Random Writing Thoughts for a Random Friday

It’s a hard thing to keep in mind the concerns and worries of the world right now.  Yellowstone has been open for a couple of weeks, and it has been calling to me.

AF63D968-D103-408D-BF26-43F7EA4F3D3AThere’s nothing to wash away the effects of news and stress and worry like a hike beneath the lodgepole pines.  There’s nothing better to make COVID and Trump and the rest of the world’s idiocy disappear than returning to my old stomping grounds in Hayden Valley to search for signs of “my” wolf pack.

Oh, the wolves themselves might argue with that “ownership,” but I’ve been following and watching and studying this pack for years now.  Named Mollie’s Pack after a longtime wolf researcher, they are a small, tight knit group that is impressive as hell.

The pack might be small, but the wolves themselves are anything but; they are physically the biggest wolves in the entire Yellowstone ecosystem (which is several times larger than the park itself).  Most of the animals in Mollie’s Pack average around 130-150 pounds, and are tough as hell.  They’re big and tough because they have to be — they are the only pack that actively hunts and subsists on bison.

Two thousand pound bison.

C3439B3C-9669-4D67-88DF-769913F7548CLet’s put that in perspective: this is an animal the size of a medium-sized woman, taking down nature’s equivalent of a freaking tank.  What?  Not impressed, you say?

Go on out then, folks.  Go out and try it.  Go outside to the street, find the nearest hatchback, and try to “take it down” using only your teeth…while that hatchback is moving at top speed, trying to hit you.

Welcome to the wilds.

Which, happily, brings me to my writing thought for the day as I settle in to get some words on the page…

Perspective.

We tend to forget it in our regular lives.  We forget just how big a bison — or even an elk — truly is, until we’re standing next to one who is irritated and giving us the stink-eye.

We tend to forget just how hard life is without modern conveniences, until we have to walk twenty-five miles in rough terrain, and still make a fire and secure camp at the end of the day.

We tend to forget because those things — along with uncountable others — have no role in our day-to-day lives.  Hell, we tend to forget even those things that once used to be day-to-day concerns and activities because they have slipped into the mists of fading memory.

We tend to forget because our perspective changes even as we change.

Yes, that applies to writers, too.

We forget where we were in favor of where we are.  We forget the past in favor of the urgency of the now.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes that forgetting is a good thing.  I’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating: when I’m in the deep woods, off-trail and using just a map and what’s left of my wits to make my way, the rest of the universe slips away.  I focus solely on the moment because I have to if I want to make it back out.  The past and future are distractions that mean nothing at that point.

But when I come back…

…when I come back, I have to regain perspective.  I have to remember that life, the universe and everything* is more than just the next hill I need to climb, the rotting tree trunk under my feet, the curious grizzly snuffling among the trees…

*Thank you, Douglas Adams!

The question for us writers is how we effectively can we use that dynamic in our stories?

Far, far too often characters and settings in stories are too simple.  They’re pencil sketches, rather than full portraits, of folks who either never forget a thing, or all-too conveniently forget everything.  They, like the stories of which they are a part, are static and unchanging.

Jack Ryan never forgot anything.  He never forgot a single skill or fact.  The Ryan of Clancy’s last books could muster every single skill and fact at his command, whether mastered in the first book or the last.

Bullshit.

Look, I like Clancy — well, I like his early stuff, the rest went downhill fast — but I used to be able to rebuild a carburetor without having to think about it when I was a kid.  Would I even know where to start on the thing today?  Nope, not a chance.  Put a broken carb in front of me and I’ll tell you to go find a freaking mechanic.

A poor character — a Mary Sue — would just fix the thing, even if the last time he or she touched one was thirty years ago.

Mary Sue characters — and their stories —lack the perspective that makes the real world…well…the real world.

I know a bison is a big freaking tank who can turn on you in an instant because I live that.  On the other hand, I have no idea what a real tank is like.  I’ve stood next to a handful of them, but not when they were in actual use.  I’ve certainly never driven one, and god knows, I’ve never been shot at by one.*  I know people who have been shot at by one, however, and I rely on their perspective if and when I need to write about that.

*Yes, I have been charged by an angry bison.  A handy tree and some creative cowardice solved that problem.

Some of the most interesting and educational things I have ever done are oral histories.  I had the chance, a few years ago, to interview a sailor who fought in a famous battle in the Pacific in WW2.  His words and story were powerful…but even more powerful was the journal he allowed me to read.  The words and memories of a man in his eighties were a whole lot different from the words and experiences of the twenty-something man writing that journal.

61757408-3125-4679-B796-8A24FAB74ACFThe details changed.  The memories, even, changed.  But the emotions…

My God, I still get the chills thinking about that…about not just his experiences, but his words and emotions.  His reality, both then and now.

What does an eighty-year-old remember as important, versus what a twenty-year-old notes as important?  That is perspective.  That is reality.  That is what we as writers have to note and use.

One of the pieces of writing advice I once offered on this blog was to write a funeral/memorial.  Not just any funeral, but one for your main character(s).  Write the funerals, and the eulogies delivered.  What did those characters accomplish that folks actually remember?  With a new perspective, years later, what did they mean?

Yeah, yeah, I know…I’m weird because I write shit like that; I write the end first.  But writing the end is…enlightening.  Writing the impact your characters have makes those early scenes — those days of “innocence” and ignorance — that much more fun.

{Edits — correcting crappy spelling and grammar because editing sucks…}

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