Friday, September 12, 2014

7 Things I Learned from Writing a Novel in Three Months

I've been absent, dear readers, and for that I apologize. It's been a full summer: in the last three months I graduated college, started work full time, got married, and wrote a book.

I stocked up on Who gifs, too.
Let me explain—no, there is too much. Let me sum up.

In April I was chosen as a finalist in this contest, which meant I needed to finish a book by September 1. Said book was about 50 pages long and needed at least 450 more. But with school, graduation, and life in general swallowing most of my free time, I didn't really start work on it until late May (because life after college is definitely less busy, right?).

And after a mean season, that book is done. It's 160,000 words/800 pages long, and I made it in less than 100 days.
Pardon the dramatizing. I feel entitled to a bit of histrionic.
So if this post feels a little bit, erm, self-congratulatory, I apologize. I do feel like I did a cool thing. But I will try not to act like I did The Coolest Thing.

Anyway, there's a longstanding human tradition of sending an expendable scout to find out how things look in an unfamiliar area. And somehow I don't think everyone reading this blog wants to do NaNoWriMo for three solid months.
Blood. Sweat. Tears. Red ink. Wrist cramps. Still tears.
So here's the lay of the land.

1. Inspiration will not do the work.

Those arms are not designed for heavy lifting.

I used to think Inspiration came to those who wait, cause you can't rush art, and all that. The Muses are unpredictable, willful creatures. And everybody knows that if you chase a girl, she runs.

Stephen King disagrees. In his estimation, the Muse is a gruff, surly dude who lives in the basement and demands that you do all the work. The Muse thinks you're a cocky punk. He's got a bag of magic, but you won't even glimpse it until you prove you're not wasting his time.

2. "I'm too busy" Is. Not. Valid.

This is basically a Buzzfeed list.

I spent a whole bunch of years "too busy" to write. The urgent tasks taking up my time: Netflix, imgur, and Facebook, mostly. I didn't need more time—even when I got it, I mostly flushed it online.

A teacher told me once that we almost never have time problems: we have time distribution problems. Maybe you have an absurdly exhausting, no-time-to-spare life; I wouldn't know.

What I do know is my own experience: between forty hours a week at the office, shopping for groceries, researching insurance agencies, moving into an apartment, figuring out a budget, registering the car, doing laundry, washing dishes, paying rent and utilities, and spending time with my wife, there was still time to write. It meant getting up at 5:30 every day. It meant writing during lunch. It meant not finding out what lunch items my peers had taken pictures of, postponing the Netflix queue, and refusing to self-anesthetize with pictures of cats. (Stunningly, the Internet did not vanish during my absence.)

Note: our apartment has no wifi, and writing there was far easier than writing at Starbucks.

3. Sacrifice free time, not family time.

There's exactly one thing I regret from this whole adventure: how poorly I treated my wife.

Not by being angry or snappish or impatient. Just absent. Nobody wants to share their spouse with a computer for the first two months of marriage. (Not for any months of marriage, I think.)

It took me a month and a half to figure out how much I was hurting her, because I am One Oblivious Dude. Take it from me: a dream that steals you completely away from the most important people in your life gets poisonous right quick.

4. Write. Every. Day.

I've never seen anyone do this after running. Ever.
When I felt like I'd earned it—usually after a day when I'd written a whole lot—I'd take "break" days to rest.

Exceptionally bad idea.

One break day turned into two, two turned into three, and when I got back to the manuscript I had to spend an hour just picking up speed. Momentum is the best advantage you can have in this first draft stage, I think; it's the only thing that got me over the hump.

Note: If I had this to do over again (and had a bit more leeway), there'd be one planned break day per week—not one or two break days when I felt like I needed it.

5. Perfect manuscripts don't get submitted.

This, but with sentences and periods and characters and
I've self-identified as a writer for nearly 15 years and, in that time, have finished exactly two large-scale projects. Two. *

I suffer from a rare absurdly common affliction called perfectionism. Most of my writing projects lasted for about three chapters before I hit hard reset.

