A Poignant Story, Simply Told

In my daily ‘net wanderings I tripped and fell over the above ad from Thailand for a mobile phone company—which really doesn’t factor into the story at all—that serves as a prime example of simple story telling.

All the elements of dramatic structure are present. But instead of creating a long-winded post that most wouldn’t read, I’ve decided to take my own advice and keep it simple. Though not a poet, I wrote my thoughts on the subject in verse:

I have banged on ad nauseum in some previous post
About the best stories told are where less is the most
Abandon complex words you once deem so refined
As it tends to leave more than a few readers behind
Complication wasn’t missed or mourned when it died
As people pursued minimalism, a life more simplified
Leave the clutter behind and your work unpolluted
And remember the old adage:

I said I wasn’t a poet, now you see that it’s true, not only does mama know it, but my daddy do, too.

Sally forth and be writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Screw the Fear and Write On

“Screw the fear.” — Jo Leigh

Be it anxiety over acceptance, concerns about misrepresentation, or indecisiveness on whether to delete or send out your latest labor of love and pain, fear has a nasty way of creeping into the writing process, and if you can use it to your advantage by allowing it to heighten your awareness and commit to the page the precise thoughts and ideas that need to be expressed, so much the better. It’s when fear snaps shut like a bear trap on your mind and prohibits you from pushing the pen on paper that’s the problem.

I would tell you to forget the fear, but we both know sometimes that just isn’t an actionable solution. The best I can manage is to share with you what works for me: I simply acknowledge it. I tip my hat to fear, slog through the uncertainty and self-doubt that it carries in abundance, and I write. To myself. For myself. I write without thought of sharing it with anyone, without the intention of submitting it for publication. Since the act I engage in is so personal and integral to my understanding the world around me, I refuse to let fear have any say in what or how I write. I write what I feel must be written. No one else has to agree. Because if I don’t write my mind, my view of the world perishes when I no longer exist.

It’s my marker. My proof I was here.

But, should you choose not to heed me advice, perhaps you’ll listen to those talented few, listed below, who are graced with a turn of phrase that far surpasses my own.

Sally forth and be fear ignoringly writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

1. “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ― Maya Angelou

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2. “Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.” ― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

3. “You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.” ― Saul Bellow

4. “Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, and on the good writing days nothing else matters.” ― Neil Gaiman

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5. “A word after a word after a word is power.” — Margaret Atwood

6. “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” ― Louis L’Amour

7. “Let me live, love and say it well in good sentences.” — Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

8. “One of the few things I know about writing is this: Spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book, give it, give it all, give it now.” — Annie Dillard

9. “The role of a writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say.” — Anaïs Nin

10. “The scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things can only get better.” — Stephen King, On Writing

The Immortality of a Storyteller

“I am a storyteller.

In the course of my life, I will write something — SOMETHING, that will grow in the mind of a person who reads it. It will shape them. Perhaps while I live, perhaps a hundred years from now. SOMETHING I do will alter the course of their life. Perhaps it will be a tiny stone in a river, or perhaps it will be like a boulder. I will encourage them to love a bit more, or to stand against the darkness that haunts them.

Because of me.

Because I was a little brave one day. Because some morning a sunrise opened my heart, or my beloved kissed me as she never had before. I will, in some small way, shape the future. Shape the world.

This is my immortality.”

~ J.M. Guillen

The Gedankenexperiment of Speculative Fiction

“Funny, they made this new genre called Speculative Fiction, I thought all fiction had always been speculative.” ― Teri Louise Kelly

Once upon a time, science fiction fell into disrepute. The genre once considered the literature of ideas that explored the consequences of scientific innovations and discussed the philosophical ideas of identity, morality, and social structure became little more than a dumping ground for poorly written stories bereft of creativity. When readers began griping about content and authors sought a means to escape the mainstream critics’ prejudices associated with the genre, an older, forgotten term was plucked from obscurity, dusted off, and put into play:

Speculative fiction.

Largely thought to have been coined by Robert A. Heinlein in a 1947 issue of The Saturday Evening Post as a synonym for science fiction, the term can actually be cited as far back as 1889. But in the 1960s, it helped classify the New Wave movement stories that were characterized by a focus on soft science and a high degree of experimentation. Sadly, the term fell into disuse around the mid-1970s.

