My drug of choice is writing--writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Monday, February 27, 2017

The People in my Life/The People in my Fiction (Mailbox)

Image description: Red mailbox with a letter in it.
[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will try to answer a couple each week (after this one). I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox. And I will totally fudge on days I'm watching the kid for 8 hours before I go to a Star Wars game and run questions that are long and answers that are short.]   

Welcome to our week of mailboxes. A full week of me responding to your questions to help kick off the return of one of this blog's most beloved features. Sorry it's been a long dry run–if you've been keeping up, you have some idea as to why. But as my three-day-job life eases (thanks to all of YOU and your generous contributions to my Patreon), I am able to work a little less frantically to pay the bills since moving out, and have more of the old levels of time and energy back into this blog.

M asks:

I had a question if you find a way to write an answer to in your blog or facebook page. I finished my novel and a big plot twist involved the protagonists daughter. It had a supernatural spookyish element. I ended up taking it out because I thought if the book gets published and is well read or even if at some point my daughter will know about it, it might freak her out. the obvious point is it's not true. I would be willing to throw almost anyone under the bus (ha ha) for the sake of fiction but not my kids!!!! it's not unflattering at all, the opposite but just a bit spooky. so I threw out a whole amazing plot twist to protect my daughter. even though it's fiction people would read into it. I of course considered maybe my son would feel left out that his sister got all the attention i the book - ha ha. it could go either way. the plot required it be a female and a young child... I ended up switching the ending but then it has another little twist. I replaced a daughter figure with a romantic figure. no supernatural part but a sort of surprise. so it went from a big supernatural twist to big reveal romantic ending. now I'm worried my husband will have issues since the protagonist has a husband in the book. the real issue is that this is all fiction. It's not real. of course. but I'm worried about overlap between the protagonists life and mine and what my closest relationships reactions will be. I feel my husband will understand the plot twist and the idea that it's fiction. better he than my daughter. if you would address that in a post or in a blog or any random thoughts to me much appreciated.

My reply:

There's a key question I have to ask you, M, before I can really answer this, and since we're not having a face-to-face, interactive conversation, I'm going to have to answer the question twice based on each possible answer. It's really the most important question when you're dealing with characters in whom you think people might see themselves.
ARE you writing these characters as your family members?
See most writers don't write people they know into their stories. Because that's some bad juju magumbo right there. Rather they use amalgams of many people they know to form a single persona. They may use a physical attribute they like from one person or a characteristic from another. They take that nervous tick from a third, and that speaking cadence from a fourth. I'll be using the names of a few people in my own current work in progress because that is a reward tier on my Kickstarter and Patreon, but the characters won't be based exactly on the people they're named after. These characters are all rooted in real people–that's how they get that spark of life. But none of them actually IS a real person. They're more like aspect Frankensteins, sewn together from the parts of many different folks.

The reason for this is twofold. First of all, exactly as you fear in your letter, terrible things have to happen to characters. Stories without conflict and stakes aren't interesting, so characters should basically be tortured by the writer for the entertainment of the audience. And if people see themselves as exactly that character, and that character as having nothing but a cavalcade of tragedies happen to them (and that before their grisly death), they may wonder if that writer has something against them.

The second reason is probably the more dangerous one. With the first reason, you could still say to the person: "Nah, it's just a story. Sorry I killed off your family, had the bad guy eat your dog, and had you get slowly lowered into a thresher while you begged for mercy, but it was just a fun tale. Nothing personal." But with this second part, there is no way to slip the noose so easily.

Writers tend to be practiced at seeing people. I mean really seeing them. They notice foibles. They see flaws. They pick up on that habit you have for avoiding a topic, and they probably have a guess or three as to why. They see you blanch when certain things happen. They pick up on that tick you have that you think no one really notices. They perceive how often you sabotage yourself. They catch how many of your greatest obstacles are of your own making. I've guessed (correctly) when people were cheating on their spouses. I've picked up on intense insecurities. I've been right about people having PTSD or pasts of sexual abuse. I've predicted drug addictions long before I confirmed them. I've known before people themselves did that they were falling in love, and I've also been able to figure out when a couple was about to break up. It's not a superpower or anything, and I would never dissect anyone for sport like House M.D. or Sherlock Holmes–especially since I'm wrong enough to get me into big, big trouble if I tried. But when you look closely at the world and you don't flinch from the problematic side of the truth, you see contrast of beauty and its opposite in everything.

But seeing the world through that sort of untrammeled honesty has a downside too. People don't particularly want to be seen beyond the carefully cultivated mask they show the outside world. If you describe a drug addict as a "drug addict" in a book that is clearly about your friend, you're going to have to deal with some pretty pointed words about how they don't have a problem, fuck you very much, and you just lost a friend. Many of those things people keep to themselves, they do so for a reason.

When writers describe the world with honesty, it's not just going to be a toastmaster compliment-fest. They're not trying to destroy people, it's just that they see things. They see truth.

