razieltwelve

Because writing should be fun

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween, people!

And if you’re trick-or-treating, may you have all the luck when it comes to candy.

“The Lonely Wood” (The Last Huntress Series Part Four) Now Available On Amazon!

It only took me about a year, but the next instalment in Scarlett and Rose’s adventures is finally here!

The Lonely Wood is now available on Amazon! You can get it here. It’s the fourth book in The Last Huntress Series. It comes after The Last HuntressThe Lord of Dark Watersand The Fire Upon The Mountain. It weighs in at a hefty 49,000 or so words making it the longest story in the series so far. It goes for $1.99.

Here’s the blurb:

Scarlett is the last of her line – a huntress sworn to kill all monsters.

Rose is a girl searching for the power to take back her homeland.

Scarlett’s uncle has called for her aid. But the journey to his lands in the north forces the huntress to confront the shadows of her past. She was not always a huntress. But the naïve, little girl that her uncle helped raise – the girl he loved like a daughter – is long dead. All that remains is the huntress, a warrior born of blood and steel.

But there are far worse things than the past waiting for Scarlett and Rose in the ancient woods of the north. The elves once ruled there, unmatched in their glory and splendour. But an age ago, they fled, binding the forest with a powerful enchantment. Now, their magic is failing, and the evil they imprisoned has awakened once again – an evil that knows Scarlett’s line all too well.

The forest was there when the first huntress was born. Will it witness the fall of the last huntress, or will Scarlett and Rose find a way to conquer the darkness that awaits them?

Interested? Read on for a longer preview: Read more…

Insecurity and Arrogance

Let me be brutally honest. There have been times when I’ve looked back at everything – everything – that I’ve ever written and wondered if it was all a big, damn waste.

I stare down at the computer screen and every flaw, every imperfection stares back at me with cold, dead eyes. Every little mistake becomes a thousand times bigger until I can’t see anything good in what I’ve written.

It makes me wonder if I’m a fraud, if it was all just a fluke. Or maybe I’m just no good at all and somehow people haven’t noticed it yet. Insecure? Definitely, but insecurity can be a good thing, sometimes.

A writer needs, I think, a certain combination of arrogance and insecurity. Arrogance because they have to be able to push on through criticism and pursue plots, characters, and ideas when others would give up. And insecurity because they need to be willing to listen to criticism, to accept they might be wrong, and to constantly, constantly improve.

A writer who thinks they are invincible has very little incentive to improve. A write who worries about how good they really are has every incentive to do better.

The trick, I think, is learning to control those dark thoughts, to make them work for you. There has always been – and probably always will be – a little voice in the back of my head whispering about all the mistakes and imperfections in my writing. But that same voice is also the one that whispers improvements, that forces me to study and practice until I get better.

That voice isn’t alone, of course. I’m an easygoing person, for the most part, but there’s a part of me that relishes competition. It’s the part of me that looks at someone else’s writing and urges me to do better – to show that I’m better. A writer needs to have pride, in their writing and themselves, but that pride should never give way to true arrogance. As loud as that competitive voice can be, there’s another one there to match it. It’s the voice telling me how far I still have to go, how much work I still need to do. And even if I can match one writer, there is always someone better, always another person I need to catch up to.

Every writer has that one story inside them, the one they’ve been waiting their whole lives to tell. They’re arrogant about it – they think it’s the best story they’ll ever write, the one that everyone will remember. But they’re insecure about it too – they don’t know if they’re good enough to write it, and they don’t know if they’ll ever be good enough.

I have a story like that. I’ve carried it in my head for more than ten years. It’s been building and building and building. Hell, the entire world that story is set in exists inside my head along with all the associated history and other details. I still haven’t written it. I’m afraid to, because once i do, I’ll have to face it. I’ll have to face all the insecurity and the arrogance. I’ll know, one way or another, if everything I’ve done to improve is actually enough.

The problem with chasing an ideal is that you rarely ever catch it. Or once you do, you find out it wasn’t as perfect as you thought it was. Or worse still, you find out it really is perfect – but it wasn’t meant for you.

But that’s also the most enjoyable thing about writing. It’s an expression of who you are, from your dreams to your nightmares, from your failures to your successes. Everything that you are shapes your writing, and your writing in turn shapes who you are.

