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Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Maturation Process

I ran across this image a while back and it has stuck with me.  I remember learning about the maturation process in my psychology classes and this image is dead-on.  If I were still in the classroom, I’d blow it up and hang it on the wall. I’m glad age ranges weren’t added to the graphic as a person’s maturity level is a very subjective thing; I’ve known adults who refuse to accept responsibility for any of their actions and I’ve had the privilege of teaching some adolescents who were surprisingly wise for their tender age. Unfortunately, there seem to be more of the former than the latter.

Click here to go to the full size version. Thank you, VirusComix, for creating this graphic! The world would be a better place if more people understood the struggle towards self actualization.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Flash Fiction Friday: “Attack of the Cliche Circuit”

This prompt for Flash Fiction Friday was one of the most difficult for me, especially since I used a very loose interpretation of what an antagonist is.  I chose to write a science-fiction story and I never realized how much you have to keep track of: ranks, ship layouts, and command procedures (to name a few).  I gave it my best shot and only went a couple hundred words over the word limit this time.  Thanks for reading!

Prompt: This week’s prompt is to start with one conflict and reverse the polarity.  Let’s see what happens when the tables are turned and your protagonists or antagonists are suddenly holding the fate of the other in their hands.
Genre: Any
Word Limit: 1,300 words
Deadline: 10/19 by 8:30 PM ET

Attack of the Cliche Circuit

Admiral Morgan awoke to blaring sirens and flashing lights. Still tugging on his uniform, he stumbled down the corridor towards the bridge. So intent was he on reaching the command room, he nearly ran into Lieutenant Gaffreys. He was standing in the middle of the hallway, staring out a side window into space.

“Gaffreys! Why are you just standing there?! This is a full emergency!”

“Oh, Admiral! I was on my way to the bridge when I looked out this porthole to see if I could glimpse the threat...”

Lieutenant Gaffrey's words trailed off as he started staring out the window once again. Morgan touched the lieutenant's shoulder to get his attention.


“My God... It's full of stars...”

Gaffreys' words startled Morgan because they were so strange. They teased at the corners of his memory, but the alarms were sounding and there was no time for remembering. Morgan left Gaffreys looking out the window and sprinted the rest of the way to the bridge.

Morgan entered the command room shouting. “I need a report of the situation!”

“We, uh, appear to be in the middle of a meteor shower, Admiral. It came out of nowhere!”

The Admiral turned towards the speaker in surprise.

“Ensign Creed? What are you doing manning the bridge? Where's the Vice Admiral?”

“She started feeling ill halfway through the second shift. She's in the med bay right now recovering, but before she retired she put me in charge while you slept.”

“Creed, you're the least qualified person on board to run this ship! Why would she choose....Oh my God.” The pieces started to fall into place in the Admiral's mind, his expression slowly changing from surprise to horror.

“Sir? I've actually got it under control. Even though the shields are offline, the navigation system is still running and our pilots are getting us through the shower.”

The Admiral shrugged him off and grabbed the intercom. He yelled into it, “I want all hands on deck who aren't otherwise engaged to find me Captain Logan. Make this your top priority!”

“What's so special about Captain Logan, Admiral?” Creed asked.

“He's BLACK!” the Admiral responded.

“That's not very racially sensitive, sir” piped up one navigator nervously. “He may be the only African American on board, but that's no reason to single him out.”

Before Morgan could reply, a second lieutenant came running into the command room, urgency apparent on her face. “Admiral! Sir, there's a problem with the AI!”

“Give me a report, Lieutenant Liu.”

“It started in the mess hall, sir. Second shift was trying to order rations from the Substance Processor when all the orders started coming out wrong. We tried getting through to the tech department through the comms, but no messages are getting through. Now the door access system is malfunctioning. We've got personnel trapped in rooms with no way out!”

The Admiral sat back, arms crossed as he contemplated these developments. Sitting up, he addressed the terminal in front of him. “Computer, find me the coordinates for the Gamma system.”

A mechanical voice responded with “I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.”

The crew looked at each other in confusion.

“Is your first name Dave, Admiral Morgan?”

Ignoring the question, Morgan switched off the terminal. Covering the intercom, he whispered to the navigators “Get the pilots on the manual navigation system.” Turning to Second Lieutenant Liu, he said “The AI's gone rogue. Quarantine it.”

Liu ran out of the bridge just as a group came in escorting Captain Morgan. He was out of breath, his red shirt showing sweat stains down his front and back. Seeing the Admiral, he broke away from his escort.

“Admiral! What's going on? I was on my daily run when the alarms suddenly started going off and then these guys came and told me you need to see me right away.”

Relief flooded Morgan's face as he grasped Logan's arms. “Thank God you're o.k., Captain!”

“Sir? What is goi-”

The Admiral cut off the Captain midsentence. “There's no time to explain, Logan. Creed!”

