Friday, September 20, 2013

Cutting the Cheese in Writing

One way to remove cheese is to remove adverbial conversation tags. Another way is to study what other great writers have crafted and emulate them in your own work. There is a way to do this -- look to other great books! Maybe more expository passages? More artfulness. More on the level of language. -----Original Message----- Sent: Tue, Sep 17, 2013 10:06 am Subject: cheese I am looking for some tips on how to identify and remove/edit cheesiness in a story. I have several scenes that just seem far too cliche and I can't figure out how to adjust them. I know some cheesiness is ok, because that's life, but I feel there is too much and I want to make a big effort before too many people read this. If anyone has any experience/ideas with this sort of thing, I would greatly appreciate any help! Which as a side note, when you hand off your writing for someone to read it, do you just say here you go let me know what you think? Or do you ask for them to look for specific things, like grammar or in my case cliches? Is there an order to it? For the first readers you ask for them to look for things and then the next group you just say here you go? Something like that. (If you can't tell I'm not used to the concept of others reading my stuff. Most of my work has sat in a binder for 5 years..) ^_^ =========== Something O-curd (*) to me.... (* cheese reference) ============= I've de-cheesified a number of scenes in my last few passes through my 2012 manuscript, and it seems to have to do with a couple of factors: 1. increase in the level of "feeling" or "emotional investment" of the character or of myself in the scene. Scenes have become more rather than less "shocking" in this evolution, but more real and meaningful. The character is telling more of her story, rather than just doing something to fill space, make a transition, or just make a splash. 2. The scene gets more tied into the rest of the story. If something can turn from gratuitous description, or cheesy antics into something that is informed by something else in the story, or which supports something else, then it has value and starts to deserve to stay. Otherwise, cut it. I'm going to write at least one new chapter because there's so much stuff that happened in the chapter I'm editing now that I want to tie it in, and also expand upon it, and in the course of that tie back into stuff which is kind of loose-thready from the earlier parts of the story. These are probably both horribly explained. It's almost like I've watched it happen from the outside and I'm just trying to describe it as an observer. A character makes a quip in a scene that can be called back later or anticipated earlier, then it ties it all together. That is the secret to good stand-up comedy, by the way. Or in a Seinfeld episode, things get totally ridiculous and crazy at the end, but it's all believable because it was set up starting from believable premises from the start and evolved through to the end. ======================== Yeah I don't really get it, or I think I don't... I am very sleepy and understanding complicated concepts is a daily struggle. ^_^ So, you're saying in order to de-cheesify: Increase feeling/emotional investment. Make the scene more "shocking"/meaningful. Tell more of the story instead of filling space. Transition. (I don't understand the make a splash part..) And turn the cheesy into something that supports something else. Give it value in order to keep it, otherwise take it out. Is that about right? At least as far as picking through what you said... ======================= Not just a splash in the pan ======================= What I was saying in that in fact, the opposite has proven true: that as I make my scenes more real, they become less shocking and also more real and more moving and more meaningful. First off, the story has to need the scene, otherwise why keep it? That doesn't mean "why write it?" because sometimes we just have to wade through stuff to get where we're going, but we have to not be afraid to cut it all or rewrite it all later -- at least in my humble and hardly authoritative opinion (and I do use the term "opinion" deliberately and not as some kind of spruced-up "knee-jerk un-self-examined feeling or impression"). I'll resort to what might be a relevant example. One of my characters, Sabine, for various and sundry reasons, decides that she is going to "seduce" three boys who are friends with one another, and one of whom she kind of knows (as it turns out later, rather well). In the first cut, she basically just corners them and "hits them with both barrels" of her womanly wiles, and blah-blah-blah, they all pop out, dewy and disheveled, of the end of this tunnel of love and they're all "hers" so to speak, the way to the rest of the scenes involving all of the in the story is paved and so forth and so on. This was already kind of part of the scene as I first wrote it, but it occurred to me that these guys are nerds (that's the premise -- again, various and sundry reasons), all but one of them are effectively virgins, as nerds they aren't really inculcated with the male ethic that when a woman makes overtures, regardless of your own feelings, attractedness, arousal, etc., you are literally obligated to "service" her. In short, the boys are terrified. Sabine realizes this part way through, confronts whether she is a horrible person, despite what might be deemed "social sanction" for what she's doing, whether she's "a user", and how maybe she should have sympathy for her "victims". She's also at least partly "committed" by the time this all dawns on her, so she's confronted with a choice between being kind, maybe jeopardizing this long-term relationship which she tells herself she wants to build (or just "take"? is she being honest about this, either?), and just plain saving face, not to mention maybe not getting her own physical needs met at that particular moment, which (let's be honest) she was pretty much counting on at this point. So, starting from a scene with not much talking, not much honest talking, for sure, a lot of sexiness, tawdryness, even, nakedness and...use your imagination, things trended toward a lot less gratuitous sensuality, a lot more feelings and talking about feelings, awkwardness and working through it, and building backstory and relationships for future scenes as well as a great chance for reveals of character backstory up to that point (for example, the relationship between Mike and Sabine, in Japan, and what it all has to say about each of their romantic angst). Anyway, this is not based on some formula of mine, but an observation of how things seem to be happening in my editing and rewriting process.

