Love and Fear and Character

When we think of what creates a good character, we, of course, need to get into motivations. Vonnegut famously said in his eight points on writing, “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.” But is want everything? What is it that makes a character feel real?

Take a hint, bub! So, I used to say that characters had three basic motivations: love, hate, and fear. But in a discussion I had recently, the obvious pointed out to me that you cannot hate something unless you fear it. This is why, I assume, people do not hate the Buffalo Bills.

So, point made. Seems simple enough, but what of this fear thing? When we thing of character motivations, can’t they be boiled down so simply? As in, if a character must choose which road to turn down, left or right, he must consider what it is he is hoping to find down that road and what it is that he is terrified of finding. This happens in every story. It’s about risk.

Zzzzzz … Capitalism (bear with me) is about risk aversion and cost-benefit analyses. True capitalism, that is. It’s about investors looking for gains while mitigating risk all the while. But the same can be said of conflict and fiction. Think about it. In Jane Eyre, she makes a calculated risk to allow Rochester in her life romantically despite the fact that she’s been hurt by nearly every other person she ever got close to. The true conflict is about her overcoming her fear to get what she wants. But then, when the stakes get higher, when she finds out that Rochester is married and with that, the risk of public humiliation and shaming enters, her fear wins. The thing about Jane Eyre is that she does not triumph in the story. She fails to overcome in the end, and it is only when that risk is removed that she can rejoin her blinded and disfigured boyfriend.

You blog like the English cook. I don’t know why I have this tendency to boil things down. And yes, this point seems obvious as I write it, but it’s an interesting way to think about conflict, that it’s all internal and that it’s all about want overcoming fear.

So, the question cannot be just as simple as “What does the character want?” but “What does the character want, and what fears is he willing to face to get it.” I know, for me, when I write, I often think about what the character wants, but I rarely note exactly what it is a character fears.

Do you?

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What is the Writer’s Responsibility?

So, we as “literary” writers don’t often like the idea of pandering to the audience. It’s the sort of “The text will find its audience” idea. Still, does the writer have any responsibilities to the reader? And if so, what?

Charmed, I’m sure. In talking to a writer friend of mine, the word “charm” or “charming” came up a great deal. Is it the responsibility of the author to charm the reader? To entrance them? To pull them into your created universe without them knowing it?

But what does it mean to charm? I suppose there are a number of ways, but it seems to me that humor and wit are the easiest methods. Voice, in this case, feels very important for drawing in the audience … but I think it’s more than that.

Shut up, you pretentious windbag! I know, for me, I find a pretentious voice extremely annoying. It’s so often intellectual posturing, and posturing must by its very nature be disingenuous. It’s not just pretentious, but it’s sometimes with strange choices. For example, when American writers who have always lived in America refer to the TV as the “tele” or an apartment as a “flat” or instead of “taking a vacation,” a writer says “goes on holiday.”

This sort of posturing, this awareness of how the author looks in the eyes of the reader (as opposed to being an invisible and deistic creator), grates on me. The minute I say, “Yes, yes, I’m very impressed,” is when I put down the book. When I am impressed with the writer and the attention-grabbing sentences or lines, I am pulled from that universe I want so desperately to fall into, and I am incapable (or struggle with) enjoying or appreciating the content.

I am very aware that you are writing. Ok, so, I am getting off track some, but the point is, what do we owe the reader? Maybe more pointedly, what should we give the reader? In talking with other writers of late, I’ve come to the conclusion that the great spoonful of sugar, the great lubricant for content, for philosophies, for ideas, is humility. This struck me when we talked about it because I had a friend of mine recently say of my writing, “it’s for smart readers,” and that caught me off guard.

I don’t think it’s because I drop ten-cent words at every chance or write whole books without the letter “e” or write lines in iambic pentameter. I think what he was (perhaps unwittingly) saying to me was that I did not approach stories with enough humility. And when I think of the great writers I admire, perhaps the thickest chain that ties them together is humility, simplicity, and earnestness in the writing.

I earnestly want you to get off the internet. The idea of “a text will find its audience” or that we oughtn’t “pander” to audiences with short-attention spans is a pretty arrogant way of looking at the world. It’s easy to get caught up in our own artistic communities, like some strange church where we pat each other on the back and congratulate each other for how advanced, how empathetic, how deep we all are.

