I’m Taking a V*@*%^$n – Sort of

Vaction is not a 4-letter word. Em T Wytte

Or so I keep telling myself.

Why are we so obsessed with getting stuff done that we never take a vacation? It’s a pandemic (in the U.S., anyway). And it’s worse when you have a hobby/side career where everyone can see whether you’re working on it or not – like a blog for instance (gee, really?). Feel tired and take a week off – all anyone has to do to know is go to your site (No posts, huh, Em. Guess you finally gave up on that silliness. [*grumble growl*]). Plus, you’ll get a drop in those addictive stats (How can people like today’s post if there isn’t one!).

Ok, I’m projecting. But at least one person has to have gotten caught up in the same addiction as me! An addiction that threatens to take over my life (like they do). Actually, it’s done a pretty good job of it already.

So as we round the corner into the first year of this blog, I find myself playing a never-ending game of catchup. I think fondly of the time last summer when I was always two weeks ahead and wrote a fresh week of posts every weekend (Ah, those were the days!). Even the one-week buffer that I had up until a few months ago seems like such a joy and privilege now. Where I once had a comfortable length of rope to lower the boulder down the incline, I am now chasing after it and barely managing to pause it from time to time for a breath (no wonder I need a vacation!).

And, of course, there are other projects I want to start (not the brightest bulb in the box, am I?).

Clearly, I need to work on time management. But when? It takes time to work on time management. (Inherent flaw, right?) That’s why the first step is going to be putting both blogs on pause. If I don’t have the time, I’ll just have to make it. So for the rest of June (assuming I’m ready by July), I will be taking a vacation from posting.

Not a vacation from working on the blogs (or, sadly, from work in general). Oh, no. I’ll be looking at stats, compiling data on posts, and generally figuring out where to go from here. Planning. That’s the key. I’m going to take time for planning, something that has been sadly lacking for the last bit in both this blog and twytte. Theoretically, the time spent thinking ahead will make for better blogs when we get to the grand reopening (Or so I hope).

Want to help? You can! All you have to do is answer any or all of these questions: what do you like best about this blog? What do you like least? What else would you like to me to write about?

I’ll look for your suggestions in the comments and consider them as I’m planning (I’d say, “speak now or forever hold your peace,” but I’ll consider appropriate requests at any point – ideas that I don’t have to think of? No! Anything but that!). Otherwise, ta ta for now, and don’t expect to hear from me until July. I’m officially on vacation!

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Writing Is an Easy Career? Says Who?

Did you expect writing to be an easy career, filled with glory? I was reading an article in the guardian called “You think writing’s a dream job? It’s more like a horror film” by Tim Lott that gives the impression that many people do (which I will not quote at all to avoid any risk of filling out the guardian’s copyright permission page, paying rights, blah, blah, blah).

The gist of the article (which is quite a decent read) is that a large percentage of British people polled said that they would like to be an author, and that, in the author’s opinion, that’s mostly because they think about having flexible hours, getting big checks, becoming famous, and generally having an easy job.

But you, I, and the author of that article know that writing is hard work, complicated work, and work that sometimes requires 40+ hour work weeks – those who have an additional full-time job may work between 60 and 80. And I have no argument with the author on that point. I completely agree that writing is hard work, not an easy payoff, and something you mainly do if 1. it’s your only marketable skill, and 2. you feel some strange interior need to do it.

The question I guess I have is whether people really get into writing because they think it’ll be all glory, big checks, and lazy days. Do people really expect writing to be an easy job?

I ask because I didn’t. I don’t see how you could if you know anything about writing.

Ok. I take that back. If you’re naturally good at writing, if you think it’s easy (FYI: I hate that word. Easy how? For whom? It’s such a biased catchall.), and you’re very ignorant of the business side of it, then, I can see how you might think you landed in the cream of careers – Writing is easy, so of course I can make a living on it!

*cough snicker cough*

There’s also the fact that until you tackle your first novel, you don’t really understand how complex the process is. I know I didn’t, and I honestly expected it to be pretty damn complex. Even after finishing several drafts of it and starting the next, I’m still learning about my process and how to improve on my novel writing. And that’s only the writing end of it. That’s a long way from making it a career.

So for people who like writing or are good at writing, ignorance of all the aspects of the work could be an excuse.

For other people, though, I’m not sure ignorance is enough of an explanation. Willful ignorance, maybe. I’m not sure how people who couldn’t stand to write a short story or poem for class could possibly think writing was an easy job unless they’re simply choosing to ignore the fact that they don’t like to write.

