Over the past several months, I have answered the questions of many new writers to The Spoof (What do the stars mean? How do I get more points? How do I get people to notice my stories? How do I get to be one of the top writers on the list? Do you enjoy all of the young women in thong bikinis throwing themselves at you?).
As I have typed and retyped (okay, point out the obvious...re-keyboarded) those same answers over and over, the thought finally struck me: You can type up that advice and those answers just one time, post it as an article, and get points for sending the new writers to read it! And as an added bonus, if they are grateful enough, they may even send me the requested 100 dollars!
So, let's start by breaking this down into categories:
Have you ever watched the television show "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" (The original British version or the American one)? They have a line on their that says: "and the points don't matter." It is the same with the stars; they don't really matter.
Suppose that you write a story about President Bush and use the words stupid, inept, moron, and imbecile to describe him. Suddenly, every "Republican Rush Limbaugh Loving NRA Card Carrying Conservative" in the world that chances upon your story will give that product of your efforts one star. It will not matter if it is funny, true, or roll on the ground silly. If you offend someone's sacred cow, you are getting one star.
The same is true for most political stories. You will find that you cannot make fun of religions or religious figures for the same reason. Also on that list would be popular humanitarians (Mother Theresa, for example).
Several Hollywood personalities are also on this list. While many find the young Olsen twins to have been miniature skanks in training for several years and would love to see their actions ridiculed, there is an entire generation of girls who worship and adore them and will do whatever they can to pulverize any story that denegrates their heroes.
In an ideal world, a story with four or five stars would be considered top quality and cream of the crop. In The Spoof world, any story with more than 3 1/2 stars is one that was probably infrequently read and didn't offend anyone or anything. I have over 240 posted stories and articles. Only one of the stories with over 1000 hits has managed to maintain the four star level. I personally believe it is because the story makes fun of reverse discrimination and racially motivated television programming and is seen favorably by rednecks.
In that same pure world, a one star story would seen to be one that has poor grammar and spelling and made no one chuckle. This is also not true. Usually, the story with two or fewer stars is the one that has ruffled the most feathers.
For a while, Helium (a former editor who will be burned if effigy later in this article) took away the stars. Incredibly enough, we writers howled about that and protested the move.
Also, there was once a person who would sign onto the site and go through and give every single story they read only one star. They must have done it from a different computer every day (at a library or something) and enjoyed doing it for hours, because all of the ratings were falling into the toilet. I'm so glad this person had nothing better or more intelligent to do with their life. Anyway, he single handedly made all of the stories look really bad, and so the stars really didn't matter when he/she/it was here.
In summary, don't worry about the stars.
The Ratings Points?
The ratings points are just the number of people who have looked at your story. They could have found it at the Spoof itself when reading another story. The reader could have been another writer checking out your stuff or who clicked on a link in the discussion board. The reader could have been someone who got a reference off of Google or Yahoo. Whatever.
A story with 350 ratings just means that it was read by 350 people. Not all of them will vote to rate the story. In fact, most of them won't do that at all. I have some stories with over 10,000 points that have less than 30 votes. I also have some stories with 500 points that have more than 100 votes.
Some of the other writers have compared numbers and we have found that our average stories get anywhere from 200 to 1000 votes when they are still new and in the rotation.
In summary, the number of views are not a reflection of the quality of your work, so don't fret about the 200 view story.
I am writing this in early March of 2007. You will notice, if you look at the story archive, that over 1000 stories were posted in February of 2007.
When you open up the site, you will see that there are about eight or nine stories on the first page. If you click on "business" or "sports" or any of those other topics, you will see only eight or nine stories. Ten minutes later, you might see a different batch of stories. This is all because of the rotation.
The number of stories posted does not allow every story to be up in a section all of the time, but are kept in a regular rotation. They will all pop up at one time or another for a period of time. This includes the good stories, the bad stories (Joy Renee, for example), and the vagina stories (more on Buck E. Filbert later). All stories get their turn and will eventually be seen.
If your story does not pop up immediately into the rotation, remember that Mark has to preview it first. He needs to make sure that it follows the guidelines for the site and reassure himself that it is not something that will get The Spoof sued. He also has to have time to do his regular day job (I understand from one of the other writers that he works at a video rental shop and is responsible for rewinding the dvds), see his family, and handle is every day life. We also allow him to sleep, eat, and shower on a regular basis.
When he does log on to the site and approve your story, it gets put into his rotation line.
If Mark wishes, he can jump in now, add a paragraph or more on how this works, and then jump out. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Mark:
Shower? I get to shower? I think I forgot how to use the bloody soap!
Okay, I'm back now.
After a few weeks, your new and wonderful great story that is destined to change the universe and make everyone laugh will fall out of the rotation. It then slips in to the archives, only to be read when someone does a story search for that topic, views your body of previous work, or it appears to the right side of another story because you were smart enough to use the tags (yes, I'll tell you about those also).
