Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Full Fathom Five: Farm Factory Fiction?

For centuries artists have been banning together to create masterpieces. In 1816 Mary Shelley, Percival Shelley, Lord Byron and John Polidori hung out at Villa Diodati, a mansion by a lake in Switzerland, smoked lots of opium, and composed some of the most memorable literature in modern history. Recently, with the rise of self-made-fame, Youtube has become a place for aspiring actors to create they own mini-companies to highlight their talents and the talents of their friends on a collaborative channel. This seems to be in order to generate more page and video views than they would be able to collect separately. Heck, that’s what we are doing together, here on this blog. So what’s the big deal with the Full Fathom Five? The Full Fathom Five is a collection of aspiring writers who are joining together to produce popular commercial fiction concepts they hope will make them rich. Sounds just like the scheme many Youtubers have devised, right? however, there seems to be a darker side to the FF-5 that makes it distinguishes it from Youtube, blogging and other collective art forms… You might not get credit, or a paycheck for your work. FF-5 is the project of author James Frey, well known for his ‘memoir’ A Million Little Pieces that dominated the bestseller list and was even endorsed by Oprah’s bookclub…until it was discovered much of the novel was sensationalized, causing many in the literary world to question, just what constitutes as a memoir? Now, Frey is visiting many Ivy League creative writing programs to recruit writers to produce commercialized fiction and ideas for him. The idea in itself doesn’t sound too bad; a distinguished writer takes aspirating writers in and gives them a great start in the world of publishing, but the actual execution of such a plan is where the problem arises. The darker side of the FF-5 was explained in an article that appeared in the New York Magazine on November 12, 2010 which spelled out what the fancy words in the contract actually mean for writers thinking about getting involved with this.

http://nymag.com/arts/books/features/69474/ - The book (that the writer and others created) would be published under a pseudonym - The writer would not be allowed to speak publicly about the project or about your involvement - The writer would be financially responsible for any legal action brought against the book but would not own its copyright. - Full Fathom Five could use the writer’s name or a pseudonym without his or her permission, even if the writer was no longer involved with the series, and the company could substitute the writer’s full name for a pseudonym at any point in the future. - The writer was forbidden from signing contracts that would “conflict” with the project; what that might be wasn’t specified. - The writer would not have approval over his or her publicity, pictures, or biographical materials. - There was a $50,000 penalty if the writer publicly admitted to working with Full Fathom Five without permission. - Absolutely NO negotiations with the contract. Basically, you write for Frey, he will own your writing, and if the Charlie Sheen of writing suddenly decides to get some one else to write it, or decided not to pay you, you’re Screwed with a capital “S”. I don’t think there is one of those points in the contract that is not extremely disturbing. This isn’t even mentioning the moral dishonestly and deception of the public. Books produced by the FF-5 like “I Am Number Four”, carry the pseudonym of one author who is not even a real person, but several people. As far as we know (and a widely held belief is) that the major commercialized novels that Frey is trying to emulate here like “Twilight” and “Harry Potter” were composed by one author and one alone. Discovering that your favorite book was published by a writing farm is kind of like find out your favorite pop star was lip syncing at his or her concert. You feel cheated, lied to, deceived. And Frey doesn’t even care. He was quoted as saying (with a smile): “I’ve got nothing to lose.” Frey defended his project by citing Andy Warhol’s Factory as an example of conceptualizing an art form. The difference: Andy didn’t compose soul sucking, ambiguous contracts. And for a final word; should we really be aiming to imitate “Twilight”, folks?

Monday, 30 May 2011

When We Should Settle

As any artist, of any discipline, will tell you that in order to really excel, you have to take the craft seriously. Pride in their work is what makes the greats great. And yet, there’s a group who still believe that because perfection can’t be reached, we should just accept it.


Why do we allow ourselves to settle for imperfection?

Learning writing is a long road. I set out long before I understood what it meant to become a professional. It’s good I did! If we understood the road before us before we had the passion for it, most of us would have given up.