When it reemerged in the 2000s, it became a convenient collective term for a set of genres including, but not limited to science fiction, fantasy, horror, weird fiction, superhero fiction, supernatural fiction, utopian and dystopian fiction, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, and alternate history.

And with that bit of history in our rear-view mirror, let’s get on with the crunchy bits, shall we? Understanding that what works for me may not work for some, submitted for your approval, here is my short and uncomplicated list of suggestions to help you wrap your writerly noggin around the rules for creating a solid spec-fic piece:

1. Your story foundation is comprised of two ingredients. First up: Plot aka Worldbuilding.

Worldbuilding is a term popularized at science fiction writers’ workshops in the 1970s, and it does exactly what it says on the tin: it’s the process of constructing an imaginary world and/or entire fictional universe from the planet up, or the universe down, or a combination of both. Consider it the ultimate backstory for your piece as you develop history, create geographical maps, and define ecology.

Building from the planet up is the devil in the details approach, where most of your attention will be focused on local geography, culture, social structure, government, politics, commerce, and history.

When you’re building from the universe down, you paint your creation with broad strokes such as the overview of a world, its inhabitants (civilizations, and nations), technology level (key for determining cities, and towns), major geographic features (such as continents), climate, and history, adding the appropriate level of detail as you go along.

2. The second plot foundation ingredient: Characterization.

The protagonist, in a spec-fic setting, generally tends to either be a phenomenal person in banal circumstances or a normal person in bizarre circumstances, and the reason should be obvious as their very presence causes a disruption in their respective environments.

Should you decide to go the phenomenal person route, realize that perfect characters are boring. You should always feel the need to infuse your characters with the juices that makes them tasty to your audience. Yes, we’re talking about giving them flaws–or weaknesses–that come in either one of two shades:

  • A Psychological Weakness: A character trait (pride, cowardice, vengeance, distrust, etc.) within the protagonist which is destroying their life.
  • A Moral Weakness: A character flaw that harms the protagonist and those around him/her.

Characters can have more than one flaw and may even possess psychological and moral weaknesses at the same time, but you should try not to overdo it. Although your audience loves seeing broken characters struggling with their flaws, they may walk away if you push the envelope too far.

3. Be mindful of your speculative element.

Whenever you create a world from scratch, even if you’re basing it on the one in which you live, it will feature an element of unreality, or something that wouldn’t be possible in the real world as we know it. Whatever this element is, make sure it’s the context for your story, that it provides a foundation for the plot.

This speculative element is your gedankenexperiment, your hypothesis, theory, or principle that must be thought through to explore its consequence. When you’ve done that, you’ll have created the theme of your piece.

This should be done before you finalize your protagonist and plotline.

4. Keep an eye on the believability gauge.

In truth, this shouldn’t even be on the list because you should know better. How many times have you read a story when something absolutely ridiculous happened that yanked you right out of the moment? Yes, you entered into the story with the knowledge that it was a work of fiction, but every story has a set of rules that should be established upfront and when those rules are broken, your suspension of disbelief shatters along with it.

This especially applies to the laws of physics. Even if your piece contains magic or the technological equivalents of it, you should attempt to explain it as scientifically as you can manage with modified real-world physics. The closer it is to reality, the more believable it becomes.

5. Experiment and test the boundaries and limitations of genres.

I despise the term think outside the box, really I do, so what you should try to do instead is believe there is no box. No box. No limitations. No boundaries. Cherry-pick elements and tropes from other genres. Tell the story from an unusual point of view. Paint yourself into corners and use that brainbox of yours to finagle a way out.

The key here is to get out of the mindset of giving people what you think they want. Not only is that a dangerous game to play, but in all honesty, people who claim to want something new don’t actually know what they’re looking for because they can only judge new by what they’ve had before. Focus instead on giving your audience something unique to chew on, but not hard to swallow.

Number Six is unofficial, but important nonetheless: Have fun.

It’s extremely important that you enjoy the process of writing, as it’s a time-consuming endeavor and let’s face it, that time could be better spent doing something you truly love. And never mind if your writing isn’t great yet, all that matters is that you’re having fun. So just keep pushing that pen and writing your heart out until you put your story on paper.