Killing A Research Paper

Research papers are one of the primary means of communicating the results of research. They form the foundations upon which theories in a range of different disciplines are built. If you have to engage in academic warfare or simply critique a theory, then knowing how to “kill” a research paper is an important skill.

So, how do you kill a research paper?

Although the exact structure of a research paper varies from discipline to discipline, most will follow the same basic structure:

  • Introduction. This explains the theoretical and empirical basis for the research paper. It should go through the relevant past research, providing a context for the current research. It should also explain any previous theories that may be linked to the current research. If a new theory is being proposed, then the existing evidence for that new theory should be offered here as well. Any hypotheses should also be stated here, and they should be tied to past research and, if appropriate, the theory being tested in the current research.
  • Method. This is where the methodology of the current research is explained. It should offer sufficient detail that a neutral third-party could reproduce the research.
  • Results. This is where the results of the research are provided, along with any statistical analyses. Of particular importance is that the results are reported in an unbiased manner, using the appropriate statistical techniques.
  • Discussion. In many ways, this is the part of the research paper that people are most interested in. It should provide a discussion of the results in the context of the introduction. For example, were the hypotheses confirmed? If so, what does that mean in a more general sense? If not, why not? Throughout the discussion, an effort should be made to put the results into context – what do they mean for the field at large, what do they mean for past research, what do they mean for future research, and what do they mean for the theory/theories that were discusses in the introduction? This is also where any discussion about future directions and limitations in the research should go.

Attack One Section At A Time

The underlying reasoning of a research paper is fairly simple:

  1. Examine existing evidence and theory and on the basis of that evidence and theory, make predictions
  2. Carry out appropriate experiments to test those predictions
  3. Compare the results of those experiments to your predictions and then comment on what that means for the evidence and theory you used to make those predictions

Any attack on a research paper should look to demonstrate that there has been a breakdown somewhere in this chain of reasoning. Here is a section-by-section breakdown of how this could be done.

For the introduction:

  • Has the researcher omitted any relevant past research or any influential theories? If they have, then any hypotheses or new theories they propose may be standing on feet of clay. Of course, it isn’t possible to discuss all the research surrounding a particular topic, but there are always at least a few defining theories and pieces of evidence that should be mentioned.
  • Do their hypotheses or new theories follow logically from past research? It is one thing to present past research, but it is quite another to actually link hypotheses and theories to that research. Be very wary of researchers who simply mention past research without actually showing how it links to their hypotheses and any new theories they wish to propose.
  • Always check key pieces of evidence for misrepresentation or error. Every research paper has particular pieces of evidence or particular theories that it leans on more than others. Always check to see that these pieces of evidence and theories are not only properly cited but also properly interpreted. It is not unheard of for researchers to misrepresent what past research or other theories say to better support their own research/theories.
  • Check the research that has been cited for problems. Just because past research has been cited does not mean that it should be accepted as good evidence. If past research has significant flaws (e.g., I have seen cases where an entire line of research has been contaminated by consistently flawed methodology), then its ability to support the current research is weakened.

For the method:

  • Examine the methodology to ensure that it fits with the accepted standards in the field. A good way of doing this is to compare it to past research. If there are any radical departures from past methodology, examine why they have occurred and if they are beneficial.
  • If there are animals involved (e.g., animal testing in medicine), then take careful note of how similar the animals are to humans in the area being tested. The more similar they are, the more any conclusions can be generalised to humans. The more different they are, the less any conclusions can be generalised to humans.
  • If there are humans involved (e.g., psychological testing), make sure that you are aware of the limitations of formal testing and check that the sample is as representative of the population of interest as possible. For instance, most psychology students in Australia are young women between the ages of 18 and 21. This means that an experiment using typical Australian psychology students is likely to have more women in it than the general population and to be younger than the general population. The results may thus not generalise across the population. Sample size is also critical. There are many forms of statistical analyses that are worthless if the sample is too small.
  • Pay close attention to equipment, testing instruments (e.g., psychological tests), testing conditions, and researcher conduct. As much as possible, everything should be standardised. The more differences there are from one day to another (except for those mandated by the testing protocol, e.g., differing treatment regimes), the more difficult it will be to have confidence in the methodology. Be particularly wary of anything that might bias the result toward the predicted hypotheses or have a systematic impact.

