Sunday, May 20, 2018

The First Pass is Always Heuristic B*llSh*t


Well we're doing it nearly first.

no, wait.
You know what?
Reader (hey there!) y'know what?
Since the point of this exercise,
meaning these words printed on this strange, changeable clay,
(as opposed to the other, more rarefied space; Emmy's space, the space of the slip and of Erra)--
since the point of all this
is transparency, honesty,
sharing the process whatever it is...

I am going to start
by just sharing my notes.

Here they are, pasted below with blue header.

Unrevised notes, written g*ds know when (long time ago), for what has now become, in this spot, this here "post." And which have, of course, changed so much in that time! It took me a minute to find these notes, even; that was mostly because my scribal software rather spectacularly failed to find the word "heuristic" in a search (???).


Here they are. And don't worry: they make no sense -- I agree; correct! That's the point. We'll talk, after.
the first time is always heuristic bullshit
not do full texts, but Emmy here in c1
the thinking is simple: need and want; and—oh joy, emergent in the scene—to make clear to the reader and for the story
emmy's relationship to the lore
and how the game handles the mechanics of quest-giving, etc.
do "writing" with "phrases" that describes those things
reader, many of those phrases were b4ller. no, really. your scribe has a way with the words.
[for which may the gods chop his hands, cut his tongue]
because what you must then do
what takes forEVER
is tell that story
this is not a precis
it's not a 600-word piece of bullsh1t on the internet
it's a story
it gets told
through instantiated and specific realities
[don't show final
but do show some version of early]
and the peace and the calm that comes on when you do
for the gods have released you
you are unworthy, unskilled
your showing is doubtless unclear, clumsy, deranged
but you have not cheated anyone
no gods
you are, as you are, in good faith with the world
good phrase: toil in cheap anonymity
[[there seem to be scribes who … and, to be fair, there seem to even be readers who, … to which your humble scribe has two equal and equally heartfelt responses: de gustibus non est ppl r krazy. unpack
- de gustibus; full phrase; just explain what umean
- ppl r krazy come ON. no, really. you'll be happier. i promise. u will.
compare to smokers
acknowledge insanity of comparison]] ]]
End crazy notes.

So, now, cool: let's unpack this. These notes, once again, are from months (years?) ago; that said, their main idea wholly remains. And, in fact, many snippets and fragments still stand.

That said: they clearly (haha!) make no sense. So:

In Column 1, we are learning about Emmy's new game. And, just as much, we are learning about Emmy. Who she is; what she's like; what she likes. We're learning how she functions as an agent and object of action; specifically, how she approaches these games.

In this context--learning about game; learning about our hero--there are several particularly crucial elements. Crucial elements that must be understood in a certain way. This is not true of all elements in the story; the gods aren't concerned very much with our "feelings", so many elements in this tale admit ranged understanding. But these "crucial elements" are not part of this freedom; they are elements that the Reader (you!) should be guided to see in a specific way, because if you don't then things built on them won't make much sense. [Even here, of course, there's subjective assumption: "it is more fun to read something that makes some sense." Some may not think so! Your humble scribe does.]

These "crucial elements", which must be specifically understood, include:
  • Emmy's particular relationship to "lore"
    • with some (minimal) explanation of what "lore" is and means in an MMORPG context
  • How this game, Erra's Throne
    • approaches "lore"
    • approaches quest-discovery and quest-allocation; how these things are linked rather tightly to "lore"
    • presents "lore" in its playing environment

And these two things--the two darker main bullets, above--are important because they sum into one crucial fact [no spoilers, of course :) ] :
  • many important events as the story progresses are driven by the interaction between 
    • Emmy's particular relationship to "lore"
    • the game's particular handling of "lore"
    • other players' differentiated (from Emmy's, and Stang's, and each others') relationship to "lore"
These things are important to plot ("what happened?" "why?" "why did [character] [do that]?"). Equally, they're important as, like...story elements ("what's this story about?" "why am I reading it?" "what did I learn? how'd it change me?" etc.).

Okay? Okay. So, at this point
these comments
will shift in their focus;
I'll do my best, Reader, to carry you through.

I encourage you now to abstract these specifics, to take a high-level and summary view of these "crucial elements". View them as a category. I went through the specifics because--for me as a Reader; and therefore for me as the humblest of scribes--a thing without specifics does not seem real at all. And I wanted this thing--these "crucial elements" as a category and concept--to seem real to you, because they are the driving need behind what I'm about to describe. But all the stuff about Emmy and the game, etc. -- you can now let that go. All you need to know going forward is that

I, as the scribe pressing words into clay
have some top-down conception of "crucial elements"
which we'll sometimes refer to as, say, [XYZ]
namely, plot/story/character elements of the whole
which I, as the scribe, have at some point decided
[or, perhaps, "realized" (if that's your view {it is mine})]
are "crucial" enough to be understood in a specific way:

I want you, the Reader, to know [XYZ].

