Monday, April 27, 2015

How to Be a Dill Hole on Twitter



Don’t be misled by my use of the word “dill hole” because this post is going to get progressively less PG.

To be fair, he caught me at a bad time. Actually, it was a good time for me, the distraction and all. You can tell what kind of mood I’m in by the way that I actually respond to the trolls. Usually, I find that engaging is rarely beneficial. But then, every once in a while, I want to get in a fight. Rarely do people bite.

Self-promoting is important, necessary, but risky. No matter how polite you are, someone still will get pissed. Often it has little to do with you; you caught them at the wrong time. This doesn’t mean not to do it. It just means to not be surprised, not to get upset when it happens. The worst thing you can do is to argue about it.

There are different ways to tackle self-promotion, and this is not one of them.

I used to follow everyone back who followed me. It was easy, helped me maintain my numbers, and kept people from getting annoyed. I too spent some time accumulating any accounts that wanted to follow me, even though they had nothing to say and obviously weren’t interested in me. At that point it was very much a number’s game. And I don’t criticize this tactic or regret it. But things changed.

Now that I have a huge amount of followers, it isn’t so much about the reach as it is about the interest. Having writers or readers who will read my blogs, comment on my Tweets, purchase my short stories is the primary purpose of my Twitter account. I don’t need any more fake ones to simply make me look good; I need people with actual interest.

Do you know what the best way to receive an actual fan base than a bunch of faceless numbers? Interaction. Targeting your audience. Following only the people who matter, not the robots from Afghanistan. Not only does having real conversation lead to more hits and purchases, more long term fans who maintain interest—it’s also a good way to pass the time. Twitter feeds can be interesting if you treat them right. I know, shocker.

When I followed everyone, my page was filled with spam and porn and Arabic. As I began to weed them out, I’ve begun to get more use from my feed and be able to read interesting content and sincerely comment, favorite, and retweet. It helps me develop actual relationships in the easiest way possible.

So, today, I mostly only follow writers. I don’t go through my who’s following me anymore, although I will sometimes follow people who favorite, comment, or retweet. If you are an author who’s following me and would like a follow back, I’d be more than willing, but send me a direct message.

But, in this message, be sure to ask.

A few days ago a specifically unpersonal page messaged me, “hey no follow back?” I found myself highly irritated.

Granted, if I wasn’t stressed, I would have just ignored it. I wouldn’t have followed him under any circumstances; it was the sort of Twitter account that had every single aspect that says “Spam” to me.

It was a “company” (and I use that term loosely) that specializes in… I don’t know. Uploading videos onto their page. The photograph was not a person. The bio read like an ad, and the page was filled with retweets and self-promotional links. “Get a FREE channel today!”

I get messages like these all of the time. Usually they don’t piss me off nearly as bad. There was that one time, but for the most part, I’ll actually do what they ask. We all know that that is the main reason people follow you—for reciprocation. I’ve done it, I think it is a valid tactic, and I’m not saying people shouldn’t do it. It’s just, in most circumstances, people don’t act like you’re obligated to. “I’m following you! Would you follow me back?”

This implies an option, while the first acts indignant about no reciprocation.

It’s like bringing me a cake I didn’t ask for, then saying, “Twenty bucks,” and getting righteous when I refuse.

Instead of just going on with my day, I decided to respond and tell him exactly why I wasn’t following him. I guess it had something to do with his shock that I wasn’t just automatically reciprocating. Don't I know the rules? I didn’t say, “Because it’s a spammy ass page,” but that I don’t follow pages filled with retweets. (Mainly, uninteresting and unrelated retweets.)

To which he responded that maybe I should rethink my strategy and stop trying to be so PC.

PC? I’m sorry, but if I was concerned with being Poltically Correct, I wouldn’t be calling you an asshat right now. Believe me, my refusal to follow your page has nothing to do with maintaining my image or reducing prejudice. This is just about you, me, and how much I want there to be nothing more between us.

As for rethinking my strategy… I think that there is only one way to put this: “WHAT THE FUCK FOR?”

(Yes, in context I just asked him, "Why?" but it doesn’t really do it justice.)

Understand that I have literally 20 times the followers you do. Understand that my goals are very different than yours. Take those two things into consideration and realize that my strategy is effective according to your standards of success, (i.e. a number’s game), and yet still is oriented around my priorities.

What is the benefit to changing it? Sure, I’d love a huge number of followers, even the occasional fake kinds if I don't  have to do anything for them, but my main goal is to have long-term readers, and to have a feed not filled with spammy crap. Neither of those things are achieved by following you.

He tells me that it will open me up to new and exciting things.

No, it will open me up to you promoting your website that does nothing for me. It will open me up to the promotion of every single person you retweet. Having a feed filled with crap doesn’t do anything except make me avoid it, which does you no favors. And I am certainly not going directly to your page to read the advertisements you consider Tweets, so really, me following you is the same as having a fake account following you. I'm am not much good to you.

I know you don’t consider your page spam. It’s a project you are personally close to, you’re not a robot, and you truly do care about it. But when you blitz your page with links to your site, completely lack interesting content, and retweet random, unrelated posts, you are spam. And you should not be surprised or upset when someone doesn’t want to follow you.

He sends me a stream of messages, growing more and more distressed as he goes. When I return home from work, he, in response I assume to my lack of response, says, “no problem… do you want me to unfollow you then?”

Yes. Yes, I do. Which is exactly what you should have done in the first place instead of telling me I should have followed you back. It would have avoided this whole argument, and you wouldn’t have gotten your feelings hurt.

