I’ve always felt this way about books.
It’s why I tend to read fantasy, science fiction, and anything else that takes me away from “Here” and “Now.”
I read a lot and I read quickly, but my retention of what I read is pretty low.
Mostly I remember that I did or did not like it.
But the point is not to remember everything in detail.
The point is to read it at all.
To experience those other lives.
To visit other worlds.
To explore other thoughts and ways and cultures.
To participate in a kind of intellectual imperialism.
To plant a flag, as it were, so that door is marked as mine.
To claim those pages as my own.
I don’t really generate a lot of ideas anymore. I don’t usually create stories from the ground up, working entirely from scratch. Even characters, which always seem to abound, don’t spring forth on their own anymore. (I don’t count characters created for fan fiction because they already have a ready-made world to plop into, and world does a great deal to inform the character.) I don’t think I’ve generated a “new” idea for a long, long time.
This might sound terrible, but it actually isn’t. Most of my story and idea generation came when I was a kid, before I’d absorbed over two decades of media. I made a lot of crazy, weird stuff up, and fortunately I wrote some of it down. The novels that I work on now really aren’t “new” in the usual sense. They’re refinements on something that had already been generated. It may seem like I’m coming up with new ideas, like with The Arcenciel Romances or Faylinn, but even those started out as pieces of fan fiction that evolved into their own thing. Everything else is moving stuff around, changing the trappings, figuring out structures and mores that make sense, and discovering the inner lives of the characters. I’m shaping the clay, not digging it out of the ground.
I think this process is actually a good one, at least for longer works. Youth generates ideas without regard for logical or logistical sense. The images and feelings are what get wrapped up in the idea and stick with it. Then, as one grows and gains experience, you can go back and pick through that motley crew of story ideas and characters and choose the ones that work. Sometimes you even combine parts of different ideas into something else, like I did with four short stories that became the basis for Rinamathair. Others can be refined, or discarded if they would take far too much time to shape into something coherent. The only time the lack of new idea generation gets me is with short stories. Novels are a slow burn, but short stories you’re supposed to just drop out and go. Obviously they require some refinement as well, but the shape of a short story is different and more difficult for me to tackle. I have trouble making characters feel fleshed out when I don’t have a lot of time to spend with them.
The only time I can say that new ideas are generated now is when I dream. I keep a dream journal by my bed, and if I remember something from a dream, be it a sequence, a snippet of dialog, an image, a character, or a feeling, I’ll write it down. (That’s how The Mariner Sequence got started actually.) There are dozens of story seeds and story parts littered among the barely-legible scribbles of that journal. It’s a little sad to think that I probably won’t have a long enough lifespan to turn all of them into stories, to use all of that material. But I keep it in mind, and when I get stuck on a current project, I check out those seeds to see if there’s anything I can use or incorporate. (Hint: Never throw any ideas away. Keep them in a folder; they may come in handy later.)
Let’s face it: it’s all a giant tossed fruit salad and mixing bowl of inspiration and experience, so it’s best not to get too hung up on the idea of “making something new.” Chances are you already have the ingredients to make something pretty spectacular. It’s just a matter of blending and seasoning to taste.
While griping about never getting anything done and how all my creative efforts are for naught, my brother Daniel says, “Well, you’re on your fourth book, so you are getting stuff done.”
I nearly spit out my tea, but manage to sputter, “Wait, what? Fourth book?!”
He looks at me like I’m dense. “Yeah, there was that book you wrote for the Dark Crystal contest, which totally counts. There’s Courting the Moon, and then there’s Ravens and Roses. Even if that isn’t quite fully finished yet it’s, like, 98% done, and now you’re working on a fourth. Give yourself some credit.”
I’m stunned by this revelation. “Wow, what a great way to reframe that. Thank you!”
Well, it seems like some of my 2017 goals kinda sorta came true. I have learned to like writing again, at least in some aspects, although I’m still not as regular and disciplined as I would like to be. I’ve also made more of an effort to write letters, but not as much as I would like, and the exercise/being healthy part has really slipped in the last few months. I do need to take some time in the last week of 2018 and first week of 2019 to really assess what I have, where I want to go, and how to get there. Part of the reason a lot of my yearly goals aren’t really coming to pass except by accident is because I don’t have solid plans in place to facilitate getting them accomplished! Still, I think I did okay overall in 2018.
Belief is a funny thing. It’s a word that gets tossed around in a lot of discussions, debates, and outright arguments without ever being properly defined. Granted, the idea of belief is a slippery concept to begin with, especially since it is so easily personalized and adapted to fit almost any mindset. In onset of the holiday season, combined with my recent read of The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe and rewatching Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather, got me thinking about the nature of belief and its place in stories.
As someone who is trying to be a good skeptic and humanist, I’ve developed a weird, slightly uncomfortable relationship with stories about the importance of belief. I read and watch a lot of stories that emphasize how important it is to believe in something fantastic, even if there doesn’t seem to be a good reason or at least nothing solid. Thanks to films like Toy Story, I sometimes feel a twinge of guilt for not playing with my Barbies, dinosaurs, Hot Wheels cars, and My Little Ponies anymore, but I still won’t donate them. I feel like I’d be giving up on them, or that they would feel sad (never mind the fact that they’d probably prefer to be played with!)Dream a Little Dream by Piers Anthony and the film version of The Neverending Story feature worlds and characters whose very existence depends on being believed in by real people, especially children. If that belief fails, they don’t just die… they cease to exist. Being forgotten is worse than death. For someone with a highly active imagination, I think stories like this compounded a bunch of my weird neuroses (which thankfully got used to fuel writing rather than sending me to the loony bin. Although that could still happen…)
It seems that when I am working on a novel, especially during an intense stretch like NaNoWriMo, I should not be allowed to read, watch, play, or listen to anything that does not contribute in some specific way to that project. I get derailed way too easily.
