Two Short (but killer) Guest Posts from Art Holcomb

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

Legends say that when a victorious Roman general returned to Rome, he was allowed to march his armies, his captives and his spoils through the sacred streets of the city. He would ride in a great gilded chariot in all his finery – and at his feet would sit the slave who held a small bunch of burning straws which during the procession turned to ashes.  The slave would repeat to the general a phrase meant to remind him – at that particular moment of triumph – that he was only mortal:

Sic transit gloria mundi.”

(“Thus all the glories of the world pass away.”)

– Keystone Publishing, “Court Jesters and Public Slaves”

Glory comes in all shapes and sizes.

The glory of publication – The glory of acceptance.

All glory is fleeting.  You must always move on to the next challenge if you want to keep the crown.

This is the greatest truth that a writer needs to hear.  That there is no sitting on one’s laurels.  Careers have arcs just like stories.

There may be financial successes for you and acts designed to flatter the ego.  There may be tributes and resounding reviews.

The only thing that matters is the truth and the ever increasing body of work.

Any one writer who has but one book out, even a Gone with the Wind, must be considered suspect.

I’m a story teller but within that vehicle I strive to tell the truths of my life.  To say at every turn – with every day of writing and with every finished work – that I WAS HERE.

To paraphrase Ellison:

            For a brief time I was here and for a brief time, I mattered.”

In the end for a writer, the body of work is the only sign that you were ever here.

*****

The Stephen King of Funny Cat Videos 

There are two ways into Hollywood – you are going to have to write what they’re buying or sell them your dream.” 

– Scott Meyers, screenwriter of K-9 and Lecturer on Film at UNC-Chapel Hill 

I recently came back from a conference in sunny San Diego where I ran a writer’s workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror writers with author Peter Clines (Ex-Heroes, 14, website )

We had an excellent group.  Writers of all ages and experiences.

Lots of enthusiasm.  Lots of talent.

Lots of zombie stories.

Most of the writers who attend these kinds of workshops are new, pre-published and still trying to find their voice. One can hear the resounding echoes of other writers in their works – Rowlings, Collins, King, etc., and I expect this at the beginning of many careers.

Because these writers are each in the process of developing his/her own process.

But there are a couple of dangers here. 

The first is about VOICE: 

Some authentic voices were emerging out amongst these writers, but many tried to write the way they believe writers should sound, instead of sounding like themselves. So what you end up with are very clever people trying to sound clever when they could simply unclench a bit – and just let their very clever, talented, and interesting selves shine through.

The second problem is about PERSPECTIVE:

Now, I don’t mind zombie stories – I believe whatever genre and sub-genre excited these new writer enough to actually write is a good thing . . .

 . . .In the beginning.

But – for example – did you know that, when you enter the phrase “funny cat videos” into the search engine for YouTube, you get something on the order of 3,600,000 hits . . .

3.6 million variations on the same theme. And over 1 billion entries if you so the same search on Google.

All cute, all adorable – and all pale variations on a theme.

Voice and perspective.  Hard to develop, harder still to mainstain, but vital to the soul of the writer.

Without them, you are just another guy with a video camera documenting the hilarity of something that is not quite human. And in that lies the real problem: Nothing in the known universe has ever been more human than Story.

Now . . . you could become the best at this.  The most popular, most universally loved, the absolute Stephen King of Cat Videos if you like.

But why?

The nature of drama and story is breathtaking and powerful, unique and emotional. The real estate of the page is some of the most precious in the world and your time and treasure are severely limited. Why spend it writing about something that looks like any of the 3.6 million other, similar, non-unique cat stories.

When one person’s writing becomes indistinguishable from another and these two people have never met, it is the culture speaking and not a person.

You have to know – you have the power and the spark in each of you. 

There are things that you want to say, need to say and they can come out through theme and subtext – blatant and true at the heart of your story. You have to always say what you believe needs saying.

In short, you have to sell them your dreams.

Your goal should not be to be a great craftsman of something entertaining but ubiquitous.  You’re better than that.  The popular vampire and zombie stories that fill the popular media today are the high-calorie fast food of our time – not because of their genre but because they were written as attractive products and not as works of Craft and Art.  And while some excellent writing has been done in their names, there can be but one Bram Stoker, and one Mary Shelley and one William Seabrook or George Romero.

