Monday, December 31, 2007

This blogs reading level

Apparently college-postgrad. Not always accurate but it is an interesting program. I do believe that those ranked at elementary school level are the best writers around.

I tested the widget. Things with longer paragraphs are a higher reading level, along with the jargon and suchlike. Blogs with incomplete sentences also require a higher-reading level. Only a creature of staggering intellect will understand the angst ridden, chat-speak and slang blogs common to, umm, angsty teenagers I hope. Though I suppose many can make the error of a black background.

In conclusion, a fun toy but do not take 'genius' as is. It might just mean you cannot spell. I tried to make my blog easier to read after seeing that, with the apparent effect of making it harder to read. Apparently I'm a postgrad now 0.o

Spiders are bugs

In fifth grade grade I confused my teachers with my large vocabulary. Sadly my open-mindedness is not equal. I hate to be wrong. I have less arguments now, but that is because I know more; I have more information and more skill in presentation.

At the Rock and Gem show I saw a trilobite and said 'cute bug'. The seller was offended and explained that this wasn't a bug, it was a trilobite. I felt incredibly stupid. Bugs have always stumped me. Spiders are not bugs, those weird sea creatures are not bugs, worms are not bugs. I was never much of a bug-enthusiast, so to me it was just a misunderstanding of definition.

And it was. I encountered the bug obsession again today. I looked it up. A bug is an insect or insect-like creature. To me a spider is insect-like, and so is a trilobite, (manner of locomotion, tendency to segmentation, etc.) So hah! Spiders are bugs, disagreement is simply a matter of definition, not scientific truth of leg numbers and segmentations. Pardon my vindictiveness, I don't like being wrong.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Words for rice

As everyone ought to know what a Cameleopard is (it is a giraffe) so I give you Freerice.com. A charming site, with an elegant design, and a wonderful idea. For every word you get right 20 grains of rice are donated to someone in need. It is all driven by advertisements and will adjust to match your competence. And as Conda says, very addictive :)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Rococilian fantasy

I remember learning about rococo. I learned it was the fuzzy angels and curvy lines stuff that the baroque artists hated. I learned that the 18th century was a time of frivolous and silly things, and I agree. Like the fantasy stories I in middle school. There was a pure spirit of magic to it.

This is a girandole, an ornamental wall-light. Because the function of the girandole was so slight it was a perfect working ground for designers like Thomas Johnson. So long as there was a place to put the candle they could do anything they liked, make a hunt or recreate a fable from Aesop or carve as many sinuous dolphins as they liked. [Wilson, M. The English country house.]

The baroque era evolved out of this, desiring a seriousness lacking in rococo. Baroque art is introverted, its function is turned in on itself as it looks at the psycology of the figures and the effects of light and darkness. In studying itself baroque art becomes its own purpose.

I love rococo for it's frivolity, permitted by the slight purpose, and I am admittedly frightened by the Baroque which.

'Art for art's sake' seems for many to mean 'art is only art if it is for its own sake', however, if this were true the former would not be necesarry. Now I must find a purpose for my frivolous art, that it shall be outward and not inward-looking. Do either distraction or amusement count as purposes? What about paper weight or door stopper?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Carnivorous fungi

My sister and I were searching for the name for those fungi which go carnivorous if left in dark places for long periods of time. They are in fact called carnivorous fungi, we were rather disapointed.

The follow poem resulted from the wikipedia article we found on the subject. Please remember that carnivorous fungi are a very serious matter and this poem is most certainly not meant to amuse. It is in fact very much filled with pain, suffering, and microbiological angst, enjoy.

From out the stygian muck
the fungus monster crawled
all slime and goo and hungry
and little worms it mauled.

The carnivorous fungi never wanted to die
They wanted to fly, not land in a pie
To be free in a forest, not stuck in the dark
growing little tendrils, digesting a lark.

But now that they are there,
they shall eat all your pie,
for if they did not,
they would most certainly die.

The fungi only needed nutrients,
not to canabilize the animal-mites,
amoebaeotic sprites out of which they took bites.
little amoebae, so helpless and cute,
(though without a microscope
my view is rather moot.)

Predaceous fungi in soil do live
where the species they trap,
not at all like a sieve.

The nematodes eaten
shall never return,
they are all digested
they never do learn.



Alas, poor fungi, all alone in the dark and damp rooms of dirt and cupboard
with no one to love them or mate with them to create more little fungus
monsters.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Writerly rules

One day I was happily googling along when I found a list of rules for fantasy writing. Many things I once avoided I did so because these sorts of rules, rules that were often misinterpreted and led to prose almost as bad as that which it forbid. To that end I wrote this list. It is of humorous intent and nothing more.

