The Great Escapist

Most of my childhood was not spent on Planet Earth.

I was constantly and consistently travelling among the stars, exploring new civilizations or visiting ancient times long since past. I was a part of my favourite films and books, not just re-enacting but changing their courses entirely. I lived in fantastic lands where anything could happen.

And I mean I lived in those places.

I wasn’t ever in school or a supermarket or the dentist’s office. No, those places were merely the blank canvas I would paint my own reality onto. And I would stay submerged in that place for weeks. Sometimes months. I would not allow outside distractions to break the illusion. Of course, I would answer politely and appropriately when spoken to – but that was akin to being occasionally distracted from my own world. If at all possible I incorporated it into my fantasy. If it was a temporary break, I tolerated it.

It wasn’t just my early years either, it was the entirety of my childhood. And probably then some.

I actually had quite a few friends as a teenager. The majority were in fact girls, but still I whisked myself away as often as I could. And I wish I meant that in a stared-off-into-the-distance-daydreaming kind of way. No, I was running and jumping and wielding and vanquishing and yelling and conversing.

I quit with the sound effects after a couple very embarrassing instances and kept the conversing down to times when I was alone, but I still couldn’t give up the escape from reality.

Eventually, I had responsibilities and relationships and things that generally ground a person into reality. Things that we associate with the trappings of adulthood. So, knowing I couldn’t live in those places any longer, I escaped instead into the more “legitimate” fantasies of video games.

But those other places never really went away. The fantasy land wouldn’t die. I knew I couldn’t live there anymore, but I would watch through the window of my mind as often as I could. I could still escape.

Even now, with wife, children, career… I legitimize it by being a writer. But really, I’m just looking into those places and recording some of the things that happen. I’m still escaping to those other worlds, still going on adventures. I just tell people that I’m writing.

And if you hear me talking at my desk, I’m just working out a bit of dialogue.

Really.

Now go out because I can’t swing the Shard of the Whispering with you in the way. It’ll disembody you with a single touch.

In the Beginning…

The blank page offers itself as an untapped realm of opportunity. It is full of potential to be the incredible tale, emotionally poignant poem, or enrapturing truth. It is all up to you.

While all that open freedom for creation is exciting, it can at times be intimidating.

Where do I start?

In my tale of galactic battles of good vs evil, do I start with the unsuspecting farmboy on his home planet? Do I start with the theft of the blueprints that set the whole chain of events in motion? Do I begin my tale with the farmboy’s father and the setup of how galactic politics became the way they are?

As far as the actual words, do I start with ‘Once upon a time’? Or maybe ‘A long time ago in the future’?

With so many options, it’s overwhelming!

Take a breath. And another.

It doesn’t matter where you start. It doesn’t matter what words you put down first.

You’ll probably change it all later. You’re not going to ruin any potential story. But you’ll never tap into any of that potential unless you write something down.

This is something I have had to remind myself many times: it doesn’t have to be perfect the first time around. It doesn’t even have to be good. It just has to be. Improvement comes later.

You’re not painting the Mona Lisa. You’re not even sketching the Mona Lisa yet. This is the stick figure idea on the canvas of some Lisa person. The details and refinement will come later.

Sometimes I have to start out vague. Really vague. Then the details work themselves into a scene.

Sometime, somewhere, there is this galactic civilization ruled over by this really evil guy and his second in command. They make this big thing that can blow up planets, but the good guys steal the secret blueprints to stop it. They are on the lam, flying over this desert planet when one of the bad guy ships totally catches up with them and starts blasting the ship up. Two robots that have no clue as to what’s really going on are wandering around the ship, trying to stay out of trouble when they hear the announcement that the ship will be boarded.

“Did you hear that? They’ve shut down the main reactor. We’ll be destroyed for sure. This is madness!”

Rebel troopers rush past the robots….

Sometimes getting that exposition out of the way and really getting into a scene is what it takes to get the snowball rolling. Those blurbs that are barely an outline of a story, maybe later you’ll tune them up. Maybe you’ll cut them out. But that’s not something to worry about now.

Right now, it’s time to put down some words.

We’ll make them pretty later.

 

Use It or Lose It

I recently read an Isaac Asimov article on how people get new ideas. While it was interesting, coming up with ideas isn’t something I feel that I’ve struggled with in my writing. Most writers I’ve spoken with don’t seem to be plagued with a lack of ideas. Usually, it’s quite the opposite.

That’s not to say that airing out topics and ideas isn’t productive. Meeting with other writers, or even just other creative types can be invaluable when forming a new story. And while the article by Asimov related mostly to scientists and inventors, it could definitely apply to story tellers.

But as I said, most writers I have spoken with feel that they have an abundance of ideas. They find inspiration from anything and everything at totally random intervals.

The best thing to do when inspiration strikes?

Write it down.

I have many times fallen into the trap of thinking that an idea was so great that I would undoubtedly remember it at the end of the day when I would have a chance to sit down at the computer and document it.

And then life happens.

So, now I try to keep a notebook by my bed when I wake up. And a notebook in the living room. And the office. And I use the notpad app on my phone. And I have a small notebook at work.

Excessive? Maybe.

But while the pessimists say that every story has already been told, each person’s viewpoint is unique. That idea you have is your idea and nobody else will have it quite like you. Or quite like me.

Don’t let that idea go. Write it down. Own it.

Why Sex is Important

There has been quite a bit of commentary about the state of the female character in entertainment as of late. In evolutionary terms, many female characters, especially strong female characters, feel about as developed as the male action hero of the 80’s.

One dimensional. Emotionally shallow. Simplistically motivated. Dialogue challenged.

Flat.

No self respecting writer wants any of their characters to be flat, wallpaper background that is easily dismissed. So, why does this happen?

