Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What fandom can bring

What do people do when you're not watching? Do they exist? Does it matter? Are they these creepy dead things that only come to life when you're playing with them? (Dolls might be the word I'm looking for.)

I have friends who tell me that they worry that people are dead, when they are not interacting with them. I have friends who assume that all the fun things happen when they're not around. I personally tend to assume everyone is in something of a state of suspended animation, with occasional worry that they're actually dead, or suspicion that they're having more fun without me.

This is a heady philosophical question, but I'd like to apply it instead to stories. When we write, there are a few tendencies that can pop out. One is to blindly tell a story and make everything fit into it, regardless of characters', well, characters. Sometimes it doesn't make sense that a person like that character would do that thing, though it helps the plot. Sometimes I get the feeling that the character has in fact been in suspended animation in between needing her to be on the page. Sometimes I suspect that were I to ask the character what he did over the weekend, all I'd get is a blank stare.

Other times, the tendency is to overdescribe all the occurrences. It's like what would happen if purple prose answered all questions with where and when, as well as how and pretty. Do you ever have those moments where you look back over a scene you just wrote and think "erm, did I need to write everything that happened to her that day? Because um, it turns out, nothing happened. But she drank some tea! And read the newspaper. In which there were articles that I described faithfully. Then she went to the loo! Then, then, then." Forgetting how to fade to black and jump timelines would be sad in real life, but is tragic indeed in writing. What do you mean you don't have those abilities in real life? What do you mean those abilities are only brought about by excessive drinking?

One of the things that fandom taught me was to think about the in-between spaces in a story. It taught me wonderfully how to develop a character in the tiniest ways - precisely because fandom would then take those tiny signals and enlarge them hugely - and what can be left unspoken. It made me think about the character's  introspection and deepest murkiest (or chirpy) thoughts that I as an author need to know about, lo tho they may never achieve the page. It's ok, anxious author! The fanficcers will spell it out for you! I promise.

So it simultaneously made me learn how to flesh out a character, and how to do it in subtle ways and not actually put it all on paper. Sometimes it's enough to know it all in your head as you're writing; it'll shine through as the characters feel more alive and realistic.

And when all else fails, the fanficcers will make all of your characters have all that sex you haven't been letting them have.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

On improving myself

Sometimes I go through periods where I just can't read. I mean, not that I become incapable thereof, because I would have to go blind first. And that would be really sad. I suppose I sufficiently bad head injury might accomplish it? But I don't really want that either, if I have a choice.

So perhaps it is more apt to say that I go through periods where I have a hard time wanting to read. I still read the newspapers, blogs on my googlereader, my friends' blogs, random words on the internet and sometimes even (gasp) fanfiction, quite happily, but the concept of a book just seems too overwhelming to contemplate. I will stare at my creaking, groaning, shelves in disgust and think NONE OF THESE ARE RIGHT.

This is particularly of note because normally I go through about a book a day.

So the past few weeks have been like that for me. I read a couple books on the airplane to and from Michigan for thanksgiving, but otherwise have been reading the newspaper or playing phone games on the subway and generally boycotting the entire idea of books. I even went to the gym and tried to read while ellipticalling but realised that would only work with my tablet, not with the tiny phone I had on me (and it's still hard, because I bounce up and down a lot).

Finally, yesterday, I swung by a friend's office to grab a cable and she offered me books (we all work in publishing. It's like offering someone tea or something - only polite) and as I looked panicked and overwhelmed at the concept of READING A WHOLE BOOK she treated me a little like a scared kitten. She spoke soothingly, quietly, and presented me with no obligations as she dangled treats in front of my eyes. Perhaps this book from a friend and author whose debut I've been eagerly awaiting? No pressure! Or perhaps this third book in a silly series about Jane Austen being a vampire? No pressure! How about a regency romance with practically no sex? No pressure!

...And somehow I have three books in my bag all of a sudden. And then last night, while tipsily coming home on the subway I tentatively started reading one, completely ignoring the book that's been faithfully travelling around in my bag with me for weeks until I was ready to read it again.

Sometimes throwing off the shackles of obligation - even if it's entirely self-imposed - makes all the difference to one's enjoyment and desire to do a thing.

And now I am reading a book about Jane Austen being a vampire. Fortunately I am also reading a friend's second novel - at the gym mostly, now I've figured out the tablet situation - so my brain is slowly creaking back into editorial and critical thinking as well.

And then, for my birthday, my grandmother - at my request - bought me a subscription to the New York Review of Books. I'd been thinking, in the past year, that the quality of their writing, reportage and political acumen was almost unbeatable these days, so I'm really happy to be a) supporting them and b) getting their writings in my mail box once a month. Petpet. So this morning I read interesting things on the subway! I eschewed the newspaper - mostly on the grounds that I've already read all the news they print either on twitter or new blogs the night before - and read reviews of interesting sounding books. And there are already three I want to read and one I want to give as a gift to two people.

Oh creaky little brain, you are being to emerge from your cocoon again, aren't you? You were just a little overwhelmed there for a bit. Maybe you'll even want to start writing a little bit again every day?

Which brings me to the final way I am endeavouring to spend this winter improving myself. I am trying to do a little, tiny, bit of exercise every day. I am trying to make my body strong to withstand the ravages of cold and also oncoming time, and the amount I feel better when I do is really quite startling. Healthier habits all round are really improving the quality of my life.

And it's nice to remember that, even on mornings where it's cold and rainy out and nothing seems like it's going right. Gym, interesting things to read, maybe a little writing - and work. Plus I made a new friend last night!

Also I wrote about 14k in November. I will be a good girl and do some this month too, hopefully. Somewhere in between carolling and holiday parties and ice skating and walking down Fifth Avenue to see the windows and the lights and the Rockefeller Christmas Tree.

Oh goodness, I'm from one of those turn of the century novels. And I love it.