Ensign Creed appeared behind the Admiral's right shoulder and awaited his instructions.

“Creed, I want you to stay by Logan's side and never leave it for a second. We need him safe. Take a group with you. I want you all armed.”

Ensign Creed escorted a very confused Captain Logan out of the bridge. As they were leaving, the Admiral caught sight of Logan's shirt and yelled after them “And for the love of God, change Logan's shirt. Anything but red!”

“We're out of the meteor shower, Admiral,” the head pilot reported.

“Good. Stay on the manual drive and someone find me Lieutenant Liu. I need a report on the AI's status.”

Morgan sank into his chair, his hand covering the worried look on his face. “Please don't let this be what I think this is...” was all he said for several minutes. His other hand fingered a key he had hanging around his neck and the remaining crew looked at one another, no one wanting to disturb his contemplation.

Second Lieutenant Liu jogged in and broke the silence. “Sir? You wanted an update?”

The Admiral sat up, his face all business, and turned to face the second lieutenant. “Give your report, Liu.”

“Well, sir, we have the AI isolated in the mess hall. We managed to contain it in a toaster.”

“A toaster?”

“Yes, sir. It was the only piece of equipment not connected to the network. We felt it was safest.”

“As long as it worked. Jettison it into space; we'll install a new AI when we reach port.”

“Understood, sir.”

“Good work. You're dismissed, lieutenant.”

Just then Ensign Creed came running in, panic stricken and covered in blood, shouting “He's gone!”

The Admiral jumped up and steadied the shaking man. “Where's Logan, Creed? What happened?”

“We were in the laundry room getting a change of uniform when Captain Logan noticed how quiet it was. Usually you can hear all the machines going down there. Right after I said 'Too quiet' a monster reached down from the air shaft and took him. I tried to grab him, but...”

“Where was your armed escort?!”

“It was the laundry room, sir. We didn't think we needed them in there...” Creed started crying and wringing his hands.

“What did the monster look like, Creed? Did it have tentacles?”

“How did you know, sir?” Creed marveled. “Did you know it was on board?”

Morgan shook his head and paced the bridge, fingering his key again. Worry lines creased the Admiral's forehead. Stopping, he turned to a navigator and asked him to pull up the personnel files.

“What am I looking for, sir?”

“I want you to find me the woman on board with the biggest breasts. Once you identify her, send a dispatch to bring her here.”

A murmur started among the crew and someone piped up, “Just what is going on, Admiral?”

Admiral Morgan sighed and said, “We need Samson.”

The navigator cleared his throat, catching the Admiral's attention. “It's Lieutenant Sky, sir. She's already in here.”

Morgan immediately slipped the key off from around his neck and handed it to the lieutenant.

“Go to the last capsule in the Cryo chamber. Use this key to start Samson's rehydration process. When it is complete, bring him here. And hurry!”

Lieutenant Sky sprinted out of the room as quickly as her ample bosom would allow. Once she was on her way, Morgan turned to look at his bewildered crew.

“While we wait for Samson, let me explain what I know. They warned us about this in the academy, but I never thought I'd ever actually encounter one. What we are experiencing is a rare occurrence that has been documented no more than twice in the last 2000 years. It's called a 'Cliché Circuit.' Every ship carries a fail safe on board in case of it, but it's more a precaution than anything. That fail safe is called Samson.”

The bridge erupted into anxious conversation as the crew internalized the Admiral's announcement. As time passed and the group quieted down, noises could be heard coming from the supply closet.

“Sir, there's something in the closet. Should we-”

“No! Do NOT open that door! Logan's gone so any one of us could be next!”

The scratching noises got louder, and the crew huddled together around the room, waiting. After half an hour, Lieutenant Sky returned, holding a wiggling puppy in her arms. The more she attempted to keep it from licking her face, the harder it tried, its tail knocking against desktops and chairs as it wagged wildly.

The Admiral sighed in relief and took the puppy from Sky. Patting him on the head, he turned to his crew and said, “Samson's here. Everything's going to be alright.”

Photo credit: Sweetie 187

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Flash Fiction Friday: “Birthright”

Flash Fiction Friday has come up with another prompt for this week and I’m as excited about this short story as I was about the last prompt I participated in. I still have trouble sticking to the word limit (I’m 300 words over after extensive editing), but I can feel myself improving with each story I write.

Here’s the story and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Prompt: A car pulls up to a lake with two occupants inside.  Explain why they are there and who they are.
Genre: Any
Word Limit: 750 words
Deadline: 10/12 by 9:00 P.M. EST



Jeff turned the Mercedes sharply off of the trail he was following, showering the roadside with dirt and rocks as he slammed the car into park. Looking at the wide expanse of lake in front of him, he let out a cheer and gave his passenger a light punch in the arm.

“Woo! Here we are! I told you I wasn't lost.”

