Archive for Writing
A writer said to me a few weeks back: “I don’t bother with television. I prefer to read.”
Not that I feel a deep, ever-present need to proselytize TV (except maybe for Castle, with Nathan Fillion). Or that I would ever look down upon people who read books. But it was the way it was said. The person’s tone was really saying: “Why do you waste your time?” As if passing judgment on my desire to veg in front of my plasma from time to time, and watch something fun, good, exciting, informative, or all of the above (re: Castle).
Now, I read voraciously. I also enjoy the theater experience, music, plays, and…yes…television. I’m addicted to story. Have been from an early age. Stories that get me emotionally invested in the characters. That change my viewpoint of the world, or at least a small piece of it. Stories that use new storytelling devices (which I can hopefully learn), or use old devices in new ways (see previous).
Okay, so not everything translates, from television to print, but a great deal of it does. I’ve studied large casts to figure out how the writer got me to like/dislike a character in such a short amount of time. I re-watch scenes with emotional charge over and over, to figure out how it was done. Sometimes it is the actor (and there is something to be learned there as well) but often it’s just damn good writing.
One of the better pieces of craft I’ve learned as much from movies and TV as I have from reading is dialog. A long-time diet of The West Wing and Buffy the Vampire Slayer have both helped. Seriously. Aaron Sorkin is a master at snappy banter mingled with serious, intellectual expression (without ever being confusing or boring). Joss Whedon is just as good, though his campy, more comedic style taught me different skills. Stronger emotional expression. Masterful self deprecation. Word play that does not come off as contrived. (And sure, it does hurt that Sarah Michelle Geller isn’t hard to look at.)
Comedic timing can also be learned from television, and applied into fiction. Thank you Big Bang Theory, and Two and a Half Men. The procedural Law & Order helped me ingrain some mystery tropes I was having trouble with. And Lie to Me served one of the best change-up pitches I’ve ever seen by taking a character I didn’t like very much for forty minutes and making him not only sympathetic, but instantly pitiable in about 20 seconds at the end of its pilot show. Sure, some of that was the director and some of that was the actor. But a writer put it together first.
And in each of the shows I’ve mentioned (and a dozen more I could easily throw out here as well) it’s character, character, character. Main characters. Supporting characters. Idiosyncratic throw-away characters. Villains and heroes and sidekicks, oh my.
I’m hunting and pecking around in my memory, and examples keep leaping to mind. I don’t want to go off the rails on talking up TV over books, because in a head-to-head contest I’ll take books any day. But I don’t see why it has to be one or the other, when it can be both.
Some of my time is also spent in some “guilty pleasure” viewing, sure. I’m not sure what deep craft I glean from a rerun of Hogan’s Heroes or The Highlander, but they are fun. And I’ve also intentionally watched a bad piece of work, in critical mode, to analyze where it went wrong from a story-telling point of view. I’m not going to jump up and down on what might be someone else’s favorite show, but I maintain that you can learn as much (or sometimes more) from something you don’t like as you can from something you do.
I think this also works in both video and print mediums.
So this is my opinion. Obviously I felt strongly enough that my friend’s dismissive attitude stuck with me for some time, and I finally decided to write about it. Do I feel I’ve wasted time re-watching The West Wing six or seven time through? Maybe occasionally, when I’ve let it get in the way of actual writing time. But for someone who has also written fourteen military science fiction novels with a healthy political subplot…I can promise I’ve ingrained ideas and craft and character traits that have served me well time and again.
And let’s admit it. Castle rocks out loud.
(In the interest of full disclosure, Loren L. Coleman sometimes believes he continues to write because he can’t act, direct, or create professional grade special effects. He does not, however, watch everything on a daily schedule. This is why God invented DVR technology. Over the fits and splurges of a given month however, Loren might watch episodes of Castle, Burn Notice, Lie to Me, Law & Order, Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men, Studio 60, West Wing, Stargate (Any), Star Trek (any), Criminal Minds, Highlander, and/or Twenty-four.
So, ever since deciding to pick up my metaphorical pen again, and return to doing some fiction writing, I’ve been finding myriad ways to avoid the actual writing part. In fact, at this moment. I’m avoiding my fiction writing by writing this post on the subject of avoidance.
Kinda meta, huh?
The hardest thing I ever did in my writing career was give it up for a few years. Not the giving up part, I guess. That part was pretty easy since it just sorta happened and it was months before I even realized it had happened. Then I went through several rounds of trying to keep it going, restarting, and then finally justifying a dozen different ways as to why I no longer had the time. Sure, I had picked up a creative job and it was paying the bills. And alternately my kids were becoming more and more demanding, especially the one with pretty serious aspirations and who made my work ethic (the good one I used to have) look pale and pathetic by comparison to his efforts. Still, I look back and amaze myself at how I not only let it slip away, but gave it a firm boot in the ass on the way out the door.
But it was hard. Hard on my emotional state. My mental state. And as I look at two-plus years of saying I wanted to get back up and running, and my recent stalled efforts, I begin to think about the elephant.
Not an elephant-in-the-room elephant. I’ve got a few of those lumbering around in my past, and my present, too. Those guys aren’t so much of a problem (currently). They can actually be fairly quiet and easy enough to live with most of the time. Elephant-in-the-room elephants never take the last beer and always lower the seat lid afterwards, so all in all they aren’t terrible roommates.
