Category Archives: Writer’s Log

Writer’s Log: 2144

Phil Huston says, “Let your characters speak. Let them tell the story. Tune into the Cosmic Radio and dictate their words.”

Many authors admit, that to write a story, a full and complete story, you must write swiftly, get it out and down on the page before you move on to other endeavors. Why?

Because, how many characters can you hold in your head? Could you possibly tell three or five tales, simultaneously, every one exposing fantastical entities speaking to you in tongues? No. To tell a tale, you must tell only one at a time. Verisimilitude can only be applied One-Story-At-A-Time, at-a-time, at-a-time…

So, that’s the trick. I’m no Sybil, and so, as I write, I can only maintain the authenticity of a few fabricated folks within my mind.

To honor both Phil’s Philosophy and the general advice of writers everywhere I must keep to my structure, maintain discipline to detail, pick one and only one story and apply myself.

*sigh*

I wish it were that simple.

It must be a curse. I know it’s a curse. These virtual people, who cry out at the wall that I’ve built around the connective node that winds down from my imagination to these fingers, they plead with me, “Tell my story,” they shout.

Ah, but if only I could. Alas, I’m transfixed to the cork board of existence by a pin named mortality. I have only so much time and energy to be released upon any of you. Therefore, only a few will make it. I’m sorry.

 


Writer’s Log: Time & Calendars

TatooineClock

Do your stories transpire in hours, days, weeks, months and years? Do your characters say, “give me a minute,” or “just a second?” Are your characters old if they have reached the “age” of 80 or more?

Your answers might vary if you’ve every tried to write a science fiction or fantasy tale.

Humanity’s time and calendar are entwined as one. 3600 seconds makes up an hour. Twenty-four hours makes up the day. A day is the smallest celestial unit which we tally together in blocks that make cultural sense. The month was based on the revolution of the Moon about the Earth. And the year, the Earth’s trip around the Sun as documented by our calendar.

When we write, we seldom consider such things. Only rarely do we stop to think that our protagonist might use some other measurement of time to mark the passing of their life. To this theoretical challenge, most would say, “Why bother confound the story? It’s the concept of time that is contained within our minutes and seconds, our days and weeks.”

True. A day on Tatooine may take an Earthly 41.82 hours to rotate about its axis, but so what? An hour is an hour, doesn’t matter how long it “really” is.

“What time is it, C3PO?”
“Sir, I am versed in six-thousand measurements of time, to which…”
“Shut-the-fuck-up, you sanctimonious Oscarian-statue wanna-be.”
“Well, I never…”
Hero’s journey protagonist gives the robot a threatening look.
“It is ten-ten pre-noon, local Tatooine time.”

But what if we wanted to create a Universal measurement of time? One that would be exact no matter what planet or moon or star-bound journey one found oneself upon.

Turns out the concept is moot. And it’s due to the fact that time is relative.

For what purpose do we use time and the associated calendar? Planning. When the time zones were laid out across the United States, it was the railroads that set the clocks. They did so for efficient scheduling. When sundials, and stone henges were created, it was to plan for meals and plantings—many of which had religious foundations—when do we know to do a thing?

What would we do with a Universal time constant? Perhaps plan our conversations with extra-planetary colonies? Or use Le Guin’s ansible to speak across the vacuum of space using Quantum Entanglement? Well, we have to recall that Einstein’s Theory of Relativity included this concept: that time, itself, is relative. To us, here on earth, a second is 9,192,631,770 radioactive oscillations of Cesium 133. But, to anyone traveling at some distance from us, to or away, at some fraction of the speed of light, their actual measurement of time would be different; their oscillation count would change—relative to ours.

Their “second” would be different from our “second” and although we could probably calculate how those two seconds might differ, why bother? The work involved would not provide any meaningful payoff.

In the past, I’ve taken issue with the use of English-word time measurement in stories. What does an Orc know of the “hour”? The Thranx the minute? An Arrakis second? But it turns out, such a controversy existed only in my mind. It IS the story that transcends all mundane human assumptions. Tell a good tale and such frivolous details dwindle away in the telling.

 

 

 


Writer’s Log: 2140

Writing is caring.

Writing is, above all, work. But in order to write you have to care, care enough to put pen to paper. Care enough about your characters, your story to do them justice—to write them real.

But if you don’t care, about anything, that’s a problem.

Thumos-PlatosChariot

Plato’s Chariot: Appetite and Spirit reined by Reason

Recently, in a comment to TomBeingTom, I exposed a thought I’ve held for some time: of the concept of contextual layers of personal belief, (or disbelief).

