Thursday, March 12, 2015

7 Batshit Things Authors Actually Say

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!
amazon.com/author/kozeniewski
Authors are a funny bunch.  Every child likes to play make-believe, but for most people that sort of behavior just won’t stand past your first discovery of the fine periodicals of Larry Flynt.  For the author, though, playing make-believe doesn’t just continue well into adulthood, it is codified and concretized, and in some cases even rewarded with the exchange of very small sums of currency.  As a result, authors naturally tend to be an odd bunch, but for no clear reason some truly insane statements have gained credence in the writing world, and you will hear actual people make claims like:

1.  “My characters talk to me.  It’s like they’re real people and they’re just stuck in my head.”

What with the alcoholism and the public note-taking and the stalking of reviewers, authors are a pretty strange bunch.  But some authors seem to feel the need to take this to a whole new level of lunacy and claim that their characters literally have a will of their own and “talk” to them.  Likely this started as a metaphor, along the lines of the whole ancient Greek muse thing, which suggested that there were nine literal goddesses who whispered into people’s ears about just what sorts of objects Oedipus should or should not stick in his eyes at the end of any given play.  But some modern-day authors have taken to genuinely claiming that their characters are more real than real, and, in fact, make literal demands of them and tell them what they wish to say in the next chapter.  Sadly, if this is the actual case for you then you should seek help not behind the cathartic clacking of a keyboard, but rather at a reputable mental hospital, because you suffer from auditory hallucinations, one of many possible symptoms of schizophrenia.

2.   “Writing is like air to me. If I didn’t write I would literally just fall over and die.”
It takes an unusual, perhaps extraordinary mind to be an author.  That point is rarely in contention.  But it can lead to authors believing that, like the Jedi and the Starfighters before them, they are a race apart, an unusual sub-species of the human animal.  (Really, this whole list boils down to authors glomming onto pieces of minutia and exaggerating them all out of proportion.)  And just as it would be acceptable to say, “If you really think your characters are talking to you, you should probably seek help for paranoid schizophrenia” it’s also acceptable to say, “If you really think you’re suffering physically from not writing, you probably have some kind of undiagnosed diabetes or something and should see a doctor.”

3.  “I have absolute power and create whole words.  Ah ha ha ha!”

“Worldbuilding” refers to the process by which speculative fiction authors create the aliens or monsters, technology or magic systems, history, and geography of their made-up worlds.  The process of worldbuilding can be as in-depth as George R.R. Martin coming up with 77 actual dishes for the wedding of a single character or as cursory as George R.R. Lucas saying, “Make the space milk blue ‘cause it’s in space or whatever.”  And while worldbuilding is fun and empowering as a brainstorming exercise, before you run off making claims to be the demiurge may I recommend you step back and try to get a little perspective.  You didn’t design the Hoover Dam.  Hell, you didn’t even give birth to and raise a human child.  You made up a bunch of funny names with too many apostrophes for flowers and a reason why silver is more valuable than gold in a fictional city.  And unless you’re J.K. Rowling it’s not like you even invented some universally beloved fantasyland like Hogwarts or Narnia or something.  When your fictional world has a dedicated space at an Orlando amusement park because people want to be there, then feel free to boast about what unlimited power you, as a writer, are possessed of.

4.  “I’m a total sadist.  I love to make my characters suffer.  Ah ha ha ha!”

Someone who was almost certainly not Mark Twain once said the best way to develop characters is to chase them up a tree and throw rocks at them.  Over the years the disciples of the Keith Moon school of moderation have taken this advice to mean, “Torture your characters needlessly and constantly” and its natural corollary, “If you’re not constantly kicking your characters in the ribcage, you’re not a good author.”  While it is true that conflict is what makes a book interesting to read, constant conflict is a little excessive.  Characters need moments of navel-gazing to think and breathe, reflect and develop.  But more importantly, going back to the point that characters are not real, you’re not really torturing anyone, you’re crafting a story.  Unless you think people like Seanbaby who do cruel things to their Sims should be charged with real crimes...?

5.  “Oh yeah?  Well, I’ve always thought I might do a brain surgery if I could find the time!”

In answer to the presumably ubiquitous statement, “I’ve always wanted to write a novel, if only I had the time” comes this gem, which authors of all stripes seem to consider the epitome of wit.  Ideally, the statement would come from a highly experienced, highly skilled professional like a neurosurgeon so that the retort would prove that writing is something that requires skill and experience.  Except that…it doesn’t.  Basically everybody can write.  And basically anybody can write a novel.  And while it’s true that to hone your skills and get published can take years and years, I wouldn’t discount the ability of someone who survived eight years of higher education when it comes to arranging a few paragraphs into chapters that more or less can sell.  Not to mention that Dr. McSteamy probably has some great stories from his ER days which would make his book better than anything you could sit around and make up after some googling.  But, yeah, no, stellar takedown on that neurosurgeon, Hemingway.  Original, too.

