Thursday, May 31, 2012

Chastise Adults

I find it incredibly odd that, if I saw a 12-year-old doing something that is socially unacceptable, I could chastise that child, but if I saw a 22-year-old doing the same thing, it is no longer a viable option. Somehow, it feels like, if a person can make it into legal adulthood without correcting their flaws, those flaws become acceptable and immutable.

Why is it that a child who does wrong "hasn't learned", but an adult who does wrong "is an asshole"? I find it a wrong belief and I am making it a point to chastise anybody, including adults.

One curious thing, though, is that when it comes to writing, the opposite tends to be true. We treat kids like they are doing just fine and any effort they put out is great, but when talking to adults, we become fearless in gutting and shredding their work. I think this is wrong, too. People should be treated like people. We should all live by the same standards and expectations.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Long Walks

I am an advocate of walking. It's a pleasant way to travel and a great way to get the mind moving in new ways. Usually, I walk around, let my mind do its thing, and I come up with some cool ideas before I get back home. Today, I felt rather lost and took a walk to clear my head and gather my thoughts.

During the walk, though, I had gone quite a while and still hadn't had any good ideas come to mind. I decided that I wasn't going to go home until I came up with something cool. It took me awhile, but I finally did get one.

This was an interesting experience to me, since I did force my own creativity in a sense, but in another sense, I simply used sufficient discipline to allow my own creativity to come forth. In either case, I walked longer than I wanted to, but it was worth it.

Revisit Your Rules Part 2

I wanted to continue on the previous post, and how revisiting affects my writing. There are two primary ways: reading old things with new eyes, and having my writing workshopped.

When I dig through my files and decide to read an old story, I get to see it like an outsider. I have no recollection of the specifics, or even some of the major plot points. I can truly analyze it without bias. Though it takes a long time to do so, I do love being able to revisit my old work. If nothing else, it shows me how much I have changed as a writer since then.

When I don't have the time needed to forget about a story, I need a workshop. It may be a dozen people or just one person reading it, but feedback from external sources forces me to revisit all of my ideas and all of my choices. Here, I am even more forced to consider my beliefs and ask what is better off being changed and what should be left alone.

Especially in workshops, it can be rough. It takes a certain personality or a lot of training to be able to handle a good workshop. But the hardest thing to do is not withstand a barrage of criticism, but to face yourself and accept where you are lacking. It's totally worth it when you realize that every flaw you admit and work to prevent is a criticism you won't receive again.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Revisit Your Rules

I believe strongly in personal rules. If we learn some sort of life lesson along the lines of "I will never do that again" or "I have to make sure I do that again", and we came to those conclusions during a moment of clarity, then we should stick to those convictions.

People who do not follow their own rules are weak-willed. But people who never revisit their rules are blind fools.

If you ever feel like you want to do something that you strongly feel you shouldn't, you need to ask why, and you need to ask about both sides. Why do you want to break your rule? Why do you think your rule should be followed? What is the rule intended to do, and is that really a good thing?

I really want to stress here that the advice is to revisit your rules. That is distinctly different from changing your rules. Revisiting simply means that you are looking at the rules again. You may conclude that it is still a good rule, or you may find it is out of date. In the latter case, that may lead you to changing your rules, but revisiting never requires it.

This is the approach I take with my writing. What do I believe? What do I never want to do? What do I think I shouldn't do? And what is my hangup with it? If I don't have good answers, then I change my beliefs.

Monologue vs. Dialogue

If I stand up in front of a crowd of people and give a speech, that is a monologue; literally, there is one speaker. If I am having a conversation with you, then it's a dialogue. There is a very big difference between communication in these ways (no duh).

I thought that I had lost my succinctness recently. I noticed that in every conversation I had, I kept wanting to talk and talk, always wanting to explain my points further (and I am not one to dominate a conversation). Sometimes people would interject while I was on a roll, and I would first feel insulted, but then I would realize that I had been speaking plenty.

It turns out that I hadn't lost my succinctness; I simply was not in the right mindset. I am so used to writing monologues. The fact that I write these posts every night means that I am always ready to shoot out a monologue. But dialogue is different.

