Monthly Archives: February 2013

Bladder Control Problem

Grampa's favorite show?

Grampa’s favorite show?

Well, it’s not really a problem. It’s more like a bladder-control insult. Or is it a bladder-control identity crisis?

Who do advertisers think I am? I see as many TV ads for incontinence, motorized carts, and funeral-expense insurance as I do for Toyota and McDonalds. The marketing people clearly believe I am interested in these products.

Here are the shows I actively watch: The Walking Dead on AMC, Elementary on CBS, and Face Off on Syfy. By “actively” I mean going out of my way to keep up with the latest episode. It’s during these programs that I see the ads for cars and fast food.

Otherwise, I indulge my obsession with early 1970s pop culture by watching trashy horror and action flicks and the occasional rerun of Soul Train. I just can’t say “no” to an early Roger Moore Bond movie or any film with a muscle car involved in a chase as horns blare and a funky guitar goes waka-waka on the soundtrack.

“But Baker,” you say. “Those commercials are aimed at people who were already adults when those shows and movies were new. Duh.” To that I say: Soul Train went on the air in 1971. It was broadcast on Saturday mornings and was geared for teens and tweens trying to get hip to the latest songs and dance moves. Even the oldest original viewers can’t be more than 60. These advertisers are simply trying to hook us in early, just like the tobacco companies try to hook children in early by depicting Dora the Explorer smoking Kool cigarettes.

They do that, right?

The point is, the marketing people are convinced I am rapidly declining.

Come on! I play drums. I go see the latest Quentin Tarantino movies. I drink Vitamin Water Zero. I obviously live life on the edge. So why do I know so much about Gold Bond Medicated Powder and Tom Kruze, inventor of the Hoveround? Why am I reminded again and again that I can have adult undergarments discreetly shipped to my house at a surprisingly low cost?

Lately I’ve become worried about my final expenses, thanks to all the depressing commercials. Given the history of longevity in my family, that probably won’t be an issue for 50 years, but who knows what funerals will cost in 2063? It’s well known that advertisers play to your fears and make you paranoid. And you know who is really paranoid? Old people.

See? It’s working. They’re trying to turn me into an old guy. I’ll bet, when we’re not looking, they use Hoverounds for bumper cars and adult undergarments for coffee filters.

I’d go on detailing this conspiracy, but I really have to pee.

Peace out.

(Note use of hip, youthful sign-off that entered the lexicon no earlier than 1990)

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Enjoy some 1970s car chasing courtesy of the Cleopatra Jones series. Why none of them ever won an Oscar for Best Picture, I’ll never know.

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Blog Readers Behaving Badly

No, I said "bloG." BLOG!

No, I said “bloG.” BLOG!

Is it just me, or is your WordPress Blog Reader on the quirky side too?

Every time I open it, the order of new posts is shuffled. Sometimes, posts show up five minutes after they go up, and other times they’re a day late. I’m glad I remember to scroll down or I’d miss a lot of them.

Other times, my blog reader gets stuck in Groundhog Day, showing an infinite string of the same 7 or 8 posts.

The worst of all is when posts vanish from my reader. I don’t always have time to read things as soon as they show up, but I do go back later to see what fun, exciting, funny, or informative things you had to say that day. That is, unless my blog reader eats them.

I think WordPress is the bomb, and the fact that it’s free for those of us who don’t mind “.wordpress” in our URL is super cool daddy swifter. It’s the best free thing that I can mention in a family-friendly blog like this one. But, like a Wes Anderson movie, it can be kinda odd sometimes.

How you noticed any blog-reader misdemeanors in your little nook of the blogosphere?

Better yet, are you a reader of blogs who behaves badly?

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On an unrelated note, these are the films I can think of off the top of my head that are about killer blobs. Help me out if I overlooked any classics:

The Blob (1958)

Caltiki, The Immortal Monster (1959)

Son of Blob AKA Beware the Blob (1972)

The Blob (1988)

the blob2


Writing Motivated Characters

Prose is a mixture of technique and artfulness. In my previous posts, I’ve felt confident enough to talk about aspects of the writing craft that are, in my view, technique oriented. Creating good characters, on the other hand, seems like an art form to me.  Let’s see if I can take the fun out of it and get technical!

turtle

Each writer has her own way of building characters, but we all share the same goal of making those literary creations authentic and interesting. Where to start? First I want to consider the major components of a character. I’m no expert, so feel free to add your thoughts or tell me what I missed:

1. History

2. Motivation (Today’s topic. I knew it would come up!)

3. Dialog

4. Action

In regard to history or backstory, many writers create bios of each character, especially for stories with complex family trees, royal bloodlines, or a multi-generational timeline. Others are comfortable with a general sense of their characters’ pasts. When it comes to dialog and action, our literary creations must say and do things that are consistent with who they are.

