Let Me Dialogue With You

This is the full text of a guest post I did on Rebecca Cahill’s blog back in September. If you get a chance, drop by and say, “Howdy” or whatever floats your goat. She’s got a great blog and it’s worth checking out.

Back in high school, I had a buddy who thought outside the box. I’ll call him CD to protect his identiy. CD used to write random thoughts, some of which were funny, others thoughtful, and try to sell them to the Jehovah’s Witnesses who came to his door. In his mind, if they were going to try to sell copies of The Watchtower to him, he was going to sell his own magazine to them.

He never did manage to sell any magazines, but he’s been a wealth of stories for me.

One day during a college break, we were sitting in the McDonald’s in the local Walmart and shooting the breeze. It would seem he had a lot of free time on his hands in college and decided on the ultimate way to pick up women at the bar. He was going to buy an Armenian Air Force uniform he’d found somewhere and try to convince people he’d flown Harriers during the Falklands War.

Yes, this was a long time ago. Thanks for asking.

Since he couldn’t do a British accent to save his own butt, he’d come up with some non-distinct, but vaguely foreign-sounding accent. He’d been observing the foreign students at UNM and had discovered a way to really sell his story. If someone were to ask him a question, he’d pause briefly, like he was translating the question from English to whatever language he was pretending to be fluent in, before answering.

“You really flew Harrier jump jets during the Falklands War?”

Pause. “Yes. Yes, I did.”

<Swoon>

I don’t know if he ever tried it in real life, but I’m guessing probably not. However, if you ever come across a guy in a bar wearing an Armenian Air Force uniform and claiming to have flown Harriers during the Falklands War, tell him I said hi and remind him he’s got a wife at home who may or may not know about his past life.

I’m not sure what Armenian Air Force uniforms look like, so this will have to do.

CD’s attention to detail in building a character for the sole purpose of picking up women at dive bars in Albuquerque, New Mexico shows the level of effort that should go into writing characters and, more importantly, the way characters interact with the world you’re creating. It’s the little things that sell characters. Little vocal quirks, like pausing before speaking, add a depth of realism that you just can’t get by slapping some words on a page.

Now, this little diatribe of mine is less about character creation and more about dialogue. Unfortunately, those two things are very intertwined with each other. Also unfortunately, the dialogue aspect of character creation is one of the easiest things to completely screw up. How many times have you come across an excellent narrative only to have it nosedive the first time a character talks?

“I would never do something like, for in doing that, I have forgone my something.”

Seriously, who talks like that?

Writers tend to be introverts. Not always, but there’s definitely a trend that way. You can’t spend the day hammering away at a typewriter, smoking, and swilling whisky like it’s fitness water if you’re extroverted. Don’t get me wrong, introversion can be a good thing. It’s hard to craft worlds and create things to put in those worlds when someone wants to, you know, talk and do stuff.

I’m talking to my characters, thank you very much.

And now, for no reason, Captain James T. Kirk wearing a green woman instead of an Armenian Air Force Uniform.

When we spend too much alone – whisky doesn’t count as an interactive friend – we start to forget what people are really like. Before you yell, “So what?” and start throwing things at the computer, remember this: regular people are the ones you’re trying to sell books to. And regular people like to see things that look real to them. As we’ve already established, one of the best ways to make a character look real is through the way they talk.

But dialogue is more than just character development, it serves other important purposes in a book. Everyone loves to say, “Show, don’t tell”, and dialogue is one of the best ways to do that. If you’ve got exposition to handle, try letting the characters talk about it. If there’s a complex plot substructure or twist, let the characters explain it rather than resorting to a few paragraphs explaining why something happened.

“You mean the minions of Hell aren’t really bad guys so much as misunderstood folks that have been the victims of a multi-millennium smear campaign propagated by a group that had a profit motive?”

“Exactly! These guys aren’t the real bad guys, those guys over there are!”

“My God! It was Old Man Jenkins leading them all along!”

When owls gasp

Okay, not exactly my best dialogue, but you get the point. Let the characters do the heavy lifting when explaining things. It makes for more interesting writing and, let’s face it, it’s a time-honored tradition. Just ask Aristotle.

