Saturday, March 31, 2012

Crescendo into Forte

In music, we deal with dynamics: how loud or quiet your sound is. Dynamics are usually relative, being called soft, medium soft, medium strong, and strong. In Italian, it is piano, mezzopiano, mezzoforte, and forte(p, mp, mf, f). You can also go softer with pianissimo (pp) and stronger with fortissimo (ff). And you can keep adding p's and f's for more dynamics.

While reading music, a dynamic symbol tells you to change your volume. You can go from any volume to any other one depending on the symbol it shows. Much like in speech, it can show off certain sections or accent the importance of others.

Sometimes, we want a gradual increasing or decreasing of sound. For that, we have a symbol called crescendo to get louder and decrescendo to get softer. The symbols just look like < and >, but are stretched out for as long as the change lasts.

When you are speaking to people, you do want to accent or highlight certain parts. But to go from a normal volume to a particularly loud volume suddenly is jarring and unpleasant to listeners. It makes you seem crazy and/or uncontrolled.

If you instead crescendo into forte, the gradual volume increase will prepare listeners and build their interest and excitement for the major point you are going to make.

Public speaking is a form of communication, and usually is done with a written script, but it truly is its own art. Interestingly enough, it does borrow a lot of principles from music, so the more you study one, the more it will help you with the other.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Patently Not Mine

I'm so used to my own style of writing. It's the way I talk and the way I think. Most of the things I do read are of a similar style to mine. But every now and then, I find something which is just patently not mine.

It is amazing the levels at which something can sound not like me. The words used, the ideas expressed, the examples used to express them, the rhythm and melody of the voice.

Some discrepancies between authors is to be expected, but there reaches a point when somebody's writing is so different from mine that it is a shock to the system.

I like those shocks sometimes. It's a nice reminder of how very much else is out there in the world, and how very much writing can do.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

You Can Make Something Beautiful

I was listening to a song I enjoyed on Youtube. One of the comments said that the song made him sad because he realized that he could never make something so beautiful. That comment then made me sad because it was the sound of somebody giving up.

The most disheartening thing to me is people giving up because they lost faith in themselves. If you believe you could write something beautiful, then you can. Your ability has nothing to do with others, nor do you need to compare yourself to others.

Some of this may have to do with your view of the world. For me, every time I experience something amazing, my first thought is, how do I do that? I want to figure out what happened and how to recreate it, so that I can use it to power my own creations.

Wonderful things should never depress you. They should inspire you, especially if you are creative.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Don't Be A Stereotype

I often say that stereotypes exist for a reason. They are caricatures. They are archetypes. But they are not real. Stereotypes are based on traits that are real (lots of Asians are great at math), but no human being is literally a walking stereotype. Still, it seems like some people are trying to be.

I hate stereotypes for one primary reason: they're boring and obnoxious. And the more people embody stereotypes, the more boring and obnoxious those people are to me. I hate self-absorbed, fashion-obsessed, ditzy chicks. I hate self-absorbed, sports-obsessed misogynistic men.

I hate writers who are afraid of writing. I saw an episode of The Simpsons recently, in which Lisa set out to be a writer, and went through every stereotypical distraction: cleaning, playing computer/puzzle games, going to a coffee shop, etc., and all the while never getting beyond having written "Chapter 1" on a blank page.

As a cartoon, it was pretty amusing, but every time I meet a writer who does those things in real life, all I can say is, "Stop being such a stereotype!"

Whenever you're afraid, do the opposite of your instinct. Afraid of writing something boring? Write about how awesome your cat is. Afraid of offending people? Write about sex and racism. Afraid it won't be perfect? Mash your hands on the keyboard twenty times and then do a stream of consciousness of literally every single thought that comes to you while you were mashing your hands and then while doing the stream of consciousness, all while never looking at the computer screen to be tempted to revise as you write.

Do anything to avoid being a stereotypical writer (especially the writer-who-doesn't-write). Even if it means being the exact opposite of it. Eventually, that will become a cliche, at which point you will move on to something bold and new. Keep doing it until you're comfortable, and then you won't have anything to worry about in that realm anymore.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Answer Rhetorical Questions

Rhetorical questions come in a few different flavors, but they all share the understanding that they are not meant to be answered. I suggest you do the opposite, though. Answer all the rhetorical questions.

