Blogs — Are They a Headache?

 

Struggling to find a balance

I just had a pleasant encounter with somebody who writes speculative fiction, probably with a hint of fantasy. Nice guy too. It was fun — and nobody can convince me that conversations between writers aren’t productive, as well as educational. I believe that it is time to do some serious thinking about my next blog post. It would be great to develop some nifty idea tonight. I have some drafts to work on, but they may be too close to other writing themed blogs I’ve published recently.

What does weigh on my mind at present? Is there anything that makes me mad, or anything I have strong feelings about? Social injustice is always on my mind, but I don’t have any specific ideas. I can always look at my list: it is long, but I rarely consult it. Why is that? Could it be because I tend to rely on sudden inspiration, although I like the idea of planning ahead? Sometimes the themes I suggest pale the moment I’ve written down the idea. That is stupid. Can one blog about blogging? It seems to be a personal issue this moment.

I rarely write history blogs: the problem with those are that I’m a fiction writer. If I research and put together a blog post from my research, my writing tends to get so dry that dust clouds arise when I read it. And I don’t want to inflict sneezing on my unsuspecting readers. So, how could I improve my history blogs and make them interesting to anybody, myself included? Aye, there’s the rub. I love reading historical fiction, if its well-researched. On the other hand, if the book is laden with footnotes that tend to show off the author’s impeccable research, I get impatient.

In other words, the secret to a good educational blog is to integrate the information in the text. It must be done subtly though, and that isn’t easy. I suppose it is a bit like long passages of backstory in a novel. Boredom lurks, unless the author is magnificent. If that isn’t the case, any reader ends up wondering why the past is included in the book.

Basically, readers want to hear what the author has to tell. If it is vital to the plot, backstory must be sidled in sideways: it shouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb. Writing about historical events naturally involves past times, but it is up to the author to make them palatable. What strikes me, now that I think about it, is that undiluted facts are as hard to digest as a diet stones. They lie heavily in the stomach, according to a reliable source. You surely heard about that victimized wolf? Poor thing, wanting tender flesh and sweet bones of a certain red-bonneted girl, he must’ve been disappointed. I digress.

Back to history. How to write well on history. How to bring facts to life and avoid being hampered by too much knowledge. Or worse, hampering the reader with too much information. Mind you, it won’t do to dismiss facts altogether. Why is it that everything always comes down to balance? There is no avoiding it. You have to eat a balanced diet. It is vital to drink enough water and — not too much wine. If you sing, you must find the perfect balance between breathing, muscular activity, text and sound. And I’ve not even mentioned rhythm and melody. It takes years to learn to bring all the elements together. Also, a perfect technique doesn’t touch anybody, if it isn’t enhanced through the singer’s personality. Ballet dancers, especially when using point shoes — it goes without saying. Get the balance wrong: you’ll find yourself on the floor. Come to think of it, there’s nothing more hilarious than a bird losing its balance. Think albatross and try to take off or land.

All of this doesn’t really encircle my initial problem, but maybe there are a few pointers. It is up to the individual artist to make it work. Make what work? In this case, this blog. For others (singers, dancers, actors, musicians, designers, scientists, and perhaps even presidents): the possibilities are endless. My word: it is never simple.

 

© HMH, 2018

Stratford Hero

 

Will, willing to play with words

Reclaiming language

Innovating ancient staves

Making new wind: demanding the sun and the moon.

Wooing and wedding cottage love and industry

Longing for ladies and dark youthful boys.

Trespassing in the garden of love:

Jealousy burning the innocent victim

Star-crossed intimacy fated to fail

Hapless heroines fighting for joy.

Crowning his glory through kings and opponents

Warning the hero who trembles at dawn:

Avenge crime unpunished

Accept loss of sanity;

Forswear youthful love but tremble

Confronted with grave monuments.

Follow the point of a dagger but

Perish through the wit of bearded women.

See, the world is a stage

Actors at the last juncture

Irreversibly grow to be

Fortune’s fools

 

From Persona Grata e non-Grata

 

© HMH, 2012

Character Development

I find creating a protagonist one of the greatest challenges a writer must face.

How to do it? There are many conflicting ideas about this, spanning from advocating descriptions to the absolute ban on the same. How best reveal character traits? A character sketch seems one way to avoid misunderstandings. It is neat, and easily done: It shall be inventoried, and every particle and utensil labelled to my will: as, item, two lips indifferent red; item, two grey eyes, with lids to them; item, one neck, one chin, and so forth. Quote, unquote. Admittedly, there are dangers in this procedure. Boring the reader is a risk, we may not be prepared to take. It seems people don’t take easily to descriptive writing these days. In my opinion, it depends. There are authors, who write so enthralling that it doesn’t matter whether they present long descriptions or if the focus is on moving the plot forward.

I believe that it is necessary to find a way to creep under the (virtual) skin of a character. That is a bold statement, but how is it accomplished? When we meet new people, we don’t know their personality and we tend to look at the outer frame. Sometimes a tick or the way they smile gives away something about the person, but it can be deceptive. All the same, we may get a ‘feeling’ about the person. It can take the form of sensing warmth pouring out from the new acquaintance, or it can be the opposite: that already gives us an inkling of what’s to come. Smell and vision are important when meeting people in the real world, but we can’t use that on paper. A queer smile, noticing a pulse, visibly beating, can chill us to the core. A honeyed voice can scare us stiff.

All these characteristics fall into the descriptive area and may not serve the purpose of bringing a character to life on paper. It is possible to drop a few hints through a grimace or a warm smile, but I believe that action speaks a clearer language in this connection. If a character talks too fast or stutters, we become alert. Letting a person tap out rhythms could indicate nervousness or irritation. It’s the little things that reveal the part of a human that he or she most want to disguise. We’re complex beings, and we rarely reveal ourselves directly.

