Archive | July 2012

Perils, Pitfalls and Pleasures of Writing Memoir

Writing about your own life is like walking through murky water. On one hand, you are employing some of the techniques of fiction. Dialogue. Description. Setting. Character Development. Theme. Symbolism. Story arc and plot. Scene, scene, scene. Internal monologue. All of these come into play. And then there are the smaller, detail-oriented things like cadence, sentence variation, and playing with language in an artful way that expresses what you want to say.

And yet, it’s not fiction.  There are limits on all of the above elements (except perhaps the language and sentence levels). Your dialog has to match, more or less, the dialogue as you remember it from real life. Your character development is limited to how much you’ve developed your insights and observations about the people around you, how closely and in how many dimensions you’ve paid attention.

Your story arc often won’t fit the more linear traditional arc. That can be one of the trickier things to work with. I think you do need a fair amount of crafting to make the raw material of your life into a story worth telling. You can’t just vomit out exactly as you remember it happening because life is so messy that your story would end up that way too. At the same time, I think it’s dangerous to control the messiness too much, to work too hard to fit things into and expected and accepted story arc. Doing so can push you too far into fiction. There has to be a balance between free-flowing creative energy and craft. And the more you write, the more both come naturally.

More on writing memoir

My Official Breaking Bad Season 5 Predictions Post

Okay, today’s the big day! These predictions were actually written a month or two ago over at the AMC BrBa forums with slight bits added and amended. I thought I’d share here before the new season starts. I’ll also be posting a discussion of each week’s episode after they air, and linking it up to other bloggers and TV critics who are doing the same.

Walt and Jesse

I think Walt’s cancer will come back, for a few reasons. The writers have hinted at it, as have the characters. Also, if it doesn’t, I would find it a little too miraculous for this show. That’s not to say that people don’t beat cancer or go against the odds, it’s just that what Walt had was pretty advanced and for the cancer to really be gone I would find a bit of a jump, believability-wise. It would be too magical. This isn’t Grey’s Anatomy (which I also love, and which has its own brand of darkness and unhappy endings, but also does have someone survive skin cancer with 5% odds), this is Breaking Bad, full of bleakness. Having him go into remission was a GREAT turn, for the show and for Walt, but I think that remission of his can only last for so long.

Personally, I would like that to be the way that Walt ultimately dies. Why? Two reasons. The first is there is some poetry in that b/c that’s how the real Heisenberg died. Also, I like that it takes control away from Walt. Anything else, anything that is a result of his actions or decisions in the drug biz, in a way he would have some control over, play a part in the decisions that led to it, etc, and control is very important to Walt, so I like the idea of him dying of cancer and not having any control or influence over it whatsoever. I have a feeling that the cancer returning (along with other things) may be part of the cliffhanger at the end of the first half of season 5.

More Predictions

The Colors – Dark As Roses 1

I look around the classroom and try not to see anyone. I should pay attention to the psychology book on my desk—after all, the midterm is on Friday and it’s now Monday—but the words blur and swim on the page. At the board, Dr. Crowley goes on, reviewing the abnormal cases. Pretty soon he’ll bring up synesthesia and I’ll melt into a puddle of mush on the floor and die. In the meantime, I suppose I’ll stare at the wall. I can’t look at my classmates, I’ll only see the colors. Won’t even be able to see the faces for all the haze brought on by midterm worry. I’m going mad, I know.

Dark Rose

I’ve always seen the colors around the people, even as a very small child. Most of the shrinks my mom dragged me to back then chalked it up to synesthesia, said there was some odd wiring in my brain that confused my senses and that’s why I saw colors. They always did remark though, that it’s a very focused case. Usually people with synesthesia hear sound when they see motion or associate colors with certain letters and numbers, whereas I only saw the colors on the people. My classmates used to tease me about being the crazy girl in town, after I made the grave mistake of talking about it. Frustrated teachers tried to educate them about my affliction, as they called it, about the wiring gone wrong in my brain. That only made them laugh until they were sick with giggles. They called me “Metalbrain.”

