Thursday, December 27, 2012

...To Town

In continuation of yesterday's post. It's been fun!

The bag worked with magic. How much magic was left, he wasn't certain, but he could still pull gas cans out of it when he ran out of gas.Sometimes there was even enough magic to clear ravines and blown out bridges, but he wasn't going to chance it, not today. Avery was counting on him.

The sled was much faster, but he enjoyed the charger more. It offered a simpler driving experience, one that wasn't so nuanced as the sled. When NORAD began to track him, he had the elves make stealth panels to put on the sled. It worked for a little while, but the reindeer still showed up on radar. Now it was the charger, slower, louder, and bigger than ever. A few mobs were following him now, sprinting at break neck speed. Some of them actually lost their heads. Santa cracked his jolly grin, or as much of one he could manage. The burn scar that ran across his face, made it painful to smile. But there wasn't much to smile about any more.

He set the car to autopilot then, and turned around in his seat, hoisting the bag to the front passenger seat. He reached into the bag until he could find something worth while. Out of the sack came two IEDs and a string of grenades.

"Merry Christmas..." He laughed tossing the items out of the sunroof and out onto the road behind him. About a minute later, an orange light appeared in the distance behind him, followed by a crack like a gun shot. On his movement radar, he toggled the distance on the range finder. Most of the dots had disappeared,  except a few. but they had stopped moving.

After four days he arrived in New York, looking at the battered silent high rises that stood guard over the channel. They were empty and soulless, nothing showed on his motion detector. Bracing his mind he attempted to recall where the note came from. Taking him a bit to triangulate the origin of the vision, he found that it was near by, in a small boat house near the docks on the other side of the bridge. opening his car door, he stepped out, holstered his guns and dragged the sack behind him limply and began his journey down the bridge.

Santa wasn't afraid. He was never afraid. No animal on earth could scare him, except people. He had lived so long in the shadows, watching them grow from afar. He realized that to teach them the nature of goodwill toward men was a foolish idea. Jesus did a better job at that. When he stopped aging in Turkey, he took it as a sign and left everything behind, Theology, the children, everything to find his purpose. It wasn't until he turned up in Holland a thousand years later that he discovered that purpose. He found the sack, the reindeer and traveled North, far beyond Finland, until he reached the North Pole. And he liked it there. It was quiet.

At the end of the bridge, poised at the top of a large column, he saw a flickering light in the highest widow of the boat access. Quickly he hurried his pace, being careful not to be too erratic in his movements. Though it was a myth that zombies collected in major cities, he still didn't want to risk drawing attention to himself. Reaching the locked door to the tower, he reached into his sack and pulled out a key, unlocking the door, and running upstairs. The interior was in strangely pristine condition, everything set up to look normal, as if nothing had happened.

When he reached the upstairs, a lone solitary child of thirteen sat crouched down, huddled by a kindled fire near the window of the room. He was nearly skin and bones, like those pictures you see of African children. The deep circles around his eyes showed that he hadn't slept for sometime. He was probably scared of them. He needed to stay awake to prepare for them if they ever came. Santa looked down, and extended his hand toward Avery, who shrunk away into the corner in fear. Santa frowned, but them though of another idea. He reached into his sack and pulled out a Captain America action figure, mint condition, still wrapped and everything. Avery's eyes glowed, looking at the sack then Santa, and finally the toy.

"You're really him," Avery croaked, his throat sticky and dry, "aren't you?"

"Are you alone? Do you have any family?"

"No," Avery said, looking away with bittersweet eyes, "they left me here to die. You see, I was sick. They left me here. That was three weeks ago."

"I got your letter last year," Santa said, feeling confused, "if they left you only three weeks ago why did I come here?"

The boy sighed, pursing his lips in anger.

"This was our home, and they just up and left. They wouldn't take me, because I was sick. I wasn't even infected. I think it's pneumonia..."

Without a second thought Santa extended his hand in pity. This was no place for a child. Better that he stayed home with him and the dwarfs.

 "Well let's get you home," Santa said, with his crooked smile, "Golfang could use the company."

"You mean it?"

"Christmas came early this year kid, let's go."

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Santa is Coming

A gift to you all for your support and readership! See the conclusion on Thursday!


“Ho, Ho, Hi!”

“Shut Up.”

Santa was ready. There wasn't much use for him after it all ended, when the world turned to ash. Without children there was no reason to go on. The elves parted ways, Mrs. Clause died of smoke inhalation, but Santa knew what must be done. A year ago that day he received a letter from Avery, nothing more than a hazy scrawl in charcoal across a piece of paper. He received the thought in the early morning, suddenly feeling the rage and sadness permeate his dream consciousness. He raised up in bed, gripping the cold iron gurney with sweaty hands and salt in his eyes. His scars burned that night, thirsting to seek vengeance for the wrongs that he could not make right. That night he vowed to change, to rise from the shadows one last time. For Avery, for the world. 

His armory was naughty, and his patience was gone. There was a time when the world was young, already ancient and eternal, when he would come down from the north to set things right. Those were darker times. Now there would be a new way of doing things. As the cigar burned down to the nub in his mouth he grabbed Prancer, his Benelli 12 gauge, waving it in the air like a sacred talisman. The crimson Kevlar vest no longer fit him, but it's snug feel around his belly felt reassuring and deadly.

When the volcanoes erupted, so did the bombs, and the world was laid waste to ashes. The reindeer died quickly, and after much grieving, Santa knew what had to be done.The dwarfs of Valinor owed him a favor and sent their crack team of technicians and artisans to his aid. The sled never flew again after Rudolf died. As Saint Nick held him in his arms, looking into the dopey eyes he wept, thumbing the Ruger in his holster. "Take the Shot," he thought. "It's the only way."

When Avery sent his note it was different. times had changed. Most of the zombified mobs had decayed into nothingness, giving the world back to the hands of nature and the animals. But they were still there, deep in the holds of the Earth. That was what Prancer was for. Turning behind him, Golfang was waiting for him. Time to turn on the sled.

"Ho, Ho, Hi"

"Shut up!"

The dwarf grinned and held up the keys, mischievously  as if it were a monkeys paw and something awful was going to happen.

"Bring it back in one piece," he said in a stern, cautionary tone. "Last time I had to change the fuel pump. Awful business that was."

"What do you think I pay you for?"

"You don't pay me a cent, even a gold bit or a jewel. No, you rip me off, all of us."

Santa, shook his head, frustrated and beside himself. He had no idea where to start. New York City burned in his mind. That was the place to look  first. He felt it in his gut. He brushed past Golfang and walked into the showroom. Varnished and immaculately displayed the first sled was tucked away in the corner. He didn't need air to ground missiles for that sled. Nor did he need riot gas, or turpentine, or even barbed sled treads. Pulling out the keys Santa walked past it, and unlocked the doors. He drove a charger now. the gas millage was awful, but he figured that he wasn't hurting anyone. Humanity was an endangered species now. Going out with a bang was the next best thing.

"Don't be gone too long," Golfang said lifting a pack into the back trunk, "this isn't a tank. In and out, flare, and you come back. Understand?"

Pulling the goggled over his face, Santa tossed the cigar out of the side window and threw his Ruger, Benelli, and M1 Garand onto the seat next to him. There was no time for talk. Avery was waiting.

"Don't wait up Golfang. Leave the cookies out for me. Christmas is coming to town."



To be Continued...

Thursday, December 20, 2012

How to Write a Book Prelims: The Antagonist

On Tuesday we discussed the features and attributes of three types of protagonists. It was a lengthy drawn out process, but that is important. Protagonists define the direction of the story, but so do the villains. Luckily I will not go into as much depth today because writing villains is actually a little easier to understand when you have built your protagonist at the ready. Villains generally aren't just special because they are evil or working against the grain of society but it's because they posses certain characteristics that integrate them with the purpose of the Protagonist. Therefore you shouldn't write a villain to be evil for the sake of being evil. but they should have a link to the protagonist that makes them closely related. Once taking this into account we can write a villain through these possible angles.

The Hidden Villain:

In many a "who-done-it" detective fictions or even a scooby doo episode here or there, we are often enticed by the intrigue that comes from the plot, and the people involved, because the villain/sinister mastermind behind it all is hiding in plain sight behind the manifestations of his/her scheme. There are many mature ways to tackle this kind of villain, but I would have to say that my favorite outworking of this style of villain is Ozymandias from The Watchmen. A good villain of this category should have nothing to hide, and therefore commit the acts openly that are transgressive to the story. This is because the villain possess the audaciousness to believe his plan might work. Throughout the main plot, from killing the comedian to researching the genetic manipulation to create the space invader, Ozymandias was never openly hiding what he did. The trick was slight of hand. Every good villain of this class should be able to weave a vast maze of events that culminate in their victory. We will discuss how to do this once we get to the plot section of the series. The slight of hand maze that distracts the hero from the villain's true nature should cater to the intrigue of the hero until it's too late and the hero ultimately sees through the facade. Keeping up appearances here is the main key.

