Thursday, May 28, 2015

Cracked Flash Fiction

Two of my friends (Rin and Sie) and I frequently set out to write some crappy (but hilarious) flash fiction (well, and sometimes the result isn't so crappy) called Cracked Flash Fiction (CFF). The idea originally came about when one of us was drugged up from some doctor's appointment, and we began word warring* from a writing prompt (also called prompt warring, a term I came up with a few years ago). 

CFF is a perfect example that one's writing--particularly the first draft--does not have to be perfect. We have made spelling, grammar, punctuation, content, and probably continuity mishaps throughout our journey, some of which would make any decent editor's eyes burn out (although we usually catch those eventually and fix them). Sometimes, however, these flashes come out pretty decent, and we find ourselves with a new story idea. 

Writing from a prompt is an excellent way of writing something even when you have no idea what to write, I find. 

I wanted to share one of my favorites from my recently-written pile of CFF. It's called Programmer Knights. Enjoy!

*A word war is not to be confused with a word sprint: a word war is when an amount of time is chosen (e.g. 10, 15 minutes), and the participants write for that amount of time. When the time is up, the person with the most words wins. A word sprint, however, is a race to an amount of words, starting from a designated point of time; whoever reaches that amount first wins. 


Programmer Knights

"You of all people know there's nowhere to run."  
The King sighed knowingly, looking over his lovely, perfect kingdom. "But I'd like to try."  
"You have, my lord," Benson replied with a twitch of a smile. "Don't you recall? You nearabout had the programs in knots for trying to leave the palace grounds over and over." He gestured for the king to walk with him down the corridor, which beamed with light that splashed onto marble stone.  
"Ah, yes," he replied dryly. "It drove poor Madeline half-mad." 
"She doesn't understand," Benson replied. "Full sentience is not something every one of us achieves." 
"And yet there are people from every class that have," the king mused. "But we are unable to break from our given roles."  
"Indeed," Benson said quietly, looking to the windows, a frown creasing his forehead.  
"I'm merely the one the programmers refuse to kill for trying to," the king voiced Benson's thoughts, a bitter tone entering his voice. Benson had replaced the last advisor, Marion, two years ago. "I grow tired of this existence." 
"We need a bug," the advisor replied thoughtfully. Reports of the bugs had dwindled over the past few years, with more knights accepting the quest to defeat them. In reality, it was simply the programmers finding inventive ways to work out better ways to control the program.  
"Those are nearly extinct. More are eliminated each day. The palace is the last place you would be able to find one, either way." 
"Then what of a quest?" the advisor suggested. "You have the ability to make new quests." 
"But what kind of quest? I have tried making a quest to kidnap the king before," the king informed the advisor, who smiled again.  
"Not quite what I meant, King." Benson moved to the closest window, looking down on the training grounds for knights. "Give a quest to one of the Newsies."  
The king joined the advisor, looking down at the younger lads fighting. They couldn't have achieved full sentience yet, too young in their programs. They would obey quests without question. "What kind of quest do you suggest, oh wise advisor?" 
"Capture a bug," Benson replied. "But you have to be clever about the phrasing, otherwise the programmers will be suspicious." 
The king rubbed his beard thoughtfully, gaze sharpening. Quest rules were special. Things that normally weren't allowed on palace grounds would be. Benson's plan had merit, and it couldn't do harm to try it.

"What do you suggest?"

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Pizza (and Breadsticks)

Two months ago, I underwent surgery. The only thing I wanted to eat after my surgery was pizza. It didn't matter if it was store-bought or homemade. I got really good at making tasty pizza from another family recipe that week.

Someone I know complained one day that homemade bread is really tasty, but it takes forever to make. She was stunned when I revealed that I have pizza-bread recipe that only takes 10 minutes to rise! (It's because of all the yeast.)

I'm really sad that I ate all of this already.
Difficulty: 3
Total time: 35 min
Servings: 1 (We usually make 3 or 4 batches for four or five people)

1/2 cup of warm water
1 tablespoon of yeast
2 tablespoons of sugar
1 cup of white flour*
1/2 teaspoon of salt
Desired seasonings (garlic, oregano, Italian seasoning, etc.,.)

