Memoirs, Writing Fiction, and the Difference

Memoir is really very similar to fiction in how it’s written. They both follow the same structure. Events are organized in the framework of a story. The flow isn’t interrupted to preserve the totality of events. Things that pertain to the story being told are included. Everything else is left out. Fiction is an additive method. Memoir is subtractive. You take a subset of everything you remember and from that into a cohesive story. Events are picked from a multitude of things that actually happened.

This selection of events is apparent in movies based on true events or a dramatization of the truth. Take for example, Steve Jobs. I’ve watched three versions of Jobs’ life. First, the biopic starring Ashton Kutcher, Jobs. Then the factual documentary Man in the Machine. Finally, Steve Jobs directed by Arron Sorkin and starring Michael Fassbender.

Each movie had a different angle. Jobs was about Jobs getting ideas and using them to be the best. Man in the Machine is trying to be as unbiased as possible. It was the most balanced but tried to talk about the relatively unknown things about Jobs. Steve Jobs was controversial in its directorial and writing direction. It omitted his accomplishments for the most part and focused on his relationship with his daughter, Lisa.

All in all, the based on true story movies tried to make Jobs relatable. And the perception of Jobs was he wasn’t approachable. He was a strict, straight to business type of guy. He had stringent expectations and expected them to be met. He was thought to be the driving force behind Apple’s success. Each movie took a different approach to humanize and create a connection with the audience. Sorkin focused on Jobs’ personal life and matched it to Apple’s performance/Jobs’ fortunes. Jobs started us with Jobs as a student that couldn’t really connect with anyone except when he started Apple. Man in the Machine used his relationship with the mother of his daughter.

 

Memoir and fiction follow the same pattern. First, we see the character before anything starts. Then, something happens they have to react to. Then, they try fixing the problem different ways and fail successive times. Then, something starts working. Finally, the character succeeds, finds something that changes their life forever, and the story ends. This matches the character arc of a fictional story. Fiction adds an external conflict. When the character arc is the main conflict, it’s a literary story.

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Some recent stories have a strong character arc and conflict arc that are nearly equivalent in importance. Take The Girl on the Train as an example. The character arc of Rachel’s drinking and the central conflict of finding Megan’s killer. Or Gone Girl. The internal conflict is how Amy feels about Nick and the external conflict is Amy’s murder. Adding a strong character arc to a compelling plot brings a story up by an arm and a leg.

girl on the train

I recently read Naked, Drunk, and Writing by Adair Lara. She is a prolific writer of memoirs and personal essays. She pointed out some key points. You have to be a hero, not a victim. It’s easy in this society and time to feel like a victim. You need a time in your life where you take action. A bad thing comes your way, and you fix it. Getting your car stolen is bad luck. Bad stuff happens. But if you track down the thieves, steal your car back, and you learn how to overcome a debilitating fear of confrontation. Then, it becomes a story that works in a memoir.

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You need to be done with the problem. If you haven’t found a way out, there’s nothing really there. Struggling and still struggling with the issue you want to write about, it is too soon. The writer needs perspective to make a memoir. You need to know the lesson and be detached enough to know what really happened. People read a memoir to gain a new understanding of the human condition. Something that can help figure out life, a little better.

 

A few things are in the way of me writing personal essays. When I write about myself, the writing comes out snobbish and stand-offish. I have allows been a little showoff. For years, I never knew why I wanted to prove my intelligence. Recently, I found the reason behind it. I have always felt less than everyone else because of my physical limitations. I always felt a little trapped by my condition. My way out and to feel better about being “less”, I try to feel equal by proving my intelligence more than balances out my physical weakness. That realization changed a lot, but I still worry about falling back into old habits.

 

When I have in-depth conversations about my intense emotional states and the inner workings of my mind, the person on the other end doesn’t understand me. That’s because I’ve never tried telling people even a percentage of that stuff. I have trouble relating to other people. I’ve been anti-social for that long. I’m slowly improving there.

 

This is an example of a recent conversation where I try to get better at explaining something.

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Recently saw Collateral Beauty. It’s about a father that recently lost his 6-year-old daughter to cancer. He writes letters to Death, Time, and Love and they reply. Towards the end, there was a really emotional scene where he admits his daughter is dead. I actually had tears forming a well in my eyes but didn’t allow any out. I pulled away emotionally.

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Why didn’t you let your tears come? Don’t you think you’re cutting out emotion unnecessarily?

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Whenever I describe something in too much detail, it doesn’t make sense. I need to fix that before writing a memoir. I’ll try my usual description first.