The truth is, I hate editing my own work with a powerful hate. I reasoned that if it wasn't perfect at the beginning, the errors would only pile up and by the end the manuscript would be a mess. Then I'd just have to spend more time editing.

Here's the deal, though.
  1. Perfect first drafts don't exist. Perfect manuscripts don't exist.
  2. While I'm tinkering, thumb-twiddling, and bemoaning the writing life like I've got nothing better to do (cf. #6 on this list), the deadlines have come and gone.
My work is never going to be as good as I want it to be, and that's okay, and obsessing over imperfection in a first draft is a poor excuse to leave so much unfinished.

Note: I don't want to communicate that writing very little is inherently shameful. Quite a few excellent authors like to take their time (Patrick Rothfuss's first draft took seven years, his revision another seven; Steven James rarely writes more than 120 words in an hour). My issue is that I had so much available time and energy and I did so little with it. 

6. We're afraid of finishing.

My face for the last three months.
Seth Godin calls it the lizard brain. It's the part of you that doesn't want to stand out from the crowd. The part that starts freaking right the heck out when the deadline comes close. The part that is deathly afraid of failure.

If you finish, you might submit, and if you submit then people could read it, and if they read it they might not like it, and if they don't like it then the townsfolk will riot and they'll beat down your door and come at you with pitchforks and torches and then the world will explode and EVERYONE WILL DIE.

It might not escalate quite that hugely, but the feeling is...kinda the same. It's not just writers who get nervous about people seeing their stuff. We're all afraid of failure. We hate failing more than we hate anything else.

7. Finish things anyway.

This is Neil, and he is right.
Where creative work is concerned, nothing matters like finishing. Finishing is how we beat the lizard brain. The more we finish, the more we see that the villagers won't burn us alive for finishing.

So finish. Finish regularly. Finish something huge, something you're afraid of finishing. Your lizard will protest, and you'll want to stop and edit and revise and maybe start over. Finish.

After four years of college-level writing education, those five words on Gaiman's hand are still the best writing advice I've ever seen.

Real Messes vs. Imaginary Masterpieces

The projects in our heads will always always always be better than what we make. There's friction between our dreaming and our forming; our real work will always be too heavy, too thick.

That sounds awful; in truth, it's freeing.

This summer, more than anything, I learned the value of real. The book I submitted is flawed (hugely, embarrassingly, unbearably flawed). But the flaws in something real can be mended. The flaws in something imagined can't even be seen.

And this is very, very real. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Round Robin Blog Tour: An Excuse to Soliloquize on Myself

Sarah Sawicki, blogger, wrote a story once that made me feel really slimy, but she hasn't repeated the practice since. Our most recent interaction involved her tagging me to participate in the Round Robin Blogging Tour, where I talk about myself and then talk about bloggers I think are cool (and who will be tagged so that they can do as I'm doing). Skip to the bottom if you've heard enough about me by this point.

1. What are you working on?

A massive, brain-eating project that I might die trying to complete. Here's the deal: I'm a finalist in this competition for Simon451, the new speculative fiction imprint from Simon and Schuster. The original entry was a book summary and 50 pages of that book, which I killed myself completing just because I thought it was worth it. The problem was that I got in...and now I have to write a book by September 1. Yes, I know, I'm whining about being showered in gold, but this is still a daunting prospect because I am now tasked with turning 50 pages into about 300 before September starts (or before August if I want to edit it at all).

The project itself is a familiar one, a fantasy story called Ashes, which some of you may have read. It is positively troperrific. Check this out:

In a city where everyone hides their faces behind masks made of light, a clever young beggar-thief with a fierce protective instinct severely pisses off a lot of powerful people in the course of staying alive. He attracts the attention of an illusionist who teaches him a magic system based on bald-faced deceit. Life gets even more complicated when they discover a way they and their fellow magicians can make their illusions real—and encounter a silent, grim-faced creature working to kill them before that happens.

If it helps at all, it's Oliver Twist mashed up with Harry Potter in Atlantis, sprinkled with bits of Treasure Island and Jack the Ripper, and the protagonist is the Tenth Doctor as a teenager (so Aladdin, but somewhat cleverer). And the magic system is Polyjuice Potion on steroids, which is great fun to play with (and resembles my original drafts not one single bit. Well, maybe one single bit).

