I’m sharing this here for the sheer value of Sean Stewart’s talk on the Evolution of Storytelling. I’m not entirely sure I agree with his evaluations, but I do very much appreciate how he’s made me think critically about stories and how they reach audiences.
Category Archives: Composition
I’m back in the US after nearly 24 hours on a plane. Well, I’ve been in the US now more than 24 hours after spending those 24 hours on a plane, and jetlag isn’t hitting me as hard as I thought it would, but that may be due to the nap I took a few hours ago.
Hours. Hours and hours and hours.
I’m supposed to be working on an article for an academic journal. It’s due on the 21st. The outline is solid, things are filling in, but it still feels very intimidating. I’m aiming at 4000 words, with a max of 5000; 3500 – 4000 should adequately cover what I’m trying to express.
Which is about truth, and lies. Stories are made-up things. Phillip Pullman has said more than once, and with different words, that stories tell truth with lies. And that’s something I’ve thought about for a long time, the difference between truth and fact. Truth can sting independent of fact; fact is hard and cold and unyielding, something that sometimes yields as much comfort as warming words. Lies are a deliberate alteration of fact, but their relationship to truth is not as dualistic.
But let’s say you’re listening to a bunch of people. Interviewing them, really. Because what you want to do is listen to their experiences, find the truth in the fact, the memories and moments that resonate, and then use that to anchor a wholly fictional tale about a completely made up person in emotional — and to some degree factual — truth.
Where are the boundaries in this process? What ethical considerations need to be taken into account? And how does a writer monitor those things, make sure he or she is riding the straight and narrow, at least enough to cause the least harm? And how much harm is too much, and to whom?
And there you go. That’s what the article is about, except I neglect to mention the role of reflective practice which is another entry entirely. With luck, I’ll have this ready to go by the evening of the 21st. Right now, it’s slow going, but at least I don’t have blank-page paralysis, which happened to me for the first time in my life just a few months ago. Shocking.
Anyway, back to work for me.
I have no business writing this post. I don’t. I need to be busting my ass on a project brief. But something really bothers me about a number (not all!) of transmedia blog sites.
For example, check out this short post by Peter Von Stackleburg: Computer Graphics & Designing Emotion in Transmedia Stories.
…It’s great advice. Honest. Light and color in visual imagery have powerful effects on emotion, and on narrative expectation. It’s great advice for people creating 3D comics, or 3D animation, or creating single frame artwork in a 3D computer graphic style. It’s great advice for anyone working with images, really.
But this has nothing to do with transmedia specifically. Transmedia is about multiple platforms. A deeper discussion, one true to its title, would ask questions about how to graphically link all platforms that include visual imagery. How does one “design emotion” over several platforms? Transmedia lets a creator gun or throttle all kinds of emotional responses in complex and interconnected ways. If you have a story about a young couple, told over Twitter, Facebook, and a personal blog run by one partner, you could build suspense like this:
Bob’s been updating Facebook with his locations all day. He has his phone set to auto-upload any pictures he takes (he’s said before that he does it to screw any thief who might steal his phone and take incriminating pictures of him or herself). He’s off at a conference somewhere, the place isn’t that important. What is important is that he stops checking in, and when Jane sends him a good night tweet, he doesn’t respond. Jane tweets later to see if any of their mutual friends is with Bob, as she tried calling him, but the phone rings out. Her friends tweet back jokes and assurances, but then they all go to bed.
And then she gets a Facebook notification about a new picture upload from him. She goes to check — it’s dark, grainy, mostly indistinct. But there’s a streetlight in the background, and someone laid out on the ground not far from there. In less than an hour, Jane posts the picture on her blog, explaining she’s been in touch with police, and asking for people to get the word out and help.
That is an example — rough, sure — but it’s an example of how to use emotion across platforms. I hesitate to use the term design. I’m not sure how to design an emotion. I am pretty knowledgeable in evoking them.
