Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Each One, Reach One

I came across a marvelous phrase: "Each one, reach one." It can be used in a number of ways, and the context I heard it in was recruiting new members into an organization. In this case, the call was for each one member to reach one new person to join. 

What made me marvel at it was how incredibly effective that strategy is, and simultaneously how easy it seems. Think about a stereotypical pyramid scheme. In it, you start off by selling products on your own, but are encouraged to get six people to sell things on your behalf. In my experience, getting six friends to do anything consistently is impossible. One would be into it, two might stick around for a couple months, two would give up after a week, and one would never show up. But what is important here is that one was really into it. So now I as one person have reached one person.

The other part of this is the power of exponential growth. Even with having each member of your group reach one new person, you are doubling your membership each time. After not many iterations, this process reaches incredible amounts of people. If you started off as just yourself, then after 10 iterations, you would have over a thousand members. And after another 10 iterations, you would have over a million. 

Your ability to reach people is phenomenal, especially when the people you reach then reach out to more people. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

Other People's Words Sound Alien Coming Out Of You

The way you communicate sounds unmistakably like you. Your authorial style combines your vocabulary, your speech patterns, and all of your little idiosyncrasies, to make a fairly unique "voice". This is why the things you say sound like you said them. This is also why people instantly know when you're using somebody else's words. 

To anybody who is even slightly familiar with your voice, other people's words sound alien coming out of you. They don't match your rhythm, your melody, or any of the other identifiers of your voice. This can be a real problem when you incorporate other people's words wholesale. Your text ends up sounding like a patchwork of voice. 

If you are going to use another person's ideas, do not also use their words. Break down to a conceptual level what they're saying, and then explain that concept in your own words. When you do that, it becomes a lot easier to blend it in with the rest of your writing. It may sound a little strange if the subject matter is noticeably uncommon, but it will at least sound like your thoughts if you can say them in your voice. 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Comedy Requires Logic

If you said, "I'm going to have a bowl of cereal," and my response was, "just like a serial killer," then my joke was horrible and not funny. 

If you said, "I'm going to destroy this bowl of cereal," then I could say, "that would make you a cereal killer," and it would be a valid joke. (It still wouldn't be funny, but that's because it is the lamest pun of all time; please never use that joke.)

The point I'm getting at here is that comedy requires logic. A punchline requires a setup. The joke is based on having a premise which is true, but unexpected. 

If somebody doesn't laugh at the next joke you make, it could be that they didn't get it, or it could be that there wasn't anything to actually get. Make sure your jokes make sense. 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Us vs. Them

In my previous post, I talked about the value of stories where people worked together toward a common goal. Unfortunately, all too often, these stories end up as "us vs. them". 

When you have nations battling nations, rebels fighting the government, even humans repelling aliens, the message is that we aren't all equal. It says that some people are fine to work with, but only because we are trying to defeat those who are different from us. It may promote teamwork, but not unity. 

Shared Struggle

It has been said that there are three kinds of stories: Man vs. Man; Man vs. God (or Nature); and Man vs. Himself. All three of these have one thing in common: a singular protagonist. While many fine stories are about one person, not all of them are, and it would do well to consider them. 

When you read a story about an individual, you relate to that character. You feel that person's struggle. You want them to get what they desire as much as they do. But in doing so, it isolates you from humanity. 

Compare that to a story where several people all have a common goal. They operate under a shared struggle, which unites and bonds them. As a reader, these stories promote unity, teamwork, and compassion. They make the readers want to see groups of people win, not just an individual. 

There is so much that already isolates us from one another. Stories that are about Us instead of Man show humanity in its best light, and inspires it in others. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

People Are Lazy When They Don't Care

I have never met a truly lazy person. I've met plenty of people who don't want to do boring things, but none of them were lazy.

Lazy people don't want to expend energy; they don't want to do anything. But whenever people are bored, it means they want to be doing something else. It could be reading a book, watching a movie, playing video games, or throwing a frisbee around. Regardless of what it is, if the opportunity to do something fun or exciting came up, people would take it. 

People are lazy when they don't care. If you tell somebody they have to sweep the floor or make their bed or write an essay about what they did on summer vacation, of course they will be slow and lethargic. Of course they will resist it and find a way to get out of it. Looking for a loophole to get out of a task is a more engaging activity than the task itself. 

If you want people to do something, make them care. That is why it is so critical to grab your readers' attention as soon as possible. You want them to turn the page, to think about your words and share them with others. So, don't be boring; in return, your readers won't be lazy. 

Don't Write The Way You Speak

The most common writing advice I hear (at least as far as style goes) is to "write the way you speak. The idea is that, by doing so, your language will be more natural and sound less stiff or stilted. As of now, I have to disagree with this advice. 

