The curious incident of authenticity of voice

Yesterday was my 27th birthday, in which I turned 27 on the 27th and felt pretty great about it. I was at a book club that afternoon, in which nobody knew it was my birthday but it was all right because I brought my own cake, casually dropped into the conversation that it was my birthday and then there was some amusing and good-natured awkwardness to follow. It was a good birthday, nice and low-key.

Anyway; at this book club we were discussing The Curious Incident of the Dog and the Night-Time. It is written, ostensibly, from the POV of 15-year-old Christopher, who we are to assume has Asperger’s Syndrome. I did some quick Googling and found out that not only did Mark Haddon not know anything about Asperger’s Syndrome when he wrote it, but he also did no research, saying that “imagination trumps research”.

As a result, we got into a discussion about the intersection of creative licence and authenticity. As somebody who’s spent the last two years writing about a 17-year-old high-school girl, the issue of authenticity of voice is certainly something I’ve had experience with. The issue is not just where, but why to draw the line. It is clear to me that, with a book like Curious Incident,  a line must be drawn. People with mental disorders exist in real-life, and stigma against and misunderstanding of them, including humiliating and dehumanising stereotyping, also exists in real life.

Here’s the thing: it was a neat idea, if you remove the real-life referent that wasn’t. If Christopher had instead been, say, a robot or an alien or a demon (actually something I’ll talk about when I eventually review The Demon’s Lexicon), then his distinct world-view would have been just as interesting, and the offensiveness would have been avoided – and the damaging misinformation. When I brought up the results of my research to my reading-group, nobody else was aware that he hadn’t done his research, because Asperger’s is not something that the majority of the population is able to readily identify. People don’t really know about it. It doesn’t help that Curious Incident is very humanising to Christopher – it’s hard not to get into his frame of mind and really experience what he’s going through, so it’s undoubtedly written well, but it’s not written ethically. Getting to understand Christopher is not the same as getting to understand somebody with Asperger’s, and yet that’s what it’s advertising. Obviously people shouldn’t believe everything they read, but people also shouldn’t make fun of people with disabilities, of other ethnicities or genders/sexualities/ages/religions, and yet they do. There shouldn’t be prejudice and a lack of understanding and massive political inequality that leads to systems of social injustice, but there are. Which is why writing a book about an underrepresented minority with little to zero political power of their own without even making an effort to understand them as people is despicable, work of fiction or not.

Now, where this gets tricky is the whole creative licence thing. The conventional wisdom and mantra of artists everywhere is that art should not be censored, because self-expression should not be censored. Free speech and all that. But free speech does not give you the right to hurt other people.

The first time I really started considering the implications of this oft-cited ethos was when I heard the story behind the song “Jeremy” by Pearl Jam. I like the song, but what makes me uneasy about it (and songs like “Polly” by Nirvana) is that they’re based on real events – in the case of Jeremy it’s a school shooting (two in fact), and that means that the other people involved in that incident could be triggered by it. Same deal with Polly; that girl had a family and, due to it being a Nirvana song, it’s highly likely that they heard the song. Did either victim’s family get to sign off on them? Were they consulted at all?

Art kind of has to come from real-life inspiration, so in a sense you can’t avoid appropriating the lives of others every now and then. It could even be that the families of these kids (or, in the case of “Polly”, the girl in question) appreciated the fact that these famous bands were using their platform to spread awareness of the fact that these things happen and we should be aware of them. But if they weren’t consulted, it’s kind of like having somebody spread rumours about you or talking about you behind your back – only it’s world-famous rock bands doing it, and making money out of it. It’s somebody speaking for you; Curious Incident is at least not based on somebody specific (that I know of), but it is talking about an experience that many people live with, and it’s an experience that the artist admitted to not understanding or even trying to understand.

Yet if something sparks your imagination, don’t you have the right to express that through art? That inspiration at least is your experience, and we all have the right to self-expression.