Or do they somehow think that writing is solely a natural ability? A gift from God? Do they think the words simply flow out, that authors spend ten minutes a day to write 1,000 words?

Really, if people think that not only writing but making a living at it is easy, where does that thought come from?

A Writing Prompt for Dreams

I don’t mean the goals kind of dream. This writing prompt is meant for those weird, hazy, wtf dreams that happen in your sleep and fade within hours (if not minutes) of waking. Most of the time, they make no sense – talk about the art of the unexpected! That’s actually one of the best reasons to apply dreams to your writing.

Yes, dream logic is not normal logic. In dreams, you accept stuff that causes bewildered or amused expressions when you wake up. But it’s that very lack of logical flow that makes them useful. It means that there very well may be ideas in them that you would not come up with when awake. Ok, not all of them are good ideas, but many of them could be useful when modified or at least make decent inspiration for writing.

Unfortunately, due to the transient nature of dream memories, this writing prompt requires a bit of footwork. I’m sure you’ve already guessed it – you have to write down or otherwise record your dreams. The sooner after you wake up, the better (you’ll remember more).

I wouldn’t be surprised if many of you do this already or at least keep a notepad next to the bed. Many of the artists I know tend to have ideas as they go to sleep or wake up, and, to keep from missing out on any of them, they write them down at the moment they happen (ideas can be awfully fleeting).

Once you have some dreams written down, read through and hunt for something that seems interesting. Something that you could use to start a story. Here are some examples of things to look for.

  • The goal or the quest: Even when the scenes or plot points of the dream don’t make sense, the overarching goal might (with a bit of adjusting, specifically adding more details since dreams are often vague).
  • Worldbuilding and magic: The reason we consider dreams illogical is that they don’t follow the rules of the real world. If you take one of the events of the dream and make it possible in your fantasy/sci fi/horror world (make it part of the rule system), however, it suddenly makes more sense and may lead you in an intriguing direction.
  • Mood: Dreams are really good at toying with our emotions (well, they do have a direct link to the system). That may mean that certain scenes will have very vivid moods, which can help as inspiration for setting a scene in a written piece.

That should give you a starting point. Since people dream very differently (I’m told some people dream only in black and white, for example), you may come up with all sorts of ideas from your dreams that I wouldn’t (and vice versa). Just remember that you can’t use them if you don’t remember them – so write them down!

Once you do, I bet you’ll have plenty of fodder for your writing. Now, given the personal/assumed revealing nature of dreams, I won’t ask you to tell us about the dreams unless you want to (beware the TMI problem!), but if you find any good uses for them, please share!

A Grammar Pun to Lighten Your Day

Lol. The past presently presented the present, but the present preferred the present presently presented by the future.

And, yes, that’s a correct sentence (a bit of passive but otherwise fine). Don’t you just love English?

Why Doesn’t Anyone Care About Split Infinitives?

You know it’s true. For all that high school Grammar & Composition teachers tried to drill it into us, nobody cares. I’m not even sure the teachers care outside the classroom. Even grammar nazis seem to shrug and look the other way.

In case some of you care so little that you’ve already wiped the error from your mind, here’s how it works.

to + a verb in its infinitive form = an infinitive phrase

For example, “to be,” “to run,” and “to gallivant” are all infinitive phrases. Written like that, they’d be correct (not split). If you stick an adverb in the middle of them, “to humbly be,” “to awkwardly run,” or “to dramatically gallivant,” then they’re split and (technically) incorrect.

So why doesn’t anyone seem to care?

I don’t know (I don’t think anyone can know), but I can theorize. I can theorize that most people don’t know what an infinitive is, let alone an infinitive phrase or a split infinitive. And if they have no clue what it is, why on Earth would they care? (Let alone how…)

Then again, many people don’t know about plenty of other grammar errors, and it drives grammar lovers crazy (homophone errors or direct address, for starters).

So why is it that grammar lovers (or nazis) don’t care about this particular rule?

It can’t be because we split infinitives all the time when we talk – we break plenty of grammar rules when we talk. Most grammar nazis either understand the difference between casual speech and formal speech (especially between spoken and written) or don’t care and get upset about grammar mistakes in either.

The only reason I can think that explains why no one cares about split infinitives is the fact that it doesn’t muddle meaning. It really doesn’t. In English, adverbs can go before or after the verbs they modify, so it isn’t misplacing the modifier. It truly seems to be a rule for the sake of a rule (which, I would argue, is not usually the case).

But, like I said, I don’t know. That’s the only reason I’ve thought of that makes some sense (to me). How about you? Got any ideas?

