Why Canon Matters

WARNING: SPOILER ALERT FOR DOCTOR WHO SERIES 12 FINALE EPISODE. 

I know I said I was done with Who but I promise this isn’t just another reason to rag on the series 12 finale and why The Timeless Children is undoubtedly the most insulting episode to anyone that cares about Doctor Who and its history.

The more I thought about this episode and all its foibles, the more I realized I had to say on the subject of canon and continuity as a whole. I’ve seen many different shows and movies fall pray to the desertion of both the holy “Cs” and they have suffered in quality as a result. This is particularly common in TV shows within the fantasy and science fiction genre.

There is the commonly used defense within the Who fandom that postulates that Doctor Who canon has always been messed up and, therefore, doesn’t matter. After all, it’s a show where “anything can happen” so it stands to reason any changes made (no matter how contradictory to the themes and history of the show) are to be accepted.

Firstly, I reject the premise that “anything can happen” in a story regardless of how mercurial in nature the narrative may be.

When you create a fictional world it is imperative to create continuity (or “rules” if you prefer) so the viewer knows what can and cannot happen in this world.

Harry Potter cannot use an AK-47 to mow-down Death Eaters, Walter White cannot use telepathy to melt Gus Fring’s head, and Joe from You can’t use vampire mind-control powers to win Beck’s affections.

Why? Because these things would interfere with each stories’ internal logic.

This isn’t to say there can’t be twists along the way that may call into question previous notions about a character’s past or motivations, but these twists should complement rather than contradict the world in which they are taking place.

If you just haphazardly throw in an unplanned twist that messes with logic of that respective universe, you usually end up with one of these guys.

tumblr_4086cdbe7c832ed6a367a7b2aa757986_3ff491b7_540

Let’s use Who as an example.

If the Time Lords gained regeneration energy from The Doctor as a child, how did River Song obtain regenerative abilities? Presumably, if the Time Lords weren’t given regeneration energy from exposure to the Eye of Harmony this shouldn’t be possible and River Song should be entirely human.

If Ruth is supposed to be The Doctor before Hartnell, why is her TARDIS a police telephone box when its chameleon circuit had not been broken yet?

Why didn’t Clara see any of the female Doctor’s when she jumped into The Doctor’s time-stream?

Why did the Time Lords need to give The Doctor more regenerations when he literally has an infinite amount of them?

everything_was_making_sense-500x254

The answer is simple: Because the change in the canon wasn’t supposed to happen.

Imagine someone gives you a jigsaw puzzle as a gift. You pour all the pieces onto the table and work for hours to recreate the picture you see on the box. However, it quickly becomes apparent the picture isn’t forming the way it is supposed to. In fact, many of the pieces appear to be from a different jigsaw puzzle altogether. When you confront your friend on why this is, they explain to you that this is how it’s supposed to look and, if you don’t see it, you’re an idiot. And so you give it another try, forcing the pieces together, bending them and contorting them so they will fit within the whole. You take a step back only to realize no matter how much you try to bend the pieces, they do not–will never–form a coherent picture.

source-1

This is what it is like when canon is tampered with arbitrarily. Anything you change in the past will invariably have a ripple effect, causing everything that happened prior to the “amazing revelation” to no longer make sense.

This drastically hampers the audience’s capacity to suspend disbelief which negatively impacts their ability to be engaged in what they are watching.

I don’t know about you, but if I am forced to do mental gymnastics in order to justify creatively bankrupt decisions in my media, I tend to just give up.

If “anything can happen,” then why does anything matter? If a character dies they can just be brought back to life through some improbable means. If a “rule” prevents a character from obtaining their goal, it can be retconned with or without explanation.

There’s no reason for the audience to internalize any new information because it will only be discarded at the writers’ convenience.

This robs the story of tension, mystery, heart and everything else that makes a good story worth telling.

I’m perfectly fine with subverting an audiences expectations, but just because something is shocking that doesn’t mean it’s good.