These types of stories are akin to working with licensed properties.  The constraints can be invigorating but they don’t allow the writer to tell your story – because you are telling their story

Because, at some point, what they’re buying is no longer likely to be the same as what they’ve bought

You can’t control or predict what they’re buying. Trends change, sometimes on a dime and one would have to be clairvoyant to know where the industry and the public’s desires are going in advance.

But, in the end, here’s what everyone really wants: A good idea, excitingly told and competently written – that they can’t get anywhere else.

Give me a new perspective. Meet the story with conflict and drama. Take me out of myself. 

All these things are within your control

In the end, the only person who should be writing a classic Stephen King story is STEPHEN KING . . . and perhaps not even him.

*****

Art Holcomb is a screenwriter and comic book creator. His most recent comic book property is THE AMBASSADOR and his most recent project for TV is entitled THE STREWN.  His new writing book is tentatively entitled “SAVE YOUR STORY: How to Resurrect Your Abandoned Story and Get It Written NOW!” (Release TBA.)

Larry’s add to Art’s bio: when he’s not on set doing rewrite work or chasing a deadline for a studio script assignment, he’s also a major screenwriting teacher at the University level, a story development coach and a sought-after workshop facilitator at writing conferences around the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

25 Comments

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25 Responses to Two Short (but killer) Guest Posts from Art Holcomb

  1. Robert Jones

    Art–Totally well said!

    I’ve drawn a lot of parallels between learning to write and learning to draw over the years, story-telling with words and story telling through sequential art. There are many universal bridges between art forms, though often disguised by different terminology, or the striking visual differences. Why are we always noticing the differences instead of the similarities?

    All art begins by copying the stylings of others we have come to admire. In the beginning, it’s part of the draw, the excitement. Most of us wanted to be the next “so-and-so” at one time or another. Our admiration fused with those inner stirrings when we experienced someone’s work we loved is what brought us to this medium in the first place, right? So if I can’t be the next “so-and-so,” why bother?

    It’s a statement I’ve heard from artists and writers alike. And the thing every one of them has in common is that they haven’t really strayed very far from those early influences. It’s a comfort zone. If they can draw or write like this person they’ve most admired, have been exposed to more than anyone else, maybe they’ll have a chance. Their own voice just isn’t as good, or maybe it sounds downright boring compared to “so-and-so’s” voice. I’ve made recommendations to sample a variety of talents that have often fallen on deaf ears.

    The way I see it with many writers is that they’ve taken the term, “find your own way” to mean do whatever they like, however they like. Everyone says it, so it must be true. Rules? Who needs rules? Yet, I’ve tried to explain, if they took a course, there would be required reading, right? A certain degree of exposure to gain a broader understanding of craft.

    I’m not a fan of the word “talent.” Millions of people can draw, or have a desire to write. The really good creators in any field, however, are eager to consume multiple philosophies and techniques–to try other dishes besides their favorite meal. You’ll never completely lose that first great influence. A part of them will always be with you, cementing the bricks of your work. What the greats understand, is that over time you take little snippets from any number of people you are exposed to, then those pieces combine to form your own unique style. One day you wake up and see yourself on the page. It’s a little bit of a lot of different influences, but it’s also you from the core, a more confident version of yourself because you now have a greater understanding. You’ve stepped out of the comfort zone and you’re defying gravity through the potency of your own knowledge–which has become a “talent” all your own. A power you’ve worked to bring into being.

    Great voices aren’t discovered at the bottom of some forgotten drawer. They are made by experience and exposure. Without which, how can one claim to understand what a great voice is? Or become confident enough to find your own if you’re clinging to the life-raft you first set off in?

    A cruise ship, or a rocket, might be waiting for you…provided you seek the fuel to get it off the launch pad.

  2. “A good idea, excitingly told and competently written – that they can’t get anywhere else.” Well said, Art. Emphasis on “that they can’t get anywhere else.” It’s your story, one only you can tell. Don’t let it stagnate on the computer or in a drawer. Get it finished, polished, and published. Remember Art’s last line in the first post above: “In the end for a writer, the body of work is the only sign that you were ever here.” Leave some sign that you were here–while you still can.

    And Robert, yours is a super post. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!

