Berin Stephens

About books, writing, and other felgercarb

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Elevator Pitches


I need some help. I have several ‘elevator pitches’ for some of my works both past and present, and I want to know if they sound interesting or not. I’ll number them to make it easier to give feedback. Here they are:

1. Slaves of the Sphere:

On a world where machines run on magic, an escaped slave girl must learn to take the magic within her and use it to stop the Dominar’s soldiers who want to recapture her and use her magic for their own twisted purposes.

2. A Sidekick’s Secrets to Saving the City:

A teenage sidekick without super powers has to develop faith in himself in order to defeat a gang of super villains.

3. Guardians of the Goldenwood:

Where science and steam rule the world, a magical forest is under assault by forces wanting it destroyed. Young Devan goes on a quest to rescue his uncle and ends up being used as a pawn between the forces of technology and magic.

4. Watchers of the Shadow Realm:

A boy injured by polio and his sister search for their missing parents only to discover a mysterious shadow realm inhabited by Nazi’s spying on the U.S. during World War II.

5. Slow Death: (still working on title)

Aboard an enormous disintegrating space station that encircles a dead planet, a young woman discovers that the jungle she has been hunting in is artificial and if she doesn’t learn the technology behind it, she and all the others trapped on the station will die when it finally crumbles and falls.

And an oldie but goody:

6. The Dragon War Relic:

After encountering an Ogre from the planet Orgrenia, 16 year old Jared Mills learns that the reason why we have legends of Elves and Dragons is because they came from other planets centuries ago to fight over who would control the earth. The Elves won, but now the Dragons are returning.


Elevator pitches and query letters are some of the hardest things for me to write. I’d much rather have 80,000 words to describe something than only twenty. Oh well, it’s part of a writer’s life. Anyway, let me know what you think and which of these projects I should focus on. For the stuff already published (#2 and #6), let me know if I should focus on a sequel or not.

Thanks for your help.



Can’t We All Just Get Along? Thoughts on Avengers: Age of Ultron


I love superhero movies; always have. I realized not long ago that most of my stories and novels have some aspect of granting characters super powers. I just love it when people with magnificent abilities reach out to help others or pound some bad guy butt.

So, I know I’m a week behind the rest of the world (which is actually pretty fast for me), but I just saw Avengers: Age of Ultron last night. First of all, I did enjoy the movie. If nothing else, it is a great action flick. Also, I think the ponderous cast of characters was handled about as well as it could be. There just isn’t time for a lot of character development, though we did get some good insights into Hawkeye’s character. I wasn’t all that impressed with him after his cameo in Thor and his going dark side in Avengers 1, but to see that other side of him raised my appreciation of him. Overall, though, I don’t know where I’d fit this one in the order of my favorite Marvel movies. I’ll have to see it a few more times. It is good enough to warrant repeated viewings at least, so that’s a good sign.

I didn’t do a lot of comic book reading as a kid, but one trope that used to bother me was when good guys fought each other. Maybe it’s a personality quirk of mine, being a peacemaker and all. The first Avengers movie, I think, would have been a lot better without the fighting between Iron Man and Thor (though it did create some great comic lines) and the fighting on the helicarrier that Loki instigated by irritating the Hulk. I know it creates variety than just good guy thumps bad guy, but I feel much more at peace when the good guys play nice together.

Age of Ultron does this infighting again. Of course, we get two new super beings in the form of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch who cause some issues, but I could have done without the battle between Iron Man and Hulk. Yeah, it was a great action sequence, but I’d rather they’d brought Abomination back to have Iron Man fight. Also, I didn’t like the bickering between characters when things went wrong. I know, it is a great element of conflict and realistic when dealing with large egos and people making mistakes, it just bugs me. Again, probably because that’s how my personality is wired.

That said, I am not really looking forward to the Batman Versus Superman movie, nor the Captain America civil war storyline that is upcoming. I just want the good guys to be united as they fight the Evil League of Evil.

Okay, this is a bit of a whim, but here is how I rank the current Marvel Universe movies:

10. The Incredible Hulk (not the Ang Lee movie, that doesn’t count)

9. Iron Man 2

8. Iron Man 3

7. Avengers

6. Thor: The Dark World

5. Captain America: Winter Soldier

4. Thor

3. Guardians of the Galaxy

2. Captain America: the First Avenger

1. Iron Man

Okay, that was a lot harder than I thought. I pretty much love all the movies, with the Incredible Hulk being the only one I felt ‘meh’ about. Where would I put the new Avengers movie? I don’t know for sure yet, maybe between Avengers 1 and Iron Man 3, but only time will tell after a few more viewings.

