Posts Tagged ‘writing’

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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Billy Collins: Everyday moments, caught in time

I’m working on a series of posts about this Online Dating Phenomenon. It’s kind of an upgraded version of the ads people used to put in newspapers (well, still do.) and the less sluttier sister of Craigslist. To whet your palate, here’s my profile. Enjoy and share, my cyber-friends!

About me:

-I always secretly want the soup, but the endlessness of the salad always gets me at Olive Garden.
-I hate black licorice with the passionate heat of a thousand suns.
-Monty Python and Mitch Hedberg make me laugh.
-Rice is overrated.
-Fox News makes me sad.
-Chicago is awesome but so very, very cold.
-I like to run—in theory.
-Sarcasm is lovely.
-Meat. I know, lots of you are vegetarians, and I respect that (I read part of Eating Animals, too), but, you know… steak.
-Do not own a picture of me without my shirt on—out of pure principle
-Am not training for MMA
-Do not want to four-wheeler ride or hunt large animals with you
-Whoa, went negative there for a minute
-But that’s okay, I mean, I can have an opinion about MMA and elk hunting, can’t I?
-And, seriously, put on a shirt…
-I make amazing chicken picatta
-Fall is the best season
-I’m convinced sociopaths bring raisin cookies to events to see that disgusted look on the faces of those who thought they were chocolate chip
-Black spider-man is my hero
-Hey, world. Twilight? Really?
-Travel is a good thing
-Inappropriate humor
-I’m kind of impressed you’re still reading.
-Reading and writing things down (fictional things. …not… that this list is fictional.)
-You’re gone, aren’t you?
-It’s probably for the best.
-It was the twilight comment, wasn’t it?

So, wow, if you hung around through that, you deserve a nice meal and maybe a door or two opened up for you. If you laughed, I’ll probably make you laugh. (I’m not bad at that.) If you think it was weird and don’t like chicken picatta, it probably wasn’t meant for you. (No offense. And I secretly don’t care if you don’t like chicken picatta.) We’re all looking for someone, not sometwo or three (well… some of us are) and if you think we might get along, by all means, do that idiotic wink thing or just email me and say hi (it’s 2013, after all.)

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.

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.

The Merry Monk

This is a project I started working on with a friend of mine. It’s called the Merry Monk. Hope you enjoy. (You can visit the Merry Monk’s website at themerrymonk.com)

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.

My aunt was an organ donor
and so, the day she died,
her organs were harvested
for medical science.
I suppose there must be people
who list, under “Occupation,”
“Organ Harvester,” people for whom
it is always harvest season,
each death bringing its bounty.
They spend their days
loading wagonloads of kidneys,
whole cornucopias of corneas,
burlap sacks groaning with hearts and lungs
and the pale green sprouts of gall bladders,
and even, from time to time,
the weighty cauliflower of a brain.

And perhaps today,
as I sit in this café, watching the snow
and thinking about my aunt,
a young medical student somewhere
is moving through the white museum
of her brain, making his way slowly
from one great room to the next.
Here is the gallery of her girlhood,
with that great canvas depicting her father
holding her on his lap in the backyard
of their bungalow in St. Louis.
And here is a sketch of her
the summer after her mother died,
walking down a street in Berlin
when the broken city was itself
a museum. And here
is a small, vivid oil of the two of us
sitting in a café in London
arguing over the work of Constable
or Turner, or Francis Bacon
after a visit to the Tate.

I want you to know, as you sit there
with your microscope and your slides,
there’s no need to be reverent before these images.
That’s the last thing she would have wanted.
But do be respectful. Speak quietly.
No flash photography. Tell your friends
you saw something beautiful

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.