Monday, December 21, 2015

One More Christmas Visitor

Here's a bonus entry for my Listverse article 10 Benevolent or Frightening Christmas Visitors.

11 Befana the Epiphany Witch

Photo via giglionews

Befana is an old witch that gives gifts to the children of Italy on January 5, a celebration day known as Epiphany Eve. She functions much in the same way as Santa Claus, and she has an interesting story.

When the Three Wise Men were following the north star to meet baby Jesus, they stopped at Befana's house for directions. Befana was the best housekeeper in her village, and invited the Wise Men to rest for the night at her house. She fed them and pampered them so well that they asked if she would like to travel with them to meet Jesus. Befana declined because she was too busy with her chores, but after they left she had a change of heart. Although she went after them, she was unable to catch-up. To this day she is still searching for baby Jesus, leaving gifts for all the children she meets on her journey. Don't let her see you though. She is very shy and will swing her broom at anyone who looks upon her.

There's also a darker, and much different, version of this tale. In it, Befana is mad with grief after losing her child. When she hears that Jesus has been born, she thinks he must be her lost child and goes in search of him. When she finds him she gives him all sorts of gifts, and in return Jesus makes her mother of all the children in Italy.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Two More Strange and Mystical Cats

Read 10 Strange and Mystical Cats People Believed In on Listverse. Here are two bonus entries that were cut from the original list.


12 The Demon Cat of Washington D.C.

photo source: motaen.com

In the 19th century, caretakers of the U.S. Capitol Building decided to solve their rat problem by releasing an army of cats into the basement. The cats did their job, but by the time humans took over extermination duties there was only one cat remaining…and it seemed to be immortal. This demon cat, nicknamed DC, appears when disaster is about to strike. It was spotted before Lincoln's assassination in 1865, and it was seen again almost 100 years later right before Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. It was also seen preceding the stock market crash of 1929.

The demon cat usually appears in the Senate basement near the catafalque storage room. The catafalque is the dais on which the president's casket lies when his body is displayed for mourning. Security guards who patrol this crypt at night need to be wary. In 1862 a guard shot the cat, but it vanished unharmed. In 1898, another guard claims to have encountered the cat. He found himself held in place by fear. As the normal-sized cat charged at him, it grew with each step until it was the size of an elephant. The guard fired his gun and the demon cat disappeared.






11 The Yule Cat

The Yule Cat was here, but now he is on submission as part of a Christmas themed list. Wish him luck!

In the meantime, click on "Top Ten Lists" in the navigation bar above to see all of my Listverse articles.

Update: Congratulations, Yule Cat! He's now one of 10 Benevolent or Frightening Beings That Visit You On Christmas
photo source




































Friday, December 11, 2015

The Anonymous Rogues' Gallery

Barret Brown
Photo credit: The Guardian

Many Anonymous members have no actual hacking skills. No one exemplifies this better than Barrett Brown, a freelance journalist and activist who was drawn to Anonymous because they held the same ideals (for the most part). Barrett's computer skills didn't allow him to do much more than log on to chat rooms, but he was able to help Anonymous in his own way by acting as public spokesperson. He appeared on TV on behalf of Anonymous, debated the issues they supported, and made public appearances at rallies.

There were many in Anonymous who thought Barrett was a fame whore, but there were also many who liked him. Barrett affected a public persona that I can best describe as a cross between Shit-break from American Pie and that high-society Hapsburg fellow with the enormous lower jaw on Family Guy (you know, the guy who laughs with that unimpressed, extended drawl—haw haw Haaaaaaawwww). He appears to do it mostly as a joke—giving interviews while brandishing a cigarette or a cup of brandy, holding a web conference as he sipped wine in a bathtub…but he was genuine in his love for Anonymous' cause of the week.

In the weeks or months leading up to his arrest, Barrett had become increasingly disillusioned with Anonymous as the anarchists within them were beginning to take over. He had never taken part in any of the DDoS attacks, but the FBI arrested him when he re-posted a link to sensitive information obtained by WikiLeaks. After he was released, Barret posted a three-part Youtube video threatening the life of the FBI agent who arrested him (part 1, part 2, part 3). Big mistake. Barrett was arrested again in raid that was caught live on video chat. He is now serving a decades long prison sentence


Topiary

Topiary is (or used to be) a teenage hacker who at one time did press for Anonymous under his veil of anonymity. He later joined LulzSec and wreaked havoc on government agencies across the web. He was later arrested after it was discovered the LulzSec leader, Sabu, was an FBI informant. Perhaps Topiary's most famous website is when he debated a leader of the Westboro Baptist Church on live TV and hacked into the WBC website on-air (see a recording of it below).


Also, does anyone else think that the Westboro Baptist lady looks an awful lot like the woman who ate the wheels of the bus in the movie Speed?

