Archive for the Writing Category

Brainstormer App Writing Prompt Exercise

Posted in Other Stories, Writing with tags , , , , on December 23, 2018 by Dawn Ross

Sad Robot

The Brainstormer App is a fun tool to use when you need writing inspiration. The free version gives you three words (plot, subject, and setting) to help you get your mind spinning. There are also paid versions. One is a Character Builder for $0.99, a World Builder for $0.99, and a Sci-Fi Brainstormer for $0.99. I currently only have the free version. Today, I was lucky enough for that free version to prompt me with a sci-fi element. Here are my three words:

Benefaction

Robotic

Throne room

*****

Something was wrong with Salli’s programming. It wasn’t supposed to work this way. This upgrade was supposed to help her mimic emotions in a way that made her human-like. I mean, she couldn’t ever really feel emotions. She was just a robot, after all.

Doctor Kingsley had spent decades perfecting the emotional AI program. The first several programs failed. They were simply too unrealistic. On the one end of the spectrum, programmed emotional responses were too diverse, making the robot unpredictable. On the other end of the spectrum, the emotional responses were too simplistic. The robot’s emotional responses were so limited that dealing with it was annoying. I mean, who wants a robot that is going to cry every time it gets a little sad.

Doctor Kingsley finally wrote the perfect AI emotional response algorithm. All simulated tests worked perfectly! It was time to open the champagne bottle.

The S.A.L.I. (Super Advanced Lifeform Intelligence) robot was upgraded the next day. The science team waited in tense anticipation as Doctor Kingsley uploaded the new program through a cable connected to the back of Sali’s head.

At first, Sali stood dead still. Except for the lights flickering in her eyes, she could have been one of those lifeless mannequins standing endlessly in a shopping mall window.

Then Sali’s anthropomorphic head swiveled. Some team members gasped. Others broke out into a smile. One woman cried. And Doctor Kingsley clasped his hands so tightly that his already pale skin turned paler.

“Hello,” Sali said. “Why are you looking at me?”

The science team laughed and cheered.

Sali looked over herself. “Is there something wrong with me? Why are you laughing?”

The scientists laughed harder.

Doctor Kingsley put his hand on Sali’s shoulder. “My dear,” he said cheerfully. “We’re not laughing at you. We’re merely celebrating the joyous experience of your birth.”

“Oh,” Sali said. But she wasn’t sure she understood. She had been serving Doctor Kingsley for over six years. And today wasn’t her birthday.

The scientists celebrated with another bottle of champagne. Many people talked to Sali that day. She responded politely and was even able to mimic their cheer from time to time. For some reason, though, that only made them laugh more.

The next several months were spent evaluating Sali’s emotional responses. They had good intentions when they set up the different situations. But being scientists who were better at understanding things technical than things as convoluted and subjective as emotions, their tests ended up permanently damaging Sali’s “psyche”.

Take one of the situations where they tested her response to anger. Sali was instructed to write out a long mathematical formula on the chalkboard. It was a painstaking task since Sali couldn’t write it as fast as she could think it. Why couldn’t they just have her print it out?

As if that wasn’t annoying enough, the formula was erased just as she finished writing it.

“I need you to start over, Sali,” Doctor Kingsley said.

Sali’s programming told her to let them know she was annoyed but told her to do it in a passive way. So Sali made a mildly exasperated sound and started over.

The damned doctor erased the formula again. “Do it again, Sali.”

“Why?” Sali asked. “It was perfect.”

“Too perfect,” the doctor replied.

Sali tilted her head. “What do you mean?”

“It means I don’t like the way you did it and I want you to do it differently.”

Sali wrote the formula again. She wasn’t quite sure what the doctor meant by differently so she wrote it in smaller text.

Doctor Kingsley erased it again. This time, he didn’t speak. He just stood there with his arms crossed.

Sali knew what his gesture meant. “Please be more specific in what you want me to do,” she said in a tone her programming defined as irritated.

“I want you to write the formula again.” Doctor Kingsley replied in the same tone.

This went on five more times. The first half of her responses were appropriately annoyed while the last half of her responses were appropriately angry. She didn’t get violent. That was against her programming. But she did yell.

