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Archive for the ‘Short Stories’ Category

Show, Don’t Tell: The Difference between Life and Text

Posted by CW64 on August 24, 2012

Another major issue I encounter while editing manuscripts is the excess of descriptive and explanatory narratives that produce flatness in character and the world in which that character lives (and quite often involves redundancies in many forms). This annoys me more than impresses me, but I am always understanding and patient with beginning writers.

For one thing, ongoing explanations of text offend intelligent readers; such continuous tirades deprive readers the opportunity to use their own minds during the reading process. A story means nothing without the reader’s cognitive input, which includes interpretation and query-making among other things. As I state in an earlier post, writers are never to underestimate the intelligence of the readers; doing so drives away an audience that sums up the experience as nothing more than an aggravating slap-in-the-face.

The point: quality writers get on with the story and let the readers figure things out for themselves. The rule is to stick with the action, dialogue and minimal description, sharing casually the essential information necessary to facilitate the flow and flesh out character development to the point of promoting a sense of realism. This practice refers to the ever-mentioned notion of “showing,” and it isn’t always easy to do. With experience and reasoning, though, writers develop the skill quite naturally.

Let’s start with the two sentences below:

Frank moves slowly
Frank drags along like a slug in the mud

Which of these two describes the concept of moving slowly? If you don’t know the answer, chances are you haven’t done enough reading and writing.

The concept of “showing” is both a fuzzy and distinct one, and an understanding of said concept will help readers and writers discern why. This might sound like a contradiction, but it is not; “showing” in literature—any kind of literature, whether it be fiction or non-fiction—is extremely complex.

Firstly, the assertion of “fuzzy” refers to the idea that each person has her or his own idea what “showing” means and what it entails to be executed appropriately. A nice example lies in the above illustration. One person might say that the first line is simple and clear and therefore more appropriate than the second. Another would likely say that the second is longer, but it “fleshes out” out the concept in question and conveys more information about the character and what he is doing than what is merely stated. Finally, a third might concur that both, in fact, are showing the reader what is meant by “moving slowly” but in two different acceptable ways. In the end, however, the particular perspective to which one wants to adhere is dependent on that person’s ideals and style preferences.

Conversely, the idea that “showing” as distinct follows through the obvious: to convey imagery so that it “jumps” from the page and appeals to the reader’s senses. In this light, the imagery comes to life in vivid color, sound and motion so that it appears and feels real to the reader. Not everything written can do that. Do the two illustrations above satisfy the requirement necessary to consider them “showing”?

Let’s take a closer look…

Frank moves slowly

According to the first person mentioned above, this one is sweet and simple and therefore most adequate to convey the idea, which shouldn’t take extensive passages and countless adjectives and modifiers to express. This, indeed, makes perfect sense. The sentences contains three common words—a noun, a verb and an adverb. The noun tells who is performing the action, the verb clarifies what that action is and the adverb—the keyword necessary to establish the overall idea—describes how the action is carried out. What more is required? Nothing is, apparently; the entire idea is complete.

Still, the second person can jump in and say that this sentence, though simple and direct, is cliche and therefore not fresh or unique at all; the character and the action are both flat and contain no life beyond the three words used to write the sentence. From an artistic perspective, this point is extremely valid. The better writer stands out by not expressing ideas the same as any other; she/he captivates the reader’s attention and has a greater potential for achieving a larger and wider audience than the writer who employs the use of the first line. Creativity demands individuality and non-conformity, and that quite often means breaking away from conventions, no matter how common.

Frank drags along like a slug in the mud

This line, according to the second voice, consists of four extra words than the first line, so it isn’t really excessive in length. The action word “drags” and the simile “like a slug in the mud” together paint a vivid picture that appeals to the reader’s senses and emotions by allowing said reader to feel Frank’s slow movements. In addition, this line implies something regarding Frank’s personality, that he is, perhaps, a sloth by nature. Simply put: the sentence shows the reader who Frank is, at least in part, and therefore does more than just tell. The reader is much more likely to be drawn into characters that seem real than those whom the writer merely dictates in sprawling descriptions and explanation.