Luckily for him I had already gone through all of the different bitchy things I could have said, making it a much more water downed version. “I wouldn’t notice. Which is why you should have done that in the first place.”

Really, I didn’t mean this to sound so hostile, but as honest piece of advice. I think it’s your prerogative to unfollow people that don’t follow you back. Kind of irritating, but still your right, (I've done it) and the better way to handle when someone doesn’t want to reciprocate. People won’t notice as much, and they won’t be as pissed as when you guilt them for not doing it.

If you want to self-promote, realize that not everyone is obligated to listen to you. Make it interesting for them, or realize that they are doing you a favor. Mostly, learn to take no for an answer, write it off as inevitable, and move on. Don’t yell at them because you don't agree.

The worst thing about solicitation—anywhere from “Buy my book,” to “Do you like anal?”—is less about the solicitation itself, but the need to be polite in return. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, nor do I really want to hurt the feelings of the guy who asks me to fly down to South America and sleep on his couch. Even though he wasn’t taking my desires into consideration, I felt the need to take his. That frustration leads to the anger that compounds the conflict, even though it wasn’t a big deal in the first place. Sometimes the issue is you don’t feel like you can say no, which is why “hey no follow back?” ticked me off so bad.

He had this expectation for me to reciprocate his follow, and when I wasn’t interested, refused to be understanding.

Does he think he was being rude? I severely doubt he realized that’s how I would take it, especially as he wrote it. Yet, I do feel that he should have been able to recognize my perspective once I revealed that I felt no obligation to him. Instead, when I gave him my reasons, he argued with me about them, told me they don’t really matter. Then he proceeded with the insults, calling me mean spirited, that I needed to get a life. That I should change my profile to “Twitter Police,” and that my rules were closed minded. Keep in mind that I did not respond to the majority of these Tweets, the closest thing I said to an insult being that it was his "indignant attitude" that made me be "so mean."

Of course his accusations annoyed me. In an attempt to maintain my own personal territory the way I like it, I was getting accused of “policing him.” He acted like I was trying to pressure him into doing something, when I just wanted to control myself and my space. And yes, I do see some hypocrisy in him telling me to get a life when really he should have long ago accepted his losses and not gotten into an argument with someone who obviously was never going to give him what he wanted, but hell bent on fighting. You have better things to do then feed the trolls.

And, really, nothing he did convinced me I would have benefited from following him. I’m sure he’s a good person, but he acted entitled, seemed to lack empathy, and responded childishly. Not a single part of that makes me want to stay in communication with him.

Yet, in a strange way, the distraction of this spat relieved me, and I found myself feeling actually better than I had before. Instead of being fused with rage as he Tweeted a series of insults at me, I had a sense of catharsis. I told him the truth. I was sorry that I hurt his feelings. I didn’t want his Tweets in my feed, but I am just one person. It’s not the end of the world.

He deleted his Tweets, unfollowed me, and I suppose that’s the end of it.

It’s easy to be a dill hole on Twitter because text always sounds angrier, ruder, than they are intended. You never know what the mood the other person is in—when they’ll read it, what their facial expressions or body language will warn you of. No one likes to be promoted to, and you can’t always predict how they will interpret it.

But I will say two things:

1) No one is obligated to do something for you, even if you did it for them. Unless you discussed it before hand, when you act entitled to something after a favor, they’re going to think you’re an ass.

2) Don’t respond to the trolls. You’ll just both end up being dill holes.

UPDATE:

To clarify, I thought I'd include my Tweets. He deleted his, so all I have left are my responses. (Below I fill in his response as I remember them. Some bias may be included, but that's unintentional.)






Him: hey no follow back?

Me: Sorry about that, but I do actually read my feed and don't follow pages filled with retweets.

Him: Sorry! We're just really excited about our technical works!

Perhaps you should reconsider your strategy and not be so PC about who you retweet. :)

Me: Why?

Him: Because you'll miss new exciting opportunities!

We're a FREE channel for independent videos!

no problem... you want us to unfollow you then?

Me: I won't notice, which is why you should have done it in the first place.

Him: Why are you so mean spirited?

You should rename your profile the Twitter Police!


Me: It's your indignant attitude. You are trying to get something out of me and are pissed when I'm uninterested.

Him: That's just the thing. I'm not selling anything. It's FREE!

(Several reiterations of "Why are you so mean?")

Me: Be polite when you ask someone to follow you back, and when they say they're not interested, don't argue with their reasons.

Him: I have always been polite! I'm British and we're always polite.

(Several more comments from him I don't remember, but growing more and more upset.)

Why are you so mean spirited? Get a life!

Me: I am sorry that I hurt your feelings. Understand you are attacking me because I'm not interested in your page.

I am only one person. I am not going to buy from you, and I don't want your posts in my feed. It's not the end of the world.

He deletes Tweets. I write this post.



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Friday, April 24, 2015

How to Improve Your Criticism Experience


I think all feedback sessions should be done inside a bouncy house. One with a dragon face on it, preferably. There should be cotton candy, laughter, and vodka. You should go away from it with a smile on your face and a song in your heart.

No, for once, I’m not being sarcastic.

Well, maybe about the bouncy house thing—I don't have enough money to buy a cup of coffee let alone rent one of those any time I need someone's opinion.

But, there are two goals to keep in mind when you are getting criticism:

1. Getting the information you need.

2. Having fun.

Now, of course, it won’t always be fun, and it can’t be said that if you’re not having fun, it’s a failure. But really you should never accept that it is a miserable and insulting process. It shouldn’t be. You should often enjoy it, and if you don’t, find how something to change until you do. It can be immensely fun, all you have to do is try.

