Tag Archives: Writing

Nice trolling

Queen: Mirror Mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest one of all?

Mirror: That would be a subjective measure my queen.

Queen: You know what, you’re right. Hey, send that Snow White a care package and tell her her queen cares about her and loves her for who she is whether she’s beautiful or not.

What if you could subvert expectations just to see how people react, but instead of introducing something horrible where it doesn’t belong (which I will call vanilla trolling or “trolling classic”) you did something really wonderful where it doesn’t belong? For instance, I just destroyed the whole narrative of Snow White by giving the mirror a little bit more logic and the Queen a lot more self-awareness.

I am proposing this concept, but I am not the first to do it. Not by far. Where I first saw it was r/wholesomememes. For instance, take the “board room suggestion” meme template used for countless memes.

High Quality Board Room Meeting Blank Meme Template

The formula is typical slapstick/exaggeration comedy where the man in teal makes a good suggestion that the boss does not want to hear and then he gets thrown out a window. Look what wholesome memes user “SlightlyInsaneApe” does with it.

Post image

Notice how it replaces the punchline that those familiar with the meme will expect with a crude copy/paste of part of the frame above it. The buildup doesn’t change at all, so the ruined punchline serves simultaneously as a story encouraging positive behavior and as a subversion of the “board room suggestion” format.

Billy Goat: I’m going to cross this bridge to get to the green grass on the other side

Troll: Hold on there, Goat.

Billy Goat: Hello Troll. Oh no! Are you living under that bridge? You look famished! Let me get you a hot meal and see if we can find a homeless shelter for you!

Troll: *sighing with satisfaction after a filling, nutritious meal* Goat, you’re a scholar and a saint.

Goat: Everyone is deserving of love and kindness.

There was a joke in the Simpsons that this reminds me of. I couldn’t extract it from the less nice content surrounding it, so here’s a meme version I made instead.

Rhett Butler |  FRANKLY MY DEAR; I LOVE YOU, LETS REMARRY | image tagged in rhett butler | made w/ Imgflip meme maker

Wolf: Where is your grandmother?

Little Red Riding Hood: She’s just down the way in the spooky forest.

Wolf: I will walk with you to keep you safe.

[At Grandmother’s house, Lumberjack looks in window at Wolf and Red Riding Hood sharing dairy-free milk and oatmeal cookies from Grandma]

Lumberjack: This goes to show that you should not judge someone based on his appearance

Writing prompt: Write your own version of a well-known story where every character is wise and considerate to the point that there is no conflict.

Two writing groups

I now have a monthly writing group and a biweekly writing group. On the second week of the month, both meet. During this syzygy, I have two submissions to send and up to six submissions to critique. The biweekly group is 5,000 words each, the monthly 10,000, and the monthly group is about 10,000 words ahead of the biweekly group, so I’m submitting different sections of my story, and of course I have to revise the 5,000 words, even if it’s already written.

Leading up to this weekend, I wrote and revised about 15,000 words of my novel, and then reviewed about 35,000 words of others’ work. The latter took around six to eight hours. The former consumed a good chunk of my free time over the past fortnight.

It’s good, though. I get to see a broad variety of literature in progress and receive critique from six angles. It also has happened to create a process for me that may be good. Since I happen to have two groups – each of which goes at the same rate (2,500 words per week) and one of which is a little ahead of the other on my work – I write my work once and rewrite it once. As a perfectionist who is never quite satisfied with my novel and tends to rewrite it ad infinitum, this is a nice middle ground where I can revisit and improve my work while also keeping on a forward-moving path.

That said, it is a lot of reviewing, so if the 6-direction feedback turns out to be less valuable and I can keep consistent without two groups, I might end up dropping one anyway.

Erase una vez

Today I write a story in Spanish with no help from Google translate. I only used spanishdict.com. It’s certainly full of errors, but I’m pleased with the story, at least the story I think I wrote :).

Erase una vez, hay una muchacha pobre. Quieró convertir en una princesa. Este ser su primero objetivo. Pero no hay un príncipe que quiere casarse con Élla. Su mamá dicaba “No debe buscar a tu vida. Espera tu vida y la te vendrá.” La muchacha ser una niña buena, asi escuchó a su mamá.

Esperaba y esperaba, la muchacha convertó en el mujer. Élla mamá fallecó. Todavia no principe vinó. Asi, la mujer empezó a buscar.

Buscó y buscó. No principe ser caminaba en el bosque. No principe ser nadaba en el lago o en la mar. Un príncipe ser en la iglesia alta todos los domingos, pero la mujer no podria llamar la atención. La mujer tomó un trabajo en la iglesia de una criada.

