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Per-ni-cious; adjective

Having a harmful effect, especially in a gradual or subtle way.

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I’ve seen this topic come up quite often among amateur writers and people tend to give a confuse mix of advice. So should you use a prologue or not? Well, that depends.

The biggest problem here is that the majority of people don’t know how to use a prologue, so the first step for us is to determine a working definition to use. There’s a variety of literal and technical definitions floating around the internet but I stand by my own (as I consider it the best amalgamation of the technical and practical). Before I give my definition though, let’s go through some history (so we can understand the technical side).

 

The term is from the Greek prologos formed by pro, meaning “before,” and logos, meaning “speech.”

 

In ancient Greek tragedy, the prologue was the part of a play that set forth the subject of the drama before the chorus entered.

Why is this so important? A lot of amateur writers are using their prologue to start telling the story. That’s not a prologue, that’s your chapter one. The prologue has to “set forth the subject”. What does that mean? It needs to introduce   the context of the story and it has to be separate to your story (otherwise it’s chapter one).

So what is a prologue? It is a distinct and separate entity that introduces a story by providing information necessary for the reader to understand the text.

By nature, a prologue should be a little bit of an info dump. To “set forth the subject”, you must provide contextual information. Other information acceptable in a prologue would be back story/history and any particular quirks of your world that will clarify things to the reader (if I start writing about angels, the reader would be confused why the floors of this city are puffy white clouds). It should never connect with your chapter one smoothly, if it does then your prologue is your chapter one.

Now, why are prologues bad? Well, first of all, if you’re using it the wrong way you cast doubt on your credibility as a writer. Not a good first impression. Even if you do use it correctly, since prologues are generally info dumps by necessity, your first impression still ends up being somewhat boring. Admittedly, I’m a fan of diving into the heart of things but that doesn’t mean you have to start off with an action scene, it just means you need to open with a hook – your reader has a plethora of other books they could read, give them a reason to read yours.

Finally, I’ve been informed by a few authors and editors that prologues are generally skipped by literary agents. Other readers also tell me that they skip prologues too (though personally I read them). The general consensus of the writing world is that prologues can and should be avoided where possible. If you don’t believe me, Google “prologue bad” and you’ll find lists of published authors, writing sites and editors supporting my statement.

Perhaps the most cogent example I can give is an example from the Greek tragedy “Medea” by Euripides. As prologues were basically invented at this time for these plays, this is a fitting example. The prologue to Medea features one of the nurses talking to herself (technically, to the audience through the fourth wall) and summarising the past events leading up to this very moment (Jason’s quests and how Medea has helped him, only to be met with betrayal). This back story is necessary for the audience to understand Medea’s grief stricken state, and the psychological damage required for her to eventually commit infanticide as revenge. Without this prologue, the play would just be about a psychotic child-killing mother, but with the prologue, we understand the emotional complexity at play, adding layers and depth to the story, climaxing at the point where Medea snaps under the pressure. The fact that the nurse is relaying this information as a soliloquy instantly sets it apart from the rest of the play, so we know it is a distinct, separate entity. This is what a prologue should be – so please, use your prologues correctly.

Foreword: So I was getting bored of writing my novel and wanted to blow off some steam. Short stories are definitely not my thing. I have a huge inability to confine a story to a small word limit as I feel it restricts me too much. Worse, this is only the second time I’ve tried a horror. I don’t believe monsters and killers are scary any more so I try to focus on the psychological side a bit more. I’m not sure how it turns out, but writing this did make me feel a bit paranoid (maybe because I was writing past midnight in the dark).

Anyway, this is just a throw-away to mix up my thoughts a bit for my novel. It’s a first draft and probably doesn’t resemble what was going on in my head. I tried to avoid using character names so the reader wouldn’t have to associate with a name and would be forced to focus more on his/her own psychology rather than that of the characters. Doubtful whether it works; teasing the mind requires time – something you don’t have in a short.

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Portrait

It was the strangest crime scene he’d ever seen. There was no blood, no corpse, no apparent problem at all, and yet they had been treating the case as if it had the markings of a psychopathic serial killer.

There was a victim though – or rather, there were two, but only one was at the scene.  The other? According to the unusually calm young lady, they had been sucked into a painting, but only she had made it out. The whole case would have been ridiculous if it wasn’t for the fact that the painting did indeed feature the missing girl, sprawled across the floor in a puddle of her own blood. The detail was incredible – too accurate to be a coincidence. It was undoubtedly her, but how?

