Understanding And Using People – It’s Great To Be A Writer

Today, I’m trading blog places with Connor, from Cities of the Mind.  The post he wrote is below, and I’m over at his site. I hope you’ll visit when you’re done reading!  Enough of my rambling…here’s Connor:

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First off, I am very pleased to be here on JannaT’s blog. She’s one of my favorite bloggers, with her odd take on life, and all the funny stories that go along with it. Wisdom and humor, folks, you’ll find it here.   JannaT note:  Um Connor, you do realize you’re posting here, for free, right? 

This guest post did present a small problem for me, as adulthood and child-rearing are two things I know absolutely nothing practical about. So I thought I might venture into the intimately familiar space between; that awkward part of adulthood when it still fits like an itchy new shirt. I’m going to talk about the importance of understanding people. It’s a good thing for anyone, and it’s indispensable to a writer.

Every story, even the odd story not about humans, is about people. So I’m going to start with the story of why I came to understand what I do about people. I wanted to talk about how, too, but when I hit five pages I realized I might be overreaching. So instead this is just about getting over myself and growing the <redacted> up.

When I was much younger, my interests lay in observations of nature and of science. I wanted to understand things. I was a dweeb. I’m not kidding; I used to pretend to be afraid of the dark so my parents would let me leave my closet light on. . . so I could stay up and read my encyclopedia; if there had been an entry under “dweeb” it would’ve been nothing but a mirror.

People, on the other hand, existed only to play with and compete against. Aside from my friends, they occupied the same level in my mind as the sprites in video games. This continued right on through my teenage years.

I know what you’re thinking, “Look at this guy over here folks, when he was a teenager he thought the world revolved around him!” At this point I imagine your gesturing at me, here, in my spot right in the center of the universe, saying, “What an anomaly, eh, folks? A regular black swan.

A black swan is an unexpected and unpredictable event, in this case, not Natalie Portman. Just to reiterate: I am not Natalie Portman. What I am is a guy cursed with a very good memory, so that every time I have an epiphany I get to read it in the voice of the authority figure who tried to tell it to me ten-odd years ago. For example, in my very late teens, I had the stunning realization that if I was going to ever be any good at writing, I had to learn to understand people.

Flashback five years, I’m sulking in the car and my ridiculously empathic former polygraph examiner mom is saying, “You know, your writing would get so much better if you really took some time to understand people.”

This was during a period of my life marked with upheaval, in which I did something I’d never thought of before: I emailed my dad and actually asked for advice about life and not being a jerk. One of the things he said to me (of many) was (basically), “When I was about your age, I went through a process very like this. I realized one day, as if I could see it, there were these golden webs that connected everyone around me together.”

I remembered that paragraph as an anomalous piece of gibberish in an otherwise very helpful email. So, I got serious about understanding people. I decided to approach it like I did physics or math, trying to really understand the underpinning concepts. I transferred to another college, made some really good friends, and learned how to see things through the eyes of other people. A couple years after that, I was considering a situation involving several friends at odds with each other when I had a major epiphany.

It was as if I was hovering above it all, looking down! I didn’t see just how my friends affected me and vice versa, but how they in turn pushed and pulled on one another. Mysteries were revealed, and great dark curtain was swept away to reveal a world I’d only heretofore suspected.

It was as if everyone was connect by lines into a great web–Oh, for crying out loud!

The saddest part of growing up is looking back and realizing that we were too smart to learn half of what our parents could have–and tried to–teach us. I used to think the wisdom was the prize for gaining knowledge, but I’m beginning to think it’s just the price of it.

So that’s my story. Again, I’m not going to talk about how I went about understanding people–maybe on my own blog in the future–but I’ll talk about the benefits, and the lasting after effects. There are these three plateaus on your journey through the world of people, you see, maybe more, but I haven’t met them yet.

First, you’re going to realize that no one, anywhere, is as interesting as they think they are.

Second, you’re going to realize that everyone is much more interesting than they think they are, just not in the ways they think.

