The Lurking Dread

At the heart of every story lies a universal theme: good versus evil. The way it manifests may vary greatly, but it will be present in its many forms across all genres of fiction. To achieve the happy ending, our heroes must conquer the evil. In the tragedy, it is the evil that does the conquering. Even in humorous writing, there will be some sort of obstacle to overcome (evil) despite the comedy playing out on the pages. And because it is even present in such ‘happy’ stories, we call it conflict instead of good versus evil.

This ability to conceive the idea of evil –of suffering– is unique to human beings. Cattle, for example, don’t think ahead of time about what they will encounter upon entering the slaughterhouse. Everyone, every single one of us that has ever lived has experienced suffering and evil.  Why then, are we drawn to it in our books, music and art? Because let’s be honest, we are drawn to it. Even when there isn’t a positive outcome vis-a-vis the hero vanquishing the villain, the happily-ever-after romance, the underdog team winning the game at the buzzer. Think Greek tragedy, Shakespeare, Sylvia Plath.

In music, an entire genre –The Blues– arose from the experience of African American slaves in the Deep South.

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History of the Blues: rubber city review

Some of the greatest individual works of art as well as whole artistic movements are heavy with dread: Hieronymus Bosch, for example; Georgio de Chirico, Edward Munch, and Kay Sage are others.

For the writer, composer or artist, their art itself can be a coping mechanism. The especially gifted will tell you they are compelled to create. Without this release of creativity, they would go mad. Some ‘go mad’ anyway –the inability to manage the melancholy, the internal (or external/physical suffering) then leads to self destruction– while others are able to harness the dread and put it back in its cage when they’ve made use of it.

When we the observer, are drawn to this outlet for pain, on some level we recognize the dread lurking within. “That,” we say, “is how I feel.” “This happened to me.” “I am hurting, confused, scared, angry, desperate, lonely too.” Whatever the medium, we see in it, a mirror of our own experience. So because conflict and suffering IS the common experience of all mankind, artistic expression of that experience resonates strongly with every one of us. Art isn’t always pretty, but it is successful if it makes you feel something.

Same old, same old…

Adventures in fiction writing.

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

The longer you write, the more you will find yourself using the same or similar words and phrases over and over again. Especially if we write conversationally –the way we speak in everyday life. Our speech may be reflective of the region in which we live or were born and raised, our ethnic origins or even our age. While these peculiarities will lend color and flavor to our writing, even they may get repetitive after a while. This is only amplified when we write longer fiction pieces or novels. Beyond using a thesaurus to change up specific repetitions, how else can we add variation to the words we pen?

Some of my earliest writing was in the form of poetry. That is not a coincidence. Poetry is introduced to us in the cradle by means of nursery rhymes and bedtime lullabies. As we grow and mature into our teen years and beyond, often music becomes a huge influence. Thus the lyrics of songs speak to us the way nothing else can. Many musicians like Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, Patty Smith, Joni Mitchell, and Bruce Springsteen are considered to be not just song writers but poets as well.

Anthropologically, poetry in the form of song or saga has been used to help the balladeer or the skald keep the oral history of a people alive through story telling. It is some of the earliest writing ever discovered. The Epic of Gilgamesh, for example, dates back to 2000 BCE. Another Sumerian text, The Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor, may be even older than that.

What am I getting at, you ask? Poetry composition can be a delightful way to hone our skills in using creative vocabulary and illustative terminology. “But, I don’t want to be a poet,” you say. Shut up, yes you do. Here’s why…

I do enjoy writing poetry, but it is not my main avenue of expression. I am primarily a fiction writer. However, composing poetry demands that we paint a picture with our words, if you will. Putting things into verse, even if the verse doesn’t rhyme, pushes you to use descriptive and colorful terms that you wouldn’t use in day-to-day speech.

In describing my front lawn, for example, you could simply state, “the lawn was full of dead dandelions,” and that would be true! Before you write that ask, “What do those dandelions remind me of?” “What idea do they conjure?” They are dead, so how about headstones in a graveyard? They are skinny, so how about emaciated refugees fleeing a disaster or famine? They have tufts of thin, white spores… does that remind you of hair or clouds or even foam at the crest of a wave? Now write it like this, “Like a wave of fleeing refugees, the dandelions marched across the expanse of grass.”

I didn’t write a poem, but I wrote a poetic sentence. Obviously, a little of that can go a long way. Every sentence does not have to be metaphorical in nature. But in the right place, it can transform ordinary writing into extraordinary writing. I encourage you, if you have not attempted to write poetry before now, give it a try. You can find many accomplished poets here on WordPress as well as bloggers who sponsor poetry challenges. Why not give one a try? If you really can’t think of anything, try rewriting the lyrics of a favorite song. Remember, this is practice for fiction writing. Nevertheless, perhaps you will find that at heart, you are a poet after all.

Warring Muses

Adventures in novel writing. Internal chatter and trying not to sound like a crazy person.

Is it ever a bad thing to have too many ideas? To have more than one story whirling around in your mind? I guess that depends on how your brain filters and manages the internal chatter.

I was really excited to begin this year with work on my World War One story, Here Lies a Soldier. I’ve continued my research and note taking for points to include in the story but all the while other voices have been ‘whispering’ in my ear. (Not literally. I promise I’m not crazy. I think…) Small Cuts is a piece that was inspired by a dinner out with friends. A dinner in which I was left largely out of the conversation and free to observe the diners at the tables around me. (This is not a complaint about my experience at dinner, mind you. I am always a ready and willing observer of people.)

After initially writing the opening scene from one perspective, I expected to be done with it. But then another figurative finger tapped on my shoulder and indicated that she wanted to talk. Who am I to pick and choose when there is another side to the story? The same thing happened with the other members of this quartet until finally I’d ‘spoken’ to all of them, gained insight into what each of them was experiencing, feeling and remembering. Now I was done. Or was I?

I had no plans to pick up the thread of this story, but one by one, each of these characters began to continue their report of the events that evening. I had no choice but to listen and record. Yep, sounds crazy.

Such is the life of a writer. In your world, characters talk to you and to each other. It often keeps you awake at night. It makes your mind wander in the middle of a family gathering, a business meeting or during a class. Your family, friends, coworkers and teachers are not amused. Sometimes those internal conversations are so real to you that you continue them out loud, to the confusion of those around you.

The thing is, that internal chatter is essential to good writing.  “Hearing” the voices talking, listening to an invisible narrator spin a tale, visualizing the scene, debating the sides of an issue during conflict;  that is writing, writing without committing the words to paper.

But what if there’s a bunch of different ‘voices’ talking and shouting over the others? My dilemma is whether I should write both stories simultaneously or focus on one over the other. I have already delayed the writing of the war story to finish a novel in my series and I’m not inclined to push it off again. Can I successfully write both stories together? Perhaps. They are different enough from each other not to overlap in plot or dialogue. Each story would only be a first draft, but… how does the saying go? The only bad first draft is the one you haven’t written. So are two first drafts better than one? Do you see how I keep asking questions in this post instead of providing answers? This is me thinking out loud. I really haven’t figured out how to negotiate peace between the warring muses and let all the sides have their say.

Thanks for listening to the ramblings of a crazy writer!