For the results:

  • Check that all of the statistical analyses have been conducted properly and reported accurately. This is particularly important when the statistical analyses are either complex or not common to the field of study.
  • Look at what results have not been reported. Researchers should report all relevant result, even those that do not support their ideas. If a researcher chooses to ignore important analyses or to skip over results that do not match their ideas, then be very wary.
  • Look at how results are reported. Is there a lot of vague and indistinct language? Statistics requires a certain level of hedging, but anything about this minimum level of caution should be viewed with scepticism. Where possible examine things like effect sizes and tests of significance to ensure that these are all appropriate.
  • Have the correct statistical analyses been performed? Using advanced statistical analysis packages, it is possible to throw data into almost any statistical analysis and get something. But that doesn’t mean the results are meaningful. To be meaningful, the correct statistical analyses must be used. Be absolutely ruthless when evaluating the statistical analyses used in research. Be especially cautious when highly advanced statistical techniques are used without a thorough explanation and justification, particularly if these techniques are not normally used for this kind of research.

For the discussion:

  • Look out for attempts to re-word or rework the hypotheses to make things seem more successful. It isn’t wrong to state that a hypothesis has been partially supported, but researchers may try to put “spin” on the results.
  • Check that the results are explained in the context of the hypotheses and any new theories that have been proposed. The researcher should make every effort to at least answer the question of whether or not their hypotheses/theories have been supported.
  • Look at how the researcher tries to tie the results to the evidence and theories cited in the introduction. They should be putting these results into context. If the results do not fit very well with past research, there should be some comment about what this means and why it may have occurred. Be cautious about claims that the new research trumps all of the old research. There are times when this is true, but you need to be very sure before making this kind of statement. If such a claim is made, the researcher should provide an explanation about what makes this research better than previous research (e.g., improved statistical analyses, better methodology, etc.).
  • Ensure that any conclusions that are drawn follow logically from the results that were found. Be careful about researchers that have only vague evidence but still make grand conclusions (or even contradictory conclusions).
  • Be on the lookout for a discussion of problems with the research. No research is flawless. Even a brief discussion of potential flaws is good, and if you detected major flaws in the previous sections, check to see if they are mentioned here. If they are, at least the researcher is aware of them. And if they are aware of them, check to see if they have made allowances for those flaws (e.g., a good researcher would be more cautious about their results in the presence of methodological flaws).

Summary

Killing a research paper requires at least one of the following:

  • Demonstrating that it is not based on sound theory and evidence
  • Demonstrating that its methodology is majorly flawed
  • Demonstrating that the way the data is analysed is wrong
  • Demonstrating that the conclusions it draws are not valid, given the evidence it has obtained via experiment

If you can show that even one of these is the case, you can launch a strong attack against a research paper. Likewise, if you want your research papers to be good, ensure that none of those criticisms can be aimed at you.

If you want to read more of my thoughts on writing, you can find those here.

I also write original fiction, mostly fantasy. You can find that here.

The Concept Of Buy-In For Fiction

In poker, the term ‘buy-in’ refers to the minimum amount of money required to join a particular game of poker. However, the term can also be useful when applied to fiction. Specifically, we can use the term to describe the investment in time and effort that a book or series requires in order to be fully enjoyed.

Consider a typical fantasy trilogy. Each book will have its own plot and character arcs, but there will also be overarching plot and character arcs that run throughout the entire series. Indeed, the plot and characters may not make sense if the books are not read together and in the correct sequence. As a result, the buy-in for the second book is larger than for the first book, and the buy-in for the third book is larger still. Furthermore, the buy-in for a typical trilogy should be smaller than for a seven-book series.

Some fiction maintains strong links to the real world (e.g., political thrillers are often set in the present and take advantage of political, military, and economic realities). In contrast, some fiction maintains only a tenuous link to the real world (e.g., high fantasy or distant-future science fiction). The stronger the links that a story has to the real world, the smaller the buy-in it demands. This is because readers can rely on their knowledge of the real world to help them appreciate the story.

