Monday, August 19, 2013

Check your 6 o'clock...

(I've been incubating this post as long as I care to. It is what it is.)

We all have something lurking over us, breath murky on our ear, claws trembling in anticipation of flesh. 

"...Sin lieth at your door.  And unto thee shall be its desire..."

At best, this temptation wishes no greater harm than to delight us, but in a derailing fashion - choosing chocolate over the workout video, watching tv shows instead of writing, playing video games instead of parenting.
At worst, giving in would be unhealthy, immoral, illegal.

That said, discipline means something different to everyone. But it seems to always be the harder choice. The endless struggle. It starts the moment you become conscious that your actions are your own (which is later in life for some of us than others) and doesn't end until you exhale for the very last time.

Like gasoline to every automobile you've ever owned, tension is a universal solvent. That's why conflict is necessary in a good book. There's comfort in discomfort... because pain is relative. The smartest writers convince us it couldn't get any worse. And so, while reading a good book, our problems pale compared to those of our hero. We're comforted by how easy we have it.

www.wired.co.uk - The Zelda Project

A good lesson for writers, especially us nerdy, world-building, fantasy sorts, is that tension is key. We've all played video games where innocent music trickles from a sunny, blue sky and our chief concern is smashing all the pots to find rupees. And so when we attempt to translate that joy to the page, in all its neutered comfort, we overlook the most important subcutaneous inevitability: The  world's going to end if something isn't done!

When an author can sneak a whisper of unease into every burst of laughter, every tulip's shadow, every whistled tune, she's written something magical.

Though I have only my own experiences to rely on, I believe the people who don't understand the language of tension are those who've forfeited all discipline, given up any control over their lives. They're the leaves on a breeze (not to be confused with a leaf on the wind), the constant victims, having long since forgotten their own identities. Consequences no longer register because nothing's their fault. The world ended already and they'll be the last to know it.
If this refers to you, know that I'm not condemning you. There's a very real place for you in my books. It's just not the most flattering.

Are you able to weave your personal struggles and temptations into your craft, whatever it may be? 
Considering that this post is 100% rambling, I welcome discourse to convince me I'm wrong on any point I've made herein.

They say, "Write what you know." We all know struggle.


21 comments:

  1. Leaf on the wind - bonus points for the Serenity reference!
    I don't place many of my own struggles in my books, but there are plenty of others struggling in the world from which to draw ideas.

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    1. :):):)

      I'm not so much personally revealing with my writing as I am personally infusing... If that makes any sense.

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  2. Very interesting reflection, David. I agree with you... that need for struggle is so important in both life and fiction. If you give up struggling in either, you've already lost.

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  3. Yes, I know what you mean here. I know people who drift. They are certain that their life is something that happens to them instead of them controlling their life. It frustrates me to no end. As for those sorts of people and characters... it does take all kinds to make the world go round.

    I, too, enjoyed the Firefly/Serenity reference. Wash was a great character!

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    1. It is very frustrating indeed. And it drains you to hear them go on about how unfair it all is. But you're right, it does take all sorts.

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  4. If the struggles are our own, we can make them more real. I know there were several of mine that ended up in my series.

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    1. This is why I believe that age, above all else, brings fodder for stories.

      When I first read Eragon, before the world had conceived notions of it, I arrived at certain passages and said to myself, the author isn't even 20 years old... What could he possibly know about that?

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  5. Well, for me it is like you said. Infusing more than revealing something personal.

    I don't write a story where someone goes to pay a bill and he forgot his wallet and the kids are upset because it is hot in the car. I may take this and have thugs coming for payment when the guy about to get pummeled realizes his money purse has been just been picked.

    If we can relate as a writer to a scene then I feel it is easier for the reader to.

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    1. Excellent improvised fantasy scene!
      This is what I'm talking about.
      "Write what you know!"

      I think it would be safe to take your final statement ever further. If writer's CAN'T relate to a scene or character, the readers probably won't either.

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    2. I agree with this furthering...APPROVED SIR!!! lol

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  6. I had a beta reader tell me that he didn't like three of my fight scenes because the sentences were too short and choppy. I explained that all three scenes were very quick and abrupt, not long drawn out battles that he's used to in his high fantasy books.

    Depending on the scene, sentence structure can be used to help add a layer of tension.

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    1. It's occurred to me that, although I love epic fantasy, I prefer grittier, tighter fight scenes. Definitely have to have choppy sentences for high action.

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  7. love that, we put so much effort into enveloping the reader into our created world then have to threaten its existence! make them feel it!

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    1. Exactly. Somethings truly are only created to be destroyed.

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  8. I was nodding along until I got to the end. Then I was like, "Wash! Noooooooo..."

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    1. Yeah :(
      I'll never think it was a good idea for Wash to die. Never ever.

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  9. Yes, all good points on the struggle. Everyone in life struggles with something, and so too must our characters. There are certain aspects of my life I've infused into my characters to add that struggle, but I dislike seeing too much of myself in a character. On the other hand, sometimes a story needs "victims" to beef up the other characters, or simply to show growth in main or secondary character. As you point out, all personality types have a place in the story, a struggle to overcome.

    I'm thinking here of the movie Accidental Hero. Bernie was a whinny, the world is against me type character, but he consistently over-came his natural inclination to give up and just let the world roll over him.

    ......dhole

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    1. Indeed. I haven't seen Accidental Hero. Some might say the worse off a character starts, the better the story is when he overcomes.
      The challenge is in making the reader stick around for the first part, when the character is a douche bag.

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