The Loss of a Titan

IMG_0720One of the all-time greats is gone: Ursula LeGuin has died, and the world of sci-fi & fantasy — hell, the world in general — is far the poorer for it.

As a kid, I didn’t care if my favorite writers were men (Zelazny, Heinlein, etc…), couples (David & Leigh Eddings), or women (Cherryh, LeGuin…), I just loved to read.  Hell, did it matter to me that Samuel Delaney was a gay, black man?  No, not then…and not now.  The man could write, and that was all that counted…

I never thought then about who my favorite writers were, but now…now, I know so much more.  That’s why I call LeGuin one of the true titans: Left Hand of Darkness is one of those books that anyone who wants to claim a breadth of knowledge and experience needs to read.  It is not only brilliantly written, but is also one of those key stories that is about far more than it is “about”.

LeGuin, when you get right down to it, could flat-out write. She wrote with an honesty, and an energy and strength, that are damned near perfect.  Her career, beginning in the 60’s when women “didn’t write sci-fi/fantasy,” very much helped to change the landscape.  She had an effect then, and is still doing so now.

Hell, even those to whom the 90’s and 00’s are “ancient history” owe her a massive debt: you would not likely have Harry Potter without the Wizard of Earthsea series…

LeGuin lived to a great age, and had a life of success and influence, but her death is still a blow.   As great a blow as the early losses of Douglas Adams and Roger Zelazny, as great a blow as the losses of the likes of Dick, Clarke, Asimov, Bradbury and Heinlein.

That pantheon of the true greats is getting awfully thin on the ground…and I’m struggling to find the new writers who can truly fill their shoes.  Oh, there are very good writers out there, writers with talent and vision and a true gift, but who can truly stand among those names who are gone?  Gaiman…Cherryh…Butler…

A few, there are, that I think could also rise to be among that pantheon, but they aren’t quite there yet: Scalzi…Rothfuss…Sanderson…Stephenson…*

*Great, so now I have a new challenge; it’s time to go hunting for new writers, and new greats.

But the one thing I ask — hell, the one thing I demand — is that those writing now acknowledge and understand the debt we owe to the past.  As writers and dreamers and creators, we stand on the shoulders of giants…and yet one more of those giants is gone.

Be at peace, LeGuin, and rest well, you have earned it.  And thank you.

Dreams And A Blank Page

I’ve mentioned a few times my belief that the “next story” is always better.  The field is wide open, the possibilities endless, and the lessons learned from writing the last story still (theoretically) fresh in your mind.

IMG_0728That blank sheet of paper is an exciting prospect to a writer.  The best comparison I can offer is that feeling when, standing on top of a ridge, I look down over a place I’ve never seen or hiked…a fresh place, untrailed, unexplored, and empty.  A place of infinite possibilities.

It’s not mine, not yet.  No, it’s not mine until I have hiked it, until I have learned the lay of the land.

Just like the next story.

It’s not mine until I frame it and prep it, until I’ve explored it’s depths and breadth.  Until I know the story and the characters like I know that no-longer-fresh valley…

Even as I write Silence — slowly…oh so slowly…and oh so behind schedule* — I am starting to prep and work through the initial legwork for the “next” story.  It’s fresh, it’s new, and it very much provides a nice contrast…

*Douglas Adams’ brilliant comment on deadlines: “I love deadlines.  I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”

Writing Connor’s story gives me an outlet, and a flow of words and thoughts that touch the darker areas of my mind and spirit.  But you can only be dark and gritty for so long.  The world is not a paradise, nor a particularly friendly place, but acknowledging and dwelling in the dark places can be a tough weight to bear if that is all you have.  And believe me, that weight can become too much: in writing Wrath, the dark was all I had.  I won’t repeat that.

So, although I’m still writing in the dark, I let in the sun in other ways…

My hiking and camping I have mentioned before.  Without that outlet, the dark would threaten to engulf completely.  But, beyond that, letting in the sun comes down to that simplest of things — it comes down to dreaming.

It comes down to blank paper, and a whole new world.  New characters, new problems, and new tone.  New possibilities…and new stories that I want to make mine.

I have no story, not yet.  I have a world, and some dynamics and inspiration to play with.  I have a handful of (potential) characters, and hints of the context and history that will eventually give rise to the story itself.

