Integrity and Subject Matter

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Integrity

 noun: in·teg·ri·ty

 

 

  1. the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.

 

  1. the state of being whole and undivided.

Thanks again, Google definitions.

 

Be sure to check out my previous post on Integrity and Writing (go on, I’ll wait for you back here.)

Back already? Fine, check it out later.

So, I’m talking about Integrity and Subject Mater, or writing about bad things in a good way.

This is a strange one, given the nature of the stuff I write about. I’m hanging on the dark side of things, where bad things happen and people get hurt, and sometimes, they die.

And, yeah, my work is filled with blood, entrails (both human and other), and a heck of a lot of violence.

But I still like a good love story, and often they all combine together in weird and wonderful ways.

A story always has a certain truth to it, an internal logic and inner integrity unto itself. Part of the challenge of being a writer is navigating that truth, the reality of the story itself, and presenting something that both the writer and the reader can connect to.

Is the story too obscure, too dense and impenetrable? You gotta let us in, loosen the binds of its internal logic a little and let us know what’s really going on. Show us or tell us, whatever, just let us in.

Is the story too transparent? You spill the beans too early? Pacing and some structural support can help with that. But you gotta find and follow the intrinsic logic of your unique story.

Different stories deserve to be told in different ways, and dark stories can be pretty tricky.

I recall an interview with Stephen King, where he said people were protesting his treatment of a (fictional) dog. The dog was pepper sprayed and kicked to death in his opening chapter. He wanted to show how bad his character was, and folks held him accountable for harming an imaginary dog.

Honestly, I get both sides of it.

I do not support abuse of women, children or animals in real life, so don’t give it to me in a fictional form. I do write stories where bad (or potentially deadly) things happen to women, children and animals because, for me, that’s a way of getting to the truth of a situation.

And yeah, in my stories animals may be eaten or dismembered, children may be abducted or die, and people kill each other.

Violence in my stories is never gratuitous; it’s never a celebration of harming another person (or animal). But still bad stuff happens, because, hey, that’s life.

And that’s a fine line to walk.

I think of the edgier aspects of society, where informed consent is key. Does the participant agree to do these things (or have them done to them)? Yes, well then it’s all good.

No, OK, well then, it’s abuse.

In some corners of the web, gratuitous violence is glorified; and sexism and violence against women, children and animals reigns supreme.

And I don’t want any part of it.

That’s where integrity comes back in. My own sense of integrity (my moral compass, if you will) just doesn’t get stuff like that. As a writer, I dance on the fine line between showing and telling, and light and dark, and a thread of morality runs through it. Tip to one side, and I have spatterporn. Tip to the other, and I have another kind of story, more fluff and less dark.

I think the balance is found in dancing on that line.

‘Course, it’s easy enough to write a lousy story filled with tits and guns, pistol whipping and blood – and you know what? It holds the reader’s attention. Think of the double-Ds prominently displayed in most lowbrow fiction.

Ooh, baby – that sure grabs at ya, don’t it?

But, I like life on the edge of the knife, that shining blade that cuts so deeply you don’t even feel the sting until afterward. Dark and light twist together into something else entirely.

The kind of story that makes you afraid to turn out the lights, or makes you wonder what your neighbour’s really up to.

The kind of story that plays with your head, tells the truth and stretches it, and stays with you long after you’re done reading.

It’s a story that holds to its own version of the truth, its own logic. It is, unapologetically, what it is.

And integrity is all part of that.

~ Liz

In case you missed it the first time ‘round, check out my previous post on Integrity and Writing.

Dear Reader

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Dear Reader

Without you I am nothing. Truly I am.

But let me explain.

My basic approach to writing is quick and dirty – purging or a cognitive dump, if you will. you might call it spewing. I get it all out, and worry about the details afterward.

The end result is often a barebones outline, that I have to then flesh out. Very tight, and almost impossible to pry open and elaborate on. But the basic structure, language, and often dialogue, are there and will remain pretty much unchanged.

This is the reverse of many writers. Other folks overwrite that initial draft, so their editing process is about subtraction of words and extraneous details, and carving away fluff to get to the essence of their story.

