When “What If” Explodes

You know I really thought my next post after the I Scream one was going to be another post about torture but then the sweater thing happened and I wound up re-reading my post on anxiety and…it was weird, because I said I don’t understand anxiety as a disorder very well in it. I made a pretty good analogy about hoses concerning anxiety, but otherwise felt uncomfortable talking about it, and actually did kind of a poor job on panic attacks, mostly just parroting what I’d learned in class.

And it was weird because I forget it wasn’t that long ago, only a handful of years, when I didn’t suffer from anxiety, and I’d never had a panic attack. Apparently, it was sooner than I thought because I thought my anxiety started being A Thing around when I got married, but judging by the post, no. And guess what? Talking about anxiety and panic with experience is way more words than just learning about it from a book, so the next post isn’t goign to be follow up on I Scream either. Just remember – the reason I talk about this on a writing blog is because you should know about mental disorders when you write. You should know about them anyway. But writing mental disorders is frequently common and very often done badly. Know it.

Now to think, remember, I didn’t always have anxiety is weird as orignally, it was quite hard for me to accept this new disorder because, you see, I’m an extrovert. A poster child extrovert. And social anxiety, well…there’s a reason why everyone assumes I must be an introvert if I have it and so badly. There’s nothing wrong with being an introvert, of course, but I’m not one and the worst part of all this was losing my extrovert. I mean, it was an aspect I’d cultivated, worked on. In middle school, I saw a show where people were doing random crap in public just ‘cuz. I wanted to be that fearless. And I worked at it, erasing my shame bit by bit, until I could say the most random crap to anyone. I had mime battles with a friend across campus. I walked up to people I didn’t know and rigamarolled shenanigans. I honed the skill in high school. In college, I became expert at promoting the Quill and Sword, fearlessly prowling campus in my medieval garb, I threw on a black cloak and carried a red lightsaber to meet up with a friend and duel at lunchtime, I blasted Knights of Cydonia as I charged to the testing center on finals day. And then suddenly…I couldn’t talk to anyone. I couldn’t say hi, what’s your name, what do you like? Everything I worked so hard, so hard to build, it was just…gone. And in its place, crippling anxiety.

What happened to me? I’ll never really know. Maybe it was all the hormones from having a kid. They changed me permanently in other ways.

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We watched this the other night and there were SO many moments where I almsot started crying and I just – what the HECK has happened to me!? WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO MEEEEE?

But it doesn’t matter now because the anxiety is a part of me and that’s that. Do you understand how devastating this change is for me? I mean, we very often talk about it in such a way as to conflate it with introversion. So let me explain: I want to be around people. I love people. I want to talk to them, learn about them, find out what they’re passionate about and delight in it, I want people, I need people. I need a lot of people. We all need social interaction, like a plant needs sunlight – but introverts are like shade tolerant plants that actually start wilting if you put them in too much sunlight, and I’m like a friggun sunflower who starts dying in the shade. (I assume they die in the shade as their name implies they are the sunniest of flowers. If I’m wrong, just insert in your head a flower that dies in the shade.) I need people, and anxiety makes people terrifying. They make people immesurably, paralytically, would rather face down Ye Elder God terrifying. This disorder makes me hide my sunflower face from sunlight because I can’t stand to look at it.

For me, this anxiety is an explosion of What If. What if they think I’m dumb? What if they think my writerly-ness is weird and creepy? What if no one wants to be around me? What if I lose everyone I love, chase them off because of who I am. irredeemably? WHAT IF WHAT IF WHAT IF!?

And I can’t talk the what ifs down. If I push and push against them and scream, THIS IS NOT WHO I AM and try to bulldoze through it, it’s like a series of ice-cold hands reach out and pull me down, screaming the what ifs all the louder, shaking me to my core, shaking me until I shake myself in fear of the what if.

Slowly, slowly, I’m regaining my extroverted self, once again becoming a socialite.

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For some reason, an extroverted butterfly person who is the center of attention – so basically Rarity with her butterfly wings – is what the word “socialite” makes me think, ever since I first heard the word.

It helped that there were friendly, outgoing people in my current ward (church congregation if you will) who reached out to me when we moved here. And that we have friendly neighbors. And that Tyler is so understanding – because he has his own anxieties, especially about me. And that my friends offered support when I explained my new problem. But most of all, it’s helped to just accept this is a part of my life now and rather than trying to deny it and just act the way I always did which only exasberated the problem, and instead being gentle with myself and asking the people around me to be gentle too, and to try to understand.

 

 

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Putting a Sweater on Depression

Although there are countless creations trying to explain depression in comics, pictures, witty memes, posts, etc, the continuing creation and presence of these items suggests that it’s still misunderstood. And given that time to time I say something about my disorder, or a friend theirs, and we recieve common responses ranging from “what do you have to be depressed about” to “I know how to fix that, it’s [“solution”]”, I see exactly why it’s suggested that depression is misunderstood.