After we have that passion, we need to take it seriously. We need to learn what it is that makes us the best we can be. That takes study and vision. We need to know we want to be the best we can be. We have to take the steps to get us there.

For writers, the editing and rewriting process is part and parcel of the task. Nothing goes without some form of tweaking. If you can rewrite it one hundred times and keep improving it, do it.

With that understood we have to remember: we’re business people, too. Eventually, we have to push the product. We have to give up and let it stand. At that point, and only then, we can settle for imperfection. We have to settle or we’ll drive ourselves crazy with the mistakes!

After that, though, we need to move on. We need to be better the next time.

We’re consumers, too, though. As consumers we shouldn’t settle either. We need to hold those we give our patronage to as high a standard as possible. Tell them where they can improve. We can encourage our craftsman to better heights merely by demanding they hold themselves to a higher standard. The adage is true. Nothing is ever perfect. That shouldn’t stop us from giving it our best.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

5 things I wish I'd done before I released my book

1. Start tweeting. I do have a Twitter account for my music news, but I hadn't set up an author one until after the book was out. This was a lost opportunity because Twitter is a great way to connect with people and both send and find out information instantly.

2. Blog about writing. Ditto above. I've been writing for years, and if I'd had a blog, I wouldn't be working from the ground up right now trying to find a niche.

3. Send out ARCs. I had no idea what advanced review copies (ARCs) were until long after I released my book. Turns out there are a TON of book bloggers who love spreading the word about books, but who often have a backlog of 1-3 months. Sending a copy early ensures a review can come out closer to the release date, building buzz. I'll try to do this with my next novel, rather than have reviews trickle in.

4. Learn more about promotion. I have a shelf full of books and magazines about writing and all of them are outdated. The new methods of promotion are changing faster than people can write books about them. And sure, ebooks about the subject are helpful, but sometimes I find out more about promotion just by watching Twitter streams like #writechat.

5. Set my goals higher. When I released my book, my goals were very modest--eighteen sales. After I hit that I was wondering where to go from there. Hopefully over the next few months I can iron out better plans for my next novel, so it can reach more people who would enjoy it.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Relationships - No, Not That Kind

I talked about worlds the other day. They're my primary building-block in writing. The other basic that forms the backbone of writing is relationships. Sometimes called conflict, there are three basic relationships: interpersonal, intrapersonal, and environmental, sometimes referred to as man vs man, man vs himself, and man vs nature. I don't like to break it down that way, as it's not a simple matter of 'versus'.

Interpersonal relationships are the heart of my favorite genre. Romantic relationships are simple and easily mapped and a lot of fun. But other levels of interpersonal relationship include families and friends and colleagues and people brushed by on the street and forgotten. Interactions with other people are the most visible form in stories from Romeo and Juliet to My Sister's Keeper to Twilight.

Intrapersonal relationships are how we see ourselves. It can take the form of akrasia or contemplation or Hamlet's famous soliloquy.

Environmental relationships are how we interact with our world. Is it snowing and cold and impossible to be outside in, or gorgeously sunny and warm? Is the atmosphere even breathable oxygen? Is our local world full of meth heads and drunks or puppies and white picket fences? Is the main character an eco-loving vegan or indifferently concrete-bound?

Obviously world-building plays an important part in the last, but it plays just as important a role in the other two relationships. With interpersonal relationships, it is a fairly clear-cut role: a romantic relationship might be proscribed or directed by anything from caste to location to politics. With intrapersonal relationships, the degree of introspection expected of an individual will vary wildly between cultures, which will inform that relationship.

. . . Oh, right, I was going to talk about something that wasn't world-building. We'll try that next time.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Covering the Basics: Ebook Covers

You might think about your cover as a promotional tool, but it is. Your cover is the first (and probably only) ad that your reader will see for it. It will be used in any promotion you do--guest blogs, interviews, etc. So make sure it's eye-catching and appealing.

One of the oldest writers' laments was "My book has a terrible cover!" But for self-pubbers, the ball's in your court. You can make or commission a cover that's perfectly suited to your book. But what constitutes a good book cover? If you're not an artist, how do you go about hiring someone for one of the most important decisions of your book's publication?

