Writing Advice from Questionable Characters

Neal Cassady, the inspiration for the Dean Moriarty character, with Jack Kerouac – WIKIPEDIA

“Hell, man, I know very well you didn’t come to me only to want to become a writer and after all what do I really know about it except you’ve got to stick to it with all the energy of a benny* addict.”
  ~ Dean Moriarty from ON THE ROAD

#amwriting
#ofthejournals

 

*Benzedrine, the trademark name for Amphetamine.

 
 

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A Guest Post by Author Jason Greensides

Mysterious Characters and Unforgivable Acts of Violence
by Jason Greensides
 

One piece of writing advice that never set well with me – however useful it is at a practical level – is to know your characters: that you should be able to understand every little aspect of your character if you ever want them to be believable, sympathetic, and to leap off the page. Of course, in general this is useful advice, however, not only has this the potential to make writing less fun (one of the reasons I write is to discover something I didn’t know), but seems a fundamental flaw in how we should perceive other people in everyday life, particularly the violent and anti-social ones. It presupposes that characters and real people can be fully understood (and therefore judged), which I believe to be not only impossible, but ethically wrong.

The Baltimore Riots and other events of social upheaval always produce the same reaction in me. Not: How could those people act that like that? But: How could those reporting on events (which, because of ‘likes’, shares and unseen algorithms, is actually you and I), cast absolutist judgement upon people whose circumstances we can’t fully comprehend, as they themselves can’t. This too is another reason why I hate that writing mantra Know your characters: How can I truly know my characters when I don’t understand all the things that make me me?

Not only do the episodes of one’s own life seen through the lens of chance obfuscate analysis of what motivates us – our childhood, our parent’s lives, our grandparent’s lives, and back through human history – but at a genetic level, when you analyse how genes move from generation to generation through natural selection. It is the interplay between their outward characteristics and the environment in which they find themselves, not foresight or inherent strength, that ensures their survival through time. Once you know this, you can’t help but come to the conclusion that really genes just make this shit up as they go along.

Then there are random geological and cosmic events that shape the course of the planet and life as a whole – an endless swirling and shifting series of events with (possibly) no primary cause, adding yet more uncertainly about what made us who we are.

And at the atomic level, Heisenberg stated that you can’t know the position and momentum of a particle to 100% accuracy. So if you can’t know that then how can you know everything about someone’s deeper motivations, which in turn are obscured by their own life’s events, and in turn their understanding of those same events.

Life is brimming with chance and the ever unknowable – it’s everything but perfect and absolute – and this is what we (as artists, as writers) must embrace if our work, however down-to-Earth, is to reflect the great mystery of existence.

The hard thing about this is, of course, when writing so called ‘evil’ characters (and if you’re still with me you’ll agree this is a useless term), or seeing ‘evil’ acts play out in society, trying to suspend judgement upon them is one of the hardest things we can do. If a group of guys broke into my house, for example, and assaulted me and my wife, I too would call them evil, would want absolute judgement to squeeze the breath from their throats. I too would not be able to forgive.

But we must try, because ultimately, however you think about it, there had to have been at least one Nazi who, while placing the cold barrel of his Luger to the back of the head of a Polish Jew, thought, ‘Seriously, what the hell am I doing?; there must have been one Cheka officer who, while denying a Kulak his daily allowance of bread, thought, ‘My wife is really not going to like this’; there must have been one RPKAD commando in Indonesia who, before raping the fifteen-year-old daughter of a suspected Communist, thought, ‘What if my own daughter found out?’ Then moral complexity is further muddled when we do not consider pilots of Allied forces carrying out the bombing of Dresden as monsters, do not view leaders of the Western world as having committed an atrocity when imposing economic sanctions on Iraq.

So, suspend your judgement in everyday life, if you can (and I, for my part, will try to suspend my judgement upon those who deal with sweeping, all-inclusive statements of evil), and maybe, just maybe, the characters you create may have a little mystery, may have a little of the unknown, may be dynamic enough to hold our attention until the last page.


Jason Greensides
Jason Greensides

 
The Distant Sound of Violence
A contemporary novel by Jason Greensides

WEBSITE: JasonGreensides.com
TWITTER: @jasongreensides
FACEBOOK: facebook.com/jasongreensidesauthor
GOODREADS: goodreads.com/Jason_greensides

 
 

“PRO” TIP: TAG AND YOU ARE IT — GUARANTEED!

girl-running

I always hated playing Tag as a kid – I was just too slow. I could never catch any of the faster kids, who just happened to be all the other kids but me. Consequently, once someone tagged me and I was “it,” it meant that I was really it and the game was basically over.

Less the teasing and the taunts…

Gawd I hated being slow as a kid.

