Strange Animals 10jun2019: Organising Principle

I just wrapped up a very satisfying week in terms of how I spent my time. I managed to keep work to eight hours or a little less every day, and I spent a lot more time reading and watching quality tv than on social media.

Like many people, a lot of the time I spend on the internet tends to be time that appears too short to do something else, so to brace myself against that, I’ve categorised desirable avenues based on the time they might take – a short story or an article if I have very little time or if I’m waiting on something, an audiobook when I’m cooking or working out, and actual reading and tv/movie viewing gets done with my phone in another room.

It’s taking my attention some time to reorganise itself to the change in stimulus, but it’s happening.

1. Weeknotes

I lettered 80 pages last week – this is more my usual speed, near around 10-15 pages a day on average.

I wrote 1,500 words of prose. This includes completing the first draft of a short story that I started last week, called ‘World Full of Holes’. I’ve just finished typing it in, and will do another draft sometime in the next couple of weeks, after which it’ll go to my first readers before I decide what to do with it (if anything).

I wrote 6 pages of comics. “Wrote” is generous – this is a rambler which I’ll still have to arrange into a script and edit ruthlessly, but it’s more than nothing.

My sole release for the week was the Maxwell’s Demons collection, written by Deniz Camp, drawn and coloured by Vittorio Astone, lettered by me, edited by Adrian Wassel, from Vault Comics. You might remember that I for this book when the finale was released.

It’s a comic I’m very proud of – Deniz and Vittorio have created a sincere, imaginative and electrifying work, and I have a feeling that over the years, this book will remain one that gets passed on from reader to excited reader like a treasured secret. I just wish Deniz had made fewer puns.

2. The Balm of Genre

A little more than a week ago, critic Sean T. Collins posted an article about how so many of the most critically acclaimed tv series currently tend to be “killjoy” comedies.

His contention (paraphrasing) is that comedies have a “true north”, like docudramas (being funny and being true, respectively), and therefore being less amorphous than dramas, it’s easier to state a seemingly objective stand about them without putting yourself out there too much. Dramas are more amorphous, and “even critics get gun-shy around making firm arguments about the subjective”.

It’s a good point, overall (and one could further talk on how most dramas that occupy the top the “best series ever” lists gain those positions after they’re completed), and it relates in some measure to something I’ve been thinking about for a good long while, given that I spent pretty much the entirety of my 20s watching comedies and little else.

With a comedy, you know where you’re going. It must make you laugh, or, in the case of a “killjoy” comedy, make you think wryly about something, at the least. There are beats that it’s going to hit every single time. And that’s the same with genre stories.

Dramas have no such restrictions. A drama can go anywhere, and take you with it. It can make you feel unmoored, and this can be a vertiginous experience at its worst. (This is why, I think, comedies that “transcend” their genre are generally said to do so by getting closer to being dramas.)

I’ve always been lily-livered when it comes to stories that make me feel like that. If a tv series I’m in the middle of starts to go places I’m not comfortable with, I’ll look up a summary to know the gist of what happens – I don’t mind if a character lives or dies or has something horrible happen to them, as long as I know in advance.

For such a person, comedies and genre stories are great. There’s the things you know will happen, and everything around those will be little, manageable surprises, easy to digest.

It’s no bad place to be, and I wouldn’t judge anyone who’d like to stay there, but I’ve been changing that for a while now, and trying to enjoy the vertigo rather than put buttresses between it and myself. Trying to engage with the unmoored feeling as a writer, giving myself time to adjust, and thinking on possibilities, rather than just find out what happens and dissipate it.

3. Killing Tells

I had a quick and dirty thought about storytelling the other day, and it’s definitely one that could use fleshing out over time, but here it is, in short.

A lot of mainstream storytelling tends to have a problem with characters being killed to motivate another character. It’s rampant to the point of having a term to denote it – fridging. It is a very easy choice to make as a writer, because it lets you motivate your main character into engaging with the plot you’ve set up for them without doing too much work getting them there.

But it’s dissatisfying for the audience, and I think that’s because dying is, generally speaking, not a choice. This is fine, and there’s a lot you can do with that, but in this specific instance, not only are you not giving the character a choice to make, any consequence is borne by someone else, and it doesn’t take the form of grief (which would be an engagement with the character who died), but in the form of action, which is not about the relationship between the two, but about the living character’s relationship with someone else.

So when you write a character dying, there’s far richer places to go than simply using it as motivation for someone else’s actions.

If you’re getting to that place, and you can’t see any other way to go ahead, then something has gone wrong somewhere else in your story, and you either need to backtrack and recast, or you need to write a different kind of story.

4. Recommendation

I’m currently obsessed with this short webcomic from The New Yorker, by Emma Hunsinger. I won’t spoil it for you by talking more about what I thought of it, except: it’s not really “humour”, and if you find yourself mystified after the first few panels, push on.

5. From the Commonplace Book

I found this on Twitter, quoted from Roberta Frank’s article on Anglo-Scandinavian England (the chronicle referred to is that of John of Wallingford, and the slaughter is the St. Brice’s Day massacre):

One thirteenth-century chronicle attributed a slaughter of Danes by Anglo-Saxons in 1002 to the former’s irresistibility to the latter’s spouses: “The Danes made themselves too acceptable to English women by their elegant manners and their care of their person. They combed their hair daily, according to the custom of their country, and took a bath every Saturday, and even changed their clothes frequently, and improved the beauty of their bodies with many such trifles, by which means they undermined the chastity of wives.”

Filed under #history and #hygiene.