Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Opposites and Oral Tradition

When I was younger, my father used to tell me some silly rhymes.  I'm not sure where he got them, but even as an adult, I smile just thinking about them.  They are nonsensical, but still interesting.

The first one is this: "I see," said the blind man to his deaf son, while his lame daughter danced.
Another version of this one is: "I see," said the blind man, to his deaf dog, as he picked up his hammer and saw.
The previous two examples are something called a "wellerism".  Wikipedia has an interesting article here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wellerism

The second one goes like this:
One bright day, in the middle of the night
Two dead boys got up to fight
Back to back, they faced each other
Drew their swords and shot each other
A deaf policeman heard the noise
And came and shot the two dead boys
If you don't believe this story is true,
Ask the blind man, he saw it too.

Doing a Google search of the opening line, gave me the following link: http://www.folklore.bc.ca/Onefineday.htm.  It seems like an interesting read and provides some analysis of the rhyme.  It also has the complete rhyme, whereas my father only told me part of it. I guess that is one of the problems with oral tradition.

Aren't opposites fun?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Perchance to Dream

I heard somewhere that Stephenie Meyer came up with the idea for the Twilight Series in a dream.  I realize some of you may have just thrown up in your mouth a little, please bear with me.  Sparkly vampires and vanilla plots aside, what I really want to focus on is the concept of dreaming stories.  I would be surprised if more writers don't do this.  That is, take a concept from dreaming and make it into a story.  I know I have a few ideas rattling around in my skull that I originally dreamed.  Of course the flip side of that is, just because you are an aspiring writer and had an awesome dream, doesn't mean it will make sense when put to paper.  In the case of Stephenie Meyer, she probably should have left the sparkly bit out.  Just my opinion, mind you, but that is what people seem to focus on the most.  Of course, she did make gobs of money on the story. Her books were on the best seller list and are probably still in the top 100 sellers on Amazon.com.  Movies were made for all four books and there was even one movie parody.  It also spawned a whole slew of books involving teenage vampire romance books that seem to have cluttered up the science fiction/fantasy section of your local bookstores.  I didn't intend to spend so much time on Ms. Meyer, but oh well.  It happens.  We take a shower, wipe off the smut, go on with our lives and try to forget the horror and shame.

As for dreaming stories, it does happen.  Our subconscious mind is unfettered.  The filters we put into place are gone.  Of course, we lose continuity and any sane perspective, but if we parse out the gobbledygook, sometimes we can find a kernel of a story.  Before I started seriously writing, I had a dream that I thought would make an interesting story.  I haven't done much with it because I realized that at least one of the characters in my dream may have been a little too similar to the Gunslinger from Stephen King's Dark Tower series.  If I want to seriously write this story, I'm going to have to change him.  I could just barrel on and ignore the similarities.  A simpler solution, but I would hate to get on Mr. King's bad side.  I am a big fan of his and would hate to annoy him (that and he's kinda scary).

The story is still in its infancy (see above), but the gist is this.  On one side we have an empire/country that is heavy into mechanical things (maybe a little steampunk in their concept).  Either way, they are all about the machines (possibly dwarven made?  cliche yes, but still).  On the other side, we have another country/race/empire that is all about magic and nature, etc.  Both sides are at war, etc.  At the heart of it all is something called "the Unity Stone" which was made with both magic and machine at is supposed to bring peace to the land.  A knight of the mechanical world and a sorceress of the magical realm have to put the two pieces together.  The dream involved their meeting.  It didn't turn out well for either party.  Bad guys on both sides of the war have altered the stone and it doesn't work the way it was supposed to.  Just the basics on the dream, but that was what it was.  The more it tumbles in my brain, the more it starts to feel like a real story.  We'll see.

Till next time.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Coffee House Blues

Ok, not necessarily blues.  It is, after all, a coffee house.  That mecca of sublime heaven we call caffeine.  So here I sit, blogging, with a very yummy Dark Chocolate latte.  Can you say urbanite hippy punk?  I guess not.  I'm not wearing a black shirt, I don't have a goatee, and I'm not using a product by Apple, Inc.  Ok, so there probably isn't anything like an "urbanite hippy punk", but I thought it sounded good.  So there.

This not my usual routine on a Tuesday morning, but it is the first week of school and I have a kid to pick up in an hour.  Normally, I would be sitting in my office trying to do the work of two people and consuming as much caffeine as possible without melting my brain.  As it is, I'm here, drinking a Latte, wearing a blue shirt, and using an Android tablet.  I am blogging...offline...so much juxtaposition here.  Life is fun.

The coffee houses' WiFi is being buggy (won't give me an IP address), so this won't get posted until later, but such is life.  "To Err is human.  To real screw things up, takes a computer."  One of my favorite quotes.  Ironic because I am such a tech nerd.  I love computers, I just understand that they can really ruin your day when they don't work right.  Some people would say that is a constant with computers, but that isn't necessarily true.  If you think about how much of our life involves computers, you would realize that if they failed as often as people thought they would, we would be living in the dark ages.  It's all a matter of perspective.  People are more frightened of a computer crashing then they are of getting in a car wreck.   I'm sure there is some irony here somewhere.