Written and spoken language are fundamentally different. They use different organs to receive (eyes and ears) and are processed in the brain differently. Because of this, they use different sentence structures and follow different grammatical rules.

Despite both being contemporary English, writing and speech are different languages. If you try to use one to do the other, it will probably come off poorly.

Learn the differences between writing and speaking. Sometimes the best way to do it is by watching speeches and reading articles. You can absorb a lot of style by just surrounding yourself with it. Once you've done that, you will readily notice when somebody does it wrong. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

"I Want" Indicates "I Can't"

People want things that will make them feel good. We want food and sleep and companionship and all those things that make life bearable (if not downright survivable). When we find ourselves somehow unhappy, we want whatever it is that will satisfy us, and then we go and get it. 

If I'm feeling lonely and I want companionship, I call my friends and converse with them. There's no reason to announce that I want to talk with them; I just do it. 

The only time people say "I want" is when they can't get it. If I say "I want to talk with my friends", that indicates that for some reason I can't. It could be for any number of reasons, such as not having a working phone or being occupied by other obligations, or from imagined hangups like thinking that those friends are busy. Regardless of whether or not others find the reason valid, in the speaker's mind, it is not possible. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Right Thing For The Wrong Reason

What matters more: what we do, or why we do it?

Most people I know will tell me that our actions matter most. For example, donating money to an orphanage is good. Donating money to an orphanage because it will give you good publicity after getting caught in a scandal is kind of shady. Still though, the orphans got money that they needed; does it matter that it only happened because some rich person got caught doing something wrong?

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

The Messianic Ideal

I find it interesting that whenever we say that somebody was the best person in the world, we always describe them in similar ways. This person liked everybody; you could be a stranger having your first meeting and would be treated like a dear friend. This person would do whatever possible to help people, even giving you their last meal if you were hungry. They didn't want anything more from the world than what they already had. They were happiest when giving to others, and they always inspired people to be the absolute best that they could be.

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 Idea vs. The Reality

The idea of Batman is really cool. He's a billionaire playboy who is also the greatest detective, ninja, and martial artist. He is a normal human who uses wits and technology to fight superhuman villains to protect the citizens of the city he loves.

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

It Goes Without Saying

"It goes without saying" is a pretty silly phrase. If something goes without saying, then you don't need to announce it. It's like, this is a phrase that exists, but should never be uttered. 

On a similar note, I always find it amusing when somebody says "our next speaker needs no introduction", and then proceeds to spend five minutes introducing the next speaker. Again, if something isn't necessary, then don't do it. 

Testing Lines

Everybody draws lines in the sand about what they will and won't do. It goes without saying that different people have different limits that they set for themselves. For example, one person might think that polygamy is perfectly natural, but another may find it a repugnant perversion.

What makes this interesting is that most subjects have a variable threshold. A classic example is that stealing is wrong, but stealing to feed your starving family is acceptable.

I love to test the lines of people. I ask them if they would do a particular action (like picking a fight with a chimpanzee), then I ask them more questions until they change their answer. (Would you fight a chp for a million dollars? What about ten thousand? What if the chimp picks a fight with you?)

When you test a person's lines, you may discovers the angles through which you can manipulate them, and that can be critical to moving the plot along. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Conflict Between Desecrating And Fetishizing

So now that I have talked about both desecrating and fetishizing, it's time to finally elaborate on the conflict between them.

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.


In my previous post, I mentioned the conflict between desecrating and fetishizing, but since I only wrote about desecration, now I need to talk about fetishizing.

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


"Desecration" is an interesting word. Generally it just means to vandalize or destroy. But literally speaking, it means to make a holy thing unsacred. This is where the interest comes in. You can't desecrate something that isn't holy. Rocks and sticks are already profane, so there is nothing you can do to them that will shock or offend people. And at its heart, that's all that desecration actually is: offending somebody by not treating something the way they want it treated.

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

"The Boy Who Cried Wolf" Is Stupid

The story of the boy who cried wolf teaches a valuable lesson: those who consistently lie will lose their credibility. The problem is that it's kind of a stupid story. 

Think about it. Your village raises sheep and wolves are a real risk. If your watch out lied about seeing wolves, he should have been beaten and scolded for doing so. If they gave him a second chance and the boy lied again, he should have been fired. The boy shouldn't have even been given a third chance, but since they did, then there was no reason to ignore the boy's cries. These sheep were the village's livelihood; they should have ran out to check on every alarm. 

Every way that you examine the story, it is riddled with plot holes. I understand that it's a story for children, and that children generally don't pick apart the plot of these stories, but I just feel like there should be better stories to teach us that lying is bad. 

Too Much vs. Too Often

I want people to understand the difference between "too much" and "too often". So consider a man who drinks every night.

If he only has two or three drinks, then he is not drinking too much (assuming that "too much" is defined as getting sick). You may think he drinks too often, but he does not drink too much. 

