Tuesday, February 27, 2007


masque.jpgYou're afraid that your name and personality just don't fit your writing style. To help sell your work, come up with a pseudonym and an alter ego for it.

From Writer's Digest Free Writing Prompts.

You can post what you write in response to Writer's Digest prompts at their forums. There's a different folder for each prompt so the writings are nicely organized. The forum is quite active :-)

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Poop Wars

poopwars.jpgStart with any movie title. Replace one of the words with poop. Yes, it's juvenile. Yes, it's a lot of fun! :-) Some examples:
  • Poop Wars 
  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Poop 
  • Fried Green Poop 
  • Lord of the Poops 
  • James and the Giant Poop 
  • Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Poop 
  • Poop Hard 
  • Pooping with the Enemy 
  • Attack of the Killer Poops 
  • Adventures in Baby Pooping 
  • Poopless in Seattle 
  • A Midsummer's Night Poop 
  • The Sound of Poop 
  • Dog Poop Afternoon 
  • Monty Python and the Holy Poop 
  • The Scent of a Poop
Hard to stop once you get started! 

A preacher's daughter mentioned a similar game she played as a teen in church which was to go through the hymnal and add the words "under the sheets" to the end of the titles. Someone's mom taught this to her by adding it to song titles on the little jukeboxes at the tables in diners. :-) 

A list member's friend adds "in bed" to the end of fortune cookie fortunes. 

(It just occurred to me that I recently posted about expletives and now poop and I should do something high brow for next week to make up for it but the expletives were a whole 3 weeks ago so maybe that's enough time between ;-)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Barn of the Blood Llama

bloodllama.jpgThese are real movie titles. Come up with a blurb for as many as time will allow.
Barn of the Blood Llama
The Astro-Zombies
Terror of Tiny Town
The Twonky
Chicken Park
Welcome to Woop Woop
Body Melt
The Devil Rides Out

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The year of the pig

pig.jpgAccording to the Chinese zodiac, Sunday began the Year of the Pig. Down below are the Chinese words for the 12 animals of the zodiac. Write a 12 line poem that tells what each animal is doing right this moment. You can begin each line with "At this moment ..." which can give it a chanting rhythm or just the first line. (Or, of course, whatever inspires you.)

Unless you know Chinese you won't know which animals are which, of course! It's an opportunity to let the sounds (or your best guess at the sounds) inspire you. You can tie them to real world animals or make up your own.


New Year's for the Chinese is a time, similar to American Thanksgiving, when scattered families gather together. Traditionally the celebration is 15 days long but officially people only get a week off.

Families traditionally decorate their entryways with New Year's poems written on red paper called duilian (spring couplets). A traditional duilian "expresses a person's spiritual aspirations, feelings and thoughts of hope, faith, and respect towards the divine."
The requirements for a duilian are two lines, containing the same number of characters, usually ranging between five to ten characters in length. The rhythm and the meaning of the two lines must match up."
There's a very interesting article Writing Chinese New Year Poetry: Recalling childhood memories of an ancient tradition by Jason Liu:

Here's an excerpt:
Below is an example of a duilian , loosely translated into English:
May the shining stars bless our generations.
May our great virtue always bring success.
When I was little, during the Cultural Revolution, my father, who was a professor, was labeled as an "intellectual," and as punishment we were sent to live in the countryside in the northeast of China.

We lived in a small village by the name of Taihe, meaning "very quiet and peaceful village." The place was indeed very isolated, surrounded by mountains and rivers, and a long distance from Changchun, the state capital of Jilin Province. Winters were very cold with temperatures dropping down to an average of minus 20 degrees Celsius.

The villagers did not have much education, so it was hard for everyone to get help creating their New Year duilian . After entering the twelfth month of the lunar calendar, people would flock to our house, bringing their red paper, to request my father to write their duilian for them. There were over a hundred families in the village, and every family's duilian had to be different.

From the time I was seven years old, I would assist my father in creating duilian . I remember gradually learning from him how to write a poem and practice my calligraphy. Sometimes my father would say the first line, and I would create the second.

Duilian are said to have originated about three thousand years ago. When working on our calligraphy together, my father would tell me the ancient myth that was recorded almost 2,000 years ago during the Eastern Han Dynasty.

If you want to know which Chinese word goes with which animal, click on the Comments.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Grand list of overused science fiction clichés

To complement the Fantasy Novelist's Exam, here's a similar list for Science Fiction.

The Grand List of Overused Science Fiction Clichés

by John VanSickle
(the list at the linked site has the items categorized which you can see by clicking on the link above.)

scificliche.gifSection I: Overused Plots and Storylines
  1. Post-cataclysmic rag-tag armies struggle to kick the Rooskies out of the good ol' US of A.
  2. Post-cataclysmic rag-tag armies struggle to survive against gangs of bandits, mutants, cyberpunks, bikers, etc.
  3. The rag-tag rebel army/fleet struggles valiantly to overthrow the Evil Empire.
  4. The Good Guys travel through time to stop a historical Bad Guy, usually Hitler.
  5. The Bad Guy travels through time to kill the Hero in his childhood, or to prevent him from ever being born.
  6. The Chronocops travel in time to catch a Bad Guy who escaped into some other era.
  7. Scientists work feverishly to develop a cure for the Supervirus or a weapon to stop the Invincible Bad Guys.
  8. An alien:
    1. Is stranded on earth;
    2. Befriends a human child or falls in love with an earth gal;
    3. Is pursued by shadowy malevolent Pentagon officials under the pretense of national security;
    4. Uses his/her/its alien powers to defeat the shadowy malevolent Pentagon officials, making them look foolish without really harming them;
    5. Makes teary farewell and returns to its home planet.
  9. A virtual reality program is activated, and the distinction between reality and the program becomes confused or indistinguishable.
  10. People connect their brains directly to computers and get dependent on them.
  11. Aliens travel a zillion miles to loot the earth of resources which exist in far greater and much more easily exploitable quantities on the many uninhabited bodies they pass on the way to earth.
  12. A complex computer system spontaneously becomes self-aware.
  13. A couple files an application to the government for permission to conceive a baby.
  14. A human falls in love with a robot.
  15. A robot falls in love with a human.
  16. UFO abductions.
  17. Brain-controlling parasites attempt to wrest control of human race.
  18. Aliens put someone on trial for the sins of humanity.
  19. A high-tech amusement park goes lethally berserk.
  20. Death from old age turns out to be due to some simple, single cause, leading to an easy immortality treatment, with consequent catastrophic social implications.
  21. A great hunter decides that humans are the most entertaining prey of all, and visits Earth to bag a few.
  22. Psychedelic drugs give somebody magical power over space, time and reality.
  23. Aliens with completely incomprehensible motivations make war on the human race/invade earth.
  24. The bureaucratic/reactionary mindset stands in the way of scientific progress. A researcher overcomes it through ability, purity of heart, and use of the scientific method. Or not.
  25. Two hostile factions colonize a planet within walking distance of each other.
  26. The government ships criminals off to other planets.
  27. A human male becomes pregnant.
  28. An android discovers emotions and loses control.
  29. A young researcher:
    1. Gets a job at a Mega-huge Corporation or Ultra-secret Government Agency;
    2. Learns that the employer's latest discovery has a Nasty Side Effect or involves some obvious human rights abuses;
    3. Confronts the employer, who casually dismisses the researcher's concerns and chides her/him for not being a "team player";
    4. Tries to blow the whistle to avert disaster;
    5. Gets hounded by Shadowy Malevolent Goons;
    6. Attempts to meet with inside sources, and finds them either dead or with just enough life left to utter a cryptic clue;
    7. Watches the disaster overtake the CEO;
    8. Testifies before Congress;
    9. Enters the Witness Protection Program;
    in roughly the order given above.
  30. Aliens invade earth in order to eat humans.
  31. An AI turns on its creators.
  32. A person from the past goes into suspended animation and wakes up in modern times, or a person from modern times goes into suspended animation and wakes up in the future.
  33. A person travels back in time to meet a major historical personage and winds up either becoming that person or taking that person's place at a critical juncture.
  34. The rightful monarch or long-lost heir is restored to the throne.
  35. A sexually selective plague kills off or sterilizes almost all of the men, or almost all of the women.
  36. A human discovers that the human race is being controlled by aliens.
  37. The alien invasion that flounders because their technological advantage is perfectly neutralized by their lack of resources, compared to the humans.
  38. Earth is threatened by an asteroid, and a space mission is mounted to save the planet.
  39. Humans are seen as a menace to galactic society, having developed technology over a few short centuries compared with the thousands it took the other races.
  40. The government bans music, painting, dancing, or some other art form; only the hero seems to care enough to do anything about it.
  41. A technological innovation prompts a large portion of society to violently suppress it.
  42. "Single female monster ISO single human male. Object: Mating."
  43. An entire society is run by a computer. Maybe it goes beserk.
  44. An being is sent to earth on a mission of assassination or genocide; it changes its mind after getting to know (and perhaps fall in love with) one or more humans.
  45. The crew's memories are wiped. As they recover, they discover that they are helping the guy who did it to them.
  46. A man escapes a VR simulation, and later discovers that he has escaped into another VR simulation.
  47. An alien that is substantially like us doesn't understand love, and visits humans in order to learn. The lesson is completed after the alien gets a Dose of Good Luvin'.

