Inescapable.

We should not discount the experiences we have or the people who come into our lives. We should try to see experiences and people with wide open eyes. Everything and each person has it or his or her place; we should honor this by trying our hardest to find that place.

It’s nearing the end of another semester and everyone is tired and stressed. I imagine it not being as draining if we were robots that did nothing but learn. Robots lack emotion. They are metallic and hollow. They process what you tell them and when. They don’t think; they don’t have to; they just do do do.

Humans think. Worse, we feel. It’s hard to stop those spinning emotions, those fleeting emotions, and those emotions that won’t let you go. It’s harder yet to think through them, analyze them, understand them. It’s such a deadening process. Even if you can see the end, you are not there yet. Even if you were, the end would change. The end will change; another process will begin.

Understand, though, if nothing else, you will be fuller because of those processes. In those processes you experience things and you meet people you wouldn’t have otherwise. And, yes, people come and go. But when they come, cherish them. Learn from them and let them learn from you. And when they go, shed a tear if you have to, but never forget why they were so important to you: why he was so important; why she was.

Let the importance become part of you. Let it shape you. For this is happening anyway; you are always being created. And if you accept what is good and learn from what is not, you will become, you will inescapably become.

On being alone.

I have an itch: I want to take a train ride. I have successfully idealized this itch like I have many others. I would go alone and, if possible, be gone longer than I could handle being gone– but being gone a while is part of the romance.

I would be alone, sitting by the window, watching the night sky fly by, drinking something requiring the attitude and appearance of age– or a driver’s liscense –to obtain.

I would feel free. I would feel unattached. I would act as though I had no possessions– only my memories to grapple with and dreams to dream.

There by the window, my story, as it were, would be reset, if I would only let it.

Given the chance, would you change your life– would you make it exactly what you want?

When alone, the choices you make are your own. When alone, you could lose everything, yourself and mind included, and it would only affect you. When alone, you can become anyone and no one will be the wiser.

So there I am: rolling through the country on a train: rewriting and rethinking: drinking just to enjoy the pleasure of doing so.

Life as story.

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In my mind I can see the past, vividly and without any sense of reality. I imagine the way life could have been and the way life was. I don’t re-imagine the past purposefully; my mind goes memory-jumping, and I am left as a passive observer of false realities.

I can also see into the future: goodness, happiness, and me working fervently at a computer in an open room with the ethereal sound of rain falling in the city. I walk across the hardwood floor and step outside. Street lights change yellow, red, green and reflect in windshields and puddles on the sidewalk. I breathe deep and go back to my work.

If I were a character in my own story, I would have to ask myself: have I reached the point when a character makes his own choices, free from the writer’s pen and will? Have I taken on a life of my own?

Or am I following a thrid person omnipresent narration that I will and always have been following, regardless of choice or my perception of choice?

Each of us has a story: past, present, future. And our stories are pieced together seemingly random piece by random piece. It feels like so many pieces are missing. It feels like what is happening right now is supposed to and was always going to. It feels like you have a sense or idea of control, but really you have neither.

Will I end up breathing in the rain? Maybe. But the story could always take a turn.

 

 

 

The story is inside and out.

Imagine Emily Dickinson writing most of her hundreds of poems, only seven of which were published before her death in 1886, in her second-floor bedroom.

While Dickinson is seen as a great poet, applying her methods of solidarity seems detrimental to living a full, healthy life.

At one point, not so long ago, I could picture myself spending long hours cut away from life in an office, with the door closed, maybe locked, and me, writing and writing and writing. I had romanticized the idea of writing in solitude and, in doing so, I had swiftly pushed people away.

To truly focus on writing I indeed need to minimalize distractions. But people and their stories are the only chance we have at making our own writing good.

We learn from professors, students, friends, family and strangers. We learn craft; we learn methods; we learn stories. Only so much can come from your own head, and every now and then you have to get outside of your own realm of thinking.

Every now and then, you just have to give your life up—let go, become detached.

When you can let go, even temporarily, you can stop observing yourself, and when you do venture into the world as a storyteller, you can truly start to observe others, and build a repertoire of faces, quips, and tragedies you can later use when alone in your office.

This time, however, the door will be open and I will not push people away.

Rewriting.

Whether you call it rewriting or editing, it comes down to rethinking the story as it is now. To achieve perfection in storytelling you must edit and you must rewrite. If the two are any different, the difference is, rewriting is more intimate and personal.

