In the many and varied efforts by writers attempting to climb out of the amateur fens and into the light of professional recognition and more importantly money, one culprit more than any other holds their feet forever in the mud. Time. When writing isn’t the only gig, when being a parent, or a wife or husband, or a teacher or a mechanic or an assistant manager or any of the myriad of labels life brands on people, wanted or not, time stands monolithic and domineering, casting a dim shadow over all the amateur desires to accomplish.
In the existential view, of course, time is against everyone. The less the writer puts pen to paper or fingers to keys, the less time remains in his short days to pass on his stories and knowledge to the future. But that everyone dies is a trite excuse to not push passions forward.
Time, or finding time, is easily the largest lament non-professional writers share. Countless minutes and hours and days and weeks pass with characters clinging to each other from the edge of the cliff, or running, frozen mid-stride, away from the killer, or tears frozen in paradox, glistening and wet, as they wait weeks in the same day for their estranged husband to call. The lush and very real world writers manipulate when guiding their characters past the obstacles they put in front of them does not progress during the normal passage of time.
Einstein’s general theory of relativity states -- amongst a multitude of other very science-y and non-relevant points to this article – that speed and time are intertwined because of gravity, and the faster something travels the slower time moves for them in relation to those not traveling the same speed. Such is the world a writer’s characters inhabit. Only the characters’ slowed time has nothing to do with speed. The clock holds fast in their lives solely because of their relativity to the writer.
This is why it is so important and all-encompassing for writers to carve and dig and scrape out writing time on a regular basis. It’s great to think about a story, to plot out arcs in the mind, to talk about storylines with fellow writers, to rework and rework and rework, but ultimately, until the writers actually write, not one second of time passes for those characters so desperate to climb the ledge, escape evil, or have the phone ring. Writing is the only remedy to kick the chocks from the wheels and get the monstrosity rolling.
Much the same as gravity, there is another force at work here as well. Writers also lose their own relativity to the worlds they create with the passage of too much time. Just as Einstein pulls on the edges of perception of those moving slowest, clarity becomes elusive to writers, and the structures they so intricately built become fuzzy and distorted. The tales, even with complete outlines, don’t ring with familiarity, and ultimately, the very words writers choose fail to convey the immediacy of a once vibrant universe.
How to discover more time in a day is the subject of a multitude of writers’ blogs. Admittedly, the problem is more complex than any other the amateur writer faces and warrants the attention. But understanding why consistency is so important is vital to understanding why writing itself is so important to all writers. Overcoming the amateur’s malaise and omnipresent sense of dread is essential. When those hours flow to days, and days to weeks, their characters suffer greatest, changing from lively real people into clockwork drones with one purpose, finish the plot exactly the way the writer needs. No writer wants mechanical automatons taking up precious space in their environments. They want their populations to use free will, to climb and run and search and love on their own. Writers want to sit back with everyone else and watch the majesty of reality take place on the page. If they’re doing it right, they don’t exactly understand how they accomplished it.
These elusive qualities fade, and fade quickly, with every second writers are not walking amongst their creations. Breathing the air, tasting the food, breaking bread with these fictional people is vital to both the characters’ survival and the writers’ dreams of the future.
So instead of thinking about that next chapter before going to bed, or editing a few extra lines of dialogue at lunch, or typing out the next tweet, do your characters a favor and push time, ever so slowly, forward another few minutes. They’ll appreciate it now and you’ll appreciate it later. Relatively speaking of course.
Feet Firmly in the Mud,
I was going to write a blog post about the new Superman movie, but then thought, what's the point, it was pretty horrendous. Then I was going to write a blog about the Superman stories I actually enjoyed reading in the comics, and then I saw a friend's post on Google+ and I thought, well gee, he just did all of the work for me didn't he?
Our resident comics expert is a great one to follow on the Google. Find his public postshere, and if he likes you enough maybe you'll get to see some of the not public stuff.
Thanks for the back up!
In lieu of talking about Man of Steel (it was very disappointing) I thought I would take some time to point out some of the best Superman comics. It goes without saying that they are all self-contained and not part of any larger stories.
All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely
This book is a blend of joyful exuberance and mad ideas. Over the course of half a dozen smaller stories, Morrison expertly weaves together a greater tapestry whose ending is pitch perfect. This book's Superman is one that embodies hope, compassion, power, and sacrifice. This book is simultaneously old-fashioned and modern, without ever seeming corny.
