Last night, I saw the preview for the upcoming film version of Ender’s Game. While the preview looked cool and all, it’ll be one of those movies I’ll see eventually, like when it comes to Redbox or Netflix.
It’s not that I’m not a fan of the original story — I am, of course. To me, though, it’s just one of those books that really doesn’t need to be made into a movie. Not for me, anyway.
Let me be clear — I’m not against anyone making this movie. I’m really not against anyone making any movie. I’m not the fanboy who pickets the local AMC multiplex when my beloved favorite novel or comic or whatever is having its premiere. Hey, if you want to make a movie out of a board game, have at it — just don’t expect me to be in line opening night.
Thing is, film is just another way to interpret a story. I tend to like movies that started out as movies, that are written with the camera in mind. Films based on books or comics or anything else can be good — even great — but with some stories, I just don’t get excited when they make the jump to another medium. I’m fine with them living in my head as books.
That said, I did see Iron Man 3 recently, and it was awesome.
What about you, folks? What stories are you perfectly happy to keep in their original context (that is, you feel they don’t need to be made into films or TV shows)? What stories would you love to see make the jump into other media?
I have few enough hard-and-fast rules for myself that I’m loath to tell anyone else how they should live their lives or conduct themselves. Still, there are a few tenets I live by that I think the world at large might want to adopt:
Wear good shoes: This one’s mainly for the gentlemen — because I’ve never seen a woman wear running shoes with slacks. Stop doing that, fellow males. You make us all look bad.
Exception: ER doctors and other professionals who are on their feet all day.
Don’t be a jackass: Treat people with respect, or at least civility, until they give you a damn good reason not to. Just because someone has different beliefs, or a different outlook, or a different background than you does not make them wrong in any way. Everyone is human — treat them that way.
Chill out: Relax, man. The world isn’t ending, and even if it was, you couldn’t do a damn thing about it. Your blood pressure will thank you.
Exception: If someone’s shooting at you or your life is otherwise in danger, it’s completely acceptable to freak right the fuck out.
Yeah, I made the mistake of browsing Facebook again. Does it show?
What about you, folks? What tenets would you add to the list?
I’ve probably advocated taking writing breaks here before — and if not here, then certainly on a Men in Gorilla Suits podcast. Sometimes, getting away from the story problems for an hour or seventeen can help you recharge, refresh, and refocus.
But sometimes, you leave a story on the shelf too long. There’s no set time limit — some writers can leave a story sitting for years and go right back to it without losing momentum (George R.R., I’m looking in your direction). For some writers, though, a week away totally gets them out of the universe they’d been playing in. When they come back, voices seem all wrong, tone has changed, and characters aren’t acting the way they should.
They’ve gotten out of the proper headspace.
Now, this isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes, a realigned, new take on the story is exactly what it needs. Other times, though — like when you’re writing book three or four in a series — getting out of that headspace can feel like a disaster.
I’ve certainly done it before. I’ve left a story for a couple of months to focus on other deadlines, or meet day-job obligations, or just taken a break because I’m feeling run-down. When I come back and open up that Notepad file (yeah, I’m an old man and set in my ways), I feel like I’ve forgotten where I wanted to go with the story, forgotten how I wanted to develop a character. I feel like my perspective is gone, and finding it seems impossible.
It never is, though. Sometimes I just need to read through the last couple of chapters — or the entire story so far — to catch myself up on what I was thinking. Sometimes I need to sit down and just jot down notes until it comes back to me. And sometimes, I need to put the story away for another week, or another month, or however long it takes until my brain says Oh, yeah. That’s where I was going with that.
And sometimes, I just have to start over. I have to accept that the headspace is gone, and I won’t get back there. It doesn’t mean I stop writing the story; it just means a lot of rework. And that’s not always a bad thing.
So what’s your trick, folks? How do you get back in the right headspace for a story?
Up until, say, a year ago, I would have told you (if you’d asked) that I didn’t much dig the fantasy genre. I’d tried to get into it when I was a kid and Dungeons & Dragons was huge, but it never really hooked me. If you asked me today, though, I’d have a different answer — there’s definitely stuff I dig now.
The thing that changed my mind was Game of Thrones — the HBO series, not the books (initially). And it wasn’t because of the cool special effects, or the swords, or the dragons and giants popping up every now and again (though all that stuff is cool enough). It’s because, unlike the stuff I read as a kid, Game of Thrones gives a shit about its characters.
When I’d read fantasy novels back in the late 80s and early 90s, I got the feeling that the characters were sort of one-dimensional. Sure, they had different (and often overcomplicated) names, but they might as well have been named Fighter, Mage, Cleric, and Evil Guy. That seemed to be the limit of the thought put into their character development anyway.