In order to make the most out of criticism session, there are several behaviors you can have that will create a fun and efficient environment.

If you’re the author…

1. Don’t worry about impressing people.

So, obviously this is about not trying to prove you’re a good writer, but about trying to get good feedback. It, however, also includes not trying to look like you’re good at taking criticism.

I often recommend seeing your critique partners as robots—computers—mindless machines that are without judgment, only spewing out information. When you’re not concerned with proving yourself right, you’re more likely to really listen to what they have to say and come to a better conclusion about the usefulness of it. When your goal is to make everyone impressed, you’re more likely to block out and argue with any inclination that they don’t think you’re a good writer. It’s easier to be objective when you see the session as a means to an ends and not take anyone’s opinion too seriously.

As for acting humble and proving you’re good natured enough to take criticism well, you’re more likely to not say what you need, as well as encourage poor criticism. (Just because it’s blunt and uncensored doesn’t necessarily make it the truth.)

Sometimes you’re going to have to have tough love, be firm, and ask questions. Open communication is the best means to a successful and enjoyable experience, but critics can be just as sensitive as authors. You have to be able to speak your mind without fear of having someone feel like you’re being defensive. It’s going to happen. Whenever you don’t immediately agree with someone, there’s a chance they will take offense, yet not letting them know you’re skeptical won’t help them establish their point. Always consider if you’re being defensive, but don’t let that stop you from being honest.

2. Speak softly but carry a big stick.

Go into the situation assuming the best out of people. When in doubt, they’re trying to help you. Always be respectful, kind, and engaging at first, but never let people run you over.

The first person who gets ripped apart in any group is the nice one. It’s not the worst manuscript, it’s not the jackass, it’s the person who looks like she won’t flip a bitch when you tell her something unsavory. The problem is this criticism isn’t necessarily good. It tends to be cathartic for the speaker, about proving how much they know. It isn’t just where they feel comfortable expressing themselves, but fulfilling their base needs. You want people to have to think about their words, to be precise, and to only say what really needs to be said, not to try and demoralize you. People who chose their words carefully are more likely to say what the mean, rather than what they want to say.

Even if it is good criticism, you are never under any obligation to let someone treat you cruelly. You are in charge and get to decide how someone can talk to you.

Remembering, of course, that the ultimate goals are to encourage them to tell you what they really think, and for both of you to have fun, choose your attitude to achieve those things. Don’t let someone ruin your fun because they get a kick out of insulting  you.

Start off by listening intently, being energetic, making it obvious when you agree with something, showing a person you respect their opinion whether or not you think it’s the right option, but then, when someone crosses a line, be sure to be firm and let them know that you’re not going to just roll over.

Whether it be that they spent half of your time talking about one typo (which can happen), or they keep pushing an opinion (even one that you’ve already agreed with), or they are actively saying something to prove their own superiority, it’s important to say something. Be respectful about it, but stern: “I will take it into consideration when I read it again. For now, let’s move on.” If they directly insult you—“This is garbage.”—just tell them the truth: “You think that’s an effective way to tell me that? If you’re not going to bother with diplomacy, then I think we’re done here.”

When they argue, stand firm. “I’m just being honest.”

“There are many ways to be honest, and you chose the one that helps me the least. So I’m sorry, but I have other options of people who are much more capable of expressing themselves in useful ways.”

They may start attacking your character, calling you defensive, telling you you need thicker skin, but don’t back down. Authors can be defensive egomaniacs, but as long as you remain respectful while being firm, you have every right to ask not to be talked to a certain way.

3. Actually be honest.

The problem with honesty is we’re not always aware of what the truth is. It takes years of practice becoming self-aware, but that self-awareness is worth it.

The more you understand your actual reasons for making a literary choice, getting mad, not agreeing with advice, etc. the more you can express those feelings without being offensive.

Always be honest about what’s going on.

If you only want positive comments, admit that. Nothing’s worse than being asked for feedback when someone really just wants to show you what they’ve done. If you want feedback, but know you’re sensitive, explain that to them—“I want you to be thorough, but try to be nice.”—If your gut is telling you a criticism is wrong, but you can’t put your finger on it, telling them, “There’s something that bothers me about making that change, but I’m not sure why,” can open up communication and help you and them discuss the issue until you do come to a conclusion.

Most importantly though, you need to admit when you don’t understand something or don’t even see it at all.

Whenever someone has said something about my book, “You need to set up the scene more,” and I really didn’t see in the least, “I thought I set the hut up great!” I will tell them that. It’s difficult because it looks like you’re a narcissist who can’t take criticism, but in all of those cases—honestly whenever I’ve said this—it was revealed that my interpretation of the criticism wasn’t what the critic actually meant. “Oh, you set up the hut perfectly! I meant the world. Like are we in outer space?”

You need to trust yourself and assume if you don’t see what they say the book is doing, it’s likely you’re misconstruing what they actually mean.

Try not to sound defensive, but tell the truth. Don’t refrain from admitting your actual feelings. You should always have an idea of where a person is coming from, and if you absolutely don’t see it, you need to tell them that.

4. You don’t need to prove anyone wrong.

The most successful mentality to have is that the writer is right until proven wrong. This isn’t because that’s the truth—writers are wrong all of the time. It’s just that, one, their mistakes have a natural continuity that an outsider’s mistake won’t, making the outsider’s more egregious and forced. Two, even the greatest advice will be implemented poorly if someone doesn’t actually understand it. Three, argument and debate is how we understand anything. And four, the critics don’t always agree with each other.

