Posts Tagged ‘writing’

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Self-Education

February 24, 2009

I’m working on this short story featuring Lydia, a supporting character from Disposable Heroes, the manuscript I’m working on. Lydia originally started as little more than a piece of furniture; the book opens with a funeral, and what’s a funeral without a grieving widow? So Lydia’s at the funeral, and Zack (the protagonist) tries to talk to her and she bitches him out for getting her husband killed. From that start, she caught my imagination and started percolating in the back of my mind.

From very early on in the creative process, I had in mind this idea that in the sequel, Zack would be a minor supporting character, and that I wanted one of the minor characters from the first book to take center stage. Lydia was an obvious candidate for this treatment, so I started developing her in earnest.

As part of this process, I wrote a couple vignettes to help find her voice, and then I started work on a full short story about her. I wasn’t looking for an educational experience here, I was just messing around with a character I liked.

In the vignettes I had written her from Zack’s perspective. But when I sat down to write the short story, I wanted to do it from her perspective. And I did, and she stopped being Lydia, or at least the Lydia that I wanted her to be. Her insecurities, such as they are, were more prominent than I wanted them. Her lack of professionalism was glaring rather than hinted. Her aristocratic arrogance proved to be less effective the more it was shown, which is a problem because her notions of class are some of the primary ideas she uses to make sense of the world. It was also hard to let the reader see clearly what she looked like to the people around her: a young, ambitious officer with bags of charm, a fondness for theatricality, and a preference for spending her spare time alone. From the inside, she’s much less interesting, much less dynamic. Her actions lose their edge of unpredictability and surprise.

I’ve done this kind of split between what a character feels and what the show to the world before; Zack’s character is built on this, so I know it can be done. What makes Zack interesting to me is that we see, in detail, the contradiction between the face he shows the world and what’s happening inside him. But what makes Lydia interesting is that we get the idea that her persona is a mask, but we don’t know what she’s hiding.

When she’s the viewpoint character, all the things she tries to keep hidden from the world show up. I could go the route of simply not mentioning these things, there’s a danger of getting too cute with the smoke and mirrors there, and the readers may feel manipulated if I am obviously keeping things from them. Or, they may feel that she is too much the cipher, that I play her cards too close to the vest for her to be a compelling viewpoint character.

For her to work as a viewpoint character, I’d have to strip out most of her interiority, and describe the action as a camera would see it. Not coincidentally, I’m rewriting the story as a screenplay. I may go back and try to write it as “screen prose,” if that makes sense.

While I was struggling with this, I was confronting some of these issues for the first time. And I was learning in the process. I didn’t mean to, honest. I hadn’t sat down and figured out why Lydia interested me until I grappled with why she wasn’t working. So I taught myself how to analyze characters better, and now I’m a stronger writer. And I did this simply through practice and reflection. It’s fun when that happens.

Another example: Lydia and her mother have a big fight about Lydia’s decision to join the Army. I had this bit of dialogue I’d conceived of before I sat down to write out the scene, two short sentences that carried all the weight of their hypocrisy and were crucial to understanding Lydia’s motivations and emotional journey. But when I wrote out their fight the first time, I couldn’t find a place to insert these two lines. The flow of their dialogue happened so quickly and so strongly that it seemed like they were moving the scene along without me. I re-read the section over and over, and eventually I realized that I hadn’t been making a distinction between Lydia reacting to what her mother said and Lydia making an affirmative statement that moved the conversation along and forced her mother to react in turn (In this context, even ignoring the last thing the other person said is a reaction that carries meaning). Once I realized that, I understood that I could choose which character had the “initiative” and was directing the flow of the conversation, and then it was a simple matter of making room for what I wanted the characters to say.

It is very satisfying to get to a point where your skills are advanced enough that you can improve them yourself, without outside guidance. I don’t read books or articles about writing anymore, because they all tell me things I’ve seen before. I’m not a master by any definition, but now the best teacher for me is the work itself. It’s all very Zen.

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Free Write, Bitches!