However, even in fantasy stories, there are ways to reduce buy-in. Vampires and werewolves are both highly popular and well-known monsters. A story that follows the traditional rules for these creatures will be less original than one that does not, but it will dramatically reduce the buy-in for readers since readers will already be familiar with the strengths, weaknesses, and behaviour of the vampires and werewolves in the story.

What happens if a story has a very large buy-in? It can be very intimidating. Imagine a story set in a world that is completely different from ours. It involves a society that is radically different, a species that does not share our appearance, psychology, or customs, and technology that bears no resemblance to ours. Although such a story may be very interesting and original, readers may struggle to come to grips with it. Indeed, the mental gymnastics required to keep up with all the new details may actually drive readers away. If, however, the buy-in for a story is very small, it is much easier for readers to just jump in and get involved. For instance, thrillers set in real-world settings (e.g., a story about soldiers in Iraq) should be quite approachable.

High fantasy is an example of fiction with a large buy-in. Take Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Middle Earth is a world with thousands of years of unique history and several races with their own languages and customs, only some of which are shared with the real world. To fully appreciate Middle Earth, it is necessary to not only read the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings but also the Silmarillion and a swathe of additional material (e.g., Tolkien’s letters).

Another example of a high fantasy series with a large buy-in is the A Song of Ice and Fire series by G. R. R. Martin. The series is critically acclaimed and very popular. But it can be very daunting for new readers to approach. Each book is quite long, and there are currently seven books. Each of them is filled with details about the characters, plot, cultures, myths, and societies of the story. The series is also known for telling the story through the eyes of multiple characters and via complex, inter-connected plotlines. Missing out on a single book or being unfamiliar with a single character can make the series much more difficult to enjoy.

One way to reduce the buy-in is to offer a summary of the most important events and characters for new readers. It is not a coincidence that the books in the A Song of Ice and Fire series have glossaries at the back to help the readers keep track of things. Another way of reducing the buy-in is by using alternative media (e.g., the Game of Thrones television series does a reasonably good job of acquainting new readers with the series quickly although there are differences between the show and the books).

Having a series or a radically original story is bound to introduce some level of buy-in. However, this buy-in can be reduced by giving readers familiar things to latch onto (e.g., using rules or customs they are familiar with) or by offering recaps, summaries, glossaries, and the like to help readers.

The most important thing is not necessarily to eliminate buy-in. Instead, writers should focus on making sure that the readers feel that the buy-in is worth it.

If you want to read more of my thoughts on writing, you can find those here.

I also write original fiction, which you can find here.

How To Win Mario Kart In 5 Easy Steps

When I was younger, I loved Mario Kart. So did a lot of my friends. Naturally, that meant we played a lot of Mario Kart. Today, I’m going to tell you how to win Mario Kart. You don’t need quick reflexes. You don’t need a lot of experience. You don’t even need to be good at the game. You just need to be evil and follow these five easy steps:

  1. Identify the most beloved character amongst your group of friends. Choose that character. Ignore their pleas to pick another character. This is about throwing your opponents off, and the easiest way to do that is to force them to play a character they’re not used to. Remember, during Mario Kart, there are no friends. There are only corpses.
  2. Ensure that you are the one choosing the stage and/or the battle mode. Fairness will get you nowhere in Mario Kart. Play to your strengths and force your enemies to languish in their weaknesses. Mercy is for the weak.
  3. If one of your friends nemeses begins to struggle during the game, go after them. Your goal should be complete mental disintegration. That means camping next to them with three red shells. It means leaving banana peels in front of spawn locations or under item boxes. It means pretending to be helpless and then activating a star when someone tries to ram you. It is both kinder and safer to put your enemies out of their misery than to give them a chance to recover.
  4. Form expedient (and expendable) alliances. In any four player game, there is almost always one player that is noticeably stronger than the others. If that player is not you, then help the others to eliminate that player. However, do not strike the killing blow. Instead, let the others exhaust their items/ammunition. Provide them with just enough time to dispatch the more skilled player before turning on them. If you time this correctly, they will be completely unarmed and helpless. Treachery will win where talent and skill alone will fail.
  5. The game does not end at the television screen. The unwritten rule of Mario Kart is that only fools keep the competition in the game. Your enemies can (and will) resort to out-of-game strategies to defeat you. These strategies include (but are not limited to): screaming obscenities, throwing food/shoes, blocking your view of the television, and even attempting to choke you with their forearm while using their hands to maintain control of their character. However, these strategies are for amateurs. You can still play while being insulted. Food/shoes are unlikely to immediately render you unconscious, and blocking the television can easily be countered by kicking your enemy in the back. As for the choking, you can retaliate with a simple head butt to the chin. What you should do is something much simpler: unplug the controllers of your opponents. Without their controllers plugged in, your opponents are helpless, regardless of their skill. For wireless controls, you can either remove the batteries or de-sync. The best kind of victory is absolute victory.

