Month: September 2011

Incongruous Juxtaposition – Genre Combination and the Art of Mayhem

“The force of Nature could no farther go: / To make a third she joined the former two / Don’t try this with prescription drugs.”

Being creative. Sometimes it takes a bit of the “add this incendiary here” to the “gee, what’s this thing on fire here” to get something going. Dynamite. Grenades. The hydrogen bomb. The exploding PB&J. Things that have bettered life, merely by taking one thing that works (like hydrogen) and adding it to something else that works (a bomb).

Same goes for writing, no? Sometimes the pigeon can’t be crammed further into that hole. Problem? Dig another hole. Go for that historical chick-lit, that Western Gothic mystery, or the epistolary autobiography. Blow something up. Just don’t screw it up.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

Are there certain kinds of genres that shouldn’t go together? I want to write some crossgenre works, but I need to make sure I’m not trying to combine oil and water here. Thanks man.  

—Jacob Art, New Orleans, La.

You won’t have an issue combining oil and water, chemically speaking.

You will have an issue if you treat genre combination like a popcorn bowl of meds, mixed up, unmarked, ready for a party of post-pubescent idiots, psychotropic stomachaches, and a house call from your nearest EMT.

I’ll give you a few of the “don’t write these” combinations, as long as you and your buddies don’t write these. I’m not responsible for anaphylactic shock or somnambulistic seizures.

Prehistoric Legal Thriller

“Tru’ok Rgh’ghr faces his stickiest legal battle yet, with intrigues ranging from a pterodactyl accident to a so-called “wheel.” The inventor of fire, Groth’r Mngroah, is found dead in his two-story cave, clutching a tablet bearing strange writings. The blame quickly falls on Groth’rr’rr, the only one in the village who can write. While Tru’ok takes what seems like a hopeless case, confident he can persuade a thick-headed jury, he soon finds himself in over his thick, protruding brow with the swirling cloud of deceit surrounding the case.” — Requires too much suspension of disbelief regarding cavemen, the legal system, and the “thrilling” aspect of legal matter.

Armpit Slick / Feminist Lit

(If you don’t know what “armpit slicks” are, then you’ve missed out on life. Look them up, puke your bloody bath of laughter, then come on back.)

“Jane Peacelove toils away in her kitchen, longing for freedom from cooking, baking, and sandwich making. Little does she know that she (and countless other housewives) are being held captive by an unlikely alliance of Nazis, Communists, and Nordic Socialists. As she tackles her womanly duties, she fantasizes over a “knight in shining armor,” ready to sweep her away.  Little does she know that Ace Racer, a shirtless male model/soldier of fortune, hatches a plan to break into the fortress and face countless odds to free countless damsels in distress. Will they escape? Will Ace survive? Will Jane ever be liberated from her womanly shackles?” — (Sorry, I’m still laughing about “armpit slicks.”)

Hardboiled children’s detective fiction

“After discovering the body of a coke dealer, the Boxcar children find themselves sucked into an unforgiving world of drugs, violence, and addiction as their curiosity gets the best of them.” — from The Boxcar Children: The Seven Pounds of Blow Mystery. Yeah, imagine what you’d do to your average 4th-grader (and her parents) with a classic like that.

Christian bromance

“Brace wants to share his faith with his best bro Chad. But while they share a love of Jack Johnson, XBOX 360, and AXE body spray, will they find a mutual friend in Jesus Christ?” — I shouldn’t have to explain this one.

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com), followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong), and found in the latest “Man’s Life,” available at your nearest five and dime. 

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Say No More

You know what they say: if you can’t say anything nice, then you’d better shut up.

And in writing, if you can’t say anything but “say,” then you should listen to what we have to tell you.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

I cringe every time I see dialogue written by lesser writers. It’s like “he said, she said” in the worst kind of way. Say, said, says, saying, like there’s nothing more to be said about SAID. But when I try to write without using “say,” it gets more difficult as it goes on. There’s got to be a better way to change it up without sounding redundant or intentionally constrained.

—Torey Lewis, Irvine, Calif.

I’ll break protocol and begin by quoting Oxford intellectual Right Said Fred’s glorious exposition on the subject:

“I’m too sexy to continue employing ‘said’ as an indication of the conveyance of communication. With viable options manifestly promulgated, one should deign to refrain. Replied. Uttered. Responded. Insisted. Noted. Mentioned. ‘Say’ no more.”

Well put, Mr. Said Fred.

You’re missing the point if you feel your dialogue has to be adulterated and fornicated by such verbal markers. Any verbal markers. Regardless of how cleverly you vary them; that’s still making the same mistake, but with style. Sure, you want to differentiate who speaks what, but a writer worth his silt will ensure that he’s not writing himself into a snare like that. Take, for instance, this gem of a barf-trigger:

“I’m pregnant,” he said. “And I’m the father.”

