Category Archives: For Fun

The Number 42

Hi Kids,

Today’s blog is brought to you by caramel coffee, Domino’s pizza, and the indubitable number 42. Please consume each responsibly.

On this day, we should read notable fiction by Douglas Adams, perhaps from the legendary Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and focus maybe on the third book in the five-part trilogy, Life, the Universe, and Everything, where the answer to life, the universe, and everything is 42 (even though we don’t yet know the question).

Or, if that’s not of our interest, we can read the new future bestselling thriller The President is Missing, about a president who goes missing, from acclaimed writers James Patterson and Bill Clinton (aka 42).

Or, we can go the sporting route and watch the biography of Jackie Robinson, Brooklyn Dodger, baseball hall-of-famer, and MLB-wide retiree of the number 42, in the titular film 42.

Or, we can watch Kiefer Sutherland as CTU field super agent Jack Bauer in the real-time political thriller series 24, where he stops terrorists in a single day, but watch it in reverse.

Or, we can…

Well, I don’t need to tell you what to do. Just remember that today’s number is 42. Celebrate accordingly. I may do so with candles and a chocolate cake.

Until next time.

Cover by Pixabay

Advertisements

Newton vs. the Machine

“To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction.” –Isaac Newton

Deus Ex Machina: “A person or thing (as in fiction or drama) that appears or is introduced suddenly and unexpectedly and provides a contrived solution to an apparently insoluble difficulty.” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

At Drinking Café Latte at 1pm, I discuss a range of topics that are interesting to me, but I spend most of my energy writing about writing, or stories, or the tools that make either one easier on me. Today, I want to discuss a matter that addresses a little of everything.

As a periodic novelist, meaning I binge write between periods of general inactivity thanks to the juggling of large projects that require extensive amounts of my time, thought process, and dedicated memory (the lattermost of which I’m usually on short supply these days), I care about telling good stories, and that means I care about understanding what it takes to make a story good—no, great!

One of my consistent challenges with every story I write is figuring out its inciting incident, the moment of opportunity that kicks off the drama, why it should play as the opening gong to a crazy tale of intrigue, revenge, or ridiculousness (for example), and what to do once that action is in motion.

The concept of inciting story through an event should be straightforward. If you think about the movie The Terminator, for example, you may say that the inciting event is the moment when the hero, Kyle Reese, transports to 1984 Los Angeles from a bleak 2029 future, where the robots have already taken over (which given Boston Dynamics’s running and jumping robots, and Google’s new AI hair appointment scheduler, and, well, robots that run for public office, we may still be on track for this bleak robot-ruled future—yay!), to locate and protect the mother of the future resistance, Sarah Connor.

What follows is a series of dramatic events that leads Kyle to Sarah, leads the Terminator to Sarah, leads the characters to all sorts of conflicts and romance (the romantic part involving Kyle and Sarah, not either one and the Terminator—that would be a different kind of story), all toward a blistering conclusion where Sarah must protect Kyle from the Terminator and ultimately defeat it. Did I mention she’s just a waitress when the movie begins? By the end, she’s serving robot destruction on a platter and then rides off into the stormy sunset with the future leader of the resistance in her belly. If you haven’t seen it, you should, even though I just spoiled the whole thing. Spoiler Alert! Never mind. You’ve had nearly 35 years to catch up.

For a more recent example, I’ve finally started watching Game of Thrones late last year, after everyone I know has basically told me the whole plot in one form or another (and I will probably read the books at some point), and I’m currently reaching the end of Season 2, the final episode being the one episode I’ve already seen, back when it was still new, and clearly didn’t understand because I hadn’t seen any of the ones before it, so I’m essentially already caught up through that season. Even though I wasn’t much of a fan in the beginning (and I’m still kind of above meh about it if I’m being honest), the dramatic turns it takes is beginning to grow on me, enough for me to start thinking about how all of the chaos in Westeros begins. Now, we know that the story actually begins in the ages prior to the start of what we see (or read), as any story would, but the really crazy stuff begins with the invitation Ned Stark receives from his best friend, King Robert Baratheon, to serve as his Hand, or more specifically, when Ned accepts the invitation.

Ah, there it is: the inciting incident. Even though a lot is happening in this first part of the story, the real drama throughout the series kicks off with Ned’s decision to move down to King’s Landing to serve as the king’s Hand (an important position if you’re not keeping score), a decision that, while noble, through many actions and reactions becomes the undoing of him and his family.

And, it’s these actions and reactions that keep the momentum of the story moving. Eddard Stark (Ned) makes a series of righteous decisions, but in the depraved world of Westeros, and specifically in the depraved House Lannister, the righteous are punished, and so, too, is Ned. By the end of the second season (and the book, I believe), House Stark is fractured so horribly that the kids are long separated from safety, and their home turf, Winterfell, is vulnerable to sieges, the latter of which would never happen under Ned Stark’s watch, had he refused the invitation. His righteous loyalty to his best friend, the king, is a noble choice that, through action and reaction, also proves a deadly one.

That’s interesting, right?

What makes the story more interesting is the fact that the family is scattered because Ned Stark is foolish enough to remain loyal to his best friend, Robert Baratheon, the king, even after Robert dies, leaving his son, Joffrey (the brattiest and most disturbed kid on television), king. By doing the right thing (which is the wrong thing in the Lannisters’ eyes), Ned is given the ultimate punishment, and his family, by proxy, is upended.

Now, Ned is the hero of the opening act (the whole first season of the show, and I believe the whole first book, called A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1), and any author who wants to keep his hero ahead of the villains will construct the story in such a way that Ned gets out of his predicament with the new king, Joffrey, in some clever or fantastical way. But George R.R. Martin doesn’t do that. Rather than pull a genie out of a hat, the deus ex machina way, producing an earthquake or a meteor or something to disrupt the public execution that Ned finds himself faced with, giving him a chance to escape with his family to “safety”—in the world of Game of Thrones, there no such place as safety—Martin lets his protagonist die. Yep. Axe, chop, dead. Action and reaction. The hero finds himself in an unwinnable situation, thanks to the polar shifts of positive and negative in each scene, and succumbs to his failure in the climactic event. The story’s not over, of course, far from it, but Ned’s part in the story ends via the chain reaction he ignites by accepting his role as Hand of the King.