Section II: Overused Settings and Characterizations
  1. Aliens whose thinking is so different from ours that no communication is possible.
  2. Alien races that find our women attractive, while we find theirs to be repulsive.
  3. Alien races who differ from us only in skin color and/or facial features.
  4. Extra breasts on the alien women.
  5. Aliens that are incomprehensible to humans but understand humans perfectly.
  6. Alien species depicted as having no ethnic, religious, cultural, philosophical or political variance, especially:
    1. Wise mystics
    2. Stoic warriors
    3. Pastoral innocents
    4. Cowardly sneaks
    5. Amazon babes
  7. Alien species with personality traits or cultural mores that are treated as invariable laws of nature.
  8. Alien races whose names all have lots of hard consonants.
  9. Lots of apostrophes are packed into alien words and phrases for no apparent reason.
  10. Humans of future have no ethnic, religious, cultural, philosophical or political variance.
  11. Cities of future are depicted as though sanitation workers have been on strike from now until then.
  12. The entire story setting is dominated by huge impersonal business conglomerates.
  13. Planets with the same exact climate planet-wide (planets without atmosphere excepted).
  14. Super-intelligent AI's that speak, behave, and act in a manner indistinguishable from the human characters.
  15. The incredibly competent man-of-action with more skills/degrees than you can shake a blaster at.
  16. The incredibly competent woman-of-action with large breasts, no sexual inhibitions, and more skills/degrees than you can shake a blaster at.
  17. Shadowy malevolent Pentagon officials.
  18. Each and every character has a tainted history.
  19. A society consists of:
    1. A handful of ultra-powerful ultra-rich;
    2. Criminal lords who control everything not controlled by the ultra-rich;
    3. Police whose only principle of operation is maintenance of the status quo;
    4. Hordes of poor people starving in the streets;
    5. Absolutely no middle class whatsoever.
    Nonetheless, the society manages to remain at a high technological level.
  20. Societies where all technology has been destroyed except automobiles and their equivalents, which are still running yet there are no mechanics, workshops, or gas stations.
  21. Heroes who are so emotionally stunted that they don't care about close friends/relatives that die as long as they complete some mission.
  22. Any character with a perpetual two-day growth of beard.
  23. Futuristic societies where only the ultra-rich can afford quality health care, and everyone else is reduced to selling their bodily organs.
  24. Beings of pure energy.
  25. A society in which everyone is required to die on his or her Nth birthday.
  26. Creatures from our mythology (e.g., centaurs, dragons) occur among the wildlife native to an alien planet.
  27. Aliens whose sociology, values and beliefs are indistinguishable from those of an Oriental culture, e.g., feudal Japan..
  28. Eccentric scientists.
  29. The assistant to the scientist who is either deformed or dating the scientist's daughter.
  30. Future societies that have relapsed into feudalism.
  31. Alternative Earths where society is just like some society of the past, with some technodoodads added.
  32. Palace guards who are ineffectual due to ineptitude or inattentiveness.
  33. Fantastic but non-viable creatures (men with tortoiseshell backs, gigantic insects) made possible by high levels of radiation, and which don't suffer any ill effects from it.
  34. Aliens that speak human languages without error, having taken no pains to learn how.
  35. An alien tongue is translated into perfect English, except for gratuitious use of alien units of time and distance.
  36. Aliens whose vocal apparatus is just like ours, so that they can speak human languages with only a slight accent.
  37. Omnipotent pacifist aliens who impose their philosophy on us without bothering to protect us from the races they have left alone.
  38. Men and women live in separate societies (and I'm not talking Mars and Venus, either).
  39. Clones are inexplicably different from regular people in a particular manner (mentally unstable, don't mind being used as cannon fodder, etc.).
  40. The vast majority of alien races consider 20ºC to be room temperature.
  41. Societies that are utopian in every regard except for one serious drawback that completely outweighs the utopian aspects, such as having the death penalty for some really minor offense.
  42. Disembodied live brains living in tanks.
  43. Eyes that glow (sometimes accompanied by minor-key chords in TV and film).
  44. Sentient artificial intelligences that wish to eliminate the human race.
  45. Sentient artificial intelligences that select a human figure to holographically represent themselves.
  46. Computers with voice synthesizers either use a sensuous female contralto, a threatening male baritone, or a nasally tinny neutral voice.
  47. Bad guys who miss everything they shoot at.
  48. Beginning warriors who hit everything they shoot at.
  49. Characters who are always ready for intimate relations.
  50. All genetically superior humans have an innate drive to rule, conquer, or kill everyone else.
  51. Alien vampires that feed on brainwaves/life-force/exotic biochemicals/psychic energies that can only be obtained from sentient life forms.
  52. Post-cataclysmic societies that treat items of the lost technology as holy relics.
  53. Alien monsters that find humans edible, tasty, and non-toxic.
  54. The evil duplicate of the hero, sidekick, universe, etc.
  55. The grammatical differences between the languages used by humans and aliens are cited as conclusive proof of radically different ways of thinking.
  56. Sentient AIs that communicate with other sentient AIs via their voice synthesizer.
  57. The intelligent and confident woman who can be bribed with a dress.
  58. Androids with intelligence equal to an IQ of around 1000 who can't seem to figure out human emotions, humor, or verbal contractions.
  59. Everyone in the post-catastrophic future dresses like heavy metal musicians.
  60. A common proverb gets "translated" into more generic terms, resulting in obfuscation of the meaning.
  61. An alien race has a trait that greatly complicates interacting with them, but even after centuries of contact with humans they still manage to keep it secret.
  62. The ancient spacefairing alien race that:
    1. Has existed for zillions of years;
    2. Went into hiding, left this universe/dimension, or went extinct so long ago that no current spacefaring race has ever met them;
    3. Is known solely through legends, ancient artifacts of amazing technological advancement, and/or evidence that they created one or more (sometimes all) currently living races.
  63. Aliens whose language is not pronounceable by humans, but who can still speak human langauges with relative ease.
  64. The villain who can infallibly predict how the protagonists will react to a given turn of events.
  65. All religious figures are:
    1. Intolerant hatemongers who make Hitler look like Jesus;
    2. All-tolerant lovemongers who make Jesus look like Hitler;
    3. Ignorant, unwashed rabble.
  66. A society of aliens and/or villains that are amazingly similar to an Infamous Human Political Movement.
  67. Societies wherein gender roles and attitudes are completely reversed.
  68. Whiz kids.
  69. Most aliens breathe oxygen, just like humans do.
  70. Bored, omnipotent, immortal beings.
  71. An immortal being that wants to die.
  72. People with cyborg implants will needlessly exhibit the benefits of this hardware just to relieve boredom or show off.
  73. Children with access to the highest levels of military planning, scientific research, and governmental decision-making.
  74. A smart, courageous, gorgeously attractive woman who is rarely if ever asked out.
  75. Every planet seems to have a surface gravity of 9.8 meters per second squared and rotates around its axis in about 24 hours, just like Earth.
  76. All of the spacefaring races have roughly the same level of technology.
  77. Aliens that transform into a colorful puddle when they die.
  78. The Free Love Utopia, populated only by fabulously good-looking people, that somehow remains free of sexually transmitted diseases, has no relationship turmoil, and is not inundated with hordes of people looking for easy sex.
  79. The untrained, average Joe who can take on and defeat highly trained and well-equipped operatives.
  80. The Wise Race of Ancients who do nothing for the protagonists except offer advice.
  81. The Wise Race of Ancients that secretly supports the protagonists.
  82. The former Great Man of Action who is now just a washed-up drunk.
  83. An interstellar realm is ruled by a handful of powerful families, each scheming to eliminate the rest, instead of forming alliances.
  84. Except for the distinguishing marks on aliens and bad guys, everyone has perfect skin.
  85. Upon arrival in a distant epoch, the time travellers can speak the local language without accent.
  86. The city's main computer can be accessed from any of a number of public-access terminals located conveniently throughout the city.
  87. The less technologically advanced a culture is, the more spritually advanced it is.
  88. The modification of one custom, law, or common belief would transform Western society into Utopia.
  89. All female scientists are good-looking; male scientists are average-looking.
  90. Except for full-blown dictatorships, government officials of the future never abuse their powers.
  91. Not even the soldiers or marines make vulgar jokes.
  92. In the future, everyone's taste in music and literature extends solely to the classics.
  93. Immortals who assume many identities over the course of human history.
  94. Everyone's counterpart in the parallel universe has, as his/her associates, the counterparts of the same people that the primary knows in this universe.
  95. Whenever the captain walks onto the bridge, the same people are always on duty.
  96. Superheroes wear primary colors (red, blue, and yellow).
  97. Supervillains wear secondary colors (green, purple, and orange).
  98. Only bad guys have goatees.
  99. In the future, everyone is good in bed.
  100. Entire cities whose buildings use the same architectural design.
  101. World governments are enlightened and efficient; nation-states are backward and primitive.
  102. In the future, everyone either supports their government fully, or is engaged in a terrorist campaign to overthrow it.
  103. In the future, government corruption has been eradicated.
  104. The tribal chieftain's eldest child is a defiant free-spirited youth, and if female is the sexiest member of the tribe.
  105. The alien's superpowers become manifest when he/she/it is expose to Terran conditions.
  106. All alien females, galaxy-wide, use cosmetics the same way that Western women do.
  107. Although humans still have multiple languages, each alien race has only one langauge.
  108. Kindly enlightened races are native to beautiful planets with congenial climate; cruel, benighted races arise on ugly planets with brutal weather.
  109. Ths ship's computer is programmed to track the location of each and every person aboard, but is never programmed to report personnel in unauthorized areas, or those who suddenly disappear.
  110. Among the intelligent creatures, man-sized beings predominate.
  111. The token black guy is the muscular scion of a Noble Warrior culture.
  112. The entire population of the planet lives in one city.
  113. The energy being takes the form of a mass of flickering lights.

