Demotivational Winners

You guys are hilarious. The number one reason I wish I had more readers is so I could have more hilarity to enjoy and share with you guys. Maybe when I hit 200 followers or something we can do this again (even though followers aren't readers).

Enough talk. To the posters!

First, the honorable mentions. Most Likely to be Put Up in My Office goes to "Monday" by the recently wed L.T. Host, and Late But I Still Like You goes to "Courage" by K. Marie Criddle (who has her own contest going on, by the way). Click these entries to enlarge.

The winners were chosen entirely based on how hard they made me laugh. Third Place goes to J.J. Debenedictis, who provides the best reason for exercise EVER.

Second Place is Susan Quinn, who made excellent use of the ubiquitous internet cat images (not an easy task!).

And First Place with both barrels is Emmet Blue. Both his posters made me laugh so hard they both win. What can I say? The man knows his judge.

I'll contact the winners to figure out your prizes. Congratulations, and thank you everybody who played!

Talk Like an Air Pirate 2: All the Swears

Heyya, mates, Sam Draper here. Adam asked me to teach you shiners how to curse like a skyler, so here we go, aye? (And if you're thinking, "Oy! Who's this swabber, and what's he flailing about?" You oughtta read this first. It might keep you from getting scatty.)

First off: bleeding. I'll be bled if I know where this came from -- maybe some monk story -- but it's bleeding everywhere. I don't give a drop if you're a skyler or a groundhog: you can't bleeding swear without bleeding 'bleeding.'

'Piking' is another good one, but it's usually reserved for when you get thrown over by a pack of sodding dog-lickers. As in, "You gave me half what this junk's worth, you piking bastard!" If you ain't being cheated, I reck 'sodding dog-lickers' is good too, aye?

You'll be needing oaths too. 'Flack' and 'flot' are okay, being words for human muck. Though like as not you'll be wanting a pronoun in there: bleed it, pike it, soddit (or 'suit it,' if you're aiming at respectable -- not likely in the skies), and tullit (for when you just don't drink the wash some loony is pouring).

Now that's all good and well for your general swearing, but if you're gonna mix words with an air pirate, you'll need something a bit more direct. Lucky for you, skylers' got no end of offensory insults.

Someone too smart for their own good is a nummer. The opposite (with less smarts than a tumor on Tuesday) is a nimbus. A piker what stabs you in the back is a bleeding merc. And for govvies what leech off their constituents, we call them a willyguv. Then you got your maggot, blighter, dog-licker, bullock, swabber, rat orphan, coal monkey, or feckless lump, for when it don't matter what you call the gunner. And feel free to make up your own, aye? All the best pirates do.

I reck that's good for now. I'll be back later, see if you got any questions for me, breezy?

Demotivational Contest!

It's been a while since we've done a contest around here. So here's the deal: you make a demotivational poster, and my three favorites will each win a prize.

(I can't take credit for this one. The internet is a treasure trove.)

These are not in order. First Place will get to choose first. Second Place chooses second. Third Place gets what's left. (In the event that Third Place cannot use what's left, I'll figure something out. Don't worry, you'll still win something.)
  1. $4.00 credit towards eligible Amazon Video On Demand movie and TV purchases (US only).
  2. A sketch of anything you like (almost).
  3. A query critique from a one-time published writer (that's me).

  1. Make one or more demotivational posters. All you need is a picture, a title, a caption, and this website. Though feel free to get more creative than that, if that's your thing.
  2. Send them to me before Wednesday, Oct. 27, 5 PM Pacific. You can use any method available (e-mail, link in the comments, Twitter, Facebook, etc).
  3. Come back on Friday to see some of the best ones and to see if you won a prize.

They're parodies of those inspirational posters you might see in the office -- the ones with an inspiring picture and a caption about perseverance, effort, or "customer care". My favorite demotivationals mimic inspiration with cynicism, like these on motivation, teamwork, and uniqueness.

Or they might mock something, like this one on priorities or this awesome one on exercise. Or they can be just plain funny, covering topics such as pirates, ninjas, steampunk, or regrets.

The $4.00 because I have the promotional code in my inbox from an Amazon purchase, but since I don't live in the US, I can't use it. The sketch because nothing gets me drawing like outside pressure. And the query critique because aspiring authors like that sort of thing, and I'm occasionally a nice guy.

None. You don't have to follow the blog. You don't have to give me your e-mail. You don't have to promote the contest (though if you did, it would just make it more fun for everybody, and it would make me smile -- you want me to smile, don't you?).

