Category Archives: story-telling

Been gone so long….

No one is likely to have noticed, but for the last several months I have been largely disconnected from my blog– a couple of movie reviews, a few short political rants, but nothing about the core reason I created this blog in the first place, which was to share my writing experiences and struggles.

I won’t go into graphic detail about why.  My writing efforts tend to go through cycles of enthusiasm and despondency as it is, but for the last few months I have been particularly disconnected from my major projects, and could only doodle away at other pieces that have no hope of being published any time soon.  More than that, I came perilously close to closing out and discarding the Divine Lotus series of novels altogether, and had to be talked out of it, to a large extent, by an old friend whose enthusiasm for the books exceeds my own.

Life changes and personal failures contributed to my malaise.  I have been actively depressed, if that’s not a contradiction in terms, to the degree that it was hard to see a point in my writing.  A sense of futility often made it hard for me to even get my hands to the keyboard.

I cannot say that is all over and done with.  I’ve taken certain steps to redirect my life, but it is unclear at this hour whether these steps will be effective.  I have, however, resumed writing Princess of Stars.  The Horseman (a terrible title, but it’s only tentative) is also in the pipeline.

The truth is, I am not a very good writer, and I never will be.  My writing is mediocre, at best, and it was that sense of dissatisfaction that nearly caused me to dump the Divine Lotus novels.  I’m also never going to make any serious money at this.  That’s become more and more apparent to me, as well, but I think that I have recovered enough from my depression to simply want to see the stories completed for the sake of being completed. That seems a worthy and sufficient goal in itself.

Hopefully this new resolution will hold, and I will be posting more often in the coming months.  In addition to talking about my progress on my projects, I’d like to get back to doing more movie and book reviews.  I might even once more take up the cudgel of flash fiction challenges, but I make no promises.

Of course, this all assumes that a certain bloviating blowhard is denied access to the nuclear codes and doesn’t thereby blow us all to hell.

But that’s another post.





How to make money writing…or destroy yourself…

At the moment there is an active thread over on Amazon’s Kindle Authors forum, debating the best way to make a living writing. I’ve restrained myself from commenting on the thread, because I would be tempted to use words like “hack” in my response to the original poster. Name-calling does not foster reasoned debate. Besides, there has already been enough of that kind of thing.

The more I read through the posts, however, the more I start to wonder if the OP isn’t on to something– not necessarily something nice, or useful to me, but perhaps just a spark of truth.

The poster’s point– which he presents as rock-ribbed truth, rather than as opinion– is that, to make money as a writer, we need to identify the “niche markets” that are currently “hot”, and write in those niches. Our personal tastes and desire to express ourselves in our writing must, according to him, take a back seat, if not get shoved into the trunk. He says, “Do you want to write what you love to write or do you want to write what sells?” which just about sums up his attitude.

My initial reaction to this sort of assertion is disgust. I have to admit, though, looking at the current state of publishing, and, in particular, self-publishing, it is hard to argue with his basic premise.

Erotica on Amazon, Smashwords and elsewhere sells well. The world of genre publishing is currently flooded with Hunger Games imitations. Supernatural romance/adventure, particularly involving vampires, zombies and werewolves, is everywhere. What’s left over seems largely occupied by people who want to be the next Diana Gabaldon or J. K. Rowling or Rick Riordan.

And, of course, we are all suffering through the Age of Fifty Shades of Grey, perhaps the greatest niche novel of them all. I recently saw a self-published author on Google+ advertise his novel as “Fifty Shades of Grey on Steroids!” The mind boggles.

It is evident a lot of people are trying to jump on a number of different bandwagons. This is, however, nothing new. There was a time when every new fantasy book seemed to be a re-tread of The Lord of the Rings (many still are). When Mickey Spillane was big, everyone wanted to do violent, hard-edged detective fiction. You can, in fact, trace this sort of thing right back to Homer– we know that subsequent writers/poets elaborated on The Illiad and The Odyssey.