The Philosophical Villain:

A good protagonist will always produce a good villain. I think in many works of fiction, or even historical non-fiction, the villain can sometime steal the show, but that bothers me tremendously. Why is that the case? can goodness be only contextualized in the face of evil? As stories grow more post-modern and less conventional this seems to be the case. But the stories that last and persevere are the ones where the protagonist is truly loved, and the antagonist is truly conniving. That's why I like Sherlock Holmes. Moriarty is an amazing villain, because he is the philosophical opposite of Sherlock Holmes. Even further, what makes Moriarty so interesting is that he is the future of Holmes, the endgame when Holmes snaps or becomes what he loves to solve. They touched on this in the new Sherlock Holmes series pretty well. When Sherlock runs out of crimes to solve he begins to solve his own. This is an example of how plot can build both the villain and the protagonist. So this lack of boundaries makes the villain all the more compelling. Without barriers the villain potential get's maximized.

Antithetical Villain

You are probably wondering why I didn't include the Joker in the Philosophical villain category. Many think that the Joker would be a philosophical villain, but he actually isn't. I would say he's an antithetical villain. You see antithetical villains are more reactionary. They strike at whatever opposes the protagonist, and often exist in spite of the protagonist. The Joker would never exist if it wasn't for Batman. The chaotic villains that roam the streets of Gotham are there to strike against the physical manifestations of Justice, which would be the Batman. Moriarty, is a villain that exists independent of Sherlock Holmes. He is a looming threat that doesn't work in spite of Holmes but is intrigued, and acts as an evaluator for Holmes. The subtle distinction makes all the difference. The Joker operates out of a different motivation, that ultimately ends with the Batman's death. I think if Batman died the Joker would have nothing to do, whereas if Holmes died Moriarty would keep on doing what he does because he simply can. I think that is the primary difference.

Though the latter two are very similar  I think if you grasp the subtle difference between them, it can only improve your writing. You must remember that the villain is always secondary to a story. They will always work in tandem with the protagonist's development. If you become fixated on the villain and who he is, then your story will no longer be centered on the main protagonist, and therefore minimize the worth of the protagonist's actions. taking this into account is absolutely critical.

Next week we will talking about choosing a setting for your book. I'm looking forward to sharing my thought with you! See you then,

Happy writing!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

How to Write a Book Prelims: The Protagonist

Å begynne på hjemme, på den hjerte, er beste...
When designing a narrative you would be surprised to know that when I write a book, or any work of short fiction, I start with the protagonist first, not the story or setting or anything else. You see, the function of a protagonist in any narrative is central to plot. The protagonist reacts to the setting, the characterless involved in the story, and obviously the villains. At the genesis of every plot, it is the protagonist that decides where everything is going to go. If your protagonist is thoughtful, by which meaning your protagonist that will react to a problem defensively, the plot may take the hero of the story down a guarded and inwardly cynical journey that is more psychological by nature. If the hero is reactionary, then the protagonist will act offensively when presented with a conflict in the book. They will be brawlers, or adventurer types that scoff and grin, and win the hearts of the readers. Obviously there are so many angles each route could take. I propose there are 3 types of protagonists. By no means are these exhaustive categories  I simply see the protagonist through these lenses.

The Thinker - Inward

Marlow from Heart of Darkness, or the unknown narrator of Notes on the Underground, would fit into this category. These are the kinds of the protagonists that cause us to question what occurs in the narrative. Can an inward, thoughtful narrator truly convey imagery that is unbiased? In the midst of trauma and loss, do they themselves hallucinate or suppress what they see to cope? These are very internalized heroes. They tend to be observers. If there is a fight in a bar they will not intervene, but simply watch and take in the scene. If they do introduce themselves into conflict it will be to prove their existence, to say, "here I am!" and not to simply assume the role of the hero. Concerning plot, they will contribute significantly in an intangible capacity. Like Marlow, they will assume the role as a foil to the nemesis of the story. They will grow in the story psychologically, as their perspective changes to assist the plot. To illustrate this I'll give you an example of what this looks like:

What can I do? That is the question that gnaws at my mind. I took my job at the Pentagon because I dared to dream of a future where the "bad" people are put behind bars. That was then. Now I sit behind a desk, stamping papers, wearing a wrist guard to keep my Carpal tunnel Syndrome in check. The "bad" people don't go behind bars. No. They are executed and buried somewhere, where the world can't find them. Behind my desk I see them. I see where they go. I watch as the Marine takes out his standard issue, and presses the barrel to his temple. I watch the body fall to the ground, into the shallow hole they dug, never to be seen again. I see it all happen in 9mm, and then I burn it, and I never see them again. 

Notice how the protagonist here is idealistic, or battles against the reality of his station. Protagonists always struggle against constructions of authority. Here, it is his identity as a government employee, and his disillusionment that he faces. He fulfills his purpose, but the justice carried out is not what he expected. In this case he will act in proxy. He will not be involved in action. That is not his style. He will act on the peripheral. His weapon is paperwork and systems. As we watch from the sidelines, we will see him contemplate his role as it changes.

The Talker - Conciliatory

When I say, "The Talker," I refer to a large category, but specifically I want you to think about a character who is put into a position where they feel uncomfortable. The previous category of protagonist would attempt to extricate himself either physically or psychologically from the situation and the next category we will look at would take an offensive position in the tenuous argument. Here we are in the middle ground, and where the most common literary characters reside. Chances are, it is this kind of hero that you will decide to work with. They are more malleable than Thinkers, and have a richer personality profile than Boasters. These are the Bilbo and Frodo Baggins and Arthur Dents of literature. Concerning plot movement, a Talker is actively involved, generally being enmeshed in the conflict that drives the story. Frodo carries the Ring of Power in The Lord of the Rings as this kind of character. He will still battle and face down evil, but it's not his primary mode. He is more prone to take an assessment of the situation, willing to act, but not set to jump into conflict at a moment's notice. Here's an example of such a character in action.
"You're a chicken! Chicken!" 
That stupid Davey thinks I won't do it. I've done it before! He looks stupid... like a squawking chicken! He bet me ten cents that I wouldn't ride the sled down the big hill behind Tommy's house. It's like, one of the biggest hills in the whole neighborhood. Before Daddy got on a plane to go shoot the bad guys, where they don't talk like us, and where funny clothes -- I hear their eyes are sown shut, and look different! -- he said that I shouldn't go down the hill. Uncle Mark got hurt real bad, one year and had to stay in bed, in the huge white building in the city. I think I can do it though. I've gotten a lot better. I wish Davey wasn't here though. I want to go down the hill, I really do. I think Daddy didn't want me too because he wanted to take me someday. But I can do it. I can do it and be strong, like Daddy.

This unnamed narrator puts us in a position of healthy balance between thought and action. Here the protagonist is a young child of either gender put in a position of growing up and taking on responsibility in the absence of their role model, in this case, their father. These protagonists are fluid to start with. They will change and be willing to change. They might be scared, or reticent to perform actions in the story that drive the plot but they have an awareness of their own development throughout the narrative.

The Boaster - Emboldened 

Last but not least, as the cliche goes, the Boaster is the most simple Protagonist to write. I would put the boaster as primarily being a secondary character in a narrative, but they can also have the main spotlight in any book. Boasters I feel are relegated to more simple literary forms like pulp fiction or serialized literature. They often will drive the plot forcefully through a narrative because they are simply active, or have a thirst to progress form their current predicaments. Guy Gardener comes to mind, the Green Lantern Corp bruiser from DC. He is impetuous and ready to act, while his personality is very rudimentary, his motivations for recognition and approval of his peers are very binary, and the reader understands this. Also Lobo from DC I find to be this kind of character. These are though characters! Escaping from this world, you would also find some of these in The Outsiders, but my favorite example is Gimli from Lord of the Rings. He's just fun and very ready to get into action. These characters will help you most if you supply one in a secondary position because they will be easy to leverage to move the plot along. Lastly, here's an example of this character:

"You think you are better than me? You don't do good at makin' this unappealing..." 
General Tei encircled me, holding a pair of brass knuckles, vintage from the 21st century. He loved antiques, especially those of human design. He hit me in the face, and feel some teeth come out. But it only makes me more mad. 
"What do you expect to get from me? I got nothing you want. Better that you let me go, so I can kill you." 
"Brave words for a deadman, Mr. Scott. I do not desire to take days off from my vacation to interrogate rabble-rousers and thugs. My family will be very disappointed!" After he shouts in my face he grabs the cuff of my fiber mesh tunic and hits me twice in the stomach, making me want to vomit.  
"Maybe I should talk, you know? Then I can distract you long enough to escape." 
"There is no getting out. You will succumb to this reasoning very soon Mr. Scott. Very few have lived long enough to tell other prisoners what we do in this room. But the Galactic Order still thinks that I am a peace loving general. I plan to be, and I am honored that you would select me to give your eulogy." 
"Is that right?" 
Stepping back the General nods, his arms akimbo and boasting. 
"What are you going to do? I should just leave you here to rot, and watch you die slow from hunger." 
"Well that's just not going to work..."  
"What?" 
"You see," I pause to hold up my hands unshackled, "I picked my handcuffs!"

