Fear, focus, and the future. Here, C.M. Humphries writes about whatever.
The first thing they teach in art school is that a masterpiece will sell itself. This is the most untrue statement ever made. Now, it's hard to argue, especially as a writer, whether you have a masterpiece on your hand, but rest assure, no one is going to find you accidentally. No worries, though, here are 3 things you can do to increase your chances of selling an idea, and it works even if you're not an artist.
(BLOG ETHIC NOTE: You might notice I use "they" instead of "he" or "she" in many of my posts. This is an effort to remain gender-neutral and a choice of craft I implemented during linguistics courses at Ball State University,)
The reason show is more of focus than tell in a story is all due to the way we perceive information as human beings. Interestingly enough, Amanda Davis, a Byrn Mwar student, wrote, "It's become clear to me that humans' primary sight organ is our brain."
Even the recent democratic speech made by Bill Clinton tried to apply this notion. Rather than making promises to change America, he spent time getting the audience to visualize the democratic plan step-by-step with actual facts and practical explanation. Whether you side with democrats isn't relevant in order to see the way Clinton came off more emphatic and believable than any of the other speakers for any side of the presidential race.
If you apply this theory to the page, you'll quickly realize why certain books entertain and inform better than others. Sure words can be written on the page that tell the story. With a little more craft, a great description can provide an excellent visualization of geography and set the tone. But what's more effective, is constructing a story in a such a way that the reader can relate to multiple layers of the story, especially a character's actions - what a character does without much explanation.
In No-Injury Policy, I strive to showcase stories that rely more on character interaction than anything else. I haven't neglected eloquent description, and sometimes a little tell sets the scene like the beginning to a theater production. But if a character does something, then it's important that they don't need to say why. It should be obvious. And as for the things said character does, readers should be able to think, "Yeah, I thought about doing something like that before."
The general concept is to set characters in pressing social constructs (that nature of trangressive fiction) and have them live out the reactions we all wished we could live out. One example is the story "Sleep" from No-Injury Policy. In this story, a character named Adam Hope is a recent graduate/writer (how creative of me, right?) who is pressed by the norm of finding a "real" job. In short, he loses a lot of sleep while trying. We've all been in situations during which stress kept us wide awake through the night.
However, Hope is sickened by the expectation of having a great career right off the bat. The thing is, he's not alone. The rest of Long Brooke can't sleep, and soon they'll all going to show society just what they think. The idea of demonstrating our angers and frustrations to someone or something pressing is a dream for many of us; therefore I hope many of you will enjoy the tale. Admittedly, the story's a little off-the-wall.
It's this kind of retaliation that I think makes a good story. A character is in an extreme version of everyday life, faced with crushing social constructs, they want to break free, show people what they think of their norms, and pursue a vocation they truly enjoy. In most cases, a character who acts out the way we all think about doing is always the protagonist in our eyes.
Occasionally the bad buy will make us cheer on the inside, but that doesn't mean the character is the antagonist. He could simply be the anti-hero, or he could be the antagonist in the literal sense: The opposing force in front of a hero's goals. Then again, every protagonist is someone else's antagonist.
The same argument could be made for recent college graduates. You spend four years deep in ideology and practice, but once there's a taste of the real world, things change. Some of us live out our dreams. Some of us keep trying. And the weaker of us simply gives in. As the butler from "No-Injury Policy" says, "You're too young to understand now. You might say you would't do things just for money, but when you're an adult you'll be surprised at what you won't do for money."
Of course, the longer you live, the more you'll become for which you'll become responsible. In this sense, priorities need to be made in order to fulfill those responsibilities, but the dream still lives on somewhere. And this is where a good story comes in: It can at least allow us to imagine the things we always wanted to do. It only makes sense a good story can relate to us in such a manner.
While I aim to have my characters live out our best and worst ideas, it's important to note they are all "manning up." This is the difference between a great speaker and mumbler. It's the difference between a good character and a flat one. And it's crucial to real-life. In college, you learn all the things that are important to you. In some cases, you might even have a strong sense ethics. Unless you act out what you know, the information can dry out and render itself useless.
If you wish the world would operate a different way - a better way - practice that method in front of it in a manner is relatable to many, one which they can support. You might just be the catalyst for revolution.
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Freddy Hope is the victim of some serious insomnia in the story "Sleep" from my upcoming short story collection No-Injury Policy. The reason sleep is the topic of many of my stories is due to the one writer stereotype that is true about me: I often can't sleep or forget to sleep at a reasonable time when I'm working on a new story or novel.
However, the cure for both Freddy and me might be as simple as taking a nap. In the Rethinking Sleep article of The New York times, there are many theories on how sleeplessness arises, and now it's not just for the creative types. You could find yourself forgetting to sleep even if all you have is a cell phone.
If you hate your boss, you already know you're not alone. Let's face it, if you have a 9-5 you've heard all the chatter about how so-and-so is a suck-up or how the boss is arrogant, evil, sexist, stupid, etc. You might've even demonized your boss for a weak paycheck, a lack of hours, some personal comments, or favoritism. However, to play devil's advocate, your boss probably has a lot of responsibilities. When your boss has to focus on a lot every day, there might be some oversights, which really sucks when you're the oversight. But what if your boss turned out to be truly possessed by a demon?
It's you or me.
Before I piss you off too much, let it be known that I've had some pretty crummy jobs with crummy bosses. I'm talking about the kind of boss you wouldn't want to cross in an alleyway at night without bail bonds.
Shady hours, paychecks, responsibilities, unnecessary discipline, retaliation, favoritism: I've faced them all. Hell, I've even been at the wrong during the wrong time. Something went wrong one day at one of my previous jobs, and I was the victim of verbal assault and a little shoving. And I demonized the S.O.B. I actually felt like he was controlled by some paranormal entity that was ravenous for vengeance.
But what if my boss had been really plagued by some sort of demonic curse? That's when "No-Injury Policy" from No-Injury Policy comes in. It starts off with Nicholas Tanner, a family man, in search of a job to help support his household. Though I never specifically state it, the story does take place around the 1930s, a time when workers' unions faced a huge revitalization.
He works on a lumber mill that's known for being a harsh work environment with unacceptable pay, but for Mr. Tanner, it's a matter of money. Some income is better than no income. Once he works for the Douglas Lumber Mill for a few months, he starts to notice some of the rumors are true.
When he tries to support a workers' union, he faces real violence in the workplace and at home. When he tries to expose his boss, he learns he's actually a demon.
This is a fun story because we've all demonized our boss before, and in this story you get to live out the adventure of bringing an authority figure down.
What it comes down to is owner versus employee. While we all have certain obligations and bills to pay, a business is a business. With that said, a business will do whatever it needs to survive.
Your boss might actually give a shit about you, but if you're asking for a few dollars or a day off, he might think twice if it might risk his job or how the big wigs view him. In essence, if it's you or him, he's going to take a little self-interest. Wouldn't you do the same?
Passing the buck.
When your boss has to choose between his own job and yours, the decision may be quite easy. The problem is, once a situation is avoided altogether, it doesn't stop it from existing. Instead, the problem keeps snowballing until it's a real monster.
In a realistic sense, the problem you worked to deter may end up coming back to haunt you. Through a wacked-out metaphorical twist in the story, the demon posessing the owner of the Douglas Lumber Mill cannot be avoided; it has to be remedied.
If the buck is passed in "No-Injury Policy", the demon might need a new host. That's what demons do, right? To stop anyone from thinking I've spoiled the story, let me assure you I never take the predictable route if I can help it.
However, there is a story I've written in which the demon does take on a new host. You might recognize the name Douglas from the lumber mill. In fact, Raphael Douglas, Sr. is the grandfather of Liddell Douglas from Excluded. How he is possessed is not how you would think. The demon has to go through great lengths to reestablish its hold on the Douglas family.
A lot of my stories pass on ideas between the towns of Chase County. Many of my characters bump into each other. But no matter how unordinary my tale might be, it represents something very familiar. So if you hate your day job or you boss, maybe Excluded and No-Injury Policy are for you. If you would love to take down a tyrant in your life, they're especially for you, and I welcome you to continue reading for a sample of "No-Injury Policy".
Oh yeah, share your tale of an evil boss or pass this blog along for a chance to win a copy of No-Injury Policy. Score the most points, which is explained here, and I'll make a hand-bound edition just for you. Who's the worse boss you've ever had (no real names or real business names, please)?
Excerpt from "No-Injury Policy"
Earlier last week I was terrified to hear the iPhone 5 announcement. While Apple mentioned the retina display, the longer screen, Siri, it's light weight, and better resolution, no one really cared. People were all in line waiting for the release date to be announced. (By the way if you pre-order, the ship date has been pushed back.) Did you know Apple doesn't like to use the correct smart phone jargon? Their LTE software is being called "Ultrafast Wireless". Wow.
Now, it's not the fact that the iPhone isn't a huge improvement that bugs me. Personally, if you're excited about the new phone, be excited. It's hard to be excited these days, right? But the thing is, why the hell is anyone excited about the release date of a $300 phone? What other product doesn't need to introduce itself or convince consumers that it's worth buying?
Apple reps could have taken the stage and said, "We went back to our roots by making the iPhone the same size and weight as the original iPod, only it has the screen of the second gen. Oh, and the plastic mixed with the glass case smells like shit," and people still would throw their hard-earned money at Apple.
It beats the pinwheel.
To be clear, this isn't Apple-bashing (or is it mashing?). This is just a guy seeing such a wicked end to consumerism. Look, money exists. Even as an idealist, I get it. Money buys things. People with money can buy very nice things. I get it.
But should we beg a company to announce its next "slight" upgrade? Also, are we trusting smart phones too much?
To show you where I stand, I still have an old 3GS because it was $50 around the time my last phone broke. Admittedly, the iPhone is pretty cool, and I use it All.The.Time. For my next phone, I've been thinking of an Android, but the one fear settling at the back of my mind is how many viruses could infiltrate one of those phones. Then again, I don't look at porn on my smart phone, so I should be safe.
And there's my trust as a consumer. As long as I don't do anything wrong, I should be safe with a freakishly expensive phone. As for Apple users, most people will agree they like Apple products for all kinds of bullshitty reasons, especially the fact that Apple cannot be brought down by a virus.
Well, that's actually wrong. According to this Telegraph article, Apple dropped their "virus immunity" claims back in June of 2012. While I attended Ball State University there was a major OS virus break out. Just last April, I major Trojan invasion occurred under the guise of an Adobe Flash Update.
Computer viruses aren't the fear for me here. Apple isn't the only phone I'm talking about; it's the easiest example. When personal computers started to end up in nearly every home in America, there were major hacks. There still are major hacks. Apple or PC, every so often, there's a major cyber attack. My fear is that smart phones are at their peak, and soon they will all be hacked too.
"Here are the scary numbers: Cyberattacks on mobile phones rose by a factor of six this year, according to Intel (INTC, Fortune 500) subsidiary McAfee. Four in 10 mobile users will click an unsafe link on a smartphone this year, according to Lookout Security." - CNN.
With computers, people feel a lot safer knowing they can control the performance of their machine. For instance, to avoid viruses, check out the details of every site, link, or email before you click, download, or open. For me, even if a site is said to be legitimate, I won't click on anything if it looks like a 5th grader made the site with Paint.
However, on mobile sites, what looks legitimate? Every site with a mobile option is usually plain and clean. This makes it easy to click the wrong link. Soon enough, you're phone could be invaded. And let me ask you, how do you update your anti -virus, -spyware, and -malware software manually on your phone?
Perhaps all of this is a little Y2K in nature, but I'd be curious to see if anyone else agrees. I don't suspect people will like this article if they just forked over some big bucks for the 5.
Do You Think We Trust Smart Phones Too Much?
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If you're reading this blog right now because you have nothing better to do, then this entry might be for you. Don't despair, though, I aim to show you how being an outcast or even a loser is one of the greatest things that can ever happen to you. Bill Gates, Stephen King, Lady Gaga . . . All these people had rough starts. They sat alone during high school lunch periods. They were the last picked for sports. Now they're the most prominent names in their fields. Why? Because losers are more creative and make the world not only go 'round, but they also change it. Don't believe me? Believe science.
Many of the stories I write require a suspension of disbelief at some level. Let's face, even though my stories may be based on real events and active ideologies, sometimes I add a few things that probably wouldn't occur in real life. Then again, if you're writing fiction, you should have fun with it.
In writing, you're free to convey whatever message you'd like, but you should always do your research. Like I said, I require certain plot events to slip by without scrutiny, but in return I've provided all the facts to make a story work. My primary focus is some sort of neuroscience usually. That is, when you're writing about extreme reactions to social pressures, you need to know a little bit about the way of the mind, including consciousness, sexuality, and emotion response. When you don't, you end up like Naomi Wolf's Vagina.
Almost anything can inspire me to write. As Stephen King would say, "Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, while the rest of us just get up and go to work." There's no reason to force inspiration, and sometimes, it's best to make time and push out some creativity. However, when it comes to my fiction, a story really fleshes out when I discover a new fear.
While no one enjoys the sensation of being lost, I always feel I have a good handle on location and rarely panic when I make a wrong turn. Let's face it, some of us aren't as geographically savvy as others. When we're totally lost, we're scared shitless for a moment. That's me in New York last summer. And the following is what both provided inspiration for a story and the fearful turn it needed.
There isn't a single character in No-Injury Policy who doesn't have a problem. In the case of Mike from " Façade": After his brother Ray moves in, Mike finds difficulty in relating to people, which ultimately leads him down a road where only roulette-styled monogamy connects him to another human being, or more specifically, generative rendezvous. It's not just the sexual encounters that keep him going, he also has several other vices. Mike can't be considered to be a hedonist without first realizing the commonplace of such social engagements.
Fear, focus, and the future. C.M. Humphries talks about writing, horror, and whatever.