More later.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Troubleshooters shoot trouble

Many years ago, don't they all start that way, my brother created a pen and paper, role-playing, game system called "Troubleshooters".  The whole premise of the game was that the characters were part of an elite police force called "The Troubleshooters".  Their job was to take car of things that the normal police force couldn't handle.  Essentially, they were an uber-swat team with license to kill and blow things up.  The game was set in a post-apocalyptic Earth where the majority of the planet was a barren wasteland due to the loss of the Ozone Layer.  Most of humanity has moved underground and those left above become horribly mutated by the resultant radiation.  The population is ruled over by greed Mega-corporations, etc.  Not an original idea in science fiction, but that doesn't mean that there isn't a story in there some place.

As you can see, I don't hesitate to "steal" ideas from my older brother.  To be honest, although he created the initial game, his idea was more about setting up a functional game system rather than building a complete world.  Also, I did help with some of the design, so I don't consider it "stealing" so much as "fleshing out" a world that had yet to be completely developed.  Besides, one of my earlier story ideas involved this world.
I wrote a couple paragraphs when I was a teenager, but never got beyond that.  There were many reasons why I never went beyond those few paragraphs, but the reasons aren't as important as the fact that I never finished.

One of these days, I plan on writing in this milieu.  I even have a few ideas.  I do plan on making a few changes (sorry James!), but they will be mostly cosmetic.  For example, an underground environment will never have anything so mundane as weather.  It will be a perfect 72 degrees and always sunny (at least artificially).  Weather is always a good way of setting the mood of a scene, so a setting would be more difficult without it.  It could be done, of course, but I'm not sure I want to deal with a perfectly comfortable environment.  Any change in "weather", in an underground setting, would constitute a serious emergency that could threaten the entire "city".  I still want to retain an underground setting, at least for part of it, but I also want something topside.  This could create an interesting dynamic between the "undergrounders" and the "top worlders".

Another issue with being wholly underground is spaceflight.  Although there wasn't anything as fancy as "hyperspace", there was the occasional trip into orbit.  Especially to a space station.  Seriously, if you were the CEO of a corporation would you rather live in a whole in the ground or in a palatial space station?  I know where I would live.  So, that would necessitate having some kind of space port, or ports, which would have to be outside.

More later.

To all things, a purpose

It took a few posts, but I've finally figured out what it is I want to do with this blog.  I have found its purpose.  It's nothing grandiose, mind you. But rather, this is a dumping ground.  A dumping ground of thought.  It doesn't have to be refined, sophisticated, or even grammatically correct.  It isn't about a polished product.  That is reserved for the actual stories.  So, if you see something weird (language-wise), that is the reason.  The important thing is that I'm writing.  The more I write, the better I will get.  This isn't to say that I'm not editing what I write, or that I'm not paying attention to grammar.  Both of those are important, but the essence of this blog is pure thought.  If it is in there, it comes out in whatever form it takes.  Some of it may be insightful; some of it may be just drivel.  It matters not what form it takes, just that it takes form.  I could spend my time being perfect, or ultra-philosophical, but that wouldn't be me.  If you want something deep and well edited, then my friend, you have come to the wrong place.

So, to those of you who have stuck with me so far, I thank you.  Hopefully, I will keep your attention for a while longer.  One of these days, I might actually write something witty.  We'll see.  So far, it seems it has been mostly thoughtful and, possibly, boring.

Till next time, true believers!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Big Lie and Dealing with Rejection

Recently, I was reading a sample chapter of Write Great Fiction - Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell on my Kindle.  It's a really interesting book and one I plan on purchasing soon.  From what I've read, it has a straight forward and honest approach to writing good plots.  What struck me, was that he started his book by talking about something he calls "The Big Lie".  "The Big Lie", he states, is that authors are born that way and you can't learn to be a good author.

When I was in college I was studying music and all of the history books were full of these amazing stories about these incredible composes.  In every one, it seemed that they just "knew" how to write amazing music.  Mozart composed his first symphony at 6.  Beethoven was able to compose most of his music while being profoundly deaf.  J. S. Bach composed a 4 voice fugue for the Czar of Russia completely out of his head.  Nowhere in any of these books did it talk about the time and effort they spent into learning and perfecting their craft.  People don't want to read all that boring stuff, so the historians gloss over it.  The same goes for all of the great artists, writers, composers, and thinkers.  The implication is that these people "just know".  The same can be said for people of higher intelligence.  It's a common misconception and one which James Scott Bell spent some time learning to get past.