Mr. Scott here could be anyone, but I decided to make him more of a secret agent, or an undercover figure. Bruisers I think at heart are arrogant, and very self determined. Therefore, these characters tend to externalize their actions. They like to talk and justify who they are to the reader and their enemy. They declare their existence by being subversive in the narrative and hold their ground in doing so.

This is definitely my longest post I have done thus far. But this should give you a well rounded idea of what to expect in the kinds of protagonists that you have available to you. Again, this is by no means an exhaustive list, but it will give you a solid frame work to go by when you write your first book. See you Thursday!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

On Writing a Book: Fiction or Non-Fiction

After much preparation, I took my little hiatus from teaching to build a comprehensive workshop on what I've learned throughout writing my book, Spirit of Orn, and will compile it here for you all to see. I hope you enjoy it!

Writing a book of any sort is a long, worthwhile endeavor. If you indeed desire to write one, be it factual or fictional, the process will most likely take about 3-4 years for your first book. Because I've already gotten a handle on what to expect I suspect my next book will take about 1-2 depending on the demand the book subject places on me. This will be an introductory lesson. It will serve to inform you what to expect at the outset of your journey. Here, it begins with choosing whether or not you will write Fiction or Non-Fiction. 

Non-Fiction

Writing about factual events take time and lots of research. I have written in the past about this and suggest starting with preliminary historical research about the period, or the particular event of which you are writing about. I take it in three comprehensive levels: Global History, National history and Event history.

Global history pertains to the era in which you are writing. For instance, if you were to write a book about the black plague it would behoove you to investigate the late medieval period, and analyse the geopolitical topics that were being kicked around back then. Continuing with this example, you might want to account for the religious history of the Catholic Church during this time, as well as the relevancy to the later crusades in the holy lands that occurred some 50-70 years earlier. This will ensure that you have constructed a worldview pertinent to your book.

National history then consists of establishing the Socio-political and socio-economic climate of the particular region you are working with. So if you were writing about the Black death in France, it would be pertinent to include the displacing of generational land holdings from the Bourgeoisie and the emergence of a middle class due to the universality of death associated with the plague.

 Finally, the Event history will deal with the nature of the specific incident you are writing about. So if you wanted to write a Non-Fiction work about Pope Clement the VI, who reigned during the French-Avignon Papacy, you could write a dark humored novel about his life in seclusion, sitting between two pyres constantly kindled in his bedroom. As far as infectious diseases are concerned, this is why he survived, because the heat kept away the flea carrying pathogens. Through out this process the subsequent political intrigue will be quick to follow, so I wouldn't particularly bother with trying to come up with a particular "angle" on your approach to storytelling. It will come to you on it's own.

Fiction

We will deal with fiction primarily throughout this course, so I won't go into too much depth here. I will elaborate on the purpose of fiction and why you would consider it.

Really, in any writing discipline, the events you are describing either happened or they didn't. Concerning Non-fiction, I would say overall that Non-Ficiton titles are far easier to write because your characters are static and easily researchable. If anything, it is slightly time consuming. Research must occur in either mode of writing however, so fiction can be a bit more interesting. 

In fiction there is two phases of writing, Research and Crafting. This may seem somewhat self explanatory, but the basics are that during the research phase, your primary goal is to investigate different perspectives or approaches to fiction. I like to read certain authors personally, and apply their styles to the works that I write, but you could also consult paintings, songs, or any other style of artistic medium. The Crafting side of it is multifaceted. Suffice to say, this is where you build your characters and your settings, and your motivations. Throughout this course I will teach you how to do that, so stay tuned and you will get a very comprehensive overview of these things in the weeks to follow.

That's all I have to say right now, If you have any questions as always, or specific requests through this series please let me know and I will try my best to include them in the class!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

In Conclusion

This is the final part of a short story that I wrote last week. I will resume class on Thursday with a new curriculum. I am eager to start that up again, so I hope you all can join us for a new look on story telling!

"Detective fiction," Roy elaborated with an air of self importance, "that's what's hot with the kids these days."

I nod, scooting forwards in rapt in attention.

"Superheroes are played out." he paused while the waitress came by, passing a steaming plate in front of him.  Suddenly, his dull face brightened at the sight of the burger, nodding with appraoval.

"Let me know if ya' need anythin'." She winked at Roy. It was scandalous, she must have been only 22..

"With pleasure darlin'."

Slowly he reached across the table and grabbed a large jar of ketchup and began spooning it out onto his plate across the oily stain of french fries. I think sometimes people like to eat while they are talking, or they like doing something  anything. It makes them feel important, I'd say. Hell, smoking makes me look like a cassinova! It's all about atmosphere when it comes to being persuasive. Can't say I was really impressed with Roy's display of hunger though. I thought he looked like a real square.

"So what's your angle?" I interrupted. Midst his hungry ecstasy, Roy frowned and reached for a napkin to wipe off his face.

 "Why not start it out with an investigation? Capers always get the kids trapped in..."

"Yeah..." I mutter lazily. This was a waste of time, and Roy gathered as much, who shifted uncomfortably in his seat for a moment, setting down the burger onto the oil stain smeared across his plate.

"I'm no writer," he admitted dryly, "So why don't you enlighten me then? If you think you have what it takes to work for that joker Goodman then you don't have what it takes to work for me! Goddamn swamp monsters is all he has up his sleeves..."

"Okay." I feel the chill wrap around me. I can't blow this! I just can't. I'm not going to be another bum. My brain burns up trying to think when suddenly, like a light at the end of a tunnel it comes to me.

"Superhero detective, a masked vigillante could work. Imagine. He fights crime as a detective, you know? A real Sherlock Holmes that can fight crime against the mob and the baddies over here."

Roy's eyes widen, then look around stealthily. He set down the burger and leaned back in the seat with his arms out akimbo.

"Ricky-boy... they were right to tell me you were good. I want a name down on my desk by next Monday, If you can handle that. I springing for a new line this fall so I'll need a pitch and an artist soon. Don't make me regret this decision." He looks at me soberly, and I sit there feeling the weight of his offer come down on me.

"You got it boss." It's all I can say without choking. I'm not one for business talks. Never had a good poker face. I always get nervous and shrivel up inside. But I was smart though. Never sell the rights. Get in and stake your claim. That's they way I did it, and It's always worked since.

Roy wasn't there much longer. Within a few minutes the Burger was gone, and just another dirty dish. Before  he left he slid a card with his address to the waitress who blushed and hid it away in her blouse and got up, wiping his face and tossed the napkin onto the plate. He paid, of course.

After bidding good-bye I walked home, thinking about the idea I pitched. It was a good start but I had nothing to go on. It was one of the worst feelings to cold pitch a title. I hated it, loathed it. Remembering I still had the paper under my arm I check the headlines to see if there was anything good when out of the corner of my eye I see a shady figure start pursuing a young couple and their boy down a side street.

He moved with precision, like he had done it before. I already knew what was going to happen, especially when he pulls out a Colt .45, 101st Airborne standard issue. Probably down on his luck. Thankfully the mugging went smoothly. No one hurt, just a man bereft of his watch and wallet. I look at the kid who points helplessly in the direction of the man as he runs away. I felt helpless, like I would of at least got to a phone, but I didn't. I just kept walking. I was a coward, just like always. If things went ugly, what would have I been then? Probably an accomplice. The world didn't need more people like me. They needed heroes.

When I looked back I wondered what could of happened again, seeing that young boy in the street with his parents lying in the dirty snow, bleeding out like animals. A scandalous thought passes by, and I wonder for a moment what the boy could have become in the wake of such tragedy. It seemed like the stuff of legend, the passing from boyhood to manhood in a moment. But it was too rich, the idea. I stuffed my hands into my pockets and wandered away, into the snow. I thought about it the rest of the way home.

The End.    

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Short, Continued...

This is a continuation from Tuesday's short. Stay tuned for more!

I took the boulevard to it's end, looking out over the dirty water churning in the Kill van Kull. So much of it was what I imagined when Master Rich made in to the Sudetenland and fought Kraut Terror, stealing the super soldier serum from the SS before they could turn out a legion. I loved Harry's inking on that one the most. I hunched over his head and told him, "Yeah, a little more on the foreground  I want the yellow to make it all jaundiced, you know, like those dirty Japs across the pond."

Can't say "Dirty Jap" anymore. Politically incorrect they say. I didn't blow up the Harbor. They did.