There were 30, there are now 28; because the Holy Roman Empire does not relate directly to writing I removed those rules involving his Imperialness.

1. Do not use dragons: they are unoriginal.

2. All stories must be in limited 3rd person.

3. Stories cannot contain more than five leading characters.

4. All stories must have a short intro, three rising actions, a climax, and a tidy clse. 7 parts, max.

5. No story may be written in colloguial english, ever.

6. No story may be based in a school of magic.

7. Absolute villains are forbidden.

8. All stories must contain a lovestory subplot.

9. Charismatic heroes are forbidden.

10. All stories must contain both minority groups in sex, sexual preference, race, and age.

11. All characters must have an interest in popular culture.

12. 400 CE to 1400 CE (the middle ages) are not to be used as setting, in fact stay out of Europe all together.

13. Ninja must never be used as characters (though they are acceptable as plot devices.)

14. All stories must begin with a MYSTERIOUS INCIDENT which leads to confusion and bustle.

15. All main characters must be young (no older than 20), except the wise advisor who must be old (no younger than 50).

16. No matter how large a world you create by the end of the book the reader must know every detail of that world.

17. All writers must create their own worlds.
b. Worlds may have no more than three cultures.
c. There must be gods.

18. No matter how poor the rural areas are the cities must always be highly advanced.

19. Simple problems must take at least a fortnight to solve.

20. Complex or unsolvable problems are to be solved in no more then 18 minutes.

21. Characters must never make factual errors.

22. The main characters must always have horrible flaws.
b. it is forbidden that the main character be interesting or likeable.

23. One should never pay close attention to workplaces, city systems, rural practices, or other mere technicallities.

24. No character may be named Richard, Roy, Harris, James, or any other name appearing in our world (even if they are from our world).

25. All urban heroes must wear trenchcoats.

26. All non-urban heroes must wear chainmail.

27. No character is permitted to be perfect.

28. Kings are either good or bad, there is no in-between.

Not that rules and lists are a bad thing, I adore them. Many people adore them. It may be our utter adoration of them that leads us into these problems. Like feudalism, building on something that does not exist.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Art is necessary

OR why you should buy a piano and take up finger painting.

It is a common habit for me, if I accomplish anything to show any poor unsuspecting creature who crosses my path. A bit childish I suppose, but no brave hero has risen to stop me, so I think I'm safe.

Once I submitted a portion of my work to a critique group. It was awful. The group was wonderful. They told me their impression of my main character, some confusions, pointed out that I had the same narrator as my characters voice, and other good things. It was quite useful and in the end did the piece a lot of good, but I felt ashamed. I thought of other times I had done the same, poems that were absolutely terrible, stories that made me cringe. I didn't want people to see those, and I knew I would show them. I had to stop, and I would.

After twenty minutes of valient resolve I realised how dull my life would be without writing. I have other goals, I don't intend to be a writer, but it is everything else besides. Writing influences how I function, how I see the world and make use of it. Life without writing is like poetry without rhyme and rhythm, possible but lacking.

Some of the medieval history department function on the theory that everyone in the middle ages (322 to 1481 according to my brilliant essay on the topic) was drunk. That might have helped things, but I refuse to say it fixed all their problems – I am morally against drinking, I have to say that. Most people in time have believed in the existence of chairs and most people in time haven't had mental breakdowns with quite the frequency of the modern age (appeal to population, fallacy). They had tradition and faith, they used these tools to understand adverse circumstances. We live in an age of science, we know the chair is in our head, we do not have that liberty.

I don't know how people function without the arts, and I don't believe they do. It is dangerous to prescribe art as a tool, like religion or tradition, but I prescribe it as a salve. Start now, you are less likely to fall apart that way. So long as you don't take the 'artiste' route that is. And finger painting really is a lot of fun, though quite silly.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Editing is very, very scary

Last year I finished NaNoWriMo and said “I am never doing that again. It is not possible to write a novel in a month.” For all my meticulous outlining and my 70,000 words I didn't feel like I had something I loved.

But I am not a creature of logic; I did it again. This year my goal was to write something that I loved enough to carry through the editing process. NaNoWriMo is a fair goal depending on what you want from it. I find the parts of my brain that create just work faster under a deadline. I daydream half the time anyway, it just isn't as focused.