The first notion many cite is ignorance. Obviously, a male writer would struggle to write a female character because he’s never experienced life as a woman. Or so the argument goes.

I think that argument is lame and perhaps a little sexist in itself. It’s doubtful that Jeff Lindsay wrote about his serial killing main character from all that real life experience he had killing others. And please tell me how Anne Rice reflected on all her experience as a centuries old male vampire to form characters like Lestat.

No, “ignorance” is not exactly the word for it. For some, the word is “lazy”. For many others, it is probably “misguided”.

When a writer starts the outline of a character with “I want them to be a strong female character“, the results are probably going to be sub-par. It’s just like starting an outline of the antagonist with “I want them to be a smart bad guy“. That’s not a character, it’s a vague aspect of a character. It’s the tl;dr version of a character.

It’s flat as flat can be.

As writers, we try to make our characters as multifaceted as possible. We forge our characters out of their past experiences and the conflict we put them through in the story. We try to make them jump off the page.

Which is why I try not to start any story with the genders already in mind. Or, if I started, I take a moment to plug and play.

Take your story, your newly budding idea of awesomeness, and plug in a different gender for the characters. Sometimes this takes the story in an unseen direction. Sometimes it shows the shortcomings of the characters you already have in mind.

For example, let’s plug and play with the story of Robin Hood:

Her name is Robin and she just got back to her homeland from a brutal foreign war to find that her family was murdered and her land taken. The perpetrator of this crime? The sister to the king, Princess Johanna, who is abusing the power she has gained in her brother’s absence and is planning a coupe while he is away. Robin has an ally and possible love interest in Lord Marion, who is trying to stave off Johanna’s political ambitions through his influence among the noble families but often finds her one step ahead of him in their deadly game. 

Desperate to make a difference for the suffering public, Robin gathers a number of men and women who join her to fight the tyranny as outlaws.

There. We’ve taken a story that has been around the block many times and found some new aspects to it. More importantly, deciding to change the genders shows how certain characters stand out much stronger and how others fall flat.

Big example, Lady Marion. I almost forgot about her. Her character is mostly around to let Robin Hood ‘get the girl’ in the end. But as Lord Marion, it made me think of ways he would be actively doing something. Now, if I were to plug Lady Marion back in, I would definitely make hers a more active role now that I’ve realized some of her character’s deficits.

You might notice that I didn’t make Robin’s accomplices the band of merry women. I think switching to an all female cast would have just as many issues as an all male cast. Speaking of, Lady Marion is the only female character? How uncool is that? How can you expect to create a rounded, living story with half of the human race barely represented? Granted, some stories would call for that (like a single sex boarding school scenario) but most benefit from having a bouquet of characters of both sexes.

The final thing I’d like to point out from that little exercise is that you’re not just limited to experimenting with the protagonists. Bad guys can be bad girls. Too often we make a bad guy evil just for evil’s sake and make people listen to him because he’s intimidating.

Women can be intimidating too, don’t doubt that the Queen of Hearts was certainly intimidating. But, no character should be one dimensional. If you plug in a different gender for a character in your story and decide that they would take completely different actions, you better analyze why. The answer can’t just be gender. People are complex and the gender of a character is a very large facet of who they are, but it is not all they are.

The sex of your characters impacts your story immensely. Take the time to choose the sex that makes for better characters and a better story. Change it up. Experiment. Don’t be lazy.

 

 

Yes, I am a male writer. No, I have never to my knowledge been a woman, but I do know a few. I think the people I respect and admire the most in my life happen to be women. They are strong, they are humble, and boy you better believe they can be fierce. They include my ever patient wife, without whom I would be lost. My mother, who insisted that a determined mind can accomplish anything. My sister, who’s quiet inner strength I will always envy. My friend, who has often been a grounding wire back to reality. I may not always understand, but I’m always trying to learn.

Why Start a New Blog?

So, this this is a new blog. By an inexperienced blogger. Throwing some words out into the webverse.

And boy am I intimidated.

For me, writing has occupied this spot in my life akin to something between meditation and masturbation. I do it because it makes me feel good. But it’s also an introspective journey into the deep recesses of my mind. And I always do it alone.

When someone walks in on me writing… let’s just say it gets awkward. I get performance issues. And they always ask why I’m so sweaty.

So why, you ask, are you exposing your writing to the wide world of EVERYONE WHO WILL EVER EXIST FROM THIS POINT ON? I mean, come on. These selfies and blogs are the styrofoam and lead filled diapers that fill the garbage dump that is the web. They won’t go away. Someday a grandchild will look at me and say, “Gramps… Really? One post deep and you went all creepy sexual metaphor? Sheesh. And why was that cat so grumpy?”

Well, as with anyone who spends too much time convincing themselves they have talent, eventually that “talent” needs to be shared. Exposed. Displayed in all it’s inadequacies so that the delusions of grandeur can be reigned in.

That, and I’ve used up all the goodwill my wife can muster after shoving my writing at her for the past nine years.

“Honey, check out this!”

“That’s great dear. Now please, put that away. We have guests coming over.”

“But you didn’t even look! It’ll be a quick one, I swear!”

“That’s what you said last time. You’re not spending the entire night locked in the office crying again while we have guests.”

“Maybe if you appreciated my prose…”

“We’ve been over this. It’s not your verbiage. It’s how you use it.”

“…I wasn’t crying…”

“I’m sure you weren’t. Now go put some pants on please.”

And who doesn’t love dutiful support? I mean, seriously, I milk that for all it’s worth. But eventually, the first step towards legitimacy must be taken. And that step is…

*drum roll*

PEER REVIEW

And that, my… umm… possible future readers that have dug through a backlog of what I’m sure will be a luscious catalogue of prime choice posts to find the humble beginnings of this word wrangler, is why I’m starting this.

Where it goes, nobody knows…