Thursday, December 30, 2010

What Bathrooms?

I still find it weird that nobody poops in stories.  And it's not like I particularly want to see or read about it.  It's just that, it is a very core part of human existence.  Every other aspect is shown or implied, but excretion is not.

In stories, we have mention of travel, breathing, eating, bathing, and even sex.  But it is far rarer to come across somebody bringing up using the bathroom.  The only time it happens, somebody either gets killed along the way or finds some incredible thing.  Nobody simply excuses themselves and then returns.

I wonder if it is because of our culture or because it is unnecessary to the story that we omit bathroom usage.  I understand that a great deal of things go on that don't get mentioned in stories, so there is a valid point of them being ignored because they are inconsequential.  However, if we are trying to represent humanity and life realistically and honestly, then it seems odd that we would take such great lengths, but still leave this out.

Is there a way to do this and remain classy, or at least remain not gross?  Try it out and let me know.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

How "Don't Die" Relates to Characters

As I have finished relating "Don't Die" to writers, I think that it should also be related to characters that writers use.

In stories, it seems that there is a much higher chance for death.  Death is undeniably powerful.  It is the end.  It is dramatic. It can be heroic, pathetic, and anything in between.  But death also limits a character because they can no longer do anything else.

As long as your characters continue to draw breath, they can continue to do things, make decisions, affect the world.  They are more powerful, more effective alive than they could be in death (unless they're really awful characters).

Death is an easy out for our characters.  It's even easier because they're not real.  But that doesn't make it right.  Let your characters live.  Make them live.  And make them survive.  They'll find a way to do it, as long as they don't die.

How "Don't Die" Relates to Writers

In my previous post, I gave the most basic key to survival.  It's certainly a good one, but I didn't relate it to writing directly enough.  So I'm fixing that now.

As a writer, you're gonna write some lousy stuff.  You're also going to write some good stuff.  But either way, you're going to get your heart broken.  Somebody is going to say the worst, most hurtful things imaginable to you.  You may feel inclined to pack up and turn away, never to come back to writing.  Don't do it.  Don't give up (unless you have truly lost all of your passion or desire).  The only way to survive that kind of heart break is to not die.  Keep on writing.  That's the only way to survive as a writer.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Don't Die

There are some rough times in life.  Sometimes we find ourselves stuck in a lose-lose situation.  Every single possibility leads to an awful outcome.  When I tell stories of these, I am often asked the same question: "How did you survive that?"

I often give the same answer: "Surviving was easy. All I had to do was not die."

It's amazing the things that can happen when you don't die.  You keep on drawing breath, having thoughts, and doing stuff.  After enough time, so much new stuff has gone on that the crappy place you were trapped in is old news.

Everything stays with you.  Everything grows and shapes you, both the positive and the negative.  What you may experience you will never get rid of.  But if you get enough experiences after it, it becomes way less important.

And it's so darn simple to do: Don't die.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Fan Fiction and Poetry: Similar

I realized a while ago (and am finally getting around to writing about it) that fan fiction and poetry are actually pretty similar.  And I mean beyond the fact that girls in high school friggin' love them.

Fan fiction and poetry both make use of commonly known things.  In fanfic, it is characters, objects, and relationships.  In poetry, it is feelings and symbols.  Nobody needs a sunset explained to them, nor do they need to know the relationship between Spock and Kirk.  As such, we can progress further much sooner because of not having to establish those things.

They can also both be very dense.  This comes from that shared understanding.  Characters in fanfic do not need to go into soliloquy or extended monologue/dialogue about how they feel or why they did the things they did.  In poetry, we are writing on several levels, usually the literal level of the scene, as well as the metaphorical level of the symbolic meaning of the components of the scene.

To that end, poetry and fan fiction also share the quality of being exceptionally difficult to do well.  The ability to have well-known characters not break their canon or betray their personalities, to have them speak the way they should sound, and all while having an interesting and relevant story is hard.  So is writing a poem that can simultaneously show an interesting scene at face value, but also have that scene, elicit powerful thoughts and emotions in the blink of an eye.  That is also why the vast majority of both fanfic and poetry are trash, liked only by the person who wrote it (and not always then), and make the minute percentage of truly excellent works in the fields completely ignored.

You can probably guess my advice by now.  (Give it a shot already.)