  3. “Any one writer who has but one book out, even a Gone with the Wind, must be considered suspect.”

    No, no, no. Suspect of what? Not being a “real writer”? Margaret Mitchell only wrote one book, but I’d like to see Art Holcomb write even one book as good as GONE WITH THE WIND.

    If a writer has sold one novel, many magazine articles, and she’s still trying, should she cringe in shame? Writing can be a cold, discouraging business, and “teachers” like Art Holcomb only make it more so. What a jerk.

  4. Elizabeth, respectfully, I think you missed Art’s point. He urges each of us to keep writing (as Mitchell did as a reporter) and not aim at writing one blockbuster and expect to rest on that – an unlikely dream. Art is successful in his niche, and I for one appreciate his effort to help us all. His actions aren’t really those of a jerk, imho.

  5. MikeR

    I remember seeing a photo once that showed a table in a bookstore with a couple of copies on it, and above it was a sign: “BOOKS NOT ABOUT TEENAGE VAMPIRES.”

    There’s no limit to what you can think of to be original about. Use your imagination and take me somewhere. I tend to think that if you “write a book to sell,” it won’t. But, if you write a book that you genuinely would want to read, and if you write it well, it might.

  6. Jason Waskiewicz

    The “cat video” part struck a chord with me. I’m winding down the second draft of my novel. This is major progress for me: 9 novels are sitting in first draft form in my basement because they were so awful. This one is good enough that I’ll be starting a third draft soon.

    As I’ve finally felt this, I keep feeling doubt. It’s science fiction, but doesn’t fit into the mold that’s out there. It has a blatantly Christian perspective, and it has a very low-tech environment. I described it to one person who said, “That sounds like normal people. Why don’t you just set it here on Earth?” Never mind the science fiction elements. I’ve mentioned some of my doubts in other comments on this blog.

    I have found success as a teacher because I’m not like other teachers. Some of my students absolutely hate me as a result. Others love me. My teaching style seems to be quite polarizing. Overall, I’m pretty successful, though not perfect. Mr. Holcomb’s post got me to wondering if I need to take another lesson from teaching. The first was the importance of planning (I plan lessons…why not a novel?). Now, it seems that I may need to shrug off my fear of writing something that is too different.

    Ultimately, of course, I succeed as a teacher because I actually can teach. A lot of teachers manage to be different, but can’t actually teach. My novel can be as unique and different as I want, but I need to be able to write or else it will languish in the basement with its nine predecessors.

  7. Martha

    I always scroll to a new Storyfix post and read it first because I know it’ll be a great way to start my day. Thanks, Art (and Larry) for the eye-opener this morning. And more power to you as you work to keep us inspired and on track.

  8. Kerry Boytzun

    Great stories reveal what is unique to YOU via the character.

    For example, “everybody” has been in love. BUT, what matters is when YOU are in love. When you’re in love, you get to feel all the joy, pain and excitement. It’s the same old story, but this time–you are the one FEELING it.

    Great stories make you feel what the characters feel as if you were them. Twilight captured that, and the vampire bit was only the clothes on the skin of a love story. The author made it personal.

    Connelly’s best crime stories are the ones that feel personal, like I’m the Lincoln Lawyer exacting my justice on the ten percent that get away with everything.

    Forget Hollywood. Over half the crap last year in movies was just pathetic, like Walmart trying to get personal–they can’t. Movies like Pacific Rim and IronMan are big technology revealing they’re limp inside, and while they amaze the juvenile with flashing lights, there’s no heart and soul in any of it.

    You want soul, you gotta watch TV now. Movies are DEAD. Long live the TV series. Downton Abbey is huge! Why? Because it’s personal. It’s nothing original, but they make you feel what the characters feel. Sure the story is kind of slow, but NOTE the audience for this show is HUGE. What does that tell you (we’re sick of Iron Man & special effects)?

    We want to FEEL something. Even comic books can evoke great feeling: The Dark Knight Returns.

    But for the unpublished author, you only feel what’s personal and inside you, and I believe that Art is saying you have to write what you feel on your own terms, in your own voice.

