Friday, February 19, 2016

Vice Party - The Good, the Bad and the Nearly Useless

I don't get to indulge many vices, more's the pity. When it comes to the buffet of vices, I still sit at the kiddy table. Alcohol, which I used to enjoy (Lemon Drop anyone?) now equals migraine. Chocolate, too. The list of fun things that end badly for me is long and sad. Since I can't consume vices, I spew them instead. And still, they turn in service to writing.

1. Swearing is my vocation. It's a calling, a sacred duty to which I am devoted. Since the public rooms of the bordello strive to appear slightly family friendly, I curb my colorful language. Meet me in a public situation one or two times and you'll have no idea of the vast, simmering cesspool of language underlying my polite facade. Hang around long enough to lull me into a sense of safety, though, and that pool will bubble over. Most of my friends still look surprised when a word or phrase slips out. Many of them giggle, too. Does it help me while I'm writing? Probably. If only to give me the ammunition to complain in grotesque detail about how a story is or isn't coming together.

2. Analyzing. I have a degree in overthinking. It is a hindrance part of the time. The other part of the time, I'm making it work for me. Everything I watch, read or experience gets vivisected - how did the story go together? Did the conflict work? If no, why not? If yes, why? What would make a poor plot work? How could things have been changed. This is all part and parcel of peering beneath the hood to learn how something runs (or doesn't) so I can build my own.

3. Companion to that: I talk too much. No one wants to watch The Walking Dead with me anymore. I usually see within the first several minutes of an episode how it will end, and often, within the first episode or two, I can tell how a season will end. These are the wages of analyzing stories as a mode of living. Sure, sure, I learned long ago to not volunteer the spoilers. I may be slow, but I can be taught. Still, my TWD friends and family keep casting sidelong glances my way during a show. Finally someone will ask if I have it figured out. There's a second of silence when I shrug and nod. One of them will grin and say, "What's your theory?" I blab. Everyone laughs and blows me off. Until the end of the episode/season. How does this help my writing? It's concrete evidence that I've managed to learn valuable lessons about conflict and story arc - not just as an intellectual exercise. They're internalized. Keith likes to talk through movies and TV shows we've watched. Mostly, I think, he likes getting to geek out about a show with me. But tonight, while reading on his Kindle, he turned to me and said, "You know I can't read some of these books now without remembering what you've said about stories. About how there has to be both internal and external conflict that comes from who the characters are before a story really starts to resonate. You turned me into a tea snob over the years and now you're turning me into a story snob. A few scantily clad women and a couple of explosions used to be enough." High praise. I'm going to let this help me stop worrying about whether or not I'm doing it right. I'm just going to write and trust that conflict and plot will take care of itself.

4. The occasional bag of sour cream and onion potato chips because some times, you just need to grind the bones of your demons between your teeth. They taste salty. Like my writer tears. Or the blood of the innocents sacrificed to the gods of word count.

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