Archived Writer's Notebook Messages

from February 21, 1998 to March 3, 1998

Colleen Tue Mar 3 18:03:02 PST 1998

Hmmm. Thank you Pat. Well said. The last time I read this message board, I felt that there was lots of support etc. and now? Chill out. If we are not here to help each other then why bother? I know the first time I shared a story with my writing group I cried. I was so nervous. It is nice to be able to watch their faces when I read. I can tell by the way they react what their honest reaction is. This is one downfall of computer writing groups. I can't see your faces or know what kind of people you are. I haven't shared much here as I was watching to see how friendly the waters were......

As for research, maybe we need to research some practical guidelines for examining others work? I know that I can't thrive in a hostile environment. It really depletes the creative muse. We should be here to encourage that creative streak and gently provide non personal advice on context.

I will hang back for a while to see what happens. It probably doesn't matter if I dissapear into cyberspace, since you can't see my face or know who I am. I was beginning to feel at home here, but now I wonder.....

Pat Christensen Tue Mar 3 17:46:28 PST 1998

A word on criticism in general...

An friend once told me something I rejected utterly and then, years later, came (painfully) to realize the truth of:

Those traits which we most despise in others tend, by and large, to be our own worst faults, usually unseen by ourselves.

Just a cautionary note for those passing judgement on others.

Kim Rainey Tue Mar 3 17:20:36 PST 1998

I've always found this to be a friendly place where people could joke with one another and where criticisms were constructive and tactful. But I must say that I am rather disappointed with what I am reading here today.

Philip, you are certainly entitled to your own opinion, but don't you think "arrogant crap" is a little harsh? Jeez! It was only a little poem and I hardly think Gary intended it to be a literary statement. I guess hearing you say that Gary's poem is "garbage clogging up the system" has me feeling uncomfortable. What if *I* post something you think is "crap?" I would be devastated if you blasted me the way you did Gary. I mean, I can take criticism, but here I don't expect it to be so tactless.

Anyway...on the topic of research, I don't think anyone has yet mentioned using other people as a resource. Though I haven't done this myself, I would think finding an "expert" in the area you are researching (a professor, an historian, etc.) could be an invaluable tool.


Clyde Dixon Tue Mar 3 15:49:10 PST 1998

As to research or speculation on what form alien life might take, there is quite a lot. For example, instead of our own carbon based biology, silcon or nitrogen based chemistry could be the basis of life elsewhere--though the correct operating temperatures for those reactions are far from what we can tolerate.

Then there are the myriad factors of gravity, light spectrum, seasons, etc. Given a star with known properties, one can determine where in its system an earth like planet would be or what the conditions would be like on any hypothetical planet in the system--well, at least good enough for our purposes, after all, the local weather forecast is still wrong a lot of the time.

I would estimate that mold is the perfect life form for the current conditions in Oregon.

Kirstin Ramey Tue Mar 3 15:35:21 PST 1998

Hayden - The reason you can't think of a word in japanese that has a c in it is because they don't have a c. They have ka, ki, ku, ke, ko and sa, shi, su, se, so. Can you tell what language I'm taking! Just thought I'd say somethin'.

Gotta get back to my research,

Philip Tue Mar 3 14:30:44 PST 1998

T M:

In reference to what you wrote: Wasn't Philip the one who was talking last week about not putting limits on free expression in the arts?
"Jumpin' Jesus on a pogo stick" is ok, but "sepecu" ain't?

Jumpin' Jesus and "sepecu" are both okay by me? But crap is still crap.


Philip Tue Mar 3 14:24:21 PST 1998


I am not so much provoked by your 'jingle' but nauseated. My responses are straight and honest. When I see garbage clogging up the system I am compelled to comment and will continue to do so.

And please, really, you don't speak for everyone in this group. There are many talented writers here, you are just not one them.

I place praise where I see it is deserved. In my eighteen months or so in this group I've critiqued numerous works of some extremely talented writers and they have returned the favour with my work.

But nonsense will usually get a reaction from me.


T. M. Spell Tue Mar 3 13:50:05 PST 1998


Is Sepecu an exsidious form of suicide? Just kidding, just kidding. :-) (Like I could resist.)

Wasn't Philip the one who was talking last week about not putting limits on free expression in the arts? "Jumpin' Jesus on a pogo stick" is ok, but "sepecu" ain't?

Tue Mar 3 10:39:39 PST 1998


I don't know what you find in a harmless jingle that provokes you to such hostility. I have noted your innapropriately hostile responses to others in the notebook
and just assumed that you have a personal problem.

On the matter of Email. I hoped that I made it clear to you that I do not welcome your private observations to me on the lack of talent represented in this forum. Since we are now exchanging our thoughts publically, I am going to, once again, suggest that you seek a forum that is worthy of the level of your abilities and accomplishments or stop complaining to me about the inadaquecies of this one.

As far as the personal problem you have with hostility, I wish you luck in dealing with it. I certainly don't envy your plight in this matter. I just don't believe that the notebook is the place for some one to play out personal problems. No one in this forum intended any offence to you. And that includes me.

Best of luck to you, Philip,

Gary S

Bob Luthardt the new guy Tue Mar 3 09:16:08 PST 1998

So there I was haunting my usual reference sites when I take a wrong turn at "Critters" and find myself here. My name is Bob, and I am a writer. No I have not sold any novels, but inasmuch as a "band" can call itself such without any record contracts, I dub myself a writer. I've completed Version III of a full length noir mystery, and having tasted that, I'm now 90 pages into a historical fiction about the Knights Templar; something in the mode of Salvatore but without "hocus-pocus". Tall order, perhaps; but I'm still going to do it. Accept me or shun me.

Yes, full of "newbie" enthusiasm, I'll take on the topic of research. Oddly enough, I'm currently researching the Dark Ages (who isnt?) for a novel I'm writing. I have found that my writing almost ALWAYS reflects the music I listen to. So when I am prepared to write, I always select music that makes me feel the way I want my book to make the reader feel. Swan Lake seems to work for my current project.

What I find most difficult in writing this novel is the application of medicine. I have spent weeks researching what common remedies (herbs, teas, etc.) that may have been used to resolve common ailments like headaches, nausea, etc. I have found little to work with, so for now, I'm improvising. As someone mentioned already, much of this era's knowledge was lost during war and conquest, so you can reason away that perhaps indeed, the monks had remedies for migraine headaches, but it was lost until modern medicine "rediscovered" the aspirin. Other than things like this, I've not really had difficulty creating a real, complete world for my novel, and have yet to encounter an errant "zipper".

A handy tool for a writer in this kind of endeavor is to not only use real objects, but to use descriptions that draw from that time period. For example, in the Dark Ages, the explosive fireball set off by lightening would not be accurately described as a "powderkeg". They didn't come for another 50 years or so. Just put yourself there, in that scene in that period of history. Look around you - what do you see? BE YOUR WORK, and your work will be real.

Enough rookie prattle.

Hayden Grayell Tue Mar 3 02:34:23 PST 1998

Research....ah, now there is a subject that instils a sense of wonder in the souls of rats. (Don't ask me what that means, I just wrote it to sound pretentious.)

I research what I write to some degree, though usually I read other writers who are recounting some similar field. For instance, in The Misery Wheel the world is beset by the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and the Horse of War is creating a lot of havoc. I personally have never been in the situation where someone is shooting at me with cannon or with bow and arrows, so I read as much as I could from writers of the 16th and 17th centuries, and then followed it up with works by writers who were chronicling the first World War. Totally different eras, but there is an essenstial flavour of war that all the authors evoked. I found that more important than whether the arrows were flighted with goose feather or finch feathers. Some detail is irrelevant, or at best slows down the reader. How the soldiers "felt" was much much much more important to get right.

I hope I am never in a battle where they shoot to kill.

As with Philip, I spent a lot of time in the Library before I start into a novel, not only searching out relevant episodes, but also tangible "body physics" that would describe how someone would, for instance, hide a cat up his jumper so no-one would notice the scratches on his face--that sort of thing. (Too much coffee.) Working with science fiction is I think worse, because I think there are even stricter rules to getting facts right. People take science seriously, after all, it is the future we are writing about. Fantasy tends to be a little more forgiving, because it is almost legend that we are creating, and that can be a little more surreal.

Enough from me.

And as an aside, I have a horribe feeling that sepucu is not spelt that way...sepuku, sepeku. I'm trying to think of a japanese word with the letter c in it, which makes me doubt the spelling of it. (Unfortunately all my dictionaries are letting me down.)


Philip Tue Mar 3 01:18:03 PST 1998


This is arrogant crap which displays very little talent. Why don't you keep your personal rubbish confined to your personal email?

Joan and Rhoda,

Here is a jingle.

I got it wrong again
Sang the wrong song again
Let me apologise
To you unlucky guys

I know it's all my fault
Please take a grain of salt
If you demand your due
I'll commit sepecu.


Thanks mate!

Philip. Tue Mar 3 00:41:24 PST 1998

Pat et al,

Sepecu is a ritualized form of traditional Japanese suicide, performed for the purpose of repentance and releasing the soul from disgrace.

It is often confused with the ritual, Harikiri, which it ain't. I thought you guys all knew this shit.

Gariess, again. Tue Mar 3 00:25:14 PST 1998


I scrolled up three times to make sure I have the right name, here.

I found it interesting to find, in a single paragraph, where the British got their lessons in protectionism.

Tell me, (and this I found fascinating) If the Scots came from Ireland and the Picts came from Scotland, where in hell did the Irish come from? I'd like to know because a great lot of them have been showing up around here lately and being xenophobic as I am, I have been a bit concerned.

Gary S.

Pat Christensen Tue Mar 3 00:22:08 PST 1998

Oops. That last post, about "sepecu" and the "parsecs" conundrum in Star Wars was mine. I posted before I added my name to it.

