A Writing Prompt for Villains (and Thanksgiving)

A Writing Prompt for Villains (and Thanksgiving) how to make a stronger villainYou know that moment when you’re writing something and what you’re writing gives you an idea for something else to write? Well, while writing last year’s “Happy Thanksgiving Writing Prompt,” I couldn’t help but think about how it could be turned into a writing prompt for villains (and Thanksgiving).

Seem wrong? Of course it is! It’s villainous!

How to Make a Stronger Villain with the
Happy Thanksgiving Writing Prompt

If you think back to last year’s Thanksgiving writing prompt, you’ll remember that it was all about what characters want and how badly they want it. From a writer’s perspective, that’s important for figuring out character motivation and planning character behavior. From a villain’s perspective, it’s useful for almost exactly the same reasons.

After all, villains are plotting against your characters the same as you are (or should be).

That means that a very similar writing exercise can help you make a stronger villain and up the stakes of your plot. Here’s how it works.

  1. Pick the villain and target(s) you’re going to work with. If this is for a book, the target should include all the heroes (all the people opposing the villain) – thinking of 1 is not enough, but you can work on them 1 at a time.
  2. Use the happy Thanksgiving writing prompt to figure out what the target(s) values. If you’ve already done this, all the better.
  3. Think of ways the villain could endanger the objects, ideals, or people the target values. You can aim for the most important ones, but a villain with a meticulous personality might try to cover them all. If the main hero’s family or valuables are protected, consider their friends or allies. There has to be a vulnerable spot somewhere.
  4. Integrate the villain’s plans into your plot. Does the villain do the work him or herself? Does he or she assign someone else? When do the point of view characters find out about the danger(s)? How is the danger averted? Are the attacks spread out (faced one after another), or must several be confronted at once?

Remember that realistic villains have finite resources, so they may need to prioritize attacks by the cost, profit, and chance of success. That said, if they can’t manage to threaten at least a couple of the valued people or things, then they’re not that impressive as villains. The more efficient, effective, and insightful their threats are, however, the more frightening and powerful they will seem.

On the other hand, if a villain is bad at figuring out what the enemies value, he or she isn’t going to succeed (not without help or lucky happenstance).

And when you think of it that way, it makes sense that a villain would like last year’s Thanksgiving writing prompt. A process for identifying the hero’s weaknesses? Oh, yeah. That’s handy. It’s like an excerpt of Villainy for Dummies. 😉

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5 Dangers of Holidays and Vacations

5 Dangers of Holidays and Vacations

It doesn’t look dangerous…

When you see something about the dangers of holidays and vacations, the first thought is probably along the lines of safety when traveling and shopping fraud, not writing problems. You know me, though, I’m talking about the dangers to your writing habits, not your health or finances.

Holidays and Vacations: The Succubi of a Writer’s Schedule

If you’ve ever manage to get into a regular writing habit or even a semi-regular writing habit (not the easiest goal, I admit), then you might see where I’m going with this. It’s like any other habit – the only ones that are easy to restart are the bad ones (the ones you’re trying not to do).

Since writing is work, beware temptations to put it aside for a bit. It might get dusty before you get back to it.

Here are some common enticements to resist.

 1. Reading

If you’re a bibliophile like me, books can be hard to resist. And the more I read, the harder it is to resist reading. Then, that time I set aside for writing? It’s spent reading instead.

I’m not saying to never read (A tragedy!), but it might be wise to keep whatever rules you usually have for reading. In other words, don’t let books take over your entire schedule. It’ll make coming back from a holiday harder, believe me.

2. Sleeping In

Oh, that sounds good. Are you as sleep deprived as I am? Does the idea of lazing in bed and sleeping hours into the day sound like the best present you could get right now?

Well, that sucks.

Honestly, that’s pretty bad, and if you can, you need to make some life changes to fix that (says the pot to the kettle [I’m working on it!]).

That said, resist the urge to sleep til noon on vacation days. It’ll just screw up your sleep schedule, and you’ll pay for that temporary pleasure with a real struggle when it’s time to get up for work again.