I dunno. I think I need to think more about this humility thing. I want to be that, but I haven’t quite figured out how to do it … suggestions?

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Public Reading at the Munch

Today marks my glorious return to the world of blogging. Are you not entertained? I update my fan(s) on what I’ve been doing, and have a recording of my most recent public reading to listen to … if you’re brave enough.

Adam Nannini Reading at the Munch

Ugh … he’s back. Hey, ladies and germs. Yes. It’s true. Rumors of my demise (wishful thinking) are greatly exaggerated. Still, I’m sorry I’ve been so vacant as it concerns my blog. I will work to improve my frequency.

Last you heard, I was about 23,000 words into my novel draft. I got up to about 40,000 words. I did not finish, but I am about to start over. I liked it, though. We’ll see where this goes.

I didn’t think you knew how to read. Anyway, below is a recording of my most recent public reading. It was as part of the Munch Reading Series, and I read a silly little piece called “Mr. Godzilla Goes to Washington.” It was just a piece I wrote in the midst of working on my thesis. I needed to do something silly, something fun. And this was it.

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Novel-Writing, 23,000 Words In

The process of novel-writing is a daunting one, and as I make headway through my first successful novel attempt (hopefully), I’d like to keep my fan(s) updated as to my progress and my thinking.

My guess? Both. Well, I’ve been writing pretty steady for a couple weeks, and I am near half of my 50,000 word goal this summer. The story is coming out quick and relatively easily, but as someone who thinks like a short-story writer, it’s difficult to know how it’ll all turn out. Thus far, it feels a little disconnected and strange since I let some plot strings dangle, waiting to be tied up later in the story (or to trip the main character along the way).

I’ve been having fun writing my main character, who is a rather disturbed man, and I have created a progression for him from just a little bit of a weirdo to much much worse. I don’t know if it’s believable, though. We shall see. His character’s progression has been exciting, though, so I’m happy about that.

When will your character progression begin? Yawn. One of the big things that is getting me that doesn’t typically get to me while I’m writing short stories is that it is a very rough draft. Now, typically, when I’m writing a story, I just get it out there, as referenced by this 2012 short movie in which I play myself.

But yeah, this time, I am nervous to have such a mess in so many pages. Scary stuff. I know this will take multiple draft and revisions, and this isn’t something to worry about now, but with long works, everything seems to get magnified. If I screw up a ten-page story, no big deal. But if I screw up a 200-page novel … eugh. Still, doesn’t do much good to dwell on it.

Are you done? Well, so that is my half-way update to my fan(s). The story still has a lot of momentum, and in fact, the momentum and action are building up. It’s a difficult story to control, but if I can pull it off, I think it’ll be an interesting one.

There. You are updated.

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Novel Writing, Day 1

Today, I annoy my “fan(s)” by explaining to them what is going on in my newest writing project, a novel. I keep them updated so that when it comes out and becomes famous, I can point at them and say, “Told you so!”

Very mature. So, a couple of weeks ago, I told you that I was getting ready to start a novel. I told you how I’ve struggled with this form in the past and how I’m nervous to start again.

But today, I started. I’m planning on writing 1500 words a day until it is drafted (I wrote 1600+ today), so we’ll see how that goes. The project is interesting because this is the first time I’ve written a novel infused with humor and absurdity (tools I’ve recently added to my stories). I think I have a pretty exciting and compelling premise, but I figure if it can’t sustain me writing it, I doubt readers will be riveted.

Yeah, alright Steinbeck. Writing has been a bit of an adventure for me of late. I’m enjoying it like I haven’t in years because I’ve given up on impressing people (not a writerly virtue, I think) and begun to focus on entertaining people. That isn’t to say that I have nothing to say, that I’m Michael Baying my writing (BOOBSPLOSIONS!), but that, at the end of the day, writers are here to entertain people. We’re here to create dreams, realities, escapes, and, perhaps most importantly, arguments through story.

Writing the novel fast comes from a mentor who suggested I get the draft out quick, so I am essentially nanowrimoing this bad boy. We often think of writers spending ten years or something on a novel, but perhaps most of that is in revising. I dunno. It’s interesting how each writer has a different approach that works for them, and I know, for me at least, writing with momentum is the way to go.

