Inclusivity in Writing

1B1E095D-862D-4993-B229-84366093C877.gif

In my last post, I wrote about how Hollywood is going woke. They’re turning established male characters into female, using established franchises because there’s already a fan base to help ensure an audience. Or the suits—people making the decisions to green light projects—are adding LGBQT characters to be inclusive. Just to be clear, I’m not against any of this as long as the story is well written. But like many sequels, the story goes by the wayside because the focus is on the cash grab. I won’t rehash that here.

Now, if a character is written as LGBTQ, then the right thing to do is show their trials and tribulations due to their sexuality. Otherwise, why write them as LGBTQ?

To be inclusive, Jimmy. Why ya gotta hate?

Not hating. In a story, everything is important. There’s a famous writing principle called Chekhov’s gun. If a writer shows a gun in a scene, then that gun must be used—fired—at a later moment. Otherwise, why show the gun? Chekhov was warning writers not to put extraneous details that didn’t contribute to the whole of the story. 

Character traits, objects in the room, time of year, season (Winter is coming), even gender or sexual orientation should be cohesive in a way where readers can connect the dots and find meaning.

So what can be learned from an LGBTQ character? The same can be asked of a person of color (Monster’s Ball). Or a woman working in a male dominated business world (Working Girl). Or a male in a female dominant role (Mr. Mom). Or a mentally challenged character (Radio). The examples I’ve listed show how the characters deal with life’s shit storm.

Recently, Netflix released a series called Another Life. The premise, much like the film, Arrival, is an alien artifact has landed on Earth.

A75C9850-B3B9-4F5A-9009-7BF6DF8E7B1F.gif

So a crew is sent off into deep space to explore the origins of this object. One of the crew members, Zayn, is a nonconforming gender medical doctor, which is a pleasant surprise. But over the ten-episode series, Zayn didn’t enlighten our view of what’s it like to be nonconforming gender. Or if there were challenges. Or prejudices. I mean, do people in the future overly sexualize them? Or see them as less than humans? I ask these mean questions only to show that Zayn’s strengths are their own regardless of the nonconformity. But the writers didn’t developed Zayn’s character, or anyone one else’s in the series. This is bad writing. What’s worse is that the alien artifact, the science fiction portion, didn’t enlighten us in any way either.

I mentioned Arrival because I loved the short story the film was based on, Story of Your Life, by Ted Chiang. The short story is true science fiction in that there’s an extraordinary circumstance—an alien spaceship has landed, making first contact—and how humans handle their new reality. Chiang talks about how different languages can shape how we think. For example, in English we say, “I am hungry.” This sentence shows that I am that state. In Spanish we say, “Yo tengo hambre.” I have hunger. They’re very different ways of communicating. I mention this because the main character, Louise Banks, is a linguist tasked with translating the alien language. The aliens view time as circular, meaning the past can affect the future and the future can affect the past. Their language also reflects this aspect of their reality. As Louise becomes more fluent, her experience with time also changes, and she’s confronted with a future tragedy, the death of her unborn child. So the question becomes, does she still choose to have a kid, despite knowing what the future holds?

This choice, this exploration into the human condition in an extraordinary situation enlightens our own view of life. At its simplest we ask ourself what would we choose? Have the child and suffer the loss of their death? Not have the child and lose the amazing experience of raising a little person? At a deeper level we may appreciate life more by appreciating our children, by seeing how precious and fragile life is, and we can further understand that the love we can experience is a powerful driving force in our lives. The depth of understanding from Story of Your Life is what’s fun for me as a reader, and what’s fun to try and illicit in my readers in my own writing. Whether I succeeded or not is left for posterity to judge.

It may seem like I’m picking on Zayn in Another Life, but I’m not. I’m all for inclusivity. But when writers put a nonconforming character into a show, I wanna see why because such a small population of humans are of this segment. The number of Americans that identify as transgender, for example, is less than one percent.

