Saturday, September 20, 2014

Top 10 Things Non-Writers Don't Get About Writing

My two biggest long time hobbies are drawing and writing. I don't always put my work up for everyone to see and I admittedly got really lazy for a long time, but I do spend a lot of time doing both.

Having recently gotten into a new writing project, however, I was reminded of just how little non-writers really understand about the writing process. To my friends who aren't writers, I love you all but seriously, some of the things you do are really annoying, and so I'm here to let you know. These are the top 10 things that you really need to understand about writing.

10. Writing dark stories is not a cry for help.
For some reason I don't understand - maybe some strange leftover urge from Lit class - all non-writers always seem to assume that anything you write is a secret allegory for your own life. This is especially true if you tend to write darker stories like I do; if I had a nickel for every person who read one of my stories and then tried to play armchair psychiatrist to me... well, I'd probably have a few more nickels. No, people. The fact that I'm writing a character with an abusive father does not mean I hate my dad. The fact that a character dies at the end does not mean I'm suicidal. It's called creating drama, you uncultured philistines.

9. I can hate any character, including my main character, and write them anyway.
Of course, liking them does make writing a whole lot easier, but it's not a necessity. This one, as near as I can tell, ties into the above entry. Non-writers assume that the main character is meant to be the author him or herself, so obviously if I hate my main character then I must hate myself, right? No. It doesn't work that way. The truth is that as you write your creation will take on a life of its own, which is also why...

8. Yes, your own writing can legitimately surprise you.
Non-writers are always flabbergasted by this one. How could a story you write and that you presumably had planned out in advance surprise you? It's true that I usually have some idea of where my story is going to go before I write it. It's also true that often, by the time I get to the parts I had spent so long planning in my head, I suddenly realize what I had planned is not something that the character would actually do. At all. I've had entire stories pull a 180 on me before. It happens.

7. Don't ask me what my story is about.
This one I'll admit is kind of weird. If you ask me about a book that someone else wrote I can tell you all about it. It's about a guy who does some stuff and then stuff happens as a result so he has to do some other stuff, the end. But ask me what my own story is about and suddenly I draw a complete blank. It's not that I don't know, I just don't feel like I can do it justice with a short description. If you really want to know what my story is about do me a favor: wait until it's done and read it. But do remember that...

6. No, you can't read it yet.
Even though stories are not necessarily auto-biographical they are a writer's emotions being put on display. It's been said before that being a writer is like showing your butt to the world; well, if you've gotta do it, then you at least want to make sure it's clean first, right? Just relax. You'll get to read it at the same time as everyone else. Honestly, you probably wouldn't like what's there right now anyway since...

5. The first draft is never, ever worth publishing.
I often hear non-writers ask what is the purpose of a "rewrite." They always have this idea of a master writer sitting down and writing out a flawless masterpiece on the first try. This idea is absurd. Even Stephen King's first drafts are crappy messes of loose plot threads. You just don't realize, because you never see it. And while we're on the topic of publishing...

4. Don't ask me when I'm going to get published.
I don't know. I might never get published. I might not even be trying to get published. Believe it or not a lot of writers write as a hobby, and even those who do intend to get published might not want to publish every work they write. Among writers there is what's known as "trunk works." That is, works that you finish and then hide in a trunk in your attic because, for whatever reason, you just don't want anyone to see it. Maybe it's not as good, or too personal, or maybe you were just using it to try out new ideas. Whatever the reason, it's not going to be published. (And people, please stop posthumously publishing trunk works from famous authors. You have no idea how much of a dick that makes you.)

3. Also, if you try to read my story over my shoulder, I will punch you.
As I mentioned at the start, my two major hobbies are drawing and writing. Needless to say I quickly developed a habit of sitting at the very back of a room with no one around me, because both of these hobbies draw in looky-loos like flies to a trash can. If I don't want to let you read my story yet, then I definitely don't want you looking over my shoulder at it.

2. And if you try to take my notebook away so you can "fix" my story, I will kill you. (And it will be a closed-casket funeral.)
Now that I'm a 6'6" grown man with a shaved head who looks like he could stomp most people flat and occasionally makes small children cry, people don't do this anymore, but back in high school I was just a fat nerd and yes I had people try to snatch my notebook away so they could "fix" whatever it was I was working on. The worst part was they didn't even think they were being jerks. Both of the people who did this to me were close friends who honestly thought that they were helping. They were not helping.

1. It is extremely @#%$ing obnoxious when you disturb me while I'm writing.
You think it's no big deal. You are wrong. Writing is an extremely emotional process. I actually have an entire ritual I go through to "clear the air" and get myself into a proper mindset before I sit down and write. Once I get into my writing it's not something I can just stop and then pick back up on a dime.

I'm going to put this as clear as I can for all of my non-writer friends out there, and keep in mind that there is no exaggeration in this statement at all: Being interrupted while you're writing is exactly the same as being interrupted while you're having sex.

