Sunday, February 25, 2018

Why Do You Write?

My friend Stallion and I were having one of our marathon discussions on the art of writing when he posed the question, Why do you write?

Reflexively, I turned the question back at him, in part to allow me time to compose a satisfactory answer. “To explore ideas,” Stallion said. Bookmark that response; we’ll come back to it. “What about you?” he asked.

My time up, I countered, “To explore, or describe, the human condition.”

“Interesting,” Stallion said. “You added the word describe, which implies you already know; unlike the word explore, which implies uncertainty.”

“That’s because sometimes I’m writing a dynamic character who’s growing throughout the story and I’m exploring his characterization as we go, uncertain where his development will lead us; and other times I’m writing a static character who does not grow and thus I’m merely describing established aspects of his characterization.”

But I found Stallion’s answer intriguing. Let’s go back to that bookmark. Stallion and I have had a long-running debate over the question What is the most important element of a story: plot or characterization? Stallion is a plot-driven writer whereas I’m a character- based writer. With that in mind, our responses make perfect sense. Plot-driven writers naturally write to explore ideas and concepts; character-based writers write to describe and explore the human condition.

Stallion’s stories feature imaginatively intricate (often science fiction) plots populated by admittedly two-dimensional characters, whereas mine rely on deep and complex characterization overlaid on a threadbare plot. Since I’m focusing on the human condition, the setting and even the genre are secondary to my story. For Stallion, the setting may be an essential element of the plot.

Stallion pointed out our approaches may converge with the introduction of the theme. Many individuals confuse plot with theme, but theme actually correlates more with characterization and the human condition. The plot is the storyline; it’s the road map of what happens to the characters and how they get from Point A to Point B. The theme is what the story is about, for example: betrayal, revenge, unrequited love, jealousy, man’s inhumanity to man, or the danger of technology. The way we as people (personified as characters within a story) experience and respond to these often emotional situations showcase the quintessential human condition. Yet, theme may be dependent on plot to describe how the characters arrived at this point: e.g., What caused the betrayal? Why is she seeking revenge?

So why do you write? Are you plot-driven or character-driven?

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Looking for love in All the Wrong Places

Now that everyone is connected to the Internet and it’s become a ubiquitous part of our daily lives, people are shopping for everything online. Take me, for example. This week alone, I've bought shoes, toothpaste, a calendar, and a set of dining room chairs, all purchased online. But many people are taking it one step further and shopping for their significant other in cyberspace.

Dating – or at least the quest for Mr./Miss Right – (or Mr./ Miss Right Now) has moved online for the same reasons everything else has: it’s quicker, easier, and you can do it at 2 a.m. in your pajamas. Typically, dating sites feature a prospective match’s profile (Unless you’re on the prowl for Mr./ Miss Right Now, in which case, you can use the one-paragraph short form, known as Craigslist, and list the acronyms – NSA, SWF, D&DF, etc. – you’re looking for. Don’t put too much thought into this process, because it doesn't matter what you list; Craigslist readers will ignore your criteria and contact you anyway).

In addition to the profile, date seekers usually post a photo of themselves. Usually, but not always. Sometimes, they post pictures of their dogs. Depending on the breed, it may be hard to tell the date seeker from the dog. About a third of the time, the dog turns out to be the better choice. Beware of photos in which the date seeker is hiding his/her face: either not facing the camera, wearing dark glasses, or in costume, or where the thumbnail photo cuts off the head (Alfred E. Neuman lookalike) or body (Sea World reports a whale escaped) … Or where there is no photo at all. There’s a reason why he/she didn't want you to see the hidden feature.

Then there are the misleading photos. The Technically Honest One: it is a photo of the date seeker, however it was taken 10 years ago; The Best Friend: the date seeker with his/her much better looking friend, whom you’ll be disappointed to learn is already taken; The Guess Who: see if you can pick out the date seeker from a group photo shot. Finally, there’s The Glamour Shot: a stunningly beautiful photo that makes you think the date seeker should be a model – it turns out, she is a model and some scammer has used her photo on a fake profile. A word of caution: if it looks too good to be true, Google Image Search the photo.

Avoid profiles that are too short. If the date seeker is continually answering essay questions with “ask me anything you want to know” or “we can talk about that later” it shows he/she has put less thought and effort into meeting you than into writing the weekly grocery list. At the other extreme, if the date seeker has indeed written a long grocery list of specific qualities, characteristics, or other requirements a prospective match must meet, then this person is too picky and shallow to become involved with.

Peruse other date seekers’ profiles to learn what they do right, and more importantly, what they do wrong. I found three examples on one site in the first five minutes, this morning. In response to the question “What are you doing with your life?” she wrote: “Studying hard to become a charter accountant.” Obviously, she wasn't studying hard enough, because if she had been, she would've known her chosen occupation was a chartered accountant. If you’re too stupid to know what you are studying to become (or worse, so careless that you don’t check what you've written before you post it … not a good idea, by the way, for detail-oriented professions like accounting), then you’re not dating material (and I certainly don’t want you doing my taxes, either).

The second profile I saw today featured a chubby girl in a string bikini. Now, health concerns aside, there’s nothing wrong with a potential match being a bit overweight. We can’t all look like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. But when marketing yourself, you should always lead with your strongest features, not highlight your weakest attributes.

The third profile began – and ended –  by stating the woman was “Not interested in casual sex”. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being upfront about what you are, or are not, looking for in a relationship. But don’t send mixed messages by labeling the same profile with the username “Cutie2PlayWith”.

Remember, online dating is all about marketing yourself. You are the promoter, as well as the product. Prospective daters will assume whatever image your profile conveys is the image of yourself that you've carefully chosen to present. While the zombie costume may have won raves at a Halloween party, it’s not a good choice for your dating profile photo. Your rant about your ex might be justified, but is your dating profile the right place for it… is that the first thing you want a potential date to read?

Successful marketing begins with truth in advertising. Don’t lie or mislead. Be upfront about your weaknesses, but lead with your strengths. Put the time and effort into writing a profile that shows that you think finding the right relationship is important. And if all else fails, at least you can still buy shoes and toothpaste on the Internet.