When writers read we tend to put on different hats while perusing the written word. Whenever we put on our Reader’s Hat, we enjoy a story just like anybody else. But in something of a balancing act we also wear our Writer’s Hat, which means we’re compelled to analyze and pick it apart along the way.
The same goes with architects when it comes to buildings. People like me look at a building and say, “Wow, that’s impressive looking with all that solid stone. Ew, what an ugly gargoyle!” An architect will look at the same building and say something like, “The symmetry of the structure is consistent with the solid foundation. Oh, what an appropriate gargoyle!”
So when writers are reading a story, we tend to appraise it with remarks like, “The plot was believable and the structure made the words flow. Oh, what an appropriate metaphor!”
The thing is, we don’t want to be blatant when we employ this or that technique to our writing. One of my beta readers is also a writer, and I kind of like it when she points out “Aha! I see you did this!” But that also means in a way I like it when the other beta readers don’t point out such details.
We want the readers to have a seamless experience, and if somebody comes up with “Aha! I see you did that” we suspect being a little heavy handed in the craft. If your character might as well be wearing a sign that reads plot device around his neck, then something needs to be done with him.
Considering I’ve just come off a reading binge (for the sake of research, mind you), this topic is still rattling around in my head. Maybe I’ll take a break and grab a bowl of cereal, and you know I’ll read the back of the box … Aha! I see they did that….”
One of the characteristics separating humanity from the animals is our ability to tell stories. Even though we have language, we could have used it simply to convey messages (“Grab it!” “Run!” “Hubba-hubba!”). But somewhere in our evolutionary framework we started getting creative.
It possibly began when the tribe would gather in the evening and update each other on the day’s activities. What began as information sharing (“Don’t put a branch from that kind of tree on the fire. And don’t ask when my eyebrows will grow back.”) probably started getting embellished (“And the one that got away was this big!”).
What began as truth being embellished became fiction imbued with truth. Stories that entertain us while making us pause to ponder are tapping into their primordial beginnings. The messages they convey might be simple, but reach deeper into our psyche and linger for a while (“Grab it – if you let the opportunity slip away, you’ll kick yourself later!”).
Lucky you, it’s a short post this round because it’s been one of those weeks … and don’t ask when my eyebrows will grow back….
We all know technology changes and that it’s been changing at a faster pace than ever before. My grandparents belonged to the generation that rode in a horse-drawn buggy as kids and then watched men walk on the moon before they passed away.
In my lifetime we’ve gone from dialing the phone to telling the phone who to call; changing channels on the television by turning a switch to using a remote to surf through all sorts of options; and banging away on a manual typewriter to tapping away on a notebook computer. Yeah, this stuff is nice, however….
The folks who program software seem to switch things up just for the sake of changing things around. I like knowing where to click on the toolbar to alter text or add an image. And then some programmer person decides to update the look and style and claim the new version will be easier to use.
Yeah, maybe … but not until after I’ve spent weeks feeling like a kindergartner learning a new application (although these days a kindergartner would probably master it in minutes). I was happy with the old version. All this new garbage just makes me click more often because the icon I’m looking for is now hidden somewhere, and somehow that makes the program work better….
Sorry, I just had to rant. Spending much of my time researching history or what might unfold in the future leaves me a bit unprepared for the present. And while I’m complaining, Technology, take this into consideration:
I remember (barely) watching men walk on the moon, but once those missions stopped, we haven’t been back. How about you leave my programs alone and get us back to the moon, or better yet, take us to Mars…?
“I perceive you responded promptly for a coward.” IMP2 sounded the same although he looked considerably different from the last time Deuce saw him.
They stood about a decameter apart, facing each other in a field of shriveled weeds and stirring dust. Deuce had a force of three hundred men concealed all around them in the barren trees and dry boulders. He could spy the ranks of cyborgs lined half a kilometer behind IMP2, but his estimate of their numbers was only a hundred, although that was more than enough….
His opponent had previously been a man like him – generated from the same DNA foundation for physical superiority, but as biologically whole as the soldiers crouched around them. Now IMP2 resembled the troops he led. Half his face was outfitted with technical components to enhance vision and hearing, and his left arm resembled a weapon more than a limb.
