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 LINK to as Gail Simone's blog.   Gail is a comic book writer who was responsible for the highly influential "Women in Refrigerators" analysis of how badly female characters were treated in comic books.   She is one of the best writers out there today.

The blog is a fine read generally, but I felt I had to repost this entry as it contains a fine fine insight into the craft of writing:

If I had to convey ONE idea to new writers, this would be it. I'm not wise, I'm not the smartest person on Earth, and I can't seem to waterski properly. But this much I know is true.

Okay, just like all of you, I started comics when I was young, and I would sometimes become frustrated with elements of a story. A character might have their dignity taken away, or behave in a way that I felt lessened them. These are characters I love, how DARE they behave in ways less perfect than I envisioned for them?

Naturally, I immediately blamed the writer. Again, how DARE they ruin this character? It's obvious that they hate Scuba-man (or whoever) AND their audience (me) and why was I still giving them money, anyway?

Later, years later sometimes, it would turn out that oftentimes, I couldn't even REMEMBER most stories I'd read featuring these beloved characters, but, again, oftentimes, I could remember quite well the ones that made me mad, or upset, or distressed. In hindsight, these were some of my favorite stories.

I got a lightning bolt to the head one day, while reading an interview with the brilliant musician, Laurie Anderson. I'm just typing here with no thought of order, so bear with me, and see if it knocks you on your ass like it did me.

First, a sense memory experiment. Think of the most expensive perfume or cologne you've ever smelled. You may not have loved it, but you can smell the wealth, the complexity. You know someone put it together with care and thought.

Now think of the cheapest, Wal-mart-iest crap fragrance of any kind...that crazy ass sickly sweet lavender bath shit your grandma uses, or those nightmarish lilac perfumes they ought to sell at gas stations.

Why does one grab your attention, make you snap your head up, and why is the one that's pure sweet, and imitating a fragrance that's one of nature's most beautiful, almost unbearable?

Here's why. Because, at the center of the expensive perfume, underneath the 'good' scents, there's a bad scent, intentionally placed. A smell that if that was all you got in the bottle, would likely make you throw up. There's a deliberate element in there designed to slap you right across the goddamn chops, and before you can be appalled, the 'good' mix of scents takes root.

On the other hand, all Wal-Mart thinks you want in your bath ball is an overpowering floral smell. And it turns out, we don't really want that.

There's a lot of science in scent technology, obviously, and it goes beyond me, but one thought is, in nature, it's the bad smell that warns you, that grabs your attention, or perhaps, if you're lucky, makes you want to mate, you dirty bastard. That scent is the one that attacks your animal brain in a way endless bouquets of gardenias never will.

Laurie, never the easiest or most pandering musician, applies that theory to her music, thus:

" "A few years ago, Brian began collecting little perfume bottles, just because he liked them. Then he began mixing the scents, making these incredible combinations. Now occasionally he goes to a big factory to do it. So when we did our last record, rather than sitting around afterwards talking about how we mix that, or who played bass, he took us all to a perfume factory, where we made a perfume. The secret of a really good perfume, Brian taught us, is that at its very core is something very, very stinky - civet - because the purpose of the nose is danger, to alert you. After that happens, then you can put on the pleasant smells. But first - wake up! So that's one of the things we've paid attention to in making this record, that at its core is something that's repellent, because those are the things that interest me."

I read that and felt like I'd been shot in the face. Of fucking COURSE. Of COURSE you have to have that element, that note, that scent, that makes the reader say...holy CRAP, what is THAT?

As a writer, I can assure you, that reaction is a thousand times better than someone saying, "well, that was nice!"

There's an old sales joke about the difference between a pig and a chicken in a ham and egg breakfast. The chicken is involved, but the pig is COMMITTED.

Same with writing. How many stories have you read, where in the end, you felt that the writer was pandering to you, giving you exactly what the message boarders say they want, giving you the empty calories of, "Here, this is what you asked for. I've written it just as requested."

Does anyone really want that? Lavender foaming bath balls, stinking so bad you have to leave the house, that's what that is.

I'm a writer. It's my job to lie and cheat and deceive you. To trick you, to upset you, to make you feel bad at times, to make you dislike the characters we both care about so much. Anyone can give you an X-men issue full of 22 pages of fastball specials and Wolverine killing robots. It takes a writer to have Wolverine do something stupid or awful, and let you feel a little bit of that, and still (hopefully) bring you back.

This is my number one complaint about/piece of advice for fan-ficcers. Of the few pieces I have read, there was often quite a lot of talent there, but just as often, the story was all about providing that dream crossover, that hoped-for battle between two beloved characters--in short, they were event stories, written to scratch an itch, certainly, but with little concern to the bigger issues that make a story more than a fun fight scene or superpowered orgy...the things that make a story something that engages the mind and emotions and heart.

A perfect example is Marc Andreyko's Manhunter. This book hasn't sold in the numbers it deserves, but the people who DO read the book (including just about every pro I know) love it DEEPLY. They love it with ten times the white hot fury that a whole raft of better selling books engender. And why? Because Marc is a WRITER, and Kate, the Manhunter, is flawed to pieces, makes stupid mistakes at least once an issue, and is vastly more real than any number of caped stiffs in the Top Twenty. And that makes his stuff more interesting than a great many fairy-laden webcomics, superhero trappings or not.

It can't all be flowers. I often hear would-be writers pitching their dream DC or Marvel project, and I can't get away from the cloying scent of lilacs in abundance. Yes, we want our heroes to triumph, but if there isn't also the possibility, of failure, of temptation, then I submit this question to you--what in god's name is the point? If you truly love your readers, you will do them the very great favor of poking them with an ice pick, just a little, when they reach down to smell your roses.

I can't tell you how many times, at the beginning of a story that is deliberately set up to make the reader think CONCEPT A, I get letters saying, "Hey! You did CONCEPT A! You've ruined this book!" Then, when the story shows that CONCEPT A is in fact PLOT TWIST B, and not CONCEPT A at all, well, let's just say I live for that shit.

Readers are smart...they know who has come through for them in the past, and who left them hanging. Even if I don't care for a Grant Morrison first issue at all (pretty rare occurance, to be frank, as I love Grant), his history with me says that he's likely screwing with me, messing deliberately with my expectations, putting the smell of the wolf urine in the middle of the lovely garden of floral scents. The thing is, you have to keep that promise with readers. If you go dark where there previously was light, you have to make it work, you have to be truthful. That's the difference between stories you damn well know are mandated because of a corporate crossover, and those that are tended by a gardner who cares.

This is why I don't usually lose my noodle if CreamSodaGirl has a story arc that seems wildly out of character. Because, in the end, most of the best stories I've ever read made me unhappy or uncomfortable at some point. You can do formula stories, full of fanservice (I have a different definition for this word than most...to me, it's not about boobies), but in the end, I think you've likely cheated your readers out of their hard-earned money, in which case, shame on you.

By all means, when you write your stories, pick some flowers. Pick the prettiest, the most aromatic, if you like. But keep in mind, you might want to carefully place a wasp's nest just in the shadows.

Hey, this is very BEING THERE!

Let me finish with the same warning. I don't know what the hell I'm doing. I just showed up in this chair one day and started typing until I found sentences I like. My advice to you is that you never, and I mean EVER, take my advice. Go, write, be, have lunch, dawdle, write some more, write, write, write some more, and ignore the crazy Oregon redhead.

But you might give some small thought to putting a rabid rat in your next birthday bouquet.

Date: 2011-06-11 09:36 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] wolfseer.livejournal.com
Well said! Brava! I do believe I'll have to investigate more of her work. I admire how she phrased this.

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