Sally forth and be gedankenexperimentally writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Related articles:

The Three Characteristics of Successful Fiction

The Short and Short of Flash Fiction

I Question Your Character (and so should you)

Your Writing Says More About Your Character Than You Realize

Suggested speculative fiction reading list:

Strange Wine by Harlan Ellison

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind
Slightly behind and to the left : four stories & three drabbles by Claire Light
The Stone Raft by José Saramago
Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

We Live and Breathe the Power of Words

I watched the trailer for the documentary “Salinger” on YouTube without meaning to. It was one of those ad-thingies that pop up before the content you actually want to watch. Normally I click SKIP AD, but this time I’m glad I didn’t. The doc professes to be “An unprecedented look inside the private world of J.D. Salinger, the reclusive author of The Catcher in the Rye.” and while I’m not the hugest fan of documentaries (a good deal of them are padded waaay too much to meet feature length requirements, in my opinion) I’ll probably give this one a go when it hits a theater near me.

But I digress…

The reason I brought this trailer up was because it spoke to me on the power words have to manipulate our emotions, provide the motivation to become better people and do great things, and sadly, sometimes to take us by the hand and lead us down darker paths.

You can never truly predict how someone will interpret your work, as words offer unique triggers in each of your readers’ minds. Ideas, concepts, situations, memories, actions, circumstances, feelings and thoughts vary as they flow from the subconscious mind to the corresponding emotional responses of the subject at hand.

I’d like to take a moment of your precious time and acknowledge the labors of wordsmiths by having them share their opinions on the power written words have over us all:

“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.” ― John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

“We live and breathe words. It was books that made me feel that perhaps I was not completely alone. They could be honest with me, and I with them. Reading your words, what you wrote, how you were lonely sometimes and afraid, but always brave; the way you saw the world, its colors and textures and sounds, I felt–I felt the way you thought, hoped, felt, dreamt. I felt I was dreaming and thinking and feeling with you. I dreamed what you dreamed, wanted what you wanted–and then I realized that truly I just wanted you.” ― Cassandra Clare, Clockwork Prince

“I spent my life folded between the pages of books. In the absence of human relationships I formed bonds with paper characters. I lived love and loss through stories threaded in history; I experienced adolescence by association. My world is one interwoven web of words, stringing limb to limb, bone to sinew, thoughts and images all together. I am a being comprised of letters, a character created by sentences, a figment of imagination formed through fiction.” ― Tahereh Mafi, Shatter Me

“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.” ― Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale

“If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?” ― Emily Dickinson, Selected Letters

“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” ― George Orwell, 1984

“We seldom realize, for example that our most private thoughts and emotions are not actually our own. For we think in terms of languages and images which we did not invent, but which were given to us by our society.” ― Alan Wilson Watts

“There exists, for everyone, a sentence – a series of words – that has the power to destroy you. Another sentence exists, another series of words, that could heal you. If you’re lucky you will get the second, but you can be certain of getting the first.” ― Philip K. Dick, VALIS

“Words… They’re innocent, neutral, precise, standing for this, describing that, meaning the other, so if you look after them you can build bridges across incomprehension and chaos. But when they get their corners knocked off, they’re no good any more… I don’t think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little or make a poem which children will speak for you when you’re dead.” ― Tom Stoppard, The Real Thing: A Play

“It doesn’t matter if you and everyone else in the room are thinking it. You don’t say the words. Words are weapons. They blast big bloody holes in the world. And words are bricks. Say something out loud and it starts turning solid. Say it loud enough and it becomes a wall you can’t get through.” ― Richard Kadrey, Kill the Dead

“To see evil and call it good, mocks God. Worse, it makes goodness meaningless. A word without meaning is an abomination, for when the word passes beyond understanding the very thing the word stands for passes out of the world and cannot be recalled.” ― Stephen R. Lawhead, Arthur

Sally forth and be writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Swing Away, Merrill… Even If Every Editor Rejects Your Best Work

“Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.” —– Newt Gingrich

Just yesterday I was chatting with a fellow writer who was in dire need of some commiseration. She had slaved over a story for nearly two years, rewriting draft after draft following feedback from writer friends, and polishing and refining it until she was not only happy with it but considered it her best work to date. And she wasn’t wrong. It’s a pretty damn solid story.