I have dreams…  No, that’s not it, not exactly.  I have new dreams…new dreams and blank paper.

No matter what has happened before, no matter what happens now, the next story is always better.  And, for a writer, is there a better dream than that?

Inspiration And Influence

C6ucM8rU0AI0vbtI’m pretty sure anyone who writes, or creates, can sympathize with this!

As an aside: greatest comic strip ever.  No, really…Calvin & Hobbes had it ALL: art, writing, humor, and the right touch of feeling and honesty.  Even more than the next two on my list — Bloom County and The Far Side —  Bill Watterson was a freaking genius.

Today’s strips?  That’s harder…Dilbert comes to mind…but that’s about the only one that really stands out at the moment.  Some of the web-comics are interesting, but nothing out there comes anywhere near those “top three”.

[Note – apparently Berkeley Breathed is drawing Bloom County again, via Facebook and GoComics … I haven’t yet had a chance to check it out, but that might very well be enough to get me to create a Facebook account…we’ll see.]

At any rate, due to lack of anything resembling coherent thought at the moment, I decided to call out some things that, well, just plain work for me.  Not necessarily things that are groundshakingly amazing, but things I admire…and learn from.

Simple, powerful prose is a wonderful thing, especially when it has a sense of humor.  From Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere:

“Richard found himself imagining the earl sixty, eighty, five hundred years ago: a mighty warrior, a cunning strategist, a great lover of women, a fine friend, a terrifying foe. There was still the wreckage of that man in there somewhere. That was what made him so terrible, and so sad.”

Dammit, but I love that passage.  As a character description? It is incredibly evocative, and paints a picture in a mere fifty words that well and truly nails the character.

Writers, they say, write.  Well, writers also read.  And in reading, they study and they learn…and, hopefully, they improve.

To stay on theme, here’s another passage*…one that nails its setting (London) in an equally effective way (actually, this quote is pulled from the single longest run-on sentence I can think of — don’t try that at home…not, at least, until you are as successful and well-known as Gaiman himself):

“It was a city in which the very old and the awkwardly new jostled each other, not uncomfortably, but without respect; a city of shops and offices and restaurants and homes, of parks and churches, of ignored monuments and remarkably unpalatial palaces…”

*Can you guess what I’m re-reading right now?

Books are not the only thing from which to learn…not by a long shot.  I’ve talked enough about my love of music, even quoted from a few songs.  Well, there are some lyrics out there that are, quite simply, powerful.  As with good prose, good lyrics evoke and inspire…they make you think and question, and bring to mind thoughts and feelings far in excess of their few words:

“With everything discovered just waiting to be known,

What’s left for God to teach from his throne?

And who will forgive us when he’s gone?”

—The Gaslight Anthem, National Anthem

 

“With nothing left but a chord to stretch

And a word to get on by

Sometimes you reach for the bottle before the sky”

—Chuck Ragan, Nothing Left to Prove

There are dozens of additional examples I could give…an entire iTunes library, in fact, from which I could pull quotes and lines.  That’s not the point of this.  No, the simple point is this: words have meaning, and power.  Poetry and music just as much as prose.  Give yourself the time, and the reason, to study and to learn how others have harnessed that meaning, and that power.

Read the good and the bad, the new and the old…read to enjoy, but also to understand, and to learn.  There’s an old saying about “standing on the shoulders of giants.”  Well, that applies to writing as much as to science: read what has been done, read what has worked, and take it onboard*.  Pull it all in, mix it around, and feed your own style…

*An interesting writing exercise I’ve heard about a few times (but have never done): instead of reading a story you truly admire, transcribe it.  The thought is that, by writing, you will internalize the structure and words in a way you would not through simply reading…  Hand-cramps and time aside, that is an interesting thought. If anyone out there has actually done the exercise, let me know how it worked!

Lost In The Woods

I’ve talked before about how writing is very much a thing of momentum, and about how starting again, after you’ve broken that momentum, is a terrible task.  Unfortunately, even my Palahniuk-inspired theory of writing an “album’s worth” every day is not enough to always maintain that momentum.

But what happens when you break it?  How do you start again?

That’s a significant challenge…one I am facing right now.