“I see you’ve put on some weight,” Deuce deadpanned.
The split-second pressing together of IMP2’s lips offered a gram of satisfaction. Deuce figured there were plenty of other enhancements he couldn’t see, but had a good idea what they were.
It occurred to him they were, in a sense, brothers, although the concept of family had been alien to him until a year ago, after he defected to this faction who still embraced their total humanity. Despite IMP2’s so-called improvements, they even shared familial features, with the same russet skin and brown eyes and dark hair.
He was also fully aware the playing field between them was no longer level. If he wasn’t very careful, this encounter would end in blood and screams and fire for the people behind him, who comprised a community beyond the soldiers….
“Your sojourn among the rabble has dulled your intellect.” IMP2 raised his weaponized arm slightly, but Deuce remained still so as not to give away which direction he would dodge if needed. “Instead of blathering nonsense, you should inquire why I requested this conference when I could simply assail the habitation.”
Did he really used to talk like that? “I figured you’d get around to it.”
Hopefully his incongruous responses would disconcert IMP2 enough to make him start second-guessing that Deuce was no longer the IMP17 he used to know … and therefore less predictable.
“I’ll allot you credit on the difficulty in tracking you down. In the interim since your departure, the regents have granted asylum if you return and divulge the relevant datum they require.”
The Elite weren’t practitioners of forgiveness, although they would feign it if that achieved their objective. “You do believe I’ve gone bonkers if you think I’d swallow that tripe.”
But what type of ruse was IMP2’s offer? Everybody agreed this was a trap, but Deuce consented to the meeting because of the chance he could discover what agenda hid behind it. That also gave the people in the now-threatened city an opportunity to evacuate.
So he didn’t come out here alone, and his troops had new weapons and supplementary training that the Elite and IMP2 didn’t know about….
“I anticipated your obduracy,” IMP2 replied. “But apply logic to the facts. What purpose does it serve me to approach with only adequate forces, when I possess the option to overwhelm and devastate you?”
What purpose, indeed? Facts and truth weren’t always the same thing. Deuce had accepted this invitation partly to give the citizens time to escape. IMP2 also seemed to be stalling for time … and if that was the case, Deuce should deny him that option. Besides, an engagement would still allow the inhabitants to withdraw.
He cocked his head to the left and muttered the code to attack.
Blaster fire and grenades shot from the sheltering trees and boulders. Deuce took a blaster crack at IMP2 the same instant his opponent’s weaponized arm fired at him. Both successfully evaded, but Deuce retreated behind the lines of soldiers that pressed closer to the enemy.
He didn’t like trying to command from behind his troops, but knew he was the most sought-after target on the battlefield. Even from this lesser vantage point he ascertained the ambush had been expected, so their forces hadn’t gained any surprise advantage.
Something wasn’t right….
The com patch near his left ear crackled with a voice on the edge of panic.
“Troops have breached the city! There’re still citizens on grounds!”
Deuce swore under his breath. Of course – this whole encounter had been a distraction. While he was out here with most of his forces, a skeleton-crew guard remained in the city to facilitate evacuation. And now those defenders were both outgunned and outnumbered by the cyborg ranks.
IMP2 predicted he would do this….
Not only were there vulnerable children and elderly, Ita might still be there, too. She and Deuce arrived only yesterday to negotiate about some components for a certain project. And Ita was much too important to that project to fall prey to the Elite in any manner.
“Withdraw to the city!” Deuce knew his command couldn’t be obeyed effectively. IMP2’s cyborgs would try to hold them here while the larger enemy force razed the city.
But maybe at least he could do something to atone for his blunder….
He sprinted across the cracked earth and scattered gravel, outdistancing any of his troops that tried to follow. Behind he heard the continuing cacophony of battle, and it seemed to swell toward him, as though the combatants were caught in his wake. Those who could were in pursuit, and he knew who would be in the lead.
Deuce tried to run even faster.
This month the prompt word for #BlogBattle was perfect: Conceal! You probably noticed this installment has the feel of a two-parter, so never fear, more will be divulged next month. And with another great word there’s bound to be plenty of great stories, so feel free to check out the rest!
