Triggers and Knee-jerk Reactions

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Have you ever caught yourself ranting about a topic that you didn’t think you felt strongly about?  I have.  (Not about last week’s post; I’ve been stewing in that topic for a while. Don’t silence the writers!)

Did you stop yourself mid-rant, or blunder ahead, full of piss and vinegar?  Did you observe yourself?  Take notes, mentally or physically?  Observe others and their reactions?  Did it spark story ideas?  (I am SO putting this jerk in my next book!)

Since this blog is mostly about my painful and exhilarating journey through writing and self-publishing, I’m assuming most of you are writers of some type.  It’s fairly common for writers to observe the world around them.  Some of us even use ourselves as guinea pigs, just for the chance to observe life from the inside.  I’m not sure if that’s a sane choice, but writers are not known for their sanity.  Our working conditions make us the mad hatters of the modern world.

A lot of people use food to self soothe after a trauma. (Show me on the taco where your feelings were hurt.)  Some people use mind altering substances, both the legal and illegal types.  (I don’t have a joke for that; the results are too depressing.)  People also use therapy, in the form of a friend’s shoulder or even a professional shoulder.  (Would ‘Professional Shoulder’ look good on a business card?)

Writers use those techniques, too, but I find the most soothing thing is to write about trauma.  We go where the discomfort is and prod it, because that’s where the best stories hide.  Written inside out and upside down, taken apart, put back together, then stuffed into a ill fitting costume.  Then I let it go.  Frankenstein’s monster lurches down to the village, once again, making everyone uncomfortable.  (He sits at your table, even when there are plenty of empty tables in the coffeehouse. Or something.)

I believe that is a writer’s job, to help us see other points of view.  Entertain us, yes!  But also teach us something about the world.  Something we haven’t considered before.  Open our minds. Give us something to believe in, or show us something we feverently hope will never come to pass. Story telling shouldn’t be safe. Help us find our boundaries, our line in the sand.  True north on our moral compass.  Help us to find a place to stand firm, where we can say, “No. You move.”  (Can you guess my favorite superhero?)

I’ve been adding people to my Facebook page–writers mostly–and not often those I agree with. At this point in an election year, I would normally be nose down in books, avoiding commercials and social media like it’s… well, anything related to politics and socializing.  Instead, I’m sponging it up, spongingly spongelike, yellow and absorbent, bits of the scrubby pad wearing off, and starting to smell a bit.  It’s been educational.  In some posts the tiniest disagreement on syntax can start a flame war, accruing hundreds of hateful comments, while the actual topic gets ignored.  Other posts are a think-tank, with ideas and disagreements being examined rationally and with great thought. Most posts–of course–fall somewhere in between.

Is there a point to this blog?  Perhaps it’s just a continuation of last week’s rant.  Perhaps I’m filling the space, avoiding that future post about helpful grammar books. Perhaps I should take a chance and post one of those uncomfortable Franken-fiction stories.  I’m not sure.  I think I’m just squeezing out a bit of the excess moisture.

Happy writing, and don’t be silenced!

The Hidden Hero: Tropes & Clichés

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I get it.  You’ve seen that trope a million times.  You are sick of it.  “Can we please have another type of story?”  The same characters, situations, and conflicts appear over and over.  So, you write an insightful blog or article that instructs all current and future writers that this topic is done.  “Stop,” you say.  “It’s all been said, again, and again, and again, and again…”

I have two words for you.  SCREW YOU!

Here are some more words.  Not everyone has read the same books as you. Or been to the same movies, or watched the same TV series. Not everyone is from the same culture as you, or has the same privileges.  Not everyone has had the chance to be represented as the hero of the story because of their gender, skin color, sexuality, beliefs, etc.

The “Classics of Literature” have been set in place by a small sub-set of humanity. We have barely started listening to the point of view of other voices, and we are already shutting down whole topics?  Really? The writers of the past have already had their say.  Now, it is our turn.

Yes, we should be aware of cultural shifts and language drifts.  Words and phrases come to mean something different over time. Yes, we should be evolving, both as people and as writers. Only an idiot tries to stay the same, birth to death. Yes, we should be aware that there are topics that people don’t want to deal with, but catharsis is an important tool for recovery.

