30 November, 2011

Use the "F" Word

Writers' Wednesday!!!

Look to your right and your left at the same time.  No?  Okay, without the use of mirrors, keep your eyes forward and look behind you.  Still not happening?  Hm...  Try holding onto every word, character, concept, conflict, and plot point in your mind at the same time.  (Sure, if you're writing copy for a "got milk?" print ad, you might could do that.  But, you get the point.)

Even if you are writing third-person omniscient, respect the fact that your readers/audience have the same limitations of visual space that you have.  They can only look at what you tell them to look at and where you tell them to look for it.


In visual media, they can cut between shot/reverse-shot and multiple camera set-ups.  Occasionally they try (and fail) to make the audience feel like they're in the movie through POV.  The important thing to note is that everything is still revealed in a logical one-at-a-time sequence, often limiting what is seen to the director's specifications for tone and pace.  Not to mention, seeing registers much quicker than reading. (Half-a-second is plenty of time to hook a visual and it's probably taken you four or five seconds to read this overly long parenthetical.)

You and your readers/audience will appreciate it when you write with tunnel vision.  Ask yourself what nugget you're describing right now.  Describe it well.  What's the next nugget?  How can you transition from this nugget to that nugget without getting whiplash?

And please, please, please, please make those nuggets important to the story.  No paragraphs about a lamp that turns out to be a red herring.  No sweeping purple, apricot, and gunmetal blue landscapes unless they have a pertinent B-52 approaching through them.  Because, if there isn't, I'm sending one to really make your setting interesting.  If it doesn't add to your characters, advance the plot, or heighten the conflict, cut it.

I trust you will find that concentrating on each little moment in turn and not trying to look all over the whole story at once helps your writing flow immensely.  You won't even need to write chronologically.  Take whatever section is poking through your forehead.  If you structured properly before you started writing and can trust the editing and revision process, it won't matter.

29 November, 2011

How to Shrink a Baby

All babies share one commonality.  They get bigger.  Really.  Turns out they're supposed to.  That's where adults come from.

The bug is no exception.  Five months old and still hanging out in the ninety percentiles.  She's wearing 6-9 mo. clothings (Seriously.  They need to focus on weights and/or lengths for baby clothes.  Months are no standard.)

A couple days ago, we dug out the box of "bigger" clothes that we stored way back when everyone that heard we were having a baby girl gifted us with a wardrobe.  We had to start a pile of 3-6 mo. numbers that she'll never wear.  She did squeeze into one pair of pants for a couple hours before adding them to the "yeah, right" pile.  (A common female experience, I'm sure.)  We may have to start giving each cute little ensemble an hour to ensure each one gets a shot at being worn.

As this ever-expanding doll of adorableness stretches the limits of her bassinet, dwarfs her tummy comfort chair, and forces more and more adjustments to nylon straps, our little girl doesn't seem so little anymore.

Then we learned a really neat trick.  I call it, "Shrink a Baby!"  (Catchy, huh?)

Here's what you do:

  • Get a toy that the baby is a good month away from being able to adequately use.  For example, one of those activity ring things where the baby sits in the middle surrounded by things that all do different things and make different noises.  For example, the Wonderbug.  (See... we had to get that one.)
  • Then, insert the baby carefully into the aforementioned toy, making necessary comfort adjustments.
  • Lastly, step back and notice how this little toy engulfs your baby.
Et voila!  The baby is small, again.  Repeat as necessary.

25 November, 2011

A Moment of Thanks is a Gift

Family on Friday!!!

Before Halloween, some smatterings of Christmas pop up here and there.  Then, as soon as the black and orange move to clearance, red and green take over.  Thanksgiving has been officially pushed to the fringe of the holiday schedule.  Even the "present buying bargains" have seeped from Black Friday to virtually the whole month of November.

I can appreciate that gift giving is exciting and the anticipation of gift receiving keeps young and old up at night.  I can also appreciate that companies who make the things we buy look forward to this last push to turn an investor-alluring profit and would rather have two whole months to make their goals over a few weeks.

But, look at what is happening metaphorically.  The giving and receiving of gifts has reached the point of marginalizing being thankful for what we have.

My challenge to American families is to focus on gratitude from Halloween until Thanksgiving.  Take inventory of your life.  Maybe you'll find some treasures under a bit of dust.  And then deck the halls whilst munching turkey (or Tofurkey) sandwiches.  Countries that don't even celebrate Thanksgiving often wait until four Sundays before Christmas.