Rarely will a criticism be obviously right or wrong. Usually, if it is, it’s like a spelling error. But more abstract opinions, like the likability of a character and the importance of the likability of a character, will be a lot more complicated.

In order to understand, argument is important. The critic tells his side of the story and the writer, like a wise king, listens. He will argue his opinion back, but only in one circumstance; he thinks the critic has a point that he’s not getting. If, however, the writer knows for a fact the critic is closed-minded and wrong, he does not need to say anything because, in the end, he has veto power. It really doesn’t matter what the critic actually thinks. The writer’s opinion is the only one that matters. It’s just that the writer should be open minded about it and try to formulate the correct one by listening and discussing.

Never argue to prove yourself right because you’re already right. Or, at least, you’re the one who gets to decide to implement a change. Only argue to come up with the true opinions of other people.

5. When in doubt, stick a pin in it.

You’re going to get a lot of feedback that you’re not going to know if you should take or not. This is hard, especially in the beginning. You want to make your book the best that it can be and quickly. But you won’t always be able to do so, and the choice can sometimes be so overwhelming that you’ll want to just shut down.

Just remember that most criticism is flexible. It’s rarely a make it or break it deal, and a lot of times it’s connected to other aspects. You make a seemingly non-related change and the problem solves itself. More importantly, if it is important, someone else will say it better, later.

Don’t try to expedite the process. Look through the criticism, find the stuff that is obviously right or wrong, dissect the rest, and then leave it alone. Don’t obsess on finding the truth in one person’s feedback, but rather the common denominator of most.

If you’re the critic…

1. Make it all about you.

Seemingly contradictory to what one might think, making criticism personal and refraining from getting into the minds of others, can help not only to convey the truth, but soften the blow.

Instead of accusing the author of making a mistake or telling her what to do, reflect on your reactions and personal tastes.

It’s not, “It was boring,” but rather, “I was bored.” Not, “You contradicted yourself here,” but “I was confused by this contradiction.”

Don’t speculate on what other people might think. “I understood it. I just don’t think other people will.” For one thing, the author can guess just as well as you can. And if she’s in her own audience, then it often means she can do it better. Secondly, you might actually be projecting yourself onto someone else, which confuses things. If you had a hard time understanding it, then that’s what the author cares about. If you did actually understand it, then it’s likely the author doesn’t care what you think other people will get or not.

The worst people to deal with are those who think, “I’m just saying what everyone’s thinking.” But most people who get feedback know that critics don’t agree with each other very often. There’s a lot of inconsistency. Usually, there’s a connection, but in order to find that connection, the critic has to be clear about his perspective. When Critic A speculates on what Critic B thinks, instead of explaining what Critic A thinks, and Critic B speculates on what Critic C thinks, those speculations will usually be untrue, based on the reality we think should be rather than the reality that is. (Think how Hollywood sees their demographics and targets their audiences.)

True story:

Critic A, who is an adult, tells you that kids don’t have the attention span and need more explanation.

Critic B, who is a child, says he loves that your book doesn’t talk down to him.

Contradiction, Critic A’s viewpoint is thrown out.

BUT, when Critic A says, “I could not figure out what the room looked like because this paragraph was so confusing,” you find that Critic B agrees. He doesn’t know what the room looked like either.

Same commentary, but the Critic A was personal, pointing out a problem he actually had rather than speculating on a problem that might occur from it. The personal criticism was more likely to hold truth for someone else later than the speculative criticism.

2. Be specific.

“I was bored.”

to

“I wasn’t invested.”

to

“I wasn’t invested because I didn’t like the character.”

to

“The moment I realized Susie was cheating on Jimmy, I stopped liking her. I not only wasn’t excited about her getting the big role in the play, I kind of didn’t want her to.”

This helps the author understand, is less offensive, and, most importantly, less arguable. “It was boring,” is easy to deny and feels hurtful. The more specific it is, the more likely the author will see where you’re coming from. She doesn’t see it as boring, but she could very well see why Susie isn’t likable.

It also gives her more options. She could cut the cheating all together, or she might realize that Susie needs redemption. She might decide that she’s supposed to be unlikable, but needs to make it clearer. There’s more to work with when the reader is as specific as possible.

3. Focus on the most important first.

Rewriting is easy. Picking on word-choice and grammar, commenting on poetry and turn a phrase… Especially when you’re not that far in the manuscript, it’s a simple go to.

But it’s not really helpful. For one thing, when a critic attempts to tell the writer how to write, the writer loses his voice. More importantly, when a critic says, “That’s not how I would say it,” the writer’s going to find twenty other people who wouldn’t say it the first critic’s way either. Whenever I receive a manuscript with line edits, (excluding typos and spelling errors), it is completely inconsistent with the other line edits I’ve received. Everyone wants to change words, just not the same ones.

Then you factor in how much a manuscript will evolve as it goes through its drafts, that the sentences you achingly tried to make perfect for a writer will be deleted or altered. It’s an editing process for later versions, when the structure of the manuscript is more concrete.

When editing, really consider the reason—the main cause behind you not loving it—and discuss that first. It could be the lack of a hook, an investment problem, a meta-issue, a break in continuity, or simply that the setting/plot isn’t your kind of book.

Look for what’s most important first. It is only after their pacing, plot, characterization is good that you should start focusing on the fact that this word is “distracting.”

If they fix everything you tell them and it still hasn’t changed anything about your opinion, it’s probably not the most useful advice.

And if you realize that the main reason you don’t like it is because it’s not your kind of book, let them know that, and then move on to the next important thing. At least give them understanding why you’re not excited.