Superman: Secret Identity by Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen
The Superman in this book is a normal human named Clark Kent, living in a world that knows the exploits of his fictional namesake. Many creators in many different media try to ground Superman, to make him less aloof, less powerful. Busiek manages the impressive feat of writing a relatable Superman story without every dipping into cynicism or irony.
For the Man Who Has Everything by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
This short story gives Superman his fondest wish, that Krypton had never exploded. It is not what he or the reader expects. Even reading this at a much younger ago as part of a very scattershot "best of superman" collection, I knew this one stood out as something special. Before knowing that comics writers and artists were even a discrete thing, the quality of this tale by the creators of Watchmenshone though. It is only available in print as part of larger collections with other works, but a digital version is available. (The same is true of the others, but I'm only linking to their print versions.)
Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross
The question this book asks is the perpetual one: Is Superman still relevant? In conjunction with Ross' stunning painted art, Waid writes a story of an older Superman who has ceded his place to a younger, harsher generation of heroes. After a catastrophic failure, he feels his sense of duty once again and must face the friction with a world that had moved on without him.
Superman: Red Son by Mark Millar, Dave Johnson, and Kilian Plunkett
This book doesn't have lofty aspirations, but is a satisfying dollop built off of an incredibly simple idea. What if Superman's rocket landed 12 hours later, in the Soviet Union? That Stalin derives from the Russian word for "steel" is one of the many coincidences that are too good to pass up.
So what is Shotgun Honey? It’s one of many crime fiction/noir sites that are part of a wonderful overall community of people looking to expand the genre and give greater exposure to not only authors but publishers as well. This particular site takes its name from its weapon of choice. The fiction they publish has a brutal 700 word maximum standard. As their tag line states:
“A blast of fiction to blow your mind.”
In many ways, writing a concise, interesting, complete story on such a short canvas is more challenging than writing long form. Certain concessions need to be made immediately but none of them are obvious. The more characters, the less time the writer can spend on plot. The more plot, the less time can be spent on theme. The more time on theme and suddenly the characters are suffering again.
But luckily, the folks over there saw something in my writing and decided the little slice of darkness I sent them was enough to bring to the light of day.
THE FINAL SENTENCE tells the tale of a convicted felon and his last attempt at a sliver of redemption. Bad choices clouded the two things that meant anything to him and now he’s paying the price, in more ways than one.
Hopefully you’ll make this great website part of your regular web junk food diet. Free good fiction is hard to find, and the people at this site and many of the others that I frequent use their own time to curate the lush gardens of prose sent their way.
I was going also going to post a new webcomic to coincide with the story tomorrow, but the Gods have ordained it not to be so. For now, you’ll just have to get your TDC fix from another site.
Once last bit. The horrible news out of Boston is yet another horrible turn for a country still reeling from the nightmare of Newton. While it goes without saying, our thoughts are with the many people in the city and throughout the world that this has impacted. Stay strong everyone.
Taking down the wall, a brick at a time,
As I watched with the shared horror of the country as the tragic story of Sandy Hook Elementary school unfolded, I also shared one of the prevailing sentiments of the country, who needs a weapon like that and why is it so easy to obtain.
Then the gun control debate conflagrated over the passing days, and I stood firm in my long held beliefs about gun control and violence in the media in general. Like most beliefs I hold dear, I had long ago embarked on extensive fact finding and gathering missions, carefully crafting not only an understanding of the debate in question, whether it be abortion, capital punishment, universal healthcare, or even the just as important XboX vs Playstation debate, but also formulating an opinion about it that I could defend backed by the impenetrable facts.
Before Sandy Hook I knew the statistics on gun violence. How Living in a home where there are guns increases the risk of homicide by 40 to 170% and the risk of suicide by 90 to 460%. How countries with the strictest gun laws also have a quantifiably lower gun crime rate. How per capita America leads the first world in gun ownership and is very close in gun related deaths. (Other very interesting country comparisons here). They all point to the fact that, as Garen Wintemute, director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California-Davis says so simply, "We seem to be an average country in terms of violence and aggression. What we have is huge homicide rates compared to anybody else. The difference is that in this country violence involves firearms and firearms change the outcome.”
