I’m still not back to 100% on my regimens. The gym gets skipped or skimped on from time to time, finances continue to present challenges, I’m behind on getting Magic decks together, and oh yeah, I need to make more time to write.
At least my brain has been active. The very nature of Godslayer has changed. As eager as I am to move forward with it, I know that Cold Streets needs to be completed first. It’s been almost a year since I started writing it, and it should be done by now. In the weeks to come I will be redoubling my efforts to get a draft finished and out to test readers.
There really isn’t much else I should be devoting much time to, after all. I don’t participate in MMOs as of now, play by post games are not urgent, single player games can always wait, and Hangouts are more sources of relaxation and support than they are distractions. It may take some conscious effort to reassert my focus at home, but I know I can do it if I just take the time to stop and breathe before making a decision.
And of course, there will be more flash fiction, reviews, after-action reports, pontifications on writing and support for good causes here, so stay tuned.
I don’t have a clever lead-in for this, I have a lot coming up this weekend and in the near future, so here’s something from the vault as I work to catch up on things and get a little ahead if I can.
Pop quiz, hotshot.
You’re not ready to be a professional writer. You want to keep a steady paycheck, which means a steady job, which means no solid blocks of writing for you. You’ve checked Chuck’s list and felt the crushing weight of reality telling you that being a professional writer just isn’t going to happen. But the need is still there. That thing that makes you want to put words on paper for people to read for no other reason than they make sense, possibly to entertain, and definitely because nobody else in the world writes exactly the way you do.
What do you do? What do you do?
You find a way to keep writing.
Writing as a skill, especially one aimed at earning a living, is like any other. It takes practice, experimentation, practice, failure and even more practice. Training your ability to write is like training a muscle group in your body. You pick up the weights and repeatedly use the muscles to lift them, or you run in a circle or bike the same route over and over again. The more you do it, the easier it becomes and the more you can do at one time. However, if you have somewhere else to be or something more urgent to do, you can work in a quick burst here and there.
It’s the same with writing. Even if you’re not doing it to earn a living (yet), you can find ways to keep that intellectual muscle in shape. Lunch breaks, mass transit commutes, commercials during a favorite show, loading screens – that’s just a few examples off the top of my head. During any of these snippets of time, you can write. It doesn’t have to be anything earth-shattering or the next bestseller, but it might lead to something earth-shattering or the next bestseller. You won’t know till you try.
Anybody who works out can tell you that having a regimen or a trainer is the best way to stay on track with your goals and remain motivated. For the writer, that means feedback. There are quick, dirty ways to get that, too. Find a forum in your field or genre and see if they allow sample or snippet posting for peer review. Facebook notes are good for this, especially if you have friends following you willing to tell you when something stinks to high heaven. If you’re feeling up to it, start a blog.
Just like when the trainer yells at you to keep you motivated, a peer giving you feedback probably isn’t looking to erode your self-esteem. The abuse is for your benefit. It might sting and you might resent them in the moment for it, but when the end result turns out looking much better than your initial effort, you’ll be thankful for the harsh words. Try not to take things too personally, unless the critic actually starts attacking your person. Remember, friends don’t let friends publish crappy writing.
Most of us can’t become professional writers right out of the box, and some of us just aren’t ready to make that leap yet. We need to lay bricks instead of writing to make a living. However, there’s no reason we can’t work our art into the mortar between those bricks. If you look at a building held together by mortar, some of the gaps between the bricks or stone are larger than others. It adds character to the building. Again, so it is with writing. Some of our stretches of writing between shifts, tasks and days will be longer than others, and some will be far too short. But the overall effect will be a richer life and one that gives us more motivation, as we seek the next gap between bricks to fill with our mortar of words.
The most important thing is to write, and to not stop writing.
One of the chief complaints I have about Star Trek Into Darkness is the way it treads old ground. It was a fear I had going into the movie that turned out to be justified, and while I still enjoyed watching the film, the overarching problems I have with the very core of the narrative continue to bother me. It’s an endemic issue I have with a lot of genre films, and I think it’s not limited to those, so let me get right into it.
Sequels. Reboots. Prequels. We see more and more of these cropping up throughout Hollywood, from mindless iteration of the most basic, lowbrow, idiotic comedies to what was once high-concept science fiction. There are some that do it right – Nolan knocked it out of the part with his Dark Knight trilogy and I have higher hope than I thought I would for Man of Steel – but for the most part, there’s at least part of this storytelling that feels lazy. I may be inclined to like Marvel and its superheroes, but they’ve been around for decades, and as much as their big-screen realization continues to satisfy, and while I’m curious to see what’s next for them, I’m not as thoroughly intrigued by them as I am by other titles coming our way this summer.
Consider Elysium and Pacific Rim. Both are coming from writer/directors that have been described as visionaries, and rightly so. Neill Blomkamp of Elysium gave us the fantastic District 9, and Guillermo del Toro not only brought Hellboy to the big screen, he also crafted the haunting original vision of Pan’s Labyrinth. Not only are these films powerful stories with excellent execution, their ideas are practically brand new. On top of the fact that neither is a derivative work, they come from different cultural perspectives – Blomkamp is South African and del Toro is Mexican – which color the nature of their ideas differently than those that come from Hollywood’s old and somewhat creaky idea machines.