4. Your main goal is to be listened to.

So, because the critic is doing the author a favor, it is considered the author’s job to sit there and listen while the speaker gives his uncensored opinion. Then the author thanks him and they move on.

That’s not what you want. Your goal is to be listened to—not just politely—but actually heard. You want to find a means to get through to them. Yes, you might not actually give a shit if she truly hears you or not, but whenever someone does focus on being persuasive and clear, the better the session goes. If we leave it strictly to the author to force herself to understand, the session goes worse. But, if the critic tries to be understood, tries to be heard, and then the author tries to hear, everything works better.

Argument creates understanding. It doesn’t have to be mean or hostile, but both parties need to be able to speak their minds and honestly admit why they don’t agree. The more the critic tries to get the writer to understand, obviously, the more likely she will understand.

Consider that your primary goal is to express yourself and make decisions accordingly.

Try not to hurt their feelings. Even though this isn’t always possible, both parties will benefit by showing respect. Try to say what you really mean in a way that makes sense to them. Don’t take offense to questions (even if they are being dickholes), just attempt to answer them as clearly as possible. And stand by your point. Sometimes, even if their vision is what you want to focus on, it helps to have some resistance, to hear the devil’s advocate. It doesn’t help to be too malleable.

There’s going to be a lot of room for misinterpretation and disagreement, so conversation is important.

If you find yourself in a position where you don’t want to help them or have them listen to you (because they’re being a dickhole) understand you can remove yourself from that situation. While when you agree to help, you should do the best job you can, there will come a point when you don’t want to help them, and then it’s perfectly fine to tell them to shove it. It’s just not a good idea to say you’re going to help them and do a terrible job at it.

5. Be honest.

In the same vein as being an honest writer, being honest is important as a critic, maybe even more so.

Make a point to say how you really feel. You don’t need to let your emotions dictate how you say it, but rather should choose your words carefully. Convey the real message, prioritize conveying the message, but don’t just be blunt and flippant and think it’s going to be successful. Focus on being clear over being clever. Often, being clever dilutes the true meaning. Also, be honest about your real opinions rather than saying what you feel should be true.

For instance, admit that you didn’t care if the little girl got crushed by a falling building, so that tense scene that is supposed to establish the heroic nature of the protagonist isn’t really all that tense. Even though you don’t want to say that you don’t care if the child gets crushed or not, it’s really why the beginning didn’t hook you, and they should know that.

If they made it a dog maybe…


Primarily, though, whenever you are in a feedback session, whenever trying to decide the best way to act, think about your two main goals. Get the information, make everyone have a good time. If you do that, you will end up giving people the right signals, and they too will be more encouraged to behave better.

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Monday, April 20, 2015

When Characters are Identified by Their Boobs

So, Carrie

First published book of Stephen King’s—an attempt to prove that he can write for women characters.

And when it comes down to the characters themselves, the internalizations, the motivations, the aspects of being real people, he can. Or at least from my perspective he can. I find these girls in the book to be fully flushed out, flawed, and human.

But let’s face it, sometimes it's obvious he's a guy.

Stephen King, like George R. R. Martin, enjoy the finer aspects of a woman and obviously appreciate sex. Mr. Martin probably more so. Both of these writers, who I consider fantastic, can create women that I actually like and are interested in watching. Even those that you want to beat with a club have their entertainment value, enhance the story, and don’t make you cringe every time they try to prove how strong and non-sexist they are.

I have long argued that men can write for women, and the idea they can’t due to our radical differences is insulting, but I have to say that I’ve seen this occur in a myriad of books penned by male authors: he has the female character remove her shirt and examine her breasts.

Or the narrator, told from the character’s perspective, describes her breasts, or her friend’s breasts, or anyone’s breasts. There’s not a lot of description on clothing or weight, but Sue Snell notes Chris Hargensen’s “tight basque blouse that accentuated her firm, upthrust breasts.

This is after Carrie White has stood naked in front of a mirror to look her boobs over.

In the isolated case of Carrie’s self-examination, I have little criticism. It is odd behavior, but she’s an odd girl. It benefits the book to show her perspective on herself, and the importance her mother has placed on how good girls don’t get “dirtypillows” or periods. Sex and puberty are big parts of the story. Considering Carrie has just received her first menstruation that day, her sudden interest in the sexualize parts of her body make sense. I do believe the book is improved by seeing that moment, and that the character’s fixation with a forbidden part of herself makes sense.

The problem is more so that it’s not isolated, but relatively common. There are a huge number of books written by men about women, and once that woman gets alone, she promptly removes her shirt in order to admire her chest.

Wicked is the worst perpetrator that comes to mind, in which it has three separate characters at three separate sections do that exact thing. And unlike Game of Thrones, in which the discussion and description of boobs fits in with the overtly sexual themes, attitude, and plot points, or Carrie which promotes the overall effect of puberty and sexuality on the characters, in Wicked, the book doesn’t benefit from having these characters check out their own tits. It’s not even titillating. Just weird.

I’m no stranger to narcissism, and mirrors and I have had an on-again off-again relationship for the past five years. And yet you’re not going to catch me standing naked before one to check my boobs out. Not without an external motivator anyway.

Maybe if I just happened to get out of the bathtub and caught a sight of myself, but even then my first focus would be on my stomach and thighs. If I were ever to make the effort of admiring my body—to actually take off my clothes for solely that act—it would be more because I got a new bra, and would the admiration of its effect on my cleavage. Many girls, especially vein ones, have a greater obsession with clothes, and if you were to walk in on her checking herself out, it would probably be in an outfit.