3. Distracted Writing

Although multitasking is handy at times, it’s not ideal for productive writing. Like loss of sleep, it makes the writing take longer, and the writing quality drops. Neither is helpful.

If you can, keep your dedicated writing time the same as usual. If you can’t, a shorter but still dedicated period for writing can be more productive than trying to combine your writing with other chores or projects.

4. Hectic Schedules

Those of us with large families may not get much of a choice on this one. That said, we still get to decide what we commit to. We can choose not to make our lives more complicated than they need to be.

A good example is what you cook for a family potluck. If you have a choice between a really fancy, work-intensive recipe and an easy one that’s just as popular, which is gonna give you more time to write and make your life less stressful?

There are tons of decisions we make about holidays and gatherings that can have the same effect. How many stops we make, what parties we go to, and what favors we agree to do for other people are the mere tip of the iceberg.

5. Residual Exhaustion

If you can resist scheduling yourself thin, this one will be easier; however, we’ve all had those holidays where we work so hard to make everything amazing that we need a vacation after the holidays are over. That’s when taking a total day or two off looks really, really appealing.

Apple to Eve kind of appealing.

In that situation, try to make yourself do a minimum amount of work. You can even decide ahead of time – this much time writing, this much exercising, this much cleaning up, etc.

If you can at least keep the general shape of your usual daily habits in place (still with plenty of resting!), then, going back to work will be much easier.

You see, getting out of the habit is the real problem. The more of these temptations you keep from taking over your vacation, the better chance you have of keeping your writing going once you get back in the swing of things. Otherwise, it’s horribly easy to get back to work and replace your writing habit with a reading/sleeping/tv-watching/etc. habit instead.

You’ve experienced this problem before, right? (It’s not just me?) What other tips do you have?

Different Types of Disney Movie Insults

different types of Disney insultsLooking for some kid-friendly insults for your YA or children’s book? Watch some Disney movies. Seriously, while we don’t think of kids movies as being full of insults, when you pay attention, you realize that there are a lot. Enough, in fact, that I can break them down into different types of Disney movie insults.

How Disney Characters Insult Each Other

After reading through Disney quote after Disney quote, I noticed that there are two basic of types of insults: witty and simple. Then, I thought, no, the two types are specific and generic. Finally, I ended up with 2 types (witty v. simple) with 2 subtypes (specific and generic).

Witty Disney Movie Insults

Most witty disney movie insults fall under banter and come from characters who are joking or are fairly calm. They involve the use of $2 words, long phrases, and even figurative language. Some of them are so subtle that I’m sure that they go right over kids heads. Others are blatant enough that ambitious children probably have them memorized (or at least giggle madly).

Context-specific

These witty insults only work in the context of the movie (or something very similar).

  • “Some all-powerful Genie. Can’t even bring people back from the dead. I don’t know, Abu. He probably can’t even get us out of this cave.” — Aladdin from Aladdin
  • “For a clown fish, he’s not that funny.” — Bruce from Finding Nemo
  • “Ah, Eric, I think you swallowed a bit too much seawater.” — Grimsby from The Little Mermaid (They’d have to at least have been swimming in a sea for this to make sense.)
  • “Gaston, you are positively primeval.” — Belle from Beauty and the Beast
  • “You pompous, paraffin-headed peabrain!” — Cogsworth from Beauty and the Beast (It’s name calling, but it also uses “big words,” alliteration, and an allusion to Lumiere’s former state.)
  • “En garde, you, you overgrown pocket watch!” — Lumiere from Beauty and the Beast (references Cogworth’s former state)
  • “Oh, how quaint – even the rabble.” — Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty

Generic

While a step above the average “stupid-head,” these aren’t specific to the story. They can re-used.