My old stories all get hits. Some of them still get daily reads even after a few months. I have an eighteen month old story that still averages five views a day. Other stories only get one hit a week (at best). They can all, however, be searched for and read.
What Gets Read?
Some stories will get more hits than others. If you write a story about an embarrassing thing that Bush said last night, it will probably get a lot of hits because people are googling the topic. If you write a story about the girl on American Idol (my biggest story right now) who has nude pictures on the internet, people who are googling the words "American Idol Topless Pictures" will get the link to your story. They will click on it in hopes of seeing her naked.
A new writer here back in November named Buck E. Filbert was one of the first to cash in on the whole Britney Spears flashing stories. He wrote a series of articles on Britney's vagina and got thousands of hits. Another writer, I think it was Douglas Salgoud but may be wrong, appeared on the "view the writers" charts with over 100,000 hits in one week. Britney was timely and got votes. I was the first out of the chute when she shaved her head and got over 60,000 votes on that in one week.
Someone else jumped on the Daniel Radcliffe story (doing Equus) and his piece on the naked actor has gotten him big, consistent ratings.
The timely stories about the "it" people of the week are the ones that get the most points.
There is somewhat of a controversy on this in the writers section of the discussion forum. Some think that Britney stories cannot be funny and are a prostitution of the talent of the writer. They think that only the headline is what pulls the people in. Others counter that pulling the people in to the site brings more readers and writers here and benefits everyone.
The truth in this argument is probably somewhere in the middle. Some of the Britney stories have been funny and others have not. The number of stories, views, and writers have escalated in the last four months. What has brought them here? It may be the popularity of the Britney stories.
Why Isn't My Story Getting Read?
Just because a story only gets a couple of hundred points does not mean that it was not successful. I worked really hard for weeks crafting my 200th story. I did a lot of research for that one. I consider it one of my funnier pieces. It stagnated and has less than 200 views.
Why? Because reading about Richard Nixon and the Watergate tapes is not a current thing. Your funniest stuff may go unread, while a piece you knocked out in five minutes to take advantage of a headline in the paper may get 7000 hits.
Remember, just because it is not read by thousands does not mean it was not a good story. It was fun for you to write, it honed your craft, it gave those people that did read it a chuckle and brightened their day. If you accomplished that, you were successful.
What Subjects Should I Avoid?
You cannot announce the death (by suicide, murder, or natural causes) of any actual person still living (or put them in prison). Announcing the death of someone like Bugs Bunny, who is a fictional character to everyone but President Bush, is okay. The death story for a living person is 100% against the rules and will get a story booted every time.
It is generally not a good idea to poke fun of the recently dead either. It is still a touchy subject. I learned this the hard way with my stories on Ed Bradley (a eulogy from Andy Rooney, told in Rooney style) and President Ford (Chevy Chase to play Ford at funeral). In retrospect, both stories were tacky. Now, a time later when wounds have begun to heal, they might read a little funnier. This type of story is not against the rules, it is just tasteless and should be avoided.
Implicating real people in malicious acts (i.e. murder) is also a no-no.
You also need to be careful on "outing" a straight person, setting up an affair between celebrities, swearing (especially in the first paragraph), violent or bloody descriptions of events, or graphic sexual details.
If you question whether or not a story would be acceptable, just ask Mark. If you make a story live and Mark feels it does contain subject matter which is risky, he will let you know. He might not be forthcoming with the details. It's usually best to keep your chin up, count to ten, and move on.
Now, here's Mark with his own words on this subject: You will not publish any articles which are overly defamatory or offensive. Topics which are definitely not allowed include death of living celebrities, explicit/horrific/graphic descriptions of sex or death, and rape, child molestation or any other morose sexual offences. Please keep strong swear words (fuck, cunt, twat, etc.) out of the titles of your stories and the first paragraph.
Who is Helium and Why Do The Older Writers Want to Kill Him?
Helium was the editor here for a while. He used different standards with different people. He allowed some writers to post on the forums and not others. He approved some pictures showing full rear and topless nudity but turned down other pictures of women in skimpy bathing suits or tops. He kicked off some good writers for disagreeing with him. He was not consistent with the writers or his editorial practices.
While he did not kick me off the site, his attitude drove me away for almost a year. When I left on my own (I basically just quit posting), I was the number one rated writer on the site and had been for over a month.
It is a pleasure and a great blessing to be working with Mark. He is willing to work with the writers and has the best interest of the writers and their stories at heart. Though some are upset that he does not allow them to upload any picture they want, he has his reasons for this and has stated them (copyright laws, for example).
His reworking of the Chester written Joy Renee Cote stories shows his care and concern for his writers. If it were me, I would just delete them as the ramblings of an illiterate teenager. He actually takes the time to polish these and tries to make them readable. For that alone, he deserves our respect.
