Swimming Upstream

Some cliches are cliches for a reason.

I reflect on this occasionally as I write, as one should be aware of cliches and avoid them, but at other times I can’t help noticing that they occasionally ring true.

Of late I’ve been acutely aware of the cliche of the tortured artist.

How often is the old story trotted out, of the writer or painter or what have you that is a troubled soul, mired in depression, eventually succumbing to suicide or romantically wasting away from a fashionable disease?

Yeah, that one.

The thing is, how many writers rather famously suffered from, specifically, depression?

It’s a bit galling to find yourself playing out the cliche, but such is life.

Annoyingly, depression seems common amongst our ilk, and it rather rudely often has no “reason” for its intrusion. Life is good, life is great, everything is falling into a nice rhythm, there’s plans in the works, places to go, people to see, parties to attend and I just don’t want to get out of bed this week.

Having been on this particular ride all too often, I’ve learned to recognize and deal with the signs when I start circling the drain, and have been, as I told a friend, trying to “swim upstream.”

It’s not easy. It’s an active process of making myself go out, get moving, get up, eat, be social, and in general forcing myself to do something other than what I’m inclined to do–lay on the couch drinking and letting myself go with the flow on down the spiral.

Fortunately I’m blessed with a spouse who doesn’t take my morose nature personally, and friends who are greatly supportive in my efforts to stymie the slide.

Counting my blessings isn’t a thing that always helps, but it doesn’t hurt either.

 

Advertisements

Sloshed Saturday

I’ve been neglecting the blog, though it’s for reasonable excuses.

The problem is, there are always reasonable excuses. Always reasons to not write, always things that are important, always things that distract and delay. I will therefore endeavor to not let those things interfere unless I am physically unable to update my blog, which will be the case in mid-October when I’ll be in Europe. Until then…

My apologies.

Tonight’s subject… Writing is hard.

Non writers don’t quite understand this, but any of you reading who are writers of any genre or type know what I’m talking about.

Ideas sometimes cascade from the heavens (in my case usually in the shower) like beautiful gifts from above. Other times they have to be unearthed from the ground like fossils, requiring painstaking and tedious effort. But ideas are arguably the easiest part.

My problem is finishing things. I’m truly terrible at it unless I have some sort of looming penalty for if I don’t, and even then it’s sometimes a struggle. I have trouble finishing a bloody video game, much less a novel. I’ve lost track of the number of games I haven’t finished, books I haven’t read, projects I’ve petered out in the middle of, and of course writing that languishes half-realized.

I’ll write quite feverishly on a piece, and then set it aside, ostensibly to return at a later date and complete it, and oftentimes that’s where it stays. On my hard drive. In the oubliette, where writing goes to be forgotten about.

All hope is not lost, however.

At the current juncture I’m attempting to apply lessons learned in The War Of Art by Steven Pressfield. It’s a slim volume that I highly recommend, and it has a place of honor alongside Steven King’s On Writing in my library. It doesn’t make writing less hard, but it does help greatly to teach one to push past the wall (or if you’re an Oatmeal reader, the writing equivalent of the Blerch).

I realize I have been remiss in both writing and blogging and I do hope to remedy this.

Ta

–M

Microfiction Monday

Bleeding into sloshed Saturday/Sunday because it’s been quite the week.

We were fools.

No surprise there. The collected knowledge of mankind can’t much compare to strange eons of things we aren’t meant to comprehend, but we did think we had a handle on some things. Our stories were rife with warnings. Don’t open the strange book. Don’t speak aloud the spell. Don’t open the creepy tomb. Don’t go poking around in things you can’t understand. Don’t summon entities bigger than your head.

Well. In our collective arrogance we forgot that things that last have a propensity for change. In the end we forgot a warning we should heed, because it never occurred to us that things would adapt. That they would change.

So I say to you, far, far too late.

Don’t click the link.

Sloshed Saturday

Missed Writing Wednesday due to extreme laziness.

However, considering I’ve been imbibing, it seemed an opportune time to put in a Sloshed Saturday post. Happy 4th of July, all, I hope it was enjoyable.

Lazy writing.

I’ve been thinking about this off and on. As a consumer and occasional contributor to TVTropes.org, I have an obvious interest in themes and shortcuts; the language of fiction is rife with such things. The Hero, the Villain, the Sudden but Inevitable Betrayal… Tropes can be used beautifully in the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing, someone who is skilled, and can tread lightly on ground already packed tight by many feet… to torture the metaphor.

There are, however, tropes I rarely see used well. But of course people try. Ad nauseum. So here’s my thoughts on lazy writing.

Rule 1: don’t kill the pet.

No, really. Just don’t do it. Yes. It’s been done effectively. Yes, Neil Gaiman has done it and he’s not a lazy writer. However. 9 times out of 10, it’s cheap. It’s a shorthand to pull at emotions that the writer can’t quite reach genuinely. It’s a gut punch the writer pulls just out of pure laziness when they can’t muster up any other way to make their audience react. Can’t seem to figure out how to engage your readers/watchers/etc? Animal cruelty!

Just.

Stop.