Game of Thrones did it differently. They gave their characters backstory, depth, motivation, personality. Sure, I still can’t remember anyone’s name (I call the Peter Dinklage character “Peter Dinklage”), but the characters aren’t stock cut-outs. They’re people. Or giants. Or dragons.
So now that I see fantasy stuff doesn’t all have to be terrible, got any suggestions for stuff I might like? What’s your favorite fantasy story?
I got an email after yesterday’s post (where I talked about training, whether it’s training to write, do stand-up comedy, or go fight someone) asking me how someone should train to write.
As I’ve said before, I can’t tell you what to do, or what might work for you. I can only tell you what I do, and you can try it out if you like.
But with that disclaimer, there is one thing that’s universal: you train to write by writing.
If you want to be a writer, write every chance you get. I jot shit down on my iPhone, on Post-It notes, and (unfortunately) on my arms. If I have an idea, I write it down somewhere. I’m fortunate enough to have a better-than-average visual memory, so once I write something down, I rarely need to look at it again… but the aphorism holds true. Write every chance you get.
When I first got back into writing, it helped me to set a word goal. In 2009, I committed to writing no less than 500 words a night, no matter what else was going on in my life. I posted everything I wrote on Twitter, because that kept me accountable… and just like that, I got back into the habit of writing. I was training to write.
Also, I try to maximize and prioritize my brain time. Brain cycles that could be spent zoning out in traffic or reading magazine covers in line at Target (and there’s always a line at the Target by my house) get re-tasked to thinking about story problems, character development, and dinner (I do like to eat, after all). But I try to convert idle time into productive time where I can. This includes places like the gym, or lunch breaks at work.
Apart from saying “write a lot,” though, I really can’t give much productive advice on how to train yourself to be a writer… though maybe you folks can in the comments?
There are three things that most males I’ve met — especially dudes under 25 — just assume they know how to do from the moment they’re born:
- Perform stand-up comedy
Those are three very specific things, yet the list holds true. If you’re a guy, you probably thought you could check off every item on that list when you were a kid. You’d see a stand-up comedian on TV, or a fight scene in a movie, or read a bit of a book at your local Borders and think Well, shit — I can do that.
Thing is, almost no one can do any of those things without training.
We learn we can’t do the first — fighting — if we ever get into a real fight. All it takes is one solid ass-kicking for most of us to realize we’re not the badasses we assumed we were.
We learn we can’t inherently do the second — stand-up comedy — if we ever get up on stage at an open-mic night. The silent crowd and the miniature panic attack as we bomb spectacularly are a quick education.
Only sometimes do we learn from failing that were not born Hemingways or Vonneguts, though. There’s an inborn stubbornness for the first several rejections — it’s always the agent’s bad taste, or the publisher who doesn’t recognize genius.
Reality shows are sparing some of the younger generations from finding out the hard way that they can’t do this stuff, at least for the first two items on the list. Watch Bully Beat-Down if you think you can fight. Watch Last Comic Standing if you think you’re the next Carlin — the contestants on those shows get the shit kicked out of them and bomb miserably so you don’t have to. There’s not a reality show for writers yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised.
Thing is, with training — real, actual training — most of us could be good at any or all of those things we think we’re born knowing how to do. Or if not good, at least proficient enough not to embarrass ourselves.
That’s my message for today. If there’s something you want to do, work at it. Train for it. It takes a lot of effort and time, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. It means the opposite.
Get that first beatdown out of the way. Bomb that first time. Get that first rejection. But don’t give up — use that as a basis to start building.
You can only go up from there.
So, got any stories of when you thought you were good at one of the items above and found out otherwise in a spectacularly terrible way? Lord knows I do.
About a week ago, Christopher and I talked about going indie versus going the traditional route (as applies to publishing) on our podcast. As a traditionally published author, I presented the pros and cons of the traditional route, but lately, I’ve been working on something pretty indie.
One of the things about going indie is that you end up doing most of the stuff yourself, or with a small group of colleagues. And as I get further and further down the indie road, I keep hearing the words of Homer Simpson when he ran for Springfield Sanitation Commissioner: “Can’t someone else do it?”
If you’d told me in 1999 that, as a writer, I’d have to learn some SQL, I’d have probably said “What’s SQL?” I would have never thought of learning Photoshop, or having to know about ebook formats. But here I am, almost 35, relearning everything about publishing as I work, plus working a day job and trying to write somewhere in there. It’s exhausting.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. I’ve often said I don’t think ahead much, but in this case, I have to — and it’s going to be so cool when it’s done, y’all.
What’s the most difficult thing you’ve had to learn for yourself? And did you push through, or just offshore it to someone else (a thought that I still haven’t ruled completely out yet)?