 

Emotional history: Started as a person with normal reactions to my emotions. Feeling them and becoming numb when some emotion became too much. Everyone does that except it isn’t going to happen frequently for most people. For example losing a close loved one. That might happen a few times. Simple sadness was enough to make me numb after a little while.

 

Then I started to decrease the threshold before I became numb. It worked for a time, and I reached my goal to fit as a male in American society. At one point, I was unable to feel anything.

 

Then, I slowly reduced the threshold when numbness happened. Through that still ongoing process, I thought I was rediscovering something I lost. That moment, watching that movie, I was in a struggle to stay there and feel. Becoming numb would have been slightly easier. There was a standstill and anything could tip the balance. Something did.

 

A better image. Everyone has three parts to their psyche. We’ll ignore the superego. There are various names that work for superego like conscience, mother’s voice, God, and hindsight. We’ll ignore that.

 

There’s a childish side or you at your weakest, id, baby, or the person you would be without an external influence. Then the protector, ego, or what the world made you into. The protector usually acts in small ways. Like covering your face, when you cry. Hiding you away, when you’re boiling mad. Putting on a brave face, when you’re really scared. It basically reacts to what the baby wants and finds a socially acceptable way to meet those needs.

 

What happens with normal emotions? The protector does those little things. When something too much happens, like the death of a close loved one, the protector says, “Baby, you need some time in your quite room. I’ll be with you the whole time. Too much is going on out here.” You become numb while the baby has some time away from life.

 

For someone like me, the baby cries bloody murder when something sad happens. Everything is exaggerated beyond the average. A baby like that spends too much time in the quite room. That baby never gets to experience a lot, because a lot of things are too much.

 

I increased the sensitivity of my protector to the baby by showing the protector more emotional states. Like an abused child, the protector grew more attuned to the tormentor, the whiny baby. Then the baby spends less time out and then none at all.

 

Right now, I’m dismantling the safe room. If an external threat appears, the deconstruction stops or reverses temporarily. Very similar to the process of growing up.

 

That’s still a little confusing.

 

The other part is sharing too much. The vulnerability of it. We’re all scared to sharing too much. That allows the possibility of getting hurt. The more you share, the greater the rejection. I feel like I should share my life’s lessons. I’ve been through a lot. Moving to a different country at five and never going back. My medical experiences that vastly over date my time to 28 years of age. Then the lessons meditation taught me. Finally finding meaning in my life. There is a lot I could share. There might be a memoir in my future. We’ll see.

 

Going Back: High School

This previous summer, I went to my ten-year high school reunion. I think the best thing is to describe how I was during High School. I was shy and more anti-social than anyone I knew. A lot of things that could have broken my shyness came my way, but I’d always been too stubborn to let it take. I made a few loose friends during school hours, and that was everything I knew about being social. And I was satisfied with that. Frequently, I was lonely and my imagination grew to fill the space. That’s how I coped.

 

Anyway, that was over ten years ago. It’s kind of embarrassing that I’ve been looking forward to the reunion for around five years at the point it was announced. I had developed a few ideas about reunions that likely fit with my emotional state through a vast number of years after high school. I had misconceptions about the whole thing. I thought two kinds of people went to reunions. First, those that had their best years in High School. That fit with the jealousy I had for people that could navigate the social landscape way better than I ever could. Then, the people that wanted to show everyone how they had changed since High School. I put myself into that group even though I hadn’t changed a ton until two-three years ago. I credit meditation and writing with those changes. Being ignorant in social matters doesn’t work for a writer, writing, and marketing. I was wrong. Popular media is way off.

 

I went as a test for myself and to see people from years ago. There were a few things I needed to know about myself. A personal test motivates me the most. I needed to check if I wanted to talk to people and could overcome my anxiety/insecurity/shyness. Basically, if everything I’d worked on was good enough. Also, I wanted to test if I could use my new communication device in a social setting with real world conditions. And if I could network and hand out business cards. And if having someone driving my chair worked good enough.

 

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Photo by Bulkan Evcimen on Unsplash. Enhancement by Graham Kar.

 

I went in with my nurse, a wheelchair driver, and the medical supplies I always have with me. I meet one of the people I’d wanted to see. We had a nice conversation, and I gave a business card. Success! And somehow I engaged in a conversation with someone new I never remembered meeting before. That has never happened in my entire life, if you can believe that. The device wasn’t loud enough in the ambient noise of the reunion. Using the device was much harder with the distraction of the people around but still manageable. A few people called my name and I smiled at them. I had no idea they wanted to talk to me until near the end. Communicating that to my driver was near impossible. I couldn’t think at my best in the slight crowd. I could’ve typed it on my device but it never occurred to me. At that point, I decided to go out to the patio for something different.

