Saturday, June 30, 2012
I see a lot of similarities between writing and metals. Every kind of writing is like a different kind of metal. Each one has its own qualities and its own uses. Some of them are very similar, and some of them are completely different. Some are quite malleable, and others are very difficult to work with.
To some degree you can mix styles of writing to come up with new ones. When you take a fantasy story and replace magic with technology, it becomes science fiction. When you mix science fiction with action/adventure, it is usually sci-fi. When you mix science fiction with dystopian antiestablishment, it's cyberpunk. When you mix science fiction with melodrama, it becomes space opera.
Now, classic sci-fi, cyberpunk, and space opera all have science fiction in them, but they are all vastly different from each other, and they are significantly different from their original components. Different people appreciate these things for different reasons. Some people love cyberpunk because there's really cool-looking outfits and technology in it. Some people love it because there is action that occurs unlike any other kind of genre. And some people love it because it can be a haunting foretelling of a future gone awry. Similarly, people may love gold because it is shiny, or they may love it because it is so useful in engineering, or they may love it because it is such a fascinating chemical.
I would recommend thinking of writing as metals, but that really only works if you already understand a bit about metals. So if this was an interesting post, let me recommend that you start learning about metals. Study them from different angles (as a a chemist, as a metallurgist, as a jeweler), and see how else they have qualities similar to writing.
Friday, June 29, 2012
I was having a conversation with the president of the board of directors about how much I have learned by working with the director (a woman with several decades of experience and expertise). I said that I learned more here than I did in my writing program college. The president agreed, recalling his own experience working in his first print shop out of college.
I sat down tonight to talk about how you will learn far, far more about your field in your job than you ever will in school. But then I started arguing, as I am wont to do, and I realized that it is not quite that simple.
The reality is that college prepared me for the job I have. I had a strong command of English, spelling, and grammar, but I was not an expert. My classes forced me to train. I was writing constantly, exploring styles and techniques, and learning the nuance of communication and criticism. If I did not have the very strong base that I gained from college, I would not have gotten my job in the first place.
All that said, college is also nowhere near as intense in training as a job. In college, you are absorbing knowledge about several subjects. I was learning math, chemistry, philosophy, sociology, Chinese, astronomy, and several other subjects, all in addition to my writing courses (which is a world unto itself in the first place). In a job, you are just doing writing. You are doing it all the time. And you are probably focusing on one particular kind of writing, which is going to make you intimately familiar with it.
Ultimately, I cannot say that one is better than the other. A good college writing program should give you both a strong and a wide base from which you can grow and develop. A good job will be where you do grow and develop from your base.
Thursday, June 28, 2012
I can't even think of a single word that really conveys the idea of taking something without permission without the intent to do so, but such things are not uncommon (think of how many pens or pencils you acquired or lost in school due to exactly that). There is the tongue-in-cheek phrase "borrowing without asking", but it's a phrase and not really sincere.
People often ignore the intent in their words. This is lesson number one when it comes to careful and effective writing. Make sure that if something happens on purpose, you use the word for it, and if it is accidental, you explain that. Otherwise, you can get into a whole heap of unpleasantness.
Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Blending in isn't really that hard. If you've ever acted or otherwise performed, you can blend in just fine. Heck, if you've ever told a story that wasn't true (some sort of fiction), then you know how to say things that people would believe, even if they aren't true.
The problem with blending in is that it is usually a black-or-white event. Either the character succeeds or fails. Characters fail more often than not (though not always), because failing is way more dramatic. When you succeed at blending in, there is tension, but no real climax, and thus no significant release of tension. Blending in too well is boring storytelling (though a great example of how "when you do things right, people won't be sure you did anything at all.")
I believe that there are only two ways to really do a blending-in scene interestingly. The first is to fail due to legitimate tells. If a character is in a high security area, where she really is being scanned for authenticity, real-life tics, like averting eye contact or playing with her hands, things that people actually do and usually are unaware of, then it feels like they were genuinely caught and for good reason. The other option is to find the gray between the black and white. If the protagonist is trying to sneak from point A to point B in the guise of a security guard, then maybe the disguise works, but there is a commotion and they are forced off their path due to having to maintain the disguise.