Now we’ve got a couple good reasons to work with dialogue in a story: character development and showing rather than telling. The problem is, if your dialogue isn’t realistic, no one will read it and all your time spent putting your characters in Armenian Air Force uniforms and letting them explain the dynamics of your world will be for naught.

So, how do you write realistic dialogue? Well, fortunately, that’s the easy part. It does require a modicum of effort, but it’s effort well-spent. Go back to that idea that regular people read books and they want to read about people that seem real. Then go listen to some real people talking. Bada bing, bada boom, you’ve got the makings of good dialogue.

The real world, no matter how irksome it may be sometimes, is full of examples of how to write good dialogue. The first thing you have to do is toss aside all the rules of grammar that we’re all supposed to adhere to when we’re writing. Follow the rules in the text, but realize people don’t speak in grammatically correct sentences. People talk over each other, they use contractions and colloquialisms, conversations wander, points don’t always go where we think they’re supposed to go. Sometimes people forget their points entirely.

My buddy in college and I could spend all night talking. This was back before texting and when Geocities was still a thing, so talking was a good way to pass the time waiting for the damned modem to connect. Our conversations went all over the place and outsiders had trouble keeping up. One night, he, his girlfriend, and I were all out by the fountain chatting and looking at the stars. As per usual, the conversation drifted all over the place like a drunken frat boy and his poor girlfriend was feeling a bit lost.

“You guys shift topics constantly,” she said, “how do you do that?”

“Yep,” I replied, “We shift gears so fast…”

And then I lost my witty retort and ended with the lame-ass “we go really fast.”

“We shift gears so fast…we go really fast.”

I swear, I actually had something for that and lost it mid-sentence. Poof. Gone. Vanished. I want to say my buddy wrote that whole scene into a book of his own.

When your real life hits a book

People do that kind of thing all the time. Conversation is rarely linear, sometimes doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and almost never follows the grammatical rules that govern writing. If you want to make your dialogue more realistic, listen to people talking and use what you learn. Toss aside the monologuing, kick the perfect sentence structure to the curb, and revel in all the things you don’t get to do in the main part of the text.

You’re not supposed to use “ain’t” in good writing because it’s not a word? People use it all the time, so stuff it into dialogue. Do you love thinking in run-on sentences, but worry about getting tagged by grammar Nazis? Let a character babble away. Give them linguistic quirks like pausing before talking or saying “Okay” a lot at the end of sentences. Christoph Fischer did an excellent job with this in his book In Search Of A Revolution. In that book, Fischer had a character repeat words when he was stressed or otherwise out of his element. “No, no, no. That’s not what’s supposed to happen.” Things like that.

The trick here is that the dialogue must fit the character. It’s unlikely you’ll ever have an aristocrat use the word “ain’t”, but it ain’t outside the realm of possibilities if you develop the character that way. This is where you embrace the character with all his or her flaws and really dig into their head. Remember, just like real people, characters reveal their natures through not only what they do, but what they say, so the dialogue has to fit the psychology of the character. Since you created the character, you’re the ultimate arbiter of whether a line of dialogue fits a character’s development. As long as you as a writer don’t look at what your characters are saying and think it’s out of character, it’s unlikely anyone else will, either.

One gotcha here: a character’s linguistic quirks and dialogue have to remain intact throughout the whole of the book or story. I had a character in a recent book who I decided shouldn’t use contractions. The last few pages of the story explained why, so it became important that none of his dialogue had a contraction. It was nightmarish looping through the whole text and verifying Chan never shortened his words.

In the end, it might pay off or it might not. It’s possible, that was something most people will ignore or not even notice. That may be a perfect example of taking a linguistic quirk too far, but it did differentiate his dialogue from the rest of the characters who cursed and used contractions with reckless abandon, so it wasn’t a complete waste.

Let your characters live and breathe. Sure, dress them in Armenian Air Force uniforms and let them claim to have flown Harriers, but if you want to make them real, it’s their dialogue that will do that. Pay attention to how people really talk and you’ll be well on your way. Don’t be afraid to copy conversations from your best friend in high school or the quirks your boss gets when she’s mad that the project still isn’t done. Take all those things and weave them into the story. Observe the world and use what you find to enhance your writing. Your dialogue will be that much more realistic because it’s based on real conversations.

