The Baseball Theory

I should have called this blog the Onion theory, but it didn’t have the same ring to it. There’s a band called Will Haven who I used to listen to who had a song called Baseball Theory about how a baseball has many layers, and as you unravel it, there are different types of fillings. I believe the singer was talking about his relationship, but I’m here to talk about books and writing.

I’ve struggled with being able to write to a certain level. I don’t want to be on the same level as the thousand other writers out there trying to make it in the publishing world. I want to be deeper, or higher, or whatever the analogy would be. I want someone to read my work and know I’ve practised, put effort into honing my skills and that my ideas are unique and my characters are real and might actually be your neighbours or friends. I used to call these layers 2D and 3D, (this is a little insight to how my brain works when writing and it might sound crazy, but I can’t help it). If I write a character that is bland, with no discernable features and has no background and my story is lacklustre, I think to myself ‘that was too 2D.’ I need it to be more 3D. I need it to have layers, sides, depth and be realistic. It’s not enough to make a ‘father’ an alcoholic, or a ‘mother’ overbearing. It’s too clichéd and predictable. In my NaNo (National Novel Writers Month) I made the daughter deaf. She’s in one scene that goes for about two sentences, but I was able to make her more 3D. I wanted to add a character that was a late teen goth, but dreaded the thought of what stereotypical template I would write about a teen goth, so I tried really hard to try and unravel her ‘baseball.’ I didn’t want her to have black eyeliner or fingerless gloves or listen to Marilyn Manson. She writes a weekly blog, listens to Norwegian black metal and I made her talk about a boy she dated who was severely into the Occult and that he got a little too close to the supernatural and had disappeared.

I don’t want to overdo it and make every single character have a rich and meaningful/heartbreaking back story. Sometimes you can add a few layers by indicating things like smoking when they’re stressed, looking at junkies and being disgusted because their sister/brother died of an overdose. You don’t need to go in deep and reveal layer after layer, two or three is more than enough. Often, and I’m guilty of this too, I’m read entire books where the main character hasn’t the slightest depth at all. This happens in fantasy books often because the writer is too distracted with cool secondary characters and environments.  Take X-Men for example, who is the coolest, most badass x-men? Wolverine. Then who? Beast, Gambit, Jean Grey? Now look at the leader, Cyclops? All leaders are straight forward, square jawed with a simple power who has no flaws and are more annoying then enjoyable. This also happens with Images Cyberforce, Ripclaw was cool, Ballistic was cool and their leader, Stryker? Who cares? He has three arms on one side and a long blonde pony tail. Wolverine had a back story a mile long, he had several different comics going at the same time, but did they ever release a Cyclops comic? Nope. And if he did, would anyone have bought it?

When it came to team dynamics, there was always that formula of having one really, really large guy, example, (the Thing in Fantastic Four, Beast, Maul from WildC.A.T.s). The cool offsider  (Human Torch, Grifter), the slim and sexy female (Storm, Invisible Woman, Zealot). I say break this mould because it’s becoming tiresome and predictable, it stays two dimensional. I understand in the comic realm if you mirror something successful, you may get readers to come to your side for a carbon copy and then they’ll have two comics to read a month, instead of one.

Anyway, I’m getting off the point. Some characters always surprise me, and it’s always unintentional. I’ll write a side character needed for one chapter and I’ll like them so much I’ll bring them back into the story later on and give them a bigger role. Other characters that I try to build too much on become a struggle to write and I leave them. In the NaNo I’m writing now I have a character called Wickham who picks up one of the main characters (Fella Jack)  to drive him out to this massive hole they found. His whole purpose was to just have somebody tell him what they had done the night before when they were drunk and Fella Jack woke up on the front lawn. Wickham is stick thin with shoulder length blonde hair and he smokes and has an old car. That’s all the depth I gave him. He didn’t have any other purpose, but for some reason, I don’t know what it is, I like him. I want something to happen to him, get him involved. I gave Fella Jack’s wife a drinking problem (breaking my own rules, I know), she hates her daughter and leaves to go to bars to pick up other men. I thought her character was deep enough, but I haven’t been back to her since the first chapter and I’m 12 chapters in!

Sometimes unrevealing the baseball works, and other times just having it the way it is works too. You can never tell.

Mitchell Tierney

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Resurfacing

 

The past few months I haven’t written. Not a word, not a sausage, not a damn thing. And at first I went a little stir-crazy and now, I’m just a bit lost.  Is this what happens when a village loses its chief idiot?

So why have I been sans-writing? Has there been a writing strike? Have I lost my marbles? Have I lost my pen? Have I crashed a laptop? For the love of all things decent, what, Sandy, what?