Create The Future

I had my traditional Christmas meal at the Chinese buffet with family and friends today.  My fortune cookie at the end was particularly notable.  "The best way to predict the future is to create it."

The intent, I'm sure, is that people need to make their own luck, put in the effort to get the results they want, and not rely on anything more.  But I could only read this as a writer.  It referred to what I say: When we write, we create a universe where those stories are the truth.

As such, it made me think.  Writers often say that when they start writing, the characters take over and start living their own lives; the writers are simply recording the action taking place in the universe they created.  But, should it be the case?  Should writers start creating the future?

It might make things easier.  You know where things start.  You know how they will end.  There would be no unfortunate surprises.

Maybe that's not the point, though.  Maybe, when you're writing, you shouldn't worry about predicting the future.  Maybe it should be more about riding the wave and seeing where it takes you.

Maybe life works the same way.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Adult Conversations

My sister, her husband, and her two sons came up to visit my family.  I haven't seen them in 10 years or so.  I was still a child then.  I didn't really converse back then.  I just did, whatever it was that we children did.

But now, a lot of time has changed.  I have grown up a lot, had my own experiences, and come up with my own thoughts because of it.  I was able to talk with everybody and it really meant something to me.

I enjoyed having adult conversations.  We talked about serious things.  Not deathly serious, mind you, but real things about life and religion and politics.  We also got to shoot the breeze, tell some jokes, and crack up at hilarious impressions of people we all knew.

All of these things I simply couldn't do as a kid.  They are things I kind of do/did with my friends, but it's really different remeeting somebody after 10 years and finding out who they are (and who you are, too).

Adult conversations are something you just can't have as a kid.  It's one of the perks of age.  It's also one of the things that makes writing a constantly new experience.  As you get older, wiser, more experienced, you become a different person.  That makes you a different writer.  It's not something that will happen consciously, but every now and then, take a step back from yourself and see how your writing has changed.  And if you notice it, don't be bothered or freaked out.  Just know that it is still you.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Shut Up, For Your Own Good

I have the uncanny ability to ruin any special moment I am in.  It's not exactly the kind of ability that would let me join the X-Men (though I do often get called a mutant).  What it comes down to is that I cannot shut off that thinking part of my brain.  And I am such a witty comedian that everything somebody says I can (and generally do) turn into a joke or insincere insult.

This can have pretty disastrous consequences.  The worst comes when people are being heartfelt.  When somebody drops their defenses and exposes themselves, and all I have to say is some inappropriate crack, it cuts deeper than anything else (because they dropped their defenses) and it also makes them never want to be serious with me again.

If somebody is being kind, don't be a jerk.  Don't correct somebody's grammar when they are telling you they like you.  Don't say "that's what she said" when somebody is telling a traumatic story about childhood abuse.

You'd think this is common sense.  And it should be.  And most people may not have this problem most of the time.  But a great deal of problems occur because somebody just could not shut up for their own good.

Whether this applies to you or your characters, it probably applies.  Think about it.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Not About Temporary Things

It amazes me to go through my archives. I treat my blog as throwaway writing, but it isn't.  It's not about temporary things.  If I read something a year after I wrote it, it still holds meaning.  Sometimes it holds more meaning.

I really consider it a good sign.  Writing should be lasting and meaningful.  If the entry for any random day can be reread in the future and still appreciated, still made to make me think, still able to make me laugh, then it was definitely a good entry.

Go and pull out an old piece of writing.  Does it still affect you?  Why or why not?  If so, can you repeat it?  If not, what can you change to make it better?

Travelling To Different Planes Of Existence

Sometimes I have a conversation when I am beyond exhausted.  I use all of the power and energy I have to stay awake and pay attention, but I am running on fumes and just can't maintain it.  My eyes close, I slip in and out of consciousness.  I start dreaming.

My dreams can range from the thoroughly bizarre to the incredibly mundane.  And the early ones are usually mundane.  They're just conversations with people.  Nothing impressive, just shooting the breeze.

I'm not entirely asleep, though. I'm still trying to participate in the real life conversation.  So I keep transporting between the conversation in front of me and the one in my dreams. The other problem is that I'm not usually aware that I switched from to the other.  That's when the confusion starts up.

To the other person, a conversation about music and musicianship gets very quiet, then becomes about why a hot paint job on a car is really worth the money.

