Monday, February 28, 2011

“A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” -Thomas Mann

New post coming soon on character.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Skins, duex.

So as you probably gathered from my last blog, I watch Skins. Series 5 has been quite interesting so far, even just to study in terms of storytelling--like the points I made in the last blog. My favorite character hands down is Franky, and I’d like to talk about her and some other, general observations.

I did a google search or something and came across this LGBT website where they were essentially talking about Franky’s androgyny and the fact that she is genderqueer, but there were also some very interesting reflections about skins as a whole.

Skins characters aren’t the impossibly clear-skinned, perfectly-haired, ingeniously-dressed, stick-thin, perfect-jawed plastics on 90210 — they look more like people we know. (Except Effy. Nobody knows anyone who looks like Effy.)

More importantly, the kids in Skins are usually fucked, alienated and often quite sad, though occasionally gifted with transcendent moments of reckless, often drug/sex-induced happiness.

But we don’t want to be the kids on Skins. Why would we pattern our behavior after a group of kids who — in addition to sporting an alarmingly high mortality rate — overdose, go to jail, get beaten up, fail out of school, get sick, get institutionalized, wreck cars, become homeless, get robbed, get hit by cars/paralyzed and repeatedly screw up relationships, friendships and families?

Viewers want to be like the characters on 90210 or Gossip Girl; they want those shimmery, easy lives of effortless beauty and impossible, free-floating wealth where dysfunction is always more foreplay than disaster. Viewers envy Gossip Girls’s consequence-free world of framed college degrees and dark, sexy furniture.

We want to be Kelly Taylor or Blair Waldorf.

But we’re already Emily Fitch.

We’re already Franky Fitzgerald.

It’s just that nobody cared enough to talk about us before now.

I just love this idea. I think it has so many applications for storytelling. I have often thought about the problems of writing about characters like these because I felt as though I needed to have a moral moment or something where they realized how messed up they were. But here’s the thing--I think they know. They just… don’t care. Their way of coping with being boring and plain and unextraordinary is a hedonistic dive into whatever makes them feel the most numb.

If you try and superimpose morality on characters like that you’re doing them a disservice. The thing is, everyone has a moral code. It’s always different, but we always have them. If the writer is trying to change the character’s behavior and the course of their lives by having a moment of morality, that’s actually almost doing the character a disservice. There’s nothing wrong with a character who lives recklessly.

This seems very fertile to me, and very interesting as well. I shall be exploring it in my own work very, very soon.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


Oh hey, Blog.

Don't you love it when I have nothing revelant about writing to say? :P Yeah I'm just sad, I haven't been writing much, I'm sad about that too, mainly I'm just sad sad, which doesn't help anyone.

I've been thinking about Skins. In the first 4 series the characters were all extremely hedonistic and such. Now, in series 5, they're suddenly all outcasts and their stories all have morals. It's an interesting change in direction, first of all, but I also find it interesting to compare how it changes the investment of the viewer.

For example, the hedonistic characters were somehow intriguing despite their self-destructive spirals. I think they were interesting because the viewer was always waiting to see if they would become self-aware of the cycles they were in and if they would decide to change or continue on despite the cyclical nature and the impossibility of finding any true resolution or solace. The characters were stuck: feel bad, party until they were numb, repeat. Their lives disintegrated around them and it was interesting to see what they chose to do something about and what they blatantly ignored (relationships, school).

I wish there was a way to talk to famous/published authors about their process. How do they write every day (do they write every day)? Do they get bored? If yes, what do they do about it? Do they feel uninspired?

In other words, are they really human? :P

Anyway that's all I've got for now. Lack of writing in my life = lack of stuff to blog about. Le sigh. I should really get on that. :)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Motivation, Process, Ideas

Hello Blog :)

The last few days I haven't written much. Monday I did quite a bit, but yesterday I worked all day, then played video games, then talked to my friend from Canada until midnight. Today, I was more sick than I was yesterday, regretted staying up, and slept away almost the entire morning, then had to take my sister to a cello lesson.

In other words, I've been very productive. It doesn't help that I'm a bit stuck with my novel, as usual. A recurring problem for writers, I think, one solved by the whole “apply the seat of your pants to the seat of the chair” concept. I think this might just be something we writers struggle with for our entire lives. It might be the problem of having a narrative. Art is abstract but writing has to have something concrete to it in order to be viable for an audience. I mean you can spend your entire career writing long passages from your stream of conscious, but I'm not going to read it.

I think you have to believe in your writing. Which sounds really corny and stuff. But the people who churn out 6,000 words per day in NaNoWriMo. How the heck do they do it? Not by not caring, that's for sure. I mean, you can accuse them of writing crap, but I'm of two opinions about that. First, they're writing. Are you writing? And second, when you write, you get better. That's how it works.

I remember when I was younger, I never really thought “this is good writing” or “this is bad writing.” Maybe there's a kind of innocence that helps, a kind of ignorance. I mean, you need to know if you're writing crap... but still. Ugh, I'm going in circles, aren't I?