    This week I buried my oldest family member, like a son to me–Arthur. I knew Arthur for almost 20 years and he showed up on my doorstep crying, and when we ignored the voice, he snuck inside the house and demanded we feed him. We took him in, furry claws and all, and he was the bedrock of our house. He went from a vibrant, powerful male, and over the years became weak, crippled from arthritis, but always purring his warming heart. Arthur would chirp at you whenever you walked by, wanting to be touched, or to sit in your lap. But last week, he couldn’t go on, and we had to call it a long night. I’ve never cried so much.

    I will attempt to put that feeling into my story, my characters, and my life.

    Write something that makes us feel it.

    Kerry

  9. I’m sorry, Art–I got a little hot under the collar back there. It’s just that, over the years, I’ve seen so many writers give up their dreams because they can’t live up to impossible standards, and I always hate to see that happen. I know you’re trying to help us, though.

  10. Robert Jones

    @Kerry–Sorry to hear about your cat. We lost our oldest last spring, also a male, and nearly 17. They go with such dignity as they keep loving until the very end. They put most humans to shame in that regard. Which is probably why they impact our lives so greatly. We could take a lesson, for our own lives and our stories.

    I’m feeling the memory of our own long night reading about yours. Words can tap into emotions powerfully. Needless to say that’s why we write.

    I agree with your assessment of Hollywood. The more epic they become visually, the less real emotional impact they have. The largeness of the plot and special effects squeezes out the human factor more and more. If all stories are about human nature at heart, the emotional connection being key, it would seem that Hollywood has lost sight of the big picture (pun intended). The visual technology we have today is striking, yes, but they’ve allowed it to dominate in a way that most major films are becoming the equivalent of a group of twelve year olds (always their target audience anyway) playing with the latest video game or engaging in a romp with their action figures.

    And while I would be the first to say we should always remember what it’s like to be a kid, to experience life and stories from that perspective…I would also say that even the average 12 year old is capable of feeling something beyond those visual, surface textures.

    Comics have also testified to this. Image comics took action and imagery to a new level when they first began back in the 90s. Characterization was minimized–when it was there at all. They consisted of top talent, drawing in mega sales initially, making some people very wealthy. It started a new craze that flooded the market with big action and lousy stories for a few years. I recall people keeping track of the death toll in a given issue, or the degree of graphic violence. But they couldn’t sustain their audience with that “image” alone. When that particular generation of 12 year olds grew up, discovered girls, or whatever came next in the growth of their own lives, they left comics and didn’t look back. The entire comic book industry, which hopped on this particular wagon, needed to rethink and reinvent itself. The world the built nearly collapsed in on itself.

    I suspect current trends in Hollywood will meet with a similar fate once the technology reaches a point where the audience becomes anesthetized to the visual action and begins to derive no real emotional sustenance. Movies can be a lot more engulfing in terms of visuals while sitting in a darkened movie theater. They are pure escapism. I get that. I even enjoy it when in the mood for that sort of thing. I think it will all come down to just how many movies at the increasing prices that people will be willing to plunk down their cash for regularly if they become much more devoid of emotional sustenance. I know I certainly pay to see few movies these days. And they way they bust them out on DVD so quickly these days, it’s cheaper to wait. It would seem like they are chewing off their on leg on that score. Then of course, there’s Netflix and Amazon.

    Time will tell where it all leads.

  11. Trish

    I got a lot out of the second post, especially, Art. Thanks for the inspiring wisdom. And thanks, Larry, for getting Art to guest post.

    I did sort of cringe at the part about the author who’s written only one book, though. Harper Lee came to mind immediately. I really wish she’d written more, and I don’t know why she hasn’t, but there must be millions of people who are very happy that she wrote the book she did. I guess you were going for effect, and a lesson, with that sentence, as another poster already surmised, but I can’t help but chime in with the example of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

  12. Kerry Boytzun

    @Robert. Thanks for the condolences.

    I’ve been into this Story Structure thing for a few years now. One thing that comes up for me, and Larry has written about it, is that we still need to use our inner Muse-Intuition-Feelings to write, if the story is going to have any soul to it.

    If all one has is structure (Left Brain), then you will experience (as a reader) what we experience when we are speaking to any customer service people today. Today (calling customer support), you will get a human repeating a script, saying something to the effect that, “Hello, it is my greatest intention to ensure you get the highest form of customer service, and your experience is very important to me…”.

