Ten Twists on Well-Known Titles

Some books/movies would be interesting if they were rewritten about completely different things. Here is what some classics well-know stories could have been about if the title had been just a few letters different. In no particular order:

1. Count of Monte Crisco: concerns the same titular character as Alexandre Dumas’ classic tale of revenge, but documents his hairdresser’s struggle to deal with the Count’s prison-learned habit of slicking his hair with vegetable shortening. Also describes his hairdresser’s despair at removing eight years accumulation of fat from Edmond Dante’s hair follicles. Philosophical monograph.

2. A Tail of Two Cities: a Frenchman discovers that he is being followed whenever he visits two major cities and only those two major cities. His tail has squeaky shoes. But why? Footsteps. Echoing Footsteps grow nearer and nearer. Detective Thriller.

3. Tim: Inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s Kim, but cuts out the boring parts and adds more spy stuff. Twist: Tim is the Llama, an eccentric schizophrenic master spy. Suspense. Thriller.

4. Package to India: Tells the story of a parcel’s journey from the British mail service and through the Indian postal system. Likely more interesting and slightly more fulfilling than E. M. Forester’s classic novel on religion, equality, and justice in colonial India. Informational pamphlet.

5. Fat and Furious: Teenager is infuriated when he is refused admission to police officer training academy after failing a physical fitness exam. He steals cars and blows things up. Action Adventure.

6. Clear and Pleasant Danger: Jack Ryan smiles more. Spy Thriller.

7. Moles: Adaptation of the novel by Louis Sachar. By freak accident, a teenage boy uncovers a plot by the mole people to create so many sinkholes that the ground is destabilized and entire cities collapse. He is enslaved in the mole tunnels where he meets a boy descended from the man who helped his ancestor defeat the mole people the last time they tried this. Unfortunately, that boy’s ancestor did not get a congressional medal of honor (nobody did) and he cursed our teen’s ancestor’s family line with having an abnormal number of facial moles and acne. To regain his dignity, our teen must defeat the mole people and get a congressional medal of honor for his young friend. Teen Adventure.

8. Fellowship of the Bling: It is the 90s. Freddie Baggens is given a necklace with the smallest bling ever. His friends think it’s hideous. Also, he goes on an unpleasant drug trip whenever he wears it. They go on a cross-country trip to Yellowstone to destroy it in the most epic way possible, which, since it’s the 90s, involves unrealistic CGI volcanoes. Campy Classic.

9. Less Miserable’s: Jean Valjean is imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread. However, after he is given parole, Inspector Javert, motivated by a desire to see the maximum amount of justice done, opts to investigate child abuse, prisoners’ human rights violations, and underground revolutionary rings instead of ex-cons who steal small change. As a result, the people of France are less miserable. Moralistic Novel.

10. Encouragement: In the wake of Divergent, Insurgent, Allegiant, and….Four comes a groundbreaking novel about a girl whose parents encourage her unique personality. The government doesn’t try to kill her, and as a result, she does not seek solace in questionable friendships or overthrow the government, but instead pursues art and science. Teen Fiction/Philosophy.

Bonus: 11. Mad Max: Furry Road: Max is angry because his cat sheds a lot. To prove the point, he takes his cat on a road trip to place cat hair end-to-end across the entire continental United States. Not everyone appreciates this. There are lots of car and foot chases, flying fur, and sneezing. Documentary.

I’m collecting ideas for an eventual second edition of this list.

Dressed with Distress

Guys have it easy. As a general rule, when they get dressed up, they only have to ask “Do I have to wear a suit?” and on very rare occasions “Do I have to wear a tuxedo?” Girls get a very different dilemma. They not only have to worry whether they have to wear a skirt, but also about the color of the skirt, the material, the looseness, whether they wore the same thing a few days ago, if they can wear a hat,and whether they can safely wear close-toed shoes, to say nothing of the color, make, and style of the blouse, jewelry, and bag.

I am aware that certain persons have taken it upon themselves to make men’s clothing just as difficult. (This is why we have the fashion industry and the hipster.) The common man has in large part ignored this and just worries about matching his belt to his shoes.

