Thursday, 25 October 2012

Left Hand Path

Couple of weeks on and I'm giving the Trifecta thing another go, this week the word is 'sinister' with the meaning 'singularly evil or productive of evil'. Although I enjoy writing to prompts for it's own sake, I thought, with NaNoWriMo just around the corner I would take the opportunity to do some world building, which probably goes a long way towards explaining why the following is heavy on description and light on actual plot (you know other than that being pretty normal for me). Still, I kind of like it.

Left Hand Path

The left hand path leads down through twisted roots. Roots that drip sap as red as blood. With each step Splice takes the boards shift and sway beneath her feet. Her right hand trails across dark rock. Rock that seeps water like saltless tears. She follows the path to the base of the world where the harpy nests hang and turn in the breeze.
Splice watches them, mesmerised, these beautiful, sinister, bestial clawed angels. She watches them lounge and preen in their feather-lined roosts. She watches them swoop on flax coloured wings, spiralling downwards into endless blue skies. She stands at the very last step of the path, her feet on the very last board. She winds her right arm round the rope from which the path hangs and leans out over nothing at all. Her left hand is outstretched and the red drips that fall are not sap. She waits.
Red drips on the wind and the creatures call and bicker among themselves. They circle and spit until one rises victorious from the din. She soars, tasting the air with her crimson hued tongue. With sharp taloned fingers she snatches the gift that Splice brings. Sharp teeth and three gulps. It is done.
The harpy glares, with eyes golden and round as a hawk "A sweet heart." she concedes "What desire do you ask in return?"
But Splice simply turns and walks with the rock on her left. Up through the roots to the gardens above.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Blood Roses

It's been a while since I did any flash fiction hasn't it? All right it's been a while since I've posted anything at all, it's been even longer since I did any flash fiction. Anyway I recently found this Trifecta challenge thing, I've decided I like it. Mostly I like the whole concept of using a single word as a story prompt, a single word with a specific meaning. The level of abstraction of that appeals to me (turns out my muse is some kind of anthropomorphic dictionary). Not saying that any of the other forms of story prompt out there are bad, the pictures and the titles and the write about this topics and what have you, just I like this one.

The following story is based on the word 'Death' defined as 'the destroyer of life represented usually as a skeleton with a scythe'.

Blood Roses

A slender man walks through a crowded room. People he has never met part before him like a sea of costumed colour while he wears black. He passes a mirror and in the reflection his bone white flesh is merely bone.

A locked door does not hinder him and in the muffled hush beyond a staircase spirals. A trail of roses leads him on, deep red for love but these were white before someone steeped each petal in fresh blood. He takes each bloom as he reaches it, raises it to his face the scent as sweet as perfume to him.

At the top of the stairs is a passage, at the end of the passage a door. The door stands open, shifting slightly to and fro in a breath of wind. In the room beyond, a girl lies mangled on the bed. Her dress, like the roses was pure white once, now stained with crimson.

He watches the knife drop from her fingers, hears her last breath falter and fade. He senses her life seep out of every self-made wound, knows her last warmth is for him alone. In love with Death, she dies to be with him.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Of Alien Skies

There may be nothing that says 'alien world' as fast as a sky that's an unusual colour, or has a few extra moons or more than one sun. Sometimes these things may be plot relevant, but even when they're not they're a quick, efficient way of saying to the reader (or viewer, because it works on screen too) 'life here is not as it is on earth so don't make assumptions' with the added bonus of being all atmospheric and stuff. It's a neat trick (one that I like so much I have to slap myself occasionally to prevent over use), it's simple, it works and while it's perhaps a little peculiar that with all the multitudes of stars and planets to choose from earth colonists should so consistently choose ones that are notably unearthlike (or perhaps not, perhaps the exploratory drive demands that the place you end up be different from the place you started) it doesn't provoke the same kind of derision as describing a planet as an 'jungle world'.

Except that, while describing a planet as an ice planet or a jungle planet or whatever sounds like a case of failing geology forever, not doing so could be interpreted as a sign of failing to understand people, that is how real places get described. Really 'jungle world' might be taken to mean 'has a lot more jungle than earth does'. I suppose it depends whether you put the words into the mouth of a character or actually describe a whole planet as if it really only were a single type of environment (although as far as I'm concerned ice planets get let off the hook at least a little bit, I mean if the whole place is typically below the freezing point of whatever the locally common liquids are, it's pretty much going to be icy all over right? I mean I'm sure the locals would notice different types of ice at different latitudes or what have you, but that doesn't make 'ice planet' an inaccurate description does it? Maybe that's just me.)