When it was old enough, she released the story from the nest and let it fly to her targeted list of the publishing houses a story of this type was properly suited for. It wasn’t her first time at the rodeo, so she knew precisely what she was doing.

Skip ahead past the anxiety filled months of the story crossing the desks of slush readers and editors to the point of contact, only to discover that her baby, the bestest story she’d ever produced, had been rejected by everyone on her list. Majors and minors alike. Which, of course, raised the question:

What does a writer do when they’ve put their all into a story and no one wants it?

The answer is obvious, and I’m sure you’re already thinking it before you’ve read it here:

You put your bestest, unwanted story away for later use, and you start writing again. Instead of moping and getting down on yourself and allowing them pesky writing demons to take up valuable real estate in your head, start your next project. And it doesn’t have to be some laboriously over-complicated piece. If you’ve got something easy-breezy on the back burner, something you can bang out relatively quickly, why not give it a go? A sort of cleansing of the palate before your next magnum opus–and there will be another magnum opus, trust me on this.

My old man was a fountain of homespun wisdom and one of his favorites was, “nothing beats failure like a try.” And he was right. Perseverance trumps rejection. That’s the advice I gave my friend and that’s the advice I’m giving you. Since she’s a diehard Mets fan—-a trait she shares with my mother—-I tried delivering it with my best baseball analogy:

When you submit your work, you’re like a hitter crowding the plate in order to have a better swing at pitches on the outside half of the plate. Rejection slips are the brushback pitches, fastballs coming at you high and inside, designed to intimidate and force you away from the plate. If they make you quit the game, you didn’t really come to the stadium to play ball. And sometimes opportunity also comes at you high and tight, so, swing away, Merrill. Merrill, swing away.

Of course she laughed at this because she knows I don’t know squat about baseball and my analogy stunk, but it lifted her spirit so despite looking like an idiot, job well done, I’d say.

Well, it’s half past wrap up time, but you know me, as long as there are famous authors to quote, I never travel alone. They’ll take the mic in a second and talk to you a bit about rejection—sans the baseball references, i promise. Until next time…

Sally forth and be writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

charles-bukowski-hulton-getty

“If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery–isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.” — Charles Bukowski, Factotum

“Was I bitter? Absolutely. Hurt? You bet your sweet ass I was hurt. Who doesn’t feel a part of their heart break at rejection. You ask yourself every question you can think of, what, why, how come, and then your sadness turns to anger. That’s my favorite part. It drives me, feeds me, and makes one hell of a story.” — Jennifer Salaiz

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“Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, “Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody.” … [My dark side says,] I am no good… I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved.” Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.” — Henri J.M. Nouwen

“I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.” — Sylvia Plath

“You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance.” — Ray Bradbury

Related articles:

Taking It On The Chin: The Graceful Art Of Accepting Rejection
Wanna Succeed as a Writer? Buddy Up to Failure, it’s the Best Friendship You’ll Ever Make
Fending Off Them Pesky Writing Demons

Duchess and the Anecdote

Duchess“Art to me is an anecdote of the spirit, and the only means of making concrete the purpose of its varied quickness and stillness.” —– Mark Rothko

They come from miles around, my characters do, traveling the great distance from the fringes of my minds eye, some even making the long and arduous haul from my childhood, just to sit and talk. They do this whenever I’m alone.

As they gather ’round, I cast an eye upon their many and various faces and can’t help but feel the slightest twinge of remorse. Being in my company, locked within the confines of my imagination, is not wholly unlike a purgatory for them. A holding pattern, a waiting room, where they converse amongst themselves in voices audible only to myself, trying to catch my attention in the slimmest hope of being set free. Birthed into a story.

Some are fresh meat, the rest lifers, each easily spotted by the differences in their appearance and the strength of their voices. Fresh meats are gossamers—newly formed characters, little more than a stack of traits—who shout in whispers. Lifers, on the other hand, are as fleshed out as you or I, perhaps even more so, who have acquired the proper pitch and turn of phrase to catch me unawares during the times when my mind idles.

Before the talks begin–serious conversation, not the normal natterings they engage in–a flying thing the size of a butterfly, jewel toned blue stripes, greenish gold spots, with flecks of silver on the wings, lands in the palm of my outstretched hand.

