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Breaking Hyperbole as Writing Inspiration

breaking hyperbole as writing inspirationBreaking hyperbole as writing inspiration is one of the mainstays of creative writing. Especially genres like fantasy and science fiction. And since this tactic is so common, I’m guessing it’s not going to be a totally unfamiliar idea for most writers. That’s why this article isn’t meant to be a treasure trove of new ideas.

Although that would be cool. 

My goal instead is to make you more conscious of how you’ve used hyperbole as a worldbuilding or inspiration technique. Analyzing the techniques we use helps us be more deliberate in our methods – it lets us consciously choose to use them (or not) based on our goals and what we want to achieve.

How to Break Hyperbole for Writing Inspiration

All You Need Is Hyperbole and a Literal Mind 

Like most figurative language, hyperbole (when used correctly) works because the reader knows not to take it literally. It’s great for making people aware of details (without blatantly pointing them out), adding humor, and writing dialogue for characterization. 

Here’s an example:

Milly: Oh, I used to dance and flirt the night away. But that was a thousand years ago!

When the character says this, we don’t assume that she’s over a thousand years old. Instead, we understand that the situation happened a long time ago and that the character either likes using sayings or exaggerations (or doesn’t want to say specifically how long ago it was).

In short, a hyperbole gives us an impression of the truth without being the actual truth.

But what if the character were speaking literally? What if it actually has been a thousand years since she danced and flirted the night away? It’s possible in fantasy stories, right? Possibly even science fiction.

Well, in that case, there is no exaggeration, which means there is no hyperbole. It’s not even figurative language at that point. Instead, the statement is the literal truth.

So when you take hyperbole literally, it’s not hyperbole anymore.

That’s why I called this activity breaking hyperbole. If hyperbole were the goal, you wouldn’t want to do this. For this exercise, however, hyperbole is a means to an end – not what you were aiming for.

Exaggerate Reality to Create Fantasy

Many of my writing prompts involve using elements of real life in the story (people watching, the library inspired writing prompt, Food as a Writing Prompt, etc.). And, oddly enough, when writing for them, you may have also used this one (What?)

As I said before, breaking hyperbole is a common part of the creative process. In other words, it’s a way of transforming reality into something new for your world or your story. Here’s how it works:

  1. Pick something from real life.
  2. Write a hyperbole about it.
  3. Take the hyperbole literally.
  4. Expand that literal interpretation to create something new.

Lizards could inspire dragons, speed trains could inspire instantaneous travel by train, and a lush garden could inspire a flower world. Or 50 other things. Whatever style or genre you write in can find inspiration by exaggerating reality to form new truths – even romance exaggerates reality for the sake of the story (and we all know to never let the truth get in the way of a good story).

It’s pretty obvious that most writers do this in one way or another. Now that I’ve made you think about it (theoretically), though, you can choose to use it deliberately on days when you’re at a loss for ideas. If nothing else, may it get your creative engine started and lead you in new directions.

Happy writing! Have fun breaking hyperbole – or storming the castle, whatever!

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Ray Bradbury Called You a Sublime Fool

Sorry. I lied. That’s not true. Ray Bradbury actually called you “the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling.” Lol. Burn!

Ok. Ok. Technically, he called himself that, too. And me. And anyone who ever wanted to be a writer. Or an artist. Man, what a jerk!

Or, you know, a realist about the writing profession with a sense of humor. Whatever.

A Ray Bradbury Quote:
An Insult, Curse, & Benediction for Writers

Ray Bradbury Quote Sublime FoolIsn’t that an amazing quote?

It has nuanced humor, the cynical pessimism of someone who’s worked in writing and knows how hard it can be, and a generosity of spirit for others with the same dream. Plus, it can be broken down into 2 smaller quotes that provide the top advice for anyone who ever wanted to write:

  • “You must write every single day of your life.”
  • “You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books…”

You’ve heard that before, right? After all, writing and reading are the number one ways to learn and to improve – at least, when it comes to learning to write.

The blessings are kind of awesome, too. They start out feeling like a curse (Why would you wish that on me?), but then they wrap around to end up as a blessing. Almost another kind of advice, a subtler one that leads you to the right conclusion instead of telling you straight out.

  • “I wish you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime.”
  • “I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you.”
  • “May you live with hysteria, and out of it, make fine stories…”
  • “May you be in love every day… and out of that love remake a world.”

When you take them in context with the previous statements, they could practically be re-written as wishing you a long lifetime full of writing and transforming your own experiences into new stories and worlds – a wish written from one “sublime fool” to another, almost like an inside joke said with a warm smile.

Actually… if that’s the fate of a “sublime fool,” I’ll take it. How about you?

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The Evolution of Fairytales & Their Purpose

the evolution of fairytales their purpose what are fairytales forSome friends and I were discussing Disney movies, and one person mentioned that there are certain movies that she can’t stand to watch because of how Disney changed the original stories. Which made me think about the evolution of fairytales and how their purpose has changed over time.