I realize I may be asking a lot when Christmas music is playing everywhere, holiday movies are unavoidable, and all those people out there that want your money are making offers you can't refuse and commercials that make you warm and fuzzy.

However, it shouldn't be too much to ask that we set aside more than a meal to demonstrate our thanks.

23 November, 2011


Writer's Wednesday!!!

In honor of tomorrow's Thanksgiving festivities, my tip for this week is to gorge your writing with words.  I'm often rightfully accused of using far too many words to convey my thoughts when a simpler, more concise way would have sufficed.

Cutting out words in the editing process works better than adding.  So I say "go all out."  Here's an exercise you didn't ask for...  Edit the following sentences to make them stronger:

1)  John chained up his dog in the backyard.

2)  Reaching with trembling shoulders, Jim managed to lift the pterodactyl of a turkey over the candied yams, armada of gravy boats, sweating butter, crystal glasses placed way too soon, half-burned candles that his crazy cousin Patricia most likely lit an hour ago, and the vat of bean salad everyone will politely eat a forkful of and set it uneventfully in the center of the bowing table that threatened to split if they asked much more of it, just in time to save what feeling he had left in the fingers on his right hand that he burned on the roasting pan in spite of the thinner-than-it-should-be oven mitt with the nauseatingly cute cross-stitched pig on the wrist.

Now...  Which sentence gave you more editing productivity?  What's easier?  Making sentence two more manageable?  Or making sentence one more enjoyable to read?  Don't get me wrong.  Straightforward sentences are a good and necessary force in strong writing.

They punctuate and create rhythm while they emphasize.

If your writing is flat, dry, choppy, or overly simplistic, editing it will be a flat, dry, choppy, and ultimately mind-numbing experience.  Fill up your sentences with all the words that come to you without slowing you down.  Chances are that when you go back to edit (because we all know not to edit as you go) the extra words will help you find the perfect way to say what you want rather than have to create it from scratch.

In short, use verbosity in your earlier drafts and save the efficiency for the final ones.

22 November, 2011

So Cute I Can't Stand It

The bug turns five months old this week.  It's about the time in her life when mom and dad are no longer scouring through Dr. Sears to learn what milestones to anticipate.

She can roll over.  She can remain in a sitting position and often tries to sit up on her own.  She explores different textures with groping fingers, grabs approved materials in her tiny-but-mighty clutches, and checks out her world via leaking mouth.  She pivots around when playing on her belly.

But, she loves to stand (with a hand or two holding her for stability).  As I imagine it is with most parents, seeing the bug on two feet looking just like a little person is hilariously adorable.

Speaking of laughter... laughing bouts have taken a turn toward banshee.  She's definitely testing those pipes out and seeing what they're capable of.  It's a good thing it's happy sounds coming out.

We bought some rice cereal to have at the ready (and face shields).  The bug's doctor thinks she might be up for it, if not demanding, in the next couple of weeks (I smell a future blog post) and schooled us on the signs to look for.

Anyone have some good first food advice?  Anecdotes?  Warnings?

18 November, 2011

Ice Cream A La Mode

Family on Friday!!!

Don't underestimate the value of your personal family dictionary.  It may even be a good idea to write those words and phrases that separate your family from the rest of the world.

The words often start out as misheard or misused innocently enough, but somehow (within the family unit) they catch on.  The more embarrassing or confusing they would be out of the home, the more you know what I'm talking about.

A simple example for us is "frozen goodness."  Other people call it "ice cream."  Grandma calls it "evening freshness."  Our bearded dragon eats a mixture of "cubies, nummies, and green leafies" that sound much cuter than the reality.  The word "then" is often used as a form of punctuation.  "Motherboard" stands in as an all-purpose perfunctory way of communicating that I've lost my audience and have a choice of switching topics or shutting up completely.

Every family has their own long list of such examples.  You know when you're really getting to know someone when you get definitions and explanations of their family dictionary.  Even more so when you find yourself using them.

What these words do (other than amuse) is act like a sort of cement in the family identity.  When we hear and use them, we are reminded of how close we are and how much time we have spent together.

Being in love means never having to complete a sentence.

16 November, 2011

What Have You Been Reading?

Writers' Wednesday!!!


