Tuesday, December 31, 2013
Monday, December 30, 2013
Sunday, December 29, 2013
Saturday, December 28, 2013
Friday, December 27, 2013
Wednesday, December 25, 2013
Monday, December 23, 2013
On a similar note, people sometimes make the best decision they can, but their reason for doing it is completely wrong. For example, if a guy has a fight with his girlfriend, and decides to wait for her to come crawling back to him, then he made the right choice in leaving her alone until the situation cooled down, but it was for the entirely wrong reason of trying to win the fight.
If somebody is doing the right thing for the wrong reason, what do you do about it? Do you tell them that they're wrong? Doing so might convince them to stop doing the right thing. Do you let them continue on, being correct, but ignorant? It all comes down to that first question: what matters more?
Sunday, December 22, 2013
Whenever I hear descriptions like this, I always have the same thought: it sounds like they're describing Jesus.
I think that our culture has this messianic ideal deeply lodged into our unconscious minds. There is a "perfect person", and that person has all of these qualities.
I challenge you to explore the idea of a perfect person. What qualities do you think that person should have? How would they react in the kinds of situations you find people in?
The reality of Batman is kind of awful, though. This one man takes it upon his own to try to stop all the crimes in his city, and spends incomprehensible sums of money to do so, instead of spending those millions of dollars on programs that would actually prevent poverty and mitigate the factors that cause the crime in the first place.
Admittedly, Batman is a far more compelling story, having a masked vigilante solving riddles and beating up bad guys. It's great escapism. But if you really think about it, it is a situation where the idea is way cooler than the reality.
When creating your stories, try to analyze them through a similar lens. Do the characters' actions really make sense?
Saturday, December 21, 2013
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
If you believe, and I mean truly believe, that an item is lucky or otherwise magical, then it kind of is. Your mind looks at the world in a way that allows your belief to be true. When you have your good luck charm, everything seems to go your way; even "bad" events seem to have a silver lining. Therefore, your charm works; your life is better when you have it.
When somebody tells you that you're stupid for believing in luck, and especially when they tell you that your good luck charm is a powerless bauble, it is an attack not just on you, but on your entire reality.
The conflict between desecrating and fetishizing is the conflict of subjective truths. Cold, hard facts are pretty hard to argue with (not that it stops people from doing so frequently), but most of life deals with all that mushy gray stuff that is neither black nor white.
The entirety of human history is shaped by people having different beliefs. And the conflicts within our collective history (from as large as world wars to as small as two people passive-aggressively harrassing each other) arose from people who didn't fetishize the same things in the same ways.
The power of a fetish can be great enough to unite the most diverse of people across the world. Consequently, the more powerful a fetish is, the more powerful the outlash will be if that fetish is desecrated.
First of all, why did I choose the word "fetishizing"? The opposite of 'desecrate' is actually 'consecrate', so why didn't I use that? Partly, I like 'fetishizing' better. It catches more eyes, it's more secular, and it often makes people think about sex, so it let's me grab people's attention better.
A fetish is an item that a person believes has some sort of supernatural power. If you have a pair of lucky underpants, they don't actually do anything to increase your chances for good fortune, but you believe they do. That's what makes it a fetish. (Compare this to a sexual fetish, where people look at something average and yet find it incredibly sexually thrilling; it's basically the same thing, which is why they use the same word to describe it.)
To fetishize something is to believe that it has supernatural powers. (Contrast that with 'consecrate', which implies that the item actually does become sacred after a ritual.) People fetishize more things than they probably realize. Even the idea of 'sentimental value' is a kind of fetishizing; an object is special because it was given to you by a specific person or because you had it when an important event happened to you. And with that in mind, consider what happens when people desecrate those items by just mindlessly handling them or making fun of them.
Explore the ways that people fetishize the items, the people, and the activities of their lives. Also explore how people react when any of those things are taken off their pedestal.
Monday, December 16, 2013
You can learn a great deal about a person's interests and values by seeing what they consider desecration. If making fun of sports upsets somebody, then that person probably considers sports to be too important to deride.