If he only drinks on the weekend, but he gets blackout drunk every time, then he drinks too much. 

And of course, if he has ten drinks every night, then he drinks too much and too often. 

I know this is some really "no duh" kind of stuff here, but most people use "too much" for any kind of excess. When you realize that you have all of these little varieties with which to describe things, you will find that you can significantly drop the ambiguity in your writing, which increases your clarity, and makes you a more effective writer. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Comedy Is About Pain

Traditionally, I have always said that comedy is about the unexpected. When you create a situation where the audience expects one thing and something noticeably different happens, the response is usually to laugh. I had a great conversation with a friend recently, who brought an interesting new view of comedy.

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

One of the dumbest, most obnoxious storytelling techniques is the time jump. That is when you are shown a scene, usually of a very tense situation or the aftermath of an event, and then immediately get taken backward in time to show you the events that led up to that scene.

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

Rhetorical Questions

Why do we ask rhetorical questions? We ask them to frame an idea. The point of a rhetorical question is to make you ask me that question so that I can answer it.

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.

An Essay In Many Parts

On Cheff Salad, when I have a larger idea that I want to write about, I usually end up breaking it into multiple posts. The idea is that, people would rather read three 5-paragraph posts than one 15-paragraph post. This also allows me to have each post focus on one idea, which gives me ample space to describe it clearly.

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

The Cobbler's Children Have No Shoes

There’s an old saying: “The cobbler’s children have no shoes.”  (For those who don’t know, a cobbler is a shoe maker.) The idea of the saying is that a cobbler spends so much time making shoes for his customers that he has no time to make shoes for his own children.

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.)

The Perfect Name

Many years ago, I discovered how to create the perfect name for a business, story/series, anything other than a person: Your name should be a phrase that is well-known, but not often said.

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

Occurring On A Daily Basis

It seems like every event you can think of has a statistic that tells you how often it happens. And more often than not, it happens every single day. Somebody being born, somebody dying, car crashes, alcohol poisoning, somebody losing their home. Some things end up being surprising to find that they happen so often.

The one thing to keep in mind is that there are seven billion people on earth. With such a massive population, it should be expected that even unlikely events occur on a daily basis. 

With that said, the smaller the population you're looking at, the more surprising it becomes. If something like getting struck by lightning starts happening on a daily basis, and it takes place amongst a group of twenty people, now you've got a mystery on your hands (perhaps one you can turn into a compling story by trying to solve).

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Percentages Can Be Misleading

Percent can be a handy tool. The word literally means "for hundred", and that's exactly how it's used. It's a ratio that says how often something will happen out of every hundred times, or how many things have a certain quality out of every hundred people. I'm not going to belabor defining percents because they're ubiquitous; it's hard to not know how they work.

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.

Hate As A Cure For Love

When I mentioned the idea of falling out of love, I was mostly talking about it happening naturally. Over time, and through the right circumstances, people can lose that magic feeling, and the person who was once the object of their affection becomes just another person. With that said, those circumstances can also be induced.

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

The Terror Of Peace

For so many stories, the main characters have one goal: peace. There is some conflict or struggle, whether internal or external, and they must face this conflict and find a resolution. But what happens once the conflict is resolved?

It's nice to wrap stories up with and ending akin to "they lived happily ever after", but that's not really how things work. In real life, there is no happily ever after. There is always another story. People have new experiences, new thoughts, and new struggles (both internal and external). 

Peace, then, is not a destination, but a rest stop. It is the room to breathe and decompress between adventures. And while that may generally be a pleasant thing, there is a certain terror in peace. 

You know that something is going to happen to you. You don't know what it is, and you don't know when it will happen, but you know it's coming sooner or later, and the sooner you prepare for it, the less it can catch you off guard. 

But now your time of peace is anything but peaceful. It has become a quiet anxiety, always prepared, but not knowing what. Always vigilant, but kept in the dark.

Explore the terror of peace, and the madness it instills in the human mind. Compare it with normal tribulations and see which one ends up being more nerve-wracking. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Falling Out Of Love

There are countless stories about people falling in love. Veritable strangers happen to cross paths, and all the right connections are made and experiences are shared to cause them to see how perfect they are for each other and how much they want to spend the rest of their lives together. Of course, many of these stories also have characters whose love didn't last forever. Lovers fight and argue. They can grow to detest and despise one another. But the most common theme I have found in such stories of ex-lovers is the sentence, "I still love him/her." It's basically impossible for two people who fall in love to actually stop loving each other. Except that it's not true. People fall out of love on a daily basis. Ironically, they usually don't notice it. Love is all about desire. When you hate somebody to the point that you always think about how you want to make their life miserable, you're still obsessed; you still feel desire toward that person. It may be a negative feeling, but you can't stop wanting to be in that person's life. Falling out of love is about releasing that desire. And people go through it in a number of ways. Often, people simply find a new object of desire. It could be a new girlfriend/boyfriend. It could be a new hobby, or investing more time in current activities. It could simply be a change in thought process; the same way you can one day just stop being interested in a food you used to love, you can just stop being interested in a person you were once obsessed about. I find falling out of love an interesting experience to explore, because it is a bizarre blend of finality and not. In a certain sense, a love story is over when the people stop being in love (at least when they mutually are). And yet, nobody died or moved away or otherwise made it so they would never see each other again, so the story of these two people's lives isn't over.