 

I meet the other person I’d wanted to see out there. The device didn’t work outside. I tried for a solid 30 minutes it seemed like. Then I figured out having the device up was sending the same message as if I was using my phone. I put the device down and returned to the person I was in High School. I silently nodded and smiled while other people talked in front of me and other people spoke for me. I wanted to talk the whole time though. It was two hours into the reunion by then.

 

I returned to the main reunion room. I would have to leave within thirty minutes to make it into bed sometime before eleven. By eight thirty, I had to leave. A have a ton of medical stuff to do before going to sleep. By the time I was back inside, people were beginning to get drunk. The late arrivals were sober still. I don’t drink and rarely eat anything through my mouth. A few people looked stunned to see me. Another test passed. I could finally read facial expressions.

 

I was disconnected from my emotions, facial expressions, and physical manifestations for so long that determining facial expressions in others was impossible. I always had intense emotions and during high school everything was buried for some degree of normalcy. That hid a large part of the social learning most people were going through in the teen years. That reunion night, I read facial expressions and responded with my own instinctually. I got the expression of stunned then surprise. I hurriedly looked away as she looked into my eyes. Accidentally, they moved up in an eye roll. If anything, I was too honest. You’re surprised I showed up? Well, I don’t care. I’m here, deal with it. At that point, I didn’t have anyone else I’d wanted to see.

 

I wanted to talk to people that used be unapproachable. I could use the device indoors. Typing up phrase before hand is a must at parties and crowded places. Sometimes reading the communication device is easier than hearing what it says sometimes. The backup system is abysmal in comparison, allowing people to speak for me. I need to drive my chair around. Body language is a huge part of social interaction. It’s not something that can be delegated.

 

It was a learning experience, and I’ll never forget it. I’ll fix all the mistakes I made. I rarely make a mistake more than once these days. I’ll figure out this social stuff like I figured out everything else. Nothing can stop me. Hard work can get you anything. Here are a few words about change from Tony Robbins.

 

“Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.”

— Tony Robbins

 

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Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash. Enhancements by Graham Kar.

 

 

The Others and Why I Can’t Stop Reading

I came upon a series a few years ago. It’s a series called The Others, written by Anne Bishop. For a long time, I’ve been thinking what about the series makes me coming back, except having purchased the entire series up to now. A lot of things can keep me coming back, but everything from before doesn’t work with this series. The characters aren’t particularly interesting. The world in the book isn’t that different from real life. Nothing is really there from a first glance.

 

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Written in Red, Book #1

Hopefully, this blog post will help me figure out what’s the appeal of The Others. Written in Red was the first book I’ve read that starts with an introduction that says the history of a fictional world. It basically says alongside humans there was another comparable top predator. Bishop refers to these other people as the Others, Earth Natives, or terra indigene. Well, the Earth Natives control the natural resources and humans make stuff. Everything humans have is basically rented or purchased from the terra indigene. One area in Europe is rightfully under human control without owing the Others anything.

 

 

I’ll dissect that idea here. The terra indigene are creatures that take on the form of other top predators they encounter. Most of them have a human and animal form. Some can become smoke. Others shift into the elements. And others can turn into anything at will. This relates to skinwalkers in our world, people of myth that can supposedly take the shape of animals. I equate the Others to Native Americans who have way more power due to their ability to be stronger and just as smart. What happens if the invaders or early explorers found people much more dangerous than themselves? Something very similar to the world of the Others happens.

 

This dynamic sometimes gets interesting. The clash between the Others and humans is always there in the background, but it isn’t that big in my mind. That dynamic has appeared a few times in other stories. Basically, every vampire and werewolf story is like that. I don’t really like that monster genre. Where the protagonist is a vampire or werewolf.

 

In the first book, Written in Red the moment that got me in was the nature of the cassandra sangue or blood prophet. Some girls and women have the ability to tell prophecies after they’re cut. That was new to this genre. After cutting, they speak and experience euphoria or hold it in to remember the vision and feel the pain of the cut. That euphoria bugged me for a little bit. I decided that was plain fiction. One such person, Meg is the protagonist of this story.

 

The combination of those two storylines effectively drives the story forward. Each book delves into a different aspect of those concepts. A series exploring the same facets of something in each book quickly grows repetitive. I haven’t read any adult series, but that makes sense based on the other series I’ve read.