Another point to be made here is that although the first sentence is terse and direct, the fact that it expresses nothing more than the three words suggests that the writer will require longer passages to express the same amount of information that the second one does, so it isn’t really shorter in the end. By using a greater number of words in a single sentence, as in the second line, the writer conveys more about the character and her or his situation by using fewer words overall.

An example: a sunshiny day encapsulates the same information, impressions and characteristics as a day full of bright sunshine and warmth filled with smiles and laughter; everything mentioned in the longer version is implicit in the shorter one.

Then, of course, there is the third speaker, who takes a neutral stance and insists that both perspectives are equal yet different. In this view, individuality is still promoted, as both lines offer a unique form of expression compared to the other. As long as all of the points and/or premise are clear and the information discernible, the words shouldn’t matter.

This attitude makes sense as well and is worthy of consideration. After all, intelligibility and clarity are two major cornerstones of good, quality writing. Both lines are intelligible and clear in their delivery, so one form should not necessarily be superior to the other.

In the end, however, the writer needs to know her or his characters and their lives well in order to “show” them effectively. This fact is quite often associated with the context…

Showing in Context

Context makes a substantial difference when it comes to how, where and if a writer “shows” something. By this, a writer uses the means, if necessary, the appropriate elements to effectively bring something to life.

The case of a story on a World War II aviator requires imagery relevant to that particular scenario, such as the use of metaphors like “dust” and “shattered metal” and fireball” as opposed to, say, “rag doll” or “lollipop,” for instance. The words employed should hold some type of relevance to the subject matter at hand if the description is to be applicable and effective.

Take the following passage for instance:

Young James Claybourne heard the hellish squealing bursting through the crackling and the grinding of twisting metal. His heart slammed against his ribcage as he scanned the smoking windows. Vile fumes of cinders burned his nostrils.

“Where is it coming from?” he muttered, spitting ash to the cracked sidewalk. The grime on his skin felt sticky under his coat, but he pushed that out of his mind. “Wh-where?…”

Then she appeared suddenly, jutting her reddened face from the top floor. The building shook violently. The girl’s eyes flamed white in terror.

“Help me!”

James sprang forth amidst the crumbling walls and smothering heat from the eruptions around him. He held his helmet tightly with a glove while gripping an axe with the other. Water swelled in his eyes and his head spun and swayed like a loose light fixture, but he forced himself onward stair after stair after stair after stair. . .

Here, no explanations are given and descriptions are minimized and limited to relevant references. No mention of the particular situation is stated because it isn’t necessary for the reader to realize that the scene is about a burning building and that James is a fireman. The narrative stays on the action and keeps pace all the way through. The words and phrases used belong in this scenario and paint a vivid picture that appeals to all of the senses: “hellish squealing,” “bursting,” “crackling” and “grinding of twisting metal” (audio); “vile fumes burning his nostrils” (olfactory); “swelling water” and “spinning and swaying” (visual); “spitting ash” (taste) and “grime” and “sticky” (textural). The reader can sense what he is experiencing, and so he seems real as a result. Other words, like “redden face” and “flaming eyes of terror” not only describe how the girl feels, but also enhance the overall tone of the scene and contribute to the description of the fire and the sense of urgency prevailing. The “swaying like a loose light fixture” simile isn’t really necessary here (“spinning and swaying” would be enough), but its inclusion demonstrates the use of an appropriate reference that serves two purposes: (1) to illustrate James’ mental state, and (2) to offer a suggestive detail that sharpens the overall descriptive image of the shaking building that plays in the reader’s mind while reading.

Also: James’ actions say something about him: pushing discomfort out of his mind and springing onward into the firetrap to save the girl and forcing himself onward despite his dizziness all attest to the man’s persistence and dedication to helping others in need. This message comes through the actions, NOT any drawn out and tiresome explanation.

In Conclusion. . .

