WATWB – Your Monthly Shot Of News That Doesn’t Suck

All around you are invisible people. The toilet paper doesn’t magically refresh itself any more than the dirt on the floor disappears on its own. There are people that scrub toilets and take out trash and clean floors, doing all the shit jobs that people don’t want to do and it’s amazing to me how many people completely ignore them when they pass in the halls. On a good day, your average janitor might get a nod from a suit or a muttered good morning as they breeze past.

This is unfortunate and, frankly, pretty cold-blooded.

Fortunately, it’s not always the case. In Tullahoma, TN, a group of kindergartners not only told their deaf janitor, they learned to sing the entire “Happy Birthday” song just for him. The result of this is obviously a good thing for the janitor, but also a good thing for the kindergartners who learned a valuable lesson about why kindness can be a wonderful thing. So, while the immediate benefit went to a guy who spends his whole day cleaning up after everyone, the long-term benefit went to a group of kids who might be able to change the world for the better in some small way.

Go check out the original story. Your homework is to notice a janitor and give ’em a happy, “Good morning” tomorrow. Just remember the only philosophy you really need to make the world a bit better:

If you’d like to connect your blog and help spread a little joy (or snark, like I do), it’s easy to sign up. Just ask and ye shall receive. Or go check it out here: here.

Our lovely and talented hosts this month are:
Eric Lahti, Inderpreet Uppal, Shilpa Garg, Mary J. Giese and Roshan Radhakrishnan

~~~GUIDELINES~~~

1. Keep your post to below 500 words, as much as possible.

2. All we ask is you link to a human news story on your blog on the last Friday of each month, one that shows love, humanity and brotherhood.

3. Join us on the last Friday of each month in sharing news that warms the cockles of our heart. No story is too big or small, as long as it goes beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.

4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD Badge on your sidebar, and help us spread the word on social media. Tweets, Facebook shares, G+ shares using the #WATWB hashtag through the month most welcome. More Blogfest signups mean more friends, love and light for all of us.

5. We’ll read and comment on each others’ posts, get to know each other better, and hopefully, make or renew some friendships with everyone who signs on as participants in the coming months.

6. To signup, add your link in WE ARE THE WORLD Linky List below.

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And now, your moment of Zen.

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Information Density

Information density refers to putting more information into a single statement than is readily obvious. Think of it as a process of layering key pieces of a story on top of, or underneath, other things that are happening. Oftentimes it gets revealed through dialog, but there are other ways to accomplish it.

If you’ve been writing for any length of time, you’ve probably heard someone say, “Show, don’t tell.” In fact, you’ve probably heard it enough that it makes you want to strangle a manatee in the nude every time someone says it.

It’s a bit of cryptic phrase. This is, after all, writing we’re talking about, not cinema; showing stuff in prose seems like the antithesis of telling a story. I’ll admit, I struggled with getting my head wrapped around it. But, like all things, once you come at it sideways, it makes a bit more sense. The path to understanding was a long, strange trip, but I finally had an epiphany that made it click into place.

Supposedly, Anton Chekhov once wrote “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass”.

This is all about scene building and adding poetic license to the grim details of monkey knife fighting in dimly lit alleys surrounded by drunken, toothless rabble chanting broken prayers to empty gods. Imaging the scene in your head. Freeze the frame. See the guy with the eye patch and his fist raised in the air. He’s screaming, lost in the ecstasy of the moment while the woman in the tiny dress leaning on his arm is staring at her phone. She’s focused on a single text and smirking.

The monkey on the right is in the air, about to ram a narrow gleaming dagger into the skull of a gray and black beast with wide eyes and his arms crossed in front of his face.

Now, read between the lines and see what’s lurking in there. The guy with the eye patch bet on the monkey that’s about to kill. He’s happy because he’s gonna get some soda water money. His girl has someone else on the side, someone she’d rather be with. The monkey about to get stabbed knows exactly what’s about to happen because he’s done it to others before.

That’s information density. That’s showing not telling. In a nutshell, you don’t have to be explicit about every little thing. Let the reader make up their own mind about the detail. Give them just enough extra information beyond the scene taking place that they can fill in the details.

The first thing to understand about showing not telling is it doesn’t have to all-encompassing. There are plenty of places where simply saying, “The damned light was blue” is all it takes and there’s no hidden information you need to divulge beyond the blueness of the light.

So, how about some examples?