As my roommate pointed out, I do lots of research into science fiction-type stuff. I once read a comic book.

This is probably why I stick to writing mysteries. I worked for a private investigator for awhile. Made research a whole lot easier for me. I know where to look and who to talk to. But for science stuff...sheesh! Anything you can't find in DC, Marvel and Dark Horse is beyond my ken.

But I still want to know what "sepecu" is. I might want to commit it someday (the way my life is going, it might be a good idea) and I'd want to get it right. Style counts in these matters.

Tue Mar 3 00:15:15 PST 1998

Gariess - What the blazes is "sepecu" when it's at home?

Goodweed - I always loved the controversy about the Millenium Falcon making the Kessel run in under 12 parsecs. I like these little quirks, especially when they can be explained.

When you travel using warp drive engines, you are, technically "outside" of space. Jumping in and out is tricky, as was stated. If you're not careful, you could end up in an asteroid field or worse. So ships tend to make relatively short "jumps" into hyperspace via warp drive. Most of the time, for navigational and safety purposes, they operate on thrusters in "real space." If you can make the Kessel run in only 12 parsecs of real space, you're a hell of pilot, to spend all that time and distance in hyperspace without practical navigation. Solo was just bragging about how accurate he was, not how fast.

God I love this stuff sometimes. Doesn't it almost sound like I know what the hell I'm talking about?

Mon Mar 2 23:59:53 PST 1998


Tell us that you don't really believe anyone on earth actually knows what kinds of life are possible other than the organic ones with which we are familiar.

It appeared as though you were making suggestions in the context of research. Surely this suggestion must be in the context of speculation. Perhaps you meant that one could research what speculation might exist on this subject.

Don't count me as unkind. I just wanted to get to you on this one before Hayden does.

I do support your observation that proper SF does not contradict established scientific fact.


Gariess Mon Mar 2 23:29:08 PST 1998

Joan and Rhoda,

Here is a jingle.

I got it wrong again
Sang the wrong song again
Let me apologise
To you unlucky guys

I know it's all my fault
Please take a grain of salt
If you demand your due
I'll commit sepecu.


Joan Mon Mar 2 20:35:40 PST 1998

Curses!! Rhoda---I'm so mad at you (just teasin' -:)! Here someone actually thought I did heaps of wonderful research (thanks Gary, no matter how misguided), and you had to go and straighten them out. (hehehe)

Actually, I have had to do *some* research. In the book I've been posting from, the main character is a nurse who practices holistic medicine. At the time I finsihed the first draft, I was working in a hospital. After consulting some herbal and other alternative medicine books, I checked with some of the hospital nurses and got the names of a couple of local holistic nurses, then talked to them about holistic healing methods. Then there was the issue of Druids, and a lot is written about them (although I couldn't find any to ask personally!).

As it started out, a lot of my fantasy just grew out of having read about fantasy worlds---maybe NOT the best way to research, as you do want to be original. I vote, then, for researching things in your own world that can then be transferred into a fantasy world. There are enough common truths that what you do write then has the ring of truth and believability, no matter how alien you make it.


Goodweed of the North Mon Mar 2 18:07:33 PST 1998

Fantasy is a unique and interesting place. Things such as dragons and magic don't have to fit the popular myths. They must, however, be believable within the context of the story.

My other labor of love, science fiction, requires dilligent research and a sound scientific background. Such anachronims as found in Star Wars, when Han Solo says something about the Millenium Falcun making a long distance run using the parsec as a time reference rather than for distance is at best, sloppy. The s.f. writer must be aware of theoretical science. What are the current theories about black holes? What is the curvature of space? What other types of life are possible besides the organic life we are familiar with?

The s.f. arena lends itself to extrapolation of current knowledge. It must, however, be at the very least, possible, for a story to fly. The readers are usually educated, and unforgiving when an absurd idea is placed in a story.

As was posted by others, the internet is a great place to start. There are no substituions though, for personal knowledge, and research.

Power to your pens.

Seeeeeya; Goodweed of the North

Mon Mar 2 18:07:28 PST 1998

Mon Mar 2 18:07:18 PST 1998

Kirstin Ramey Mon Mar 2 15:27:21 PST 1998

Oops, I forgot to finish typing my E-mail address.

Kirstin Ramey winged_magic Mon Mar 2 15:23:50 PST 1998

I was wondering if anyone knew of a place I could find information on racism in the newspaper. I have to write a research paper for my English class and since we are talking about research I thought wouldn't hurt to ask. I don't know exactly what I'm looking for because I just got the assignment today. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Also, I've never done a real research paper and I was wondering how others went about researching.


Rhoda Mon Mar 2 14:47:12 PST 1998


I'm not,
My name's Rho...o..da(sung to the tune, I'm not Lisa. My name is Judy).

I write ponderous Dark Age sagas, while Joan writes fantasy, so I must suppose, Gary, you referred to me, not Joan.

Actually there is an advantage of writing novels from the Dark Ages and that is no one knows for certain what was really going on at the time. My primary job in research is to be credible, not necessarily accurate, for being accurate and true to Dark Age Britain in AD 515 is an impossibility. There are bounderies, however. I cannot in good conscience rewrite what is known of history for the sake of my story, so I really try to be as accurate as I can. The history of this period is not completely dark. The British are involved in a desperate struggle to save their homeland against invaders from Europe (mainly Angles and Saxons), from Ireland (Scots) and Scotland (Picts). The Western Roman Empire which once shielded the Britons from these attacks is now a political non-entity and has not had legions on the British Isles since AD 410.

There is considerable historical controvery about this time. Literature and chronicles suggest that King Arthur was the great leader who saw the British people through these trying times by taking command of the British resistance and besting the Saxons in a battle which brought about a generation of peace (40 years). Historians are divided over who Arthur really was and what was his scope in the struggle. As a writer, I have to use the background that I believe is the most feasable. Fortunately Arthur is not a major character in any of my books, so I don't have to define him too closely. The importance of Arthur has only to do with the political and social situations my charaters live in.

As far as anachronisms, I find the best way to avoid them is to take special note about any item you are not sure of--whether it be a piece of clothing, weapon, food, plant, etc. After the first draft is written, go back and research those items. For history so remote as what I write, I must be very careful about flora and fauna because many of the plants modern Britons take for granted are imports such as roses, potatoes, etc. Roses came over after William the Conqueor and potatoes are originally from the New World. Vegetables that exist now were not the same then. Pest-resistant varieties are a more modern invention, so what did exist in the Dark Age or the Mideval garden are wilder and inferior forms of what we enjoy today.

If you come across something in your writing that you can't find adequate information about, do not mention it. Rewrite your story in such a way to avoid it altogether.

The hardest part of research are those little everyday things that Jack mentioned which we take for granted. These are the things that will slip you up. Most people who set up a story in a historical time will easily get dates and timelines about important political and historical events. What is harder to know is the lifestyle of the characters. What were the fabrics? What did they eat, and what months of the year were these foods available to them? How did they groom and clean themselves? What types of houses did they and their neighbors live in? One of the best ways to learn this information is getting EVERYDAY LIFE IN ..." types of books. There are several in most libraries. They have them for ancient Rome, The Byzantine Empire, Anglo-Saxon Britain, Tudor England, Regency England, 1800's America, etc. These are a great help, but they are not always enough. Children's books are an excellent source. They will often go into much more detail about life style than adult history books will, and they offer the added bonus of lots and lots of colorful pictures. I know of several authors who sell historical resourses relating to what the normally write. An example that comes to mind is Emily Hendrickson's THE REGENCY REFERENCE BOOK. This book deals with terminolgy, clothing, social customs, and legal matters pertaining to Regency era in England.

The Internet is a wonderful tool for research. It is true that you can't believe everything posted on the Internet, but you can't trust everything printed in books either. Mistakes abound everywhere, so check and double check. Not only can you find web-sites that deal with the most mundane detail, but you can visit sites of University Bookstores in almost any country and browse through the titles and writeups on books. Oftentimes you can discover hard to find books that cover just the matter you wish to research. I haven't yet bought a book on the Internet, but I do jot down the title, author, publisher and try to find that book through my local library's Interlibrary loan. If I can get the book that way, I am able to go through it for a very small price and get the information I need. If it is an espacially useful book, I will buy it.

This is a long posting, and I could have written much more because I love research. History books are to me what light fiction is to other people. As I mentioned before the Internet is a great source. For anyone interested in a great place to start for Internet research, check out Jack's For Writer's Only. I've found many useful links there.

I look forward to reading what others have to say on this topic.

Take care and Happy Writing. Watch out for those anachronisms!

Rhoda (not Joan)

Philip Mon Mar 2 14:37:42 PST 1998


For writers, research is the starburst gleam off the glossy glaze which coats the cherry atop the icing of the proverbial cake.

In another life I was a Production Designer/Art Director for films and television. When I worked on dramatic period films I spent roughly a third of my time researching - thank God for well written books as well as good artists and illustrators (prior to the camera). To find answers there can be no substitute for a good library and simply cracking the books.

I worked on a film for NBC-TV called Valley Forge about George Washington's durability during the harsh winter he and his troops must survive if he is to win the war against the British. The log cabins, huts and houses the British, French and the new Americans lived in and the wardrobe were well documented but our work came down to saddlery, weapons, boots, tablewares and hardware as well. I was always mindful of the experts in the field who were watching and from whom we always received letters no matter how hard we tried to get every detail in period.

My first book was set in 1869, so it was off to the library for me for more than a good few weeks - and scrambling back every so often after I'd started it. One thing I remember I got picked up on was a quote from the bible that I had incorporated - the version I originally quoted from was not printed until after 1869. Luckily my error was picked up prior printing. So you see, it's not just language or zippers and laces and buttons and bows that we need to take care with.