And I suppose this is something of a one-year anniversary for the serialization I’ve been posting since this is episode number twelve. Where has the time gone? If you’ve missed the earlier installments, you can find them here. Happy Reading!
…but you can’t make him cross … unless you’re persistent….
Writing can be like the allegory I’ve decided to share about the two baby goats we got a few weeks ago. Buster and Charlie aren’t little babies anymore. Although still smaller than the other goats, they’re quite strong for their size, and part of that might have to do with their training.
If a goat is going to help carry your gear in the backcountry, odds are you’ll occasionally need to cross streams. Goats, however, can be kind of like cats: They’re clean animals, but don’t like getting into water. Maybe they think that’s where el chupacabra (aka the monstrous goatsucker) hangs out.
You thwart this tendency by taking them through water before they’ve heard enough chupacabra stories from their elders to get set in their ways (watch the movie Jaws and see how soon you feel like swimming in the ocean).
Each weekend we’ve loaded them into the back of the pickup and visited a nearby stream. You see, streams are crooked, so if you try to walk it in a straight line, you’ll have to cross the water several times.
Now Buster is the more athletic one, but Charlie is braver. The first time we took them out to get their feet wet, we waded into the ankle-deep stream the length of their leashes, the next gravel bar right behind us, and encouraged them to follow.
They’ll follow us anywhere … but had to contemplate this particular venture. Somewhere deep in their capricorn instincts lurked murky images of a kelpie/vampire chimera that would drag them beneath the surface while gnawing on their necks. They uttered soft bleats to each other.
Buster: We’re gonna need a bigger boat.
Charlie: What boat? I only know that our milk-givers still look okay.
Buster: That’s just because it hasn’t decided which one to eat first.
Charlie: Oh no – then there’d be nobody to feed us our bottles!
With his priorities in order, Charlie stepped in first and marched right to us. Seeing that his brother didn’t get ripped beneath the ripples, Buster quickly followed.
They can still have instances of hesitation, but by far our pair of pack goats in-training are coming along quite well. Buster prefers to leap over any part of the stream that’s narrow enough, but Charlie will usually trudge through. Despite what chupacabra tales the old goats in the pasture might be telling them, their confidence is growing.
Sometimes writers have their own demons to face as distractions/block/deadlines confront us. I haven’t heard if there’s such thing as a writer-sucker (Would you call a creature like that a logographage?), but we’ve got to get across that stream of consciousness somehow. So we wade in and get our feet wet, but it’s up to us whether to trudge or leap to finish the journey … unless we can find a bigger boat….
One of the … hmm … interesting aspects of writing is when you’re typing along and your document program claims you rendered those words incorrectly.
Most of the time I fix it, politely thank the program, and move on. But, for example, the sentence you just read has been flagged as a fragment. And it is all because of the phrase politely thank the program. If I take that out, the program is happy….
This is when I stop being polite.
Hubby does plenty of writing in his work, but because I’m the writer in the family, he’ll hit me with grammar and usage questions when the words don’t add up for him. His latest inquiry made me scratch my brain….
The clause in question was Worms, minnows, and other bait is not provided. Word liked the singular verb is over the plural are, although my first impulse when he asked me about it was “We have a plural subject, so the verb must match.” Then I wondered if the conjunction or made a difference.
(I apologize if this sounds like high school English class … but this nerdy stuff is indispensable if you want to write coherently.)
In other words, I started overthinking it. Grabbing my trusty Elements of Style proved fruitless at first (Oh, Strunk and White, I never thought I’d see the day….), until I began to apply logic to the matter.
Kirk (the computer killer) and Spock would have been proud … I think.
The trusty handbook had nothing to say about the conjunction or causing an exception to subject-verb agreement. And when I changed the order of the words in question to bait, worms, or other minnows, the program decided it was happy with the plural are after all. My theory is the algorithm was hung up on the noun closest to the verb, and the conjunction or might have caused an obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Great, not only are writers of questionable sanity, but the equipment we use might also be neurotic….