Monday, September 15, 2014

4 More Obnoxious Internet Commenters I Missed

Way back in 2012 I was inspired by a combination of Cracked.com and a handful of trolls at the Agony Booth to write my article 6 More Obnoxious Internet Commenters Cracked Missed. Unfortunately, I quickly realized I had left a few out, and so I was inspired again to create this list, of four more obnoxious internet commenters. Oh, and just as with the last time, you'll likely never be able to get rid of these guys.

4. The Like Button Warrior

You know what's scary? People. They believe in things and they don't like assholes slandering them.

You know what's easy? Hitting the "Like" button on a post that slanders those people for you! It puts the message across, but no one can get mad at you because technically it wasn't you that said it!

Just to be clear, we're not talking about just any person who hits the "Like" button on an insulting comment. No, this is about people who hit the "Like" button on insulting comments, while simultaneously feigning reasonability themselves. The funniest thing about these people is, they honestly believe that they're being sneaky, and that no one will ever figure out their secret motives.

Why you can't get rid of him:
Because what he did was such a pusilanimous gesture of passive aggressive defiance that most moderators can't be bothered to do anything about it. And, you know, it's probably fine. Simply being the coward that he is is already a worse punishment on this guy than anything that anyone else could possibly give.

3. The Sad Sack

You've defeated his arguments with mountains of evidence. And so it is with a sigh of sad reluctance he finally breaks down and admits defeat. Perhaps it's true that you know more about the constitutionality of the capital gains tax than he does. It's no surprise. After all, he's nothing but a poor starving little boy from Ethiopia, with five types of brain cancer caused by all the abuse he receives from his evil stepmother. The doctors have given him only five weeks to live, but he still loves his family and his life so much more than a person like you could ever understand. So congratulations. You win. Monster.

There's just one thing his miserable life story left out: even if it's true (It's not.) how exactly is it relevant at all to what you were discussing? (It's not.)

Why you can't get rid of him:
Because what sort of wretched person would want to punish a poor nine year old boy with only a head and a burlap sack filled with leaves for a body?

Okay, no. Actually, it's because as with the like button warrior, above, this one is so pathetic that it's not worth bothering with. If you think about it, that's probably the best course anyway. Acknowledging his claims only serves to give them validity. The best way to combat this one is to just ignore it completely.

2. The Parrot

Everything this guy needs to know about debating he learned in Kindergarten.

"Oh yeah? Well everything you need to know about sucking you learned in your mom! HAH!"

When challenged the parrot reaches back to his elementary school training days, gathers all the skills he learned arguing with other kids on the playground, and valiantly recites your own argument back at you with one or two words changed to make it more insulting.

Not always its own thing, parroting is also a tactic of many other obnoxious commenter types. Humorously, the parrot truly believes that this is the height of wit, and will always be convinced that he totally just "got you."

Why you can't get rid of him:
You might be able to get rid of him, but since what he's saying is basically only two degrees off from what you're saying, getting him banned generally means getting banned yourself. As with most of these the best thing to do is ignore them. Just ask yourself, who's dumber: the parrot, or the person arguing with it like he expects a real conversation from a mindless animal?

1. The Contrarian

The world is full of morons, believing things that are so obviously wrong, often for reasons that are poorly considered, if they've even been considered at all. As far as the contrarian is concerned this group includes absolutely everyone that's not him. Everyone else is just so obviously wrong, and it's up to him to let them know it, at any cost...or so he'd have you believe.

More than just being argumentative and stubborn, the contrarian is so deadset on being against the maximum number of people possible that he'll even go so far as to reverse his own opinion to do so. Maybe he's just so convinced that everyone but him is stupid that he sees people agreeing with him as proof that he was wrong all along. More likely, though, he's just a troll.

Why you can't get rid of him:
You can, sometimes, if he's caught early enough or if he's stupid about it. Often times the contrarian is smart, though. He takes it slow and after a while he'll build a collection of followers just like the one line wonder from the last list - people who mistake his trolling for wisdom and think he's some sort of guru. Banning him at that point risks angering his followers, so you'll need to wait for an incident that can provide a reason to get rid of him and prove his idiocy all at once.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Creepypasta Review: Jeff The Killer

I know what you're asking. What is Jeff the Killer? Jeff the Killer is what's referred to on the internet as a "creepypasta." Creepypasta, for those not in the know, is basically a sub-genre of horror defined as being exclusively written by hyperactive 12-year-olds who have never read a horror story before. None of them are scary and most of them aren't even particularly good stories.

Let me make this clear: I'm not a particularly brave person. I absolutely believe in ghosts. I grew up being scared witless by R.L. Stine before graduating to being scared by H.P. Lovecraft. Plus, my revolver is located across the room from where I sleep which is going to be terribly inconvenient when my home finally does get invaded by an undead serial killer. So believe me, it's not some sort of heroic valor that lets me resist being scared by these things, they're just not scary.