When you write, you are entering a different plane of existence.  It is a world in which everything that happens there is real. When you stop writing, you go back to this world.  Sometimes, though, you bring along some baggage.  Writing can be a very real experience, as real as the most intense dream you've had.  When you disengage from active writing, make sure you fully disengage.  Don't bring any of that baggage with you.  All it does is confuse the crap out of everybody else.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Playing In Somebody Else's Sandbox

I find it difficult to actually collaborate with other writers.  Sharing ideas and coming up with premises is fine, but working together on a single narrative rarely ends well.  I think it is a combination a desire for control (usually from both parties), and a difference in visualization of where the story goes.

I have an idea for a story about a man who is very interested in solving puzzles.  As a challenge, he teaches himself how to pick locks.  From there, he increases the challenge by picking locks of people's homes at night without getting caught.  But where do I go from there?

My thought is to have him break into people's houses and walk around without being caught, just as another challenge, but he becomes so racked with guilt that he leaves little presents as an anonymous apology, leading the town to think of this mysterious person as a Santa Claus/Reverse Cat Burglar.

Another's thought is to have him continue to increase the challenge, becoming more devious and more daring with each challenge, until he finally meets his match.

A third person's thought is to have him use his powers for good and become some sort of secret agent like James Bond and becoming a classic type hero.

These are not reconcilable ideas.  They can't blend together.  One of them has to be chosen.  And from there, the story becomes that person's story.  The other co-writers are more like helpers.  And that's where the power issue comes in.  If everybody is working on your idea, you don't want them mutilating your baby.

It's difficult to play in other people's sandbox.  It's difficult to share. I'm sure that when working with reasonable people, it is not too hard to learn to be reasonable, or how to work on projects fairly and evenly.  But it will never be a walk in the park.  Imagine the difficulty of writing by yourself.  Now imagine three people trying to write by themselves.  Not gonna be pretty.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The World You Want To Live In

Different people have different desires in life, different fantasies they would like to live out.  But think about the world that your fantasies would take place in.  Are they a world you would really want?

People who want to be adventurer/warrior heroes live in an epic world of evil.  It's always clouded and gloomy.  People live short, wretched lives.  The fate of the world rests on 1-4 people.  Sure, it may be cool to be the one to save the day, but as a whole, is that really much of a pleasant world to live in?

I want to live in a world where everything has a tinge of zany.  I want a flower shop called Pistils At Dawn.  I want a cybercafe based on Mediterranean food named PetaBytes; they would sell a special snack called Pita Bites.  I would buy my bed at the Sleep With Me Mattress Store.  I want to buy candy full of anesthetics called Numby Num Nums.  I want to work out at the gym owned by Stephen Roids (SteRoids Gym).  I want pizza that has dillweed in the dough for the crust (dill dough pizza).  I want to buy graphic tees from a store that specializes in Shirt Art (or Sh'Art).

Of course, if I lived in that world, it would be very frustrating.  Sure it's witty, but the people in this world have no idea they've done anything funny.  If I had to live in that world, I can't even imagine these people would have a sense of humor, or at least not one I would go well with.  This world is great for a reader or explorer of the world, but it's not really a world I would want to live in.

When we read a story, we are really only exploring a world, sort of taking a vacation or driving through.  But the worlds that suck you in, absorb you into them, make you truly wish you could stay there, those are the worlds that are more than just entertaining at a glance.  Those are the powerful worlds, the fully-developed and fleshed out worlds that make people read and reread, just to stay in that world a little longer.

If you can create a world you would want to live in (rather than one that would be interesting to check out for a bit), that will be a sure sign it is a world other people will be interested in.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Why Make Things Complicated?

Why do we call a vocabulary a lexicon?  Why do we call words verbiage?  It seems really unnecessary.  Enough people don't know the meanings of the latter words that using them only complicates things.  And why make things complicated?

This is an issue I struggle with.  I like big words.  I happen to know a lot of them, too.  I like the way they sound, the way they feel to say.  Sometimes they have a nuanced meaning that truly expresses what I want (like "verbiage" meaning an abundance of words).  Sometimes, I just like being different and saying anything other than a common word.

That last reason is not a good one.  That's the kind of reason that makes communication less effective.  If you know a word that everybody else knows and it serves the purpose you need, just use it.  The world will be a better place.