Keep in mind that you can like something without consecrating it. For example, it is perfectly fine to love sports tremendously, but still be able to acknowledge how crazy it is to have multi-billion dollar industries based on groups of people throwing balls to one another.
The conflict between fetishizing and desecrating can be fertile ground to explore. What makes something sacred, and why does it so deeply upset us when other people don't see things the same way?
Sunday, December 15, 2013
Friday, December 13, 2013
Comedy is about pain. If you look at any joke, there is an understood pain that comes with it. The classic joke, "Take my wife...please" is funny because people understand the pain that is caused by the speaker's relationship. Basically all of Rodney Dangerfield's comedy is based on the pain of him having no respect. When somebody makes a joke about how Jay Leno is awful, the pain is having to actually listen to him tell jokes.
If people don't laugh at your comedy, it could be for a number of reasons. But if people specifically "don't get it", it usually means that they don't understand the pain in the joke. To use a previous example, if I make a joke like, "I would rather be waterboarded with cat pee than listen to Jay Leno try to do comedy", it isn't funny if you've never actually seen The Tonight Show. He's just some guy, it's just some name. If the audience doesn't share or at least understand the pain, then there is no comedy.
Go out and listen to jokes through this lens. Every time you see comedy, look for the pain. Sometimes it's really subtle. But when you can see the pain, you can see how comedy has a much deeper level than simply being about the unexpected.
Time jumps suck because they don't add anything. They have no context and aren't announced, so the audience is jarred and disoriented, which is compounded when the story immediately jumps backward in time. After it's all said and done, nothing happened. Nothing is changed, and there is no difference in the audience experience for having seen it.
This technique is the equivalent of reading the 15th page of a chapter and then going back to start it from the first page. At best, it is confusing and pointless. At worst, it ruins the surprise that comes from building up the story.
In fact, I actually read a book that literally did this for every chapter. It was some lousy piece of science/espionage pulp fiction, and every single chapter started with a scene from the middle of the chapter, then jumped back and plodded along. I eventually just stopped reading the first few pages. I wish I could remember the name, because it is quite possibly the worst book I've ever read.
Don't use time jumps. It is a storytelling technique that needs to die.
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Consider the first sentence in this post. When you read it, my goal is for you to say, "I don't know...why do we ask rhetorical questions?" Then you keep reading and find the answer. I have planted the question in your head to garner your interest and focus your thought.
People often say that "rhetorical questions aren't supposed to be answered." In fact, that's not quite true. A rhetorical question is supposed to be answered by the person who asked it. If I ask a question and I don't have an answer to it, it's not really a rhetorical question; it's just a regular question. It may be a pointed question or a relevant question, but if you aren't using it to frame your ideas, then it just doesn't count.
It's easy to tell people not to put questions in their essays. And maybe for the very beginning of writers (like elementary school) that's ok. But it is far more valuable to allow people to ask questions in their essays, so long as they actually understand how they are supposed to function.
When you put these related posts together, they end up forming one more-or-less cohesive essay. And in this format of daily posting, I enjoy writing an essay in many parts.
When I started thinking about it, I realized that you could even look at the entirety of Cheff Salad as an essay in many parts. The focus of this blog is writing, and the understanding of elements that make writing and storytelling more effective (often referring to human nature). In that sense, all of my posts create one megalithic essay (though they are admittedly largely out of order) on writing/storytelling/life/humanity.
Monday, December 9, 2013
Now that I and my writer friends are out of college and have jobs (some of us even have those coveted “real jobs”), I see how this phrase lives on. When people spend all day expending energy at their job, it can be difficult to muster the additional mental energy to then do writing. Similarly, if your day job is writing, it’s all too easy to tell yourself “I’ve written all day; I need to do something else.” And then you become a writer that doesn’t do any personal writing.
I know it’s easier said than done, but if you love writing, then make the time to write. If you lack energy at the end of the day, then try writing in the morning before work. If you’re a night writer, then jolt yourself with some caffeine to give you that buzz to push on. And if you really think you’re burned out from writing all day, then try writing one creative sentence and just see if it is fun enough to want to write a second one.
