Thursday, August 30, 2012

100 Words a Day 26

"That hit was huge," he exclaimed to the brunette beside him.

“Yeah,” she agreed.

“How does a Chicago fan end up watching Derby in a bar in Denver?” he asked.

“I could ask you a similar question about how a guy wearing a fancy shirt and a tie ended up in a bar watching Derby.”

“I asked you first.”

“I came out here for college, got a job and stayed. What’s your story?”

“When I was poor I’d go to the bouts because I’d get in free if I volunteered and I kept going after I could afford to pay.”

100 Words a Day 25

This one's for Gramps:

The hat was a tired, army green with a short, dusty bill and drooping ear flaps. The underside of the bill and the inside of the hat had a fuzzy lining that kept out most of the chill. The World War II hat had arrived at the present battered and unfashionable, but still warm as ever. There was a tag on the inside with words he could read but information he didn’t understand, except for the name. It was his grandfather’s last name and first initial. It was all he had left of the man who had raised his mother. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

100 Words a Day 24

“Nobody’s chains are shinier than mine,” he thought to himself, “and with my brushed teeth, that gold cap is just as bright.”

He ran a comb through his hair, ensuring it was slicked back to irresistible perfection, before running the comb through his mustache, ensuring it too was bringing it’s A game to the evening. He opened is linen shirt in the front, because only he was baller enough to let all that chest hair show for the ladies, and they would know it. He looked in the mirror and, being pleased with his appearance, Chad Baggett hit the clubs.

Activity vs. Productivity from a Book POV

Anyone who has ever done 2 through 100 Even knows the difference between Activity and Productivity. Unfortunately, the distinction seems to have been lost on a segment of the book buying population, who have begun to do price comparisons for books the way they do sugar, by the pound, assuming more writing is better writing.

A friend of mine posted an article on her Facebook page some time ago where the author said books were getting longer. One of the comments extolled the virtues of this tendency, because they felt they were getting more value for their money.

If you pay eight dollars for a four hundred page book (400/800) that comes out to .5 pages per cent. If you buy a six hundred page book for eight dollars (600/800) that comes out to .75 pages per cent. Congrats, you optimized your book buying 50% by purchasing the six hundred page book.

Books should be as short as they possibly can be. Even I, who is so rarely accused of being stingy when it comes to length in the written medium, must agree. Let's look at some examples of some popular books:

Don Quijote
Moby Dick
War and Peace

These books are all furiously long and have a reputation for being a slog.

The Giver
Of Mice and Men
Captain Blood

In contrast, these books are considerably shorter and have much more favorable reputations.

Now, take Don Quijote and just read the first sally, which is the first five or six chapters. You'll find it is much more enjoyable than the bulk of the remaining text, except the parts about enemas and when he bad mouths the guy who wrote the False Quijote and maybe when Sancho gets the island.

After that, take Of Mice and Men and put in pages of descriptions of the repetitive happenings that occur while Lenny and George are at the farm, throw in some horticulture discussions, and pad the book out to about double its current length and see how much fun it is to read.

Examples of books decried for their length are not limited to ones written by people who are dead; there are plenty of contemporary examples. Plenty will argue that large chunks of the Game of Thrones series could have been excised for example.

Still one of those people who feels the longer and cheaper a book the better cost to value? I give you Antoine de Saint-Exupery, assuming my Google search was correct:

 "Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."

One might also note, according to Google, he was a writer.

Monday, August 27, 2012

100 Words a Day 23

Growing up, he had always read about prophets having visions dance before their eyes. That was bullshit, his visions didn’t dance for shit. They hung in front of his eyes, foreboding, threatening, like the sword of Damocles, ready to fall on him at any moment. Those fakers he read about always talked in images and riddles. His visions were clear, and they were terrible, much more like that guy’s dream in the movie Black Robe, except they were always bad, never vague. At first he had tried to avoid them. That worked about as well as it did in literature. 