Fantasy & Sci Fi Terms: Terms for Magic & Technology

There’s a great technique in writing, especially in Fantasy or Science Fiction, where you use an existing word as a word for magic or technology. That’s a really great way to give your story character and make your world stand apart from others. The only problem arises when you forget and also use the word the way you normally would:

  1. Seeing the vampires approach, Lyr shifted and was on them instantly in a flash of fur and claws.
  2. As the silence turned grim and threatening, Lyr shifted uneasily in his chair.

The first one would be an example of the author’s new meaning where “shift” becomes the word that shows the man transforming between man and beast. But once that’s established as the meaning of the word, using it normally (like in the 2nd example) becomes less clear. Is he shifting back and forth between beast and man forms? That’s very possible, and I have seen stories where the next sentence made it clear that, yes, that’s what the author meant.

On the other hand, if that’s not what the author meant (say the people watching Lyr on a hidden camera aren’t supposed to know that he can become a beast), then, any confusion caused by using “shift” normally here could make the reader think there are continuity problems.

In that situation, the best way to avoid confusion is to only use the word for its new meaning. Throwing in a synonym for the second situation can go a long way to making the story clearer to your reader.

That’s most likely to be a problem with verbs because they tend to be a single word and look no different from the common use. When it comes to names of things, on the other hand, you can generally circumvent the issue altogether by using multiple words or a phrase.

Take the words, “source” and “true.” They’re both normal, commonly used words. When Robert Jordan put them together and capitalized them, however, they became the core of magic in his worldbuilding. The “True Source” means something else than “true source.”

There are two very good tricks we can learn from that example:

  1. Capitalization helps. If you’re changing a word or words to have a new and very specific meaning, capitalizing the words will help the reader know when you’re using the normal meaning and when you mean the new, special thing you invented.
  2. Combine words that don’t usually go together. If you want a phrase for using magic to walk on air, “walk lightly” isn’t the best choice because it’s not that uncommon otherwise. And the more common a phrase you pick, the more likely you’ll want to capitalize it. Or, again, avoid it in nonmagical situations.

When it comes down to it, most of us have enough to watch for without adding in words to stop using. So if you can make the term for your magic or technology more uncommon, you’ll save yourself time and trouble in the long run. And it won’t hurt as far as making your world more unique, either.

Put the Puzzle Pieces Together in New Ways

Neologists comjunct! (Look up the parts – you’ll get it.)

Neologists kind of use the last writing prompt with prefixes, affixes, and roots. Take a root word from here, an affix or two from there, and voíla, you can build a new word. It’s like a puzzle that can be combined into hundreds, thousands of different ways. And the best part? You usually don’t have to think about it. It just happens.

Now, getting it accepted into normal speech (or, say, the dictionary) is a whole other story.

A Word-Stealing Writing Prompt

Have you ever seen the Victor Borge bit where he cuts up pieces of famous uncopyrighted music and tapes them together to make a new piece? This writing prompt is a bit like that. Since I would never suggest that you cut up a book, however (sacrilege!), simply copy, print out, or write the lines to be used by hand.

Here’s the basic idea:

  1. Pick the uncopyrighted books you want to use.
  2. Write down, copy, or print a line from each.
  3. Fold the papers and mix them up in a hat.
  4. Draw them from the hat 1 at a time, and lay them out in that order on your paper.
  5. Shift them up and down as desired.
  6. Fill in the space between them with a story of your own that works with the existing lines and makes something new.

The lines can be famous or simply any line that tickles your fancy, and you can pick lines from different authors. Some of them have such a distinctive writing style or voice that merging them into a cohesive tale will be quite a challenge.

Sounds like fun to me!

The Obscure Paradox: AKA Elf Speak

Oh, the paradox. There’s something both marvelous and horrid about a statement that is true and false at the same time. Or seems to be both, anyway. It’s great for confusing characters, adding a little local color through common phrases (“awfully good”), or writing dialogue for elves.

Wait – what?

All right. All right. It doesn’t have to be elves. It could be any character who’s accepted as wise (beyond the other characters or beyond their years): the typical old wise woman/witch, a sage on a mountain, the young savant, elves, etc. There is a specific genre of “wise person” that can benefit greatly from paradoxes.

It’s an obscurity thing. Think about typical takes on elves. They’re usually really learned (because they live so long), and as a result, they give really obscure, seemingly useless or incomprehensible advice. The same is true of all those other types mentioned. Here’s an example from a powerful witch from the spirit world in Miyazaki’s Spirited Away:

“Nothing that happens is ever forgotten even if you can’t remember it.”

