Why Do I Do This To Myself?

So I’ve spent the last few days compulsively reading the English translation of Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, or ‘When They Cry‘. It’s a jolly little Groundhog-Day-style repeating story with serial killings and insanity and people getting murdered in a thrilling variety of gruesome ways.

This was a bad decision, for the record.

It’s one I keep making. I watched Ghost Ship and had a pillow over my head for half of it. I watched The Ring and had nightmares for a week. I keep reading creepy urban legends and then not being able to sleep. I don’t know why, but scary stories have a terrible allure for me even though they freak me out and I couldn’t even watch Sweeney Todd without hiding my eyes during the bloody bits.

When They Cry kept me awake until two in the morning, way too creeped out to sleep. And I didn’t have all of it, so I’m going to read the other arcs and do this to myself again. I know it’s a bad idea, but I’ll do it anyway because I need to know what happens.

As far as I can tell, most people who enjoy horror stories don’t actually have nightmares and hide under pillows and find it impossible to sleep after finding out the latest horrifying twist (SHION WHY). I don’t even enjoy them most of the time. But every now and then I pick up a DVD case and read the back, or happen across a review online, and I get curious and think I’ll just take a peek and YOU WOULD THINK I WOULD KNOW BETTER BY NOW. Apparently I have sub-conscious self-destructive urges that express themselves by putting thoughts in my head like ‘I’m thirty-five, surely I am now sufficiently jaded to handle a horror comic meant for teenagers’.

I am not.

This is why I had nightmares about my baby being either a vampire or a zombie after she was born. Didn’t improve the post-natal freakout one bit.

I have very rarely tried to write creepy. This is probably my best attempt. I would actually really like to, but I have the little problem that I completely terrify myself and can’t finish and don’t want to think about it because scary. Like writing mystery, it’s something I really want to do but find myself fundamentally ill-equipped for. Do any of you have a genre you like reading and want to write but just can’t seem to get the knack of? (Or can’t do except during day-light with cartoons on and someone at hand to distract you at need?)

Getting Started

I’ve heard it said that the hardest thing about a new endeavour is to get started. Make a commitment.

This is utter bollocks.

Getting started is easy! Anyone can start writing a book, or reading a book, or cleaning their bedroom, or eating healthier! Anyone can produce two hundred words, or a load of laundry, or a lettuce!

Finishing, now. Finishing is hard as hell. There are many hurdles between you and your finish line. Here are some (not all) in no particular order.

Hurdle One: Later. “Meh, I don’t feel like it any more. I’ll do it later. Tomorrow. Definitely tomorrow.

Hurdle Two: Lost Inspiration. “Where did all my ideas go? Man, I’m tired from picking up all these clothes. Cooking from scratch is hard. I’ll leave it just for now. Tomorrow. Definitely tomorrow.

Hurdle Three: It Sucks. “Everything I do sucks. I might as well just give up and watch a movie while I balance a pizza on this pile of dirty laundry.”

Hurdle Four: Equipment Failure. “I don’t have the right research books, and the vacuum cleaner is making a funny noise and I think the broccoli’s gone limp. I’ll have to pick this up again when I have all the stuff I need to do it really properly.

Hurdle Five: Haven’t I Done Enough? “Well, I’ve got half the first draft, I can see the floor, and I ate a vegetable just yesterday. I think that’s enough for now. Hooray for me!”

Hurdle Six: I Am So Very Busy. “Well, these other things really are more important. I’ll have to get back to that side project of all my hopes and dreams and also my bodily health after I finish alphabetizing these paid bills.”

Hurdle Seven (optional): Perfectionism. “My first sentence is terrible! I think I saw a cockroach poo in one of my drawers so the whole house needs fumigating! I’m still putting sugar in my coffee! I CAN NEVER BE FINISHED UNTIL IT’S PERFECT.”

Side note: I quit processed sugar once. Turned me into a raging harpy for three straight months. My husband eventually begged me to give in and eat some chocolate, if I loved him or our daughter at all. It turns out that while I can give up coffee and *almost* all forms of sugar relatively painlessly, I am hardcore addicted to chocolate and the sugarless kind doesn’t do the business.

There are lots more hurdles, of course. A lot of them are personal ones (a major one for me at the moment is the fact that sitting down at the computer makes my kid think ‘ooh, lap’ and come over to sit on me, which makes typing quite hard), but these are a few that I’ve discussed with others and know are at least somewhat common. All you can really do about them is get to know them well enough that you can see them for what they are – a trap and a snare, not the voice of reason they pretend to be – and go around them instead of being tricked into trying to jump and winding up flat on your face on the track wondering why you even bother.

