The Post That Once Had A Point, But Lost It

Well, that didn’t take long.

Welcome back, introverted cynicism. I’d try to throw you out, but…well…you’re the only girl at the dance right now. And you did put out the last time we dated…

I swear to all that is holy, Connor threw a party when I was writing last night. “Finally!” he yelled, then proceeded to get drunk and tell me off for basically ignoring him for the last six months.

Ahem.

The writing felt good, though. It felt very good.

At any rate, that wasn’t what I planned to talk about in this post. That whole intro was, in fact, an overly-caffeinated squirrel moment.IMG_0155

Nope, what I wanted to talk about was perception, and point of view. Not our characters’ POV; there are a million posts and articles out there on that. No, what I wanted to bring up was our own internal thoughts as writers.

The genesis for thinking about this was, strangely enough, immortal characters. Specifically, what an character means to us as writers, and what they (often) say about us. And, yes, I realize just how goddamned arrogant it is for me – of all people, ME! – to presume to speak for anyone else…but what the fuck, just go with me on this one.

Let me sketch the scene a bit: a friend was telling me about a story of hers with a character who cannot die. Now, this friend is, well, there’s only one way to put it: she’s young. No big deal – she’ll grow out of it (while, of course, I’m busily trying to regress back into that particular “sin”). Now, the heart of the discussion came about because, at the same time, I have a story floating in the back of my mind about fallen gods, and the painful weight of eternity…

That got me to thinking. Thinking about what those characters meant…and how, in my little world of character uber alles, those characters define the scope and intent of the story.

To my friend, immortality was an expression of strength, a tool to be used and valued. To her – and her character – the world was a place on which to work her will. More importantly, those people/friends/characters ‘met’ along the way were pawns & tools with which her character could play.

To me – and my own main character – it was something very different. The years, and the world, were a weight to be born. More importantly, those met along the way were memories and loss. The isolation of such a character – whether wistful nostalgia or bitter regret – cannot help but define a completely different story.

And, yes, this is how I come up with story ideas: not with intricate plot threads or impressive climaxes, but with characters…and the what/why/how that comes with fleshing them out.

*shrug*

Hey, it (sorta) works for me. Your mileage may vary.

Tolkien actually touched on the price of immortality in some of his background material: the weight of millennia wore on Galadriel more than the movies, or the main books themselves, were ever really capable of showing. That weight – the fading that was a major subtext to the elves – along with her original backstory from The Silmarillion of overwhelming pride and her fall, make her a far, far more interesting (and semi-tragic) character to me than almost any other from those stories*.

*Those that most interest me may surprise you: Luthien, who gave up glory and strength for love (and, yes, she was a complete foreshadowing of Arwen)…Saruman, who fell because he believed you could use the tools of evil without becoming corrupted yourself…but most of all, Finrod – Galadriel’s older brother, and a bad-ass in his own right: he gave up everything (including his life) to keep a promise…and, yep, all embody the themes of LotR that meant so much to Tolkien. Crap, maybe some day I’ll do an entire post – or a week – on Tolkien’s stuff. Writers for the win!

Err…back to immortality, and the subtexts and themes that drive characters like that. Nearing 700 words on this post, already, so a point (and a conclusion…yay!) may be in order:

The immortal, uber-powerful character of our youth – of comic books and movies – is, well, boring. What satisfaction can there be in writing – let alone reading – about someone for whom the inability of time and death to touch them is a triumph? No, for that character to truly be interesting (to me), immortality has to be a burden. For me, time and death have to be lovers always out of reach, always running away, not enemies long defeated.

Or, maybe I think about this shit too much…

Nothing To See Here – Move Along

IMG_0163I know I’ve mentioned IWSG Day before. But, for those who don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, I’ve never really explained. So, here goes: on the first Wednesday of every month, the idea is to put together a blog post focused specifically on writing. Preferably one that other writers will find interesting and/or useful. An additional part of the challenge is a suggested theme for those posts. Now, for a guy that pretty much writes this blog in the purest stream-of-consciousness, that thematic element is a fun little mini-challenge.

The hard part of the whole thing? It’s that stream-of-consciousness thing. When I write these posts, it is mostly just a short burst of effort to give me a break from whatever else I’m writing or doing. They receive, at best, one editing pass. That’s it, just one. Hell, most of the time I’m having a beer while I write them.

And other writers read them.

Uhh…

Maybe I really am just as nuts as my family thinks.

Ah well, we all have our crosses to bear.

