Proustian Chronicles: The End of a Volume

 

I recently finished reading Swann’s Way, volume one of seven in Remembrances of Things Past or In Search of Lost Time. That volume is 600-something pages. I’m reading a guide at the same time. After each volume, I’m comparing my thoughts with the verdicts delivered by the reading guide. That isn’t exactly the best way to get the most from reading this but as the preparations for reading more literary work. I have my eyes on IQ83 by Haruki Murakami.

 

That’s a long way away or maybe sooner than I think. Anyway this is a summery/reaction to Swann’s Way and the reading guide the group’s using, Marcel Proust’s Search for Lost Time: A Reader’s Guide to Remembrance of Things Past by Patrick Alexander. The book is divided into three parts. The Overture, Combray, Swann in Love, and Place-names: The Name.

 

The Overture is a real bore in my mind. There are a few interesting tidbits in there, but forty pages seems overkill for a waking up sequence. It’s long but effectively primes you for the writing style you’re likely to experience. Brevity is a tad more important later on. It never reaches the expectations of today’s rapid gratification.

 

Combray is the memories Marcel has of his childhood. It details his experiences of visiting his ailing Aunt Léonie in the summers. There’s a lot there about his childhood desires and experiences. The guide refers to Combray as one of best childhood experiences in a novel of this era. Reading through, I noticed a few things. Marcel is ailing from some mysterious condition which I suspect is just getting colds that are quite severe. That sickness reduces his activity considerably. Still, he’d much rather stick his head into books. Marcel attributes good qualities to people he likes and people he would like to be like down the line. These memories Marcel remembers were triggered by eating something he enjoyed in those summers, lime tea and madeleines.

 

I like to think Marcel and I would be kindred spirits if we ever met. That makes me feel good, and that’s reason enough, but there’s more. I have Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy, and that enabled me to distance myself from peers. In addition, I loved reading. That love is what got me into writing. Then, I wanted to be like those charismatic people who can entertain an entire room without breaking out in sweat and make people like them. And I remember my past history to a similar extent. I think we’re pretty similar.

 

Swann in Love was my favorite part of Swann’s Way. According to the guide, it’s the closest that Proust gets to traditional story structure. I agree. There’s a beginning, a middle, and an end. Swann meets Odette. He doesn’t commit right away. Then, he’s in love with Odette. Swann gets jealous. He asks too many questions and finds difficult answers. In lack of love, he tries with another woman. That’s the plot of Swann in Love.

 

The beginning of this part was the first time I loved reading this book. It makes me a little sad that the other sections won’t follow the basic plot structure. And a theme of this book is love leads to jealousy. That’s true. Love always comes with some unwelcome jealousy as a bedfellow. That’s especially true if you have abandonment and anxiety issues. Jealousy can make love sweeter by contrast. Working on your self-worth might reduce these issues. Surely possessiveness makes the jealousy worse. That’s a theme in this book that bugs me. Any number of themes bug me, so that’s basically a given with anything I read.

 

Place-names: The Names wraps up everything. It cross applies the lessons learned in the previous sections of Marcel’s young life in Paris. Then, it echoes the fact much more is going to change.

 

Each section is like a novel in its own write except the transition sections: Overture and Place-names: The Name. That’s not the way any book is organized these days except memoirs. Because In Search of Lost Time is the very first memoir as far as I know.

 

rob-mulally-123849
Photo by Rob Mulally on Unsplash.

 

That method isn’t acceptable in fiction these days. I know it’s not fair to Marcel Proust, his many fans, and the English literature community to compare a book written something like 120 years ago to stories these days. That comparison is of paramount importance to current writers of fiction trying to learn from Proust. What elements of Remembrance of Things Past can be used to write fiction in the time we live in now? What elements won’t work? For example, putting two storylines in one piece of fiction. They need to smoothly merge from one to the other despite section breaks. Some things can end and be picked up later but never left hanging forever except at the end. Simultaneous story lines are permissible if they’re all pushed together.

 

I read an example of that recently. Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer. The title is uninspiring to me, but the writing is top notch. That story artfully combines numerous storyline to create a synergy more powerful than any one alone. For an example to a story continuing through section breaks check out The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon.  That’s the best example I can think of off the top of my head.

 

I didn’t get to my conclusions matching the guide: 4/7. That seems pretty good for a start. I’ll get better by the end of this.

 

See you around guys.

 

GK

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Cover photo credit: Photo by Dan Freeman on Unsplash.

My Life and Taylor Swift’s reputation

 

I’m listening to Taylor Swift on repeat since the release of her sixth album reputation a few weeks ago. I have always looked up to her as role model of success and creativity. That seems a little ridiculous when I started writing at 23, a full six years after Taylor Swift made her debut. It seems impossible I’ll ever get anything published at this point, but I’m going to try. A lot of things motivate me. So far, I’ve never been able to get those reasons all fleshed out on the page. This is my attempt at doing just that with a few references to Taylor Swift’s musical journey as seen through the eyes of a fan.

