Buddhist monks invented tea thousands of years ago in what is today southwestern China. These monks lived atop the mountains and found the beverage improved their ability to meditate over long periods of time. Also it complimented their other super-powers. Soon the habit spread throughout the lowlands, and in the 7th century Lu Yu wrote his now famous panergeric to the beverage, A Fistful of a Cup of Tea. People became ecstatic — so much so that when Lu Yu died he became God.
The first westerner to have drunk tea was the north African traveler Ibn Battuta who traveled to India in search of a job. He was impressed by how the beverage invigorated the spirit and increased energy.
After watching one too many of his coworkers get torn apart by angry elephants, Battuta decided to return home. When he got there no one believed a beverage like tea could possibly exist.
It wasn’t until George Orwell wrote his seminal essay, Tea, after singlehandedly defeating the forces of Spanish Fascism, that the English stopped drinking boiled mud and adopted the habit.
The rest is more or less history.
I’m not a fan of writing posts, especially those written by unpublished, self-published, and/or “neo-pro” writers.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.
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.
Elsewhere online some friends and I share a group blog. Since 2007 we have put out a chapbook each year at ReaderCon. This year’s no different, only all the stories are set in a shared universe. Copies will be available at ReaderCon or you can download them in PDF, PRC, and EPUB formats.