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Month: November 2016

W.T.F. Japan: Top 5 crazy awesome features of Japanese restaurants 【Weird Top Five】

This week for my RocketNews24 W.T.F. Japan article, I wrote about top five crazy awesome features of Japanese restaurants.

I think I’m different than a lot of people in that I really, really don’t like going out to eat. In fact it’s something that I really don’t understand about other people. Let me explain with a list of the reasons why, in my opinion, going out to eat is usually miserable:

  1. It costs more (usually way more) than if you made it yourself.
  2. You may not be full afterward (can’t just go to the fridge and get more).
  3. It may not be prepared the way you like it (under/overcooked, something nasty mixed in).

Yes, I understand that there are some benefits of going out to eat (no cleanup, you can eat food you couldn’t prepare yourself, etc.), but in my personal opinion those pale in comparison to the three items on the list. Why would I want to go somewhere I have to pay more, may not leave full, and may not even like what I get? For atmosphere? Please. If I need atmosphere, I’ll go skydiving.

But all that changes in Japan. I really don’t mind going out to eat in Japan because most restaurants address those three issues like this:

  1. There’s no tips, so the meal is at least 20% cheaper.
  2. Most places offer some free food refill (rice, bread, cabbage) so you’ll leave full.
  3. Realistic 3-D plastic food samples so you know exactly what you’re getting.

It’s remarkable how much of a difference those three small changes make. And it’s not just those either. The whole dining experience from start to finish is always just less awkward, more relaxed, and overall more pleasant in Japan.

Why? Well go ahead and read the article to find out!

Read the article here.

Tips-y Tuesday: Cosplay as Your Novel’s Characters

Last week on Tips-y Tuesday we talked about the benefit of writing your query letter’s synopsis letter before starting your manuscript. This week I’d like to change gears and talk about something completely different: cosplaying as your novel’s characters.

For those unaware, “cosplay” (portmanteau of “costume” and “play”) means dressing up like a character from a movie, video game, or TV show. For some extensive examples of cosplay, check out the cosplay-related articles on RocketNews24.

But the thing about cosplay is, not all characters are as popular to cosplay as others. Sure, the most popular characters are of course going to be from the most popular media (anime, Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, etc.), but there’s also another factor: how identifiable the characters are.

For example, even though the Twilight series, Divergent series, and Percy Jackson series are very popular, you almost never see Bella or Tris or Percy cosplays at conventions. Part of that is due to some of them being seen as “lesser” series in the eyes of some, but another very important factor is the lack of unique features on the characters themselves. No one would be able to tell you’re cosplaying as one of them instead of just walking around in your normal clothes.

Not the most easily-identifiable cosplay.

bella-cosplay

Whereas other characters that are more popular to cosplay have lots of unique features: Harry Potter has his scar, glasses, robes and yellow/red scarf; Daenarys has her long white hair, translucent gown, and her dragons; and pretty much every anime character from Ash to Naruto to Goku to Sailor Moon has a list of unique features that could fill pages.

Why is this important in writing a novel? Because it helps create more memorable characters that stand out.

When I started writing, one huge problem I had was that all my characters were too generic. They were just too normal. Would Harry Potter be as popular without his scar and glasses? Would Daenarys be as popular without her dragons? Maybe, but chances are, probably not.

What helped me start down the path to creating better characters was imagining what it would look like if fans of my book cosplayed as the character. If my main character was just a girl in normal clothes, no one would cosplay her. But if she was instead, say, a fancy half-spider half-human with eight eyes, two sets of legs, two sets of arms, a top-hat, monocle, and cane, then suddenly she becomes a lot more unique and cosplay-able.

You tell me if that’s memorable.

fancy-spider

Of course, you don’t have to go to such an extreme in your own character creation. If your book is just about normal people, that’s perfectly fine, but give us something to help identify the character.

Maybe they always wear a rainbow dress. Maybe they have a hat shaped like a volcano. Maybe they’re in a wheelchair decked out to look like a race car. Maybe those traits can work their way into your character’s personality, or even the plot, opening up details about your story that you didn’t even know existed.

