I’ll be in Vancouver for the weekend, so I won’t be updating the site. HOWEVER, I am taking my writing notebook to make sure stuff gets written. The point of this site is to aid in my ritualisation of writing, turning it into a regular thing.
When the world tilted upwards and away from Gerald, he kept on trudging. Diligently onwards and upwards. Gerald didn’t have horizons, he only had summits, he said, which was the sort of thing I suspected him of stealing from motivational posters. He made rather a virtue of his persistance and delighted in the Sisyphean.
I didn’t have horizons either, if only because my entire view seemed to be one long downward slope. If I looked forward to anything, it was kicking Gerald in the shins, right on the bone, the next time he opened his mouth and made one of his fatuous pronouncements.
Photo: MINE! (Taken at Seattle’s International Fountain.)
The great Scythe of Zanclea Station arced against the blazing bulk of the mining planet, Aítne. From Veatriki’s angle of approach, the very blackness of the station made it seem as if a great blade had swung out of the star-filled heavens and neatly sliced the planet in two halves. The illusion fell away as she drew on to the planet, and could see the massive gap between planet and Scythe. The seeming smoothness of the station walls began to manifest protuberances, fractal in nature. Blunted black polyps budded and branched. Each seemed nearly identical, although by the time she was only a hundred klicks away, she could see the blinking sector beacons of her home beckoning.
She opened the communit relay. “Sestos Tower, this is the Picket Ship, Owleye. Pilot: Veatriki Leonides. Have I permission to land?”
Her cousin’s familiar face resolved on the vid plate. “Permission granted, Pilot Leonides. Please proceed along the vector I’m sending to the bay provided.”
“So formal, Hera,” Veatriki teased. “You could at least wish me a happy return. Is Uncle there?”
“He is,” said Hera primly. “Did you have a message for him?”
“The Zaragozan flagship is very near, not quite three AU when I left them. They hope to refuel and rest on Zanclea, make use of our shipyards. I left them to limp into orbit–the Owl’s speedier in-system.”
Her uncle leaned in over her cousin’s shoulder. “Good to see you again, niece. Have you lost any of the drones I sent with you?”
“Few of any kind. None with names.” Veatriki shrugged.
Bonus points if you can guess the inspiration and references without googling. 🙂
I’ve been taking improv courses since last year and just restarted up with a new company here in Seattle. Even though I’d done about four or five levels in SF, enough time had elapsed that I was feeling a bit rusty, so I started back with the beginning level improv. Which is good because we’re revisiting concepts but I get to see a fresh new take on them with a new set of teachers.
So now I’m trying to take my improv lessons and see if they can’t be applied to writing. In improv, we’ve got a concept for building a scene: CROW. It’s an acronym* for Character, Relationship, Objective, and Where.
Character refers to the individual characters we choose to play. We can endow them with history, mannerisms, voice. On stage, we occupy their bodies, we build their physicality. We slump, we wrinkle our noses, we occupy the space they do, we can expand or pull in tightly, we can be sloppy or strait-laced, we can be arrogant or nervous, so many personality choices, and so many ways to physically inhabit those traits. In writing, the voice, the dialogue, the choice of words and the character’s actions all inform the character.
Relationship: How our characters interact or are positioned to each other. This can mean Actual Relationship, like father-and-son, or sisters, or teacher-and-pupil, or lawyer-and-criminal. It can also start building off of character, and inform how the character behaves. This is where we set up dynamics, hierarchies, power–who has it, who doesn’t. A character by themselves may be one person around their mother, but another around a lover. (Unless their mother is their lover, Oedipus.) They might be pleasant in the office, but take out frustrations with family.
Objective: What do our characters want? Whatever they want. It should raise the stakes. You can get great dynamic scenes by having wants in opposition with the other character’s wants. Tonight, our classmates enacted a scene–a husband and wife going out to eat. They go to the restaurant–not a fancy one–and they conceive a need to sit at a particular table. Why? How does this relate to what we know about their characters and relationship? Why is this particular table important? Most importantly, what will happen if they don’t achieve the objective?