Dialogue is where I am succinct. When I have a back and forth with somebody, I can make a claim and let them question it. I can support an idea, have them challenge it, and dispel their concerns. Succinctness can make people more invested in a conversation.

Monologue does not allow you to be succinct in the same way. There is no second voice that presents challenges or alternate opinions. You have to be both sides of your argument. You have to elaborate your points so that people understand what you mean at your core.

Just remember to use the right method for the right circumstances.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

A Period Of Respite

In writing, as in life, there are always periods of tranquility and periods of suffering. The tranquility part is awesome; there's not much to talk about there, just enjoy it. The suffering, though, it just sucks. But there IS something to talk about there.

The standard advice is to work through the struggle. Just keep trying and you'll get over and get past whatever your problems. This is good advice, but it's not absolute. Sometimes the best thing you can do is get away from it all.

Take a vacation from your frustrations. It doesn't need to be for weeks at a time; just two or three days is usually what you need to clear your head, sort things out, and get back on track.

A period of respite can do wonders for the mind. Don't overdo them, but don't be afraid to take them when you get overwhelmed.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Showing and Telling Revisited Part 2

When I revisited showing and telling, I mentioned how I finally understand the difference between showing and telling. This revelation came to me by reading two different friends' stories back to back. They were both romance novels, but their execution was completely different.

The first novel was very literary in style.  It explored certain ideas, like what love is and how many different ways it can be expressed. It used recurring symbols to designate people and cue the reader in on the relations, but never told us tat such was the case. (They were hints for us to pick up on.)

The second novel was not so much a romance story as it was a love story. It followed the old beaten path, never explored any ideas or concepts, never did anything daring. It was not godawful and I did not struggle to finish it, but I didn't feel any reward for having finished it.

Beyond the depth or philosophy of the stories, the style of them were vastly different. The first story focused mainly on the one protagonist, but we saw him in different ways. Sometimes he seemed a lunatic. Other times he seemed heroic. Then he would seem pathetic. We heard what his mind said, and we had some semblance of his rationale. Time was spent to describe scenes, to see and hear and smell an area or a person.

The second story sounded like a person describing a movie to me. The descriptions were of actions. One person did this or that, walked here or there, hugged him or her. And soooo much dialogue. People talked and talked and talked (and rarely had anything worthwhile to say). The overall impression was that I was an outsider looking in. I was seeing a screen where things happened, rather than being in the midst of the action. I saw other people doing stuff, but I never heard their mind's thoughts, so their reasoning always remained a mystery to me.

The worst part of the second story was how very much it reminded me of my own writing. Like, I could see myself making my own stories, falling into all of the same pitfalls. The best part of the experience, though, was that I realized that I can identify those pitfalls, which means I can now write better than that.

I'm very surprised that "show, don't tell" ended up being so deep and significant of a lesson and experience for me (and much like other lessons I disagreed with, it took me a very long time to realize it). I can't wait to find the next rule I think is stupid so I can grow from that one in a few years.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Rules vs. Suggestions

A friend recently sent me an article about comma use. It was nice. Nothing terribly new or exciting for me, though I did appreciate that my friend thought of me. The specific point of the article was explaining critical and noncritical information, and how commas, usually parenthetical, are used to add noncritical information.

One of the last points was on comma splicing, which is joining two complete sentences with a comma (which is a big no-no). After going on about all the different ways one can change a comma splice into an acceptable alternative, the author then bring up Samuel Beckett, praising him for thoroughly and unabashedly shattering that rule. And all the author has to say afterward is, "Which goes to show, I suppose, that rules are made to be broken."

Rules are not made to be broken. Rules are made to be obeyed. The very point of going to the effort of making rules is that they exist to make the world a better place in any of a number of ways. If rules were made to be broken, then we would have been told every day by our parents that we aren't allowed to put pants on unless we can get a goldfish to eat a whole apple.

If this author seriously believes that rules are made to be broken, then he wasted his entire day writing an article on a bunch of rules. After all, who gives a damn? They're made to be broken. Go get a real job.

This is why I have a real problem with Grammar Nazis. Language is alive. It may have rules, but they are definitely subject to change. If you truly believe that you must follow the rules of standard written English (assuming you can decide on which set of rules to follow), then you will miss out on a tremendous amount of ability that the language has to evoke.

