Saturday, June 29, 2013

Learning On Your Own

Sometimes I think that I learned all the big lessons on my own. I learned how to see patterns and to pick up what people say and how to at with words and tell good jokes and all that jazz. 

Except that I didn't. 

I may have been alone when certain realizations sank in, but I didn't magically think them up. Other people planted seeds in my mind. Conversations and experience were the water and sunshine. And by the time the idea blossomed in my head, it didn't matter that I was thinking about it on my own at the time. 

I have truly learned little to nothing on my own. Sure, my energy was in the equation, but it wasn't 100%. 

With all that said, I do recommend "learning on your own." Seek knowledge. Seek understanding. Seek tools. Such motivation is more valuable than any one thing you may achieve. And do seek people who can help you. They will give you more than your mind might ever come up with on its own. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Attitude Isn't Everything

As lovely as a positive attitude can be, it is not a magic spell. Some things are truly terrible. 

Where a positive attitude may be like a mental shield, keeping bad vibes out, being placed in a constant, unendingly miserable environment, this shield will eventually crack. 

That said, a negative attitude is also like a barrier, keeping positivity out. And quite similarly, an overwhelmingly positive environment can crack a bad mood. 

Attitude matters. It matters a lot. But attitude isn't everything.

Attitude Matters

The attitude with which you approach a situation determines how you will treat and react to it. When you are excited about starting a new project, ideas and energy will pour out; you'll hardly be able to keep with it. But when you have a negative outlook, then you get writer's block and procrastination and all that other nastiness we hear about.

Now, I recognize that we can't magically change our outlooks. People who are unhappy or unenthused are that way with good reason. But I also recognize that our outlooks can be changed, and that certain experiences can do just that.

Try doing new things when your attitude sucks. Look around, go to new places (even ones in your own back yard), have new conversations with new people. You never know which thing might be the catalyst that changes your outlook, but keep trying and one will be the charm.

Attitude matters. You will always be happier, healthier, and more productive with a positive attitude. So make sure you have one; otherwise, regaining it should be top priority.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Doing To Do Lists

I realized recently that my to do lists are not the same depending on their medium. My lists on paper work one way and my lists in my computer are another.

When I make a list on paper, every time I complete a task, I cross it out. When a new task comes up, I write it down. This doesn't seem too shocking because that's how everybody thinks a list looks like. And on paper, that's pretty much it.

When I make a to do list on my computer, I write down the task as usual, but when I complete it, I delete it. This is a huge change (at least, to me). With a cross-out list, it keeps getting bigger. With a deletion list, it keeps getting smaller.

This is so big to me because when you have a paper list, it looks like you are quite accomplished to see all that you've done, whereas a digital list loses that record. Also, when I work at a digital list, I keep doing things that I haven't written down, but still need to do, so I can be productive all day, but my list hasn't changed size. On a paper list, I would add those items just to cross them out, but here they are already pre-deleted (by having never been written).

I don't really think one list is better than the other. I tend to just do whichever is more convenient at the time. But with experience in both ways, I do recognize that they are not the same, and I should investigate whether one or the other is better depending on a given situation. You should, too.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Those Who Bloom Later Bloom More Gloriously

Being talented is awesome. It allows you to pick up a particular subject or activity with great ease. (In this case, let's say it's about writing.) This, in turn, gives you a tremendous leg up on everyone else who wants to be a writer. Anyone who cares about writing wishes they had talent.

But talent is also its own curse. Talent means that your only experience with writing is that it's easy. When you eventually come to a wall, and it's actually hard, you panic. Why isn't it working right? How come I'm not awesome anymore? It's because you only had people with no ability to compare to. Eventually, those who put in the time and keep trying learn all the skills and abilities your talent naturally gave you.

Talented people generally burn out. Child prodigies tend to become adult nobodies. But those without talent but much determination reach great heights. It is because they had no talent, because they had to learn every single aspect with no innate bonuses that they so thoroughly understand the subject. They had to drill and practice and memorize all those things that you know how to use but don't really know how to explain (which means you have a limited ability to use it well).

