Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Five Things I've Learned About Writing

Never have I claimed to know what I am doing when it comes to writing. For a long time, I thought all one had to do was sit down at a computer and let the story pour out of them. Little did I know there were rules, though people often debate whether these need to be followed or broken, tricks, jargon, structures and devices that one needed to be aware of in order to craft something not only readable, but sell-able.

In the last two years I've learned a crap ton of stuff about the craft I call story weaving.

Here are the top five things I've learned:


To be honest, when I first heard this term I thought it meant some drunk chick at the bar blabbing on about why her ex broke up with her, the reasons she didn't care, what she is searching for in a man and how pretty my dress is. Turns out, I wasn't too far off from the truth. Think of an infodump like an over-share - too much information, too soon and often completely unnecessary, if not inappropriate. These large, somewhat unruly, sections of details can leave the reader feeling put off, bogged down or, God forbid, uncomfortable.

Everyone agrees a story needs details, but said details don't need to be offered up in one hefty, and hard to swallow, lump of back story. There are numerous ways to get around the infodump, but my most preferred is dialogue. Dialogue is your friend. Someone can tell a story and fill the reader in while still adding direction and making the scene engaging. The book moves forward, the reader remains riveted and all is right in the world.

We all can be infodumpers from time-to-time, the key is to be aware of what infodumping is and curb it as much as possible. Of course there are published books that infodump. One such example is the marvelous book Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson which infodumps all over the place. To be blunt, the whole book is pretty much one big infodump, but the author is Canadian and we let these things slide with those people.

Passive Voice

Who knew a story had voice? Furthermore, who knew a story's voice could be passive or active? I certainly didn't.Well, now I do and I have no excuse. The truth is, once you are made aware of it, you understand why it is important to purge the passive and activate the active. When you write active it puts the reader in the story, making it more engaging and compelling them to continue reading instead of using you novel to prop up their end table with the wobbly leg.

Here's an example:

The pen is being held by me.

Hello passivity, so nice of you to stop by. This is completely unnecessary, and somewhat awkward.

I am holding the pen.

Better, right?

There are some instances where passive voice is necessary, like of you were writing a crime novel you might opt to say 'The jewels were stolen' instead of saying 'Jacky Jackerson stole the jewels' because it's likely at this point the 'detective' might not know who stole the jewels. Are you with me? Good.

Was Ing-ing

That doesn't make any sense at all, does it? What I mean to say by 'was ing-ing' is the importance of cutting 'ing' verbs out of your work, especially when it is preceded by 'was'. Oh, this also increases the activeness in your story which means this point ties nicely in with the previous one. Go Active-Man!

In my first novel I relied heavily on 'was ing-ing'. People 'was ing-ing'ed all over the place. Okay, I'm being a smartass and trying to mess with your head. Let me explain what I mean. First, it's always a good idea to keep your 'was' and 'ing's in check. Watch out for them! Or you might end up with a sentence like this:

She was walking along the sidewalk, studying the trees over head, and absently snacking on a granola bar.

Now, let's not focus on how craptastic this sentence is (because I literally just whipped it up special for this blog post and didn't put much thought into it) and instead focus on the 'was' and 'ing'. This sentence is easily adjusted to make it, not only less passive, but easier on the eyes.

She walked along the sidewalk, studying the trees over head, and absently snacked on a granola bar.

We lost a 'was' and two 'ing's. I feel my work here is done.

Excess Words

No, I am not talking about when you drone on and on about the sunset peaking over the jagged mountain tops which are pointing to the sky like an old hag's crooked finger. That's something entirely different. It's called beating your reader to death with descriptions that are unnecessary to the story or, more familiar in the writing circuit, purple prose or overwriting.

When I say excess words I mean adding in an extra word here and there for no apparent reason. These need to be culled. Why, you might ask, because they staunch the flow of your work and sometimes they make you look stupid. Oh yeah, I went there.

Here are three common examples:

The cold ice cube slipped down between her breasts making her shiver.

I burned myself on the hot pan.

The apple pie that I baked yesterday cooled on the windowsill all afternoon.

Can you identify the words that can be weeded out in order to make the sentences more fluid?