  • “We mustn’t lurk in doorways. It’s rude. One might question your upbringing.” — Ursula from The Little Mermaid
  • “Teenagers. They think they know everything. You give them an inch – they swim all over you.” — Sebastian from The Little Mermaid (Granted, the swimming is story-specific, but otherwise, not so much.)
  • “Well, as slippery as your mind is, as the King’s brother, you should’ve been first in line.” — Zazu from The Lion King (“the King’s brother” is specific, but the actual insult is not.)
  • “I’d rather be smart than be an actor.” Pinocchio from Pinocchio
  • “Oh, they’re hopeless. A disgrace to the forces of evil.” — Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty
  • “The only girl who’d love him is his mother.” — Yao from Mulan
  • “I know. It’s called ‘a cruel irony.’ Like my dependence on you.” — Yzma from The Emperor’s New Groove
  • “This is Yzma, the Emperor’s advisor. Living proof that dinosaurs once roamed the Earth.” — Kuzco from The Emperor’s New Groove
  • “I’m very sorry, Gaston, but… but I just don’t deserve you.” — Belle from Beauty and the Beast
  • “You can be replaced, you know.” — Napoleon from Aristocats
Simple Disney Insults

These disparaging remarks are basically examples of name-calling. Usually 1 insulting word at a time since the characters tend to be much more upset than with the others (for the most part). And you might notice some overlap between movies and characters.

Context-Specific

There aren’t as many examples of context-specific name-calling, but it does happen.

  • “Hey, look! Banana Beak is scared.” — Simba from The Lion King
  • “Flounder, don’t be such a guppy.” — Ariel from The Little Mermaid
  • “You are a worthless street rat. You were born a street rat, you will die a street rat, and only your fleas will mourn you.” — Prince Achmed from Aladdin (It’s long-winded but mostly repeated name-calling.)

Generic

The generic ones have the most overlap. In fact, the near-identical nature of some of the lines is what made me start paying attention to Disney insults in the first place.

  • “I’m surrounded by amateurs.” — Sebastian from The Little Mermaid
  • “I’m surrounded by idiots.” — Scar from The Lion King
  • “Why you, you unreasonable, pompous, blustering old windbag!” — King Stefan from Sleeping Beauty
  • “Take a look at that, you pompous windbag!” — The King from Cinderella
  • “She’s a demon! She’s a monster!” — Sebastian from The Little Mermaid
  • “She’s an old witch!” — Grumpy from Snow White
  • “That witch. That devil woman.” — Perdita from 101 Dalmatians
  • “Stupid-head.” — Stitch from Lilo and Stitch
  • “You idiot!” — Jasper from 101 Dalmatians
  • “You idiots! You fools! You imbeciles!” — Cruella De Vil from 101 Dalmatians
  • “You idiots!” — Razoul from Aladdin
  • “You little fool!” — Jafar from Aladdin
  • “You clumsy little fool!” — Lady Tremaine from Cinderella
  • “Fools! Idiots! Imbeciles!” — Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty

Notice the pattern? I almost focused the article on how many characters got called stupid (or a synonym). Not the best example for kids, but what insult would be?

Thoughts? Ready to inadvertently pay attention to all the insults in Disney movies now that I brought it to your attention? (Sry?)

The English Building Block Most Kids Are Missing

English Building Block Most Kids Are MissingWhen you’re trying to teach kids higher English skills, it can be really frustrating when they are fundamental skills they simply don’t have. In my experience, the English building block most kids are missing is an understanding of clauses.

The Clause: English Building Block & Gamechanger

Defining Characteristics of Clauses

Since this is a blog for writers, I’m assuming that most of you already know what clauses are (English-wise). On the off chance that you don’t, however, here’s a brief description of the most important distinctions:

  • A clause must always have both a subject and a verb.
    • Independent Clause = a complete thought that can stand on its own
    • Dependent Clause = an independent clause with an added word in front of it

Yes, a dependent clause is an incomplete thought, but recognizing the conjunction or adverb that turns the independent clause into a dependent clause is really useful. See, students can’t always tell when something is an incomplete thought. They can, however, tell when the word “because” is in front of a subject and verb (more often, anyway).

Here’s an example:

  • Independent Clause (IC): He traveled forty-five miles in the driving rain.
  • Dependent Clause (DC): After he traveled forty-five miles in the driving rain.

The first one is a whole sentence. The second one is a fragment until or unless an independent clause is added to the end of it.