Beth Grant, who played Helen in Speed
And while we're sidetracked by the subject of Speed, does anyone else think the opening theme of that movie sounds eerily similar to the theme of Metal Gear Solid? Like, I'm positive the guy who wrote the music for Metal Gear ripped off Speed. I remember watching a video (here it is) of the creator of Metal Gear looking devastated after someone reveals to him that the music for Metal Gear Solid 2 was ripped off from a Russian symphony. Did he ever find out about the Speed theme and MGS1?

Okay, I got sidetracked a bit there. Sorry, I re-watched Speed recently. Back to the rogues gallery…


Sabu and Anarchaos
Illustration by Aurich Lawson via arstechnica

I go into detail about these fellows in the Listverse article (Anarchaos is Jeremy Hammond).


Commander X
Photo Source: cbsnews.com


The problem with a leaderless movement is that any bum with a hero complex can come in and bend it to suit his vision. Christopher Doyon (aka Commander X) was that bum—and I don't mean that as an insult he was literally homeless, and participated in Anonymous by spending all of his days in web cafes.

In a lot of ways, Doyon represented the opposite of what Anonymous was supposed to be. He proclaimed himself a leader of Anonymous and likened himself to Batman. He acted unilaterally, declaring targets and ordering people to fire the LOIC without a democratic vote, which is how things are normally done. Doyon wanted the world to be a better place, just as long as everyone knew he was the one who fixed it.

After his arrest, Doyon stood on the steps outside the courtroom where his hearing was held and proclaimed to the press that he was the leader of Anonymous, much like Tony Stark revealing he was Iron Man. But the thing is, Anonymous has no leader, and members were getting tired of his fame seeking.

Doyon skipped bail and fled to Canada, where he is currently in hiding. Despite being in hiding, he goes about town wearing an Anonymous t-shirt and freely gives interviews to reporters.



Tflow

Tflow was an anon who eventually formed part of the LulzSec team. His crowning moment was when he wrote a script that allowed Tunisians to use the internet despite their government's attempts to block it during the Arab Spring. He was also part of the Anonymous team that hacked the website of the copyright alliance and posted on their front page "Payback is a Bitch." Tflow was arrested after Sabu revealed himself to be an FBI informant.
 
LulzSec (some of them) reunited after the arrests. Photo via International Business Times

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Some Updates

My article on the 'Ndrangheta appeared on Listverse a couple weeks ago. I also had another article
appear a week after that. Check out:

10 Relentless Personifications of Death

Also my article on pirates of the golden age was accepted and should be up soon (Update: It's up now). I submitted another article about cryptid cats, but I haven't heard back from them yet, which is weird because I handed in that one before the pirate one, and they always let you know whether they'll take it or not, or if they have revision suggestions. Maybe it ended up in their spam folder? I'll inquire about it and/or send it again if I don't hear back.

In the meantime, I'm working on an article about the internet culture Anonymous. After that I may dive into the Americas for a narrative history article on the Maya or Inca.

And just a reminder, for my complete article collection click on Top Ten Lists under the header up there.

No new writing tips to post for this month. I'm thinking of maybe posting writing tips for articles and narrative lists, later on.

That's all for now. I hope you've discovered something new from my lists. Thanks for reading!

photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Friday, November 20, 2015

WritersLife and Happiness Tags

Alyssa from The Devil Orders Takeout hit me up with some blogger tags. I think I'm supposed to tweet this out, but I don't have twitter (I know, I know). BUT I'm still happy to take part in my first blogger game so let's answer some question!

The first section is about my writing routine. The second section section is about what makes me happy.


Writer's Life

 Write fuel: what do you eat/drink while writing?

This depends on whether I'm bulking or cutting (exercise). I'm a night writer so I need caffeine to keep me up. If I'm cutting I drink coffee, black. No milk, sugar or honey. It's a zero calorie drink plus it's a diuretic so it'll help you achieve that six-pack. If I'm bulking I drink dark chocolate milk. Regular chocolate milk only tastes a little bit sweeter than plain milk. Dark chocolate all the way.


Write sounds: what do you listen to while writing?

Oh man, I listen to a constant stream of music. I don't even know where to begin with this. I listen to everything from video game music to pop to classical orchestra. I usually find lyrics distracting, but that not always the case. Here's a lyrical song I'm listening to at the moment:






Write vice: what's your most debilitating distraction?

Basketball. I always get sidetracked by the NBA. I have Thunder vs Knicks open in another tab right now.


Write horror: what's the worst thing that ever happened to you while writing?

Like my computer crashed and I lost my work? That has happened to me, but I'm a good troubleshooter, so I had no trouble recovering my documents. I also make plenty of backups. So I guess nothing bad has really happened to me.


Write joy: Best thing that's ever happened while writing? How do you celebrate small victories?

No time to celebrate! If I don't write, I don't eat. Once I finish one thing (like an article) it's on to the next. The best thing that's ever happened to me while I'm writing? Hmm… When I write I go into my own little world, so I usually don't check emails and stuff while I'm working. So I guess nothing exciting happens while I'm writing. But when I check my messages after I'm usually pretty happy to see an acceptance letter or money deposited into my Paypal account.