Well, yes – but it really does depend on what that inspiration is. Does it involve other people? Because if so, then I don’t think that you do have the right – unless you do. For instance, if you’re a survivor of abuse of any kind, that obviously involves more than just yourself, yet I’d say you absolutely have the right to write about it and name names. It may not be safe to do that, but it would be within your rights, at least as far as I’m concerned.

If you’re the abuser, though?

Ultimately my metric is one of respect. If it’s not respectful, then in my book you don’t have the right to do it.

An example I like is the NZ tv show Mataku, which used Maori mythology as the premise. It was an entirely Maori-produced show, and the show’s two creators not only had their own personal experiences to draw on but also worked with tribal elders to make sure their use of these cultural resources was respectful.

This of course brings up the issue of who has how much say on the final product, and compromising artistic vision for the sake of being “politically correct”.  I don’t like people using disdain of “political correctness” to excuse disrespectful behaviour, but there is definitely that tension, and as an artistically-inclined person I am incredibly protective of my creative ideas.

However, there’s a difference between somebody just trying to take over your project because they’re a entitled prick and somebody protesting against your use of their personal experiences, including their cultural heritage, because it’s offensive or misinformed. There is a difference between somebody telling you that X thing in your story needs to be changed because they prefer something else, and somebody telling you that X thing in your story needs to be changed because it’s offensive and hurtful. Indigenous peoples have not exactly been given the fairest of depictions in the media, as the controversy surrounding the recent Lone Ranger and Star Trek: Into Darkness films highlighted. The same goes for people with disabilities, people with “alternative” sexualities and gender identities, and this mirrors a cultural underrepresentation in terms of policies, legislation, and how and when they are upheld, and for and by whom. In this political context, it is only ethical to defer creative impulses to the experiences and will of those who your ideas are representing – unless you don’t mind being an asshole, in which case, hey, at least you’re being honest about it.

So then what if you want to write about something and, for whatever reason, you can’t do research on it? Can you still write about it?

I think this is the most important thing to realise: at least if you’re a white, straight, able-bodied, cisgender, middle-class-or-higher man, there isn’t much you can’t get away with, compared to other people. As Mark Haddon proved, you can write about something you know absolutely nothing about, and even openly admit to not giving a damn about your own ignorance, without anything harsher than a minority of (completely legitimate) criticisms from people who were hurt by it. The irony is that these people who actually have Asperger’s syndrome’s voices have gone largely unnoticed, while the offending book has become part of our contemporary literary canon.

It’s an issue of privilege. If you have the privilege of writing whatever the hell you want, getting it published and having only harsh language coming your way as a consequence, then the question is not whether you can do it – it’s whether you should. If you’re in a position where nobody can really stop you from doing something, it becomes your responsibility to make a judgment on whether it’s something you have the moral right to do.

I’ve been fairly lucky in that I’ve been able to do ‘research’ for Tallulah in terms of having a lot of women friends who were generous enough to offer feedback on my zero draft. I am probably never going to send out a zero draft for feedback again, but that’s just because a zero draft is not really something that warrants feedback. The other stuff is supernatural in nature and I’ve done some research into selkie folklore, as well as research (very light research) into nursing home staff work-hours, lesbian relationships, what actually goes on at high-school, and how houses are designed (the Kitchen Triangle continues to fascinate me). My point is that I’ve had a pretty great run in terms of getting the authenticity that I wanted, because I was able to do the relevant research and get the relevant feedback that helped make it authentic. It’s an authenticity that ultimately has to come from me as the storyteller, but part of that is respecting that it also goes far beyond me, because I do not tell stories just for myself.

There are a lot of other things that I don’t know how I’d go about researching, and they’re the things that I am pretty scared to write about. I’ll cross those bridges when I get to them, but for now I’ll just say that, when the time comes, I hope that I practice what I preach and actually do the necessary research, whether it’s informally just talking to people or using Google like everybody else. Because without research, without ethics guiding your creativity – well, even the Nazis were creative. And authentic. It doesn’t mean anything on its own.