What is that, then?” a childlike voice asks from somewhere deep in the crowd, low to the ground. I recognize it instantly.

It’s an anecdote, Duchess. Come see for yourself.” I reply, as the creature’s wings beat softly on my palm.

The throng–my personal rogues gallery whose roster includes reputables and reprobates alike–part like the Red Sea, making way for the most noble of all serval cats, The Duchess.

An antidote? Have you been poisoned?” The Duchess queries as she saunters into the open space, a dollop of concern gleaming in her vivid blue eyes.

I try to not laugh, partly out of respect, but mostly due to the fact that though she is the eldest of my unused characters, she is technically still but a kitten. “No, Duchess, it’s an anecdote, as in a short, amusing or interesting story about a person or an incident.

I know full well what an anecdote is, thank you kindly. I was merely attempting to lighten the dreadfully somber mood with a bit of levity.” Not her best faux pas cover, but it was swift, which should count for something. As casually as she could manage, the kitten turned to see if anyone found amusement at her expense. No one did. They knew better. “May I hold it?

I hesitate and stare at the leapling. Created on February 29th all those many years ago, it was my rationale–on paper–for keeping her a kitten, seeing as she had fewer birthdays, she would naturally age at a decelerated rate. The actuality is I have an affinity for kittens. For full grown cats? Not so much. And now the dilemma is if her kittenish nature should come into play and, without meaning to, cause injury to the anecdote, then all this would be for naught.

Her eyes plead with all the promise of being good and I have no choice but to relent. “It’s fragile, so be gentle. Take care not to crush it.” I gently place the anecdote in her cupped paws.

Why does one need an anecdote?” The Duchess of Albion asked, her nose twitching whenever the creature moves its wings.

To tell a proper story.” I answer. “More than just a sequence of actions, anecdotes are the purest form of the story itself.

But I thought characters are at the heart of every great story?

They are and anecdotes connect the hearts and minds of those characters to a story.” I try to feign calm but I can see the kitten’s body tensing up. Her eyes, those glorious baby blues, are studying the creature closely. Was I wrong in my decision to trust that she rules her instincts and not the other way around?

They also add suspense to your story, giving the audience a sense that something is about to happen. If you use them right, you can start raising questions right at the beginning of your story—something that urges your audience to stay with you. By raising a question, you imply that you will provide your audience with the answers. And you can keep doing this as long as you remember to answer all the questions you raise.

The kitten’s breath becomes rapid and her paws close in around the anecdote and I want to cry out, urge her to stop, but it’s far beyond that point now. She is in control of her own fate. Canines bare themselves, paws pulling the creature closer to her mouth.

No!” she shakes her head violently. Her ears relax and her mouth closes as her breathing returns to normal. Then, the oddest thing happens…

The Duchess begins to vanish. All the characters look on in a dazed silence, uncertain how to react.

What is happening to me?” she shoots me a panicked glance as cohesion abandons her form.

Haven’t you sussed it out yet?

No… I’m scared!

Don’t be.” I smile. “Look around you. You’re at the heart of a story. You’re free.

Truly?” she is suddenly overwhelmed with delight, her expression priceless. “But — but what do I do with the anecdote now?

Open your paws, let it fly off.

She unfolds her paws. Tiny wings beat their path to freedom. Then someone from the back of the crowd gives The Duchess a slow clap. Soon, others join in, building into a tidal wave of applause.

The now translucent Duchess waves a tearful thank you to the crowd, before turning back to me with a request, “Say my name.

Why?

Because you always simply address me Duchess and I want to hear you call me by my full name one last time before I g– —

And just like that, she was gone.

I bid you a fond farewell, Your Grace the Duchess of Albion Gwenore del Septima Calvina Hilaria Urbana Felicitus-Jayne Verina y de Fannia. Enjoy your journey. You will be missed.

Sally forth and be writeful.

©2013 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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The Island of Misfit Posts #1: Discouraged by Discouragement

When I sit down to write these posts, I never know what they’ll be about beforehand. It’s a first-thought-that-hits-me-stream-of-consciousness sort of thing. Sometimes they’re on point, other times they meander a bit, but as stated in the About This Blog section, the posts are less about me attempting to appear clever or knowledgeable (what are the odds, really?), and more about getting myself into a proper writing frame of mind with a warm up exercise. Mental calisthenics, if you will.