Whatever means of “showing” a writer employs, the objective is to bring the characters and their situation to life so they can interact with the reader. As said, a story’s value is nothing without the reader’s reception and interpretation of said story’s contents. Publishers know this all too well, which is why their evaluations revolve around how riveting a story is. If readers are drawn into a story/book/novel, it will surely sell. The “show” aspect, or the degree of vividness and/or realism a story projects, often makes a difference between high-quality and substandard quality writing, and it ultimately determines failure or success.

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Posted in Editing, Fiction, General Commentaries, Novels, Publishing and Publication, Reality and Realism, Short Stories, Writing Development Issues, Writing Topics | 2 Comments »

The Many Adventures of Creative Writing

Posted by CW64 on March 3, 2010

The process of creative writing from start to finish is just as endlessly adventurous as it is intellectually draining—from the conception of a basic idea to delineating the draft to revising that draft to the point of having developed a completed manuscript.

No one said any of it would be easy, but, then again, the uncertainty and challenge of hard work make the entire process exciting and irresistible.

The basic idea, which is the seed to any writing project, is both easy or difficult, depending on several factors, including the purpose of the writing to be produced. Sometimes a great idea comes in a flash and other times it requires a bit of mulling, especially when one is attempting to take a twist on a subject (the”twist” itself is a legitimate idea in its own right because it prompts readers to think differently about a given subject AND because a “twist” can offer new information on said subject). In the case of the latter, a thorough understanding of subject is prerequisite to writing so that the twist, or unique angle, is fully realized and makes sense in light of the subject (i.e. is consistent with all known facts associated with said subject). This is where research is sometimes necessary to form the basic idea of a work, such as the case with dissertations, where the central point quite often emerges through the accumulation and evaluation of data.

See how complicated, or difficult, devising a basic idea can sometimes be?

The short story Urban Legend, which deals with a young skeptic who explores an urban legend and encounters a few surprises, the basic idea came to me in a dream. When I woke up from that dream, the images and premise of the story were still fresh in my mind, and I dictated the story, word-for-word, mentally as I recounted the dream. That motivated me to write, so I could get down the idea and start on the draft from beginning to end, which, in this case, came and went quick and smooth.

The draft isn’t always that easy to do, but when the basic idea is there, and is fully realized, it can be. In the case when it is not, however, sometimes the basic idea emerges through the writing process in establishing the principle characters and the plot. That was the case with the novel The Monkey Cage, which also served as my graduate thesis (the first three chapters). I started with a simple scene that I originally intended as the beginning of a short story, but as I developed the characters and expanded the story beyond the scene in question, I found a whole new world opening wide around the characters. But what are they doing here? What should they be doing? As I disregarded the need to set down a predetermined premise, I threw caution in the wind and just started writing. The plot and conflicts of the characters came on their own, and one stage led to another from beginning to the end of the first draft.

Yes, I said the first draft!

Sometimes stories require more than one draft, especially when details of the original draft do not work in the overall story, such as inconsistencies in character behavior or farfetched scenarios that sound good at first but, upon reflection, work poorly in bringing the story out in its most serious and respectable light. That happens. When it does, a writer has no other recourse but to start over. The fact that characters have been realized, however, makes story development easier due to a writer’s familiarity with said characters—a sense of familiarity increases a writer’s confidence, and confidence means everything in story development.

An important note should be made here: If a writer does not feel comfortable enough to write about her or his characters, s/he should spend time getting to know those characters first, either by ruminating over them, composing character profiles or sketches, drawing illustrations of their character, or a combination of any or all of these suggestions. When a writer knows her or his characters intimately and feels comfortable with and confidence in them, the story begins.

Once that story is down (i.e. the draft), revising starts. This is where it really gets fun!

Although a draft is down and a basic plot-line established, the creative process is far from over. Revisions not only correct misspellings and grammatical errors or provide condensation where necessary, but also serve as a means for writers to introduce new and essential information into the plot-line where necessary in order to “flesh out” the characters and/or story. This is important for two reasons: (1) the narrative will flow more smoothly, and (2) gaps are filled so the story will be clear and make sense. This is where one pays particular attention to detail, which had been foregone when scaling the draft (the basic idea) in the previous stage.