Write crew: who do you communicate with (or not) while writing?

Me and me alone, while I'm drafting. I communicate with editors after I'm finished (revision notes and all that), but while I'm composing a draft I don't like to show anybody. Sometimes I have a certain vision that doesn't make sense until the article or story is complete. If I were a baker I wouldn't let you taste the cookie dough; you have to wait for the cookie.


Write secret: what's your writing secret to success or hidden flaw?

I haven't figured out the secret yet. But most useful advice I ever heard was to break large tasks into small segments and take it one at a time. So if I'm writing a list article I don't think about writing all ten, I just concentrate on finishing entry number one, then two, three… Same thing for stories: write chapter one, scene one, then two, three


Write-spiration: what always makes you productive?

An object in motion stays in motion. So if you're staring at a blank page, just get some words down, and it'll get easier.


Write peeve: what's one thing writers (or you) do that's annoying?

I think writers need to lighten up when it comes to reading published authors. I think many writers are too strict following certain rules, and they're quick to pounce on these mistakes and leave scathing reviews on Amazon. Does it really matter if the author wrote "It happened to Sharon and I"?  Don't let it take you out of the story. 


Write words: Share one sentence from a project, past or present.

I can't. I'm a perfectionist and I try to forget my work after it's published. It's less stressful that way. And if you want to see a line from something I'm working on, no cookie dough before the cookie, remember? 




Happiness


So here I'm supposed to list things that make me happy in different categories.


Songs


Books
Treasure Island and The Hobbit are my books of happiness.


Movies
This is going to be a little out of left field, but… Pride and Prejudice, the one with Keira Knightley. It's just a very happy movie.


Food
I like most any food except for squid and noodles. I could go for some walnut cakes right about now.

Words
Reykjavik, conch, willow, moonlight, sunshine, bubble.

Scents
Brown sugar in a frying pan. Meet on the grill.

Random Things
When you're in a movie theater, and you take a moment to look around, and you see that everyone is on the edge of their seats because the movie is so good.

Bloggers
Alyssa is number one of course. I haven't really been able to maintain many of the blogger relationships I made over the late summer/early fall because work took over my life. I have to change that!

Okay, that was my first tag! …Did I do it right?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Are the 'Ndrangheta Responsible for Never-Ending Roadwork in Toronto?

http://www.zooportraits.com/
Update: The werewolf article is up now. You can read it here.

My werewolf list was accepted by Listverse, but it isn't up yet, so no link for now. In the meantime I just handed in an article about the 'Ndrangheta. For those of you who don't know (which is how they like it), the 'Ndrangheta are the world's most powerful mafia.

The most well-known mafia is La Cosa Nostra—these are the guys The Godfather is based off of. But the 'Ndrangheta have overtaken them. Rumor has it the 'Ndrangheta make over 60 billion a year.

The 'Ndrangheta have infested Toronto, Canada. And I have a conspiracy theory that they're behind the never-ending, twelve months a year, roadwork. Seriously, drive down any street in Toronto and you will encounter roadwork. I get that roads need to be maintained, but I've never seen anything like this.

Anyway, wherever the 'Ndrangheta go, they make themselves comfortable by corrupting parts of the local government. They also make a lot of money through legitimate business practices, most of all construction and public works. Also, we know some Toronto officials are prone to corruption, like former crack mayor Rob Ford ('Ndrangheta make most of their money selling cocaine, by the way).

So my theory is: what if they 'Ndrangheta are pressuring local officials to push ahead with unnecessary roadwork to make money off the construction contracts? I can't figure out any other reason why perfectly good roads are being torn up and rebuilt. ALL THE TIME.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Littlest Hobo is a Werewolf

Update: my Vampire Lore article appeared on Listverse today. Head on over and check it out.


So I just completed an article about werewolves and may have uncovered a shocking truth about The Littlest Hobo. Well it's more of a conspiracy theory really.

For those of you who don't know, The Littlest Hobo is the Canadian Lassie. He's a dog that wanders from town to town helping people solve their problems. So I guess it's more like a cross between Lassie and Kung Fu (the TV series starring David Carridine).


In the show, the dog shows human levels of intelligence. Actually he appears to be smarter than most humans. Hell, he parachutes out of an airplane and unhooks the shoot after he lands on the ground.

So how does this make him a werewolf?

In my research I came across an early werewolf in literature named Bisclaret. He wasn't your typical werewolf (werewolves then weren't like they are today). Whenever Bisclaret takes off his clothes he transforms into a wolf. The only way for him to become human again is to crawl back into the same clothes. Anyway his wife finds out he's a werewolf and instead of asking for a divorce she hides his clothes so that he can never turn again. She then remarries to a knight.

Bisclaret is trapped in his wolf form. He eventually solves his problem by using his human intelligence to befriend the king and defeat his wife and her knightly husband. The whole thing reminded me so much of The Littlest Hobo that I thought…

The Littlest Hobo must be the same kind of werewolf as Bisclaret. Maybe someone stole TLH's clothes, or maybe he burned them, trying to escape his gambling debts. Maybe he is Bisclaret, going around solving people's problems to try to fill his empty, broken heart. Werewolves are immortal, right?