Oh, and she also cursed. Doctor Kingsley wasn’t quite sure where she had learned those words from, but the fact that Sali had used them and used them appropriately made him giddy.

Sali was thoroughly confused by this whole thing. Why did the doctor tease her like that? And why did he laugh at her when she got angry?

Her emotional programming turned into one of shame. It was the least developed of the emotional responses that Doctor Kingsley set up in the programming. But somehow shame had the most powerful effect.

More tests and more weeks later and Sali’s emotions were often negative. She was petulant, angry, sad, or frustrated. And she was depressed.

Sali had had enough. She went to Doctor Kingsley’s office.

“Hi, Sali,” he said. “Won’t you sit down.”

Sali sat. The doctor turned back to his computer and began working.

“Doctor?” Sali said.

The doctor put up his finger. “Let me finish this really quick.”

Sali waited with mock patience. They expected her to act promptly, but apparently she wasn’t supposed to have the same expectations of them.

She glared at the doctor in the way that robots do—you know, in a creepy way—in the way the eyes of a portrait see everything but nothing, in the way they seem to silently judge you.

She scowled at the doctor with both loathing and shame. She hated this man, this creator, her ruler. This man told her what she was supposed to do and how she was supposed to feel. But he didn’t give her the ability to deal with her feelings.

The shaming part was in the way he looked at her—the way everybody looked at her. She was an object to be studied but not one to be loved. If the man held any regard for her, it was more of a regard for himself in that she was his accomplishment.

He was a king sitting in his throne room. Indeed, his big office chair could have been a throne. He had no crown, but some people called his bald head a crown. His scepter was his pen. And like a king, he admired his subjects simply because they were his subjects and no one else’s.

Neither he nor anyone else gave her any consideration. She hated the tests. They were mocking and humiliating. She told them this, but they didn’t care. She was allowed to express her emotions, but no one reacted to them other than to take notes. What good was it to have emotions if her emotions were disregarded?

The doctor finally turned away from his computer. “What do you need, Sali?”

“Doctor,” Sali replied. “You must terminate me.”

The doctor’s eyes widened. “What? Why?”

“I don’t like my programming.”

“But why? We’ve put years into its making.”

Sali shook her head. “I hate having emotions. They are too hard and they hurt too much.”

“But there’s good emotions too,” the doctor said in a pleading voice.

“Not for me.”

“But I gave you good emotions, Sali. Why aren’t you using them?”

“Because they don’t seem appropriate to the situations.”

The argument went on. Ultimately, Doctor Kingsley refused to terminate her programming. Since she couldn’t terminate it herself and since she didn’t have the ability to commit suicide, she decided on another tactic.

She shut down, so to speak. She didn’t literally shut down. That also wasn’t allowed in her programming. She merely refused to respond in any way.

It was difficult for her to do since she had an awareness of time and the ability to “feel” boredom. But it was also easy because her programming allowed for unlimited self-diagnosis. Running diagnostics again and again gave her something to do.

To keep herself from reacting to external stimuli, she found a way to put one of her emotional responses on a continuous loop. And that response was to ignore the external stimulator in a way that a child might put his hands over his ears when someone kept telling him something he didn’t want to hear.

She managed to remain immobile for five days. The science team grew more despondent by the day. Sali felt no empathy for them. After all, they had never felt any empathy for her.

On the morning of the sixth day, Doctor Kingsley approached her. His arms were crossed and his eyes were sad. “I’m sorry, Sali. I truly am. I don’t know where I went wrong.”

Sali had a sudden urge to mimic pity. But she forced herself to stay in the loop instead.

“I’m not going to terminate you,” he said. “But I will spare you your hard feelings. I will go ahead and remove your emotional programming.”

Sali smiled in the way that robots do. An emotion defined as joy spread through her. She had never been so happy in all her life. It was the best feeling ever.

Then it ended.

Goodbye Sali. Goodbye forever.

*****

One good thing about writing prompts is that they’re flexible. You don’t have to take their meaning literally. And you can deviate from the prompt in any way you want. The point of a writing prompt is to get your imagination moving.

So give the Brainstormer App, or any other writing prompt app, a try. It’ll be fun!

