No Conflict, No Story (Sad But True)

Boy, we haven’t done one of these in a long while.
Those of you who stuck around (got stuck) with me for a while might know that this here blog started, not as the MMA ramble-store (with seemingly random cultural commentary) it is now, but as a place for me, to flesh out my writing process, to air my dirty writing laundry and make some forward progress on that front.
With time, things have significantly shifted from the beautiful craft of writing, to the celebration of the art of mixed martial arts. I’m like that, I find beauty in the exquisite wordsmithery of Ursula Le Guin on the one hand, and the devastating accuracy of a prime Anderson Silva right cross.
With that been said, let us leave the sports, respectfully aside, and talk about the writerly side a little. I think a status report is overdue by a couple of years, and I do believe I have some things to say, that may or may not be of some value to those of you, who may or may not share my affliction.
Those of you who just got on board, might be surprised to hear that I have finished writing three novels. Well, ‘Finished’ is a big word, so let me be a little more specific. I finished a first draft of a science fictiony book. This one, serving mostly as practice, is currently sitting collecting some dust, until such time I decide what to do with it next. The third one, is a draft for a thriller I need to get back to at some point in order to decide whether it needs more polishing or re-writing. The second one is done! Oh yes, by that I mean that it was written, rewritten a couple of times, professionally edited, copy-righted, designed, edited for print and pending only one technical issue to be resolved before it gets published! I invite you to get excited for me, as there’s so much of this I can do by myself.
So in the macro, I guess I can say it’s all good. Can’t complain. But then again, what is a writer but a guy who just has to keep asking questions? (See what I did there? [and here?]).

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

See, people who’d written novels before, warn you all the time, that having done so once, doesn’t mean you cracked some ancient puzzle and all you’d need, in order to repeat that feat, is to go through the motions again and shazzam! No, it is quite obvious it is far more complicated than that. I wrote three of ’em bad boys, and I believe that it is the experience of having written them, that – quite ironically – put me in a state.
You hear a lot about the infamous “writer block”, and no, I don’t think I have one. I write pretty often, on different topics in different platforms, so I know I am not blocked. Yet, I have not made further progress on my creative writing endeavor in a while and I admit, it is starting to frustrate me.
I have all the reasons lined up. My day job is very demanding, leaving very little time for family, let alone other things that one does for his soul, and all that jazz. But in reality, that is not what’s stopping me.
Let me contradict myself a little before we continue. I do have a method to this madness, and this method took me through the aforementioned three novels. I’ve written about the 60 scenes method in the past, and wouldn’t have said a word about it, unless it actually worked for me – not just in theory, in practice – and I feel I can continue to use it for any future work.
So what is stopping me? I know all the questions a writer should ask himself. Or do I? And believe you me, I ask them. I spend smoke breaks, bedtime, showers, and other opportune moments to ask them. But I guess that I am not just asking questions, I am applying increasingly growing pressure on my poor brain. Who is your antagonist? What is the actual premise? What does your hero want? Is this your main plot? or is it a sub plot? Does this make sense? Why would he do that? Who is even going to care? Are the stakes high enough?

Photo by Gabriel Matula on Unsplash

One thing I am really struggling with is really an ironic, fundamental conflict between my personal journey in life, and my journey as a writer. It seems that the better I do in my personal development, the worse I do in writing. To wit, as I learn to resolve and diffuse conflict in my own existence, I find it harder to create it in my stories.
In most cases, I am able to separate person from writer, from character, but I find myself sitting in front of the paper thinking “Meh… this isn’t conflict. It’s tepid.” Then I create some conflict and after some reflection “Whoa… that’s not conflict. That’s world war 3 you moron. People don’t work like that!” and the internal critic (perhaps the least forgiving one) berates me to paralysis.
As my friend Christina Ranallo, rightfully says – If there’s no conflict, there’s no story. And so far, there is no story. There are many things happening to and around my character, all impacting him, and his goals, moving him along a path, but at this moment I am sorry to report that the path is going nowhere. At least nowhere you, as a reader might care about.
The most frustrating part of it all is, that – as you can see – I am aware of the problem, yet unable to get out of this loop… yet.

