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The difference between 2D and 3D characters: OBJECTIVITY

This is a subject close to my heart, because this is how I feel not just about the writing process, but life in general. Sometimes, we as human beings get so tied up with our own “networks” of knowledge and personal beliefs, that we often filter out opposing viewpoints because we must only allow those opinions in that agree with our own. Not only is this harmful to us (because a lack of challenge prevents us from strengthening our own position; “being right” therefore becomes more about an ideological soapbox than about defending something we truthfully believe in) but it is harmful to our writing.

One thing that I try vehemently to overcome in my writing is the creation of the 2D character. 2D characters lack vitality; their appearance in your story leaves a reader’s attention waning. If you’re not vigilant about turning those 2D’s into 3D’s, then your book will end up being consigned to the neverending pile of unfinished, half-read books. Is that what you’ve been slaving away for, all these months/years? No; you want your story to be so addicting that your reader can’t put it down; you want to dazzle your reader with not just your ability to put a sentence together, but put one together in such a way that it makes them think again about everything they’ve ever believed. At least, that’s the kind of story that I long to create. I don’t put my heart and soul into building up a story, stealing precious moments moonlighting with my manuscript, just to have half of it read. Certainly, I’m aware that my ego, when it comes to writing, is fragile, and my expectations are high. But I don’t think it’s impossible to seek out great storytelling. If my readers are my customers, I want my customers to be completely satisfied. If I expect anyone to bother paying for something I created, then I would expect that they demand excellence, just like they would if they were dining at a fine restaurant.

Readers have the right to expect you to bring your a-game. And if you hope to have any chance of sticking out in their memory, when they sit and think back to all of the books they’ve ever read, then you’ve got to get your characters on the 3D. And how do you do that? Well, let’s look at what it means to be 2D. 2D characters are on daytime dramas; they’re beautiful; they always say the right thing. If they’re flawed, it’s in an adorable way. Not a realistic way. When they’re angry, it’s because they’ve got a right to be, and whenever they speak, it’s with conviction. They would never know what it’s like to try to give themselves a pep talk behind the locked door of a bathroom cubicle, trying to get up the gumption to tell someone they are angry. They would never know what it’s like to be put on the spot, demanded their opinion, to which they had no way of responding except by revealing their total ignorance of a subject. Do you see what I’m getting at? The 2D character has no flaws, or if they do, it doesn’t control them or consume them in any way. People might want to be the 2D character, because doesn’t everyone want to be beautiful and say the right thing all the time?

The 3D character, on the other hand, is one that your readers already know. They don’t just want to be the 3D character; they already are the 3D character. That’s why they keep reading, because they recognize something in that character, which is something that the 2D character always lacks: frailty. The one essential trait that every human being understands, and that we all try to hide. We don’t even realize that everyone else on the planet experiences it; we just walk around in our own frail universe, totally oblivious that anyone else is experiencing the same thing. If you, as a writer, can harness some of that frailty that you naturally already know just given your experience as a human being, then you will be able to tap into the source of the 3D character.

Let’s look at frailty. What does it mean? Frailty denotes a sense of breakableness; or maybe even something that has already broken before, and has been put back together again. Think of a porcelain teacup. If it drops, it’s going to break. If it’s been broken already, it can be mended, but it will never hold tea the same way again. Do you ever feel like that? Something might have happened to you somewhere along the path of your life, and it’s like you can’t put yourself back together again the same way. Just like a broken teacup, you might feel like your purpose might never be realized again, like the thing that you were put here to do has been damaged, because you’ve been damaged. You go on, your pieces glued back together, but you’re not the same. Now you’re afraid of being dropped again, of shattering again. You’re afraid to be picked up and held; you are afraid to be filled for fear of being unable to hold it in. Not only are you afraid of that, but you’re afraid of anyone knowing that you’re even afraid, because if they knew how afraid you were, they’d think you were silly (because you assume that you’re the only one who’s ever been dropped and broken.)