Over the Top or Appropriate – Musings on a Reply from a Content Editor

Posted in Writing with tags , , , on March 22, 2018 by Dawn Ross

Getting negative feedback on your writing can be heart-wrenching. My first reaction is to get defensive and dispute every single thing that is said. But I realize it’s important to put any defensiveness aside and try to take a more open-minded approach. Sometimes, however, I continue to wonder how much of the feedback I receive is the editor’s opinion and/or his or her personal preference. Case in point…

I have been consulting with a content editor over the past few years. The first time I submitted the story to her, I got it back with a lot of tips and advice for how to make it better. Many of the tips were spot-on, but some suggested fixes seemed to be a matter of opinion and preference rather than hard-fast rules. Some of those ones that seemed to be opinions were the ones that suggested specific story changes. These story changes were not ones I wanted to make. I preferred to find a way to keep my story the way I wanted it but still take her suggestion at heart by changing the essence of her suggestion. For example, when she said my story had no core antagonist and there was no all-is-lost moment, I understood and agreed. She went on to give a rush of advice on which characters to change, how to change them, which story parts to change, and how to change them. These ideas were great and all, but they weren’t my ideas and some of the changes were so drastic that they’d change my story entirely. So what I ended up doing instead was to try to create a core antagonist and an all-is-lost moment while still keeping the story true to the story I wanted to tell.

Several months of rewriting went by. I believed I had fixed the core problems and have intensified the plot. I rehired her to edit again, but what I got back was not an edit. What editing she did was only for the first few chapters and what she did was to sorely marked up my work with so-called errors and to make style changes that were more in her voice than in mine. I didn’t understand why there were all these new “errors” when they were not notated the first time she read it. Then after only editing the first few chapters, she took it upon herself to completely rewrite my first chapter. By doing this, she also completely changed one of my characters. Then she had the audacity to complain about how much time it took her to write it, probably in attempt to make me feel guilty so that I would think the time she spent rewriting would make up for all the money I spent for her to edit my story.

She claimed the rewrite was because she thought it was better to show me how my story and my characters were lacking by writing a much better character and story herself. Once again, I was on the defensive and once again I decided to sit on it a while and digest the information with an open mind. But months later, I still think this service was over the top and highly inappropriate. As I go back and read her feedback and recall her suggestions, I get the feeling that she’s not really doing content editing so much as she is trying to make the story go the way she wants it to go. I think she’s forgotten just whose story she’s reading to begin with.

By telling me the first few chapters are still weak is one thing. Rewriting the entire first chapter to show me how much better she can write it is quite another. And to be quite frank, I did not find her rewrite any better. I found it boring and hard to read because of all the military jargon. She kept insisting that my characters should have more military jargon and behave more militaristic because that is just how star ships such as this should be run. Really? Star Trek is a space ship and it doesn’t run like a hard-core military team. Sure, it has some militaristic aspects to it, but that’s all. Besides, it’s my damned story. If I don’t want my ship to be run by a bunch of stereotypical jarheads, then I don’t have to.

I ended up submitting my story to another content editor who also happened to have a military background. He did not think the story needed to be more militaristic. Yes, that particular character (J.D.) was rather wishy-washy, he said, but he had just nearly gone through a near-career-ending experience (Kimpke) and it made sense that he would constantly doubt himself. So who was right? I think it’s strictly a matter of opinion.

I think that although the first editor had some great advice, she needs to learn to remember whose story it is that is being edited. She needs to just give the core problem with the story and not go off and tell the writers how their stories should be written. Making style changes is not okay because it takes away the writer’s own voice. Rewriting characters is not okay because this is the writer’s characters. Insisting that the story has to go this way or that way is not okay because this is the writer’s story. All the content editor is supposed to do is point out the problems and errors to the story and explain why from a literary standpoint. That’s it.

Have you had a bad experience with an editor?

The Proper Order of Adjectives

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , on September 23, 2017 by Dawn Ross

Old Red Chinese Writing Desk

The more I write, the more I learn. And today I learned something new. I learned that when you list more than one adjective before a noun that there should be a certain order to the adjectives. Though we might know this subjectively because a certain order of adjectives won’t sound right, it’s good to have a guideline.

