Monday, April 30, 2012

And Cetera

I want to start of with a couple quick lessons about some common terms we take for granted.

First, the abbreviation 'etc.' is short for "et cetera". It is a Latin phrase meaning, "and the rest". You will never misspell the abbreviation if you remember that it is two words and the first word is "et". Also, "et" means "and", so the translation is very literal and straightforward.

Second, the ampersand (a.k.a. the symbol &) is actually a very stylized way of writing "Et". The symbol means "and" because it is simply the Latin word for "and".

Third, the phrase "et cetera" is sometimes abbreviated with "&c." Since "&" is literally "et", it functions exactly the same. And this is where the main point comes in.

My friend uses "&c." as an abbreviation over "etc." as is his wont. I don't have a problem with it, but I have noticed that I don't read it the same. When I read things, I say them out loud. "Etc." is pronounced "et cetera". "&c." is pronounced "and cetera".

Non-letter symbols are kinda funky like that. We tend to learn one primary pronunciation for the symbol and ignore all others. Numbers are a great example of that.

There is a restaurant near me that I have driven by countless times and never visited. The sign on the building says "5 de Mayo". It was several years before I found out that it was not called "Five de Mayo".

It seemed so obvious after I was told. It's a Mexican restaurant. It's named after a pretty famous holiday we all know. But to me, the symbol "5" just isn't pronounced as "cinco".

When you use symbols or other abbreviations, you can take a certain risk. How it will be received depends on your reader's history with the symbol. That said, if you introduce the symbol along with how you intend it to be pronounced and understood, that will help a great deal.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Last Word

Contrary to what the title may suggest, the subject of this post is not about the final word in a thought or sentence, but about getting "the last word" in an argument of some kind.

People seem to be hardwired to get the last word in. It's that final jab you get to take at another person. The last word always sticks with both parties. The person who got it really feels that they got to shove it in the other guy's face, and the other guy has to stew in the fact that the other guy got the last word in, even though there were so many possible comebacks.

When writing dialogue, you have to be careful with this. Speech is one of those situations where we always have to detract from reality in the name of good storytelling. Arguments get to be well-thought-out and perfect. People say just the right thing and the last person to speak wraps everything up (or produces whatever kind of feeling you intend).

I really recommend that dialogue be more on the idealized side in writing. I think of scenes where two people keep going back and forth to try to get the last word in and it just pisses me off. It's obnoxious and annoying. It's a scene where two stupid people take turns being stupid and your story gets put on hold while everybody is forced to watch the stupidity.

Dialogue is always best when it is short, sweet, and to the point. Decide who is going to get the last word and let them have it. There will be many more words to follow, so there just isn't that much to fight over.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Reality Is Underwhelming

Every time somebody describes their job, it sounds so cool. In my mind, it is sleek and brightly colored and either hilarious or badass. Then if I ever go and see the job in person, it is so remarkably underwhelming. The skills and responsibilities people put on their resumes may be 100% accurate, but the image it conveys is much different than the reality of it.

I know that I'm guilty of it, myself. I realize that it comes from both ends: the author and the audience. An author may choose to shade his or her life in a particular light. It can be conscious or unconscious. But the audience will also assume certain things based on their own preconceived notions. Whichever side you're on, you can't help what the other side chooses to do.

As a writer, though, you can make use of these things. Consider how differently you can describe an act that it may seem exciting or mundane. Consider the feeling you can create in people by talking about how great or exciting something is, then showing the underwhelming reality of it all. It's a great power. try exercising it.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Look Up

I've heard it said that, were you to gain the ability to fly, you could often fly around and not worry about being seen. People so rarely look up that the odds are good that you could go unseen without any powers of invisibility.

Whether or not it's true, I do find that I'm usually looking anywhere but up. However, whenever I do glance skyward, I appreciate it. There's always a cool cloud formation or a gorgeous moon or a starry night or trees blowing around, being trees.

When a writer tells me that they're stuck, one of my canned responses is, "Have them look up. What did they see?"

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Don't Describe The Indescribable

Feelings are largely indescribable. If you disagree, then try to describe them. It will probably end up sounding like crappy high school poetry (and for good reason). Feelings are not the only indescribable things. Experiences can be similarly impossible to put into words.

But just because something is indescribable does not mean it should be ignored in writing. Think about those feelings and experiences. If you ever found yourself telling somebody that "you had to be there", then you already know what to do as a writer: put them there.

