Off to the Weird West.

Back on Sunday nite.


Musical Interlude: Cat Soup AMV

A Cure ("If Only Tonight We Could Sleep")/Cat Soup AMV.

I have GOT to see the original anime!

Bumper Sticker!

What Would Scooby Do?


Writer's Toolbox: Simile

I'm trying to explain to a member of my writing group how to write a good simile, which feels like the centipede trying to explain how it manages to walk with all those legs. This is the first time I've tried to work this out logically.

I ran into this:
...For fun, the next time someone corrects you and says "That's a simile, not a metaphor," you can respond by letting them know a simile is a type of metaphor, just like sarcasm is a type of irony. Resist the urge to be sarcastic in your delivery.

Okay, so most people can tell you that to write a good simile, you first have to know a simile starts with "like" or "as." But then what?

1) Cliches do not make effective similes, as such. If a cliche is exactly what you need*, then a simile with a cliche in it is appropriate. Otherwise, no.


The purpose of a simile (as with all metaphors) is to bring to light a hidden, unknown, or unappreciated quality. Because a cliche is an overused and therefore well-known phrase, it can't do the job, by definition.

"She fled like a bat out of hell" is meaningless. Try: "She disappeared like a good night's sleep after the birth of a first child."

2) Figure out exactly what aspect of the situation you're trying to bring to light.

If your heroine is fleeing a bad guy in a straightforward suspense story, "She disappeared like a good night's sleep after the birth of a first child" is inappropriate. "She trampled the old woman like a gazelle stampeding over its wounded dam, leaving her for the lions to devour."


A simile should impress the reader visually and/or viscerally (i.e., grabbing the guts). You don't want your reader to be thinking about their kids instead of the possibility your heroine isn't as nice a person as she would like everyone to think.

3) Your simile has to have an appropriate distance from its subject. How different is the thing itself from the thing you're comparing it to?

In "She trampled the old woman like a gazelle stampeding over its wounded dam, leaving her for the lions to devour," the subject, a woman, differs from the referent, a gazelle, significantly.

In "She ran like a woman in a nightmare," the subject, a woman, differs very little from the referent, a woman in a nightmare.

In "She ran like a shooting star," the subject, a woman, differs so significantly from the referent, a shooting star, that we have trouble seeing the connection.

The simile has to walk a middle ground between too much and too little difference between the subject and referent.


Similes both have to be different (i.e., not the exact same thing) and similar (it's called a simile!). --This may seem like a pretty obvious point, but it's something I run into a lot (although not necessarily in this case).

Another point to bring up here is extremely dissimilar similes can be used help build a surreal effect. "She shot across the highway like a shooting star, her silk dress burning white into my retinas long after my headlights passed her." A straightforward, plain-speaking, salt-of-the-earth character (or narrator) is never going to think something like this. A character with head trauma, a mental illness, or writerly tendencies? Sure.

4) Your simile has to have an appropriate distance from the reader. This distance is not the same thing as the distance between the subject and referent; this is how immediate (i.e., without anything intervening) or visceral versus how intellectual or ironic you make the simile. The appropriate distance depends on how much you want the reader to see the narrator behind the curtain.

"She trampled the old woman like a gazelle stampeding over its wounded dam, leaving her for the lions to devour" is more immediate/visceral than "She ran like a deflowered virgin in a horror movie."

To put the reader in the middle of the action, use a more immediate or visceral simile. To make the reader step back from the situation, use a more intellectual or ironic simile--possibly even a cliche.


Not only do you have to figure out exactly what aspect of the situation you want to reveal and how close you want the subject to the referent, you have to figure out whether you want the reader to question the narrator.

If you want the reader to say things like, "This narrator is a very close, faithful observer, and I can trust her," then make the similes more immediate and/or visceral. "She trampled the old woman like a gazelle stampeding over its wounded dam, leaving her for the lions to devour" belongs in a book with lots of adventure. --You don't trust the character, but you do have more trust for the narrator than with "She ran like a deflowered virgin in a horror movie."

In the first simile, the narrator is criticizing the character. The narrator seems to be speaking to the reader with the simple agenda of convincing the reader the character isn't all that nice. The distance between the reader and narrator is small, as if the two of you were sitting over a bistro table and talking. "No! She didn't!" says the reader. "Yep. And then..." says the narrator.

