The big beach in Pohang is called Bukbu. It has the decent beachfront where masses of people loiter about and do their beach thing like promenade, drink too much, and sleep on the sand. I live near Songdo Beach, which I’m going to hence forth refer to as Scum Beach.
It’s actually not that bad, but if you saw it you’d know what I meant. Still it’s cool to see people parasurf or whatever down there.
You know how when you’re eating lobster and are licking melted butter from your fingers, and the whole time your Kosher buddy is sitting there looking at you in disgust and starts in on the whole “cockroach of the sea” thing?
Well, watching a horde of these critters skitter like a living carpet across a rock makes you rethink your position.
I’m not a fan of writing posts, especially those written by unpublished, self-published, and/or “neo-pro” writers. Nor am I fan of “celebrity slushreaders” going on about how they dream a story they select might win a Nebula like they were right there writing the story beside the author, or at the very least keeping their tea mug filled, as if reading slush wasn’t the equivalent of being so much human baleen.
Bullshit on all that.
But I’ve got two writing posts itching to get off my fingers so let me just get them done between now and next week and then I won’t have to write about writing or slushing for the rest of the year. I’m putting it here for my own benefit as much as anyone else.
People talk a lot about hooks and openings and grabbing the reader so they keep on reading. And yeah I use the word hook as well, but it’s not about that at all. (Rudy Rucker has a great bit on “hooks” in his Writer’s Toolkit, which everyone should download.)
Other folks talk about establishing trust between reader and writer, and I agree with them but wondered how that trust was gained because it has to be right at the start. Then I got a couple stories in the slush this week that helped me figure it out.
What it comes down to is control.
You can do whatever you want in your story. Write it lush or transparent. Climb Freytag’s pyramid or flip it on its peak and kick it in the rear. Anything goes as long as you’re in control.
As long as each word and sentence connects to the next word and sentence and the whole thing makes a pattern where there’s nothing more you can subtract from it. That’s control. Having pieces left in your hand at the end is control.
What’s not control is starting your story with a well-groomed hook and then piling on introspection, backstory, and/or setting details. What’s not control is leaving nothing out, but throwing it all in there and hoping for the best. Lush doesn’t mean overgrown or overwriting a story so thick it collapses under its own weight.
Every word must link together. They can be ugly or oddly shaped words, but they have to fit into the story’s overall pattern (and of course that pattern can be all freak-a-deak weird, but there has to be some discernable resonance there).
That’s it. Writing post number one is done. It’s all about control.
Next week 10 Bad Slush Habits. Until then here’s Spoek Mathambo’s disturbing cover of Joy Division’s “She’s Lost Control”. Don’t blame me if it gives you nightmares.
Writings of light assault the darkness, more prodigious than meteors.
The tall unknowable city takes over the countryside.
Sure of my life and death, I observe the ambitious and would like to
Their day is greedy as a lariat in the air.
Their night is a rest from the rage within steel, quick to attack.
They speak of humanity.
My humanity is in feeling we are all voices of that same poverty.
They speak of homeland.
My homeland is the rhythm of a guitar, a few portraits, an old sword,
the willow grove’s visible prayer as evening falls.
Time is living me.
More silent than my shadow, I pass through the loftily covetous multitude.
They are indispensable, singular, worthy of tomorrow.
My name is someone and anyone.
I walk slowly, like one who comes from so far away he doesn’t expect to
– Jorge Luis Borges
(translation Stephen Kessler)
Thanks to Saladin Ahmed for sending this my way.
My wife feels guilty when we watch Korean movies and they’re not in subtitles. It’s not much of a problem since we tend to watch period action movies and I dig the fight scenes. (The Korean I know is limited to numbers, a few phrases to keep me from starving/dying of thirst, and jinja which is Korean for “No way!” You wouldn’t believe the mileage you can get out of jinja…)
And really in action movies are hard is it? You know the good guys and you know the bad guys and you know which characters are going to complicate things and you can see who’s doing what and where they are and whether or not the fight will be with bows or guns or knives or shish-ka-bob skewers or whatever. Really. It’s not hard.
But after the movie we’ll discuss it and my wife will fill me in on the more subtler bits of plot and whether or not the script was any good (normally they’re not, but she gives high marks to Reign of Assassins.)