More like momen-dumb! The most interesting, and difficult, part of this project is the main character. He’s unlikable. He’s a killer. He’s disturbing. And I don’t particularly want to make him identifiable, which may be a mistake. We shall see. I’m hoping that tempering the story with humor and absurdity will make it more readable, but the entire premise is based on the fact that when something is horrible, people don’t look away. In fact, they rubberneck. They can’t help but look. It’s the voyeur in us. Maybe that premise is flawed. It remains to be seen.

Wrap it up, Tolstoy. Anyway, I plan on keeping all my fan(s) updated as to my progress. It’s quite an adventure.

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Godzilla Review

Here is my review of the 2014 version of Godzilla. I warn you ahead of time that this post will have spoilers, so please do not read until after you’ve seen the movie. You’ve been warned.

Isn’t it Gojira? This last weekend, I had the chance to watch the new Godzilla film, and I have to say, I was pretty excited about it. My history with the King of Monsters is pretty well documented, and I hoped that this film would make up for the 1998 abomination.

I’m approaching this review not from a stand-alone movie but as a representative for a franchise. The movie wasn’t exactly a reboot, as it recognizes the fact that Godzilla existed since at least the 1940s, but it does include characters from the original version, like Dr. Serizawa. I feel like the 2014 version made some interesting choices that I did not expect.

Admit it. You miss the rubber suit. Visually, this movie was stunning. I am typically not a fan of lots of computer graphics, but in the case of Godzilla movies … I’m not sure how else it can be done well. I loved the use of smoke and dirt and fog to obscure the creatures. That helped, I think. And keeping so much of it from a human perspective helped as well in keeping the monster somewhat real-feeling. Visuals have always been the weakest part of the Godzilla franchise, so it’s pretty easy to score well here. Still, I love that they kept more consistent to the original monster, with the spikes and the vertical gait.

Thematically, I also thought they treated the original Godzilla story with respect. Godzilla, Godzilla 1985, and Godzilla 2014 are all political movies. The original Godzilla is one big metaphor for a nuclear bomb in an increasingly Westernized Japan. Godzilla 1985 deals with the tensions of the Cold War. In this version of Godzilla, it seems to use the Fukushima nuclear disaster as inspiration. In this sense, I think the filmmakers did an excellent job of maintaining the thematic quality of Godzilla while modernizing it.

I was a bit surprised, and a little disappointed, in their choice to use the sort of “Godzilla protecting man from other monsters” version of the big guy. In my opinion, the best Godzilla movies are ones where he is wrecking Tokyo and other cities like a force of nature. I thought it was odd when that same Godzilla would come in to save Japan from various monsters. And this movie tried to explain it by having Godzilla act as a super-predator to the Mutos (Mothra? Muto? Get it?), but when he killed the giant creatures, he didn’t eat them. He just walked away. I could be wrong, but shouldn’t a predator be looking to eat its prey? Was it sport hunting?

My biggest issue with the movie was the human story. I thought Bryan Cranston’s Joe Brody was great, but they killed him off quick and left Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Who? Exactly.) to carry the movie. What a lame plot they left for the human drama. It was essentially the exact same thing as Will Smith in Independence Day. Pretty character is invested in helping save the city that is being destroyed, because, dammit, his family’s in there! I feel like I can hear Harrison Ford shouting, “Bring me back my family!” The human drama, which made up most of the movie, was lame. Very lame.

Holy Crap! Finish already! Okay, okay. So, this version of Godzilla, while a huge improvement of the 1998 version, is pretty flawed. The monster is treated with respect, but the super-predator plot line didn’t hold up. And the human story … well … sucked. But despite all that, here is my rating:

Theatre One: Yes, I know that’s my highest rating. And no, it doesn’t deserve that, but this is a movie that is worth seeing in the theater. The sound is huge and the visuals are crazy. Watch it in the theater, but know that it’s not going to be a fantastic movie. It’s a fun movie. It’s a summer movie. Let me know what you think.

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Godzilla, King of Monsters!

