(Fear The) Fear The Walking Dead

Hello world.

No preamble today, as time is of the essence.

I don’t like Zombies. I don’t like Zombie movies. I don’t like Zombie books. That’s me. But there are a couple of exceptions. Among the very few is the series “The walking dead“. Continue reading

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About Those Resolutions

Hello 2016, Goodbye 2015, Happy New Year everyone!

I’m here to confess another little tidbit. I’m an amateur guitar player. I’m very serious about being an amateur, I’ve been doing this for close to 30 years now. Never had the time, nor the inclination to become professional about this either. It’s too much practice if we want to get down to it, and quite frankly, I am not one to play for a crowd of any kind, so why bother? So yeah, I can pull off some pretty nice tunes (rhythm guitar, forget solos), but that’s just for me, myself and I.

It’s a real kick for me to succeed in playing a riff I like. If I can pull it off, it doesn’t really matter if it’s just part of a song with 10 more riffs. It’s about the chord progression. If I can make it from chord 1 to chord 3, or 8 or whatever without messing it up, I’m satisfied. Those in my immediate proximity might be very irritated until that happens, but what can you do…

Great chord progressions start somewhere, go through some turmoil and can only end with a resolution. You might not understand what I’m saying, but trust me, every riff you like is resolved one way or the other. It’s that chord, or note that let’s you release that breath you were holding. That final note that, only once played, a new progression starts. It’s the progression of different notes that takes you on an emotional ride and the resolution is the satisfying end. It could very well be a surprise, but it is absolutely satisfying.

Stories are like chord progressions. They too, have a beginning, middle and end. They too, take you on an emotional ride, and… yes, they too, should be resolved in a satisfying way.

What does it mean to resolve a story?

Well, stories (good ones) are based – in a nut shell – on the gap between what a character wants, and the hand that life deals her. That creates problems. These problems need to be resolved by the time we put the book down.

Otherwise, we remain frustrated.

Note, that I keep using the terms “resolve” and “satisfy“. These absolutely do not mean that every problem is resolved to our hero’s best interests. It does not mean a “happy end” and it does not even mean our hero stays alive…

It only means that every question raised during this emotional ride gets answered in a logical (logical within the story) and believable way. No loose ends. No little sub plot left hanging. No “leave it to the readers” as in – let them write the end of the story. Yeah, an end might leave things for the reader to ponder, but it’s up to the writer to answer the main questions, to show how each story line ends – even if the end is not absolute (say, a couple gets married – we don’t necessarily have to know if they stay together or have kids [Only if it’s directly tied to an open story question]).

Think about the best books you’ve read. They may differ in many ways, from style to subject matter. One thing I absolutely guarantee they have in common – being great – is that they are all resolved with a satisfying ending.

I sincerely hope that 2015 is ending in a very satisfying way for all of you – and this time I do mean a happy ending. Let’s all ride into the sunset with the loot and the girl, and live happily ever after.

Happy 2016 everyone,

 

Two Faces Of The Same Coin

Welcome back folks,

Hope you’re well on your way to get all your holiday shopping done (cause God knows it ain’t about the holiday anymore…). If you got a minute, I’d like to let you in on a little (not very secretive) secret.

I like the bad guys in books and movies.

I have nothing against a good hero (as have been documented on this blog, more than once… Or twice…), but as likable, capable or strong as the on-screen good guys are, the protagonist is only as good as the antagonist makes him. Want to test this theory? Let’s look at some of the best protagonists:

  • Clarice Starling / Hannibal Lecter – How good is Jodie Foster’s character in this story? You got it. As good as Anthony Hopkins’.
  • We sure loved Jack Nicholson’s McMurphy as opposed by Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher).
  • Dr. Richard Kimble was framed and threatened by some devious men, making his flight and fight far more interesting.

We could run down the imdb database for hours here, but instead I wanted to talk about one “bad guy” in particular. Well, “bad guy” is not really doing him justice. He’d prefer “Outlaw“, or if you insist, a man living truly by his own set of rules.

Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins)

crowder1

(Image credit: http://www.breitbart.com)

I love Raylan Givens’s character. I love Timothy Oliphant’s job as the Marshal. But try to imagine this with a lesser rival than Boyd. Not only is this a match made in TV heaven, a phenomenal casting job. It is first, and foremost a well crafted character.

A villain can be extremely malicious, cruel, even psychotic. He can be a megalomaniac, demonic and a generally nefarious prick. But every once in a while, you find a villain who is not as extreme. In fact, sometimes, the better villain is someone who is just bad enough to oppose our hero but not very far at all.

The reason I love Boyd Crowder as an antagonist (again, with all credit to Walton Goggins) is that when things are said and done, he is Raylan’s childhood friend. He is a lot like Raylan in many ways (least of which is his attitude towards “norms”). He is nothing if not your normal small town Joe. Sure, he’ll go outside of the law to achieve his goals, and do some really bad things in the process. But not only does he truly believe what he does is right (my favorite kind of villain – a villain who thinks he’s not one), he always play right around the line between right and wrong. Is he hurting people? Yes. Is he looking to hurt people? No. Stay out of his way and you’ll be fine.

Put a Hero who’s all of the above, just inside the confines of law, and you have conflict, but with so much room for story development. These guys can interact in ways that others can’t (not believably anyway). You have freedom to explore developments which may put these rivals on the same side of a fight, while putting their own rivalry “on-hold”.

The amount of banter gold (see a few samples below) couldn’t have possibly be written in, unless there was a significant familiarity and shared experience (and shared partners).

Justified – one of my all time favorite TV shows – ended aptly, with these two friends doing what friends do. Sit down for a chat. There was no real need for these two to go out guns a blazing. It was never their weapon of choice anyway. Raylan might be the fastest gunslinger east of the Mississippi and Boyd was an explosive expert, but what they got, they normally did by using their deep well of words.

And on that note, allow me to end this post by sharing some of these words (credit: imdb.com):

Raylan Givens: I’m Raylan Givens!
Boyd Crowder: No, I’m Raylan Givens!
Raylan Givens: Are you trying to be funny?
Boyd Crowder: A little.

Another one:

Raylan Givens: You didn’t happen to bring your rocket launcher, did you?
Boyd Crowder: I didn’t think to pack one.

Another:

Boyd Crowder: Truth always sounds like lies to a sinner.

And another:

Boyd Crowder: Well if my survival is a happy bi-product of my selfless act, so be it.

One last time…

Raylan Givens: Well, I suppose if I allow myself to be sentimental, despite all that has occurred, there is one thing I wander back to.
Boyd Crowder: We dug coal together.
Raylan Givens: That’s right.

Boyd Crowder: We dug coal together.

If you haven’t watched Justified, too bad. Go watch it. Now.

Until next time,


Guest Post – “Writing: Agony Or Ecstasy?” by Christina Ranallo

Happy Monday everyone!

Today, I want to share a motivational post, written by my friend Christina Ranallo of PenPaperWrite. No further preamble necessary. Here it is:

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Raymond Carver said:

“Writing’s not terrible, it’s wonderful. I keep my own hours, do what I please. When I want to travel, I can. I’m doing what I most wanted to do all my life. I’m not into the agonies of creation. “

So why is it that so many writers show up at our writer’s groups with pained expressions when they talk about the craft Carver anointed as wonderful, liberating and life fulfilling?

Did they miss something?

Carver makes writing sound like a dream come true but for the majority of new writers the dream is often a nightmare and it looks like this:

“I keep rewriting and rewriting.”

“I don’t know where to start”.

“I never seem to finish anything.”

Then there is the agony masked by logistics:

“I can only write a paragraph a day because I work.”

“I have no place to write.”

“My family doesn’t understand that I want to write.”,

“I have an old computer” and the list goes on.

Raymond Carver’s casual dismissal of suffering for the sake of creation hides a life filled with obstacles that one would argue caused more than mild upsets along the writer’s path to success.

Carver’s life as a writer started out as a teenage father submitting stories for cash to help ally financial difficulties. In his own words from a Paris Review interview (1983):

“Nobody ever asked me to be a writer. But it was tough to stay alive and pay bills and put food on the table and at the same time to think of myself as a writer and to learn to write.”