Ironically, making your character stand out more by giving them less-common features makes them feel more real than if they were just generic.

So when creating your characters, don’t be afraid to go crazy. Give them unique features you’ve never seen before, and while you’re doing so, imagine how someone might dress up as them. Keep cranking up the uniqueness until you get to the point where you can imagine someone going up to your character’s cosplayer at a convention and screaming, “Oh my god! I love that character. Can I take a picture with you?”

(Featured image via GAHAG, edited by me)

Masterpiece Monday: Awesome Authors DO-ing Writing DON’Ts (Parentheses)

Last week on Masterpiece Monday we had an installment in the series of Awesome Authors DO-ing Writing DON’Ts, and this week I’d like to continue with another addition.

When we read articles about writing online or attend writing groups and such, we’re often told NEVER to do certain things. Never tell always show, never use adverbs, never use ellipses, never use more than two adjectives at a time, etc. etc.

While many of those are usually good advice, they can be a real hindrance if stuck to all the time. I talked previously about how forcing myself to always show in my writing and never tell held me back.

This week I’d like to talk about parentheses. As writers we’re often told to never to use parentheses, unless we’re using it to cite a source in non-fiction writing.

Most of the time that makes sense. Parentheses are meant to insert extra information to the main text, so why would you use them when writing a story? If the information is relevant enough to be included, just put it in normally; if it’s not relevant enough, then just don’t include it. Right?

Not necessarily. Parentheses can do something special to fiction writing that other devices can’t: they can lift the text out of the story.

Here’s an example of what I mean, from John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. We’ve looked at this passage before on Masterpiece Monday for a different reason, but now let’s take a look at its use of parentheses. This comes from the beginning of the book, where Hazel is describing her cancer and “depression:”

“Whenever you read a cancer booklet or website or whatever, they always list depression among the side effects of cancer. But, in fact, depression is not a side effect of cancer. Depression is a side effect of dying. (Cancer is also a side effect of dying. Almost everything is, really.)”

Those parentheses are doing a lot of work here. They feel like they’re separating part of the text, enhancing the idea like Hazel is talking just to us, like she’s pulling us aside for a private whisper.

Not only that, but because the more macabre thoughts are encased in parentheses, the parentheses make them hit the reader less intensely than they would have if they were part of the main text. Rather than making Hazel seem actually depressed, she comes off as self-depricating and humorously cynical instead.

A little bit later in the chapter, the same thing happens again, after she talks about how only kids who will die soon take the elevator:

“Michael was next. He was twelve. He had leukemia. He’d always had leukemia. He was okay. (Or so he said. He’d taken the elevator.)”

Again, without the parentheses, Hazel’s words would come off as cruel. But with the parentheses, it turns her thoughts into another private whisper that lets us see into her morbid coping mechanism.

Of course, it should be noted that after chapter one, the usage of parentheses is few and far between. That’s because after the first chapter we’ve become familiar enough with Hazel that we don’t need them anymore. Now we know who she is: she isn’t cruel, she’s just a teenage girl dealing with her crappy situation the only way she can, with humor.

The parentheses helped us get to that point of understanding her, but continuing to use them often throughout the rest of the book would probably bog down the reader. Information overload is all too easy, and it would become mentally exhausting having to pick through parenthesized and non-parenthesized text for page after page.

In the end, using parentheses is like using chocolate syrup – great in the right places in small amounts, but terrible everywhere else. A little bit on some ice cream is fantastic. A lot on ice cream and you have a bowl of regret. And even a little chocolate syrup on a steak is a disaster.

Parentheses, like chocolate syrup, is simply another option you have. Whether you’re writing or cooking, it’s important to never label any option as “off limits no matter what,” because sometimes even chocolate syrup is going to be the best tool to accomplish what you want.

(Featured image via GAHAG, edited by me)

W.T.F. Japan: Top 5 steps to immigrate to Japan 【Weird Top Five】

This week for my RocketNews24 W.T.F. Japan article, I wrote about top five steps to immigrate to Japan.