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You aren’t the guy from Holes. You CAN’T fix it.

And while I tried my best to spew Psychology Student information about depression, I got thinking about what might be a good analogy. Actually I got thinking about it because I have insomnia and you think about all sorts of things trying to go to sleep, but the point is, I thought of at least a decent analogy.

Say that there’s a huge problem in the world with people being cold – and I mean everyone in the world is at risk for being really, freezing to death really, cold, not the ones who actually are cold. Freezing is the worst ailment because you lose all feeling, become completely numb, have a background sensation of suffering, and then if it gets bad enough, you die.

So there’s a problem where people are freezing. And you’re walking along on the street and you’re nice and cozy warm, and encounter someone who is freezing, and they say to you, “Hey, I’m freezing!” and you say to them, “The solution is simple – put on a sweater.”

In this part of the analogy, I think a lot of the breakdown is that people seem to assume they get it already. “Oooh, I see! Depression is where that person doesn’t have a sweater!”

No.

See if freezing is emotional despair, emptiness, all that stuff that is depression, then a sweater is favorable circumstances, good company, enjoyable activities, etc etc. And someone who is depressed may well have a sweater. They may have forty sweaters, all piled on making them look like Randy from A Christmas Story.

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“I CAN’T PUT MY ARMS DOWN!”

And maybe they don’t have a sweater. And all the “I can fix that” solutions people offer to fix depression usually seem to revolve around getting the person a sweater. “Let’s go buy one.” “I’ll make you one.” “You can have mine.” “A blanket works just as well in a pinch.”

But the problem isn’t the sweater.

You see, a sweater isn’t actually warm. It’s insulation. If you put a sweater on a snowman, the snowman wouldn’t melt, because a sweater isn’t warm. As insulation, the sweater would help keep in the cold, and thus a snowman who is wearing a sweater melts more slowly than one who isn’t. (They even did this on a Mythbusters show.) When you say, “A sweater will keep you warm!” the operative word here is “keep” because you, as a living being, generate heat, and the sweater keeps it in.

So when you’re feeling down, you’re generating warmth – happiness, contentedness, the ability to feel, so even anger, fear, sadness, etc – but having a hard time hanging onto it. The heat flows away from you and you feel cold. And when you put on your sweater – your favorable circumstances, good company, comfort food, pleasurable activities, the like – that insulates you, and the heat you generate sticks.

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It insulates you and shows off your style. And also that you have an amazing “aunt” who will make you a sweater like my bestie did here for my kid. The love of others is all a part of the sweater, even in real life with actual, non-metaphrical sweaters.

When you’re depressed, you AREN’T generating heat. You have lost the ability to feel. You are numb and cold and dead because you have lost the ability to generate within you happiness, anger, fear, emotions, feelings. So when you put on a sweater, nothing happens. It just insulates the void.

And it can become so severe, this nothingness, this coldness, that you die.

So no matter how many sweaters someone makes or buys for you, lends you, how many blankets make up for your lack of sweater, no matter how hard someone tries to show you the joy of life – the sweater and blankets are all still great, but in the end, there isn’t any heat. The sweaters don’t do anything.

So when I’m in the height of a wave of depression, I’m still wearing my, “I have a pretty great life” sweater. It’s got the knitted knots that are my superb family, the cute buttons that are my house and belongings, the decorative trim that are all the incredible, amazing people that I know, my friends and neighbors, and it even has a hood from all my talents that provide so many things I like to do. It’s thick and packed with love. I’m wearing that sweater, I’m aware of it, and I’m so, so grateful for it.

And I’m still freezing. Because something inside of me is broken. Something inside of me forgot how to feel. Something inside me doesn’t know how to make heat.

Thing is, I still want to be included, I still want to be loved. When you invite me somewhere, I’ll try not to drag anyone down with my depression, and I ask in return if it looks like I’m not having a good time, it’s just that I can’t so much right now, and you just leave it be. Just think of yourself as Pooh and I’m Eeyore. I’m depressed, but since you can’t do anything about it, continuing to be my friend anyway without trying to fix me is the best thing you can do.

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Even when he was kind of being a huge bummer, the others still played with him.

The problem is when you look at me and think you can fix the depression and say, “Well come hang out and that’ll make you feel better,” or, “Let’s go get ice cream/pizza,” or, “Why don’t we watch a movie/go for a walk/read a book/play some games,” or, “Just count your blessings!” or, “Do something productive like do chores or work on your new garden!” or, or, or – what you’re saying is, “Here, put on this sweater.”

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I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream…For Torture!

This one’s a huge pet peeve of mine. You have your hero in the terrifying dungeon of the bad guys, and they come in and do some horrible things to him/her, and…

The hero, being a Super Tough Guy ™ – you know what this is a way bigger problem when the hero is a guy so – the hero, being a super tough guy, “refuses to give [villain] satisfaction” and stays quiet. The big bonus round is if they also don’t do much – no (or little) flinching, gritting of teeth, clenching of fists, curling of toes, squeezing their eyes, etc…which makes ME grit MY teeth, clench my fists, flinch, and even howl out in pain.