Nope. I’ve just not had the time. The last few months I’ve been a part-time student, full-time worker ant, and I’ve been in a play which has gone from intense to better start focussing and sorting yourself out, now! To the point where I’ve skipped some good opportunities to do many things in the public forum. My blogs stand neglected and abandoned with cobwebs growing all around them. And to be honest, it’s a little disheartening that there isn’t a regular audience clamouring for the next episode of my work…awkward.

So now, here is my challenge and the point to this, my first blog in months (how lucky do you feel right now) –how do I get back? Oh, don’t get me wrong, I want to get back to writing…sort of. And I have a lot of work I want to write. My biggest motivator for one of my novels was NaNoWriMo. The challenge of 50,000 words in 30 days is amazing. I won’t go into details, because there’s already a blog all about it, but damn it gets the blood pumping, doesn’t it? I even kept going with my work last year, after the due date, because I was enjoying writing it so much. Admittedly I wasn’t a part-time student, nor had many other art jobs going at the time, but still, there it was. And now, I see writing as my old friend. One I’m keen to be reacquainted with. I want to sit down, like I am right now, and have a cup of tea and maybe a warm cholesterol-inducing creamy scone and just get the words out of my heart, out of my mind, out through my fingers and onto something a bit more tangible. I want to do this. But right now, I’m just a little tired. I’m a little lost. I know where I want to go, but it’s just about trying to follow the path in the forest to my destination.

So, I’m going with the tried and true method. I’m putting on the music, I’m taking time out and I’m sitting down and writing. I think this time though, instead of jumping back into my stories like I used to do, I’m going to have to start a tiny bit slower. It’s like trying to move the rusty handle of something. You’ll need a little oil, and you’ll need to let it take it’s time. But wait, just wait a second and she’ll be back to her former glory in no time.

I’ve also had some personal things that have happened since I last wrote and it’s definitely coloured my experience of life in general. So right now, as much as I would like to write and forget all the hideous, grotesque bollocks that’s happened recently, I just need to relax and go with the flow.

And I think that’s what it’s about for me, at the moment. Different writers work differently. And depending where you are in life and in the world, your writing will be different. Right now, it’s reflective, so I can deal with everything. But when I’m feeling strong and awake enough I look forward to going back to some good old fashioned gothic action. It’s sort of like recovering from an illness. The fever has broken and I’m starting to get my appetite back. It’s going to be a little while before I feel like a rich meal, but right now, I’m getting my appetite back and it’s a good thing. I’m reconnecting.

I suppose the reason I’m writing this, is just to say that as writers we get impatient with ourselves. I especially do. When I have the time, but not the inspiration. When I have inspiration coming out of my ears and no time to write. When I have no idea what the hell I’m doing, but I’m doing it and loving it and racing along with it, not sure if I’ll land or crash and burn. But sometimes, just sometimes, whatever is out there, whatever life hauls at us, torsion catapult style, whatever hits the fan and whatever you’re left cleaning up afterwards, the thing with words is that they’re these beautiful things that don’t just entertain or amuse us, they sort us out. They help us deal. They help us cope. Sometimes they help us understand and sometimes they leave us questioning what the hell the author was smoking. But sometimes, just sometimes, instead of demanding that they do our bidding, instead of insisting that inspiration get its butt down here and help us because it’s the only day we will have in a long time, sometimes, it just pays to sit back, relax and go with the flow.

Believe me, as much as I have a tree-hugging hippie side to me and I love the ‘go with the flow’ notion, I’ve never really done it with my actual work. I’ve always had an agenda. I’ve always had somewhere I’ve wanted to go or something I’ve wanted to get out there. For instance, the genre, the type of story, the beginning of something. Sometimes even just one line. One line that starts that story for me, whether it’s beginning, middle or end. And the only time I’ve been reflective is when I’ve journalled and kept my thoughts to myself. But these days, I think I need to let the intense agenda go. I just need to go with the flow. I just need to write and see what happens. And maybe I’ll keep it and use it, maybe I’ll change it, and maybe I’ll keep it hidden for now and see when I’m ready to share it, if I ever am. The other thing that keeps cropping up for me is to let someone else into this world of mine. I’m a very private person when it comes to certain things in my life, most of us are. And there are a lot of people who wouldn’t believe that about me, because I come across as the warmest, friendliest, outgoing person who isn’t shy to talk to someone. But my closest friends who have known me much longer and have seen me at my worst and for some reason have still stuck around know this about me. I’m exceptionally shy. I’m terrified of letting someone into my most sacred world. And every day I slide into my little customer service mask, and pretend that I’m not shy. And every day it requires effort. But there are days when I just can’t deal with people. And there are days when I can’t be bothered trying, because I’m exhausted. Keeping up your defences every day does that to you. So why don’t I just relax and ‘go with the flow’ and let everyone in? Easy – because not everyone is respectful or tolerant. And lately I’ve had that reconfirmed. Writing for me isn’t just about slipping into different worlds, putting something completely fictional out there, entertaining myself and the world and leaving it be. It’s much more than that.