Take back the freedom to write about everything that makes you uncomfortable. It is on the edges of the hard topics that you find clarity.  Rape and consent.  Gender self-identification and sexuality.  Xenophobia and colonialism.  Privilege and classism. Morality and justice.  In fiction we can take these topics apart–tropes and clichés included–and put them back together in ways that make them easier to understand.  We are searching for hope among the debris.

Right now, on this planet, there are cultures that still force women and men to dress in gender significant ways.  Force!  As in legal and physical punishment. The trope “girl dresses as a boy to gain freedom” is still relevant.  So is its opposite.  Maybe YOU don’t require that story to be told to you, but someone else does.  Stop insisting that stories cater only to your specific needs.  You are tired of it?  Fine.  Avoid it.  It’s not that common.  Meanwhile, stop attempting to put limits on writers and storytellers.  Don’t expect every story you encounter to explore your particular set of circumstances.

Writers, I’m begging you, stop trying to conform to every “How to write” article you come across.  Some of them are pure bunkum.  Write the story you want to read.  You are not so unique that your story can’t be enjoyed by someone else.  You will find those who want the story, maybe even need it.  If you can’t help but read those articles from curiosity (like me), remember that it is someones OPINION, and everyone has one, just like… bellybuttons.

Seriously, why is there such an effort to micro-manage future storytelling?

“No, you move.”

My mind is a whirlwind this week.  Everybody is an outspoken expert on everything. Usually I can pull one thing out and comment on it, hopefully in a sane manner.  I have my trigger points.  I have a knee-jerk reaction to topics.  I try to not let those personal failings turn into even more hate spewed back at the world.  I’m learning to not type while angry.

I’ve always tried to be open to the other side of the story, but at my age my opinions are pretty set. People should get to be who they really are.  Everybody.  Even if who they are is an ass.  They can scream and rant and threaten, treating others online as less than human.  It doesn’t touch my personal code of ethics.  I will stand my ground.

So this will be short.  I’m going to take my coffee and sit on my porch, listen to the bird song, and be thankful for a moment.  Maybe I’ll take a walk.  I’ll come back and do some writing.  I may or may not go back online today.  Depends on the state of my patience and my bullshit filter.

Have a great day.

 

Do’s and Dont’s of Writing Spell Casting Scenes

Nobody writes graphic descriptions in their spell casting scenes, and if you do you will look like a big stupid head.  Here’s an arbitrary list of rules; if you don’t pay attention your book will suck, you will suck, and you will get an award for Sucky Writing.

  1. Don’t be graphic.  Don’t use words like rod, staff or wand, or how it sparkles and vibrates.  It’s tacky, and we know you have that thing helping you make magic. Everybody has one.
  2. Don’t talk about the mechanics of magic.  We all know it’s swish and flick. Don’t go describing it.
  3. Don’t describe the results.  Don’t tell us how the character fell to the ground afterwards, gasping for breath, exhausted from expending so much energy.  Or how they are buzzed from the residue of making magic; it’s icky.
  4. Don’t focus on the magical act.  Tell me about the smell of dog across the street, or the way the light makes a pattern on the wall.
  5. Less is more.  You must make your reader struggle to understand that a magic spell is being cast, or what is the point of writing?  How else are you going to trick them into re-reading your wonderful words?

Does this look familiar?  Despite the excessive level of snark, it’s pretty close to the articles that keep crossing my Facebook and Twitter feed.  If you haven’t already figured it out, I’m tired of the “How to Write Sex Scenes” articles regurgitating the same tips.  Why do so many different article writers use the same phrases over and over?  Is there some master article that they are all paraphrasing?  Do you get paid a bonus if you re-write and re-post these sex scene shaming tips?

Why aren’t there just as many articles about how to properly write a spell casting scene, or a fight scene, or any other specific type of scene.  I don’t know how many badly written fistfights I’ve glossed over because it’s a list of moves, and not putting me in the moment.  However, I don’t decide the writer is worthless based on that scene.