6A368D34-EDD8-40BF-8AE3-75598709D220.gif

Not many ‘Mericans would ever meet a transgender individual. So show us their experience. Not just as a human, but as someone who lives in a society that may not accept them as human. The transgender community receives intense hate and violence. Enlighten us on their experience. Give our minds something to chew on. They deserve our attention and respect. They’re not pawns for an agenda.

Wake Up!

There have been a lot of talk about how Hollywood is going woke, which seems to mean to be aware of social issues. Nothing wrong with that. Climate change. Civil rights. Sexual equality. However, a lot of fandoms’ influencers are changing the word to mean something else, political agenda.

39E50F00-6D1A-4FD5-BC1B-49522B5775B9.gif

I’m not sure if this is due to the #MeToo movement, where “I am woman hear me roar” is taking ground. Before you yell at me, I don’t have a problem with any story that has a strong female lead. My favorite is Ripley from Alien. Nothing about her character indicates that she’s a woman in a man’s role, despite the fact that it was originally written for a male actor. Alien, the movie, doesn’t have room for romance, however, Ripley doesn’t come charging out, kicking alien ass with her fists or her unearned skills with a weapon. What she uses to overcome the Xenomorph is her mind and her surroundings. In the end, human ingenuity overcame a formidable antagonist. She’s considered one of the best characters in film with good reason. The writing.

So, is fandom’s reaction to movies such as the 2016 Ghostbusters fitting?

The original is one of my favorite movies. As a kid, I watched it five times in the theater when tickets were $2.50 each. Yeah, I’ve been around. The comedy was situational, meaning the story created a lot of the humor. In the 2016 remake, the humor played to the audience, and when that happens, it isn’t funny.

One of the biggest mistakes was Chris Hemsworth’s role, Kevin. He’s the only male character in the Ghostbusters’ office, and to say that he’s an airhead would be putting it lightly. He’s outright stupid, but he’s hot. I mean, he’s Thor. I’m not sure what he added to the overall film, except to be eye candy for the four ladies. He doesn’t give them any revelations, doesn’t contribute to any plot point, doesn’t even contribute to what little humor there is in the remake. His purpose could be to contrast the intelligence of the women. So what does this say?

In order to highlight female strength and intelligence, men have to be put on a lower pedestal? If that were the case, then it’s utter crap. As human beings, we’re all equal. Some of us are taller. Some are more intelligent. Some guys have all the luck. That’s just how the dice rolls. 

75E352F7-9AA2-41CF-AF1C-1D16EC323B4C.gif

In Alien, there were men and women on the crew, and despite the hierarchy of command, everyone had an equal say in their survival. No one had to be illustratively stupid or weak, and everyone had an equal chance of dying. This made for compelling storytelling because plot armor wasn’t a thing with the first film.

With Disney taking over the reigns of Star Wars, they’ve created a character, Rei, who’s inexplicably skilled in everything that she does. She’s the definition of a Mary Sue. She can do no wrong, making all the right choices. This is also bad for womanhood because it suggests that to be a strong woman, you can’t make mistakes and must know everything. That’s impossible for any human.

Any good story will show that a character can overcome adversity, even one of their own making. Or that strength doesn’t have to come from having some sort of power be it physical or metaphysical. Cleverness is what peaks people’s interest. Again, I bring it back to Ripley. She doesn’t know how to kill the Xenomorph, but she knows she can’t physically take it on. No human can. By using her surroundings, namely the pressurized ship, she dips into a closet, puts on a space suit, sneaks over to a pilot seat, strapping herself in, and opens the airlock right before the Xenomorph can plunge its teeth in her. The monster is flushed out into space. Of course, the franchise used this method a lot, so...

Now we come to CW’s television series, Batwoman. They set Kate, the heroine, up as a lesbian street fighter. No issues here. And no, she doesn’t fight lesbians on the street. What the trailers show is how men have oppressed her throughout her life. Again no problems. Except that her reactions to those men seem heavy handed, meaning the audience can see the writers’ agenda. It’s one thing to have a message in your story. It’s quite another when people can feel the wokeness.