“How is that possible?” said Jill.

“I couldn’t tell you,” Jack said, “It must have happened after those hCG injections, I can’t explain it.”

“But I trusted you,” she said.

Aaaaand, we’re done. You can put away that airsick bag. “Said” is not your cowbell. You do not need more of it.

If you’re going to use any markers at all, make them count.

“All your base are belong to us,” he affirmed.

“i think halo is a pretty cool guy. eh kills aleins and DOESN’T AFRAID OF ANYTHING,” she declared.

Has anyone really been far even as decided to use even go want to do look more like?” he inquired.

“No buts, cuts, coconuts, Mass, or Eucharist,” he interdicted.

The dialogue should grip your eyeballs and brand into them the patterns, the sensible ebb and flow, the cadences of well-tuned conversation. Make it good enough to stand on its own. And if you resort to using a marker, don’t prop—accentuate. Slap one of them down to slap your reader senseless with goodness, nothing less.

Enough said.

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com), followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong), and recited within your daily Cantata Incantatis.

Seize the Day (by the throat)

If you don’t write because you don’t have time, then you don’t want to write at all. There’s more time in a day than there is ambition in most wannabe writers. Your average author has more time management skill than a watch repairman. And that’s just the common toiler at the craft, the one who churns out wordbuckets of chum only because they’ve extinguished their wiles on finding the time to pollute the word world with mediocrity. Credit where credit’s due.

The real battle to write isn’t in the weapons or strategy. It’s in finding the battlefield.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

I’ve really tried hard to focus on finding time to write, but I just can’t seem to fit it in my hectic life. Balancing a job and kids takes a toll, and I spend more time recovering from all of it. It just seems to be one of those things where I spend more time preparing to do some writing (poetry, bits and pieces of a novel, a short story here and there, reflection) than actually writing. I’m not a natural procrastinator, but if I don’t make time to do what I want, then I won’t do it at all. What do good writers do to make time for writing? Thanks.

—Olivia McCloskey, San Marcos, Tex.

Your life isn’t hectic, you’re not supposed to “balance” jobkids, and you’re overvaluing recovery. Can’t you just knock down shots of tequila in between Max and Ruby episodes?

I can already see how you mismanage your day, leading to such tumult. For starters, if the kids aren’t helping with the farm, they’re probably not helping at all. I’d suggest seeing what they’ll fetch at auction or look into trading up for older children who occupy themselves. That may be a drastic step, but unless you pony up for a governess, you can kiss your writing and your life goodbye.

And the job? Unless you’re like everyone I hate in life, you probably need an income stream that isn’t generated by your wealthy forbears. Might want to keep that. I trust you’re already writing during your commute, union breaks, and quite possibly during your mundane office work that isn’t really work anyway. If not, that needs to change. Or check the yellow pages for “Daddy, Sugar.”

Let’s assume you’re on the way to freeing your life as prescribed. Good for you! Now to heighten your ambition, let’s look at your day re-imagined as a writer:

2:00 AM to 6:00 AM: Musing on your failure the previous day, somnifically plotting for your next labors, dreaming of coherent narratives. Optional: sleeping.

6:00 AM to 7:00 AM: Swearing at the alarm clock, drinking enough coffee to see into tomorrow and burn your eyes clean, and a primal yell to greet the dawn’s vanquishment of night. Capture the idea swirl as it siphons the dregs of dreams.

7:00 AM to 9:00 AM: If you’ve done it right, your pot of coffee should get you to breakfast. Write, and keep writing. Keep some potassium chloride (or ether, if you’re old-school) on hand for distractions, because that’s gotta stop.

9:00 AM to 9:15 AM: Sneak in a breakfast while you take your bathroom break. Don’t get them confused, because eating Cocoa Puffs from a toilet is a mistake you won’t catch until it’s too late.

9:15 AM to 12:00 PM: Keep writing. You’ve already written two hours worth of sputum—it only gets better if you stick to it. Most of the waking world should be on its way toward wrecking your day. If you haven’t sold the kids yet, ensure they’re glued to Nick Jr’s. HypnoTown – keeps ‘em from whining about food or attention. Your boss should know you won’t be in today—hope you told him that you’re dealing with some sort of lava measles or scarlet mumps in one of those kids (whom you’re ignoring for the sake of the craft).

12:00 PM to 1:00 PM: Eat something, pump up that brain of yours. You’re taxing it for all it’s worth. Drink more coffee or make use of those illegal stimulants your live-in stashes in the bread box. Can’t have a food coma interrupting progress. HypnoTown’s over: change it up with an array of mind-sucking DVDs. Call your boss, vomiting into the phone for effect, letting him know you’re serious about the bubonic plague redux you didn’t report this morning.