Also I'm getting married (!!!) in nine days (!!!!!) to a beautiful, thoughtful, extremely smart and goofy lady. She doesn't blog much, but she put some thoughts down a little bit last summer. Click to read.

And, just to add things on, I started working with the Christian Writers Guild about three days after graduating. I edit things, sometimes I write things, but mostly I get paid to have a blast with a bunch of smart, entertaining folks for eight hours a day.'s going to be a busy summer.

2. How does your work differ from others in its genre?

Mostly that it's less informed and more self-conscious. I tend to write fantasy, which is famous for two things: Tolkien and knockoffs. However, that's been changing, what with giants like Pratchett, Gaiman, Rothfuss, and Sanderson in the field. The fantasy that's genuinely worth reading is marvelous, and I write in the desperate hope that someday I can ape it in a worthwhile fashion.

If we limited my genre from fantasy to lower-tier fantasy, my work currently differs from those in its genre by virtue of its profound lack of dragons or anything remotely dragon-related. Or hobbit-related. And no orcs, either. Still pretty unabashedly British, though. I can't make my characters speak like real Americans, which is a problem since I've heard so few British people actually speak.

3. Why do you write what you do?

Mostly? Because I think I'm good at it, and I enjoy doing it.

When I started writing it was mostly an excuse not to do chores. Or...well, I suppose that's not entirely true. When I started writing it was not for any purpose that I could have articulated. The first things I wrote—really wrote, mind, not for anyone else's purpose but my own—were recollections from TV shows.1 I scrawled them in a notebook,2 trying to remember every word, and drawing pictures to match.3 I don't recall doing it because I wanted to write books, or because I wanted to show off. If anything, I'd like to think it was instinctual: that something in the stories I was watching woke me, tugged at me, the way that planets tug at comets.

Up to that point, writing had been a chore. I remember being absolutely baffled at the idea of spaces and insisting on putting some sort of character in between words to make it clear where one stopped and the next began. I hated holding pencils because I was right-handed, but I curled my wrist like a left-hander because both my parents were left-handed and that's the way they did it, and so the side of my palm was perpetually aching and coated in excess graphite. But while writing (handwriting, actually, which is a distinct thing) was awful, I loved stories. That's cliche to say now because everybody loves talking about how story-driven they are and how humans think in stories and story structure and story-as-message and Jesus told stories to get his messages across and story story story story story. Yes. I accept that.

But the fact is that I would recite the plots of movies I watched. I watched them over and over until I could repeat them word-for-word. I demanded that my mother describe the events of the movies that I couldn't watch (there were a lot of those). I spent hours consuming them—usually at the TV, but eventually from books, too, because you can't bring the TV with you to school or the bathroom or dinner.

I grew up a story junkie and that hasn't changed; it's just that now I can get high on my own supply.

And, y'know what, I think I've accidentally answered the wrong question here. Why do I write what I do, specifically long-form fantasy? Because I'm a glutton for punishment and because I deeply want to finish something of that sort and significance, just once. Just to see what it tastes like.

4. How does your writing process work?

If you're into graphic, rude, inappropriate metaphors, by all means read on. If you aren't, I'm giving you seven more sentences to decide you ought to scroll past this section. I'm even giving you a link. Just click on it and it'll take you away from this nasty (but, I will insist, entirely accurate) comparison.

Are you ready? You sure? You're going to regret this.

Fine. Here we go.

My writing process vacillates between being extremely easy (with lower-quality content) and extremely difficult (with fewer mistakes, more groaning, but more satisfaction in the end). It's best done after I've read a lot or watched a lot or otherwise gathered a significant amount of material. In any case, when it's finished, the real work starts, because then I have to clean the whole thing up.

You may already see where I'm going with this, but just in case you don't:

Friends, brothers, countrymen, I confess: to me, the writing process is wholly, remarkably, fundamentally similar to pooping.