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Twittering

Keep going. Keep getting better.

Twitter catches a lot of crap for being the digital version of the Wild Wild West. While that may be partially true in a “not racists, but #1 with racists” kind of way, that doesn’t mean the whole shebang is a shit-show. And, to be fair to Twitter, they’ve nuked a bunch of White Supremacist groups. There are plenty of good reasons to explore Twitter and a lot of good things can be found there, too.

At the very least, you’ve got #caturday, so you can haz cheezburger if you’d like.

I’ve used Twitter for a variety of writing-related reasons, ranging from seeing what’s out there and dropping ads, to playing the writing prompt games.

A couple posts back, I wrote a post about the idea of getting better at things by doing them a lot. Like most of my posts, it was a rambling affair, full of magic and heroism that talked around the issue as much as engaging it. That post was partially a reaction to various people I’ve met who  worry about not being good enough at writing to write a book. To those people, I’ll reiterate: Yeah, you’re probably not, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t just write the freaking thing even if you’re not an expert at writing. Do something often enough, look for a feedback loop, and, if you take the feedback into account, you’ll likely get better at it.

Don’t listen to him. Zoidberg hates everyone.

In other words, just start writing. The more you do it, the more natural it will become. Pay attention to criticisms, provided they’re not completely useless, and you’ll improve. Simple as that.

Now here’s something else to add. When I first started programming, I followed the directions in the book and things happened and I was happy. But, I didn’t really learn to program until I had to sit down and write an application that I didn’t get to choose and I didn’t have the book with handy-dandy directions to follow. It was just “write me a service that will listen for GPS data from trains, figure out where they are, and determine how far off schedule they are based on position and time.”

That’s when the rubber hit the road. Or the wheels hit the iron. Whatever.

The point being, I didn’t get good at it until I had to do something where I didn’t get to choose what the program was going to do. There was also a lot of feedback from the customer about what things were working, what weren’t, and how many things needed to be changed. In the end – such as it is – I wrote what they wanted and got a whole whack of new skills in the process.

Or, in my case, it was trying to figure out how to determine time on target when speed is a huge variable.

Which loops us back to Twitter. In the midst of all the cat pictures and ass-random presidential tweets, lies a pretty large group of authors swapping lines back and forth. Do a little digging and you’ll find people tagging tweets with things like #musemon, #2bittues, #1linewed, #thurds, #fictfri, #slapdashsat, and #sunwip. To the unitiated, those may sound like gobbledygook, cockamamie nonsense, or flat-out flumadiddle, but the tags have meaning to the authors that partake in them.

See, Twitter is a vast wasteland and it’s impossible to take in the whole of it, so it’s segmented by hashtags that create little sub-worlds withing the vast miasma of the whole of Twitterdom. Once you learn about those hashtags, you get the keys to the kingdom.

Most of these hashtags have rules. They’re not simple “write whatever you feel like and toss a tag on it” games. Each week, the person responsible for the tag determines a theme for the week. It could be thankful or half-full or angry or whatever. All except #slapdashsat, that’s always theme-free. So, each person that tweets and tags that tweet is expected to follow the theme. In a pure world, you’d find a line from whatever you’re writing that fits and use that. Sometimes, that line doesn’t exist, though, and that’s when the rubber hits the road.

Just like with programming, you can learn a lot from writing according to a spec, even if it is a one-word spec. So, whenever I don’t have a line that will fit, I write one that fits the tag and the book I’m working on. In case you’re wondering, most of those tweets will wind up in the book in some form or another.

This is what I’m working on, by the way.

Now, part of my morning ritual is going over the tweets from the one or two tag games per day I follow and putting up my own tweets. It’s been a great way to see if I can work a word or phrase into whatever I’m working on or sharing something I’d already used in a story. There’s something about being put on the spot that’s helped me craft a few zingers here and there and the process has improved my writing by making me think beyond just what I feel like doing.