When I write, I’m letting you into a sacred area of my world, powered by the one thing I prize more than anything in the universe – imagination. I’m letting you into my world. I’m showing you what I see, what I feel, what I hear, what I think. And I’m trusting you with it. Sometimes it’s an exceptional risk and sometimes I don’t get involved in thinking about the type of person reading it. It’s too much to deal with, I don’t need that kind of pressure. Because at the end of the day this is my world. These are my characters. And you are a guest in my world. So, I write for me. But there is my world, and when I write I invite you into it. Because I’m curious, because I want to connect. I want you to see something. I want to show you something. On some level I hope we can understand each other. You don’t have to love it, you don’t ever have to read another thing I write, ever again. You don’t even have to finish reading what I’ve written.  And today, just today, I’m not going to worry about it. I’m not going to try and shape anything. I’m not going to try and impress you. I’m not going to try and entertain you. We’re not going to pretend that I’m not shy and I’m not unsure. Today, we’re just going to be honest with each other. Respectful, but honest. I’m not sure. I’m unbelievably shy. I’m doing something different and I’m trying something new. So here I am. My castle is unguarded and my defences are down around you. And I’m just going to sit back and see what happens.

So I tell you what. I’ll invite you in for a cup of tea and a few words, and in return I’ll let go. I’ll relax and I’ll go with the flow. And let’s just see where the evening takes us.

If this works, then all right. We’ve achieved something. If not, then screw it. It was a good experiment. But right now, while I’m trying to find my way back through the forest and the thickets, let’s just stop, check out the scenery, let it go and go with the flow.

 

~Sandy Sharma

 

 

 

Book vs Movie: The Golden Compass

Firstly this one is short but sweet. Secondly minor spoilers, you have been warned.

The Golden Compass (2007) movie is based on the first book in the His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman, called Northern Lights. And I use the words ‘based on’ quite lightly. For those who have read the books and have not made the jump to see the film for the love of all things literary DON’T. It will anger you.

Now I hadn’t read the books when I went to see the movie and as such enjoyed the story of Lyra Belacqua and her dæmon Pan (a sort of familiar that take the shapes of animals) and her search for the missing Gyptian children across the snowy lands. The movie boasts stunning visual effects and is the only thing I still enjoy about the movie post book reading. Seeing the polar bears, especially armoured bear Iorek Byrnison  come to life was amazing.

The problem with the movie is the giant chunks of story that is taken out or changed. Apparently (so I’ve read anyway) director Chris Weitz was made to change a lot of the script because of its anti-Catholic and atheistic themes that are quite blatant in the book (despite Catholicism never actually being named in either).  Lyra’s world is run by the Magisterium who are conspiring to end tolerance and free inquiry. And I guess I understand this was done as to not anger the Catholic Church (although personally when people protest a movie it usually does better) so instead they angered the fans of the books.

For those who have only seen the film, please, please, please read the books. All of them. They are well written with layers and layers of plot, several wondrous storylines and have parts that will make you laugh and cry. Most of all they make you think. Something the movie was sorely lacking.

I’m not going to give away any of the plot because it really has so many elements, but if you haven’t read the book, go see the movie, enjoy its prettiness, then go read the books and discover the wonder and intrigue Pullman has created that is sorely lacking in the film.

Inanimate Lessons

 I’m by no means a natural born writer. I have to work at it. Just like any profession or sport, practice will, inevitably, make perfect (or near enough). When I started writing, I had an issue with length. I was young and didn’t know how to structure chapters, so my chapters ended up being a page long. I’d write ‘Chapter _’ at the top and write to the bottom. Once I hit the bottom of the page, that would be the end of the chapter. I eventually was able to expand my chapter lengths a little, but it still wasn’t enough. My books would have 50 + chapters and the story didn’t seem to progress very far at any one time. So, I set my self a task – write a book about ten people. Each chapter will be about one person and it will be ten pages long. You will never go back to that person, so whatever happens in that chapter will have to be resolved at the end. I thought it was a good way to push my boundaries and get good length writing practice.