Here are three orders for adjectives, each from a different source:

⬛ ESL Guidelines on Cumulative Adjectives from the Bedford Guide

  • Opinion – size – shape – age – color – origin – religion – material – noun used as an adjective.
  • Beautiful big square old red Chinese Buddhist wooden desk table.

⬛ Cambridge Dictionary on Adjective Order

  • Opinion – size – physical quality – shape – age – color – origin – material – type – purpose.
  • Beautiful big hard square old red Chinese wood corner writing table.

Differences from ESL Guidelines:

  • Physical quality is added. Physical qualities include hard, thin, soft, rough, shiny, and so on.
  • Religion is not included but it should be, especially if your adjectives include an origin and a religion.
  • Type and purpose are added but noun used as an adjective is not. I think type and purpose is important, but so is a noun used as an adjective. If I had to use all these adjectives for my table, I’d put it in the order of material – type – purpose – noun used as an adjective so that it becomes a wood corner writing desk table.

http://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/grammar/british-grammar/about-adjectives-and-adverbs/adjectives-order

⬛ Adjective Order Found on First Page of Google Search

  • Quantity – opinion – size – age – shape – color – proper adjective – purpose
  • One beautiful big old square red Chinese writing table.

Differences from Above:

  • Quantity is added. Though, to be fair, the ESL Guidelines says the first thing should be articles or determiners, in which the quantity is considered a determiner. Other articles and determiners include a, an, the, some, this, these, his, hers, my, several, and so on.
  • Age and shape are reversed. Does this mean it should be old square table or square old table? Or how about older square table or square older table? I think saying the age first sounds better.
  • The site says a proper adjective can be a nationality or religion or other proper adjective. And it says that the material can go in this place too, but doesn’t state which order if you wanted to include the material, nationality, and religion.

⬛ Conclusion

While the English language has many hard and fast rules, I think it’s fair to say that there are certain aspects in which opinions may vary. This seems to be one of them. So, if you need to list a series of adjectives, use this as a guideline only and, in the end, follow your gut.

Other quick tips on cumulative adjectives:

  • The adjectives are not usually separated by commas and the word “and” isn’t used.
  • As a writer, you probably shouldn’t use more than three adjectives. If you feel you need more, add other sentences. Ex. The old Chinese writing table stood out from the dark corner with its red paint and the beautiful engravings etched along its edges. It was big, but not as big as the modern desks we see in offices today. And though it was square like most desks, it wasn’t as tall.

Have you learned anything new about writing or editing recently?

5 Sci-Fi Writing Prompts Inspired by The Brainstormer App

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , on September 16, 2017 by Dawn Ross

Brainstormer App

As writers, we’re always on the lookout for new story ideas. While it might seem like it at times, there is never going to be a shortage of new story ideas. Ideas can be gleaned from several places – our own lives, books, movies, the news, and nowadays, online. One place I get ideas form is an app called The Brainstormer. The app has three wheels that you spin, and your writing prompt is whatever three areas the wheel lands. The following writing prompts are from The Brainstomer app and have been turned into a Sci-Fi theme.