Image description: White text on black background.
"Dont' fuck with writers. We'll describe you."

Of course most writers understand that everyone has these foibles and there's room to be both imperfect and loved. They accept despite flaws and they are equally honest about everything they see. There are no angels and no demons. There are just folks and we've all got skeletons hanging out in our clich├ęs. It's more about observation than judgement and endless honeycombs of nuance in even the most immoral behaviors.

So when most writers write a character, unless it's someone they met once on a train or something who is never going to recognize themselves, they usually do a mix and match.

And because of this, a reader will often consider themselves in a character and maybe relate to them, but the reader will also know they aren't actually being exposed as a fraud or a bigot of some stripe or a felon or whatever. Also it gives the writer plausible deniability: "That character isn't you. I mean sure the shopping addiction and endless Gofundme's to help with rent are a little bit like how you spend too much on iTunes and then ask for loans, but that character is 6'3" and addicted to cheeseburgers. Plus they run a halfway house for lemurs and shoot ketamine into their eyeball. Does that sound like you?"

So if this is the case M, you're in the clear no matter what and you should write the story you want to write. The most you would probably have to do is sit down with your kids and say: "Look, Mommy wrote a story and there's a kid in it, but I want you to know it's not you." Same thing goes for your husband. It's just fiction, so you just tell him, "Look, this character is having an affair, but the character isn't me, and I'm not, and I wouldn't, and you're my huckleberry babykins (or whatever you say to your husband)." That really should be the end of it.


And here is the second answer to the question above. If you are basing your characters on real live people and actually they are basically these people:

I would highly, highly, highly, unequivocally, in no uncertain terms recommend that you NOT do that.

You better not. It's just a really bad idea. For all the reasons I just said above.

And it's not hypothetically bad either.  A lot of writers report their social relationships fell apart when someone could clearly see themselves in a character. Truman Capote wrote about his friends and then didn't have as many. A number of writers say they got a little too close to a character being clearly recognizable as a person in their lives and that was the end of that relationship. Autobiographers are constantly falling out with the people they write about–even years long friendships and loves. I can vouch for it too; I've gotten nuked from orbit by my friends (and righteously so) over some of my old Live Journal posts and really had to reevaluate how much I wanted to share my insights about a person (or even my feelings about an event) with the world at large. And even when I'm mashing up characters and slapping on a coat of superhero realism, if people think I'm complaining, I usually hear about it.

So your character's relationship with her husband is exactly like your relationship with your husband, and the affair is justified or romanticized, (and maybe you constantly complain about your husband's behaviors to rationalize it) someone's going to be sleeping on the couch for at least a few days, and that's if you avoid calling lawyers. But if your protagonist is clearly a different person than you, and the husband is clearly a different person than YOUR husband, you can probably just tell the folks involved that it's fiction, and not to worry.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Random Creative Writing Terms Beginning With the Letter O

Image description: A red O
I set the size of this pic to "medium."
Because this post is not about the big O.
Back in the old school days of Writing About Writing I started a lot of articles and TYPES of articles. Everything from literary deconstruction of Skyrim (oh it'll happen....someday) to a series of guest bloggers that are....um....maybe a little less of the really real variety than the ones I run on Tuesdays. And of course there was the glossary.

Then a kid came along and distracted me from pretty much everything. Then cancer. Then other stuff. Some of those articles took a lot longer to prep and write than others and they fell by the wayside a bit. Suffice to say that I soon had my own following wearing glasses and tartan plaid and telling all my new fans that my older stuff from before I sold out was way better.

Well, I never forgot all those threads left incomplete. And just like Leela Bruce is firing up a new fighting article about dialogue attribution tags, and I'm spending some time restarting a new Skyrim game, the glossary will continue forth....right where we left off.

Creative Writing Terms beginning with the letter N.

Ode- a poem written in the form of an address to a particular subject, often lyrical and elevated in style–which is another way of saying hella pretentious to do an ode about a person unless you really know what you're doing. So if you use an ode to get laid, first of all go you, but more importantly keep that shit on the downlow like your pet names and baby talk. Ironically, the less you care about something or the less of a person it is, the more socially acceptable an ode is, odes to wind, seasons and urns are fantastically famous. Odes to cheeseburgers are awesome, and need to be famous.

Of course if you DO really know what you're doing, well....then all bets are off, you magnificent poetic heartripper.

Technically your classic Greek odes had three parts (strophe, antistroph, epode) but it's SUPER nerdy to understand it, so the quick and dirty version is that Greeks had kind of funny names for iambic and trochaic. (This won't be on the quiz.) If "iambic" and "trochaic" are even too nerdy for you, just know that it has to do with stressed syllables, go enjoy your robust social life, and leave us nerds to our nerdry.