I let my hand fall to my side and remembered I had a watch strapped to it. 11:30am. Time to meet Roy down at the malt shop. Or was it a dinner next to the malt shop? Jesus Christ! Who does he think he is? Who does he think I am? I'm not ten anymore.

When I open the doors I see him there in the back seat of what looks to be a 1940 Ford Deluxe V-8. Who ever owned this place was on to something. 

"Hey Rick," he says, still fixed to his paper, "How are the kids?" When I say I don't have any, he takes a long breath, probably wondering if he's at the right meeting, and takes a sip of his black coffee. "Oh, right..."

He came to tell me he wanted to make a deal. I had no future and he had no writers. Our mutually beneficial relationship was something that I hoped to profit from. I had it all very worked out in my head you see. Roy had this reputation of being very shrewd when it came to hiring people. He was a numbers guy. He wasn't concerned with the writing quality at all, you see. If you could move the product, entrance the little boys and girls and make them pay hand-over-fist for the next issue, you were golden. That's how it worked. He was probably reading the stock exchange. Poor bastard bought up Ford like it was cheap taffy back in the mid-20s I have it on good account that he's still recovering from his losses. 

"I hear you can write Ricky-boy." He folds the news paper, with a face that's bored to tears. "Tell me what you have for me?"

"I got a story about radioactive monsters." It's the first thing that comes to mind. When I see his eyebrow twitch I scramble to elaborate. "The bomb, you know? Ever since the thing blew and the people hear about the sickness and all the radiation, why not spin it to give you super powers? Then you get all the guys in tights to fight them. It would be brilliant."

"Already got guys in Japan doing that, Ricky-boy. Gotta change it up."

Pausing he takes a long look at me. I wonder if he's regretting meeting me. Did my pitch really grab his goat? Or is he just being nice now. The slow trickle of nervous sweat begins to run down my spine. This is my livelihood  and I put all my bones on the horse with polio. 

"How about this? The Commies right? what if we make them evil you know? We could be ahead of the game. They are all mysterious over there, probably plotting against us, just waiting for a slip up. Issue #1, a splash panel with Master Rich sneaking into a meeting. There he overhears a mercenary being inducted into Stalin's inner circle. His name is Red Tide, and he's a sea merc."

Roy waves his hand to stop me right there. That still, muted face hasn't changed a bit. Suddenly his lip curls into a cool grin and leans back into his chair. It's not a good grin, at least I don't think it is. It's the same Kraut Terror gave to Modern Marvel in the double cross from issue 36, when he pulls out his combat knife and comes at him from behind. 

"Evil Commies, that's your plan?"
I nod. What else can I do?

"Make them here. No more more super-capers. You're detective fiction now."

Noir? Really? I hate Noir. Now what am I gonna do...

To be Continued

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Taking Leave & a Short

I'm taking a break from teaching for the next two weeks. I figure that because school is out maybe I can have a little fun and write a few short stories to post here. This one I wrote a little while back. I hope you enjoy it!

There's not much I can do anymore to inspire them. What is there to do when peace time has suffocated crime. I never realized how much I depended on them, my villains. But that's the business.

I took my coat off the peg and walked out of my office. Looking around most of the staff was off, on account of the war and all. The day of victory was still sublimating in the quarters that haven't gotten the best morsels of the story yet. We won, but I lost. Who does Master Rich fight when there isn't a Nazi around swinging his weight? My partner Steve told me that it was over. Time to get a desk job and slough off the mortal coil. Get in while the GIs are still out. He went to Pennsylvania somewhere. Took a position entering data on these punch cards they say the code breaking machines used during the war. All I want to do is write comics.

I remember the way they looked at me when I told them that Master Rich was going to team up with Modern Marvel, take the war home with Kraut Terror at their heels ready to strike. It was a good issue. Sold almost 12 thousand copies on the east coast, and more on the west. They never really got much of the war. They were too busy not fighting one. The Japs gave their GIs a run for their money. It was romantic like our fight, the good one.

I left the Gothic archway of my corporate center shivering, looking for a cigarette in my pocket. It gets so cold here now, not like it was in the Depression. Back then we could open a fire hydrant and go nuts. With rationing over, I think people will start driving again. We'll have to walk into our homes, turn on the TV and stop living again. Lucy down the street didn't care much for it. Her life was the radio. I still can hear the low-fi humming in my ear, and the crackle of the vinyl. Master Rich had a player in his home too. I remember issue 14 when he had to steal a vacuum tube from it to open his secret door to his lair. Mad Martha stole it the previous issue, and while they were searching his house, he secretly went in and took it out. He was able to get into his private reserve after all. He kicked down the door and blew her away. At least that's how it went down in my head. I can't kill anyone on paper. The Authority doesn't take kindly to that.

Don't know what to do anymore without the Nazis. They were the best. Foreign and organized doesn't get much better than that. It's orientalism at it's finest, especially when they can hide in a crowd. Comics have no future without them. As I take a nickle out of my pocket and hand it over to the newsman I take up the paper, look to the sky, and wonder if he's up there, flying around, Master Rich I mean. He was always a flyer, all the way back in issue #1.

To Be Continued

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Theory Meets Narrative: Classical vs Modern Writing Styles (part two)

In continuation of Tuesday's discussion, we find ourselves now taking a look at the Modern style of fiction prose. 

Modern Styles

It's hard to truly nail down a solid interpretation for the Modern style. Today there are so many transgressive forms of fiction that attempt to streamline a particular style, and to distill it down into a formulaic approach becomes quickly problematic. In light of this, accepting the limitations at the outset, I offer two distinguishing categories that could lend a hand in the discussion.

A Minimalist approach to fiction is one that many of my fellow writing friends undertake and the philosophy here is generally to make every word count for what it is. It's like when you read Heart of Darkness and, in every sentence, every one of Conrad's words should be there. He in particular, along with E.M. Foster, has this talent for word economy that is simply unprecedented. How to express this in prose is generally dependent upon the genre of modern fiction that you are writing. If you are composing a sentence in Science Fiction, it should probably be set up with an explanatory phrase with a clarification at the end, essentially something like this.
Encircling this alabaster giant I pondered my mortality, for what is my purpose in the face of age and eternal darkness.
This of course conflicts with the Classical style, whose thoughts are more teased out, and generally integrated with historical data pertinent to the universe of the story. Minimalism though is more of an art than a style. It's difficult to say something powerful in so few words, but if you read A Passage to India, or Heart of Darkness, or Waiting for the Barbarians, you'll find that it amounts to a powerful statement. Character development is important to consider as well. In the Minimalist approach you wont be vomiting up words all over the page to describe the subtle, quirky variances in the protagonist's coat, because it's just not necessary. Here is what I mean:
A white P-Coat and Hungarian galoshes clothed him in luxury and indifference. 
As you can see here we have a character dressed elegantly but it illustrates his callousness and the superficial nature he possesses, the white representing purity when clearly his inside nature is stained with innocent blood. There is a lot that you can do with a sentence like this, and it illustrates well the kind of approach you can make to characters in Minimalist fiction prose.

Moving on, the other category I offer is Detail Intensive fiction prose. Here the idea is to do simply the opposite, only with a twist. In Classical fiction, we saw that detail served to emphasize the pastoral imagery and the connection to the history of the land. Each sentence has rhetorical significance because each is utilized to construct a larger picture of how this world that the protagonist is planted into serves to imprint it's influence on the character. Substance in the world has an assumed effect on the main character, because it is still considered that the world possesses some innate defined meaning. In Modern fiction however, the philosophy is the exact opposite. There is no innate truth imbued into the physical world. Everything, and all philosophies are up for grabs here, so any and all sensory detail should distance your character from any firm foundation, and should be inwardly focused on how the character interprets the world at hand. As far as syntax is concerned, it will reflect the fleeting nature of the world. Generally in modern fiction you find shorter, more defined concepts, built into sentences like a puzzle piece in a large mosaic of color.

Example:
There is nowhere to go. As I looked out the rain spattered window next to me, I wondered where I would be taken next. A jungle of iron and concrete passing by without rhyme or reason. They are disjointed, squat, and covered with a film of ancient neglect, hidden away from the world. There in my plush cabin, I am removed from darkness. It's warmth shields me from their despair. What did I do better? I was born. It's hard to feel justified when you had nothing to do with it. Everyday they look to the sky and see monoliths to my success. They are reminders. "You are small." They say. "You are trapped." They wail. Without them the world spins away into a red mist, and spirals down, deeper, into darkness. Oh Christ, what is there to do but wait? The tide will come someday and flood this city, purge it of evil. I'll pray for death then, before they take me into the shadows and eat me alive.
So here,we have a sprawling description of a large open world, set in a city of any era. The Protagonist  describes the isolation of the poor from his comparably luxurious vantage point. It's all done in short, simple sentences, that when strung together make a much larger point. Here it's not the significance of the world that gives the narrative meaning, but the thoughts of the protagonist, who's vantage point of the city defines it's core characteristics.