If you have made it this far, then I congratulate you. You are now ready to win Mario Kart.

Next week: Why Every Mario Party Player Should Wear A Helmet

University Can Be A Funny Place #1

I’ll confess that when I was a student in university, I was not always the most attentive student. There were times when I may even have wavered in and out of consciousness during lectures. I’d like to blame it all on a lack of sleep due to excessive amounts of hard work, but boredom also played a role. I do, however, take a certain pride in having never been caught taking a quick nap. I imagine it must be due to my formidable skill in propping my head up in my hand.

But, I digress.

I have, at several points in time, served as a lecturer in a number of different subjects (all of them within the same general field), and I’ve noticed several trends:

  • The easiest way to increase attendance is to claim that you will be discussing the contents of the final exam. Even the most unenthusiastic or ornery student will find themselves filled with sudden enthusiasm at the prospect of making the exam easier.
  • There is always at least one student sleeping in the front row. As someone who may have engaged in the odd siesta or two during a lecture, I strongly recommend you not do so right in front of the lecturer. I will see you, and I will do something. Probably something evil.
  • The larger your lecture is, the more likely it is that student activists will attempt to hijack it so that they can spread their political message. This becomes particularly common during election period, and I have, on occasion, been strongly tempted to go with a good old “Kung Fu Gut Punch!” to try and drive some of the more persistent offenders off.
  • First years are so adorable when they’re trying to work out what to call you. In Australian high schools, students typically address their teachers as Mr/Ms/Mrs Whatever. In university, however, most lecturers (myself included) prefer to be addressed by our first names. Indeed, I don’t generally like to be referred to by my title (I hold a PhD and can thus be referred to as Dr Raz) unless I’m in a situation that truly calls for it. So when students first get to university, some of them come up with some interesting ways of addressing lecturers. I’ve met students who will address every lecturer as ‘Professor’ and others who will address all of their lecturers as ‘Dr’. My favourites are the ones who walk up to their lecturers while looking extremely nervous before addressing them as ‘Sir/Ma’am’.
  • Students can be extremely possessive of their spots. Spots in lecture theatres are not something that people can reserve. It’s a matter of first come first serve. But I’ve noticed that students can become very possessive of a particular spot. Indeed, I’ve seen students try to nudge, shove, or otherwise move someone else out of what they believe to be their spot. It’s quite amusing, especially since these aren’t five-year-olds, these are young men and women. Then again, who am I to point fingers? I was one of those people who sat in pretty much the same spot in every lecture I attended.
  • Students will often come to you with questions about different subjects. I’ve never understood this, but it seems that being a lecturer in one field automatically makes you awesome at every other field too.
  • It’s fun to mess around with students’ expectations. Coming into university, many students expect their lecturers to be wizened sages, faces heavily wrinkled from countless years of academic warfare. Before my first lecture, I will often sit in one of the front rows and talk to the people who arrive early about what they expect from the subject and what they think the lecturer will be like. Yes, it’s a bit sneaky, but it’s also very fun. You’d be amazed by what sort of conclusions students can draw about you based only on your name.
  • Some lecturers do not know how to manage their time properly. I make it a point to always end my lecture early enough that students can get to their other classes and so that the lecturer after me has a few minutes to set up. This is a courtesy that most other lecturers also follow. But I can recall one semester when the lecturer before me always ran 5-10 minutes over time. It got to the point where I would have to stand at the back of the lecture hall and glare before they finally realised what was happening. I ended up having to talk to them about it, but still… the next year it happened all over again (curse the tendency for schedules to stay similar across different years!).

About My Reading Habits

I’ve had a few questions come in about what I read, so I thought I’d take a few moments to give you guys some idea of what I like to read.

