Sunday, September 30, 2012

Take Things Literally

We love our euphemisms, analogies, and general hyperbolic speech so much that we don't ever think about how hilarious or terrifying it can be when taken literally. Take basically any expression and imagine a child hearing it for the first time, not knowing what it means, and thinking about it really happening.

My friend got thrown under the bus. I was waist-deep in papers. She stabbed me in the back. My head exploded. He gave them the shirt off his back.

Read that set of expressions again. And really take your time with them. Take each one and seriously try to imagine them happening and then try to figure out how and why it happened at all.

You could probably find a lot of creativity by taking things literally. It can start you thinking about normal things in weird ways. It can turn the mundane into the magical. If you are struggling for ideas, just find any common expression, take it literally, and start writing it down.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Have Totally Different Tastes

I always think it's weird when somebody listens to only one kind of music. There is so much out there and so much is attractive for totally different reasons, but it's good. By the same token, it should be weird if a person only likes one kind of story.

And yet, I find it odd when people have totally different tastes in books or movies. Somehow, if I think of a story as being a piece of worthless trash, then I am shocked that a person whose opinions I generally agree with would have anything complimentary to say about a trashy story.

Of course, everybody has their own opinions, and it would be easy enough to chalk it up to that, but if I really challenge the notion, I think there's more to it.

A story is only trash if you judge it by certain criteria. A story may be absolutely terrible if you try to think of it as a legitimate drama, but it could be hilarious if you look at it as a spoof or other form of comedy. A generic romance novel may not be anything more than softcore porn, but if you happen to be in the mood for softcore porn, it could be great.

Few people are always in the same mood all the time. So it is natural that the kinds of media that would interest them would change as often as their moods. Though it may be jarring to hear one person criticize a good movie for logical inconsistencies, and then praise a stupid movie for having awesome graphics, it is probably the better way to go.

Have totally different tastes. Be more than one-dimensional in the kinds of things you like. If nothing else, you will have a far larger pool of material to find some gems in.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Don't Just Parrot Others

Every time I find a new favorite person, I have trouble making my own posts. Basically, I get absorbed in what they have to say, their words get stuck in my head, and all I can think to write about is the stuff they've already covered.

In this case, the primary rule I follow is don't just parrot others. If your hero talks about writing good horror stories, that doesn't mean you can't talk about horror. It doesn't even mean you can't bring up the points that your hero brought up. What it boils down to is that you need to bring something new to the table.

People should look to you for what you have to say. It is your look on things that keep them coming back. So give people your thoughts.

I know it's easier said than done. Most things are. And if you really just can't think of anything to add on the subject, then put it on the back burner. Hey, that's why I keep a list of ideas for just in case.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Talk To Different Kinds Of Writers

Every writer has a specialty. They may have a couple or a few of them, but they will not be equally good at all forms or genres of writing. You could consider a specialty as the form of writing they have the most practice/education/experience with. You could also consider it the forms they have the most passion for.

In any case, it is nice chatting with fellow writers who share the same interests. You tend to know the same stories, the same authors; you can talk about the same techniques, and so forth. It's really reassuring having a kindred spirit.

What I would also recommend is talking to different kinds of writers. If you're all about action and fantasy, talk with writers of sci fi and horror. Talk to poets or screenwriters. It will blow your mind how totally different the experience is, despite the fact that you're both creative writers.

You should also be amazed at how similar you are, despite your differences. To a large degree, writing is writing. The issues other writers may have could manifest in very different forms, but if you're paying attention, they should sound familiar.

My ultimate hope for such a discussion would be that it inspires you. You may just find that some aspect that could be commonplace in a different form of writing would be a new spice to your style.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Defend And Insult Continued

I really did not expect to be making a follow-up to my last post. I thought it was going to stand on its own and maybe some day in the future I might revisit it. But my experiences today sort of demanded it.

I have recently become a huge fan of The Spoony Experiment, the website of Noah Antwiler (the spoony one), who does reviews of movies, video games, and roleplaying games. I'm going through a lot of his archives, and I just so happened to see that he had a review of District 9.

Yesterday, I really hesitated before saying that I believe perfect stories exist. In my mind, I only hold two stories in that high regard: Portal 2, and District 9. I hesitated because I was unsure if I could honestly say they are perfect. I don't know of a single story that doesn't have criticisms to it. And can a story be perfect if it is criticized?

Ultimately, I decided that these stories deserved the title. I believe that a story can be perfect without being beloved by 100% of people. If I don't like romance stories in principle, then it is impossible to make a romance story that I will like, but it is possible to make a flawless story in the genre. As such, I believed that for what they were, Portal 2 and District 9 are perfect, so I went ahead and made the claim that I believe perfect stories exist.

