Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Universe Experiencing Itself

I've heard it said that "you are the universe experiencing itself." It was always an interesting thing to hear, but it took quite a while before it finally sank in. When I finally 'got it', it was an amazing realization.

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

You Can't Feel Loved If You Hate Yourself

A common trope I see in stories is a person who hates themselves and really believes that they're worthless, and somehow a dreamy hunk/babe tells them all the right things and everything turns around and is great forever. For the record, this trope annoys the crap out. 

People who really hate themselves have crossed into depression. And as I've said before, depression is an all-consuming negativity. Believing that you are unworthy of happiness is a serious issue, and no single conversation will magically make it go away.

You can't feel loved if you hate yourself. Characters need to have significant experiences and major revelations before they can truly accept another person's love. Otherwise, the all-encompassing negativity of their depression would convince them that nobody else really likes them. And that is the ultimate question: how do you convince a negative person that they do deserve love?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

How Would You Spend Your Money?

A simple way to get an idea for a character's motivation is to ask them what they want. This is a question that gets to the core of them as people. If they can tell you what they want out of life, you can keep moving them toward that goal. 

One downside to this question is that a lot of people say "money". Too many characters, especially antagonists, have the desire to acquire money, but that isn't really an answer. Money is a means to an end. If a character wants a lot of money, then ask them, "what would you spend it on?" If they can answer that, then you have their real core. 

Fiction Affects Reality

I think one of the most amazing things is that stories about people who never existed doing things that never happened  actually affects what real people really do. 

There's something special about fiction in that regard. It shows the supreme power of human creation. The things we make change real life. It's easy to understand that when looking at tools or furniture or major inventions like the printing press. But imagine cartoons like Looney Tunes. They changed the world in a massive way, too. 

And beyond that, you don't need to change the world to affect lives. You could write a poem or a short story that one person ever reads, but it will affect that person. Maybe it won't even cause a permanent change, but it will have some effect. They may have a new thought, or understand an old one in a new way, or it may reinforce what they already know. They may use a new word or say something uncommon to them. 

Characters that only exist as ideas in our own heads can change us as much as flesh and blood human beings, sometimes even more. It is an incredible power to be able to wield. Use it responsibly. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Method Writing

In Method Acting, actors create a powerful bond between themselves and the characters they play. In doing so, the actor can be lost within the character. The same can happen with writers and their characters. 

It can be a powerful and intense experience writing characters. You spend a great deal of time inside people's heads during the most pivotal times in their lives. To spend so much time and energy creating them and making their lives and adventures, it can be easy to lose yourself in those characters. 

It may not necessarily be a bad thing as far as writing goes. It's certainly a sign of a thorough understanding of your characters. Just make sure that when you put your pen down, you can return to being yourself. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Everything Can Be Positive Or Negative

In my last post, I talked about how depression is a mental state where everything is seen negatively. This sheds light on a larger concept. Everything can be positive or negative. And, more accurately, everything can be looked at positively or negatively. 

This means that happiness is an outlook. It's how we choose to see the world. And it explains how we have sayings like "every cloud has a silver lining." How you choose to see the world affects how it is. 

Explore the differences that occur when people have the same experiences, but approach them with different outlooks. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Power Of Depression

Depression is an all-consuming negativity. This is not something to say lightly. It's more than being sad. And it's more than being negative. People in a bad mood can be turned around. Sad people can be made happy. People feeling negative can be shown positivity. But depression is a whole other entity. 

Turning negativity around can be as simple as getting somebody to laugh at a stupid joke or reminding them of all the happiness in their lives. But when somebody is depressed, they are immovable. Your jokes aren't funny to them. Their happy memories are illusory and fleeting. Reminding them of good times only makes then harp further on bad times. 