In 1986, Aliens was released. Some people will disagree, but I still think it was the best in the series and set the tone for everything that came after it. If you’ve ever read the novelization, one of the things that gets brought up is how the aliens are showing signs of growing intelligence, probably due to the age of the hive. In Alien, the critter wasn’t too bright. It was in pure survival mode and, of course, hopelessly outclassed its prey so it didn’t have to be too smart. In Aliens there was more at stake, there was a hive and a queen and relative safety and the aliens had the luxury of moving beyond pure survival.

Even though the movie never explicitly states this, it hints at it in two places. The first is the fact that aliens found a way around all the locked doors and security and generally showed they had an intellect beyond pure animal instinct.

The other place, and the one that should have stayed in the final cut, was more obvious. Unfortunately, you’ll have to scrounge up the director’s cut to see it. In that cut, there’s a scene where the marines set up automated sentry guns. The first gun runs out of ammo and the aliens overrun it with pure numbers. The second gun, however, stops firing before it runs out of ammo. The aliens recognized the threat and retreated to find another way around. That way turned out to be crawling through the ceiling and dropping on their unsuspecting prey. Clever bugs.

Again, information density. Even though both scenes moved the story along and were pretty damned fun to boot, there was another layer that wasn’t as obvious. Even though that layer didn’t necessarily serve to push the plot along, it added something important to the characterization of the antagonists and also ramped up the tension. Now the marines weren’t just fighting a horde of killing machines, they were fighting a horde of smart killing machines.

In the beginning of this post, I alluded to the fact that information density is often revealed through dialog. Imagine a character with a recurring drinking problem. He’s trying to get his shit together, but has a long and storied history with alcohol. At various points in the past, he’s gone so far into the arms of mother booze that he’s made up crazy stories. You could spend a paragraph or so detailing his many times on and off the wagon, or you could hit in one line.

“Are you back on the sauce again, Colton, because that story doesn’t make a lick of sense.”

Your readers are smart. They don’t need everything spelled out for them. Don’t just let their imaginations soar, encourage it.

Got any other tips, drop ’em in the comments. I love comments.

Book Review – The Apex Book of World SF: Volume 5

I love short stories, especially clever sci-fi short stories. There’s something about the genre that lends itself to looking through at the world through the lens of what could happen and that makes for some amazing story-telling.

A number of years ago, I got interested in Japanese horror, primarily Koji Suzuki. I wanted to see what The Ring was like in its original incarnation. Awesome, if I may say so myself. I found Suzuki’s work to have a more subtle feel than a lot of traditional American horror. It was a breath of fresh air after blood, gore, and violence of our native horror stories.

None of the works in The Apex Book of World SF: Volume 5 would be classified as horror, but that doesn’t mean that subtlety and sense of another culture was lacking. Maybe it’s just me, but that adds a lot to a story, especially a science fiction story where it should feel like there’s another culture at play. That’s where the magic happens.

As a collection of stories, some resonated with me more than others, but that doesn’t mean they were lacking anything, it just means they didn’t have the same impact as others because reasons.

All in all, if you’re looking for a good collection of sci-fi stories written by international authors and you’re willing to stretch your wings a bit, you might find some absolute gems in here. There are authors representing, among other countries, Japan, Singapore, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Bolivia, and the US and each brings their own culture and ideas with them when they write.

The landmark anthology series of international speculative fiction returns with volume 5 of The Apex Book of World SF. Cris Jurado joins series editor Lavie Tidhar to highlight the best speculative fiction from around the world.

Cyberpunk from Spain, Singapore and Japan; mythology from Venezuela, Korea and First Nations; stories of the dead from Zimbabwe and Egypt, and space wonders from India, Germany and Bolivia. And much more. The fifth volume of the ground-breaking World SF anthology series reveals once more the uniquely international dimension of speculative fiction.

Featuring:
Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Singapore) — “A Series of Steaks”
Daína Chaviano (Cuba, translated by Matthew D. Goodwin) — “Accursed Lineage”
Darcie Little Badger (USA/Lipan Apache) — “Nkásht íí”
T.L. Huchu (Zimbabwe) — “Ghostalker”
Taiyo Fujii (Japan, translated by Jim Hubbert) — “Violation of the TrueNet Security Act”
Vandana Singh (India) — “Ambiguity Machines: An Examination”
Basma Abdel Aziz (Egypt, translated by Elisabeth Jaquette) — “Scenes from the Life of an Autocrat”
Liliana Colanzi (Bolivia, translated by Jessica Sequeira) — “Our Dead World”
Bo-young Kim (South Korea, translated by Jihyun Park & Gord Sellar) — “An Evolutionary Myth”
Israel Alonso (Spain, translated by Steve Redwood) — “You Will See the Moon rRse”
Sara Saab (Lebanon) — “The Barrette Girls”
Chi Hui (China, translated by John Chu) — “The Calculations of Artificials”
Ana Hurtado (Venezuela) — “El Cóndor del Machángara”
Karla Schmidt (Germany, translated by Lara M. Harmon) — “Alone, on the Wind”
Eliza Victoria (Philippines) — “The Seventh”
Tochi Onyebuchi (Nigeria/USA) — “Screamers”
R.S.A. Garcia (Trinidad and Tobago) — “The Bois”
Giovanni De Feo (Italy) — “Ugo”

I love this cover.

Get your copy on Amazon