These story ideas are best described as breaths of fresh air. I have to wonder, however, if their novelty is actually enhanced by the amount of derivative drek that permeates the media. I consider it a shame that new ideas are so scarce, but at the same time, their rarity may lend them even more weight and power. This may be a paradox intrinsic to the entertainment industry: as much as there’s nothing new under the sun, there’s only so many ideas that can be shifted or reborn in new ways to really capture the attention of the audience.
What do you think? Are new ideas more powerful for their rarity? Or would they be just as welcome if every idea was brand new?
Writing, as a creative endeavor, has a lot of advantages. You don’t need special equipment to write – at the bare minimum you just need something to write with, and something to write on. You can write about literally anything you want – fiction or non-fiction, on any subject or in any style, you can even write about writing itself! And you can write just about any time you like.
This is, however, the biggest potential problem writers might encounter. Delayed writing is writing that suffers. It’s better to write right now.
Chuck recommends writing in the morning. In fact, he recommends a lot of things that writers should pay attention to. But one point he hammers home like ten-penny nails your skull didn’t know it needs is Writers must be writing. And the sooner you write, the better.
Unless you completely shun human contact and seal yourself into some kind of bubble, things are going to come to your attention that interrupt your writing time. Spouse. Children. Chores. Tumblr. Any number of items that you are compelled to contend with vie for your attention, and you will not always be able or willing to resist their call. And you know what? That’s okay.
What matters is, you learn what works and what doesn’t, and you refine what works until you’re pounding out the words as immediately and completely as possible.
If you need to get up earlier in the morning, do that. Gotta rearrange your schedule? Do that too. Discuss new divisions of chores with the other humans you live with (if you live with any). Stock up on things that motivate and energize you – coffee, Clif bars, Oreos, booze, whatever. Make yourself a plan to write more, and do everything you can to stick to it.
Because, let’s face it – we’re at war.
Time wages a ceaseless battle against us. Every day you’re vertical is an act of defiance in the face of inevitability, even moreso if you write. Which means, to me, that every day you don’t write is losing ground to the enemy. You can fight to get that ground back, but it feels like running uphill. It’s more trouble than it should be. You do much better if you simply write right now.
So stop reading blogs on the Internet, and go do that.
Before you read the following, if you haven’t already, you should read this, the return of Hyperbole and a Half and her description of the last eighteen months or so of her life. I know this may seem a bit like I’m riding on her coattails, but after I carefully read her post, I found myself ruminating a great deal on my own feelings, facing some personal demons, and in no real mood to discuss supernatural detective yarns or floating cities or star-spanning empires.
I know I need to talk about these things, and I want to do so in a way that doesn’t come off as whining or seeking attention or making myself out to be a victim or a martyr. In fact, that’s why I rarely talk about these things at all, out loud, with people near me: a few words in and the eye-rolling will start. And I wouldn’t blame them. My sister had a saying: “Suck it up, and deal with it.”
Some days I’m better at that than others.
What really got to me about the aforementioned post was her description of the empty wasteland. It’s the one an individual drags themselves through day after day when depression is the only emotional sustenance on the menu; it’s a drab, flavorless, foully-textured gruel that takes the place of more tangible, weighty, and intricate emotions. And as true as it is that it gets better, it’s just as true that the wasteland never really goes away. All you can really do is build a sturdier wall around yourself, shore up the doors, and pray you don’t wander out into it again.
That’s really the only way I can describe it. Lately I’ve felt I’ve been walking the walls of my psyche, looking out into that wasteland, knowing I’m just a step or two away from falling into it. There are times when this realization makes me downright livid – like, how dare I even consider feeling depressed or succumbing to pressure – and I do my utmost to kick my own ass into not being such a downer. At times this puts me into a more manic state of mind, and I try to do more or spend more or what have you. I’m much more fun for other people to be around when I’m not thinking about how much everything sucks, after all.
But that’s the thing about mood swings. Your mood will always swing back. If you’ve ever encountered a tetherball in your life, it’s kind of like that. It swings in one direction, and while you can definitely punch it to go in the other direction, if you aren’t careful it’ll just swing back around to smack you in the face. I thank my lucky stars that this has only been a daily occurrence of late (if that), and not an hourly one.
I was weaned off of medication some time ago. I even was told by my therapist that, mindful as I’ve become, I don’t need to see her on a regular basis. And it’s true, I no longer have borderline anxiety attacks or suffer from hallucinations or any of the other hallmarks that, several years ago, caused some people close to me to help me seek the care of a mental ward. But I know the wasteland is still there. It’s waiting for me. And every time I see or hear or experience something that feels or sounds offhandedly cruel or wantonly destructive or callously indifferent, I feel its gravity and I actively resist. Because I am not going back to that place again, not without a fight.
There are days where it’s a struggle simply to remain positive. I remind myself that I still have a lot of future ahead of me, and it can be full of better things, and that change is difficult and takes sacrifice and I just have to be honest and work hard to get where I want to be. I’m doing my best to correct my mistakes, improve who I am, and not hurt anybody else in the process. I try to be mindful, respectful, courteous, and kind, and put the needs of others before my own if I can help it. But I can’t always do that. I’m going to choose me over them now and again. I’m going to make selfish decisions. And I’m going to fuck up. I’m a human being. It’s going to happen.
I just don’t want to be one of those sources of cruelty or destruction or indifference, towards myself or anybody else. That’s easy stuff. The hard thing is not giving in to cynicism and doubt and ennui. The hard thing is picking yourself up and continuing to follow that dream. A limp is better than no movement at all.
I’ve probably rambled too much. And I’m saying all of this on a Friday. Hopefully, your weekend is a good one.
