Archive | June, 2012

Post: Honesty is the Best Policy

25 Jun

We writers are in a bit of a bind when it comes to expectations. We are expected to entertain, but society often demands us to inform. I personally think it’s funny that we have to be the mirror of the world and reflect the faults through an ultimately empty image, but that’s a post for another time. What I’m currently musing about, is the fact that we are told to entertain at all costs, but we are damned if we don’t properly inform.

I don’t think it’s a conscious stigma or burden placed upon us. I feel it’s just human nature. People want to lose themselves in a different reality- but not one so different that they feel truly alien. It’s exactly why 99% of extraterrestrials in books and movies have a spoken language and desires for expansion (in either knowledge or territory). Hell, it’s why they even look like us. Most of the time, they’re bipedal humanoids with only a few differences in proportion. Why can’t we just tell a science fiction story as it is in reality? The story would at least fill our quota for information. Well, because we all know that it’d be incredibly boring. What would we call it? “The Story of the Microbe that May (Perhaps) -Probably- Existed Beneath the Rust?” Even the title makes me want to fall asleep!

So what gives? Why is it that we’re demanded to tell the truth but society has such fickle demands when it comes to entertainment? I think this is something that a lot of writers overlook in the pursuit of good stories. See, if life were a rally, it would sound a lot like a grassroots political event. You’d have a bunch of people yelling “we want the truth!” and a heck of a lot more merely listening to the speeches and being entertained by their notions. Now imagine that this is a Tea-Party rally and just across the park is an Occupy demonstration. If they both manage to go for more than five minutes without starting a riot, I’d be questioning reality- but let’s pretend for this hypothetical scenario that they can co-exist. On opposite extremes, and on opposite sides of the park, they’re preaching two truths. Now, common sense says that only one of them can be right. But, at least in this case, common sense is wrong.

Many writers begin their careers under the false pretense that there is only one truth. Usually, it is the one that they happen to prescribe to, but that’s not egregious or wrong. That’s merely human nature. The fault comes when one is unable to accept the existence of other truths.

There is no such thing as the truth. There are merely perspective. Writers aren’t tasked with telling a facet to a single universal truth, we are tasked with telling a truth. We’re not particle physicists; imagine if you had to connect every single fictional work through some sort of unified literary theory. It’s not just improbable, it’s impossible. These books represent entire universes and realities endemically separate from each other. Sure, you can find patterns (I’m a huge proponent of “inter-textuality”) but aside from the occasional similarity, you can’t unify all works. So how else could you possibly tell the “truth” and simultaneously “entertain” unless they are both part of the same process?

The process, of course, being lying.

You have to, have to, need to lie. As a writer, there is no other way. Everything from fiction to articles, you have to put forward a reality that inherently fails to account for the totality of everything around you. Whether you realize it or not, by not creating a comprehensive encyclopedia filled with every possible paradigm, you are lying. You are omitting, you are being (in a sense) deceitful. Now, is this execrable? Of course not! This is the very foundation of writing! Stories, lies, and fantasies! These lies tell the story of a truth, just not THE truth- only when they disregard reality entirely do they become empty lies.

We as writers are tasked with seemingly conflicting mandates. Entertain the masses, yet tell them the truth. It is ironically through lies which we can fulfill this contract with the world. It just goes to show how seemingly paradoxical and wonderous writing can be. Honesty is the best policy, but deceit is the best means of implementation.

Caustic Countdown: Three Insane Food Laws

22 Jun

Recently, there has been a lot of commotion over the proposed law in New York designed to make it illegal for fast-food providers to sell more than 16 oz of soft drink per transaction. The aim is to curb the tide of obesity by constricting the sale of sugary drinks and soda, which do in fact deal a heavy hand (pun totally intended) in raising obesity rates. Of course, the bill is quite controversial and many individuals feel that this is directly infringing upon the inherent freedoms in this nation. (Apparently, people believe that to get fatter than Gluttony and more lethargic than Sloth is directly in the constitution. It’s probably somewhere in the 28th amendment. Gawd Bless America!).

[Serious note: Some legal experts are quick to point out that this could seriously be illegal due to the interstate commerce clause. That being said, there is no endemic freedom to eat yourself to death and causing a burden upon society. I’ve read the constitution five times. It’s shockingly not in there.]