I was very careful with my wording when I said that those are the options to do such a scene interestingly. You can do a classic success or a classic failure scene well - it just has a certain predictability as part of it. If you can do the scene so brilliantly that people don't care that they saw it coming, then by all means go ahead with it.
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
When I am in the middle of a project, I feel like I have creativity on tap. If I have to take a break, the idea stream pauses. However long my break is, the ideas wait. It is a convenient system for the process, but it comes with its own cost: planning ahead.
When I start working on a project I basically can't skip ahead. When my idea stream pauses, the whole thing pauses. I cannot even mentally process the rest of the story; I can only do that by writing it. It's kind of like a writer's block that I imposed on myself.
The idea of having creativity on tap is pretty appealing. I admit it's nice. For my preferences, I love being able to basically have a mental bookmark I can place in my story before I've even written it. But it doesn't make me a better writer. And honestly, if it wasn't something my brain just kinda did, I would be taking notes on paper of everything I wanted to make sure I did during my next writing session. (I know this for fact because I have done it plenty of times when I didn't trust my mind to remember it.)
Monday, June 25, 2012
Today, I read an old blog post and I did not get that feeling. I wasn't mortified or otherwise embarrassed by what I wrote, but it was not my best work. It was such that if somebody wanted to see a sample of my writing, it is not what I would present.
I am happy that I can identify the quality of my old works. It doesn't mean that I'm better than I used to be (even though I am), but it does mean my eye is. If I can discern when something is out of place or doesn't connect well, then I am a better reader than I was. And that is something to be proud of.
Sunday, June 24, 2012
I'm looking at my ow note scrawled on a napkin from about 12 hours ago:
Grantwriter - I turn words into money.
It's still true. In a sense, that is what grant writing is (and exactly why it is so damn valuable). But the excitement is gone. It doesn't seem brilliant or funny or poignant. In no way does it seem like an idea worth writing down.
Remorse is an awful feeling, and it happens every time I let an idea go. But experiences like this lessen those feelings. Maybe I let my ideas go for a reason. Maybe I knew those ideas were worth losing.
Saturday, June 23, 2012
I was informed that it is an expression from Daoism. My friend said that the idea was that it was a very large number - "So many as to be all."
I loved that phrase. The more I thought about it, the more perfect it was. For one thing, it is very poetic. It is artfully said, feeling both profound and whimsical (which is not bad for describing a Daoist concept).
Beyond that, I felt a definite connection. Americans use "millions" to describe anything significantly large. We want millions of dollars. We have a million things to do every day. We have a million problems. And the street was filled with a million people. Just because 10,000 seems laughably small compared to a million, it is truly no different than our own idiosyncrasies. There are far larger numbers than a million, and we do use them from time to time, but generally a million is sufficiently large to talk about anything big.
What I loved most, though, was that the concept had a certain logistical truth to it. Think about a circle. A circle can be considered as an infinity-sided polygon. However, if you were to try to make a polygon that was, let's say, 800-sided, the human eye would not be able to distinguish it from a circle (unless it was insanely large). So although an 800-sided polygon is not actually a circle, it is indistinguishable from an infinity-sided polygon. In this case, 800 is so many as to be all.
Being a technically-minded person, I can often get bogged down trying to find out specific, accurate figures in my writing. Tonight, I am pondering to what degree people care about being technically accurate, and to what degree I can give them a number so large as to be accepted as "that sounds about right."
Friday, June 22, 2012
At one point during this marathon, I got hit with the "aw crap" depression. This show is so incredibly similar to the fantasy world I am building right now that I didn't want to work on the project anymore. I have different kingdoms who are at war and warriors who can summon elemental powers. I have one brilliant bastard who can manipulate people to think they are taking advantage while they fall into his trap. I have in the future a world where technology can replicate the powers of these elemental summoners, for those who are not magically inclined.
All I could feel was the jeers of people telling me that I ripped off Korra (despite the fact I've been working on it before that show existed, let alone before I ever watched it). My friend, who I was watching with tried to cheer me up by saying "great minds think alike", which did not help me much. Later on, when I had another complaint of the show using an idea that I had, she shouted, "Simpsons did it!" And then I did get cheered up.
