A Great Tone Example That’s Funny, Too

great tone example what is tone

Those thousands of shades of green? That’s like all the different tones you could write the same story in.

From middle schoolers to adults, people have trouble with tone. Especially telling tone from mood. Well, here is a great tone example that’ll not only help you better understand tone but also make you laugh (what a deal!).

But, first off, a bit about tone.

What Is Tone?

Tone – the attitude of a piece (usually the author or narrator’s attitude towards what is happening)

Ever get in trouble for your tone as a kid? (Or as an adult?) You know, when it wasn’t what you said but how you said it? (tone of voice and body language?) Tone is like that, but since writing isn’t spoken and doesn’t have nonverbals, that attitude is taken from the word choice instead. How  you word something dictates the tone.

It’s like paraphrasing using close synonyms: the denotation shouldn’t change, but the connotation might.

You look really thin!
You look awfully skinny!

They’re the same thing but not. The switched words are close synonyms (same detonation), but the connotation is definitely different. People who want to appear polite but insult someone at the same time are really good at distinctions like this. And so are satire writers. *cough* I mean hospital workers.

A Great Tone Example

This is an article from a medical satire blog called Gomer Blog. IMHO, one of the keys to successful satire is a believably sincere tone. In this case, they took it a step further with an overly sincere, understanding, and even sympathetic tone. The article is called “Hospital Publishes 6 Patient Guidelines: ‘Please Try Not to Confuse Us with a Hotel.”

Here’s a sample:

Here at Outside Hospital (OSH), we are 100% committed to your satisfaction as a patient.  To this end, we have created this pamphlet, which contains some tips and advice to guide you in your hospital stay, and we will be providing this to each and every patient immediately upon your arrival to the hospital.  Even if you have slurred speech secondary to a stroke, been shot multiple times, or don’t even know your own name, don’t worry, we won’t bother you with pesky ECGs or mental status exams until we have gone over this information, in detail.

  1. Please try not to confuse us with a hotel.

I know, I know, the free cable, hot breakfasts, and lumpy mattresses all create an atmosphere that is incredibly confusing since it resembles your favorite Holiday Inn.  However, we actually are a hospital, not just a bunch of beds filled with some sick people.  So, that means that your breakfast may not be the equivalent to IHOP’s, we might not have Comedy Central as a choice of channels and sometimes, when your doctors come into your room, they might have to turn off the television so they can discuss your health.  Although I know these lack of conveniences might lead you to believe that you are in a third-world country, they probably don’t deserve a one-page written complaint…

Hooked? Read the rest of “Hospital Publishes 6 Patient Guidelines: ‘Please Try Not to Confuse Us with a Hotel” now. I’ll wait.

Isn’t it great? Especially if you’ve ever stayed or worked in a hospital. Or know anyone who does. When you hear the stories about the ridiculous complaints people get (or overheard those people in the waiting room, etc.), then it’s even funnier (Or more painful. Whatever).

If you haven’t heard any of those stories, read some of the customer is not always right. You’ll lose faith in humanity, but you’ll develop new empathy for people in customer service – and not only in hospitals (and you can get some of that faith back by reading the not always hopeless tab at the end).

But back to tone.

Do you see how the tone makes the humor work? It’s that overly-solicitous attitude. Like a parent saying, “Oh, I can’t believe they assigned you twenty problems of math! How can they expect you to do that when your thumbs are completely paralyzed from texting your friends?” Heh. Lol. So, yeah, it’s like sarcasm. Sometimes, the best way to make fun of something is to act like you seriously agree with it.

Sure, that’s not the only tone you could write. Any kind of emotion or attitude can be a tone – snippy, humorous, condescending, confused, etc. Any emotion you can put into your voice, you can put into your words.

Any questions?

Why Do I Like the Trolls Movie? [Warning: Spoilers]

why do i like the trolls movie

This one. The one modeled after the creepy children’s toy and featuring famous singers.

This is a serious question. I saw the Trolls movie a week or two ago, and I keep getting the urge to watch it again – one problem: I have no idea why! I’ve been asking myself all week, “Why do I like the Trolls movie?” And I don’t know the answer. I DON’T KNOW. (It’s sooo weird.)