So when I saw that Spoony had reviewed District 9, I had to watch it. I set up the video, sit back, and hear a strange tone in his voice. He enjoyed the movie and he thought it was a good movie, but was disappointed in it. He did praise the many excellent qualities of the movie, including the special effects, and the high quality writing, but also found faults in them.

While the special effects are fantastic, there was a criticism of the style they were used in. For example, the movie starts out as a documentary, then switches over into a more standard action movie filming, and Spoony said that it was jarring to switch from one to the other. He would have preferred it be all one or all the other.

Another criticism was that, although the movie is a flawless analogy of apartheid, somehow none of the characters realize that this is a flawless analogy of apartheid.

I loved District 9. I was kind of shocked that anybody, let alone somebody I really respect, would have any negative words to say about it. But as I sat there listening, I really checked my memory. And yeah, I do remember it being kind weird, a little jarring, switching from "footage" to just being regular movie shooting. And yeah, it is kind of weird that South Africans are somehow all cool with each other racially, yet also maintain extreme prejudice against a bunch of fairly harmless aliens.

I can't ignore these things, but I can still love District 9. I can still claim it's perfect (though that would require some more defending now). However, I can't say it's above or beyond criticism. It isn't. Nothing is.

I am still a die-hard fan of District 9, and that is precisely why I must both defend and insult it. It shows that I don't have fanboy blinders on. It shows that I am being as honest about what it is as I can be, and that I understand it may not be everybody's cup of tea, but that if you like the things it has to offer, you will love it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Defend And Insult

There are very few perfect creations out there. I do believe they exist, but they are few and far between. For everything else, it's in the middle. You'll have goods and bads, and you need to acknowledge both of them.

No matter how glowing of a review you can give, if you judge something fairly, you will be able to find flaws. They may not be enough to make you stop loving a story, but you can admit they exist.

No matter how scathing of a review you can give, you can find something positive about it. If you don't believe me, look only to my review of Deathbed: The Bed That Eats.

We have been trained by our culture to become not fans, but fanatics. If you like something, you love it with all your heart and defend it to the death. If you dislike something, it is flaming excrement spawned by the devil himself and has zero redeeming qualities. Along with this, if you compliment a story, and criticize it in the next breath, you are at risk for being called any number of derisive terms.

In reality, you should not trust any person who cannot both defend and insult something. If they are one-sided, they're either blind or scamming you. Either way, beware.

I've talked before about the doubting game and the believing game, and to some degree, this is an extension of that. In this post, I mostly am stressing that not only is it a good idea to find the positives and negatives in things, but if you are giving any kind of review, your motives should be suspect if you don't.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Make Success Special

Probably the best way to make a character boring, forgetable, or obnoxious, is to make them infallible. It's pretty much the defining characteristic of a Mary Sue (the worst possible thing a character can be).

Failure doesn't necessarily make a character better or more interesting, but it does force them to come up with backup plans, to think on their feet, to handle setbacks without giving up. And those are the qualities that make a character appealing.

Find the balance in your narratives. Don't make them fail just to fail. But don't make them succeed just because you can't think of an alternative.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Try Accurate Estimates

People are too quick to jump to extremes. Specifically, any time we have to give a large number, it's usually "a million". Run into your old friend and you say "I haven't seen you in a million years."

Yeah, I get it. You're expressing that it has been a long period of time, but it's so generic. It's bland. Try something different to spice your language up. In this case, you might be more interesting by being more accurate.

Try an experiment. Turn off your music. Turn off your TV. Turn off everything that produces sound or images. Just sit or stand and count off 20 seconds. Don't say them. Don't even think them. If you happen to have a clock with a second hand (which, terrifyingly, is becoming very uncommon), just keep tabs on it. sit around and look at nothing and periodically look to see how long it's been.

Try to understand how incredibly long 20 seconds of nothing feels like. It can be an eternity. Heck, even 5 seconds can be shockingly long.

If you are watching a TV show and nobody talks or moves for five seconds, you'll think it was a minute. If your radio is silent for 5 seconds, you'd start to wonder if your device was broken. It's hard to comprehend how unnerving dead air can be, but it's a real thing (and it is an atrocity so awful people can get fired for letting it happen).

If you told a joke so funny that people laughed for twenty seconds, people would be turning red. They would be struggling to breathe. It doesn't sound like a long time, but to be accurate with it, you can potentially make the audience far more impressed than a generic "long time" quantity.

I understand the problem here. I do. The problem is that you have to deal with how the audience interprets your words. 20 seconds sounds like a small period of time. And depending on what you're doing (like jogging or writing), it is a short time. But you can overcome this issue in a couple different ways.

For one thing, try writing a piece that exclusively uses accurate descriptions of time. They're weird. If you do it only once, people will shrug it off. But if you are always accurate with your time descriptions, you kind of force the audience to consider how long these times really are.