  1. Both involve a dedicated time of sitting.
  2. Both are best done alone (perhaps with music to help stir those productive feelings).
  3. On rare but glorious occasions, it happens naturally and without effort, and when you're done you feel pretty accomplished and it doesn't stink that bad.
  4. Sometimes it's difficult to make anything come out.
  5. Sometimes it all comes out and then you have to spend a long, miserable time cleaning up an awful lot of crap.
The similarities abound.

Truthfully, it's not a surprise that I associate writing and defecation. When I was a toddler, my mother trained me to use the toilet by trapping me there until the magic happened. To pass the time, she'd read to me, and (as previously mentioned) I was a junkie. It wasn't long before I would get a little excited at the prospect of a potty trip because it meant more books. Fables and feces became intrinsically connected, and somehow that's a good thing.

(Fables and Feces is either going to be a memoir or a band, but either way I just made it and you can't have it.)

Nathan Biberdorf gets Freshly Pressed every three or four days now, so you ought to know about him. In case you're one of the silly folks who haven't encountered his particular brand of crass/thoughtful/hilarious, this is the time to remedy your lack. He writes about whatever's on his mind, which ranges from romance to math to God and what it's like getting to know him (even when you were pretty sure you knew him growing up). Find him by clicking on these prettily colored words.

Meredith Sell graduated from Taylor University a semester before I did because she's just that excited to do big things. She's addicted to learning new stuff, I think, which, y'know, there are worse things to get addicted to. She started out being in love with fiction and then got much more polyamorous. She hangs out with those nonfictiony types these days, too. Find her here.

Rebekah Farb was a classmate of mine, and she's a dyed-in-the-wool fantasy writer and has no shame about it, which is as it should be. She writes some really excellent fantasy that doesn't get nearly the attention it deserves, and will either end up serialized on Jukepop or compiled in a book. In any case, she believes in writing hard and often. Find her blog (which is deep in the throes of a story you ought to read if you're into fantasy) right up in here.

I'm not technically tagging Amy Green here because someone else has already done it, and I hate being derivative, but if you're into theology, technology, or just the practice of being a better human being, The Monday Heretic is where you need to be going for your weekly dose of wondrous. Amy's a great friend, a fantastic writer, and a relentless thinker of thoughts. Click the link. Click it!

1. Specifically one TV show: the second season of Digimon. It wasn't a bad start, even though the next season was hands-down the best one. ^Back to post

2. My handwriting was awful. Learning Penmanship in elementary school was the closest I ever came to giving up on education. ^^

3. The pictures were much worse than the penmanship. ^^

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Flying Scotsman, Rudolph the Rangifer tarandus, and Why Nobody Likes Christian Artists

I have decided, this week, that I take issue with the story of Rudolph, a certain famed Rangifer tarandus with a scarlet nasal apparatus.

This post really should have happened closer to Christmastime.
Odds are good that you recall the song, but just in case you haven't brushed up on your Christmas carols in the three months since you last sang them, here are the pertinent lyrics.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Had a very shiny nose
And if you ever saw it
You would even say it glows
And all of the other reindeer
Used to laugh and call him names
They never let poor Rudolph
Join in any reindeer games
Then one foggy Christmas Eve,
Santa came to say,
Rudolph with your nose so bright,
Won't you guide my sleigh tonight?
Then all the reindeer loved him,
And they shouted out with glee,
Rudolph the red-nose Reindeer
You'll go down in history
It's all well and good (although a little scientifically inaccurate). It's solid storytelling. We've got a relatable main character with a problem, and he's an outcast, and at the end of the story, he gets to save the day. And only he can save the day, too, because he's the only one with his peculiar ability. It has to be him. So when he uses his ability—formerly a deformity—to serve in the great purpose, he's hailed as a hero. It's cathartic.

But there's something kind of off about this song, I think. Something that vaguely bothers me. And here's what I suspect it is:

At the end of the story, Rudolph becomes useful.

Before I confess why it perturbs me, let me tell you about a flying Scot.