Section III: Overused story events and plot devices
  1. Discussions, ending with a joke, about how bureaucracies are the same everywhere in the galaxy.
  2. The most intelligent course of action is precluded by orders from high-ranking ignoramus, on the basis of a transparently flawed rationale.
  3. Technological malfunction as a plot device.
  4. The timer count-down on the Bad Guy Device being stopped by the hero with bare seconds left.
  5. Alien contact perceived or regarded as a spiritual/quasi-religious experience.
  6. Aliens who are vastly more intelligent and advanced than we are, but we beat them anyway by "ingenuity," plain guts, or exploiting an Achilles Heel.
  7. A teenage genius discovers an entire new field of science, and builds practical devices that use it, in his bedroom.
  8. The psychological trauma/attitude problem of female character is cured (or at least temporarily relieved) by a Dose of Good Luvin' from the hero.
  9. Persons of different species interbreed without difficulty.
  10. The author lectures the viewer/reader; the lecture takes the form of a Platonic Dialogue between two characters, or of the Cosmic Message from the Ultra-enlightened Aliens to the Great Unwashed Human Masses.
  11. A conspiracy develops, involving lots of people, and remains secret for an extended period of time.
  12. The author attempts to wittily euphemize the phrase go screw yourself by referring to it as "a physiologically impossible act".
  13. The availability of firearms notwithstanding, swordfighting returns as a significant method of combat.
  14. A Big Surprise awaits the reader/viewer at the end of the tale:
    1. The Barbaric Society is really post-cataclysmic Western civilization.
    2. The man and woman who flee from a doomed civilization and start rebuilding on the third planet of a medium-sized yellow star are named Adam and Eve
    3. The alien children, slaves, or pets are really the parents, masters, or owners
    4. The head of Terran government is a disguised Bad Guy or is under direct control of the Bad Guys.
    5. A major figure in the conflict is really another major figure in disguise.
    6. The Kindly Benevolent Aliens are neither.
    7. The reputedly inhospitable Outdoors is not only inhabitable, but markedly better.
    8. It was all just a dream/game/simulation.
    9. The alien threat was just a hoax to unite humanity.
    10. An ancient civilization was actually founded by space aliens.
    11. A major historical figure (Jesus, Einstein, Lincoln, Elvis) was really a space alien.
    12. The apparently-human leader of the robot/cyborg army is also a robot or cyborg, and this becomes appartent when his/her/its "skin" falls off.
  15. Telepaths use their power to achieve a heightened sexual experience.
  16. Telepaths are regarded as witches or lunatics, and are dealt with accordingly.
  17. Inherited supernatural power (telepathy, lycanthropy, etc.) becomes pronounced at the onset of puberty.
  18. Humans leave for the stars, forget all about Earth, and rediscover it later.
  19. No matter how slowly the monster shambles along, or how quickly the victim runs, the monster is always right behind the victim when he/she trips or encounters an obstacle.
  20. When fleeing danger, females trip over their own shadows while men can sprint without caution.
  21. An alien artifact imbues human(s) with incredible abilities.
  22. A fighter pilot, upon destroying an alien vessel, yells "yeeeeeeee-haaaaaaa!"
  23. The time traveller helps the future society mellow out by introducing music from his period.
  24. Time travellers go back in time to prevent some Bad Thing from happening and in the process actually cause the Bad Thing to happen.
  25. Time travellers go back in time to prevent some Bad Thing from happening; they succeed, but cause something worse to happen.
  26. When a player gets "killed" in a virtual reality simulation, they also die in real life.
  27. A war gets started over a stupid misunderstanding between two sides that otherwise have no reason to fight, and no effort is made to resolve the crisis diplomatically.
  28. The two opponents in a war have been fighting for so long that they've forgotten how the war got started in the first place, but no effort is made to resolve the crisis diplomatically.
  29. The two opponents in a war have been fighting for decades/centuries/millenia; the main characters end the war peacefully in a matter of days or hours.
  30. Humans have a special quality that makes us unique, so that even superbeings can learn something from us.
  31. A pet survives the disaster, and is discovered at the end of the story.
  32. So-called elite forces get their butts kicked by a smaller, less well-armed force.
  33. A scientist develops an artificially intelligent computer system that can understand natural language and draw inductive conclusions from incomplete data, and uses it on projects far less practical and/or profitable than such a computer would be.
  34. Someone gets healed by contact with aliens (often by a laying on of hands).
  35. The greedy businessman refuses to recognize that his dangerous product/service will screw him over long before he can hope to make a profit.
  36. The monster kills/eats the token black guy first.
  37. Explorers are greeted as gods by the natives, who cling to this belief in spite of everything the explorers do and say.
  38. An alien custom throws humans into confusion, even though one or more human cultures share the custom and have followed it for centuries.
  39. Low-brow white male human bar patron of the future spouts bigoted remarks that wouldn't be tolerated today, while protagonists look on in silent dismay at the "dark side" of the human race.
  40. A person's physical impairments vanish when they are possessed by the Alien Entity.
  41. A technologically advanced race conquers a technologically inferior race, and puts them to work doing things that the conqueror's machines can do far more efficiently.
  42. The gang of cute and/or misfit kids rescue the universe, where a large group of competent, organized and well-armed adults failed.
  43. The aliens' plan to exterminate the human race is stopped at the last moment when they notice a human exhibiting some virtue , such as love, humor, etc.
  44. A fellow has Super Powers, but can only use them when he is emotionally agitated.
  45. The protagonists destroy the entire social structure and governmental system of the society they encounter, and only a few old fuddy-duddies complain.
  46. A problem involving an alien is resolved in a manner dependent on the unusual and heretofore-unknown location of the alien's reproductive organs.
  47. The human abdomen is an ideal incubator for Alien Eggs/Spawn, and this has no apparent effect on the host until the Alien Spawn erupts from their stomach in a messy fashion.
  48. No matter how large a ship is, any monster let loose on board will learn its way around in an hour's time, enabling it to sneak up behind its victims without fail.
  49. A female antagonist changes sides after receiving a Dose of Good Luvin' from the hero.
  50. The crewmember who is brainwashed or otherwise subverted into sabotaging/betraying the ship is allowed to return to duty, with no concerns that they remain a security risk.
  51. Resolving the imminent threat to mankind requires that the drunken has-been get sober.
  52. A high-ranking matriarch, in a society that oppresses men, falls for the Hero's rugged charms.
  53. A crewmember has a radical change of personality, but the few people who notice don't seem particularily bothered by it.
  54. Human spies are sent to inflitrate an alien society in order to better understand it.
  55. When the Evil Overlord dies, none of his surviving henchmen move into the power vacuum; instead, his empire collapses.
  56. The Good Guys, after a setback, launch their counterattack with the help of members of a rastafarian-like culture.
  57. The death of the Bad Guy involves a long fall.
  58. At some point the protagonists must enter a hostile region called The Forbidden Zone.
  59. When the Heroes destroy the computer that runs an entire society, it's considered a good thing for the members of that society.
  60. When an ordinary crewmember transforms into the Enlightened Being of Cosmic Power, he departs the scene instead of staying around to help out his still-human buddies.
  61. A society of humans adopts an artifical means of reproduction (such as cloning), forgets about sex and intimacy, and has to learn about it at some later point.
  62. Any weapon can be picked up and used by anyone, no matter how lacking they are in training and/or upper-body strength.
  63. When defeat is imminent, it is avoided by a strategem, tactic, or weapon that could just as easily been used at the start of the fight.
  64. Away teams going on dangerous missions are comprised of irreplaceable members of the ship's crew, such as the captain, medical chief, chief engineer, etc. Expendible flunkies are left behind to mind the store.
  65. Time travel from the future into modern times winds up in the year of the show's production.
  66. Any class of people having super powers will be persecuted by normal humanity.
  67. The lowest-ranking members of any mission team are doomed.
  68. A starship captain disobeys a direct order from a superior. When the dust settles, he's still a starship captain.
  69. The episode ends with the two arch-enemies playing a game of chess.
  70. Malignant aliens land in densely-populated regions, are instantly targetted by a criminal (who is fatally defeated). Benevolent aliens land in the boondocks.
  71. After a remonstration from the Good Guys, the Great Dictator confesses that he was merely trying to keep order, and reforms.
  72. The possessed human exhibits superhuman strength.
  73. The crewman in the leaky spacesuit is rescued with seconds of air to spare.
  74. The stranded heroes come across a crashed space vessel. The ship is returned to a serviceable condition after only a little bit of repair work.