In the second, the narrator is making fun of the character's helplessness, and, if you think about it, criticizes the reader by implying the reader is someone who likes to laugh at women who are fleeing for their lives. A complicated agenda, with more distance. The narrator is up on stage, with the garish face paint of a commedia dell'arte player, walking down to the reader in the audience from time to time and totally creeping her out.

--Keep in mind, a simile is never perfectly immediate. Action is immediate; everything else has distance. Between similes and (non-simile) metaphors, I'd say the metaphor is more immediate. "She shot across the highway like a shooting star, her silk dress burning white into my retinas long after my headlights passed her" is further away than "She shot across the highway, a shooting star..." because you're not saying the woman is like a star, she is one. Also, "like a" is two extra words of separation between the reader and your point.

5) Sometimes, you should ditch the simile and go for something else.

Similes never advance the plot. As it turns out, plot is made up of action, and only action can advance the plot. Any time you do something that doesn't advance the plot, you cost your reader time and therefore interest.

Description (including similes), forshadowing, tone, mood, theme, and backstory are a waste of time, unless you do something with them that's at least as valuable as the action you just put off. Most of these elements, when used well, tell the reader something about the story that makes the plot an inevitable juggernaut. "She trampled the old woman like a gazelle stampeding over its wounded dam, leaving her for the lions to devour" gives the reader a hint about the character that affects the plot later on--without the simile, the reader might have thought the act was an accident. The simile sets up an expectation.

"She ran like a bat out of hell" sets up the expectation that the reader will put the book back on the shelf. "She ran," at least, gets to the point and lets the next thing happen.

*You need a cliche if the line is delivered by a character (or narrator) who is making fun of someone who uses cliches (possibly himself), trying to pretend he's dumb enough to speak in cliches, is so distressed he's unable to speak in anything but cliches, or generally lacks the ability to say what he means. You don't need a cliche if you're just writing something the reader could come up with just as easily as you can.

How to make interesting characters,

A theory by Neil Gaiman, via one of his Clarion students.


Words of the Day.


PRONUNCIATION:(kat-uh-KREE-sis) The misuse of words.

Here's a catchall word for all those mixed metaphors, malapropisms, and bushisms. It derives via Latin from Greek katakhresthai (to misuse).



noun: A slip of the tongue (or pen) that reveals the unconscious mind.

Parapraxis is a fancy word for the Freudian slip. It's derived from Greek para- (beside, beyond) + praxis (act).

--both via A.Word.A.Day (wordsmith.org).


How weird is that?

My brain is changing; I'm not sure why. I haven't had any head trauma or anything.

I've always been a very visual person. If I'm trying to indicate that I understand something, I say, "I see what you mean" (vs. "I hear you"). When I have typos, it's because I hit the wrong key, or I type something that "looks" right but isn't, quite. Like typing "grey" for "gray" because I read so much British fiction. (Is it "suspicion" or "suspicioun"? That kind of thing.)

But lately, I've been more aurally-oriented. Not too much, compared to people who are that way all the time, but it's weird. Sometimes, my typos come from typing words I know perfectly well wrong, because I'll type them phonetically. And today I was trying to remember a server name to help someone set up their e-mail at work. I said, "XXXX-mil," then had to stop and think about it. Why would someone name a mail client -mil? I ended up having to correct myself to -mail.

It's like discovering that sometimes, for two-second bursts, your handedness has switched.

Granted, the alien in AB is aurally-oriented, but I've been working on this thing, on and off, since mid-2006, and the weirdness has only started in the last few weeks.


Watchmen trailer.

Dance dance dance...


Writerly Ramble: Crossroads.

I'm such a sap.

So, working on Alien Blue, I was at a crossroads. The original plan was to do something interesting and expedient but horrible to one of the secondary characters, but when I came to that point, I couldn't do it. The other option I saw was gentler and kinder, but didn't set up what needed to happen in the plot.

What with one thing and another (including working on the synopsis--changing plot as I went--and drastically rewriting the beginning umpteen times), a month passed.

