Words

caticonslite_bm_altHow to Write

6/06/2013

What you are about to read is writing advice I fed Ben Humeniuk this week, and he encouraged me to post this where you could read it, too. Am I qualified to dole out writing advice? Probably not. But here we go:

To start with, there are plenty of great storytelling resources available. Here are a few that have caught my attention:
The Shape of the Stories We Tell
The Grand Argument story mind
Pixar’s story rules
Save the Cat by Blake Snyder
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

All of these storytelling theories – plus your own observations from stories you’ve been reading – are great tools for the editing process or to move you forward when you’re stuck, but I’m a big believer in simply letting the story happen. If you focus on the theories too much, you’ll wind up with stale, cookie-cutter stories, and there are already too many of those.

“I write poems to find things out, not to communicate some previously ossified conclusion.” – Scott Cairns

This is a major element of the storytelling process (for me, anyway). I don’t figure out what I want to teach the reader and then construct a parable or fable to get the message across… on the contrary, if I’ve had an epiphany or learned a lesson, often it doesn’t completely gel in my mind until I cement it in a story. That’s the impetus of the creative process: the nebulous things I encounter in life – doubts, hopes, fears, anything I don’t understand – those are only wispy notions in my head until I put them into the context of a character and a place. It’s only then that the piece of truth resonates in me, and that’s when I grow not from something I READ but from something I WROTE. I’m not really sure how this works, but it’s the driving force for why I want to tell stories: I’m not creating something amazing for someone else to read, IT is creating ME and the reader both. That’s called communion, and it’s good.

So search out story theories and writing tools but go to lengths to keep those tools out of your way when you brainstorm and first-draft things out.

1) Draw from your own experiences – what are you trying to figure out? What’s bubbling in your brain that you need to ladle onto paper? What fascinates and interests you?

2) Imagineer, free-associate, brainstorm. Ask yourself, “What if?” and “Why not?”

3) Jot the ideas down first if you need to, but take time out to mull them over and mentally distill them into story moments that you want to live in. Find specific times and places to do this – a few good ones are during a walk/jog, driving your normal commute, and lying in bed at night.

4) Once the ideas have started to gel, first-draft them. Write out of sequence, letting the scenes that are most important to you come first. Draw on what enthusiasm you have to embrace your new story as it comes together, and if you run out of drive, go read your favorite book or watch your favorite film or play your favorite video game. Living in someone else’s ficitonal world for an hour lets you return to your own with a fresh sense of wonder.

So that’s my approach – now let’s hear your thoughts. What did I miss?

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caticonslite_bm_altThe Fate of Middle Earth

19/12/2012

Tis the season to adventure with dwarfs to the Lonely Mountain!

The Christmas season was a little bit merrier for me this year with Bilbo on hand, but before you start thinking this is a movie review, here’s a spoiler alert: this is not a post about The Hobbit.

This is a post about elves.

Read the rest of this article »

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caticonslite_bm_altLiterary Inception

6/12/2012

[Some thoughts on storytelling]

I shut the back cover of ‘The Dragon’s Tooth’ and stared up at the ceiling. I had just spent 483 pages with these characters, and now it was time to say goodbye. Already I missed them. I was feeling something familiar – something I call “The Harry Potter feeling.”

I need to get the next book. Not because of a cliffhanger or unresolved plot – I just need to re-enter this world.

Turning that last page was like being locked out of Hogwarts. It was like having Aslan send me back to earth through a door in the air. Can I just stay in Narnia, please? It feels like home here.

Of course, Harry Potter had seven books to get me hooked – N. D. Wilson had captured my imagination in less than one. Why did I already miss Ashtown so much?

The answer finally came to me. My eyes narrowed and I growled out:

My friends and family know that every conversation I’m involved in will inexorably turn to either Star Wars, LOST, or Inception. If any statement or topic of conversation reminds me of the Christopher Nolan film, I lower my head, narrow my eyes, and say dramatically:

The dream worlds constructed in the movie are populated by stand-ins that are really projections of the dreamer’s subconscious. I’m pretty sure that’s what happens when I read a good book.

I’m pretty sure N. D. Wilson didn’t write “The Dragon’s Tooth.”

Wilson only wrote the words. I took his description of Ashtown and built it piece by piece with my imagination.

I took his description of events and interpreted the impact of those events.