With the loss of momentum comes a certain loss of confidence, a loss of that feeling of “knowing where I am” in the story.

It’s a bit like my off-trail hiking, honestly.  I don’t get lost easily — I’m confident heading off into areas with nothing resembling a trail because I’m good at using landmarks, and my own internal “compass,” to keep a picture not just of where I’m going, but also where I’ve been.  When I lose that picture, when I lose that situational awareness…well, let’s just say getting lost in the backcountry is a lot less fun — and a lot more sphincter-clenching — than getting lost in a city.

There is a sense of helplessness to being lost, and a loss of control, that is particularly disturbing.  I don’t like being helpless…and I sure as hell don’t like not being in control.

The trick is not to panic.  Panic and (unreasonable) fear are why people get hurt in the backcountry.  No, when I get lost, I narrow down to the little things.  I start navigating “small”, with nearby landmarks, and I head for higher ground.  Most importantly, I stay aware of my situation — I never lose sight of what I’m doing, even if I’m worried about water, or light, or cold…

Well, that same feeling of (story-oriented) helplessness and loss of control comes out when the writing momentum is broken.  There’s that moment of fear, and confusion, when you don’t remember where you wanted to go in the story, or even where you’ve been.  There’s also that same fear.  Oh, it’s not physical, not like wandering lost through grizzly country.*  No, it’s a thing of mind and spirit, and it’s disheartening as hell.

*That there is a bucket list item I don’t recommend to anyone.

“But,” I hear you ask, “how do you break out?”

Go small.  Navigate, and head for higher ground.

In this case, I’ve found that rebuilding the lost momentum has to happen a small step at a time.  Any effort to “jump right back in” to the previous pace will just make things worse.  It took me a long while — and a great deal of frustration — to learn that lesson.

It is also more than just “getting words on paper.”

As I mentioned in a previous post, I want to get my writing right “in the lens.”  That means writing well.   In this case, it means turning back to something that is still a pretty new thing for me: flash fiction.

100-300 words is ideal for me…at least for now.  At that length, I can conceive, write and revise a piece in a couple of hours.  Whether or not I succeed at writing a good piece is important to me, and that’s what leads to the goal of the exercise: revitalizing the creative process itself.

Just like cresting one hill leads me to the next and to the next, and finally back to terrain I recognize, a day of writing leads to two, and then to three…and finally back to that momentum and rhythm that is so vital to me and my writing.

Nonverbal Communication In Writing…?

Note — this was supposed to go up yesterday, but…err…well…I screwed up.  I load and schedule these posts in advance (usually).  When I loaded this one I…ahem…selected the wrong date.  D’oh.

I’m a music guy.  I love music, and I don’t mean just one or two styles — I love, and can appreciate, the talent and appeal of all kinds of music.  I don’t think there is a style I won’t listen to, if the artist has talent and commitment.

Music, in fact, plays a huge role in my writing.  I’ve mentioned before that I have to have the right “soundtrack” playing in order to really get the most out of a scene.  Not just the message of the music, but also the beat, the tone, the character…they all help create the environment I need to write effectively.

Well, when it comes to the actual stories we write, those things matter, too.  We don’t talk about them enough, in fact.  Oh, folks love to talk about the tone and “color” of a scene.  “Pacing” generally gets in there, too.  But we talk about those things like they are discreet and separate.

They aren’t.

I mentioned music to open this because the rhythm and beat of a song underlies everything, is the structure on which the whole song is built.  Think back to some of your favorite music.  Better yet, think back to those songs that moved you emotionally, either to joy or to tears.  Think about the rhythms and beats they used, as much as the notes and words, and how those changed and adjusted to shape the message.

That applies to writing, as well.  The beat and rhythm of a story is important, as important as the words themselves.  Unfortunately, we far too often mistake “pacing” for that necessary rhythm.  Now, don’t get me wrong: all stories need the right pacing for their contents.  But that pacing is a “big picture” concept, is the flow of the story as a whole.

The rhythm of the story?  That’s different.  That’s granular, and intimate, and needs to change and adjust to reflect what is happening at any particular point.  It is needed, also, to build and reinforce the emotions and feelings you want your reader to feel.