The story was simple enough, a body is found dumped in a drain, a young person who’s wearing a red cape. Slowly the news spreads and each chapter is about each persons reaction to finding out. I called it ‘Bloody Cape’ after a Deftones song. One chapter had the police officer receiving the call and going out to investigate, another was a man bound to a wheel chair who worked at an Adult Store and closed the store to go and take a look. I never planned the characters, but came up with them while writing each chapter. I thought, ‘Ok, the deceased person is wearing a cape because there’s a local comic book artist who draws a comic with a red cape.’ So the next chapter was the artist finding out the person died looking like one of his characters. It was hard at first to keep the ball rolling, because usually, for me any way, the chapter will end itself and you know it’s time for the next chapter to come. But when you’re writing to a set of rules, you can’t stop. I had to force myself to keep going. By the end of the book, I found my chapters were exceeding the ten page limit. I got used to writing long chapters. The only down fall was, every book or short story I wrote after that was long and I had to learn to cut them back a little.

There is a Family Guy episode where they mock Stephen King. They ask him what his next book will be about and he looks around the room frantically trying to make something up on the spot. He picks a lamp. ‘How about a Lamp? OOooooOhhh!’ I thought this would be another good assignment to set myself. Could I write something scary using an inanimate object? What would be the least harmful thing I could think of and make it terrifying? I thought of a cardboard box. It’s simplistic, everyone has one tucked away in their garage, spare room, shed, etc. They’re mostly harmless and also collapsible. A baby could knock one flat. How could I make this the main subject of horror? I thought about the cardboard box and what it’s use for. Moving and storing. I thought, what if the box had kept a serial killers belongings in it while he was in a mental ward? What if it stored all his ‘trophies’ or personal belongings? Could some of his energy or ‘mojo’ seep into the box? Why not? Sounds plausible. I figured I would write a trilogy about the box. Three short stories centred around the same box and how it brings each owner agonizing horror and misfortune. I was going to call the trilogy The Murder Box, with each story in turn called The Gore Box, The Flesh Box and The Horror Box. The first story was a mother and her two children moving from one town to another to escape their abusive father. They leave the box in the spare room to unpack another day and go to bed. At midnight, when the house is quiet and dark, the lid opens up on its own and a black, charred hand reaches out of it from the darkness. The daughter gets out of bed to get a glass of water and walks past the room, the hand disappears. As her back is turned, a dark, shadowy figure dashes across the hallway in the next room. I never wrote the second story because I had an ending where a young man escaping the law crashes his car and the box is burnt to ash in the fire. The young man laying on the road, bleeding to death, watches all the demons and monsters spill from the box and burn.

I tried this assignment again with one of the first short stories I wrote that I was proud of called The Tape. The story was based around an elderly man living on his own named Leo. One stormy night there is a knock at his door and when he answers it, it’s his neighbour Joe who is looking frantic and horrified. Joe says that he is leaving and Leo asks why he’s taking off in the middle of the night in the pouring rain? Joe doesn’t answer, but instead asks him if he wants his old stereo. Leo takes it and Joes runs off into the hammering thunder and drives away. Leo leaves it on the table, not knowing what he’s going to do with it. Later that night he goes to the bathroom to take a bath and takes the stereo with him to listen to music. He finds a tape inside the cassette deck and plays it. It’s an interview by a psychiatrist and a schizophrenic patient who talks about see a little girl in a dress wearing a pure white mask. After a few haunted experiences, towards the end, Leo is in the bathtub holding a razor when the lights flicker in the bathroom. He looks to the doorway and sees the young girl with the white mask. She then pushes the stereo into the bathtub.

From constant practicing and experimenting, and also setting myself assignments, I can work on the areas I think I need to be better at.

NaNoWriMo is upon us and that is always a challenge and a good way to learn how to write. You push yourself to finish and sometimes that it what is needed to get it done. Because most of us aren’t published authors with agents breathing down our necks for the next book, we don’t have that push to finish and sometimes the book can get lost along the way and forgotten, and that’s always a shame. Finishing a book is a big deal for any writer. Some people may only finish one book in their writing lives, others may finish many.

Whenever I pick up a book at the book store, I’ll flick through it and if I see the chapters are short, it appeals to me more. Only because I don’t have that much time to read, and when I do it’s normally half an hour to an hour at the most. So if I know I can get a chapter or two done before bed, it makes me feel like I’m still sticking with the story and getting it read. Early Terry Pratchett books didn’t have chapters and it always made me apprehensive about reading them because I hate stopping the middle of a chapter or I’ll lose the flow of the story, but his recent books have chapters now, much to my relief.

Mitchell Tierney