Writing about writing fiction

Readers might be familiar with the recent writing challenges (The 1500 words challenge and Christmas Short Story Challenge). By the way, you can still (and should) vote on the Christmas Story Challenge if you’ve not yet done so.

One impetus for the challenges is — you guessed it — to write.  Writing is like any other activity; if you don’t practice it, not only won’t you improve, but you’ll degrade.

Warning: this is mostly about me, writing, and me and writing. If you are not interested in me, don’t feel bad; few are, so just move on. If you are interested in the writing craft or actual fiction, you’re not gonna get much of that here but there’s plenty of it elsewhere in the blog. Just search for Writing Stuff, or Writing, or Fiction, or Short Fiction. You get the picture.

It should be evident to anyone who follows this blog, and anyone who has a blog I follow, that I write a lot.  My comments are practically dissertations, and the same for my emails. Not all, but most.

I’ve been — on occasion and by people who know me in person — described as loquacious. Wait, that’s not writing. That’s just talking too much which, given I stutter, is both surprising and understandable.

It’s surprising because stuttering isn’t known to facilitate oral communication. I’m not kidding; it’s practically a pain to hear and it’s not much fun at my end, either. It’s understandable because — since I stutter — I’m way behind in stuff I want to say. Even more so because when I was younger the stuttering was much worse. In fact, I built up so large a reserve of unspoken words that I estimate I’ll probably be in my 90s — if I live that long — before I’ll go quiet as I rebuild said reserve.

What I meant to say was “verbose” which describes someone who uses lots of words (“wordy” also works but doesn’t sound as cool) and applies to both the written and spoken word

Were I asked, I’d say I have a facility for communication, oral and written. Whether the facility itself — and what I communicate — are a good thing is up for debate. It’s a rare day when someone engages me in any kind of debate, so take my word for it: it’s a good thing.

Truthfully, these days, I’m not all that keen on debating anyone because people don’t follow even the simplest rule of debating: to be truthful, honest, and open-minded. Who knows, perhaps I don’t follow those rules either.

Contrast that with fiction writing. I mean, you’re practically required to make shi . . . ah . . . stuff up.

I think I was pretty good at it. I used to sit, Berto at my side, and easily crank out two or three thousand words stories. But, late in 2016, Berto and I became estranged.

What? Who’s Berto? Why, he’s my muse. One of the few male Muses around. I wrote his story HERE.

Anyway, I can’t put all the blame on Berto. Lots of stuff happened that year. Not just moving to Hawaiʻi, but also having a walking-piece-of-corrupt-slime getting elected POTUS.

2016 was a productive year for writing stuff. And not just productive, but productive in writing fiction I liked a lot. That’s probably the last year I felt like a “real” writer . . . because, you know, I wrote.

2017 saw a big drop in my writing efforts. Some pieces I like saw the light of day, but all too few. On the other hand, I really stepped up on the photography side of my interests.

I didn’t do a review of the 2018 fiction because . . . well, I just had a quick look and I’m fairly certain I wrote no fiction in 2018. Or, if I did, I’ve misplaced it.

And so, we come to this year. Prior to the two challenges, I had one piece of fiction; the Halloween story. 

You might now understand my interest in these challenges; they get me off my seat (or put me back on my seat; I don’t know which is more appropriate) and I write something. Mind you, I’m still waiting until the last minute and crank something out in a few hours, but at least I’m writing. It helps that there’s a deadline.

I used to enthusiastically find and respond to writing prompts and a few of my efforts even led to longer pieces I’m proud of, but I’ve mostly retreated from the writing community for reasons best left to another post. It may sound incredible to some, but I don’t come across many writing prompts sitting in my office processing photos.  

At the moment, my biggest two impediments to writing fiction are that I don’t know what I want to write and that I’ve become too critical. Critical not as in losing it and having a mental breakdown. Rather, critical about the very nature of fiction.

The first impediment is the idea of genres. That link will take you to a previous post about genres. Here’s the thing . . . 

. . . for the longest time, I thought I might be a Science Fiction writer because that’s all I read and it was what I wanted to write. But now I don’t know.

In 2011 — which seems ages ago but it’s only nine years —I submitted THIS piece to Slice of Sci-Fi. In it, I speculate as to why Fantasy does better than Science Fiction in the marketplace. I still think the premise holds and I point to the Marvel movies as an example. At first glance, we have what looks like Science Fiction . . . but we also have gods, witches, and stuff that looks like magic. Sure looks more like fantasy than science to me.

I don’t blame them; since that time, I too wrote more fantasy than science fiction.