That’s because reading about another stupid hero who won’t scream for torture is torture to ME.

Yeah see unless your dude or dudette (but again a big problem with the macho heroes) is SPECIFICALLY TRAINED to handle extreme duress with a poker face, he darn well better be screaming his face off when the villain is trying to rip it off. Because you know what? Pain hurts. A frickton. We should all be pretty familiar with this, because:

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I mean it’s a great many other things too, but it’s feeling, and sensation, and a lot of those feelings and sensations are painful. That’s an essential part of life.

And when you get hurt, you react.

Look, I know how we all wanna be tough and we look up to the cool guys who CAN tough it out. Well, honestly, I mostly want to whine when I’m in pain, if it’s moderate or worse. But it is true that I want to mitigate my reactions as much as possible when I’m doing something medical. If I’m getting a shot, I try really, really hard to be a Big Girl ™ and just take it, no reaction. And you know, aside from a slight flinch in the face, I usually do.

I might have mentioned that I am quite familiar with all sorts of degrees of pain. You know what else I learned from all those experiences besides how to describe pain? That you don’t sit still when it happens, no matter how much you want to be a Big Girl ™. You just don’t. When you get hurt really, really badly, beyond your ability to cope with the pain, you writhe around in pain screaming and crying and wishing for death.

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I mean writhing and screaming so loudly the country could hear it was good enough for Wesley and we all still think he’s a Cool Tough Guy ™

But okay, you want your hero to be the big tough guy. What does So Wimpy And Little She Can’t Even Donate Blood® know? Let me make the case that you DO make him tougher by having him react, and you also make your villain stronger, too.

Your hero is a cardboard cut-out without human reactions.

Unless your hero has established training to prevent reaction to pain – and I don’t mean a lot of experience with pain, because lots of exposure to horrific occurences just means you get hurt a lot, I mean actual training – if he fails to react to what is happening to him, it must be because he can’t actually feel anything because he’s made out of cardboard. You diminish the humanity of your hero. Real breathing living thinking feeling sentient beings react, at least a little, to pain. If your hero doesn’t, he must not be a real breathing living thinking feeling and/or sentient being, ergo he is cardboard.

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Cardboard, or something like this.

Your villain comes off as incompetent.

If your character is usually not cardboard, his brick-strong lack of reaction makes the PAIN not real. I mean if he can withstand it so totally, it must not actually hurt that much.  If you are literally describing what is happening to him, that creates dissonance. It doesn’t sound so much like the intestines they’re ripping out hurt a ton but your hero is just so tough it’s whatever – it sounds like maybe the villain is so incompetent he can’t make evisceration hurt. So – either your hero is cardboard, or your villain is a loser who can’t even torture someone right, or both. Don’t forget – it hurts your hero if your villain sucks, so everyone loses.

The reader cannot relate to your hero’s pain if he isn’t feeling any.

It’s going to make it hard for the reader to sympathize with what is happening to your hero if you tell them but don’t show them – I mean, you’ll still get a good flinch when you say, “metal hooks through his eyelids held his eyes open” (Props to Andrew Whittaker, that was a fun chapter to read) but then things get weird if dude is just sitting there like his eyelids held open with hooks is nbd. (He’s so informal about it he’s using chatspeak, you see.) I’m going to relate a lot more to him if he’s more like, “aaaaaaah there are hooks in my eyelids aaaaaaah my eyes and my eyelids hurt so badly aaaaaaah!”

Choosing smaller reactions is more likely to make your hero seem tough than none at all.

Choose what responses he displays wisely. When I’m undergoing torture (it’s usually called a pelvic exam, but I have a medical condition that makes it torture instead), I’m dealing with a doctor and therefore trying really, really hard to just lay still until the doctor is done. But it hurts enough that I can’t help but squirm, grasp at the…chair thingie doctors have, grind my teeth, and sometimes, with a particular jolt of pain, a little whine slips through. This is me at my bravest, toughest, most determined to not show that all that’s on my mind is, “frick frick frick omg stop holy heck are you done make it stop frick frick frick frick.” Or possibly swearing, I’ll never tell.

So consider full body movement, like writhing, squirming, trembling; single areas of the body like the hands, jaw/teeth, eyes; breathing patterns, like sharp intakes of breath or panting; noises from screaming to weeping to groaning. If your hero is Big Tough Guy ™, maybe he might say the boring mantra of, “I won’t scream, I won’t scream.” And maybe he won’t. But maybe he’s trembling so badly that now he’s straining his own muscles in protest to the pain as he tries to hold in that scream. Maybe he’s flexing his fingers as he holds back the tears. And maybe it’s been going on so long that his mind is shattering and the reaction is psychological and a modicum of insanity – though I’m gonna say you should probably include major physical reactions if you aren’t going full focus on the mental.