“Are you sure all these rocks won't hurt the rental? It's a really nice car. Maybe we should've gone with the Jeep.”

“C'mon, Drew, live a little! My 'rents got it all covered.”

“Yeah, I'm just not used to stuff this fancy. Not everyone's as well off as you are, you know.”

Jeff and Drew got out of the car and headed down towards the lake's edge. Jeff fiddled with a camera case while Drew stopped to look for smooth, flat stones he could use to skip across the lake's surface.

“O.k., I got the camera ready. Let's go face your destiny, Your Highness.”

“Will you cut it out with the 'Your Majesty' stuff? I never should've told you about that.”

“About what? The fact you could potentially be related to King Arthur himself? You'd really keep a secret like that from your best friend? We practically grew up together. We're bosom buddies!”

“It's just a silly story my mom told me when I was growing up. It's not like I have any proof or anything.”

Jeff spotted an outcropping of large rocks at the lake's edge and rushed over to it. “C'mon. Stop lagging behind and get your royal butt over here. This rock is perfect for your big scene!”

“You know this is retarded, right? You've had some stupid ideas but this one really takes the cake.”

“Stop whining and get over here. This is gonna be awesome! O.k., so you're gonna lift your arms up and say something ancient sounding like 'Cometh fortheth, Excalibur, my swordeth!' I'm gonna get it all on tape. Once I add the special effects and stuff on the comp and upload this to YouTube, do you know the number of hits we're gonna get?!”

Drew shot Jeff a look that made it clear Jeff had lost him again. “How is me waving my arms around and acting like a doofus going to get us hits?”

“Did you forget where we are?! We're in England, dude, and this is THE lake where Arthur threw his sword before he died.”

“It was Girflet. Arthur ordered Girflet to throw Excalibur into the lake. Although Malory's version says it was Sir Bedivere who threw it in.”

“Yeah, that's what I said. Anyway, the point is, you owe it to your heritage to try and call the sword from the lake. So what d'ya say?”

Drew gritted his teeth and kicked at the ground. “Will you get off my back if I do it?”

Jeff whooped and slapped Drew on the back as he led him to the rock outcropping. “I'll do you one better! I promise to stick to the tour schedule for the rest of the trip and stop busting your balls if you do this, alright?”

Drew rolled his eyes and slapped away Jeff's Boy Scout salute. “Let's get this over with, then.”

Jeff grinned and bounded away to get a better shot of the scene. When he was in position he shouted “Action!”

Drew rolled his eyes again and raised his arms. After a few seconds of thinking, he yelled “Come forth, Lady of the Lake! I am here to claim my birthright, Excalibur!” He kept his arms raised for a few more seconds, then turned to Jeff. “Good enough?”

“Yeah, man, that was good, but can you did it one more time with more feeling?”

“More feeling? How am I supposed to feel more retarded than I already do?!”

The boys' argument was cut short by a whooshing sound coming from the center of the lake. To their surprise, a geyser appeared. When it cleared, it left in its place what appeared to be a hand holding a sword straight up.

Drew was the first to speak after the sight. Turning to Jeff, he demanded “Did you do this?”

“How can I rig a lake?!”

“So you're really not just screwing with me? Just tell me if you are, o.k.?”

“Whatever that thing is out there, I didn't put it there, o.k? Why don't you get out there and see what it is?”

“How?! It's not like we have a boat. You want me to swim? You know the kinds of things that live in lakes? I don't want some worm swimming up my dick!”

Jeff pointed to Drew's pockets and said “Didn't you pick up some rocks earlier? Throw 'em at it and see what happens.”

Lacking a better plan, the two turned back to the lake. By then, the hand and sword were gone.

“Um...Jeff? I did what you wanted. Let's just get the hell outta here, k?”

“But we saw something! There was something out there, dude!”

“Look, you probably got it on tape, right? Let's get back to the hotel and look at it on the computer. I'm sure it'll turn out to be nothing.”

Defeated, Jeff turned to walk back to the car and came face to face with a woman. She was wearing a long white dress that had detailed gold embroidery on the sleeves and skirt hem. Any other details, including the woman's face, were hidden behind a mess of long, wet blonde hair. In one hand she held a sword, the tip trailing on the ground.

“Oh shit! It's that dead girl from The Ring! Drew, run!!”

Jeff sprinted over to the car but before Drew could make it, the Lady moved to block him with the sword. He stood in front of her, his hands palm up to his sides to show he meant her no harm.

“Are you o.k., m'am? Do you need something? We're just tourists but-”

Before Drew could finish the Lady brandished the sword in front of her, the tip now pointing to the sky.

Jeff shouted to Drew from where he crouched behind the car. “Don't worry, dude! I'm calling 911 on her dead ass!”

“It's 999 here, you idiot!”

Taking advantage of the opening Drew's distraction afforded, the Lady ran the sword through his chest.

