Long ago I declared war on flashback.
I realized first as a reader that flashback accomplished the goal of pulling the reader out of the immediate action and thrusting them into the backstory that informed or set up that action. It seemed like a crude tool to use in order to get a character to do what you wanted or even to explain their action. I felt there were better ways. Maybe I was right, but I am slowly appreciating how one can use flashback and backstory if done in the proper fashion.
For the purposes of this post flashback will be defined as a scene that takes place in a story that is out of time of the story–a memory that interrupts the flow of a normal scene. This can be done in less invasive ways such as a dream sequence or a conversation about past events. No matter how it is formed, the idea present is that we need to know what happened in order to understand what is happening. In my opinion this strategy is best saved for really big moments and best used through the ‘long con’ method in which a writer piece-meals out parts of the story leading to a crescendo where we can, on our own, figure out what happened and how that affected the moment that is happening now in the story.
The example I’d like to use is a story I am working on now where my main character’s lifeplan was interrupted by a traumatic incident. His story is about finding an alternative route back to this life plan (he fails, of course). During the course of the story we learn bits and pieces about the traumatic event and at the pivotal moment another character brings up the event, calling into question his recollections of the event and thus driving the narrative forward to a startling (not really, I just like sounding like it is) conclusion.
The point there is that we learn the backstory in bits and pieces and it helps us to understand our character’s motivations without the cudgel of a flashback happening to slow the action of the dramatic moment. By the time we get to the point where we have to see the flashback–see the scene where the trauma occurred–we are so familiar with that aspect of the story that it doesn’t require a scene. All we need is for a character to tell us (in character) what actually happened and it satisfies our investment while keeping us ‘in scene’.
Flashback doesn’t have to be terrible or necessary. It does have to be done well.
It is remarkable how a week away from teaching can completely throw you off your game. Here is how it works (and this is a lesson for writing as well): As you are ramping down in those last few days, you start thinking about how wonderful the time off will be. In essence, you start looking forward to the vacation and are no longer thinking about work. Then there is a week of wonderful not working. Then work arrives and, instead of jumping back in at full speed, you have to wind back up again and get things going. Essentially it is not until the second week back to work that you are fully firing and ready to go.
Except this is the first week back.
I found myself scouring the internet for something to read in lieu of getting out of bed. Nothing–Not even new information about football, or breaking news, or anything of personal relevance jumped out at me. So, I played a few games on my phone, haggled over prices on eBay (looking for my next major distraction), and eventually fell out of bed.
There is an app on my phone that allows me to grade from my phone. A brief glance at the embedded iphone tracking data would indicate that I’ve used the app almost not at all. It’s still there and available and I should use it right often to grade. I don’t. I didn’t this morning or even now as we slide nervously towards the afternoon. I’m not working even now. I’m blogging for ten minutes as a way to do something as I find the ability to work as an academic beyond my immediate grasp.
I thought about calling this post ‘ramping up’ but i am not actually doing that. In fact the post has a double meaning, because I was supposed to be posting an assignment about Hugh Howey’s Dust and I ‘knocked that off’ in order to write right here. Trust me, it’ll make you giggle later. Maybe. At present I am experiencing what I like to call ‘the cold start’ because it reminds me of the time my good friend couldn’t start his old car. We wound up putting a blowtorch to the engine block to get the thing warm enough to turn over. My brain needs a blowtorch. Soon.
The final eight weeks of the school year are ramping up and I am about to leap back into the learning fray. I’m not terribly excited. I’m more in the writing headspace than the teaching one these days, and while I am more than capable of doing my job, I am more interested in creating lasting and legendary fiction. Of course that means writing prolifically. I’m serious about that aspect of it. See, my belief is that I am a writer who gets better through practice. I am not, as I once thought, a one hit wonder kind of producer.
The story I am working on has a birthdate attached to it–if only in my mind. I expect to be done in three months. That means finished draft in one and two more for making it pretty. Doable. With practice the 6 month novel should become a simple science to me. Then all I need to do is lean on my teaching background in order to show everyone else the way.