Jeff the Killer is one of the most well known of all creepypastas, and also one of the worst. It's also where the infamous creepypasta face came from. You know what I'm talking about.

This is supposed to be a real face. Apparently Jeff is made out of magic marker and Photoshop.

That's the reason why I read it, and after doing so I just knew I had to write a blog post on just how much this thing sucked.

The story begins with a misguided attempt at setting itself up as a "true story" with a fake Newspaper bit about a boy surviving a serial killer. Naturally, it completely blows it by including an action scene, because real reporters always use those in their articles, right?

It goes on to tell the origin story of Jeff the Killer, a little boy who moves to a new town and who is immediately ambushed by knife-wielding middle-schoolers. I'm not joking. After fighting them off, somehow, the police decide that he and his brother attacked the three kids with no provocation and send his brother to a Juvenile Detention Center with no trial or investigation.

Later, the three kids attack him again and he kills them all, while getting his own face horribly scarred in the process, at which point he goes insane, mutilates his face even further, and kills his whole family for no real reason.

Ugh...

So, where do I even begin?

How about by asking, why do the police blame Jeff and his brother Liu for the incident? (Also, why are two brothers named Jeff and Liu?) But really. The three bullies - Randy, Troy, and Keith - aren't exactly subtle. They skateboard around the city with knives and attack random people in broad daylight. In the story's climax they jump their skateboards straight over a privacy fence (some God damned how) and invade a backyard birthday party with pistols and knives so that they can beat up Jeff. Put simply, these kids are crazy and sloppy and there is no way the whole city is unaware of it.

The thing is, the story doesn't even care. Why do the police not immediately suspect the three underage knife-wielding hoodlums who the story clearly states attack people like this all the time? Just because. Why does perfectly normal Jeff go irrevocably insane after two fistfights, while the other characters don't? Just because. Why do Jeff's burns turn his hair black? Just because. Seriously, why are two brothers named freaking Jeff (an English name) and Liu (a Chinese name)? Just because.

They just didn't care, folks.

KR Rating: [0] SHOVEL

Here's the big thing, though: even if the plot made sense this turkey would still give you literary salmonella. The author writes with all the suspense of a textbook and the subtlety of that same textbook being thrown at your face. At no point does he come close to creating suspense or horror, and it's not even like he's really trying.

I want to make something extra clear here to any aspiring horror or creepypasta writers.

Horror is not about violence, gore, or surprise.

Violence, surprise, and gore are not scary because they are concrete. They exist in the here and now. That means they can be dealt with. Horror comes not from terrible things happening in the present, but from imagining terrible things happening in the future. It's about creating an atmosphere of dread. It's about suspense - that is the essence of horror.

That is also this story's greatest failure, and really the failure of creepypasta in general.

It's especially sad, because the story does have some interesting aspects which, if given more consideration, could have made for a decent story.

Jeff's struggle with the bullies, and the adults who refuse to believe the truth, could have made for an interesting plot. Everyone who has ever been a kid knows the frustration of having adults refuse to believe them when they're telling the truth. Couple that with having to deal with psychotic, knife-wielding bullies (who your parents refuse to believe even exist) and you've definitely got something that could drive a kid mad.

Sadly, the story never dwells on that. Nothing much comes of that storyline, plus as mentioned before the bullies are so over the top that the adults' disbelief just comes off as stupidity anyway.

For that matter, the dark force that drives Jeff, which takes control of him and allows him to easily defeat the three armed bullies in both of their altercations... what is that? Where does it come from? Again nothing much ever really comes of this. It's mentioned in passing a few times, but the author clearly isn't interested in examining it.

Perhaps even worse, Jeff after his transformation into the titular "The Killer" is not an interesting villain, and again it's disappointing because the author came so close. Again, here's a tip for any aspiring writers: a good horror villain has a reason for why he kills who he kills. Jason Voorhees goes after young adults who are negligent in their duty of protecting the younger generation, because those are the kind of people who caused his death. Dexter goes after other serial killers because he thinks it makes his own lust for murder okay.

What is Jeff's motivation? Maybe he could go after bullies like the ones who burned him and scarred his face? Nope. Maybe he could go after negligent parents who are dismissive of their children, like his were? Nope. He just goes after everyone, because he "snapped" and "enjoys killing now."

I honestly wonder why the author made the decision to write this story as a creepypasta when he was so clearly uninterested in any of the dramatic or frightening aspects. He's clearly far more interested in writing an action story, he even has one of the bullies utter a stereotypical action movie one-liner before lighting Jeff on fire!

Of course, it's not like the action scenes are any more plausible or better written then the rest so it's probably just as well. The only thing that could have saved Jeff the Killer is a better writer.