And I am terrified. I see my novel looming before me, full of spelling errors and misplaced characters, full of subplots that vanish and ideas that never have use.

I read a bit and thought it was okay. I worked through a chapter summary to figure out what story I was telling and found something completely different. Now I'm stuck, just like last year, with the novel I wrote and the one I wish I wrote and I don't even know which is better. I know there are huge portions that need writing, but I don't know what they are or where they are which means I'm going to be writing and editing at the same time.

But this is all silliness. I have no reason to be frightened because I have nothing to lose. Well, actually I do. I have my deadline set out and people agreeing to read my novel when it is presentable in June. If I make a major mistake and let it remain I will feel moral guilt for destroying my art and my characters will never forgive me.

I really have no choice in the matter, I must be afraid and I must do it right.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Being the storyteller

As of yesterday I have in my head the following:

Hear the tale of Sonya, a geeky girl with large glasses, fights the evil snail-monster in the river Po.

Edward defeats the evil and heartless villain and marries beautiful princess Hassaname.

Pat goes to a funeral of her great uncle Mordicae and discusses the meanings of life...and stuff.

Gather round, gather round, hear the tale of the tender-hearted Emily who meets her true love and steals a spaceship from the Martian king.

I am suspicious of models, I am suspicious of questions, I am suspicious of the truth and I am suspicious of anything that seems useful or enjoyable. Hence I must be highly suspicious of THE WRITING OF FICTION by Arthur Hoffman. But I'm not. Hoffman was an editor and a writing teacher and henceforth we must not trust him or place any trust in his ability to aid writers. Writing is art, as you know, and cannot be taught and ought not to be sold. I trust him, in fact I am willing to place my sanity in his hands. Why? Because he is brilliant.

Until yesterday I knew that I wanted to improve my writing, that I was not perfect, and that I could do better if I put my mind to it. I knew that if I practiced show-don't-tell things would be better.

Yesterday I wrote because...(a) it is my natural reaction to an interesting or exciting idea or
(b) because things fell short of their potential and I wanted to reach stories that reached those places I imagined others to be going. Both are valid, and both are somewhat backward.

Taking into consideration the fact that nothing in creative process is sure or reliable and one cannot trust anything and all those silly disclaimers people love to make, I write because want a story. I find something inspiring or exciting or partaking in the greater realities of perfection and then I realise it is only in my head, but I want it to exist, so I make it exist.

This is reactionary writing, something is created in me and I desire to express it. Even if I generated the feeling in my readers I did not do so intentionally. But I will now.

What I forgot is that we are storytellers, I am a storyteller. When I write I should be creating those feelings in others, not simply reacting to them. Or at least I should spend the time that I am not reacting writing stories that make other people do so. The storyteller hangs against the wall or sits near the fire and calls to passers by, and a crowd of children gather around him when he declares he will tell them the story of how the great grandson of Heracles met emperor Justinian and fought in the Neco riots to protect the emperor from demon possessed heretics. It really happened you know – or not. Girl Genius does a very good impression of this, apart from being all together brilliant.

Then there was a little click and I understood. Of course, what else would you do but tell a story that people wanted to hear? Or at least that you wanted to hear? After the click I wandered around the house for a while, wondering how I could possibly be so blind as to miss that. Sympathy and curiosity, that is all. It may not be easy, and I am no better a writer for knowing, but I have a solid goal and that makes the world a much better place.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Revisions plan

This is based roughly on the National Novel Publishing Year plan, but fitted to accomodate the essays, exams, and general impending doom of university. I have no expectation of publishing. I do expect good practice, some fun, and a lot of insanity. This is the best format I can figure out for someone who appreciates the nanowrimo attitude and has exams to think about.

FIRST RUN
December 16 to March 15 (90 days)
Read over the novel, correcting glaring mistakes.
Make notes on the things missing, needed, and causing problems.
Solve the major problems.
Write the missing portions.
Explore off things off camera

BREAK FOR EXAMS
March 16 - April 30 (44 days)

SECOND RUN
May 01 to May 28 (29 days)
Read over novel, correct glaring mistakes.
Solve secondary and minor problems.
Write required portions.

May 29 to May 31 (two days)
Polish, last minute panicked checking.

CRITIQUE TIME
June 01 - Send off novel for critiques

June 01 to July 10 (~40 days)
Write trade novels, do critiques

CRITIQUE BASED REVISION
July 01 – Send three or four queries

July 10 to July 11 (2 days)
Read critiques and have a trauma attack

July 12 - August 22 (40 days)
Read novel, correct glaring errors make notes
Make a list of problems, consider, solve.
Make corrections as needed

BREAK FOR SUMMER'S END
August 23 to September 10 (19 days)

FINAL DRAFT
September 11 to September 30 (20 days)
Read through, correct minor errors.