In a sense, rhetorical questions are a challenge to think. Thinking is great and wonderful, but you should do more than just spin your wheels. Do more than ponder a rhetorical question, seek an answer.

It is galling to be so arrogant as to think that rhetorical questions have an answer. But they are worthless if nobody ever tries to answer them. Rhetorical questions are important. They are the questions we ask specifically because we don't know the answer to them (and because we really want to know).

We may never be able to find a neat, clean answer to the questions that have plagued generations of writers (and people in general) before us, but if you try, you may find the answers that work for you and satisfy your curiosity. In that sense, you have gotten the most you can from a rhetorical question.

Is there any good reason to not answer rhetorical questions?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Shelf Life On Ideas

In general, I wouldn't say that ideas have a shelf-life. Ideas should be timeless. And although your ideas may affect people for centuries after you write them, your window of opportunity to write them may be shorter than you think.

My list of blog post ideas has entries that date back to the first month I started Cheff Salad. I will very likely never use those ideas. Even when I can't think of something and I peruse my list, those entries never seem to strike my fancy. It's like, when I wrote down the idea originally, I had every intention to use it, but because I kept putting it off, the idea has lost its energy and I've lost my interest in them.

I will admit that ideas can can come back to life, but I've found it quite rare. I will also say that some ideas live longer than others. But eventually, ideas will go away. Recording the thoughts will not be enough. If you want something to be written, get it done before the shelf life on your ideas expires.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Don't Question Everything

I want to go against the grain tonight. I always say to question everything. It is the surest way to find the minute details most people overlook and to come up with ideas we might not otherwise form. It is a wonderful tool with many purposes. But you don't need to do it all the time.

Primarily, you need to go easy on it with people. Start questioning everything that everybody says and does, and you will find that you will quickly not have many people left to question. The same will happen when you question everything you see and hear while in the presence of others.

Questioning things is good, and around the right people, you will create a powerful force with it. But not everybody is into that kind of thing. So go easy on it when you know you're grating on people's nerves, or at least keep it to yourself. This is a great example of the value of always having a pen and paper on your person.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Do More Than Catch Up With Friends

Some of my friends lead very busy lives. So although we are good friends, we do not often get to talk. And because basically everyone I know lives a couple hundred miles away from me, I do not often get to hang out with them, either. But once or twice a month, I catch up with friends. And once or twice a year, I go out on an expedition to get some face-to-face time with them.

The first day with my friends is usually spent catching up. So much goes on in the time between visits that it takes hours to cover it all between each of us. But once we are all caught up, then there's the rest of the weekend. And that's where things get awesome.

Most of my friends are good at getting sidetracked, so part of the reason that it takes all day to catch up is that we keep going off into side conversations. But even after we have gotten through it all, there i so much more to say. Life is more than what we do. Life is about what we have thought, what we have considered, what we are planning.

I spend the rest of our time discussing philosophical quandaries, debating life views, telling dirty jokes, watching movies while dissecting them and getting further sidetracked. Whether we have something to do or nothing to do, we always have a good time. We can be stupid or we can be deeply profound.

There is a saying that with good friends, no matter how much time has passed, you always pick right back up where you left off. This is true, but it is not enough. If your time together amounts to catching up with everything that has happened, then the friendship is basically over. True, living friends, when they return to each other, make new stories. They make more inside jokes, create more memories. They add to the existing friendship.

Vacations always reinvigorate me. They motivate me to do things and they give me more ideas to explore. From my most recent one, I now am interested in friendships as living entities. Living friendships are healthy and grow, but once they stagnate long enough, they seem to be in a state of living death. And if nothing else, I want to play with the phrase "zombie friendship".

Friday, March 23, 2012

Porno Stories

There are two ways to look at the purpose of stories. One way is that a story is an experience in itself, unique to every audience member who receives it. In this sense, the purpose of the story is to experience it and take out of it whatever your mind discovers.

The other view is that stories are a means to an end. This can mean that a story exists to make people see or think a certain way. It can also mean that a story exists to justify an action. And in this final sense, we find the porno story.

The term obviously comes from professional pornography, which is notorious for having ridiculous, paper-thin plots to justify/explain the actors all having sex. To me, though, this problem exists in far more than just the world of professional sex videos.

