Monday, October 27, 2014

Do not use these phrases

One of the most cliche phrases that I absolutely loathe is "think outside of the box." I am sure at one time, it was the newest, most-fabulous way to say someone was a creative thinker...about 100 years ago. Today, though, it's an oxy-moron. Because anyone who is saying, "think outside of the box," is clearly not.

In marketing, vague, meaningless phrases crop up often. In fact, I've posted about this disease before. It's a brutal misuse of the English language to fill a page full of words that mean absolutely nothing. I think that's why writers, who are used to using lots of words to describe something, fall victim to cliches when asked to summarize their 300 page epic into two paragraphs for a query, or even worse, a couple of sentences for a logline. "His world turned upside-down," might seems like an exciting way to describe your hero's conflict but it really isn't.

Let's take a look.

When a young farmer on a remote planet gets a secret message from a princess in danger, his entire world turns upside-down.


When a young farmer on a remote planet gets a secret message from a princess in danger, he's drawn into a rescue mission that kills his family and thrusts him toward his destiny of becoming a Jedi Knight. He is the last of the Jedi, and the only one who can save the galaxy from the clutches of the evil Darth Vader, the man who killed his father.

See! More details = more excitement.

If you see these phrases in your query, immediately change them

  • world turned upside-down
  • everything changed
  • more than she bargained for
  • a journey of discovery
  • uncovered secrets

Basically anything that can be replaced with more details, because we want to know...

  • HOW the world turned upside-down?
  • WHAT changed?
  • WHAT was more than she bargained for?
  • WHAT happens on this journey? WHAT did your character discover?
  • WHAT secrets?

It's like when you're watching an infomercial and they say, "This product will change your life and save you hours of time!" The first question that crops up in my mind is, "How is a one-shot kumquat slicer really going to change my life?" If you want to sell it to me, you have to tell me.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Internet Etiquette

Let's talk for a second about Internet etiquette. This discussion is inspired by an author who got a bad review on one of her books and then proceeded to hunt down the reviewer and stalk her at her home and job.

That's not OK, and in some states, may actually be considered illegal.

I want to start by giving you all the best piece of advice I have ever gotten in my entire life.

There is nothing you can do about other people; you can only choose how you react to them.

Got that? In case you didn't, I'm going to say it again.


This means...
You are not going to change someone's mind by insulting them.
You are not going to get an apology by attacking them.
You are not going to make them a better person by confronting them.

You are only going to make yourself more upset.

If you find yourself the subject of Internet harassment, or a bad review, here is what you should do:
  • Ignore it.
  • Delete the comment (if you can)
  • Block the user (if you can)
  • And if you find yourself really festering about it, take a self-imposed Internet breather. Life's too short. Do you really want to waste it fighting with someone you've never met?

You can also try one of my other techniques that I talked about here. Be empathetic. Maybe the Internet troll is just having a bad day. Haven't you ever had one of those?

Thursday, October 9, 2014

I'm older than the Internet

Yes, it's true. I'm older than the Internet. I remember my mom typing my sister's reports on an electric typewriter at our kitchen table. I remember our first computer, the glorious Commodore64, and the black and white dot matrix printer we used with it to make birthday banners in as little time as two hours. I remember when the Internet first arrived, and we received dozens of those AOL start-up CD's in the mail, the promise of dreams that later became coasters.

I remember spending hours after school in online chat rooms with my beloved cat on my lap while I repeatedly asked strangers, "a/s/l." And I'll never forget that horrible beeping, grinding noise that came with connecting to the Internet through your phone line.

I remember these things, but now that I can access anything from anywhere on a magic device I keep in my purse, it's hard to remember what it was actually like to live before the smartphone. I especially have a hard time remembering good things about it. I mean, how did we survive without being able to solve disputes about which actress was in which movie without IMDB to help us?

But when I think back to the dark ages of my cell phone-less, high-speed lacking life, I go all the way way back to high school, and there are a few bright sides to the under-connected that I'm sad future generations are going to miss.

Hand-Written Notes
My best friend and I used to spend hours crafting notes to one another, written in code or sometimes hand-drawn comics making fun of girls we despised or boys we liked. We would sneak in illustrated private jokes too, like the mystery of the severed cat leg stuck to the pavement outside of our neighborhood. What happened to the rest of the cat? With note-writing replaced by the more convenient texting, who has time to draw sketches of 3-legged cats nowadays?

Prank Calls
Who remembers Crank Yankers? Do teens even bother with prank calls anymore? Can you even get away with it with caller ID? It seems like all of the bullying takes place on Facebook now, but in my day if we wanted to harass someone after school, we had to call them on the phone.

Yes, it was still anonymous (we didn't have caller ID way back when), but there was always the risk of voice recognition even when you were using a spot-on French accent. And since the gag was running live, you had to be quick. No time to sit and ponder your response before you typed it, and the where-should-I-deliver-your-200-pizzas bit just doesn't have the same punch in an email as it does on the phone.

Okay, I'm a mom, and when my son is old enough to go out on his own I am going to be tracking him online like a celebrity stalker. It's going to be awesome for me, and it's going to suck for him.

In addition to never wearing a seatbelt or a bike helmet, I was also free the moment I stepped outside. The only rules: call when you get there and let me know when you're coming back. So I would get to my friend's house, call, tell my mom I would be home by 12 and then my friends and I would go wherever and do whatever with whomever without anyone policing us.

Granted, this arrangement did get me into trouble occasionally, grounded for the better part of a summer, but looking back, I wouldn't have changed a thing. There is a feeling I'm afraid my son isn't ever going to experience, and that's the feeling of complete and utter independence. I was free. My parents didn't know where I was, or who I was with. I was just having fun, doing what I wanted to do and I wasn't going to get caught with pictures on the Internet later. I always think, "How do kids get away with anything these days?" Or in other words, how can they find out what kind of person they're supposed to be if no one gives them the chance to explore it on their own?

So at great risk of sounding like a crotchety old lady, those are the things I miss about the dark ages. But what about you, any readers who remember the archaic life before Google, what do you think we've lost in the age of technology that today's kids will never know?