Without talent, it takes so much longer to achieve what prodigies achieve so quickly. But do not worry too much about it. What matters more is not how quickly you sprout, but how well you bloom. And those who bloom later bloom more gloriously.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Write To One Person

All writing has an intended audience. Sometimes it is just you. Other times it might be 100,000 people. It could even be 100,000,000 people. When your intended audience is anyone other than you, you usually have to make some concessions. You have to shape your writing to appeal to that demographic. But how do you write to appease so many people?

Try writing to one person. Go seek out a target audience member and learn about him or her. What intrigues them? What satiates them? What makes them want to pick up a story at all? And What makes them want to keep turning the page.

Write to that one person. Make a story that makes that one person excited. It seems counterintuitive, but people are quite similar overall, so making a story that one person in your intended audience will love means that many people in your intended audience will also love it. (You may also score many readers outside the intended audience.)

Sunday, June 23, 2013

On Milestones

This is post #1600. I consider this an excellent milestone and I am quite happy to have achieved it. As usual, it makes me think about milestones in general.

The last time I made a post about a milestone was two years ago on my thousandth post. But I think about how amazing it is every time I reach a new hundred. The crazy thing is that I reach that milestone three times a year. Because I post every day, it adds up very quickly.

That thought makes me wonder what we should consider milestones. Since I post every day, should a new hundred be a milestone? In the grand scheme, maybe not. It's somewhat arbitrary, and the sixteenth hundred seems somehow less exciting than the original hundred. And yet, I am just as proud to have reached this achievement, maybe more.

The 1600th post may not be a major number, but it is the strongest evidence that I remain committed to my daily posting and that I am just as happy and proud to be doing it now as I was in the beginning. Milestone or not, this is true.

Milestones need not always be a way to record new achievements. Sometimes they are simply points to look back and think about where we started and where we want to go. The waiting between milestones gives us time to have more thoughts and experiences, and gives our minds time to grow and change. That's what makes milestones so great to take a break and look back on. They are the checkpoints on our journey.

Things That Exist Can Be Explained

Everything has an origin. Nothing magically appears or occurs without reason. As the author, you need to be able to explain the things that happen in your stories. They need to be plausible and realistic.

This gives you a stronger connection with your audience. They trust you when they know everything has a reason. Without that trust, they cannot invest in what you have to say, and your credibility is everything.

When authors have actions that make no sense, or characters who start acting noticeably wrong, that is a deus ex machina. It's a cheap plot device to save a story when you set stuck in an inescapable situation.

Things that exist can be explained. This includes people, clothing, drinks, music, and almost anything you'd say. Know enough to be able to explain them, and use that knowledge to inspire you to come up with more interesting stories use these explanations and don't pull out deus ex machinas on  your audience.

Friday, June 21, 2013


I periodically encounter exquisitely lovely thoughts. They can originate in my mind, come out through conversations, or simply exist in you-had-to-be-there experiences. The only sad part is that these thoughts and experiences erode over time, and some can erode into a hazy recollection all too quickly. 

I have come up with a name to call these precious gems that vanish over time: they are ephemeralds. 

As writers, we are somewhat trying to preserve ephemeralds. Recording out thoughts, whether by pen or by keyboard, we keep these gems as long as we possibly can, so that all the world might see and appreciate them. 

Keep those ephemeralds. You could be the only one that ever knows about it, but even then, you can appreciate it so much longer than you otherwise would have. And that makes it worth it. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Is It Worth The Energy

Sometimes you need to approach writing rationally. You have to determine how much energy, both mental and physical, a project is worth. Like, suppose you have a story concept, but you don't really have any concrete details as to actual events and scenes. You may not want to put too much energy into this project, especially when you have other projects much closer to completion.

Another example is when you are stuck on a story and don't know how to proceed. Is it worth the energy to hammer away at it? Some people might say yes. I usually say no. It's more productive to move to another project that I'm not stuck on, or get some chores done, or have a good conversation. Anything is a better use than banging my head against a metaphorical wall.