I advised Hubby to rudely plunge ahead with the plural are. But the more I think about it, the more I compulsively ponder if that’s correct … and it’s starting to become an obsession….
One of the aspects about language that makes it so amazing is how we can recombine new words to mean the same thing, but we can choose to be serious or lighthearted in our communication. Introducing someone as your sister is straightforward. But introducing her as your parents’ other daughter will cause people to blink rapidly.
When it comes to animals, colorful nicknames often seem more appropriate than their proper designations. Since we’re playing around with language this week, I thought I’d share a few metaphorical monikers often spouted in the locale around here:
Mini Bears – Known as chipmunks to the uninitiated, campers and backpackers are more apprehending (Or would that be apprehensive?) about the dark side of these furry marauders. Looking cute is their method of distracting you while their brethren run off with your Cheetos.
Trash Panda – More well-known for their dumpster diving habits, raccoons don’t waste time trying to look cute. Outright assault and battery is more to their liking, and I’m going to stay away from the mask jokes.
Ditch Crickets – That term for crayfish (or crawdads) isn’t as common up here as it is farther south, but it has more of a ring than creek crickets. Some folks say water-dwelling crustaceans are just bugs in a different environment, but I say they’re still good eatin’….
Toe Biter – No relation to the ankle biter, this giant water bug (certainly a bug in a different environment) has a habit of attacking anything that moves. I don’t think anybody would claim these are good eatin’, but it’s possible it thinks we are.
Tree Rats – Even though squirrels are a pretty large rodent, I’d honestly be fine if they were even bigger. Although they can be a nuisance, they are good eatin’….
Possum on the Half Shell – Once a confirmation that you’d entered the state of Texas, armadillo carcasses now litter the highways in my neck of the woods, too. They didn’t migrate here until the last couple of decades, and I didn’t hear of this designation until then, but I’m pretty sure they brought that nickname with them. But for the love of God don’t eat them….
Danger Noodle – When I first requested some familial input to help me remember these animal names, one of the kids immediately insisted this designated snakes. Honestly, I thought he’d made it up on the spot. But further investigation confirmed this term is out there, although it’s probably more recent in origin. I like it enough to call it a keeper, and we won’t discuss if calling it a noodle makes it edible.
And although this last one has nothing to do with animals, its style of description seemed to fit the topic, so I’m throwing it in for free:
Tornado Bait – Trailer houses. I’m sure you can figure that one out on your own.
These are just the names for my local critters, although I’m sure kangaroos, camels, and capybaras have earned nicknames as well. It might be fun to go visit your parents’ other offspring, sit down at the table to enjoy a tasty animal, and see what appellations you can come up with….
It wasn’t her grandfather Ita was upset with … at least not directly. Although he was somewhat to blame for the mangled mess of emotions that wrestled within her, she kept a tight rein on the anger that threatened to steamroll everything else.
“I refuse to work with that thing.” She spoke even as her hands gestured the words, and had to focus on not signing too quickly. Although Oswald had a communication device that translated her speech into text, her deaf grandfather preferred to give her his full attention.
“He is a man.” It was only in the last decade he lost his hearing, so Oswald had no trouble speaking, except the inflection of his words tended to fall a bit flat.
“It’s a genetically engineered –” Ita caught herself nearly making the mistake of using the term human. “– creature. We can’t trust it.”
Her grandfather leaned back in the easy chair and sipped from the cup of tea she’d given him. The upholstered seat was one of the few furniture items in the rather Spartan quarters they shared. When she first gave it to him as a gift a couple of years ago, he’d gently protested she was spoiling him. But it pleased her that he enjoyed the subtle luxury it offered.
His gaze leveled over the cup and on her. “We must.”
“The Red Sea was coming together just fine without that thing’s involvement.”
His lips twitched. “The Elite haven’t discovered our project … yet. If they do, Deuce may be our last chance to keep them from destroying it.”
The Elite … barely human themselves anymore, yet representing the worst humanity had to offer. When Oswald was a young man they began their tyranny of demanding every person submit to the biotechnical improvements they deemed necessary. During the ensuing war they engineered several atrocities to capture or kill those who resisted, including this thing that now called itself Deuce.