The real lesson here is that English doesn't have rules so much as it has suggestions. We are just too flexible to be rigid. Sure, some of the suggestions would be foolish to ignore, but I bet that every "rule" of English has a wonderful example that completely breaks it in the most wonderful way. So don't sweat the small stuff too much. Sure, proper grammar is a great skill to have, especially in the professional world, but as long as your sentences are compelling, people won't care what "rules" you had to break to make them.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Showing and Telling Revisited

In writing the recent post Words Aren't Everything, I talked about how certain feelings and experiences are simply indescribable, but that, although words cannot describe the feelings themselves, we can use words to elicit those feelings in our readers, which we do by portraying all of the scenes and actions that went into creating that feeling.

When I gave that advice, I realized that it was my own way of saying that good authors show and don't tell.

Now, I wrote about showing and telling a couple of years ago, and I had a pretty different take on the matter (namely, I thought the advice was BS). Today, I understand the advice. (What was BS was the people who spouted it without ever explaining it properly.)

We have to tell our readers something, but we should not tell them how to feel. We have to show them what is going on, why people are doing it, and how it affects themselves and others. If we can do that, then our readers will feel exactly what we want them to without ever having to be told.

In reading my old post, I find it interesting that my advice was pretty similar back then: "Just tell people the stuff that matters to your story." Today, my knowledge goes deeper into how and why - it has been refined with time and thought - but the advice remains the same, which makes me happy to know that I was on the right track. (And if my original advice was dead wrong, then I'd still be happy that I wasn't on the wrong track anymore.)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Switching Vocal Styles

There is a certain tone with which I speak when I am speaking to no one in particular.It is one I do not think about; the words simply come to me, so they are the ones I use. But when I talk to other people, it changes.

I wouldn't say that I put on a mask or anything like that. In reality, I tend to match people's energy. If they're hyper and wacky, I'll be hyper and wacky. If they're being philosophical, I'll do the same. And if they're boring, I'll go ahead and match that, too.

What I find fascinating is how my close friends have their own styles, which I have really honed in on and developed my own version of. But that means that I have a version of speech that is unique to all of the close friends in my life. What is even more fascinating to me is that I can instantly switch between them.

All it takes is one sentence on their part and I'm in the mindset. Sometimes it doesn't even take that much. Sometimes just seeing their face or their screen name will orient me. I know what words I'll like to use, what catchphrases get the laughs, and even how to punctuate and capitalize (come people need all caps and three exclamation marks, and some need zero of both)

Ironically, I find dialogue one of my weaker skills. Don't get me wrong; I can make compelling speeches and conversations. The problem is that they all sound like me.

One of the exercises I am working on is being able to create a speech pattern for each of the characters that will talk. It is a serious task, but I think it will be worth it if I can get my characters to sound like people and not like author avatars.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Words Aren't Everything

There are certain times that words fail me. Some experiences can make you feel such strong emotions that, as the cliche goes, words cannot express.

What I have found about those experiences is that they usually involve aspects that are deeply rooted within you. Imagine some item of great sentimental value, something that you have had with you for years and that you treasure. If it breaks or gets lost, you didn't lose a thing, you lost a part of yourself. You've lost your heart and soul, along with your peace of mind. Such a less is devastating and can be emotionally crippling.

But if you ever tried to describe how you felt when you experienced such a powerful sorrow or a similar joy (like finding that object was not lost but misplaced and you found it during your grieving), you will find that you simply cannot capture the feeling.

Truly, I do not it is possible to describe such a feeling with words. You can, however, create such a feeling. Consider a character with a sentimental object. Talk about the item early on. Show the attachment to it. Don't prattle on about it, but show how it is always there and how it makes the owner feel. The reader will make the same connection to the item. When the character loses that item, the reader will feel the same loss. When you describe what the character does following the loss, the reader will understand, and will also feel the same kind of loss, depending on how strong a connection they've made with your character.

Words aren't everything, but sometimes they're all you have. Use them the best that you can.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

I'm Always Searching

I am not afraid to say that I know a lot about writing. Now more than ever, I have seen exactly how far I have come in so many aspects of the field. But I will also be the first to say that there is plenty I don't know, too.