Truly, though, each person is unique. Some think that you should hammer away st something until you nail it. Other people say that you should work on the easy parts and wait until the harder parts get easier. Whatever resonates with you is the one you should try out. (Still respect the other choices, though, and learn about the other possible methods out there.)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Panic Turns Into Action

In a conversation today, the line was said, "Panic turns into action." This was an amazing thing to hear. Panic always turns people into stone. We don't know what to do, which choice is wrong, and we become paralyzed by our options and our ignorance.

But this line added a new concept to this issue. How do you turn panic into action? Why would your mind do that and what exactly does it do? Well, when you know that something has to be done, then any choice is better than no choice. And really, it is an assumption that only one choice is wrong. Sometimes it's not the choice you make, but its execution that makes it good or bad.

Panic is a massive energy shot. It's adrenaline and blood rush and oxygenation. It shouldn't paralyze you; it should motivate you. Actually, it makes more sense to turn panic into action than to use it as inaction.

How might your characters turn panic into action? How do they explain or understand it? How do they deal with the consequences that result?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Want vs. Need

It's interesting that we use the words "want" and "need" interchangeably. They can barely even be compared.

To need something is to require it. Without the thing you need, some catastrophic will happen. Maybe a plan will collapse. Maybe you will die. You need water to live (and to power your hydroelectric power plant).

To want something is to desire it. It has nothing to do with necessity; it is simply a craving within the mind. You may want to visit the moon, but not going won't kill you (and potentially, quite the opposite).

Generally, when people say they need something, they really just want it. We say "need" but really it is a very strong desire, and no more.

Wants versus needs makes a good subject to explore. Which do people put more energy into? Which makes them happier to acquire? How do they go about acquiring each one?

And as always, remember to do your research.  Listen to your own thoughts, but also listen to others'.

Monday, June 17, 2013

They Don't All Have To Be Winners

I am currently in an unpleasant dry spell in this blog. I can't seem to come up with new ideas and nothing on my idea list is particularly attractive. I have sought out inspiration, but it isn't always available. 

Despite this, I will not give up. I have had dry spells in the past and I know more will some day come. I must work through them until great ideas once again return. 

What I must remember during these times is that it will eventually end, and that just because these posts may not be my best work, they still deserve to be made. 

They don't all have to be winners. I know I'd like them to be, but it's not gonna happen. I do the best I can with what I have. When I'm in a dry spell, I hope it's enough to get by, and when things are normal, I live it up. 

No matter what, keep trying. Understand that not everything is a keeper, but being a writer is just as much about maintaining the regular practice as it is about creating great works. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

On Inspiration

When I have the writer's block, or otherwise am tapped out, I ask somebody to inspire me. It's awesome because it consistently works. But the question is: how does it work?

The danger in soliciting ideas that they aren't yours. Now, granted, nothing is truly original, since we are raised by our culture, but we have a good understanding about ideas being internal or external in origin. So, when somebody gives me an idea to work with I desperately do not want to steal their ideas.

With me, I'm seeking a catalyst. I don't want somebody to give me a story to write. I want them to give me a concept to think about. It sparks my own mind to come up with the concrete details.

That is what inspiration is to me. It's an outside presence that triggers your mind to create. It is not external ideas that you simply take and call your own. And let this determine how you ask others to inspire you. 

Saturday, June 15, 2013


What makes redemption interesting to me is that it involves losers. You cannot be redeemed until you've already lost. A categorical winner cannot be redeemed.

What can people lose? Damn near anything can be lost. Try to be bold and come up with creative, nonstandard things to have lost. 

How can be people be redeemed? There are many classic methods to do it, like trying again and winning or letting go and accepting the past. But try something unusual. Seek a new redemption. 

Stretch your brain and see what it comes up with. It could be totally worth it. And even such losses would allow you be redeemed, which would be meta awesome. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Value Lies In Context

Words are meaning's vessels. Simply put, a word is useless without knowing what it means. When words move us, be it narration or dialogue, it is because we understand their context. 

"We did our best" doesn't move people unless they know why it was said. Was it somebody who is ashamed to have lost? Was it somebody explaining why they won? Was it somebody neutrally explaining what happened? We cannot know how to react without the emotional context. The words hold no value on their own. 

As a man who loves words, this is a strange thing to accept. What I have devoted so much time and energy in is relatively empty. It's like discovering you spent your money on tea cups but thinking it was on tea. 

But once you do accept it, it's no big deal. Value lies in context. You can tell a great storyteller not because they choose excellent words, but because they create such striking and incredible words and scenarios that even the simplest words and shake a person to their core. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Drawing Strength

Humans, as far as animals go, are pretty weak and have little to show. We don't have claws or very strong jaws. We don't have a shell to protect us well. All we have is our brain and it's an absolute train...wreck.

Poetry aside, the human brain is an incredible device. It has allowed our ancestors to overcome all obstacles and rise to dominance. Our brain tells us when to attack and when to run. It remembers wins and losses and learns how to avoid more losses.

The brain, however, is also our own nemesis. The brain locks up our potential behind mental walls. The brain brings about terror and doubt. The brain is a dick.

People commonly draw strength to overcome the brain's dickery. This strength might be prayer, or it might be rubbing a cherished object, or it might be drugs or alcohol, or it might be sharing the burden with another person. Whatever the means, people draw strength to break down mental walls and do battle against terror.

Explore these ways to draw strength. How do they change the person? What would happen were they to try another means? What would they be like without their source to draw strength? What do people with opposing means (personal perseverance vs. sharing the burden) think about each other? What might cause a person to change the way they change their method to draw strength?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Valued vs. Valuable

Value is a strange concept. In one sense, it is universal, since everybody knows that certain objects have it. But in another sense, it is a tricky concept because not everybody agrees on how much value a given object has.

To say that an object is valuable generally means that it has a general worth. A valuable object can be traded around. To say that an object is valued is to say that, to you, it has tremendous meaning.

In short, diamonds are valuable, no matter how much you do or don't care about you. Your grandmother's dingy, chipped diamond ring is valued because it belonged to your grandmother. (It could be a plastic diamond and it would still be valued.)

Experiment with these concepts. What happens when a valuable object isn't valued? What happens when a valued object isn't valuable? What happens when people think completely unrelated things are valued (or valuable)?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Their Story Is Not Your Story

I was talking about the band Muse and how truly amazing they are to me. The person I was talking with was also sharing her stories about how much their music helped her get through dark times. At one point, I lamented that almost nobody I knew cared much about the band. Many didn't know their name, and others were very passive about their interest in them.

The woman I was talking with said "their story is not your story." As soon as she said it, it made total sense to me. Muse's sound spoke to me. Their words spoke to me. It is because I had the experiences I did that their music struck me the way it did. Had I taken an alternate path, Muse may have been only ok to me too. I may never have had the interest to delve into their music and see all that was there.

This is true with all art in every medium. Any given painting may speak to you or not. Any given book might be exactly what you needed at that time. More importantly, it may not be what you needed at a previous or later point in time. Meaning is tricky like that. Time, emotion, and experience all are in the equation.

Don't be disheartened when somebody says something you love doesn't move them (especially when it's your story). Just understand that their story may not be your story, and your story may not be their story. And that is totally ok.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Success Involves Luck

Every time I hear a celebrity in any subject tell their rise to notoriety, it always involves some miraculously lucky event. Being born in privilege or knowing somebody in the business or whatever it ends up being, something random and lucky makes things work just right.

This is not an excuse to be lazy. Almost everybody with any value put their hearts and souls into their work. They are always striving to do better. Yes, they did get a "lucky break", but they also paid their dues.

When people are starting out in an endeavor, they want to know the right way to do it. What is the magical path that leads to guaranteed success? Well, there isn't one.  It's all random, and success involves luck. There's no way around it. But you can't do well without trying and exerting effort, so do it already.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Quotes Within Quotes

I don't like it when my characters quote other characters. More accurately, I don't like putting quotes within quotes. It's not that I don't know how to do it, nor do I necessarily have an issue with characters directly quoting other characters. Mostly, I just don't like doing it as a writer. It's disorienting keeping track. When you don't remember who said what, they story grinds to a halt.