Besides, remember that feedback loop that’s so important to getting better at a thing? In the Twitterverse, that feedback comes from likes, retweets, and the odd comment. Hashtag games have become a great way to test lines in front of a group of people I’ve never met and see what works and what doesn’t.

Feel like trying it out? Dig up the hashtag games for the day and post a few tweets. Who knows, maybe you’ll strike gold.

Expert Shmexpert, Just Write The Freakin’ Thing

263h
This picture has absolutely nothing to do with the post, but it is pretty awesome.

There’s a theory out there that states in order to become an expert at something, you have to have 10,000 hours of practice at it. This theory was shot to the world by Malcolm Gladwell in his 2008 book, Outliers. The general gist of Gladwell’s book was there are people who are exceedingly good at doing stuff and what did it take for them to get really good at it? He did some research and used (or misused, depending on who you talk to) the research Anders Ericsson did into what makes people masters of stuff.

Gladwell theorized that at 10,000 hours of practice of doing something, you hit this magical tipping point of greatness and automatically became an expert it by virtue of having done it a whole lot. Outliers became a huge best seller. It’s still sitting at #664 in Amazon’s best sellers. That’s not in a particular category, either, it’s #664 in all of Amazon.

Not bad for a nine-year-old book. Especially one based on a faulty interpretation of what Anders Ericsson’s research actually said. You see, Outliers had some flawed logic in it and that magical 10,000 hour tipping point to greatness isn’t quite so carved in stone as Gladwell would have us believe. In fact, Ericsson’s research didn’t show a 10,000 tipping point and it showed some people could become masters in significantly less time than 10,000 hours, while others could take upwards of 25,000 hours to become masters. A lot of it comes down to not only how much you practice doing something, but how you practice doing it. In other words, quantity of practice isn’t as important as quality of practice. 10,000 hours of doing something wrong will just encode that bad behavior. Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.

Now, I’m not trying to dog on Malcolm Gladwell or in any way diminish his work. Not that he gives two tugs of a dead dog’s dick what I think about him, but even though his logic may have been on the flawed side – something even Anders Ericsson has said – Gladwell was absolutely correct about one thing: if you want to be good at something, do it a lot.

When I first started this blog, I got a comment from someone who said he really wanted to write a book. My response was, “Go write it.” Whoever it was, and I apologize for forgetting his name, replied that he wanted to get better at writing before he tackled writing a book. Or words to that effect. Someday someone will dredge up that comment and prove me wrong, but work with me for now and pretend I’ve got the kind of eidetic memory I like to pretend I have.

The thing is, especially looking back at Ericsson’s research, you can’t get better at something if you don’t do it. Sitting around all day, pondering the ins and outs of that story you want to write is worlds away from sitting around all day actually writing that story you want to write. And guess what? You don’t need permission, you don’t need a year off to kick around Europe (or America, if you happen to be from Europe) looking for inspiration. You only need two things to write: a story to tell and some way to write it.

If the story is already circulating inside your skull, great. Write it down. There are tools galore for writing a book. Technically, you could do it with purloined Bic pens and a lot of cocktail napkins, but if you want to enter the modern era, all you need is a cheap computer and a copy of Open Office.

Don’t expect magic. Don’t expect to blow the doors off the literary world with your first cut. Do expect to spend time writing. Lots of time. Like more than you expect. Henchmen took a few months to write. Transmute took about six months to write. Greetings From Sunny Aluna was around the same. That’s part time, of course, usually an hour or two a night. None of those have blown the doors off the literary world.

While it may seem daunting to gaze at the idea of spending months (or years in some cases) writing a book, this is where you get to employ Ericsson’s research. Every minute you spend makes you better by a minute amount, especially if you’re trying to write well. While you may never hit a tipping point at 10,000 hours and suddenly find yourself the greatest writer, like, ever, you will get better at it.

I guess my point is this: if you want to be really good at something, you have to do that thing. It doesn’t really matter what thing is, you have to actually do it before you can get better at it. Once you start doing it, you’ll naturally find it easier and easier to do, especially once those reviews start coming in and you find yourself wondering why “just” was such an important word that it was in the manuscript 400 times. Edit and move on.