So originally I had a completely different W.T.F. article all set and ready to go for this week. But then, due to certain recent events, I decided that there was something much more important that needed to be written about – how to leave your country for Japan.

Of course, this is all a bit tongue-in-cheek. I doubt many people will actually be leaving the U.S. because of the election, but it’s still a fun fantasy for some. And hey, if someone really does want to leave, then my article might just provide them with some helpful information.

I actually didn’t know a ton about immigrating to Japan before I wrote this, and I feel like I learned a lot by doing the research and compiling it all together. Immigrating to Japan is certainly not easy, but it’s not impossible either. If you’re really determined to do it, there’s not much stopping you.

So whether you want to leave the U.S. and head to Japan, or if you want to stick it out and see what happens, either way hopefully it will be a fun read.

Read the article here.

Tips-y Tuesday: Write Your Synopsis FIRST

Last week on Tips-y Tuesday we talked about the benefit of writing your query letter before starting your manuscript. In a similar vein, today I’d like to talk about flipping another idea on its head: writing your synopsis first too.

For those unaware, the synopsis is typically a one page summary of your novel’s plot from beginning to end. When you send out your query letter to prospective literary agents, many of them will also request a synopsis as well.

Again, similar to a query letter, writing a synopsis may not seem so bad… until you actually have to do it. At least with the query letter you’re supposed to not tell everything that happens and leave a little room for mystery and intrigue. With the synopsis though, you literally have to condense your book into one page. Double spaced.

Let the tears commence.

synopsis

While some agents are fine with getting two or three-page-long synopses, many other specifically request one-page-long ones, so its best to have a one-page synopsis prepared. But how can you possibly set up your book’s characters, conflicts, plot twists, sub-plots, and all of their satisfying resolutions in less than a page?

It’s… it’s really hard to do. And that’s why, similar to why I recommend writing your query letter first, I recommend also writing your synopsis first, before you’ve even started your manuscript.

By the time you’ve finished a novel, you’re so entrenched in it that it becomes difficult to pick out exactly what the most important parts are. They’re all important parts to you – you wrote them, you gave birth to them, they’re all your babies!

But if you write your synopsis before you’ve even touched your manuscript, then you don’t have to worry about that. You can just work with the general idea of what you think your novel will look like. In fact if anything, it might be even difficult for you to fill up a whole page summarizing your novel, which is a much more welcome feeling than realizing you need to chop out two pages out of your already “lean” synopsis.

Writing a synopsis is like eating chocolate. It’s a whole lot easier to add it to your stomach until you’re pleasantly full, than it is to remove it from your stomach after you’re bursting at the seams.

chocolate

Of course there is the obvious question: how can I write my synopsis if I don’t know what happens next in my book’s plot? The answer to that is easy: whatever is most exciting/cool/conflict-y is what happens next. Don’t know what your character should do next after they beat the badguy? Have one of their allies turn on them! Don’t know what should happen after they finally save their boyfriend from a dragon? The boyfriend dies, of course!

Those suggestions may be a little extreme, but the point of writing your synopsis now isn’t to have a perfect synopsis, it’s just to have the most general synopsis that gives the full gist and flavor of the story without going overboard. Once you’ve actually finished the manuscript you can go back and change things in your synopsis that didn’t actually happen, but you’ll probably find that – for the most part – it’s still a pretty good summary of your book.

Whereas if you’d waited until after you’d finished writing your manuscript to do your synopsis, all those delicious details you put into the plot while you were writing would’ve been fighting in your head, screaming “I’m important enough to go into the synopsis!” and would’ve made your job a lot harder. But since the synopsis is already done and written, you can ignore their cries, knowing they’re not needed in the one-page summary.

Do you need to write your synopsis first? No, of course not. But personally, I’ll take the times I’ve struggled to fill up a page-long synopsis over the times I’ve agonized about how to condense my five-page synopsis down to one any day.