Look at books. Seriously, walk in a bookstore and look around. Which covers grab your attention? What makes them stand out? How is the text arranged? What colors do they use (or don't use)? Are they simple or complex? And how are covers designed within your genre? You don't want to copy everyone else, but you do want your book to fit in and give a quick visual clue as to what it's about. For romance novels, a cover with a photo of lovers in a steamy embrace is normal; for a book on economics, not so much.

Decide what you want. I sketched my cover in pencil to get a general idea of what I wanted, well before I hired an artist. However, if you can't think of anything, an artist will probably be able to come up with ideas for you. Be prepared to have a description of the book or characters ready if you want a portrayal of one of these on the cover.

Get a budget. A full, hardcover print layout could cost a thousand dollars; a simple ebook cover might be commissioned for under $100 by an experienced artist or for free by a new artist working to build up a portfolio. Ask around and see what people are paying and charging. And when you get an artist, make sure you agree on the cost (many artists work by the hour, but they should be able to give you an estimate) before the work is started.

Find an artist. A lot of writers' blogs will list the artist who does their covers, and failing that, it's often listed in the front matter of a book. Look around. I approached my artist initially because I admired a cover she'd done. And it paid off: many people say my novel's cover is one of the most professional indie-pubbed covers they've seen. If you have friends who do artwork, as if they would do a cover for you for a low cost or in exchange for its inclusion in their portfolio.

With a little bit of legwork, you can get a perfectly suited book cover that will work as a great promotional tool.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Blog Restructuring

We're doing some restructuring of the blog right now to better accommodate those things people call 'lives' and 'summers' and also make some of the series available in chunks as opposed to stretched out over weeks. What this means for you is that posts by certain authors won't be up on predictable days anymore, so if you have a favorite author, the easiest way to find them will be by author tag. You can find the author tags either at the bottom of posts or in the cloud tag to your right.

We will still be posting new content every day, so keep coming back!

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

I am not a psychic plagiarist, or how I ripped off a game without being aware of it's existence.

One thing that I noticed is that fiction can have strongly similar elements to other aspects of art. I have never noticed that Blade Runner had been inspired by a film called Alphaville, I thought that it was a truly original film. The same thing happened when I found an old project I had written.

The basic gist of my old project was that a group of assorted friends were given the ability to powers from Norse gods. It was aimless and it had some unfocused content, so I never finished it. Instead I worked on refining my writing skill.

A few years later, I encountered Shin Megami Tensei and its spin-off Persona. I loved how the games in the series kept up a balance of realism with video game mechanics for an engaging gameplay experience.

Then I encountered some notes taken from my old project. The setting of modern realism and preternatural oddities whammed at me like a locomotion train.

Sure, I could have rewritten the entire project to be very different from the Persona games, but I have decided to leave it be. I intended the project to be written in it's own way, and I learned something. Just because fiction is similar to another piece of work, it does not mean I should rewrite the intended message. Otherwise it would be something like a picture build in the sand, changing as the winds moved.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Full Fathom Five

I haven't seen I Am Number Four yet, but I want to. It has young, attractive action heroes with superpowers, what's not to love?

Oh, right. The author whose brainchild it is isn't allowed to claim it as his. That kind of sucks. Actually, it sucks a lot.

He's a member of Full Fathom Five, James Frey's book factory. I rather like the idea of it, in general. A writing community focused on getting things out there, with support and brainstorming from fellow writers. A think tank focused on stories. It'd be fun to work in a place like that.

But then I run into the hard realities of Full Fathom Five: the writers are overseen by James Frey, and write to his request. The writers are published under assumed names. Which'd be neat, if the whole thing were branded as a community. But it's branded James Frey, and even Oprah hates the man. Branding myself with someone else's shame isn't a particularly appealing prospect, especially since I wouldn't be making my own mark at all: I'd be contractually obligated not to.

That makes the whole concept spectacularly unappealing.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

We as writers?