So what to do? I guess I can ask you that (and will be happy to hear about it here in the comments section).

Here are a couple of things I am already doing:
  • Reading – Always a good idea. catching up on some “Discworld” books, as well as some long-awaited Brandon Sanderson novels. Oh, also read Ursula Le Guin’s “The word for world is forest”, and Emma Newman’s “Planetfall” series… all very much recommended.
  • Writing posts like this one… Part of what’s stopping me is the fact that this discussion is going on inside my head. I find that putting things down “on paper” helps me look at it from a different perspective. Not to mention that it is writing about writing.
  • Writing – while nothing creative (in the artistic sense of the word), the action of writing is, in itself, a mechanism to keep this habit going, providing some outlet so my head doesn’t explode with thoughts, and hopefully, giving someone something to read and – who knows – maybe derive something worthwhile out of it.
  • perhaps something that doesn’t sound intuitive to this predicament – not committing to a timeline. I will do everything necessary to write this story (and the next), and will not cut corners, but I will take the time. No one is holding a gun to my head, is one? I’d rather come up with something worth writing, something that I can enjoy writing, than inflicting unnecessary, and unproductive pressure on myself. I do believe that there are a whole lot of writers there, to release read-worthy books while the world awaits my next piece of work… not to mention that I am about to release one very soon.
That’s it from me – for the time being. I have to wonder, what is stopping you? and what works for you in situations like this? I sure would appreciate your tips, tricks and pieces of magic.


 

 

Doctor Who? What? Why? (A Short Rant In Time And Space)

This will be a short rant, so hold on to your seats.
So… Seven episodes into season 11 of Doctor who, I stumbled upon a few – how shall I put it – “interesting” takes. For the most part, I see positive reviews, but every now and then, there are some really seething videos out there, with tons of venom… People care. Well, sort of.
So what are the more negative comments so far? I guess there are 3 main ones:
    1. The show is too politically correct
    2. They ran out of ideas
    3. Jodie Whittaker is a horrendous actress
With the first one, I have no argument. We have a female doctor (finally, by the way), two young companions of different ethnic backgrounds, and an older white “apologist”. I do find the casting of the companions too much “text-book PC”. It’s cool, I’m not objecting (and no one would care if I did) to casting more diverse characters, but right out the gate, it just makes it too lazy and less interesting.
About the ideas, I guess it’s very much a matter of taste. While going back to the past, to protect Rosa Parks, and the change she helped drive is less exhilarating than say… save the world from the Daleks’ latest scheme, it still is a valid exercise of the Doctor Who concept. The problem with episodes like these may be related again, to PC. While the doctor (especially recent incarnations) always dealt with topics like interracial conflicts, it was done via allegory. Personally I prefer that method of delivery, and I get why it irritates some people. Still, I don’t see anything so wrong, that should incur so much rage…

And finally… Jodie Whittaker… I watched a video yesterday where the reviewer used the very phrase “Horrendous actress”… While I am a pretty civil person at most times, allow me to break character and ask a short and direct question:

WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK?

Jodie Whittaker is a GREAT actress, and is doing a GREAT job as Doctor Who, with the tools she’s given.
As opposed to previous regenerated doctors, she literally “falls to earth” and put in action from the first second, with little to no chance to stop and think about who she is.
If anything, the show runner should be put on trial, for giving such a good actress so little to chew on… I thought Peter Capaldi’s first season was great, especially because it allowed him to ponder, to understand himself better. But Whittaker is asked to just hit the ground running and deliver something out of thin air?… You are aware she follows a script right?
And here is where I get more than a little miffed.
With the show being as politically correct as it is – How in heaven’s name do you miss the ONE place where playing up gender is not only appropriate, but a MUST???
“Oh, I’m a woman. let’s move on…”

This is the FIRST female doctor – spend some quality time, allowing her to play off of this. Let us revel in it. There are sooooo many opportunities (ALL of them missed) for humor, for more character depth… This is my biggest disappointment.
And all of that is dumped onto Jodie Whittaker, and in return, what does this great actress get? jeers from some keyboard warrior…
Season 11 is not the best season by any means. It’s also not as bad as some of these raging reviewers make it out to be. I enjoy watching for the most part, and a lot of it is because Whittaker is, in fact, a very good doctor.