Third, you’re going to suddenly see shocking beauty in everyone. This was, for me at least, one of those epiphany things. I wasn’t expecting it, but it was more of a reward than I would have thought possible for this lengthy line of inquiry.

What am I talking about? Writers are always in search of uniqueness. I don’t need to tell any of you how hard it is to find. But it’s everywhere. There’s this certain level of understanding people where all the little pieces of people become bits of characters. A nose here, an oddly curved upper lip there, a tendency to massage their left shoulder when they talk about driving. A woman who carries intentionally overpowering perfume in her purse, in case she wants to encourage a date to keep his distance. The difference between wrist scars made to look like suicide attempts and wrist scars from the real thing.

Once the ordinary is all safely catalogued the things that stand out in every person are the inconsistencies, the little bits of uniqueness–you’ll get caught up in the orbit of the people around you, and they’ll show you things you’d never dreamed of. It’s a window into the thousands of stories that don’t involve us but go on all around us–all the plays where we’re just the extras.

And–take it from a former center of his universe–it is beautiful.

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Connor Rickett is a young writer in the early stages of fortune and fame, namely debt and infamy. He just finished his first draft of his first book, and sometimes people pay him to write stuff, but you can read all sorts of things for free over at his blog!

Zombies: They’re After More Than Your Brains

 In case you couldn’t tell by the title, today, I’m featuring a guest post by Tim Weaver.  I met Tim in the writing class I took last fall and he is a regular visitor/commenter on my blog.  As far as I know, Tim doesn’t have a blog or website…so, if you like what you read, let him know.  With enough interest, he might decide to write online.  Or, maybe not…I didn’t ask before I wrote this  ;)

Zombies:  They’re After More Than Your Brains

By Tim Weaver

Back in 1785, famed Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote, “The best laid zombie plans of mice and men, oft go awry.”

He didn’t?  Well, he should have.  Because that’s what’s happened to me.  My Zombie Plan needs a Zombie Plan.

What? You don’t have a Zombie Plan?  It must be nice.

 I envy you.  The normality of your lives as you go about your day, paying bills, raising kids, wishing the world would switch to a metric day for the extra seventy-six hours it would give us, dealing with the mind-splinter that is not knowing how many licks it takes to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop (An average of 252. You’re welcome).

How I long for such a mundane existence.  Instead, I slog through day by everlasting day, trying to come to grips with the one problem that I’ve never, ever experienced before: 

I don’t know what type of zombies to use in my zombie apocalypse novel.

“What?” you say. “That’s it? I thought it was a REAL problem.”

Gentle reader, zombies ARE a real problem.  They do exist, and I am fighting one.

Though it doesn’t fall into one of the three neat categories of the undead (the Voodoo zombie, the “Romero” zombie or the “virus” zombie), my zombie problem isn’t new…in fact, it’s plagued mankind for ages.  I just don’t know if anyone has recognized it for what it is.

It is the “procrastination” zombie; the decision that won’t die, whose stench of decomposing ideas is overpowering and a monster that will try to bite me, probably in the butt.  With zombies, though, it doesn’t matter where you’re bitten, only THAT you’re bitten.

I need to choose a type so I can metaphorically shoot the Procrastination monster in the head and get on with my book.  My choice between the “George Romero” cannibalistic reanimated dead zombie or the “”28 Days Later” virus-infected but not dead zombie isn’t as easy as you might think (I’ve ruled “Voodoo” zombies as an anachronism that doesn’t fit in a post-apocalyptic story).

On the one hand, the writer can give reanimated zombies near-superhuman power, the ability to be almost impervious to killing, and the story continuation capability of them being already dead, so they never, ever, go away.  Think sequels.

On the other hand, well, is hand sanitizer.  Virus-infected zombies, like those in Zombieland, may look like the dead, walk like the dead and even try to eat you like the dead.  But they’re not dead.  And being not-dead, they have vulnerabilities.  They can be killed more easily.  They have no super powers except maybe the inability to feel pain.  And they eventually die on their own, like all humans do.