So, what do all y’all think?

Favorite Star Trek Characters

In honor of the passing of Leonard Nimoy, I thought I’d compile my list of favorite Star Trek characters. It turned out this list was harder to make than I thought. I will say that Deep Space 9 is easily my favorite series and Wrath of Khan is my favorite movie. As far as the character list, though, it can easily fluctuate depending on my mood. There are so many ties that it was hard to put a number on each one. Anyway, here it goes:

Honorable mentions:

Captain Kirk (William Shatner), original series. I know, he was a cool captain and all and the face of the franchise, but there were just too many other interesting characters for him to make the list. He is still near and dear to my heart, though.

Captain Christopher Pike (Jeffrey Hunter), original pilot. I always liked him and in some ways wish they’d kept him as captain. I did like that they brought his character back in the movie reboot (played by Bruce Greenwood), but Jeffrey Hunter is still my favorite version.

Lieutenant Reginald Barclay (Dwight Schultz), Next Generation. Who couldn’t help but love the bumbling Lt. Barclay? In many ways, I could relate to him because I’ve often felt the same way.

Gul Dukat (Marc Alaimo), Deep Space 9. I never really liked him, per se, but I felt he was by far the best Star Trek villain ever. You could sometimes understand where he was coming from and Alaimo did an excellent job of portraying the sincerity of his character’s convictions.

Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill), Voyager. The charismatic bad boy image was a breath of fresh air after all those stodgy Star Fleet types. Plus, his character growth into a respectable officer was great to see.

Charles “Trip” Tucker (Connor Trinneer), Enterprise. It was hard leaving him off the list. His southern drawl, complete with expressions (“Keep your shirt on,  Lieutenant”) made him a great character for a little comic relief.

Sean Hawk (Neal McDonough), First Contact. I liked that they had a new face in the command crew for that movie. I wished they had kept him in the other movies but, alas, he got borged.

Now, for the list:

10: Travis Mayweather (Anthony Montgomery), Enterprise. I loved his positivity and innocence. I really wished they had given his character more spotlight episodes.

9: Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), original series. Mr. Spock is probably the most iconic character of Star Trek. His logical, almost spiritual perspectives on the situations has always been intriguing to me. But sorry, there are just too many other characters for me to relate with for him to be higher on my list.

8: Dr. Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley), original series. He was the yang to Mr. Spock’s yin. The two really go together. Where Spock would look at things from the rational side, McCoy was the emotional half. He was often also great for comic relief.

7: Data (Brent Spiner), Next Generation. I enjoyed watching Data explore humanity and slowly incorporate it into himself. Those episodes became great food for thought about our own humanity.

6: Worf (Michael Dorn), Next Generation, Deep Space 9. Worf was just a bad-donkey, but at the same time had a deep spirituality. I think he’s someone who’d I’d love to have as a friend because of his honor and loyalty.

5: Miles O’Brien (Colm Meany), Next Generation, Deep Space 9. What I liked the most about Miles was that he was a family man struggling to live in the world of Star Fleet. I was starting my family the same time as he was, too, so I could definitely relate to him. Plus, Colm Meany is a fantastic actor.

4: Harry Kim (Garrett Wang), Voyager. I think it was Ensign Kim’s wide-eyed innocence that drew him to me. Plus he played clarinet. That’s cool.

3: The Doctor (Robert Picardo), Voyager. Again, kind of like Data in his explorations on what it is to be human. It was his humor that catapulted him up toward the top for me.

2: Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks), Deep Space 9. He was by far my favorite Star Trek captain. He just seemed so much more human and down-to-earth.  He could be tough when needed, and compassionate as well. Plus he was a great father figure in his dealings with Jake. In spite of all his pressures, he always tried to make his son a part of his life.

And, drum roll please:

1: Vic Fontaine! (James Darren) Deep Space 9. When I tell people he’s my favorite, many Star Trek fans don’t even know who I’m talking about. He was the holo-deck character who was a Las Vegas lounge singer. Often, the characters  would go to him for advice. Plus he sang jazz and said ‘Pally’ all the time. What’s not to love?