Friday, October 23, 2015

Halloween Movie or Book Night

I just submitted an article to Listverse about the origins of vampires (the pirate article is on hold). In my research I came across some classic vampire literature and movies, all of which are in the public domain!

Read

Dracula
Greatest Gothic horror novel of all time. It should be taught in high school English class.

Dracula's Guest
The lost first chapter of Dracula.

Carmilla
The original vampire queen. Dracula borrowed a lot from this novella.

Varney the Vampire
A penny dreadful series that originated many vampire tropes, like pointy fangs. Read only if you're a hardcore vampire fan.

The Vampyre
Starring Lord Ruthven, who was Dracula before there was a Dracula.


Watch

Dark Shadows


Night of the Living Dead
(What's a movie about zombies doing in a list about vampires? Read the article to find out!)



Dracula



Nosferatu



Saturday, October 10, 2015

New Top Ten List + Upcoming List Preview

My new top ten list about ancient China was posted on Listverse earlier today. Head on over and check it out.

My upcoming list is 10 Epic Tales from the Golden Age of Pirates. Again, if this article doesn't appear on Listverse I'll post it on the blog. In the meantime, since I'm in a pirate mood, let's listen to some sea shanties!


Friday, October 9, 2015

Trap: Headhopping


Headhopping is when we switch between the perspectives of characters mid-scene. It's confusing for readers and can throw them out of the story.

Headhopping generally happens when a writer doesn't stick to POV guidelines. Here are some tricks I use in some of the more troublesome styles.


Third Person Multiple

In this POV we spend an entire scene or chapter within one character’s perspective. In the next scene, generally, we switch to the POV of another character. In each scene we see the world through the eyes of that particular character, and no one else. This includes the character’s internal feelings and reactions. A good example of this is Game of Thrones.

A quick trick I use to keep from headhopping in third person multiple (and third person limited) is to think of it as writing in first person:

"I threw a twenty on the table."

Only swap out the personal noun for something more distant.

"Mike threw a twenty on the table."

"He threw a twenty on the table."

Since you're locked to one perspective in first person it is impossible to headhop.


Subjective Omniscient

In this POV the story is told by a narrator who knows the inner thoughts of the characters. The narrator should be written as a character his or herself, and have a strong voice. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is an example of the Subjective Omniscient POV done well.

Think of it as a grandfather telling a story to his grandkids. His “voice” should come through in the text. You'd be in the grandfather's POV the whole time, so any headhopping between characters wouldn't feel unnatural.


Objective Omniscient


In this POV the narrator is all-knowing but doesn’t have a voice and is unable to relay the inner thoughts of characters. A distant, unbiased observer.

I tend to think of this POV as “movie-mode” because when writing I imagine a camera filming the action. We can see what the characters are doing and saying, but we don’t know what they’re thinking—it has to be guessed through physical cues and dialogue.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Writing Music + Top 10 List On The Way

http://threekingdoms.wikia.com/wiki/File:Dong_Zhuo_Art1.jpgI've just completed a new top ten list:

10 Fateful Events in the Fall of the Han Dynasty


I've submitted it to Listverse. They don't normally accept straight-up history lists, but I've gotten them to break that rule before with my article on the Aztecs. We'll see how it goes. Any list that isn't taken by Listverse will be posted on this blog. So either way you'll get to see it.

I mainly write these lists to organize my research for writing novels. I created my list on the Aztecs when I was researching a magical relic that appears in Dark Z Force. The Han Dynasty list may factor into another book, or it might make it into the revisions I'm putting Dark Z Force through. Not sure yet.




In the meantime I'd like to share the writing music I listened to while finishing up the Han list. This song has no lyrics and a steady, driving tempo. It fades into the background when you're focused, but rises to challenge you when you're mind starts to wander.

This upload loops for seventeen minutes. The three minute version fades out before it repeats, which can interrupt concentration.





Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Tips: Add Impact to Action

Action scenes are a funny thing. Many people enjoy writing them, but they are difficult to do well. The first thing to keep in mind is to avoid a writing trap known as the Irony of Speed. But now that those extra words are cleared out, how do you make the writing visceral? How do you make the reader breeze through those glancing blows and feel that club-fisted hit to the stomach?

First, let's take a look at what makes a good action scene from one of the masters—Jackie Chan. In the video below we see Jackie's rules for action comedy. While this video is meant for film students, many of these lessons apply to writing in a beautiful way.




1. Give the protagonist a disadvantage

This is essential for building empathy in a fight—yes, fights are great spots to develop characters.

Depending on where we are in the story and who's fighting, readers know who is going to win the fight. Jack Reacher isn't going to lose to random bar thugs. So we give the hero a disadvantage to make the fight interesting. Since we're not wondering who is going to win, we give the hero a handicap so severe that we wonder how he wins. For example, our hero is a martial arts master, but how is he going to beat five ninjas when he's tied to an interrogation chair?

