An old adage regarding writing fiction is that you should 'show' instead of 'tell.' The idea, which Hemingway was a big proponent of, is that if you have characters reveal something through interaction, it's more powerful than simply have a writer reveal it through exposition. Recently, there's been a backlash of sorts against the rule, by writers who think that a mix of showing and telling is better for pacing and dynamic range of action within a narrative. Most fiction teachers stick by the rule, however.
I belong in the latter camp. Exposition is extremely efficient, and many times works well, especially when describing backstories or large amounts of information that needs to be laid down as a foundation for the narrative. Sometimes, however, I find myself leaning too far on the telling/exposition side of things.
I was writing a scene this weekend on the medieval fantasy novel that I'm working on, and established a mercenary group called The Triad, via exposition. It worked well in the course of the scene. But after thinking about it for a day, I decided to add another scene, one that takes place in a tavern, that establishes the group via a conversation that takes place after a very tense conflict between two characters. The result: a very tense added scene and an added character that helps fill out the chapter in a much more intriguing way than what I had. The description is far more veiled as well, as I decided to hold on to a few cards to play later on in the game.
I like to break the rules--a lot. Sometimes too much. Because I favor going against the grain, I have to keep myself in check at times, by thinking to myself: By breaking the rule, am I engaging the reader as much as if I followed the rule?
It's definitely something that rule-breakers like myself need to keep in mind.
I was sitting in a room at my dermatologist's office the other day, staring at this print hanging on the wall:
This is No. 3 (1967), by American Abstract Expressionist Mark Rothko. Rothko is one of the more famous American painters of the 20th Century, and much of his work is very similar to the above painting (except with different colors). However, my true belief is that two or three rectangles in a frame aren't going to move most people in any meaningful way.
When one walks into an art museum, like The Getty Center or the LA County Museum of Art, patrons tend to spend a lot of time appreciating artists of the pre-modern era, and quickly walk past the modern abstract art. There's simply little connection between much of what is considered modern art, and just about every person outside of the art scene.
I don't mean to bag on artists like Rothko or Jackson Pollack. They certainly served an important purpose in the evolution of art. What I don't like, however, is the lack of post-WWII art on display in galleries that is not abstract in nature. There are tremendous painters out there that don't get the critical acclaim they deserve because their art lands outside of a movement that is in vogue by the art elite.
Here's a painting by Russian artist Vladimir Gusev which I quite like:
And there are many living artists, like Gusev, that produce terrific work, but it's just not the type of art that's appreciated by those who hang work in art museums. This is unfortunate, because if we only put the most cutting edge work in museums, we're missing out on what many would consider the best work of our time.
One of my favorite modern painters, one that actually does get some acclaim, is Jeremy Mann. His work is brilliant:
I hope that two hundred years from now, Mann's work is hanging in the Getty, and not something from our time that is two colorful triangles next to a circle.
There's a reason why so much of modern art doesn't resonate with most people. It doesn't give us enough information to feel what the artist was feeling when he or she painted it. There's not enough of an image there to move our emotions in a way that the artist clearly intended them to be moved. I can paint a hundred colorful rectangles stacked on top of each other, and it still doesn't give any more sense of emotion than just two of them.
Elites and critics of any genre of art tend to try to convince themselves, their peers, and the public, that somehow they understand the art in a deeper way than everyone else. Much of the time, however, it's just not true.
One more painting, this one from the 19th Century, by a talented (and prolific) painter by the name of Ivan Ayvazovsky. I include it because I love it so much, and I feel fortunate that it was painted before such paintings were turned away from museums because they were not abstract enough and held on to the true nature of art: an engaging narrative:
Every now and then you run across a gem of a statement on Twitter. A few weeks ago, fantasy author @BrianRathbone tweeted the following: Writing is the art of claiming time and avoiding distraction.
I don't think I've ever heard what writing--in terms of life, really is--summed up so succinctly. The vast majority of people who love to write, who in fact do write novels, screenplays, poetry, etc., don't make a living at it, so they have to find time in between commutes, work, grocery shopping, reading, spending time with others, and general life. The actual small amount of time one gets to write in a day is very precious.
For most serious writers, being distraction-free is a must, if one wants to get anything accomplished of any decent level of quality. It's the same as if you're working out complex mathematical formulas in your head: being able to focus is key. Your story is a puzzle, and you're constantly searching for the correct next piece.
Some non-distinct grey noise in the background can be beneficial (coffee shops are great), but anything that is very distinct, and specifically targeted directly at you, makes it all but impossible to complete the task at hand.
Some people don't seem to understand (a) how strongly distraction negatively affects a writer & (b) how precious the short amount of time one has to write really is. I think many people don't have the desire to try to be exceptional to the world in any way (or the desire to put out the monstrous amount of effort required to be exceptional), and for some of those people, doing whatever is necessary to not be bored in the current fleeting moment is on the forefront of their minds, constantly, just like with puppies.