Thanks for reading!

Diary of a Pantser Turned Plotter: Status Update

I wrote a couple weeks ago about my conversion from a pantser into a plotter.

Since then I have continued to hammer away at this outline and I thought it would be interesting to talk about my experience with it so far.

Firstly, I still find my new and improved method of plotting leaps and bounds better than my leap-of-faith “strategy” of my pantser days. Knowing I’m creating a roadmap and not frolicking aimlessly through a dark forest where I will be eaten by some manner of nameless beast is a relief I can barely put into words.

However……there were a few misconceptions I had about being a plotter.

For one thing, I was under the impression that if I used this method I would never get stuck.

giphy-3

This is not true.

As the novel progressed, more and more characters came into the fold. Characters that demanded to be developed with hopes, dreams, and background.

Then there was the world-building to be considered, all the countries, and histories, and landmarks, and cultural norms, etc.

Sometimes I ran out of ideas and wondered if my advancing of this country would call something else I had written into question, forcing me to re-write an entire religion/national history.

giphy-6

I took a bit of a respite from plotting to mull over what the plot/characters should do next and I have discovered that I will just have to plow through and potentially draft a new outline should this one take a turn I wasn’t anticipating.

I thought outlining would be a lot faster than this. I was under the impression I would be able to finish it in about a week or so and have done with it.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case.

It probably doesn’t help I have a full-time job, a withering sense of purpose, and a wedding to plan.

giphy-4

I suppose this is what I get for attempting to write an involved fantasy when I have the attention span of a canary with ADHD.

tenor

Even saying all this, I am glad I have given being a plotter a chance. It has forced me to be active in my story-telling rather than passive. So often while I was writing my stories, I would place certain details like world-building and the like on the back-burner, thinking I would “just fix it later.”

While “fixing it later” was an option, I was oftentimes so overwhelmed with the prospect of having to change things, I usually ended up abandoning the project all together.

By mapping things out I feel like I am in control of my fictional world.

Furthermore, I feel like I’m doing my characters a favor by giving them a fully fleshed out world to populate rather than a half-backed skeletal plane where they have to stop what they are doing every five minutes because their dumbasss writer doesn’t know what holiday they are supposed to be celebrating or what town they live in.

Plotting hasn’t been a fairy-tale solution to my problem but it has helped.

Personally, I recommend it.

Why I Converted From a Pantser into a Plotter

I think most people in the writing blogosphere know what a pantser and plotter are by now, but just in case you don’t, here’s a quick definition:

A “pantser” is someone who writes based on their intuition, or “flying by the seat of their pants.”

7ELm
Actual footage of me as a pantser

A “plotter,” however, well….plots.

That isn’t to say pantsers don’t have a picture in their head of where the story is going, they just trust more in their innate ability to navigate the story.

I used to be one such person.

It was fun.

You discover this brave new world with characters and settings, world-building and plot. Every action is unpredictable, every environment as new to you as the characters. It’s basically like the universe is telling the story to you and it’s up to you to transcribe it for others to read.

tenor

The winds pick up and the story accelerates faster and faster until you look at the clock and discover it’s nearly 11 p.m.

You reluctantly carry yourself to bed, head buzzing impatiently for the new day to begin so you can start the whole process over.

The next day comes and you sit before your desk, ready to feel the metaphorical winds in your hair yet again, but then…..

giphy

You get stuck.

You have no idea how your MC is going to vanquish their enemy. The momentum of the story is lost. Worse than that, you know the beginning and tiny fraction of the climax but absolutely nothing in between.

You wrack your brain for a solution, but nothing comes. You doubt the validity of your own talents. Eventually, you either convince yourself the story was never worth telling in the first place, or you form the delusion you’re just “taking a break” from this story until something comes to you.

Your computer becomes a graveyard of incomplete projects.

This was my story.

It wasn’t as though I’d never tried to be a plotter. It just seemed to me as though I wasn’t cut out for it. The muse didn’t like restrictions, you know?