And if you want to talk about anything like this, my metaphorical door is always open.
I think my dayjob has been getting revenge upon me for avoiding the office for a week while recovering. Back-to-back 10 hours days have been kicking me hard. I’m very much looking forward to the weekend, and am hoping to get back to working out once I get more sleep and recuperate somewhat.
I have plenty of projects ahead of me and more work to do. Cold Streets is approaching its climax. Tomorrow will be my first live-blogging of a board game, with an after-action report coming later in the week. And I continue to stir several things on the backburner as I keep everything at home on track as well as I can.
So that’s the latest from here. I hope to fully back in the swing of thing next week.
Don’t let the previous weeks of writerly pontification on heroes fool you.
I love a good villain.
I’ve discussed in the past how even the shittiest human beings we love to hate are still human beings. But the ones I love to hate are not my favorite villains. Like a hero’s growth, a villain’s gains (and their tantrums) have to be earned. And often, to earn these things, the villain has to earn at least some measure of our sympathy and understanding.
The most effective ones do so through charm and guile. You might even know they’re the villain at first. They may come across as a confidant, or even begin the tale as a trusted friend. If they begin in this way, and maintain what makes them sympathetic to both the hero and the reader, they grow much more effective. They draw us in, make us interested in what’s to come, and their betrayals and extreme measures cut even more deeply.
Expected or no, many great villains are best described as “masterminds”. They do not always take the direct approach to achieve their goals. They set their plans in motion carefully, sometimes before the story even begins. Their plans may not always have noble roots, but they often make logical sense, at least to them. They take steps carefully, following meticulous outlines, and trying to anticipate any moves a would-be hero would make. These things take time, and the best villanous plans only get better as they go on, like fine wine getting better with age.
Some masterminds let their henchmen do all of the dirty work, but others like to get into the thick of things themselves. Be it due to the belief that henchmen will never get it right, or simply wanting to ensure the plans come to fruition, they are there amongst both their lackeys and the innocent, overseeing the goings-on, sowing a little discord, perhaps trying to woo the heroes’ loved ones over to their side. This is where we can draw true distinctions between villainous archetypes, the true multi-faceted schemers from the more single-minded but occasionally far more frightening demagogues.
There are some who would accuse stories based on comic books of being simplistic, simple-minded, or even outright dumb. In same cases, I would be hard-pressed to argue. But lately, more than a few of these stories have given us villains in the mold I’ve discussed. While my initial impression of him was less than favorable, the Marvel movies’ take on Loki has really grown on me. Repeated viewings of Thor reveal one of the multi-faceted schemers I was talking about. Even when his true nature becomes apparent, he doesn’t necessarily fly off the handle as some megalomaniacs might. His move against Asgard in general and Odin in particular is calculated; he only truly loses his cool when he makes the dumb decision of sending the Destroyer after his brother. But that’s a discussion for another time. Suffice it to say, The Avengers definitely makes Loki a better villain and even improves his previous showing, and I can’t wait to see him in Thor: The Dark World.
As much as I still believe Bane is, as I’ve said, “Darth Vader without the pathos,” he is still an extremely effective villain in his own right. True, the scheme he’s executing in The Dark Knight Rises is not of his own making; yes, the reveal at the end undercuts a portion of his ideology. He was still presented and portrayed in a way that made him both memorable and fascinating. It’s been pointed out to me that Bane is a very deliberate and implacable sort of character. The gait of his steady walk, that little bit of swagger, the stare from behind his arcane mask – all of this adds up to someone you do NOT want to see walking towards you. What I like most about Bane is how effectively and systematically he tears down both our hero and the city that hero serves, bearing out the observations made by the Joker. In a way, Nolan’s Batman films are all about fear. Scarecrow exploited fear; the Joker created fear all his own; Bane is pretty much the personification of it. Take another look at the scene where Bane confronts Daggit, the corporate sleaze who thought to use Bane to take over Wayne Enterprises. Watch the expression on Daggit’s face when Bane lays his hand gently on the douchebag’s shoulder, and simply says, “Do you feel in charge?”
Villainy like this excites me. I love seeing the bad guys work with intelligence and guile, executing plans that, from their perspective, make sense. It makes the hero work harder, stumble, maybe even fall. This causes an even more rewarding apotheosis, because in most cases, a hero’s fall is followed by their rise from the ashes. And the best villains cause the greatest of falls. The hero and their struggles may be the meat and potatoes of your story, but if you want to get the most out of it, pair that hero with a fine villain the way you’d pair that meal with a fine wine.
I’m trying to think of the last time I was seriously injured. I don’t think it happened in conjunction with anything like flat tires and waiting for payday to roll around, however. It’s just been a comedy of errors here all week, and I’m still trying to roll with the punches.
I’ve managed to get a bit of writing done, and Cold Streets is moving along. I’m hopeful that we’ll have at least a working draft by the end of the summer. I’ve had a few ideas for Godslayer as well, and there’s also a non-novel project I’ve been working on that may require more than just an investment of time and words. More on that as it develops.
I’m still working from home and still recovering, I guess. So I better get back to that. Enjoy your weekend!
Last week we talked about the Chosen One. Specifically, we talked about how the Chosen One’s starting to look a little creaky and doesn’t hold up in modern storytelling. In all honesty, the divergence of heroes from the idea of them being the Chosen One is nothing new. Nobody would call Jay Gatsby, a ‘self-made’ man, or Holden Caufield, a disenfranchised youth on the cusp of adulthood, anything resembling ‘the Chosen One.’ But rather than diving into these great American novels (which you can do here and here, respectively), let’s stick with Harry Potter. Since we dissected the young wizard last week, let’s examine the anatomy of this would-be hero.