1. Dissolve yeast in water.
2. Add sugar, flour, and salt; mix thoroughly.
3. Knead dough for 3 minutes. 
4. Let dough rise for 10 minutes.**
5. Grease pan, spread dough out on pan.
6. Add desired condiments (sauce, cheese, pepperoni, mushrooms, etc.,) and seasonings. 
7. Cook for 15 minutes at 375°F, or until cheese is bubbly and browning.***
8. Let cool, nom deliciousness. 

*The pizza still actually tastes pretty great with whole-wheat flour instead of white. ALSO, you're probably going to end up putting more like 1 1/2 cups of flour into the recipe by the time you're done; the dough should be sticky, but not sticky all over the place. Non-sticky dough is okay, but doesn't taste as good, for reference. 
**It's cold all the time here, so the rising doesn't work well unaided; I put the pizza-dough bowl in another bowl of warm water: 
***Times may vary depending on oven irregularities, and how much stuff you've got on your pizza. You can also not wait for the cheese to bubble, since that causes a texture change, but it should look like this if you want it bubbly and brown:


In our cookbook, the pizza dough is actually under the breadstick recipe. So here's the unadulterated breadstick recipe!

1/2 cup of warm water
1 tablespoon of yeast
2 tablespoons of sugar
1 cup of white flour
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 cup butter
Desired seasonings (garlic, oregano, Italian seasoning, Parmesan cheese, etc.,.)

1. Dissolve yeast in water.
2. Add sugar, flour, and salt; mix thoroughly.
3. Knead dough for 3 minutes. 
4. Let dough rise for 10 minutes.**
5. Roll dough out on parchment paper and cut into strips with a pizza-slicer.****
6. Put breadsticks in pan--coating both sides in melted butter. Add seasonings, if desired. 
7. Cook for 15 minutes at 375°F, or until sticks are golden brown. 
8. Let cool, nom fabulous deliciousness. 

****This time around, I rolled the dough straight into the pan and cut it there, then poured the butter on top of it and pushed butter beneath the dough. XD 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

What Do People Write On Writing Blogs?

There are tons of sites out there that have 30-day blog challenges for a normal blogger, or just a giant list of things to blog about. However, I have not found a list for writing blogs.

So, in order to remedy this problem, I went and poked around at a few well-known writing blogs, compiled a short list. This is probably in no way comprehensive, but my head is spinning (and there's a lot on that list already o.o) so I'll stop while I'm ahead!

Writers blog about . . .

  • Their favorite writers/their sources of inspiration
  • Favorite writing subject
  • Their writing manifesto
  • Who they're writing for
  • History/politics and how it can be applied in writing
  • How to handle criticism
  • How to communicate your point effectively
  • Developing a thesis or theme
  • What they're reading
  • Characteristics of a hero/anti-hero/villain
  • Social media and utilizing it
  • Motivational essays/speeches for actually going to write instead of procrastinating your time away
  • Creating a "productivity system"
  • Cliches they hate or love
  • Revising, rewriting, and editing
  • What to do when feeling unmotivated and uninspired
  • How to manage your time
  • Finding your writing voice/style
  • Overcoming perfectionist tendencies
  • Words that make writing weak
  • How to get published
  • How to find an agent
  • Pros and cons of self-publishing vs traditional
  • What conferences to attend; what money to spend
  • Loving what you do
  • How to write for yourself/others
  • World Building
  • Writing dialogue
  • Writing descriptions
  • Writing Magic
  • What NOT to do for characterization
  • Using punctuation correctly
  • What made them write a piece
  • Constructed languages: making up words and names
  • Killing your darlings
  • Free writing
  • Commonly misused/confused words
  • Interviewing people
  • Resting
  • Prompts
  • Some host sorts of "sharing time"--asking readers to comment with what they've written lately
  • Guest posting
  • How to grow an audience

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Lanette's Sugar Cookies (and Buttercream Frosting)

I do not like cake. I will eat cake, but I don't like it (the only cakes worth calories are hot-milk cake and my mother's Seafoam-frosting cake (I'll have to write a blog post on both of those later)).

Now, you may wonder what, then, do I have on my birthday? Well, I used to have ice cream cakes. Those are tasty. But a few years ago, I got the brilliant idea to have cookie cake, using my favorite cookie (another family recipe): the sugar cookie.