So, there you have it. I just finished rewatching Next Generation and have started Enterprise and Deep Space 9 again, so my list can easily change at any time. Except Vic. Vic is forever.

New Year’s Resolutions

Okay, I’m back for a Thursday Thoughts. I ended up taking a little vacation through December and it felt good. Of course, now I’m behind on several things so it may be a few more weeks before I get back to speed.

I thought I’d mention briefly my take on New Year’s resolutions. I think they’re stupid.

No, not the fact that we take time to evaluate our lives and resolve to make improvements; that is a good thing. What I don’t agree with is waiting until December 31st or January 1st to do it. I believe every day should be a resolution day: to ponder where we are in life and figure out what needs to improve. It’s what good musicians do as well. In order to be a better musician, or person, we need to figure out what we are doing wrong and make steps to improve it. Daily. Period. If we do make a resolution on New Year’s, that’s fine, but it should be part of a normal or daily regimen and not a once annual event.

Of course, for the record, I don’t quite do this every day, either. It’s something I’m working on. But I do regularly evaluate my life and try to find ways to make positive changes.

And I did set a New Year’s resolution this year: to not set any New Year’s resolutions. Mission accomplished.

A Serious Look at Comedy, Part VII

Things have been hectic lately so I don’t have anything new. I will mention that I was interviewed yesterday on Big World Network and you can see it here:

I have some book reviews I need to write up and I hope to get those done later this week. Right now, I’m two days behind schedule (self-imposed) for my new Myrick story, so that needs to get caught up first. So, until then, here is another rerun from ‘A Serious Look at Comedy’.

Part VII: POW, Right in the Kisser, Part 2

Last week, we covered a few plays on words like malaprops, reforming, and oxymorons. This week, we’ll go over puns, double entendres, and clichés.

Some writers feel that puns are the lowest form of humor and that they shouldn’t be used. I feel, though, that if you outlaw puns, only outlaws will have puns. Yes, it’s okay to groan. In fact, that’s usually the best result you can hope for. If you want to avoid puns because of this, that’s fine. Personally, I like puns. You definitely don’t want to use them a lot, but they can be useful in our desire to create an atmosphere of funny.

Just a couple of weeks ago, there was one that happened on Duck Dynasty that I think accomplished the desired goal of adding to the comedic atmosphere without distracting from it. In the episode, one brother, Jace, was making a duck blind that looked like a cow. The other brother, Willy, comes in and says, “This is udderly stupid.”

Sometimes these plays on words overlap in definition. For instance, Willy’s statement above could also be considered a double entendre, where we use a word or phrase that can have two meanings. Most of the time, though, double entendres are used to disguise sex jokes. Even if that’s not the humor we want to use, double entendres can be a clean and useful tool. Here are a few examples of malaprops from newspaper articles that are also unintended double entendres:

Miners refuse to work after death.

New obesity study looks for larger test group.

Children make delicious snacks.

In our writing and English classes, we’ve been taught to avoid clichés. Well, for comedy writing, I disagree. Cliches are gold mines for comedy writers. Why? Because they have audience expectations built into them. We just have to make sure that before it’s over, we’ve twisted it into an unexpected outcome. A simple example comes from Back to the Future, where the bully, Biff, says after the principle arrives, “Let’s make like a tree and get out of here.”

Tropes are another form of cliché that often are used as short cuts for explanations. These are used a lot in the genre I write; fantasy. For instance, all you have to do is say ‘elf’ and the fantasy reader automatically thinks of these tall, sleek warriors with excellent woodcraft and archery skills. In my book, Dragon War Relic, I realized how cliché and overused that was. I also realized that before Tolkien, elves were short little creatures full of mischief. Even the Santa Claus elves were watered down. I decided to go back to the traditional elf for my three elf characters as a way to poke fun at the Tolkien version. My elves are ornery, huge Star Trek fans (naming themselves Kerk, Sprock, and Bob), and they have Tolkien-elf envy.

Remember, comedy saves lives.

Review: Paladin: Pawn by Michael Young

For today’s Thursday’s thoughts (okay, I know, it’s Friday, but you know. . . life), I’m putting up a review of a book as part of a blog tour.

Michael Young COVER1a


When nerdy Rich Witz unwittingly becomes a Paladin, a white knight, in training, he is thrust into a world where flunking a test can change the course of history and a mysterious bully is playing for keeps with his life.

