Monday Musings: Always Going Forward, Always Looking Back a.k.a. Progress, But Don’t Forget

I am sitting here, planning for the changes to the blog and my own work habits in the weeks ahead, and I have come to the realization that there is an important balance to walk here.  How much should I change from my old course?  How far should I go and how much should I keep?

The answer is, of course, obvious.  As in most things, balance is called for.  You can’t forget your past, but you can’t stand still either.  I need to keep the things that are vital to me, while pushing past my limitations to move ahead in the places I’m deficient.  I need to hold on to my humility while being confident enough to push myself forward.  I need to be supportive of my colleagues while never forgetting to worry about my own well-being.  It’s the classic ‘you can’t help others until you help yourself first’.

So I guess that’s something we can all remember.  Always go forward but never forget your history!

Writing Is A Bad Habit: This Is Just Like Budapest a.k.a. The Noodle Incident

It’s been a while since we’ve sat back and talked about a writing trope or two.  With that in mind, let’s take a casual day today and talk about an interesting bit of trope-y-ness: the Noodle Incident.  Sometimes known as the Throwaway Backstory Event, a Noodle Incident (NI for the remainder of this article) is some piece of past history a character in a piece refers to, but never elaborates on, usually with the implication that the event was too ridiculous, unbelievable, or over the top to need to be elaborated on.  Whatever the reason for doing so, the NI remains a point of untouched history and, in a long series, may be referenced multiple times.


Writing Is A Bad Habit: Our Hallowed Past a.k.a. Classics! Do You Read Them?

Writers read.

That sentiment and its many wordier variations form one of the guidelines most would espouse to be a truly great author.  I personally would agree.  There is much to be gained by being well-read, most specifically in the genre that you are writing in.  I would also argue that there is a strong case to be made, from time to time, to actively seek out and read various ‘classics’, despite their age or lack of relation to what you may be currently writing.

While I can sympathize with the argument that the ‘classics’ might be outdated, irrelevant to the ‘new’ ideas you are pursuing in your work.  I would counter that argument in several ways.  First, the most obvious, is that the literary classics form the historical record of our career.  Just as a study of history can add context and understanding to the modern course of nations and people, a study of classical literature can give a writer insights and context to modern writing and, most importantly, their own works.

Don’t forget the fact that the foundations, the tropes, the plot elements, and so many of the fundamental pieces of the writer’s craft come from the past.  The author’s craft is creating fabulous new stories out of well-worn building blocks.  That old saying, There’s no such thing as a new story., is essentially true.  We change how we tell our tales and certainly are boundlessly creative in the details, but the rest lies heavily on the foundation of the past.  To better understand and refine the creative elements of your own story, it pays to be well-versed in that foundational history.

Of course, there’s the purely selfish benefit that many of the classics are classics for a reason.  They have stood the test of time and made their influence on our craft because of their quality and resonance, making them as enjoyable to read now as when they were first put to paper (or tablet or hide or … you get the idea!).  There’s nothing better than to curl up with a proven book to read, right?

So don’t turn your nose up at something that is deemed a ‘classic’.  Yes, it might be out of touch or challenging on some level, but it likely has both lessons to teach about your craft and wonders to help entertain you.  Don’t be afraid to plumb those dusty depths!

As always, if you have something to add to the conversation, feel free to mention it in the comments below.  Until next time, good reading, good writing, and good luck!

Monday Musings: Everybody Should Read Comic Books!

Welcome to the first weekly installment of Monday Musings, where I shake off the hunger pangs of another hardscrabble weekend to bring you whatever crosses my addled brain.  For this initial article, I want to tell everyone out there that they should really read some comic books already!

This may not be that left-field of a thing for me to say.  After all, I write in the superhero genre, one born from the comic books.  What’s different here is that I’m saying that you should read not superhero stuff, or watch comic-book-inspired movies, but to read actual, real comic books.  Why?

Look, they aren’t all good.  Many are actually pretty bad.  However, there are some truly remarkable stories told in those four-color pages and, more importantly, they are our modern mythology.  They are our Greek gods, our legend makers.  It isn’t ‘David and Goliath’ anymore, as much as Spider-Man freeing himself to save his Aunt May in Amazing Spider-Man #33 (websearch it if you haven’t seen the pages before and don’t be surprised if you HAVE, just didn’t know the exact source).

Just open your eyes and see that quite a few superheroes ARE the gods of old.  Thor, Hercules, Odin, Loki, Ares, and many more hobnob with the new colorful pantheons we have created.  Even more are closely connected with the old mythology.  Wonder Woman, Shazam, and countless others herald back to the Greek, the Norse, the Egyptian, and so many other collections of gods and heroes.  Our comic books are inheritors of thousands of years of tradition, history, and introspection.

Don’t buy it?  Comic books have been with us now for decades and those characters and stories that resonate with us have never faltered for that entire history.  The archetypes, the parables, the lessons those pages hold connect with the same stories man has told in thousands of ways since the dawn of time.  Comic books reflect the times they are written in, but still contain the same messages and characters they have held since their inception.

There must be something culturally vital for what began as children’s entertainment to still be so important to us over seventy years later.  There must be something critical for us all to glean from something that was considered as indispensable to many soldiers during World War II as anything else in their care packages.  Our culture, our history, our hopes, our dreams, and our nightmares are in the colorful pages you can get at any comic book shop.  We just have to take the time to read them and sort the good from the bad.

Writing Is A Bad Habit: Entertainment and Fiction, Siamese Twins?

My current Starving Review book is a long one and, while I intend to get a review up tomorrow, I can make no guarantees.  In the meantime, let me regale you with a little bit of thinking I had over the past week.

What is the purpose of fiction?  At its core, what is fiction ‘about’?  What is the common thread that all fiction should share, do you think?

I can only speak for my interpretation, but I would propose to you that the core purpose, beyond any and all other things, of fiction is to entertain.

That isn’t the *only* thing a work of fiction can do, naturally.  A good piece of fiction entertains, educates, enlightens, and many other words that start with ‘e’.  However, and consider this carefully, why would you read a work of fiction if it didn’t also entertain you?  If you aren’t also seeking entertainment, be it fun, thrills, comedy, mystery, drama, or a million other ways to find enjoyment, why are you picking up fiction?

Surely, if one wants pure education, spiritual enlightenment, or religious insight, wouldn’t that one be better served going straight to the factual or philosophical sources?  Yes, I am taking the stance that religious texts are not ‘fiction’.  They are very real for those of their faiths.  Yes, I know that often stories and small pieces of fiction are often included in many otherwise ‘non-fiction’ works.  However, those small fictional bits are not your draw.  You don’t read a math book for the intriguing word problems, right?

By that line of thought, then, why write a piece of fiction unless you fully embrace the need to entertain?  I have read pieces that overwhelm the actual fictional story with heavy-handed philosophy or political subtext or historical arguments, forgetting that crucial need to entertain first.  It’s really annoying as I have also read fantastic, fun volumes that, while fictional, also deliver deep, meaningful insights and themes ALONG WITH their entertainment.  It can be done!

If you ignore that need to entertain first, what most often results is the people you really want to reach with your message never get it.  They never get far enough in the book to absorb it.  They simply give it up, writing off your work as heavy-handed and overly preachy.  If you do remember to properly weave your themes along with an entertaining yarn, however, you can have the world eating out of your hand and learning a bit in the process.

Until next time, good luck and good writing!