For those girls who like to take those provocative selfies—well first you’ll note that girls are more happy to send you a picture of them in their lingerie rather than a full nude. Secondly you have to realize that there is a huge difference between our interest in our breasts when sex is directly involved than when it’s not. A woman might be interested in her boobs when she is viewing them through the eyes of her guy (I’m excluding lesbians from this conversation because their perspective on breasts is obviously going to be different than a predominantly heterosexual girl’s), like when she knows he is going to be looking at them.

Boobs and ass tend to be what men notice first, and so it makes sense when describing a character, especially an attractive one, to talk about them. Even more when it’s a woman’s perspective because having a male character do it can look bad, but because it’s a woman, it’s not sexual right? Well, no. Describing your friend’s “upthrust breasts” is still sexual, which is why it seems more to be a meta-description than an in-character one.

It’s not impossible for a woman to first notice the magnitude of a fellow chick’s boobs. I remember one time I was watching a play and the female lead had on this white blouse that just made her chest look ridiculously gigantic. She looked good, but I didn’t hear a word she said, staring at them the entire time. It’s not common, but I’ve stared at a woman’s chest before. Generally it’s not sexual.

But keep in mind that I knew the actress outside of the play, and that it hadn’t occurred to me before then just how big her boobs were. I distinctly remember her nickname being something like Tits McGee amongst the guys, but I really didn’t pay that much attention to them until her outfit truly illuminated her figure. Some of my friends have huge cup sizes, but I actually don’t realize it until I find one of their bras and go, “Holy crap!”

I also had a friend in high school who was… well, one of those girls that the girls all hated even though she was supposedly our comrade. She was overbearing, bossy, judgmental. She had an opinion on everything, completely indignant when you didn’t give a shit about it. She also had huge boobs, and so there was a huge discrepancy in the fondness of the guy’s memories and girl’s memories of her. That discrepancy being the only thing that made me realize just how big her chest was. I noticed her chest size because it became relevant.

If I was to describe her and her ginormous boobs during my memoir, they would be the fourth thing on the list, accompanied by my reasons why it was important—i.e. that the only people who seemed to actually like her were the ones who only admired her from afar.

I’ve only really been jealous of one girl’s chest size, and that is because she had something (someone) I wanted. Even when describing her though—a woman I believed truly gorgeous—my compliments would be on her figure, not on directly about her chest.

Partially out of respect. You’ll note that women will comment on boobs when attempting to be sexual or vulgar—vulgarity including trying to be funny. Sometimes we’ll talk about them in order to be technically correct to convey specific information, “My boobs are sore” when allusion won’t work. But primarily women will refrain from talking directly about breasts in day to day life. We only mention our comrades chest size if we’re especially close to them or hate them. Maybe to make a point. All of this comes from how invasive tit references really can be, even when it’s not sexual.

Breasts, butt, the nose, sometimes the gut… anything that sticks out is extremely sensitive to discussion. The moment you start talking about it all her feeling goes straight to it. Boobs are the worst because they are literally more sensitive to touch. They are intimate and calling them by name is intrusive unless you know the person well enough.

Even in the case of self-exploration, women are less likely to actually think the labels of boobs, breasts, tits, dirtypillows, whatever. While not everyone is uncomfortable with it, most consider them vulgar or sexual, and are likely to ignore them until wanting to be sexual or vulgar (for the sake of insults, humor, etc.)

Having a character deliberately undress herself to look at her chest, having her mentally comment on the natural perkiness of her friend during a chance encounter at the soda shop, having her make note of her boobs over the rest of her body/wardrobe, is similar to having a sex scene from a male’s perspective and him discussing her bra for a couple of paragraphs. Not impossible, especially in the right context, but seems to be more likely attributed to the author’s priorities rather than the character’s.

More to the point, we do have better things to than look at ourselves naked. It’s like living in New York City and never seeing the statue of liberty, or Jackson Hole, Wyoming and never seeing Yellowstone. Hey, it may be beautiful, and we may even love it if we just tried to see it, but because it’s always there, it goes on the back shelf.

Women’s boobs are a great part of them. It’s just not often the first things we use to identify ourselves or each other.

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Friday, April 17, 2015

So, What are Your May Resolutions?



Some months back, we had a get together and said, “Here’s what I’m going to change to make my life better.”

How’s it going?

Anyone else not really want to talk about it?

It’s been a stressful goal in my life that when I say I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it. New Year’s Resolutions usually are worked on until March and then I start to make too many mistakes and feel disheartened.

But this year I didn’t even last a couple of days.

Ever since I hit 25, I have been trying to go back to the way I was at 18. Much more productive, ambitious, energetic, I achieved a lot of my goals right and left. This year, however, I’ve done a whole lot of nothing.

Part of it has to do with having no clue where my life is going. I wanted to move to New York, but a part of me wanted to stay here to be with someone. It made it hard to be active. And, as I said in my last post, when I wasn’t productive, it made it harder to be productive. I couldn’t make decisions because I didn’t know my goals. When that someone didn’t seem to be interested, but I wasn’t exactly willing to just end it either, I wasn’t able to really sit down and do what I needed, be in a daily routine.

After New York fell through and I decided to stay at least for the next five months, I proceeded to get a job, fell in love, and now find myself happier and more secure than I’ve been in a long time.

And like anyone does when truly happy, now I have the motivation to change my life. (Which is the saddest part of depression; you need to change your life the most then, but that’s when you do not give a shit or have the energy.)

