21 August 2014

Battling Constructive Criticism - Ferret Style

Scholarly ferret has answers.
There are many things we'll hear from critique partners during our writing journeys. I've heard them about my stories and you'll hear them about yours, if you haven't already. These words are hurtful when you first hear them. After all, writing fiction is an art form and the creative soul cannot be judged, for art has value only to the artist. But if you want to sell your art, you are opening yourself up to scrutiny, right?

I encountered such criticisms in one of my first creative writing classes and I can tell you my reaction wasn't pretty. I'd spent almost $400.00 to take this class and I had better not hear anything but how great my writing is and how wonderful my story.

That didn't happen, unfortunately. I heard many things, and I'm about to share them with you. Trust me, I was steaming mad. The vulgar gestures I produced after having read the "constructive criticisms" of my classmates, went largely unnoticed, mainly because it was an online class and my computer shielded me from the rest of the group.

Q: Whose story is this?

A: What the hell are you talking about? It's my story, bitch!

Just kidding. When I was first asked this question, I wasn't sure what folks were talking about. I've introduced three characters already, so obviously it's about "at least" three characters, right?  ...right?

Confused ferret asks question.

It's their way of saying that they believe a story should have one main character and that character should have a story all about them and their journey. Fine and dandy! I get it. For new writers, maybe it's smart to stick to this "template" but seriously, there's more than one way to write a story folks.

Q: What is the main goal of your character?

A: Shouldn't you read more than the first chapter before you ask that question?

This is no joke. Why do you have to know the goal of my character when you start reading the story? Do you want to know the goal in the first chapter so you can then decide whether or not to buy the book? Is more than 15 minutes of reading in Barnes & Noble too much time to waste deciding whether or not the goal of my character is important enough to fork out $5.99? Read the back cover!

Angry ferret's favorite acronym RTFM

Okay, so the goal of my character is to travel to China, unlock the mystery behind the ancient Chinese secret, and rescue the world. Tada! End of story in only one chapter. Chapter Two: Does the Character Meet Her Goal?

Q: Do you expect us to believe your character actually drove off that cliff and survived?

A: It's fiction! 

The answer to this question is obvious. No, I don't expect you to believe it because it didn't happen for real. It happened in my story, and my story is fiction. If you do the same things my characters do and think you'll get away with it, then you deserve to die! Much like the Mountain Man.

Ferret wants you to chill.

Q: Couldn't you change it to read more like "blah blah blah blah blah, "blah, blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah?"

A: No, because then it would be YOUR story, not mine.

Writers are so funny when we critique other work. We all do it, but let's be honest. When we like something, we always want a crack at it to see if our version will sound better, look better, smell better, or taste better. Just like chefs, there's always a twist to make it better. Just remember, it's my food you are sampling. If you like it, get the basic recipe. You can always add your twist to it in your own kitchen, when you make your version.

Ninja ferret is not happy!

Q: Why is there so much head-hopping going on here?

A: What the hell is head-hopping?

I seriously did not understand this whole concept of head-hopping. It made me angry for so many people to tell me I was doing this when I didn't even know what it meant. In the voice of a whiny, little brat, "How does Jane know that John is feeling sad? She's not privy to his thoughts."

Can you guess ferret thoughts?

Um, I'm the author writing the story. Jane doesn't need to know that John is sad. I'm telling you he's sad! I know he's sad and because I know he's sad, Jane knows he's sad, and now so do you! Now shut up and read the rest of my story.

Do you recall any criticisms which made you feel immediately defensive about your writing? Please share!

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17 August 2014

Do You Know Me? Crossword Puzzle

I found this fun puzzle maker online today. The answers can be found on my blog by using my simple search function. If you enjoy filling this out, create one for yourself at the puzzle site and invite your readers to learn more about you. Let's get interactive! I'm on vacation this weekend so I get to play just a little.

Relating to characters is so easy when they are doing things we enjoy. Why not crossword puzzles?

"I need another word for convince."

"How many letters?"


