I could put up pictures of places I’ve been without me in them and without explanation for years and not repeat myself. Take that, recent Facebook diversion!
By “here” I’m not waxing philosophical, I mean with this writing gig. Thing is, this is probably the first thing I’ve written since the Coronavirus pandemic started looking serious. I’m forcing myself to not here and now render any opinions on anything to do with COVID 19. I have rendered some opinions on my Facebook page, if you want to see some, but even there, not too many. That’s not what I’m about.
I do have a project in process. It’s a rewrite from scratch, in a different voice, and in such a telling that not one paragraph does not involve some sort of action. Not body movements, but actual action, as in somebody is effing doing something. It’s a good story. I’ve known that all along, and it’s looking pretty easy to read after the rewrite, but it’s been weeks since I did anything. It was the sixth of March, in fact, which is, hmmm, let’s see, carry the 14, gloss over the six, um, 24 days ago. I have slow periods, but this is getting close to a record outside of the fall holidays, when I mostly just take time off. This whole shelter in place, pandemic, folks are going to die thing is just too absorbing, I guess.
Then there’s the bathroom floor. We’re putting in a floor made of pennies in our master bath. It’s gonna look great, and it’s getting near the point where all the pennies are installed (but there are always problems.) That, too, has been quite absorbing. Yesterday we put our bed back into the master bedroom, on top of the lovely new rug, and it is nice and comfortable compared to the temporary bed we’ve been sleeping on. Physical work reminds me of my advancing age, because half a day is the absolute limit, and it’s better to stop at three hours or so, because otherwise I actually feel ill from overwork. I’d be ashamed of myself, but, hey, I’m seventy years old, kid, gimme a break!
I hope that shortly (this week if I’m lucky) I’ll be able to convince myself to get back to work on my rewrite. (It isn’t writers’ block, it’s pandemic.) If so, I’ll let you know. I hope so, because it really is a good story, and it deserves to be told.
Fair Warning: I try not to put out overt spoilers, but if you haven’t seen the movie The Rise of Skywalker but think you may want to, it is possible you’ll learn something that you’d rather not know.
I posted my official review of the movie Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker on my Facebook timeline. Here is it again: I liked it. I’m not reviewing the movie here so much as I am trying to address some of what I’ve seen as criticism of the film, much of which might seem legitimate ifyou don’t know the whole story of the creation of Star Wars.
George Lucas was a friend of Joseph Campbell, who is most famous for his tome The Power of Myth. In that volume he outlines the mythic hero’s journey, something many writers refer to as they try to produce the next Odyssey (I know I do.) One reason for this is that, when you apply Campbell’s ideas to famous literature, then tend to work almost perfectly.I mentioned The Odyssey already, which is literally a classic example, but almost any book that lasts in popularity can be analyzed according to Campbell’s ideas. Huckleberry Finn? Yep. Catch 22? Indeed. War and Peace? You bet! (I’m quoting Alexa with that line.) Mister Lucas wanted to make a new epic adventure using what he learned from talking with Campbell, and from reading The Power of Myth. And he did. And, it works.
In the beginning of any mythic hero’s journey, things aren’t all that horrible. This is no surprise, given that the Journey is, to Campbell, a coming of age story. A nine-year-old kid isn’t difficult at all to be around. In fact, they can be fun, until puberty hits, and then things get strange indeed. This is why the first couple, maybe the first three, Star Wars movies (going by Chapter number, not release dates) are less exciting than, say, Episode IV, which is when the hero, personified by Luke Skywalker, is torn away from his everyday world and into a world of strange creatures, strange circumstances, and strange powers, which he starts learning for himself. It’s worth knowing that prior to Episode IV, most of the plot unfolds for young Aniken (the first representative of the growing child) not all that far from home. Not exactly home, but prior to Episode III, not that far away, either. In Episode III, all that learning and logic gets seduced by “The Dark Side,” which is probablly best seen as a metaphor for all that stuff that hits one at puberty. But, people don’t routinely turn permanently bad at that point, do they?
No, because their better nature is called off into strange (for a child) territory where it learns how to be a human being and take it’s place in society. And, of course that dark side being is father to the better nature. What else could it be? And sooner or later Luke has to kill it, but actually redeems his father before the man dies. So, Aniken dies connected to the good guys again. Except that there is plenty more dark side to deal with. You’ve ditched your nine-year-old judgement, but now what? It’s so tempting to run with that wild dark nature, to steal that pair of shoes, to cheat, lie and be obnoxious. That’s what people do, and the youth (no longer a kid since Vader is gone) has to deal with that. Which brings us into the final trilogy, with Rey and Ren as opposite sides of what is, mythically speaking, the same person. Yin and Yang, if you will. Both halves come to understand that they are joined spiritually, and eventually the better nature must confront, and embrace, the darkness, which results in the person’s dark side becoming a great strength, which helps the young adult finally to throw off the temptations of adolescence and emerge a adult who accepts who and what she is. And that is the secret of overcoming the dark side: embracing it, accepting it as a part of you, and using it. Rey embraces Ren in the end, and shortly after he is no more. This after they, together, overcome the greatest darkness that threatens them (and our fictional galaxy far far away,) which boils down simply to succumbing to fear of the darkness rather than confronting it. Okay, big spoiler in the next paragraph. Sorry. Stop here if you don’t want to know the very end.