I will outright say that I truly did not care for Avatar. Of course, it was a visual spectacular. There's probably never been a more seamless fusion of CG graphics and live-action, along with an excellent incorporation of current 3D technology. But the story sucked. It's like, why bother putting in that much time, effort, and money into this production which looked amazing, and then make the story one of the most pathetically formulaic ones possible?

The story of Avatar existed only to showcase its visual prowess. This is what I call a porno story.

I don't think that anybody cares why two people are having sex on camera. If you want to see it, there does not need to be a justification. If you really wanted to see a bunch of beautiful landscapes and blue furry cat-aliens, they should just show it and not insult our intelligence with this hackneyed excuse for what we're looking at.

When you write your own stories, consider why you're writing them. Do they have value on their own, or are they a justification? It may not be easy to judge your own work fairly, so maybe ask your trusted friends. But make sure that, if you want to make something awesome, you make every part of it awesome.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Be A Firm Confirmer

When I'm asked to read a document as an editor, the first step is to review and comment. I read through the document, mark all the passages that strike me funny, and comment on each of them. After that, I go through each of my notes with the author (or whoever is in charge).

If it is a rough draft for a document, there may be a good long discussion to go over. If it is a polished document, it may only have a couple of minor comments per page. In the latter case, your job as an editor is different than what people expect.

My job when working with an author is to get them to write something that they are happy with (this is true no matter what). It is not my job to take control of the document or change things for the sake of changing them.

So when I am working on an already polished document, the job is to test the strength of it. Is there ambiguous wording? Is a particular synonym saying what you want it to? Does your document cover everything that it needs to cover? Should sections be added? Can any sections be removed?

If you think of your documents as buildings, you need to test the structure of it to see what it can stand up to. This is what I am doing.

Sometimes, the author agrees that some changes could be made. Other times, they disagree with everything I say. Every time they disagree, I ask them about it. Are they sure? What if they looked at it a different way? What if somebody misunderstands a passage?

If the author completely disagrees with me and after my review, leaves the document unchanged, was there any point in having me look it over?

Hell yes. I am a trained, sensitive reader. I have seen a lo of crap and a fair amount of gold. I am a natural arguer and will find every possible way to tear apart an argument. In a sense, my goal is to destroy this document, and if I fail, then the document succeeds.

At the end of the day, my review becomes a stamp of approval. The document has passed all of the rigours it can. On top of that, the author has had it confirmed that the document is solid. To be a good editor, you need to be a firm confirmer. Make sure that the author believes that they have the best version of their document that can exist.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

People Hate Their Flaws

One of the painters at the art school asked to use me as a subject for his next work, so I said sure. He was very amenable; he did some sketches of me while in the office so I could get my work done while modeling. And while he was setting up, I kept thinking about how the result might end up looking.

Initially, I was a little uncomfortable. I was thinking about how my skin was broken out, how my beard was scraggly (no matter how much I try to tame it), and how when I'm not explicitly smiling, I look like I'm angry.

There is an idealized version of myself that I like to imagine. I don't look like Brad Pitt, but I look nicer than I do. I would love pictures that people make of me to be idealized, to ignore the blemishes, and make full, well-kempt facial hair. But artists don't do that unless you're paying them for it.

Artists seek humanity. They want to capture what is unique about their subject, to show what is compelling, and that means accentuating (or at least acknowledging) all those things you hate.

All of us have things we don't like about ourselves. Some of them are physical traits, others are the thoughts or tics we have. We see them as flaws, things we are ashamed of and desperately try to hide. Any time you see a picture or a video of yourself, you lock onto those flaws and you are disgusted by them. (Ever notice how a picture of you and your friends, you never think twice about how your friends look, but you always think you look ugly or stupid?)

The reality, though, is that they aren't flaws in everybody's eyes. For some people, your "flaws" are your most interesting or distinguishing characteristics. They are what make you a human being and not another boring clone.