If you want to write a book, go write it. Don’t wait to become an expert writer before you write a book, because the only way to become an expert book writer is to write a book. Just like the best way to become an expert on punching is to hit something, or the best way to become an expert at cycling is to ride a bike.

Of course, after it’s written comes the really scary part: letting someone else read it. But kick the emotional attachment to the curb and listen to what people have to say. That’s the quality of practice portion of doing stuff a lot.

Thoughts? Comments? You know where you can put ’em. Just below in the comments field.

Urban Fantasy

Back when my son was still wildly into dinosaurs, I found a book called Dinopix by Teruhisha Tajima. It was a bunch of photo edits that posited what the world would be like if dinosaurs had lived into the current day. It didn’t concern itself with the struggles early humans would have had to deal with when encountering a hungry T. rex or a pack of Deinonychus, nor did it deal with what evolution would have done with those creatures over the past 65 million year. Dinopix dropped dinosaurs, as they were before they went extinct, straight into the modern world.

Please clean up after your diplodocus. Carry a very large bag and a shovel.

The result was brilliant and enchanting. Although, as I recall, my son was less than impressed with it than he was with Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs, which melded two kiddo favorites into a fun little adventure complete with pronunciation guide for those of us reading aloud who had forgotten how to pronounce Giganotosaurus.

Both books did a fantastic job with melding the real world with the fantasy world that all kids and writers seem to inhabit. That’s the beauty of looking at the world through different eyes and rather than seeing a normal checkout counter, wondering what crazy thing has happened or will happen there. Maybe the person manning the cash register is a werewolf just trying to make ends meet. Lycanthropy, after all, doesn’t pay very well.

This kind of melding of the magical and the mundane is often referred to as Urban Fantasy, but I’d argue it could also easily fall into the magical realism world. Both deal with the idea of magical or extraordinary events happening in a predominantly realistic world. Werewolves running cash registers or vampires running night clubs. Or even a rogue Valkyrie trying to kick off Ragnarok. The differences are pretty trivial, but magical realism has been a thing in Latino literature for a very long time while the rest of us were only made aware of it when Narcos premiered on Netflix.

I recently read where someone said urban fantasy – as a genre – was for lazy writers. The argument was that urban fantasy was essentially fantasy without all the world building and was, therefore, easier to deal with than real fantasy.

In case you’re wondering, this is the gist of this post. I just felt like rambling on about dinosaurs, pirates, urban fantasy, and magical realism.

As an essentially urban fantasy writer, I bristled at that admonition. I have no beef with fantasy, I’ve even dabbled with it a bit, even though Greetings From Sunny Aluna would probably be better classified as wuxia than traditional fantasy. If we’re going to insist on classifying everything, that is.

So, are urban fantasy writers lazier than traditional fantasy writers? I’d have to argue no. Even though urban fantasy takes place in a largely realistic world, snapping robot dinosaurs into it takes a lot more thinking. In a traditional fantasy world, seeing a dragon isn’t that far out of the ordinary. It’s fantasy; it’s supposed to have dragons.

Probably not run by actual dragons.

But the real world isn’t supposed to have dragons wandering around running hot dog stands or selling drugs on street corners. Making that kind of thing work takes finagling or it feels fake. Which means, the world that dragon inhabits has to be aware of at least the idea that dragons could not only be real, but they could also get a license to run a hot dog stand.

It’s that license part that requires world building inside of the real world. Twisting the mundanity of penetrating bureaucracy into something a dragon had to do means you have to build hooks into the real world that will allow things like that to happen. That’s world building.

World building is more than describing castles or various tribes running around stabbing each other. It means making the world of the book be internally consistent with itself. Or, at the very least, making it seem real enough that the reader doesn’t hit a page and think, “What the holy fuck just happened? How did we get from elves to zero point energy?”

Well, you see, elves have always been big proponents of not only zero point energy, but also cold fusion.

And, let’s not oversell the world building done in fantasy. Most of the fantasy genre sits plainly in the European Middle Ages, just with less disease and more magic. Sure, some people have done some amazing jobs with it – The Dragonriders of Pern series comes to mind – but a lot fantasy is just kings and dark wizards throwing down over land rights. Now, before you grab pitchforks and torches, yes, I know McCaffrey’s dragons are usually classified as Sci-Fi. Let’s face it, though, there are a lot of traditional fantasy elements to those books. Besides, it could be argued that sci-fi is fantasy that replaced the magic with technology and the dwarves with aliens.

