… but I don’t *want* to.

Happy New Year’s Eve everyone.

It’s that time when many of us start thinking of resolutions to take forward into the new year. Sometimes we stick with them, most of the time we don’t, but it’s a fun little ritual nonetheless. I assume it’s fun at least, otherwise why the fuck does everybody try and pump themselves up to do it every year?

I do have some resolutions. One of them is to continue taking risks. I took some big risks this year and they all paid off in spades; I’m trying to get myself to be more open to risk-taking, not least for the fact that what I perceive as the threshold across which “riskiness” lies may not actually be accurate. It may be a lot further out than I think it is, and in fact I’m counting on it. But, of course, even if I do end up accidentally taking an actual risk – great! Learning to deal with risks and the inevitability of failure that comes with them is an important part of life; I haven’t gotten to that part of life yet, even at the dire age of 28, so I’d better get cracking.

Another: force myself to do things that I’d like to do. Sort of in the same vein as the first one, but something that I’ve learnt through writing my shitty YA werewolf Nano novel this year: it’s actually quite hard for me to follow my feelings without being hindered by my inner critic, but it’s something that I’m slowly loosening up about. My big rant last night about how I didn’t know what direction to go in with my novel really came down to the fact that there was no idea that really grabbed me, not even a cliche, problematic idea that I would secretly enjoy indulging in. Nothing. And when it comes to the first draft, nothing is always, always worse than bad. In fact nothing is as bad as it gets. Bad isn’t even bad, because the first draft is destined to turn into the second draft at some point, and even then that’s not where it ends; eventually it becomes the final draft, and that’s where you start worrying about good and bad, not before. Before that, it’s all just words, and words are all you need. And what I’ve learnt through writing this novel is that if I make myself write what I actually want to write, it works out pretty well. The problem I now face is that I actually don’t want anything, which is a new problem for me to face, but it’s a sign that at least I’ve progressed and am getting stuck further down the road than previously. This resolution doesn’t only concern writing, but writing is the safest example of it that I have to hand, so that’s where I’m going to start.

Yet another: seriously, keep on top of academic stuff. I had this huge resolution about not ever pulling an all-nighter again after the last one, and it looks like I’m setting myself for the third in as many months, and I don’t like it. It occurs to me that all the wisdom I’ve spouted over the years regarding how to get things done, at least in the academic world, is a pile of crap, and I might actually need outside help. Which is something I’ve actually never seriously considered. I guess I can file that away under “take more risks”. But more to the point is that, goddammit, I like academia. I enjoy academia. I really do. I love the feeling of finding a great piece of research and contemplating how it relates to my argument; I love finding an argument and grappling with it until we come to an intimate understanding of how to go forward together. Because, at the end of the day, it’s just another form of storytelling. And I want to remember how much I enjoy it. So my third resolution is less “keep on top of study workload” and more “allow myself to enjoy academia”. Because I’m allowed to enjoy it, even to the detriment of my creative writing projects. And that’s something I want to get used to the idea of.

Which brings me to the next resolution: seriously, remember that I’m not a Writer. I gave up that mantle last year and gained a whole world full of possibilities, and in the 12 months between then and now I’ve just filled it up again with Writing, and I don’t like it. All the other resolutions I’ve outlined above are really just ways to force that space to remain open so that I can fill it with other things, and even to let myself not write for extended periods of time, because I’m doing other stuff. Other stuff that I like. Because I do actually like to do things that aren’t writing. Or, rather, I’d like to try them out. I was exactly at this point last year when I had this big revelation, and I didn’t take advantage of it. Well, I’m going to take advantage of it. The day is long; the day is also hot because this is New Zealand and we’re getting to the beginning of Summer while the rest of the world is in the middle of Winter and also we don’t have an ozone layer, fun times for all. That is at least a small part of why I haven’t been as diligently working on my MA as I should have been.

Next up is probably the hardest one: make myself do things that I know I will regret not doing.

And yes, this would, in fact, cover things like “getting an early start on revising that MA chapter so that I don’t end up destroying my immune system from lack of sleep once a month”. But also things like making that terrible pun or joke that pops into my head, as soon as it pops into my head. Things like saying what I mean, or doing what I mean, instead of writing it off as pointless. And doing things that I’m obliged to do. Having said that, I’ve got to get better at declining to be obliged to do certain things more often. But that’s a very specific sphere of things that I want to stop feeling like I have to do. There’s another specific sphere of things that I do have to do, and that I want to prove to myself – and others – that I can, in fact, reliably get them done.

