31 March 2012

Once again, I was reading in Dwight Swain's Techniques of the Selling Writer, and I came across a bit about writing that I'm not sure I understood before.

I'm always trying to figure out when to pour on the words and when I can skimp. When is it appropriate to be verbose, and when should you let it go? I think this bit of insight might help me. And who knows, maybe it will help someone else too.

Have you ever noticed that a good day goes by in the blink of an eye, while on a bad day you could swear that the clocks are literally running backward? An evening out with an old friend is much too short, while the exact same amount of time spent at an awkward family gathering can feel like a week? Or longer.

Well, the reason for the above phenomenon is because of the tension involved. Talking to someone you like doesn't usually involve any tension. Having to be cordial with someone you want to punch can fill the room to overflowing with tension, which I'm pretty sure is what stops those clocks.

The same theory can be applied when you are writing. If your main character is walking home from work on a sunny day, thinking happy thoughts, then there isn't much tension, and the time (and therefore the space on the page it takes up) goes by quickly. On the other hand, if your main character is walking home from work on a sunny day, wondering how he is going to tell his wife that he just lost his job and may be arrested for questionable business practices the time might not go so fast. Each agonizing step draws his mind further and further into the problem, and as he walks the world seems to stop around him, all because of the amount of tension he's dealing with.

From the above mentioned book:

“In writing, you translate tension in to space: the more tense the situation as your focal character experiences it, the more words you give it.”

It totally makes sense, but a few weeks ago I wouldn't have been able to explain it. At all.

Back to writing!

27 March 2012

Emergency Preparedness?

After the insane, hurricane force winds we got here on the north end of the Salt Lake valley a few months ago, a lot of people have been talking about being more prepared for natural disasters. Or human disasters. Or the zombie apocalypse. Or some idiot in a semi-truck taking out the power station. Or someone setting off a huge explosion and taking out the I-15, I-215 and the Legacy junction coming north, trapping everyone in Salt Lake...these are the things you have to think about.

The dojo I go to has a plan for the zombie apocalypse. There are chain saws, bats, clubs, swords, SUV's and a tank involved so far. One of our members came across the above multi-purpose tool on-line. The official description is as follows:

Gerber Product Number 07400

The D.E.T. tool, based on the popular Multi-Pler 600 provides the combat operator with a compact one-handed opening multi-tool to deal with a number of battlefield situations. Made from 410 grade stainless steel with non-reflective black oxide coating, the D.E.T. tool incorporates the following tools: C-4 explosives punch, blasting cap crimper, wire cutter, needle nose pliers, 3 inch drop point blade, 3 inch serrated sheepsfoot blade, RemGrit saw blade, cross point screwdriver, large, medium and small flat blade screwdrivers, file, bottle opener and lanyard. Includes a ballistic nylon sheath.

So in addition to being able to put the tank together after it's damaged, we can also blow up hoards of zombies with C-4 without having to carry a bunch of pesky equipment.

I need three!

25 March 2012

The Hunger Games

The movie.

Based on one of the most twisted principles I've ever read about (and part of me is just a little bit jealous that Suzanne Collins thought of it before I did) the Hunger Games is one disturbing story. It's dark, it's tragic, it's barbaric...and in the end it's about people. And war. And what war does to people.

I went in expecting a lot from the movie, and I have to say that I wasn't at all disappointed It's been a few years since I read the first book, so I didn't have it fresh in my mind to compare the film to—which is good. Great, actually. I remember the basic premise, and a few specific bits and pieces, and that's it.

In my opinion the movie delivered. The fact that even though I knew pretty much exactly what was going to happen, my hands were clenched in tight fists the entire time tells me that the film makers did their job. They did a great job showing the disgusting differences between the spoiled Capital and the outlying, oppressed districts.

I noticed that Suzanne Collins, author of the book, worked on the screenplay. As the film progressed, I had a few, “Hey, it didn't happen like that in the book” moments, but after every single one I thought, “Oh, that's a great idea. Take this out, put that in, and it moves the story faster and you don't really lose too much.” Great job to whoever did the hacking and slashing. I thought it followed the story and did it's own thing a few times. They even tossed in a few bits from the second book, which I thought was cool.

Donald Sutherland is exactly how I pictured the creepy, horrible President Snow, and I'm excited to see him in the other films. I wanted to punch him every time he came on screen.

The other actors did a good job. Katniss wasn't nearly as unlikable in the movie, but that's probably because you can't hear her cold, calculating voice all the time. By the end Peeta had grown on me. Loved Haymitch.

My only real complaint was the filming. I noticed that they would pan over to a shot, land on the point of it for less than a heartbeat before jumping off to either a different perspective or a new shot. I felt like I had whiplash after three minutes.

Even though I did not like the conclusion of the books, I did love this movie!

22 March 2012

City of Bones

When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder—much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air. It’s hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing—not even a smear of blood—to show that a boy has died. Or was he a boy?

This is Clary’s first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. It’s also her first encounter with Jace, a Shadowhunter who looks a little like an angel and acts a lot like a jerk. Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace’s world with a vengeance, when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know. . .

I know, I know, this book has been out for a long time. I'm slow. Let's move on.

First off, I have to say that this story is beautifully written. The author uses words like paint, drawing the reader a clear, vivid picture of each and every scene in the novel. A couple of times I could have sworn I was tasting the stench in the air that the characters were smelling.

As for the story, I liked it. The characters were cool. Most of them had teenage angst of some sort, which is fine. They got over some of it by the end, which was good. I will probably always like books that portray our world as more than meets the eye: magic, warlocks, downworlders, demons, mundanes...each story has it's own twists in this department, and I think City of Bones definitely held its own.

I do NOT like love triangles, and tolerated this one with only a few outbursts of screaming at the book. I always feel like the nice guy gets shafted. Enough said.

By the end of this book I was a little tired of the sickeningly sweet descriptions—especially during the fight scenes. People are hitting each other!!! Give the moonlight hitting his hair like flower petals on the water a break for crying out loud. Let there be action!

Okay, I'm better. I might read the second one. I peeked at the spoilers on the web (yes, I am a bad person) and found out that the love thing still isn't really resolved at the end of book 3 or 4. So not happy about that. Kind of annoying. It all depends on how well it's told...

If you like YA, check it out. Very fun book.

17 March 2012

Offense of Defense?

I've been doing Kempo for a long time. That doesn't make me particularly good, by the way, just persistent. And I'm hoping that if anyone actually takes a swing at me my persistence will pay off.

This past week we did a few drills that feel, to me (right now), very important. In short, because I'd hate to bore you all, we're attempting to apply what we've learned.

What am I going to do when someone actually punches me? (I should put an if in there, shouldn't I?) I've probably got hundreds of techniques that I could do, and if I break those down into smaller bits and pieces, the list could get into the thousands. And let's not even start on the combinations. Right? My brain twitched just thinking about it.

Today we went through a controlled version of this. Someone comes in to punch me. But not just the once, like we usually practice, but several times. As a matter of fact, they just keep coming until I pull off a somewhat recognizable technique. A great drill, and one that pointed out a fatal flaw...I apparently can't think offense and defense at exactly the same time. I completely failed at blocking a single punch when I had to have a certain technique in my head that I planned to do.

Total meltdown of defense. I didn't even care that they guy was hitting me in the head! All I cared about was doing my stupid technique, which didn't ever work because my partner has arms longer than my legs. Don't get me wrong, I tried, but failed. He hit me a lot. I got him once.

Maybe it's just the tall guys. I didn't have as much of a problem with the others in class, but I tell you what, my brain started to flinch and I briefly wondered if I could finally perfect the block with my face move.

That didn't work either.

It just goes to show me, that eight years and thousands of techniques doesn't mean that I know what I'm doing! There is always more to learn, and always another level to climb up to.

I supposed that's true of anything in life. Sensei reminded us today that what you get out of something is directly related to how much you put in. Drat, I wonder what that means to my finding a rich man to marry plan...

13 March 2012

Monster Hunter Alpha

Earl Harbinger may be the leader of Monster Hunter International, but he’s also got a secret. Nearly a century ago, Earl was cursed to be werewolf. When Earl receives word that one of his oldest foes, a legendarily vicious werewolf that worked for the KGB, has mysteriously appeared in the remote woods of Michigan, he decides to take care of some unfinished business. But another force is working to bring about the creation of a whole new species of werewolf. When darkness falls, the final hunt begins, and the only thing standing in their way is a handful of locals, a lot of firepower, and Earl Harbinger’s stubborn refusal to roll over and play dead. (Blurb borrowed from Amazon)

Have I mentioned how much I enjoy the Monster Hunter International world? Larry Correia makes me laugh, which means I will be a loyal fan until one of us dies. Is he the greatest writer in the world? Uh, no. Do I think I can take him with my awesome, below the belt Kung Fu moves? Depends on how many guns he's got. Do I understand even a quarter of the gun-nut talk he puts into his books? Nope.

If it make big hole, it big gun. That's all I've got.

Naturally, I'm going to say that I loved reading this book. I cared about the characters, cheered when the stupid ones got bit in the face and got all excited when a girl told Earl off...and he listened. It read fast for a long book.

However, there is another reason for me to like this book. You see, I donated to a cause a while back, and one of the perks was that Larry Correia would kill you in a novel.

Yes, please. Thank you very much.

