Archive for September, 2013

Angry Little Pixels

I haven’t quite figured out yet why people feel the need to lash out or abuse others through the internet.

You see it everywhere you go, anywhere people can interact on the internet, be it forums, comment sections, chat rooms (do chat rooms still exist?), discussion boards, whatever title these arenas for public discourse might be given.  Now, I don’t mean specifically trolls, they’re a different brand of beast.  Trolls are emotional molesters, they only make the comments they do to rile up other people for their own amusement, kind of like dropping a bomb from a safe distance then watching the destruction ensue.  I’m talking about those people who are emotionally invested in the conversations, fervently argue, cast insults at people they do not know beyond the little pixels on their screen, and actually intend for their words to hurt the other person/people reading.  And yes, that includes those who valiantly(?) rise to the occasional troll.

When has it ever been acceptable in an argument to disagree by simply calling the other person an idiot or something in that ilk?  To make personal comments about the other person, “oh you’re just saying this because you’re…(insert unfounded accusation about another person’s lifestyle or ideologies here)”, or just flat out responding “fuck you”?  I guess if I verbally eviscerate you sans name calling and you’re left with no ground to stand on,  that last one might be a little justified, but otherwise, why can’t people peacefully agree to disagree without stooping to that low level of playground name-calling and shit-slinging?

It’s petty and silly.  Furthermore, it reflects more on you than me.  Unless I respond in kind, and then we’re both three year olds in a pissing contest as far as the rest of the digital world is concerned.

I’d heard the advice some time back, that if you start to read a response/comment/post that sounds negative (or anything in your life comes at you negative, like a voicemail or letter/email, etc), stop reading/listening to it and delete it.  Life is too short, and there are too many other stresses, to ever have to deal with someone else’s negativity.  I’ve been trying to follow this advice, but it is difficult.  Sometimes you can’t help but want to read what the other person wrote.  That sick, twisted part of you that just needs to know how the “story” ends.  And then, of course, once you’ve read you need to reply, because otherwise they have the last word, and gosh darn it, if they have the last word you’ll never be able to sleep at night.

But I’m getting better at it.  Recently someone sent me something that started out “fuck you” and I deleted it without reading any further.  Now I’m a tad tormented by what the rest may have said, but I’ll get over it.   I just don’t understand.

Moments of Doubt

I wish I had the time, or sense of mind, to give everything else up and focus on the one thing that has always mattered to me.  I haven’t the guts.  Or maybe I’m just too caught up in reality.  I want to hold on to this thing, this one hope I have, that I could create something worthwhile, but I can’t shake the notion that it’s only a fantasy and a poorly constructed one at that.  I don’t have the skill, the imagination, the perseverance, the courage, the voice, and the brains to pull it off.

I’m looking over a ravine.  I could jump off or stay put, but either way, I’m still stuck.

Said Is Dead

In my early childhood, I had a teacher with a poster of various “Writing Rules” posted on the wall.  At the top of the list was this: “Said is Dead”.  I don’t remember which teacher, school, class, year, how old I was, or what the other rules were, only this one rule, which could be an indication of a poor teacher or maybe just the impact this rule made in my life.  I’d go with the latter, except I’m also leaning towards the fact it was the only rule that rhymed and there was a pretty picture of a tombstone that accompanied it, the epitaph read: RIP Said.

Flare for the dramatic much, teach?

Regardless, this particular rule did greatly impact my writing from then on.  The message in its macabre image was simple: don’t use “said”.  Afterall, the poster assured us bright-eyed, impressionable young children, there are a plethora of words near synonymous with “said” that you can use.  Ever since that class, that teacher, in that time otherwise long forgot, I was overly conscious of the word “said”, oft times avoiding it like the plague, though on rare occasion, resolve crumbling, I would give in because no other dialogue tag really fit and feel incredibly guilty about it.  It was awful, I’d bawl on the couch and eat buckets of ice cream for weeks on end.