In the final scene of the nine episodes, Rey, who has represented the hero in the last three movies, returns to the very farm where Luke was living when it all started. (The first three chapters are prologue, really.) An old woman asks her for her name and she says, “Rey.” “Rey what?” “Rey Skywalker.” (Her family name is not Skywalker. I’ll leave that for you to discover as you watch.)
So, is it pandering to Star Wars fans? Hell yes it is! But what if that pandering is exactly what is needed to properly close out the myth? What if it is so satisfying precisely because it is so successful in completing Lucas’s original mission? I’m pretty sure that such is the case. The criticisms I’ve seen all appear to come from people who do not understand that basic fact, nor even how to properly construct a story. But, as they say, everybody’s a critic. Not everybody is a creative writer, are they?
And, honestly, I’m sad that the series is over. Sure, there will be plenty of stories that can be crafted in the Star Wars universe. Heck, I’m into the Mandalorian bigly, especially that cute child, as they call it. You know, “Baby Yoda?” But the big story, which I first saw in a theater in Bowling Green, Ohio, in 1977, is over. No more speculation. No more trying to come up with a plausible solution to the whole thing. The writers, may they live long and prosper (yes, that was deliberate,) have done an excellent job of it. And Rey? Well, she’s a Jedi, and out living her life. Probablly a dull one compared to what her predecessors went through. I doubt if it would be all that interesting to follow the mythical hero of Star Wars any further. It’s kind of like with my own kids. I was sad as Hell to see them grow up. And proud as Hell to see them grow up. They don’t need me any more. And I’ll live without a new Star Wars episode. I just hope they get that kid to a safe place!
(Hereby I move a bit closer to posting purely about writing as I add a subcategory “characterization” to my category list. Ahem.)
As you may guess from the picture above, I recently turned 70. My birthday is September 3rd, but the cake was presented at a party last Saturday. That doesn’t mean anything, but I like to hit keys. A few years ago I joined Facebook. At first, I had no idea what to do with it. Now, I do the same things over and over. One of those things is to follow various French Ex-Pat pages and groups, but that doesn’t mean anything in the context of this post. The other thing that I do is keep in touch with people, some of whom I have seen very seldom, if at all, in decades. I mean my old friends from the Tiffin Columbian High School Class of ’67. I have seen some of them a few times, and a couple of years ago I attended our 50th class reunion. It was cool. Not only did I get to reacquaint myself with old friends, but we got a tour of the high school from the current principal. It’s a mid-century masterpiece of architecture, and no wonder I always liked the building. But, that doesn’t mean anything just now, either.
What does mean something is that, having re-connected with my class, I have discovered that I still like the same people, for pretty much the same reasons. I’ve never disliked anybody in my class (our school wasn’t as clique infested as some) but those I was indifferent about then, I’m indifferent about now. Which seems to me to indicate that, here it is, folks, a person’s character is reasonably consistent over their lifetime. The jokers (including me) are still jokers half a century on, the studious ones are still studious, the good old boys and girls are still good old boys and girls, and I could actually probably name every classmate and expound on how they haven’t changed much.
Well, some of them have ceased to exist. I guess that’s a pretty big change, but for the rest of us, we still are pretty much who we were at 17 and 18 years old. (We graduated on 11 June 1967, so it’s pretty much half and half.) Which further, it seems to me, points out the importance of knowing the backstory for each of your characters. I write backstory for every character that has anything significant to say. Most of the characters in any story are nameless, and say nothing, but they’re there supporting the principal cast and helping to move the story along. Them I don’t write a history for. But everyone else, even fairly minor characters, I, at least, know where they’re coming from, villains included. Because what they were at eighteen is what they are at forty, or whatever, and knowing what they did in high school (so to speak) tells a lot about what they will do on the job.
So, there’s some further advice from me for you: know thine characters’ backgrounds withal!
High school class reunions. And they say there’s no place to get new ideas any more.
Looking at that pic, I can see how camera technology has advanced in sixteen years. It’s fuzzy! But, I digress.
When I say cover your productive tush, I mean have a plan for when your hard drive crashes, your computer gets dropped into an outhouse, somebody steals your laptop, you know, all that stuff that you read about ruining writers’ projects. Because, you know, there are things you can do. And to prove it, I shall tell you what some of those things are.
First, Back Up Everything!