I guess, really, this resolution is “become a person that people can depend on”. Where “people” includes me. I don’t think I trust myself as much as I can afford to, and as a result of that I end up keeping myself from doing or trying to do certain things, because I think I’ll just fuck it up. Like this final batch of chapters for my Nano novel, or the time it’ll take to revise my MA chapter before submitting it to my supervisor on the evening of the 5th (or morning of the 6th, but let’s be optimistic). I want to discover that I’m actually someone who is capable of getting that shit done. So I’d better start discovering.

I always feel the urge to do something profound and insightful for big anniversary or milestone posts, like New Year’s, Christmas, my birthday, anniversaries of this blog, that sort of thing. I always feel inadequate when I can’t manage it. But at the end of the day, much as I like having this blog around to vent into and share some writing experiences through, it’s just a blog. I’m not some internet mogul whose every word is pored over and analysed for depth and nuance; I’m a part of the vocal fandom of the internet, the “prosumer” that media studies scholars (of which I am one, which is weird to think about) are wont to champion. And so, at last, I come to the final resolution for the new year, the 6th resolution of 2016.

Make this blog the blog I want it to be.

I don’t know what that is, but I know that I’d like it to be more considered, less insular; I’d like to feel like I’m a part of something, rather than just sharing the space. A little romantic perhaps, but why the hell not? I spend most of my time on the internet and isolated, and as a result I end up making resolutions like these all the time: responses to my own habituated lack of engagement with the wider world. I want to be more conscientious, and I think that’s what I want this blog to be, too: conscientious. A considered, intentional effort. I mean I’ll still vent like an exhaust pipe, because I’m still me, but woven between those typical posts I’d like to start seeing something a bit cleaner, and a bit more like the welcoming ritual of the Hero’s Journey that I wax lyrical about every so often, and the fact that what I love about it is that it feels inclusive.

I guess overall, my resolution is to do things that make me feel included, and I think the first step there is to start being inclusive.

And yes, that does include my writing.

Of which I aim to do a lot of in the new year, and every year after that. But not only writing. I think I’m done with only writing; I’ve had more than enough of that for one lifetime, and one lifetime is all I’ve got.

Happy New Year, everyone.

 

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I *could* do that …

I could, feasibly, finish my Nano novel today, which is the last day of 2015. I mean all I’d have to do is come up with the perfect string of ideas to weave into the almost-finished tapestry of this story and I’d be sweet.

That’s kind of a big “all I’d have to do”.

I don’t think I can finish this novel today.

I’d like to. I’m kind of judging myself pretty hard for feeling like I can’t make it happen. “Why can’t you just think of the most painfully obvious thing to happen, like you’ve done with every other part of this story? Why is it suddenly so hard now?”

You know what?

That’s not how I wrote this goddamn story.

I wrote this story the exact same way I’ve written every other story I’ve written through to completion: by fucking writing it. I wrote this book because it was Nanowrimo, I wanted a break from Tallulah and how stuck I’d gotten with it; I wanted to prove that I could write just for me, just for my own personal enjoyment, and what I was enjoying at the time was the idea of getting a really generic-yet-solid story written really goddamn fast. Well, actually, it was the idea of getting a story written really goddamn fast, and I decided that a generic-yet-solid story was my best bet, because I’d be able to come up with generic ideas quicker than original ones. Sound logic, right? I mean anybody can be generic; anybody can be predictable and formulaic. It takes somebody who really stands out to be original. Right?

Not if you aren’t writing a generic story.

And that’s the thing: this story isn’t generic. The plot is generic. The beats, the flow, the pace is generic. But the story itself is not. Back in November when I found my “twist” was also when I found the story, and the story is actually pretty original. And that story is what I’ve locked myself into writing with the remaining two-and-a-half planned chapters of this book, and as such it doesn’t fit my plan of winging it, snatching ready-made ideas out of our collective cultural imagination and tossing them into place, because they don’t have a place here anymore.

The thing is, much as I thought I’d enjoy writing a generic book with a generic premise and a generic payoff, I actually couldn’t make myself do it. I couldn’t fucking stand that idea. I steered away from it as violently as I could; it repulsed me at a core level. It was soul-sucking; it wasn’t fun. It wasn’t enjoyable at all, even slightly. It felt physically gross to hold those ideas and even think of committing them to text. So I did something else. And the thing is, that’s the story I want to tell. I know it is. So the remainder of this story is no longer a process of finding the most generic thing possible – it’s finding what’s going to work for this story. And I don’t know what that is.