No. This is the need-to-eat type of elephant. A one-bite-at-a-time pachyderm. The trouble with this kind of elephant is that they are kinda dusty dry and tough as leather, and they tend to look at me rather reproachfully as I think about where I want to take that first bite. I’ve often had trouble with parceling out large problems into smaller, workable problems. Give me a Gordian knot and I’m looking for a sharp blade. I solve the Rubik’s Cube by taking the damn thing apart and reassembling it, then left it on my shelf for a year ro so before I threw the obnoxious thing away.
But the elephant won’t go. I love writing. I’ve loved and hated and loved again every novel I’ve ever written (in that order). I enjoy being creative, and entertaining people. I like bringing new characters and worlds to life. And in good Loren-fashion, I’ve been trying to swallow the elephant in one gulp so I don’t have to watch it watching me try to devour it. That just ain’t working. Not even with the world’s best candy coating.
I’ve had friends tell me not to stress so much about it. Some have reminded me of my own advice to writers in the past, that momentum works in both directions. It takes time. It takes effort.
I’m getting there. Step by step. Thought by thought. Word by excruciatingly-slow-word. I’m still tied to a job that sucks down a large part of my week, dealing with family, and all the usual jazz. But I’m finding time. Time to make the effort, even if tonight it is just sitting down to pound out my frustrations on the keyboard, so I can look back on them after I hit “update” and (hopefully) feel that–even if I haven’t started eating with gusto–I’ve at least managed to shrink that gray, floppy-eared bastard into something that will at least fit into my dining room.
Knowing that I’m just maybe starting to develop my appreciation for the taste of elephant again.
I like politics. Okay…I love politics. Mostly, I think, because I enjoy a good argument…or a bad argument…so long as I get to participate. I don’t think I slept much for the first 48 hours of the Gore v. Bush fiasco. Kris Rusch and I were emailing and calling each other until late in the night, complaining and arguing and really living in the experience. Same with the Obama v. McCain election night. Fun stuff.
In fact, some of my friends still can’t believe I didn’t go into politics. You know, professionally. But I like to at least try to win EVERY argument I’m in, and in politics that just isn’t possible. In this day, you have to toe the party line and defend what might be a poor–or even stupid–position as part of the “bigger picture.” Which is why I’ve often voted on the left as well as on the right. I owe my allegiance to the argument, not to a preferred, party answer.
Yeah, I’d make a poor career politician. But I’d likely flame out in an interesting manner.
Still, in all my watching and commenting and studying, I have never quite wrapped my brain around the emergence of the two-party hatred until just recently. And it was the current self-publishing debate that started to really firm it up for me.
There’s been a lot of discussion about self-publishing, and how this will cause a civil war between two writer camps. Don’t kid yourself. It’s not likely to remain very civil. I have good friends who have embraced self-publishing and some of the other “new experience” arguments, like forgoing agents and challenging New York status quo. And they are doing quite well. I have other friends with a definite bias toward being a “New York published writer.” I personally see nothing wrong with taking advantage of either system/side of the aisle. The more important thing is to be informed so that you, as an author and small business owner can make a well-informed decision. It just seemed to make sense to me, that most people would want more information.
I’ve seen a growing number of professional feuds starting up. Entrenched writers lashing out as if the self-publishing trend somehow threatens them or personally offends them. Indie writers proselytizing as if they are the mountain coming to Muhammed. And lots of invective on both sides as neither wants to admit to the weaknesses of their own argument, or recognize the strengths of their opponents.
Seriously, this is feeling very One State Two State, Red State Blue State.
This might have reached that moment of mental critical mass for me yesterday, with the news of a writing website that banned some writers who were merely trying to pass along information as they saw it from the Indie Publishing side. And they didn’t just ban them, they did it with the full fervor of protestors swinging placards at someone trying to cross their line.
Has it devolved into a Meet The Press topic yet? No. I don’t think so. But then, professional politics has had centuries to devolve into the adversarial mud-slinging contest it is today. And because of the two-party system, each side does have an entrenched position, the pursuit of which is constantly under threat from the other side. Self-publishing upsets the status quo, sure. But I don’t see your book deal affecting my ability and business plan to put a collection of my short fiction on the Kindle, or the other guy’s 99 cent catalog extravaganza stopping me from signing a well-paying contract with New York. I want information. I would think that we all should.
Information doesn’t kill careers. Only not writing does that.
Anyway, it’s been bothering me, but also challenging me in that same strange, warped place in my brain that makes me like watching political debates, campaigns, and commentaries. Enough to get me back to my website to write my first major blog post, anyway. And at this time maybe I’m not adding much to the discourse, but to the commentary. That’s okay, though.
It’s going to be a great argument.
Thanks to all those who have already discovered my ebooks being published at Amazon (and a few on Barnes & Noble as well).
I am working to get more material, longer material, and brand new material up in the different formats just as fast as I can while still attending the day job, the family, and life in general.
In the meantime, if you have any comments about the ebooks already published, or stories/topics you would like to see bumped toward the top of the list, feel free to comment and I’ll see what I can do.