The first trailer makes obvious that Batwoman is about a strong woman in a male dominated world. That Kate will not take shit from any man. That this television show is about a strong woman. The trailer is dripping with this theme.

In the second trailer, Kate is shown giving money to a homeless woman. A man standing by the wall advises not to do that because it encourages them. Who’s them? The homeless? The homeless women? Not sure. But Kate smirks and gives the homeless woman her watch, then get’s on her motorcycle, smiling as if she showed him. Not sure what’s she’s smiling about because the man’s tone wasn’t derogatory. Her reaction didn’t match the motivation.

The fandom were roasting the two trailers. Men and women. Because the writing was manipulated into communicating an agenda. For me, women aren’t strong because men are idiots. Women are strong because they’re capable of amazing things. That’s it.

Now, Hollywood has turned up the heat, as seen at this year’s San Diego Comic Con. Strong female leads are flooding the market. There’s a female Bond. A female Thor. A female Spider-Man—Spider-Woman. A female Wonder Woman! Sorry. Again, I have no problems with this. What will be interesting to see is if the writing will be good or not. From the Batwoman trailers, the writing for the CW series may be shitty. I could be wrong.

3004830E-F874-4278-A514-C4C4B8FDA936.gif

The other issue is the backlash the fandom is getting from the suits. One example of this—there are many—is from Tim Miller, director of the new Terminator film, Dark Fate. In a Variety interview, he mentioned that the Terminator movies have a trinity of main characters, one of which is the protector. In the original Terminator, Kyle Reese was sent back in time to protect Sara Connor. Dark Fate will have a female protector. The poster featuring the actress, Mackenzie Davis, had gotten a lot of hate speech. Tim’s response:

If you’re at all enlightened, she’ll play like gangbusters. If you’re a closet misogynist, she’ll scare the fuck out of you, because she’s tough and strong but very feminine. We did not trade certain gender traits for others; she’s just very strong, and that frightens some dudes. You can see online the responses to some of the early shit that’s out there, trolls on the internet. I don’t give a fuck.

It’s obvious he gives a fuck.

But not all of the backlash was hate. People seemed to be tired of the gender switching because they’re linking it to a woke Hollywood and bad writing.

There’s also another aspect. The entertainment industry is a business, and it’s a crapshoot one at that. Studios have invested hundreds of millions to see little to no returns, and often times losing out big time. But when they continually rehash a franchise, people get upset because they know it’s a cash grab. And the fans who see the film feel shitty for spending their hard earned money on a story that seemed to be pieced together by hacks.

To be fair, we shouldn’t judge Dark Fate until it’s released because we don’t if the story is good or not. But a combination of forcing an agenda into the writing, cash grabs and uncreativity have begun to piss off a lot of people. And the suits have taken notice because they’re responding much like Tim has.

One last thing...today, fans have a bigger voice than ever before. Due to YouTube and social media, their voices can be broadcasted cheaply and easily. Some are getting a big enough following that the suits have no choice but to listen. Personally, that’s a great thing. Hopefully, it’ll force the suits to just run the business and let the artists stretch their creative minds.

Honestly

C78A056F-3EBB-4BDB-BB33-73A4302C0CA0.gif

I’m an anti-theist. What that means is that I’m against religion for many valid reasons. For example, an ex-girlfriend had gone to her priest and confessed that she had lost her virginity. The priest scolded her, telling her that she had sinned. She never confessed again. Another example is the segregation of people by faith, sexuality, or magic underwear. “If you don’t believe in what we believe, then you’re going to hell!” Think about that for a moment. A serial killer in the U.S. can seek forgiveness from Jesus and be allowed into heaven. But a non-believer will go to hell. That’s fucked up.

So much of religion is based on the idea of faith. In the Merriam-Webster dictionary, one of the definitions of faith is: firm belief in something for which there is no proof. Though, theists often vehemently decry the Theory of Evolution, demanding transition bones, blah blah blah. But to believe in god, you must have faith. Hypocritical much?

