forgotten the idea I was planning to write about, that would be a good chunk of my posts. Along with that, I would become stale and annoying rather quickly.

But the point remains: it happens to me. It happens often. It is usually on my mind. Despite that, I rarely talk about it. As a writer, I communicate things that matter. That largely means that you don't repeat yourself. You only bring up old matters when you have something significant to add to them.

Because of that, so many thoughts are like dark matter: they exist and they affect us and the things around us, but light does not get shined upon them. This is a tricky aspect to tackle when you write. It is important to understand what is going on in people's heads. If they act and we don't know why, we can't relate. Then we will be confused and will reject that character. But if we keep getting the same descriptions and the same thoughts, we will get bored and angry and again will reject the character.

The best advice I have is to develop with a theme. A neat freak who only ever freaks out about things "being dirty" is boring. But imagine how many different ways that person's sense of order can be shattered. Talk about the specifics. Come up with creative ways to make things chaotic. Now you will be able to cover the same thoughts and issues, but keep them new and interesting.

It occurs to me that this advice is the same as the one I mentioned with my blog posts: approach it from a new angle. Bring new light to the subject. As long as it's truly different, it remains worthwhile.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Thoughts At The Book Stores

I was in a Barnes & Noble recently. I was looking at a book that seemed interesting, then figured I would go online and buy it for significantly less money. Then I felt a little bad. I couldn't help but think about how I'm the reason that stores like this are closing down.

Then I saw the section labeled Paranormal Romance. And sure enough, the shelves were stocked with an assortment of girl-on-vampire and other stories that were painfully and tragically ripped off of Twilight. And at that point, I started thinking that maybe these stores deserved to close down.

They're businesses. They need to make money. But that means they need to cater to the people. If they offer crap, don't buy it. You are part of "the people".

Be wary, though. The world will be shaped by your actions, not your desires. If you do not buy from local stores, then you are actively making the world a place without book stores. But if book stores are now offering Paranormal Romance, it may not be such a bad thing.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Don't Let Setbacks Spiral

I have not had much motivation to write these posts lately. It pretty much corresponds to when my hard drive crashed. Without going into too much detail, my primary hard drive was wiped out and my back-up hard drive crashed, so I kind of lost everything.

Fortunately, my very old files (things from college and before) were saved on an external hard drive, and I had coincidentally emailed basically all of my story ideas and drafts not terribly long ago, so not all is lost here.

Not everything is as it was, though. First of all, one of the documents I do not have anymore is my list of blog post ideas. I know there were a lot of things I wanted to do with them, and they are all gone. Sure, there is always more I can say. And sure, I am used to ideas coming and going just because I didn't write them down in the first place. But this is psychological. And the psychological damage has been done.

When I get ready to write a post, my habit is to open up the idea list, and now I don't have one. It makes me depressed. It makes me uninspired. It makes me want to go on vacation until I'm not uninspired.

But that is literally the worst thing I could do. When you have a setback, it is exactly that. It sets you back. It does not permanently destroy you. So don't act like it does. If one bad thing happens to you, don't let it become a downward spiral of depression. Chill out, take a deep breath, maybe a hot shower, and write one thing.

It doesn't have to be the best thing ever. It doesn't even have to be great. It just has to be written. It's the only surefire way to end the cycle.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Seething Bile

Sometimes I love the explanations I come up with. I had used 'vitriolic' in a sentence and was asked what that meant. I said, "If 'seething' and 'bile' had a child, it would be 'vitriolic'."  (I would have called this post "Vitriol", but I used that one like 2 years ago.)

I think that one of the reasons my vocabulary is so rich is that I think of words as combinations of other words. It's like a thesaurus, but with a twist. If I need to express a feeling, but I don't have the exact word I need, I can think of the components, mix them together, and they become the word that encompasses all those qualities.

Of course, you need to learn these words in the first place, and nothing is better than exposure. Even if it's something as crazy as thumbing through a dictionary or using those online flashcards, it is worthwhile. "Seething bile" is an excellent phrase; it totally is worthy on its own merit. But if you are writing something that has a certain rhythm and the phrase doesn't fit well, "vitriol" might fit better.