    What a load of bullocks! Try that on the next person you meet that you’d like to get to know better. Imagine I’m at the grocery store (produce section is the best as I think people are at home there unconsciously) and I come up to you and say, “Excuse me, but it’s my highest intention to ensure that you have a deep, meaningful conversation with me, and my goal is to see that you enjoy your experience and like me…”. Dang! Can you imagine how that would go? You’d get slapped and thrown out of the store for being a loon.

    Yet, this is the answer that the Left Brained management types come up with, based upon their Big Data analysis set of tools. It’s about as useful as giving your child a spreadsheet to rate your relationship. This might be funny on Big Bang Theory (Sheldon Cooper), but it is NOT funny, it’s sad.

    The above examples going full steam ahead in our society are pushing us deeper into a non-Right brained feeling reality, and instead, directly into Post Humanism. In short, we’re becoming robots and many are all for it, to be plugged directly into the Internet. (Dammit, but do you notice that people can’t walk without looking at their phone? It’s saying that their own personal life in the present moment is unimportant, and everything on that phone–IS more important.).

    Consider MUSIC. Music has a structure, as it works with the physics of sound and is very mathematical. That being said, your melody can sound one of two ways: organic, like the 60s and 70s music…or computer generated repeated routines–that passes for music today, at least whatever the “hit” music is. When I’m at the gym, the vocals for today’s music sound excactly the same, and I can prove it mathematically and I also played piano from age 4-up.

    Music, if you are serious, requires that you learn its structure and rules…what makes a melody vs. what accompanies it. Bach, for example, was one of the very rare composers that had the melody in both hands (piano) at the same time. Playing Bach would fry my brain in a good way. Once you learn music theory and structure, and get proficient at it, you can then channel your emotions into your music organically. Throw away the computer.

    I’m taking a while to get around to it, but life is not a 5 minute YouTube video–grow. Writing ficition can be akin to letting the music flow out of your soul, your emotions and feelings, BUT you need to have the 4-3 part structure down to guide the story. When you share your life, we are interested in the challenges you faced, and what you did to deal with them, either succeed or fail (it’s no failure if you try). What we don’t want to hear about your life, is the boring stuff that didn’t “go anywhere”, that had no soul, animation, love, hate, justice, or crime.

    I believe that excellent scenes are written while you ARE the character, and are acting out the role, seeing where it takes you within the parameters of the scene. Let the limits go, but only to the parameters of the structure. You don’t play the piano by smacking it with a rubber mallet…you use chords and combinations that sound sensible.

    Finally, one thing I have to comment about, is that I’m disappointed in the lack of contribution by the other readers of this blog. Larry-Art busts his-their ass at this thing, and I like to read meaningful contributions from the rest of you, whether you agree with the post or not. Parker felt Art was being a jerk–I could see that he was in a sense. Now we’re getting somewhere! Since when did “art-story” become something that couldn’t offend someone? The Help pissed off people. The Color Purple pissed off many people, and still does. Fiction can be like journalism…get emotional and write about something THAT MATTERS! I just can’t believe the wimps in this world that cower in the shadows hoping someone else saves their butt (if you haven’t noticed, the US and world economy is in ruins, and the 10% are profiting very well off of it, while the rest of us are getting screwed more and more…).

    Get off your butt and say something meaningful. If I have to see another “Attaboy Larry, keep them coming” comment, I’m going to puke. I mean, really, is that the kind of fiction you guys write? Do you write silent heroes who challenge nothing and nobody, who hide under their beds, and cheer on those who are brave enough, and maybe stupid enough to speak their mind? Luke Skywalker would have never made it off the planet, and Harry Potter would have given up, and gone and worked as a customer support person on the phone.

    Sure, I’ve just offended a bunch of you. And I did it on purpose!

    Or maybe nobody reads this great blog anymore? Art and Larry can always spend their time doing something else ya know.

    This blog, like everything else including your freedom, will go away–if it’s ignored.

    Kerry

  13. Robert Jones

    @Trish–“To Kill a Mockingbird” is what came to my mind as well. I first read that novel in the fourth grade. My teacher had a table filled with books and told the class if anyone read some of them and wrote a book report, they would get extra credit. She never pushed any of the students towards that table, but just having the books always present was a temptation to peruse them. And several kids, I suspect (like myself), who read little besides comic books, discovered and read their first novel that year. I ended up reading several, but TKAM was the first and my absolute favorite. I still love it and have re-read it more than once since then.