Dogs Are Confusing

I find dogs to be a curious subject. They are simultaneously beloved and besmirched. Dogs are "man's best friend". We name them King (Rex) and Faithful (Fido). They aren't even our pets so much as they are our companions. And yet, to associate a person to a dog is a high level insult. Calling somebody a dog ("all men are dogs"), a cur, a bitch (female dog), or any other term for dogs is deeply insulting. So what is it about dogs? Why do people love them and hate them? How they be both the height of perfection and the most vile of beasts?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Threshold Of Solicitation

I seem to have recently reached a new level of notoriety with Cheff Salad. People randomly email telling me about some article I should share with all my readers. Of course, I don't respond to emails written by robots (sorry if that makes me racist), but I appreciate this spam in some amount. 

As far as I can tell, not everybody who owns a blog gets these emails. There is a certain threshold of readership before spammers start pinging you. In a sense, this is a badge of honor. It says you are big enough to be noticed. 

The theshold of solicitation has many levels, though. You can tell when you have reached a new level of popularity when you find a new level of advertisers approaching you.

Monday, December 2, 2013

On Regime Change

What I find interesting about regime change is how often it doesn’t really change anything. Think about a corporation where the CEO gets ousted and a new person fills the role. The new CEO decides to “shake things up” and implements a new logo, new tagline, new advertisements, and a redesign of their store locations. How much has really changed on a functional level? The advertising department came up with new ads and maybe have different criteria for “good”, but the same people have the jobs and they’re doing the same work. The same goes for the design department, the manufacturing department, the shipping department, and the retail locations. Things may look shaken up from the outside, but nothing actually changed. I think the same thing is generally the case for political regimes. A king is killed and replaced by a new king. So what? There are still taxes. There are still knights/sheriffs/military. People have the same houses and do the same labor. Just because some different face starts getting stamped on coins doesn’t mean that anything is different for the people at the bottom of the ladder. The further you are from the actual change, the less it actually affects you or your operations.

Authors Are Their Words

I had mentioned in my previous post that I do not like to rewrite passages when editing other people’s works. I think that when I take away somebody else’s words and substitute my own, I have robbed that author of his or her voice, and that passage stops being something they wrote. At its core, this comes from my belief that authors are their words. Millions of people have the same thoughts and ideas every day. What makes my writing different from your writing isn’t necessarily what I say, but it is how I say it. My words are my voice, my outlook, my literary soul. No matter how detached or thick-skinned I can be when somebody edits my work, when they remove my words and put theirs in, it always comes across as “what you said is just wrong; I need to do this for you.” When I edit, I try not to ever rewrite; I will only give revisions. However, if something will need to be rewritten, I will tell the author to do it. I will point out which passages aren’t working, explain to them why it doesn’t work, and give suggestions on how to improve it. But I won’t give them my words. At the end of the day, if they didn’t write it, then it’s not their work.

Revise vs. Rewrite

When I’m editing a written work and I come across a passage that just strikes me as odd, I know it needs to be fixed. From there, the question is how to do it. Generally speaking, editing will come down to revising or rewriting. As a rule, I prefer to revise as much as possible. This is doubly true when I’m editing somebody else’s work. As far as I’m concerned, the original author already said what they’re trying to say. If I remove their words and start putting in my own, then I might as well take their name off as the author, too. Revising, for me, is the process of maintaining the integrity of the original words, but streamlining the flow and clarifying the actions/arguments. Revision would be turning the sentence, “I finally got around to checking out on Tuesday that one Thai restaurant that Jimmy told me about at the party last week” into, “On Tuesday, I checked out that Thai restaurant Jimmy told me about at the party last week.” Rewriting is the process of basically deleting a passage and making a whole new sentence. This is a more extreme kind of editing that I will save for basically unsalvageable writing. I will also rewrite a passage if what it is trying to say is unimportant or doesn’t follow the logical thought. I would rewrite the sentence, “I finally got around to checking out on Tuesday that one Thai restaurant that Jimmy told me about at the party last week” to, “I ate at the Thai restaurant my friend told me about and had the best pad thai ever.” The point of rewriting this way is to refocus the sentence away from the history and toward the experience of the meal. Revising and rewriting are both great tools. Know what they do and which one is best for the situation you’re in.