As the battle unfolds, the hero works to overcome his disadvantage, making us begin to root for him. Each action is followed with a logical reaction, building to a joke, a finishing blow or—even better—a situation where the hero forces the disadvantage on the enemy.


2. Foreshadow the environment, and use it

This is related to Chekhov's Gun: "If there is a gun on the mantle, it must go off."

This also ties into point number one. The environment can be the source of the hero's disadvantage. For example he could be fighting scuba divers underwater, only he doesn't have an air-tank.

Otherwise, if the protagonist is climbing an endless staircase, holding onto a cold steel railing, then we want to see him and his enemies tumbling down that staircase. And somebody has to break their teeth on the railing.


3. Clarity

In film, Jackie makes the action clear by using a well-lit setting. In writing we achieve clarity by cutting unnecessary words, making the important images stand out. This goes back to the Irony of Speed lesson.


4. Show the strong hits twice

"Wait," you say. "Isn't repetitive writing bad?" It is for the most part. And it's especially bad in action. But the question we should be asking is why Jackie shows the hit twice. It's because he wants you to dwell on the hit, to let it sink in so you feel the impact.

So maybe this section should be titled Dwell on the strong hits. In writing we make the reader dwell on something, like an emotion or a revelation, by stopping the flow with a stone-cold period, or a paragraph break, or a scene break for extra impact. It works the same for action. The longer the reader stops to register the blow, the more powerful it is.


5. Pain

It's important that the protagonist gets beat up, made a fool, and hurt. It humanizes him.

The narrator in the video makes a great point about Jackie: He doesn't win because he's a better fighter, he wins because he doesn't give up. That relentlessness shows his character. And that's the kind of hero people cheer for.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Writing Music: Penultimate Battle

Steven King said it's important that every writer have a dark room with a door you can shut. It's a way of tuning out the world so you can concentrate.

But not all of us have those quiet little rooms. Or doors to shut. Sometimes even if you have a door to shut, it's still too loud. And you don't want to tell anyone to keep it down because, well, when people are loud they are usually pretty happy. And you don't want to spoil your family or roommates happiness, right?

So that's why I write with headphones on, listening to music. Even if you have a quiet room, music can drive you to work harder. Listening to music without lyrics can improve concentration.

So once a week I'll post a link to the music I listen to when I'm writing, revising, or editing.



This song is from an anime I haven't seen, which I believe is called Fate Zero. I listen to it when writing and revising the penultimate battle in Dark Z Force, my YA superhero novel. Penultimate battles are generally charged with negative emotion, whereas final battles are energized with positive emotion.

I'll start posting more about Dark Z Force soon. In the meantime enjoy the song. Happy writing!

*Oh and if you ever want to listen to a youtube video on repeat, go to the URL of the video and type in "repeater" after youtube. So it would look like this: www.youtuberepeater.com/(rest of the URL).

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Active-Reactive Formula


















One of the most salient pieces of writing advice that you're bound to find on the internet is that a good protagonist is active, not passive. Meaning they take charge in shaping their own destiny, rather than reacting to events that happen around them. Someone who steers a boat through rough waters as opposed to someone clinging to a piece of driftwood.

But it's important not to take it too far in one direction.

In any story you start with a problem that gets worse until it's resolved. If the main character is always active then she is the one making the problem worse. And that's good because stories are about growth and change and responsibility. But there comes a point when a character makes too many bad decisions and readers begin to think she's foolish or frustrating. They turn against her.

So a balance is needed. Or the character needs to be forced into making decisions with no ideal outcomes, like sacrificing a knight in a game of chess. When plotting a book, a formula that sometimes works for me goes like this:

- Situation

- Action

- Consequence

- Reaction

- (repeat)

Like anything in writing, that formula doesn't work all the time. It's just something I try when I'm stuck in the mud.

All that said, an active protagonist is far better than a reactive one. And it's better to err on the side of overly active. Who doesn't like to watch someone overcome a mess they made?

This is based on a comment I left on author Ava Jae's website in her post about passive characters.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Trap: The Irony of Speed

I'm so fast. Hey! Look how fast I'm going!
This is a trap many overeager writers fall into when writing action scenes. Describing something as happening "quickly" has the ironic effect of slowing the action down. More words in a sentence means more information for the reader to process, which slows the pace.


Big Bad Betty sank the eight ball in the corner pocket. "Pay up, honky."

"Ain't got no money," said Stranger.

Before Big Bad Betty could even open her mouth, Stranger snapped his pool cue into two stakes, spun fast as a whirlwind, and drove one stake into her heart. Betty's two thralls barely realized what had happened before Stranger swiped some billiard balls off the table. He hurled the balls at them, striking one on the nose and the other on the jaw. They both fell hard and fast to the ground.

Suddenly the bartender pulled out a shotgun. Thinking quickly, Stranger dove out the nearest window.