A sweet personality can get sticky, and over time become annoying. But if we add a temperament to the sweetness, the readers may tolerate the sweetness a bit longer. These are serious considerations, but often they turn out to be unnecessary. If a character comes to life in our heads or subconscious, our part as writers becomes easier. This process may resemble an actor’s craft: gathering together little details, which could be anything from a cough to a speech impediment, helps to bring the role to life. Also, an actor or actress would spend time thinking out possible subtexts for every line their character speaks. That is another important way of connecting with the subject, not necessarily through words. We aren’t always aware of our thoughts when we speak to somebody. We are mostly aware of our feelings, ranging from disgust to anger to amusement to trust or indeed to love or lust. And we can feel comfortable with those feelings or the absolute opposite. Once we master such techniques, it may get easier to find ways to communicate character traits, without resorting to long explanations. We use our subconscious knowledge to show what’s going on. And I haven’t even touched on the way a character expresses his or her thoughts. How do they speak? Do they have favourite words or idioms that they use? Again, it can become too much. But if so, it’s always possible to let another character make a remark about it. There is freedom to find in letting characters reveal themselves through speech. Of course, that is also a workable device for relating necessary back-story.

All in all, building a fictional character is hard work. It takes time and deliberation, but most of all it takes flashes of insights, sudden ideas, and a good connection to our subconscious.

© HMH, 2018

Acolyte

Lonely in the vast hall the statue shivers

Mountains glitter around the lofty pinnacle

Rarely visited by human steps.

 

A solitary worshipper guards the shrine

His predatory eyes search the distance

As he invokes the goddess, silently gesturing.

Wait!

Looking deep into his soul he breathes in and out

Singing love poems and following the high priestess

With bruised hungry gaze until hell freezes over.

Demons come to devour perilous thoughts

But leave the devout to his painful devices.

 

The miracle of adoration expressed in his pure clear voice

Reverberates off glazed walls and long tunnels

Preserving the delicate balance of a frail world:

Such the servant remains expanded in air

Dead to the world in an eternity that

Mirrors the statue in his brown eyes

 

From Persona Grata e non Grata

 

 

© HMH, 2012

Uncomfortable Questions

A few days ago, I watched an interesting film about the Vatican State during WWII. It gave a good sense of the times, even if it was a narrow view. Narrow only, because it played out in the Vatican, and the actors mostly portrayed the Pontifex and his staff (nuns and clericals of various rank). It gave some intriguing facts, perhaps the most important was that the papers from the time still are locked away. The more I learn about this period, the clearer it becomes that there was nobody who didn’t contribute to this disastrous war. I say disastrous, because of the mass murders and the atomic bomb. That alone sets this war, and the period leading up to it apart, as one of the biggest humanitarian failures. Nobody came out of this war innocent, or with ‘clean hands’. Why do people insist that anything can be resolved with weapons? Weapons do one thing and one thing only: they kill. And it doesn’t matter whether they kill one person or millions. Weapons are destructive. War is destructive. And there the argument should stop.

While I’m at it, it is time to ensure that we treat animals humanely too. I don’t advocate that we should all turn vegan, but we must remember the pact between humans and animals. The least we can do, if we want to ‘harvest’ and eat meat, is to ensure that the animals live a healthy and pleasant life until the end.

Am I mixing issues together here? I don’t care. If we kill humans, we’ll kill animals too, and perhaps with less remorse. If we decide against killing animals, how come we still insist on making wars? Just look about: is there any place on earth where people don’t cause murder and mayhem? Exactly. We’re as bad as wild animals. No, indeed, we’re worse. We know what we do.

There are few lust murderers among animals. Perhaps the odd tiger gets a taste for human flesh. Perhaps whales or crocodiles or piranhas kill indiscriminately. But that is nothing against the murder of six million Jews. It is nothing against the murders committed by Pol Pot, or Mao Tse Tung, or against the bombs falling on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We’re worse than animals. No animal race is worse than the human animal. And that brings me back to the Papal action or should I say inaction during WWII.

Ask yourself: is there a religion that turns away from murder? Buddhism perhaps. Most religions concern themselves with death. From the Egyptian and Tibetan books of death to the Aztec murder priests. All the Middle Eastern religions have the same theme: Jihad or war against Philistines? The Christian religion condones cannibalism. . .

How dare I say that? Simple: it says so in the bible. Eat this bread and drink this wine: it is my body and my blood that I give to save you from your sins.

Sometimes there’s nothing left, other than despairing over the mess we humans create. And I haven’t even started on the damage we’ve done to the environment. The animal species we’ve destroyed, the milliards we’ve killed. The water we polluted, the air we poisoned. There is no end to the destruction we’ve caused. And we still think we’re better than animals? We’re red in tooth and claw. It is shameful.

I’m not a political creature, but I have a conscience. When did we lose our inbred etic? It was never innate: it was something we had to learn. But did we ever truly comprehend? There may have been some lights in the world, but they are few and far between. After Mother Theresa and Gandhi: who have truly done something towards making this world a better place?

© HMH, 2018

Nyboder

The fourth Christian rode through

Cobbled streets resounding

With history

On his way from the harbour to

His round tower

 

Monarch with visions

And Power to craft

Emptied the treasury

To build his bequest

Castles and churches

But, this is a first:

Homes for the mariners

A social estate

 

Along the byways

Sailors swaggered and

Fishmongers cried their wares.

Yellow houses with green window frames

Had open doors

Allowing easy access.

Inside, lace curtains secured privacy

And China dogs in pairs

Communicated to the world.

Is it safe to enter?

Lovers must wait for opportunities.

 

 

 

© HMH, 2018