Females such as myself are in a similar position. We don’t like the rules and have no inclination to follow them. We like dressing up, but have very distinctive styles. I have the fashion sense of a viking hippy. (That is to say, an elf.) So we cheat. My own cheating involves (gasp) wearing the same thing to every formal function possible. This involves lots of black, corduroy pants and a sweater. One day I hope to have the wardrobe of a conservative hobbit, or at least a college professor.

Then again, perhaps that I am attune to these things means that do have a good fashion sense. Perhaps guys have a bigger barrier. My little brother recently attended a formal function with his tie tied in a half hitch. Now I may have to worry whether my nylons match my blouse, but, for the present at least, I don’t have to tie a tie.

(I do realize hostesses may have to wear ties. I consider this an occupational hazard.)

Thanks to cartoonchurch.com for the wonderfully informative diagram.

Seven Serious Rules of Writing

It’s the end of NaNoWriMo season. Rather than participating, I spent my evenings studying for several reasons

1) I needed to study.

2) I have yet to reach the required word-count on any of my finished stories.

Truly, I am a well-educated and efficient author, above the need to actually write anything, but I thought, “What of those pitiful writers who have not yet reached the 50,000 word mark due to their inefficient study habits? What of those writers who could not overcome their fear of failure  to attempt NaNoWriMo?” Unfortunately for those pitiful people, I only write novellas and short stories, but perhaps my insights will help them in their quest.

1) An essay is only as good as its thesis. Likewise, a story is only as good as its dilemma. Knowledge of a life-changing dilemma is not necessary at the beginning, but a dilemma brings the story to its end. –Source: American Literature professor, Introduction to Theatre professor

2) Every story begins with false journey that leads to the real journey. The introduction to the characters and development of the real crisis takes place here. The journey to Rivendell, the discovery of Narnia and flight to the stone table, and all the events leading up to Jim Hawkins sailing away are false journeys.–Source: Bearmageddon 

3) A writer should cram a lot of information into paragraphs with short sentences. One should never trust someone who says ‘should,’ or uses bulky passive sentences frequently. Avoid backstory or start the story there. A writer would be wise to assume the reader is smart, but not smart enough to read big words.–Source: Immediate Fiction, Organic Chemistry I lab instructor

4) Include enough information that the reader can figure out what is happening. Elaborate why because otherwise the reader is confused and doesn’t actually care. Confused readers abandon stories half-way. Never generalize.–Source: American Literature professor

5) Write in passive voice.–Source: Organic Chemistry I lab instructor

6) Write in active voice.–Source: American Literature professor

7) Break the rules. Good writers are good at that. But never cite Wikipedia.–Source: Kurt Vonnegut (not the Wikipedia bit, but we know he was thinking it.)

Writing Lab Reports

If brevity is the soul of wit,

I am a nitwit.

Time is too limited for great lit

So I  go with it.

 

Words are special,

Insightful professors amazing.

Despite my initial poor lab skill

I learn fun things.

 

Things like I’m needing

to go to bed–still.

 

A Spying Adventure

Last weekend, I packed bags full of clothing and equipment and left for secret destination to lead my Venturing crew in a reconnaissance mission that would not only test our scouting knowledge, but threaten to tear my team asunder. I went…to Mafeking.

In 1988, Lord Baden-Powell and a small troop held Mafeking against siege by the encroaching Boers. One of his main strategies was making his force appear stronger than it was by simulating landmines, making fake searchlights, and acting as though areas were cordoned off with barbed wire. Likewise, every year my troop simulates a war situation in which teams compete to show their skills in medical emergencies, navigation, evasion, woodcraft, knotwork, rescue skills, fire craft, and most importantly team work. For the first time, the Venturing crew was invited to enter an all-girls team. As we learned later, no one thought that we could handle the challenge.