If you write about a real person, or base a character on a real person, know what you're getting into. You may have the best of intentions, and some people will be honored or humbled, but sometimes people are disgusted at what they see on the pages. Whether you exaggerate their distinguishing traits or you express them accurately, it's bound to happen. If you can handle the situation when it comes up, explain that there is no offense intended and that you were sharing their compelling and intriguing attributes, then go for it with due confidence. If you'd rather not have to deal with that mess, then make sure nobody can ever figure out where the inspiration for your writing comes from.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


In talking with my friend tonight, he tells me about one of the most hilarious drinking games. "It's called 'Andy', and it can only be played when I'm around, but I can't know that it's being played."

People who are familiar with Andy know his mannerisms and know his subjects of interest. If he wants to bring up an example of a point he is trying to make, or is he wants to bring up a subject similar to the one being discussed, there is a pool of subjects he will pull from. Each person playing the game picks one category (e.g. comic books/Batman, anime, science fiction/star wars), and every time Andy makes a reference in somebody's category, they drink.

In order to keep the game pure, Andy can't know when it's going on. This adds to the hilarity when everybody starts laughing or one person groans and Andy has no idea why. Of course, that also makes it incredibly difficult to get a game started.

But the idea got me thinking. We all have a game like this named after ourselves. No matter how broad or diverse our areas of knowledge are, there are certain things we really like. There are certain subjects that mean a lot to us, and they are the ones that we usually refer to. When it comes to explaining things, we see the world through certain lenses, and they are the subjects we know the most about (hence our propensity for referring to them to explain).

So what are the subjects in your game? What about your friends? What about your characters? How many subjects does everybody have? If it's less than 3, you may have stale characters/friends and you may want to reconsider them.

Monday, March 19, 2012


I wanted to say that something was very unpredictable and random, and I was not sure how to spell the word. Was it crapshoot or crapchute?

I wasn't sure which one to use, and they both sounded disgusting. A crapchute sounds like a slide that crap falls down. And a crapshoot sounds like putting out dung at a target range. I mean, really, who shoots crap?

Then I realized that nobody shoots crap, but gamblers shoot craps (as in the dice game). Then I thought about how unpredictable and random the results of a dicethrow are. Suddenly, the description perfectly fit.

So, there is a huge difference between a crapshoot and a crapchute (for example, the latter one is not even a real word, but sounds like a perfectly vile euphemism for the colon). I was able to deduce which one I wanted logically, but if you can't do that, then don't be afraid to look it up. And if you can logically figure things like that out, you should still look it up. It takes like ten seconds to do and can prevent you from seriously looking stupid.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Give Yourself Enough To Work With

In my list of blog post ideas, I have an entry that says, "The lesson is for yourself." I have no clue what this means. Like, I can think of a few possible ideas that might stem from it, but the original spark that led to that note are gone and forgotten.

When writing from session to session, it is great to have one in the chamber. When you know that you have an idea that you can literally sit down and start working on, you will be off to a very great start. However, if your idea is so incomplete that it doesn't help you to write with any focus or clarity or inspiration), then you have nothing more than a flash in the pan.

If you are leaving notes for yourself, whether it is something you get back to in a couple days or ten seconds, give yourself enough to work with. An idea without substance can be worse than no idea at all, because you may end up spending far more time and energy trying to reclaim that idea, despite only being able to grasp at wisps of memories.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Experience Fog

At work today, I heard rumblings of a fog warning. By the time I was heading out, that fog had surely rolled in.

I know what fog is, what it's like. You see pictures of it, movies, TV shows, and people describe it with their words all the time. But, never had I experienced it before.

When I drove to work, it was a lovely spring day. The roads were clear, dry, and sunny. When I left work, it was still those things, and yet it wasn't. The sun was setting, so the light was dimmer. The roads weren't any different to drive on, but they were getting damp from the fog. There was nothing on the streets to obstruct my driving, and yet I couldn't see the traffic more than a few yards in front of me.

Being in Buffalo, my first thought was that it was kind of like driving in snowy conditions, but it wasn't. The trees weren't white. The ground wasn't white. Sure, it was gray and low in visibility, but snowy conditions don't produce a vaporous cloak that enshrouds everything in the distance, while not obscuring that which is directly in front of you.

And not only did the physical conditions change, but the entire feel changed. This afternoon was a bright day full of life and hope. The evening was an ominous, foreboding trek through despair. Somehow, I knew every inch of the path, every turn and every landmark, and yet it felt like I had never seen this land before in my life.

