Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tell Me About It

"Tell me about it" is a tainted phrase. It is impossible to use without it sounding insincere. Whenever we see it, we interpret it as "I strongly agree" or "I also have a similar story." And, in all fairness, that is how it's used almost every time. But you can do more with it.

"Tell me about it" is a simple phrase. It asks for more information, maybe even a story. It's a lovely way to implore.

If you are working in an audio medium, the right tone of voice can give the proper context. And if you are in a visual medium, the right body language can also show it right. It is mostly in prose where it becomes more difficult.

Of course, just because it is difficult does not mean that it's impossible, nor does it mean that it's worthless.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Give Up

Since I was young, I have always found a particular phenomenon when I tried to achieve a goal: If I try over and over again and continue to fail, then when I finally give up and try one more time just to go through the motions, that is when I succeed.

I think it relates to the story about water: if you clench your fist to hold it tightly, you end up holding nothing. If you keep going solely on your resolve, there is no reason to expect the outcome to change. Eventually, you need to do something different And that may mean giving up.

Fortitude is important, as is one's resolve. When you are sending out your writing to publisher after publisher, it is out of your hands. You just have to keep doing it until you've tried them all. But, once you have sent it out to everyone you know, give up.

It may just be a remarkable coincidence unique to me, but I find that hard to believe. I think sometimes we just get tunnel vision and lose focus on the big picture. If nothing else, try giving up just to know that you've tried it. You may find out that you finally got everything you wanted just by not wanting it anymore.

Life can be a serious dick like that.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Magic Words

I wish that magic words existed. The idea of incantations that could physically change the world around you is amazing.

Alas, the sad reality is that there are no magic words. Never is it more clear than when I console people in times of grief. Nothing cures a broken heart or a crushed spirit. When people have fallen into low places, only they can get themselves out. It takes time and it takes conscious effort to make their life better again.

Whenever people are upset, I wish there were magic words I could say that would make all the pain go away. There aren't magic words. But there are words. And sometimes, the most innocuous words strike you. They resonate within you. They move you to do the things you would never have done without them.

There are no magic words, but all words can be magical.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Shorter Is Sweeter

It is absolutely impossible to end conversations with most of my friends. Every time either one of us starts to say goodbye, we either have one more quick story to share, or we make one parting joke.

The problem is that it invariably leads to one more story or a follow-up joke. Suddenly, we've gone from winding down to being at full speed again. This is why going to dinner with the right people lasts 4 hours (or until we are politely kicked out because the restaurant is closing).

When conversing with good friends, it's wonderful. When writing dialogue, it's lousy. And when trying to find that final sentence to your writing, it's murder.

Keep it short and sweet. Everything within reason, but shorter is sweeter.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

On Advice

Advice is...complicated. It's complicated on both ends, too.

To give advice, you are generally telling somebody else, "this is what you should do." You have all the best intentions. You want them to do well. You want them to succeed. You are confident that your advice will yield marvelous returns.

But if you give advice under the expectation that the receiver will follow it, then you are basically writing that person's work for them. You are robbing them of the experience. And depending on how strongly you feel about your advice, you may be offended if others choose not to take it.

To receive advice, especially if you sought it out, puts you in a potential bind. Most people already know the answers to their problems (or at least what they are going to end up doing) when they ask for advice. What they really want is confirmation. If the advice you receive doesn't confirm your plan, then you're still probably going to do it, but now you're going to feel worse about it.

The best advice is usually Socratic. Find out what the person wants to do, what results they expect, if their logic makes sense. If it doesn't, there should be a rational explanation why it wouldn't work and ideally a better alternative. This will circumvent all of the main issues and landmines involved in the world of advice giving.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Intros Suck

I hate writing the first sentence more than any other sentence (even more than the last one). You simultaneously want to say everything all at once, but cannot find an origin that makes sense on its own and smoothly transitions into your future thoughts. (I do admit that the title and first sentence of this particular post happen to work nicely.)

There are two kinds of writers: Those who suck at starting things and those who suck at finishing things (there is a third type: those who suck at everything, but they tend not to actually do any writing.)

I happen to be the former. And if you, also, can never manage to come up with a good beginning, then skip it. Jump straight into the body. Get done the parts you can do. Write down all the things you want to say. Then figure out how to put them together after you get it all done.