Onomatopoeia- a word that is formed using the sound of the idea it represents. It's a difficult concept to explain, but entirely too much fun to come up with examples of, so here we go:

Whisper- See how the sound of the word sounds like a whisper.
Splash- Sounds like something hitting the water
Click, Clink, Thud, Thump, Sizzle, Pop, Plop, Murmur

Image Description
Pam from Archer looking majestic AF,
riding a dolphin holding a beer and a
sandwich with the word "Sploosh" on a banner.

Organization- A word I added to this list because seriously, have you seen how few literary and creative writing terms start with O? It's ridiculous. There's like...three. How am I supposed to work like this? I thought you people were creative! Come up with some O words already!

Anyway your stories need some kind of organization, and while fiction is often chronological, much of it is not. The only real rule for fiction is that anything that isn't more of a vignette should follow a pattern of rising action, climax, and denouement.  Some fiction is spatial describing a place and using the rising tension to reflect an increase in the intensity of the conflict within successive spaces. Some fiction bounces around in time to literally categorize every interaction in a continuum of least to most in rising action. (Consider how Pulp Fiction moved all around in time, but each successive story moved further from nihilism to personal redemption.)

Overview- Mostly a nonfiction publishing term (as fiction usually requires books to be completed before payments and contracts or gives "advances" to veteran authors). However, just as some non-fiction publishers will read completed manuscripts without proposals, some fiction publishers and/or agents will require proposals.

An overview refers to the first (and most important part) of your book proposal. It may well be the most important piece of writing you ever do....including that make-or-break you final essay on the transition of romantic literature through gothic and to the modern detective novel and how the knight errant and the modern detective are the same literary archetype.

Other parts of a proposal include sample chapters and sick bribes.

Oxymoron- a figure of speech (often an idiom) combining two terms of apparent contradiction. We often study the poetic, Shakespearian ones like "sweet sorrow" or "bittersweet," but the best jokes can come from pointing and giggling at those that have become idiomatic in our culture or are part of commercial branding. Note: oxymorons aren't necessarily grammatical errors. Many simply illustrate the paradox and plasticity of English.

  • Act naturally. 
  • Virtual reality.
  • Genuine veneer. 
  • Mandatory option.
  • Sports sedan.
  • Full time daycare.
  • Wireless cable.
  • Minor crisis.
  • Definite maybe.
  • Only choice.

And my personal favorite:

  • Almost exactly.

Letter P coming soon. (Like way sooner than the length of time between N and today.)

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Friday, February 24, 2017

Post Tomorrow

Image description: Writer being wild on a Friday night!
Aww yeah.
I'm having a lot of fun with what was to be today's post. So much, in fact, that it's 9pm on a Friday night and I'm still working on it.

Aren't writer's lives wild and glamorous? It's amazing I can schedule anything between the talk show circuit and all the groupie threesomes.

Anyway it's definitely a "slow burn" article (one that will not, in the long term, be hurt by a Saturday release), so I'm going to post it tomorrow.

See you then!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Worst Page Turner (Semifinal 1 Last Call for Votes)

What is the most awful book that you just couldn't stop reading? 

In a couple more days (Saturday) I'm going to get the results of our first semifinal round and put up our second semifinal so this poll doesn't dribble into April.

So you're running out of time to vote. Don't forget you get three (3) votes, but that there is no ranking, so using as few votes as possible is better.

The poll itself is in the lower left at the bottom of the side menus.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017


So....just a quick update today.

Really an excuse, an update, and a change of plans.

I probably should have remembered that writing the "In the Loop*" letter to the various high level patrons takes the whole day and I should cancel any kind of blog post in its honor. That'll go out in just a few, but it took most of the day to draft and craft and revise. (Nothing but the best for those folks!)

I still want to do a week of Mailbox posts, but at this point this "week" is down to only two days. Plus I'm running behind (not ahead) on all this writing, and Thursday is usually a train wreck if I'm not sitting on a mostly finished article by Wednesday night. (I'm not. Not even close. I'm sitting on a chair and it has no article on it.) So I'm going to reschedule the "Mailbox week" to NEXT week. That way I can do a full and proper Monday through Friday.

Wall-to-wall Mailbox love.

*If you are a $25+ Patreon patron, gave $50+ to the Triexta Kickstarter, or are a "Patron Muse" there is an "In the Loop" email I put out every month to six weeks that updates folks on some less public goings on of my life.

If you'd like to become a patron at one of the levels to get such an e-mail, you can sign up for Patreon at any time, make a donation to Triexta through Paypal (label it "For Triexta" where it tells gives you the option of adding a note, and I will make sure to hand add you to the appropriate reward tier--unfortunately the Kickstarter has closed, so this is the only way to donate specifically to this project). Of course you can also become a patron muse of the blog, but this usually involves large donations, solid monthly donations (which are better done through Patreon now), or fiercely supporting the blog in non monetary ways.

I also have a Venmo if you prefer to avoid Paypal. chris.brecheen@gmail.com