If you said cold, hot, and that, you are right. First, we all know an ice cube is cold, so the world 'cold' is redundant. Second, if you burned yourself on a pan, it had to have been hot, so what's the point in putting it in. And lastly, your sentence stays the same whether you have 'that' or not.

It is always best to week out these excessive words, not only to trim your overly fat word count, but to make the work more readable. I see the above examples all the time, but usually it is 'the wet water' or 'a furry kitten'. It annoying. Especially the world 'that. It's one of my pet peeves and something I must dedicate a future blog to. Noted. Moving on.


Since I already mentioned this in the previous section I thought I would expand on it here. Apparently, there is such a thing as too much detail in a novel. Did you know people audibly groan when they reach big, thick, ugly chunks of narrative? They do. And they often skim over, or down right, skip them altogether. I know this for a fact because it's something I do myself.

Overwriting, or purple prose, is probably one of the worst things you can do to your writing. Not only does it grind the story to a halt, but it can be tedious to read and often unnecessary. Why torture your reader? The truth of the matter is, we, the attention deficit society that we are, need action, dialogue, and white space somewhere on the page so our eyeballs don't dry up from lack of blinking.

Look, I know the sunrise is gorgeous in your head and all you want to do is convey the image to the reader with your precious words. But you do not need three paragraphs about the morning dew kissing the grass and how the blades tickle the soles of your feet as the overwhelmingly sweet smell of nature washes over you and the sun warms your upturned face as you stare up at the sky, void of clouds, even the big fat puffy ones, you know the ones you used to stare at as a child when you laid on the hill and tried to make out what their shapes resembled. No. Just spare us. It's a lovely day, we get it, move on.

I have this saying. It's a simple little saying that rhymes and I am going to pass it along to you.

More than three sets your reader free.

This means, if you use more than three sentences to describe something then you might as well let your reader go. To be honest, three sentences is even pushing it, but sometimes that extra line about the heated granules of sand under your sensitive footsies is necessary. Sometimes. Not always.

There seems to be one exception to overwriting. Historical Fiction. For some reason it is not only accepted, but also encouraged. Don't ask me why, I am just as stumped over this as you are.

What a fantastic little list of things I learned. Hopefully, you've learned something. And if you haven't, I can only assume you've been entertained by the witty way in which I delivered my list.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Fear Not, Expose Yourself

Some of you may be aware that last year I got it into my head it would be a good idea to have a VLOG. Okay, maybe I didn't think it was a GOOD idea, but I was bored and I thought 'why not?'. In reality, it's sort of a wonder as to why I stepped up and actually did that first vlog and the 51 others I've put forth into the world since. To be honest, there are a lot of reasons not to do a vlog. Just as there are a lot of reasons why you shouldn't do a blog, make a fan page on Facebook, or create yourself a website for your work.

If you aren't an ego monster, you might wonder why anyone would want to read, watch or look at whatever it is you're doing. Like me, you might suffer from self-doubts. You might think your work isn't good enough. Or, you might worry people won't understand it. Some of you may have never shown your work to another living soul and are terrified to take the first step.

Then there is the other part. The part that fears criticism. And, to put it bluntly, people aren't all sugar, rainbows and kittens chasing puppies. No. People can be cruel. It's these cruel people who will show up on your website just to tell you your writing has less merit than the hastily scrawled writings on the bathroom door at the gas station by Lickety Splits Five and Dime. Or they make an appearance on your YouTube channel to let you know your face looks like an over tenderized rump roast. People often are rude, harsh, and mercilessly nasty just for the sake of being harsh, rude, and mercilessly nasty. Some people just like to be mean, shocking, I know.

If self doubts and fear of criticism aren't making you hesitate about putting your artistic endeavours out in the world, maybe your need to question everything is. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, has at one time or another asked them self, what's the point? Why should we put our creations out in the world? What if you make a blog and only ten people subscribe? Or you start a vlog and only get thirteen views? What's going to come of it?

These, I think, are the three most common reasons why people balk at the idea of showing their creations to the world.