Depression is some seriously scary shit. It is a mental block, or perhaps a filter, and it is certainly not how the mind should operate. And because of all of this, it is something that should be explored, both from a person experiencing it, and from an outsider looking in and seeing it happen to somebody else. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

People Are Timeless

In about 6,000 years of recorded history, humans have never stopped acting like humans. We have the same emotions, the same desires, even the same thoughts and plans. People still feel joy and sorrow, love and hate. We still seek shelter from the elements, food and water for sustenance, companionship and understanding from others. Some people still seek power and wealth. People are still willing to put themselves before others and sacrifice whatever and whoever they can to get what they want. 

When you write a story about people, you have written a timeless story. Since people never stop acting the way they do, then a story from 20 years ago reads the same as one written today. 

What makes a story dated is technology. It keeps growing and changing, and thus changing how people interact with themselves and the world around them. Romeo & Juliet would not have had any problems if they both had cell phones. But because technology has reached the point where people can communicate instantly from thousands of miles away, the miscommunication angle can't really be justified any more.

The struggle of Romeo & Juliet, though, is timeless. It is true in modern times. It was true for West Side Story. And it was true in Ancient Greece with Pyramus and Thisbe (which the story was a modern retelling of). 

This is the value of stories about people. They never get old. They simply become more classic. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Know Better Things

I was commiserating with a friend recently about all of the really lousy writing I have come across in my days. One of the things I mentioned was that every amateur writer loves to write thinly veiled autobiography. That's when somebody writes fiction, but the characters are living out the life of the author. 

I started to think about why it was such a common occurrence, and I posited that it was based on the common advice of "write what you know." And what a person knows most intimately is themselves.

My friend brilliantly retorted, "know better things."

I really loved that comment. It made me laugh. But more importantly, it is a great corollary. Not everybody cares about what you know. To grow as a writer, you should task yourself not only with improving your ability to communicate, but also with increasing the range and depth of subjects you can write about. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

You Don't Choose Your Own Name

One of the things I find terribly interesting is names. People can sometimes strongly judge others by their names. And in literature, a character's name is almost as important to their identity as the things they actually say and do. But in real life, we don't choose our own name (at least not at birth), so it seems strange how attached to it we become.

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.

Letters Don't Always Start With Their Sound

I absolutely and thoroughly hate it when people say the phrase "an historic". And I hate it for two reasons. One, it's wrong. And two, people only ever say it because they think it is proper English, which makes them extra wrong, and more stupid than the people they think they are correcting.

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 Based On Assumptions

The human mind seems hard-wired to judge others. It's not something we consciously do; it happens, whether we like it or not. First impressions are made in less than a second of meeting somebody. We even judge people before we ever meet them (also known as 'prejudice'). And it can be very difficult to change our judgements. But what is truly screwed up is not how quickly we judge people, but how we judge them.

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.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Hollow vs. Dense

It may seem painfully obvious what the difference between hollow and dense is, but in the context of storytelling, it is worth having a reminder. 

The best way to visualize hollowness is a tube. A tube my look thick and heavy from the outside, but all of its material is at the surface.

By contrast, of you took that hollow tube and crushed it into a ball that had no air in it, you would have a significantly smaller object, but it would be far more dense. 

A pitfall that writers too often fall into is mistaking word count with quality or depth. If you wrote a 300 page book, and I skip over the equivalent of 50 pages due to wasted words and paragraphs, then you have a hollow story. And hollow stories are weak stories. 

With that said, dense stories do not waste words, but they also don't leave any important ones out. If, in trying to condense your story, you cut out so much that your audience misses your message, the. You still end up with a hollow story, just in a different manner. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Shyamalan Syndrome

M. Night Shyamalan sucks. He is a terrible writer that does not deserve the career he's had. There are so many reasons to tear his movies apart, but there is one thing in particular for me: the writing.

Admittedly, the writing alone has a whole host of problems, but there is one thing in particular I have to focus on. Every single movie I have seen of his has a glaring flaw in the story. They have interesting premises, but the stories end up having horrible execution. 