More Discomfort or Less Comfort

"More discomfort" and "less comfort" mean the exact same thing.  So why do we choose one phrase instead of the other?  The usual answer is that "less comfort" is much easier to say or that "more discomfort" takes more time and energy to process the meaning of.  That is understandable, and I do agree with those.  But in spoken speech, both phrases are used.  So why do we say one phrase instead of the other?

From what I've seen, it hinges on the words "more" and "less".  They have different connotations.  "More" shows increasing and growth.  "Less" describes dwindling and shrinking.  (I know, no duh.)  But sometimes one meaning elucidates your point better than the other.

I woke up with a stiff neck.  I took some Advil, but it didn't help.  I had to shovel driveway before going to work, where I lifted freight that needs two people by myself. Now I'm in more discomfort than I was before.

I woke up from the best night's sleep I've ever had.  I put on my comfy shoes and headed out to work.  Of course, before I could get out of my driveway, I had to shovel it clear.  That's when I found out my comfy shoes have a sizable hole in them.  I finally got out and moved heavy crates all day.  Now I'm in far less comfort than I was when I woke up.

The difference between "more discomfort" and "less comfort" is the starting and finishing points.  When you start in discomfort, you grow to more discomfort.  When you start in comfort, you fall to less comfort.  I love that our language affords us this level of flexibility.  It is totally worth the added confusion in being able to find the words that express yourself best.  It is also worth learning the vocabulary and distinctions to be able to make use of this flexibility of language.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

They Don't, Themselves, Know

In writing, everything has a reason.  This is nothing new, both in the grand scheme of things and in the realm of this blog.  But still, I find it bears a reprisal. And along with it, the idea that that's not always possible.

We readily accept that characters have a life of their own, a mind of their own, and motives of their own.  Fictional though they are, real characters are fully-fledged human beings.  Well, real people don't always have a reason for the things they do.  Sometimes they act on impulse, only later trying to find the reason for their actions.

Arguably, writing is not real life.  It is an idealized form of real life, meant to be a medium by which we can tell a story or concept.  In that case, we may demand writing to be above the irrationality of humanity.  But frankly, I don't think I buy it.  We are humans and we respond to humans.  When we create, we create humans.
Although we always want to know the answer, the reasoning, the rationale behind people's actions, sometimes the only answer is that they don't, themselves, know.

Master Baiter

My friend has arachnophobia.  I make it a point to ask her if her favorite superhero is Spider-Man.  If she wants to see a movie, I recommend The Scorpion King.  If she has a bad feeling, I ask if her Spidey Sense is tingling.  When she starts telling me about the assorted drama in her life, I simply say, "Oh, what a tangled web we weave..."

She hates me.  She hates me, but she keeps coming back for more.  I love baiting people.  Somebody has something they're sensitive about, and although I do not actually bring up the subject, I dance just barely outside it, so I can't be scolded for bringing it up.

Similarly, people have kind of dirty minds.  I'm not sure if it's sheer humanity that makes us obsessed with sex or if it's society that makes us sensitive.  In any case, it's easy to bait people into thinking about dirty things without actually saying something dirty.  My friend thinks it's hard. That's what she said.  But I think she was just yanking me.  I really should keep abreast of the situation.

But I digress.  The point is, I'm a master baiter.  And I love it.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Excepting Acceptions

As frustrating as it is when people use a word incorrectly, it can also be fun to play around with words.  'Accept' and 'except' are a great example.  To accept something means to take something in or approve of it.  To except something means the opposite.  In short, exceptions are unacceptable.

In one of my comics with Kelly, there is a marker board in the background of the gym where our characters work.  Although I wrote the script, the marker board was all his to write or draw whatever he wanted.  In this comic here, the board says, "We don't except chocolate as payment."

When I first read it, I wanted to correct Kelly for using the wrong word.  Then I changed my mind.  I thought it was the funniest damn thing.  We run a gym, a place where people come to get in shape, yet we do not refuse chocolate as a form of payment (which is a ridiculous enough concept by itself).  As far as I was concerned, anybody who realized that there is a supposed misspelling ought to enjoy the silliness of taking it at face value.

Do a little word play of your own.  What other similar-sounding words are there?  I often see people misspell rapper as raper.  What can you do with that?  If you wanted something more pleasant, you could go for shoot/chute or colonel/kernel.

There's a lot of humor to make from misunderstanding.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Escape From The Noise

The world is a noisy place.  I don't like it. It's not sound, just noise.  Noise is distracting. It occupies your ears and vies for your attention.  It is painful and generally unpleasant.