The other day I was talking to my friend at work and I said to him, "If you don't put yourself out there, you aren't going to get anything back." It sounds like a cheesy line someone says to you when you're lost, lonely and looking for love. But I wasn't talking about finding the perfect mate, I was talking about my vlog, blog, fan-page, and website.

Two years ago, I didn't have any of it. I didn't want to have any of it. In some ways I was embarrassed of my writing, but mostly I felt it wasn't any good. No one, and I do mean no one, seemed interested in it. It wasn't until recently that I was able sit back and think, how could they have been interested in it, most people didn't even know about it. I like to say my leap into the virtual world was made out of stupidity, but, in reality, I think it was made out of sheer brilliance because it's given me something I never would have had otherwise.


Not 100% confidence, mind you, because it waffles daily. Sometimes it's at 63% and other times it's at 82%, but it's still there, hanging out in the background saying, "Do it, Tyson, someone, somewhere will like it."

But here is the truth, while someone, somewhere will like it, someone, somewhere will also hate it. And I'm okay with that, we all have to be okay with that. In grade school we learned we can't control what other people think or feel and that applies to our own work. The most important thing we can learn is the shrug and nod.

The shrug and nod is a movement that says, "Oh, well, that's your opinion and I accept it." It is a key gesture needed to survive in practically any industry. It's the moment when you realize the other person is not going to change their opinion and so you simply let them have it, because they are entitled to it.

If you take away anything from this blog, take away this: DON'T = WON'T.

If you don't put yourself out there, you won't get anything. And I do mean anything, whether it be recognition for how brilliant you are, a supportive community to encourage and keep you ploughing away, viewers for your vlog, blog subscribers, a contract with an agent, a national bestseller, or a kick in the pants from someone who can teach you how to make your work better. Those who do not try, who do not put themselves out there, will walk away empty handed.

Self Doubts

We all have them. Do not think you are unique with your own, you aren't. We all, at some point, doubt our work, doubt what we are doing and doubt who we are. Since we all have them, don't let them hold you back. Too many people allow their self doubts to keep them from experiencing the things they want or achieving their goals. Don't be one of those people. Don't let yourself hold you back.

Fearing Criticism

No one should be afraid of criticism. First off, it could help make you better at whatever it is you're doing. Secondly, you can always say to yourself, 'hey, it's one person's opinion and I can't please everyone.' And third, we all get it. Even world famous singers, writers, actors get it. The other day I read a comment about how someone hated The Road by Cormac McCarthy. If McCarthy has people who hate his work you are destined to have people hate yours.

I want to stress the importance of learning how distinguish the different types of criticism. This is important for two reasons:

1. To know who and what to listen to in order to grow. 
2. To know how to respond accordingly.

Helpful Criticism - This is often accompanied by the person saying a couple things they liked about your work. They might use words like 'I think', 'in my opinion' or 'this could be better', or they might leap right in and say what they disliked. Usually, helpful criticism makes you think about your work, it makes you reread a section or it might wake you up to something you were unaware of. This form of criticism can hurt or be a blow to the ego, but the main thing you need to know is that it usually isn't malicious and it certainly isn't a swipe at you personally. Try not to take it to heart.

Unhelpful Criticism (also called Douchebaggery Crit) - This type of crit is easier to recognize. Usually it includes things like this is fucked, I've never read something so horrible, god awful, stop doing this, my eyes are bleeding and your face is as ugly as my dog's ass. These are personal attacks. Chances are they didn't even read your work or watch your video. You can tell because they don't site any examples from your work and instead choose the more mature route of name calling. You can completely disregard this sort of criticism. Also it is best not to respond. If you do wish to respond, appear unaffected, even if you are hurt by them saying your mother should have aborted you instead of birthing you.

Why? Oh, Why? 

This is probably the most useless reason not to do something. None of us know the future. We don't know if our blog is going to be successful the day we start it, or if our free story uploaded to Kindle is going to get a thousand downloads in a day. People who are successful at one point didn't know if they would be. They may have even asked themselves, what's the point?! Sure, the market is tough. Yes, it gets frustrating putting yourself out there at times. And I know it's aggravating to continuously do something and not get the reaction or recognition that you feel you deserve or want.