See how the unnecessary words drag the pace? If you want to keep readers breathless, the key is to write short, clean sentences. Tell us what happens in as few words as possible.


Stranger snapped his cue and drove it into Betty's heart. He chucked the billiard balls at her two thralls. Hit one in the nose. The other in the mouth. They both dropped.

The bartender fired a shotgun. That's Stranger's cue to leave. He dove out the window.


Things happen much quicker without the extra words. And in the last sentence we replaced a "quick" word with some internalization from Stranger, showing us his dry wit.


Mucous Lightning!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Trap: Repetition

Tell my wife I'll be home for dinner.
Tell my wife I love her.















The Law of Conservation of Ninjutsu states that each team of ninjas has the same finite amount of "power" of martial arts, therefore a team with less ninjas has more powerful ninjas. That's why when an action hero takes on many foes, it's no sweat. But when facing a single enemy, he'd better watch out.

Repetition in a novel works the same way. When used once it can be very effective. But with each subsequent use it loses impact. When used too much the reader will grow bored, like the Avengers cutting through hordes of robots.

So it's a good idea to limit instances of repetition to maybe once or twice a novel. And it's important you repeat something worth repeating, to draw attention to an important revelation or a character's breaking psyche. Like so:


I walked among the fallen soldiers until I found Bryan. Dead. My son was dead.

Here the repetition is drawing attention to the mother coming to terms with her son's death, or her mental breakdown—whatever the context of the story leads you to believe. Now imagine another repetition was uttered later:


The dish slid out of my hand and broke against the floor. I broke something again.

That last sentence may have some deeper meaning depending on context. Regardless, see how its presence dilutes the impact of the first sentence ever so slightly? Now imagine another repetition appeared in a later chapter:


Diane left that afternoon. Left me again. For the last time.

Now it's beginning to be too much. Notice how the repetitions have the unintended effect of comparing a dead son and a leaving daughter to a broken dish? Any more of these and the reader will begin to think that this character just likes to repeat her thoughts. This is especially bad in third person novels. When multiple characters use repetition, the reader will assume it's just a writing crutch the author likes to use. Because it is.


Since your repetitions are finite, it's important to use them in the right place. Try not to use it like this:

It had been two days since the battle had ended. Two days since the smell of burning flesh had filled the air. Two days since the barbarians had swept through Hampstead. No survivors.

Here the repetition draws attention away from the more important passages. Is it really that important the reader know this happened two days ago, three times over?

It had been two days since the barbarians swept through Hampstead. No survivors. The smell of burning flesh still filled the air.


Repetition is like a quiet exclamation point. Use it sparingly.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Tips: South Park Plotting

My favorite method for structuring a story is the "therefore, but" formula used by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of South Park.

Each plot point of your story has to be connected by a "but" or a "therefore." If instead of those you use an "and then," that's a sign of weakness in your story. For example:


Charlie wants to escape his hometown, where he has been bullied all his life.

Therefore,

He runs away, boarding a ship to America.

But,

The bullies also board the ship to America.

And then,

Charlie finds out he is the son of the fairy king Utykelodin.


Ideally we want to replace that last "and then" with a "but" or a "therefore."

Therefore,

Charlie rows a lifeboat out to a remote island.

But this isn't a story about a boy who survives on an island. This story is about Charlie the half-fairy prince discovering his powers. So what to do? You could create a new plot point—that's sometimes the answer—but it may seem forced. It is likely that the South Park method has revealed a flaw in your story. So let's revise from the beginning:


Charlie's mother tells him he is the son of the Fairy King.

Therefore,

Charlie boasts about it to the kids around town.

But,

The townsfolk hate half-blood fairies.

Therefore,

They try to burn Charlie at the stake.

Therefore,

He boards a ship to America, vowing never to tell anyone of his heritage again.

But,

The townsfolk have followed him on board. 

Therefore,

Charlie must use his fairy powers to survive the voyage.


While it's not a perfectly plotted story yet, it's stronger than it was before. When one plot point flows from the next, it pushes the pace and engages the reader. The story builds upon itself, raising tension, until it reaches its conclusion.


Friday, September 11, 2015

Jazz

Jazz, Former Parrot

One more character concept for Dark Z Force. Once again made by me in Photoshop CC.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Tips and Traps: Breadcrumbs and Connecting-the-Dots

“Connecting-the-dots” is a kind of expository writing trap that many writers fall into. When
characters move in space or time, the writer describes detailed steps of the physical action or internal thoughts/feelings required to get the character from one place to the next—connecting the dots for the reader. Even if the writing is solid, connecting-the-dots is still expository and it slows things down. It feels like empty space to the reader.

As a general guideline, unless something important is happening physically (action) or emotionally as a character moves from one action/event to the next, we don't need to see it. Think of this as laying out breadcrumbs for the reader to follow. When we're following actual breadcrumbs up a trail, we just need to be able to see the next one ahead. Each one doesn't have to be touching our feet in order for us to make the connection and continue the journey.

