Could You Live With No Imagination?

For those of you who have been actively reading my blog, you’ll have noticed I’ve mentioned We by Yevgeny Zamyatin several times.  It is by far my favorite book for reasons that I cannot fully explain.

All I can say is that, it is powerful enough to have been the book that inspired George Orwell to write 1984.  It is the dystopian novel to read.

And here is my favorite quote from the book:

But it is not your fault: You are sick.  The name of this sickness:

Imagination

This is the worm that gnaws black wrinkles onto your forehead.  This is the fever that chases you, and you run off into the distance even though this “distance” begins where happiness ends.  It is the last barricade on the path to happiness.

But be glad: It has been detonated already.
The path is clear.
The most recent discovery of State Science is the location of the Imagination: The pathetic cerebral nodule in the region of the Pons Varolii.  Cauterize this nodule with X-rays three times and you are healed of your Imagination.

Forever.

Can you even envision a future where they find a cure for Imagination?

 

Creating vs. Using

When writing sci-fi or fantasy, there’s a great freedom you have in way of creating the details of the world you’re writing in.  You can modify the world around you, into what you want it to be.

With fiction, however, there are more limitations to what you can and cannot have the world around you do. (At least, before it starts to turn into sci-fi or fantasy.)  Yet, you still have the ability to create certain, fictional, things to place within your story.

So, the question is, when writing fiction should you invent things within your world, or should you use what real life has to offer?

For such a seemingly simple part of writing, there are so many questions to ask.  Sometimes you make a decision without even realizing it, and in that way, it is natural to the story.  For example, when flipping through DVD’s to watch, my character goes through Moulin Rouge, Boondock Saints, and The Princess Bride.  I didn’t even have to think about whether or not to make up movies.  I was just writing, that’s how the story came out, and I like it.

But when it comes to deciding something as big as the setting and the town your story takes place in, your choice can greatly affect the story.  This is especially true if the town/setting is a big part of the story.

Ask yourself how you want the setting to affect the story and the characters.  Think about the pros and cons of each, and consider how the places you’ve lived in influence the setting you write about.

Naturally, setting doesn’t always have such a huge affect, but perhaps your main character is really into music.  Or movies.  Or books.  Do you want your readers to be able to associate with pop culture references you can throw in?  Or perhaps you want to do a satirical take and create your own reality tv show that the characters make fun of.

Again, I find myself facing these very same questions, and am still considering them.  Some things come easily, and naturally to the story, but when you find yourself stalled on certain details, be sure to consider why, and how it will affect your story.  I find this is especially helpful in the editing stage.

So what do you guys do?  Do you prefer to create your own fictional places/media/products, or do you like to keep things strictly realistic with things that exist in our current world?  Or if you balance the two, how do you decide which will serve you best?

What’s the Worst Thing That Could Happen?

Recently I’ve been running into this advice more and more often.   You ask yourself, what’s the worst thing that could happen to your character?  And then you make that happen.

People love this!  They use this advice at every turn possible.  While not terrible advice, I don’t really agree with it.

I blame the snarky little girl in me that wants to retort with “Well…an asteroid could hit the planet and annihilate all life, and since this isn’t a sci-fi story, then there would be nothing else to tell.”   Really though, that’s a little much.

I know they don’t mean to completely destroy your character, making them plunge deeper into darkness without having any positive things.  Even if your character spirals into an abyss and dies there, you at least need to give them hope for something better.

But no, my problem with this age-old advice, is that it’s too expected.  As a reader (and perhaps this is magnified by also being a writer), I often think about what will happen next to the characters I’m reading about.  I’ll sit there and ponder, “how terrible would it be if this happened !”  And then, of course, it does happen, and it is the terrible!  Yet, it’s still predictable.

I will admit, sometimes it is best to throw the worst at your characters, but I think it’s vital to mix up the formula.  If your story needs some extra malevolence, try throwing in a twist for your characters.  They got the promotion and raise so they can afford the rent (finally)?  That’s great!  But what if their workplace nemesis did too, and now they have to work together?   Or maybe it isn’t one big thing that goes wrong, but a lot of little things that add up.

While it’s definitely good to put your characters through tough trials, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to ruthlessly torture them with the worst that life has to throw at them.  Switch things up!  And try to do what best fits the story you want to tell.  It’s our job to tell the story in its entirety, relating both the ups and downs.

Happy writing!

Riding the Crazy Train to Breakdown Town

…And How to Make it a Productive Trip.

