They don’t use those sails for much, but they look pretty. So.
Every so often I like to say something about reference materials for writers. Not that they change all that much, but still, it’s good to refresh one’s memory from time to time. So, what follows are mercifully short reviews of some of my favorites.
First, in the spirit of knowing the rules in order to break them, is The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White. If I need to say more, are you sure you want to be a writer?
I like humor, both as something to produce, and as a topic. As an introduction to how to be funny, I recommend The Comic Toolbox: How to Be Funny Even if You’re Not by John Voorhaus. The title says it all. I wish some of the bosses I’ve had over the years had read this. (Do bosses read, anyway?)
For an overview of developing your skills and becoming a writer, I recommend On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft by Stephen King. I think Stephen and I attended the same Writers’ Workshop at different places and different times. It’s also quite well written, as you’d expect.
Finally, one I haven’t read yet, but intend to because I like his stories, is Damn Fine Story by Chuck Wendig. I’ll review it after I read it. Look for me on Amazon, per usual.
The links in each paragraph are to the book in question for sale on Amazon.com. You may buy any of them wherever fine books are sold.
You may recognize the comedian in the video, especially since he’s introduced by name and all. He gives a Master Class in Comedy. I’ve studied comedy before, but my earlier study only covered the basic mechanics of a joke, how to handle a heckler, stuff like that. Steve Martin’s class includes advice on what goes into the soul of comedy, the heart, if you will. I’m going to summarize what he says down into one sentence, and make that sentence be the entire next paragraph. You ready?
Always be yourself, your culture, your sense of humor, your age, your everything.
Okay, this blog is not about Comedy per se, although you can find stuff that was supposed to be funny when I wrote it, and some of it actually is, if you search this blog for Comedy, either as a category or as a tag. But, no, this post is not about Comedy, even though there’s a funny bit in that video for you to watch. You’re welcome.
A mistake I read some writers make is that they try hard to make a particular point. It doesn’t matter what the point is, either. It can be something which I wholeheartedly endorse, or something I truly dislike, it makes no difference. By trying to make a point, you become what is known in the business as “on the nose.” That is, you are telling us, not showing us. That said, many great writers make excellent points all of the time. Wha? Howzzat? Well, they don’t try to make a point, they just put their authentic selves into their stories. When they do that, whatever they might believe in shines through the narrative like the spotlight on a police helicopter at two in the morning. It’s obvious, I mean. And the greats don’t try, they just do. (Yoda approved sentence there.)
In terms of my comedy, Steve Martin’s class has provided a bit of an epiphany. Then, I realized, it was reinforcing what I’ve advocated for years in my writing. And, it can be applied to what books you should write. If you remain true to yourself, don’t prejudge what might or might not sell, don’t try to write what you think someone will want to read, then the odds are good that you will, if you persist, find your audience. I’m not saying it will be quick and easy, but it will happen. So, go for it, dammit!
Wondering what to give family and friends this year? Worry no more! Let Steve’s Live from Las Vegas supply your every gifting need!
Heh heh. I made you say “gifting!” Heh heh!
A five-ounce bottle of cat pee to spray onto the teacher’s desk on the day of that test you never studied for.
Ballpoint pens with disappearing ink, guaranteed to fade immediately after you transfer the correct answer to your test booklet.
Plager-write, automatically changes enough of that thing you downloaded last night so that when teacher searches for it online, it won’t show up.
Remote fire alarm activators, in case that cat pee trick doesn’t work out.
A 3D printer with TextFake(tm) technology that can print up a fake copy of any textbook. Useful for sneaking food, candy, weed, or anything else into class with its hollow interior, all while looking entirely studious. We recommend that this only be bought with cat pee spray, and preferably a remote fire alarm activator or two.
Stay Awake!(tm) robots that go around the darkened room and poke any student not paying attention to your presentation.
Auto-yeller(tm) periodically tells students whose names you input to stop that and settle down! During tests, or study halls, you can slip behind an academic treatise and catch a few z’s while still maintaining discipline.
Automatic shoplifting robots to get you those supplies you need but could never afford. If caught, the robot will deny any knowledge of your existence.
Save wear and tear on your vocal cords with Autocurse! Sensors automatically detect any other vehicle that is preventing you from doing just what you want to, and launches into a string of invective so powerful that you’ll wonder how you even lived without it!
Fake GPS Logs, to demonstrate to the officer that you could not have been the one he times going 85 through a school zone, as your GPS record shows no such speed, ever.
Our Tollnomore app automatically makes your face unrecognizably blurry, and your license number a hopeless jumble, as you race through the toll plaza at top speed. This one will pay for itself in no time!
And, finally, Secret Siphon will ensure that you always have a full tank of fuel. Unlike that car next to you.
REMEMBER, THIS IS ONLY A SMALL PORTION OF MERCHANDISE WE HAVE FOR SALE TODAY!
For the full catalogue, go to wwww.giveyouthefits.org/foolyou.
I have a series of posts about Route 66 available. Click the tag “historic route 66” below to see them all.
I am guilty of not writing any comedy for the better part of a year. This in spite of the fact that I enjoy writing and performing comedy. The reason why this is so would take up at least an entire post, so I’m going to leave it at the simple fact. But, and this is true, I do know how to write comedy. I’ve been a wise-ass all my life, so it comes naturally. And comedy is mostly writing! So, here we go.
