Friday, March 10, 2017

I'll tell you what good writing is

Good writing is unusual.  Even among professionals, there are very few complex stories populated with three-dimensional characters.  Of course a lot of fine careers depend on cliches.  Mansions and motion picture studios have been built because the authors had simplistic notions about human behavior and moral consequences.  Yes, that is a snob's attitude.  But my particular attitude is a little more nuanced than that.  You see, I don't believe that our species will ever be truly good writers.  And that includes me.  We also aren't gifted when it comes to thinking about imaginary numbers or making plans for future generations.  But we like to congratulate ourselves for being natural story tellers.  That's because each of us inhabits a personal and rather epic life.  This is a trick of the mind, and maybe it isn't just a human trick.  Maybe hawks and fence lizards think the same way.  But the life-as-story narrative does allow each of us to walk through random crap and odd know, everything that happened in life today...and it gives all of us a sense of structure.  Maybe we even find purpose, if that's what we need.  It's the skill that gives us the confidence to imagine our enemies cowering and taste our certain victories.  Even though most battles don't go as predicted, and few of our triumphs play out in ways we would never envision.

Humans are not stellar writers.  But we have a dangerous gift for strong first paragraphs, and sometimes a powerful chapter or two.  Which gets us into so much trouble.

"Our government is corrupt.  We need an outsider who's going to break the wheel.  Mathematics and kindness can be ignored, and the world will turn back to a better age when men were noble and women pure."

This is the story that got us where we are today.

Emotional claws.  They will trap every person.  Particularly those who believe they are too smart or too skeptical to be fooled.

The trouble with story, real story, is that it has no end.  That's what we can't appreciate.  And include me in that ignorance, please.  Real life has too many plots and billions of characters, and each of us is frantic and sloppy and tiny, trying to steer this world where we can only wish it would go.

If I was in charge of education?  I would give up trying to teach calculus to the masses.  Statistics is the better use of neurons.  People who understand odds don't waste their nights in Vegas or deny global warming.  And we must must must be kind to those in need, if only so we don't trigger the kinds of wildfires that make history so bloody and wicked and sorry.  And finally, I would mandate the writing of fiction, but only to the point where people would discover their utter weakness in this critical subject.

Hammer out a good sentence, and another, and ten more.

Finish your first chapter, if you can, building a handful of authentic humans out of old words and ancient hope.

But no author lives long enough, much less can find the necessary wisdom to give those new people the capacity to cast their own shadows.

This is what I'm saying.

Every person is a mystery, and every mystery is painted thin across the endless universe.

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