I didn’t need Siri to tell me to turn left at the stop sign. My heart would lead the way!

giphy-2

…….Except it didn’t.

Or it only lead me to a certain point and then ditched me.

giphy-4
My muse after I hit a plothole

I spent so many nights marinating on my affliction. I was a failed pantser and a failed plotter. So what was I to do?

After a long while, I found myself once again bitten by the writing bug. Yet again, I tried playing it by ear only to fall flat on my face for what felt like the 550th consecutive time.

And so I decided I would give plotting one more try……

Holy shit was that a good idea. 

giphy

Turns out I was doing the whole thing wrong.

Rather than slowly building up to a story, planning out the characters and their arcs, I tried boiling my entire story down to a couple of sentences jotted on notebook paper. Mostly because–while I acknowledged the benefits of plotting– I simply didn’t want to do it. I was aching with anticipation to get started. I wanted to craft sentences not make a map.

Maps are boring.

Writing is fun.

What I didn’t realize is it didn’t have to be that way.

Instead of relegating my entire novel to 500 word essay, I made an outline for each. I broke them down based on what I wanted to achieve, what I wanted the characters to think and feel, and how it impacted the plot.

I was able to create cultures and histories as well as characters and plots.

I anticipated plot-holes before they happened.

I could re-work and experiment with story elements without having to completely start over from scratch because I hadn’t actually begun the writing stage yet.

IoJhIim

Most importantly, I saved myself weeks, months, maybe even years of turmoil trying to make all the puzzle pieces fit together.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s still hard work and I do get stuck occasionally. However, it takes a lot less time to re-write a plot-map than it does to completely restructure your story over again because you decided to go another direction.

If being a panster has been working for you and you’ve had no issue completing projects, God bless you, you beautiful freak of nature.

For the rest of you that have found yourself frustrated and directionless, I whole-heartedly recommend you give plotting a serous looking into.

It’s not nearly as boring or regimental as it sounds.

I’ve actually found it more enjoyable than flying by the seat of my pants because I actually have confidence that my story is going in the direction it needs to go.

If it worked for someone like me, I’m willing to bet it will work for many of you.

tenor

Happy Writing!

 

 

Falling Back in Love with the Library

I have a confession to make.

While I consider myself to be a major reader, up until about three weeks ago, I had not frequented a library in almost 2 years.

giphy-3.gif

Before you judge,I had a good reason (or at least I thought). Life was getting hectic and I have no impulse control. I was checking out 3 to 4 books at a time, only to get through about a quarter of one of them.

Then there came the hassle of remembering to take the damn things back days after their due-dates, scolding myself for  not being a more proactive reader, only to rinse and repeat forever and ever until the end of time.

Eventually, I stopped going altogether.

I would buy my books from now on, I decided. Why would I subject myself to all these steps when I could just cut out the middle man? This way I could keep a book as long as I wanted, treat it in any condition I chose, and discard it at my leisure (or leave it to languish on my bookshelf until I die).

I had some good memories of the library. I recognized its importance not only to readers, but the welfare of their respective communities at large.

But I was over it.

I had Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Half-Price Books, and any number of privately owned bookstores all with books that I could have all to myself.

It wasn’t until the Christmas season encroached that I considered frequenting the old haunts. My desire for reading had not been hampered, but my pocketbook–after buying present upon present for immediate family, in-laws, friends, this Dirty Santa and that Dirty Santa–was crying.

AnyValidIncatern-size_restricted
Actual footage of my wallet after Christmas shopping

And so I went.

I had forgotten what it was like to step into a library.

From the get-go there are just rows upon rows of titles calling out for your attention. Old books, new books, classics, commercial fiction, biographies and histories. There are endless possibilities.