There is, in short, an instinct in many writers to want to imitate what has succeeded before. It’s easier, perhaps, to adopt the formulas of others than to create your own, especially if those formulas appear to be lucrative. Hollywood, in fact, nowadays largely runs on this principle. And there has never been a shortage of writers willing to slot themselves into formulas that appear to pay dividends– who are willing to create material, not based on their own creative vision, but on someone else’s.

This all raises a central question– why, after all, do we write?

Perhaps, however, that’s too broad a question. There’s no accounting for all the different motivations people bring to writing. I can really only talk honestly about why I write. And when I focus on my motivation, the answer becomes clear.

I write because I have stories in me. And I always have.

When I was six or so my father bought a plastic model kit for a KC-135 Stratotanker. I watched him as he assembled it. He did a beautiful job on the model, working hard to put it together just right. When he was finished, he mounted it on a stand and put it up where I could not reach it and told me, “Don’t touch.”

I remember going absolutely mad with frustration.

Because I didn’t want to admire the model as a piece of statuary. I wanted to take it down and play with it; to make it fly, at least as well as my pudgy little child’s hand could make it fly. I wanted to go adventuring with it, going on bombing runs (the distinction between “tanker” and “bomber” being fuzzy in my six-year-old mind). Maybe there would have even been an encounter with a UFO or a crash-landing or two.

In other words, I wanted to create stories with it.

Most of my childhood play was story-telling in one way or another, and when I grew older, my play simply transmogrified into actual narrative. My earliest tales were, of course, derivative of Star Trek and Lost in Space and DC’s Legion of Super-Heroes, and mostly narratives I told myself before I went to sleep, but they were explicitly stories, and before I was eleven I knew I wanted to write them down.

Eleven was a long, long time ago, and I hope that my tales have become a little more sophisticated and a little less derivative in that time, but they have all come out of the same story-telling impulse. And more and more, I have come to insist on writing down my vision, not someone else’s.

That is my basic motivation for writing. Would I like to make a living at it (or even just a noticeable amount of money)? Certainly, and at one time I thought that was a possibility. In the last year or so, however, that possibility seems to have dwindled away. It’s quite possible, putting it in the terms of the original poster from the Kindle thread, that my Divine Lotus series does not belong to any recognizable niche. In fact, as a novel about a teenage girl that’s not truly a young adult work, and a science-fiction tale that is as much about the impact of development and cross-cultural assimilation as it is about adventure, almost certainly not. It is entirely possible that this is why it has not attracted a noticeable audience.

If so, will I be re-writing these novels to fit some niche that’s currently selling?

$%#%@!%! no.

I could try to fit my writing to someone else’s scheme, but I can hardly think of a quicker way to destroy myself. I have written what I have within me; to try to do otherwise would be self-betrayal. Not that I have some tremendous artistic vision, worth of a Sistine Chapel– I just have mine, and that’s enough. And if that doesn’t attract an audience, well, I wasn’t planning on quitting my day job anytime soon, anyway.

So, perhaps there’s a grain of truth in the OP’s assertions. Making money from writing is not the same thing as expressing yourself, and never has been. We live in a cynical age in which a piece of garbage like Fifty Shades of Grey can, somehow, hit the zeitgeist’s happy button and make millions. If you come to writing just to make money, pick your bandwagon and hop on.

But that’s not for me. And I’m okay with that.


Suspension of disbelief and its limits

My recent post on The Guardians of the Galaxy got me to thinking about a part of story-telling that gets mentioned every now and then, but which (it occurs to me) is actually extremely critical, in any genre, anywhere, anytime. I’m talking about the reader/viewer/listener’s suspension of disbelief.

I’m not sure this is talked about a lot in writing classes, and I hardly ever heard about it in the various writing groups I’ve been associated with over the years- at least, by its full name. Many times, however, readers would say to me, “That just threw me right out of the story.” In other words, something about the narrative prevented the reader from suspending their disbelief in the fictional world I presented to them.

Suspension of disbelief– the ability to say “I am going to temporarily accept the baseline premises of a fictional universe in order to enter into that world and enjoy the sensation that the world is real and happening now.” That’s a little long-winded, but I think it covers all the bases.