Revisions are quite often require various stages; creativity goes on and on. That is why revising is synonymous with the actual writing, because it is here that the characters emerge and the story is fully realized. The stage of revising is a long and tedious process spanning hours, days, sometimes even weeks on a particular work. But a writer shouldn’t be discouraged; s/he should have fun exploring the creative possibilities.

I can certainly elaborate more on revisions here, as insight on that subject abounds, but I thought I would reserve further discussion for a separate post designated specifically to that particular phenomenon, as that seems apropos.

More on revisions and writing development to come . . . .

Posted in Advice, Editing, Fiction, General Commentaries, Marketing and Advertising, Novels, Personal Experiences, Publishing and Publication, Research, Short Stories, Writing Development Issues | Leave a Comment »

My Professional Forties Part I: Graduate School . . .

Posted by CW64 on December 23, 2009

My forties marked my time in graduate school and an advance in my professional career as a writer, editor and translator. Interestingly, it transformed me into more of a family man as well.

The two wouldn’t be exclusive to one another.

During the summer of 2000, I entered an MAT at a major university in Detroit. This was, in my opinion, an exceptional graduate program, and I looked forward to getting started. The MAT (Masters of Art in Teaching) balanced education with foreign languages and computer technology, so I knew I would become more well-rounded. The field training portion was year long, too, instead of only a single semester, so that was another plus. All in all, I was on my way to obtaining my teaching certification and my Masters at one time, which is what I had wanted in the first place .

That doesn’t mean that I had given up on my writing—not by a long shot. No, but teaching would have allowed me to get a job and survive (Yes, I realized even then that earning a living while writing, though possible, was difficult to reach and usually takes years, and I’d turn out to be right). I figured I’d write and teach at the same time. This was a simple, if not commonly sought, objective, and I knew it wouldn’t take as long.

As far as writing goes, this route would also provide plenty of unique experiences about which I could write. I liked exchanging knowledge and insight, so teaching would be ideal and rewarding.

It wasn’t until a year-and-a-half later, when I was in my first semester of field training, that I had a turning point, and I got right back on track. I was an assistant at a middle school with extremely energetic students (what middle school student isn’t energetic?). The teacher seemed open, but, being a bit older and set into her routine, she was irritated with any deviation or innovation on my part. Because of that, she and I never formed a professional relationship. Her evaluation of me, I knew, wouldn’t be totally positive. My supervisor, who was very easygoing and turned out to be a great listener, sensed from my writing that I placed myself as a writer before teacher, which had always been the case. We talked. He told me that teachers must be dedicated enough to make that their priority. “You would be a great college teacher,” he said, “but you are a writer and should be in the English department. That didn’t take much thought. After spending time in the teaching program, I had been thinking to myself “What the hell am I doing here?” but only then did I listen to that voice gnawing away inside of me. Then it made perfect sense. I was overcome with a wave of excitement and anticipation. I knew I had to be a writer, employment difficulties or not!

I was on my way once again. Now I could focus solely on my writing. Not only would I develop my skills, but I would meet other writers, expand my network and, perhaps, even discover the range of employment possibilities available and how and where to find them.

The joy of writing and gaining inspiration from others had always been my utmost priority (under eating and paying my bills, however; without these two, I wouldn’t be in a position to write).

The year was 2002, and I had already integrated myself into the writing community online, which is where I enhanced my translation skills as a moderator for a Spanish-oriented site. I had been chosen selectively by the webmaster who had seen me interact fluently in Spanish at another site and was impressed. I had also served as a moderator at a music site, so I was familiar with Internet forums. I looked forward to it, not only to strengthen myself as a leader, but also hone my skills and gain experience as a translator on active duty. That prepared me for what was to come: become a founding editor for a new literary journal and the chief entertainment editor for an international publication based in Estonia, both of which would be instrumental in establishing me as an editor and copy-editor and provide with the insight and objectivity to edit my own work effectively, which I knew was necessary in order for me to be an effective and successful writer. And this all started as I was easing myself into the English department at the university. My education and experience were proceeding in sync. That was the way I liked and wanted it. I felt ready for the transition.