9 times out of 10 you’ve just lost readers. Your pointless attempt at making them feel something has made them feel something all right–that you’re a lazy hack who’s not very creative.

Sound harsh? Good. Most people need to stop this shit.

Here’s why it’s lazy: many of us won’t admit it outright, but it’s easier to feel sympathy for animals than people much of the time. An innocent pet, a loving dog, a soft cat, a quiet bunny… we can’t do the mental gymnastics necessary to tell ourselves they sort of deserved it. They’re innocents. Therefore it’s a lazy option to garner our outrage, having your totally evil no really character kill them just for the evulz. This is the point at which you often lose my interest. If you can’t make me care without resorting to cheap shots, why should I continue reading your story? Clearly you don’t care, why should I?

I’ll refrain from mentioning things by name. I don’t want to become embroiled in drama. But mark my words.

It is the rare individual that can carry this off without coming off as crass and lazy.

The other thing I’m going to put into this category is rape as drama/backstory/etc.

Yes, absolutely this can work as something in a piece of fiction. But it’s something that must be handled very, very carefully. And oh so many are not up to the challenge. Oh so many come off as cheap sensationalist showboating, and quite tiresome not to mention misogynistic. Because let’s be honest, the number of men raped in fiction is minuscule compared to women, and scenes involving men are pretty much never sexualized. And, considering statistics, you’ve probably alienated a lot of your audience if you treat it as some sort of drama. And much of the time lazy writers use that as the only thing that could possibly develop a female character. It’s really quite off-putting.

And please don’t give me the historical accuracy argument. Dysentery is historically accurate too, but I don’t see loving wordcounts devoted to that in popular fiction.

The point is, try to be creative for the love of Cthulhu. Stop snagging on the lazy and easy and cheap. This is a plea not only to fledgling writers but established ones who will likely never see this blog. Just please, stop being so bland and predictable and infuriating. Don’t kill the pet, don’t do the rape story, don’t force the outrage. It’s not only lazy, it’s frankly insulting to your readers unless you’re some sort of god of writing and have a lot more going for your story and characters than that.

Here’s the test: if you can make something compelling without either of those things, think long and hard about whether or not you need it in the first place.

If you can’t, you’re lazy and need to work much, much harder.

This has just been a splattering of my opinion, but I stand by my advice.

–M

The Road To Hell

In which I pave my way with good intentions.

I’m a bit new to this professional blogging thing, and am cognizant of the importance of keeping it up, should I wish it to be anything useful in my writing career. And so, I find myself considering a schedule of sorts, something to force me to use this space as regularly as is feasible. Thus, my intentions are to put up at least one post a week, and hopefully more.

The tentative schedule:

Monday: Microfiction Monday, in which I post very short writing bits. Appetizers if you will.

Wednesday: Writing Wednesday, as I muse about the craft, habits, struggles, and writers I admire.

Saturday/Sunday: Sloshed Saturday (or Sunday), in which I post about whatever’s on my mind; movies, music, tv, etc that relates to my own projects, or crosses my mind as I may or may not be fully sober.

The goal is to hit one of these a week, at least. On a good week I might even get all three.

Writers, however, are notorious liars, and when you combine that with other creative pursuits, well, any and all claims I make to being responsible and dependable ought to be looked at askance and taken with perhaps several grains of salt.

–M

What’s in a name?

As this is the first entry, I thought it appropriate to discuss a subject of much interest to me, and incidentally of much frustration.

Titles.

How to sum up the whole of a game, book, blog, or even short story in something succinct, memorable, and interesting? How to grab the attention of a reader or player who might be casually paging through looking for something to tempt their palate?

Damned hard is what it is. At least for me.

Sentences, paragraphs, concepts, that’s the easy part. When it comes to the flag to wave, I agonize. That’s why it took so long to start my blog; a suitable title was ever out of reach. So, I did what I so often do when I’m trapped with no idea how to move forward… I looked to the gods of my idolatry.

Shadow Truths comes from a quote by my primary source of inspiration, Neil Gaiman.

“Things need not have happened to be true. Tales and dreams are the shadow-truths that will endure when mere facts are dust and ashes, and forgot.”

Sometimes, titles come easily to me. My fantasy novel (in progress… slow and ploddingly) had a title before I even began it. Other projects are far more difficult to quantify. A title, in the end, is the distillation of the thing. A perfect label that holds the essence of your brainchild.

But like so many labels, titles are only one facet of the thing they are plastered upon. Unfortunately, as in life, though a label is not the thing, so often a thing is considered its label.

This is why I often leave titles for last. How can I know the essence of a thing before it’s come to fruition? I slap a label on it to keep it in a computer file so I know what I’m working on, but I’ve never been the sort of parent who can name their child before they’re born. This has the unfortunate consequence of having me get through half a story before I realize my hero has the exact wrong name at times, but that’s why god made find and replace on word processors.

And so in the end, as I ramble in my possibly absinthe-fueled state, when I distilled what I wished to say, what I wished my blog to mean and to be… as so often happens one of my heroes said it better than I could hope to at this juncture.

Welcome to my shadow truths. I do hope you find something in my tales and dreams that resonates with you.