Can’t we–as writers–judge for ourselves if we are using the right tone for our stories?  As a culture, we are trying to be more openminded about sexuality and gender.  Can’t our characters reflect that, unafraid to express their sexuality, or must they all be stuck in the morals of a past century?

I also have a real pet peeve about how sentences are excised from books, then held up as bad writing for all to see.  What about context?  Maybe it’s a bit purple, but was it a natural progression in the story?  What is purple for one book could be fine for the next, and too weak for the following book.  What one reader thinks is too purple could be acceptable for the next person.

I understand that a lot of people may not like my writing style, but I’m a proud member of the Order of the Occult Hand (although they haven’t told me what the current phrase is, the Bastards).  Euphuisms–and even clichés–are your friends, because they evoke an immediate reaction.

Sex can be a lot of things, good and bad.  Sometimes it makes you hyper-focused or feel your existence is exploding into everything.  Sometimes it’s badly awkward or happening for all the wrong reasons.  Sometimes it’s so intimate that you feel as if you are inside your partner’s soul.  I reserve the right to tell the story the way it wants to be told.  You reserve the right to not read it.

 

 

 

Sexism Reflected in the Writer’s Mirror

I read an article/blog two weeks ago about Sexism in Fantasy stories that has really bothered me. I left it pinned to the top of my Facebook feed, so I could re-read it a couple of times, while trying to figure out what was bothering me. You can read it there, or I’ll try to post a link…

http://mythcreants.com/blog/five-signs-your-story-is-sexist/?platform=hootsuite    Yes?  No?  Whatever, just go check it out on my Facebook page, I’ll sort it out later.

What bothers me is not just this individual article/blog, but the way so many people are pointing fingers at books, blaming them for perpetuating the ills of modern society.  Even the students of higher learning–the place you go to expand and challenge yourself–have started protesting the books assigned for the course by the teacher. It made them uncomfortable.

The above article/blog continued the finger pointing, and because it hit on one of my favorite genres it caught my attention.  I have read the books it was accusing of sexism, and I had opinions. Opinions somewhat similar to the blogger in some ways, but widely dissimilar in others.  If you really tried to follow this blogger’s suggestions, you would have to not include females in your story at all, for fear of making them too trope-y.  But that would be sexist, so maybe you could make all of your characters females.  But, wait, isn’t that sexist, too?

I guess I don’t like being told to play it safe.  It made me uncomfortable.

Also, allowances weren’t made for the age of some of the books, and it’s unfair to expect writers of past generations to have the same sensitivities as a modern writer.  We are going through a very painful stage of growth as a society, trying to understand the deep hooks of misogyny, and how to pull them out without doing more damage than they are causing.

I admit it, I have hot buttons, too.  (Skinny-shaming is a big one for me.)  A trip through ‘multi-media land’ makes me unhappy on a daily basis, with advertising, memes and all forms of entertainment subtly–and not so subtly–trying to maintain the status quo.  I think the point of no return-to-the-kitchen has been passed, and we must all work together to redefine ourselves as humans, not a specific gender of human.

Meanwhile, let’s explore what makes us uncomfortable.  Discomfort is where you find your internal boundaries.  What direction does your moral compass point?  Is it a fair direction, for EVERYBODY?  Do your boundaries allow humans to be free, or force them to conform to your personal view of the world?  Has a book or other story made you feel uncomfortable?  How did that make you feel about the writer?  Were you angry someone wrote such trash?

Banning books has always been a questionable behavior for me.  You are giving free publicity to something you seem to hate, somehow unaware that you’re working against your actual wants; for people to not read THAT book.

You know… THAT book.  The one with sex, or magic, or rape, or swords, or homosexuality, or dragons, or bondage, or aliens, or death, or drugs, or war, or slavery, or racism, or sexism, or classism, or icky-ism, or something-ism, or we-don’t-talk-about-that-ism.

Often, the words beginning the protest are, “I haven’t read the book, but…”  Please, stop. With those words, you have lost all credibility, and I really don’t care what your uninformed opinion is. Writing and reading are subtle arts, and reading a line or two does not convey the place of those lines IN a story.  If this concept is too advanced for you, maybe you shouldn’t be the one trying to decide what other people can read.