My Creative Writing professor was well-established and constantly offered very thoughtful insight. So did several of the other graduate students, many of whom I got to know quite well, some of whom had been writing for years. Interestingly, I learned from reading their works as well; the variety of styles and insights led me to try different things, including the use of Onomatopoeia in unusual ways for creating sound dynamics, the effectiveness to writing with a minimum of descriptive modifiers, condensation and organization, and realism in dialogue. The latter had always been a strength of mine, as I have always listened to how people talk. That really brings out character distinction. Chris, my professor, who had taught at more than one ivy league university, including Harvard and Bennington, always encouraged me without deception, always made me feel special. With him, I established a friendship rather immediately. He has been a major driving force in my life as a person, mentor and writer, and he always will be.

He and our class would routinely go out and eat after class each night. Our ongoing bull sessions were happy and exhilarating, and I always looked forward to them, not only for the chance to explore a flow of ongoing ideas about writing and wonderful and engaging personal experiences, but also for the chance to socialize; this was a great way of networking, and so I never passed it up, even when I was exhausted.

“You never cease to amaze me,” awed Chris in overhearing the conversation I was having with another student regarding music theory one night. “I learn something new about you all the time. You are a virtual encyclopedia of Classic 60s Rock music.” When I subsequently told him about my experiences during the late-60s/early-70s hippie generation (see the first two posts of this series), he shook his head, excitedly enthusiastic, and said, “Why aren’t you writing this stuff down?” My response to this, in part, would be the short story Born to Be Wild, which I have already mentioned and described in this blog.

Under him, I have written and shaped other works, including the novel The Monkey Cage, the first three chapters of which would serve as my thesis. This story deals with a teen in the 1980s who spends time coming to terms with the suicide of his girlfriend—an incident he had witnessed—and is set in the teen ward of a state mental facility. Chris pushed it, saying it was brilliant—vivid, realistic, engrossing. I would continue working on this with pride and joy.

By the way, he hadn’t said that about everything I had written; some efforts he had found questionable, especially those works I had spewed out on the spur of the moment to meet a tight class deadline. That showed me that the more one develops a piece before presenting it (revisions! revisions! revisions!),  the better chance that work has for a positive reception. That is why revisions are important and why revisions are the essence of writing.

During this time, too, I honed other stories that were of a ghostly nature, influenced by paranormal encounters I had had when I was younger. Bond Beyond the Grave, revolving around a World War II mystery, and the tentatively titled  The Mystery of Alahantaga Island, about a decades- old massacre on a remote island, came into fruition and inspired by other students’ works of a similar nature; yet my pieces were unique in that they were ghosts stories. These works, too, full of imagination and imagery, would propel me forward to create others that would eventually comprise a collection of ghost stories. Ongoing research in the paranormal, with resources such as, for example, this site, offers background information that has helped keep me grounded, real and focused. My ghosts, unlike those of many other writers, reflect what they really are—disembodied humans who are trapped and have lost their way, or who are around to help loved ones. Despite what many people think, ghosts are not the “scary green-eyed ghouls” out to kill; most spirits are generally harmless and seek communication with those in the realm of the physically living, or simply wish to be left alone.

At this point, I was totally absorbed in my writing, and I loved it (I had loans and didn’t have to work at this point). My other classes simply reinforced and fed my desire to write. Linguistics added that dimension of language origin and how the different parts of speech work together. Dialects brought some depth to my dialogue resources. Medieval Literature (one of my favorites) complemented both language origin and imaginative generation. I was nothing but writing.

This was where I wanted and needed to stay; this, to me, was home.

(End of Part I)

Next: My Professional Forties Part II: Freelance and the Family Man . . . .

Posted in Editing, Fiction, General Commentaries, Historical Accounts, Linguistics, Novels, Reality and Realism, Short Stories, Teaching, Translating and Translation | 6 Comments »

My Thriving Thirties: Rising Parallels . . .