If you’re new to this blog, you’re probably wondering why I’m freaking out about this. Well, the truth is that I’m a super-analytical dork, especially with writing-related stuff. So if I like something, I usually know why. In fact, I can generally break down why into a detailed article (and sometimes do). In this case, I find myself enjoying the movie, multiple times, without knowing why.

So What’s So Great About the Trolls Movie?

That’s the thing – it isn’t a great movie. No, I’m sorry, but it’s not. It has plot flaws. It has flat characters. It has odd/even creepy hidden messages (casually setting someone on fire, anyone?).

Honestly, it’s easier to think of reasons why I shouldn’t like it.

Why I Shouldn’t Like the Trolls Movie

At first glance, there is a lot of 2-dimensionality going on with this story. 2D characters (say, everybody except the main 4 characters…who only start to flesh out halfway through the film). Holes in the plot, unanswered questions, and logical fallacies (see bel0w).

There are also some seriously creepy and/or disturbing underlying messages being sent. The characters accept them, so we focus on the storyline and don’t really dig deeper. Once you start digging deeper, however, oh my.

Here are some specifics (if you don’t want spoilers, skip ALL the bullet points in the article, k?). These are in no particular order.

  • Stereotypical Colors: Poppy is pink, and Branch is blue. Seriously? Did you have to go with such stereotypical boy-girl colors?
  • Cheap Jokes: The butt pun, glitter farts, and every one-liner by a background character (usually Cooper) that shows zero understanding of the situation: that’s what we call cheap shots, folks.
  • Genocide/Cannibalism: The primary concept of the story is that the Bergens trapped an entire race of PEOPLE and ate them once a year. We’re talking slow genocide here. Or treating a race of people like cattle – pretty disturbing, yeah?
  • Sociopathic Actions: Cooper casually sets Chef on fire, doesn’t even look at what he’s done, and then smiles into the camera. WTH? That’s seriously disturbing right there. And I did not need visions of sociopathic trolls to help me not sleep.
  • Voice Acting Ethnicities: Speaking of Cooper, did anyone pay attention to the distribution of ethnicities in the voice acting? Anyone else feel slightly uncomfortable with that? (Or worse?) Or am I being oversensitive?
  • Breaking the 4th Wall Badly: Remember those cheap shots? Those one-liners where Cooper grins into the camera? That’s breaking the 4th wall, but the story isn’t getting anything out of it. Except a cheap joke.
  • Dark & Disturbing: Children trolls playing by jumping in and out of steel traps. Oh, and what about the Bergen who is committing suicide by burying himself alive? That’s pretty dark and disturbing. “Here lies me.”
    • Creepiness: Some of the hugging gets creepy. Like the horde advancing on Branch as he screams. What the other people say as they hug him, the glitter guy hugging himself, the creepy cloud joining a hug without being invited, etc. Hugs are great – unless they’re from someone you don’t want a hug from. Then, they’re creepy or frightening (or a type of assault… just sayin’).

So I could stop there and still have plenty of reasons to not like the movie, right? OR… I could go on and list every uncomfortable or less-than-amazingly written moment. And that’s not even including the broken promises.

There are lot of broken promises. Since this blog is about writing, I guess I should talk about some of those.

Broken Promises

They set up rules for the world, but then they break them. Or kind of break them (actions that don’t entirely make sense with those rules).

Now, I know that suspension of disbelief is needed for movies, especially animated movies. I don’t have a problem with that. I’m pretty good about suspending my disbelief. Usually. Unless I’m slapped in the face by contradictions or questions. In this movie, I felt slapped in the face by them sometimes. Other times, they were like being poked in the shoulder (less distracting but still).