On one hand, it's kind of weird that people might call themselves a writer when they aren't actually writing.  I guess that "writer" sounds better than "thinker" or "talker."  But, that will be a topic for another day.

On the other hand, it's kind of sad if a writer can't remember the last published thing they read, regardless of his/her daily word count output.


Reading familiarizes the mind to valuable writing processes such as sentence structure, grammar, spelling, flow, voice, clarity, and much, much more.  Better yet, most of the published material has already been edited to death.  The more you read and the more your mind can start implementing techniques naturally, then the less you'll wind up needing to edit (maybe four drafts instead of fifteen).


Don't like your writing?  Reading can also help you start finding what you like versus what you don't like.  When you read something that knocks your socks off, put your thinking cap on and figure out why you liked that.  If you just can't seem to get through a work (and everyone you know thinks it's brilliant), try to explain what's bogging you down.  It will help you write the way you love.


Listening does not count as reading.  I love a good audio book, myself.  Still, you can't expect your brain to arrange words on a page properly if you won't keep reminding it what that's supposed to look like.  You know all that good stuff you watch?  It was written, rewritten, and edited long before you had a chance to watch it.  Especially if you want to write for visual media (movies, television, commercials, vlogs), seek thee out the scripts for that type of media and read it.  Reading can elevate your content from the mindless ramblings plaguing the internet to national ad quality.

Hey!  You've just read this post!  Congratulations!  You're already following the advice.  Keep up the good work.

15 November, 2011

Bug Meet Panda

We have three cats and a bearded dragon for pets.  The cats are much more interested in each other than the bearded dragon and the disinterest is mutual.  Not much phases the bearded dragon except hawks.  He can spot a hawk before it's a dot against the sky and, when he's outside, much time is spent looking for or at hawks.

Each cat could not be more different than the others.  Best as I can explain it, they are panda, woolly rhinoceros, and stinky monkey.

Panda took it upon herself to be the babysitter from day one (maybe even the older sister).  Woolly rhino eventually worked up enough courage to smell the bug, but it hasn't got much more involved than that.  The monkey (in a good mood) will give the bug a prolonged headbutt at times with the loudest of the three purrs, but mostly we just try to keep her butt away from the baby when the monkey comes by.

Cats love the cozy softness of baby gears, but typically are put off by the erratic awkwardness of baby.


Panda, as it turns out, is rather comfortable with her ward.  This past week, the bug has become increasingly grabby.  Everything has a texture and that texture must be fully explored.  Panda has a texture.

Much to my (and panda's) delight, the bug has been watching and learning how to pet a cat.  She did really well running her tiny hand down the side of panda, who leaned in for pressure management.  There was a noticeable lift at the end of each stroke, a return to the front of the cat, and delighted squeals and coos all the way back along the side of panda.

The bug likes to grab my chin hairs and occasionally the hair on my head.  Her grip is strong, but she doesn't yank or pull much.  I mention this because I have an educated guess to what panda felt when the bug did finally grab a big handful of fur.  Panda pulled out of the baby clutches gently (losing some tufts of fur), without making a sound, and positioned herself out of reach.

The result would have been very different with rhino (who probably would have ran under the bed before the bug could fully extend her arm) or monkey.  Not surprising though as it was panda who has hung by the bug for almost five months now.

It was a big moment in our understanding of things.  For panda, the bug, and myself.

11 November, 2011

Veterans and the Families That Love Them

Family on Friday!!!

There are quite a few veterans (and active duty) in my family and friends.  Though I don't have first-hand knowledge (I was 4-F'ed), I have seen the strain of service on military families.  It's hard.  Like.  Real hard.  The sacrifices and stress during deployment cannot be adequately compensated by simply having the loved one home again.

Family life isn't easy anyway.  And no one pays you to be a family.  Complicate it by having a integral part of the family out of the country for four months to a year, coming and going at random times, or by moving the whole family to the oversea's base...  For how long?  Where's home?

It'd be one thing if they were just serving to protect their families.  But they do it to protect all our families.  Even the ones they disagree with politically, ideologically, or religiously.  They serve U.S. to protect that right to disagree.  It's called freedom.

Nothing sounds more ignorant than saying they're protecting oil, special interests, or an American economic empire.  Even if the politicians that declared the war sent them for such reasons, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone with their boots to the sand saying they went out there to make sure Wall Street had a big day.

