Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Off Topic - Halloween

Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. Even when I was too young to trick or treat and had to watch as my brother got ready in his costume, having to be placated with thoughts of next year when it would finally be my turn.

I think a lot of people give Christmas all the love. A supposed time of charity and giving, when we forget our differences and come together as a family. But this is not the case. Sure we give to charity, put a dollar in the jar, mostly out of guilt. We exchange gifts, but do so with family and friends and perhaps the occasional co-worker.

Halloween is the true holiday of charity and community. The underlying principle is that families by candy and then everyone can go around and get a bit here and bit there. However families often buy twice as much as would satisfy their kids for a few days. You have a holiday built on mutual effort for a greater hole. People spend even more money on costumes and decorations to sell the mood for the holiday.

And that's where the true magic of Halloween comes in. Where it proves itself over Christmas. On Halloween even those with out kids take part, handing out candy and decorating their homes. Poor families that can't afford to hand out candy are allowed to take part with out any social stigma or being looked down upon. Rich families too, heading off to their parties or other activites hand out candy or leave some on the front step for the kids eagerly making their way through the neighbor hood.

At any other time kids, wandering around in the anonymity of costume would be cautioned against all the dangers, and yet we come together to keep watch over the village. Worrying about each other instead of our selves.

Halloween, with it's costumes and make up personifies the breaking down of all barriers, social and economic for a common community celebration. It is the one holiday where we get to forget our troubles, pretend to be someone else and work together for a global enjoyment.

Halloween has always been my favorite holiday, and will continue to be, perhaps, forever. So remember next Halloween when you're wondering if it's worth the effort, if it's worth the money and time to sit out front and hand out candy. This is the one holiday that shows the true virtue and companionship of humanity.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Climbing The Mountain

On last week's episode of the AtT Podcast Tyler asked me about my writing. I gave a muddled answer, due in large part to the drunks yelling in the background. Since then I've thought about it a little bit more. I'm not going to talk about my process so much as my evolution as a writer. Though I am still young in this passion of mine, maybe my perspective can help others out there.

I started writing a few years back. Around the end of 2007. I took a stab at it. Played around with it for month or so and then didn't write much of anything over the next year. After that I got a little more serious about it. I started learning about it and tried to practice it more often. There were still periods where I didn't write anything for months at a time. Seasons alternating between being knee deep in it and forgetting about entirely.

Over those years I tired to get myself to write more and more frequently. I eventually got it to where I was writing one a week at least. I had studied it in depth, read countless articles and listened to countless interviews. I had thought about the craft from every angle I could think of. I finally started to feel like I got it. Like I was a writer.

I was of course wrong. My writing was still terrible. I cringe to even think of going back and reading some of that stuff. Around the winter of 2010/2011 something strange happened. Out of nowhere I took a break from writing that lasted almost two months. It wasn't intentional. I had gotten promoted to a supervisory position at my crappy retail job. I flew back home for the birth of my niece. Life seemed to have gotten in the way, and my writing fell by the wayside.

However, something else came out of that time. Something that would forever change me as a writer. That was the period when I came up with Icarus. That sci-fi project of my started as an exercise. I'm interested in all mediums and genres and try to experiment with them whenever I can. Especially if I'm in a period where I don't have an idea I'm super excited to work on. That was more of a problem then, not as much these days.

I sat down one day with the thought of "If I were to do a sci-fi story, what would it be?" That was it. A simple lowly thought, on par with a writing prompt. Nothing special about it. But it was in chasing that question down it's impossibly long rabbit hole that I came up with Icarus. Before Icarus, I never worried about Worldbuilding. Most of what I wrote was either modern or so close to it as to not warrent much thought. I never thought about characters, most of them were normal people with normal backgrounds.

Icarus changed all of that. The political and economic landscape of the world required that I knew where my characters stood on the important issues, and therefore, was backgrounds informed those beliefs. Icarus forced me to think of worlds and peoples and technologies, of details that I would have never bothered to think of. It elevated me to a new level of writing.

Over the last year, I challenged myself to write every single day. I don't always meet the challenge. I seem to still miss a handful of days a month. Most often when I've just finished a draft and we have a podcast to record and edit.

The Mountain

I find and interesting pattern in other writers, and in myself. It seems that when we fist start out we know how bad our writing is. We stumble in the dark, attempting to learn the trade and hope that someday will get better. We might sit with a grin on our face as we pound the keys or as the pen scrawls across the page, but in the cold hard light of editing we realize how bad it is.

Then we reach a level of comfort. We know writing. We've settled in for its challenges, for its ebbs and flows. We eagerly look forward to the day when we will be battle hardened vets of it's corpse strewn fields.