November 28, 2008

Freewrite beings now. I don’t know what’s going to fall out of my keyboard, but I’m going to keep writing until this page is completely full. I might not even use any paragraph breaks. No, maybe I will. Okay, onto the idea that’s tickling me. “Amature. Delletant. Some other word for dabbler.. Dabbler!” Mina thought. The man’s…no, Gerith’s, Gerith’s profanity was bland, expected. There was no creativity. If something wasn’t to his liking it was bullshit. That’s it, just bullshit. Not something neat or descriptive, like say, a pile of pus leaking….shit, stalling out. Pile of pus leaking puke. No, pile of pus leaking dildos. No, dildos don’t leak pus. Okay, what leaks pus and is set in piles. I’d love to say severed dog cocks, but somebody’s already used that. Okay, so if something’s not to his liking it’s bullshit, not something imaginative like….damn, I shouldn’t try to be clever like this during free write. Okay, so Mina’s looking down on this guy for having boring profanity and who is he. Her student? Her peer? Her boss? I’m going to go with peer. Maybe slightly subordinate to her. Okay, fuck it, I can’t pick out clever dialogue like this, I can’t do refined, polish this way. Doesn’t work. What does work? This is not working. I’ve yet to do anything interesting. I just sputter around. And now I’m just talking about how I suck because I’ve got nothing else to think about. Um, let’s break that. Right now I’m listening to Don’t Bother None by The Seatbelts. It’s from the soundtrack of Cowboy Bebop, and the song is good, but it was never really used in the show. Only the first few seconds were clipped up and used in Episode 1 (shit! I forgot the name of Episode 1 of Cowboy Bebop!) and maybe a little bit in Mushroom Samba, too. Before this I was listening to Don’t Give Up by some Gregorian chant band, which is sort of like the girlfriend affirmation for people who don’t have girlfriends—beautiful sounding woman telling you not to give up and that things will get better. I like the song, but I always sound pathetic listening to it. Now I’m listening to a song I don’t recognize. Very beat driven, with a kind of angsty groaning lead singer. Ah, it’s Dicipline by Nine Inch Nails. Shit, my spelling REALLY sucks, doesn’t it? If I post this to my blog, I think I’ll leave all the errors in, because that’s more authentic. Hm, I wonder how much further I have to go. Not much, if I guess correctly. I want to quit my job. I’ve got a job fair that I’m going to on Monday. I hope that I’m one of only a very few people who show up, and that I’m the only one who can string sentences together. That would be awesome. Because I can’t keep working where I currently do. I told my company that I couldn’t stand the site they have me at, and they said that they’d move me somewhere else. Today I got trained to take over at a different site, but the new site is just like the old site, but WORSE IN EVERY WAY. Really, top notch fuckery there, PPS. Indeed. I’m simply amazed this company hasn’t spawned a portal to hell or something. There’s certainly enough evil of the corporate bland variety flowing through it. The weird thing is that everybody who works there is nice…it’s just that the policies are all hideous. I blame the upper management. Charming people, but not quite human. I wonder if they read this blog. If they do, will they care? Hm….the things that we ponder in the 21st century are thrilling, are they not?! Oh damn, that’s not the end of the page. That would have been a killer ending line. A great ending line is a thing of beauty, but it’s a poisonous beauty, because it inspires you to try to say similar things in real life, but in real life the chapter doesn’t conveniently end right after you deliver your soul-rattling zinger; no you have to sit around and feel their scorn, listen to their comebacks, and in the end you never feel as smart as you did when you first decided to try and get in a Great Closing Line. Oh man, am I almost finished? I hope so, because I’m running out of bullshit and that rarely happens.

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La Resistance

December 29, 2007

INT. A WAREHOUSE- NIGHT

We’re looking through the viewfinder of a camcorder. In the corner, a red dot flares to life next to REC. The PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES kneels blindfolded with his hands bound behind his back before a black sheet hung up on a cement wall. Standing next to him, pistol in hand, is the LEADER. He is a young, fit man wearing a ski mask.

LEADER
People of America! For too long you have allowed your corrupt masters to define your existence for you! The freedom they offer is a lie! Time and again you elect corporate stooges who do nothing but give you the illusion of control! It is time reject this false democracy and force the people to retake their own destiny!

The Leader raises his pistol to the President’s head.

LEADER (CONT’D)
Sic semper tyrannus!

CUT TO the CAMERAMAN, standing stepping out from behind the camera.

CAMERAMAN
Whoa whoa, stop!

LEADER (exasperated)
What?

CAMERAMAN
Sic semper tyrannus? Are you kidding?

LEADER
What’s wrong with it?

CAMERAMAN
Well nothing, if we’re the Cliché Liberation Front.

CUT TO the SOUNDGUY, holding a boom mic, a confused look playing across his face.

SOUNDGUY
Wait, I thought we were the American Revolution Leauge.

LEADER
Don’t be an idiot, Darryl.

CAMERAMAN
No names! We agreed no names around the hostage!

LEADER
Oh come on, it doesn’t even matter anymore! We’re about to kill him- hell, he’d already be dead if you hadn’t-

A window BREAKS. A flash grenade lands CLATTERING at their feet. The faint sound of CLOMPING BOOTS is heard lining up next to the door.

CAMERAMAN
Aw shit.

The flash grenade EXPLODES…

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Be Careful What You Wish For, They Might Ram it Up Your Ass.

October 4, 2007

So I was very concerned that I would not be allowed to write this fantasy novel that’s been monopolizing my daydreams for most of the past three years for class. I was concerned that it wasn’t Literary Enough, and that I would be required to write just straight fiction for my project. The problem with that would be that I’ve got an idea for a straight fiction book, but I suffer from a distinct lack of damn about this story, and without one, I cannot give one. (You see what I did there? Very clever, if I do say so myself)

In the last couple days, it has become clear that I will be allowed to deviate as far away from reality as I want to for my senior project. Hooray!

But now I have to actually write the fucking thing. And this is where a new problem presents itself. I have a fuzzy goal of 100,000 words, mainly because that’s a big round number; I’ll stop when the story is done being told. To complete a manuscript that large in the time alloted me, I will have to write approximately 1000 words a day on this project if I hope to remain on schedules. The final book may end up being quite a bit shorter or longer than that; I will not know until I get there.

Meanwhile, I’ve got two general ed classes I’ve got to get out of the way for graduation requirements that each seem to think they should be the center of my universe. I suppose that in this context they can stand in for my day job as a frustrating distraction from what’s important.

Oh well.