So I think, instead, I might split my efforts tomorrow between revising this chapter for my MA and reading over what I’ve got so far of my Nano novel. I don’t want to read back over it, at all, but I need to get a sense of what’s happening and what’s needed to pull it all together, to bridge the gap between point A and point F. It’s still a matter of finding the most obvious solution, but what’s obvious is now no longer what’s generic. At least not the kind of generic I’ve been using so far. I may have to look elsewhere, because I haven’t really come across many stories like this before. I may need other sources.

I just really want this to be done.

I’ve already got a plan for what’s going to happen; it’s not doing it for me. Maybe I just need to go back and look at that. Maybe it’s fine. Maybe it’s just that I’m writing this at almost 2 a.m. and I need to recharge. But I’ve been in a rut with this book ever since I finished the final chapter, which I’m reasonably pleased with. I just feel like, if I’ve backed myself into a corner, it’s not the kind that spurs creativity. It’s the kind that drains it.

I’ve set myself up for something very specific, and that means that broad generalities won’t work anymore. That’s the problem in a nutshell. I’ve fucked myself over by getting too specific with my story, and now only a very specific solution, which I have yet to think of, will make the story come together. Anything else will just be random.

This whole exercise was also supposed to be about making the story come together with the most banal ideas imaginable, if that’s what worked. But they’re not going to work anymore, and that’s infuriating. I’ve ruined my own fun. I want this story finished right now, but I’ve made that an impossible task.

Grr. Argh.

I guess I’ll just have to sleep on it. It would be a wonderful way to end the year, finishing this rather ambitious project of mine. A sense of closure and all that. But I do want to get it right. Maybe I’ve lost sight of my original goals with this experiment, which I’ve referred to as being little more than a writing exercise, but maybe that’s okay.

Or maybe I just NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO shut up sleep.

 

The Force Awakens; Joseph Campbell Sleeps Through Alarm

So I’ve seen The Force Awakens twice now, and will probably be seeing it again today. I like it. It feels like Star Wars should feel, and while I do have some complaints, this is not the prequels. We have left that dark age behind, and have entered into a new era of hope and wonder. Or something.

The thing is, it’s still not quite the Star Wars that I’m looking for. I think it could be a decent introduction to it, but this movie is definitely more fanservice and set-up than a story in and of itself, and while I honestly don’t mind it all that much, it is definitely its greatest weakness. And upon watching Star Wars (what some people call A New Hope, because they’re wrong) the other night, I finally put my finger on exactly what it is about Awakens that leaves me wanting.

Not enough Joseph Campbell. Not nearly enough.

Because even though Awakens has the look, the feel and the terminal velocity of a good Star Wars movie, it lacks that one vital ingredient that makes Star Wars quite possibly my favourite film of all time: a by-the-numbers Hero’s Journey executed with style, passion and, most importantly, understanding how and why the Hero’s Journey works.

Which Awakens does not. Let’s talk about Rey. Who I really like. And who does actually go through an on-paper perfect Hero’s Journey. Spoilers ahead; for that matter, if you haven’t alrady seen The Force Awakens this entire post might not be of interest to you, because it kind of assumes you have.

And as for the question of why, on my writing blog, I am talking about a movie: it’s Star Wars. This is where I learnt how to tell stories. If there is any film franchise that can be more or less directly translated into the medium of writing, it is Star Wars.

The first one anyway. As for this one …

Continue reading

All I Want for Christmas is Words

Specifically, I want words to be added to the sum total of words contained within my various word-consisting-of projects, such as my MA and my shitty YA werewolf novel/writing exercise/vaguely-defined narrative ritual. Probably not today, because today is Christmas and family stuff happens on Christmas. But the day after that, definitely. Especially since that’s going to be the day that I have 10 days left to finish revising my MA chapter, and by “finish” I mean the other thing.

I have gone for a good nine years just really relishing Christmas when it rolls around, and that’s starting to wear off. It feels like an omen of one chapter of my life ending and another beginning, one where something else makes me all nostalgic and pleasantly wistful – or where I move on from such things altogether and find other forms of emotional sustenance. Either way, I think creating habits that make me feel empowered and invigorated is going to be the best present I can hope for.

Whatever it is you’re celebrating around this time of year: go with love, peace and fulfillment, and thanks for reading.