 

reputation has a deeper theme that becomes clear after listening to Taylor Swift’s previous albums. There’s a big difference between the version of you that’s projected out to the crowd, and the real version people close to you see. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust discusses various identities you go through as you change and grow through life.

 

reputation then goes a step further by saying there are multiple ways to see that duality. The difference between the best version of you and the worst version, light and dark for the sake of brevity. Then the version you put on social media and the real you. That feels like a cheap attempt to tap into the current Zeitgeist. The songs aren’t about fabricating an identity on social media. I admit showing that with music is tricky. But Taylor Swift accomplished that in You Belong With Me (from Fearless). Turning that into a whole album is very difficult.

And the lighter parts are easier to share than the darker parts. That’s because of the social unacceptability, and the fear that indulging in darkness can make you into a horrible person. Of course fearing you’ll become evil is a sign of goodness right?

The struggle is finding the courage to be yourself with people spouting their ideas of who you’re supposed to be.

 

I could make this into a post supporting that conclusion. The cover booklet of reputation starts with a brief note explaining the meaning of the album. That storyline feels superfluous.

This is about my experience with that transformation. Starting overly concerned with what a few people thought to not caring what other people think about me.

 

As a teenager and until a few years ago, I would say I don’t care what other people think. I didn’t fit in with other kids. Those themed days we had in high school. Well, I didn’t participate. I didn’t stay in the corner assigned to disabled students. I wanted to go to regular classes with non-disabled students. I was in all Honors classes. I scored academically like a normal students. For all intents, I refused to be typecast. That seems like not caring what other people think, except that was what my parents expected from me.

 

My parents never put pressure on me to achieve academically. I was just trying to be like my parents to feel closer to them. That’s something I always wanted to feel, love. Pursuing the same aspirations made me feel closer to them.

I always craved affection in a tangible form.

 

In order to feel something from the reticent displays of affection provided by my parents, my unconscious amplified my emotions. That way I could feel close to them. That’s the biggest problem I face, extreme emotions. It’s even bigger than my physical condition of Duchenne muscular dystrophy. I’m not trying to level charges against my parents. They tried the best they could and the best they knew. Without them I wouldn’t be alive today. There’s no doubt in my mind.

 

Those extreme emotions made me very clingy to friends and people in my life as a kid. That meant my friendships didn’t last very long. It was an intense friendship in my mind but really annoying to my friends. It was frequently like the friendship between Erika and Clementine in Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty which I happen to be reading at the time of writing this.

 

Then I went into the phase of just following approved behavior.

 

Being that strange was too painful. All my emotions became subdued and locked away. The resulting anger from suppressing everything turned inward. Wondering what’s wrong with me? Why can’t I be like everyone else? Why am I messed up?

 

That’s what we train men to be in this society. To suppress emotions we don’t deem acceptable for men. Anger is allowed. Slight sadness. And happiness. Everything else should be suppressed away or bad things happen. Being alone. Insults and perhaps the insinuation you’re gay. That means everything has to be converted to anger and thus become acceptable. Slowly that’s starting to change. Suppressing emotions is unhealthy. It leads to trouble expressing emotions, and difficulty explaining what’s going on inside. That leads to troubling things like suicide and loneliness.

 

Being socially acceptable is the goal of Taylor Swift’s eponymous first album. It’s about innocence, love, and anger that’s a little cute. That’s how this story starts. Fearless and Speak Now follow that same pattern and camouflages the rest.

 

A song like White Horse shows exactly what I mean. I wasn’t listening that close to the lyrics, but it didn’t sound sad to me. It sounded like it was saying I don’t want you anymore. The music video shows a sad messy breakup.

You try going on thinking everything is good, but something wrong happens. That error is what we call life.

 

My isolation and social ineptitude continued through high school and three semesters of college. Then reality caught up to me. I have Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Around 18–24, people with my disease get into breathing issues. I got my first pneumonia. It was a few days in the hospital. I wasn’t getting enough sleep. My dreams of going to college were dashed. I tried summer classes and online classes. My health requirements were too much, 8 hours sleep and breathing treatments.

That sent me into depression.

 

My extreme emotions make me highly susceptible to depression. If you’re feeling too much, it’s easier to just tune everything out than deal with it. That especially happens when an onslaught of bad emotions hit me. There was nothing except clearing my lungs and airways, sleeping, stuffing my stomach, and watching C-SPAN. I was steadily losing weight from expending too much energy breathing. And I was home alone with a PCA, all day.

 

Three years into my depression, I got a trach. That was freaky for the first two years. I couldn’t sleep overnight because a nurse was sitting in my room. An emergency situation happened in the first two months, I couldn’t breathe. I got sick every few months after. It was deadly not to care, the way depression made me. I needed to mediate to stay calm and not go crazy from breathing through a tube that could clog at any moment. It was a new experience, having a trach and a ventilator to breathe.