Other problems present themselves when you come across excellent material in your research, do you put it all in? Can you spot writers putting the stuff in simply because they have it? Therein lies a finer problem for us all and the real balancing trick.


Jack Beslanwitch Mon Mar 2 13:23:28 PST 1998

Gary's comment about anachronisms leads me to add one additional addendum to the earlier topic. This sort of crosses the line between humor and research. What are your favorite gems of anachronisms that you have spotted on television, in movies or in a book. I know this is a side issue from research, but it is in the category of a hall of shame for lack of research.

My favorite example and the one that lead me to drop watching Hercules on television at all, was the opening scene where Hercules meets Cassandra in her garden. She is being very serious as she talks over their subject with Herc as she harvests the corn in her garden. Of course, Xena and Hercules are notorious about rewriting the nature of myths, doing major strangeness with historical timelines and other such anachronisms. However, it was plain old New World corn that got to me.

Kim Mon Mar 2 11:55:46 PST 1998

Ahh...research...that familiar project Iíve had so much fun with over the past few years!

My approach to researching my Victorian novel (set in 1864-70 America & England) is to read everything I can get my hands on about this period. To get an overview, I started with general books about the Victorian era and branched out from there to more specific topics such as politics, transportation, etc. Iíve found fiction (and diaries even) actually written during the time I am researching to be very helpful. And if I want better visualization, Iíll rent a movie set during the 1860s.

To avoid anachronisms? I try to absorb all the info I can and will research anything I am unsure of. Of course, anachronisms can still creep in, especially in dialog, so I let my husband read my work and heíll let me know if something seems out of place. Even though Iíve done a lot of research, itís still an on-going process. As my novel progresses, I often find the need to research an aspect or topic that I had not initially thought of.

Now, a little humor for all of you out there (like me!) who are no good in the morning until youíve had your coffee. This plaque hangs in my kitchen: "Letís take each morning one cup at a time."


M Mobil Mon Mar 2 00:59:54 PST 1998

Why should I want to write comedy? All my major concerns in life are seen as trite, and a few other descriptive terms, by others and therein is the source for laughter: the descriptive bent shows the two view points.
Ex. I am less than motivated in grade school to finish a science work book - until Mrs. Thomas, who rarely shows any animation about her torpid physique, pulls out a list of people who have done poorly on the last test. She is a subdued sort and believes that just threatening to read these names aloud will put the scare into us and set us straight.
I could care less. However, I am amazed at seeing her display a small vein of anger along her wrinkled, and paled face. She reminded me of Julia Child - in height, but always appeared as one who lived with tissues IV-style.
The next week's science class arrives and in comes Mrs. Thomas - we sat in the same rooms, while the different teachers came to us.I had not finished my assignment and now I feared her looking directly at me with her kleenex-y eyes, towering limbs and pale demeanor. She held the list in her hands and was calling the names out, asking for each kid's reason for being so wreckless with their homework.
I worked several different excuses as she wrangled each name loose from their respective seats. And then, me. I had no excuse. I'm a dead duck. She already knows I'm fried - she only wants to see how much I'll bubble about before she consents to permitting me to sit down.
I stand up slowly, trying to act as if I accidentally drop my book. Stall. Look innocent. I cannot help but burn red with embarassment, and I know it shows all over my face and down my neck. "Mrs. Thomas, the reason I..." She interrupts.
"I have never seen a report like the one you turned in. It was outstanding. That was marvelous. Want an interest you took and the extensive time you spent on researching your topic on the human heart. It's the best I have ever seen."
I am standing there trying to continue, in my head, what else I can possibly say in my defense for not turning in my assignment on time as she goes on about this report I had turned in two weeks earlier. I feel like Tommy Smothers.
I see she has a gleem in her eye and a smile is stretching her wrinkled cheeks. Why the hell is she smiling at my demise? And then I realize she is babbling about a thing I "just happened" to do on the human heart - it was a facinating topic- not about my name being on any list, nor about my current homework assignment.
I stand there now and nod at her as if to say 'I did an enormous amount of extracurricular reading for that report. But, thanks.'
I'm smiling. She's smiling.
She calls the next kid's name. "And what's your excuse?"
I blush with the after glow of embarassment - and then I feel a sensation of "funny" rush in.
Humor stands on the edge of fear, the unexpected, ignorance, and the other side of the fence from anger.
You can express humor best when you best express the opposites involved.
M. Mobil Sun Mar 1 23:08:48 PST 1998

Jack, I'll be interested to hear how some people research a subject. I do very little of that. I would guess Joan Rhodda could impart wisdom on this topic. Her work is well described in the dark ages. Michele Fry is doing world class work on a poet of the early 20'th century. How good of me to volunteer for you, Ladies.

I have noticed that anachronisms appear often in TV series'
and they appear to be deliberately disregarded. They appear in movies as well. In both cases it is the use of present day vernacular that pops up in the past. The TV series M.A.S.H. was a big transgressor. Hawkeye and B.J. routinely used jargon from the seventies and eighties in their 1950's setting.

Hayden, I'm working on it.

Nice to see you again, Kirsten. Your youthful exuberance brings welcome bright air into the room.

I second the opinion that Pat's funeral scene was a hoot. I was recently given the responsibility of disposing someone's ashes, and I discovered that it does have it's unique form of stress.

Power to all your pens,

Gary S.

Jack Beslanwitch Sun Mar 1 17:57:26 PST 1998

Hello all: I have added a new topic for us to explore. However, I want to open by saying that I have enjoyed the humor so much that I fully endorse anyone who still wants to drop humor here at any time.

I would like to propose that we discuss how best to do research for a story. In particular, I am interested in how we go about doing research on past historical periods. How does one make sure there are no anachronistic technologies springing up or language or a turn of phrase that did not arise for another decade or two. Think of all the standard things from gum to zippers to safety pins that would not be available in the 1840s. As always, if something else strikes your fancy, strike out in that direction.

I am trying to think back and believe we may have touched on this some time back on the Notebook, but think it deserves another go around. Also, in addition to the research, what are the faux pauxs in characterization and cultural context that might get us in trouble as we discuss a fourth or fifth century Briton waltzing around the countryside in search of the Grail as opposed to a Upper Class Victorian lady who finds herself in San Francisco in 1849 or maybe Salt Lake City.

Kirstin Ramey Sun Mar 1 17:42:11 PST 1998

It's amazing how funny things sound when your extremely tired. I had a search last night and it didn't end till 6 am. When our operations leader was debriefing us he was talking about one of our members who didn't show up to the debrief (he was asleep in his car). Our OL was trying to say "when the shoe fits." Instead he said "when the foe shits." Every one started to laugh.

I'm not very good at writing humor. When it appears in my writing it's normally a fluke or from something or somebody I observed earlier in the day.

Joan - thanks for the compliment.


Hayden Sun Mar 1 13:41:03 PST 1998

Pst...Gary...(While the others aren't looking) What's a modifier..and should I report it if it gets misplaced?

Joan Sun Mar 1 12:42:13 PST 1998

Hi guys--

Pat, feeling slightly irreverent, I snickered (guiltily) throughout your entire humor posting about the funeral. That, to me, was a wonderful example of humor in writing!

Hey Jack, you mentioned going to a Charles De Lint booksigning. Lucky dog!!! Was there any schedule of future signings he might do, maybe closer to Montana? What a wonderful writer her is! He also has his own website, and I've E-mailed him a few times with questions about celtic music, since it was obvious in his books he was quite familiar with it. A nice man, also.

Kirsten---I've meant to say this before, but always forget. I'm tremendously impressed with your persistence and skill, at your age, in writing. Keep up the good work!!


Tim Hayes TJ_NH@YAHOO.COM Sun Mar 1 09:32:02 PST 1998

I'm a struggling author that wants to get into the field of writing science fiction and fantasy stories for anyone that wishes to view or to read them. I also like to draw much of the same thing (people think that I'm "getting-too-wrapped-up" in this sort-of-thing. I'm not!!)

Here's what I like (So far):

General sf topics (I make lists of things I want to "check-out" wether here on the web or "in-my-own-place" (wherever that may be).

"Fur" stuff (Adult in nature)

"Real" Nature

SF TV and movies (anything I choose to watch or read)

(More later..........)

Thanks (if you send me something)


Sat Feb 28 21:50:20 PST 1998


Okay, the arrow is broken, the gauntlet has been thrown(or whatever they do with gauntlets), the Rubicon is crossed.

I am now critiquing your posting. I'll let you know when I'm done. I expect it will take some time. I mean I am sooooooo busy these days. Hmmm, misplaced modifier, okay, that's one.

This isn't bothering you one bit, is it?

Hayden Grayell Sat Feb 28 16:18:36 PST 1998

Gary: Goddamn it I broke m' pencil. Looks like I'll have to start all over again...hehehehe

And if your suspenders are killing you, you are wearing them too tight.


Gary S. Sat Feb 28 12:40:22 PST 1998

I'm partial to the eloquence of native brevity in humor. I get no deep sardonic irony from "Red Neck" one liners because no one ever meant to put any in them. Consider the following.

You might be a redneck if:

People ask permission to hunt on your lawn.

You proposed in a "Denny's"

You won't pull into a rest area if there's an empty beer can in your truck.

Two of your sisters concieved as a result of alien abductions.

Your mother keeps a lighted Marlboro between her lips while she tells the State Trooper to "Kiss my ass!" (extra large 'red neck' joke)

You've ever taken a beer into a job interview.

You have a pair of cut-offs made from old double knits.

Your best sofa used to be a back seat in a '62 chevy.

These are a few at random.

Hayden, the suspense is unbearable. You did this on purpose. Don't think I don't know you.

Bye, now

Gary S.

Amanda Dickerson Sat Feb 28 00:42:10 PST 1998

Hayden, I just read your story and I have some comments.

First of all, I love the creative images. Your descriptions were unique and vivid.