Proponents of the law believe that it is legal due to the fact that many seriously obese people create a burden upon taxpayers, thus warranting legislative intervention. I’m not one to pick sides (both of the constitutional arguments have merit and that’s left for more experienced people to decide. I yield to superior understanding), but I will say this: this is not the most insane law pertaining to the consumption of food. Actually, comparatively, this looks about as sane as illegalizing texting while driving.

3: Protect the Pigs!

As I mentioned above, I’ve read the constitution numerous times. Why? I don’t know. I get some weird kick when I read me some constitution. I get wired. That and the fact that my major is Government and World Affairs. But hey, the hankering for some constitutional understanding probably plays hand in hand. It’s a knowledgeable addiction. Plus, I actually like to know what I’m talking about when I talk politics with people. I don’t want to be the one who shouldn’t have opened his mouth and removed all doubt.

So I’m a lega-phile. And I’m a knowledge-a-phile. Most importantly, a nerd to boot. So when I was in high school and they asked me if I wanted to register to vote, I said, “awh hell yeah!” Just like that. In the middle of class. Clearly, I was an intellectual bad-ass.

Upon registering, I realized that I had to sign an oath to defend the constitution of the United States. No biggie. I had read it about three times by then, I was pretty comfortable with it. But then came the caveat. I also had to protect the Florida constitution. Well, shoot. I had signed my name and all. So I did what any legally bound nerd would do. I read the Florida constitution. What I discovered shocked me.

There’s an amendment protecting the sanity and safety of…

If you guessed a) children, you’re wrong. b) adults, you’re wrong. You’re actually getting colder. If you guessed c) kittens, sorry but no. If you guessed d) pregnant pigs, then you’re both oddly specific and correct!

Yep, the Florida constitution protects the rights of pigs who are, more likely than not, going to end up as bacon on my cheeseburger.

2: McBanned.

Now fast-food is helping obesity in the worst of ways. The way these companies see it, they give you food which barely qualifies for pets and you give them money. It’s like eating your cake and mugging you in a dark alley too!

We just learn to sit down and accept that these companies are running on the capitalistic system; they exist because people will pay them to. So the only logical thing is to accept this as an inevitability of human advancement or, if it really tickles your fancy, avoid perpetuating the system by not giving in to their business.

Or, you can just up and ban fast food from distributing toys. I mean, why just avoid them yourself? Clearly, you got to go all out for this to work. Think about the children!

In Santa Clara County, California, a law was passed banning McDonald’s from selling their infamously cheap Happy Meal toys. This presumably worked until they realized that most of the people who frequent the Golden Arches are a little too old to be playing with HotWheeles… Unless they’re able to hide them from their wife/girlfriend. In which case please, you brave souls, spread the word and tell us immature men your secret!

Of course, there were good intentions with this law. It’s just that its lunacy and ultimate futility kind of makes it one of those good intentions that paves the road to Hell.

1: Enjoy Champagne on a World War Technicality.

Who doesn’t enjoy the sensation of liquid victory? Whether it’s celebrating a win or a wedding, champagne is the go-to for bubbly happiness. Who wouldn’t like to take a sip of champagne to accentuate good times? Who hasn’t poured a glass or guzzled it straight from the bottle because damn it, you’re awesome!

Well odds are you haven’t and you probably never will.

See, if you live in the United States (where most of my readership lies) you have probably never actually tasted champagne. See, champagne isn’t just a type of sparkly alcoholic beverage. It’s supposed to be an indication of origin. In Europe, if you drink champagne it’s because that drink hails from the champagne region of france. Most of our champagne hails from California.

See, the treaty of Madrid first solidified the term champagne the legal property of the champagne region in the late nineteenth century. It was a treaty the United States wasn’t involved in. After that, the treaty of Versailles after World War One reaffirmed this legal right. Guess what, we weren’t involved in that either. Even though we tried to put forth several ideas in the treaty, we never actually ratified it ourselves. Meaning that it wasn’t until recently that the U.S. stated that all new bottles of sparkling wine had to be properly identified. How recent? Well, it’s still cool if bottles from 2006 and before use it.

Book Notes: Calico Joe

16 Jun

Calico Joe has got to be the most recently published book I’ve written about on this site. Which is fantastic! Considering I’m trying to pen fiction in this modern literary climate, it might be considered advisable to sample things from the last few years or so. It may be the best way to notice trends in the fiction world. The alternative to studying modern fiction is just to take USA Today at its word and start selling erotica considering the “50 shades” of porn  series are at the top of their selling list.