 

Written in Red was about Meg escaping the compound and finding work with the Others. People like Meg, cassandra sangue were allowed to be held against their will by benevolent caretakers to help them survive their addiction to cutting and the euphoria. Those rules didn’t prohibit cutting the girls to make a profit by selling prophecies/cuts. Basically, the rich wanted that to continue, so they had their lobbyists pressure the government. Meg escaped one of those facilities. Most cassandra sangue weren’t exposed to the outside world so living outside was difficult.

 

Bishop adds new jargon throughout her books. I found that interesting as a writer. How should I introduce new words through fiction? The learning curve required probably wouldn’t work with how I write, but seeing it for real was something. The first one was A walk on the wild side, basically an intimate liaison between a human and a human form terra indigene.

 

The storyline was a group of mercenaries went after Meg at the courtyard of the Others. Meg’s visions alerted them to the attack. Premonitions are an effective way to drive stories forward. Each book has them in different lights. In Written in Red, Meg spoke aloud her visions and other people interpreted the few words she spoke. In the second book, Murder of Crows, Meg dreamed her visions first. After cutting, she held in the vision and did everything she needed to do to save the most people. The third book was frustrating. Vision in Silver didn’t show the full prophecies. The bits and pieces we got were impossible to decipher until it actually came true. Right now, I’m reading book four, Marked in Flesh. Meg uses cards to reveal prophecy and other cassandra sangue bolster her abilities.

 

murder of crows
Murder of Crows, Book #2

Murder of Crows is about two drugs, feel good and gone over wolf. Both are the same drug. The Others get feel good, a downer. Humans get gone over wolf, an upper for aggression and courage. Those drugs egged humans on to kill a group of Others that were shifted to Crows, hence the title. A group of people attack the Others’ courtyard like in book #1. Bishop made the similarity between the euphoria cassandra sangue felt and sexual pleasure. The villain drew me in. She was beyond convinced that the Others behaved like humans. A sexy body didn’t affect the others in any way. They didn’t find thin people appetizing, except in rare occasions. Her behavior was strange to them, and that cracked me up. I know I’m strange, hence the moniker radical.

 

 

vision in sliver
Vision in Silver, Book #3

Vision in Silver was about finding a way for cassandra sangue to in live the outside world. The other plot was about the rising friction between the humans and others. Somehow jewels financing the human uprising got into the hands of the Others, and people wanted it back. The Others are more deadly than people can imagine.

 

 

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Marked in Flesh, Book #3

Marked in Flesh is the first real attack on the Others. The events leading up to and after the event are chronicled. You can guess what happens when a weaker force underestimates and attacks a stronger and more vicious force. Again, prophecy pushes the story forward.

 

 

A few things about the series bug me. The shifter story element seems all too familiar in this genre of urban fantasy. Sometime I should probably read the most successful series in this genre, The Twilight Saga. Haven’t had the pleasure yet, but eventually. The cutting experience is very different from reality in some ways and similar in others. Euphoria doesn’t result, and cutting isn’t as it seems in the book. Cutting is a response to some internal frequently psychological occurrence. A lot of unnecessary details are abundant. I doubt we need to read the characters changing between boots and indoor shoes every time they enter a building. The plethora of characters bugs me. It seems like in every book, a handful of characters just appear. If each character was new, dynamic, and transformative that would be something. The characters, except a few, seem like filler or a different name to use. Those flat characters aren’t even described frequently, externally or internally. Each book assumes you remember quite a lot about the characters, but the books come out months apart. I know a few books down the line, I’ll pull the ejection seat.

 

Anne Bishop does a few good things. There are a ton of subplots. Something is always going on. The descriptions of the buzzing, tingling, and prickling skin are effective as a divining rod to find the focus of a prophecy. Different characters are used as the point of view for different sections of the book, from chapters to a few lines. Meg’s battle with addiction is interesting, because it doesn’t exist exactly like that in real life. The basis is probably chemical addiction like smoking. I wish that so many Native Americans weren’t wiped out during the settlement of the world. The native people weren’t doing anything wrong, and we needlessly eliminated them in mass numbers. Maybe the world of the Others is how things could’ve been. The aspect of writing simply and getting complex ideas across interests me. Also, the way Bishop manages to put a sinister light on the most basic interactions.

 

The Others is a great series to read. Graham Kar.

What Game of Thrones Does Well

For a while, I’ve been wondering what makes Game the TV show work as well as it does. The viewership of Game of Thrones has increased each successive year. Something about the show accounts for that. I tried for a really long time to figure something out, beyond the basic stuff. I hadn’t started watching the show up until a few months ago. Then a book gave me what I was missing.

