Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Predictability: The Good, the Bad and the Stupid


There is one thing that will stop me reading a book dead in my tracks. I could be halfway through the book but the moment this happens, it makes me throw a book away from me in a fit of rage:

 Predictability. 

I mean, there are some things which get to me, like non-relatable characters or zero character development, cheesy one-liners....

Horatio Cane: The King of One Liners

.... and bad puns, (Not to be confused with good puns.)

But I don't want to know the plot.
I don't want to expect the plot, and most of all, I don't want to know anymore about the ending other than, "the bad guys probably lose."

When you are young and learning how to read books, predictability is your best friend. It helps you learn as you begin to find patterns in what you are reading.

"I wonder if the rest of the book is about fish..."
See. Not even Dr. Suess is predictable.
 
As a kid, predictability teaches you about tropes, and symbolism and stock characters: the hooker with a heart of gold, the antagonist with their imbecilic side-kick, the peacocking rake, the blind fortune teller. You get it. But the point of this, is to know when to use them. We've advanced beyond the roman empire. Our characters now are expected to have depth.

If I am in the middle of a novel and I have predicted how it will end, I will keep reading just long enough to determine if I am correct, and then never pick up that book again. And I don't mean, "the good guy get's the girl!"
Nor say, watching Titanic and wondering if the boat sinks.
Nor say, halfway through The Notebook when you put together that the old man reading the story is Noah from the story. That I still want to watch unfold.

In fact, I always want to experience the heart wrench of a romantic tragedy...

....Maybe not all of it.
 
TWO COULD'VE FIT, ROSE!
 
I think the problem with most stories is they're showing all the cards, or dropping too many hints, and it is mistaken for foreshadowing. This is way more obvious in film. For instance, when they linger a little too long on something left behind, and now it's clear that it's important, so you start to put the pieces together until - Yep, I know what's gonna happen at the end. It's unavoidable in film. The subtle nuance of writing cannot be re-created in film. In the book, that part is glossed over. At no point does the book say, "And as Charlie left the room, he forgot the key to his house on his dresser." It's later in the story when he checks his pocket and can't find it and realizes he's locked out.

The problem with predictability in the story it that it ruins the surprise. Yes, I want the protagonist to win, but I don't want to know HOW right off the bat. Like, the antagonist is made of ice, and *conveniently enough* the protagonist can throw flames from their fingertips.

Liz gets it.

I feel like stories become predictable through convenience. If your plot was convenient, you need to rethink it. Like the carpenter phrase, measure twice, cut once. You don't want your reader to predict what will happen, so don't use your first idea with the plot. Think about something less convenient or form a puzzle for the reader. Make them question your motives and whether you would dare murder the dog or best friend.....

*******

TANGENT -- DON'T KILL THE DOG!

I hate when writers do this. Enough bad things are happening in the plot, usually it's the end of the world and there is a child that probably lost their parents and loves the dog -- Don't kill the damn dog. You can make us think the dog is dead, that's fine - Re: Homeward Bound - I will cry like a baby thinking the dog is dead and be happily heart warmed when he returns, but if you kill the dog? That's the last book of yours I will read. No joke. I will have a vendetta against you from then on.

"Hey, want to read a book by this person?"
"Nope. The dog died in the last book."

Ex: My Dog Skip, Marley and Me, Old Yeller.

Good rule of thumb: If you're lazy, and want to make an adult cry and hate you, then go ahead, kill the dog.

*******
 
Back to the point: The best way to avoid predictability when you're drawing up a plot is to never go with your first idea. You are bound by no one, this is YOUR story. In the end, you may still end up copying The Simpsons, but so has everyone else.

Now for the Good:

While predictability is a very bad thing in books, there is the exception to this annoyance: Pop music.

Pop songs need to be predictable, that's their whole selling point. As the linked article states, " . . . if the music has some recognizable features—maybe a familiar beat or melodic structure—people will more likely be able to anticipate the song’s emotional peaks and enjoy it more. The dopamine hit comes from having their predictions confirmed—or violated slightly, in intriguing ways."

So thank YOU Taylor Swift for having such predictable music.
Some exceptional lyrics from Ms. Swift:
"Are we out of the woods yet?
Are we out of the woods yet?
Are we out of the woods yet?
Are we out of the woods?"

Don't get me wrong -- Nothing helps me clean the house like 1989 (which I bought a week after it came out). Nothing keeps me in a perky mood in the morning like randomly 'shaking it off' on my commute.

So if you hate pop music for being predictable, remember, it's written to do exactly that.... And your brain likes it.

All my love,
L.B.


Friday, November 13, 2015

Food Daydreams #5: Slow-Cooked Pulled Pork

*Note
These frosty winter nights leave me craving warm soups and stews, (I know it's technically still fall and I do not care). Really, anything to stop shivering next to my space heater. But after weeks of the Irishman cooking his simple beef stew almost every night, three days straight of pasta with sad salads to get some extra veggies in there, and then the night I went wild and made a chicken and mushroom pie from scratch ... I'm tired. I'm done. I don't want soup and I'm sick of cooking and doing the dishes.

Do you know about the dishwasher in the Treehouse? It's... not me. I do most of the cooking, but the Irishman is mad about it! There is no machine to do that work for him.

So that was two weeks of cold weather foods. If I go the wrong direction now we could end up with creamy, butter sauces and gain 15 lbs in a week. Which would be delicious and also very sad.