Because I’ve been watching the Atheist Experience on YouTube, I’ve gained a superficial knowledge of logic and have found a small hobby of talking to theists about their beliefs. I’m under no illusion that I’ll convert them to non-believers. But it’s always fun to challenge their faith. The issue comes when theists aren’t willing to have an honest conversation about it.

I was talking to someone who was very skittish about taking his lord’s name in vain.

“I know there’s a god,” Skittish said.

“How do you know?” I asked.

“I can feel it.”

“Imagine this. You’re walking down a dark alleyway and see a shadow moving behind a dumpster. How do you feel?”

“I feel concerned.”

“Cool. You keep walking and you find that the shadow was just a garbage bag fluttering in the breeze. Now how do you feel?”

“Not concerned.”

“So your feelings aren’t a good pathway to finding the truth since they can lead you astray.”

“But the word feeling is so broad. It can mean anything, blah blah blah...”

6F648190-EE36-4095-B49D-F8C3101292D9.gif

Here was where the dishonesty had happened. I showed that his feeling that god existed can’t be used to show the truth. Feelings can be unreliable. So he diverted the discussion by focusing on something else. I’d wager that if he’d admitted that my argument was right, then he might begin to doubt his faith in some deity. That was why he channeled the subject onto the some vague thing about the meaning of a word. To this day, he likes to muddy words instead of focusing on the subject we’re discussing.

There’s another theist that I talk to, and he commits something called guilt by association fallacy. He spent a lot of time trying to discredit Evolution. I explained that Evolution is both a fact and a theory. He narrowed his eyes at me and started to debate me, and I realized he didn’t understand the difference between fact and theory. So I talked about that. Then he diverted the conversation to how scientists couldn’t be trusted because grant money depends on their results. They’d manipulate the data or ignore evidence that proved their hypothesis wrong to preserve their grants.

I then tried to explain the peer review process and how competitive it is in scientific community. So, if someone wants to make a name for themselves by proving the Theory of Evolution is wrong, for example, then they would garner fame and fortune beyond most people’s dreams. Ignoring what I had said about the peer review process, he continued on the path that some scientists have “cheated”, so science as a whole couldn’t be trusted. Hence, guilt by association fallacy.

I suggested that he talk to a theist who was also an evolutnary biologist and get their point of view. This way they could have an open discussion without having the heaviness of opposing worldviews. Alas, he declined.

Having honest discussions is paramount to growing and learning as a human being. If we’re all about protecting our egos and our beliefs, then we’re never open to new ideas and ways of thinking.

I’m wrong a lot. That’s why I go to my writing group on a weekly basis and have them critique my pages. Otherwise, my writing and story would never improve. I like to say that I’m wrong 50% of the time and am guessing my way through life the other 50%. Life’s too short to worry about being right most of the time. Sometimes making the wrong choices can lead to the right outcome.

Listen to my writing group discuss writing and masturbation on the Uncontained podcast.

Vision Boards

1F504E0E-B03C-4944-B10B-B7D9D8F4F9F2.gif

Out of curiosity, I went to my first vision board party last week. I’m constantly trying to meet new people and sometimes that entails me going to events like this. Another such example was when I had gone to a lucid dreaming and astral traveling meetup. I had locked the skeptic within me in his cage. He was rattling his tin cup on the bars, yelling at me, every time someone made a claim that he knew couldn’t be supported in any scientific way.

I thought the vision board party was some sort of MLM, multilevel marketing, recruitment. I personally hate those schemes. I’ve been involved in one. They’re a fucking cult. I don’t want to promote this particular organization, but the organizer had us meet with the cult leader. He stated that he had helped create thousands of vision boards. That he manifested things into his life using them. He told us to think outside of the box, so dream big. Want a big ass house? Put it on your board. Want those red pumps on your feet? Paste it on your board. Want that man with eight-pack abs? Put an inanimate picture of him up on that piece of inanimate cardboard. Vacation in Hawaii? Hell, yeah! Then put a picture of a beach, any beach, on that minced up tree and let that manifest into your life. Praise the cardboard!