And with this we slide in towards the heart of these thoughts.
(I am listening to this; it is very fantastic).
Because the moment I'm allowing for this category:
these "crucial" [XYZ] things the Reader "must" know;
the moment I'm allowing that guiding conviction:

"it's important for the Reader to know [XYZ]"

I'm revealing a state-of-mind
and state-of-writing-process
that will lead
almost inevitably to
what we'll call, hereafter,
instrumental writing.

Definitions! No, not violins; not "instrumental" like that. In fact, the word's first meaning (per whatever dictionary comes up when you use your search bar to get a word's definition) is the one we are using.

"Instrumental writing" meaning writing that was wrenched into existence in order to serve some preset goal/objective; in this case, say, "make sure that the Reader understands [XYZ]."

Reader, you'll have to allow some fluidity with this definition--this isn't Chemistry. It's not even Economics. But that word, "preset", is helpful and important. Certainly, any writing can be said to "serve" goal(s). Much writing, of course, quite explicitly does so: to educate, persuade, et cetera etc. And even the most felt and private of prose can be seen in this way: a journal entry that, written, remains ever secret -- in this case, perhaps, the "goal" was that the writer 'got it off her chest', or it 'helped her think through it', or just: expressed joy.

But all that's precisely why "preset" is helpful.

For instrumental writing, the goal's known going in. So, for a project (a whole project) to be instrumental overall, its goal or objective is known going in. For an op-ed, or similar piece of persuasive short prose: in most cases the writer embarks with a goal; it's specifically defined, s/he understands it quite well. This does not mean their thinking won't evolve as they work; it does not mean that the writing's not generative, creative. It is. But it means that the map and the reason are there.

This idea, instrumentality, applies equally to some fiction. If a project has a prescribèd goal at conception ("write a [movie] about [those characters from the popular book series] that will [appeal to young kids and a bit to their parents]")...that defines it. Literally. Both circumscribes and directs what it is and will be.

So now let's do a different thing. Non-instrumental writing: writing that, in its genesis, can be anything. Including, and in most cases: be nothing at all! There is no goal @ outset. Or, if there is, 'goal' must be defined in such broad sweeping terms as to be, like...who cares? "To write in my journal" is a pretty broad goal and, more importantly, doesn't redound onto the text itself -- it's a goal about practice and action, not deliverable. Writing in her journal may make this protagonist feel good; or clear her head; or think through things; whatever. But qua the thing that she writes -- no goal. Whatever! It can be long it can be short it can be coherent incoherent neither both fanciful sad whateverwhateverwhatever: she has no agenda.

She just sat down to write. Cuz...y'know? whatever. She may not even know.

Returning to fiction: this applies just as well.

In this view, sitting down to that blank page with a prescription even as specific as "Okay, I'll write a story" takes you welllllll into instrumentality and "instrumental" writing. That's where you are from the start: you're prescribed. Because you're not then just writing--

just writing because these ten lines of dialogue have been in your head for the last several days
and for one thing it's getting kind of hard to remember them
and for another they kind of are driving you crazy
and a third (fourth?) you're interested where they might go...
...and, turns out they go nowhere! oh well! done with that!

Because that riff in the voice of your sparky protagonist
a clear riff on a [topic] that [could be in story]
has been churning and churning and seems pretty good
and so yes: write it down! Flesh it out; a few...hours...
yeah okay that's fine but totally doesn't fit. done with that!

I deliberately slid, with that second example, into the context of non-instrumental writing on a preëxisting and larger project. Because that--and I know, it's taken some time to get here--is what this whole post is about. Rather, this post is about the eventual necessity of instrumental writing on even the most internally motivated, non-prescriptively defined project. Because: once there is a "project", prescriptions are in place. [Unless you want to be constantly tearing the whole thing down or changing fundamentally what it is, which I know it may look, in your humble scribe's case, is what's been going on for the last um...three years? But is not. Honestly. That is nuts. lol.]

The whole point of this piece 
is that on any project,
of any length whatsoever 
even one that begins in the most 
unforced, unprescribed, "found" and discovered way, 
if that project is a thing to be given to Readers
and especially if that project is more than, like, four lines long:

you're gonna be doing instrumental writing.

And that's hard. 
Because all your first passes 


Your poem, your play, your seven-part serialized sci-fantasy novel, your memoir that began when words raced from your heart...all these might originate from unplanned inspired motion of the stylus -- a phrase you loved; a single scene; a first-moments-of-story that just leapt from your mind. BUT,

  1. it's unlikely that this unreflective and instinctive rush will sustain for, say, 150k+++ words; it might sustain for the length of some much shorter pieces, but even that doesn't matter because
  2. you're going to, at some point, present this to Readers. Right? i.e., other agentive, reactive intelligences that do not reside inside your freaking head.