Writing Projects Update

This is as of July 17, but still pretty much current.

I'm working on about 4 books now, with two others in the chute (one of which I will write in November).
They're all about relationships, families, healing and recovery, mental illness, addiction, the existential struggle of the individual vs. society, gender relations, etc., etc.  It's hard to describe, I guess.  The two I'm actively working on now are EXODUS (possible alternate title: "Starfall") and SABINE (aka "Between Laughing and Crying") -- these are each about 300 pages long right now.
The other two I'm working on are THE LITTLE ANT WITH THE CRIMINAL MIND (which I originally "published" back in the 3rd grade, it's kind of a psychological exploration allegory kind of in the spirit of Orwell's ANIMAL FARM) and MIRI AND THE SATURNIAN (a children's book, but the storyline ties into the book I'm probably going to do in November).  LITTLE ANT is an individual vs. society, addiction and recovery faerie tale, and MIRI is a little girl goes on an adventure of a lifetime with her family -- it actually has a Harry Potter-esque feel in a way -- and ends up turning into a young woman along the way and discovers what it really means to be in charge of her own life.
EXODUS is technically science fiction -- it's set in a generation ship on the way to the next star -- but otherwise it's just about human relationships: marriage, splitting up, parenting, childhood, dysfunction, regrets, death, etc.
SABINE has been loosely described as "the manic-depressive nymphomaniac high school (?) girl".  Like the other books, it's about not fitting in, individual vs. society, trying to make a life and a place for oneself in the world in the face of  sometimes ostensibly well-meaning indifference and sometimes hostility.  Many of the main characters are inveterate nerds, so I try to explore that culture.  Gender relationships. Dysfunctional families.  Living with, coping with, and maybe even thriving with, mental illness.  The characters are deliberately non-descript as to their ages and occupations (and living situations) -- so far, anyway.
Oh, I'm working on a couple of COMIC STRIPS as well, which have their own ongoing storylines (and which sometimes overlap somewhat). One of them is published on my blog and on Facebook.  I guess they would be entitled something like MR. PEABODY AND THE MERMAIDS or MR. PEABODY AND THE MERMAIDS GO TO THE FULL-SERVICE NATIVE AMERICAN BANK and PORCADIS or maybe THE POETS OF PORCADIS.
The book I plan to work on in November: KLAUDIA (aka THE SELENIAN WARS) is set in the early colonization of the inner solar system.  The Earth (The Oceanian Confederacy anyway) and basically the Moon and its allies are in a state of cold war which is on the verge of becoming hot since the first Selenian War was concluded in favor of the Lunans, who now control extraterrestrial trade and the exit stations of the space elevators.  Main character decides to leave Earth to go to university, studies what he's supposed to instead of what he wants to, leaves school to become a roving consultant cyborg programmer (van Neuman stuff, etc.) which takes him all over the inner solar system and allows him to explore all of the various cultures there -- there's a lot of linguistics stuff going on, as in EXODUS (the main characters are American, Japanese, and French), the Chinese and Americans primarily colonized Mars, the Europeans and Russians are working on Venus, the Moon is a mish-mash, and the inter-Earth-Venus orbital farms have a lot of Exiles (native peoples such as native americans, Palestinians, et al), and the 'roid miners and their traders are also a mish-mash.  The Felixians and other races genetically engineered by the Others (tie-in to MIRI) are peppered around.  Our terran protagonist, also an outsider, has common ground with them.  Other main characters are Klaudia Sakamoto, a kind of hands-on agent for her mistress who represents a kind of shadowy Lunar Lagrangian conglomerate which tries to preserve the peace and keep the Earth (the Confederacy, et al) off-balance and has interests reaching throughout the inner solar system (which kind of brings Klaudia and the protagonist together).  Also a terran soldier who was "killed" in the first Selenian conflict, more like MIA, since he was nursed back to health by the Lunans, but he was presumed dead back on Earth and his mind was backed up in a terran computer system, a kind of computational "Dante's Mainframe" and may actually meet himself on the field of battle in the next conflict.  There is also the mysterious former presumed dead ex-president of the Confederacy (and its founder), Jack Denning, vignettes and flashbacks to events of his administration and the unanswered questions surrounding his sudden mysterious illness and death/disappearance.  Rumors are that the Others or the Lunans (or both -- they were in cahoots in the last war) actually found Denning's body in cryogenic suspension floating in space and are plotting to bring him out to somehow upset the legitimacy of the current Confederate government and sway the course of the impending Second Selenian War.
Anyway, brief synopsis.  Something like that.  Might be a trilogy or something crazy like that.
The other book which will probably be NaNoWriMo 2014 is unnamed, but a kind of fantasy allegory of the hero's journey of a young woman's path into motherhood, set as a kind of Frodo-in-Lord-of-the-Rings quest in which she seeks not only to rid herself of some burdens, such as obsessions with the unreliable father of her child and their off-again, on-again relationship, but also to find other things, such as herself, her independence, and hopefully a meaningful relationship with her child which she carries with her through many strange lands full of many strange and different people who teach her, help her, and challenge her in many different ways.  The Quest will probably involve something along the lines of "finding her child's potential" or "helping her child reach its 'potential' " and probably in the end seeking her own potential in a temple in a distant and holy land, and realizing that the father, other people, can only help her so much in this journey.
That's about it for now.  I guess I've got about 700-800 pages that I'm editing, with much more to write.

