Tag Archives: music

A Cure for Exploding Head Syndrome

Dear Twitter,

We need to talk. See, there’s this thing you do, not all the time mind you, but on specific occasions that is getting really irritating.

I’m talking, of course, about your practice of trying to be humorous about current events. This is on the whole, not a terrible thing. But two things cause it to become tedious in the extreme.

First, most tweeters aren’t that different.

Second, most tweeters aren’t that funny.

So what you end up with is a tweet stream filled with people making the same exact joke over and over and over again.

Let us take for example the recent non-event that was “The Rapture.” It might behoove us to ask why such a ridiculous notion gained such widespread interest in the first place, but such questions are beyond the scope of this letter. Instead, let me just say that if I had seen one more, “Well, I’m still here guys, hur, hur, hur” tweet on the twenty-first, my head very well may have exploded.

Can you imagine the mess that would have made, Twitter? Can you imagine the look of shock on my wife’s face if she had walked into the room and found my body crumpled on the floor amid the shattered wreckage of what had once been my shapely and brilliant head? Not so funny now is it?

I suppose that in some ways this phenomenon is an inevitable part of developing an ecosystem of information between individuals that all live on the same planet, but it is irritating all the same. This is why I’m send out a call to you to do your part to prevent head explosions.

And just how can you do this? Why, by using the Double Bass Test of course.

What’s that? You’re not familiar with the Double Bass Test? Well then allow me to enlighten you with a quote from the best time-traveling romantic detective ghost story ever written, Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.

“I’m a private detective.”
“Oh?” said Kate in surprise, and then looked puzzled.
“Does that bother you?”
“It’s just that I have a friend who plays the double bass.”
“I see,” said Dirk.
“Whenever people meet him and he’s struggling around with it, they all say the same thing, and it drives him crazy. They all say, ‘I bet you wished you played the piccolo.’ Nobody ever works out that that’s what everybody else says. I was just trying to work out if there was something that everybody would always say to a private detective so that I could avoid saying it.”
“No. What happens is that everybody looks very shifty for a moment, and you got that very well.”

The essence of the Double Bass Test is in asking yourself, “Is this joke so obvious that thousands of other people may be making it even as we speak?” If the answer is yes then don’t make the joke.

The Double Bass Test can also be useful in everyday life as our quote illustrates. Of course there will be times when a Double Bass Joke slips through the cracks, but on the whole you will be well served by following this principle, and thousands of beautiful heads everywhere can be saved from an awful and gruesome demise.


Albert Berg

P.S. My book is on sale in the Kindle store for 99 cents. I’m not very good at promoting these things, but if you were on the fence because of the price (and believe me I know what it’s like to balk at paying three dollars for a book because you just don’t have the expendable cash) then maybe this is a good time to snatch it up. I’ll probably keep this sale going until the end of the week. So there’s that.


Yesterday was National Towel Day and nobody told me. This makes me sad.

Dr. Horrible’s Musical Guide to Story Structure

If you’re a sentient synapse structure within reading distance of these words, you need to listen to what I’m about to say: Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog is awesome.  It is so awesome that you may very well collapse into despondency upon viewing it for the knowledge that you will never attain to the pinnacle of that great work of art, that summit of human imagination, that culmination of all of the great works of art of the past, paintings and sculptures, books and cinema, all created in blissful ignorance that they were simply steps on the path to the destination that is Dr. Horribles Sing Along Blog.

So, I guess what I’m saying is, it’s pretty good.

Now you’re saying to yourself, yes, but Albert, what does this have to do with story structure?

All in good time, my dear readers, all in good time.  See, while listening to the soundtrack of Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog the other day I noticed something odd: all of the songs seemed to end rather abruptly.  Thinking it might have been my imagination, I went back through the CD and listened to them again.  This time I was certain.  Every single song on that album ends just slightly before you’d expect it would.  Some of the songs are just cut off mid-sentence, and even the ones that get a proper finish still seem unresolved; the last notes always land on slightly discordant chords that end just a little more quickly than the mind expects they should.  They always leave you wanting just a little bit more.

But Albert, you say, you’re talking about music.  What does any of this have to do with writing?

Okay, okay.  Geeze, so impatient.  Anyway, realizing how all of those songs don’t quite seem to end made me think of something I recently read about structuring scenes in a story.  See, just like those songs left me wanting a little more at the end, so too we as writers should always try to end our scenes with something slightly discordant, something to make the reader squirm in his seat and wish you’d just bring it to a stopping point already.

This is a little something we in the writing business like to call “conflict.”

But Albert, you say, conflict is bad.  I spend most of my day trying to avoid conflict.  Now you’re saying I should embrace with open arms?

That is exactly what I am saying.  Conflict keeps people reading.  They don’t like to see your characters in peril or emotional distress any more than you do, so they’ll keep going in the hopes that you’ll eventually give them a happy ending.  If you let your characters rest, if you give them a moment’s reprieve your readers will say, “Well this seems like a good place to put the book down and go to get a cup of coffee.”  And they will never come back.

Well, probably never.

You must write with the goal of keeping your reader involved.  The most obvious example of this kind of writing is the cliffhanger.  Dan Brown springs to mind as an author that ends nearly every chapter with something dramatic waiting to be resolved forcing you to read on into the next chapter, where he introduces yet another conflict in the process of resolving the one you just left.  Now Dan Brown is not the world’s greatest writer by any stretch of the imagination, but he’s mastered the art of never quite giving the audience their satisfaction until the very end, and millions of readers lap it up like cream.

Of course I’m not suggesting you end every chapter on a cliffhanger per-say.  In fact the endless cliffhangers in Dan Brown’s books became something of a turn-off for me because after a while I knew I was being manipulated.  Cliffhangers are like those songs that cut off right in the middle of the line: interesting every once in a while but jarring if carried too far.  However the principle still holds true.

In general the Cliffhanger Principle (I just made that name up.  Isn’t it cool?) says this: Always end your scenes with some kind of unresolved conflict.  It pushes the reader to keep going, makes him vaguely unsettled about putting your book down, and it gives them a reason to pick it up again as soon as he can.  The conflict can be something overt like a classic cliffhanger or it can be something more subtle and emotional, but it must be there.

The moral is this:  Keep your characters in conflict, and you’ll keep your readers in the story.  Also, go and watch Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog.  Seriously.  It’s really good.


Credit where credit is due: I took the kernel of the idea for this post from Kristen Lamb’s Blog.  I thought I remembered one particular post she made about this topic, but on reviewing her archives I couldn’t find it.  If you haven’t already, you owe it to yourself to read through her work.  She’s got some incredible advice for writers.