“Oh shit! She got you! Shit!” Jeff cursed and hunted around in the back of the car for something he could use as a weapon. Seizing the tire iron, he rushed out to help his friend. He'd only taken several steps towards the Lady when a blinding light erupted from Drew's chest. Dropping the tire iron, Jeff fell to his knees and covered his eyes. When he opened them, Drew and the woman were gone.

Photo credit: Nickel Media

Monday, October 10, 2011

“Talker’s Block” by Seth Godin

I enjoy reading Seth Godin’s blog because of how concisely he articulates everyday truths that we all know, but few of us practice. His posts are little nuggets of wisdom that seem so obvious only after reading them.  His recent post titled “Talker’s Bock” is a new favorite of mine. I particularly enjoy the introduction:

No one ever gets talker's block. No one wakes up in the morning, discovers he has nothing to say and sits quietly, for days or weeks, until the muse hits, until the moment is right, until all the craziness in his life has died down.

Why then, is writer's block endemic?

Please visit Seth Godin’s blog to read the rest of the post “Talker’s Block.” It will make you question just how common common sense really is with its straightforward, to-the-point advice on how to improve as a writer.


Photo credit: Rodrigo Muniz

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Restrictive and Nonrestrictive clauses

If commas were edible, no one need ever go hungry. You don’t necessarily see them everywhere in professional writing, but trust me when I say that less seasoned writers’ writing is teeming with  commas.  People feel an overwhelming need to stick them anywhere and everywhere when writing without really knowing why.

Let’s look at restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses, for example.  One comma is all that distinguishes a restrictive from a nonrestrictive clause and you could potentially be signaling to your reader that you want your clause to be restrictive when you actually don’t, and vice versa.

Also called essential and nonessential clauses, they indicate to your reader what information in your sentence is vital to its meaning and what information is just extra, and can be ignored.  To understand why correctly punctuating these clauses is important in your writing, think about taking notes at school or at a meeting.  A competent note-taker knows not to transcribe every word that comes out of the speaker’s mouth.  As entertaining as any tangents may be, only the most important information gets written down and studied.  This editing of unimportant information keeps us sane; it’s simply impossible to commit everything to memory.

Restrictive and Nonrestrictive Clauses

A restrictive clause modifies a noun in a sentence and indicates that the information it contains is vital to the meaning of the sentence. It is not set off by commas. Here’s an example to help make this idea clearer:

The cat that has a crooked tail would rather play with rats than eat them.

The clause “that has a crooked tail” lets us know which cat out of all the possible cats in this world is the one that refuses to hunt rats.  If you put commas around the clause, you make it nonrestrictive and dispensable.  I like to use my thumb to cover the clause and see if the sentence retains its original meaning without it.

This next sentence has another restrictive clause.  Try covering it up and seeing if the sentence still makes sense without it.

Alanis Morissette’s hit album Jagged Little Pill won a Grammy.

I’m calling the phrase “Jagged Little Pill” a restrictive clause because it limits the meaning of “hit album.”  Students tend to want to put commas around titles without realizing that that makes them nonessential to the sentence.  Without the title, you have no idea which album won a Grammy.

If we add some more identifying information, then enclosing the title in commas and thus making it nonrestrictive is perfectly acceptable.

Alanis Morissette’s hit album, Jagged Little Pill, won a Grammy in 1996.

Since Jagged Little Pill was the only one of Alanis Morissette’s albums  to receive a Grammy that year, removing the title from the sentence now does not destroy the meaning.  Now it’s time to look at nonrestrictive clauses.

A nonrestrictive clause also modifies a noun in a sentence and indicates that the information it contains is not essential to the meaning of the sentence.  It is set off by commas.  The following sentence contains a nonrestrictive clause:

Management rewarded the employees, who received bonuses.

This sentence has the nonrestrictive clause “who received bonuses.”  It is nonrestrictive because it is set off by a comma.  The sentence therefore means that ALL employees were rewarded. 

If the comma were removed, the sentence would look like this:

Management rewarded the employees who received bonuses.

Without the comma the clause becomes restrictive.  The meaning of the sentence changes as a result and now means that ONLY employees who received a bonus will be rewarded. 

Further Practice

The difference between a restrictive and nonrestrictive clause is a difficult one for many people to grasp and only a good deal of practice will tighten your grasp on when to employ commas.

ChompChomp has a great explanation of essential and nonessential clauses that includes many more examples.

The Law Student’s Guide to Good Writing by Professor Grinker also contains a very thorough explanation of restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses.

I’ll keep updating this post with more examples of correct and incorrect usage as I see them in student papers.  In time, I’d like to create worksheets to help with this grammar issue as there is a lack of practice for essential and nonessential clauses online.

Hope this helps your writing and keep practicing!

Photo credit: Cmurtaugh