That is an ideal circumstance, having your audience pick up on something relatively subtle like that. The other thing you can do is have your characters react the way you want to accurate time descriptions. If Mikayla is telling her friends that she just held her breath for 40 seconds, it's by no means a world record, but her friends could be truly astounded that she was able to hold it "for so long." In this case, it's one step under directly bashing your audience over the head in getting them to understand what you want, but I bet you could find a way to justify it.

I tend to be a realist. No matter what genre I'm in, I want things to make sense. I can accept the ludicrous, so long as it makes sense within the rules of the world I'm in. To that end, I prefer accuracy as much as possible. I want to know what matters in a story, and I want to experience it as though I am those characters. The best way to create that is to accurately describe what is going on in every way.

People can be pretty accurate in describing movements and colors and especially feelings (both emotional and physical), but time is often overlooked. I'm not saying everybody should do it, nor do I believe that it will make writing inherently better, but if you haven't done it before, try using accurate estimates and see how you like it.

As a closing note, I want to mention that the title of the post is "Try Accurate Estimates". This ended up talking about time specifically, but it is a principle that can apply to basically anything where a quantity is estimated. Use it for distance traveled, amount of material sifted through, number of pages written, temperature, possible outcomes to a situation, and so on. Write something up and try it out on your reader. See what kind of reaction you get, and progress from there.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Remember What Wows You

People often talk about learning from good examples, or learning from bad examples. That's fine and dandy, but if you have no frame of reference, how do you know what's good or bad?

One option is to make note of the things that wow you. What I mean is anything that literally makes you say "wow" or at least makes you think it strongly. It could be "wow, that is badass" or "wow, that is moronic" or "wow, that is truly surprising" or anything else. The importance here is the wow.

If you keep track of those moments, then look into them and figure out what is causing that reaction, you will learn. If you don't know what's causing it, then do some comparisons. If you have two stories that contain romance that tragically ends when one of the characters dies, put them side-by-side. Why do you care about one couple, but not the other? Why is one death tragic to you and the other makes you relieved for the relationship to be over?

You may end up needing to figure out the wow components. That is, what are the small things that you notice that are intriguing or unusual to you? When you have enough of those components working together, you can get that big wow from them. If a story has a bunch of "are you kidding me?!" components, you will see the crap pile they create.

I think it is a good idea to try to keep "good" and "bad" out of your descriptions. So much is relative that if you think an example is one or the other, you may miss out on the bigger picture. You may find something that is a good example of a rational argument, bad a terrible example of humor. You may find a decent romance story mired by the setting of terrible science fiction. Or you may simply see somebody who is trying hard, but not quite hitting the mark. In tat case, you really have to separate what is working and what is not working. And that is where you will be happy to recognize the components that make up the whole.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Be With Inspiring People

Following on the idea of ways to motivate yourself, I have found lately that one of the best ways to keep myself working is talking with my creative friends.

Some of them are always working on one project or another, and are usually excited to discuss it. The more I hear people I know talking about their ideas, and seeing them actually bringing them to life, the more I feel compelled to keep up with them.

Good friends and fellow colleagues will always fill that need that will keep you progressing. Keep the good ones and don't let the bad ones keep you down.

Good Choices Beget Good Choices

The biggest problem I have is usually just starting. I'm willing to do just about any task other than the one I know I should be doing.

The one positive thing, though, is that when I finally do accomplish something, whether it be finishing a chapter or submitting a proposal, it makes me feel so good that I want to do all the other stuff I've been putting off.

Suddenly, I'm taking projects off the back burner and moving forward with them. Everything just feels better.

If you want to kick your own drive into gear, give yourself a small task. Have a project that involves like 3 paragraphs of writing. If you can knock that off your to do list, you may find that the other stuff may seem more appealing.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Look Deeper

So, I'm always talking about playing with tropes, and I try a little to explain how you can turn a classic idea on its head, but you can still end up falling into traps.

If you take a classic story and change the colors, you haven't done something new. If you have the classic knight saving the beautiful princess by slaying the dragon, but you make it an Amazon warrior saving the foppish prince, you end up with the exact same story. There may be a little novelty in your change, but nothing core.

If you switch the roles of the characters, you can come up with interesting mutations. In the current example, you can have an effeminate protagonist that ends up being browbeaten into saving a burly captor from a dragon, which would definitely be different enough to consider. You could alternatively have the fearsome dragon go forth to slay the bloodthirsty human to save the rest of the dragons, which is a bigger twist of roles, but has probably been done far more often.

In reality, the best way to make any of these story ideas more interesting is to look deeper. Look for the motivations beyond the obvious. Probe into the histories of your characters. Don't make the story one-sided. Especially when you have simpler story concepts, the more you switch around roles or details, the more they end up just being different colors on the same house.

