Tag Archives: Writing challenges

I Will Never Be Shakespeare, Tolkien, or Gaiman…and That’s Okay.

Neil Gaiman came to Dallas on the 14th. I’ve read many his comics and novels over the years, but I had never seen him in person before. He went on stage at the Winspear Opera House, answered some questions from the audience, read some of his stories, and it was fantastic. Every bit of it.

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The man himself. 

If you ever get a chance to see Neil Gaiman in person, do it. No, really. DO. IT. He’s funny, articulate, and brilliant. His voice strikes me as a not-as-ominous Alan Rickman. Let’s just say that if he had slowly uttered the phrase “Up…to something,” I would have thought Snape was in room. Or at least Snape’s upbeat, more charismatic cousin.

When you’re a relatively unknown author, and you see a famous author speak, this can cause you to question yourself. Will I ever get to a point in my career where thousands of people might come to see me speak? Could my work ever be a uniting factor for people who are otherwise from very different cross-sections of society? Will anyone choose to cosplay a character that I create? And really, when you’re looking around at a sold out show like that, it’s hard not ask yourself Will I ever get to *this* point.

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Imagine this, but with no empty seats. 

Now, I should point out that I don’t write because I hope to become famous. Far from it; my motivation to be an author stems from a deeply personal need to create and the knowledge that life is short. That’s a tale for another time, though.

This act of questioning yourself can take a negative turn, however, when you encounter someone so wonderfully brilliant like Gaiman. For those who have tried your hand at writing, or aspire to do so, tell me if this sounds familiar:

Gaaah! I just read something truly awful. I know I can write something better than that!

– Yeah, my ideas are coming to me now! See, I knew I could do better than that drivel.

– That doesn’t sound too bad. It’s not Shakespeare, but I think people will like it. Onward!

– I just don’t know. My pace has slowed down a bit now that I’m past the beginning. I need some inspiration to get those creative juices flowing again.

– Oh God, why did I just read Lord of the Rings again? The guy had a working knowledge of like forty languages. FORTY. And he created a whole bunch of languages on his own. There is NO POSSIBLE WAY I could do something like that.

– (*stares blankly at the computer screen*) Why did I think I could do this, again? My ideas are crap, my words are crap. It’s all crap. Maybe I should’ve let my uncle teach me about fixing cars, instead.

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Today’s not your day. Tomorrow doesn’t look good, either. 

Okay, maybe not the uncle thing. Whether you’re a beginning writer or a pro, chances are you’ve had a moment like this, usually as a result of reading something incredible and feeling humbled by it. This can lead to despair. If you can’t be as good as [Insert your favorite author’s name here], what’s the point?

I learned early on that making comparisons to others is an exercise in futility. To that way lies madness. It’s so easy to become demoralized and fall into that cycle of self-doubt. If this has happened to you, just remember what your ol’ buddy Jack Burton says at a time like this. (And by Jack Burton, I mean me.)

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Jack says what the hell…

Neil Gaiman isn’t Shakespeare.

That’s not a shot against the guy in a he’s no Jack Kennedy kind of way. No, I mean they are two different people, separated by space and time. One lived in Elizabethan times and the other is alive today. It’s the same to say that Stephen King isn’t J.R.R Tolkien, and H.P. Lovecraft isn’t Charles V of Spain.

Your very uniqueness is one of the greatest gifts you have as a writer, whether you choose to write or not. You, the reader, are a one-of-a-kind blend of your own thoughts, dreams, aspirations, and experiences. True, none of us will ever be Shakespeare or Neil Gaiman, but that’s because those roles are already taken.

So, if you choose to tell a story, no one can (or will ever) tell it quite like you. And if you are serious and passionate about the work, if you study your craft and pour your heart and soul into it, you have something to contribute to your genre.

43c4960db7c1652cac7dbe97f701b295I encourage people to write whenever I can. It’s a form of self-expression that, as Stephen King puts it in On Writing, is a form of telepathy. And time-travelling telepathy at that, since time will have passed between when I write these words and when you read them.

Writing is the act of sending our thoughts into the future, like so many messages in a bottle. Yeah, some may be thinly veiled cries for help, but the reasons that brought them about are likely interesting, and worthy of a read.

So for all my writing peeps out there who struggle to find their confidence at times (and this includes me), don’t try to be anyone else but yourself. Don’t measure yourself against anyone else, just focus on the blank page in front of you, and work your magic.

That’s the part that really matters.

 

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Brian’s Comic Contemplations – Of Regeneration and Sloppy Writing

Since no one who reads Matt’s blog knows me from Black Adam, I’ll give you a quick profile: I’m in the advertising business, and I’ve been reading comics (Marvel) for around 49 years. ‘Nuff said. (I don’t want to bore anyone with the gory details of my Paris to Dakar failure in ’98, or my savage war with the peanut butter industry – I’ll simply leave that to your imagination.)

Anyway, Matt – being quite an intelligent fellow – often regales me with his detailed knowledge of Greek history, movies, and comics. (Notably the DC side of comics, of which I am intrigued by, but largely ignorant.) So when he encouraged me to throw in my two cents on his blog, I was anxious to oblige.

I figured, in an effort to foment some fun thought and discussion, I’d start by hitting a few comic-world opinions you may, or may not agree with.

Here goes:

Wade Wilson

The Merc With A Mouth.