HARD COPIES
October 01 – October 05
Print off hard copies
File one in a drawer, send some to friends and family, send off any fulls requested.

A year or two later I will read the drawered copy and see what I think of it.

Combating scene-based clichés

I'm sure many fantasy writers have experienced this: you are happily writing along, discussing the coming of the evil overlord when -- bam! -- you realise that what you are writing is horribly, terribly, disfigured and clichéd. This can be a depressing moment, and honestly it is not one I can help you with. You might not have outlined, but if your overlord bothers is preventing progress then you ought either to stop right now and do so, or at least try it next time you are trying to defeat an evil overlord. On the other hand if you try to rationalise one of these plots you can sometimes end up killing it.

Sometimes it is better to accept your evil overlords and love them for who they are, even if they don't really make sense. Fantasy can be problematic in that way. I hate quest stories from a writers point of view: they are full of wholes, ignore historical premises, and don't make proper sense. As a reader I love them.

So, back to what we can deal with. Scene based clichés. You know that scene where your characters go down into the dank, dark, dubious caverns to hunt some unforgettable forgotten evil or travel to some improperly named 'other side of the mountains' where the populace conjugate their nouns and all the grown ups wear sheets. Or maybe just the caverns.

When you realise you are writing a cliché here is what you do: Stop; Give yourself half a moment and let what you are writing register. And ask a questions or two, get to know this scene.

1.Why do I want to write about this?
Maybe you just love the princess who finally gets hit over the head with reality. Or maybe you don't want to write it but feel obligated.

2.What does it have to do with the rest of the novel?
Maybe it makes perfect sense for the princess to enter reality right now, and the sarcastic hero needed to tell her that she was an idiot to make it happen.

Once you understand the scene and why you are writing it you can probably do better then to simply repeat what has been done before. Though there is much to be said on the impossibility of originality it can be said that your novel is unique. It may follow the same storyline as another and have similar characters to this one, and discuss a land that reminds you of this other one, but unless you are writing fanfiction you are in your own world. Make the most of it, and make sure everything fits into that world and has that particular flavour that only this one novel can give it.

Actually, this advice stands for any scene. It never hurts to know why a thing is happening and what it has to do with anything, it is just urgent to deal with when you are getting writers-block from it.

Tropes: genreness

Trope: A significant or recurrent theme; a motif.
Cliché: A stereotyped expression, a commonplace phrase; also, a stereotyped character, style, etc.

So says the OED.

From this we see that well a cliche is a bad and evil sort of thing a trope is good. The tropes in 'a cure for magic' apparently include government, productivity, and elves. Or were those themes? Elves aren't a theme, so I don't think so.

From this I can also say that trope is not exactly the word I am looking for. What I mean is that particular thing which keeps a genre together, the genreness. This Genreness acts as as glue to keep ideas, characters, plot lines, and magic all working together.

Sometimes people forget this; sometimes the genreness takes over. If it takes over you end up with something along the lines of genre-trash, but less interesting. A story is good because if the characters, and if the characters are subsumed by their roles as hero and villain you lose character. Next the plot line will be taken over by little hero-quest goblins that tell you to follow formats. The problem being that genreness isn't plot line, and you end up with weird series of not really connecting events.

But it goes the same way if you deny your genre completely. I'm happy for those who want to be new and original and I hope that they succeed, but they have no write to complain if they do not. I don't read fantasy for the new and original. I read it because it is fantasy. If I wanted something else I would read something else. But that isn't to say that I don't like clever and interesting stories, I just don't like people saying they write fantasy when they are really writing speculative fiction. I like a story that is individual and powerful, that stands out from everything else because it is just that good, not because you've written your fantasy without elves, heroes, magic, feudal institutions, or at the very least some disconnection from reality.

So there are different levels to the amount of genreness a novel contains. Dragonlance has a lot more then the Hobbit, but both are in the realm of the fantastic.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

A cure for magic

From the "15-minute plots" thread on the nanowrimo forums. This is a fun little thing, especially because I get to make fun of myself. I hear it is a bad idea for people of my level of experience to make fun of themselves, as it might deter or spoil their developement...but it is just so much fun. This is what is pretty much what I followed during november, there will probably be things added when I star going over it.