How Do I Get Listed On "View the Writers"?
Be successful with your points and post a lot of stories. The more old stories that can be accessed, the more points you have the potential to earn. The more stories that appeal to a mass audience or are timely, the greater your potential for points.
Remember, though, that you will not always stay on top. You can be number one at the beginning of a month, off the list by the end of the month, and back in the top five a week later. Some writers with large bodies of work (myself, Con Chapman, Duff, Queen Mudder) may remain on the list even if we take a vacation and can't post anything for a few weeks. Douglas Salgoud hasn't posted anything (as of this writing) for three months and is still on the top 20 list.
I have been number one four different times. Do I think that I belong there? No, I was just lucky enough those times to have the stories posted that people wanted to read. Do I pay attention to my ranking? A little, but I am happy to be on the list and want to remain there. As I write this, I am number two. The story that propelled me there and got almost 35,000 hits, though, is dying in popularity. I will probably fall back into the pack in the next few days unless I come up with something catchy or clever to keep me near the top.
Remember, the writer in first place is not necessarily the best writer on the site and the guy in tenth place is not necessarily the tenth best writer. Some really great writers here have never been number one because they have not written the "news of the day" type of stories that grab the attention.
Stories or Articles?
There are some writers here that are mostly story people and others that post mostly articles. When I post an article (this will be big number 11 for me, while I have more than 230 stories), I generally use it to look at something humorous that has happened in my own life.
Know that articles will not get the number of hits that stories get. My biggest articles still have less than 800 hits. My most recent articles have less than 200 (even after a month). This is mostly a story driven site.
I write the articles for me and am quite often more proud of them than my stories. Some of my articles are really heartfelt (my story on lessons I learned from my son, for example). Others are humorous events that actually happened to me in my life (an experience with my father in the hospital is one of these).
While most of my stories are in the 200 to 500 word range, most of my articles are 2000 plus.
Also, if you do not know whether to post something you wrote as an article or as a news story, ask Mark. He can tell you where he thinks it fits better.
The whole key here is to decide what you like to write and stick with it. Develop your talents in either direction.
I would also recommned branching out to try your hand at snippets, jokes, stories, and articles. Developing your talent in one area (like snippets) may help you craft the one liners that can make a story better.
Snippets and Jokes
Please, please, please do not take a joke you heard last night on Letterman or read in the Reader's Digest and post it here as a joke. These are supposed to be original material that you created that are not spoofs of any news stories; they are just jokes.
As far as snippets go, I think too many times we come up with an idea for a story and over-write it. If it is just a one joke story, it probably should have been a snippet. In retrospect, some of my stories that did not work could have worked as really funny snippets.
If you think that you are having to over-write a story, step back and ask yourself if it would work better as a snippet. While it won't get you the points, they can still be fun to write and you know that they will come up more often in the rotation.
There are some really good snippet writers on here who can crank out ten or more a day. I doubt that I've written twenty-five of them in the last twenty-one months.
Why Should I Use The Tags?
If you write a story on Anna Nicole Smith, include the tag "Anna Nicole Smith." If you are writing one on Britney shaving her head, you might want to include the tag: Britney Spears. Don't go overboard though. Remember - less is more.
If someone is reading a different story on Anna Nicole Smith and wants to read more stories about her, your story may appear on the right hand side of the screen as a "see also" if you have tagged yours with 'Anna Nicole Smith' too. This will help to get your story noticed and seen by others.
If you're adding new tags, be sure they're likely to get used by someone else, otherwise there's no point! And if you've thought of a tag that could be expressed in a million different ways just use one. It only adds confusion to other writers who want to use that tag if there is more than one choice. For example, if your story is about cannabis, try to pick just one term for the drug; try not to use: dope, weed, skunk, marijuana, etc. And if you don't find your term for something, make sure you check the library for existing tags which might also relate to that thing. Or, with cannabis, why not just stick with the umbrella tag, 'drugs'?
Many tags in the library offer their own advise, for example if you're writing a story about George Bush, you should use the 'George W. Bush' tag. If you start to type 'Bush' you will see a tag 'Bush (use George W. Bush - or 'Shrub' if you're talking about a bush)'. So if your story is about George W. you should not use Bush, but George W. Bush instead. If your story is about a bush, use the tag: 'Shrub'.
You can see this on other ambiguous tags too, i.e. Football tends to mean American Football in the US, but Soccer in the UK. So there are two tags: 'Football (American)' and 'Football (Soccer)'. Use the correct one for whatever your story is about.
If you wish to use the name of a person when tagging a story, try to use that person's full name (unless he/she is known more commonly by his/her first or last name).
Finally, try to stick with nouns and noun phrases. Also, try to avoid ambiguous tags such as 'shock' or 'funny'. No doubt a great deal of stories are quite shocking, and (hopefully) funny, but it's best to stick with the big picture.
