Precision Language

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I love coming upon new words as I read. I came upon a new one, today: dilatory. It refers to being slow or lazy. So why not say ‘slow’ or ‘lazy’? In most instances, I probably would. But when it comes to characterization, I tend to look for ways to make each character sound unique. Vocabulary is probably the easiest for me.

I’ve been called to task for using words that the reader doesn’t understand. I understand the reasons for such a critique. Anything that could draw your reader out of the world you’re creating is usually to be avoided. My personal viewpoint, however, is that it is better to use the appropriate word, not the easiest word.

The downside is that I tend to use these words in everyday conversation, often without realizing it. Worse, I use them without realizing that not everyone enjoys language like I do. I’m occasionally afraid that I come off as pretentious or patronizing. Nothing could be further from the truth. I don’t use vocabulary to show off, I use vocabulary to communicate.

I’ve been told (multiple times) I’m very precise in how I speak. It’s not something I really focus on. I focus on the message and what words best communicate that message. I have a decently large vocabulary, so I use it.

That said, ‘dilatory’ probably won’t appear much in my speech. It seems to be mostly associated with attitude rather than a state of being. I’m far more likely to end up using ‘desultory’.

The Marque of Marquees

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Religion is a sensitive subject for many people. It is always a risky business to deal with beliefs. The very nature of faith and belief precludes rational critique. Yet people insist on attacking beliefs as if they were a debatable point, and therefore cause people to further entrench themselves. Maybe it’s my UU background, but it seems to me that that is an excellent way to generate hate.

Rather than debating beliefs, it seems as though looking at what people say and comparing that to what they do may be a more productive activity. I’m not event talking about specifics like birth control or response to the LGBT community. I’m talking overarching ideas.

For instance, one of the church marquees near where I live has the following message: “Nothing is stronger than the power of God’s love.” I find this a positive message no matter denomination, religion, or lack of either. Yet the denomination the marquee is in front of is known, not for spreading God’s love, but for threatening the results of his wrath. These are the same people who are out there holding “God hates (fill in the blank)” signs and insisting if you don’t follow their way exactly, you will go to Hell. How do they expect to attract people with words of love when their actions spread discord?

Looking at the alignment of spoken beliefs with observable action is the best way to evaluate a group of people from a committee or ministry to an entire denomination. It is also the best way to make yourself a better _______ .

Another marquee, down the street in the other direction, has this message: “If God brought you to it, He will bring you through it. To me, this is much more in line with professed belief. If you put faith in God to lead you through your life, you will also be open to the tools He puts there for you to use. It is a message about the benefits of faith, rather than a statement of strength that comes off as simplistic or braggadocio.

The irony between these two marquees is that they are from two separate congregations of the same denomination. I wanted to point that out since in every discussion there needs to be an acknowledgement that the words “all”, “every”, and “none”, are as inaccurate and divisive as “never” and “always”. I have friends whose political and social beliefs I abhor, yet when it comes down to it, on a one on one basis, they are good people who genuinely try to live with the love in their heart that their religion dictates.

4 Elements of Self-Defense from Nature

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I haven’t done one of these in a while. Here’s a short list of self-defense techniques and concepts that you can get from a nature walk.

1. If they can’t see you, they can’t eat you. This idea is pretty self explanatory. In nature, camouflage is rampant because everything is trying to eat everything else. If a predator doesn’t register your presence as prey, you’re not likely to be eaten. What makes this a difficult concept to follow, is that often, predators are ALSO camouflaged. Why?

2. If they can’t catch you, they can’t eat you. A camouflaged predator is more likely to be able to catch its prey. This means you. If you can see the predator approaching, you have a better chance of running away. The corollary, of course, is that you can outrun your attacker in the first place. Practice your wind sprints. Practice sprinting even when you’re tired.

3. You’re more likely to survive in a group. In nature, a 1 in 100 chance is much better survival odds than a 1 in 4 chance of being eaten. This is one of the main benefits of herd behavior. Incidentally, in groups, humans have a tendency to support each others’ weaknesses.

4. Someone will always call your bluff. Bluffs are decent in single instances. They are not a good idea as a general survival tool. This means, among other things, that if you carry a weapon, you better be willing to use it. If you’re not, it will be taken from you and used against you. It also means that even if you succeed on bluffing your way through a potentially dangerous situation, you may not be so lucky next time. Can you actually punch someone with intent to do damage? It’s not an idle question. Many martial artists can’t, though they fool themselves into thinking they can.