At any rate, today’s theme is about putting yourself into your characters. Specifically, about whether or not you have, either on purpose or by accident, put personal info into your characters.

Umm…ahh…ahem.

No, not me. Not at all. Nope…and I’m just gonna slink away, now, whistling an innocent little tune. Nothing to see here, move along.

For me it’s more than putting myself into the characters. No, for me, the personal things go into the story itself. Even more, they go into the subtext of the story.

To dredge up something from a post I wrote a year or so ago: my favorite character – far and away my favorite! – has not even the slightest bit of me in him. He is, honestly, in no way an element of me, nor of my subconscious.

No, what he is is the most personal character I’ve ever created: he is a collage of the dead, of those friends I have lost. Oz is the face, and the pain, of suicide. To me, he embodies the very real grief and regret of that tragedy…and the very, very real memories.

In Wrath, given the limited POV I chose to use, Oz’s reality – and his power – wasn’t always easy to show…nor was I always successful. In Silence, however…

In Silence, I am playing a great deal more intimately with Oz, and with his relationship with Connor. Some of those bits make me laugh, while others are still strong enough to bring a tear.

The subtext of Silence is very much Connor’s struggle with survivor’s guilt, and with all of the shit that particular demon brings*, but…well…Oz is still my favorite. I may have killed him, but I can’t leave him behind.

*Not that I would know anything about that. Nope, not me, not at all…

And, before you ask: yes, my characters speak to me. That was, honestly, why I put aside everything else in my life to write the stories I am currently working on: Connor and Oz just wouldn’t shut the fuck up. I had thought (hoped?) that writing Wrath would quiet them down…

…boy, was I wrong.

And, yes, that does in fact make me officially nuts. Oh well, what the hell; I write sci-fi and fantasy, true sanity was never more than a distant dream, anyway.

I Love This Job

Note – Yes, I’m aware I forgot to post yesterday. Well…actually…I didn’t forget, so much as seriously edit the shit out of myself. After a reread, I decided it would be a good idea to spare you the pissed-off post I wrote following a particularly obnoxious day. At any rate, below is the post that should have gone up yesterday…

Four months ain’t a long time. Hell, I’ve had hangovers that lasted longer than that…

Four months, however, is a long time when you’re at “adult summer camp”. It’s more than long enough to get to know people, and to form attachments. it sure as hell is long enough to make it hard to say goodbye.

IMG_0149But, in one of those inevitabilities of adulthood, sometimes you have to say goodbye.

On a personal level, I don’t do nostalgia. Hell, I barely manage sentimentality, let alone anything more. In my world, emotions like that are for writing, not for showing.

Saying goodbye to the Taiwanese kids, however, really did challenge that little gem of sarcastic, cynical “wisdom”.

I know people all over the world…I’ve said more goodbyes than I can count, some (obviously) more permanent than others.

Shut up, Oz.

Ahem.

Anyway: goodbyes.

These kids earned my respect very, very quickly. With only a couple of exceptions, they worked their asses off. I would hire any of them in a second. I’m not sure a reference from an American ex-sales & marketing-monkey means much in Taiwan, but I would give one in a heartbeat.

More than that, though, they became people I genuinely liked…and that, given my usual “I Hate Humans” Mondays, is more rare than I should probably admit. One of these kids is, in fact, the sweetest human ever born*. I didn’t start to cry when I hugged her goodbye…nope, no way. I just got something in my eye.

Crap, if I keep up like this, I’m gonna ruin my reputation for misanthropy.

*She also drank a lot of the Americans under the table – I should’ve married her!

Okay, to turn this topic back to writing – and, yes, I should at least try to make these posts at least somewhat writing-centric – one of the challenges of mood and tone is in writing those more subtle emotions.

Anger? Joy? Love? Frustration? Honestly, those are easy to write. They are basic, primal feelings that are instantly identifiable to both writer and reader. There’s a reason why they are some of the first emotions we, as humans, experience. The more subtle, more nuanced emotions? Those are a great deal harder.

Think about it, think about explaining the bittersweet mix that comes with a heartfelt goodbye. About the blend of sorrow and joy that comes with nostalgia and memory {there’s a line from a song that captures that particular one: The price of a memory / Is the memory of the sorrow it brings}.

To capture those, to make make your character (and your reader) honestly & realistically feel those, can be one of the real challenges in writing. But when you nail it…

But when you nail it, it becomes one of those days…one of the days that make it all worth it.

I’ve said before: in many ways, I write this blog for others…for the readers. But the stories, the stories I write for me.