Don't try to explain how feelings feel; explain what made you feel them. When you spend two thousand words explaining how a young boy was totally in love with a girl from afar, and then one day he gets invited to hang out with a group that she would be in, then when you describe his racing heart and tingling arms, we will understand plenty clear. When he finds out that she actually seems as cool as the idealized image he had of her, we can feel his elation. And when he finally gains the courage to ask her out, we can feel all of the rollercoaster of emotions from the eternity of time waiting for her answer and having literally no clue what it will be, finally hearing the response, and everything else that naturally will follow.

These are feelings that we have all probably experienced (we share life), or at least can mentally imagine with the right words. And that is an important point, too. Your words do matter. You do have to be good at describing things. You just have to realize what you should be describing. People have to have a very clear picture of the scene, the history leading up to it (which explains why the things going on are significant), and what exactly is happening. Once we know everything else involved, we will be able to come as close as possible to feeling that feeling that "you had to be there" to feel.

So, you shouldn't try to describe the indescribable - just try to describe every single other thing.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

We Share Life

I don't cite a lot of things here. I don't mention many literary works or quote the great minds or authors. The vast majority of links are simply to other posts I've written.

Pretty much, Cheff Salad is The Kevin Bahler Show, starring Kevin Bahler. It's the place where Kevin talks about what Kevin likes and uses whatever examples he comes up with.

And you know what? I am totally ok with that. This is my blog. It's not my job. I have no standards to meet but my own. Why should I feel the need to talk like an academic or a scholar? I'm not assuming that my audience is nothing but academics and scholars. I'm assuming that my audience is comprised of people, so that is more or less how I talk.

I was pondering why it is that academics love talking about other people's work so much. I admit that I have always found it revolting. So much praise and glory goes to individuals for discussing an idea or making a claim, which countless others have thought or said before, but nobody had either the means or desire to get it published. Or maybe it was published but they didn't push it hard enough on other people. And yet, once the individual and the idea has been consecrated, you are a thief or an ignoramus to ever discuss the idea without mentioning the person.

But that is not the point of this post. The point was that there is some benefit to that style. Within the walls of academia, everyone is expected to learn the canon. Learning about the people is a mnemonic to remember and discuss ideas. I can go into any philosophy classroom, say, "John Locke", and everybody already knows what I mean. Academia gives everybody a middle ground to share.

In truth, I was a lousy academic and I'm only a scholar on useless things like internet memes. But I've paid a lot of attention to the world around me and I'm quite familiar with it as an individual. I believe that most people have. And that is our middle ground.

We share life. We have shared experiences, shared thoughts, shared emotions. Not that we have had them together or about the same exact thing, but we had the same feelings. I can mention the surreal compulsion to stick your finger in a candle flame when you stare at one, or the similar experience of wanting to walk on top of a train rail rather than simply walking alongside it. If you have been in such a situation, you just get it. And if you haven't been in that situation, you may have been in a similar one, or you can at least imagine what it would be like. The point is, I don't expect you to have read a book where somebody happens to mention such an experience; the experience itself and your own life is enough.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Dunning-Kruger Effect

The Dunning-Kruger effect is a fascinating one to me. The short version is that people who are incompetent at something vastly overestimate their skill and ability at it and also have no idea how very terrible they are at it (and extremely competent underestimate their abilities).

To me, every aspect of it is endlessly interesting to me. The more I learned about it, the more entranced I became. I recommend that you just do some research on it, even if it's just reading the Wikipedia page I linked to.

So what does it mean for writers? As a writer, our goal should always be improvement. I know the Dunning-Kruger effect is alive and well because all of my writer friends shudder when they look upon the work they made in high school or earlier. Same old story: I thought it was the best thing ever, and now all I can see is how awful it is in every aspect.

But how come my friends can recognize it now? It's because they continued to improve. They stopped being incompetent at writing, which allowed them to recognize their former flaws (also part of the effect). I think that the best approach is to seek knowledge more than skill. The more you know about writing, the more you can see whether or not you are making use of that knowledge. Other than that, if people who you trust can suggest methods for improvement (as opposed to simply criticizing it), that can be the gradual nudge needed to start the growth.

Who Is Limes Guy

I happen to enjoy internet memes. Like most things in life, some are brilliant, some are moronic, and some things just happen to hit you right. For me, the latter-most description explains how I feel about, Limes Guy. (For a basic overview, know your meme.)