According to Robert McKee, author of Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting, a story works according to how well its scenes shift in polarity. In other words, a story moves according to whether the scene ends in a different place from where it begins: a positive becomes a negative or a double-positive; a negative becomes a positive or a double-negative (not to be confused with a double negative in grammar, which I can’t not recommend you use in writing). It also depends on the narrative arc of each scene—inciting incident, rising action, etc.—but I’ll save that discussion for another time. What matters here is that every action in story has an equal and opposite reaction.

Deus ex machina ignores that structure, and that’s why readers hate it. It breaks the story.

You may be a writer; or not. I think this discussion is important, however, because it helps to know why stories work, even if you have no interest in writing one. Sometimes we see a movie or read a book and we know we don’t enjoy it, even though we can’t figure out why. We often say, “It’s okay,” or “It’s lame,” or “I’d rather go fishing in a sewer pipe than watch that garbage again,” but we don’t know what about the story drives us to think that way.

Often we can figure it out based on how well people act and react to the narrative arcs they’re given. In The Terminator, when Sarah Connor sees the rifle in Kyle Reese’s hand as he enters the night club, she could immediately scream, kick him in the balls, and run out of there, right into the arms of the Terminator itself. Just as easily, Kyle could refuse to utter the film’s other famous line, “Come with me if you want to live,” giving Sarah no cause to trust him with her life. Sure, these things could happen (or fail to happen as the case may be), and Sarah may still somehow survive the night. But, chances are, to survive, she would need a little deus ex machina on her side, like the Terminator accidentally triggering a button that causes it to self-destruct, for example, and James Cameron, the film’s writer and director, is smarter than that. No, he writes his characters in such a way that they must do specific things in action and reaction to other specific things, in order to reach a point in the story where a specific thing can either lead the characters to victory or doom them to failure.

Fortunately, James Cameron decided to make his hero, Kyle Reese, a noble guy who does the right thing. Unfortunately, Kyle’s noble act also gets him killed.

A bit of a sidebar, but what is it with righteousness and death? That’s another discussion for another day, but certainly worth thinking about.

Anyway, next time you read or watch anything, see if each event naturally progresses from the last, and if it gets there through sensible action and reaction of its characters, or if an act of divine intervention moves it forward. For that matter, see if it happens in real life. If you ask your girlfriend to marry you, see what happens next.

Please subscribe to my blog if you want to keep hearing stories like these. You might even learn something.

P.S. It seems all of the main places and characters in Game of Thrones are so well-known that my Microsoft Word spellchecker automatically accepts them as proper spellings. Hilarious.

Interesting Article about the New York Times and Wall Street Journal Bestseller Lists

First off, Happy Mother’s Day to all of you who are moms. Thanks for all you do and put up with. We’d be worse off without you.

Secondly, I just read an interesting article about how books are selected for The New York Times and Wall Street Journal Bestseller Lists and thought I’d share. Whether you’re an author or a reader, I think you’ll find the article interesting, especially if you’ve ever bought a book based on the list and thought, “Why are people buying this garbage?”

Obviously, some books deserve to be on these lists, and sometimes we find our new favorite authors as a result of reading them. So, there’s no lesson here. Just an interesting read for your Sunday afternoon.

Note: This article was written a couple of years ago, but I’m sure it’s still relevant today.

Article: “The Truth about the New York Times and Wall Street Journal Bestseller Lists” by Tim Grahl

Enjoy your afternoon. Hope you’re reading this with coffee in hand. It’s raining where I am right now, so you know I’ve got mine (actually, my cup is empty, but I’m about to go for my second round).

I hope to have new and interesting content for you in the coming days.

My First Mullet: Along Came a Man Bun

(A Tale Told in Three Acts)

Narrator:

From the dawn of time,
To the dusk of the present,
Man has warred internal
Over matters of many,
From the depths of his wallet,
To the tip-tops of his very head,
Raging against new horrors,
Nitpicking at the mundane,
Yet feeling lost at all points
Here and in between.

This personal strife
Has not abated quietly,
For the man must fight daily
With those demented elements
That come hotly against him,
Designed to inconvenience,
Or simply to put him out
Into the cold, dark world
Of vanity.

This war internal
Has not been a lone battle,
But a war of singularity’s parts,
A test of will against the pieces,
The pieces that define him,
And the bits that form him,
Internal and external,
Of blood and mullet alike.

This war has raged
Since the beginning of time.
But today, perhaps,
Man shall, at last, see its end.
Today, perhaps,
He may put his strife to rest.
Given that nothing happens
To compromise the peace he seeks
With those pieces of himself
That have remained at war.
Perhaps, today, if all bodes well,
Man will be at peace with his mullet.

Man:

Will our madness ever cease,
This perversion of taste,
Such antithesis to peace?

Or, are we destined to skirmish,
All day, into night
Like some confused dervish?

Uncomfortable with our sight,
Steadfast in identity,
Clashing over who’s right?

We fight with the mirror,
You and me, against sanity;
O’ the results couldn’t be clearer.

Our war is attrition,
Where neither is a winner;
We both deserve admonition.

Yea, a mullet you may be,
But my hair you still are,
And baldness escapes we.

In a world where image reigns,
And respect is found in covering,
We must take our salt in grains.

Peace between us must be found.
Shall we truce then, dear mullet?
Shall we reach our common ground?

Mullet:

Oh, you wacky simpleton,
I never wanted to fight.
My job was to protect you,
From birds, bugs, and light.
It was you who hated me,
Not I who hated you.
I just wanted a chance to live,
To claim my right as hairdo.

Dear confused man, you,
So short of your seeing,
Your scalp is my dwelling place,
A canvas for my being.
Why shall I battle
Against my very home?
What purpose is it for me
To strip myself off the dome?

Man of vanity, sir of strife,
Our war is doth misplaced.
Much else demands your attention,
My aggression is but chaste.
Riots, speech, and bloodshed,
True problems in need of release.
Shouldn’t those be your sadness?
Can’t you grant me peace?

