Davey, Tell Us A Stooooory

Okay. These past few years, I’ve set out to become a dedicated storyteller. In doing that, I’ve started to look at prose books, comics, and movies/tv shows in a new way. Part audience/Part practitioner.

Just as background: my tastes run towards what you would call classical story-telling. Good ‘n Evil, Character Arcs, Subtexts, good conflict, high-concept metaphors where I can find them, and resolution. Like that.

So, what happens? Well, these days, like some sort of fiction-sniffing hound, I find myself looking for what the shows aren’t doing as much as I am for what they are; this is especially true if they aren’t landing for me. It almost always comes down to a lack of storytelling. When that happens, I ask: What crutch are they using, rather than just telling the story?

Just to kick things off, here are a couple of my most despised Storytelling Avoidance Mechanisms (StAMs).

StAM One – Grimdark.
Look, I saw Chernobyl Diaries at a hotel. I was super-excited by the trailer. The opening premise was good. The characters were introduced nicely— aaaand then?

Well, then the characters were all methodically slaughtered, one-by-one. Except for one, who was captured by unknown figures, and then killed, for reasons that are never explained. Roll credits.

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Friederike

“We are unfashioned creatures, but half made up,

if one wiser, better, dearer than ourselves—

such a friend ought to be—do not lend his aid to

perfectionate our weak and faulty natures.”

-Frankenstein’s Creation

#

The candlelight shadows shivered at the sudden opening of the door behind her.

She caught her breath and readjusted herself—but didn’t get up from the chair. Two heartbeats later, she recognized who it was by the faint smell of rotting flesh beneath the perfume and alcohol and decided to stay still. If he was going to kill her there would be no stopping him, anyway.

Without preamble: “Who is Fritz?” the monstrous visitor demanded.

She had to sigh at that: “Who, indeed?”

The daemon circled into view, towering over her with the grave air of a parent about to tuck their child in for bed. Beneath his overcoat and breaches, he was wrapped from head to toe in soaked bandages of methanol and gin. And where bandages failed, so, too, had his yellow flesh—rather the sinews and blood-soaked innards underneath were quite visible.

But she did not avert her eyes. She did not scream.

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Writers’ Politics

I’m a fan of Josiah Bancroft. You’ll notice I didn’t say I’m a fan of Josiah Bancroft’s work, which I am, but this isn’t about that. Here’s a Tweet from Mr. Bancroft, in response to the attempted coup last Wednesday.

“As someone with a broad audience whose livelihood depends upon a certain ambiguity when it comes to political matters, I respectfully suggest that the people who are carrying Confederate flags into the Capitol are dimwitted treason weasels who stan their mother’s panties.”

I mean, sure, I could write my own blog entry; but, I’m not going to top that, so why try?

I will say this—the topic of whether or not an artist has a duty to address politics (or to avoid it, for commercial sake), is an important one. As Scott McCloud says in Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art: “…when art becomes a job or a matter of social status the potential for confusing one’s goals goes up considerably”.

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2020

Would you buy a novel from this man?
Would you buy an epic fantasy novel from this man?

As we begin the 22nd decade of the 21st century (Math!), I want to pay a fitting tribute to the year we all love to hate. So, let’s talk about…

WRITING VILLAINS
First, it’s more effective when your villain doesn’t act villainous. Remember, sociopaths/psychopaths typically present as quite positive. This is no doubt why they tend to rise to positions of power. According to the study: ”They [psychopaths] display emotions only to manipulate individuals around them.”

It’s all learned camouflage so that people won’t realize that they are empty inside. That’s why sociopaths can act so hatefully, without remorse, when they want to. But to present them exhibiting evil without first presenting the glossy exterior will render your villain into just another mustache twirling cliché.

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Is It Wrong?

Is it wrong that, rather than use an automated app on wordpress to screen out spam, I use the need to manually delete the comments as a reminder that I should be posting more?

Also: I use the funny little names that the bots invent for their comments as inspiration for character names in future works.

Waste not, want not.

Best, _Mark

Over Thirty Years Ago

You could see me, an undergraduate student, sitting in the small office that belonged to a Professor of Communications for Aurora University. His name was Walter Sublette. He was taking time to explain the craft of writing to me.

I honestly don’t remember why I had the appointment. Probably he had rejected something I submitted to the school paper (which he edited); and me, being who I am, demanded an audience. Yes, that feels right.

But he spent a good thirty minutes explaining Point of View to me.

Even at the time, I recognized it as a distilled masterclass-style lesson. He was a former Assistant Editor for Fiction at Playboy—in charge of their slush pile, as we say these days. He passed along a remarkable lesson in that cramped time-space.

I wasn’t a writing major. Nor did I aspire to a career in writing (except perhaps in secret desires). But he commended my skill. Said I clearly had a way with words. He took the time.

My reflex is to say it was all wasted. The wrong person at the wrong time. I was a person just beginning on the path of discovering myself. It was far too early in that process for the lesson to matter. Generally, I have to know myself before I know what needs to be written.

Also, it was the wrong time. Back then information was so rare that you could blink and miss it. And so I did. Not like now. Now, we have the Internet. Museums, thousands of museum’s worth of information at our fingertips. We can realize its importance later and look it up. Now, for example, I can Google and find out that Walter (he wanted me to call him Walter, I do remember that) wasn’t just a Professor, he was an Artist In Residence.

Now I do aspire to be a writer. And now I do understand POV. And, even now, more than six years after his death, I can feel the warm generosity that motivated the gift of his time.

So I say it was not all wasted. He is part of the reason that, now, here in my easy chair, I can be the Artist in Residence. If only for a few moments.

_Mark

Sturgeon’s Law and Fall Reading Suggestions

Many years (decades? lordy, I’m old) ago I saw an interview with Billy Joel where he was asked: Did he think he was a “great” songwriter?

Rather than engage in false humility, he said: “Well, I think I am a good songwriter—but in an age of mediocre songwriting, that makes me a great songwriter.” Isn’t that great? I mean, what’s not to like about that answer?

I remember that whenever I think about how to estimate/rate/review any work of art. One of my favorite authors, Andew Vachss, as with most things, has a very direct and laser-focused take on this topic. Concerning writing:

The lie is that writing is a meritocracy. The lie is that the cream rises to the top. The truth is that it’s a crap shoot. It’s a blind leech in a muddy swamp that swims along until it gets lucky and strikes a vein so it has some blood to suck on. It’s not a fist-fight. It’s not a weightlifting contest. It’s not a sprint. It’s not any ‘may the best man win’ because there is no objective standard for judging writing. At all.

As a slight counterpoint, another of my favorites, Stephen R. Donaldson, said:

Back in the days when I taught writing, I used to say (sometimes strenuously) that ‘Good is subjective: bad is objective.’ Just to pick one trivial example. Confusing pronoun reference is an ‘objective’ problem: a writer who can’t keep his/her pronouns straight actively prevents comprehension (which, I think we can all agree, is *not* a Good Thing). The same principle applies on every level of storytelling. But the farther we move from the objectively bad, the more we enter the domain of the subjective. I call Patricia McKillip ‘the most elegant and evocative stylist writing today.’ Someone else (this is purely hypothetical) might call her work ‘effete and juvenile.’ To such a reader, I could never *prove* that I was right. Nor could such a reader ever persuade me. No, I’m afraid that *time* is the only reliable judge.

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