A great man had once told him that detectives were not allowed to believe in coincidences. It was a sentiment that was beginning to prove unnecessary. Police had been on the scene for two hours now and many of them were beginning to show signs of distress. Tension hung thick in the air, charging it with an electric feel, as if the slightest disturbance would cause panic to erupt.

Why were all these trained officers scared? Because the more they figured out, the more the victim’s story seemed true. She had indeed entered the abandoned manor with her friend, and forensics identified their footprints in the fine layer of dust on the wooden floorboards. They led straight up to a large, gilded painting, but only one set of prints led away. There were no signs of a struggle; the girl had just disappeared. Except, her body was in plain sight. It was in the painting.

The only witness, the young girl who had ventured into the manor with her friend, sat wrapped in a blanket on the back of one of the ambulances. He approached her, grim and sceptical.

“Tell me again,” he said gruffly to the girl. “What happened after you got … sucked into the painting?” The last part was difficult for him to add. It sounded ridiculous coming out of his mouth, but at the same time, saying it somehow made it more true.

“The painting changed,” she replied, her eyes vacant but her voice unshakably calm. “Words appeared, scribbled across the surface, and then the picture turned into a picture of me. Like a portrait, except I was screaming. I wanted to take a step back but for some reason I stepped forward, right through the painting. Next thing I knew, I was right in front of the painting again, but facing away from it, and the house looked different. There were random words all over the walls and floors like graffiti. That’s when I realised that we had been sucked into the painting – there’s no way that could have been the real world.”

“Try not to let your own ideas affect your story,” he said curtly. He was disappointed. It sounded like complete delusion, but he still couldn’t explain the painting. Why was the missing girl in it? Reluctantly, he kept probing. “So, what happened to your friend?”

The girl didn’t object to further questioning. She seemed sluggish and devoid of any strong emotions at all.

“We walked around a little, trying to figure out what was happening. That’s when the door opened and a man walked in. He had a very welcoming smile and looked very proper. We started asking him questions as he walked towards us, but then I noticed he was carrying something in his hands. A small axe.”

He felt stunned silence descend around him as everybody within earshot froze. Forensics had taken a look at the painting of the missing girl and had concluded that the wounds in the picture looked to be inflicted by a heavy bladed weapon – most likely an axe.

The tension in the air was straining and he had to do something about it. He put on his most irritable, unconcerned face and barked orders to those nearby, sending them away. Soon it was just him and the girl.

“Please, continue.”

She looked up at him with a sudden jerk, a fast movement that completely contrasted with her vacant, languid movements earlier. Instinctively, he reached for his gun, but all she did was smile at him –insane and maniacal.

“Most people think the house is haunted. They’re wrong! It’s that painting. He’s in it. He kills them. Makes them disappear. We weren’t the first. We saw corpses, graves, dismembered limbs. They’re all over the grounds, near the trees. I left my best friend in the world, while he killed her, and ran back through my portrait. I got away.”

He’d heard enough. The girl was clearly crazy but the painting needed some more investigation.

“Take the painting down, I want it back at the station so we can have some people examine it more closely.”

As people hastened to obey, he heard a commotion. Rushing to the scene, he found himself skirting the trees near the entrance. A circle had formed around something, and he had to shove through to see what they’d found. It was a pale, lifeless arm, reaching up through the dirt where the dogs had been sniffing. Some officers were still digging, and they unearthed more and more body parts.

He needed to see that painting again. As he rushed into the atrium, he found himself already considering burning it. Goosebumps rose on his flesh and an incessant chill teased his skin. It was a feeling of danger.

There were men removing it from its hooks now. It was a large piece of work and the gilded frame made it very heavy. As he watched them take it down, he thought he saw movement near one of the windows in the painting. A man shaped shadow, observing. Cursing to hide his surprise, he waved the men off, yelling at them to load it into his truck. They hastened to obey, not even questioning his irrational agitation.

He looked at the wall one last time, now naked without the painting. There was a square of lighter, dust free wallpaper where the painting had been. The edges continued down in what he had first thought to be a purely aesthetic pattern, but with the painting removed, it looked a bit like a door. Could there really be somebody inside? A smiling axe murderer? He approached the wall cautiously, and touched the line. I was too perfect, too fine. There was barely a gap and no hinges in sight. He tried shoving at the square but it didn’t budge. Never mind, he was just being paranoid.