    No one can ever doubt the impact Harper Lee had upon the literary world with her stand alone novel. And like yourself, I’ve wondered what circumstances prevented her from writing more. You can’t read that novel and not want more of her writing.

    That’s how I took Art’s statement, that in spite of whatever difficulties the world might throw our way, to give up is a crime. Creating a body of work, regardless of how well it’s received–or even if it never sees publication–is a testament to who we are and what we stand for as writers and creators. The world will always give us more reasons to conform to a life of stagnation than to keep marching to the beat of our own drums.

    Be it Harper Lee, or Margaret Mitchell, if we could go back in time and meet them after their publishing success, what would our most important message to them them be as one writer to another? “Thank you for your single great contribution to the literary world,” or “Never stop writing in spite of the world and its circumstances.”

  14. Robert Jones

    @Kerry–I agree with everything you’ve said, including the fact that the number of meaningful posts are deteriorating. I realize folks get busy. Since I shifted from the planning stages to drafting, my time seems more easily consumed. Days, even weeks can fly by while I seem to be living in another dimension–or inside the heads of my characters (as you’ve said) trying to figure out the scope of their thoughts and actions.

    But when I do come back here to check in, I find there hasn’t been a lot of meaty discussions of late. Those discussions can fuel our creative spirit as much as anything else. We are all traveling a similar path on this writing journey. And we can either feel isolated, or be reminded that others are struggling with the same things we are.

    Having worked with a lot of artists and writers in my past career, I also realize there is a common tendency among creators to not become overly personal with one another. This happens for several reasons, most of them BS. Sharing ideas means they might get stolen. Okay, you don’t have to share you actual story, but I’m assuming writers have other thoughts–say, about craft perhaps. But questions on craft means they are admitting they don’t have all the answers themselves, right? And if they figured out something cool concerning some element of craft, then sharing that means everyone can use it and they won’t be unique, special…and that usually adds up to cashing in on their own ideas and making money.

    Fine. Start your own blog, write your own book on craft. But I fear I must submit the fact that this is also corporate thinking. Y’know, the same type of greedy, control everything nonsense that we blame for all the problems of the world every day? And if your ideas are so unique that you can’t find a way to lower yourself to have a meaningful discussion among your peers then maybe you’re not such a genius after all. I once knew an artist who didn’t want to share his technique for covering certain object in a drawing with liquid frisket, covering the rest of the object in black, then pealing off the frisket to reveal certain highlights. As I recall, such things were taught in my first year at art school. How was this technique something so special that this guy felt it an important secret to be closely guarded?

    The ego can do funny things to people. Turn a mole-hill into a mountain, make a ditch into a bottomless pit. Extreme thing is good for writing. Kind of foolish though when such notions are allowed to rule your life.

  15. Robert Jones

    “Extreme THINKING” is what I meant to type in the next to last sentence. Missing some letters, as my typing so often does. Sorry.

  16. Kerry Boytzun

    @Robert

    I agree with you. You’re one of the ones who can type. I’m grateful for your input.

    Kerry

  17. This discussion is exciting to me, and on several levels. Besides the thinking being edgy and clear, and thus provocative, there’s two things I see in it (and it’s always there when Robert and/or Kerry posts here): courage, and passion. Those are the magic ingredients of fiction… but guess what — they are the secret sauce of life itself… a nice circle-back to what Kerry is saying. Both those guys, and many others, pour themselves into these discussions, and the result is a gift to all of us.

    Which is a point I’ve mentioned before, but it sounds like Hallmark pabulum out of context… but I should take a lesson from the previous paragraph and go there: one of the goals – the one that gets you published – of a story is to impart a GIFT to the reader. That’s a broad category of target intentions, so we get to interpret what that means. I see a lot of story plans that present a story that the writer has written for him/herself, without that outbound perspective. Juggle that notion a while, you’ll see how complex it becomes.

