Imbak para sa ideas

Enough is Enough! Stop Writing!

Posted in Neurotics with tags , , , , , on Agosto 8, 2015 by Blue Dela Kanluran

It’s been a solid month since I began formally mentoring some of the writers in our office. Now, this isn’t the first time I had to assume this kind of role over people. I had a couple of batches of OJTs to look after back in the days when I was working for the advertising department of a (surprisingly) still operating daily.

Why This is Relevant

But, this is the first time wherein the advice I give has tangible consequences on the people who choose to take it. A little context on that sentence. When I was mentoring OJTs they were still students, I wasn’t their principal instructor. I was a secondary authority figure that only allows them to better transition into the culture and reality of a working environment they’ll soon be entering. The responsibility of guiding them down the “right path” at least academically still lay with their professors and teachers.

This time, the “scores” they get depend on how effectively I can communicate my ideas on writing so that they can apply it to their own styles. The scores being the quantitative summation of their performance, which then affects their chances of acquiring bonuses, promotions, or even achievements that they can take to future job prospects. Pressure.

During the first month of our training there have been ups and downs, not just for me, but for the other mentors as well. All of the writers in our department are brilliant in their own way – some of them even have more impressive resumes than my own. But, they all run into one problem or another that seriously hampers their progress, and I’ve been wracking my brain about what it could be.

There’s Too Much Noise

I stumbled on the answer a few weeks ago, and it’s a problem that’s endemic in Filipino writers in general – they never know when to shut up. This isn’t just a problem with young, up and coming writer either; this is a problem that even veterans and published authors can succumb to.

The first time I was ever made aware of this was at (if you can believe it) a breakfast meeting with renowned children’s story book writer Christopher Cheng. He’s a really cool dude who loves telling stories to children, and is a very big deal in ASEAN and Australian children’s literature. Anyone interested in writing for kids should check out his work – especially Python, Water, and Sounds Spooky.

The meeting was organised by the Society of Children’s Book Writers (SCBWI) Manila chapter. Now, for those who know me there are a lot of things that don’t make sense with my participation in that talk, but that’s for another blog.

Anyway, he lamented the habit a lot of Filipino writers have of trying too put way too much into their stories that they become a confusing mix of conflicting plot points, hammy conflicts, pretentious solutions, and rushed conclusions. He critically panned plenty of the books we brought to the meeting exactly for that reason – many of which were award-winning pieces from prestigious bodies.

Stop Talking You Book

We all saw his point, and I completely agree. Reading his work next to the ones we brought, the difference was obvious. For the purposes of this examination I’m going to use the critically acclaimed Ang Ikaklit sa Aming Hardin. For those who don’t know this book, it’s considered a groundbreaking work in children’s literature, as it deals with the subject matter of growing up in a same-sex family.

Everyone loved this book and is the Palanca awardee for Children’s Literature in 2006. It’s a good read and I recommend it to anyone, whether they’re interested in local literature or children’s books. There’s just one glaring problem with it – it never stops talking.

Every page is a wall of exposition, the writer details every single thing going on regardless if it moves the story forward or not. Buy the book, or just look at the scans on Google and you’ll see what I’m talking about – small spoilers ahead.

On one pivotal page, the main character reveals that she has two mothers – cool stuff. But, it took an entire paragraph of explaining that the seeds she has were from her mothers. That entire section was filler that didn’t really need to be there. Yes, I realise the seeds grow into flowers in the garden to tie into a beautiful metaphor, which is exactly the problem.

There are too many ideas competing for the limited space of the story and the attention of the reader.

Going Back to Simple Stories

I see the same thing happening to my writers. They get so caught up in creating a narrative that they lose focus in what they’re trying to say. The reason is because most of them grew up with books and adventures that span multiple books, involving large story arcs, several characters, and deep meaning. There’s really nothing wrong trying to emulate the books we all love, but they’re all missing the point – all these books have simple ideas.

Harry Potters is a literary franchise spanning seven books, eight movies, and maybe even some spinoffs. But, at its heart it’s all about a boy who discovers he’s a wizard. Every book, every scene, every twist centers around that idea of whimsical discovery.

The fact that it ties in so well as a coming of age story makes it relatable and timeless, as everyone can can go on that journey because it’s a world that nobody has been in before. Rowling may have added hundreds if not thousands of elements into the mix from history to creatures, but the core remained the same – Harry Potter is about a boy who discovers he’s a wizard.

The same can be said of other classic stories:

Star Wars is about band of rebels trying to topple an oppressive empire – in space.