Limpió y limpió. El principe habitaba en el castillo grande al sur de rio azul. La mujer escuchó este mientras limpió la iglesia. Pobres no se admiten en el interior. En la casa de su mamá, élla pensó de un plan. Si trabajaba más duro, la mujer convertia muy rica. Entonces, podria entrar en el castillo y conocer el principe.

Trabajó y trabajó. Mucho trabajó. La mujer convertó en la sacerdotisa. Todavia trabajó. Convertó en la sacerdotisa de el castillo grande al sur de rio azul. Ahora, la mujer no ser joven. La sacerdotisa antigua de el castillo grande al sur de rio azul escuchó que el rey murió. El principe convertó en el rey nuevo. El hijo del rey nuevo convertó nuevo principe.

La muchacha pobre nunca convertó en una princesa. Pero, convertó en una sacerdotisa muy rica. Encontradó su mas joven y mas pobre criada en el iglesia del castillo. Le dijó “Tu casaré con el príncipe.”

7-point story structure

Image Credit goes to https://blog.reedsy.com/story-structure/

My novel is a mess. One thing just happens after another, and the arc doesn’t seem to be there. My writing group suggested mapping my story out with a 7-point structure. That is, I separate the story into plot points

I couldn’t do it. Maybe I could do a 21-point story if I had three books. Maybe that’s the right way to go about it. So now I have a Google Sheets document with twenty-one rows. I still have several columns, and I’m pretty sure I’m cheating when one column starts where the other one ends. Plotting a story is hard work!

If you think that you may be interested in plotting out your own story, you can find a whole database of story structures for well-known books and movies at the story structure database.

The best writing is rewritten

Anyone who reviews my work for an extended period of time inevitably comes to the question, “are we reading Chapter 1 again?” I have written Chapter 1 of my novel more than ten times. Does that seem like a lot? Jaqueline Woodson rewrote Brown Girl Dreaming 33 times and Another Brooklyn 16. I was wondering for a little while, but now I’m confident that the answer is yes. Each time I rewrite my first chapter feels better than the last. I will be rewriting my book until it’s right, and I think it will be worth it.


Don’t rely on a flaky muse

Is it writer’s block every time you don’t get to your keyboard and write? It’s very romantic to suggest that as a writer you have a capricious muse who either visits you or does not, but I don’t believe that it is a rule that artists have to be whimsically flaky. I can tell you that I don’t get writer’s block. Just about every moment I have something that I can write down, and when I don’t do it it’s not a lack of inspiration, it’s a lack of motivation. I’m just lazy and at that moment it’s easier to watch TV or play video games. I suspect drawing this distinction may help some writers to be more reliable in their craft.

If you have a lack of motivation or of confidence, or sure, even of creativity, what can you do? Here are some thoughts to help.

Lack of Motivation

Create a schedule. Block off time for writing. If you have demands in your house that cannot be convinced to stay quiet for an hour, go somewhere else. In general, don’t count on your willpower to get you writing at any available moment, or your muse to visit you when the time is right. If you have a set time every week or every day where your job is to write – that will help make sure it happens. More information on this can be found in Deep Work by Cal Newport.

Lack of Confidence

Do you feel like you’re just going to waste your time writing down all the wrong stuff? Do you feel like you’re just bad? Find a critique group to give you a clearer sense of how people are responding to your work. No matter what they say, remember that everyone starts as a bad writer, and the way they become good writers is practice. In the moment, consider just freewriting. Remember that until it’s published, you can change your work as much as you want. If you really want to, you can just delete the whole document. There’s no consequence for writing the wrong thing except learning better how to write the right thing next time.

Lack of Creativity

Do something else. No, I don’t mean give up writing. I mean go do anything else. Do something that gets you out of your comfort zone. Creativity comes when unusual circumstances require new thinking. I described earlier my harrowing experience learning to dance. That gave me multiple ideas for my novel, some of which helped me to clarify my goals for the novel. Immediately after getting home from the dance hall I felt compelled to write two-thousand words in an entirely new first chapter, and I think I’ll still be writing out the ideas I got from that one experience for some time to come.

Don’t assign agency to your creativity. It’s not out of your hands. You don’t need drugs, you don’t need magic. You just need to write a lot and get out of your comfort zone once in a while. If you’re confident you’re a terrible writer, just write terribly until you write well.

Love your work

I gave my first public presentation of my fiction since college the other day. Those twenty-five hundred words, on a per-word basis, probably went through more time and revisions than any other work of fiction I’ve written. I even practiced running through it all several times, honing my dramatic delivery. In the end, I stood up in front of an audience of about twenty, and did pretty well. A few folks came to me and said they appreciated my performance.