The next important point that he expounded was that we must look at the completed board every day. Just look at it. Bask in it. Make love to it. OK. He hadn’t said those last two things. But he did say that we must look at it every day. And then bam! No further instructions were given past this. Do we speak to the board? Plead with it that the things on it would happen? Caress the pictures we’ve pasted on the board?

He kept talking about the law of attraction. The power of it. That we can all wield it. That as long as the universe knew what we wanted in our heart of hearts—my heart has more than one heart?—then we’ll attract it into our lives. Because the unimaginably vast universe cares what piddling sacs of water and goo—humans—want.

E1DC732B-1D77-4513-AD46-1BDE86F0FD4C.gif

I rolled my eyes. To be fair, if he had used the word prayer, faith, summon, cast a spell, concoct a potion, wave a wand, human sacrifice, I would have rolled my eyes regardless. Well, if he used that last one, I would have bolted out of the party, screaming like a little girl.

I used to be “spiritual”. I explored that realm a lot. I thought I could manifest things into my life, too. The issue is that people think they manifested it when they actually did something to bring that thing about. In plain words, the law of attraction is false. There is no scientific evidence to back that up. Unless we’re talking about magnetism or gravity. I’m not a physicist, so there might be other things that involve attraction. And that’s the thing! Spiritualists like this individual use scientific words with new age jargon to make them sound more authoritative. Law of Gravity. Law of Attraction. One is supported by mountains of scientific evidence. The other is supported by...nothing.

Here’s a video that explains better than I what I’m talking about:

Vision boards do very little to bring about our dreams. It may be a reminder for people to put forth the effort toward them. If I wanted to go on a Hawaiian vacation, then I’d save up for it and make the necessary logistical choices to make it happen. The vision board does nothing. It won’t save me the money. It won’t schedule the flight. It won’t call the hotel to make the reservations. If I wanted a pair of red pumps, then I’d save up for it and go to the store and buy it. Some people would call that process manifesting. I’d like to call it taking action. And no, I don’t actually want a pair of red pumps. Black is fine.

Now, can things happen with no effort on my own? Yeah. But I chalk that up to coincidence. Coincidences happen on the daily. To everyone. Everywhere. People have a hard time believing that because the chance of some coincidence happening can be rare. That doesn’t make it impossible. And it doesn’t mean that the universe made it happen. The lottery is a perfect example. There’s a reason why the lottery can grow to millions upon millions of dollars. Because it’s astronomically difficult to win it for an individual. But people do because millions upon millions of them partake in it.

Imagine a cardboard target with a pinhole slightly bigger than a grain of sand. Stand about six feet away. Take one grain of sand. Try throwing it through that pinhole. What’s the likelihood of accomplishing that? Pretty damn small. Now, take a fistful of sand and throw it at the target. The likelihood is now better.

A lot of these spiritualists tout anecdotal evidence. A long time ago, I was listening to a spiritual program. The host asked his listeners to try to manifest something: Imagine an amount of money and see if you can manifest it into your life. Why not, I told myself. What could it hurt? So I thought of $20,000 dollars. And then I waited. Bam! I got a check for around $15,000 green backs. I’m not sure how long I had waited, but months had gone by before I got the check. I was stunned!

Shazam! I said to myself, let me try this shit again. I thought of another $20,000 bucks. Months passed. And bam! No large checks came to me.

What had actually happened was that I worked for a company that skirted the California labors laws. Unbeknownst to me, a coworker of mine had filed a law suit. He won. A year or so later I got a letter stating that I was owed a settlement.

7EA9C28B-D717-43A8-B6DB-6DAABA401D1E.gif

Let’s look at the Law of Gravity. It’s called a law because we can use it to predictably calculate what happens when we drop something, for example. But to determine why or how a law happens, a theory is given.

The law of attraction is false because it isn’t constant. It’s nowhere near constant. Spiritualists and snake oil salesmen call it a law to make it sound legit. But it ain’t. That’s why anecdotal evidence can’t be used. These cult leaders cherry pick stories that support their position, and ignore those that falsify it.