I can't describe exactly what it is that strikes me as being so hilarious about the combination of this picture and caption. Part of it is how incredibly stupid it all is. Why is this person holding an armful of limes? How is he seriously not able to hold them all? What on earth is the look on his face expressing? Does he find it humorous? Is he truly surprised by the circumstance? Do his eyebrows show some sort of disgust?

At first, I simply loved the goofiness of it all. It's the reason I kept coming back to it, shared it with others, and snuck the words into conversations. But the more I said it, the more I realized how many different ways one could interpret it.

There is a thin line between something being goofy and being totally surreal. And that line depends on how you choose to interpret it. To me, Limes Guy is losing his grip on reality. He does not question where the limes came from or even why he's trying to hold them all - he only wonders why he can't do it. On top of that, he finds this bizarre failure exceedingly hilarious.

I think that my interpretation may tell more about me as a person than I realize. But I am certain that it tells plenty about me as a writer and as a reader. The character of Limes Guy is most interesting to me as a delusional maniac. I would love to be able to get inside of the mind of a person who could ever find himself doing and saying those things simultaneously. And if I was unable to create such a character, I would certainly love to read about it.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Do It To Know You Can

I return to my favorite question tonight: Why?

Specifically, why do you write? Or perhaps, why do you want to write? Are you in it for the money? The fame? The validation of seeing your words in print?

Are you even wanting to be printed? It is generally expected to be the final part of the writing process, but by no means is it a requirement.

Sometimes we write just to see what we can do. Have you ever written a novel before? Well, if not, then how do you know if you even can? Only one way to find out, right?

You may find out that it's just not in you to do a massive work like a novel. You may find out that you can do it, but you more enjoyed different kinds of writing. You may find out you can do it and that you made something amazing. But even then, nothing says you need to get it published.

You are allowed to be selfish with your writing. If people like what you write, they may really want you to share. If people hate what you write, they really won't care. But it's your words, and it's your decision.

If you want to write something just to see if you can, that is totally ok.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

It's Ok To Wait

There are a number of stories, of entire worlds I want to create, but have left on the backburner. It is for a number of reasons, one of them being that I am not sure exactly how I want to approach delving into the stories of an entire world that spans hundreds of years.

I recently had a conversation with a friend which has enlightened and inspired me. She managed to give me a great idea for a character to follow in one of my universes. She also allowed me to realize that two universes that I thought were completely unrelated could actually be part of the same continuity, and this character could be a link between them.

Times like these make me happy that I wait on these things. If I just don't know, but I am able to wait, while continuing to devote some energy to it, I will eventually find something that is brilliant. And that makes it totally worth the wait.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Give Me Something To Write About

Last week, I was talking with a friend and could not think of something I wanted to write about for Cheff Salad, so I asked him to give me something to write about. Being a smartass, he said, "x-rated pasta." And always being up for a challenge, I accepted.

I find the challenge of a writing prompt is really good for sparking some creativity. What's interesting to me is that the creativity was two-fold that night. Not only did I write for the challenge I was given, but I also happened to come up with several ideas that were added to my ideas list (including this one).

If you ever find yourself stuck and you just can't motivate yourself, then get help from somebody else. Tell them to give you something to write about and don't complain about whatever it is you get. Take it on and do something great.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

On Coolness

People like to be liked. It is very validating for people to appreciate and applaud the things you do. But, how does one do it? How do we become cool?

I am no guru or mystical Fonzie, but I am a thoughtful person who has spent time on both sides of the table. So these are my findings.

It's easy for people to say to just act natural, to just not worry about it, but that's not the whole story. If acting natural was all it took, they wouldn't be uncool in the first place. For some people, it does come naturally. For others, they have practiced it so much that they forgot how they did it in the first place. And for everyone else, they don't know how to take the first step.

The first step actually is to not worry about it. Fear is a bastardly monster (and a monstrous bastard). It will ruin any steps forward you take, either by tainting all your words (we can sense fear and hate it) or by tainting your own mind and making you think that you haven't made any progress when you have. Some people to the not worrying step even further by creating a sense of contempt for others. If they think less of other people, then certainly those people's opinions of you mean nothing.

There's a classic Mark Twain quote that starts out, "Dance like nobody's watching." That is a major aspect of coolness. People who have the confidence in themselves to let loose and the disregard for others' opinions to not worry about is the epitome of the mentality of coolness, but it's not the whole story.