As a collector and participant of violent action movies, books, and video games, it was even more important for me to be ready for verbal battle considering I was taking the harder side to argue given my interests. Staunch were my defenses. Video games in particular were the easiest to back up because they were the easiest target for those seeking to rectify youth and violent culture. I reveled in these debates because I knew the facts. There is no certifiable link between violent video games and violent people. It says so here and here and here, and in so many other places it’d be too exhaustive to list. Violent movies as also breathe the same statistic and well-researched air.
And why shouldn’t I take pride in the defense of the things which give me so much joy? And why shouldn’t it anger me when a talking head accepts gun studies favoring more lax gun laws but then out of hand dismisses the same type of research which denies any link to violent video games and other media?
All these things I believed, and even after Sandy Hook, I still do. However, a tragedy of this magnitude, the senselessness of the death toll and the victims, the nation left stumbling in the dark ready for war but crippled by grief, is one hell of a motivator to re-examine that which we hold so dear.
And upon that re-examination, after dredging up more studies and statistics and listening to the crazies, and the not so crazies, and throwing it all into a bucket, letting it stew for a month, I’ve cooked something that looks very similar to my old meal but doesn’t taste quite the same as the last time I had this dish.
More than anything, the words I hear repeated throughout this debate are ‘gun culture.’ The culture of guns in this country is a stronger magnet than any assault rifle ban or armed guards at schools. Americans, overwhelmingly, love their guns. Outside of any discussion of the second amendment, there are equally righteous and sane arguments to be made on either side of the isle. But truly, the culture is what matters most.
That is not to say, much to the dismay of those who refuse to believe it, that the culture cannot be changed. America, indeed the world, was a smoking culture for hundreds of years. We were a car culture who didn’t embrace seatbelts. Cultures can and will change.
So I rationally thought, if gun control wasn’t a large part of the national dialogue before, then maybe Sandy Hook’s tragedy will be the first step in this changed culture. Given my feelings and beliefs on the subject, I saw this as a good thing, a thing I wanted to happen. Yes, I want us to stop being a culture that idealizes and cherishes the weapon that has caused more pain and misery throughout the history of the world than any other has.
But wait. If that culture is to change, as righteously as I have hoped, do I have to change? I don’t own a gun. I don’t have a subscription to the Huntsman Quarterly. I don’t spend afternoons skeet shooting or going to the range. I most definitely do not hunt. I live in a state with the some of the strictest laws in the country. Surely there is nothing I have to do to help necessitate this change, is there?
My immediate answer is still no, but my defenses are crumbling. The fabric of a culture, especially one as diverse and expansive as America, is made of so many things beyond simple law and statistics. Our regular ingestion of guns and violence on movie screens and gaming consoles and TVs are just some of its many threads. And when we unfurl that fabric and look at the stars and stripes of our multi-cultural and multi-ethnic homeland, how can the entire flag not be made up of each and every stitch that is sewn into it?
How can we deny that each stitch, regardless of how small, or more importantly, how far away it is from another, doesn’t in the end make the entirety of the flag possible?
No, there is no direct correlation between video games and gun violence. Yes, there are hundreds of millions of people who enjoy and love action movies every year, and they take that excitement home, and talk about it and share the experience with their friends and they never once, not even for a fraction of a moment, consider doing the things they see on those screens.
Yes, there is a direct correlation between homes that own guns and those that don’t. And very much yes, in countries that do not have a gun culture but do have guns, there is decidedly less gun violence and deaths in them. But also no, most decidedly no, that just because someone owns a gun they will be irresponsible with it; nor does it mean they will eventually use it in anger.
Before Sandy Hook, I didn’t think to look past the obvious, the cold unwavering facts that paint a very specific picture. I didn’t think it hypocritical to say, yes, ban some guns. Make others harder or impossible to get. And no, you have no right at all to question my tastes in film and leisure time, because those, my friend, do not contribute to the violence we are seeing.
And while that may still be the case -- after all, the statistics didn’t just change because of one tragedy -- I would be remiss not to at least acknowledge my part, and your part, and all of our parts in the acceptance and enjoyment of a culture saturated, at every instance and around every corner, with guns.