Just about every story can be made more interesting by examining them more closely. There is always a limit, and the number one rule is always how well the story moves, but if things are too light, this is how you add valuable weight.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

It Only Feels Deep

Objectively, nothing we say is "deep". The power, the depth of words is based on how people hear them. It's how their brains process the information, how it relates to their lives, their experiences, their thoughts and beliefs.

On top of that, it also depends on what's going on with them at the moment they come by your words. If they're bored or otherwise distracted, it may not hit them. If they haven't had the train of thought that would make your words resonate with them, same deal.

Trying to sound deep is a losing path. There are too many variables, most of which are completely out of your control. The best option in this case would be to speak honestly to your audience, and hope that words of truth would be the deepest words a person could feel.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Keep Consistent Rules

The most frustrating thing I find in storytelling is inconsistency. Especially in serious work (as opposed to comedy), I don't care what rules you establish, but keep those rules consistent. If you tell me that people can jump 20 feet in the air with ease, then don't put something in a tree and have the character tell me that it's out of reach. Your character shouldn't even imagine something tree-height being out of reach.

The biggest issue I have is when people get thrown with great force. They always leave human-shaped holes in concrete or brick walls, which is completely ludicrous by real-world physics (that much force would turn a human into jelly). But even if we live in a world where the human body can actually withstand that kind of force, or maybe if bricks are just that weak, then any time a person every tries to commit suicide by jumping off a building, they should do nothing but leave a crater on the ground and remain in tact, even if sore (which would make a mind-blowing scene for a meta story).

People are willing to believe a lot of things. When you're the master, you say something is true and people will accept it. But when you say something is true, and then you personally break that rule, you will lose your audience and their trust.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

It Wasn't Relevant

I know more about my stories than you. I know my characters' lives, sometimes as far back as their birth. I know the feelings people had that they kept to themselves. I know the passions they never spoke of. I don't tell you everything because not everything is relevant.

Both of these are important concepts to consider. You really do need to know everything going on. If you don't, then your characters will be nothing more than hollow shells, acting only in a manner to further the plot (rather than furthering their own desires). But at the same time, you don't want to inundate the reader with useless information. Stories follow plots.

Keep in mind, also, that "it wasn't relevant" should never be used as an example. If your readers tell you that they want to know a piece of information, then it matters. If your readers are confused or misguided because there is information missing, then you are screwing up.

Find the balance between giving your readers enough to want more, and enough to satiate them, bu not enough to overload them. Then you will be sitting pretty.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Immoral vs. Amoral

I feel like people often do not understand the difference between being immoral and being amoral. In short, immoral people do things that they know are bad. Being amoral means not having the compass that tells you if something is good or bad.

The confusion comes from our society believing that any person who does not have an external force telling them to not do destructive things will instinctively do the worst possible things. In that case, immoral and amoral people would be doing the same things.

The reality, though, is that they are two different statuses. Amoral people are governed by a different set of rules. In a sense, they are only amoral relative to your beliefs. Immoral people, on the other hand, are explicitly breaking the rules, and they just don't care.

This is an example of a bigger concept, and it is the prefixes. Im-/in- means the opposite of the root word. A- means without the root word. It can be a very important distinction to make in your descriptions. Consider how different the words would be, what they would really mean, and the impact it would have. Then choose wisely.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Abstractions Of Abstractions Of Abstractions

I received a message from my friend today:
"Thought of the day: Acronyms are abstractions, of abstractions, of abstractions--and they can go to hell."

It was a good thought, because I had to sit there and really put some mental energy into thinking about what it said. (Sure, I could have just asked my friend to explain it, but then I wouldn't have been using my brain, and that would be a waste.)

We have three levels of abstraction here, with the highest level being acronyms. So what is an acronym an abstraction of? At its most basic, an acronym is a term made by using initial letters to shorten a phrase. For example, SCUBA is a word abstracted from the phrase Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus.

But what is a Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus? This phrase may mean little to most people. It is itself an abstraction. It is a convenient phrase, well-known and commonly spoken. And although the words are self-descriptive to some degree, they are not terribly explanatory. "Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus" is what we say rather than provide a full explanation of what the apparatus actually does.

Suppose, though, that we unraveled the abstractions from "SCUBA" to an entire descriptive essay. That essay is still an abstraction of the physical device. Words and images may represent what the device is and how it functions, but that essay will not help you breathe under water. Only the physical device can do that. And that is the final abstraction - trying to encapsulate tangible things in words.

Acronyms truly are amazing, being nested abstractions to such a degree. The only way it could possibly worse is when we say things like "PIN Number", where the subsequent word is actually contained within the acronym. But I will save that discussion for another day.