Losers aren't cool. Dancing like nobody's watching is great, but if you are just horrible at dancing, you're gonna be insulted or laughed at. If you do something that is weird or non-standard, there will be some jeers and funny looks, but if you do that thing flawlessly, it will be cool.

I love the band Muse. I love all their sounds, all their songs, etc. But sometimes I hear the lead singer's voice and I can't believe that it is a guy who is way up in the range usually reserved for women. When did anybody think guys singing in falsetto was cool? But he is cool. He is a fantastic musician and his singing, although non-standard, is flawless. And the fact that he is amazing at what he does and that he doesn't care about doing it with all his heart makes him cool.

Writing is a harsh field. Everybody thinks they can do it and most people who want to comment on your work think you suck. Well, if they have legitimate reasons why they think so, then find out and fix those problems on the next draft (assuming you agree with the criticisms). And if they can't defend their position, then you have nothing to worry about.

Write the best thing you can. If you have done so, and you are confident that it is certifiably good, then it's cool. Some people will still hate it, but that's ok. Haters gonna hate.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

You Can't Go Faster

I am obsessed with efficiency. No matter what task I do, my mind immediately seeks the most efficient way to get it done. Efficiency can be funny, though. If you spend an hour trying to figure out how to shave 10 minutes off of getting a task done, then you have been incredibly inefficient (assuming you don't do the task 7 times or more).

When it comes to writing, though, I've discovered that there is a limit to how efficient you can be.

Consider the time it takes as a writer to put down your thoughts. You will either use a lot of words or a lot of time. The former is more like a stream of consciousness, saying whatever comes to mind, potentially taking tangents as they arise, and continuing on until you exhaust your supply of thoughts. The latter is carefully crafting your sentences to perfectly encompass everything you want to say and present it in an easily digested manner, which will need few words, but much time to create.

The same ends up being true for reading. If you have to read a stream of words, then it will take a lot of time to get through them all; it may not be deep, but it's long. When you read more succinct words, it takes longer to process everything that may be contained within those words; you may have to read it multiple times to get it all.

Ultimately, there reaches a point where you just can't go faster. When you get there, quit worrying about efficiency and just worry about writing the best damn thing you can.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Generic Poison

When people speak of poison, the same general image gets conjured: a vial of flask filled with a green liquid, possibly bubbling, and occasionally with a skull and crossbones label.

The effects of poison are similarly uniform. Fast-acting poisons cause the victim to clutch their chest, fall down, and die. Slow-acting poisons cause headaches, deathly pallor, and eventually bed-ridden death.

I find it amusing when people talk about generic poison, but also a little sad. At some point, the inquisitive mind should wonder what "poison" is, exactly. It should discover that "poison" is a general term for a substance that causes harm or death, and should discover that the number of substances out there that can do that, as well as the number of ways that they can cause harm or death, is tremendous.

I find that people who write about generic poison are about as amateur as antagonists who want to rule the world. Both should only be used when making purposely simplistic stories, and neither should be taken particularly seriously.

If you never have thought about poison before, then consider this an example of common things that people overlook. Also consider it a challenge to ponder other classic tropes in writing and see what else you may have missed.

Monday, April 16, 2012

I See What You Did There

I was having a conversation with a friend and the idea of intimacy came up. My friend says, "Intimacy is a touchy subject." I then proceeded to laugh my ass off. It just struck me as a wonderfully hilarious pun.

What made it so great to me, though, was how casually it was said. There was no emphasis or winks or nudges. It was said totally straight. In fact, if I wasn't paying attention, I would have missed it entirely.

When somebody makes a great joke but does it in such a subtle manner, the best response (aside from hearty laughter) is, "I see what you did there." It acknowledges that they made the effort to create a joke, and that it did not go over your head.

I love a good subtle joke, both hearing them and making them. I like that they are no-pressure forms of comedy. If somebody doesn't laugh, you just assume they didn't get it or you pretend that it wasn't a joke in the first place. It's particularly useful when you can't figure out what kind of humor somebody would appreciate or you don't know what kind of mood somebody is in.

It's also great if you simply want to try your hand at subtlety. Find a way to sneak a joke into a conversation. Try to say something that is simultaneously funny and serious, something that is a joke, but also a legitimate answer to a question.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Spend A Workday On It

The idealized life of a writer often seems to involve working no more than 3 hours a day (from your house). I blame television and the movies, which always show writers simply typing up their perfect, well-formed thoughts, usually at the end of their last paragraph.