When these puppy-people distract you, especially when they distract you often, for no other purpose but to express some banality of the moment, so that they're not bored--they are taking away something from you that is precious.
And you just want to take a rolled-up piece of newspaper and smack them over the head, and say "Bad puppy!"
There are some parents that don't like their children playing violent video games. I'm not going to tell anyone how to raise their kids, but I will say that there's a lot about life that kids can learn by playing first-person-shooters, all of which are violent to some degree.
I was playing Star Wars: Battlefront yesterday morning, and one player on our team repeatedly would stop in an ice tunnel hallway, right before it opened up into a large ice cave. This would prevent everyone behind him from getting into the larger room and taking cover. Time and time again, he would do this, resulting in the death of several of his teammates. We lost the game by a significant amount.
Only a "Newb" would do something so strategically dumb. But here's the thing: all gamers advance from the newb level to something better, by doing two things: learning how to become a better player by oneself, and learning how to become a better teammate.
We all know people who are that newb in our work environment: the person that through their own incompetence, slows down the whole team. In a video game, kids have the luxury of communicating in a non-PC fashion, so if you're really hurting the team, people will tell you, in no uncertain terms, and you'll get a stronger incentive to learn how to help the team, instead of hurting it. In real terms, video games are perhaps the strongest teacher of teamwork for kids, outside of organized sports. The thing is, there're plenty of people that will help you become better, if you ask.
Most video games, and especially first-person-shooters, also have reward systems. You might get an added item that gives your gun the special functionality that you want. It might be something as little as a different color that you can make your gun stock. But the harder it is to get that bonus, the more value it holds to the community that plays that game. Some bonuses require more than a hundred hours of play. They're held up as badges of prestige. You have to work to get it. Those that learn how to play the game better, and those that have better natural skill, can get those bonuses faster, just like in the real world.
Most first-person-shooters allow a tremendous amount of customization to your character and/or weapon, so that you can work towards creating what you need to do well, based on your unique skill set. You get to work on your comparative advantage, again, just like in the real world.
Another important lesson that first-person-shooters teach kids is the risk/reward trade-off. Newbs all tend to take too much risk. They'll run out into the open where they are sitting ducks. They'll go up against three enemies at the same time, dying before they can even take one out. You see it again and again with players who have very low-level scores. However, as their skill advances, they learn how to adjust their risk levels. Perhaps they can go up against those three opponents, once they're good enough to do it, but that usually requires a tremendous sink of time to learn how to be that good.
First-person-shooters have a wide plethora of life lessons inherently built into them. I'd suggest that their benefits far outweigh their negatives, even for young kids. Of course, adults should be playing them, not only for the tremendous amount of fun they are, but for the cognitive exercise that they exert on the brain.
Killing newbs by the dozen--it's not only fun, it's teaching young kids valuable life lessons--lessons better learned in a game than in the ugly environment of real life.
I haven't been blogging much lately, but I have been doing a lot of work on my new fantasy novel. I had a major breakthrough with the actual plotlines and how they're going to converge at the end of this novel, which is the first in a series. Since the ending of story is clear, and since the ending of the major character arcs are clear, I've been able to push forward a little bit every day on a consistent basis.
I'm currently completing about 10,000 words a month. This doesn't seem like much. Some writers write 4,000 words a day. Most novelists probably do between 400-1200 a day, that is if they have the whole day to write. But those numbers are usually first-pass numbers. I am incapable of writing a novel straight through without heavy rewriting along the way.
After waking up in the late morning, I usually write for a bit before taking my walk. After my exercise, I clean up, eat lunch, and head off to work. I'm probably only writing between 1 and 2 hours each day, and a lot of that time is research or time spent thinking. But since I do it almost every single day, it adds up.
On my days off, I always plan to write more than I do. I typically get caught up running errands, exercising, catching up on entertainment, etc. I probably only spend about 2 hours writing on each day off--sometimes a lot more though.
The reason why 10,000 words/month is a lot for me (besides the fact that I have a full-time job and a commute attached to it) is because I'm constantly going back and rewriting stuff as I go along. Often, when I'm walking, or commuting to work, I'm thinking about particular scenes, and then something pops into my mind, and I have to go rewrite that particular scene as quickly as I can. I have awfully poor memory, so rereading and rewriting is needed to keep the story fresh in my mind.
At 10,000 words a month, you should be able to get a full novel written in a year. At least a first draft. I'm way past the first draft when I finish, as I've been rewriting along the way. Some authors take five years or more to write a novel: Nabokov, McCarthy, R.R. Martin--well, you get an idea why they can possibly be so good. Even the greatest minds need time to write a masterpiece. Someone like Stephen King, well he needs four months to write a novel. But Mr. King never takes a day off, not Christmas or Easter or the Fourth of July. He needs to write every single day.
So things are going well. I feel like I'm in a groove. I have lots of energy, and I love where the novel is going. In fact, it's going so well, I just might take a day off of writing this month...maybe.
Jon David Rosten, author of
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