Between these 4 (including those from last week) methods it's hard to go wrong. Each method can support a well crafted story. Some will require more work than others to construct, especially the Classical methods. Often those are the best anyways. Then again, I have a bias towards them. Next week I'm planning a new series to work off of. Not sure what to do yet. I'm certain it'll be good though.

Until then...
   

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Theory Meets Narrative: Classical vs Modern Writing Styles (part one)

When I write in general can choose one of two options when working with stylistic approaches to fiction. One is a Classical writing style and, the other, Modern. These categories should be taken not too seriously as they can be blended with certain emphasis on either one side or the other. If you've ever read the Sandman by Neil Gaiman, he does an excellent job combining a Classical Dante Alighieri Christian Mythology with other supernatural cosmologies, ranging from Nordic Mythology to African Oral Tradition,s and then combining it all into a modern day setting. It's brilliant work, but an example of fusing both styles into one. I guess you could say that I am a little more "old school," as the cliche goes. I like leaving the two apart, because on their own I think a greater statement can be made. Just my opinion. Take it or leave it. 

Classical Styles

Due to the multifaceted nature of the Classical style I think it best to focus on two aspects of this category: "Period" setting prose and "Early Modern" setting prose. The best way to conceive the difference between these two styles is that one follows a formula rooted in the classical traditions (think Dante's inferno, Utopia, Jane Eyre, Silas Marner, The Rise of Silas Lapham, etc), and seeks to emulate characters bound by the hand of Fate or some guiding force of justice that will bring to rights the primary conflict of the book. "Period" setting prose serves to espouse a culture or isolated  world that is lost to history, and can be found in such works as Beowulf and the Lais of Marie de France. Arthurian myth would also fit for this as well, along with the Prose Edda, the Gesta Danorum, and other medieval histories. I particularly enjoy the Early Modern setting prose because of it's ideals rooted in the enlightenment, but also because the characters posses strong understandings of the ramifications of their actions. This gives you a lot of power in the writing process. Like many things where the approach is formulaic, like classical music, potential writers often feel restricted by the rules one has to follow when writing in the Early Modern style, but I think the end product is very dense and very involved, like Beethoven or Bach.  Period setting is tougher because it requires extensive research, something I already alluded to a few weeks ago. Though if you have ever read the Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the fruits of your labors will be worth your while.

This week I've split up the lessons into two groups. Today we shall focus solely on the Classical narrative example. Thursday I will discuss the Modern style.

Example:

There is a road that runs south, south east across a brook in Pathhead, East Ayrshire, in the highlands of Scotland that I find dear to my heart, Brother Barnabas. For on that sturdy Scottish road lives Mary Brockwell, my companion and betrothed to be. Upon first meeting her, my heart lifted, beating fiercely in my breast, a woman of no earthy compare. She was my darling to be, and I could not be more delighted over the fruits of my father's intervention into my affairs, that I so desperately at the time detested. His shrewd dealings had, to that point, left a taste in my mouth most unbearable. But Oh, how wrong was I, when I first met Mary Brockwell. 
The Lord was kind to me that day, when mass adjourned and I was finally free of that solitary prison that solemnly interred my passions. The parson was dreadful, not without honor to speak each passage of scripture with dire verbosity, alerting his fellow kin to our foul natures. He was a brother visiting from Glasgow, and a peddler of pamphlets. I had no love for him, or his trade, for he was a silver tongued devil, leading me astray from my love of Hume and A. Smith. I pray with all my heart that you would draw near to me that we may walk among the abbey gardens in Monmouthshire once more before my stay as a Bachelor completes itself. My sincere hope is that you find this letter, that I have penned with extra care, for I know your vision has fallen to shambles since our last visit together. Give my love to your Francesca, inform her of my dealings how you see fit. I pray that you only spare her our devilish cavortings in London. Heaven forbid it! 
With love,
Geroge Bailey.

Analysis:

This is what I would consider an Early Modern styled prose. It's a sprawling pastoral letter of masculine affection that could date as early as the mid 18th century, perhaps even spanning to the mid 19th century. What helps to bring out this style is to mimic the verbose nature of the English writers of this period.
She was my darling to be, and I could not be more delighted over the fruits of my father's intervention into my affairs, that I so desperately at the time detested.
The trick is to really playing with syntax and fleshing out fully articulated thoughts that help internalize the characters. Usually English protagonists have a strong sense of will and agency, that must take charge and accomplish tasks given to them. Here, George Bailey is undertaking an arranged marriage between himself and Mary but is doing so only because his father has finally done something to his favor. Also Early Modern prose has a heavy emphasis on the pastoral qualities in the setting, for when Christendom began to waver in the UK, an intellectual, pseudo spiritual panentheism overtook the people, which led to the Romanticism era in the early 19th century. There intellectualism and poetry bred together to create an environmental conscious atmosphere of mutual brotherhood and self expression. I mean, it's hard to illustrate the potency of Early Modern prose in such a short section, but generally the main thing to understand is that Early Modern styles connect the main narratives together in a story to weave an outstanding moral lesson. In the Rise of Silas Lapham, Silas becomes more powerful over the course of the book, as his moral authority deteriorates in tandem, ultimately leading to the ruining of Silas and his family. Its a very good book, and does well to illustrate how to compose a very Classical piece.  
 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Give Thanks

In honor of the thankful holiday I thought I'd do a special post today. Every year I am overwhelmed with the family values of the season but then immediately appalled by the subsequent chaos that boils over come Friday. I suppose it's just our way of giving thanks and then ripping the larynx out of that guy who has his hands on the Blu-Ray player for only $49.99. So here's a short story. Very short. I'll see you all next week!

It finally happened, and I saw it coming. She was eight people in front of me, shivering, coughing in the ice cold of the morning air out in front of Target. She was alone. Me and Nate came down to grab a steal on a new flat screen, but we made the best out of the time spent. She didn't. Something deep down in me made me want to buy her a coffee. I didn't.

I don't know how old she was, maybe in her mid thirties. She was too old to be, "I just had three kids," but not quite young enough to be, "buy me a drink?" She was average. She spent most of her time shouting at someone on the phone, probably her husband, boyfriend, girlfriend. You never know these days. She wore one of those pastel red jackets, the ones the titular jock wore in those 80's inspirational movies, no jeans though. They were leggings, the kind that make you look naked, but hide all the stretch marks and scars.

I'll never forget it though. It was about 4:15 in the morning. Nate was fast asleep, while I guarded his stuff. It was only forty-five minutes out from opening when she collapsed onto the ground, convulsing, like she was having a seizure. Some of the people poked their heads over their Iphones and Android tablets to see what was going on. Finally someone helped her. They wanted to call an ambulance, but no one was willing to get out of line to give any details on the incident.

Before they could do that though, she started to growl, her body prostrate and quivering on the cement. Next thing I know she leaps up like a cat onto some guys face and bites his nose, ripping it off like wrapping paper on a Christmas present. The reaction woke up Nate. Someone tried to restrain her but before they could the man suddenly freaked out too, lunging on top of an Asian woman at the front of the line and disemboweled her with his hands. I couldn't believe what was happening in front of me. It was Black Friday, and I was on the edge of Armageddon.

For a second I thought to myself, "Shit, I'm never getting laid this year." The second thought was, "three years of waiting for Man of Steel, and this has to happen." You never think about what the next day looks like in a Zombie apocalypse, you just reminisce sadly to yourself about the things that you missed out on. It's never important things, though. Just pointless, petty things.

Everyday I think about the woman in the red jacket and wonder what would of happened if I approached her. They said initially that no cause for the mania could be pinned down. No virus, no flu, no plague, no mystic conjuring. I always heard that sometimes people snap, and then mob think happens. Sometimes I stop to wonder if I could have saved the world by offering her a cup of coffee. But then I think. I sit back, feet put up behind the autogun, looking out over the valley, and remember what it's like to watch Kingdom of Heaven on Blu-Ray.

Spectacular.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Theory Meets Narrative: Sequential Art Emulation

Recently I got a gig writing articles for a Non-Profit Research Institution, Sequart, which lobbies for the recognition of Sequential Art (Comic-books, graphic novels, etc.) as works of literary merit. I Love comic books. I am convinced that comic books are the contemporary medium equivalent of yesteryear's pulp fiction. In light of my appreciation for comic book media, I wanted to do a Theory Meets Narrative topic today of how to make your writing styles match the emotive power of the comic book.

Sequential Art Emulation

When we look at a comic, generally the frames are very visual. Each one is it's own unit and could be it's own standalone work of art. Though there's undoubtedly filler, this usually is the case with most frames in a comic book, especially anything illustrated by Geof Darrow, Alex Ross, Moebius, or Doug Braithwaite. But that emotional power conveyed in each frame can be brought into your writing by investing emotional and physical descriptions into your narrative.   

