Inventing words

I just watched this TED talk by a man who makes up words to describe obscure emotional feelings such as the hunger for disaster, or the fear of achieving your goals… He describes words at one point as ‘keys into people’s minds.’

That’s very apt. Language in essence is a form of mind control. I can take the right words and put an idea in your head, or change your view on something.  But an effective phrase or word can become overused, and die. These are the cliches of the world. And us writers, on the front line of the word war, must step over the fresh corpses of overused metaphors and similes, and create new, stronger, better soldiers to continue the fight.

It would be a strange feeling of power to see a word I invented come into common use…

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood: greed kills

I really enjoyed this novel. Yes, it’s kind of a tired and overdone subject, but it was executed very well, with a lot of new elements.

In the very near future, the world is dominated by corporations, who’s privileged employees and their family live in compounds isolated from the ‘plebelands’ where the regular poor folks live. Jimmy, known later as ‘Snowman’, grew up in one of these compounds with his geneticist father who working for a company that spliced animals together for various reasons.

Atwood does not even describe the novel as science fiction because ” it does not deal with things we can’t yet do or begin to do.”

And indeed it seemed all very likely what these gene companies did. Splicing wolves and dogs together, so you get a vicious killer that wags its tail at you and looks friendly and hug-able. Why not? Pigs with human DNA, to grow dozens of livers at once, and keep regrowing them after they are removed? Sure, why not, lets eat the pigs too even though they are part human. Specially designed diseases, put in vitamin supplements, designed to keep you alive just until you run out of money paying for the treatment? Of course, why not.

If it can make money, it will be done. There is no such thing as ‘ethics’ or ‘morality’ in the face of the dollar bill. I’m not even being cynical here, this is a fact. Individuals may be moral and ethical, but corporations are not. And the sole purpose of a corporation is to get more money. It is too easy for the individuals in a corporation to look the other way, or to feel that other people are responsible for what is going on, or to not even KNOW what is going on if they are only involved in a small portion of it. A corporation is a machine that will keep grinding forward, always turning in the most profitable direction, regardless of what’s right or wrong, or what anyone even realizes is happening.

Greed is one of the biggest enemies of humanity, I think. It is a natural part of our drive for survival, but in a world of plenty, it seems often to go into overdrive, to spiral into a black hole of more more more more more.

Unfortunately, our entire society at the moment is built around encouraging this spiral, instead of discouraging or preventing it.

By the end of the novel, I found the end of humanity a welcome wiping of the slate. Maybe then, we could grow fresh into something not so short-sighted and hostile.

But then, the character encounters some unknown people, and immediately we see nothing has changed. “should I kill them before they see me?” he thinks, “if I say hello, will they just shoot me?”

The only way out of this trap of our genetics, it seems, is to fix those genetics. To edit out the greed and racial/sexual hate. The constant drive to compete with our own people, instead of cooperate.

That idea, though, might as well put this novel in the fantasy section.


Missing the point: IT

I saw the trailer for this remake, and I can’t help but wonder if they are missing the point a bit…

I remember Pennywise the clown being a villain in cheerful, friendly guise. In the new trailer, the ‘clown’ is pretty much a zombie in face paint. The surface is all that matters, it seems. The scary demon is just that, a scary demon ghost monster, whatever–instead of being in an innocent costume to appeal to children, and only revealing it’s evil nature slowly. More proof that subtlety is completely lost on people these days?

I suppose trailers do always show you the ‘best’ parts of the movie, so maybe it is a creepy clown and not an evil demon that has face paint on for some reason. But, I have no faith in movies anymore. I expect it to be packed full of jump scares and people bending over backwards to walk upside down and twisted up, or to open their mouths unnaturally wide and shriek, then run away all vibraty-like.

But maybe that’s just me. I can’t remember being creeped out by a movie since David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, or The Ring. Startled? Yes. Loud noises tend to do that, it’s a human reflex. But creeped out? No, not really.

We’ll see…

It’s the end of the world as we know it

I don’t feel fine, though.

Is this why old people are so bitter? I’m not even 40 yet, what is going on! I’m writing rambling, angry posts about the world instead of about writing…

Our freedom, health, and human dignity is being attacked on all sides by the grossly rich and powerful. And now, in the US anyway, these obese, blood clots in our economy’s veins are enabled by the government instead of restrained by it.

How to survive in this new world? Will I be able to speak my mind in the future? Will I be able to access and to spread information? Will my audience and voice be choked? Who knows. If there’s a way to make more money by choking someone, they will be choked, regardless of what’s right, or what makes people happy. In fact, making people happy is probably contrary to what the rich want. A happy consumer doesn’t spend as much money as a depressed, angry or lonely one.

#1 rule of surviving our corpocracy: Don’t trust anyone with lots of money. Their main objective is and will always be to retain or expand their wealth, regardless of who it hurts or what it destroys.