In Silence, that means how Connor finally says goodbye to Oz, finally comes to terms with his death, has a great deal to do with how I’ve come to terms – or, at least, am still coming to terms – with the suicides in my own life.

It also means that the bittersweet that remains when loss becomes memory, is very real and very personal. And, yes, I’m writing this because the other day was one of those days: I nailed it. I cried like a baby, but I nailed it.

I love this job.

The Halfway Mark

I’m currently watching a toddler stagger around the plaza in front of the store, bottle in hand and legs shaky and unsteady. Weaving a course in and out of people and falling down every once in a while.

Hmm…I seem to recall being in that condition once or twice…

Trying to think about tone today, and the various tricks of voice, characterization and description we use to create the mood and feeling of a story. I’m thinking about it because I have to sit down and do some planning and rework of the outline for the rest of the current story. No big deal – I would only worry if I didn’t have to make changes at this point!

At any rate, I’m halfway through Silence, and that is a damned nice milestone for me…in spite of being badly behind schedule*.

*Hey, YOU put in a full day of writing when you’ve got mountains and valleys and meadows – not mention bears and bison – calling your name!

But with all of that said, the changes I have to make are pretty big. I like, at least in concept, the changes I have in mind, but I am concerned at the change in tone, as well. I’m already struggling to maintain the bitter, jaded and angry tone that characterized the first book, and anything that makes that harder is something I have to be careful about.

I might be in a better frame of mind as I write this book, and Connor may be in a better situation than he was as a dockside ikiryo, but that only changes the circumstances, not the reality. He is still bitter and angry, he is still abandoned and alone, and in the end he is still a broken, hurting kid. That is what I can’t lose sight of, that is the heart of the character and of the story.

How do you do that with a kid who is, essentially, living “under cover” as a yuppie?

Well, the glimpses into music and the dive bar in which Connor plays are part of it, but also the booze and the drugs still come in to play. I’ve been told the drinking and drug use in Wrath make Connor and Oz less likable than they otherwise would be. But, to that I can only reply that clean and nice aren’t who they are. It’s not what the stories are. It’s not, honestly, who I am.

Go to the downtown area in any moderate-to-large city and find yourself some streetkids. Just how many of those are clean and nice? Just how many of those are stone-cold sober?

Yeah, I couldn’t find any, either, when I was doing research for the books.

I did try to change the scenes I’ve been told are problematic, but those scenes are there for a reason. Hell, I do remember saying once that I don’t care if you like Connor and Oz as “people”, so long as you feel for them. And I still hold to that. These ain’t American high school kids, these are guys whose youth hides scars the rest of the universe can barely comprehend. These are guys who have seen the worst the universe has to offer…if their worst sin is to drink too much, and pop the occasional pill, then they’re doin’ pretty damned good, I’d say.

Diversity Pokémon: Gotta Have ‘Em All!

One of my co-workers wanted to go on a hike with me. No problem – as long as it is on a Tuesday, I don’t mind the company. Just leave my Mondays alone, dammit!

Anyway, the time comes to go out and here comes my “partner”. In sandals. With a tiny 12-ounce bottle of water. For a sixteen mile hike.

If I take the guy out like this, he’ll make it maybe five miles before dehydration and exhaustion take him out. If I turn him away and just leave, I get the Asshole of the Year award.

*sigh* This is, by the way, one of the reasons why I hate people.

“Sure, no problem, I’ll change the hike. We’ll skip Hayden Valley and just go to the Upper Falls.”

Great, now I want to go there just so I can jump off the damned Upper Falls…that path is PAVED for fuck’s sake!

Okay…I did NOT sit down with the intention of venting about my sub-par “hike” today. Of course, I am also plotting revenge: I got this particular individual to commit to a twenty mile hike through wildlife-infested meadows in a couple of weeks. If he doesn’t make it, I can at least use him to feed the bears…

Ahem.

Never mind.

One of my readers came to me the other day, had some questions. Now this particular reader has been mentioned in the blog before: the transgender kid slowly transitioning from girl to boy. I should also point out that this individual is someone I respect. In spite of the great difference in ages (20+ years), I listen very seriously to anything Billy has to say: we share a similar nerd-ism, and a love of very similar things (from Star Wars to D&D, and everything in between).

Why is Connor white and blonde? Billy asked.

Now, Billy is an artist. A picture came out, then, of Connor…before I had really described him. Black, this picture was, with dreadlocks. Still attractive…still smart. Shit, it could very well have been Connor…except. Except…

I had to think about my answer before I gave it. I actually thought for quite a while.