Rich’s grandmother leaves him with one thing before disappearing for good: a white chess pawn with his initials engraved on it. The pawn marks him as the next in an ancient line of white knights. He must prove himself in a life or death contest against his Nemesis, a dark knight in training, all while dealing with math homework and English projects. With the ghost of an ancestor for his guide, he has seven days to complete four tasks of valor before his Nemesis does, or join his guide in the realm of the dead.

As Rich rushes to complete the tasks, he realizes the chilling truth: his Nemesis is masquerading as someone at school and will stop at nothing to make him fail. As the tasks grow ever harder, the other knights reveal to him that his failure will break a centuries-old chain and bring the Paladin order to ruin. If he fails, the dark knights win the right to control the fate of the world, a world without hope or the possibility of a new dawn. So this is one exam Rich has to ace, with no curve and no extra credit.

My take:

I was fortunate to be able to get an advance copy of Michael Young’s new book, Paladin: Pawn. It is about a teen, Rich, who discovers that his family history is a little more interesting than he originally thought. He soon has a quest to prove that he, too, can be a paladin like his ancestors by performing several good deeds. Unfortunately, it’s not easy since every potential paladin also has a nemesis seeking to pull them from their path. Can Rich succeed and be able to help his family’s fight against the powers of darkness?

I’ve read several of Michael’s books and have always enjoyed them. This one was no exception. In fact, I think it is my favorite thus far. Not only does it tell a great story, but it also teaches some good values for not only middle-grade readers, but for us old fogies who read it, too. While I was in the midst of this book, I found myself, just like Rich, looking for opportunities to serve and help others.

I’m also a sucker for superhero stories. This one isn’t one exactly, but each time Rich succeeded in one of his smaller quests, he gained new abilities to help him. None of them are super strength or flying, but still cool powers to have.

Something I’ve liked about all of Michael’s books I’ve read is that he comes up with new twists in his world-building. They are not your typical medieval-style fantasy settings with all the same old monsters. In this book, there is traveling into and out of a painting. I won’t tell you more than that, though.

I highly recommend this book for readers, both young and young-at-heart. It is totally clean and possesses a great moral that everybody could use a refresher course on. The only thing that was a little confusing to me was that the book suddenly ended without finishing the story arc. I’m okay with Rich only being halfway done with his quests, but it didn’t stop at a place where it felt like it at least resolved something. If you are aware of that, though, hopefully it won’t be a distraction. If you don’t like leaving a story hanging, then it might be best to wait until the next book comes out. All I know is that I am anxious to see how the story continues.

I give this book two big toes up.

Monday Musings: Adventures in Wheatgrass, Part I

Okay, I did end up taking last week off for the Thanksgiving holiday. I just needed a chance to refresh before tackling more blog posts. Also, I did get started on some new fiction writing, which I haven’t done in a couple of months. Boy, did I miss it. I love creating new stories. It is a start on a new Myrick adventure. I managed to get six chapters and 10,701 words done. Basically, it is half a season on Big World Network. My challenge this week will be to resume blogging, recording, and fiction writing and see if I can juggle all three. Oh, and also keep up on my saxophone and clarinet practice since I have a few gigs coming up this next week.

As far as the title of this post, I don’t know if there will be a part II or more, but there probably will be. But lately, I’ve been mentioning on my Facebook page about some of my adventures with wheatgrass. First off, since I started doing it, my blood sugars have dropped around 50 points. That’s huge.

So, anyway, I got back into doing wheatgrass juice a little over a month ago by buying flats at Good Earth. Just as my blood sugars started dropping, though, they lost their supplier. I ran all around town trying to find another place that had affordable grass but came up empty. I got juice for a few days from Jamba Juice but it was too expensive (at 3.99 plus tax for a 2 oz shot) to do every day. I did discover that they have Wheatgrass Wednesday, where it is half price, so that is a good day to take advantage of. I’ve done powdered wheatgrass before and haven’t noticed the same effect as the fresh squeezed. Still, I ended up picking up a bag of it from the Herb Shop to hold me over until I could find a new source of the fresh stuff.

I came to the painful conclusion that if I wanted fresh-squeezed wheatgrass I’d have to grow it myself. We’d tried it before when we lived in Alaska because of how hard it was to find there. It never tasted good, though. It was always bitter and made me want to throw up after drinking it. That was the main reason why I never got it going consistently until recently.

