Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

I’ve often said that logic 101 should be a required high school course throughout the land. If you spend any considerable amount of time with other bags of mostly water, and/or mentioned politics, firearms, or whether the poor should be set to drift on ice flows, you have probably noticed that while people may be passionate, they suck at arguing. If you’re familiar with Monty Python (who are reuniting, if you didn’t know), you are well aware that an argument is not just contradiction, it’s a connected series of statements to establish a definite proposition …. an intellectual process.

And, while I think being able to make and identify good arguments is an important life skill, I also think it’s an important writing skill. A story, no matter its genre, is really just a (hopefully) clever argument presented by character, setting and plot (you think I’m going to believe the Overlook Hotel is haunted unless Mr. King makes a darn good argument with his writing that this is a world where haunted hotels can exist?)

Argument, like story, has to make logical connections from beginning to end. Like this: Premise A has to equal B, but B also has to equal C. In real life, those premises have to be true and logically follow one another, in writing they only have to logically follow one another. For instance, if I said that Beyonce killed JFK, that is neither true nor is it logical (because she wasn’t born until 1981). It’s an easily refuted argument in the real world. But what if the argument my fictional story makes is that a genius (but Beyonce obsessed) scientist created technology that made time travel possible, and hijinks ensue which eventually gives Beyonce access to a time machine where she is sent back in time and accidentally responsible for the President’s assassination. Although in need of quite a bit of turd polishing, that’s an acceptably logical story premise. Why? Because, you can’t just put a boy and a lion in a boat without explaining how they got there. Just give me a world in which it’s plausible that Beyonce could have killed JFK, along with proper explanation of how she got to that point (A equaling B equaling C), and your story argument is on its way to a place of validity where I can begin to abandon my disbelief.

As readers, we will accept that anything can happen if you, as the writer, argue the point well enough. But if you let story logic slip, you lose the reading trance you had me in and I begin to ask myself whether I should be reading something else. For example, if I argued that vampires could attack Bayside High, you would think I’d been huffing my 90’s era Saved By the Smell cologne, (it’s not a thing, but it should have been). But if I had said that vampires could attack Sunnydale High, you’d only roll your eyes at the obvious nature of my statement. Why? They’re both high schools. They’re both even high schools where it could be argued that supernatural things are known to happen (Zack stops time and talks to the voyeuristic outside people all the time.) So, why is it so hard to accept that, one fateful Prom night, a band of roving bloodsuckers might savagely murder the cast (how excited are you now, Jessie Spano?), except Zack, who would obviously stop time to escape, and Kelly Kapowski, because she would obviously be turned and promptly become their vampire queen (duh). The problem is the premise doesn’t match the conclusion you’ve made. Despite Zack’s time manipulating abilities, we are led to believe for seventeen bajillion seasons that this is your average high school. Such a twist would betray what had come before; feel tacked on. (It’s why people despised the fact that the blue-collar family of Rosanne won the lottery. …How’s that for a current example? I gots my fingers on the pulse of today’s youth!) So, the next time you make an argument about wages at Wal-Mart or werewolves in the walls, just make sure it doesn’t suck.

Meet Your Queen

Meet Your Queen

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Scared

Posted: January 31, 2013 in Essays, Writing
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scared-baby-2I’m starting a new career and I’m scared. I have all these friends that have all these connections and all these resumes out in the hands of those they’ve commended me too. And I am thankful beyond belief for this. (But I’m scared.)

In my heart, I’m an artist. Up until the last few years, I didn’t know how to be an artist though. I wrote and I thought, not yet. I created and believed there was some thing I hadn’t become aware of or grasped that I was supposed to. So I couldn’t be an artist. I wasn’t good enough. I was scared. …But I’m not scared anymore. I’m free.