As you might imagine, it doesn’t always go to plan. Case in point: the post below. Inspired in part by Susannah Breslin’s Forbes article, Why You Shouldn’t Be A Writer, and Martin Levin’s, You Suck And So Does Your Writing–which is more about petty squabbles between notable literary figures (how I would have combined the two ideas is anyone’s guess)–it was meant to be a discouragement piece, you know, separating the wheat from the chaff, and all that, that started out like this:

Of All the Things You Could Do With Your Life, Why On Earth Would You Purposely Choose To Be A Writer?

Don’t worry, it’s not a trick question, but one you should be prepared to ask yourself and answer before undertaking writing in any fashion as a serious profession. Among the more common reasons I’ve come across in my travels are:

1. No commuting and every day is Pajama Friday!

I can’t fault your logic here because commuting is generally a nightmare and what’s better than tooling around your house in a onesie all day long like an agoraphobic superhero? Sadly, it isn’t a good enough reason to want to be a writer, especially since there other telecommuting positions that offer more stability and better chances at becoming a career.

2. What better way is there to make a ton of dough and roll around in my piles of cash?

Well, you could try your hand at playing the lottery or betting the ponies, for starters. Rich writers are the exception to the rule. The majority of people who claim writing as a profession, work their mental fingers to the bone, producing material for years before they even get a glimpse at recognition, let alone a healthy paycheck. Instead of rolling in piles of cash, you’ll most likely be rolling up your coins, praying your landlord accepts pennies for rent.

3. Nothing better than being my own boss with flexible hours!

Flexible hours? Been writing long? Writing is a huge commitment that commandeers your entire life with absolutely no guarantee of any sort of financial gain. As stated earlier, there are other work-from-home opportunities that are far more secure and come equipped with a steady payday. And being your own boss isn’t the sipping Mai Tais under a beach umbrella fantasy you imagine it to be. First off, there’s no one to delegate all the donkey work to, and your brain doesn’t simply punch out when the working day has ended. Writing–and the guilt of not writing–never leaves you in peace until the article/book/screenplay/project has been completed.

4. It would be amazing to see my best-selling book in a bookstore/my script turned into a blockbuster feature film/win the Pulitzer Prize for my groundbreaking article series.

Who wouldn’t want any of those things? While we’re daydreaming, I’d also like to be an astronaut so that I can save the planet from extraterrestrial threats, be the smartest man in any room I’m in so that I can solve all the world’s problems and become Earth President, and build a safe-box time machine–that protects me from any sort of injury–equipped with a high end movie camera in order to jump back and forth in time to make the ultimate series of historical documentaries.

Now that my feet have touched terra firma and I’m once again grounded in reality, I can tell you that while it’s great to dream big, fame is one of the worst reasons to choose writing as a profession.

But the post wasn’t really working for me because I could feel myself getting snarkier as the piece went on, which wasn’t my intent going in. So, I decided to step off my soapbox and kill the post. And there it sat in my trash for days, forgotten like Charlie-In-The-Box, Dolly, Spotted Elephant, and King Moonracer. But it miraculously survived deletion during my numerous trash emptying sessions. This had to be a sign. What sign, I hadn’t the faintest, but I decided to attempt recycling it into a less judgmental, more positive message:

Writers are born critics who will criticize any and everything that crosses their paths, especially fellow writers. They will issue their assessments and commentary with the righteousness of having had their opinions validated by the Mount Horeb burning bush. These are the writers who cut open veins and bleed for the love of the craft, whose skulls ring with haunting voices that cannot be silenced until exorcized onto the page, who believe in their heart of hearts that the only words that deserve to be written are the truths that need to be told.

I can’t lie, sometimes I feel the same way.

But I’m not as bothered by it anymore because I know first hand that the writing process has it’s own way of weeding out the fly-by-night scribblers, posers and pretenders with the obstacles it scatters on the long and winding path to a completed project. Whether your driving force is money, fame. to impress a person/people, burning need, or love of the artform, you will still experience your fair share of procrastination, anxiety, writers block, time crunches, lack of motivation, fear of rejection, judgment of peers, and impatience of selling a piece.

If you can repeatedly bash your head into these walls, get up, dust yourself off and continue to write, who am I to question your motives? That, my friends, is the best I can do fer ya, today.