Deadpool – Is it just me, or has the writing for Deadpool become lazy and cyclical? I LOVE Deadpool. The character, the irreverence, the cheeky format that allows them to go to places most comic characters can’t go. But lately, every time I pick up a DP title, the story seems to include some sort of dismemberment for Wade.

Wade sets into “whatever” plot. He encounters a baddie. And the baddie (no matter what his skill level) eviscerates, or disembowels, or amputates, or shoots & stabs him. Naturally, because of his miracle healing power, he generally (arguably?) prevails.

But isn’t Deadpool supposed to be some kind of expert fighter/swordsman/assassin/marksman? Why the inept bumbling with EVERY villain? Every time? I present the following from Marvel’s own Deadpool profile:

Deadpool is an extraordinary hand-to-hand combatant and is skilled in multiple unarmed combat techniques. He is a master of assassination techniques, is an excellent marksman, and is highly skilled with bladed weapons (frequently carrying two swords strapped to his back). He is fluent in Japanese, German, Spanish, amongst other languages.

(For laughs, let’s juxtapose Deady’s stats with say… Hawkeye, who, despite having no real super powers, has (mostly) managed to dodge fatal attacks and dismemberment.)

Deadpool

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Hawkeye

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Deadpool’s natural physical attributes have been enhanced. Deadpool’s musculature generates considerably less fatigue toxins than the muscles of an ordinary human being, granting him superhuman levels of stamina in all physical activities. His natural strength, agility and reflexes have been enhanced to levels that are beyond the natural limits of the human body. Deadpool’s agility and reaction time are superior to those of even the finest human athlete.

So how come Mr. Pool keeps getting shot in the face? Is it just for our amusement and titillation? Are the writers so lazy they can’t think of situations where Wade might actually show enough skill to NOT get his arm chopped off? Or is it simply because Wade is so crazy he doesn’t even try to avoid injury?

I’m not saying I never want to see Wade get abused, but once in a while I’d love to see him take care of business without being mutilated. (Sigh) Am I just gettin’ too old for comics? GOD forbid… but maybe.

BONUS CONTEMPLATION:

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WolverineSee Deadpool rant. I have the same issue with Mr. Howlett. (Loss-of-healing-factor issues notwithstanding.) I know he comes at enemies like a weed whacking tank – with little thought but, OCCASIONALLY, I’d like to see Logan’s vaunted “Samurai training” and 100-year fighting experience pan out BEFORE he takes a sword/bullet/laser to the gut. JMO, of course, but is it too much to ask?

Again, if Spidey, Cap, Clint Barton, Daredevil, Batman AND Robin can dodge fatal knife, bullet, and death-ray wounds successfully for 50(+) years, why can’t Wolverine and Deadpool once in a blue moon? Throw a little love to character profile continuity.


Backwards Compatible – Part 3: Like Getting Punched By Batman

A quick note before we begin…

Normally I try to keep things upbeat and positive here. This time around, I’m going to offer some criticism, which could be taken as negative. Understand that these are just my personal opinions, and that they are stated here to show you where I picked up on The Backwards Mask. If you are a fan of Paul Brunette’s novels (or are Paul himself), you might want to skip this one.

Still with me? Okay, let’s continue.

I admit that I found the first two novels of the New Era trilogy rather ‘meh.’  Game-based fiction is notoriously hit or miss. To me, game-based fiction should not just be a shallow commercial for the game world it represents as much as a good story that just so happens to take place in that setting. I mean, you can find some of the best and worst examples of game-based fiction in the Dragonlance setting alone. The core books (Chronicles and Legends) are brilliant, and some of my all-time favorites. Outside of Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman? Well…

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Results may vary.

So, the first book of the TNE trilogy, The Death of Wisdom, seemed a bit bland, along with the characters and story. There were moments that were really engaging, but they were few and far between. It was not the worst thing I had ever read (far from it), but it was largely on the forgettable side. The premise of the book seemed like it should be far weightier than it came across. They were talking about the possible collapse of the Reformation Coalition, one of the only beacons of human civilization left in an otherwise dark and twisted universe. The characters just seemed rather nonchalant about the whole deal.

The next book, To Dream of Chaos, was better than the first one. It still left much to be desired in my opinion, but the characters seemed much more alive.  Most of the things that bothered me about this book were those staples of the setting itself (more on that later). There were some strange curveballs in there that left me scratching my head in places, but on the whole it was a improvement. It unfortunately left off on a mild cliffhanger.

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What do you think of the story so far, McKayla?

That’s where I stepped in.

As I stated in Part 2, I had no idea where the story was supposed to go from there. I had some ideas, sure, but nothing unified. It was a just a loose mosaic of vignettes and scenes in my head. I knew that the third installment really needed to up the ante, and bring together the struggles of the first and second volumes.  While I couldn’t change the characters, or their names, I could try to make them my own. The same went for the story. It had to be one that interested me or else it would never hold the reader’s interest. I pondered this during my months of research into the setting, and my endless re-readings of the first two novels.

I remember when I finally had my “Eureka!” moment. I had created, and discarded, a dozen ideas of how I could do justice to the story, of how it all might work. Apparently my subconscious had been chewing away at the problems I faced, because when the story came to me, it was all at once. Zowie! It was as though the Adam West Batman had finally knocked some sense into me.

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Holy bolt of unforeseen lucidity, Batman!

There was the story, all laid out in front of me in a strange moment of clarity. Now all I had to do was get it on paper.

Should be simple, right?

[Check out the Backwards Mask on Kindle.]