My first cake, inspired by a cupcake mural, looked like this:

It should be recognizable
I had another cake after that that was Doctor-Who themed (I don't think we got pictures of it, but it had graham crackers dipped in blue chocolate and splotched with white windows, all set on the orange frosting which was the time vortex). Then I had a flower cake (my mother was in charge), with a great big center and normal-sized cookies around it. And this year, I had a wedding-esque cookie-cake (my mother was in charge again). Results:

The pieces were really big. 
She cooked four squares of cookie, put frosting in between each, stacked them, frosted the sides, and then decorated the outside. Ridiculous. But really tasty.

Cookie Recipe: 

Difficulty: 5
Dough: 20 min
Baking: 8 min (per pan)
Cooling: 20 min (at least) 

2 cups sugar
1 cup butter or margarine
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
4+ cups flour
1 teaspon vanilla
1 recipe buttercream frosting

1. Mix all ingredients well, adding enough flour (approximately 4-6 cups) to make dough not sticky.
2. Roll out dough, and cut out cookies of any size.
3. Bake at 375ºF for 8 minutes.*
4. Let cool, then frost with buttercream frosting.
5. Nom fabulous deliciousness.

*Depending on ovens, tastes, and cookie sizes, time may vary; my mother likes cookies soft, my father likes them burnt (I like them in-between; a little more than brown). Experimentation may be required. Cookie cakes take some time longer to bake. 

Buttercream Frosting recipe:

Difficulty: 3
Mixing: 5 min
Piping: 5 min (per 24 cookies)

1 cup butter**
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 cups powdered sugar
Dye of choice

1. Cream butter together.
2. Add milk and vanilla together; mix well.
3. Add powdered sugar to mixture one cup at a time, mixing well after each addition.
4. If desired, add dye until colored to perfection.***

If frosting is too thick, thin with milk (shouldn't be too thick if you follow measurements exactly).

**The recipe actually calls for 1/2 cup butter-flavored shortening and 1/2 margarine, but all-butter is definitely way tastier (also juuuuust slightly healthier, since margarine has trans-fat). Butter is great. 
***Sugar cookies taste the best with burgundy-colored frosting XD We make giant batches of burgundy-colored cookies on Valentine's day for our friends, so it's the color/taste I grew up on.  

Frosting the cookies: 

I notice that people tend to take a knife and cover cookies in frosting smoothly. This is totally fine at home, but it's a lot more classy to show up to an event with well-frosted cookies. It will take practice, but anyone can pipe frosting onto cookies! (Also, it's way quicker, and a lot less painful; I speak from experience.) If you don't have any of these materials, you may have to fork out five or ten bucks

We normally use the star-tip, medium or jumbo. Not required, though.
That is a piping bag stretched over a cup; this is the easiest way to
stuff a bag full of frosting on your own!
Hold the bag like this guy does. I don't think he's piping frosting, though.
A lot of people have this weird way of holding the bag sort of curled up beneath your hand,
but it's really messy and irritating. I don't recommend that way.  
I don't know what these thingies are called, but many people use them. Adapters or something. The pieces on the left go in the bag first, then you can stick your tip on the outside, and screw that on with the pieces on the right; these enable you the ability to change the tip without cutting it out or using all your frosting and cleaning the bag out. 
Have fun!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

When Revising and Rewriting

I recently read and critiqued a first-draft of a story and I wanted to share some advice I gave for the next draft. I'll summarize and generalize, and hopefully somebody will find this useful.

1. Remove any word that does not contribute to propelling the plot forward. 

You've probably heard this before--because it's sound advice. Too many irrelevant words can lose a reader--especially now a-days, when people are used to reading short Facebook and Twitter posts (did you know that many people are losing the ability to "deep read" text (do a search on digital reading)? Keep reading novels, people). 

If you need practice with this principle, go stick a few of your sentences into Twitter posts; a character limit forces you to become creative and often makes your sentences more interesting.

2. Be sure to characterize. 

I want to feel a connection to a character--especially the main one. I want to know why a character is the way they are; what events made them that way? You don't have to tell this--I do not want to hear that they are the best detective in the city because they've solved 1000 criminal cases, or their accuracy with a gun is akin to a god's. That sounds like a lot of hot air if there's no evidence to support it. Show me why they're (allegedly) the best.