This is what I went through to grow my first batch: I started off with a mason jar filled with soaking wheat berries. We had some fresher hard white wheat, which I’ve heard is better for sprouting. In the past, we’d used our older wheat that we have in our food storage. The problem with that is that it doesn’t sprout as well. Anyway, after rinsing it, we left it in the jar on the window sill. We rinsed it again the next day.

I should take notes next time, but I think it was three days later that I spread the sprouted wheat out into a tray with a thin layer of potting soil in the bottom. I wasn’t sure if I had too much or too little, but I pretty much covered it so you couldn’t see much of the dirt. I guess I should also take pictures next time. I then covered it up with another tray to let it grow in the dark for a few days. I’d spray water on it every day as well. I never was really sure if I was giving it too little or too much.

After, I think, three days, the grass seemed long enough to take the upper tray off so that it could get light. I also poured some water with dissolved baking soda into it since I’d heard in a Youtube video that it helps cut down on mold. I only did that once. After about five days, the grass was around 4 inches tall. I waited another three days (ish) for it to get taller but it didn’t. Finally, on Saturday, I noticed the grass was starting to turn yellow. I decided it wasn’t going to grow any more and that it was time to juice.

The 1½ ounces I had on Sunday morning were bitter, just like the old days. I managed to choke it down since I’d had worse. It burned when going down my throat, though, which is something I hadn’t noticed before. Does anyone know why that might be? Not enough water? The type of seed? Anyway, I had another batch this morning and not only did it burn, but it tasted even worse. And again, just like the old days, it made me want to hurl. Not a lot, but enough. I have about one more day of grass left and I’m not looking forward to drinking it. I definitely need to try some different techniques in order to find one that tastes better or the whole wheatgrass experiment might fade away again. I am more motivated, though, because of the great results I’ve had with my blood sugar.

So, do any of you have some great wheatgrass growing techniques? Any secrets to making it taste better? The commercial grass, though still not pleasant tasting, is way more tolerable than anything I ever seem to be able to grow. Anyway, until next time.

Monday Musings: My Daily Health Routine

I thought I’d write a little more about my health today. I’ve done many different things and many of them haven’t made much, if any, of a difference. My current daily routine isn’t the best, I know, but I am enjoying some degree of success with it. Okay, here it goes.

When I first get up, I scrape my tongue with a spoon. I know, weird, huh. I had read about this recently and thought I’d give it a try. Every morning, I wake up with a thick film on my tongue. When I tried scraping it off the first time, sure enough, a thick, white substance came off. These are supposedly toxins, but I don’t know. What I do know is that my tongue feels a lot better after I do it, like after brushing particularly sticky teeth, so I’m keeping this practice for a while.

After that, I test my fasting blood sugar and have a snack with some kind of protein to keep my stomach from imploding and causing a small black hole. Then, it’s down to my exercise room where I watch two TV episodes of something (right now it’s ‘Arrow’ and ‘Once Upon a Time’ except Mondays when I watch the NFL games I recorded on Sunday). That amounts to about 85 minutes either on the recumbent bike or the treadmill, or some combination of both. After exercise, I test my blood sugar again and take a shot of wheatgrass. Lately, I’ve had to use powdered wheatgrass since I don’t have any fresh to juice. Since I started doing wheatgrass juice consistently, my blood sugars have dropped about 50 points and are so far staying down. It’s a pain to do and tastes awful, but the results are pretty clear.

During my shower, I also put a spoonful of coconut oil in my mouth to do something called ‘oil pulling’. Once again, it is supposed to help get rid of toxins. The one thing I have noticed with it is that if I have any tooth pain, after a couple days of oil pulling it’s gone. I actually don’t like the taste of coconut, but it tastes a lot better than doing it with olive oil, which is another suggested substance for oil pulling.

Once I’m all dressed and squeaky-clean, I then take my vitamins: B complex, magnesium, zinc, chromium and other things that are supposed to help against diabetes. I also take my Januvia at that time, the prescription med that is supposed keep my blood sugar down. I still don’t know if it’s working, though. I also wash the pills down with a product called Zeal made by Zurvita. It tastes okay, but I mainly take it because shortly after I started trying it, my psoriasis significantly shrank. Now, thanks to the FDA and their only allowing health claims made by multi-bajillion dollar pharmaceutical companies who pad their pockets (that doesn’t sound cynical, does it?), I can’t say that the Zeal did that for me. It was a remarkable coincidence, though, so I’m afraid to quit drinking it. I’ve been doing it over a year now and my psoriasis, for the most part, is still staying at bay except for a few patches. Sometime, I’ll do more of a write-up about Zeal. Maybe.