    @ Elizabeth — I appreciate you being here, and for contributing. I respect your opinion. As others have offered, I think Art’s point was lost on you (at first), as a well-intentioned whack upside the head often is. Art is the most generous and credible writing mentor I know, he has helped thousands of writers advance in this craft, and when he speaks we should listen. Carefully, because there’s gold in whatever he presents. The fact that it goes down hard means maybe the nugget is just too large to swallow, and/or the taste is sometimes bitter. We all struggle. What Art is saying is…

    … well, I know what I think… I leave it to Art to follow up on that one. As for me, I’m damn glad he’s here, with you, with me, and all of us. We’re all thinking, and swapping that thinking… a good thing. L.

  18. Kerry Boytzun

    Robert mentioned that everyone is busy and that is likely taking time away from reading and contributing to this blog. I agree, as the amount of distractions are beyond overwhelming and people are exasperated as what to do about it.

    Emails…I had a meeting Friday and nobody even argues anymore that emails have lost their value (50-200+ emails a day are normal so everybody just scans and keeps the email in case the subject line actually comes up again in the future).

    The relevancy to writers, especially this blog’s audience, is that we are writing as a hobby or part time (if you’re full time–lucky you). Balancing writing and all the other crap is impossible unless you try out one of the new software apps that is available for organizing your thoughts (thoughts become projects) and distractions (emails).

    Research has led me to: Asana.com – Asana Project Management‎
    http://www.asana.com/‎

    I’ve been using Asana (free for up to 15 members) for just myself to organize my life thoughts and projects. Asana will connect to email so that you get emailed reminders of projects. Forget using a separate calendar, email program that is NOT focused on getting things done, and keep track of them. You can throw your novel research into this program as a project as well. I don’t use Asana to write my novel (use paper, excel spreadsheet and Scrivener) but if I don’t organize my thoughts and projects–it all gets lost.

    Give the above a try…

    Kerry

  19. Art Holcomb

    Passion!

    It’s why were all here.

    Critique is part of a professional writer’s life and I never take offense when intelligent people have a difference of opinion. It spurs the conversation. It makes us all stronger. And it always makes me better, and for that I’m grateful.

    Besides, if everyone agreed with me, I couldn’t be sure I was reaching you.

    Until next time, question everything before you make it your own and, no matter what else you do . . .

    Never stop writing!

  20. MikeR

    @Jason – Never “pre-judge” your work such that you talk yourself out of releasing it. “Science-fiction from a Christian perspective” could be a killer idea if well-handled, and who says that its world has to be radically different from today-Earth? It simply ought to be whatever best suits your storytelling.

    =Bring= your storytelling to fruition. You can take your story all the way to the point of being released to the public, virtually at no cost, and I think that this is precisely what one should do, after having poured as much craft as you can manage into it. Don’t shortchange the work because the process is easy, buta also don’t get lost in the fiction equivalent of “analysis paralysis.” You actually have no idea(!) how the Gentle Readers of the World might react! So, “let US find out.” (Heck, we might pay you money for it. Heck, maybe lots of money.)

  21. MikeR

    Footnote to the above:

    There are certain genres – science-fiction and fantasy in particular – which are specifically well-suited to certain forms of creative expression that might not be possible in other forms. Such as, “Christianity plus science-fiction.” Even though religion might seem at first blush to be “an odd mix,” religion is in fact a very powerful and very fundamental aspect of our society … no matter what society, and no matter what religion. All of us look up at the stars, so all of us are in some way more or less religious. You can leverage that in your storytelling, and I seriously look forward to whatever you do with it, because I am very much intrigued with the notion.

    And that, too, is a lot of what fiction – and the writing of it – is all about. You CAN create a completely imaginary world and bring (paying!) people into it, whence place they will very-willingly go. There’s no limit to what you can do, so, never limit (or censor!) yourself.

  22. Robert Jones

    People also have very strong feeling about religion–whether they see themselves as religious or not. It’s pretty much a love hate thing without a lot of middle ground. There are many different takes on the theme of religion. And since many religions share certain aspects, science fiction has often created religions on other worlds, not labeling them as a specific religion, in order to encompass a larger audience. I don’t know if that’s a possibility here, but thought I would toss it out there.

    The reason religion and politics are such touchy subjects is because so many have shoe-horned them into tiny compartments, or niche markets. Christianity is certainly among the largest of these. The mistake I see with many of these type of stories is that they set out to win people over, convert them, save their souls. However, even with the best of intentions, fiction is about the journey of the characters. If readers can relate to the characters, then any food for thought is more easily digested. In other words, it’s the readers choice, but it’s based on a compelling vicarious experience, not a heavy handed message that frightens people off.