One last thing – these moments of torture between villain and hero are, in their own way, intimate; it builds a specific type of relationship between the two. If you were writing a romantic scene instead of a torture one, and the hero just sat there like a brick to all of the villain’s ministrations, that would really ruin the scene, and put a big block between any developments that ought to be happening – or crush some serious credibility for developments that happen anyway. I mean, if the hero, after bricking it through a romantic moment with the villain, comes to them later and says something like, “that was great, I’ve never felt this way before,” I’m not really going to buy it. It’s no different when the hero bricks it through torture and then bellows, “I hate you for all you’ve done to me!” or whatever. It’s just not as strong.

Torture is, in its own right, an intimate thing.

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That’s why sleazy magazines could TOTALLy be villain mags if you just change the picture in the middle from some photoshopped female to a belted up guy whose feet I didn’t want to draw. I guess the difference between “sleazy magazine” and “evil magazine” is consent.

So take the time to do it right if you’re going to do it at all. Make the villain competent. Make the hero human. Make the scene actually matter.

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No Pain, No Gain

Apparently, there’s nothing like a sinus infection to get you writing again. Or my writer’s block just happened to end in the middle of one, whatever. It was pretty poor timing because I simultaneously wanted to write and wanted to sleep off the pain. Then I’d sit down to write, and get so dizzy that I couldn’t, and be forced to take a nap.

I’m just about over the infection now, and happily it did clear up with a bit of medical help and I didn’t need antibiotics. That was the first time I ever had a sinus infection and I hope it never happens again because it sucked pretty badly. On the plus side, I now know how to write about a new type of head pain. Like, if I ever write some sort of sci-fi where some alien worm thing goes through someone’s nose to eat their brain, I know exactly how I would describe that.

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Or like in I think it was the Wrath of Khan where Khan puts these parasite things in the guys’ ears and they all are like “aaaah” and he’s just like “lol”.

Oh flip why did I just say that now I can’t stop picturing how horrible that would be uuuuugh

Anyway, that’s kind of the funny thing I’ve noticed about myself, whenever anything really painful happens to me. The silver lining is always, “Well now I know how to write about that!” and I know eventually, I’m gonna, because what’s the point of writing if you don’t make your characters suffer infinitely, right?

Actually. three different incidents of pain have been pretty useful for me in my current WIP, Death’s Tear. There’s a part where the MC passes out from blood loss, and a later part where he’s tortured by the god Pain himself. I know how it feels to be suffering from major blood loss from the time I donated blood – whoa hold on don’t call me a drama queen yet. I’m five foot even and barely weigh more than a hundred pounds; in high school, I managed to get to 120, the minimum to be able to donate. Which is exciting for me because everyone I talk to is always like, “I have such small veins they can never find them!” or, “I hate needles!” and I don’t much like pain but I can deal with needles and my veins are friggun huge so it was gonna be awesome.

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Plus you got a free t-shirt with a silly cartoon blood drop on it.

Then I was there for two literal hours recovering and they almost called me an ambulance to take me to the hospital so they could give me my blood back. They had me lay down and eat snacks and drink juice, then slowly sit up, then stand up so they could take my blood pressure, and at first it was way, way low, and then it was way, way high, and both times I almost threw up and blacked out in the time it took them to take my blood pressure. And I didn’t even get to relax and say, “Oh well, guess I’ll miss some classes!” because it was near lunch time and I worked at the cafeteria during lunch and I kept stressing my boss would be pissed at me for ditching work and she totally was the next day until I explained what happened.

That was the same year where in drama class, we were playing Improv Freeze Tag, and the whole class was pretty bad at it so I was trying to make things more interesting and this person put their hands behind their back and I yelled “Freeze!” and took their place and started in with, “You might have captured me, but you’ll never take me alive!” and went to do a jump-kick (my friends said it looked like I was gonna do a cool kung-fu move so it started off well), but then I randomly blacked out (no seriously. I have no idea what happened) and the first thing that came back was hearing the whole class go “Ooooh!” like, “That’s gotta hurt” kind of “oooh!” and all I could think was, “oh no.” And then I was in a lot of pain from falling down. Just from jumping slightly. Also I split my chin open on…probably my knuckle? Needed five stitches. I was so pissed that my reign as the only member of my family who had never had stitches came to an end. That moment was one of my Top Three Most Painful Things That Have Happened To Me.

So when Tristan is wandering a cave dying of blood loss, I know what that feels like. And when he blacks out and collapses, I know what waking up to THAT feels like.

What does being tortured by Pain feel like? I’m going off of a different Top Three moment- in college, I had the hardest time focusing on my homework because of my ADD and it was becoming a real problem, so I asked for medical help. I was put on an amphetamine. It was glorious and worked beautifully. I mean it freaked me out at first my brain was working so differently but then it was glorious. I decided to go off of the med over the summer; my psychiatrist said I could just stop taking it, that no one ever had withdrawals.