Calico Joe is a first person narrative with two separate time-lines: one during the protagonist’s past and one set in his present reality. Of course, something that complicated can only be handled so brilliantly by famous wordsmith John Grisham.  In a surprising move, the story isn’t filled with the legal jargon that usually defines his works (and that  I, as a government and world affairs major, find interesting) but with something notably outside the bounds of the courtroom: baseball statistics. However, I never felt inundated with averages and numbers; the presence of these tidbits actually added to the overall credibility of the novel. That being said, while nothing happened in a traditional legal format, this story definitely contains characters tried and hung in the court of public opinion.

The plot follows the incredible rise of fictional rookie Joe “Calico Joe” Castle and his tragic fall due to a near-lethal bean-ball while also analyzing the execrable actions of rival pitcher Warren Tracey. The story is narrated from Tracey’s son, Paul, as he struggled to come to grips with the hellish reality that his abusive father  has imposed upon his family. This incredibly believable nightmare includes abuse, alcoholism, infidelity, and intentionally hurling the career-ending pitch at Calico Joe’s skull. Warren Tracey is ostracized by the nation for his inexcusable actions. Paul Tracey goes through life afraid of revealing his last name. Paul decides, as he grew older,  that someone has to rectify the wrong. He goes to his now cancer-stricken father and blackmails him into apologizing to the now handicapped Joe Castle.

What makes this an interesting story to me is that it wasn’t incredibly serious. There wasn’t some earth-shattering revelation, nor was there any fighting for a greater societal cause. Everything about this book was entirely personal. The diction was simple and conversational- like a child. Not an uneducated one, mind you, but  a child who has seen and known more about the world than any other should. This wasn’t the world’s story, this was Paul Tracey’s. Through the spitting of statistics and the reiteration of his childhood memories he became an incredibly believable entity.

Books like this are necessary for aspiring fiction writers to study, especially those who are going to try their hands at first-person narratives. It teaches us about more than just what constitutes good writing, but what constitutes excellent character development. The biggest mistake that most novels in this format make is assuming that the character is fully actualized. You’re writing from the first person, after all. As such, you’re either writing it as a journal/ diary entry or with the benefit of hindsight. Why wouldn’t you know everything that’s going to happen? Plus you, the author, usually knows where the story will end up before you ever put pen to paper. The character is already full developed to you and you subsequently write as such.

I’m just as guilty. My first novel The Lupine Institute (an unpublished work that will never see the light of day) was inherently flawed due to the same mistake. I wrote as the character and he was fully matured from the get. We have avoid spoiling our readers with the full picture in the beginning if we’re penning a traditional, linear narrative. If we don’t we’re doing them a disservice. Character development is just as crucial in creating a lasting story as plot and word choice. While this practice of prolonged development will always be a challenge for authors, Calico Joe is a great model for us as we strive for believability and literary merit.

Weekly Update 5: 6/13/2012

14 Jun

This was a busy last couple of weeks. Luckily, that  wasn’t just limited to my personal life; it also translated into my writing. There are so many things to look forward to in the next few weeks. Heck, there are some exciting things to look forward to in the next few days. It’s such an exciting time to be a writer.

Articles:

Again, the articles have been proving to be quite lucrative. I am somehow continuing my un-rejected streak. Every article I have put forward for consideration has been purchased. Over 90% of them within 24 hours. I’m super stoked! As I keep adding things to my portfolio and experience under my belt, I’m becoming more confident in my ability to produce high quality free-lance work. Soon, I look to expand my skills outside of this particular sector of the market. Soon.

Short Stories:

So I canned “Post Card from Heaven” for right now. It wasn’t really flowing; it was incredibly forced. Plus, sudden inspiration hit me. Maybe it’s from all of the zombie jokes about the unfortunate events recently, but it got me thinking about a dark comedy. It’s a dystopian view on drugs, zombies and human stupidity. It’s a first person story called “Night of the Living Brain-Dead.” And the best news? It’ll be available starting this Friday.