So, I, rather famously, grew up as a big Godzilla fan, and with a new movie coming out (which I plan to see soon {watch for reviews if you’re unsure}), I figured I’d talk about the Godzilla canon.

Famously unread, maybe. When I was a kid, I slept ever night with a big plastic Godzilla. I’m not sure what drew me to this giant monster. May have just been I was crazy about dinosaurs. What kid isn’t?

Anyway, I have watched (and owned at some point) most every Godzilla movie between the 1956 American version of the original and Godzilla 1985 (a movie I’m struggling to find). I have always enjoyed the story, and a couple of years ago, I decided to rewatch the original Godzilla film. Despite the fact that Godzilla movies are fantastic B-movie fodder for worst movies ever lists, mostly for scenes like this, the original is actually a decent movie. Yes, the effects are pretty bad, given the time period, but it’s a smart movie that questions humanity’s use of super weapons, even in the face of massive destruction.

Canon? More like CAN’T … on. Hmm. Well, anyway, just like so many franchises, I feel like a few decent and interesting movies get tainted by a series of ridiculous movies. And the movies that I feel like deserve some consideration are the bookends of what I watched: the original, and Godzilla 1985. Why? Well, they make the most sense … or any sense. In the other movies, it’s like Godzilla is a different character, protecting Japan from other monsters (though if I remember right, Mothra protects Japan from Godzilla, but that’s an outlier). But which is he? Destroyer or protector? I feel like he can’t be both, and for that reason, I reject those other films.

Wow. Somehow, I’ve lost respect for you. As this new version comes out, yes, the effects will be better (though they were better in the ghastly 1998 version … buh), and yes, it will be less campy, but I hope that they will stick to similar ideas and themes. I would recommend, if you have not seen the older version yet, that you watch the original American version of Godzilla before you watch the new one. It’s available on Netflix, and it’s a fun watch.

Also, for some reason, I’m crazy about the Godzilla theme. It gets in my head. Give it a listen:

Godzilla's Theme by Akira Ifukube on Grooveshark

Anyway, watch the original. Give it a chance. I know most people struggle with the idea of old movies, especially black and white ones, and especially movies that seem so weird and goofy, but if you’re open-minded, I bet you’ll enjoy it. I’d love to know what you think … I can’t wait to see the new version. It looks pretty sweet.

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My Current Writing Project: A Novel

This summer, I am planning to undertake a rather difficult venture … writing a novel. I’ve got a plan for it (loosely), and I’ll be sure to keep my reader(s) apprised of its progress.

Wait, you’re still here? Yes, antagonistic self, I am still here, though I recognize that it has been a while since I’ve posted anything. Did you miss me?


Fair enough.

So, I have tried on a number of occasions (mainly in Novembers {nanowrimo!}) to write a novel, but I have always failed. Short stories are easy for me to churn out, but there’s something about the novel form that always confounds me.

I think it has to do with the idea of the sustained conflict. Typically, in short stories, I get to conflict quick, and I try my best to be fast-paced and concise. When I have tried to write novels, I typically start fast, but I run out of steam somewhere between 50 and 100 pages. By then, it’s just an exercise of “and then this happened, and then this happened ….”

Is that clip art? This time, I mean to succeed, and I think I may. I will have more guidance with this project, and I won’t be pushing myself with arbitrary deadlines like nanowrimo prescribes. Still, I will be pushing myself.

My goal with this novel is to create a work that is accessible to your Joe Sixpack type of person, and yet, have it be interesting to a more advanced reader (AWP types can go suck an egg {I didn’t mean that AWP types, it’s just that I think so much of your preferred nose-in-the-air work is … terrible … no offense}).

Yawn. Anyway, so I’ll try to keep all of you, my reader(s), updated as to how the project is going. It should be fun and difficult.

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Goodbye, Gabo, old friend

Today, one of my favorite writers, Gabriel Garcia Marquez passed away. He greatly influenced my writing, my understanding of literature, and today, I feel like I’ve lost a friend.

We are friends … It’s a funny thing, writers. I mean, I feel like I get to know them, to understand how they think, to see what they see, and to understand what they loved, hated, and feared most in the world. In any other context, I would call that person my friend.