I do my best to avoid noise.  I usually fight noise with sound.  Good background music does not insist upon itself, nor does it distract me (unless it's a really good song).  When I put on headphones, the sound also blocks out any other noise.

What is much harder to do is to find quiet.  A small room that is sound-proof, maybe with a dull hum, as though from a fan or air conditioner, not brightly lit, and devoid of people, that would be a heaven (or perhaps a haven). Such a shame that such rooms are not easily found.

Noise bothers me in general, but it's murder to write to.  By whatever means necessary, I must escape from the noise if I ever wish to write.  I think that it may be a weakness, but it is not a crippling one.  At least with music and headphones, I'm pretty well set there.  Writing at night also helps.  Everybody is asleep, no rustling or rumbling or chatting (except for other night owls, who usually have their own things to work on).

What methods do you use to escape from the noise?  Or does noise not get to you?  If that, then what does distract you from your natural writing groove?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Don't Get Lost In Heaven

I love taking a shower.  I have warm water falling down upon me, relaxing my body, replenishing it with energy, activating my thoughts, and making me squeaky clean all the while.  It's pretty easy for me to lose track of time while taking such a pleasant shower.

Everybody has something that they enjoy that much, something where they can lose track of the world around them and exist only in the realm of that activity.  It really is heavenly.

Just don't get lost in heaven.  It's good to enjoy yourself, but when you overdo it, you don't get done the things that need to get done.

Sometimes writing is your heaven.  Sometimes heaven lets you escape from writing.  In either case, a good mix of the two makes sure that they both get done (the things you have to do and the things you want to do).  Balance is always key.

Unresolved Tension

We need things to wrap up.  We need natural, organic, comfortable ending points.  Writing is about creating tension, then releasing tension.  You absolutely cannot leave tension unresolved.

Well, actually, you totally can do exactly that.  Creating tension and leaving it there can be a great way to make people uncomfortable.  In the worst case, people simply tell you that you are a bad writer.  But in the best case, it can unnerve people more than any actual horror novel.

Like the story of the girl in her basement.  It's her little hang out spot.  After school, she puts on some music, does her homework, chats online with her friends.  Today, she finishes her last assignment, then closes her book.  She coughs.  Her book now has blood spots on it.  She coughs again, this time into her hand, and finds thick, dark chunks mixed in with more blood.  She gets out of her chair, confused what is going on.  She violently hunches forward, vomiting a solid stream of blood.  She becomes woozy, and starts swaying around the basement, her vision blurring, going gray.

When you leave tension unresolved, the reader wants more.  They want a conclusion.  Whether good or bad, they just need it to end.  By ignoring it, moving on, or just cutting it short, you force the reader to accept that there is no ending, or at least that it is one you will not get to see.  It may piss them off.  Again, they could call you a bad writer.  But they also may accept it as the kind of thing that happens in life and that they will just have to learn to accept it and hope that they can shake that nagging feeling at some point.

Thinking of Extremists

Have you ever noticed that whatever group of people you think of, you think of extremists?  Think about Muslims, Christians, Italians, Germans.  Whatever the group (unless it is one you belong to), you probably think of the most extreme, stereotypical, outlandish examples.

I'm sure it's just the way we are wired.  The best way to remember a collective is by its differences.  And the best way to remember differences is to drastically overpronounce them.  Even still it leads to some dangerous consequences.

For one thing, it makes it very easy to be bigoted.  When you start thinking of a group of people based on the worst and most offensive versions, you stat thinking that every member of that group acts as such.

For another thing, it makes for really bad writing.  You start getting into the idea of defining people by a single quality, and that all people from that country or in this religion all act the exact same way.  Sure makes for boring characters.

Think of people as people.  It's advice good both for writing and for life.  I won't be so foolhardy as to say that assumptions don't get you far.  Stereotypes exist for a reason.  But they are also generalities and not laws.  Avoid putting your foot in your mouth.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What's Your Pride Worth

So many stories seem weird to me.  People will do anything to protect their pride.  They would rather fight a losing battle (or at least a Pyrrhic victory) rather than back down and swallow their pride.  I'm not sure if this kind of scene is something people really do or something people wish they would do.  In either case, it's so weird.

