Tuesday, February 25, 2014


Call this post an experiment, an experiment in uninspired writing.
I am in a horrible mood. There's no point is saying why, but let it suffice that I am. It is while in this mood that I decided to write about inspiration, and to do it without having a single thought in my head about.
Usually, when I write about a topic, I have a kind of hazy goal, a vague destination somewhere over there that I want to head to. As I work my way through it, I find the roads and paths that I need and, after many a backtracking, I find my way to that point.
However, this time, I am only starting with a single reason; write about inspiration. But, I have no idea where I'm going.
I decided to write about inspiration because of something my sister said to me once. She told me that she had encouraged my father, who is writing a book, that he should go to a coffee shop once a week to sit and a write. My reflex was to laugh and think, "You don't go find inspiration! Inspiration finds you!" But, I think that I was wrong.
In my experience, inspiration is like having a fever -- hot and intense for a short time and, when it breaks, is gone for a long time. When I have written while in the grip of inspiration, I wrote like a maniac. My fingers pounded the keys like a woodpecker. I could sit for hours like that and lose my sense of time completely. But, if for what ever reasoned I paused, I lost it. The passion faded and I stared blankly at an unfinished sentence or a half-formed paragraph.
But, as I've grown up and taken writing more seriously, I've come to realize that inspiration is a gift, the gift of a good start. Inspiration allows us as writers (or more generally as artists) to start out strong and well. That initial start is only there to give us something to do. When the passion has faded and the fever has broken, can we, will we continue on or let the thing fade away? If we choose to continue on, we will find a nearly endless series of fits and starts, ups and downs, steps forward and back. The ground of the artist is uneven and the road, well it doesn't exist, does it? No one has ever written the story, painted the picture, or chiseled the sculpture that you're doing, have they? You're starting with a blank page and ending with a universe that no one else has seen. The empty canvas is like the empty sky, and the rough marble is like the rough planet. You don't want to make something that someone else has made. You want to be unique, original, and (this should always be your main focus) better than what you were last time you wrote.
So, when Inspiration has left you cold and alone, let that be a signal to you; you now have work to do.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Well Begun and I'm Done

I have a very deep character flaw. I've struggled with it for years and years and years. Sometimes I fight tooth-and-nail against it. Other times, I just give in and indulge it. I typically begin a project, get part-way through it, and then I just stop. I have left a trail of half-written stories in my wake. Sometimes, years later, I'll open a text file with a promising name only to be met with a blank page.Some of my old short stories had just started to get good before I abruptly stopped writing, sometimes in the very middle of a sentence. I don't know if it's my A.D.D. or just my personality, but it's something I don't like about myself.
The one rare exception to this pattern is my dalliance with Magic: The Gathering. Of all the hobbies I've ever attempted, this is the longest running at three years. Of course, my interest has ebbed and flowed, but lately it seems as though this might be the first hobby to have any kind of permanence. I reckon it's because there's just so much to do. I started off playing a Red Green creature deck, switched to a Black Blue Infect deck for my first tournament, then went mono-red for Legacy, back to Infect (Black Green this time), and finally I've settled on Mono-Red Goblins. Every few months I'm glued to my monitor, waiting for a new card to be spoiled. I've built a casual mill deck, an aggressive Red Green deck built around Bloodbraid Elf, and a Red Black White Commander deck that I'm thinking of changing to a Red Black Zombie deck. On top of all of that, I've started building another tournament deck for Modern and I've slung together a mono-Red deck for Standard (don't laugh). I've studied other decks, watched tournaments online, and have even gone to a Grand Prix!
I say all this to illustrate why I think Magic is here to stay in my brain; variety. I just can't get bored with something as big, elaborate, and complex as this. There's just too many interesting things to do! If you like games featuring complex interactions between player skill and sheer luck, Magic is for you. I know it is for me.
So, that said, I'm starting to feel like I'm losing interest in my story. I wrote a brief back-story for one of my characters and am extremely unhappy with it. It seems that I have taken my character and crammed him into a shoe-box. I wanted him to be a noble but free-spirited individual with violent past, but his childhood doesn't seem to lead to that. It certainly leads to his violent nature, but not the nobility I wanted. As it stands, the back-story would lead him (it seems) to be a petulant cliche always on the verge of either tears or violence.
What this means is that my character is very boring. He's uninteresting because, at the moment, he's a mannequin, a lifeless dummy put into different poses depending on the needs of the story.
And this is the problem with a lot of current fiction; their characters are mere cliches because, in the author's mind, they're not important. The world is! It's all about the cool scenes and plot twists. It's about using big words and big phrases because the author be praised for his knowledge of words archaic or esoteric (I've just been struck with how archaic 'archaic' is and how esoteric 'esoteric' is). But, a book would be boring if it was just descriptions of places and you needs characters for plots, so in comes the woman who is just as strong and determined as any man (as if men are the only ones with strength and determination) or the precocious child who is willful and rebellious (a character introduced so that we chuckle because bratty children are cute) or the male hero who is in touch with his feminine side and abhors the kind of violence he is practically driven to (as if knowing how one feels and wanting to destroy one's enemies are mutually exclusive). Unfortunately, I have fallen into this temptation to take the easy way out. I wrote the hero of my story as a tragic figure and (according to the bio) should grow up to be a dark and haunted character, instead of the lively man who is fiercely loyal to his crew, friendly towards those in need, and soaked in blood.
Of course, the cure is easy; I'll go back and re-write it. I'll change events in his life until I can find a trajectory that gets him where I want him to be. It'll take work, but it's worthwhile work. But, anyway, I thought it worthy commenting on the process of developing a story for a character, instead of a character for a story.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Boy Who Blinked

