Saturday, July 30, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Outlandish Fiction

They always call it “outlandish.” These are “outlandish claims.” The hero’s actions are “outlandish.” The plot is “outlandish.” If you look at all vibrant things deemed outlandish, you’d really rather live in the outlands. Why live in the mainlands, where apparently everything is understandable, predictable and mundane? I want to go to the wild frontier with the ghost hunters, candy bars that are healthier than fruit, and where utopian politics actually work. “Outlandish?” What other land would you want to live in? The one where others have proven everything for you and you follow their patterns to a sale? Or wouldn't you rather go into the wild blue unfathomable, and bring something back? Yeah. Something outlandish.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Do Not Hug the Golem

A golem is the best friend you could have. Forget slutty eternal elves. Forget conniving humans. Just because they're your species, or have blood in their veins, or brains and personalities to match that blood, does not make them good friends or reliable business partners. In fact, all those features make them distinctly bad business partners.

One reason you want the golem as a best friend is that he'll never hog the seats during travel. If there's only room for one on the carriage, he'll let you sit. If you only have one horse, he'll let you ride it. He will walk.

Another reason you want the golem as your best friend is that when you're stranded in the middle of the wilderness, he won't kill the carriage’s horse for food. He doesn't eat except when he's nervous, and then he only snacks on dirt. You can't ride dirt to safety.

Also, once the horse has been cooked and gone bad, your golem best friend won't turn on you. He won't try to cannibalize your left arm under the rationalization that you're a righty.

The golem best friend also won't run off in the middle of the night, abandoning you once it's obvious that he can't eat you in your sleep.

The golem is a better friend because he will actually carry you back to civilization. You’ll be sick from hunger, utterly useless to him, and he’ll cradle you in his craggy arms until homes are in sight. Even when the villagers run at him with pitchforks and torches, he'll stay with you until you get a hot meal.

Now after that, he will run away. To be fair, all best friends will run away once you're safe and people are stabbing them with farm equipment.

However very few best friends will then loiter on the city limits, hiding behind the biggest tree available, until you're healthy and ready to disembark.

The only downside to the golem best friend is that he'll break your ribs when he hugs you upon seeing you again.

Do not hug the golem.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Little Boy Warrior

He fell a million miles and two feet. The mattress is the basin of a canyon. He has a broken stone for a pillow. Rubble billows with his impact, burying him in dust and boulders that only feel like a down comforter. He forgot to close the window, so the breeze outside wafts across his feet. It becomes the edge of a river – of the river, the river that carved this canyon. It runs across his feet under the comforter. He wiggles his toes in the coolness. They are all that is free of his body. He cannot move another bit. His muscles scream in protest even when laid to rest – from half an hour’s physical therapy, or from losing the war on the plains above. How many times did the warlords run him through? Yet he survived the fall, while all their spears broke. The wounds would slay a lesser man, but not he. He is too great to die from little things like leg lifts or ten-story drops. The dragons, the necromancers, the demanding woman in spandex – they’ll all see him again. He’ll live. He only has to dig himself out. But first, to rest.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: The Other

The Other is a blessing.

He is mindless and stupid, an ignorant sheep of architects and ideologies, yet we can hate him as though he’s responsible for everything he does. He knows nothing about what he is doing and knows he is wrong. He is heartless, has no real feelings, feels the wrong things, is utterly base, and perverts reason.

Every joke The Other makes about us is vile and abhorrent, while any insult we make toward him is the height of wit. His joke about your daughter’s weight is vulgar. We’ll mock him when he dies.

Every evil The Other commits reveals his true nature, while every evil we commit against him is accident or misunderstood or taken out of context or, really, if you think about it, justice.

If The Other was wiser, more compassionate, more reasonable, more tolerant, he would embrace our enlightenment. He would think like we do. Since he doesn’t, he receives none of our compassion, reason, tolerance or enlightenment. Certainly none of our wisdom. If we applied that, he couldn’t be The Other anymore.

Worse, we might not be us, and that would be unbearable. We’re grateful to The Other. We express it in all our bile, condescension, barbs and bombs. His mere existence allows us to not really be. We can non-exist in simple opposition to his perfect imperfections. His races, ethnicities, economics, politics, religions, hierarchies, biases, sports teams – we’re grateful for it all. The more he’s wrong about, the easier it is to choose what we aren’t, and maybe someday that’ll make us something. Something other.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Five Reasons to Use Proper Nouns in Dialogue

No matter how I try to fix myself, I remain an unwilling contrarian. Tell me a rule is wrong and I’ll defend why people’s experiences would lead them to espouse sweeping rules. But give me a rule, and I can’t help looking for where it fails.

Larry Brooks, author of Bait and Switch, recently posted “5 Creative Flaws That Will Expose Your Lack of Storytelling Experience.” The first stirred my nature.

1. Proper Names Within Dialogue

Which equates to bad dialogue.

