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 GudrĂșn 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...