Sunday, September 26, 2010

World Domination

I was looking into mind-mapping software last week for the nth time (and for the nth time I decided to stick with pencil and paper).  Mind-mapping is a useful technique to have in your writer's toolbox, however you do it.  This post isn't about mind-mapping, though; it's about world domination.  What do the two have to do with each other?  Well, planning for world domination is a frequent topic of mind-mapping software examples and tutorials, that's all.

So I started thinking about world domination.  I mean, how would I go about it from a literary perspective.  Let's say I wanted to take over the literary world.  Or maybe take over the world through literature.  How?

The first thing that sprang to mind was the way certain soft-drink companies (all of whom are bent on world domination, don't you know) want to place their product in retail outlets and vending machines all over so that no one will ever have to walk more than a hundred feet (or something like that) to slake thirst with one of those soft-drinks.  "Slake thirst" -- I like that.  Thirst slaker in a can.  Yeah.

We should have reading material (but not advertisements) within reach of everyone.  We could slake thirst in this intellectual reality-tv dessert, this Bikini Atoll of culture.

And then I thought about how we have all these soft drinks available, all these empty calories helping us get and stay overweight.  Of course, there's the other class of soft-drink, which is the zero-calorie variety, the purpose of which is to counteract the weight-increasing kind.  So we're surrounding ourselves with products that give calories to those of us that don't need them, or products that give us a way to spend our food-money on something that has absolutely no food value.  All in a world with starving millions.  Slake that.

That got me feeling kind of negative about world domination.  I decided to seek a more local solution.

Writers could form gangs.  I'd call mine the West Side Story.  We'd roam the sidewalks at night forcing people to read our works at pen-knife-point under the street lamps, or just chase them into bookstores.  On second thought it sounds too much like dancing.

Maybe we could enlist the Secret Society of Fiction Librarians (come on -- you know the SSFL exists), but they're already busy with their turf war with the reference section, and fending off the book burners....

I guess I'll skip the world domination thing for now.  I don't have time anyway -- I have a story to tell.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Physical Crossover

William Butler Yeats got involved in his writing.  Physically.  He tells of an embarrassing day: 
"I had a study with a window opposite some window of [my stout stupid neighbor's], and one night when I was writing I heard voices full of derision and saw the stout woman and her family standing in the window.  I have a way of acting what I write and speaking it aloud without knowing what I am doing.  Perhaps I was on my hands and knees, or looking down over the back of a chair talking into what I imagined an abyss." (WBY Reveries Over Childhood and Youth)
I don't imagine that most writers act-out to that degree, but I know that I act-out at least a little.  Usually I notice myself mimicking certain head motions and facial expressions of my characters.  I don't find that strange.  My characters are a part of me, and I am a part of them:  we stir each other in the act of creation.

Acting-out also occurs when reading a novel.  In that case, another author has created characters that are so real to me that I can relate as if they are real people -- as real as the people I create myself (which is very real indeed).  I know (or think I know) their motivations, their passions, their worries, their fears, their goals, their disappointments, and what will make them happy or upset.  I know these things as well as I know myself, if the writer has done her job in the writing and I have done mine in the reading.

And that is a wonderful thing.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Who's Flying this Thing?

When training as a pilot, I learned the mantra was "aviate, navigate, communicate".  It served me well when flying, but the same idea applies to (my) writing as well.

The idea is that when you're flying a plane, your first job is always to fly -- keep the plane shiny side up, as they say, and avoid "unintentional ground contact."  Is there smoke coming from the instrument panel?  Fly the plane.  Remain calm.  If you have any attention left (and you should) then navigate -- look for a place to land.  If you still have bandwidth left, get on the radio and communicate your situation to someone who can send help after you get the plane safely on the ground.  Somewhere after aviating and navigating you may find an opportunity to use the fire extinguisher, but you need to keep flying.  You are responsible for everything that happens on that plane.

When you're writing (this probably applies only to pantsers) you need to "write, plot, get feedback".  It doesn't roll off the tongue nearly as well as the pilot's mantra -- how about "plod, plot, see what you've got".  Now where was I?  Oh yeah.

You have to write.   Always.  Has your manuscript developed a flaming hole in the story?  Write.  In the background (if your brain and fingers give you the chance) plot.  A lot of plot develops organically through the act of writing anyway (that's the pantser thing, of course).  Some people will disagree with me on this, but I don't think you should ask for feedback until you've brought the story down safely:  no one but you can write your story.  You are responsible, and asking feedback when you're in the middle of a muddle can make things worse.  It can make you stop writing.

And if you stop, can you start again?

That's my biggest fear:  that I'll stop and lose the thread, lose the excitement, lose the impetus, and I won't get it back again; that my story will fall from the sky, engine off and with no one at the controls, to crash and burn, forgotten in a field.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Literary Traps

When traveling in the real world I believe in packing light, but not so in the world of story.

We all bring baggage, or traps (short for trappings), to our reading and writing; everything from traumatic experiences we had as children, to favorite pets, bullies, unsuccessful relationships -- you name it.  All this and more affects how you interpret what you read as well as what you write about and how you write it.

Just as our life traps affect our ongoing life, our past reading and writing give us new traps that affect our future reading and writing.  They also affect our real life.

The more literary traps we carry, the fuller our experience of story can be, and it spills over into "real life" as well.

For instance, I can no longer see a fox without thinking of The Little Prince; and I can't think of The Little Prince without thinking of wheat fields in the breeze, and loss, and airplanes; which makes me recall flying my dad in a Cessna one Colorado autumn over a pumpkin patch; which brings up The Headless Horseman; which naturally introduces Rip Van Winkle; which reminds me of my Hudson River; then Hudson Bay way up north; polar bears; The Golden Compass; churches and religions; The Da Vinci Code; rose windows; rose hips; the dying community of the Shakers (where I had rose hip ice cream on a field-trip); the Shakers trigger thoughts of death, and almost-death, and missed opportunities; then Ethan Frome; A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court; Le Morte d'Arthur; Beowulf; trolls, and trickery; Douglas Adams; So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish; rain gods; American Gods; The Three Kingdoms; honor and duty and courage; Sam Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings; oliphaunts... elephants inside boa constrictors -- oh -- we're back to The Little Prince.

Quite a trip, wasn't it?  Some traps are good to get into.