Today, I was working on the section of the synopsis that I was stuck on in the actual story and didn't even notice that I'd gone through the crossroads, using the gentler option and solving the setup without really even thinking about it. I don't realize I'm not stuck until two hours later.

Going back and try to figure out how I worked past the crossroads, I think the change came from setting things up differently in the beginning of the story. The emotional setup created by shattering one of the characters now comes from the main character figuring out he's been an ass, instead. Altogether a better solution.

--And, once again, I read through the events that are about to re-unfold as I rewrite the section, and I tear up.

Me: Sorry, Bill.
Bill: Aw, that's all right.


Musical Interlude: Beck

Time Bomb!

Complete with hamsters!

Na na na...

One of my favorites: F*ckin' with My Head. Drink my coffee with a hubcap! Yeah!

Loser, set to Southpark.

...And, like a goodnight lullabye, Paper Tiger.

Dog Breeds.

If you were a dog, what type of dog would you be?

Lee would be an English Mastiff.

Yours truly would be a Border Collie.

Ray would be a Cocker Spaniel. --I think we got her from a reputable breeder.


PPWB: June

Digital Storytelling: Writers and the Digital Frontier, with Carolyn Handler Miller.

Ms. Miller's talk made me jealous. While I can't help but think anything but writing novels not-for-hire is less than optimal, I've done some freelancing work that was just a blast. So the idea of writing for online, interactive markets? When can I quit my day job?

Ms. Miller talked about the evolution of storytelling, from rock art (unk!) to screenplays, the point being that each form has its requirements and tricks. The main difference between digital media and more traditional forms is the opportunity for more interactivity.

Some digital storytelling forms

E-Literature. Electronic literature, "serious" literature. Mostly poetry and stories. Much better known in Europe.

Screen-based. If movies are the "first screen" and TV is the "second screen," then stories written for the web, iTV, interactive cinema, cell phones, and electronic kiosks are "third screen."

Immersive environments. Virtual reality. In games, museums, training material, and for treating phobias. In venues varying from Disney World (Bug's Life) to the Lincoln Museum (Civil War Battlefield).

Interacting with physical devices. Interactive toys. Disney's Dolphin Robotic Unit. Smart toys.

Alternate Reality Games (ARGs). Span across multiple media, tie real/digital world together (fictional characters send e-mails, make calls, attend staged events). Worldwide scavenger hunts. Entering an ARG is called "going down the rabbit hole." A lot are sponsored by corporations. Some ARGs: The Beast (ties to AI movie), The Q Game: City of Riddles (set all over Albuquerque), I Love Bees.

Digital material for teaching/training. Both kids and working professionals use the training techniques. An overarching story or goal for the training is supported by mini-games. Military simulations. Psychotherapists. iCinema. Examples: The Meatrix.

Common features
  • Each person has to be treated as an individual user, not as a faceless "audience."
  • Users have "agency" or the ability to directly impact their course through the story.
  • Users are "inside" the story for an immersive experience.
The fourth wall tends to disappear; the users can become characters, and the character can perform as though they were users. Fictional characters can communicate in a lifelike way. Digital story is part networking, part storytelling, and part just having fun.

Game elements are a common way to keep users interested and involved in the story, with competition/conflict as a basis for the story. Providing the users with clear-cut goals and obstacles to overcome helps keep them focused even when the story is not linear.

Stories are experienced as play.

Role of writers

Writers can originate digital storytelling, collaborate, or work for hire. Tasks involve:
  • Creating characters
  • Dialogue
  • Clues (Puzzlemasters)
  • Fictional websites/blogs
  • Shaping the world
  • Suggesting interactive elements/games
  • Incorporating educational points in the storyline
However, the writer no longer has godlike control.

Different models have been formed to handle the multiple possible outcomes of a plot, but the story still has to follow a Beginning-Middle-Ending structure throughout all possibilities. The structures tend to be organized by level or chapter (from game design).

The writer has to make it clear how the user should interact with the narrative, how the user knows how well she's doing, how the user progresses through the story, and how the user moves around in the world.

Writers interested in digital storytelling have to stay on top of developments in digital media (like Wii) to be able to write for them effectively.

Old story models (like serial stories for newspapers--Charles Dickens and Dumas wrote for them) can be reinvented -- for example, lonelygirl15 is a serialization in a different media.


