Enlightenment

For a week now, I’ve tried to write a new post. It’s not that I’m suffering from writer’s block or anything like that. It’s just that whatever I write, I realize it’s garbage and I don’t want to have my name associated with it. And that bring’s up an important point.

Too often, writers let their pride or their determination to get something out there get the better of them. The throw out garbage thinking their public (audience) will accept anything and everything they write. Such writers think poorly of their audience.

We’ve all see terrible movies or TV shows where we wish we could take a foam rubber bat to the writer of that movie or show. And that also applies to novels and short stories.

I once encountered a serious detective novel where the killer turned out to be from another planet. Sort of like in Predator. But the authorities, when they discovered the alien killer, were not shocked or scared at all. Certainly the mercenaries in Predator  (and later, the cops in Predator 2) were terrified and awed by the aliens. But the good guys in this really bad detective novel just took it in stride. What a waste of money. My money!

Suspension of disbelief is what every writer depends upon for fiction. While the reader or viewer is willing to put a halt on their doubt and cynicism and just accept a story, far-fetched or not, a writer can get away with almost anything. But throw in something that makes no sense at all, like an alien killer in something that’s not supposed to be science fiction, and especially when you’re not writing a parody or a comedy, and the reader says something like “yuck,” shit,” or “WTF!” (though I prefer, “What the hell!”, you can get better pitch and volume screaming “… hell!” than you can with the more guttural “,,, fuck!”), then you’ve lost your audience.

So, while this is a rather bland and boring post, it’s a lot better than a large bucket full of excrement. Besides, it’s too hot today (108 degrees fahrenheit) to get too excited about anything.

I’m just going to go back to binge-watching “The 100” or else “Longmire”.

Maybe I’ll find something better to say next time.

See you out there.

Words and Meanings

We all know how  many of words can change. For instance, the word “gay”. Until the latter part of the 20th Century, it meant joyful, giddy, extremely happy. Now, perhaps rightly so, it refers to happy homosexual men.

Likewise, look at the word “cool”. Musicians were using that as early as the first decade of the 20th Century. It meant something like “fantastic” or “wonderful” or “outstanding” or all of these meanings plus “unique.” However, look at is replacements. First it was “sick” and now it’s “dope”. In my opinion, neither of those are as cool as COOL. Maybe someday we’ll use “green”, first introduced to us by Ruby Rod in “The Fifth Element”. Now that was a cool movie.

Another change in meaning is “Divine Service”. Nineteenth Century religions writer Mary Baker Eddy once wrote “It is sad that the phrase ‘Divine Service’ has come so generally to mean public worship instead of daily deeds.” She referred to good deeds, of course. She was aware of how religions were co-opted by selfish thought instead of focusing on how they could do good through acts of kindness, love, forgiveness, generosity, and inclusiveness.

Words have meanings. I have mentioned that before. A science fiction story written in either the 1930s or 1940s envisioned people living in the 21st Century in “condoms” rather than “condos.” How unfortunate for that writer.

Similarly, in a science fiction novel I wrote, “Sky Knights”, about fighter pilots hundreds of years from now, my pilots used the word “vape” in reference to vaporizing the enemy plasma weapons. Often they’d say “vape you” rather than “fuck you”. Now vaping has a whole different meaning.

Shit.

So, if you’re thinking of creating new words, like Shakespeare did, or giving new meanings to current words, watch out. Somebody else might come along and co-opt your words into entirely different meanings. At best, people will just laugh at you and at worst, hate you.

Almost everyone knows the cliche, “Like a bump on a log,” referring to inflexible thought or unwillingness to change. I once tried to come up with a new phrase while talking to some people. I said, “You’re like little sticky brown balls of mud on the bottom of a river, unable or unwilling to move with the current.”

What was the reaction of my audience? White people and black people alike began screaming at me, calling me a racist. Apparently, all they heard was the phrase “brown balls”. It got them moving, united even. But they were moving after me. Some of them even wanted to sue me. And one woman got me kicked out of the Society I was in. And all because I dared to be different. I shouldn’t have used the word “brown”. But as a writer, I wanted to be descriptive for clarity’s sake.

The lesson I learned from this? You never know how people are going to react, so be careful what you write or say.

See you out there.

 

Sometimes You Just Gotta Get Up and Write

A couple of nights back, as I was going to bed, I began getting ideas for the novel I’ve been writing. Usually, when this happens I just quickly write them down and then go to sleep. But this time, lines of dialogue were coming to me. So I got up and went out to where my laptop sleeps when I’m sleeping. I woke it up and began writing.

My fingers literally flew over the keys. Even so, it took me two hours to write the scenes and dialogue. It was two hours well spent. The down side was, I lost two hours of sleep.

The next day, by afternoon, I was too sleepy to do anything, I had yard work to do and more writing and research to accomplish. Instead, I climbed into my recliner, planning on a power nap. But I couldn’t seem to wake up. Every fifteen or twenty minutes, I awakened wanting to rise and get to my writing. Yet I couldn’t get up. So my afternoon went. Four hours of sleep with a few minutes here and there of trying to get up but feeling too lethargic to do so.