And the best part is you get to enjoy them for free.

tumblr_inline_nlpbjbv8Cj1t507a3540.gif

While this sounds like a small consolation, it really adds up. Not only are you able to indulge in your habit, you are free to explore other genres. When you are expected to pay for something it is easy to become miserly. You aren’t sure if you’ll like something and so you tend to stick to what you know. How many of us have gone to restaurants only to order the same meal every time for fear of not liking the newer option?

However, if there is no penalty for branching out, you are more likely to give something new a chance. Even if it isn’t something you would normally chose.

This allows you to discover even more writers and stories and broaden your perspective on whatever subject you choose.

To me this is one of the greatest gifts a library gives: A chance to explore.

As of this writing, I have about four books checked out and I hope to read every one of them.

Happy Holidays!

Being a Writer is…

Being a writer is-

..spending hours trying to describe how a character walked through a door.

…looking up synonyms for “said” every other sentence.

…typing for 3 hours straight and then deleting everything but one sentence the next day.

…having 10 works in progress you’re probably never going to finish.

…imagining yourself discussing your books on a talk-show even though you’ve never finished anything.

…drinking so much coffee you consider cutting out the middle-man and just getting a caffeine IV drip.

…overthinking movie and TV plot-lines and envisioning how you could write them better.

…washing down crippling self-doubt with a bottle of Captain Morgan.

…forgetting to eat because you’re almost finished writing that scene you’ve already written 6 different times and will likely write 30 more.

…convincing your relatives what you do is still relevant to a society that thinks watching rich people getting manicures somehow qualifies as entertainment.

…asking Google things that should probably get you put on a watchlist or excluded from a dinner party.

…having a million tabs open at all times.

…going to a coffee place so often the staff begins to recognize you and you have to start going somewhere else to avoid the awkwardness.

…wondering if your story idea has already been written by someone more talented and attractive than you.

…needing to use your “lucky pen” that you do your best writing with.

…spending 10 minutes looking up just the right white noise so you can concentrate for once in your life.

…composing a strongly-worded essay in your head while in the shower and immediately forgetting how to speak your own language as soon as you open a blank document.

…meticulously researching to get even the most minuscule detail correct in spite of the fact most readers probably won’t notice.

…reading the best writing advice and not following any of it.

…anxiously awaiting feedback on a W.I.P. from a friend/family member only for them to eventually tell you it was “good.”

…habitually fluctuating between thinking you’re a total artistic genius and everything you’ve ever written is an insult to the written word in the span of thirty minutes.

…hoarding stories told to you by friends and family in hopes of using it to flesh out a character one day.

…combing through your work to make sure everything is correct, only to print it and immediately find an escape.

…writing tirelessly for hours only to produce a handful of paragraphs people can read in five minutes tops.

…looking up writing memes instead of actually writing something.

…reading blog posts about writing to avoid your W.I.P.

…actually writing.

tenor

That First Damn Line

If anyone were to look up from their dinner plates at me at this moment they would see someone on the verge of taking a plastic spoon from her empty soup bowl and gouging her own eyes out.

I’m at a restaurant under the false impression that I am going to be doing some writing this afternoon.

I need to leave my house, I thought. There are too many distractions here. Surely if I go out into the world inspiration will just pour out of me.

Instead I ordered my food, sat down, fitfully read over my first draft, got food, and persisted to languish over a blank document for almost an hour.

Now my food is gone but my frustration remains.

The reason being I can’t think of that first line.

Every good story has an amazing opening hook, one that sinks its teeth into a reader and refuses to let go. The line that’s like a rabid dog, frothing at the mouth, refusing to relent. The harder you try to shake free from it, the more it fights back.

I do not have that line.

I’m blocking.

I have a deadline, but I can’t stop resisting.

I type one line.

No, that’s wrong.

Delete.

I type another.

Wrong.

Delete.

Is this story even worth telling?

Type.

Delete.

Would music help?

Delete.

Should I read some more?

Type.

Delete.

Does anyone else care whether or not I finish this?

Delete.

Cliche.

Delete.

Cheesy.

Delete.