Love Stories, the Maturation of the Male Writer

STAGE 1: Ignorance
"There are girls in Lord of the Rings?"

At first, the subject is aware of love stories in general, but has either never read any or is unaware that he has. Attempts at bringing romance to the subject's attention may result in discomfort, interrupted thought patterns, or an irrational desire to play Splinter Cell. 

STAGE 2: Avoidance
They were close enough to feel the warmth of-- "BO-RING." *flip* *flip* *flip*

In the second stage, the subject exhibits an acute awareness and dislike of romance. He will sometimes go out of his way to learn about popular series with romantic storylines just so he can deride them. Studies show a strong correlation between writers in this stage and bachelors.

STAGE 3: Tolerance
"I like the rest of this story. I guess I can put up with a kissing scene or two."

Often triggered by a well-written adventure/romance novel, or a series of real-life break ups, writers in the third stage begin to actually read romantic subplots, if not enjoy them. This is provided, of course, that the main plot involves terrorists, aliens, pirates, serial killers, or some other form of mortal terror.

STAGE 4: Curiosity
"Women read a lot, and they seem to like this stuff. I bet if I can fake it, they'll read my stuff too."

Writers begin to see romance as a means to "trick" women into reading their book. They pay more attention to love stories, trying to see "how it's done." It's important at this stage that they learn from fiction, because even after thousands of years of studying women in real life, men still have no clue what they want.

STAGE 5: Secret Acceptance
In the last stage, the subject comes to terms with the fact that romance is a part of life, and therefore a part of fiction. Although certain cultural pressures still apply.

In public: "I don't care who she ends up with. I just want to see her blow stuff up!"
At home: "Why can't she see how much Gale cares for her?" *tissue*

What Doesn't Have To Go in a Query

On Monday, we talked about what must go in a query. Really only 3 things need to be clear: character, plot, and basic statistics. These are a couple of optional query items, commonly confused as required:

This doesn't mean using the agent's correct name (you should always do that!). I'm talking about the little sentence at the beginning that says "I'm querying you because..." or "I've been stalking you and think you'd be a great agent."

Basically, only personalize it if you mean it. "I enjoy your blog." "I'm a big fan of [client's name whose novels you've actually read]." Don't lie or even stretch the truth. It won't tip the scales in your favor, and it's a lot more obvious than you think (meaning it's more likely to tip the scales against you). If you don't know anything about an agent other than that they represent your genre, it's okay to say nothing.

I know a lot of agents say they like it when writers compare their novel to others; it shows they know their novel and the market. But not every novel lends itself to easy comparison, and a bad comparison can make it look like you don't know your novel or the market.

So like, if you set out to write "Twilight meets Survivor," and the finished story essentially matches what you envisioned, then it's probably okay to say so. But if you believe your story combines the writing style of Neil Gaiman with the characters of George Martin and a plot device you saw on Stargate...that's not really a good comparison.

If you're not sure, don't say anything. Comparisons aren't necessary, and if you described the story well, the agent will make their own connections.

Most aspiring writers have no credentials, but we feel we need to prove ourselves. So we mention our Christmas letters, our corporate status reports, or the fact that we've been writing since we were five.

Writers higher up the tier want to believe that no-pay or very-low-pay gigs count because there was a submissions process, but the bottom line is if the agent hasn't heard of the publication, it probably doesn't count. And sometimes dropping the name of that 0.5-cent-per-word e-zine can look like you're trying too hard. Just like with personalization, stretching your credentials won't tip the scales in any good direction.

That's just what I think. Your thoughts are most welcome in the comments.

What Goes in a Query?

Query letters can be frustrating, but I think they're much simpler than we make them out to be. Really a query letter only needs three things to be made clear: character, plot, and basic statistics.

No more than three (and if you name that many, one should probably be the antagonist). More names than this becomes hard to keep track of. Of these, only one should be the main character. The novel may be about multiple people, but it's hard to tell all those stories in just 200-300 words. Choose the most important character and tell their story, starting with what they want.

Now that you know what your MC wants, show how they try to get there. That means the conflict (what keeps them from achieving their goal) and the stakes (what happens if they achieve it? what happens if they don't?).

Title, word count (rounded to the nearest pretty number), and genre.

And that's it. I mean obviously you want to include more than that -- details that make your story unique, aspects of your voice, etc. -- but if the characters and plot are unclear, then your query will be unclear. So include those details, answer the obvious questions you raise (e.g. why does your MC want what they want?), but in doing so be careful not to lose the story.