Now it’s my second year away at college and no one knows about my problem. I don’t want Dr. Crowley talking about my affliction in the class. I might concentrate too hard on the professor, or the floor, or this wall I’m staring at. I might nervously twirl my hair or fidget and then everyone will know my secret.

~~~

Today I decided to go with some fiction. “Dark As Roses” is a short story I wrote about a girl who struggles with psychic ability she’s not sure she wants to possess. These are the first few paragraphs.

You can check out other Friday Samples here. And don’t forget you can always check out Published and Older Works for more samples.

~Emilia J

Next Excerpt: Psychedelic Strobe Lights – Dark As Roses 2

Is Memoir Writing Self-Indulgent?

WritingIt certainly feels that way at times. When I’m writing memoir, I’m my own main character, my life is the plot, my predilections become the theme, the story is from my perspective and all the characters’ voices are in some ways filtered through my own.

But on the other hand, memoir writing can be like a crucible. When you are writing memoir and really digging into it, it can be excruciating. Your embarrassing moments are laid bare. And so are your faults. You have to look at yourself in a real way, and it can be scary and really hard to do.

In fact, I know that’s held me back on my latest memoir project. I’ve known for a long time that I wanted to tell a particular story, tentatively titled A Case of You, but it has been hard to get started and keep going on the story because I know there are parts of myself that I’ll have to face that I’d rather not acknowledge at all. So many times I’ll start working on bits and pieces of the project, only to stop a few days later and leave it alone for months. Sometimes the thought of facing those darker parts of yourself can feel scarier than almost anything you could encounter in your external life. But memoir writing doesn’t let you get away with running away from it.

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TV Rich and Movie Poor

As I’m sure is glaringly obvious, I watch a lot of TV. But somehow, despite all the time I spend watching Netflix, it’s almost always TV episodes. I don’t make as much time for movies as I used to. And even when I used to watch move movies, it always seemed there were so many good ones I hadn’t seen for any number of reasons.

I want to do more screenwriting, and as with any form of writing, getting better at it means immersing yourself in that form and medium of storytelling. Or I’m just giving myself an excuse to start getting DVDs in the mail from Netflix again (the streaming movie selections are a bit limited) and spend more time watching movies. Either way, I would love some suggestions.

So give me your top five to ten movies (or more!) you think I should see. They can be your favorites, or great examples of a particular genre, or even movies you hate (as a writer, it can be good to familiarize yourself with the not-so-great examples too, and who knows, tastes differ. Or you can have no particular theme or reason at all. Just give me some suggestions, and some descriptions of why if you want, and I’ll start compiling an epic film educational queue.

I’m not saying much about what movies I already love (or hate) b/c I want to be open to all suggestions, but if you’re really curious, I have a faves list on my FB. But since I’m looking to branch out, I just don’t want to limit anything to similar titles or anything like that. Really, all suggestions welcome!

~Emilia J

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

For anyone who writes stories, makes music or does any sort of creative art, this has to be one of the most common questions you are asked, and one of the most common questions you want to ask others.

Dreaming

It’s a mysterious thing. I think so many people are curious about it, even people who themselves are involved in the creative arts, because it’s not always concrete and logical (those aspects do come into play, of course). Sometimes it’s hard to know exactly where that first seed or flash or image or idea originated.

Sometimes you know. The idea for Total Eclipse of the Heart, which I wrote originally as a short story and am now having fun working into a screenplay, came to me pretty much fully-formed in a dream, including some of the dialogue. Actually in the dream I was taking a screenwriting class (which at that point in time I had never done in real life) and struggling with writers block, then came up with this idea for the story and in the dream I was reworking it and molding it. There were so many details, so many subplots and so much complexity for a story that came from a dream.

That has never happened before or since but it was pretty cool when it did. It kinda made me feel like I had to write the story.

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Reading Eyes and Faces – Seeing and Not Seeing 1

eyeimagesAnd faces—nothing has given me more trouble. Eyes, those most important details of a face, are too small to make out unless I am close enough to make out with someone. I didn’t know what color my last boyfriend’s eyes were until after we had been dating for almost six months. Whenever we were close enough for me to discern their color, he kept his eyes closed. I didn’t see his eyes until we were riding a city bus on our way to a concert on an early May evening, squished next to each other on the seats. He turned slightly to me, the light was just right, and I finally saw out of my right eye that his left was brown with textured traces of gold, simultaneously soft and hard in color.

Last year, I was watching TV on my 24-inch computer monitor, sitting less than a foot away, and saw a close-up of someone rolling her eyes. At thirty, I was seeing that gesture for the first time and it was nothing like I had imagined. Inspired, I wanted to get a glimmer of what it is to read feelings in eyes, so I watched Grey’s Anatomy, scrutinizing characters during emotionally wrought scenes, their faces taking up my whole screen. Though I felt all the feelings from the context, the music, the minute changes in pitch and inflection in their voices and the larger facial gestures, I could see nothing in the eyes.

~~~

This is an excerpt from an essay in which I explore a few different aspects of albinism and blindness.

You can check out other Friday Samples here. And don’t forget you can always check out Published and Older Works for more samples.

~Emilia J