Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Cup for Joe

Mitch swirled what was left of his coffee. The grounds settled to the bottom of his mug while the tan liquid raced around the sides. Outside the diner, cars shuttled back and forth on Main Street. Across the way, a couple college boys attempted to load a couch into the back of their truck, the local grocer set up his fruit displays, and in front of the theater, two young men sat on a bench together.
“Need a refill?”
“Yea, that’d be great.”
The waitress filled Mitch’s mug and said, “Whatcha looking at?”
“Oh nothing.”
“Like hell it’s nothing.” She pointed towards the window with her coffee pot. “You’ve been staring out that window all morning. You havent’ even touched the paper yet.”
“News don’t interest me no more.”
“Since when?”
Mitch turned towards the waitress. “Joe’s back in town.”
“Isn’t that something. You gonna see him?”
“Don’t know.”
“How long has it been? Five years?”
“Something like that.” Mitch took a tiny sip of his coffee as to not burn his tongue.
“Oh come on. He wants to see--”
“No!” He pounded his fist on the table, some coffee spilt over the edge of his mug. “If he chooses to live like that, I won’t have anything to do with him.”
“You know they’re now saying that it’s not a choice, hun. He was just born that way.”
“You blaming me? I taught him to play ball, fix cars, and all that...Never let him play with his sister’s dolls. Hell I never even got him a G.I. Joe.” Mitch resumed looking out the window. “Should I have gotten him a G.I. Joe?”
“Honey, no. You were a good father when he was a kid. Now, be one for him as an adult.”
He pointed out towards the theater. “There’s another one. Another man with him.”
“Go see them. Be a father again.”
“Bonnie, just get me my bill.”
“Naw, this one’s on the house.”
Mitch slid out of the booth and walked out onto the street.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Inserting the 'Knowledge Gap' into your writing

The last two weeks, I've been reading David Baboulene's book "The Story Book" and I've learned quite a lot that I want to share with you. The book is primarily concerned about script writing for movies, but the same principles apply to any type of story you are trying to tell. I recommend you check it out if you have a Kindle (paperback is listed at like $40!?!?! while the Kindle version is only $1.99) and then go watch the movie Back to the Future since this is the key example that keeps coming back again and again.

But anyways, the key concept of the book that I feel is well worth your time to actually look at and analyze would be the concept of a "knowledge gap" and how it helps create a subtextual plot.

First, we need to lay down the knowledge gaps and what they are. Quite simply, it is a lack of information that either some subset of the characters or the reader is privileged to.

A knowledge gap for the reader might be the lack of knowledge that one of the characters is really a vampire. The character who is a vampire knows this fact and acts accordingly, but the reader does not. This allows the reader's imagination to go into overdrive trying to figure out why this particular character hates the sunlight. All of a sudden, boom, they've engaged their own imagination. And once that is up and running, it's easier for them to apply that to other aspects of the story. (Plus is also gives them a puzzle to figure out without them knowing it. And we all love to solve puzzles, so it keeps us interested)

Once it's revealed to the reader that this character is a vampire, the author might take our vamp into some little village somewhere. Here, the reader knows he is a vampire, but the other characters do not. This again gives the reader some things to play with and imagine all on their own, like how the characters are going to react, or even how they would react in a similar situation.

Now both of those concepts are pretty basic (although you don't really hear them discussed much, regardless of the jargon used to describe it) What you really want to know by reading this post, is how to use that simple concept to create a plot of pure subtext.

I won't be able to teach this to you in a single blog post, but what might get you on the right track is to look at your stories and see what kind of underlying message you want to get across. It is usually this underlying message that really brings out the power in a story, since it is something that the reader 'discovers' on their own without being told bluntly what it is. This makes that underlying message stick a lot longer with the reader because they came up with it 'on their own.'

A simple example I can give you would be if you have a husband and wife in your story, and you want to get across the point that marriage is hard but worth it. You don't have to make the characters fight, make up, and talk about how happy they are. You could write a scene where they fight, say doing the dishes, then at the end have the husband pause for a moment, smile, and blow a handful of dish bubbles at the other right at the point where their argument is at its most intense.