LOTR is about a road trip to destroy the tool of ultimate power and evil.

The Hobbit is about killing a dragon.

Toy Story is about toys coming to life.

Yes, the end products of these ideas are lengthy, epic storylines but each one stays true to the central ideas that began with. This is what’s missing from my writers, and Filipino literature in general. Everyone is so caught up in trying to be relevant and intellectual that they never get to tell a simple story.

Enough with the morals, enough with the exposition, enough with the intellectual babble. If I wanted to read about lit theory I wouldn’t be reading about a man who can shrink to the size of an insect and talk to ants. The secret to storytelling is staying true to your inspiration.

Keep the idea simple, and don’t force it to become something it’s not.

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Go forth and “multiply”

Posted in Gulo ng buhay with tags , , , , , , on Mayo 3, 2011 by Blue Dela Kanluran

 

I’m aware of the social and pseudo-religious implications the title of my post has. Especially (if you’ve ever read any part of this blog) given my stance on things even remotely allusive to outdated and currently meaningless church teachings ie. “go forth and multiply” which has undertones of the arguments regarding the RH debates on which I have made my voice abundantly heard.

But it is not to this that I make this post after an absence of more than a few days. This is regarding another form of multiplication (and yes we’re still talking about people logistics and not of simple mathematics, in case any of you try to take a “philosophical” view on this).

Once again, I found myself in the more often than not thankless position of playing mentor to another small bunch bright-eyed, hopeful,  I’m-going-to-take-the-world-by-storm youths. It’s apparently my task to field and guide them through the clandestine, confusing, and often disappointing world of labor where most adults are forced to dwell in the modern age version battle for survival (some choose not to and have other adults descend into that world for them. These are called jack-assess).
But who am I to presume that I am in a position higher than they who are barely younger than me (I’m not exaggerating. I graduated at least one and half year early). Besides, what am I not to teach? Experience? I’m barely getting that myself. Wisdom? Again, I’m too young to be trusted with that and I think it would be totally lost on them. In fact, the only thing I could possibly give them (besides my body) is my singular point of view on things. It’s the one thing that sets me slightly apart from the rest of world that I know of.

And what is my world view? In a word. Allofyousuck. An even better word would be negative. I’ve descended into the blackest pits of the internet and (by my own volition) witnessed the dark things men can do to each other through the veils of politics, religion, manners, and ethics.

Where others see the magnificent flickering light of a candle glowing resolutely in the darkness, a testament to life with every twitch and movement so filled with grace and effortless existence that it can only be called alive while not being so.

I see the shadow it casts, flinging the hapless form deeper into the shadows which it helped create, casting it aside as if something disgusting, keeping tit as far away from it as possible. Ignored, contemptible. Why does the light suffer the darkness to exist. What of the things in the dark that writhe and struggle unseen? Do those in the light not know that they merely seek what they have? Are those created in the dark denied happiness, hope…love? Why must light and life cause shadow and death?

People curse me and call me unfair to feel bitter and angry but what else is there when we are made to gaze each day at the moments of warm life that we can never obtain. That’s why we struggle and kick to lift ourselves out of the darkness. Do we not deserve a chance? A chance to be in the light. We do things that are at our disposal. With the methods we learned because no one taught us otherwise. For the simple reason of wanting to be in the light. And you dare call us evil? How are we to know? When it is all we’ve seen. All we’ve felt. While you languish in the ethereal glowing dream that are your lives as we labor for every stinking breath we take. What did angels care for the damned? What was God thinking when he made the Devil by existing himself?

A stone to be kicked. An insect to be crushed. A being born to do nothing but die.

These are how I view things. Just imagine if I imparted what I believed to these young minds raw from the system of redundant schooling, void of any real education. Imagine again if they listened and took my ideas as their own, modifying them for their own use, based on their specter of life, and they grew old and imparted those ideas to even more young people. Pay it forward works more profoundly in ideas than works. For while the latter is difficult to execute and its effect volatile and fleeting, the former can be done with a few simple words and can lie in wait in their minds like a virus slowly spreading and infecting every inch of their psyche until they succumb to it completely. For that is what an idea is, a virus, much like the sperm or the human race on the Earth.

If I mentor these minds they might become infected with my virus. Let’s face it, do we really need more cynical SOB’s running their fingers frantically over a keyboard prattling about how everything around them sucks while their at the office supposedly contributing to society?

For now, I refuse. Maybe another time. Right now I’m content with the traditional interpretation of “go forth and multiply”