I’m looking for early, beta readers for “Mountain of Shadows,” the second book in the City of Words series. Did you love the first book? Then read the second book, early, for free.
You’ll be sent a free copy of the book, and a small questionnaire that will help me to improve the book before it’s officially released.
Email me if you are interested. firstname.lastname@example.org
Keep going: Writing is just finding the next best word… and then keeping that going until the story is complete. It’s the kind of process that fits best into an 80s movie, training montage, with a catchy inspiring song playing in the background. Maybe something like, “You’re the best, the best. Nothing’s ever gonna keep you down.” Though in reality, the actual long-form, unabridged version of writing is nothing that you would ever pay money to see. It’s measured in months or years; and to the outside casual observer looking in, it’s probably altogether fantastically boring. But if you keep going, in the end, out of this seemingly monotonous process, you’ll have something that can be bound, and something that people may actually want to read. But that only happens by writing a full story. No one ever reads half a story, or watches half a movie and says, “That was amazing. I loved the surprise ending.” It’s true, in life, some things are only good if they are finished. (The obvious exception being cookie dough; that stuff is great just how it is.)
This is how Wikipedia defines Dystopian:
A dystopia (from the Greek δυσ- and τόπος, alternatively, cacotopia, kakotopia, or anti-utopia) is an imaginary community or society that is undesirable or frightening. It is literally translated as “not-good place”, an antonym of utopia.
You know that tense, uneasy feeling that you get in your stomach when you read a Dystopian novel? – And when you get to the end of the story and you say a silent prayer in your heart that our world is not, for the most part, like the world of the Dystopian futurist author’s imagination. I would say that there’s an emotional relief after reading one of these books, sort of akin to watching a scary movie: like when the credits roll and you realize that you’re not being chased by a knife-wielding maniac, and your adrenaline starts to settle.
But what if you had to read bits and pieces of the same intense Dystopian book for a whole year, or if you had to watch the same scary movie every night? It would begin to take a toll on you, I think.
A few months ago, I had a conversation with my friend’s mom, whom I’ve known since I was a kid. She said, I’m paraphrasing, “People can’t wrap their minds around complete hopelessness. There needs to be a little bit of hope in a story, or else it becomes too dark.” Which was good for me to hear, as a writer, because for months and months I’d been imagining the worst, most oppressive Dystopian existence I could think of. I’d wake up, think of something unsettling or intense, and write about it. And this had repeated over and over again. And it’s a weird thing to write, if you yourself don’t feel saddened or unsettled. And so maybe for no one else’s benefit than possibly my own, I’ve include some “hope” within my upcoming story, City of Words.
Because, I don’t believe it is the point of good Dystopian literature, or satire, to present a terribly flawed world for the reader, and then just leave them there. There has to be a hope of betterment, or ultimate restitution. In Dystopian, you should imagine the worst possible outcomes of a society, as a warning sign for travelers, as something that can be directed away from, and not as something to be wallowed in.
I don’t think I’ve shared this as a public statement yet, I’ve shared it with my wife and amongst friends, just because I thought it was comical – but thinking about it today, I thought it would be good to share it with the “world wide web”, with anyone who would care to read it.
A few months ago, I was tracking my book reviews and noticed something that made me smile. Within roughly a twenty-four hour period, my books were awarded every single star ranking between one to five. And if I’m remembering it correctly, the rankings were given in order, either ascending or descending order I’m not sure, but that’s what made me first notice it. Which is a weird coincidence, and one which I think forced a conclusion within myself that I don’t believe would have come so quickly, otherwise.
Star rating and like buttons are completely arbitrary. Sure it’s nice to get a five star rating. It’s nice to feel like there’s not one other thing you could have done better, that your work is absolutely the best, so that not one other star could be added to it… even though I think we’d all secretly wish for a six star rating if it were possible, but five star ratings don’t mean anything. And conversely, everybody loathes one star ratings, I mean who wants to find out that they’ve received the lowest possible score in anything? A one star review might as well be a zero star review by the way it makes you feel.
