29 February, 2012

Once Upon A Blue Moon

Writers' Wednesday!!!

Happy Leap Year Hump Day, dear readers.  The extra day falls on Wednesday only once every 28 years.  That means that most of us will only see it three times and a lucky few, four.

So...  what does that mean?  Absolutely nothing.  It's another mark on a yardstick made by mankind to make up for our inefficiencies (<-strange.  a word that violates "i before e except after c twice.") at establishing a calendar that accurately measures events in the natural world.  So much for the metric system.

But...  what if it wasn't?  As humans we have an innate fascination with rare events.  The fewer the opportunities to witness the event, the more precious they are.  We know just enough about the natural world to know how little control we have over it.  That may frighten us, excite us, or inspire us.

I'm steering the conversation toward the inspirational spectrum.  As writer's, we can draw so many stories just from our birthright as a sentient species that can't tell time.

How often does the Winter Solstice coincide with a new moon?  How often are babies born to cancer survivors broke down on Underhill Road outside of the Quabbin Reservoir in Massachusetts because of an inexplicable electrical malfunction during a new moon on the Winter Solstice?

What kind of life would that baby have?  What kind of life would the parents want him/her to have?  What kind of life would a group of nutjobs that think the baby's a punctual messiah want?

You know...  as an example.  Temporal conflicts/climaxes don't have to be the focal point of your story to have a powerful effect.

Please resist the temptation to contrive your way out of a plot hole by using them.  Better to use them as a dire deadline that can't be extended or negotiated with.

28 February, 2012

Not The Whole Tooth

The bug has her first tooth coming in!  So far just one lower incisor.  It's buddy is being shy.

According to wifey, the tooth is a little shy itself.  Just poking up enough to be noticed, but not so much that you could easily see it.  Probably why I haven't seen any pictures of it yet.

Perhaps the couple bites of egg on the bug's eight-month birthday helped do the trick.  Regardless, she won't be the ruthless, toothless one anymore.

She still favors crawling in reverse and spinning around to get from point B to point A.  But, her rocking motions while on hands and knees could be for building up the necessary momentum to move forward.

24 February, 2012

And In This Corner... Part II

Family on Friday!!!

Continuing from last week's edition of Family on Friday, I'm going to explore the concept of feeling anger without being angry.  That degree of control comes in handy when you need to be part of the solution to a confrontation.

Let's pretend that this whole country is a family and the President is the parent (Supreme Court is the grandparents, and Congress is like the creeeepy uncle/aunt that no one lets you ride alone with).  When was the last time that no one was angry with the position of the President?  Like, really, really angry.  Spitting mad.

When was the last time you saw any President "go off?"  The temptation for them to get all Christian Bale on the media alone must be overwhelming.  So why don't they?  Training, coaching, and possibly performance enhancing drugs.

Now let's pretend they are angry because they love this country and they're trying to get us to agree with what they think is best for us.  We get angry because what they have done/asked/refused goes against what we want and upsets us.  Confrontation ensues.

As a (Co-)President of your family, you will meet with dissension, organized protests, and vetoes when you are just trying to keep your family on what you've decided is the right path.  Get Presidential.  Walk calmly to the disenfranchised, acknowledge their pain, apologize for any part you may have played in it, tell them that your position isn't going to change just because it met with opposition, because it was formed by the love you have for them, and that love isn't going to change.

Obviously, the President isn't always right.  Next week, we'll explore how handling confrontation calmly can change policy without waffling, back-peddling, flip-flopping, or calling the Supreme Court.

22 February, 2012

Fresh Baked Writing

Writers' Wednesday!!!

Every career has a recipe for success.  Let's take a peek at the recipe for writing.

First let's look at the recipe for making bread.  Just search for "bread recipe."  Yeah.  That one.  It's a lot like the recipe for writing.

There are basic universal ingredients for writing/bread.  Quantities change.  Substitutions, additions, and variations in the process all complicate the recipe search until you don't know which one will work for you.

Basic ingredients:  concepts, words, classes, books, friends, notebooks, pens, computer, dedicated hours in a day
Some possible additional ingredients:  editors, music, paint, animals, office, sacred outdoor spot

The exact types of ingredients, quantities, additional flavors you want to add, and what you choose to substitute with what is all up to you.  Yes.  There is a wrong way to make bread.  Yes.  There is a wrong way to write.  If it comes out too dense, flat, or dry, throw it away!  Make another one, varying the process and recipe.

The most important part of the recipe is understanding that success comes from learning what not to do as much as what to do.

21 February, 2012

Rotisserie Baby

I hope everyone is having a fun and full Mardi Gras.  Laissez les bons temps roulez!