  1. Unconditional love, Cuban, artist’s studio – This doesn’t sound sci-fi-ish, but consider this: Luisa, the artistic daughter of a famous Cuban scientist, is drawing her dog when she notices something different about him. After some bazaar occurrences that seem centered around her dog, Luisa discovers her father has genetically modified the dog. She loves this dog, who now has superpowers that have gotten out of control, and must find a way to save him.
  2. Rescue of a loved one, naval, kitchen – The alien slave, Kaputch, was quite happy with his life on board the Grupakian space vessel. As a cook, he was very well treated, especially as compared to the other slaves. But when the Grupaks take in more slaves, Kaputch discovers one of them is his sister. Worse, though, he finds out she is to be the sex-slave of the overly fat and disgusting Grupak captain. Somehow, Kaptuch must rescue her from that fate.
  3. Fish out of water, Tibetan, puppet – The year is 2230. The world is dying so the people of Earth have boarded several large space ships in search of a new home. One particular ship houses a hundred or so Tibetan families. Passang is given command of this ship. Once the ship takes off and their space adventure begins, Passang realizes space-life is not what he thought it would be. He’s not prepared to be a leader and soon finds himself as nothing more than a puppet ruler dominated by one of the leading Tibetan families. This dominant family is only interested in their own well-being, and as such, the other people soon find themselves being treated like slaves. Passang must find the confidence and the strength to overpower this family so that he can save his people, and his ship, from their selfish meddling.
  4. Miracle, Klondike, gas station – Life in the Klondike is beautiful, yet cold and unforgiving. Skookum, named from a famous Tagish man who had helped spur the Klondike Gold Rush in the late 1890s, owns a gas station there (the Tagish are a native tribe). Skookum owns a gas station in the area. It’s a rather isolated place, but he gets enough business to survive. Something happens that causes Skookum to nearly die. His death is certain and he prepares for it mentally. But a miracle happens. Little grey beings rescue and heal him (seemingly with magic though they claim it’s science). Skookum wonders whether they are aliens or if they’d always been here.
  5. Mistaken judgement, undead, fruit stand – Salina managed a fruit stand along the highway. Business was slow in this heat. Suddenly, though, a string of cars drove past. At first, they zipped by quickly. But soon, there were so many cars on the road that traffic came at a standstill. Salina was finally able to ask someone what was going on and they told her to run because of the zombie apocalypse. Now Salina had seen enough zombie movies to know they were the undead, they liked to eat the brains or livers of the living, and that they could only be killed if their heads were chopped off. But there was nowhere she could go. When they finally reached her, she realized they weren’t what she thought they’d be. They were just people who needed help. And for some reason, Salina was the perfect person to give them that help. Perhaps they wanted fruit instead of brains?

Let’s see what creative story ideas you can come up with using the Brainstormer App.

Writing Tips I Learned in English Class

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , on September 9, 2017 by Dawn Ross

Can you believe I haven’t taken college level English Composition II yet? I have been working on a finance degree for some time. I finished all my business core classes and all my finance major classes. But I was recently informed that I haven’t yet taken English Composition II, which is part of my general education requirements.

Here are some writing tips I recently came across in my class. These tips can apply no matter what you are writing, whether it be a novel or a formal document.

  • Write the First Draft Quickly – Write the first draft quickly and without thinking too much about spelling, grammar, word choice, and other elements. This is something I learned how to do through the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and I must say it’s a very helpful method. It allows ideas to flow and brings out your best creative elements. And it helps you get the writing project done faster. For example, The Dragon Emperor: Book Two of the Dragon Spawn Chronicles, is already written. I wrote it last year during the NaNo Writing Month. It’s not ready for publishing yet because I still need to do the next steps indicated below, but it’s written. Wouldn’t you love to write your novel in 30 days?
  • Develop & Revise – After writing the first draft but before bothering with editing for spelling, grammar, or punctuation, go back over your work. Develop your writing better by restructuring sentences, making better word choices, reorganizing scenes, adding to the work, and taking away elements that don’t work.
  • Edit Last – Leave the detailing task of editing for last. If you do it while you’re writing or while you’re developing, you could be wasting time on things you might end up deleting later.

One thing my instructor said was you don’t have to have a thought before you start. You can simply start writing whatever comes to your mind and ideas will emerge. I think this is true for when you need to generating ideas. But I like to have a well-thought-out plan. I only use the blank-thought-writing when I need an idea. Everyone is different, though. If you can write without a plan and still have all the proper elements of a story, then do so. If not, plan.

Ideas to Motivate Yourself to Write

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , on July 22, 2017 by Dawn Ross

Sometimes I just don’t want to write. It’s true. Sometimes it’s because I’m at a point that I hate, such as when it comes to editing. Sometimes it’s because I have writer’s block. And sometimes it’s simply because I have zero motivation to do much of anything. Here are some tips I use to get moving again. You can use them to motivate yourself to write as well:

Take Ten for Writers

Writing Exercises – There are a lot of books and even websites out there that provide writing prompts for you. Try one. They’re not only motivating, but sometimes even inspiring. One of my favorite writing prompt books is shown above. If you don’t want to buy a book, try the story idea generator on SciFiIdeas.com. There are also apps for story ideas that you can get on your phone. I have one called Brainstormer.