It's a great example of high-level writing. Stuff like "awkward phrases" may not matter to some people, but they affect the audience. Having synonyms in your pocket, even for phrases that are not terribly common, is always a good thing. You may be able to make an effective sentence significantly more potent by having it slide off the tongue right when you want it to. Getting everything to line up perfect is not easy. (Sometimes it seems impossible.) But the more ways you can say something, the more ways you can rearrange words, the more tools you have in your chest, the more likely it will be easier for you.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Make Your Narration Match Your Dialogue

I find it amusing when we struggle so hard to maintain standard written English in our prose, but then our characters break all the rules. You either end up having a cast of characters all speaking very formally, or you have dialogue that is so vastly different from narration that it is jolting.

I thought of a character who was a bit touched in the head and didn't quite grasp the language vehemently expressing, "I am not a children!" I found it pretty funny, but part of me also recognized how badly it would irritate people to see such a sentence glaring at them.

I think, though, that of the narration of the story was familiar or colloquial, the statement would be less jarring. You could use proper spelling and punctuation and grammar, but if you wrote in a more laid back, less "proper" form, you could easily believe that a character would say such an odd-sounding phrase and not pay it too much mind (though not ignore it, either).

It is important to have the voice of your narration blend well with your characters. This is usually not an issue since they are both going to use your voice. But since you should be challenged to have characters that sound unique or at least be different from each other, then you should also challenge yourself to narrate well enough to fit.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What Physics Is To Math

"Physics is to math what sex is to masturbation." -Richard Feynman

I love that quote. It's funny; it's cheeky; and it's true. Even more, when I first heard it, it made me think.

Math is a beautiful subject when you're in the right mindset. Mathematics is where you learn how and why things work. It exists in empirical purity. Math sees numbers as a seamless fluid where two totally different-looking things can be seen as exactly the same, merely rearranged.

The problem with math is that the knowledge itself is useless. Mathematics is ethereal. It is only of value when it is used in the real world. That is where physics comes in. Physics is the application of math. It's where all the imperfect things come into play and we have to deal with them, but if you have a sufficient knowledge in math, your physics will be far easier.

I bring this up because I was thinking about rhetoric. It is a wonderful subject, but very difficult to explain. I have usually described it as "writing theory". Rhetoric is the subject you study to understand how and why writing (really, communication of any form) works.

Tonight, I realized that this is the exact same relationship as math and physics. And it made me excited. Writing is also a truly beautiful thing. Learning the theory behind it is incredibly useful, and is incredibly difficult to learn (partly because of the lack of great teachers in the subject). But no matter how much you learn about the theory of writing, it is useless if you do not apply it to the real world. Make something that will affect people.

If you don't apply theory to practice, then the only thing you have to offer is teaching other people unpracticed theory.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

On Experiences

I was thinking about a time when an old friend came to visit me recently. He was passing through Buffalo on business and we hung out over night. We both like house music, so we went out to a club. They had live DJs playing and it was a total blast. I could write an excessively long chapter in a memoir based on that experience at the club, and we spent all of four hours there.

Four hours. That's it. But in those four hours, so much happened, all at once or one after another, that it was more experiences than the vast majority of my ho-hum life before or after it. This is an experience that I will remember for a long time and will draw from.

This actually leads into another observation (actually, one I made quite some time before). Some people sound like they have incredible lives, rife with action, hilarity, drama, etc. Thy have seemingly unending stories that make you wonder what the hell you've been doing that you are not as interesting. But, those stories are not unending. The stories do finish and the number of them is finite. And, if you listen to somebody long enough, you start to see that their life is just a collection of experiences, not unlike your own.

As I said, I draw from my experiences. As I also said, I could write a memoir chapter just in detailing the events of a single night. Imagine what could be done by infusing the essence of this experience into my writing. What stories could I tell? What characters could I create? (I don't expect you to know the answer because you weren't there, but I do invite you to hypothesize.)

So what are your experiences? How much can you say about a single experience if you tried, and how much real-world time did it take to actually experience it? How can you use these experiences to influence or inspire your writing without directly writing down your experiences?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Grand Works

There are a lot of smart people out there. More people are clever and come up with funny or truly impressive things than you might think. But so much of what we see is bite-sized. It's one amazing video or song or picture. One great joke.

I feel like, even if you do something amazing enough to be noticed, how do you do something amazing enough to gain followers? Small things can gain some notoriety. You can get a nice spike of attention (the proverbial 15 minutes of fame), but it always dies down.