Man Bun:

Ooh, a quarrel among soulmates,
How juicy, how saucy!

I must scrutinize this drama
As one swirls a fine wine.

Analyzing the players of this story,
Shall grant me a great pleasure.

Oh, yes, the play-by-play, sublime!
How may I capture this event forever?

Behold! One of you is a vessel,
Designed to carry the other.

The other of you, a passenger,
Designed to ride like a leech.

You fight! You make up!
A narcissistic fever dream.

The spitting image of my own battle,
A battle you’ve also fought with me!

Man:

Oh, no! What interloper is this?
Has horror visited me twofold?
Has decency gone amiss?

I lie speechless at this entrance,
At this, intrusion, at this mess—

Narrator:

The mullet interjects!

Mullet:

You! Cross-pollinated monster!
Who invited you to our party?
This battle has kept sacred
Our intimate anger quarte!
The man duels. I duel.
A gentleman’s war with image.
But you, oh foul beast!
You have no place within our scrimmage!

Be gone! Be gone,
Horrid golem of insanity!
You are perversion of style,
Man’s folly for vanity!
How dare you infect it,
The sacred image of man?
How dare you supplant me,
Hair most foul in all the land?

Man Bun:

My, my, somebody’s testy today!
You say to me I’m unwelcome?

Have you the right to tell me off,
Infamous “Do” of the eighties?

I think that I think not, dear un-sir!
Cast a stone at me at your peril.

I am no pushover to hairbound justice!
I can tangle with the best of you!

The night is young and so am I.
With a twist and a pop, I exist!

Listen to me, yesterday’s news,
My physique needs no shears to shine!

All I need is a rubber band and a will,
And maybe arched shoulders and pride.

The best of men wear me, you hear me?
The best of men wear me for truth!

Man:

Oh, no! This interloper is man bun!
It has its grips set upon me.
Save me, mullet, for I am done!

Mullet:

They say the enemy of my enemy
Is my friend, ice cream scoop head!
But man is no longer my enemy,
And you, top knot, are not my friend.
I know your game and what you seek,
And this peace you shall not invade.
Reconciliation is my order of business,
Not a threat from a twisted man braid!

Man Bun:

Dear Mullet, you misinterpret me;
I do not seek to invade your space.

You see, I am the new kid on the block,
Observing a world in which to fit in.

The places around me abound in wonder,
And the joys I bring are geometrically sound.

I come to satisfy the hunger of man,
To shape into anything he shall imagine.

But that is not all that I am, Mullet, I hope you see.
No, there is more to me than meets the eye.

So, please listen, intently, to what I wish to share,
As early judgment against me will fulfill no victory.

This message, I insist, benefits us both,
And you shall know why our peace must exist.

Now, look me in the bulb, dear Mullet.
Take hold of my ponytail and see!

Do you not understand where I come from,
Or the ignorance of your lambast against me?

I have not come here to start a war with you.
No, friend, that is not the goal I keep.

The imperativeness of my clarity, I hope you know,
Is paramount to our mutual trust.

So, please understand my message, friend Mullet.
Please listen, as I do not wish to enrage you again.

Yes, I choose not to pull you into aggression, my pal;
No, no, no! An engagement of battle I do not seek.

We shall have no beef on this or any other day,
For you and I were born of the same place.

Yes, dear Mullet, we are brothers,
Like fraternal twins, but better.

Do not fight against me, or the future.
Instead, join me, and let us make this world of men stronger together.

Narrator:

Oh dear, what do we see,
But the internal war
That hair has among itself?
Is it true then, dear humanity,
That vanity is a vicious circle,
Set to fight all who oppose it,
Even when the source of vanity
Is just another victim of vanity?

Shake your heads, men.
Shake your heads in shame!
For the man bun is upon you,
The man bun has come to stay!

(To be continued…)

Please be sure to subscribe to Drinking Café Latte at 1pm to receive alerts when new posts go live. The handy blue subscription button is located at the bottom of this page.

TV Personality, Cool Words, in Print, at a Bargain, with a Surprise Twist

So, a couple of hours ago, I was walking around Barnes & Noble, as I often do, browsing for books I’d like to buy LATER. Then, before I leave, I check out the “Last Chance” bin, where books that are on the way out are given one last chance for sale at a bargain price. I skim the books, see nothing I want, then, as I’m about to leave for real, I catch a second glance glimmer of a hardcover with a silver spine, and realize that I’m looking at a book I’ve been wanting for a couple of years from a television personality I like watching on a news network that shall not be named (okay, FOX). I think, “Oh, cool,” not to be ironic to the book’s title, and pick up the book to see if I still want it. First thing I notice is that it smells a little funny, a bit like marker. Then, as I’m about to close the book, I flit to the title page where I see something I was not expecting: The author had signed the book.

This wasn’t a stamp, dear readers. The book wasn’t marked on the outside like all of Barnes & Noble’s signed books are. I don’t think they actually knew they had an autographed copy sitting on their clearance shelf, and given how fresh the marker smelled, I’d imagine it was signed in secret, and not too long ago.

Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised.

But I left the book there. I’d forgotten my 20% off coupon at home. I’m not gonna pay full price for a book, even if it’s only $5.98!

Just kidding. I bought it. (Even though I really did leave my coupon at home, dang it.) It’s a good day so far.

Of course, now I have to read it.

gutfeld.png

The Pros and Cons of the Nintendo Switch

March 7, 2017

I’ve been a fan of Nintendo since I was a kid, but I’ve admittedly fallen off of the Nintendo wagon after the Gamecube started to wane in value. I wanted a Wii, but it was impossible to get for the first three years of its shelf life without camping overnight at the nearest box store, which I would never do, and by the time I could get one by simply walking into the store and saying, “Hey, gimme a Wii,” I was no longer making enough money to actually afford one. So, I never got on the Wii train. When Wii U came around, I had already given up. It didn’t look that appealing to me, to be honest, certainly not worth the money they were asking for, and I had gotten over the console years of my life anyway. I’d already missed out on the Wii, so I may as well miss out on the Wii U, too.