I wanted Connor to stand out, to be “a man alone” in the misery of dockside. Tall and blonde – in a society descended very, very closely from Hong Kong, Bangkok and Tokyo – very definitely ain’t part of the “scenery”.

I also wanted to fuck with society, and with the power structures. The workers of dockside – the exploited and oppressed – are Asian, but the wealthy and powerful of the Station are black. White folks are most definitely not in evidence out at Port Oblivion…very intentionally so.

Hell, Nat is a mix of black and Hispanic, and Oz is an unidentifiable mix of Japanese and…everything else.

The simple fact is that I refuse to “check boxes”. Nat is not black because I “needed a black character”, but because there absolutely is a power structure to Redux. And because, I will admit, I picture her as a very young version of Zoe from Firefly. And there ain’t many ladies out there that can rival Gina Torres for beauty or presence.

Beyond all of that, however, Connor’s race and appearance serve his character. He is an outsider, alien to the society around him. He doesn’t fit in, and that marks him as prey to the circling sharks. It is only the help from someone who does fit in, from the mostly-Asian Oz, that enables him to survive and learn to thrive…

A Sqirrel? Really?!

Remember when I described this place as freshman year at college?

Yeah, that is most definitely holding true.

I just did something I haven’t done since that…err…entertaining year of my life: I had a random, booze-filled night of D&D. Yes, you heard that right…Dungeons and Dragons.

I’m a nerd. Get over it. I did.

That being said—and in spite of having done some writing for RPG video games—I haven’t done an actual D&D session in 20+ years.

Holy shit, was it hilarious.

Let’s see: you have a transgender guy running the game as DM…a married couple playing two characters…an introvert writer…and, just to round things out, the most socially awkward, anxiety-prone human being ever born. Yep, D&D at its finest!

SQUIRREL!

No, really – a damned squirrel just ran across my foot! Brave little bastard.

God, I do love this place.

Anyway, back to my semi-drunk-post.

As writers, we have to come up with a wide array of characters. All works of life, all types of people…

But one of the traps into which many of us fall is the urge to create “strong” characters. Yes, they serve the purposes of the story. Yes, we even give them flaws and problems. But how often, and how effectively, do we mirror the incredible array of the flawed and the screwed-up?

An antagonist that picks his nose…

A protagonist with chronic bad breath…

A love interest with the fashion sense of someone from “Cops”…

You get it: all those little things that we don’t like in the world. Those same little things can give depth and reality to the characters we create, so why are they so seldom employed?

I don’t know either, but it seemed like a really good thing to think about while I sit here and watch the sun set with a beer in my hand and a squirrel trying to eat my ankle.

As a word of warning, it’s probably time for another snippet post. Look for that on Monday!

The Ruts Into Which We Fall

Like a lot of people, I’m a creature of habit. While I love new places and new experiences, there is also something truly comfortable about doing the same thing, and going the same places, every day. No, that doesn’t make sense for someone who craves travel and new experiences…and it doesn’t have to. It’s my life, I can be as inconsistent and silly as I want.

Even up here – even in the midst of all of this variety – there can come those ruts. I was out for my solo hike on Monday. In order to get to the specific mountain I wanted to climb, I had to take a trail I’ve walked 3-4 times already. I didn’t realize until I was almost all the way to the start of my “real” hike, but I had ignored the entire trail behind me.

It had become old-hat for me, something in the “been there, done that” category. It had become a rut. Not a single picture taken…not even a moment to pause and savor the view out over the alpine meadows. Not a moment to just sit by a stream and contemplate.

That’s dangerous: if living in Yellowstone can become like that, what other parts of life are at risk?

Writing, for one.

We’ve all read those stories, and those series, where nothing really changes. Oh, the locations change, as do the details, but the heart of it all? That stays the same: the characters think the same, act the same. The problems and challenges arise the same way, are solved the same way. You could almost open to any chapter at random and know what is going to happen.

It’s easier than you think to fall into that. The ease of doing the same thing over and over – and, yes, the insanity of it (thanks, Einstein!) – is all too alluring. Plots and challenges and locations have to change, have to have variety and originality, if the story is not to be one big rut.

Even more, however, do characters have to change. We writers often refer to that change as growth, but that is nothing more than a conceit. It’s nice if our protagonists and major characters can grow – learn wisdom and care and all that – but in no way is it required.