Carver turned to drinking full-time, abused his wife, cheated on her and finally got sober, and remarried less than two months before his death from cancer at fifty years old.

Doesn’t sound agony free to me.

The point is Raymond Carver saw writing as wonderful. He saw it as liberating and life fulfilling. Take this as a lesson in focus. Facing obstacles in a matter of fact way leaves writing a path all it’s own.

Whatever task it takes to bring your words to the page do it. Whatever excuses stop you from writing, discard them.

If people tell you that you can’t write, ignore them.

At the end of Raymond Carver’s short story Cathedral a blind man asks the narrator to close his eyes and draw a cathedral.

In the end all creation comes from the same place; the idea waiting to be born, to see the light. How difficult it is to bring that idea into the world is up to you. Avoid the agony or embrace it, either way it’s up to you, the writer to find the wonder.

It’s worth it. Writing is worth it.

Christina

QUESTION: Is there agony in your creative process?

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Can you answer that question?

If you’re a writer, or want to be one, you would’ve drawn some strength from these wise words 🙂

If you liked this, please make sure you visit www.penpaperwrite.com and see how it can help you (I know it can).

See you soon with a post all of my own.

Someone Call Billie Joe Armstrong

Hi everyone.

Not sure why, but this September has been very slow on this here blog. Well, I do have some pretty convincing reasons, not the least of which is being a busy little bee, plotting a novel. I also, you know, work and otherwise committed to householdy things, so there’s that. But even if I did have the time to sit and actually write a post, it seems like my brain (or that  part of it in charge of coming up with things to say) was as foggy as the Georgia skies have been these past weeks.

And so, I find myself humming Green day’s tune “Wake me up when September ends”.

Although the original video for this song can be considered a leading candidate for “cheesiest video in history” award, the lyrics say something else. They talk about transformation, which is what we’re here to talk about.

Quick shout-out before we continue to Christina, whose workshop – the 60/60 method is as good as it gets. A real eye opener!

I rarely “promote” anything, so when I do, you should know it’s something of real value. Not your usual “come see what a great writer I am” scheme. This is the real deal folks. Ask me and I’ll say (a lot) more.

The reason I bring this up is that I was reminded again, that transformation is THE heart of our writing adventure.

It’s pretty clear that the most significant lines in this song are:

Here comes the rain again
Falling from the stars
Drenched in my pain again
Becoming who we are

Change is not easy (Well, no shit Sherlock). But transformation, a real change that make one who s/he turns out to be? That – in most cases – involves pain. It could be an agonizing, seemingly unbearable pain, or a sudden jolt. It could last a long time, or not. But while sitting comfortably, we rarely come to any real revelation. Why would we? If we’re nice and cozy – what’s the motivation?

That’s true in fiction to an even greater extent.

If in real life, the pain can vary depending on the individual and their tolerance, in fiction we simply can’t settle for anything less than dramatic. Losing a job in this day and age could be extremely difficult and bring about severe repercussions. That would be a heart wrenching story. In a newspaper article.

In a book, losing one’s job (and I am generalizing here) doesn’t quite cut it. As opposed to real life, where we wish everyone a smooth journey to happiness, as writers of fiction, we cannot expect a reader to accept a transformation based on something less than dramatic. Nor can the reader accept a transformation based on a single event as tragic as it is.

Come to think about it, there’s a lot to be said about real life transformations, in comparison to fiction. But that is for another post.

Just like Billie Joe, some things must come to pass and our hero must be drenched in pain before emerging, renewed.

  • How was your life transformed?
  • How was you your hero’s?

Let me know what you think and otherwise feel free to comment and share the pain.

That’s all for today, wake me up when September ends.

Jane Austen, Feedback and Sainthood (Among others)

Hello and welcome back folks.

After reading through two posts that correspond to each other, I’m compelled to throw in my 2 cents. I’m not speaking from any kind of authority on writing (or anything else for that matter), and that is an important disclaimer to make, as by the end of this post I’d like the reader to reflect on the essence of writing, the value of feedback and “Sainthood”.