Weighty Topics And No Excuses

I don’t know about you, I love me some podcasts. There are some great sport related ones that I follow, and others that are completely unrelated. An excellent example of the latter is “Writing Excuses” which from my perspective is a “Brandon Sanderson and friends” kind of deal. I learned of this podcast quite recently (as in sometime in 2018. You’ll have to excuse me, at my age one starts to forget details), and for the most part, I really enjoy it. It’s kind of short (which is the point really) and focuses on a specific writing related topic in each episode. It’s also ordered by seasons and episodes, which I find fun, and while I’d never recommend to take any podcast as a bible, one thing this one offers is some perspective. Out of what the team has to offer, I may or may not take advice, but even if I disagree with some things (and I do), I still enjoy the contrast, even if only as a test to my current held position. You should definitely check it out if you’re interesting in the topic of writing at all.
Having said that, I listened to the episode “How To Handle Weighty Topics” from Sunday, August 12th, 2018 on my way to work and it (as it often does) made me think. I’m not necessarily challenging anything said on the podcast, or saying “you’re wrong”. I merely offer my thoughts on the topic.
As the topic of weighty topics is… weighty… I’d like to break it down a little (well, more than a little). First, what did they mean by weighty? My understanding is – At any time one writes about a person or persons who are not of his “group” (we’ll get to that), or something that is outside of his existence which is of sensitivity to one or more groups, the topic becomes weighty. Of course I could be misunderstanding, but that – in itself – doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
With the above assumption in mind, let’s start touching the weighty topics.
One of the best questions asked during the podcast was “Why is it so important for the writer?” and I think that this is the fundamental question each of us should ask ourselves before embarking on the project. Are we writing about racism because we want to “be cool”? or perhaps because we “have a message”? Are we writing about racism, or is what we write racist (or can be perceived as such)? mind you, this applies to most all isms. Is one of our characters racist? “just a little”? Outright obnoxious, racist, pig? and if so, what does that mean for our story? Do we write that character in “to have a racist character”? There are a lot of “whys”  we should ask ourselves before even going into a weighty topic (more on that later).
For me, the decision is made based on one question – Does it  serve the story in any meaningful way? whether it’s the plot, character or settings. If the answer is yes – you will see some ism in my book. If not, I’m not even going there.
Another question that really interests me, and I’m hoping some of you may want to give me possible answers (I’m really asking) is, do we really need to address the isms every time? What I mean is this – If I’d elect to write a story featuring, say… a gay person. If I illustrate the discrimination and suffering that person may experience, I may be misrepresenting it, or perhaps worse, over simplifying it. If I tell a story, in which a character just happens to be gay, why does he have to be gay? (and excuse the usage of male, that’s just my habit). How does the character, being gay, contribute to the story, other than to be a “hey, I included a gay person in my story” (Do we really have to choose a “pet minority”?). And If I chose one group, or three, and not others…
What I’m trying to say is, inclusiveness is fun, and I go back to that question – does it serve the story in a meaningful way? if so, why the hell not. As a reasonably new writer, I tend to write more of what I know, and I do not know enough yet to pretend to get in the head of some groups. I feel that, until I’ve spoken to, learned about, understood people better, I’d rather stay away. That way I am – at the very least – significantly reducing my chances of falling into the trap. One day I will know more. On that day, I may take the plunge.
The most insightful and meaningful comment I heard on the podcast (and excuse me, I don’t remember who said what – they are all interesting) was regarding the fact that, though we all may be (whether we want to or not) part of certain different groups, we have so much more in common than we are really different. I totally agree that, from a writer’s perspective, if we write our characters with that in mind, the chances of our writing being offensive, or perceived as such, are reduced. I want to say it clearly again – there’s a huge difference between writing an offensive character (which is perfectly fine) and writing offensively (which I don’t recommend).
So far I focused on the writing itself, as it relates to weighty topics. But There is still the question of what is the writer’s role in the discussion of a certain weighty topic. My personal opinion is that it’s up to the writer. Some may feel a burning need to address a weighty topic because it may hit “close to home” for them, or perhaps the opposite – choose to stay away from one, for the exact same reason. I don’t think that everyone should necessarily write about them, but I do expect from any book that I write to be true to its reality. If a character in our story is of a group that suffers blatant discrimination, I expect to see him as such. I don’t need a militant activist of any faction for that. I just expect that the character will not be “just another guy”. Otherwise I will ask again – why does he have to be part of a specific group?
I’m not a big fan of preachy fiction. I identify with causes, but I do that in real life. In fiction I’d like to read a story that is informed by whatever reality it exists in. I can identify with a suffering character, as long as it’s not meant to “educate” me. It’s more about empathy to a character than a “message” that the writer wants to send.

