Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Journeyman Mistakes: More on How to Write for KL Noir: White

Tonight, I shall tell you what I have failed to teach in two years.

Last night, while inebriated, I wrote about writing in three different whatever. It's more or less accurate, and  shouldn't too far off.

Show, don't tell. You don't have to reveal everything. For example, a girl is much sexier when partially clothed and lose all sexiness when fully naked. The same is true for stories. Don't explain everything.

Unlike audiences of other forms, readers are quite smart, because they know how to read. Have some respect for your audience that they can piece things together and form a movie inside their heads, on their own, with the right coaxing from you, the writer.

Also, since most people - including publishers - don't read everything, you are free to choose what to obscure and what to explain. Usually, don't explain in a fictional work. It is pedantic and condescending.

And that's why - show, don't tell.

However, there are those - Gods of writing - who break these rules. Alan Moore's Letter from Valerie in his masterpiece - the comic book V for Vendetta - for example, uses the first-person narrative while telling - without showing.

Here it is in its entirety:

I don't know who you are. Please believe. There is no way I can convince you that this is not one of their tricks. But I don't care. I am me, and I don't know who you are, but I love you. 
I have a pencil. A little one they did not find. I am a women. I hid it inside me. Perhaps I won't be able to write again, so this is a long letter about my life. It is the only autobiography I have ever written and oh God I'm writing it on toilet paper.
I was born in Nottingham in 1957, and it rained a lot. I passed my eleven plus and went to girl's Grammar. I wanted to be an actress.
I met my first girlfriend at school. Her name was Sara. She was fourteen and I was fifteen but we were both in Miss. Watson's class. Her wrists. Her wrists were beautiful. I sat in biology class, staring at the picket rabbit foetus in its jar, listening while Mr. Hird said it was an adolescent phase that people outgrew. Sara did. I didn't.
In 1976 I stopped pretending and took a girl called Christine home to meet my parents. A week later I enrolled at drama college. My mother said I broke her heart.
But it was my integrity that was important. Is that so selfish? It sells for so little, but it's all we have left in this place. It is the very last inch of us. But within that inch we are free.
London. I was happy in London. In 1981 I played Dandini in Cinderella. My first rep work. The world was strange and rustling and busy, with invisible crowds behind the hot lights and all that breathless glamour. It was exciting and it was lonely. At nights I'd go to the Crew-Ins or one of the other clubs. But I was stand-offish and didn't mix easily. I saw a lot of the scene, but I never felt comfortable there. So many of them just wanted to be gay. It was their life, their ambition. And I wanted more than that.
Work improved. I got small film roles, then bigger ones. In 1986 I starred in "The Salt Flats." It pulled in the awards but not the crowds. I met Ruth while working on that. We loved each other. We lived together and on Valentine's Day she sent me roses and oh God, we had so much. Those were the best three years of my life.
In 1988 there was the war, and after that there were no more roses. Not for anybody.
In 1992 they started rounding up the gays. They took Ruth while she was out looking for food. Why are they so frightened of us? They burned her with cigarette ends and made her give them my name. She signed a statement saying I'd seduced her. I didn't blame her. God, I loved her. I didn't blame her.
But she did. She killed herself in her cell. She couldn't live with betraying me, with giving up that last inch. Oh Ruth. . . .
They came for me. They told me that all of my films would be burned. They shaved off my hair and held my head down a toilet bowl and told jokes about lesbians. They brought me here and gave me drugs. I can't feel my tongue anymore. I can't speak.
The other gay women here, Rita, died two weeks ago. I imagine I'll die quite soon. It's strange that my life should end in such a terrible place, but for three years I had roses and I apologized to nobody.
I shall die here. Every last inch of me shall perish. Except one.
An inch. It's small and it's fragile and it's the only thing in the world worth having. We must never lose it, or sell it, or give it away. We must never let them take it from us.
I don't know who you are. Or whether you're a man or a woman. I may never see you or cry with you or get drunk with you. But I love you. I hope that you escape this place. I hope that the world turns and that things get better, and that one day people have roses again. I wish I could kiss you.
It's preachy and direct, as it should be, because it's a letter written on toilet paper using a small pencil in prison, but it is also beautiful and terrible and heartbreaking and is a testament as to what kind of writer Alan Moore is - a literary demon.

Even while telling, Alan Moore does not tell the whole story, but instead shows glimpses of a person's life, flashes of her mind. It fully encapsulated Valerie's love, her life, her struggles, and remains elegant as well as elusive.

The role, the function of the story, is to give jigsaw pieces to the reader. An idea is an idea, is an idea. It can be a good idea or a bad one. The motives and agenda of the story can be anything. It is in the execution, in the telling, that matters most.

A lot of people who like the idea of writing are lazy. They can also be lazy readers. "Just tell me what happened!" These people are also most likely newspaper readers. Nothing wrong with that, but newspapers and articles perform a different function to fiction. In serious writing - newspapers, articles and technical manuals, you need to be concise and direct, because the function of those things is to deliver as clear a picture as possible, as much information as possible, within a very short period of time.

Fiction writing, columns or even creative articles, functions as an entertainment, so it is different. The process itself, the execution, is sometimes the point. You are speaking directly not to the reader's ego or his/her politics, but to play with their minds and emotions and memories - not to manipulate, which is despicable and disgusting - but to prod and poke and tag and cajole as you would a very intelligent child.

I said I wanted to talk about intros and a lot of writers claim they have problems starting a story. In my experience, it is easier to start than to finish.

Starting a story is simple. There are many ways, and the easiest I find is to grab the reader's attention with an interesting or captivating statement. It must be out there, a strong statement or observation, a push.

Alex had always wanted to suck another man's cock, curious as to how it would taste.
That got your attention?
By the time you finish reading this piece, I would be dead.
Alexa jumped on to the tank and fired 29136 shots from the minigun at Jamal. She knew this was the correct amount because she counted the bullets.
My father was a teacher and he taught me many things. One of them was that Tarzan lived in the ear of a white elephant.

Sometimes, it is better to start in medias res, which is a fancy term for starting in the middle.

For example, the movie Fight Club, Limitless, and a bunch of other films start in medias res of the narrative. They start at a cliffhanger - Brad Pitt had a gun in Edward Norton's mouth in Fight Club and Bradley Cooper was going to kill himself in Limitless. The entire story then goes on a flashback to show what happened to get them there.

Once you have the reader's attention, you can have some exposition - some explanation - but never reveal everything until the very end. The entire function of the story is to get readers to where it started in the narrative.

When establishing worlds, use as little exposition and what I call 'history lesson' as possible. The Health Ministry took over Malaysia in 2050? Shut up and use that fact only as your reference.

Simply go forward with the story without explanation. Hopefully, you would have painted enough pictures to allow readers to understand that this is a world where the Health Ministry have taken over civil liberties, if that is the story you are writing.

If people are too stupid to figure everything out, they are not worthy of your story. And believe me, you don't want to write for idiots, unless there is lots of money involved. Usually, in writing, there is very little money.

KL Noir: White, for example, pays a token amount. It is more than most - if not all - anthologies published in Malaysia. Just don't expect to be a millionaire from one short story in an anthology. This thing is for passion and exposure, and it is fun.

There are ways to make money from writing fiction, and after I have made my first million, I will share with you all the secrets and phone numbers you need to call in order to sell a million copies of your book. Until then, keep on writing and send me the goddamned stories for KL Noir: White, damn you! I need more stories!