TFIOSCOVER

Guarantee of Eventual Triumph: That Which Makes Authors Evil

Hello, Blogosphere, and good morning.

So I, like countless other teenagers, have read John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars. I’m a longtime fan of Mr. Green, and have read a number of other books of his, but there’s something unique about the way TFIOS is done.

Namely, the infinite hordes I have witnessed of crying readers, releasing pleas to the Universe for Mr. Green to stop being so evil.

Now, having read the other books, this is not something unique to his writing. He does it rather often, actually, Looking For Alaska being the most striking example.

However, I’m not going to focus on Mr. Green today. He’s just a case study.

Sorry, John.

But anyway…I’ve been thinking a bit about why exactly everyone’s crying about him in particular. While TFIOS is an intensely emotional novel…so are thousands of others, some even more widely read than this.

I’ve been concentrating on this a lot, lately, and I think I’ve developed a pretty decent theory.

The thing setting “emotionally potent” authors apart from “evil” authors is the Guarantee of Eventual Triumph.

What I mean by this is actually pretty simple, at its core.

Essentially, there are two kinds of emotional heartbreak: That which can be overcome, and that which cannot.

The first one is a hallmark of emotionally jarring stories everywhere. The hero gets a little bit too drunk and his girlfriend leaves him after he’s woken up sober. The District Twelve girl who just wants to support her family gets chosen to represent her people in a futuristic-archaic battle to the death. The two Afghani women suffer blow after blow in the heart of Kabul together, clinging to each other for survival even as they push each other together (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go read A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini RIGHT NOW)

But the second…that’s what does the real heartbreak.

The totalitarian leaders burn every book they can find–and they find ALL OF THEM.

The young protagonist gets adopted, and suddenly Birth Mama vanishes without saying goodbye.

A teenaged girl, destined for early death herself, watches her love waste away in front of her and, ultimately, beat her to the grave.

Those are the ones that tear us apart.

And why?

Because of that Guarantee of Eventual Triumph.

It’s not there.

The drunk guy without the girlfriend…he’ll get over her. Who knows, they might even get back together. The girl from District Twelve can survive, if she fights harder than the rest. The Afghani women, believe it or not, still have a chance, in each other, even as their city crumbles around them.

The Guarantee is there.

It’s a guarantee that there’s still potential for a happy ending. There will be another side. The grass is greener somewhere. Those are what makes a novel emotionally potent–the fact that tragedy strikes, and there is a journey that must be traversed before anything can change. But things can change. Things WILL change. That promise is there, unspoken. There will be resolution.

And then, there are the Evil Authors.

The books are gone. All the history and knowledge of the human race has been expunged, save for a group of recluses muttering lines to themselves in the woods.

Mama…she’s been planning this the whole time. Once she got rid of that kid, she didn’t have any intention to visit for the holidays.

And the boy’s gone. Her dream boy is dead. And he’s never coming back. Even worse, she’ll be dead soon too.

The guarantee isn’t there.

There. Is. No. Hope.

Things, in those stories, won’t get better. They won’t turn around. The underdog Will. Not. Triumph.

After all, how could they?

That’s what makes some writers evil. They don’t give that hope.

They make us remember, relive in excruciating detail, everything in our own lives that’s become irrevocable. Force us to realize, no, we will never reconcile. And project that onto characters who we have come to love as our own.

If you ask me, those authors aren’t evil.

They’re the most important writers we have.

And, as painful as it is to look, we as authors and as humans cannot afford to avert our eyes.

Not now.

Not anymore.

May you remain existential,

Evan

Anchorman Celebration GIF

The Novel…It’s Done

Hello, Blogosphere, and good morning.

Last night, at 1:30 AM on August 27, 2014, I finished my novel.

Finished it.

It’s done.

No more edits.

No more beta reading.

It’s done.

Twenty-two months ago, to the day, I started the story as a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing.

For seven months, I wrote every single day for an hour, sacrificing school, work and friends in order to get it finished.

That summer, I took the first overhaul.

Then Junior Year happened, and I didn’t get anything done.

And then there was THIS summer.

It’s been a wild ride. I’ve done three overhauls and two mass-beta-reader mailings, and truth be told, I marathonned writing 60 pages from scratch over a period of two days.

I’m exhausted, beaten, limping….

But I have triumphed.

Figured I should let you all know.

As always, I thank you infinitely for your support, and for all the great work you inspire me with.

Be well and prosper, my friends.

May you remain existential,

Evan

On Comic Relief

Hello, Blogosphere, and good morning.

So I have a ten-year-old little brother.

And that means Disney Channel.