Don’t be a Nazi. If there’s one thing you take away from this post, let it be that.

No but seriously, do your research. Be a good person and a responsible, respectful, politically-conscientious artist. When it comes to authenticity, always go straight to the source.

Add New

The seduction of adding new content to your manuscript as you read over it for revision and bathe in the tides of exciting new insights as they wash over you – that’s hard to deny. You can make all the Word documents containing your giddy tangential flights of fancy you like; you can try to keep you editorial comments as clear of speculation as possible and change your desktop background to an image you got off Google images that reminds you of the core aspect of your story, but at the end of the day two things will still be true:

  1. Newness is sexy
  2. Your manuscript still needs work

My own perspective on this is certainly coloured by the fact that I’ve got a manuscript that I now consider a first draft, which is to say it’s the one and only revision I’ve made to the original manuscript. It’s got the rhythm of a coherent linear narrative (though it is worth noting narratives need not be linear to be coherent), but the actual content is contradictory and still full of filler. It needs work; it needs refining, yes, but with that refinement comes a certain shrinkage – cutting out all the filler means it needs something to replace it with, something substantive that helps to hold the story together.

When I first started revision, I had a choice between starting over again or sticking with what I had to work with. I chose the latter for a sense of clarity, and it’s instilled me with a purpose of making as few changes as possible. This makes sense in terms of not making unnecessary changes – or, more positive, only making necessary changes. I caught myself wistfully dreaming of a “better” version of my story, but it had nothing to rest on – it was very much a different story altogether, albeit a different story with the same characters and locations and general themes. But not the central theme, and that’s really the main point. It wasn’t what I wanted, but what I wanted was going to take me so far off-track that it would be like undoing all the work that had gone into writing that zero draft, which was about 9 months of my life. I chose to stick with what I had for the sake of clarity, so that I had a direction I knew to go in.

And having said that: just because I had a clear path didn’t make it the right path. The fact that art is subjective is not the same as art being absolutely arbitrary; I had a clear way to tell the story in the form I’d written it in, but the way I’d written it was not necessarily the best way to write it. Hence revision, and hence the need for some new material.

The question now becomes: how much is too much? Keeping the core of the story at the forefront of every decision is paramount; new material has to serve the purpose of telling the story, revealing and developing its central premise. If it doesn’t serve this purpose, then it shouldn’t be in the story. On top of that, the idea of adding new stuff to this story has always come with a sense of stretching things out, however appealing the ideas themselves were; it was going to be more work, struggling to weave a story together out of thin air, and just thinking about it made me feel exhausted. I’m excited about writing new stuff for Tallulah now though, because it’s not about making stuff up anymore, really – I’ve got piles of ideas just from reading over my characters’ stories and seeing where things need to be shored up, and identifying key moments that need to be given more attention, attention I was too tired to give them at the time. I knew that certain things I’d written were unsatisfactory and thin, frustrating hints of the story this could be, and now I feel like I have the energy to actually take advantage of them being there.

Which is really just another way of using what I’ve already got, and now using it to help make up new stuff, by directing it and ensuring that it has a purpose in being there. I think my point is that I’m starting to feel excited about my book again, and as much as I’ve complained about how long I’ve taken to get it finished, I don’t think I would have felt so revitalised if I hadn’t taken some time off.

And the idea of making it into a series is becoming very alluring again, now that I have a new perspective on how it would play out – but that’s all stuff to consider later. It’s still hard to chart a course through the tantalising prospect of having free reign to create something entirely new while staying true to the heart of this story, and it’s something to be aware of. It’s something I think I’ve gotten better at. I don’t know what happened exactly – maybe it was just having a rest, maybe I’ve just changed more than I thought. But whatever the case …

Writing is exciting me again. I’ve missed this feeling.

I’m glad it came back.