I also returned to action and mystery and thrillers, both for reading and writing; those were my favorite works of fiction before switching to science fiction. I think I wrote some fine pieces loosely tracking those genres. In fact, I can’t point to any recent writing I would call straight-up science fiction other than a few flash pieces and the Stopover short story. Side note: it’s password protected, but ask, and ye shall receive.

But, nothing I write is ever pure one thing or another. More and more, I resent the limits of genres. I resent writing labels as much as I resent religious, political, and social labels forced on me by others.

And then, there’s me being critical.

It’s tough for me to identify a reason why I’ve become more critical, more demanding. I’m tempted to say because the world is going to crap, but that’s more a reason why my stories often dabble with draconian measures against people who make other people’s lives miserable.

So, in what ways am I critical? I’ll speak of movies as possibly a more common ground, but the same applies to written fiction.

Take said Marvel movies. Pick anything from any movie, and I can point out the inconsistencies. I like the Captain American origin story, but he now jumps out of planes without a parachute and has a shield that defies the laws of physics and is a boomerang to boot. Take Ant-Man; no conservation of mass. I don’t mean when they shrink a building and then carry it like a suitcase, although, you know, that’s an obvious one.

Side note: they toss that building around like if it were a softball, and then when they restore it, nothing inside it is broken or out of place. It’s like if it has its own gravitational field that keeps everything anchored and unmoving when in real life, even a slight earthquake shakes stuff up and knocks things off shelves.

No, I’m referring to a 190 pounds person shrunk down to the size of an ant . . . and him running along the barrel of a gun or on the shoulder of another person. 190 pounds is either 190 pounds or it’s not. Watching him ride on the back of a flying insect literally makes me cringe.

Understand, the movie is made to entertain, but whereas my suspension of disbelief used to come easily, not so anymore. Same with guns in movies. I know too much about guns and shooting to let some things slide. I know too much about too many things to let them slide, and in that regard, fantasy is definitely easier to swallow.

Just say “magic” and I’m 90% there.

Here’s the thing, though . . . that 10% more and more comes into play.

Take the gold standard of Fantasy writing: The Lord of the Rings.

Even aside THIS little detail, there are things that bug me. For instance, the elves complain about the weakness of men and of their many failures . . . but, they don’t even want to touch The One Ring. Even Gandolf avoids the thing, and he’s a powerful wizard . . . who doesn’t do much wizarding. And, can anyone explain what The Ring does? It’s referred to as a weapon, but the only thing for sure that we know it does is bind the other rings, and even that is not explained because the elves with rings were obviously not affected. 

That tendency bleeds into my writing. I start writing something, and halfway through it, I’m already thinking why this or that wouldn’t work.

Mind you, I can fix it, but it makes the writing process less enjoyable. It makes reading less enjoyable as well. In fact, I can point to only one book I’ve recently read that had me engrossed (I read it in one sitting, finishing at 3:00am one day last week; I had started it when I went to bed). The book is Lost Hills, by Lee Goldberg.

The book isn’t out yet, but if you’re a Prime member, it was one of the free books offered In December. They offer one of five or six books each month. Most of the time, there’s nothing that interests me but I’m glad I took a chance on this one. And, guess what? No shooting, no fights. Instead, readers ride shotgun as the main character works her way toward solving a crime. Nothing seemed (overly) contrived and it built suspense and anticipation nicely. A few supporting characters came across as cardboard cutouts (simplistic and predictable) but the focus was on the main character and I’d no objection to how she was presented.

The thing is, I want to write and enjoy writing . . . and contests and challenges get me to put words down. Not only that, they force me to balance my suspension of disbelief with telling (hopefully) an entertaining tale.

I like flash fiction because there’s not enough there to slam. The longer the piece, the more chance one finds inconsistencies and contrived situations.

But stories can’t be perfect; they can’t faithfully reflect what real life is like or they wouldn’t be stories; they would be news. And as we all know, the news is seldom entertaining . . . unless one has an incredibly cynical view of the world.

So, one needs a good balance between suspension of disbelief and telling a tale that entertains.

This is a good place for my usual disclaimer: I’m not lamenting anything. I’m fine with where I am. I’m not looking for advice or commiseration. I’m not a victim and the photos in this blog tell you I have other interests that occupy my time until Berto catches up with me.

But I can help Berto find my way back to me and I have an idea as to how to do it . . . which I will share soon. Not only that, the twins said they’re in with the plan.

Meanwhile, here’s the gallery of the above photos:

That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.


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