My thoughts upon publishing: Either I'm a true artist or I'm a failed one.

I feel a strong need to comment on the idea of writing for the market. This is why Twilight knockoffs became so popular. This is why stuff like this happens. I understand why it happens, and it breaks my heart. Breaks my little goddamn heart.

Now, maybe I'm misunderstanding this all, but I just feel like...am I a failure for not recognizing these markets and tapping into them like everyone else? Am I missing out on the chance to become big by not following the herd and joining the saturation of the market by doing what is popular? Are YOU?

Are we failed writers because we don't give the public what it wants NOW, or true writers for sticking to our guns and writing what we want to write regardless of who wants to read it?

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

You Need Twitter

Or Facebook, or Digg, or Reddit, or LinkedIn, or. . .

As writers, we need social media.

You don’t believe me.

I can hear you out there, telling me I’m wrong.

Look, I know it’s hip to hate the revolution. Really, I understand. I was that guy once. Wouldn’t sign up to Facebook, you can’t make me! I got better. Now, I still don’t like Facebook, specifically, but I’m on Twitter.

You think “I’m a writer, hermit life is the way,” right? Wrong. Increasingly, you need to be a leader of a group of devoted followers. You need people who want to hear what you have to say. Where do you make these connections?

Not as a hermit, that’s for damn sure.

There is good news. You can have the best of both worlds! Get to know people in your underwear, with a cup of your favorite caffeinated beverage next to you. Social media offers a way to live your own life, and connect with real people.

Now, I’m not going to say learning social media is easy. In fact, it’s chaos! Let me show you a picture.

Monday, 16 May 2011

No Such Place

Few people study enough Greek anymore to realize Sir Tomas More's book was titled less-than-idealistically. In Utopia he describes an ideal society, but the word 'utopia' itself means 'no such place.'

Puts a much more realistic spin on the whole thing, doesn't it?

A truly perfect society would be a eutopia, with the same root word as euphoria.

Educational pedantry aside, setting is important. To which profound statement you say 'orly?' and I say 'ya, ttly.'

Does chatspeak exist in the world you're writing in? What about Greek? Did Sir Tomas More? How does that effect your world?

The most fun parts of a world to play with are tech and magic, at least for me. But our world is ours not just because of those but because of politics and history and fashion and literature and art and natural disasters, and they change things in ways so subtle we don't notice that everything fits into a new paradigm.

And with a new paradigm comes new language.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

When research attacks

This post started in my mind when I was talking with a friend, and said, “Although, I must admit--it would be fascinating to have a psychotic break from a research point of view.”

When you have a thought like this, it confirms you are a scientist. Or a writer.

A good writer wants it all to be as accurate as possible. Or, I want it all to be as accurate as possible—I can’t really speak for the rest of you. But if you have ever gotten wasted to experience your character’s hangover, or stood outside in the rain in the middle of a summer storm to see how quickly it takes your underwear to get wet, or tried keeping yourself up to see what hallucinations are like, then you might have a similar madness to my own.

The internet is great for factual research, but when it comes to subjective encounters, nothing beats some personal first-hand experience.

This gets bad when you wonder how your character feels when they accidentally put their foot in their blazing campfire, or has a psychotic break, or takes a tumble down a steep slope.

Have you ever wanted to do some up-close-and-personal research, or does common sense usually get in the way (as it should)?

Have you ever actually done something for the sake of the story? I know I have. It wasn’t pretty.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Lies and Truth

This is a great talk on the idea of wrongness. The important part for us, as writers, starts at 11:30.

“Miracle of your mind isn’t that you can see the world as it is, but that you can see the world as it isn’t. We can remember the past, we can think about the future. And we can imagine what it’s like to be some other person in some other place.”

This is a remarkable idea.

Since we can get things wrong, we can produce remarkable other worlds, and times, and people. It’s what, for all intents and purposes, allows us to be writers. But she doesn’t stop there!

“As readers, we eat this stuff up. We love things like plot twists, and red herrings, and surprise endings. When it comes to our stories, we love being wrong. But you know, our stories are like this, because our lives are like this. I thought this one thing was going to happen, but something else happens instead.”