Section IV: Silly Science
  1. Super-intelligent computers blow up when the hero confuses them.
  2. Super-intelligent computers get confused when the hero says to them "everything I say is a lie" or some other paradoxical statement.
  3. Space vessels lack fuses, circuit breakers, and surge supressors, so that the control panels explode when some distant portion of the ship is damaged.
  4. Computers get reprogrammed by someone who has no knowledge of the computer's operating system.
  5. Computer terminals display the current operation (e.g., "UPLOADING VIRUS") in huge, flashing letters.
  6. The patently obvious design flaws in a vehicle or weapon system go uncorrected during the entire life cycle of the system in question.
  7. A vehicles and/or weapon systems is deployed in an entirely impractical environment.
  8. Spacecraft features have been pointlessly carried over from water-borne designs.
  9. An untested medical treatment is used. It's 100% effective and has no side effects.
  10. Some acquires a medical condition that will be fatal in an amount of time expressed to the tenth significant digit; the cure is found and applied in the nick of time, enabling a 100% recovery.
  11. A robot is shot and bleeds oil.
  12. Spacecraft, when shot, blow up as if they had been packed with gasoline and liquid oxygen.
  13. Computers, when shot, explode as if they had been stuffed full of Roman candles.
  14. An item of technology is quickly reverse-engineered by a far less advanced group of researchers.
  15. A group of aliens is smart enough to steal someone else's technology, but too stupid to make any improvements on it.
  16. A technological development progresses from half-baked theory to useful implementation in fifteen minutes instead of fifteen months.
  17. After twenty years of crew members being tossed around like the balls in a bingo cage, the spacecraft still has no seatbelts.
  18. Nuclear weapons have an effect well out of proportion for reasonable yields.
  19. Computer security protocols are overridden merely by saying "override" to the computer.
  20. A clone grows to match the cloned person's state of physiological development in a small fraction of the time.
  21. Clones think, act, and speak in a manner indistinguishable from that of the cloned person.
  22. Clones come out of the cloning vat with the same haircut as the individual cloned.
  23. AI software has unique properties that prevent it from being copied or transmitted like any other data.
  24. AI software is able to bypass the security protocols of the operating system in which it runs.
  25. On-board computers always know exactly how long it will take for the malfunction to blow up the ship.
  26. Computers that exist in the far future or are alleged to be 'cutting edge,' will demonstrate less functionality than a Commodore 64.
  27. Two races have never contacted each other, cannot speak each other's language, and cannot possibly have worked out compatible protocols for transmission of data; nonetheless, their computers enable them to communicate over their ships' viewscreens upon first contact.
  28. Twentieth century firearms are abandoned, even though the high-tech replacement is significantly more complex to engineer, more costly to build, and is not appreciably deadlier, longer-ranged, or more accurate.
  29. When an extra or a minor character is shot, they fall over immediately dead; when a major character is shot, they either survive with a nasty-looking wound, or they linger long enough to utter some parting words.
  30. Lasers are visible when travelling through the vacuum of outer space.
  31. A robot that can't climb stairs is deployed in an area where stairs are common.
  32. A tactical system that can only deal with targets visible to the naked eye is still considered worthwhile.
  33. A tactical system of the future that has no targetting capabilities is still considered satisfactory.
  34. "Reversing the polarity" is the solution to virtually every engineering problem.
  35. Laser beams travel about as quickly as an arrow.
  36. Heroes/ships can dodge laser beams because the beams travel about as quickly as an arrow.
  37. Alien artifacts still work after being abandoned for a million years.
  38. Spaceships make a whoosh as they go by.
  39. Huge, expensive spacecraft are used to transport inexpensive goods in tiny quantities.
  40. Stars go shooting past the spaceship as it flies through space.
  41. A large dose of radiation results in super powers instead of super tumors.
  42. A large dose of radiation causes an individual creature to "evolve" into a more advanced form.
  43. The solution for a problem solved four weeks ago is thrown away and never seen again.
  44. When a character is aged prematurely, or cured of premature aging, hair that has already grown changes color to match.
  45. A space vessel is sent out on missions before its systems are fully operational.
  46. The Hero knows how to defuse the bomb, but can't remember which of two wires to cut.
  47. When a computer is working on a difficult problem, the increased power requirements cause the room lights to dim or flicker.
  48. Robots that despite their size and function are designed with exactly the same features as a human (two arms and legs, ten fingers, two eyes, same joint system, etc.)
  49. Somebody lifts a car (or some other heavy object) with his bionic arm, even though the rest of his body is normal flesh and bone and couldn't possibly support the load.
  50. The plans for a complicated device can be downloaded onto a 1.44 Meg floppy.
  51. Increasing a computer beyond a certain level of speed, memory capacity, or complexity causes it to become self-aware.
  52. Creatures capable of changing their shapes can also alter their mass while they're at it.
  53. A hole the size of a barn is made in the hull of a space ship; decompression of the ship's atmosphere takes a half minute or so.
  54. A hole the size of a dime is made in the hull of a space ship; decompression of the ship's atmosphere takes a half minute or so.
  55. A large nuclear explosion can be obtained by putting several smaller devices together.
  56. The same energy beam which causes rocks, buildings and robots to violently explode produces only a puff of smoke and a bit of burnt flesh and clothing when used on a living being.
  57. The sewers/ventilation ducts provide easy access throughout the city/ship/castle.
  58. All computers have madly whirling tape drives.
  59. When something explodes in space, the shock wave is ring-shaped.
  60. When an orbiting space vessel is crippled or otherwise put out of action, it immediately starts falling out of orbit.
  61. A shape-shifter whose natural form is homogenous can be knocked out with a blow to the head when in humanoid form.
  62. The narrow energy beam disintegrates the entire person it hits, and his clothing and possessions, but doesn't leave so much as a stain on the chair he is sitting in or the ground he is standing on.
  63. Instead of a solid physical door, jail cells of the future are secured with force fields, turning every power failure into a jailbreak.
  64. Space vessels bank in order to make turns.
  65. When the ship goes to red alert, the lights dim and turn red.
  66. In spite of the tremendous safety hazard presented, glassware is permitted in large quantities on ships that make use of artificial gravity.
  67. Colored irregular crystals are the power source of the future.
  68. The artificial gravity is the last system of all to fail.
  69. Ion storms.
  70. Alien life forms that increase their mass without ingesting anything.
  71. When two ships meet, they are both oriented with 'up' in the same direction, unless one is disabled, in which case it always lists.
  72. Computer security passwords are entered by saying them out loud. The possibility of bugs or spies never hinders this practice.
  73. The matter transmission device cannot duplicate live organisms, except by accident. Duplicating the circumstances of the accident never succeeds.
  74. Data processing devices emit a quasi-random series of innocuous sounds when processing information. Every character that is printed on the computer screen is accompanied by a sound.
  75. Although computer keyboards of the future will still have the space bar, nobody will use it anymore.
  76. The spaceship that is really a living creature with a significant amount of intelligence.
  77. Laser guns have recoil.
  78. The stolen alien technology is already compatible with our power systems and can be installed and used immediately.
  79. Beam weapons can only be fired in a narrow beam in a continuous direction, and can never be swept across a target or fired at a wide angle.
  80. The alien forces are dependent on the mothership, such that destroying the mothership disables them.
  81. Every inhabited planet rotates around its axis about as quickly as Earth does, give or take a couple hours.
  82. The chemicals in the lab are mostly colorful. The poisonous ones are always bright green.
  83. Computer displays project their contents onto the face of the viewer.
  84. Dimming the lights on the bridge conserves enough power to enable a significant increase in the speed of a multi-ton spacecraft.
  85. You can get from the common areas of a ship to the most sensitive areas via the ventilation and maintenance ducts. There are never any security precautions in place to prevent this.
  86. A computer can be destroyed by shooting its display screen.