With the handhelds, it’s the same story, but worse. In short, I never wanted a Nintendo handheld. I was all for playing other people’s Gameboys and Gameboy Advances, but I didn’t want to invest in my own, and I basically missed the DS and 3DS years as a result. A Nintendo fan, yes? But a diehard Nintendo fan? I guess the evidence is stacked against me here.

But now we have the Nintendo Switch released (as of last Friday), and suddenly I’m excited for Nintendo all over again. It’s both console, which I’ve missed during the last two generations, and handheld, which I’ve missed since the Game & Watch days (I did have a few of those when I was a kid), and the melding of the two forms is simply genius. Combined with the new split motion control remote, which they’re calling a “joycon,” and its advanced motion technology that can simulate force and resistance as much as record motion, and I daresay Nintendo has put forth the one system that can make a grown man become a kid again.

I still don’t have money to spare, much like it was when I was a kid, but if you have money and you’re looking to blow it on something you don’t need, should you spend it on a Nintendo Switch? Here are the pros and cons of getting yours today.

Pros:

  • The Nintendo Switch launches with a new open world Zelda game. This is all the pro you need.
  • The Nintendo Switch also launches with a new Bomberman game. Wanna party hard? This game’s the bomb (I’m assuming).
  • The system is small and the handheld is even smaller. No penis envy with this machine!
  • The joycons come in dual gray, or blue and red. They don’t know what they want to be. Perfect symbol for our confused modern culture! We call this relevance. The Nintendo Switch is relevant.
  • The joycons are so small, they fit in the palm of your hand. See pro #3.
  • You can weight train with the heavy resistant joycons. Size doesn’t matter.
  • Mario is back in his cool new go-kart, and he’s ready for some road rage.
  • You can play against your friends anywhere, thanks to the portability of the Switch.
  • The Switch has a cool “click” sound that can jumpstart any DJs library.

Cons:

  • As soon as you walk away from the controller, your little brother will beat the Zelda dungeon for you, and then hide the controller when you come back, laughing at your stupidity.
  • Bomberman is best played with four or more people, which might be depressing if you realize you don’t know anyone other than yourself. At least there’s online play! This lets you play with complete strangers you will never meet in real life. So, this isn’t a con; it’s a joy-con!
  • If you still feel small around this machine, well…
  • Getting the blue and red controllers will just make your choices in life even harder to make, as you still gotta pick one to use.
  • The joycons are so small that they can really go flying if you’re getting vigorous with them and lose your grip. Just because they’re small doesn’t mean they’ll bounce off a wall.
  • The joycons are best used in a cow-milking simulator. Really?
  • Mario Kart’s new addition will remind you that Nintendo is only good for Nintendo characters, and you’ll soon lament spending $300 on the machine, plus accessories and your six or seven games throughout the lifetime of the machine. Just like it was with the last few Nintendo systems you owned. Oh, but these games are so much fun. Joy-con!
  • Thanks to the portability of the Switch, you can play it anywhere, with anyone: at work, at school, on the subway. Likewise, you can have it easily stolen from you anywhere, by anyone: at work, at school, on the subway.
  • There’s nothing bad about that “click.” Just watch the videos on YouTube. That thing is catchy.

So, there you have it. If you think the Nintendo Switch is the best $300+ that you’ll spend in 2017, then go get yours today. I think the stores are stocking it. It’s not like Black Friday is coming anytime soon. Does anyone even know it’s out now? Eh, you could probably get it now.

In all seriousness, I’d like to get this one, too. Mario goes to New York in his next game, Super Mario Odyssey. How cool is that? Pro!

Missed my other Pros and Cons lists? I’ve put together a handy table of contents to keep you well-oriented. Check them out.

Why It’s Okay to Write for Fun (Part 8): The Importance of Finding Useful Education and Resources

Missed Part 7? Read it here:

“The Importance of Finding Useful Education and Resources”

Writing should be fun. But it becomes more fun when we know how to do it.

Okay, so how do we write? Or better yet, how do we teach ourselves to write? I’ve spent seven parts building up this idea that we can become mavericks, writing whatever the heck we want, however we want, but that’s not really my goal here. My goal is to take away the stress of writing that professionalism often puts on those of us who want to succeed as an author. This, in no way, means that we should go into the game without the right education, or even without professionalism as a goal.

In “The Importance of Knowing the Rules of Writing and Storytelling,” I gave you a list of eleven tips to get you started, but the tips are purposely vague so that you have an understanding of what to look for in your path toward writing improvement, so that you actually go out and do the research to better yourself.

When we talk about research, we tend to limit it to items we wish to use in our books, but we often forget that learning how to write requires just as much research as learning what to write. Likewise, research is important for instructing us how to get our message out into the marketplace, should we decide to take that path.

As I said in “The Importance of Learning from Our Past,” college alone won’t teach us everything we need to know about writing, marketing, or any of the things we actually care about when we decide we want to be authors. It’ll teach us a few useful fundamentals, like how to write dialogue effectively, and it’ll do it as quickly and vaguely as possible, but even then we need to be careful, as the exercises we’re often given as warm-ups can lull us into a pattern of self-destructive story ideas, where simple actions like searching for the perfect jelly in which to put on a sandwich, can feel like a good idea at the time we write them, when in reality those scenes, if used in a real story, would probably waste a serious reader’s time, and if that happens, then why did we write that practice scene in the first place?

To get the full education we deserve, we need to look for outside sources, written or taught by experts in their respective fields. And I don’t mean experts on how to write a sex scene. Even though that’s helpful, we don’t need to start there. What we need is to start with the people who understand what drives a story, then work our way into learning from those microscopic masters who have so much knowledge of the steamy love scene that they can fill an entire book about it.

Of course, my message here is to read more. I did not improve by watching hours upon hours of reality television (though, I contend that watching reality television isn’t a complete waste of time, as they are edited to give viewers the maximum amount of conflict in an otherwise lukewarm scenario, so you can still learn the importance of storytelling from them, even from shows like Keeping Up with the Kardashians, I’m guessing). I improved through practice and reading the types of stories I enjoy. I also improved my skills from reading books I’ve found in the Reference section at Barnes & Noble or the virtual shelves at the Writer’s Digest shop.