Sally forth and be writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Stories Are the Creatures That Forage in the Wilderness of Our Minds

“Stories are the creatures that forage in the wilderness of our minds. Their claws pierce our curiosity, digging in deep to prevent our escape, as they force us into their maw, past razor sharp teeth of conflict.” —- Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Tell me a story.” the woman said, book opened to a blank page on her lap, graphite stick firmly in hand and at the ready. The reading chair in which she sat was, what appeared to my eyes, nothing more than a series of interwoven vines that had grown from the lush green carpet in the center of the room. This indoor library of hers smelled of petrichor, the scent of rain on dry earth, which would explain the moisture that dotted the spines of the books stacked in chaotic fashion on the recessed shelves lining the walls.

I — I don’t have any stories.” I shifted uncomfortably in a small puddle on the carpet—that was most assuredly grass—as the woman took in the sum of me.

Nonsense, everyone has stories, some more interesting than others, but they are stories nonetheless.” she said, gesturing with a nod for me to sit. “Everything is present for a story to exist: a teller, that would be you, and an audience, which would be me.”

My seat—a normal metal folding chair with padding—was as much out of place with the room’s décor as I. A reminder, no doubt, that although invited, I was still considered an interloper. The fact that the chair was bone dry despite the moist surroundings was of small consolation. I squirmed until I found the position that afforded the least amount of discomfort and said, “All right, then… I don’t know how to tell a story.”

Ah, a different matter altogether.” she said, placing the book and graphite aside. “The act of storytelling is as old as the creative spark that burns within us all. And though truly great storytellers are born, those lacking the unique gift may still acquire the skill.”

1. Keep it simple.

The first thing to bear in mind is if you have the choice between a complicated or simple telling, choose the simple approach. As marvelous as the brain may be, it can become overwhelmed if it attempts to process too much information at one time.

2. Open big.

Next, you mustn’t be afraid to grab your audience by the balls!” the woman smiled, amused by my unease. “And never apologize for doing so. You’re familiar with the saying, ‘you only get one chance to make a first impression,’ aren’t you? The same applies to your story. You need to carefully craft your opening line to grab your audience’s attention immediately, and represent the promise of your story by displaying a unique voice and perspective.

“There is no going soft here. Your opening line should possess the elements that make up the story as a whole, told in a distinctive voice, a point of view, a rudimentary plot and some hint of characterization. By the end of the first paragraph, your audience should know the setting and conflict… unless there is a particular reason to withhold this information.”

3. Be mindful of your story’s spine.

“Stories are the creatures that forage in the wilderness of our minds. Their claws pierce our curiosity, digging in deep to prevent our escape, as they force us into their maw, past razor sharp teeth of conflict. But despite outward appearances, these beasts are only as strong as their spine.

“Your duty is to support that spine by arranging your content in a logical order and supporting it with anecdotes that raise questions to keep up interest and moments of reflection to show your story’s appeal. We, as the audience, need a reason to care.

“And lop off the vestigial appendages of tangents where you find them. Going too far astray will only lose your audience’s attention.”

4. Don’t alienate your audience.

Some subjects require a delicate touch. You’ll know them by their appearance and the uneasy feeling they leave in your gut. By no means avoid them if they’re integral to your story, but instead find the best way to craft the tale so that you draw your audience in before revealing sensitive details. Invest them in the story before you shock them and then give them time to digest it.

5. End strong.

Whether you end your story on an upbeat note, allow your audience to fill in the blanks, come full circle with your lead, close with a relevant quote, provide a brief summary, or wrap things up with either a surprise or anecdotal ending… you need to come strong. Elevate your story’s effectiveness with a great ending and leave them with a lasting impression. The yang to your ‘first impression’ yin.

“You should also give your audience the proper space to appreciate your ending. A mere sentence or two in which you take a step back and let the story meaning steep in their mind.

And finally, allow your audience to hear the door click shut behind them, signifying that the story is well and truly over. Everything’s done and dusted. Thank you for visiting my world, now it’s time to return to your own.”

Got all that?” she asked. I nodded that I understood.

Good,” the woman rested the tip of the graphite stick on the book leaf, “now tell me a story.

Click.

Sally forth and be writeful.

©2013 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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