The truth is, although Cheff Salad is a place where I speak out about the things I know, I am always trying to learn more, to understand and comprehend.

If I ever stop learning, then I will never grow again. I will stagnate at my current level and remain there for the rest of my life.

No matter how proud I am of how far I've come, I am not ready to call it my final destination.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Aesthetics vs. Mechanics

I truly believe that the visual aspects of the written word matters. The eye will always recognize shapes and visual patterns before it starts reading words. Ugly design will affect readers and can make a noticeably negative impact.

That said, there will always have to be a balance between being aesthetically pleasing and mechanically correct. I have noticed different habits and opinions when it comes to typed documents. Spacing between sentences, lines, and paragraphs varies wildly.  Some people always put a period after dollar figures (so you know there are no cents afterward), and may or may not put a space between the dollar sign and the number.

Those are all aesthetic choices to me. They affect how the reader sees things, but none of them change the actual content of the words. When it comes to things like comma usage, or any other punctuation, those do matter, and they are non-negotiable.

You are not allowed to use a semicolon because it "felt right". It has specific uses with specific meanings. I you use them without any concept of how they are to be used, then you are unmaking the English language. (If you used them in a nonstandard way, but at least had a reason why, it would be a different story.)

Despite caring about the aesthetic of writing, the mechanics will always take precedence.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Luxury Words

I am an ardent utilitarian. I will always recommend people use as few words as necessary to express their ideas. I also believe that vocabulary should not become needlessly complicated. Sure, it may be nice to have a 50,000-word vocabulary, but if only a couple dozen people worldwide also know what you mean, then you're communicating really poorly (no matter how perfectly that obscure word expresses your idea).

All that said, I do still enjoy my luxury words. I try not to think the worst of people, but my experiences have been that the average person has a weak vocabulary. Words like 'nascent', 'piquant', 'aesthetic', or 'antithetical' go over the average person's head. In my writing, I would not use these words without either describing them within my prose, or expecting (hoping) people will look it up (and in that case, it truly would be because no other word or phrase functions well enough).

There is probably no time when I ever need to use words above a 12th grade level (probably 5th grade if I really wanted to push it), but I know these other words, and some of them I really enjoy using, so I will go ahead and use these words, appreciating them as the luxury they are.

I only have two instances where I make use of luxury words: writing that I do for my eyes only, and when speaking with other people who know the same words I do (or would appreciate learning them). Those people who know luxury words, they're my kind of nerds.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Jumpstart Your Memory

The mind is such a funny thing. One thought tends to trigger other thoughts. You have a conversation with somebody and you go from talking about the politics of philharmonic orchestras to the logistics of living in Barrow, Alaska and you have no idea how it happened.

It can be really hard to figure that out, actually. Somehow, once you get onto a new subject, you leave the old one behind. However, if you take the opposite direction and work forward instead of backward, you can jump start your memory.

I know I started with orchestra politics. That led to mentioning how the principal oboist isn't even good enough to deserve the leeway he's gotten. That made me wonder how much a player's skill matters and how much the quality of their instrument matters. That led to talking about the different materials an oboe could be made of, one of which being plastic. The plastic oboe is the one you would take to the frozen tundra so that it didn't instantly get destroyed, and that led to Barrow, Alaska.

Now I not only remember how I got there, but I remember all of the subjects along the way.

If you had a great thought and you just absolutely cannot remember it, try working forward to jumpstart your memory.

From my notes:
Most of my thoughts come flying at me, but they always have a rationale. If I can hop onto a previous idea and ride the train of thought, I should eventually reach the station (thought/memory) I was trying to remember.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Line Breaks Matter

In poetry, line breaks are powerful tools. They are natural stops to the eye and mind, so they become a form of punctuation, a way to separate ideas or images, all without needing a symbol.

Line breaks are useful in non-poetry, too. This is one of the lessons of design and layout a writer should learn. Even in prose, line breaks have power. If you are writing a document, do your best to break at sensible parts. Try not to break up a proper name. If it is an organization with several words in the name, at least try not to leave just one of the words on one line. (For that matter, don't leave widows or orphans in your writing, either.)