As an author exploring the indie market, I’ve also studied from newly minted experts in their respective fields, like cover design, editing, copywriting, and so on, to better understand my place in this saturated market, and what I need to do to stand out. More and more this journey teaches me that it’s not always about writing for fun. But the more I learn, the more I realize that knowing nothing is merely ignorant, and there’s nothing fun about realizing either through education or a bad review that everything I’ve written up to a certain point has been crap riddled with more crap. At some point, I need to acknowledge that learning from experts (not just teachers at a high school or college) is just as important as reading the masters or tapping into my imagination.

This means that I need to study my craft, whether I go to college or not. This means I need to study, whether I’ve finished college or not.

There’s no end to the ways we can improve ourselves. I still stand by my message in “The Importance of Imperfection” that we should never wait until things are perfect to share our works with our intended audiences. But we still need to make sure we’ve done all that we can to properly educate ourselves with the expectations that readers will have of our works. This includes understanding the conventions of the genres we’re writing in, understanding what readers are buying our books for in the first place, and so on. To get there, we need to chart an educational path for ourselves. We need to start by reading those instructional manuals that the pioneers before us have written in order to prevent us from making the same mistakes they made when they first started. We need to start by putting into practice the sound advice that the experts give us.

If we write irresponsibly, then we may find that the fun in writing will eventually run out, as writing, while cathartic, is at its best shared, and we want to share what we know is good. Right? Writing well without doing the work to ensure great writing is hard to do. Our intuitions, our laziness, and our justifications for each will take us only so far.

Now, I cannot tell you how to chart your path. I do hope to begin a resource education series in the near future to make figuring out that path a little easier, but I still need some time to prepare that, as it will require a lot of reading and remembering. But, here’s a quick list of books I recommend you look into while you’re forgetting everything you learned in school or in this series:

On Writing by Stephen King

Story Engineering, Story Physics, and Story Fix by Larry Brooks

Hooked by Les Edgerton

The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne

Note that these books are great for foundations, but may not give you all that you need for settings, characters, dialogue, etc. But again, part of becoming a better writer is to do the research, and if you take my advice, you’ll find your way down the right path. Personally, I like reading newly released books to see these authors’ takes on a subject I’ve already learned, as every writing instructor will have his or her unique way of getting a message across, and inevitably somebody will teach me something new. So, even if you think you’ve learned everything you need to know, I can assure you that you haven’t. That said, you can still certainly learn enough from just the five books I’ve highlighted above to get you on the right track.

So, I hope you’ve gotten a lot out of this series, especially if you’ve thought about writing but weren’t sure you could do it. You can, but make sure you don’t do it blindly, and don’t expect to be great at it immediately. Like any skill, it takes a long time to get good at it. But I guarantee that your favorite author wasn’t always good at it, so don’t let the thought of learning stop you from starting or doing. Just forward-think a little before you start sharing.

Keep following Drinking Café Latte at 1pm for more articles on writing, storytelling, resources, and so on. You can also check out some of the stories I’ve written to get an idea how my journey has panned out. Many of them are available to read in their entirety via the “My Books” dropdown in the header above. My favorite is “Shell Out,” if you want to start there. It’s a short story in seven parts. Also, if you want to stay centered on your writing journey, I’d highly recommend you familiarize yourself with Writer’s Digest and visit its online bookstore. I believe it publishes 16 books on writing a year, and each book is tailor-targeted to a specific element in writing, including structure, characters, scene-setting, and even nonfiction.

Leave comments if you have any questions.

Why It’s Okay to Write for Fun (Part 7): The Importance of Knowing the Rules of Writing and Storytelling

Missed Part 6? Read it here:

“The Importance of Knowing the Rules of Writing and Storytelling”

Okay, so we’ve spent six parts talking about writing in general terms, about keeping it fun but not reckless, accessible but not a smorgasbord of ideas. Sure, that’s great, but how do we synthesize it all into the elements needed to craft a proper story?

Throughout the years I’ve been studying how to write well, I’ve learned plenty of essential rules for maintaining reader interest. Some of these rules include:

  1. Don’t overwrite. Set the scene as quickly as you can so you can get right to the action. Nobody cares how many props are sitting on the counter beside your hero. Readers want you to get to the point.
  2. Don’t over explain. Trust your reader’s intuition. Just because the world is full of people who need their hands held for everything doesn’t mean your readers are among that population. They’re readers, after all. Not mouth breathers. They’re inherently seekers of knowledge and wisdom, and admire any writer who trusts them to think for themselves.
  3. Show, don’t tell. Fiction in particular is a medium for the imagination, but nobody wants to imagine so much that they inevitably tell the story themselves. They still want the writer’s viewpoint and voice to shine through. Leaving out too many actions in order to explain concepts or history lessons puts more work on the reader’s mind than he or she deserves, and a good story, while allowing room for some imagination, will ultimately lead the reader down a path of understanding that is uniquely funneled through the vision of the writer.
  4. Make sure somebody changes. Usually you want the hero to go through a change, or character arc, as I’ve mentioned above, before the story ends, but even if the change is delegated to others on the actions of the hero, then that seems to work, too. Writing a story where nothing changes means writing a story that isn’t worth telling, or reading.
  5. Make sure it has a satisfying ending. This is a complicated piece that deserves its own blog, chapter, or entire book to flesh out, but the basic premise is ingrained in our cores. We want the ending to make sense and leave a satisfying finish to the gripping tale we’ve just spent eight hours or so reading. To give readers anything less, including a cliffhanger that does more to frustrate readers than to entice them to read the next installment, or an ending where a character, who should’ve died based on the events of the story, lives because it would be “too sad” otherwise, is damaging to us and our readership, and should be avoided.
  6. Write a story that people want to read, or for nonfiction writers, a topic that people care about. This means understanding what makes a story worth telling. This means addressing complications and developing a path that leads to a solution. In a way, this applies to both fiction and nonfiction. But that also means that the problem should in fact be a problem. Trying to save a marriage in spite of one partner cheating is a problem laced with a difficult solution and no clear answer to success, and thus a topic or story worth exploring. Trying to make breakfast when the toaster is on the fritz is less of a crisis and doesn’t demand a whole book to solve. (Pro tip: Use the stove or the microwave to make breakfast, or go to McDonald’s. No book needed. That advice is free.)
  7. Obey your own rules. If you establish natural rules or laws in your story, make sure your characters follow those laws. If you bend natural rules early on to establish a new paradigm for your characters, make sure everything involved in your story stays true to that. The moment you violate your own rules, you create anarchy within your story, and the reader will be quick to check out, as he or she would rather live in a world that adheres to order. Plus, you know, suspension of disbelief has limits….
  8. Keep it accessible. Writers like David Mamet and Cameron Crowe can get away with a certain writing style as it translates to their characters because that’s what audiences pay to listen to or read. Readers and audiences know that their characters will speak a higher English than average to capture the poetry of the situation, almost like a modern-day Shakespeare. But it takes a certain talent, and reason, to pull this off well. Most readers, however, prefer more accessible characters with more accessible speaking styles than these high art characters, and to write them unnaturally can complicate the reader’s reception of them.
  9. Be consistent. Going along with obeying your own rules, you want to also obey your style. Nothing spells eyesore worse than moving from elevated language to lowbrow and back, or switching between omniscient and first person points of view, or even swapping verb tense.
  10. Be grammatically correct. This also follows along with consistency, in that readers want professionalism to show up in anything they read. As soon as they see a sentence that has no ending, or a word that’s misused, or a proper noun that isn’t capitalized, they feel cheated, and no writer should want to cheat his reader.
  11. Always revise until there’s nothing left to fix. This one’s a trick, as there will always be something left to fix. Always. But, you can adjust the story and fix the mistakes until it resembles a competent work. Then you can decide if you want to keep fixing it. However, the key here is that revisions are necessary, no matter which stage of writing the draft is in, and the earlier you are in the process, the more time you’ll need to put into fixing it.

And so on. This list is pretty standard in writing, and anyone who’s spent enough time writing anything will confirm how important these points are to follow. But this list should be merely a launching point for anyone who wants to study the craft of writing (whether for fun or for business), and not the final word, as there will always be experts who have more words to add and more wisdom to dispense than what you will find in any one place.

For example, I’ve taken a number of classes on how to write, but none of them really focused on the business of writing, and none of them had the time to devote to the structure of writing. Most, if not all, focused on the microscopic elements of writing—characters, settings, etc.—and not on foundations like the three-act structure, plot points, opening hooks, and so on. None of them spent time examining genre works, or the conventions of those genres. And, as I’ve studied my craft independently in my post-collegiate years, I’ve learned more and more about the storytelling necessities that I didn’t learn earning my degree, and, more importantly, how important it is to keep studying my craft no matter how much I think I already know. There’s always something new to learn, even if my early history shows that I already knew a lot intuitively.

So, my challenge to aspiring writers is to write for fun, but learn to write for fun within the confines of the rules required for your particular type of work. I don’t spend much time writing nonfiction, but my advice still stands. Learn what readers of nonfiction want before you start writing for that audience you’ve never met but want to teach. Writers of fiction should take as much time as possible learning the rules of fiction before tossing anything and everything they write out to an audience that may not like the type of worm they’re putting on the hook.

Writing doesn’t have to become the leading cause of baldness or drunkenness in our society. We can still leave those things to genetics. We just have to know why we’re doing it, who we’re doing it for, and understand that sometimes writing isn’t fun, but it still needs to get done, because if we care a lick about sharing our perspectives of the world to other people who may or may not empathize with us, then the only way we’re gonna do that is to sit down and do it, whether we think it’s fun or not.

Next Week: “The Importance of Finding Useful Education and Resources”

Why It’s Okay to Write for Fun (Part 6): The Importance of Learning from Our Past

Missed Part 5? Read it here:

“The Importance of Learning from Our Past”

Early on the morning of January 2, 2017, when I should’ve been fast asleep like a normal person, I sat at my desk reading every short story I had written in high school, trying to figure out my roots. There were seven stories in total, most of them just episodic installments of a larger series I had intended to finish but never did, and I had spent my later “knowledgeable” years thinking they were garbage and worth forgetting.

To my surprise, however, I discovered they weren’t that bad. In fact, I might’ve even learned something about myself, my history, and my personal character arc (a fancy term writers use to signify growth or change) through reading them.

What I’ve learned from my old stories is that, even if we don’t enjoy literature—reread my first post in this series, “The Importance of Literature” for more on this—we still understand the basic conventions of storytelling and know when a story adheres to it, maybe thanks to all of the movies we watch, but also because we inherently know what a hero’s journey looks like when we see one. For that reason, there’s a good chance we set out on our writing careers with decent stories in mind, even if we don’t exactly know how to approach telling them.

This is why we must be careful about what we do with our inherent knowledge versus our acquired knowledge when we choose to learn new writing methods to improve our craft. We should never forget that reading the types of works we want to write is almost as good of a teacher as listening to a seminar on how to write. Reading will enforce our intuitions and help us to decide whether the education we’re getting to improve our work is actually good enough, or even accurate, to get us to our goals of becoming excellent authors.

Consider this reality: after rereading what I produced as an uneducated high school bibliophobe, I started to wonder if learning how to write was actually perilous to my journey to becoming a great author. Food for thought?

I realize this bears explanation, especially to wannabe writers who think taking a writing class is the answer to all of their needs. I know my 1998 self would challenge this statement, as I believe I learned everything I’d ever need to know (because isn’t college supposed to teach us everything we need to know for success?).

So, let me elaborate:

I have a Bachelor’s degree in English. I took the majority of my relevant courses at UCF from 1998 to 2000. I had three and a half years where I couldn’t afford to finish, and then in 2004, I went back to finalize my degree. With the exception of screenwriting, my 2004 classes were largely elective, and really just there to get me to the finish line. I had done my core coursework prior to my financial breakdown in 2000. And for my creative writing track, I had to take mostly creative writing courses to fulfill the requirements of my degree.