Scenes long and languid, full of description and character development…

Scenes short and staccato, with just a few words to paint each picture and action…

Scenes with the slow, smoldering intensity of emotion (whether love or hate)…

I could go on, but I think the point is made.  A good story needs all of these…all of these, and more.  If you want to be more visual, you can come it from the perspective of movies (another passion of mine):

The slow panning of an establishing shot: peasants in the fields.  Verdant green against the deep blue sky.  A gentle breeze bending the young grain.  Slow and stately…a mood is created.

Then erratic, staccato jump-cuts as black-clad raiders thunder through on horseback.  The flash of a sword.  A bit of red to mar the green.  Fire.  Screams.  Hints of faces, of horror and savagery.  But never does the camera linger long enough to truly focus on any one thing.  The horror, and the emotion, comes from those flickering flashes of disturbing images.

The raiders leave, sated…and the rhythm changes again, communicates something different: a long, lingering shot that lets you see the bodies.  Men who died badly.  Women sobbing.  A young boy, the sword in his hand nearly as big as he, lying in his own blood.  A slow, painful zoom onto another child, clutching in horrified, wide-eyed silence at one of those bodies…

The scene is easy enough to imagine, and to write…but it is the changes in rhythm of the movie’s editing — and the changes in the soundtrack from slow and pastoral to brassy and loud, and finally to the minor key of mourning and death — that creates the emotion of the whole thing.

Short, choppy sentences.  Dynamic, strong words.  One detail on which to focus…one detail to carry the message of the whole scene.

Or sentences of depth and complexity.  Sentences that tell the reader he or she is safe, can linger a bit over the words and concepts.  Words that carry emotion and description.  Words and sentences that are gentle, even, and convey all the detail of your characters and your world.

Too many stories use one structure, and one rhythm, throughout.  Too many stories worry about the pacing of the plot, without thinking a bit about the rhythm and pacing of the scenes, or the actual words.  I well-and-truly love me my Tolkien and my Asimov (to provide just two examples), but have you gone back and really read them recently?

They are, to put it gently, dry and monotone.  Tolkien’s battle scenes read like the narration of a history professor centuries removed from the conflict…and Asimov?  His (small) handful of battles read like they are in the stories because they are required, not because they actually belong.

And both use one rhythm, and one limited emotional range.

This is, by the way, why I listen to music of such variety…and why I watch — and try to learn from — so many movies: to find other rhythms, to find other ways to communicate emotion and meaning.  The ultimate writing challenge, for me, is to study and learn, and to find ways to communicate in words the nonverbal emotions that have so much meaning in those two far-different mediums.*

*One of the coolest lessons from my linguistics days involved nonverbal communication: we watched a horror movie with the soundtrack and effects removed.  There was just dialogue to carry and convey all of the information and emotion. It didn’t work…at all.  That lesson stuck with me…

CrossFit For Your Imagination

I’ve been reading a bit about the chip “vulnerabilities” found recently in, well…pretty much everything.  “Spectre” and “Meltdown,” they’re called.  Now, the computer geek* in me has an interest in these things for a number of reasons…and the corporate management monkey in me who used to deal extensively with the planning and implementation of CRM and sales systems REALLY has an interest…

*And, yes, I do realize that this appellation doesn’t usually apply to folks with degrees in History and Linguistics.  What can I say, I’m good at confusing people.

But the writer in me?

The writer in me is having a goddamned field day just making shit up about them. Err, “speculating,” I mean.  Yeah, speculating, that’s it.  No matter how you slice it, it’s still “making shit up,” but speculating sounds so much more complicated and serious!

Hell, the names of those chip vulnerabilities — defects, to you and me — are more than enough to get things going, even before getting to what they actually do.  “Spectre,” for God’s sake?  James Freaking Bond is behind me with a vodka martini fueled smirk, even as I type that.

“What,” my brain screams, “it’s not just Intel…it’s all of them?!?!”

That’s not a defect, that’s malfeasance!

It’s the NSA!

It’s the Illuminati!

It really is freaking SPECTRE!

Hell, maybe it’s KAOS, and Agents 86 and 99 are behind me somewhere, too!

Wait…I’m writing sci-fi: it’s aliens!

No, seriously, folks, THIS is (at least) half of what writing is: taking everyday, real-world shit and “speculating” your ass off.  Stir the pot of your imagination…then start adding characters and plot hooks and various crises…marinate until well combined, then bake in your favorite word-processor until finished.