One thing about the to-be-named heroine's journey is that one of her companions along the way may be a young female (woman) from a species of people with no birth canal, maybe they're hermaphroditic as well, so they die when they give birth (advances in surgery later may make surviving birth possible), but I may just put this into my comic strip (Poets of Porcadis).

Native Centaurs

Coincidentally, I drew some of my own....

Thursday, September 19, 2013

模倣子 Why Wheelchairs before Women...?

Memetic Index

I'm probably missing something here, so let me know if so, but I see governments and corporations spending literally millions on wheelchair ramps and special elevators to give access to disabled folks, which is a good thing, but 50% of the population have this "different-ability" where babies tend to pop out of them and they are then able/oblidged to feed said babies directly from their bodies for an appreciable length of time. These folks are 100% able to work productively (which is more than can be said of many folk needing wheelchair ramps) and yet I see next to no accommodation for or, probably more importantly, acknowledgement of, the whole baby/feeding factor. It strikes me as a rather gross incongruity, somehow, given that I have literally never seen a person in a wheelchair come to my office during my decades of work.

It is sadly common for breastfeeding women to face serious issues in the workplace. They are often told they only have the standard 15 minute break and lunch break and no more even though they might have to pump more often. They aren't allowed to bring a young baby to work so they can feed it directly. We are also the only industrialized nation that doesn't mandate paid leave for mothers (or fathers). Other countries recognize the value of parenthood early in the life of a child. Thankfully, the university is creating lactation stations all over campus (the women's center is one) where women can go and pump if they need to or breast feed a baby. My office at the women's center is also very open about babies and staff with young children can and have brought their babies to work so they could provide for them during work hours. I do not know how other departments accommodate parents. But the government doesn't seem to be in the works to make any accommodation required for breastfeeding mothers. Unlike folks who use wheelchairs, breastfeeding isn't considered a disability so doesn't fall within those laws.

 I ask myself if there is an "image" of what nursing in the workplace should look like. How much would it help to make hassling a nursing woman a work and/or civil offense? I wore my son around most of the time we were not in the apartment -- do women themselves reckon they could wear their babes around with them while they work (like Sakagewea did -- we just saw a show on her) or that that would be "too hard"? Men can lactate, too, by the way -- promoting that might pave the way as well. I'm not sure about these massive leave times some places have -- it sounds great, but who pays for it? plus it cuts years out of one's career experience and besides, sitting around an apartment alone with a kid might be dead boring for a lot of folk -- it might be nice to have other choices (isn't that what it's all about in the end?).

Women certainly don't think it is too hard! Most would love to be able to bring kids with them. However our society views women as slackers if they take too much time fir kids. Meanwhile men who do tge same thing are praised as special nagical loving parents. It is a long standing double standard in our society

Yeah, I would say that it's less "serious issues" and "total lack of any reasonable support".

Women or men being viewed as slackers or virtuous or whatever -- I see it as probably symptomatic of some larger system of oppression.

 There are women, have been women, wherever I work, and they all tend to leave (except for the occasional odd-ball) when they have kids. One idea is that women are entitled by their ability to have children to just go home and take it easy and enjoy female privilege while men have to keep on working no matter what. Another is that "society" wants women out of the workplace, and kids are an "excuse" to leverage them. There are many other ways to look at it, too -- it's a complex web of memes.

yeah, the oppression is facilitated and nurtured by the patriarchy. Sadly though men and women don't experience that oppression the same. While men are brought up to believe that a real 'man' is tough and shows no emotion and doesn't want to be a daddy they are still given much more access to financial stability, jobs, education, less constricting body image expectations, assumed to be smarter than women, assumed to be more 'logical' than women, etc. The patriarchy sucks for everyone because it keeps people from being who they really are. But it also maintains a hierarchy that puts white men at the top and  [sic]

No, women don't sit back and relax if they are stay at home moms. That notion is truly fucked up.

