Notes on short story writing

 

One of the creative outlets I’d like to attempt and explore for this blog is short story writing. At the moment I have none on here, my progress has been extremely slow on them I must admit. But I’ll eventually get there, I hope. I’ve no formal education in creative writing so I’m not overly sure how to approach it, but I figure even if the end product is poor I will enjoy the process as I fumble my way through it. As I wanted to explore fiction with a horror/Sci-Fi theme, I decided to pick up a couple of Stephen King’s short story collections, specifically the first two from his earlier years called Night Shift and Skeleton Crew. I thoroughly enjoyed them and found that reading them I gained a few pointers I could apply to writing my own stories. Whether these are the messages he wanted to convey, or whether I put them together only in my mind, here are a couple of tips I’ve learned.

– You don’t have to explain it all. One thing that somewhat holds me back from completing a story is that I feel obligated to explain the antagonist or evil that exists. I’ve noticed that on multiple occasions, there is no origin or explanation given and the reader simply has to accept it. A clear example of this is Mr. King’s story “The Raft”. Nothing is mentioned regarding how this blob floating on water came to be, only what happens if you touch it or stare to long at it. Where it came from is anyone’s guess. I feel knowing this tidbit gives me more freedom to write creatively and not worry about explaining all the logic to the reader. After all, it is fiction.

– A little backstory on a character can help the reader connect to them. Certainly not all protagonists or antagonists require a comprehensive backstory, but adding a little background allows the reader to empathize with the characters. I’ve noticed this used repeatedly, and sometimes the background can connect to the main story or display a character’s motivations. But sometimes it’s just to give a little realism or flavor to the story without being utilized. While that may violate the Chekov’s gun principle, I still find it can be effective in getting the reader engaged when they’re more familiar with the characters.

– An idea, even if partially absurd or dull, can come from anywhere. Many of the short stories I’ve read from Mr. King can have very simple premises, and in Skeleton Crew he explains some of the inspirations for a few of his short fiction works. For instance the idea behind “The Mist” came to him standing in line at a grocery store with the thought of how could someone defend a place like this? But this is only a starting point. After the initial idea, expanding it is important and the writing, of course, can make even a mundane idea a gripping read. Take a simple idea or thought that pops in your head and follow a train of thought. It might go off on some wild tangent and you could have a great idea on your hands thereafter.

– Write. This isn’t necessarily a lesson I’ve learned from reading these collections, but rather a general guideline that Mr. King seems to live by. Besides his classic horror stories, he’s also know for the pace in which he completes them, even George R.R. Martin has praised Mr. King’s pace. The point is to keep doing it and make a habit of it, with this regular practice your work will only improve. Slightly related to this, is to keep writing even if you’re not happy with the progress, you can always go back and edit it later.

These are not the “be all or end all” tips for short story writing. But for me they offer a couple of options that can get me over my hurdles that prevent me from writing. Another pointer that sometimes kicks me back into the writing mood I received from a comic book writer at Fan Expo Toronto back in 2016. It goes along the lines of this: If you’re discouraged about your idea, walk into any book store and look around at how many books there are. Then remind yourself they can’t all be amazingly great and yours is probably comparable to many of them or could even be better. But the difference is the writer sat down and went through with writing the whole thing. That’s not a word for word quote and nor can I remember the writer’s name (I would gladly give him credit if I could), but it does sometimes reassure me to use an idea or finish a story whenever I feel the negative self-criticism creeping in telling me it’s trash. I hope that if you’re working on a story and are stuck or questioning it at times, that at least one of the points above can help motivate you to work on it.

Painting my Pokemon GO Plus

So a while back I wanted to paint my Pokemon Go Plus a darker colour. Maybe it’s because I just like darker colours, or maybe it’s because it’s less noticeable when I have it with me and it’s slightly embarrassing if I’m a man in my thirties. Either way, I decided to give it a simple black paint job with the bonus of hiding some scratches on the original red and white scheme.

I did have a smaller Phillips screwdriver that I had previously used on other electronics, but by replacing the battery previously, I noticed I would also require a .6mm Tri-Wing Y screwdriver to completely separate the front panel that I wanted to paint. I got this yellow one for fairly cheap off Amazon.