There is no experience I have ever come across like fog (at least the kind that warrants a weather advisory). And nothing but experiencing it firsthand will inform you what it's like. Admittedly, some media can be incredibly accurate, but they can never exactly replicate the feelings and sensations you'll have if you were really there.

If you want to understand and know fog, then you must experience fog. If you write about fog by describing it the way other people do, then it's like making a photocopy of a photocopy. If you take other people's descriptions and you imagine what fog is really like based on those descriptions, then you are distorting reality one step further.

Live life, gain experiences, and try to remember them as accurately as you can. I don't recommend murdering people to know how it feels to kill (officially), but I do recommend you get as close to first-hand accounts as possible. Whatever you want to write about, either do it yourself, or interview somebody who has.

Friday, March 16, 2012

I Edited It

I love editing, but I hate the word sometimes. It is impossible to say "I edited it" without tripping on your tongue, sounding like you have something in your mouth, or reminding people of a clunky robot.

Go ahead, try saying it out loud a few times. Can you find a way to not make it sound goofy? If so, can you say it quickly enough to sound like normal speech and not like you're trying really hard?

In my experiences, the answers are no.

But notice that reading the phrase isn't a problem. It doesn't offend the eyes, just the ears. Whether you should tell somebody "I edited it" depends on the medium you are using. This is a great example of a concrete difference between writing and speech. The rules for being effective in writing and speech are very similar in many respects. To some degree, communication is communication. But when you look closely, you will find examples like these where you really have to be aware of how effectiveness can depend on how you share your words, rather than the words you use.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Quit Laughing

I think a sign of amateur writers is how often their characters laugh or smile. Not that misery is a preferred feeling, but if your characters are having a good time, we don't need to be told every time they chuckle.

I came across an excellent example of why this sucks. The infamous movie called The Room, written by, directed by, and starring Tommy Wiseau. Aside from the fact that this movie is 30 kinds of garbage rolled into one, I found a clip of how obnoxious random laughter is.

Watch this video of every time characters have a laugh. When I watched it, I swore I could see the script saying "Tommy laughed." It also showcases the awkward greetings littering the screen.

Quite simply, if characters keep doing the same thing over and over, cut it out. Count the number of times they laugh or shake their head or turn 180 degrees or do any other minor tic, especially during conversations. If it ends up sounding like that video, then revise and revise and revise some more.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Random Insanity - Random Awesomeness

Continuing from my previous post, another interesting event happened during a Revising and Editing class I sat in at Cortland. In explaining how a colon can be used to introduce a list, the professor used as an example, "My favorite food is:" and had the class start calling out their favorite foods.

It was a slow start to get people to speak up, but the enthusiasm quickly snowballed. Soon people were calling out what they liked, others were commenting on how they also liked that food while others expressed their disinterest in the food.

The professor reeled the class in and continued on with the lesson, but it was amazing how easily the entire class could have been derailed at that point. I was thinking about how, if I am having a conversation with my friends, I regularly do find myself getting derailed or sidetracked by using an example which branches off into a new conversation (thus leaving the original one unfinished).

But I also thought about how excited the class got by bringing up foods they like. Even though food had nothing to do with the subject at hand (ironically, the colon), people responded quickly and positively to this random subject.

And I do that all the time. Whenever it's quiet and I can't think of anything better to say, I will come up with a random question. It sometimes seems completely insane to just say, "would you rather eat a walrus or a whale", but it actually ended up leading to some great jokes that lasted me through the whole weekend that I spent with my friends.

In short, the principle here is a fascinating one. We react to subjects we care about. Even if they sprout up unrelated to anything else going on, we still like it. Random insanity can easily result in random awesomeness. It may not make for the most exciting prose, but if you're making a magazine, you'll see that the pros learned this lesson a long time ago.

How Far You've Come

I returned to Cortland, NY to visit a friend of mine. While I was there, I was able to talk with my Professional Writing professors, who invited me to sit in on their classes. It was an absolute blast. It was such a rush being back in my old stomping grounds, talking about my the subject I love, and since the first class was Revising and Editing, and they were discussing punctuation, it was even focused on my specialty.

What really struck me, though, was that I knew everything there. Now, I've always been good at grammar and syntax, but it is not an easy subject. If you aren't very dedicated to studying it, it will take you a while to pick up the nuances of using colons, semicolons, dashes, and parenthetical commas (the specific subject of that day). But that day, it took all my strength not to just blurt out every answer when the teacher asked a question.