Not amused.

Not that there’s anything wrong with any of that. I enjoy sci-fi, usually more than I enjoy fantasy, but I’ve certainly enjoyed my fair share of fantasy stories, too.

So, is urban fantasy just fantasy for lazy writers? Hell, no. It takes a lot more effort to believably shoehorn dragons selling hot dogs into downtown Albuquerque than it does to have that same dragon snatching up damsels and swilling the blood of knights out of a very large mug.

What are you thoughts on it? Is urban fantasy for lazy writers? Do elves really have a thing for zero point energy? Is sci-fi just fantasy with technology in place of magic?

Neat!

guestpost

It’s not often I get the opportunity to a guest post on someone else’s blog, but I had the opportunity to write a guest post on why dialogue is important in a story and some ways to improve it. It’s actually a pretty fun piece and not only does it showcase my buddy’s theory about picking up women in bars with only a fake accent and an Armenian Air Force uniform, but it goes into rambling depths about what you can do with your characters and their propensity for talking.

Check it out on Rebecca Cahill’s blog and then stick around to check out the rest of her blog.

Guest Post – Writing Without Fear

Ashley Holzmann is a horror author by trade and a generally cool person overall. The irony of a horror author writing a post on writing without fear isn’t lost on me, but he makes some excellent points and it’s always great to hear someone tell you to not be afraid of your writing. There are some links at the bottom of the post if you want to find out more about Ash, but without further ado, I’d like to turn the stage over to the amazing Ashley Holzmann.

Hello, my name is Ashley and I will be your guest blogger this evening.

This post is for the writers out there, but will also hopefully interest the readers and other creators alike.

Why is that? Because some of the biggest hindrances to creativity are the self-imposed fears we carry with us.

I’m normally a horror writer, though I dabble in various genres, and I’m going to be putting on my writer hat to tackle this from what I believe to be some interesting perspectives. My goal is to discuss the fears that hold creators back and methods to get beyond those fears.

Creation For The Sake Of Creation

The pure artist, as can be found discussed in great detail in Leo Tolstoy’s What Is Art?, would state that the purer forms of art and creation are performed for the sake of the creation itself.

On some level, they are performed for the sake of the creator, but the more any single creator decides to push their art into the world and display it for others, the less pure it becomes.

I struggle with the purity of this idea.

On many levels, I love the romanticism of it.

The unfortunate counter argument is that it’s terribly convenient to have such an opinion of art for art’s sake, but what of us who were not the creators of War and Peace?

Tolstoy formed many of his important ideas and wrote many of his important essays concerning art after he was already an established personality. This is unfair of me, I know, as the argument is supposed to be separated from the man making the argument, but it’s hard to. Purists are not often in a position of vulnerability

Purists are often not in a position of vulnerability.

What of the artist who is only able to work on their art once a month because of the costs associated with it or the time constraints?

While art may very well be more pure when done for the sake of the creation of it, I would argue that a free artist is one who has enough support to function as an average member of society and concentrate wholly on their creations.

This, too, adds complications to the argument. As famous artists such as Michelangelo were given such freedoms, but were also constrained by the Medici family who paid his bills growing up, and then his commissions throughout his life often being from churches.

Who knows how great Michelangelo’s art could have been if he was given the financial freedom, but also the political and creative freedom to experience his art simply for the sake of it—allowing his mind and hands to take the work where it would go.

Tumbling around these arguments, I find myself settling into a middle ground as an artist, myself.

I create for the sake of creating. Most of my drawings are shared only briefly with family, and sometimes never. My writing is shared as widely as I can get it to be shared, though, and I am actively pursuing that lifestyle.

Maybe it is selfish of me to desire to make enough money off of my creative work to finance my lifestyle and allow me the freedom to leave my day job.

But if the result is more art, then is the world a lesser place?