Unbreakable is a movie where, ostensibly, superheroes exist and are unaware of it, and the one person who believed it massacred thousands of people for years just to try to find one. 

Signs is a movie about a man who lost his faith coming to learn that his tragedies were signs to show him how to save the world, literally. The problem is that these aliens are so stupid that they invaded a planet where two thirds of the surface is covered in a substance that melts them, and it also periodically falls down from the sky itself. 

The Happening is a movie that puts forth the idea that the world is conscious and rejects humanity by trying to purge it. The problem is that this entire movie was a collection of hypotheses with no facts whatsoever. It was a movie so devoid of sense that the characters spent their time trying to outrun the wind, and somehow succeeding.

I can only call this phenomenon Shyamalan Syndrome. It is the affliction where you get a decent idea, and then every time you have to fill in a blank or answer a question, you literally use the first thing that pops into your head without any thought to how it would fit with everything else. 

What compounds this issue is that, somehow, it seems like there is no editing going on. There are no continuity checks. There is no common sense checking. The final result looks like a weak first draft to me. 

Make sure this doesn't happen to you. Get people to read your drafts. Make sure that when you fill in gaps, you don't betray your existing canon, and don't lack any form of common sense, either. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Confidence vs. Overconfidence

Confidence is incredibly attractive to me. I love being around people who are comfortable with themselves, outgoing, and not afraid. Those people give me energy. People who are fearful and apologetic, in contrast, drain my energy. 

But I realized today that confidence is tricky. Because there is a line where confidence stops being attractive and instead becomes repugnant. I've been thinking about it all night, and I've realized what the difference is. 

It's humility. Confident people accept their imperfections. We all make mistakes, but a confident person moves forward, neither dwelling on them, nor denying them. Overconfident people lack that humility. In all of their interactions, they would have you believe they are perfect. Not only do they do everything better than everyone else, but they also are incapable of making mistakes. 

Overconfidence is simply repulsive to me. It is either a willing lie or a complete delusion. In either case, if they clearly show no signs of humility, I don't want to associate with them. 

Remember this in all aspects of life, including your writing. Never be afraid or ashamed of your love for writing. Be proud of this endeavor and strive to reach the level that will make you happiest. As you improve, be proud of the accomplishments you have made. But, always be aware of your flaws, too. Don't ignore or deny mistakes you've made. Overconfidence will keep you at the level of mediocre writer for as long as you believe the delusion that you are without flaw and beyond improvement. 

Analyze Your Impulses

I find it strange how often we give people the advice to "go with your gut" or to "do what feels right." I mean, when taking a multiple choice test, it does seem that our initial impulses have a strong tendency toward being correct, but why is it such common advice?

From what I can tell, humans often have really horrible impulses. These include wanting to punch, choke, kick, spit on, or otherwise attack or assault other people. There are other impulses like eating tons of junk food, sticking our fingers in fire, and playing on live rain tracks. 

It seems that some impulses are quite insightful and beneficial, but others are downright suicidal. There is value to be had in analyzing characters' impulses. Humans are rather impulsive creatures by nature, so understanding why they have the impulses they so allow a much deeper understanding of who they are, how they feel, and what they think. 

Find Out How Things Will Fail

Sometimes we do something, knowing that it will fail, but we do it to see how it will fail. For example, pretty much everybody knows that it would be bad to put metal in the microwave, but imagine if you took a ceramic cup and filled it with cake batter, and then put ball bearings in the mix. Would the metal conduct the heat? Would it affect the cake batter? Would it destroy the microwave and make sparks?

In this example, we know one thing for certain: this experiment will fail to produce edible cupcakes. However, what we are more interested in how exactly it will fail. 

The same things happen when we put explosive characters in the same room together. We know it won't end up good, but we want to see how bad it gets. 