If changing the culture is truly the answer, and I think it is, we have to attempt to understand how and where those stitches come together. We have to accept that changing a culture is more than a law or a decree; it is more than a winning an argument. It is a nation’s commitment to something decidedly different from what it has always been.
Am I ready to make that change? Probably not. I’m still only halfway through playing Call of Duty Black Ops 2, and the next movie I’m going to see is Die Hard 4. But I should have more answers at this point. I shouldn’t lean on the beliefs I’ve known and accepted for the larger majority of my life. I need to look at that flag, really look at it, and realize those fifty stars are actually just hundreds and thousands of individual stitches. I need to do a better job of realizing my stitches and your stitches and their stitches not only make up the entire flag but are a lot closer to the other side than we ever thought they were. And at some point, we all have to wave it together.
Contemplating the inevitable,
Stolen Loneliness Bonus Content
The second installment of TDC Streetlight Stories is in the books. Unlike our first attempt The Dark Days of Carolyn Taskman, this second story was broader, had more characters, and took much longer to complete. The end result, I think, is a story that has more impact and that I hope has an ending that resonates stronger.
The decision to release the story once a day for a week worked well because of the five page plot. Also, I wanted to get away from a weekly release, considering TDC’s main webcomic already has a weekly release schedule. By the activity on our Twitter over the past week or so, it looks like this was the right way to go.
The script to this story started benignly enough. I’ve always wanted to write a heist story, but the real story I wanted to write would be much broader and not fit for the more compact storytelling we’re going for in our Streetlight Stories format. But the themes I wanted were there, so instead I decided to fast forward to the end of the story, and what happens to our thugs after all the sirens have faded.
In the attached script you’ll find a few slight differences between the original and the final pages posted on the site. The two biggest differences are pacing, and the ending.
As far as pacing goes, being a prose writer first and a script writer only more recently, I sometimes struggle with the correct flow of a visual story. I like to think I have a good understanding of a novel or short story’s pacing, and I use it as often as I can, to my advantage. However, when writing scripts, sometimes a read through of the script seems spot on, but once the pages are put together and the panels are drawn, the pacing is too fast, and dramatic moments or even character conversations can seem rushed. The silent inference that a reader makes in regular prose, that beat you take in your head when you read a conversation between two characters in a novel, mimics everyday conversations. When the visual element is introduced, that cadence can be thrown off. You see both parties talking, so that beat is not placed in the same spot. So many times after completing my initial page layouts, I add in (and I find myself adding, more than taking away) extra dialogue to help with this pacing.
Also, my first and second drafts tend to be heavy with verbal clichés. It takes a bunch of re-readings and edits to excise them all, but I usually get most of them. You’ll see evidence of that all over the initial script as well.
When it comes to the ending, my initial thought was to have Connelly stay behind as the others left and take care of the hostages before he drives off. I considered that the other guys wouldn’t let him do it, especially after his confrontation with Chandler. But I could remedy this, I thought, by having them turn a blind eye to his actions. They all get in their cars, pretend that he did the same, even though he stayed back and will complete the grizzly deed they all want done but don’t have the heart to. Evidence of this still lingers in this initial script when Connelly says: “We can’t risk it. You know that boss. I’ll do ‘em quick.” This line was expanded further in the final comic to include how he would do it and that no one else had the stomach for it.
But the more I considered it, them more I felt a more powerful ending would leave the hostages stranded. The crew could do their same naïve departure, but this time, they assume, unjustly, that someone, anyone would stop by to let them out. It would take too long though, and they would be scot-free by this point. But buried deep in all of their heads would be the truth. No one was coming. They were too far from the city, too far from civilization. A more horrible ending for our poor hostages, more terrible that being carved up by a psychopath in my opinion, was wasting away in a sealed room for weeks.
Lively stuff! But truthfully, I hope the ending was a bit of a punch in the stomach for anyone reading. The hardest part about writing in this genre is avoiding the many excellent ideas and tales that have come before. It was hard enough for me to avoid Reservoir Dogs while writing this and I didn’t even have an undercover cop in my story. So for this sad, somewhat diabolical, story I tried to cap it off with an ending that flipped the standard crooks arguing over ethics on its head. They are benignly evil it turns out, and sometimes that’s so much worse.