Here’s the point– suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader/viewer/listener is essential to the story’s success. Without it, without the implicit agreement between the story-teller and the recipient of the story that they are going to pretend, for just this moment, that this fictional universe is real, the recipient of the story cannot enter into the tale, and cannot enjoy it. Period.

And this is true for all fictional endeavors. Science-fiction and fantasy have to work harder than some other genres to achieve suspension of disbelief, but SoD is in operation in every sort of narrative story, because it permeates every critical aspect of a story– world, characterization, action. If Jane Austen had written Lizzie Benet in Pride and Prejudice as her independent self in one chapter and a compliant mouse in the next, her readers would have said, “This threw me out of the story” (or early 19th Century words to that effect)– in other words, they would have been unable to suspend disbelief.

In an important sense, this was what I was complaining about in my review of Guardians of the Galaxy— there were moments (thankfully not that many) that threatened my suspension of disbelief. That giant head, for instance, for me just doesn’t work as an object in a science-fiction story– my brain starts gnawing away at questions like how is it possible to have a giant organism in space, and how are the bodily components of a giant space alien valuable? etc., all of which immediately interfere with my enjoyment of the story. The head violates what I assumed were the basic premises of the story.

Failure to maintain SoD is a threat to the very success of a story. Do it too often, or to too great a degree, and the audience turns off the television, walks out of the theater, throws the book across the room. Worse, the disappointed are likely to spread poisonous word of mouth– Yeah, that book/movie/show sucked, it made no sense. Not making sense to a reader or viewer is the kiss of death.

Or it should be. However, suspension of disbelief is actually a personal thing. Elements of a story that might absolutely destroy the experience for me might go completely unnoticed by others. It is, in fact, a factor of personal taste.

Which brings me to this–

In ordinary circumstances, the thought of a new Mad Max/Road Warrior movie would leave this particular fan-boy gibbering with delighted anticipation. Watching this trailer, however, fills me with dread. The original Road Warrior had a simple, gritty sensibility, which was actually enhanced by its low-low-low budget. Among other things, its effects and stunts had to be practical and guaranteed not to kill anybody. This gave it more verisimilitude than you would have expected from a stark description of the film (post-apocalyptic survivors fight over gasoline).

This film, on the other hand, looks like a badly-made video game– overblown, filled with explosions, hurtling cars, hurtling bodies, and pieces of action that either seem to violate basic Newtonian physics or just not make any sense (people on poles? Why?). It looks as if George Miller, now that he’s George Freakin’ Miller, is bathing in money, and has thrown most of it at this production. But to me, it is the apparently nonsensical and over-the-top action that has already set my SoD to trembling. To my eyes, the action doesn’t look plausible– and, as a consequence, I will hesitate to dive into this particular film experience without at least seeing a goodly number of reviews. Lots of reviews. And I sure as taxes will not be camping out at the Cineplex waiting for opening day.

Of course, judging a movie by its trailer is probably even more problematic than judging a book by its cover. This movie may yet redeem itself to me. But here’s where the part about SoD being an expression of personal taste comes into play. This movie will doubtless make buckets of money, because, quite simply, there seem to be an incredible number of people nowadays who, in my opinion, are undiscriminating action junkies who will watch anything with a sufficient number of very large explosions and/or fast moving objects. Think Fast and Furious or Transformers. We’re talking about people for whom, apparently, no explosion is too big, no piece of action too outlandish. People whose SoD, it seems, has acquired a nearly infinite elasticity. As a consequence, classics like The Road Warrior are betrayed by junk sequels, and movies (and story-telling in general) are left all the poorer.

I seem to have slipped over into a rant. I will therefore stop here, leave poor Max alone, and just come to my point. Suspension of disbelief is one of the absolutely critical elements of the story-telling art. Not pushing your readers or viewers into disbelief, not breaking that implicit contract with them to create a plausible world, is essential. Every creator of a narrative needs to pay attention to it.

Unless you want your story to feel like an overblown cartoon.

‘Nuff said. Later.