So ready

I have made my schedule for the next 6.2 weeks, during which I will have zero reprieve from essay-writing. I may go back over it tomorrow and see if I can’t just cram some more essay-writing in there, because I’m sure there are more ways I can make myself wish I was dead.

I am so ready for this.

In psychology we learnt that one of the most surefire ways to make yourself stressed was to plan to be stressed. That sounds really stupid, so stupid that it surely can’t be a real thing, but when you think of how we make schedules of tasks that need to be done way in advance and then spend every moment up to that point stressing over those tasks – well, that’s kind of how I feel now. Or rather I’m right on the edge of it. The thought that once these windows are closed they’re closed for good is very sobering – it’s a grim sobriety, as it involves reflecting upon my history of abysmal time-management, but that’s not really fair. Everybody has to start somewhere; I’m starting here. So all sarcasm aside, I really am kinda looking forward to this.

Today’s window of assignment-working-on was taken up mostly by watching The Fifth Element for the umpteenth time, and having old issues that I’d never seriously delved into suddenly seeming more vivid and irredeemable than ever, and brand new issues rising to the surface alongside them. I still love that movie, but wow does it have problems. And also it was helpful for my assignment, which is the important part anyway.

Last night’s revision window was co-opted with a viewing of The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro, in which I felt embarrassed for pretty much everybody involved. There are two Marvel cinematic universes, and sadly this franchise does not belong to the good one. There were some good bits, but this is the one where I finally agreed with everyone when they complained about the reboot coming so hot on the heels of the last one. But even with that I did get some revision done, and that’s the main thing.

And now all that’s left for me to do is get really comfortable with turning in work that I feel isn’t as good as it could have been, because I’ve got a schedule to keep.

Aaaaaagh.

No, it is working. The system is working. I mean I’m going to have to concede some of my free time over the next four days (including today) so that I can get that damn essay from yesterday finished and sent off, and I wonder now if that doesn’t count as “cheating” by the rules of my new system – I feel like a pedantic dictator anxiously trying to weed out all signs of resistance to my totalitarian rule before they can grow into something more threatening, and inevitably that ends up leading to an untimely demise, so maybe I should just not care.

I dunno. I don’t want to keep making excuses for myself, but at the same time I’m not going to hand in an unfinished assignment. What would be the point?

Anyway, I’ve spent 40 minutes of my revision window not revising, so I’d better get back to it. It’s going well. I’m seeing new things again, new and important things, and once again the power of taking a break proves itself. Clarity is never overrated.

Onwards and onwards.

Window closed

It’s working.

True, it has resulted in my not finishing the essay I had set out to finish today, and if I don’t get it finished – well, that’s it. It won’t get finished, and unless I decide that I don’t want to hand in this essay worth 30% because I’ve gone insane, this is untenable. Thankfully I have some “whatever” scheduled after 10pm every evening this week, so it will get done. I think it says something about my procrastination habits that I actually have the privilege of scheduling “whatever” time for myself – 4 hours of it altogether – and still have so much trouble getting work done, but that’s not the point. The point is that this essay is over halfway written today, when it was sitting at about a quarter for the past 3 days, and what got it done was knowing that I only had a limited window of time in which I was even allowed to work on it. In fact I kinda cheated by pushing the deadline to 5pm; it was originally 4pm, but I thought it was 5pm originally anyway. I think I will move it back to 4 for the rest of the week, just so that I don’t go insane from overwork.

The point is that I stuck to schedule, and am now enjoying 2 hours of “whatever” before moving on to novel revision for 3 hours. Something tells me that 3 hours might actually be too long for what I want to get done, but worst-case scenario here is me finishing what’s left of my character-arc maps a day or two early. Which is not really something I’d complain about.