Thoughts, questions and answers chased each other around his head chaotically as he walked back to his truck. Try as he might, his logical deductions all carried an undertone of fear. He knew he couldn’t explain it but he kept trying. He clambered into the driver’s seat, feeling irrationally nervous and breaking into cold sweat. Finding an answer was so important to him because he didn’t want to accept the truth. That there was a killer somewhere, and he was most likely here, right behind him in the back seat.

He couldn’t let that thought go. Reaching up, he adjusted the rear view mirror to get a look at the painting. Within that gilded, square frame, his face stared back at him. Screaming. His name was scratched all over it along with the word “Portrait”.

“What lies at the heart of every living thing is not a fire, not warm breath, not a ‘spark of life’. It is information, words, instruction.”

– Richard Dawkins, 1986.

Many of you have heard the term “meme” due to the recent popularity of internet memes. However, the word “meme” has existed long before the advent of funny pictures with poorly written English emblazoned on it. Interestingly, it was Richard Dawkins who invented the word in 1976 from Greek influences. He shortened it to “meme” because he wanted the word to be a monosyllable that sounded similar to “gene”. On a related note, that means it’s pronounced “meem” similar to “gene”, not as some people say “me-me” or the French word “meme” meaning same (I can’t do accents on my keyboard, but there’s one over the first “e”).

So what is a meme? This quote from the Smithsonian is pretty good to help build an initial understanding:

Our world is a place where information can behave like human genes and ideas can replicate, mutate and evolve.

Essentially, a meme is an idea or concept that is spread from generation to generation through means that are non-genetic (transmitted via writing, visual representation, speech, gestures or any other imitable phenomena). The importance of the word meme resembling the word gene is that memes are theorised to evolve by natural selection in a manner analogous to biological evolution – basically, a meme is like a gene for information. Here’s one more good quote:

A meme is an idea that behaves like a virus – that moves through a population, taking hold in each person it infects

– Malcolm Gladwell

Memes are powerful language tools because they can convey a vast array of inherent information with very few words (or actions/images depending on the meme). Dawkins defined a meme as a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation and replication. Internet memes are the most commonly known these days, and just think of the amount of information we can get out of a few words or an image.

This badly drawn picture by itself is enough to evoke a wide range of information. It means someone who is always unsuccessful at finding companionship and is used by the victim to demonstrate his/her emotions regarding their situation. There’s a huge list of internet memes; I’m not going to go through every one of them. Internet memes are plentiful though, which dilutes their potency a bit. Here’s a stronger example: Olympics. With that one word alone, I can make you think of competitions, athletes, races, medals and an overarching theme of unity and celebration.

However, remember Gladwell’s definition. Memes mutate over time and can end up misrepresenting something, or becoming impervious to change. Folk etymology is an example of this (I’ve gone into this in my etymology posts), where people start believing that a certain idiom originated one way when in actual fact it was another (such as the “cold shoulder”). Other good examples can be found in urban myths, which persist even when scientifically proven wrong. My girlfriend’s anatomy lecturer told her that your heart stops beating when you sneeze. This has been proven false already, what’s an anatomy lecturer doing not knowing this?

Now that we understand that memes are ideas and information transmitted over time, we have to accept that memes are prone to mutation and cannot be considered fully reliable. Here’s the interesting thing though – religion is also a meme. We can see evidence of religion changing or “mutating” over time as the Church changes its public stance on certain issues (heliocentric solar system, evolution, etc.).

It’s interesting that memes are often subject to “survival of the fittest”. It is for that reason why we don’t practice human sacrifice, because that is a weak idea from an evolutionary point of view (it doesn’t promote growth). There’s a whole scientific side to memes that I didn’t get into (I was focusing more on its power as a language tool). For those of you interested in finding out more, this is a good article:

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/What-Defines-a-Meme.html

Purple and Beige Prose:

“Brevity is the soul of wit”

– William Shakespeare.

I’ve made a post before that overlaps with this but in the interests of keeping things tidy, I thought I’d make a more extensive post specifically on this topic.

These are the two extremes of a spectrum of broad stylistic writing styles. That’s not to say your writing style is encompassed entirely as either “purple” or “beige”, but your style will definitely lean towards one of these in some aspects.