100 Words a Day 22

Eyes were staring at them out of the night. The children could see them through the floor to ceiling windows of their house that looked out into the darkness. The house lights were on; the eyes could look in and see everything through those same windows. The two children had convinced each other that they were being watched by some sort of otherworldly being, ready to eat them if given the chance. They wanted to turn off the lights and flee the room, but didn’t dare take their eyes off those glowing orbs. Through the night they continued to stare.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

100 Words a Day 21

He sat by the phone, waiting for her call. They had Math class together, not algebra or geometry, Math. He wasn’t good at math and apparently she wasn’t either. At first he’d been embarrassed that he got put in Math class, rather than Algebra One, he forgot all of that when he saw her sitting next to the last open seat. And when he talked to her, he hadn’t gotten tongue tied! Every other time he’d tried to talk to a cute girl he’d tripped over his words and just ended up feeling dumb.

 His phone buzzed: it was her!

100 Words a Day 20

The girls came back to our table with John and he introduced us.

“This is Veronica and Alli,” he said, pointing to each in turn.

We introduced ourselves then got down to conversing.

“So Alli, what do you do besides work?” I asked.

“Well,” she said, pausing, “I run a lot. That’s pretty much it.”

“Just for fun or for a race?”

“It started just for fun, but I’m training for a half marathon.”

“That’s cool. I don’t think I can run a mile.”

“What do you do besides work?” she reposted.

“Guy stuff mostly, pretty standard video games etc.”

Thursday, August 23, 2012

100 Words a Day 19

Jeff awoke in complete darkness; he couldn’t see his hand before his face. He was laying on something that felt like course linen on a hard surface. Reaching out he groped through the space around him. Stretching out as far as he could, he felt rough, cold stone beneath his palm. Crawling on all fours he felt around, eventually finding a rock wall. His hands crept up the wall and he stood slowly, lest he bump his head. Inching towards the right, Jeff’s hands eventually encountered a protrusion. He felt the smooth contours with his hand wondering what it was. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

100 Words a Day 18

He put the picture on his desk. She had always hated it, but he thought she’d never looked more beautiful. He had taken her to a small amusement park. She’d brought her camera. They were eating pizza and cotton candy when he took the picture. She had a blue tongue and was making a funny face. She complained when he framed it and put it on his desk, saying she looked horrible, but that only made him love the picture more. He touched the frame. If only she had known then, maybe she would have stayed just one more day.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

100 Words a Day 17

The clatter of plates filled the awkward silence that hovered between them. Neither of them seemed to notice. He stared down at his plate. How was he supposed to respond to that? She looked at his dejected posture. Why wasn’t he saying anything? They both continued to sit there in silence.

You can’t really blame either of them. Who would have expected news like that? Who would have expected a reaction like that? They each sat in their own silence: one forlorn and one concerned, as the noise of the diner continued around them. Neither of them touched their food.

Monday, August 20, 2012

100 Words a Day 16

The wind susurrated through the weeping willows that lined the edge of the estate like giant, drooping golems and made them sway, as though in whispered conference. The young boys looked up from the ditch they were hiding in, mouths agape. To their young, suggestible minds the trees were alive, guarding the grounds from juvenile interlopers such as themselves. They looked at each other with fear in their eyes, except for Danny. Danny’s eyes were filled with determination. The others drew courage from him and turned back to the estate. With wordless consent they crept towards the trees as one.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

100 Words a Day 15

“Thanks for taking the time to see me,” John said as he shook Jeff’s hand.

“No problem, anything for a fellow USC alum,” Jeff said with a smile. “What can I do for you?”

“Well, I was hoping to take advantage of one of those special services your company is so famous for.”

“Oh,” said Jeff with an ironic note in his voice, “do you mean some of our special ice cream.”

“Yeah,” John said with a laugh, “I need some ice cream.”

“Well, what sorts of flavors do you need, and how many scoops?” Jeff asked with all seriousness.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

100 Words a Day 14

He escaped the room by the window and was standing on the narrow sill. His shaking legs caused the stone ledge to rock, dislodging a flowerpot, which vanished into the ravine. He looked down the sheer cliff and gulped. His sweaty grip felt unsure as he reached towards the next ledge with his big toe, straining to find the solid stone suspended over the ether. Finding the ledge more by feel than by dim starlight, he tightened his grip in preparation for the next step. He slid his foot onto the sill, testing its stability. It seemed to be stable.