The post that started it all is “If Jane Austen Got Feedback From Some Guy In A Writing Workshop” by Shannon Reed on BuzzFeed, in which the author presents a fictional person, giving fictional feedback to Jane Austen on “Pride and prejudice“.

Well, there is an inherent flaw with this theoretical post. It is that the author supposes that an individual will give Austen this particular feedback. Can another author propose an entirely different kind of feedback? Would it not serve the post better to pose that opposite kind of feedback as an alternative?

Now, I know that the author simply meant to use this as an example for feedback that is, in fact given to writers these days at workshops around the world, and to be honest, I’ve seen that kind of feedback, among many others in various forums.

On top of this post by Shannon Reed, another post was written. “Jane Austen, Programming Languages, and Being “That Guy” in the Writing Class” by The Incompetent Writer.

In this post, the author elaborates on the types of feedback coming from different groups of people, and proposes a reasoning that could be compared with choosing a programming language. I found the post very interesting and the comparison refreshing. But I still have a couple of things to say on the matter.

Both posts revere Jane Austen’s text. Why should they not? The numbers don’t lie. “Pride and prejudice” doesn’t just stand the test of time. It passes with flying colors and a parade. The same could be said for other masters of the craft. For me, enough cannot be said for Isaac Asimov, or Robert Silverberg.

But let me raise a couple of questions:

Is it possible that, somewhere in this universe, exists a person who dislike Asimov’s writing? I know. Shocking. Could there be someone who dislikes… wait for it… Jane Austen’s?

Another question with your permission – Once a writer finished a novel and published it. Does that make it perfect?

Let us leave these questions open and get back to the workshop.

I guess it really depends on which workshop one attends, and I will replace the word “workshop” with the word “forum” because I suspect we all have a varying definition of what a workshop is. I’ve been to a few, none of which even resembled the experience as described in the two referenced posts.

So, to use a person who I do see as an authority on writing – Stephen King – I think great value can come from feedback. A writer can benefit greatly from other eyeballs reading his text. To follow-up on the comparison to programmingpeer reviews are a very common and positive tool to improve code quality, efficiency and best practice.

Does one have to get that feedback in the form of a workshop? Of course not. Anyway, I think that workshops serve different goals (but that’s another discussion). But feedback should be provided by “other people“. We can call that forums, as it varies between each one of us. Some value the feedback coming from a single individual, others choose a group of people, and so on.

Who can provide feedback? Anyone the writer asks… who’s qualified to give feedback? Anyone the writer asks… Does the provider of said feedback have to be in possession of an academic degree? Does one have to be a successful and prolific writer? Personally I think the answer to both is – no. I know a great many who love Jane Austen without publishing as much as a line of text anywhere.

How should feedback be provided? Well there are two rules in my book:

1. Respectfully. Do not provide feedback on the writer. Provide feedback on the writing.

2. Make it meaningful. “Your work sucks!” is almost as inconsequential as “Your work is great!”.

Other than that, it’s a free country baby.

What do we do with the feedback? This is the real question.

One can listen to the feedback given, smile politely and decide to completely ignore it. Absolutely nothing wrong with that.

One can listen and decide based on the feedback, if that makes sense to him/her and make whatever change he/she deems necessary.

Either way, the responsibility is the writer’s and the writer’s only.

So what about Jane Austen and “Pride and prejudice“? My problem with the use of “Saints” is that by making them so, we essentially set an artificial bar of writing. Even in the best books I read, by the best authors both alive and dead, I see things I think should have been done differently. Do I throw the book in disgust? Of course not. But to say that Jane Austen, Stephen King or even William Shakespeare are beyond criticism is not how I see art. Nor would I accept comparisons such as “who’s a better writer?“. To me, good story telling is good story telling. Whether the telling is done by Isaac Asimov or John Grisham. Who I’d rather read is pretty much my artistic taste and it is as subjective as anyone’s.

These 2 cents were not meant to negate the other referenced posts, which I encourage you all to read. I hope that it helped the discussion.

Your feedback will be valued in the form of comments, shares, and likes.

Until next time,