It was one of several Intellectual Militant Prototypes, more commonly called IMPs. She admitted technically it was a man, but designed to be stronger and faster … and as cunning as a serpent. This one in particular killed her father three years ago.
Her father … Oswald’s son. On a certain level, his loss was greater than hers, yet somehow he managed to discover enough grace to forgive that … brute.
And now it claimed to no longer believe the Elite ideology, and offered to help her people….
“It’ll betray us. How do we know it’s not here precisely to sabotage the Red Sea?”
“He’s cast his lot with us. Only a handful of IMPs have ever defected to our side before, and the Elite immediately targeted and killed them. He’s already lasted longer than the others because he’s laid low, helping to train and plan instead of getting involved in battles.”
How unfortunate it had learned from its predecessors’ mistakes. “That sounds like a convenient scheme to destroy all our work. It already knows too much.”
“He yearns to atone. Understanding the project in more depth will help him to best develop the means to defend it.”
“I’m not going to help it bring us to ruin. Have one of the other team members do it if you insist on taking this gamble.”
Oswald’s features loosened. “Working with him will be helpful to you.”
“I don’t need its help!” As soon as the words burst from her, Ita wished she could retract them. She didn’t like showing anger to him.
His somber expression swelled her remorse, and Oswald drew a deep breath as he set his cup on the broad arm of the chair. He held out both hands, palms up, and she placed her own there. The warmth from the tea seeped from his skin into hers.
“I ask this of you not only because I know you can do it, but because I pray it will also help you find peace.”
Ita couldn’t imagine how any of this could work. The IMP couldn’t be trusted and she had no interest in making peace with it. Yes, she understood she was supposed to forgive it … but what practicality was there in forgiving the snake that struck down her father?
Still … as much as she wanted to spurn her grandfather’s request, the awe and respect she’d always regarded him since childhood had wavered little over the years. His mind was still sharp and intellect undimmed, but that wasn’t why she reconsidered giving in to his request.
Ita softly pulled her hands from his in order to sign her words. “Is it worth taking this chance?”
He regarded her steadily. “Is it worth saving humanity?”
Ita drew a deep breath and shrugged her shoulders before locking her gaze on his. There was no getting out of this. Well, there was, but continued refusal would wind up haunting her. She thought of that reluctant prophet who stood before an unfathomable fire and argued with God that He’d picked the wrong man for the job. That was an event she could really relate to now….
“All right, I’ll do it,” she grumbled, “but only because you’re the only person who could ever get me to say yes. But if that Deuce so much as fidgets in a way I don’t like, I won’t be held accountable if he stumbles off a catwalk.”
“I know you’re a better person than that.”
Truthfully, she wasn’t so sure herself. “Let me freshen up your tea.”
As Ita carried the cup into the kitchen, she pondered how much civility she would have to maintain around that creature. Maybe her grandfather was right. Maybe practicing patience around a personification of the devil would be restorative for her.
But she was still going to carry a blaster at all times while it was around.
The word for the short story this month on #BlogBattle is Tea, which turned out to work in quite nicely with this installment of the serialization I’m writing. If you’re new to these stories, you can go to my BlogBattle Short Stories page to catch the previous chapters. And be sure to check out BlogBattle for all the other tales using this prompt!
One factor of these interesting times we live in now continues to be a nuisance: Some items persist in being difficult to find at the store. When I had yet another run-in with such a dilemma, I groused to myself that it feels more like living in a socialist country than a democratic republic. Then my contrarian ego decided to shake up that monologue with a question.
Am I spoiled?
Spoiled usually brings to mind the image of a pampered princess who pouts because she was asked to put her own plate away instead of somebody else doing it for her. But I have a hunch that if you nabbed a fellow from 1880 and dropkicked him into the present, he’d find us pretty spoiled….
And he’d probably also ask to stay.
We get to toss our clothes in a washer and then pitch them into a dryer instead of building a fire, heating the water in the cauldron, stir in soap (made ourselves from lye) with the clothes, wring them out, hang them on the line, chase the birds away….