The story is good, if too depressing for my taste.

You might want to explain the reason behind the unusual actions the squire makes throughout the story. They inspire deep emotions in the people watching. If we readers understood them you might inspire deep emotions in us too.

I kind of expected you to tie in the strange behavior of the animals at the end. Their actions seemed deliberate. Even if it is only the squire who imagines the animals have a deeper reason for their behavior, share that reason with us.

Good luck with your submission.


Clyde Dixon Fri Feb 27 23:16:24 PST 1998

Bumper stickers . . . I got real tired of all those "____ on board" stickers--I wanted a T-Shirt that had a yellow sign on it that read, "Car On Board." But that moment has passed.

Joe Walsh does have funny lyrics--no indecision there!

Time for bed--not feeling funny at the moment, just tired.

Pat Christensen Fri Feb 27 19:42:07 PST 1998

On the subject of humor and laughter...a true tale:

My sister Chris died. We weren't particularly close. None of my immediate family is, having all been raised pretty much in separate foster homes. But we all loved her daughter, who had been separated from us for many years. So when our niece called us all together and said she wanted to bury her mother's ashes in the local cemetery, we agreed to show up.

What my niece didn't say is that she never told the cemetery owners about this otherwise splendid plan.

We were all born and raised Catholic. Some of us still are. My oldest sister claims Catholocism, but is angry at the church and she and her husband no longer practice. Her daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren still do. My brother is an agnostic. His wife and sons are Christian fundamentalists. I'm a "bilateral gluteun" Catholic (half-assed all the way). Chris had converted to Buddhism. Her daughter had been raised a Baptist, more or less, and had later coverted to Wicca. Then there was Chris' foster sister, the hyper-Catholic gay gym teacher. (No, I am NOT making this up.)

We were, to say the least, an eclectic bunch who gathered at the cemetery that afternoon, nervously looking over our shoulders for the authorities to show, having just found out that this little family gathering was officially sub rosa and quite possibly illegal as hell.

We'd been all over town that morning, gathering the things my niece wanted for her burial rite. We found the sea salt and most of the other necessary items, but we had trouble finding all the colors of candles she needed. There were simply no proper black candles to be found anywhere. Finally, in desperation, I found a small box of tiny black birthday candles. Necessity never gets all the cards due her from Invention on Mother's Day.

My nephew had brought a spade and he dug a hole at the back of the cemetery next to a small tree. My niece performed the ritual with careful solemnity while the more intesely religious held in their skepticism and ire for her sake, if nothing else. Personally, I felt the whole thing would appeal to my late sister's wonky sense of the absurd. I was apparently in the minority in this opinion.

I think I was also the only person who noticed that my niece didn't pour all the ashes into the small grave. When she was finished, she asked if anyone had anything to add. Of course, the hyper-Catholic gym teacher had a longish prayer to add while the rest of us nervously scanned the skies for stray thunderbolts.

Then the older members of the family began to disperse, hunting for the graves of other relatives. My niece went unerringly to my grandmother's grave and began walking widdershins around it, pouring out her mother's remaining ashes as she did so. I think that, at first, only I and my sister-in-law noticed this.

Meanwhile, the youngest members of the family, the great-nieces and nephews, released from temporary sobriety, were larking about, playing tag among the tombstones. It was a windy day and leaves were flying everywhere, not to mention other, more particulate material.

Suddenly, my sister-in-law's voice rang out. "Kids! Be careful! You're stepping in your Aunt Chris!"

I lost it. My oldest nephew was standing next to me and I leaned over and hid my face on his shoulder. He began patting my back with self-conscious, 16-year-old concern. This evaporated rapidly when I began to snort with the laughter I could no longer hold in.

I don't know if he's ever forgiven me.

Still, it was a successful funeral, as such things go in our family. No one was injured or arrested and we are all still, more or less, on speaking terms with each other.

However, my oldest sister visited the gravesite about a year later and reports that the little tree over my sister's grave has died.

It was either a stray thunderbolt or an overdose of sea salt.

But I still think Chris would be amused.

Joan Fri Feb 27 18:10:53 PST 1998

Hi all--

I've been standing back, scratching my head about humor. It seems to come on--in writing and in life--so spontaneously. Jack, I can ABSOLUTELY relate to your story about the gawdawful night being so terrible, the only thing left to do was laugh. I tend to get hysterical in those situations, and laughing is close to (or amidst) tears.

One Christmas letter is an example. I was relating what had happened when my aunt and uncle from far far away in Texas (we're in Montana) called out of the blue and said they were dropping by. (Dropping was the operative word for my jaw at that moment!) You have to understand . . . I am NOT a housekeeper! I work, I write, I commute, I have busy kids and a husband who does NOT want to sit around the house. We live in an older mobile home on 5 acres (NOT landscaped, unless knapweed counts), which our horses had used to scratch their behinds (doesn't do wonders for sheet metal), and the window cranks don't work so we have to use other implements to prop them open. Add to this the fact that we had "the tonkinator," a big labrador retriever who hand "tonkinated" our house, working his way through two couches, an armchair, and miscellaneous other pieces of furniture and clothing. You had to use extreme caution when sitting on the couch, or you ended up with your posterior on the floor. Argh! So, when the relatives called, I looked around the house, gulped and said, "Uh, OK, how about tomorrow?" Then I hung up the phone, faced my family and totally cracked up. I was laughing so hard, I was crying, and I couldn't stop. When I finally was able to squeeze out a word or two to my family (who surmised the problem, having listened to my half of the phone call), all I could say was, "But . . . but . . . we're holding up the windows with BARK!"

Anyway, I wrote this in my Christmas letter, and a lot of people got a chuckle out of it. (On the other hand, my sisters, who live 2 states away, were silent. I think I did a pretty good job of embarassing them.)

Maybe humor in writing, then, is best to mimic life: unexpected, unplanned. I don't know for sure. But I've never been able to successfully plan it into a manuscript yet.

Bye for now.


Hayden Grayell Fri Feb 27 17:27:02 PST 1998

Hi gang,

Gary S: Bear with me. I am writing out a critique on the posting you put up a while ago. I'll get it to you soon as I can.

Brief thought: Humor is the art of dancing a jig on one foot when you have the other one in your mouth.

I've just dropped off a posting in the workbook which is not humorous at all.

Gotta go,

Jack Beslanwitch Fri Feb 27 12:45:41 PST 1998

T.M.: Thanks for the update on Critters. It is changed.

All: Back to humor or my thoughts about it. In Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger In A Strange Land there is an account of Michael Valentine Smith (the human raised by Martians) discovering how to laugh. He was visiting a zoo and watched as a smaller monkey just about to eat his banana is assaulted by a much larger monkey and his banana stolen away from him. The smaller monkey does not pursue the larger one, pounding his fists helplessly against the concerete wall of his enclosure. Suddenly, this monkey rages out and assaults a still smaller monkey who goes for comfort in th arms of yet a smaller one with a baby. It was at this point that Michael finally laughed hysterically, completely. He could grok people finally. It hurt so much, it was so tragic, the only solution was to laugh. Then it goes on to analyze all kinds of humor in this regard.

I am not sure I agree with this analysis, but I remember one night when I was a hospital corpsman in the navy, a medic, when we had a shift from hell. I do not know how many admissions and how many shots I gave or pills I passed to people. It was not fun. It was horrible. However, when the other two corpsman and the registered nurse finally got a moment of quiet and collected in our office to have cigarettes. (This was back in those bad old days before I quit smoking and when it was not a pariah activity) Anyway, the nurse lit up, I lit up, and we just looked at each other and began to laugh. In seconds all of us were laughing until we were crying. The only response to this horrible shift was to laugh and laugh so hard we could barely catch our breaths. Of course, the smoke in the air probably did not help any.

But is this yet another aspect about humor that we should touch upon before we leave the subject. And, come to think of it, Michael Valentine Smith might be considered the ultimate holy fool or perhaps Jubal Harshaw might, although he would probably say that it was too much work. Take care all.

T. M. Spell Thu Feb 26 09:50:17 PST 1998

Jack, the above webpage link to the Critters Workshop is updated from the one on the For Writers Only resources page.

Everyone else, this is a great site to get and give critiques. Andrew Burt coordinates the Critters site in such a way that members are encouraged to participate in the critiquing process on an ongoing basis, as explained in the rules at the site above, and each story averages about 20 critiques.

Membership is by request. Just e-mail A. Burt and ask. Members include beginners, those with a few professional sales, and a few SFWA and HWA members (seasoned pros). The membership requirement is just so that you can be issued a password, which in turn ensures that editors don't consider participation in Critters a form of "publication." As Dr. Burt explains it, publication means that a work is available to everyone. If your story is only available to those with a password, it's not publication. *OMNI* editor Ellen Datlow endorses the Critters site, so most other editors are probably in line with the above policy, too.

The only (minor) downside is that there is a waiting list for stories, and it takes about a month for a submission to work it's way to the front of the queue. But if you're the patient type, it's a great opportunity to get lots of feedback on a story.

By the way, I haven't put a story in the Critters queue yet. I like to go there and read the 15-16 stories in the week's queue and write critques on four or five of them. You only have to submit three per month to stay in good standing as a member, but, hey, it's interesting and a lot of writers appreciate it when you take the time to shoot them a thousand or so words of detailed criticism and concrete suggestions for revision.

I'd do that more often here, but I do hesitate in more informal environments to be as blunt about what I think needs fixing or changing than in a criticism-specific environment like Critters. Even in a face-to-face workshop, there are writers who puff up and storm out if you don't just praise their work to the skies and keep your mouth shut about the flaws. Anyone here who wants to see what I do during a critique, e-mail me and I will send you a couple of samples of my Critters critiques. I am nice but honest. If you think you can take it, let me know, and I will be happy to critique a story, a novel portion, a poem, whatever.