Almost as much as I hated being tall and skinny…

I probably could have benefited from a therapy session or two back then to help me get over the emotional adolescent wounds I received from all the Tag trauma I had to suffer through.

Once I got over all the skinny geeky awkward lumbering stage at around sixteen and started to fill out a bit, I didn’t mind being tall quite as much and eventually I accepted the fact that I was always going to be slow as a truck…going uphill…on an ice-covered street. But dang, having to endure all the grief and nicknames such as “Lurch” until that stage was finally over sure wasn’t very much fun.

But you know what they say about all that kind of stuff…

“Builds character.”

Sure it does…

Anyway… Enough about poor little ol’ me…

Well, that’s not true…

There can never be enough of that.

Besides, once I realized I was pretty lucky to be tall and that it really didn’t matter how fast I could run, life became A-Okay.

And then shortly after I learned to appreciate my height, I realized how cute you short people are when you get jealous…

Which is practically all the time whenever you’re around us tall people.

Anyway… Enough about you short people…

For the longest time just hearing the word tag was enough to turn my stomach into knots and my feet into lead and make me wish the “Addams Family” had never been created.

You raaaang…

Until one day, not long after I joined the wonderful wacky world of WordPress, I realized that my fear of the word tag had finally come to pass.

For to tag within the blogosphere, I learned, was a good thing.

A very good thing…

Instead of having to chase after people, people would come chasing after me; and by me I mean my blog and the things I post to it.

Once I learned to effectively tag my posts, I found that I became it not in a bad way that always brought ridicule down upon me, but it in a good way, as in, “Hey, Kurt (and by Kurt I mean Kurt’s, I mean, my blog (speaking in the third person becomes habit-forming fast)) is hip and cool and if you ain’t there you must be square.”

Yeah, once I started effectively tagging my posts I/my blog became it in a very good way.

And the good news is, if you effectively tag your posts you, too, can become it in a very good way…or at least in a better way than before when you were not effectively tagging your posts.

And the reason is because WordPress pulls the tags from every post by every WordPress blogger (and there are millions of us!) and feeds them all into its WordPress Reader. And assuming that a fair share of the millions of us WordPress bloggers are also WordPress Reader readers, the chance that your effectively tagged post will be seen by more feeder readers than had it not been tagged effectively is pretty good.

Huh?

Anyway, some of the more popular tags I have found are “Writing,” “Poetry,” “Photography,” and “Art.” Chances are pretty good that you’ll see at least one of these in my tag list regardless the post. And then, depending on the context of the post, you can get more specific with your tags with key words and phrases such as “short stories,” “flash fiction,” “landscapes,” “nature photography,” “graphic art,” “drawings,” and on and on with whatever key words and phrases may fit your needs.

But a word of caution…

As in most aspects of life, too much of a good thing can become a bad thing.

You can tag your post with as many key words as you like, but if you have more than fifteen, WordPress will penalize the post by not showing it in any of its Reader feeds.

Another thing to keep in mind when considering what fifteen (or less) key words/phrases you want to tag your post with…

Category words and phrases are also included in that limit of fifteen.

The way I like to manage my posts are to identify one broad category word for the post, which can be thought of as a chapter heading of sort, and then fourteen tags, which can be thought of as an index of sort.

But how you want to tag and categorize your posts is obviously up to you. I just recommend picking the best key words from the post and to study the WordPress reader to find what tags are getting the most traffic and try to include those into your posts, if applicable.

I would discourage, as would many within the blogosphere, spamming your post with tags. And by that I mean including tags in your post that do not truly represent what your post is about.

To me spam tagging a post is like false advertising. It might work to draw readers in once or twice but after it’s been realized that your post has nothing to do with the tags you’re using, your blogging street cred will vanish, as will any traffic to your site.

The all knowing Google will tell you all you need to know about how to effectively tag your posts so go explore and bone up on it if you feel so compelled.

Just remember… no more than a total of fifteen tags and categories in one post.

If you remember that, along with learning how to effectively tag your posts, you too can become an it blogger.

And by it I mean cool…

And popular…

Even if you are as slow as Lurch from Addams Family.

Or as short as Cousin It…

See what I just did there?

Cousin It…as in it

Get it?

Ah, you short people are so cute.

“PRO” TIP: HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR WRITING RESOURCES — GUARANTEED! (QUICK TIP #3)

pen-and-magnifying-glass

If you include more than a combined fifteen (15) categories and tags in a post, the post will not show up in the WordPress Reader.

(Which is (or should be) every blogger’s worst nightmare since it essentially means the post is cast without regard unto the inescapable dark demented depths of the Place of the Unknown.)

 

BOOM!

QUICK TIP, PROPER!

And I bet you thought I couldn’t do it.

Am I right?

Yeah…

PEACE OUT

 

FOR MORE LIKE THIS >> CLICK CLICK

 

What are you looking for?

I said I was done.

Done like the setting sun…

“PRO” TIP: HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR WRITING RESOURCES — GUARANTEED! (QUICK TIP #2)

arrow-pro-tip

EXHIBIT #A - Click to Enlarge
EXHIBIT #A – Click to Enlarge

 

FOR MORE LIKE THIS >> CLICK CLICK

 

Um…excuse me, but, before you leave there’s just one more thing I need to say…

I know, I know…I said I was done, but I just remembered something that, well, it’s kinda important and relevant to the above QUICK TIP…

In fact, it just might make it obsolete soon…

Because it seems to me that we are right smack dab in the middle of some evil apocalyptic transition from the wonderful and stylish and user friendly “old” format, the one I described in the exceedingly quick QUICK TIP above.

No, no, we’re done with that tip so the rambling that’s going on now shouldn’t count against it.

Right?

Well, okay, you have a point. You’re right, regardless how we attribute this time we’re having together, it is, right now, right as your eyes warily flow over these rant-like words, eating hungrily away at the time you have remaining on this rock of a roll of a planet.

I got it.

Let me just say this final bit and I’ll let you go…

Great.

So like I was saying, it seems that the WP team, the team that I thought loved us so dearly, is in the slow painful process of migrating us to a new layout, a not-so-pretty geeky looking layout that is clunky, and un-user friendly, and, as far as I can tell, has no handy dandy universal Search Bar, which, of course, if you’re anything like me, leaves us frustrated and a little panicky from having to figure out where the heck the Search Bar is for each site we visit.

Evil.

Pure evil.

I present to you EXHIBIT #2:

EXHIBIT #2 - Click to Enlarge
EXHIBIT #2 – Click to Enlarge

That exhibit of an oncoming disaster should really be curdling your wheys right about now…if you’re anything like me.

And don’t even get me started on WP’s There’s now an easier way to create on WordPress.com! Switch to the improved posting experience garbage.

What the heck is that mess?

I tried using that and it made me so mad I broke three brand new, hadn’t even been sharpened yet, pencils over my knee! At once!!

I don’t know what’s going on over at WP’s Automattic team.

I really did believe that they loved us.

Or…maybe Google is behind this…

You know, ever since they abandoned their “Do No Evil” slogan after making their first grazillion, I wouldn’t put anything past them…

Never know…

Anyway…

Okay…

I’m done…

Thank you for letting me release that.

I feel much better now.

The only problem is…

I’m not sure how to end this…what?

QUICK TIP addendum?

I don’t know how to do what all the crafty writers do…

You know…bring everything full circle and leave us all with a witty, call to action, inspiration of a conclusion.

Hmm…

(thinking)

Nothing…

So, I guess I’ll just say…so long?

So long then…

Oh yeah!

One last thing before you go…

I just gotta say, I don’t know who it was who raided my account and sprayed the anarchic graffiti all over the place, but I’m more than a little miffed about it!

And, I tell ya, that is definitely not my facial hair!

And I tell you what, again…

I think I have a pretty good idea just who might have been behind this violation of both the sanctity and purity of my site, as well as my artistic sensibilities and integrity…

Yeah…

I’m pretty sure it’s the disgruntled smoker who unbelievably (and, I’ll be honest, quite awesomely) trolled my innocent little ol’ poem for the children. No, really…dude trolled my “Filthy, Nasty Butts” poem. I encourage you to witness for your own pleasure and bewilderment his magical troll-like advice for me by clicking right here. (and while there, give him some Love by clicking the “Like” star for his comment…I pretty sure he needs some)
[“PRO” TIP #2 IS GERMANE…]

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

 

“PRO” TIP: FOLLOW THIS SIMPLE ADVICE AND YOU, TOO, WILL HAVE ALL THE INFORMATION YOU NEED TO WRITE AND PUBLISH LIKE AN INDIE AUTHOR SUPER PRO – GUARANTEED!

book-store-fine-books
My advice is for you is to read, study, and, for best results, memorize word for word everything that Hugh Howey and JA Konrath have ever written and spoken and (if you can find a hack into their brain) thought about regarding the art and business of Indie Writing and Publishing. There are other worthy experts out there, but you might as well focus on and learn from the road-tested best. And that would be these two Super Pro Indie Authors.

That’s it.

See, I told you the advice was simple.

Now the follow through…yeah, well, not so much.

But no one ever said all this stuff was easy.

And if it were…then what fun would that be?

Write On, Writer!

(Coming Up: “Pro” Tip: NEVER EVER USE LONG TITLES AS HOOKS FOR YOUR POSTS! WELL, UNLESS IT ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY GUARANTEES IT WILL MAKE SOMEONE MONEY…OR BACON!)