After I down all my pills and Zeal, I also take a couple of tablespoons of fish oil. It actually tastes pretty good. It is lemon meringue flavored and from Costco. When I take my fish oil, I notice my joints work better and don’t hurt as much. I also take a liquid glucosamine with chondroiten product from Costco that also helps my joints. I’ve found the stuff with chondroiten works better for me for some reason.

After that, it’s time for a fulfilling breakfast of spinach, carrot, chia seed, apple, and kefir* all mixed up in our Vitamix. You might think I’m being sarcastic about the ‘fulfilling’ part, but I’m not. At first, it wasn’t though, but the more I depend on my green smoothie the more I don’t need anything else. I have one for breakfast and one for supper most days with a fairly low-carb lunch of some kind. Sometimes, I won’t have any fruit in it and just sweeten it with stevia. It’s not as yummy that way, but sometimes fruit can be too much for me and my diabetes. If I have a particularly busy day, I may also have an egg burrito to help me last longer.

Throughout the day, I eat cashews. I know they aren’t the best nut, but I don’t generate much saliva so I can usually only eat two walnuts or almonds before they gum up in my mouth and I can’t swallow them. Also, around 3, I have a Zone Bar. I know, I know, they probably aren’t that good for me but they don’t spike my blood sugar and they are yummy. They also have chocolate on them. That’s important.

For supper, after my green smoothie, I usually eat a little bit of what the rest of the family is eating. Sometimes, though, the smoothie is enough. Then, just before bed, I have another Zone Bar. I keep trying to stop that habit, but if I don’t eat something, that threat of a black hole looms again, threatening all life on earth as we know it.

So, what do you think? Any suggestions on other things to try?



*Ingredients may differ day to day depending upon available materials.

Review: Mockingjay, Part 1


This was a first for me. It usually takes me a week or two to get around to seeing a new movie so I’m always behind the curve at getting a review done. Most of the time, I don’t write one because of that. This time, though, I managed to get an opportunity to see the new Hunger Games movie, Mockingjay, during a late Thursday night showing.

I’ll cut to the chase: I liked it. To my recollection, I didn’t hear a single swear word or the Lord’s name. Also, there was absolutely no sex. It is such a rare treat these days to find a movie devoid of things that so many others in Hollywood think are essential. This film proves that a good movie can be made without any of that (excuse my language) crap.

There is violence, though. I won’t say a lot, but enough to bother someone who is sensitive to it. I’m fairly tolerant of violence, though, so it takes a lot to get to me. That said, there was a scene toward the end that disturbed me a little. The suddenness and ferocity took me by surprise. Also, we see a lot of charred bodies, which can also be disturbing to some.

As far as the story goes, it worked well for me. Better than the book, I think. I didn’t care for the book very much but probably for different reasons than most people. It makes sense that after the horrendous experiences Katniss went through with the Hunger Games, that she would be disturbed. I just felt that the book spent too long going through those issues.

In the movie, we see her still recovering from her rescue from the end of the second movie. She is struggling with Peeta having been left behind and doesn’t know if he’s even still alive. When the rebellion leaders ask her to be their symbol, she at first refuses (hopefully, I’m not giving too much away). Long story short, she does take up the bow again, thus taking her character arch in a forward direction.

For a movie to be enjoyable, it has to move me emotionally. This one did. I could see and feel the internal struggles Katniss was going through. Her main desires are to protect the people she loves and cares about: Peeta, Gale, Prim, and her mother. In order to do that, though, she finds herself getting pulled deeper and deeper into a struggle that she really doesn’t want to be a part of but sees no other way. She is uncomfortable with people wanting her to be a leader but at the same time is filled with compassion for them due to their struggles against the government’s oppression.

When I first heard that they were splitting the third book up into two movies, I thought, “Here they are, splitting it into two so they can make more money.” That may still be a part of it, but from a storytelling perspective, I think it makes sense. For one thing, the first part did not feel over-inflated. It still stuck to efficient storytelling. I also think that for Katniss to have her breakdown from the book, it works better at the beginning of the movie than in the middle. I’m guessing that she will have her emotional collapse at the beginning of part 2 before pulling out of it and saving the day in the end. I could be wrong, but it makes sense to me.