Title: A cure for magic
Genre: fantasy

North America, the dystopian future

SETTING: Imagingery backstory
MASTER WINTON: What a cute little evil creature, I'll raise it so it can consume my soul or something.

SETTING: a street

JEK: I'm a street magician! I do magic and steal peoples money sometimes.
MASTER WINTON: ahh, the perfect tool for my evil scheme. Come with me.

SETTING: house

SAMANTHA: I'm nice
LYDIA: I'm 14. I do magic.
MORGAN: I'm not relevant to the story. I also do magic.

LYDIA: Were those zombies?
JEK: I believe so.

(weird things happen, time passes)
JEK: You know, I think Master Winton might be trying to use me as an evil tool in some diabolical plan or something. And I'll let him too, because I wouldn't want to hurt his feelings.

-LYDIA is kidnapped by WEREWOLVES and they RESCUE her-

JAMES: I'm a werewolf, I think I have flees.

MASTER WINTON: mwahaha, my scheme has succeeded. Now I can return to my loving family, mwahahaha.

JEK: No it hasn't, I'm just nice...and bit egotistical too. (is heroic) I can handle it, you go home to your family.
(Everyone LEAVES. Jek FAINTS and wakes up two months later.)

JEK: Oh look, a forest! ... and everyones gone.

JAMES: Hi! I came to live with you because my family is dead.
JEK: Oh good, you can be the cashier.

LYDIA: This is my brother, we're coming to live with you. Oh, hi James.
CLARENCE: I kill things with guns. I also kill things with swords. I'm really awesome.
JEK: Oh good, you can do these tax forms for me.

(Time PASSES, they sell things, an old lady buys magnets. There is an earthquake.)

JEK: I miss Samantha, she was nice.

SETTING: a Cafe somewhere
SAMANTHA: Hi! I missed you.
JEK: I hate you because your father is mean.
SAMATHA: -is sad-

SETTING: house
SAMANTHA: The author likes me so I came back.

CLARENCE: There is a dragon making the city fall apart.
LYDIA: Dragon?! -squee-
CLARENCE: We should, ah, do something.
JEK: Monster has made me sad and nondirectional, so I don't want to.
SAMANTHA: Haha, you're being controlled. -mocks-
JEK: Hey, there's a dragon destroying the city, let's go stop it! And I am not.

SETTING: under the city
ALL: Wow, tunnels. Wow, a river. Wow, we need boats.

(They go and get boats and paddle around until they find beach and climb out into the rocky mountains, which is RANDOM)

JEK: The dragon is coming, back to the boats

CLARENCE: okay, the dragon is asleep, lets stab it.

-they do, Lydia is MAD-

LYDIA: I'm going to stay here because I like dragons.

SETTING: house

CLARENCE: Jek I'm going to kill you for leaving my sister.
JEK: She wanted to stay you idiot.

SAMANTHA: Jek, I stole your magc and put it in a vase so now Monster won't like you anymore.

JEK: Oh, that explains the dizziness and lack of desire to kill things.

LYDIA'S DAD: Hi Jek, want to learn real magic?

JEK: okay!

THE END.

Argument against NaNoWriMo

I was writing something about the joys of teaching yourself in a nonacademic environment, the touch and go sort of stuff and how wonderful it is to learn to write through those methods as averse to a classroom style, but I don't think I will.


For the second night in a row I made the unpleasant mistake of reading commentary by someone against national novel writing month. Now, if it were intelligent and rational (not Hume's rational, but the other sort) then I would be happy, in fact I would be quite interested in what they had to say. I love debate, debate is good, crass devaluation is not. But I am rather afraid that I will end up treating these people with the same contempt that they treat us, so I will attempt to rationalise and explain their views before I defend our beloved cause.

1.That the more people who write novels the more people there will be who think of themselves as writers, the more who think they are writers the more who will say they are and try to query agents. This creates disrespectful behavior to those who have worked for a long time to call themselves writers, second it puts more amateurs in dangers of being scammed.
2.That writing 50,000 words does not mean you have written a novel, and people who believe this are annoying.
3.That it is not healthy to write 50,000 words of trash, especially when it isn't even sequential.
4.That the serious work comes in the editing phase and telling someone they are a novelist is a pre-emptive move.

I hope I have properly represented these ideas, I must admit that it is difficult considering the black backgrounds on most of these sites (web designer's code for amateur, but I deserve one ad hominem don't I? I had to put up with all their swearing and poorly chosen photographs, I deserve one attack.)