They put themselves and their families through hell so that our families can be safer, closer, more comfortable, enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world, and be free to express ourselves.  The least we could do in return is to tie a yellow ribbon and thank them for their service.

I salute all who served and the families that love them.

09 November, 2011

Argue With the Voices in Your Head

Writers' Wednesday!!!

Remember all those news stories where people defended their atrocities by claiming the voices in their head compelled them to commit such acts?  Kinda doesn't make it better, right?

Ever hear yourself, or another writer you know, say that the characters tell you/them the story?  That you/they just go along for the ride and see where they take you?  Kinda doesn't make it better, right?

Characters have lives.  Like real people.  And.  Just like real people.  Most of their life is not as interesting as they think it is.  If you let your character tell you the story, start feeling around for the cool spot under your pillow.

Being a writer is not (or should I say, "shouldn't be") the same as being a cab driver.  It's more like being a tour guide.  For truly compelling writing, it's like being a tour guide where the characters don't really know what they signed up for and probably wouldn't have signed up had they known.  Imagine getting into a cab, telling the driver where you want to go, the driver speeding off, driving like a complete lunatic in the opposite direction, getting into a barely survivable accident, discovering things about yourself you never knew, and giving the driver a good tip for the experience.

Don't let the voices in your head tell their own story.  Fight them on it.  Challenge them.  Make them convince you that doing what they originally wanted is the right way to go.  Something like this:

You:  Don't go up the stairs.  It's overplayed and makes you look ridiculous.
Protagonist:  I have to go up the stairs.
You:  No you don't.  Call the cops.  Go to a neighbors for help.  Anything that hasn't been done a million times.
Protagonist:  But, my kids are up there.  No one will believe a mother left her kids upstairs with a monster.
You:  Good point.  But, we don't know the monster is up there.
Protagonist:  I heard him.  Even if it wasn't him, I just want to see my babies and make sure they're all right.
You:  Fine.  Go upstairs.  But you're turning on a light.  None of this fumbling around in the dark crap.
Protagonist:  If I turn on a light where I am, I won't be able to see into the dark areas of the house and I'll give up my position.  I have a better chance of seeing my kids or the monster first if I keep it dark.
You:  That's why they always turn off the lights?  Well, fine.  But you're going to have to explain that to the readers because it sounds cliche and psychotic.  Especially because we don't even know the monster is up there.  You're probably going to just scare your kids.
Protagonist:  I can feel him up there.  I'm going.
You:  Hey, monster!  Are you up there?
Monster:  We don't know yet.
You:  Ha!  You answered.  You are up there.
Monster:  Well played.  lol.  (someday I'm going to dedicate a whole blog post to the misuse of 'lol' and other acronyms.)

Okay.  So.  Arguing with your characters can help you solidify your story and make it more interesting than just "channeling" their spirits.  It can also help you skip over the boring non-essential details and focus on the good stuff.  Don't let them coast through their life on easy street.  Check out my blog post on conflict for more on that.

Now... how to get psychos to stop going along with the voices in their head...

08 November, 2011

Grandma's First Birthday

Today is grandma's (my mother-in-law) birthday!  Her first one as a grandma.

Wifey made some special quiche.  I made some peach cobbler.  And the bug made everyone smile!

It doesn't matter how young you are.  Having that first birthday as a grandparent is a very special (and probably mixed) blessing.  I don't know from personal experience, but my dad's birthday was October 26th and I've been told.

Hey!  Waitaminute... my birthday was September 12th.  That was my first as a dad!  Did I know this?  Or am I just figuring this out?  Seems like bigger news when it's someone else's birthday.  I'm sure plenty of people told me.

Happy Birthday to grandma and I'm off to om nom nom.

04 November, 2011

It's Your Fault

Family on Friday!!!

Response ability.  If you break it up into the root words, you can see that responsibility has nothing to do with obligation or charges.  To have a responsibility is to have an ability to respond to a situation or person.

So, do you?  How?  Taking ownership of your responsibility means understanding that you and you alone control your actions (or lack thereof).  You cannot control other people.  Sure, we all want to control someone else at some point in our lives.  Because, let's face it, people do things we don't like.  Things we would like to have stopped them from doing, or made them do, whatever the case may be.

When it's a member of your family, it can feel like they are an extension of yourself and you may even ordinarily function like a unit.  But, sooner or later, even your family will remind you that they are their own individuals and have their own responsibility.