The only answer I have so far is to create grand works. Make a large-scale project. Make something that keeps on going. It should be approachable, something you can show to the public, something you can offer in bite-sized chunks, but which are part of a greater whole, and which you need to keep coming back to get more of.

Coincidentally, Cheff Salad does this to a degree. Every post stands on its own, but reading through the blog is a serious feat, and you always know that there will be another one to read come tomorrow.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Shit Happens

There is no denying the fact: Shit happens. It just does. If you're lucky, it doesn't happen too terribly often. If you're unlucky, everybody will try to find some way to make it seem like a good thing.

The reality is that shit is shitty. (Yes, yes, I know, I'm the most eloquent linguist known in all the cosmos.) Sometimes terrible things happen. If we are strong, we pick ourselves up; we repair what is damaged and replace what has been lost. If we are weak, we give up; we either lie in the ruins or we leave those pieces on the ground and slink away without them.

What people define as "shit" is all relative. It can be something as trivial as dropping a candy bar on the ground, or as serious as losing the function of your limbs. The point is not to think of it as a pissing contest. There are no winners in tragedy. The point is to understand how it functions, how it affects people, how it affects you, and how you can affect others because of it.

Innate Abilities

I have an innate ability. (I actually have quite a few, but I'm focusing on one in particular.) I can change the way I see any person. And I do not mean this in an underwhelming manner. I mean that, no matter how I feel about a person or how I would naturally react to them, I can rewire my default programming. This means that I don't have to pretend to treat somebody a certain way; I will legitimately treat them in a way that I choose.

It still sounds like a stupid power, but when you have to deal with people regularly and in close quarters, it is invaluable. Instead of seeing somebody as an obnoxious tool, for example, I can rewrite him into a misunderstood victim of poor upbringing (which is way more palatable than somebody choosing to be a jerk).

Here's the thing though. It's not an innate ability. It's a trained ability. I simply happen to have trained it over a decade ago and don't think about it much.

For me, if I realize that I can't stand or can't handle somebody, the process starts up and in 1-3 days, I suddenly see them in a different light. But the reality is that I am putting forth a great deal of unconscious effort and that it has taken me a long time to be able to do that. I forget that reality because it has been so long since I had to work that hard at it, that I don't think about it anymore.

Nobody is born knowing how to walk. Nobody is born knowing how to do math. I know there is much to be said about Nature vs. Nurture, but I steadfastly believe that all of our abilities are learned and practiced; they are not innate.

Writing is hard. It takes a vast amount of knowledge about a wide array of subjects. If you have started learning some of those things while you were young (e.g. spelling/grammar, vocabulary, melody, rhythm), you are at a tremendous advantage. But even if you are at the worst disadvantage possible, you are still able to write and you are still able to write well. You will have to want it very badly in order to do what is needed to catch up, but you will be better for it. If you're lucky, you may never forget how much effort you spent to gain those abilities.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

On Time

I came across this Einstein quote recently: “When you are courting a nice girl an hour seems like a second. When you sit on a red-hot cinder a second seems like an hour. That's relativity.”

Time is a strange thing to me. It is fluid. It is constantly flowing, and yet it feels so inconsistent. I always wake up within 2 minutes of my alarm, no matter what time I set my alarm for, no matter how long I have been sleeping. No matter what, my brain knows when I told it to wake up, even without the aid of any time piece.

If I set a microwave for any period of time, I always come back in under 5 seconds before it goes off. It's the same deal, just working on a smaller scale, and while conscious.

On my 30-minute lunch break, I somehow don't even get started writing on the blog until it is two-thirds over. I still have no idea where all that time went. I expected another 20 minutes to pass while writing this post, and yet somehow it's been only 6 minutes and I am nearly finished. (Yet, tomorrow, the same amount of words may take me four times longer to write.)

Time is a strange thing to me. And yet, perhaps because I am so aware of it, I have grasped some amount of control over it. When it matters, I take it into my hands. When it doesn't matter, I let it take over. It seems a fair balance and, though it can be disorienting at times, it is a method of operation which has treated me well.

Ease Of Creation

Due to severe technical difficulties, I am writing this post on my phone. I do appreciate having a keyboard. Heck, I appreciate having a phone that I can update my blog on. But it is nowhere near as easy as my keyboard.

Creativity is a pretty fast thing. Once you get started, the mind races and the body has to keep up. If it takes you too long to record your thoughts, you either will lose much of them by falling behind, or you won't even start in the first place.