I've found though, that at certain points I reach an entirely new stratosphere, a new league where it seem like I'm back on the bottom. Like I am once more the rookie learning the ropes. Sure I have all my lessons and experience from before, but up here, in these new realms it doesn't seem as important, as powerful as it did before.

I'm talking about when you see other writers who are better. No matter how good you get there's always a writer you look at and curse your own inability, wishing you could be better. I had that recently with Rian Johnson and Looper. Or Nolan and Inception, or Whedon and the Firefly pilot. Things that are so masterful, you wonder if you will ever get as good as them.

No, I mean with yourself, with your own assesment of your skill. You reach a point where you realize of far you've come and how far you have yet to go.

I was thinking about it in terms of hiking up a mountain. In the beginning you're lost in the woods, the sun blocked by the leaves overhead. Distracted by the chirping of birds and rustling of rabbits. You walk for what feels like forever. Eventually you become one with the woods. You know the animals and the sounds they make. You deftly step over fallen branches and gnarled roots. Nothing on the forest floors can trip you up.

Then there comes this moment, when you exit the woods. You find yourself on a plateau of rock. Stretched out in the valley beneath you is and endless forest. You can see a wide river snaking it's way between the trees.

The entire time you had been walking you failed to notice the subtle incline, failed to notice how high up you were getting. Yet here you stand. Seeing the miles and miles in which you traveled. You feel a huge since of achievement, seeing the distance you covered, knowing you've done on your own power. The advice of those who had made the journey before you echoing within your mind.

You turn away from the valley, eying the summit of the mountain stretching up into the clouds. You think of the masters that await you there, and the long journey still ahead.

This is the life that awaits us as writers. This is joy that we get to feel as we create worlds and twist lives. We stride alone in the valley of the gods, comforted by the whispers of those that had traveled there before us.

I took my first steps on that journey a few years ago. I didn't intend to take my last for a very, very long time.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Refilling the Well

I haven't talked about writing for a couple of post, so let's get back to the important stuff.

The well. That thing within us from which draw inspiration. For some it's an aqueduct that once built effortlessly delivers fresh water at a constant pace. For others it take the from of a strip mine. A hole they bore into the earth with metal tools and explosives. A place where they rip out anything and everything that looks valuable to refine and shape later into useful material.

Sometimes that source of inspiration begins to run dry. We glance around the soot covered walls off are mine and see few glints of the precious metals that once lived there. If your a writer who works on their craft every day, it can be discouraging to look down at the paper with no ideas. I think new writers have this problem a lot, mainly because they haven't learned to document and cultivate their ideas. They haven't learned to listen to themselves. But to writers who have been at it a while, writers who have been through periods where they have so many ideas they don't have the time to write them all down. Writers who will fling themselves across a room and empty drawers onto the floor like a wild tornado to get down that great idea on paper. Writers who thought they would be bathing in the heavy downpour of ideas forever.

And then you find yourself staring down at  a blank page, pen tapping against your desk with nothing. Cue cliche tumble weed across desolate wasteland. Empty cupboards. River beds of dried, cracked mud. You struggle to come up with the simplest ideas and fail.



I think every writer has found themselves in this place at some point. And I think many of them find themselves here more often than they'd like to admit. Fear not writers of the world, there are easy ways to fix this.

1. Time Heals All Wounds

Wait. Yep that's it. Bask in the glory of my infinite wisdom. Do Nothing.

Some of the time our wells running dry is from simple exhaustion. I ran into this early this month with my sci-fi/tv project. I had been writing episode after episode and pulling long hours at work,. When it came time to think of another one I had nothing. I slammed my head against that wall for a couple of hours and nothing came out of it. I dug further into the mountain desperate to find another vein of gold only to find worthless rock.

Eventually I gave up, and took two days off from writing. On day three the ideas started flowing again. First a trickle, then a flood. The problem wasn't that the mine had run out of gold, it was that I was too tired to see it. My eyes had become weary and caked in dirt. What little flecks I did see I dismissed as not worth the effort. All I needed was little break to recharge.

2. Binge Consumption

This is one of my favorite methods for finding new ideas. Mostly because it involves avoiding work,.

I find I don't consume media in a regular fashion. I don't have my regular TV shows that I watch, and intersperse it with movies and books throughout the week. Instead I have lists of things I want to eventually watch or read. A whole list of movies recommended to me by other people, another list for books, yet another for comic books, video games and so on.

Then when i find myself in the mood for a particular something, let's say anime, I'll shotgun entire series in a row. I'll spend two weeks watching nothing but anime for my entertainment and get through entire series in a couple of days. I did this when I caught up with Doctor Who and finally saw Firefly a few years back.