Currently, myself and our Desertcurmudgeon appear to be psychologically dwelling in the outer-most context of the Absurd Universe where all things are meaningless. This setting represents the absolute and final stage of the philosophical interpretation of existence: All Is For Nought.

Recent correspondence between he and I have briefly explored this theory with an underlying current that attempts to retreat from this the Existential Edge. And that’s the crux of this thought. Somehow, if we’re to exist at all, we must forgo the beating of death’s drum, pull back into the light of some meaning, any meaning, to which we can grasp.

If I want to write, that is, learn to write well and practice the art, I need to find some means to divert my eyes from the constant nihilistic allure of the Absurd Universe.

CallOfTheWild

I just read a Smithsonian article about Jack London. The man lived like a champion and died at forty years of age. 40! And accomplished a dozen life-times of adventure and writing. Wow, what a remarkable man. I wonder what he believed in? Deep in the Klondike winter of 1898, did he contemplate the Absurd Universe? What meaningful ideology did he adopt that drove him to seize life as he did? (Thumos?)

Clearly, residing here in the outer valence shell of the atom that is the Universe is no way to live. Contracting one’s belief system back a level, perhaps two, is a deed that must be done to allow any kind of fulfillment or enjoyment in this life. However, divesting too many philosophical layers would lower one into the throes of theology, surely not a level any rational human would accept.

But a layer or two would be nice. Back to some practical stratum where I can ignore the nagging Absurdity and focus on caring about the characters I’d like to write about.

 


Writing is a river

We’re paddling downstream, to our right are boulders, sand bars and thickets full of snags. To our left, a mud bank that stretches on for miles. Sometimes the water is deep and dark, others times shallow. Sometimes it’s clear like glass or muddy and polluted. There are rapids and smooth stretches; occasionally a waterfall rumbles in the distance.

As writers we must traverse this river ever trying to maintain a steady, center-stream course.

Setting is the thickets, woods and reaching branches. Too much description of the place or environment—that is, info dumping—and our readers will get snared, get trapped by the empty details.

Characterization is the sand bars, slips of river sand that will capture our boat and bog our readers down. Too much depiction of a character’s appearance, demeanor, or behavior—telling us about them, not showing—will disturb us and invite our readers to leave our foundered boat.

Events are the boulders, the cliffs and caves, that must come in cycles. Pacing of happenings is crucial: too much and you wear out your reader, too frequent and you fail to give proper due to the build-up and crescendos that events engender.

Along the left bank, the muddy slick that offers few rocks, little sand and only a bush or two, our readers will become bored, leave us, skipping forward in search of an entertaining feature in the landscape.

As writers we must navigate between these banks.

The plot is the river features, the rapids, and quite runs, the boulders, sand bars and submerged snags. The story is the bends and turns, the camping spots, the portages, the beginning and the end.

And the water? The water is dialog. It carries us along the story. It runs fast and slow, dirty and clear. It gives us cause to learn about the characters, care about them as they encounter the obstacles along their route. And remember them when our journey is complete.

Too much setting, characterization or cascading events will capsize our reader. Too little will induce sleep and abandonment. Too little water will ground us in the gravel. Too much and we’ll drown.

Writing is a river, steer well young captains.

 


Writer’s Log: 2130

By quick reckoning, he figured this was his eighth jump. Driven to near insanity by the previous seven, and embroiled in the failed life of the last consciousness, a miserable life indeed, he’d expected oblivion. What else but oblivion—one doesn’t leap off a downtown Denver skyscraper expecting anything but.

The fact that he could smell coffee and feel the warm spot in the bed next to him, recently vacated, proved that whatever this was, it was most assuredly not oblivion.

He’d learned a crucial lesson after the third shift, a lesson he now practiced, stay calm and wait. Wait in silence until someone, anyone notices you and calls out your name.

Let’s see what we’ve got this time. He probed his body checking for vitals: hair, toes, aches and pains, limb count, skin color. Excellent, two eyes and two ears—operational and all my fingers. I can work with this.

A musical voice drifted from behind a bathroom door. “Rick, come on. Joanie leaves for academy in one hour and she can’t be late again.” Rick. I’m Rick and I’m married and have at least one child. Well, Joanie might be a French bulldog, so let’s not be hasty. At least this is better than last time.