The problem only gets worse if  characters are really only visiting one tiny bit of a planet (or a couple of tiny bits that may or may not be similar) then what do you do? Do you note that the rest of the world is different even though that might be completely irrelevant to the plot? Or maybe you're just careful to describe 'the city of whatever' or 'the something-or-other continent' (which lets be honest still suffers from the same problem, just to a lesser extent).

Seeing as I (in what is increasingly looking like a moment of insanity) picked to set my W.I.P. in a space-going, planet-hopping setting, these are questions I get to ask myself rather a lot, so I wish I had better answers, but the truth is that in the end I mostly ask myself 'Is this important and/or interesting, or can I fudge it and hope nobody notices?' I'm not sure whether that's a healthy attitude or not.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Don't Ask Me To Smile.

So according to twitter today is World Goth Day, not exactly clear on who decided this, or why but I hope my neighbors don't hate Sisters of Mercy too much because they're going to be hearing an awful lot of it awfully loud today and I may hunt out some black nail polish or something, wonder where I've put that? I could also point out that I'm wearing black (and purple) velvet but actually I do that every single day of my life. Or rather I do that on the days when I can get the energy together to get dressed at all which sort of brings me to the subject that I was going to talk about today anyway, I want to talk about depression, and partly I want to talk about how it's not at all the same thing as the kind of exultant misery that I used to (and still on occasion do) enjoy when listening to what others might term 'really depressing lyrics'.

As you may have already gathered from the above I have depression (and also a fairly gothic taste in clothes and music, though that's not as relevant as it might appear), I've been told I shouldn't say that I suffer from depression, but honestly, as well meaning as the woman who told me that was, I find it doubtful that she's ever experienced it for herself. Which is actually why I'm writing this, I'm not looking for sympathy or pity or help (I have help actually, both professional and non-professional) I'm not even especially demanding understanding, although I will admit that would be nice. I'm writing this because I'm aware that many people have never had depression and perhaps, in the same way that some men strive to understand what the experience of childbirth is like, some of them would like an insiders view. I don't know if I can convey what it's like, but I can certainly try and of course I can't claim to know what depression is like for anyone else (although in all probability I will slip and say something to that effect at least once or twice). What follows is a record of an intensely subjective experience. It may often seem self-pitying and pathetic, that is I'm afraid part of the nature of the beast. Oh and triggering as hell, discussion of suicidal thoughts incoming after the paragraph break for example, you have been warned. Also swearing, ditto.

It speaks volumes about your mental space when contemplating suicide actually rates as an emotionally uplifting experience, but very often that's how I feel about it. It makes a fucked up kind of sense if you stop and think, by planning (sometimes in great detail) how I can take myself out of this world I'm reassuring myself that I have power, the power of life and death no less, over myself and my situation, sometimes I need that, albeit twisted, sensation of empowerment. Of course, there are other times when I just want out, those are the dangerous times, the times when I have to remind myself that if I do that I'll never finish my novel. No seriously, quite often that's literally the only thing I'm holding on to. My partner will try and remind me that there are people that care about me, but all I can see is that I'm a burden on them and really they'd be better off without me whatever they might think about it. Is that objectively true? well obviously I think it is, otherwise why would I believe it? On my best days, my most positive days when my self-loathing is at it's lowest ebb I can see that I do have a few redeeming features, I'm pretty good at listening to others problems for example. Even on those days I'm not sure that that's enough to compensate for all the bull-shit they have to put up with from me, but maybe it's enough to earn a stay of execution if I'm really trying to get better and, on my good days at least, I am.

There's two things to be taken from all that I think, one is that when trying to talk down a potential jumper it's helpful to have some idea of what they value about themselves, because that's what will make the difference and the other is that, things are not always what they seem with misery. Even within a single mind it's possible for one line of thought to exist within two very different emotional contexts, one truly dark and self-destructive the other a warped, inverted even, kind of positivity. Not that I'm suggesting that suicidal thoughts are ever entirely healthy, clearly that's ridiculous, all I'm saying is that sometimes, paradoxical as it may seem, they can actually provide the impetus to keep on living, perhaps even with increased motivation to take on challenges and well, to live rather than just survive. How do you tell the difference? No fucking clue, and it's my damn head. Then again, if I had all the keys to my own psyche I probably wouldn't be depressed. Not that I think I'd be likely ever to be happy, just not interested in happiness and that's what I'm going to talk about next.

There is a sort of general assumption that everyone wants to be happy and normal, there are plenty of people that know and understand that these desires are not constants but still, that is the cliché, the yardstick if you like for what people 'should' want, I mean who wouldn't want to be happy and normal? Me that's who, no thank you, not interested. More than not interested in fact, the idea of being either gives me the creeping horrors, but for quite different reasons. The idea of being happy creeps me out because the notion is so utterly alien to me. On those rare occasions when I actually find myself happy about something my first, instinctive reaction is to do something, anything, to make it stop. This sounds completely crazy I know (largely because it is) but being happy feels like a kind of possession, as though the happiness is a separate emotion based creature that's temporarily invaded my body. It's been so long since I actually experienced happiness that I no longer recognize the emotion as part of myself. Happiness is something that happens to other people.