The reality, of course, is that to be a full-time writer, it needs to be treated like a full-time job. Today, I spent over 5 hours on a call with a friend to plan/coordinate/map out a potential collaboration effort. There is still more planning to do, but we made a lot of headway.

Of course, it is always easier said than done. If you already have a job that takes up 8 hours, it is hard to dedicate another 8 on writing. But do what you can. Even if you just write as a hobby, try finding a free day and actually treating it like a writing workday. Schedule a block of 8 hours and get work done. At least try to get work done. If you find yourself drawing blanks, try all the writing techniques you know to get the creative juices flowing. Otherwise, it will end up being a very long 8 hours.

I admit that I do not often make myself follow this advice. However, I do periodically find myself having spent a day doing writing or other creative work and realizing how great it makes me feel. If you haven't tried it out, at least give it a shot.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Learn Layout And Design

Following from yesterday's post, I feel compelled to further discuss layout and design. Every single writer should know basic layout and design. It is an entire set of skills that are easily overlooked or ignored, but which can make a massive impact on how your writing is received.

For the sake of defining my terms, I consider "layout" to be formatting text to attain a desired visual aesthetic, and "design" is the creation of nontextual visual elements. I usually put the two terms back to back because they go hand-in-hand.

I have mentioned before that there are a great many aspects to writing which people are not conscious of, but which they are unconsciously affected by. Layout and design are two of those aspects. Every time you end a paragraph with one or two words on the last line, or your last page only has two or three lines on it, or you have a paragraph where one line happens to stick out further than the other, you are bothering your readers. It is a visually ugly thing. By the same token, if you ever put yellow text on a white background, or bright red text on a bright green background (God help you), then nobody even cares what your words say because their very existence is offensive to the senses.

Learn your shapes and your colors. Right angles are strong and formal. Straight lines (including invisible margins) are clean and attractive. It is better to put darker text on lighter backgrounds than vice versa. Learn what complementary colors are and never lay them on top of each other.

I am not saying that you need to become a professional designer. I am saying that you need to know the absolute basics. You need to be able to make documents that don't suck. You should be able to make documents that look attractive, even if people might say that they look like a first-year design student. That is a thousand times better than being told that it looks like a fifth grader laid it out (or that it was a fifth-grader's cat).

Being a great writer is valuable. Being a great writer who can also lay out and design a decent document is invaluable.

Friday, April 13, 2012

What Is This Document Supposed To Do?

Copywriting is some serious stuff. "Copy" is basically the industry term for words, so a copywriter can be asked to write potentially anything for a company. Often, they write "print materials" like brochures, flyers, pamphlets, etc. They may also be writing the web-based materials, too.

A good copywriter should also have a strong sense of design. As such, they should know at least the basics of actually making those materials, including the software used to lay everything out (no, Microsoft Word is not the answer).

There are countless design books out there. I got my first taste of it from The Non-Designer's Design Book by Robin Williams (no, not that one). Once you get a feel for the principles and the basics of layout and design, you can derive a lot of what is and isn't acceptable.

But the point of this post is to cover an intersection of copywriting and layout/design that is often missed by both sides: intent.

When you make any document, the absolute first question you must always ask is: What is this document supposed to do?

The words you choose to put down must serve a purpose. If you don't know what that purpose is, you cannot write a successful document.

And the answer is very unlikely to be "informing people". Written materials are supposed to make people do things. Consider the classic 3-panel brochure. Let's say it is one for a tour company based in Niagara Falls. What is the brochure supposed to do? It is supposed to entice tourists to go take a tour of the falls after lunch. Because of that, the brochure needs to have certain information: times, prices, starting location. It will need a good pitch, flashy descriptive writing, and some attractive pictures, too, but if they don't know the basic information, then your brochure is malfunctioning.

Now consider a month-long summer camp. There will be way more information about the camp, its activities and offerings, and its various pricing options. The only way to really tell them everything they need to know is by having interested parents check out the camp's website. Therefore, the brochure is supposed to intrigue people and compel them to look online to satisfy their curiosity. This brochure also needs good pictures and flashy text, but it now it needs to tell you a little bit about all of the different aspects of the camp (eligibility, activities, history), always suggesting they check out the website to get the full story. This brochure is not supposed to get kids to register right away; it is supposed to make them do more research.