One of two things will happen: Either you will discover a good intro as you write the bulk of your piece, or you will logically deduce the best possible intro during the time that you are piecing together all the other parts.

Writing is the opposite of meal time. Do not save the best for last. Voraciously consume as many pages as possible as fast as possible. If you're lucky, you will slog through the nasty parts just out of habit or an obsessive compulsion to complete what you've started.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Expand Your Vocabulary Part 2

I wanted to add on to yesterday's post. The reason that my vocabulary is so strong is that every word I know is connected with several others by numerous principles. Every time I learn a new word, it connects with other words I know, as well as other linguistic principles I have.

For example, I mentioned the word "bespeak" yesterday. When I heard it, the first thing I thought about was the word "belie". Well, guess what. "Bespeak" and "belie" are basically antonyms. And since "belie" means "to show something to be false" and has "lie" in it, then I know that "bespeak" must be the opposite, meaning "to show something that is true."

Any time you learn a new word, understand that it does not exist in a vacuum. It evolved from previous words. It belongs to the same family as other words - words you probably already know. This is another great reason to learn grammar and other nitty gritty aspects of English (Latin and German don't hurt, either). If you can analyze and break down a word into its smaller components, if you can track down the history and evolution of the word, you will have a deeper and stronger understanding of it, even if it is the first time you ever saw that word, and you will be much more likely to retain it and use it in the future.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Expand Your Vocabulary

A friend asked me how best to expand her vocabulary. I told her that she needs to encounter new words and use them. The problem she had, though, was remembering the words long enough to use them.

Humans in general are terrible at knowing things after seeing them once. We have to practice and try over and over again. We need experiences and memories to draw from. That's how we learn. That's how things become natural.

If you want to expand your vocabulary, pick a word you want to use more often. Today's Word of the Day at is "bespeak". Go and look at the word's definition. See the examples used with it. Get a feel for how it can be used. Go and write 20 sentences using it. Write 20 more sentences after each meal. Slip the word into conversations. See if you can do it so naturally that people don't question it.

If you want to learn a word, use it deliberately. There are tens of thousands of words that you could easily go your entire life never needing. But if you would like to learn a few more than you already know, it can be done and it's not terribly difficult. You know lots of them already. What's a few more?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Insane Are Fascinating

I think that insane people are fascinating. To us, they make no sense. The things they think, the actions they take, their rationale, it's a whole bunch of nonsense.

But the insane don't think they're crazy. To them, it makes perfect sense. We see their minds as twisted, but for them every piece is in place.

I am always interested in seeing how these minds work. I bet that if I could get enough information on it, I could figure out the pattern or the logic that makes them think they make sense.

One of my long-term goals is to tell the stories of the insane, and have them make sense. Itis a great challenge, but I believe it will be totally worth it.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Don't Look Too Deeply

There are so many songs that I really enjoy. I share them with friends of mine when I feel compelled. But sometimes I hesitate to do so; I think they may misinterpret my intentions.

When I share things, whether they be music, pictures, stories, or anything else, it's because I think they're cool. Other people, though, often share things to give a hidden message. They'll share love songs in order to express a timid desire. They'll share cartoons of snarky people to tacitly say they're angry. And because things like that are so common, some people are just wired to assume hidden messages are in everything that is shared.

Truly, the only reason I share something is because I think it is cool and I believe that you will think so, too. I don't tell people to read a story about a mentally challenged serial killer because I think it sounds like a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon; I do it because the story made me think about a subject I hadn't thought of before, or because I learned something about the way their minds worked that I thought was fascinating.

Similarly, when I write, I usually am not stuffing my prose with "deeper meanings". I'm trying to entertain people. I want them to think, but I want them to think about the characters I made, the actions they took, and the rationale behind them. I know that it can be very easy to see a greater meaning behind a good story, but sometimes the best thing to do is don't look too deeply. It's too easy to miss the simple, but wonderful things right in front of you.

Stop Talking

If you are teaching people, I expect you to be smart. I expect you to be very skilled at doing what you are teaching and at being able to identify errors that your students make and explain what they are and how to fix them.