 

There was one good thing to those first years with a trach. I got a stomach tube. Slowly I got up to weight. From 63 to 117 pounds.

 

My back is really messed up. It’s curved like an S because my back muscles weakened too much before my back was fused to a stable state. After surgery, my curvature was 50 degrees. That surgery happened when I was 15.

 

That means getting a trach tube to fit my curvaceous airway is tricky. My brilliant ENT doc found a trach that worked for me. Unfortunately, that trach tube is really tricky to change. With my curvature, any correctly fitted trach is difficult to insert.

 

My brilliant ENT doc had trouble changing out my trach.

 

There are several layers of flesh between the outside of the throat and the airway the trach tube sits in. So the doc pulled the old trach. He tried putting in the new trach. It was a ton of force on my neck. The connections between my airway and chest were hurting probably at five out of ten, but let me tell you that was nothing. The trach tube didn’t go in.

 

When changing a trach, they always have a smaller trach if the correct size can’t be inserted. That smaller trach went in. At that point, I hadn’t breathed for about a minute.

 

My ventilator was hooked up. The breath didn’t come. I had intense pain in my neck.

 

The trach had gone between the layers of flesh in my neck. The trach wasn’t in my airway. I told them I couldn’t breathe. I was looking at this innocent ENT resident across the room from me.

 

The doctor pulled the trach. He called for a trach tray to re-establish my airway. Luckily, that wasn’t required. My brilliant ENT doc got the trach into my airway finally. Then, I was breathing again. I remember the events with a precision that happens when you almost stop breathing.

 

I also remember what was going through my head. I looked at that innocent resident. I wondered what would be the emotional fallout for him, that fellow Indian if I died in that room.

 

I’ll ruin you.

 

At least my life would have a lasting mark beyond the heartache my passing would cause. I was desperate for my life to mean something in those last moments. I no longer cared if it would be something good. Facing death strips everything away and leaves behind something you can’t guess.

 

Then an eerie calm took over my head.

 

So this is the last thing I’ll see.

 

My vision went yellow. It was like looking through amber at the world. Then everything started to look normal again. The resident was scared. Man was he scared.

 

That’s probably projected emotion. In difficult situations, you project your emotional states on other people or things, effectively removing them from your person.

 

I stayed the night and had to be put under to get my correct trach put in.

 

That made me question my life. Which is common after what I experienced. Is this what I want? Sitting around and just surviving day to day. What’s the point? Keep in mind I was depressed around that time. That’s when I thought about what I could do. I have a ton of time to think about stuff when people do medical things to me. That became meditation, at first. Then something that had been a desire from years ago resurfaced. That dream was to write science fiction.

That’s when my transformation starts.

 

Taylor Swift’s trajectory radically changed with Red. That album was happy at times, but it was usually sad. The end of a relationship, liking danger, sadness, and the fact of love love being elusive. Off hand, I remember just a few songs that were happy, Begin Again, State of Grace, and Everything Has Changed.

 

I wrote the most acceptable science fiction story possible and heavily obfuscated the darker elements. It was a crisp, clean, bright future. That doesn’t make a good story in itself. Then, I added memory and cryosleep elements to make a story. I thought I wasn’t good enough, so I wrote heavily wrought prose.

 

Some quirks were there because my parents have basically reversed gender roles. My father takes care of people better. My mom likes dealing with things instead. My father is more emotional than my mom. They even stand like the opposite gender. My mom stands on both feet. My dad favors one leg. That explains the strange gender roles I put in my first book.

 

I noticed a few other strange things. It could be argued that the supporting female character was actually the protagonist. In the length of the novel, she’s the hero. But in each individual scene, the main character, a man is the hero. Anyway, I enjoyed writing from a woman’s perspective more than I thought possible.

 

That’s based on me being hetero-normative. I can love women in a romantic sense. That extends to writing from a woman’s POV. I can’t have a romantic relationship with all the duties I need to complete for my survival. I even wrote a song that states my case. It will probably be really sad. I’m self-conscious putting it up here.

 

The Way I Remember You

Chorus:

You go your way

I’ll go mine

In the end what happens, who can say?

But I’ll never forget you,

The way I remember you.

Love escaped me in the dark.

Lost to the brightness of day.

Light wasn’t there for me then.

It never came my way without you.

I can never be without you

Not even for a day.

Everyone around us

Has only what we can dream.

We can only be onlookers

On what everyone else has seen.

Chorus:

You go your way

I’ll go mine

In the end what happens, who can say?

But I’ll never forget you

The way I remember you.

We never know when our time will come

It’ll not be in forever, but some day.

Until then, we try to experience what was lost

What we can never find again

The love of another we can’t be without.

The trouble we can’t live without.

There’s accusation in those eyes

Eyes I’ll never see again.

Chorus:

You go your way

I’ll go mine

In the end what happens, who can say?