It seems really simple and obvious, but that's because I just told it to you. I constantly find this overlooked (yes, I am a big enough nerd that if I'm waiting around somewhere, I will read the brochures and tear them apart both as a writer and a designer). If you want to get into copywriting or design and layout, never forget that question; it will solve far more problems than any other piece of advice you will come across.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Derive The Rules

I often claim that the best way to learn about the mechanics of English (grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.) is through exposure. Surround yourself with words. If every time you ever see the written word, it is flawless, you will only understand it in its flawless form (it scares me how much more difficult that becomes in the digital age).

The problem with sheer exposure is that you will learn the mechanics, but you won't understand them. You may know when a comma feels natural or a semicolon fits, but you don't know why. Fortunately, a minimal amount of studying will be enough to figure it all out.

If you have been immersed enough in standard written English that you know when to use the right mechanics, then you are already good at noticing patterns. If you learn about English structures like dependent and independent clauses, prepositional phrases, parts of speech (noun, verb, adjective, etc.), then you will be able to see more of the patterns.

In fact, with exposure to correct mechanics and a basic knowledge of the language, you can literally derive the usage rule for any mechanic just by seeing how it's used and explaining the pattern with the proper terminology.

I really do recommend actually learning the rules for English grammar. Just because you can get by doesn't mean you're going to get it right all the time. When I was very young, I remember solving the "then/than" issue by saying the sentence out loud and listening to if the word sounded more like an 'a' or an 'e'. I'm sure I got it wrong a lot. Once I actually learned what the rule was, I never made that mistake again.

I will say that you will feel like a genius and a badass if somebody ever asks you about some rule of English and you can write a sentence with an example of it, stare at it, and then solve it and explain it to them. It's awesome realizing that you know even more than you realized you did.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Your Viewpoint Affects Your Reception

X-rated pasta is stupid. It's an amusing concept when you first come to the realization that "if people can shape pasta into anything, why could shape it into genitals." And if you are looking around a novelty shop, you may see a package of it and giggle enough to try it out. But expectations are usually much higher than reality.

You cook up the pasta, it saturates in certain parts, breaks away in others, and will all be piled on top of another. I admit that, considering talking about this stuff, it might continue to sound amusing, but the actual experience is probably less hilarious.

Novelty food is usually not very high in quality. So when you end up giggling all the way home, and then having a bowl of subpar pasta whose shapes you don't even recognize anymore, who's laughing then?

But I ask a different question. I ask why you would bother to make x-rated pasta in the first place. It's a silly idea that is moderately executed and not worthy enough for individuals to purchase more than once.

Did you do it because you wanted to be famous for making phallic foods? Did you do it because you thought you could sell enough to make some money? Did you do it just because you could?

As a notorious planner, I tend to question people who do things just because they can. You should have a greater idea of what you will get from your actions. But I understand that people with a different belief system will see x-rated pasta in a completely different manner.

If you simply had the idea to make x-rated pasta and did it for laughs, then found out you could make some money and also get some giggles out of people, then everything you accomplished was a rousing success.

Not surprisingly, writing works all the same way. I largely prefer to have a plan for my writing. I lately don't put words down until I have a decent structure for the whole story in my head. I prefer it, but others may rather just make a scene and go on from there.

Sometimes, results speak for themselves. If your method gets you to write something you enjoyed, you did good. The more people who enjoy it, the nicer it is (assuming it's something you plan to share with others). Your viewpoint affects your reception of anything, whether it be your work or others. Approach things with a mindset that works best.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

We Need More Brodowns

Of the recent fads that have come and gone, my favorite is probably bro-words. This is when you take a regular word and replace a part of it with "bro". It is generally done with words that have an o-sound, so that everybody gets what the original was.

Examples can go from the mundane to the ludicrous. Some of my favorite examples include: brotato, Brohan, Brosef Stalin, and Broseidon, King of the Brocean.

Sometimes people would throw down a bro-word, and it would become a challenge to go back and forth with the most awesome ones they could come up with. It was a bro-word showdown. It was a brodown,

Tonight I had one with a friend just based on remaking movies for bros. Examples included Bronnochio, Brocahontas, Bro White, and Bromancing the Stone.

I love brodowns. They're one of the most amusing and engaging word games to me. There is a certain simplicity in that no matter what set of words you are familiar with, you can find some o-sounds to turn them into bro-sounds. But there is actually a good challenge find them when you're put on the spot.