What's the best way to break into writing for video games? Use an engine like XNA to design a few levels of a game. Work as a beta tester.

How sophisticated are AI characters getting? ELIZA, at MIT, will psychoanalyze you. The military is developing AI. New kinds of AIs can understand speech (Chatterbots).

How are ARGs set up on a practical level? Often have a producer, project manager, visuals director, graphic artist, writer, programmers, game designer, and SMEs, but of course it varies.

Are game producers in the WGA? No, but the WGA is trying to get designers to be members based on video game credits.

Further Links

Digital Media Wire
Game Daily
Alternate Reality Gaming Network
...A lot more links. To tired to post all of them. Maybe later.

Musical Interlude: Space Lord

Sorry, sorry -- I miss things. I just heard this the other day.

Space Lord by Monster Magnet. All the calories of heavy metal, none of the taste? Sounds like Morphine, without the sax, with a sense of humor. I checked. "Good" (or Buena) is 1992; Space Lord is 1998.


Writerly Ramble: South Dakota

I was having trouble figuring out what to write that was set in South Dakota. --I mean, I write fables and fairy tales and fantasies, even if I throw in aliens, multiverses, or string theory from time to time.

What are the myths behind South Dakota? --Children of the Corn captures parts of Iowa/Kansas perfectly, but doesn't quite capture what I think about South Dakota.

So I thinking about ghost stories the other day, and I went !!! Ghost Stories !!!. --And then I thought, what about ghost hunters? Who would be my ghost hunters?

Some of my Knippling uncles, of course. I'm not sure which ones; they're all pretty interesting, so I'll probably take pieces and parts and mix them up.

Hmm de hmmm....

I decided one of them had to be called Aloysius, another one called Theodore, and I'm trying to talk myself out of calling the third one Simon. Eoin, maybe. And they have great big dogs and drive around in pickup trucks...

I threw together a bunch of story ideas. One of them is about what happens when the Army Corps of Engineers lets the water level in one of the dams fall too low -- a mysterious golden city appears, and the people who go inside to check it out all disappear. And I'm trying to figure out something to mess around with for rabies, but I'm already doing something with prairie dogs*, so it has to be something else. Ooh! And there has to be a church cookbook in there somewhere, too. But I'll stop now, because I don't want to talk my best ideas to death...

Man, I'll be glad to be done with the current book.

How do you know when your manuscript is finished?
When you can't stand not working on something else.

*And that parade in Gann Valley that was longer than the entire town.


An ice cream truck drives by our house on a daily basis.

First, it drives down other streets, and the tinny carousel music echoes off the houses so much you can't tell which direction it's coming from.

Then the truck drives up our street, the music sounding even more frail than it had when it was further away, and my daughter stands on the edge of our property line and waves her hands over her head for a minute straight, to make sure she isn't missed.

The "truck" is a converted mail truck covered with stickers depicting all kinds of ice cream treats.

Including Sonic the Hedgehog, now with gumdrop eyes.

When did I move to Pleasantville?


Mensch and Ubermensch.

The Nietzsche Family Circus.

Chocolate Review

Mo's Bacon Bar, by Vosges. Applewood smoked bacon, smoked salt, and deep milk chocolate. Unfortunately, the bacon and the chocolate cancel each other out. The bacon had to be de-fatted for the most part (to stand up to the chocolate), so I found my teeth grinding away at the bacon, going, "This should be softer and greasier, not like bacon bits." And the bacon damped down the chocolatiness of the chocolate, which wasn't terribly sweet. Mixed with the salt, the difference between salty chocolate and dry bacon...meh.

Meh, meh, meh.

Lee had the same reaction, too. --It didn't even taste like something that was bad for you. Had to be done, though.

Book Reviews

I have a lot of stuff to blog about, like the family reunion I went to last week and the June Write Brain, and some book reviews. Uh, I think I'll go with the easy stuff first.

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet: Horror Stories by Richard Matheson.

Okay, setting aside the squick factor for a moment, read this collection of Matheson stories (mostly published in the late 1950s) to give insight on how to use various tones to pull off various effects. Stephen King? You can pretty much read a Stephen King story and know who wrote it. These stories are the writerly equivalent of Gary Oldman. "Who was that?" "Gary Oldman." "Wasn't he in X, too?" "Yeah." "Doesn't even look like the same guy."