Huh? Rewind. I think I missed something. If you can’t remember it, doesn’t that mean that you forgot it? You know, by definition? At the same time, the statement sounds true in a deeper, hidden meaning kind of way. In a you-have-to-meditate-on-it-for-a-hundred-years-to-get-it kind of way.

That’s the power of the wise-seeming paradox. You can baffle the audience into belief. Think of the little boy’s advice in The Matrix:

“It is not the spoon that bends. It is only yourself.”

Uh-huh. But I just saw you bend the spoon. I mean, it got all wavy, and then, it snapped back straight. Are you saying my eyes bent instead? I don’t get it. You really need to work on your step-by-step instructions. Even Neo didn’t get it.

Then.

That’s because it’s a bafflying, mystical moment, and it’s meant to be. That was kind of the whole point. Besides, if the kid had come straight out and told him the truth (remember: you’re actually in the middle of a big computer program, and the spoon – bent or otherwise – is merely a perception sent to you by said code), 1. the audience would’ve gotten annoyed/bored with the infodump and 2. the plot would’ve been derailed because the hero’s epiphany would’ve been delivered rather than earned at the end of the hero’s journey (cause that’s the story type, right?).

So what do you do if you need to give the audience and/or the main character a big clue without giving away how everything works? Throw in an obscure, wise-seeming paradox. It’ll establish the character saying it as very wise (or possibly as mad as a hatter), and it will also give an essential plot clue without coming right out and saying it.

Win-win, right?

Foreshadowing Is Better in the Background

Foreshadowing. The promises you make to your reader. The secret to leading your readers by the nose. The secret to tricking them. You know, any kind of hint you scatter throughout the novel so that people don’t get to the ending and yell, “Where the heck did that come from?” and throw the book across the room.

Theoretically, anway.

As a reader or moviegoer, you’re probably well-versed in foreshadowing. Hmmm… there was a closeup of a gun. I wonder if that’s gonna be important later. Or an oracle tells a character to look out for a man in red. Then, a male character is introduced with a red coat and a deceptively friendly manner. Gee, I wonder what could go wrong.

So, clearly, not all foreshadowing is good foreshadowing. I mean, have you ever read a book or watched a movie where it felt like they kind of beat you over the head with the foreshadowing. “Only the seventh son of the seventh son can defeat the ____ !” Yeah, sometimes, foreshadowing can be really blatant. In fact, sometimes the foreshadowing is straightout told to you, especially if there’s a narrator involved.

It started out as an ordinary day. Mrs. Lizt woke up her children and sent them to school. Little did she know that they wouldn’t be coming home that night (Dun Dun DUN).

Sound cheesy? Uh-huh. Sound like the sort of movie/book you might make fun of? Oh, yeah. It’s one of those techniques that was once so common that it became cliched. As a result, now, it’s mostly used for comedic pieces that are parodying the old style and the excessively obvious foreshadowing.

So if really, amazingly obvious foreshadowing is cliched and either groan or giggle-worthy, it stands to reason that really amazing foreshadowing is much more subtle. In fact, some of the best foreshadowing is mentioned so casually, that you might not pick up on it until you look back to check – or until the main character points it out as part of the climax (the detective’s explain-everything-to-the-rest-of-the-cast moment).

Here’s what I’ve noticed the experts doing: focus on big foreshadowing that turns out to be a red herring (a literary device named for using a stinky fish to throw scent dogs off a trail) and at the same time, slip the real foreshadowing in in the background.

Stage magicians call it misdirection. Their technique is to use what they’re saying, what they’re assistant is doing, or what they’re doing with one hand to disguise what the other hand is doing. In a play, lighting and staging can direct the focus and make sure that you pay more attention to this action rather than that. In a film, where the camera focuses, the score, and/or where a character is looking can go a long way to directing your attention.

With books, we’re usually focused on whatever the main character is focused on (or whoever perspective it’s told from). That means that the ideal way to hide foreshadowing is to have the main character dismiss it or not really pay attention to it in the first place. Put it in the background. Better yet, put it in the background and have the main character focus on a bit of false foreshadowing (a red herring, as it were).

Is that easy? Excuse me while I scoff.

One of the natural humps to get over for writing a good novel is the sheer amount of complexity involved. The number of characters, plots and subplots, worldbuilding, word choice, etc. – there are a lot of threads to keep track of if you want to do it right. And that’s with obvious foreshadowing. The more you get into misdirections and subtle v. obvious foreshadowing, the more complexity you’re adding.

Subtle foreshadowing isn’t about easy. It’s about better. That makes it worth it, right?