(Featured image via GAHAG, edited by me)
(Insert image via GAHAG and GAHAG)

Masterpiece Monday: Awesome Authors DO-ing Writing DON’Ts (Passive)

Last week on Masterpiece Monday we started the series Awesome Authors DO-ing Writing DON’Ts, and this week I’d like to continue with another addition.

When we read articles about writing online or attend writing groups and such, we’re often told NEVER to do certain things. Never tell always show, never use adverbs, never use ellipses, never use more than two adjectives at a time, etc. etc.

While many of those are usually good advice, they can be a real hindrance if stuck to all the time. I talked previously about how forcing myself to always show in my writing and never tell held me back.

This week I’d like to talk about the passive voice. As writers we’re often told to avoid the passive voice like the plague, opting for the active voice instead. For just a quick refresher, the passive voice is when something is done to the subject of the sentence, whereas the active voice is when the subject of the sentence does something.

Here’s some sentences to show the difference:

Passive Voice:
The pizza was eaten by the dog.
Voldemort was defeated by Harry Potter.
Laughter could be heard.

Active Voice:
The dog ate the pizza.
Harry Potter defeated Voldemort.
(I, you, someone) heard laughter.

The difference between passive and active voice can be striking. Even though the sentences are technically saying the same thing, the way they say it is completely different. The passive sentences are longer and feel detached and airy, whereas the active sentences are shorter and feel more concrete and solid.

But here’s the thing: sometime you want to sound detached and airy.

I just recently learned about Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom trilogy, and started reading Sabriel, the first book in the series. I loved the opening paragraph, which just so happened to use the passive voice quite a bit:

“It was little more than three miles from the Wall into the Old Kingdom, but that was enough. Noonday sunshine could be seen on the other side of the Wall in Ancelstierre, and not a cloud in sight. Here, there was a clouded sunset, and a steady rain had just begun to fall, coming faster than the tents could be raised.”

Two instances of passive voice in two sentences in a row?! I can see the monocles popping out of its detractor’s eyes.

But yes, the passive voice works great here. The author is describing the scenery in a detached, airy way, as if we’re seeing it through foggy rain. That’s the feeling he’s going for, and it works perfectly by using the passive.

Plus the passive works great in contrast to the active voice in the very next paragraph:

“The midwife shrugged her cloak higher up against her neck and bent over the woman again, raindrops spilling from her nose onto the upturned face below. The midwife’s breath blew out in a cloud of white, but there was no answering billow of air from her patient.”

Suddenly we go from a zoomed-out description of the setting into a zoomed-in description of inside a specific tent. The passive voice worked great to keep us far away for the first paragraph, and the active voice worked great to bring us in close for the second paragraph.

It’s a bit of a subtle thing, but it almost feels like we’re zooming in from the sky to right inside a tent, as if we’re watching a movie camera zoom in, or as if we’re starting off hearing someone tell us a story and then we go into seeing it for ourselves. That effect would not have been achieved as well if the author had simply used the active voice in both paragraphs.

Of course using the passive voice too much or in the wrong places can be detrimental. But it shouldn’t be thought of as wrong to use all the time. Sometimes, as an artist, you have to use finger paints to achieve what you want – and sometimes, as a writer, you have to use the passive voice to achieve what you want.

It can be a little messy, sure, but it shouldn’t be thought of as inherently bad – it’s just another tool in your writing toolbox.

(Featured image via GAHAG, edited by me)

Photo & Haiku Friday: Japanese Trump Mask

Every Friday I like to write a too-cool-for-school haiku inspired by a photo from JapanI bribe my wife to add her own as well, so we can get as many interpretations as possible, and sometimes a Japanese one happens to float in off a gentle breeze of inspiration.