I’m liking this. It’s not so much scheduling tasks as scheduling time, and it works a lot better for me. The next step is to apply this system to the final six weeks of semester I’ve got coming up, over the course of which I have 5.5 assignments to write (one of the assignments I have to write this week is kind of split in half, serving as the body of a tutorial exercise that then gets developed after getting feedback from said tutorial). Which is less than one a week, and depending on how I go – I’m thinking that I’ll need a week’s worth of non-study time to finish each assignment, but that might not be the case. I might be able to finish them sooner, which means I’ll get more than a week off come end of semester.

I also want to have enough time every week to spend on my novel. I’ve had the time and just haven’t used it, and it may be that with essays to work on I just won’t have that time. I may have to settle for weekend writing, which is not what I want. But it would still be more than what I’ve got going on right now, so I can’t exactly complain. And having weekends free to completely devote to novel-work may work better for me than doing it in drips and drabs over the course of a five-day study week.

Anyway: the window strategy is working, and now that it’s almost 7pm it’s time to go revise this novel I keep complaining about not being revised yet. I remember the six months of anxiety last year over not knowing how to move forward; after this damn thing is submitted for publishing – no, once it’s published – I’ll have to read back over these entries and see how I managed it. I don’t even have 300 posts on this blog yet, and not all of them are even about Tallulah, so it shouldn’t be too hard.

And now …

I mean I like ending these posts with some kind of finalising statement, but I got nothing. Just going back to work. That’s just how it goes I guess.

Windows

Okay. Gonna actually write about writing for a change.

I’ve talked many, many, oh god why so many times it’s just embarrassing about how bad I am when it comes to procrastination. This past week and a bit have been – well, not totally unproductive, to be fair, and if yesterday and today hadn’t been public holidays I may well have gotten more done. But I didn’t, and that’s the important thing.

Tonight I identified a key aspect of my procrastination: overflow. Overflow is having a number of tasks scheduled throughout the day (or week or whatever) and, upon not starting the first one and the time for the second one arriving, keeping myself from starting the second one because I haven’t done the first one. Now, this would make sense if starting the second one depended on finishing the first one, but in my case it doesn’t; my tasks are “work on assignment X” and “do novel revision”, in that order, every day from now until – well, honestly, until the end of semester. I have a lot of assignments. My point is that the only way in which they’re connected is that they both involve me writing. I don’t need to finish my 5 hours of assignment-writing in order to start my 3 hours of revision in any practical sense; it’s just the schedule. And overflow is when I procrastinate using that schedule of tasks as an excuse, and my backlog grows larger and larger.

As I say, I’ve done some work. It’s been mostly readings and watching movies, and then making notes. Not so much with the notes though, and while it’s important that I do readings and watch movies so that I have stuff to actually write my assignments about (and therefore I should have worked that into my schedule, which I did not), getting things written and off my mind is the main objective here, and that hasn’t happened.

So. Overflow. Using the excuse of one uncompleted task to justify not starting any other tasks. It’s a killer.

My solution?

Windows.

Having a schedule is, basically, allocating windows of time within which you will complete individual tasks and then stringing those windows together over an extended period of time. Overflow is when one task is left incomplete and that’s use as an excuse to never even make a start on the next one. Therefore, the solution as I see it is to move on anyway. Get something done. And also (and more importantly in the long-run), break that habit of making excuses and creating a backlog on the basis that Item 1 was not ticked off the list.

Your role here is to undermine that voice in the back of your head that tells you that starting the next thing before you’ve finished the first is not something responsible people do, because responsible people would have finished the first task. This voice is basically trying to make you ashamed of yourself, but in doing so it’s also giving you an excuse to not do any work. It’s a strange kind of two-faced inner enabler; it’ll let you off the hook in exchange for apiece of your self-esteem. And that’s what the window strategy is here for: shutting that bastard out.

I have to assume that having a history of dreadful self-esteem and self-image contributes to my particular experience of procrastination, but even if that’s not your experience, hopefully the strategy of making the tasks the priority rather than the schedule will help out those of you who, like me, have a really hard time getting started with multiple tasks on the go.

