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Archive for the ‘Thinky Thoughts’ Category

Light a Light

I sat down to write this morning, and like I do I decided to check social media first. (Because nothing says “getting into the right frame of mind for making up stories” like “fiddling around on Facebook for half an hour.”) And my body grew numb with horror and sorrow, and my tea got cold at my elbow, and when I closed my browser I stared at the document open on my laptop and thought, What even is the point?

 

Check the news, a friend messaged me, and try not to cry.

 

I didn’t try. I read about police officers being shot in Dallas, about a man being killed in St Paul, another in Baton Rouge, and I wept. These are human beings, each unique and valuable and beloved, and they are dead. Who would not weep, at the shattering of these worlds?

 

And what good does it do, to write another escapist fantasy, or draw technicolor superheroes, in the face of such horror?

 

These are not new thoughts, and I’m not the first to think them. In the face of a world turned upside-down and run mad, art seems silly and frivolous and without value, and I suppose it always has. We need laws! We need action! What, you’re going to draw a picture at a time like this?!

 

But what else can I do? The world is very dark, and we must fight the darkness with all the power and strength and ability we’ve been given. Let the teacher teach truth, and let the preacher preach love, let the police serve and protect, let the judges dispense justice. And let the writers tell their tales and the artists make beautiful art, and let us all each in our way, great or small, raise our lights against the darkness. We must, we must resist the powers of fear and hatred.

 

So I’ll write. What else can I do?

candle-stock

Art credit: Gwendolyn1-stock @ deviantArt

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I haven’t touched Steel Butterfly: Part One since I sent it off to the Awesome Team Beta a couple of months ago (in fact I haven’t written a word of fiction since I typed The End), but that was the plan. I wanted to let it sit and not do too much conscious thinking about it until I was ready to dig into revisions–and I knew (or felt, or vaguely apprehended–more likely, given my usual MO) it would need revisions a-plenty.

My feeling or vague apprehension is borne out by initial reports from the betas: the beginning is rough, the world-building sketchy, and the main character not as likeable as I had fondly imagined. So, that’s okay; now I know what I need to fix. But I’m not going to dive in just yet (for one thing, a couple members of the expeditionary force have yet to report back), for another I’ve got art deadlines, and for a third I want to give it time to cook in my subconscious before I bring it back to the fore.

I don’t know how other authors work, but for me a lot of the thinking about my stories goes on in the background while I’m doing other stuff. It’s like soup: you chuck in the ingredients, turn on the fire, and then let everything simmer and meld. Sometimes you might chuck in a couple extra things while it’s cooking, to make sure you’ve got the balance of flavors right, but mostly you just leave it alone.

What that means in practical writing terms is working on other stuff entirely, taking notes when a concrete idea bubbles to the top of my brain, and just generally being on the alert for neat ideas I can toss into the soup. I’m reading a book called Samurai Sketches (tales of samurai from the end of the Edo period) that is happily congruent with some of my needs (plus it’s just interesting!), and a blog post about Final Fantasy IX helped bring some of my world-building thoughts into better focus. That doesn’t mean my soup is going to be Final Fantasy-flavored*, or have big chunks of samurai in it (how far can we take this metaphor?), but storytellers are omnivoracious, and every thought, word, experience, goes into the soup one way or another.

The omnivoracious author on the hunt for more ingredients...

The omnivoracious author on the hunt for more ingredients…


 

*It doesn’t mean it’s not going to be Final Fantasy-flavored either, given what a tight grip FF4 still has on my imagination.

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spider

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No, I haven’t seen it.

But I was reading a review, and it got me to thinking: the problem with all these “gritty” or “realistic” or what-have-you superhero movie adaptations is that they try to soft-shoe around the original material. “Look,” the filmmakers seem to be saying, “yeah, we know it’s based on a comic book (shudder), but it can still be A Serious Movie.” And they downplay all the elements that actually make the comic book awesome.

Take Doctor Doom.

Sideshow Collectibles' Dr Doom figure--look how cool this guy is!

Sideshow Collectibles’ Dr Doom statue–look how cool this guy is!

This guy is awesome, right? He’s a super genius ruler of his own small European country, a dictator, a scientist, he talks about himself in the third person, he does not at all care what you think for HE IS DOOM.

Awesome.

So why the heck would you downplay or straight-up remove all of that from your movie? You think maybe a European genius dictator named VICTOR VON DOOM is too goofy, audiences won’t buy it? Then why the heck are you making a movie with someone named Victor Von Doom in the first place? No, the only way to make a movie, a good movie, with a supervillain named Doctor Doom, is to thoroughly own it.

