Thursday, April 19, 2012

Writing Tip #14

This is one of those things I think of every time I see something I consider to be poorly structured, and something I think is a requirement for long prose.

Tip #14: Learn how to use hated punctuation.

Semicolons, colons, dashes, and ellipses must be the loneliest punctuation marks out there in the big world of English grammar. I use all of them on a regular basis; they're pretty handy.

Semicolons are a comma/period hybrid, even in appearance. They're way easier to use than most people seem to think. The semicolon is used in those awkward sentences that would be a run-on if you used a comma, but would seem broken up if you used a period. Examples:

"It's not that it's too heavy; it's just bulky." 
"I didn't get a chance to wash the dishes; they're still there."

Colons aren't quite hated, but they're certainly misused. I think the biggest rule about colons is they never follow a verb. "The following items I need are:" is not a proper use of a colon, yet that's the way many writers use them, from what I see around DeviantART and such. Proper usage of a colon actually varies quite a bit because the examples are so specific, so if you're curious, take a look over on Wikipedia. Just for the record, I don't like the use of a colon in independent appositives. I think a semicolon looks much more intelligent. To me, using a colon seems like you aren't really sure what you're doing. I've never seen it in published writing.

Dashes are, in my opinion, a really good way to establish a voice in your writing. They can break up a sentence for more impact, whether something is just that important or it's being said or thought by a character whose thoughts happen to be very muddled. They're another punctuation mark that has lots of uses, but in prose, they're really good for one thing - cramming extra stuff into a sentence. Examples:

"I went to the store - without you, I might add - and got those billion things you wanted."
"Every time you laugh - even when you just smile - it takes my breath away."

Ellipses are one of my favorites. They're another that adds voice to a piece of writing. Let me get this basic, simple, stupidly easy rule out of the way: three dots; no more, no less. I get where a lot of amateur writers are coming from when they make an ellipsis with twelve dots. It's a longer pause in their head, so it should be more dots...right? No. English (most languages, probably) doesn't work like that. The rules on spacing varies, but as a general rule in writing, as long as you're consistent, it never really matters too much. I never use a space on either side of the ellipsis, but there are a multitude of spacing options considered grammatically correct. Ellipses are used to indicate a pause, but they're different from commas. A comma indicates different clauses and should never be used solely for a verbal pause; ellipses can pop up anywhere. Examples:

"I just don't know...which one do you like better?"
" don't even know what to say." 

Ellipses, unlike a lot of other punctuation, can also be followed by another punctuation mark in certain cases. I've often seen an ellipses followed by a period for a total of four dots in a row, which I've done myself after seeing it in a lot of published books. Personally, I feel an ellipsis on its own isn't really a closing punctuation mark, but that opinion varies, and grammar rules are a little loose there. That's different than making an ellipsis four dots just for the hell of it. Examples:

"We're going where...?"
"She's just...I don't know...." 

So there you have it. A few rules on some very neglected and misused punctuation marks. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Fear Has Been Doubled!

On Easter, I slept in pretty late, and since I needed to wake up for work the next day at the early hour of 1 PM, I decided to take a sleepy pill and get to bed early.

I dreamed I was in a field on a clear, sunny afternoon. I don't know what season it was, but everything was yellow. The leaves and grass, all yellow. The real life equivalent of this field is actually at the end of my street, where there's a pond on the right, woods to the left, and a highway. In the dream, though, all traces of man were gone. There were no power lines, no light posts, and no road. Just a grassy, yellow field. I had the knowledge in the dream that some sort of catastrophe had occurred, and I was one of very few survivors.

My mom was with me, walking through the grass, and my friend Travis was off in the distance. My mom left to go to Travis, leaving me with that big wet field area to my right where the pond is/was. In that area, there was a guy probably about 20 years old, and he was afraid. He only liked me. No one else was allowed near him. I gave him food and helped keep him alive.

I gave him a bundle, started towards Travis and my mom, and then decided to explore instead. I turned around to go the opposite direction. After this point, my mind stopped including Travis, my mother, and that guy in the dream. I found a very quick way I could have gone to give the guy that bundle of food instead of the way I took, and I was pleased that next time I wouldn't have to travel over thick underbrush.