And I took his description of Cyrus Smith and filled in the gaps. I played the role of Cyrus, and Antigone, and everyone else, including the villains. The book came alive for me because I was helping build the world that was written on those pages.

Transported to another world. Like John Carter, my body lies on earth, while my spirit travels to new worlds. It occurs to me that Ashtown isn’t the only land I’ve visited… in my day I’ve been quite the adventurer.

I’ve trekked Treasure Island and sailed to the Green Hollows and journeyed to the Lonely Mountain.

I’ve been to Baker Street and braved the ghost cicles and hunted the Snark.

I’ve been Navin Hayes and Wedge Antilles and… Cyrus Smith.

Storytelling is teamwork: you write the story, I’ll populate it. Together, we can build something true.

This is important to me, because in 2013 I’m going to draw a book. I have a story, a cast of characters, and a deadline. But after reading “The Dragon’s Tooth,” I’ve decided what I want more than anything else is…

I’m going to be paying attention to how I write and draw my comic – how the characters are portrayed, how the pieces of the story are revealed, how the panels lead your eye through the page. Because I’m just the storyteller, and I can only take you so far.

I want to make a book that you can live in.

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caticonslite_bm_altThe Walt of it All

16/10/2012

“I think people are justifiably frustrated about the Walt of it all” – Damon Lindelof

Rewatching LOST has given me an opportunity to revisit some of the great themes and ideas that weave their way through the six seasons. I’ve decided to post my thoughts on one of those themes because I wrote them down because I was procrastinating doing real work.

Here’s the danger, though: first off, for those who haven’t seen LOST, spoiler alert!! Secondly, my notes here are going to partially touch on one of those aspects of the show that left a lot of people frustrated, but that I actually liked.

I’m eager to hear your take on the dramatic arc I’m about to discuss, so by all means leave comments below! But if you disagree, phrase them in an “I don’t feel the same way” kinda way, not in a “I hated how the show ended so I’ma rant about it” kinda way, if you take my meaning.

Are we on the same page? Good.

Let’s talk about Michael and Walt.

If you’ve ever watched LOST with me, you know that I’m not a big fan of Michael. And why IS that, Mike?

Shut it, Michael!

I know, Michael, but –

Fair enough, but here’s the –

Yeesh.

The fact that Michael takes Walt away from the island – and from the SHOW – is exactly why, despite my annoyance, I believe their story is one of the

SHUT UP! JUST SHUT UP!!

Let’s start by thinking in broad narrative terms:

Some characters on LOST decided they wanted to stay on the island. Others fought to get off the island, but in the end found the price was to high for them to pay (they had to protect or find their friends; they made it off but were forced in various ways to return, etc). I’ve always seen Michael as the one character who had the single-minded determination to achieve his end at any cost.

The end: get his boy off that island.

The cost: his soul.

That’s right, Michael is the Faustian legend of LOST.

Jack is the story of a man of science who found his faith, and Locke is a cautionary tale about having blind faith, but Michael is the classic story of a man who sold his soul to achieve his goal, only to realize how empty the reward and unexpected the result such a bargain dealt him.

Michael’s flashbacks show him unable to provide for his son but desperately trying to maintain custody; in the end, he realized that what he thought was best for his son – being with his father – maybe wasn’t best for his son after all.

The island story is a repeat of that, except this time he doesn’t reconsider. He’s made his mind up what’s best for his son, and instead of rethinking it, he allows it to become an obsession that leads him to make bad choices.

There are those who say Walt’s story should have been resolved by the end of the show. While they’re right from a Walt-is-awesome standpoint, I think the very reason that Walt didn’t play a part in the central mythology is what makes the Walt-and-Michael storyline work for me. It seems to me that Walt SHOULD have played a part in the mythology all along, but the fact that he didn’t simply reinforces that Michael forcibly took him out of it. The fact the we miss the Walt of it all drives home the point: Michael screwed Walt’s storyline up by buying Walt passage out of the story; the fact that we are left unresolved is exactly the point.

That is what I get out of the Walt-and-Michael story in LOST: In the end, Michael’s success in getting Walt off the Island was, for all intents and purposes, meaningless: Michael paid for his betrayal and the Island had its way, but Walt sat it all out on the sidelines. If Walt came back to the show and played a grand part in the mythology, it merely would have proven Michael’s attempt futile. The fact that he didn’t makes Michael’s attempt successful, and that, to me at least, is what makes it so powerful that Michael’s victory was so hollow.