What’s the conundrum?  Reanimated zombies may be more frightening on a longer timeline since they never die, and can be easier to write about.  However, the threat of a viral pandemic that creates cannibalistic creatures is more “real” and, I think, more frightening.

My brain tells me to go with the tried-and-true “Romero” style, since most books are about them.  At the same time, my heart (if I had one) tells me to “go viral”.  Since it’s never been done, it’ll be breaking new ground and not as easily lost in the crowds of the other undead.  But since it’s not been done before it begs the question “Why not?”

A “Zombie Plan” is the plan of where to go, what supplies to take and how to survive in the event of the Zombie Apocalypse.  It’s not as complete as I’d thought, though, since it doesn’t account for the Procrastination Zombies.   But it does now.  Let’s just hope that none of Burns’ mice become zombies.

What’s your Zombie Plan against the procrastination zombie?

Everybody And Their Mother Say So

I’m excited to welcome a guest post by Barb Tarn – writer of adult fantasy and artist.  I enjoy her Monday “Happiness Is…” posts as well as her insights from many years of experimenting with writing.  I hope you do, too :)  Don’t forget to check out my post on Barb’s Creative Barbwire blog today.  (We’ve both written a post on the same subject.)

Everybody And Their Mother Say So

by Barbara G.Tarn

 

Veronica Sawyer: If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you?

Heather McNamara: Probably.

Veronica Sawyer: If you’re happy every day of your life, you wouldn’t be a human being, you’d be a game show host.

(from the movie “Heathers”, written by Daniel Waters)

How many times did that happen to you? Saying “But everyone else is doing it” or “But everybody and their mother say so” as an excuse for doing something?

It happens to everybody, writer or not, right? But who set those damn rules “everybody” follows anyway? I believe we shouldn’t allow others to tell us what we can/can’t/should/shouldn’t do. I don’t think somebody exists who doesn’t have his/her own dreams/ideas. But we’re social people and we tend to influence each other – or better, strong-willed individuals dictate the rules to the “weaker” beings.

I’m probably strong-willed (rebel? Proud to be different?), but I wasn’t always like this. I’ve told lies to myself for years, trying to “fit in”. This brought depression and ruined my life and nobody cared except me, until I said “Enough!” and started following my (crazy) mind. And now I don’t like hearing “but everybody and their mother say so” as an excuse. Veronica’s line immediately comes to my mind – and yeah, I do get some “Probably” answers. Please, don’t. God gave you a beautiful mind and even more beautiful heart. Use them, listen to them, they know better than anybody else what you really need. You don’t have to follow fashion, create your own. You don’t have to follow the market, shape it.

About writing, it was the same. By trying to listening to every comment and every suggestion, I got writer burn-out. So I said enough. I mean, we all know the rules. Read aloud what you have written (not even if you pay me, pal, doesn’t work for me!), kill whatever (your babies, adverbs, adjectives, the list is endless), follow this, do that, and so on, and so forth. Of course you should check your grammar, be careful with head-hopping and all the other rather obvious things (plot holes or character inconsistencies), but then again, rules are made to be broken – with knowledge of what’s behind them, of course.

Otherwise your own personal voice, your themes, your stories will never shine and look like dozens others that stick to that very same rule. Those bestsellers and blockbusters? They became that because they dared to be different. They sounded different. They told the same old story in a different way. Of course now everybody is looking for clones of those, but it’s not really going to work, or at least not for everybody.

Remember, all the stories have already been told over and over again. It’s the new execution, the personal view of an old “myth” that makes you stand out from the crowd. And don’t let readers and critics lead you astray, it’s YOUR story, not theirs. It’s YOUR view on whatever topic you’re writing about (fictionalized or not). You can’t please everybody and their mother. Even those bestsellers up there have their detractors.

Don’t follow the trend. Set it.

Happy writing!