This is the final coat of polish in writing. Your words are down, they're not going to be changed anymore. It is all about fine tuning margins and manual page breaks there. I don't expect it to be done in a massive work like a major novel (though I would appreciate it). But if you are writing something 5 pages or less (if not 25), it is inexcusable.

Line breaks matter. They will matter in every form of writing you do. They affect the eyes, which affects the mind, so no matter how subtle it may be, it is a tool that cannot be avoided, and should not be ignored.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

My Kind of Nerd

Sometimes when I hang out with a group of friends, I am just amazed by how enjoyable it is. I get to talk about a wide variety of subjects, but all of them are ones I'm interested in. I am able to add to any conversation, but am also able to learn from them. Sometimes I find myself saying, "I love hanging out with nerds."

That sentiment is not entirely accurate, though. We're all nerds of some kind. What I love is hanging out with my kind of nerd. The ones who have similar interests, similar levels of knowledge, but are different enough to actually make for stimulating and entertaining conversations.

Writers are definitely my kind of nerd. There are a lot of different kinds of writers out there, and I probably wouldn't enjoy spending time with all of them, but I would certainly give them a shot. There is so much to the world of writing that there are countless areas to discuss and opinions on each one of them. Talking shop with fellow writers is awesome, whether it is as an equal, a teacher, or a student.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Clothes Are Skin

Having taken a brief intermission, I wanted to finish up the miniseries I started with On Nudity. There, I had talked about how nudity is a literary tool that can be used to show a wide range aspects of humanity. The primary thing, though, was that a naked human is purely human.

With tattoos, we find this strange middle ground between clothing and nudity. When we see a tattoo, it is still exposed flesh, and yet it isn't the same as when the bearer was born. We acknowledge tattoos as a covering, and yet they are also considered a part of the user's body.

In most stories, I find clothes function similarly to tattoos. In almost every cartoon, the characters always wear the same outfit. The outfit becomes as iconic as the face or any other physical feature (if not more so). Whenever they wear a different outfit, they look unnatural to us, like they are wearing somebody else's skin.

In the real world, people are not their outfits. Doctor's don't wear their lab coats all day, everywhere they go. White collar workers do not wear their suits and ties all the time. Similarly, you should not assume that every person in a t-shirt and shorts is a lazy bum. You will be disappointed quite often if you do so.

But in storytelling, that is not always the case. When you only ever wear one outfit, no matter where you are what you do, whether you're working or not, then that outfit is your skin.

I won't say whether it is a good thing or a bad thing, because it is neither. It's just a concept to consider. How much is your character's outfit a defining characteristic of your character?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

We Know Them Better Than They Know Themselves

I often struggle with accepting certain characters in stories. It's usually the ones that do something so stupid that all I can think is, what kind of moron can't see that they are going to get themselves into exactly the trouble they should be avoiding? The answer usually is, the kind of moron that does not spend all their time analyzing themselves.

Literary types tend to be observers and thinkers. They spend their time considering a character's actions, the repercussions of them, and then discussing it with other people who have done the same. The characters of literary canon have been analyzed to the point of exhaustion.

But those characters have not analyzed themselves. And when you realize that they are usually just human (or humanoid), and that they are not terribly introspective, it makes sense that they might make some really stupid decisions. With any luck, by the end of the story, they will have realized how stupid those decisions were.

Sitcoms Assume You're Stupid

I hate sitcoms. I hate them with a passion. They are, by far, the worst form of writing and storytelling. They make us dumber as individuals and as a culture, and they are a poison that should be purged from existence. (Yes, I've said this before.)

When I say that, I talk about the traditional sitcom. Shows like Friends and Frasier in the '90s. Nowadays, shows like Two and A Half Men and The Big Bang Theory. There are shows that exist which are situation-comedies, but are not standard in significant ways; I am not talking about them today. Today, I am talking about the ones that treat you like you are a brainless moron.

I hate that there is no subtlety whatsoever in sitcoms. It is a show meant to make you laugh, but there is no skill and no tact in the humor. They slap you in the face with every joke they make. It's like they said, "I took the time to make this joke, so I'm going to be damn sure you know that a joke was just told to you." And that is exactly what ruins the humor.