 

I also don’t view the writer as a pacifist. What I mean by that is that, I am not actively looking to offend people. As I mentioned, I do not intend to write offensively. But I don’t believe a writer should “hold back” when it comes to writing about weighty topics. It boils down to target audience I guess.
If the story justifies it, a character will say the most horrific racist slurs and will behave in a despicable manner. Because the character is not the writer. That character may even be successful in his endeavors, because – it’s fiction… and yes, some people may be offended.
Beside the fact that people get offended more easily these days, there’s also the question of why should the writer compromise on a story that could be stronger should it included things that might offend some people? Again, target audience aside, I think the story should be told, IF – and I will try to close a little circle here – the writer has a satisfactory answer to that question: “Why is it so important for the writer?”
A Facebook friend of mine posted a couple of days ago about people who say that, when it comes to people, they are “color blind”. Meaning, we don’t see a black or white or whatever person as a black or white or whatever person. She challenged them, and I agree with what she said. This color blindness is mostly reserved to the privileged, to people who are part of stronger populations. Because it’s much easier. Like her, I choose to see colors, and religions and sexual orientations and other points of conflicts.
Is it not the ability to recognize the differences and yet look past them, understanding that indeed, these are far less than the things we have in common, and kill our prejudices the way to get rid of racism and other isms?
And also, how do we expect to empathise with a person who is marginalized, categorized and mistreated if we fail to recognize that he is? by being blind to the differences, we also have to be somewhat blind to problems that need to be addressed.
Now, I don’t see a gay person ONLY as gay, of course. That’s part of the problem. But I’m not going to ignore the fact that he is. Not as a person and not as a writer. As a person, by doing that I’d be ignoring the issues and basking in my privilege. As a writer I’d miss – at the very least – on two of writing’s most valuable aspects – conflict on the one hand, and empathy on the other.
Hopefully no one’s offended. You know no offense was meant.

About Those Resolutions

Hello 2016, Goodbye 2015, Happy New Year everyone!

I’m here to confess another little tidbit. I’m an amateur guitar player. I’m very serious about being an amateur, I’ve been doing this for close to 30 years now. Never had the time, nor the inclination to become professional about this either. It’s too much practice if we want to get down to it, and quite frankly, I am not one to play for a crowd of any kind, so why bother? So yeah, I can pull off some pretty nice tunes (rhythm guitar, forget solos), but that’s just for me, myself and I. Continue reading

The Matrix and God Are Blowin’ In The Wind

If I asked you to name the first Bob Dylan song that comes to mind, what would it be? Continue reading

Between the lines of peace

Hi all and welcome back to my humble site.

You know, being an Israeli in the US, I repeatedly find myself functioning as an unofficial ambassador. I’m not sure that the Prime Minister would approve of everything that I say. In fact, I’m pretty darn sure he’d fire me at once. Continue reading