I find it works well in the case of movies, because you get the entire story, concepts, arcs and all in a couple hours. In one weekend you can get through twenty different stories, all exhibiting different genres, characters and plot elements.

The best thing about binge consuming is you get really, really fat with ideas. All those times where you saw the writer take the concept in direction A, but you can take it direction B, stack up and mix in your brain. You rush back to your laptop eager to type because you have so many new ideas to get out there.

3. Friends


Yes, they are actually useful for something. I know, I know, I was surprised to. Turns out they aren't useless sacks of meat flesh that live only to get in your way.

Friends can be a fantastic source of ideas, not only in the conversations you have with them and the perspectives they bring to the table, but in simply helping you articulate your own writings and ideas. Friends who are also writers are great for this, as they know what questions to ask when you get stuck. Earlier this month I was talking to Chris of The Archatype about how I was running low on episode ideas. He knew to ask if I had fleshed out my plot lines enough, if there were side characters or sub plots that needed more screen time or fleshing out. While the conversation itself didn't spark any ideas, when the ideas came back and I was ready to write again it spawned ideas on what to focus on.

Yeah, I Thought The List Was Going To Be Longer

Those are some of the tricks I have when you find yourself running low on ideas. Also try jumping genres and types of stories. If you're a sci-fi guy try fantasy. Of if you like dark, brooding romances try comedies.

What are some of your tricks for getting ideas? Let me know in the comments below. I'm always looking out for new tips and tricks.

And be sure to check out our Around the Trunk podcast this week when talk Static and Dynamic Characters.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Charity Idea, I know it's Not Writing, Hear Me Out

I posted this to reddit and twitter earlier. I came up with this around three am last night, trying to get some feedback on the idea, see if it's worth pursuing.

Imagine a crowd sourcing site like Kickstarter, only instead of launching projects it would be for charity, and the draw would be celebrities agreeing to do nude photo shoots. Just hear me out.
It would work like this. Any celebrity could be submitted to the site, male or female. Their name and photo of them would appear with a grayed out donate button.

If the celebrity was interested they could contact the admins, and set an amount and a charity. So let's say celebrity "A" sets 1,000,000 and the red cross. The amount and charity would go up and people could click the donate button and donate any amount they want. When the goal is reached, the celebrity chooses a photographer of their choice, takes the nudes and posts them online to their own site, reddit, twitter whatever or a partner site to the main one.
That's the base idea, here are some of the finer details.

The celeb could set whatever amount they want. Unlike Kickstarter which works off a pledge system, the donations would be immediate, ensuring the amount is collected before the celeb delivers. If the goal is not met, the money is donated to the charity anyway. If the celeb backs out, the money is refunded to the donors.

Like Kickstarter, they could set tiers, both in terms of goals and donations. For instance, for 100k they do a lingerie shoot, for 250k they do topless and for 500k they do full nudity (or whatever amounts they decide). If a specific donor gives a certain amount they could get an autographed print or request a position or body part or something.

The site would not take any percentage of the money, it would all go to charity. The photographers could either donate their time or be payed for out of the donation fund. All charities and organizations chosen by the celebrity would be vetted to guard against fraud.

The idea is that while many actresses would never pose in playboy for self gain, they might do so for charity, and while it's hard to get people to put a dollar in the salvation army bucket, they would give a dollar without hesitation to see their favorite actress nude.

The celebs could state up from what they would do for the goal, so no one feels mislead. They would state the types of posses or body parts they'd be willing to show and could even do video shoots.
I think this could raise a lot of money, it would need a reputable backer, maybe like kickstarter, and someone to co-ordinate with the charities and at least one celeb to be the first to volunteer.
Anyway, let me know what you think, and if there are any obvious holes/faults I've missed. Don't forget to upvote, if we could this thing some visibility it might take off.

Added Later:

Was thinking some more about this.
The celebs name would on a bar in list format, when clicked it would drop down and show what the celeb has agreed to and the benchmarks, or information about the charity with links.
Also you could add in a thumbs up system or similar for celebs who have not yet agreed to show their popularity and demand and help show them the potential good they could do.

You can join the discussion at:

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Feedback and Community - Dual Post

This will be posted to both the blog ( And the Podcast (

It is also hilarious that I'm posting this when blogger has been hit by a glitch that wiped out all page views on blogs.

Anyway, I've been running this blog for a few months now, and the podcast for... two months? Maybe? And we have no idea if people like it. Yes, there are worse problems to have. I like running this blog, and I like doing the podcast and can even put up with the pain in the ass of editing. I will keep doing these things regardless.

