Hearing Books or Reading Books

I’ve listened to two audio books in my life. One by Stephen King and the other by Chuck Palahniuk. Both were much more brutal than I imagined they possible could be. At times I wanted to tear out my ear balls, turn off the radio. I squirmed while hurtling down the interstate at 75mph.

Granted, both were brutal stories. Palahniuk is not for the faint of heart, at least in places. You know what King is like. I know what King is like. I’ve read his novels and short stories extensively. And I’d read Plahniuk before, though not as much.

But the two I read–heard–in the car, their words assaulting my ear drums. It was an auditory hell. Wincing, brutal. It was a particularly bad physical performed by Al Queda torturers. Seriously, seriously disturbing and creepy. It was so bad I had to wonder: was that King novella that much horrific than all of his others I’d read? Had a lucked out in reading Palahniuk’s most accessible and mainstream works before this one?

No. The difference was purely in matter of form. When you read, you can skip over the bad bits, skim over the lines about bones breaking and blood. You can hold your breath in your brain and move on. But not when you’re listening. No, with an audio book the words come unhindered, unstoppable, and the reader/actor lets each one drip and emote. The words and their timbre and connotations are free to pinwheel through your consciousness, aided by the superb diction of the faceless voice coming from your speakers. There’s no avoiding it, no closing your eyes like in a film.

And the imagination is free to roam when listening in a way different than reading. When reading, your attention is always on the page, the little black lines intersecting and curving toward each other, the spaces in between. Reading is visual, and when the images the words are drawing forth are too intense–well, you really are only looking at lines on a page. You are always seeing the page, and the imagination must work to distance what your eyes are seeing and what your brain is telling you.

Not with an audio book, not with a story told dramatically. There is only sound then, the sounds of dripping blood and flesh, the sounds of terror and anxiety, the sound of the breath drawing in, waiting for the next horror.

For the Next Post:

Why an Audio Book Holds your Attention but My Sermons Do Not.

Perspective and N. Gaiman

I read Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere again last week. It was quite good the first time, not quite the second, having lost the charm of the first, fresh reading. I read it as a writing exercise to learn how Gaiman handled perspective, especially in terms of the protagonist who is hurled into a bizarre fantasy world. And what I read was pretty astounding. He didn’t dive into the brains and emotions of the characters much. And his description of their reactions were almost like stage directions:

Richard slumped. She said with a sigh.

Things like that. Nevertheless, Gaiman captured the characters and their reactions extraordinarily well.

But something lingered at the back of my mind, so I looked up the title on the net and remembered that it was an adaptation from a British miniseries Gaiman wrote first. That explains his narrative approach and choice of perspective. Now to re-read American Gods to see how he handles perspective and characterization when beginning with the novel.

Signs from God?

"I Want That One" Picture

I had a bad time writing the other day. It was late afternoon, I had a few moments of quiet and tried to write a little on a project I am working on and immediately got stymied. Stuck. Like mud. No, more like quicksand with a bunch of fifth-graders laughing at me. It was really bad.

"I Want That One" PictureNo more than an hour later a friend confided that he was meeting someone in the industry to talk about his writing, and maybe get a contract out of it.

I stood there listening, but all I could feel was the blood pooling in my chest. A strange feeling–was this jealousy? Was it failure? Envy? No, it was like missing the bus, standing on the curb, watching it pull away from me.

So, being a Christian-kind-of-guy, I wondered: what should I take from this? Was this a sign from God? A sign to quit writing? A sign to give up on my dreams of fiction? I sign that I should have done more and sooner? Maybe a sign to keep writing?! Yes, that would be excellent!

But after a beer and a restless night of sleep I realized it wasn’t a sign at all. It was just a friend’s good fortune, a friend’s networking efforts paying off, a friend pursuing the same dream as me and catching a break, just like a break I caught once that put my name in print for the first time.

We Christians fall into seriously deep traps when we think everything is a sign from God, that there is a secret message to every event in our lives. Truth be told, that’s not really Christian at all. That’s superstition. That’s closer to what Dan Brown believes, not what Christ teaches and the Church Confesses.

Does God send signs? Probably. Does the devil do counterfeit signs? Yes. Can we tell which is which and what is simply our own powers of deception, our own longing for some celestial message? No. Ok, rarely.