I hope everyone enjoyed this installment. I had a lot of fun creating it (total time worked on it was a couple months while still trying to find the time for regular TDC updates). We’re gonna put Streetlight Stories three on the shelf for a month or two while I get caught up on This Desperate City proper pages, but it’ll definitely be back soon.
Quick administration stuff. I will be leaving this story up for another week while I keep pimping it on twitter and other sites when I can. Look for a new TDC page the week of the 21st of January.
Also, IMPORTANT. We had to reassign our RSS feed service! So if you are subscribed to our RSS feed you will have to RE-subscribe to the new service! The old one went out of business apparently.
I think that covers it. Have a great new year, and we’ll be back soon with more updates!
Taking a breather,
Stolen Time – Streetlight Stories Episode 2
R1P1 [Stack of cash on a table]
LE’CARRE: Two hundred Gs less than we counted on.
HOUSTON: So how much each?
LE’CARRE: Still looks like . . . seven hundred and change.
R1P2 [Hand on a stack of money]
HOUSTON: Seven hundred thousand dollars … That’s amazing.
LE’CARRE: And change.
R1P3 [another hand on top of the first. Same shot with extra hand]
CHANDLER: No. No one dips until he’s done.
R2P1 [HOUSTON Putting his hands up and smiling. He is a thin man, balding on the sides]
HOUSTON: Relax Chandler, I meant no harm.
R2P2 [Le’Carre looking a little scared to his left. He is wearing a fedora and an unkempt tie]
LE’CARRE: It’s okay. I’m just about finished.
R2P3 [Hands counting stacks of money]
R3 Full [All four of them sitting around a table. Stack of money is on the table, Guns scattered around. Le’Carre’s back is facing camera but he’s wearing the fedora so you know who he is. To his left is Houston, his right Chandler. The fourth man, Connelly, is opposite. He has no shirt on and the left half of his body is covered in tattoos. These may not be visible the first time we meet him]
SFX (Lower right of panel): THUMP THUMP
HOUSTON: How much longer?
LE’CARRE: I’m almost finished.
HOUSTON: No, I mean before we can get the hell out of here
CHANDLER: Hour tops. Split the money, burn the clothes, leave one at a time.
HOUSTON: What about …
CHANDLER: What about what, Houston? What about what?
R1P1 [A rusty door with a small vent at the top]
SFX: THUMP THUMP
HOUSTON: Nothing Chandler, nothing.
R1P2 [Over the shoulder shot of LE’CARRE finishing counting, money stacked neatly in front of him, calculator at his side]
LE’CARRE: Done. Seven hundred forty seven thousand dollars apiece. That’s including taking out Old Man Aldo’s cut for letting us run it on his turf.
R1P3 [The door again, but in the foreground is a triangle light above the table. The only light in the room.]
LE’CARRE: Don’t spend in all in one place boys.
R2P1 [A series of face on shots of each man here, to establish again what they look like. LE’CARRE’s hand pushing the money to each]
LE’CARRE: Boss’s privilege, yours first Chandler.
CHANDLER: You’re a gentleman Le’Carre.
R2P2 [HOUSTON, smiling]
LE’CARRE: And for ye of little patience, Houston.
HOUSTON: Bite me.
R2P3 [Connelly. Feet up on the table, a long blade in his hand. Now we can see the tats.
LE’CARRE: Connelly, most deserved.
CONELLY: . . .
R3P1 [LE’CARRE holding the cash to his face and smiling at it like a pillow]
LE’CARRE: And finally the rest for the bean counter.
R3P2 [A hand cocking a pistol]
CHANDLER: Okay, pack it up and let’s call it quits. Sick of seeing all of your ugly mugs.
R3P3 [Same door shot as the first panel]
VOICE FROM THE DOOR: Hello? Hello? Please . . .
R1P1 [Dark half face shots of Le’Carre and Houston]
R1P2 [Chandler, head down, swiping the cash into a duffle bag]
CHANDLER: What the hell do you want Houston? You got your money now let’s get the hell out of here and catch our flights.
R1P3 [Same Shot as first on this page]
HOUSTON: What about?
R2P1 [Same shot of Chandler only this time his head is up and looking at camera]
CHANDLER: What Houston? What about what?
R2P2 [Connelly, still sitting in the same position, holding his knife point down]
CONNELLY: Houston wants to know what we intend to do with the old man and the young girl we currently have tied up in the next room. I’m actually kinda interested myself too.