And on a final note, I plan to write about Mr. Von Stackleburg’s posts that I do think are insightful; I realise it’s a bit unfair to just call him out like this, and I don’t want to give the impression that his blog overall is lacking, because it’s not. Also — if he’s reading this, I completely intended to comment directly in the blog with questions, but I couldn’t log in to the site, and I couldn’t find a way to register to comment! :(
So, in vague connection with my doctoral work, I stumbled upon game writing. Blogs, mainly, talking about games, being a gamer, the big things at the moment like the unacceptable ending to Mass Effect 3 and the enormous disappointment of the rape-as-tougherning-up strategem in the Tomb Raider reboot.
I have to think about these things critically, now. I’m mining them for direction, for hints, intuition. There are answers out there that will help me sharpen up my final project. And I need to wade through this stuff, good and bad.
Now, before I started reading up on these things, I never knew the name Tim Rogers. He’s a video game developer (and founder and director of action button entertainment — not a member of You Am I) who writes the occasional entry for Kotaku. He rambles — and when I say “rambles,” it’s not in the pejorative. He ties every aside with a gossamer thread like spider silk; subtle, invisible, but strong as a mofo. As I read through his articles, I found myself sharing many of his viewpoints. But what got me completely was the heart in his written thoughts.
And this line in particular stopped me dead (see whole article here).
“Labeling anyone for any reason, in any capacity, is a misdemeanor of the heart.”
I — I just — this should be required learning for everyone. Honestly.
I’m thinking of posting more fiction in here, vignettes, episodes, the like. I haven’t read or written much fiction since graduating from Columbia in 2001. There are a number of reasons for that, but one of the ones I came to grips with happened when I was home with family over March and April. When I was in high school, and angry with the world as high schoolers are, I chose to do things my way by writing things. Usually novel length things that may or may not have turned into anything publishable, which isn’t really the point, anyway.
The point is this: I read fiction to escape. It sounds obvious, yes, but that’s what it was. It was an escape, a way to bide time, a way to be in a place I preferred instead of the onerous real world with its minutiae and obligation.
I reverted to my 16 year old self for the length of April. Honest. Fortunately I was self-aware enough to watch it happen, and take the opportunity to understand it, because this turns out to be the sledge the rest of me rode when I really began writing.
Before Tom Waits married Kathleen Brennan, he was well on his way to becoming a drunken-sot stereotype who sang only one kind of song, regardless of how masterfully he wrote and rendered them. And the way he got there was by being that drunk, by doing some really unpleasant and horrible stuff. And he came to the conclusion that you don’t have to keep doing the awful things to know how they feel.
Well. I didn’t have to keep doing the awful things to know how they felt, or to write the damn things down with any semblance of versimilitude.
The problem with my 16-year-old methodology was that I went on the ride, completely and unreservedly. If I was reading something really devastating, I’d be devastated. No wish or desire to be in the real world at the dinner table having steak and potatoes. Same if I were in the middle of a hellacious scene. And I cracked that wide open while I was home, a world of sensation and hurt and awe that I hadn’t gotten near in decades because I couldn’t aford that kind of disconnection, not when rent and utilities were on the line.
The trick here, see is that these powerful feelings — they’re what make something real. They don’t have to be front and center (in fact, they’re less effective if they are), but they need to be there in the distance, casting a pallor or sepia wash over the scene they inform. A stage play scene is all emotion and the push-pull between two or more characters. A good scene, anyway. A compelling scene.
So what I’ve been learning, over the past few weeks, is how not to squelch that powerful emotionality. Instead I’m trying to find a way to harness it, or surf it, keep it from commanding me and still being able to let it do what it needs to and have it inform the work I create.
It’s friggin’ hard.
But these past weeks have been illuminating. I’ve had characters crop up that I really feel invested in, that I love no matter how rotten they are, and I find myself wanting to know just what they’re going to do next. This bodes well for the latter parts of my degree, but for now I need to be a bit more academic and things are getting a little out of hand.