Last week we looked at an advertisement for a hospital from hell. Here’s this week’s photo, a screenshot of a mask for sale on a Japanese website:

08-mask

My English haiku:
Sold out of Trump masks
Now I must find something else
To impress my friends

Abbey’s haiku:
Why are you yelling?
Sit down and eat your dinner
Here comes the airplane

My Japanese haiku:
日の出のよう
肩から出てる
黄金うんこ

(Like a sunrise)
(It comes out from the shoulders)
(A golden turd)

(Images via Ogawa Studios)

W.T.F. Japan: Top 5 Japanese pet kabutomushi beetles 【Weird Top Five】

This week for my RocketNews24 W.T.F. Japan article, I wrote about top five Japanese pet kabutomushi beetles.

A few months ago I looked at the top five creepiest Japanese insects, and one notable bug missing from the list was Japanese beetles. The way they fly up and attack people, you might think they’d be a prime candidate.

Except for the fact that Japanese beetles are often kept as pets. I couldn’t possibly bring myself to include pets on a “creepy” list, but I knew I’d want to talk about them one day so here we are!

Keeping beetles are pets may seem crazy to those outside of Japan, but it’s basically the equivalent of keeping goldfish here. They’re popular with kids and don’t live very long, but at least with beetles you can get some of that creepy-crawly affection if you so desire.

Whether you love beetles or think they look like poops with legs, you’ll probably enjoy reading this one.

Read the article here.

Tips-y Tuesday: Write Your Query Letter FIRST

Last week on Tips-y Tuesday we talked about how to stay on track and write every day. This week I’d like to talk about a strategy for writing novels that I’ve recently employed: writing the query letter first.

For those unaware, the query letter is the short letter you write to prospective literary agents once you’ve finished your manuscript. It consists of a short greeting, a back-of-the-book summary of your novel, any writing credentials you have, and that’s about it.

Now that may not sound so bad, but writing the query letter can be one of the most frustrating and stressful parts of writing a novel. I used to tell my writing group that writing the manuscript is the easy part, afterwards comes the hard part.

Part of the reason it’s so difficult is because you’re suddenly forced to condense possibly years of work and a hundred or more pages that have your heart and soul invested in them… into about 300 words.

A typical writer in the process of crafting a typical query letter.

query-crisis

Writing query letters used to drive me insane. How could I possibly tell prospective agents about the depths of my characters, the intricacies of my plots, the richness of my setting in little more than a sound-byte?

That’s why I recommend doing something unconventional: writing the query letter before you even start your manuscript, when you know as little as possible about your story.

Before you write your manuscript, you may have a general idea or outline of what your book will be like. But chances are it’s going to evolve a lot as you write it. The succulent details and plot-twists and character traits probably aren’t chiseled in stone yet, they’re nice and flexible, which is why this is a perfect time to stretch them in the right direction.

To do that, all you have to do is write the perfect query letter. And by that I don’t mean an absolutely flawless one, but one that – when you show it to people – makes them go: “Ooh! I’d like to read that.”

So basically, you get to write the ultimate back-of-the-book summary. That means you goal is to basically just make your summary as exciting and awesome as possible. Don’t worry if you need to throw some things into your query that don’t exist in your outline – that’s exactly the reason you’re doing this first, so you can put them into your book later!

For example, in my recent book, I decided my query needed more tension, so I decided to just have the moon explode. It doesn’t get any more intense than that! Of course that didn’t actually make it into my final draft, but something very similar did, and it’s unlikely I would’ve ever pursued that path had I not written the query first, realized I needed more tension, and added it in.

We’ve talked a bit about the book my wife is writing, so here’s an abbreviated example of what her query letter might have looked like when she only had a vague idea of what the story would be like versus after we made some changes:

OLD:

Sixteen-year-old Dionara loves dragons. She also loves pizza. When she gets her own dragon from her father, she is super happy. Now she can fight in tournaments and maybe even find her sister.

Enh. Pretty bland. It’s missing some stuff to really draw me in. If my wife showed me that, I’d recommend inserting a lot more tension and cool details, perhaps ending up with something like this:

NEW:

Sixteen-year-old Dionara works part-time as a pizza delivery girl… delivering pizzas on the back of her dragon Zorax. In her world, dragons are as common as dogs and cats, and one dragon – the white albino that breathes ice – is prized among all others. As the daughter of a dragon-rancher, Dionara’s older sister Eliana used to own one, for about an hour, until she and the albino were kidnapped together by black market dragon dealers ten years ago.