There are many more lessons to be taken from nature, all you have to do is look. There are even lessons different from what I’ve gathered from the samples I saw. Self-defense is an attitude and a life style, not an if-then flow chart. Nature is an excellent example of this concept. Take a walk in a state or national park and see for yourself. Ask a naturalist.

All Worked Up And No Beneficiary

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The problem with writing erotica, romance, or even a plain old love scene is that it gets you all worked up. Why is this a problem? It’s not, really, unless you have no one to gain the benefits of your creativity. You think the stereotyped gamer geek is frustrated? That’s nothing on the lonely romance writer. I’ve been both places. Trust me.

What’s the solution? Stop writing? Not really an option. Here’s what happens to writers who stop writing: they have to stomp so hard on all those ideas flying through their brain that the ideas end up in a box labeled “REPRESSED”. Those ideas then come back up in therapy as actual memories. (It could happen.)

Could another solution be to put those scenes behind doors? That might work for mainstream or even SFF. Certainly some genres are amenable to this kind of treatment. Doesn’t work so well with romance or erotica. The other problem with relying on this method, even in mainstream, is that sometimes those scenes provide a crucial piece of information about the characters or, heaven forbid, something that pushes the plot forward.

Other than the couple of obvious solutions, I don’t see what can be done about it. On the whole, though, it’s a dilemma I can work with. Psychotherapists have a wonderful word that applies: sublimation. In essence, it’s channeling the pressures of various emotions in a positive manner. What does this mean for the writer? Turn that frustration into better sex scenes, better fight scenes, better resolution scenes.

Word Counts: The Ultimate Procrastination Tool

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Setting a word count goal is a massively useful tool for chronic procrastinators. I set a word count goal and immediately accomplished several chores I’ve been putting off. There’s just something about having a concrete measure that encourages me to say “I can make it up after I (fill in the blank) .”

The writing program “Scrivener” has a couple of ways of tracking your word count. So if the session goal isn’t enough for you to finish your chores, you can go back and check your entire manuscript word count for that extra boost you need to clean the cat box.

Not only do you gain the benefit of having an extra-clean house, by setting a word count goal, you finally have proof that your inner negativity can point to to justify all your “I suck at the writing” urges. Why is this good? I’ll tell you. It allows you to later rebel against THE MAN by spending time creating bad writing.

Imagine! Just one tool can give you an extra-clean house, a way to satisfy those masochistic “I suck” urges, AND stick it to THE MAN. How cool is that?

All joking aside, though. Having a word count goal is an excellent way to concretely measure your productivity. It’s a great way to counter the “you can’t measure creativity” arguments. Aside from that, there’s always something satisfying about crossing a finish line. The Tour-de-France is not raced all at once, it’s a series of successive races. Writing a book, whether fiction or non-fiction, is much the same. It’s not written all at one sitting; it is written in a series of sessions.

Even if you consistently fail to meet your word count goal, just having it means you have something to reach for. Just as with weight lifting, you keep trying, building strength in increasing weights until you can lift your goal consistently. Consistently is the key, not ease of doing it. Once you have consistent success, then you increase your word count goal per session.

I have my word count goal as 2,000 words per day. Lately, I’ve barely been able to get 1,000. But I know there are times when those 1,000 words are all that’s necessary to say what needs to be said.

(BTW: The word count for this blog, including this message is: 385)

Writing: A Matter of Place

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Common images of writers include someone hunched over a piece of parchment with a quill pen and scribbling madly in the light of a candle, a person typing feverishly at an old fashioned typewriter, a man scratching out verse in a notebook, a woman sitting at a computer filling the screen with words. Yes, some of the images are true. But more often than not, a writer’s most often observable action is sitting and staring into space. A writer staring into space is usually in the throes of feverishly trying to tie two plot points together, or coming up with two plot points to tie together.

Leaving aside the issues of outlining versus not outlining, quite often the easiest part is the actual putting down of words onto paper, real or virtual. Sure there may be a brief struggle to find the exact word you want to convey an idea, but on the whole, by the time words start appearing in a concrete fashion, the hardest part is done: formulating a coherent message or story or idea that will (hopefully) interest other people enough to purchase said message, story, or idea.