On Wednesday, I'll talk about a couple of optional parts of the query, commonly confused as required. In the meantime, got any query tips you wish you knew starting out?

The Women of Naruto

I really, really like Naruto. The story arcs (when they're not filler, of course) are clever and powerful. Almost every character has a unique personality, backstory, powers, and secrets.

But I've been watching the show for over 300 episodes now, and I'm starting to get tired of swooning, ineffective female ninjas. I didn't really notice until someone pointed it out to me, which is sad (I'm such a white, privileged, heterosexual male that way; sorry).

A quick briefing for those who haven't seen the show. It centers around the ninjas-in-training of the Hidden Village Konoha, most especially Naruto (the Goofy Boy Trying to Prove Himself™) and Sasuke (the Awesome Hawt Boy™). There are dozens of other characters, though only a few major women.

Sakura is part of Naruto's original team along with Sasuke and their sensei. She's super strong, but usually we only see her strength when she's hitting Naruto for being rude. She's also a medical ninja who is in love with Sasuke.

Ino is Sakura's childhood friend and rival. She can take over someone's mind, but it's rarely effective (her most awesome moment was in a fight with Sakura, of course). She's also a medical ninja who is in love with Sasuke.

Hinata is part of a very powerful ninja clan, but she is its weakest member. She suffers from a lack of confidence, being overshadowed by her older brother. Also she's in love with Naruto.

It seems like the only cool, kick-butt women in the series are villains, and even then... I just finished an episode where Sasuke teamed up with what looked like an awesome villain ninja. Two episodes later, she still hasn't fought anyone (though Sasuke and others have), and what do you know she's in love with Sasuke.


The only major female character who isn't in love with someone is Tsunade, who becomes the leader of Konoha Village. Unfortunately, since she became the leader, she hasn't fought anyone and has only used her super-strength to...hit Naruto for being rude.

For a show with such awesome characterization, this is really disappointing. In your writing (especially if you're a guy), this is something to watch out for. It's not like every woman has to be kick-butt and super awesome, but if none of them are -- if all the interesting stuff is being done by men -- it's a red flag that something is wrong.

Not that Naruto doesn't have it's moments. There was one episode where an enemy ninja was mocking Sakura for being a weak girl. The enemy had Sakura by her ponytail, gloating over how wussy she was. Sakura snapped. She grabbed her knife, cut off her hair (a big deal for her), and kicked the enemy's butt. It was awesome. I wonder what happened to that Sakura.

That Thing Where I Draw: Angry Suriya

I don't want to say much about this scene. Even though Cunning Folk is T-minus-infinity years away from being published, I don't want to spoil it. (Though now I wonder how negative numbers fit into the spoiler formula).

All I'll say is Suriya finds herself betrayed and gets mad. Like many fledgling super-powered humans, her powers go a little nuts when she's upset. On the plus side, there's no one left to mess with her when she's through.

So after a year or two of asking people what kind of pencils they use, and searching in vain for Prismacolors (they seem to be the brand of choice, but good luck finding them in Chiang Mai), I finally found colored pencils that actually blend. My previous attempts with colored pencils -- even the better ones -- never felt like this. It's like I've been playing a two-string guitar and someone said, "You know there are supposed to be six?"

The Problem with the Gun on the Mantle

"One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it."
-- Anton Chekhov

This is good advice. By putting a loaded gun on stage (or on the mantle, in the other version of this quote), you are making a promise to the reader. If that gun doesn't go off, it's not only wasting words but it's kind of a let down. If a storm is brewing, it better hit by the end. If there are embarrassing secrets, their keepers must be embarrassed!

But there's a problem: if the gun always goes off, then as soon as it's introduced, the reader knows what will happen.

I noticed this while reading Duma Key by Stephen King. There's some early foreshadowing that basically told me how it would end and drained some of the tension. I respect Stephen King, so I won't spoil his novel by using it as an example. Instead, I'll spoil Avatar.

Jake learns the ways of the Na'vi -- a super tall, blue-skinned race of nature-loving aliens. One of their rites of passage is to bond with a predatory bird they use for transportation and war, which Jake does. But he's almost taken down by an even bigger predator called the Turok.

Jake's girlfriend tells him the Turok is the biggest predator on the planet. "It has only been tamed five times in our history," she says. "Those riders became legends. They brought all the tribes together, bringing peace to the world."