Professional writers should also be able to do personal writing. Don’t let the cobbler’s children have no shoes. (Or in this case, don’t let the writer’s children be illiterate.)
Consider the store Best Buy. The name is perfect. (The store sucks, but the name is perfect.) “Best buy” is a very common phrase. When you are comparing items while shopping, one of them is the best buy. However, unless you are comparing items, and speaking to somebody while you do it, you will probably not say the phrase. Because of that, every time the saying does come up, it makes you think of the store.
Now think about the television show King of the Hill. Another perfect name. A well-known, common phrase, one that I do use, but again, I use it very rarely. However, it is almost impossible to use the phrase ‘king of the hill’ without everybody thinking of the TV show.
The perfect name gets stuck in people’s heads. It becomes part of the common parlance, but never gets too invasive. If you tried to name a song “Good Morning”, people wouldn’t think of your song; they would just reflexively use the phrase. But if you named a song “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, it’s a lot more likely to get people to sing along.
Sunday, December 8, 2013
Saturday, December 7, 2013
What's easy to forget, though, is how misleading percentages can be. If I went to Yankee Stadium and told the crowd that ten percent of them wouldn't make it home tonight, people would be reasonably confident that they would be in the 90 percent that would be fine. If I went there and said that 5,000 people weren't going to make it home, that would cause a lot more panic. Five thousand is so many people that it seems a lot more likely that you would be picked. But in reality, it's the exact same situation.
Percentages can make big numbers look small. They can also make small numbers look really big. If you go from having two dollars to have four dollars, you just increased your money by 100%. Better yet, you now have 200% of what you started with. Those are mighty large percentages, but they represent a measly quantity.
Being accurate isn't always enough when it come to numbers (much like with words). You need to find the method that not only conveys correct information, but also expresses the intended understanding of what those numbers mean.
I mentioned in my previous post that the hardest part of falling out of love is releasing the desire to be with the other, and that even hatred maintains the obsession and desire for the other. However, hatred can also be used as a tool to overcome that very obsession.
Where love is a mindset that finds every endearing aspect of a person, hate focuses on every revolting aspect. If you makes a conscious effort to focus on all the parts of a person that are repugnant and frustrating, then the mind over time forgets the good parts and only remembers the bad. From that stage, it takes one more mental leap to say that it is better to ignore or forget a person than continue to waste energy on hating them. And after that belief has been internalized, you have successfully induced falling out of love.
I find the phenomenon amazing because of how frail it shows the human mind to be. We are so malleable, so open to the power of suggestion that we can even manipulate our own minds. This also shows the mechanical aspects of the human mind. That is, despite every person and every relationship being unique, certain patterns hold true for the majority of us. Although the exact words used may vary from person to person, it's like the same code works on all of us.
Friday, December 6, 2013
Thursday, December 5, 2013
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Monday, December 2, 2013
Thursday, November 28, 2013
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
When I pondered on it, the root word was "guy". I happen to know that the word guy comes from Guy Fawkes, a character from history who is often mocked and burned in effigy (which is why a generic, faceless dude is a "guy"). So clearly, as a verb, it makes sense that guying someone is mocking them. Still though, why had I never heard it before?
Simply put? Probably because I'm American. Guy Fawkes means absolutely nothing to the average American. He had no part in our history in any direct manner. We don't know what Guy Fawkes Day is, nor do we know when it is or why it matters (unless you are a particular fan of V for Vendetta). As such, this somewhat colloquial term never entered our language.
It is a remarkable thing how people who speak the same language can end up really speaking quite different languages, just by growing up in different locations. The differences in vocabulary and speech patterns, though, are an excellent way to identify and add specialness to your characters. It's not always easy, but it is a powerful tool when writing.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
“Evil is the use of force to get what you want. The second you decide that coercion is ok, that’s evil.”