Section V: Rejected suggestions
  1. The ship is crewed by a bunch of white guys.
    Reason for rejection: Every SF production reflects the society that produced it. For instance, in Japanese SF flicks, most of the characters are Japanese.

© 2004 by John VanSickle. Permission to quote for non-commerical use is granted, provided that this copyright notice is included. Permission to link from non-commericial Web pages is granted. Permission to translate for non-commericial use is granted, provided that the resulting page credits the authors. All other rights reserved.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Weekend 7: Plot picture-diagram

street_strays.jpgSeventh weekend with "Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery".

This weekend is a plot picture-diagram.

Two things the authors mentioned this time that should have come up before:

Name your scene cards. By naming each scene you'll be able to more easily call up the package of people, revelations, objects, emotions, the scene contains. This will be a big help to you when you're trying to get an overall sense of the flow of scenes or when you shuffle them about trying to see where a scene works best. The authors suggest having fun with the names, to create vivid connections between the title and the scene. The more vivid the title, the stronger the connection and picture it will call up for you.

Act length. Acts 1 and 3 are about the same length. Act 2 is about twice as long. Since Act 2 is divided by the midpoint, Act 1, Act 2 first part, Act 2 second part and Act 3 are all about the same length. If the book is about 300 pages, Act 1 will end around page 75, the midpoint will be page 150 and the beginning of Act 3 will be around page 225. At the moment this is important, but when you start writing, if you find yourself on page 120 with no sign of the plot point that should end Act 1, that will give you a clue that things need tightened up there during your first rewrite.

Plot Pictures

So far you've generated scenes that need to be in the story, stuff that there won't be a murder mystery without: discovering the body, confronting the killer, climaxes/crises to raise the drama and so on. You also have a cast of characters who need to enter and exit the book at various points. A plot picture can help you see if characters might be tripping over each other in the beginning and no where to be seen in the middle, or that an important clue doesn't get mentioned until the end of Act 2.

Draw a rising line across the page. This represents rising drama. Divide it into 4 equal parts: Act 1, Act 2 first part, Act 2 second part, Act 3. Label it with the vivid names that you came up with for the 6 key scenes: opening, plot point 1, midpoint, plot point 2, climax, and wrap-up.

Ed, a reader who is following along, shared this from the book. (Which is way more useful, though not as cute, as the rising line of cats ;-)

Click to open full-sized Plot Picture example
(click to enlarge)

Now indicate approximately where the major characters (killer, victim, sleuth, catalyst) enter for the first time (called "onstage"). This is where you will create a defining picture of each. Also note where they exit. (From their description it sounds like the authors mean exit a scene, but in their diagram they note when characters make permanent exits from the book, eg, die.)

Note, as each character enters, they bring with them their own agenda to the story. They each have something they want that may clash with what the sleuth wants or what other characters want. So, as each character enters, this is the chance for a new scene. A scene is where the immediate goal, the point of what ensues changes. That is, the sleuth may be finding out about the movements of the murder victim and then the murder victim's mother enters with her own agenda. That can signal a shift in the point of what follows. Create a vivid name for each of these scenes.

Then attach any minor characters you've created.

If time in the story is important, note that. Show the passage of hours, days, weeks, months, years. Whatever pace it is your story is unfolding in. If your sleuth is injured on day 1, you'll have a visual cue of how far into your story that will still be a factor.

If there's a particular object that's key to solving the murder, the authors suggest noting along the plot line where it surfaces (physically or in someone's recollections) throughout the story. Since their diagram was crowded, they put notes across the bottom, each lining up with the point where they will occur during the story.

Generating Scenes

If the diagram has gotten too full, the authors suggest creating a second one. Put the character entrances on and then note the scenes, with their vivid names, along the rising action line.

Make a scene card for each new scene you've created. Add any new information, such as how one scene connects to another, to any scene cards you created previously.

Thursday, February 15, 2007


zills.gifUse the following words in a writing piece (prose or poetry). They're all real words but use them however you wish.
If you're curious about their meanings after you're done writing, they're at: Grandiloquent Dictionary.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Surreal compliments

monstrousvalentines.jpgWrite a love letter containing one or more of the following. Is the sender serious and think his compliments will be well received? Does the recipient appreciate them?
  • Your eyes glow like naked livers burning in the sun.
  • Seven donkeys and a concubine cannot compare with the tarnished sheen left in your path of combustion.
  • Your timeless negligence has a way of arousing my palliative inuendo.
  • Your legs are like threads of cotton, though much thicker, and filled with weevils.
  • The microfine network of eyes traversing your shoulders causes me to shudder in anticipation of the coming of the wondrous season of jaundiced eskimos and impotent Anglican priests.
  • My eyelids belch with effluvial afterthoughts when you tease me with gelatin and congealed chicken rinds.
  • Madame, ist thou donning space underwear? For thine ass doth lie beyond the physical boundaries of this world!