Without teasing about what equates to sentence fragments, you can see why an editor who’s dealt with too many amateur writers would think these things. Mr. Brooks lists several trite uses of proper names. Clumsy writing is seldom good; you ought to re-read your material at many points to catch any potential for sounding awkward. But ban proper nouns from dialogue? Especially on the grounds that people don’t use them often or for good reasons? That’s not right. I can think of at least five perfectly good reasons to use them.

  1. The name as a threat.
Your parent, guardian or teacher probably used your name to add further weight to a demand in your childhood. If not you personally, then you’ve likely heard an adult do this to someone else.

“Moses Christopher Jones, you put down that turtle this instant!”

Applied in fiction, the use of a proper name not only gives specificity, but carries implication and tone. That’s complex writing. That’s good.

  1. The name for supplication.
 It was once polite to address people of significant position or office by name. Many reporters will still wedge titles and names into conversation.

“Mr. President, this morning when you made your remarks on the health care debate, did you have the Kochs in mind?”

It happens in less formal circumstances as well. Reverse the roles of my first example.

“Can’t I have an iPod, Dad? Please?”

Kids absolutely say this. The use of the name adds weight to the request to someone in a superior position.

  1. The name for clarification.
Mr. Brooks gives his own exception in the list. “Unless someone is calling on the phone and opens with, “Is Mary there?”, don’t make this mistake.”

This is the use of a name for clarification. You might just as quickly hear a voice on the phone and ask, “Is that you, Mary?” Or simply, “Mary?”

The same goes for if you’re alone in the house and hear a noise. Has Mary returned early? Naturally, you call down the stairs.

“Mary? You home?”

There’s nothing unnatural about it, until it turns out it’s Mary’s ghost.

  1. The name for specification.
I’m in the middle of a scene where Zhanjee orders Sheryu to take the inmates up the canyon while Piece-35 should take the automatons back to the fortress. Zhanjee’s divvying up the duties between people.

Zhanjee can just point at Sheryu and say, “You take your people down into the canyon.” But there are crowds here. Even if everybody in the story knows who Sheryu’s people are and so they don’t need to be named, what about Lixio and Puzo, who aren’t in either crowd and Zhanjee wants to ride with him?

“You, you, you and you go into the canyon. You, you and all the metal guys go home. You and you come with me.”

This is surely not the antidote to amateurish dialogue. At some point Zhanjee is bound to make eyes with someone and say, “You go with Sheryu.”

  1. The name as the subject (or for it).
If you’re talking about what a weird name Joachim Oakwood Goldfistings III is, you’re likely to say it in dialogue. It’s kind of hard to discuss it without ever saying the actual name.

Now, the above is a hairsplitting exception. But there’s a less hairsplitting usage in the same area, and you get points if you noticed that it appears in Item #2. If you’re talking about somebody who isn’t present, you’re just as likely to use their proper name.

Let’s say I suspect Joachim’s been sleeping with his sister and I want the gossip about it with my lunch buddies.

“So what’s the deal with Joachim and Periwinkle?”

If the Goldfistings aren’t in the room, I’ll mention them by name to bring them up.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: YA Fiction Vs. OA Fiction

It finally happened when I overheard a forty-four year old man ranting at a twenty-nine year old woman that Twilight was shallow. I can handle adults reading below their level, but not them bitching about it. This jackass probably hadn’t read a Man Booker nominee in his entire life and was griping about stories explicitly marketed to Young Adults.

After that, I decided to write MA Novels. Mature Adult Novels. No, I'd write OA. Old Adult Novels. Not merely great and accessible fiction like Michael Chabon or Max Brooks put out. We’re talking crotchety, crusty, has-read-at-least-two-Dostoyevskys Fiction. Senior Citizen Fiction. If I could, I’d pass a law that you’d have to be eighty-nine years of age to purchase a copy of this thing. There’d be an eye chart, and if you read “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here” at the bottom but couldn’t ballpark where it was from, then you win a copy of Hunger Games.

You’d have teenagers, Young Adults, desperately torrenting and sneaking each other copies of Senior Citizen Fiction. Grandma would pirate the e-book, not out of malice, but because she’s not sure she’ll live long enough to hit the age minimum to legally buy it. And you’ve got to have that legal age minimum, not because of the sex or violence, but because this book has an actual level of complexity intended to challenge any adult mind not buried in things explicitly written for their children.

And what I desperately wanted was to look aside from that forty-four year old man, and see his kid. She'd be at his knee, reading OA fiction on a tablet she jailbroke herself, because she's smarter than her dad. He'll still use her as the excuse for why he just had to read four of those damned books, too.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Dear Spiders

You and I are cool. I recognize your place in our shared ecosystem. I recognize all the angular corners of my abode sing to you. Your webs are a delight when I don't accidentally walk into them carrying a tray of breakables. We can live at peace.

But there is a staunch two-strike policy for crawling onto my face. Many would feel it should be one-strike, but hey, you only have eight eyes. Maybe you don't realize you're lowering yourself directly into my eye the first time. The second time, though? Then I am not responsible for any Norton Critical Editions that slam on top of you.

All my best,
That fat mammal you keep landing on
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