Breadcrumbs are the opposite of connecting the dots. Instead of tracing every step of the journey, you as the writer make choices about what's most important, and then use those moments to move us through the story. Trust readers to imagine the extra details and events.

Below I'll show you the difference between "breadcrumbs" and "connecting-the-dots" using the opening page of an old trunk novel of mine that I've been reworking. It hasn't really settled into a genre, but right now it is middle-grade horror.









Breadcrumbs:

Moonlight shone through a paper window, onto Mina. She lay on the stiff wooden floor, her teddy bear acting as a pillow. Waves crashed against the pebbled beach outside. The stones jostled under the surf.

A decrepit old woman appeared in the doorway. Her eye-sockets were empty. She floated towards Mina. The old woman's feet dragged, thumping over cracks in the floorboards. As she passed out of the moonlight, she glowed in a greenish hue. Just a common ghost, then. Not a gwisin. Nothing to worry about.

The ghost made a crackling noise deep within its throat.

“You're almost there," said Mina. "Come outside and I'll show you the way." The ghost did not acknowledge her. They never did. But Mina liked to believe that ghosts understood humans on some level.




Mina stood on the beach, just out of reach of the waves. All around her, ghosts marched into the sea.


She bowed three times to the distant island, the Land of Spirits. After the third bow she remained on her knees and prayed. “Mom, I can’t sleep. I’m scared about tomorrow.”


Now let's look at an early draft of the same scene. The dot-connecting is labeled red. Since this writing trap makes passages overlong and grinds the pace to a halt, I'll pick it up from Mina talking to the ghost, which is where the most egregious dot-connecting takes place.


Connecting-the-dots:
 
The ghost made a crackling noise deep within its throat.

“You're almost there," said Mina. "Come outside and I'll show you the way." The ghost did not acknowledge her. They never did. But Mina liked to believe that ghosts understood humans on some level.


She arranged her faded, loosely fitting shirt and trousers before sliding the door open and stepping onto the creaky walkway outside. She signaled the ghost to follow. Mina slipped on a pair of worn shoes and stepped onto the grass, breathing in the cool night air as she glanced upward and saw countless stars glittering in the sky. The beach lay before her and a bamboo forest stood behind. Her simple, thatched roof hut sat on a strip of tall grass that separated the beach from the trees. “This way.” said Mina as she strolled toward the water.

Mina stood on the beach, just out of reach of the waves. All around her, ghosts marched into the sea.

Mina pointed herself in the direction she knew the Land of Spirits to be and bowed, touching her hands and knees to the ground, before standing upright. She repeated this two more times and after the third time, remained on her knees. “Mom, I can’t sleep. I’m scared about tomorrow.”



While the first red paragraph has details to help the reader visualize the world, there isn't anything there that is immediately relevant. We see Mina put on her clothes, open the door, put on her shoes, look around (which is filtering), before finally heading to the beach. Nothing relevant to the plot or revealing of Mina's character happens. Even if something is going to happen in the forest later, its not necessary to see the forest until it factors into the story. We expect to see Mina at the beach with the ghost, and the longer it takes for her to get there, the more "work" we feel like we have to do to become engaged in the story.

Readers are good at imagining transitions. There's no need to "walk there" if nothing affects the plot along the way. In the "breadcrumbs" version I replaced the entire red paragraph with a scene break.

In the final paragraph we see physical dot-connecting. Is it necessary to see the individual steps of the bow? Maybe. The difficulty of the bow may show Mina's devotion and work ethic. But if you stack up too many point-by-point descriptions the writing will become dry. Let readers imagine these mundane actions.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Atlas

Atlas, Geomancer
Here's Atlas from my novel Dark Z Force. Created by me in Photoshop CC. I made this image extra big so you can see all the little details.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Tips: The Royal Order of Adjectives

"Big blue eyes" sounds right, but "blue big eyes" sounds wrong. There is a rule describing the order English adjectives are used in. It's called the Royal Order of Adjectives.


1) Opinion or judgment -- beautiful, ugly, easy, fast, interesting

2) Size -- small, tall, short, big

3) Age -- young, old, new, historic, ancient

4) Shape -- round, square, rectangular

5) Color -- red, black, green, purple

6) Nationality -- French, Asian, English, Russian

7) Material -- wooden, metallic, plastic, glass, paper

8) Purpose or Qualifier -- foldout sofa, fishing boat, racing car


So it's "the weathered giant old dome-shaped gray Galapagos tortoise shell" or "the shiny little yellow Egyptian gold coin."

Note that this doesn't necessarily apply to phrases and cliches like "tall, dark and handsome," which going by the rule would be "handsome, tall and dark." So, as with everything, there are exceptions.

You're almost never going to see all those classes of adjectives in a single description. It's more likely to be "the little brown guard dog" or "the crusty old Englishman." On that last one, note that "English" doesn't come under "Nationality" — in that case it's a qualifier of "man." So be careful to correctly classify things. In the same way, it would be "the tall young kid read a fascinating new short story." It wouldn't be "the tall young kid read a fascinating short new story" because the object of the sentence isn't "story," it's "short story." Short in that case is a qualifier, not an adjective.