This is frailty. And when you write, you have to put yourself into that role. You’ve got to create your character inside and out; not only do you need to describe their physical features like their eye color or their gait, but you need to create their past. You’ve got to know the exact thing they’re trying to run away from, because your job is to help them to face it head on. This task becomes even more difficult, however, when we are faced with having to give a megaphone to those characters with whom we disagree. So this becomes a sort of spiritual challenge for the writer, because we have to be completely willing to put everything on the line: our beliefs, our comfort zones. We have to make ourselves get into that position that we always try to run away from in every other situation: we have to stop for awhile, and lend an ear to what we don’t always want to hear.

It’s too easy these days, because if we disagree with someone or something, we can just change the channel, or close the internet tab. We go and find something else, something we agree with. We’ve become completely determined to only see things “our” way, ignoring the fact that there are a few billion other people out there, and not all of them are going to agree with us. When you’re writing, you can’t be the one to change the channel; you’ve got to be the one to stop yourself as you notice your hackles going up, and you need to tell yourself to sit and listen. This is your research, not only into what someone else has to say, but into how you, as a human, might overcome this all-too-human defense mechanism of putting everyone and everything you don’t agree with into a “them” category which fits so nicely opposed to your “me” or “us” category. In reality, life isn’t like that. Don’t let yourself forget the fact that everyone is frail. If they’re flawed, it’s because they’re human. Being flawed, and learning to deal with those flaws, is the whole definition of the human condition, and that’s what you’re trying to understand as a writer.

I’m not perfect, by any means. But I realized not too long ago that I have surrounded myself in this ridiculous expectation of only seeking out the company of those who believe what I believe, or like what I like. How will that benefit me as an individual? The answer is, it doesn’t. Whether in writing or in life, we have to put ourselves out there; we have to be the one to jump onto the dance floor first, make a bit of a fool of ourselves, just to show others that it’s okay. There is no way in life to have the good without the bad; no character is 100% “evil,” because even the best-written bad-guys have something in their past that justified their crossover. So go ahead, write that horrible sadistic wife beating drunk, but remember that he can’t have just appeared one day like that. He’s had an entire life’s worth of experience that led him to this point, and you have to explain them. We don’t have to feel sorry for the guy, but we have to understand why he is the way he is. (Or she — maybe it’s a woman beating up a guy.) Go ahead and write that racist skinhead character, or the horrible sexually-abusive figure of authority. Yes, confront that shadowy figure that scares those of us in real life more than the idea of monsters or zombies. But show us why: show us the frailty. Show us that, given the same set of circumstances, we too might have gone down the same path.

And then, just as you’re developing that 3D character, along comes the opposition: equally as flawed, equally as vulnerable. But this is the protagonist: he (or she) also knows what it’s like to be frail, but their response to it is different. The protagonist juxtaposes the antagonist; they work against each other. When one goes up, the other goes down. As soon as one gets ahead, the other one grabs him by the shirt collars and brings him back down again. This is the eternal fight baby; it’s what it’s all about! God versus the Devil; good versus bad, whatever you want to call it. It’s the struggle and you have to show it as such. Show us every ounce of sweat and every spume of blood as it goes flying, because — if you’ve written both of your characters in true 3D fashion — we know them both. We understand why one of them throws a punch below the belt, and why the other one would never do that. We know who we want to win (always the good guy) but we enjoy watching the fight come to its inevitable conclusion.

So, to sum up: in writing and in life, dare to listen to all sides. I always think of the line from The Desiderata: “As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all people. Speak your truth quietly and clearly, and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant, for they too, have their story.”

For they too have their story, a story which you are responsible for telling.

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Building a Writer’s Platform, and Other Modern-day Nonsense that I’m sure Hemingway wouldn’t have put up with

I recently read a very depressing book about how to find a literary agent, which basically said that you couldn’t get an agent these days unless you had a major internet following. The author of the book suggested blogging as one way of building an “author platform” which, in order to grow large enough to catch the attention of the literary agent, has to be massive and will therefore take twenty years to grow. As I said, this was depressing to read. I really have no clue what to blog about, and I don’t feel it’s the type of writing I want to be doing, and actually runs the risk of harming my writing by taking time and energy away from the true writing I like to do, which is storytelling. But, I figure in twenty years, despite not having a clue about blogging, who knows? I might have gained such a huge fanbase that no agent would turn down the chance to sell to my massive following.