2100 hours. The first hurdle was in woodcraft. We were informed that enemy snipers had been posted throughout the camp wielding (water)guns which they would fire upon any team they spotted. We had to be very quiet. Our first assignment was to take a bearing a certain distance north from a flagpole and report it to our contact. We spent several minutes first getting to the pole, and ensuring that no other teams (possible enemies) were there before realizing that it was impossible to take the bearing because the north was blocked with dense forest. We consulted our map and decided that the flagpole in question was probably one overlooked in the center the territory. As we took our bearing, we were surprised by a mass of enemy agents stampeding past in the guise of deer. We realized, however, that there are no real deer at Scoutland.

The team then proceeded to sneak along the shoreline that marks the outward perimeter of Scoutland. Loud enemy voices and lights in the distance reminded us that though we were fairly silent and blacked out, we were woefully exposed. Climbing through a bed of dead leaves onto a bridge was the work of a moment. We reassembled just as the enemy started back down the path toward us. We dove into the brush–the crackling brush. Now we were fairly well hidden but woefully loud. As first shapes of the enemy passed silently through the gloom, agent Delta stood up because she thought the enemy was me. I realized that amidst the signals for silent, come here, and convene, I had forgotten to set a signal for coming out of hiding.

At the first-aid station, I was struck by a piece of shrapnel, and my leg crumpled beneath me. The team remembered how to set a splint, but I began to enter shock, which was none the less disturbing because it involved talk of infant rabbits, fuchsia, and bright gleams of light. Fortunately, I had the foresight to imprint in my subconscious the exclamation, “Are you listening to me? I’m going into shock, you fools!” Agent Bravo was quite perceptive and prevented the unthinkable. Our stellar medic Gamma removed the shrapnel on site and applied a healing potion, and we were fit to continue our mission within fifteen minutes.

Our contact instructed us that an enemy camp was situated at the other end of the territory. As we crouched in the underbrush plotting our next move, screams emanated from the site and then all was silent. An enemy patrol exited shortly afterwards. We had been informed that the enemy had set a watch, which had been quietly been taken out by one of our own. The rest of the group would not notice us unless they heard us, but all were armed. We were instructed to discover the bearing of the gun in the camp, and report any other information we gathered. The trail leading down to the camp was fraught with risk, but the hillside flanking it was covered with dried leaves. In the silence, gunshots squirted boomed. Agents Gamma’s and Bravo’s bullet-proof vests had come in handy. It appeared that snipers had been posted to replace the downed watchmen. As I dove under a table, a machine gunner turned and sprayed a hail of bullets at us. We made hasty notes. In the distance, shouts and the baying of hounds alerted us of our danger and we fled into the night.

It grew progressively harder to evade the enemy teams. One point in our favor was that they were typically loud and careless who might be watching. Dissension arose in the group as a member pointed out that the team leader didn’t confide in her team. However, both parties were too tired to argue. All parties agreed that the enemy teams were annoying, and extra rations of chocolate were apportioned. It was now about 0330 hours. Frustrations rose as holes in each member’s preparation and knowledge were observed. Nearly an hour was spent in failed attempts to get in touch with our contact, as enemy teams searched for the mole in their operation. Finally, we reached the relative safety of the other side of the peninsula and made a fire against the wind to warm chilled nerves.

As team leader, I had been in this area before, but was now thoroughly disoriented. We made our way to a hidey-hole Agent Delta knew. Unfortunately, although we were in the correct area, we could not now discover the place in the dark. We signaled to the one we knew to be guarding it. He signaled back from the brush. He seemed far too complacent and blanketed to actually be doing a very good job of guarding. However, he was skilled in sleeping in silence. He emerged from the brush, gave us the coordinates of our resting place for the night, and vanished into the darkness. It was now 0600 hours. We stumbled to our camp and collapsed. The next morning would hold our most challenging undertaking yet: boiling coffee in under two hours.

Thanks to elizabethmerrill for the coffee.

Shrediting

I am bad at editing. I procrastinate editing  because the process scares me. My editing has four distinct stages. In this post, I demonstrate them by tearing apart the first paragraph of a draft.