Own your premise. Don’t be ashamed. People who think comic book material is too goofy or low-brow or campy or cheesy or whatever are not going to go see Fantastic Four anyway, I promise. But you have to own it.

This is a thing in fantasy and sf publishing, too, this feeling that elves or lasers or time travel or whatever are inherently less serious than, I don’t know, whatever real life things people prefer to elves or lasers or time travel, so we have to downplay those elements, or say “but it’s really a metaphor for cancer!” or something. Why you would prefer real life to elves et al is a question I am not equipped to answer, but some people are embarrassed by fantastic (hehe) elements in their fiction.

But you can’t do that. If you’re telling a story about elves, or spaceships, or zombies, or a the ancient, bitter rivalry between the dragon kingdom and the unicorns (I would read that novel), you have got to own your premise, own it to the hilt. Don’t be embarrassed; shout it from the rooftops! Say, YES! MY MOVIE IS ABOUT GIANT ROBOTS PUNCHING MONSTERS IN THE FACE! And if you do that, with passion and verve, you may not have told a serious story (although you can sneak the serious stuff in there, I promise, Pacific Rim forever), the “realism” crowd isn’t going to love it (they weren’t going to anyway, it’s okay), but you will have made something AWESOME.

SO SAYS DOOM

SO SAYS DOOM

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Hello, my faithful and beloved reader(s)! I have not meant to fall off the face of the earth, but … eh … life. The awesome Team Beta has awesomely been beta-ing Steel Butterfly, and giving me loads of good feedback and thinky-thoughts for round two. I have meant to mention some of them here, but … eh … life.

Real Life Wins is the unofficial motto (at least, I think it’s unofficial–if I notice it translated into Latin or made into a crest or something I will assume otherwise) of the equally busy fellow who is teaching a group of busy folk here in the D/FW area how to bash people with swords. (“Woefully Unprepared” is my motto. Or, if I have spent too much time on the Facebook, “For Crying Out Loud!” Any Latin-learned amongst you willing to translate these so that I can turn them into family crests, or at least t-shirts, will have my undying gratitude.) (And yes, I am learning … slowly … to bash people with swords. Actually, right now I am just learning how to hold a sword and how to swing it effectively. So slow, my learning. But anyway.)

The point is, my current Overwhelmedness Level is at about an 11. When I returned to a more regularly whelmed state, I will no doubt have both opinions about things and the wherewithal to go on about them. Meanwhile, I apologize for the radio silence, and here’s a picture I drew of my main characters. I plan to color it, but (you know) … eh … life.

Just imagine a beautiful landscape behind them.

Just imagine a beautiful landscape behind them.

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Stephen King’s On Writing is fifteen years old this year (fifteen! the mind wobbles!), but still an engaging read on its own merits, especially for the overlapping middle section in the Venn diagram of Writers and Stephen King Fans.  It came to mind last night because, you see, I’ve been noticing this trend.

An aspiring writer (or rather, folks who write and aspire to make careers of it) can have a wonderful grasp of characters and how stories flow, a bright and new and incisive way of looking at the world, the best and most creative ideas–but none of it matters, because their grammar and spelling are terrible.

And if someone points out the problem, they respond airily, “That’s what editors are for.”  Whereupon one has no choice but to grind one’s teeth and turn the subject.

Because, guys, I hope you realize that is not what editors are for.

If we must have a toolbox, let it look like this one, please!

If we must have a toolbox, let it look like this one, please!

The middle section of On Writing is called “Toolbox,” and in it King details all the things you’ll need to have with you in order to write successfully.  (I just used an adverb, which he would decry, but you know what? “No adverbs” is less of a rule than a guideline, anyway.)  Vocabulary and grammar go on the top level of the tool box, accesible at need–and guess what? You always need them.

Now, I admit, I’m a bit of a grammar nerd.  I love all of the bits and pieces of English and how they fit together, like the nuts and bolts and cogs and gears and bellows and pumps and little spinny things that make up some wonderful, vast Steampunk machine.  We can debate the merits and uses of the Oxford comma or the split infinitive or God help us the passive voice all day long, and I will not sigh or check my phone nor excuse myself from the discussion, not once.

But you don’t have to be a grammar nerd to recognize that grammar, good grammar, is what carries the freight of your ideas from your brain to the brain of your reader.  If that train of thought is rickety, or ill-constructed, or just plain can’t roll out of the station, the idea transfer will be imperfect at best (and since what happens in the reader’s brain never 100% matches what happened in the writer’s brain, “imperfect” is already the best one can hope for), and at worst, impossible.