The knowledge gap here would be that the reader doesn't know that this is actually a happy married couple. So their mind is thinking "wow, when will they get divorced. They really hate each other. I wonder if he cheater on her. Does she no longer love him?" But in reality it's just innocent bickering. The other knowledge gap would be between the husband and wife. The husband knows(and so should the reader at the obvious 'paused and smiled' cues) that he's realized their argument is stupid and it's not worth fighting about (which is why he playfully blows the bubbles at her). But she doesn't know this, making the reader feel like they are in on the playfulness.

The plot of my little example is pretty simple on the surface. Husband and wife fight. Husband ends fight by blowing bubbles at wife. The subtextual plot is, Husband and wife have difficulties, but in the end they realize how much they enjoy being around each other. The subtextual plot is the one you feel closer to, and it also has a lot more power than just the superficial one.

What do you think of this method of putting in subtext? Do you already do this or have some other method?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Platamel inverse

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a piece for #fridayflash called Platamel that was 100% pure dialog. Today I did some experimenting and wrote that exact same piece, but with all dialog tags and no dialog. I call it, "Platamel inverse"

She said.
He asked.
She stammered.
He demanded.
She pleaded.
He questioned.
She stated.
He said
She repeated
He shouted
She begged.
He commanded.
She said.
He laughed.
She pleaded.
He laughed again.
She asked.
He boomed.
She pouted
He chuckled
She defied..
He commanded.
She acquiesced.
He asked.
She laughed.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Caddy

This little number was inspired by some banter my wife and I had...don't know how we got on the topic of golf but it had us laughing for a while.

   Tom crouched down, shielded the sun with his hands, and he surveyed the lie. “What do you think?”

   Steve squatted next to Tom. “How about the seven iron?”
   “Funny. But seriously, what do you think?”
   “I think you should use your seven iron.”
   “I’m six feet from the cup. I’m using my putter. I just want to know what you think about this lie.”
   “I know where you are, and I think this particular shot warrants the use of your seven iron.”
   Tom stood up. “Just get me my putter.”
   “What about your three wood?”
   “Are you deaf? Get me my damn putter and quit screwing around!”
   Tom’s partner stood off by the cart. Hearing the commotion, he lowered his phone and looked towards them. Tom took a deep breath. “I’m sorry. I see you’re just trying to lighten the mood. But can I have my club now?”
   Steve looked over at Tom’s partner, who gave him a quick wink. He reached into the golf bag and pulled out the seven iron. “Is the the club you wanted?”
   Tom grabbed it from, threw it onto the ground, and pushed Steve aside. “Get out of my way.” He rummaged through his bag, but didn’t find his putter. “Where is it!” he shouted.
   “I lost it. I’m sorry.”
   “What does that mean?”
   “I...I bet the other caddy you would par the last hole, but I didn’t have any money on me, so I gave him your putter.”
   “You gave away one of my clubs?!”
   “You son of a bitch!” Tom chased Steve over to the cart where he grabbed hold of his neck and dragged him to the ground. Steve struggled for breath as Tom lifted up a fist and punched him in the nose.
   With his hand cocked back for another blow, Tom loosen his grip on just enough for Steve to speak. “stop...stop...I didn’t bet...”
   Tom got off and stood up “What do you mean you didn’t bet?”
   “It was a joke...your partner paid me five hundred dollars to mess with you. He said you would get a kick out of it.”
   Tom looked up at his partner. He held his phone up; the camera pointed right at him. “Now, Senator, can we discuss my little piece of legislation?”

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Why you should transcribe hand

When you go art museums, chances are you'll see somebody like the woman on the left copying a masterpiece. She's not expecting to make a name for herself by doing this. Sure she might sell it as a copy...who knows...but that's not the reason she invests all this time into her task. She's spending days in this museum with her paints and easel to get inside the master's mind and figure out exactly how they created the illusions that made that painting great.

She's hoping that once she gains these insights, she will have the skills necessary to eventually create beautiful art of her own. She hopes to become a master herself.

Other arts such as music or literature don't have such public exposure to artists copying the masters, as they can be done in the privacy of their own home, but it's something we shouldn't neglect to do ourselves.