Example:


My hands dug into the dirt. Loose gravel, pebbles, nails, pushing out between my fingers like pudding. The rain came at a bad time. So did Tom Cadwell. He was a hard man, a drinker and a villain. The punch came from nowhere. It stings my eyes. My teeth vibrate against my gums. A ring echos in the small spot between my ears behind my nose. He stands up like a champ, shaking his fists, daring me to come at him with all I've got. Bullies are tyrants. They want blood every damn day.  
"Stand up you dodgy little shit!" He shouts. I can't hear him very well. I lift my hand back to feel the soft wetness of my hair. What did he hit me with? 
"Not today, Tommy boy." 
"What?" 
"I said, 'Yer mother's a whore.'" I smile as his face darkens, like a deep storm over his head. His mother was dead, and suddenly I regret the bad timing. I regret it when he comes over to me and kicks me in the side, four, five, six times. I think one of my short ribs is broken. Where's the Razz at? 
"Bog! Taig! Free Stater!" he shouts kicking a rubbish bin. I turn over like a sack of potatoes, cough up some blood, and lie there, the rain entering my eyes. It stings. Must be acid rain from the coal factory. Leaning down he picks me up, looking into my eyes, and I hear the thunder echo in the distance. "Stay away from 'ere. Nobody want's you. I see your hide 'ere again, I'll cut you ta' ribbins'!" 
I nod my head, lazily, lethargically. I must be delirious. He drops me in a heap, and I stagger away. limping. I'm not afraid of him. I don't care what the foreman says, bleedin' or not. I make a livin' for my family, strike breaker or not. I'm a man. I'm no slave.


Analysis:

First of all what we have here is a narrative primarily in the first person, everything in the present tense. What this does is put everything up front as happening as you read it. The flow is quick and each statement is powerful. It gives us very specific and very potent imagery, aided by simple subject sentences. This emulates the frame by frame sequence of comic books. Tom Cadwell is perceived as a larger than life opponent, and I can just visualize himself standing there, towering over the unnamed narrator like Muhammad Ali.

Another aspect to take into consideration is that the dialogue is abstract but grounded in physical imagery. He feels the mud in his hands, the sting of acid rain in his eyes. The imagery of the dirt, the heavy rain, the strike breaker, and the Irish pejorative slang, shows that this takes place in Ireland in a heavily industrialized area. The narrator is a victim of sectarian violence, but at the same time he's also unsympathetic because he's a strike breaker. He takes the beating because he knows that he deserves it, that every time he goes to work he is taking wages away from Tom and his own family.

The final aspect is the use of italics to stress points and phrases. In comic books this is done by bolding letters to get a feel of what the character wants to emphasize when he speaks. This can help to convey the speed of the dialogue or maybe a particular accent the speaker has. Regardless, it gives a secondary layer to the dialogue, allowing the reader to feel more immersed.  In our minds we can visualize the added intensity given to Tom's emotions.

This has been a brief overview, nevertheless if you desire for any clarification or added commentary please let me know or comment and we can discuss further anything that stands out to you. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Theory Meets Narrative: Interiority vs. Exteriority

Interiority vs. Exteriority 

I like to think that characters in a narrative should have a balance between what they feel (their interior self) and what they convey themselves to be (exterior self). For example a character may have a motivation to speak, or perform some sort of act. What brings a character to speak is their interior self, and the source of their emotive capacity. The actual action is what constitutes their exterior self, that is, how they convey themselves. Now this may seem to be pure semantics, but it's very important. Sometimes I feel people will create characters that  are too abstract, as if nothing they do has any meaning, or that their actions are never truly concrete. I think that a lot of a character's purpose in the narrative is equally founded on their insight and what they actually do in a given situation. That way when something dramatic happens, the consequence feels very real to us.

Example:

Terry often had difficulty reconciling his love for Joe with his partners inexplicable ability to always negate the chore wheel so hastily established after their last big brawl. It was the consequence of moving in, something that only occurred to him the next day he woke up after Joe's move in day and found a half empty pizza box on the living room loofah. This time was different though. Tim was involved.  
It was a mess, everything about it. Why Tim? Terry slowly picked up the half ravaged reuben that was laid sideways against the foot of Tim Cochran, only the greatest straight man to play a stand-up bass in the last forty years. Terry was gay, but god dammit, Tim was at stake. Turning back towards the bedroom, door half ajar and breathing fumes of musk, his stare burned into the room, recently stained by a rogue juice box perched on the night stand. 
"You son-of-a-bitch!" Terry screamed, hearing a jarring clamor in the bedroom quickly follow. Weary and exhausted, Joe poked his head out of the room, still wearing his spandex bike shorts from the night before. 
"What... Ugh, what time is it?" 
"Time for you to explain to me what the hell is going on? What the shit is a half eaten reuben doing on Tim?" Terry made certain to point as dammingly as he ought at the roast beef slightly peaking out of the top crust. 
"Oh... Oh! God, that." Joe murmured. "Yeah, sorry about that. Late night. Must have," he paused, yawning and stretching his arms, "gotten knocked over after the game." 
Terry wasn't impressed. He was furious. Tim Cochran, his prized porcelain, limited edition collectors item, profaned by a irresponsible jockey. Intolerable.  
 "Pack your shit," Terry growled. "And get the hell out!" 
Joe shook his head in disbelief. 
"Wait a minute," he said leaning into the door, "Are you serious? You're not serious..." 
Terry wasn't putting up with it. He stood his ground. He stood his ground for Tim Cochran. 

Analysis: 

So in here I tried to balance as much as possible the interior side of Terry with his outside behaviors. Terry's need for order and hygiene is the predominant theme here, but what is clear is that he also possesses a conscious awareness of the material in his life. He is nitpicking, calculating, a conceiver of a chore wheel, and all that sort of thing. This is done to establish Joe as an outside presence, that is, one who is inhibiting normalized function in the environment of Terry. His anger is potent and warranted, yet this is expressed through dialogue. What is important about this aspect of the short narrative is that the exterior actions of the character reflect back on the interior qualities of Terry. His anger projects his frustration and his need for order. This is already clear by the internal monologue raging inside Terry's mind.

Now it would be proper as well if this story had no dialogue at all, but was simply a portrait of Terry ruminating over the disrepair of his home. This would change the story dramatically however. No longer would it be a drama, but a psychological thriller. Terry ruminating and speculating and conspiring would make an interesting story, but it misses the big picture of illustrating Terry and Joe's strained relationship. It also misses out on the petty nature of the conflict, and Terry's extreme reaction, which is indicative of his superficial love for Joe. Terry is only interested in surface level appearance or perks that come from the relationship, not actually trying to forge a meaningful human connection with Joe.

The extreme opposite is also possible! Technically you could write a story that features an emphasis on dialogue, perhaps a larger, more articulate argument between the two jaded lovers. Now this is certainly possible, and very easily reflects back on the characters a sense of outrage and perceived conflict, however it loses the character's thoughts and feelings, creating a shallow, action oriented dialogue. We want to know why Terry is so upset, so it is important to represent this in the narrative.

Always, the best way to explore how interior minded your characters are, is to simply write them as such, and experiment by writing in the opposite capacity. Then, after all that, you can blur the two together and find a happy medium between the two. That's what I did here, and I think it shows in the characters.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Theory Meets Narrative: Dialogue and Pacing

I have resolved upon myself to begin a new series keeping pace with a sensible continuity. Stay Posted! 

Dialogue and Pacing

One of the most important things to keep in mind with dialogue is that there are certain inflections that can be inferred from word order and syntax. The use of a comma, semi-colon, or frequent single subject-verb sentences can convey emotions like fear, or elation, or any number of feelings that character may desire to express. As always, because we need to imagine the character as a thinking, breathing, autonomous entity. If we visualize ourselves as translators of sorts between our reader and the character, this task will become much easier than others make it out to be. In the following lines I will write up a short narrative and then analyze it to show how I implemented pacing via syntax usage.

Example:
"I'll have what she's having, or whatever I can get for less than five bucks. I'm broke as shit..."
 "Don't say that Harv! We got the goods. Next thing you know they'll be painting our names on the sides of skyscrapers everywhere. Features, shows, plays, albums, you name it, all up there for the world to see! Get whatever you want. I'm buying.
"Are you being sarcastic? Or Facetious? or... Whatever. Pass the coffee. You know I took this job hoping that it would lead to good life experience, something I could be proud of. But there's only so many plastic covered living rooms you can stand in San Bernardino before you just want to lie down and die."

"Yeah... that reminds me. You got nominated."

"Are you shitting me?" 
"No sir-re-bob..." 
"Gee-zus... I'm never getting out of this business. I'm gonna die here."

"You can't think of it like that Harv... Optimism man! Go for it."