    Too many stories of this nature put their argument very pointedly: “If you’re not on our side, you’re doomed to burn eternally.” Making religion a very human argument, much like political candidates battling to win votes. If you don’t like what my opponent is selling, come join our denomination because we do things a little differently over here, a little better perhaps.

    Unpopular conversation? Touchy topic? Certainly. Which is why many won’t go near a story with a specific religious label. Should that stop anyone from writing stories that have specific labels? Most definitely not! But the rules of fiction come first and any other messages must be given through showing, not telling the reader what they MUST believe at the cost of their soul.

    The “Left Behind” series always comes to mind when I think of successful christian marketed fiction. Craft in the first novel held up quite well. Jerry B. Jenkins saw to that. However, as the series went on, it became a giant comic book, complete with cloaked villain behaving like a cardboard action figure. I read a few, gave up due the craft not holding up to the same high standards, then went back and read the last one just to see how it all turned out. I was like, OMG, it had deteriorated to the point where everything was taken for granted that you knew these characters and their history. The stories were not self contained at all. From a fiction standpoint, it was a disaster. And let’s face it, it was heading that way by book 2, or 3, which is why I stopped reading it. My mother-in-law raved about these things. And they were making a big splash. They made a lot of money–all based on a very strong beginning.

    Imagine what they might’ve done if craft had not deteriorated? Imagine if it were a science fiction based story without a specific religious label. Granted, it couldn’t have been done based on those particular christian themes of rapture and anti-christ. But some religious themes can be given a broader range. Even specific religious labels can be broadened to encapsulate a great deal more in terms of humanizing them, or making a religious/political statement. “The Book of Eli” for example, was strong on craft first and foremost, but when religion came into play, the statement was totally impactive. We understood that the desires of God and those of men were two entirely different things and that the battle was really about how religion gets used.

    I think that’s a very important statement to remember for anyone tackling religious themes. Because in a huge way, that’s what the battle has been about on the chess board of religion from the beginning. The playing field is always passionate, zealous even. At its most basic level, it’s about power and control Vs. a philosophy for love and generosity, each side hoping to claim the entire board for their own. If one side wins out completely, the other is totally negated and it’s no longer about personal choices, no more battles to be fought on colored squares. That’s good Vs. evil at its most basic.

    Darkness vanquishes light when the sun sets, and day beats back the night with the breaking of each new dawn. There’s a balance, a duality that is in all things on this plane…eternally. When religion becomes humanized, it loses that balance and becomes an eternal battle that reduces such notions to black and white squares on a game board, each color in it’s own box, segregated in its own place–and we must constantly do battle to protect our own space.

  23. MikeR

    @Robert – these are very good points, which I hope that @Jason will keep in mind as he may deem it to be appropriate. Certainly, if the “story (sic)” is merely “an excuse for yet another ‘bully pulpit,'” it will merely “preach to the choir.” On the other hand, if it fully embraces both the genre of science-fiction and, at the same time, adopts a religious viewpoint WITHOUT(!) transforming the “novel (sic)” into a mere foil for the very worst that “a religious viewpoint” can be … it could be quite a book.

    “Religious pastiche” is, unfortunately, very easy – and also, IMHO, a great deal of “religion down-your-throat” essentially IS a ‘pastiche’ unto itself. However, there is always the very great potential to “try harder.” You’ll be dealing with some very volatile and also very powerful motifs here, and it will be “a challenge not to be under-estimated” to do something truly remarkable with them. However, if you DO …

  24. Gregg

    Larry
    Your review/workshop of the romantic comedy was laugh out loud hysterical. Brutal honesty – that’s what we all want, right?
    That being said, it was staring me right there in the face with every one of your comments.. I have a weak premise, a weak arc. I think that is where we go wrong.. If the arrow doesn’t travel, if it doesn’t land somewhere… it’s not an arc! I’m an outliner and I have gotten lost in the mechanics of the story and lost the compelling, gripping nature of my hero. Thanks for the reminder. Really appreciate what you do here. I’ll hit you up when I’m ready.