But what's the reverse? Not doing it? Having it sit on your computer collecting dust? That's one way for your dreams to never come true. People don't succeed by hiding. They succeed by taking the first step and then another one after that. Granted, your steps might lead you to a dead end, but that's when you turn around and take another step in a new direction.

Like you, I have fears. I don't know why anyone would watch my vlogs or read my blogs, but I still do them. Having thirteen views is better than none. And having ten subscribers is better than only my cat hearing my opinions on random things. So, take the step. Toss the fear to the side and expose yourself. Who knows, someone could actually like what they see and you might be the next big thing.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Rap Lyric Of The Week #1

Welcome to my latest feature!

Here I will share with you the most ridiculous rap lyrics I can find.

This week's gem is delivered by Dr.Dre and Dj Quick in the song: Put It On Me.

"Bitch needs some good dick, I got that too.
Speed bag the clit, leave it black and blue."

Wonderful. Really. Just. Wonderful.

As much as I appreciate a good tongue lashing (see what I did there?), I'm pretty sure no woman wants their clit left black and blue. Just sayin'.

Please join me next week, for another edition of Rap Lyric Of The Week.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Sad Day

Today is a sad day.

And no, it isn't because, for the first time in years, I awoke in my own bed without Oliver's doe-like eyes staring at me and his tail wagging. Though, now that you mention it, that was rather heart-breaking. But my chin is up, and I powered through my morning routine.

No, the sad part came when I got to work and realized that Claire really did leave. It wasn't just some kind of sick joke.

Here's the thing, great co-workers are few and far between. My little team had came together, started a plog, got comfortable enough to create new people like Nosferatu to work with, and really had hit their stride as a team. People to rely on. People to laugh with. What more can you want?

But Claire had goals. Which is both terribly sad and terribly annoying. Well, that's a joke, but only slightly, because if I could have made her stay here with me for all of eternity I would have. Makes me really regret not going for lunch with her the last couple of months.

Her cubicle was cleared out. The art work taken down. The drawings erased from her white board. A goodbye note left behind. No more mess. No more snacks strewn about. And the most sob-worthy thing, her Halloween up left behind, for me.

I'd be lying if I said I didn't well up.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

In Bed

The best part about going out for Chinese food is the Fortune Cookies. Ironically, or maybe not so, the Fortune Cookie does not exist in China. It has been said that this tasty little treat was introduced by the Japanese, popularized by the Chinese, but ultimately consumed by Americans. Whether or not that is accurate is beyond me. But it's clearly stated on Wikipedia that the simple recipe of flour, oil, vanilla and sugar is very similar to a Japanese cracker.

Several Chinese groups in California would love to claim responsibility for the creation of the fortune cookie, but since the 19th century, a cookie called omikujo has been served in Japan as a temple tradition. Though the Japanese version of the cookie does differ in a couple ways, it's a bit larger, is darker dough and made with miso and sesame, they still contain a fortune. And so, I must give the point to the Japanese.

Regardless, this isn't about where the cookie came from or who invented it. No, this is about a strange tradition that's developed. When you get a fortune cookie it is customary to add 'in bed' on the end of whatever your fortune may be. Is this is a common practice? Or is it something only my circle of friends know about? I do not know.

One may wonder why we would do such a thing. The answer is simple. For a laugh. Basically, it turns every fortune cookie into a dirty little giggle. Sometimes it doesn't make much sense, but most of the time it is well worth a snicker. A friend of mine once got: You will find financial success. Tack 'in bed' onto it and it becomes, you will have financial success in bed. Well, if that's not encouraging I don't know what is.

The other day, I got the most brilliant fortune. Alone it was amazing. It made me smile thinking about all the possabilities. And then, when I tacked 'in bed' on the end, I was left a little hot and bothered.I can't really explain it, so I'm just going to show you my fortune.

I can't help but hope this is accurate, with the 'in bed' or without.

Dirty Thoughts 101 - Try not to have them when you're out to dinner with your family.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Fooled Again

I was prepping for a good solid blog about one of my pet writing peeves when someone (the lovely and all-knowing Noelle Pierce) set me straight. Apparently, I've been getting worked up over something and there's been no need to.