Speaking of rolling...

The bug has a new skill/habit/trick.  Once wifey puts her down for a butt change, she starts barrel rolls.  Changing table, bed, floor, car seat.  No place is without quality of a turning experience.

A well placed WubbaNub can greatly reduce the number of rotations.  Window blinds and/or shadows can distract for a moment.  Still, it's hard enough to start and finish the diaper in one angle, pants are a multi-phase process.

She's also started scooting in reverse.  (the bug, not wifey)  Apparently the objects in front are not as alluring as they appear.

Still no teeth.  But, her hair will need clips soon.

17 February, 2012

And In This Corner... Part I

Family on Friday!!!

Back in early December, Brian had made a good comment regarding confrontation within the family unit.  To paraphrase for those too lazy or busy to click on the hyperlink, he noticed that confrontations with his son improved when he didn't fan the flames with his own anger.

One blog post would not adequately cover the issue of familial conflicts.  So, I will attempt to make a sensible series of the matter starting here.  For now, I want to just make it perfectly clear that anger, frustration, and even loss of control come from love (continuing on this whole Valentine week and segueing into Presidents' Day).

Confused by the source of their own emotions and excusably out of practice, kids will yell that they hate their parents when they become angry, frustrated, and lose control.  Ya always hurt the ones ya love, right?  Our parental brains need to be able to translate this proclamation of hatred as "I love you, but what you have done/asked/refused goes against what I want and upsets me."

Allowing for a few exceptions, if we didn't care deeply for someone, we wouldn't exhibit any strong reactions to them.  They would be practically invisible to us.  When we become upset with our family we should take at least one breath to recognize that we feel this way because we love them.

Recognizing the love we have should begin to help us with the most important next step that Brian touched upon - being angry and frustrated, but not losing control.  However, that will be the topic of next week's President's Day analogy...

15 February, 2012

Defining Love

Writers' Wednesday!!!

Valentine's Day seems like it was just yesterday and yet, love is still in the air (and on clearance).  Sure.  We have one day of the year dedicated to loving, or (depending on your age) liking.  But thankfully, love lasts longer than a pink Twinkie that rolled under your car seat.

As writer's, we must find a way to inject love into every story to remain relevant, marketable, credible, and universal.  If your main character is incapable of love, it has to be shown by contrast to a love interest with the potential to warm him/her up by the end of the story, even if the Grinch ends up staying Grinch-y.

Everyone can relate to love.  And if another character loves your central character, it makes it easier for your readers/audience to love the character.  Love is also a great motivator for rational characters to do irrational things or take on insurmountable challenges.

That's all well and good, but how does one write love?  It isn't an easy thing to define, and once you have, you've opened your story up for debate.  It's in the action.

Any woman can tell you that actions speak louder than words.  The most silvery of tongues will tarnish in idle hands.  Conversely, a cold tongue can melt butter with a demonstration of the heart.

Don't try to shortcut the process of love in your story.  Even if it's a survival-horror and that whole extreme-situations-can-create-extreme-emotions thing applies.  A compelling subplot of love can help your story stand out in any genre.

14 February, 2012

The Love Bug

Happy Valentine's Day to all of you from the bug, wifey, and myself.

It's a hard one, being separated from my wife and daughter by about 2,800 miles.  After nearly three days of trying to watch nothing but mindless action flicks, I can attest that every movie made in the last two decades is a love story to some degree.  The first Predator movie is the most recent one I own with no discernible romance.

Distance does make the heart grow fonder.  It also makes stilted grade-school flirting between Adrien Brody and Alice Braga feel like sappy romance.

I'm not going to complain though.  There are many, many couples separated today by many more miles with one of them working their tails off in a combat zone.  At least I can say for certain that I will see my family again.

For all of us that can't be with the ones we love, I want all the rest of you to love the ones you're with until somebody rolls their eyes.

10 February, 2012

Comfy Genes

Family On Friday!!!

Let's face it.  99.99% of us are unhappy with something about our appearance.  Even if we thought we could be happy if we just changed one thing, once we got that the way we wanted, we'd find something else to change.

There's something inherently human about dissatisfaction.  It drives us to continuously build upon previous experiences and discoveries, reaching for the unimaginable.

Flip the coin over, and the ugly counterpart to that drive rears its head.  We risk damage, pain, finances, and even our lives to fight against our genetic makeup.  All in the name of some amorphous concept of beauty.

How does a parent tackle his/her own demons and help bolster the confidence of their children?  Surely, the line between constructive and destructive runs very fine and delicate.

We have a natural tendency to expect compliments from parents as part of their job, and the effect of such flattery fades quickly.  Conversely, because compliments are expected, insults come down harder than an anvil and hurt a little worse.  (Gifts of plastic surgery to a body still developing is especially bad.)