And if it’s just one, the same principle applies: if you miss your window, then you miss your window and that’s that. Why? Because it feels horrible. That’s incentive. That’s feedback. That’ll give you an opportunity to reflect on your priorities and maybe if you need to change them – and if the answer is no, then it’s also an opportunity to remind yourself that, yes, you do actually want to get this stuff done.

I’ve missed my window for academic stuff by a country mile over the past nine days, and I’ve done about as well with creative stuff. But that’s that. I’ve still got five days to do three assignments, and if I use my mornings responsibly then I may not even need five days, which means I’ll be able to prepare for the horrible lop-sided first week back (and every week after that) after the mid-semester break.

However this goes, these three assignments have to be done by the 28th if I want any chance of remaining sane throughout the rest of semester. If that means handing in shitty assignments, then I’ll hand in shitty assignments, but that’s all well and good to say – I’ve got to actually write those shitty assignments too.

Hopefully this strategy will get me there. Windows are closed tonight, but will open tomorrow. As will university, after two days of Easter observance, which means access to the library so that I can sit and study without checking facebook or staring glassy-eyed at YouTube for hours on end, and the AV library so that I can watch movies and write about them. Let’s see how it goes.

(I’ve actually started my Beautiful Creatures review now; I had 18 pages of notes but thankfully they were pretty repetitive – as was the book. Repetition and filler. So if I get everything I’m meant to be doing out of the way in time I shall reward myself with some literary criticism. Here’s hoping.)

Feeling sick

That’s really all there is to it.

I feel physically ill to even consider continuing with the character-mapping exercise I started … how many months ago now? Three? Five? I got through three out of the planned six, and the remaining three are far easier affairs given the size of the characters’ roles, at least in terms of face-time. But yeah, it just makes me feel ill. I’m not quite sure which part/s of it makes me feel ill though, and am thus even as I write this trying to convince myself that I’m just being silly and making up excuses to procrastinate a bit more.

There are other issues with this novel, and they’re all old issues that I’ve regurgitated a fair few times already: I need to decide what exactly it is that I want and stick to it; I need to stop changing things; I need to make my notes more clearly-defined from one another according to the function each of them serves … it may just be the sense of hopelessness that I feel at not really knowing what it is that I want and having no clear way out of this void of inadequacy that’s making me nauseous.

And it’s not like the last time I had a “running head-first into a brick wall” moment, so I don’t know if this is one of those moments at all, if the warning signs I’m experiencing are out of actual danger or just some kind of irrational anxiety. Because I can’t pin down why I’m so apprehensive about it.