Remember the awful things that used to happen in the old fairytales? The things that Disney left out? Why were those even there in the first place?

The Moral of the Story:
What Are Fairytales For?

If you’re like me, you grew up reading fairytales as well as watching them. You might’ve even known how they linked to fairies and superstitions, depending on which culture’s fairytales you were reading. Stories like “Snow White & Rose Red,” “The Little Match Girl,” or “Vasilisa the Beautiful.”

That’s not as common for younger generations. Many of the students in middle school or younger today don’t know any fairytales except the ones in Disney movies. And while I love Disney movies, the lessons taught are very different.

The Original Fairytales & Their Purpose

Looking back at those old fairytales, you see some common themes.

  • Horrible things happen to children who disobey the rules.
  • Good manners, beauty, and hard work are rewarded. Occasionally, brains are rewarded, too, but mostly for peasants (and it’s usually playing a trick on the aristocracy). Love is occasionally the answer, too, but not as often as modern fairytales would have you think.
  • If the main character is saved / saves the day, it’s because of bravery and the help of others (including magical creatures and tools). In fact, it’s often the result of previous behavior (the rewardable kind), which means that the main character doesn’t have to do much at the end to win. It’s got a kind of pre-ordained kind of feel.
  • The wicked are punished. And by wicked, I mean lazy people and people who betrayed their kings or duty.
  • Taboo behaviors by today’s standards are treated as normal and kind of glossed over. Like abandoning your kids in the woods and some horrible mistreatment of women. Read about one of the old versions of “Sleeping Beauty” like “Sun, Moon, and Talia” if you want a clearcut example of how values have changed.

Let me go back to the third one for a minute to say that that’s a big if. The main characters don’t always survive in the old tales. Mainly because the stories were meant to scare children into good behavior. Safe and socially acceptable behavior.

Don’t want your 5 year old wandering off in the woods and getting mauled by a boar? Tell the kid that a child-eating fairy/witch/monster lives in those woods and will steal any child wandering there alone. Want the child to stop lying? Tell him/her about the horrible creature that devours children who lie.

It’s amazing how many behaviors could be prevented by hungry monsters.

Telling lies, laziness, theft, disobedience, poverty – there were stories with morals for all of them. Whatever lesson(s) your child needed taught, there was a story for it. Or you could make one up. Because that’s what fairytales were for.

In the old days, that is.

Today’s Fairytales & Their Purpose

If you’re thinking of plopping your kids in front of a Disney movie to teach them not to do something, I would think again. Today’s versions of the old fairytales are a little different. Although they do have some common themes:

  • A child disobeys his/her parents or authority figures, and everything turns out ok. In fact, sometimes, the child’s disobedience is justified – usually because the parents were wrong (Moana for example).
  • Love, beauty, kindness, rule-breaking, cleverness, and extreme determination are rewarded. You can see how some of these grew out of the old values, which means you have to look closely sometimes to see the difference in emphasis (Is Cinderella rewarded for being obedient or being kind?).
  • The main character is saved / saves the day through bravery, cleverness, and the help of others (including magical creatures and tools).
  • The wicked are punished. Although, now, “wicked” generally means cruel and selfish as opposed to the old definition.
  • Taboo topics (of today) are taken out or glossed over. Either it’s not in there, or it’s added through innuendo for the adults.
  • Happy endings. There. I said it. It’s guaranteed. And, trust me, even the occasional bittersweet ending is happy compared to some of the original ones.

Yep. Everyone gets a happy ending, and you can do anything if you try hard enough or wish hard enough. Those are the new messages being sent. As well as the fact that parents can be wrong and that being kind is important.

Of these, I think the last one is best. The parents-can-be-wrong message is true but may not be the message parents want to send their kids (Disobey me if you think I’m wrong!), and the first two are only true in modern fairytales. In the real world, not necessarily.

So are the messages the main point today? Nope. It’s more the singing, the graphics, and the “feels” – AKA entertainment.

What Caused the Evolution of Fairytales?

Why did that happen? What made the stories change from moral lessons to entertainment? What brought on the happy endings and the value changes?

I think the value changes are easiest to explain – society’s values changed, so the values of the stories changed. Pretty simple.

As far as happy endings and the change to a purer form of entertainment, I’m guessing those had to do with the new medium (movies and animation) and with the time period they began to develop.

Like Restoration England gave Shakespearian plays happy endings in reaction to the hard times they’d just survived, the society surrounding early animation was still recovering from WWI, the Great Depression, and the wildness of Prohibition resistance. The result? The Hay’s Production Code, forbidding immoral language or behavior, and stating that explicit violence could not be shown on screen.

Well, there goes half of the endings of the traditional fairytales.

Of course, there’s more to it. Social values began to emphasize sheltering children from taboo behaviors and situations. So the more society began to see animation as a “children’s genre” in the U.S. (which it in no way is in other countries), the more this kind of white washing happened. Fairytales were censored to protect children from their “adult” content.