Post-Nanowrimo 2015: 8622

Most days when I’m not working – so most days – I spend my time feeling guilty that I’m not working. Well, thinking guilty that I’m not working, which produces the feeling. I know full well that if I just did something that I enjoyed instead, the thought would never even occur to me. I also think, on these days, that I know for a fact that if I make myself do something, I stop feeling guilty.

Today was one of the days where that knowledge translated into action, and I have thus spent the past four-ish hours completing the final chapter of my Nano novel.

2 and a half chapters to go.

And these are the sticky ones, the ones that I really don’t want to write because they have yet to become interesting to me. But that’s fine. The build-up is always tricky to get right, and after ranting about ritual for 3k words the other day I’m sure I can find some inspiration.

But, as I was reminded by my good friend George the other day, it’s also about just getting used to switching off my inner critic. That’s what this whole ritual is about: cutting myself off from feeling ashamed when the idea that I want to go with is generic or problematic (and there’s a hell of a lot of overlap), because the most important skill for a writer to learn is, you guessed it, WRITING. And you can’t write if you keep cutting off your own ideas, so I’m trying to get myself out of the habit of doing that. Now I just have to apply that philosophy to the remaining stuff I have yet to write, because part of what’s holding me back is feeling like it must be a certain way, and I think if I just let myself do whatever it is that I want to do – which is the entire point of my writing this novel to begin with – I may happen upon the solution.

But it also has to feel like a story, because that’s also the point of writing this novel to begin with.

Anyway 8622 words in one sitting; I’m pretty damn pleased with myself, even if it is way past my now-normal bedtime of approximately midnight. Good work, me! Well and truly at the home stretch now.

More in the morning. Or afternoon. One of the two.

Post-Nanowrimo 2015: 1730

So after that huge rant about ritual and stereotypes and the cultural specificity of the Hero’s Journey, I did actually get some writing done. It feels much more ritualistic, and that’s good. That’s what I need.

The great thing about stories being rituals is that, if it’s familiar enough, you get the reader to perform the ritual right along with you. That’s where the sense of inclusiveness comes from in stories like Harry Potter; it’s not just wish-fulfillment, but ritual-fulfillment, something that hundreds of millions of people can understand and find easy and intuitive to pick up and join in on. A story that feels inclusive is, to me, a successful story, and that inclusiveness is based on a cooperative project between story and reader, rather than the reader having something dictated to them – which is another reason I tend to steer clear of High Fantasy – like the difference between having a joke explained to you and having it told to you. In the first version, you’re not included in the process. In the second one, you are.  You are part of the ritual when somebody tells you a joke, because you’re helping to perform the ritual by having it told to you.

Anyway, writing got done, and oh my god I wish this was the final chapter of this story that I had to write. I don’t at all regret writing this thing out of order, but I hate the fact that after this wrap-up, which will hopefully be awesome and cathartic and everything else that I love about writing endings, I’m going to have to go back and write some stuff that I am honestly not very excited about. Not overall. I mean it conforms to a lot of stuff that I wish I saw more of in stories: the build-up, the scene-setting, stuff that’s missing from, say, American Horror Story: Coven, which I just watched the first episode of today and … I’m torn. On the one hand it is cheesy and ham-fisted as fuck; on the other it’s viscerally enjoyable in exactly the way that black magic should be. There’s a reason why Inigo Montoya is everybody’s favourite character from The Princess Bride: revenge is sweet.

But there’s no build-up to the premise; we’re just dumped into what feels like the beginning of a second act, and given that this is a 13-episode season, it’s not like they didn’t have the time.

On the other hand, I know that it’s not that kind of story; that’s just the kind of story that I like. I don’t want a High Fantasy-length build-up, like what I remember of The Wheel of Time, where it takes 150 pages for the main character to discover that he is, in fact, the main character. But something. The chapters I have yet to write after this final one are all about scene-setting and build-up, and aside from one scene that amuses me I just don’t have any enthusiasm for actually writing this stuff, and I can’t for the life of me think of a way to make it interesting.

But none of that matters until I’m actually writing it, and for that to happen I have to write this chapter first. Well, I don’t have to, but I want to.

Maybe.

Shit maybe I don’t. Maybe I want to go back and write those other chapters first.

Hmm.

Meh. I’ll work it out tomorrow. For today: mischief managed.