Gun. Mantle. You don't have to see the movie to know what they do with it. Foreshadowing is good, and Chekhov was right about using all the elements you put on stage. But if you're not careful, it becomes obvious and predictable.*

The trick? One trick is to be subtle. Subtle foreshadowing is the stuff you don't realize was there until after the gun goes off, then you're all, "Holy crap, it was there the whole time!"

Another trick is to foreshadow things so that the reader has to know how it happens. The Turok wasn't interesting because we knew the result: Jake would prove himself legend, bring the tribes together, and use their combined might to fight the humans. Contrast that with the other Avatar: the final showdown between Aang and Ozai is forecasted from episode 1, but you have to see it because (a) Ozai has to be killed and (b) Aang doesn't kill anybody.

If you must foreshadow plainly, then twist what the reader expects. The gun goes off, but it backfires on the shooter. Jake fails to bond with the Turok, but his girlfriend rescues him and she becomes the legendary rider.**

Like anything in writing, be intentional. Keep your promises to the reader, but don't stick to the letter of the promise. A predictable climax can be just as bad as a gun that doesn't go off.

* My only real complaint with Avatar was its predictability -- there was a lot more than just the Turok.

** Then the movie might not have been so much like this 20-second summary.

5 Secrets to Keep You in the Game

The writing game is really, really easy to quit. Maybe it's because your first novel always sucks but, like an American Idol first-rounder, you have no idea. Maybe it's because you need to write a million words before you start writing good ones. Maybe it's because you get rejected 100 times before something clicks and you understand why.

I don't mind if people quit -- less competition for me. But since you guys keep coming back and saying such nice things, I'm going to tell you a few secrets to keep you in the game.

It's okay to rehash old plots. I quit for almost a decade because I rewrote The Fellowship of the Ring without realizing it. Granted that novel would never have sold as written. But I could have worked the story and reworked it. I could've injected it with other rehashed plots, original twists, and my own voice until it was something fresh. Everything's been done and will be done again. Don't let that stop you.

Your first draft will suck. Write it anyway. Everything bad can be made good with revision. Even something good can be made better. But you can't revise a blank page.

Everything can be deleted. That clever turn of phrase? Gone. That supposedly-important chapter? Don't need it. That boy you thought was the protagonist, but actually this girl over here is far more interesting? Delete him. Nothing is sacred. Nothing is necessary. Everything can be cut. Try it and see.

Your first story will not be published. Harsh? Yeah, but it's better for you to know now. Don't let it stop you. Try and get published anyway, because the stuff you learn from failing will help you too. Who knows? You might get lucky. But don't be surprised when your dreams are shattered, cutting your bare feet on the floor.

You have more than one story in you. A lot of folks learn the previous truth the hard way then get bitter, decide the game is rigged. It's not rigged, it's hard. The only way to keep your hopes from piling up on a story that can't sustain them is to write another story. And another one after that. If your dream is to get published, then keep writing until it happens. Who knows? Maybe you can pull that first story back out of the gutter, rinse it off, cut it up, and try again.

How about you? Got any secrets?

That Thing Where I Draw: Novice Suriya

No, this isn't Aang (though she does live at a temple, and she is, for all intents and purposes, firebending). I've paused work on Cunning Folk to implement Air Pirates Plan B, but Suriya's story is still bouncing around my head in pictures like this one.

So after fleeing the villages and ditching Anna (a decision she's still not sure was the right one), Suriya takes refuge at a Buddhist temple in the countryside. It becomes almost a home to her, the first place she has felt safe since she was little. But it's only temporary -- someone will find her eventually.

When she sees a vision of bounty hunters burning the temple to the ground, looking for her, she wonders if she should trust the monks with her secret.

5 Things I'm Proud Of (Sort Of)

  1. Won a 99-minute round of Super Smash Bros. (MattyDub and I played only because that's how high the timer went, and we wanted to see if we could do it).

  2. Watched all three Lord of the Rings' movies in one sitting (extended versions).

  3. After a 3.5-day fast, finished an entire El Champion plus chips and salsa. (Though I didn't eat anything else for another 24 hours).

  4. Can play the theme songs of Laputa, Crystalis, and Firefly.

  5. Once out-ate a guy twice my size on a trip to Mexico. I finished his dinner for him too. The next morning, while he was cradling his belly and waving off breakfast, I made a fat burrito and ate it in front of him with a smile.

So that's mine. What lame accomplishments are you proud of?