#2 rule: Speak your mind, loud and clear, while you can. You never know what latent frustration you will wake in others, or what might spur them to act.

#3 rule: Resist without fear. Giving in, giving up, despair, malaise, resignation, cynicism–anything that keeps you from acting, speaking out, standing up–dump all of these feelings and stay strong.

Get out of your shell and speak your mind, before it’s too late…

How to set the tone

a tree


Look at that tree. It’s a pretty normal tree, right? I tried to pick a very neutral picture of a tree–one that could be anywhere, with anything going on around it outside the frame. Anything could be happening to the person observing it.

How would you choose to describe this tree? That choice should depend on what your character is feeling, and the overall tone of your story. This tree could be described in any way you need to make it fit that tone. It’s all in how your character observes it.

My point here, is to show that you don’t need to set the scene to fit the tone. You don’t need scary weather (or a scary tree) for a scary scene, you just need to describe whatever weather is happening, for example, in a scary way.

Let’s describe this tree in a few tones, as observed by someone called Jane who has different feelings depending on what you need for your story.


Creepy: The lone tree followed her from the corner of her eye. She tried not to look at it, but it lingered there just out of sight, pulling, tugging at her until she turned her head. The trunk rose from the earth like an arm from the grave, and grasping finger-like branches sprouted mold-green leaves that seemed to turn her way as she passed, as if somehow sensing her movement. Those leaves absorbed all sound, all light, and pulled at the air, creating a vortex that drew her ever toward the dry and crumbling embrace of the twisting branches.

Happy: The tree gave Jane a wave as she passed, welcoming her to the day. The rustling of its leaves in the wind was a song, a refreshing music in her ears. In a moment of spontaneity she dodged off the path, her feet swishing through the springy grass, and laid a hand on its trunk. It seemed to vibrate with life, spilling its extra energy into her heart. She reached up and rubbed a leaf between her fingers. The glow of the sun lit golden veins in the leaf–veins that Jane was sure must be pumping pure life and love through the interior of the tree.

Depressing: The tree stood alone in the endless desert of grass. Its branches reached uselessly out, grasping for the absent. Jane had a momentary desire to approach the isolated creature–to touch it. But she was not like it. They could have no kindred contact, no communication. The tree stagnated in solitary confinement with its soil and sun–food and water for the prisoner. It would produce pointless seeds that would be swept away by the wind or the landscapers, until the final day of release when it would be cut down and burned to warm the skin of some being it would never comprehend.

Excited: Onward! the tree seemed to say. It waved its branches like a matador urging her to charge, and Jane could not help but increase her pace.

(This one is much shorter because we don’t want to slow down the excited tone we’ve set by over-describing.)

Frustrated: One tree in the entire, empty, wide open field–one single, god damned tree and it had to be right there, blocking her view of the sunset.  Its dumb, hulking branches stretched out to hide the light, and even as she hurried forward to get past its mindless, torpid frame, the colors in the sky already faded. Of course they did. The winds of fate had guided the seedling to just that spot. Sun and rain had nurtured it, urged it up and out into the sky–all with the the aim of getting its flapping leaves in her way at just this moment, and making her day one fraction of a shit worse.


The tree, of course, is not the point. The tree could be anything. The idea is that you describe objects and events and people based on the tone you want the story to have, and the feelings your character is experiencing.

Give it a try! It makes each scene you need to describe more fun to write when you have some way you need to bend it.

Create without conditions

Imagine a cellist playing one of Bach’s solo suites. Does he consider his audience? (Did Bach, for that matter?) Does he play the suite differently to audiences of different incomes and educations and social backgrounds? No, the work selects its audience. — Verlyn Klinkenborg

One could argue the above quote by noting that pop bands certainly do consider their audience. They have formula and requirements (as do pop novels) in order to meet the perceived needs of the consumer.

But do you want to be a manufacturer, or an artist?

Write what your passion drives you to write. Sure, you can look to the formulas of pop factories for ideas or suggestions on how to frame your story–but do not for one second be afraid to break from them. If you want a story that is designed in the way you want to write it, then there are surely others like you who want to read that story.

You are unrestrained, flying free, infinitely powerful, creator and destroyer of worlds and realities, bender of time.

Act like it!

Losing optimism

Oryx and Crake is slowly revealing information as to how the end of the world happened. Now we have learned that health corporations were creating diseases in order to sell the cure. And I tried, but I couldn’t come up with one reason why real healthcare corporations wouldn’t do this at some point in real life. When healing people is a for-profit industry, what else could possibly happen?

I used to be quite optimistic about technology and the future, but the more powerful and unrestrained corporations become, the less hopeful I am that any advances will be helpful to the average person.

Too much fear and distrust is pointed at governments, when the real power (and thus, danger) lies with the rich. The more money someone has, the more they are willing to do to get even richer. That’s what we should be watching out for…

Anyway, that’s enough soap-boxing, now back to writing entertaining and only subtly preachy things!