Ironic, right?

How could the stories keep their original purpose if the taboo behaviors they’re supposed to discourage can’t be shown or discussed? If they’re not allowed to scare or scar children? It’s simply not possible.

So the old fairytales were made more and more distant from reality, not through their magic, which changed the least, but through ideas like “happily every after” and “love conquers all.”

What Should Fairytales Be For?

What’s the moral to this story? Should we scare our children? Should we keep them entertained as we shelter them from reality? Should we read them old fairytales and discuss the moral issues involved in between watching Disney movies and pointing out the unrealistic expectations? Or should we give up on fairytales altogether?

Is there a right answer? What do you think?

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The 5 Worst Excuses for Not Writing

You heard me. The 5 worst excuses for not writing. And if you know my opinion of writer’s block, you may be wondering what qualifies as “worst.” (They’re all bad, right?) Well, let’s just say these are the laziest and most self-defeating that I can think of (right now).

5 Lame Excuses for Not Writing
(You heard me.)

 1. It’s Sunny.

5 worst excuses for not writing it's sunny

Writing called on account of sunshine. Said no one ever.

Really, people, a pretty day is not a reason to avoid writing. It’s not. You are using the sunshine as an excuse for being lazy and playing outside instead of working.

Oh, and if you doubt me, here are some obvious flaws to this “reason” for not working.

  • The sun will still be there after you spend an hour writing. You’re not going to spend the whole day outside even if you do go out to play. Make goofing off outside a reward.
  • Umm… the sun does set at some point. Work at 8 or 9 pm (whenever the sun sets where you are). Play in the sun and then write. Or get up at 6 and write before the sun comes up to tempt you.
  • Or, my personal favorite, take your writing outside. Enjoy the sunshine and write at the same time. [mic drop]

Uh-huh. That’s what I thought. Lame excuse.

2. I’m tired.

5 worst excuses for not writing I'm tired

Nap time!

You will always be tired. 10 times out of 9, you are going to be tired (Shut up, math people.). If you don’t write when you’re tired, you will never write. End of story.

(Which you’ll never get to because you’ll never start the story. Just saying.)

3. I need to edit first.

5 worst excuses for not writing I need to edit firstNo. No, you don’t.

Write. Finish the book. Then, go back and edit. Or set limits on how much editing you are allowed to do in a span of time – otherwise, you’ll never finish the first draft. You’ll just keep re-writing the first few chapters.

2. I don’t know what to write.

5 worst excuses for not writing I don't know what to write idk

*flat stare* Who does? Write anyway. Sure, the first few paragraphs may be crap, but after a little while, you’ll get fired up and get into a groove. You can always scrap or edit parts of it later.

Besides, if you’re writing a novel, you should have some idea of the storyline already – even if you’re not a meticulous plotter. So… start on a scene and see where it goes? Worse case, you’ll find out where it doesn’t need to go. And you’ll learn something about your characters in the process (assuming you’re paying attention).

 1. There’s no point.

5 worst excuses for not writing there's no point impossibleIt’ll never get published. No one will ever read it. I can’t write anything good.
| : Infinite variations of self-deprecating and self-defeating statements : |

*inarticulate scream of rage and frustration*

*cough* Sorry. I’ll try to contain myself, but this one drives me absolutely crazy. Before I get to the rant, however, let me say that it is not directed at anyone struggling with depression or self-esteem issues who seriously believes those statements. To those people, I will say only that I hope you learn to question and challenge those statements and that even when those feelings are overwhelming, I hope you still write.

For those who say this as a whiny prompt for attention and never actually had any real aspirations to write, I would just like to say, *thbbbt*.

First of all, it’s almost always the exact opposite of the truth. You have no chance of getting published? Really? A poorly written fanfic of a poorly written book got published and bought. So… what? Can you not write in sentences? Great! Your work will be the next abstract innovation in stuffy literary circles.

Second of all, don’t say you’ve always want to do something when it’s not true.

Yes, some people have always wanted to write a book. And if you ask those people about that book they’ve always wanted to write, they will tell you all about the plot and the characters – all the ideas they’ve ever had since they first thought of it. If someone shrugs and says, “I don’t know. Something fantasy maybe. Or a thriller,” then, no, they didn’t always want to write a book. They just think wanting to write a book will make them sound more cool or intellectual or whatever.

Cause, yeah, book writing – it’s what all the cool kids are doing.

Sorry, no. People like that get on my nerves because while they’re saying “There’s no point,” because they think it sounds right, by saying it in conversation, they give this excuse more weight. Like thinking that you have no talent or that your story is unpublishable is a legit reason not to write. And hearing it from other people like it’s a real road block makes potential writers more likely not only to use it but also to believe it.

And that would be a shame.

Don’t use any of these “worst” excuses for not writing. In fact, don’t use any excuses for not writing. Write. Make it happen however you can. I believe in you.