- Somehow Tiger Woods remains relevant. I think that is because he has such name recognition in a sport that struggles to generate personalities.
- Giants have made no further moves in free agency. Come on, man.
There’s a service called Yoast Seo that bills itself as a bit of a marketability algorithm. It tells you all sorts of things about your posts that you are supposed to consider. It tells me, for example, that a post below 300 words is not going to draw much attention. There’s irony and confusion there, because a 140-280 character tweet draws a lot of attention. Different rules for different formats, I presume. Presumption is a strange bedfellow. It allows me to draw conclusions based largely on my perceptions of what I see, how I interpret the world, and what I do with those interpretations. Presumption has little to do with the party being presumed just as the interpretation of tweets and blogs have little to do with the person speaking.
- Kids who are spoiled don’t know how to act.
- Kids who are spoiled act like they are supposed to get whatever they want when they want, cut to the front of every line, and have no internal capability of entertaining themselves.
- I presently have those kids.
My kids are huge fans of Beyblade. So huge that we have a website called houseofbeys.com dedicated to the pursuit of the art and to the Beyblade seasons that unfold at our home. I am presently considering investing in the Sportspress Pro plugin for that website in order to increase the functionality and stats tracking ability for the sport. I am becoming a fan of that part of the game more and more. There is something about stats that has always appealed to me.
So, I bought it. In the moments between paragraphs I pressed pay and instantly regretted the purchase. Buyers remorse comes at you quickly. $100 for a plugin that essentially adds Tournament support and enhanced social media to the feature. I don’t use social media. I’m not sure I really needed the Tournament support. Yet here we are.
What it really boils down to is an understanding of how bad I am at both saving and spending money. I don’t know how to use it properly, so I believe my best bet is to use it almost entirely to pay bills moving forward. I gotta stop the waste.
- I’m going to have my 8 yr old play on my 12u flag team. This after my 10 year old joined the team and really excelled. The 8 yr old is a solid offensive player and very agile. He could use the experience and the challenge. He won’t get a ton of minutes and doesn’t deserve a ton of minutes, but he’ll get work and he will be challenged and he will grow–especially through practice.
I’m having a birthday soon. It represents another year, another turn of the screw, another flip of another page in a life that is filled with amazing stretches of luck, activity, lost opportunities, loves, mishaps, and all of the other things that color life. I am grateful for the life that I’ve lived. In truth if death is simply the looped play of one’s life, I am blessed with a number of great hits on my mixtape. Last night I woke up shuddering. I can describe that feeling no other way. I’d fallen asleep watching TV and when I came to I was shaking. It wasn’t cold or any temperature thing, but a sensation or a realization of the fragility of life. I have those moments from time to time and they can lead to bouts of extreme darkness as I realize that one day there will be no further realizations or memories to be made. Other times I am more reflective. I am filled with the joy of knowing that I have lived well. I have raised my kids to be good humans, and I have lived well.
I am also not dead.
In truth I feel like I am living well now. I am trying to be of good health. I am focused on my writing more than I have been since graduate school. The plans for everything else in my life seem more realistic and obtainable (if slow moving). All is light mingled with a dappling of shadow. There can be no light without the existence of shadow, so I welcome what may come.
Perhaps some of this is reflective of the Buddhist meditations I fall into on occasion. I’m not a devout Buddhist. I choose to step off the fivefold path on most days, but hold it very clearly in my sight. That is perhaps all a person can do is to keep sight of what matters and what should be and constantly work to be the best version of themselves. I’m still working. I’m still struggling every day.
Humans are tribal.
At our most basic level we want to belong to one group and treat another group as though they don’t have any right to exist (save for giving us someone to hate). Despite this great American experiment and years of both genetic and cultural advancement we remain fiercely tribal. That ardent tribalism comes out most when we talk about politics or religion. Here in America we’ve largely abandoned the religion argument (The Mormons won. It’s been over for a long time) in favor of binary political divisions. This article by Vox voices a clear understanding of how we get to this point so quickly. What it also attempts to explain is why ideology and prejudice are so vitriolic. I believe I already answered that one above: Humans are tribal.