Why do I feel so empty, then? Well, that’s just it. They basically said they appreciated my performance and left it at that. I didn’t spark any interesting thoughts or conversations. I didn’t evoke any emotions or personal recollections. I didn’t even inspire a thoughtful and incisive criticism. I was hoping for a deep validation, exploration, and celebration of my work, and presenting to this audience was only marginally better than presenting to a brick wall.

Maybe I’ve set you up for this next paragraph. “Of course that was too much to hope for” you may be thinking. Of course you are right. As tiny individuals on a colossal world stage, we put our lives into works that mean the world to us and very little to everyone else. When I play a video game I enjoy myself during and then when it is finished I feel briefly bereft, no longer enjoying my mastery of the fictional world and knowing that now that it’s done, as far as the real world is concerned I may as well have done nothing at all. I had assumed that spending time on a “productive” activity would be different, but naturally it is not. My estimated twelve hours writing a story is the audience’s five minutes, so I’ll always get back a tiny fraction of what I give. This is the plight probably of all artists, also of the frustrated political activist, and the friend who gives too much and receives too little in return.

Next question, “So why bother?” This is a question, perhaps ironically, that I explore in my writing. One theme of The Sympathetic Universe is that the gods have the opposite problem. Rather than being unable to affect any meaningful difference on their world, they are so powerful that everything they accomplish is inherently trivial. They struggle with the fact that, when you are free from all limitations, nothing fundamentally means anything. This is why they hide from their empty divinity in brief human lives fraught with struggle, significance, and purpose. Every time they die and get their immortal memories back they realize again that their exciting, often tragic life was just an insignificant speck in a grand game to distract themselves from the void. The best drama so far in my opinion has come from Ta, the god who refused to admit that the life she experienced meant nothing, and used her near-omnipotent powers to go back in time and illegally alter the universe in which she had lived to better satisfy the needs of the human she had once been. Seem petty? Yeah, when you’re a divine entity, there’s not much else to do.

Ultimately, in The Sympathetic Universe, the gods always go back to being humans because pretending that things matter is addictive in a way that divinity can’t match. The gods envy humanity’s passion just as we envy their ability. We are happiest when we care about things and believe that what we do matters, even if in the end, in a cosmic sense, it will all be for nothing. Just make the most out of your time on this Earth, do what you love, and love what you do. The universe isn’t going to love it for you.

Good Critiquing

I mentioned a while back that I had to stop posting my story revisions in order to comply with the rules of a competition to which I was submitting. The final title of my story is “The Strength of the Spirit Lifter,” and I still can’t share it because it will be included in the Rhine Center’s short story collection. That is to say, I won. Specifically, I won second place, which is quite a bit more than nothing out of thirty applicants.

I consider this an example of what one can accomplish with a creative vision backed by a demanding writing group. If you look over my old revisions, you may notice the huge leap that my story takes after the first time I manage to get my writing group to look at it. One of my critics, author of the Natalie McMasters series Tom Burns, literally responded to the first draft with “yawn, who cares?” He pretty much said the same thing about the last of the drafts that I posted online. Although I cannot share it with you, my real final draft, the competition winner, departs significantly from what you all have seen. Yes, this time he finally didn’t say “who cares?”

I can’t recommend enough seeking out serious criticism. If your readers all think your work is great and can’t think of anything meriting significant rework but you still have aspirations to do better, find more serious people to read your work. Tom doesn’t shy away from telling me when he would have put my story down and never picked it up again if he didn’t have an obligation to review it, which is most of the time.

That’s not to say you should seek out people who hate your writing. If your critic sets your submission on fire right there in the Starbucks, that’s on you for giving him a hard copy. No, a good critic seeks to improve rather than tear down. Even through his most blunt critiques, Tom manages to maintain the impression that he thinks the creative vision behind my writing is very much worth the effort of putting together a compelling story to bring it to audiences.

Actually, when the shoe is on the other foot and I review his work, if I start to get pushy about his decisions, Tom’s not shy about saying “who cares” to that, too. “Who cares” is an important concept in fiction, since its worth derives entirely from getting people to care enough about what you’re writing to keep reading. That said, as a critic you may or may not fall in the author’s intended audience. Tom wastes no time reminding me that as the critic my role is only to advise, and that it’s silly to try to do anything else. It’s a lesson I have a strangely hard time learning with some of my other writing friends.

If you’re into sexy, violent mystery serials and a strong female protagonist who doesn’t always exercise common sense, consider the first book in Tom’s series, Stripper!.

Unpublished Work

Well, I’m in a tricky situation. I want to keep writing my blog every week. I would like that work to relate to other work I’m doing so I can spend the time to do a good job and have it mean something. However, if I pitch my work somewhere the expectation is that it is unpublished. For this reason, I believe I will have to stop publishing my revisions of “Spirit Lifter” to my blog. If for whatever reason I learn that my final draft will not end up under someone else’s copyright, then I’ll post it here. I’ll leave up the earlier drafts and be honest with them that I’m doing so.

