Storytelling as art

It’s a funny thing, but I wonder just how much people think of the artistry of narrative.

My mood has been brought on by the re-release of Planescape Torment on PC and various tablet devices. For those of you too young to know, Planescape is probably the greatest narrative role playing game ever committed to a digital medium; it has a rich setting, deep and interesting characters, an enthralling plot, and it holds everything secondary to the service of the experience. Gameplay is less important than merely playing the game and finding the stories within stories scattered all over it.

I hold it up as a work of art; the narrative equivalent of a Picasso, or a Dali. It has hidden depths and meanings, and the only way to truly absorb it all is to get lost in it.

I care little for the great works of literature, whose accolades come from highbrow academia. Art demands that we feel something by experiencing it. The masterpieces of narrative are not the perfectly written novels chosen by professors. They’re stories from the heart and in the bone, that grip our minds and lead our dreams.

As artists, we should never ask for perfection. Let us ask instead for soul.

//shay

Unfinished Stories

They weigh on my mind, lurking ever in the background, beckoning me to return and give them the closure they need.

I have a few unfinished stories. I need to get to them, and get them out of my head, but sometimes the effort to do so is just… weirdly beyond me. They require a level of brain power that I can’t muster when I think of them.

The worst, by far, is the last book in a fantasy trilogy that really does need to be finished and published.

The problem with this book is that I should never have written it as a trilogy in the first place. The first in the series was initially a standalone, and it didn’t need a sequel. But I foolishly thought that I should bow to market pressures and simply write it as a series, because series sell better than single novels.

I should never have done it.

Somehow I wrote a second book, and now I have to write a third and let it be done, forever. But I just can’t metabolize the story in my mind! There’s some level of processing required for a novel, and times where you do nothing but think about it for a while without actually writing it, and I can’t seem to get there because I’ve come to dislike it. All of it.

The characters are insipid. The world-building is poor. The plot is nebulous. This is not even in the top ten of my best work, and I worry that it will affect my career in future. But write it I must, somehow, because the story has to end and be thrown unceremoniously out of my mind.

I know, I know. I need to push myself. I’m becoming neurotic again. I can almost grasp the ending, when I think about it too closely, but gods above, I need more time.

//shay

How I spend my time

I was in a meeting today (because I work in an office, and meetings spawn in offices the way fungus grows on fruit) and I had the pleasure of listening to two co-workers arguing over the placement of a column in a report.

They spent at least ten minutes debating this one thing. I felt absurd, listening to them. Here I was, sitting in an office, listening to two grown adults with (as far as I know) functional brains discussing whether a column should be on the left or the right.

I know why I’m there, of course. I’m a highly skilled consultant, among other things, and I was there to answer questions about this particular report. Ultimately, I would be responsible for making sure their column was placed exactly as they wanted it. But I was merely a spectator to the argument itself, and I almost tuned them out after a few minutes. Very unprofessional of me, I know. Conduct unbecoming of someone who was being paid very well to sit there and listen to what was effectively a very petty concern.

When it passed, and I finally escaped from the meeting Purgatory, I realized I desperately wanted to be anywhere else, and preferably writing instead. But it is not to be, because I have bills to pay and writing will never pay them.

Such is the way of things, dear friends. Sometimes I wish I could earn more from writing, so I would never have to listen to such nonsense again.

//shay

It’s going to be okay

I just want to tell you this, in case you think things are not going to be okay. They will be. You’re going to be alright, even though it seems like the darkness will never leave you right now.

You’ll find a way. It’ll be your way, not what you’re told to do, not what you’re expected to do. Whatever that way looks like, make sure you know your whole heart and mind when you follow it, and you’ll be okay.

Remember this much: you have already succeeded in taking another breath. You have already accomplished something powerful by getting this far. And though the darkness creeps in around you, it will never consume you. There will always be a part of you that looks at it and can see through its lies.

You can do this. I believe in you. I can hear the laughter in your voice, and see the sun shining in your eyes. You’re going to be okay.

//shay

Another rejection

In my other writerly life, I’ve been sending out a particular short story to a few different magazines to see if they’re interested in picking it up.

I’ve been rejected roundly and completely from every last one. It is what it is, I guess. The latest rejection came in last night. I suppose I should feel more upset about this, but frankly I haven’t the emotional energy for it. I chose the path of the self-publisher years ago, for better or worse, and this short story is destined for Amazon if no one else is interested in it.

Like I said yesterday, we shouldn’t be afraid of our failures. I’ve been working to simply let go of the negative feeling that hits me when I get a rejection, to accept it and parse it and ultimately forget it. I’m more bothered by the fact that I gain nothing from a rejection apart from the nebulous knowledge that someone wasn’t interested in something I’ve written. Most are boilerplate, you understand, so it’s not as if the editor in question actually tells you what they didn’t like. Such a response is useless to me as an artist.

So it goes. I’m nothing if not pragmatic. If you’re also a writer, dear friend, I hope your own rejections don’t cut you too deeply. All we can do, of course, is simply write more stories.

//shay

Do something often enough…

…and it becomes a habit.

I’m almost forgetting to post every day. Almost. I remember before I go to bed, and even though it’s late, I must write something.

The value is in the effort, you see. You have to try to write something, because you may surprise yourself and create profoundness, or beauty. The practice is the most important thing.

I’m reminded of a study I heard about some time ago. A professor instructed half of his students to make as many ceramic pots as they could, without worrying too much about their quality, and he instructed the other half to focus on making the best ceramic pot possible, no matter how long it took to do each one.

What he found was that the students who simply made as many pots as they could produced pots that were significantly better than the students who tried to make the best pot possible. Isn’t that interesting? It shows that we learn how to improve by doing something repeatedly, and imperfectly, rather by trying to achieve perfection all at once.

So I’m not afraid of my mediocrity. And you should not be either. Let us celebrate our failures as long as we learn something… and focus on making the effort that goes into them a habit.

//shay

I’m getting faster

My fingers fly, and the keyboard rattles out a clicking tune. Music to my ears. Soft and gentle and progressive, as I do it every day.

Of course, what I produce doesn’t really seem like quality. The principle of writing a thousand words a day does seem to be very highly based on Nanowrimo. It’s all down to practice, isn’t it? There’s no time for editing, and so the brain becomes used to just telling the story any way possible. Editing comes later, when we’re rested and comfortable.

Now is the time for breakneck speed. Write like the wind! Write as much as you can. Let the story advance however it seems sensible. At some point, you have to trust your sense of narrative structure and just go with it. If it turns out to be a bad idea, you can always write some more.

Someone actually asked me today: how do you swap between stories? As if it is difficult to hold more than one narrative in your head at once. In reality, people do this all day every day, because the world is made of stories. The only difference is that mine are more internal and creative.

Today I wrote 1010 words.

//shay