In my world, my story already exists, I just need to be able to share it with you.

And this is where you, Dear Reader, come in.

I need to make sure you can see what I see, and feel what I feel as I’m writing this. And if it’s too obscure or vague, I gotta flesh it out.

Because good writing, after all, is about telepathy. You join me in whatever place I’ve created and hang with the folks I’ve invented.

Essentially, you’re walking through my mind.

And, if I can bring you there, by giving enough detail and description without pushing you away, I’ve done my job. Because, ultimately, it’s about you.

I need to be able to stand in your shoes and give you what you want, with a few twists along the way. Sure, I pretty much know where I’m going; but when I step inside your shoes I see it all in a different light, and you help me make things as they should be. Heck, you might even surprise me with a change in plot or character. You give me a little nudge here, and a pull there, and maybe a little snip or two, and – voila, we have a story.

And a story is more than just words on a page. It’s a place you drop into, and hang out. You live and breathe inside a story.

Without you, my story would still exist, perhaps only in my own head; but it’d be there in some form or other. But you bring the magic to my story, where it is shared and communicated and understood and resounds in your own mind.

You begin to see what I see, and feel what I feel. We walk through the door together.

And that, my friends, is true magic.

~Liz

 

 

Ditching the muse and how to write LOTS

How to write:

Step one – turn off your internet, cell phone, TV, and all social media. Shut door if possible.

Step two – write.

Simple advice, but true.

Reduce distractions for yourself and just start. Sure, your first few (or thousand) words might be utter crap. But keep going. Who knows where it’ll take you. I just finished two different projects with a combined total of nearly 200 K in less than six months.

Yeah, I’m kinda crazy. But I freaking loved it.

You know those wacko exercise enthusiasts who ‘need’ their daily jog?

Here’s a secret – writers are kinda like that too.

Your brain is a muscle, and requires regular training. That old adage of write every day, preferably in the same place, and aim for a target word count (Stephen King suggested 2000 words daily) will strengthen and build your writing muscles.

Routine, routine, routine.

Sheer fucking repetition.

Same bat time, same bat place, and same laptop. That’s it.

Pretty soon you’re gonna find yourself itching to sit at your desk or laptop at a certain time, and if you miss it, you’ll feel it. Your brain is just following its schedule – at a set time, you write. Pure and simple.

Some folks talk about waiting for a muse to strike.

I guess that’s fine for some folks, but for me, that’s a cop out. I don’t even wait for the bus.

As a visual artist myself (yep, I’m pretty artsy), I know there is no such thing as a muse.

I can hear you gasping.

But it’s true. Your ideas, your inspiration, your motivation – where the hell do they come from?

From you.

Deep down inside, it’s your climbing into your own head and walking around. It might not be pretty, and there’s probably more than a few cobwebs, but it’s all you. No fucking muse. I get it, some days I’m too sick or tired to do more than basic line edits; so it’s easy to blame some external factor like a magic story-granting fairy.

But you’re selling yourself short.

If you approach writing like marathon training, and focus on just freaking doing it – don’t worry about good ol’ SPAG or whatever – just get it on the page, you’ll find you’re chops get better and better. Sheer practice effect.

So what about all those artists in history that painted the (usually) women who inspired them?

To understand any artist, you gotta think about extreme OCD – obsessive compulsive disorder. I’m not talking excessive handwashing, I’m talking about the overwhelming desire to do something (i.e. create) and getting so lost in a project that the finished version (or a stop along the way) seems miraculous to an outsider, but to the artist themselves, it’s just one step along a path of discovery.

They are so caught up in what they’re doing, they don’t even see the countless steps and problems they’ve overcome.

An artist painting a portrait would do a series of sketches, and probably a couple versions of the portrait before they were satisfied. Note the repetition. Series. Multiple versions.

No fucking muse. Just sheer hard work.

And writing is just like that, don’t kid yourself otherwise.

At over 500 words to this post, I’m off to work on a short story, pushing well past 2K today. But I’d like to know, what are your thoughts on writing schedules, and inspiration or a muse?

~Liz