But I’ll never forget you

The way I remember you.

 

That was fun, right?

 

If you love someone that’s out of your reach, than imitating them makes you feel closer to them. Like reading something, they like reading. Doing something they like doing. It’s like the fan wanting be like the star. And the closest you can get is falling in love. Which is what happened in Black Swan, this compelling psychological thriller movie that came out in 2008.

 

Nina wants to be a natural dancer like Lily. Nina dreams of sleeping with Lily.

 

In Taylor Swift’s 1989, she starts to own everything that has gone wrong. She might get hurt. People might not understand what’s going on. All that doesn’t matter, because she just wants to be herself. It doesn’t matter what that means to everybody else.

 

My second book, the Remember Sequel was an excursion into everything that Remember wasn’t. With Remember, I avoided sex. The characters from Remember were stumbling around in the dark while everything miraculously worked out for the best. In the sequel, they were self-aware enough to see the end and help it along.

 

I’d focused a ton on making Remember based in reality. That limited my science fiction. In the Sequel, I abandoned that constraint.

 

The first character I wrote in the Sequel was sexy in everything she did, like Tiffany in Truly Madly Guilty. And she was looking for something she couln’t have, durable love. She was a compelling character I enjoyed to write.

 

I abandoned the Remember Sequel on the drafting table. It wouldn’t force me to grow as a writer.

 

Taylor Swift’s reputation has more allusions to sex than her previous albums, in songs like Dress and So It Goes….

Wildest Dreams was the closest to that from 1989.

 

Then I started Book 2, The Trouble with Dreams. It has a deep thesis that a perfect life doesn’t exist. And involves more sex. Sex is one of those things that should be hidden away to make people comfortable, like religion, race, mental health, and sadness. I still didn’t have the guts to actually write erotica yet, but I had to read some not to accidentally write it. Labels mean a lot.

 

What’s in a name except meaning?

 

A few months ago I would have said nothing is in a name except a shared definition.

 

Then I finally wrote something pieces that looked professional. The first was kosher. Then second was PG-13. The fourth was erotica. It had to happen eventually, right? I have no firsthand experience, but it seems nice. And it’s a part of growing up. It’s the modern day’s rite of passage like hunting was long ago.

 

I can write whatever is required in service of a particular story.

 

The shedding of what other people think of me has been the biggest evolution of my writing in these five years I’ve been at it.

 

Mission accomplished I think.

 

GK

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Misguided Bais?

 

The mirror-like surface of the water stretches out a few feet below me. My tawny white wings glide across the steady gust produced from just above the surface. Miniscule adjustments steady my course. Wings trail each arm, outstretched to capture any available lift. The end of each crowned with solitary feathers sticking out as if fingers. I resume my mission to vanquish the mad blight on these lands.

 

I work my way up with effortless strokes of my mighty air movers. These wings move forward slicing through the smooth air for lift. My wings slide back through the air, facing the sky. The rhythmic motions prove efficient from years of traveling on the air. The fluid motions start at the base and move through its length each stroke. I retreat from the restrictive landscape to my home within the wide sky. Everything shrinks away showing me what there’s below. The fast flowing river nestled inside the river valley of its own creation. The V-shaped valley carved over many eons gave rise to valleys for the helper rivers. Each inset valley ends in a waterfall, continually working to deepen the efforts of erosion. I drift over to the black stone bank to catch an uplifting current. I glide in a spiral within this elevator shaft.

 

My constant vigil holds for the archenemy of the Doves. The Ravens, a vile race of winged carrion eater, will to devour anything that matches their vile nature. In the rare chance they are looking for a hunt, our food is the target. Anything between them and their hungry desire trampled as is the way of the Raven. These foul creatures run amok in their own lands, any encroachment into the border greeted with lethal force. It stays within my full rights to eradicate any Raven that crosses my path. I intend to reap revenge for all the wrongs committed by them. The consumption of our dead cannot go without consequence.

 

The “caw-caw-cawing” erupting from the throat of one such trespasser pierces the air. Those Ravens get bolder in their actions with each passing day of peace. I look out searching for the source of that latest vocal outburst. The lair of this enemy assumes a nature unmistakable in these river valleys, a tunnel at the back of a waterfall leading to a second exit. Any sign illusive but I see it now. The sight of black beak and feather, the blackness of an unscrupulous eye gazing at me verifies enough. I exit the upward spiral to meet these Ravens in their fortress.

 

The maneuver in this case, well rehearsed to deal the most damage, of such precision and speed it relegates defense to impossibility, at least. I increase the strokes to generate a fearsome wind at my back. The speed flattens my feathers against my flesh. The protective coverings shield my eyes from whatever awaits me. Just reaching the fall acts as my cue to begin the flightless roll. My arms, enshrouded in wings sealed against my sides. The tail feathers strapped across my legs leap into action controlling my spin. The water showers me in the cool refreshing wash, preparing me for the necessary action.