See this girl? Her name is Aly and she is full of crazy.

Yesterday I was in a mood.  I was in a eat-the-entire-box-of-Girl-Scout-cookies, cry-over-old-pictures, listen-to-Matchbox-20-on-repeat, and bury-my-face-in-tissues-while-watching-Pride&Prejudice kind of mood.  Let me clarify that girls are indeed crazy.  We can’t help it.

And while we’re on that topic, writers and creatives in general, also suffer from a crazy streak or two.  Known for suffering from a multitude of illnesses including depression, schizophrenia, bi-polar disease, alcoholism and drug addiction, we’re not the most stable of groups.  Philip K. Dick, Edgar Allen Poe, Sylvia Plath, anyone? Of course, some of us are more sane, grounded, and normal than others.

However, as people, we all have our ups and downs.  And as writers, it’s our job to capture those moments.

We write about the state of society, the intricacies of relationships, and about the past, present, and future. We write about our world or others, with happy endings or sad.  Through our writing, no matter the genre, we examine what connects us, what does, or doesn’t, make us human.

And perhaps that is what makes us crazy.  With every new experience and emotion, we remember it, save it.  We relive our anger, embarrassment, and disappointment every time our characters do.

At least, that’s how I am.  When I’m in a less than chipper mood, I sit down and write.  I write what I’m thinking and how I feel.  It doesn’t even have to be part of a story or for a character, but it’s something I can reference and go back to when I do need to write about a darker theme.  After all, even if we all act out differently, we still feel the same emotions.  Although my characters react differently than I would, their actions are still based on familiar emotions.

So, if you’re in a dark place, or in a mood, as I say, use it.  Maybe writing is the only thing you want to do, or maybe it’s the last.  But at least try.  Not only does it act as a release, but you can use it as a starting point for remembering and feeling what your characters should be feeling.

This also applies to happier of times, or hell, even average ones.  What’s important is that our characters have feelings too.  They’re living beings, if only from a two-dimensional world.  And it’s our job to breathe life and feeling into them.

So how do you guys deal with emotional swings, especially if they get in the way of writing?  Have you ever dealt with a character experiencing emotions you’ve never felt?  How did you write about that?

First Person vs Second Person vs Third Person PoV

Last week I did a post about narrative modes, which can be viewed here.  I said I would do a Sunday Vs. topic on it, but not this weekend.  I lied, I’m sorry!  This is a triple vs. though, so hopefully that will make up for it.

There are a lot of great posts about writing from different points of view.  Tamara Rokicki was inspired to post a great writing exercise on her blog, Narration Mode Writing Exercise.  And just yesterday Peter Burton posted this article on his blog: Who’s Telling This Story, Anyway?  Any general search on the topic will also come up with great posts. [EDIT: As soon as I published this, I found another great article over on The Writer’s Advice called What’s Your Point of View? ]

But I want to get a little more specific and talk about the intimacy with the reader that each narrative style creates.

First Person PoV

Last week many people commented on how personal and powerful first person narration can be, and I completely agree.  As a reader it places you within the scene, and lets you view events through the eyes of one of the characters.  There’s a certain sense of reality this narrative mode brings to the reader.

A great example would be The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  The main characters are pitted in a reality type show of a fight to the death.  First person perspective brings immediacy and realism to the story that really draws the focus into the games.  If it had been written in third person, using perspectives or information outside of the games, that sense of urgency would have been diminished.  Putting the reader inside the reality games, instead of outside as one of the worldly spectators, was a great a choice of storytelling by Collins.

Another example is The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  This is an interesting one because the story is told through the eyes of Nick Carraway, however he is not necessarily the focus of the story. (Let the great debate about who the main character in The Great Gatsby is begin!)  Because we read the story through the eyes of Nick, who is connected to Gatsby, we also gain a greater connection to Gatsby.  Perhaps, allowing us to be more sympathetic to his lesser traits.  We experience Gatsby’s struggles and turmoil as it happens, as he’s expressing it to Nick, and there’s that realism, that connection that we establish.  Had the story been written in third person, it might have lost readers by failing to establish that emotional link to the, sometimes abominable, characters.

Second Person PoV

Second person narration is usually overlooked, however in my opinion it is the most personal and intimate form of writing.  It’s difficult to write, or find, a novel in second person, and it’s probably most commonly found in poetry, or songs, as Tamara Rokicki pointed out to me.