Oh no, that change can just as easily be negative: the businessman who turns to violent vigilantism, the bank teller who turns to theft, the housewife who becomes a prostitute. None of those are “growth”, but all can make for interesting stories. Actually, all have. I’ll leave you to figure out the allusions.

Okay, so why the the topic of ruts?

My main character isn’t changing as much as I’d like…and I realize just how much that is my fault. Sometimes a character just can’t change, but Connor most certainly can. Hell, the changes in him over the first book are why he is still alive while Oz is dead. But my writing of him has fallen into a rut: he’s the same kid he was a year ago, and no one could go through those events, let alone a year in prison, and be the same person. No one.

The biggest problem is that I look on Connor almost like…well, almost like a parent. And like most parents, I still see the kid he used to be rather than the man he is. That is a failing in the writer – in the parent, if you will – and not in the character himself. Now I just need to fix it.

Douglas Adams used to joke that if you’re having trouble coming up with interesting characters, change your brand of coffee. Well, I’m having trouble realizing and capturing the changes and growth in my main character…I think I need to change my brand of beer…

Ruts, And The Strangers You Meet

I’ve talked a bit before about characters, and about the thought and effort we put into them. But just as important are the assumptions we make about them…assumptions both as readers and as writers.

Jumping with both feet into a an entirely new group of folks, very few of whom know each other, is one hell of a way to start testing your assumptions and judgements about people. It is, honestly, like going to summer camp…just one with plenty of booze to smooth over the awkward bits (and create other awkward bits).

For someone like me, it is also a topic of some interest to expand that thought and wonder how my assumptions about strangers affect those I make about my own characters. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that I also weigh all these strangers and new folks for personalities and life experiences to use for my characters…

People surprise me…all the time. In many ways that’s a good thing, since it means I’m not as jaded and cynical as I like to pretend. In other ways, it’s not so good since it means I probably made an ass of myself about them in the first place.

I think we can all agree on the need to be fair and honest in those snap judgments we make, and in the value of that fairness. But to those who read or write, or just plain dream, I will reiterate the broader question I posed above:

How often do you treat the characters that matter to you as strangers? How often do you step back to examine and reevaluate the snap judgments you made about them in the first place? Remember: good characters – characters that are complete and whole – should talk to you, should have depth and demands of their own.  Just like real people. Just like the strangers you meet.

I made assumptions and a snap judgment about one of my characters in Wrath & Tears that I regret to this day. The flaw is not so fundamental that I can’t go back and fix it, but it does mark a failure on my part to let her stand and tell her own story.

I knew, after all the revisions and edits, that I had not done her justice, but it wasn’t until I started trying to think about the assumptions I’ve made about the folks I’ve met up here in the park that I forced myself to really go back and look at her.

You never realize just how much of a rut you can fall into: a rut of people, places and things as much as of thought and experience. I had fallen into seeing and talking to the same people in the same places over and over. A couple of workers put together a “movie night” last night, and I was sitting and having drinks and a good time with several folks that never would have entered my orbit back home in my usual “rut”.

I love it. As a writer I love it, and as I person I need it. I joked about this in Monday’s post, but it really is like summer camp. Or better yet, your freshman year in college. You are, pretty literally, forced into close confines and friendships with folks from far outside your usual norm.

That is an experience and a skill that far too many of us who’ve made it through those early-twenties years tend to forget. Especially when you’re of the more…ahem…introspective type.

I Never Did Listen Well

I’ve been told I shouldn’t do these, I shouldn’t post snippets.

“Don’t give your stuff away, even if it’s an initial draft.”  “Too many complications, just keep it to yourself.”

Screw it, I don’t care.  I write…that’s who I am.  I write so people can read.  I write to share characters and stories, to share emotion and thought.  Everything else is just noise.  So…a snippet:

The guitar was a part of Connor, body and soul. The words and the music even more so. All of his emotion, and all of his memory, had been pouring into his music for the better part of two hours.

Connor did not lay himself bare to strangers. Hell, Connor did not lay himself bare to himself. The memories of those that mattered were too sore, and too near, however, for such control when he was playing.

Into every word and note of his music went all of the pain and loss – and the guilt and shame – that bore the names and memories of his ghosts: of his dad, of Marie and Vin…and of Oz. Always of Oz.

A final line sung about the price always waiting to be paid and he bowed his head, listened to the diminishing notes of the music. The heat on that stage, and the effort of his performance, had almost as much sweat pouring from him as emotion. The small, packed bar echoed with the crowd’s cheering applause, but Connor couldn’t hear them. The memories, and the unshed tears, were too loud.