Pax all. --T. M. Spell--

Michele Thu Feb 26 02:35:35 PST 1998

Hi guys !

(I use that term in the non-sexist, non gender specific sense before any "gals" or "girls" (females in general) complain !!)

I have here an example of our office banter :

Colleague : Oh Michele you've missed the boat !

Me : Oh well at least I won't drown when it sinks !

(This was quite quick witted for me and was probably engendered by the fact that the WW1 discussion site I hang around has been having a major discussion re: the sinking of the Lusitania and also the Titanic. The remark arose because a colleague was talking about going on a stress management course (sorely needed in our dept.) and I said I knew nothing about it - we only work in Information Systems - we don't pass Information ! We also have a running joke about rats and sinking ships - we're in the middle of installing a Y2K compliant (that's Millenium compliant to those non-computer people who haven't heard it before - which I ought to have said because typing the explanation for that cryptic term has taken more time than saying Millenium would have done !!) system - and the stress levels here are sky-high almost ALL the time !)

Anyway I've wittered on long enough - I'll go do some real work !!


Colleen Wed Feb 25 17:05:08 PST 1998

I heard this on the news. It was a story about silly warning labels. On a child's batman costume the warning lable read something like this, " Warning:This suit will not actually enable it's wearer to fly!" The obvious can be obviously funny. Bumper sticker:"Stop me before I become my mother!" I really look forward to reading your comments. Keep the funny stuff coming.

Toby B Wed Feb 25 09:19:00 PST 1998

Goodweed: What did I do? (I think you atrributed something to me that I didn't do)

Bumper sticker humor- 'Think honk if you're telepathic'

I would love to have a better sense of comedy. My finest examples of humor that crack people up are my misadventures, stick around me long enough you will see something happen you will remember for the rest of your life. Some if it is really situational, they call me Cosmo (Kramer) every once in a while due to spectacular almost losses of balance.

i.e- My most famous incident (everyone on campus has heard this in one form or another...
I was at one of the years larger parties, I'd had a couple beers (most of 'incidents' happen without the presence of alchohol, this being the exception) and was feeling brave enough to talk to the ladies. (I'm female shy). Anyway, standing up was a little harder than I had expected (that was the two beers at work, I hadn't eaten that day), and found that I needed the support of a dresser that was conveniently located next to my elbow. Thus propped I engaged in a fascinating discussion with a girl (who will remain nameless but will remember the rest of her life for all the worng reasons). Well into the conversation I happened to notice a flickering out of the corner of my eye. No matter, there was incense there, I knew that, so I wasn't worried. I did begin notice something wrong when my elbow (the one doing the propping) began to suddenly WARM up. Now I turned and looked down at my arm, to discover my shirt sleeve was on fire. I did a double take. Well that wasn't right. Pretty calmly, but swiftly, I whipped off my shirt right in front of this girl. She did a double take now (and it wasn't because of my incredible abs either, because I don't have any). The action drew attention. Somneone turned my way and yelled 'FIRE'.
The effect was incredibly instantaneous. Thirty students stampeded out the door. The whole time this was happening I was busy jumping up and down on the shirt to extinquish it.
Seconds later the host of the party looked back in, and there I was, standing on the smoldering shirt. Wed Feb 25 08:09:59 PST 1998

Hayden, I still don't get it. What happens to the pigeons?

Gary S.

Hayden Grayell Wed Feb 25 03:30:07 PST 1998

Gary S:

There was this little green avocado on this pretty little red bicycle wheeling its way down the motorway and he got picked up by this hot pepper and a pack of creme cheese driving a dairy van...and ...and...the cream cheese said to him, "Hey, how about us three get smashed together...and and and..." Aw stuff it, you finish the story...I'm going to have some avocado dip.

(This is an example of bad punning.)

Michele michelefry@geocities Wed Feb 25 00:59:02 PST 1998

You lot are priceless !! I sat here laughing uproariously at your avocado jokes - especially Hayden's utterly surreal story - brilliant ! (My co-workers are convinced that I've lost the plot - especially when I tried explaining what was so funny ! But I don't mind - you guys made me start the working day with laughter - thanks !!)

I still haven't got any "bumper sticker" humour for you - but I can offer you a joke :

How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light-bulb ? One - but the light-bulb really has to want to change ! (Sorry !!)

Kim - you have my support/empathy/understanding - I spent 2 years suffering from/with depression so I understand your lack of motivation totally. You raise an interesting point about great writers (and others - eg composers and painters) who suffered from depression and yet produced great works of literature/music/art - I personally think that probably the "genius" was there but the depression brought it out in a way that non-depression could/would not have done. Wed Feb 25 00:27:09 PST 1998


I don't get it. Why is the avocado a woman? I think it would be funnier if the avacado was a man avocado and he was riding a little bicycle.

Oh, well, as you said, you didn't have the luxury of hind-sight, or at least that's what you claim.

Bye everybody,

Gary S.

One more thing. I like the line: Indecision may or may not be one of my problems.

Pat Christensen Tue Feb 24 23:12:33 PST 1998

Hayden - Since I like the idea of mixed marriages (and mixed greens) - Why did the avocado cross the road? She had a hot date.

Stop groaning. I don't do these very well and this was a first attempt!

As for a favorite bumper sticker, "They're not hot flashes -- they're POWER SURGES!"

I personally want to be able to afford, someday, to have a t-shirt silk screened with two large female eyes strategically placed on the chest-region and the legend underneath would read..."Read my eyes, not my t-shirt!"

As for humor, I tend to go for either wild understatement, wild overstatement, or weird juxtopositions. (i.e., when people notice the scar on my left palm: "Oh, yeah, that's where I had my hand ripped open by a vicious, man-eating poodle." or "I love small children...they stay so crunchy in milk!")

Of course, I'll also go a tad over-the-top. My managing editor (who's a lesbian) and I were sitting around trying to come up with an appropriate title and tag line for an "alternative" radio station. My offering? "You're listening to station I-69...all gay, all day!" This might offend some, but it cracked my managing editor up. Fortunately I don't do that sort of thing too often.

Oh, and for a really awful juxtoposition? Why did the avocado cross the road? He wanted to get into a hot tart on the other side.

I'll go away now. Don't hit me.

Hayden Grayell Tue Feb 24 22:06:17 PST 1998

TM: Good attempt. :-) Very clever. How would you extend it a little to make it sing? Using the word "salad" you could come up with "because she wanted to watch the salad dressing!" or (naughty joke...mind your eyes) she wanted to see the salad tossing...etc.

Apologies to anyone who might be offended by blue humor.

Goodweed of the North Tue Feb 24 21:33:08 PST 1998

That story about the holdup was priceless. Hayden, as always, you hit the nail right on the head (sorry about the cliche). Toby has finished the joke for you admirably. I'm learning good things. I wish I could contribute something intelligent in this discussion, but I'm afraid any funny scenes in my own work are purely spontaneous and quite by accident. I'll leave this one for the masters (who live and post right here in the notebook).

Seeeeya; Goodweed of the North

Tue Feb 24 21:33:04 PST 1998

Tue Feb 24 21:32:54 PST 1998

Kay Tue Feb 24 20:32:38 PST 1998

OK! Great postings on the workbook and great discussions here.

Humor: Of all the things I've lost, I miss my mind the most.

Trickster: Read "Cyote Blue" by Christopher Moore. In fact, read anything you can find by Christopher Moore. Definitely a slanted look at life.

Curses! I'm writing science fiction / alternate worlds stuff, and I certainly have run up against the question of how would people in an alternate reality curse. I think the crude words for sexual activities would be pretty much the same. For some reason, I am reluctant to have my characters use profanity, as defined earlier. Oddly enough, not so much because I find the uses offensive but because my characters aren't generally religious, and if they aren't religious, why would taking the name of the lord (lower case deliberate) in vain be a curse? I tried substituting "shite" for "shit" and then gave it up.

Combination of the two. I am small, and mild-mannered. I once worked in a plant in Benson AZ (bumper sticker "Where the hell is Benson") that made nitroglycerine and dynamite, and the CEO was named Evil Ben. I'm not making this up, he had that tooled into his inch-wide leather belt. So one day, just as we were leaving work and I was walking down the hall with my (male) boss, my (male) co-worker, and Evil Ben, I realized that I had left the lights of my car on that morning. I let loose with the string of words that Candy made famous - sounds something like "got dandruff and some of it itches," with a few additions. Mother-sticker..... Well, ladles and germs, those big tough men flinched away from me as if I had threatened their anatomies. After which they gallantly found a jumper cable and got me on my way. Still, the memory of the look on Evil Ben's face as he backed away warms my heart.

T. M. Spell Tue Feb 24 19:31:41 PST 1998

Why did the avocado cross the road? To get to the other side-salad?

Hayden Grayell Tue Feb 24 19:04:29 PST 1998

Hi gang,

Let's get stuck into the subject of writing comedy, which, as Philip has said, and others are hinting at, is a long hard road. We can all appreciate good humour, but how do you put it on paper.

First of all, there are no hard and fast rules, but it seems to me that most good humour is inspired by the unpredictable placement of totally foreign objects/ideas or the twisting of what is predictable. Add to these formulae exaggeration, suspense and "timing payload" and you can create a humorous piece. Your first attempt may be terrible, but work it up and you get towards a joke worthy of any soap opera.

Let's experiment. I'll do this on the run and set up a joke and get you to respond, and we'll see what we come out with. This is not premeditated, but it may be murder in the first degree. Now, let's see we need a seed to start with. Letís take the old riddle of why the chicken crossed the road (the answer, as we all know, is to get to the other side), and let's build something around it.

The predictable answer to the riddle is "to get to the other side" so whoever is listening to/reading the joke will be expecting something similar. Don't give them what they expect...or tease it out so that it appears that the answer cannot be what it must be. Let's change the question to something "Why did the avocado cross the road?"