Posted by CW64 on December 3, 2009

My thirties marked the rise of both my social life and my education. Both inspired my writing, and I found myself overwhelmed with very exciting and colorful ideas. This period was the ‘Golden Age’ of my life as a writer, which would carry on into my forties.

These ideas were based on people and experiences I had in East Lansing and faraway places.

In light of my advanced age (I was in my thirties, having transferred with my Associates degree late due to personal obligations in my twenties), I opted to stay in the graduate dorm so I would be closer to people my own age and level of experience. Although I was an upperclassman upon arrival, I wanted to spend time on campus to become familiar with the area before moving off campus. Everything is done in a process, and so it was at that time, when I took baby steps toward a greater end.

The memory and influence of people I met there would stay with me for years to come. Big John, a multilingual graduate student my age who had an affinity with Russia and had a penchant for figuring things out on intuition; Max, a flamboyant homosexual who was a few years older than I was (he was comfortable with himself and didn’t hide his orientation by any means); Will, a black TA of French, who was a year younger, loved his porn, and spent a lot of time on his laptop; Juan, from Spain, who was also a year younger and would be remembered for his hearty laugh; Diane, the bluebird-like 23-year-old girlfriend of a medical student  acquaintance (I knew a few; they’d pop into view once in a great while); Alex, an alcoholic painter with a ‘Jekyll-and-hyde’ disposition; Laura, his sunny-yet-spicy girlfriend, a lover of incense, Bob Dylan, antiques, who wore her heart on her sleeve; Ron, a graduate student in Advertising who bore a striking resemblance to Kenny G. and could smell a band a mile away; and Christine, a young 22-year-old spitfire who worked on the front line in the cafeteria. She was an undergrad and lived in the women’s dorm next door. With her, whether I liked it or not, my interest was more than friendship, although I never shared that with her.

My relationship with this last one is that which inspired The Long Road, a three-part short story about the passage of time and the coming home with a renewed perspective on life. Despite its connections with reality, this piece is not creative non-fiction; the work features fictional characters and events that were based on actual experiences. This recounts the rising parallels of my social development at the time and my increased motivation to/focus on fiction/journal writing.

I felt accepted into some folds and was still disregarded by others. Gossip was never my thing, and for good reason; personal dislikes were not always overt or expressed by every party involved. My apparent acceptance by others, though, kept me strong and solid. 

My life burst open and flourished. Drinking and shooting pool (a carry-over to Ringers), volleyball on the beach, picnics, museums, enjoying the art festival in the streets of East Lansing every summer, going to the movies—all formed particular friendships that added dimension to my life and guided me with insight into the social world.

Island of Fire, one of my first novel attempts, illustrates some of these relationships and how they both benefited me and caused trouble in my life. The story is fictional, analogous to reality in an abstract way, as none of the accounts in the story actually happened, nor were they similar to any real-life experiences. Thirteen college students trapped on a supposedly deserted island might be a common idea, but the unique twist can be seen in that the conflicts of the story lie within the contrast between the characters and the friction inherent in their respective relationships. This is how it was for me at the time.

Gradually, my friends went their separate ways, but they never left me; they are a part of me even today, including Christine.  I graduated in May of 1996, but I stayed in the neighborhood with an older family friend who, to my surprise, had been living nearby. I worked in the University Apartments maintenance over the summer and full-time in a convenience store in Lansing the following fall while living in a flop house among a host of aged derelicts that included a pot-bellied Bible-thumper who always wandered around in his sagging underwear (oh joy!). This was my attempt to gain some independence amidst my financial struggles (one cannot live on one’s own by working retail, unless one shares rent with another). However, even $227 a month was barely making it, and I didn’t last more than four months. Christine was kind enough to give me a ride home, ninety miles to suburban Detroit. We loaded up her brand new car to the brim (it was a miracle, but we did it), and headed out. That was the day I introduced her to my sister and mother.