Screw it; I’ll try and do it for a while and get back to you.

~~~

Yeah, no clue.

It’s fine now. It’s enjoyable, actually.

No flippin’ clue.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been worried for a while that I actually can’t write this book, can’t tell this story because I still don’t know what I want it to be, don’t have a clear vision for it. I feel like this every time I start working on Tallulah and only “zoom out” again once I’ve read back over the whole thing. So I guess maybe I have to learn that, in this context, I shouldn’t trust my feelings to guide me – at least not in the intuitive ways I’m used to doing.

The other thought I’ve been having more recently is that I do know what I want, and I just can’t bring myself to admit it because I feel like what I want isn’t good enough. I feel like what I want – or at least what I feel this story is in its ‘proper’ form, just isn’t up to the standard that I expect of myself.

And to be honest, writing that down feels right. Something settles into place and I feel a wash of relief for pointing it out. I do know what this story needs – it needs to be told already, and there’s a story that’s been told already, one that doesn’t need all of these extra notes to be made so that I can use them to direct my editing tools, for the sake of changing things as its own goal, not because they need to be changed. I’ve got a story already, and the only problem is that I want it to be better. But that also means that I want it to be different, and if it’s different then … well, it’s not this story. It’s some other story.

I don’t know if it’s just because it’s what’s down in writing that I’m using as my model for the ‘real story’ rather than the rambling maze that’s in my head, and that I’m not satisfied with what’s down in writing as a reader or a writer. Maybe it’s because I feel pressured to submit it quickly that I’m insisting that what I’ve got written is the real story and what’s in my head is just distracting. I don’t know how much of what I feel is out of wanting an easy solution to my problem – the feeling that this story is not right yet – and how much is out of my idea of what’s ‘right’ for this story being a nebulous musing rather than some concrete list of details that I can check off a list. Again, I don’t have a clear picture of what I want this story to be; I have several, and none of them seem inherently better or worse than the others.

I remember a while back I talked about the ‘voice’ of a story, and how it differed from the usual ‘big picture’ metaphor. I remember that I ran into this problem of not knowing what was right for the story, and somehow I managed to get my bearings and focus on staying true to the story. And I remember it being easy, as well as being frustrating as hell, and it’s like remembering the events of two different lives.

It’s not helpful, is what I’m saying.

But no. It is. I have found the problem – I’ve forgotten what this story is about.

And now I remember.

Ugh. Have I given myself a whole lot of backtracking to do?

Well in any event, I know what direction I have to shepherd my work along now. And the character-maps will actually help a lot, as they have already been doing. I have a direction again, and it’s the same direction as it was last time, isn’t that amusing WHY CAN’T I JUST FUCKING REMEMBER THINGS

Well, I guess this does count as remembering. It’s the forgetting part I’d like more control over. I’ll have to work on that, through the mystic arts of repetition and practice.

But for now, not only has a crisis been averted and my direction re-discovered, but I also no longer feel sick. I call that a win.

 

 

Progress report 1

I feel like I need these for myself more than anything else. Some evidence that I am, in fact, doing stuff.

So what have I done today?

And does it in any way relate to writing/storytelling?

Why yes, it does. It all does in fact.

  • Course readings

The one thing I will always be glad happened as a consequence of my being on Tumblr is how accustomed I now am to spending huge amounts of time trawling the internet on tangential article-safaris. I’ll click a link to something interesting, and it’ll have links to other interesting things, and before I know it I’ll have been reading for three hours.

What I also appreciate is that a lot of the articles on Tumblr are a more subjective version of the articles I have to read for study; they encompass a lot of the same debates and topics that I’m interested in, and it’s proven to be fantastic training for making myself read stuff.

Thus today I ended up reading two of my sci-fi readings in about an hour, and about nine weeks before I actually needed to read them. Also because there was no pressure to read them I could just read them for general interest, and was probably able to more fully appreciate their thought-provoking qualities. It’s also convinced me that I need to watch Battlestar Galactica.

  • Game of Thrones

I finally saw Two Swords, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t really love Game of Thrones.

I never loved it, to be fair. I appreciated just how inexplicably addictive it was because I didn’t love it. Now it’s more of social cohesion thing: I don’t want to be left out of the loop. And it’s not like I don’t like it, but this whole episode would have served my purposes just fine if it had focused on Sansa and Arya and left out all the other stuff entirely.

And I guess Joffrey. I love me a good old-fashioned irredeemable villain who fills me with unmitigated hatred. He was hardly in the episode though.