Also, while I refer to the main character as a ‘hero’, you can easily swap in ‘heroine’. These attributes have nothing to do with gender. Or species. But let’s get into it before I get bogged down in semantics.
First and foremost, as mentioned last week, Harry remains a human being throughout his arc. I don’t mean that he doesn’t evolve into a centaur or something; his emotions and thoughts and growth stay very grounded. This is essential for a would-be hero. Say what you want about Luke Skywalker’s whining or Steve Roger’s aw-shucks approach to others, they are part and parcel of the characters’ core and growth. Luke has to lose his innocense, Steve is faced with a world that cares nothing for his ideals, and Harry must overcome his initial adoration for the wizarding world to deal with the challenges to come.
What makes a hero a hero, in addition to being human, is a willingness, reluctant or otherwise, to put that humanity and their personal needs and wants aside for something greater than themselves. This is a conscious choice they make, a decision based on their situations and the abilities and resources at their disposal. Instead of it just being part of their destiny, the hero weighs the options in front of him and chooses the harder path, the one towards danger, the one that does not guarantee a happy ending.
And given that the hero is human, and that they made this hard choice, you can be certain things are going to go wrong. The machinations of the villains may not even need to become involved, either. Part of what makes a hero heroic is how they deal with adversity, and that includes their own fuck-ups. And the thing about human beings is, sooner or later, they are going to fuck up. The mistake can cause the hero harm, force the loss of progress, or even cost them the life of someone dear to them. But tragic or unfortunate as the moment itself can be, it’s the moments after that show us what a hero is really made of. Beyond any yammering about destiny or curses or fate or intervention, it is in these darkest moments that the heroes we remember, that we adore, that we idolize, shine the brightest.
These are what I consider to be the essential parts of a hero. Feel free to leave anything I might have missed in the comments!
Courtesy Floating Robes
This has been a week of, frankly, getting back in the goddamn saddle. My workouts are up, my dayjob is going well, and I’m back to writing in Cold Streets at the average rate of 350 words per weekday.
Not much else to report, if I’m honest. And I’m a bit busy at the moment with everything else that’s going on.
I really need to carve out more time to prep these posts beforehand.
I’ll go on record as being a fan of the Harry Potter series. There’s something that bothers me about it, though. A lot of people in the Wizarding world refer to Harry as ‘the Chosen One’, ‘the Boy Who Lived’, and so on. It’s a phrase that’s been used quite a bit, and not just in the arenas of young adult or fantasy fiction. It’s an old chestnut, going all the way back to the earliest myths, and it’s about time someone cut this geezer open to pull out what works and discards the rest. Our stories still need their heroes, that’s not in question, but as things stand, “the Chosen One” is definitely showing its age.
There are a lot of traditional views of heroism in fiction. Many times, the hero is “chosen”, set aside by some greater power or the magic of destiny or something like that. This simplistic explanation allows the focus to remain on the hero’s journey, and in these cases the Campbellian archetype applies more often than not. Throughout their growth, doubts, victories, failures, and apotheosis, the hero is a very present figure, unmired by a past that usually has little or nothing to do with the task at hand. They’ve been chosen to be the hero, and that is that.
In case it isn’t obvious, there are more than a couple problems with The Chosen One. Firstly, it robs the hero of a great deal of their agency. Being ‘chosen’, their decision-making happens on a very micro level, simply overcoming challenges as they are presented, rather than working towards a larger, self-defined go. ‘Fulfill your destiny’ is, somewhat ironically, not all that fulfilling as a motivation. On top of that, the Chosen One often does little to earn their power and influence. Their abilities are tested, to be sure, but much like the hero’s decision-making, these successes more often than not fail to grow the hero in any meaningful way, and even the loss of magical weapons or fond companions are only temporary difficulties, since ‘the power was inside all along’. This brings me to a third (and, for the moment, final) flaw in The Chosen One as a hero: other characters around the hero suffer as a result of the hero’s ‘chosen’ nature. They are often reduced to cannon fodder or, usually worse, comic relief, rather than forcing the hero to work harder, do better, grow and change. Because the hero has no agency, neither does anybody around them.
It’s possible to make the story of The Chosen One charming, and flesh out the characters to a degree that these flaws are minimized, but they’re not going away. Even tales I love have these flaws, at times glaringly. And one of your jobs as a writer is to work on doing better at telling stories than your favorite author can or would do. While we can’t all be JK Rowling or George RR Martin or Terry Pratchett or JRR Tolkien or Isaac Asimov or Chuck Wendig, we still can and should do a better job with the central figures of our stories than we’ve seen or read or heard about in the past.
Back to Harry. How JK avoids the pitfalls above is that Harry remains a very human character, in every measure a boy growing into a man. After the initial rush of breaking free of his mundane and abusive life, he doesn’t much care for the hoopla and labels that surround him. His ‘destiny’, if we want to call it that, was not gifted to him, but rather the side-effect of one of the most horrific events of his life. Rather than things coming easily to him, he struggles in his studies and in his interactions, often coming close to failing if not completely screwing the pooch. He wouldn’t have gotten as far as he does without his friends, who like him are realistic and well-rounded characters in their own right, never feeling disposable unless a film director isn’t sure what to do with Ron Weasley (but that’s hardly Ron’s fault, or Ms Rowling’s). And his refusal of his destiny’s call never feels like a token moment meant to check off a box on the Campbellian list.