So, there we go. I’m blogging, despite the fact that I don’t really want to. And lucky you, whoever you are, reading this: you get the pleasure of reading something written by someone who didn’t want to write it nor even knows what to write it about (hey, is it everything you dreamed it’d be?) Because this is what writers are supposed to do, I guess, in this day and age. It’s actually kind of sad for Hemingway, because he would have really been adept at the whole 160-character mentality of Twitter, if only he were writing in modern times. He would have probably advocated for an even smaller character count, actually. And just think if Shakespeare were alive today, slaving away at his growing email list (he’d no doubt draw us all in with a tantalizing free e-sonnet offer). Jane Austen is just lucky she never had to create a YouTube channel (although I totally would have signed up for Dorothy Parker’s).

This is the side of stuff that I don’t know, and I’m barely willing to learn. I have a hard enough time making sure my characters do the things they’re supposed to do, like fulfill their destinies within their intended plot lines. Do people even know the gravity of my responsibilities? I’m responsible for shepherding each of my characters through the horrible destitution that befalls them, and bring about such a profound change of mentality that they emerge at the end a different person altogether. These characters have to be believable, relatable, relevant, complex, and they have to be so good at these traits that the real people reading about them forget their own lives for awhile. Wow, when I put it like that, I feel like I should give myself a raise.

So these are the things I work on. This is what I find important — putting more stories out there into the hands of people who appreciate stories. Every writer has their own version of what’s worthy of being written about; some people choose fantasy or horror or science fiction. I just choose the basic format — how people relate to each other. How they relate to themselves. I find that fascinating. I find the human spirit fascinating, and my characters never disappoint me in this regard. I can hit them over the head with the heaviest of clubs, and they will rise again, fighting harder. They will see their goals to an end, more determined than ever. That, to me, is worthy of writing about.

I don’t look at writing as a “hobby” but more like a passion. Sewing is my hobby. It’s fun and I like to do it for awhile, but then I might leave it for awhile and go surfing the web, not stopping until I’ve learned the entire history of the subject of “milk” on Wikipedia. Maybe I’ll return to sewing afterwards, or maybe I’ll find some other way to entertain myself. But writing is more than passing the time, or practicing a hobby, because you can walk away from a hobby, and not spend hours of time away from it, still working at it in your mind. Anyone who has this level of dedication to anything is practicing art, not a hobby, in my opinion. And this dedication is what I want to continue working on, to get better at every day, honing my ability to finely interweave subplot within plot, create diversions, distractions, surprises. I want to learn how to be better and better at expressing human thought, and contemplating those age-old questions that generations of human beings before me had inevitably, at one time or another, asked themselves: “How do I love without losing myself?” “What will become of me when I die?” “What, if anything, is worth going to war over?” “Can I get away with tearing that little piece of mold off the bread and eating around it?”

These are the passions that writers keep returning to, and when it’s going beautifully and the dialog just flows naturally and the plot comes together, you get a high that’s better than any out there (I’m extrapolating). But there are the other times, when your character doesn’t want to grow with the labels you’ve placed on him or her; there are times when you feel like you don’t really know your character at all, and they question it too. It’s like having kids – you have all of these visions for what they might grow up to be, but they grow into these amazing people that are so much better than what you envisioned. If you can get out of your kid’s way, that is — and the same is true for a writer’s characters. You can just sense the resentment in your main character’s mind, as he wonders how you could ever expect him to run (and win) a local election when all he wants to do is dance! “What the hell?” he seems to ask you over your shoulder, as you struggle to piece his story together. “Don’t you know me at all? I would never do that. I would never say that.” Suddenly you’re consumed with doubt, and it’s not long until your entire plot outline begins crumbling to the ground. You abandon the project for awhile, but find yourself struggling with it as you stare at the ceiling at night.  Eventually you stop fighting your character’s need to dance. He belongs on Broadway; stop with the podium debates and put his name in lights already.