Let's be real. It's always been done before. Even the greatest heroes and best examples were inspired by what existed before they made their legendary works. Nothing you can do is incomparable to things that already exist.
First of all, focus on the things that are different. For example, where Korra has a massive war between the benders and the non-benders, my world has them working in tandem; their peace with one another is established.
But if you already feel in the dumps, I can't stop you from focusing on the similarities. That's fine. Do it. But draw inspiration. You are creating something that is similar to a brilliant and epic work! You came up with an idea that is already established to be wonderful and well-received. You have come up with characters and ideas that are considered brilliant. Your brain is in an amazing place. And since your work is different, it means that you can make something that is equally spectacular to what you are seeing.
It is always easier said than done, to go from "Simpsons did it" to inspiration within a story, but it can be done. And if you really believe in yourself, you may find yourself going from one point to the other in 20 minutes or less.
Thursday, June 21, 2012
They may have been right. But they definitely should not have questioned me about them. I was a kid who did not like reading much. It was a fight to get me to read the books we had to read for school (and that pretty much persisted through high school), so if there was anything that I actively wanted to go out and read, it should have been encouraged.
I really believe that we should support anything that gets people (especially children) to read. I would hope that it's not godawful trash like the Twilight series, but even then, I would rather have people reading trash than nothing.
Nobody magically is born with good taste; it's developed and refined over time. If somebody does not like reading, they are missing out. So if a person needs to read some terrible story in order to develop a fondness for the written word, so be it. Over time, they will find more stories. They will develop a sense of quality and will filter out stories that don't have enough.
For me, it's simple: Anything for them to read.
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
I felt nothing but contempt for this person. Oh yeah? You could write a book? Well do it or shut up. I don't care what you could do. Nobody does. If you feel compelled to talk about your abilities to write, why not try feeling compelled to actually do some writing?
Several years ago, I said that "If you have an ability that you do not use, you may as well not have it." I am saying it again tonight, because I still believe it to be true.
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
I wasn't trying to argue with my editor; I was trying to justify my mistakes. I knew that what she said was right and that I would have to make the changes. I simply felt like, somehow, she needed to know that I wasn't an idiot, that I wasn't a bad writer, but simply had a different idea that caused me to write this different text.
Still, I would have wasted my breath to do all of that. Such an explanation would have wasted time and changed nothing. My editor knows me and respects me, as do I respect her. I don't need to worry about my image or what she thinks about me or my writing. If she really didn't respect it, she wouldn't still be editing it. And if she really had no idea why I did something, she'd simply ask. These little thoughts are important to remember so that I don't put my foot in my mouth.
If somebody is making suggestions for your writing, it means they want you to do better. If you agree with them, make the changes. If you don't, just ignore them. Unless it escalates to an argument, you never have a need to justify what you wrote.
Monday, June 18, 2012
I know this sounds like I was either delirious or tripping balls, so let me explain why this was so strange to me. I am perfectly aware that people in general are creative. The mind sees or hears or otherwise conjures up things regularly. My mind does that constantly, just like everybody else's. My mind never conjures images, though.
I always think about mostly intangible things. I conjure relationships, interrelationships, choices, beliefs, applying one's beliefs to the choices they are presented with. I don't see faces or outfits or scenery in my mind, not ever.
The more I dwelled on this experience, the more I realized how much this fact has affected me. I love visual art. I love graphic novels. All the stories I write, I want to have illustrated. But I can't draw. I don't see images. I don't see scenes. When I watched my friend illustrate our comics, I was constantly blown away at how he could see the things I never considered - things like the background and outfits and camera angles and everything else that is absolutely crucial in visualizing things.
I have always been a writer, a communicator, because that is what I have always seen - the emotions and explanations of people, but not the people themselves. What you see with closed eyes is a powerful thing. It shapes you deeply, for longer than you can remember, and you could easily go your whole life without realizing that it has done that, or that other people see different things, at least not unless you have an experience that shows you what else is possible.
Sunday, June 17, 2012
All people who work in customer service share certain stories, certain understandings of that life. If you have a conversation with somebody and, through that, discover that you both work or have worked in customer service, there is a connection there. You two could very well have been good friends without that connection, but that shared experience, that shared world deepens the friendship. It gives you a whole new set of things to talk about.