One of the greatest challenges in writing seems to be finding a time and place where people do not assume you are doing nothing when you are gazing into the middle distance. I know many writers with families have to remind those in the house that they are working and not necessarily available. Personally I find it easiest to write when not in the house…unless there’s something very distracting going on at the location I’m writing. (Lesson learned from last night: do not try to write while supporting friends in a volleyball tournament.) Libraries are good, as are bookstores. Amusingly enough, I find fast food restaurants fairly easy to write in.

My advice for those who say they want to do some writing, whether journaling for personal enjoyment or writing something for publication: don’t write at home. You’ll get more done if you write away from people who will not only distract you, but actively disturb you.

What’s orange and good for you?

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I have decided that oranges are the new wonderfruit. Why? Because they taste good, they have the right nutrition for after a workout. Especially a workout that involves the occasional bruising. Everyone knows oranges are awesome with the vitamin c (anti-oxidant), but they also have lots of potassium. Other beneficial nutrients include vitamin a, thiamin and folate. They even have a little protein and calcium. And it does all this without filling you up and weighing you down. (I really hate the feeling of eating something and having my stomach yell at me for eating an anchor.)

What about all the sugar? Yes. Oranges are carb heavy…the good thing is that the carbs are quickly metabolized and used. This means they don’t stay around in the system, providing a quick boost without the same kind of risk of weight gain from most sports drinks. The glycemic load of a serving of orange is also 1/3 that of a serving of banana.

Don’t forget the fiber that comes with all fruits and vegetables. Not as much as celery, but a respectable 17% of daily value (assuming 2,000 calories daily). Oranges are a good fruit to have on your healthy eating list.

After a workout, the high water content of an orange is very welcome. Not only does it help with being thirsty, it helps with faster uptake of nutrients than solid food.

Helpless writing?

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I thought about doing a blog on learned helplessness, but I’ll save it for a day when I’m more depressed. Seriously, check it out. Since that’s not on my problem list for today, I’ll just leave that link in place and move on.

I thought I’d outlined the next story. Turns out it needs so much overhauling, I might as well start from square one. One of the things I’m doing on the revision is to use more than one view point. My last book was entirely from one perspective. That was fine. It had enough stuff to make a full length book on its own. This new one, though…. According to the outline, I had like 20 chapters. That’s, at most, 50,000 words. (I calculate based on averaging 2,500 words per chapter.) Not enough for a book that can be shopped around to agents.

Unfortunately for me, I’ve fallen into the trap of: two-viewpoints-isn’t-complicated-enough-so-I’ll-use-three. As if matching timelines and the like between two characters wasn’t enough, now I have three characters to match to a timeline. It’s a good thing I like puzzles. On the other hand, maybe it’s too hard. After all, I’m writing a blog about it rather than actually doing it. Hmmm. Can you actually procrastinate with no deadline?

So now I’m taking the original outline and inserting viewpoints between most of the major dots that need to be connected in order to create the story. I’m not actually complaining, because it gives me a way to show how the things the protagonist has to deal with develop. (Wow. Talk about an awkward sentence.) For instance….oh wait. Gotta go write this into the outline. Have a nice day!

Vahlencei Origins Pt. 2

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Debate between the Angels of Free Will and the Angels of Guidance grew heated. First voices were raised to emphasize points of view, then words of the absolute became common, resulting in polarization of the two factions. From discussion to debate to argument, the conflict increased in passion—until fatefully, an angel from the free will group drew his weapon in anger. Yet it was an Angel of Guidance who struck first, lashing out in anger and fear.

Terrible war followed, and Earth was drenched in the aetherial blood of angels. For an age and an age, the factions battled, and as the conflict escalated, The Origin saw Earth soaking up the blood, and knew both viewpoints would be innate in every life place or created on Earth. Further hostilities were no longer necessary.

The Origin stopped the War of Angels, and forbade further direct violence between the sides. His decision had been made. Conscious life would have free will, though the blood of the Angels of Guidance running through the souls meant that they were open to divine guidance. The Origin put a limit on guidance, though, in order to try to stop the angels from using mortals as proxies for their war. Only those who asked for guidance could receive aid.

And yet the ephemeral nature of divine guidance left promptings open to interpretation. To solve this dilemma, The Origin created the Vahlencei. He created one hundred of us, and tasked each with a specific duty. To one was given the responsibility for all of the water creatures. Another received the injunction to watch and guide mammals, another was charged with avians, and so forth.