You're going to wind up with stuff that is unclear. Some of your most "inspired" bits...are unclear. You're going to read these bits, realize they're too long and in fact aren't that good, but the bits that you wrote after them are maybe okay, so you cut them and see how et cetera etc.

You're going to--most of all, Reader, if "you" are me--realize that something that seemed clear to you is not even close to clear for your dear Readers. And you're going to need to figure out, in a "figuring it out", top-down kind of way:

okay. so what can i do, then, to make this thing better?

Instrumental writing.

And, to be clear, it is going to suck.

[Unless you're a Mozart: it comes out sublime. In which case that's great gud 4 u go away. (Did it even work that way for Mozart, though? Just cuz a guy wrote a play where it did? We digress.)]

Your "fixes"? To the "problems" that arose from your writing? Problems should not be in quotes: you were right. There were problems: your story was bad and unclear; the gods were enraged at your clumsy, sad efforts.

But now they're yet madder: your fixes are WORSE. In your humble scribe's limited, humble, humble humble experience: you may or may not have an inspired flash; you may or may not write a thing that...okay, might be worth working on. So you'll write it. Then, "fix" it.

Your first, second passes will be beyond hope. (The actual 'first' pass, where it first gets laid out...that's not even a thing. That's a zygote. A spud.)

Your fifth, sixth and, very embarrassing.

Eighth ninth tenth: f*ck: junk.

Meanwhile you've at some point cut out inspiration--the inspired nuggets; that first throbbing gem that set all this in motion [you haven't. not all. but that's how it feels.]--and you're left with a thicket's it feel? Like:

True story. First draft? Second? ...Fifth?
l 0 l.
.Moving on.

...actually: let's not.

I had intended to dive into details, with this. To explain the "heuristic B*llSh*t" in the title with examples; examples that demonstrate the how and the why of these awful first (through fifteenth) draftings. And then, from these examples, lead into a cathected, snippy, and self-important exegesis of your humble scribe's views on the whole "show, don't tell" thing.

I had not, in fact, just 'intended' to do this: I just cut 925 words that did do that.

Which I mention because I am going to end, here. And that feels like a fitting conclusion as well. Not just ending the post here (which does: feels 'bout right). Ending with that thought: about cutting and changing the scope, because...well:

This "post". These words, etched in digital clay...are these words "instrumental"?

...somewhat. ?

I'm not sure. They did not originate with any set goal; they erupted from the facts and frustrations of work. But...they're also 'making a point' (or at least: trying to). Which is a pretty good indication of...I don't know.

I don't care!

But the reason I like ending here is that this post has already gone on...well, let's be kind and let's say "long enough". And that, therefore, the ideas I not-just had 'in mind', but had in fact written out, fully detailed for you...they will wait.

Despite the fact that the prescriptive idea that emerged in my mind of what this short piece is--the idea that emerged as it moved from my mind to a lived, written-out execution in clay--encompassed a whole further set of ideas; despite the fact that, whether or not this piece originated as an eruptive expression of thought/feeling, it eventually became governed by this same top-down, instrumental thinking...or, rather, ran the risk of being thus governed. Because it's not. Governed, thus. It is ending now, where my instinct feels it should (really, honest; it's ending; gimme like...fifteen seconds).

Which is, perhaps, another good and related topic to this. Even in instrumentality-- rather, topping instrumentality, which is no use in itself, is the fact and the shape of the thing as it grows. So perhaps another topic is: finding it. Making the map, but then breaking it. Following the thing as it goes...wherever. Perhaps we'll return to that, some other day.

Right now, today, this, these words: done. Winding down. Not me! I'm bright-eyed and ready 2 go!

But the words, they are done. This is done. So

I, humble scribe, have herein written this
I set it down
with my hands; with my fingers and mind.
I told only the truth. (Might not be smart or right.)
I hope it was worth your time.
I'm sorry if it wasn't.

I thank you, as always,
dear (patient! firm!) Reader
dear dear dear Reader
who's made it this far

I thank you
as always
that yet I exist.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Unity, Discipline, Joy: here we go...


"Aristotelian Unity": our subject, today.

It is often in mind as I press, erase, press, and re-press in this clay. And not just in mind: it comes out of my mouth, in conversation about 'story' and 'structure', etc. And, every time—every time that your humble scribe says it, uses these words to articulate what he seeks ever day (fails, every day) to achieve—he's a little bit anxious he's making stuff up.

Brief research reveals that this is not the case. These words, "Aristotelian Unity", essentially mean what I mean by them.