You would not believe how much Google Image searching I did for this.
The Flying Scotsman is Eric Liddell, the principal character in Chariots of Fire. He's a missionary kid, born to Scottish parents serving in China, and a devout Christian. He's also quicker on his feet than darn near everybody else alive at the time, apparently destined for the Olympics.

I've never seen anyone look so happy while running.
The conflict comes from his religious commitment: early in the film, his sister calls him on the carpet for missing a church service because he was training. She tells him, in no uncertain terms, that his priorities are off-base. He should be focused on the important things, like reaching the people of China for Jesus. God made him for a purpose, she says.

And Eric replies:
I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.
That's awesome.

I heard this story in church a few Sundays ago, and the pastor finished by noting, "When Liddell ran in the Olympics, his event was on a Sunday. He refused to run on the Sabbath, and he became a testimony to thousands of people. Those people saw the greatness of the Gospel because of Eric Liddell's commitment to his God-given gift."

And all I could think was, No. You ruined it. 

This happened, except in my heart.
And now we've finally arrived at the point.

Recently, I've been wrestling a little bit with some questions related to Christians and art and how they interact. Specifically, how exactly does someone who wants to be both Christian and an artist get away with it?

The two terms seem a little diametrically opposed. Artists are edge-dancers: they're out exploring new ideas and asking heretical questions and looking around fearlessly for answers. Christianity—or rather, the blindly evangelical, two-dimensional, pop Christianity lots of people interact with—is a little more at home with old ideas, and traditionally accepted answers, and moving shyly away from questions.

So the Christian artist doesn't really have a home base. Neither side will claim him: the artistic community isn't interested in welcoming someone who isn't constantly exploring and innovating and pushing up against boundaries, and the Christian community...well, the conservative Christian community isn't really interested in art for art's sake. For the Christian community, there's a Big Mission, and everything has to relate to The Mission.

So the Christian artist will probably hear something more like:

"Shouldn't your art be praising God?"

Those hairstyles sure are worshipful.
That's a very interesting question. It's rooted in something good: the desire to praise God and to do what he intended. That's admirable—praising God is the end goal of mankind, if you're into the Westminster Catechism (which you should be, because it's great).

But the question is disguising something, a niggling assumption: some art does not praise God.

And that's...well, incorrect. The better word may be "incomplete."

The idea that there's a divide between art-that-glorifies-God and art-that-doesn't-glorify-God is absurd. Everything that exists is glorifying God by existing. Certainly some things can be sinful, but even sin and disaster still bring glory to God. The earth is the Lord's and so is everything inside. Christians can drink orange juice to the glory of God.

And there's another layer here. To some extent, being a Christian artist is like being a reindeer with a shiny red nose.

He's just so excited to be included!
In the story, Rudolph is an outcast because he doesn't really serve the great mission of the reindeer. And the problem I have with it is that Rudolph is only valued because he eventually served that mission.

It's the same problem I have with the wrap-up after the Eric Liddell story. It wasn't Liddell's dedication or athleticism that mattered to the pastor: it was that his decision led to more people hearing the Gospel.

But what if the story changes?

What if the foggy night never comes, and Rudolph has to come to terms with being different? Is his shiny nose still okay?

What if Eric Liddell hadn't been scheduled for a Sunday? Does God still feel pleasure when he sees Eric run?

What if you, Christian art-maker, Christian businessperson, Christian college student, Christian mother, Christian teenager, Christian whatever-you-are—you who do things, and love them, and feel God's pleasure when you do them—what if you can't ever draw an explicit line between doing the thing you love and bringing people to Jesus? What if you can never prove that you were responsible for evangelizing people because of the thing you do?

A huge number of folks feel called to make their art an evangelism tool somehow. Their songs and books and movies and cookies and carpentry are designed, somehow, with the specific purpose of bringing people to Jesus in mind. And that's great.

But the first poem in Scripture isn't about God; it's about Eve. And David composed music meant to soothe the soul without necessarily referring to God. And Solomon wrote a whole book of the Bible with no explicit, unambiguous references to Yahweh.

Maybe we can run just because we feel God's pleasure when we do it.