The best jokes are the ones  you didn't catch right away. They are the ones that are a reply to a question or a comment on a situation that sound perfectly natural, but contain a great bit of wit. Yes, it may not be noticed by every person on every time, but that makes the series richer. It adds replay value. It makes reruns worthwhile. It gives people reason to own the DVDs. But no, instead we have to have the premise raised, an obvious pause to get us ready for the joke, and then some trite comment.

And what makes the whole thing even more insulting is that sitcoms don't even trust us to actually laugh at their terrible jokes. They have to use prerecorded laughter and manually insert it after every joke, after every barely comical sarcastic comment, and every moronic piece of slapstick.

If you actually love sitcoms, then I'm sorry you just read all of this. Feel free to hate me. If you actually love good comedy and/or storytelling, then use sitcoms as a wonderful example of what not to do.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Pictures Of Tattoos

I wanted to carry on with an idea from yesterday, namely the idea that the naked body is seen without thought to class, country, or culture. I've heard it said in the context of photography, and have found it to be mostly true. Mostly true, but not entirely.

The activities of one's life does show on the body. A physical laborer will have calloused hands and probably strong muscles. A person of privilege will probably have healthy skin (fair or tan, depending on the culture) and a trim figure (again depending on culture). A fighter may be strong like the laborer, but will have a good posture and may wear the scars of battle.

Despite all of the varieties the human form can take, when you take a picture of the human body, you are seeing the person as a whole. Even a person who has a notable deformity like scars or amputations, I find that they are still whole people in photography.

The difference for me is with tattoos. I don't have anything against them or people who have them, but I find that whenever I see a picture of a person who has a tattoo, it always looks like a picture of a tattoo. The person seems secondary.

Part of it could be my bias, because they are so alien when it comes to human flesh that I focus on them. Part of it could also be the photographers, choosing to shoot in a way that shows off the tattoos. I'm sure it is a combination of both, since there are exceptions here and there. But in general, whenever I see a picture of a person with a tattoo, especially a nude, I cannot see the person as a whole.

In a sense, a tattoo becomes a kind of permanent clothing. Your natural body can no longer be seen. The standard argument is that a tattoo is an expression of a person beyond what their natural body shows, and as such, they are more real and exposed than an unmarked person. I won't say that they are wrong, but I will say that not everybody gets such meaningful tattoos.

In prose writing, it is interesting because the tattoo only exists when you mention it and, unless the reader is constantly thinking about it, it goes away when not mentioned for a while. So in a sense, you can see the person as a whole. Though, prose will always be quite different from photography.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

On Nudity

To begin with, I find that there are two primary beliefs when it comes to nudity. The first belief is that nudity exists only to be provocative, either for shock value or to express implicit sexuality. The second belief is that nudity has artistic or literary value when used well, just like any other tool. If your beliefs are of the former, you can skip this post.

Nudity is a tool that a writer can use to express some quality of their character. What I find interesting about nudity is that it actually has a wide range of uses.

Classically, the naked body is considered a frail thing (especially with women). We people are always "wearing masks", hiding behind badges, or garnering strength from their uniforms. To strip a person of all their armors leaves only all the fear and helplessness behind. The naked body is not fit for being in society, nor is it fit for existing in nature.

In the complete opposite view, the naked body can be considered the most unbridled, pure form of humanity. A person without any of their clothes or any other coverings is not stained by culture or class or belief. Here, nudity is the throwing off of our shackles. Since humanity can be seen as an unstable force, then a character's nudity is a crowning moment when they reach their full power.

And somewhere in the middle, nudity can show laziness or indifference. It's when people don't care about showing off, dressing up, or even dressing at all. It can show a comfortableness in one's own skin that they are willing to let their own skin be their "clothes". It can show a connection with nature, that we are part of the earth and the rest of the animals and not separate with them, like we may think.

Of course, how we actually going about depicting nudity is a whole other story.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

On Prejudice

I don't think that prejudice is necessarily a bad thing. Quite literally, the term means pre-judging. Forming a gut reaction opinion, usually based on the stories of our culture or by our own past experiences is a survival tool. It allowed us to stay alive long enough fr all of us to be born.