It’s sort of like this: Ever think of a person, and then all of the sudden that person calls you? It’s a miracle, right? No. We find this significant because we’ve ignored all of the other instances that we thought of that person and nothing happened. Most of the time we can’t recall those moments. So when this miraculous thing happens, our minds assign significance to it, and then try to make sense of it: I manifested this person to call me.

If we as human beings want to create something or make something happen, then we have to take the steps toward that goal. Luck is probably involved in every step of the way. I want to become a best selling author. Sitting around wishing for it won’t do a thing for me. I do have to write the book, get an agent, and then that agent has to sell the book to a publisher. All of that takes a lot of effort and luck. Once my book is on the bookshelves, more effort in marketing and luck is required to get readers to buy my book. I often tell people that publishing is a crapshoot. I have little control over my book’s success. All I can do is take the steps necessary and hope for a lot of luck. Maybe I should just buy a lottery ticket.

Life’s Purpose

I write almost every day. Usually at cafes. Starbucks is my go to because I’m Asian: free electricity, heat, WiFi, and refills. During my years at these cafes, I’ve met a lot of people. I met one of my riding friends because he saw me carrying my motorcycle helmet. Our differences could be described as a great divide. He’s conservative, highly religious, a Trump supporter. I’m a liberal and am an atheist. To say that I am not a Trump supporter would be putting it very lightly. However, we’re open enough to have cool conversations about our similarities and differences without getting emotional. Subjects range from boobs to mechanical steeds to religion and other fiction about the human condition. For me, it’s human connection at its finest, the trading of ideas.

Then I encounter the other side of the spectrum. I met a guy who is very closed off to listening to new ideas. Well...he heard them, but I could sense he wasn’t processing them because his counter arguments were a repeat of what he always says. It’s like ideas tried to fly into his head, but there was a cage that kept them out.

We were talking about kids. That I didn’t want them. “That is the purpose of life,” he said. “To procreate.”

I said, “We’re human, we’re conscious beings. We can determine what our purpose is in life. If a person wants to earn ungodly riches, then that person can pursue that.”

He laughed at me. “Good luck to that guy. Cause that never happens.”

C9A419EB-ED31-4FD5-A9BB-40AD03F33153.gif

“Do you wanna go to Silicon Valley? Because the tech industry is creating a lot of rich people.”

Now, I thought I had some serious limiting thoughts. No. Talking to him, I could feel the mental limitations that he placed on himself. I could feel how constricted his thinking was, how small his world was, a prison of his own making. It made the few conversations that we’ve had unpleasant. Now all I do is have small talk with him. And I despise small talk.

Limiting thoughts are nothing. What I mean is that thoughts are just that. Thoughts. They don’t become anything until we act on them. Sometimes I wanna kill my mom because she rags on me so much. We’re two generations removed so my ideas about life is night and day compared to hers.  Obviously, I’m not going to kill my own mother. Too dark?

When I have a limiting thought—I have many—I do my best to ignore them. It’s very difficult to try and negotiate our way out of our own limiting/negative thoughts because we’re prone to seeing patterns where there aren’t any.

I have a friend who is in a committed relationship. But she’s perpetually angry at him when he doesn’t do what she expects him to do. For example, she sent him a sext—a naughty text—and he didn’t respond for a while. That upset her. Then when he did respond, she grew more pissed because he didn’t sext her back. So when we talked about this, I said, “Maybe he’s busy. Maybe there was an emergency. Maybe something happened, and he couldn’t be in that headspace.”

“Of course I know that,” she said. “But that doesn’t help.”

“You know you’re overthinking things.”

“Yeah. But I can’t help it. I feel rejected.”

In all fairness, to feel rejected from thoughts of rejection is a healthy response. However, we get endless thoughts fed to us every day. There’s little we can do about that. The good news is that most of them go unnoticed. It’s like walking down a crowded street. We don’t notice most of the people that walk past us. The issue is that thoughts drive our emotions. Especially the ones we deem important.