Purple prose is the most commonly known one out of the two as it is often used as a derogatory comment on the writing style (whereas not many people write with beige prose, and even if you do, it’s not entirely a bad thing). Here’s a bit of history first; the term “purple prose” originates from a quote by the Roman poet Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus, 65-8 BC) where he likened writing in purple prose to one sewing purple patches on to one’s clothing. The implication is that purple prose is too flowery and dazzling to fit smoothly into a narration of a story. It’s just overkill, like cutting your bread with a chainsaw. My favourite description of purple prose is “it’s as if the author made babies with a thesaurus”, but the easiest way to demonstrate what purple prose is would be an example. I’m very bad at writing purple prose because my brain rejects it, so I took an example off the internet and spruced it up.

The disembowelled mercenary crumpled lifeless from this leather saddle ornamented with brilliant red rubies, and sank to the clouded sward, sprinkling the parched ochre dust with crimson droplets of his precious escaping life fluid.

If you can’t see the problem yet, I worry for you. Let’s assume this needs explanation, for the sake of analysis. First of all, there are enough words in that sentence to make three sentences. Second of all, there are too many unnecessary adjectives and it just feels like you’re trying too hard (life fluid is hilarious). The true artist makes the difficult look easy – if you’re struggling to depict a man falling off his horse, you’re struggling as a writer. Finally, this sentence takes too long to read, destroying all sense of pace in the story. When you have a scene of someone dying so dramatically, you want as much impact and pace as possible, not a ridiculous essay about his death.

Beige prose:

At the opposite of the spectrum we have beige prose, which is really defined by a minimalistic style of writing – often with sentence fragments. It delivers short sentences with high impact, but over-use can lead to fragmented and disjointed narrative.

Beige prose? Witty when effective. Otherwise, dull. Use carefully.

Consistently writing in purple prose will allow the reader to adjust – typically the reader will just skim over your sentences for the general gist of what’s happening. Trust me, not many people will belabour every individual word. With beige prose, it’s not as easy to adjust. An entire book written in disjointed sentences will be jarring to the reader. I only use short sentences during scenes that require pace, such as action scenes.

The Sue couple are a negative feature in writing used to describe a poorly crafted character (where Mary Sue is the female character and Gary Sue the male – obviously). I just say Sue because it’s easier. Anyway, people are a little divided over the true definition of a Sue. I think the main reason there’s so much disagreement is because people are trying to identify specific traits that are representative of a Sue. It doesn’t work that way because writing isn’t so flat and two-dimensional that you can just say a group of traits is bad. Before I tell you my definition (which I think is – if not better – then at least more encompassing), let’s get some history down.

From: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MarySue

The name “Mary Sue” comes from the 1974 Star Trekfanfic “A Trekkie’s Tale”. Originally written as a parody of the standard Self-Insert Fic of the time (as opposed to any particular traits), the name was quickly adopted by the Star Trek fanfiction community. Its original meaning mostly held that it was an Always FemaleAuthor Avatar, regardless of character role or perceived quality. Often, the characters would get in a relationship with either Kirk or Spock, turn out to have a familial bond with a crew member, be a Half-Human Hybrid masquerading as a human, and die in a graceful, beautiful way to reinforce that the character was Too Good For This Sinful Earth.

From that passage we can identify two things, a Sue is too perfect and is an “author avatar”, which basically means a character through which the author inserts him/herself into the story (most commonly in fanfiction). As a result, Sues have been categorised as having traits such as “too strong, too beautiful, too whatever”, which can collectively be considered as being too perfect. Others argue that Sues are when the author projects themselves into their story (refer to Twilight rant). By projecting themselves, I mean a writer who creates a character representing certain aspects of his/her own personality, and makes good things happen to that character to compensate for a feeling of inadequacy in real life.

These are very subjective measures though, hence the debate over the meaning of a Sue. The problem is that sometimes, your character may have traits that would normally be considered a Sue trait, but is not when placed in context of your story. Here’s how you can prove what I just said – take your most original character and do this test: http://www.springhole.net/writing/marysue.htm. You’ll find that you get a far higher Sue score than you’d think (try and be objective here and admit if you’re overpowering your main character).

