Thursday, April 28, 2011

I don't even know

I think the worst part of growing up is always being able to see the end.
Not The End, the big end, but the little ends.
The end of school, the end of a relationship, the end of a job,
The end of the time friends can stay together,
The end of those long nights with tacos and games and laughter and companionship and life.

The days of everything are numbered.
And I’ve always hated math.

Sometimes I wonder if it wouldn’t be better to cut it off myself.
Not like The End, the big end.
Never like that.
But end all the little ends at once and get them over with,
Before the loss has a chance to set in.

Sometimes I plan it out, the way to end the little things,
The places I could go instead,
Places with all-new companions, all-new relationships, and all-new jobs.
Nothing but all-new beginnings,
Where the ends are still far away.

But I’ve never been good at ending anything.
And the days are numbered anyway.

So I hold back and watch and wait and try to ignore the ends,
The little ends, catching up with me,
Closing in,
One after another,
Shutting doors and opening windows without my consent,
When all I want is for things to stay the same.


I don’t really do poetry. I don't even know if this counts. I’m not interested in working on it as long as I’d need to write anything decent, and I certainly don’t try to publish my trash.

But sometimes I just get in a mood.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Second-Hand Ideas

You know, I always figured that if reality was ever to reflect my fiction, it would come after I was published. Or at least be a positive change instead of a negative one.

One of my manuscripts, A House Divided, features an independent Confederate States of America that has remained heavily segregated and unequal well into the 21st century. In expanding the mean-spirited unjustness of the general society, I decided that the designated “colored” clothing stores would be limited to thrift shops and hand-me-downs from white families.

Initially this was just a random idea on my part, taking the historical segregation a step further. I almost cut it a few times because it seemed too petty and childish to be real. But it eventually expanded into a recurring symbol of injustice and disrespect.

After all, in a consumer-based society, what better way to degrade a person than to declare that they’re not worthy of new clothes?

Unfortunately, it looks like I’m not the only one who had that idea.

I don’t usually bring politics into this blog, and I like the idea of complaining about another state’s decision even less. But this proposal just plain sends along the wrong implications, I think it deserves to be addressed.

Foster kids already have enough of a stigma and issues to overcome. Even if, as the State Senator says, this isn’t motivated by those issues, it’s still a nasty thing to do. Heck, it’s probably worse if that’s the case, because it means he just plain doesn’t care.

And it’s a weird feeling for me, as a writer, to have it so closely mirror something I came up with on the fly, especially since it’s an exaggeration that I was hesitate about because I didn’t know if it made any sense. If anything, it’s too realistic now.

I think I’m going to take another look at A House Divided this weekend, see where I can increase the predominance of that hand-me-down symbolism. It’s not every day that the news gets you thinking about your WIP, at least not in my genre. I figure I ought to put my feelings on the subject to good use.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Insert Witty Title about critique here.

I’ve been quiet lately. There’s a million things I could talk about, but none of them have really been solidifying lately, and those that do don’t strike me as very interesting. I blame the new day job. I haven't quite adjusted yet.

Today, though, something's been on my mind. Something about critique. Specifically the critique of an author’s character choice.

I don’t agree with the people who say you shouldn’t criticize the author’s character choices in a book review. Book reviews are opinions, nothing more, so if a character grates on your nerves for whatever reason, I figure you should be free to point it out. If your argument is stupid, it’s stupid. If it’s sound, it may save people who share your dislike a lot of wasted time and frustration.

But when giving critique, it’s a different story.

See, the purpose of critique is primarily one of assistance. You’re trying to help your fellow writer create the story that they want to create.

Once upon a time, I was in an English class with this girl whose main character was the bitchiest, whiniest, most entitled woman-child I’ve ever read. I hated reading about her. I hated being in her spoiled, movies-and-shopping obsessed head. I hated hearing her whine about her stupid man obsession and how much she wanted another pair of Gucci shoes.

BUT. It was a chick lit story. And as far as chick lit goes, it worked. The character was an extreme form of the standard chick lit heroine and she was, at times, genuinely witty. So I kept my mouth shut about that and focused on the story’s real weakness, which was a lack of conflict. And, as it turns out, that’s exactly what the writer needed to pull her piece together.

See, how I felt about the character didn’t matter, because I wasn’t being asked to indulge in this story for my own enjoyment. That’s generally my rule for critiquing. I may not care for chick lit, paranormal romance, or epic fantasy; but if that’s what my group members are working on, I figure it’s my responsibility to put my personal likes and dislikes aside to help them out.

So it bugs me when, in online critique groups, I see people getting criticized just because their story contains an element that the critiquer doesn’t like. They say “It’s too depressing, you should make it happier!” or “Happy endings are so cliché, you should make it dark!” and it’s not helpful, because that’s not the story the writer is trying to tell.