Prejudice obviously has a dark side, though. When you judge people or situations with no actual knowledge about what you are facing, then you are likely to make really terrible decisions. Stereotypes may exist for a reason, but they are not always true. And no matter how similar two situations may be, they will never be identical.

In the modern world, we rarely need to make split-second decisions. A calmer, rational mind is a more effective one. We should always get as much information as we can before settling on an opinion or taking any actions.

The thing with pre-judging is that you can't stop it. The mind makes judgements. It makes harsh ones and usually makes you work hard to overcome them. (Whatever you go in expecting, you will almost surely find.) So I can't blame people for doing it, but I can blame them for acting upon their prejudice. If you don't know for sure relevant specifics about the person or situation, then you have no right to make assumptions and base your decisions and actions on those assumptions.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Beware Your Expectations

A friend and I have both seen the Karate Kid movie remake with Jackie Chan in it. We saw it at different times and not together. We had different expectations going into the movie, which greatly affected our opinions of it.

My friend watched it with friends and family. He expected it to be a simple retelling of a classic story with some interesting new twists thrown in. That is what he saw. He laughed. He cried. He felt proud. All in all, a good time was had.

I watched the movie with a friend who expected it to be terrible. I hoped it would be good, but was trepidatious. I was looking at the movie with a critical eye, and the more issues I took with it, the more I found the movie to be silly, stupid, or downright awful.

In discussing this movie with my friend, we were both surprised to find the opinions of the other. For as much as we think the same and have similar tastes, this is a significant divergence. And the one thing we can seem to find is that we walked into the movies with very different expectations, which made us treat the movie differently, and ultimately shaped our opinions for it.

So, beware of your expectations. Whatever you go in expecting, you will almost surely find.

Music Videos Ruin Music

When I listen to music, my mind makes its own images, crafts stories based on what it hears. Sometimes they are very clear, and other times they are mostly feelings. But when I watch a music video, it completely shatters whatever I had crafted from only listening to the music itself before.

Aside from the fact that most music videos are stupid as hell to me, they are different from my thoughts (which is jarring enough as is). There is something official to a music video; it seems like this is what was intended to be the visual to accompany the song. But in reality, it is just some person's vision (and probably some corporate meddling).

Unsurprisingly, I find movies ruin the original story, too (whether it be prose, graphic novel, etc.), for all the same reasons. In theory, a movie adaptation of a story can be good. But no matter how good it may be on its own merits, it cannot be the same as the original work. It is a person's vision (again with corporate meddling), and if that person isn't you, then they are probably going to ruin the story to you.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Amateur vs. Novice

Although they are synonymous, I do place a distinction between an amateur and a novice.

An amateur, technically speaking, does something on an unpaid basis. It is the opposite of a professional. The root of the word comes from the Latin amat, which means "love". Truly, an amateur does something for the love of it. (If they aren't getting paid, there is little other reason than because they enjoy it.)

The term 'novice' also comes from Latin. The word novus means "new". And a novice is somebody who is new at something. They have little to no training or experience. My dad has a joke that the word was originally "no vice", because the person had not been doing the activity long enough to develop any bad habits.

It's a simple distinction, but it's one that is worth making, even if many people assume that they both mean "not very good in quality".

Saturday, May 5, 2012

On Nobility

I've been thinking about the concept of nobility lately. I don't yet have a definition of what makes someone or something noble, so I've been taking it from the other direction - I'm thinking about the characters that we do call noble and identifying their characteristics.

Nobility seems to entail a certain kind of acceptance. Noble people accept that things function a certain way, and that they have responsibilities because of that. Along with this acceptance, there is a certain pride. I do not know if it is pride that they have to (or get to) carry out their responsibilities, or pride in being part of the system as a whole.

When a person does things because they must be done (especially when they are unpleasant), that person is noble. They can easily become heroes if they must fight against others who threaten the system (like the evil wizard who kidnaps the princess and the noble knight becomes a heroic knight because he is maintaining the status quo of the kingdom, but happens to be vanquishing evil and saving a distressed damsel in the process).