So how does one make a hero work? What makes for a good hero? If there’s bad points for the Chosen One, what are the good ones for a hero?
Tune in next week, and find out.
Writers, from what I’ve experienced, tend to be pack rats by nature. We hold on to a lot of things, from old knick-knacks to old photos, and especially old manuscripts. I have yet to meet a fellow author who’s said “Yup, I destroyed all my old stories completely.” Even if they never see the light of day, for whatever reason, we keep the old things around. And time, let’s face it, is not always kind to old ideas.
However, an equally undeniable fact is that some ideas do hold up to the test of time. Flash Gordon remains a cult classic just as much for its simplistic presentation as for its high-octane camp. Fans continue to clamor for more Star Wars even though the first movie premiered over 35 years ago. It’s entirely possible that one of those old manuscripts holds a core element or key idea that can be planted in fresh, unwritten soil, to grow into something entirely new. Or, to go with a more carnivorous analogy, the meat may be rotten but the bones are intact. And the bones can use used as stock for something new and delicious.
But first, all of that old meat has to come off.
It can be difficult to strip an old story down to its bare elements, to delete thousands upon thousands of words that you might have spent hours or even days working on. But it has to be done. Hopefully, you are not the writer you were years ago. You’ve grown, learned, and gotten more used to your voice and your pace. You know what makes good characters, be they heroes or villains or some poor schmuck caught in the middle. Your descriptions are no longer than they have to be. You keep it simple. You grab the reader by the scruff. You kill your darlings.
Any meat of the old stories that doesn’t do the above can come off of the bones.
It’s messy work. It can take a while. And it’s one thing to kill a darling; it’s another to dismember it, to rend it to pieces that your dog might find questionable. But it has to be done. What else is that old manuscript going to do for you?
Be you starved for a new idea or wondering how you can make an old one work better, to create you must first destroy. Get the rotten meat off those bones, then boil them in the clean water of a fresh and cleared mind. Start a new outline. Drop in the bones (the plot points & ideas) and build something new around them. You might be surprised at the results.
That’s how I’d go about it, at least.
So this week has been a bit of a wash. I’ve spent most of it preparing for PAX, getting finances in order for PAX, ensuring my workout regimen is maintained during PAX, etc etc, you get the idea.
I will hammer out flash fiction in response to whatever Chuck prompts us with tomorrow, and be back on track for both making headway on Cold Streets and blogging effectively. Travelling up the seaboard tends to muck up my plans more than I anticipated. But hey, at least the hotel has wi-fi.
Things continue to change around here, mostly for the better. The workout regimen is causing some pain, but I expected that. My gym membership entitles me to a free training session, which I will use to ensure I’m executing my lifts correctly, and also that I’m using the right apparatus for attempts at chin-ups. Some of the stuff in that gym is pretty weird, man.
I’ve also nailed or exceeded my 350-words-a-day-in-at-least-one-novel goal every day this week. Today will be no different! I may need to do it after FNM, but we shall see how the day progresses. The best thing about writing with the barest of outlines is that things can develop you did not expect. In Cold Streets, Morgan is not only reconnecting with her estranged father, we’re also getting a bit more of her backstory, which I feel is incredibly important. With everything supernatural and odd that happens around her, I don’t want Morgan to get lost. I like that there’s nothing unusual about her in terms of powers or abilities; her normal everyday nature is a good counterpoint to everything else running around Philadelphia in 2020.
Change is never easy, tends to be painful, and can even be destructive. But without it, we die. To survive, to thrive, and to succeed, it takes more than just having a dream. It takes working towards that dream, every day, with as much effort as one can muster. Be aware of what you do and who it might effect, but never stop making that effort. History isn’t just made by great men and women with innovative technology or fancy hats. History is made by the people who show up, day in and day out, looking to make a change, even if that change is not what one expects.
Next week is PAX East. I believe the hotel has WiFi so I will do my utmost to keep you fine folks up to date with the latest from Boston. Thanks for sticking with me.
Writing is an odd profession. Writing fiction, even moreso. Most other professions have to start at one place and end at another. Linear progression of a product, from conception to design to implementation and delivery, is the baseline for most items consumed by the public. And while you certainly never pitch an unfinished or unpolished novel to an agent, the creation of what you eventually present does not necessarily need to unfold in a linear fashion.
You may think your novel’s outline is a guideline to how to write it. And, in a sense, it’s true. An outline is a powerful tool. It helps you lay out your plot, determine when and how to develop your characters, when things take a turn for the worse, who lives and who dies and who is left to pick up the pieces. It’s one of the organizational linchpins of the novel, and I for one would be lost without mine.
Just like a general would be lost without a map of the battlefield. And make no mistake, when you write a novel, you go to war.
I don’t mean writing is a horrible, traumatic experience (although it can be); what I mean is, writing is a struggle, day after day, to achieve a goal that will be fighting back against you. It may feel at times that mundane matters of the world are actually conspiring against you, from chores to dayjobs to distractions and things like needing to eat and sleep. We must choose our battles, carve our time out of the enemy lines with sweeping advances of determination, and when we finally cross no-man’s-land into that place where we can write, we have to make the most of the precious ground we’ve gained.
I hope you don’t think this means you have to follow the outline to the letter.