I don't really know, see? I bet you can tell, haha. This is my journey. These are my ideas, these are the things I am thinking about. And there's much more to find out.

See you on the weekend some time.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Power of Detail

Hello! Sorry I didn't post yesterday, I had thought I said “the weekend."

Writing down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg is a book that has been with me a long time. It was around when I first started writing, which must be five or six years now, and it's stuck with me. Recently I opened it again, and re-discovered some great ideas.

Two chapters of the book that go hand in hand are “Man eats Car” and “The Power of Detail.” The first is about embracing life as a writer. Not glamorous life, necessarily, but the ordinary, the everyday.

“In a sense, this is how we should write. Not asking 'Why?,' not delicately picking among candies (or spark plugs), but voraciously, letting our minds eat up everything and spewing it out on paper with great energy.”

By doing this, the writer can become free of needing to be “literary,” of “forcing” metaphor. Instead of trying to break the world to the writer's will, there is a harmony between subject and result. An oak tree is an oak tree, not a glorious vision of life, stretching up towards the sky... (etc). In a way, the idea is that everything is equal. Birds, toasters, skyscrapers, and people. “Poetic” writing really is a great inequality. In the past, the idea has consumed me to the point where I didn't want to write if it wasn't “good.” (Clearly, I mean, bad writing must be avoided, but all you need is the cliché copy of The Elements of Style by Strunk and White for that).

From “The Power of Detail:”

“A writer must say yes to life, to all of life: the water glasses, the Kemp's half-and-half, the ketchup on the counter. It is not a writer's task to say, 'It is dumb to live in a small town or to eat in a cafe when you can eat macrobiotic at home.' Our task is to say a holy yes to the real things of our life as they exist—the real truth of who we are: several pounds overweight, the gray, cold street outside, the Christmas tinsel in the showcase, the Jewish writer in the orange booth across from her blonde friend who has black children. We must become writers who accept things as they are, come to love the details, and step forward with a yes on our lips so there can be no more noes in the world, noes that invalidate life and stop these details from continuing.”

She said it! This idea of details in writing has really transformed my creative process. I've realized that writing is not like the photography that seeks the perfect backdrop or the perfect subject; it would have to be more like street photography, embracing all of the details. The principals involved in framing and focusing are fine, just as long as the photographer (or rather, writer) doesn't seek to perfect what already exists.

I'm not arguing for no metaphors—actually, far from that. I am arguing that all writing can be beautiful, that you don't have stumble into a literary section in order to fill your work with the detail that already exists all around us. Just looking at a potholder, I can appreciate the texture and the pattern and the stitching—and then I can remember times I've held that potholder, meals I've shared with friends and family, etc. Details beget associations, and writing is the best art form for those kind of connections.

Finally, a quote from Jack Kerouac.

“Be submissive to everything. Open. Listening. No time for poetry, but exactly what is.”

See you on Wednesday.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Boring Parts

Hello there!

Today I would like to talk about “boring parts” of novel-writing. Often when sitting at my computer, I will just stare at my novel (and that blinking cursor), and think, “this part is really, really boring. When am I going to get to the cool part?”

A lot of advice has been given on this topic. Some people say you should skip forward and write the interesting part. Others say the interesting part should be a reward for working on the boring part. I also did a quick search about “boring parts” on the NaNoWriMo website forums (because a lot of writers post their opinions and indeed complainants there) and found several people who claimed they didn't plan on having any boring parts in their novel. (Here's the link to the forums)

While that may seem to be useless to someone who is currently stuck, in fact one of the users, “premiumcider” had this to say. “I'm actually looking forward to the moments where they just have dinner, or set up a fire, just because then I'll get to write DIALOGUE and BONDING! And ARGUMENTS! Ok, enough caps now. I want to see what they talk about apart from their quest, how they interact and things like that.”

This reminded me of something a friend once said about conflict. Her argument was that the truest form of conflict was having two people interact. That internal conflict was all well and good, but that having someone look inward would always have them find the influence of other people within. Additionally, the words “dialogue, bonding, and arguments” all involve two or more people.

It's interesting because I found that the “boring parts” were only boring because I was imagining my characters as pawns that I needed to move from one point to another in a painstaking, boring process—when in reality, I was simply loosing sight of the current dramatic potential between characters because I was too focused on the future dramatic potential.

I also realized that I had been isolating one character, having her move through the scenes without coming into dramatic contact with other characters, and that in order to give her more dramatic potential I clearly needed to give her the opportunity to interact with others.

So when you're writing and you think it's boring, examine whether or not your characters are in dramatic conflict or if they are isolated, or even if they're simply talking but nothing is happening (a whole 'nother kettle of fish). Then pump up the drama! :P I read too many writing books written by people who write thrillers, they're always like “add tension! Add intensity! Add drama!”

And I shall see you on Saturday to talk about Natalie Goldberg and details in writing.