I needed sleep. It’s too bad there’s not twenty-six hours in the day. Oh, well, it’s all good.

See you out there.

Long Posts are not Always Good Posts

If you been following my blog, you’ll know I kind of a preachy person. It’s what I am, I guess. But it’s only because I love writing so much and want people to do their best, and more, when they’re writing.

So, in this short and I hope, less preachy post, I want to address the qualities of a good writer.

Essentially, it just comes down to adjectives. People will say a good imagination is an important quality, and I agree with that. But dedication is also important. If you’re not dedicated to your writing, who will be? Likewise, dedication keeps you going, even when you wonder if your writing’s any good or people judge you and condemn you as being a hack or a terrible writer.

Along with dedication comes hopefulness. Not just hopefulness for riches or validation, but hopefulness that readers will enjoy your writing.

And lastly, commitment. Commitment is similar to dedication, but commitment also applies to learning everything you can about writing. Learning helps you to grow and growth is what good writing is all about.

So, that’s it for now.

See you out there.

What Cannot a Writer Do?

You’ve probably been told that all the things that happen to you as a writer, good or bad, you can write about. You’ve also probably been told that people who treat you badly should be careful because you, as a writer, can reveal to the world, through fact or fiction, how you’ve  been mistreated.

Well, both of these statements are true. However, the second statement comes with conditions and consequences.

For instance, someone verbally and emotionally abuses you at work. So you want to write a story talking about that. Fine. Don’t use anyone’s real name. Why? Because if it’s printed, which includes Ebooks and paper books, as well as audio books, and film and television,  it’s slander. And slandering someone in fact or fiction, where it’s “printed”, becomes libel. And slanderous and libelous works can be sued.

Likewise, even if you don’t use the person’s real name but describe him or her too well, for instance “he was short and fat, his cheeks puffy and red all the time, his nose was bent towards his right eye, his hair was cut short, he grunted as he talked, he smirked more than smiled, when he walked, it was as a cowboy walked, bow-legged…” if that’s a fairly accurate description of your bully or abuser,  you’re screwed.

See, in a criminal case, the prosecution has to prove motive and guilt. But in a civil case, such as a lawsuit, the opposing counsel only has to prove intent. If you actually intended to punish this person for his or her treatment of you, your abuser could quite possibly sue you for everything you own, and maybe much more. You could spend the rest of your life paying off your legal debt.

You might think or say, “What’s the good of writing if I can’t get even with my enemies?” Well, let’s consider this for a moment. You might have heard the phrase, “don’t get mad, get even!” But what’s the good of that? Does it make you feel better about yourself? That you’ve defeated or destroyed your persecutor? That you’ve proven that you’re better than him/her?

Well, maybe it does. But so what? What good have you done?

Actually, all it creates is a circle of revenge and getting even. If you punish your persecutor, doesn’t he or she feel persecuted by you and might seek to do the same to you? In the Middle East, in Africa, in South America, and Asia, you have these feuds (even everywhere in the world) that go back generations, if not hundreds or thousands of years.  Is getting even really worth it.

If a family member, your mother perhaps, or a sibling, or one of your children, slighted you, would you spend your whole life trying to get even? And if you did get even, wouldn’t they feel justified in doing the same to you? What are you willing to sacrifice for revenge?

Okay, maybe we’re spending too much time talking philosophy here. The point is, writers cannot blatantly punish someone. If you don’t like President Trump, or President Obama or President George Bush or his daddy, or Clinton or Nixon or JFK or Lincoln or George Washington, you cannot just make them into bad guys or portray them in bastardly ways. Somewhere, they’ll have family members, or organizations, that hold any one of them in high esteem and they can sue you for slander.

Is getting even worth owing millions of dollars that you can never pay off? Wouldn’t it be better to write a story that portrays the kind of abuse you’ve suffered and someway of dealing with it, where the character or characters rise above it? Where they made a better life for themselves rather than remaining victims all their lives?

But, of course, don’t make the villain resemble in any way your own abuser or abusers.

As writers, we are all enamored of becoming famous, of being recognized, of making money and maybe of gaining riches and fans and whatever else we dream of. But writing is so much more than that. It’s more than living the adventures through our characters that we want to live. Writing has social responsibility to it.

Writing can reveal the best in us and the worst in us. Writing can help heal individuals and societies, or at least start that healing.

So many people today want to be Social Justice warriors, but too many of them are hung up in their own fears and hatreds. Many of them just want to get even. But writing can help shape societies and world views.

However, it takes dedication to change the world. And not just dedication, but good thinking, good writing, good editing, and humility. But so many writers get stuck on themselves. They fall in love with themselves. They think that people will read whatever they write, regardless if it’s just pure trash.