She was wrong.

I usually describe the experience as “my soul being ripped slowly from my body” but “tortured by the literal god of Pain” is good too.

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It was sorta like this.

So, you know, don’t do drugs, I guess. Actually honestly the thing that makes me most upset about the whole thing is now that amphetamine doesn’t do anything for me anymore except make me really thirsty. I miss having a sane, quiet brain. I used to get things done.

Oh, I also wouldn’t have thought to have Tristan scrape all the skin off his elbow when he falls down some stairs if that hadn’t happened to me when I fell down our stairs. Stupid steep basement stairs.

I don’t really recommend getting your masochist on so you can write better, but things that hurt, even a lot, are going to happen to you because you live in the kind of world where that’s a thing. What I do recommend is that when you go through a new, painful experience, you find a silver lining in it by writing down at least one description of how you’re feeling. Not only does composing prose of my predicament as if it’d happened to another help me feel better about what’s happening to me, but I also never remember it as crisply years and years later when I actually use the experience. I mean, I remember blood loss was dizzy and nauseating, but it’s journal entries that help me remember winking in and out of consciousness when standing, brain fog, what the rest of my body felt like. Maybe you don’t really want to journal your pain, but give Future You an important writing resource and do it anyway.

As an important aspect of writing is writing real life, even in fiction, there’s not a better way to make your character’s painful experiences more real than by describing your own.

 

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Dead in the Water

Hey, everyone. This is just a short post to say I’m still around and thinking of the blog, but I’m suffering from ???? that I’m just calling “writer’s block” since that expresses really fast something that is basically correct, except I have been through a lot of writer’s block and know how to deal with it and this is different. I still have plenty to say – I’m still composing blog posts in my head during insomnia hours, and have a couple dozen drafts half finished, or finished but in full-ramble stage where I have to go back and pull out as much ADD as possible.

I don’t know if this means I’m all better now and will resume posting regularly. Honestly, probably not. But my lack of ability to do a lot of writing is super stressing me, especially since I don’t know what’s wrong. With a bit of coaxing from friends, especially  my bestie, I’m trying to give myself permission to just bow out for a bit. Maybe the problem is depression (though I don’t think so? I’m preeetty familiar with my own depression and it just doens’t feel like that’s the problem…) or the fact that my two-year-old is really picking up on the making sure I have the full mom-of-a-two-year-old experience, or that the TV is now in the living room so I can choose to locate, acquire, and if necessary, steal all the valuables in all of Skyrim while stabbing vampires and past dragonborn jerks who yoink my hard-earned dragon souls. Though I mean major video game distractions are ceeertainly not new at all to me so …? Maybe it’s the positioning of the computer. It’s not great for watching the kid; it’s against a far wall in the living room. Not sure where else to move it. Maybe I could pick up a laptop for writing and stuff sometime? I don’t know. I don’t know what my problem is. but I open up a new blog post or Scrivener, stare at the screen, and then close it, either alt tab to something else or just put the computer back to sleep.

Maybe taking time to bow out is really what I need. I’m a stranger to burnout and that doesn’t make sense here either – I wasn’t pushing myself that much and I’ve done far worse with no repercussions. I’m a nine-time NaNo winner, I KNOW writing stress! But maybe it’s not about burnout. Maybe I can’t figure out what’s wrong when I’m pushing myself to do something I just can’t right now and then spending the rest of my time stressing about my lack of progress.

If I can, I’m going to be writing a couple of short stories since some members want to do an anthology. We’ll see if I can’t pick back up from there, eh?

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Christmas OR ELSE.

Merry Christmas, minions, and I hope it was a good one. Or, you know, a good whatever other holiday you might celebrate, which makes me remember all the *ahem* certain other people who for some reason have a conniption fit when you fail to acknowledge Christmas as the one and only holiday of December and say something like Happy Holidays. Or even Xmas.

So it gets me thinking…usually when there’s a villain and a holiday, the villain wants to steal it or something. Of course, there are the times when they celebrate it, even in their own weird and twisted way

But…well with how often you have the evil religion, secretly or otherwise, as a trope, and considering the history of Christmas – you know, annexing a pagan holiday for an event that probably actually happened in the Spring, just like Christians annexed a different pagan holiday for Easter – isn’t it a bit odd you don’t usually see villains forcing people to celebrate a holiday? Perhaps only one holiday, in place of another, like, say, the other winter holidays that coincide with Christmas?

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If you can ban worship of a particular god for whatever reason – like the empire bans worship of Talos in Skyrim – then you can force worship, too, including via holiday.

Of course, this would only be appropriate for a specific brand of villain, but when you’re writing an overlord, who usually just oppresses and stifles belief, maybe a holiday celebrating how great he is might be worth consideration.