This struck me when I heard it. To make people do what something they do not want to do in order to get something you want sounds resoundingly evil. Amongst humanity, collective well-being seems to always be the most virtuous and noble principle. Anything that is selfish, by which I mean harming the collective well-being for personal gain, is almost invariably evil.
One could argue that "the use of force to get what you want" is the same thing as "might makes right", and that it is a perfectly valid morality. However, one could also argue against it, saying that the only people who believe such things are those who benefit from it.
But the point here is that the arguments could be made on both sides. And this is precisely why they should be explored.
Sunday, November 24, 2013
Saturday, November 23, 2013
Thursday, November 21, 2013
‘Can’ and ‘May’ are often used interchangeably, but they do have different flavors of meaning worth recognizing.
Generally speaking, ‘can’ means having the ability to do something, and ‘may’ means having the permission to do something. “You can drive this car” means that you are able to operate the vehicle. “You may drive this car” means that you have the blessing to do so.
However, what makes this whole thing a massive clusterfuck is that each of the words individually have multiple meanings.
‘Can’ often is used to mean having permission. Any normal person who says “You can drive my car” is clearly granting permission; it is a universally understood speech pattern, which makes it grammatically correct. Similarly, any normal person who asks, “Can I borrow your car” is clearly asking for permission; the only people who say “I don’t know, can you” are assholes.
‘May’ becomes more problematic because its secondary meaning is that an action is uncertain. “I may drive my car” means that there is a chance that I will drive my car, but there is also a chance that I won’t.
What is most amazing here is that we as English speakers pretty much always understand which meaning of which word is intended solely by the context in which it is said. However, some situations do allow for ambiguity, and some people thrive on using ambiguity or dual meanings to screw with others, so these words can be problematic in use.
Again, although people know how to use these words latently, it is valuable to know the differences and understand the subtle implications of using one word versus another.
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Saturday, November 16, 2013
Friday, November 15, 2013
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Monday, November 11, 2013
Sunday, November 10, 2013
Saturday, November 9, 2013
Friday, November 8, 2013
Thursday, November 7, 2013
Wednesday, November 6, 2013
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
People love stories about a character with an indomitable spirit. Such examples are the little girl who never stops believing that everybody has goodness inside, the young man who faces all obstacles in order to achieve his goals, the brother who looks over his sister regardless of the personal cost, and the wife who holds together her family while waiting for her husband to return from his voyages.
Like most story tropes, though, people like this because it is uncommon in reality. The idea of the indomitable spirit flies in the face of the human condition. What people are the most skilled at is adapting. No matter how fantastic or how repugnant a person’s situation is, it will quickly become normal to them. It is the greatest survival mechanism we have – what doesn’t kill us becomes our norm.
And yet, we love stories where people don’t adapt. We are amazed by characters who never let bad situations bring them down. We are encouraged when characters filled with hope refuse to let themselves get deflated, and we are vindicated when those characters see the things they hoped for become real.
Stories often do not show us how life really is, but show us how we wish life was. Struggle and stress still exist, but we handle them well. And people who stay strong long enough are rewarded. It is a lovely ideal, no matter how rare it is, and one that may be worth perpetuating, no matter how unlikely it is. After all, maybe some day it will become a reality.
Monday, November 4, 2013
Sunday, November 3, 2013
Thursday, October 31, 2013
As an individual, we are intimately familiar with ourselves. We hear all of our thoughts and know all of our secrets. But more importantly, we cannot hear anybody else. We are deaf to the rest of humanity, which makes us feel separate and isolated from the universe.
The universe, though, is quite literally everything. Every atom is part of the universe, as are all the things that make up atoms, and all the things that atoms make up. I am as much a part of the universe as a squirrel or a flower or a comet (and so are you). In this context, we are quite literally the universe experiencing itself.
Even in a more simplistic sense, people have a habit of considering themselves separate from the world around them. They work for a company, but they are not part of the dynamic system that is the company. They live in a city, but the city exists whether or not they live there.
Oddly enough, despite how hardwired people are to create communities, humans seem to struggle to see themselves as a crucial component to the make-up of the communities they live in.