I love nothing more than multifaceted human beings. I find the standard two-dimensional life so bland. How can people only like one kind of music? How can they have no hobbies or interests? What do they do when they aren't working or sleeping?
People are deep and complex. They are pulled in many directions and curious about countless subjects. There is so much that they can potentially do, so many worlds they can enter and so many people in those worlds that can change the course of their lives forever.
There is so much fodder for stories about people being exposed to new worlds and new people, being shown the ropes and appreciating the full depth of cultures and experiences that they previously barely even knew existed.
But those stories will be rather hard to write unless you go and get some experiences of your own, so you can know what it's like yourself.
It's pretty common advice to tell writers to "write what you know". The problem is that if you don't know very much, you become so limited in scope. The more experiences you have, the more subjects you can talk about with knowledge, the more worlds you will be able to make use of in your writing.
These worlds can be major or minor aspects of your writing. You don't need to write about the life and times of office drones, but if you understand what that white collar job is like, you will know the kinds of vocabulary they use, the things they talk about, and the motivations for the things they do outside of work.
Friday, June 15, 2012
The idea that talking is a free action borrows heavily from the rules in Dungeons & Dragons. And in certain aspects, it can be a wonderful thing. It's fine for games that are meant to be enjoyed, bu ignoring it takes away from reality (if that's what you are trying to build).
Speaking takes time. It takes effort. It takes mental energy to form thoughts and physical energy to communicate them. They are generally minute quantities, but they can add up. They can also be enough to throw somebody off their conversation.
Try playing around with the timing of talking. Look to real life to see how it can affect people positively or negatively, and experiment with how that can be used dramatically in your stories.
It was so bizarre feeling completely useless. No matter what I wanted to do, I just couldn't do it because I was completely out of energy.
Everything needs energy, even thinking. If you are out of fuel, you really won't be able to get anything done. If you're spinning your wheels and going nowhere, take a break, get some fuel (rest, food, water, etc.), and try again later.
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Abbreviations are nice. They're convenient and they save time. The problem with them is that they become a code that can lock out other people from understanding what you're saying.
Within the tech world, everybody knows what 32GB DDR3 RAM is. In fact, you would be more likely to confuse people by spelling out these abbreviations. And to everybody outside the tech world, I may as well have slammed my hand on the keyboard.
I remember a friend remarking at how odd it was to see MLP:FiM S2E3 and knowing exactly what it was. I can imagine the feeling.
I really am not a fan of using abbreviations. I find that I can write things quickly enough when spelled out, and I rarely have limited space to the point that I need to abbreviate.
I find that I can absorb information far more easily if I read full words and don't have to stop the thought process to decode an abbreviation.
On the subject of the visuals, I find most abbreviations unattractive. Full words are generally beautiful to me. Chopping them up, mixing them around, and presenting them like nothing happened is kind of grotesque. (This description is hauntingly poignant in comparing the process with how America treats food.)
All that said, I do use abbreviations from time to time. Much like the exclamation mark, it should be used sparingly. When the time is right, I make use of that tool.
If you find yourself using abbreviations more often than you use the full word or phrase, ask yourself if it's for your convenience, or if it is due to na legitimate common convention. If it's just you being lazy, slap yourself across the face and remember: DOA.
(If you have ever dug through your old papers and found abbreviations that you have no idea what they mean, take that as a significant lesson.)
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
The worst thing you can do is pigeonhole yourself. Once you start identifying things you won't do because you can't imagine yourself "getting into that", you are cutting off so much potential in life.
Nobody says you have to dedicate your life to something just to see what it's like (except for street gangs). Try things out. You may like them; you may not. Either way, you're not obligated to do it all the time, or ever again. Hell, you can walk into a situation knowing that you're going to do it once and that'll be it. It's totally ok to do it for the experience of having done it.
So as yourself what you've always said you'd never do. Unless it's murder or rape, why are you not doing it? If there's no good reason, then do it once.
It occurred to me how interesting the club scene is. A wide array of people go there. People from all kinds of backgrounds and beliefs and lifestyles. And even more, there is a wide array of reasons people go to clubs.
Some people just want to dance. Some people want a drink. Some just want to lounge at a VIP table. Some are out with a girlfriend, and others are looking for one. Some people are all about the club itself, but some people are there for the entertainment.