However, we've run into a problem with the podcast concerning it's direction. It was originally planned to be writing focused and has meandered into nerd culture. We are still trying to find it's voice. It would be a lot easier if we could get feedback from out listeners, who I know you're out there.

I'm sure your thinking that someone else will comment or send us a tweet, but they don't. There is only you. The fate of the blog, nay of the world rest in your hands. All you have to do is go down to the bottom and say something like "Podcast Good" Or "Me no like podcast." Like a caveman. Easy stuff. We're not asking for professional reviews. This isn't some ploy for ad revenue or something. As you can see we don't have ads.

The problem is we're doing this thing in a dark room. We can't see the crowd. We don't know if they're laughing at the jokes or snoreing in their chairs. And we won't ever know unless you tell us. I myself have never really commented on web pages before, mostly because ten thousand people have already beat me to it. Most websites are full of comments by jack asses and people putting other people down.

We want to build a good community, but we can't build any community if people aren't talking. We don't know whether to dig deeper into writing subjects or talk about cool comic books or anything unless you tell us.

I know the pages get traffic. Mostly from awesome places like stumble upon. If you're a member of stumble upon and liked our articles or our podcast, gives us a thumbs up. It only takes a second and really helps drive traffic in addition to letting us know you liked it. And not just for us, do it for your other favorite websites too.

The bottom line is we want to bring you awesome stuff. We want to give you articles that are worth reading and podcasts that are worth listening to, we'll do all the work, all we need is your feedback to let us know it's worth it.

I hope to be doing this for a long time, past the point where I'm sick of it. But I don't have that many ideas. All my idea potential is stolen by my writing. So tell us what you would like us to write about or review and discuss. Let us know if you'd like to see other themes or topics.

Only then can do the things you want us too.

You can always reach us in the comment section, email (
and on twitter.

Mike: @MadnessSerenade
Chris: @TheArchetipical
ATTP: @AroundTheTrunk

Thank you, and we hope to hear from you soon.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Story Arcs, Plot Threads and Subway Maps

I was watching the story board on geek and sundry today (Check it out, really great writing discussions. and they were talking about form and function of our writing. Do we plan out arcs or do we work toward and ending? It got me thinking about how I do things in my own writing.

I've avoided writing about how I write so far because there doesn't seem to be much rhyme or reason to it. Some stories start because I came up with a cool concept and want to expand it into a story. Others because I thought of an interesting character and the story they had to tell. Most of the time it's a scene, or series of scenes that I want to tie together. Or an ending that I want to work toward.

I listened to the writers in the Story Board episode each give a different answer, and found myself identifying in part with each one. I wondered if I was a bit of an anaomly or if it was because I'm still a fairly young writer, still figuering out my own voice and style.

I see writers do the same type of thing in the same genre and in the same medium and marvel at how they could ever do that. In the past week I've gotten ideas for an animated comedy, a movie and a comic book. All radically different in themes and style, each with their own "voice."

I've always felt that the story can only be told the way that story can. My voice changes depending on the story I'm telling, just as it would in real life. My tone and vocabulary constantly shift to best serve the story I'm working on at the moment.

As for Arcs, that too has always befuddeled me. I study them of course, I learn about three, five and seven act structures. About the Hero's Journey and the Monomyth and all ways you can tell a story. While experiance is invaulable, studying the ways old old is equally important.

Though when I write I rarely find myself thinking in terms of first, second and third acts. I think things like, "Okay this is when things really start to ramp up" or "We just went through a lot of action, we need a breather."

I had a realization when Terry Brooks said he wrote in threads. This character's thread or that plot point's thread. As he said it an image jumped into my mind.

That colorful mess of lines is the DC subway map. I realized that's how I think about stories. Each color is a character or or plot thread. They all have their own individual course, their own path through  life and destinations to reach. Occasionally those destinations are shared, scenes where character's meet and interact. Way station on their trip through life.

I realized that was how I thought of stories. Though they usually look less like the picture above and more like this one.

That's the one for Tokyo in case you were wondering.

To think of complicated stories as the rise and fall of a simple arc is to discredit them of their inherent, complicated beauty. While others may see a tangled web of colors, the mad scratching of a toddler, I see countless stories woven together by my characters lives. Each stop representing some triumph or defeat, a confrontation or an emotion struggle in their lives.

So that's how I think about story. How do you write arcs and plot threads and what image does it bring to your mind?

Remember to check out Story Board on Geek and Sundry and our Around the Trunk Podcast where we talk more about writing. You can also follow me on Twitter @MadnessSerenade.