Pretty obvious path, right? Take a fiction or poetry class, write three or four works for that class, workshop them (that’s when you sit in a circle among your classmates and listen with a smile as they rip your work to shreds, and you’re told not to interfere with the process by explaining your intentions), then revise your baby based on the feedback. The common joke of writing workshops, of course, is that all of you are learning the same principles at the same time, so anything they point out to you, you should already know, and if you’re wrong, chances are they are, too. As much as I liked my writing workshops, I definitely agree they are flawed, at least based on the conditions they provided.

For anyone reading this who has not taken a writing class before, let me break down the system for you. Forgive the slight tangent. I’ll get back to the point momentarily. But I feel this is important to any aspiring writer who doesn’t know the creative writing college climate:

The first few weeks of class is spent going over writing exercises, like scene setting, character sheets, dialogue, etc. Microscopic rules for storytelling are explained in the process, such as show don’t tell, make sure the reader can visualize the hero, etc. Sometimes we’re given an assignment to read something published to get an idea what we’re aiming for. Then the rest of the semester is spent going over the works we’ve written for the class. This leads to the workshop format that I wrote about above.

Terms like conflict and resolution might come up in the course of a semester, but they certainly don’t get the full attention they deserve, which I honestly think should be dedicated to a course in of itself. And structure? Forget about it. What’s that? The only course that touches on the three-act structure is screenwriting, and that’s because screenwriting doesn’t work without it. Oh, and in a screenwriting course, you’re only going to write the first act. There’s no time to go over the whole thing.

So yeah, that’s a college writing track in a nutshell. I’d imagine the Master’s program would cover more ground than the Bachelor’s, but I think that’s because the foundations are already set in an undergraduate program, and graduate programs tend to be more independently focused than class focused anyway, so I’m told.

So, how does all of this relate to the seven short stories that I wrote in high school and the self-reflection they afford me moving forward in my ongoing growth as an author?

Well, let’s return to the beginning of my story and draw a line to see if my educational path was straight.

The only creative writing I had done for a grade prior to college had been for an eleventh grade creative writing class and for various English assignments from seventh grade on. None of these classes taught me the essentials of story. They were fun, yes, but they just focused on presentation, entertainment, etc. at the scene level, much like college did. In theory, I shouldn’t have walked away knowing anything about story form given how these high school and college classes were designed.

And based on my writing from about 1998 to 2005, I’d argue that I graduated knowing nothing about story form. When I should’ve gotten better over the years, it turns out I might’ve actually gotten worse.

Now, this isn’t to suggest that the stories I wrote in high school were any good, or that my instructors were bad at communicating the elements they did have time to teach. In both cases, they weren’t. But, when I went back and reread my “magnificent” seven, I found that I had understood the concept behind story structure in those days, or at least the conventions that make a story entertaining, better than I had in my college years, years later.

So, I actually wonder if my college education had sapped me of the fundamental knowledge I’d already had going into writing. It could be that I was simply writing a different type of story in those days. There is a clear division of style between my early works and my current works, the latter which is derivative of my college and post-college writings. But that, too, may be a result of my college education because there is also a distinct difference in the level of imagination I had put into those early works versus the ones I put out in college, and by proxy, today. It seems I had taken greater narrative risks in those days. One story in particular, about a ninja attempting to save a carnival from a madman, has an entire segment where the hero is trying to get out of a well, and his progressive complication is that the rope breaks, then the townspeople start jumping in with him (they think he’s throwing a party down there), making his ability to call on them for help diminish by the second, and at the last minute, as he’s finally about to ascend the top of the well, an explosion at the carnival knocks him right back in and throws mortar on top of him. Even as he manages to get out using his ninja climbing skills and confronts the madman responsible for the destruction, who is now wielding a bazooka with limitless ammo (I was probably 17 when I wrote this), he has to deal with the fact that the whole town is now on fire. How does he deal with it? He retrieves the bazooka from the madman, blows enough holes into the earth that the town itself sinks, and celebrates as the underground river puts out the fires, and the wreckage.

So, is it stupid? Yes. But is it innovative? Yes!

My ideas in those days were weird, certainly, but they weren’t boring. As a 40-year-old man who enjoys well-written fiction and knows something about it now (I’ve been reading a lot in my years following college), I honestly thought I’d hate my old works. So, you can imagine my surprise when I actually found myself not only laughing at them (because they were funny, not just because they were bad), but eagerly anticipating the next scene, and even getting mad at my 17-year-old self for never finishing the later installments. I don’t think I could capture that same level of imagination today, not after all the ways I’ve sanitized my thoughts over the years. I actually want to know how “Engine Man and Groovinator Enter the Future Dome” would’ve ended, had I ever finished the story. But I remember the other problem I had as a 17-year-old with limited access to his neighbor’s computer. I got bored quickly. I probably didn’t think the story worked.

And that’s too bad. That kid was more intuitive to what made a story enjoyable than the adult who followed him. I’ve spent the last ten years unlearning everything I learned in college just to make my stories fun again.

I never thought I’d say this, but I think I need to go back and write a new Engine Man and Groovinator story, even though the characters are cartoonish and the situations surrounding them are basically Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles meets Cheech and Chong. But then, isn’t that the kind of thing we readers want to read? I know I do, and as I said in “The Importance of Managing Fun,” I am my first reader.

So, should we continue to learn from teachers and experts? Yes. But, we need to do so with caution. Reading, or even watching movies, is essential to understanding, inherently, whether a story works. When we fill our subconscious with stories that do work, we begin to sense whether or not our instructors are teaching us things that don’t work. Of course, I’ve proven that that’s not true in of itself, so we also have to train ourselves to ask the right questions of our instructors, and the right questions essentially come down to whether or not the methods we’re being taught are the same methods that the masters used to create their works. If the answer is “no,” then maybe we should be wary of the instruction we’re receiving.