I am more than happy to kowtow to some asshole when it means preventing my asshole from getting stomped.  My pride comes from being able to avoid those kinds of problems in the first place,being able to avoid black eyes and broken bones with my words.

Then again, those may not be the qualities of a particularly exciting character, so I can understand stories not really showing that happening.  I guess my main issue is that it rings unrealistic to me.  And since realism is so very important to me, then it detracts from the story, no matter how cool it may be.  I just want to shout to those people, what's your pride worth?

Working Backwards

Growing up, I remember hearing about the idea that mystery writers took the ending and then worked backward.  It didn't make any sense to me.  Stories proceeded organically from start to finish.  The ending is a conclusion based on everything that happened before it. It simply can't be used as a starting point.

Having grown up, I can understand it better.  Once you know who the murderer is, you know why they did it, how they did it, and how they tried to cover it up.  Then you just put the other people in there and let everything unfold.

In all honesty, it still feels kind of crazy to me.  But what is even crazier is that it is the exact method I use to make jokes, and I have no problems with that.  Making jokes by working backwards is easy.

I start with a punchline.  "The early bird gets the worm."  Then I figure out the wordplay involved.  "There is a literal worm in tequila bottles."  Now I am talking about drinking tequila as getting the worm.  From there, I try to find a way to get the other key words in the punchline involved in a scene: "early" and "bird".  Early can always be visualized as sunrise, and bird can be any species, preferably very common and easily imagined (I will go with the pelican).  I now have my joke.

Did you hear about the pelican who woke up at sunrise and drank a whole bottle of tequila?  He lived by that saying: The early bird gets the worm.

Seeing the process of making the joke, it's way less funny.  That's the nature of the beast.  But to hear that joke out of nowhere is pretty comical (assuming you have good delivery).  Try it on your friends.  Still, the point is that sometimes the easiest way to write things is to work backwards.  Really, it comes down to getting the hardest part done first, then filling in the blanks to make it fit.  Once again, proving that writing is a logical process.

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Growing Zit

You wake up in the morning and notice yourself in the bathroom mirror. Aside from the ruffled hair, you look well enough.  Still have a killer face.

The day progresses, you get done the things that need to get done (school, work, chores, whatever).  You catch yourself again and notice a red spot on your cheek.  There's a zit growing there.  It's too early to do anything about it, though.  You just have to leave it be and hope it goes away.

In the afternoon/evening time, you have dinner with your friends.  It's a good meal, good conversation, all-around good times.  When you get home, you brush your teeth and see that your red spot has become a full-blown zit, complete with ugly white head.

When did this happen?  When did your cheek start getting red?  When did it start growing?  When did that white spot happen?  Your friends may have noticed the zit, by why did none of them notice it growing?

Writing works the same way (though hopefully it is less gross and ugly).  Some projects I could spend three hours at my computer and write two sentences.  Nothing has changed in my project.  Days and days go by, working a paragraph here and a paragraph there.  Then when I want to find a particular passage, I scroll up and realize that there are a lot of pages to sift through.

Somehow, you start with nothing, but add a little bit to it, and it will grow.  You may never really see it grow, but if you step back and look at the entirety of your work, you will notice that it has grown.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Irony of Cliches

I have a friend who has had a pretty rough life.  His parents didn't want him; his adoptive parents broke up; he is in major debt; and he is taking care of his younger brother.  For quite a while, all they had were each other.  While their childhood friends either burned out or were shot dead, they made it through and made it out from the shitty town they grew up in.

I so badly wish to tell this story, even in an anonymous or allegorical way.  It's just so powerful, so impressive and inspiring, I am compelled to share it.  But damn it, there are enough stories "inspired by true events" (which is the new way of saying "based on a true story") to go around.  It's such a cliche now.

But that's the irony of cliches: They're good stories; they've simply been told too much.  It is difficult to find a way to tell that story without the masses telling you how many other stories they've read that were similar.

I have always dealt with cliches by trying my hardest to avoid them.  Can I come up with a story that hasn't been done to death?  The alternate method is to simply embrace them.  Every month, a new movie comes out that is a collection of cliches, but they keep making enough money to be profitable.  Obviously cliches aren't that bad.  Accept that they're powerful to people who aren't diametrically opposed to them and that if you aren't heavy-handed, you can do just fine, even with a very cliche story.