Then ghost children started pouring out of the woods.

They were lead by a little boy, about ten years old, with short, dark hair. I don't remember was he was wearing, but his shirt definitely didn't have sleeves. That's important. I also feel he may have been very dirty, but I'm not positive. I know for a fact that his hands were dirty, with yellowed nails that had dirt under them. I knew in the dream that he had been my son, and that he and the other children behind him - several dozen - were dead.

The boy mentioned something about the parent suffering as the children had suffered, and how I would feel the pain they felt. Using his right hand's middle finger, he tore a very deep gash in his own left arm, starting near the shoulder and going down about three or four inches. It must have been half an inch deep.

I felt a searing pain in my own arm, and I clutched at it as I backed away from them. Typically, pain will wake anyone from a dream, but not when sedatives are involved. I chose a bad night to have sleeping pills in my system. I don't remember if my own arm bled, but it definitely hurt a lot.

I turned to run, and when I turned around, a little girl - about six or so and in some kind of ruffly dress - was standing there. I knew that she was another ghost, and also my other deceased child. She didn't do anything. She just stood there, as I was panicking and unsure of which direction to go.

Some part of my mind recognized that I needed to escape, and even that I needed to wake up, in a very primal, basic sense. I turned again to face the boy and his followers, and since I was clutching my arm, I lost my balance and fell. As I was hitting the ground, I woke up.

I woke in a room that was not my bedroom. It was another dream. The room was a perversion of my bedroom in my old house, which had my bed on one wall, a closet on the opposite, and a window on the wall to the left, with the door on the wall to the right. Only the layout of the room was from memory; the rest was created from nothing.

My bed was a black bunk bed with many pillows, and there was a nightstand near the door with a purple lamp. The room was dark, with a purplish glow from the lamp. It looked like it was sunset outside by the lightness of the sky, though I suppose it could have been dawn, too.

I knew instantly that it was not my bedroom. It wasn't where I was supposed to be, and again, that primitive need to escape surfaced. For those of you unfamiliar with lucid dreaming, breaking free of a dream is like clawing your way up through tar. It feels like you're drowning and struggling to break the surface. Doing it while sedated is even harder.

I managed to break through the layers of fog to wake in my own bed, in my own, real, physical bedroom. Too tired to know any better, I went back to sleep a minute later.

I had a dream about children with their parents on some strange kind of elevator made of chairs. It's strange and mostly unimportant, I think.

I woke up in that dream bedroom again, and it was even more horrifying. There was a large panda plush, and this time Tim was there, holding this panda and telling me to go back to sleep or something. I don't honestly remember, but I know he was there and talking to me. Once again, I had to pull myself out of that dream world to fully wake up.

Over the course of the night, I ended up in that freakish, demented bedroom a few times, and it was always slightly different. I don't know how many times I was there in total. Most notable about the night was a painful dream of creepy ghost children in a destroyed world, and a distorted bedroom.

It was not a fun night. 

Friday, April 6, 2012

Writing Tip #13

It's been a while since I've done one of these, and my laptop is pretty much the only entertainment I've got all day, so I'd better get some writing in. This is something I think should be pretty obvious, but sometimes we writers get so wrapped up in our epic battles and raging gunfights that we forget about stuff like this.

Tip #13: Write vignettes for practice.

Vignettes and flash fiction pieces are quick pieces of writing that are not exactly "stories," as they lack a specific plot, conflict, and conclusion. They give a short glimpse into everyday life when your characters are interacting simply to interact, rather than to save the day and advance the story.

Writing vignettes has several purposes. First off, it helps with character development. Anyone following my blog at all should know how high I value that particular device. We all know how our main hero responds when someone points a gun or a sword at him, but what about his days off? Would he ever just go for a walk to enjoy scenery, or does he have people he talks to and jokes with when he's not off saving the world?

Another good use is to develop your setting. Take your characters on a little adventure. I have friends who have explored a nearby park and gone diving off a small waterfall. There's an even closer park with big tunnels that go beneath the interstate. I think a lot of people in the area must know that area like the back of their hand. Even if the reader never sees any of these little adventures your characters have, you at least have the locations in your mind and can draw upon them when you need to add a little padding to your main plot.