One thing to keep in mind, though, is that I may not like doing it, but I do recognize when it's necessary. Sometimes a character needs to give an exact quote. It may be the only way that the other characters can know what's going on. It may hold vital clues to solving a predicament. It also may be a literary technique to have a quote carry through several events in your story.

The major thing here is that, when you do have quotes within quotes, keep it simple and easily understood. Too many pronouns or switching person or tense makes the whole thing a jumble. No matter what you are trying to do, when you leave your audience scratching their heads, you did it wrong.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Personal Challenges

I'm not allowed to use one letter. It is currently banned. This restriction started yesterday, and it's somewhat obnoxious. However, I plan to keep it up. It's interesting to me. 

By only using 25 letters, I must try new avenues to express my thoughts. New words and phrases and sentence structure. New melodies and rhythms are now necessary to avoid the letter that must not be spoken. It isn't easy, but somehow, it is rewarding (it is also rewording).

Personal challenges such as these may not allow you to write a great novel, but they do give you some mental exercise. They keep you thinking, which keeps you sharp. They expand your ability to communicate. You may discover that you know way more ways to say what you were thinking simply by not allowing the easiest path to be taken. 

Set up your own personal challenges and see what you can discover. It may also serve as a way to break through some writer's block. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

Normalcy Is Not Morality

I want to return to normalcy tonight. There is a strong bias that things that are "normal" are also good, or at least they are acceptable. This bias is, obviously, total bunk. Normalcy is not morality. Even looking backward in time, we see so many atrocities which were then considered normal.

In actuality, normalized atrocities are a distinct horror. They are vile, reprehensible acts, and the people have no emotion toward it. Their acts aren't releasing hatred or bile. They aren't sadness outbursts or anything like that. They are simply concrete truths. And nothing is more horrendous than a person committing despicable acts with no emotion involved whatsoever.

Be sure to understand the two. Normalcy is what we consider standard and usual. Morality is what is right and wrong. A given act exists simultaneously on the normalcy spectrum and the morality spectrum. Because they are not equivalent, this provides many interesting potential combinations. Make a 9-section grid and check out the possibilities between extremes and neutralities within it.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Traveling At The Speed Of Plot

One of the things that often bugs science fiction fans is that spaceships don't seem to have actual speed limits. Fictional vessels of all kinds are often mapped out to extreme detail, yet somehow their maximum velocity is immeasurable. The problem is that there is often great inconsistency within the story how fast the ship can move.

Many writers will say that their vehicles travel at the speed of plot. If the story demands they show up 5 minutes early, 5 minutes late, or 5 hours late, that is when they arrive, regardless of when they would realistically reach a destination.

I am one of the people that hates that. It's the kind of device that takes me out of the world. It makes me feel like the story is on rails; it's no longer about how good people can do in a situation and it instead becomes a matter of characters having the story enacted upon them.

As an author, consider it a challenge to know how fast people can travel and how far away things are.  Let the tools available to your characters affect the outcome of your story. Avoid cheesy or hokey plot devices to slow down or sidetrack the characters just to make them show up when you want. And if they simply can't get to a certain area in time, then let that be the case instead of having them break the rules just to have the dramatic entrance.

With the limitation of realistic travel times, you can be more focused to find compelling new ways for your story to go and still be realistic and believable. And that is the mark of a great storyteller.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Nothing Is Random

Ostrich feathers.

That was a really random way to start a post, wasn't it? Well, it certainly appears that way, but it actually isn't. I was looking at feather dusters earlier, which classically used ostrich feathers, so when I decided that a random word or phrase would be good to start this post, it was at the front of my mind, so I picked it.

When people talk about things being random, they generally mean that it was unpredictable. I guarantee that nobody could have guessed that I would say ostrich feathers. They had nothing to do with any context that was going on. So it certainly feels unpredictable.

But in a certain sense, nothing is random. With sufficient knowledge, anything can be predicted. If you had known about me looking at feather dusters and knowing that I wanted to start this post with a random phrase, you could pretty strongly predict that I would say "ostrich feathers".

So-called randomness is really just a result of ignorance. Because you did not have the necessary information, you made assumptions on an incomplete picture, and so you did not expect what would happen next.

