Monday, January 13, 2014


     In the writer's life, or at least, in my life right now, there are few things more familiar to me than uncertainty. Take this for example. Which entry should I work on writing next? Am I ever going to write another story here? Should I work on this or on some of my other writing projects? And speaking of my other writing projects, what should I do with them? Should I be working on rewriting my book? Should I attempt a draft of a shorter story?

     You can see how a simple question becomes a tornado of fear and doubt raging in the mind. The solution is mighty simple, and I think I've said it before: Just do something.

     The reason I've preached this sermon before is that it's hard for me to do and I need to do it more. Being something of a man of thought, action does not come as easily to me as to some. I imagine there are plenty of writers who find themselves in the same boat. I think we all hope that it gets easier if and when we get contracts from publishing firms.

     Anyway, that's the key right there. Do something. Find whatever you feel most inclined to do (aside from nothing) and go for it. If it turns out that that wasn't quite the best thing to do, then you can backtrack and start over again. Mistakes teach us; you just have to be willing to make them. It's easy for me to say, hard for just about everyone to do.

     Whatever you do, just do something. Don't sit around waiting forever. Waiting places are fearful places, in which dark fears and failures attack ambition, kill drive, and stomp on dreams. Sure, there are times when you need to slow down and wait quietly, but if the waiting is extended too long, bad things are likely to happen. Stroll through that place, but don't sit down.

     Dr. Seuss summed it up nicely when he wrote this in Oh, the Places You'll Go: "You can get so confused that you'll start in to race down long, wiggled roads at a break-necking pace and grind on for miles down weirdish, wild space, headed I fear, toward a most useless place. The Waiting Place. For people just waiting.... No! That's not for you! Somehow you'll escape all that waiting and staying. You'll find bright places where boom-bands are playing. With banner flip-flapping once more you'll ride high, ready for anything under the sky. Ready because you're that kind of guy. Oh, the places you'll go!"

     And I think that pretty much says it all.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

My World and the Plasticity of Language

     To many English people like myself, those who love the language and don't want anything about it to change, the end is near. Words have fallen from the sky and plummeted into the sea where they remain, never to resurface again. Adjectives have begun to mean things completely different from what they were first intended to mean. Words that used to mean nice things are now nasty; words that used to indicate adventure and heroism now refer exclusively to size; words that used to be bad things are now good things. Black has become white; day is now night. And just look what they did to punctuation!

     If you're not a big English person, I'll have to ask you to forgive that last paragraph. I like to use hyperbole to get my points across.

     I was once worried about the future of the English language. Lately, worry has morphed into groaning about what people are doing with it now. And I hope that that groaning can now finally evolve into an understanding with what language is supposed to be and do.

     The question arises: what is language supposed to do? Basically, it's supposed to provide a means by which two human individuals can share their thoughts. We call that communicating. If the sole purpose of language is communication, that makes the English lovers feel a little silly, since it cannot be doubted that despite the misuse of certain words, usually everyone knows what is meant.

     Then again, is the sole purpose of language just to communicate? Well, yes. But that's actually why many of us are worried. The deletion and repurposing of words make it harder for us to communicate what we want to. In the words of my high school literature teacher, we want to paint a certain kind of picture, and it feels like our colors are being taken away. It makes things more difficult, when you want to use cadmium red in your scene, but everyone is using cadmium red nowadays. They're graffiti-ing the back of the museum with cadmium red. Who will appreciate the cadmium red in your painting?

     Maybe I'm being a little melodramatic here. I do believe that language is meant to be a more plastic thing, that it can and should change over time. It has come a long way since the days even of twentieth-century authors. It's still changing, as the world itself changes. That change is not necessarily an evil. What would be an evil is if the meanings of words, the truths that words convey, were destroyed. This is the point: so long as language is a means by which truth can be communicated, it's good. If it ever becomes something else, that's where trouble comes in.

     I don't want to be worried about English, especially because I use it for a living, and it's never fun to worry about having the right tools to do your job. I don't think there's need to worry. Perhaps there may be a little more need to instruct, to teach, but not to worry. It's not the language that we should focus on; it's the truth behind the words. Words can change, but truth never will.

Friday, January 3, 2014

A Rule Concerning the Axing of Certain Peoples from One's Tale, or, Rule 8: To Kill a Character

     From a source of information abundantly diverse and strangely confusing, though often compelling, a line of instruction on this craft has come to me and caused me to think. In other words, my sister told me about something she found on the Internet, and I'm still thinking about it. Apparently someone came across a piece of instruction on writing that advised not to kill any major characters, as doing so demonstrates weak skills. The person who found this then proceeded to list all the writers who have done just that and been very successful.

     This caused me to think in several areas: First, is it true that to kill a major character demonstrates weakness in writing? Second, were some writers right (ha ha) to do so anyway? Third, what does it mean for me, if I do happen to kill a major character every now and again?

     In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that earlier last year I drafted several entries that spoke about killing major characters. Generally, I was against it, since there was a time or two when another writer did so, and that was just disappointing, frustrating, maddening, etc. I return now to the subject with a different point of view.

     So why was it said that killing a major character was a weak move? The answer is quite simple. Sometimes it is. Sometimes writers get bored and pull some death to keep interest. Sometimes they haven't thought a character through and need to get rid of him. Sometimes they just kill a character because they can. Often, the death of a major character is an overused device. The writers of this instruction were right, to an extent. But, as usual, there's more.

     I can't speak for other writers, but I know personally that there are times when an idea comes to me, and it feels like it has to be that way or else the story won't be right. Such are the few deaths in my works. I hope that the deaths in other authors' works are the same, and not some arbitrary tragedy thrown in for fun. The only way to know is by trying to imagine the story without it. If it's not the same, if it doesn't have the same heart, then the death is necessary. If it doesn't affect the heart of the story, it's probably better to leave it out.

     Those who said to kill a major character was a weakness were right. Those who disagreed were also right. It all depends on what has to be, according to what the author believes about the heart of the story. Usually, if it's an arbitrary thing, you can tell. If it has to be, then it has to be, and there's nothing you can really do to stop it.