Which brings us to motivation. We, as writers, should ask ourselves what our heroes, villains, and supporting cast members want to accomplish. Although bit players can be purely functional, our stars must have objectives. Why write a story about them if they have nothing to do?

But is an external objective enough on its own to make someone real or interesting? Think about yourself. I’m sure you have goals, but you also have the push and pull of your intrinsic nature, which sometimes helps you and other times holds you back. For example, I know I am motivated to control outcomes, and I don’t like surprises. I relax like a turtle does a back stroke: Very poorly. On the other hand, I’m empathetic and see value in other perspectives. If you put me in a zombie apocalypse story, I’ll be the guy telling all the knuckleheads to calm down so we can make a survival plan in a logical, collaborative manner. I have a goal – to survive the zombie onslaught – and an intrinsic nature, which is to impose order and control while still respecting others’ views.

Here’s my formula for character motivation:

External motivation (goal) + internal motivation (intrinsic nature)

Internally, each of us is a cauldron of motivations that are often invisible to others. However,when the stakes are high, our intrinsic natures come to the fore. Going back to the zombie scenario, I can’t be the controlling guy with the diplomatic personality in one scene and the hysterical guy who loses his temper every five minutes in the next. A more plausible dynamic is for me to be frozen by inaction when I’ve imposed my plan but the zombies manage to breach the fortress anyway, since (warning: theme coming) efforts to control outcomes in life are ultimately futile. As I’m being devoured by the undead, perhaps I can say, “You know, I learned a valuable lesson here about living in the moment!”

Motivation: Find lunch

Motivation: Find lunch

Think about the people you know, dig below the surface, and imagine why they act the way they do. Have you ever met someone who puts people down to make up for her own lack of self-esteem? How about someone who tries too hard to please the boss because she needs validation as a human being and doesn’t know how to find it in herself? Combine those internal qualities, give the character an external goal (getting the heroine fired), and – voilà – you’ve got a secondary villain. The main villain is a serial killer hiding in the air ducts, by the way.

Here is a tiny sampling of intrinsic motivations that can be combined with others and, when coupled with an external goal, make one’s literary offspring more authentic:

Wanting to win at all costs and dreading failure. This character often makes the people around him miserable with all his ups and downs, and the world is all about him.

Striving to win approval and craving attention. This person may seek praise from authority figures and try to make others feel guilty. Passive aggressiveness, in other words.

Seeking variety and distraction. This character can get lost in what he’s doing and let people down who were counting on him.

Avoiding social interaction. No one knows what’s really going on behind her nerd glasses!

Assuming all people see things the way you do. He buys his wife a football. She wanted Sex and the City: Season 1 on DVD.

Trying to get everything done yesterday. She’s so wired, she makes the people around her tired just looking at her.

A character is bland if all he has is an external goal.  He needs dimensions. The next time our hero and his sidekick go on a quest to retrieve a magic sword, let’s make the hero a controlling, pushy type with no concern for others’ feelings, and depict the sidekick as an unassertive people-pleaser who gets walked on. The sidekick shouldn’t exist simply to help the hero find the sword. Give her a reason to overcome her anxieties and stand up for herself… even better if doing so is integral to the plot. While we’re at it, let’s teach the  hero a humbling lesson in empathy as he looks for that stupid sword.

On second thought, don’t make the sword stupid. People won’t want to read that.

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Reading While Writing

What's in YOUR head?

What’s in YOUR head?

Some writers say they can’t or won’t read books while working on a project, perhaps fearing they will be unduly influenced or their writing voice will suddenly mimic that of the other writer.

Do you think this is a legitimate concern or a form of literary germ phobia?

None of us is inside another person’s head (at least I hope not; it’s fraught with risk, not the least of which is tripping over an optic nerve). Aren’t we being arrogant when we claim to know what someone is thinking or experiencing?

In that case, I’ll stick with explaining why it doesn’t happen to me: One, I believe reading and writing are separate mental functions. I don’t have the brain scans to prove it (I sold my Magnetic Resonance Imager for cupcake money), but think about the line-in and line-out jacks on a home-theater system. If you plug your DVD player into the output, you won’t see anything. The signal is running in the wrong direction. You have to find the input.

When I’m reading, I’m receiving and processing the abstract symbols on the page into useful information, perhaps going “Oooh” and “Ahhh” when the writer makes me think about something in a new way. When I’m writing, it’s like I’m installing that home-theater system. I’m figuring out where the cables go so the story works when I plug it in. It’s passive acceptance vs. active imposition.

Two, if my writing voice easily wavers and bends to outside forces, then it’s not mature yet, and I’m not ready to compose a novel.

I actually prefer to read books while I write, for serendipity is a better writer than I am. Indeed, I coincidentally began reading something the same time I started my current project. The book was an academic work about teenage singers of the early 1960s and their impact on the civil rights movement. My novel is a brutal, post-apocalyptic survival story.