This is maybe the best reason to pursue an idea that you know sucks. Do it, knowing that it will fail, just to see how exactly it does fail. There is much knowledge to be had there. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Irreverence of Age

I think one of the most amusing things is the irreverence of age. It's like, when people reach a certain age, they just stop caring about things that don't matter to then. And eventually, they just stop caring about anyone of anything. 

I think the reason it makes me life is that it is so refreshing. People get so wrapped up in petty crap that they just can't be happy. And sometimes people are forced to engage in the tedium of minutia. But when people have reached a certain age, had a number of experiences, and have a certain level of personal independence, they can say whatever makes them happy, and can like or hate whoever they want. It is the best form of freedom, and a wonderful example of happy people (sort of).

Sunday, October 13, 2013


A friend of mine was asking for ideas for a fantasy story, and I was spitballing thoughts at him. When I offered one idea to him, he said, "Good idea but it doesn't sound fantasy enough. Fanatical? Fantastic? What's the adjective?"

I informed him that the proper term actually is "fantastic", and that it was one of those words that has changed meanings over time. 

I notice that every word that conveys a positive attitude gets diluted over time. Something used to be as if from a fantasy to be fantastic. Now it just means very good. The same is true for words like "awesome", which used to mean something that stupefied you in amazement (and "amazing" is another such word).

I suppose it is nice to have so many different ways to express positive feelings, but it also is a shame to lose their original meanings. After all, without "fantastic", we don't have an adjective for "fantasy".

Delirium Tremens

When people who regularly consume abruptly stop, they go through withdrawal symptoms. One of them is called 'delirium tremens'. Since most people don't know Latin, this doesn't really help you understand it. However, it is also known as 'the shakes', which is at least more approachable. 

If you really want to show a character suffering, depict them having these uncontrollable spasms. And if you want it to sound believable, refer to it as "the shakes". The only time the clinical term should be used is when the speaker is referring to it clinically. If a doctor is talking about it, that's fine. But otherwise, use the colloquialisms. On top of being more believable, it is also more descriptive, so you get a two-for-one there. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Emotions Are Responses

In coming up with dialogue, a character said, "I've decided I hate you." This sentence left the listener dumbfounded, so the speaker continued. "I'm just kidding. I can't choose to hate you. Hate is a response."

The dialogue without context lacks a lot of power, but the concept inside it is accessible even in a vacuum. We can't choose to hate. We can choose not to talk to people. We can choose to say hurtful things to people. But we can't choose to hate them. Hate seems spontaneous. Although there is a distinct reason, people often don't know why they hate somebody - they just do. 

This is not exclusive to hate. We don't choose to love, to like, to envy, to pity, or to feel any other emotion. They are all responses to that which is around us. 

What makes this extra complicated is that people are so different from one another that the same stimulus (e.g. looking at a dog) may result in completely different emotional responses. And, in fact, humans are so complex that the same stimulus may result in different emotional responses in a single person based on the time of day or any other circumstances. 

Remember that all emotions are emotional responses. So find out what they are responding to, how they respond to it, and why that response is the one that came out. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Doctors Who Smoke

Carrying forward from my last post, I think of the most perfect example of people who don't follow their own advice: doctors who smoke.

There is nothing more confusing and mildly offensive than seeing doctors who smoke. It's like, here they are telling you to exercise more and eat better, and yet, you can smell the cigarette smoke on their breath. You can see their yellowed teeth. You wonder how on earth they can possibly be allowed to dispense medical advice when they themselves partake in such unhealthy habits. You wonder if you should believe anything they say.

Here is the problem with doctors who smoke: just because they don't take their own advice doesn't make them wrong. If a doctor smokes a pack a day, but tries to convince you to quit smoking, it is good advice. If a doctor tells you to lift weights and eat less sugar, it doesn't matter if he weighs 350 pounds; you will be healthier if you take that advice, regardless of the fact that you are already healthier than the doctor.