How often do you assault a castle by its heavily defended front gate? Canny generals find a way across the moat to a back door or sluice gate. Some lay siege. Some sow sedition into the enemy ranks. Many positions that seem unassailable do have vulnerabilities, even if it means digging a tunnel or using aircraft. So it is with writing.
If you feel like the writing time you’ve gained is going nowhere, and something you’re trying to work through is resisting your efforts, don’t give up. Try writing at another section. Write the inner monologue of a character. Write gibberish. Just keep writing. The words will come if you keep making them appear on the paper or screen.
Not every day is going to go well, and not every pocket of resistance will expose its vulnerabilities to you. That’s okay. You’re not a failure. Write around it and come back to it later. You have plenty of time, you have the words you need in your head, and you just need to clear some others out of the way so the right ones can come pouring out. If you’re struggling, come at your writing more strategically. Like a conscript in a foxhole at the base of the hill, you may not be able to see to goal, but trust me, it’s there.
Buck up, soldier. It’s an uphill slog from here.
I really didn’t expect to throw myself into this change the way I have. Change is always difficult, and it can be more sweeping than we realize. I’m going to make myself more mindful of what I eat (yes, moreso than before). I need to adjust my sleeping schedule. And I have to get serious about blogging before the day a post should go up.
I was hoping to complete Chuck’s Super Ultra Mega Game of Aspects this week, but I ran out of time. As much as I’ve nailed down how and when to run, as well as where and how to lift, there’s still some scheduling changes that need to happen to I can accomplish other non-fitness goals. As much as I feel like I’m slowly but surely winning this fight against weight gain and sloth, I don’t want to lose out on my writing, or any of my hobbies.
If this means I have to start getting up earlier in the morning, so be it.
So last week I talked about having goals, which in the case of the stories I’m writing means finishing Cold Streets and at least one other novel by the end of the year. The best way to get there, I would say, is one word at a time, but thanks to Chuck, I can move at a bit faster pace than that.
Writing a novel in less than a year can seem daunting, even to experienced authors and especially to mostly untested wordsmiths like myself. We’re talking tens if not hundreds of thousands of words, all within an ultimately limited timeframe. Like a pizza or a cake, however, you can manage things better if you divide it into smaller pieces. Hence this handy guide from Master Wendig. I highly suggest you check it out.
Other than last night, I’ve managed to stick to this, even working on multiple stories in one night. It definitely is easier to grok what needs to be accomplished when you’re worrying only about the next 350 words, not the next 3500. Weekends off is a neat idea, but I might squeeze in a few words here and there. I’ll also be checking out a local gym or two and building myself up to start running. This year already feels different…
I’ve been dropping words here and there into Cold Streets this week. I have the feeling that I’m reaching the top of the hill, and that in a couple hundred words, things are just going to take off. Moreso than the first novella, this one is taking its time getting to really juicy peril, and I hope people like the time it takes building on relationships and exploring new perspectives.
Both Godslayer and the sci-fi noir project have been getting some attention from me, as well. I’ve spent some time wondering what other media could be used to convey these stories. Do I hit up an artist to put one of them out in webcomic form? Should I teach myself a game engine and put my programming chops to use in something other than the dayjob? At this point, I’m still operating under the ‘novel’ assumption, but things can always change.
Basically, my goal is to have two major tales done by the end of this year, Cold Streets and perhaps one of the others. To do that I have targets to meet on a daily and weekly basis, much like I will for the renewed attempts I’ll be making at fitness (more to come on that). The more I examine how I spend my days and nights, the more I see that there’s plenty of time for me to get everything done, as long as I actually take the time to plan things in advance. Life will happen, of course, but the more I prepare beforehand, the more I’ll be able to roll with the punches.
That’s what makes sense to me, at least.
If you’re anything like me, you saw Chuck’s post on the Authorial Sludgebody yesterday and resolved to follow his beardy, foul-mouthed example: pick up the pace on exercise and more closely monitor diet. Great! You might have even hit certain goals, like getting in an entire hour of exercise (be it all at once or broken into chunks) and avoided sweets or soft drinks as much as possible. Wonderful!
Now it’s the next day. Guess what? You have to do it again.
This is probably the hardest part. Establishing good habits is much more difficult than falling into bad ones. We are creatures that crave comfort, and putting stress on our bodies through exercise is often less comforting than getting in just one more episode of Antiques Road Show or just one more deathmatch in Counter-Strike. But that weight is not going to leave on its own, and your energy levels won’t raise themselves; you have to actively cultivate that habit.
The more consistently you repeat a behavior, the easier it becomes to incorporate it into your daily life. Shooting to go for a run at the same time every day is admirable, but it might not always happen, and if it doesn’t, what then? Skipping it simply doesn’t work (talking from experience, here). You have to carve out time for it, much like you must for writing, or else the creature comforts with which we surround ourselves will start their siren’s song. If you don’t have a concrete goal with which to lash yourself to the mast, you’ll be adrift in the undertow of leisure activities before you know it.
This is a wonderful opportunity for me to remind you that you’re not always going to get it right.
I talk a lot about rejection and failure here, but we face many more defeats every day than just those from outside sources. We miss a deadline we set for ourselves; we break down and indulge in that taste of chocolate; we lose track of time and let some distraction eat up an hour we’d set aside for productive work. I will remind you that these things are not in and of themselves hallmarks of failure; they’re little more than speedbumps and pot holes in the road to our success, and the best way to get there is keep moving forward. Keep trying. Try harder.