You can also play a game to find a way to introduce bro-words into conversations. "Jesus was so cool, he told people that he was the alpha and the bromega." You ought to get either some solid laughs or some sustained groans.

Sadly, I find the fad of it wearing off. People have a couple standalones they pull out from time to time, but people aren't throwing down anymore. I think that it is a worthwhile activity in general. Next time you find yourself playing with words or just staring into space, start coming up with bro-words. Get a friend to do it too and see who can win your brodowns.

Monday, April 9, 2012

You Can't Plan For Life

The idea of having designated writing time in your designated writing space is awesome. It keeps you consistently writing, which should aid in your creativity and productivity. But let's be real: you can't plan for life.

Things happen. People may need your attention. You may have a long day which saps your energy. When this happens, kiss your writing time goodbye.

Lost time might be able to be reclaimed. If you end up shifting your designated writing time by an hour or two in either direction, you can still get your writing time in, even if it's not the exact same time as usual.

Keep in mind that this is a pendulum which can swing in either direction. You may be ready to close your eyes and fall asleep when inspiration strikes you. You have he best idea for finally getting your story idea off the ground and running. And not only that, you may actually have the energy to go out and write it for several hours. Make use of this valuable present! It may not be your designated writing time or your designated writing space, but when the spirit strikes you, roll with the punches.

Sunday, April 8, 2012


I was driving a friend of mine home after adventures, and I heard him tell me, "that's the fourth cops we've driven by on tonight." It made no sense to me because I was certain we had seen far more police officers than that, plus I didn't see any when he said it. Then I thought that maybe he said "copse", but that didn't make sense because the road had tons of trees already (plus there was no way in hell he knew that word).

When I looked to my side, I saw that he was saying Tops, the supermarket. I had a good laugh about it, then decided to let him know that there was a word spelled c-o-p-s-e, but is pronounced the same as "cops". He asked me what it was and I explained that it was basically like a small amount of trees in an area.

After thinking about it, I then said that it was a word that you basically never needed to know. We can explain something as a "small forest" or a "thicket" and that the word is used so rarely that you shouldn't be expected to simply know it.

When I got into his neighborhood, it was pitch black outside, so I was carefully driving down the road looking for his house. He told me that his is the first one after the line of trees, which instantly jogged my memory (because that is how I also remember which house is his).

We said our goodbyes and goodnights, and I got in my car and drove off. About 100 feet down the road, I pulled over and pulled out my phone to send my friend a message.

"That treeline you mentioned...that's a copse."

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Consistency Matters

In every aspect of writing, consistency matters. Spelling, voice, laws of physics, actions of characters, all of these need to be consistent. If you start randomly changing any of those, you are going to leave your audience scratching their head. They will spend more time trying to understand what happened or why than appreciating your story.

Of course, nothing is a steadfast rule. Sometimes being inconsistent can be of great benefit. A narrator may want a consistent voice, but if all the characters sound the same, you sound stale. A random occurrence that seems to defy the rules of your world could pique curiosity. It could indicate that there is far more than we assume to reality.

I do believe that one should strive for consistency in most things for most of the time. It will make you a clearer and more effective writer. Inconsistency is its own art and its own style. But when you think it is the right thing to do, don't be afraid to experiment with it.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Asbestos I Can

Whenever somebody says "I'll do as best as I can", it always sounds like "I'll do asbestos I can." Obviously I know what they meant, but it's not what my brain heard.

Enunciation matters. If you are speaking, be clear. Take your time; it always takes less time to be clear than it does to be confusing and then have to clarify.

For the above example, put a half- or quarter-beat between "best" and "as". It will not only make sure that you don't mash your words together, but it will also emphasize "best" very subtly.

Practice saying "as best as I can" out loud a little bit. Try it with different amounts of space between the words and see how it affects the tone of the phrase.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Facades vs. Facets

How come a person who may be generally pleasant and amusing can at times be a miserable grouch? Is it a facade they put on or is it a facet of their personality? For that matter, what's the difference between the two?

A facet is an aspect of a person. We are all multifaceted. Sometimes we are contemplative, other times we are passionately determined, and other times we are completely apathetic. Nobody feels one way all the time.

A facade is an illusion perpetuated by a person. Sometimes we like to be somebody or something that we aren't. We do it for a host of reasons and to varying degrees, but it is a way to present something that is not our true selves.