Waves swept over the boat’s side. Jill clung to the steering wheel’s post, trying desperately to stay on her feet. She had lashed her waist to the steering post but that didn’t help her keep her footing. Her legs slid across the deck, slippery with seaweed and wildlife scum. Her knees banged mercilessly against it, going numb in the icy water that sloshed back and forth. Probably a good thing. I’ll never live down these bruises. She clung to the wheel. It was useless to maintain her course. Like the green pilot she was, she had let the wheel spin the first time she fell, smashing the glass casing around her compass as she went. A ship loomed in the darkness above the waves. It was just bobbing in and out of the eyesight. It wasn’t a sea-going vessel. She glanced down at the greenery littering the deck. All hands on deck! We’re in the shallows!” Frantically, she glanced up into the gray expanse of cloud. Tall pillars of stone appeared through the mist, rising like stalagmites out of the water. They were the iconic symbols of Arcadina, wardens of the deadly shallows that appeared on good days in Arcadinan travel brochures. “Relax in sunny Arcadina” the tagline was. “I wish.” she gritted through her teeth.

Patching occurs while writing the first draft. It is like fixing a dress with duct tape because  you can not be bothered to do any sewing. Patching fixes continuity errors, inserts the right word, rephrase, and making a major name change. Patching a draft in progress is so laborious you might put it off, especially since the next stage of editing tends to introduce gaping plot holes.

Waves swept over the ship’s side. Jill clung to the wheel, trying desperately to stay on her feet. She had lashed herself to the wheel, but that did not help her keep her footing. Her legs slid across the deck, slippery with sea scum. Her knees banged mercilessly against it, going numb in the icy water that sloshed back and forth. Probably a good thing. I’ll never live down these bruises. She clung to the wheel. It was useless trying to maintain her course. Like the green pilot she was, she had let the wheel spin the first time she fell, smashing the glass casing around her compass as she went. A ship loomed in the darkness above the waves. It was just bobbing in and out of the eyesight. It wasn’t a sea-going vessel. She glanced down at the greenery littering the deck. “All hands on deck! We’re in the shallows!” Frantically, she glanced up into the gray expanse of cloud. Tall pillars of stone appeared through the mist, rising like stalagmites out of the water. They were the iconic symbols of Arcadia, wardens of the deadly shallows that appeared on good days in Arcadian travel brochures. “Relax in sunny Arcadia” the tagline was. “I wish.” she gritted through her teeth.

Focusing the argument and organization. This is like going back to alter a dress you have made (or patched)  because it does not fit. You tear out characters, get rid of nonessential events, re-arrange everything, and stitch it carefully back together. You might have to do this several times before it fits. And it looks horrible.

A wave crashed over the ship’s side. Jill clung to the wheel where she had lashed herself. She slipped on the sea scum littering the deck, and banged her knees on the deck. She pulled herself up, but not before her knees had gone numb in the icy water. “Cold is good, or I’d never live down the bruises,” She reminded herself. It was useless trying to steer. Like a novice, she let go the wheel the first time she fell, and landed on her compass, smashing it. Jill spotted a lantern in the dark, bobbing  in and out of eyesight over the waves. It wasn’t on a boat. She glanced at the seaweed littering the deck. “All hands on deck! We’re in the shallows!” Tall pillars of stone rose through a low-hanging mist. They were wardens of deadly shallows and icons of Arcadia in colorful travel brochures with the slogan “Relax in sunny Arcadia!” “I wish.” she gritted through her teeth.

Pulling out the extra sentences comes next. It is like cutting off rickrack off a dress, ripping out bright red basting stitches, or fixing the hemline. You make it look nice. Pulling omits any nonessential word or phrase, eliminates sections emphasizing or telling the audience what to think, and adds explanation where plot holes exist. It hurts.

A wave crashed over the ship. Jill had lashed herself to the wheel, but she slipped on the sea scum littering the deck, banging her knees. Her knees were numb with the icy water before she could pull herself up. “Cold is good, or I’d be covered in bruises,” She muttered. Trying to steer was useless. She had let go the wheel the first time she fell and smashed her compass on the deck. Jill spotted a steady light in the dark visible between the waves. She glanced at the seaweed littering the deck. “All hands on deck! We’re in the shallows!” Tall pillars of stone rose through a low-hanging mist. They were wardens of shallows and icons of Arcadia in colorful travel brochures urging, “Relax in sunny Arcadia!” “I wish.” Jill muttered.