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Historically, channels like HBO chose shows with a narrower market than network television. Fewer viewers, but more dedicated viewers. Game of Thrones grew far beyond the expectations. A fantasy series isn’t supposed to have 25 million paid viewers. Something special was there. This is my understanding of what makes Game of Thrones successful.

 

Most pieces of wildly successful fiction arrive in time to resonate with a trend in society. Take Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. It was released at a point where it could get traction. The thriller genre was filled with long established authors. The readers wanted something new. That desire mobilized a high number of sales. Also, there was a push to talk more about the lives of woman. How the world’s expectations of woman could start to be discussed and deconstructed. The other aspects of its success are probably lost on me. A good story, prior books, and an established voice are all prerequisites, but lucky timing takes a book one step further.

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A few events can be inferred as the reason Game of Thrones was so successful. The fear of terrorism is increasing. It seems like every year, some terrorist action takes place. There’s increasing fear of allowing in refugees displaced because of war. Small groups of people have more capability to hurt others. The number of mass shooting around America is troubling. Everything just seems less safe. And Game of Thrones resonates with that uncertainty. The plot of Game of Thrones is basically who should be King. No choice of successor feels right.

 

This is a time of uncertainty. Russia is making a power play in Ukraine, Syria, and maybe even in America. The United States isn’t as powerful as it once was simply because of the active conflicts we’re involved in at this time. America has been in a continual war since 2001. Then the emergence of China as a superpower and the possibility of India joining that rank somewhere down the line. Such a huge shuffling of power hasn’t happened for a quarter of a century. Again the uncertainty echoes with the story of Game of Thrones.

 

The power of the internet is finally getting recognized. Everyone now has a voice to say anything they want. It’s highly likely that at least some like-minded people will agree with your voice. We’re in a world where anything can be printed with the authority of a newspaper without any truth based sources. There are so many distractions than ever before, and people are becoming numb to it. We want to go back to a time of less confusion. We want more clarity. That gives rise to the interest in mindfulness and other meditative practices. In the world of Game of Thrones, everything is much clearer. Everyone knows there place, whether Lord, King, or peasant. Everyone has clearer allegiances than in the world we live in. And it’s very difficult for one person to change anything. We find the stability comforting at times. Things changing about when we expect them to.

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The threat of hacking is troubling. The average computer user finds the whole thing unnerving. Everything that seems stable could suddenly crumble with a misplaced click. For years, we didn’t really have to worry about computer security. Now, it routinely hits the news. A big company is hacked and customer information is lost. The possibility that hacking played a role in the previous election. Sometimes wouldn’t it be nice if we could see our enemies coming at us? In Game of Thrones, you always see it coming. That’s all I could come up with at the time of writing this.

mists cover

Recently, I’ve been reading The Mists of Avalon. I found a ton of similarities between the book, Mists of Avalon and the TV show, Game of Thrones. Everything I’ve heard says the show basically follows the plot of the book. Game of Thrones is just a handful of iterations beyond Mists of Avalon as Mists of Avalon is a few iterations beyond Le Morte d’Arthur.  Both stories have a similar geographic and political setting. We have a High King or King of the Seven Kingdoms. Then a lot of Lesser Kings or Lords rule under the principle King. We have a wall protecting the Kingdom from Northern invaders. Then finally a horde attacking from across the sea. The Norseman or Dynerays fills that role.

That paradigm has been repeated over and over again throughout history. We have ancient China. The Great wall protected China from the Mongols. South of the Great Wall, we had a country ruled by the feudal system. Then that of Japan before the Meiji Era. Japan had a feudal system sheltered against foreign invaders by the ocean surrounding the island. After the Meiji Era, the feudal period ended. Then the case of India which was largely protected by the Himalayas. India had a feudal system before British colonization/occupation. Then the Greek civilization. Protected by the Alps, they also had a feudal system. I would probably even argue that a feudal system only arises when some wall or natural barrier protects the civilization from frequent outside attack. Nothing unites people better than a common enemy.

tree of life

Both stories are about the end of polytheism and the beginning of monotheism. In Game of Thrones, we have the Septons as the priests for the Seven Old Gods. The Melisandre for the Lord of Light, the one true God. In Mists, we have the Goddess and the Horned One. They each take on different forms depending on their duties. Then, the God of the Christian faith.

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There’s a character that’s capable of uniting people more than anyone else in history. We have King Arthur and Daenerys Targaryen. In Mists, Arthur unites the people of Avalon, the people of the Lesser Kings, the Hill People, and a few other groups. Daenerys has the backing of disaffected people from the Seven Kingdoms, a few of the Dothraki, a mass of freed slaves, a group of mercenaries, and she’ll probably gather more followers before attaching the Seven Kingdoms.