Maybe we can have shiny noses even if the foggy night never arrives, and we never get to prove we participated in The Mission.

And maybe The Mission's bigger than we thought at first, anyway.

For more on the subject, check out Tim Keller's talk on writing from a Christian worldview, or the Gospel Coalition's thoughts on whether art must be evangelistic to be Christian.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

I Think We Need to Chew Our Brain-Food

I have a suspicion. An inkling, you might call it. The shadow of an idea.

I am wondering if Breaking Bad is more morally acceptable than The Little Mermaid.

Everyone in the show is bald, so no need for dinglehoppers.
In case you've been imprisoned in some distant pit for the last five years, Breaking Bad is the extremely distressing story of mild-mannered everyman, Walter White, who has the single worst midlife crisis in human history. He's laughably overqualified for his job as a disrespected high school chemistry teacher. He's working an extra job at a car wash so his family can afford to eat. His teenage son has cerebral palsy and his wife is surprise-pregnant. And, on his fiftieth birthday, he finds out he has cancer.

He really cannot catch a break.

Faced with his impending death, and certain that his family will be destitute without him to support them, he decides to make them a nest egg. Something substantial. He wants both his kids to go to college. He wants his wife to be able to live. He wants for his life not to have been a failure, and to do that he needs lots of money in a very short time.

So, as anyone would, he starts manufacturing drugs. Crystal meth, to be specific. The 61 episodes chronicle his steady descent into villainy. He engineers robberies, psychologically tortures a handful of folks, and intentionally kills/arranges the deaths of about twenty people. (He's also kind of connected to the deaths of like 170 other people, but somewhat more tenuously.)

And now for something completely different.
The Little Mermaid, on the other hand, is the extremely saccharine tale of a girl with a dream. Ariel wants to be where the people be. She wants to be different than she is. She wants to give up her life as an undersea princess to oversea princess? To trade in her current life in exchange for love, in any case; she's got a serious case of the twitterpatings, and Prince Eric is just hunk enough to make her long for life on the ground.

Her father forbids it, though, probably because you can't marry a man you just met especially if you're not even the same species. Never one to take orders from fuddy-duddies, Ariel seeks out another solution: Ursula, creepy, be-cleavaged witch-queen of the sea. In exchange for her voice, Ariel receives legs and the opportunity to be a real human if she can just make Eric kiss her. She's not able to talk to him at all, but hey, that never stopped the Victorian women. (Hey-o!)

After the climactic battle, in which Ursula gets impaled with a bowsprit, Ariel's father apologizes for trying to stifle her love and she and Eric get hitched, so it's convenient she got to keep her legs.

Now here's what I'm thinking. I think—I wonder, really—if Breaking Bad is the more moral of the two. And I won't even need to dig into the Little Mermaid's subtext about how the path to true love is to shut up and let him kiss you.

Sit in your shame, Ariel. You are an embarrassment to feminism.
The thing about stories is they always have an underlying rule. English teachers might call it a theme, philosophers might call it a worldview, other folks could call it a moral—in any case, there's something the storyteller believes is true, and it's the rule that guides everything in the story. It often decides the winner; if you acknowledge and live by the Rule, you survive. If you transgress the Rule, you're probably the villain, and the story's universe might actually arrange for you to get killed.

The one basic rule in Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire, for instance, is "Adapt or die." Anyone who cannot adapt, dies. (The Rule might actually be "Don't be beloved by the audience or you will be slaughtered"—the jury's still out since the story's unfinished. For further entertainment, try this video of reactions to a particularly wham-tastic episode.)

This is all over once you start looking for it. The fundamental rule in Harry Potter is that "Love is the strongest magic of all." That's why Harry's the main character rather than Hermione; he has great love. Hermione and Dumbledore and Snape and Voldemort are all vastly cleverer than Harry is, but they're not the hero.

The Lord of the Rings? "Even the smallest of us can make a difference," as well as "Evil always corrupts." The Incredibles? "Strength through unity." The Dark Knight? "People are not like the Joker." ("You die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain" seems like a contender, except that the movie goes out of its way to disprove it—Batman stays the hero, even though he's maligned, while Harvey Dent dies the villain.)