This is what happened to Jo Ann Schneider, phone sex goddess and secretary for a monster hunting organization. Goes out on a call into a little town being overrun by werewolves, bullies the men, shoots her gun at monsters, gets eaten by a digger, then vomited back up, shot by a government prick just as she was feeling better, then her looser boyfriend leaves her as bait for the undead werewolves that were chasing them, she gets bit, turned into an undead werewolf and kills said looser ex-boyfriend. Then I'm pretty sure she gets chopped up in the giant snowplow.

Not bad.

What did you do with your weekend? Hmmm?

I'm still laughing.

11 March 2012

So Judgemental!

We're all taught, in one way or another, not to judge people. You can never tell what people are like on the inside. Right? Just like you can't really judge a book by it's cover. (A point we won't argue here)

However, we all do this. Every single person in the world goes through life judging. If the skin of the apple is shriveled with deep wrinkles, then it's probably past it's prime. Most people won't buy it. We've just judged an apple. So harsh. But so true.

Yesterday I was reading in Dwight Swain's Techniques of the Selling Writer and came across this same concept.

Let's say that the opening scene of a book has the main character dressed in a nice business suit, sitting on a park bench, feeding pigeons from a paper sack that he holds in his right hand.

Just from those few words, most people have some sort of judgment on this guy. It might not be much, considering all we have is description, but it's there. Let me go on.

The man puts the paper bag down on the bench beside him. He reaches into his jacket pocket and draws out a small, black box with a gray button on it. Without a change of expression, he presses the button. Behind him an explosion rocks a building, and half of the top floor is blown away. The man then picks up the sack and continues to feed the birds.

Now what do you think of him?

But wait, what if that button didn't cause the explosion? What if it actually sent a signal to his aging mother's house to set off an alarm that she will need to turn off to make sure she's okay? You don't know! And yet you judged.

Shame on you.

Or not.

As an author, I need to paint a character well enough for the reader to judge them. The character needs to make decisions that cause the reader to pass judgment. If the reader can't do that, because the character is too bland, too passive or too plain boring, then the character should not be the focal point.

“If your reader doesn't judge, count on it that the focal character is too bland and innocuous and uncommitted to be worth writing about.”

Interesting. Think about it.

04 March 2012

The Ground is Not My Friend

Sensei has a saying. Well, he has like a thousand, but he used this one during classes this past week.

If you're faced with an aggressor, what should you do?

Option A- Avoid the fight.
Yes, yes, it sounds lame, but that really is the best thing to do. I, personally, bruise like a pear. I whine like a mule and cry when people hit me hard in the nose. (Yes, I know, I should be tougher, but I've learned to live with my little issues. It's not my fault my stupid tear ducts are directly connected to some pressure gauge in my nose.) So getting into a fight for me would be bad. Bad, bad, bad. Much better to avoid it altogether.

However, we all know that won't always work.

Option B- Fight
Fine. The guy is quite determined to drag me off to the molester van. Me trying to convince him that I'm not the girl he wants to assault didn't work (and none of my friends with guns are around) so now we're into it.
Fight hard, fight dirty and get away as fast as possible. That's my plan. Kick to the nether regions, kick to the knee, elbow to whatever I can reach and maybe a good old fashioned punch in the neck. Then run.

But what if his gorilla-long arms reach out and grab me, dragging me to the ground.

Option C- Grappling
If you get to option C, it means you screwed up options A and B.
I do not like grappling, mostly because unless I get on top of them and use all of my not inconsiderable weight to sloth them to death (which can work—believe me. Most people can't bench press me.) I'm toast. Slow, round, short everything and stupid hair that acts like a friggin' handle...

But that doesn't mean that I don't try it. Practice it. Turn blue before Sensei calls up when people choke me out.

It's like that in anything. Is there some aspect of your favorite hobby that you hate? Perhaps (for all you writers out there) plotting? Grammar?

Whatever it is, just do it. Learn it. Figure out how to work it into your tools and conquer it. Someday maybe I'll be able to actually win a grappling match. It's not my first choice of fighting venue, but if I have to, hopefully I can be ready.

Or have my friends who carry guns around.

01 March 2012


For some reason I've been thinking a lot about voice in my writing. The voice of any point of view character is almost as important as having a great plot. Maybe more in some stories.

In Babes in Spyland I have a handful of Super Secret Agents that all need distinctive voices. I read somewhere (probably more than one place) that a good test to see if you've got good voice is to read the character's dialogue out loud (without the tags that include their names) and see if you can tell who it is.


I'm finding this a little hard. It's easier with longer chunks of dialogue, obviously, but I'm not feeling like I'm getting it.

So I've been listening to people around me. Catching onto their favorite phrases and trying to analyze speech patterns. And no, I have no idea what I'm doing

The first thing I've found is that so much of voice in real life has to do with the tone. Tone carries SO much of our expressions.

In writing you can convey the tone with the description of facial expression, or just say what tone they used. But just reading the words?

I think I'm going to be working on this for a while. Four, female agents need distinct voices. This is my goal. Wish me luck.