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Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994
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Start and finish writing a short story in two weekends in our Writing Boot Camp.

September 26, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Announcements, Workshops

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Poster by Anne Tamondong

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Both sessions will be facilitated by Jessica Zafra.
Venue in Makati to be confirmed.
For details and to book a place, email saffron.safin@gmail.com.

Best Writing Tips from William Boyd, Claire Messud, Tessa Hadley, Philip Hensher and others

September 26, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Books

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Illustration by Jill Calder in The Guardian

Plan your ending

About once a month or so, when someone says to me, “I’ve got this great idea for a novel/film/play/TV series” and then outlines the (usually pretty good) opening, I say: “So – how does it end?”. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred the answer is: “I haven’t quite figured that out yet.”

Therefore my default response to all “great” ideas in the writing business is to do with the ending. A good ending can redeem a mediocre idea. A bad ending can sink a really good idea. As soon as you know how your narrative ends – in whatever medium – then a huge percentage of the problematic issues that arise in the writing will be solved.

If you have a clear sense of how your story will end then you can, as it were, rewind to the beginning and plot any number of various routes that will allow you to arrive at that desired ending – with its attendant catharsis, of course. If you start writing (however striking your original idea) with no sense of how your story will end, then life becomes progressively harder. Flailing around. Writer’s block. Draft after draft. This is how novels get abandoned; film scripts bottom-drawered. The thing to do is to stop and envisage your final pages, your final scene. Take your time. What note do you want to strike? What surprise do you want to spring? What denouement will justify this journey?

It may sound mechanical, but story-telling is a very complicated business, full of moving parts and many cogs engaging. You can’t rely on the Muse to descend and sort it all out for you. A bit of serious forethought about the conclusion will mean you don’t need the Muse’s help at all.

Read My Best Writing Tip

North Korea has officially banned sarcasm. What a wonderful idea! Truly a great move.

September 23, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Current Events, Places

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What it looks like when Kim Jong-Un crushes sarcasm

Behold the Glorious Leader pointing at things, with the Ghost of the Glorious Leader’s Father behind him.

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Action figures by Contra Bandidos.

AI in the war against troll farms and outsourced online hatred

September 21, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Current Events, Technology

Manila, Philippines. August 28, 2014. An employee working as a content moderator for Task Us sits in front of her computer at her cubicle on the 11th floor of the SM Aura Office Building Tower in the Taguig district of Manila. Task Us is an American outsourcing tech company with offices in the Philippines. (Photo by Moises Saman/MAGNUM)
Companies like Facebook and Twitter rely on an army of workers employed to soak up the worst of humanity in order to protect the rest of us. It’s a soul-killing job better left to AI. Photo: A content moderator from TaskUs in BGC.

Mass harassment online has proved so effective that it’s emerging as a weapon of repressive governments. In late 2014, Finnish journalist Jessikka Aro reported on Russia’s troll farms, where day laborers regurgitate messages that promote the government’s interests and inundate oppo­nents with vitriol on every possible outlet, including Twitter and Facebook. In turn, she’s been barraged daily by bullies on social media, in the comments of news stories, and via email. They call her a liar, a “NATO skank,” even a drug dealer, after digging up a fine she received 12 years ago for possessing amphetamines. “They want to normalize hate speech, to create chaos and mistrust,” Aro says. “It’s just a way of making people disillusioned.”

All this abuse, in other words, has evolved into a form of censorship, driving people offline, silencing their voices. For years, victims have been calling on—clamoring for—the companies that created these platforms to help slay the monster they brought to life. But their solutions generally have amounted to a Sisyphean game of whack-a-troll.

Now a small subsidiary of Google named Jigsaw is about to release an entirely new type of response: a set of tools called Conversation AI. The software is designed to use machine learning to automatically spot the language of abuse and harassment—with, Jigsaw engineers say, an accuracy far better than any keyword filter and far faster than any team of human moderators. “I want to use the best technology we have at our disposal to begin to take on trolling and other nefarious tactics that give hostile voices disproportionate weight,” says Jigsaw founder and president Jared Cohen. “To do everything we can to level the playing field.”

Jigsaw is applying artificial intelligence to solve the very human problem of making people be nicer on the Internet.

Read it.

Letter from a Reader: How do you start getting published?

September 19, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Workshops

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Hello Ms. Zafra!

Im Mao and I read some of your of your essays from the twisted series. A friend of mine recommended you to me and I thought you were amazing. I don’t really have any concerns, I just really wanted to tell you how great your writing was. I loved how you saw mundane things, how you turned them into experiences worth noting, and existential crisis worth scrutinizing. They were great!

I write a bit and, I was wondering (looks like I have a question, after all. Sorry for the white lie earlier) how you started getting your work published? I’m wondering because I’d like to do it as well. I’m aware that my ideas are nothing special but that’s only because I’m used to them- maybe my random mussing could be a good reference for others. I really just want to get ideas out there. Ideas get people talking and the more ideas we have, the more we help fight ignorance. I don’t know, I just really want to create something. Maybe something that tells me that I’m here, like I’m present.

Lately I’ve been feeling like a wanderer. I do things and become tired and although I get office tasks accomplished, I don’t feel productive. A friend told me I was dead inside because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I think I do, but I’m afraid it won’t reap anything good. What I want is to create something and have it out there. Something to prove my existence. Not to others, to myself. I feel like everything I said is a contradiction but I just wanted to get it out there and I really want your advice on this. Ir any words at all. I’m sorry for the bother,

PS You’re amazing and awesome. I’m happy you’re alive approximately the same time as me. I’m happy we share a lifetime

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Dear Mao,

Thank you for your letter. It is always good to get feedback directly from the readers. I appreciate your enthusiasm, but I would caution you against admiring anyone too much. At some point they will let you down. It is not necessarily because they’re terrible people, but because we are all complex beings with our own personalities and inevitably we will disagree.
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Too much metaphor: The Brutal War of the Political Cats of Downing Street

September 18, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Cats, Current Events

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Larry (tortoiseshell) of the Prime Minister’s Office in battle with Palmerston (black and white) of the Foreign Office.

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Both were adopted from Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. Other cats have since moved into the offices on Downing Street: whether they will promote peace or join the fray remains to be seen.

Cat Wars: Downing Street upheaval