The first step is fairly simple, unscrew the Phillips screw on the back and pop out the battery. Here you can see the three Y screws located on the inside, one on the bottom of the panel and two were under the battery.

With those three taken out, I took out the electronic piece and everything else came out along with it. Here you can see all the parts completely separated. There’s the front and back panels, electronic component with vibration mechanism, the screws, a small square nut the Phillips screw sits in, a seal that goes around the edges, the button, and a button seal. There was also small grey rubber piece that simply sat near the bottom and holds the square nut in place. I actually expected a little less for removable parts, but still it’s not too many to lose track of.

I had some automotive grade black spray paint kicking around, so I decided to go with that and save a couple of dollars. I wasn’t expecting a perfect finish, though I did wipe down the front panel rather thoroughly before I applied it. Then I covered it with a small plastic container to let it dry overnight. The purpose of the container was that since I let this dry in my basement, I did not want any dust to fall on it while it was drying. To allow a little airflow in though, I did cut a hole on the side of the container. As you can see from the cardboard, the paint would bubble up if applied too think. So this took a little bit of trial and error to get a decent finish. I ended up using some fine sandpaper to smooth out the initial bubbles a couple of times. From there I started again but with only applying a thin coat and waiting for it to dry before adding another.

And here’s the final product once reassembled. I’ve seen some pretty nifty Pokemon GO Plus custom paint jobs, but I just wanted to go to a darker colour. It’s nothing fancy but I’m quite happy with it.

The Simpsons playlists

In the Apple Music app (formerly iTunes I believe) you can assign an image to your playlists, which is new to me as well. u/ducksnorter from Reddit had this clever idea and making their playlists all pictures of Homer. As a big Simpsons fan I had quite the chuckle at it. Hopefully this will open the floodgates to some other fun themed playlist possibilities for people out there.

Sad

I have no idea who this person is, I may have played a CS:GO game with him and he added me, but I regularly get him bugging me. As much as I want to delete them, I find messages like this have enough entertainment value to make me chuckle so I keep him on my friends list.

DIY backyard shed

Last year during the summer, I focused heavily on playing less video games and spending less time indoors to compliment may commitment to losing weight (it worked too, lost about 25-30lbs during the year!). While I did also diet and increased the frequency of my usual outdoor summertime activities such as golfing, riding my mountain bike, and taking my dog for more walks, I also wanted to attempt something new as well, something constructive. I ended up deciding on building my folks a new tool shed for their backyard. I felt this is was a perfect project for me to get some exercise outside, do something constructive, and learn some handy skills in the process. I’m an project accounting guy by day and a gamer by night, so picking up power tools is definitely not something I’m used to. Fortunately my dad is a handy person and was there to help me when I needed advice, guidance, or an extra set of hands.

Here’s the old shed that came with the house they bought back in the 90s so we can only assume the shed is fairly old too. While structurally it was sound, it’s visual appeal wasn’t the best. My folks have slapped on a fresh coat of paint and new shingles from time to time so it wasn’t exactly terrible it just wasn’t the best. So after some browsing around at local stores and on Google, we decided on a general design and to build it from raw materials rather than buy a package. You’ll see this at the end, but we also decided on making it match the house and garage. Both of those have a light yellow vinyl siding, brown shingles and trim, and white doors and window frames. So to give it the ol’ razzle dazzle we decided on the same colour scheme.

Right off the hop, I’m going to apologize for the pictures, my photography skills are sub par and I was only using my phone. As mentioned, we decided on starting from scratch. So after we decided on the design and picked up the starting materials, here we began working on the base and the wall frames. Lira is looking on with excitement, maybe thinking we’re building her a mansion of a doghouse.

After the base and wall frames, we decided to move it outside for assembly so that it would be easier to move into place once ready. The walls and rear half wall were fairly straight forward to put together.

The frame for the roof was a bit trickier due to the angles required rather than a just a right angle. I started getting pretty comfortable using a miter saw by this point so it wasn’t too bad.

With the frame for the roof done, we wrapped up the back wall and a few support beams for the back.