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The Recurring Villain: Defeat

As fun as the recurring villain can be, in its many flavors and utilities, defeat is sometimes a tough spot that makes writing a good recurring villain more difficult to write. It’s along the lines of death and exactly why defeat is a problem.

See sometimes defeat that doesn’t end the recurring part of the recurring villain isn’t a problem. After all, the way you defeat an Unpleasant Associate or The Rival is usually not an End-All defeat. You score higher on the test, you beat them in a combat that isn’t to the death, you get The Thing and they don’t. But. That’s a battle, not the war. And beating The Pursuit is usually just

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But sometimes defeat is more than that. As was addressed in death, sometimes defeat is kind of a big, sort of, you know, permanent thing.

And with a recurring villain, that can be hard.

But it can also be awesome.

There’s so much that’s permanent that isn’t death. There’s persistent rumors, or mental scarring, or Getting The Limited Resource of Plot, or death of a loved one rather than the rival themselves, or maiming…

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Both these two from FF VIII know a thing or two about maiming due to a rival with their matching scars.

And if you make that consistently important, then that’s a defeat worth talking about, a real defeat. It’s a defeat that lingers, a defeat that has permanent consequences.

Maybe coming up with a defeat that’s meaningful, that will have ripples if not waves throughout the whole story, isn’t the challenge for you. That’s great, but there’s more to consider than just what the defeat was. Maybe it’s writing the ripples and waves, or remembering/determining the character development for both characters – if both the recurring villain and the hero are constantly trying to destroy each other, if your MC becomes too focused on defeating the recurring, what does that do to him? How does that stretch and warp her, and her motivations? And of course, likewise, the recurring villain.

And then, of course, there’s the recurring villain’s defeat…of the hero. For things like The Rival, or The Unpleasant Associate, that’s feasible and should totally be done from time to time to knock MC down a peg. Maybe MC really is just better than Recurring, maybe Recurring doesn’t work as hard as MC (in which case you really need to show that). But…if you’re not careful, you’re going to get Mary Sue points for the MC always winning.

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See Hermione studied a ton, so academically, her performing incredibly well (or well in other matters where study and practice make a difference) is awesome and makes sense.

I think in the long run, The Pursuit is hardest to write a good defeat. For one thing, if they defeat the heroes, well, that’s getting dangerously into Game Over territory. And for their losing, well…Aside from the deal of The Pursuit failing, or the MCs finally killing The Pursuit, how can The Pursuit develop? If it’s some sort of soulless shadow monster thing, probably it’s going to be increasingly a good idea to discard it and pick up something else as the schtick of “oh no the scary thing showed up and is chasing us again oh phew we escaped” is going to get old fast. Discard may here mean, simply, get rid of it…OR turn it into something more. It’s more than a scary shadow thing. A scary shadow thing can be really hard to develop as a character since it’s barely a character, but if it’s more than that…

Also consider how it changes the entire story dynamic. With each defeat, is the arc of the story, the general progression, even the same thing? Or can one defeat change everything? Or a series of defeats? It seemed like the story was going to be one thing, one progression of events, A to B to C…but these defeats made it turn to A to B to Q to R.

Basically, impact and permanence make for good defeats. If the hero and villain both walk away basically unchanged, the defeat might as well have not even happened. The whole interaction that led to the defeat was probably pointless. Maybe that interaction can be changed to mean something. And maybe it needs to be axed.

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Hair

Hello Minions! I want to talk about hair. That’s because hair can merely be a fashion statement…or it can be symbolic.

This came up after I cut just about all my hair off, which is a big deal for me. I absolutely despise short hair. I mean, other people look great with short hair. And I guess I look okay because everyone always tells me I look super cute with short hair? But I don’t see it, and more importantly, I used to have Disney Princess hair so when I woke up, it was usually already perfect, maybe could use just a little bit of a brush. How does anyone think short hair is easier to manage when no matter how many times I brush it, it still pokes up stupid?

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Do you know how often I wake up as an anime character? How is this even a thing?

Even when I get the brush wet! And people are like, “well I have to use [product]” and I’m thinking that everyone who says that they have short hair because it’s “easier” sits on a throne of lies because all I ever do with my hair, even when it’s down to my hips, is brush it. The biggest reason I hate short hair, however, is that I can’t put it in a ponytail. Now it’s always in my face.

So why did I cut it all off? Turns out that you can sell your hair, if you’re willing to put up with total creepers who weren’t kidding when they asked you to fly out to Florida so they could “cut your hair in person” which is probably code for “traffic you” knowing your email address and then emailing you a month after you take down your hair listing. Or trust that the guy who’s best credential for not being an axe murderer is “I’m Mormon” is actually a nice guy who just wants to cut your hair and isn’t Sweeny Todd (turns out he was just a nice guy who wanted to cut my hair. Phew! But seriously, “I’m Mormon”? How is that credential for being a good, honest person? Ted Bundy was Mormon! And even if being a Latter-Day Saint somehow magically made it so you were def an honest person, anyone could still claim that.)