While Edison may not be as interesting or as brilliant at Tesla, he did say something I agree with. Instead of failing 1000 times to invent the filament-powered light bulb, his philosophy was that he discovered 1000 ways the filament-powered light bulb does not work. If a day goes by and you miss a chance to get some exercise or writing or other endeavor in, congratulations! You’ve discovered a schedule that doesn’t give you what you want. Sure, you might have dinged another level in your game or gotten another couple episodes of Pawn Stars under your belt, but tomorrow you can hammer out a different timetable, and maybe get closer to some of your other, less convenient goals.
And when you find those timetables, they’re easier to repeat, and repeat, and repeat again.
Success isn’t just talent. It isn’t just luck or fate or knowing the right people. It’s perseverance. It’s resolving to keep trying even if it means disrupting your schedules, stepping out of your comfort zones, thumbing your nose at expectations. It’s doing things that help you rather than hinder you, and doing them again and again, even if the hindrance comes in the form of a delightful hobby or distraction. It’s repetition.
So, that thing you did yesterday when you were all inspired? That calorie goal you met, that soft drink you refused to pick up, that timestamp you hit with one step after another on the walking path or treadmill?
Do it again today. And tomorrow. And the day after that.
Courtesy Floating Robes
In addition to Cold Streets, I’ve been handed what amounts to a writing assignment for work. Unfortunately, I’m not interviewing anybody cool in the industry or crafting an expose on something juicy, I’m writing about myself. It’s self-evaluation time around the office, and it turns out that ‘myself’ is one of the hardest things you could ever ask me to write about.
As much as writers tend to be a narcissistic lot, reviewing one’s own performance tends to be difficult for me. I have a tendency to focus on things I do wrong in the course of executing my duties, which is also why I tend to get bogged down when editing my own work. Hell, I’m even having trouble writing this entry about writing about myself. It just strikes me as uninteresting. I’m not going in-depth about some psychological issue, talking about my fictional works, or recounting the tale of a trip to a convention or exotic location. I’m just rattling on about my day-to-day goings-on, and those are about as exciting as dusting your home or doing your laundry or picking bits of unwanted vegetables out of your salad.
Hopefully I can wrap that Damocledian tedium up today and get back to the really important stuff in my life, like writing Cold Streets, playing more games to review, and preparing for PAX East.
There was a time, in my ignorant youth, when I’d say something is not art. Mostly this was related to modern art, be it the emotional spatters of Jackson Pollack or the austere compositions of Piet Mondrian. These days I know better: it’s possible to make art out of anything. There are stories to tell all over the place, and even in the 21st century, people are still finding new ways to do it.
The proliferation of the Internet has allowed more artists to express themselves and even encounter success in their lifetimes. These days, few artists toil in complete obscurity only to die before any of their works become truly recognized. With a little talent and patience, enough Twitter followers, and a lucky break or two, today’s artist can launch a career with much more ease relative to those earlier days. And the art in question has the freedom to defy old categories and conventions, writing rules of its own.
For years, webcomics seemed to be more like the Internet’s answer to sitcoms than anything else. Even now I would argue that sub-par comics like Ctrl-Alt-Del are the Internet equivalent of The Big Bang Theory. But webcoimcs can and do break away from the joke-of-the-day format. Some replace scathing caricature with breathtaking art, and others look to mix media in ways that just wouldn’t work on the printed page. Last night I was introduced to an example of the former, in the form of Unsounded, the tale of a brash thieving brat and her favorite attack zombie.
It’s more complex than that, of course. Ashley Cope manages to maintain a pretty regular schedule, and her tale not only has a clear narrative drive and truly interesting and complicated characters that grow and change, but she’s involved in extensive world-building and giving us a unique and fascinating look at magic, making it more practical and well-defined than some other works. A great deal of time and research has gone into her world, and atmosphere and history seep from many of this story’s pores. It’s well worth your time to check out.
As for mixed media art works, normally this would mean something is using both paint and sculpture, but on the Internet, you can mix static art, animation, sound, music, and user interaction to create a truly unique experience. I am, of course, talking about Homestuck. As much as Andrew Hussie’s work has inspired a veritable legion of irritating and demanding fanatics, the work itself is bold and experimental. It can be difficult to maintain a narrative through-line for as long as this story has, and while opinions differ on the many and varied characters that weave into and out of the story, the fact that the story is still going somewhere and has something to say before the end makes the long hiatus periods and insufferable antics of misguided fans worthwhile, at least in my opinion.
That’s just two examples of narrative art blossoming on the Internet. I only have so much time, but I would also recommend Lackadaisy, Gunnerkrigg Court, Cucumber Quest, and The Adventures of Dr. McNinja.
So Cold Streets is clipping along. I’m still waffling a bit on how to set up Godslayer, be it Lord of the Rings style multiple books or a large novel divided for the sake of narrative, like in Tigana. I have my eyes peeled for opportunities to write for contests or anthologies, and of course I’m quite curious as to what today’s Flash Fiction challenge will be. But apparently, my brain is unsatisfied with these writing opportunities.
I was in Barnes & Noble the other night, after taking the missus to Cracker Barrel for dinner. We were wandering around the stacks, after finding a couple novels of interest (Throne of the Crescent Moon and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms) and a few other items. It was she who pointed out the shelves dominated by what was labeled “Teen Paranormal Romance”, and we both noted how many of them looked like shameless, tawdry Twilight knock-offs.
“Damn,” said she, “you gotta get yourself some of that action.”