She’ll also want to know what I named the characters, because she knows me and if I’m sitting there watching a movie and engaging with it I’m going to be making up the story and giving the characters names based on their costumes or characteristics. So I’ll tell her, “Yeah. That guy was Grumpus. And the other guy was Blue Eyes, and the girl was Lala and her mom was Mrs. Fred…” and you get the picture. Basically I’m free-associating.
Well, all this is to say we went to the movies and saw Awesome Archer Guy. It was about a guy named Hawkeye and his sister Wasp and their buddy Dudley, and some brutish Mongolians showed up when Dudley and Wasp wanted to get married, and Hawkeye had to track the Mongolians to save Dudley and Wasp and the Mongolians were bad-ass (especially Ryu Seung-ryong’s character) except for Prince Shiny Blue who got set on fire. He was a simpering putz.
The actual name of the movie is Arrow: The Ultimate Weapon, so you know I wasn’t that far off…
“Consider the nature of a city. It is a vast repository of time, the discarded times of all the men and women who have lived, worked, dreamed and died in the streets which grow like a willfully organic thing, unfurl like petals of a mired rose and yet lack evanescence so entirely that they preserve the past in haphazard layers, so this alley is old while the avenue that runs beside it is newly built but nevertheless has been built over the deep-down, dead-in-the-ground relics of the older, perhaps the original, huddle of alleys which germinated the entire quarter.”
– Angela Carter, The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman
Yesterday I was at the beach. A lovely place, it overlooks a giant steam-spewing steel mill. They light it up with neon at night. When the flames shoot out it looks just like Bladerunner. Someone I had never met before was telling a story about someone I didn’t know.
Guy: He’s like Daniel Craig if Daniel Craig was a pale fat Canadian…
Me: So like if Daniel Craig looked more like John Candy?
At some point later I ended up filling out Driver Safety Evaluation forms for Hyundai. (The person was supposed to have done them during a business trip but didn’t, though judging from the questions I can imagine truck drivers didn’t want to bother.) I’ve never had a driver’s license in my life and have been behind the wheel of a car on less than five occasions. The best part was making up the names to put on the forms. After that I made sure my handwriting was as illegible as possible.
Don’t blame me if/when your car bursts into flames.
Shimmer Magazine posted question two in their Five Authors/Five Questions series:
“How do you go about choosing a title for the story? Do titles present themselves before the work begins, or when it’s complete?”
Shimmer Magazine included me in their “Five Authors / Five Questions” series. Question number one was “How do you begin a story? Does it start with the idea, a character, an image, a line of dialogue, or are all stories different?” Click here to read my answer.
Thanks to E. Tobler and the rest of the Shimmer crew for including me.
I’m posting this here for my own benefit. You are free to take, leave, or modify this rule as you see fit, but this is how I want to live.
The proper response to a book or short story* is not a blog post about the injustice of the book or story’s existence or why it is just so WRONG WRONG WRONG, but to write another book or story addressing the very issues bothering you.
If it’s a story that makes you angry then write a story fueled by that anger. If you think the author glossed over important details, then by all means create something that widens the scope or changes the perspective. If the story reduces the argument to simplistic terms, then write a story that forces the work back to address a wider spectrum.
Don’t write an angry blog post. Don’t leave a comment. Don’t rattle a saber because you like the way it sounds. Don’t put a chip on your shoulder just to have one there.
Yes. It may be difficult to place that story. It may run counter to prevailing tastes or whatever clique happens to be dictating what’s in fashion these days. Don’t let this stop you. Write the story anyway. Write it with that passion that your words need to be said. Write it like you would that blog post.
But write the story. Articulate your position in prose. And if you decide to post the story online, then make it your blog post.
The best reaction to a thing you disagree with is not a defensive reaction but to create another, better, thing. Explore the initial position, attack it, subvert it, twist it to your own ends, but make something new.
Let the emotion fuel better work, not add to the online noise.
* I’m keeping it limited to fiction because it takes a lot of time and money to make a movie/TV show, and if it’s a comment online that’s making you angry, well, take a deep breath, take a step back, maybe see if you need to clean out the hair-trap in your shower, walk the dog, do the dishes, go to a different webpage, because it’s an online comment and all you need to shoot one of those into the ether is a lizard brain and a twitchy finger hovering near the return key.
Make something new.
Make something better.