I might eventually, with much, much therapy come round to the idea that it's all right to be happy sometimes, on my own terms. Anyone suggesting that I should want to be normal though can fuck right off, normal people are dicks. All right, that might be a bit of a sweeping statement, but in general if someone claims to be 'normal' and you should be too, then what they really mean is that no one has the right to be different and they are wrong and also a dick. The other thing is that normal can often mean ordinary and seriously who the hell wants to be ordinary when they have the potential to be extraordinary? Quite a lot of people actually, I was once having a conversation with someone about my son and how it was tiring keeping up with his questions because he's so smart, this wasn't actually me complaining (mostly) it was more like camouflaged bragging but she took it as a complaint, with a response something like 'Oh I know, you think you should be proud but actually you just wish they were normal don't you?' no, fuck no, I may not be the greatest mother ever, what with the depression and everything, but I would never, ever be so fucking god-damned awful as to wish my kid dumber just to make my life easier, what kind of sadistic hell monster selfish bitch queen scumtard would I have to be to even think that? (not that I said any of that of course). A normal one apparently, so yeah, fuck normal, I will continue to be me, thank you so very much (and I will continue to be proud that my kid wants to be a theoretical physicist as well, daunted I admit, but proud).

So if I don't want to be happy or normal then how can I claim to be trying to get better? Well because my definition of 'better' doesn't include either of those things, my definition of better could be summed up as 'functional'. I mentioned right near the top of this post that some days I struggle even to get up and dressed, I would like that to stop, it's ridiculous, infuriating, and possibly the hardest thing of all to explain. I don't know if I can describe the sheer over-whelming resistance to doing... well anything that can descend on a bad day. It's not 'can't' it's not even 'can't be bothered' it's 'why should I' and 'I don't deserve to succeed' not even at something as simple as, say, brushing my hair. On bad days I loathe myself so completely that even that would be a travesty, and worse than that it would prove that I'm capable of something, anything, and if I can do that then why can't I do... well anything, and that's terrifying, absolutely terrifying because the length of the road between here and achieving anything I consider worthwhile is almost unimaginably long and hard and complicated and full of unknowns, far better just to stay here where it's warm and safe.

At the same time, I desperately want to achieve something, anything so that I can remind myself that I'm capable of of achieving anything I set my mind to. It's that same double-sided thinking really, isn't it, one train of thought, one mind, two completely different emotional outcomes. It's easy to say that I should only allow myself the positive version, but it's not as simple as that. Last night I managed to get a bunch of edits I'd promised to someone done, and not just done, but done in a timely fashion (more or less) and instead of letting myself be happy about that and get started on the next thing, I immediately started beating myself up about all the times I hadn't managed to get what I set out to do done, and essentially, how dare I think that this one little success made a difference and within half an hour or so I was back to wishing I was dead... for succeeding at something (however small) how fucked up is that? Very is the short answer, and worse than that, I know it, just like I know that all this wallowing in self-pity is pathetic and I know that not being able to get out of bed in the morning is both lazy and worse than pathetic. No one needs to tell me those things, I tell myself them, all the time and I utterly loathe myself for it all, just as I loathe that I can't get anything done for all the fucking self-loathing going on in here.

It comes down to this, the thing I hate most about myself is that I hate that I hate myself.

One last little thing: I realise that I haven't really said anything about the stuff that got me depressed in the first place, but honestly, this post is more than long enough already and I really just wanted to get across the cyclic nature of depression. Not sure if I got that across. Also not sure that this post will be of any use to anyone whatsoever. Well it was kind of cathartic to write at least, so if nothing else there's that. Maybe that will have to be enough. If it is useful to anyone, perhaps as fodder for characterization perhaps? this is supposed to be a writing blog after all, then go ahead and use it. If you just want to use it to paint me as a pathetic tortured artist, waste of space, go ahead and do that too, after all it's what I'd do.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Pitfalls of First Person

I don't actually write in first person a lot (make that I don't write fiction in first person a lot, it seems like a pretty natural choice for a blog), so this isn't so much a why-it's-difficult-to-write-in-first-person post as it is a things-that-bug-the-hell-out-of-me-when-reading-first-person post, I feel you should know that at the start, to save disappointment or confusion later.