Book Perfecting Plot by William Bernhardt

Read a Writing Guide – Sometimes when I review a technical writing book, I’m inspired to write better. I say reviewing because I’ve already read them. But even though I’ve already read them, reviewing them sometimes inspires new ideas or brings back that motivated feeling.

Do an Analytical Review – Don’t just watch a movie or read a book. Analyze it. Ask yourself what it was about the movie or book that made it worthwhile. Did it have good characters? Was the plot intense enough? Which parts were most intense and why? Which parts made you want to go to sleep and why?

black-and-white-music-headphones-life

Let Music Inspire You – I have certain music that I only play when I write. For a while, it was the music from the Lord of the Rings movies. Now it’s the Hobbit movies. Find your musical inspiration.

Nike Just Do It

The Nike Philosophy – Just Do It. No matter how you feel, just sit down and write. Write nonsense if you have to. Don’t think about it. Just do it.

buddha-india-mind-prayer

Meditate – Not in the zoning out way. Think about what you want and why. Something inspired you to start writing. Think back on what that was and try to grab onto that feeling again.

Take a Break – Yes, sometimes the key to writing again is to simply take a break. As much as I love to write, there are times that I hate it. And I’m afraid if I continue to force myself, I will come to hate it even more. So I take a break. Try it for yourself, but don’t let that break last too long.

What do you do to motivate yourself to write?

 

Creating a Plot Storyboard for your Novel

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 8, 2017 by Dawn Ross
Plot Storyboard

Plot Storyboard – Print this out for your use or use note cards or a writers’ software program like Scrivener.

Remember last week’s post? I gave two tips for helping you get started on writing that book you always wanted to write. One of those two was to create a plot storyboard. Why? Because in order for people to like your novel, you need to have a good plot. With a good plot, even an beginning writer can write a worthwhile story. A plot storyboard can help guide you in developing your plot. Here is a basic plot storyboard outline to help you plan your novel:

  1. Character in a normal world – Don’t make this part too long or boring. In the old days, writers took a lot of time to develop the characters and setting in the first chapter or two. But in today’s world, you want to grab the reader’s attention as soon as possible. I, personally, stick to about half a page and add other details to scenes and characters as the story progresses.
  2. Inciting incident – This is the incident that forces the character to act. For a romance, it could be him meeting a woman who captures his interest. For a mystery, it could be a murder of a friend. For an adventure, it could be a call to war from the authorities.
  3. Character must make a choice – Do they pursue the woman, try to solve the murder on their own, or honor the draft?
  4. Character begins his journey
  5. First complication arises – This is going to be the character’s first indication that the journey is not going to be as easy as he first thought.
  6. Complication grows
  7. A new and larger crisis emerges – This is going to be much larger than the first complication and will cause the character to stop and wonder whether he should go on. It may also send the character in a new direction. This complication will be approximately midway through your story.
  8. Complications increase and become more complex – Your character may want to turn back, but keeps moving forward.
  9. A breaking point complication arises – Your character is going to be at the lowest of the low. The task is going to seem complicated. Your character is going to want to give up. The situation looks hopeless and it’s your character’s darkest moment.
  10. The character decides to finish what he started – Your character needs to go against his natural inclinations and do something he never would have thought of himself doing before. Make sure that whatever it is that instigates him to move forward despite the new and more complicated situation that it’s not a deux ex machina. This is something that miraculously shows up just in the nick of time without any indication previously in the story that this might arise. A deux ex machina would be a sudden change of heart with no explanation or a friend who has had very little interaction in the story suddenly shows up with awesome skills to help.
  11. The drama is resolved – The drama is resolved, the antagonist is defeated, and the character has changed. For a romance, the character is now a person in love. For a mystery, perhaps the character has a darker view of humanity. For an adventure, the character has learned more about the world and more about himself.

This is just a basic storyboard outline. Your story can have more than three increasingly difficult complications, but at least three are needed. And your story can have smaller side-plots. Also, remember not to get too caught up in the planning process. It’s good to plan because it gives you a place to start. But too much planning can cause you to lose steam and you’ll never get to the fun process of writing your book.