 

The start of combat slows every otherwise fast movement to snail’s pace. I look up to see eight of those hideous creatures dirtying the pristine white stone. A compliment of eight throwing knives and two cutlasses fit to dispatch these foes. I spin to see the first looming figure standing there. A flick to the wrist liberates the knife from its holster and sends it into the crow. I see the white of marbled stone. The next villain faces the knife as easily as the last. I wonder why they aren’t following their namesake of attack. They remain motionless prey to my predation. The next one takes another flick of the wrist, a reaction from within the solemn guard. They move in closer to my path, allowing me to pass. The sinister plan of defense starts to emerge. The next Raven quakes down with a hit to the throat. My perfect feathers take on stain of the deep red blood from my attacks to throat and heart. The sticky, sickly liquid forms a restrictive barrier upon mine own feathers, hindering movement. The next two impede, impossible to miss. The shells of dried blood encase me to greater and greater disability. The hesitation on my part allows the first defensive action, the blockage of my knives by wings. This measure is far from effective due the delayed response and the purely defensive maneuver. My doubts creep up that I’m the aggressor in this situation. My attack must continue for my people.

 

The crowning room of this base resides, the nesting room. The clutches of the eight males outside lives inside. One female stands vigil as all that’s left of this site, an oval room encrusted with countless dozens of multicolored eggs. The female waits for me at the rear exit. The cutlass from my side lands upon my breast, ready for action. My limited motions enable plunging a narrow blade into the breast of the final Raven. Her mass and bulk puts an end to my twirling and sends me into a summersault. I break through the glass barrier at the second exit and descend into the dark chasm in my entombed feathers. The hollow prison of my blood and theirs follows as penance.

 

GK

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Lyrics, Literary Devices, and Writing Cross-Application

 

I listen to a ton of music while editing. Music is one of the few things that get me through the editing process. I’m frequently bored out of my mind editing something. Unlike writing, editing doesn’t require undivided attention. Focusing on editing makes me remember what I wanted to write instead of what’s on the page. Listening to music teaches me ways to add elements of lyric writing in story writing, specifically literary devices.

 

Memory has always been something I could do well under a few special circumstances. Math and science, historical stories, things I’ve read, things I’ve watched, and things I’ve heard. My strong emotions help the remembrance of those things. That explains why I could get straight A’s in high school, despite the fact my insufficient caloric intake made me basically dumb. I could still remember stuff, but the ability to make creative leaps was beyond me.

 

Listening to music isn’t a fruitless enterprise. Song lyrics are a mixture of prose and poetry, instrumentals and vocals. Sometimes the connecting patterns are in instruments and vocals. This article is just about prose and poetry of lyrics. Because that transfers the easiest.

 

Of course, using a metered verse can add beat to prose and poetry. That isn’t something I know or use well. I know how to write in iambic meter, because the first language I ever learned was entirely iambic, Tamil. The phrases and words themselves sound more musical than average English. The other metered beats like the trochee, dactyl, and anapest are something I haven’t used. The dactyl and anapest, the three syllable variations are daunting to me.

 

Then writing designed to go with music or with music as the inspiration. I’ve played with the first when writing and thought about using it on this blog. And a literary magazine uses another approach, paintings for inspiration.

 

This post uses music freely available on Youtube. I’ll put up the Google Music and Spotify Web Player Links. As far as I know, Google gives a free listen and Spotify requires a free account. And the Youtube links. Relevant excerpts are below with explanations. Some have multiple literary devices at the same time.

 

My approach to literary devices is just reading and remembering quirks of writing I’ve read. Then I simply use those techniques. For the sake of this post, I researched the names for the quirks listed below. They’re actual literary devices and the references are all from LitCharts.com.

 


 

Google Music

Artboard 1-100

That’s a rhyme. We all know about that one. Two words with similar sounding syllables.

 

Artboard 2-100

 

That’s anadiplosis. The end of one sentence is repeated again at the beginning of the next. And rhyming.

 


 

Google Music

 

Artboard 3-100

That’s anaphora. It’s the repeating of the first few words for successive clauses. Two instances above. Ending anaphora with and different clause beginning, with some connection to the previous clauses. In this case that’s rhyming.

 


 

Google Music

 

Artboard 4-100

First parallelism, the same sentence structure repeated. Then that’s epizeuxis. It’s repeating a series of words with no intervening words. More rhyming.

 


 

Google Music

 

Artboard 5-100

I would call that diacope. It’s the repetition of words with other words between each repetition.

 

That’s all the lyric examples I have for now. Now examples I’ll come up with.

 


 

Rhyming:

Think of the preposterous,

Thus imagine the wondrous.

Get stuck in the marvelous,

Never return to the salacious.

 


 

Anadiplosis:

The struggle is with time. With time we have so much, yet not enough.

I need a meditation retreat. A meditation retreat will relax me.

We struggle for superfluous things. For superfluous things we do anything.