P.S. To my friend, if I totally botched this up and misunderstood you completely, my apologies.  Feel free to correct me.

Acting Uncharacteristically

Characters have characteristics. What we see them say and do demonstrates those characteristics. Some people are valiant heroes, championing a cause to make the world a better place. Some people are reluctant heroes, choosing to do good because fate pushes them into it. Some people are petty, self-centered bastards who either act in their own interest or not at all.

Whoever your characters may be, we understand the through their thoughts and actions, and as they consistently act in a certain way, we become closer with those characters.

Building that kind of rapport between a character and a reader allows you to test that character's strength. When situations become dire, characters may start acting uncharacteristically. This is not a failing of the storyteller. It is an explanation of how powerful the forces at work are. Any situation that can cause a hero to cower or a rogue to help others is one beyond anything they ever expected to face.

With dire situations, you also can turn it around a bit. When you present a situation that should make the hero cower, but he still stands tall in its face, it shows that the character is stronger than we could have imagined. It fills us with hope and confidence.

Of course, don't forget that the power of a character acting uncharacteristically only occurs when you have established their characteristics in the first place. If the audience doesn't know which way is up, then all they see is a crazy person who keeps switching modes.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

And vs. But

'And' and 'but' are two of the most common words in English. It's basically impossible to learn the language without learning these words, and people generally know how to use them, but there are some nuances that get missed.

First of all, these words are not opposites. They both are used to add extra information, but they tinge that information in different ways.

'But' is used for contrast. If your first statement is positive, the 'but' statement will be negative. If the first statement shows something being exclusive, the 'but' statement will show how it is inclusive. It's fairly simple.

The opposite of contrast is comparison. 'And' can be used to compare, but it doesn't have to. Sometimes, 'and' is used simply to add more information. For example, consider this sentence: "You're stupid and I love you." People may assume that the two things are related, like the love comes from the stupidity. But really, it is a statement of two independent thoughts.

The best thing to do if you ever feel like a sentence feels weird is to have somebody else read it and tell you what they think it means.  If they got it right, you're probably fine.  If they got it wrong, try again. Get the input to understand what it is they did think and what about your words made them think that. If you struggle over and over and just can't make 'and' or whatever other connector work, then drop it and split the thoughts into two sentences.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Know The Signs

The best part of having experiences in life is fondly reliving the good ones in my mind.The most useful part of having experiences is being aware of circumstances and feelings that led to them, which help me either repeat or avoid them.

I've worked at horrible jobs. I've had terrible friends. There is a certain impact that they have on my body and my mind. Some things in life suck, but other things suck out your soul. I have enough experience and insight to know when I don't want to get out of bed because I'm tired, because I'm ill, or because I'm filled with mortal dread by the thought of what will happen to me. Each of them are awful, but each one feels different.

These feelings are not always easy to describe with words. (Hint, hint, this is why your vocabulary matters.) Still, if you can focus on the specifics or at least explain the physical feelings with the thoughts that go through the mind (you don't want to get out of bed, but why?), you can portray that feeling accurately enough for the reader to respond to.

More often, though, people don't notice the signs. Some people just aren't that introspective; they lump all bad feelings as "bad", "very bad", or "shitty". Others may realize something is off, but they don't know what's causing it; they either don't have the experience or never mentally recorded the feelings from last time.

When working on your characters, what experiences do they have? How much have they learned and how sensitive are they to changes and situations? Do they realize when something is up? If so, do they have the wherewithal to do something to make things different from last time?

If you are the kind of writer that likes to write a lot of smaller works, ask the same kind of questions about your stories. Do you have a pattern you keep following? Can you sense when it is happening? If so, can you change that path to do something new? (Hint, hint, the answer is probably 'yes.')

Monday, September 10, 2012

Story As Essay

This week of writing flash fiction reminded me of a point I wanted to write about a long time ago. Sometimes, the best way to write an essay is to tell a story. An essay is an argument. It is the author making a point, which usually exists as a counter to an opposite belief.

The problem with essays is that the only voice in it is the one author. While this can be fine for exposition, it actually makes point-and-counterpoint less effective. To have the singular voice taking both sides of an argument, debating itself, and expending so many words to try to explain it and switch sides back and forth, it muddies the actual points trying to be made.

Instead, have a Socratic dialogue. Create a small group of characters. Give each one a name and a personality. Make them embody the kind of person who would take a particular side in an issue. Then, put them all in a room together and let them have at it.

The reader will always understand who is saying what, and which words support which argument, not only from context clues, but simply by knowing which character is talking. Nobody has to mention what people with a point opposite of their own might claim, because such a person is in the speaker's midst and will freely make that claim.

