So I've been thinking...
Don't worry. It's okay, really. I do that at times. It's no big deal.
So I've been thinking about death, and... Hey, where you going???
Eh, that's okay. Death's a tricky subject, and a touchy one, given the plethora of ideas humans have come up with and will frequently, fervently, defend to the (dare we say) death. It's not comfortable to contemplate the end of our existence. I certainly don't like doing it. And yet I do. Go fig.
In any case, I found myself pondering the deep thoughts, which I tend to do way more than is probably good for me, and certainly way more than is necessary. But at least I'm not alone; guess it's just what we humans do. We're wacky like that. I'm going to chime in this blog with such deep thoughts from time to time, so have patience and bear with me... So. Without further ado: today's short essay on deep thoughts...
Each of us is our own universe: home and host to a wide variety of organisms, each of which, in turn, makes up "we"; and each of which, more than likely, has no idea they are such a tiny part of something bigger: something that simultaneously regards them as both important and inconsequential to its everyday existence. Is this also the situation for humans? Might each of these interlocking galaxies (or, even, universes) be akin to cells?
Regardless of whether or not the above is true (and we are unlikely ever to find out), our lives seem, from all available evidence (defined here as that which we can perceive with our senses), woefully inconsequential. What "matters" matters only to our species; even the other living creatures don't bother thinking about it much. Which perhaps might be the wisest course. So, it is only for ourselves, as a collective whole, this seething mass of humanity, that we must live at all.
Because, basically, the rest of the universe doesn't seem to give a shit what we do.
Death is terrifying. An ever-present spectre that hovers silently over us all. And yet, according to science, life itself was the inventor of death. At some point in time, cells discovered that it was a better idea to reproduce sexually instead of asexually; with new offspring constantly coming along, there was no point in keeping the old. Otherwise, we would have run out of room very quickly; and why keep the old if the new was, hopefully, an improvement? (Were the earliest cells Americans?)
Without death, we would have no escape. Not only would overpopulation be a serious problem (not that it isn't), but it is entirely possible we would see life as having no meaning whatsoever. Immortality as an option sounds very good; but after the first few hundred years, would we feel the same? We could learn all that we have to know, and exist in a Tolkien elf-like state, wise, superior, and bored. We might even decide to take our own lives out of sheer desperation. Living forever does not seem like an option most humans would be able to deal with.
With a shortened lifespan, our focus is narrowed; confronting our own mortality forces us to regard what we have as precious, and to hopefully treat it as such. Keeping our species alive as a whole in the manner that we do, passing the baton through generations, with death as an inevitable byproduct; this might be the best of all possible options. We don't have to like it; we do have to, as it were, live with it.
The thrill in your quill! The prose to impose! Impress your printing press! Literal literary alliteration!
...Um. Scratch that last. Afraid I got a bit carried away.
Anyhoo, my point. Every writer has a weakness (and I'm not talking like a job interview type weakness, where you're "just too much of a perfectionist" or some crap like that). Maybe you can't make believable situations. Maybe you can't structure sentences. Maybe you can't bring yourself to edit your glorious genius. Maybe you over-edit because you're just too much of a perfectionist (ok, I guess that actually can be a shortcoming).
In my case, I have problems with narrative and dialogue. Not dialogue on its own. And not necessarily narrative on its own, although that does give me issues. It's when the twain meet, as it were. The interspersal. The merging of the lanes, where there's always that one jerk who zooms up the side to try to get in front of everyone. THAT.
I like writing dialogue. I like to think I'm rather good at it, and have been told that I "write how people talk", which is a very big compliment indeed. This is why I'm drawn to playwriting above any other form. For me, it comes naturally.
Combining narrative and dialogue in a play is relatively easy. A character says something; if they then do something worthy of mention, you then make the necessary stage note. If it's important that they do a certain thing during the line, or say the line in a certain way that isn't obvious through the dialogue, you slip in an adverb or super brief description, as per the following example from the play I'm currently working on (it's a first draft, be kind):
Paisley: You figured it out yet?
Cole is obviously thrown off by her entrance, but is quick to plaster on his usual grin.
Cole: Paiz! Wow, you took me by surprise.
Paisley: (shrugs) That’s what I do. You figured out who the mole is yet?
Cole: Not yet, not yet. Working on it.
Paisley: What’s on the flash drive?
Cole: (jumps slightly) Flash drive? (she looks at him; he holds it up) Oh, this flash drive.
Paisley: …Yeeeah. That’s the one I meant.
And yes, that does say Paisley.
Straight narrative, although harder for me personally, is also not completely tricky. I'm doing it right now. The blog format is a bit easier than a fiction narrative, I think, because a blog, in the style I'm presenting, is basically a diary you don't mind other people reading. Not that I've ever been very good at keeping a diary; but I do tend to think about things a lot (probably too much), and I don't believe I do too badly at presenting my thoughts. In other words, I'm really good at talking about myself!
Nope, the difficulty is definitely where the rubber of the dialogue meets the road of narrative. It's not so easy to add in those little asides in a straight novel-style fiction story. How many do you add? And when? Do you have to add them at all, or can you forgo them? (Probably not, but it's still a valid question). How long should they be? What details are important and what aren't? And if they are important, are they already shown through the dialogue, so that you don't have to worry about any extras? And so on, and so forth.
Here's another excerpt. I do try fiction fiction from time to time, by which I mean the aforementioned novel-style fiction story, and not a play. A continuing personal project is a novelization of a massively epic steampunk radio show I've written (and haven't kept up on the recording of episodes because I'm a lazy bastard); I release a new part every week on my site Tales of the Seamstress (shown on the sidebar). The adaption isn't going too badly, in part because the thing is, after all, already written, so all I have to do is change it into a different style. That's all. But, as I also may have mentioned, this is not as easy as it sounds:
Miss Vene paused. For the first time, a cautious interest sparkled on her face. “A message?”