 


 

Anaphora:

We want time.

We want things.

We want friends.

Finding all that misses one thing, finding happiness in your own skin.

 


 

Parallelism:

The trouble of doing nothing and stagnatng.

The truth of learning something and growing.

 


 

Epizeuxis:

Life is more wonderful than you can imagine, more wonderful than you can imagine.

There is absolutely nothing wrong, absolutely nothing wrong.

 

“Who are you going to be after all this?”

“After all of this?”

 


 

Diacope:

Try finding truth, finding wisdom, and you’ll soon discover finding isn’t an easy thing. Everything that needs finding isn’t that far away, everything that needs finding is right inside.

 


 

This was somewhat useful I think. These devices of repetition are useful to build power in writing. That’s great for the purposes of conclusion. And as an accent to draw attention. But there are many ways to do that. A concise conclusion makes a difference, it surely does. Those examples verify that I need practice in their application in the construction of prose. There, that was the least bit successful. Maybe this helps, maybe it doesn’t. But understand it I will.

I will get this.

GK

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The 1,200 Word Story

 

I’ve been thinking about how to write a piece of flash fiction. How to fit the components of a story in 1,200 words? I accidentally write 250-500 word stories. I have no intention of writing a particular scene as a complete story. Those short story paragraphs are in the middle of a longer piece. That actually works really well. If each scene has all the parts of a story, then multiple scenes build a longer piece.

 

Learning about this length of a story, 1,200 words should help my story writing a ton. It’ll help me find the essential parts of a story. What can be left out, and what can’t. It’ll teach me more ways a story can go. And writing that word count should take me a day to type out. That’s how I learn best. I closely study things related to my primary goal. Flash fiction is so close to novel writing, we’re splitting hairs. Most writers practice with short stories before getting into longer things. I also want to get published somewhere. This new skill will help.

wp

I was researching literary magazines for somewhere to send my future short stories. That means, for me opening tabs in my browser of potential magazines. I screen through for criteria the precludes a few things that aren’t feasible for me. I’m not happy ordering a print copy because that’s difficult for me to access. I’m not sure about ordering digital versions from providers with worrisome persistence. If a digital service shuts down, it’s possible you lose access to everything on there. That means publications with a few free examples. At first, I was going through the list at Writer’s & Poet’s. Then I found a list for new writer’s. All those tabs are open in my browser.

New Writer Magazine

I add each to this spreadsheet I keep. That includes the description of what they want and submission guidelines. I read through two pieces and a lot more if they’re shorter. I started researching The Zodiac Review. It’s just flash fiction. I’ve come across a lot of magazines that accept flash fiction. Given the fact that the majority of the short stories featured on Radical GK are less than 1,000 words, it should be pretty easy, right?

excel

Well, it’s not. Those stories aren’t exactly complete. Those were designed with emotional impact in mind. They weren’t supposed to be stories in themselves. And they bear that out. The writing is lyrical but too difficult to understand. Look at The Sum of an Empty Life. About 13% in, C decides to wait for Brian Whalen. That’s the first plot point which is supposed to happen 20-25% in. The second plot point is C walking away with Brian’s briefcase. That happens 44% through the story. That’s nearly right. The part where C figures out the combo is the third plot point. That’s 79% in. The fact I wrote that story two years into my writing journey is amazing to me. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. The story structure is nearly spot on.

life

I didn’t come prepared to write this post. That simply means I’ll discover something in the process. The last paragraph planted an idea. Maybe I should just forget about everything I learned in Story Engineering by Larry Brooks and return to the way I used to do things. Just maybe.

story-1

 

Anyway in my research, I found a few ways to tell a story in 1,200 words. There’s this much longer piece (The Watchers). It feels like that method could be brought over to this. You list the scenes with a break between each scene. That could work, right?

sequence

Some story lines are better for that method. If the story is done so much that the reader knows the sequence of scenes. If it isn’t scene after scene in rapid succession. Some time can pass between each scene. For example the development of PTSD in soldiers. It usually isn’t one event (scene), but a long series of stressful events. If the sequence of scenes isn’t all that important, or the sequence of scenes doesn’t matter. For example the story of going from place to place, a travel story. Establishing the connections between scenes is tricky. And the reader is always searching for how much time passed between each scene.

Zodiac

There’s this other story (The Game) that uses another technique to tell flash fiction. I call it the slow reveal. It combines story with exposition. That works well when one event exemplifies a continuing pattern. I’ll provide an example of my own below. As the indicative event takes place, exposition adds the missing plot points on their time cues. The plot points can come from the exemplifying event or the flashbacks to the continuing pattern. In the piece I linked to, the first plot point is the generalization of what usually happens (20% in). The second plot point is how they act towards each other, the protagonist and his competition who is also his friend (53% in) Then the argument about who won (77% in). That matches the established structure nearly to a tee. That’s the structure from Story Engineering. I have another shorter example from this blog I follow.

second example

The last technique is the obvious one, writing it like a regular story except having the transformation happen in one scene. Like when a battle turns into a win. What happens is the enemy heavily bombards you. A new enemy weakness is discovered, and you defeat them. That isn’t too difficult.