Perhaps the problem is not with the sentence. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with the work itself but the expectation I’ve placed on myself.

I try to follow the current. To let the voice and tone of the piece speak through me, nevertheless, there’s that wood pecker of a critic, pecking away at my brain as I type.

If I try to escape, to take a break, I will not come back to it. I  will delay and wait for a perfect day that will never come. A day where I will be free of apprehension and self-doubt.

I wait for it.

I wait for it in the florescent lights, swallowed up by the light sound of chatter and the scraping of silverware on porcelain.

Type.

Delete.

The Most Beautifully Awful Writing Advice Ever

Recently I was introduced to a gorgeous poem by the late Charles Bukowski called “so you want to be a writer?”

Here’s a small exert:

if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
typewriter
searching for words,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it for money or
fame,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.
if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.

You can read the poem in it’s entirety here of you could listen to a reading of it here.

It’s beautiful, right? Inspiring, powerful—something you would want to make a wall decal out of to impress your friends at dinner parties.

It’s also very, very, very, very, very, very wrong.

In fact, it’s difficult to recall anything that I’ve read that has been so astronomically wrong about writing.

Don’t misunderstand me, when he’s talking about writing for fame and fortune and sex he’s totally on the mark. Precious few writers reach the level of world-wide recognition and if you only want to write for accolades then you clearly don’t have what it takes to succeed in this craft. However, he also says–

“if you have to sit there and rewrite it again and again/don’t do it”

and

“if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it/don’t do it.

not-how-this-works.gif

Uhhhh….I don’t know a single solitary person, good writer or bad, who does not struggle with sitting down and writing.

I also do not know a single solitary person who has never had to suffer through a rewrite.

You know, because first drafts are dumpster fires of confusion and poor grammar.

For those of you who are fans of Charles Bukowski , did he not rewrite any of his poetry? My education on the man is lacking so that’s entirely possible. Nevertheless, if it’s true that he didn’t then he is an anomaly.

His poem goes on to say that a person should wait until the fires of passion are so hot  they have no choice but to let them out before writing something.

“if you have to wait for it to roar out of you, then wait patiently/ if it never does roar out of you, do something else.”

tenor

I have had moments where the desire to write something was so powerful that I felt like the story was literally trying to push its way out of me, but I’ll be the first to admit that these moments are few and far between.

If you wait until you feel as if you physically have no choice but to write something, odds are you will never finish anything.

The Inspiration Fairy is a very fickle creature and will oftentimes screw off at random, leaving you with no will to go on.

My favorite quote about inspiration goes as follows “I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately, it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”

Courting inspiration is a lot like trying to find a significant other. You can’t just sit around and wait for someone to notice you.

I have found that the best way to attract inspiration is to have a set amount of time each day to write. Believe it or not, the more you write the more inspiration is likely to show up. There have been months where I have struggled to produce anything; however, once I made the decision to write for at least an hour every day, writing started to become less of a drag.

I found myself feeling more and more motivated and my writing began to suck a little bit less.

Better yet I actually started to finish things I started.

IoJhIim

Did that mean I never struggle? Hell no. I’m struggling right now, to be honest. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do it.

Same goes for you.

Struggling isn’t a sign you should quit, it’s simply a byproduct of trying.

And if you aren’t interested in trying then, and only then, would I say–

Don’t do it.

I’m Still Alive and Also Writing Things, or Going on a Writing Bender

It’s been an inexcusably long time since I update this blog, I know.

I try to update at least once a week, but this obviously hasn’t been happening recently. I have a good reason for this, however……

Okay, not a good reason, but it is a reason nonetheless.

You see, I’ve actually been writing recently. Like properly writing. Every day. Ever. Single. Day.

You know, that thing I’m supposed to do but blog about instead. And, to be frank, I’ve been more concerned with this project than I have updating. I’m starting a new chapter in my life and I think this is the start of more serious writing.

I can’t tell you how awesome this has been. I feel like I’ve been training for a triathlon for months and made first place.

