Archive for the 'Writing' Category
May 9th, 2013 by Wil
I’ve mentioned my interest in the theory that as the history of humankind has unfolded, our basic experience of being alive has changed, perhaps radically. I was reminded of this today as I continued to read the book “The Age of Insight.” At one point in the book, we are introduced to Arthur Schnitzler, a writer and playwright who lived in Vienna in the early 1900s and purportedly invented the technique of internal dialogue. This is the practice of presenting the character’s inner voice on the page. An example included in the book is from Schnitzler’s story “Lieutenant Gustle.”
How long is this thing going to last? Let me look at my watch… it’s probably not good manners at a serious concert like this, but who’s going to notice? If anyone does, he’s not paying any more attention than I am, so I really don’t need to be embarrassed… it’s only a quarter to ten?
And on and on…
Internal dialogue probably found its most prominent use in the thought balloons of comic book characters, as I’ve mentioned here.
The problem, of course, is that nobody really thinks that way. You don’t think, “Gee, I really need to get to work. I guess I’ll wear my blue tie today.” You just have a general sense of being late, and a fleeting desire to put on your blue tie. Maybe a few of the words pop into your head – “late,” “blue” – but you don’t think in full sentences.
Having said that, I do sometimes find myself kind of thinking in full sentences. Maybe that’s based on some assumption on my part that that’s how I “should” be thinking — because that’s how people think in books, movies and comic books. And I wonder if this idea, this concept of thinking in internal dialogue, is something relatively new to our species, perhaps starting with Schnitzler’s invention.
There’s another area be explored here. To think in even a kind of broken down internal dialogue requires us to have language. How do creatures without language — cavemen, or children raised by wolves — “think?”
January 17th, 2013 by Wil
I’ve been doing some guest blogging over at a friend’s blog dedicated to writing fiction. My latest post there discusses how the neuroscience of emotion relates to writing immersive fiction.
In 1994, neuroscientist Antonio Damasio published Descartes’ Error —- Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain. The book was a conversational rumination on neuroscience; at its core was Damasio’s assertion that human emotion is a sensory experience. It is felt in the skin and viscera, transmitted along the nerves that travel through the body and observed in various components of the brain. This might not sound like a revelation but Damasio was essentially discarding the belief —- held throughout much of human history —- that emotions are felt in some ethereal way by a nonmaterial human essence (what might be called a soul). Damasio’s position is at odds with most religious thought and many romantic notions (including Descartes’ famous dictum that the mind and body were separate) which have pervaded literature and philosophy for the past 200-300 years.
A reasonable question at this point is, “What does this have to do with novel writing?” After all, this is a blog dedicated to the art of creating fiction, not understanding the physiological processes that comprise human emotion. This is true enough, but describing emotion is a big part of fiction writing. Characters have emotional states, and often quite a bit of conflict is driven by these states. Ideally, an author doesn’t want to just describe the emotional state of a character, he or she wants the reader to feel (at least in some small way) these emotions. And readers want to vicariously experience what a character experiences. That’s part of the thrill of reading a book.
It goes on from there, offering several gems of information.
December 3rd, 2012 by Wil
In my recent piece on dream logic, I linked to this article about the possibilities of creating computer intelligence. There’s an interesting passage in it that I failed to really notice the first time I read through it.
It’s also reasonable to expect computers to help clean up the mess they have made. They dump huge quantities of information into the cybersphere every day. Can they also help us evaluate this information intelligently? Or are they mere uncapped oil wells pumping out cyber-pollution — which is today just a distraction but might slowly, gradually paralyze us, as our choices and information channels proliferate out of control? As each of us is surrounded by a growing crowd of computer-paparazzi all shouting questions and waving data simultaneously, and no security guards anywhere?
This is something I’ve been thinking about in relation to webpages and search engine results. Since the 90s, people have really been writing web content for two audiences: humans, who actually read the articles, and search engines who “spider” the articles and rank the pages in search results. The sad fact is that if you want to get your article read by humans, you need to keep in mind the demands of search engines which use various, ever-changing algorithms to rank pages.
In the early days, people could trick search engines into ranking their pages highly by using various strategies that created pages which were often completely worthless to humans. For example, if you were trying to rank highly for the keyword “dog” you could create a page which had words like “dog, canine, Fido, Rover” etc. in big bold letters at the top. Search engines liked this, people said “what the fuck?”
Since then, things have gotten better, but you still see a lot of “junk” pages out there. However, as I recently pointed out, computer software is getting better and better at writing news articles. It seems like things could quickly get to the point where people could publish 1000 similar articles on the same topic, figuring that at least some of them would dominate search engine results. At this point, human authored articles would be competing with computer-generated articles for search engine rankings. And, in any battle between humans and computers, computers always win.
The point the author makes above is that maybe computers could help weed through all the computer generated muck and find what would truly be useful. At which point an arms race between computer software develops: content generating computers versus content filtering computers. It seems that the only possible outcome is the complete destruction of humanity and the rise of a flesh eating race of cyborg aliens.
November 29th, 2012 by Wil
So I’ve mentioned I’ve been out on the web reviewing a lot of the information available on novel writing. One thing I’ve discovered is that everyone on earth is writing a novel. Seriously, it’s amazing. When are you going to finish your novel, dear reader?
Back in my 20s, novel writing was sort of my back up plan if I failed to be a successful rock star. My thinking was that the world of music might prove to be too competitive – after all, everyone wants to be a musician – but novel writing – because of the effort involved – would be less so. Most common mortals couldn’t have the stamina to engage in novel creation, I reasoned. But it looks like I was wrong.
I’ve been thinking about this and I’ve come to this conclusion: Who are the people making music? Mostly young people, because music is a – ironically – very appearance focused business. Musicians needs to have trim, tight bodies and god like good looks (areas where I, of course, excel). But writers…? Writers can be – are almost expected to be – doughy faced, sloth like creatures with crumbs of their lunch on their shirt and stains of feces on their fingers. In short, writers look like most of humanity. As a result, many people say, “There’s no way I could be a musician, but a writer – that seems obtainable.”
But, I think there might be more to it as well. Writing may not be the flashiest dramatic medium — film, TV and music come to mind — but it’s one that can be pursued with the most basic of tools: words. You don’t need to invest in fancy equipment; you can get by with a pencil and paper if need be. It’s the most naked of art forms.
November 26th, 2012 by Wil
Lately I’ve been reading through a lot of posts by bloggers describing the process of novel writing. This one is worth attention. The author, in his day job as a waiter, had an encounter with Philip Roth, a noted and famous author, albeit one whose work I have never read. The author hands a copy of his recently published novel to Roth and…
Then Roth, who, the world would learn sixteen days later, was retiring from writing, said, in an even tone, with seeming sincerity, “Yeah, this is great. But I would quit while you’re ahead. Really, it’s an awful field. Just torture. Awful. You write and write, and you have to throw almost all of it away because it’s not any good. I would say just stop now. You don’t want to do this to yourself. That’s my advice to you.”
While ruminating, the author rebounds, concluding…
And though I have only one novel published—and experienced none of the success of Roth—I still feel strongly that the one thing a writer has above all else, the reward which is bigger than anything that may come to him after huge advances and Hollywood adaptations, is the weapon against boredom. The question of how to spend his time, what to do today, tomorrow, and during all the other pockets of time in between when some doing is required: this is not applicable to the writer.