Most notably, noble people are humble. They work hard; they don't complain; they don't boast; they always stand straight and proud.

Nobility is a very admired quality in people. At times, it seems so unrealistic that it fits only in fairy tales. And yet, I think it is a realistic quality, and wonderful stories can be told of noble people who remain noble through their tribulations.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Be Entertaining While Complaining

I'm reading a book called BAD Or, the Dumbing of America. Well, not so much reading as thumbing through it. The premise of it is that there are things which are bad, and then there are things that are BAD. The difference is that BAD things are obnoxious, miserable, vile monstrosities.

I really want to like this book because the idea of it is one that is readily agreeable, but I cannot stand actually reading through any section. Fussell ends up sounding like a crotchety old man who rants excessively about the things he doesn't like, with no rhyme or reason to any of it.

He isn't clever. He isn't witty. He isn't funny. He isn't poignant. In short, he offers nothing of any entertaining value whatsoever.

I have always firmly believed that we must be entertaining first and foremost. As I have experienced firsthand, if a story isn't entertaining, I simply won't read it. But if you can be interesting enough to keep people reading, then you can get them to believe most things.

Complaining is a horribly ugly thing to me. Criticism is not a bad thing, but if you do not have compelling points to make, then you're just barking at a tree. If you can crack a joke, you can at least keep me reading and keep getting me to listen to you and give your ideas a chance.

If you really have nothing nice to say, at least be entertaining while complaining.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

I'd Rather Have. . .

"I'd rather have. . ." is an amazing phrase to me. It can show so many different ideas.

"I'd rather have an apple than an orange." This sentence shows preference of positives. Both are good examples, but given the choice, the speaker would choose the apple.

"I'd rather have dysentery than hepatitis." This sentence shows a reluctant preference. In this case, both examples are awful, but the speaker is in a situation where one of the options must be chosen, so he chooses what he considers to be the lesser of two evils.

If you start a sentence with, "I'd rather have. . .", you should eventually use the word "than". But you don't necessarily need to. Consider, "I'd rather have thinning hair." Nobody wants thinning hair, so we know that the "than" part is not, ". . .than have a luscious head of hair."

What I find interesting about that is that it is actually quite indicative of our culture. Hair is a prized thing, and the more lovely, the more it is appreciated.

Now consider the sentence, "I would rather have a thin beard." I have no idea what the "than" part is. Would he rather have a thin beard than no beard at all? Would he rather have a thin beard than a big bushy one? Would he rather have a thin beard than hepatitis? I just don't know, because I don't now his culture (or his personal beliefs).

I think the cultural aspect of this is the most fascinating part here. You can learn a good amount of a person and their latent beliefs by the things they'd rather have. The more you find out what somebody would rather have, the more you find out who they are and the kind of world they want to live in. It's a great way to solve characterization issues.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Sometimes You're Other People

People have so many disgusting habits: picking their nose, smelling their belly button lint, spitting, &c. What I find odd is when the people who choose at least one of those habits comments on how gross it is when people do it. When I confront people on their hypocrisy, their usual answer is, "It's gross when other people do it; it's not when I do it."

It doesn't surprise me that people view themselves specially. People always have their own rules when it comes to themselves. But what does surprise me is how people forget that the world doesn't revolve around them.

In the eyes of everybody else, you are "other people". The views you have of others need to be applied to yourself. Not just because it's fair, but because that is how you will know what other people think of you. After all, you're just "other people" to them, the way they're just "other people" to you.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Hakuna Matata

I can identify the phases of my life by the catchphrase that I use on a daily basis. As of now, that catch phrase is, "it happens." It perfectly represents my outlook on life. Things happen. People often feel so alone or isolated in the experiences of their lives, but when you hear them all, you find that people's experiences are quite common. So when I hear another iteration of a common story, all I can say is, "It happens."

I find it interesting that six years ago, my catchphrase was, "no worries." Back then, I did not have the knowledge and experiences, but when people told me their problems, I still believed it wasn't worth getting upset over.

I suspect that at some point in the future, my catchphrase will be "hakuna matata", if for no other reason, just because I will get tired of saying the phrase in English.