First, that all important step for a stand-up performer, is the rant. Some comedians, like Dennis Miller, make a career out of rants. But, you may be sure that the “rants” you see them perform are not the rants with which they began. Far from it. Even in written comedy, you start with a written form of a rant, called by the descriptive name of Your First Draft! Hmmm. Non-comedy writers, does that sound familiar? It should. A rant, when performed, is a test of a concept. A field-test, as it were, of new material, new jokes, or even just new ideas for jokes. Some of the rules are that it doesn’t have to be funny, although you, the writer, hope that it mostly is. Also it doesn’t have to be final. In fact, if experience is any guide, you will throw out most of the material from your rants, and polish the stuff that did work until it’s really funny. Trust me, that’s what Dennis Miller has always done. It’s what George Carlin always did. It’s what Andrew Dice Clay does. It’s what any good comedian does, because otherwise you’re just not going to be funny. And a comedian wants to kill, not die, right?
Does that make the business sound sort of nasty? You’re catching on.
Your first draft, your rant, can be about anything. For me, it is a way to discover what I’m really thinking about. And, this is a surprise to many who try it, it is rarely what you think you’re thinking about. Too tight a curve? Well, your own impressions of yourself are frequently not in agreement with everybody else’s, so why should your thoughts be any different? Better? Good! I use ranting by keyboarding to get down new story ideas. It works better than if I think about the story too much. So, here’s another way to find story ideas, guys: just start writing and see what comes out. Remember, it’s a rant, not War and Peace! It will suck big time, and that’s okay!
I do have an observation, based on watching American politics. That is, those who are too close to their subject don’t do as well at making it funny as those who can step back a bit. For instance, the funniest jokes about Obama have always come from Liberals. Maybe because they like him, or maybe it’s because Conservatives hate him that their Obama jokes have always been too on the nose. “On the nose” means that you are telling, not showing. It’s as simple as that. And what has to be close to Rule No. 1 of any writing, comedy or not, is “show, don’t tell.” If you make a political joke and say “He’s just an idiot because he signed that bill!” You’re on the nose. If you can craft a story that surprises the audience/reader with the sudden knowledge of that fact after leading them astray as widely as possible, then you’ve got a joke. Trump is too new, still, to know who will tell the best jokes about him. But, historically, Conservatives tend to be more on the nose than Liberals, which may explain why most popular comedians are Liberals. I don’t think that this is a requirement of Conservatism or Liberalism. P.J. O’Rourke is very funny, and Conservative. Maybe it’s a lack of training? Whatever, it is what it is, at least so far.
So, that’s the writing post for this week. There are quite a few books available on Amazon on how to create comedy. If you’re interested, I’d suggest checking them out!
So, a Rabbi, a Priest, and a Parrot walk into a bar. The bartender looks at them and says, “What is this, some kind of joke?”
And there’s a reason for that. Comedy, you see, involves a lot of writing. And I like to write! Heck, I’m writing even as I write this, right? But I have other stuff to write, too. Like a couple more middle grade readers to polish up, and a really nice YA romance, that I do believe will be a hit, which I’m still polishing up. And then there’s the house, which cleans not itself, and I have to do maintenance on the place inside and out, and, well, that leaves roughly zero time for writing funny bits. Which is too bad, because I really like doing funny bits. So that’s why this, and not much else I’ve published lately, just isn’t funny. Don’t laugh! It really isn’t!
But, here is a writing tip for you, one that works for me, at least. It can be quite funny, if you write funny stuff, so pay attention.
I use the Voice Recorder app that comes with Windows. Pretty much any version, if memory serves. For Windows 10 it has gotten simpler looking and more sophisticated. Here’s a thumbnail of how it looks when open:
You can see that it looks clean, and if you enlarge the picture by clicking on it you’ll see that it pretty much explains itself. If there are no recordings in the default location, the entire screen is white except for the microphone icon. Now, Windows isn’t the only program with such a feature. Heck, I have one on my Droid, and if Apple doesn’t provide one, you should flush that sucker and get a real computer, but of course they do. Have one, I mean.
What I’ve been doing is to read each chapter into the voice recorder, then listening to the recording the next day. Whilst doing both things I make changes, or if the change is large, making notes in the Word document that is my manuscript. I find that I frequently say things that I meant to write, but something, I don’t know what, made me type in a stiffer phrase. Seriously, this has been working great, and I commend the effort to your attention.
If you try listening to your own dictation, I’ll bet you’ll be surprised at what you learn about your own writing. I know I sure do!
“If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”
Or is that an aphorism? Heck, I don’t know! But I like it.
That’s because I have been the smartest person in the room quite a few times. Professionally, I mean. I tell myself that the others are actually smart, but they just have different opinions. (No, I don’t think you’re stupid because you disagree with me.) It is true, after all, that smart people are more divergent in their views than those of average intelligence. But the truth has always asserted itself one way or another. Frequently by my getting my ass fired, to be honest. That’s not fun, although in every case I was happier, though poorer, without the late job. So, maybe I’ve read a thing or two that spoke to this topic:
“To thine own self be true.” — Shakespeare
“Follow your heart.” — 10,000 self-help gurus
“Only write stuff you want to read.” — Every successful writer ever.
Thing is, I don’t think that people are inferior or superior based upon intelligence. There are a lot of more important things, like kindness, love, generosity, backbone, keeping cool in a crisis, practiced skill, and so on and so on. But if you aren’t using your gifts, intelligence or others, you will simply not be happy, nor are you likely to succeed in your chosen path.
So now I write YA and Middle Grade fiction, and I write and perform stand-up comedy. I’m rarely the smartest person in the room these days, which makes me thing that maybe at long last I am on to something.
Just some things to think about for this Wednesday.