Have an idea for a 100 Words a Day? Want the opportunity to do a guest 100 Words? Shoot me an email.

Friday, August 17, 2012

100 Words a Day 13

It was too hot and he was too sick to sleep. Instead he lay there with closed eyes. The sounds of the city drifted through his open window. It was early; the cars he heard were likely bakers making deliveries to the city’s cafes. An occasional footstep would wander into his room, someone going to work early, but the sound of voices was more common. Invariably the sounds of young people returning from a night out, they were usually accompanied by heels clacking on the sidewalk. Gradually the sounds of footsteps grew more numerous, people on their way to work.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

100 Words a Day 12

Today's 100 Words comes from Heidi's recommendation.

I always found an excuse to go to the grocery on Wednesday. The new checkout girl was the cutest girl I’d ever seen. I always got in her line, but hardly looked her in the eyes even. That changed today; oh boy did it change.

“How are you today?” she asked me.

“I’m great. I’m doing great,” I replied. I shuffled nervously for a moment after, not knowing what to say, then said

“How are you?”

“I’m great, thanks,” she said without looking up from packing.

“Can you take I out sometime?” I asked. I mentally face palmed after that.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

100 Words a Day 11

The aroma of the bread spread slowly through the village, riding on the gentle summer breeze. It touched the noses of everyone it passed, inducing many of the inhabitants to salivate in anticipation and causing everyone’s stomach to rumble. The odor wafted onward, reaching the noses of the village animals. Those that could, mostly dogs and cats, began slinking towards the ovens, hoping to get a still-warm morsel later that afternoon. Soon, the entire community was saturated by the fragrance of baking bread. As the day wore on people began to congregate around the ovens, waiting for the fresh bread.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

100 Words a Day 10

“Many say that I lack compassion, sitting aloof from humanity. I wrap my compassion in a cloak of apathy, for to do otherwise would leave me weeping endlessly at life’s cruelties: the child given up by a mother unable to take care of her, a man’s family left starving by his happenstancial death, the shivering pup unable to escape the torment of his capricious owner. Even the coldest, most dead heart cannot help but pump sorrow and bleed warm sympathy when faced with sights such as these. Casting my cloak to the wind would but condemn me to uncontrollable sorrow.”

Monday, August 13, 2012

100 Words a Day 9

He pulled the handbrake up all the way. Creeping his foot off the brake to make sure his car wouldn’t slide back, he sighed with relief when it didn’t. With a slow breath he pressed the clutch in and put the car in first. After taking a moment to focus, he slowly released the clutch, feeling the car vibrate as it began to catch. When he thought it was at the point of stalling he began to push the gas, hearing the engine strain against the parking brake. Taking one more breath and furrowing his brow, he went for it.

Do you have something you want me to write about? Drop it in the comments. I'm not making any promises, but one of the goals of this blog is to help me write about things that I normally wouldn't and having other people come up with topics for me would go a long way to accomplishing that.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

100 Words a Day 8

It was the most wonderful time of the year. More than that, it was the most wonderful day of the year, Christmas Morning! Tina awoke early, too excited to fall back asleep. She jumped out of bed and tore down the stairs, clomping across the hardwood floor once she reached the bottom. Nearly careening into fireplace, she managed to stop herself just shy. She realized her elephantial descent might have woken her parents up, but the thought was fleeting. She turned her gaze on the tree and grinned ear to ear when she saw the sea of presents it overshadowed.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

100 Words a Day 7

Each one of the cultists held a candle, the only lamination in the darkness of the temple. Their droning chant echoed through the cavern in a dark parody of the ceremony taking place in the church above. Their magus raised his hands and the chanting stopped, but continued to echo throughout the chamber for several minutes more, slowly dying away. He slowly descended the carved steps, his candle waving, until he stood before a pool of still, black water. The feeble light of the candles failed to penetrate the obsidian surface as he raised his voice in a new drone.

100 Words a Day 6

Johnny languished in the security line. It wound back and forth in to oblivion as far as he could tell. His feet were uncomfortable from standing, the only relief coming when he shuffled forward every so often.

“This must be what it’s like in Hell,” he thought to himself.