7EA81903-DAA8-4CD4-9DA1-5430547AD1ED.gif

What we do have control over are the thoughts that we hold on to. Like the guy who has limiting beliefs, he holds on to the idea that he can’t accomplish more than what he thinks he can. Worst is that he acts on it. My female friend feels rejected because she’s insecure about her relationship. So she blinds herself to all of the good that her boyfriend has done for her. And she isn’t present enough to realize that her perpetual anger might be pushing him away, making her unpleasant to be around.

For me, the best way to handle limiting thoughts and beliefs is to take steps toward your goal. Just do it in spite of them. In a podcast that featured my writing group—link below—we all talked about how difficult it is to get published. There are so many writers and so many books that a voice could get lost in all that noise. So why try? Because if you don’t, then the chance of it being heard is zero.

There’s another phrase that certain life coaches dispense: fake it till you make it. Faking it means that you’re taking time and mental energy to pretend about something you’ve yet to believe in. That can create conflict within a person because they’re fighting against their limiting belief with a counter belief. It’s hard enough to pursue your goal and then pile on top of that mental warfare against yourself. Why stack the cards? Once you’re focused on the task at hand, there’s no room for limiting beliefs. And even if you make room, you’re moving toward your goal anyways. So faking it isn’t necessary.

Curiouser and Curiouser

6ACB4FF9-A1E1-4EDF-B903-735F8521D882.gif

Working on a new writing project is always a little daunting for me. I don’t know the world, the characters, the detailed plot, nor the ending. Basically, I know shit. I have found that once I begin to think about a story, I tend to dive into things that seem to have no relevance.

For example, my characters in my fantasy has wings. The world they live in is completely made up. As I moved through my normal life, my mind seemed to come up with things that I could include in the story and world. So much so that I couldn’t keep track of it all. I bought a small notebook, this was before phones had become smart, and I jotted down everything that came into my mind that I thought might be of use. All of the sudden a flood gate opened, and my notebook was filled with nick knacks and tidbits and nuggets and morsels. I was amazed at what came out. And I’m not talking about my first time.

I remember watching a documentary about the evolution of birds. One of the topics it explored was: Do birds prefer to walk, or do they prefer to fly? To test this, the scientists put a bird on a wooden plank. The incline of the plank was increased to various degrees. No matter the degree, as long as the birds could walk up the plank, they would walk. It wasn’t until the incline had gotten so high that the birds were forced to fly up the plank. So I decided that my characters with wings would have that same behavior. That they preferred to walk, unless the place they wanted to go to required flight.

Be it fantasy, science fiction, or plain ole’fiction, the foundations of the world needs to be consistent. I’ve talked about his in the world of Harry Potter where J.K. Rowling almost made a mistake in this regard. Being the writer that she is, she caught it and corrected it.

B7957123-CC64-4309-8520-2D47CF0F5FB7.gif

In my new book, one of my main characters is a skeptic. He was entrenched in his martial arts school, loved teaching, and loved working with kids. But a slow disenchantment led him down the road of rebelling against his own school, much like Bruce Lee had, and he questioned what they taught and their methods. His skepticism lends well to working with children because he’s willing to investigate their issues to discover their real causes.

Before I knew all of this, I came across YouTube videos from the Athiest Community of Austin, the ACA. Their cable access show, The Atheist Experience, is run live with callers that ranges from theists to atheists to conspiracy theorists. I have to admit the theist callers are fun to listen to because the debate that ensues is not only entertaining, but opened my eyes to what constitutes as evidence and gave me a basic overview of how logic works. Both of these things were not very well defined in my mind beforehand. And this current character that I’m writing understands those things well.

Now, I started to watch the videos before I began to write this new book. To prove that my mind knew to watch these videos because I was thinking about this new book would be difficult. But I’ve always allowed myself to dive into things that seemed unrelated to anything that I was doing in my life. A lot of it went into the ether. Some of it was useful. Quantifying it would nearly be impossible since I don’t remember where anything that I think of comes from. But had I not watched the ACA videos, I may have not had enough of an understand of logic and evidence to write this character well.