But for myself, does a five star review really mean my stories are fantastic, or flawless? Or, does a one star review really mean my stories are worthless, the equivalent of a literary untouchable? No, no to both.
Star rankings and like buttons are only a means by which to measure personal preference. They are not a judge of value or worth. They do not make me a better person. A five star ranking will not make grammatically incorrect literary drivel good, neither will a one star ranking make the collective works of Shakespeare worthless.
Rankings do not make us, or the things we endeavor to create, one ounce better or worse.
And I think this can also go beyond writing, into our more mundane internet cultural interactions. For example, I’ve seen people get visibly excited over reaching the hundred like threshold on Instagram. Which I understand, it’s validation, everyone wants to be liked, and to be liked publicly is even more appealing – but does it really matter? No. It doesn’t mean your photo is any more artistic, or edgy, or fashion forward than a person who’s received only one like. Rankings and ratings are not a measure of value, or worth, and certainly not when it comes to personal worth and value.
When the truth is, you have six star value, you have “one hundred like” value. The pictures we post, our statements on Facebook and Twitter might be, if you will pardon the expression, “lame”… but that does not make us any less valuable. Nor does it necessarily mean that what we create is worthless either. It is generally arbitrary, and a means by which to express personal preference. If you can laugh at your own wit on Twitter, if you appreciate that side-angle shot of your morning bagel, and if no one else does… maybe that’s enough.
A one star review doesn’t mean my story is one star quality. In the same way that a five star review doesn’t mean my story is five star quality. When in truth, what I create and what most of us create probably falls more around the three star level, and maybe three and a half, if we’ve put some exceptional effort into it. In short, do not let the false world of the internet determine your self-worth. Be a five star person, regardless of how many likes you may receive, or not receive.
Thinking through the process of writing believable characters, today, I’m struck with the idea of minor morality. A term I may be the originator of, or I might not be, but all in all – it means roughly the finer points of personal morality, which no one would ever call us on – Basically, those things in our character which only a spouse, or perhaps a very close friend would ever notice.
And why I think this is important, is because it makes for multifaceted characters within writing, who are not bland flat tones of dark and light; and within ourselves, it is vital to the formation of deeper moral conviction, which is beneficial in all aspects of life.
A few examples:
Since “white lies” and lying in general are somewhat overused examples of minor personal sins, I won’t really rely on that to be my main example, but instead I will use a few examples found within an upcoming novel of mine: the first example being “the desire for personal safety over the greater good”. And without revealing too much of the plot, I will say that there is a certain point in the story in which a young girl has the ability to run and hide from danger and personal responsibility, but instead she chooses to reject her own self-preserving desires and decides to do what is best for the greatest amount of people. Now, this is a positive example, and shines a small point of light on this character’s convictions and personal morality, and perhaps her upbringing. It is not the generic example of lying, and it is not a life or death choice to directly murder someone. It is a very precise example, like the individual tile of a mosaic, and I think vital to creating real-life characters.
Another example, is of an old man who has fallen into the habit of making excuses for the bad behavior of his friends. This would be a negative example, a failure in minor morality, but I think it should be important to note that this old man is not a villain in the story. He is a good character, and for all purposes one of the more upstanding characters in the book. So that, this understood, the benefit of writing these “lesser” points of personal morality is that you make more true to life characters, since we are not all murderers, or are not all entirely good in every situation.
The benefits to plot:
Minor morality used within fiction greatly benefits plot, in my opinion. It aids the writer in creating a smoothly turning, expanding storyline, that does not rely solely on major instances: murder, blatant lying, robbery, extortion, etc… Instead, it creates a plot that would look more like a gradual sine wave, than a row of triangles with sharp peaks and divots.
And the benefit of focusing on minor morality in real life, for ourselves, would be similar. It might help to soften the sharp highs and lows within our own lives, which may be the result of our own doing. And a life lived well will be ideally less painful in the end.