Different people have different preferences. Some handwrite; some type; some speak. Within those three, there are different ways of doing each. Find the way that gives you the greatest ease of creation.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Danger of Utilitarianism

I wanted to follow up on yesterday's post about utilitarianism. It is a good method and I find it to be an effective one, but I must warn that it comes with a risk.

You are always asking yourself, "what purpose does this serve?" Well, that's not an easy question sometimes. You start asking that question enough times and you begin to wonder what purpose writing serves (or why "entertaining/educating other people" matters). Then you start asking why anything matters. Then you start asking why life matters.

Then you find yourself in a vortex of depression (or any other number of mental problems). It will take some tremendous force to snap you out of it, and there is a chance you may be scarred from the experience permanently.

If you are a utilitarian or are thinking about trying it on for size, try to approach it as a methodology and not an ideology. Solve a problem as a utilitarian, but don't approach life as one.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


I was trying to think about what to write tonight. As usual, so many ideas that come to me are gone. I have bits and pieces of them. I know the gist of the idea I had, but they were only bits and pieces.

At that point, I gained a new idea to write about: If you have an incomplete idea, you are not better off than having no idea. Incomplete ideas cannot stand on their own, and you never reclaim the idea you once had in its original form.

But in articulating that idea, I realized that not everybody would agree with me. It was my personal belief, my way of doing things that makes me say that half an idea is worthless. I am a utilitarian. Function is everything to me. Grasping at a half-formed idea is a waste of my time. I either need to come up with an idea that I can work with or I need to pull one out of my list.

And, this post is proof positive of the effectiveness of utilitarianism. My original idea had something to do with the fact that I tried to start an argument but failed because everybody agreed with me. I still have no idea what the point of that was or how I intended on having it relate to writing. But by not worrying about it, letting it go, and looking for new thoughts to write on, I found something that worked.

At the end of the day, I had a task that needed to be completed. Because of utilitarianism, I did that.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

I Haven't Done That Yet?

I have a list of ideas for blog posts which I often refer to. Some of them are so old that I literally have no clue when they were entered. Somehow or another, something else keeps coming up. Maybe I got a more pressing idea, or maybe I just didn't feel like writing on that subject.

Sometimes, though, I see an idea in my list and I swear I've doe it before. But if its on my list, then it means I haven't. So I go through my archives and look through them for key words or phrases, and nothing turns up.

It is an odd feeling, being so sure that I have done something that I haven't. It must mean that I have thought about it so much, but put it off so often that I lost track of reality.

I am happy to have all of my blog posts recorded and very easily searchable. But still, it's scary how unreliable the mind is. If it isn't recorded externally, you should never be too confident that you have or haven't done something.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Return To The Moment

Ideas come to us when we are in a moment. You're busy doing one thing, your mind wanders, and suddenly you realize you're having a great idea. The one downside is that as soon as you realize that, you have left the moment. Now you're in your on head.

Usually, one of two things happens: you return to the moment but forge the idea, or you focus on the idea and lose the moment. There is a way around this, though.

Write your idea down. Yes, it is that same advice once again, but for a new reason. Keep your pen and paper on you. When the idea strikes, write it down, however many words it needs. The beauty is that you retain the idea, but because you know you have just saved it for later, it allows you to let go of the idea and return to the moment. Truly, it is the best of both worlds.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Accept the Insane

There is an amusing internet meme going around, based on the video game The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Every town has its own set of guards, but there is a fairly small pool of voices and canned statements that they make whenever you approach them. As such, they are often repeated.

One of the comments is, "I used to be an adventurer like you, then I took an arrow in the knee." As I played this game myself, I just sort of saw it as a flaw, or at least a limitation. There are only so many things you're going to have them say, so I guess it's better to keep those short in order to have an expansive world like it does.

But other people saw it a different way. They took it at face value. They realized that, according to what they were told, basically every single guard in the entire country of Skyrim used to be an adventurer, but took an arrow in the knee and had to give it up. This makes for a hilarious (or horrifying) world to be playing in.

Writers do not always catch their mistakes. Sometimes editors don't catch them either. And sometimes what one person might call a mistake, others might simply call an oversight or just not looking to deeply into something. In any case, it makes for an insane world. When you come across such insanity as a reader, it puts you in a unique position to decide how you will handle it.