The interesting aspect of modern times is the self-financed artist. Self-publishing for books, websites like Fiverr that allow for creative people to directly be sourced: the freedoms given to creative people are amazing these days. I sometimes wonder how modern platforms would inform Tolstoy’s opinions, if at all.

All of this brings be back to the title of this section: creation for the sake of creation.

Any artist must start somewhere, and in practicing the craft there will be many works that are never shared. That honing of skill is important, but also something I would argue is so important that it must always be returned to. While I personally believe that artists should strive for freedom in order to actively pursue their art as a career, I also recognize that some art should be kept to ourselves.

That art is both pure, but also important because it teaches us to discern between what we place of ourselves into the world and what we place of ourselves only in those closest to us. Because, at its core, most art is in some way a reflection of ourselves.

Because, at its core, most art is in some way a reflection of ourselves.

When You Are Afraid, Your Art Suffers

The freedom to create anything is not often give to artists. This is not always the choice of an artist, either. I already referenced one of the Renaissance masters. While the great awakening of artistic value occurred during that period, most of the people financing those efforts were the elite. It was not easy to be completely free and still tailor one’s work to the holder of the money purse.

These days we are in may ways more free, but if we are pursuing careers in creation we still have to play to an audience somewhere. This holds back a lot of creators, who feel like they must create to appease the people.

Stroll to the local movie theater and you’ll be given plenty of examples of the fear of creators. Held by by either themselves or by the financiers in order to appeal to as many people with wallets as possible. Being a creator isn’t an easy experience.

Being a creator isn’t an easy experience.

I would argue, however, that it is the artists who fall for this fear that create the lesser versions of the art they hold within them. And while it is financially safer to sometimes tackle the easy victory, the mass market appeal, many artists may surprise themselves when they take the risk to be themselves.

There is a happy medium between the artist who pursues their art in order to achieve financial stability and the artist who wishes to have the funding to be free to express themselves.

The Lack Of Fear

The irony of the fearful artist is that the un-fearful artist is often the one who stampedes through the cliche and lands themselves in the record books.

Every actor who has taken a performance and turned it up to eleven is hailed for their bravery. It is not easy to go through a fight scene completely naked like Viggo Mortensen in Eastern Promises. Or Michael Fassbender in Shame.

Stanley Kurbrick defined most of his career by his lack of fear. He often took so many risks with his work that a large part of his filmmaking experience was ensuring that he had the financing and creating his amazing work on as low a budget as possible. He found a way, though, and he stuck to his artistic guns and remained as pure as he could.

Lolita is another excellent example of a lack of fear. Like Catcher in the Rye, both star a likable, yet unlikeable, unreliable narrator tackling subjects that the writers themselves have stated are not pure to them as creators, but they had a vision and executed it masterfully.

When you work without fear, you are able to work in that middle ground between the extreme of the hermit creator and the opposing side of the sellout.

Pure Art Creation

We can all identify beautiful art. Many of us agree on certain aesthetics, but we will also disagree on many things as well. That’s understandable. What matters when it comes to any form of creation is for the creator to express themselves fully. If an artist is unafraid, then this is the next step they must take: being true to themselves.

This often means that artists true to themselves are exposing some of their inner-most demons to the world. They are allowing themselves to be vulnerable in front of the masses. This is almost always difficult. Crying in front of thousands of people is something that takes training.

Writing about secret childhood experiences can bring back horrible hurtful memories. Exposing one’s character flaws leaves us open to criticism that we may not be fully emotionally prepared for.

Exposing one’s character flaws leaves us open to criticism that we may not be fully emotionally prepared for.

Let Go

The reason we do allow ourselves the freedom of pure expression is because while we do expose ourselves to the voices of critics, we also expose ourselves to inclusion and acceptance.

I’ve often told myself that my friends and family will never read my work. This is not true, but the thought of showing my stuff only to strangers has a freeing quality to the creation.

Another simple tactic to use is to create things you would only want yourself to see. Then leave those things for a time. Come back to them. Refine them. Then either force yourself to release it out into the world, or have a trusted friend or loved one do it for you.

Tell yourself that you have not created such a work. Or use a pseudonym to hide your true identity. Create the double life that is necessary to spread your work. Justify your work to yourself any way that you can.