1:00 PM to 3:00 PM: What you wrote? Yeah, that’s no good. Go back and do it better. Don’t be deserving of that potassium chloride injection. Make something of your life.

3:00 PM to 3:43 PM: Who shorted the DVD player with a steady stream of drool? Don’t blame the kid. Blame yourself for neglecting to slobber-proof this thing. And they’re complaining about eating beef jerky for breakfast? Ran out of Gushers too? Wow. Better call up that auction house if you want to salvage this day, or else it’s a afternoon’s worth of Best Buy and GroceryMart.

3:43 PM to 5:39 PM: Because you didn’t call the auction house.

5:39 PM to 5:45 PM: Skittles and M&Ms for dinner? Now that’s pragmatic.

5:45 PM to 6:58 PM: “Mommy’s going to play ‘Silent Hide & Seek’ with you! If you find me, you have to be real quiet or else you don’t win.” — I’m not sold, but whatever works for you here, so be it. Keep writing.

6:58 PM to 8:17 PM: Because you thought leaving the crayons and coloring books within reach was a good idea. At least the kids colored within the lines. Well, within the lines of your walls and furniture. And the cat ate your Magic Eraser? We have a cat here? This situation must be addressed.

8:17 PM to 9:00 PM: Better be writing while you read these bedtime stories. Or just read them what you wrote today. Can’t stress the soporific potency of bad writing.

9:00 PM to 9:02 PM: Take some time to kick back and relax. You’ve had a busy day.

9:02 PM to midnight: Time for the final strike. House to yourself? Perfect. Cozy up in a bathrobe and light a candle. Take some of that liquor cabinet with you if needed. Snack on those leftover Skittles stuck to the table. And if you haven’t written anything of consequence, then you’d better carry this into the wee hours of tomorrow.

Midnight to the wee hours of tomorrow: Yeah, I figured.

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com), followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong), and plotted into your minute-by-minute planner. 

Like-for-Like

“The cannonball scythed through the battalion like a machete through hapless brush.” “Waking up, I felt like I’d crawled from warm sands to an icy tide.” “He smelled like month-old cheese served on a day-old sock.”

Figures of speech. The simile. Describing everything as if it were everything else. The masters produce the right image, the right feeling, the exact thing they want you to experience. The failures fail, failing like a failure at life who failed failing.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

What is the key to using a good simile (like “life is like a box of chocolates”)? 

—Gerald Siegel, Hamilton, Ont.

(Note: a simile is a figure of speech comparing two different things, usually using “like,” “as,” or “kinda like, y’know, like.” If you didn’t know that by now, then I don’t know what to tell you or your excuse for an English teacher.)

A good simile is like a candle that burns forever, even burning your house down when you don’t want it anymore.

A bad simile is like a flashlight that helps you see in the dark.

A good simile is like a fireproof raincoat, keeping you alive when it’s raining cats, dogs, and fireballs.

A bad simile is like an umbrella that doesn’t let rain hit you.

A good simile is like making out with a sandbox.

A bad simile is like an awkward lover.

A good simile is like tasting a hint of honey when you lick an envelope seal.

A bad simile is like a pleasant surprise when you least expect it.

A good simile is like a tiramisu that puts you over the blood alcohol limit.

A bad simile is like a better dessert after a good meal.

A good simile is like breaking your enemy’s legs, then breaking his wheelchair later on.

A bad simile is like getting sweet revenge.

A good simile is like eating the ants at your picnic.

A bad simile is like taking lemons and making lemonade.

A good simile is like your toast landing butter side up.

A bad simile is like the sun breaking through on a cloudy day.

A good simile is like a frozen rose.

A bad simile is like a classic case of unrequited love.

A good simile is like being struck by lightning while winning the lottery.

A bad simile is like a double rainbow all the way across the sky.

A good simile is like a fat boy furiously digging Earth’s last corn dog out from under the car seat.

A bad simile is like being so hungry you could eat an elephant.

A good simile is like eating an apple pie wrapped in an American flag on the 4th of July.

A bad simile is like showering in crisp lemonade while caressing the bosom of a one-eyed snowman.

A good simile is like a hayride in a bouncy castle with the microwave on medium-rare.

A bad simile is like a cage match between a mechanical platypus and I don’t want to visit the dentist anymore.

A good simile is like a Canadian petrol boy shock-inhaling the leafy green to get the motor kicked up and guzzling that Molson can.

A bad simile is like riding a gumball machine on a one-legged icicle and filling a Toyota’s airsick bag with purple-fun cotton candy while taking it to a tornado party of vanilla bacon and hippopotamus puppeteering.

Crap, I think this thing broke again.

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com), followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong), and directly compared to a herd of coati mundi trampling the foetid excesses of poor writesmanship.