After he traveled forty-five miles in the driving rain (DC), he decided to not even try to drive the rest of the way that night (IC).

Why Is Knowing Clauses Important?

Some people will tell you that knowing clauses is important because it helps you to recognize the different types of sentence structures. While that’s true (the sentence structures are defined by the number and types of clauses in the sentence), naming the type of sentence structure isn’t particularly useful unless you’re going to be teacher English Language Arts or making your career in linguistics.

In which case, I sincerely hope that you don’t struggle with identifying clauses.

The reason I want all my students to be able to write and recognize clauses is that you cannot know punctuation rules well without them. You can’t. Where commas go, where semicolons are needed, where colons can be used – all these rules rely on whether something is a clause or a phrase, what type of clause it is, and where the clause/phrase is in the sentence.

Without understanding those punctuation rules, students are effectively left guessing or following rules given to them in lower grades that are only true sometimes.

For example, in younger grades, students are often told to put a comma in front of “and.” That’s only true if the “and” is part of a list (if you were taught the Oxford comma), or there is an independent clause after “and.”

To prove my point, the punctuation in each of the following sentences is correct:

  • We went to the movie theatre, the ice cream parlor, and the book store.
  • The number of parties on campus are increasing and seem to be causing a drop in grades.
  • Tim and his friend went to the pet store, and they immediately left after catching a glimpse of the tarantula in the clerk’s hand.

So… sometimes, the student would be right and other times, not. If the student’s teacher likes the Oxford comma, the student has a 2/3 chance of being right. If the student’s teacher hates the Oxford comma, the student has a 1/3 chance of being right.

The worst part of this is that the student has no idea why following this rule is sometimes right and sometimes wrong.

This problem is most obvious when students are supposed to edit something. Anyone can (and will) make punctuation mistakes when writing. Students who don’t know these rules, however, have nothing to go on when looking for errors. They can’t find them because they don’t know where to put the commas, semicolons, or colons in the first place.

And, you know what? Those same rules can help the students understand reading passages better.

That’s why knowing clauses is important, and that’s why it’s so frustrating that most kids are missing this essential English building block. If we want kids to be able to write and punctuate effectively, we need to figure out how to fix this.

Any ideas?

How Are Soldiers and Veterans Treated in Your Story?

How Are Soldiers and Veterans Treated in Your Story?If your story includes a war or other military conflict, then, there is one question that absolutely needs answered when you worldbuild: how are soldiers and veterans treated in your story?

Society’s Attitude Towards Soldiers and Veterans

With Veteran’s Day coming up quickly, I’ve found myself thinking about different examples of how soldiers and veterans are treated in books and movies, especially fiction genres like fantasy and science fiction.

Why those genres? Because they’re not as limited by reality.

With realistic fiction, the treatment tends to mirror real life (as it should for the genre and realism), so it’s not as interesting to consider as when the author has free rein to shape the societal views. Creating different societal rules for soldiers and veterans than the ones we live with is especially effective for making a world feel different and interesting.

Standard Views of Soldiers and Veterans

Like anything else, there are standard literary takes on how soldiers are viewed on either side of a conflict. Here are few common ones (although my names for them may be different than others you read).

  • Heroes and Politicians: When soldiers are revered, society gives them a great deal of power. Being people, they can use that power for good or bad, but in a state where fighting is respected, it would not be uncommon for successful soldiers to retire to positions of power within the government (national or local).
  • Unwitting Game Pieces: The soldiers are mere extensions of the person in power – in the story, they almost never have names or opinions. They do what they’re told and have no real mental contribution to the war being fought (Star Wars and the clones are a pretty good example.). You might also call them Faceless Fodder. As far as their leader is concerned, they have no value beyond achieving his/her goals, and society follows suit.
  • Monsters: In a society that hates violence, war, or its government, its own soldiers may be just as reviled. This leaves them with the options of staying in the army (where the government can protect them somewhat), trying to hide what they are (to avoid being ostracized), becoming the monsters the people portray them as (so that the fear gives them some power/protection), or living in isolation from society (in the wild, an asylum, or even the streets). It’s a pretty negative worldview, so it’s better used with darker stories.
Interesting Examples of Soldiers and Veterans in Worldbuilding

In many books, it’s common for soldiers to have no exceptional benefits when serving or once they retire – they do the job and then are simply released and go back to the family farm or wherever they came from before.