No, I will go with what Scripture has revealed. I will use the gifts God has given me. I will write what I want, and I will write for my own enjoyment, and maybe my family’s. I’m not going to discover hidden signs and meaning behind stuff. I’m just going to work to the glory of God.

Saying “No”, Hook-Ups and Literature

Here is a teaser from an excellent article about the “hook-up” culture and pornography’s destructive nature. The article may be found here.

Nevertheless, the advent of the so-called hook-up culture has fostered expectations among young men that encounters with co-eds naturally lead to no-strings-attached sex. Sex is not preceded by an altar, commitment, “I love you”, or even a decent conversation. In a hook-up culture anonymous sex is not a scandal but, it would seem, the ideal, for when sex is depersonalized, it cannot lead to the complications associated with affection, vulnerability, and the desire to sacrifice for the good of the other person.

On a related note, the biggest problem I had with the Twilight series was Jacob’s pursuit of Bella even after she rejected him time and time again, even forcing kisses on her. He was a predator, but still somehow painted in a good light. What a terrible message to send to young girls!

Saturday Night Oops

Sometimes on Saturday night about this time your pastor will take a look at his sermon and think, “This is really not very good.”

It happened to me about fifteen minutes ago, and I am stewing a bit. I really wanted this one to be good, and I’m afraid I tried too hard. Tried to be subtle instead of saying what a I want to say.

But it’s late, and I have family in town, staying at our home, and Sunday morning is is already beating its way around the Earth.

So I will look at the sermon a few more times and try not to gag, and go tomorrow and preach it. Just preach it.

The difference ten years makes is I will not re-write it, at least much. I will not let it keep me up tonight. I will go and proclaim the Word of our living God Jesus Christ and get over my own self.

I’m not there to impress people. I’m not there to inspire and awe them. I did my best this week in writing it, and I will do my best in proclaiming it, and I will leave the rest to God.

Outlining and Writing

Photo by Mattox

Well, my Great Idea of updated daily hasn’t quite worked out. Silly me.

I’m 2000 words behind in my National Novel Writing Month project, but I’m now consistently 2000 words behind and writing everyday (again), so I’m not worried.

I’ve learned something about writing fiction: I planned out the first 18000 words in scenes/phases, roughly approximating to 2-3 pages each. But that is all I had planned before November 1 shocked us all at his early arrival. Now I am past that point and sitting to write is very, very hard. I’m trying to develop the first major plot point (which should have been written about 6000 words ago) and fighting through all that, making it up as I go along is not very easy.

Some writers write like that. Some just “go where the characters take them.” I like the sound of that. I used to think I was like that. But I’m slowly realizing that I am not. I am an outliner, a storyboarder. I didn’t plan out every single thing, every line of dialogue, every event that would happen, but having the scene/phase outline and sitting at the keyboard knowing that I am beginning with the Protagonist opening the door and ending with him nearly falling off the cliff certainly keeps me focused and making good and enjoyable foward progress.

Since a lot of you are here for theological stuff, I’ll write tomorrow about how this connects with writing sermons.

Tools and Toolishness

screwdriver pictureSo, Scrivener for Windows was just released. Scrivener is a writing program for Macs which is immensely popular and used by hundreds of published authors. Since I use Windows machines, I’ve been out of luck to even look see what it looks like until last night. But I’m impressed. The Windows version is “early Beta” which means I discovered several bugs already, and the final release is not planned until January or February, but even at that, it is a nice piece of software.

I’ve also tried using Liquid Story Binder, which is very cool…in an everything-including-the-kitchen-sink-kind-of-way, but which is not as well loved or used (Sorry, Jesse, it’s true).

Mostly I’ve used, though, is  a combination of Word and Microsoft Onenote to keep track of characters and events and outlines. Onenote could be very, very good…but not quite setup for writing in terms of storyboarding and such.

Now that I’ve bored you all to tears…here’s my point: tools are good only insofar as you use them to do other stuff. Playing with them, thinking about them, waiting for the newest and best to come out, designing around them is all foolishness. Tools are made to be used to make or do or fix things. Not to be collected, obsessed over, fiddled with or whatever.

