Category Archives: editing

The Writer’s Alphabet vol. 19; “S” is for Suck

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Everything sucks*.

*Note: For the purpose of this post, “suck” is defined as being bad, shitty, terrible, worst-thing-ever, oh-my-god-this-is-horrible.

Everything sucks, not all the time, but everything will suck, or may, at some point. This post probably sucks. Even after a couple rereads and edits, it might be terrible, but it’s Wednesday and I need to post a Writer’s Alphabet column otherwise I get major anxiety. So this festival of suck is what you (and I) get.

Everything will suck. Everything also won’t suck, but let’s focus on the more negative side and flip it into a positive. Here are 4 intro examples before I get to the writing example for your pain or pleasure: Continue reading

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The Writer’s Alphabet vol. 18; “R” is for Repetition

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I read a lot about writing. I probably read too much about writing and should spend more time writing, than reading about writing. That being said, one of the common bits of advice that repeatedly appears in what I read is that good writing comes down to repetition. This includes specific pieces, but also general processes. Another is to cut down on the use of the word “that”. I clearly need to reread those articles as I’m sure you noticed I used “that” FIVE TIMES in this paragraph. That being said, repetition is key to producing good written works and here is what I’ve come up with as supportive evidence: Continue reading


The Writer’s Alphabet vol.16; “P” is for Perjury

The-letter-the-alphabet-22187494-2560-2560There are two types of perjury I’d like to cover which means I’ll probably end up only talking about one of them and then spending way too much time going on a tangent about something I have no business writing about which will all end with a much too long run-on sentence ending with a dreaded adverb(ly).

Character perjury is one of the perjuries I’d like to cover. What is it and why is it important? Character perjury, as defined here, is having a character knowing deceive other characters and just for the hell of it – themselves as well. Having characters perjure themselves, in and out of a courtroom setting, is a beautiful thing. It creates internal and external conflict and raises the stakes of the story as it will have the reader or watcher waiting for the deception to come to light and thus, a payoff is achieved. The best character perjury occurs when the payoff is almost forgotten only to have it come back at a crucial point and giving the reader the “wow” factor that comes with all great plot twists. Once again, it all comes back to conflict, stakes, and payoffs. Deception and lies are great framing devices for conflict and it is even better when characters don’t know they are deceiving themselves.

Writer perjury, defined herein, as plot inconsistencies, massive story holes, and laziness. Writer perjury is horrible. Writers perjure themselves when they sell a truth to the reader only to have it come back as utter bullshit. I’m not speaking of unreliable narrators. The unreliable narrator is a beauty thing and is typically established from the beginning of the story. An unreliable narrator can perjure themselves, however, when the payoff of the unreliability is so inconsistent with what has been established there is no rational explanation for the result. Basically the reader is left thinking, Seriously?, or, depending on how egregious the perjury, Fuck this!. Similar to how Bradley Cooper’s character reacts to Hemingway in the movie adaptation of Silver Linings Playbook.

Now I would like to talk about court perjury, except I don’t have any legal background and have decided that it probably isn’t a good idea. Thus, I will end this post here before anyone begins to have feelings about throwing their computers, tablets, or phones out a third story window.

Also, Meagan said this whole thing doesn’t really jive but she said she knows where I’m coming from and going to so hopefully you do as well. Who Meagan? I don’t know either. Oh wait! Here she is —-> Meagan’s Twitter!


The Writer’s Alphabet vol.15; “O” is for Opposition

O-fire-letter_graphicOpposition. It’s not as shitty as you might think. For writers (and everyone because writers aren’t as special as we think ourselves to be) opposition exists in 4+1 ways. 4 are in reality and 1 is on the page.

Opposition from the world at large: You might wake up and as your eyes flutter open, before leaving the quiet or hectic (un)comfort of your bed, you stare at the ceiling and think, “Fuck the world man. Fuck the world in its stupid ass. Every day I get up and write and while that goes well, I go out into this world everyone is talking about and get shit on, literally by animals and figuratively by everything else. World, why do you want me to fail? World, why must you blow horizontal snow in my face as I’m out for a walk to grab some inspiration and a coffee? World, why did I go out in a blizzard? World, why ya gotta be so all up against me B?”

NEWS FLASH: The world isn’t against you.

If the world is providing opposition it is because you are viewing it that way and need to change your perspective. Stop walking in horizontal blizzards and brew a cup of watery shit coffee at home. And if a bird shits on you, it’s not good or bad luck, it’s just the way shit literally happened. Grab some Tide and/or a bar of soap and shut it.

Opposition from the industry: Creative industries are hard to break into, be it film, music, publishing, or stage. This doesn’t mean that “the industry” is against you, it means that everyone with a brain has a story in said brain and a large percentage of those people write it down in some form or another. Then supply and demand take the wheel from Jesus and bam, economics ruins everything again. It’s not the industry, it’s Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes.