I always hear about directors deciding to cut favorite scence or authors scratching beautiful sentences. It’s always hard, but they know it must be done, and after they do it the story is better served.

In Max Barry’sThe First Draft,” he says, “What I’d give for the ability to erase my memory after each draft, so I could read my own books for the first time again. It would all become so clear: where the story sagged, where the promising leads left unfollowed lay, where my characters’ motivations got muddled and, oh God please yes, what the core of this goddamn story really is.”

The hardest part about rewriting might be finding clarity; being able to know what needs to get cut and what needs to stay. I’ve said it before: you can never get enough perspective on your story.

But with so much perspective, how do you know who to listen to? Maybe you have a single person you trust; maybe a handful. But maybe not. Maybe you are left with the impossible task of finding clarity in multiple perspectives. Maybe you agree with some ideas and disagree with others. Maybe you don’t know what to do with your story; where to take it; where it will end.

Maybe you need to clear your mind, because you can’t clear your memory. So, you step back and let the story alone for a while. But not too long. After all, you still want to achieve perfection at some point.

Preserving story.

When you graduate high school, people talk about leaving a legacy. What kind of legacy, I was never sure. Yet it’s true; when we leave, part of us stays behind.

In Chuck Palahniuk’s Diary the narrator says, “We’re all of us immortal. We couldn’t die if we wanted to.” The novel is about how we create our stories in every action, and how this is inescapable. It’s about how even after we die we remain alive in everything we did. And about how we can’t fully die because we’ve left a mark.

Jonathan Harris is giving us the chance to leave our collective mark in the form of a digital time capsule. His Yahoo! Time Capsule, open now, is accepting contributions through November 8, and already includes a vast amount of viewable content. People contribute from all over the world, hoping to capture the story of 2006, and preserve it for future generations.

Generations have being leaving time capsules for a long while. Let’s see, did we bury ours in middle school or elementary? Faulty memory—another reason we need records; another reason to keep a diary. I remember: each student brought an item—the item he thought represented him well—and dumped it into a big, black trash bag. Then we put it in the ground and covered it with dirt. Years later, we dug it up.

Looking back is more than nostalgic. It lets us see who we were and gives us a clue as to who we are.

Today, it’s different. Today we have technology. Harris’s proposal: “You’ll be part of history and witness what others are saying and saving. You’ll have your handiwork presented to Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, projected on one of the most famous relics on the planet, AND then beamed along a path of laser light into space.”

How exciting: Each of us has the chance to contribute our story in any form: image, sound, writing, podcast, URL. But what’s really exciting is, we can contribute to the collective story. The story we are telling together, the story that evolves with each individual. If something, a photograph or quote or whatever, represents you, it represents someone else, too, and it should be shared.

I have a few items in mind I’d like to share. And while this isn’t the legacy they talked about in high school, this legacy is far more important. This legacy is much closer to the possibilty of leaving something that will actually matter and connect with someone else.

Tell every story.

We tell each other stories to relate. Much of the time, though, we think we can’t.

Do we all have basically the same experiences? No. That can’t be. Or could it? Do the same thoughts rotate through each of our heads? It’s cool to think the answer could be yes. But we don’t act the same.

What about multiple realities? If we all have the same experiences and we all think the same thoughts, then are we the same person, living out the same story in different realities? A reality, here, will be defined as perspective: My perspective is one reality; your’s another.

Obviously, I don’t have the story, our story, figured out. I lack. And you lack. But in some strange alignment, we lack different pieces. When pieces start to come together, as they always do in ways I could never imagine, it feels like we are getting somewhere. Finally, some information is revealed.

Yes, information is usually revealed slowly, but it should be. At a basic level, this keeps the audience interested. On a deeper level, information is hard to digest. We can only take so much at any given time. We need time to process things, especially when new information contradicts previous information.

The story progresses and we evolve even at the most superfical levels of processing new information. As long as new, revealed clues find their way to our minds, we can examine them. Examining never means automatic acceptance, it simply means we are open to moving the story forward.

Characters in turmoil.

I set out to know who put her in the spot, who put her in front of the gun. That was you, angel.

-Brendan, from Brick

To borrow the phrase, you have to put your characters in front of the gun. Situations have to get dicey. You gotta shake things up. If you don’t, if you let your characters sit in their boring self-complacency, you should ask yourself, what’s the point? Why am I writing?