This is an important point in my mind. We can imagine the most impossible as possible, write it all down, and we can sell it, but only if the impossible is tempered by those same beats that we know as life. People know that we do things because of drive, even if they can’t express it. People know that things rarely happen like we plan. People know that even if your characters can warp reality on a whim, they’re still human.

And that’s the key to a great story, isn’t it? Using a couple lies to tell the truth.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Sneaky Themes

Have you ever read over a piece of your writing and suddenly pick up on some underlying theme or symbolism that you had no idea you included? This happened to me recently when I was reading back over my novel...probably because I had just come from an English class final. But it make me wonder, just how much stuff did these authors of old really intend to stick between the lines of their novels and how much just ended up that way?

Everyone knows that English teachers like to take symbolism to the next level. Sometimes the curtains are just blue because the author liked the color blue. It doesn't necessarily have to be a sign of someone's deep inner turmoil and confusion or repression from the outside world. But, I noticed when I read over a part of my story, that during a sad part or a dark part, I subconsciously made the metaphorical curtains blue. Objects matched the mood. I guess that's how it is supposed to be, but wouldn't it be interesting if there were hot pink or sunshine curtains while someone is mourning the death of a loved one? What implications would throwing images and symbols in that don't seem to match, have? I purposely did this in a few scenes and it resulted in interesting contrast that could be left open to several interpretations.

Also, I've spoken to a few other writer who said that they write with a particular theme or message in mind. To me, this seems hard to do without being preachy but their stories ended up to be well rounded and interesting. I don't think I have ever done this it would probably be something interesting to try.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Practice Doesn't Make Perfect

If you write drivel over and over and don't try to note how you could improve, you're going to continue to write drivel, no matter how long you've been writing.

This is sometimes a hard truth, but best illustrated with, well, illustrations: Questionable Content and Mansion of E both started in 2003. Jeph Jacques has agonized in his blog about improving his art, and it shows, both in the art and the payoff. Robert Cook has improved, and also now uses color. But there haven't been the quantum leaps there've been in Jacques' work. And yet they both have been doing several-times-a-week strips since 2003.

There's a basic assumption here that you may not share: I'm assuming that everyone wants to improve, to better themselves, and to make a living from their creative projects. If writing to you is a hobby or a way to vent, then this is probably not the blog post for you and you should go read the Questionable Content archives instead.

Learning more about writing is necessary to improving your own; it's hard to recognize ways to improve if you don't recognize what's good. Writing classes help, as well as reading good fiction and classics and popular mainstream fiction. The trick with reading, though, is that you need to analyze why they work, why they have staying power, why they're popular. It's called critical reading, and it's what your incredibly boring ninth-grade English class tried to teach you.

When you've developed a sense of what's worked for other people, reread some of your own work. What good stuff are you already doing? How can you improve?

Critically assessing your own work will do you a lot more good than churning out more of the same.

When you've reached the limits of what you can do yourself, it's time to have someone else read it and tell you what you can improve on. Finding someone who knows what to look for and will be honest with you is important. Some sites, like Critique Circle, are dedicated to providing this. If you happen to know someone you trust to critique like that, all the better. The other alternative is an editor. Once you have feedback, it's crucial not to start defending yourself. If they ask questions, don't answer them to the person critiquing you, answer them in the text when you rewrite.

This process, the rewriting and getting feedback and rewriting again, this is the kind of practice that makes perfect.

Friday, 6 May 2011

The Ultimate Rule of Magic Part III: Energy

For those of you who haven't seen my previous posts, my first series of posts is about magic, and placing rules on it to make it believable and fit with your story. In the first week, I established my ultimate rule of magic, and last week I elaborated on how it applies to making characters: by defining magic users.

This week, I'd like to focus on how it applies to a simple law of physics. To be precise, I refer to the law of conservation of energy, which basically states that the total energy in the universe is conserved (though note that not all energy is useful, and entropy means a tendency towards energy that isn't useful).