 

In both pieces of fiction, the side we’re rooting for always loses. The protagonist of Mists is frequently Morgaine or Morgan Le Fey. She is a representative of the Old Religion. In Mists, we know that Christianity ultimately overthrows what came before. Marion Zimmerman Bradley tries giving a positive end through the epilogue, but it still feels like defeat to me. We know it’s going to happen, but the side of the protagonist loses. In Game of Thrones, a few characters seem slightly better than the average. We invariably root for those characters. An idea about Game of Thrones is that the good guys lose and the most ruthless win. We can’t help but want the good people to win. Frequently that doesn’t happen, but we still hope.

We never really know who’s going to survive. That happened once in Mists too. In most TV shows, the show runners always survive. Captain Kirk is never killed unless they can revive him. Usually, disposable characters are invented right before they die. Game of Thrones changes that usual dynamic. Frequently, show runners or major characters are killed off. Granted that only happens in the last two episodes of a season, but one or multiple characters could be on the chopping block. That adds a little excitement whenever there’s a fight. Any blow could mean death.

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I think Game of Thrones works because it came at the right time. Society is in such a way that people are drawn to the show this post has been about. And it tells a nearly timeless story. A country feuding on internal matters and forgetting threats from the outside. Good storytelling is of paramount importance. None of the other aspects matter if the story isn’t good in its own right.

 

The next question is, can that example be used to inform fiction writing? How do we write a story that resonates with society? I think it’s about luck. Writing something within a few months of an event is nearly impossible. I think luck is the only way. Knowing about the trends in society might help. Writing more books helps. Getting out helps. Knowing things helps. Writing different things helps. Getting something published, getting your name out there, finding an audience are all prerequisites of course.

 

What about writing an ageless story? There are already a few out there. A small force overcoming a bigger enemy. Someone triggering an event accidentally while trying to stop it. Getting people to join a cause and fight by your side. People surviving by hurting others. The darker tendencies that come out under pressure. That alone won’t get you anywhere.

 

I think I’ll just write what I feel passionate about. Maybe that won’t work so well. But just maybe it will.

Book Cover Contest

Recently, I ran into an advertisement for a book cover contest. I don’t usually try entering contests. The need for structured competition feels a tad bit ridiculous to me. I have nothing against people that enjoy competition. It’s just not for me. I prefer keeping an internal tally of my improvement over what I’ve done before. Competing with people I believe are my betters in my mind, can sometimes motivate me.

 

Keeping up motivation through a competition is the hard part. The way it’s supposed to work, doesn’t work for me. Nonetheless, I followed the traditional structure. First, I amped myself up with the thought that I would win. Every time I wanted to stop, I braced on that mantra, I’m going to win. And there was always fear. If I didn’t win, I would be crushed, and I’d never want to do something like that again.

contest web

Anyway, I had to design a special edition book cover for Dan Brown’s next book, Origin. The rules were simple. Include some text and make it the right size. Choosing what cover design to make was the difficult thing. If I supremely made a cover of something they didn’t want, it wouldn’t matter how good it looked. I could design anything I wanted. Making something they wanted as the cover was the hardest part. I needed details on the book. Those were sparse. Origin is the sequel to Inferno. Origin was about modern art. That was everything we got.

Day 1

In addition to entering the contest, I wanted to learn Adobe Illustrator. I had two months to submit a book cover. I choose what to make. I decided Origin was about something Biblical like the other books in the series. I knew the protagonist would be Robert Langdon. And modern art. I wanted to make a cubist picture of a guy for the cover. Then add the text and block out behind it, like a reversed redaction.

Day 2

I started. First, I made a reference image from stock I found on Unsplash.

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I drew shapes.

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I merged and divided shapes so everything was at a depth of one layer.

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I colored the squares.

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I made shadows.

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Finally, I blocked out the text.

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I combined all the layers.

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Ultimately, I didn’t become a finalist. I learned a lot and probably won’t enter another book cover design contest again. My cover was over-designed. I frequently over-complicate things. The focus wasn’t the legibility of the text. I focused too much of the cover picture. If I make another book cover, I’ll fix all that stuff. And my design wasn’t what they wanted.

 

These are the finalists.

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Thank for reading.

Experience, Write, Publish: Thoughts on a Memoir

 

I’ve never been drawn to reading memoirs, autobiographies, personal essays, or creative non-fiction. It feels to me that people can say almost anything in those literary forms. Selectively choosing moments that fit into the conventional craft of writing fiction. It’s like those movies based on true events. The screenwriters dramatize the story and your left wondering what exactly happened and what was changed for dramatic effect. The truth is always elusive and that genre really makes it too apparent for my comfort. And anyway, my life is far from typical, muscular dystrophy, mediation, immigration, and intense emotion. Maybe that’s just a little too much ego there, but that’s the starting point.