Here’s a clearer explanation from me (the Sue test is just for fun – I make a lot more sense than it does). Just because your character has some traits that liken to Sue traits does not make it a Sue – it all depends on your story. For example, if you’re writing about a pickpocket-turned-hitman from the slums of a medieval setting, having him/her being ridiculously good looking, charming and the most sought after sexual target in the story is sort of pushing it. Not only is that ignoring the setting (hygiene was no where near current levels in medieval times), but it’s ignoring the fact that the character is from the slums. Even if you made the setting a modern day society, things get questionable when your character is far too attractive. If you throw in a few too many good traits, you’ll have a Sue. Next example: what if you’re writing about the political side of heaven, where angels debate whether they should interfere with the devil’s work on Earth or let things run its course? Well, it makes sense if your character is good looking because he/she is a freaking angel – they’re all meant to be good looking. 

As for Author Avatars, well, it’s one thing to take out your insecurities on a character and it’s another to base your characters off real human emotions. The distinction can be blurry to a reader, but I think the latter makes for a much stronger and more believable character. They key here is to include both good and bad traits – perfection is your enemy (unless you’re writing about angels)!

So, what is a Sue then? My definition is: A character that is unrealistic within the reality and mechanics of your fictional world. Unrealistic encompasses both perfection and a lack of emotional range. Realistic characters will have strengths and weaknesses. As a writer, you need to make your story engaging, and it isn’t when your character is unbelievable. This definition does not limit your ability to use supernatural abilities, magic, sci-fi technology or anything else “unbelievable” in modern day terms because these things are explainable within the reality and mechanics of your world. If you write a sci-fi, then technology is explainable. If you write about magicians, then magic is explainable. They are not unrealistic in your world. But if you write about cavemen, except your main character has a giant robot mecha suit and uses it to conquer the stone age, then yes, you’ve gone too far.

This is for katlaire who requested I make this post. As promised, this will offend some die-hard fans so if you can’t stomach objective criticism, you’re better off not venturing down this dark alley.

I actually had a hard time coming up with a title for this post because I don’t want it to be just a rant on crappy books that get published. Ranting would imply a subjective opinion. I like to be a coldly logical person with an objective view, so instead of ranting I’m going to mention a few books (all of which were published by a proper publishing house) and analyse why they were successful and whether they deserved to be published. To keep things orderly, I’ll divide this post by book titles, but I’m only going to go in-depth with Twilight. The other books I’ll mention are just for comparison (some of them also suck).

Twilight:

This is, of course, borderline ranting about some of the junk that’s out there, and how could anyone do that without mentioning a crowd favourite? Now it’s Twilight’s turn to shine (or sparkle), something the writing in this book never did.

Honestly, I haven’t read any of the books cover to cover (it’s unbearable even to think about it). I have watched some of the movies though (not my choice) and have done some research into the matter so I don’t end up giving an uninformed analysis. Based on the examples I’ve seen and the common consensus of the writing world and my own opinion, this book is (by writing standards) absolutely atrocious. There is, however, a valid reason for why it became popular, which I will mention later. I’d just like to point out a famous quote that’s relevant here:

“Harry Potter is all about confronting fears, finding inner strength, and doing what is right in the face of adversity. Twilight is about how important it is to have a boyfriend.”

Many of you think Stephen King made this quote but he didn’t. This quote has never been sourced back to him and based on a quick Google search, it’s quite obvious the originator of this quote is Robin Browne (who was quoted by Andrew Futral in a tumblr post and later confirmed that he got the quote from Browne). However, despite not coming up with this quote, Stephen King is quite a vocal critic of Twilight. Here’s a quote he actually did say when asked to compare Harry Potter and Twilight (during an interview):

“The real difference is that Jo Rowling is a terrific writer and Stephanie Meyer can’t write worth a darn. She’s not very good.”

I disagree slightly about Rowling being “terrific” but I’ll get to that in the Harry Potter section.

Anyway, let’s get to the point shall we? Why is Twilight such garbage? Well, for one it’s plagued with purple prose and a huge lack of pace and excitement. Twilight is something that you lose interest in the moment you gain a shred of maturity. In fact, the series would never have survived if it weren’t for the “hot guys” acting in the movies, because it’s a terrible book/movie series.

Not only is Bella a Mary Sue (more on this later), the plot is focused around the most mundane and ridiculous stuff that only a narcissistic pre-pubescent girl would find interesting. Ohhhh noooo, which of these two mythical hunks is Bella going to pick? Ohhhh noooo, should she become a vampire to be with Edward? Ohhh noooo, Bella has special smelling blood so there’s a sexy feeling of danger whenever she’s around vampires.