Which tool you use matters, of course, but not so much as actually doing the work. One may be easier, another may be more elegant, a third could be more powerful, but it’s all for naught if it’s not actually put to use. It’s far better to choose a tool and use it than to whimper and fidget, tremble and vasillate over this and that and never do anything.

This goes for whatever your hobby may be. Or whatever your religion. It’s one thing to be about, another to do and engage. It’s one thing to collect and plan and dream, another to drop the dreams and just make due with what you have and get something done.

I’m for the latter.

Getting to Know the Protagonist

I had my editor (Marjorie) read my short story I was all ready to post here. It’s not quite ready for prime time, sadly. So instead of a story, I thought I’d post about writing stories.

I’m working on a supernatural YA novel right now. It’s about a boy who finds himself caught up in a conspiracy of aliens (or what might be aliens) trying to gain a foothold in our world. He’s got a McGuffin* that they need and is on the run with a neighbor girl.

But I found myself having a problem with the main character. I really didn’t know him well enough, and feared that he was a cloudy mish-mash of myself and a childhood friend at best and a cloudy ball of cliches at worse. To make matters worse, I am reading a brilliant piece of literary fiction (see this post) which is all character, and my protagonist appears even more unrealized and lame next to Franzen’s characters.

I decided to write a prologue chapter to get to know my protagonist better. I knew he was having trouble at school in chapter one of my novel, so I wrote a story about the day it all came to a head for him, timed well before my novel begins. While I was writing it I was not thinking about how it would work in with my existing story or plot. I didn’t write it worrying about tone or foreshadowing or action. I just wrote a story about my protagonist and why his school was obsessed with frogs.

What came from it was strong enough to stand on its own, as it turns out, and was a great way to get to know my character a little better, so spend some time in his skin that didn’t hinge upon plot points or the narrative arc of the novel. Just a chapter, a story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

It was a great exercise in helping me get to know my character. I plan on writing another chapter-or short story-for some of my other characters as well. And they just might end up working themselves into the novel too.

Right-Brained Insomnia and Convalescence

It was one of the those nights you long for the sun to rise. I was hopped up on 10

insomnia image

by naraosga,courtesy stock.xchng

mg of Lortab after my nasal septoplasty, and being jarred awake at every lash of rain against the french doors and crack of thunder. The storms drifted in and out and around Enid all night.

Around 1:30 I was awake and on a creative binge. I thought of this blog re-design, that all ten of you have no doubt already discovered. Don’t worry, I cheated and used a template again–don’t give me too much credit.

I also began mentally exploring my main character for next month’s National Novel Writing Month. It will be told in the first-person I decided–the first time I’m attempting that. I’m not going to give too much away yet, but I may share more in the weeks to come. I also thought of the beginning of how to write down the series of stories about Pattatat the Mouse Adventurer and his brother Rappatat, and envisioned some of the illustrations I would like to use for it.

It was a creative high, I tell you. Why can’t these happen at a more civilized time, in a more civilized way, when I am not sporting nose bandages and high on prescribed narcotics? Perhaps it was the narcotics, God forbid! (May I never turn into Gregory House–for so many reasons). Let’s all try to foster our creative growth in the future, unaugmented.

On a note not unrelated, my friend Emily said she wanted to read some of my fiction, so in my blog re-design I’ve set aside a category for Fiction that I’ll share with you here. I’ve a story nearly complete–perhaps I can publish it tomorrow as my convalescence continues until my appointment Thursday afternoon.

Use the Library

Think of this as a Public Service Announcement.

I am learning Photoshop and HTML & CSS right now and have some good resources, but am also looking into some more. Amazon doesn’t always give a good idea of what the book is really like, apart from the reviews, and our local bookstore is good but it is no Barnes & Noble–which I would give a 6/10 for selection…I’m a demanding Bookstore guy.

So I found some ISBNs and titles and visited our Library. As far as Libraries go, I give a 2/10…probably the second-worst public library I’ve ever been in (The best libraries tend to be University Libraries). It’s not the employees–they are fantastic–it’s the selection, and that is a budget problem.

Anyway, they didn’t have any of the books I was wondering about, so I got them through interlibrary loan and within an hour was relieved I hadn’t ordered then through Amazon.

The moral of the story: use your public library, and if you have means, donate money or books to them. They need them!