  • The Chef reveals her plan to take over the kingdom, and then those plans are basically ignored. We get a little dramatic irony from time to time, but the captured trolls who heard it never even reveal it, let alone do anything about it. (Plus, if she’s going to feed the others all of the trolls that Trollstice, how does she plan to continue feeding them trolls?)
  • Why did the Bergens only eat trolls once a year? They don’t seem that bright or good at self-control. It really doesn’t fit with the rest of their established background or character. And who would willingly be happy only once a year?
  • The Bergens firmly believe they can’t be happy without eating a troll. Even after a troll talks to them and raises a little doubt in that theory, I don’t see them ignoring dozens of tasty snacks of happiness falling down around them. Does that seem believable to you? I mean, even if they think they might be able to be happy without eating trolls, they know that eating trolls makes them happy. And they’ve missed eating them for a long time. That’s like a dieting person watching their favorite dessert dance around in front of them in scores and having no urge to eat it (not gonna happen).
  • Why do the Bergens have a roller rink or pizza if they don’t have fun? That totally confuses me and breaks from the groundwork and characterization.
  • Think about all the dangers Poppy faces is less than a day. Can you see her father getting the entire race of trolls through those safely? There’s no way. Most of them would’ve been eaten before they ever found their new home.
  • If trolls are so nice and loving, how come nobody took care of Branch or comforted him after his grandmother’s death? How come nobody knew? And why didn’t any of the other trolls whose relatives got eaten react similarly? Didn’t they care?
  • If Bergens don’t know how to sing, then how did Bridgette learn? She knew how to sing before even meeting trolls. I’m cool with the idea that she’s an anomaly, but if the main idea behind the climax is that any of the Bergens can be happy, wouldn’t there be a subgroup that found it on their own? Like an underground society of secretly happy Bergen?

There are plenty more, but that’s more than enough for our purposes. And more than enough to turn someone off the move. Yet I keep wanting to watch it. It’s baffling.

Why I Should Like the Trolls Movie

There are some obvious answers:

  • The music: it’s upbeat and fun (mostly), and it’s integrated very well with the story.
  • The main characters: Poppy, Branch, Bridgette, and Gristle are fun, likable characters. They have depth (eventually), and they aren’t obvious for the most part (or at least, not as obvious as the other characters).
  • The plot: It’s not entirely unpredictable, but it doesn’t go where you’d immediately expect it to go. There are some nice twists and turns.
  • The foreshadowing and irony: “Someday, when the Bergens find us, and the survival of every troll is in your hands, I sure hope the answer is singing, dancing, and hugging ’cause that’s all you know how to do!” Foreshadowing and dramatic irony in one. Nice.
  • Some dialogue: There is a witty, sarcastic trend to some of the dialogue that is fun. I say “some” because it’s mostly the dialogue of the main characters and not the background trolls: “A man’s bib.”
  • My dark, twisted sense of humor: So a lot of that dark, twisted stuff that makes the movie creepy if you think about it also makes the movie funny if you don’t think about it (assuming you’re a bit wrong already).
  • The fuzziness: Ok, no, I don’t have a thing for fuzz. But textures have long been one of the biggest challenges of animation. To do an entire movie that’s mostly the texture of felt? With all that hair? Not the easiest thing in the world. So that’s impressive.
  • The frog rooster: What? It’s funny!
  • The main message: Happiness is inside all of us, and sometimes, we need help finding it. I think that’s a good message (a bit more useful than “love conquers all” and less irritating than “Happiness is a choice.”).

Then, there are the not-so-obvious answers. The ones I had to think about.

  • Characters like Smidge who break some stereotypes for gender colors, styles, and sounds.
  • The fact that the prologue/history is actually told from Poppy’s perspective (and scrapbook). I didn’t really think about it at first, but having it told from her point of view instead of a narrator’s makes all the difference in the world. If Poppy’s telling it, it can be prejudiced or flawed. So some of those broken promises can be resolved by the fact that the story as Poppy knows it being incomplete or slanted.
  • The way the flatness of the characters acts as a strange kind of characterization (Fiyero might call it “deeply shallow.”). Having few or no thoughts beyond singing/dancing/hugging/fun is established as a troll trait. So by being oblivious to a lot of what’s going on, the trolls are actually following the established characterization. The only problem with this is the fact that Poppy and Branch are pretty smart – when they choose to think. Maybe, it’s like Legally Blonde and doing what’s expected (I haven’t quite resolved this thought…).
  • The group’s mockery of Branch, King Peppy’s command to flee, and Creek’s betrayal. The fact that the trolls can be flawed and selfish makes them more human and interesting despite their otherwise shallow mentality.

I think it’s these contradictions that’s giving me trouble analyzing my response – the very flatness of the characters is their rounding (if that makes sense to anyone), the lines are alternately witty or almost annoyingly oblivious, and the humor is spot on or disturbingly creepy.

What can I say? It’s a movie of contrasts. And I’m listening to it in the background as I write.

6 Word Short Story Writing Prompt Challenge

6 word short story writing prompt challenge does not use once upon a time

Um…no. You just wasted 4 words.