“That's right. A message.” Hugh spoke up importantly. He cleared his throat and delivered the phrase with all the accentuation and eyebrow-waggling suitable for such covert dealings. “The… rooster…”
The Captain interjected hastily. “Pelican.”
“Pelican.” Clearly, that was what Hugh had said. “The Pelican dies at dawn…”
“Is ready for winter.”
“Right.” Why were his words constantly being repeated? If anyone was going to do the repeating, it would be Hugh, and with the necessary drama to boot. “The Pelican is…ready for winter!”
Whatever they were expecting as a reaction, it wasn’t what came next. Miss Vene looked white, shaken. She let out a long breath, her eyes darting around the perimeter. Then she drew herself up firmly.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. You can keep your money.” She raised her voice. “Take your ship and get off my property!”
And the door slammed shut behind her.
I'll admit it, this is actually an excerpt I'm decently proud of; just can't seem to bring myself to post something less so. But I have noticed something in going through the whole story: there's an aside, a description or suchlike, in nearly every sentence. I don't usually just have "Something or other," said Someone. Or even, "something someone is currently saying", with no other additive. There is a good reason for the latter: the above story rarely if ever has less than three people in the same scene at once, so I have to at least keep mention of who is talking when. But even in this case, I nearly always just have to add that extra little embellishment. Where I get uncertain is in trying to figure out if that's okay and just my personal style; or if it's just too much and I should cut it down, as a crutch I should be aware of and be ready to throw away... Maybe it's just that I don't have enough experience as a writer yet; maybe the answer will become clear as I keep going.
I wanted to give over a little space here to talk about the music I listen to while writing. It may seem trivial, but I don't see it that way. The music you listen to affects how you do a thing; even what you are doing in the first place. Everything has certain music that seems to go with it, probably fed by our consumption of movies and TV. You're more likely to exercise while listening to Crystal Method than John Cage; you're more likely to feel good about your daily commute while listening to John Williams, or Dr. Steel. (Or perhaps this is just me).
So, the music you listen to affects what you write. You probably don't choose music you don't like, to be sure; so you affect your music, which in turn affects your writing, which you affect as well and which affects you back in ways you had not thought possible and HAVE I BLOWN YOUR MIND YET???
My go-to writing music is the soundtrack to the Robert Downey, Jr. version of Sherlock Holmes, and its sequel A Game of Shadows. I usually listen to both consecutively, which easily covers nearly two hours of writing. The first track, entitled Discombobulate, is for me the perfect beginning, heralding the start of something, jumping in headlong to the thrill of the chase; in this case, chasing down a story. When this track plays, my neurons start firing along the various necessary pathways, and I plunge into the depths of my own mind.
You know, like you do.
From that point on, I don't necessarily hear very much. And this is a good thing. It's meant to be background. Even so, the music matters; if it was the wrong kind of music, it would be distracting and I wouldn't get very much done. This is the background to the scene playing in your mind. In a TV show or movie, you don't always hear the music over everything else going on, even though it's usually there. But if you remove the music, the scene just doesn't feel right.
The strange thing about this soundtrack (these, really, since there are two, but they are similar enough to be counted here as one) is that it works no matter what I am writing, or at least it has up until this point. I started with it when writing my epic steampunk tale The Threads of Time (see sidebar) as it seemed to fit. When I picked up other, non-steampunk stories, I kept with it, and it hasn't failed yet. This is where my preferences are coming in to play. Those cellos! Those violins! Those other instruments I cannot decipher in my ignorance! I love this kind of music. It has to strike something in me (a chord, perhaps?), something deep. Something that makes my brain wake up and go THIS IS AWESOME!!
My brain does that a lot anyway. It's a bit enthusiastic.
I really can't think of anything else to say about it (both an odd and a familiar situation for a writer). Music is a feeling, not a description. All I can really say is that this music works for me, and for what I write. And I find myself curious; to anyone out there reading (anyone??), what do you listen to when writing? Or, if you are not a writer, when you paint or code or weld or dream or clip coupons, however it is that YOU create? And, if you are in fact a musician, who do you listen to for inspiration?
It's a tough job, but someone's gotta do it.
Yesterday, that someone was me. (Well...naturally, I mean, who else would it be? Anyway).
I attacked my Halloween play. And I do mean attacked.
When I did the first workshop, I printed out four copies of scripts at home; for that reason only was I thankful barely anyone came. It was a lot of work, and printing that much could run into money real quickly. But, I thought, at least for the next read-through I'll have a base script to start from. Sure, I'll make changes here and there; but most of the pages will remain the same, so I won't have to reprint very much.
That was before I cut out a few major scenes that weren't going anywhere. That was before I almost completely changed the opening scene. That was before I took two supporting characters-and melded them into one.
So, yeah. I won't have to reprint much. Just the entire thing.
Gotta say, I think it's for the best, though. Before the changes, the play clocked in at 76 pages. Now it's 67. I really hope that puts the timing where it needs to be because I have no idea what else to cut. The whole thing reads much better (or does in the loneliness of my living room with me doing all the voices). It's much tighter, more cohesive. A bit of the ol' hack'n'slash was just what it needed.
These are the things you do if you're going to create any sort of good work as a writer- an artist, a craftsperson. You have to suck it up and do what needs to be done. It's not easy. It's not always fun. But goddamn, if your work isn't so, so much the better for it when it's done. And so are you.
Wow. I'm such a poet. :D
So in a couple of days here it'll be time to contact the next play's director and get her rehearsal schedule so I can try to set up the next read-through. Oh boy! Can't wait! Being just a little sarcastic here!
Writer, dancer, actress, mother, me.