By doing that, you have created a situation which does not have a defined or predictable answer, though there is a history of chicken and road jokes to work with. (I'm struggling to think of a suitable answer of why an avocado would cross a road myself). But avocados have defined parameters and those who are listening are going to have some visual idea of an avocado standing on the verge of a roadway. Let's stretch that visual idea out a little and include "foreign ideas and objects" and a bit of surrealism. So, there is the avocado, all set up with her briefcase (exaggeration coming in here) and wearing her new red shoes. (stretching....) Screaming back and forward are a steady stream of vehicles: lettuces in four wheel drive vehicles, carrots in corvettes and pumpkins in Mac trucks. Not only is it a road way but it is a fifteen lane super-highway (Make the situation really dangerous get the tension of the joke building).

So what is across the other side of the road that will draw the reader on? Ah, that is the question on the tip of everybody's mind/tongue and the hanger which the punch line is holding onto. Let's give the reader a clue...

Over the other side of the super-highway is an sixty story run-down apartment building. Halfway up is the only window not boarded up. Pigeons are sitting on the window looking in, cooing and carrying on.

The avocado stands there, timidly waiting for a break in the traffic. Suddenly she sees a fleet of lumbering buses loaded with assorted vegetables trying to overtake a logging truck driven by a eggplant which has stalled in the nearest lane. The buses fill up the whole 15 lanes, so the road is clear and off she goes. (Now nothing is going to happen if everything goes as planned.)

(But of course, it doesn't. Tell it as a story...)

Half-way across she blows a red shoe. The heel falls off. She grits her teeth and hobbles hurriedly towards the other side. But three quarters of the way there and she blows the other heel, and she is stranded. And the buses have cleared the truck and are thundering down at her. She has no chance of getting out of the way. Any minute now a Bus will break free from the herd and squish her all over the road. But suddenly a pair of traffic tomatoes on motorcycles weave out of the traffic, screech to a halt beside her and one grabs her and they escort her to safety. One of them looks down at her and asks "Why did you want to cross the road?"

"Because," she says, "I wanted to get to the other side."
(Letís not stop here, though...keep it rolling beyond what was expected...Hold off the payload a breath or two longer)

The cop shakes his head and says to her, "You wanna end up as a vegetable?"

Hey, that aint bad. Now the joke doesnít quite work, but we could stretch it out and tease up some of the ideas and work the joke up until it sings. Care to make a few more suggestions?


Victoria Tue Feb 24 17:21:40 PST 1998

Here's a story which addresses both swearing and humor. It's true, by the way. My husband the claims adjuster brings this kind of story home all the time.

A guy burst into a bank in Florida, wearing a ski mask and carrying a gun. He pointed the gun at the security guard, and yelled: "FREEZE, MOTHER-STICKERS, THIS IS A F**K UP!"
Dead silence. Then the snickers started. The security guard laughed so hard he couldn't draw his gun (which probably saved his life). The thief fled in humiliation, and is still at large.


Philip Tue Feb 24 14:38:48 PST 1998


For most people, humour is a difficult thing to write. In another life I worked on a few television comedy/variety series and observed comedy writers at the coalface up close - these guys work bloody hard. The problem is that we don't all share the same sense of humour - some pieces drew belly laughs, some only giggles and others flopped altogether.

In my novels I prefer to write situations that are satirical or contain comic irony. I put them there as a relief from built up tension - classical comic relief.

Last year I wrote a situation comedy for television with plot lines and characters that would take it into a long series. I am hesitating about presenting it for consideration but.....

Gags - whether they are slapstick, sight gags, story jokes or one liners - require specialist writers. I really do think it's a calling.

Weather: We're now getting cool nights down here, our summer daylight saving time will soon be reversed. Those of you in the northern hemisphere will be getting warmer as we plunge into winter and shorter sunlit days. At least Sydney's winter isn't really all that cold: no snow. Do you use weather as I do to create scenes, scenes of impending doom, horror or happiness? We discussed once in these pages about the perils of beginning your book with weather (cliche or corny?). In my book to be released later this year I maintained a storm for the last quarter of the story. This is on my mind today because I've just now inserted some desert 'weather' into the book I'm presently writing (because of a feeling for the lack of it). I've found weather crucial when psychologically framing certain scenes. What about you?


Rhoda Tue Feb 24 12:52:00 PST 1998

Regarding humerous bumper stickers, I would say that "BEAM ME UP, SCOTTY. No INTELLEGENT LIFE HERE," has always been my favorite. I also like, "I STILL MISS MY EX, BUT MY AIM IS GETTING BETTER." I have always wanted to institute two of my own. Instead of "CAUTION, BABY ON BOARD," I would like to see "CAUTION, BABY DRIVING." Remember the old one, "I BRAKE FOR ANIMALS?" Here in the Farmington area where everyone races through yellow lights and red ones too, I would like to see, "I BRAKE FOR YELLOW LIGHTS."

I don't have a lot of humor in my writing and when I do, it is completely by accident. I once used a tag in dialogue that I still see occassionally in books. "Dialogue," he ejaculated. My critique partners burst out laughing when that was read. I'll never use that word again--at least not in the same context. I read an article written by a romance writer who discussed the importance of avoiding some of these funny instances that are not designed to be funny. She listed about twenty examples of them she had found in published books. I wish I could remember some of them. I remember one, "His eyes flew around the room." Needless to say, it is best to avoid such humor, for that type destroys the mood you are trying to create in a scene.

The only type of humorous character I have used in the past is the wise idot. This is a person who says many foolish things that are actually wiser than the things the smart main characters say.

I love the humor in HAMLET. I really think it is the funniest play Shakespeare wrote. Oftentimes it is so easy to get so bogged down in the archaic language, that you miss the humor. Everytime I see HAMLET performed, I discover something different, and each new discovery is oftentimes humorous. HAMLET is the best of black comedy. Think of how many jokes and puns Shakespeare makes out of the subject of death. Actually in a sense the character Hamlet is a trickster. He trys to set his uncle up by staging a play based on the events that led to Hamlet's father's murder. Pretty tricky, I'd say. Hamlet says more truth in his so-called madness than he does when he is behaving lucidly.

Personally, though I loved Kenneth Branagh's HAMLET, I thought Mel Gibson caught the character much better, and that is because Mel Gibson's acting style better fits the character of Hamlet. Mel Gibson is a mercurical sort of guy whom in every movie goes naturally from funny to serious and back to funny again. I think Branagh has a little more trouble being humorous, and he certainly doesn't make the transition from one mood to another as well as Gibson does.

Kay and Joan. Hang in there. I really will e-mail you.

Happy writing!


Gordon Tue Feb 24 10:58:24 PST 1998

I think a good way to sneak humor in a story is to put in something true that to most people doesn't make sense. For example a husband and wife living together for 20 years and not talking but raising a family, having sex, and working together. Or--North of the Arctic circle Finland's favorite music is the Tango!

By the way in Europe it was common to use germ warfare during the end of the Middle Ages. Mostly animals and bodies but some times clothing were used to spread infections. The only place in Europe, North Africa, and the Mid-East to escape most of the diseases was Poland-Lith. So it would have been surprising if germ warfare wasn't used in North American history. The Europeans survived it so they would have thought the Native Americans would have as well.

Kim Tue Feb 24 10:05:33 PST 1998

Hi all! Itís been quite a while since Iíve visited the Notebook and Iím glad to see things havenít changed much. Sure, there are many new faces, but the atmosphere is still supportive and inspiring. What a great group of writers continue to congregate here!

After taking nearly a year off from writing, Iíve finally begun to make progress again. See, Iíve been fighting with depression for about a year and a half. That is not something that I like to tell people, but it has greatly affected my abilityÖ no, my *motivation*Ö to write. It hasnít been all bad, at least in retrospect, for itís given me a new perspective and a new range of emotional direction to take my novel.

Today, people with depression are usually treated with antidepressants. But what about some of the famous artists who lived before the advent of antidepressants. Dostoevsky, Tchaikovsky, Cezanne, all suffered from depression and Iíve heard they created some of their greatest works during extremely low points in their lives. What I find fascinating (and baffling) to ponder is this: Would their work be as great, or even exist at all, if treatment were available to them?

Sorry thatís *way* off the topic, but Iíd be interested to see what other people think.

As for humor and surprise in stories, I tend to use the element of surprise more than humor. When I do use humor, it is more in the wry sense than the funny sense because that is more fitting for my current characters. Humor is something I would definitely like to work on, though. Iím not a "funny" person and I have trouble creating humorous situations/dialog that sounds natural.

WellÖback to work!


T. M. Spell Tue Feb 24 09:43:22 PST 1998


Just a little new age humor I spotted on an otherwise politically correct bumper in the parking lot of Office Max not too long ago.

I can't recall that trickster is a character type I've ever used in a story, though I have seen him in the work of other creative personalities I admire. Wes Craven used Robert Englund in a trickster role in Nightmare Cafe, where the character of Blackie (the manager of an all night supernatural cafe that gave people second chances to get everything right or irretrievably wrong in their lives, depending on what they deserved) was always trying to get the "customers" to make the morally disastrous decision, while Frank and Fay (for whom the cafe was a benign purgatory that gave them a chance to work off their venal sins by doing good to others) knocked themselves out trying to be helpful to those who entered the cafe.

Blackie was even hinted to be more (or other) than human, in some episodes. The closest I could get to it was that he was some aspect of Fortune, and the aspect that causes you to roll the dice the wrong way. The fact that he dressed like a riverboat gambler and would bet the other characters for wishes or money reinforced that impression. If a character did make the morally noble decision, Blackie would then be helpful no matter what the repercussions, but he was more happy if they followed their baser instincts and screwed up. Except for one particularly stupid episode, this was a great series, and if you want to see a masterful trickster at work you couldn't do better (the Sci-Fi Channel periodically runs the half-season of episodes from this short-lived tv series.)