Where: In improv, knowing and defining where you are is important. One improv game we play involves five short snippets of dialogue. Hi. Hello. How are you? Fine thanks. Glad to hear it. That conversation can sound completely different based on where you are AND who you are. Imagine that conversation held first at church, then at a prison. Knowing where you are can give your character obstacles or define their objectives. In writing, this can be setting.
Anyway, I’m trying to run my Snakes and Ladder scenes through CROW in order to see if each of these things are clearly addressed in the scene. If it turns out my character doesn’t have an objective or that isn’t expressed in the scene….that’s something for me to focus on. Does it feel like my characters are consistent to their history and voice? Do their actions and dialogue BELONG to them? What relationships do they have with each other and how does that change their objectives? What stakes are there? What will happen if they don’t achieve their objective? Do they inhabit the world or are they talking heads spouting dialogue?
This isn’t meant to be wisdom from on high or anything. This is just me attempting to make use of my improv class. Obviously there’s other tools to be used here, like try-fail-try-succeed cycles, but I’m cannibalising from class and seeing if it can’t help push me along.
Today’s favourite bit of writing advice: Outline til it hurts. From Charlie Jane Anders One Weird Trick.
And outlining backwards is magic. Start with the end, and then put “because” after that, and keep going back. This happens because this happens, because that other thing happens, and so on, back to the beginning. If you can’t stick a “because” between two things that are supposedly causally linked, that’s a bad sign.
Omega point outlining! I like it!
*Not an initialism, honey!
She visited the city while sleeping, and discovered that it had rearranged itself once again, like a giant Rubik’s Cube. Like a Rubik’s cube, certain central parts of the city always remained relative to each other: Thus the cathedral was always north of the university and the green glass towers that rose on spindly stilts above the central park, while the ocean always lay to the west. The train lines switched around quite a bit–they couldn’t be trusted, and while she had tried to map the stations in her waking hours, every time she returned, they had reordered themselves to some arcane algorithm and she had to learn them all over again.
Gloomily she recalled the first Rubik’s Cube she had destroyed as a child. Her father had given her one to solve, left it with her after giving it a dozen or so twists one morning, and promised her a treat if she had figured it out by the time he came home for dinner. She turned it around on itself for hours, but it only grew more disordered, not less. “Entropy,” her older brother said, watching over her shoulder.
“What’s entropy?” she asked.
He tried to explain it to her but failed, and settled for, “It’s like getting messier.”
“Oh,” she said. Messy she understood.
He took the cube from her.
“Hey!” she said. “That’s mine. Dad’ll give me a treat if I solve it.”
“You can tell him you solved it,” he said. “I won’t tell.”
“It’s not the same,” she protested.
But he fiddled with it for only five or ten minutes before getting bored and tossing it back to her. And then it was just before Daddy would come home, and she hadn’t solved it. Even if she got two or three sides fixed up, the other sides remained a mess. All he had to do was turn it round to see the messy entropy-ridden backside. No treat, and a disappointed look.
So she carefully pried up the stickers on the recalcitrant sides, and then tried to restick them on. But the stickers tore coming off or wrinkled and bubbled going back on, and it was too obvious that she had given up. It was even worse. Ashamed, she pried apart the Rubik’s Cube and buried it in pieces in the rock garden.
But you couldn’t do that with a city, and she was wary of breaking the city. Wary of forcing it into ways of being. So she never tried to make the stations stay put, even though it was a horrible inconvenience.
Prompt: Take a line from a song that you love or connect with. Now forget the song, and turn that line into the title or inspiration for your post.
Ginny cursed under her breath. Last day of the month meant rent coming due and her CD racks were as bare as her bank account. Her classic vinyl had long gone, shortly followed by her decks, and just last month, she had sold her CDs to make rent. She reluctantly hefted her stereo, wondering if it was pawnable, covered in stickers and beat up as it was.
“Fuck,” she said.
She couldn’t borrow the money. Her parents lived on disability checks and were in near as dire straits. Her friends, what few she had left in this city, were already owed more than smiles and promises. No way would Ramon give her an advance on her paycheque. Stingy bastard.