Writual

It’s been one week since I wrote some words; gotta keep up momentum, that’s what I heard

… yeah that’s it. That’s all you get.

I’m not in a creative mood.

I’m at an awkward place with this shitty YA werewolf thing, the Nano project that I simultaneously adore and despair of, because it’s just taking so damn long to come together, and it’s supposed to be a really simple, run-and-gun exercise. I’m not even remotely used to writing this way, at least not with the goal of putting things together so that they work as a recognisable story. I’ve blogged off the cuff for years, but I wouldn’t call the results coherent, exactly, and coherence is all I’m going for here.

I’ve been trying to think of the word that sums up why it is that I adore formula and structure. I’ve been ranting about it on this blog pretty much every post I’ve made during Nano, how it’s supposed to “feel like a proper story”, how the more predictable it is, the better of a story (for the purposes of this specific experiment of mine) it is, how it’s the thrill of knowing that by doing this very predictable thing in this very predictable way you are entering into a legacy of storytelling that is larger than yourself. But none of this really gets to the heart of the matter; none of this articulates what exactly it is that gives me the kind of satisfaction and thrill that I get out of all of this generic, iterative, predictable, formulaic writing.

Having stubbed my writer’s toe on the doorframe of my own inability to contain my inner monologue to, well, my inner monologue, I had to take a break for the past week just to get out of that headspace, take a breath and wait until I could focus on all of this wonderful, hackneyed tripe that I love to write so much. I also looked at the calendar and thought that I could probably stand to do some amount of work on my MA, so I got out a few books, one of which was Men, Women and Chainsaws by Carol Clover, a seminal academic tome on the horror genre and, in particular, the role that gender plays in the genre.

And as I was going through this book today, I found it. The word that I was dancing around without knowing I was dancing around it; the word that explains exactly what it is that makes me drive myself to frustration attempting to tell as predictable a story as possible.

Ritual.

This is on page 9, if you have a mind to read this book sometime (and you should, because it’s awesome), and the exact quote is in reference to a man named Andrew Britton analysing the habits of horror film fans: horror films are incredibly formulaic – the Scream franchise is the best-known testament to this fact – and yet they remain incredibly popular. It is the fact that they are so predictable that makes them so enjoyable for their fans, and here is where the idea of ritual comes in:

The film’s total predictability did not create boredom or disappointment. On the contrary, the predictability was clearly the main source of pleasure, and the only occasion for disappointment would have been a modulation of the formula, not the repetition of it … everyone could guess what would happen, and it did happen. In the course of the evening, art had shrunk to its first cause, and I had the incongruous sense, on coming out, of having been invited to participate in communion.

This highly ritualised and formulaic character … is the most striking feature of the contemporary entertainment film. (9)

The mention of “communion” reminded me of a story I’d heard on the rather wonderful Radiolab podcast, in which King Phillip II makes a bargain with god to save the life of his son, Don Carlos. He says that if god performs a miracle for him, he will in turn perform a miracle for god. For whatever reason, Don Carlos immediately makes a full recovery, and now King Phillip II is tasked with following through on his promise. He hires a clockmaker to create an automaton of a long-dead saint that will perform a single action: a prayer, the Mea Culpa. But not just the Mea Culpa: the perfect Mea Culpa. In the podcast they discuss how prayer is all about precision – you have to say the exact right words, under the exact right conditions – it has power specifically because it is precise, predictable and repeatable.

It is powerful because it is a ritual.

And upon putting this together in my head, I finally found the way to express exactly what it is about this shitty YA werewolf thing that makes me so happy, and conversely makes me so frustrated when it veers off-course – or, rather, when I veer off-course. It’s because I’m getting the ritual wrong. I know the ritual; I know the words to say, the rites to perform, the conditions to be met. I know all of that, and yet I can’t seem to keep myself from deviating from it, and it infuriates me to know that I am undermining the power of my own ritual because I can’t keep my spontaneous urges under control. And when I give in to those urges, the ritual is broken, and it feels like I have to start all over again.

That’s why the Hero’s Journey is so resonant for so many people. That’s why Star Wars is one of my favourite movies, and why The Force Awakens is such a good successor, even though both of them have a lot to be criticised for: they are well-executed rituals. And if you follow the ritual, you will experience – and possess – its power.