Long story short

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I wasn’t going to cut it this short but then it turns out if you give me $100 to cut it shorter than I want to, I will.

I still hate my short hair. It’s always in my face and I look like an anime character 50% of the time. But I also have like ten different hats and I’m now free of credit debt. So when I look at my short hair, it’s not just a different hairstyle everyone likes but me. It’s a symbol of the fact that I am, in fact, an adult: I can do hard things, do things I hate, because it needs to be done.

Hair can symbolize a lot. In fact, in more than one culture, hair has some kind of (often spiritual) significance. Consider Native Americans, for example. There are plenty of cultures where hair was thought to be an extension of thought. There have been many uses of symbolic hair in fiction, too – Children of Eldair includes elves who collect magic in their hair and use it to cast spells…and there’s the Biblical story of Samson, where his hair represented his covenants with God and thus granted him strength.

If hair itself symbolizes something, cutting it probably does as well. We mentioned Samson – I’ve also known violence against women abbreviated to hair cutting. The cutting of her hair, taking something from her forcefully, might represent something like a rape – an interesting take that avoids directly mentioning or describing that event of violence. It could be more minor, as well – in webcomic Order of the Stick, Haley’s rival cuts her hair up as a taunt (even if they later lampshade the event as not actually about character development at all when she magically regrows it, there was an opportunity there for it to mean something). There’s also plenty of examples of people cutting their hair in mourning. Or to symbolize their shame.

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Or to symbolize their ties to their nation.

On a contrast, there’s more than one time where a girl’s hair is sheared in Miyazaki films, which I’m told is to represent the girl’s maturation. In Howl’s Moving Castle, Sophie gives her hair willingly; in Castle in the Sky, the pigtails are shot off. So, you be the judge of its truth there. (Certainly the hair cutting in Princess Mononoke doesn’t represent maturation…or does it?)

This of course doesn’t even go into hair color – but color coding is usually a more visible and well-known, so I’ll spare you talking about it.

A hairstyle can, of course, just be that. But it can be so much more. There are so many ways to incorporate hair symbolically into your story. It’s always worth putting careful thought into every detail. It’s more work, but it’s always worth it.

Posted in General Writing, Making Villains (Making Villains la-la-la!) | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

This Post is Eventually About Writing

Hello minions. I’m back and I’m sorry for the delay, but I hope you all enjoyed Tyler’s unit on conlangs.

As for me, well.

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I’ve found a doctor who actually listens carefully to my concerns – you wouldn’t think that’s so hard to find – and we’re starting the magical adventure of finding the right drug. My anxiety is getting totally out of hand, you see – I had a panic attack over how upset I was that I was so uncontrollably anxious that a friend texted me something ambivalent that I could stretch to sound like they didn’t want to be friends anymore. The whole thing was so utterly ridiculous.

So far, I’m on something that converts a portion of my anxiety (and probably depression) into exhaustion. The going rate is really high so I basically want to just sleep all day. Which is why I missed last week and this week is late. I also can’t sleep all day because I have a two-year old. Also it is only a portion of anxiety because I still get anxious over nothing.

Part of what’s bothering me about this whole anxiety business – aside from the fact that it totally sucks and is debilitating and I don’t even have any good coping mechanisms because unlike my other disorders, this came out of nowhere once I became an adult – is that it is, unsurprisingly, easily triggered by things relating to writing. One thing that scares me really badly is that my writing group will kick me out. It’s 100% just mental disorder anxiety; my writing group is made of friends and I’m actually not a bad writer, no matter what voices in my head tell me. And that’s bad enough on its own.

But I’m trying to get finished with my final draft and get querying and there’s no way I won’t be paralyzed by this anxiety crap. I mean, what if people don’t like my book!?

Well. Not everyone will. I find myself getting into a mindset where I think, “Yeah but…if it’s a good book, like, why wouldn’t they?” Not exactly consciously, but it’s somewhere in my head. If someone doesn’t like it, it must mean that the book wasn’t good enough, because if it was good enough, no one could resist it!

Although…I think that mindset, which isn’t true, is why people get so defensive about their fandoms. I mean, I’ve had more than a few Dr. Who fans get really, really upset with me because I don’t really like Dr. Who. Perhaps they feel I’m insulting the awesomeness by not enjoying it myself – like I’m saying it’s not awesome because otherwise, I’d like it.

And I appreciate this view. Because I have nothing against Dr. Who. I just have a harder time enjoying things that are sci-fi like or scary. I can see why other people would like it! I enjoy Dr. Who memes if I get them. But it’s just not really my thing.

It’s a good show. I just don’t enjoy it.