And that was when I realized how far I've come. It's not just that I know how to use punctuation, it's that I know why to use it (to the degree that one even can understand why anything is done in our crazy language). And more than that, I know it for certain; I'm not guessing.

When I was taking that class for credit so many years ago, I did not know how to use dashes. If I was asked how a colon works, I would have to search my head to find the words to explain it. But now, I can just spout the answers as a reflex.

Look back at your own past. If you can, try to return to places or scenes that used to be common stomping grounds. If they haven't changed, then use them as a point of reference for how much you have. It is a wonderful boost of confidence to see how far you've come.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Live An Interesting Life

There is a common assumption that writers don't live lives of their own. They spend their life documenting or studying others, and turning those documents or studies into stories, so they never get to do any of the fun stuff - they only watch.

It seems like this belief is held by writers and nonwriters alike. Certainly, there are outliers, but it feels like so many writers are these timid or dull creatures who sacrifice their own life to enrich others.

But the sheer existence of outliers proves that such is not a rule. You can live an interesting life and also write about it. You could also write about anything else other than your life. It's your choice.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Is That Chapter Behind You?

It is quite common to describe life as a story. As such, we often think of aspects of our lives as chapters. This is totally cool. Certain events or challenges mark a period of time with an overarching theme. When we complete a task or reach a new understanding, that arc has finished and the next one begins.

But as great of an analogy as that is, it actually does not hold up as much in writing. Until a book is published, you can always go back to previous chapters. You can always change things from a slight tweak to a major shift.

To a degree, though, we usually do not want to make a change that is so big that you then have to rewrite everything that follows it (and some things that precede it, too). However, you do have the option if you want it.

You may have written the chapter and moved on to the next one. You may feel like it's now set in stone. But ask yourself: Is that chapter behind you?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

You Have To Be Smarter Than Your Genius

I love smart characters. One of my most favorite stories are those of masterminds who create intricate and elaborate plans to accomplish a seemingly-impossible goal. I'm fairly certain that any character ever played by Anthony Hopkins qualifies as such.

What I hate is stupid stories written about smart characters. They invariably require one person to hold the idiot ball and make some mistake that is painfully obvious to anybody who enjoys this kind of story. When the genius is "the bad guy" and he is going to get foiled, there always seems to be some near-miracle that allows "the good guys" to solve the puzzle. I say "near-miracle" because some deus ex machina either places the missing link right in front of somebody's nose, or gives the problem-solver the ability to guess the most unlikely thing possible and follow that random hunch thoroughly enough to realize it was right.

I do not write stories like these for one main reason: I'm not that smart. I cannot come up with genius master plans. Every time I do, I realize that the situation could be solved through much simpler means and anybody smart enough to come up with the complex plan would realize that they didn't need a plan that complex.

If you really do want to write a story about a genius, you have to be smarter than your genius.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Value Of Dedication

I've been doing this blog since January of 2009 and I've been working at my job since July of 2009. I honestly did not expect either of them to be particularly impressive endeavors. But as the years have passed, I have found that, in fact, both are incredibly valuable, and are impressive to many eyes (though for different reasons.

Cheff Salad is impressive for the sheer dedication, as well as the steadily increasing volume of my entries. Many people have started a blog, but very, very few believe they can write something once a day. Of those that try, fewer still can continue it for three years and counting.

My job is impressive for the steadily increasing volume of knowledge and experience I have in the non-profit arts scene. It is not the years at my job that are impressive, but without spending that much time there, I would not have accumulated these things that do have value.

Dedication generally pays off. It will probably take longer than you think it should, and it may not feel very rewarding during the rough times, but it will work out. And it may end up benefiting you in a way you never really expected.

If you want it, keep at it.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Hardwired For "Screw You"

I have studied two martial arts at length: aikido and capoeira. Every now and then, when I have a dream I remember, it is sometimes about me taking an aikido class, usually in my first dojo in Florida (which I have not been in for over 10 years now).

I don't like to analyze my dreams because I don't have a damn clue how to do that. However, I was able to analyze one rather interesting thing. Last week, I realized that whenever I have dreams about going back to martial arts, it is an aikido class. And last night, I had a dream which turned into an impromptu capoeira class.