I recommend you accept the insanity. Play along with it, even if you know it's not the case. It really does make for a more amusing time.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Legitimate Cliches

So, I got told "it's not you; it's me" today, and it was hilarious. And no, I'm not being sarcastic, I thought it was so funny I nearly laughed out loud. What made it so great was that it struck me on two levels.

The immediate reaction to it is: who the hell still uses that cliche anymore? But what made it extra ticklish was that the person who told me didn't even realize they had done it. In fact, the exact words were, "There is nothing in your control that prevented US... my situation did." Sure, you could argue the semantic differences, but the sentiment is the same.

After it stopped being so funny to me, I tried to answer my own question: who still uses that? And the answer (at least in this case) is that it is people who are not using it as a cliche. The wording was unique (or at least not standard). I knew that the sentiment was sincere. It was a cliche, but it was a legitimate cliche.

As writers, we are taught to avoid all the cliches. Avoid all the stereotypes. Avoid all the common imagery and phrases to go with it. It is a good idea, especially to budding creative minds. It forces them to create. Not only will they make new descriptions, but they will explore new concepts.

However, stereotypes exist for a reason, and phrases become cliche for the same reason: more often than not, they're true. The problem is that the words used to express the ideas become stale. That is why it is so crucial to learn how to say the same thing in a different way. It will allow you to talk about those powerful human subjects without sounding like every single other person who talks about powerful human subjects. And that is a power worth its weight in gold (assuming you ignore the fact that this power is intangible).

Friday, December 9, 2011


I don't think I have ever written the word "windowsill" in my life before a week ago (and barring this post, haven't written it since). Odd that I have used the word so many times, but never written it, and don't really recall reading it. Even odder was trying to spell it.

I had an idea of where to begin: "window". I was quite confident that I could spell that part of it. "Sill", though, was a bit tougher. Judging from the sound of it, I figured it was spelled in the same manner as "bill", "dill", "fill", "gill", "hill", "ill", "kill", "mill", "nill", "pill", "quill", "till", and "will". What I did not know was whether it was a single word or a two-word phrase. And if it was a single word, would there be two L's or one?

I had three reasonable guesses: "window sill", "windowsill", and "windowsil". At this point, I said screw it and typed it into Google. I found that both "window sill" and "windowsill" had plenty of hits. Dictionaries also had both variants listed, but it did seem that resources leaned toward "windowsill" as the primary form. As such, that is the one I used.

The point of this story is that there are a lot of words out there. There are a lot of words out there that you know and probably have never written or read. Just because you don't know how to spell them immediately does not mean you should avoid the word (it doesn't mean you should spell it incorrectly or trust spellcheck to catch it, either.) Use your understanding of the language to deduce what it should or could be. If that fails, go to the internet. It is a trusty tool. Just remember that, much like any tool, it will not be very helpful if you do not know how to use it properly.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Relatable Or Facinating, But Not Disgusting

I don't want to be disgusted. Somethings are totally disgusting, and I freely admit that, but in principle, that is a reaction I should not experience.

Everything should be either relatable or fascinating. I either need to view an experience as "ah yes, I know exactly what that feels like" or "wow, that is so strange that I cannot imagine how one could feel like that (but I want t find out)."

When you're disgusted, you are rejecting what you see. You deem it as something so terrible that you do not wish to taint yourself by being in its presence or in any way acknowledging it.

This is not conducive to being a good writer. Frankly, it's not conducive to being a good person. But let's stick with writing for now.

Writing is about exploration. It's about learning something, maybe learning a lot of somethings. It will involve handling stuff that's unpleasant.It goes with the territory. Create a mental barrier and dive in.

I do not in any way support abusive relationships. They're abominable. But they are so bizarre to me that I cannot help but seek an understanding of it. How can a person be so warped as to think that their relationship is healthy or that their abuser loves them? I don't know, but I really want to.

You may get weird looks from people when you tell them that you are studying an ugly thing (and people may not be happy if you write about them), but writing is not about making people happy at the cost of not learning.

Remember that you are not the subject you study. Remember that something fascinates you because you don't understand it, not because you want to embody it. Remember that if everything is relatable or fascinating, you will always be surrounded with good material to write about.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Only Regret It A Little

At 2 AM, I had a wheat bagel, covered it in off-brand Nutella, and topped it with home-made apple sauce. It was as delicious as it sounds. But, why the hell did I make this fairly big snack at so late at night? Aren't I going to bed soon? Isn't that a terrible idea?