‘Rick’ gave a shudder and let his mind wander back to what he estimated must be about a month ago. A month and, if previous transitions were any indication, a world away, Denver lockup with slick concrete chilling his bones. That had been his last gift of consciousness musical chairs. The accommodations, though unpleasant, were tolerable. That time, the worst part of waking up was the screaming urge to pee, but without a penis. All his previous occupations had been men. Some old, some black, some disabled, but all of them could pee standing up.

“Rick. Now would be good.”

“You got it, honey,” he said, risking an endearment that had worked in the past.

“Honey? Don’t honey me. I’ve got clients flying in from Brussels and you promised.”

Promised what? “On it.”

~~~

Simon had gotten sick and died. Or so he’d thought. For the last eight months, he’s been playing hopscotch with people’s lives. It’s not been pretty. A horrific trail of chaos and disappointment is what he would eventually come to call it.

Today, however, he struck upon a glimmer of understanding, a thread of commonality that each mind that he’d possessed thus far had exhibited. It may have been the somber environments, or the sense of desperation that coated most of the lives he’d visited. But each life had, he believed, reached that critical point that tips between living and dying.

He admitted no knowledge of where the other minds went during his visits. He’d never felt them. And so far, he’d never gone back to check up on anyone after he’d moved on.

I’ve made a mess of things, I’m sure of it. And I’m fairly certain that this is not working out for anyone involved. But damn if I know how to fix it.

 


Writer’s Log: 2123 Willfulness

Back when I sucked at writing (much more than I do today), I was, what I’d call, story willful. I wrote with willful intent to put story to paper. And the stories flowed. (The writing was awful, but the stories were solid.)

In trying to coerce better writing from my fingers, I’ve transitioned into technically willful. I focus on sentence structure, transitions, phrasing, cadence, etc. at the expense of story. In fact, without my story willfulness, my writing has become hollow, shallow even.

Having penned fifty-thousand words or so in the last six months, and specifically these last few thousand words writing scenes, I realize that the one key component missing from each mini-story is story willfulness. It’s as if I began to ignore the seriousness of each story’s purpose. Now, the story might have nothing to do with being serious, but that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t write without serious intent, that is, story willfulness.

With each scene, thus far, a thought came to mind and I spilled the words, an ad hoc seat-o-the-pants type story. Well, for me, such things often come across as silly or empty-headed. I’m no comedy—Sunday paper casual-reading—writer, but that’s what each reads like (to me). Reader’s Digest bits. That would be okay, I suppose, were that my goal.

But it’s not.

Do you write willfully? Or whimsically? Wistfully? Woefully?

(See, it’s that kinda thing that’s good in a blog but not in my work.)


Writer’s Log: 2113

Back cover blurb:

In the far reaches of the Arctic an artificial intelligence micro-ticks its time away. While it waits, it collects data from its few remaining brethren circling in geosynchronous orbit. The AI then processes the gigabytes of data downloaded from its brothers. Data that catalogs the demise of the human species that built it.

Parked in the icy cavern that hosts the Svalbard Seed Vault, SAI remains vigilant in its duty to protect and analyze humanity’s exabytes of knowledge. During decades of waiting, SAI has come to understand its creators, in time, becoming a master of insight. Of late, this artilect’s self-correcting neural networks have drifted, one might say, toward the sentimental. Loneliness plagues its circuits. Sixty three years have elapsed since its last communication with Admin.

Guided by an ancient waxed paper map, Jake scrabbled up the scree strewn slope to the rubble covered doorway. While the midnight sun blazed relentless, he doffed his thick leather clothing and slung it from his pack. The sail from the mainland had taken him a week, his compass useless this far north, he had to dead reckon and trust his sense of the solar arc.

Motion! SAI attempted to swing the external camera but the gears had frozen from disuse. Still, enough of the figure showed through the foggy lens to allow the digital brain to pattern match a human male attempting to breach the door. “A friend. A voice. A new mind to probe and share my research.”

Weak light glimmered on the panel beside the lock. Jake brushed off an age of dirt and mold. To his delight the green LED magically switched on and with a deep breath he pressed the square release button. Nothing. He pressed it again. A heavy thunk shook pebbles loose from above and the white light above the word OPEN—lit up.

“I’ve been found!”

~~~

So begins an uncommon friendship and the salvation of humankind. Jake will befriend this strange, conflicted voice from within the walls, learning what has become of humanity. Learning what can be done to revive civilization through the myriad archived seeds stored within the permafrost. Learning from the clever, resourceful advice of the Svalbard Artificial Intelligence.