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December 24, 2014

Celebrating the good stuff (Blog Secret Santa)

Or: A stranger takes over the Scriptorium blog and gets all enthusiastic about tone of voice
Merry Christmas, Scriptorium readers. And, Sarah O’Keefe, an especially Merry Christmas to you. I’m your writer, Santa, and this is your Blog Secret Santa gift. (Everyone else: yep, hi. I’m a random stranger writing for Sarah’s blog. Because Christmas is fun.)

And here’s your present: Four websites that perform the rare magic trick of taking things that are normally really boring and making them entertaining.

How do they do this? With quality content, of course (whatever that means). Behind that, though, these four sites are all absolute masters of ‘tone of voice’. They bubble with the enthusiasm of the person behind the keyboard.

Perhaps, Sarah, your gift might actually be many hours of enjoyable reading about things like science, philosophy and cooking. Especially if you don’t mind rude words. While assembling this list I’ve discovered a personal bias towards writers who swear like sailors. Who knew?

Anyway, on we go with Santa’s Celebration Of Wonderful Tone Of Voice (Potty-mouthed Internet Edition). In alphabetical order, we salute:

1. Myths Retold

Some guy called Ovid is behind this one. He takes myths from cultures all over the world and, as promised in the blog name, retells them. His style is a mix of epic poetry and long-winded stand-up comedy. Somehow, it works.

Every now and then the ‘mythology’ ends up being an old book, too. Like the fantastic Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde is Really About Meth:

And for a while, shit goes back to normal

Jekyll invites everyone over for dinner parties and it’s great

but then all of a sudden he stops having parties of any kind

and in London at this time that is a SERIOUS PROBLEM

so Utterson keeps trying to go hang out

but Jekyll just keeps being like NOPE STAY AWAY

until finally Utterson gives up and is like “Welp

I guess that’s why my momma always told me never to make friends with crazy people.”

Without this site, I would never have made it to the end of Jekyll and Hyde. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this or not, but a lot of the classics are seriously boring.

2. Philosophy Bro

The most impressive thing about Philosophy Bro—possibly the finest of the internet’s many, many bros—is that he really, really knows his stuff. If you took out the foul language and streetish slang, you’d have genuine philosophical essays, and accurate summaries of many of the world’s most important philosophical works. But then again, if you took out the foul language and streetish slang, no-one would want to read it. Here’s a cut from John Locke’s ‘Second Treatise on Government’: A summary:

That’s the foundation of property – bros worked their goddamn asses off to make shit, so they had the right to that shit. An apple on a tree that no one owns is f&%$#*g useless – some bro had to pick it to eat it. Who are you to tell him he can’t eat an apple that he worked for? Yeah, I have no problem with them telling you to keep the f&@k out. Sorry I’m not sorry.

I like to think that this is actually John Locke’s first draft, and that he had a very patient editor.

3. Thug Kitchen

Ok, so with this thug‘s vocabulary he’s going to wear out his M and F keys pretty soon, but sometimes it takes a lot to get noticed. And I’m not going to get offended by the only person in the world who can make vegan cooking both hilarious and attractive. That’s right: I just said “vegan” and “hilarious” in the same sentence. You don’t get that every Christmas.

Here’s a quick, slightly-cleaned-up taster that shows you how to make people read about soy-based nonsense in between slices of bread:

WHAT THE F#@% DID YOU EAT FOR LUNCH? If it wasn’t a summer tempah sammie, take the afternoon off and re-evaluate some shit.

I discovered Thug Kitchen when the love of my life did too much yoga and got weird about food. As that spun out into a literal unhealthy obsession, I started getting pretty mad at websites that recommended cutting all sorts of stuff out of your diet for no reason. But I could never get angry at Thug Kitchen.

4. What if? (xkcd)

If you don’t already read xkcd cartoons, you’re missing out. Or you’re not a nerd. Or both. Anyway, Randall Munroe, the ex-NASA scientist behind xkcd, takes reader questions and answers them on What If? The trick is that he’s smart enough to make his answers to crazy questions sound both sciency and plausible. Like when he was asked how long humanity would survive a robot apocalypse.

What people don’t appreciate, when they picture Terminator-style automatons striding triumphantly across a mountain of human skulls, is how hard it is to keep your footing on something as unstable as a mountain of human skulls. Most humans probably couldn’t manage it, and they’ve had a lifetime of practice at walking without falling over.

I should award extra tone of voice kudos here, because unlike the first 3 sites, What If works its magic without a bunch of swearing. And that’s probably good.

So there you go. Science can be interesting. Mythology can be fun. Philosophy can be readable, and vegan cooking doesn’t have to be an over-earnest snore-fest. All it takes is something to make the content sparkle, like a perfectly worked tone of voice. If you’re struggling for traffic, you might have just found your 2015 New Year’s resolution: Sound like someone who loves what you’re writing about. Sound like yourself.

Merry Christmas!