First is the view that only certain people have ought to write. This seems very common with lit fic writers (I hope I do not aim this at the innocent), it is understandable I suppose, they went to school for this and we are disrespecting it. It is like the singular 'they', it may be of use but it goes against the grain.

I disagree with the idea that nanowrimo corrupts the idea of what makes a writer. For one thing from what I have seen nanowrimo is not a freak incident. These people want to write, they have always wanted to write and they like it very much when someone gives them permission to do so, and those are the ones who aren't writers to begin with. There is at times a sort of competition on the forums, who started writing first. I lose, I only started when I was 13. Clearly I am a late-bloomer, because most of these people started when they were seven. Doesn't really sound like a freak occurrence now does it?

I accept that nanowrimo does put more people into the danger of scams, but the site does it's best to protect it's writers. In fact I find it to be one of the most protective and encouraging sites in existence, I love to see everyone helping and encouraging. It is rare indeed that a truly cruel remark is scene, very strange for a writing forum, though our mods are awesome.

I have read novels that are 50,000 words long so it is strange to learn that such things do not exist. However it is true that these novels are rather short, I think that might explain all those scenes I left out that I need to go back and write in January.

Now, the idea that it is bad to write things that are bad is...umm...begging the question. Forgive me, I had a philosophy exam today and it is still in my head. True, it isn't good to write badly. It is good to give yourself the freedom to be imperfect, to allow your muse to take you on grand adventures not permitted by some unspoken cultural norm, and to write so quickly that the dead end never catches up to you.

The final claim, or an edition, is usually that editing is more important then writing. Now, if this is true, then it is better to have a quickly finished rough so that you can get on to the important part. I know that some people do not edit there nano novels. Many do, and those people could not have done so without have something to edit in the first place.

I hate this sort of thing, it reminds me that there is filth and unhappiness in places it has no need to exist and in people who have no right to be either. It is a sad lesson, and one I am getting tired of learning.

The worst part about this is that bit of me that stumbles to its feet somewhere in the back of my mind and starts to growl. I think it might be me pride, I put it back there whenever it misleads me. It makes me want to publish, to fight until I find a place for myself and then laugh in their faces. This is not right, and it is certainly not the reason I write and certainly not the path I want to take at this point in my life.

As to the editing on the other hand, I'm a bit dizzy with excitement for that. Sort of like a power high, I am quite convinced that I can take what I wrote and turn it into something worthy of existence. It sort of feels like the month before nanowrimo, except I know that this will last a great deal longer and probably make me a great deal less stable.

But back to people who disagree with nanowrimo, they do have valid points and it is important to consider the other side of things, but I do not agree with the way of doing things I have so far encountered. For anyone of delicate sensibilities, avoid these sorts of places. These people are not interested in explaining their disagreement, they are interested in attacking the sort of person who would want to write a novel in a month. They do it poorly, I defend them better then they defend themselves, and do not consider that they are hurting people by voicing such harsh opinions, or at least creating vulgarity in the flame-wars they start.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The secret to being a writer

Now, you may have been told that there is no secret to being a writer, that there is no hidden star to find (or possibly buy on the black market). If you have been told this you will also have been informed that all you need to do to be a writer is write. Simple as that. Just put one word in front of the other until you have that book or poem or history essay or whatever it is you need to have done. Now, there is something odd about this. Writing your history essay does not make you a writer. Writing your thesis does not make you a writer. Oddly enough writing a blog about writing does not make you a writer. So it cannot be that, it cannot simply be sitting down and writing. Yes, a writer must write. But can you be a writer if you don't?

I go to a cafe to meet up with some writers in the area. It ends up that you are the only 'non-writer' there. I meet one as I go to buy my coffee, her name is Susan. Susan is dressed in brightly-colored clothes and has her hair down to her ankles. She is very eclectic, a little too artsy, but overall seems harmless. Another, Jeffrey, moans about the cost of the cafe, dressed in black with a baret and an empty notebook. Apparently he has writing block. Dressed in jeans and a grey tea-shirt, I feel a tad bit out of place. Why? Because I'm not a writer. I wrote a novel in november, I know what they are talking about when they discuss the problems with characters in the head and disobedient plots, but I'm not a writer. Not like they are...even though I'm the only one there who has written a novel.

So what is it that makes a person a writer? Is it how they talk? Do you need a beret to be a writer? What about a funny accent? Do you need to be depressed? Do you need writers block?