A weathered giant old dome-shaped gray Galapagos tortoise found a shiny little yellow Egyptian gold coin. The rest is history.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Tips: Dialogue Tags

Dialogue tags identify who is saying what in a conversation between characters, and keep the reader from getting lost or confused.

It's okay to use descriptive action words as dialogue tags. Sighed, moaned, panted, gasped, groaned, squealed, breathed, etc.

However, remember that you cannot hiss a sentence that has no sibilants, or spit a word that has no plosives:

“Maybe,” he hissed.

“How horrid,” she spat.  


And do not confuse action tags with dialogue tags:

“Sure,” she nodded.

“I don’t think so,” he frowned.



The quick and dirty test is whether you can add the words "the words" to the tag and have it still make sense:


She spat the words  - yes

He grumbled the words - yes

She whispered the words - yes

He shrugged the words - no

He nodded the words - no

She grinned the words - no




Monday, August 31, 2015

Sam York

Sam York, Try-hard
Here's another concept photo for my Dark Z Force novel. Created this in Photoshop CC. This is Sam York aka Sam Skinny. That's an Aztec club in his hand, once used by the jaguar warriors. Notice the shadow in the background?

Okay, that's done. Still have Atlas' photo to do. And I have to finish that article if I'm ever gonna get any readers for this blog. Come on, Matty. Step it up!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Trap: Simultaneous Actions


This is related to dangling modifiers. The sentence construction is often similar.


Grabbing his backpack from the table, he strolled down the road enjoying the sunshine. 

Very long arms?


Taking a swig of his coffee, he carried on with his knitting.

Three hands?



To fix simultaneous actions, make sure your characters are doing one thing at a time, in logical sequence:


He grabbed his back pack from the table, then strolled down the road enjoying the sunshine.
 

After taking a swig of his coffee, he carried on with his knitting.


 

Trap: Dangling Modifiers

A dangling modifier is a word or phrase that modifies a word that is not in the sentence, or modifies a word other than the one it intends. Examples in red.


Sipping wine on the terrace, the moon looked almost full.

The moon was sipping wine on the terrace?


Walking up the drive, the castle  came into view.

The castle was walking up the drive?


Pondering what she had said, his fingers twanged her bra strap.

Thoughtful fingers?


To resolve dangling modifiers, make sure the word you intend to be modified is in the sentence:

As they sipped wine on the terrace, the moon looked almost full.

She walked up the drive. The castle came into view.


Pondering what she had said, he twanged her bra strap.

Trap: Independent Body Part Syndrome

This is when we see body parts apparently acting independently of their owners:


His hand reached out to stroke her hair.


His foot kicked her ankle.




Unless you specifically mean to indicate that the character’s hand, foot, or other body part is acting without his conscious volition, it is preferable to write:


He reached out to stroke her hair

or

He stroked her hair – in many cases his reaching out will go without saying.


He kicked her ankle.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Jen Lee and Ieva

Here are two characters from my novel-in-progress, Dark Z Force. I created these in Photoshop CC.

Jen Lee, Sorceress Gunslinger
Ieva, inFamite Monster

The hunter and the hunted.

I'll make artwork of the guys too.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Trap: Filtering

Filtering is when you describe a character’s thought processes and experiences rather than allowing the reader to experience them.


A filtered scene might read:

Turning, she noticed a handsome vampire standing in the shadows. It seemed to her the expression on his face was disdainful and cold.


An unfiltered version of the same scene would read:

She turned. A handsome vampire was standing in the shadows, the expression on his face disdainful and cold.


In the first passage, the reader is watching the character as the character watches the vampire. In the second, the reader is watching the vampire with the character – this gives it more immediacy and impact.


Words and phrases that often indicate a scene or passage is filtered include:

She noticed...
He saw...
She felt...
He tasted...
She heard...
He remembered...
She looked...
It seemed to her…

Synonyms for those words are filters too. Glanced, watched, recalled… The list is endless. Be sure to watch out for synonym phrases too. "He thought back to" is the same as "He remembered." Strike out the filters and simply describe the action.

Remember: we should be in the POV character's head, seeing the world through their eyes. Not standing beside them, watching what they do.

Welcome!

I'm an editor and a writer. Every few days I'll post on how to avoid writing traps, which are common mistakes that even experienced authors are prone to make.

You can see what I'm working on by viewing the "Working Fables" tab. In my spare time I like to create photoshop artwork of my characters. You can see them there.

I also write listicles (list articles). Check them out in the tabs above. I usually write lists to organize my research for novels. When I'm finished a list I submit it for publication, usually to Listverse, or I'll post it here. Lists in progress can also be viewed under the "Working Fables" tab.

I'll also edit the first 250-1000 words of your manuscript for FREE if you allow me to post it on this blog for educational purposes. This offer applies to anyone who visits the blog — you don't have to be a paying client.

Thanks for coming!