Some women do sit back, others don't. Just like people who work hard at a job and others don't. Many women (and men) abuse and neglect their children. To say that all women are "good parents" and "work hard for the good of their children" is huge overgeneralization. To imply that all women are "little goodies" (des p'tites bonnes) leaves yourself open to a lot of backlash that doesn't do the cause of feminism any good.

I'm talking about women having the choice to work and that being supported by society. I have a Y chromosome and I support it, absolutely. I risk my career and everything all the time in support of it, so overgeneralizations about men and the patriarchy are, well, to put it nicely, overgeneralizations. There may be truth there, but I would argue, not many solutions.

 "Men are brought up to...tough and show no emotion" really means that young boys are beaten and ridiculed from birth to only be allowed the "football emotions": rage, exultation, and lust. I've recently come to understand how FRIGHTENING it is (for women, but also for other men) to have to deal with individuals who have been conditioned that way. But, that's not really what I was talking about, and until mommies (and daddies) stop cutting off the ends of their little sons' penises and proceeding to systematically torture them in the "socially-acceptable" fashion, we're going to have to keep dealing with it.

I think that "oppression is nurtured by the patriarchy" is cart-before-the-horse. What we perceive as "the patriarchy" (or more accurately "kyriarchy") is a symptom, a tip-of-the-iceberg of what is really going on, and we can only address it at that level. Bogus notions such as "men are more logical", "men are tougher", "women should be at home" are somehow in place because they support some kind of stable structure. If you try to change them by simply destroying/uprooting them without replacing them with sometime at least as stable (preferably more), you will encounter violent resistance, and NOT from individuals, per se, but from the system ITSELF.

That's why I'm asking if we can come up with stable social systems in which women have their babies, come right back to work, can take care of their babies right there in the workplace and be supported (or at least not hassled and dragged down) just as humans have done for millennia? If we can't do that, then we're nowhere. If we can, then women have the opportunity to engage with society and their fellows fully, without undue impediments, childbirth is not an illness, it should not be a handicap, and men will have the opportunity to work side-by-side with women, which is good for men.

One problem with statements like "are given more opportunities", "have less expectations", etc., in terms of roadmaps for a new philosophy of liberation is that they are agentless, i.e., it is impossible to identify who is....doing it. So there's nobody to...stop doing it. Demonizing all men for a social pattern seems really counter-productive, in addition to being horribly unfair and, in many cases, cruel.

I guess it's out of the bag that they're going to start a daycare program where I work.  There may have been only one man who spoke up to the senior execs and said that it was unacceptable that so many female colleagues were leaving because they had babies and it was too hard to keep working, and that they were serious engineers and project managers and that we simply couldn't afford to keep losing them.  That was me.  I consider women to be members of the same species as me, so their fight is my fight.  That's what I have always believed, and I take risks for my beliefs.  And I have a Y chromosome.  Does that make me automatically part of the problem?  Or do my beliefs and my willingness to act and my special position as man make me helpful towards finding a solution?  From what I always keep hearing, it ain't clear which.

Then again, I can't be in the position of telling women what to do with their babies at work -- I don't know what necessarily will work and what won't. There has to be agreement by all parties: all workers, the mothers, the employers, government, and so on. If you have trouble with the woman in the next cube nursing her baby: 1) get over it, 2) move to another cube, 3) find another job, for example -- that's a solution to one of the many possible issues. Manufacturing facilities have moving machines and hazardous chemicals, maybe that's not suitable for baby-wearing, but maybe there are solutions there, too.

Yeah, so I guess I'd say that blaming "The Patriarchy" is about as useful as blaming "the rain gods" or "evil spirits" as far as finding a solution goes.  And blaming "all men"...well, it's probably easiest to just call it "stupid" since it's factually wrong, just as unfair as anything else, just as sexist, and it entrenches the "bad/inured men" and alienates/frustrates sympathetic men who are trying to help.  Not the way to go if you're really trying to find a solution with any credible basis in an appeal to human rights (as opposed to trying to consolidate political power based on some notion of special entitlement).

By the way, I'm more than 50 pages into writing a comic strip that illustrates some of these ideas from the standpoint of memetic analysis and memetic deconstruction of sexism and systems of oppression (mainly of women, but also circumcision, etc.). You'd probably either really love it or really hate it (it has lots of Star Wars, Star Trek, and Matrix references, by the way).