See, it is easier to be ‘right’ when the other side is wrong. It is easier to question their logic than to admit some fault (however minor) in yourself or your thinking as that exposes you to some form of questioning or even ridicule. Take Trump for example. He is having the time of his life, because he grew up in a world where the people with real power always ridiculed him, laughing at his lack of intelligence and silly theories. Few came to his aid when he continued shouting that Obama was a Kenyan Muslim long after the matter had been settled. However, now he is ‘part of the team’ and everyone (on that side of the aisle) is supporting his ideas and ideology. Meanwhile those who once ridiculed are firmly in the outcast set or have come around to his way of thinking. This is what partisanship looks like.
This is also what groupthink and negative culture and cultural decline all look like. We are in a dangerous time. We are normalizing some real nonsense and once that happens it will become easier to normalize even more. We’ve already gone from expecting a certain level of decency from a president to understanding that even the president can and will call people names and there is nothing we can do about it. Partisan thinking is erosive and clearly divisive and is not doing us any favors.
I started with the thoughts first today, and when I looked up my time was about over. I suppose it is one of those situations where so much is running through my head that I have yet to take a hard look at where all these various streams of thought are feeding in to. I still don’t quite know for sure. Here is what I do know:
I want to put myself in a situation where I am living the kind of life that makes me smile every morning I wake up. I believe that life is closer than I’ve ever thought. I believe that life is centered around love, writing, and learning new things. That last part has been particularly absent from my world. I’ve lost a bit of the wonder and replication that drove me to be the writer I am today and further powered the uniqueness of my life. I’m trying to get past the point where I shun the things I don’t fully understand or appreciate and try to explore the best in everything and take parts of all of it to create something amazing.
After all, creation is my jam.
- For a while now it has gone without saying that my partner and my kids are far more important than my job. I truly believe this was a point of contention in my marriage, where the values were different for the parties involved. To whit, the facts are as follows: My partner and kids are far more important than my job. My writing is far more important than my job. I recognize that my job pays the bills and I love the heck out of teaching students, but all of that stuff about playing work politics and getting involved in people’s drama is so 5 years ago. I’m completely over that aspect of the work life. Let me teach and let me grow dynamic programs. I’m in it for the learning alone.
- My kids are fully ensconced in the Generation:YouTube. They are the type to watch videos of people playing games nearly as much as they play the games themselves. They are modeling their styles off of the nonsense they see on tube and most of what they see is so gregarious that it belies any real explanation of how to be a talented gamer. There ought to be a better crop of videos out there that are less about the screaming and trash talking and laughing at fails and more about actual technique and breaking down various styles and strategies. If I had any skill (and time) I would show them how and engage them in creating their own Techniques Tube for various games. At least then they’d be making the most of gameplay and game watching.
- Yes, I know they’re just having fun. No, I don’t entirely care, because while they are having fun they are also being encouraged to model the worst kinds of behaviors vs. just getting good at stuff.
In a sense I am trying to empty out my brain pan. I have a massive number of thoughts surging through my mind and feel a sense of relief when I can cast them out. So here I say, “Out damn thought!” or something to that effect, which is far less dramatic. Now unto the things inside my head:
- Watched the remake of Red Dawn last night. It was terrible. Like really poorly ended. They killed the protagonist at the end of his story arc for absolutely no reason as it advanced neither the plot nor the arc of any remaining character. Basically it threw a pall on the ending for no damn reason. Beyond that, the action was mediocre in styling and the film paled in general to its predecessor. If you want to remake something then the remake ought to not suck. Lately, they do. They really do.
- My kids are painfully obsessed with Fortnite. That would be the end of the conversation if the game wasn’t becoming so vastly popular–minecraft popular. This will only stimulate further merging of the build & shoot genre that will eventually expand to include the VR world. Once we get games like this on VR, its simply going to be how things are.
- How things are for me right now is… good. I’m happy and building towards life feeling better and better and making better decisions. I should knock on wood for saying this out loud, because I know the universe has a knack for kicking me in the teeth.