This shows one very important thing about me: My brain is hardwired to say "screw you". It is so powerful of a response that I even do it to myself.

But here's why it's awesome: Creativity comes from challenging everything. Every time somebody makes a statement of fact, I challenge it. I go over all the facts, all the evidence, and I see if there is any way to prove that statement false. Sometimes, I take the alternate path, believing that the statement is false, and then constructing the world where such would be the case. For example, what if people could physically change their body through sheer force of will?

The "screw you" mentality can be a frustrating one. It makes everything take longer. It makes everything more stressful. It still becomes predictable when you know that every statement will be an argument. However, despite the frustrations, it can still be a beneficial and fruitful tool for ideas.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Non-Lethal Loss

Listen to people talk about a coworker or boss who left their job. It sounds like they died. We talk about how things used to be when they were still here. We say that things will never be the same again. We wish that they were here just a little bit longer (unless we hated them, in which case we have never been happier to see them go).

But it's more than just what we say. Our actions change, too. We go through the same stages of mourning and coping that we do when somebody actually dies.

Non-lethal loss is a relatively untapped pool of potential. It does take some skill to have the audience experience the character's sense of loss, even though nobody died, but it is hardly an impossible feat. And once you can do that, you can bring in more nuanced feelings. We can explore the human condition without going to extremes or cliches, and that in turn allows for more nuanced events to happen. For example, we generally can't bring people back from the dead, but you can visit your retired former boss.

The other interesting aspect of non-lethal loss is that it does help prepare a person for lethal loss. Death is always a tragedy when it happens to someone you care about, but having experienced tragedy in general, and having experienced loss, it gives you points of reference, shows you how you have coped before, and how you have survived those feelings.

This again adds to the potential nuance to a story. By having a character experience non-lethal loss, and learn and grow from the experience, it makes the experience of death a relatively new one by having different shades in the character's eye.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

I'm Not Talking About You

A friend of mine mentioned today that she had read my most recent blog post and facetiously wondered how I got the idea for it. We had a conversation the night before about storytelling and covered the idea of a world within the mind or an alternate world which interacted with our world. This conversation was rewarding and gave me some good thoughts to ponder for my own projects.

So I told her the truth: I had a cool thought on Saturday and, although it was compelling, I could not help but wonder how to turn it into a story.

She was less than amused. But that was the reality. I generally write about principles and concepts. By painting with such broad strokes, what I talk about can apply to a lot of people. But that's the point.

I need to be speaking to you. I need to be talking about things that happened to you yesterday, even if you are one of the people who I have never met or spoken with.

And if you are one of the people that I speak with regularly, trust that I am not talking about you. I don't talk about people behind their backs. If I have spoken about a particular person, I will either give them a heads up, or mention it in our next conversation.

This goes along with my advice not to look too deeply. It is fairly common for people I know to assume I'm talking about them in my writing. While sometimes they may inspire certain thoughts, my writing will never be a veiled message to people I know.

However, I am not insulted or offended when this happens. I find it to be a compliment. It means I did my job. I reached out and touched you. I made a strong connection. And every time my writing does this, I have succeeded.

Monday, March 5, 2012

How Do I Make This A Story?

Sometimes I find something particularly moving. It may be a spoken line or a characteristic of a person or a particular scene. It is compelling to me, but I have no idea what to do with it. I don't want to leave it alone or let it fade away, but I find myself asking, "How do I make this a story?"

The answer to that question will depend on the thing you are thinking of. To answer it, you will probably need to approach it from several angles. You will definitely need to know what else is going on beyond that fragment.

I find the easiest method is to work backward from it to find out what caused it. From there, the ending can be easily derived. Of course, if you do the exact opposite and figure out what happens after the thought, then the origins should fall into place.

Good thoughts are valuable. Sometimes a whole story just springs to mind, but when you only get a fragment, it's not worthless. Just ask that question and put in the effort to find out the answer.

Quantum Mechanics Is Everyday

I have been talking about quantum mechanics long before I ever knew what it was. In fact, I've already written about it on Cheff Salad.