Can you express a story in 6 words? Or less? If you’ve practiced and mastered writing 50 word short stories like “They Call Him the Philosopher,” you might be ready for the 6 word short story writing prompt challenge.

An Advanced Writing Prompt:
The Challenge of the Six Word Short Story

Pregaming the 6 Word Short Story

*cough* I mean, “prepping for,” not “pregaming.” *cough*

If you’re not quite ready for the 6 word short story (for example, if you’re like me, and writing short stories isn’t your best skill), then, here are a few thoughts for how to pregame. *cough* prep.

  1. Spice Up Your Writing is good for reviewing imagery techniques.
  2. How to Put Your Readers in the Mood might help because mood is all about manipulating emotions, and emotions are a big part of communicating in fewer words.
  3. Poetry Writing Prompt for Free Verse is good practice for expressing meaning figuratively instead of literally.
  4. Four Articles About How to Write a Good Short Story gives you 4 articles with tips for writing good short stories (articles by other people, by the way – not me, the person who’s not so fabulous at writing short stories)
  5. 50 Word Short Stories: Another Way to Challenge Yourself helps you scale down if you’re used to writing longer stories. If you’re used to writing, say, novels, you can start with regular short stories. Then, cut it down to 100 words, 50 words, and so on. Baby steps, people. Baby steps.

Read up and practice all of these, and you’ll (theoretically) have all the skills you need for the big game.

The 6 Word Short Story

Are you ready to rumble????

Hey! That’s almost a 5 word short story! You know, because we have so many connotations with the phrase that it implies some sort of a match! (I told you I’m not very good at this…)

Seriously, though, if you’re ready to challenge yourself by writing six word short stories, here is the best advice I can give you:

Think abstract painting – imagery and association are everything.

You basically want to say as much as you can with the fewest number of words. To do that, you have to imply the story instead of stating it explicitly. You have to raise questions in the readers mind, but you also have to make the implications strong enough that they don’t question the existence of the story. They have to be certain that something happened even if they’re not sure exactly what or how. (Here’s one of the most famous 6 word stories ever along with its history to give you an idea.)

So… um… how, exactly, are we supposed to do that?

What Good 6 Word Short Stories Do (or Don’t Do)

Now, having admitted how average-to-poor I am at writing these, you may not be interested in any tips I have (Really. Why are you still reading?). But just because I can’t do something well, doesn’t mean I can’t recognize good 6 word short stories. Or can’t break down what they have in common.

  • Avoid filler words, especially articles and prepositions. Even though articles are usually important (prepositions, too), here, they take up too much room and do too little.
  • Don’t use complete sentences. You ain’t got time for that. Or space.
  • Correct punctuation is optional. Yes, it’s opposite day. You’re going to ignore most of the rules in “Top 5 Grammar Rules Not to Break.” The fact is that sometimes, correct punctuation will help you join the thoughts of your fragment(s), but if you’re not writing in complete sentences, correct punctuation isn’t always possible.
  • Try different iterations. It’s 6 words. If you can’t write at least 10 drafts to try out different ways to express your idea or situation, you’re just being lazy. Seriously, people.
  • Pick powerful moments. Brushing your teeth in 6 words or less isn’t much of a story. It needs to be an emotional, high-stakes moment.
  • Practice with “A Writing Prompt for the Worst Time of Your Life,” but instead of starting after that worst time, summarize it. Try to express how it felt, how it affected you, in 6 words. It’s not gonna be easy, but if you manage it, you’ll have mastered the 6 word short story writing prompt challenge.

That’s all I got, but it’s a starting point. And if you manage to do all of these while keeping in mind the implication you’re going for, you have a good chance of writing a good 6 word short story. Heck, if you manage the last one, you’ll have a great six word short story.

So whaddya think? Got any tips for other writers trying to write 6 word short stories? What works best for you?

10 Fun Made-up Words from Movies, Books, and Musicals

fun made-up words from movies books and musicals

That’s what fun made-up words make you do. Admit it.

Hurray for neologisms! (and neologists!) These fun made-up words from movies, books, and musicals will keep you smiling – especially when you start throwing them around in conversation!

10 Neologisms (Fun Made-up Words)

 1. Thneed

Picking a single neologism from Dr. Seuss books is quite a challenge. His amusing, rhythmic stories rely on fun made-up words more than perhaps any other author’s works (AKA nonsense words). I finally settled on a thneed by deciding that people and places wouldn’t be included in this article (This would be a lot longer list if I included every made-up name of a person, country, or language!).