Stories can be brilliantly elegant in describing an argument, pursuing different avenues, and really analyzing arguments one at a time, until both sides can be in agreement or at an impasse (the latter being far more likely, these days).

Of course, stories can also muddy up an essay, too. For example, this one you're reading right now. If I were to make this be a story and have characters talking, it would either be a monologue, or it would waste a lot of words to just reach the point that I've made in these six short paragraphs. Know which method will tell your point best. And if you don't know, experiment until you find out.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Reflections On Shutting Up And Writing

This was a pretty interesting experience for me. As I said at the onset, I am a huge planner. The last time I did creative fiction on the fly, I was in college, and I was being forced to do it because of due dates. It was pretty fun and pretty exciting to be doing it again. (Though it speaks much that I only did it because I made it a public commitment that I felt I had to stick to.)

I was most pleased with it for two main reasons. The first is that it was so natural for me. I really thought that all of the non-fiction that I have read and written would have atrophied my creative muscles. But that didn't happen. I fell right into it and it came as naturally as it did on my best days at Cortland.

The second reason is that I ended up being more creative than I expected. On the first night, I wrote that story. The basic idea came to me earlier that day, but as always, at least 50% of it came to me as I wrote it (and that story may have been as high as 80%). Originally, I was expecting to write seven stand-alone stories about anything, anyone, anywhere. But as I wrote the first story, I thought that the stone would make for an interesting framing device. The stone would be a key element that linked all the stories. And of course, as the week progressed, it ended up not being so much the stone as the pond and the park that was the link. And on the final night, it occurred to me that wrapping up with the first characters we met and abstractly connecting all the stories through the single action of this one person was the perfect wrap-up.

If I were to list one more reason to be happy, it is the comment of my writing colleague. When I was three stories in, I told her that I was doing creative fiction and she went and read the stories I had up. Her very first comment was, "I want more of your flash fiction. I think you should do it for the whole month." That is a hell of a compliment for me, and I admit that I am tempted to make this a more regular thing.

Like all of my posts, these are first drafts. I write them and I publish them. Revising and editing would only happen if I planned to publish a collection of flash fiction. I recognize that this is not the best work ever, but I am happy of it. And I am happy I did it.

National Novel Writing Month may be the motivation some people use to put pen on paper, and that is totally fine. But if it's not your thing, that's fine. Try doing Personal Flash Fiction Writing Week. Or maybe even try Household Academic Essay Day.

In theory, I am currently in full steam on Kevin Bahler Cheff Salad Writing Life. I had somewhat of a late start, but I think it'll have a good end, whenever it may be.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Affecting Lives

Mark and Angie circled the pond, hand in hand. Angie felt something was off.

"What's up, Mark? You seem distant."

Mark stared into space for a few seconds, then released his held breath. "I love you, Angie. I'm so happy that your life and mine met up and I can be there for you."

Angie raised an eyebrow at Mark. "Where's the 'but'?"

"Nicely packed into your jeans," Mark replied with a smirk.

Angie gave him a playful shove and guffawed. "Come on. Seriously, what's on your mind?"

"I just feel like I haven't done enough. I feel like I need to have an influence on more people's lives. Like, if I was never born, I know your life would be changed. I know my parents' lives would be different. But, would the world care? Would the world even notice?"

Angie's heart melted for the second time during their walk that day. Such honesty and vulnerability showed that he really trusted her. It meant he wasn't lying. And that meant he loved her and was in it for the long haul. It wasn't like a scene from a movie, but it was the most romantic thing she ever heard.

"Aw, honey,"she said, stretching the aw out. "We can't possibly imagine the effects we have on the world around us. Why, I bet you have touched more lives just today than you ever would have guessed. You may not be aware of it. They may not even be aware of it. But I know that the world would be a different place if you weren't in it. And it would be a worse place because of it."

Angie kissed Mark warmly on the lips. If Mark had any doubts about Angie's response, they vanished with that kiss. The pressure of her lips, the tightness of the embrace, the duration of the kiss - they were neither too little nor too much. They were just right, much like her words.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Hawk And Fish

A hawk rested on a tree branch. It felt that it was time to refill its stomach, so it peered into the nearby pond, looking for motion. It spotted a lone fish near the surface.

The hawk leaped off the branch and flapped to gain speed. Keeping an eye on the fish, it dove toward the water.

As it approached the surface with its talons extended, a stone struck the surface of the water and continued to bounce away. The fish became startled and swam away, and the hawk grasped nothing.

Not to be deterred, the hawk raised into the air again and circled the pond. Its gaze never left the water; it scouted all around until it caught sight of the fish again. Eventually, the fish resurfaced and the hawk dove in. It caught the fish easily, now that there were no distractions.

