Thursday, October 17, 2013

really, sort of, rather

This video flitted through my FB feed this morning.

And I found myself nodding along with the girl, although she is young enough that I hope, having recognized the pattern in herself, she will sculpt her own behavior rather than just talking about how unfair it all is.

I'm not sure how old I was when my mother was reading some of my writing (I must've been 20 or younger because midway through college I stopped letting her read any of my fiction) and she pointed out that I was using a lot of qualifiers in my narration: really, sort of, rather. Mom told me about the studies done on the ways men and women communicate and how women tend to "soften" their statements so they don't seem too aggressive, which leads to them being ignored or not taken seriously.

And because I have always had a macho streak, I decided then and there to purge those words from my writing and my speech.

I am fortunate enough to be married to a man who does not require me to give up myself, or yield ground to his personality, but he's a rare one. The three long-term relationships I was in before him all had elements of that paradigm, and they all ended when I quit yielding and they got resentful. And I didn't even grow up in a household that fostered this paradigm, but the boys did.

Paula Cole said in her song, "Nietzsche's Eyes":

Grandmother Mother
And now I see it in myself
I take on the water
Until the dam threatens to break
I became a little dull
My voice became too small

And back in 1996 I nodded to myself and said, Yup, not gonna do that anymore.

It doesn't solve all problems. My first marriage was supposed to be a partnership but it turns out men can also be manipulative and passive-aggressive. Women tend to be intimidated by me. Business relationships with men are still tricky, because bosses tend to feel threatened by me. I will probably never have a job that involves customer service, but that's not really a drawback.

I will probably never be an editor's favorite author. Luckily my agent seems to get me.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

on putting your characters through the wringer

My sister was helping me sew over the weekend and at one point she glances at me and says, "What are you smirking about?"

"Oh, just imagining the horrible things I'm going to do to my characters in the last third of the book."
And my sister just nodded, because she's used to this kind of thing from me.

My writing teachers used to remark on how dark my fiction was and I'd say, "Nobody's allowed to be happy in my stories." And they'd say, in some variation, "You'll grow out of that."

Which is supercilious hogwash, of course, and the root of why I discourage beginning writers from taking creative fiction writing courses. Because any creative writing teacher who pooh-poohs character angst is clearly lacking a grasp of what makes for good story, and unfortunately I have encountered this attitude in four of the four creative writing instructors I have had.

I got about 30% of the way into Trace Book Three this summer before I had to put it down for Book One revisions and the Halloween rush. The last batch of pages I took to my writer's group got a terrific compliment from my buddy Rob, who said, "I have no idea how this will end. I'm not even sure it will have a happy ending."

And that's a great thing, because it means A, he's genuinely involved with the characters and B, the challenges they face are not minor or superficial. I haven't set up a paper-tiger conflict, in other words. 

I was just reading this interview with Joss Whedon and he says, among other things: "We try to build the story organically and go, 'How hard can we make it on these people?' You go to movies to see people you love suffer—that’s why you go to the movies."

(And of course Joss Whedon is still one of my heroes. Even though Agents of SHIELD is kind of lame. Maybe because we haven't gotten to the suffering yet. It took six episodes of Dollhouse before he really dropped the boom on us.)

I learned a lot from Whedon; particularly Season Two of Buffy when Angel went evil and killed Jenny Calendar and we realized this show wasn't fucking around--Whedon could and would put his characters and his viewers through the wringer. Whedon has famously said, "I don't give the fans what they want, I give them what they need," and what fans need is a reason to keep tuning in.

So I'm putting the screws to Trace at least once in each book. In fact I'm thinking Book Three will be titled The Trials of Jacob Tracy. And I wish to God Halloween was over so I could get back to it. Ah well, back to the sewing machine.