Apr 24, 2015

6 Best Ways to Stop Being a Platypus

1. Don’t be a platypus.

2. Be some other animal, like a pink fairy armadillo.

3. Buy a one-way ticket to planet Platypus; over there, nobody thinks of themselves as platypuses. Only as people. You will by definition cease to be a platypus.

4. Try Species Conversion Surgery. Ex-platypuses make pretty good ducks.

5. Become wood. Easier said than done, I know, but once you become wood, you will no longer be a platypus.

6. Decide whether you are a duck or a beaver. Stick with your decision.

Math by Tensographics
on society6


They are venomous.
They wear tuxedos when you are not looking.
They travel at the speed of light when they sneeze. Usually in a circle. A very small circle. If ever you see a fast blurry circle in a pond, it may be a sneezing platypus.


The platypus went to the sun and said,
I want to swim, but you have dried up all the water.
The sun said, go and complain to the moon.

The platypus went to the moon and said,
I want to swim, but the sun has dried up all the water.
The moon said, go and complain to the sun.

The platypus went to his people and said,
The sun and the moon don't care about our plight.
So they rose up against the moon and the sun.

From the sun they squeezed
all the orange juice they could
and from the moon they wrung
all the gasoline they could.

They built a spaceship from the bones of the sun
and made furniture for it, from the bones of the moon.
They traveled twenty percent of an Eon
and came to this place we call Earth.

Apr 10, 2015

My Name is Mitt, Heavy Metal Oven Mitt. And I Am a Life Coach

Heavy Metal Oven Mitt
by John Magnet Bell
I want you to imagine sticking your hand, your beloved little hand, in an oven at nine billion Fahrenheit (250 Celsius or so) without protection of any kind, and pulling out a roasted bird carcass that you will deposit, say, on the kitchen table.

Wonderful. Now look at your hand and allow yourself to scream in horror for a couple of minutes at the soot-black chips that used to be your nails, and other unexpected marvels like the golden welts on the back of your hand. Which is the hand, which is the turkey?

Have you screamed to your heart’s content?

Awesome! Now, BEFORE you go and do something crazy like expose your uncooked flesh to searing temperatures, that’s where I come in.* My name is Mitt. Heavy Metal Oven Mitt. And I am a life coach.

Ever since I was poured into a mold and then united with my other half — which is to say, ever since the we became a me — I’ve felt this inclination to help people not get burned. In the kitchen, for sure. But also in life. So I’ve got a few pointers to share with you that only my experience as an oven mitt could provide. These will help you in your career, your love life and your spiritual path. Are you ready for enlightenment? Here we go.

Apr 6, 2015

How to Write a Damn Good Book Without Any Words, Especially those Filthy Adverbs

Do you want to write a book that will appeal to a mass audience (100+ people) and make you very rich? Follow the recommendations below. 

We can agree that adverbs are horrible. There should be a concentration camp for adverbs. Adverbs ruin writing. Adjectives ruin writing. The ingredients of writing ruin writing. We must cleanse our writing of adverbs and adjectives, and avoid using nouns or articles. We must be spare.

Readers do not want lots of language in your writing. They want to read your books and blog posts to amuse themselves. Adverbs, adjectives and nouns make it difficult for your readers to amuse themselves. Readers don’t want to look up words in dictionaries.

You should avoid adverbs of manner, place, time, inclusion, exclusion, and others. Because adverbs are horrible.

Another thing you should avoid: colors. There are seven real colors. The rest are imaginary and will confuse your readers. Print out a picture of a rainbow and label the colors on it. Include those colors in your writing. Exclude other colors.

Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Blue, and Blue.

Do not modify or qualify colors. Colors have no permissible attributes. Red is red. Everyone knows red. No need to compare a thing to another thing just to convey that it is red. It’s unnecessary to say “her lips were red like cherries.” What a waste of the reader's time!

Write “Her lips were red.”

But verbs can get in the way of a perfect sentence, too. So cut more words out of it: “Her lips – red.”

Keep cutting. “Lips – red.”


See? If you write few words, you can write big books. Just think of things to not say and write them down. Get rid of 95%. Write more words and shed another 95%. Repeat this process until you are ready to punch a black bear in the eye with your elbow. The goal is to reach 400,000 words with zero adverbs or fewer, few adjectives (more than 10 is bad) and many, many action verbs.