Sometimes you write to explore a deep-seated darkness. Some secret buried so deep in a character’s soul that she could break at any moment. Some darkness she may not even realize is there. It’s like giving a character a dozen past lives, and in each one she did something or experienced something that only burdens her more and more.

Until she’s in a turmoil that surrounds her.

I know that sounds harsh. But, when you’re writing that character and her situations, you should make it harsher. You should make her bleed. Let her fall down. Let her make a mistake.

Or maybe you take this route: Your character is basically good; or, at least not as dark as I painted her above. This time, the darkness comes from outside of her. Things happen to her that force her to deal; force her to examine issues she’d rather not; force her to dig deep and become stronger. (For a prime example, watch Veronica Mars.)

Or, you could do both: darkness flows out, darkness flows in. Of course, getting too heavy isn’t always good.

Yet, characters need some darkness that pushes them. They need their perfect worlds shattered into pieces so tiny they may not be able to pick them all up. They need to be blindsided with turmoil, with sadness, with pain, with…

Because after you’ve put them through hell, they will emerge on the other side, and they will emerge having found truth.

 

See from their eyes.

On my cork-board, above my desk, hangs a list of storytelling facets that I try to employ whenever I write. Soon, I will remove this list and print a new one, having added this:

Reveal the world from the perspective of others.

If anyone struggles with length or depth, maybe this could be a good bit of invention. Generally, I’m a writer of short stories. And I mean short; 7 pages might be the longest, but that length, I can’t deny, suited the story. But, when I think about creating a story now, I try to think bigger and longer. Expansion. Expanding description, details, character actions, character thoughts. More now, then maybe ever, storytelling has become about letting the characters breathe; letting scenes take on a life of their own.

Thus, if I put, say, four characters in a scene, and something happens, then I have four different perspectives to draw from. One character may leave out details, and another character may be able to fill in those details. One may interpret the happening this way, while another will interpret it that way. Soon, a mystery is born, and each character holds different clues.

A timeframe of the mystery is established by each of the four characters. Character one, Wilcot, has the long version; Miranda has a shorter version that falls somewhere in the middle of Wilcot’s; Samantha’s version might start just before Wilcot’s ends; thus, not including any of Miranda’s; and Zach’s view overlaps Miranda’s somewhat but doesn’t stray beyond Wilcot’s.

I’ve learned if one wishes to maintain a good mystery, one must develop and maintain characters’ relationships with the reader. That is, the character must never be so vague or general that the reader doesn’t grasp his or her essence. Think of it this way: to have a good mystery, one must first ground the reader in something tangible. Set up a timeframe, get characters talking about it through their own eyes, and the mystery gets to be mysterious.

Just the way I like it.

Writing as passion.

I’d rather just write.

Maybe I don’t know how to organize my time, but the way I see it there isn’t enough time to organize. Either way, another semester has started, and I’m already in the thick of it. And characters are left trapped on the page.

The Red Man is left in his red jumpsuit and red ball cap standing on his roof waving at Jonathan as drives to work, his car filling with worship songs.

I call this static motion.

Another character’s thoughts exist only in my head: I’m left with no choice but to plan my sleepless existence. The girl I loved, the girl who left me, she showed up in my doorway in the middle of the night. I saw her like you see yourself in the mirror. She appeared to me as the ghost image of herself. Yet my eyes saw her physical, material body. Yet she was only there, up in my head.

I call this borrowed consciousness. His thoughts stumbling around in my head. Doesn’t seem fair.

What’s worse is the collaborative efforts that are now pending: one focuses on a stripper, the other a prostitute. (That realization is striking.) Don’t worry; the stories are about so much more. And in Amelia’s defense, she doesn’t stay a stripper for long. As for Veronica, her story is a satire about what we find ourselves settling for. They have stories to tell just like anyone else.

I love the openness, the ambiguity, the mystery, the playfulness that comes with creating characters.

In my only published (and award-winning!) story, Cursed, the interpretation of the main character/narrator varies depending on who reads it. The gender of the character, it turned out, was left undefined. It took my gracious and beautiful editor to see this. (Oh, the power of other eyes on one’s work! Truly, the more people who read your writing, the better it will become. This is a fact that I will always hold to.)

I didn’t leave the gender open deliberately. Though, when I realized I did, I teased it a bit, played with it, and added a thing or two that might suggest a thing or two about the character.

This, creating characters, is one of the great joys of storytelling. You can do anything.