And immediately, my brain began giving me ideas.
What if the girl’s the vampire? Would that be too sexualized? Not if you write it right, obviously. But vampires are everywhere! It’s got to be something else. Can’t be zombies, either. Warm Bodies has that covered. Hey, what about mummies? Nah, doing that already. Werewolves! Tied into vampires now, thanks a fucking bunch Ms. Meyer… What about ghosts? Witches? Ancient pirate curses? Love-beams from space? Talking cats?
I have to admit, I’m rather proud of myself that I didn’t either take an awl to my temple or drink myself into oblivion just to shut the damn thing up. But as much as some might scoff at the fad of teen paranormal romance, there’s nothing that says that it’s any less a viable genre than any other speculative fiction. And if much of the output of the community there is dross and drivel, the opportunity exists to write something that isn’t either of those things, that basically shows the others how it’s done. Being the arrogant and narcissistic sod I am, this appeals to me.
I want to work more on Cold Streets and get Godslayer nailed down outline-wise first before I add that to my plate, though. I know I should ABW, but I can only keep so many balls in the air at the same time. No matter what my brain might say.
I don’t consider myself a critic. I don’t have the experience, the background, or the clout to saddle myself with that label. I’ve taken a stab at the life before, and as fun as it can be to put my thoughts together and then spew them out into a microphone, more often than not it got in the way of what I truly should have been doing. Part of that could have been time management issues, ones with which I continue to struggle, but I do have some inkling of what goes into the work of a successful critic.
Simply put, a critic is someone who’s paid for their opinion. I’ve discussed the nitty gritty of criticism several times, and I’ve taken in all sorts of critical analysis. I’ve read over the opinions of those who’ve carved out an entire career from criticism, and I’ve listened to the diatribes of those who have picked up a rather broad audience through one means or another. The most in-depth and compelling analyses I’ve seen come from those who remain objective throughout their writing, or at least encapsulate their more personal feelings and keep them from being a huge influence on the overall critique. What moves one person to tears, another might find laughable or contrived, yet if a story element is solid or a character’s performance earnest and realistic, it can be agreed upon by both people that said element was objectively good.
Objectivity, however, can be seen as cold or too intellectual. In recent years, critics who allow more subjective verbiage to move through their writings have become far more popular than mostly objective ones. The angrier they get, the more sarcastic and cutting their jibes, the more histrionic their behavior, the more hits they get and the more they get paid. While I do understand the logic behind this shift, and can appreciate how noble an effort it can be to bridge the gap between critic and entertainer, from time to time I catch a glimpse of something happening to some of these popular figures, and it worries me.
The problem is that if the critic in question allows their histrionics or eccentric behavior to color their objectivity as a critic, their merit as a critic becomes questionable. Having a knee-jerk reaction to an announcement from the industry is one thing; allowing that reaction to color one’s opinion of an entire entertainment enterprise from conception to execution over a production period of years is quite another. If you do this, I can’t take your opinion seriously. You may continue to get entertainment value out of this sort of material, sure, but how much can you trust the opinion of someone on a game or movie if you know for a fact they dislike the game’s developer, or have a particular hatred for the film’s director? Some content creators have a certain track record, sure, but going into an entertainment experienced with a pre-conceived notion when your job is to be objective about said entertainment, in my opinion, ruins the merit of the criticism that will emerge.
Now, I know it’s impossible to completely divorce emotional responses from objective observations. Hence my use of the word ‘encapsulation’ earlier. This is what I would advise others looking to review or criticize to do: isolate your emotional responses, and let them supplement, rather than inform, your opinions on the work. Judge the work by its merits from an objective standpoint: the construction of the narrative, the execution of timing, the dimensionality of the characters, and so on. Then, add your personal touches where they fit. This will allow the actual criticism to shine through the trappings. Simply put, don’t let the fact that others might read your work overwhelm the reason you’re writing the work in the first place. Stick to the facts and what you can prove and stand by, rather than hanging all of your opinions on your own perceived popularity. Avoid the cult of personality, or worse, believing you have one. If you go for the obvious jokes and let your reactions prejudice your observations, you may get some hits for comedic value, but your overall work and reputation are likely to suffer. This can be corrected, in time, but first you have to admit that the problem exists at all, and not everybody’s going to do that.
Just a piece of advice from a fellow amateur.
While working on Cold Streets does take up most of my writing time, I do take notice of trends here on the blog. And it seems to me that my hits have diminished somewhat over the past week. I’m not sure why this is, but I’m going to keep at it.
I have plenty of material, after all. Tomorrow I finally will make it to a Gatecrash event, and on Sunday is a double-header of films I’m interested in both watching and reviewing. I’m also going to formulate a review of PlanetSide 2, which is quickly becoming a favorite after-writing way to unwind, and finish reading a book or two. But the important thing when it comes to the blog, if you ask me, is that I keep writing it.
Not necessarily because I want the attention (though I kind of do, it may help sell books and like all writers I’m a bit of a narcissist), but because writing every day doesn’t just mean the novels. It means stuff like this, too. If I made more time for it, it could also mean articles or non-fiction or more gaming stuff than I already write. So far my attempts to put game rules down on paper has been somewhat helter-skelter, and I really need to find a way to playtest said rules once I hammer out the basics. But more on that as it develops.
For now, just know that Blue Ink Alchemy isn’t going anywhere, and if you’re still reading after all this time or you’re just stumbling upon me out of the blue, you have my heartfelt thanks.