From The Surrealist Compliment Generator.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

One sentence plots

desertwind.jpgThe challenge was for people to sum up their plots for their NaNoWriMo novels in one sentence. Here's a selection from "Return of the One Sentence Plot" folder at NaNoWriMo for those times when you want to write but need a jumpstart to get the ideas flowing.

  • Tuned by a Desert Wind:
    A spinster and a gunfighter search for justice in a land whose only law is the musical magic of the ever-widening West. -- tianne

  • Society of Shadows
    In the post apocalyptic future one corporation, with the help of some very gifted individuals, has set out to restore the Earth but will find that the corruption runs deeper than simple war scars. -- Xyex

  • Forsaken
    After waking up from Cryostasis and finding a world empty of life and roamed by deadly creatures known as The Forogtten Ones Naomi sets out to find out what happened to the world. -- Xyex

  • Black Dawn (working title)
    The first war in more than a thousand years has broken out and it's up to a ragtag collection of people stop those behind it from destroying the world. -- Xyex

  • After she and her husband deciding to spend some time apart, Heather Bryce leaves the state for a little rest and relaxation, only to discover that the day of her departure her husband was brutally murdered and there is only one sucpect....her. -- Soli

  • Samira's Country
    A good-hearted alien’s life is endangered when human colonists rebel against her leadership. -- Emiko

  • Where Danger Lurks
    After Rika's parents are murdered, she begins to suspect that someone's watching her a little too closely. -- barlow_girl

  • Witchery: Mother Earth
    Following a prophesy form the late eighties the first of six teens discovers powers as an elemental witch. -- D L Dzioba

  • The Trials of Gabriel:
    In the battle between good and evil, everything Markus has learned in church is wrong. -- JMDuby79

  • Airtight
    A remote but highly populated space station, which was launched decades in the past, gets increasingly isolated as hopes for disovering a technology that would enable faster space travel fades. -- alluredbit

  • A mage is kidnapped by smugglers to satisfy the orders of a tyrannical king. -- Asuka

  • Pen's Dreamscape (subject to change)
    Pen, short for Penelope gets drawn in the dreamworld because she, of all the humans on earth was the only one to answer Chavez's call to help find the pieces of the golden dream and weave them together again. -- Anjirika

  • Fly (subject to change)
    In the midst of a war between three mighty races, Anyiel Cia Obané first daughter of the mighty fae lord Nalod, must go on a quest to find the source of the curse that left her with no wings at birth.. -- Anjirika

  • Meren
    Meren, a young human girl, finds her life irreversibly tampered with by magic creatures, eventually forcing her to marry an elf and become their voice in the medieval style human court. -- WyvernKate

  • Deuces Wild:
    Derrick loses his best friend in a poker game to a robot, throwing them both in the middle of a demonic revolution. -- Chainlink

  • Working title: Dynasty
    Plot: A young woman is dragged into a revolution that is trying to reform a government while at the same time trying to stop a coup and discovers that she is the bearer of a powerful magic and one of the heirs of the enemy land. -- Lady Lunas

  • After answering an ad in the newspaper, a young woman joins the ranks of the tooth fairies and learns the power of the blonde wig, the sparkly pink dress, and what in the heck they collect all those teeth for, anyway. -- crazydoglady

  • Doors to Tomorrow:
    During the colder season, a group of out-of-work pirates are led on a chase across an airborne world in a head-over-heels hunt for treasure. (Then there's the sibling-rivalry subplots, crazy secretive mages and High Priests in love with their own Goddesses, but that's another story for another time.) -- Ravenwing

  • A feline shapeshifter in a science-fiction world has to choose between species: fully feline, fully human, or hybrid freak. -- _Switcher

  • Meeting Hui
    What happens when reality lines blur as a desperate novelist finds a way to contact her main character in her newest writing endeavor. -- ScarletFray

  • Tunnels of Silence and Solitude
    He had originally intended the tunnels as a punishment system, but then the inhabitants began to rebel. -- chaos_dragon

  • The descendants of the progenitors of a shapeshifting race are somehow involved with a prophecy of which only two words are known: "amulet" and "water". -- chaos_dragon

  • Bloodletting
    An apathetic loser seeks escape from her own failure by roleplaying as a superior version of herself... except the character in question doesn't want her ever to stop, and will use all the force of mindfuckery to make sure she doesn't. -- Snow in August

  • A Vortex Sky (tentatively)
    Several mysanthropic outsiders must put aside their well-justified class hatred and attempt to warn the rich, floating island-state of Pryas of the danger that threatens it, before the myth that destroyed the world once returns to claim its remains. -- Snow in August

  • Death Catchers (subject to change)
    -After 500 years of collecting the souls of the recently departed, Karolin realizes that the fate of the Death Catchers resides in the girl who saw her and injured her on a collection, when Death Catchers are supposed to be invisible to all. -- starlite2246

  • In two very different times two very different people are relied on to solve a mystery that crosses all temporal boundaries, and embark on a journey that could end up saving not only the world, but the two of them as well. -- Mariana O'Connor

  • Patrick is an ordinary person, who, after having one of those days, gets dragged into the bizarre and impossible world of the mysterious Alexis, where criminals are commonplace, and anything can happen. -- Mariana O'Connor

  • Time traveler must find a killer and save humanity from extinction. -- sigma957

  • The Goatskin Dress:
    A painfully introverted boy discovers a painfully misanthropic girl sleeping in his mother's garden. -- Aiko-chan

  • When a stranger steals away all the town's children, Heather leaves behind her uncle, her friends, and her intended to rescue them. -- Aiko-chan

  • Swan Song
    When their stepmother curses the eleven princes and drives the lone princess into exile, the princess must make a painful journey to save her brothers from their fate and restore the honor of their birth-mother. -- Aiko-chan

  • Two refugees find each other and themselves as they join the resistance against the army that destroyed their village. -- Ellory

  • An experiment by a group of military leaders goes terribly awry when the boy from an "inferior" race, whom they implanted in an elite training school, turns out to be far more talented than they had guessed - and, in addition, a megalomaniac. -- Ellory

  • Wind
    Two best friends grow up together and try to lead as normal lives as the possibly can until their coming of age despite being the two most likely candidates for being the successor to the highest leadership position their culture has, a job that only one of them will hold. -- Katie C

  • Don't Forget the Coffee Mugs
    Two bickering talk-show hosts on the planet Pluto are offered a dream-come-true gig on Earth -- if they can get to their home world in time. -- Thebe

  • A superhuman, an ex-pro-wrestler and an interior designer team up to thwart the schemes of a variety of oddball villains in exotic locations (such as Nazi death-monkeys in the jungles of South America). -- potatocubed

  • An elite assassin hunts down a member of his guild who has gone rogue. (Oh, and all the characters are anthropomorphic animals. (My MC is a pine marten.) Should be most enjoyable to write) -- Tupwen

  • Gifts From An Eclipse
    Emily is a 16 year old girl who finds herself with abilites once the eclipse comes around, along with new allies, and new foes, and a destiny that she had never seen coming. -- Enoki

  • The Littlest Halfling
    Gloria Goodbody might be the shortest halfling on Feldaine, but she proves that she can't be hindered by that in her battle against the first evil the Five Lands have known. -- Lauren E. Scavenger

  • The Golden Players
    Sax Ashberry's just a bard who knows about singing and not much else -- so why is he in charge of the party who set out to defeat Tialys Gaehon, Feldaine's strongest necromancer? -- Lauren E. Scavenger

  • The Uses of Magic
    A Dark Lord rises in the North of the world of Sordan and it is up to a group of seven adventurers, and a few friends along the way, to battle and destroy the evil that is slowly taking away the worlds magic. -- SilverWolf7

  • Hubris
    The most powerful mage in the world (or at least, he'd like to think so) has a very bad lapse of judgment, the result of which leaves him without his memory on an island of rebels. -- ril_adresca

  • 2004: Odyssey of Disbelief
    When a man with pointy ears and tights tells you your boozed-up buddy in the corner is destined to be the savior of the world, you know it's time to leave the party. -- ril_adresca

  • 2005: Title in progress
    A man whose loyalties have always been conflicted finds himself on the front line in a war, forced to choose whether or not to end the war once and for all by turning traitor to his nation. -- ril_adresca

  • In a city kept in secrecy to its magical heritage a mage finds companionship and is personally investigating a murder. -- Fallen Grace

  • Plains of Fire
    After six years of constant warfare with a still unnamed race, humans discover the key to victory, currenlty in their enemy's possession and employ all means necessary to obtain it. -- DarknessShadows

Weekend 6: Key scenes

skeletonkeys.jpgSixth weekend with "Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery".