In other words, they’re left to make their way on their own.

Off hand, however, I can think of two examples that went further and gave veterans’ rights some added interest. Granted, some of those rights may not be useful for quite a while (if ever), but they’re there.

  1. Mountains of Mourning (a novella included in Young Miles) by Lois McMaster Bujold: A woman shows up on the count’s doorstep to demand that someone investigate a murder. In her arguments to be seen, she says that her father served in the military, and it is her right to bring her case to the count. The main character confirms that this is true. I would guess that this right has roots in historic feudal society (given the context of the world), but even so, it adds an interesting dimension to the worldbuilding (and is also a good example of how to integrate military practices from history or other cultures).
  2. Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein: This book takes the Heroes and Politicians concepts to another level by granting what we consider standard rights (full citizenship, the right to vote, and the right to run for/hold public office) only to people who have served in the military. It’s a pretty extreme situation that led to conflict within the book (and without amongst critics). I mention it because it gives useful insights for how to write a society that drastically varies from ours by reminding us that the standard rights don’t have to be the same in the story as in our lives (instead of adding rights for the soldiers, you can simply take them away from others).

Do I think you should use those specific rights in your books? Probably not. But you might consider the methods used to make the rights more interesting when deciding how to integrate soldiers and veterans into your worldbuilding.

Characteristics of Curse Words

Characteristics of Curse WordsCurse words are useful tools for characterization and worldbuilding. Rather than picking or making up curse words at random, however, I find it useful to consider the characteristics of curse words first.

What Curse Words Have in Common

There are two basic types of curse words: the funny ones that are more socially acceptable and the ones that are more taboo. I’m going to focus on the second grouping today.

Phonetic Characteristics of Curse Words

Many curses, including ones I know from other languages, have specific similarities in how they sound:

  • harsh consonants
  • consonant emphasis
  • short vowels
  • short (or have shorter versions)

Since they are generally used to express anger or frustration, the words themselves tend to have a harsh, abrupt sound that flows easily (trippingly off the tongue). Many of them are also directional – they can be followed by a direct object (like “it” or “you”).

Whom characters direct their curses at can be very telling: does the person only direct curses at inanimate objects? Only at adults? At everyone including children and people who’ve done nothing aggravating? Each option makes a big difference in how the character is perceived.

Social and Moral Characteristics of Curse Words

Besides the way they sound, curse words also have similarities in meaning – they’re all related to something that’s taboo, not talked about, or generally considered bad. Things like sex, poop, or being condemned by God. Things we use euphemisms for in polite company.

What curse words a person chooses or is offended by can show a lot about his/her background and beliefs. For example, in the Bible Belt, “God d@#$!” can be more offensive than other words because “taking the Lord’s name in vain” goes against their religion. In other, less religious circles, on the other hand, it’s considered mild compared to the f-word and others.

Interestingly, society also deems it more appropriate for men to curse than women – especially with the most taboo curse words. Women are supposed to use milder oaths if they curse at all.

That’s why the curse words you choose for a specific character and world can be so important. And some situations and characters are going to require cursing to make sense or seem real.

So why pick something random when taking these two aspects of foul language into account can let you use vile oaths to build characterization and setting on purpose?

Should I Review Bad Movies or Books?

It’s an honest question: should I review bad movies or books? I don’t have an answer. Really, I have a couple of stumbling blocks related to, but they don’t seem to bother anyone else.

So how about I tell you why I hesitate, and you tell me if you think I should or not – fair deal?

Why I’m Not Sure It’s Good to Review Bad Movies or Books

First off, let me say that I have no trouble reviewing good movies or books. I will gladly explain what I did and didn’t like about them – usually in terms of what was weaker or stronger from a writing, design, or performance aspect.