Wow, seriously? You have vampires and werewolves in an eternal conflict, living amongst regular humans whilst waging their silent war on each other and the only thing you can focus on is the most prosaic crap about Bella? That’s like Homer writing about two mud-crabs fighting over a rock whilst the Battle of Troy was raging in the background. In fact, this is a particularly apt analogy (that I came up with on the spot) because the Battle of Troy had a love triangle at its very heart too, except look at the difference; Homer’s work has gone down as one of the greatest love stories ever written and has convinced historians and archaeologists to spend their entire lives’ work dedicated to trying to prove the story true.

Now, back to Bella. I mentioned she was a Mary Sue. I can’t be bothered explaining what this is again, so I’m going to put an article on it in the English techniques section later – but I’m sure many people already know the definition. In this case, Bella is a normal girl (albeit with “special smelling blood”) who has the two hottest male characters in the book fighting over her for no apparent reason. Wait, let me recant that. She’s not normal, she’s boring. Not only is she a boring person, she has a horrible, depressive, suicidal, fickle, insecure, narcissistic personality that any real man in the real world would look at and tell both Edward and Jacob “don’t stick your d**k in crazy”. She has absolutely zero redeeming characteristics to make her a likeable person that is in any way deserving of any of the special treatment she is given.

What’s worst though, is that despite being a purple prose (another term I’ll define in English-techniques later on; Google it if you don’t know) infested text, there is a suspicious lack of description regarding Bella – the main character. Want to know why? Because Bella is not a real character – she’s an insertion of Stephanie Meyer’s own personality and is her own pathetic little “John Everyman” for insecure girls. She is basically a gaping white blank in the world of her writing so that any other teenage girl with the same insecurities and personality flaws can just insert themselves into Bella’s place and fantasise about being popular and special for no reason at all. And I can’t stress enough how much this series is focused on this “love triangle” – she even butchered the concept of vampires to “emphasise” how good looking Edward was so that it would be all the more desirable for any girl who inserted herself into Bella’s shoes. So much for Bram Stoker’s Dracula – a hunter of the night, manipulator of the human heart and a dark, gothic villain whose only weakness were the elements. Move over Dracula, we have good-looking, sparkly playboys to represent vampire-kind now. The only aspect of vampires that Meyer got right was the connection between vampires and female sexuality (as Stoker’s Dracula had a strong underlying message of forbidden sexual tension), but I’m almost certain this was purely by mistake and coincidence.

So why did this book become popular? Well, I’ve already mentioned the reason. The book is a tool for girls to insert themselves into this sexual fantasy of self-importance. Since your teenage years are a tough battle to find self-worth, identity and “love” (or what you think is love and will later learn was something stupid), the book really kicked off. In fact, based purely on the target market (insecure young girls), there was even a bit of a snowball effect in which non-readers were pressured into becoming readers so that they would “fit in”. Kind of sad how youths don’t realise that “fitting in” is the opposite of finding your identity, but that’s just something you’ll have to learn over time.

Because of the above reasons, I don’t blame the publishing company for publishing Twilight. They knew it would make money and they were right. I don’t even blame the readers for supporting such a crappy book. It’s natural to want an escape from reality, and when you’re young and immature, your idea of a perfect roleplay is when you get to be Bella. Don’t worry, as you mature your dreams become bigger and more meaningful.

Harry Potter and the Hunger Games:

                        

These two books are common comparisons with Twilight because they became popular during roughly the same period of time. I’m going to dispel a common misconception right off the bat here. Harry Potter is not the greatest series of books ever written. To be more specific, the first three books were mediocre.

I’m crazy right? I told you I’d offend people. Harry Potter has a huge fan-base of zealous supporters just like Twilight does. There’s a problem with books – usually only the mass marketed, viral books get read and people who don’t read regularly just assume that these are the best books out there. That’s way off the mark. There’s a treasure trove of good books that a lot of people have never heard before. Back to Harry Potter though – the overarching plot for the seven books was very creative and original and unlike Twilight, there were actually morals encouraged by the story. The characters were solid and the main cast was characterised very well.