The subject on the chopping block was going to be until/till. In my ignorance, I though 'till' was a cash register and when people used it as a shortened version of 'until' they were wrong. But guess what? They aren't wrong at all. Not only is it acceptable, but 'till' predates the usage of until! Crazy, right?

Well, to say the least, my mind was blown. When I wanted to use a short version of until I would use 'til. Which actually is frowned upon. Little did I know!

But the learning didn't stop there! Once I realized what a fool I've been all these years, I wanted to know more. Like, is there a difference between until and till? And the answer to that question is 'yes'. There is!
Who knew?

Well, apparently a whole bunch of people on the Internet knew.

Here's the difference:

Till- (meaning) the process (and the time-period) up to the point of time or action.
Until- (meaning) reference to the end-point in time of reference or commencement of an activity.

The key is to keep in mind where and what you want to emphasize upon.

Do you understand? Probably not, because I didn't. Instead of butchering an explanation for you, head on over HERE! and give it a read.

There is nothing like learning new things.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


Did you ever notice how people cringe at the word feminist? Try tossing it into a casual conversation and watch people flinch back away from it like it's a verbal form of anthrax. It's almost as powerful as f**k or, God forbid, the C-word. Sometimes it's even more effective than slapping someone across the face. I've actually seen people dive under a table to take cover.

"I'm a feminist."

This statement conjures up so many images, and so many of them are negative. A bitch. A man hater. A lesbian. Someone who has short hair and wears leather bracelets. Throughout my travels I've found women balk at the term 'feminist' and 'feminism' because they feel in order to call themselves this they have to take action against any man checking out their tits and ass or they think they have to attend every take back the night rally or write horrible poetry about the oppression of women. Worse, they think they have to stop shaving their legs and trade their tampons in for a Diva cup.

Not so.

Actually, feminism comes down to one simple idea: equal rights. Do you want equal political, economic, and social rights for women? Do you want the same pay as a man? Do you want the same opportunities? Do you want to be able to go where you want? Wear what you want? And not be punished for it?

Well, then you're a feminist, or, if you are male, you support feminists.

Here's where it gets tricky. The judgemental feminist.

Instead of banding together and creating an ultra She-Ra front to battle against the injustices against women there is division and unnecessary snobbery.

As a woman, you have the right to lead the life you want to lead. If that means you want to pop out babies, become a stay at home mom, be a high profile lawyer and wear your hair in a bun or be a waitress at a restaurant where the uniform is something short, black and sexy, well, that's your choice. If you believe a woman has the right to make her choices and be compensated equally in their professions while doing those things, then you're a feminist.

Except, some feminists don't share my opinion on this matter. Some feminists badger, hound, ridicule and mistreat those women who opt to choose fields of work they consider beneath them, or demeaning to women. Which really is backwards if you think about it.

"I'm a feminist, I believe women have the right to make their own decisions, as long as they don't show off too much skin, cook dinners for their men every night or wear heels over two inches tall."

As for myself, I'm a feminist. I'm a girl. And all girls should be feminists. It's simply a matter of wanting to be treated fairly and not prejudged by our boobs or what's nestled between our legs.

Ever since I was young I have been fiercely independent. I do everything for myself. But there's this part of me that just wants to feel safe and protected. Is that anti-feminism? Also, I'd be content to stay home and man the ship while my partner brings home the bacon. I'd be happy to cook and clean and keep up the house. To some, this would be extremely anti-feminist, but it isn't.

Just because it doesn't work for one feminist doesn't mean it won't work of another.

That said, I don't have anyone to take care of me, to keep me safe, to protect me. So, I'm left to do it for myself. And that's fine too.

Feminism doesn't have to be nasty. Drop the feminasty. We're all working towards the same goal, taking over the world and ruling it with a female iron first. Oh, no. Sorry, that's my world domination blog. Our goal this week is to work together and recognize that there are many different feminists, in all sorts of walks of life, and we shouldn't be so ignorant to force our own ideas on others.

I mean, I'm not going to be a stripper, but if a woman thinks it is liberating and feels powerful doing it. So be it.

And now, for an anti-feminist song...or is it?