6.  “Actually, it’s pronounced ‘sher-bay.’”

If there’s one thing that everyone probably already knows, it’s that “Mexico” is really pronounced “Me-hi-co” and “Paris” is really pronounced “Par-ee.”  But, for the most part we don’t walk around decrying the antics of Par-ee Hil-tone for two important reasons: a) no one cares and 2) correcting people is just damn rude.  Unless, of course, you are an author, in which case the rules become 1) your interpretation of debatable, descriptivist grammar rules become immutable law and b) you have total carte blanche to laugh at the “normals.”  Bonus points if you regularly share memes about oxford commas, semicolon usage, and their-there-they’re confusion.

7.  “I don’t care about my reviews.  In fact, I don’t even read them.”

Much like arcade game aficionado Billy Mitchell, who was somehow able to both never see the documentary about his life and still decry it as obviously full of shit, some authors will actually claim not to read reviews of their own work.  In the case of, say, Stephen King, whose most recent novel had nearly 700 Amazon reviews within two weeks of publication, there may be a literal inability to physically read the opinion of every Tom, Dick, and Pennywise.  But for the ≈ 100% of authors who are not Stephen King, George R.R. Martin, or J.K. Rowling, it beggars the imagination to believe that they are not reading and/or crying late at night into a bowl of Americone Dream over their reviews.  The basics of human interaction, let alone online interaction, call this fictitious practice into question.  Unless, of course, you also don’t read the comments on your Facebook posts.

Well, how about it, loyal blog readers?  Are you guilty of any of these crimes against my proclivity towards migraines?  Or do you have any other statements that you find even more egregious, and somehow, perhaps most egregious of all, I managed to leave out?  Or do you genuinely believe one or more of these crazy statements and hate my stupid face for being so stupid?  Let me know in the comments!

16 comments:

  1. I do not say any of these things!!! Make that number 8.

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    1. You I don't recall hearing any of these from. Some of your publishing siblings, though...

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  2. Oh my, Steve, you crack me up! And I wish I had a 'like' button for Kimberly's comment!

    My characters don't speak to me. They jump in and take possession of me until the book is done. That's better, right?

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    1. I know a man you can call. His name is Fr. Lankester Merrin...

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  3. Love these! I do agree that writing and brain surgery have nothing in common but I believe creative ability is part talent and part hard work. Just as I lack the talent to paint or draw, there are a lot of people who just don't have the ability to create beautiful sentences. We do live in an era when everyone can write a novel...and publish it. Which is a little scary because there are a LOT of writers out there who lack writing talent but think they can write anything!

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  4. Love these! I do agree that writing and brain surgery have nothing in common but I believe creative ability is part talent and part hard work. Just as I lack the talent to paint or draw, there are a lot of people who just don't have the ability to create beautiful sentences. We do live in an era when everyone can write a novel...and publish it. Which is a little scary because there are a LOT of writers out there who lack writing talent but think they can write anything!

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    1. yesss I always say even though I can walk on ice wearing skates I could never ever be an ice skater!

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    2. Thanks for commenting, Stephanie. :) Writing is definitely a craft. And yet, somehow, I don't feel bad about not making brain surgeon money, because this craft is a liiiiiiiiiittle easier to learn...

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  5. haha I love it!!! I can honestly say though I never had my characters talk to me, though I see that one a lot...I'd be a bit frightened if that happened. But I definitely have shared those memes about oxford commas!

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    1. I also have strong feelings about the Oxford comma and double-spaced sentences. The important thing is that I express those feelings in appropriate ways, like yelling at an umpire at a hockey game.

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  6. I confess I've always been a little weary of the ppl who say they have to write or else. Writing is hard. Don't they ever want to joyfully avoid it for a day or two? Play hooky sometimes? I know I do!

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    1. Sadly that always ends up being a few months at a time for me...

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  7. Hemingway was quoted a few times "There people not characters" Perhaps he had a few, and saw them walking around on the beach in Cuba. Maybe one day he saw an old man in a dilapidated boat head out to sea, to catch a fish. For some writers the characters are very real.
    Good article enjoyed it.

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    1. Thanks, Artemis! I think I would be okay with someone claiming their characters were based on a real person. As long as they're not whispering to them at night.

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  8. Yesterday I was talking with an author who writes paranormal stuff!. She told me she only reads her 5 Star reviews, but she was keenly aware of some bad reviews. HUM! You called it Steve.

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    1. He he. Funny how that works. "I haven't read it but I'm sure it's false!"

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