And that’s really it. I by no means encourage storytellers, or anybody else, to always and forever adhere to ritual, not least because so many elements of the Hero’s Journey ritual, for instance, are so problematic: the victimised princess/miscellaneous virginal girl/woman who must be saved by the courageous hero; the demonised villain who often conforms to racist and ableist stereotypes; the fact that other people who you would think are more suited to the task of saving the world often bow out for super contrived reasons – basically, while ritual is awesome and makes you feel powerful, it’s also the status quo, and that shit needs to change. Like, constantly. Because we change constantly, and our needs change with us. We need creativity because it is just as much of a force for empowerment as any ritual; fostering originality is the entire point of an arts degree, for example, and in that sense stands in direct opposition to this story I’m trying to tell in the most ritualistic, status-quo-iest way possible. And there is no denying the sense of power that comes with taking established ideas and turning them on their heads, putting them together in unexpected ways – unexpected precisely because they disrupt the rituals that they come from. In that sense, originality is just another ritual.

But that power borne of subversion could not exist if it was not subverting the power of ritualised norms to begin with; every subversion pays tribute and draws attention back to the thing it is subverting. It has to. Not because it’s obliged to or anything, but because – well, how could it not? Think of Buffy. How does the blonde, bubbly cheerleader staking hulking vampires through the chest not remind us, in a broad sense, of the helpless maiden being assailed by various demonic creatures, from dragons to giant to gorillas to, of course, Dracula? And that is why subversion is just as restrictive, in many ways, as the status quo it intends to disrupt the power of: it can never create something that wholly stands on its own, because the subversion only works if the thing it is subverting is powerful enough to stand on its own. Otherwise the subversion simply becomes the new status quo.

And that often happens. The Action Heroine is a prime example of this; true, she is often treated as though she’s still this hugely subversive and original archetype, but she’s been this hugely subversive and original archetype for the past 30 years in popular culture (I’m talking cinema here, mostly), and part of the reason she’s heralded as this catalyst for change even after 30 years is because that is part of the archetype – it’s part of the Action Heroine ritual. That subversive element informs her character; without it, she’s no longer an Action Heroine, but something else entirely.

And it is that “something else entirely” that I think is absolutely vital to storytelling, the point where you break away from ritual and counter-ritual and step into the realm of the pre-ritual, the things that have yet to be codified and categorised, that which is not subversive yet is also not the status quo. You find plenty of this in serialised media, because after a story has been running long enough it tends to run out of status quo to uphold or subvert, and starts referring to itself, the world it has created, the consequences it has rendered, the characters that have developed relationships to each other and the story-world that go beyond what you find in common stand-alone stories. If you tell a story for long enough, you generate enough material that you don’t need to look outside of that story for new ideas, and it begins to create its own, insular status quo.

Yet for all that this is fascinating and a testament to creativity I have to admit that it’s also kind of where I switch off with a lot of serialised stories. That’s the “up their own ass” phase for me a lot of the time, where by referring to nothing but itself the story becomes alienating; by refusing to draw from the wider world, it retreats from it – and, therefore, from me, and my ability to relate to it. I think that’s why I detest the Star Wars Expanded Universe, so much of which was taken up by the prequel films: it takes a story that was, in essence, nothing but another performance of the Hero’s Journey ritual, and treats it as though it’s this self-contained entity with the utmost seriousness, when in fact what gave Star Wars its power is the fact that it was open and familiar, the fact that it was predictable – the fact that it worked because we all already knew what was going to happen. Because it wasn’t just a ritual: it was our ritual. It’s also why I can’t stand the way George Lucas kept tinkering with the original trilogy, because each “update” was one step further away from this ritual that anybody at all could take part in, and one step further into his own insular world of one, a ritual performed by him, for him, and him alone.

It doesn’t make it more original. It makes it elitist.

And yeah, all rituals are elitist. They’re a way of creating division, a fertile breeding-ground for harmful stereotypes. I mean you only have to look at the hate that is spewed to this day at fans of Twilight, and of course the Twilight saga itself; plenty of the criticism is very much valid and important, but a lot of it is just mockery for the people who enjoy partaking in a particular ritual that is not somebody else’s sanctioned set of rites. Oh, you like sparkly vampires? You’re a fraud. Real vampires don’t sparkle. That’s how you can tell that this story and everybody who enjoys it is invalid.

That’s not how our ritual is performed.