At the end of the day, the masters write books that we, hopefully, have fun reading, and part of writing for fun is to make sure we have an audience who reads us for fun. Again, we can figure out whether we’re on the right path by reading our older works and comparing them to our newer works. Are we getting better or worse at it? If we’re getting worse, then we need to chart our progression into the hole, figure out where we slipped up and fell in, then correct our course for a path of actual learning. Next week, I’ll share some of the rules I’ve learned to help me keep to a better course.

Next Week: “The Importance of Knowing the Rules of Writing and Storytelling”

Why It’s Okay to Write for Fun (Part 5): The Importance of Balancing Priorities and Knowing Audience

Missed Part 4? Read it here:

“The Importance of Balancing Priorities and Knowing Audience”

In Part 4, we talked about how writing should be fun (the theme of this series). But that implies we should write only and always for ourselves, and that the moment it stops being fun, we should stop doing it. To that logic, I would say, we should stop taking care of our yards or helping our kids with their homework the moment we stop enjoying the process.

No, writing shouldn’t always be about fun. Sometimes it needs to be about business. Or expression, or something that may not necessarily leave us feeling warm and fuzzy inside, but will in some way leave us feeling vindicated for all the fiery knowledge that’s been heaped on us over the years.

But, whether we write for business or the heck of it should depend on why we’re writing, who we’re writing for, and what message we hope to convey (and how urgent it is to share that message with unsuspecting readers). Why are you writing? Or, if you haven’t started, why do you want to write?

I began writing as a way to explore my adventurous side, as I was getting too old for toys, and watching movies and playing video games ultimately limited my ability to freely explore. Sure, much of my imagination was sparked through watching futuristic action movies like The Running Man, which takes place in 2017, FYI. But sometimes I might find myself wondering what’s down the path the hero didn’t take, or what would’ve happened if Schwarzenegger had taken the contract to join the stalkers, etc. I started my writing journey to explore those dark corners that the mainstream wouldn’t show me and those epic events I could no longer simulate by throwing all of my action figures into a pile and see how many of them could survive the “Rumble by the Cliff Overlooking the Mile-long Drop into Lava.” Weirdly, it was an episode of The Jeffersons, where Florence, the maid, writes a detective story involving all of the show’s other main characters, that convinced me it was time to start writing for myself. It was in syndication by that point, but it happened to be on TV the day I was ready to move forward into storytelling, and it was enough to get me to break out the pencil and line paper and get to work. I was 13 at the time.

When I began writing, I did not have the business of writing in mind. I did not expect to share my work with the world, and I wasn’t even that interested in sharing with all but a few of my peers. I can’t remember if I was embarrassed or shy, but publicly displaying my story was not priority number one, and neither was displaying the dozens or so stories I’d written over the next ten years. Deciding on a creative writing track in college certainly forced me to get comfortable with letting basic strangers read my stuff, and taking a creative writing class in high school helped my productivity along—it also helped that the teacher would anonymously read student works to the class in such a way that we’d all get a laugh, and that getting picked for the public reading was an honor, not a curse; I daresay that that anonymous exposure was ego fuel, and made the prospect of having a readership more attractive, except for those times when classmates refused to critique my work because they thought it was too long.

Whether I recognized it or not, those early days of sharing my work exposed me to the reality of audience, and the importance of knowing who’s supposed to read what I’ve written.

Knowing our audience is imperative to all writing, whether we’re doing it for fun or for business. If our audience is ourselves, then we can probably get away with writing anything, for we are unlikely to write anything for fun that we wouldn’t also read for fun. But once we make the decision to share our work, then we need to understand the people who will be asked to read it.

Turning fun into business ultimately comes down to understanding the people we want reading our stuff. No one is going to buy anything we produce if we’re not giving them something they want to read (or watch, or listen to, or use, etc.). We can play in the playground all we want, but the moment we turn that playground into a staging ground for the next world war, we’ve ruined what was great about that playground, and the people whom that playground was designed for, the children, will no longer come around. That poor playground will get trampled by the wrong people. We don’t want that, right?

Regardless of our reasons for writing, we need to have an understanding of what we want to do with it when we’re finished. Ideally, we should know the answer to that before we start. Whether we keep it to ourselves or share it with the world, or limit it to someplace in between, the best thing we can do for our writing is to craft it in such a way that our intended audience will want to read it. And this doesn’t always mean that we should write in elevated language or elaborate scene-setting. It doesn’t always mean that we should wax eloquent the type of threading used to piece the hero’s spandex together or the heroine’s dress. Even if we have fun researching the composition of gunpowder before including all of our notes into the scene where the hero loads his weapon, it doesn’t mean those six pages of information need to be shared with our audience, especially if the scene requires heart-pounding action that moves at a clipped pace. Even if we like the descriptions of the clothing materials or gunpowder, there’s a good chance that we’re the only ones.

Okay, so how do we know if we’re harming the balance between business and fun, if what we’re writing is getting in the way of enjoyment for the reader, even though we ourselves may be enjoying every moment of it? Simple. Put someone else’s name on our work, shelve it for a few weeks, then come back and read it as a reader and not a writer. Do we still like that overblown description of gunpowder in that action scene that takes six pages to set up?

As I said in “The Importance of Managing Fun,” the author is the first reader. But if we want a second and third reader, then we may want to redefine our definition of “writing for fun” because writing for fun should lead to our audience reading for fun, and we may not achieve that goal if we write completely uninhibited. Some knowledge of structure, story fundamentals, understanding of vocabulary and grammar, and so on, will ultimately need a place in our boxes of writing fun if it’s to remain fun for everyone. If we neglect the essentials, we may find, unfortunately, that readers will neglect the stories we want them to read. So, even if we write for fun, we should still consider writing also for business, if for no other reason but to think of the future and the place our works have in that future. Just because Arnold Schwarzenegger didn’t start his 2017 breaking out of prison to outwit murderous stalkers on national television to the amusement of Richard Dawson, doesn’t mean he didn’t still find his way onto the set of a reality show to the scrutiny of those he should entertain. We should always consider the future when putting together the fabric of our present.

Next Week: “The Importance of Learning from Our Past”