Generally, however, I don't like the trickster character, which is probably why I've never had one in my work. Thinking about it, though, the character does present some interesting possibilities. Hmmm.

Michele Tue Feb 24 02:03:16 PST 1998

Bill McClelan - I read your piece on the Workbook - it made me laugh out loud - which was great except that I'm reading it at work (in between running SQLs) and I got a funny look from someone until I turned the laugh into a cough ! I really liked that piece - it was well executed !

Joan - I will add comments on your piece re: the violence the very next time I mail you direct.

Philip - thanks for clarifying my remark about the Booker Prize winner whose name I couldn't remember - glad I mentioned him now as he's earning publicity !

Just thought that you guys might like to know that I have made up my mind to quit working in the Autumn and go back to studying as a precursor to writing my biog. of Siegfried Sassoon. I hope to stay in touch with you still as the College has e-mail/Internet access (unless I go mad and fix my home PC up for Internet access !)

I'll have to think about the topic of humorous characters - my brain not in the right gear for that at the moment !! (Too little laughter at work to think about humorous characters !)


Michele Tue Feb 24 02:01:23 PST 1998

Bill McClelan - I read your piece on the Workbook - it made me laugh out loud - which was great except that I'm reading it at work (in between running SQLs) and I got a funny look from someone until I turned the laugh into a cough ! I really liked that piece - it was well executed !

Joan - I will add comments on your piece re: the violence the very next time I mail you direct.

Philip - thanks for clarifying my remark about the Booker Prize winner whose name I couldn't remember - glad I mentioned him now as he's earning publicity !

Just thought that you guys might like to know that I have made up my mind to quit working in the Autumn and go back to studying as a precursor to writing my biog. of Siegfried Sassoon. I hope to stay in touch with you still as the College has e-mail/Internet access (unless I go mad and fix my home PC up for Internet access !)

I'll have to think about the topic of humorous characters - my brain is not in the right gear for that at the moment !! (Too little laughter at work to think about humorous characters !)


Philip Mon Feb 23 23:37:37 PST 1998


For those interested in learning more about James Kelman here is an interview with him:


Jack Beslanwitch Mon Feb 23 21:14:06 PST 1998

Joan: Just to reinforce what you said on all counts. I am also unaware of James Kelman and will have to correct this bit of ignorance. However, on the trickster, I have to "fess up" and indicate that it was seeing and hearing Charles De Lint at a reading/signing here in Seattle that prompted me to include him/her in this weeks topics. And just wanted to reinforce that profanity is still on the burner, especially with the posting that Philip did in the Workbook. If you have not read it, I strongly recommend it. I also will have more to say on humor in the next week.

Joan Mon Feb 23 19:53:49 PST 1998

Two things:

First--and I'll get to Jack's new topic this week--I checked out the James Kelman post that Phillip put in the Workbook for perusal. After reading this, I feel a little embarassed that I don't know who the guy (Kelman) is. Yes, there are a lot of curse words in the text, including the biggie. But I've never seen a clearer bit of characterization of person or story, and in large part that's due to the extreme use of profanity. As far as I'm concerned, the character wouldn't be himself, and wouldn't be in his predicament, without the cursing. I wonder . . . maybe it's the inappropriate use of cursing that makes it so shocking/distasteful to some people in writing. On the other hand, maybe that's why it makes its point and gives the impact it does. I do agree, though (I think Gary made this point), if it's used all the time, it loses any impact it might have had.

On to the topic of tricksters, one writer who very often makes good use of tricksters is Charles de Lint. You'll very often run into Coyote, in various forms and by various names, in his books. Since Jack brought this topic up, I kind of scratched my head and thought, "Where the h--- (oops, slipped into last week's topic! :-) has my head been? Has none of this cropped up in my writing?" It was with a huge sigh of relief (at least I'm not completely derailed) I realized that in one of the few short stories I've ever written there was a character who always teased, teetering on the edge of meanness. He was a product of the main character's storytelling, and was a constant presence in the man's mind, to the point that he became real---at least to the man. His teasing trickery, however, was what prodded the man to find other characters and write other stories; and, in the end, it was the trickster who helped him find the meaning he'd been looking for---whether to live or die, because his one great friend had died, and he didn't know whether--or how--he'd go on. That's the total of my own writing experience with this kind of character. Anyone else?

Sorry for dribbling on. It's one of those nights!


Kirstin Ramey Mon Feb 23 16:03:30 PST 1998

Being in search and rescue I think my favorite bumper sticker is "Support Search and Rescue, Get Lost". My brother and father saw one a while back that my dad read aloud and my brother thought he was talking to him. My brother almost hit my dad. It said, "I'm Fat And Your Ugly; I Can Diet And You Can't."

In my "Twin Gates" novel I placed a humorous but serious character Charley, Krys' best friend. He lightens up the people around him with his quips and acrobats, but is able to be serious in a time of need. At the end of my story you learn an interesting and surprising bit of his past. I personally like to have at least one character in a story that plays the fool, the trickster, or who you can just throw in to lighten up a scene. When a book gets to serious and has no comic relief of any sort I can't finish the book. That happened when I was reading "Night" by Elie Wiesel, for school. It's an autobiography about the Nazi death camps. It's an absolutely depressing book, but I did manage to finish it (I had too).

Got to get back to the books (school books, unfortunately),
K.C. Sun Jan 18 18:11:50 PST 1998

Jack Beslanwitch Mon Feb 23 12:57 PST 1998

Shifting gears slightly, I would like to propose that we concern ourselves with humor and surprise in our stories. As part of this we might want to explore the following items:

   Share our favorite humorous epigrams and/or bumper sticker. Bearing in mind that not all bumper stickers are epigrams and not all epigrams would fit comfortably on a bumper sticker.

   Discuss the role of trickster or holy fool as an archetype in our stories. Whether we know him as Coyote or other names, he can add humorous and not so humorous condiments to the spiciness of our tales. Thus, he/she does or does not fit into this periods topic. Still, worth an exploration

I do not want to close down the discussion of profanity. As a discussion of that phenomena itself it has been one of the more interesting in recent times. Also, I suspect there are a few more gems to be dropped out about it. So, have that as a topic as well. Yet, I think it might be time for some lighter tones and laughter here.

   Oh, and I have archived again preserving the last two days of conversation to carry over. This should keep things going in a lively manner. Take care everyone and good writing.

Rhoda Mon Feb 23 10:16:41 PST 1998


I read and made some comments on your short story while my husband drove me and my family to Albuquerque this week-end. I will get those comments to you soon, but I still have to go over some things. Be patient. It is a great story and I enjoyed reading it.


I will look at your posting on the Workbook. I don't know if I will get to it today, but I'll e-mail you comments just as soon as I can.

As to comments on the subject of obscenity, profanity, and swaring, I have enjoyed most of the discussion. There have been many angles to this I haven't considered. I don't think Colleen should apologize for having brought the subject up. Often times lively discussion comes from one simple comment. If so many people have an opinion on this matter, then perhaps it was a subject that needed to be discussed.

Philip mentioned hangups and fall back positions. I agree with him totally. These things do obstruct our writing at times, and make us lose the opportunity to make our writing stronger and more believable. However, I doubt that there is a writer on the face of the earth that doesn't suffer from some hangup. Profanity, explicit sex, violence, might not be a problem for everyone, but I would bet that there are things in every writer's life that due to experience and upbringing, they are uncomfortable dealing with. Fortunately there are so many types of literature that no writer is required to deal with every situation in life. We don't all suffer from the same hangups and there is always another writer available to pick up the ball when we have dropped it. The only mortal writer in my experience who ever came close to dealing boldly and perceptively with most aspects of human life and experience was Shakespeare.

Happy writing,


Toby B Mon Feb 23 09:30:12 PST 1998

Pat- Yes!

The points I keep trying to tell people. Swearing is not the word you use, but the state of mind. The words are incidental, and are extremely relative. Coming from the caribbean, I could use what would be some strong language, that would cause Americans to look at me funny. (What's a bloodclot? It is a heady term and a scathing descriptive, and very insulting ie "get ya bloodclat self from here", which I can right without offending anyone here since none of you have that cultural hangup) In fact, to be proper about it, there are words that you people use daily that ARE swear words. Look at the evolution of the words and their history and meaning, it is fascinating. And as far as I'm concerned, a person who is trying to tell me off, whether it be in inoffensive terms or the common 'F- You', is still going to get my fist upside his head regardless. It is the anger that is the defining momenent, and if you are a good writer, you can harness the anger and use that with or without swearing (although, in our culture, the swear is very much a part of that defining moment).

Joan Mon Feb 23 06:32:15 PST 1998

Hi all--

Jack, interesting indeed, and grist for the mill---societal violence against a race, genocide, abuse of children/women as a "norm" in certain times/places. I think sometimes people don't write about these things because they can't stand to look at them too closely. Once you raised the subject, I had to stop and think whether this was something I'd ever written about, and if not, why not. I mean, it's hugely important. This brings up a new question for me. The novel I just finished revising does have this situation--with one twist. The race of people who are at risk, who the "villain(s)" want to exterminate, are basically at risk from one being, who started out as a person and ended up as something else. He now has an army of like beings at his disposal, and his goal is to absolutely exterminate the people he's after. Is this the same thing? Violence against a race, but perpetrated by one being rather than a whole country. I guess it is---I mean, Hitler was kind of in the same position; one man, with an army at his disposal. What does everyone think? (If I haven't been too convoluted and totally confused the issue.)