There is craft and there is hard, hard work. There is the time-consuming process of growing and becoming better and better and better. But there is never anything to be afraid of. The art is always worthwhile. Even when it’s not salable, it’s worthwhile. It is a marker of where one is. It is progress incarnate. It is, my friends, anti-fear. Because fear does not create. Fear hides and makes up excuses. It is indeed the sun-sparkling spittle in the face of fear.

But, yeah, I’m still afraid. This ain’t art. What if I don’t get this job? Any job. What if all this work I’ve done for the past five years ends up being a very expensive education in failure?

For me, the act of creating–the lessons learned from it–prepared me for this. It taught me that even hard-earned failure is hope. Because it taught me that well-prepared actions are beautiful and non-action is null. It taught me that, instead of fearing, I should be. And in being, I will act as I will, not as fear of the unknown forces me to. I will be true to reality and and not the ghost of possible futures.

So, after writing this, I have to admit, I’m still a little afraid. Because truth is beautiful and a fine salve, but–like any medicine–it takes a while to fully work. But I feel better. Because even if destruction wins for a time, I stared it down and created in its ugly face.

You’d Be Surprised.

Posted: January 22, 2013 in Essays, Writing
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Try New Things!

Try New Things!

“You’d be surprised what you want to know that you don’t know you want to know.” I said this jokingly, but it makes me think about how we label things and how that keeps us from experience. I don’t like sports, for instance. But the reasons I don’t like sports are mostly social for me. It is, in my experience, the same reason those who like sports, who dress in their team’s jerseys and know by heart the batting average of their most enjoyed player, frown and furrow their brow at the comic collector or the science fiction fanatic.

Without having to explain that of course I know there is overlap and that there are sports fans who also search for rare Mego dolls in their spare time and geeks who erupt like sports volcanoes when their team crosses a line or puts a ball in a predetermined area. Because you know I know that. Because that’s not what this is about. It’s not at all about the lines that we make, the clearly drawn boxes that we choose to live in that proudly declare we are in this camp or another–the music we listen to and the rims we choose to house our eye-seeing apparatuses within, for instance. It’s about what’s outside those lines.

Maybe, if I didn’t identify an abstract thing so heavily with a culture or group that I feel is against me, or anti-me, or bizarro me, then I might actually find some measure of joy in it. I wonder, if I could put all of my preconceived notions aside and hear it for the first time, if I might find something useful and provocative about what Country music has to offer—as a form, a medium, a voice. I am at once curious if listening to my enemy might invite some bit of wisdom I have insofar refused to hear. It makes me want to refuse to refuse, if you know what I mean. It makes me want to seek out the jock and the cheerleader equivalents of the grown-up world, take their hands and go where they lead me for a while. It makes me want to lose myself in that which I have eschewed. It does. But, even in this, this waking up to the world at large; this expansion of my horizons that I had led myself to believe were wide open but weren’t, I’m afraid even this would still not make me like Twilight any more.

Click and enjoy.

Billy Collins: Everyday moments, caught in time

There are very few things that excite me as art does. Scruffy hipsters in black fedoras, orange-haired chicks with black lipstick, trust fund kids with great abs and perfectly coiffed older women in high heels calling themselves patrons—they all huddle around the same painting and find something there. I don’t care what it is. I don’t mind if they’re wrong. The mere fact that it exists is enough. That it is done with love and that love vibrates like a struck tuning fork, turning anyone within earshot its way—that is enough.

The world is a nasty place. It’s full of heartbreak and hate. It’s a disappointment. There are very few things that simply and utterly renounce the idea that there is no love or peace or joy, but art is one of those things. Even more, art is not ex nihilo, it actually often grows out of the putrid soil of the pain in which we are surrounded and too frequently enveloped. It has a redemptive nature. It spits in the face of pain and death and creates hope or wonder or even (dare we?) questions. Art, when done well, is more than entertainment. It can be something as lofty as worship. It can tell us truths we would not otherwise hear. Art, in its many forms, is important because it is an extension of us. It is wholly human in the raw. It dares us to look at the face of a man when we so often only look through him. Perhaps, in that way, it makes us more human.