Well, kinda, yeah. But I know two things about myself. One is that I take longer to get things done than I expect. The other is that it is way more unpleasant to go to bed on an empty stomach than a full one.

Now that it's some hours later, I can feel that my belly is full. Would I have been happier having made something lighter? Probably. Do I regret my choice? Only a little. It was a delicious thing that I created for the first time and I thoroughly enjoyed consuming it.

In our stories, we often paint things as either black or white. Doing bad things causes great regret. Doing good things causes great joy. But the interesting things are gray. What happens when somebody does something that is not good, but really isn't that bad? What the proper reaction to have? What judgement should we as the audience pass on said character?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

New Document

I was thinking about surveys. Specifically, I was thinking about how a great number of people I know are going to have to take them soon and where they are going to come from. There is no such thing as a default survey. There is a default survey format, but the questions are always going to be unique to the subject being discussed. That means it is probably going to be me who has to make those surveys.

At that point, I started thinking about how many documents I've made. Some have been trivial and some have been important, but all have been new. And I'm just one person. Imagine how many people are making new documents every single day.

It is stunning and beautiful to think of all of these new documents. It may be less beautiful when you think about how much of them are crap or utter nonsense, but ignore that for a moment and ponder the sheer quantity and scope of new documents being made.

Every single new document is a creation: something that exists now, which previously did not. It is an addition to the world. To be a part of that is a wonderful feeling. And no matter how big or small it may be, every time you open a new document, you are part of that, too.

Monday, December 5, 2011


The concept of monsters is fascinating to me. Monsters are creatures of pure evil who exist only to cause harm, destruction, and chaos.

Even wild animals would sooner be called beasts. Beasts, no matter how savage, can be soothed. They can be understood. They have feelings and struggle to survive. People may not like beasts, but at least if you leave them alone, they tend to leave you alone.

Monsters, though, have no emotions. The only ones they may feel are hate, spite, and malice. They are governed only by their desire to ruin things. They kill not to survive, but merely to end life. They attack things not because they feel threatened, but because a target to attack was noticed.

When you look at the way that the word 'monster' is used, you will see that it is for things which have no humanity and warrant no empathy or compassion. They are black holes, soulless demons.

Monsters exist in fairy tales because that is about the only place they can survive. Anywhere else, some one or something may seem monstrous (and some people may truly deserve that title), but they always maintain some shred of humanity. Things are alive. They struggle to survive. They have feelings and desires. These are characteristics that we should not ignore (otherwise you may be accused of being monstrous).

Of course, since writing is always about challenging authority, I would love to see somebody tell the story of a true, living monster.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Creativity With Ambiguity

As a rule, I hate ambiguity. I find it to be the representation of a flaw in the author's knowledge of his or her subject. Ambiguous language leads to confusion in audience members, and even when used purposefully like in a comedy of errors, it simply comes off as cheap and hackneyed.

Many rules, though, do get broken (especially when talking about what you can and can't do in writing). I have written recently about how annoying it is that the word "last" has two very common and very different meanings, which can make for very ambiguous and confusing sentences. However, it can also be used creatively and artistically.

In the Ben Folds song Annie Waits, part of the chorus goes, "Annie Waits for the last time / Just the same as the last time." This is a song about a woman who is consistently stood up by men, loses faith in it all, but keeps on going for the same kind of man, and thus getting the same results. I find those lyrics to be particularly poignant; they reinforce that the same thing keeps happening by using the same word, as well as what that word means. It is extremely creative and I applaud it.

Of course, if everybody used that turn of phrase, it would lose its efficacy, but since Ben Folds did it first (or at least most profoundly to me), it is amazing to me. It is proof positive that just because ambiguity (or ambiguous words) is bad in general does not mean that they cannot be used creatively.

Part of good writing is being able to find those loopholes, those creative ways to break the rules and be lauded for it.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

"Guess The Joke"

I hate sitcoms. I hate all of them with extreme prejudice. It is based on a very heavy formula which has remained unchanged in its core throughout time. It is a set of characters who act relatively normal and then have periodic bouts of being completely out of character.