I’m going to be honest and say that I don’t really have examples that I’ve thoroughly read/examined for second person narration.  However, there is a book that I’ve thought about buying, and I’d like to share a quote to establish what well written second person PoV can be like.

“You are amongst them, of course.  Your curiosity got the better of you, as curiosity is wont to do.  You stand in the fading light, the scarf around your neck pulled up against the chilly evening breeze, waiting to see for yourself exactly what kind of circus only opens once the sun sets.

The ticket booth clearly visible behind the gates is closed and barred.  The tents are still, save for when they ripple ever so slightly in the wind.  The only movement within the circus is the clock that ticks by the passing minutes, if such a wonder of sculpture can even be called a clock.

The circus looks abandoned and empty.  But you think perhaps you can smell caramel wafting through the evening breeze, beneath the crisp scent of the autumn leaves.  A subtle sweetness at the edges of the cold.” – pg. 4, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

If that doesn’t transport you into the story, then I don’t know what will.  When I read that, I feel the cold air on my face, and I smell the caramel in the air.  I am told I am curious about this circus, and you know what?  I am.  But that very same trait that captures the reader, is usually the downfall of second person narration.  If reader cannot connect, and cannot put themselves in the shoes of the character, then the story falls apart.  This is why it’s so difficult, yet so rewarding when done well.  Readers say they love to be transported into the story, to feel as the characters feel, and you would be hard pressed to find a more intimate way to do that than the second person point of view.

Third Person PoV

As far as connecting with the characters, third person is perhaps the least intimate of the three, however that doesn’t mean it disconnects the reader from the story at all.  Instead, it gives the reader a broader view of the events happening.  Now, as established, third person has several “sub-modes” of narration.  I’m going to go ahead and group the limited/subjective/omniscient narratives as one, then address objective third person on its own.

The narrative modes where you can see into the characters or the narrator is a character with outside knowledge of the story, still allow a certain amount of connection between the reader and the characters.  Limited third person is especially like first person, where you’re focusing on a single character.  However, when you start to deal with more characters, the intimacy link for the reader starts to stretch and thin the more characters you add.  At this point, it becomes less a topic of intimacy with the characters, and more about connecting with the story and events.  A good example would be Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke, which is written in an omniscient third person narration. It is also a fantastic sci-fi novel, by the way.

Which leads me to the objective third person narrative mode. It is the most distant from the characters out of all of the PoVs.  It is strictly a “fly on the wall” approach to writing a story.  The aim of this style is to be completely neutral in the telling of the story.  In this way, even the narrator is less of a character, because there should be no reaction or outside noise coming from the narration.  In my opinion this is probably the hardest way to write, it’s like writing a newspaper article.  But I think it’s also a great way to put more focus on the events of the story.  The focus isn’t on who is running around, it’s on what is happening to them, which can engage readers in entirely different ways than character-driven stories can.

To Sum Up

This has been a very long post, so I hope you guys are still with me!  Because this has been more informative than opinionated like previous Sunday Vs. Topics, I’m not going to end with a bombardment of questions.  Your opinions and thoughts on this topic are, as always, welcome.

I’d like to end this post by agreeing with and paraphrasing what Peter Burton told me on his blog.  Even though narrative modes are important, as long as we’re writing compelling stories and great characters, our stories will draw readers in no matter what the narration mode is.

Have a great Sunday everyone, and happy writing!

Paige in the Aftermath

For everyone just joining the adventures of Paige, be sure to check out two other shorts involving her.  Paige: An Introduction, and Paige and the Craigslist Ad.  These are short scenes written with the intention of being compiled into a novel…eventually.

I hope you enjoy!

**********

Paige woke up to a sunlight filled room and birds chirping outside her window. She could feel warmth spreading from the spot in bed behind her. She stretched and rolled over, already smiling at Alex next to her. Alex wasn’t next to her. Paige’s half-asleep mind jolted awake.

The comforting warmth was from the sun, but that realization only chilled her. Alex was gone, and that thought frightened her. Yesterday they had broken up, and that memory killed her.

She slowly laid back down, her mind going numb. Frame by frame she remembered the events of yesterday. Each one added a weight to her already sinking heart. She closed her eyes and pulled the covers over her face. The bright morning sunshine was no longer welcome in her world.

However it was the birds incessant calls that finally motivated Paige to get up.  Their chipper sounds were unbearable to her gloomy mood.  She reluctantly crawled out of bed, lamenting her haven between the covers.  As Paige moved towards the door, she tripped over a pile of clothes.  She let out a frustrated growl.  Today was not going to be a good day.