The Hero’s Journey is one ritual; and when I say it is “our” ritual, I’m referring to a very Western narrative tradition. For one, the Hero’s Journey is a statistical mean codified into a narrative formula by a white man who who loved psychoanalysis (perhaps the most Western invention of all time), who in codifying it was inevitably drawing on his own pre-existing cultural background, his own biases and attitudes – his own rituals. If he had been a Muslim, or a Taoist, or a Bhuddist, or a Zionist, would he have come to the same conclusions? I’m not saying no. But I’m saying that the Hero’s Journey has the mythic power that it does because it has become a ritual; it has become normalised, and when we start thinking of some ways of doing things as normal, everything that isn’t them becomes, by definition, abnormal. And that obviously leads to problems.

Consider the dreaded Mary Sue. While it has been argued very convincingly that what constitues a Mary Sue is pretty much whatever the critic finds annoying about any given female character, including the fact that she is, in fact, a female character, I’ve spent most of my life assuming that the problem with such characters is that they don’t “earn” their status as beloved heroes. They just get it handed to them on a palladium platter with fries on the side. It flys in the face of good storytelling as we know it; there’s no build-up, no character-arc, no consequences for their more questionable actions. They don’t become heroic through a series of trials; they are heroic, bypassing the trials completely: no innermost cave here, folks, and no need to find the elixir. The Mary Sue is the elixir.

But this criticism all hinges on the idea that the Hero’s Journey is the correct ritual – not just that, but the only correct ritual.

So in that sense, the Mary Sue is the most powerfully subversive archetype in Western narrative tradition.

I’m not saying that I enjoy these characters. I really don’t. I yearn for the ritual. But I am saying that writing these characters off just because they don’t adhere to that ritual is a reaction that comes from the same kind of attitude that inspires, for instance, Islamophobia. Or ableism. Or transphobia. Or rape culture. It comes from a knee-jerk reaction to something that defies the ritual. And that’s all it’s doing. It’s doing things in a way that “we” don’t do them. The answer is not to start doing them ourselves if we don’t want to; it’s to understand and accept that “our” way of doing things is not the way of doing things. That just because we invest in the ritual, it doesn’t mean the ritual deserves to be invested in. It’s our choice. It’s our ritual.

But it doesn’t have to be anybody else’s.

And even within well-established rituals, it’s not anybody else’s. Find two Muslims, or atheists, or scientists, or heterosexuals who are exactly the same, and I will show you a pair of fucking freaks. There’s a reason that the figure of the Doppelganger is so morbidly fascinating to us: it’s specifically because there is supposed to be diversity in the world. Anything that is so similar to something else as to be indistinguishable is terrifying because it’s exactly the same as something else. So although I keep going on about how much I adore this shitty YA werewolf thing because it’s iterative and predictable and generic, I can only ever say that in a broad, general sense, not a specific one. I couldn’t love Star Wars if it was literally exactly the same as, say, The Lord of the Rings; I couldn’t love Harry Potter if it was exactly the same as The Matrix. It’s the reason why I can’t stand High Fantasy as a genre; there are so many Doppelgangers, so many things trying to be exactly the same. Familiarity is beautiful. Exact replication? It’s either a successful science experiment – in which case awesome – or it’s a Doppelganger, in which case we have a serious fucking problem, because Doppelgangers are always bad news. There can be only one. And that’s as it should be.

Or that’s the ritual around Doppelgangers at least.

I love my shitty YA werewolf thing not because it is literally exactly the same as “every other story”, but because it performs the same ritual as “every other story”. And that allows for a fair amount of deviation. It’s just that I’m not quite disciplined enough in the performing of this ritual to keep that deviation in-line with the specific requirements of the ritual; there’s a lot of filler, a lot of distractions that, while not necessarily bad on their own, only serve to bloat the performance of the ritual.

And so today, I will hopefully find my way back to performing this ritual as well as I want to. In fact after I finish this story I have another one lined up for that exact purpose; 2016 is going to be a big year for me, but in terms of my creative writing that’s going to be my continued experimenting with performing the story-rituals I know and grew up with. I want to get good at this ritual. I want to get perfect at this ritual.

But why? Is it just the power? Is it just the sense of competence? Is it just having a bunch of predictable material I can default to if I’m stuck with a story? Why not focus on developing my ability to be original?

Because I fucking feel like it.

And in the end, wonderful and empowering as ritual can be, I think that’s the best reason to perform one: because you fucking feel like it. Not because you have to, or feel obligated to, or are worried what other people will think of you if you don’t. If you want the power of a ritual – take it.

And if you don’t?

Don’t.

It’s just a ritual.

But I am enjoying this one, so back to the Word document with me …