I’m going to get right into things today. While I’ve made a point of not being in the same room as the television at all, for a wide variety of reasons, I still am just a room away. This means that even through headphones and such, I can hear pretty much every line of dialogue my little brother watches. To be completely honest, I have the theme songs of most of the shows memorized–much to my own dismay. So I end up half-listening to whatever is going on over there, and half-listening to whatever music has made its way into my life most recently.

This gives me an indirect window into a lot of things, including but not limited to a lot of stereotypes, societal tendencies, emerging trends…et cetera. And it’s interesting, for about five minutes, to take a critical look at what exactly the content means. But then…those five minutes expire, and I want to pull my eyes out of my face because it will be markedly less painful.

That takes into account a number of factors, of course, but one drives me particularly insane.

The Comic Relief.

What I mean is, in every show without fail, there is a character created apparently for the singular purpose of making awful jokes at the expense of the storyline, other characters and audience. Which wouldn’t be as terrible, if there were occasionally a bit of actual humor in there, but…there isn’t.

Sorry, Disney. Frozen was still good, I promise.

**SIDENOTE**

Wow…that’s kind of a weird word…frozen…just looking at it, it seems more ominous and kind of more refined to describe a state of matter caused by a lack of thermal energy….

**END SIDENOTE**

So there’s this character in every single freaking show, and it drives me absolutely insane.

Now, the reasons for its inclusion are kind of straightforward. Kids allegedly appreciate bad humor, it’s a useful cop-out for writers…stop me if any of this sounds familiar. But at the same time…it’s so unnecessary.

Come with me back to the eighties, for a minute. Cosby Show. Any takers? Family show, marketed to kids…but at the same time, the humor is so different from anything you’ll find today, especially in youth media. Take this clip, for example. For the record, the other actors’ laughter is real–this is pure improv, essentially. And while Bill Cosby takes some silliness liberties, to be sure, the delivery is genuine. That’s just it. And the humor is used as a vessel to convey something, rather than to simply exist on its own.

I’m not saying the show was some paragon of humor, but it wasn’t exactly poor-quality, either.

So this kind of brings me to my main point…but I’m not going to break it down or anything. Today I think I’m just going to say it.

You don’t need comic relief.

This applies to pretty much everything, but ESPECIALLY to writing fiction. The use of a specific character, put into use as some sort of comic vice, is pointless–even if the humor itself is good. You can have that character tell the best jokes, work in the funniest one-liners…but it’s still going to fall flat after about ten pages. And once it starts, the jokes will fail. Every. Single. Time.

The reasoning for this is simple: The jokes don’t need to happen. Whether they’re decontextualizing the scene, sacrificing emotional depth, or otherwise impeding the storyline, it’s absolutely a waste with regards to the actual content.

The jokes can be funny, if they’re told standing alone. They can be hilarious. Look at comedy legends and the jokes are golden. But slip one of those into a story, for the sake of it being there–which is the only reason it would be there–and it’s blatantly obvious.

Truth be told, it’s insulting.

Now, I know I’m probably sounding a bit mean today, but…this is kind of a long-standing problem in my mind. The Comic Relief character is everywhere, especially now, as the commercialization of media grows more and more every day. There is a formula being created for B-and C-rated content, and that formula includes vampires, the same teen love story, idiot authority figures, et cetera…and the Comic Relief.

But note that the content is B-and C-rated.

From what I’ve seen, I’ve been extremely fortunate as far as the people who read this blog are concerned. We’re all good writers. That’s that. But at the same time…it’s tempting to give ourselves and fall into these traps. It’s an easy solution to a hard problem.

But it doesn’t need to happen.

Revisiting the Cosby Show, watch any episode and you’ll see how the humor works. Here’s one, if you’ve got twenty minutes (skip to 1:30 if you want to go past the introduction). It’s not outright. The Comic Relief isn’t there. It’s a family dynamic–and that’s where the humor originates. It’s essentially a compilation of point after point that people can relate to, directly, because it’s all familiar and it’s all contextual.

That’s the key bit of it, too. It’s all offhanded, contextually appropriate, relatable humor that would come up, really, within the contours of any conversation between innately humorous people.

It’s not forced.

It’s not contrived.

It’s real.

And that’s why it’s good.

 

Leave comments in comments!

May you remain existential,

Evan

Uncertainty Is Worse

Hello, Blogosphere, and good morning.

So, in looking at Stephanie’s challenges at BeKindRewrite, I usually take anywhere between twenty seconds and twenty minutes to come up with a concept about which to write. However, this week I think I’ve posted my fastest ever time, coming in at just under two seconds–let’s see if the actual work does the idea justice. Prompt for this week was “Uncertainty Is Worse”–leave comments in Comments!

* * * * *

She traced the Wall with her fingers, running over the inscriptions one by one.