R2P3 [Same shot again of Le’Carre and Houston]
LE’CARRE: Me too.
HOUSTON: Yea, yea, exactly.
R3 All [Two hostages on their knees. Full body shot of them, hands over their heads. Men are standing behind them, pointing guns at their heads. We can’t see the tops of their bodies though. This is a flashback to the heist]
CHANDLER DLB: Job was going fine. We shouldn’t have even taken them in the first place.
HOUSTON DLB: We had to boss, you know that. It was all part of the plan. It was the only way the cops were gonna let us out of there alive.
CHANDLER: I know. And I didn’t like it from the beginning. This entire job went without a hitch, didn’t even have to pull a trigger. No murder. You know how much easier it is to get away with cash when there’s no murder?
R1P1 [Connelly, leaning over the table, his face downlit from the light above. Knife stabbing into the table with his hand on the hilt]
CONNELY: I couldn’t give less of a sh!t how it happened. Question is what we do now?
R1P2 [Chandler with the duffel back around his shoulder, putting a hand out to calm down Connelly]
CHANDLER: Chill, Connelly, Chill. We don’t have to do anything.
R1P3 [Le’Carre, hands out, confused]
LE’CARRE: You want to just leave them here? They’ve heard us, our names, they can ID us.
R2P1 [Houston, a hand in the camera waving it back and forth]
HOUSTON: No, no, that ain’t true. They don’t know shit.
VOICE FROM INSIDE: He’s right! Please, just let us out. We don’t know anything!
R2p2 and p3 [Double wide, Connelly casually pointing his knife at Chandler’s chest. Chandler, with his hands on his duffel bag but his gun at his side.]
CONNELLY: We can’t risk it. You know that boss. I’ll do ‘em quick.
CHANDLER: First off Connelly, you do what I say. Secondly, you point that sticker somewhere else right quick.
R3P1 [close up of Connelly smile, broken teeth]
CONNELLY: Make me boy.
R3P2 and 3 [LE’Carre stands between them, his hands out separating them. More of an upper body shot than just a full body]
LE’CARRE: ENOUGH! We’ve got our money. We’ve got separate plane tickets to different destinations. The four of us aren’t going to ever see each other again in a matter of an hour. Be real stupid if we started comparing dIcks here and someone got hurt.
CONNELLY: Sure thing Le’Carre. Sure thing. So we don’t kill ‘em if you’re all too sensitive.
R1P1 [Connelly, close up, the blade covering half his face]
CONNELLY: I could always just cut out their tongues. Take the cops days to figure out what happened and we’ll be long gone by then.
R1P2 [Houston picking up his bag and getting ready to leave]
HOUSTON: This is ridiculous. There’s no reason to do anything. Let’s just go. Leave ‘em in there.
VOICE: What? No! No you can’t! Please we don’t know anything!
R2P1 [Chandler, bag slung over his shoulder, gun at the ready. Yelling]
CHANDLER: Shut up! You kidding me? Shut up!
R2P2 [Chandler walking towards the front door. He’s leaving, hand waving good bye]
CHANDLER: I’m leaving. My flight takes off in forty-five. No extradition sounds even better without a murder wrap on my hands. See you boys in another life
R2P3 [Le’Carre and Houston looking at each other again]
LE’CARRE: We’re seventy miles from the city. This place is abandoned. No telling how long they’ll be locked up for.
HOUSTON: We can’t just unlock ‘em, Le’Carre. Let’s just go.
LE’CARRE: This really sucks.
R3p1 [Semi overhead shot of abandoned building. Four cars with tracks to a dirt road. Small figures walking out. Chandler’s care is already driving away. Can’t tell who’s who, but word bubbles point anyway]
HOUSTON: You’re gonna forget all about this in a few hours when you’re on the beach.
LE’CARRE: Yea, you’re right. Someone’s bound to show up. You take care of yourself Houston.
R3P2 [Same overhead shot but the cars are all driving away. Except one. One has remained behind]
R3P3 [Door, and Connelly’s arm in the foreground with the knife]
VOICE BEHIND DOOR: Did they leave?
VOICE 2: Yea. Thank God. Now let’s figure out how to get out of here.