How does this relate to Breaking Bad vs. The Little Mermaid? I'll tell you how. It's because Breaking Bad and The Little Mermaid are, loosely speaking, the same story: same drive, same protagonists, same conflict—only they have different endings and therefore different Rules. And one of them is peddling lies.

Imagine my surprise when "Breaking Bad Little Mermaid" actually returned results on Google's image search.
Both feature a protagonist who will do anything for the one(s) they love. Both protagonists give up something (or lots of somethings) in order to accomplish their goal. And both characters give an epic "Screw you!" to the establishment, seeking to be something they aren't. (A human in Ariel's case, a success in Walter's.)

But most uniquely: both characters are extraordinarily, prodigiously, mind-bogglingly selfish.

This might seem a contradiction in terms, since I said just a few sentences ago they would do anything for those they love, and love is polemically opposed to selfishness. You're right—the better way to say it is that they feel love for certain people, but their love is mostly guided by their self-interest. Ariel tries to show her love for Eric through deceiving him, as well as proving that she can do the thing she wants; Walter tries to show his love for his family through illegal moneymaking, desperate to prove to himself that he isn't a failure. They're both "loving" the objects of their affection, but in selfish ways.

At the end, the stories depart from each other. Ariel lives happily ever after, having gotten her prince and her father's apology. But Walter White's ending [SPOILER] is neither happy nor ever after; he's abandoned, alone and unloved, amongst his crowning achievements: an overblown chemistry set and millions of dollars' worth of illegal methamphetamine.

The Rule of The Little Mermaid? "Lie to your father, follow your impulses, and indulge your selfish desires: everything will turn out alright in the end."

The Rule of Breaking Bad? "Be sure your sin will find you out." It's a story about the consequences of pride. Walter White gets everything he ever chased. His name is known in every American household. He's fabulously wealthy. He's proven himself, over and over and over again, to be the very cleverest person he knows.

But his family is destroyed. His secrets are uncovered. He's ruined everything he ever touched.

He's failed.

The beard was a rousing success, though.
When I was young, my parents refused to let me watch The Little Mermaid. It wasn't because of her questionable dress sense (clamshells?); it was because they understood the thing about stories. That we consume them, and everything in them. That their Rules are always baked inside them, sometimes too deep to recognize consciously but always, always there. That stories are the most effective teacher, because they can teach us without our permission.

Stories are sneaky. Art in general is sneaky. That's half the reason why English class is required in high school. We need to be able to chew what our brain is swallowing. Art isn't meant to be a passive practice; it's an invitation to come and explore things, to listen to what someone thinks the Rule is and decide whether it's true or not.

It certainly shouldn't be an excuse to turn ourselves off for two hours. Anything becomes an opiate if you treat it the right way—we're masters at becoming numb. But what a boring life it is when we're just fat and lazy brains, gorged on food we never even tasted.

What do you think? Is the story of Walter White, narcissistic maniac, a more moral tale than that of Princess Ariel? Is a story's worldview less important than its content, or more? Sound off in the comments.

For more thinking on the subject of worldview in movies, check out this magnificent article from Christianity Today's chief film critic.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

It's More of an Olds, As Opposed to News

Ever have that realization that you've forgotten to do something that should've been done months ago? Well, this is me doing the thing that I should've done several months ago.

I was invited (along with a friend and our instructor) to talk about writing on a local TV show called The Verbal Edge. So we went and we talked about writer's block, persistence, whether or not you can edit blank pages, and other such stuff. There's more to the episode, but I don't think it's on the Internet, and ergo it does not exist. Too bad.

On a related note, y'know what? I haven't written anything on here since last year. (Ho ho ho! Bet you haven't heard that joke done to death yet! Ain't I just the cleverest?)

Really, though, it's pathetic. I've written at least a couple posts on the importance of actually writing and recently I haven't done any of that.

Welp. There are a couple of popular euphemisms for this, but I'm pretty sure it's time to get serious or go home. Jury's out on whether it sticks this time.