New Year’s Resolutions aren’t ever just little random whims, but generally deep insight into what we want different about our lives, the part of us or our situations that we truly think changing would make us happier. They are usually constant. If we were to save them over time, we’d often notice how many of the resolutions stay the same each year.

I believe strongly in the power of actually trying to achieve your goals, no matter how unrealistic. And so, now that I feel up to it, while I still have more than half the year left, I’m going to dig into it. Now I just have to remember what they were…

Oh, right. I made a blog post about it:

1. When I foresee a problem, I will solve it immediately. (No, it won’t go away.)

No procrastination on the petty things. This will always be a work in progress, but I will be happier if I just return that tire today, fold up that laundry today, fix my windshield wipers today, etc.

2. When I give my word to do something, it will be prioritized.

I don’t do this a lot. Give my word I mean. But when I do, I’m going to do it first thing. I have a couple of books I have agreed to read and write reviews on. I should do it.

3. I will write every day (even if I don’t meet my quota.)

This is the big one. I’ve been flaking out badly. I’m going to reset my “counter,” and start from today instead of trying to make up for the last four months of nothing.

4. I will strive to be more sociable. Facebook does not count.

Ugh. I hate this one. I find my anxiety to be one of my biggest detriments. This will be the hardest, but most important.

5. I will read every Stephen King book by December 31st. Except the ones he publishes this year. That’s like the saying about having every person in China walking by and never ending because of the birthrate thing.

This one’s easier. I’ll have to do the math and see how much I have to read a day. For the most part I can get out 30 pages and honestly I don’t think I should try more than that or I’m setting myself up for failure.

6. I’ll start taking my own personal deadlines seriously again.

Seriously.

7. I will start eating breakfast. No, chocolate milk doesn’t count.

In order to have more energy, I will eat breakfast and dinner. This should be easier because now I’m working in a sandwich shop which gives me a meal, so I’m less likely to skip it.
8. I will not grieve about turning 26. Or any other age that I may happen to come across.

Twenty-five isn’t turning out exactly how I want it to, but I need to get over it.

9. I will be decisive. About what, I don’t know.

A direct correlation to my situation in January. I’m not too concerned now.

10. I will start making more concrete plans around long-existing goals.

Same same. Although I do think that I still need to be considering where I eventually want to live and the kind of job I want to have long term.

And I’ll add a couple because the fun of resolutions are telling someone what to do, even if it’s just yourself:

1. Update web comic weekly.

(I used to be really good about this.)

2. Write a new Storyof the Wyrd each month.

3. Stop biting the skin off my lip.

4. Drink more water and eat less sodium.

(I have really bad headaches and constant nausea, so I’m hoping this will solve it.)

5. Submit my book to agents before Dec. 1st.

The last one is the most important. I’ve written over 13 books, I’ve been editing this one for three years, and the truth of the matter is I am avoiding it. I know for a fact that the main difference between a professional author and an amateur is that the professional actually put his work out there. I’ve done everything from research to querying. Now I need to just suck it up.

So, join with me this year in attempting to make our January dreams come true. Rejuvenate our interest in our needs so that come 2016, we look on our lives and say, “What can I change?” and actually have to think about it for a moment.


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Monday, April 13, 2015

Why I Will Probably Never Be A Full Time Writer

This isn’t going where you think it is.

Unless, for some reason, you expect there to be an iguana in the mix. I live to serve:



Did I mention I hate Absurdism?

Hypocrisy aside, I had to come to terms with a personal revelation today—one that I had been suspicious of for some time now. It’s not a whiney reason (my stash of bitching is running low today) but rather something I think most writers experience, something that can make the necessity of a day job a little more bearable.

I’m more productive the less time I have.

My last job ended in December, over… what? Four, five months ago? Quit asking me to do math. I started a new one last week. In the course of that time, with free hours abound, I didn’t really write anything at all.

This is the first year that my New Year’s Resolutions failed within the first few days. I haven’t gotten far on anything. I haven’t been editing, writing, or even sewing for the matter. I’m not even sure what I’ve been doing.

But now I’m working. Now I have to be somewhere in the morning. Now I can’t “do it later,” because this is the only later there will be until tomorrow.

Ever notice how your inspiration strikes when you are late for something?

Leaving the house, having other obligations, and having some sense of accomplishment throughout the day causes pressure and contagion, encouraging me to work harder more than having all of the time in the world. I should have finished one, if not two books in that time I had off, and yet, nope.

There’s something to be said for your day job—besides, you know, money. While you think it’s the only thing keeping you from writing, it might be the only thing that makes you. If by you I mean me.


Which isn’t to say I wouldn’t quit the second I got a 300,000 dollar advance. Just to say if I want to be a full time writer, I'm going to need to start sweeping floors as a hobby.

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Self-Serving Author (The Pros and Cons)

Oh, I'm sorry. Are my needs disrupting you?

When people ask me tips to improve their writing, my favorite saying is, “Don’t look like you’re doing what you’re doing.”

To which they smile and go, “What the hell does that mean?”

It’s a smartass way to say though you want your character to be epic, you don’t want the reader thinking, “Man, this author really wants me to think this guy’s epic.” You want to be considered creative and clever not have the reader thinking about how clever or creative you’re trying to be. You want them to actually cry, not feel like you’re trying to make them cry. Basically, you wrote something with a certain purpose in mind, but the reader should never really be considering what that purpose is (unless he’s deliberately analyzing the work.)

When you look at criticism, this is a fairly constant subtext on their feedback. Meta-thinking is a gamer term in which the player views the game as a game instead of as the character. It’s the difference between thinking, “Obviously the programmer made some way to get across this chasm, so let’s look for a lever,” versus, “Obviously the gnomes who made these tunnels had some way to get across this chasm, so let’s look for a lever.”