Poetry:

I’ve been surprisingly active with poetry lately. Of course, knowing me, I haven’t exactly stuck with traditional poetic forms…

My pride and joy in the poetry sector right now is actually a gift. I generally don’t write poetry for loved ones (my girlfriend will attest to this. Nearly a year and she’s gotten maybe two). I find that one should create from the heart, not for anyone else. If the heart says to create for someone, I will. But I don’t think that I should be so pretentious to shower my family and friends with poetry because I can. I want it to be sincere. That all being said, this Sunday is Father’s Day. My dad is quite honestly my best friend and confidant. I can (and, sometimes to his chagrin, do) tell him anything and everything. So this year I decided to write him a poem. I’ve mentioned it earlier, it’s titled “The House my Father Built.” Although it’s for my dad, I know that the sentiments expressed can be taken for dads in general. It can be found here. I’m showing my dad on Sunday.

In addition, I decided to have some fun with an eastern poetry style: Haiku. Why? I was reading the paper, and I realized that the opinion section was sponsoring a contest. So I made an entry. If it doesn’t make it, I’ll post it here on the blog as a Caustic Cookies exclusive.

Other Media:

My friend Dj ZeroWolf, has recently returned home from a trip to the Big Apple. Now that he’s home, we may begin a collaborative project. Maybe. It’s still in the formative stages, nothing may come of it. But, then again, something really awesome could.

Furthermore, I’m designing two graphic pieces by the end of this week. One is a picture for “Night of the Living Brain-Dead.” Another is an emblem for this site. That’s right! Caustic Cookies is getting it’s own design. It’s so awesome to watch this site develop a little more every day. I can’t wait to see how it develops as time marches forward.

Other:

I have recently gotten ink! And yes, I was of sober mind when I did. It’s not a visual design; I wanted something  that would remain pertinent for the rest of my life. So I decided upon the phrase “Carpe Vitam.” It’s placed on my right shoulder and designed by my brother Jason.

Hey, this list is never too full. If you have an article you need written, or are in search of a flexible freelance writer, e-mail me at peterlicari13@gmail.com.

Caustic Countdown: 4 Reasons why Prometheus was Terrible

12 Jun

First and foremost, I would like to apologize for my absence last week. Things were really hectic as I started to reorganize and get everything squared away for one thing or another. All in all, it consisted of doctor’s appointments, trips to south florida (twice last week) and familial obligations that needed to take precedence over my writing.  I am happy to announce that all the conflict and drama has been resolved (for now. One of the few things I happen to agree with in regards to Marxian theory is the fact that it is conflict which drives human interaction). So I’m back. And I’m back with a literary vengeance.

One of the most anticipated movies of the summer was Prometheus, a movie directed by Ridley Scott. Scott, as you may remember, was the director for the Sci-fi horror classic Alien and for the trail-blazing Blade Runner- so one does not simply expect bad movies from him. I happened to see Prometheus as it premiered on Friday; as you could imagine I was extremely excited. I needed a break from reality, I needed something that broke away from the usual monotony of sequels we’ve had over the last year. (Actually, it’s been sequels that have been dominating the box office for the last year. Most original films simply can’t compete with a familiar cast and plot line). Prometheus was advertised as a horror/sci-fi flick that seemed to stand all its own. I bought my Powerade, sat down in the theater and watched the magic unfold…

And I found myself hating it. Very, very quickly.

Despite the hype, I found Prometheus to be one of Scott’s worst creations. Don’t get me wrong; the story itself had a lot of potential and the special effects were incredible. And, granted, the acting was pretty dang good too. It’s just that those were just trying to put tits on a boar. There are four main reasons why I walked out of the theater disappointed after the credits started rolling. And it’s for these same reasons that I saw a lot of other eager viewers shake their heads and mourn the gaping hole in their wallet…

4: Alien, Alien, ALIEN!

I suppose I should just address the white elephant in the room: I was under the impression that this was a stand alone movie. I, like many other regular theater goers, do not extensive, obsessive research based around a ninety-second video. I have more pressing things than to freeze frame each shot and look for the hidden phallus. Plus, my showing was at ten PM Friday evening- the movie released at midnight earlier that day. If I so much as googled “Prometheus” I’d end up getting spoilers and those  are always terribly annoying. So I went into the theater, sat back, and watched. It wasn’t very long until I started noticing similarities to Alien. At first I was fine with it because, after all, what prolific director doesn’t put little tributes to prior efforts in their new stuff. But then as the plot came along, I started feeling nauseous. My thoughts pretty much followed these lines (warning:spoiler).

“Oh, parasitic alien…where have I seen that before?”

“Ohhh it’s going to burst right out of her, huh? That seems…original”

“So this android gets decapitated just like the old one did? Like, same white glop coming out and everything, eh?”

And then finally.