Writing a book is like baking corn bread. You do not need adverbs or adjectives or even nouns to bake corn bread. It follows that you do not need adverbs, adjectives or nouns to write a book. Adverbs, adjectives and nouns are evil. They were invented by intellectual slackers to ruin your fun and your meals. Imagine that you’re making corn bread and you don’t have any all-purpose flour. Now imagine that you lack the other ingredients: eggs, shortening, corn meal, cooking oil, sugar and salt. I don’t see a problem there. You can make corn bread. It won’t taste or look like corn bread, but it will be corn bread. I promise.

You need to write for people who don’t read. People who don’t read do not like adjectives, adverbs, similes, analogies, hyperbatons or zeugmas. They dislike language, so they go to the movies. They do not read, but they like to pretend that they read and so they buy books. You should write for these people, as there are a lot of them. It’s easy to do so. Make them feel that they are watching a movie, not reading a book. Movies are better than books. If you can jam a soundtrack into your book — and I don’t care what methods you use for that, if that’s what you’re going to do — then do so, because people who hate language respond to music. I’ve heard it said that music is a universal language, but if that were true, I could persuade my local slaughterhouse to sell me a pig carcass for a song. That hasn't happened, So music can’t be a language.

Now, a few words about action sequences.

Put many action sequences in your book and much romance. Mix the action and the romance. Forget all about description. People can imagine your setting, just get out of their way. Don’t describe things. You’ll have to use adverbs, adjectives and nouns. Keep a tight grip on your keyboard. REIN IT IN. You want to stir up emotions in your audience, not bore them to death with language.

So you should write movies, not books. Movies do not need adverbs, adjectives or nouns. They don’t need large quantities of language. Movies are superior.

There is none.

Apr 3, 2015

When should you use “phenomenon” or “phenomena”? PSA

Did you know there are words in English borrowed from completely ridiculous languages that nobody speaks anymore, like Classical Greek and Latin?

Yeah. There are.

Phenomenon, which comes down to us from Late Latin via Ancient Greek, means an observable fact; an observable aspect of some given thing (like a donkey in a hamster wheel*), or a wondrous person or thing, like a donkey in a hamster wheel**.


On account of their venerable descent, such words throw people for a loop when it comes time to use them well. The plural for phenomenon is phenomena, much like bacteria is the plural for bacterium, or datum means one data point, and the word “data” itself means a set of… of “datums.”***

So, for example, Brad Pitt is a phenomenon. Singular.

This goat is also a phenomenon. Singular.


Taken as a pair (or a group), Brad Pitt and the goat constitute a set of phenomena.

But if you splice them together, creating a single entity, you’re back to one phenomenon.


One goat or one Brad Pitt — each one is a phenomenon.
A bunch of goats is a set of phenomena.

There are several goats to be observed.

A group of Brad Pitts would be a phenomenon (an observable -- and astounding -- fact) but all these Brad Pitts together in one place would be phenomena, because we’re talking several instances of the phenomenon called Brad Pitt.

[Post-Scriptum: A List of Other Phenomena]

Grandfather clocks
April Ludgate
* I found the donkey’s picture above when I googled ‘donkey-powered helicopter’ the other day. Heed me now and be preserved from the kind of madness that would make you tattoo the words “gnothi seauton” on your forehead: You don’t want to know what other things I found.
** I know it's not a hamster wheel. It's a warp core. A medieval donkey-powered warp core.
*** Don’t you go off into the Internet spewing “datums” left and right, now. In general, do not spew. It’s bad form.

Apr 2, 2015

Start Your Novel Returns, Because Blogging is Just Too Damn Good

What do you call a journey of self-discovery when you end up turning around and you find yourself where you began?

I call it a resounding success.*

Three or four months ago, depending on how you count, I decided I wasn’t going to blog anymore. You know what? Blogging is wonderful. You meet interesting people in droves, and yes, there are droves of interesting people out there — nay, dare I say it? Veritable shish-kebobs of brimming parking lots of wonderful, marvelous people out there!

So I changed my mind. Blogging is great. I want to keep blogging, so Start Your Novel will go on. It won’t be your grandmother’s Start Your Novel, because she never read it, but it will be pretty much — a blog.

There will be a publishing schedule. I will keep it a secret so you don’t have to worry about when my next blog post is coming out. However I DO HEREBY PROMISE that you’ll have plenty of fun blog posts to read every week.

See, these Etruscan gentlemen are overjoyed.

Let’s get this donkey-powered helicopter on the road and no, that's not even a shadow of an April Fools’ joke because from my POV it’s already April 2.

