Some action movie heroes bore me to tears. They are too righteous to seem real, too shallow to command my interest. They dash into danger with no fear for their safety. They will give up their life for another without a second thought. They are not characters, but brawny action figures.
Since, as a writer, I am not interested in reading about purely heroic characters, I tend to give my fictional characters flaws. For me, moral complexity creates interest and allows my characters to surprise me in a way that is in sync with their overall personality pattern.
Flaws also create sympathy with my characters and allow me to identify with them. It rounds them out. It makes them believable. But is it possible to go too far? To make them so flawed that readers lose interest? When your fictional hero behaves un-heroically, perhaps even cowardly or cruelly, will readers jump off the ride?
Writing a novel is not just a test of skill; it is psychologically taxing, which means how I talk to myself about it matters. If I tell myself that my writing is awful, I will discourage myself into quitting. If I tell myself that my writing is not awful, just incomplete, I will feel hopeful as I imagine a way forward.
Encouraging myself constantly is essential to finishing a novel. Creating worlds and people no one else can see is a sanity challenge to the most mentally healthy among us. I have bipolar disorder, so I had better be sure that my mind is a hospitable place, that I have cleared it of mental monsters before I settle in; otherwise I can expect the kind if mood crashes that used to make writing too scary to begin and too punishing to continue.
Who are these monsters? They are the internalized critics that shame me for my efforts as I write, the morality police of my childhood who chastise me for not having more discipline, and the dark shadow looking over my shoulder that I call the pseudo-reader, the imaginary incarnation of every troll who ever lived.
have an exciting announcement: I am about to release my fantasy novel Paw within the next couple of weeks, a book that combines my love of the fantasy genre with my well known fondness for cats. The edits are done. My Amazon file exists. It is around 200 pages and it is ready to go.
Publishing Paw is a big change of my original plan to release my other novel The Ghosts of Chimera first, a 600 page manuscript that was accepted by a small publisher over a year ago. I had major creative differences with my editor and I backed out of the deal so I could self-publish it as I saw fit, but I am not totally satisfied with it yet; getting all the kinks out of a 600 page book is going to take more time than I thought, so I am releasing Paw first.
Paw is about a slave who struggles to survive and protect her family as she works to escape a desert mining camp. The slave also happens to be a cat – a highly intelligent one with speech and bipedal locomotion. Actually, she prefers not to describe herself as a cat at all. This is what she has to say. Continue reading
There is no good reason for me to ever be bored. I live on a rock that is hurtling through space at 30 kilometers per second; I am technically on a thrill ride every day of my life, soaring through space and time, a ride that like any roller coaster will someday end.
So why is it so hard to know it at every moment? Why does life ever seem dull? Why do I obsess over trivialities? Why do I grumble when I lose a sock in the dryer? Why do feel angry at life when I am unable to find the lead on a roll of paper towels?
I lose perspective. However, when I write, I try my best to regain it. As a writer I am constantly trying to wake myself up from the illusion that the world is a tedious, permanent, and predictable place; this is partly because I hate being bored, and partly because stories that assume life is inherently dull are unlikely to move anyone, including me. When I write, I want to go where the passion and the awe is.
Both my mind and my eyes routinely deceive me.
Though this sounds like the definition of insanity, it is also an explanation for phenomena like optical illusions, or why we perceive that the sun is sinking below the horizon when actually the Earth is moving. Sometimes my mind is right. Other times my eyes do a better job at getting at the truth.
When I draw, I depend exclusively on my eyes, even when I know they are lying. I recently considered the many ways my eyes deceive me when I am trying to render objects from life. Giant faraway objects like trees appear smaller than tiny objects like an apple that is right in front of me. Distant objects appear bluer than close ones. If I want to create a convincing illusion, I have to go with what my eyes tell me, even if my mind correctly argues.
Every time I begin a new novel, I feel like a beginner again. In a panic I worry I have forgotten everything I have ever learned about the craft. I search my mind for the encyclopedia of writing techniques that are supposed to be stored in my library of knowledge, but the screen of my immediate consciousness has limited space. Instead of finding knowledge, I find thoughts like this:
You don’t know enough about warfare to write traditional fantasy!
Your last book was pretty good but this one won’t be!
You’ll never finish! Continue reading
Since I have realized I am only dreaming, my relief has been immeasurable.
Not that my dream is all bad. I am dreaming that I recently moved to a place called Pompano Beach. I am living in an apartment with a balcony overlooking a lake, a place where I like to write.
I must have been having this dream since the last day of December. It cannot be real because this place I love is overshadowed by a dystopia, an alternate America presided over by a xenophobic demagogue whose rallying cry is Bring Back Torture.
I have made friends with darkness. There is a warmth in it, the dusky comfort of a plush teddy bear or the soothing delight of just-baked brownies.
I discovered the warmth of darkness two years ago when, at age 25, I lost my vision to a degenerative disease.
At first the darkness scared me. I opened my eyes wide as the color drained slowly from my life. It was like death was coming early, encasing my brain in a deeply buried coffin, isolating my mind as the world around it faded away.
As a fiction writer, I often wonder what kind of character I am. Am I a sympathetic character, or are there scenarios in which I could be a villain? Most people, I suspect, could be either in extreme situations. But my introspection regarding stories goes beyond good and evil. I wonder if I am a passive character or an active character.
I know which I would rather be. It seems like a choice between being interesting and being boring. Of course, the reality is that in some situations I am passive, and in others active. No real person is entirely one or the other, just as no one is totally a villain or a hero.
However, for stories I always prefer active main characters. But what exactly does being active mean? Does it mean characters should charge at each other across fields brandishing swords? Dash into burning houses to save children?
Months ago I received a letter from my sanity imploring me to go off Twitter. It was delivered first class, so it must have been an emergency.
However, I wanted to stay on Twitter, so I just filed the letter away. In recent days, however, my sanity began blasting me with emails ordering me to go off Twitter, or else it would pack its suitcase and move to Australia. I have bipolar disorder. When my sanity delivers ultimatums, I listen.
I complied by vacating my Twitter account, walking away from over 50,000 followers. i have not checked my notifications since December 16. I emailed my sanity to ask if Google Plus and Facebook were okay. My sanity wrote back and told me to go stare at a lake or a tree.