That's right - the blank page is an excellent example of quantum theory. Being blank allows it to be the the first stage of every single story ever. Every word you add narrows down what potential story you are writing, and not until you make the final punctuation mark of the final sentence is it done (not counting future revisions). Similarly, we have no idea what the future holds because there are infinite possible futures that may occur.

I bring this up not for any kind of gloating or bragging. I'm not smart or special because I talked about quantum mechanics before I knew it had a name. In fact, most of us have had thoughts like this. We've all thought about the potential outcomes of things. We've all realized that a blank canvas can hold anything. In fact, that's often what prevents many of us from ever starting a project.

We are all thinking about big, heavy stuff. We don't always know it has a name, though. But that doesn't make it any less impressive. And if you break down any impressive-sounding thing, you will probably find that you have had a thought similar to it at one point or another.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Typographical Errors Revisited

I'm an excellent speller and a terrible typist. Ask me how to spell any word and I can probably spout it off. But set me in front of a computer and I make a mistake on every document I write. I wish I could blame it on my keyboard, but I regularly use three different computers and I make typographical errors on all of them.

One interesting note is that I seem to make different errors on different keyboards. On my laptop, which I do the bulk of my writing on, I have a tendency to miss keystrokes. That's why "that" becomes "hat" and "one" becomes "on". Typos like that you are far more likely to see because they happen to be real words, so my spell check doesn't flare up at it and I don't always catch it.

The other computers are desktops, and on those keyboards, I am far more likely to hit the space between two keys and push them both down. I always know when I do it, but it is annoying and I have to take the time to go and fix them.

Regardless of how they happen and what kind they are, typographical errors tend to occur for one reason: rushing. They always happen to me when I am trying to write faster than I can. Sometimes that is unavoidable; your mind works faster than your hands, so sometimes they have to catch up, especially when you're on a roll. But if nothing else, know when you are most likely to be making them.

Typos are still inexcusable in any important document or communication. They reflect poorly on you and make you look dumber than you are. The more that make it through, the worse you look. Take the time to catch as many as you can. I can't decide which is worse: typos that I see in published materials like books (which are few and far between), or the dozens of typos I see in emails on a daily basis. In either case, they're both awful and you should strive to make as few of those mistakes as possible your own.

Friday, March 2, 2012

There's A Human Behind That Badge

Many jobs come with a badge of some sort. Some are fancy like a sheriff or a CIA badge. Some command respect like a doctor's credentials. And some are miserable and humiliating, like a McDonald's name badge.

Badges are similar to uniforms: They dehumanize us. A cop is a cop. They're all the same. No matter the nuances, they have the same beliefs, same actions, same speech patterns and vocabulary. They're totally interchangeable. The same can be said of every retail wage slave.

Except that it's completely wrong. The badge may dehumanize us, but there's a human behind that badge. And when you take it off, or when you look beyond it, you see that an individual person is there.

Many interesting stories can be found by seeing a human behind a badge. There is always conflict in beliefs and expectations. It is compelling to break down a figurative cog and see that it is powered by a unique spirit.

And while you have all of this in mind, remember that not all writers are interchangeable either, even though many people may believe it. And, when needed, feel free to remind people of that fact if you hear them saying otherwise.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Somebody Wrote That

We are bombarded by text all day. It is insane how many words you look at. What's crazier is how much you don't read. There's classic stuff like fine print, nutritional information on food, probably 90% of the writing on any container.

Sometimes our eyes open and we see all the text. You can actually have a really amusing day going around and reading text everywhere. Heck, you could look around your normal places and find tons of text hidden in plain sight. Sometimes there's little jokes and Easter eggs you can find. You'll find that when people know that almost nobody reads stuff, they can get away with a lot.

And that leads into the biggest aspect that we all ignore: Every single word you come across was written by somebody. That manual for your car/power drill/refrigerator that you don't read, your warranties and other legal documents, all the junk mail that you get with credit card offers and other people asking for your money, all of that stuff was made by a human being (probably a few of them, actually).

It's an amazing thing to consider: how much stuff has been written. Of course most of it is not art in any sense, but it is people writing, and people getting paid to write, at that. It may not seem glorious, but to some extent, being paid at all to do writing is impressive. Not everybody gets to write something that takes thought, especially material that reaches the general public.

If you want to be a professional writer, every step you take forward, no matter how small, is a step in the right direction.