He sighed and sagged his shoulders. At least he wouldn’t miss his flight. He had arrived at the airport early to make sure he didn’t miss it.

Johnny shuffled forward another step and checked his watch, plenty of time.

Looking up, he saw part of a sign: “Leave all hope behind.”

Thursday, August 9, 2012

100 Words a Day 5

His nose was the only sense of use in the fog. He couldn’t see and the ghostly mist made sound travel funny. It had settled on the land yesterday and showed no signs of lifting. It seemed to swallow up his boy and hadn’t spat him back out, which was worrying. He usually wasn’t gone this long. Increasing worry motivated him to jump the fence, put nose to the ground, and search for the boy. The scent of his passage was still strong, there was no wind to disturb it, as the dog worked his way deeper into the fogbank. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

100 Words a Day 4

The claxon wailed, summoning George to the lab. He tore the door open, not noticing the bang it made as it hit the lab’s beige wall. His monitor flashed red like something out of the movies. He’d set it up to do that as something of a joke, but was regretting that decision as he considered the implications: The containments in Omega Storage had failed. Any number of biological terrors might now be loose upon the world. The thought that they were going to lose their job over this flashed through George’s mind. He hoped he survived to lose it.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Death of Brick and Mortar?

A lot of people are predicting the death of brick and mortar retail stores in the face of the internet. The two reasons I hear most often are lower overhead and the ease with which one can find and purchase a given item online. I will however, propose   that there is another important reason that brick and mortar stores are in decline: the lack of an active community. For today, a community is a group with a common interest that tends to gather in a specific place to engage in that activity or an aspect of that activity, and an active community, in contrast to a passive one, is a community that provides the three components necessary for making friends: proximity, repeated, unplanned interaction, and a setting that encourages people to place confidence in each other.

Bookstores do not generally foster this kind of community. While they do create proximity, there is little encouragement for unplanned interaction or placing confidence others. The addition of coffee shops has helped increase proximity, but has done little for unplanned interaction or promoting the placing of confidence in other people.

Game stores, in contrast, foster active communities. Because they sell games, they create proximity in the same way bookstores does by selling books. Having nights devoted to particular games or companies lends to unplanned interaction between members of the community. Finally, learning and playing games encourages team building behavior, i.e. placing trust in others.

Technology, through the computer and the internet, has successfully replicated the conditions for making friends and therefore creating an active community. There are chat rooms, forums, websites, etc. people gather around to create a community that has, in digital form, proximity, unplanned interaction, and team building behavior. In the specific case of the gaming community, the computer has even managed to improve certain aspects of the gameplay experience, removing endless shuffling from deck building games or keeping track of points. Despite successfully recreating the conditions necessary to make friends in an online setting and improving gameplay, people still gather regularly to play RPGs or board games in person.

Technology has failed to replicate some aspect of the active community experience. Whether that is simply literal face to face interaction, complex body language, or proximity to a group's favorite pizza joint, who knows? Thus far, offline communities have survived in the face of the convenience provided by online ones, and it looks like they will continue to do so.

This doesn't mean however, that game stores, and other brick and mortar locations with active communities, will not go the way of bookstores.  However, as long as businesses can continue to bring in an active community of sufficient size and  the benefits of an offline community continue to outweigh the benefits of an online one, brick and mortar stores will continue to exist. Owners can take a lesson from the internet when enticing communities to their place of business by encouraging the growth of the community in question and providing convenient access to other services that the community wants, such as food.

100 Words a Day 3

“At last I will have my vengeance,” Mitsu said, standing over Shi’s prone form. He bent down and raised his bloody hand, preparing to tear out Shi’s throat and end it. He thrust his hand downward towards Shi’s exposed throat. At the last moment Shi heaved his himself out of the way and threw a crossed arm block to the side, wrapping Mitsu’s arm as soon as he felt the bridge. Sitting up quickly, Shi barred Mitsu’s arm between his shoulder and right hand, before replacing it with his left and thrusting his fingers towards Mitsu’s eyes. The battle continued.