Insanely creative. The only trend from story to story is for the ending to throw in just one more twist--horror movies try to pull this off, but it usually ends up being cheesy. This is the guy they're trying to copy.

The Knight, by Gene Wolfe.

I'm not smart enough to read Gene Wolfe, which is too bad, because I really like his stuff. I mean, you're reading along, and everything makes sense. Then, suddenly, you realize something else was going on at the subconscious level, and you start to wonder what it was. It's like your brain is being reprogrammed as you read.

Am I a different person than I was before I read this book? I think. I'll never know.

I mean, Book of the New Sun (Shadow & Claw, Sword & Citadel) is one of my favorite series, but I have no idea what it's about. Starts off with a torturer's apprentice on a fantasy world, some parts of which are so fantastic it's like watching a screensaver on acid (or sinus medication). Ends with a spaceship, breaks off in the middle of things...

Anyway, The Knight is about a normal-Earth kid who gets sucked into a fantasy world. The book continues into The Wizard. The kid has lost a lot of his memories and may have lost years between leaving earth and arriving in this new world. He decides to make himself a knight, based on an enchantment from a fae enchantress. He's followed by one of Odin's hounds (maybe). His older brother is either Ben, from normal-Earth, or it's...it's complicated.

Nobody is who they seem. Nobody is who they seem even after you figure out who they really are. Reality is set up in planes, with lower planes treating upper ones like gods, except from the perspective of the denizens of the upper planes, who don't feel like gods.

I plan to read The Wizard, but I don't expect to understand that, either.

The Unnameables, by Ellen Booraem.

A YA utopian/distopian book.

I have to admit that at first I hated this book. I picked it up and read through the first five pages a dozen times and said, "Meh, " because the book starts out with a few pages of "trying too hard."* I don't need the prologue. I don't need the main character's musing from the perspective of the end of the story. I didn't need the introduction to the story's terminology. Once I got past my snit about that stuff, I remembered that the random passages I'd read in the middle of the book were really good, and had fun with it.

I also wish the cover were different -- what I needed an introduction to was the idea that the society resembles New England around the end of the 19th century, and I get a mysterious wooden thingy instead. I went to the author's website, and there's a snippet of picture they should have used instead, by her partner.

But once I got going, I finished the book in a day, staying up past my bedtime to do so. Good plot, if a little heavy-handed on the moralizing about how important creativity is, but that's offset by the addition on the necessity of discipline in pulling off one's great ideas. Complex characters who don't always do what you expect (but do it often enough that you're surprised when they don't). Good writing--once I got past the beginning, the unusual word uses flowed easily and convincingly.

Enjoyably recommended for anybody who liked The City of Ember. In fact, I liked Unnameables better; Ember was good, but so melodramatic that I didn't bother picking up the rest of the series. --It doesn't look like there will be sequels to Unnameables; I'm just saying.


Fruits Basket #20. I read this whole series online in fansub. Reading professional translations is so much nicer, plus you get all the bonus art...whenever a new book comes out, I reread the whole series. It's like a new season came out on your favorite TV show. What can I say? I'm a sucker. Fruits Basket manga is like romance novels for me...

XXXHolic #12. I haven't read this series in fansub. I don't know why. This series started out as a fairly straightforward ghost-story series, with underpinnings. It has now gotten seriously weird. This volume addresses the question, "Is the thought of a unicorn a real thought?" I teared up at the end.

One Piece! #1-3. I found these at Poor Richard's, which makes the second bookstore I've found in town that carries used copies of manga. I read the first chapter to Ray last night, and she thought it was very cool. Major theme of series: perservere. There are worse things to read to your kids, eh?

I've also been catching up on Tsubasa: Resevoir Chronicle and reading a lot of Fullmetal Alchemist. Tsubasa is the kind of thing you'll like, if you like that kind of thing (Clamp), but FMA is plain good writing and art, and I recommend it all 'round.

*As a writer, I should take note. I probably won't.


Where the Hell is Matt?

No, the other Matt. The guy who does the dance.