September 3, 1964.

Robert Allen

Charles Beauregard

Xavier Danforth

Sean Jasper

William Powers

Alexander Thibault

Charles Tilley

She rested her finger on the dot between Xavier and Sean, breathing in through her nose as hair whipped around her face.

The petals of cherry blossoms swirled around her, catching in her scarf and sliding across the Wall. She didn’t block out the noise around her today, the kids on their eighth-grade field trip, just letting what they said to each other pass in and out of her mind without much consideration.

She pressed her finger deeper into the dot, wishing just as hard as she had as a little girl.

James “Mountain” Fierro

 

The sun kissed her forehead as she flew up in the air, looking down at him.

She shrieked in delight as he grew tiny on the ground for half a second, and giggled as he caught her again.

He held her up with one arm as she hugged around his neck.

“My princess,” he said, looking at her. “My little princess.”

She smiled. “Come home soon, daddy.”

“I’ll come home. I promise. I’ll be home for your fifth birthday in the fall, okay?”

“Okay, daddy. Have fun on the planes.”

“I will, honey. I promise.”

 

She drew the overcoat around her against the harsh wind.

Dropped her hand.

He still wasn’t there.

Still hadn’t come home, either.

Against all hope…someday.

* * * * *

May You Remain Existential,

Evan

 

 

 

 

Words Without Borders

Hello, Blogosphere, and good morning.

Here’s another Inspiration Monday post, inspired as always by Her Aforementioned Illustriousness, Stephanie of BeKindRewrite. Enjoy!

* * * * *

Dear Mister Farwell,

It is our distinct and honourable privilege to extend to you an offer.

We have been watching your career, quite closely in fact, and we believe that you offer the creative and interpersonal mettle we seek.

We have commended you in the past for your works, and for your admirable devotion to the written word. It is as such, then, that we have decided to extend to you this proposition.

In our work, we have sent poets like yourself to the furthest corners of the world, amid our novelists, essayists, journalists and wordsmiths, in order to bring the comfort of the written world in the darkest of times. We have helped thousands, touched the lives of millions, and changed a world of seven billion.

And we would like your help in continuing this.

Enclosed, you will find a plane ticket. This ticket is first class, and will take you to Liberia, into the heart of Ebola country.

It is also a one-way ticket.

We appreciate fully that dead poets are more widely read than the living, and also that you pursue your altruistic works with a self-sacrificing sense of humanity unlike much of what is in this world. But with this, we shall hold nothing short of expectation for you.

Our request is simple. Stay with the suffering, the dying, and make our Creative Sacrifice as many heroes have done before.

We have taken the liberty of announcing this trip to press affiliates, in expectation that you will be joining us.

Safe travels,

 

Joanne DiSalvio

President

Society of Creative Martyrdom

* * * * *

May you remain existential,

Evan

A Technique: On Starting The Book

Hello, Blogosphere, and good morning.

So I was talking with a friend a few days ago, and this friend was telling me about how she wanted to write a novel but didn’t know how. Namely, she wasn’t sure how to start–to prologue or not to prologue, to give background information, to just jump into the action…that sort of thing.

I went to give kind of a standard, general answer, the directive to figure out where she wanted the book to go and operate on that premise, when about halfway through a sentence this thought occurred to me.

I’m going to describe it in a nutshell, mostly because there hasn’t been much extrapolation time on my part, but bear with me anywhom. I think it’s a pretty good strategy, hence my sharing it here, and I hope people will agree.

I told her, “What I want you to do is write a prologue. Write all the background information and the character bios and the Five Years Prior and everything YOU need to establish the premise for your story.”

She comes back later: “What now?”

“Okay, now I want you to write a first chapter. Put some sensory detail and essential information in, but mostly have fun with the premise you just set up and use it to build something with the story.”

She comes back again, the following morning (this conversation is like most of mine in that it took place at very late hours). “Okay, I did it and I really like it so far!”

“Awesome. Now, have you already accepted that I’m crazy?”

“Of course.”

“Do you trust me with your story?”

“Yeah, why not?”

“Okay. Remove the prologue.”

“Huh?”

“Don’t delete it, but remove it from the story. Yes, I know the sudden decrease in pages is shocking and disheartening, but bear with me for a second. Take the prologue and make it a separate file titled STORY PREMISE. And once you’ve done that, write with that information in mind for the duration of the story. Integrate all the information you need to, but ONLY what you need to, and make sure it’s not overt stating.”

“Wait, why?”