So what does this mean for magic? Well, the energy to make that fireball had to come somewhere. As with all applications of the rule, this comes with some flexibility. Often, the simple solution that people revert to, without even considering it, is that there's some sort of limitless (or damn near limitless) supply of magical energy that magic users can access.

While that's certainly an option, I've got problems with it. Anyone who stops to think about it for a second (and depending on what your target audience is, that may or may not be an issue, and if it isn't you can ignore the rest of this post) will call bullshit. It makes magic sort of reality breaking by the universe's own logic. Why are there problems if there's limitless magical energy to fix them?

A reader who thinks about will expect that, at some point, something will show some strain from using a lot of magic. What it is that shows the strain varies depending on your energy source(s), of course, but the usual concept is that the magic user himself or herself will begin to weaken as the magic draws the energy out of them. Most often you can leave it there, but the more you know about how something works in your universe, the more consistent and believable it is, no?

So let's establish where the energy actually comes from. Starting with those sources which cause strain for the magic user, we have:
  • The magic user's own physical energy (this can be difficult to work with, expect mages to eat A LOT because otherwise they can't do much)
  • Some sort of inborn energy source in the magic user, which can only be used for magic (in which case you should establish how they refill it, if they even can)
  • A combination of the above (with a combination of consequences)
  • Drawing it from magic floating around in the environment (Visible or invisible can be relevant, and energy from anything in the environment is possible as long as you explain it. The strain here is mental exhaustion from gathering the energy.)
  • A combination of the above (see previous)
However, there are other sources to bring up. For instance, what if magic only comes from magical sources in the environment? You would expect this to cause some strain on those sources, or even the general environment itself (which in and of itself can lead to interesting issues when it's overused in an area). Or what if the energy is extradimensional somehow? Expect to deal with consequences for that as well, whether it be the destruction of reality itself, or people coming over from the other dimension demanding their energy back, or anything else you can think of.

The sources are endless, and so are the consequences. In general, your best bet is to be creative and logical. Hell, the characters could be under the impression that the energy comes from one place when it really comes from another. It doesn't matter, as long as you figure it out and keep it consistent. That, after all, is the major key to believability with magic. My effort here is only to get you thinking about it, so that when you use magic in your story it is believable.

So until next time, have fun writing.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

All art is one

I was recently in a from-scratch production. That is to say, I was in a class where we took a source material (a book) and turned it into a play and performed it. We read the book, picked out key scenes, wrote the script, condensed condensed condensed, blocked it out, and put it on.

I got a lot of praise for how I acted, not only by people in the audience but by my classmates and teacher, and the person who wrote the book. My teacher even said that I was putting in passion that some seasoned actors didn’t have.

This was my second ever time on the stage. I don’t intend to go into acting. I’m dramatic, but I’m not an actor. Then how did I do so well with so little time? (We had like a couple of months to memorize the script or something, seriously.)

Personally, I think it’s because I’m a writer.

When I write, I don’t just tell a story. I become the characters. I figure out how they talk and what they would say in a certain situation, how they would react and what their body language is, how they interact with other characters and how they think and what they think. And I do this for as many characters as I can, so they can become real in their interactions with each other. I don’t just have a detective character, I have a fully fleshed young man who is cracking under the strain of his job and the pressure he puts on himself, someone to whom family and obligations are very important, a person who was formed by his past experiences. (The fun part about writing is that you can reverse engineer this, taking a character and saying “now how did they get to be this way? What happened to them to make them act and think like this?”) 

It was the same sort of process. I had the story, and all I had to do was think, now how would a young girl react to all this? All I had to do was pretend. That’s all acting is, in the end; pretending.

And let’s face it, that’s what writing is too.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Passion of the Writer

So, I was struggling to find a topic after economic fiction. No, really. I ran out of ideas. I mean, I really only had one.

So I thought about it.

I watched some TED videos.

I researched a major corporation.

I watched some more TED videos.

I wrote a six page research paper.

Through it I kept reading my blogs.