"What about urge?"

"That doesn't fit."

"You said four letters."

"Yeah, but the third letter is an A." After a brief moment in thought she says, "I got it. Sway."

Bret wonders why she even asks anymore.

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12 August 2014

Parsing a Feed with PHP

Maybe this isn't such a big deal for many of you out there, but to me it's something of an accomplishment. Had I known it would be this easy, I would have explored this option way before now.

Upon learning PHP, I had to dig in to find out what all I could uncover with this new language. For the past several years, I've migrated toward the web side from mainframe development. Get it? It's like Internet double speak combining website with a reference to the dark side. Still don't get it? Okay, never mind.

So anyway, if you are learning PHP and want to see your code rendered, try out XAMPP. You can run it on your PC's localhost. This will allow you to run your PHP scripts without having to upload to a server on a hosted site.

Includes: Apache 2.4.9, MySQL 5.6.16, PHP 5.5.11, phpMyAdmin 4.1.12, OpenSSL 1.0.1, XAMPP Control Panel 3.2.1, Webalizer 2.23-04, Mercury Mail Transport System 4.63, FileZilla FTP Server 0.9.41, Tomcat 7.0.42 (with mod_proxy_ajp as connector), Strawberry Perl 7.0.42 Portable.

To all of my techie readers out there, try PHP to render RSS feeds from all your "fed" sites like Youtube, BBC News, Facebook, and your Blog. Of course, I haven't figured out the blog thingy just yet. I'm starting on a new adventure.

The instructions can get a bit hairy, but don't worry. If you perform all the steps exactly as written, it will all work out for you. I promise. I just ran some PHP code to grab and embed my last three uploaded videos from Youtube. It's all rendered in HTML at the end of the script with one simple line of code "echo $html;"

Published material has never been so easy to aggregate. Now that's progress! Don't you agree?

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06 August 2014

Writing Inspiration Comes in Many Forms

Don't call me crazy, but I was a bit depressed this past weekend. I wanted to write something so desperately and my brain wouldn't work. As a matter of fact, it worked against me!

Tim asked me why I was being so quiet and I didn't have an answer. He knew I'd had writer's block for the past month and the concern on his face was quite touching, so I blurted it out, "I want a ferret!"

He had this WTF look on his face, but I pressed on, "They're like cats and you can litter train them."

"They smell."

"No they don't."

"They do!"

"Let's go to Carol's Critters. I'll call them and see if they have any. I just want to look at one. You'll see how cute they are and you'll agree that we should get one."

Turned out they did have one and when we arrived at the store, there she was, resting in a hammock suspended from the top of a 90 gallon aquarium tank.

What a coincidence! I have a 90 gallon tank at home taking up room in the garage. Three years of maintaining a salt water fish tank had done it for me, but I knew I would eventually use the tank for something else.

She was a cutie, too! The ferret. The only problem? She was already 9 months old and not litter trained.

Also, I didn't have a lid that would support a hammock suspension system like the one in the store, which is something I would have to get because you can't have a ferret and not add that level of cuteness. No way.

I handed Carol my business card and asked her to please call me when she had new arrivals of baby ferrets and I would return. I couldn't help but notice Tim looked mighty pleased that we were leaving without the ferret. He knows me too well. I'm the compulsive buyer. Give it a week and I'd forget all about the ferret.

Back to my deep thoughts and sadness...and writer's block.

Today was my flex day, so I came home from work and found Tim in the driveway building something. It couldn't be! He had started working on the lid to my future home for Mo and Bo!

"What do you mean Mo and Bo?" he asked.

I must have said that out loud.

"Well, remember, Carol had said that ferrets come into the store in pairs of two. You can't just separate baby animals when they've been cuddling together all the way to their new destination. That would be cruel. Maybe even traumatizing!"

I'm so excited. The inspiration to write hit me instantly and so here it is. Now that I'm done telling you all about my new future ferrets, Mo and Bo, I must go thank my wonderful husband.

Wait, why is he staring at me like that?

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