Why then do I not worship the books? Well, as much of a fan as I am, I have to concede that the first three books are sort of mundane, unexciting and most of all, written poorly. The first book in particular is atrocious. The language and writing style that Rowling uses for The Philosopher’s Stone is something I would expect of a high school student who’s doing badly at English. If you don’t believe me go and read the first three pages of The Philosopher’s Stone and then go and read the first three pages of The Deathly Hallows. There’s a HUGE difference. That’s where I respect Rowling, as I read the Harry Potter series, I can feel her skill as a writer growing. The only other aspect I would have liked her to improve on was the world-building. There was a nice contrast between the Muggle world and the Magical world, but it was focused almost entirely on the same setting. It would have been nice to get more into the politics and the different countries and cities.

Harry Potter was popular for the setting and concept. The writing was not originally great (although it did become good), but the idea of a magical society living amongst us and their fear of a powerful evil wizard who could only be destroyed by an unremarkable young boy is a huge underdog story set in a very interesting world. Not only that, the school environment is a popular because it provides a realistic frame of reference for the audience and is a cultural meme that invokes a wide variety of emotions.

Similarly, the Hunger Games was quite average but was popular because the main character featured a strong female role where the majority of fiction books feature a male in the leading role. The story is not entirely original, being a twist on the ancient Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur (I’ve said this before and someone didn’t believe me so you can go Google this yourself – the author said as much herself during an interview). I have nothing against unique twists on existing concepts (as I write high fantasy, I pretty much live by making my own twist on existing concepts), but the point is the strongest feature of the Hunger Games are the characters, and this is why the series became popular – though the plot isn’t bad either.

Sasha and some other book whose name I’ve forgotten:

I’m going to end with another two books that I found were terrible. The first is Sasha – A Trial of Blood and Steel. I saw this in book stores a long time ago and the title caught my attention, so when it became available at my library I borrowed it. Wow, what a disappointment. Sasha is a huge Mary Sue (in the opposite direction of Bella). She’s not only a princess but a master swordswoman too. She’s beautiful and far too strong. The few chapters I read were just her killing people with absolutely no effort and being widely respected and sought after because she’s basically perfect. Boring. Not only that, the pace was inappropriate (butchered by some purple prose at the wrong times) and the plot so mundane that I can’t remember much about it besides that it wasn’t interesting. Maybe the book got better (and come to think of it I may not have started reading from the beginning) but all I know is that this was one of the few fantasy books that I’ve picked up and haven’t finished. Usually, I’ll stick with it until the end.

The book that I forgot was a historical fiction where this girl went back in time to medieval England (I think) and changed history. She brought her taekwondo skills with her and beat down all these fully armed and trained knights, did the sideways monkey dance with the prince and turned out to be a Goddess. I don’t have to make it any clearer – she was a Mary Sue, and as a result I can’t even remember the title of that book. See what bad writing does? Admittedly, the book was a bit interesting at first (she became a Goddess later on), but it wasn’t very accurate for a historical fiction and the main character was ridiculously overpowered.

Anyway, that’s that. I gave a pretty objective analysis of why some popular books are popular, and why some of them are horrible books so this is slightly more informative that a simple rant. Hopefully nobody is too offended that I called out Harry Potter, I admit that I’m a huge fan and it’s one of the few books that I’ve read more than once – so the very fact that I pointed out its flaws should demonstrate that I’m giving impersonal, objective critiques.

I remember an article a while back condemning our future generations to a world where English literacy has suffered at all levels – particularly spelling. The cause is technology’s “auto-correct”.

In the interests of keeping English literacy at an acceptable level, I’m going to tell you 10 words that people still can’t seem to spell and how I remember it. It would suck to survive a massive global recession and be remembered just for butchering the English language.

This overlaps a bit with one of my other posts so I’ll try to make these words different.

  1. Since we’re talking about misspelled words, let’s start with that: Misspelled. Remember it this way – the prefix “mis” alludes to being wrong. “Mispelled” would be wrongly “pelled”. In the same way, it’s misstep not “mistep”.
  2. Next up is accommodate. It’s double “c” double “m”. Straight forward enough – if you’re not sure just double them because there’s enough room to accommodate them all.
  3. Professor is a crowd favourite. It’s often the butt of jokes on TV shows. I just think of the short term “Prof.” and consider that all the “f” I need.
  4. This one is definitely a problem. People are always saying “definately”. This is mostly due to how people pronounce the word these days. Remember it this way: the word “finite” is in it.
  5. A lot and never mind are both two separate words! Stop combining them! I think the culprit here is the word “anyway” which makes you think you can combine all the words that you say quickly.
  6. Don’t be embarrassed when spelling this word – just remember it’s double “r” and double “s”.
  7. Per se does not come from English (it’s Latin), so remember, it’s not “per say”.
  8. Lightning is the electrical discharge. Lightening is the process of making something lighter. Remember this by remembering that you “lighten” something.
  9. A principal is the position for a person and he is not your pal. It’s the principle of the matter.
  10. It’s separate. Remember the “par”!