And like many of Dr. Seuss’ made-up words, “thneed” is fun to say, which is always a plus with neologisms. English just doesn’t combine “th” with “n” very often without using something in between like, I don’t know, a vowel.

Besides, “a thneed is a thing that everyone needs.”

2. Psammead

Ever read Five Children and It by E. Nesbit? If you haven’t, I highly recommend it, especially for kids who enjoy imaginative stories and dryly humorous British narrators (You know what I mean.). This particular story (and several others about the same children) features the Psammead, a sand fairy.

I’ll be honest: I have no idea how to pronounce Psammead. I guess I could watch the movie (AKA cheat and learn someone’s idea of how to pronounce it), but that would take all the fun out of trying!

3. Hooficure

Yes, even the new My Little Ponies has neologisms. This one seems decently self-explanatory. In fact, it makes more sense than a manicure at first glance (that is, until you find out that the Latin root “man” means “hand”).

4. Snicker-snack

You know what it’s from. In fact, you’ve probably listened to celebrities read “The Jabberwocky” recently. Like Dr. Seuss’ work, “The Jabberwocky” is full of fun made-up words. I like this one because it’s not only a neologism – it’s also a fun example of onomatopoeia.

Granted, I have no specific definition for it. But that’s part of the appeal of the poem, isn’t it? And neologisms, too, come to think of it.

5. Foodimals

These creatures from Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 are named from an obvious combination of words. Other than adding an appropriate suffix, it’s one of the oldest techniques of making up new words. It’s also one of the best for getting the point across in a hurry while still using a fun made-up word.

Go ahead, take a wild swing and guess what a foodimal is. Did you guess an animal made out of food? Some sort of food animal? (Really, what else would you guess?) Then, you’ve pretty much got the idea.

6. Pensieve

$10 says you recognize this one!

Not really. I can’t afford to make bets and start a new business at the same time. Still, I would expect that you’ve at least heard this word from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Like many of these authors, Rowling made up quite a few fun words in her books. She also did a lot of word play and re-defining existing words.

Pensieve holds a special place in my heart 1. because I want one (seriously, my mind is kind of turning into a stereotypical wizard’s tower room: so full of randomly interesting stuff that it’s hard to find what you were looking for – whatever the word for that was), and 2. because it’s a pun. And who doesn’t like a good pun? (If you can find one!)

7. Snarfblat

Aren’t you glad we don’t live back in the days when all people had to do was stare at each other? Now, instead, we don’t have to look at each other at all except through little screens! Awesome, am I right?

This little gem from The Little Mermaid is a fun made-up word and definition for a real thing. Which only goes to show how important it is to have a reliable resource when looking for information. In other words, don’t ask a seagull.

8. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

I absolutely love that spell check knows how to spell this! There are dotted red lines under half of these words – not this one! Heh. Maybe, I typed loudly enough to sound precocious, so the spellcheck assumed I knew what I was doing.

For those of us who grew up with Mary Poppins as children, this word (and its song) have a special place in our hearts. Those who didn’t probably just rolled their eyes and said, “Don’t expect me to try to say that!”

Well, it is one of the most ambitious of our fun made-up words…

9. Yabba dabba doo!

Is this a fun made-up word or a fun made-up phrase? (Depends on who’s spelling it)

I like to think that this neologism came from animators and screenwriters sitting around and making caveman noises. Either that, or a voice actor getting so caught up in the character that he starts spouting nonsense. (It may be closer to the second one if you believe this article about its origin.)

Wherever it came from, if you know the Flintstones, you know this word!

10. Cowabunga!

Last, but certainly not least, comes the catchphrase of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I hate to say that it actually came from The Howdy Doody Show and was used in circumstances that would probably be considered offensive today. But if you’re like me and want to pretend you never heard that, hit play, close your eyes, and listen to the Master.

That’s it folks! Until next neologisms (Wouldn’t that make a great holiday?), happy word making!

A Little Irish Craic: Happy Saint Patrick’s Day

Slainte!

twytte

An oversight, a quick mistake,
But now, it’s more than I can take!
Thinking of songs and dance and beer –
Of Irish craic, fun, and good cheer –
I forgot one thing (one little flaw),
And it’s like I broke some sainted law!
Constant pinches, laughter, too!
What country’s colors are black and blue?
And to pinch a girl for not wearing green?
That’s not Irish – that’s just plain mean!