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And that’s okay. It doesn’t mean that Dr. Who isn’t good enough for me. It’s just that I enjoy a different type of story. Which turns my mind to my bestie and I and our taste in books. We both like fantasy, but the types of fantasy, the styles of writing we like, are usually diametrically different. The only books that we’ve both enjoyed are McCaffery books. And it’s not about quality or anything, it’s just style. I liked The Hobbit, but the trilogy is a bit, er, stuffy for me. She adores LOTR. I love Brandon Sanderson and want to be him when I grow up. She didn’t enjoy him so much. It’s just different tastes and that’s okay. Like different talents mean we all have something to add, it just means that we all have something to take, too. And all that adding means we need lots of different takers.

So if some people don’t like your story, that’s okay. Not everyone will, and it doesn’t mean that your story is any less awesome. It’s just chocolate when they prefer strawberry.

Course, if your anxiety is a friggun mental disorder, that’s a different story – totally irrational, totally out of your control. If you’re dealing with that too, I’m so sorry – and good luck on your journey, whether it takes you to therapy, drugs, or something else entirely.

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As “Easy” as ABC

Writing systems can be just as hard to come up with as the language itself, so here are a few tips for doing it right.

The first question that you have to ask yourself is how many of the speakers of the language know how to write. Is writing reserved for nobility and monks holed up in monasteries devoting years to scribing sacred texts? Or are little children being taught to write in schools across the globe? Because the more people there are that write the language, the simpler it is going to become.

Let’s take a look at the English alphabet. Out of the twenty-six letters of the English alphabet, only six of them require more than one stroke of the pen: f, i, j, k, t, and x. Now, granted, in school that’s not how they teach it. I was taught to make a p by drawing a straight line and then a circle to the right of that line at the top. But that is not at all how I write a p when I’m writing something by hand. My p is one stroke comprised of a really thin oval that ends in a loop. It is much faster than drawing a line and a circle, and importantly it is just as recognizable as a p. And the faster people write the harder it is for really complicated symbols to remain legible. People are going to figure out what bits of the letters are not needed for recognition and cut those out.

Speaking of the English alphabet and simplification, did you know that there used to be more than 26 letters? There used to be another s, often called the long s. It’s the letter that looks a lot like an f (the only real difference is that the strike through the long s only extends to the left instead of both directions like for f) and gives us texts that look like they’re talking about ‘bleffings’ when they are talking about ‘blessings’.

truecopie_1585_aivThere was no difference in sound between a long s and an s (the rules for which to use depended entirely on where in a word the s appeared) and it was easy to mistake the long s for an f so eventually people stopped using the long s and we are left with just the s we know and love. German solved this problem by developing the eszett ß, which is a long s connected to a regular s. In practice, however, I usually have seen people write ß as just a B with a tail, because it’s easier to write.

The loss of the long s demonstrates the next important part of developing a writing system: writing will tend towards symbols that are easily distinguishable from one another. When we’re reading something, we don’t want to have to sit there and think “Is that an f or an s?” It impedes reading and if enough people are reading on a daily basis those sorts of possible confusions are not going to last long. I suspect this is why English cursive writing has been dying. While it is faster to write in cursive (due to the fact that you have to pick up your writing implement a lot less), the letters are much more similar to each other and thus harder to read. (And sure, the ability to type which means people just write less in general, too.)

Let’s take a moment to mention Tengwar, the alphabet used to write Quenya. Take a look at this alphabet and see if you notice anything.

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The characters are all super similar. If you look at the top chart of this graphic, every letter in the chart is just a rotation of or adds a line to one of the letters in the first column. You can go even further and say that all the letters in that first column are simple variations of the letter for r at the bottom of the column so that the whole top chart is essentially simple variations on one letter. This works because Quenya is the older Elven language, mostly only used by royalty and whatnot, so it isn’t that big of a deal that the writing system is so homogeneous. I mean, compare it to this old handwritten English Bible and it’s not so difficult to see a writing system like Tengwar surviving among the upper echelons.
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But Tengwar would not work for a writing system used for fast transactions between everyday people. It just wouldn’t survive. It would be diversified so that the letters were easily distinguishable at a glance. And while the new form would be recognizable as having evolved from the old, looking at the two side by side would be about as weird as looking at modern and old English side by side.

One last thing I want to consider when using an alphabet system is whether or not all sounds are represented. In traditional Hebrew writing, vowels are completely absent. Vowel points weren’t added until people started learning Hebrew as a second language. Native speakers just didn’t need the vowels to understand and read the words. If your language is more vowel heavy, perhaps you could only have symbols for the vowels and add small marks for the consonants.

There is a lot more you can do with the writing system for your language. You can choose whether to have one symbol for each sound or to use combinations of symbols for some sounds, like how English uses sh. You could decide to use a syllabic system instead of an alphabetic system, or use a system that assigns symbols to whole words like Chinese does. Or you could use a system that mixes and matches, like the use of kanji and hiragana in Japanese. Or maybe you have a language that isn’t written at all. Each of these choices can be shaped by the history that produced the language (like how Japanese kanji is essentially stolen from China) and can help you to make a language that feels real.

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