Category : technique

On the Mic

I was discussing poetry with a Twitter friend the other day, specifically how we’ve both performed our poetry in the past and are eager to do so again. We agreed that our poetry is better performed than just sitting on a page. In the past, I’ve attended some poetry readings and open mic nights, as well as listened to poets reading their work live. Some poets really get into the musicality of their work and perform very well. Others not so much, their reading sounding flat and, to my ear, no different than reading prose. (There are also poetry slams. I like poetry slams in theory, but the ones I’ve seen tend to blur together, with every poem performed by every writer the same way. I get bored quickly with that.)

My poetry has a number of different, diverse influences besides specific poets and poems. When it comes to performing it, I’m mostly influenced by the Dada and Surrealist movements, as well as postpunk and new wave music, stand-up comedy, and vaudeville. (more…)

NaNoWriMo 2014: The End…Or Is It?

This past Sunday, at 11:59 p.m., this year’s NaNoWriMo ended. I went into it with a head full of steam, eyes full of wonder, and a vague idea of a story I wanted to create. I’ve only finished my NaNoWriMo story once (the first time I did it, which I did on my own one cold, snowy February) and I was determined to finish this year.

I didn’t.

But I learned some important things this time around.

1) When I’m writing something I’m very, very excited about, I don’t get bored with it and start to drift towards writing another story. I’m still jazzed about this project. In fact, the more I wrote, the more excited I got, and the story demands I keep writing it. (Although calling it a “story” seems premature at this point, since it’s really just a collection of random scenes and vignettes, in no particular order, with some very abstract ideas that tie them all together into something that has the potential to be a novel. Which segues nicely into…)

2) When I write out of order, instead of starting from the very beginning and rushing to reach the end, I’m much more comfortable writing and am able to maintain interest more. Writing out of order, working on whichever bits my mind is most interested in at the moment, works much better for my nonlinear, ADHD brain. It helps me flesh out and learn more about the characters and the setting when I don’t worry about a linear plot so much, but fleshing all of that out also helps me find and flesh out the plot more (instead of forcing the characters and setting into a linear plot).

3) Things I think I’m good at writing: dialogue, descriptions of weird shit, exciting action scenes. Things I don’t think I’m good at writing: beginnings and endings (of both scenes and stories). But even when I’m writing what feels like utter crap, I feel terrific, like I’m charged with electricity. (Sometimes it’s crappy electricity, but it’s still a great feeling.)

4) When I give myself a fairly short-term deadline and a specific word total (like NaNoWriMo’s 50,000 words in 30 days), it’s much easier to get myself to write than if I’m writing a vague “novel of undetermined length that will be done whenever I finish it.” (When I was an undergrad, I wrote the majority of my papers the morning they were due. I’d get up before the crack of dawn, walk to the university computer center, have a vague idea of what I wanted to write about, and just start madly typing until I had something resembling an academic paper. That approach works best for my fiction, too–at least when it comes to first drafts.)

5) When I have a day off work, I still tend to wake up early, but it’s often difficult for me to motivate myself to get going and starting doing much of anything (unless it’s sitting on the sofa watching Netflix). But when it comes to writing, it’s very easy for me to get up, get dressed, get out of the house to a coffee shop, and start writing.

6) Basically, what I’m saying is that when I’m not writing fiction, it’s too easy for me to forget how much I love crafting fiction. And when I’m doing it, I’m in a near constant state of “Duh! How could I forget how much I love doing this?”

So while I didn’t finish this time around (AGAIN), this was probably the best NaNoWriMo for me in terms of self-discovery and the sheer enjoyment of writing. Technically, it only counts as “winning” if you finish your 50,000 words novel. But for me, as long as I keep working on this project and finish my shit, I will consider this month a solid win.

The Trouble With Dreaming

I dislike most dream sequences in fiction (novels and short stories, TV shows, movies, comics, etc). I feel like very few people get them right, and that includes myself when I’ve written them in stories. Unless my own dreams are significantly different from other people’s dreams (which I doubt–I’m special, but not that special), most dream sequences are nothing like real dreams, to the point where I find them jarring and painful to read or watch.

First of all, dreams don’t begin. As they say in the movie Inception (which does get a lot about dreams right, even if the actual dream sequences never really feel like dreams to me), “You never really remember the beginning of a dream do you? You always wind up right in the middle of what’s going on.” I could never tell you when a dream of mine begins, there just seems to be stuff happening, and I’m in the middle of it. My dreams don’t usually end either, unless I wake up. They transition into other dreams or they just kind of fade away like a pop song.

Dreams aren’t weird, except they are. All too often, I read or watch a dream sequence where the dreamer is confused by the dream’s differences from reality and the dreamer is some sort of advocate for reality, like Alice’s reactions to the oddness of Wonderland. But to quote Inception again, “Well dreams, they feel real while we’re in them, right? It’s only when we wake up that we realize how things are actually strange.” Last night, I had a dream where I was a college student, involved in playing a tabletop game that used a huge, elaborate board and big polyhedral dice. I didn’t understand the rules of the game and I complained about it to the other players. But I wasn’t at all confused about being a college student at a university with a large, Gothic common room and dorm rooms that were like hospital rooms with no doors. In the dream, it all seemed perfectly natural, to the point where not knowing the rules of the game was stranger than if I’d automatically known them. And in dreams, I usually just know things and take them for granted. I know I’m a college student (even though it’s been almost 10 years since I was last in school in real life). I know which dorm room is mine. I know which study carrel is mine. I know the desktop computer in the dorm room is mine and I know the laptop in the carrel is also mine. I know which room is the common room, I know I’m playing a game (even if I don’t know all of the rules) and I know the other players, even if none of them are people I know in real life. While things may be frustrating in dreams (and they frequently are in mine), none of it seems the least bit weird…until I wake up and think back on the dream.

Dreams change constantly and they aren’t linear. In my dreams, geography is always shifting. The path I took to get from my dorm room to the common room was not the same as the path I took to get from the common room to my dorm room. The dorm room I left was not always the dorm room I went back to, but it was the same room. The game I played in the common room was a big part of the dream, but it wasn’t the only big part–lots of things happened in the dream. People in my dreams change from one person to another, sometimes while I’m talking to them. Sometimes I’m not myself in a dream, sometimes I am, sometimes I’m both myself-as-the-audience and someone else-as-the-main-character at the same time. Time will pass slowly, time will pass quickly, things will happen out of order, emotions will change instantly. And often, places that I know of in real life will be drastically different in a dream, but in the dream, I know it to be that real life place. And again, none of this seems at all weird in the dream. It is what it is…until I wake up and think back on it.

The problem I have with most fictional dream sequences is that they aren’t nearly as weird real dreams, yet they’re portrayed as weird to the dreamer (and the reader). Maybe that makes sense, in that dreams are surreal (literally), but that’s the reason true Surrealist fiction isn’t all that popular. Most people want stories that make sense, and real dreams rarely make much sense. For me, that’s what makes dreams so interesting and affecting. Having a dream sequence that is a weird, confusing situation for the dreamer that directly and obviously presents them with important story information is…well, I was going to say “unrealistic,” but stories are unrealistic by nature (because reality makes shitty stories), so that’s not it. It’s…boring. It’s a dull, trite way to impart important story information to a character and it’s a poor attempt to give a story a strange atmosphere. Basically, if your dream sequence isn’t massively stranger than the “real life” in your story, I hate your dream sequence.

(That being said, there are some dream sequences in stories that aren’t at all as weird as real dreams but I still like them in the context of the story. What can I say? I’m inconsistent–like a dream.)