Take another metaphor.  My son, the Viking Prince, has decided he wants to be an artist.  I may have mentioned this before.  And he practices, and he tries, and he draws pretty damn well for a four-and-two-thirds-year-old.  Now, a drawing, like a story, is meant to convey an idea, and if the viewer can’t tell what he’s looking at, then the drawing has failed in its purpose.  (Old-fashioned, I know.)  What a four-year-old can convey, with the tools available to him, is going to be different from what a fourteen-year-old, or a forty-year-old, or a four-hundred-year-old (shout-out to all the immortals in the audience) can (or should be able to) convey.

Voltron, reposted with the artist's permission.

Voltron, reposted with the artist’s permission.

But if the grownup spurns the basic, the most basic, fundamental, necessary tools of grammar and spelling, then he is crippling himself.  Because you cannot, you can not convey ideas of any complexity without a proper understanding of how the language works.  You are an adult trying to paint the Sistine Chapel with stick figures.  The four-year-old is doing the best he can.  The forty-year-old must do better.

An editor can’t read your mind, and he can’t tell your story for you.  If the editor wanted to tell that story, he would write it himself.  It is not his job to turn your childish scribbles into the Sistine Chapel.

So please, if you have true aspirations towards being a writer, do not neglect the basics.  (Never neglect the basics, in anything–but that’s a post for another day, maybe.)  You can’t build a glorious cathedral without humble things, boards and stones and chisels and planes.  These things are not beneath your notice; they are necessary.  Fundamentals are called that for a reason; they are the basis, the foundation, for all the wonderful things you can build on top of them.  So fill your toolbox well.

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Age of Ultron spoilers ahead! Ye be warned!

 

 

 

Black-Widow-Age-of-Ultron-posterSo, in my unsorted Age of Ultron thoughts, you might notice I didn’t say anything about that scene.  You know the one.  That scene.

You know, the scene where Natasha Romanoff comes clean to Bruce Banner, the man she loves, about the horrors done to her in her past, and how because of those she feels unworthy, less than, inhuman–a monster.  That moving scene where she told him something about herself she had never confessed to anyone, that scene that broke my heart a little bit because the cold, merciless logic of her tormentor-teacher-brainwashers in taking from a young woman the ability to bear children, to live beyond the mission and live for someone outside herself, was indeed impeccable, and because the person so dreadfully damaged by this wrong done to her is Natasha, whom we’ve (or at least I’ve) grown to love throughout her journey from SHIELD agent to Avenger.  You know, that scene.

That scene where Scarlett Johannson and Mark Ruffalo gave beautiful, heart-felt performances, bringing more layers of depth and warmth and pain and humanity to their characters.  That beautifully lit, beautifully shot scene of quiet horror, the one that in the midst of a superhero movie about punching killer robots in the face nearly brought me to tears of pity and woe.  That one.

the-avengers-age-of-ultron-screenshot-scarlett-johansson-natasha-romanoff-bruce-bannerI didn’t realize that scene was not okay, that it wasn’t okay for me to like it and it wasn’t okay for Joss Whedon to have written it.  I didn’t realize that a female character expressing sorrow that she was tortured and forcibly sterilized was no longer okay, because … feminism? I’m really confused. Why is it not okay?

It reminds me of a writer’s blog I sailed past awhile back; the writer was talking about trying to figure out some new, fresh kind of motivation for a female character.  So not, because she’s in love, or because she wants to protect her children.  Something not stereotypical.  And I thought, “But … women fall in love.  Women want to protect their children, or to have children to protect in the first place.  And that’s okay.”

It’s okay.  It’s okay for a woman to want children.  That’s not anti-feminist.  It’s okay for a woman to have children.  Still not anti-feminist.  It is definitely okay for a woman to be sad that she can’t have children.  It is especially okay for a woman to be sad that she can’t have children if she was forcibly sterilized.  Guys, gals, advanced artificial intelligences, extragalactic visitors, it is even okay for a woman to be sad about all of the above if she is Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow, super spy par excellence.

You know what’s not okay? Dumping internet hatred on the writer who gave his female character these feelings, this background, this motivation.  If you must hate, and be outraged, and vilify someone, try the people in the real world who do torture young women, for real, mutilating them and destroying forever their chance at motherhood.  Hate those guys.

And don’t just hate.  Do something.  Because this world doesn’t have a Tony Stark to blow the bad guys up, or a Captain America to whack them with a shield, or a Thor to smite them with righteous lightnings, or even a Natasha Romanoff to scissor-kick them and flip them upside down while the frame goes all sideways.  It’s up to us.  We’re the only heroes we’ve got.

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