Ok, so it’s a weird title, but I’m serious. I’m going to use some naughty words here so let’s try to be mature.

I was watching season 7 of How I Met Your Mother and there was this scene where Barney talks about his penis. He says something like “She’s magnificent”, to which Robin asks “She?”. Then Barney says “Of course it’s a girl. Every dude knows his penis is a girl. It’s like a ship.”

This actually got me thinking though. I’ve never thought of my penis as either a girl or boy; it’s just a part of my body.

However, I can see the emotional need for a man to consider his penis to be female. That would make masturbation/self-love less homosexual. I suppose it could even make regular sex more kinky because it would be like girl on girl (humour me, this idea is shaky at best).

So guys (and girls?), tell me. Is your penis male or female? If you have anything interesting to add, feel free to do so. Since I can’t make polls here, it’s just going to have to be in the comments below.

In the interest of making this a slightly more meaningful, I’m going to mention something a friend of mine brought to my attention. It’s called the Kinsey Scale (also known as the Homosexual-Heterosexual Rating Scale).

Rather than use my own words, I’m going to be lazy and quote Kinsey himself:

Males do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual. The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats. It is a fundamental of taxonomy that nature rarely deals with discrete categories… The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects.

While emphasizing the continuity of the gradations between exclusively heterosexual and exclusively homosexual histories, it has seemed desirable to develop some sort of classification which could be based on the relative amounts of heterosexual and homosexual experience or response in each history […] An individual may be assigned a position on this scale, for each period in his life. […] A seven-point scale comes nearer to showing the many gradations that actually exist.

—Kinsey, et al. (1948). pp. 639, 656)

If you were to lazy to read that, basically it means almost nobody is fully straight or gay; people tend more strongly towards one sexual orientation than the other but they do not fully belong to that sexual orientation.

Contrary to popular belief, there is no actual test for this so don’t go trying to figure out whether you’re straight or gay online. The Kinsey Scale is just a seven level scale that basically tells you it’s not as simple as it being black and white – there’s another five shades to think about.

I was cleaning out my computer when I found a few old poems I wrote as a kid. I’m going to leave them here so I can delete them off my computer; just for laughs and memories. The majority of these were from my last year in primary school to my junior years in high school.

Now, I’ve never been a big fan of poetry, preferring full blown novel-length stories, but I remember a few melodramatic emotions that spurred me into writing some of these. It really reminds me how sensitive a teenager is to his/her environment. These are all really short because – like I said – I wasn’t big on poetry, and I just wanted maximal emotional release in as few words as possible. Don’t get the wrong idea; not all of these are about my misfortune with girls. However, you’re free to interpret them as you like. That’s the beauty of the written language. Sometimes the words are different but the emotions are the same.

Reality:

Sometimes when I wake, I feel like I’m dreaming,

And somewhere, some place, the real me is screaming.

Sometimes I wonder, if I close my eyes,

Whether or not the real me dies,

And a dream of me awakens on the other side.

Fleeting:

A haunting thought,

And wistful wish,

Of a girl I ought,

Not to miss.

Soliloquy:

She speaks and I freeze.

A hundred words crash around my head.

Quick, say something before she sees!

But there’s so much I want to say,

Like how strongly I feel when I’m with you.

But there’s just no way.

I can’t find the words; I just want to sigh.

Because you don’t even realise what

Goes through my head every time I say “Hi”.

Rose:

You showed me that love was a rose,

A passionate red that never warns,

But really, to me that just shows,

That nobody sees the thorns.

Tailor:

Sailor, sailor, so star-crossed,

You never told me I was lost.

The ocean’s black sucks all my soul,

Until I no longer know my role.

Now I wander, seeking one who might,

Aid me in my lonely plight.

So tailor, tailor, seam by seam,

Unravel this tangled heart with me.

Book: 

She smiles, he frowns.

They’re on different pages, but is it the same book?

He talks, she freezes.

There’s something too serious in his look.

She leaves, he waits.

But she doesn’t come back.

Now they’re on the same page, but it’s two different books.

Just two stories that happened to cross paths.

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