We’ve all had it where we lost one of our favorite writers. Most of my favorites are dead now. I had a dream of meeting Gabo (though I know this is kind of ridiculous), or at least, I hoped that somehow I could tell him how important he is to me. His short stories speak the most to me, stories like “Artificial Roses,” “There are no thieves in this town,” of course, “A very old man with enormous wings,” and so many more. His collections like Big Mama’s Funeral are weird, yet exciting, and the stories seem to find a way to tie together.

Influence, you say? I don’t see it. I think the very biggest thing that Garcia Marquez gave me was the license, the opportunity, to add wonder and the surreal to my work. I feel like he proved to me that sometimes the bizarre can speak more to real human emotions than straight realism.

And of course, that makes sense. There comes a place in the lives of characters, an emotional breaking point. They are emotions that cannot be said. Our poor and limited language tools aren’t sufficient, and they need to be expressed in a different way. Garcia Marquez’s use of magic and wonder in an oppressed and impoverished world, a world dominated by colonialism … somehow, it seems like it would be inappropriate, but it works. It’s dirty, it’s grimy, the world is so earthy, I believe it, and so, when he throws an angel onto the scene or he has characters that live forever or whatever he chooses to do, I don’t flinch. I jump on board because he has caught me in his world.

Not just Magical Realism. And that’s one of the things about Garcia Marquez. It wasn’t all magical realism. That’s the biggest thing he’s known for, but the fact is, the man could write compelling, believable, and flawed characters. And he had such a sense of place. When I read 100 Years of Solitude, I felt like I knew the town of Macondo. I knew the people. I could see the houses, the streets, the trees. The man could wholly immerse me in a dream, and that’s what his stories were like: dreams.

Maybe let someone else speak. Well, I don’t know. I’m very sad he’s gone. His impact on me, his opening up of my eyes to fresh ways of writing and reading I will always be thankful for. I’ve written a lot about Garcia Marquez on this site, and because I have Google Analytics connected to this site, whenever I’d see that I got some hits from Mexico City, I liked to pretend it was him.

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Writing From The Unconscious

In looking back at some of my old works, I’ve realized how powerful the unconscious is in my writing. It seems I’m often trying to tell myself something that I don’t realize until seeing it in retrospect. It’s an interesting way to think about writing control.

Huh … your writing always seems like you were unconscious. So, have you ever had someone find things in your story that you didn’t intend to be there, but you realize is absolutely true? I mean, it’s traceable, it’s obvious, but you didn’t put it there … consciously.

That’s what I’m talking about. It’s an interesting thing. Some writers talk about channeling a voice or some such, but it seems clear to me that what they’re really channeling is an unconscious part of themselves. It’s some part of them that is desperate to talk but has been shut down, closed off, and this is the only way it can find its way out. Writing (or other creative work) seems like it can very effectively serve as a spout for the hurting self.

You don’t know what you’re talking about, do you. I guess, in the past, I have prided myself on being in control of my writing. I’ve talked about it this way: “I am the god of my writing, and I am omnipotent. I am the creator.” And I still kind of feel like that’s true … except there are parts of me that are creating that I’m unaware of.

Unfortunately, when the unconscious speaks too much, it ends up being rather emotionally transparent. I’m not much fond of the idea of writing autobiographically, yet so many of my older works (and even some of my newest works, at least to a degree) end up speaking to my personal emotional experience. There’s some well within me that leaks onto the page, and I’m not sure how to feel about it.

Getting all touchy-feely, eh? Well, that’s just it. Should fiction be wholly fiction? Should writers have better control of that unconscious self? Should it be embraced? I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I feel like it has made my past work something repetitive … redundant, even (get it? ‘Cuz I said it twice).

A poet friend of mine talks a lot about writing as though he is a medium. He feels this is important to writing poetry effectively. Maybe it’s key to embrace it. I don’t know. I know, when he first said that to me, I found it preposterous and distasteful. I again thought, BUT I AM THE GOD OF MY WORLDS! Still, I realize that it can’t be true that I’m in such control (depending on if you think of the unconscious as still being the “I”).

Zzzzzzz …. Anyway, it’s food for thought. I wonder where the appropriate acceptance is of the unconscious working its way into writing. Is it controllable? Should it be encouraged? What’s to be done? Thoughts, oh reader(s)?

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