You can’t always do it, of course. Three and Five still get me on a regular basis. But knowing your enemy can help!

 

Two Days In One

So I really did think I’d posted yesterday. But when I looked today, I found a little untitled draft reading thusly:

I have got to start writing my blog-post ideas down. I keep having them and thinking ‘oh, I’ll write about that tomorrow’…. and then when tomorrow comes, I got nothing. And I’m too sleepy to work up a good rant. So

Apparently something shiny flitted across my vision at that point and I forgot to finish.

Have you noticed that you can get ideas from other books or movies, but the idea often doesn’t resemble that book or movie at all?

On the international flight home, I was watching Prince Caspian and thinking about skewed gender representation in fantasy, you know, as you do, and I got hit by the Idea Fairy. As best I recall, it went something like this.

Ooh, pretty.

I don’t like the plot coupons though.

Looking for missing people.

Evil magic.

Plot coupons.

What if they weren’t plot coupons? What if the series of tasks was actually, you know, not cumulative but they were just doing all different things to try to achieve an end?

And then somehow I was imagining this city, right, which is being invaded, and our Plucky Heroes have to resurrect the city’s old magical defenses but nobody knows where they are any more or how they worked and it turns out the seven ancient protective spells are curses enacted by mages killed in battle, and their spirits are in buildings and books and statues and shit and they have to get woken up so they can curse the invaders again but it’s hard and takes sacrifices  and they don’t actually need to find all of them or anything it’s just ‘let’s find as many as we can before they get here’ and there’s a couple they can’t find but the ones they do find turn out to be enough except at least one of the heroes actually dies because that mage demands blood sacrifice so they die for the city or something.

I got all of this out of ‘let’s find the magic swords’ and ‘ooh, pretty scenery’. I mean, you guys remember the Rise of the Guardians thing, where watching RotG made me think about a story featuring a ghost who died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, right? I swear, I wonder how my brain makes these connections sometimes.

I like it, though. I like the idea of a story where the Plucky Young Heroes have to Find The Things and they don’t have to find them all, and they don’t find them all, because it’s not a game it’s just a matter of finding all the weapons you can because there’s a war going and you just want to save your home. When a plot coupon is not a plot coupon. I like it.

What are your feelings on plot coupons?

Writing Away From Home

John Scalzi says that you’re not fooling anyone when you take your laptop to a coffee shop, and insofar as taking your laptop to a coffee-shop to write in order to get laid is a fool’s endeavour, he’s not wrong. (I do recommend the book –  it’s fun, informative, and a steal at $6)

But coffee shops aren’t a bad place to write, all the same. My NaNoWriMo group meets throughout the year at the Milton Coffee Club, where they are extremely nice to us and let us take up half the back area and all the powerpoints for most of November and sit there for eight hours taking up tables and making noise. They even donate prizes for our November competitions, which is just lovely of them. But even if you don’t have a close personal relationship with the staff, a coffee-shop can be a good place to write. They often have power-points, they supply caffeine and meals, and if you scout around a bit for a place with comfy seats, you’re good to go.

I personally like writing in the library, though I can’t do that as often now that I have a small child. But I used to go there a lot – again, they have free power, air-conditioning, comfy seats, and reference books galore. You can’t get coffee there, but it’s still pretty nice.

Writing on the train is another favourite. I used to get a lot of work done on the train going to and from work, when I was working. It’s a pre-blocked period of time in which your range of available activities is pretty limited, so if you do get public transport to work – especially if you travel in off-peak times when trains and buses aren’t so crowded – it can be a great time to churn out some words with few interruptions.

Parks can be nice, if weather permits, but the seating isn’t as comfortable, there’s more bugs, there’s no power, and nobody is going to bring you a vanilla latte. You can bring your own, of course.

Where do you write, if not at home?

I Would Make A Terrible Fictional Character

I have hurt myself again. I’m not really sure how – I was just walking along and there was stabbing pain in my ankle again. Hypermobility means that this happens, and I’m mostly used to it.