"I need to go back to school. I know I can do better than this."
Analysis:

The dialogue here involves two people, Harv, who is having second thoughts about his job and the unnamed counselor. There is also an unknown third, that never speaks but is assumed to have been spoken to with Harv's initial line. Now, at face value this dialogue can go anywhere it wants, so pay attention to what we do with the syntax here. The use of the [...] (an ellipsis) can do many things to a dialogue, and is always at risk of being overused, however it's primary connotations are with uncertainty and rest. It provides an undefined pause in your dialogue. This is not to be confused with a [,] (comma), which is only a passing breath between phrases. To illustrate what I mean, lets take a look at one of Harv's lines:
"Gee-zus... I'm never getting out of this business. I'm gonna die here."
If we wanted to stress the nature of the business as the cause of Harv's disillusionment, we could move the [...] to follow "business."
"Gee-zus. I'm never getting out of this business... I'm gonna die here."
If we wanted to stress the nature of Harv's existential suffering and darkening vision of his life, then  we could move the [...] to follow "here."
 "Gee-zus. I'm never getting out of this business. I'm gonna die here..."
As you can see, changing the ellipsis to a period in the first illustration following "Gee-zus" does things to the pacing on it's own. In this instance it creates a mood of affirmation, as if the lights in his mind have finally illuminated the disgust he has with his life. Although in the following phrase, clearly Harv is left knowing that he is clueless of how to escape his profession, and therefore feels consigned to death.

In the third line of dialogue beginning with, "Are you being..." Harv's alacrity in his voice comes out with the quick succession of complete thoughts followed by question marks. This quickness of pace comes from the fact that when reading a short sentence, especially in a declarative or exclamatory mood, the reader simply reads them quickly. They are only surface level observations that are what they are. If the sentence is longer, it takes longer to read, and therefore coveys the power of a deeper thought.

Another thought, though a minor addition was breaking up the unknown counselor's reply, "No sir-re-bob." This break up just shows the reader that the word has an even pacing. And that I mean with this is that each article of the reply is broken up into 4 parts, therefore the reader will read it in 4 equal parts. Like I said before, it's a minor addition, but it adds some flavor to an otherwise straightforward dialogue.

Anyways, there is more that can be said, but in the interest of time we will stop here. I hope you enjoyed this format. I'll be experimenting with it for some while. If you enjoy it feel free to let me know. Likewise, if you don't, let me know as well. Otherwise, until next time!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Brain Storming

Over the last few weeks I have gone over how to's on building character arcs, ending books, developing a plot, and research material, but I haven't yet gotten to the topic of Brain Storming. It may not seem like something that important, simply being self explanatory, but it's vastly overlooked. I think it's important, at least. Anyways, I have some tips for you that should help a lot. 

Brain Storming, being the organic process that it is, doesn't have a right or wrong approach. Generally when you think of brain storming it's usually mentioned in tandem with writers block, like an anti-block pill that you swallow to ward off forced dialogue and such. It's a feeling every writer is familiar with so I came up with a few methods to help stave the syndrome.

The first is an exercise. (Like all exercises, you only get out of it what you put in. So if you go into it with apathy and a ho-hum spirit then maybe you should skip this step.) What I like to do is get a blank piece of paper, set a timer for 5 minutes and write down on the paper as many verbs as I can think of until the timer ends. Afterwards, take all those verbs you wrote and set the time again for ten minutes. The goal is to write a short story using only the verbs you wrote down within the time limit. The story could be as silly or serious as you'd like. It doesn't matter. As long as you are writing some kind of narrative you will have succeeded in the exercise. 

Now the point of the first exercise is two fold. First, it's important that you are just in the habit of writing. That goes without saying. Just like any hobby, be it art, music, sports  etc. you must maintain a practice regimen if you want to get better. They say that in order to get better at anything, and eventually master it, you have to put in about 10,000 hours of practice. Once you're there you'll be pretty damn good I'm certain. That being said, the second purpose of the exercise is to get you writing under a deadline. There needs to be an urgency while writing, as if what you're trying to say is pertinent to the salvation of the entire world. I say it like that because everybody writes for a reason. Every article you've ever read was written by someone passionate about that topic, and you should be about yours. Therefore writing under a deadline will train you to take this process seriously and eventually you'll be producing great material. 

The second method I use to help brain storm is largely creative and a little stranger. It's always worked for me, which may or may not be helpful to you, but I stand by it's success. I often find myself making stories all the time, but generally from silly, diametrically opposed things or people. For instance, I once thought about writing a short story about a mangy eighties metal guitarist moving in with his aunt, a southern baptist quilter. It sounds like an awful idea, but it allowed my mind to move on to a better, much more sophisticated one. Another start-up idea I had was about an anthropomorphic Galapagos tortoise who doubled as a secret agent, only he wasn't good at his job, at all. He was awful, and happened to only save the day through circumstance. I had a similar idea involving a co-worker I work with who is this old dishwasher in his fifties, and batshit insane. And I thought about turning him into this government agent building this elaborate cover of being this awful human being. I just thought it was funny, but what it did for me on a more substantial level was give me access to a bunch of other ideas. Essentially this second option is really about keeping your brain switched on. If you never turn it off, something in there is bound to come out eventually. 

The third and final brain storming method I've always used is keeping a book regimen, a book you read once a week, and just keep at it. Four books a month, forty-eight books a year. First you'll get ideas from other authors, or at least varying takes, but what you'll also get is their styles and varying approaches to narrative. Generally what I like to do, is if I find a really good author, I take a page of their book and copy it word for word into a word processor. This forces you to enter their writing style and kind of experience what it must have felt to write that particular page. It's a very fun way to involve yourself into the stories of your favorite writers too. My favorites are Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison. They have really experimental styles and introspective dialogues, which are great for getting the interior psyche of a character on the page. If you're up to it, copying by hand will help as well, slowing down the pace and really fleshing everything out. 

Those are kind of guidelines I generally follow. I hope they make for some great stories. Happy writing! 

PS: Next week I'm going to start a short story series. Tell your friends and check it out if you can!


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Historically Speaking...

In light of the election today, or at least the fact that historically an election has taken place in this country, I thought it would be fun to do something geared (very loosely) towards that.

My hat is off to any author that attempts to reconstruct a historical period. It's a daunting task I assure you, with many layers of investigation and research involved. Here I will try to break down this process into easy steps that will shed more light on the process as a whole.

I'd say the most important step in any reconstruction of a historical setting is in the preliminary research phase, where you narrow down your time period as much as possible. This can be attempted two different ways, but when used in conjunction you cannot fail. In Proper history, that is books containing a large amount of contributors and editors, the time setting you have your eye on will be mostly flattened of any tertiary commentary. I generally start here because it's the least biased. Now I understand that there is really no such thing as unbiased history but, semantics aside, generally when you have more contributors the authorial spin is diminished significantly, allowing for you to get a balanced perspective. Now the other way, the exact opposite way to be exact, is getting your information from Popular history. It is invaluable. Starting here though can be potentially dubious because your author will generally have an opinion, one that they are very certain of, but what it does is it gives you a much more intimate connection with the history at hand. I say this because, if you think about it, a writer generally won't waste six months to a year of his life to write something they barely enjoy. Rather what you get here is something that the author is dying to tell you. He bets his whole life that if he could get just one point across about the Battle of Hastings to you, that he would die a fulfilled creature. This is what I like about David Howarth's 1066:The Year of Conquest. It sets out to do exactly what it promises to do, and that is paint a picture of the common life of the lay peoples of pre-Norman England and the unfolding drama between King Harold and that douchebag William the Conqueror. What you get when you combine these two sources is a nice foundation of generalized history with an overlay of the specific passionate account that you are concerned with. It really helps, especially when you have at least three Proper histories and three Popular histories to work with.

After establishing the historical circumstances of the era, its important to encounter their worldview and ideas. I think we often forget that when research the habits of those living even a 100 years back, that these people saw the world with completely different eyes than today. For instance, take the late 18th century. During this time was the peak of the French Enlightenment where Deism was all the rage and much of the ruling power of the Aristocracy was being questioned when the rise of merchant authority was beginning to burgeon, making the once poor middle class into a Nouveau riche elite. The state's power of divine right was disappearing along with the common epistomological assumptions of how the cosmos interacted with the divine. It also fostered the beginnings of a modernized theory of the mind, where people began associating the human mind less with the immaterial soul, and more with the mechanics of a complex machine. So, understanding how different this time period was, it is important to enter into their worldview to establish a grounded, realistic historical narrative. Generally the best place to start is to assess your period. If it is taking place from 1400- to present, generally the first place to start is with the predominant philosophy of the era, especially if your period setting is in Europe. If it takes place any time before, the former information is still relevant, but so is the common folklore of the area. Europeans are notorious for their syncretism, that is combining their Western beliefs with common indigenous values. We see this with Saint Nicholas, who, though initially a saint of the Patristic era, is combined with the enchanted Sami medicine man, who flew on enchanted reindeer and gave presents to little children. So then if you are writing about the events of 1066, it would be good to read Beowulf, and Nordic literature to get an understanding of their contemporary values, such as their reverence toward the sea and it's power, and also their connection to the primal lands of the north that still possessed demons and other Antediluvian creatures.