Whenever I watch sitcoms, I play a game called "Guess the Joke". It is a game I created when I was a child and realized that even when watching an episode of any sitcom for the first time, I had nigh psychic powers in predicting when a joke was going to happen and what the joke would be.

Of course, I'm not psychic; I'm just observant. It's all formula. Characters act in a particular manner like any average Joe would. But then Somebody uses a word that's uncommon. They say a phrase that is out of the ordinary. Somebody responds to a stressful situation by saying something unnecessarily mean or somebody responds unreasonably harshly to a comment that was obviously not intended to be offensive (that is the basis of a similar game called Guess the Fight).

I've watched a great many sitcoms. I've watched them from different decades and about different subjects. But they all end up the same. I can forgive the fact that episodes are very often interchangeable. It's comedy, not drama. "At the end of the episode, everything's always right back to normal." But even within their format, there is a general lack of creativity, and that is what makes me so frustrated with them.

Structure is great. It allows for creativity within confines. The ultimate example of such is Dinosaur Comics. The same six panels for every single comic, and yet continuously new and interesting and funny. Sitcoms are the opposite. They are confines without creativity. They are the same tired premises and jokes day after day. It is a concept which should have potential, but consistently fails.

Writing is a serial act, so in a sense, you are always creating serial works (though they may have completely different characters, settings, premises, etc). Make sure that you keep doing something new. If you can recognize that you've used a certain trick or angle before, then it is definitely time to move on.

By the way. Guess the Joke is rather unofficial; there are no strict rules, but if you want to play along, the gist of it is that you announce in what the punchline of any joke is in the brief pause before the character says the joke. You get some points for correctly predicting when the joke is (e.g. if another line is said that isn't a punchline, you get no points) and then if they use the same joke or a close-enough variant, you get additional points. There is no way to win this game because you have to watch a sitcom to play and every time you are correct in predicting, you are driven further mad by reinforcing how pathetic and stale sitcom writing is. (I suppose you could turn it into a drinking game, but on behalf of your livers, I beg you not to.)

Friday, December 2, 2011

Mad Scientist

I think the Mad Scientist character is a fascinating one to study. Characters are people and, as such, are driven by some motivation to do what they do. There are two flavors of mad scientist we tend to see.

The first kind is the world-domination mad scientist. These are the people who create crazy inventions to either become rich or dominate the world. I find these characters comical at best and tragically brainless at worst. If you could create such amazing technology, you could obviously sell aspects of it to legally become rich. And if you wanted to take over the world, you're no better than a dog chasing a car. What would you do if you ever caught it?

The second kind of mad scientist is the knowledge-at-all-costs kind. Now these are your terrifying characters. Science is a pursuit of knowledge and understanding, but there are certain things we don't do because of our morals and such. The mad scientist cares not for the morals of man, but only about the pursuit and acquisition of knowledge.

The latter mad scientists are also scary because they are almost relatable. Knowledge is awesome. Understanding things is cool. And the next mind-blowing invention will never exist if we don't find out what is possible. We also know that a lot of things that society gets all uptight about can often be really stupid. And yet, mad scientists tend to cross the line that even we think is too far, but they don't have any regret or remorse because they don't think they went too far.

I sometimes catch myself wondering if I could have become a mad scientist under different circumstances. If that's not the most chilling thought, I don't know what is. (And if your story provoked that thought/chill, then you are a good writer.)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Ambiguity vs. Mystery

There's a whole lot of information that just isn't known in a story. And when I am reading a person's story, I am always asking for that information. "What's the deal with his parents?" "Who did start the fire?" "What could have possibly instilled an irrational fear of cotton candy?"

I ask those questions within the first few chapters of a story and part of me is upset that I don't know right away. But nowadays I bite my tongue because I know that all those answers are coming. I will not talk about a story until I have read it through once. Stories involve a certain amount of mystery and the satisfaction comes later on when the mystery is solved.

Sometimes, though, the mystery is with the author. For example, I sometimes write a story and just can't decide what I want to be the truth. What history do I want my character to have? What exactly is her relationship to the other main character? Well, if I don't know, I leave it up in the air. I leave it for the readers to ponder and argue over.

But that is not mystery. That's just ambiguity. And I believe that ambiguity is a bad thing in writing. I find it to be a sign of weak and inferiorly constructed worlds.

When the audience doesn't know something, it's mystery. When the author doesn't know something, it's ambiguity.