“Because it shakes up the story. Just flinging out information from the persona of the writer breaks the concentration of the readers and also the rhythm of the story itself. That’s what a prologue is, though don’t get me wrong, I wholeheartedly wanted and still want you to do that in the prologue you wrote. But you don’t need it. If the story ends up focusing on the main character’s relationship with Aunt Kevin, then you won’t really need all that information on his love interests. However, that information is crucial to YOU as a writer.”

And so it continued, and continued until she–yesterday–broke the 10,000-word mark. It’s definitely worked for her, and I wanted to share it with all of us.

Because, really, a reader’s never going to need to know half the information in the prologue. And unfortunately, readers of this time period don’t seem to have a thing for reading informational materials. However, the details are still crucial for the writer, and expressing them is one of the most effective methods through which they are retained.

That’s that, I suppose–tell me in comments what techniques you guys use for starting the story! Got a thing for prologues? Jump right into the action? Let’s have some conversation!

May you remain existential,

Evan

Writing Music–Part II

Hello, Blogosphere, and good morning.

So a few months ago, I published my first post on Writing Music–found here.

And I’d quite like to follow it up.

Just as was done before, the goal of this post is not to promote the actual writing of music–though I’m sure I’ll talk about that soon–but to promote music which is particularly conducive to certain parts of the writing process. So, enjoy with me. I would highly recommend every song, and Youtube has been linked to in the title. Keep in mind these are not listed in order of recommendation–each is just as good as the rest.

So…let’s do it!

  1. Hipster Lullaby–Jake Amerding. Ever since I saw this song in concert for the first time it’s been a staple for me, though…not at any point within the novel itself. Rather, the song has been really helpful with writing dimensional, layered characters during the storyboard-rough-outline-shot-in-the-dark kind of thing I and many other people tend to do. The song is all about character creation and effective storytelling, really, and as the title would suggest, it’s kind of got a level of verbal wit to provide to the audience. The great thing about said wit, furthermore, is that it’s so much fun to read about in characters when it’s done like this. So, I would recommend the song really whenever character creation and use is in order.
  2. My Freedom–Two Steps From Hell feat. Merethe Soltvedt. I’m a fan of most things Two Steps From Hell puts out, but My Freedom is one of a few songs that really stand above the rest. It’s unique in a number of ways, especially its EFFECTIVE use of English lyrics, which is very hard for an orchestra to do well but which the Two Steps composers have pulled off beautifully. In terms of writing, this song is all about power and action to me, so…listen as such! Especially the “My Freedom” bit of the song and what comes after. I tend to listen to this song when anything big, bold and dramatic is happening courtesy of my protagonist. It’s especially good, I imagine, for fantasy and historical-fiction writers, but I’d wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone and anyone. Take a listen–it’s so good. I promise.
  3. Arwen’s Vigil–The Piano Guys. I’m not sure if the Piano Guys will ever stop writing and releasing absolutely amazing music, but this certain piece holds a place among their best. If you’re unfamiliar, this is a song by two guys, one on piano and one on cello. It’s absolutely beautiful and contemplative and moving…it’s great, it really is. I personally just put it on repeat during the less-action-more-meaning parts of my story, and let it play as a reminder that just because the majority of something might not be action packed doesn’t mean that it can’t be packed full of deep interactions. I’d also point you to the two-minute mark, if you’re looking for inspiration in writing action that’s kind of offbeat and unconventional–it’s not a traditional climax to a song, but it’s even more powerful as a result of that.
  4. I See Fire–Cover By Matt Horne, Amelia McNabb & Christian Tjandrawinata. While nearly all the versions of this song are absolutely amazing, chief among them those by Drew Chadwick, Haley Klinkhammer and Ed Sheeran himself, this particular one is especially notable. It’s a song, from the beginning, about strength together in the face of a bleak future, and given the style and variety of the vocalists in this piece that sort of vibe extends to a higher level than it does with most incarnations. I listen to this song during the hard times, which as an author I hope are in abundance, and during times of people coming together after the storm or before it. The last two minutes are particularly great in all versions, but tune in around 0:45 seconds for some pretty fun vocals from these guys as well.
  5. Blow Me Away–Breaking Benjamin. I’m not sure if I should be thankful to my friend or angry at him for introducing me to Breaking Benjamin, but despite not being my style, the band has its moments for sure. This song in particular is especially fun for writing the climaxes and points of greatest tension, the stuff we all know and love. The song is all action and little room to take a breath, which is quite good for writers doing their Big Cataclysmic Glorythings. The first verse is also especially fun. It’s got some very interesting lines that provoke a lot of thought for me as a writer, and which are rather fun to model in attitude. The song as a whole is invaluable, and in its moments it excels.

So that’s that for Part II. Once again, these are in no particular order, so give them all a listen.

Leave comments in comments! How did this compare to Part I?

May you remain existential,

Evan