To spare those who'd rather not click links (and who would? what would that mean? to prefer to click links?), the key idea is to create
a whole, the structural union of the parts being such that, if any one of them is displaced or removed, the whole will be disjointed and disturbed. For a thing whose presence or absence makes no visible difference, is not an organic part of the whole.Source!
Your humble scribe—Reader, hello, that is me!—spends most of his energies trying to do this. Failing, as noted above, to do this. Cutting and slivering pieces of text; realizing some recent addition does not "help"—that it, in fact, obscures things for the Reader (that's you! hello, again: thank you for reading). That in fact what he's done, and done over and over, is added where reduction was what was required; it's always well-intentioned, not some deranged narcissistic expanse (we'll discuss "world-building" some other day, friend; believe it). But my frequent discovery is that, in the efforts to make something clearer, I have instead simply added more words / phrases / ideas, in a tale that is already quite full of them, thank you. So the whole challenge, the whole challenge, becomes distilling the scope and complexity of events, of this tale that the g*ds demand be pressed into clay, with an efficiency and directness that serves story and you — Reader; since you are of course the whole point of this thing.

It is hard. I'm not good at it, yet. (Getting better?)

But what's interesting to me, here and now—

since all of the rest of my time's spent attempting this—

what's interesting here/now is:

"But sometimes it sucks."

To be clear, it does not "suck"

because it is hard. Things don't suck

cuz they're hard; they are hard

cuz they're hard, and you suck

(perhaps; in that moment; wutever)

if you let that fact beat you.

No, I'm interested in how, why, and when this "Aristotelian Unity" that I (and so many others) have praised and reified as a lodestone of narrative creation just actually is a bad idea, on the merits. The thing I'm concerned with is stifling joy.

What about joy, Aristotle? Hm? HUH?
What about "geeking out" (awful term, but you get it)?
What about undisciplined excursuses into world, character, context?

When everything, everything is tight and constrained, it seems you must run the risk of creating a story that feels, to the Reader, that way: tight, constrained. A work that is empty, that lacks the sprawling joyful wantonness of—

no. Wait.

Already, I have to double back on myself. These "feelings" I reference: they're not yours. They're mine. Confusing the two is the same awful mistake that the actor may make — thinking the performance is good if/cuz she feels it. For some actors, I'm sure we all know some examples, feeling it is indeed a magnificent tool by which they achieve what in fact is their goal: making us (the viewers) feel/see something. So this is the same thing: how "I" (humble scribe) feel truly does not matter. All that matters is how you (Reader) feel, read, receive.

BUT, infusion of joy is a real thing, as well. It seems far from far-fetched—in fact, ex ante, it seems probably true—to suggest a connection between how the writer writing the work feels about it and how that work is then received by the Reader. We've all read, seen, experienced stories that were loose, sloppy, lacking in sense or direction, deficient (in our view) in important respects...but still very enjoyable. "Good", if you will. Because they were animated and enlivened by this joy, and that sense itself was itself quite infectious, and of course therefore trumped all our small, who-cares quibbles.

And the reason this concern seems, to me, worth expressing is that it's presumably beyond my control. There are many things that your humble scribe tries to, if not 'control', at least 'manage': diction and cadence and vowel-sound, line length; character, choice, decision, action. Words. But, presumably, in each of these things there are manifestations I cannot control. Ways in which—and this is, of course, also thrilling—my mind, heart, and state are laid bare for the Reader. It is not hard to believe that my internal state—and, specifically, the extent to which I do or do not allow a sense of abandon, of "f*ck it: keep that part. it's fun"—is conveyed to you, Reader. Subliminally (or not). That it manifests itself in every aspect of words that I press, erase, press, and re-press in this clay.

Given that, might it be that

this unrelenting 'disciplined' dedication to "Unity"…

might it not be depriving you, the Reader, as well?

Or is this whole thread just weakened justification? That's a real question, because—to be totally honest—every time I review work of hours, days, weeks, reading over some section that was hard to create... is good. It is better, for you. I am sure.

No matter how it felt or was, for me. Doing it. Good or bad. Sticking tight to this discipline goal, 'unity' has always, always meant the thing has got better.

Joy, freedom—

they're there! They are there, from the discipline;

they don't need themselves to come into being. They need work, to create an experience for you.

I'm not at all sure what solution this frames. I think that, predictably, it frames none at all.

Keep allowing flights of fancy, word plays, ideas and side-bars and scenes chapters irrelevant; or overwritten, overdetailed, whatever. Do them as necessary

then cut them away. Keep lashing the words and the work into the shape that lives somewhere inside it, obscured by excess.

And take joy, and hope that it's joy some will share, at each contour and line of that shape you reveal.


Or, not.

Just keep trying.

It's all you can do.