Monday, January 28, 2019

Define your limits

So I was watching a Ted talk the other day where an animator was talking about this short animation exercise that he did. He said something illuminating. At least it was to me. He said that he started out, before making any of the art, deciding that he wouldn't have certain things in his work. In his case, it was circles.

I've been thinking about this for a bit, and I do some of the same things with my writing. At the beginning of a story, I make some decisions about how it is going to end. Many times I actually write the last chapter right after writing the first chapter. But I don't want to get into the weeds of how I do things.

This animator was talking about how setting limits for yourself forces you to be creative. By adding constraints and sticking to them our brains naturally start to work to get around the limitations. We see the limitations as obstacles or problems and our brains start to find solutions for them.

Just like formats for poetry and short stories and flash fiction have definitional limits that trend to specific types of content and storytelling. We can go farther by starting out our writing by setting in-story-limits. We can also add these limits in the middle of a story.

At the beginning of writing Airlock, I knew a bunch of things about how I wanted the story to go. How I wanted it to end. And how I wanted the story to feel. But I didn't know how the story would go. But the story didn't even have a title yet.  When I picked an Airlock to be the core challenge for James, the rest of the story got easier to write.

This is basically my writer's block battering ram. If I am looking at a blank page or screen, and I feel like I don't know what to write next, this is the time when I need to impose some limits. Instead of deciding what I am going to write or what the characters are going to do I throw up some limits and obstacles about what the characters are not going to do and what I am not going to write.

If you have read, Arbor Colony, you know that I write multiple point-of-view novels. Sometimes I get feedback from my critique group saying that a certain scene might be better from a different point of view. As the author, I have decided that there are some characters that don't get a POV. We never get to look at the world from inside their head. This is a limitation. And I try to keep it.

There may be times when you have to ditch a limitation. I recommend against it. Once you start telling your brain that you can reach down like the hand of God and remove a limitation you have set for your characters or your society, then the trick is up and you are both back to writer's block, and back to random, global, world refactoring. When I start to feel like this is the only way to save a character, then it is time to let that character die.

Or better yet, set the character on fire. Drop them off of something high. Then run them over with a wheelchair.

There was a point in Arbor Colony where all of the other characters in the story started to really dislike one of the other characters. They didn't want to talk to him. They kept walking out of scenes when he entered. He just became really unpopular in my head. And this was really good for my story.

So I didn't kill him. Instead, I announced to them all that this character was not going to die. It was a limitation that I was placing on the story. No matter how much they beat him up. No matter how often they shot him, or stabbed him or dropped him into pits, he was just going to keep annoying them. When I did this, the pace of my writing got faster and all of the other characters fell into line.

This does not mean he got everything he wanted. He doesn't. He doesn't know that he can't die. But the world knows. And I know. This makes the story work.

Hopefully, the readers are just as angry and annoyed as the all the main characters that this guy won't die. Anyway, that is my hope.

Just like a kite string is the limit that allows the kite to fly high in the sky. The limits we place on our characters, our worlds, and our stories are what lift them up and give them life. Learn to love limits.

Monday, December 31, 2018

How to grow your echo chamber

For people that don't ever want their ideas challenged. And people that want every opinion and thought confirmed to be correct. People that don't feel they need to examine anything about their lives and the way they think. If this describes you, then an echo chamber is for you.

There is a foolproof method to achieve this level of happiness and insolation from the pesky misguided ideas of others. And social media will help you. I know social media is not good for much, but it is good for this.

The first step, of course, is to get an account on your social media of choice. They are all pretty much the same in this regard, so it doesn't matter which one you choose,

The second step is to add a bunch of connections or friends or whatever your social network calls them. This should be pretty easy to do. Some networks will recommend connections to you, others will let you upload a list of email addresses to invite them. The actual mechanics of this is less important than building this group.

Now that you have a social network, it is time to start building your echo chamber. This third step takes a little work. Very very little. And it is so simple.

Each time one of the people in your social network says anything that you don't like or agree with, you have to respond. No, I don't mean to engage them in conversation or challenge their statements. I mean to remove them from your network. All of these platforms have a way to remove people from your network or block users from what content is visible to you.

The final phase of this is to add new connections when the people in your social network link to or recommend other connections. If the person is still in your network, they probably agree with you on most if not all of your views. So it is likely to be the case that connections they have will also agree with you.

And there you are, just repeat steps 3 and 4 until you have no exposure to ideas and views that are not just like your own. More and more people will be connected to you in your echo chamber of thoughts. This will give you a sense that you are always right. And if that doesn't make you happy in the long run, it will at least make you feel comfortable with your opinions and give you the sense that there are only a few, if any, people that don't think exactly the same way as you do.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Making Heaven's Home

Sometimes people ask me
Why I do, just what I do
And it always takes me back to
When my family was new.

My wife and I made promises 
To God, and to each other
We would love and cherish
A family after his pattern.

So we started out with purpose
To build our heaven’s home
Following HIs footsteps
Whatever was to come.

And part of that promise
Was to love, and take care
Of some of heaven’s children
That came down to live here.

But what might not be clear
Or maybe, unexpected
But you can come to see
After you’ve reflected

That God send precious spirits
To homes, less than worthy
And when they have the chance
We should serve them as surely

God does not see them 
As another’s child
We do all belong to Him
All know his loving smile.

So listen to the wisdom
Don’t let the chance be hid
To serve our heavenly father
By loving a stranger’s kid.

-- Roy Hayward


So I am posting another poem on the anniversary of the Birth of my son Frank Edward Hayward V. He was with us for only one day and affected all of us forever. He was born 11-11-2011. 

He would be 7 years old today. 

When my wife and I stopped being able to have more of our own children we started to fulfill a dream. Maybe not a lifelong dream, but a dream we had been planning on living for all of our married lives. That was the dream of doing foster care. 

Today, there are many children in our home that we encountered first through foster care. Three of them were born in 2011.  Doing Foster Care is not the easiest thing to do. But it is not the hardest either. 

My wife and I did the hardest thing 7 years ago tomorrow when we said goodbye to Freddie. Loving someone, even a child isn't always easy. But it always comes with its reward. 

The reward is making heaven's home.