     The original inhabitants of Galifrey developed space flight before the internal combustion engine. It took them a hundred years from the founding of their first interplanetary colony to move their entire civilization to that planet. Another five hundred before inter-galatic travel was possible and within a thousand years of their first flight they were gone. Their home planet grew wild, their system silent. It wasn't just them either. Every sentient species in that galaxy developed space travel far faster than any other and eventually everyone fled. 
     Why? What was the reason behind this mass exodus? What had gnawed at the minds of these creatures until they were driven away from home and hearth, flinging themselves into the cold dark of space?
     The Untempered Schism, a thing that is wrong. A tear in space into the heart of time. It was a crisis set into stone, a danger with a name. Even races that had never seen it were afraid. In those places it was called things like "The Cold Night" or the "The Black Whisper." And if they had ever traveled to Galefrey and seen the thing, they would have shouted the name it was known by, for it had always been felt.
     Then the Time Lords came. They saw a galaxy devoid of life and wondered why. With a growing fear in their hearts they looked at the world an entire universe had turned a blind eye to. They came to Galifrey and found the Schism and they looked into the vortex with eyes wide open. On that day the Time Lords were born and they adopted Galifrey as their own.
     After that, it became a tradition that young Galifreyans on the cusp of adulthood would look unblinkingly into the Schism, proving to themselves and the whole universe that they were indeed the lords of time.
     But, then one day, something happened, something that would prove to be their destruction, and their salvation. A boy, a normal Galefrayan boy, looked into the Untempered Schism as his father's father's father had, but he did something no Time Lord had ever done. He blinked. Then he ran and he hasn't stopped. He runs around in his little blue box, commiting the worse acts of courage all in the hopes of proving that he is not afraid. But, he is. He's afraid of being like them and being without them. He hates his people and he misses them terribly. He is the mad Doctor. See how he runs!

Monday, January 13, 2014

A Tale of Two Chapters

This is what I do every time I sit to write something. I type three words, grow unhappy, and delete them. Then I type again, grow even unhappier, and delete that. I do this over and over because what I write is so darn boring. Take for example the first chapter of a story I started for this blog. It starts with the main character waking up in a forest surrounded by endlessly repeating tress of the same shape and color. As he wanders through it, it gradually becomes more alive as he begins to see varieties of trees and birds. He eventually wanders onto a hilly countryside bordered by a twinkling lake. He walks up the hill and sees a dark grey castle in the distance. From that castle he meets four warriors and joins up with them.
And that's the whole chapter. Riveting, isn't it?
The story was going to be about him fighting off an evil thing called "The Whisper." It was all allegorical, with the warriors serving as representations of aspects of himself that he must help to overcome their various insecurities and self-loathing thoughts in order to defeat the thing that represents his own insecurities and self-loathing thoughts. It was going to be very meta, very self-reflected, and very boring.
I disliked it almost immediately. I thought so much about every word, every sentence, that writing became a chore, a job, something that must be perfected then and there. I had hopes that score of people would write it, be very impressed, and tell their friends, who would tell theirs, and before you know it, I would have a movie deal! All this I took very seriously. In fact, I was so serious that what I wrote was a joke. It was pretentious, silly, and full of the most obscenely grandiose language you've ever heard with lakes shining like diamonds and armors flashing like fire. It wrote it and found it tedious.
After being convinced that this was not a good story to write (which was a chore in itself), my wife off-handedly said that I should write an adventure story, maybe with pirates or something. I wrote the idea in my journal. I would have written any idea there since I didn't have any in my head. And thank God for wives who are wiser than their husbands.
The more I dwelt upon a pirate adventure story, the more I realized how fun that sounded. Why not a rousing pirate adventure story with a cast of kind-hearted swashbucklers who offer to help an amnesiac find his lost memories and building an entire world around these people. A captain with a tragic past. A first-mate who's only thirteen years old. A cook who wears iron shoes. A woman posing as a man! How exciting all that sounded! The ideas tumbled out of my head like rocks on a mountain, bouncing and knocking more ideas out until I drew a map of the world and bios for each character. Now there's a world to explore and to excite!
So, the moral of this tale of two chapters is this; if you're not excited, if you don't like what you're writing, no one else will. The act of writing is an act of creation and if that act isn't filled with joy, nothing created can be. I began with a joyless story filled with cliches and have begun to delve into a world that grows more real by the day.

Now, usually when someone writes an introduction, they place it before anything else. I'm going to reverse that and write my introduction now. My name is Carl O'Brien. I currently live in Japan with my wife. I work as an English teacher in Osaka and have been writing short stories all my life. And this blog is a place for them. I doubt I'll ever get published, but then again I'm not really shooting for that. I just want a place where people can read my stories. It's wrong to be selfish. If I'm the only one who enjoys these worlds, what's the point of them? They remain only stories in my head and are helpful to know one. Thus, I have to let them go and send them into the cruel dark called the Internet. I place no expectations on them. I have no delusions of grandeur or self-importance. I merely wish to see my creations in front of my face, instead of in the back of my mind.
My updates will be spontaneous, erratic, and more than often rambling. I will contradict myself in my non-fiction posts and more than likely change my style halfway through a story. I may, although I pray I won't, give up in the middle of a story or do away with this blog entirely. I'm rather fickle. Therefore, I place no expectations upon you, dear Reader. I don't ask that you tune in every week to read my latest work. I only ask, and it's a very slight request, that you subscribe to this blog in whatever manner you choose and consider reading what I've written when you're informed that I've written it. Beyond taking a slight internet in my work, I ask nothing else of you. Thank you for your time.