the tamago report

Eggs benedictated

Month: September, 2013

Finding New Ideas

by MDY

“How do you come up with your stories?” my reader asked me.

The simple answer is, I do not know. The premises of my stories are easy enough to concoct: take things most people would never think to connect (like robbers and ramen, or hawks and handsaws), and connect them. Sometimes, I draw on experience – things I’ve heard, things I’ve seen. I tend not to do this too often because I find that the closer you stray towards real life, the less latitude you have to mould it into your own. The workability of a premise depends on the strength, and plausibility, of those connections: in other words, developing scenes and scenarios which are weird for a reason and not just for weirdness’ sake. Otherwise you end up on the slippery slope of surrealism, which is very slippery and always leads back to the sea.

Even once you have your premise, new ideas are only one very small part of writing stories of which you can be proud. You also need discipline (to write words and then words and then, after that, more words), and humility (to accept when your premise is in fact too weak, and cannot be saved, and must die), and empathy (to birth characters who are strong, and will survive for the term of your natural life). You need a love of the worlds both around and inside you. Most of all, I think, you need to understand your reader, which is not a goal but rather a choice that you have to make every day. My reader is both why and whom I’m writing for.

But even after all of that, I still do not really know.

Writing like Rock Lee

by MDY

Lately I’ve been playing a game to train my eyes. Every night before I sleep, I practise throwing and catching a foam stress-ball off the wall of my bedroom. The ball is embossed with a stylised map of the world (Australia looks like a pronated foot) and was a gratuity which my father received during a long-ago business engagement. It is slightly smaller than a tennis ball, which makes it challenging but not impossible for me to track without my visual aids (contact lenses, glasses, et c.). When I miss, which is quite often, it tends to donk me in the head but because it is a foam ball this only hurts my dignity.

It’s almost impossible for me to catch the ball when I close my good eye. I persist anyway, trying to predict the ball’s trajectory from the slivers of visual data which I do receive. On the rare occasions when my desperate lunges prove correct, I have to pause a bit for the shock of success to wear off.

There is no way to win this game: it’s only over when I decide to give up and go to bed. But just a few days ago, after about a week of throwing and triangulating and getting donked, I decided to try with my glasses on. I threw, and caught, and threw, and caught, and kept throwing and catching for a full five minutes without any signs of donkedness or other discombobulation. This, I like to think, is progress. It may ultimately help me work around (overcome?) my physical restraints.

The question of “how do I become a good writer?” has been accosting me more frequently of late. My answer is this: try to do things which you know you will fail. Experiment with unfamiliar styles; compose using only your weakest technique (in my case, pieces comprising solely of dialogue); write when you think you shouldn’t or can’t. Words won’t donk you in the head, unless they are carved into a brick and thrown by an individual of particular malevolence and/or poor aim. But pick up more than you can possibly carry and, when you come out of the dojo and back into the real world, you’ll find it painless to raise the stories that demand to be borne forth into the world. And then, like Gai-Sensei’s erstwhile progeny, you’ll be able to punch any creative block into the stratosphere.

Making the Same Mistakes

by MDY

I haven’t been writing well lately. I find myself repeating the errata of my younger self: telling not showing; over-complicated plot settings; dialogue. I’ve been struggling particularly with action-based pieces: the sort where war amputees fend off zombies, or young girls hunt down vampires. “Easy reading is damn hard writing.” Fast-paced plot used to be one of my strengths, but it seems to have atrophied out of years of disuse and more touchy-feely pieces. “Use it or lose it.” My work (as in professional work, not literary oeuvre) is suffering too: I repeat myself, obfuscate, resort to gross similes where I should be aiming for precision. But unlike in my personal life, these mistakes reflect a desire to change rather than an inability to do so.

It’d be all too easy to get comfortable in “my style”, in writing the way I’ve become good at doing. But I want to write stories with both flamethrowers and heart. I need to stop relying on description and metaphor to prop up my characters. Writing is an act of retrospective: you only realise what you’ve done when you read it back, never during the writing itself. Which means suffering through the same mistakes, again and again, until you can find a better way or make one. It’s an inefficient but ultimately edifying process. In all probability, the only thing harder than righting your writing is righting your self.