God, the making-shit-up part — the speculating, dammit! — is why writing is FUN.  No, really — try it.

Even if you write the most serious, uber-intellectual literary fiction out there, do yourself a favor and let that bit of little-kid-imagination we all* still have lurking slip off the leash and run wild for a few hours.

*Mine just happens to be overdeveloped as hell…

Play with it…be silly, be creative, stretch the boundaries of how you would normally conceive of a story.  You can always have a nap afterwards and return to normal.

And if you currently do let your imagination run wild on a regular basis — stop looking at me like that! — keep doing it.  Just like your vocabulary, and your plotting, and your world-building, your imagination is a skill that needs constant practice and support to grow and strengthen.

For those new to writing, I cannot stress enough how important it is to work and stretch and develop that sense of silly, fun imagination.  In spite of the names the uber-serious and pseudo-intellectual folks like to give such things — childish, immature, naive, pointless — you’re a writer!  If you’re a fiction writer, your imagination is, at the end of the day, all you really have.

The dreams we had as kids?  The games we used to make up?  The stories we used to believe like they were real?  If you can’t tap into that well — or at least into the memory of it — you are shorting yourself something fierce.

Plus, it’s fun as hell because, well…ALIENS!W84BtfO

Fixing Things

You ever have that nagging feeling that you forgot something?  Your keys…your wallet…your cond…ahem, never mind.

Nagging feelings, that’s what I was talking about.  Yeah, that’s it, nagging feelings.

I’m pretty sure we’ve all felt ’em, or something like them.  Shit, I know it’s a pretty regular thing for me — mostly because I usually did forget something.  There was this time I was going to the airport for a flight to Japan, and I forgot my passport…

That sucked.

You know what sucks worse, though?  That nagging feeling that you forgot something in your story.  That feeling that the 68,000 words you’ve already written don’t include something important, something fundamental to a major character.  And I don’t mean an idea you came up with recently that you have to go back and insert…  No sir, I’m talking about a subplot that is crucial to the development of that character, a subplot that was supposed to be included from the very beginning.

I hate myself right now…especially since this whole subplot was an effort to make right some of the wrongs I did to this particular character in the first story.

I’ve mentioned before just how much I dread the editing and rewrite process, as necessary and valuable as it is.  Now I’m not even going to wait until the damned story is finished!

Plot-wise, however, it is a good time to take a break.  I have some planning and thinking to do about the rest of the story, and a great deal of prep-work.  Oh, and some cutting…definitely some cutting.  Finishing out at 135,000 (projected) words is not a particularly good idea, I think.

Maybe that’s what sets writers apart from “normal” folks: we (usually) get do-overs.  We get to go back and fix our mistakes.  We get to excise what doesn’t work, and to develop and emphasize what does.

If we — well, if I — could do that in our “real” lives, things would be a hell of a lot better!

The caveat I will give to the above goes back to my photography habit.  In this “digital age,” there is a tendency to say “I can fix it in post.”  Beginning photographers often use the ability to edit and modify images after they are taken as an excuse to “spray and pray” in order to get a few semi-decent pictures that later can be “fixed.”

That is, to be blunt, bad photography.  It’s bad technique, it’s bad art, and it leads to bad development as an artist and a photographer. When I shoot pictures, I do my best to get everything right in the lens.  It’s a challenge I have set for myself, and it does a great deal to make me better.*

*Sadly, I don’t generally apply to this the “snapshots” I take with my cell phone.  I’m not a huge fan of using the thing as a camera, anyway, so I don’t spend a lot of time getting “everything right” with it.  Although, I should add, it IS a hell of a lot better to haul around when hiking than a full size DSLR.

So, here’s my question: given that I have to go back and do some editing — fix some things in post, as it were — is that habit any better for a writer? Or is it just as bad form, just as bad technique…and just as bad for development and improvement as an artist?

Shit, I hate questions like that. They make me uncomfortable, and I don’t particularly want to be uncomfortable.

I do, on the other hand, want to be better as a writer…and the only way to get better is to set yourself a higher bar.  I’m jealous of those folks who can get a story right on the first (or even the second) try.  I’m jealous of them, and I pretty much hate them, but goddamit, would I love to be like them (in that regard, anyway)!