As an author, we have to decide how much information we give to our audiences. The more they have, the better they can guess what happens next, but doing so takes away your ability to surprise them with twists and turns. It is a delicate line, giving them enough to be intrigued but not bored, and surprised but not confused.

Nothing is random; it's only unexpected. Which would you rather give to your audience: the whole, predictable picture, or the partial, "random" picture?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Mask Fusion

In V for Vendetta, the protagonist V was horribly burned and scarred all over, which is part of why he wears the Guy Fawkes mask he is known for. During a scene in the movie version, the female lead Evey wants to take off his mask and look at his real face. Instead, V tells her that the Guy Fawkes mask is his face. He says that what is underneath is no more his face than the muscles and bone under her skin is part of her face.

This particular example is right on the border between literal and metaphorical mask fusion. In short, he has worn the mask so long and accepted it so thoroughly that it has become his default personality. It is more natural than whatever he was like before putting the mask on.

Mask fusion is an interesting result of mask overuse. It is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is always seen as a negative. We have this idea that we have a natural personality which is unshakeable, unbreakable, and fundamentally ourselves. Mask personalities are always foreign, alien presences, considered tools at best and invasive forces at worst.

In reality, though, all of our personalities are malleable. We are not the same person we were as children or teenagers. However fundamental we may think of our natural personalities, they change a great many times during our lives. If it so happens that a person pretends to be different and does it so long that it fuses into their default demeanor, how is that unnatural?

When you look at your characters and you wonder who they are, ask yourself who they used to be. How has their personality changed over time? What caused it? Do they wear a mask to change that? And what effect is that mask having on them?

On Mask Personalities

Continuing from my previous post, I am thinking about how masks are prepackaged personalities. If we consider that these mask personalities are equal to natural personalities, this comes with certain interesting side-effects.

Some people are incredibly paranoid of people getting inside of their heads. They are so concerned with being predictable or readable that they often put on a mask in order to make it harder to predict their non-masked selves. The problem is that, if their mask personality is consistent, and is consistently kept on, then the person is still predictable because their mask personality is predictable.

In a certain sense, wearing masks is similar to multiple personality disorder. Your body houses these different personalities. They're all you, but they're distinct. They vie for the space in your mind and body. It is possible to maintain control over your masks, to use the right one in the right situation, but very often, they are trying just as hard to have control over us.

If the mask personalities win, there are a number of adverse effects that could result.  More on that next time.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Masks Are Personalities

The idea of wearing a mask is usually explained as a person hiding themselves. They cover a part of themselves so that it does not show through. While it's not entirely inaccurate, I see masks differently. 

A mask is a personality. Putting it on is assuming a new identity. You become a different person for as long as you wear the mask. 

In this sense, a mask does not hide yourself so much as it allows you to be somebody else. 

This is just as true for literal masks as it is for metaphorical masks. They hold personalities which we assume as long as we wear the mask. It's usually a mental trick, but it feels more real and believable to have the ideal or physical mask as a conduit to become these different people. 

The interesting thing about these assumed identities is that they can be treated like genuine personalities, even though they are a fiction. More on that in the future. 

Saturday, June 1, 2013


Normalcy is a relative idea. Ultimately, whatever they are used to is normal for them.  What can be most intriguing in exploring characters, though, is what they do find normal. 

You can be amazed at how mundane things can produce powerful reactions in an audience. You could have a character that only enjoys chunky style peanut butter and half the readers will think that's awesome and the other half will be outraged because they think that creamy peanut butter is the only acceptable form. 

The less mundane things get, the more powerful the reaction can be. How they feel about fashion, what they say about pop culture, who they respect as role models, those can get far stronger responses. And part of that is that far more people care about those subjects, and often they care far more deeply about them. 

When weird things are normal, we get this strange response where we see the characters in repose, yet being different than we would accept. 

Two big nerds having dinner together would be very weird to a non-nerd. Most of the conversation and jokes would go over people's heads, or may simply be twisted. But the same kind of thing would happen if nerdy readers read a story about two hillbillies having dinner together. 

Ultimately, normalcy is where people are peaceful and happy, and almost anything can be normal, depending on what you've been through.