The Pointless Comb-over

Posted: December 24, 2012 in Essays, Other Stuff, Writing

I went back home this weekend for Christmas. My brother and I went for pizza and there, at the next, poorly wiped table, was a man with the worst comb-over I’ve ever seen. Now, you may be saying, ‘Chad, all comb-overs are bad. What makes this one so very, very special?’ And I would say to you, ‘Thank you for asking. Sit. Sit, and I will tell you the tale of the Pointless Comb-over.’

I get the comb-over. We’re a vain bunch, and those people didn’t start off trying to spread three hairs over a head-full of space. At first, it was probably, simply, a thin spot that a little hair maneuveCombovers_zps5b1afa2dring easily covered. Then it became wider. But, oh, weren’t we clever with our gel and few hairs? But, I get that. It’s called denial. I have the lion’s share of my hair, but I’m sure there are things I’m not honest with myself about. That. That, I can accept. But, the pointless -comb-over… it just makes me sad.  Let me share my sadness with you.

Imagine, if you will, a field of hairlessness. Imagine a shining, pink orb of pure, unadulterated skin. Picture with me long curves of hair, springing from the side of this man’s head like sad, brown rainbows. Now, imagine that NONE of those hairs do the job of covering that head. The thing is, all of the elements of a comb-over were there–the baldness, the too-long side hair coupled with the shorter hair further down, meant to confuse us into believing: this is a normal haircut, move along, nothing to see here. But all of that perfectly good hair camouflage lay to the sides and back, useless. It was like some odd bird had built a nest of hair around a giant, pink egg.

I don’t want to hate anything about myself. Especially to the point that I go to insane lengths to cover it up. But I really, really, really don’t want to become so blase about my own sad attempts at covering up my flaws that I end up with what amounts to a pointless comb-over. So, my friend, on this holiday eve, I guess what I’m trying to say is this: Enjoy yourself for yourself. It’s okay to alter yourself. You actually should always be trying to grow and change for the better. But never, ever let your self-loathing become such a part of who you are that it becomes a defining trait.

I’ve been thinking a lot about consequences lately. We do things and we don’t think about the them. Sure, we might think about how it’s going to affect us. But we don’t think globally about our choices. I’ve been in friendships, family and romantic relationships that were damaged or even completely severed not because of what I or the other person did, but because of what had been done to one or both of us in the past. People write themselves into our stories without even realizing it many times. So, I began to wonder about the consequences of what I write.

When I create characters I try to make everything they do mean something. If what someone is doing or saying has no impact on either them or another character, then what they are doing or saying is worthless to the story. That makes me also wonder if what my characters are doing or saying has had any impact on the reader—not just their entertainment, but their lives.

I mean, honestly, everything you write doesn’t have to be mind-blowingly deep or meaningful. Writing for entertainment is fine. But even when you’re writing purely for entertainment, there’s usually a message. There’s usually something Meta going on that even you might not realize. Yes, when I’m writing, I want to be cognizant of what the writing is saying beyond what the writing is saying (if that makes sense). But I also love that thrill of someone coming to me after reading something I’ve written and telling me about something it said to them that I had no idea it said at all.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that art is not something to treat flippantly. It always has consequences. It has meaning and purpose. The ability to move those who view it in one way or another. Sometimes that purpose is to move the reader to anger or change. Sometimes it’s to do the hard job of entertaining. Sometimes it’s to impart joy. But remember that words are powerful and strong (and that’s not just good writing advice). They often come at a cost. Treat them with the respect they deserve and you will most often create something worth experiencing.

Words Remind Us.

Posted: November 30, 2012 in Essays, Writing
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Candle’s story how can I tell?
Of the broken heart’s living hell?
My sorrow is in how I can find
Another who knows these sorrows well.