The writer’s mirror reflects our society.  That is its job.  To show you the past, the now, and the future.  What we were, who we are, and what we could be. Some writers show the positive side of society, some the negative, but most seem to show a mix of both. Setting, character, plot, and technique all are tools of the writer trying to tell a story.  I believe every story is telling us something important, and needs to be told.  We need to listen.  We need to be made uncomfortable.  I hope I will make my readers uncomfortable.

For now, I will polish the mirror.

 

Writing Erotica; How deep will you go?

First of all, this should be the last time this blog will appear on my personal Facebook page. I plan on having the Danae Wulfe author page up by next Wednesday, and all ‘writing’ posts will be coming from there.  I don’t plan on cross posting.  If you have enjoyed reading these blogs or my other posts, please keep an eye out for the new page.

Word count for the Beta draft is 144,221.  I’m five chapters from the end.  I’m getting excited to finish, do some final editing, make up a few more ‘Sci-fi’ words, and give it to some Beta readers.  I’m noticing my brain seems to be a different shape then when I started. Is this normal?

That should be enough words to keep the Facebook post clean, so lets get down to the dirty bits.  18 and over, please!

Ok, you have decided what kinds of words you are going to use for your sex scene, unless your character decided for you.  (Mine did.)

Now, you have to decide how detailed you are going to get.  Vague descriptions, or as detailed as a sex manual. Maybe somewhere in between?  Are you a nearsighted nun describing something seen through a frosted window?  The average person?  A doctor describing a procedure performed under strong lights? A professional dominatrix paid by the dirty word?

Do you know what?  Doesn’t matter.  No matter what you choose, lots of people will think you are  wrong, and a bad writer.

I’ll admit it, the first time I read a modern graphic sex scene, I was shocked. I kept feeling that I was reading something Not Allowed and couldn’t understand why it was just sitting on a shelf, where anyone could pick it up. It should have been wrapped in brown paper and behind the counter, requiring you to ask for it.  The pictures it made in my head, so… intense. So real. So… erotic.

e-rot-ic  adj.  1. Of or concerning sexual love and desire; amatory.  2.Tending to arouse sexual desire.

The more research I do, on writers, erotica, and publishers, the more I find a subtle-and not so subtle-disapproval for writers and publishers who use graphic depictions, even by those who consider themselves unbiased.  It’s labeled ‘porn’, regardless of the depth of the story, and disregarded as serious writing, BUT somehow makes sales.  Sometimes, LOTS of sales, but that apparently only compounds its offenses.

I get it, as a society we are struggling with our sexuality, both as individuals and as ‘groups’.  We still seem to think we have the right to decide if someone is too slutty, too prudish, too confused or just wrong.  You want to have an opinion? Great. It’s normal for the mind to form opinions based on your experiences. Just don’t expect everyone else to subscribe to your particular flavor of morality.

Books are the ultimate in virtual reality.  In its pages you can explore issues, fears, hopes and fantasies.  They can pose the big questions, in a safe but challenging environment. What bothers you about ‘Tom Sawyer’ or ‘The Color Purple’ or ‘Atlas Shrugged’ or ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ or…

Did I lose you? Possibly, but that’s ok.  It’s a hot button, for a lot of people.

Back to the word ‘erotic’.  The definition mentions sexual love.  So, if I’m doing my job right, as a writer, the description of a first touch, or a first kiss, should be considered ‘erotic’, just as much as the first penetration. Before, during, and after a sexual encounter is an especially open and vulnerable point in a relationship.

Some religions think there are three points that you can touch spiritual enlightenment; birth, sex, and death.  Sex is the only one of those you can normally do more than once. Personally, I believe this is why the sex act changes a relationship permanently, either for good or for bad.

Heck, if I am doing my job, the clenched fist hitting the face of your enemy should FEEL visceral.  (Hopefully, not erotic.)  Also, you should FEEL as if you are piloting the space craft, dancing at the Ball, eating the weird foods, and consoling your best friend. Why should I flinch away from sex?

You’re still thinking about ‘Fifty Shades’, aren’t you?  sigh.

Look for my next blog, Erotica; Guilty Pleasure or Evil Incarnate?  In the interim, leave a comment and we can discuss things…