Category Archives: Life Philosophies

Authors Lie to Tell the Big Truths

When we pick up a work of fiction, we are seeking to lose ourselves in a beautiful lie. While some readers are driven by the need to escape their reality, most use fiction as an emotional exercise, a way to live vicariously through the adventures of another and stretch the limits of what is possible in our own lives. This latter sort of reader won’t be satisfied by fantastic worlds and flashy plots. While they may be entertained by these elements, they want to sink their teeth into some deeper meaning, a truth that resonates not only with the story, but with their own experiences.

The first step in delivering this deeper human truth is establishing a sense of empathy between the readers and the characters. No matter the culture, or even the species, of the protagonists and points of view, their motivations and choices must ring true. Would we be willing to accept a teratogenic dwarf that cons his way into the admiralcy of a space mercenary fleet? Sure, no problem. However, if Miles VorKosigan were to suddenly give up his military dreams and decide to become a farmer? We’d call shenanigans. Readers invest in characters, not stories. We must see them struggle against impossible odds and make choices that lead them to victory. No matter how fantastic the persona, it is only when our characters are true to their natures and goals that we as readers can invest in their struggles.
Once our readers invest in character, they will begin to look for a link between the protagonists’ fictional journey and the questions and struggles they face in their own lives. Sometimes these truths are topical and current. As an example, I can write countless blog posts about racism, discrimination, prejudice, and fear, but for the most part will have a hard time convincing those who disagree with me. Rather than arguing with my audience, I could make my characters argue for us. Furthermore, by couching my argument in the terms of a fantastic lie, I remove ego and defensiveness from the equation. After all, I am talking about my characters, not about them, right? I could make my protagonist an anthropomorphic bunny who is trying to break a species barrier and fulfill her childhood dream of being a police officer. I pair her with a fox conman and force her to question her own views of predators and foxes in particular, with whom she has had bad experiences in the past. As she questions her prejudice and preconceptions, so will the audience. In so doing, I use my fantastic lie to proxy larger, current social struggles and make an argument for diversity and inclusiveness that is more likely to achieve meaningful success than a thousand angry blog posts.

However, as writers we aren’t limited to current social questions. There are some truths so profound to the human experience that variations on their stories are repeated across generations and cultural barriers. We want to believe in a world where a hobbit from the Shire can face and destroy the greatest evil of his world because sometimes we feel small and powerless. We want to see Aragon and Arwen marry because if they can find a way for their love to survive war, distance, and hardship, then our own romantic futures aren’t hopeless. We want to return to the Shire with Sam because we need to believe that all the chaos and pain of living is for a greater purpose – home and family. Though we might not have the perspective to see the arc of our own lives, we can spend hours, days, or weeks with a story to gain the catharsis we need to push through our own struggles.

As writers, we rely on our readers to willingly suspend their disbelief in order to work our storytelling magic. However, no matter how fantastic and entertaining we may be, our stories must ring true on a deeper level for our readers to commit to the tale. It is only when our characters are believable, empathetic, and when their decisions and struggles resonate with our own experiences that we can truly connect with a story. Readers want to believe the lie, not only because they seek to escape reality for a time, but also because in so doing we seek to understand the truth of our own world.

Waking Up from a Nightmare

I had a nightmare last night, and it was bad. There was no natural disaster, no fire, no car accident, no home invader, no endless falling through the abyss—indeed, no violence. I was at a writer’s convention, which for introverts can be almost as bad, and I didn’t know anyone there. Not a soul. The dream consisted of me making concerted efforts to join conversations and mingle with the other con-goers, and time after time it went badly. I stuck my foot in my mouth. I suddenly remembered that I hadn’t brushed my teeth that morning and had bad breath. Suddenly everyone spoke a foreign language and I couldn’t keep up. The reasons varied. The results didn’t.

It was a story of constant rejection. Which is a worse fear than falling through an endless abyss.

Eventually I did find someone I knew, a writing friend from my hometown. She was gregariously holding court with a bunch of people, and the sense of relief I felt when she welcomed me in and facilitated introductions was so intense that it literally woke me up.

Such is the power of friendship.

I’ve said before that I find friendship to be a more powerful force in many ways than romantic relationships. Going by my own personal tastes, it’s a more powerful force in fiction (sorry, romance readers, I know you outnumber me). In a larger sense, I think the argument could be made that it’s a more powerful force in the world. It seems to me that friendships often outlast romantic partnerships. How does the average length of a friendship compare to the average length of a spousal relationship? I wonder! Calculating these averages would be extraordinarily tricky.

I’ll take Thelma and Louise over Romeo and Juliet, thank you very much. I’ll take Han and Chewie over Han and Leia, Geordi and Data over Riker and Troi, Norm and Cliff over Sam and Diane. But maybe that’s just because fictional couples are plagued by narrative-mandated drama in a way that many real-life couples aren’t. Maybe.