Since I’m spending time writing my novel and writing short stories for publication on top of my regular life, it’s getting more demanding for me to pen down further unrelated content on my blog. So, I think that for a while my weekly entries will go back to be low-key descriptions of things happening in my life. Thanks for joining me while this was briefly a writing blog. Perhaps someday it will become so again.

The Sympathetic Universe Part 25

Eloy remembered. Hesitantly, he sloughed off his decrepit old body. He reached out to Gabriel, who at this point it was needless to say was not in Hell.

“That was a terrible game,” they agreed. Gabriel’s god chimed in, “Eloy, it was fine until your god wrecked it.”

“That game was WRECKED from the START,” said Eloy’s god.

“Why are you still talking like that?” Angel’s god snapped, “You don’t see me trying to communicate by sending you all cryptic visions.”

“If you don’t mind,” said Mr. Tiger, “Some of us are still playing. Destiny is so close to second place.”

“A DIS-TANT second place. Eloy, I’m still LAUGH-ING from your conviction that I was your mother. I went through an no-IN-TER-VEN-TION version of Eloy’s life before we started the game, so if AN-Y-THING, I’m YOU from the future! It’s A-MAZ-ING how we become our parents, I suppose.”

Eloy wasn’t amused. Part of him agreed that this was just a silly game, but a larger part of him felt like this was his life. “You let me believe I was fighting to not go to Hell.”

“And HOW HARD you fought, my child.”

Eloy said nothing. He turned to the game. The whole universe was a few astronomical units in every direction. Most of it was just there to avoid having to hand-engineer the day cycle, the seasons, and the weather. The whole thing was copied from a few thousand BC, with Camp Virtue placed in what would be Yellowstone National Park.

Eloy watched Eliza, Destiny, and his children stand at his pyre. He wondered how he could already be declared the victor if there were still two people playing, so he checked the score.

GABRIEL: 10,442 Points

ANGEL: 25,321 Points

DESTINY: 30,001 Points

ELIZA: 30,125 Points

ELOY: 246,681 Points

Well, that explained that. Destiny delivered the eulogy and got another ten points. Eliza had graciously let Destiny deliver the eulogy, which earned her twenty points. This system really was a terrible one. With the help of his god, Eloy had pinpointed the highest-return virtues in the game and exploited them to achieve an order of magnitude higher virtue than anyone else without really being a substantially better person. That and learning that really nothing was on the line in the end made it all seem pretty pointless.

None of the next generation were on the scoreboard. Eloy’s common sense told him that they were just products of the universe. More than not being part of the competition, they wouldn’t have any consciousness until someone decided to try living their lives, which, this being a minor spin-off universe, would likely never happen. The notion was an affront to the mortal Eloy he still strongly identified as being.

“Gabriel, Angel,” Eloy asked, “would you and your gods like to play another game?”

“No,” all four entities answered in unison.

“No, no, a different game. I was thinking we could take out the whole point aspect. We don’t really need to have just one winner. Instead of trying to optimize virtue using a sloppy scoring function, what if we just helped our charges lead meaningful lives that make sense to them? I also would suggest that we don’t relocate everyone to a camp in a deserted universe. We ended up pretty stunted with no other people around.”

Their silence suggested he had their attention. “When this game is done, let’s take Robert, Avery, and Janet. Don’t separate them, just move them into another world with people. We can pick some other people too so Destiny and Eliza can join. Since it’s a shared universe, no altering it except for communicating with your chosen. Also no fast-forwarding or rewinding – we have to all operate in the same time at the same time.”

“Honestly, that sounds boring,” Eloy’s god said.

“I was thinking I’d just go off and do my own thing for a while,” said Gabriel.

“Fine, so the eight of us can mix and match mortals and gods. Sound fun?”

This seemed like a reasonable idea and it met with general approval.

“Ok, I’ll start setting up a world while this game finishes up.”

Soon, Eloy was watching Avery from outside time and space. Unbeknownst to herself, Avery was the same entity that had been her late mother Eliza. Her eldest brother Robert used to be the god to a severely displaced French Monk named Gabriel, and her older sister Janet was the consciousness of their aunt Destiny. They were charged with raising one little child, formerly Angel’s god, with advice from the god formerly known as The Grasshopper. Eloy had left the naming of this child up to the mortals. He even insisted on this when Avery won the game of Super-Chess to decide who would get to pick the name and begged him to just tell her what name he wanted her to pick.

“Avery,” he chided, “Great divine plans are overrated. Don’t worry too much about how it will all add up in the end. Just do your best for the world you have now.”