The unfortunate inevitability came six months later. Her mother told me that Christine wanted me to go away. Indeed, this confused me, but I respected it. Supposedly, according to her mother, Chris had met a state lawyer and felt compelled to move in with him. Whether or not this was actually based on truth, it is another point on which I elaborate in The Long Road.

Any interest I had in women was wiped away, and this is how it remained till the present day.

There I was: back home again, with my college days behind me, and I was looking forward. To what, I didn’t know. I subbed in middle and high schools for a year and a half, along with tutoring English, Algebra and Spanish. Both subbing and tutoring were rewarding, and I knew they would serve well to help me get into graduate school. Their inconsistent nature and low pay forced me to abandon them and seek work elsewhere. I did—back in retail.

My life, at that point, was a tight focus on certain priorities, such as making money, but I never gave up on writing, despite the number of hours I put in at the gas station; writing, as always, was a priority of mine.’

The insight I gained throughout my thirties increased my self-confidence and determination, and I knew that all I needed to do was continue writing, regardless of what else I was doing at the time. As long as I did that, I knew I would eventually find success.

I was in my late-thirties, and I didn’t stop . . .

Next, the final chapter: My Professional Forties . . . .

 

Posted in Fiction, General Commentaries, Historical Accounts, Novels, Personal Experiences, Short Stories, Teaching, Tutoring, Writing Development Issues | Leave a Comment »

My Erratic Twenties: Disillusioned Individualist

Posted by CW64 on November 23, 2009

My isolation continued on into my late-teens and twenties, but that time period in my life became equally erratic, meaning filled with ‘on-again-off-again’ conflict and stress, not to mention a lack of self-esteem and second-guessing my own goals and direction.

When I started college at eighteen, part of me yearned to become socially accepted and to make friends; instead, I was outcast, kept at a distance and arrogantly snubbed by certain people who had made certain erroneous assumptions about me based on their own limited exposure to my actual person. These experiences, though hurtful at the time and haunting throughout the following decade, fueled me in ways that would eventually bring out skepticism towards people and the world around me through the flame of raw emotion; such interactions had an impact on me in so many humanly complex ways.

I worked odd jobs through my twenties while going to school on and off. Where this was a lack of direction, I see it now as a means to an end, struggling to not only find a niche, but to establish my own fertile and respectable identity.

One example dealt with the midnight shift at a gas station (that alone stirs the imagination with a variety of exciting as well as frightening possibilities). I worked under my ex-brother-in-law, an anal and bombastic runt of a man, who shouted rather than spoke calmly. I was held up by a druggie once, but I felt vindicated when, a short time later, I deterred a gas scam and had the driver arrested. My ongoing experiences here and in other retail scenarios have already been laid down in a recent three-part short story entitled Service, about a young frustrated man of 28 with a dismal existence who works at a convenience store. He is smart, though, and takes care of his own, until . . .

This came about predominantly through my artwork. I had started a novel about a sixties rock band living in Detroit, and one piece I sketched in precise detail depicted these characters. That work was one of a few showcased in an art exhibit.

Women, too, came back into the picture, but these only served as fleeting events which, although originally ‘hopefuls’ in romance, turned out to be mere "friendships" and rejections. As a result, I had limited engagement with females outside of my immediate family. This series of non-surprising let-downs shaped me in ways that could only inspire such jaded but realistic stories to which many people can and will relate.

Strangely, though, I became fascinated with erotica. Fantasies abounded! I never offered any of these visual depictions  for any art show, however, but I did carry through on writing out various fantasies that obsessed me at the time. Not only did I manage to express myself in this way and did so individualistically and creatively, but I also developed my writing skills by studying the concepts of imagery and metaphor, which I found had no end.

This was the time period, too, during which I continued developing my song-writing skills. I wrote a song for a woman during this era of my life–someone who, as I had suspected, turned out to be a lesbian. I hold no prejudice toward gays as I am liberal-minded in that sense, but the loss was a crushing blow. This young woman (twenty-five to my twenty-four) had a deep effect on me, and the music rang out. She and I are still ‘friends’ (whatever that means; we haven’t spoken in years), but that song is still fresh in my mind.