And besides, I’ve read some really good WIPs, stuff that I wouldn’t give a second look if I was expected to pay for it. I think it’s helped me grow as a writer as well.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that, if you’re going to open yourself to giving critique, you should also open yourself to stories you wouldn’t read otherwise and adjust your expectations accordingly. Try to understand what the writer is going for instead of whining about what they’re not. Otherwise it just isn’t helpful - for them or you.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Life and Connections in the Digital Age

My internet has been acting pretty wonky lately. It’ll spend hours flickering in and out, active one minute only to die in the next. It’s incredibly frustrating. More so than it should be.

Maybe I’m just a product of my generation or something, but I hate being disconnected when I’m supposed to be connected.

See, there are lots of times when I disconnect myself from the internet. That’s when I leave the apartment and go to the grocery store, or walk down to the mall, or drive to the university campus and play mahjong with my friends until the wee hours of the morning. I don’t mind being disconnected then, because I have people to talk to right there with me.

But I, like most writers, also live a pretty solitary life. My average day consists mostly of me writing stuff in my room and talking to my cat. Note that I say “to” instead of “with” because cats cannot talk back, and herein lies the problem.

When I’m at home, the internet keeps me connected. It’s how I talk to my friends, check the news, and generally keep up-to-date with the world beyond my little writer’s corner.

So when it suddenly stops working, I get antsy, to say the least. It’s like standing in the middle of a room filled with friends, closing your eyes, and then opening them again to find that everyone is gone. It’s lonely.

I’ve heard people – mostly in my mother’s generation – who go on about how the internet is limiting peoples’ ability to connect to one another. I don’t think that’s entirely true. Yeah, social networking is kind of shallow BS, but then networking in general is kind of shallow BS. Those aren’t real connections, not the emotional sort that people need.

But there are still people that you make emotional connections with, people you know IRL or people you met by accident online, people who matter to you. And with those people, I think the internet actually strengths connections, to the point that it’s difficult to function without those connections.

After all, humans are social creatures. We’ve always depended on each other. Nowadays, it just means that we depend on each other all the time.

I may occasionally crack jokes about being a recluse or a hikkomori or an anti-social weirdo; but that doesn’t mean I don’t need people. It’s just that I’m used to having them around in different ways. And when they’re not around, for whatever reason…I get lonely.

All this just occurred to me last night. I’m having some trouble putting it into words. Part of me feels like this explains a lot about my generation, about how we’re not as messed up as people want to believe we are; or how maybe we’re even more messed up than they think.

Maybe I just need to think on it some more.

Monday, April 4, 2011

On Reading Multimedia

"If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that." – Stephen King.

We all know this, right? “When not writing or rewriting, read” and “Writers must read” and all the different variations of the advice quoted throughout the internet. It’s all true, of course. You can’t be a writer without being a voracious reader, and anyone who thinks otherwise deserves to be thoroughly bludgeoned.

But you know, I’m of the opinion that you don’t have to read just books. For that matter, I don’t think you have to read just text. I think a writer can gain story-telling skills from all sorts of mediums, even the ones we view as purely escapist. It’s all a matter of ‘reading’ them like a writer.

Now what do I mean by that? Well, let’s start with books as an example. When non-writers read a book, it’s usually with the intent of pure enjoyment, and they allow themselves to be sucked into the magic, lost to the world of the story.

When a writer read a book, it’s usually with the intent of pure enjoyment…but when we come out of being sucked into the magic, we say to ourselves, “Wow! How did they do that?” And then we go back in and figure out how they did that, so we can learn to do it ourselves.

It’s kind of like being a magician in the audience of another magician’s show. Half the experience is learning how other people do their tricks.

Now let’s apply this to another medium – cartoons, for example. Because I love cartoons. Say I turn on one of my favorite cartoon shows – Young Justice, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the 2003 series), or My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. I watch an episode, or several episodes in a shot. I laugh. I cry. I get into the story.

And then I go back and figure out why.

Each story has something different to teach, and that differs from person to person. For example, in my case, TMNT is all about making the implausible plausible, at taking the most out-there storylines imaginable and forming them into a working universe. The new My Little Pony series is a study in female character development. And Young Justice is essentially YA genre fiction, with all of its teenage angst and coming-of-age themes intact.

Similar bits can be drawn from all media. I’ve learned more about suspense and plot twists from my visual novel addiction – particularly 9 Persons, 9 Hours, 9 Doors and the Phoenix Wright series – than from any suspense novel I can think of.

Video games are all about developing an overall experience and drawing the user into that experience. (I’d go into detail, but really, you’d be better off watching the Extra Credits series over here at the Escapist.)

Meanwhile, comics books are excellent tutorials in episodic writing, especially in creating a beginning, middle, and end for each chapter while still lending itself to an overarching storyline; while movies can teach you how to develop that three-act structure in the first place.

What I’m saying here is that reading is important; but in this age of multimedia and the internet, it’s not and it shouldn’t be your only venue for bettering your skills. There’s a whole world of stories out there, and they all have something to teach. The trick is finding the ones that speak to you.