But the mark of an amateur teacher is talking too much. You may know everything that's wrong and you may be able to explain how to fix it, but talking will not make students get better. Students have to practice. They have to make their own connections. If you are always stopping them to discuss their issues rather than having them repeatedly work to correct them, they will make far less progress.

With writing specifically, consider what has helped you to grow the most. Was it talking about writing, or was it actually writing? Talking is good in theory. It gives you things to consider, ideas to explore, but it is when you are actually putting words on paper that you are seeing first-hand what works and what doesn't.

Most importantly, writing is a long process. You need to bang out a whole draft just to know what you're doing and where you're going. There basically is no reason to even discuss a story until you have your first draft done (and maybe not until your second one). Anything more than that will just be micromanaging. If you want to be a great teacher, know when it is best to stop talking and let the students teach themselves.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Multilingual Melting Pot Within English

Building on my previous post, I wanted to discuss an interesting phenomenon when it comes to the multilingual. I had a linguistics professor who knew five languages (English, French, Swahili, Russian, and another African language whose name I don't remember). His wife also knew the same five languages. When he was at home with his wife and they were talking. He used all five of those languages. Sometimes in the same sentence.

This is totally common. If you spend time around people from mixed-language homes, or if they speak Spanish at home and English everywhere else, they will usually switch between the two languages when talking to family members. And it is not just a matter of using English words in Spanish sentences. The grammar and structure changes too.

I am not fluent in any other languages, but I have minor study in several languages. And I do this myself. I use the Japanese phrase "da ne" instead of saying, "isn't it?" I use the Chinese phrase "ni ne" instead of saying "how about you?" Of course, few people know all of the random language bits I know, so it sometimes falls on deaf ears, but the point is that it naturally happens. Or rather, it happen when my guard or mental filter is down.

Even if you are only multilingual within language, the same thing will happen. I find myself using the languages of my interests to describe my other interests.

This is precisely why I describe writing the way I do. I'm a musician. I care about how my stories sound. I use words like rhythm and melody and staccato to describe words and phrases because I am focused on an aural aesthetic.

I'm a martial artist. I care about how effective my writing is. I want to control my audience, make them react in a way I choose. I care about the structure and foundation of my prose, as well as the transition from one scene or thought to another; without that control, you will be torn apart by somebody who does have it (think about scathing reviews of poorly-written stories).

I'm a chemist. I have a strong desire to understand everything big and small. I want to identify the smallest components of communication, and then see if I can break those down into even smaller parts. I want to understand every aspect of how my individual words work, but also how they work with others. I know that powerful words can be diluted with enough dull words. I know that although certain things will happen naturally over time, you can significantly speed them up with a catalyst (like a relationship ending by going home from work early to find your boyfriend cheating on you, rather than slowly building up toxic levels of mutual hate).

Your mind is a multilingual melting pot, even if it's just within English. The more subjects you study, the more language sets you learn, the more they will tacitly affect your thoughts and views. The more ways you will be able to approach things. This is just plain wonderful in general, but especially as a writer, the more of this you acquire, the better you will be at writing.

Multilingual Within English

There are so many languages within English. And I don't mean how we absorb foreign words and phrases. I mean when using nothing but English, there are countless ways to speak. A common example is the difference between how you talk to your friend and how you talk to your parents/your boss/the police.

But there is so much more than that. I easily have a half dozen interests: writing, music, technology, martial arts, philosophy, chemistry. I will immediately admit that some of these subjects I have WAY less knowledge on than others. But they are all my interests. And if I am talking with somebody who also shares a particular interest, we share its language.

Vocabulary is certainly a large part of it, but a language is more than just its words. The things you talk about, the way you view the world, the ideas and the ideals that you hold depend upon the subject you discuss, and the language reflects that.

In music, we think about aural quality. The vocabulary is based on the qualities of sounds and the ideals are based on what is most pleasant to the ears. Admittedly, different musicians have different opinions on what is pleasant, but in general, fitting into standard rhythmic patterns and playing in tune are highly valued.

In martial arts, the primary goal is to survive. The language surrounds the idea of control. Minds need to be focused. The body needs to be balanced. You may hear a compliment like, "that looked good" just as commonly as "that looked strong", but the reason is that a trained martial artist can see when a technique has power behind it. Something looks aesthetically good because they can see the power and control in it. Again, different people hold different beliefs when it comes to martial art ideals, so take that as one example.