On another note---for those of you with computer savvy, I could really use some advice. I have a newer Packard Bell system, which I just bought in July 1997. The darn keyboard keeps freezing up, eventually taking the mouse with it, and then the whole thing's frozen up. If I turn it off, switch the plugs in the back for the mouse and keyboard, turn it on, then turn it off again and switch them back, it fixes the thing---but only for a day or two. I can always tell when it's going to freeze again, because while typing onto the Internet it won't let me arrow anywhere, just gives me forward slashes instead, and the caps lock won't work either. Very frustrating. Any help out there?

Any comments on the Workbook piece--I know it needs help.



Victoria Mon Feb 23 05:33:17 PST 1998

Another swearing issue, faced by fantasy and sf writers, is swearing in an invented world. I've seen books where the writers use an ordinary colloquial swearing vocabulary, and others where they invent oaths for their characters to say. Neither of these alternatives, for me, really works--the first because it jars you out of an imaginary world and back into our own, the second because it's really hard to make up convincing oaths. I address the issue by having no swearing or oath-taking at all in my fantasy books. My characters say some bad things to each other, but they don't swear.

There are clever ways of getting around the use of obscenity and profanity--some of the better realistic TV shows, such as "Homicide," are examples of creative language use that implies obscenity and profanity without actually using it.

I live in a decayed inner-city neighborhood. In summer outside my window, I hear conversations all day long of which the most frequent--and often only clearly understandable--word is m*****f****r. (I'd write it out but I don't want to offend anyone.) My theory (only half a joke) is that the escalation of violence among certain segments of society is in part a reflection of the transformation of such words from nearly-taboo expressions of rage and frustration to the stuff of ordinary usage. Bereft of truly cathartic swear words to engage and defuse the first stage of violence (thanks, Hayden) people have no option but to proceed directly to the second stage, which is actual physical aggression.


Jack Beslanwitch Mon Feb 23 00:22:14 PST 1998

There is also some dispute about the accidental introduction of small pox among the Mandan Indians of North Dakota. I have to admit that I was told about details some time ago and cannot resurrect the exact details of nefarious incidents of small pox infected blankets, but will make a point of doing a bit of research. Perusal of the Britannica Disk proved fruitless. So, although I suspect reports of this practice are true, I have no immediate facts of verified fact.

    However, another example of social violence of that era that is well documented would be the Trail of Tears. I learned nothing about this to any extent while in high school in the 60s. Point of fact I was given a rather glowing impression of Andrew Jackson whether via my history books or the media. Only later did I discover that this man was the cheerful fellow who on hearing that the supreme court had disallowed the eviction of the Cherokee Indians from their legal land by gold hungry Georgians, said "Well, Mister Marshall has made his decision. Now, let him enforce it" or something to that effect. After which, the Cherokee were evicted from their land by the Georgians and the forced march sufficient mismanaged that there were 4000 deaths. This is small potatoes against a Hitler or a Pol Pok, but dramatically diminished any respect I had for this particular representative of American history. And whether by intent or ineptitude indigenous populations in America were dramatically diminished during the nineteenth century.

     This is not to single out America. Just that I know a bit more about that bit of history. I am sure equally woeful accounts can be told of countless other interactions between less technologically advanced cultures and greedier more "advanced".

     If aliens landed tomorrow with several millenia of advanced technology in their fists and strange and unknown bugs in their veins (given they had veins) I have some doubts about our cultures and populations successful assimilation of same. Of course, this has been a common theme in science fiction.

     I'll add a lighter subject to the mix early tomorrow with an interesting twist. And, checking things, a quick archive. Take care all.

Sun Feb 22 21:54:36 PST 1998


I believe I recognize your reference to small pox infected blankets. I don't know any details of the story except that it was probably post Civil War days on the old frontier.

There was a tribe of aboriginal and unusual people that was
holding claim to some land that simply had to be incorporated into "American" progress.

The people were aboriginal in the sense that they were here before "us," and unusual in the sense that they were racially unrelated to any other Native American people.

The powers that were decided that the best way to deal with the problem of this tribes existence was to arrange for it not to exist at all.

They had the Army deliver them a load of blankets infected with small pox and from what I hear, the plan worked like a charm. The people all suddenly and mysteriously died.

Of course, there is rarely an epidemic which wipes out a population to its final numbers. This may or may not have been the case with these people, but reasonable speculation holds that some troops had to go in and finish off the last men, women and children by more conventional violent means.

This episode is bemoaned by anthropologists today who take exception to the fact that they were denied the opprotunity to study this unique tribe. I mean anthropologists, right?

You know, no matter how hard you try to do the right thing, there's always going to be some whiners, somewhere.

Pat Christensen Sun Feb 22 19:20:58 PST 1998

Lord, I've just got to stop sticking my two cents in everywhere. I'm gonna run out of pennies one of these days and then where will I be?

Language can be violence and violence can be in the eye of the beholder and an accurate memory can make fools of kings and all their machinations. I wish I could remember who said that originally.

The "f-word": Years ago, weary British constables, looking for an easier way to write up their booking slips, would turn a common charge into an acronym: For unlawful use of carnal knowlege. How awful. How obscene.

I don't give a d**: Spelling (and history) can make all the difference. A "dam" was a unit of currency used by tinkers in ancient times, ancient Danish times. It was worthless for anything but the tinker's own wares, sort of a medieval green stamp. Since it was so worthless, something that wasn't worth a dam, really wasn't worth anything. Well shut my mouth.

Obscene, whose root word means "off-stage" or "unseen." Perhaps. Most "obscenities" are "code words" for common Anglo Saxon terms, like "fornication" or "excrement" that wouldn't raise a hair today, but were probably enough to get small boys' mouths washed out with something worse than Ivory in days of yore. So they invented other codes, to get the reality of their discourse past their mothers.

My father, the one we call the Catholic Terminator, could never stand my foul mouth (I watched it carefully around him -- and nowhere else -- but it got away from me from time to time) would become enraged at a simple "damn" or "hell" from me, but sat through an entire evening with an extremely foul-mouthed young woman my brother happened to be dating. After almost an hour and a half of her language (some of which was new even to me, an ardent "linguist" at the time), my father got up quietly, went to the bookcase and took down a book. Handing it to her, he only said, mildly, "Here, I think you might need this." The book? A thesaurus.

I work for a weekly newspaper part time and I type a column where anyone with opposable thumbs and access to a dial tone can call us and say virtually anything into our answering machines and we will (in most cases) print these "opinions." My job is to transcribe the tapes. All of them. Verbatim.

I can handle almost all of it. But my editor and I almost came to blows when I left him to fill in the asterisks in a sentance that contained a word I simply could not bring myself to type. As he pointed, it was the title of a book, one I had read and enjoyed. My ancestory is Irish, if that's of any help and I, myself am at a loss as to why I feel this word is so much more violent than many others that frequently pass my own lips (which I do, in fact, eat with).

But I just can't bring myself to even type a comment calling someone a n****r.

And who's to say who's right?

Not me.

But the beholder's eye has more facets than your average housefly's and pleasing each and every single one of those facets could make you crazed beyond belief. So walk softly, folks, and carry a big thesaurus.

Hayden Grayell Sun Feb 22 18:30:37 PST 1998

Jack....after ll my hard work to respond to those who responded to my response on their responses loose it to the void... ah well, you are forgiven. I have done it with far more valuable documents.

Everyone else:
One more comment on writing/creating characters that do things that you would never do yourself...and are afraid of even putting down on paper. Writers has a Jekyll and Hyde existence. No matter how you approach it, what you write has to have some guts in it, the story has to have a reason to exist. What I mean by that is you have to write that which demands to be written. If you feel so strongly about the atrocities of rape and torture of innocents in South Africa, then your passionate denouncement should, and will, appear as an analogy in a story about the Kingdom of Frontellanon (out of my trilogy the Misery Wheel). It is you who is writing about it, but not you who is championing the atrocious acts by writing about it. You are condemning things like that by setting them up to be knocked down. The same with characters who may offend your principles. You create them as containers of what you consider evil, then set your protagonist against them as a way of destroying or excising them from society. Their existence does not lessen you in any way. It makes your protagonist so much stronger to battle a creature who is foul beyond deeds, rather than one who never puts the toilet seat down. Readers see you as the protagonist, not the antagonist. The antagonist exists outside the writer. The antagonist is the warped world made flesh and the writer cuts into them with all the tools of plot and voice and style. The antagonist seems to hold all the cards, but the protagonist, and the writer, have the upper hand.

Which doesn't mean you have to be profound all the time. Some times you need the whimsy of fairytales, the flow of the "gentile" love stories, and the rachet of humorous prose to save you from becoming a little unstable and leave the toilet seat up (even the women in the group.)


Toby B Sun Feb 22 13:17:02 PST 1998

Cursing for me is situational. In an acedemic setting or with my parents I do not use swearing, but my own peer groups no longer view most swearing as anything big. The language of swearing is losing its impact, which language does as time goes by. But whether people choose language or not, I leave it entirely up to that person. I have read some darn good books without a single swear word, and thouroughly enjoyed it. I have read some books with swear words, and enjoyed them. i have read some where the author obviously couldn't handle the language, and others where language would have made a much better story. As Jack always makes a point of making, to each his own (the tribal lays thing, remember?). I absolutely agree with him. My step-dad was the first to challange my use of language in a situation (he's a devout christian, and a Youth Pastor). Certain people curse in certain situations. And dialogue is my most effective tool for giving the character to the reader. I don't mind people who follow a different belief system, but I have always stood fast in my usage, and I don't back down. If I were to write a story about navy sailors, my dialogue would contain swearing. If I wrote about a retired couple sailing around the caribbean, I probably wouldn't use any. In writing, for me, it is absolutely a question of reality in the setting. Nothing more. As far as your own actual vocabulary, how you interact with people, I don't care what you speak like. It's your choice, I don't care. It sound callous, but there are too many other really important things and differences in the world to resolve than swearing.


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