But it got me thinking, because I narrativize my reality fairly frequently, about how completely unrealistic my life is sometimes, when you define ‘realistic’ as ‘standard’.  I’ve always had a great sympathy for Sailor Moon – her detractors complain about how her klutziness is supposed to be ‘cute’ and isn’t, and it’s always bothered me. When I was younger I loved seeing a character – a heroine, even! – who was just as apocalyptically clumsy as me, and couldn’t walk down a street without falling flat on her face.  And Usagi isn’t just clumsy – she’s gawky and awkward sometimes, has trouble figuring out how to behave like a grownup even as she wants more and more to be one, cries when she’s scared and generally acts like a completely genuine fourteen-year-old girl. I loved her for that, and always will.

I’m relatively fortunate in my search for role-models. I am a white, English-speaking cis-gendered woman, and I have plenty of them to choose from. I’m aware that that makes me relatively lucky, in that I’m actually permitted to exist in popular media. But if I was a fictional character, unless my hypermobility was the subject of a Very Special Episode in which everyone is instructed about my obscure illness via a carefully tailored scenario – maybe by House – I wouldn’t be very plausible. I have trouble convincing people the problem exists even when they can actually talk to me. Add severe anxiety issues and the unrealistically poor memory to the mix, and I’m really quite poorly thought out as a character.

Now I envy the characters in fourth-wall-breaking comics like Real Life, who can complain to their creator about their poor characterization or their story’s internal logic, because I definitely think my narrative could be improved.

Realism in writing isn’t the same thing as ‘like reality’. Reality is all too often dull, repetitive, and sometimes wildly implausible. When I see a novel or a movie lauded for being ‘raw’ and ‘real’, I will automatically pass on it because ‘real’ usually means ‘full of unpleasant people doing stupid things and being just appallingly dull and self-pitying’. A story should be held to a higher standard of narrative plausibility than reality, because reality has no quality control at all, whereas a story should have an editor or a producer or someone whose job it is to say ‘wait, that just makes no sense at all’.

Which isn’t to say that you shouldn’t try to be realistic in writing – realistic characters are the best kind. But consider the suffix. Realistic doesn’t mean real. Wiktionary defines the suffix ‘ic’ as ‘of or pertaining to’. (It kind of startled me that Google had so many suggestions for a search of ‘the suffix ‘ic”, indicating that an awful lot of people had wondered about this) So realistic writing should be ‘of or pertaining to’ that which is real, but not necessarily real real. Reality doesn’t need to make sense, to be logically consistent and plausible. Fiction does. Which is odd, when you think about it, but there it is.

If anyone else has looked at their life or events therein and thought ‘wow, my narrative is really pretty sub-par, I could come up with something way better than this’, I would love to hear about it. Answers guaranteed!

 

Cut Off

My friend Miranda’s internet has been cut off. She lost it for almost a week during the flooding not long ago, and this week it has gone out again. She called tech support, and was cheerfully informed that a tech would be along on Monday. She made this call on a Tuesday. So another whole week of being cut off.

I don’t know about you, but the very idea of losing my internet access gives me the heebie-jeebies. How could I write my blog? Check my Tumblr? Email friends, play Candy Crush Saga, write, and do all the other things I do daily?

Well, obviously I couldn’t. I’m just not sure I remember how to fill the day without them. Playing with the kid is good of course, and there’s stuff to do, it just… isn’t the same. And as Miranda pointed out to me, it can make writing really hard.

It’s funny how completely necessary Google has become to me when writing. What vegetables are native to Spain? What’s the average number of kittens in a litter? What fabrics would be used in seventeenth-century Italy? How does a flint-lock pistol actually work? What’s the average distance a laden horse can travel in a day? What about a wagon, how fast are those? All of those, except for the kittens, are searches I made for my last NaNoWriMo novel…. a fantasy set in Analogue-Europe. Researching a novel is a pain in the butt at the best of times – during November, going and finding a book on the history of Italian fashion takes FAR TOO LONG, especially if you only need the dress for one scene.

I know, I know, the Internet isn’t the most reliable source. But Wikipedia and its many cousins are generally reasonably accurate, which is nice, and there are lots and lots of references out there that are maintained by unpaid enthusiasts on subjects obscure enough that finding a book would be very difficult. On the other hand, finding a picture reference for seventeenth-century Spanish peasant garb only took me about twenty minutes online, and the Internet allowed me to forward this to an artist I have never met, via Deviantart, and commission a little picture of my characters as a reward to myself for finishing. The Internet is awesome, and the thought of losing it even for a little while is quite distressing.

So today I’m going over to Miranda’s house to watch Ghibli movies and cook. It’s the least I can do for a friend in need.

Here is my NaNoWriMo picture! EcoKitty does lovely cartoony commissions and I recommend them.

My protagonists, ready for action!

My protagonists, ready for action!