Parents also control the variety and quantity of foods available at a young age and can instill a positive lifestyle early that will hopefully carry on as the parental influence wanes.  Moreover, children who hear their parents speaking confidently (not vainly or boastfully) about their own appearance are more likely to feel comfortable doing the same.

08 February, 2012


Writers' Wednesday!!!

I don't like to harp on pet peeves.  But, certain ones warrant discussion.  For now, I have to bring the vocative smackdown.

Out of all the comma use rules, separating the vocative case from the rest of the sentence might be the simplest.

Use a comma before and after the name or descriptive phrase of the person(s) or thing(s) you are addressing.

For example, the following sentences mean different things:

  • Where is that pencil neck?  Where is that pencil, neck?  Where is that, pencil neck?
  • I don't know how to explain John Carter.  I don't know how to explain John, Carter.  I don't know how to explain, John Carter.
People tend to drop punctuation in texts, chat, status updates, and tweets out of haste, laziness, apathy, or ignorance.  But, pretty please, with sprinkles on this half, dedicate one or two of your allotted characters to commas that will tell everyone when you are talking to someone/thing or about someone/thing.

Failure to obey the vocative case rules, my fellow writers, will result in slugs parading up your nostrils for the entire duration of a jazz cover of "Crazy Train."  'Cause they kinda remind me of slugs.  Commas do.

07 February, 2012

Six More Weeks Of Cuteness

For all the research and development into stimulating toys for babies, the simplest prove the most cherished. The bug is no exception.

Toes are/were a reliable stand-by.  But, shadows can pull attention away from any light and sound show now.

Wifey boasts an improving repertoire of shadow puppets, especially rather convincing renditions of rabbits.  But, not all shadow shows are deliberate.  Depending on the angle of the sun, even the bug's own shadow merits investigation, play, and delighted squeals.  (ever toothless squeals)

All the same, I'm rather glad not to have been stuck in an eternal loop of living the same day over.  Being nearly three thousand miles away is that much more bearable knowing that every day I wake up, I'm one day closer to being with my family again.

03 February, 2012

Good Habits Die Quickly

Family on Friday!!!

Families (blood related or not) share genuine concern for one another's well being.  We can get all Florence Nightingale around a sick member until we're all driving the white porcelain bus.  Any of us get injured, we rally.

So.  Why is it so difficult for us to take care of ourselves?  B'gosh it sure would make the rest of our family worry less, sleep better, and spend more time returning the favor.  Then there is that old adage that says you can't take care of anyone until you've taken care of yourself.

I think we think we are fine.  (yes, yes...  most of us are)  We don't feel sick or injured and are perfectly happy to press ourselves until we do.

Moreover, I believe a lot of us have bought into the idea that concerning ourselves with ourselves is narcissistic.  It's not about us.  It's about them.

We have no control (and shouldn't) over how other people live their lives.  Conversely, we are the only ones who can control our own.  If we are a cause of worry to those we love, we can't just break a bad habit and develop good ones.

Habits don't work.  We need conscious lifestyle changes.

01 February, 2012

Cardinal Points Of Argument

Writers' Wednesday!!!

As a helpful writing exercise, pick three main topics of contention.  Best way to start would be to write a page on each, detailing your arguments for how you see the issues.

Now flip it.

Write a convincing counterpoint to the three pages you just wrote.  If you go back and read them with a clear cut winner, strengthen and edit the weaker argument until it becomes stronger.  Then work on the former winner until it makes a definitive comeback.

If you do this properly, you should have two very well thought out positions on issues that may very well be eternally debated and it should get harder to say which one is the stronger.  Now write a third position until it practically invalidates the first two and then challenge it with a fourth.

Not an easy exercise, but a helpful one.

You could add a couple more arguments to each issue, but we'll call four good enough.  Two is not good enough.  You may not be able to adequately write four separate opinions on each issue and some research will be required.  That's a good thing.

Until you can see at least four sides to every issue and write each one as if it were your own personal conviction, your characters will suffer.  Not drag themselves across lava beds suffer.  More like why does everyone else seem to have it all together suffer.

Characters represent cross sections of society.  They have to be convinced and convincing of their world view or they will never seem real to the reader/audience.  In order for them to be convincing, you have to be convincing as the writer.

Evil for the sake of being evil isn't nearly as interesting as evil that believes wholeheartedly that it's doing the right thing.  Of course there are good people that do bad things and vice versa.  I assure you that nothing will build up sympathy for your main character like having him/her be called, shown, and/or proven wrong and then have to struggle to make his/her case.