You are an Evil Mastermind

Do you know the thing I love the most about being a writer? It’s not the creation of beautiful prose (though, that is a lovely outcome). It’s not the fact that, when I’m finally published and I gain super-author status I will be able to finally stay at home in my PJ’s for a living (hey, it could totally happen).

No, the reason I love writing is because I, with all my inadequacies and failures and social ineptitudes, get to be a villain.

Let’s face it people. From the moment we sit down to craft a story, we become devious creatures. We build human beings of our own devising just to put them through hell for the enjoyment of others. And we do it with a smile on our faces (inherently villainous). We spend days, weeks, and months picking the right words to manipulate the reader into thinking what we want them to (true super-villainy).

My fine friend, the craft of writing is a master class in being an evil mastermind.

Now, you might say that a character isn’t technically a person, so that doesn’t count.

My reply would be that you’ve obviously never been in a room full of Sherrilyn Kenyon fans. To the reader experiencing your story, the characters should always be people. Complex and issue-riddled, they have faults just like the frail flesh and blood variety. The reader has to see them as real people, or they won’t care what happens to them.

So, once the character is complete and real and human, it’s our job to knock them flat, destroy their lives, kill their friends and loved ones, maim them, torture them, and do pretty much whatever we can to make what’s left of their lives as difficult as possible. Then, we become really cruel. We make them figure a way out all by themselves. This paper person must be active, so no shortcuts, no divine providence. Providence, after all, is the realm of gods, and for your story, you are god-a villainous god. And don’t forget, like the arena of old, this is all for entertainment’s sake.

My, my. We are evil, aren’t we?

But the most dastardly part is what we do to the reader. Our entire craft is completely based on manipulation, obfuscation, and downright lying. From the reliance on descriptive word choice and using the active voice, to how characters walk and what’s in their refrigerators, we work to guide the reader’s subconscious perceptions. It’s kinda like when movie theaters used to splice subliminal advertising into their previews to get the audience to go buy things from the concession stand. Done right, the reader never knows they’re being manipulated. But make no mistake. What we’re doing is convincing the reader what to think, how to feel, and when to do both.

I’m feeling a little like Big Brother in an Orwellian kinda way, aren’t you?

Being able to manipulate the reader like this is, of course, a very difficult and delicate kind of manipulation that takes much hard work, years of on the job study, many maligning critiques (yet more proof of my point), and plotting (See? I just made a pun. I must be evil.). It’s not easy, but highly enjoyable when you see all the minions you create who will love you for being the black-hearted creature of darkness you really are.


To Better Ourselves?

I have been watching a fair amount of Star Trek lately – okay, a lot. The Next Generation specifically, but each of the different series revolves around a basic premise: Mankind has advanced technologically to the point where concerns about materials and resources are mostly extinct. Replicators exist that can construct matter in a manner that can basically spit out anything the user could desire. Crew members of the U.S.S. Enterprise use them mostly for food and drink, but their functionality doesn’t stop there. Presumably they can be used to construct anything physical, be they toys, games, pictures or literature (though antiquated at this future point in time).

This technology is not limited to the space-faring crew of the Enterprise, either. The devices are supposedly in use on Earth and on pretty much every colony or space station the Federation lays claim to. According to the Captain of the Enterprise, Jean Luc Picard, without concern for limited resources, humanity now works “to better” themselves.

My question is this: forget about the specific setting of the various Star Trek series for now, and consider your own present time and position. If you were left without want for material or resources, would your current artistic goals, activities and aspirations remain the same? Would they differ at all?

Most writers are certainly not in it for the money, and if they are, they may be a little misguided. It is my experience that for the most part, the effort put in usually greatly outweighs the physical or material gain. I don’t think this is an alien concept to any writer. I’ve been looking for a full-time application for my love of writing and editing, but, in the meantime I write Freelance. The money is often measly. I recently signed up for work on a site that started paying about $1.50 for 200-300 word articles, or, about half of this post. For 200-300 words, if I am writing for a client and not just myself, I would estimate about a half hour to an hour’s work, assuming some sort of research or preparation was going to be involved. Let’s say it takes one half hour from accepting the assignment to completely finishing and submitting an edited piece. That is still about $3.00 an hour. Not exactly rock star money.

On the other end of the spectrum, writers can stand to make quite a bit of money. One need only look no further than the likes of J.K. Rowling or Stephen King. There is no point trying to break down exactly how much those two make, it would only make the rest of us feel bad.

My point is, whether we are making $3.00 an hour, or substantially more, many of us probably began pursuing publication with the dream of making a career of it. Take it back to my original question: without material concern, would we still continue to write? Would we write simply for the art of it, as a means to better ourselves and society?