 

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A writer I’m following that writes great satire. I’m totally new to reading satire.

 

Around a year or two ago, things started to change. I discovered Medium for the first time. Medium is this micro-blogging site taking off right at the moment. It was a hidden writing community when I first joined. A lot of things changed from that time. Getting sold to Facebook and the introduction of membership. Medium specializes in creative non-fiction, point of view pieces, and lastly, fiction. Now it’s shifting to listicles like the rest of the web, sadly. Throughout this post, I’ll link out to the best articles I’ve read on Medium.

 

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A listicle I actually liked reading.

 

I went there from a link on Facebook, originally. I don’t read news frequently, and Facebook mentions are what I go by. Reading the news feels too real for me. I logged in and found a few stories, not in the news like the refugee crisis in the Middle East. A POV piece by Piper Perabo visiting a midway point in the refugee’s path. That happened a few times.

 

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That POV piece by Piper Perabo as mentioned in the paragraph above.

 

Then I dived into the creative non-fiction and POV. It was a window into the life of women. Medium has a surprising number of things I had never been exposed to in my entire life. Pieces about the bad experiences that a ridiculous number of women have gone through, sexual violence. Things like rape, unwanted sexual attention, harassment, inappropriate gestures, and trouble with mostly men.

 

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One such piece.

 

 

 

My thoughts were astonishment. For a really long time, I couldn’t figure out how women even functioned in society. How could people get out of bed with the looming threat around every corner? Knowing it was virtually impossible not to run into someone that had done something like that in the past. It was unfathomable that was the case in 21st century America. This is America. How is it possible?

 

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The possible future state of America.

 

Sure we could blame so many things. The over-sexualization of American culture, women, and body image. But the cause isn’t the big issue. What can we do now? How do people still function?

 

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This is an article about Pick-up Artists and Ovid. I used it to help research a character I was writing for The Trouble With Dreams.

 

Simple. By accepting the condition as it is now. Continue with life as it is. And wait for change. Is that really what’s going to happen? So far it has.

 

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A story of finding yourself.

 

I’ve basically gone on a rant of incredulity for the last handful of paragraphs. Let’s return to the topic. What changed after discovering Medium? Not much. I subscribed and tried writing a few things. After that nothing really changed.

 

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A story of not belonging.

 

Then I read Eat, Pray, Love. I’d watched the movie ten years ago when it came out. I didn’t think it was a memoir. The movie seemed too neat to be real life. Everything fit perfectly together and smoothly transitioned like fiction. I’ve seen a ton of biopics, but it was never so neat. I happily went on for years, bought the book, and eventually read it. It had always been a memoir. The book wasn’t as neat as the movie, but the events were rearranged a little, to fit conventional storytelling craft. I kept merging the images from the movie with images I constructed in my head. Reading to me isn’t a series of phrase but a series of pictures based on the written text.

Eat Pray Love

Liz started in New York and her messy divorce. The book spent way more time before the travel started. The mess with her rebound relationship. Then the happenstance of finding her guru and the Balinese Medicine man. With that, her travels began.

 

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Got to love satire. For the longest time, I didn’t.

 

In Italy, there was so much more than food. Learning the language and living in a city for months. I never knew so much research went into a memoir. Liz explained why Italian is such a pretty language. I fell in love with Italian through reading it. I’ll admit, I wasn’t very enthused to read my first memoir. If Liz wasn’t so funny, I wouldn’t have finished it. I found the description of tastes wanting. I haven’t eaten solid food in years and wanted to imagine the tastes of Italy. The taste should run a few paragraphs in my mind. I was glad to see she asked the locals what was good. That’s the only way.

 

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Ella Dawson. Written really well.

 

The Thanksgiving was a big difference between the book and movie. In the movie, they fell asleep in the dining room. But in the book, the turkey took way longer to cook than they expected. Turkey was for breakfast.

 

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Another article I liked.

 

Then it was off to India and the ashram of her guru. India is a very spiritual place. The saying goes, you walk a few paces and run into a guru of some kind or the other. Gurus are that plentiful in bigger cities. Liz went to a remote ashram filled with foreigners and local devotees. I don’t agree with a few things. I have never learned from a guru and figured out meditation mostly in isolation. I don’t think a guru has to bless you to have a chance at enlightenment. Learning in isolation leads to a longer, meandering, and wandering journey to the same goal. Three months isn’t enough to learn a self-guided meditation practice. I have a lot to learn about describing meditation practices. When I try to explain meditation or my deep experiences, the person listening doesn’t understand what I’m saying. I’ve spent too much time in self-monolog and isolation, that explaining things in an understandable way is really difficult at times. Before writing a memoir on me, I need to learn how of write deep things in a way that other people get.