We have a very nasty habit of judging advice by the person that dispenses it. I understand why it happens and I know the many ways that we can rationalize and justify it. But it's still stupid. Advice exists independently of the quality of the person that speaks it. When somebody says what you ought to do, forget the person and judge the concept on its own. If the advice is good, then take it. If it's not, then avoid it. But no matter what, don't choose to smoke just because your doctor smokes too. And don't continue to write poorly just because you don't like the person who is giving you advice.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Are You Living Your Own Advice?

You know what's easy? Talking about stuff.
You know what's hard? Actually doing the stuff you talk about.

A lot of people seem to know all the answers. They know what people need to do and how to do it. They can help absolutely anybody...except themselves.

Somehow, people that "have it all figured out" haven't quite figured out the part where they actually do all the things they tell everybody else to do. If this is the case, maybe you should question if these people really do have it all figured out.

And when you get to the point that you are giving advice to other people, take a moment to reflect and ask yourself, are you living your own advice?

People, Places, And/Or Principles

One thing I want to make clear is that, in my previous posts, I did not intend to imply that People, Places, and Principles were mutually exclusive. They are most definitely not. 

A story can be about people, places, and principles all at once, or in any combination.

Write about what matters to your story. Explore themes and find connections you can make, and let scholars discuss what combinations of people, places, and/or principles you used. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Stories About Principles

Imagine a story about three people living in different areas, and each of them are trying to figure out what the point of life is. This is not a story about people, as their lives don't cross each other. And it's not a story about a place because the location isn't really shared. This is a story about principles. 

You can also think of them as concepts or philosophies. The point is that sometimes a story focuses on ideas and explores the different ways that an idea can be understood and pursued. 

On a tangential note, exploring the meaning of life is almost always a great endeavor. Exploring and contemplating all the different answers that people come up with is a mind-opening experience, and can strongly improve your understanding of fundamental drivers of your characters. 

Stories About Places

Although all stories have people (or an equivalent), they are not always the focus of a story. Sometimes a story is about a place, like a city or a single house, and it shows is how people have interacted with it over the years (or generations).

Stories about places are more rare, but common enough to bring up here. It is hard to conceive a story from a perspective other than a person's or people's, but it can be done. If it doesn't come naturally to you, then try it actively; it will be a good brain-stretching exercise.  And if it does come naturally to you, then go practice it to hone and refine your skills. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Power Of A Quote Is Its Speaker

The only limit to your impact is your imagination and commitment.
I think this is a pretty great sentiment. If you thought that I came up with it, it might not mean too much because I'm just some guy.

"The only limit to your impact is your imagination and commitment." - Tony Robbins
Now this statement is a quote. And, it's a quote by nationally renowned motivational speaker Tony Robbins. As a quote, it has increased value, which is directly attached to the value of its speaker.

"The only limit to your impact is your imagination and commitment." - Joseph Stalin
Now this statement is a quote by one of history's greatest monsters. Is the sentiment in the quote any less valid? Empirically, no, it isn't. But quotes are valued based on their speaker, so now it is a sentiment that should not be shared; it should, in fact, be abhorred.

This is one of those silly, ridiculous things about people. We truly are irrational creatures, but at least we are somewhat consistent in our rationality. When you bring up quotes, the speaker matters more than the words. The same generic sentiments have been said by thousands of other people, so the only reason to put quotation marks around it is to ride on the fame (or infamy) of one person that shared it.

What I would recommend to you, though, if you wish to be a deeper thinker, is to seek out famous quotes by famous people, but analyze their words instead of their speaker.  There will be a natural bias in this endeavor (nobody likes to share positive quotes from Stalin), but you may uncover some interesting ideas that you would normally pay no mind to.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Poisonous People

Poison is a toxic substance that causes us harm. There are many poisonous substances out there. In fact, almost any substance can be poisonous if you consume enough of it (people can die of water poisoning, believe it or not).