Although I only speak English fluently, I sometimes feel like I am multilingual. I can switch between completely different language sets. A conversation with one friend might be gibberish to another. Fortunately, as an expert communicator, I am also simultaneously learning how to explain and teach any of those languages to any person, no matter how much they do or don't know about the subject.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

I Want To Be A Story

I have found more and more a particular type of writer. They are not seeking the limelight, but they do want a certain fame. It's like they want to be completely separate from their stories. They want to affect people, but don't want any responsibility for it.

Talking with them, I notice that they live their life in a similar way. They are transient in nature. They don't have many friends, but they have so many people who come into and out of their lives. These writers want to show up, change people's lives, and leave when the change is complete.

Although none of them ever said it explicitly, they all sort of said the same thing: I want to be a story. By showing up, redirecting people's thoughts (if not their very lives), and disappearing, they end up becoming a kind of legend. Those affected people will tell their future friends about "this awesome guy who totally changed my life." And then the writers become raised above the level of regular people.

I find this mentality an interesting one. So often, I think of writers as trying to become famous, trying to get their own and make it big. But to know that there are people who want to change people's lives without seeking any kind of reward for it seems pleasant to me. In my opinion, that's what writing is all about.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Capella

I happen to enjoy a cappella music. Something about humans producing all the sounds of music, including the ones made by instruments marvels me. One of the interesting things about it, though, is how much of it is often overlooked.

When you listen to a cappella music, you gravitate toward the lyrics, or at least to the voice that is singing words. We're used to doing that, so it is natural. Nobody listens to the guy who is just doing the bass lines, or the guy who is doing a plain beatboxing rhythm. However, if the lyrical singer was singing solo, he wouldn't sound nearly as good.

So much goes on simultaneously that makes a cappella music sound good. You as an audience member may not be aware of it, but if any of those parts is absent, you will definitely notice it, or at least notice that something is off.

Writing functions similarly. People tend to notice the words in a story, but they often overlook what those words are doing. They create a mood and paint the emotions of your scenes. They do it by the synonyms you choose for any given concept (upset vs. frustrated vs. angry vs. mad), the length of your sentences and your paragraphs; they do it with your choice of smooth words which flow off the tongue or short staccato words that halt readers.

As always, be aware of the nuances of every word in your lexicon. Know how they function by themselves and how they function in conjunction with other words. It's a tall order to fill, but you can do it, and you will be a better writer for it.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Palette Swaps Aren't Creative

The term "palette swap" comes from video games. A character would have a model called a sprite, which would have a certain coloring to it. In order to cheaply create new characters (especially enemy characters), a company would simply swap the color palette for a different one. Suddenly, it is a distinguishably different character, even though it looks and acts exactly the same as the old one. Think of old video games where there are ninjas in red costumes on level 1, and then on level 2, you fight ninjas in blue costumes.

Although it is a video game term, and it refers to a visual aspect, it is a great way to talk about cheap pseudocreativity in any field and form. And one of the universal warnings is that palette swaps aren't creative. They had a purpose in old video games and that was to save on the limited amount of space that was available. Outside of that, it s just being lazy.

As an example, think about comedy. You know what gets people to laugh? Seeing a guy get kicked in the balls. It may be crude and low-brow and all the other negative terms you have, but it gets people to laugh. However, you can't rely on it indefinitely. If every joke you have is kicking a guy in the balls, your audience will get bored of you rather quickly.

So now you need to spice things up. But how can you do that? Well, what if you tried punching a guy in the balls? It's all the comedy gold of ball-kicking, but now it involves a fresh fist instead of a stale foot.

I would not recommend that as a way to keep your audience interested. That is a prime example of a palette swap. The heart of the joke is still the same. The only thing different is the means to make it. You haven't made any changes. You haven't demanded the characters to act any differently, nor have you challenged the audience.