 

1,200 word stories need a plot that works with the length. Too complicated, hard to explain plots are much harder to get across in the limited space. More nuance can be achieved with the second technique, the slow reveal.  That’s using one event to establish a pattern of behavior. That kind of feels like cheating to me.

 

A story needs to do a number of jobs in sequence as Story Engineering taught me in definable terms. Here’s the list from memory. Gain sympathy for the character from something bad happening. Establish the character or stakes. Basically the before state. Then the character decides to take the quest which is the first plot point. The character responds to what the choice brings. The character finds something internally or externally that allows them to face the conflict, second plot point. They fight against the conflicting force and lose. The character finds the missing piece to success and the will to do anything to prevail, third plot point. The events play out, enemy defeat or character dying in the process. That story I divided into plot points above shows there are many ways to fill those requirements. Accept the challenge, get permission to engage, and proof they will do anything to remain friends. You can combine those requirements anyway that works into different scenes as long as the sequence doesn’t change. That means anywhere from one scene on up.

 

This is an example plot. Abuse story: woman is abused, entering relationship flashback, hiding bruises at work, buying a gun flashback, trying to talk about it with support person, returning home hoping he isn’t there, pushed to the ground changes her mind to kill him, murder then admitting to self-defense. You could easily replace any of those scenes with anything the fills the same purpose.

 

Hiding from abuser, has to return for belongings, friend doesn’t show up so leave, buying gun/pepper spray, return to get stuff and defend, stalking causes restraining order, face him with gun, run away/disappear.

 

Fear with partner, abuse cause visible symptoms, run away, abuser follows and finds, ran away after facing enemy, finds new partner, kill abuser together, live free from suspicion.

 

All of those work. A different method perhaps, but it’s doable. Those are my explorations of 1,200 word stories. The plot has to specifically engineered to fit the constriants of the length. With novels, any story can fit. A focused story is required for shorter formats. That’s everything I have to say. Feel free to add more in the comments below.

 

Coverphoto credit: Photo by Andre Benz on Unsplash

 

GK

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Evolution of My Writings

 

“Write what you know.”

–Mark Twain

 

That’s one of the most used writing phrases out there. It’s become a cliché. But what does that mean? Banalities frequently stick in my head. There’s a bigger lesson to be learned from simple phrases such as that one.

 

Writing that reflects first-hand experience feels more real than pure fiction. What’s the cause of that feeling? I ask myself that question a ton. Why do I feel, guilty for example? That’s what meditation is currently for me. Why am I feeling this way? The feeling that something is real or pops off the page. What determines the difference? I need to know to write well.

 

My experiences seem far removed from the everyday life of most people, hence the moniker, Radical Thinker. That comes from a few personality quirks. I don’t listen to other people unless some avenue of proof is available. Of course, that precludes generally accepted theories like science and any reasonable thought process. Still, external confirmation. That process invites deep thought and learning stuff through observation. Add that to the differences in my emotional landscape discussed here. Adding that to my medical condition gives me different experiences than the average functioning adult. I bridge that gap by observing and using my imagination for the rest. Like going to work. Like dating. Like being in a relationship. Like playing a cello. Like having bipolar depression. Like basically anything within the bounds of reality.

 

It can’t ever be the real thing. There’s something missing. The most impactful details are remembered. The rest is forgotten. Doing that in a fictional construct is really difficult. Those imaginings aren’t real. They fade away like a dream after you wake up.

 

I have two examples for you guys. First the song lyrics from Taylor Swift’s autobiographical song Out of the Woods.

Out of the woodc

That has the quality I was talking about. There’s just enough detail to seem real. It supposedly is. Two details. The camera and where they were. Giving just enough detail is nearly impossible without first-hand experience. The compilation of what should be remembered and what shouldn’t is one way to get the feeling of reality.

 

I have another example of feeling real. It taps into another method, the relatability of something. It’s from Ella Dawson’s blog, Post Grad Warriors. I’m a fan of her writing, read this for more.

Ella

That’s basically what happens to everyone after college. Sometimes you drift away from your college friends. And sometimes you’re bound for life.Sometimes you connect with people that were there in the background. Still, there’s connection. Still, there’s shared experience.

 

I read something researching how to write well. It said, “use three senses when writing every scene.”[1] “Naked, Drunk, and Writing: Shed Your Inhibitions and Craft a Compelling Memoir or Personal Essay” by Adair Lara,  referencing Flannery O’Connor in “The Nature and Aim of Fiction” That also works. You add three sensory feelings in every scene you write. One of the pieces I saw on CritiqueCircle was published into a book. Here’s the first paragraph of The Boyfriend by Alex Pilails.

alio

First, there was the music, strobe lights, sweaty people, and the way they danced. That’s more than three senses, but this is an overwhelming place, a nightclub. So three senses make you feel you’re there. More depending on how intense the situation is. Fewer than three if it’s boring like a long sink to the seafloor. Sight first. Sound next if it matters, or smell. Something along those lines.