We read the masters as writers and we learn stuff from them. They teach us how to tell a story and what you can do with the language. But how much can we really absorb by just reading them once, twice, even ten times? The answer is not as nearly as much is if you sit down and actually transcribe their words on paper by hand.

When you slow things down and copy down each word, each letter, and each punctuation mark, you are effectively dissecting the work. You figure out what the author is doing and you gain insight in to why. You essentially take a microscope to the work, and just like the painter, you inspect each brush stroke, each color is scrutinized, and more often than not, you end up with an ah-ha moment that leaves you a stronger writer.

While most of the masters are famous for their novels, it would be preferable to select some of their more acclaimed short stories. They are short enough where it will only take a couple hours to transcribe an entire story by hand (Yes I know this is a long time, but it's worth it) You will then see how these authors open the story, carry it through the middle, and wrap it up in the end. Novels...well those would take weeks of constant transcription and an wrist of steel to do.

Novels though can contain very good passages that would have some benefit as well, and while copying the whole thing might not be practical, doing the first and last chapter will give you insights into the two most important chapters in a novel, if writing those things are your thing.

Now I also mentioned that you should do this by hand. Why is that? Well for one is slows you down just a little bit more. It's easy on a keyboard to type fast and recklessly because it's easy to delete and use spellcheck. This will not only diminish the effect of transcription, but you will loose one of the other benefits that will really help you out...HANDWRITING. As I'm writing this post, @sirra_girl just mentioned how she can't read her own edits sometimes, just like me. Well one way to improve this aspect is to write by hand and write slowly. Again, greatly beneficial.

The last thing I want to mention is that you also want to make sure you do some transcribing of the modern masters as well. While the old guys like Shakespeare, Dickens, Poe, etc. have lots to learn from, the modern masters (especially ones published in the last year or two) will help you keep your writing current. If you're not plugged into who they are, just look at award winners for instance.

Is this something you've done before? If yes, did it work for you? If no, will you be trying this?

Friday, July 8, 2011


 This story has some sexual content, so if you're squeamish about that kind of thing, read on and try to get past your squeamishness :) Anyways, let me know what you think.

    Lizzy turned around and looked back at the security guard; she could still taste the cigarettes on him. He winked at her as she continued backstage. Lizzy shuddered.
    She made her way around the band’s gear, lights, and other miscellaneous obstacles towards the dressing room. The door, green with faded paint, looked exactly how it was described to her.  Lizzy pushed it open and looked in at Neil, sitting in front of his mirror, combing back his signature hair.
    He turned to look at her and smiled. “Aren’t you a bit early? We still haven’t gone on yet.”
    Lizzy batted her eyelashes. “I know. I was wondering if I could help know..warm up?”
    “I suppose a good stretch would do me good.” He looked towards the back of the dressing room at the couch. “Close the door.”
    Neil sauntered over and took a seat on the long-since faded green cushions and patted his skin-tight leather pants. Lizzy took her time walking over to him, waving her hips back and forth. Neil sat there watching. When she joined him, Lizzy set her purse down between them and ran her hand though his thick, black hair.
    “You like it? Every girl I’m with wants to touch the hair.”
    “I love it.”
    “They come for the fame and the hair, but they stay for this.” He undid his fly and pulled out his dick. Still flaccid, it slapped against his leather pants.
    Lizzy pulled her hand out of Neil’s hair and looked down. “Looks like we’ve got a little work to do.”
    Neil looked away. “Yea, I fucking know. Just do something to get it up.”
    She brought her legs up onto the couch and got up on her knees, looking down at the rock star. Neil looked up with a blank expression as he motioned down towards his dick. “What are you doing?”
    “Don’t worry about it.” Lizzy swung over and began straddling Neil, pinning to him the couch. “I know what I’m doing.”
    “I don’t think you do.” He tried to move, but she weighed just enough to keep him down. “Get off me you crazy bitch!”
Lizzy pulled out a pair of scissors from her purse.
“What are those? What the fuck!”
She tapped the metal blades on his exposed penis. “Do you have any idea what you did to my sister a couple years ago?”
“No. Listen, I don’t even know who you or she is. Please!”
“Of course not. She’s just one of the many hundreds of the girls you've fucked! But now she, and probably the rest of them, are suffering from a host of STDs because of this.” She ran the point of the scissors down his shaft, drawing a slight trickle of blood.
“I’m sorry, I really am.”
“Are you?”
Neil’s face was red as sweat began to drip down his forehead. “Yes. I’m very very sorry. You know, I never thought about it like this, but’re right.” He looked up at her, his trademark raspy voice nothing more than a squeak. “Please don’t cut off my dick.”
“Ok, fine. I won’t”
“Thank you. I’ve learned my lesson. I promise.”
Lizzy pulled the scissors up and held them in front of his face. “I am leaving here with something though.”
It took her the good part of five minutes to fight his squirming, but she walked out of Neil ‘The Hammer’ Bradley’s dressing room with a smug smile across her face and the majority of his prized hair clenched in her fists.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Book Collecting in the Age of the Kindle