Next came from the front panels and support beams, and as you can somewhat see we began putting on the plywood for the roof. For those front panels with the angle I learned how to use a hand held circular saw.

The roof is now complete (the plywood part anyways).

Front panel above the door was then cut and installed. Took a little bit of measuring and whatnot given the angle but nothing too bad.

So this is something like an insulation wrap that would go in additional to regular insulation on a house or garage as an added layer to retain heat and resist water. Now, for a tool shed this is not necessary, however we had a bunch of it sitting in the garage for years and decided to use to up by putting it on. Also, Lira was giving a disapproving look as I think I believe at this point she realize it’s not for her.

As this shed is going into a corner section of the yard, and on one side where it should be exposed is the doghouse, we had to finish off the sides and back before we could move it into place. The vinyl siding we used matches the house and the garage so it’s a nice touch.

Continuing the vinyl siding, we had to cut and properly install all the vinyl edges to match the angles of the roof as well. It wasn’t too bad but it was a bit tricky at times. Also, you can now see we’ve installed a door frame as well. By this time I felt I’ve basically mastered the miter saw.

More progress on the siding, decided we were on a roll and applied the front siding too even though the could’ve been done after the shed was moved into place. Also, at this point we painted the base a grey and the sides on the roof’s edges a brown as it matches the eaves troughs of the house and garage.

Before we continued the rest of it, we moved it into place. This was because the shingles were fairly heavy and they could be installed after the fact. But before we could do this, we had to dismantle the old shed which was all on me (because it was fun using the crowbar and sledge hammer!). We lifted the whole shed using a long steel bar as a lever, then put about six steel 3″ pipe under it. With that we were able to roll it into the place of the old one.

Once in place, the next step was to begin roofing. Again, brown matching shingles were chosen that match the house and garage. And speaking of matching, we painted the door frame white (and eventually the doors) so they too match the house and garage. Lastly, the old shed makes a guest appearance in this picture on the right side. It’s now all chopped up and will be great firewood for the fire pit this upcoming summer!

Now with the doors up. These were exceptionally a pain in the ass. Mainly it was due to getting a perfect fit in terms of height and depth after we built them. We did have to dismantle them once and start again after we did not calculate for the thickness of the hinges. Eventually we did get it all worked out and it was nice and flush in terms of depth, and as level as we could get it with some minor adjustments.

And ta da! Last touch was painting the doors and adding the lock. It’s not a perfectly constructed shed, nor is it professionally designed, but we’re rather happy with it. Working on this summer project was great, it gave me confidence in handling some basic woodworking tools, got me plenty of sun and exercise, and gave me a tangible constructive project. I think it also adds a little to the value of my parents place since it nicely matches the house and garage. But most importantly I spent lots of time with my dad during the summer and had a lot of fun building it.

Data is Beautiful: The Simpsons

At work recently I find myself needing to make some rather boring reports composed almost solely of numbers and values week after week. Since some of these reports are now going to higher up people, who do not need most insignificant details I found myself needing a little refresher on making somewhat decent visuals. So before I dove into throwing those work reports some colour, I decided to practice a bit beforehand. And what better data set than The Simpsons US Viewers and IMDB ratings of course!

While it’s no secret that The Simpsons viewership has declined over the years, it was quite surprising to see how far they’ve fallen. Somewhere around season 12 there was a short lived resurgence but it never made made it back to where to show once was (I’d say this is normal though). And while there is no question about decline of quality, I would argue that it is not the only factor leading to the dwindling show watchers. Keep in mind The Simpsons came out in the late 80s so this was a time long before entire seasons were available on VHS or DVD, before pirating was commonplace, and before TV on demand was a thing. Back then to catch an episode you actually had to tune into when the episode aired or risk not seeing it for years. As technology marched forward, turning on the TV because less important and TV stations all over the world felt the effect. So the quality of the episodes are not only at fault but it certainly does not help that the Simpsons wit was slowly replaced with overused slapstick antics.

As you can see by each episodes IMDB rating (I know it’s probably not the most reliable source) sometime around season 9 the quality began to drop as well. Indeed the golden years of The Simpsons was coming to an end right as I was getting old enough to understand all the clever jokes. Fortunately Futurama came along after!