It is not easy to be true to one’s self, but the more often you are, the more often you open yourself up to surprising revelations. More people may fall in love with your work than you think. More opportunities may open the door for you as an artist because you are known to not have fear.

More people may fall in love with your work than you think.

You may also be surprised to find out that many artists will also look up to you. They may reach out to ask how you were able to be so honest or brave with your work. You may be surprised to find that being true to yourself opens yourself to just as much awe as it does to judgement.

It has been my experience in both creating and in enjoying art that the awe of admiration is more often gifted toward artists than judgement.

-Ashley Franz Holzmann

About The Author

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Ashley Franz Holzmann bio:

A Boy Named Sue, named Ashley, who goes by Ash around his friends. Ashley grew up overseas on Air Force bases. He once bought a 70s VW bus so he could drive it across the country. He married his first love—they were long distance for seven years. He reads poetry constantly; believes experiences define a life, and pursuing art is the purpose behind his existence. Ashley kept all of his Legos growing up and plays with them with his three kids. He’s in the Army. He likes big dogs.

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Nonplussed

American English is, of course, descended from original British English (English English?). That language, in turn, was descended from a whole host of other languages and pinned together in a patchwork quilt of defeated and absorbed peoples. For such a mish-mash language it really shouldn’t surprise me that the English spoken in the U.K. is different in some ways from the English spoken here in the colonies.

Even various regions of the United States have dialectical differences between them. For instance, in some places you might get a hero, in others a hoagie. In other places, like here for instance, you might just hungry thinking about sandwiches. Whether you order a soda, a pop, or a coke (not necessarily Coke, Pepsi will work, too), you’re still getting some bubbly stuff with far too much sweet, sweet sugar in it.

Food words I get. It makes sense that different parts of the country – and the world – have different types of food and different names for those foods. I live in New Mexico, so we’ve got a huge catalog of cultural food to draw from, but even some of those foods are different depending on where in the state you are. For instance, Gorditas are a completely different experience in Las Cruces from what you get in the northern parts of the state. The Gorditas you get from Taco Bell are even further from what everyone else makes.

But other words have also drifted from the mother tongue over the years. The one that really took me by surprise was “nonplussed.” I wrote a short story last month and had some friends from the other side of the pond beta read it and give me notes and one of the notes I got highlighted “nonplussed.” In the notes, she’d written, “Is that the right word. He’s perplexed?” My first thought was she must have misread it, but upon looking up the definition I found she was right.

Mostly.

In U.K. English, nonplussed means “surprised and confused so much that they are unsure how to react.” In informal U.S. English (the only kind I speak, see also: Bad English), nonplussed means “not disconcerted or unperturbed.”

Most of the time, when you’re dealing with regionalisms the meaning can be sussed out pretty easily. A book written in the U.K. will refer to boots and bonnets instead of hood and trunks. Someone from northern New Mexico reading about Gorditas might have a different vision in their head than someone from southern New Mexico, but it’s all food. Except the Gorditas from Taco Bell; I’m not sure those qualify as food. But when you come across a word that has a drastic enough difference in meaning even though it’s the same word in both languages, it can rock your world and completely change the intent of the sentence.

What gorditas might look like

By the way, this is the sentence I’m referring to.

“The good doctor looked completely nonplussed, like he knew he’d already gotten away with whatever crazy plan he’d concocted.”

So, if we accept the casual North American meaning of nonplussed, the sentence makes a lot more sense than using the U.K. English definition. Otherwise, the good doctor looked confused, even though he’d already won.

That was one of those notes you want to frame and hang on your wall just to remind you that words can, and often do, have drastically different meanings depending on where the reader is. It saved me some potential embarrassment if the story ever winds up in the U.K. In the end, I changed nonplussed to unconcerned and kept my fingers crossed.

They say good writing is supposed to excise regionalisms and, for the most part, I agree with that. Like all rules in writing, that one can be broken to add flavor and texture to a story. But sometimes regionalisms sneak up on you and you won’t even know they’re there until someone from the outside points and asks, “What’s up with this word, dog?” That’s why it pays to have friends from other countries.

Got any good regionalisms that snuck up on you?