I’ll start off with the obvious. I read fan fiction. In fact, I read a lot of it. There are several reasons for this:

  • I like a lot of different series, and fan fiction helps me get more of what I like.
  • Some fan fiction is actually very well written. In fact, I wouldn’t hesitate to say that there are fan fiction writers out there that are the equal or better of the published authors that I read. I’m serious, some of the fan fiction out there is absolutely brilliant.
  • There is a lot of fan fiction out there. Regardless of what mood I’m in, I can always find something I’m interested in.

Apart from fan fiction, however, I also read original fiction and non-fiction. Over the years, I’ve experienced a steady shift in the kind of fiction that I read. When I was younger, I read anything I could get my hands on. This included fantasy, horror, science fiction, romance, historical drama, political thriller, military fiction… anything.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become better at identifying the genres that I like and the authors that I like. As a result, I’m no longer quite so scattergun in my approach although I am willing to take a quick flick through almost any book provided it looks even a little interesting. I don’t particularly care about genre so much as I do about the actual writing. That said, I do find that certain genres have dominant styles that I find preferable (e.g., I’ve enjoyed almost every psychological Western I’ve read because the dominant style in that genre is one I like). Here are the genres I can usually be found reading:

  • Horror. I enjoy horror from pretty much every time period, from the Gothic era, to the pulp horror days, right through to more modern writers like Stephen King.
  • Science Fiction. Although I enjoy modern science fiction, my favourite science fiction writers are all from previous eras (e.g., Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury).
  • Fantasy. I enjoy pretty much all of the classics, but I’ve got a soft spot for some of the newer writers as well. I’m currently making my way through Brandon Sanderson’s stuff, and I’ve been very impressed so far. He isn’t perfect, but he is very good, and he improves with every book.
  • Action/Thriller. I’m a big of Robert Ludlum and Tom Clancy, so that should give you some idea of what kind of stories I enjoy. More recently, I’ve enjoyed the more “Hollywood” style thrillers (e.g., Matthew Reilly’s work).
  • Legal drama. I used to be very big on legal drams (I’ve read pretty much every John Grisham book ever). However, I haven’t really found someone out of the most recent crop of writers to really grab my attention.
  • Fairy Tales. My sister and I both share a love of fairy tales. Despite their simplicity, they can be very entertaining, and most of them touch on important ideas and concepts. They are also exhibits of how to tell a complicated story simply.
  • Westerns. As a genre, Westerns aren’t as popular as they once were. But I always find myself coming back to a few classics.

When it comes to non-fiction, I tend to focus on areas away from the fields where I am qualified. Part of that is not wanting to get too involved in what I’ve studied, but another part of it is trying to maintain a broad knowledge base. A well-rounded knowledge base can be surprisingly handy to have around. Here are some of my favourite topics:

  • History. I have loved history since I was a child. This includes ancient history (e.g., Egyptian, Roman, Sumerian, etc.) and medieval history (e.g., Frankish, Byzantine, etc.). One of my favourite activities as a child was to run simulations in my head of what would happen if different civilisation met each other.
  • Military history and strategy. This grew out of my love of history. I find the history of warfare to be extremely fascinating. Civilisations have risen or fallen on the backs of their generals and soldiers. I also enjoy studying the actual strategies behind warfare and comparing how those have changed or evolved over time (e.g., how the use of firearms changed war and how the 20th Century saw the integration of flight and high-speed armour with standard infantry).
  • Economics and business. I was in high school when I first started trying to understand the economy and why things sometimes went wrong. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realised just how important this is. I am especially interested in what makes businesses successful and how organisations, as a whole, respond to change in the market.
  • Mythology. This goes hand in hand with my love of history. I started off with Greek Mythology before branching out into the others. Although I am familiar with mythology from around the world, I’m probably weakest with South American mythology and strongest with Greek mythology. In more recent years, I’ve been taking a greater interest in the evolution of mythology from similar cultures (e.g., how Ancient Sumerian mythology might have influenced the mythologies of cultures that arose nearby or after it).
  • Current Events. I used to read two newspapers a day before I discovered the wonders of the internet and started reading articles from every major news website I could find (this is where reading quickly and being able to skim read for important keywords/principles really comes in handy). What I find most intriguing is the divide in how different media sources frame and report different events. To this end, I will often go out of my way to read sources from the right, centre, and left. The differences can be quite amazing to see. Indeed, what one country defines are right or left can vary dramatically from country to country (e.g., the Democrats are typically identified as the “left” party in the US but would be heavily to the right in most parts of Europe).