Well, I can throw my arms up and drown, or I can learn from what’s happening. So off I go. And hence the little bits of fiction here and there. A safe outlet, small doses to relieve the pressure cooker without derailing the missions at hand.
So, the travel recaps may come trickling in every so often, but I want to do other things here as well. So instead of waiting to finish them off before moving on to something else, I’ll just do some parallel processing.
If you haven’t heard of Chuck Wendig, go educate yourselves a moment. Aside from providing a lot of sound writing advice, his actual fiction work is a hell of a lot of fun. I’ll be snagging Blackbirds when I get a chance, probably in the next month or so.
He also offers weekly flash fiction challenges. I’ve watched a number of them come and go and have never quite gotten around to doing one, until today. His challenge for this week is to visit this site and pick one of the five silly military operation names to use as the title for a 1000-word-or-less story. Mine, then, is:
Unproven Privet Bush
The war started over bad oranges, falling from a tree that reached just over the property line. The Framptons (sadly no musical relation) were fastidious about their yard, and about everything in and around their humble home.
The oranges were just foul.
Never mind that the Davies explained patiently that they were Seville oranges, that they were supposed to taste like battery acid, and that they were best suited to marmalade and you’re welcome for the free fruit.
The Framptons were having none of it.
The neighborhood association forbade fences. Too unsightly. Not in accordance with the enforced familial atmosphere demanded by this lovely housing development just twenty minutes from downtown. On a good day. On a very good day with most people out on vacation. No, a fence was simply not tolerable. And certainly not a fence that would reach high enough to stop wayward fruit from following Newton’s laws onto their hallowed lawn.
Ah, but there was a loophole. Gardening was encouraged, as it showed love and care by families for their homes. It was what all decent people did, wasn’t it?
Enter the privet bush. The Framptons were a family of action, but they were also a family of immeasurable patience. And a solid investment in powerful fertilizers. They planted the privet hedge late one spring, a little off season, but the idea had struck in the middle of the night after Mr. Frampton watched some lovely British period drama featuring Victorian gardens and other horticultural feats. And damned if he was going to wait a full year before putting his plan into effect.
The privet was touch and go that first year. The Davies originally encouraged the idea, saying it was a lovely way to bring songbirds and other animals into their yards, but the Framptons, a dour, sober, serious lot, said very little and watered very much.
Over the second year, the bush grew a foot in height. The Framptons were fiercely delighted. Mrs. Frampton even took a brief course on how to properly trim a privet bush, sculpting formidable 90 degree angles and sheer daunting faces. At least on their side of the bush. The third year was much the same, and the fourth required a stepladder to execute those precise corners.
Ah, but year five. The magic year, the year the privet bush started tickling the wayward boughs of the Davies’ Seville orange tree. It wasn’t clear, this early in the year, whether the privet bush would properly collide with the orange tree. And it wasn’t clear just how far along a branch those nasty oranges would flower. But this year would be the year that the unproven privet bush would finally come into its own. Bitter oranges and marmalade and neighborhood association rules be damned.
So, it turns out that my third theory was the right one. Read more over at Harry Connolly’s blog, and be sure to follow his link to The Debrief’s November 10th entry, where Jeremy Duns posts (with permission) responses by Rowan to his questions. Duns’ post is long, but well worth the time; and be sure to read the comments, as that’s where many of Rowan’s responses lie.
It’s actually heartbreaking, reading the conversation. What Rowan’s done is wrong, and completely reprehensible, but it came from such a human place, from a fear I know I’ve shared, that I can’t help but feel a bit for him. His career is ruined. I don’t even think he’ll be able to put out a tell-all book.
But the bottom line is he should have known better, and been willing to fail under his own aegis. Connolly explains it quite well in his post.
Now I await the legal fallout. I think it’s going to be a huge, long mess.