So now what?

Well, I am craving BBQ. Only BBQing in the freezing cold is not exactly my cup of tea. What IS my cup of tea, you ask? Pulled Pork.

But L.B.! You say, I don't have a smoker and the free time to roast meat for hours on low in my oven until it falls apart! That's what restaurants are for! I could not possibly make pulled pork in my own kitchen!

Fear not, my friends. Yes. You can.

Pulled pork is one of the simplest foods you'll ever make and it's a serious crowd pleaser.

So what do you need to make this dish, that appears so delicately made like you spent hours hovering over a hot stove to bring to your family? A slow cooker.

Found in the wilderness of Target and Macy's...
But can be easily shipped to your home via Amazon.
 
 
Slow cookers are god's gift to the busy (*cough* lazy *cough*) lifestyle. Your own personal & professional head chef. Your best friend who sits over the hot stove for you. The greatest magic of the slow cooker, is that you barely need to chop anything, you throw it in a pot in the morning and turn it on, then when you get home from work, you open the front door and -- IT SMELLS LIKE DINNER.

Now, to be clear, the recipe I have here is for all-around pulled pork. Once you cook the shoulder/butt (it's the same thing), *don't* mix it all with bottles of BBQ and murder it. That is what bad pulled pork is for.

This good pulled pork can be re-used for carnitas tacos, on pizza with roasted garlic, added to grilled cheese (white sharp cheddar -- you barbarian), on nachos', fried rice, a breakfast hash - It has endless possibilities. Make. Leftovers. A lot of them. You will thank yourself (and me!) when you have options the rest of the week. Or freeze half. In two weeks you'll want it again, if you can hold off that long.

Trust me.

My favorite, however, is the pulled pork sandwich. So here I have a recipe for you, and then a speedy recipe for a cole slaw. You *could* purchase cole slaw at a store, but then it's like 85% mayonnaise. I like mine a bit more balanced than that.


First, buy a good pork shoulder roast (some stores call it pork butt). They vary in size, so if it's small and you are *certain* it will fit in your slow cooker, buy two. You won't regret it.


Ingredients

Pulled Pork
  • Pork shoulder roast. 
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • Half a jar of BBQ sauce
  • 1/2 TBSP Garlic powder
  • 1 TSP Pepper
  • Hot sauce (optional)
  • 3/4 cup of water/chicken brother OR a can of Coke/Dr. Pepper (If you're feeling crazy)
  • Hawaiian buns (or any soft bread, hamburger buns work as well)

Cole Slaw
  • Red cabbage, shredded (About 6 cups, and you can use white cabbage, but purple is pretty)
  • 1/4 of a small onion, grated
  • Carrot, shredded
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar (Or white/red wine vinegar)
  • 1 cup of Mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • S&P to taste


Basic Instructions

Pulled Pork

  1. Pile in order in slow cooker: Onion, carrot, pork.
  2. On top of meat add: garlic powder, hot sauce & pepper, then top with the BBQ sauce. If you're using a soda, add it now.
  3. Cover and place and LOW for 8 hours, or HIGH for 6 hours. DO NOT LIFT TOP.
  4. Turn off slow cooker.
  5. Using tongs, retrieve pork and place on a cutting board, then use the two forks to pull apart the extremely soft pork.
  6. Pile into a large bowl, and add a 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid so it stays moist.
Cole Slaw

  1. Combine ingredients.
  2. If it's too sweet, add vinegar
  3. Too bitter, add sugar.
  4. Too much mayo, add vinegar, etc.
  5. That's it. Make it to your taste.
Now pile that meat on the bun, douse with bbq sauce and top with the cole slaw.  

YUMMMMMM!!!
 
 
I eat this with a plate piled with more cole slaw, but you can also steam some veggies or have potato chips, or baked potatoes. Easy-peasy.
 
 
All my love,
L.B.


*I'm fairly certain everyone reading this lives in colder weather than myself, but I am a big baby.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Well, Hello November

The season's clicked in San Francisco.

The air turned crisp and I needed a blanket on my bed.

I grabbed my peacoat out of the back of the closet and donned a thicker scarf during my morning commute.

Now I dream of steaming spiced cider and powdery freshly fallen snow. I want mittens and hats and boots.

I hope for thunderstorms and fireplaces, and twinkling city lights after dusk.

Like this... Only less painting-like


I want to curl up under soft checkered blankets with my sleepy cat and read hard cover books inside of a snow globe.

Leave the house for work? I think not. I want spicy soups and candle light and dark, cozy, rainy nights.

And wool socks.

This is not my cat, nor my fireplace. But a girl can dream.

This time of year I become contemplative.

I've been thinking really hard about what my next steps will be. I have a prequel to my novel that I considered turning into a short story, but I wanted to write about something unusual. I feel the energy and the inspiration there but I can't make a decision. I'm still floating on the high of finishing Eureka Station. It was my baby for a whole month, after all.

I've been getting into the holiday spirit and am thinking a nice winter tale would warm me right up. I'm enjoying branching out from my fairytales, so maybe you'll see a heart-warming drama or a romantic comedy fly out from my fingertips next. Mixing it up keeps me balanced.

I raise a glass to balance. For every summer there is winter, and every tragedy a comedy. For every red wine there is white. For every flower there is a snowflake.


I am looking forward to this frosty winter and I hope everyone stays warm, bundled and dry. 

All my love,
L.B.