And talking of things that are better known from the start... there are, to my mind, basically two types of first person story, narrative convention and told to an audience. In the former, the reader never really knows when or where or indeed why the character is doing the telling of the story, and it's entirely possible that the character never would actually tell the story, but as reader you have been beamed inside their mind and can experience it anyway. In the latter the narrating character is actually telling the story in some form, maybe writing a diary or telling a bar full of drunken revelers or at it's most extreme, telling the story directly to the reader (works okay for contemporary fiction, becomes rather weird for secondary world fantasy for example, as I for one am left wondering exactly how I got beamed into the swamps of wherever and why, having got there, I am being told the tale of this particular adventure and not concentrating on not getting eaten by malicious wildlife or something).

I don't actually have a preference, both styles of story can work perfectly well (apart from the direct to reader thing, which I find awkward and, paradoxically, distancing as it actually interferes with my suspension of disbelief), but I do tend to assume narrative convention unless told otherwise which is why I get annoyed when I'm suddenly informed at around page two hundred that what I'm reading is actually a diary found in the basement of an abandoned house or whatever the framing device I'm only just being told about might be. Actually there's a number of reasons why I get annoyed with that particular trick, as already mentioned, it's jarring, flow-breaking, it means I stop reading and readjust my brain to take this new perspective into account, but it also breaks my suspension of disbelief, or at least puts some pretty nasty cracks in it, because I immediately wonder how I didn't know this before. The thing is that people don't in general, tell things the same way if they're writing a letter or a diary or whatever. Little things like dates at the top of pages or 'Dear Cousin Emily' at the beginning are also a bit of a give away, and if those things have been left out, why have they been left out? Sometimes the author takes it upon him or herself to explain, which leads straight into my number one pet peeve with stories in the first person.

'I've been trying to tell this as a story, but I can't.' I've seen a number of variations on that particular excuse and they all make me want to throw whatever book I'm reading across the room. What this particular gimmick is supposed to do is make me think 'Wow. this story is so big, so real, it just can't be told,' but frankly I'm not that gullible, if a story is really that epic in scope and/or emotional depth I'd already have noticed, even if it's being told badly, and just being told 'this story is really epic' won't convince me any more than the reporter telling me that a supposed news story is 'fair and balanced' will make me ignore the blatant and extreme bias. But it's not just annoying because it's the author stopping the story in it's tracks to shout about how awesome a writer they think they are, it's also a demonstration that the author has missed what I consider to be the single most fundamental truth of story-telling :- We do not have to believe a story is real to learn something from it. Or to enjoy it.

Sadly I think that truth is being increasingly forgotten, drowned out by the flood of memoirs and the assumption that 'write what you know' means 'write what happened to you', but that is a rant for another time.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Leave That Sentence Alone, Write The Next One.

Sometimes I do write some utter, bloody rubbish. I don't really mean boring or stilted (though I do that as well), I mean over-poetical to the point of nonsense. Take the sentence I just wrote into my W.I.P.

"Steel corridors threw back glimmers of light bounced hither and here around corners from distant wall brackets, shifting pockets of light and dark in an adamantine labyrinth."

Now this is a first draft (actually, strictly speaking it's a second draft, but the scene being rewritten has changed so much in terms of location, characters present, etc that I've chucked the old version in the deleted scenes folder and started again) so it should be all right that it's not perfect or even good, but I'm sitting staring at that sentence wondering what the hell I was thinking, and my thought process goes something like this:

Forget the overall structure of the sentence, which is on the overwrought side all by itself, ignore the phrase 'hither and here' which given that 'hither' basically means 'towards here' is not only kind of nonsensical, but the sense it does make is redundant, no, look at your usage of 'adamantine'. Now 'adamantine' means either 'hard, unbreakable' or 'shiny like diamond' (or I suppose both) and while in context that could almost kind of make sense, you know perfectly well that really you're using it to mean 'made of steel' and that isn't what it means. No I know you know that the word comes from the Latin 'adamant' which quite probably referred to steel, but it still doesn't mean 'made of steel' in modern English. Also you are not allowed to justify this on the grounds that your setting is partly Ancient Grome in Space (you know apart from the French names, Irish and Indo-Arabic Mythology, Mesopotamian housing... and that's just this planet), find another bloody word you crazy bint. Also, also I don't care that it sounds kind of poetic, you can't go around changing the meaning of words willy nilly, you are not James fricking Joyce, nor are you Humpty Dumpty out of Through the Looking Glass. Stop it.

And at around this point I realise that I've spent about twenty minutes berating myself over the use (or rather misuse) of one word in what's supposed to be a first draft and I sigh and try to remember that the point of a first draft is to write a complete first draft, even if it isn't pretty (or, as in this case, it's too pretty). In short 'Leave that sentence alone, write the next one'. Now I've got that rant out of my system I shall go and do that.