Because I don’t mind advertising good products.

No Such Thing as Bad Advertising

Ever heard someone say that “all advertising is good advertising”? For those who haven’t, it’s the idea that the more attention is given to a person or product, the better business they will do. Even if the attention is insulting.

What? Seriously? Why?

One reason is that people will buy things just to make fun of something or someone (*cough* Trump *cough*). The other reason is that people don’t always agree about what’s bad or good (see the previous cough), so the negative reviews might actually introduce people to the business or product who might like it.

Internet searches work the same way. Talking about a movie and linking to its imdb (like you do) actually makes that movie’s site show up better in searches.

But is that what we want? If you think a movie is awful, do you really want to make it more popular? And what about people who watch it to see if it’s as bad as you say? Warning people off could totally backfire!!!

*deep breath*

Karma

The other reason I’m leery of reviewing bad books or movies is that when you really dislike something, you’re liable to be excessively harsh when reviewing it. At least, I am. Humorous, but harsh.

On the other hand, I’m also a writer/creator. So if I build up a reputation for nasty-yet-witty reviews… what’s gonna happen when my stuff gets reviewed? I can’t help but think that people would be more likely to be cruel.

What do you think?

Are these legit reasons, or am I overthinking it? Are there actually risks to writing purely negative reviews?

Horror or Humor? A Writing Prompt

Tis the season to be scary, so why are so many “horror” movies funny instead? What is the boundary? What makes a story horror or humor? Explore the answer with this hilariously scary writing prompt.

Are You Writing Horror or Humor?

Interestingly, what determines whether a story is funny or scary is less the topic and more how the topic is treated. As an example, let’s discuss a comedic Halloween classic: Hocus Pocus.

Main Concept: 3 witches who suck out the souls of children to stay young

Is it just me, or is that a pretty creepy (see terrifying) idea? So how can it be a funny movie?

The answer is “the emphasis.” More of the movie is spent on the goofiness of witches, their confusion about modern stuff, re-inflatable cats, and rolling heads, and the last two are practically Looney Tune-like with their abilities to be mangled but unharmed.

In other words, although the scary idea provides impetus for the plot, it is overshadowed with hilarious hijinks.

To prove the idea works, here’s a writing prompt to take the same idea and make 2 totally different stories. Here’s what the two parts will have in common:

  • a frightening condition or situation (serial killer, hungry witches, etc.)
  • the basic characters (3 witches, 2 vampires, and a human teenager)
  • the beginning mood (for about the first scene or the exposition)

The rest… well, the rest is going to vary a bit.

Writing Horror

This time, we’ll make it creepy and try to give our readers nightmares (*wicked cackle as lightning flashes*). That means we need to emphasize the darkness of the situation.

Here are some pointers for keeping it headed in a scary direction:

  1. The consequences are experienced repeatedly (people die, are maimed, etc.).
  2. Focus on the losses and the main character’s plans to avoid experiencing it.
  3. Frightened reactions need to be serious and realistic (no flailing in a panic in a way that lightens the mood – if someone flails in a panic [because people do], it had better emphasize the overpowering helplessness caused by the fear rather than how ridiculous the person looks).
  4. No stupid, clichéd actions (we’re not trying to emphasize character stupidity).
  5. Ends badly or at least not completely happily (a chirpy, perky ending shouldn’t really be possible if you took step 1 seriously).

To summarize, the emphasis is on negative aspects and realism.

Writing Humor

With that same situation and even the same starting mood, you can make the story funny instead of scary. All it takes is a different focus:

  1. Having few consequences or glossing over them (So-in-so isn’t really dead – it was just a sleep spell! Someone died? Sorry, I was too busy laughing at these crazy antics to remember that.).
  2. The villain(s) is goofy in some way – clumsy, has a stamp collection that he waxes poetic about at the slightest opportunity, can only kill someone who’s facing him and ends up chasing people in circles like a dog chasing his tail (you get the idea)…
  3. Characters do stupid stuff and survive (how, we’re not sure).
  4. Survival is as much by unfeasible circumstance as by intelligence/bravery (“Thank God that tree fell when it did!” or “If you hadn’t driven into a garlic store, we’d be goners!”).
  5. Ends happily (all the main characters survive and any previous deaths are already forgotten or somehow ok – “He was a killer, too,” or “Their spirits are free and happy now”).