Hopefully this is all clear. If you have any further questions, drop Mark a line.
Does your story need a picture? That really depends on the story. Most have a picture. Go to the gallery and find something that works. If nothing there suits your fancy, click on the button that has Mark find a picture and he will get you something. When he does, he can be pretty witty in some of his captioning.
Some writers write the story around the picture. Try it some time. Go to the gallery and click through the pictures. If you see something that sparks an idea, write a story around it. When I want to write but cannot come up with something, I will sometimes do that.
We have sometimes had a few writer's challenges where someone picks a strange picture (one of a man in a banana suit sitting on a toilet, for example) and we all try to write a story using that same picture. It can be fun and sometimes brings about the most outlandish stories.
Understand that a picture is not yours. It will be used by others. Even if Mark finds you a new picture, someone else may see it and use it the same week. For example, I believe Queen Mudder and I both used the same hair picture in our stories on Britney's head lice (a reason for shaving her head). In fact, though neither story had anything to do with the other, we posted them on the same day.
That kind of thing will happen often. When Saddam Hussein was hung, two people wrote stories about his noose going up for sale on e-bay and posted them within minutes of each other (and also used the same picture). Remember, sometimes great minds think alike!
Very simply, Mark has a few pointers on stylistics in effort to keep articles on The Spoof have a similar look and feel. Here are the guidelines:
1. Do not put your headlines in all caps - they will only get changed.
2. Watch for punctuation, spelling, and grammar. Use the proper number of spaces after each punctuation mark (one for commas, one or two for marks that end a sentence, etc.).
3. Please put a blank line between paragraphs. Also, please break your story up into easily recognized paragraphs.
4. If you're making reference to The Spoof, use The Spoof, The Spoof!, or preferably, TheSpoof.com (Ensure T and S are capitals). Do not use Spoof or Spoof.com because that's not The Spoof. Similarly do not use www.thespoof.com. It's understandable that your sentence might not flow if you write, say, "a TheSpoof.com reporter" and you may be tempted to drop the "The" - don't. Either leave it as it is, or reword the sentence so it says "a reporter for TheSpoof.com".
5. Mark suggests this booklet for those who have not had any grammatical training for a number of years: http://www.bbctraining.com/pdfs/newsstyleguide.pdf
The following is from Mark: Obviously The Spoof doesn't enforce any strict guide on stylistics - our articles are just a fun way for people to vent themselves. We don't expect the writers to be producing top quality journalism - not that it stops the writers from doing it! It's just nice to have some consistency with the style across all the stories.
Fan Mail and Hate Mail
You probably won't get very much based on your writing here unless you really offend someone. If you are here to try to get fan mail, find another site.
The worst piece of hate mail that I have received was actually a phone call. One man was so angered by a story that he did his research and called my home phone number. Unfortunately for my twelve year old son, I was not home and he had to take the vindictive phone call. Because of this, I am Jalapenoman and do not have my e-mail address or real name listed to non-writers.
The nicest fan mail is from the other writers. It is really a good feeling to be recognized by your peers. you can either send it to them in private or tell them how much you appreciated one of their stories in the writer's forum.
Remember, the fastest way to make friends here is to be friendly to others.
In King David's story on a high school science fair, he names the school Buck E. Filbertus High, a spoof on the name of a writer. As all of the science fair projects listed were sexually motivated, it made it even more of an inside joke (you'll understand this if you go back and read all of Buck's stories about Britney's famous nether regions). Several stories by the writers are actually just inside jokes towards the friends we have made on the forum.
Why Should Any of This Advice Matter?
It doesn't matter if you don't want it to matter. Remember, however, that if you want to learn how to play baseball, you talk to a baseball player or coach (and not a hockey player). If you want to know what the Pentacostals teach, you don't talk to a Mormon missionary on a bicycle or the neighborhood Catholic Priest (even if it takes away from his time molesting little boys), you talk to a Pentacostal member or minister.
So, if you want to be successful at writing Spoof stories, talk to the successful Spoof writers. Read the writer's forum and see what they are talking about. If they give advice, read what they say and see if you can use it to help you. If they offer suggestions to other writers on their stories, pay attention. Ask for help if you need it. In the hours it has taken me to write this, I could have written four or five stories. Instead, I took that time to help other writers.
One of my favorite paintings ever shows a group of people climbing a wall. As each is reaching up with one hand to pull themselves higher, they are also reaching down with another to help raise the person below them. To me, this is what life is all about; bettering ourselves while at the same time helping to better others.
I hope this has helped some of you new to the site. If it has, thank you for letting me assist you. Now go and help someone else; even I can use the advice to strengthen my craft and am always open to constructive criticism.
Now, if any of this has helped you or answered any of your questions, please send me that $100.