10 September 2013

Villains we love to hate

I just read a great article from Writer's Digest on how to make more compelling antagonists.  (Side note, if you have not already signed up for the Writer's Digest FREE newsletter, then you can do so here.  You will not regret it, I assure you.)

One of the things I disagreed with partially about the article was that abstracts (war, poverty, etc.) cannot be effective villains.  For most of us, we couldn't pull off making poverty, for instance, an effective villain, but there are those who have done it - but as the article states, these authors do it by putting a human face on the abstraction.  Most notably in my mind, is Patrick Rothfuss's The Name of the Wind.  Although poverty is not the main antagonist, it is a weapon wielded by a major player (namely, Ambrose the Baron-heir).  Also, it's a constant threat to young Kvothe.  At times we forget, alongside him, that he is in constant peril of financial doom, but it's still there, lurking, just beyond the periphery.  (If you haven't yet read The Name of the Wind, or The Wise Man's Fear, then I'm afraid you're missing out on possibly one of the greatest fantasy writers of our time.  Also, Penny Arcade would apply the label "villain" to you. And if you don't empathize with yourself, even now so laden with this label of villainy, then perhaps writing better villains isn't yet within your grasp.)

In short, there you have it - a way to make even the most abstract, yet deadly, things into suitable villains, thanks to the example of Patrick Rothfuss (and, of course, Dickens also used poverty like a cudgel about his heroes' heads).

Live on the Page.

06 September 2013

About Depression

This is apt to be a bit of a longer post, but I ask you to bear with me.  If you want to skip right to the fun part of this post, just light on over to hyperbole and a half.  For those intrepid souls who want to venture into the wilderness of this post: "Fare forward, travellers [sic]."

"Art doesn't come from happiness; it comes from pain," or at least that's what a friend told me in high school (and who didn't suffer enough pain during those formative years to create a masterpiece?).  Numerous studies have shown a strong correlation between depression, bipolar disorder, and creativity.  Kay Redfield Jamison wrote an extraordinary book about this phenomenon called Touched with Fire.

Even with the numerous resources available to discuss depression, even with 10% of the US population reporting depression, even with the ever-lessening stigma on seeking psychotherapy, it is still incredibly difficult to explain depression to someone who has not been depressed.  There's a two part exploration of what it means to be depressed over at hyperbole and a half which is poignant and humorous.  Likely you will laugh and then feel awkward about having done so.  But it's less bad than laughing at a funeral (and less public, so bonus).  

Really the only thing that isn't covered in Brosh's description of the "depression experience" is the spiral of guilt that comes from looking around and seeing all the things you "should have" done.  Basically, this chemical imbalance is self-fueling after a certain point, because obviously, feeling bad (and not having anything "real" to show for feeling bad) is no excuse to not get work done, so you're just lazy, etc.  (Not true, but then we humans are all to able to believe lies - especially about ourselves).

The initial part of being treated isn't much better than the full blown depression, either.  There's the fear that we'll be somehow less without our disorder, but that's just a form of codependency (like in an abusive relationship).  The first two or so weeks of treatment are the hardest, because all of a sudden one feels the same bleakness of spirit, but one has energy.  It ought to come as no surprise then, that the tendency towards actually committing suicide during this time is a more common occurrence.

As Brosh mentions in the second half of her depression exploration, the first emotion to come back will likely be anger, and you'll be angry at everything, because it just feels good to feel something, anything again.  Don't worry, it gets better from there.

Now, as a writer, what can you do with that soul-crushing period of blackness?  Well, that's where stories and poems can come from.  Everyone's depression is different, so write about it, write about your struggle and eventual triumph, write about what color the depression felt (mine was grey, endlessly grey), write about the hero you created within yourself to battle the depression beast.  Most importantly, as a writer, write.  As long as you write, you aren't defeated.