Rejection is a huge part of creativity. Besides “write everyday”, this is really the only other fact about creating. Whatever industry you hope to break into isn’t against you, it’s for you. Maybe not the you right now who is producing less than desirable work, but creative rejection is simply a push to make you a better writer/actor/singer/musician. The industry is fickle and can seem to be filled with the biggest assholes in the world who all hate your work. Maybe some parts of it are, but this still doesn’t mean it is opposing you. It means that you need to focus on yourself and your work and tune out the bird shit and the 100,000,000,000,000th rejection letter and better your creative self. Unless you have personally been a jerk to everyone in the industry and committed career suicide 100,000,000,000,000 times, the industry isn’t opposing you. Your arrogant, dumb ass is opposing you, you arrogant dumbass.

Opposition from loved ones: This is a tough one. The people we choose to have in our lives, our friends and family, are meant to be there for support. We for them and them for us. This is at least the ideal situation. In this situation, when you talk about your creativity, some of these people might tell you to give up. This could be direct or indirect, but it still stings. This is real opposition because it is from people, not a massive, inanimate glob. It is the opposition that can hurt the most because, again, it is from the people that you love and support and wish to have that love and support returned for whatever you decide to pursue with your limited time romping around in the world. Opposition from loved ones sucks. It really, really sucks. Should it lead you to give up though? No. And I’ll leave Charles Bukowski to explain why:

“If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. If you’re going to try, go all the way. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives, jobs and, maybe your mind. Go all the way. It could mean not eating for 3 or 4 days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail, it could mean derision, mockery, isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your
endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And you’ll do it despite rejection and the worst odds and it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like
that. You will be alone with the gods and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. Its the only good fight there is.” – From “Roll The Dice”

Who wouldn’t want to ride anything to perfect laughter?

Opposition from yourself: While opposition from loved ones can hurt the most, opposition from yourself does hurt the most, because sometimes you don’t even realize how much it actually is hurting you.

Every creative person goes through times of doubt and ennui, where nothing is good and everything else sucks. Steven Pressfield wrote an entire book about the phenomenon so I will say two things. First, read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. Second, you only live once and every day you spend devoting your time to self-opposition, you are being a bigger asshole to yourself and causing more harm than any outside asshole could ever hope to reap. Mental health issues might play a role, and, if so, get some help. Self-opposition is the absolute worst thing, and the only way to fight it is to fight it with creativity. Even just reading or listening to music can help as it stimulates your brain with other creative energy. Go for a walk and start asking, “what if?” to everything and anything that crosses your path. It works for Stephen King. I think I’m changing my name to some variety of Stev(ph)en, as they seem to do quite well with words and such.

Opposition between characters: Now for the “+1” of the group, opposition in stories and on the page. Noted Canadian stage and screen actor Colm Feore killed it when he said, “(a)nything you do, I can do better and scarier”, when asked about his character on FOX’s Gotham. He plays a villain so the scarier part works here quite well, but I like to focus on the first part of the quotation as I feel it sums up exactly how two characters should be thinking. I have spoken enough about conflict for a lifetime so blah, blah, blah, conflict is awesome, but with one sentence Feore nails all you have to think and know about creating conflict and, thus, opposition, in your work. This works for any genre, all it takes is a tweak for your lovely, original, amazing characters.

Now stop procrastinating and opposing yourself and go and create something. Anything. Nothing is not an option.


The Writer’s Alphabet vol.14; “N” is for Negative

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N is for negative because all the other words were taken. Being negative is a negative way to be, so be positive and the negative takes care of itself.

That is all.

Except for this part, which is the rest of it. I read a short story – “Tableau Vivant” by Robin Black, from her collection If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This – where one character describes another in the negative, as in “not too fat but not too thin, not too smart but not a genius either.” I thought this was interesting. I have heard time and time again that great writing is brief, direct, and adverb-free. Taking those first two into account, describing something or someone in a negative sense seems like it takes more time and effort than simply describing that person, place or thing as it is, but it works in this sense because the word “average” is so subjective. It really is indefinable. Or better, a question, average in comparison to what?

My take away from this was that less is more in the way that Black only does this once in the collection and so it has impact. Second and last it was just a really cool way to use words to create a picture of a character. Yes, it took more than might have been necessary but, used sparingly, negative description is more impactful than going for the jugular and saying, “she was a babe”, “he was a stud”, “the ice cream melted like ice cream melted”, “the carpet was red and set my soul on fire”, “my bum bum hurts because of this pimple”, “the sky was blue.”


The Writer’s Alphabet vol. 13; “M” is for Meaning

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What is the meaning of this?!?!?!?!?!?!? What means something to someone can have no meaning to someone else. Meaning is subjective, or is it? The definition of something is empirical and is also its meaning. Though what that means differs from person to person to animal to animal to person. A ball means something different to a dog than it does to a person but its dictionary definition doesn’t change. The same thing goes for objects in a story.

Let’s look at the example of a scrap of paper with a phone number on it, but no name. To one character it could just be a scrap of paper without a name. This character could think that the person who wrote down his phone number without his name could be the biggest idiot flying around on the planet. The character thinks: Why the bloody hell would someone write down their number and not put down their goddamn identifier? What possible reason could exist for this? What if I were to call this idiot and then what? Hey fuckface, you didn’t leave your name on this scrap of paper. So ya, that’s one way it could go. Though it might end up with these characters falling in love over some shared antagonism and then they get married and instead of confetti the guests throw scraps of paper with random phone numbers on them and the couple worry about eye paper cuts. Because eye paper cuts might mean something great to one person, but to this couple, eye paper cuts are the worst thing since the bad yelp review they got at the restaurant they started.