She walked into the kitchen and turned the light on.  Her eyes were immediately drawn to the refrigerator.  Its usually empty door was now home to a piece of lined paper with writing on it.  Paige paused, not sure if she wanted to read what was on it.  Eventually her curiosity won over her fear.  She walked over and pulled the paper off the fridge.  Her hands shook as she read.

Paige-

I didn’t want to wake you up. I hope you see this. We need to talk. I’ll be with Brady most of today but I’ll be back around 5. Please be here to talk.

-Alex

She stared at the note for a minute before taping it back on the fridge. She knew she should feel nervous, anxious, sad, depressed.  But she didn’t. Instead she just felt numb.

Paige glanced at the clock on the microwave. 9:14am. There would be at least seven hours before she saw Alex again. She mindlessly opened the fridge door and gazed at the contents without really seeing them. Mechanically she took the milk out, then grabbed a box of cereal. Reaching into another cupboard she picked up a bowl. She opened the top drawer by the fridge and grabbed a spoon.

Paige was running on auto-pilot as she poured cereal into the bowl. It took her a minute of shaking the cereal box before she realized she had already poured its entire contents out. She frowned at the small pile of cereal in the half-filled bowl. “Really? Only half a bowl left?” Paige muttered in exasperation.  “Today is just awful.”  She sighed then grabbed the milk carton.

After ritually preparing the cereal she walked to the living room and set her bowl down by the couch.  Turning on the TV, Paige put on Pride and Prejudice. She settled onto the couch and grabbed her bowl of cereal.

“Nothing like forgetting about your love life while watching someone else’s,” she said to herself.  Paige observed herself and her surroundings, noting her sloppy state of dress and sad breakfast.  “Especially over a bowl of cereal,” she added sorrowfully.

As the movie started Paige took a bite of cereal.  Her face instantly soured, and she quickly spat the mouthful back in the bowl.   She sat there stupidly, staring at it.

The milk was bad.

A small tear gathered in the corner of her eye.  She couldn’t even enjoy her cereal.  The tear swelled.  It slowly started to fall down her cheek, followed by another.  There was nothing she could enjoy.

Before Paige knew what to do, all of her emotions spilled out into tears.  Everything she had been holding back fell like rain into her forgotten cereal.

On Choosing a Narration Mode

As I’ve only written short stories and flash fictions in the past, choosing a mode of narration hasn’t been a problem for me.  Generally I use limited third person, only delving into the mind of a single character.  This works well for short stories, and I find it the easiest, least confusing way for me to write.

Limited third person is also how I started writing my novel about Paige.  I really enjoyed the opening piece I wrote for it (you can read the rough draft of it here), and I thought it was a great way to incorporate themes and elements I wanted to explore in the novel.

However, the further I get in writing the story, the more I question the narration mode.  There are scenes that I’m thinking of including, where Paige is not present. I’m starting to realize that I want to include more of Alex.  As far as the story goes, I think it could be stronger if I focused on writing more about the pair of them instead of only Paige.

So my thoughts are that I should start exploring writing in an omniscient narrative, which I don’t have much practice with.  I think it’d be a great challenge to have to balance the viewpoints of the characters.  As daunting a task as that is, perhaps I should explore that in shorter works first before completely ruining it in a novel length work!

BUT- Then again, I could always take an “easier” route, and write from an objective point of view.  I say easier, because I won’t have to work on balancing  out the characters, but it would be tough not being able to delve into the characters minds.  I do falter on this idea though, because there is a lot I would have to change and compromise about my writing, which I’m not sure I want to do.  However, I must say the consistency of this form does appeal to me.

Ultimately I think, for the time being, I’m going to stick with writing in limited third person, and then perhaps write a few scenes on the side in the omniscient and see how they turn out.  And if you have any tips, exercises or great articles on this topic, I am all ears, and I’m sure some other readers are as well!

Oi! There are so many more elements to writing a novel than I had thought out.  This isn’t what I bargained for, Muse!

So how do you guys decide on which narration best fits your work?  Have you ever written a piece, then decided to re-write it another form?  Also, any recommendations for books with fantastic limited third person, omniscient, or objective points of view that I should read?

(A tad off topic, but I’m thinking of turning this into a Sunday Vs. Topic in the future, although not this Sunday.  So any response is greatly appreciated!)

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