The hawk took its meal back into the tree and picked it clean.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Odd Questions

"I hate that Mrs. Morrigan told us to do all the even questions, but the answers in the book are only for the odd questions." Katie threw the Frisbee to her friend.

"I think it's on purpose," Jenna said, catching the Frisbee and returning it.

"She's doing it on purpose, just to make our lives miserable." Katie caught the Frisbee and tossed it back, taking a wide arc.

Jenna hustled over to catch it. "No, I mean she's trying to prevent cheating." She floated it back.

"But she forces us to show our work! So having the answers wouldn't help us cheat. It would help us learn the process." Katie flung the Frisbee and it wobbled and bounced on the ground, rolling on its edge and hitting a tree.

Jenna ran over to pick it up. She shrugged her shoulders and said, "I still think she's trying to help us."

"And I still think she's a bitch!" Katie grabbed the Frisbee out of the air and chucked it at Jenna. The Frisbee missed by 10 yards and landed in the pond with a splash.

Jenna saw the Frisbee land and turned to Katie. She threw her hands up and told her, "Grow up!" Jenna picked up her backpack and walked out of the park.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Simple Fix

Donovan sat himself down under a tree and pulled out a handkerchief. He wiped some sweat from his head and set it on his lap. A cool breeze blew by and brought out a relaxing sigh. He lay down with earbuds in, shut his eyes, and listened to the music on his phone.

Before the first song ended, the music was cut off by an incoming call. Donovan answered without opening his eyes.

"Hey Em. - Yeah, I just went out to the park to clear my head. It was getting kind of stuffy inside. - That's a simple fix. Just unplug the laptop, take out the battery, and hold the power button for 30 seconds. Then put it all back together and it should be working fine. If it's still funky, I'll take a look when I get back."

The call ended and the music returned, along with another sigh. He loved Emily. She was so cute. It felt great being able to help her, though at some point, he hoped she would remember what he did to fix things and just take care of them herself if they went wrong again.

*Ding* New text message. Donovan pulls out his phone to read it.

From Sam: B/f  sit on the couch playing xbox all day, then calls me fat! sooooo angry!!!!!!

Donovan hit reply: Simple fix. Call him an asshole and walk out. Crash at my place until you find a new one.

He knew Sam wouldn't take him up on the offer. Sam never takes him up on the offer; never takes the advice, either.

As soon as Donovan put his phone away, he heard the email beep. It was from his boss at work.

Don, we need to print out mailing labels, but we don't have the time to copy and paste all the entries. Help. - Jean

 Simple fix. Just do a search for "mail merge" online and you'll find a guide. It'll take you no time. - Don

He knew that people aren't born with an instinct to consult the internet with any and all problems, but it's hardly a new invention. At some point, somebody in business would need to figure that much out, right? Hopefully they'll figure it out before he retires.

Donovan put his head down again and listened to his tunes for a while. All the ambient noise ran together and melted away. He felt a deep calmness as though from meditation. Then the ambient noise got louder. He opened his eyes and saw his friend Michael looking down at him.

"Oh man, Donny, I can't believe I ran into you here. So I was at work and my boss was bitching me out about something that wasn't even my fault, again, and so I finally just told him to go fuck himself, if he is going to be that retarded."

Donovan took out his earbuds and stood up, brushing the grass off his butt. "Simple..." he began to say, but he noticed Michael's face. He was smiling, ecstatic. He wasn't complaining or asking for advice. He got himself out of an abusive work environment all on his own

"Simply amazing," Donovan told him. "Congratulations dude. Let me take you out to a celebratory I-quit-my-shitty-job dinner. On me, of course."

Michael graciously accepted and continued on his jog. Donovan looked on with a smile, and felt a splash from the pond land on his cheek. He wiped it off with his handkerchief, put it away, and headed back home. He hoped that getting the laptop work actually was a simple fix.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Human Interaction

A woman sat at a park bench, pencil in hand, and sketch book on lap. She was drawing the pond, and wondering what would make make the picture special. As she stared at the scene, a stone skipped along the surface, ending with a good-sized splash, and she knew that would be it.

Nancy set out drawing the ripples and splashes over her pencil pond. As she did, her mind wandered, thinking about the stone. It probably fell to the bottom of the pond, raising the total water level an immeasurable height. It would probably never to be touched by human hands again. She was probably present for the last hurrah of that stone, and may have been the only person who really noticed it.

Then she wondered why she cared. The stone didn't care. Humans are just another animal. Why does it matter what a human's last interaction with that stone was? That stone is going to have plenty more interactions. Just because humans aren't involved in them doesn't make them less significant.

Nancy's hand stopped moving. Her line of thoughts had paralyzed her body. She felt so small. More insignificant than that stone. What was she doing? Who even cared? Why bother drawing the pond?

