The worlds we create belong to some reality. Those realities must have some form of physics that governs the actions within. These physics must be the type that can create and sustain life or at least things that are capable of having and conveying experiences within that reality. No characters, no story. These factors combined with our limited imaginations as 3D, corporeal, mortal beings means that the realities we create are almost always analogous to our own.
So what does this mean for our writing? It means the world, our real world, is a treasure trove of inspiration. If our writing is doomed to be analogous, why not hunt for some bitchin’ analogs!
I’m a lucky man and I get to travel a lot thanks to my rad wife’s rad job. Wherever we go, I always like to keep an eye out for intriguing settings or details from scenes that could one day make it into my stories. This, for example, is an actual Victorian surgical theater smack dab in the middle of London. As a writer of mostly dark themes, I had to check this place out. Who knows when one of these rooms will creep into a story. So, I hopped on the tube and bought my ticket and hauled myself up the narrow stairwell, through the gift shop, and up to the vantage point where I took the photo. That photo, however is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the way I go about scene collecting. (more…)
A number of weeks ago, I came across an article from BBC reporter Steven McIntosh titled Could ‘Method Writing’ be the Future for Novelists? The article, like many articles about writing, made me reflect on my own practice and I realized that I am, in a sense, a method writer.
Before we can begin to understand what method writing is, we need to mention method acting. Focusing on the popular Strasburg Method, the quick description of a method actor is that they physically and mentally live or have lived in a way that mirrors the character they are portraying to some degree. Think of it as collecting experiences to draw from. This is thought to help the actor understand their character more deeply and thus provide a more accurate, compelling portrayal.
A light version of these methods could include learning an instrument or taking up fencing. Some actors take it to the extreme and never break character for the entirety of the shoot. Daniel Day-Lewis is famous for doing this with pretty much every character he plays. Bill the Butcher from Gangs of New York was especially hard to be around. He learned to throw knives, gut carcasses, and got into real fights in parking lots.
Now, let me be clear. If I ever write a story about being stranded in the desert, I will not be drinking my own pee in order to understand the experience. Nor have I become an opium addict for my current WIP (spoiler alert?). I am no Daniel Day-Lewis but I will say that many of the lighter concepts behind method acting have worked their way into my writing without my knowledge. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that much of it has been there from the start. (more…)
We are often told as writers to write what we know. That’s all well and good but what if you don’t know much? What if you haven’t experienced much? If your life isn’t as exciting or dramatic as you would like your stories to be? Are you doomed? I don’t think so.
The thing is, you have had experiences. An astronomical amount of experiences throughout your life. There have been millions of smells, tastes, sounds, and sensations. All of which made their own little imprint in your mind. You’ve seen and done so many things that if you stick just a fraction of those miniscule details together, you can create quite the mighty tale. The key lies in the math. The addition and subtraction of these tiny bits of experience equal the whole of a unique event. We as writers recognize this when writing any fleshed-out scene. These small details flesh out our real lives in the same way.
This theory is something that I’ve been kicking around for a few years now and has stemmed from my travels since moving to Europe. It’s probably not a new line of thinking but it’s not something I have researched either. I’d done some traveling in the past but living abroad and having so many travel opportunities at my finger tips, opportunities to see famous, extravagant places, has helped me realize that different locations on the map are far more similar than one might think. I’m forever grateful for the travel I’ve done, and while it has helped my writing, it isn’t a necessity. Very few of the small details that surround me as I travel are different than those back home.
A cold rain in New York and a cold rain in Amsterdam feel the same. The smell of loam and pine will greet your nose in an Austrian forest just as it would on a trail in the Rockies. The sound of a waterfall in Croatia is the sound of a waterfall in Hawaii. This of course is comparing like for like, glamorous for glamorous, which is not entirely what I’m talking about. I’m talking about using small ordinary details to build epic scenes no matter where the detail was experienced.
I recently had the chance to travel to Venice, Italy for Carnevale. The trip had been planned for almost a year and we decided to go for the gusto. Here’s a picture of us in full costume.
This was a massive, life-altering trip. Strolling through the gilded, elaborate enclosure of Saint Mark’s Square, dressed as some pagan god and being swarmed by photographers was, on the surface, utterly foreign. It seemed that way to me at first. I had never in my life been in a situation like that, or rather, that specific situation. As I thought about what was actually happening, as I narrowed my focus, I realized that the foreign feeling wasn’t in the details but in how they came together. Ordinary pieces came together to build a something remarkable. (more…)