It's also irritating if they seem infallible. If a character has no way to be defeated, there's no point to the plot. People have to win some and lose some. Now, don't fall into the pit of your character is too weak--a character who loses over and over again is also irritating (unless they're a side character and it's obviously for comedic effect); often times, this leads to angsting, and I don't want to read an entire book about angst (unless it's really good and the plot is compelling--see Monsters of Men).

I want characters with emotion who move the plot forward. Give them personality and a back story, then slowly give it to the reader.

3. Balance between slow and fast. 

This one is a hard one to explain, and probably harder to follow, but basically it goes like this: rushing around all the time can get confusing and overwhelming for a reader. Having one action scene after the next can get exhausting. Readers need to breathe a little. Unless you're at the BIG climax, action scenes should be tastefully spread between scenes that build up to action scenes. We need to know the reason behind stuff and what's going on. Build up suspense with the slow stuff.

However, be careful with slow stuff. In the latest Green Rider book, the fifth one, (which I hate) it takes like 15% of the book to get anywhere mildly interesting--because the main character is bed-bound, and she's not even snooping about.

Slow stuff doesn't have to be boring. Make the contributions to the plot be interesting, and it won't be boring.

I hope that section makes sense. 

4. Read your writing out loud. 

Not only can you more easily find grammar and spelling mistakes this way, but you'll probably find yourself stumbling over some words because they don't flow. A lot of people don't have a very well-developed internal-voice, so they don't "hear" the words in their heads.

Reading it out loud forces your brain to look at each word--reading in one's head can filter out certain words. Did you know that if you have two 'the's right in a row, the brain usually skips right over it? This is why the the act of reading it out loud helps. Did you see what I did there? If you didn't, read that sentence over again, verrry slowly. 

5. Get an editor. 

If you're on the last draft, and you're planning on self-publishing whatever you're writing, please, please, get an editor (as well as some beta-readers and proof-readers). A second set of eyes always helps. Don't finish your NaNoWriMo novel then instantly put it on the market. Bad, bad idea. There's nothing I despise more than picking up a book and finding two or three errors in every other sentence.

Do your editor a favor and don't send the first draft into them, however. Get beta-readers early on and do a few rewrites, then edit it yourself the best you can. This will save them a lot of headache, and it will likely make your story better. If your editor is less focused on grammar and spelling mistakes, and you've done your bit to try and clean up the plot, then they can help more towards content.

7. Always write, read, and review--often. 

The only true way to get better at something is to do it over. Again, and again. Save your writing, and look at it two years after you've written it--you might be amazed at how far you've come.

Read other people's stuff! I'd advise reading mostly good writing, but sometimes it's useful to look at what not to do (see the fifth book of Green Rider).

Review other people's stuff! When you dissect someone else's piece, it often draws attention to what you've been doing wrong in your own writing, and you can make notes what not to do, or what to do better, or what things you like.

Welp, I think that's all for now. Go crazy with Google if you want some more revising tips; tons of published authors like to tell people how to write (and, seeing as they're published, they must be doing something right, so they're probably worth listening to).

See y'all!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

No-Bake Oatmeal Chocolate Cookies

Today, I am making cookies from a favorite recipe in our family cookbook. They are fairly unhealthy, and very tasty.

I think I under-cooked them. But they're still fabulous.
Difficulty Rating: 3
Time: 35 min

1/2 cup butter or margarine*
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup peanut butter**
3 cups oat (quick or slow) 
2 teaspoons vanilla

1. Bring first 4 ingredients to a boil.
2. Boil on medium for 45-60 seconds, stirring frequently.***
3. Place peanut butter, oatmeal, and vanilla in a large bowl and add the boiled mixture; stir for two minutes (or until thoroughly mixed).
4. Spoon on cookie sheet and let cool (put it in the freezer for faster results).****
5. Nom the fabulous results

*Real butter and cream/canned milk will make the cookies richer.
**I've seen recipes with more peanut butter than this (like 3/4 cup); 1/2 cup keeps the flavor of peanut butter down (a flavor I dislike). 
***Depending on your stove, this may be anywhere in this zone. Just be careful not to burn your cookies. If they're very crumbly and not sticky-together-y, and taste a little scorched, they're probably burnt. (However, if you don't cook for long enough, your cookies may never set; if you have a gooey mass of cookie that you can't pick up without coating your fingers in it, you failed to cook it for long enough.)
****My eldest sister makes half batches right in the pan and then eats it warm.