Although that is a simple analogy, it works for finer details too. Amateur writers always have characters smile or laugh during conversations. I understand why they do it: there is a certain impulse to have characters do more than just talk, and it's the initial reaction to most lines of dialogue. However, one does not improve sections of dialogue by replacing smiles and laughs with other physical tics. Rubbing hands or turning around are the exact same worthless actions that mean nothing in prose writing (and are only semi-decent directions for a movie).

Palette swaps aren't creative. They're lazy. And if you aren't sure if something you're doing is a palette swap, the quick rule is: Does replacing one thing for another affect the way people think/talk/react, and does it affect the story in any significant way?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Useful Energy

Just because you're awake doesn't mean you can be productive. People need to have a certain level of energy to do something useful. We also need certain kinds of energy.

Sometimes we're preoccupied with something: getting done chores you're putting off, a conversation you had two weeks ago, that one project you say you're going to work on but still haven't started. When your mind isn't focused, you are not going to get much done. If you try to write, you end up staring at a blank page while your mind races (or wanders). If you try to read, you may discover that you read entire pages and literally retained nothing from it.

If you don't have useful energy, then give up and try again later. Get some sleep, eat a meal, take a walk - do something that will change your mental state.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A Story Out Of Your Options

There is a beauty in the freedom a prose author has. You can literally write about anything. What is fascinating, though, is working on a low-budget film. Can you write a story/script for a ten-minute or less movie?

If you're a creative type, you may be able to come up with a story for a short film, but then I ask, can you make it a reality? Can you find or make the location? Can you get all the people you need? Can you get all the effects done that you want?

The logistics of making a movie are significant. You may end up throwing out countless ideas because they just aren't feasible to execute. But these difficult can also be aids.

Start with your resources. What locations do you have access to? What kinds of special effects can you create? What props do you already have?

Writing students often get prompts that are similar. Something like, write a story that involves a pilgrim, a volleyball, and a meteor. Although that example may seem ridiculous, you never know what kind of situation you may end up in.

I'm currently working on a short film about a man who works in a power plant on a 12-hour night shift all by himself. During that time, he experiments on people to try to create a zombie disease.

Sounds pretty damn crazy, right? It is. I would never have thought about that as a story idea were it not for the fact that we had access to an actual power plant that happens to have a laboratory in it. Once we had the location, the creativity came from that. It is a story which is both compelling, but approachable. And most importantly, it is one that can be made.

I don't think that everybody should necessarily try to shoot a movie, but at least think about it logistically. If you were going to make one, what could you do? And knowing those limitations, what kind of story could you make?

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Drama Of Cheating

A couple days ago, I wrote about the skill of cheating. But what I neglected to mention was the drama of cheating. It's pretty damn exciting to watch other people do it. And it makes for good storytelling.

Again, I want to emphasize the idea of cheating in its broadest sense: It is achieving a goal by breaking a rule. In this sense, characters cheat all the time. They are always breaking the rules (or standard conventions) to get what they want.

Vigilantes are cheaters. People who trick their foes or otherwise practice deception are cheating in their enemy's eyes. When you expect a face-to-face conflict, but you get struck from behind, they broke the conventions in order to win.

But in breaking the rules, there is incredible excitement. One cheats in order to succeed. They use their brains to overcome brawn. But because they are breaking the rules, there is a risk of being caught. Getting caught will not only cause them to instantly fail, but suffer consequences potentially worse than failing the test in the first place.

A good storyteller gets you to feel for the protagonist (who is generally the cheater). Your heart pounds during the set-up. You jump at every sudden noise. A success gets you to jump up in excitement and a failure makes you feel doom in the pit of your stomach.

All of those ups and downs, those tensions and releases, they all come from the drama of cheating.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Professional Courtesy

There are two people on this earth that get free editing for life from me. That is because they are my colleagues. They are fellow writers, but are more than peers. We have history. We have an ongoing relationship. We have a mutual understanding of each other and our work.

Editing my colleagues' works is a professional courtesy. I would do it for them and I know that they would do it for me. I'm not going to charge them like they're some random chump. I do it because I respect them and because I like them.

This is not to say that everybody else on earth gets charged every time. Certainly my parents get my edits, but that's mostly payback for them raising me and not leaving me in a ditch in Florida.

I also will edit my friends' works if it's something not terribly long, (after all, I do it because I care) but that's in moderation and when I have the time. It's similar, but not quite the same.