Welcome to the future!**

* Or a trip to the fridge.
** I hope all of the above made sense somehow.

Pac Ninja, Pixelated Terror of the Night
by John Magnet Bell

Dec 27, 2014

Start Your Novel: The Blog Ends Here, But this Is Not Goodbye

I started this blog in 2011. I wasn’t sure what for.

But I wanted my words to come out of hiding, and a blog seemed like an ideal instrument. Yet it became so much more than that.

Blogging has saved me from personal and creative stagnation, and I heartily recommend it to everyone.This blog has served its purpose multiple times: I made friends, joined profound conversations, turned my life around. Miracles happened. Yes, miracles.

Autumn Tryst, or, The Architect's Daydream
by John Magnet Bell

So why am I winding it up after hundreds of thousands of views, appreciative emails and people coming to me over and over again to show me how my story prompts had inspired them?

Let me offer you a simple reason.

As my life entered a new chapter, I found myself wanting to move a lot of things forward. It’s time I began developing some of my ideas for fiction instead of giving them all away as story premises. And after a long dry spell my interest in photography, drawing and painting reemerged with far greater strength and vigor than ever before. Art calls. I must answer.

That's me like 50 years from now, having answered the call.

Also, I am not leaving social media; no final curtain here. I will be

This blog is not going away, but will remain as an archive. (The hundreds of writing prompts on offer are copyright-free forever.) Note that after January 7, 2015, the site URL will revert to startyournovel.blogspot.com.

When I look back and consider what I’ve done with this blog I feel proud. I have created a good thing that has brought joy, laughter, wonder and inspiration to a great many people.

Sunset at the Lighthouse
by Ian Mitchell

Now, I will not sign off without a final story prompt:

The Plaid Vampire Brotherhood of Vampires

It was lunchtime for the normals on the Pacific Northwest. The Pacific churned under a leaden cloud that was mostly water, dirt and airborne bacteria. Somewhere between two ghost towns built for incurable sleepers, Jack and Jane sat up in their respective coffins playing checkers in the dark. Jack and Jane were former human beings who had at one point become vampires through no fault of their own.

Carlyle the Christmas Vampire
by Hector Mansilla

“I’m tired of this cabin,” said Jane.
Jack didn’t say anything.
“I want to move to a mausoleum,” said Jane.
Jack remained silent.
“Raccoon blood just doesn’t cut it anymore,” said Jane. “I need variety. I’m bored,” she said.
“I have a possum,” said Jack, fishing a young possum from a hole in his chest.

See you around. Rock on.

Dog, Running
by John Magnet Bell

Dec 19, 2014

A Musical About the Consequences of Colonialism

A certain Danish astronomer went to sleep in Copenhagen and woke up in Istanbul. It was still called Constantinople at the time, or possibly not.

A certain Turkish potter went to sleep in Istanbul and woke up in Copenhagen.

Wives and relatives were sorely vexed.

Photo by Isabelle Wenzel

The Danish astronomer I had in mind as I wrote "A certain Danish astronomer" is, obviously, Ejnar Hertzsprung. He came up with a classification system for stars that we still use today -- dividing them by spectral type, developmental stage and luminosity.

To the best of my knowledge, Hertzsprung never teleported anywhere, let alone trade places with a Turkish potter.

Ejnar Hertzsprung was born in 1873. Istanbul still thrived under the Ottomans, but the empire itself would fall in a few decades. 

Dec 18, 2014

Bad Apples from the Tree of Learning

Tom’s most prominent facial feature was his hat. Tom never went anywhere with his hat. Tom was a spy.

Tom was an industrial spy. Industrial spies seldom wear hats. Tom worked for several shadow conglomerates and never met his clients face to face. Tom felt inordinately happy about that.

I don't know who took this picture. Also, this is not Tom. I believe this picture was taken in 1918.

Industrial espionage goes back a long way. (I may or may not have written about this before. I cannot confirm or deny.)

Prosopagnosia, also known as face blindness, is a cognitive impairment where people cannot recognize familiar faces. The ability to tell faces apart just goes out the window. Milla Jovovich plays a person diagnosed with face blindness in a mildly interesting movie, her character being told at one point that sleeping with her boyfriend is like "getting to be with a different guy every night."

I'm not sure that's how it works, or how it makes it more pleasurable to have sex with someone whose face you should recognize but don't.

A hat, Wikipedia tells me, is a head covering. Did you know that St. Clement is the patron saint of felt hat makers? I didn't.