Our lives are definitely easier than they were a century ago, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Necessarily? Yes, it’s pretty standard that everything comes with bad and good mixed together. It seems our lives have become so easy we’re more readily annoyed by little things. We have in a way become the pampered princess.
But if making our lives easier is a good thing, then why is being spoiled a bad thing? The difference all lies in attitude.
We can be grateful … or we can be entitled.
Literature has its share of stories about princesses who start with nothing and appreciate deeper meaning over shallow pleasures when the crown comes to them. It’s one of the ironies of life that we can’t truly enjoy what we have until we’ve done without: You don’t realize how wonderful it is to be warm and dry until you’ve experienced being cold and wet.
Are we spoiled? Well, yes, but if we’re grateful for the good in our lives it will also make us more vigilant about insuring our posterity enjoys life at least as good as we have it, and preferably even better. If we’re entitled, we only care about ourselves and leave posterity with a mess to clean up.
Speaking of messes, I sure will be grateful when the store gets those darn paper towels back in stock….
It’s time for another regaling about life on the farm (my go-to when I draw a blank on what to blog about writing). You see, a few weeks ago I decided it was time to raise and train pack goats (yes, you read that right the first time).
But even though I’ve raised goats for, ahem, decades, we hadn’t been in the baby business for several years because I could no longer commit to milking twice a day. The brush-control squad we were keeping didn’t qualify as candidates to produce pack goats, so I needed to – and succeeded at – locating a couple of two-week-old kids.
There was one small issue I knew I’d have to confront: They’d been nursing off their mom, and goat babies are notorious for not liking to switch to a bottle.
Getting them to make this switch is nothing new for me. In my milking days I’d leave the kids with Mommy the first day or two to insure they’d get their colostrum (a component in early milk that keeps them alive). Although the babies might go on a hunger strike initially, I’ve never had one starve to death….
We named these bouncing baby boys Charlie and Buster. In case you didn’t know, they’re named after Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, two of the most capricious actors that make me crack up laughing.
When feeding time rolled around after we brought them home, Buster wasn’t daunted by the rubber nipple for long. Once he realized that was milk dribbling into his mouth, he nursed like a champ.
Charlie reacted more the way I expected. He squawked and turned his head to spit the nipple out. It’s possible more milk trickled down his chin than his throat. I shrugged and figured he’d be hungrier in the morning, and figure things out then.
But the next day Charlie didn’t show any improvement. During breakfast, lunch, and supper, Buster would chug away while his brother cried and spit and invented all kinds of contortions to get that nasty rubber nipple out of his mouth. By that evening, I’d made up my mind….
If Charlie didn’t eat the next morning, it was time to pull out an old trick.
Sure enough, that dawn he behaved as badly as ever. So as soon as the nearest Dollar General store opened, I hopped in the car to pick up a plastic baby bottle and a package of spare nipples.
Since the silicone nipples for two-legged babies have too small an orifice for four-legged babies, I cut one wider slit across the top (although in previous occasions I’ve had to cut an X to get the milk to really gush out). After warming a cup’s worth for Charlie, I brought his new bottle out to the barn.
Since Buster believed he was supposed to get a second breakfast, I carried Charlie into the barnyard and cornered him between the fence and my leg. As usual he resisted as I thrust the nipple into his mouth. When he settled into his You got it in my mouth but I refuse to suck form of resistance, I gave the bottle a quick squeeze.
Charlie still didn’t move. I squeezed a second time.
His next reaction could be translated as Where have you been all my life!
Maybe it was also because the nipple was smaller and softer (in my milking days, I always preferred to start kids off with broken-in, softened nipples). But there’s something about squirting the milk into their mouths that’s more effective than counting on gravity to dribble it. Charlie guzzled down the milk with as much enthusiasm as Buster … maybe more.
Once finished, he gave me the goat equivalent of a hug, and since then considers me to be his best friend in the world. Oh, there is a way to work some philosophy about writing into this piece: When coming up with the right words seems like a struggle, just try some old trick to get something started (just a squirt), and it’s likely the words will begin to flow.
And I was also able to return to my writing, satisfied with the knowledge my track record of never having a baby goat starve to death on me remains intact….