Maybe Next Year

Last Wednesday’s IWSG post got me to thinking.  Which, I suppose, is what those topics are intended to do…

I wrote in that post about 2017 in a pretty general way. Looking back, of course, tends to do that: other than the truly exceptional — good or bad — things tend to blur together.  As the distance from them grows, the individual points lose their granularity and blend into a broader picture.

And, yeah, I’m using Pointillist painting for that analogy…because who doesn’t like a cool painting?

Anyway, the thinking…

We tend to forget the details, tend to forget the honesty and the emotion — the raw urgency — when we look back.  We tend to remember the past, and to come across when we write about it, very differently than we lived it at the time. Sometimes that distance is good, but often it is bad…occasionally very bad.

When I reread my IWSG post, I found a hint of phlegmatic acceptance that is most decidedly NOT who I am.  I wanted to drill a bit into that, wanted to make a point that I did not in that post: life is a fight, and you better damned well fight to win.

Three of the worst words in my little corner of the universe: maybe next year.

Maybe next year will be better.

Maybe next year I’ll get it together.

Maybe next year the words will come easier.

Maybe next year…

Not to sound like a heartless asshole, but maybe next year you, or I, will be dead.

I lost one sister when she was far too young…I’m worried about losing another…I lost one of my best friends when I was seventeen…I’ve lost too many more in the years since…

It’s a trite and overused old thought that I have to add (overused precisely because it’s true): you are not promised tomorrow.

Now, I’m gonna leave aside the more irresponsible parts of my life in this post: shit like the (arguably) crazy hiking I do, or the (arguably) reckless personal risks I am willing to take.

Nope, I want to focus on who I am, not on what I do.

And, as I’ve said before, who I am is a writer.

Yes, the money sucks for a freelancer.  Yes, the money sucks even worse for a writer new to the fiction industry.  Yes, there is far more frustration and challenge than celebration sometimes…err, often times.

“Go back to marketing and sales.  Be responsible.  Maybe next year you’ll be in a better place.”

“Maybe next year the money will be better.”

“Maybe next year you’ll have more time.”

I hear this from others — from friends and family — fairly often.  I hear this from the little demon on my shoulder all the time.  Hell, I hear this from myself.

Maybe next year…

No.

The words are who I am.  If I give in, if I say “Maybe next year I can be who I really am…” all I’m doing is surrendering.  All I’m doing is denying who I am by pretending to be who others want me to be.

Remember what I said above: life is a fight, and you have to fight to win.  At least I do.

I might very well die tomorrow…or next week…or next summer…or in thirty years.  But, no matter what, I refuse to have my last thought be that stupidest of regrets: if only I had one more year

No.

I’d much rather die reaching for a pen.  I’d much rather have my last thought be one of hope: shit, this would make a great scene…

Maybe next year isn’t an option. It isn’t encouragement, isn’t acceptance. It isn’t even regret.  No, maybe next year is a curse and a trap.

For me, at least, there is no alternative — I have to live, and write, like this is it…like there is no next year.

What is your next year?  What are you putting off?

What value, what meaning, are you deferring because, well, maybe next year...?

2017: More Right Than Wrong

IMG_0163“Regret is a part of life.  But keep it a small part.”

Blakes 7, 1980, BBC

Regrets…

Specifically, anything I regret from 2017?  The actual question was: is there anything I would do over, do differently?

I try to avoid things like that, if only because…well…where do you stop?  There are always regrets, always things you would rather have done differently.  But, really, would you?  Should you?  As trite as it is, we really are made from our experiences.  Do things over, do things differently, and you start changing just who you are today.

Besides…as not-good as parts of 2017 were for me, there were others that were very, very good.  Those good things are what color the entire year as I look back. Let’s be honest: it’s hard to be too full of regrets when you’ve spent half the year living in the middle of Yellowstone.

No, I didn’t write as much as I should.  No, I didn’t break any new creative ground.  And, no, I definitely didn’t make shit for money (or did make shit for money, as the case may be!).  But what I did do was renew myself, and rediscover certain parts of me that I thought I had lost.