That’s kind of a sad way to end the post, so let’s end things with a HURLEY DANCE!!

Thoughts?

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caticonslite_bm_altAltitude

9/06/2012

Just discovered this poem in a very old journal:

My shoes have patches at the soles
I love the rain, love the cold but no-one else does

No surprise, these floods of flurries
Piling
Never saw those same
Filling up my lungs

And they’re growing more frigid, growing more bitter,
Growing more brittle to the touch

The air gets thinner as I get higher
Maybe I want down

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caticonslite_bm_altAlleluia

4/04/2010

there is a God

and there is me

my eyes lie weak and dim

my hands lie pale and cold

my heart beats faint and dissonant

because I am scarred, marred,

disfigured in my own eyes

disfigured by my own hands

in my own heart I know

I lie alert but inert

alive but dead

but there is a God

His eyes shine bright and clear

His hands reach, strong and confident

His heart -

His precious heart -

His heart, broken but beautiful,

throbs reckless and relentless,

pulsing sweet lifeblood,

washing over His creation with violent abandon

because in that heart,

the spear-torn heart of Jesus Christ,

all things are made new,

soaked in the light and life of men

in that heart, I soar

I am held as a lover is held:

tenderly in great warmth,

fiercely in great passion

there is me…

but there is a God

one God

one holy and terrible,

wise and powerful,

great and merciful

God

and His love knows no bounds

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caticonslite_bm_altWhy do they fall?

29/11/2009
Why do they fall?
When they reach so far
When the sky calls out
When their dreams flow deep and green
Why do they reach?
When powder fills the air
Obliterating time
Sweet
and cool and clear
Why do they reach?
Why do they drown?
can their lungs not breathe?
can their arms not hold
the excess of their souls?
Why do they fall?
when the forces in their limbs -
the ones that pull them down -
are the gales that sweep them up?
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caticonslite_bm_altDefinitive Proof

1/06/2009

This month has been a tricky one – I’ve been busy (job-hunting), then immobilized (by a broken car), and finally diseased (with a bad cold). In the midst of it all, my paints, guitar, tablet, and sketchbook have been terribly neglected.

So to alleviate some of my guilt over that neglect, here is definitive proof that I’ve been creating a few things this week, and haven’t been completely unproductive:

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caticonslite_bm_altRomans 6:15-23

25/05/2008

“What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” (Romans 6:15-18)
I was bought. Out of the service of ashes, I was purchased into the service of a roaring flame.
The service I now live is a gift, offering me everything I needed and never found – a purpose, a blessing, and a hope.
The service I now live is a freedom, breaking the shackles that chained me to my tormentors and letting my soul out to soar!
And though my service is is a gift and a freedom, it does not for that reason cease to be a service. It is a sacred charge, a holy calling, the lifelong commitment above all other commitments.
It is the least I can do. And it demands my all.

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caticonslite_bm_altRomans 5:1-11

24/05/2008

“Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” (Romans 5:3-5)
It’s been a pretty good summer so far! I think when Paul writes about “sufferings,” he means something very different than the minor problems I have to face; but lately, even those have faded! Unfortunately, in the bitterness of the suffering I had before – and the sweetness of the days I live now – I’ve forgotten a couple of things. For one, I’ve forgotten the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit is still there – it’s always there, I know it is. But I often forget to listen. It is through that Spirit that God has poured his love into my heart; it is through that Spirit that I am continually renewed in Christ. Yet with all the voices screaming in my ears from friends and enemies, strangers, authorities, Hollywood and the church, I never seem to turn my ear to God’s voice. And I know He’s not silent.
I’ve also forgotten how to suffer. When the clouds threaten rain on my life or the day turns sour, I put a good face on it and try to make the best of it. I can’t help thinking, though, that “rejoicing in sufferings” does not mean rejoicing despite sufferings – it means rejoicing because of sufferings. In a time like this, when the sailing has been smooth and getting smoother for some time, I’ve never been more aware of my need for suffering.
So I’m praying that prayer that I’m sure you’ve prayed at some point – the one we hate praying because we fear the answer. I need some trials, God. I don’t want them, but I need them. I need them because suffering brings perseverance, perseverance brings character, and character brings hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because of the power and work of the Holy Spirit.
But not too much suffering… please?

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