Lastly, and I wager the most important, learn their language. I cannot stress this enough. So much of a culture's heritage lies in their language, how it's constructed, what it's grammar allows one to do with phrases and thoughts. Tolkien learned Old Finnish and Icelandic so that he could read the old sagas and construct with them the artificial languages of the elves and the creatures of Middle Earth. Though this is probably the most difficult of all three tasks, it is not so unreasonable when you do some research. For instance, when I was trying to learn Norwegian, I first looked for cultural clubs that had people of Norwegian descent. Generally at least one of them is native, or expatriated from their country of origin. After you find that person, you have to beg them to teach you, or ask them what the best way is to learn their language. I was lucky in that my informant teaches the language as a hobby once a week at the Sons of Norway Hall, and recommended some good books to start with. I also got some books of my own, like a grammar book for Norwegian and I am currently in the works of getting a really nice dictionary.

Like I said, these are mostly guidelines, and are in and of themselves easy tasks to take on provided you have the patience to sit down and read. I don't expect any of you to become scholars overnight. But if your follow these steps, you'll be on the right track!

See you Thursday!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

A Very Special Post

Hello Friends!

I don't usually do this, but I wanted to let you know that I published an article on Sequart this morning!

I feel really proud about my work, so go over and check it out!

See you all on Tuesday.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Tell Me a Story

Given that it's (was) Halloween and I'm sick as a dog, I decided to make a little holiday themed short story for you. Enjoy! Warning: contains coarse language. May be unsuitable for younger readers.

The buddy pic with Shatner and Takei was a bust. Even I didn't see that coming. You'd think that it would at least become immortalized, like Big Trouble in Little China or Evil Dead 2, you know? A real shitty, good movie. But I was wrong again. It was Halloween in Montecito, and I was the laughing stock of the star studded boulevards of Santa Monica and West L.A. When people ask me where I was, last Halloween I always tell them I was stalking Oprah's house. I hear she (her personal assistant) gives out Ipods.

I was standing out on the balcony watching them come by, each little kid waiting for their dreams to be shattered by the cruel world. I loved Halloween when I was a kid. Think about it. Dressing up in costume and getting free candy, not having to scarf down that vegan shit your parents are pushing on you. It was the one time a year I could sneak away from my bullshit hippy parent's house to get KFC. I never told them though. Too much red tape. Too much "non invasive" guilt talks. Now, here I was again, looking at the Jake and Finns, the Power Rangers, tons of Avengers ensembles. It made me, for a second, want to pick up the phone and call Al down at Paramount. LaVerde had helped me out of a ton of binds before.

Kids are something though. They have the goods, the imagination to see something through. My son, two years old, waist deep in shit, and the little guy was writing Oscar worthy stuff with his action figures. I was waiting for that moment again: to get the goods back. I did it with Scorsese back in the eighties. Why not now? Shut up! Shut up... Kids are coming. Am I wearing my aftershave to heavy? Did I shave? Who cares...

"Trick or treat!"

"Hey ya' guys," I said, looking at the parents while they eyeballed the inside of my house, "What do we have here! We got an Iron Man, Hulk, and a, god what was his name... Oh! Captain America. You know I know a guy who did that movie. Top notch, good stuff..."

"Thanks mister."

 They run off like they just met Nixon. They have no idea who I am. The parents nod, smiling for the sake of politeness. Who do they think I am? A wash up? A sellout? Fuck them! What do they know? I made the movies...

It was a while before the next kid came.

An hour later it was a biggin'! Tough, mean piece of shit. Like a young Trejo. He walks up looking at me like he wants to steal my car, and I practically piss my pants. But I know who I am. I worked with De Niro for Christ sakes!

"Can I have some candy?" he says, like he's fucking entitled.

"Nothin' in life is free kid..." I murmur. But then it hits me. God! why didn't I think of it sooner?

"Tell you what kid," I respond before he shout back, "tell me a story. Candy is candy, shit. But I got something better. I'll make it worth your while if it's a good one."

The kid looks at me like I'm doping, flips me off and walks away. Knowing my luck he'll go to People, and make up some bullshit about me comin' on to him or something.

It was at least another half hour before I get the next kid. The line to Oprah's is around the block. Kids, walking away with Ipads and unlocked phones.... Jesus H Christ! I'm in the wrong business. This kid is younger. Hopefully he'll play ball. Hopefully...

"Trick or treat!"

This kid is great, dressed up like some writer or poet. Some deconstructionist or something. He holds out his bag, expectantly, and I lean back against the door frame of my palatial mansion

"Forget the candy. You got an edge to ya' son. Wanna be famous?"

He looks at me like I just ate my own head and walks away without saying anything. Typical. Kid didn't have guts. You need guts to make it in Hollywood.

It's getting late now, and I'm tired. Nightmare Before Christmas is on pretty soon. Phenominal picture! That Burton guy, what a character. Before I can go to turn out the lights I get another guy, well kid, little kid. His parents are out by the sidewalk watching from a distance. Must be fans. He looks up at me and smiles holding out his bag over his head, like its the cub from Lion King.

"Trickertreat!" He says.

Fuck me, this kid is cute. I pour out the rest of the bowl into his bag. Before he turns to go though I  bend down, look him straight in the eyes and say, "Do you know any stories?"

He looks at me and smiles.

"I know... a story about a duck! He has one leg and can dance!"

"And why dance, little guy?"

"He wants to dance in a tu-tu!"

I look up at his parents who are scratching their heads, so I send him off. Brilliant! Kiddy pic, 3D, animated.... That's what it'll be. Duck trying to make it in the swan dance. Gotta call Zemekis.

God damn. I love Halloween...

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

On The Reading of Books and Such


This past week I wrote an article for a non-profit organization, the Sequart Research and Literacy Organization. The article will debut on Saturday November 3rd, so be sure to check it out! Either way, I wouldn't let you forget otherwise. Nevertheless, the entire process reminded me how intimidating research can be, so I've decided to give you some pointers today to make the task less daunting.

There are some key things to remember when researching for any piece of writing, fiction or non-fiction.

First of all, researching shouldn't be a chore, it should be fun. So if you find yourself lamenting the drudgery of finding books, watching documentaries, and interviewing strangers, this is an indication that you should switch topics, because writing should be a relaxing process, at least on the research side of things. When I was doing principal research for Spirit of Orn I read two books on the expression of historical and modern paganism, two books on the history of Scandinavia, Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda, and a commentary on the greater corpus of Norse Mythology. That didn't include all the Wikipedia references I followed to Yale, Notre Dame, Cambridge, and Harvard hosted portals for tertiary details, as well as the six month course I took on Norwegian, including my own self teaching regimen that I still practice regularly. Researching is hard but very rewarding, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Another thing to remember is that when researching, it's important to take into consideration the authors you are reading to get your information. Generally I did my best to research the history of the authors on Wikipedia  or other databases, to find any preconceived biases that I was working with. For instance, the author of the book I read concerning the modern expressions of paganism used to be Mormon, which is a polytheistic religion, so not only was it a natural progression for this particular author to leave the Church of Mormon and become a pantheist, animist, panentheist, etc, but it was also not surprising that the research and take on Medieval Christianity in the book was highly skewed and uninformed. That would be drawing off of his exposure to anti-Christian polemic during as stint as a Mormon. But what this told me, anyhow, was that his zeal for pursuing spiritual exploits would be sincere, so I read it knowing I could get some meaningful data from it. 

The best place to start in researching is always Wikipedia. But never trust it! That's the key. The trick is to look into the articles for their citations and attempt to find Primary Sources. This is very important to remember. In order to gather good research you need to limit your intake of third hand interpretation, which is scholastic commentary. Second hand, meaning a witness account, is valuable, but first hand, or biographical information is the best. That's why I included Sturluson's Prose Edda in my research, because it's that tiny volume that encompasses the entire corpus of Norse mythology, and was written with the intentions of cultural reclamation, unlike later editions by Saxo Grammaticus, which was written specifically to glorify the Danish people while also shining a polemical light on the heathen heritage of Denmark. All this information is highly pertinent and should be thoroughly considered before taking the pains to research something. 

Ultimately, research can be undertaken by anyone. The key is to do it well and thoughtfully. I have, for instance, a couple thousand pages of 1st century Palestine research material, but I could never write a book about that climate, only because I don't know how I would employ that information in a literary way. The difference between a poorly researched book and a well researched one is the employing of the details that you have soaked up during your studying. For instance, I decided in my book to make the speaking language of Norway Nynorsk, rather thaBokmål, because historically the former is an older, more authentic Norwegian language, going as far back as the vikings. I wanted to make a cultural statement by using Nynorsk instead. And people will pick up on that too.

Anyways, that should tide you over. I hope you all enjoyed this as much as I have. See you Thursday!