“Let me get this straight? Android infests guy with alien worm, alien worm-man has sex with girlfriend, girlfriend then gets pregnant with octopus, octopus grows to enormous size, eats face of bigger pre-human, pre human’s chest erupts with Alien queen? What in the actual Fuh-”

You get the idea.

That last one made me want to stand up, find the nearest table, and flip it. Thank God it came at the end so I was able to supress my table-flipping rage. Note: no tables were harmed through my viewing of Prometheus.

3: Plot Holes Galore.

Every great story has plot holes. Life has plot holes, we can’t possibly understand all of the intricacies beneath the normal mundanity that occasionally produces something extraordinary. That being said, we should be able to extrapolate the basic motives of characters. Right?

Guess not.

Exhibit A: the android freaking the hell out. The destruction of everything was single-handedly this one annoying animatron. Throughout the film, he goes out of his way to make sure that the entire crew suffers. As mentioned above, it’s his fault that the guy first impregnates the woman with an alien spawn. Why? Well, he never really answers that. In fact, other than acting as a way to kill off a couple of characters, it does nothing to move the plot forward. Eventually, he explains that he wants to kill his creator (he does towards the end). But that doesn’t explain why he was trying to kill everyone else. If he wanted the old man dead, why not shoot him into space as they all sleep in their capsules during the two-year voyage? He’s awake and sentient the entire time!  Nope. It really boils down to this. Why did he do it? Because screw you, there’s aliens now. That’s why.

More so than that, we are introduced to a giant spaceship in the very beginning of the film abandoning a pre-human entity…which never comes back. Oh well. Guess that arc wasn’t important. Then there’s the fact that even though the robot tries to kill her and kills her boyfriend/fiance, the female protagonist works with him towards the end anyways. And as the unlikely duo launch towards the stars, she sends out a half-assed message warning no one to visit the planet. Because this is a de facto prequel to Alien, apparently no one freaking listens. Plus, one of the characters added that a company put up a trillion dollars for this mission. If a one trillion-dollar exploratory mission says “do not come” the entire world’s going to know about it. It’s not like Roswell; you can’t just keep that stuff secret. So anyone who paid any attention at all left with either a splitting headache or developed a hernia from all of the illogical plot points.

2: What a Terrible Twist!

There are times where authors and artists try to create twists: surprising endings which are supposed to shape the audience’s perception of EVERYTHING. This movie was lacking in any of them.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing, per say. Some movies accomplish a lot more with being direct with their story than those which try to play “gotchya” at the end. Prometheus was like that one kid playing manhunt with a flashlight, glow in the dark shoes, and neon green clothes. The surprises weren’t really surprising.

Take, for instance, the incredible discovery that the old man was actually on board all along. You only see his face after a certain point; before we were all told he had died. The intended reaction is “oh my God! He lives!” Actually, no. See, the android was talking to an entity within a private canister and told the mission leader that “he says try harder.” Simply put, there weren’t any other characters introduced who weren’t accounted for. It was a process of elimination- like the laziest game of clue ever.

Later on, the female mission leader is revealed to be the old man’s daughter. Even though this guy looks old enough to be 250 years old. Setting aside the visual incongruity, this was supposed to be another surprise. Except at the very beginning where his hologram insists that the robot was “like the son I’ve never had” and the mission leader just kind of looks at anywhere other than the image. Real smooth. At least we know who daddy’s favorite is…

Even the “shocking” ending that they had inadvertently created the alien queen wasn’t really surprising. As I mentioned earlier, the entire movie circled around Alien. It was just one of those surprises like getting deodorant for christmas. You pray that it won’t happen, you hope it won’t happen, please God don’t let it happen! When it does you sit back and moan. Not because you saw it coming, but because you did and even the knowing couldn’t mitigate how terrible it is.

1: Wussing- Out to the Max

Perhaps the biggest problem I had was with the ending. No, not the part where the infantile queen explodes from the chest of the humanoid. The fact that the protagonist doesn’t die.

See, I’m a big proponent of Oscar Wilde. And I love his famous quote in the Importance of Being Ernest: “The good ended happily and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.” I didn’t want fiction with Prometheus. I wanted  something better, something believable. Frankly, that wasn’t delivered in the end.

I really did abhor the fact that the android mentioned “oh, by the by, there’s another ship out here. We can use it to escape. And I totally know how to use it even if at the moment I’m a disembodied head depending upon a woman who is neither a mechanic or pilot.” But sure enough, they manage to shoot off towards the sky.