Consider a club who is hosting a world-famous DJ. The club will now have a whole set of people coming in just for the DJ, while still the regular clubgoers will be there. It is an incredible synergy.
Writers often find a subject they focus on. It becomes their niche and they will develop a fanbase. When you do classic horror, you will have your horror fans. But if you mix other elements into your horror, like a steampunk or sci-fi setting, then you will find fans who appreciate your work for very different reasons.
I'm not saying that you should mix genres or settings just to try to get more people interested in your work. Quality of writing will always be key. But I will say that the more mixed the components you have, the more varied your audience will be.
Sunday, June 10, 2012
In the creative process, the thing I hate more than anything is naming. This includes characters, places, special objects, and even titles. But this post is not about that. It's about geography. The one simply leads into the other.
The reason I hate naming characters is that I find names trivial. They are relatively unique designations, which we use to identify individuals concretely.
To me, my characters are identified by their actions relation to others, or purpose. I use designations in my notes like "boyfriend", "waitress", "hero" and "king". That's who they are to me. I care about the things I actively have them doing, and the rest is fluff that I fill in when I get around to it. I assumed the same was true for geography.
I am working on a fantasy world, which currently is a continent that holds 6 kingdoms. When I finally reached a point that they needed to be named, I made a map of the continent and placed the kingdoms down in a layout I had planned on, I realized that this map basically explained the politics of each kingdom.
When mountains block any travel between two countries, they don't really care about each other politically. When one country is basically in the middle of all the others, it naturally becomes very wealthy from facilitating the trade industry. When one country is so far removed from everyone else, it makes sense that they would hold different policies/beliefs regarding outsiders.
I never gave much thought to the effects geography can have. When I was writing, I treated it the way I treated names: I know what I want my countries to do and I'll worry about the other stuff later. But that isn't right. Geography matters. The absolute and relative locations of places play a very important role in understanding them at their core. In fact, you may find that a lot has to change if your geography does not permit certain actions.
Saturday, June 9, 2012
When characters are put in extreme situations, they become more extreme versions of themselves. A stoic person, for example, may become immovably resilient. A normally popular person can become a great leader.
People can also become very different from their normal selves, too. The quiet person could find themselves being a valiant warrior.
In any case, extreme times eventually end. People resolve the issues at hand (or die). And when the world returns to normal, the people will, too.
So much is told of heroes and their adventures, but there is so much more to people and their lives. I am interested in seeing what happens to people after they've become extreme, and then normal returns.
Friday, June 8, 2012
I am amazed at the power one can attain simply from their image. "Image" is actually quite an accurate term, since it truly is a judgement based on what we see.
Somebody sitting on a throne must be a king or queen. Somebody with a clear coil earpiece must be a security guard or government agent. A person sitting in a VIP section must be a rich high-roller.
But those aren't facts; they're assumptions. A throne is just a chair. A headpiece can be bought easily. And a VIP section is just space.
Still, it is hard to think differently from those assumptions. They're correct more often than not. And unless the person does something significantly out of character, we generally have no reason to guess something is amiss.
As usual, I want to play with these observations. I want to see if I can fool people by presenting an illusory image with clues that make sense only after the reveal. I want to see if there even should be a big reveal. I want to know what these illusionists do on their days off.
I invite you to do the same. Let me know what you come off.
Thursday, June 7, 2012
I have found amateur authors love to talk about their writing neuroses. They mention the exact ways that things must be in order to even attempt writing, the things that cannot happen if they want to write, and whatever other kooky stuff gets them through the days. Conversation often turns to the neuroses of other writers, and how they may want to try to adopt said neuroses.
Every writer certainly has preferences, and I am sure that many writers have some kind of neuroses like the ones mentioned above, but these are not things to be spoken of with pride. Neuroses aren't cool. They're problems. They make life harder and they make writing harder.
My advice is to accept the neuroses you have, but don't be proud of them. Do the best you can with them. And if you are motivated to try a different method, try simply not having anything that impedes your writing.