And every time I watch it, I don’t know how I feel about the characters, particularly the women. I don’t know how much of my skepticism comes from knowing that they’re based on characters written by a man and how much of it is just legitimately not liking how they’re written – and this is by no means universal; it’s actually barely a factor at all. It’s just every now and then there will be a moment and it’s like an alarm going off, my “well a man definitely wrote that” alarm. It’s the men characters as well, actually; the gender dynamics in Game of Thrones are probably what I like least about it, just because a lot of it is so ham-fisted. But I do like a lot of the characters when gender doesn’t play a huge part in the way the story frames them – with the exception of Brienne of Tarth. She’s allowed.

  • Harry Potter

I didn’t read Harry Potter, but I think I’m going to have to. Again. I made a start in 2012 and got as far as Prisoner of Azkaban before giving up in dread of how insanely long the fourth book was if I carried on, and haven’t touched the series since. Also I’m quite different to how I was in 2012, which is both alarming and refreshing, so I may have a different perspective.

No; I read somebody’s chapter-by-chapter review/analysis/critique/raging hate-rant of Half-Blood Prince, and I’ve never come across a dissenting opinion on Harry Potter that was so brutally savage, seeming to be in the vein of sensationalist hate-critics who have carved out a niche for themselves in the wake of the Angry Videogame Nerd and Nostalgia Critic. I mean I still watch the Critic’s stuff; I’m about 50-50 in terms of his opinions and sense of humour, but it’s entertainment. This was something else – I may end up going through the whole thing as I only read a couple of his chapter analyses, but while I can’t say I agree with him on … well, the vast majority of his opinions disturb me, to be honest, but it’s not like I think he’s a crazy person or something. I’m drawn to it because it’s almost diametrically opposed to how I feel about the series, and I want to know why.

He has some weird gimmick where girl characters from some book series he’s writing come in and the review just kind of stops so that he can make in-jokes with himself revolving around the fourth-wall-breaking relationship between himself and his creations, with much playing of the gender card, but while that’s an uncomfortably candid glimpse into his psyche it’s also part of what makes reading these reviews so compelling; it’s like reality tv in a sense, trying to piece this guy together by reading a carefully-edited persona that he presents on his livejournal account. Truly, my future in investigative journalism is shaping up to be a promising one.

But it’s always fascinating to get a glimpse at “the other side”. I think it’s part of why I’ve been on a YA kick for the past five or six months: most of the authors I’m reading nowadays are women, and while I now know the gender binary is a load of bull, it’s just the allure of difference in general, a different worldview and set of commonly-held assumptions about the world than my own that piques my interest. So I may have to read through this. Already I don’t think I like this person very much, but in a way that makes it all the more compelling.

  • The Demon’s Lexicon

I’ve heard this compared to Supernatural, and as somebody who has only ever seen one episode of Wincest (dear god Tumblr fandoms why), I can’t really say whether this is accurate or not.

What I do know is that Nick, the main character, is a jealous and obnoxious thug, and I want to like him. I want to find that he experiences consequences for being a jealous obnoxious thug, rather than us just getting some sob-story to make us feel so sorry for him that all of that stops mattering. I don’t mind a sob-story, but not at the expense of consequences for actions. And not because it’s the moral thing to do, but because it’s good storytelling. As a wise lion once said: “There’s more to being king than getting your way all the time.” That goes for main characters especially; if they get away with everything then it gets boring. It may not start off as boring, and I will forgive a lot of what people consider bad writing so long as the delivery is entertaining, but in this case it would be really deeply satisfying if Nick’s general shittiness was rewarded with him actually having to face the reality of it. It would be a satisfying read because that’s drama. Even characters who are good people shouldn’t get their way all the time, and in fact that’s even more boring, just because it’s more predictable. And I don’t mean in the sense of their crush not liking them back or dying in a car crash or something, I mean something like in Kick-Ass (the comic) where their crush thinks they’re a horrible creep, and they’re right, and consequently they don’t end up together.

Seriously, go read that comic. It has some important things to say about male identity and hero-narratives.

So for the time being I’m apprehensively enjoying The Demon’s Lexicon, all the while thinking of all the easy outs I’ve given my characters in my time and how I can rectify this egregious oversight. Some of them just have it so ingrained into the identity of the story that it would be an entirely different story to change it, and I guess those are lost causes. But even that’s important to identify, and maybe I can salvage something.

  • That’s all folks

So … sweet. I have done some stuff today. Quite a bit in fact. I’m a little surprised. No work on my novel, but there’s still tomorrow.

Tomorrow is also the beginning of trying to Get Stuff Sorted Out in earnest. It will consist primarily of watching sci-fi movies and tv shows so that I can decide what I want to write an essay about.

What the hell was I complaining about yesterday again?