For example, I was plodding along pretty well through most of NaNoWriMo this year, and stayed more or less on topic. I wasn’t actually expecting to reach 50,000 words this month, but I had hoped to reach at least 40,000. (Instead I got almost 37,000, which is still quite respectable, but a bit less than I would have liked.) If you follow my LeNoWriCha Logs, you’ll notice that I made two mistakes that severely cut into my word count. The first was at the beginning of the month when I watched Star Wars Rebels. That put me in the mood for Star Wars fan fiction, and my FC Tenko is very persistent in taking over my headspace. I managed to shake that off, and then made the mistake of going on Steam during their Cyber Monday sale. I got completely and utterly mentally derailed by an otome game called Amnesia: Memories for the last week of November. Like, the staying-up-until-3:00am-staring-at-the-computer-screen-until-my-eyes-felt-like-they-were-going-to-burn-out-of-my-skull kind of derailment.
It’s a little frustrating that I have to think twice before exploring any media because it can quickly blossom into an obsession (albeit a short-lived one) that drags my attention away from what I’m working on. But is that because I have an addictive personality, a short attention span, or am just bored by my current project? All of those reasons are a little depressing.
My family is kind of weird when it comes to death.
So far most of the deaths in my family have not come as a surprise. It grieves us, but we keep moving forward. We cry, but not much and not in public if we can help it. We don’t go in for dramatic displays of grief. We tend to not even discuss it. (In fact, aside from a few short conversations with my brothers, all of these statements come from my own observations and perspective, so I could be completely wrong about all of this.) But, on the surface at least, my family and I tend to be very pragmatic about the whole thing.
And yet I will break down into gut-wrenching sobs and go through all five stages of grief when a fictional character I love dies.
On the surface, this seems strange, even sociopathic. I don’t cry for my dead relatives but will bawl my eyes out for someone who never even existed? It seems backwards, almost wrong somehow, and has bothered me for quite a while. I couldn’t figure out why this was happening. But I think I may have solved the mystery. Continue reading “The Deep Impact of Fictional Deaths”→
I’m going to tackle some stereotypes present in modern fiction that I think are dangerous when used irresponsibly. Any entries part of this series will be labeled as “Dangerous Stereotypes.” You can read previous entries in this series, which discuss the Scientist, Bad Boy, and Alpha Male stereotypes.
Audio Edition Coming Soon!
We all love stories about underdogs. We like hearing tales of right and justice and the forces of good beating evil and injustice, no matter what the odds are against them. We like stories about lone wolves who find out the truth about “the system” and fight against it. We love our Rebel Alliances, our Neos, our Team Avatars. We enjoy following the stories of characters who are outgunned but still pull through with cunning, bravery, and a hefty dose of luck. We admire the vigilante characters like Batman, Zorro, and V who uncover the truth or see injustice run rampant and refuse to follow protocol in order to do what is right. We’ve all read those stories, seen those movies and TV shows, played as those video game characters. The fact that we can be outmatched and still come out on top is a heady, even addictive, feeling.
I’ve learned that I don’t do “intention” very well. Habit and convenience are extremely powerful and seductive forces. It’s easy to sacrifice long-term gains for short-term pleasures. As someone with an addictive personality who doesn’t handle discomfort well and struggles with self-discipline and depression, I feel pretty susceptible to these temptations. It seems like the bad habits, such eating too much sugar and compulsively checking Facebook, are the ones who gain a foothold. They sneak in and become difficult to dislodge, probably because they appear harmless and require little to no effort.
This year, I took a four-day vacation by myself to the beach. I decided to do a mini-digital detox by wearing a watch instead of keeping my phone with me and spend as much time outside as I could, as long as the weather held. I also planned to spend any rainy hours in a comfortable room continuing to write or read. But things didn’t go quite the way I’d planned. While the view of the ocean from the motel was lovely and the weather remained good, the room I was staying in was… well, not very pleasant. Musty-smelling, moldy, and so saturated with humidity that leaving anything outside a plastic bag meant it would be damp within a few minutes. On top of that, even though the motel technically had wi-fi (which I could get if I sat out on the balcony), I couldn’t get it in the room itself.
I was rather upset and frustrated at first, but I soon realized that this could be a blessing in disguise. A gross room with no wi-fi meant I had to stay outside during 90% of my visit. It forced me to be parsimonious with my time on the internet. If I was going to use it, it had to be for a specific purpose, not just random searching or mindless scrolling. Get on, get off, and save data for the GPS. On the beach, I discovered the joy of wearing a watch. You might wonder what the point of a watch is. I mean, you can just check your phone, right? But opening that phone also opens the temptation to “just check one thing” and before you know it, what was supposed to be a 2-minute check-in turns into a 2-hour deep-dive. A smartphone can do too much. A watch only tells time. That is it’s sole purpose. Using a watch instead of a smartphone and being cut off from the internet meant the number of distractions dropped to near zero. I literally had nothing to do except read, write, walk, and think.