Look, I’m fine with happy endings- if they fit. It didn’t here. Space exploration is messy business. Numerous people have died just trying to get to our moon! Could you imagine the mortality rate of a mission trying to travel to a planet light years away? It would be more realistic for everyone to have died. The reason it was acceptable for there to be a survivor in Alien was because, in that universe, exploring was presented as a job one could be trained for and ready for. Like Bering Sea fishing, it was dangerous but common enough. Here, this was the first time this had been attempted. Predictably, everything went to hell. Except one person managed to somehow escape. It didn’t come across as human luck and ingenuity; it was simply a directive prerogative to have at least one survivor. Honestly, without trying to come across as too terribly macabre, it would have been a better ending if the protagonist had suffocated on the planet, staring out into the vast empty sky beyond. Would it have been depressing? You bet. But at least it’d be the truth.

Post: Don’t be repetitive (or redundant for that matter).

4 Jun

A Humana advertisement appeared on my television screen today as I was watching a program about the history of American meats on the History Channel (I was almost surprised they didn’t do something on Alien Jerky) and I noticed something oddly peculiar about the commercial. Well, noticed isn’t exactly the correct word; it would have been incredible if I didn’t notice this interesting tidbit. Unfortunately, I was unable to find a link to the actual commercial to better show my point, but the spokesman said the word “veteran(s)”  roughly fifteen to twenty times in the sixty-second ad. To put things into perspective, a sixty-second ad will probably be about one or two-hundred words. Meaning that the density “Veteran” rivaled the number of people who believe that the world will be destroyed within their lifetime. The point is, the frequency of this word was way to high for the length of the commercial.

Which brings me to today’s post: repetition. Now, repeating something is one of the most prevalent ways of assertion. In fact, studies have shown that the more something is mentioned as fact, the more readily accepted it is. Even if said assertion makes no damn sense. But there comes a time where trying to convince turns into beating an audience over the head with a verbal stick. This is an issue which plagues many new authors, and the axiom of the practice are their collective insecurities. We’ve all been there. We had some great plan for a novel or a story with some incredible message hiding in the subtext. But we didn’t want just the educated to pick up on it, so we’d throw hint after hint until we were sure you’d get the picture.

Usually, this meant that the reader would end up drowning in hints. The finale was burdened with becoming a life boat for our poor readers. Unfortunately, it can be equated with searching for a man in the middle of the pacific… in a rowboat. The great truths of our work were overshadowed with all of the redundant build up.

Other times, it’s a word. I read an article about how Stephen King seemed to really favor a certain four letter word (which isn’t even in my top five explicits. Really Mr. King, you can do better than that word. There are so many better ones out there). The writer of the article expressed a certain disgust because the word  seemed to be tossed around haphazardly. However, the same word was tossed around quite a bit in The Things They Carried and no one really complained about the profanity. Perhaps because it was uniquely appropriate. But these specific cases will illustrate that repetition is really a case by case issue. Sometimes it accentuates a piece and makes it poignant. Others, you get so exhausted of seeing a word repeated you just want to write the author a list of synonyms.

I remember my mother once compiled a list of my “favorite words.” All of which I had successfully “both beaten and asphyxiated to death.” Amongst that list are the words “preponderance, duality, inherent, propagate” and many others. Notice how none of those are simple; words don’t need to be overtly simplistic to be redundant. I somehow managed to take advanced vocabulary and make it so droll that I even wanted to fall asleep reading the words.

That being said, don’t tip-toe around words either. There are times when I’m reading a truly excellent work and I notice that the author seemed to be dwelling on something minor. I swear, I once read a book with enough synonyms of “scary” to choke a night-mare (Hah! Get it?!). The word “scary” itself was used precisely twice. However, I was forced to endure the storm of “ghoulish, terrible, terrifying, frightening” adjectives. In this case, the author certainly wasn’t repetitive- but they sure as heck were redundant.

Redundancy is just as fatal to writing as unnecessary repetition. Imagine trying to immerse yourself in a good read about, say, a virtual reality, when the author can’t help but use a million different words for fake. Note: the link is guaranteed to not have a million different words for fake. It is similarly guaranteed to take you to an excellent science-fiction short story.

Could you imagine reading that story if it was just inundated with similar sentiments and words? The plot simply wouldn’t advance; it’d get caught upon little nuances that may or may not be important to the reader. It’d be a failure instead of being as successful as it is.