Sometimes I like to use the classic line, "your money's no good here." My colleagues are invaluable, and I will always make sure they know that. Professional courtesies are one of the ways I do that.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Skill Of Cheating

I can count on one hand the number of times I've cheated in school (pretty sure it's three). It's not something I'm particularly proud of doing, but I am incredibly happy that I knew how to do it without getting caught.

Cheating is what we call it when you accomplish a goal with a method that is forbidden by an established ruleset. When you are tested in school, you are traditionally not allowed to use any source materials or notes. You are being tested on your ability to answer questions purely with retained knowledge (and sometimes with reasoning skills).

The goal of a test, though, is to answer the questions correctly. Any method of bringing in notes or direct answers to questions is cheating because you have accomplished the goal but broke the rules.

However, there is value in learning how to cheat. After all, one of the critical lessons we are always taught is to "think outside the box", isn't it? We should find creative, nonstandard solutions to problems. We need to find answers beyond the obvious ones. We need to be aware of our situations and our circumstances, and know how to use them to our advantage.

The argument against cheating is that we "cheat ourselves out of an education", but that is simply no true. What we have done is learned a different lesson. Trained a different skill. We learned how to break the system. That is a damn important skill in life. Sometimes the system is broken. Sometimes the rules are stupid. When you realize that, and you know how to circumvent a problem, you can accomplish your goals without causing a whole lot of commotion.

Eventually, you learn that if you are in a situation where you need to cheat, then either the goals are stupid, or the rules are. And whichever it may be, they should be ignored. From there, you should realize that the only thing that really does matter is important goals. In writing for example, your primary goal is to entertain. That is a pass/fail goal. It does not matter whatsoever how you do it. You can make intense, gripping drama, whimsical farce, or toilet humor. If you entertained, you won.

But, regardless of what you may believe is and is not important, rules still exist. And if you want to have a hope of reaching people and having an effect on the world around you, you have to make it look like you're obeying the rules (even if you are breaking them in order to do something better than you otherwise could have). Cheaters never prosper [if they get caught].

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Other People Think You're Stupid

When it comes to rhetorical techniques, all I care about is logos. Logic and reasoning are the only things that will affect me. People who think that somebody's title or austerity gives them more credit are stupid. And people who can be swayed by emotional appeals are just as stupid.

But all of those people think that I'm stupid as hell. To ignore a specialist in a field makes their opinions as valid as an uneducated dolt. And I would have to be heartless if nothing could tug at my heartstrings.

Somethings just come down to how we're wired. It is literally beyond my comprehension how anybody can be persuaded by anything other than cold, hard facts. But that's just me. There will be other people who agree, and there will be others who don't.

Accept that other people think you're stupid, then keep on going.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Fool Me Once

You really only get to stab somebody in the back once. After that, they know never to turn their back to you.

In a broader sense, it's about surprises. A surprise is unexpected. Once you know that something is possible, it is no longer unexpected.

Be careful how you use your surprises. They are relatively finite. Fool me once, congratulations. Fool me twice, ain't gonna happen. At least not with the same trick.

Sunday, February 5, 2012


Very often, I will write a post with a title "X vs.Y". There are two important things to note about posts where I do that. The first is that "vs." is the only thing I don't capitalize in my titles. The second is that I am not pitting the two things against each other.

More often than not, I am comparing the two things. My goal is to show how they function, what is similar, what is different, and how those differences affect your writing. Sometimes X is the better choice, and sometimes Y is. It all depends on the specifics.

Of course, two things are not always equal. If X is better than Y 85% of the time, I may sound biased in my comparisons, but I will express that it is because Y is only the best choice 15% of the time.

If I think X is better than Y 100% of the time, then there is no reason to really do a comparison. Instead, I would be best off extolling the virtues of X and merely mentioning Y as an example of why you should never use Y since X is always better.

If you want to be fair and balanced, it doesn't mean giving things a 50/50 split. It's about giving an honest and accurate review.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Do It Because You Care

I heard a story about a dentist. There was a family who would go to him, two parents and a few children. The family didn't have much money, but they paid what they could afford. The dentist didn't mind it though. The parents were teaching their kids about dental hygiene and the children brushed regularly and always came in for check-ups. When a person would never set foot in the dentist's office unless there was a serious problem, that's when he would have no sympathy or remorse.