I know this sounds like a lot, but it’s not like I’m reading all those things at the same time. I can also read fairly quickly, which helps. But, yeah, hopefully this gives you guys some idea of what I like to read.

The Rules Of Storytelling

After years of carefully honing my writing, I have finally devised a universal set of rules that covers the art of storytelling. Following these rules will all but guarantee you success:

  1. Add more ninjas. No story has ever been written that could not have been improved by adding more ninjas. But what if ninjas don’t make sense in the story? Fool. Ninjas always make sense.
  2. Add a dragon. What’s not to love about dragons? They’re huge, breathe fire, and can eat any characters you dislike. The only downside is that making a dragon appropriately awesome makes it difficult to include more than one.
  3. Make everybody awesome at kung fu. Seriously, are you sick of characters in your stories flailing at each other like drunk manatees? Well, here’s your answer. Everybody is now a master of kung fu, which should make every fight scene awesome. Heck, kung fu can even make doing the dishes or cooking noodles awesome.
  4. Have everybody be plotting against everyone else with at least seven different levels of treachery. Do you know what’s the only thing better than a double cross? A triple cross. And you know what’s even better than a triple cross? A quadruple cross. Your readers will marvel at the intellectual brilliance of your writing as you masterfully weave a web of corruption so intricate that it would strangle a spider.
  5. Introduce romantic polygons. A love triangle is so passé. How about a love square? Or what about a love tesseract? For those of you who aren’t aware of what a tesseract is (and no, it isn’t just a shiny blue thing that confers awesomeness), it is the four-dimensional analogue of a cube. That is, it is to a cube what a cube is to a square. I suppose a love tesseract would probably go something like this: boy loves girl, girl loves other boy, other boy loves other girl, and all of them love a walrus that has a thing for a fish tank. Because why not?
  6. Use more adjectives and provide more detailed descriptions. And I really mean go all the way. Why should the sky just be blue? To me the sky is a vast, endless, undulating, azure, cerulean, bright, tempestuous, alcoholic, carefree, frozen sundae.
  7. Insert more violence. And don’t be shy about describing it. Everybody’s blood should spew out like their veins are high pressure hoses, and everyone should have guts that literally leap out of their stomachs at the first sign of a paper cut. The bloodier the better.
  8. Ensure that the stakes are always high. Has a character forgotten to make coffee? Their kingdom must fall. Has someone forgot to flush the toilet? Death is coming. And if somebody misses their bus? A giant asteroid is going to wipe out humanity. The higher the stakes, the better the story.

If you follow these simple rules, you can rest assured that your story will be awesome. If you’re still not sure that your story is awesome enough, then add a ninja dragon who knows kung fu and is plotting against the magical, amorous, tireless, stubborn dolphin that wants to break up the complex relationship the dragon has with a chair, another dragon, a wyvern, a drake, and a trans-dimensional hummingbird. And did I mention that all of them are actually plotting against each other, and it’s all going to end in blood. Lots and lots of blood. Oh, and fire. That too.

How Not To Throw A Jab Properly

I’ve long been a fan of combat sports. And until my knees decided to quit on me, I used to train quite regularly in them too. In any case, I still enjoy watching combat sports, especially boxing and MMA (my knowledge of striking is somewhat better than my knowledge of grappling), and there’s something I’ve noticed a lot of people in MMA doing that kind of bothers me.

They don’t throw the jab properly.

Okay, let me expand on that a bit more. A punch does not end when the arm reaches it maximum extension. It ends when the hand is brought back to the guard position and the puncher is back in a stable stance. Until then, the puncher is extremely vulnerable to being hit back by their opponent.