Okay, maybe that’s just a typical after-writing event.

Anyhow, last month, the 20th to be exact, Elmore Leonard passed away.  I’m not sure about you, but I was utterly devastated when I got the news.  Leonard gave us such greats as Get Shorty, Be Cool, 3:10 to Yuma, and my personal favorite, the good Marshall Raylan Givens, of Justified fame (ie. my favorite show ever, period).

Leonard wrote for the New York Times his now infamous “10 Rules of Writing”, which are very straight forward and an excellent read for any aspiring writer (or even better, aspiring editors).  It’s apparently become the essential guide for spotting good writing, as I’ve seen the rules mentioned here and there by others, apparently pilfering Leonard’s work.  Rules such as: 1) Never open a book with weather and 2) Avoid prologues.  Rule number 3 on this handy-dandy list reads: Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.

Imagine me reading this, traumatized in childhood by the death of this incredibly useful word “said”.  Murdered, it would seem from that teacher’s depiction, by erstwhile writers that beat it into an early grave.  Yet, according to Leonard, said was, in fact, alive and well, living in the Florida Keys most likely, wearing old Hawaiian patterned shirts, sipping Mai Tais, and still the only go to guy for appropriate dialogue tagging.

Paradigm totally shifted.

Okay, admittedly, I’d started using said a tad more liberally since reading that “said is dead” rule.  I’d seen other writers doing it and caved to peer pressure.  You know how it goes:

“But everyone says using this word is bad…”

“Oh come on, just this once, no one’ll notice, and what could it hurt if just one character in your story ‘said’ something.  It’ll be fun.”

“I don’t know…”

More and more I’ve been seeing this adage popping up all over how-to-write sites and such: never use anything except said.  Maybe I’m just noticing it more, or maybe it’s a new phase in writing.  Not sure.  But it does beg the question: who’s right?  Should said be dead and buried?  Or should said be the only dialogue tag in existence, and grumbled, muttered, whispered, so on and so forth, brutally sacrificed in a  mass killing spree of would be conversational marking verbs?

After much debate, research, and cycling through the evidence, I’ve reached this conclusion: They’re both right.

How could that be?  Writing rules are set in stone aren’t they?  And who knows what makes good writing better than a great writer like Elmore Leonard?

Let’s not forget the real judges of word choice: style, mood, and voice.

Leonard wrote in a very particular style.  Gritty crime novels, that were fast-paced, tongue in cheek, and designed to keep you on the edge of your chair.  He wanted to create a particular mood with every chapter, scene, sentence.  He chose words that kept the story going, and going at a heart pumping pace.  His voice was a matter-of-fact with a slight swagger.  That’s what made his stories so well-liked and so addicting; the style, mood, and voice that his word choices created.  His rules might apply to your writing if you’re looking to mimic that atmosphere, or build a similar one, but not everyone likes that type of story and not every story works with those rules.

As with any purported rules of writing, no matter the source, you must always take them with a grain of salt.  You have to understand all of the elements of writing in order to know which rules to follow when, which rules you can break and why, and how to start making your own writing rules that work for you, but probably won’t for anyone else.

Even in Leonard’s rules, he provides examples here and there, or writers who were able to break the rule effectively.  There is no hard, fast, this is how to write and do it no other way, set of writing rules.  Everything is guideline, and you dictate when to break away and try your own thing.  Writing is as much a practice of experimentation as any other art form.  Throw paint on a canvas and see what sticks.  The worse that happens?  You get a pile of paint goo and need to toss the project.  But if you’re real lucky, and the paint hits the canvas just right, you end up with a masterpiece.

The best rule Leonard provides, the only one you should follow every times without fail, is his “11th” rule: If it sounds like writing, I re-write it.

All that matters with writing is that you draw your readers in to the story with it, and nothing in your writing kicks them out again.

Said isn’t dead, but maybe a bit overworked, so probably give him a vacation once in awhile?


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