But when Dionara notices a mysterious new female entree into the world of dragon-fighting tournaments, who happens to ride on an albino dragon, she leaves her pizza-delivering life behind to get back the sister who was stolen from her. Little does she know though that Eliana may have left her dragon-ranching life behind for a reason.

Ooh! Now I’m enticed. Remember, this manuscript isn’t complete yet. It’s barely even begun – there’s no kidnapping or secret reasons written yet, but they make for a more exciting hook. And now, thanks to writing the query letter first, the story has a rock solid starting point that will probably grow into a much stronger manuscript than it would have otherwise.

In the end, you could have best manuscript ever, but if you have a bad query letter, then chances are it won’t get published. Imagine you got to create the perfect resume to submit to your ultimate dream job – it can have literally anything you want on it. You do have that chance… if you choose to write your query letter first.

(Featured image via GAHAG, edited by me)
(Insert image via GAHAG)

Masterpiece Monday: Awesome Authors DO-ing Writing DON’Ts (Adverbs)

Last week on Masterpiece Monday we looked at a great example of not needing to spice up the word “said.” This week I’d like to start a series that I call Awesome Authors DO-ing Writing DON’Ts.

When we read articles about writing online or attend writing groups and such, we’re often told NEVER to do certain things. Never tell always show, never use the passive voice, never use ellipses, never use more than two adjectives at a time, etc. etc.

While many of those are usually good advice, they can be a real hindrance if stuck to all the time. I talked previously about how forcing myself to always show in my writing and never tell held me back.

Sometimes, you do need to tell. You do need to use the passive. And you do need to… wait for it… use an adverb.

I know, blasphemy right? Even just last week we talked about how using adverbs in dialogue (“he said happily” etc.) can turn your writing from snappy to slow as molasses in seconds.

But that’s just it – sometimes you do want to slow down your writing. Or sometimes you need to convey exactly how a character is saying something in order to get across the hidden meaning behind their words. And adverbs can be perfect for that.

One of the books that really showed me the power of adverbs is Harry Potter. Here’s an abbreviated version of one excellently-written scene that uses adverbs to convey the tense mood perfectly. It’s right at the beginning of the book, when Mr. Dursley attempts to ask his wife if all the crazy stuff he’s seen all day might in any way be connected to her sister (adverbs underlined):

He cleared his throat nervously. “Er – Petunia, dear – you haven’t heard from your sister lately, have you?

“No,” she said sharply. “Why?”

He said, as causally as he could, “Their son – he’d be about Dudley’s age now, wouldn’t he?”

“I suppose so,” said Mrs. Dursley stiffly.

“What’s his name again? Howard, isn’t he?”

“Harry. Nasty, common name, if you ask me.”

“Oh, yes” said Mr. Dursley, his heart sinking horribly. “Yes, I quite agree.”

That’s almost an adverb per sentence! If J.K. Rowling had brought her manuscript to a writer’s group, chances are all of them would’ve been crossed out in red ink and she would’ve gotten a lecture about how good writers NEVER use adverbs.

Except that’s not true. The dialogue here isn’t supposed to be quick and snappy, it’s supposed to be slow and painful, so we can feel the torture that Mr. Dursley is going through. Using adverbs to slow it down a bit, while adding some juicy description as well, is the perfect way to accomplish that.

When it comes to writing DON’Ts, it’s not about never using them, but knowing WHEN to use them. Just like we shouldn’t use adverbs in every single sentence, we shouldn’t eat chocolate cake for every single meal either. But sometimes a little bit of chocolate cake is awesome, even necessary – if you show up to an elementary birthday party with celery sticks instead of cake, then you’d better be prepared to be whacked like a pinata.

So, I guess that metaphor makes sense? I don’t know, but I suddenly having a incredibly unbelievable craving for some freshly-baked adverbs chocolate cake.

(Featured image via GAHAG, edited by me)