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Friday, January 15, 2010

The Friday Challenge - 1/15/10

This week in The Friday Challenge...
Henry Vogel reviews Avatar. Is James Cameron's latest billion-dollar money machine a ground-breaking new cinematic experience with an important ecological message or merely the most expensive Captain Planet cartoon ever made? Join the discussion...

Bruce Bethke talks about the language of science fiction clichés and introduces the Turkey City Lexicon in, "And now, a few words about words." Join the discussion...

Ultimate Geek Fu continues the exploration of unobtanium, adamantium, and all the other physically impossible substances that have been powering the plots of SF stories ever since Edgar Rice Burroughs discovered Ninth Rays. Join the discussion...

Guy Stewart reviews The Comet's Curse by Dom Testa and unloads a broadside of buck and ball. Is this an insightful critique or merely an overflowing basket of sour grapes? Join the discussion...

Kersley Fitzgerald treats us to another too-true-for-comfort cartoon (2010 calendars are still available!), the inmates discuss the view from their places in the asylum, and there are still 29 hours left in which to read the entries in the 12/18/09 Christmas Story Challenge and vote for your favorite. Remember, this time we're not merely playing for the sheer egoboo of winning the Friday Challenge, but for a handsome suitable-for-framing certificate and a cash prize of $50.00 USD!

And now, on to new business.

A Two-Bit Inspiration
As you might remember, last week's challenge was to pick a state—it doesn't have to be the state in which you live—and write a one-paragraph pitch describing the far more appropriate engraving that should be on the back of that state's quarter. As of the deadline, we have received the following entries:

Miko, "Johnson Sandwich"
Miko, "Truth in Propaganda"


[SFX: sound of crickets, chirping]

(Oh dear. If I've missed anybody, let me know, but right now it looks like Miko wins by default. I hate it when that happens.)

As always, even if you haven't submitted an entry this week—even if you never submit an entry in any week—you're invited to read, comment on, and vote for your favorite. Don't be shy about leaving feedback on the authors' sites, either. Writers thrive on knowing that someone out there is actually reading their words. The winner will be announced on Sunday, January 17.

And now for this week's challenge.

What's in a name?
As we come to the end of Unobtanium Week here in the Friday Challenge, I want to take a few minutes now to talk about one of the worst of the many self-inflicted handicaps that can afflict a writer: joke names. We writers are by nature people who indulge in wordplay and truly savor a well-prepared bon mot; words may be our tools, but they're also our toys. Tragically, this trait far too often manifests itself as the temptation to slip what seems to you at the time to be a very sly inside joke into your story, in the form of a clever place or character name. I'm certain Ian Fleming felt he was terribly clever when he named the female antagonist in Goldfinger, "Pussy Galore."

But consider the results. Nothing turns a serious story into comedy—or worse, self-parody—faster than a joke name. A generation later, the clever innuendo and double entendre that was once Ms Galore has decayed into the ham-handed thudding of Alotta Fagina and Ivana Humpalot. Thanks a lot, Ian.

So don't do it. Unless you aspire to be the next Mel Brooks and think a character named "Prince Valium" is an absolute scream, don't do it. If you find you cannot resist the temptation to name your leading authority figure Queen Tubbalhaard, dig deep within your soul to find the strength to resist even harder, or else you'll soon find yourself writing a scene in which Queen Tubbalhaard orders Prince Yusles Jherkov to take command of the fastest ship in the kingdom and set sail immediately for the Isles of Langerhans.

Take it from the guy who once snuck "Sir Epididymis" into a story: it may seem like fun while you're writing it, but sooner or later, you will really regret it.

But then as I was working on this riff, an idea came to me, as if in a whisper on the wind from my Muse, and the idea came to me in the form of a name:

Mendacious Smith

And that, my friends, is this week's Friday Challenge. Who is Mendacious Smith? Somehow I can already see him/her/it being the focus a shared-world anthology: The Ballad of Mendacious Smith. (Of course, I also thought a story about John Carter returning to Earth in the late 20th century entitled "The Warlord of Barstool" would sell, and you can see where that got me.)

Maybe later we can revisit this character, and begin to hear some of the stories of Mendacious Smith. But this week's challenge is simply to write a brief character sketch that reveals some telling details about just who Mendacious Smith may be. (Or may not: at this point, you might want to consider looking up the definition of "mendacious.")

As always, we're playing by the loosely enforced Official Rules of the Friday Challenge, and playing for whatever is behind Door #3. The deadline for this challenge is midnight Central time, Thursday, January 21.

And also as always: have fun!
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