I'm sure most people will not think that these are the things that make up a writer, except possibly writers block. So there we have it, that secret that lets you into the guild of writerlyness. Writer's block most mean you are a writer, because the poor scholars writing their history essays don't get writers block. No, they procrastinate. It is the same thing of course, but a different name and a different feeling. Procrastination is more useful for a student, it can be used for a wide variety of things. Writer's block means staring at a blank page, which in some places is considered very productive indeed.

But what about Jeffrey? He is a writer in the eyes of those around him, but I don't like being compared to him. I don't like him going around saying how he is a writer when I know very well that he hasn't written more then once in the last two years, and when that once is:

These tears that fall,
are sad and all black
make me cry, sadly
like water, salt
droplets
from my eyes.
Because Susy
I love you,
for ever.

Or something like that. Now at least I know why he wants to be a writer, Susan likes him well enough but she is more interested in her craft fairs and her cat photos. He actually let Susan read this poem, she didn't really get it I don't think.

Eventually, I fell out with the group. I was too busy editing my nanonovel. Not much of a writer I guess, but I'm really too busy revising to be a writer and I need to find some trust worthy agents so I can't really figure out what a 'writer' is at the moment, maybe after I send off that full they requested.

---

That is a writer (it also isn't me in case you were wondering, I certainly wouldn't be caught wearing jeans!)

It is like anything else, it cannot be said with two or three little words. Why would we need novels if we could communicate all our dreams and thoughts and hatreds and passions and humour and confusion a in limericks? A writer is not someone who writes, or someone who dresses like an writer, or talks like a writer, or takes writing classes, or keeps a blog, or writers. But you will make yourself a writer by doing these things. Take on the clothes of it, understand the attitudes and act like a writer, eventually you will become what you are acting like. It will be a bit of a surprise from time to time, especially if you write a novel in a month and suddenly you are off in the airy places of publishing contracts and fan letters and you think 'oh, thats what a writer is'. Or maybe not.

So, sadly the advice remains the same: Writing does not make you a writer, staying up late into the night trying to figure out what went wrong with that plot twist until you are giddy does not make you a writer, nor does dressing or speaking like one, but you must still do at least the first to BE a writer.

So there you have it, there is an initiating, there is a secret code. We can't explain it, we lack the words to explain. It is sort of like a conversion, mysterious and better to be taken with a shining light in the a heavens then a late night novel editing session.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Tradition and novelty

Now, I've always hated this idea. I believe it is just a pessimistic excuse not to bother. On the other hand I don't really agree with the obsessive drive to make it new and fresh and fresh and shiny and new and better and better and bigger and shinier. I find it rather excessive.

There are great things to be said for tradition, even in the genre of fantasy, some of what we do may be worn but a great deal of it is just done badly. Fantasy is not an easy genre to write in. It is not an easy genre to write in because a large number of people thought it was, they came in and messed things up and now we have to deal with it. Even the brilliant ones aren't always safe. Imitate Oscar Wilde and you will be at least moderatly admired, imitate Tolkien and you will be sneered at. Why? Because Oscar Wilde was, without a hint of a doubt, brillaint. Tolkien was also brilliant, but in a different way. Fantasy should not imitate fantasy, fantasy should imitate life, philosophy, history, just as any other sort of story.

So yes, tradition is good but don't imitate. I think there might be a problem there. Hmm. Imitate a style and tradition of fantasy, not the particulr conformities of a certain author.

But back to the impossibility of a orginality (though, if I can be annoyed by it, it must exist at least to some degree)...

a story can be...
a. man vs man
b. man vs nature
c. man vs himself

and can end with
a. success
b. failure

Oddly enough most stories discuss all of these the same time and end with both, but that isn't important. What is important is that we end up with six stories. My personal favourite is 'man faces himself and fails.' It really leaves us to wonder.

Now, this is true if a plot is a book and if similiarity at the most basic level creates overall similiarity. It is the same as the diversity and similiarity in creatures, all come from the same basic ancestry, have the same basic needs, and live on earth, but that doesn't mean that cats are exactly the same as humans, nor does it mean that Emma is exactly like the Eyre Affair.

Now, diversity must come at a more complex level then the most basic building blocks. How is that possible? Well, there are various things, but let us stick with plot. The plot can focus on a differet thing, take for example, war.

We have three novels that discuss a city under siege and a man who defends it from the enemy. This makes them seem similiar, but I could tell you with all honesty that these books are nothing alike. Why? Because people understand things differently.