If February and March were low points, well…they were that bleak moment, that point of despair, in the story before the protagonist starts to pull it together.  They made the next bits all that much better.

Now, if I leave aside my life and just focus on the writing…

Well, there are always things to change, things that could and should have been done differently.  I could have played with the tone of Silence earlier.  I could have thought more about the fragile mental state of my protagonist.  I could have planned and anticipated better the swings and changes, and the evolution, of the story I wanted to tell.

Most of all, I guess, I damned well should have changed back from writing sequentially to writing the scenes in the order I chose.  My outline is there to serve and help my writing, not the other way around!

But all of that is ancillary.  All is merely detail.  If I were the hero of my own story, as the old writing exercise goes, the choices I made may not have been optimal, but damn if I didn’t advance the plot!

So, instead of looking back, I have to look forward.  And, looking forward, I have to, above all, write more.  I have to be more intentional about the work, and about the goals and milestones I set for myself.  I also have to rediscover that voice, and that focus, that is so important to making my (current) stories work.

Writers write, as the old saying goes, and in the end I need to remember that.  I used to have a daily goal that I stole from a Chuck Palahniuk piece: put on a good album, and write for the length of it.  If things are working, just put on more music and keep writing.  If things aren’t working…hey, you got in an hour of writing!  It has proven, for me, a better “win-win” system than trying to produce X words per day.  Now, I just need to remember that…

As a last thought on the regrets thing: I want to shout out my thanks to IWSG and the folks I have met, and am meeting, through that group. Y’all are awesome, and joining has been one of those “very, very good things” I mentioned above. Writing is inherently a solitary activity (even when you write in taprooms!), so it’s good to know I’m not doing it alone!

Cheap Wine

*Note — I’ve been helping someone move for the last couple of days. Coherence and writing are not, umm, my strong suits at the moment!

Discount wine.

Oh, for the love of God, discount wine.

There’s a reason that shit was on sale in the first place…

I’m pretty sure my recent foray away from the comfortable and familiar (beer & whiskey) may be one of the larger mistakes of my life. Right up there with being the “other man” in a neat little love triangle (hey, I was young — cut me some slack!).

Ahem.

Now, that intro got me to thinking about regrets, and about “do overs”, but that is the one topic I am going to leave (have to leave?) for Wednesday’s post.

Great, now I have to connect that thought to…err…something. Preferably something writing-oriented. Umm, okay, so it’s not like I haven’t violated that particular little blog-goal a million times lately…

Still, I claim this to be a writing blog — and writing is, in fact, my life — soooo…screw you, Roy Moore, I’m not talking about you this week! You and the rest of the creepy assholes can burn quietly in Hell for the moment. And I really do mean that: QUIETLY!!

I’m gonna talk about discount wine, and how that relates to character building! Or something!IMG_4598

Err, insert Emily Litella quote here.

Look, I had every intention of writing a serious entry today. Even if I decide to **gasp!** stray from the writing-blog thing, there is a ton of stuff out there to work with: Michael Flynn and the FBI…a tax cut package that doesn’t actually cut taxes…Angela Merkel finally showing that she is human…the joke that is the NFL…

To quote Maverick, “Sorry, Goose, but it’s time to buzz the tower.”

Wait, that ain’t it…let’s try this: “It’s a target-rich environment!”

Yeah, THAT’s the one.

So, what does discount wine REALLY tell me about life and the universe?

Well, first off, it tells me that Douglas Adams was right…about pretty much everything. Especially cricket.

No politics or society, not today.  Nope, today it’s (still) writing!

So, after all that…bad wine ties back to something I have mentioned before: letting your characters make mistakes. Especially, allowing your protagonist to make mistakes.

Outside of the plot — where we all (hopefully) know his/her decisions and choices have to drive things — there is too much of a tendency to have protagonists know and do all the the right things.

Don’t fall into that trap.

Flaws, mistakes, even the occasional bout with stupidity, all serve to make your character more human, and more relatable. More real.

Don’t tell those mistakes, take a few minutes — and a few hundred words — and show your characters’ lack of perfection. What if James Bond occasionally spilled his drink on the women he was picking up? What is Aragorn dropped his sword from time to time? What if Captain Kirk got an interstellar STD?

Shit happens, and no one is perfect: neither should your characters be.