Not just substances can be toxic, though. People can be poisonous. Just being around certain people can have notable ill effects. Some people can be excruciatingly negative. With long-term exposure to such negativity, it can affect one's mood. People become lethargic, hopeless, irritable, or any host of other negative feelings. 

Negativity can be something that is not only destructive, but highly contagious. Beware the power of one Debbie Downer. An entire plot could be ruined by one hopelessly poisonous person. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Stories About People

Arguably, all stories are about people. They have to have characters, and those characters are either people or person-like beings. They are the bridge that we use to connect to the goings on in the story. 

It is classically said that there are only three kinds of story: man vs. man, man vs. god, and man vs. himself. But the one uniting theme here is man. A story without a person is not a story. 

When you are looking for inspiration for your story, remember that it has to have a person, and grow it from there. 

"I Don't Know"

More and more, I find it repugnant when people say “I don’t know.” It feels like a fundamental repulsion. Every time I hear people say it, I get angry, my stomach tightens, and I kind of want to hit them.

The problem is, I don’t believe in something like “fundamental repulsion”. Everything has a reason. So when I analyze it, I realize what my issue really is.

If I ask somebody a question and they don’t know the answer, I never get upset when they simply tell me “I don’t know.”  However, if they give me an answer and then end it by saying “I don’t know”, then I get angry. It means they’ve wasted my time. It means they have presented themselves as knowledgeable, and then told me they were pulling it out of their ass the whole time.

This happens frequently when I get feedback on my writing. People will tell me that they don’t like some concept I came up with and proceed to tell me what I should do. I quietly listen to them and evaluate the merit of their suggestions, and then when they finally finish talking, they say “I don’t know.” Then I get pissed off. All I can think is, “if you don’t know, then why the hell are you telling me that I am wrong and what I should do to be right?”

People should not be afraid to admit when they don’t know something, nor should they be afraid to hypothesize answers to questions. However, people should not say that they have the answer, and then sabotage their credibility.

If you know, then answer. If you don’t know, then say so. Don’t misrepresent yourself; it only makes situations worse.

You Present What You Think Matters

The way somebody describes another person, or themselves, tells you a great deal about the speaker. When we describe a person, we have to say what sticks out. We need to focus on defining characteristics so that he person in question is in some way memorable or identifiable. Because of this, the descriptions somebody gives explains how he or she defines people. 

For example, if I were to describe myself, I would largely avoid the physical. It seems silly, but I just don't look at myself physically. I think of myself as a thinker - I would talk about the thoughts I have and the subjects that I enjoy learning. I also think of myself as a doer - I would talk about the activities I like to do and what company I keep. I would never think to talk about my shaved head, my beard, or my skin color because they don't matter to me - they are not how I define myself. 

With that said, sometimes I do have to find a way to make sure people can spot me in a crowd, then I probably would mention those things. But that really depends on what everybody else in the crowd looks like. If they all have beards and shaved heads and white skin, then I would mention my clothes or jewelry. 

Ultimately, as an author (and as a person), you will present things and people in the ways you think matter. It is part of that fundamental uniqueness, part of your authorial voice. 

As a reader (and also as a person), pay attention to the things people present. They will say just as much as, if not more than, the words they actually use. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

You Can Always Find Problems

One flaw that creeps up in editing is looking for problems. You'd think this is the number one skill, and even the entire point of editing. And, you'd be right on both counts. But because it is the modus operandi of editing, it's easy to end up with false positives. 

Simply put, you can always find problems if you're looking for them. The tricky thing about writing is that there is no one right answer. There are countless possible answers, and sometimes to choices are equally valid. 

This phenomenon leads to what I call circular editing. You read a passage, make a change, and then when you read that passage again, you change it back to the original. This can go on and on, cycling back and forth though that same passage. 

If you are looking for things to change, you can always find something. But if you're wanting to take passages and make them better, then you may reach a point where you can't - you can only make them different.