Seven of the Vahlencei, The Origin set aside to guide the others, and to provide a neutral board to arbitrate disputes. Each of the seven had a specific task: Historian, Judge, Mediator, Messenger, Advocate, Defender, Counselor.

Given that the Vahlencei are spiritual in nature, The Origin gave them certain abilities that would allow them to affect the material world. He also gave them the ability to create others like them from mortal souls, using elements of universal chaos. Yet even though He had given this ability, the souls so altered grew twisted and abhorrent to Him. He turned away from all those so twisted, ashamed at this tool he’d created for the Vahlencei. Universal chaos, however, can only affect those souls attached to a mortal body. At death, when the immortal soul departs the mortal shell, the twisting bonds of chaos fall away, leaving the soul pure in His sight.

Taken as a group, the Vahlencei were tasked with material guidance and manipulation of the elements of His creation. And in the early days of the Earth, the Vahlencei were effective in managing the Earth. As time went by, life spread across the surface, and in the waters, of the Earth. It became too much for the Vahlencei. So the Council of Seven unanimously asked The Origin to create more Vahlencei, and The Origin complied.

One hundred more Vahlencei were created. Equal with the original Vahlencei in all but experience, these new Vahlencei were assigned by the Council of Seven to oversee humanity at a more detailed level than the several who were originally assigned. These new Vahlencai reported to the original set assigned to the humans.

–From Vampiric History by Innastartan, Historian and Archivist of the Vahlencei, the True Vampires

I hope you have enjoyed this origin story. I know I enjoyed writing it.

Vahlencei Origins Pt. 1

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I’m really excited about this new book I’m working on. I already have a decent beginning and a really poignant ending. I definitely think this book is better than my first…and I haven’t even finished it. Since I can’t put anything on the blog that’s actually part of the book, here’s some background stuff I wrote to justify what I’ve done to vampire mythology (i.e. completely re-wrote it).

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God, Allah, Chronos, Vishnu—whatever the name used, it always refers to The Origin. That is what we, the Valencei, know Him as. At the risk of sounding elitist, it must be realized that we were created directly by The Origin. Life on Earth propagates itself, and everything living today is hundreds, thousands, millions, billions of generations descended from those initially created, depending on the species. Through the generations, life on Earth became more abundant.

But this Earth is not the first created by The Origin—only the most recent. At first, The Origin put limits on life. Earth was simply a project The Origin worked on as he took time off from more cosmic duties. As time went by, however, it became apparent that life had stagnated. With the limits in place, The Origin realized an artificial environment had been created. An entire world had become, in essence, a zoo. Its inhabitants were safe. No disease thinned the populations; no mating increased the populations. Nothing died to violence or age. What had started as a project to amuse and be enjoyed had become static and dull.

The Origin could not simply remove the limits. Nothing had been created with the ability to cope with life in its raw form. Reluctantly, The Origin decided the world had to be abandoned. Yet annihilation was not truly in The Origin’s nature, so the world was renamed Oedain, and left in place as a lesson in the dangers of a world whose only flaw was perfection.

The new Earth was created using the framework of Oedain; however, when it came to the creation of life, The Origin paused. Oedain had failed due to the simplicity of its inhabitants, and the system in which they lived. Yet introducing randomness would cause increasing complexity, and that complexity would inevitably lead to self-destruction.

All-knowing though The Origin might be, yet His view is too large. The big picture and the entire sweep of time was available to Him. Yet the fine details of maintaining a balanced system of extreme complexity eluded Him. He realized his view was too large, so he created beings of thought and energy. These, He called ‘angels’, and into each angel He put a piece of himself, duplicated from the original. In the spiritual plane of existence, and only on the spiritual plane, these angels had corporeal bodies.

Once the Host of angels had been completed, The Origin instructed them to discuss and investigate all the details He could not see. In the course of their discussion, the Host split. In one faction, the angels believed that all living beings should have absolute free will. The angels in the other faction believed all living beings should be guided individually.

The first faction, the Angels of Free Will, proposed that only creatures with the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them could create and maintain a system as complicated as Earth. Only the adaptability learned from generations of mistakes and corrections, they believed, would allow the creatures to overcome the inevitable complications that would arise as time progressed.

The Angels of Guidance, as the members of the second faction were called, suggested divine guidance was necessary to overcome difficulties. Such guidance was required because onlyThe Origin could see the vast sweep of time and progress. As such, only The Origin could choose the correct path.

(to be continued…)