Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Six Sentences

Check it out: http://sixsentences.blogspot.com/

After learning about the six sentences blog, I went back through all my fragments, the little bits of writing I've been putting on this blog since I opened it. Can you believe that none of them are six sentences long? There were a couple of fours, fives, sevens, and eights...but no sixes. Unbelievable!

Perhaps I think in strange cadences, requiring that extra breath, that last word. Could you write something incredible in six sentences? Every time I think about what I might write in six sentences, I feel afraid to suck. I think I'm going to have to just keep doing what I do, and hope that some day, something works out to be six sentences by lucky accident.

That last paragraph was four sentences, by the way, as was the one before it. Maybe I do tend to think in multiples (and factors!) of four.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Recession jokes!

In the coming months, we'll be seeing more and more effects of the recession in every aspect of our daily lives. Here's some of what you can expect:

Automobiles -- American cars will now be replaced with cuter, cheaper, more fuel efficient foreign models.

Spouses -- American spouses will now be replaced with cuter, cheaper, more fuel efficient foreign models.

Weddings -- Fabulous nuptials will be scaled-back; no more huge feasts with carving stations and sushi bars and cotton candy martinis. Let them eat cake!

Cakes -- The cake industry isn't getting a bailout! Buttercream and fondant will be replaced by that canned frosting crap and sheets of construction paper.

Food -- A peanut butter and jelly sandwich that doesn't give you salmonella is now considered a lavish meal.

Paychecks -- Executives of companies receiving bailouts will have their pay capped at $500,000. Most of that money will go toward their extravagant lifestyles, but the rest will go right to offshore accounts in the Caymans. The rest of us will, on the whole, have our pay cut. The money we don't pay in taxes will go toward gasoline and salmonella-free peanut butter.

Houses -- Please feel free to trade in your ridiculous adjustable rate mortgage for a cardboard box. Cardboard boxes can be obtained for no money down, and no money ever.

Entertainment -- Because those digital converter boxes will be a long time coming, I suggest that you check out a book about Euchre from your local library.

The Internet -- Scammers will no longer be looking for your worthless bank account numbers. Take care to guard your precious bodily fluids while online.

CNN -- Anderson Cooper won't stop using Kiehl's products, but he'll use a little bit less.

Awards shows -- Award statuettes will be made of brass. Swag bags will contain canned food and drugstore toiletries.

MTV -- Kids on "My Super Sweet 16" will only receive one car for their birthdays, instead of two.

Rap songs -- Lyrics will reference Andre sparkling wine and unattainable female acquaintances.

Electronics -- The boom box is making a comeback. Dig out your old mix tapes. And boom boxes.

Fashion -- Trends to watch out for: burlap; galoshes.

Shopping -- Go ahead and put that shelf for your cardboard box on layaway. Buy now, own later!

Births -- To save money, drugs will not be administered.

Funerals -- Natural resources are at a premium, so burial is out of the question. Everyone gets cremated during a recession, and put in a utilitarian stainless steel urn, to be kept on a shelf in your home. If your cardboard box does not come equipped with a shelf, and you don't have the one you put on layaway yet, you can leave the urn outside. Stainless steel urns are weatherproof.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

What's My Motivation?

Right now, the main purpose of my writing this blog post is to avoid working at home.

I read an interesting post over at this blog, where the guy is working on a novel and journaling the process. He mentioned something about not understanding a character's motivations, and I found myself nodding along right away. One of my characters is like that. Unfortunately for me, she's the main character. I'm going to have to a) figure out why she's acting that way and, b) change her a little bit so she's less like a robot maid and more like a human being.

Sometimes I forget that the people I'm closest to are their own people. Rather, I think of them in terms of their relationship to me. I think this probably means that I'm selfish and/or self-centered, but maybe it's not just me. Are you consciously aware of the inner monologues and personal demons of the people who are closest to you? I know that my husband goes to work and school, and thinks about writing a play sometimes, and likes cigars and acting and drinking with friends. But what's really going on in there, moment by moment? What does the voice in his head sound like? What is it telling him to do, and why?