Nancy packed her things up and walked back to her apartment. She had no idea what made her start feeling so depressed, but she knew staying out there wouldn't help. Hopefully, a cup of tea, a shower, and a nap would bring her out of the funk. It usually did. With any luck, this would be the same.

Monday, September 3, 2012

A New Hobby

Alvin heard a splash and felt a few drops of water hit his legs. He looked over at the pond and saw the water rippling. On the other side, a couple held each other. All around him, the park was alive with activity. A woman sat at a bench with a sketch pad. Another woman was roller skating and walking her dog. Children ran around doing nothing. Some teenagers were playing Frisbee.

Taking it all in, Alvin thought about all the activities he used to do. He used to be into dancing. He used to be into cooking. He used to be into interior design. All the activities he used to be into were more than passing phases at the time.

Alvin went to dance classes three times a week. He practiced in his living room every day. He got his friend Veronica to try it out. He planned to be an instructor at the school eventually. But somehow, it just kind of got away from him. The first class he missed just because he was really tired that day was the beginning of the end. After missing that first class, missing subsequent ones just for being tired became easier and easier, until he just stopped showing up.

The other activities all had the same story. Intense passion. Lots of study. Bring friends in to share the fun. And eventually grow tired of it. Although he never realized the pattern, he could set his clock by it for all of his old hobbies.

The funny thing was that all the friends he brought in to join were still active. Veronica is a dance instructor. Alan still hosts dinner parties to share his new recipes. Ricky has a decorating blog. Somehow his friends never burned out.

Alvin wondered what the problem with him was. Why does everybody seem to find their purpose but he can't find a hobby that he can stick with? It's like his real purpose is getting other people to find their purpose.

"Maybe it is," he said to nobody.

Continuing his walk, he saw a group of people doing tai chi. He stood to watch them, entranced by the movements. It reminded him of his dance training, but it looked stronger. It was like every movement had a real purpose, they were always connected to the ground, but were always moving. It was a lovely sight. After the group had finished their set, the leader approached Alvin.

"Hi there. I noticed you watching the group. If you're interested, you're more than welcome to join us. We meet here daily around noon, but come whenever you feel."

Alvin shook the instructor's hand. "Thanks. I'll come try it out tomorrow."

They parted ways and Alvin wondered if tai chi would end up like all his other hobbies. The first question he pondered was who he would end up inviting to join him. The he felt a flash of insight.

"Nobody. And that's why it'll be different."

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Gizzard Stones

A young couple, taking an afternoon stroll through the town park, stopped to rest under a try by the pond. A small stone catches the young man's eye, and he picks it up to marvel at it. He feels the smooth texture between his fingers, flips the stone in the air, and catches it in his hand; he felt proud of his find. The young woman scoffed.

"What's so funny?"

The woman pointed to the stone. "That you're willing to handle that thing, Mark. It's a gizzard stone. Some bird swallowed it, used it to grind up bugs and worms, and when it was too smooth to use, puked it out. If you saw all that stuff happen, you would never touch that rock, but because you're ignorant to that fact, you don't care."

"You're right, Angie. The stone's probably been through all sorts of nasty stuff. But all I see is a stone that looks good and feels nice. And that's all that matters to me."

Mark skipped the stone across the pond. He took Angie's hand and continued the stroll. After a few steps, he whispered in Angie's ear, "That's why I never ask you about your exes."

Angie's heart melted and she gave Mark a full-bodied hug, and leaned her head on his shoulder for the rest  of their walk.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Shutting Up And Writing

Cheff Salad is my most primary writing outlet. My larger projects I tend to work on and leave and come back to later (which has both positive and negative results), but no matter what, I always get my daily post done.

Part of it is that this is my assignment. But part of it is that these posts are so short and I always have something to say, so it's no big deal to hammer one out in a sitting. Then I get to sit back and pat myself on the back because I have 1300+ completed entries. (They may not all be pristine quality, but they're all completed).

Thinking about this today, I realized that I have gotten so deep into long, complex stories, that I don't write any short or flash fiction anymore. And I loved doing that stuff. Partly for the same reasons I like my posts (I can knock them out in one sitting and be proud of having finished work). But also, I like that they really encapsulate the succinctness that my writing style emphasizes.

So starting the beginning of September, I am going to spend the first week writing short or flash fiction for my posts. I want to get back into doing some short creative fiction, but I also want to keep it in line with the spirit of Cheff Salad. Therefore, I will be writing these stories without prior aid. I will be writing what comes to mind, not recycling any previous stories I've done or planned.

Like all of my posts here, I do not guarantee the highest quality. These will all be first drafts, like all of my posts, so we will all find out how well I do at the same time. I look forward to the challenge and to see the results. After all of this talking about writing, I'm gonna take a break, shut up, and write.