This weekend is key scenes. Like last weekend, it's a bit of a challenge to interpret what the authors are trying to say. So this one isn't totally clear and might be better seen as a introduction to the material in the book.

The authors say "Key scenes give you a framework for your mystery."

You have a bunch of events and emotions you've been writing about over the past five weeks. What you need is to start seeing some order for the sleuth will uncover them in. It won't necessarily be a logical order. There are secrets that people will lie for and events they won't think important. You want to build up the tension, create drama, and, usually, paint of false picture of what's going on.

They suggest dividing the story into 3 acts like in a play, each of those will contain 2 key scenes. Written like that, it paints a false picture. The acts aren't equal in size. Act 2 will be much longer than Act 1 and Act 3.

Act One: The set up. This is where you, well, set everything up. Introduce characters "flashing their agendas." Agendas clash. Conflict ensues.
  • Opener - This is the initial meeting with the murder and many of the main players.
  • Plot point 1 - A mini climax. After this point in a play, the curtain falls. Some twist to the story takes place. It can be the arrest of the most likely suspect (who is, of course, the wrong suspect.) It can be another murder.

Act Two: The complication. More characters enter. More possibilities.
  • Midpoint - The middle of the book. Another climax. In the final book, this may be one scene or several scenes.
  • Plot point 2 - This can be where you resolve a couple of threads or subplots that have been building up. There can be another death. Or a disappearance.

Act 3: The resolution.
  • Climax - Where all that's been building up comes to a head, where good confronts evil.
  • Wrap-up - Where all the loose ends are tied up. The authors suggest that the best wrap ups are when the sleuth needs to sacrifice something. The sleuth may turn down money for solving the murder, for instance (if the resolution rubs against his ideals.) (This is probably easier to do in a one shot story rather than an ongoing series character.)

Sources for elements to build up the key scenes.
  1. Backstory - Mine your backstory for elements for each key scene. Gather the pieces together that will paint a different picture than what has really happened so after each scene it will feel like the story is headed in one direction.
  2. Plot diagram - This is a visual representation of the elements taken from the backstory. The authors have written the 6 key scenes across the page and a vertical list of elements from the backstory. Lines connect the scenes with elements reealed or effecting each scene. Sometimes elements affect more than one scene.
  3. Scene cards - You may have created cards for these particular scenes in the previous weeks. Just mark them as key scenes. Here's a breakdown the authors suggest for the main elements to put on the key scene cards:
    • Opener: focus on objects: snow, vans, frozen clothing, mud, wounds, sleuth in a parka, etc.
    • Plot point 1: focus on setting and emotion. Then on objects. Build a connection between the emotions you want raised and where the scene is set. In the author's mystery, the scene is a mansion decorated like the quarterdeck of Ahab's doomed ship in Moby Dick.
    • Midpoint: focus on action, motive and objects.
    • Plot point 2: setting, action, objects.
    • Climax: focus on the killer

Then summarize each key scene in a short paragraph. Focus on creating a logical sequence for the actions, eg, the sleuth does this because ...

Next week is Plot picture-diagram.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Food fight

foodfight.jpgUse as many of the following words as you can to describe a feast. It could be fun to turn it into a fight. It could be a challenge to *not* make it a fight.


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

And the top story this evening is ...

cow.jpgChoose one of the following as a writing prompt for a news story. (They're all real headlines gaffes.)
  • Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers
  • Drunk Gets Nine Months in Violin Case
  • Survivor of Siamese Twins Joins Parents
  • Farmer Bill Dies in House
  • Iraqi Head Seeks Arms
  • British Left Waffles on Falkland Islands
  • Eye Drops off Shelf
  • Squad Helps Dog Bite Victim
  • Enraged Cow Injures Farmer With Ax
  • Miners Refuse to Work After Death
  • Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant
  • Stolen Painting Found By Tree
  • Two Soviet Ships Collide, One Dies
  • Two Sisters Reunited After 18 Years in Checkout Counter

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Expletives and colorful language

shocked_apple_by_xdow.jpgMy fantasy characters often resort to saying "Gods" instead of "God" when they're frustrated. Yeah, it's lame. ;-) It's just substituting one word for another (and not a particularly clever word!) I always intend to find something better.

Here are a few sources of expletives to give you some ideas on how other writers and cultures handle expletives.
  1. The first is a List of fictional expletives from Wikipedia. (Has some R entries.) Mostly it's a list of words substituted for swears, so professional writers have the same problem!

    (If that one isn't there, try the page at Answers.com or the Feb 2007 version I stored here at the blog. Apparently that page has a history of being deleted. Surprisingly not because it's full of swears but because it doesn't cite sources and other Wikipedia reasons. If you're curious there's a log of the page's deletes and reasons given.)

    Here's a sample:

    Bastard's Demons - from Lois McMaster Bujold's Chalion universe. General expletive referring to the one of five gods who runs hell.

    canner - from the movie I, Robot, a racial epithet used against robots, particularly by the protagonist.

    fahrbot - from Farscape; meaning insane or mentally deficient.

    Hab SoSlI' Quch! - Klingon for "Your Mother has a smooth forehead." The worst curse/insult in the Klingon language... especially in reference about one's mother.

    hippikaloric - from Ozma of Oz by L. Frank Baum - a word uttered by the Nome King, "which must be a dreadful word because we don't know what it means".

    mudblood - from Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling, used by "pure-blood" people to slander those whose ancestors who are non-magical (e.g. Hermione Granger).

    puckernuts - from Elfquest; similar meaning to "damn" or "damn it"

    rassin-frassin - from Hanna-Barbera's Jetsons & Flintstones a derogatory adjective of some kind. Possible corruption of the German curse "Ratten-Fressen" or "Rat Eating/Eater." Also uttered by Yosemite Sam in Warner Bros cartoons. Also similar/the same as the quiet muttering used by Muttley in Wacky Races. Also spelled/pronounced "ratchafratchin".

    zoinks - from Scooby Doo, a common expletive uttered by Shaggy Rogers.

    There are a couple more shorter lists of fictional expletives at:

    Swearwords of Science Fiction and Fantasy (archive)

    FICTIONAL EXPLETIVES and EXCLAMATIONS (archived at Wayback Machine) (archive)

    (Also check the comments to see if readers have added any.)
  2. With the authority of actual paper there is Curse and Berate in 69+ Languages by R. V. Branham. Where else can you find how to say dumbass in Croatian (glup) or Mongolian (teneg)? The format is a bit odd -- the definitions of words are footnotes at the end of each entry -- but it's an even greater wealth of information than the Alternative Dictionaries (below). The footnotes can often be more interesting since there are several creative ways of expressing something straightforward, such as an uncircumcised penis is referred to as "Farmer's cock", "Cock with a turtleneck", and "Skin flute." The book is unabashedly NC-17.

    A sample (of the non-NC-17 entries):

    balls - Afrikaans: goons, Serb: jaja, Tagalog: yagbols, French: les couilles, and also joyeuses (bringers of joy).

    fat ass -Afrikaans: gwabba, Bosnian: debela kravo, Dutch: dikzak, French: gros lard. Swedish: tjockis. Also expressed as "Fat jerk", "Your fat ass has its own union steward", "fat bag", "unnecessary weight on the Earth".