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The Only Thing Necessary for the Triumph of Evil Is That Good Men Do Nothing

The Only Thing Necessary for Evil to Triumph is for good to do nothing

Like “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story,” this quote has somewhat dubious origins. Read on for more info.

It’s a very powerful, motivating statement: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” In a speech, it would get a strong response from the audience. Because it feels true. It is not, however, the best advice for plotting a novel.

Is the Only Thing Necessary for the Triumph of Evil That Good Men Do Nothing?

The Saying

My main issue with this colloquialism as plot advice is that it suggests that good men doing something will automatically defeat evil. In an emotional, even symbolic, sense, that could be true. In a plot climax, there should be a little more to it. After all, if you’re really plotting against your characters (like you should be), then, the scales are loaded against them.

Participation alone isn’t enough. They have to sweat for it.

Yes, I realize that the main point is that the inaction of good is a guaranteed win for evil (a valuable point), but as far as plot complications go, what if good takes the wrong action? Couldn’t that also help evil win? What if evil anticipates good’s actions and uses it to win? Complications like that make the plot a lot less straight forward and, generally, more interesting.

Of course, the “original” quotes offer slightly different advice.

The “Original” Quotes

I put original in quotes because it’s still somewhat uncertain. According to Quote Investigator, there is no evidence of that exact quote being said or written. But there is evidence of similar quotes by some of the same authors and speakers the saying is attributed to.

Reverend Charles F. Aked

In 1916, Reverend Charles F. Aked said one of the most similar versions when supporting Prohibition.

“It has been said that for evil men to accomplish their purpose, it is only necessary for good men should do nothing.”

I’d say that this one is good for two things plot-wise: 1. inspiration for a motivational speech that relies on emotional appeals and 2. verification that without resistance (A.K.A. conflict), there is no story.

And there’s a part of me that feels like the quote needs a footnote: *Assuming the evil men aren’t totally incompetent. In that case, all bets are off.

Edmund Burke

The earliest version, and my personal favorite (plot-wise) was recorded in 1770 when Edmund Burke gave a bit of variation on the advice.

“When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”

This reminds me of “The Hangman” with its emphasis on inaction leading to people falling one by one. This one touches on the point of view of the “bad men” – with their lack of empathy. It also hints at the additional dangers of villains joining forces (generally more dangerous than a single opponent).

Unlike the others, this one also emphasizes the good people working together rather than simply acting. Instead of saying that good people need to do something, it says that they need to do something together. An interesting point.

So why isn’t this quote more famous? It has more depth. It has more important points for people to consider. Wouldn’t that make it more valuable? Wouldn’t that make people more interested in it?

Nope.

And if you want to check out more possible origins to the saying on Quote Investigator, you’ll find it’s not the only quote with facets that got left out of the saying.

What’s the Takeaway?

I guess there are a couple of big ideas involved in this random babble.

  1. Shorter words will usually win.
  2. People respond more to emotional appeals than logical ones.
  3. People have been misquoting for centuries.
  4. Popular quotes aren’t always the best plot advice.

Who knew? (Ok, ok. Don’t rub it in.)

Spelling as a Frame Story: The Alphabet of Death

Spelling as a Frame Story the Alphabet of Death ABC booksSpelling as a frame story? The alphabet of death? What on Earth is this twytte talking about?*

Frame stories. Sort of. A little. Maybe.

Tbh, this article is focused more on a particular type of frame story, which may not even totally qualify as a frame story (I don’t know. You tell me.). But before we get to that, I guess I better define the frame story.

I haven’t really talked about frame stories yet (at least, I don’t think I have), so here’s a simple metaphor: a family portrait gallery. The hallway (or, more precisely, the hallway wall) is the frame story, and the family portraits are the series of stories bound together by it. Along with the idea that they’re all related by blood or marriage. That’s more or less what a frame story does: it links seemingly unrelated stories (not talk about family. Sorry.).

If you want to learn more about traditional frame stories, click on the wikipedia article (“Frame Stories“) – at least, until I feel like writing about them. For now, I want to discuss spelling as a frame story even though I’ve never heard of it being formally taught as a frame story.

Why isn’t it taught?  I don’t know. It could be because it’s not a strong frame story – it’s more frame than story. Or popsicle stick frame rather than a professional one. On the other hand, I suppose it could be because the alphabet frame is primarily used for ABC books for early readers, and that doesn’t lend a lot of gravitas to the classroom. Or a novel.

But I’m here to prove that it’s not just for kids (Ok. I’m here to amuse, entertain, and, possibly, educate. I admit it.).

The Alphabet Or Spelling As a Frame Story

There are two basic frames in this category. The simplest and most common is the entire alphabet in alphabetical order. The second frame story method is more or less an acrostic put into book form.

The Alphabet Frame Story

This is where the ABC book comes in. If you’re a parent, or if you were a child (*cough*), then you’ve probably seen these. They go from A to Z, and each page features a word, phrase, poem, or sentence that starts with the letter featured on the page.

But it doesn’t have to be for kids, and it doesn’t have to be a book.

The Alphabet of Death

Yeah, honestly, this article was just an excuse to post that video…

The Spelling Frame Story

Or frame whatever. Like I said, this is an acrostic poem turned into a story, song, etc. The most famous one I can think of comes from  an old Vaudeville number followed by a parody gag by Jack Benny, Bing Crosby, and Bob Hope on the Jack Benny Show.

Yeah, I’ve really only seen it used for humor. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t be used for something serious. I’m open to suggestions…

Enough Frame Story for a Novel?

It sure doesn’t seem like it, does it? Even if you did, there are so many words in a novel, who would notice if the beginning of each chapter started with a different letter? Nobody. Not even if the first letter was as ornate as the ones in the Book of Kells.

Of course, then I started thinking about emphasizing the letter and how the letter could relate to each story… It would be a very silly novel, but it would be possible.

But what about serious novels? Impossible, right?

I don’t know. What if the frame is for a book series rather than a single story? Like Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Series. Each book features a different letter: A is for AlibiB is for Burglar, C is for Corpse, etc. They’re murder mysteries, and the alphabet idea and main character link them together. Does that count?

What do you think? Is it a frame story or what?

*See what I did there?

What Is DISC and Why Should I Use It for Characterization

If there’s one thing people like to do, it’s categorize types of people. Myers-Briggs, a Jung Typology Test, combinations of the two, other variations – there are tons of options. So the short answer to “What is DISC?” is that it’s another of those personality tests. Why should I use it for characterization? It’s simple.

No, seriously, it’s simple – DISC is simpler and in many ways more concise than the other personality tests because of the terms it uses for its 4 characteristics. They’re characteristics that can easily be broken down into terms the average person can understand – and apply.

What Is DISC?

Want to learn more? Here’s a video that explains DISC far better than I ever could.

Seems pretty understandable, right? (There’s nothing better than clearcut and funny for really teaching you something, is there?)

We watched this video the other night in my first real estate training course (Woohoo!), and I immediately started thinking about how to use it in my writing (I guess I have a one-track mind.).

Why Should I Use It for Characterization

Having already thought about using personality tests for characterization, I could easily see the advantages of using DISC rather than other personality tests – you can figure out the character’s main type without taking any tests. Maybe, if you have a really strong understanding of the other tests, you could do that, but if you don’t (like me), then, analyzing all the parts of the character’s personality is probably more intimidating than thinking: My character likes numbers and facts. My character’s a C.

Ok, yes, people (and characters) are going to have overlap into the different types. Maybe, the character’s mostly a C with equal parts D and S, and a weaker I tendency. That’s still useful for figuring out character behavior – it’s like a rough summary as opposed to the detailed analysis (if you’re a strong C, you might not like this version…).

The video even starts to go into this. It also discusses how the main character type can change in different circumstances. That’s my favorite part because I think those differences are an integral tie between characterization and realism. People act differently surrounded by friends than they do surrounded by enemies (usually, anyway).

Is DISC a substitute for fleshing out your character’s background and knowing your characters well?

No. Absolutely not. DISC is a useful tool for exploring your characters – it’s a way to get that vital information, not a way to bypass that information. It’s also a useful reference tool for once you have the information. Instead of reading through the whole character history, you can glance at a character’s DISC  evaluation and use that to figure out an appropriate response.

You could even make a graph of it if you’re visual. Or use an existing graph that you think fits as a reference.

what is disc and why should i use it for characterization

There you go – 4 opposing options

I also like that the video talks about the way these personality traits are distributed in society. It’s useful for examining the overall layout of characters in your book. Although I wouldn’t worry too much if your protagonist group doesn’t match those percentages – it’s not uncommon for similar personality types to wind up in the same field or social groups. So there will definitely be subgroups in society where the DISC percentages are more highly I or D. Just be aware that conflicts and tensions may also be more common or more commonly dramatic as a result (like he said).

Welp, there you go. Lots of different facets of DISC to consider using in your writing. What do you think? I figure the video answered “What is DISC” pretty fully, but did I answer “Why should I use it for characterization?” Are you sold?

A One-track Mind Writing Prompt Challenge

A_One-track_Mind writing prompt challenge

Around and around they go…

Yes, the phrase “a one-track mind” often has connotations of X-rated content; however, all it really means is that person is fixated on a specific topic. It could be a video game that a person loves, a show someone watches all the time, a favorite author, a significant other, politics, world news, dieting, a pet – anything a person could obsess over. So what is a one-track mind writing prompt challenge?

A One-track Mind Writing Prompt Challenge

Technically, I guess, there are two writing prompt challenges for the one-track mind: general characterization and an argument.

A One-track Mind as General Characterization

Using a one-track mind mentality as general characterization is an old trick to automatically make a character a little quirky and add comic relief. I bet if I named a couple of obsessions, you could think of characters that have them as character quirks (Obsessions: advances in technology, a specific celebrity, travel, or fashion – If you think of a character, name the character and quirk in the comments.).

The first steps to this writing prompt aren’t as much of a challenge:

  1. Pick a character.
  2. Pick a fixation. It could go with the character and the character’s occupation (like a mechanic obsessed with cars), or it could be a contrast to the character and occupation (like a mechanic obsessed with ballet).
  3. Establish ground rules for the level of obsession and how well the character can control the urge to go on a tangent about the fixation.

You can do that, right?

Keeping it consistent is where the challenge comes in. If you’ve established that the character always brings the conversation back to a specific topic, then, can there be exceptions? What if you have a scene where you can’t afford to lose the momentum by including that tangent?

That’s why the third step is so important. Setting up solid rules and following them from the beginning can give you a major advantage as far as consistency of character behavior. And if you run into a spot where you need to move forward but it would mean breaking a rule, consider outside interference (“Oh my God, Joe – you can look at the car after we save the world!”).

A One-track Mind in an Argument

Whether the character usually has a one-track mind or not, he or she can still get locked into a single track in a specific situation. I see this as a huge balloon blown up in a room: there may be other, more important items scattered around it, but you can’t see them because the balloon is so overwhelming. Once the balloon is popped, however, you realize that it was just air – no substance.

When a character gets stuck on a specific fact or idea, it’s like that idea is taking up so many brain cells that the person can’t process things right in front of him or her. The balloon is blocking them from sight.

This usually inspires an argument from the characters who can see around the balloon. And if those characters need to get around the one-track mind to move forward, well, that could be a problem. Arguments like this tend to go around in circles because the one-track mind isn’t really registering or accepting opposing arguments.

Figuring how to deflate that balloon is a challenge, and doing so while trying to hold down the frustration from the circular arguments is even harder. In fact, it may be impossible for your characters. And exposing that difficulty adds realism.

Want to give it a try? Here’s one way to practice.

  1. Pick a set of characters. Or create new ones.
  2. Select a goal they’re trying to accomplish that a single person could stop or stall.
  3. Choose the opponent (the person with the one-track mind – it could be one of the group or someone outside of it).
  4. Find a fixation.
  5. List ways each protagonist would try to overcome the fixation.
  6. Think of how each character would react to that circular conversation.
  7. Decide what (if anything) would actually make the fixated person change tracks.
  8. Write the scene using the parts picked in steps 1-7. You may not get to use all of the options you thought of for 5, especially depending on 6. Also, if the characters wouldn’t think of the answer to 7, then you probably can’t use it.

Whoa, that’s a long list. And a bit nit-picky. You can use it as a starting point or take the idea of the confrontation and do it your own way. If this exact method doesn’t work for your writing style, I wouldn’t want you to get stuck on it – a one-track mind writing prompt challenge is fine, but not a one-track mind that keeps you from writing the best story you can!