This could potentially mean I update every other week rather than every single week. However, I don’t plan on abandoning this blog any time soon. I’ve put too much work into it so far.

I will see you guys later!

*plays theme music*

My time has come.

Your Characters are NOT Your Friends: A Public Service Announcement for Writers

I’ve seen several Instagram posts that say things like “is it sad that my characters are my best friends?” or “I have more conversations with my characters than I do with real people. Is that bad?”

Yes. Yes, it is.

Not because you’re a wallflower with friends that exist only in your mind. That’s perfectly normal*.

It’s sad because this means one of two possibilities: One, you are a horrible friend, or two, you are way, way, way too nice to your characters.

It’s natural to form an attachment to people that you’ve created. People have been doing this for centuries. The problem is when you care too much about someone, you want to nurture them, perhaps even protect them from impending doom.

tumblr_mo538zNuH21sp9fcho1_250.gif

You cannot do this with your characters.

If you want a good story, you must put your characters through hell. Kill their families, have their lovers break-up with them, have owls eat their dogs. Nothing is allowed to go their way, or at least not for very long.

Loving your character too much might encourage you to go easy on them, to pull punches. Don’t do this. The best characters are forged in fire.

Another problem you can run into is making your characters too perfect. You want the audience to love your characters as much as you do, so you will have them always put their best foot forward. Problem is no one actually wants to read about perfect characters. Real people aren’t perfect so reading about someone who is takes the reader out of the story, constantly reminding them that what they are seeing is an illusion. And not even an entertaining one at that.

tumblr_inline_ml0n7gY9Ob1qz4rgp.gif

Lastly– and I hate to break this to you– if your characters were magically able to obtain a physical form and interact with you they would probably hate you.

I’m not saying you’re a bad person it’s just that….

Let’s face it, you are responsible for every bad thing that has ever happened to them. Every illness, every death, every catastrophe that has every entered their lives is on you. You could literally make all their problems go away with the scratch of a pen. And yet, you sit there, drinking your coffee like a psycho.

mbE1Vzo.gif

I’m not saying you shouldn’t care about your characters at all, if you don’t care then the audience probably won’t be persuaded to either. Just keep in mind that in order for them to reach their full potential, you must keep an emotional barrier between yourself and your creations.

A mother hawk may love her babies, but she’ll still push them out of the nest so they can fly.

Some of them may die, but it’s a risk you’re going to have to take.

*I have been informed that this actually isn’t normal and that most people have friends that exist in the real world. I was so shocked I couldn’t even find a gif that appropriately conveys my emotions. 

My Muse Hates Free Time

Does anyone else get their ideas when it’s most inconvenient?

I think I am at my most creative during the height of the school semester where everything is due and my entire future hangs in the balance..

I’ll be mentally calculating how much time I should commit to studying and she’ll show up, donut in hand, asking “hey, what would it be like if the human race was forced to live under the sea?”

“Now is not a good time,” I’ll say, reading about Metella and how she likes to sit in the atrium.

“What if they were down there for so long that they forgot what life on land was like?”

I’ll pause. “That sounds kind of cool.”

“Yeah. You should totally spend the next five hours thinking about it.”

“I have a test tomorrow in a foreign language.”

“If you don’t write down everything now you will forget about it and you’ll never be published. You will spend the rest of your life working a 9-5 grind. Your soul will become drier and drier until you are simply a husk of inadequacy.”

“Crap. You’re right.”

When I actually have some downtime, however, my muse can’t be bothered. She’ll be out partying with her other muse friends, only to turn up around 12 a.m. to tell me about how she worked out a way to fill that plothole in my last project. Which, of course, I’ll be too tired to do anything about.

Writers aren’t supposed to wait for their muses to show up. They’re meant to start writing and slowly their muses will materialize.

But it’s so much more difficult writing without her. She makes it more exciting. Sure, she doesn’t always have the best ideas, but at least she makes it fun.