Say these books are all about the same city, even the same man. The city is under siege for three days, one out of two thousand decides to write a book about the man. He he saw it first hand and writers from his own interpretation. Later the man's son, who has grown up with stories about the war, decides to write about him. Last there is the scholar, who after researching and making careful notes, wants to write his own story (most likely about how the man was actually an evil nasty man who tortured innocent hay stacks, because that's what scholars like to do).

Now, all three would have different information, would be telling a different version of the same story. The question would arise if this ought even to be called the same story. I'm not going to answer that question, I don't know. I think it depends very much on the particular circumstances. But, seeing the huge amount of diversity even in the telling of one incident can we really imagine that there is not possibility for originality? Three people looked back and saw the war in completely different ways, and there are hundreds of others just for that one battle, thousands upon thousands in the world as a whole.

The problem is, of course, the amautur, the one who is not there to see the battle, does not learn of it extensively from those around them, and does not study it. They acquire a vague idea of what the war was about, they adopt a few views from others but do not fully comprehend them, they become confused and then they write their story. This is what we should not do. Tolkiens writing reflect how he understood those sources. That is why a writer must read, we must go back and look at the sources, understand the points of view from which a thing is seen, allow them to become our views and our beliefs, and write from that. Of course, you could just write about the world of today and then you wouldn't have to dig as deep into all those old myths and stories...though it never really hurts.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Finishing nanowrimo

Because I heart typewriter I am to announce that I have completed my second novel, or rather that I have completed my second nano novel. Apparently that doesn't really count, even if it is novelish in form and content.

Now, I should know better then to discuss my writing with my friends, family, and random people on the bus, but I don't. I'm just not the sort of person who can write a novel in a month and then keep quiet about it. I don't mean to brag, it is just the thing on my mind...like when some dull bloke wins some sports with the hitting and the yelling and the green fake grass and you are just so excited that you tell me, even though I hate sports. Now it shouldn't be like that, because (1) I have never actually MET someone who hates novels and (2) if YOU won some dull sports thingy I would be interested; I would be happy for you, and I would make you explain exactly how awesome you were, because no matter if I like people watching sports or not and accomplishment is exactly that and should be appreciated.

But no. My sister seems to think that I didn't actually have a plot, which might be true no more then it is true for many stories...and I'm pretty sure that that thing I was writing about was a plot anyway, just not the normal sort of fantasy plot. I mean, of course it is going to be difficult when all I can think of is hero-quest and all I can write is the opposite. Seriously, it has happened twice now: both my novel began conceptually as heroic journeys, which I then proceeded to pick apart until they made some kind of sense, a kind of sense that may or may not destroy their forward motion.

More interesting is the fact that apparently what I am doing cannot possibly be art because I enjoyed doing it. Now, it is quite true that love writing but even I am not quite so crazy as to write a novel in one month and enjoy every second of it. I HAVE to love this, I don't really have a choice in the matter. If I didn't I would be miserable, but still writing. For me this is a prolonged obsessive streak, twice I've seen it at the beginning of October and I haven't had a choice in the matter after that. On the other hand there is truth in the matter, a weird sort of truth that is difficult for me to deal with because it is linked to all sorts of conclusions I have come to to protect myself from my writing and my writing from ever being published. I am not an artist when I write. There are two halves to this, the first being that I am forbidden until I am 30, because I believe strongly that though much of what is written isn't published much of what is published is trash. I refuse to allow that sort of thing into the world, I refuse to let myself take pride in something that is not worthy of pride. The other half is that I want to write things that people will enjoy. Like many fantasy novelists I take after Tolkien, though my approach may be a little different then most. He said that society traps people, and it is our job as fantasy writers to help as many people escape as possible. I don't want to write some brilliant timeless epic full of symbols that will last for centuries, which scholars will puzzle over and concoct absurd meanings for. I hate aspirations to brilliancy, I cannot imagine someone sitting down and thinking 'oh gosh am I gonna be meaningful today', and if they do I cannot imagine how they can produce something worth looking at, but neither do I want to write some trash novel that people will forget five minutes after its gone. This leaves me in the inconvenient situation where I cannot aspire to brilliancy without betraying myself but neither can I be less then brilliant in order to please my sense of what is right and good. I am sure, however, that there are people who manage this. I've seen them, and I hope they don't mind me taking them as my role-models, but again it seems as if I am reaching too high, being too presumptuous. I hope I'll have this figured out in eleven years.

The strangest response was the person who suggested I print it and hide it in a drawer, to be discovered for future generations. That just scared me. I think I might do a bit of editing instead.