The Power of Presence

I've mentioned in a previous entry the idea that, if you ask a hundred people what their definition of love is, you will get a hundred different replies.  This entry is based on one of the definitions I've found: Love is when you are asked for nothing more than your presence.

I like this definition.  Although it seems simple enough, there is much under the surface.  By asking only for their presence, the lover is expressing that it is nothing that is said or done that is loved, but their very being that matters.  This doesn't mean that the two people don't have a blast going out or chatting or having adventures; it simply means that the lover does not require it.  It's the closest to unconditional love you could get.

The power of presence is palpable.  Some people's smile can fill a room with happiness.  Some people can enliven your spirits just from walking in the door.  But how do we put that on paper?

It isn't easy.  It's the kind of feeling that people don't use words for.  They experience it.  They feel it.  The closest we can get to is describing how it feels or what people were thinking, but it doesn't quite express the actual presence.

It may be difficult to show, but it is also not impossible.  Write a scene about two people who love each other, and what it is like when they are in each others' presence.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


It is fucking obnoxious to see people writing with excessive exclamation marks and smiley faces everywhere.  Why can't they learn to write properly?  If they knew better words they would be able to express themselves without making my eyes sore.

Just in case you don't know me very well, I'll let you know that the above paragraph was bullshit.  Anybody who thinks that language shouldn't change or that the way things are is inferior to the way things were should jump off a bridge so that they no longer have to bear the future anymore.

You need to put flourishes in your writing, whether they be visual ones or stylistic.  You need to have a style, a feeling.  People should be able to read enough of your writing and know that it sounds like you.  And the very reason you need to use those flourishes is to gain the power you have by taking those flourishes away.

If your friend is constantly blathering on about random crap, you start tuning it out, but you also expect it.  When that friend starts talking in short, direct sentences, you know something is up.  They may be angry, sad, hurt, scared.  Whatever the cause, the sheer power if undeniable.

This is true both for your own narrative voice and for your characters' voices.  An identifiable speech pattern and vocabulary can be powerful by its own right.  A strong character giving an impassioned speech can stand all on its own.  But to show a change in that character, break that pattern and everybody will know it.

You Can Always Make A Change

Sometimes it feels like a story is locked in a certain path.  Sometimes it feels like it is the characters who are locked.  And, sometimes, it is us as people who feel we cannot change things in our lives.

In all of those cases, it is not true.  You can always make a change.  Usually we don't change things because they would make things worse (like punching bothersome people in the face).  And when every option we think of would end up making your situation worse, that is when you feel stuck.

But no matter what, you always have one more option: leave.  If you are in a bad place, walk away.  Sure, it's easier said than done, but it is always an option.  Pick none of the choices.  Go somewhere else.  Start fresh.  Explore your options.  When you feel like you only have one choice and there's nowhere else you can go, just go away.

Creativity Can Come From Ignorance

Suppose I show you an object you've never seen before.  It is a rod, about two feet long, with a five-foot string tied to one end.  What would you do with it?

Maybe you would try to use it like a whip to spur on a horse.  Maybe you would use it like a fishing pole.  Maybe you would use it like a ribbon to twirl around gaily.

All of those are perfectly viable uses for it.  But as it turns out, it is the handle and string from a pulley system, used to get heavy objects off the ground in order to load them onto delivery trucks.

Since you had no idea what it was actually for, you were able to imagine uses far beyond its intended one.  Your ignorance gave you the freedom to go beyond the standard scope of an item.

It's hard to see a stethoscope and think of it as anything but a doctor's tool to hear heartbeats (and sometimes as a safe cracker's tool to hear tumblers fall). But what could it be if you had no idea what it was?

I think it is interesting,  the complete difference between the song Mad World as originally done by Tears for Fears, and the cover of it done by Gary Jules.  The words are all the same, and there is musical similarity, but the emotional tone of the two are opposite: one being cynical and the other being depressing.  How do you hear one version and think to create the other?

Well, it would certainly help if you saw the lyrics to one version, but never heard it performed.  You would have no idea what it is supposed to be, how it is supposed to sound, or the exact message it is trying to convey.  But in doing so, it frees you to take a song that is taking a jab at modern society and turn it into an anthem for the disenfranchised.

I suggest doing the same.  Throw yourself into some ignorance.  What do you know nothing about?  Now start telling me about it.  If you don't know the real answers, start BSing. Use that ignorance to be creative.