That’s a formula that has turned a number of terrifying circumstances into a funny movie. Just don’t use it when you actually want something to be scary. It won’t end well.

Ok, actually, it will (that’s one of the rules), but it won’t be scary!

All right. Ready to write 2 totally different versions of the same story? These ones would be especially good to share! 😀

Up With Which I Will Not Put: Not a Winston Churchill Quote

Nope. “This is just the sort of nonsense up with which I will not put,” is not a Winston Churchill quote according to quote investigator. We have been mislead yet again by the internet (well, it actually started with newspapers and such).

On the other hand, it’s an excellent example of why I’m not a big fan of trying to make English conform to Latin rules (AKA avoid ending with a preposition). It really shows how horribly awkward sentences can get when you try to use a common phrase (“put up with”) without ending with a preposition.

Sooo awkard…

What I like best about this quote, however, is how it shows the humor long associated with this debate. And, really, read the quote investigator article for quite a few variations on the story, its set up, and how newspaper men apparently didn’t get it (because they ruined the punchline).

All that aside, it might also remind you of some traditional blonde jokes and various other forms of a tongue-in-cheek protest of this Latin rule.

The older form (including the “up with which I will not put” story) goes like this:
  1. A job or work context is given, and within that, someone (usually in management) sends out a message that ends with a preposition.
  2. A reply to that statement mocks its lack of grammatical correctness.
  3. The original speaker replies to the insult with a sentence that deliberately avoids using the preposition at the end and results in an overly elaborate and, therefore, humorous response (Oh, the irony!).

This is the format of the Winston Churchill story (which is apparently false), several versions set in the military, and more.

The new form varies in the aggressiveness of the response:
  1. A person asks a stranger a question that ends in a preposition (usually something along the lines of “Where are you from?”).
  2. Instead of answering the question directly, the stranger scornfully scoffs at the use of a preposition at the end of the sentence.
  3. The original person re-asks the question and uses direct address with an insult (usually a curse word) to keep the preposition from being at the end of the sentence (“Where are you from, b*%$?”).

Did you realize what that means?

There are actually traditional forms of jokes about this preposition rule. Multiple ones!

Now, that’s funny.

Of course, so is “up with which I will not put.” Even if Winston Churchill didn’t say it.

Learning Direct and Indirect Objects from If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

If you haven’t read, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, I highly recommend it – it’s a great children’s book. It’s also a useful tool to begin learning direct and indirect objects.

How to Use Direct Objects and Indirect Objects

First, I’d like to break down an action into two parts: cause and effect. The cause would be the subject (the one doing or starting the action), and the effect would be the object (the one that feels the result of the action).

Direct Object

A direct object is the thing or person that the verb controls. Depending on the verb, the direct object could be moved, struck, passed, lifted, etc. The action is happening to that object (but it will NEVER be directly after the word “to”!).

“If you give a mouse a cookie…”

You (subject) are giving (verb) the mouse a cookie. The cookie is being given, so “cookie” is the direct object.

Indirect Object

The indirect object is the thing or person that receives the direct object.

“If you give a mouse a cookie…”

You’re giving the cookie (direct object) to the mouse, so “mouse” is the indirect object.

Notice that you can reword the indirect object by moving it after the direct object and putting “to” in front of it. For example, “If you give a cookie to a mouse…”

Since this works without changing the meaning, we know that we have identified the correct indirect object*.

Why This Book?

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie is the type of book that follows a pattern. That means that the sentences on each page are fairly similar. Most of the pages involve statements where very little changes except the direct object. That makes identifying the direct object simpler when starting out, so it’s a good way to start learning to recognize them in sentences.

Make sense?

*Once “to” is in front of “a mouse,” “mouse” becomes the object of the preposition and is no longer an indirect object (technically).