And that really is the difference between the two: A facet is part of who we truly are, but a facade is just an illusion - it is not something that comes naturally, but something that is actively done.

When your characters act "out of character", ask yourself if it is a facade or a facet (or if it's just bad writing). Characters can do either of them, but there is always a reason for it, even if they don't know why.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Bitches In Repose

“Whenever you think of a creature, think of a lion—how a lion can be absolutely malignant or benign, majestic, depending on what it’s doing. If your creature cannot be in repose, then it’s a bad design.” - Guillermo del Toro

I love this quote. The first sentence perfectly expresses the concept of 'repose', and the second sentence explains why it is so critical to creation.

Every time you want to make something new, consider what it's doing in its spare time. When a monster isn't killing humans, what does it do? If there were no humans at all, what would it be doing?

This concept works on more than animals and mythical beasts, though. It works quite well for humans, too. Think about the nastiest bitch you know. Think about that annoying girl who is always complaining and blaming people for everything and whining about their lives. That woman will be in repose at some point during the day.

Even if only for an hour or two (not counting being asleep), there are times when she is doing something quietly, either in silence or at low volume. There are times when she is not upset or angry, and may be genuinely happy.

All humans are three-dimensional. We have desires and responsibilities. We seek action and need peace. Nobody does one thing all the time. Nobody has only one mode or one thought. We are complex beings who are affected by our surroundings and our upbringing.

When you are creating people, just as you are creating a monster, ask yourself what they want, what they do in their off time, and what they would be doing if they weren't being affected by their current environment.

If your characters cannot be in repose, then it's bad design.

Entry from Kevin's idea notepad:
"Real Life Bitch - It's weird to meet a bitch when she's not being one."

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Where Did I Learn That?

I have a whole lot of knowledge and beliefs. They are firmly ingrained and strongly affect how and what I write (and how I live my life). And sometimes I take a look back and I realize that I have no idea where I got that belief from.

It's funny how our beliefs are like that. One good idea can reach you so strongly that you absorb it wholly. But when you've internalized it, you forget that it was even not part of you.

I don't think it is necessarily a bad thing for your guiding philosophies to be so strong. But when you remember that everything you know is something you were taught or something you discovered, it can be humbling. It may also help you realize how much potential humans have, and much variety we have based just in which ideas we are exposed to and which of those we adopt.

Monday, April 2, 2012

How Much Of Yourself Do You Show?

As a writer, you are always putting yourself in your work. Your thoughts, your ideas, your analogies - everything you make is patently you (even if you're trying to not sound like you). But how much of yourself do you show?

The answer to that rhetorical question (which you should be answering) depends on the image you want your readers to have of you.

I personally want to be relatively private. I believe that names don't matter (which is why I refer to most people as "my friend") and I think that all examples are equally valid (which is why I prefer to make up stories rather than use my life for examples). However, I am not averse to talking about myself. If I have an interesting story, I'll share it. I want my readers to have a connection with me, as well as my ideas.

Some people use writing as their emotional outlet. Everything in their personal lives is put into their writing. This can make for interesting writing; I have seen it work in semibiographical webcomics. I just don't like the idea of everybody knowing that much about me.

The opposite extreme of that would be the person who never mentions themselves. These people want their ideas considered, not themselves. Either they are extremely private people, or they just don't believe that their personal lives matter with regard to what they write.

I lean more to the side of privacy, mostly because I agree with the idea that the primary importance of writing intended for others is the idea being conveyed. The reason I am not extreme about it is that sometimes my life happens to work well to convey my ideas.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Cheese Gives You Nightmares

If I told you that cheese gives you nightmares, you would probably laugh in my face at first. But if I told you about how one night I ate a bunch of cheese and then had the worst, most terrifying nightmares of my life, you might listen to me. Some of you might take what I say to heart and believe it right away. Others might at least go to the internet and do some research of your own. The point is, you would listen to me.

When an 8-year-old makes the same claim and tells the same story, you pay no mind; it's just a silly child.

Why do you make this difference? Why do you trust some over others? Our claims are the same, as are they based on the same experiences, but mine warrant some respect, while a child's does not.

As I wrote this, I realized that this is how ethos really works. And even if you one who says that a person's degrees titles don't impress you or affect your thoughts, you are still being affected by people's authority. Sometimes it is just the authority of a person having lived more years than another.