I found one idea. I have a habit of talking about fear and failure. Basically every blog I start has a discussion on failure eventually, so why not talk about a topic that I continue to learn more about. It’s an interesting topic.

Then I found a blog post. Michael Hyatt discussed finding your passion, that which drives us.

So I thought about it.

A number of things come to mind: writing, books, religion, games, politics, people.

Then I realized, it’s more abstract than that. What drives me is ideas. I love ideas. I like thinking about them, I like talking about them, I love the camaraderie that develops around them.

I also realized that what I consider a good idea is a bit different than most.
Why, yes, I am the artist. Why do you think I write?

That terrible piece of spec drawing? That’s a fan powered Viking longboat. Completely ridiculous, right? Also impossible. But to my friends and me, it was a project. Something to bond over.

That’s all a good idea really is, though, isn’t it? Something that brings humanity into a closer knit community. An idea builds people up and makes them try something they have never tried before.

Here’s the great part about crazy, unrealistic, and visionary ideas: they can always work in print. We’re writers. That tiny voice in us all that drives us into an art where we are reviled and disrespected at every turn tells us we have great ideas, and they need to be shared. People all around us like ideas. They crave imagination and stories. They want to see this world in different ways. We’re taking our own unique and wonderful vision, and presenting it to them.

What’s your passion? What idea can you give to your readers that is so uniquely you that it drives everything you do? Let me know!

Monday, 2 May 2011

Akrasia, and the necessity thereof

Akrasia, as defined over at Wikipedia, is "the state of acting against one's better judgement."

For example, venti creme brulee lattes with whipped cream are bad for me. They contain dairy, which I react badly to, caffeine, which renders me strung out, and whipped cream, which renders me fat. Also sprinkles, sometimes. I know, logically, that they are bad for me and that I should not drink them. But they're also delicious.

And sometimes delicious wins. That's akrasia.

As an aspiring rationalist, I want to avoid akrasia as much as possible (that's why I have tea in front of me - that and holiday beverages being over of the year).

Since I like to have characters that represent a fair spread of humanity, there are some characters who are aspiring rationalists, too. They fall victim to akrasia infrequently, since they're specifically looking to avoid it, but they still do, since they're still aspiring rationalists. And, in my stories, they end up in extreme situations where their best interests might not always be clear, making akrasia nearly inescapable.

For non-rationalist characters, akrasia is much more frequent. They do things like go off on adventures to save the world, when staying where they are and filing a complaint with their local representative or calling the police would be more practical and be the more logical decision, as there are agencies which are more effective than they are as an individual and present lower risk to life and limb.

It's important to separate akrasia from the character judging outcomes using only the information they have, as opposed to information the author has. If the character has let their dog outside and hears a scratching at the door that sounds just like their dog, but the author has shown that it's a ravenous wolf scratching at the door, the character is acting in their best interest as far as they know when they let the wolf in. To a reader, it's achingly stupid, but the character is using the information they have available. To present the same character in a situation that really would involve akrasia, install a window next to the door. The character has heard stories on the news of wolf sightings in town. It's dark out, and the shape is canine, but distinctly not that of his dog. He wants it to be his dog, since otherwise it means something has happened to make his dog not send up an alarm. Does he keep the door closed and call animal control, or let hope rule and let in the wolf?

Take out the possibility of akrasia, and you as a writer remove a great deal of suspense from your writing. The three main conflicts are man against nature, man against man, and man against himself. A rationalist who acts always towards what is best for themselves removes the third conflict. An aspiring rationalist, however, may simply elucidate that conflict more than many.

In fiction, akrasia serves a purpose, and can be good. It adds conflict, and makes characters more relatable to we flawed mortals who don't choose rationally at all junctures. If the main character of Alexander behaved in a rational way, I'd never have made it past Chapter One with that particular story. This post is a result of more ruminating on the differences between good fiction and good life.

This post is also going up at my personal blog, Authors' Refuge, though at a later date because of the way buffer has fallen out.

And now, blog post complete, I shall go and drink something with sprinkles.