The jab is supposed to be one of the safest punches to throw (i.e., one of the most difficult for an opponent to punish). But that assumption relies on several things:

  • The chin is tucked
  • The shoulder of the punching arm is used to shield the chin (usually by lifting the shoulder)
  • The punching arm should be retracted quickly after throwing the punch, with the arm resuming a guard position
  • The rear arm (right arm) stays in a guard position throughout the jab
  • The jab should be thrown with a clear purpose in mind, not simply to pass the time

Now, the jab is not the most powerful punch in the world. For most people, the most powerful punch is either the overhand right or the left hook. But the jab can still be thrown (and should be thrown) with enough force behind it to make someone think twice. Good timing has a major role to play here since a jab thrown at someone moving forward can hit with far more force than a jab thrown at someone moving away.

That said, one of the most common mistakes I see in MMA is people who throw the “nothing jab”. This is a jab that basically combines every possible mistake into one hideous monstrosity of a punch. Essentially, it’s a pawing jab that lacks any real speed or force, which is thrown simply out of a need to look productive. This punch is usually performed haphazardly with the person throwing it committing several key mistakes:

  • The chin is elevated and the shoulder is not lifted
  • Instead of being brought back to a guard position, the punching arm is allowed to fall and then kind of dragged back up into guard
  • The jab is thrown while moving backward (it is much harder to throw a good jab while moving backwards, and few fighters have the footwork for it)
  • It is thrown in a highly predictable manner

These mistakes leave the puncher off balance with their chin and head completely exposed. Furthermore, because the punch is thrown in a predictable, pawing manner, the opponent can simply walk through it without concern. Do you want to know what this leads to?

This.

Watch closely and you’ll see that most of the knockouts via overhand right are preceded by one fighter moving backwards and throwing a nothing jab. The other fighter then does the sensible thing: they wade forward through the jab (which is too weak to do any real damage) and then throw a huge overhand right into the gap in the first fighter’s defence. Caught mid-punch, the first fighter cannot dodge or brace themselves for impact. They are simply knocked senseless.

Now, MMA fighters aren’t the only people who do this (I’ve seen boxers do it too), but it does seem to be more prevalent in MMA than boxing. There are several reasons for why this might be the case:

  • Lack of boxing training. MMA fighters have to train in multiple styles of combat. It stands to reason that their boxing skills will be poorer than those of a dedicated boxer who only focuses on one.
  • Fear of the takedown. The only possible reason (and it’s still not a good reason most of the time) to drop your hand after throwing a jab is because you fear the opponent going for a takedown. In that case, having the hand (or both hands) low will help defend that, especially if they make a grab for your legs or for your hips.
  • Exhaustion. It is a simple fact that technique breaks down as people get tired. If a fighter has otherwise excellent form that falls apart at the end of a gruelling five-round fight filled with non-stop striking and grappling, I can understand that. But a lot of fighters exhibit poor technique from the start.

So what about if you’re the one fighting somebody who likes to throw nothing jabs? Here are some options:

  • The cross counter. This essentially means slipping to the left while throwing an overhand right at the opponent’s exposed chin before they have a chance to protect themselves. What makes this a favourite amongst MMA fighters is that it allows them to step forward while slipping to the left, thereby loading up their right hand with all of their body weight and momentum. It’s not elegant, but it hits like a sledgehammer. Don’t believe me? Stand up, take a boxing stance, and then move your front foot (it should be your left foot) forward and to the left while shifting your head to the left as well. Your entire body is now going forward, with the right shoulder coming around, so throw a looping right hand. Now imagine hitting somebody in the face with that.
  • The counter jab. If someone likes to throw nothing jabs, but you don’t want to swing for the fences (see the above), you can simply step forward and into a jab of your own while either slipping or blocking/parrying their jab. Since your jab is thrown with authority (especially if you’ve stepped into it), they are the one who is going to be getting hurt, particularly if they have the bad habit of moving their head too much when they punch (which is surprisingly common).
  • The counter hook. If they throw nothing jabs, then the odds are very good that they will not have their right hand (their rear hand) in the correct guard position. This is where you take your left hand (your front hand) and throw a hook at their head. The hook is a much heavier punch than the jab and can be thrown with great speed. You should be getting the better end of any trade (although you can also try to parry/block their jab with your right hand).

Out of all the things I see in MMA, the nothing jab is probably my least favourite. The only one that comes close is the “nothing leg kick” which is basically the leg kick equivalent (and is usually dealt with in similar fashion).

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