It takes courage, character, integrity, maturity, and wisdom to be an effective Social Justice writer. Think of Charles Dickens. Most people don’t think of him as a Social Justice warrior. They think of him in relation to his novel, “A Christmas Carol.” But he wrote of the failings of the early Industrial Revolution and how people were getting left behind by it in stories such as “Oliver Twist”, “Great Expectations”, and even “A Christmas Carol”. And he wrote about the horrors of the French Revolution in “A Tale of Two Cities.”

And then there’s Erich Maria Remarque, a German soldier who survived World War One and wrote of his experiences in “All Quiet on the Western Front”, quite possibly the finest war novel ever written.

And consider H. G. Wells, who wrote “The Invisible Man”, about a researcher who invents a serum that makes him invisible and how he commits the most horrendous crimes because no one can prove that he did them. Wells’ main theme is how absolute power corrupts absolutely through invisibility. Leaders can send out killers to do their dirty work, commit assassinations and no one’s the wiser.

And consider “Valley of the Dolls” written back in the 1960s, about young actresses in Hollywood and the drugs and sexual encounters they have while trying to become stars. It’s not just about sex, it’s about how these young women were used and abused in the search for fame..

There are dozens, maybe even hundreds of books like that. “Doctor Zhivago” isn’t just about love and romance, it’s about the Russian Revolution and its horrors.

The thing that disappoints me the most is that the most common story line in American fiction is the revenge tale. As Americans, we’ve come to believe that getting even is our national and personal right. Even romance novels have revenge tales in them.

In the Summer of 2016, all those shootings of police officers in the Midwest were people getting even. They felt either that it was their God-given right, or as Social Justice warriors, they had obligation to punish others for wrongs that weren’t necessarily done to them.

It’s said that Americans glorify violence. In fact, we glorify revenge.  And the irony is, that even as we glorify it for ourselves, even as we’re getting even with someone, someone else may be planning to get even with us.

Maybe the idea I’m really writing about in this post isn’t so much about getting even or not, or slander or not, but being mindful of the consequences of what we do as writers. We can influence readers, good or bad, and we’re all guilty, we’re all dirty, when we disregard the impact our words can have on others just so we can make money or have a good time.

See you out there.

Best Reason not to Blog

I’ve managed to write and/or blog through most illnesses, but when you have a cold and spend three days sneezing and coughing, the last thing you want to do is sit within range of your laptop and constantly alternate between wiping your nose clean and wiping your laptop clean. You don’t want to sit closer than five feet from any screen whatsoever.

I’m better now. Will blog more later.

The Hard Part

I recently completed two good chapters for my western novel, “Ryder Mann”. They had good characterizations, good conflict, and involved a certain amount of humor and a certain amount of revelations about my two main characters. But later,  I realized that these chapters had to go.

And I told my wife so.

She asked me why? With such good work, shouldn’t you keep them?

I replied, They don’t belong.

She asked, Do they advance the story?

I said, No. They distract from it.

So she suggested I create a file for the chapters and keep them, in case I could use some aspect later on. So I did.

But why get rid of them? Well, like I stated, they distract from the story.

See, conflict in all fiction is necessary and important. So is character development. And so is character revelation. But even if they all work together, if they decrease the tempo, as these two chapters did, they don’t fit.

Constructing a good story is like building a Lego design. There are eight-peg rectangular blocks. There are six-peg rectangles. There are 4-peg square blocks. There are sixteen-peg blocks and twenty-peg blocks. There are circular-wheel blocks. There are one-peg blocks, two-peg blocks, six-peg narrow blocks, and a whole lot more blocks and pieces. And when constructing a design, they only fit a certain way.

Now, there are designs, like castles and cars and boats and what-not, that come with their own pre-designed plans. But for something that you’re building from your own imagination, without pre-designed plans, some things just don’t fit. Building a life-sized Darth Vader or Imperial Storm trooper without a previously prepared design is difficult enough, without going off on a tangent.

The great thing about free styling with Lego is it teaches you how to use your imagination, how to figure things out, how to see without seeing, how to know what works and what doesn’t. It develops both puzzle-solving skills and editing skills.

And just like building a free style Lego design, writing fiction is the same way. You start with one block, or paragraph, and you put in another and another. Sometimes they fit and sometimes they don’t.

But the hard part, the truly hard part, is having the personal strength to let go of things that don’t fit. To know when they don’t fit and to discard them because of that.

There are lots and lots of stories that are overdone, over written. It happens in journalism, it happens in television news, it happens in movies, it happens in fiction. I know, personally, because I’ve over written quite a few stories, and a fair number college essays.

But, like I said, the true strength is being able to excise what doesn’t belong.

Lately, the for the last few years, I’ve used up precious time letting myself get lost on a tangent that does little for the story I’m writing. It does’t matter how strong of an outline I create, I get lost. But more importantly, I find my way back.

So, what I suggest is that you have the courage to know when to let go. Whatever your relationship with your character is, just like in real life, you have to have the courage to let go, to say goodbye. To fire the characters or actors who don’t fit and don’t work out.

See you out there.