Personally, I cannot see myself writing as much as I currently do. I am sure I would probably still be drawn to it, but would I really be motivated to hone my craft to a razor’s edge, “just because”? I think that without the challenge to see exactly how far I can take it, or the starry-eyed visions of a day when I’ve hurtled every obstacle to cross some oft dreamed of finish line, writing would lose some of its meaning to me.

Are any of you like me? In a Trek-like future, would you be the terry-cloth robed hedonist devouring barbeque rib after barbeque rib, or would your ideals win out? Would you be able to overlook the lack of a materialistic challenge and continue producing your art for its own sake, and with as much vigor?

Do You Aspire to Write?

Let me state upfront how I feel about the term “aspiring writer”: I like it not.

In other professions, it makes sense to refer to someone new to the field as “aspiring.” When you’re in med school, you’re aspiring to a career in the healthcare industry. When you’re studying for your bar exam, you’re an aspiring lawyer. When you’ve landed your first gig on a TV show, you’re no longer an aspiring actor. You’ve become a full-fledged actor.

Can the same be said of a writer?

There are several terms to delineate newer writers from those who have been around: novice vs. experienced, published vs. unpublished, etc. These are obviously important distinctions to make when determining the stage of a writer’s career. The term aspiring writer is often meant to provide a similar distinction, but from what exactly are we distinguishing it?

The examples I gave above (aspiring doctor, aspiring lawyer) refer to someone who is on the path to their chosen career, but are not there yet. The aspiring doctor is not yet practicing medicine. The aspiring lawyer is not yet lawyering.

But almost all aspiring writers do write.

Before, it might have made sense to say that an aspiring writer was one who has never been professionally published. Such a distinction these days is murky at best. For where do we draw the line? Would we say that bestseller John Locke is “aspiring” to be a real writer simply because he’s never been traditionally published (distribution deals aside)?

More fundamentally, to say that a person is aspiring to be a writer is to imply that they are not really a writer. Someone who has written a dozen books is a writer, even if he’s a lousy one and none of those books was fit to print. Say what you will of the quality of his writing, but he has written; do not take that away from him by saying he is aspiring to be, and thus is not truly, a writer.

You might argue that it’s just a word, and that it doesn’t really matter in the big picture. But the Declaration of Independence, too, is just words, but it is a collection of words that has shaped the course of history. As writers, we well know the power of words, as well we know that the wrong word can ruin the meaning of what we’re trying to say.

I think the term “aspiring writer” really only should be applied to the people who want to write a story someday, but have not yet managed to sit in front of a blank white screen, pummel their keyboards, and give shape to the story in their minds.

I have not yet published a book. I have not yet made a dime writing. I have not yet been showered with awards or praise or royalties. These are things I do aspire to.

But I am a writer, dammit, and I bet you are one, too.

Cathartic Writing

This isn’t the blog post I set out to write. We aspire to be a blog for writers dealing with the business and/or process of writing. Sometimes though, writing is about more than the characters and the plot. Sometimes, it can be about real life, even when everyone in the story is wearing armor and carrying swords.

I’m sure I’m not alone when I say I’ve spent a fair amount of time the past few days watching documentaries about the 9/11 terrorist attacks. To the majority of Americans – indeed even a great number of world citizens – it is the single most historically significant event to take place within the span of our lives.

We can all remember where we were when we first heard the news. We’ve all seen the haunting images of the senseless violence. It was impossible to not be affected in some way emotionally by the events of that day.

Is it no wonder those emotions would find their way into my writing?

In the days and weeks directly after the attacks, I was surprised to see just how affected my writing became. I was in grad school for screenwriting at the time. Like many people I knew, I was angry, and the scripts I wrote during that period reflected that. Loss and vengeance appeared frequently.

But, what became apparent while revisiting the footage these past few days, is how certain images and themes found their way into my fantasy years later. The story I’m currently working on takes place partly in a desert city. The desert itself is comprised of fine, gray dust and littered with teetering towers of obsidian. When I was worldbuilding, I didn’t consciously draw upon images from 9/11, and yet this is just one of many that has manifested in my writing.

It seems only natural.

To write is to express emotion. Just because we write speculative fiction doesn’t mean that, in some way, we’re not using it to look at relevant issues of our own time. To dissect them. To find out what motivates some people to do unspeakable things. Perhaps, on some level, to find reasons to sympathize with those people, to understand them. Or perhaps to live vicariously through the hero, thwarting the enemy’s plan in the eleventh hour and saving the day.

Sometimes, however, we write simply to cope.