That is a rare, but impressive dentist. He was not doing his job because he was trying to accumulate as much wealth as possible. He was doing it because he cared about good dental health. He was willing to take a loss to serve a family who took care of their teeth.

Sometimes I think I'm a lousy businessman because I love my field too much. Writing is awesome. Editing is a fun challenge. It's the kind of thing I do because I like doing it. That's what makes me absolutely amazing at my job, but it's also why I have to be conscious of when to do it for free.

Part of why I can write a new post every day here is that I love writing. I will talk with anybody about any aspect of writing any time that I am free. And if you're persistent, I'll make the time to do it. I always encourage people to write because I think it is amazing. And I will help people with their writing because I care about good stories being told so much that I will do what I can to foster their creation.

I write because I care about it. Sure, I would love to make it my career. I would love to dedicate my life to as many aspects of writing, creating, and communicating as possible. But I don't want it for the fame or fortune. I want to do it because I want to spread the joy of those things to as many people as possible. The fame and fortune are just an awesome bonus.)

Friday, February 3, 2012

Within Reason

When you have tried everything within reason to solve your problems, what does that mean? What exactly is "reasonable"? Does it mean that you have tried every single thing that you are physically capable of? Does it mean that you tried every plan that you came up with? Does it mean you've tested out your ideas but couldn't find any that showed enough promise? Does it mean you tried your best plan, but it failed, so you resigned yourself?

What is reasonable is obviously relative. So what your characters think is reasonable should also be relative.Not only is one's definition of 'reasonable' relative, but the degree that somebody is comfortable with doing something they find unreasonable is also relative.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Our Frame of Reference

I love the comic Subnormality by Winston Rowntree. Particularly poignant to me is one entitled, We Assume of Others What We Know of Ourselves. The point is right there in the title and the examples are in the comic. I have often directed people to that comic or otherwise imparted that lesson to them ever since I came across it.

I am not going to go on about that subject because it is so perfectly explained in the source material. What I am going to talk about is why it's true.

How come we assume of others what we know of ourselves? Why would we think that everyone plays by the same rules?

Well, first off, many people only know one set of rules. We live with ourselves. We are constantly in our own head. We spend every waking minute (and many sleeping ones) thinking about our surroundings and doing so in our perspective. When you become so saturated, it becomes a struggle to see the world in any other way. When you ever see somebody "acting strangely", you don't think that they are playing by different rules; you think that they are playing by your rules, but breaking them.

This can be a curse to writers, only seeing the world in one way. This is why I am always trying to get into people's heads, trying to figure out their rulebooks, trying to find out what they assume of others. I need to know as many frames of reference as possible. If not, I will simply have a cast of characters which are carbon copies of me. And that is a one-way ticket to Snooze City.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Fun Option

If you've ever watched a cartoon where a character is on the ground and something heavy is falling from the sky, it will hit that character. It doesn't matter if the character stands still, steps away, runs across town, or hops a plane to China; he's gonna get crushed (and I am not being inaccurate to specify "he" in this case).

In storytelling, as in life, you sometimes find yourself in a dilemma: you have two possible choices, and you have absolutely no idea which one is the right choice. Because of the rules of drama, you are almost guaranteed to make the wrong decision. So what do you choose?

Surprisingly enough, this is the easiest situation to be in. Since you are guaranteed to fail, you are no longer trying to succeed. And when your goal is not success, the only other decision to make is what is the most fun.

If I was a cartoon character with a safe headed my way, I would to my nemesis and give him a great big hug, just so he can get hurt as badly as me. Or maybe I would sit on top of a gigantic spring so that when the safe hits, it will charge up the spring, which will allow me to fly.

Of course, no matter what, you can make any of those situations catastrophically worse (again, the rules of drama). But the point remains that, when you are experiencing the situation, you should choose the fun option.

When you're a writer, you should never create this situation. Compelling stories involve choices and repercussions. If a character's fate is sealed before their choice is made, then you are robbing both your characters and your readers of any true excitement or thrill. If it just so happens that you are stuck in a no-win situation, then I do recommend that you at least choose the fun option.