Monday, August 6, 2012

100 Words a Day 2

It was a pebble that the cat found on the floor. To her, it was useful as a toy because it was uneven and would bounce erratically. She didn’t care that it was a sunset shade of purple or that there were no other pebbles like it. The pebble was porous, making it light and allowing the cat to bat it to and fro with ease. It made an alluring sound as it bounced along the stone floor, causing the cat to chase it with even greater fervor. The pebble’s only respite came in the form of a cat nap.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

100 Words a Day 1/The Easiest Part of Writing Fiction

Ruth ate breakfast at her son’s table. The familiar food, bacon and eggs, was a meal her family had shared many years, but the flatware had an unfamiliar weight to it. The whole kitchen was like that. She could see things from her own house, a knife block, a pan, a refrigerator magnet; things she had given to her son when he first moved out on his own. These things were few and far between though, scattered among the unfamiliar. Ruth ate her bacon and considered how things had changed. She was being served breakfast by her now grown son.

I read somewhere that every year thousands of people try to write a novel and quit after the first chapter. Having recently written a first chapter, I can attest to the ease with which one can write chapter one. Having begun editing a completed manuscript, I can attest to the ease with which one can write an entire first draft.

My sense is that a lot of non-authors, that is to say, people who haven't published, fret over their first draft. They worry about writing themselves into a corner, how they don't have time to write, how they will never finish at this rate, etc. Conversely, authors I have read about spend more time lamenting over the revision process. Now that I am knee deep in that process I can understand why.

But instead of using that nice segue to discuss why revisions are hard I am going to be like so many of my college professors and tell you what I am going to talk about, rather than simply getting on with it. Before I discuss why the revision process is so hard I will touch on why I feel the first draft of a manuscript is so easy. But before you write your first draft, you have to do some prep work.

You have to come up with an idea. Then you have to make it amazing. This can take awhile. It helps if you know why you are writing a book. Your reason may be something like, I want to write a novel because I think I have a cool story to tell. That's not specific enough. When Stephen King sits down to write a novel he wants to scare the hell out of you, not tell a scary story. After you've made your idea great, you need to outline your book, which is about as fun as it was back in high school. Eventually though, you can get it done.

In the first draft of a manuscript you are free to do whatever you want. You can experiment, you can only use adjectives beginning with A, whatever you want. You don't have to worry about grammar and you don't have to worry about spelling. All you have to do is worry about getting the story down.

After you get the story down, you will probably feel elated. You'll feel a strong sense of achievement, like you've gotten to the top of the mountain. There's also the feeling that you have created an interesting story that people will read and find engaging. If you are carefully containing your enthusiasm you will realize that you have some revisions to do and that not everyone will think your story is great.

After you get your draft back from your first serious editor you will realize that mountain you got to the top of, that was really Everest base camp and the summit is far, far away. Also, that story you think is so great, well, it's okay, but it needs some work. That psychic reward you were just feeling, it's gone now.

How realistic you were about the amount of work would remain after your first draft will help determine how difficult the rest of the process is. If you thought you had written the next Don Quixote, well, Don Quixote has a ton of errors in it, there just wasn't a lot for publishers to choose from, and you will probably have a glum streak to overcome before you can get some good edits in. If you were more realistic about your manuscript you will probably just need a bowl of ice cream and a good night's sleep.

Assuming you've overcome the letdown from realizing people won't be comparing you to Mark Twain you now have to deal with the fact that you are, once again, situated at Everest base camp. Instead of oxygen depletion, predatory frostbite, and vertical climbs, you must struggle against the ocular agony caused by looking for typos, again, the mental shut down caused by reading your entire manuscript, again, and the analysis paralysis caused by wondering if you should keep this paragraph or cut it, again.

If you overcome the aforementioned emotional gut punch and maintain the endurance necessary to get to the top of Editing Everest you still have to get you manuscript published. Congratulations, you've ceased to be a writer and have become a businessperson. After investing an astounding amount of sweat equity into producing a stack of paper with ink on it, you must now manifest a completely different set of skills to actually get your novel in the hands of someone other than your old English teacher or your mom.

That is why the first draft is the easiest part of the process. Take heart though, if you make it past the first draft you'll have invested so much work already that you may as well go through with the rest of it.