I love my Kindle. I do. I can take a stack of books with me wherever I go without breaking my back. When I have no idea what the word 'tat' is, I just have to move my courser over to to it and the Kindle tells me. When I think a passage is cool and I might want to use that as a good example of how to describe a scene, I highlight it and later I pull it onto my computer. Seriously, it's awesome!

But there are those that say we miss something with the Kindle. We don't really own anything physical. There is not tangible book in our hands and we don't get the smell of freshly printed pages (or the musty smell of an older book) We don't get the feel of the pages, different layouts and print types that the publisher specifically choose for the book. We don't really get a cover.

So while I will not give up reading on my Kindle almost exclusively, I've found that I've drifted into book collecting to satisfy my urge to have physical books. It all started a couple weeks ago when I found a 1909 set of the works of Kipling at an estate sale. They looked really cool and I just had to have them. This has now turned into a small obsession and I'm finding myself re-buying some books that I liked over the past couple years actually, making sure they are those coveted First Editions.

I must say that for one, my bookshelf is starting to look more erudite, and not only are they (from what I know) a decent investment, but they also look cool sitting up there. This then got me thinking that perhaps this might be a trend, because I know a lot of people do like owning books but love the convenience of the e-reader.

I was wondering then, how many of you e-reader people have found you have also been drawn to the collectible books, and if so, why? Do you think the e-reader revolution will also spark a revolution in collectible books?

Friday, July 1, 2011


When you wife demands you write a story about a hybrid animal that is a cross between a platypus and a camel...well you take that in stride and see what you can come up with.

    “I can’t give that to you. Anything else, but not that.”
    “What else do you have that’s worth a damn?”
    “I...I don’t know, but you can’t have it.”
    “Do you have the money then?”
    “No. But it wasn’t a fair bet.”
    “Really now? What wasn’t fair about it?”
    “You knew what was going to happen. You knew for a fact, and you still made the bet. That’s just wrong.”
    “That’s good business sense.”
    “But you can’t make a bet on something you have inside knowledge of.”
    “Well I did, I won, and I’m here to collect.”
    “Take anything else from my zoo, but please, not the Platamel. It’s the only thing that keeps people coming.”
    “Yea, I know. It’s the only thing of value. That’s why I’m taking it, idiot.”
    “You’ve always been like that haven’t you? Ever since we were kids. I create something wonderful, and you take it away.”
    “Sure, you created something cool, but then you pissed it away be being stupid. I mean seriously, why do you ever make a wager with me anyways?”
    “Because I think that my cousin will play fair with me, that’s why.”
    “First of all, we’re second cousins. And can’t you just create some other abomination freak to attract people to this sorry excuse for a zoo.”
    “What if I refuse to give him to you?”
    “Oh yea, that’s why I brought this.”
    “Alright, I’ll get you the damn platamel. I’ll mix something even better this time though, you’ll see.”
    “Yea, I’ll see it and find a way to take it from you.”
    “You’ll see. If you thought mixing the DNA of a platypus and camel was amazing...I’ll do a crocodile and a moose! And then if you try to take it away, it’ll bite your hand off and run you over, because it’ll weigh over 800 kilos.”
    “And when that time comes, I’ll put it in a truck and haul it away...cousin.”
    “You go do that. Go get your stupid platamel and get out of here.”
    “Any advice?”
    “He bites.”

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