Another character might think: I’m really glad I gave that new restaurant a bad yelp review. The whole thing was lined with scraps of paper with random phone numbers and because I am the loneliest fuck in the world I decided to call some of them. Some of the numbers were out of order and some were long distance. The ones that did go through just ended in screaming matches with the person on the other end because people keep calling the number and pranking them. I’m not pranking you, I yelled at each of them, I’m really just looking for a friend. They would usually say, good luck and go fuck yourself while you’re at it, to which I would reply, I’ll take that advice with a hunk of salt you dickhead. Who cares this much about scraps of paper? Assholes! That’s who! The burger was good though.

And another character might think: This is it. I’ve found it. This is the place with the phone numbers. It only took a year and three plane rides, but I’m here. Before this character walks in the door he stares through the windows at the majesty of the one place he has wanted to visit since he read about it in a magazine a couple years ago. They had to fact check the phone numbers that line the walls because of a rash of complaints and a lawsuit, but the idea behind the whole thing was magic. He had arrived and now that he was here all he could do is stare. Who’s that cute girl eating the soup and sandwich?

And finally: This lawsuit was the best idea I ever had. Mr. & Mrs. Owners, I thank you for settling with me. Free food for life? I’ll take it! Mmmmmm, soup. On Sundays this character liked soup and a sandwich. I liked the concept but who doesn’t check if the numbers are real? She takes a bite of her sandwich and looks up out the window at the guy who has been standing there for almost ten minutes. Holy shit man! What the fuck are you staring at? Go away you freak, I’m trying to eat this free soup!

I think I went on a bit of a tangent there but meaning means different things to different people. The most important thing is that what means something to a character means something to them for a reason. An emotional connection has the biggest stakes, but as long as there is a distinct meaning then all will be well. If not, it won’t make sense and then, well, just erase the whole story and start again. Yes, even if you have 130,000 words. Chances are you’ll have to do some major editing so just start over. Just kidding! Edit it!!!


The Writer’s Alphabet vol. 12; “L” is for Love

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Love, much like religion, is a bullshit pursuit that leaves those that believe in it and strive for it feeling worse off than if they had never heard of the word or concept. That is why it is perfect for stories. Love is simply just another way of saying the word conflict and conflict is the life blood of any and all stories, fiction or otherwise. Love and love stories are meant to have us feeling good and full of hope but really they are the bill of goods that drives conflict around the world, and at home as well. Let’s think about that for a second or sixty. People love too much? Conflict. People aren’t loved enough? Conflict. Love triangles? Triple the conflict! Forbidden love? Stories that involve people with names like Montague and Capulet and possibly illicit conflict! Unrequited love and all the pathetic adoration that comes with it? Conflict with lots of masturbation!

I could go on for a while about the stupidity of love, so let’s focus on the writing aspect with a bit more depth, specifically with respect to unorthodox and/or unique love stories. Yes, traditional “boy meets girl, they love, they fight, they fall apart and get back together” stories will never fail but at the same time they are as stale as the PG under-the-covers-bra-still-on-missionary-guy-must-have-a-really-long-penis-to-be-in-that-position sex that occurs between their pages or credit scenes. What about adding a LGBTQ element? Or a sexual fetish? What about an age difference? Or a non-sexual fetish? Using fetish twice in the same post is enough I think, so what about adding or subtracting something to or from the story. Adding something more than one person’s unwillingness to commit or a character’s need for maturity can only enhance the love story and, by extension, the story overall. A romantic (love) subplot with a non-traditional or unorthodox element can be a brilliant move for a story because it fleshes things out while keeping things fetish, I mean, fresh.

In the last 5-7 years, I have noticed more films being made with the non-traditional love twist. Food, cars, running, addiction, tattoos, height, weight, multiple partners, open relationships, pegging, voyeurism, and BDSM are all becoming more a part of the mainstream with respect to sex and love in non-pornographic film. At first I was reluctant to watch some of them because I need to relate to characters in the media I consume. In books, because there is more internal thought taking place, I can relate to a character that lives in Barcelona and grew up the son of a bookseller. In film, because everything is much more visual with less time for intense introspection, I find it harder to relate to characters with more unique tendencies. Regardless of how I relate – because remember, who the fuck am I? – adding what used to be called “spice” to your characters’ lives, relationships, and sexual antics will only enhance the story because it adds depth and will speak to more people than you think.

Love is bullshit. No, wait, love is conflict and conflict is awesome so I guess love is awesome then as well. There has to be some faulty logic there. Before I search for the logic gap, I’m off to read Savage Love – an amazing column coordinated by Dan Savage – for inspiration but also provides great insight into what really goes on in people’s hearts, minds, and bedrooms. Thank you Dan!


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