So that left Angela. Fuck.
She had promised Angela last time, that was it, never again, and Angela had smiled and said, “Sure, Ginny, I understand. You know where to find me if you change your mind.”
Which was why Ginny found herself taking the Muni down to the outer Sunset, running through opening gambits in her mind, reminding herself not to seem too desperate. Of course, it wouldn’t work with Angela–it never did. If you were selling to Angela, you were desperate. It was a buyers’ market.
Angela lived at the far end of Taraval in a squat white-walled house with barred windows and a dirty iron-grilled gate. Ginny buzzed the doorbell and shivered. Even though it was summer, the winds off the ocean were able to whip up perpetual mist, and even when it was sunny downtown, it was often grey out here. Angela liked it, although she made enough money that she could afforded something nicer, Ginny was sure.
She waited five minutes and was about to walk away, more than a little relieved, when Angela’s door creaked open, and Angela herself descended the stairs to meet Ginny at the gate. She looked amazing, thought Ginny resentfully, as she eyed Angela’s draped jewel-toned top and tailored slacks.
“Hi, sis,” said Angela with the wide insincere cheerfulness that was her trademark. “What brings you down this way?”
Ginny bit her lip.
It is a funny thing about depression. There seems to be a common idea floating around that being depressed makes you sad, that you are a little blue ball of unhappiness, rolled up in a corner and isolated from the world. There seems to be an equally common idea that if you are depressed, art just flows from you, tapping that wellspring of depression. Think of all the stereotypes of angsty poets and angry drinking writers pounding away at their typewriters in lonely attics. Problem is: It’s just not true. For me at least.
For the last year, my writing has come very slowly. I’ve let myself be prey to the idea of waiting until I am ready. Now I realise that with my depression, which I count as a physiological issue concerning my brain chemistry, and my lifetime habits of only working on things that seem to come easily, I can no longer afford to do that. I will never be ready. Writing and art were both things that used to come easily, and therefore I did them all the time without regard to whether or not I felt moved to. But when my depression strikes, it actually REMOVES my ability to want to do the things I once loved.
Imagine knowing CLINICALLY that you want to do something, but trying to actually do it, even being there, is like pulling teeth. You sit down to write or paint, and you feel paralysis creeping over you, from the outside in. First you settle in to the place where you make things, and you sit and stare in desperation at the empty page or the blank canvas. You’ve had ideas ALL WEEK, things you’ve desperately wanted to paint or scenes you wanted to craft, but now that you have sat down to work on them, those ideas go skittering off into your mind. Instead of moths seeking the light, your ideas are more like roaches, hiding themselves from discovery.
Or maybe there are too many ideas. Too many things to chase down and you chase each one, only to have the trail fizzle out on you.
I got bored, you tell yourself, therefore my story isn’t interesting. If It’s not interesting to me, how will it be interesting to other people?
My art skills are rusty, rusting further. They wobble, I wobble, I put down the brush in frustration. I’ve lost the place where I felt everything just flow.
And that is why I haven’t written or painted much in the last year. I partly feel a failure. We are coming up on the anniversary of my layoffs from the job in San Francisco. I tried to use those layoffs as a launchpad for inspiration, and I think I largely succeeded. I used my first few months to write, paint, and explore my beloved city before I moved back to Seattle. And then somewhere, I lost my way. I think I chose to pack too much time into projects that were passion projects for friends, but actually coming between me and what I wanted to do. Between my new job and the side projects I was too burned out after a while to consider working on my own stuff. I suffered from a failure to prioritize the works that would make me happiest.
1) I’m going to have to show up every day. Muses be damned.
2) I have to learn how to do things that are hard for me.
3) I’m going to have to fail more. Perfection is the enemy of good.
4) I’m going to have to say no to side projects other than my own writing and art.
Anyway, that’s partly why I’m resurrecting my never-used HereticFish blog. 🙂 I need a place to write things that aren’t Twitter or Facebook, that actually cause me to stretch a little, but can be a place to fail. I need a place to prime the pump for Snakes and Ladders.