A few breaths, a few precious seconds to gather himself, and the spotlight faded.

Thank you, Spog. I wish you’d sung to me before.

How did you answer that?

You remembered, and you felt, that’s how.

He could barely raise his arm, so much energy had he spent. But then again, he didn’t need much energy to drain the tumbler of whiskey at his elbow. There might be no forgiveness in alcohol, but there was numbness. He was going to need an awful lot of numbness after the music.

But not for anything would he trade that music. Nor the memories. His friends – his family – were dead, but they would always live in his music…and in his soul. They were something he could hold to, something he needed very badly.

Another drink was pressed into his hand, a babble of voices talked to him. He looked around, he answered and he drank. But it all took place in a daze, his body responding and functioning by the purest instinct and habit.

That daze didn’t end until a voice spoke; a voice he did not expect.

“You made me cry tonight, Connor. You promised never to do that again.”

He looked up. He couldn’t not look up, as hard as it was to do. No, he wanted to run away and hide. He wanted very much to hide.

It was Nat.

Connor hadn’t felt like this since the night he’d held Oz’s dying body: helpless and hopeless and beyond words.

Talk to her, Spog. Say something, you crazy ikiryo.

You could tell me what to say, he thought back to his dead friend.

Oz’s only answer was the faintest of laughs, and the memory of warmth…and of love.

[Edit: cleaned up the paragraphs…copying stuff from my usual writing program into WordPress can be funky sometimes.]

Living With The Ghosts

Now that the writing is in full swing, I’m thinking about characters.  Every day – hell, every hour – I’m thinking about characters.  The ghosts are, to me, very real at this point…and will be until I finally exorcise them by putting words on the page.

In more detail, I’m currently thinking about how to communicate all the little details and realities of my characters without resorting to the dreaded “info dump” of exposition and backstory.

One of the things I love about writing – and reading! – is when a well-crafted and well-used phrase, laden with emotion and meaning, communicates far more than 500 words of info-dump.

Now, there is a lot I’m proud of in my writing…and an even greater amount that I know needs work.  It’s not better editing, it’s not better vision, it’s simply becoming a better writer.  But…that does not mean there aren’t things I write that I don’t look at and think, “Fuck, yeah.  That worked…”*

*Goddamned triple-negative sentences!  Maybe it IS better editing I need…and, yes, I’m way too lazy to just go and fix the sentence.  Besides, it’s more fun to write this little aside and mock myself.

Heading that list of things that worked?  Oz.

Of course it was Oz…  He is still my favorite character, and is far and away the character most personal to me.  Shit, he’s still the only character that can bring me to tears…

There is a lot to Oz: a lot of meaning and a lot of emotion.  More than I ever describe, honestly, even in the text.  He is, after all, my stand-in for those friends of mine who committed suicide…and for my own issues with that same impulse.  One of the keys to Oz as a character, and who he is as a person, is his history…

Connor describes a bit of that history to Nat in one particular scene, but that description is matter of fact and simple.  He explains Oz’s life of rape and degradation in the bluntest, coldest way.  That’s all he really can say: he has no way to express to her the truth and honesty of Oz’s past, nor to soften his life of horror and pain…the life that Connor himself barely avoided.

His statement to Nat tugs at you, yes.  It communicates something about Oz, yes.  But it isn’t real.

No, for me the real success came with what I mentioned above: that one key phrase/sentence that captures everything in just a handful of words.

“…Oz was a lump in his bed, a tight ball pressed deeply into the corner—his normal sleeping position, a hunt for the safety he’d never known.”

I know I wrote the fucking thing, so I’m pretty damned biased, but to me that phrase still captures Oz’s history, and his reality, far better than all the exposition in the world.

As I get better at writing, I’m realizing more and more that you really have to be careful with your words.  You have to minimize.  A good writer can communicate in ten-fifteen words what a bad writer needs a hundred to do.

Now, I’m nowhere near that “good writer” point…and I know – being as competitive and self-critical as I am – that I will never consider myself to be there.  But that just drives me to work and practice and strive for constant (if slow) improvement.

The best personal sign of that development?  When I go back and re-read older stuff, I cringe at my wordiness…and at the lack of focus in my vision and in my words.  That I see and understand those problems is an official Good Thing, by the way.  Well, good nowadays…not so good back then.

There was, to tie everything together, no key phrase to identify the emotion and honesty of those older characters in just a handful of words.

Shit, maybe Steven King was right: the first million words really are just practice.