Steve Jobs talked about this process in his famous 2005 commencement speech at Stanford. In it he mentioned that he took a calligraphy class at Reed College simply because he was fascinated by the beauty of the lettering. He learned about serif and sans serif typefaces and what made great typography.

“None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But 10 years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me...It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them.”

I’m not saying that everything you’re interested in will become useful in the future, but you never know. Why not delve into something just because you’re curious? For me, it’s part of the great joy of life, to learn and experience new things.

Out of Control

91AA6981-DC0B-41A6-B99C-74EBB2A06649.gif

I was talking to a writer friend of mine about how characters sometimes take on a life of their own. In my experience, sometimes they do things that can help the story. Sometimes they screw shit up. This is where writers come in and reign them fuckers in. But there’s a balance between letting the story flow naturally to wrangling it via Deus ex Machina.

This happened when I was rewriting the ending of my second book. In my first draft, I had killed off a supporting character. Workshopping the book had revealed a lot of weaknesses that I needed to shore up. During my rewrite, I was looking for an opportunity to off this character. But as the new ending progressed, the situation required him to remain alive because I needed someone to complete certain tasks and goals. I could have killed him off, then used a no-named character to fulfill these tasks, but the scene wouldn’t have any emotion. With that I was forced to keep this character alive. After he had completed his tasks, I decided to have him escape death. On an intellectual level, I had already killed off a lot of the supporting characters, so keeping him would be a great way to have some continuity going into the third novel.

An author in his book must be like God in the universe, present everywhere and visible nowhere —Gustave Flaubert

I’ve written how heavy handedness in storytelling can be a huge problem. Most people can feel that manipulation, which can take them out of the story. And I think writers, including myself, sometimes forget that being a good wordsmith, the mechanics of language, the structure of story only serve to spark the most powerful machine on the planet: our minds.

When we watch musicians, their tools of the trade are their instruments. When reveling in the performances of dancers, actors, singers, and professional wrestlers, we’re admiring the human body as instruments. But as storytellers, our tool is the imagination.

D5B5EE63-44F8-47EA-8C56-5CBB19741CEE.png

Consider the saying: a picture is worth a thousand words.

How many words is the imagination worth? Simply put, enough to spark it.

I’ve been thinking about this lately because I started a new writing project. For the past 15 years, I’ve been living in a fantasy world of my own creation. Longer if I consider that I’ve been dipping in and out of it since I was in high school. The challenge is that I have to describe everything that isn’t familiar to this world. That’s part of the reason why fantasy novels tend to be longer than normal fiction.

My new story takes place in San Francisco. And that’s refreshing because I can use words like office and bedroom and car and street without having to fully describe every single detail. I still have to show what’s important, ground the reader in the setting, but a lot of the heavy lifting is done by virtue that I’m using the real world. The challenge for me is giving enough detail to spark the imagination, but not so much that I bog the reader down.

So let’s explore this sentence: She entered her bedroom. If I don’t write another word about the bedroom, the reader will automatically picture their interpretation of a bedroom: bed, side table, armoire, bay window, sex swing...sorry. That’s my version. Putting no details whatsoever can be a mistake, especially if this is the main character’s room, because using the environment can be a great way of showing what this person is like. Is she messy? How expensive is her taste? A plant and it’s health can be used to symbolize the progress of the character arc. I can set the lighting to represent her mood. Pictures can illuminate her interests, passions and loves. These are the kinds of details that readers are likely to want because it helps tell the story without writing on the nose.

Working in a writing group is helpful because I can see where we all fall short in telling our story, or where we do a great job. So much of what we like in art is based on how it makes us feel, which is incredibly subjective. But we as writers are trying to spark the imagination and invoke emotions, all the while making sure the mechanics and structure of our writing are sound without confusing the reader. A small task, wink wink.

My writing group was featured in a podcast, showcasing how we work, answering questions about writing, storytelling.