Barbara G. Tarn is a writer, artist and world-creator. She hopes to reveal the might of her world, Silvery Earth, as soon as technology allows her. Or maybe she’ll turn into an historical writer, who knows. In the meantime she writes, draws, ignores her day job and blogs at http://creativebarbwire.wordpress.com

“Writing Judo” By Guest Blogger Ollin Morales

I’m excited to welcome the first guest post ever on my blog by: <trumpet fanfare> Ollin Morales.  <thunderous applause> I enjoy his inspirational posts about his writing journey as he writes his first novel and I hope you do, too :)  Don’t forget to check out my post on Ollin’s  {Courage 2 Create} blog today.

Writing Judo

by Ollin Morales

Writing is like martial arts.

You can’t let all the tools and the forms and the structures restrain you. You have to be willing to apply your skill to whatever comes your way. You have to allow yourself to work with a scene in your novel both organically and at the same time shape it with the skill you have learned. It’s mind meets instinct. Bruce Lee says it best:

“Be water my friend.” – Bruce Lee

When I am convinced that my mindset at the moment is not congruent with the scene or piece I am trying to write, I write it anyway. But instead of ignoring my mindset at the moment, I use it, I utilize the energy–whether it is that I am mad, or confused, or feel humiliated, or lost. Suddenly what I thought had nothing to do with what I was writing was exactly what the piece needed.

There is a raw emotion and a realness that you bring to your work. Because, after all, you are the one that is human. You are the only real thing about your novel, so it is up to you to bring that realness of humanity to your writing. One way to do this is to use your raw emotions, your vulnerabilities, your insecurities, your anger, what have you, and let them shape that scene.

We can get convinced that there is no way that our lives right now could possibly be in sync with what we are writing about and so we can’t use any of it in our writing.

But try again, and you’ll find that you are wrong. What you are going through is (sometimes) exactly what you need.

Our writing is a reflection of who we are at the moment, whether we like it or not. You can try to restrain that human rawness typing at that laptop, but it would serve you better if you went with it. Be like water. If you’re being poured into a cup, you become the cup.

Allow your mood to guide you, to reveal an answer. That nightmare you had last night. Write it out, and in your story you can give it a happy ending. That problem that you couldn’t solve all night, and kept you up, and now you don’t remember what it was–write it out in the story and maybe you will solve it.

Dustin Hoffman once talked about a pivotal scene in Rainman where at one point as an actor he became so mad and frustrated that he couldn’t get the scene right. Obviously, he had to do the scene no matter what, so they went forward with the shoot. But instead of resisting those raw emotions, Hoffman used them in that very same scene. His character suddenly become angry and frustrated. Did the audience care that what they were really seeing was Dustin Hoffman, the actor, being angry and frustrated? No. The audience didn’t know the difference. All they saw was the real, raw emotions–they saw the anger and the frustration, and they connected those emotions with the character in the scene. That’s all they needed to see.

“Definitely. You need to be like water, definitely, definitely…”

Or to paraphrase my acting teacher in college, Kay: “You can’t make the scene real, because it’s fake. But what you can do is make it true.”

As the writer, you bring the rawness to your work. Don’t hold it back. Use it. Infuse it into the work. That’s how you bring the truth to the work and your characters. It doesn’t matter if it isn’t the right emotion for the right period or situation, or whatever. Humans haven’t changed much over the years. The same basic needs are still there. Your characters all need to have those basic needs in order to come off as human, but since they’re fake, you have to give it to them.

If you’re a writer, feel lucky. Someone has given you a pathway. A way to find an answer, that is all in your control. Don’t resist, let it flow.

much “everybody was kung fu fighting! nah nuh nah nuh nah nuh nah nuh nah!”

Ollin

Ollin Morales is a writer and a blogger. {Courage 2 Create} chronicles the author’s journey as he writes his first novel. His blog offers writing tips as well as strategies to deal with life’s toughest challenges. After all, as Ollin’s story unfolds, it becomes more and more clear to him that in order to write a great novel, he must first learn how to live a great life.