Hafiz wrote these lines sometime in the fourteenth century. In four lines, he draws me in and makes me feel empathy for a character who is both heartbroken and seeking love and understanding. I think he does this by, of course, his use of language, but also by first empathizing with mankind. He has seen his place in the greater tapestry of our race and understood. He has boiled down the story of this man’s pain into emotions that, even hundreds of years later, we can easily hold onto and comprehend—because we have felt them. We have known them intimately.

Ever since I was a child I have heard people talk about how much the world has changed. They talk about how evil things are now as opposed to some hazy, distant past of which they or their grandparents were a part. I used to believe this. I had internalized the idea that things are worse now than they were before. Then I began to read. I read about atrocities that history drags behind her like entrails. I read of deep, familial hate that corrupt and boil over. The whole of empires falling for a single woman’s kiss. I read of men who murdered and raped because apparently power appointed this right to them and then of unbelievable acts of love and courage in spite of it all.

Sometimes I have crumbled into my bed and wondered if anyone else felt the way I did. Sometimes I bounded joyously, hands outstretched, and hoped that the peace and contentment I felt was common. Sometimes you feel your struggle is yours alone. But it never is. A million-million men and a million-million women have stooped low to lift the same burdens you and I carry. They have laughed and cried, made inconceivable mistakes and experienced redemption they never believed they deserved. History is not a rise and fall of morality. Morality has rotted on the vine in the same, sick way since Eve sunk her teeth deep. It is sometimes a cautionary tale, or reason to hope. But it is always true to who we are.

Fashions and the way in which we communicate, travel and interact will always be in flux, but the human condition, the heart of a man, will always be able to be summed up in the words of some near-forgotten poet hundreds of years past. That’s the beauty of words. They remind us.

Rejection

Posted: November 15, 2012 in Writing
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I just finished what I hope to be one of the later drafts of a book I’ve been working on for the last three years (way too long, even for a Graduate student). It’s at the stage that I am finally willing to let it hobble out of the nest I’ve so carefully cared for it in for so long a time and into the hands of others to read. Beta readers, they call them. (Me being the Alpha, which I like, because wolves are cool… and also, I’m hairy.) I have yet to hear from one of these Betas, (nor do I expect to as it’s only been a few days) but I hope when I do I hear truth.

As people, we are both afraid to give truthful feedback (therefore producing those non-talented people on American Idol whose parents told them they had the voice of an Angel, no doubt) and we do not like to receive it (see those self-same people after they are told the truth, although not always in the best of ways.) To be a writer you’re going to have to accept that there’s going to be a lot of rejection and that some of it is even going to be from people who know what they’re talking about. So forget everything Barney the Dinosaur told you about wishing making it so and all that positive thinking nonsense that disavows anything having to do with hard work and challenges. That’s called life. Not just the writing life–Life. It isn’t always easy. It doesn’t always go your way. But there is love. There is friendship. There are sunsets everyday, like clockwork, and for those so inclined, there is that wonderfully fearful blank page that so much joy can be derived from. That page that we can use all of that rejection, pain, joy and peace that life throws our way to tell stories that are more real than real and more truthful than true.

Being followed

Posted: November 6, 2011 in Writing
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The page follows me.  It’s there even when I’m not staring at my computer screen.  It peeks around corners and intrudes in my thoughts and conversations.  The blank page beckons to me to be clothed with words, for its life as a terrible, blank nothing to be taken so that it can be reborn into story.  It doesn’t even mind if it’s covered with bad prose or a simple outline or even words that never make it to a final draft, it just wants to be used.  It won’t leave me alone.  So, I’m here.

You’re probably out there too–something following you; stalking you until you stop, turn and take it in your arms.  Whatever it is, you might as well give in, because that thing usually doesn’t give up.  Besides, if it ever did you’d feel like something important was missing.  So, follow my advice and just give in.  Embrace the frustration of creation.  Perhaps we can even sate the beast long enough to relax and have a chat.  But, truth be told, I won’t stay away for long.  Turns out, I want it just as bad as it wants me.