I think that's sort of what happened with Lily, my main character. Because I quickly came to regard her as a close friend, I didn't really question her actions. I trusted that she knew what was best for herself, and let her loose in her plot. But now that I'm coming up on the end of the story, I don't know why she acted the way she did. I want to believe that she had a compelling reason, and not just the one that the plot gave her.

It's tempting to say that sometimes, people just do things for "the usual no-good reason," as Douglas Adams would say. But it's not true. People think they do things for no reason, but they usually just don't know (or are denying knowledge of) their motivations. I used to peel off all the white parts of my fingernails and toenails when I was younger. My mother took me to a psychologist, who basically determined that I was odd but fine and my mother needed therapy for completely unrelated reasons. Was I an overly anxious child? Yeah, sometimes I would lie awake at night and worry that my parents would die before I learned how to cook for myself or braid my own hair. Is that why I peeled my nails? Maybe. Probably not.

I know now that I just hate having nails longer than a few millimeters. If they're too long, I can't play the violin with them, I can't type with them, I can't avail myself of as many sexual opportunities with them, and I always manage to slice into them with a good sharp kitchen knife while cooking with them. They're pretty when manicured, but otherwise, what good are they? My short nails are just as fierce under a couple of coats of black cherry polish, and they don't make me feel so utterly useless. So I cut them. Frequently.

So, here's the trick: in a first person narrative, how do I convey to the reader that there are reasons for a character's behavior that she doesn't even realize? That's kind of a rhetorical question, as I know it'll take some gentle massaging in the rewrite. She'll have to tell you things about herself that she doesn't realize she's telling you. That's always the trick.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Creativity and the fence

These days I'm employed to prevent people from writing so much about something that the very essence of that thing is lost. But it turns out that I've been doing the same thing. I've been writing on and on at length about creativity, and in doing so, I've completely lost track of what it actually is.

Creation is the act of bringing into existence something that did not previously exist. Usually, you see creativity most often in the arena of problem solving. A problem is a roadblock, and a solution is a way around it. If the roadblock is a tall, electrified, barbed wire fence; and the gates on either side of it are locked; and the sides of the road are sheer vertical rock faces, then the solution is going to have to be creative. Necessity, as the saying goes, is the mother of invention.

Often, in life, you will come up on a problem like the barbed wire fence, and someone on the other side will tell you: "Hey! Slip me ten bucks and I'll give you the access card." If you swipe the access card, the electricity goes off for sixty seconds and the gates open up. It's--you got it--the easy way out. It costs you even more than the $10, though. Every time you take the easy way out, you lose a little bit of the drive and passion that once pushed you into getting shocked and cut in pursuit of your own way over the fence.

But here's something to think about: the guy who sold you the access card. How did HE get over the fence? And, more importantly, what's his motivation for keeping you from getting over the fence your own way? This blogger had a couple of ideas about that. It's fairly obvious, really. The guy on the other side stands to profit if you don't want to go through the trouble of figuring out a way over the fence. Not only that, but he retains his power over you. If, however, you make it over by yourself, you can stand there and either a) sell access cards for $5 and undercut his business or b) tell others of his nefarious scheme. Either way, his own creativity (the way he got over the fence) goes unrewarded. The major downside to this is that we never find out if your creative solution over the fence was the same as his: it's an innovation blocker.

Thankfully, creativity doesn't always have to occur in the service of a solution. Some of the most interesting stories and poems that I've read do little more than highlight and explore a problem. If I approached the fence, climbed it, and, blistered and bloody, ultimately refused the indignity of paying for the access card, leaving my body to die a slow and painful death on my side of the fence, that could be an excellent story. But there is little to no reward in life for someone who merely reiterates a problem, even if it's done in an interesting way. That's one reason why it's so hard to write a good, lasting story. You have to balance your self-indulgent exploration with the value to society that you might be able to offer.

Fiction writers: how do you balance your thoughtful self-indulgence with the value you want to present to society? How do you find your big picture issues? Do you start with issues and come to the story, or does the story ultimately dictate its own issues?

I find that getting shocked and bloodied trying to find my own way over the fence is sometimes its own reward, but sometimes I'm curious about the other side.