There are a couple of ways to do backups. I use both of them. The first, older way is simply to buy an external hard disk and plug it into your computer. Then, no matter what OS you use, you will find a handy-dandy backup routine already built in! Wowzers! I use Windows, and I’ve had excellent luck simply letting Windows decide what to back up. But, it’s up to you, you can decide what you do or don’t want backed up. If you do these backups regularly (Windows lets you do it on a continuous basis in the background) you will always have a copy of the latest saved version of every one of your files. So, after the dog eats your work, you buy a new laptop, plug in the external drive, and recover it all.
What is a backup, you say?
A backup is just a copy of a computer file (or a lot of them.) That’s it. It’s usually possible to use the backup copy directly, without even “recovering” it, but if you do that, you’re defeating the purpose of having an extra copy. So, first thing to do to recover from a disaster is to always make backups as you go along.
The second way to make a backup is to use “Cloud Storage.” You probably don’t know that “the cloud” is just a term techies made up to indicate that the exact location of the data isn’t necessarily known, but it’s out there. (Technically, it may not even all be in one place, but it looks like it is.) Quite a few places will give you a certain amount of “cloud storage” for free. A big novel, I’m talking a humongous work, something to make War and Peace look like a pamphlet, is still an amazingly small computer file. Many, if not all, of these free cloud storage services will automatically back up your stuff to the cloud, and, again, you can tell the service what to back up. If you subscribe to Office 365, you get a terabyte of storage included. A terabyte is enough to store most of the Library of Congress’s contents on. No kidding. You only get at the most something like 50 gigabytes (probably a lot less) for free, but it will still be more than you’ll ever need to keep your projects on. If you use Windows with OneDrive (that’s what they call their cloud storage) you just keep everything in a folder by that name on your local drive, and whatever is in there is automatically backed up when you connect to the Internet. Since I do subscribe to Office 365, I don’t have much experience with other cloud backup schemes, but I’m told that they are similar. Use whatever service you like (Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft, etc.) but use one of them and use it all the time!
Save Your Work All theTime!
Yes, I said All the Time! I use Word. (In the old days, I was a WordPerfect user, but once everything went GUI (look it up) I switched because it is simple and easy. And, Word works on Mac and PC, and is free on handheld devices, so what the heck, huh?) Word includes the ability, if you use OneDrive at least, to continuously backup your document (book, silly) as you type. By using Word and OneDrive (and I’m sure there are other ways to accomplish the same thing) I always have a backup copy of my project, no matter what happens. Worst case scenario is that I lose a few lines of text. Seriously, that’s the worst that could happen. Barring that, Word can be set up save the document you are in at intervals as short as one minute. Could you afford to lose a minute’s work? Probably. Keep your project on a cloud drive, save as often as you can, and boy, howdy, you can’t lose your precious files if you want to.
(Okay, you could delete them.)
There you go: back-up your work, either to an external hard drive or to the cloud, and save your work as often as possible. You can take a few minutes just once to set all of that up, then you’ll never have to think about it again. Until disaster strikes, when you’ll be congratulating yourself for being smart enough to have done that.
In one of his autobiographies (there are at least two) Isaac Asimov said that when asked what he strove for in his writing, his answer was “clarity.” I remember that often as I read news stories and other ambiguous items. On July 23, 2019, The Washington Post ran a story about a person’s childhood. It quoted their grandparents’ opinion of the person, then told how their father was structurally unavailable, and their mother worked constantly. Then the paragraph said, “They raised him as their own child.” The word they being close to his dysfunctional parents, although it obviously refers back to the grandparents. Or does it? Could you make an argument that the author of the piece was actually referring to the parents, perhaps trying to make some subtle point about their parenting skills? Well, yes, you could. And that is why that paragraph is not clear. All it needs is for “They” to be replaced with “The grandparents” and all would be well, and clear.
That was in a newspaper that is, unusually, not interfered with by its owner (Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame.) A paper that can, most people think, be trusted most of the time. And they let unclear writing go right on out into the world. Come on, Post, get it together, okay? But consider what you see on social media. Any social media. Is it clear? Can you spot any ambiguity in the text? And, sure, I tend to lean more toward humanism than authoritarianism, but I’m talkin’ ’bout you, Liberals and Progressives. Because, thanks to the magic of filtering, I generally only see Conservative screeds second-hand, that is, when somebody reposts them. (I do follow POTUS on Twitter.) The folks I follow make a great many assumptions, about themselves, their audience, and their opposition. Any time you’re assuming something in a text it is perforce ambiguous. And ambiguity is the perfect opposite (apposite, even) of clarity.
So, here’s an exercise you can do. Go through your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. feeds and check for the ambiguous postings. There will be a lot. Look closely at the techniques the posters use to drive home their point to the unwary. Then, as you write your stories, never, ever do those things. The way things are, that alone might guarantee you the clarity good writing always deserves and needs.