 

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A deep discussion well written by another writer I like, Emma Lindsey.

 

I don’t believe a set of holy words must be used as a mantra. A mantra should have the required associations in the mind. The final description of Liz’s experience with the divinity inside her wasn’t that clear to me. Some experiences can’t be put into words even by the best. I was nice to see the ashram through the author’s eyes.

 

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A perspective on defining something that shouldn’t need defining in a perfect world. 

 

The Bali part was about balance. I would state it as filling your life based on your loves. Whether it’s meditation, writing, and thought or meditation, love, and writing. Ketut and Balinese culture were strangely familiar to Indian culture and weirdly different. Liz had so many facts and peculiarities that I enjoyed reading. Meeting Filipe was interesting. Ex-pats are a microcosm of the world writ large if everyone wanted chill above all else.

 

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Emma Lindsey figuring things out for us.

 

Her dealings with Wayan, another healer, and Ketut, the medicine man were interesting. Sometimes Ketut didn’t remember some things. And Wayan was a rarity there. She was divorced. The family is really important in Bali and acts like a compass to help navigate the world. Wayan and Liz were both divorced. Then Liz finds a way to help Wayan and works through the hiccup associated with it. Ketut teaches Liz a few mediations and many life lessons.

 

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A possible answer.

 

The third to last chapter felt odd to me. It was a flashback to her first trip to Bali. Liz was silent for a few weeks on a remote island. She eventually discovered that her current life wasn’t working and she needed a change. It felt like an epiphany and it came in the right place. It was placed out of time, towards the end of the novel. The sequence of events in time doesn’t matter to the sequence of the memoir. The majority of the events should be in chronological order but a scene here or there is fine.

 

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Another article for book research.

 

The memoir worked like it was supposed to. Reading a genre before writing in it is essential to the craft. Not sure which ones I’m going to read. I have no idea when I’ll even write a memoir. Everything is up in the air. I’ll work towards getting my deep experiences across on the page. Sometime down the line, I’ll try writing a memoir, maybe. Experience, Write, you know the rest.

 

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A woman working through illness.

 

 

GK

Story Engineering: Getting Down to the Story Mechanics

 

Larry Brooks is a published author that has writing classes/workshops. In Story Engineering, he shows us what he teaches his students about writing fiction. Apparently, writing a screenplay is very easy in comparison. Books out there detail the rules required in an acceptable screenplay. Larry Brooks has brought that over to fiction writing. If you ignore the condescension of organic writes, the book brings a needed insight to novel writing.

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Story Engineering starts with an argument against the formulaic nature of planning out a story using his components. The difference between art and putting matching things into a formula is the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant while reading it. That’s one of the few things not explained in Story Engineering. I figured out a possible explanation. The various story elements, concept, story structure, character, theme, writer’s voice, and scene construction have a synergy between them. Each element builds on another. For example, first person, solitary confinement, weak mental state, and being alone is inhumane. With first person, we are with the inmate at all times. There’s minimal interaction with other people. Add the weak mental state and there’s a compelling story. Add examples of what other inmates in solitary confinement come out as. That makes a pretty good story right?

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Concept is the central question of the story. Story structure is the pacing of the story. The author does a really good job of getting this point across through the book. What plot event should happen at certain points throughout the story? Several movies and books are discussed as examples. Every book and movie I remember follows the plot events. I’m not sure about the timing yet.

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Character is presented as a personality selector you would use in The Sims. Different characteristics that can be tweaked to show the universality of humanity. Figuring out how each characteristic affects the others is where the art part comes in. Then the character arc. That was completely new to me.

 

I use a few lines of research to understand how characters operate. First, observing people and imagining what goes through their heads. Talking to people and looking for the motivations. Deeply analyzing my psyche through meditative practice. And method acting in my head. What would this character do if that happened?

 

Theme is the meaning behind the story. The story can give an opinion or explore a question. Figuring out what to say helps put it into the novel.

 

Writer’s voice is something that needs to be discovered through writing and trying different things. Scene construction states each scene has a mission. The scene needs to be short enough to accomplish its mission.

 

Reading Story Engineering will forever change my novel writing. I was already close, and now I get it for the first time. Larry Brooks knows his stuff. Great book Mr. Brooks.

 

GK