And so you’ve learned, just like you do with kids: when you stop forcing them to perform in a role you arbitrarily made up for them, they suddenly have the freedom to say what they ought to be saying, and do what they ought to be doing. In this way, writing can be a madness, too. Of course these people aren’t real — we’re creative, but not crazy, right? Well, there is a level of craziness to writing, and if you’re like me, you’d jump at the chance of finding a 12-step group where you can finally utter the words “Hi, my name is ___ and I’m a writer.” The first step is admitting that we are powerless to our craft, including the craziness that comes from interacting with imaginary people. It’s like the belief that every person has something that he or she is meant to do. For literary characters, this is true, and telling their story becomes an intimate project that, in the end, the writer feels completely honored to have been a part of.

But nowadays, writers are having to split their time between the worlds they create and the mouthpieces by which their potential reading public can get to know them by. Writers these days can’t even get the attention of a publisher without going through an agent, and before an agent will give you the time of day, you not only have to have finished your novel, but paid a couple grand to have it edited, too. What??? Isn’t that the editor’s job? Nope. The writer pays for editing services, not to mention publicity. This is why the words “day job” exist, because a career in writing is expensive, and time consuming! Long gone are the days where we were only responsible for sitting in front of the typewriter, making the magic happen by pecking out 90,000 words over a few rolls of ink ribbons and couple of reams of paper.

So, there you have it folks — whoever you are — this is my blog, that I didn’t want to write. As boring as it sounds, my blog is going to be about writing (because what the hell else does a writer blog about???) I was actually pleased that this blog already existed; apparently my plans for building this writer’s “platform” was on my agenda a year ago. So that means I’m now only 19 years away from my big break.

I’m going to go now and remove the strange looking taco theme that seems to be in use on this blog; I’m also thinking I should try to flesh out some of the content (like, actually put something into the boxes, instead of leaving them to say “This is a text widget. The Text Widget allows you to add text or HTML to your sidebar. You can use a text widget to display text, links, images, HTML, or a combination of these. Edit them in the Widget section of the Customizer.” Or I might just leave the text widget to announce its own usefulness; it kind of underscores the idea that this is all so generic.

Hemingway didn’t have to deal with generic. He got to go off watching bulls be stabbed and go sport fishing in Cuba, then came home to write about it. Damn you Ernest, you had it so easy….

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Dude, where’s my novel?

I have recently finished my first novel.

Or, I thought I did.

After paying someone to proofread it, and sending it out to several beta readers, I paid someone to format it into .mobi and stuck it on Kindle. I was extremely excited; it was my first novel (aside from the romance novel I wrote when I was 15, but more on that later).

However, there are a few things that I’ve found within the last week or two. The thing is, I’m not happy with my finished product. It doesn’t feel, well, finished. There are adjustments I want to make. I think I rushed it to print, because I have other ideas that I want to work on.

So, I’m going to take it down, re-write it on Scrivener (a newly-discovered program I just downloaded today) and then go through the entire process again, until it feels right. I’m not looking forward to it, because now I feel like it’s not the big accomplishment I thought it was. But, provided I finish it, then I can have that whole moment of celebration again, and then finally move on to my other projects.

If you happen to have read the book (i.e., Mom) then I’ll explain what I think I need to do: I need to create more negative traits in one of the main characters so that it displays a greater change by the end of the book. I also need to elaborate on one of the other characters whose story just kind of appears towards the end of the book.

So, I am nearly at the end of this blog (which I have only started because I read it was imperative to my marketing strategy). It’s all new to me (blogging) and I feel like I am writing to no one, so it feels strange. Eventually I would love to move on to meatier topics such as the creative process and what I enjoy writing about, because I’d like this blog to be about my writing life.

To be honest, said life is very isolating. I feel the need to meet other writers, who can appreciate the neurosis of putting your best effort into something and worrying wildly about how it will be received, and then feeling completely deflated when someone says “it was nice.” That’s why I always say that my ego, when it comes to writing, is a “fragile little boat”. It’s waiting around for someone to swim out to it and climb aboard.