Vignettes are also great for focusing on characters who don't get much attention. I often notice that I end up with a few characters who have only a small handful of appearances, and that makes them harder to write when I feel they should come up. It goes along with character development, though this is more for determining their mannerisms and how they carry themselves rather than how they respond to stimuli.

Perhaps the most fun part of vignettes is releasing them to your readers after they've finished your novel and want more writing. It's fun to read about our favorite characters outside of the main plot. It gives us more information on what it would be like to know them, or even to be them.

Overall, I'd say vignettes are a great way to practice. I must have a dozen at least, and I plan on filling in enough gaps in Among the People Lost to eventually combine them into one book.

Monday, April 2, 2012

6 Language Things I Want to Learn

I did really well with languages in school. I pick up on grammar rules really well, and I'm good at spelling. There's lots I'd like to know if I had the time to take classes. I'd teach myself, but I have a hard time learning from a text book. I'm better off when I can hear people talking and such. 

1. Latin
More like, finish learning. I have to pick it back up and remember what I've forgotten, then get in all the stuff I missed out on in school. Latin was and still is hugely important to me.

2. German
I just want to know it.

3. Greek
I barely even know the symbols' names.

4. Norwegian, Swedish, or Finnish
Because I want to go to Scandanavia.

5. Spanish
I can't understand what my coworkers say when they talk to each other in their native tongue, and it seems like something I should mostly be able to understand. 

6. The Daedric Alphabet
Just to be that kind of person that memorizes video game alphabets.

Sunday, April 1, 2012


We all have the desire to be appreciated. We want our efforts recognized and our accomplishments known. We want to feel like we've made a difference to someone or something we've worked on.

I've drawn all my life. I was always better than average, but never super great. My art was appreciated among family, but really paled next to classmates work. I guess it just wasn't my strongest point. Writing was. 

I started writing in sixth grade. It was for a school project where we would write a story and put it in a nicely bound book. I remember being in the spotlight through that class, between the books I wrote (smaller than a chapter of my published novel, but at the time, very lengthy), the six foot long scroll I made on a history of dragons, and my published poetry. I can't even begin to imagine how often my friends told me I should be a writer.

By the time I was writing Among the People Lost, friends were in college. To a lot of them, it probably seems like a really stupid thing to do. Why spend a couple hundred hours writing a book when I could be learning how to make thousands as a doctor? It was just generally ignored, for the most part.

The people who really appreciated it and kept me writing it were people on the internet and Tim. Tim read over every chapter as I wrote it and helped make sure everything was clear, well-written, and not stupid as hell. Halfway through the book, I started posting it to DeviantART, since by then, I knew how the rest was going to go and I was confident that I wouldn't have to backtrack and change the beginning.

I had several people tell me they were really enjoying reading it, and that meant a lot. It helped dull the fact that at least 98% of my friends didn't even care enough to read a chapter. When I learned how easy it was to self publish on Kindle, I decided that if the people reading it enjoyed it, it was good enough to be my first published novel.

Even after I put the book on Kindle, most of my friends didn't seem to be too impressed. I must have at least eight people that said they'd pick it up and never have. It's disappointing to think that very few people are actually willing to put in a few minutes to read a bit and support your work.

When I applied at Target in November, the interview was a series of questions on accomplishments and team work and all sorts of things that really don't indicate how well you work a cash register. I used my book publication to answer a question about a big project, and the guys interviewing me seemed really impressed. I've mentioned it to a couple coworkers at Walmart, and they seem really damn impressed, too.

The people I'm getting the most appreciation out of are the people who wish they could have done the same thing rather than going into a job unloading trucks or asking nervous people tons of questions. I imagine that once all my friends are done with school and hating their careers, they'll look at me continuing to do my art and my writing, and some of them will wish they hadn't given up on their own personal goals.

A little appreciation really goes a long way. I've barely gotten any, and it's still been enough to keep me going on this path lined with words and painted trees.

My recent digital paintings: