Friday, March 16, 2012

The Witch's Brew- The Writer and the Living Dead, Part Two of Four

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds..."  Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Wile E. Coyote, Supergenius. I like the way it rolls out. Wile E. Coyote, Supergenius."  Wile E. Coyote


Sometimes you just have to scrape them off the windshield.

Zombie writers.

The ones who shuffle mindlessly down the street with nowhere particular to go and the only word they can spell correctly is "hungry."

But they should have seen it coming.  This reporter saw it coming.  Writer's rear ends are getting much larger.

They drank the witch's brew, the one labeled "I don't have to leave this chair.  Google will save me."  So now they wander the literary streets wondering why their writing doesn't ring true.  Doesn't sound authentic.  Sounds kind of like it was made up.  Actually, it was made up.

Worse yet, Hemingway was right.  People that never leave their writer's chairs get kind of big on the back end.

"This is great," one zombie-ized writer told me.  "I can write stories that happen anywhere in the world.  I don't have to travel, I just use Google Earth."

She asked to remain anonymous, so I'm leaving her name out of this interview so I can blackmail her later.  I mean use it to advantage later.  I hope she doesn't read this.

"But do you truly get a feel for that country?"  I asked.   "Enough for your reader's to trust you?  To allow you the convincing narrative authority enabling them to suspend their disbelief and enter completely into your story?  And do you have to keep eating Doritos while we talk?  Don't they have a million calories per bag?"

She twirled a wild lock of red hair and smiled.

"Honey, most of my readers watch Keeping up with the Kardashians.  The rest of them actually don't believe Dancing with the Stars is rigged.  And I can eat all the Doritos I want, dear.  I just ordered the Brazilian Butt Makeover so calories don't count.  It said so on the infomercial."

"You don't seem to like your readers," I observed.  "You get all the information in your books from Google and infomercials.  Is that why you have a Ginsu knife as the murder weapon in one of your murder mysteries?"

"I love my readers.  My readers worship me."

"But you don't really go out and experience life so that you have something to share with them.  How can they trust you with matters of emotional truth if you don't really have a life?  You never seem to leave your computer chair.  Aren't you just recycling third party information?  Why don't you get up from your chair and see and smell the towns you're writing about and talk to the people you're writing about?"

She actually recoiled in her chair.  I felt terrible.  Clearly I'd reminded her of past experiences, where she actually saw her friends instead of Facebooked them.  Times when she actually walked city streets to know what they were like.  Those were the days when she knew the nuantial difference between the word "mean" as it was used in "mean city streets" and as a participating adjective in the movie title "Mean Girls."

I was about to apologize when I saw her on Facebook cutting and pasting conversations.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

"Collecting dialogue for my next book," she said vaguely.

"You don't write your own dialogue?  You cut and paste it from Facebook conversations?  You have no feelings, no writer's heart.  You can't write about reality," I screamed,  "if your only reality comes from a computer monitor.  Dialogue should come from your created character's heart!"

Without looking up she said, "You get some good dialogue off of Twitter sometimes, but you've got to really look hard."

I left the interview with a journalistic epiphany- when zombie-ized writers throw themselves against the windshield of your life, this journalist says to just keep driving. 


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

One thing I'm grateful for is my military brat upbringing. I've lived in and visited so many amazing places and seen the diversity that is humankind.

Travis Cody said...

Oh, zombies. I've always suspected that I wouldn't survive the zombie apocalypse. Yikes!

This is another post that resonates with me. A character's voice comes from his surroundings and his experiences. And settings are also characters. If a writer can't see the setting in multiple dimensions, then the people moving through the story will also be flat.

If one is only getting information about places from a computer screen, then one can't possibly apply all of one's senses to describing the place. We can't know how something tastes or feels or sounds. We can only describe what the picture looks like.

Rick said...

No wonder you write with such a powerful narrative voice.

By the way, your book arrived from the publisher today. We'll post the review up at White Cat Magazine Monday night.

Rick said...

They're everywhere, Travis.

And I don't think you'll ever be a zombie-ized writer. Ever.

BernardL said...

How about when a writer, like our friend Charles Gramlich, creates Talera in a Sci/Fi novel. Or when I created Casserine in mine. We obviously didn't go to those places. We couldn't even Google them. :)

I'm sure a writer can imagine just about anything in creating scenes as long as they research the real place they're writing about well enough. I've never been to Paris, France, but I have been to Hong Kong. I bet I could write a scene in Paris as well as I can one in Hong Kong, and the reader would not miss a beat. As to dialogue, I'd wager more people copy Facebook and Twitter dialogue into their everyday conversations than the other way around. :)

Rick said...

Good question, Bernard.

Usually its raised re portraying characters who are drug addicts, murderers, werewolves (a.k.a. my new novel "Tainted Blood."

Do I have to become a drug addict to write about one? Do I have to murder someone to write about a murderer? I'm going to go with "no" as an answer for both questions.

Too many use that "get-out of jail clause" as an excuse for not leaving the chair and getting as close to the reality they are writing about as possible.

For example, if a writer is writing a scene set in a morgue, would it really hurt them to get off their butt and visit a morgue instead reading what others have written and "fine tuning it?" Do we really have to be that lazy.

As to science fiction et al, I'll be asking Alex that very question this weekend when I interview him. I'll be posting the interview so you can see it for yourself. I think you'll find it surprisingly different from what you think.

Neurotic Workaholic said...

Most of my stories are set in Chicago, because that's been my adopted hometown for years. It's much easier to write about what I know. I can see your point in that we shouldn't rely too much on Google, but on the other hand, a lot of writers do research. They don't necessarily have to go to every place or experience everything that they write about in their fiction, because that's not always possible. There are ways to do research without actually going somewhere; for example, in addition to online research, they can also make phone calls, do interviews, or read books and articles. That's what a lot of my favorite writers have done, and they didn't do a lot of traveling either. It's not just laziness that prevents people from traveling. Sometimes it's because of a lack of time, money, and resources. And you can learn a lot from Google, if you look in the right places.

And Doritos are yummy.

Rick said...

Hello NW! I agree with you, except that for too many writers now, the actual research is limited to blitzkrieg check on the Internet to learn as little as they can as quick as they can.

Also, good writers do whatever amount of research it takes to understand a locale. Bad writers throw in key phrases they find and, well, you'd be amazed how many stories submitted to us that have the exact same phrases copied from exactly the same place.

The meaning of good research for too many writers now means throwing in a television special to draw from.

Here's an interesting example, however, narrowing down what I mean. I know a struggling Southern writer who relocated north and is currently writing a novel set in Poland. She spends a lot of time on Wikipedia researching the country. Since she rarely leaves her computer, it came as a great surprise to her to learn by accident that her next door neighbor moved her from Poland as did the people across the street. After learning this she never once interviewed them. She later explained to me that " takes a lot of time to talk to people."

Charles Gramlich said...

To get the concrete power of reality into a story, you definitely have to do more than look out your window. On the other hand, experiences that a writer actually has can be broken down into fragments and reinvented and recombined in ways to give a sense of reality to all kinds of fictional experiences. Thus, Talera! That said, I wish I had more travel under my belt, more experiences. It all serves as grist for the mill.

Rick said...

Charles! You stole my next post. (and you said it better than me) :)