Don't blame them.  Yes.  You are able to respond that way.  But, in any given situation, you are able to choose how you respond.  If you don't like the outcome.  If you get angry.  If you get sad.  If you get sick.  If you are injured.  Blame yourself.

Take ownership of your responsibility.  It's up to them if they will do the same.  One life is hard enough to live.  Living two, three, four, twenty other lives isn't going above and beyond the call of duty - it's impossible.

For some reason, focusing on what other people are or aren't doing has become commonplace.  In traffic, in checkout lines, in bathrooms, in other people's houses, or, on a much grander scale, Politics and Economics.  The solution to most problems isn't what "they" did or are doing.  The solution comes from what did you do?  What are you doing?

I could make a list of "problems" and answer them with a list of "solutions."  But, that's not how I plan on using my responsibility.

02 November, 2011

Can't Force Deadlines

Writers' Wednesday!!!

Usually, it's that you can't force creativity.  However, creativity works under looming deadlines more often than not.  Saying that you missed a deadline because you didn't want to force your creativity won't work.  So, what's a person to do if the creativity still hasn't shown up in the zero hour?

Get uncreative.

Slap down those cliches.  Hit all the predictable points.  Put archetypes smack-dab in a metaphor and wrap them up in deli-sliced cheese.  Do this early enough into the process so that you can fake it until you make it.

Chances are pretty good that you'll get out some great work in a second or third draft of derivative drivel.  In this regard, it's not so much what you write as it is what you right.

I used to miss deadlines by a day or two consistently.  In junior year of high school, my English teacher nicknamed me "Mr. Late."  (not my only nickname, but the only one relevant here)  I pursued perfection and waited for inspiration.  Had I turned in my papers on time, I would have received all A's.

Thankfully, it was a lesson I learned well.  (I'll never forget the look on her face when I held up my paper as she was habitually skipping my desk.)  I can do good work on time.

If you're feeling pressure of an upcoming deadline, stop being creative long enough to get ahead of the game again.  I don't suggest plagiarizing.  It takes more time to look up and copy something than it does to just be unoriginal and obvious.

Deadlines can even be worked into your structure very well.  They help set parameters.  Love your deadlines.  The more you use them to your advantage and don't stress the creativity, the better your productivity and creativity will be.  Make them living-deadlines.

01 November, 2011

First All Hallows' Evening

Technically, the Fourth of July was the bug's first holiday (followed uneventfully by Summer Solstice, Labor Day, and Columbus Day), but Independence Day celebrations aren't exactly the place for a two-week old.  I'd like to think of Halloween as the bug's first participation in holiday festivities.

She dressed up like a ladybug with cute faces on her feet (faces that demanded much attention from everyone, costume occupant included) and paraded around town with wifey and dozens of other kids.  Some could argue that Halloween goes right over the head of a four-month old.  At that age, it isn't really about the kid.  It's the parents' excuse to dress the kid(s) in something they wouldn't consciously agree to and be rewarded for it with candy.

Lots and lots of candy.  Somehow lots and lots didn't make it home...  (I had to work 7am - 9pm as per our new schedule.)  Still, I have it on good authority that everything in the Peeps basket is fair game.  Another word for mine.

Which brings me to my point.  Remember when Halloween was considered safe if your parents inspected your loot before you ate it (no suspicious holes, breaks in wrappers/peels, sharp objects, etc.).  Now there are whole neighborhoods off limits.  Trick-or-treating has devolved to a maskless tour through local businesses passing out name brand wrapped candies during the daytime.

I believe that there are areas of the country that celebrate more traditionally.  Just not around me.  Two years ago I had a major win, as it was the only year after graduating college (plenty of years ago) that I both bought candy and had trick-or-treaters.

By the time the bug is old enough to be guided from door to door, fairy wand in one hand and pillowcase in the other, will there be any houses to knock on?  Or will she have to settle for a predetermined kid corral?

I'm thinking Halloween party!  Controlled amount of sugar, plenty of activities for spending energy gained by aforementioned sugar, more than enough adults to keep damage to an allowable minimum, mutually agreed upon scare intensity (or lack thereof, as the case may be), no approaching strangers and asking for handouts, and infinitely more interaction with her peers.

Any parents out there opt for the party instead of wandering the streets?  How did that go?  Was there a mixture of both?