When I think about my best friends, they’ve been with me for an awfully long time. Many of them have been in my life since high school or college, and they are crucial supports. If I lost my boyfriend (whom I love dearly, are you reading this?), I would be devastated. Devastated. But I’d need my friends to get through it.

Friends support us in a multitude of ways, but for now I want to focus on those who support us professionally. I’m talking about writer friends, and how until seven years ago I didn’t have any. Talk about the dark ages. The good times started to roll when I first attended Superstars Writing Seminar, a story I’ve told many times before and won’t go into now, since it’s a story shared by just about every writer on this blog and most of its guests.

But those friends still weren’t local. I couldn’t call them up and go out for a coffee. I didn’t manage to find those kinds of friends until four years ago, and it turned out they were right under my nose all this time. It’s hard to imagine being successful in my career without them. I see some combination of them once a week, often on Mondays, and they play a big role in kickstarting my productivity.

They also hang out with me at those otherwise scary writing conventions, pretty much ensuring that nightmares like the one I woke up from this morning can’t possibly happen.

Evan BraunEvan Braun is an author and editor who has been writing books for more than ten years. He is the author of The Watchers Chronicle, a completed trilogy. In addition to writing science fiction, he is the managing editor of The Citizen. He lives in Niverville, Manitoba.

An End to New Beginnings…

I’ve really enjoyed this month’s Fictorians’ posts on new beginnings. As I am typing this, I am sitting in my newly finished basement, in the new house we built in 2016, and am about to head to the Superstars Writing Seminars. I’m also starting a new novel and looking forward to a new year.

Some of the posts I found the most interesting and helpful were those where the author embarked on a new direction after deciding a previous effort was not working out. Taking motivation from rejection, using a new start to rekindle a love of writing, taking a leap into a new genre… All of them were helpful and entertaining.

I hope our readers found them helpful. It was my deliberate desire to provide new writers, or writers who were dealing with difficulties and lack of motivation some encouragement and ideas.

I’d like to thank all of the Fictorians who posted, and would like to especially thank this month’s guest posters. As far as I’m concerned, you all hit it out of the park.

Now, on to Superstars!

Today Could Be That Day!

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Does anyone else think that their creative process is about as effective as trying to walk on Jell-O? Sure, you can do it, but the trip is precarious, and the outcome is iffy at best.

January is usually a time to reflect on the past year and look forward to a new beginning. Many people make goals without having an actual plan for change, while others simply don’t bother, knowing themselves well enough to understand that writing it down won’t change their daily run to the gas station for a doughnut or a soda. Or both.

I think most of us are good at spotting our big picture goals, but where we stumble is with an actual plan to get from here to there. And once we throw ourselves off the wagon, even just for a moment, the goal is then forever out of reach.

Well, I’m here to offer a different approach. Because why is it that January 1st is the only day we all feel like we should maybe change something in our lives? Or start down a new path? What about, oh I don’t know, tomorrow? Are we allowed to start over tomorrow?

Back to my creative process. I go through spurts. I can write an entire novel in a month, then I have two months where no matter how much I try, it seems that nothing will work. Not creating, not editing, not fixing, not even eating lots of chocolate in order to make everything better. Sometimes even my trusty Diet Coke fails me. I can throw hours and hours at a plotting problem, and I’ll get exactly nowhere. Then, the stars align and suddenly I’m once again a writing machine. Nothing can stand in my way as I masterfully fill all of my plot holes with the perfect puzzle pieces and my novel is a work of art!

And then I go back to the slums of my process to wallow while I take another few weeks to figure out how to fix the one little problem a beta reader pointed out. It’s exhausting, and it makes me feel like a total looser.

Like so many others, I need to be more healthy this year. I said this last year as well, and nothing really happened except me feeling guilty about nothing happening.

I once heard a brilliant mantra that I’m sure this man stole from someone famous. “Nothing changes if nothing changes.”

I’m not going to lose weight if I don’t modify my diet. My writing process isn’t going to get smoother unless I change something. And instead of saying I’m going to put out five books this year, I’m going to take things day by day.

If today fails in the writing department, then I get up and start again tomorrow. I decide to jot down fifteen ways that won’t work with my plot, or ten horrible ways to fix the problem that involve ninja monkeys. My goal is to have a goal each day—something more than “I will fix this!” or maybe get some Sonic for lunch. No, instead I’m going to take a moment each night before I go to bed and decide how I will tackle my problems the next day.

Starting over is difficult under any circumstances, but each day can be a new chance at success. Don’t waste it! Decide tonight how you will approach your problem tomorrow, and at least you will be moving forward, not lying on the treadmill as it unceremoniously dumps you back on the ground at the end of the belt.