So how can we fix repetition and redundancy in our own writing? After all, we are trying to tell stories and many of us are just trying to be sure that the story is properly understood. Well, first, you need to have faith in the audience. Many beginners delude themselves into believing they can reach a universal audience. They point to people like Stephanie Meyer (shudder, shudder) and J.K. Rowling as proof that stories can have such an appeal. Unfortunately, this is simply not true. Although both franchises are obscenely lucrative, they both reach only a certain audience. How do I know this? Because I know several people who hate those series. They simply couldn’t get into the books. My girlfriend didn’t like Harry Potter. She’s an avid reader, she loves fantasy novels, but she just couldn’t get through the first book. (But of course, as luck would have it, she enjoyed Twilight. She will admit that the wording is poor, even if she enjoys the story. The story, obviously, isn’t my cup of tea- so we let our mutual dissension of the writing make our relationship stronger). Point being, is that neither of these writers intended their stories to be read by certain people. Do you think Meyer wanted the kind of people like the Oatmeal reading Twilight? Of course not. Do you think Rowling wanted intense biker dudes reading Harry Potter? No, it’s a kids book at heart. And they worded their stories to their audiences. By doing so, they didn’t have to worry as to whether or not their hints hit close to home; by writing to a specific group of people, they were able to pick certain words that they knew reverberated within that sub-culture. That way they didn’t have to drown their audiences in hints and words. They already knew what was going on from the get-go.

Second, it’s old advice but… murder your darlings. I once read in Stephen King’s On Writing that he shaves about 20% of the book after the primary edit. His basic formulae: if he likes it but his wife doesn’t understand it, it’s gone. I’m personally more stubborn than King, I only edited about 15% of my book out in the first edit, and another few hundred or so in the last few read-throughs. If you only choose what’s truly necessary, it’s essentially guaranteed that your point will be poignant. No need to tip-toe around clues or shove words down reader’s throats, your point will be known. You just need to have faith in your own diction.

As for the Humana commercial, I think that hiring an editor would have gone a long way.

Book Notes: Devil at My Heels- Part 2

1 Jun

The more I continued to read Devil at My Heels, the more it seemed to have a magnetic attraction to my hands. I simply couldn’t put the book down. The language was so honest, his experiences were so exceptional, I found myself balanced between total acceptance and disbelief. To say I was entranced is an understatement. I’ve never used this blog to directly endorse a particular book, but this deserves it. I insist that you somehow get your hands on a copy and start reading. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

Anyways, to the actual dissection. First and foremost, again I was incredibly impressed with the honesty of the book. He openly admitted to remembering certain things while reporting on others which are frankly less than illustrious.  On the other hand, he wasn’t afraid to just admit that his memory failed him. This double whammy of human fallacy (this mixing of past mistakes and current admittance) makes his story seem to come right from his lips instead of the page.

Other than his honesty, his survival skills are nothing less than extraordinary. Zamperini survived days on a raft while watching a comrade slip slowly into death and staving off sharks. Afterwards, he got to experience the hostility of being a prisoner of war. He was gone for such an extended period of time, he became one of the few men in history to look at his own death notice and take pictures of it. His journey shows the nearly unshakable human resolve to live.

His journey and exploits do more than just give me a great read. As with any other book I’ve read, it gives me certain invaluable lessons in pursuing my own literary merits. Normally, books will simply reinforce certain givens: diction is imperative, tone is invaluable, and story  quality is the most important fact of all. This book actually managed to teach me new lessons entirely!

As I have hinted at in earlier posts, I have a new novel I’ll be starting soon. The subject is still going to be kept very hush-hush for now. I can say, though, that it will be written in first-person perspective. Although it seems like it should be the simplest way to write a novel, I would contend that it’s actually the most difficult. When writing in the third-person, one is allowed to choose their omnipotence. Most of the time, the narrator knows all (or almost all) so the writer really doesn’t have to restrain their thoughts or words to fit a particular paradigm. When writing in the first, they have to force themselves to know everything but write as if they know next to nothing. They need to admit the faults of their characters, speak, think and act like believable entities. All while simultaneously creating characters and environments which reflect their thoughts and act as a vehicle of believability. This story with its unparalleled truthfulness is going to help keep me honest.

Or at least honest to the truth I’ll be presenting in my fiction piece.