    A sampling of entries, besides the expected ones: Adulterer, Anarchist, Balls for Brains, Bully, Chauvinist, Conceited, Crazy, Drunkard, Motor Mouth, Stool Pigeon.

    And, finally, under Blasphemy in the phrases section are exclamations that will make you choke if your mouth was ever washed out for saying "God!"
  3. And The Alternative Dictionaries. (The level is mostly NC-17 so it took some digging to find some PG examples ;-) Looking through the entries, there seems to be a universal agreement that body parts, bodily functions, sex and, to a lesser extent, religion all arouse strong feelings. People pretty much say the same things to each other regardless of language which may be why writers have a hard time coming up with much that's original ;-)

    It's 131 pages of how to swear and insult someone in languages from Acadian to Zulu. Lots of stuff you won't learn in any language course because it would get you beaten up ;-)

    The dictionaries are online and can also be downloaded as a PDF file.

    The quality is inconsistent -- entries were written by contributors -- and it can be a bit confusing to interpret, but it's certainly a wealth of information that's hard to get anywhere else. Following the word is its type (noun, verb, exclamation, etc.), then in italics *either* its meaning or its English equivalent. So, for instance, a listing might define the word as "My God!" when it doesn't literally mean that but is used as English speakers would "My God!" Following the italics are sometimes the literal translation and often a sentence showing its usage.

    Some examples:

    mafketel weirdo NOTE Also "Mafkees" where "Kees" is a traditional Dutch male name. Mafketel literally means "Weird pot".

    verdammter Schweinhund (neut. noun) idiot, absolute moron; dodo NOTE Pronounced fair-DAHM-tir SHVINE-hoont; means, literally, "Damned pigdog." Can be used as an expletive: "Ach! Verdammter Schweinhund!" or as an insult: "Du bist ein verdammter Schweinhund." Means stupid in a sloppy, revolting, or ridiculous way. Uncommon.

    Porco due (excl.) "By Gosh!" (literally "Pig two!") NOTE Used to avoid saying "Porcoddio!" a blasphemous expression that means "God-pig". It sounds very similar to it. Very popular in Italy between 10-15 years people.

    (Similar to Zio cantante, literally "Uncle singer!" as a euphemism for "Dio Cane!" which literally means "God-dog!")

    rannskita (noun) diarrhea NOTE Literal translation: Running butt.

    phai.sha.za.mkhan. {noun phrase} eater of father's flesh NOTE A strong insult in Tibetan.

    shlemiel (noun) clumsy oaf. Klutz NOTE The sort of person who, when at a fancy restaurant, invariably spills his soup.

  4. Similar to the Alternative Dictionaries (including the NC-17 rating) are the lists of swears from various languages at Insults.net. As far as I can see, they haven't been cribbed from the Alternative Dictionaries.

    kisama - lord of the donkeys.

    malik maloof - Your king is a pig.

    Morra di svetter lite til å være så feit - Your mom doesn't really sweat much for being so fat.

    khange khodah - screw-up of god.

    zaebal - you have bored me a lot.

    Crko dabogda stoko seljacka! - May you drop dead, you redneck ox.

    inutil - worthless moron.

  5. And certainly the award for most colorful language should go to Cockney rhyming slang which is colorful beyond just expletives. For hundreds (?) of years the people of the East End of London have replaced words with words that rhyme. And then often shortened them to make them even more obscure! ;-) There's a history (and some more slang) at A Dictionary of Slang: Cockney Rhyming Slang. The Best of British has an extensive list of slang including Cockney.

    There's a huge list at Cockney Rhyming Slang. Here's a sampling from Wikipedia:

    Apples = apples and pears = stairs ("Get up them apples!")
    Bread = bread and honey = money
    China = china plate = mate ("Alright, me old china!")
    Frog = frog and toad = road
    Rosie = Rosie Lee = tea ("Fancy a cup of Rosie?")
    Butcher's = butcher's hook = look ("Let's have a butcher's!")
    Dog and Bone =Telephone
    Septic = Septic Tank = Yank (American) ("He's a septic!" This usage has also given rise to a non-rhyming slang term, 'Listerine' meaning one who is not enthralled with Americans -- because Listerine is "anti-septic"!)
    Rub-a-dub-dub = Pub
    Wife = trouble and strife

  6. List of interjections by language Though not necessarily expletives in the list, interjections are often short and might sound foul ;-) Bit of a pain to have to open each link to get to the words, but could be a good resource. Where else will you find words like the nasty looking  and экии?

Friday, February 02, 2007

Weekend 5: The backstory

plot-time.jpgFifth weekend with The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery: The backstory.

The next 5 week ends are plotting. Plotting is the order you choose to put the events in. While all murders mysteries begin with a murder, that isn't where all novels begin. If you think of the sequence of events as:

A. Murder
B. Discovery
C. Reporting
D. Crime scene

a mystery novel can begin with any of those. If you begin at part C, then A and B are filled in as the book progresses. Which of these you begin with is up to you and up to the story you're trying to tell.

This weekend is pulling out details of the backstory from your imagination that creates the crime to help you order the events for your story. Dig into the the various characters' pasts to create details, choices and life events that lead up to one character desiring to end the life of another and one character to become the person someone wanted to kill.

There are 3 parts to creating the backstory:

1. Checklist
2. Chronology
3. Narrative summary

1. Checklist

This is details of the murder scene.

Time: What time of day does the killing take place? The will affect what the characters have done previous to the murder, what they're dressed for if they're headed for a meeting later.

Place: Where does the killing occur? This will affect transportation to and from the murder scene for both murder and victim. It will affect who might see them and whether if they're scene, some will note it as unusual.

Lighting: Important if the murder happens in a place that isn't well lit. You'll need to think about where the light sources are and how well the various characters (murderer, victim, witnesses) can see.

Weather: Affects how the characters are dressed. It will be notable if someone is dressed oddly for the weather suggesting they didn't intend to be where they were found or seen.

Arrival: How did the killer get there? How did the victim get there? Where did they get their transportation?

Departure: How does the victim get where she or he ends up (if the body is found in a different place from where the victim was murdered)? How is the body moved from where it's found? How does the killer get from the crime scene?

Struggle: Is there a struggle before the murder? What kind of clues does it leave behind?

Death instruments: What are the murder weapons? How does the killer acquire it or them? Was the murder item grabbed on the spur of the moment or chosen carefully? How does the killer get rid of the weapon?

Wounds: What wounds accompany the murder?

Wardrobe and makeup: How is victim dressed? What were they doing before or planning to do next? Did either murderer or victim leave items behind?

2. Chronology

Write a chronology of the series of events that led up to the murder. This could delve back years into the past that caused two characters to meet or caused one character to explore a new passion or cover up a secret.

3. Narrative summary

Write out the series of events that lead from one event to another and why. The authors suggest beginning sentences with "because" and "since", that is "Because Maloreen's little brother was her only family, he was a weak spot for her. Because Maloreen had a weak spot for her brother, when he began running with a bad crowd, she moved the two of them to the Moon colony. Because she moved to the Moon colony and set up shop there, she drew business away from the only other florist in the colony." Or, "Because Sparky's master was too busy to feed her, she peed on his shoes. Because the shoes he'd planned on wearing for the crime were peed on, he had to wear the pair with the distinctive tread."

Then try delving into motives and desires with sentences structured like "Since x wants (desires, yearns for) y and because z stands in his way, x kills her."

These are just techniques to force you to think about and build up the foundation that supports what happens.

Next week is Key Scenes.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Comfort foods

cheesecake.jpgList your five favorite comfort foods.

Now create a scene with a character enjoying those foods as she or he thinks about what just happened that makes the indulgence of comfort food so welcome.

Top 10 tabloid headlines for February 2007

wwnmermaidcemetery.gifExcept they're really from 2005 since apparently the City Newstand list is on hiatus. Fortunately, unlike newspaper news, tabloid news is practically timeless!

From the City Newsstand in Chicago, for writing prompts or just for fun :-)

Top Ten Tabloid Headlines from February 2005
  8. ANGRY BILL COLLECTORS say Bush won't return their calls on the national debt — WWN