Someone always says it better…

After my post yesterday I got some of my favourite regular e-mail this year – my monthly writing exercise from Matt Bell (If you haven’t signed up you’re missing out.)

This month he wrote about Choice and Complicity.

It was a fascinating read and the subject matter, though difficult to fully execute in prose, is something I’ve already started considering how to utilize.

Essentially, he’s talking about power structures. The ones in which we operate in and how we make choices within those power structures.

These are not always (perhaps, importantly so) the Perfect Choice but rather the Best Choice We Can Make Given the Situation.

All of these systems and power structures can and should and will be resisted, but at the same time many people have no choice but to live within them, with someone always benefitting even as others are injured, and of course I know that standing up against one power structure doesn’t automatically mean being able or willing to do the same against another. We all make choices from inside these systems, and for me, [Octavia] Butler’s novels are some of the best examples I know of how to depict those choices in fiction.

Matt Bell

It’s something I’m already interested in, generally, but I’d never considered how it could be applied to fiction writing.

Elsewhere in the newsletter he links to Charlie Jane Anders ‘s ongoing essay-series/book Never Say You Can’t Survive. I’ve only just started reading the first few entries but I think I’ll be reading the whole thing.

The following is an excerpt from the chapter, How to Get Through Hard Times by Making Up Stories.

“And escapism is resistance. People sometimes talk about escapist storytelling as a kind of dereliction of duty, as if we’re just running away from the fight. That’s some bullshit right there. In her 1979 essay collection The Language of the Night, Ursula K. Le Guin paraphrases Tolkien thusly: “If a soldier is captured by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape? …. If we value the freedom of the mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape and to take as many people with us as we can.”

So yeah, escapist fiction is about liberation, and imagining a happier, more just world is a direct assault on the forces that are trying to break your heart. As Le Guin says, the most powerful thing you can do is imagine what if things could be different…

What if?”

Charlie Jane Anders, Never Say You Can’t Survive

Like I said, someone always says it better…

In-Sentence Suspense

This is from the first exercise Matt Bell has posted on his “Writing Exercises” emails about creating an “in-sentence” suspension.

To briefly, and poorly, explain it’s about creating a simple sentence and then delaying the ending by using prepositions but you can also use a whole slew of other techniques. I realise I’m not explaining this well but…

Matt explains it much, MUCH better in his exercise emails which you can sign up for here.

My sentence was originally –

I have seen many places, but none of them like this, and I smile.

I liked what came out after about twenty minutes of writing, even though I didn’t really stick perfectly to the instructions given. Anyway, here it is in case anyone would like to read a very long sentence.

I have seen many places, from the safety of my head, beneath the twilight of an ocean sky, bouncing past deserts inside a broken and comically packed van where bad breath and B.O. reigned supreme, or ferried over water with sunburned skin alive and itching, accompanied by the monologue within, that spoke at length about things I don’t remember, with friends, lovers, companions, coworkers, guides, people I hardly knew at all or ever would again who spoke in languages and cadences once readily understood but now simply forgotten, steered to view the world from someone else’s vantage because the view was better or they told you that’s how it’s supposed to be seen, where obligingly you might capture the tired eyes and shining teeth of strangers, through variations of heat and darkness, constricted by limits of vision, or a willingness to witness (often, but not always, one and the same), from such great heights where cities look like galaxies or deep caverns where stalactites look like the distant skyscrapers on an absurd, forgotten, rusted planet, and the thought of a familiar blanket was not far away, but none of them like this, like you, and I smile.