My writing, which definitely swelled to get out, was released in only bursts of energy. These bursts were erratic, but they reflected the spirit of a caged animal that yearned to be released. These writings, aside from my one novel and erotic samples, mostly revolved around class assignments written through creative angles. One was an essay I wrote on the novel Johnny Got His Gun. The story was about an unfortunate soldier who had lost his face and all of his limbs during WWI. The young man couldn’t cry out, couldn’t be heard, felt trapped within his own dark space. How eerily reminiscent of those in society who long to be heard and never are! I remember that piece and am still proud of it for the unique way I addressed the story and the issues pertaining to it.

Despite that, I felt lost. Where was I going? At 29, I had goals, but I had no self-confidence or light source to lead me there. I felt as if my life drifted aimlessly, with no end in sight. I knew I had to find a new milestone to reach; needed to grow and move forward. Women, if they fitted into this plan, were definitely not primary; my writing ambition took precedence, as so it should have, and I am glad it did.

Next: My Thriving Thirties: Rising Parallels . . . .

Posted in Essays and Creative Non-Fiction, Fiction, General Commentaries, Historical Accounts, Novels, Personal Experiences, Reality and Realism, Short Stories, Writing Development Issues | Leave a Comment »

Awkward Adolescence Part II: The Growing Individualist

Posted by CW64 on November 10, 2009

My isolation in youth played a major part in my eventually becoming an individualist, which is what I consider myself above all else. Yes, I know that, in my introductory, I post referred to myself as a writer above else, but, after all, considering that my writing revolves around my individuality and the concept of individualism, the primary status of ‘individualist’ over ‘writer’ would seem to make sense to me.

Then again, my particular style of writing denotes who I am as an individual and individualist, so I cannot be distinguished as an individual or individualist without the inclusion of my writing passion and style, which thus must be established first, no?

Ah, more contradictions.

Or are they?

When I was sixteen, I was drawn into billiards (colloquially, "pool"). One might wonder what that has to do with writing.

Everything!

Playing pool well requires thinking from beginning to end; every shot must be considered beforehand, even though a player might not know what her or his opponent is going to do throughout the game. That’s the challenge, and the strategy, though sound, will change just as consistently with the development of the game.

Writing, as said, is the same way. A general plan is conceived with the basic idea of a story or writing concept and then laid out in rough draft form. Revisions, then, subsequently fill in the gaps, expand and morph the story and the nature of the characters within it, become tighter and stronger and more vivid. With revisions comes the story’s final version; the climax, though preconceived, brings resolution—just like shooting in the eight ball (or nine ball, depending on the particular game).

Likewise, my writing has also driven me with becoming a better pool player. Writing strategies, such as being flexible with the development of a story and its characters, has directed me to be open-minded and more observant about the game and the organization on the table, not to mention shooting technique. Wording, phrasing, color of a story require just as much care as sliding the pool cue and pushing that cue ball; how a player slides her/his stick, how hard s/he hits the cue ball, how s/he hits the cue ball, all determine how the shot will be played and where the target ball will end up, just as the elements employed determine how a story will end up. Billiards and writing are parallel in this way.

Let’s not forget that Ringers would not have been written without my experience and knowledge of pool and hustling. Young Scotty is sixteen, and he is torn between playing pool professionally—to him, a sure thing—and going to college, which doesn’t guarantee anything in life. This struggle is one with which I am all too familiar; it is part of my life and has been for years. That is why this story is distinctly me—I both excel at the game and have advanced degrees. To me, this is an even balance.

In the end, I think that is why I was drawn to both—because of their ongoing developments and the intrigue that comes about as a result. The passion for both only intensified and made me more determined when I went off to college.

That was a good sign of interesting things to come!

Next: My Erratic Twenties . . . .

 

 

Posted in General Commentaries, Historical Accounts, Logic and Illogic, Personal Experiences, Short Stories, Writing Development Issues | 2 Comments »