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Monday, October 28, 2013
Sunday, October 27, 2013
Friday, October 25, 2013
Thursday, October 24, 2013
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
A frustration I tend to have is when I want to name a character, I simply want a name that sounds good, and yet, it seems that everybody demands that every character have a kind of symbolism to their name, that it identify who the character is. And I admit, it is weird to think of a badass action hero named Enid or Eugine, but, much the same way that we define ourselves by the name that somebody else chose for us, if you make a badass character who happens to be named Enid, she will still be thought of as a badass because of what she does, not what her name is.
I think what matters more than anything else is that the names you choose be pronounceable, and that they fit the setting your story is in. Beyond that, focus on who your character is more than what they're called. Eventually, it will be just right.
Now, let's start from the beginning. When do you use the article "a" and when do you use "an". If you're in elementary school, you were probably taught that "a" goes in front of words that start with consonants, and "an" goes in front of words that start with vowels. Now, this is almost true, but not entirely. However, I want to take a moment to point out the glaring problem that "H" is a consonant, which already makes the phrase "an historic" wrong at the elementary level.
The correct answer to "a" vs. "an" is that it doesn't matter what letter a word starts with: it matters what sound a word starts with. Most words that start with vowels have vowel sounds. "Apple" starts with "aaaa", which is why we say "an apple". And most words that start with consonants have consonant sounds, which is why we say "a flower".
Consider the letter F for a moment. The letter F is a consonant, but when you pronounce the letter, it starts with a vowel sound. That's why we would say a sentence like "I have an F." It's because, vocally, the letter is pronounced like 'eff'.
So to return to the original phrase, why do people say "an historic"? The reason is that the phrase originated in Britain. And, in Britain, the letter H is not pronounced when it begins a word. In fact, that is the reason that "herb" is pronounced like 'urb', and is why we say the phrase "an herb" (because the word starts with a vowel sound). However, most people do not speak with such accents when saying "historic". And if the word starts with a consonant sound, the proper article to use is "a".
This might be one of those minor grammar rules out there, but I felt the need to bring it up because it is one of those obscure artifacts that keeps rearing its head just enough to be worth explaining. It is also valuable because it can really open your eyes to think of words not in terms of the letter we use to spell them, but the kinds of sounds we use. And I think it is really trippy to have consonants that begin with vowel sounds when pronouncing its name, but that they don't have that vowel sound if the letter is part of a word.
Monday, October 21, 2013
We judge people by whatever we have from them. We often judge people based on their clothes and physical appearance. When we hear their voice, we judge them on it, as well as the words they say. We judge people based on their careers, even when we have no idea what their job actually entails, or how good they are on it.
And don't think that all judgements are bad. Somebody who looks attractive is judged to be positive or good. Somebody who works at a law firm is respected, whereas somebody working at a grocery store is looked down upon.
What is interesting about authors is that we are often judged as people by our text. If you are using your words to entertain, it could be great. Same thing if you are trying to change the world. But the funny thing is that some people can be amazing writers, but terrible human beings. The example people love to use is Orson Scott Card, who is lauded for writing Ender's Game, among many other works, and yet is vehemently against gay rights.
The funny thing, though, is that our opinions of people do change, and it is often when we find new information that shatters the assumptions we had of them. An author that makes you laugh, we assume, is the kind of person that is always happy and fun. But when you find out that they have violent anger problems, then we assume the author is basically always unhappy, but somehow uses the fun writing either as an escape, or as a lie. But if you actually meet the author and have a great time with a level-headed person, then we change our mind again and assume that the author is generally happy, with occasional bouts of anger.
No matter how deep we dig, no matter how much we uncover, we always judge based on assumptions. It is as true for authors as for our characters. And with regard to our characters, keep this in mind when you present them to people.
A good twist can be made by presenting a character in a certain light, and then exposing the reader to the bigger picture. A simple presentation creates assumptions of them, and when you find out that the character is more complex, it is a real shock. The reason that this is such a marvelous technique is that you never betray your character, so you create a legitimate surprise without any backlash.