Wednesday, June 6, 2012
At this point, I realized that these two holes could be related. The squadron could have disbanded because the enemy killed one of the members with an incredible power, which ultimately broke the spirit and morale, causing the group to break up. My character could still want to fight against the enemy, but also want to gain that power she saw. So when she was behind enemy lines, she saw it is a perfect chance to save her comrade, as well as get close enough to try to acquire that power.
I really appreciate when stories are tightly woven. I don't mind them having big worlds or lots of characters, but I don't want the world so big that nothing is related. Characters need to recur (not all, but some). Story lines need to intertwine. If every time you try to answer a question, you make up an external source to solve it, you end up having a very jumbled storyline.
Try filling in the blanks later. If you get the stuff you know down, then look at everything you have, you may see patterns or connections you didn't notice before.
Tuesday, June 5, 2012
If somebody uses a particular style guide, the answer is in those pages. If there are no requirements, then style is your playground. You're the writer; do whatever you please. The only rule you have to follow is to be consistent.
No matter how you like to write things, as long as you pick a style that's legible and you stick with that style, you'll be doing just fine.
Monday, June 4, 2012
Both sectors can make use of my skills, and I could do well in either scene, but they are such different worlds. I had a conversation today (at an art show) with a man I respect, who definitively told me what I had suspected from my own observations:
You won't make as much in the Arts as you will in the for-profit world; you work in the Arts because it gives you a feeling that makes up for the money you are missing out on. In the corporate world, though, they are squeezing as much out of their employees as they can. They want people who are willing to work 7 days a week. So it pays better, but you never have the time to enjoy it.
I still remain on the fence. Three months ago, I wanted to go corporate. I wanted to feel like a big-shot professional, make lots of money, and be awesome. Now, I am leaning toward the Arts. The last piece of advice given to me was that if you want to be happy, you have to shift your view away from the material.
I've had a lot of conversations in a similar vein recently, about how there is such a thing as enough money. I have also truly come to appreciate a lot of the things I can do with my Arts jobs that I could not do in most other jobs (artists can be pretty cool people to work for). Right now, I do think that if I can live comfortably and love my job, it is the best choice to make. At least, it would be the best choice to make for me.
Sunday, June 3, 2012
I wanted to sketch out maps of the areas in my stories, and used these scraps to do those too. It was so much easier than using my notebooks. Even though I just use cheap spiral notebooks, I am starting to fetishize them. I don't want excessive crap in them. I want stories or story ideas to be collected in there. I try to fight those feelings, but it's hard.
Scraps of paper, though, are easy to throw out. We are never in short supply of them, and if I don't like what I write or draw, I never have to see it again, not even by accident. It also feels really nice having a pile of them collected. They are a confidence booster, seeing how much I've done up just as notes, all laid out before me.
And on that subject, I love that my scraps are so easily moved. Whatever piece of information I want to look at, I can pull up. I can find them really quickly and I can put anything I want side-by-side. It grants a freedom I didn't even know I wanted.
If you've tried everything else (and even if you haven't), try using scraps of paper to write on. The only concern you'll ever have is keeping them so that they they don't blow away in the wind. Also, remember to number sequential scraps; ignoring that is really unpleasant.
Saturday, June 2, 2012
Miscommunication only works when you have characters who are so stupid or impulsive that they will act without thinking and never check in before it's too late.
Sure, I can see it being based in reality, but reality is stupid and obnoxious (if it wasn't, we wouldn't read for escapist fantasy). The kinds of characters who would be in a story of miscommunication are the ones that I have no desire to root for. They are fools whose only problems are ones of their own making.
Friday, June 1, 2012
I still remember the confusion and upset I felt when I had plain avocado. It's like, growing up, I basically thought that avocado and guacamole were the same thing. So how come guacamole has always been amazing, but avocado is lousy?
Well, it turns out that guacamole is more than just avocado. It's spices and juices and maybe some other veggies all blended up. Although avocado is the main ingredient (it can't be guacamole without it), it's nothing without everything else to go with it.
Whatever it is that drives your writing, whatever gives your stories substance, it is not enough on its own. No matter how good your dialogue is, you need action and setting. No matter how evocative your relationships and plot twists are, nobody will care if you can't set up these characters are as people.
The best writing is like guacamole. Avocado may get you through the day, and some people will swear by it, but I don't believe it will ever be as good as having all the other parts mixed in.