Grammar and punctuation are very last. This stage is like cutting all the loose ends on a finished dress. You must still delete commas, add periods, eliminate fragments, fix run-ons, and correct faulty pronoun association problems. Then you are done…right?

A wave crashed over the ship. Jill had lashed herself to the wheel, but she slipped on the sea scum littering the deck. Her knees were numb with the icy water before she could pull herself up. “Cold is good, or I’d be covered in bruises,” she muttered. Trying to steer was useless. She had let go of the wheel the first time she fell and had smashed her compass on the deck. Jill spotted a steady light visible between the dark waves. She glanced at the seaweed littering the deck. “All hands on deck! We’re in the shallows!” Tall pillars of stone rose through a low-hanging mist. The monoliths were wardens of shallows and icons of Arcadia in colorful travel brochures that urged, “Relax in sunny Arcadia!” “I wish.” Jill muttered.

cutting up a book

Many writers get stuck at the editing stage, and shred their work before it’s even written; others don’t edit if they can help it. I fall into the latter camp. I always save a copy before I start. Editing is stressful because you have to decide what’s important before deleting a third of your draft. In the examples above, I went from 210 words to 134. A guideline is the shorter, the better.

Unfortunately, editing never ends. However, editing has its benefits. Edited passages emphasize action, look cleaner, cost less to print, and are easier to read. Hopefully, this post has made editing little less scary. It’s daunting, but everyone could benefit from a little editing.

If you have  insights, critiques, suggestions, or stories about shrediting, feel free to comment.

Photo credit: Liz Henry, some rights reserved.

Getting Feedback

The way I ask for feedback really depends on what kind of feedback I want. If I have written a piece and need editing, for instance, I must approach someone very differently than if I want to see if my target audience likes my story/report.

Henriette Browne (1870)

1. For both kinds of feedback, the first thing I learned is not to wrestle people to the ground. People who have been nagged are much less likely to see the project through. There are exceptions to this rule, as my muse knows only too well, but usually I have to ask for volunteers–and then wait. It is especially painful waiting for online feedback because I have no idea the reception my work is receiving. Most critics do not even know me and many will not bother to comment, but I will never know whether that was because my writing was boring, there was too much of it, or it just was not up their ally. Any criticism receive from a complete stranger, however is valuable, because someone cared enough about the story or the writer to give an opinion, many times an honest opinion.

2. The difficulty in getting an opinion increases as the length of the story increases, especially if the story is not regularly serialized. Because it is so difficult to get an online opinion–or any sort of opinion–one should always submit a story to the scrutiny of someone one trusts not to sugarcoat their views, and hopefully, who knows what they are doing as well as being committed to finishing the reading. It also helps if they are given a reasonable amount of time to review.

3. To test the target audience I prefer to read the story aloud to them. (Although this is often not feasible.) This ensures that a) they actually finish the story, b) I have time to catch any obvious typos that pop out as I read, and c) that I can gauge response and clarify any confusing points. One pitfall of this method is that your target audience might not insult you to your face. I find that family members do not have too much trouble with this. Another pitfall that is that most stories go down smoother when they are read aloud, thus doing so might both invite verbosity–my personal difficulty–and make a confusing passage clearer than it might otherwise be.

4. Editing feedback is a lot harder to get because it is a lot of work. One of my challenges is editing. I can usually eliminate awkward constructions and check punctuation, but I have a real difficulty eliminating sentences which do not further my argument or contribute to the story. My general rule is less is more. Beyond that, I do not have much editing skill. For someone without skills or good friends who can edit, the best advice I have yet found is to join a serious online writing group–entrusting one’s work to strangers who may or may not have skill. Otherwise? I recommend reading lots of good work and taking a flying stab at editing the work yourself–but keep your first drafts. 😉

Thoughts? Opinions? Insults you have reserved just for me? I treasure them all, though some only in retrospect. Feel free to comment.