Posts Tagged ‘fiction’

Because of it being Halloween and all, I’ve been thinking a lot about horror. Every year, we pay millions of dollars to be frightened in some way; to be made uncomfortable. I mean, otherwise, our entire American existence is based around safety and comfort–from remote controls to gated communities–to the point that it’s often ridiculous. (I’m looking at you, Snuggie.) Yet we stand in line for hours to ride roller coasters, pay money to go on ghost tours, go skydiving and, yes, we devour gobs of scary books and movies.

Life is fragile, and it’s short. We spend a lot of time coming up with ways not to have to think about that, but we are all too aware this is true. To top it off, there’s at least a bazillion ways to die (actual number may vary), and there’s not enough money, booze or sex to stop that train. We’re powerless. What do we do with such a psychological dilemma? We’ve already said facing that existential issue head on is out of the question for most people, but it’s there and its not going away. So, we do what humans do best: we try to deal with it without actually having to deal with it. And that’s what I think horror is all about.

Someone, somewhere, with too much time and a government grant on their hands, said that there are seventeen negative news stories for every kitten found to have Cancer-curing meow story. Some have said that’s because we’re bastards, but I think it’s a form of catharsis. Part of us despises hearing bad news, because, as fellow human beings, we empathize. But another part of us is fascinated by it. Not because we’re bastards, but because we are curious. Death is ubiquitous and isn’t known for making appointments. So, it enthralls us. And when we hear that this monster, so silent in our own lives, has spoken, we want to hear. We want to see the path of destruction it left behind so that we can better understand it. Because, part of us feels like that if we can understand it, we can control it.

I think it’s for the same reasons that we love horror. We get to sit down for an hour and a half and watch death do his thing (the scary part) then get made a fool of by someone in the end (the therapeutic part). While I don’t think these are the best ways to deal with such issues, I think stories can have a therapeutic effect. Chesterton said, “Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” Through horror, we can–within the relative safety of our own homes–explore our greatest fears. We get a peek into that mysterious realm without having to, well, die to do so.

Horror not only lets us wrap our minds around these ideas, it gives us a sense that there is hope. Every time the mask-wearing, hatchet-toting enemy is defeated, we pump our fists in celebration, not so much because the protagonist was such a well-defined and relatable character that we didn’t want to see them die (one of the short-comings of the genre, to be certain), but simply because certain death was overcome by someone as human as us.

the-walking-dead-season-1-dont-open-dead-inside

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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.

Being followed

Posted: November 6, 2011 in Writing
Tags: , , , ,

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.

This is one of the best books on writing that I’ve ever read.  Yes, it’s about writing screenplays for the most part, but the information is universal. (Also, if you haven’t discovered the 3 or 4 Act process for writing your novel you are a lot more frustrated than you have to be, boys and girls.)  Seriously, I think this is one of those books that has enough talented people saying its good stuff that little ole me can’t expound too much more on its usefulness.  So, I’ll just say you most likely won’t regret this purchase if you’re serious about the craft of writing.