 

That’s a change for me, this checklist of senses.

 

Something else showed up when I wrote a couple of short stories. I actually have relatable personal experiences. They’re all personal emotional experiences. That’s where my extreme emotions come into play. Exploring their root causes is an added tool given to me by mediation.

 

That started as figuring out how to write creative non-fiction. Read this one, that one, and that other one for more. I used those new skills to write this post for Medium and this other one for BayArt. Writing non-fiction helped this change come about. I’m all about cross-application of knowledge and lessons learned.

 

That carried over to fiction writing where it could. I’ll write up a short paragraph on the feeling of guilt I felt this morning. Here it is:

 


Guilt

Guilt is that nagging feeling, the perpetual elephant stalking you from room to room, everywhere you go. It starts small, like the way big things always start. It seems insignificant at first. Then it grows and grows until it’s an elephant on your chest. It doesn’t have to be an elephant. Most guilt isn’t that severe. It’s a rock in your shoe that doesn’t go away until it’s dealt with. It’s an annoyance that hurts the more it’s in there. There are ways to scrub away the annoyance, the weight hanging around you. All it takes is an apology, but it’s not as easy as saying sorry. You get caught in the doldrums of your anxiety. Is an apology required in this situation? It’s not just you against your guilt. There’s another person involved, the one you wronged.

 

Are they hurt? Did the mistake bother you more than it should? Does the aggrieved see the wrong as you would, as you do? If not, there’s the pickle. Should you apologize and risk highlighting your mistake, your error. Well if you did, the elephant disappears, the rock vanishes. Then you get to pick up the cards dropped where they may fall. You have to move on and forget the turn in your fortune. What was once peaceful friendship became your torture for a while, but you mustn’t forget it. Those that forget are soon to repeat mistakes anew. Those that conjure the elephant, those that create the stone are always there. Never repeat the mistake, never call guilt forth. Mistakes are human, and we are human after all. But humans can change, and so can we.

 


 

There. My example of writing what I know. Guilt as the case is.

 

Featured Picture Credit: Photo by Jonatan Pie on Unsplash

 

GK

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Things I Screw Up in Writing

how the write

I finished reading How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James N. Frev. It gave me things to learn I frequently ignore. A few tips redefined a few things like what to explain and what to leave out. The book is about writing dramatic stories, not the literary I frequently write. My literary pieces have a strong dramatic storyline and a deep internal conflict. The lessons learned are invaluable in improving my writing.

 

low res final
Photo by Matthew Kane on Unsplash.

 

The character must be fathomable. Explain their motivations, character attributes, and decision-making process. My writing process directly opposes this requirement. I establish a new thought pattern in my head to match the character I’m writing. That’s only possible because I’ve spent nearly a decade and a half mediating. Acting out physical traits isn’t something my diseased body is capable of. That mental model is as close as I can get. Thinking like your character makes the motivations, character attributes, and decision-making process apparent and self-explanatory. It should be second nature. Stuff that doesn’t feel wrong as that character. Everything except that particular action feels wrong. Putting that on paper isn’t tricky at all, except I never know how much to put down. This book helped a lot. Include everything required to understand the characters.

dark matter

Each scene should be a story in its own right. The scenes should have all the pieces of a story. A beginning setting up the conflict. A middle of rising tension. Finally a build up to the conclusion. When a book has that it’s difficult to stop reading. A perfect example is Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. It followed that pattern. Each scene was a story in its own right.

 

 

 

 

There needs to be a connection of causality between scenes. Watch this, the best discussion on causality that appears in a feature film in my opinion. The events must require the events prior to lead up to them. A connects to B, then C. The web of causality must connect from one to the next. Again this is exemplified in Dark Matter. Of course, literary novels frequently forgo that rules. But getting things in line helps to justify those tangents literary is famous for.

 

Dialogue should also follow the structure of a story. No conflict in dialogue means it can be rewritten or scrapped. Standard conversations we have every day can easily be reduced to one summarizing sentence. We talk about this or that.

 

Sometimes things go down. You come away reeling and need to spew everything to someone you trust. Those are the sorts of conversations dialogue should be. I noticed that in my first novel. The lunchroom conversations were boring to read but the arguments were impactful. Leaving out the daily dribble of conversation helped my story beyond measure.

 

Reading How to Write a Damn Good Novel and Dark Matter in a basic requirement for any writer. The theory expressed in the book about writing is exemplified in Dark Matter. Read both and get back to me. Kidding.

 

Cover photo credit: Photo by Baiq Bilqis on Unsplash.

Photo enhancement and editing by me.

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