This happens in writing too, and often having the reader go meta is the most common source of a reader’s negative reaction. It’s not what you did, but why she thinks you did it. It’s not that your prose is purple as much as there doesn’t seem to be any benefit to take so much time and effort in describing grass. When the reader starts to feel like the writer’s choices are primarily to serve himself, she stops trusting him to avoid the heartache that will come from an unsatisfying story.

So why do people go meta? It’s difficult, sometimes, to say, and can be based on different contexts and personalities. What makes one person go meta might not make another. There are usually two major reasons, however.

First is there’s an obvious error in either real-life rules or established in-world rules. The author makes a mistake in how gravity works, or has the character fire a six-shooter seven times. This is the foundation of the whole, “It’s about vampires and this is what you can’t believe?” argument. The reason why vampires are okay but switching the words for stalagmite and stalactite aren’t is because inventing magical laws is difficult and it benefits the readers’ imaginations. Switching stalagmite and stalactite is a mistake, easy to do, that benefits no one.

Or the story broke its own continuity, in which it clearly explained wizards can’t casts spells underwater then later has a wizard casting spells in water with no clarification on the contradiction.

Second reason is more common but more complex. It occurs when the author’s motivation outweighs the characters’. The protagonist does something that the reader can’t empathize with at all, or that seems to prioritize a motivation that he has never prioritized before—in other words, “acting out of character.”

Empathizing is different than sympathizing. Sympathy is where you feel for someone even though you can’t really relate. Empathy is where you understand their feelings, where you feel what they feel and see their motivation—even though you might not actually sympathize with them. You can feel empathy and “get them” and yet still find them at fault for the event. “Yeah, I could see myself punching him for that too, but that doesn’t mean you should’ve done it.”

Let’s say a bartender decides to quit his job, but instead of just telling his boss, he gets super trashed and acts like an asshole. He chucks beers at people, swings from the chandeliers, etc.

First thing the reader is going to do is to try and understand his actions. Even if she doesn’t agree with his reasons, there’s a difference between not agreeing and not understanding. If, for example, he just broke up with his girlfriend, realized that he had been a rule-following lap dog for too long, the reader might understand the ridiculous reaction and remain immersed. It’s a believable event.

But, what there doesn’t seem to be a reason? If the reader can’t find any emotional or logical circumstances—he was paid decently, he was cheerful, he didn’t have any conflict with anyone, didn’t mind his boss—then the reader will turn to other places for the answer, usually the author. And if the author gains an obvious benefit from the decision—the bartender need to be put in jail so he could meet the character who would start the plot—that’s when it looks like bad writing.

You have four levels of motivation: Character, Narrator, Author, Reader.

There’s a lot to be said about this, but to sum up, character motivation is why the character did what he did, narrator motivation is why the narrator has chosen to describe this moment and in this way, author motivation is why did an event happen at all, and reader motivation is the reason why the reader wants to keep reading. Pretty simple.

Author motivation always exists, and it’s not a bad thing. Everything you write, you write for a reason. Not necessarily a good or rational reason, but you had a desired reaction to every choice—whether you know it or not. It’s important, however, that the casual reader does not notice the author’s motivation, that she’s thinking about the characters and is staying in-world.

A lot of criticism comes from the author’s motivation outweighing everyone else’s. This could mean the character’s motive—an action doesn’t really seem characteristic as much as the end results are something that would benefit the writer—or more so, the reader—an action doesn’t enhance the reading experience as much as it makes the writer look good.
This is what is called the self-serving author.

Writing is a symbiotic relationship, and it doesn’t need to be sacrificial. All writers are self-serving in a way, and it can lead to the most entertaining sections. When you write what is most fun for you, when you say what you really want to be saying, when you use writing to express yourself, that’s when it will be most interesting for the reader. Generally speaking, most of their enjoyment will come from an open and honest connection with the writer.

But there are times when what benefits the writer and what benefits the reader conflict, and in that case, the writer benefits from considering his audience first and foremost. When it starts reading like he’s trying to get something from the reader (admiration) without giving anything in return (enjoyment), the reader starts to brace against the work.

For example, there is somewhat of a propensity to have epically large numbers in sci-fi and fantasy. The vampire is a million years old, the planet is a billion miles in circumference, the war killed trillions of people. This is a prime example of being self-serving because it benefits the author but is detrimental to the reader.

How so? Well the bigger the numbers the more awesome the story is. Or at least that’s the idea. There are many people who think that bigger is better, and so they go over the top. “If you think having a million people die is sad, then just wait because I have a trillion.” It does not, however, enhance the reader’s experience. A trillion people is far too large a number to truly comprehend. We can’t imagine a trillion toothpicks, let alone human beings. It doesn’t make us feel any more than having a million die.

In this case, if the author was consider what would have the best effect on his audience rather than what made his story look “epic,” he would be better off describing the death of two than a trillion. You could have the protagonist watch as an entire planet is blown up, but if you really wanted to make your readers care, you might just have him walk through a destroyed home where the charred remains of a father and son sit posed in their chairs, the child’s fingers clutching his dad’s collar still fully defined.

It may not press the vast importance of the war, but it inspires more feeling in the reader than a remote explosion with people we never meet.

Writers write for themselves and that is often the mindset which creates the best work. You can’t deny your reasons for doing something; most times you wouldn’t want to. Readers do want to read about epic characters, grandiose plots, and especially good turn-a-phrase. So have those things. Just make sure that you don’t look like you’re doing what you’re doing.