What does this have to do with Rejection?  Simple.  My entire life, I have believed "the big lie".  I have always considered myself inferior to those around me because they would know something I didn't, or could do something I couldn't, etc.  It would make me very frustrated to have my older brother just seem to "know" things that I didn't.  What I didn't realize (or want to realize?) is that he had spent time learning these things.  He is, after all, two years older than me.  Of course, he would learn things before me, he had a two year head start.  DUH!

Anyway, I have submitted two manuscripts to publishers.  Both children's stories and both with polar opposite stories.  I've mentioned them in earlier posts.  The other day, I was going through my submission list on writersmarket.com (which is an awesome website if you are interested in getting your stories published) and I realized that of the 8 publishers that I had submitted my two stories to, I had been rejected by 6 each.  That's 12 rejections total.  Now I could take this and say, "Man, I must suck!  My friends are just being nice when they say my stories are good.  I should just quit.  I don't have that special something that people need to be a good writer."  I could say that, but it wouldn't be true.  J.K. Rowling had 12 publishers reject Harry Potter and look how that turned out.

Here is what all those rejections mean.  They mean a) I haven't found the right place for my stories and b) I might need to learn more before I get published.  I have a lot of ideas.  Not all of them will get published.  One of these days, I will get published.  It just hasn't happened yet.

The bottom line?  The Big Lie is just that, a lie.  Not a little lie, but a big fat, stinking, festering lie.  A lie that is perpetrated by historians and biographers.  They don't do it intentionally; they do it because it sells.  What about rejection?  Rejection is not an indication of talent.  It's just an indication that the publisher in questions isn't interested in your story.  They have lots of reasons for rejecting a manuscript.  Most of them have to do with perceived market value and what they think will sell and not with whether or you are a good writer or not.

As Orson Scott Card said in Elements of Fiction Writing - Characters & View​point, a writer has to believe two things simultaneously in order to be successful.  One, that what they are writing is the greatest work of literature ever conceived in the English language.  Two, that what they have written is complete drivel.

Till next time.  :D

Saturday, August 6, 2011

And so it begins

I should be asleep, but I'm not.  I'm wired on caffeine and I'm posting on my blog...what could possibly go wrong?  :D

So I've been thinking (insert joke here) about the possibility of story involving my stuffed animals from my childhood.  I'm really starting to get into it.  The more I think about it, the more it seems like a possibility (at least in theory).  Whether or not it happens is another thing.  However, I have a lot of characters already developed, a world developed and even some plot ideas.  From what I've read on writing, that is a big part of creating a story. ..Characters, World, Plot.

However, there are some things that I've been trying to decide on.  I have a good idea of which way I want to go, but I want to write down everything so that I can see it and maybe it will solidify, or change, my idea.

Ok, here it goes:
All of the main characters (a.k.a "Good guys") are made up of my toys from my childhood.  Their personalities, names, relationships, and jobs would all be maintained from the stories that we created as children.  This will not be altered no matter what I decide for the rest.

Question 1: Is it a story for children or not?  My biggest concern with having it be a child's story is that I may not be able to capture everything I want to in just a few words.  Most children's stories are under 1000 words for picture books.  Novels for older children can be longer, but can I tell the story I want to tell in that space or will I not be able to get the complexity I need?  Adult novels have more flexible and their complexity is greater, but then the question is, can I make a story about talking toys/animals believable enough for an adult audience?  This is the biggest decision I will have to make.
Question 2:  Do I keep them as stuffed toys or do I make them real, living, creatures?
Question 3:  Keep the original world idea or change it?

These three questions are what is really slowing me down.  Obviously, they are the most important.  If I can't answer these questions, I won't have a story.

Here is what came to mind as I was driving home today...err....yesterday as it is now after midnight...
Answer 1:  I'm leaning toward an adult story.  I find it humorous to think of a stuffed animal cussing out another stuffed animal...which answers question 2...also, I will have more flexibility with the story/concepts if I gear it toward an older audience.
Answer 2:  I will keep them stuffed...gives a whole new meaning to "beating the stuffing" out of someone... :D
Answer 3:  I'm still waffling on this one.  Originally, they lived in a terraformed area of Antarctica.  This is fine, except that having it in the real world means dealing with the real world.  However, if I had a toy uprising where all the toys got together and took over the world (insert evil dictator toy) and then all of the remaining (i.e. surviving) humans would either be slaves or live in the south kingdom with the "good" toys.  It has possibilities...

That's all for now.  This is starting to get interesting.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Secret Friends -- A Poem

In my last post, I mentioned a poem about my childhood toys.  I looked through my old poetry and found it.

Secret Friends--Fantasy
My dearest friends,
As is plainly seen,
Are not of flesh and bone--
But of thought--And childhood fantasy.

Behind closed doors,
Far from view
Where no mortal eye can see--
Lives a world--Of simply fantasy.

It isn't much, but I think it gives you all the gist of what I was talking about.  I wrote this in my teenage years and it was significantly different than any other poem I had written at that time.  Most of the poetry I wrote was angst filled, angry, and full of hatred (and maybe a little blasphemy...I did mention I was angry...).