I belong to a number of Facebook groups related to writing. In some of them, I see questions I haven’t asked in years, Questions so basic that DON’T THOSE PEOPLE KNOW ANYTHING? comes to mind. Then I remember myself. Sometimes I drop a bit of advice, and often when I do it is appreciated (given a like or two, at least.) Thing is, I’m still not a famous, self-sustaining writer. Hell, I’m almost seventy, and I’m still aspiring to that (keeps one young, I’m told.) Great, but that means, that, while I can give advice to raw beginners (Speak Engrish, Troop!?) I still need a lot of help myself. And I have learned a few things over time.
Number one: nobody knows how you should proceed in your career. People who tell you what to do should pay attention to their own lives, and let you figure out yours.
Two: that’s not to say that you can’t learn from others’ experiences. You can, but never try to be them. Or even like them. You are you, and that’s fantastic.
Three: you will not be an overnight success. If you are, you’ll spend the rest of your life being unsure of your actual talents. As opposed to if you work hard for years and finally break through, in which case you will spend the rest of your life being unsure of your actual talents. This is called “Imposter Syndrome.” Get used to it.
And number zero: Know the rules like a professional so you can break them like an artist. (Pablo Picasso) Rule zero because it is the most important.
There, now you know everything you need to know to be a famous, self-sustaining writer. You’re welcome.
If you want to know where that picture was taken, look it up. You have all the information you need.
As a student of the French language, I know that ‘mémoire‘ is a word for ‘memory.’ (So is souvenir.) It can also mean a token, something to remind you of a place, that sort of thing. In English, memoir is a book about one’s experiences. It’s not a biography, although there can be a lot of biographical information in a memoir. With all that said, and, having bought “Memoir Writing for Dummies,” I am endeavoring to write a memoir. I don’t care if it’s ever published, though. I’m writing it because I’ve noticed that the best books are the ones where the author is totally involved in the story, in a way the reader can sense. (Not literally, we leave that to Vonnegut.) Since I aspire to write REALLY GOOD STUFF, I am using a memoir as a way to get to know who I really am. Sure, you can pay some shrink to help you, but as I write pretty good anyway, I figure this will be cheaper. (Hey, I write gooder than a lot of people, anyway.) 🙂
So far it’s almost 70 pages long. One page per year, more or less. Well, now that I put it that way, I think I have some more writing to do. Let me know if you’ve ever done a memoir, particularly if it was for self-discovery. Okay?
Last week I posted about ways to be true to oneself. I’m not just thrashing about on that topic. I have begun a memoir. Not necessarily for publication, but for real. So far there is one chapter, but it isn’t bad. My thought is that by crafting a memoir, I’ll get closer to whatever is my true self, and be that much more able to put that true self into whatever fiction I create. I do not think that I am the first person to make this connection.
As I wrote last time, the only successful artists of any sort are those who stay true to their own vision. I do have a vision, but I’ve only recently begun to realize what that vision is. And it isn’t entirely clear yet, not in the sense of what I can do with it at least. But it’s me, and I like it.
I hope that both of you readers enjoy following my progress along this path. 🙂
I’m late because I had to go to Arizona to collect some rent yesterday. On the way, I started seeing double, and the faster I drove, that is, the faster my field of vision slipped past me, the worse it got. No way that’s a problem at 80 mph, is it? Something to do with sinus congestion, I believe. Swiftly may it pass.
Besides contemplating language in general, I’ve also been thinking about ways to be genuine. Successful artists of any stripe are those who are simply true to themselves whatever else happens. Which makes me think: what am I, then?
Well, I have never had what most people would call a “real” problem in my life. I had pneumonia once, M, M, and R. Hepatitis A, Pertussis, and a bunch of broken bones, all of which cause problems, but only the temporary sort that go away with care and time. If you look at that list, you’ll see that I was born before the vaccines for those diseases became available. Why anyone would want to contract one of those when one doesn’t have to is beyond me, but I digress. Those have been my problems. Well, that and the fact that mom was too cheap to let me buy the briefcase I wanted in elementary school. Or the pool table I wanted for Christmas (I told Santa he could set it up in the basement, for cat’s sake!) I wrote a song about this situation, I call it the I Ain’t Got No Troubles Blues. I sang it as part of a stand-up bit, and it worked.
I’ve always been led to believe that the best artists suffer, either for the art, or their art arises out of their suffering. Which means that a guy like me, a man of great privilege, probably can’t be a good artist of any sort. I’m more of a Nero type, maybe, but not really an artist.
Or am I?
Well, you tell me. It’s as existential as I can get, given my fortunate upbringing. I am, I must admit, fascinated as to where this line of thought will ultimately lead. Stay tuned, dear readers (you know, both of you.) We’ll find out together.