If you haven’t read the books or seen the other movies, this one might be a little confusing. It would be a good idea to see them first. I believe, though, if you liked the other movies, you will like this one, too.

Overall, I’ve been surprised by how much I’ve liked this movie series. To me, the books were more disturbing and depressing. The movies, in spite of the violent premise, have helped me see Katniss’s struggles better and connect to her dilemmas.

So, here’s my rating: two big toes up.

Serious Look at Comedy, Part VI

For today’s Thursday thoughts, we’ll have another reprint from my comedy writing series. I have lots of other thoughts, just no time to write them down.

VI. POW, Right in the Kisser, Part 1

Abbott: I’m telling you. Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know is on third–

Costello: You know the fellows’ names?

A: Yes.

C: Well, then who’s playing first?

A: Yes.

C: I mean the fellow’s name on first base.

A: Who.

C: The fellow playin’ first base.

A: Who.

C: The guy on first base.

A: Who is on first.

C: Well, what are you askin’ me for?

We’ve all heard this comedy routine over the years. It has stood the test of time. Why is it funny? One reason is because of what we call ‘play on words’, or POWs. POWs are used all the time in comedy and there are several different forms: puns, malaprops, oxymorons, double entendres, twisting cliches, reforming words, etc. There are a lot of things to cover here, so we’ll only discuss three this week.

Let’s start with malaprops. “What does that mean?” you ask. Well, let’s just say that it’s a fancy way of describing when we misspeak with a humorous result. They mainly work if the person saying them is unaware of what they are saying. Do you remember our previous statements from insurance claims? Go ahead, look back. Okay, most of those are malaprops. Here are a few other examples:

     On a wedding announcement: “Mr. And Mrs. John Smith request your presents at their daughter’s wedding.”

     George W. Bush: “We cannot let terrorists and rogue nations hold this nation hostile or hold our allies hostile.”

     Former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley: “The police are not here to create disorder, they’re here to preserve disorder.”

It can also be when words are improperly used in place of others. This is a common trick utilized in sketch comedies and sitcoms. For example, in Tim Allen’s series, Home Improvement, Tim would often talk to his neighbor, Wilson. Wilson would give wise advice based on obscure references. Tim would later try to quote them to someone else and end up replacing his own words into Wilson’s statements. Here’s one example:

     W: Tim, it’s not unusual for a father to want his son to succeed. You know, I’m reminded of what Wally Schirra, the astronaut said, “You don’t raise heroes, you raise sons. But if you treat them as sons, they’ll turn out to be heroes, even if it’s just in your own eyes.”

     Then, when Tim tries to relate this advice to his son:

     T: I’m reminded of what the great astronaut, Wally Cleaver said. You can’t expect your son to do his homework and eat a foot-long hero without Prussian dressing.

How can we use this in our novels? Well, one way is to build it into one of our characters (like Tim ‘the Tool Man’ Taylor). In Dragon War Relic, my comic-relief character, Doug, is not the brightest bulb on the tree and would often mix things up. Your not-so-comic characters can do it, too, but make sure it doesn’t seem out of place for them to say it.

Another technique I use is one I call ‘reforming words’. This is where a writer purposely reorders words or letters to create a kind of humorous time bomb: a joke that at first isn’t realized until thought about later. Some examples can be found in my Tales of Myrick the (Not So) Magnificent stories. For instance, there’s my barbarian character Nonac of Airamic. Nonac is just Conan with the first and last letters switched. Conan was from Cimmeria, so Airamic is a respelling of it backwards. I’ve also planted more little time bombs in my Myrick stories as a subtle way to make fun of our world and culture while having things set in a fantasy world. Like there are the monks who worship Endonynt (Nintendo). Also, several of the magic spells are scrambled statements waiting to be decoded.

Let’s close this week with oxymorons. You probably already know what those are, two words next to each other that are contradictory. Things like: jumbo shrimp, pretty ugly, soft rock, alone together (though it’s a great jazz standard), and Congressional Ethics. Some of my favorites are: military intelligence, rock musician, and country music. A good use for these is in chapter titles. Oxymorons utilize the principle of opposites, which is a commonly used technique that we’ll delve more into later.

Next time, we’ll deal with puns, cliches, and double entendres.

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