If, by the grace of Odin, my novel gets published someday, it’s safe to say these two titles will not share shelf space. But in the process of thinking about the ideas expressed in that book, a light bulb went on regarding the relationship between my two main characters. As my once nebulous concept starts to gel, I am discovering that that book is influencing the core theme of my story.

My writing voice has not gotten confused, nor have I decided to reset the tale in the 1960s and make the hero a doo-wop singer. I’m being influenced in a subtle, serendipitous way that I believe will make the story better. Perhaps if I’d read a different book, another theme would have emerged. But I didn’t read a different book, I read that one. So I’m going with it.

What about you? Can you read a book while working on a project? Can you chew gum while this is happening? Is someone living in your head and reading your thoughts?

Does it hurt?

♥ ♥ ♥    ♥ ♥ ♥    ♥ ♥ ♥    ♥ ♥ ♥    ♥ ♥ ♥    ♥ ♥ ♥

Man, I’m stuck in the ’80s lately with my song choices. Oh well. They wrote more relevant titles back then. Here’s one about writing books by Elvis Costello:

♥ ♥ ♥    ♥ ♥ ♥    ♥ ♥ ♥    ♥ ♥ ♥    ♥ ♥ ♥    ♥ ♥ ♥


I’ve been podcasted!

Or is it, “I’ve been Podcast”? I don’t understand these newfangled words. The oldfangled ones were ten times better, if not eleven.

Ok, then.

In case you didn’t get enough of my “Expedient does not mean fast” post the other day, voiceover artist Kriskkaria did a podcast version and somehow managed to make me sound witty. She’s quite a miracle worker. The whole thing is very NPR, by the way, which couldn’t be cooler. It’s just a couple of minutes long.

I have placed an easy-to-find link right…

HERE

Big thanks to Kris!!!

Bela Lugosi. Now THAT'S oldfangled.

Bela Lugosi. Now THAT’S oldfangled.


Less vs. Fewer

Poor Fewer. Its cousin, Less, is a self-centered attention hog who thinks nothing of taking Fewer’s place in a sentence, even when it is not invited and has no right to be there.

You have heard and read things similar to these examples, I’m sure. They should all say fewer:

Less people showed up than I expected.

*

The new parking lot holds less cars than the old one.

*

There are less strippers at this dive than they promised on the website!

*

People of Earth… Your choice is simple. Learn to the proper use of these terms. Or pursue your present course and face obliteration. We will be waiting for your answer. The decision rests with you!

day 2

OK, perhaps that was a bit harsh. Maybe some of you would prefer a refresher before we bust out the Death Star. Here’s the deal:

Fewer is for things you can count. Cars, people, cockroaches, numbers of characters played by Tyler Perry or Mike Myers in a single film.

Less if for things that come in degrees or mass. The general term money, destruction, flavor, clothing (less clothing can be good or bad, depending on who’s under it).

The gift I’m about to offer isn’t useful in all cases (such as plural nouns that don’t change form, like deer), but the general concept of this mnemonic device I’ve created should nonetheless be helpful: It’s Less without an S.

Correct examples of Fewer…

1. Fewer monsters appeared in Terror of MechaGodzilla than in its immediate predecessor, Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla, which disappointed the mature adult male who has both films on DVD.*

*Not really. He likes them both the same.

2. Pete Townsend typically has fewer intact guitar strings at the end of the concert than he does at the beginning.

3. There were fewer people alive in Argos after Zeus released the Kraken to attack the city. Damn. That guy doesn’t [EXPLETIVE DELETED] around!

4. I had fewer singles in my wallet after my visit to Leather and Lace in Newark.

Correct examples of Less…

1. The Millennium Falcon had less damage than one would expect after it flew through an asteroid field.

2. Now that I’ve been transferred to maximum security, I have less time for conjugal visits. Rats. Meanwhile, Mrs. B has all the time in the world for non-conjugal visits.

3. Any woman will tell you. Frank Hammer, the 6’4” decathlete, concert pianist, and sometime male model is far less of a man than 5’3”Archibald Crinkle is with both hands tied behind his back and his underwear pulled up over his head. Sure, Archie has a weak chin, a high-pitched voice, an unassertive demeanor, and blotchy skin, but, darn it, he’s nice.

4. I have much less patience by the time I’m trying to come up with my eighth overall example on a blog post. In fact, sometimes I just want to stop in the mid

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Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a relevant song for this post, so I’m just going to share this unheralded mid-1960s classic, I Want to Be With You, by the late, awesome Dee Dee Warwick, sister of Dionne Warwick, niece of Cissy Houston, and cousin of Whitney. Can you fathom the singing DNA in this family?

Tell me if Dee Dee’s voice isn’t a mocha latte with whipped crème and a teaspoon of sugar!

 

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